Lockdown day two
Tuesday March 17th 2020, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Food,Knitting a Gift

I finished the hat. I found a red cowl I’d forgotten starting and got some work done on that, too, in Lisa Souza’s hand-dyed cashmere. How anybody could forget that I don’t know. It’s a very nice yarn.

This evening, the sudden quiet was almost startling when we turned the melanger off. Time to cool and pour the finished chocolate into the new molds.

Yonder geek husband had a new toy to try out. We have one of those laser thermometer readers, and he had the latest and greatest version with a flickering graph giving you sixty-four points of data instead of the one little red dot.

It was revelatory.

It read at five degrees celsius cooler than the old thermometer. Wow.

Which explains why the chocolate was almost setting in the bowl while the old thermometer was saying it was too hot to pour yet. It was clear to me it wasn’t. It wasn’t. And since adding any pre-tempered cocoa butter to make all the chocolate crystals align right is highly dependent on getting that temperature just so, well, we’ll see in the morning when we start unmolding the bars to see what we’ve got.

But so far, it looks like the best tempered batch we’ve ever made. New toy for the win!

Supply note: Esmeraldas cocoa nibs from The Chocolate Alchemist. Who has a photo of a chocolate Easter bunny with a white chocolate face mask on, the link to the artist who made it for him, and says the guy might make more that way if we ask him (he was hoping out loud for people to help the guy’s small business in the current environment.)

I have a favorite doctor. I’m tempted.



Lockdown day one
Monday March 16th 2020, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

The six-county San Francisco Bay area is, as of this afternoon, essentially on lockdown: we can go to the doctor, the pharmacy, the grocery store, we can hire a plumber if need be and the plumber can come, but otherwise we are to stay home. Period. Till April 7.

There is a race on to hire delivery people and shelf stockers, with one company offering health benefits and sick leave even if the jobs turn out to be only as long as the pandemic, I’m sure those being a necessary component in the face of the incurred risks they’re asking people to take on.

I ordered a bar and some two-ingredient peanut butter cups from Dandelion Chocolates just to do my small part to help keep one of my favorite places afloat (the pastries in their shop! And it’s right around the corner from Imagiknit!) And because I’m curious: how good is something with no sugar and no salt, just peanuts and fresh 100% chocolate? I have a diabetic brother and I want to know, but if anyone could pull it off, they could.

And then, having perused their list of chocolate bars for longer than maybe was good for me and as a sign of our definitely doing better–we hadn’t done this since before Christmas and we were way overdue. I asked and he grinned and two pounds of Esmeraldas cacao nibs got roasted, Cuisinarted, and thrown in the melanger. An hour later I added .6 lb extrafine sugar; I figure we’ll come out about 78%-ish.

It’s just at the beginning so it’s slightly gritty, but I dipped a spoon in about an hour into it and man. That was good.

Dandelion sells Esmeraldas at two different sweetness options. Just saying.

And only then did I ask Richard if we were going to need to unplug the machine and run for the bathroom counter tomorrow while he has his conference calls with work. Plug it back in quick and shut the door? Because that thing is noisy.

That, he decided, was a problem he was going to be okay with having. We would see when we got there. But hey–homemade chocolate!

And all because Dandelion wrote this book that got us started.



Toffee or not toffee, that was the question
Wednesday February 26th 2020, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Food

A question: if you read the Narnia books as a kid, what did you think Turkish Delight would be like?

I thought of it as the obnoxiously tough toffee they sell to the tourists near Maryland’s shore, where sure it’s just sugar but you chew and chew and chew and chew and chew while it’s fighting back as if, should it win, it would wire your jaws shut out of sheer obnoxiousness, without enough flavor to make up for the assault on your mouth. If you still have all your teeth when it’s over you win.

My friend Michelle pointed out this Atlas Obscura article with the title, “CS Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight.” It made me laugh because it was so true.

Thus my curiosity.

I didn’t sample the real thing till well into adulthood, or at least not with that name attached, but you know what? In a way, I actually wasn’t all that far off.



Always did like a good autobiography
Sunday February 23rd 2020, 7:52 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

Knitting? Not up to it. Reading? I’ve finished Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and I’m halfway through a Jimmy Carter memoir that I was always going to get around to. Wow has the world changed over his 95 years. He’s not forging steel hoops to put around his dad’s wagon wheels anymore.

Edited to add, both noted their surprise at being handed a large bill at the end of the first month in: the President is responsible for the food bill of his family and guests at the White House. Any idle mention of a favorite or wished-for food ends in that food happening on their table no matter the cost if they don’t say anything different.

They learned fast.



Hurry up, tree!
Wednesday February 05th 2020, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life,Mango tree

My Big Boy tomato plant from last year finally froze to death. The Sungold under the eaves is still blooming. House warmth for the win.

Monday night and thereafter, I had to turn on the heater under the Sunbubble at dusk for the first time all winter; the Christmas lights just weren’t enough. For so long it was simply about keeping the mango comfortably above freezing, but now we need to protect the more vulnerable flower buds that are bursting out all over.

This is just the top of the tree because I can’t step far enough back in the greenhouse for a better shot.

The tree’s gotten big and the crop will be a lot more than last year’s three fruits.

My friend Jean grew up in Hawaii and misses the Hayden mangoes of her youth. She tried three times to grow her own but always lost them to the cold and she has cheered my tree on with great enthusiasm ever since she found out about it.

Last year’s three went to Dani who instigated the whole thing and whom I’d long promised the first fruit to, Eli who helped take care of the tree numerous times while we were out of town before we bought the greenhouse, and the last one for, well, us.

This is the year the first one is supposed to be for Jean. Jean, who once brought a paper bag of ripe pomegranates to church from her two year old tree that were such a revelation that I’d planted my own, a Parfianka, having never known before what a ripe pom actually tastes like. (The stores can’t sell them when they start to split.) Jean, who loves seeing pictures of how my Alphonso is growing, it’s really doing it, it’s surviving here! It’s blooming!

Today’s her 94th birthday.

The last few months she’s been pretty much bed-bound.

I don’t know that it’s fair to ask her to hang around till this big plant of mine finishes doing its thing in six or seven months but I’m still going to remind her I promised.



Questions and answers part of the impeachment hearing
Wednesday January 29th 2020, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Food,History,Politics

Hours and hours of afghan rows as I watched.

Alan Dershowitz does the finger jabbing and the emphatic hands splayed, arms wide circular motions that darn if it didn’t make him look like a Bernie Sanders body double.

What came out of his mouth was utter nonsense. The President can do nothing wrong if he’s running for reelection because he thinks it’s for the good of the country and l’etat c’est moi and all that. (Yeah, that worked out so well for Napoleon and Nixon.) Truly: the President’s lawyers all argued that because he was the President he could do no wrong nor could he be held accountable in any way, including impeachment, ever. They waved away that whole pesky Constitution thing.

Adam Schiff was professional, smart as a whip, knew his stuff, and calmly went straight to the point, again and again. The others on his team were good but man he really nailed it each time. I fully expect him to be President someday, and we will be much better off for it when that happens.

And this was yesterday, but Mitt Romney broke the rules in the most rebellious-teenage-Mormon way possible: by both tradition and current decree, only water or milk in glasses may be drunk on the Senate floor during the proceedings.

He got an order flown in in dry ice from BYU Creamery and got caught drinking chocolate milk. From their bottle. (Product placement for his alma mater and all that for the old businessman.) Not exactly the letter of the law but with that triumphant grin that mothers of high schoolers everywhere know well.

So busted.



Blueberry
Monday January 20th 2020, 11:43 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

It was lovely and heartbreaking and heartwarming and full of music and love and belonging. My sister found a video that’s a close rendition to the last piece offered up at the funeral by the Salt Lake Men’s Chorus, whom John used to play piano for.

One cousin told of her toddler granddaughter’s love for Uncle John, who came by often and taught her to love blueberries when nobody else could get her to touch them. She liked his so much that he brought them every time after that to share some with her.

She was given the little toy stuffed dog he’d cherished as a memory of his mother and promptly named it Blueberry.

She went to sleep still holding it, woke up in the morning still holding it, and with nobody having told her any such thing pronounced:

“Blueberry, Uncle John gave you to me..  It’s okay, I will take care of you. Uncle John is far away, Uncle John is up in the stars.”



Schroedinger’s afghan: done/not done
Wednesday January 01st 2020, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Food,Knitting a Gift

After a slower start than I wanted, it needed every spare moment for the past month. It made me make good use of my time, and it occasionally diverted me from other things and there was some internal second-guessing over whether I always got it right but I knew it was such a huge project and that that deadline was non-negotiable.

Plus the unshakeable feeling that her baby is going to come early. She’s due the end of this month.

For the last hour or so I’ve repeatedly found myself feeling that itch, that sense of hurry to get back to it.

Well, actually, I could: I’m still going to knit those matching end pieces and sew them on.

But for now I’ve earned the rest of my evening off and some time to simply marvel at how water plus lace stitches equals magic.

Do I admit to a bit of relief, too–that no matter what, there is now a blanket I could hand over. Having broken my hand three years ago while making one for Mathias makes me appreciate the uncertainty of being able to finish things when I want to.

So. The other part of today: while split pea soup was cooking away on the stove (dinner that doesn’t need much attention: good) I picked up the lavender afghan and the left end of the circs was caught in the fabric. I was paying more attention to trying to make sure the stitches didn’t fall off the other needle tip as I both picked the afghan up and started, with arms raising high, to swing that giant heavy mass of wool around to start a new row.

The left tip I was trying to uncatch but not paying much attention to flipped out and into my eye.

I had this moment of, You can’t do that! I had my glasses on! And usually I don’t these days when I’m knitting, I need to fill that new prescription. How did it do that?!

So yeah, if I show up at Fillory with a black eye my knitting needles attacked me.

I instantly thought of the woman across town years ago who tripped, fell and impaled herself on a straight metal needle and would not let the paramedics touch it. The ER doctor told her, good thing, because she’d impaled her heart and needed to go straight to surgery and oh by the way did you know you have breast cancer?

That is how she got diagnosed early enough. Her needle saved her life.

I got back at mine by finishing those last rows of the fifteenth repeat and casting off. For now.



He opened his car door
Thursday December 26th 2019, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

The doorbell rang.

It was the son of the elderly woman next door, the one who fell two months ago and after her kids couldn’t reach her from out of state and called us neighbors and then 911 was found by the firemen breaking in her door for the rescue.

Previously, she had been adamant to me that she did not want to go into assisted living.

She doesn’t know how many days she was down but it could have been as many as four. Even before that she could barely walk and clearly she just could not continue to live alone.

She has not returned.

He was coming by to let me know he was taking her home. There was a place a mile from his house, she had seen it before and actually liked the place and she has decided for herself that that’s where she’d like to be now. He wanted me to know her story had a happy ending after all, and that he would be right there to look out for her.

And he will. And his wife is a love of a woman who will be right there with him on it. They are all deeply good people.

I thanked him for letting me know, and told him, “I miss her.” A lot.

I knew she would want to know that, to really know that, not just assume that I would. Of course I would. I have, for all these weeks. But I knew he would tell her and that it would feel good for both of them to say it and to hear it on their long trip to where everything will be different now, again.

I sent him off with a box of Andy’s peach and honey-stuffed figs, glad for the surprised delight in his face at the mention of Andy’s Orchard. Taking the best of California with them on their long way north–he knew they were in for a treat.

And I just wanted to say, Thank you, Andy. That helped.



Abundance
Wednesday December 25th 2019, 11:49 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

You don’t have to bring anything, just come…

But I really wanted to contribute, so she said, I know–bring a pie.

I didn’t know just how many were coming and just in case it didn’t get done because you never know and so since we were at Costco anyway I bought one of their giant pecan pies.

And fresh fruit. Enough for…

I didn’t know exactly how that blueberry cream pie (Betty Crocker 1952 recipe) would come out, but really, how could it go wrong.

Got it cooled and into the fridge last night.

I didn’t worry about how the cherry Meyer lemon pie would come out today but I was glad I’d written it down last time. Whipped fresh cream on top again.

For the record: the people who say use a chopstick to skewer cherry pits out? They never had to fish a piece of bamboo out of one. Those stones are harder. I retrieved the 7-cherry pitter out of the cupboard and mentally thanked Sur La Table for selling a better version; should have used that in the first place. This is why I’d gone for the easier blueberry yesterday.

I opened every single one. No pits got past it. There was no second sliver of bamboo (I knew but I’d needed to really know.) Into the cuisinart, then. Done.

We arrived.

She had a giant Costco pumpkin pie in the fridge just in case something hadn’t worked out.

We started pulling pies out of the big bag.

“Holy cow!”

Eleven of us with family elsewhere, all of us friends, all of us well fed in body and soul as we helped her clean up afterwards, telling her to take it easy and rest. Her car and that of the person who hit her a few days ago were totaled and we were all all the more aware of what a privilege it was to be able to spend this time together. No reason she should have to hurt to bring us together if we could help it.

You can get a lot done really fast when that many people are doing it.

The cherry had that one last small piece left that people do out of politeness in case someone else wants it more.

The blueberry was half gone.

The pecan had a slice out.

The pumpkin didn’t even get to sneak past the fridge.



Holiday baking
Friday December 20th 2019, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Recipes

Here’s Sunset’s recipe and pretty pictures.

And here’s what my daughter came over and made with me this evening: using TCHO’s 81% for all of the melted chocolate and with peanut butter in the filling. We used Earth Balance because of her dairy allergy, and (quietly) if they came out this good one could only imagine what butter would be like in them.

Like bite size pieces of chocolate torte, is how she described the cookies. Portion-wise, you could almost not feel guilty.



To Sam and Devin with love
Wednesday December 18th 2019, 12:20 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

There, last week, next to the sugar plums I came for for my mom because she told me last year that they reminded her of her childhood and she loved them, those and his slab extra-ripe dried apricots she raves over made it easy to decide what to get her, and they warranted a trip to Andy’s Orchard. Not to mention his persimmons were ripe.

There were samples of this other fruity confection, too: no fancy packaging for them, just a plain plastic tub and they’re not listed online.

I thought I was going to put the two tubs in our Christmas stockings, since there’ll be nobody home but us this year. Hah.

So. My husband’s on vacation and we were munching on figs stuffed with dried ripe peaches that Andy’s had mixed into a thick paste with honey and orange peel into the most perfect texture and flavors and then topped with chopped almonds. Healthy, guilt-free, and oh man they are just achingly good.

I said with regret, When these are gone it’ll be a year before we can buy them again. (I didn’t think till later, if we even can. Harvests and products and employees and recipes change.)

A few minutes later it was, I think I’ll go to Andy’s… and he was cheering me on.

It was 1:30, about the latest I like to head that far down that freeway on a workday, so I took the one last box of Christmas presents that needed to be mailed so as to stop by the post office on my way back rather than doing it first. It was all ready to go.

I got to say hi to Andy, I got to see the lady there who’s been so helpful this whole year and she was wearing purple this time and it perfectly matched the purple cowl waiting hopefully in my purse and she was so knit-worthy and so thrilled.

Then I got to do something, as I was heading out, that I have never done in my life.

I walked behind my car towards the two peacocks (oh they show up from time to time, I was told, but I’d never seen them there before) and gently waved my arms and said, C’mon, boys, I need to back up here. Move along.

First time I have ever talked to a peacock.

They circled back towards my car. Come on guys.

I guess they knew where the good stuff was hiding.

Got in, backed up very carefully, and forty-five minutes later on the easier reverse commute got to the post office–and had a moment of truth.

Why yes. Yes I do love my kid. And yes that particular kid and her husband would love those. No I don’t have to hog them.

I bought a new roll of tape then and there, the clerk sliced the old tape open, I wedged that plastic tub in where it needed to go in all its unwrapped glory and she re-taped the box and slapped the shipping label on and tossed it into the nearby bin. All I could do was hope the tub stays closed in there, but I think it will.

Mother of the Year. You can just hand that award over right now. Mine.



Saturday at the IHOP
Sunday December 15th 2019, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

Photo from later that afternoon, after his big brother’s game.

Saturday late brunch at IHOP.

To our right: two grandmothers, possibly even great grandmothers–they were clearly too old to in any way be the mother of the six or seven year old girl with them, who had a nice dress on.

When there are two grownups talking and you’ve eaten your food and they’re not done, it gets boring fast for a kid. She was trying very hard to be good on her special outing, though.

We were hoping to get the littler ones fed and done in not too much time ourselves with a busy day ahead.

Peruvian handknit finger puppets for the grandkids, three more for those women and their child and you should have seen their faces light up. They so much gave me what I hope for when I offer those to strangers for their kids.

There had just been no way I was going to leave that little girl out when my own had theirs to play with. A pink bird to go with her dress, after getting their okay, I had just the right one for her.

But it wasn’t enough distraction for one little guy: Spencer had had a bad night and his morning wasn’t going much better.  He wanted–he didn’t know what he wanted or how to begin to say whatever the words were to describe it but he was determined to announce he didn’t have it. Crayons, paper, food, everything got that emphatic arm sweeping with fingers splayed that small toddlers do to send stuff to the floor.

Except that, at the big table past ours, there was a family reunion going on, about ten people all in their 50s and 60s, and they were swapping stories and do-you-remember-whens, laughing, laughing, laughing: so much love at that table that just echoed around our section of the restaurant.

He started to pay attention.

Finally, Kim headed out with the kids; since we didn’t all fit in one car, Richard and Richard and I took a moment more to finish up, and then it was time for us to go, too.

But standing up and taking the first few steps away, I hesitated.

I managed to catch the eye of one of the women, and then they all turned to me a moment, love and curiosity just radiant in their faces.

I told that beautiful African-American family, You guys are SO happy, and you made our tired, cranky baby happy. Thank you!

That just totally made their day.

Like they had made ours.



What those pretty little Apple Corps boxes are great for
Monday December 02nd 2019, 12:03 am
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Life

I like that my mango tree is in its greenhouse and doesn’t need me to hire the now-teenager to cover and uncover it from the nightly cold when we travel. Which he can’t do when school’s in session anyway, so, there’s that, too.

But he is quite fond of that unlikely tree, having gone to some effort to help me keep it alive and thriving on numerous occasions.

I saw him sitting before church today and his dad was just then walking a few steps away. I told him, “I made two chocolate tortes for Thanksgiving and was asked to bring one; would you like the other one?”

His sat up straight super fast as he exclaimed, “YES!!!”

His dad stopped right there, laughing, “That would be a yes.”

Alright then. (They’ve had it before. They knew whereof they enthused.)

After we got home I got a note from his mom, checking to see what time would be good to come by to get it, and by the way, what was the name of that variety? She mentioned that they had a little gift for me, too.

They didn’t need to do that!

And so Eli and his mom came over–and to get a peek at how the tree looks a year later.

It’s grown like crazy under the extra warmth of the Sunbubble, perhaps also in part because it didn’t fruit this year; it budded but at a time when we went out of town during a cold front so I’d left it zipped up for five days, whereas usually it gets air movement during the warmth of daylight.

It had gotten black spots and the fruiting growth had died back. It fully recovered after a few months, but there would be no crop this year.

Which means I haven’t had to keep it quite as warm this fall because the most cold-tender parts aren’t there, except for one branch that has started to bud but then didn’t die but didn’t progress, either; it’s simply waiting for warmer days. I’ve apparently kept it just warm enough. So far so good.

I’m not doing the heater thing, I’m just doing the Christmas lights–they’re so much cheaper to run, and two strings gives me a good ten degrees or more in that enclosed space.

We went outside and he walked in the greenhouse to give it a good look. It really is coming along, and our next harvest should be not three fruits but many. Those new shoots are just waiting for the signal.

Eli had gotten one of those first mangoes. He’d earned it.

The gift.

I opened it and laughed in delight for joy and for knowing how great an offering this was. It was his. It was his possibilities. He knew how much I would appreciate it.

Some mango varieties, and I think this is one, produce seeds that are clones of themselves and always grow true.

If I can get this to sprout, and I really hope I can, I’m going to quietly ask his mom if they have room for a large pot and wouldn’t mind the hassle of taking care of it. I already know how much Eli would love one of his own. But let’s see if it does grow first.

But I so love how they made this into a museum display. So much love and meaning in that small package.



Turkey spinach mango barbecue soup
Saturday November 30th 2019, 8:44 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Recipes

Yeah, sounds weird. I would show you a picture but it all disappeared too fast.

Richard’s aunt always asks at the end of Thanksgiving whether I want to make stock out of the turkey bones or if she should toss the carcass. There’s only one answer.

This afternoon I shredded the most obvious meat off it and then boiled it down, stopping when the broth tasted good about two and a half hours later. Note that it had been stuffed with mandarin orange slices, and they went into the pot, too, along with a bit of pepper.

Good thing I had an extra large strainer–it had been a big bird.

I had some small yellow mangoes that had been picked too early to be very sweet; they were okay, but even after ripening for a week they were still more cooking mangoes than the dessert type they’d been raised to be.

Which would be perfect, right? I debated, standing looking around my kitchen, and then thought of my father’s description of my more adventurous mother’s cooking: “You’ll never be bored at Frances’s table. It might be INTERESTING,” and he would laugh his big laugh for sheer joy and pride in her.

A half a bag of spinach (grocery store size, not Costco’s) rinsed and nuked for two minutes.

I poured three+ cups of that broth into the blender, followed by the drained spinach and several glugs from a bottle of smokey Trader Joe’s Apple Bourbon Barbecue sauce and let’er rip.

I poured my green soup into a large bowl and added one of those mangoes, diced fairly small.

I nuked that for two minutes or so, added a bunch of the turkey, and put it back in for about 20 seconds.

And then came over here to write it down. Because that was very, very good and I definitely want to do it again.

Maybe thicken it next time. Or not.

Right now there’s more of all of where that came from. Yum.