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.)

 



Oooh, seconds?
Wednesday February 13th 2019, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Lupus

Went to my lupus group and offered a bar of my chocolate around the room, fresh from my melanger, I told them. Everybody but the person who can’t eat the stuff broke off a square politely.

We had our meeting, and at a comment at the end someone caught on: Wait. Did you MAKE this??! And suddenly that ziplock was in high demand as it went back around the room.

Photo taken afterwards, coming off the hospital grounds during a break between two waves of the storm.

I’m afraid that tree is just too tall to play jump rope with that rainbow.



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.



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.



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.



Pattern matching
Monday January 21st 2019, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

You know you’re doing this a lot when…

So there’s this office building that part of me has idly wondered in passing for thirty-some years now why it was plunked where it was, surrounded by strip malls and a shopping center and zero other offices. I don’t recall ever seeing an identifying sign, it’s just there. Most of what was around it has since been redeveloped or renamed (the Trader Joe’s was once a Crown Books and the mall behind it was bulldozed) but the anonymous office building lives on.

Today it hit me. It’s the chocolate bar molds building.

A monument to greatness.



It was going to be 70% till I put in an extra spoonful of sugar
Monday January 21st 2019, 12:03 am
Filed under: Food

Some friends stopped by yesterday and I apologized that I couldn’t turn off the noise in the background that, while not overly loud, was pretty low pitched, ie it tended to make it a bit harder for me to hear. Knowing that I would see them today, I did not tell them what all that was about.

Today I gave them samples of the source of those sounds.

Clearly we need to make bigger batches.



A factory reject, such a shame
Sunday January 20th 2019, 12:05 am
Filed under: Food

He got his really dark dark batch a few days ago; I wanted one a little less so.

Today’s lesson learned: trying to get every last drop of chocolate out of there and into the mold while it’s already starting to set up, and then trying to twirl it in so you don’t get one big plop on the back gets you, well, this. I think I Picasso’d the back of that last one.



Burst your bubbles
Wednesday January 16th 2019, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Food

The mound off the spoon.

And the molds–which I forgot to bang gently against the table a few times to get the air bubbles out, even though that’s why they’re sitting on a cookie sheet. Nobody will mind.



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…



Gone missing
Monday January 14th 2019, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Food

Delivered, says the tracking.

Not so much, says me.

Either the mailman dropped it off at the wrong house (he does that–we joke that he’s trying to keep us neighbors in touch with each other), he checked off the wrong box on his screen, or someone stole the package.

In which case I can imagine the person opening it, looking at the wiggly silicone bar molds and going, Well, *that* wasn’t worth the felony.



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.



Here try this tell me what you think I’m experimenting
Friday January 11th 2019, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

The hearing aids needed cleaning and Los Gatos Birdwatcher where I buy my seed is less than a mile from there. So I combined the two trips, as I often do.

When the tech handed me back my ears I asked her, Do you like dark chocolate? Like, really dark chocolate?

She laughed at the highly unexpected question and said, I guess so, not knowing how dark we were talking here nor why on earth I was asking.

Well, we’ve been experimenting with our new toy… And I offered her one of the squares from our bars.

She laughed, she ate it, she was delighted at the idea of it and at my sharing. I’m not convinced she was entirely enamored of the actual chocolate, but she definitely went home that day with a story to tell.

On to the birdseed store.

Where there was a clerk I’d never seen before. She was warm, helpful, approachable, just a gem of a woman and after she loaded my twenty pound bag up for me I asked her the same question and got the same startled, laughing response–only this time with, I LOVE dark chocolate! Love it!

And oh she did.

She had no idea you could make your own. She sure does now, though.

I rather imagine soon she’ll have a story to tell me about her own.