Sunday, May 1, 2011

Recent Baking

Yes, I’m back wasting more of my time and yours. Three posts in one day. Considering that I had TWO in both March and April (and one of those was actually Mr. Kim), I’m doing pretty well. Of course, with the trip coming up, I doubt I’ll be doing much more this month, so you might want to ration yourselves.

Anyway, in spite of all my verbosity, I’ve actually accomplished quite a lot here today. I’ve sorted out most of my clothes and cosmetics and jewelry and stuff. I’ve gotten all of the Mother’s day and May birthday gifts in the mail (do you ADORE those 24 hour mailing machines at the post office? I refuse to send anything that won’t fit in them). I haven’t made dinner yet, though. Hmmm. It’s almost 9pm. Maybe I’d better check with Mr. Kim before I settle in here for a long chat. (Jeopardy music interval). Nah, he’s fine. I just turned the oven on to preheat for a frozen pizza, so we’re good.

With all of the trip preparation, I have hardly cooked a meal in the last month. I just looked back at my kitchen journal and I counted 16 meals since April 1st. That includes breakfasts and breakfast-for-dinner and cheese, cracker and fruit dinners. Yes, I keep a kitchen journal – with pictures and everything. It is on a Word document, not a book. I used to keep a book and I love the IDEA of a book filled with real handwriting and pictures and cunning little sketches, but it just got incredibly unwieldy. And honestly, as old as I feel sometimes, I am, after all, a child of my era and I just find that I compose much better typing than I do handwriting things. Not to mention the arthritis and neuropathy (I AM old).

Anyway, while I haven’t been doing much regular cooking lately I’ve been doing rather a lot of baking, for one reason or another. I thought I’d like to show these off a little, because I was really pleased with some of the results.

At the beginning of April we had my MIL, Jo, over for dinner. She is one of my very favorite people to cook for. She’s very adventurous and eats almost anything. She’s fun to cook for because I can go all out and take risks. I did a chilled curried apple soup with curry leaf rolls as a starter. Dinner was risk-free – I have a recipe from an online friend, Dianne at, for garlic shrimp. We have this shrimp all the time and adore it. Dessert was two different kinds of cookies – both new recipes to me. One success and one…well, not quite. (Click to enlarge any image).

Cooky One:

These are called “Almond Joy Cookies” and the recipe is from Deensiebat at A fantastic coconut macaroon with ganache and toasted almonds. This was obviously the success.

Cookie Two:

These were something that I called “Cotton Candy Cookies” and were not so successful. They require a little explanation. I love those Lofthouse cookies that they have in grocery store bakeries. They are tender and soft and very cakey. I am also in love with Brewster’s Cotton Candy Explosion ice cream. It is cotton candy flavored with Pop Rocks mixed in. I somehow became obsessed with the idea of making a Lofthouse-type cooky with the flavor of the ice cream. A coworker makes a copycat Lofthouse cooky and gave me her recipe. I put a little cotton candy flavoring in the cooky dough and in the frosting and topped them with Pop Rocks. Then my problems began – the cookies are lovely and tender and the frosting smooth and not numbingly sweet (better, in fact, than the Lofthouse frosting). But the flavoring didn’t taste at ALL like cotton candy – just vaguely sweet and fruity. The Pop Rocks worked just fine when we tasted the cookies immediately after topping the cookies – good explosiveness. But they fairly quickly melted away to nothing. Sigh. I’m sure that Brewster’s gets some special Pop Rocks that will stand up to being wetted with the ice cream. They are much larger than the ones that I got. Oh, well. My next idea for the cookies is to incorporate toasted coconut, which I’m sure will work much better. And Kerry at Cookskorner suggested coating the Pop Rocks with cocoa butter to help them to hold up to the moisture in the frosting. So, I’ll try again.

Another Deensiebat recipe that I tried in April was this delicious coffee cake:

It is cinnamon and chocolate chip and it was fantastic. I made it one Sunday morning for breakfast and will definitely make it again. I got the layers a little messed up – there should be two even layers of cake and a middle layer of chocolate. My chocolate layer is a little low.

The next occasion to come along was a birthday for one of Mr. Kim’s coworkers. She requested an angel food cake:

I was really happy with the way this turned out. I think it was my best angel food cake effort yet.

Next was an actual JOB! Getting paid to bake is both gratifying and nerve wracking! One of the nurses at work ordered a dozen cupcakes and a layer cake for a baby shower at her church. Everything turned out well, but I was plagued with cake issues! To make things easier on myself, I made the cupcakes and the cake layers the weekend before they were needed and froze them. Then the day before I thawed them and set to frosting and decorating. She wanted yellow cupcakes with white icing and sprinkles. She wanted the cake to be chocolate with marshmallow filling and white icing decorated with the mom’s color choice – mainly bright red, orange and yellow. I used canned frosting for everything since I have yet to find a reliable, tasty frosting recipe.

For the cupcakes I used my go to yellow cake recipe that I found online – it was recommended by oli at eGullet. They worked out just fine:

The cake was a bit more problematical, not to mention ultimately exhausting. I used my Chocolate Bar Cupcake recipe – one of the easiest and best chocolate cakes I make. It was the marshmallow filling that did me in. Right after I put the layers together with the Fluff, they began to s-l- i-d-e. Marshmallow Fluff OOZES. I guess I knew this somewhere in my head, but unfortunately the knowledge came to the fore a little late. I wasted a long time trying to edge it back and driving skewers through the layers. I finally faced the fact that it just wasn’t going to work (though I decided that Fluff will make an awesome cupcake filler – so not a totally wasted experiment). Mr. Kim went off to the store for more cake makings (I forgot to mention that this particular cake recipe makes only a 2 layer cake and I wanted 3 – so to get one cake, I made this recipe FOUR times). While he was gone, I made this:

Mistake Cake. I have experience with Mistake Cake – the same thing happened to The Child’s Chocolate Turtle birthday cake in January. Dulce de leche OOZES, too. Sigh. I just sliced up the cake and smooshed it a bit and topped it with melted icing. One went to work for noshing and the rest was distributed to the neighbors.

The next cake worked much better with regular buttercream between the layers. Here is the final result:

My lettering skillz, they are not mad, but I thought the cake was really cute. I used the sprinkles in the colors that she wanted and piped the baby’s name in blue (as requested). I tried my hand at two color piping for the first time with the puffs on top of the cake and the edging at the bottom and really liked the effect. But my favorite part was the ‘poles’. I don’t really know what to call them. I wasn’t crazy about the requested colors – bright red, yellow and orange, royal blue and purple. I thought they were a little garish for a baby shower, not to mention a bit Fall-like. So I went to Lowe’s and got some paint chips in those colors and when I saw them all together, I thought ‘circus’. And somehow (who knows how my mind works) I came up with this ‘pole’ idea. They are just bright Twizzlers on skewers with Dots candies at the top and bottom. They are too long, I think, but I like them a lot and I think they add a little circus or maybe Merry Go Round feeling. A bit of whimsy, if you will.

I’ve already shown my Easter contribution in the Easter post, so we’ll skip over that. The last thing that I baked (and the last thing that I WILL bake until we get back) was for a work luncheon for one of our physical therapists who is going out on maternity leave. This was a surprise, so the mom-to-be didn’t decide the colors, I did! I got to design everything on my own and I had so much fun without that interference. No, no one has ever called me a control freak – why do you ask? I decided to make cupcakes (what else?) based on some I saw in a magazine:

Just yellow cupcakes with homemade fondant ‘bib’ decorations. This was my first time working with fondant and I really enjoyed it. It was so easy – like working with Play Doh! I had always heard about how awful fondant tastes. I thought it was a little bland, but not unpleasant. Seeing as it is only marshmallow, white chocolate, butter, cream, vanilla and 10X, how bad could it possibly taste? Also, these were very, very thin.

Some details:

I tell you, I’ve never had so many impressed people. And it was SO simple!

So that’s it, until at least June. Nobody better ask me to make so much as a piece of toast until then. Really…I hope they don’t. Because I am really BAD at saying ‘NO’. I can barely form the word.

(When I did a Google search for a ‘Hell No’ image, half the pictures were of Sarah Palin. Snort.)


I am a packrat. NOT a hoarder (those people are frickin’ NUTS). But I do have a billion things tucked away here and there and everywhere. There is not a drawer, a cabinet, a closet or an attic (we have two, plus a backyard shed and a rental locker) in our house that isn’t crammed to capacity. I have so much stuff that, to my shame, I sometimes buy things that we already have. I vow repeatedly to organize things. That doesn’t happen much. Searching for something in my house is a little like Christmas – one is almost certain to serendipitously find some forgotten item.

Being in the midst of trip preparations, I’m doing a LOT of searching – looking for cosmetic bags, jewelry, those billions of trial-size shampoos and deodorants that fill Christmas stockings every year. And I found some lovely, forgotten things:

These were Bomo’s (my maternal grandmother). I remember coming upon these in her house when we helped Bubba sort things out after she passed away.

The two bigger ones are lingerie bags – back when lingerie was beautiful and delicate. When stockings were individual wisps of silk instead of the horrid cow-flop clump of pantyhose. When you peek inside you can see the smooth silkiness of the fabric – protection against snags:

I love the detail on this bag:

It makes me think of the days when traveling was an EVENT. You dressed up to ride a train, all your luggage matched and there was even a special bag just for your make-up, with a little mirror inside the lid. Everything had its own special bag or box or slot in a larger bag or box. There were jewelry rolls that helped your necklaces stay untangled (I could really use one of those) and SHOE BAGS (I made do with plastic grocery bags).

The smaller one is a tiny traveling sewing kit, complete with thread, pins and a threaded needle

That threaded needle is somehow so poignant to me. My Bomo threaded that needle. And you can tell that this WAS used. The set is pretty old, I think, but the thimble is just plastic, not Bakelite and the pins are fairly modern ones with round plastic tips.

I won’t be using any of this on my trip. I have department store make-up counter giveaways with zippers and plastic lining that are much more practical and I’m sure that if I tried to use that thread it would break in a second. So I tucked it all away to surprise me again some day. To remind me of my grandmother.

I found something else that I’d forgotten, that won’t be tucked away. How utterly sweet is this:

Impossibly tiny and delicate. And, except for a missing tea pot lid and a broken sugar bowl handle, complete.

One of the saucers with a quarter for scale:

One of the wee cups – all the handles intact:

I just love the sugar bowl and creamer:

I have no idea how old there are. I don’t know if they were Momma’s or Bomo’s (maybe Momma can chime in here if she knows). Here is the bottom of one of the saucers, if that gives a clue:

I do remember playing with these when I was a little girl. There was even a tiny wooden hutch to hold them with wee grooves in the shelves to hold the plates upright, just like the life sized one in my dining room. It’s funny, but as house proud and fastidious as she was, I don’t remember ever being forbidden to play with anything in my grandmother’s house. She had a tiny cast iron cookstove and miniature card games (I showed pictures of these in my May 22, 2010 blog post), books, dolls, etc. that I played with. And I don’t remember anything ever being placed out of reach or even being admonished to be careful.

Now that I’ve found the tea set again, I’ve set it out so I can see it. I’ve put it on a What-Not shelf that my granddaddy made (also shown in that May 2010 post):

Well, I’ve managed to while away a half a day on things over 50 years old that could have waited a few weeks longer to surface on here. But it’s right to recognize them and celebrate them. The things that I love the most in my house once belonged to someone else. Almost every item that my gaze lights upon reminds me of someone. From where I’m sitting now (the dining room table at which we ate dinner every night growing up) I can see Depression glass from my grandmother’s house, a painting that Momma and Ted brought me from Paris, the gorgeous painted wooden trays that sweet Rebecca let me win (even though I didn’t) on ebay, the mini sideboard that Mr. Kim surprised me with when I thought that we were only buying dining room chairs (I had fallen in love with the cunning thing when we were picking the chairs out at an antique mart in Salem, Virginia, but refused to let him buy it – it was delivered with the chairs the following week) – pictures of family and friends. Some of those pictures are of long passed people I never saw – but I know they are MINE anyway. So many things, so many memories. I vow to organize and weed out stuff, but how do you winnow out things like that? Well, being honest now, I admit I probably won’t. Not too much, anyway. I’ll leave it for The Child to do one day. She’ll keep what is meaningful to her and give away the rest. And I’m fine with that. I don’t believe in keeping things without meaning. Of course, I do have a corner of my attic that is stacked with paintings that my Aunt Mildred did when she took up oil painting late in life. And let me tell you, Aunt Mildred was NO Grandma Moses. They are truly terrible. My Grandma Jean (Momma’s stepmom) gave them to me. I kept them in case she ever came up from NC to visit. That is never going to happen now, I know. But those paintings are still up there. Why is that, I wonder?

The Child Can COOK!

This was The Child’s first holiday in her new digs and with our imminent trip to England, I was NOT cooking a big company meal, so when she invited us to Easter lunch, I JUMPED. I knew she was a good cook – she’s prepared various things for us in the past: a side dish, a dessert – that kind of thing. But I don’t think she’s ever given us an entire celebratory meal all of her own devising. It was a HUGE success – everything was delicious! I was amazed and proud.

Pre-dinner nibbles:

Crackers and cream cheese with pepper jelly and fig preserves (Southern classic). And:

Sweet and spicy rosemary cashews.

Dinner included a perfectly roasted chicken:

Lemon and herb stuffed with roasted heads of garlic and bacon (very English). A prime test of a cook and she really nailed it.

A gorgeous salad:

Romaine, endive, red onion, dried cranberries, candied pecans, pears and a lemon/olive oil/herb dressing.

Asparagus and corn salad w/ feta cheese:

This is her own creation and it’s the perfect spring side dish – crisp, fresh and cool.

Roast potatoes with pine nuts, bacon and Locatelli:

PERFECT roast potatoes – crisp outside and creamy inside. Again – a hard thing to accomplish and she aced it.

Pasta with two cheeses and spinach:

I contributed (by request) deviled eggs:

Is it even LEGAL to have Easter dinner without deviled eggs???

Yes, this was all for THREE people. She needs to work on amounts (but I cook that way, too – so she comes by it naturally). My babygirl can cook and she has a wonderful palate. Everything tasted wonderful, went together and was just RIGHT. It also, in some weird way validates me and my food focus. I’ve always seen myself as the ultimate ‘normal’ (read a little dull) person. Nothing special. But The Child is an extraordinary person – bright, funny, beautiful – a real individual. So if she is drawn to cooking and creating things in the kitchen, if she gets pleasure from nourishing folks, then I’m not too weird for loving the same things.

Dessert was my domain this year. I made the Easter cake:

This is a Key Lime Coconut Cheesecake. The bottom layer is cheesecake and the top layer is sponge cake – both flavored with Key lime extract. Filled with Key lime curd, whipped cream and coconut. The whole thing is frosted with whipped cream and sprinkled with coconut. We ended up taking this to Mr. Kim’s mom’s house for dessert.

This was just delicious. Everyone said that it was one of the best things that I’d ever made.

So we had a Happy Easter – family, food and being together. My girl had a rousing success. And we were a part of it. In the midst of getting the dinner on the table, when we were all three busy doing this and that, she apologized for not having things all ready when we got there but said that it was actually fun doing it together. I chopped things (I has mad knife skillz), Mr. Kim whipped up the salad dressing and carved the chicken. We were sous and she was the executive chef. And it WAS fun – Mr. Kim and I agreed completely on that. All her life, that was exactly how I wanted our family to be and, most often, it wasn’t. I had this picture in my head of the ‘happy family’ that I wanted us to be – cooperating on projects, working together to create a meal, make a garden, paint a room. More often, we did our projects individually. I don’t really know why – perhaps it was because of expediency or lack of interest. But this day was different – we were a team, the team I’ve always wanted us to be. It was a wonderful feeling and one I’ll remember forever.

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to post pictures of The Child's adorable table:

So, not only can she cook and write, but she's crafty, too! She may look like her Daddy, but she's got a little of me in her, too!