Maple pecan orange strudel
Tuesday November 30th 2010, 12:45 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

A conversation with Sandra led to my going and looking…

Years ago I had two signature dishes: the chocolate torte, in its early stages (can you believe Hershey’s called for water in the cake when you could add manufacturing cream?), and maple pecan orange strudel, which I adapted from a recipe I scribbled down and took home after seeing it in a Redbook magazine circa 1990 while waiting for one of my kids to be seen by the pediatrician. (I write notes in my cookbooks to journal our food a little.) Thank heavens I forgot my knitting that day.

This is seriously good stuff. It’s also a serious amount of time and effort and calories and some of the ingredients are hard to find.  Those Danish butter cookies in the tins you see everywhere this time of year? This needs them to be without the coconut added in that so many have now for the preservative effect. Walker shortbread might work better; I haven’t checked their ingredients list lately, but it was coconut-free last time I did. I’ve tried just making my own and they weren’t quite as crunchy.

And the oranges? You really do want organic. I’ve tried, and the regular ones have a bitter aftertaste in the gratings that the organic ones just don’t. I have neighbors with trees (thank you Al J.), which helps a lot. Okay, here goes:


Maple Pecan Orange Strudel by Alison Hyde


1 1/2 c finely ground pecans (a good source is here.)

1 c of finely crushed butter shortbread cookies, about 15 of the little Danish ones

1/4 c sugar

1/4 c maple syrup (don’t even THINK about substituting the fake stuff, you want knock-their-socks-off exquisiteness, that’s the whole point)

1 tbl finely grated orange peel, fresh and organic

1 tsp cinnamon

Mix these together and then take about a half pound of phyllo dough, 8-10 leaves. Watch the ingredients when you buy it: some are all butter, but some in the freezer case at the grocer’s are not. Lay them out with a barely damp but not wet towel over them. Take out one at a time, re-covering the others quickly, and lay out on a cookie sheet with slightly raised sides, ie a jellyroll pan, and brush with melted butter. Repeat till all are layered together; fill with mixture, leaving 2″ at the sides. Roll up like cinnamon roll dough, bake at 350 for 30 min.

While it’s baking, have 1 c sugar and 1 c water in a 1 qt pan, bring to boil and till the sugar is dissolved. Pour half of this over the strudel when you take it out of the oven; let it cool. Meantime, let the rest of the syrup boil another 6-8 minutes till it’s a deep amber. Shake the pot gently if needed to keep one side from burning before the other side turns color, but don’t stir.  Whip in (I have 1/4 c crossed out and 1/2 cup written in instead) of heavy cream with a wire whisk, pouring it in slowly so it doesn’t explode at you (watch your hands–the steam burst is hot!) to make a caramel sauce to serve it with. This may take vigorous work to get the suddenly solid sugar to melt into the cream. If you end up with a few solid leftover lumps, ignore them. Pour the sauce into a mini-pitcher without scraping the sides of the pan, which might dislodge crunchy sugar crystals you don’t want.

Run a finger around the pot later when no one’s looking to make sure it tastes just so. The cream will have cooled it down.


One note on maple syrup: traditionally, where it was produced, it was the poor man’s sugar and the grading was determined by how close it came to being substitutable. So if you can find it, grade B has a more pronounced maple flavor than the usual Grade A. I explained that once to a Trader Joe’s manager, and a few months later they started carrying Grade B! Cool.

Looking at Sunnyland Farms’ site to post that link, I see they’re now selling pecan oil. Hey. Michelle could eat that. Richard is hoping for a homemade cinnamon pecan kringle… HEY!

To bake or not to bake. That is the kringle.
Monday November 29th 2010, 11:55 pm
Filed under: Food

I apparently guessed right on the shape of kringles changing in Wisconsin. I did not know that the pretzel shape was an ancient guild symbol for a baker and still in use in Denmark.

Here, you can go read the rest yourselves if you’re interested; that recipe is calling me. As for the raspberry filled version I miss, I’m pretty sure I can come up with my own.

On the other hand, there is a certain practicality to being limited to what one can easily buy: when the calories are over, they’re over. And if I start making butter versions you know I’ll have to come up with an acceptable dairy-free one somehow too for an acceptable celebration, while avoiding all cross-contamination.

You know, I learned how to do handsmocking and many, many baby dresses and a great deal of knitting later, how to knit lace, because it just bugged me that here was something I thought was cool but that I didn’t know how to do yet.

I’ve baked a lot of bread in my life. Kringle?  This should be a piece of cake.

There’s a pattern brewing here… (The problem is that I would keep working at it and producing them till I reached an acceptable level of perfection in the creation. Which would only be the starting point.)

A great but short visit
Sunday November 28th 2010, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Family

To top off our weekend with our son: the phone rang last night.

John’s apartment lease is up at the end of this month (like, now) and he did not want to sign for another year’s stint there. He was going to go Monday to sign the papers at a new place, wincing at the rent.

That phone call was an offer from a relative we know and love well, who knew none of that, who found himself suddenly needing a house sitter. Like, now.  Wondering if he might be interested in a room downstairs?  Free rent if he would bring in the mail and give them a call if anything happened like that time the neighbor’s tree fell on the house? Their leftovers fair game when they left town and his fair game any time they might arrive late at night?

I had no idea what the conversation was but I was watching his eyes go big. The generosity of the offer! And the *timing*!

When he gets back here for Christmas I think I need to send him back with a chocolate torte, ready for them to find in their freezer as leftovers. Wow. Thank you!


Crisp Kringle
Sunday November 28th 2010, 12:26 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Knit

You know those days when you do so many things so outside your normal routine that it feels like you’ve lived a week in the space of a waking?

One of those was that John and I, on a lark, drove up to Burlingame today. He drove; I wound a ball of Malabrigo Rios he’d picked out.

Okay, back up a little.

When I was ten and my family was doing that long drive circling the entire country with a little of Mexico (one afternoon) and Canada (several weeks) thrown in, Maryland to California and around and back that summer, one of the things we apparently did (I don’t remember it) was that we stopped in a Danish bakery in Racine, Wisconsin. (Mom and Dad, correct me if it goes further back than that.) Kringle? What’s that?  …OH!

The end result is that my folks have ordered kringle from that bakery every Christmas for four decades, through a change in generation and ownership quite awhile ago. The bakery does them in a racetrack oval, rather than the traditional pretzel-ish shape, and the things cover an entire cookie sheet: flaky dough rolled in butter to almost phyllo layers, filled with cooked-down fresh fruit or cinnamon pecan. It takes them three days to make them, and for many years you had to order by Halloween for the holiday season or you were plain out of luck.

We carried on the tradition here too about every other year or so, and a few years ago when we did, something was…different.  I checked the ingredients. When did they start cutting corners and putting in hydrogenated fat for part of the butter?

I googled for other bakers; Racine has become famous for kringles over the years.

I asked about the hydrogenated fat issue.

I struck out.

Kringles are a splurge in money and calories, and if they weren’t going to do it right, there was no point. Besides, Michelle can’t eat them anymore anyway.

But they are our tradition.  And Michelle’s not going to be home yet at my birthday.  So with rationalizations in hand, this year I went looking again.  One bakery in Illinois looked promising. One in Solvang quite surprised me–my friend John from Stitches and his wife own the Village Spinning and Weaving shop in Solvang in, judging by the pictures and the addresses, the same building! Small world.

And I found Copenhagen Bakery up in Burlingame, certainly within reach. Hey. Why not try it out?

And so John and I braved the rain and set out on an adventure. We did call ahead to make sure there would actually be one there.

They make the traditional pretzel shape, the traditional almond-paste filling. Only. (At least that they call by that name.)  I guess our fruit-filled oval ones were like chow mein in San Francisco: changed/reinvented by immigrants after they landed in the States. I explained to the woman at Copenhagen why we were experimenting and trying out their kringle and I asked if they put any hydrogenated fats in it?

She was horrified. No!

This evening, I finally closed the box to keep the three of us from finishing off the entire pastry in one day.

As for the yarn? John had said he needed me to go buy him a hat, and I was surprised and amused and countered that we had a ton of hats right here. Some Assembly Required. (An amused, *MOM*.) And so he chose the Azules colorway.

He didn’t really want me to post his picture with the hat in progress stuck on his head for measuring, four needle ends waving around his face.

But it is done. He has his hat. And we have a kringle source.

Saturday November 27th 2010, 12:35 am
Filed under: Friends,Knit,LYS

According to the post office, it was supposed to get there today. I have the tracking receipt around somewhere.

And here’s the other part of the story.  Last Christmas, I dragged my daughter into Purlescence and asked her advice on helping me pick out a yarn for an old friend whose wife I have yet to meet. Sam picked out a particular one that met the specs and that she thought would look good on anybody.

I knitted it up: after some thought, I used the Water Turtles pattern that I’d designed for my lifelong friend Karen. It just felt like the right one, even though it might have been cool to do one of the new ones? But, somehow, nah…

I finished it. It was time to tell the couple I’d made it for. And yet… Something felt not quite…  I didn’t know what.

And so it sat there. This quite honestly frustrated me at times because I really did want to get going on what I thought I’d started, giving-wise. But it was stubborn and it just wouldn’t go. Huh.

Okay, then, whatever. And I started keeping my eyes open for just the right shade of green to somehow fix that one, since it had been green and so green it was going to be if that green somehow wasn’t it. Must be the green’s fault.

I did not find anything that felt like *it*.  Stumped. Totally. For months now.

I finally pulled that Water Turtles shawl out recently to look it over, wondering why I’d made it, then, and it hit me like a boat straying under the falls at Niagara: duh! Karen’s widowed sister-in-law! Karen’s pattern! It’s soft, it’s half silk, the color matches the Alaskan pines, and if ever someone needed a warm hug and best wishes–what took me so long! I checked with Karen first to make sure Sally would like that shade; she gave me an enthusiastic go-ahead.

Today it should have arrived.

And today, despite the fact that we don’t do Black Friday crowds in our family–well, but Purlescence is okay, right? The owners had been there since 6 am in their jammies.  I got there in the late afternoon.  Old friends were there in abundance, I got to play with someone’s baby–

–And I found the exact, the most perfect, the most wonderful shade of green that somehow felt like the one I’d been waiting for all this time. I’d never seen it before.  Bingo. There you go.

I ignored it. I avoided it. I went all over the store, Kaye helping, looking for that color in something else, knowing if it wasn’t soft enough I wouldn’t buy it, but looking.

There was no other.  It had me and it knew it. I bought one ball, 230 yards, one lacy scarf in Cashmere Superior (brushed cashmere blended with silk) coming up.

It’s the right project. It’s the right yarn.  I got the shawl to whom it was absolutely meant for all along–and I hadn’t even ever heard Sally’s name yet while I was buying her her yarn.

To everything turn, turn, turn.  Now the sense that I’d been waiting for all this time is finally here: I have the exact right yarn for the person I started it all out for and it will be in their hands on its own right day, whyever that may be that I cannot know.  Their turn is coming up.

They don’t even know they’ve been waiting. Yet.

Giving thanks
Friday November 26th 2010, 12:20 am
Filed under: Family,Food

John’s home, John’s home! He even put up with doing a little birdwatching with me while I tried to explain why the Bewick’s wren flipping itself around by the tail was so cute.

The other bird watching: he and I got up this morning and decided to get that turkey going together. (My husband usually wrestles the yearly bowling ball, but we beat him to it and let him sleep in.)  I was going to roast it in a turkey bag, in part because it was only halfway thawed and that would help speed it up and even the cooking out, I thought. So, John held the flimsy thing ready for me–and twenty pounds of bird slipped straight through it to the floor.

So now we know why they put two bags in a box: one for the Julia Child moment, one for doing it right. I think we better move to over the pan, honey.

I later read some of the more infamous Butterball hotline questions: if I use a chainsaw to carve the bird, will the oil make it taste bad?

Or the college kid who used a cookie sheet under his because that’s all he had and it splattered and sparked and caught on fire in his oven, so he called the hotline.

The person at Butterball who answered that one was his own mother.  I bet they’ll be telling that one at their Thanksgiving dinners forever after!

We skipped the chainsaws and the fires and enjoyed a lovely time in a warm house on a cold day with good food and good family, feeling how keenly blessed we three were to have the time together. One-on-one time with an adult child is a rare thing.

And then for the first time in days I actually sat down, put my feet up, and knitted!

Down on Cooper-line
Wednesday November 24th 2010, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

Humming James Taylor’s song that inspired the title. “Took a fall from a windy height, only knew how to hold on tight.”

The first bird I saw this morning when I came out into the family room was that vividly black and white-striped woodpecker, enjoying her breakfast. Good to have things back to normal.

My neighbors have a clothesline with a large, sturdy wooden post to either end, about half of the thing in view of my back window. Today I saw a black squirrel who apparently expected a telephone wire and tried to run down the rope. Twang! It flipped him, he grabbed for it, found himself suddenly clinging upside down while still trying to run the length; that didn’t work so well, so he scrambled to get back up to the top of it. Twang!  He edged away out of my sight, repeatedly being bounced, again and again.

Squirrel trampolines. Who knew.

A few minutes later, a black squirrel safely on the fenceline, (same one?) I looked up again and there, sitting on that post near him and in plain view was the big adult Cooper’s hawk with her blue upper head, sitting in the chilly sunshine.  Casually turning her head every now and then to watch some small bird and then another pass by overhead.  Checking out the entrees.  The squirrel seemed oblivious; she ignored him.

And lifted a big yellow foot and scratched herself. Ah, lovely day today, should make for a good flight.

Meantime I was picking up the phone and calling my neighbor. She ran across her house phone in hand to see the hawk from right there, and together we birdwatched across the telephone wire.

At last it stretched those huge wings wide and flapped off in no particular hurry across my yard. Nope–my feeder was finch-free on the far side too just then. Ah well then.

My neighbor told me about having recently watched a bird, she didn’t know what kind, swooping through snapping up the small cloud of termites that swarm here at the start of every rainy season, like catching popcorn as it bursts free of the popper. It was clearly enjoying the rare treat. Hey, little one: have seconds! Thirds! Bring your whole family, make it a feast!

It’s going to be cold enough tonight and tomorrow night that it could actually snow. The rain doesn’t come till the day after, so it looks like the 1964 date for the last snowman-able amount will hold.  But it’s chilly, the little birds are eating up a storm at the feeders, and the big ones await their turn at them. All is in balance.

And we have another flight we’re watching for. John is almost home! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Winging it
Wednesday November 24th 2010, 12:08 am
Filed under: Food,Friends,Wildlife

I was at the bird center this afternoon stocking up on seed for the month.

Freddie, the owner, asked me, glancing at her computer, if I wanted a suet cake this time with that?

No, I was set, thanks–and then I told her my Nuttall’s, my woodpecker, had not been seen for a few weeks and I’d been missing it.

Yesterday, trying to entice it to come back, I’d replaced the broken bits of the old cake that were in the holder with a big solid new one that had been waiting for it, wondering, if I made it look prettier, set it a nice table up there, would that do it? Had the hawk gotten her? Had she migrated?

I checked it this morning and even though the chickadees like it and the finches will occasionally give it a peck when the feeders are both crowded, it was simply untouched.

No point in buying more yet, then, so, thanks, Freddie, hopefully next time.

And so it was that I was sitting here not long after I returned home, having run gobs of errands after that first one, finding that the grocery store was in total crazy mode, (well…yeah…) having company coming tonight rather than Thursday for dinner, getting home, getting the groceries put away, how to get it all in there and everything done, needing a moment to just finally sit down and crash for a moment, suddenly–

–who should fly in.  My goodness, that brilliant black and white outfit looks formal and perfect for celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday: there she was!

I simply watched, all else fallen away, not glancing away for a second, knowing how fast she can fly out of sight, all the more keenly aware for her absence of how blessed I am to have such moments.  Wow that’s a gorgeous bird.

She ate and ate and ate some more, diving into her food, more than I’ve ever seen her do in one visit. ‘Tis the season.

The Bewick’s wrens, meantime–I actually saw two at once–who never, never fly up to the cake but who come for the crumbs that fall from the woodpecker’s table, have been celebrating the extra crumbles I put out from yesterday’s taking-down; one showed up underneath the Nuttall’s for more, the perfect exclamation point in the flick of its tail.

Dinner to cook, still.  But those wild birds made the weight of it light as a feather.

Having one of the guests later exclaim, “OH! This is my FAVORITE!” topped it all off.

And a good meal was had by all.

Maybe cane-abalize the plain old maple one
Monday November 22nd 2010, 11:33 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Friends,Non-Knitting

Stepping away for a moment from the intensity of a new knitting project…

So. I have this cane. It’s made from sassafras wood, it’s spotted and hand carved and very cool, and my childhood friend Karen found it at a shop in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Yes–that is her on the left in the original Water Turtles shawl; new book copies available at the cover price+shipping at Purlescence.) I’ve used it as my main cane for five years now; I have to admit, the upper curve in the handle is looking rather well used by now.

Shown in the picture above, I have another one from Karen, who finds just the coolest ones, this one from Africa with painted animals on it and an ankh symbol for a handle: zebras, the perfectly-colored and -spaced spots of a giraffe, it’s got it.

Some small child got entranced with it at church recently and a zebra lost an ear.  It’s not very noticeable, except to me, but, so that one got put away for special occasions for its own good. Hearing aids for wooden horses are in short supply.

I went looking today out of idle curiosity, my local shop seeming to have gone to ugly aluminum only last time I checked, and where’s the artistry in that? I say, if it’s a permanent part of your life it needs to earn it a little bit.

And so I found someone who took an old cane and had fun with it. He steampunked it!  There’s a gear here, another few there, leather added to the handle, and, of all things, a lace-up black leather corset going up the shaft. It’s really, really cool! (But I can’t buy it without seeing if it’s comfortable with my hand leaning on that metal there, and I need  35″ and have no idea how long his is.)

I tell you. With apologies to my fellow knitters, this way beats the candy-cane stocking cover that every year about this time I start to daydream about knitting it for the season. Or maybe it’s just that that idea has lost its novelty for me by now.

Hmmm… How would you decorate one?

He knits us well
Sunday November 21st 2010, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

“So,” Phyllis, our Sunday School teacher today, said to my husband re his response to her question about humility, “you’re saying we should say” (quoting the Lord’s prayer)  “‘Thy will be done’?”

“By us,” I added.

She stopped and appraised that thought a moment.  “Thy will be done by us?”

Oh, if only.  If only always.  Is there anything that requires greater humility and love than that?

We can’t know, only God knows from moment to moment, how we could use our time and talents for the best, right here right now and in working towards some moment in the future we cannot really know.  We try to do the right thing; we try to see ourselves honestly, our faults and our warps, pray that our intentions might be as pure as we want to see them as, and offer our hearts to Him and our fellow man:

Here I am. There’s only one of me, but I can do some things, at least.  Point me in the right direction–and please, loudly enough that I might stand a chance of hearing it above the noise.

A job well done
Saturday November 20th 2010, 9:00 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Rain is falling, mellow slow-mo California style, a child’s connect-the-dots plaything, nothing whatever like the great raging storms I grew up with in Maryland.  And then: rare-here lightning and thunder just struck. Reports from friends just south are of a simultaneous thunderlightning *BOOM!*


Meantime, Friday, my daughter-in-law heard that what she had spent these last three years working hard towards, she had actually accomplished: she has now passed the California bar. Go Kim!

On its way
Saturday November 20th 2010, 12:21 am
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Friends,LYS

Backstory here and then here.

I finally got it blocked and the ends run in.  (Not the project I’ve been working on all week, which has the cast-off left to do.) Maybe it should have been sent off sooner. Maybe it is the right time for her right now for reasons I cannot know; maybe it was simply easier for it to arrive after she finished moving (which is what I was aiming for) or maybe that’s all just rationalizing my lateness. I don’ t know.

But it’s finished and it’s finally into God’s hands from mine: a silk and merino shawl in her sister-in-law’s pattern, the yarn coming from my favorite shop, which is, of course, Purlescence.

Karen plotted with me and it will show up on Sally’s doorstep next week.

Solder on!
Friday November 19th 2010, 12:28 am
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Family,LYS

(Silly timestamp. Wrong time zone.)

You know you live in Silicon Valley when, instead of knitting after Knit Night, you help solder some electronics to help the husband create himself a toy when a funky angle needs a third hand. It’s the equivalent of his holding the hank of yarn while you wind. (That’s his ham radio in the pocket: he’s a Red Cross volunteer.)

For those looking for a new copy of “Wrapped in Comfort: Knitted Lace Shawls,” Purlescence now has some at the cover price. I haven’t signed them yet, but I certainly could be talked into going back into my favorite yarn shop.

And that red or blue question? Blue.  Totally the blue.

Thursday November 18th 2010, 12:13 am
Filed under: Knit

I’m going to punt on the wordplay tonight (although, I might say that throwing out the department store ads that come with the paper like I just did before you even look at them is a Kohl-ectomy, and running them through the shredder will get you Kohl slaw) and go straight to the knitting: 15 rows today and I’m ready for the edging and into the final stretch.

6735 stitches.  And each one counts.

Wednesday November 17th 2010, 12:30 am
Filed under: Knit,Wildlife

I cranked up the stereo to knit by and wondered when the mockingbird will be doing a Dan Fogelberg impersonation?

Earlier in the day, clearly the hawk dove in for his mourning meal. Michelle Millar writes that doves have a lot of dust in their feathers that they leave behind when they hit something.

It had imprinted on this house as its place of safety but discovered it to be a bit of a pane.

And yet I do think it had a ghost of a chance. I found no flurry of feathers. From all I can tell, it escaped the worst and it lived.

And the mockingbird de-clears the stained glass artist a one-hit wonder.

(Thirteen rows today, twenty-eight to go.)