mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: easter

bunnies! . . .

bunny cakes 2

 

Well, I think I’ve finally seen it all – as far as baking goes. Months ago, I was browsing through Williams Sonoma’s Easter catalog and came across a 6-bunny “cakelet” bundt pan. I laughed out loud when I saw it and was still chuckling to myself when I clicked the “buy” button. When it arrived, sure enough, there were six little bunny molds in various poses formed in one solid bundt cake pan by Nordic Ware.

The other day, I thought I’d do a trial run and make a box of yellow cake mix and experiment with food coloring to make different colored bunny cakes. They turned out all right but the biggest lesson learned was that I had filled up the batter too high which resulted in towering humps of cake that I trimmed off and around before harvesting the bunny cakes. They went out to neighboring family, all of whom enjoyed these little cakes.colored bunnies

Fortified with experience, I looked online for a chocolate cake recipe that had body and richness. After all, if these were meant to be enjoyed for Easter, why use a box cake mix? I came upon a chocolate sour cream bundt cake recipe that promised to be very rich and full of flavor. It also didn’t require using a mixer either which is a godsend because the portable mixer I have is extraordinarily awkward to use, even though it’s manufactured by Kitchenaid, the emperor of mixer manufacturers.

This recipe just calls for melting butter (kerrygold unsalted); unsweetened cocoa (Ghirardelli), water and salt. Let cool. Mix together dry ingredients: flour, organic sugar and baking soda. Add wet to dry ingredients and whisk together. Whisk in two extra-large eggs, one at a time. Whisk in a container of sour cream. Then add a teaspoon of vanilla.

That’s it. I filled up each opening three-fourths of the way to the top. Baked for 25 minutes until toothpick came out clean. They had still puffed up above the top of the pan but I thought they would settle down by the time they cooled. Fifteen minutes later, I put them upside down on a rack, whacked each one sharply with a stainless strainer spoon and holding my breath, I lifted the pan. They came out perfectly – shiny brown and as cute as could be!

My plan was to let them cool completely at room temperature and then to place them in heavy-duty freezer bags, two coved together in a bag. Then freeze them until they’re hard. Wrap them in bubble wrap and priority mail them to family in MPLS along with Easter basket for granddaughter, Josie. Ditto for my son-in-law to take down to his family on Easter. When they are defrosted, whip up some fresh cream and serve with a bowl of raspberries. Yum!

Ain’t that the berries? Er, ah, bunnies, I mean?

Footnote:

Before mailing the cakelets this morning, I made the bitter chocolate glaze that’s included in the recipe above. Heated up heavy cream, sugar until almost boiling; chopped up a bar of Lindt’s bittersweet chocolate, added light corn syrup and stirred the hot cream mixture into the chocolate to mix altogether. I confess I’m not that much of a chocolate aficionado but this glaze was out of this world! – very chocolatey but not too sweet. I packed a portion of it with each of the cakelet shipments to be warmed and drizzled over the cakes before serving. Hope it all travels well!

 

 

 

easter . . .

 

French macarons . . .

French macarons . . .

G. and I are enjoying a quiet, sunny day today. The kids are visiting in-laws and so we will have a quiet day and a simple supper tonight. Right now, I am listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and feeling like snapping my fingers to the music–it’s so much fun to listen to it! Earlier, I went to the piano and played the 2nd movement of the C minor Fantasie by Mozart. The makeshift wooden board that G. placed over the pedal worked well with my leg that still has a heavy cast on it.

Last night, with absolutely nothing to watch on TV (unless you wanted to tune into a four-and a half hour view of the “Ten Commandments”,) we decided to watch “Amadeus” the 1984 movie which won 8 Academy Awards. It’s a little grating to me with the Mozart character’s neighing all the time (from Tourette’s Syndrome)? But F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for best actor in this best picture) plays Salieri, a rival court composer whose works are banal compared to Mozart’s and who is obsessed both by God’s gift of talent to Mozart and his equally strong belief that God has shortchanged him of same. This assignation of “blame” to God for Salieri’s shortcomings is one of the amusing conceits of the film. Reading about Salieri online, he is purported to have taught the likes of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt so he must not have been as lightweight a musician as the movie, “Amadeus,” makes him out to be.

Anyhow, seeing the period instruments (since G. specializes in all things piano) is a treat to watch. I was also reminded again hearing excerpts of Mozart’s great Mass in C minor with its rousing opening “Kyrie” how great a composition it is. So, I listened to it this a.m. before segue-ing to the more upbeat and laid back jazz of Dave Brubeck’s quartet and Paul Desmond playing saxophone. Did you know that it was actually Desmond who composed “Take Five?” I didn’t until recently when I watched Clint Eastwood’s masterful biographical DVD of Dave Brubeck which we saw on PBS a couple of years ago.

For lunch today, I’m going to heat up some frozen Korean dumplings with chives and make a piquant dipping sauce of Chinese black vinegar, Japanese seasoned rice vinegar, Ohsawa soy sauce, sesame oil, chopped scallions and grated fresh ginger root. Afterwards, we’ll try a tiny sliver of the dark chocolate sour cream cake that I made yesterday afternoon. I had to bake it ten more minutes than the recipe called for and even then, the beautifully rounded middle sunk when cooled so it looked like a miniature tube cake!

I also had difficulty broiling a miso eggplant dish for dinner last night–you couldn’t chew it and it felt and tasted like wet cardboard. I even tried frying it afterwards but to no avail. Then, I remembered the pizza stone the other night didn’t seem hot enough even though heated to 500 degrees. And that instead of the pizza taking 3-5 minutes to cook, it still wasn’t done at 15 minutes and I had to turn on the broiler to finish it. So, dear reader, it occurred to me that perhaps my stove/oven isn’t heating up properly. (DUH!) It’s about a dozen years old and I cook a lot, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s losing its legs, heat-wise that is.

So, I dug out my oven thermometer and will be double-checking whether it preheats to 425 degrees when I get ready to roast the rack of lamb that we’re going to have for dinner tonight. I use Julia Child’s recipe for a mustard (Grey Poupon Country Dijon), olive oil, soy sauce, fresh rosemary chopped and lots of minced garlic–the marinade coating applied for the room-temperature lamb before going into the oven. The lamb on the rack looks miniscule so I’m hopeful that there will be something tasty there when it comes out of the dubious oven.

better nomaYesterday, I don’t know what came over me–perhaps it was re-reading a cohort of British cookery books in the last few days–I decided to cull out and reorganize my bookshelves, one whole section of which is dedicated to food. One of the shelves now includes a set of Terence Conran, Roald Dahl, Jane Garmey and Time-Life volumes on making galantines, terrines, meat pies, trifles and aspic with eggs. In this group, I rediscovered the absolutely wonderful simple and yet appealing recipes in Nigel Slater’s cookery books. Slater’s recipe for roasting chicken wings suffused with fresh lemons and cracked pepper until the wings are caramelized to the baking sheet is one I’m going to try next week, I think. SLATER

Even though they were somewhat pricey, I went through some books yesterday that had recipes I know I would never try (too conventional, complicated or took too much work/ingredients) so they went into the carton that will be donated to our local library. That is the only way I can justify ridding myself of books–which is to recycle them at an institution that will either catalog them or sell them in their bookstore.

Back to the reorganization, the revised bookshelves also hold a section of what I call “Celebrity Chefs”: David Chang’s “Momofuku”, Rene Redzepi’s “Noma”,Thomas Keller’s”French Laundry”, Daniel Boulud, Stanley Tucci, Jane Grigson, Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook and the River Cottage series by that guy who has an un-spellable name.

On the top shelf (for most usage) are short stacks of cookbooks featuring Asian noodles, tofu, dim sum, Chinese snacks, Bento box and Japanese Zen/Temple cookery. There’s also a smaller section down below on macrobiotic and raw vegetable ideas. Right now, I think I’ll be cooking more recipes out of the Nigel Slater books than anything else. Not only are the books now better organized, there’s now room for more!better asian

The photos above and below are of an order of French macarons that I made and had sent to C. and her husband for Easter. She teaches high-school French so these little treats seemed like the perfect thing for Easter. She’s going to share them with her in-laws after their luncheon today. The funny thing about them is that I ordered them from a baker on Etsy (one of my favorite places to find homemade things,) and in finalizing the purchase, I noticed a Chinese name in their email address. Sure enough, she was trained in France to bake these macaron specialties but like me, she’s Chinese. I meet many artists who are Asian on this site. And in the oddest of places too–like with these macarons. They’re made of egg whites and an almond paste filling–somewhat like marzipan, I think. They arrived in time and C. said they shared one macaron before bringing them to the Easter luncheon and it was delicious!macarons 2

rack of lamb with mustard, rosemary, garlic glaze . . .

rack of lamb with mustard, rosemary, garlic glaze . . .

In addition to the mustard/rosemary rack of lamb medium rare (hopefully,) we’re having artichokes with a curry mayonnaise as a starter, the lamb, small yukon potatoes crisped in butter and garlic salt, and parsnips (G.’s favorite vegetable.) And for dessert, the dark chocolate sour cream cake with chocolate frosting.

So, here’s hoping you have also had an enjoyable day filled with reading the paper, Easter egg hunts and some nice wine and tasty food!

rebirth et al. . .

IMG_6027You know how they’re always talking about rebirth at Easter time a few weeks ago? Coincidentally this year, the world also saw the convocation of a new Pope for those who are Catholic. Obama, at his visit to Israel, intentionally spoke with a phrase in Hebrew at each place that he visited. He also gave at least the younger generation of Israelis some hope that “peace is possible!” That’s a rebirth of an idea in that tense region.

In reflection over these last few weeks, the most profound thing that happened to me is that my cherished relative, Pei-Fen, whom I visited in the beginning of March, died soon after at the age of 92. She seemed to be hazy and floating in and out in consciousness after having had a recent stroke. But when I saw her, and when I asked if we could take a photo together, she straightened up and looked directly into the camera. Then, she made such an effort to tell me to: “Take care of your family. Take care of yourself. . . and BE HAPPY!”

I think she wanted to tell me this because she knew, even if we hadn’t been in touch that much, that I had not been very happy for much of my life.

           Pei-fen

Pei-fen

What I have done since I heard of her passing, was to remember that she had given me an old Victorian amber pendant when I was about college age so many years ago. I myself had later given it to a young relative in hopes that it would carry some meaning, and so, at this point in time, I didn’t have it any longer.

So, I turned to eBay to see if I could find a piece of amber that “looked like Pei-Fen”and would be something I liked so much that I would wear it all the time so that it would remind me to be happy each time I touched it. Sure enough, I found one that was not round and not oval, but more like a fat ellipse, an old golden brown piece of amber with the rough side of the petrified resin visible on the underside. The crude surface of the natural amber was part of the worn out look of things, the patina of life, that duly attracted each of us in our lives.
pei fen amber frontpei fen amber back
I like things whose beauty has been softened by age: hence “as is” is a familiar description for things that I have picked up for a song in my antiquing days long ago. That means there are usually hairline cracks, chips, repairs to things that don’t look pristine but whose beauty glows nevertheless.

Come to think of it, it’s sort of like people we know who age well (like Pei fen!) hold themselves with good posture and have grace in their faces that shows they have learned many of the things that bother us when we were young no longer matter at all. Most things don’t, I have found. And what a relief that is, come to find out!

So, here we are in mid-April, a time for rebirth as Spring begins to unfurl the crocus, daffodils, narcissus, hellebores. The roses also begin to wake up a little as the old thorny stalks are pruned away. Even my money tree inside, which has had a blight which has caused it to lose almost all of its leaves, is beginning to recover. I favored soapy eco-friendly pesticides for awhile but they didn’t work. So last Wednesday, I went to Home Depot and looked for the strongest pyrethrin spray I could lay my hands on. It seems to have done the job.

            at last!

at last!

What I have also been learning is that even though it’s great to look forward to what happens with your children, and then with your grandchildren, the truth of the matter is that no matter what one’s age is, and no matter how much time we think we might have left, the most important thing, I believe, is to live for oneself and not for others. To see each day as an opportunity to nurture one’s self with enough rest, modest meals, to do the washing up in the kitchen, do the laundry, to clean up the garden beds and to hang out our clothing on the clothesline in the cool Spring air because it means that one is taking care of oneself and the things that matter to us.

So, given Pei-Fen’s final exhortation to “be happy,” I think I’ve learned from it and am now happier, wearing an old piece of amber I know she would have loved. I remember to be happy each day, for my own sake, according to my own taste in all the little bits of happiness, cracked, chipped and worn but still beautiful.

That’s a lot of rebirths, don’t you think?

easy does it . . .

popovers in the ovenWe’ve spent all day working on a document that had a deadline and required all our attention. First, G. worked on it for the last couple of days; then I took over last night and was transfixed until 3:30 a.m. Resumed the task at hand from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30. Then G. reviewed what I had done and we finally wrapped it up around 5 in the afternoon. Some Easter day, huh?

It’s a good thing our kids are grown and the granddaughters have bunny business with their families where they live. It was refreshing, actually, to be able to dedicate our time and attention to something singular like this. It was rather a breakthrough in our thinking and so we were also buoyed up by the possibility of progress being made, slow and arduous as it seemed at times.

So, by 5 o’clock in the afternoon, we cleared away the mounds of paper and G. heated up the oven to 375 degrees for the long-awaited black pepper and gruyere cheese popovers I wrote about some weeks ago. I’ve been tweaking popover recipes since the holidays now and so was looking forward to yet another variation for mixing up these few ingredients: room temperature eggs, salt, pepper, whole milk this time heated up almost to boiling in a saucepan, flour in the same proportion of milk.

I slipped the popover pan into the heating oven, deciding to use the twelve cup smaller popover pan instead of the six cup big popover pans. It was the right choice because the batter filled the cups to almost the rim just right. I left a hair of space on the top so that when I dropped small cubes of gruyere cheese into the tops of the batter, it came just up to the top. The heated popover pan from the oven was sprayed with Pam to ensure that the beautiful puffs of golden magic would pop out when baked. The other trick was to leave the popovers in the 375 degree oven for exactly 40 minutes. They pop up amazingly about half way through and the temptation to take them out as they brown and brown some more before the allotted time is so tempting. STAY FIRM. Even if they’ve popped, the softer insides need the time to bake so that the popovers don’t fall immediately after taking them out of the oven. Let the buzzer run out. Open up the oven and let the popovers sit for just a few minutes (while you take pictures if you want) or set out platters to put the popovers on, sprinkling more gruyere cheese on top of them when they’re still hot.

popover closeup

Usually, or in the old days (a few months ago,) I would have probably also made some rack of lamb, rare and on the bone with fresh rosemary, garlic and mustard a la Julia Child. Maybe a small bowl of baby brussels sprouts. But recently, I have been cutting out one dish, then another and G. and I have been happy and satisfied eating this way. So, tonight, along with these gruyere popover treats, I made a salad in the blue spongeware bowl:
spongeware salad

rinsing hearts of romaine in cool water and spinning them dry, broken up in crisp bites first in the old blue bowl. Then, half an asian pear, cored and cut up in medium-ish slivers, crisp and cool; about half a log of garlic herb goat cheese in small chunks, and best of all, a generous handful of those sinful maple glazed walnuts we’re not supposed to have. I made a small amount of vinaigrette with grapeseed oil, a squeeze of Meyer lemon, Japanese Marukan seasoned vinegar, and a dash of maple syrup. Whisked together and dressed in the salad, the light ingredients were a perfect foil for the rather robust popovers. We drizzled Billy Bee honey on the popovers halves pulled apart and steaming. Somehow, this brand of honey has more body and a taste that is discernably sweeter than other honeys we’ve tried.

It was satisfying to enjoy this simple meal together after all the hard work we had spent doing the rest of the day and also the day before. It was oddly also pleasant to have a holiday where we were free to spend the day on something else.

After cleaning up, G. left to take popovers to a neighbor who had been in an automobile accident earlier in the day; and some for his mother and brother who live across the street. We have three popovers left, perhaps for breakfast, or later for a midnight snack if we’re still up.

So, that’s the popover follow-up I promised. Hope you had a good day too.

pink magic . . .

A beautiful arrangement of pink peonies arrived today! Happy holidays, everyone. And thank you, C. for your thoughtful gesture.

pink peonies 4

pink peonies 3pink peonies 1