The pits
Thursday May 05th 2022, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Knit,Wildlife

Newborns! (Falcon video.)

Meantime, the sour cherries on the bottom of my tree are about halfway to ripeness while the top of the tree has finally come into full bloom–and the result is, I’ve really been wanting sour cherry pie again.

There was one last bag of them in the freezer.

From the last of the season, when I was so tired of pitting all. those. cherries. that I didn’t. I simply picked them, filled the largest ziplock as full as it would go and that was it for the year, knowing full well I’d wish later that I’d pitted them but also knowing that that was way better than tossing them after waiting too long to get around to it.

Today was the day. I was motivated. I found them. I covered four dinner plates with them to let them thaw fast.

For the record: pitting them from fresh is actually, probably, I think, easier.

But there is a 10″ pie in the oven from those hundreds and hundreds of small tart cherries and it smells divine.

And then, fingers dyed a bit pink, I realized what I’d done.

J’s white afghan, having needed the mill oils scoured out of its yarn so it can be its best, softest, half-cashmere self, is soapily soaking in the tub.

Daring those fingertips to come anywhere near it.

An early start
Saturday April 23rd 2022, 8:53 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Garden,Life

When Richard and I had been married about a year, I discovered a farmer whose wife had a few apricot trees that were for her personal pin money and she was offering 27 lb wooden crates (with a strong request that you return the crate) for $5.

I brought that crate home in great anticipation and glee at our adulting–all that fruit from pick-your-own farms in my childhood that my Mom had put up every year, and now we got to do it–and my husband and I spent a Saturday in grad school jamming and bottling and creating rows of all those gorgeous jars of summer sunshine.

I lined them up, tired and proud and admiring what we’d accomplished, when my sweet new husband turned to me with a smile and a half-apologetic half-bemused confession: “You know what? I really don’t like apricots.”

He’d waited till we were done. He hadn’t wanted to wreck my enthusiasm. We gave most of it to his older sister when we moved away and she was quite happy to have them.

I remembered that day when I read last week someone saying she’d picked a hundred pounds of apricots off her four year old tree. At least mine were growing from seeds, not nursery stock, so I figured we wouldn’t have to deal with anything like that for awhile yet. Besides, all you have to do is ask friends to come over and help themselves and a good time will be had by all.

He has actually tried the Anyas from Andy’s and though not as bowled over as I might have hoped, he conceded that for an apricot they were good.

I have six seedlings left, with two spoken for.

I figured we have several years before I even get to taste from the two I intend to keep long enough to find out which one has the fruit most like its known and loved parent.

This evening, I saw, really saw for the first time, and how had I missed this? My third-year has this one branch near the top that hadn’t been sprouting any leaves off it, and it was now quite a bit thicker and browner than all the young ones around it growing straight and red.

What had happened was that we had our first warm day in awhile today and the buds had burst out from it. Thus the nubbly randomness that had caught my eye at long last while the other branches around it had grown past it and obscured it.

Those are flower buds!!! That’s a fruit spur!

I wanted to jump up and down like a little kid.

I don’t get it. Not that I’m complaining! My cherries, peaches, and plum, my other stone fruits: they all bloom first and then leaf out as the petals begin to give way in the spring. That apricot was the first one to leaf out starting over a month ago and there were no signs of flowers then. As a matter of fact, I had thought that in years to come it would be more likely to lose its crop to the weather because it had leafed out three weeks before the second-year seedling.

Granted, it’s still a baby and its timings could be random for now and time will tell.

But an apricot that doesn’t bloom till the end of April or more? If that holds, that would be a highly desirable thing indeed.

Edited to add: I just heard back from the friend I gave a Blenheim to as a housewarming present several years ago. She told me that the lower blossoms do open first in the spring, before the leaves, but that there’s often a few fruit spurs at the top of the tree that open up at the very last like mine is doing.

Well there you go.

Wednesday April 20th 2022, 9:15 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden

A friend stopped by for a visit today; she and her family will be moving soon, and I will very much miss them. Her husband’s defending his doctoral thesis next month and I told them I would bake a chocolate torte in celebration.

With coconut cream. He’s allergic to dairy. We know all about that, I said, no worries, coconut cream substitutes one for one with heavy cream on the ganache.

The bonus is that it comes in small containers that don’t have to be refrigerated till I open them and use them all up. No churning butter in the washing machine.

If he passes (he will!), if he gets the job he’s interviewing for, if they don’t get outbid first on the one they’re hoping for, they will then buy their first house. They will anyway, just, they’re hoping for that one.

And if they want it, an Anya apricot seedling will go with them. They’ll be leaving the state just before Andy’s crop comes on, and they know how good those are–they’re fans. And I’m fans of them. Not to mention they volunteered and kept things watered for us while we were out of town last summer and definitely earned their baby tree.

I couldn’t let them and their two boys miss out on what those are growing up to be.

More and more and more
Tuesday April 19th 2022, 9:33 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

One and a half milk chocolate tortes were still in that fridge. After our big Easter dinner, even with all those people here, we’d only eaten the other half.

I put a note on the ward chat explaining what they were, why they were there, the fact that they freeze easily whole or by the slice, but that they were milk and not my usual dark chocolate and that I had no freezer space for them.

Please rescue us from these calorie bombs, I wrote.

It took no more than the time it took him to type it for the first response to come in, where the guy said he was so glad he’d been on the computer just then. He’d love to share one with his neighbors. He knew what my tortes were like.

He got the whole one.

I write notes in my cookbooks, which is how I know that the first time I baked the original version before it morphed over time into richer and darker was in June 1990, and the person who answered next had been enjoying them that long; she got the half.

Her husband stopped by to pick it up on his way home from work and by the quizzical look on his face I’m not sure she had told him not to expect a whole torte. But he was certainly willing to let me give him that one.

The third person wished so hard and was a dear enough friend that I measured the cream I had left, found a half–I never have a half, but there was a half, and only a half–of a Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar for the glaze and there was enough cream for just one plus for whipped cream on a certain somebody’s birthday cake tomorrow but there was not enough cream to glaze two tortes. So that settled that.

A few hours later I sent her a note.

Wait what?! You did not!

Did too.

So she stopped by a little later to pick up the one I baked this afternoon, a proper bittersweet chocolate this time, and she surprised me back with her favorite balsamic vinegar plus a jar of honey from her bees.

Because if I can do it to her she can do it to me. So there.

And then she told me her family was going to share it with a mutual friend whose husband has been in the hospital for some time. I’d had no idea. So glad that torte got baked and ended up where it needed to be. (And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the second set of recipients shared theirs with that woman, too.)

If you like it really sweet
Friday April 15th 2022, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

This is how they’re supposed to look.

The glaze for the tortes didn’t get made till today because they requested milk chocolate in the ganache.

Preference for dark chocolate vs milk is statistically a northern California/southern California difference, which I find curious. I remember reading an article years ago about how when Trader Joe’s started opening stores up here, few people were buying what everybody bought down there and they had to come up to speed fast.

Having none of the latter in the house because we just don’t, I had to wait till the local store was open again for the day. They do carry it in such a percentage, just not a lot by comparison.

Take one Pound Plus (ie 500g) bar in its wrapper and throw on the floor repeatedly. Inside a ziplock bag if you want to be sure none gets loose. Easiest way to chop chocolate ever, and it generally divides itself along the lines of the little squares in there.

Got that done, reached for the half gallon of extra heavy cream from Costco…

The fridge. The floor. Me. I remembered to grab the carton off the floor as it was chugging away down there, and what was still in there hadn’t made any contact with anything yet and there was still enough for that glaze. (Barely.)

But man.

This was going to take awhile. And this is in a kitchen where, to take its drawers out, you have to pull the entire fridge forward to get it clear of the oven doors it’s at a 90 degree angle with. I did not get them out.

There was still a bit in the tread of my shoes but I tried.

I gave up and used bath towels on the lake on the floor.

And then I tried to wash the bath towels.

All it needed was a few drops of red food coloring in the stuff and we would have had The Cat In The Hat Comes Back. It could leave one surface for another but you could not make it go away, as I learned when I opened the washing machine and wondered at that white band just below the rim when the load was supposedly done. Oh man. I wasn’t trying to make butter!

I paper toweled that out of there the best I could and ran the thing again on hot. Still some, but a lot less.

Crossing my fingers and mindful of the extreme drought (but it’s supposed to rain tonight!), I threw the load in the dryer.

It came out with a lovely smell of fresh cream. For now.

I bet the cashmere sweater I hand-washed does, too.

But the tortes got their glaze. It did not look like normal; it was runnier than I expected and refused to hold the deep indentations I usually put into the tops (picture above pilfered from my recipe) –and then I realized that of course. It’s got milk and sugar substituting for more of the actual chocolate and they don’t have the same properties.

Leading to the quite irreverent thought that, there it is: milk chocolate is the Hollywood plastic surgery of the cacao bean. So smooth. Wrinkle free.

Con Brio
Wednesday March 30th 2022, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

The medical news part of the trip didn’t really hit me till I wrote it down for yesterday’s post, and then the whole of it was all at once.

While we were actually there with Mom, with our son John, while we were at the Sunday dinner at my brother’s house with his two younger kids and our two older sisters and Mom, the overriding feeling was simply joy: after two long years, we finally got to see each other. We got to be there.

My niece showed me where the peach tree I’d given them for Christmas a few years earlier was growing. My sister told me hers was starting to bloom. (Pictures, and they do embiggen: my Stella sweet cherry today.)

We got to see Richard’s younger sister.

We got to take Mom out on the town. Including where, in October 2019, all six of us kids had approached a local restaurant as we were out walking and said, We know you’re booked solid but we just buried our father and our Mom was hoping for Italian and could you possibly squeeze us in tonight?

And they did. They didn’t have to, but they did.

For the memories of that day and their kindness, Richard and I took her back there Saturday night. It was the best food of the trip. Brio in Salt Lake City–if you go there, go there.

Because sour cherry pie is the best kind
Monday March 14th 2022, 9:52 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Wildlife

My friend Sue, recently home after two years abroad, put out a note that today was going to be Pi Day and she’d left her pastry blender behind in South Africa; could she borrow one?


And so she was the other person who stopped by yesterday, briefly, but it got me thinking I wanted to celebrate the day, too. I had prefab pie crusts in the freezer and could cut to the chase instead of the butter.

Last year when we had so many tart cherries on our tree, I pitted and bagged them by the quart so that they’d be the right size to pop right into a crust. I grabbed a ziploc out of the freezer this morning.

But it was the season’s remainders and the amount a bit random, about half, which explained why it seemed so small.

Well huh. I’d forgotten about that.

I rolled the crust out very thin and lined four large ceramic bowls with it: two for cherry, two, peach slices, and, just for fun, folded the edges down galette style. They took about 45-50 min at 350.

Each of the four Mel and Kris cereal bowls served two.

Meantime, on the peregrine front, Grace the falcon is trying to get that gravel just so for the eggs that are about to arrive at City Hall. She’s had several tiercels (males) fighting for the territory and her and one was the victor long enough to get a name and possibly future progeny–only to be ousted the next day by a new new tiercel.

Who so far is TT, for, The Tiercel. Much bonding has taken place and he’s definitely the victor of the year.

They’re really going to have to give him his own name before they start naming the eyases (babies) to come.

Sunday March 13th 2022, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden

Friends dropped by for a visit; we hadn’t seen each other in awhile because we’ve been doing church by Zoom so as not to expose my mom when we finally get to go see her, but with Tony’s death they just needed to come make sure everything was okay.

We’re fine, no worries, great to see you.

She’s an avid gardener so I showed her the littlest apricot seedlings: This one’s a week old, this one’s a few days.

They’re so cute!

Aren’t they?!

I offered her one for their condo patio and she’s considering it. But then she made clear what she really wanted: to know when the peaches at Andy’s were coming on, because I’d given her some of those last year and she couldn’t wait to go buy more.

We are looking forward to it together.

It’s been a long two and a half years
Tuesday March 08th 2022, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

My sister-in-law from Texas.

Our niece, daughter of Richard’s late oldest sibling.

Our daughter.

Take out.

The fortune cookie that said, A gathering of friends brings you lots of luck this evening. And it did, for sure. But not quite enough to finish that James Christensen puzzle together before they called it a night for the aunt who’s on Eastern time.

I wasn’t as much of a help as I might have been on that; I tried, but finally told them (having been to the doctor this afternoon with everybody at the clinic wearing face masks so, no lipreading possible) I solve puzzles aurally all day long, do you mind if I knit?

Not at all.

And then, since the niece was wearing her cashmere cowl I’d given her as her experiment to see if that was the one animal fiber she could tolerate, and turns out she loved it, I confessed that the 50/50 cashmere/cotton afghan I was working on was–for her. I didn’t quite say, and now that I know it’ll be comfortable for you I can really dive in and stop hesitating.

Thirteen inches and it is on its way. Man, that feels good.

Using up old chocolate bars
Thursday March 03rd 2022, 10:54 pm
Filed under: Food

Cleaning up in the kitchen, I came across a few not terribly old chocolate bars but they’d become untempered and in the wrong crystalline structure, some had begun to crumble. Nothing wrong with the taste but definitely wrong on the texture. Another just looked funny with the cocoa fat blooming on the surface. Oh, and the very last of a batch of homemade.

One of the things about coconut cream is that you can have it on hand in the pantry, and I did, but since those others were commercially made bars and the wrappers were lost there was no guaranteeing they were dairy free (sorry). Even so, coconut and chocolate are not a bad pair.

I broke them up and covered them freely with the coconut cream, stirring to get every piece submerged at least once to keep the chocolate from seizing, then microwaved just enough to melt the chocolate. Wire whisked. Meantime, I mixed a cup of flour with a scant teaspoon of baking powder, a bit of salt, I mean, we’re just winging it here, and set two eggs to whip till nice and frothy. Then a quarter cup of sugar, then another nearly quarter cup into the eggs: most of that chocolate had been unsweetened and we’re talking baked goods here.

I went to put the flour mixture in, hesitated about halfway in thinking, that’s too much, and then poured the rest anyway.

I was right, it was a bit too much and the cake’s a bit dry. But Richard loved it, even though it was still not all that sweet, and that’s what mattered.

I’m thinking that, though quite small in height, it fits James Beard’s description of what day-old angel food cake is for: it makes a great toast.

Thin slices baked to crispness, cooled, and spread with Nutella for breakfast: I have plans.

(Skein of yarn silicone pan link here. The trick is to let the cake cool completely, then put it in the fridge and set a timer for ten minutes. I put it in just before it was completely cool so it came out of the mold almost but not quite perfect.)

Gotta earn those calories, right?
Saturday February 26th 2022, 10:59 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Picture taken before all that vegan butter and sugar were added.

In case you ever needed to know, if you use one of those cheapo little $10 (it was then, anyway) battery-powered apple peelers and start right at the top on a big Granny Smith, yes you can, in fact, get a continuous length of apple peel long enough to be able to go play jump rope with.

“Mom, what are you *doing*!”

You might consider washing your sweater after you try it out, though. But it didn’t break!

But do we get seconds?
Wednesday February 16th 2022, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

We were having ice cream in celebration of the splurge of a bottle of coconut-cream caramel sauce with pumpkin spice because why not. A novelty to us and a favorite for her and she’d found one at the store today even though Thanksgiving is well over.

She made sure we knew that you had to mix the contents up with that spoon first.

My brain has a ’60’s or ’70’s song for everything and I found myself singing in cheerful anticipation, Stir it up. Little darling, stir it up, ohh yeah… I mentioned that I didn’t remember who sang it, just the song.

My better half instantly opined, Bob Marley–but I think it’s shake it up, it’s not stir it up.

Yonder daughter already tapping on her phone came right back with: Dad’s right, it’s Bob Marley. But it IS, Stir it up.

She put down the phone and looked at me in a mixture of wonderment and almost laughing, *MOM* heard the lyrics right! And *Dad* remembered them wrong!

Good to know we’re still doing our jobs and surprising our kids.

It’s all yours
Monday February 14th 2022, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

(And more peach flowers.)

Boxes. Cats love the ones that are just small enough. Kids turn big ones into spaceships and trucks. There’s so much magic lurking inside plain brown cardboard.

There was a box at the front door. It was not expected and not mine. Electronics? Tools? Hey, I know, designer clothes! (As if!) I looked closer.

Ah, yes, okay. The brand that makes the vanilla soy milk she likes has mostly discontinued it, I imagine due to the extreme price of real vanilla on the world market these days, and they’ve been trying to get their customers to substitute this new grain-based stuff even if they don’t want to. When you can’t bake a cake with dairy, though, you’ve got to have something.

Thus the, Hey–your oat cookture is here!

Mutari chapter
Saturday February 05th 2022, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

I got a heads-up from a dairy-allergic friend two days ago: Mutari Chocolate‘s building is being torn down and they were being forced to move, without a place to land yet. Go, she said. Valentine’s is their last day.

NO! Oh, man…

And so the three of us headed over the hills to Santa Cruz to support Michelle’s favorite chocolate maker. Their stuff is pricey–but extremely good. And safe for her to just simply go and eat out like a normal person, which has been such a gift for her.

I feel like I’m out of practice after these past two years, but I wanted to thank them and support them and encourage them in whatever may come next. So I grabbed four Malabrigo Mecha hats knit of many a Sunday Zoom session and managed, from the back seat, to thread a yarn needle and run the ends in on the three that needed it, despite the steep twists and curves of Highway 17 through the mountains.

We knew it might well be our last chance. We knew we were going to splurge.

That turned out to be a definite understatement.

The chocolate machinery in that place, the music, and of course the masks are all not conducive to my hearing much at all in there and I’ve always just been the pleasant but deaf mom picking out what I want and letting the others have their conversations. But this time the familiar face of one woman lit up when she saw me–and not only did it mean the world to me, in that moment I felt how much having to let go of this place and our coming at this time meant to her.

And that answered my inner question right there. Yes.

And so the purse was opened and I asked her to pick a color. She exclaimed and chose the one in soft purples and browns that could be cacao pods by the colors. Perfect. I suddenly wished I had more of those to offer.

The woman behind her picked a bright blues and greens mix.

Did I see someone working in the back? I asked.

Yes. And so the first woman picked one out for that woman, too, and walked over to that room to share it.

It was my Don’t Go parting gift. My pleading of Please Make It Back Here. Even though Santa Cruz rent is crazy.

They are going to tour some of the farms around the world that grow their cacao beans and then come back here and start searching for a new spot.

They do, in fact, have a second location: in Watsonville, so their website will remain up and running during what is hopefully just an interim.

I was so glad I had a way to say thank you for all the chocolate and the welcoming and the allergen conscientiousness that’s been so freeing for our daughter.

Who, as she drove us back north, said with both wishing and hesitation, Watsonville. That’s…quite a drive.

Yes, but note that at least your cousin does live near there.

Sunday January 30th 2022, 10:19 pm
Filed under: Food,Knitting a Gift

Applesauce Honey cake at Spruce Eats is the winner so far. Cocoa in boiling water substituted for the coffee.

The afghan: if I stop at the last row of the pattern, #40, then the top and the bottom won’t mirror. As written, it starts with pairs of cables and ends just before the cabling, because of course when you’re repeating over and over, but not so much when you’re coming to a stop. So I’m thinking I’ll end after a pair of cables and half a motif, meaning, row #32. Or #12 on a ninth repeat, which I have just enough yarn for.

My niece and her husband are both tall. Right now it’s 64″ unblocked with 5.5″ to go if I stop at #32 once you factor in the ribbing.

Which I really really want to do right now, but having gotten this far, if I need to go on I’ll go on and my rule of thumb is to match the person’s height so it can cover their feet. No skimping. Plus it came out a little narrower than I wanted at 48″, but with a lot of sideways stretch so no problem–except that that pulls the length downwards quite a bit.

And on a side note: it occurred to me today that I could go into the local paint store, buy a paint chip that matches it, and send that off to ask if they all like the color without giving away what’s up.

Because they would never, ever suspect me of knitting. Right?