PlazaJen: The Blog

Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Category: beverages

Pumpkin Muthahfuckin’ SPICE

Yeah, it’s White People Month when this stuff comes back to Starbucks, you know it, there’s 800 variations of memes and pictures and squeals of happy happy happy on Facebook once the Heralded Return Of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, like the swallows of Capistrano, baby. Now, I appreciate my over-priced, delicious beverages as much as the above-average-income JoCo soccer mom, but it’s got to be “right” to fully enjoy it. And daytime highs of upper 70’s/mid-80’s ain’t it. For me, Pumpkin Flavored-Everything Season starts when I feel a chill letting the dogs out in the morning, and I see my first red blaze of autumn leaves. Our weather has been unseasonable since summer began – a milder, cooler version of last year, so much so that I really worked hard not to bitch when we got some hot weather, because days on end of 100’+ weather was torturous. Now we’re warming up and cooling down and warming back up so the tomatoes keep on putting out fruit and it’s almost October.

Sometimes I think about how lovely it would be to live in certain climates, where it never freezes or blisters hot, where it’s sweatshirt-and-shorts weather most of the time, and I think that while I’d enjoy it, I wouldn’t love it the way I love a true Fall. Fall is my favorite season of all, despite it’s symbolism of death and decay and ripe life coming to an end, (boy I can really put a damper on shit, eh?) But I LOVE IT. It fuels me and buoys up my mood. The smell of leaves on the ground, moistened by a fall thunderstorm, turning into compost that will re-energize the ground next year. Puffs of smoke from chimneys, the smell of wood in the air, it alerts the senses. Sounds around us change, the wind sweeps through branches and bring a shuffling of paper, the natural evolution from the velvety sounds of green leaves rustling in a summer’s breeze. As the humidity leaves, sounds become sharper, unmuffled by the damp air and heat that keeps windows shut and doors pushed tightly closed. Fall ushers in a return to cooking; soups and stews and warm dishes that take on the new flavors of squashes and root vegetables, complemented by the harvests of summer, transformed into jarred and frozen bags of produce that bring the brightness of summer’s hot sun to bursting flavor in chili, peppers and tomatoes taking on new forms. And it brings with a renewed desire to knit, to work with wool, to create and draw the calm from the meditative repetition of needles and yarn moving in unison.

So, Pumpkin Season, I realize you’ve “Arrived”, and I still love you, but you’re going to have to wait until it’s truly time.

Summer’s Delight

As we hibernated indoors yesterday, away from the stifling humidity, most of our energies wound up in the kitchen. I had been wanting to make Peter Reinhart’s recipe for Casatiello, and Italian Brioche, studded with bits of spicy salami and gouda cheese. What I love about his book is the complete thoroughness of instruction; he describes the process of how the dough will evolve, and what to expect. This dough has a high butter content, and after the butter has been added, the dough is very sticky, and altogether messy, resembling cookie dough. His instructions tell you to work the dough for 12 minutes, for in that amount of time the butter will distribute evenly and your sticky mass of dough evolves into a beautifully smooth, tacky ball that cleanly rotates around the mixer bowl. It was definitely one of those angels-singing marvel moments as I watched it happen. I baked it in a square springform pan to make one loaf; you can bake it in bags and in smaller sizes more typical of Brioche, too. It’s delicious, and made me wonder about other cheeses and even adding snippets of fresh herbs, such as the French tarragon that is always looking for something to creep into…..

Italian Brioche w/ gouda, sausage

In-between my dough mixing and shaping, James took over the kitchen and used the mixer’s food grinder attachment to make an amazing tomato sauce. The food grinder is great, because you get all of the pulp and meat and juices of the tomato, while efficiently discarding the seeds and skin. We have almost all heirloom tomato plants, and the flavors of these tomatoes are out of this world. Describing a slice of Carbon uses similar language as describing wine… smokey, bold, strong finish. So when you mix all these robust, intense flavors together, and cook them down all afternoon, you have a sauce that literally sings to you. He also incorporated caramelized onions and banana peppers, plus some sauteed chicken tenders. As James put it: summer in a bowl. It was excellent.

homemade tomato sauce

So where’s dessert? Well, this is a good example of how mistakes happen – even to those of us who’ve been cooking and baking for over 30 years. We had leftover egg yolks, because earlier this week, James had made zucchini bread, and one of the most awesome ingredients he uses is candied nuts. He’d done both pecans and walnuts, and the candying process uses a bunch of egg whites. So, what to make with egg yolks? Well, certainly a custard comes to mind – and with the heat, why not ice cream? Sounded good to me. Some things you take for granted, some things you don’t think about, and sometimes, even when you’re standing right there at the stove, stirring your mixture of cream and sugar and eggs and bits of natural vanilla bean, you take your eyes off what you’re doing to talk to your spouse, and the next thing you know, you have bits of cooked egg separating rapidly from your liquid. Gah. I tried plunging it into a water bath, stirring madly, but there are chemical processes that just don’t reverse themselves. I pitched a fit, pissed-off with myself for forgetting how quickly chemistry can happen, and then had to decide what to do.

I decided to give it a try, anyway, because the flavor was amazing, and not eggy, but the big question was texture. I chilled the custard, then put it in my Krups machine that I’ve had for 20 years. And waited.
It never froze. I think it was the fact my custard was too warm, still. So what to do? This is when experience is a good thing, because it makes you more resourceful. Rather than focusing on the failure of ice cream, I focused on what was wrong with my dish, and what could I turn it into? I had it: Milkshakes. I strained the custard through a sieve, removing the bits of hardened egg proteins. Then I added frozen strawberries to the blender until it was completely full. I figured that if any of the egg had made it through the sieve, the texture would be masked by the presence of strawberries (and keep in mind, the mixture never scorched, and was utterly, vanilla-ey delicious, despite the overcooking.)

The result was stupendous. My husband declared it to be one of the top 5 milkshakes of his life.

What was leftover was poured into a dixie cup, popped in the freezer with a fork in it to make a makeshift ice cream bar. The texture on that might be a bit grainy, but at least we know it’ll taste good!

Now it’s Sunday, and I think I’d like to go out for brunch.

Weekend Roundup

So far so good on the Diet Coke withdrawal. I had one zinging craving last week, and I told myself I was just thirsty. It seemed to work (consuming some water) and my caffeine dependency seems to be maintained by a couple cups of coffee/day.  I haven’t noticed any miraculous changes, sadly, and the sale ads for it still catch my eye – but like I said, so far so good!

We saw Alice in Wonderland yesterday – I loved it. I guess there have been a number of reviews that ding it for this or for that, but whatever. I literally adored the two books as a kid, and thought Tim Burton’s movie was a great tribute to the imagination those works inspired. The room where Alice finds the door key, the “Drink Me” bottle and “Eat Me” cake? was such a match for what I imagined as a child, it took my breath away. There was one dorky bit – a dance – that I thought was totally disjointed, but such a tiny fragment of the overall movie. And let me just say that those CineSuites are the BOMB. It was our second time going to them, and they really are a treat. We don’t go out a whole lot (frugality!) and we’ve contained our movie-viewing to our Netflix + Roku, and premium cable channels, but the suites are enjoyable. The service has been top-notch, we both feel like we’re getting a good value and the food is good. Plus free refills on popcorn and drinks! (And I went with iced tea…)

James has been a gardening and working machine this weekend – he’s planted the lettuce and spinach seedlings in the garden, plus some French Breakfast radishes and snow peas. And? He’s putting in a small deck at the foot of the small deck on the back of the house. I took a two-hour nap yesterday and he had torn out the mint bed, the straggly rose bush and had the deck half done!  Me, I’ve been knitting. 🙂

Speaking of knitting – I finished my first Wollmeise project as part of the Loopy Ewe Spring Fling KAL on Ravelry. I made WendyKnits’ Talisman shawl, out of a skein of Indisch Rot, and loved it. The pattern, the yarn – and I love blocking lace.

Talisman Shawl
Close up of the pattern:
Talisman Shawl

Because I finished the shawl before the end of the month, I knocked out the rest of my Drifted Pearls scarf (pictures to come). It’s very soft and cozy! Now I’m working on Hemlock Ring Blanket, published by Brooklyn Tweed, as part of the March KAL. Because I have several other things I need to knit (sample cables for the Knitting in the Heartland cable class, for one!) I am churning through this – on the fifth ball of yarn out of ten.

Today is for muddling in the kitchen, running some errands, and trying to finish some laundry. This week is going to be pretty busy, between work projects and life projects, and something tells me things are only going to get curiouser and curiouser…. as she smiles like the Cheshire cat…..

Say Goodbye to My Leetle Friend

Well, y’know, what with working part-time and being frugal (usually) and meal planning and going to the doctor and thinking about all the foods we eat, what’s processed, what’s over-processed, what’s delicious, what’s not,  I started to look at my Diet Coke addiction. Even diet sodas aren’t all they’re banged up to be, apparently, but I didn’t care when I was over-stressed and trying to get through the day at the Last Place. I drank a minimum of 4/day, and on exceptionally busy days, amped that up to 6-8. Telling myself it had no sugar and all the lovely, lovely caffeine was an easy justification.  I had done a mega-stock-up, shortly before my ‘downsizing’, and I started scaling back to a couple per day.  Then I went to the doctor, where I was informed that it wasn’t the best friend I’d hoped it would be. And I felt a shift in my mind, like maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to just start here. Phase out the Diet Coke. Insert water. I’m trying to wean myself from Splenda, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Because we also have a lot of Crystal Light hanging around the house, and I enjoy drinking that, too. Small steps. So today, I stop my regular dosing of Diet Coke. That’s not to say I won’t enjoy one if I’m out to lunch, or NEVER AGAIN will I drink Diet Coke. I just think one of the things I’ve learned/re-learned is how much better regular home-cooked foods and baked things taste, and as I get older, I’m thinking and asking myself more often, “What the hell’s in this?” (Years ago, somebody in this house bought some Hamburger Helper, and since I’m also on a mission to use UP stuff, we had that for dinner – with deer burger, I liked to call it “Venison Assistant” in my head.. anyway, omg, so salty. It fills you up b/c you’re drinking a gallon of water to balance out the sodium!)

But I’m not phasing out caffeine – I love coffee, always have, and that is my regular morning routine (even when I was slamming the Diet Cokes!) I think it’s safe to say I’ve cut back on my dependency – of recent weeks, my daily consumption was a cup of coffee and 1-2 Diet Cokes  – but I’m going to have to incorporate some extra coffee or black teas into the routine now – the withdrawal headaches are a total bitch.

So, Diet Coke, thanks for all you’ve done for me. I’ve got quite a few Coke Rewards points thanks to our years together, so once I’ve entered them all in, I know we’ll have a farewell gift to always remember you by…..

An Extra-Special Christmas Tongue-Twister

My niece Danielle got one of those ‘knot-yourself-a-quilt’ kits for Christmas. She’s quite crafty (and an amazing crocheter), so she got it out of the box yesterday evening and started to work on it next to me at the dining room table. (I was drinking Irish cream liqueur and knitting.) Once she got two squares together, she put it down and complained that it looked bad and wasn’t working. I took a look at it, and realized she needed to make two square knots, not one, in order to get the pieces to stay together.  My mind was moving faster than my mouth, and instead of telling her she needs to knot it twice, out of my mouth came, “You need to twot it.” And I’m leaving the spelling just like that, but it sure sounded like there was an “a” in there instead of an “o”, thanks to the Chicago-esque vowel-flattening I inherited from my dad. And I looked across the table at James, and to my right, at Momma Linda, and all three of us burst into laughter, so then our niece started laughing (she’s 10) and said, “TWOT! ha ha!”…. much to my mortification. We immediately told her not to say it, and that what Auntie Jen MEANT was two knots, but somehow by the next day, the large bottle of  St. Brendan’s Irish Cream Liqueur had been renamed “Twot Juice”.

What can I say? I like to make the holidays special, however I can.

Cocktail Time

I hosted a little get-together a couple weeks ago, and it not only inspired me to clean the house, but I also got a little Martha-Stewart-ey in the planning and preparation process. It was a great excuse to pull out all my antique pink milk glass, and also try out a tasty cocktail recipe from the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living.  This cocktail was written to be served as a punch, but I mixed all of the non-carbonated ingredients together in a pitcher, and then splashed club soda in each glass as I served it. Martha’s recipe calls for separate juices (Pomegranate and cranberry), but I found it easier to just buy a blended bottle. Same with the recommended Cointreau – we’re on a budget here, and frankly, I don’t think spending $30 for a liqueur that’s going into a juice blend is necessary. The $10 bottle of Orange Curacao worked just fine!

The cocktail was pleasantly tart with a sweet aftertaste, and it had a spicy, holiday flavor. Experiment with the juices, and if you make individual servings, you can also try out gin, my personal preference!

The essentials: 3 cups of pomegranate-cranberry juice, 1 cup of vodka, 1 cup of orange curacao, 1/2 cup lemon juice (lime would also be tasty!), 1/2 cup simple syrup*, club soda for splashing and adding fizz.

Mix everything but the club soda, and pour over cranberry-studded ice cubes. Feliz HannyZaa! You could celebrate all three notable holidays with this drink.

*simple syrup: 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar – heat on the stove, stirring constantly until mixture is boiling. Turn off the burner & allow to cool. This will make about 1.5 cups of syrup, so enough for three batches of drinks.

Cranberry-studded Ice Cubes:

Wash some fresh cranberries, then place in empty ice-cube trays. If you’re like me, your ice cubes don’t come out clear like all those foodie photos have. One trick is to boil your filtered water (distilled apparently works even better), let it cool, return to a boil, cool again, and then pour into trays. Mine still weren’t crystal-clear, but they were prettier than solid white cubes. These are a nice touch for your holiday get-togethers – whether in a cocktail, or with 7-up, or even water.

Making Cranberry Ice Cubes

The finished product:

Cranberry Pomegranate Cocktail

Enjoy!

© 2020 PlazaJen: The Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑