Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Torrent of Baking

Nutmeg cookie logs, decorated by me.

Nutmeg cookie logs, decorated by Older Daughter.

My brother keeps sending me photos of cookies he has baked - so far, five kinds.  Then my sister-in-law (his wife) called and asked me to make Nutmeg Cookie Logs.  Because it just wouldn't be Christmas without Nutmeg Cookie Logs.  (Well, it would, but you know...)

We worshiped God on Sunday by performing the Christmas cantata.   It went well and was well received by the congregation, although I don't know how God felt about it.  I was thrilled to be able to participate, even though I just crashed through some random chords on the last piece.

I will be taking a break from my Deep Thoughts until sometime in the New Year.  So I leave you with photos of our baking.  We baked ALL DAY on Monday, and more today.

Raw snickerdoodles (requested by my husband)

I am not sure it was a good idea to try to make snickerdoodles
in Christmas colors.

Red, green, and regular snickerdoodles

Some steps have been taken toward the construction
of a gingerbread Tardis.

The Tardis parts are in the freezer, and may or may
not be made into a Tardis within our lifetimes.

Apple pie

We tried a new recipe for blueberry pie.  It called for
boiled blueberries.

Blueberry pie, complete with a rift
in the space-time continuum (on the right)

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rush Construction Job

Today on the blog we examine this important question:  Is it possible to make a gingerbread menorah in less than three hours?

The answer is yes, with two conditions: the batter is already made, and you have had a vision, in the middle of the night, on how to construct it.

Here's how to do it, in twelve steps.  

1.  Decide with Younger Daughter to make Gingerbread Tardis (following Smalltownme’s suggestion last year!).

2.  On Saturday, make gingerbread batter and put it in fridge overnight.

3.  On Sunday Younger Daughter abandons interest in making Gingerbread Tardis.  At the same time, realize that there is a “home-made menorah” contest at the synagogue’s Hanukkah party, coming up on Tuesday.

4.  In the wee hours of the morning on Monday, come up with an idea on an appropriate shape for your menorah, one that will relate to the Hanukkah story.  And that shape would be a hammer.

Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, after the Jewish guerilla army won the war against their oppressors.  One of the leaders of that guerilla army was Judah Maccabee (Maccabaeus) which means Joe the Hammer.

5.  On Tuesday, the day of the party, decide at 1 PM to see if you can do it.  Find a real hammer in the tool chest.  Trace and cut wax paper template.  Fire up the oven, roll the gingerbread dough, cut the pieces.
Some useful tools
Rolling and cutting
6.  Find an actual Hanukkah candle.  Make holes for candles in the dough.  Realize belatedly that matching up these holes once the dough is cooked is going to be nigh impossible.
Spacing the candle holes.
But this is pointless because the dough expands a bit while
baking so the holes will not be big enough for
regular Hanukkah candles.  Maybe for birthday candles...
7.  Put the gingerbread in the oven.  Go practice the Christmas cantata piano part while it is baking.  Make the house smell like burnt gingerbread by burning all the pieces of your gingerbread hammer menorah.  Remove from oven, sighing.
Burnt hammer head pieces.  If you make one piece shorter,
then you can make an actual claw on your hammer!

Burnt hammer handle pieces, with useless candle holes.

8.  While the gingerbread is cooling, mix up some “Royal Icing”.  It will likely refuse to form “stiff peaks” so keep adding more and more powdered sugar.  Eventually give up and hope it is not going to be impossibly drippy.  Decide that no, you will NOT be embarrassed to take this gingerbread menorah to the Hanukkah party.
Gloppy, sticky Royal Icing.  Do not let little kids near
this stuff if Aunt Gertrude is coming over any time soon -
it will make your entire house sticky.
9.  Frost the first layer of your gingerbread, then stack on the next layer.  Poke a toothpick in each candle-hole to clear out the icing.  Realize that this method is fruitless, and you will never get actual candles in there.  Cover the rest of the Royal Icing to keep it moist.  Leave the sides unfrosted while you look for decorations.
Partially frosted hammer menorah.
Note that I made an extra hammer-head piece, which was a
good thing, because one of them broke.

Okay, this thing is not a toothpick.  It's some kind of weird
tool I found in the back of the kitchen drawer.
An escargot extractor, maybe?  But why would I have that when
I never make escargot?

10.  Scrounge around for decorations.  Finding none, go to grocery store.  Buy Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil).  In candy aisle, find blue Sour Punch Bites, which probably taste disgusting, but could be used as candy candles, which is a fun thing to say.  Feel up the bag to determine if the candies really are shaped like candles.  Buy Lifesaver Gummies in the hopes that the candy candles will fit inside them.  Buy sno-caps chocolate nonpareils just because.
More tools
11.  Go home.  You still have an hour.  Using pizza cutter, slice chocolate coins in half.  Realize that this was a mistake, since the foil immediately falls off the chocolate.  Glue the foil back on with Royal Icing. 

12.  Cover your entire hammer shape with gobs of icing.   Sprinkle with blue sugar that you found in the back of the closet, and stick the candy on in a festive pattern.  Find out that the Sour Punch Bites do NOT fit inside the Lifesaver Gummies.  Who knew? Jam a toothpick into each candle hole.  Stick a Sour Punch bite on each toothpick.  Find that a little bit of toothpick is sticking up.  This is a Hanukkah miracle!  Cut little bits of orange and red lifesavers and stick the pieces onto the toothpick ends.  These are the candle flames.

Voila!  The Miraculous Gingerbread Menorah of Judah Maccabee.
Sorry there are no intermediate photos, especially of the
 Hanukkah miracle when the toothpick ends were sticking
out.  I was in a rush.

Aerial view.

Here are a few of the other entries in the menorah contest.  I thought these were much cooler than mine.  The tube-shaped tissue paper ones have a little electric tea light inside each one!  And who would ever have thought to make a menorah out of Knex?  One person made their entire menorah out of lifesaver candies, with lollipops as candles!  And the melted crayon one is so beautiful and artistic, and has real candles which match the crayon colors.  There were more, but I didn’t get photos of them all.
Tissue paper menorah!

Crayon art menorah!
That menorah on the left is not "home made" and was
on the wrong table.

Knex menorah!

Lifesaver menorah!

Happy Hanukkah!  Now back to practicing the piano part for the Christmas cantata.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Angelic Latke Music

Pastor’s sermon last Sunday asked us to pay attention to the message of angels.  I thought it was an excellent sermon – it’s hard to make a new point about the Age Old Story of Christmas, but for me it was jarring.  For the past few weeks and months I think I’ve been getting some messages, possibly from angels.  When I say angels, I don’t mean winged humanoids dressed in frilly clothes, or humanoids with perfectly pleasant behavior.  I mean people with a message from God.

Back in November, I read a disturbing article in The New Yorker about a black teen who was accused of a crime and spent three years in jail before the case was dismissed.  I could not help wondering if the outcome would have been the same if the kid were white.

Before and after reading that, there were events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland…

This Thursday I went to a Presbytery meeting, where we spent an hour in an ongoing examination of the cost of racism. 

There is not liberty and justice for all, in this land.  That’s the angels’ simple message. But they have not told me what a white middle-aged suburban woman can do about it.

On Friday I had to get started on making potato latkes.  This is an annual ritual in which potato shards and a thin layer of oil get distributed all over the kitchen. This time, rather than live-streaming the latkes straight to the plates of hungry people, I was cooking them solo, to freeze for the synagogue Hanukkah dinner next week.   I needed some music for the next 1 ½ hours of potato mayhem.  What better expression of “December dilemma” than to listen to Handel’s Messiah (Christmas portion) while cooking Jewish holiday food?

To the strains of “Comfort ye, my people,” I cried over the chopping of the onion.  With “Every valley shall be exalted… and the rough places plain,” I was peeling the rough skin and bumps off the potatoes.  “And he shall purify” the extra starch out of the shredded potatoes. 

I added the other ingredients, but the batter looked a bit weird.  Just when we got to “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” it dawned on me that I had forgotten to add the flour.
Latke batter.  Purists would probably use only
 matzo meal rather than flour.  I didn't feel like rooting around
in the basement to find the matzo meal.

Soon, the oil was heating up, and an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds, who were “sore afraid.”  Angels again! The shepherds’ fear reminded me of the Cost of Racism discussion.  Fear lies at the heart of racism.  Some people have paid a heavy, heavy price.  I am afraid to do anything about it, and besides, I am not sure what to do about it. 

At first, I made only 3 latkes at a time, so as
 to not get distracted and burn them.
I started the process of frying the latkes.  I hit my stride when the music got to “Come unto him, all ye that labor.”  

Twelve precious latkes, ready to freeze.  Of course, I measured
them, because in my experience with Jewish food,
By the time I had twelve latkes ready to go in the freezer, we were beyond the Christmas portion of the oratorio – moving beyond glory, light, and joy.  “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” made me think of the grief of the mothers of these young men who have been killed.  Of the grief of police officers who have the difficult task of maintaining safety and order, who have to deal with frightening situations all the time.

What would That Man of Sorrows have to say about us?  About me?

See the jelly roll pan of latkes in the freezer?  I get such
grief from the family for using the jelly roll pan
for anything BUT making jelly roll.
But it's perfect for freezing latkes.

I ended up putting 30 latkes in the freezer.  The crowd on Tuesday will probably consume about 500 latkes. My effort is just a drop in the bucket, and yet it is more effective than I feel I could be against racial injustice.  It is not time, yet, for the Hallelujah Chorus.

I don’t know where the angels’ messages will lead me.  For now, I am just doing some reading.  I have started The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander.  I’d welcome other reading suggestions on the topic.  Having said that, I have to delay more consideration of this serious issue because I must spend every waking minute in the next week either practicing the piano or making latkes. 

The aftermath of latke making.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Beautiful Baking

On Thursday I thought I would make this edible Christmas craft.  It looked so easy.

I tried following the directions, honestly.   Basically this: Lay out the candy canes on a tray. Melt chocolate and put it inside a piping bag or a heavy-duty plastic bag with the corner cut off. Then squeeze the chocolate into the center of the heart shape.

This should have been the clue for me that I should not attempt this:  I do not have a piping bag. 

I melted a few dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses in the microwave, on “very low”.  I had to check it several times because I didn’t want to overcook the chocolate.  After this laborious effort, I put the gloppy chocolate into the plastic bag, and cut the corner off. 

It was very messy getting the chocolate into the candy cane hearts, which kept moving around, but I managed to make two of them.  Then there was a lot of chocolate left inside the bag, but not enough to squeeze out. 

Such a waste of chocolate!  I decided to try making the whole thing in the microwave.  So I set up the candy canes in a heart shape on a plate, then chopped up two chocolate kisses.  I was tired of tending the microwave, so I set it for 2 minutes and went away to do something else on my list.  I ended up with the very likeness of molten lava taking over an innocent Hawaiian town:

Sometimes I should leave the baking to professionals.  Today this is what we found at LaGourmandine, in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh:

It’s a Buchette de Noel!  A miniature Buche de Noel (Yule log).  I think it is so cute and lovely!

These pastries are so beautiful, they deserve to appear twice.
Clafoutis on the left; Marquise in the front
Also appearing:
(Dark chocolate mousse with crème brûlée and crispy caramel)

Another traditional French Pastry from the Limousin region.
Dessert made of cherries covered with a Flan-like batter.

And here is my To Do List for Friday.  
You can click to embiggen, but trust me, it's a boring list.
Also, it is incomplete.
Such things as “make chocolate candy cane hearts” and “write blog posts” do not appear on the list.  I am continually wracked with guilt that my list never includes “Procure justice for everyone” or "bring about equity in school funding."  I must confess that I seem to be utterly exhausted lately, which I attribute to this season of  “The Hap-Hap-Happiest Time of the Year When Everyone Should be Hibernating But Instead Has Assigned Themselves A To Do List Ten Miles Long.”  

But today I threw the list aside, and the three of us went to Lawrenceville in the rain, to do some Christmas shopping, and to go to the bakery which Youngest Daughter first encountered on a school field trip and has been raving about ever since.  It was a good day, largely because I did not turn anything into lava.