25 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Here's wishing a joyous holiday season to all our readers.  

We don't tell you enough how much we love you! 

We do.

23 December 2015

Go-To Ice Cream -- With a Christmas Twist

While we have no qualms with making overly complicated recipes, we do love a simple no-brainer.

Ice cream is in my families blood. It has always been a favorite treat -- or on occasion, a favorite supper. Ice cream books have two full shelves in the cookbook collections and they keep growing. We know one weird ice cream trick after another.

For years, our go-to recipe was a simple no-cook recipe from the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Book.  Face it, they are kind of experts. While one didn't cook it, it did have eggs in the base, and there are folks who don't eat raw eggs. Their recipe made fantastic ice cream, but it was best eaten on the same day it was made.  Not really a problem, but not good for any advanced preparations.  (The longer it sat, the more ice crystals it formed, so it lost a bit of creaminess after a few days.)

This summer, we embarked on an even easier recipe.  It does require an ice cream freezer, but it only takes minutes to prepare and you are done.  No cooking.  Just freezer time.  In the middle of summer, that can take way longer than the ice cream freezer's anticipated freezing time, but in winter, one has ice cream in just under an hour.

The base is made with one can of sweetened condensed milk and a cup of heavy cream.  It is easy, because you can keep sweetened condensed milk in the pantry, and you can pick up a 1/2 pint of heavy cream, so no measuring.  Simply add a cup of flavoring, give it all a spin in a blender and add to the ice cream maker. In our summer favorite, we added a cup of Hershey's Chocolate spread.  Nutella also works, as do chopped fruit. 

For Thanksgiving, we added a can of pumpkin and a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Everyone wanted pumpkin pie, but when the pie was done, the ice cream flew out of the freezer. 

"Hey, this would be good WITH the pumpkin pie!"

Well yes it would. So here you go.

Pumpkin Ice Cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 pint (1 cup) heavy cream
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

Put all the ingredients into a blender and mix till well incorporated.

Pour into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's directions.


09 December 2015

Take Six Girls

I know what you are thinking -- "Not another f-ing Mitford book!"

Fine, we are a bit fond of the Mitfords, I cannot lie.

I will chalk it up to being an only child. I am fascinated with large families. Bear in mind, I do not now nor have I ever wanted a large family or any sort of sibling. Growing up there were my things and more of my things and I liked that immensely. But there is something very mysterious about large families, especially one with 6 girls.

No, the Mitford sisters were not sharing a single room, their family was loaded. But something about that sisterhood made for a strange and often tragic competition that boardered on psychopathy. Laura Thomson has put together a group biography of the sisters that offers and unusual in site into their personalities. It is rather like taking the them, fully formed and stuffing them into a single room. It offers up a much different view than seeing each sister from their own point of view.  Lord knows, many of them spent their entire lives rewriting their personal history.

If you have yet to jump into the abyss of Mitfordom, Take Six Girls is a great place to start.  You get an enticing view of each of the sisters, giving you room to decide which of the girls you might like to take a look at in more depth. Trust me, there will be great depth no matter which sister you choose. If you have read them all...even I don't think I have read them all...Thompson delves into the beginnings of family rivalry, to shed new light on the tumultuous gang.

If you have never read about the Mitfords, Take Six Girls is a fine beginning. If you love the Mitfords, it won't be your last.

07 December 2015

Schubert's Winter Journey -- Anatomy of an Obsession

I have been trying for months to write about this book. It is, without a doubt, the finest book of the year, maybe the decade. This will be rambling, because every page sets off an explosion of thought and emotion and understanding and wonder and question and what more could one ask for?

First off...screw that Dos Equis's guy, Ian Bostridge is the most fascinating man in the world. I have followed his career from his early days at Oxford.  In life, one can be extremely intelligent, extremely talented, or extremely attractive but rarely does on hit a trifecta.  Ian Bostridge began singing as a child.  He went on to write his dissertation at Oxford on the significance of witchcraft in England from 1650 to 1750.  He kept singing. He taught political theory and history. By the time he was thirty, he became a full time singer. He is regarded by many as the finest lieder singer to grace the side of a piano.

In 2011, his writings about music were compiled into the book, A Singer's Notebook.  It has a truly wonderful short essay on Bob Dylan. He chides classical singer to learn a thing or two from Dylan's colored singing style.

Generally, I couldn't care less about lieder. When I got this book I didn't immediately think, "Let's go put on some Schubert."  I bought the book because Bostridge's writing is always interesting, in fact, for me it is more interesting than his singing (again, only because I never thought much about lieder, but I do love his Noel Coward!).

At first glance, this is a book that makes bibliophiles drool. It is printed on heavy paper, beautifully bound, interspersed with photos,and set  in a lovely Fournier font. The book is five hundred pages of Bostridge's obsession with Schubert's song cycle, Winter Journey. He has been performing the songs for thirty years.  He writes,

"My own way to Winter Journey was eased by great teaching and by personal idiosyncrasy."
As a lover of the personal idiosyncratic, I was hooked. Bostridge admits that lieder is a niche calling in the niche of classical music, so why write it?

"In this book I want to use each song as a platform for exploring the origins; setting the piece in its historical context, but also finding new and unexpected connections, both contemporary and long dead -- literary, visual, psychological, scientific, and political.... By gathering such a disparate mass of material I hope to illuminate, to explain, to deepen our common response: to intensify their experience of those who already know the piece, and to reach out to those who have never heard it or heard of it."

While I don't love lieder, I do love art and poetry and music and history.  Bostridge's lyrical writing on what drives an artist is sublime. With all its beauty, this is an obsessive, intense, and often obtuse journey into the mind of an artist's obsession. Be forewarned, but do not be discouraged.

04 December 2015

Chinese Five Spice Goji Berry Cake

This has been one of our go-to cakes for several years, but we never posted the recipes before. Probably because, each time we have tweaked it a bit, deciding what we liked best with the flavor combination.  The batter is a very basic sweet cake that resembles a Jewish honey cake. The Chinese 5 spice gives it a kick and the bittersweet goji berries offer an interesting counterpoint to the cake.

Unlike most cakes composed with hearty dried fruit, like orange peel, the goji berries are a bit on the tender side, so we do not advise soaking them for any length of time.  Pour your cup of cool tea over them as you begin the recipe and you will be just fine.

As for the Chinese 5 spice, we use a freshly ground mix which is a bit more coarse than most of the ground spice one would find in the McCormick isle. If you can find a fresh grind fine, but don't sweat it.

We use honey to sweeten the cake.  We use our own farm honey.  Any light honey should work.

For some unknown reason, we began making this cake with self-rising flour and we have kept to it. If you use self-rising flour, remember to use a fresh bag as the leavening can grow stale.

Chinese Five Spice Goji Berry Cake

3 1/2 cups self-rising flour plus 1/2 cup for dredging fruit
1 tablespoon Chinese 5 spice
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 large egg
1 cup honey
1 cup strong tea plus a bit extra
1 cup dried goji berries

 Prepare a Lucinda's Wood Baking Box, by lining with butcher paper.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Brew about 2 cups of strong tea.  Allow the tea to cool.  In a small bowl, pour the cooled tea over the goji berries.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, egg, and honey. 

In another bowl, add the 3 1/2 cups of flour and the tablespoon of Chinese 5 spice and whisk to blend.

Saving the tea, pour the liquid off the goji berries and measure out 1 cup of the tea, discarding any extra.

Add the flour/spice mixture and the tea to the creamed butter, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients until fully incorporated.

Take the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and generously dredge the soaked goji berries.  Fold the dredged berries gently into the batter.

Pour the batter into a prepared Lucinda's Wood Baking Box.

Bake for 90 minutes, until firm in the center.

As you can see in the picture, we let this one go a bit too long, hence the crack in the top... but it tasted just fine.

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