Saturday, October 25, 2008

I have returned, but will be away for a few more weeks

After flying (with delays) for nearly 12 hours, driving for 6, and outsmarting the dog twice, I made it back to Ohio on Tuesday!

I love having an extremely smart dog, though sometimes it can be inconvenient. He used to love his kennel, until he made the trip to AK. Then he took the approach of "HELL NO, YOU AIN'T GONNA GET ME IN THAT AGAIN!!!" After some work, and several pounds of liver treats, he seemed to forget about his aversion to the kennel, and got suckered into making a trip to Anchorage several months ago. Needless to say, he wasnt going anywhere near the kennel again when he got back.

Fast forward to Monday... He sees the kennel, at the airport, and instantly decides to lay down limp in front of it. With the flight 20 minutes away, I did what any self-respecting dog owner in a crowd would do... take apart the thing. With it apart, Kramer was like "ooh, let me go sit in the bottom half, maybe I'll get a treat!" With him sniffing about - I speedily trapped him, refastened the door and lid, much to his disgruntlement but just in time for the plane.

Three hours later we're in Anchorage, and since where we came from has no TSA, I needed to take Kramer through luggage check-in again. Again, I tried to coax him back to the built kennel. No Go. After taking it apart again, to the amusement of TSA, Kramer gave a "F-you" look and plopped down in protest in front of the bottom of the kennel. Feeling somewhat frustrated, I spotted a counter a few yards away. Since I can't pick up his 76 lbs butt up from the floor, I figured get him on the counter and I'll carry him to the bottom. He was so excited to be away from the kennel that he complied with my command to hop on the counter. I scooped him up, carried him to the kennel bottom, and as I was setting him in it, hear him sigh in resignation as I once again built the kennel around him. YAY! We both made it in one piece, meeting my husband at O'hare. Both me and the dog were so happy to see him!

After the 6 hour drive to NE Ohio, it was nice to be home again. I didn't realize until that night, how much I missed listening to the wind rustle the leaves, it was so relaxing. I'll miss AK and all the friends I made there, but I now know how being back home truly feels.

I'll be spending a few weeks at my parents in NC. I may post, but won't make any promises. In November, I'll be back in full swing! I'll also need to decide if I'll keep this blog name or find a new one - any ideas/suggestions would be helpful!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

First Snow of the Year!

Yesterday was dreary and chilly, last night was rainy and cold. Today I come out of the office at lunch (since its dark when I walk to work in the mornings now) and see this:

Last year the first snow arrived October 13th. Though it is quite brisk, I am glad to see snow arrive before I departed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Regression isn't a bad thing!

This past weekend was the local blueberry festival. Wild blueberrys hit the height of the tartly sweet goodness right about now, along with the salmonberries waning as we proceed into autumn quickly followed by winter.

As the recipient of a few quarts of wild blueberries, and the need to bake away as much of my 'pantry' as possible, I went all out. On this weekends menu:

Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins

Blueberry Danish Braid

Cardamom Blueberry Sourdough Bagels

Blueberry Mirror Cake

Some of you will recognize two of these as DB re-runs. I wasn't around for the Strawberry Mirror Cake in July of 2007, but being up to my elbows in blueberries, it seemed a good candidate to attempt!

The menu is challenging for a weekend (especially since I started Saturday afternoon - so really 24 hours!), but considering I sold my KA mixer, my food processor, and several baking implements, it seemed near impossible!

I had the sourdough starter already brewing in the fridge, so that was a big help. I took it out Saturday morning and fed it before I went to work. At lunch I threw half of it out and fed it again. By the time I got home from work at 4, I make firm starter and allowed it to proof in a warm draft-free place for 8 hours. After that was done, I washed some blueberries, coated them in sugar, sprinkled some cardamom on them, spread them on a parchment lined baking sheet and put them in the oven at 200 degrees to dehydrate them.

Next on the list was making danish dough. Sans KA mixer, I used the well method. It has been a while since I did any kind of "manual labor" in the kitchen. Add to this that I had a mental midget moment and for some reason decided to double that recipe.... I have no clue why... So I minced up lemon zest, de-seeded vanilla beans, got everthing ready and got started. It was a bit unruly, so there aren't any photos - I didn't want to risk flouring/doughing up the camera - but eventually everything came together :).

With the dough resting in the fridge for 30 min, I pulled out the butter, rolled the sticks in flour then, using a plastic bench scraper, I folded the flour into the butter. Granted, the butter was not as cold as it was when I did this with my KA mixer, but I saw no significant ill-effects from this. I did put it into the fridge for about 10 min to firm it up. When the dough had rested enough, I proceeded to make the pastry dough.

By the time the pastry dough had been turned 4 times, the blueberries were ready to come out of the oven and come to temperature. At the same time, I threw more blueberries into a saucepot and made the filling for my danish.

At 10pm, I was ready to start the cake portion of the mirror cake. About a minute into whisking the eggs and sugar together, my arm was killing me! "WHAT THE H*#$& WERE YOU THINKING????" was going through my head, as I was scouring the steps, coming to the realization that I still would need to whisk up egg whites AND cream... Oy vey...

The cake was easy to make - because I was whisking by hand I don't think the whites were as stiff as they would have been with my trusty KA, so the cake didn't rise as much as I had hoped.

By the time the cake came out of the oven to cool, I pulled out the firm starter for the bagels and proceeded making the bagel dough. At around 11:30 I had the dough finshed as was kneading in my mostly dehydrated blueberries. Since the bagel dough needed another hour or so to raise before forming the bagels themselves, I fould a movie on TV and watched that. Yes, so in the very, very, very early morning, I was up forming bagels. All I know, is I made it to bed around 2 am.

I figured at some point my ambition would be punished. Thankfully my sister, who rarely calls me at home (she usually catches me at work), decided facilitate that by calling at 10 am her time....

Me: "Hello?" (barely audible)
Her: "Where you sleeping?? Oh, isn't it 7 am there???"
Me: "Ummm no - theres FOUR hours difference between you and me...."

So rather than sleep in an extra hour or two, I was put back to work after talking to my sis and then my mom for about an hour total. Good thing too, because there was still a lot to do!

I pulled out the pastry dough, cut it, rolled it, trimmed, filled, and braided it, then let it proof. I also pulled out the bagels and let them come to room temperature (about a hour or so). While waiting, I mixed up my cream cheese mixture and made the muffins. Total this takes about 20 minutes of prep time and 16 or so minutes to bake, depending on how hot I happen to have the oven. You keep the cheese batter and the muffin batter separate and then sandwich the cheese batter inbetween muffin batter in a muffin pan. The cream cheese mixture melts into the muffin batter during baking, giving the muffin a rich creamy taste!

Muffins were done by 9, water was boiling ready to go for bagels. The key to knowing if bagels are ready is if they float in cold water. If they don't float, they need a little more time proofing, just leave them out covered in plastic, until one floats when tested. I boil my bagels in water that's had malt syrup and baking soda added. They boil for 2 minutes (one per side) and drain a few minutes on a rack, are topped with a cardamom-sugar before being placed back on the baking sheet and thrown into the oven. Bagels take about 10-15 minutes to bake at 500 degrees.

Bagels done by 10am, so now the mirror cake. Mashing blueberries by hand to make puree was the worst part - blueberry juice is persistent! I managed to whip up the cream, though i did have a boo-boo and accidentally brought the custart to a boil, which did cause it to curdle a bit. Not to be discouraged, I did finish the cake. Because the steps were a little more time consuming than I had estimated, I have no pictures of the cake. I wish I had - the blueberry puree imparted a lovely violet color to the bavarian cream, and the juice make a deep amethyst mirror. It was absolutely stunning!

So here's a picture of the baked bounty:

I didn't win anything, but that wasn't the point for me. Everyone enjoyed my entries and lucky for me I was one of the few who didn't have to take anything home! I did manage to bake through all my flour, eggs, sugar, and cream which makes me happy. I also felt more relaxed afterward than I had for a while. There is something about baking from scratch BY HAND that is theraputic. Granted, dearest hubby has already told me that my new KA mixer is already waiting for me to come home, so I don't think I'll be signing up for this type of therapy again anytime soon!