Staycation Blues

It looks like I’m not going to get to see my family down in California this summer, and I’m feeling pretty sad. Obviously plane tix are out of the question, and Beanie just cannot handle another 20+ hour drive. Despite any tension with family, I love them terribly much, and the idea of not seeing them makes me really sad. I haven’t told the kids yet- they are used to heading down and seeing family each summer, and I know they’ll be as sad as I am…

Please let things get better soon… Please?

Slacker Blogger

Don’t know if it’s the time of the year, or all the irons I’ve got in the fire, but I just can’t get it together to say anything interesting lately. I’ve three little kids, a husband still out of work, Houston to prepare for, two paying writing-gigs, my visiting teachers are coming to see me, then I’m going to see my ladies right afterwards. I’ve got carpool and therapy for Beanie and I belong to two quilt guilds. The end of school is fast approaching, and all the business that entails. There are people waiting for paintings and a waiting-list of people I haven’t even gotten too yet. I have more ideas and things to make than I have time or energy. I’m immersed in a book or three, which always takes more time than I mean to give it- I just have no self-discipline, and seek every chance to pick the books back up until they are devoured. I still need to write, too.

Writing calms my soul. It quiets my mind, empties it of the buzzing business that otherwise drives me mad. I need it- and yet my output has been abysmal of late.

Random Crap: Tuesday

The amazingness of my Nauvoo trip is lingering. I’m reading Emma’s biography, and completely submersed in the history of Missouri and Illinois. It’s not an easy read, and not for the faint-of-heart, that’s for sure, but I find the rich texture of real history to be invigorating and satisfying. I wouldn’t give the book to just anyone, but if you want some well-written and thoroughly researched history, and you’re solid in your beliefs, this is a great book.

My bruises and scrapes are healing miraculously fast, especially considering how terrible they were. Cool.

Jeffrey gave a talk in church Sunday, and for the first time, he didn’t crawl under the podium. He has always been so brave and excited to talk in the microphone until he gets up there and sees all the kids’ faces looking at him- this time, he wrote everything out himself, and he did great. Bean, on the other hand, runs up to the microphone at every opportunity and yelps random things out. He loves the sound of his own honking.

My schedule is filling up- I’ve been contacted about two (two!) paying writing gigs. How awesome is that? I’ve got some paintings that are going out in the next week or so, and a local cabinet maker called this morning to see if I could help him with a mural next month. It’s money, and I am SO grateful!

We’re having mixed success on the potty front with Abby. Potty=1, Abby=1. Odds are slowly moving in our favor. Gross-out moment of the week? She was naked post-bath and went in the boys’ room. While stepping over a pile of Lego (could it have been anywhere else?) she pooped. The boys completely flipped out, Bean was gagging, Jeffrey was wigging. David grabbed her and ran in the bathroom, and I quietly threw way a small fortune in Lego. Kids are so gross sometimes.

Our domestic bird population has remained stable for the last few weeks. Glory be.

Now I have to turn my thoughts and planning towards Houston. Holy. Cow. It’s going to be fun, and I have a lot to do, but I feel oddly confident. It’s very exciting.

It’s Friday!

I’m achy and tired. My plane didn’t land until almost midnight last night, and the kids were up early. But that’s not what you want to know, is it?

I just spent the last three days, (no kids, no husband, and the ticket was a gift!) in Nauvoo. I went for a conference, and of course, managed to take in a multitude of goodness. It was amazing. And other than falling down a flight of steps (at Emma’s house!) and bruising/scraping the crap out of myself, it was a marvelous trip.

But that’s just the first of my exciting news…

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My little po0dunk design company was accepted, after a portfolio reveiw and vetting process, to be a vendor at the International Quilt Market in Houston this fall! I’ve designed a small line of 20 or so quilts for a few years. I’ve managed to market them locally and to a few stores in other states, and they have been well-received. But this show in Houston is the big-time. I’m nervous and excited and have a lot of details to work out, but it’s a great opportunity.

Now I need to go soak myself. In my stair tumbling, I managed to mangle my calf, thigh, top of my foot, elbow, forearm, and head. I am black and purple, literally, from head to foot! Think of it as an homage to Eliza and Emma… (500 points if you get that reference!)

Adventures in Julia’s Kitchen

This is a long one. Feel free to skip it and go eat an ice cream cone if your day is as lovely as mine. Once again, if Beanie hadn’t loooooved the sound my camera made while he manually shoved the lens, I would a) still have a camera, and b) this post would be awesomeness incarnate, with photos of my adventure and even my chopped off tip of thumb. Instead, it’s just words. I shall do my best to paint with them…

So a few nights ago, I was flipping channels and found a PBS channel showing old reruns of Julia Child’s Master Chefs. This is a fantastic show. I hardly ever find it anymore- it’s a double happy, because not only do you get Julia, but you get to see young (now famous) chef’s stammering and doing their clumsy best in front of the Queen.

This particular episode, I know now, was something of an urban fable. Nacy Silverton of La Brea Bakery was on, and she was preparing a Creme Fresh Brioche Tart with Caramelized Plums and a white wine zabaglione.  At the end of the unbelievably long and complicated recipe, when Julia tastes it, she stammers and tears up, and says aloud that she is going to cry, because this is the best dessert she has ever tasted. Wow. Nancy has been immortalized and cast in bronze, and this dessert is the urban legend of The Tart that made Julia Child Cry.

Of course, I had to make it.

At midnight, I was Google-ing “Nancy Silverton” “Crying Tart” and trying to figure out how to spell “Zabaglione”. All to no avail. Finally, I hit up PBS and Julia’s page, where it turns out, the recipe is only available in her book, Baking with Julia. I don’t have $39 to drop on a book- because really, I could already outfit a library with my cookbooks. But! I did notice you could watch video clips from the show. So I got a pencil and paper, hit play, and started writing. 

Yesterday, I used some of my precious garage-sale funds on ingredients, and got started.  I’ve never made brioche before, but when I worked in Palo Alto, there was a bakery that had the BEST brioche, and I’ve never been able to replicate it. (And for whatever else this recipe is, now I CAN make a screaming brioche)

So I’m working on the brioche dough, and realize with all the rise times, this bread won’t be ready until morning. So it’s a two-day recipe now. Whatever- that might work out better anyway. One of the labor-intensive things about a brioche dough is you have to add cold, mashed butter. If the butter is warm, the dough just gets oily. Keep it cold. So. I’m slicing butter into chunks so I can smash it with my bench scraper (it’s not as fancy as it sounds) and buttery-10″ crazy-sharp chefs knife slips from my hand and dances across my left thumb.

Oh, and another thing: My knives are wickedly, razor sharp. David hones them after each use, the way you’re supposed to do- and I adore having sharp knives. Almost always.

You’ve heard about the Ninjas with knives so sharp you can’t even feel them cut you? It’s true. The tip of my thumb and nail was GONE before I even knew it. It was so clean I actually got to watch it fill with blood. I know, gross out. Grabbing a towel, raising my hand and calling for David, I fought feeling faint. Not because I’m squeamish about blood- totally am not- but because dang, that was a lot of blood. And it was mine. Crap. Daaaavid!!

David comes down all sleepy (it was late, did I mention that?) Wha? Huh? Yeah, um, honey? I cut my thumb off- can you help me decide if this needs the doctor, or just bandage it and we play Taps for the tip? He got the first aid kit and a roll of duct tape. I kid you not. Men. After staunching the blood, we decided the piece wasn’t big enough to warrant sewing back on, and we could rig it ourselves with some Dermabond and bandages. No duct tape was used in the care of my wound.

But see, my brioche dough was only half done. David, I need your help.

David smashed all the rest of the butter and cleaned up the kitchen while me and my throbbing thumb went to bed. When I got up this morning, the dough was doubled in the fridge, and ready to go. Wooot!

Doing things with one thumb is hard. Just so you know. Thumbs are pretty significant.

Dividing the dough in half, I roll out enough to make the tart, and use the other half to made just a simple pan of bread. I made up the filling with creme fresh and eggs, then put it all in the oven. That part was easy. Next came the caramel sauce and zabaglione. Carmel sauce I can do. The only problem was, it called for white wine. I don’t have any.  Hit Google again, it says apple juice  with a splash of cider vinegar is a good substitute for white wine in recipes. That, I can do. Strike one.

Screeeeech. Stop right there. If you EVER find yourself making a recipe that takes TWO days to make, do not, DO. NOT. substitute ingredients. File away for future reference. That is all.

Caramel sauce is easy. Pot the sugar, keep it down the side to avoid seizing, and watch until it colors. No problem. What was a problem was that I also had no Tahitian vanilla beans. So I used extract. Strike two. Can you see where this is heading? Too bad I couldn’t.

See, the thing about a caramel is that you reduce it. A lot. So what started out as a tiny teaspoon of vinegar condensed into a syrup of apple vinegar that even a cup and a half of sugar couldn’t cover. So far invested in this by now, I cannot admit that the vinegar is overpowering and press on. I set aside my hot “wine” caramel sauce and separate four eggs for the zabaglione.

I have to temper the eggs with the hot caramel, and whip them over a bain marie for at least five minutes, to cook the eggs. Every cooking school student learns zabaglione the first year. It’s not hard, it just requires attention, and that you never, ever stop whisking. I can do all that. I whip and whip. And whip and whip. Then I whip some more. Nothing. It’s supposed to get thick! Putting it back over the bain-marie I cook it for another five minutes, and it finally begins to thicken. I must pat myself on the back for tempering them without cooking so much as one little curd of egg. It’s about the only thing I did right.

Whipping the caramel sauce into the warm zabaglione, I still refuse to admit it smells like vinegar. It’s yummy, dammit. It made Julia Child cry, and mine will too! (One way or another, right? Riiight! Har har har.)

Pulling the brioche from the oven, it’s a picture of perfection. It’s toasty and golden, puffy and glossy from the egg-wash and sugar crust. The creme fresh is set perfectly in the middle, and it looks awesome. Siiiigh. Thank you.

The next step is sauteing sliced firm stone-fruit in the “delicious” caramel sauce. Well, I didn’t have any plums or nectarines, so apples would have to work, right? Yeah, strike three. That and sauteing in my Vinegar Carmel. Strike four five and six.

Cutting into the tart, I call the kids and David to come sample this delightful slice of heaven I have created. On each plate, I put a small wedge of the brioche tart. I top it with the caramel-sauce sauteed apples, a dollop of the zabaglione, some fresh toasted almond slivers and a light dusting of powdered sugar. Just like Nancy Silverton. Just. Like.

Only not.

Jeffrey took one bite and spit it out. David took a bite and closed his eyes. Stomping my foot and near tears I stammer, “I worked two days on this, and you are going to enjoy it with me!” I took a bite. Oh. My. Hell.

Imagine overcooked dried out sweet rolls with mushy apples soaked in sugary vinegar with a poached egg on top. Oh yeah.

So…

This is why I’m not a baker. I love to cook, and think I do a pretty good job. I can replicate restaurant recipes, and make a lot of food I’m told is good. But baking? Even though you do it on the same court as cooking, it’s an entirely different animal. It’s precise. It’s exact. It requires recipes not be deviated from. Not one inch. Or ingredient. This is why I am not, and never will be, a Baker.

I bet mine would have made Julia cry, too.

Flamin’

So picture this (because you have to, because I don’t have a camera. Right? Riiiiight.): Beanie, in his flaming cargo board shorts, paired with a button-down bowling shirt with flames on it. Worn over a cal-trans orange t-shirt. His hair is flaming orange. He dons some red plastic dollar store shades. And. For the cherry on top: Cowboy boots. (Boots I picked up at a the thrift store that are too big, and come to his knees.) This. Is. What. He. Wore. Today.

To school. Yes. I am serious.

There is enough in my life that I have to battle with this boy over- his sense of fashion is not one one of them. Pleased as punch with his matching skills and said “Look Mama! I’m flamin”!”

Why, yes, my dear. So you are.