Thursday, May 28, 2009

Whoooooo are you?

Who, who
Who who?

Could be an Eastern Kingbird. But every picture I see of one looks like a different bird from the one before.

He seems to be in love with the hummingbird finial. He doesn't eat from the feeder, but circles around and then sits next to it and looks around. He's been doing this all morning.

He won't tell me who he is.

I really wanna know.

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's only bean dip...

A few thoughts on having hummus and raw vegetables for lunch:

* I can double-dip all I want, since I'm the only one who eats hummus. And vegetables.

* For some reason hummus irritates my tongue and I can never remember to stop before that point.

* Eating hummus and raw vegetables for lunch gives you a false sense of security about visiting Cold Stone Creamery that evening.

* The dogs never beg when I'm having hummus and raw vegetables for lunch.

* Whiskers is remarkably ambivalent about my eating when I'm having hummus and raw vegetables for lunch.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I love work. I could watch it for hours...well, a half hour...

Pretty barren, huh?

Such is the plight of trying to establish a new garden area. First it has to be plowed, then disked a few times, all done when the ground is relatively dry and all done by a third party whose schedule understandably does not revolve around us. It's been so wet lately, today was the first day we could plant anything.

Rumor had it that even today's weather could not be relied upon and we almost scrapped plans to get all the plants in. But the sky stayed clear and we went ahead.


Actually, it was more like Dirtman getting the plants in and Zsa Zsa and I sitting in the shade watching. I'm still a little shaky after two days in bed and, while the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak (and flabby and white). As for Zsa Zsa -- well, you don't expect The Zsa Zsa to work, do you?

And I must confess that after awhile I went into the house, did dishes and then sat in my happy place and knit. Yeah. I did. While Dirtman sweated away in the field, I sat in the shade with a tall glass of ice water and knit (a project I will share some other day).

I offered real meat for dinner, but he was too hot and tired to digest anything so heavy. So tomorrow is real meat. Tonight features the last of this area's asparagus crop, hard boiled eggs and this conversation with Heir 1:

Me: Asparagus and eggs for dinner tonight.

Heir 1: Uhhhh....(Makes a face)

Me: It's perfect for a hot day.

Heir 1: That's not a dinner. It's a salad -- heated up. It's almost as bad as Spud Night.

Me: Other people have Spud Night.

Heir 1: Other people have Spud Lunch.

Me: Think of Spud Night as Chili Night with a potato under it.

Heir 1: (Makes another face).

Me: Oh, dear.

Heir 1: What?

Me: I think you need to find a new restaurant.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Angel Food Cake, Part 2 or...

Ea' A' 'oe's*

Heir 2 has been working at the Old Mill Restaurant in Strasburg for over a year now, working his way from dishwasher to a sort of pantry cook. When he first started, his Sunday "Care Packages" were a real important component in getting us through the week, food-wise, and he's picked up some tips and recipes I've incorporated into my own repertoire.

I offered him an array of choices for what he wants to serve to the family after his graduation. For Heir 1's party I put out all kinds of food, not realizing that the ceremony didn't even start until 7:30 p.m., meaning it was after 9 o'clock by the time we ate. By that time, no one was interested in eating a full meal. So this time around it will be, basically, dessert and coffee (or whatever).

An iced cake is the obvious choice here, which I was happy to bake since professionally decorated cakes often sacrifice taste in favor of appearance. We all like ice cream cakes, which is what I got for Heir 1's party and the leftovers haunted me for weeks after (every time I walked by the freezer it would be in there calling my name).

Anyway, Heir 2's favorite cake is angel food and he wanted it topped with a strawberry compote he learned to prepare at The Mill.

Well, naturally we had to try it out first before serving it to guests and I certainly wanted to make sure that my angel food cake skills were up to churning out three of them for the party (if you are about to suggest I use or eat anything involving powdered egg whites and imitation vanilla -- such a a store-bought cake or mix -- don't. Have you tasted those things? Ugh!).

The most compelling feature of this compote recipe, for the Heirs at least, is the fact that it uses (luscious) peach schnapps, which seems to delight them no end. The taste is very subtle, though; very smooth.

Joe and Caisee

Strawberries, sugar, (luscious**) peach schnapps, angel food cake: what's not to love?

*Song from A Mighty Wind

**Do you get that I find the brand name comical?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cake of the Angels*, Part 1

The mysterious alchemy of egg whites manifesting themselves into an angel food cake was always intimidating to me. Even when I got my Artisan mixer, which took all the mystery out of things like making bread and pasta to the point that I make them regularly – for the most part without the mixer these days – an angel food cake was still a source of anxiety.

My mother used to present the frothing of egg whites as some sort of mystical process, with the cream of tartar the fairy dust that made the slimy whites grow into airy clouds of meringue. Of course she taught me the proper rituals that accompany such a ceremony: the sacred cleansings, the delicate approach, the proper reverence during the baking process.

By the time I was old enough to bake on my own, egg whites held almost the same terror as the confessional. The separation of white from yolk alone was enough to give you an ulcer. “Just a speck of shell or yolk will cause the entire batch to COLLAPSE,” my mother would stress as she stood over me, watching me flipping the yolk back and forth between the two shell halves, allowing the white to drip into a bowl below. Because, God forbid you waste a single egg with your clumsiness!

Needless to say, up until the age of 40, I’d made only two angel food cakes in my life, both for my own birthday, because I figured at least I was just disappointing myself. Though both turned out well, it had been a terrifying process I was in no hurry to make a regular part of my life.

But there are other cakes in the world and I would have died reasonably happy never again having to face the intimidating threat of having 12 egg whites go in the garbage because I’d looked at them cross-eyed or the barometric pressure wasn’t at the proper level.

So God laughed and gave me a son whose favorite cake happens to be angel food. I was forced to face my fear and I have vanquished it.

Sort of.

I’ve had to churn out many more angel food cakes so, while I’m hardly blasé about it, I’m not overly anxious. I am very focused during the beating of the egg whites until that moment when they begin to expand and gloss over and I know I’m okay. Then I dissolve in a sort of private celebration that once again I trod the path of danger and arrived victorious.

It is the sort of reverence that should be brought to such an undertaking as an angel food cake.

Heir 2 has chosen this as his dessert to be served after his graduation, topped with a strawberry concoction he learned to make at his job at The Old Mill Restaurant in Strasburg. Well, we had to test it out ahead of time, ya know...

I used the Joy of Cooking angel food cake recipe, as serviceable as any other. Really, if you follow the Angel Food Cake Catechism, it's very simple:

1. Everything that touches the egg whites must be very, very clean. I rewash everything in hot soapy water, even if it's already clean. Then I dry it with a fresh towel.
2. The egg whites should be cold.
3. Don't beat the eggs to a meringue-like stiffness (they should pour, not plop).
4. No stomping around once the cake is in the oven.

And there you have it.

We'll leave Heir 2's strawberry recipe for tomorrow.

*Not to be confused with Zuppa da Bay.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Man vs. Plow

For some reason, Dirtman took it into his head that the snow plow just had to come out of the side yard today. It was -- like -- an obsession.

In my defense (for standing around and shooting the following photos), I suggested he wait until Heir 2 came home from school. But he would not listen, saying something about being sick of listening to a bunch of griping. I can't imagine what he meant by that...

The goal: To appease Jeanne and make her shut up remove snow plow attachment to a less conspicuous place.
But how?

Well, this looks like a Darwin Award in the making...

And..........wait for it.....................................

......there it is!

"Shouldn't we stop him, Dah-ling?"

What's the old joke? "What were the redneck's last words?

.....'Hey, guys! Watch this!'"

Now here's a disaster waiting... happen.

Well, at least now it's a back yard eyesore...

But, wait! I hear banging in the basement! He hasn't given up yet!

Hmm...this looks promising...go figure: To move a heavy object, use a tool designed... move a heavy object! It's brilliant!

Apparently someone doesn't appreciate my helpful commentary.*

So there it is: another upright object in the backyard for Salt to lift his leg on.

*Edited for family viewing -- because I know ya'all gather around the monitor every night to read my posts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

All in the way you look at things

Dirtman has many talents, but an aesthetic sense is not one of them -- as demonstrated by a recent entry on his blog regarding some sprucing up we've been doing outside.

For instance, let's take a look at one photo in particular.

Technically, it shows the flower box we planted and the flowers we planted around the birdbath. Are you seeing any of that? I'm seeing a big honkin' trench and the snow plow off the four-wheeler we no longer own.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining about the existence of the filled-in trench. Because of the trench, we now have well water and don't have to pay to get the cistern filled. And I know our landlord/neighbor will get this all raked down and planted with grass on both this property and the one he occupies as soon as he can -- he's always done things for us in a timely matter. Honest -- I'm lovin' the trench.

Not so much the snow plow...

Even so, I accept some things as the way they're going to be and I even accept the plow because the mockingbirds like to perch on it.

However, when you are trying to show people how nice you've made an area, it's a pretty good idea to try to shoot around any eyesores that can't be removed (though, truth to tell the snow plow can be removed, but far be it from me to mention the removal ability of said plow, being the accepting sort of person I am).

So, I present to you my view of our side yard makeover.

You will notice the added benefit of dog in this view, along with a
good shot of the peonies and our sitting area.
This is my Happy Place.*

View from my office window

So, you see, with the proper perspective the trench doesn't have to appear in any photo and the snow plow definitely doesn't have to appear in any photo, especially if it wasn't in a place being photographed in the first place. And the addition of dog (Hokie) and peonies gives the presentation just the right amount of warmth so that you hardly notice the plow, though it is there, you know.

Use the zoom.
Love the zoom.
The zoom is your friend.
Especially if there's a plow in your side yard that you totally accept, but just want to point out to certain parties that it's there.

*Except for the fact that I can still see the snow plow, which I'm not complaining about due to my attitude of extreme acceptance.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Orange and scones and orange scones

I'm sure you have one of these: that orange that's just sort of left over from a big bag of oranges; that one orange no one wants -- at first because no one ever wants to take the last of anything and hear someone shout, "Where's my orange? I was saving that orange for a special occasion and now some hog has eaten it!" -- and then because no one wants to eat it because it's looking a little sad and, besides, now there's this beautiful new bag of oranges and who wants to settle for the sad, possibly dried out, left over orange?

You know the one -- it's probably sitting there next to a blackening banana.

Take that orange, zest it, juice it (with your handy dandy 1945 juicer) and throw it in your favorite scone recipe.

Don't have a favorite scone recipe? Well, this is mine, adapted from a recipe my mother clipped out of a newspaper before I was born. I say "adapted" because back in the day everyone was obsessed with sifting.

Scones are traditionally a slap-together sort of affair; like a biscuit, only sweeter. When my mother used her recipe, you'd think she was making the finest French pastry, what with all the sifting and resifting. When I was growing up, Mama making scone was an event requiring use of an entire kitchen table and counter, with bowls and spoons and sifters and wax paper, along with instruments enabling exact measurements that would have made a scientist proud. Nerve-wracking.

So my first order of business when making my mother's scones was to take the ceremony out of the scone. Then I had a good, basic, traditional (to me, anyway) scone that could be adapted to today's not-so-traditional additions and flavors.

So here goes:

Basic Scones

In a bowl, whisk together:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Cut in:
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)

Keep cutting until no hunk is bigger than a small pea.

In a measuring cup, beat:
1 egg
Add enough milk to the egg to make 3/4 cup of liquid.
Add liquid to the dry mixture and stir with a fork until moist. And it will be moist, the degree of which will depend on the weather. But this is going to get a little messy.

Cover your counter surface with flour and dump this moist batter on top. Sprinkle more flour on top of that. Work it around to bring it together and divide in thirds. Add as much flour as makes you comfortable, but remember that the more flour you add, the tougher the scones will be. Pat each third into a circle approx. 5 inches in diameter (don't you dare get out a ruler -- it's just not that important).

Cut each circle into quarters and place on a parchment-lined (or silpat) cookie sheet. A floured baking spatula makes this a lot easier (also handy for scraping up the gooky counter).

Brush the top of each scone with milk and sprinkle with additional sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes at -- well, the original recipe said 425 degree F. According to my recipe notes, I've had ovens that only required 400 degrees and this oven only requires 375 degrees. So there you have it. I'd start with 425 and check on them during the last five minutes. Again -- this is not an angel food cake; it will bear up while you open and close the oven door or stomp around the kitchen or chase the dog off the table. So 15 minutes at 425 degrees F. Remove from sheet as soon as out of the oven. There's your basic scone.

Now, about that orange that you've zested and juiced: To make orange scones, add the zest with the dry ingredients and the juice will be part of the milk you add to make the 3/4 liquid. Don't worry if there is no juice -- it's the zest that really gives the orange flavor.

You could add 3/4 cup of craisins or dried blueberries if you have them. The original recipe called for 3/4 cup raisins, but I never put them in because there are a lot of people around here who don't like wrinkled fruit. (Yes, I searched YouTube for that old Robert Morley Sunsweet prune commercial -- to no avail...) Dirtman would put in those stupid goji berries Costco suckered him into last year -- if he knew how to bake.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm etc.

I know, I know. I should probably start a birding blog or something so as not to annoy people for whom a bird is just a bird, just like I should have yet another blog for the dogs and another for my food or knitting or sewing stuff. But, then, all that would be left on Linguini would be me and Dark Garden bickering, Heir 2 giving the thumbs up next to things and smiling and pictures of gnomes in danger.

And I doubt anyone would bother to click through to the other myriad of blogs anyway, which means you would miss seeing this.

The hummingbird feeder is just outside my office window and this goes on all day long.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Snake Whisperer

Some Australian Shepherds herd sheep or other cattle. In competition they can herd ducks or geese.

But only Becca* herds snakes.

Becca's dad** said the confrontation ended in a draw.

*Zsa Zsa's second-born, Gnome Hill's Penny Lane.

**Thank you, thank you, thank you for the photos!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Up to speed

Ahhhh! Back on my usual computer. The laptop is okay for just working in Word, but doing anything else is a nuisance -- and will be until I get myself a mouse.

Things have been truly buzzing around here; so much good news, I'm wondering if perhaps the universe is tilting in a strange direction or maybe I've fallen through some black hole to a parallel universe -- one that isn't out to get us.

Or maybe my Year of Grief has come to an end, even though I didn't know I was experiencing a Year of Grief because I was...well...experiencing a Year of Grief. What is the psycho babble phrase? I found my New Normal?

First of all, NO MORE CISTERN!!!! Our landlord/neighbor hooked us up to his well. What this means is no more turning on the kitchen sink, hearing a telltale thunk that means "rinse what you got and quick;" or waking up at night when someone uses the bathroom and hearing an ominous hiss that means no one else will be able to use the toilet until water is delivered. Turns out the cistern still had a leak, which I wish we knew, like, eight expensive loads of water ago...

Second: Dirtman has quit tobacco! The Heirs are particularly happy about this since they envisioned a future of having to be the caregiver to a father with half a face. I'm just relieved he got rid of the health risk. Oh, and now I don't have to run away when he tries to kiss me.

Some minor positive notes: The thyroid meds have finally kicked in completely and, while I wouldn't say the pounds are "melting" away, I feel like I'm back on track and am fitting in clothes I haven't seen since two summers ago. My energy has returned and my joints aren't screaming every time I put forth a little exertion. My hair has stopped falling out and my nails grow again.

So we've been busy. Landlord/neighbor plowed a section in the back of the yard (beyond the fence) for a communal vegetable garden. As soon as it dries up a little he's going to have it tilled. So we started a compost pile because...yea...we've got a lot to compost.

Mothers' Day was spent at Dark Garden's house, where I was -- against my will -- entered into a dip contest. Had I known this was a contest, I would not have brought hummus, which was, technically, in violation of the "dip theme" of the gathering. The dip was supposed to go with tortilla chips, but since I was trying not to eat tortilla chips, I brought hummus and carrot and celery sticks.

Do I need to tell you I lost miserably -- even to Dirtman's dip, which was...well, if you have a strong stomach and aren't eating anything, you can read about Dirtman's dip. First of all, men don't like hummus. They say they do to appease women attempting to get them to eating healthily, but they don't. Second, I can't think of anything more disgusting than hummus on a tortilla chip. And, finally, this batch didn't turn out as well as usual because for the first time in my life I made something with not enough garlic and, I think, my tahini might have been too old. (Dark Garden will make a comment about that last phrase.)

Additionally, Dark Garden will say I'm taking this way too seriously, which is what the person who sets up such competition always says when he purposely sabotaged the entry of the competition he feared. It ended up being a draw between his and John Boy's salsas, but only statistically. Each dip had its own merit and it's hard to compare, say, a cheese-based dip with a salsa because sometimes you want cheese and sometimes you want salsa.

And sometimes you don't want either because you want fresh vegetables and hummus.

I think that catches us up.

Oh, except for this, which we found next to Abbey's favorite gnome:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

An Heir of Elegance

There's are numerous "lasts" this season. From my standpoint my last child is now no longer a child, we attended our last academic achievement banquet, watched his last band concert, and, last night, saw him off to his senior prom.

Heir 2 has had to good sense to wind up his high school years with the same choice in girlfriend as he started out with (At left, their first Homecoming dance back in 2005). They'll be attending Roanoke College together in the fall.

But last night is was all about the prom and how wonderful Heir 2 thought he looked, at which point we reminded him that once Caisee walked in, no one was going to be looking at him.

I ask you: Is anyone looking at Heir 2 in these pictures?

One thing I particularly love about Caisee is that she is a good sport, which is kind of important here in Linguiniland. You just never know what sort of embarrassment we've conjured up simply so we can laugh like idiots.

I would remind you, she once agreed to pose with the unidentified cucuzza.

And what mother wouldn't love a girl that makes her son this happy?