Scooting right along
Tuesday February 19th 2019, 11:40 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

I got the chair down to Bischoff’s Medical and they got right to it. I was good to go for Stitches and the guy was as happy about that as I was. Good folks. I recommended to my friend Pamela that she rent a scooter from them so as not to miss out–she broke both bones in her lower leg a few days ago and one of her first reactions was, But Stitches!

Meantime, I learned something new about the melanger: even though you don’t want to run it more than a minute without something in it, always do turn it on right before you start pouring the cocoa nibs in, not the other way around: otherwise the bits mound up, caught beneath the arms and jam the thing. And that is a motor I want working for many years to come. I sent a note to Afton so that that wouldn’t happen to her too with her new machine and turns out it already had. Both of us had to stop, pour the loose stuff out and hack away at those mounds to free the thing–but when we did it worked peachy fine.

It has a lid but it’s off while you’re pouring the nibs in, so you do it slowly because, um, popcorn effects are entertaining. (Which is why I tried putting them in first this time and turning it on. Bad idea.) She reported that her kitten went after a flying bit of chocolate but after tasting it gave her this look of, What have you *done* to me!

(Second sign posted for my retired high school English-teaching mom. A rare spotting of double letter inversions in the wild.)

 



Love play work
Sunday February 17th 2019, 12:32 am
Filed under: Family,Knitting a Gift,Life

Finished the hat during the drive to Salinas for a family get-together.

We went home by way of Mutari for hot chocolate in Santa Cruz, making it back just in time for our niece, who had carpooled with us, to make it to her next thing. (Which meant taking 17 home. In the rainy season between storms of the day. I know one friend who will read that and cringe at the thought, but the redwood that fell across the highway had been cut up and pushed out of the way by then.)

Then daughter and husband fixed the plumbing under the bathroom sink and I can’t tell you how good it feels to have that working again.

Then out to get ice cream to celebrate.

Lots and lots of family this morning, some I hadn’t seen in half a dozen years, and it felt like so much life was all packed into one short day.



The place was really busy
Tuesday February 12th 2019, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

The sky was dark and low but the rain was holding off till evening. The shoppers were not.

I told the young clerk Pegi’s line about this being a French Toast run before the storm: milk eggs bread. He and the bagger cracked up, with the clerk especially looking like I had just totally made his day.

Clearly someone has parents who taught him how to make it. I remember thinking in college that everybody did: you just whip the eggs with a little milk, dip in the bread, pre-toasted or as is, a pat of butter in the skillet and one side and then the other and there you go. Easiest dish ever. (A side effect of our having lived in New Hampshire is that only real maple syrup will do for us. It’s the rule.)

And I remember the friend who watched my every movement like a hawk, trying to memorize proportions, which don’t matter much, not wanting to admit at the beginning that at 21 she’d never learned how to do this. How many eggs?

Her dad had died young and her mother was someone who bought blue cheese dressing but threw it away a day or two later because it had gone moldy. All those little blue bits in it.

And as long as I’m on that subject, my sister-in-law had a college roommate who was trying hard to learn from her how to cook. When my sister-in-law asked her to wash the lettuce she, having no idea, compliantly did: she squirted dish soap on it.



The talk
Sunday February 10th 2019, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Family,Life

It printed out to six pages? Well that was way too long anyway.

I tossed my notes halfway through and riffed on what the high school senior had said before me in her talk about hope. I looked across at the young man who grew up in foster care and is now a certified nursing assistant, a huge accomplishment given how his life got started, and without singling him out I wanted to let him know I knew how important his job was no matter where he might be on the totem pole at work. I found myself talking about Noel.

Noel Cortez was a CNA at Stanford assigned to the room I was in when I was near death from my first big bout of Crohn’s. He had lost a niece, a small child, to cancer and kept her picture with his badge to remind him, he told me, of why he does what he does. The care she’d gotten had inspired him to get the training for that job, and when I met him he was applying to nursing schools as the next step.

Noel was both a deeply loving human being reaching out to others in their own pain and one of the funniest people you could ever hope to meet, and since I was probably his sickest patient he spent every spare moment he could with Richard and me, keeping both of us laughing at a time we thought we never could again.

Laughing while the body was trying to ebb away somehow offered strength that I didn’t know was still in there somewhere.

I talked, too, about the doctor who had needed me to live, and who cared just as much and whom I couldn’t let down so I did.

I said, Their kindnesses offered hope when I most needed it. Hope offers life. We can never know just how much it means to someone else when we reach out to them but it is never, ever a small thing when we do.

And with that my time was up and I sat down.



Maple pecan orange caramel strudel, this time with a little hazelnut too because that’s what was here
Sunday February 03rd 2019, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

A week ago, while we were packing up their house, B&N on the phone told us all food was take or toss and they urged us to help keep it from being wasted.

They had a big box of a dairy-free shortbread. We had a few more of the organic oranges from the neighbors. (Since you zest them, they really needed to be–it’s the difference between bitter and not bitter in my experience.)

Those two being essential to a childhood memory of my daughter’s (the recipe’s in that link) from before her dairy allergy surfaced, the thought kept percolating for her all week, not knowing that it was in mine, too. But she was the first one to bring it up yesterday, and a box of dairy-free phyllo dough soon followed her home from the grocery store.

There’s a point at which you quit resisting a good idea.

At the last minute it seemed I was out of Earth Balance, the one reliably dairy-free butter substitute I could think of but she found a box in the freezer of a coconut oil/cashew substitute for cultured butter for layering the sheets. I was a little unsure but it’s what we had.

The taste was perfect. The phyllo did come out just a bit tough rather than tender, but hey. I marveled at the end that the strudel was a lot easier to make than I remembered, and she laughed and said, You don’t have four little kids running around to try to keep track of at the same time.

Point.

In honor of my late father-in-law’s birthday. He watched me very carefully a few years ago as I showed him how easy it was to make your own caramel sauce–he wanted to be able to do that, too. Sugar, water, boil, cream? That’s all there was to it? Cool!

He had quite the sweet tooth.

Happy Birthday, DadH.



Phone stuff
Saturday February 02nd 2019, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

The first photos on my new iPhone 4S were of my then- one and only grandson as a baby. He’s eight now.

That phone was so old that Verizon is, as of the end of this year, no longer willing to have it on our plan. Which we wouldn’t have known if we hadn’t gone in, and that could have been fun, so I’m passing the word along.

A member of the family had an iPhone 6S that was suddenly possibly not fixable right before a long-anticipated trip to Europe last year and it got replaced fast with no time to lose.

I finally took the damaged one to a shop this week to see what they could do about the exploded battery that had pushed out the case. Was this thing salvageable?

Sure! They handed it back to me with a new battery and back faster than I could knit a second row on my cowl.

I tried it out with the wifi at home–and they were right, the thing worked just peachy fine. For $60. Hey! The phone was familiar and comfortable and instantly clearly better than my slowly dying one.

Today we went in to officially switch the two.

And then Michelle came over and spent hours getting it set up; turns out updates had to happen first. She moved seven years’ worth of photos and caught details like its still claiming the wrong owner. Now if I don’t recognize someone in my contacts list I’ve got an excuse. (“Kathy’s friend NW”? Who?) Mom, did you know your gmail was installed in triplicate and that’s been devouring your memory?

It was? How?!

Wait here, I got told, and watch this for this icon to show up while we go to the grocery store, or it’ll go poof and then we’ll have to start over.

When you have to look up at something once a minute or so and no there won’t be any sound to tip you off, what are you going to do? I would easily get too wrapped up in a book to notice.

That icon never did show up but boredom is a great motivator; I risked doing more knitting than I have since the before-Christmas elbow break. The hand I sprained later is coming along nicely, too. I have so missed my yarn time. I actually finally finished a project! Potato chip knitting for the win!

They came home. No icon? Oh, it’s broken–here let me try this. And at that, whatever magic our favorite Apple expert wrought seemed to do it.

I’d show you a picture of that cowl, too, now, except that she’s gone home and it’s not showing up where it’s supposed to and No Blog Picture For You for now.

Yeah, we don’t have that switchover entirely worked out yet. I do expect though that photos will improve with the newer camera.

(I typed that out, and then…) Richard to the rescue!



Detours
Monday January 28th 2019, 12:09 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life,Mango tree

Church. Then Dani and his beloved and our mutual friend Lee, whose birthday party it was where the conversation happened that led to my tree arriving.

I offered the not very large mango to Dani and he inhaled its essence, remembering the Alphonsos of his childhood back yard. I had my good Mel and Kris stoneware set out and we went to it. Mango pieces, homemade chocolate, juice I’d squeezed the night before after the neighbors gave us a boxful from their orange tree.

The mango might have been even better with one more day to ripen, but still: I could honestly say, and did, that he’d been right: that that was the best mango I had ever eaten in my life. Such a depth of flavor. The perfume! So much to that tiny bit of fruit the five of us each had. I did not know they could be like that. Wow.

Dani asked for the seed and the skin: the scent of home, and to prove to a fellow ex-pat friend of his that yes you can grow them here–you just have to want to badly enough.

His SO teased him that she was sure he was going to grow his own tree from it. They’ve told me their condo doesn’t have enough sun, but hey, if he wanted to badly enough. Right?

They headed out after a bit and I got a message from my daughter: could I bring…

She’d been spending all her free time of late helping some friends pack up their house. Their moving van arrives tomorrow bright and early, and they were glad they had that one last weekend to finish everything up.

Except that yesterday morning the guy’s father, a farmer, dropped dead, utterly unexpected, and they dropped everything and ran for the airport knowing how much his mom would need immediate help. There were still two baby bottles in the sink. Michelle was trying to finish what they no longer could and needed something to package some of their papers that they hadn’t intended for the movers to touch.

Sure, I can do that, and I headed off to San Jose with the requested bin.

I took one look around when I got there and knew that this was where I needed to be for the next little while.

I washed all the dishes, by hand so they would be seen on the drying rack and not forgotten in the dishwasher, I folded the clothes that had been washed, I sorted all the socks of all the sizes. I did not find the key to the firesafe that the toddler had run off with, but we were all in each other’s good company on that one. I remembered the days of one child of mine in particular who was always finding what squeezed into what and the hairpins we shook out of a ride-on toy years ago.

We’d been working for some time when…

The baby blanket! This is the couple I’d knitted a cashmere/cotton 50/50 afghan for, and it was their now-toddler’s favorite blankie. It was there. Michelle called them: I was offering to mail it to them tomorrow if they wanted. (Their stuff was going straight to storage given the new circumstances and it might be months.) Or I could keep it at my house till they were ready, free of moths or loss.

Her friend burst into tears: yes please send it?!

First thing, honey, first thing. That, at least, is something I can do.

(And hey, now I know: after 18 months of it going through their high-end washer and dryer, it’s still so very soft, the excess fluff is gone, and it has shrunk only a little. I pre-shrank that yarn hard before knitting it up and it basically held, while the essence of the cashmere endures. And it is THE beloved blankie. I’m quite pleased.)



Tempered right this time. I think.
Sunday January 27th 2019, 12:36 am
Filed under: Family,Food

A quick late post: I found this site about chocolate tempering, and even though her writing’s not entirely clear re when to do what on dark chocolate, we did the temps at her 3. (93F) and after 4. (88F) to see if maybe we’d been adding the cocoa butter when things were still too warm for the proper crystallization. And maybe we needed to stir and let it cool still more after that while the crystals formed.

We have one of those laser pointer thermometers for instant gratification readings.

The result? No more little points of light in the front, although some color variation on the back, still. I promise a photo before we eat it all.

This was Chocolate Alchemy’s Esmeraldas variety, and the others pronounced the results the best so far.



Aftobered back
Friday January 25th 2019, 12:02 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

The stump. The concrete floor of the shed and the roots below it: he came, he quoted, he said they could do it all, and then he said wait, the crew could probably do that–today, actually, if you want, let me check and I’ll give you a call.

And so they did! (The white stripe is a shaft of sunlight on the now-dirt floor and they have to come back in the morning to collect the mulch.)

I’m still trying to grok the idea that I don’t have to worry about that anymore and that it didn’t cost near what I thought it would, it’s just plain done.

Meantime:

The day I discovered that such a thing as a melanger exists I happened to be in the middle of an email stream with my friend Afton. At the height of being giddy over finding out that not only did such a thing exist but that my husband wanted to use our points to buy one too, I sent her the link.

To which she answered, quite reasonably,

W

A

N

T

And with that a plan began to hatch.

Afton is someone who wholeheartedly befriends every person she meets, both in person and online. She is a born comforter. She flew to Wisconsin to be there for a member of our knitting chat group who was losing her fight to cancer. She drove a long distance several times to another friend in her illness. She drove from New Jersey to Maryland to meet me when I was in town.

And she is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.

Humor and empathy together are a powerful force for good in this world.

She’s also the instigator of Aftober, the KnitTalk tradition of her cheering us on to learn something new and to finish a project before the end of October, before the holiday stress sets in–and if you do she would mail you the Prize of Insignificant Worth ™. A different thing from year to year, some small fiber-related thing tucked in an envelope decorated with a drawing of and allegedly by her cats that is always so perfect that many of us have saved those envelopes for any time we want cheering up.

This last fall saw the deaths of those two woman she’d cared for and the Prize turned out to be something that she spent a great deal of time and expense to create and share with us in order to bless more people going forward, in their names.

Everybody was, as always, to be quiet about what we got until everybody had gotten theirs.

And then this happened: her beloved boy cat took sick, so much so that she rushed him to the vet instead of going to synagogue that Saturday in Pittsburgh. Yes that synagogue.

Her cat’s final act was saving her life as his slipped away in her arms. If only he could have saved her friends’ lives, too.

At last we of her online longtime knitting group had something to quietly work together on to give to her in thanks for all she is and for all she does and all she gives. So many people chipped in. Someone volunteered to handle the logistics. Nobody told.

Today her mail came. I got an email: Beans (they were nibs) and book? Were these misdelivered? Weren’t they supposed to go to me? Should she send them on? (My daughter, husband and I had gone to Dandelion Chocolate specifically to get her a signed copy of their open-sourcing DIY book for her.)

I checked the tracking numbers, grinned, and quietly waited.

It took UPS a couple more hours (and a bajillion page refreshes on my part as concrete smashing sounds went on in the background, then a, YES!)

My phone suddenly blew up in stunned thrilled capital letters, and I told her happily, You’ve been KnitTalked.

Because it wasn’t all just from me, not by a very long shot. Margo Lynn has the names.

Nibs, book, molds, melanger: only the cocoa butter didn’t quite make it there in time for her to start right away.

My fervent, heartfelt thanks to all those who helped make this happen for her. And just like knitting: every time you start a new chocolate batch, you learn something you didn’t know before.

But I don’t think there’ll be any problem finishing off any of those kinds of projects before the end of October.

And the bars are so easy to share.



Shedding
Wednesday January 23rd 2019, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life,Lupus

I didn’t think I could do that.

Somebody had to do that, and he of the formerly broken back has a hard time bending. I told myself that having raised four kids, I knew how to be the mom when I had to be and to go just get it done. Time was running short.

Well, good thing it’s January and not June, UV-wise, and at 4:00 I started in on clearing out the shed that the redwood tree had been trying to grow through. Turns out the neighbor’s trees had punctured the roof at the back and there was a great accumulation of needles and twigs and downright compost growing behind our yard stuff that we hadn’t used in ages.

Good thing that broken elbow’s had a month’s healing at this point. The push broom was beyond me but I could scoop stuff up and bin it. Go figure.

Do you know how much an ailing towering redwood can do?

Well let me tell you a story, and maybe I have before, but, my friend Kevin once told me of growing up in Humboldt County and climbing redwoods for fun as a kid. At twelve and a little too adventurous he found himself higher up than he had any business being and while assessing his situation–he lost his grip and he fell.

While I sat there bug-eyed at the telling, fully aware that he had done this and he was here to tell me he had.

“So this is how I die,” was his instant thought, a surprisingly calm thought, and he spread his arms wide as he went down down down.

And suddenly bounced hard and found himself upright, staggering a few steps forward from the momentum.

There had been a barbed-wire fence laid out there about a hundred years earlier, it turned out. He hadn’t seen it. He hadn’t known it was there. It had had so many years of redwood needles and redwood dust raining peacefully down on it that it had been totally obscured and he had landed with his back immediately lined up to that wiring and it had gone sproing. The barbs had bitten him but basically he was fine.

I was agog. “How did Darwin MISS you?!!!” Probably not the most polite blurt I’ve ever blurted, but he laughed, agreeing with me.

So. No idea how many years our shed was open to the above, but clearly, redwoods shed like Samoyeds in spring. And this one had had a lot of brown, falling needles for some time.

I did it.

Tomorrow morning the guy comes to give a quote on taking out the enormous stump. Whether he’s going to try to do anything where the roots raised our concrete floor a foot in that shed, whether he’ll tell me we have to jackhammer it all out of his way first, whether he’ll walk away from that part, I don’t know, but either way I had to be ready for him to see it.



Potty like there’s no tomorrow
Thursday January 17th 2019, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

And on a completely random note, I have a question: did any of you grow up with a Pittsburgh Potty? I didn’t even know there was a name for such a thing, much less that anybody else had one. The house I grew up in had one and it was the weirdest thing. How could you have that and not a sink for washing your hands afterwards? Did the builder’s mother know they got away with that? I think each of us kids clandestinely used it at least once just to prove it really worked (I remember asking Mom first if it did, but I didn’t tell her why I was asking. BYOTP.)

It was inside a built-in bomb shelter in the basement, and I always figured it was part of that particular Cold War trend. Since there were no walls around it, just that big empty room with cinder block walls built into the hillside and always cold in there, it was a good place for storing food and Mom and Dad put shelving in front of the thing and cans and jars to give it everything but a door behind there.

That room had its own part-walled-off hallway to get in, a faint attempt at a maze, to help protect you from, I dunno, nuclear fallout?

Here’s the link to what I’m talking about.

The potty part, anyway. There was actually a reason for them. Who knew?



Back to the grind
Tuesday January 15th 2019, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Molds: still nope. Refunded, reordered. Which didn’t solve the problem of our only having enough right now to process one pound into those pretty bars when multiple pounds would have taken the same amount of work to do–it’s like, y’know, free chocolate! Effort-wise, anyway.

So okay, one pound it is. We wanted to see how the next batch comes out, we no longer had enough to share, and that wouldn’t do.

Learned since the last batch: the reason it seemed a bit sweeter further down is that I’d barely processed the sugar that time, leaving crystals that were heavier than the chocolate crystals. The sugar sank. Not that you could tell in a bite of the stirred finished cooled chocolate. So this time I Cuisinarted that sugar till I had white fog wafting out the top–it was definitely good and fine this time.

(Scraping down the bowl. Yum.) Tomorrow! Tomorrow! We’ll pour it! Tomorrow! It’s only a day away…



And because I should send my Mom some
Sunday January 13th 2019, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

A friend asked us how much chocolate we planned to make, after savoring the small bar we’d just handed him to try.

The answer, it seems to me, is, enough to make sure we always have at least a little on hand whenever we might like to have some for someone who stops by like he’d just done. Right?

The extra sets of molds should be here tomorrow, at which point we’ll be able to start a larger batch than the previous one-pounders.



And more chocolate
Tuesday January 08th 2019, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

You knew this would be coming soon. Round two.

Just one pound again, because we’ve learned that that’s how much our set of four molds holds so we ordered two more sets but they won’t be here for a few more days.

Mistake made: if you have one, you’re supposed to Cuisinart the nibs and the sugar, separately, to make the conching faster and the nibs easier on the machine. This time I ground the sugar first.

But wait, he points out, looking at the bowl coated in a fine white afterwards (did some of it powder and then melt from the friction?) They said having the sugar touch the chocolate magically transforms the flavor to stop it from changing any more right at that point–do we want to stop it before it even starts? Would it, so early on?

He got out the second Cuisinart bowl (that I’d long forgotten existed.) I wiped down the only blade with a dry paper towel. Next time we will remember and pulse the nibs first.

So the melanger is working its initial magic and the sugar has yet to be poured in. But it’s ready.

Addendum the next day: we put the sugar in at about an hour forty-five minutes in last night. This evening, we put a metal mixing bowl in the oven at 100F so that the chocolate won’t cool too much too fast. Measured 4 g Mycryo powdered tempered cocoa butter, which comes to roughly a tablespoon for the pound of nibs we used. Poured the chocolate in the bowl, which was warm but 15F cooler than the stirring chocolate was, mix that powder in thoroughly and quickly, and then poured our mix into the molds.

I noted for the first time that the chocolate in the grooves of the rollers I’m starting to clean was sweeter than elsewhere.



Bean it on
Friday January 04th 2019, 11:27 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

So there’s this particularly good chocolate maker in San Francisco that’s been trying to fill in the gap from where Scharffenberger left off after it was sold to Hershey’s at the passing of one of the founders.

It turns out the co-owner of Dandelion Chocolate wrote a book. I thought it was going to be all about the creation of his company.

So, being a fan and it being Christmas, I ordered a copy for my sweetheart, having no idea that it was a how-to with the guy open-sourcing to the world what he’d learned and how to do it.

Note that clicking on that title is surely how The Big River in South America dangled a ‘people were also interested in…’ page at me awhile later, even though at the time I had no idea whatsoever how I’d landed there.

Because, as it turns out, within those pages the author highly recommended the Premier Melanger for the hobbyist or start-up.

We had never heard of such a thing. A countertop cocoa bean grinder and concher? Who knew?

We had been hoarding Discover points on Amazon for some time for some future Big Unexpected Thing, or Thing We Will Wish We Had Saved Up For whatever that thing might turn out to be, and when I saw this and showed it to him we both agreed that that Thing was right there in front of us. Because how could you do better than this in the search for something to surprise, delight, to last a very long time to come while never letting go of being a total blast to play with?

Per the instructions, we put two cups of sunflower oil in it last night after it arrived (it was the anticipated big box that came after Ann’s big box) and let it run for an hour and then hand washed it. (No dishwashers on this thing.) You can’t start a batch immediately after: a single drop of unseen water will change the crystalline structure and cause the chocolate to seize into an unmeltable lump. We had to wait.

Yes I definitely think this is going to be fun.

A name. It needs a name. Choc Chop? Criollo de Couer? Elle El Bean?