March 29, 2010

Charleston: Fantasy trees

We spent four beautiful days in Charleston over Ted's Spring Break. It was a break he sorely needed, and this time (as opposed to his Fall Break when we went to Hershey), everything was due before the break, so he could actually relax. We went with two other families, stayed in the same hotel, ate at the same joints, toured the same sights and everything. It was such a gas! We had a ball, even though the other couples left a day earlier than we did. On our last day, we visited an outdoor market with vendors who sold much of the same thing (so of course it reminded me of downtown L.A.). Some was kitschy, some was quite pretty, and some of it belonged in the garbage.

We looked through some photographed prints at one stand, and stopped at one incredible image of a tree. We asked the vendor what it was, and he said it was an oak that was 1500 years old, called the "Angel Oak Tree", and it lived on St John's Island, which was about 20 minutes away. After grabbing lunch and driving through the Citadel, we headed over there, not knowing exactly where it was, but hoping our GPS could give us some info. It did, and we found it, and we were SO GLAD we did. It was even more incredible than the pictures showed, because this thing was so huge, there's no way it could be captured in just one shot. The branches actually spanned almost two acres and had to be propped up off the ground. Keep in mind these next four shots are all one tree. By my calculations, the seed must have taken root only one lifetime after Moroni buried the plates in the hillside. So cool! ;)

Our last day together, all three families went to visit the Boone Plantation, made famous by the movie The Notebook. The house, Boone Hall, was grand, but the grounds were what was really impressive. There were fields galore for strawberries, pumpkins, green beans, melons (the kind you eat), eggplant, grapes, and all sorts of other things. They even made their own honey on the plantation. The whole place used to grow indigo, but once cotton became "king", the Boone Plantation (and most others) switched to cotton.

And my favorite, these oak trees that were just dripping with Spanish moss were glorious. On a whim, we popped the kids up into the branches and got them giddy with laughter.

Couldn't you just EAT THEM UP???

March 27, 2010

On the cooling rack: 3.14159265...

Yes, friends, today we have pie in the kitchen. Well, not today. I made them Sunday and they were gone by Monday, but I'm blogging about them today.

We REALLY wanted to celebrate Pi Day (3/14) ON pi day, but with meetings from morning until late afternoon that Sunday, and friends having the nerve to leave town, we couldn't make it work. So we postponed it until the following Sunday and gorged ourselves on, first, a Chocolate Pear Tart (maybe not technically a pie, but it had my homemade pie crust, so I say it counted. This tart has a great flavor, aided by a little almond extract and 5 oz of grated Belgian chocolate on the bottom. I didn't have pears that were as firm as I wanted, since the tart has to bake for about half an hour, so I made do with my riper ones, but it was still good.

Then we moved on to the Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Pie. Man, oh man. This one was the star of the night. I've tweaked it several times over the years, and I must say, I think I reached near perfection with it this time around. It. was. marvelous. The berries were juicy and red and flavorful, the sugar/cornstarch/corn syrup/whipping cream/chocolate ratios were spot on, the pie crust was flaky with a little bit of crisp, and the painted chocolate on the crust had just enough thickness to perfectly complement the glaze on the berries without the chocolate itself turning soggy. Oh heavens. I'm not usually one to totally fawn over my own concoctions (I will most often say "thank you", "glad you liked it", or even downplay its taste by revealing a mistake or two), but I save the following praise for especially incredible things, and you have to imagine it with a lot of attitude:

"I just got two words to say: DAY-AM!!"

Once the farmer's markets here kick in for the late spring/early summer, this pie will be revisited and regorged upon.

March 26, 2010

March 23, 2010

Another milestone

Today I had to purchase our first baby gate, and in doing so, realized those things don't fit inside a Target cart ("buggy", if in the South) very well. Tessa gnawed on the box while we were shopping, so it looks like a keeper.

She has moved out of the army scoot and into actual crawling. We realize she's behind the norm, but I haven't minded as it has meant I've only had to have one eye on her instead of two. Those days are quickly diminishing. Case in point: the other night she thought our kitchen garbage receptacle would be strong enough to anchor her 30 pound (no joke) frame, and only pulled up on it because she could see from the overflow that there were strawberry tops and a chicken carcass, and that girl will go to any lengths for a bite (yesterday I pulled a dead ladybug out of her mouth, bitten perfectly in half - jury is still out on whether it was alive or not when it went in). Alas, the garbage toppled over onto her stunned and chubby body, and Ted had to mop up the floor because I said it would make a pregnant woman gag (I'm very good at lying).

At this point, I'm reconsidering having baby #2, but since I'm 20 weeks, it's not likely I can go back on that decision. We made it when #1 was still immobile, and my naive brain figured I could handle one, even if it was crazy, since Tessa was so good-natured. Note to self: children grow up and get into everything. Occasionally they break some things, and in our case, eat most things. Be advised whenever you revisit another "having another child" conversation.

Oh, and tomorrow will be "pulling out the maternity clothes" day. I can't stuff my lower gut into my regular jeans anymore, even though they do have stretch (and thank the fashion gods for that!). Poor kid's going to come out with a zipper impression across its backside.

March 18, 2010

On the cooling rack: Mexican sweet corn cake

You know when you go to a chain-y sit-down Mexican restaurant (think El Torito or Chevy's) and they bring you your entree with your sizzling fajitas or steaming tamales or chimichangas (my fave) and all the fixin's are on the side, like the guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, and shredded lettuce? I love that. But more than that, we love that itty bitty scoop of sweet yellow corn goodness that's tucked in alongside the beans and rice that's good enough to eat for dessert. Ted and I, after several conversations, have agreed that that little scoop is hands down the best part of the meal, and the only thing wrong with it is that it's too small a scoop.

We had an activity with all the youth in three wards to expand their cultural appreciation, and 60 people were asked to bring a dish from either a country they were from or somewhere they visited or served as a missionary, or just plain ol' had a fascination with. For weeks I hemmed and hawed over which country to do since I've only been to three and they were popular and I figured they'd be taken. Come to find out, Mexico wasn't taken. So I made it my duty to find and, if necessary, tweak a recipe for that sweet corn blessing for everyone to try.

Mexican Sweet Corn Cake

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup masa harina (Mexican corn flour found in baking aisle or Mexican aisle. My California friends should have NO problem finding this stuff - also sold under brand name "Maseca")
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl beat butter until it is creamy. Add the masa harina and water and beat until well mixed.

Using a food processor, pulse thawed corn a few times, but leave chunky. Stir into the butter mixture.

Add cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and cream last to corn flour mixture and stir to combine. Pour batter into an ungreased 8x8 inch baking pan. Smooth batter and cover with aluminum foil. Make a water bath* by placing smaller pan into a 9x13 pan. Slowly add water into 9x13 pan with small pitcher or spouted cup until water reaches about halfway up. (If you add too much, just take some out with a turkey baster)

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Top should barely spring back to the touch and be ever so slightly crisp around the edges. Leave foil on, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Use an ice cream scoop to serve onto plates or a regular spoon to eat it from the pan (Ted's method).

*Don't skip the water bath! The steam ensures a very moist cake (since this is NOT a cornbread) and prevents overbrowning.

Here are a few of the other entries from the International Food Night. This English Trifle was the bomb. Whoever made it didn't bother with regular old chocolate cake. They were awesome brownies, and it was probably the first dish to be completely gone. ("What?! instead of clotted cream on under-seasoned beans?", you say. I know. I was as shocked as you are.)

France represented with a Quiche Lorraine and brie on baguette. Simple. Yummy.

And a beautiful and crispy Norwegian "wreath cake" from Norwegia. Tasted like crisp, flavorful ladyfingers.

Overall, a smashing success. Encourage your uncultured church teens to do the same.

March 12, 2010

Creation: "Converse" high-top booties

Last week I went to a baby shower for a new friend who's having her first baby in a few weeks - a boy. Her husband was nicknamed "Playa" (as in player, not the Spanish word for beach) by Ted because, well, he looks like a playa. But he's in medical school, so I guess he's a smart playa. Anyway, I thought these would be perfect for their offspring.

I am certainly not clever enough to come up with the pattern myself. I got it here, and they took me a LONG time since it was only the 6th thing I've crocheted since teaching myself from this fabulous book. Thanks again for it, Ted!

March 9, 2010

What's in this?

Ted and I agreed that neither of us like Blueberry Jelly Bellies (do you write it "Bellies" because it's the plural of "Belly" or do you write it "Bellys" because "Jelly Belly" is trademarked? I couldn't find the answer to that in Eats, Shoots & Leaves). They kinda taste like soap and not like delicate, pop-in-your-mouth, slightly sweet but slightly tangy blueberries. Most flavors they just nail, and I loved seeing the process when I visited there some time ago, but Blueberry....sorry guys.

Then there's the color - and that's where today's story begins. They're a deep blue, not navy, but a little darker than royal. Kinda like a Duke blue. More reason to want to love them, but we just can't. So we decided to give the few that we had to our resident garbage disposal. She doesn't care about the nuances and notes of flavors so much, for she has yet to gain sophisticated palates like her parents (said tongue-in-cheek, but right now I wish I was saying it donut-in-mouth). She gobbled them up, and though she slapped Daddy's thigh for more, we were strong. She wasn't getting our root beer ones.

But these tiny beans! They must be made up completely of dye and sugar (not that I'm against those things)! I can understand these effects directly afterward:

But I was not prepared for the next day. Her diaper manifested that she had eaten very concentrated color pills. Though the output stank to high heaven (which is coincidental, since I was changing said diaper during church), I still got a few giggles out of it because I was reminded of when one of my mission companions and I bought blue dye for fish tanks and put them in some brownies and Kool-Aid for the elders. We nabbed the whole zone, and had a dozen or so of them calling the mission office with some "serious medical issues" because they were suddenly peeing green. You can understand why I number it among my greatest mission success stories.

March 2, 2010

On the cooling rack: Valentine's Day cookies

I'm not sure why it took me so long to post these. My friend Ashley invited me over to decorate cookies with royal icing as a birthday present last month, so while her husband and our home teacher played with Tessa for two hours, we whipped up icing, colored it, piped it, flooded it into the cookies, and voila:

I'd never worked with royal icing before, and I must say, though the final product is smooth and pretty, it was a royal pain to work with. It's a finicky frosting and it takes a lot of time, and quite honestly, I like the taste of a good buttercream MUCH better. True, you can't decorate all fancy with it, but taste is the #1 criterion for me with any food, especially dessert. I like my sugar cookies soft and sweet and buttery, like my boobies when I'm nursing, and like Jana's incredible recipe that she has perfected over several years. The royal icing dries quite hard, and I wasn't fond of biting into such a crispy thing. I'll save that for my chips and toffee, thank you.

I think the lips were a favorite among the three women doing the project. I provided the cookie cutter with the arrow going through the heart, and after seeing the cookies it made, it looks like I'll have to go and bend it back into a decent shape. The upper left hand corner cookie had me singing the 80's band Human League song "Poison Arrow", except I forgot it was "poison", so my lyrics went something like "shoot that broken arrow through my heeaaaart", and only when I tried to picture an image of shooting something already broken, expecting it to pierce your target and how ridiculous it was did I realize I must have it wrong. Oh well - it fit my cookies.

The Cooling Rack

Baked goods are only half the story...