Once a year a women’s group at our church gets together for an exchange of sorts. Everyone brings a basket and 12 items (preferably home-made, but not necessarily so). We put all our items out, then go through and pick 12 miscellaneous items to put in our baskets. Basket liners and bows are provided for decorating the baskets. Then we get to take our basket and give it to whomever we please. I love this idea – because there might be people who could use a little bit of cheer, and they might not ordinarily be in a specifically identified group of people (homeless, needy, poor, etc.)
This year the organization of the event was a bit sketchy because our fearless leader was transferred out of state (or her husband was, and she followed). But there were enough of us interested that we pulled it together sort of at the last minute.
Here are the things my daughter and I made:
You might remember this biscotti recipe from here. I just cut the pieces a bit smaller for this event.
The English Toffee Cookies come together very easily too. Here’s the recipe:
1 cup Butter 2 cup Flour
1 cup Sugar 1/2 cup chopped Nuts
1 egg (separated) 1 tsp Vanilla
Cream butter & sugar together. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Add flour. Spread thinly over a cookie sheet (14 x 17") to 1/8" thick. Spread egg white evently over mixture. Sprinkle with nuts and press lightly. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes (until slightly brown). But while hot into diamond (or desired) shape.
We have a friend who has had a rough week – too much going on at work and the death of a close family friend. She was not around to get the announcment about the baskets but I knew she’d probably enjoy participating, so at the last minute I decided to pull something together for her to take as well. I have boxes FULL of card-makings. These are cut and colated pieces for stamped cards that I usually offer at classes. But I always over-prepare in case extra people show up. After the class is over, these little card makings just sit around and rot. So I dug out a bunch of them and created them in a hurry. Enough so we could have three cards per basket (12 items x 3 cards each = 36 cards). They weren’t all the same. It was just a hodge-podge of stuff, but they came together well. Here are the cards I found/made:
They were originally designed for total non-stampers to create, so they are the simplest stamping ever. . . but that’s what makes them quick, right? We had varying numbers of each card, so the 3 packs were quite varied.
Putting the baskets together didn’t take very much time at all. Here is the basket I ended up with.
My daughter’s basket was dropped off even before we got home. She wanted to give hers to her teacher. I’m not sure which neighbor we’ll give mine to. We’ll probably take it to the corner neighbor (don’t think you’ve seen their house in a picture yet). If they’re not home, we’ll take it to a down-the-street neighbor who lives alone (we won’t leave the basket on the doorstep of the first neighbors because we never know when they’ll be in – and they have a PACK of dogs who would tear it up before anyone could see it). It would be fun to have a whole bunch of baskets to hand out. Maybe next year, right!?
What is it about grocery check-out lines that make people buy this?
I mean – even self-proclaimed "NON-COOKS" get sucked into the whole marketing thing. I’m not talking about anyone specific here- just sort of in general terms. And you know that when they’ve bought that, you can BET there’s probably something like this at home:
Or does this look more familiar? (to you "organized" types)
I wonder if it’s the size – the convenient, easy to grab, pictures of each recipe advertising that is most appealing?
Or maybe it’s the promise of something "Easy."
Or possibly the fact that anyone who makes these purchases is a closet-lottery-winner wannabe? Or desirous of being proclaimed the greatest mom-cook EVER in the ENTIRE world.
I mean, who doesn’t want to be a winner?
But in some cases (again, no finger-pointing or name-calling going on here), what would make this inexplicable hankering for instruction books to do things a person never intended, wouldn’t promise, didn’t claim to do, and family makes out fine without? It’s a mystery!
But if you start to classify these impulse buys, you’d have to take a stab at guesses as to what was going through said shopper’s mind. And it must happen in sort of waves, because there is generally a fairly consistent theme going on. Maybe there is a need for a home-spun holiday – something that might not really have happened (or been perceived to have happened) in a childhood. Maybe only read about in magazines. During these people’s/shopper’s childhoods. (Because living in the southern hemisphere where "Homespun Christmas" took on a whole different meaning.)
And maybe that need was bigger than just a few small books. Maybe the need qualified for a BIG book.
Or maybe, just comfort food. Possibly during various cold spells – the draw of a warm, filling, but not-too-heavy meal. With an emphasis on the ease of accomplishing this task.
Of course, if the shopper is a mom, with – say, the job of promoting wellness (in their out-of-home life), you could well expect this possible addition to the collection:
But one would notice that this collection of "health-related cooking" is markedly smaller than the collection of holiday-baking of UNhealthy things. One would wonder what that might mean!?
And, since that mom might have issues around children, disrespect, observation of lack-of-parenting-skills in some peers, and feelings of general disconnectedness with the home-room type moms who tolerate everything and still feel great about pumping sugar into classrooms regardless of how out of control their kids might seem, you might even understand this purchase:
Of course, because of that desire to connect, the progression easily follows to the possibility of these purchases:
This entertainment obviously stretches across seasons and times, because there’s a strong possibility of this addition to the collection:
At times when cooking seems downright avoidable, why would this purchase ever occur? I mean – really! Bring in the professionals here, because to me -
when someone says "let’s beat the heat" or "Celebrate summer!" – it means "let’s jump into the pond." It certainly NEVER has a cooking connotation. And does that cover even look appealing?
Casually browsing this collection of over-the-years purchases, one would observe the fact that with one exception (because of sheer carelessness, I’m sure) each of these books are in pristine condition. NO dog-eared pages, no flour-stained covers, no "flop-open to a timeless favorite" – NOTHING. They could be sold as antiques (in 10-15 years) in mint condition. Were they maybe purchased from a "collectors" standpoint? It seems highly improbable, based on their "everything in it’s place and a place for everything" dwelling. I mean, you could most likely find this hodge-podge collection right here
Where the actual family favorites and commonly eaten recipes are kept. Where you’d find something along these lines:
No, there MUST be some sort of DSM-IV code for this phenomenon. Maybe this research should be submitted for DSM-V consideration.
My non-apologies for the length of this post. I’m sure you’re here doing exactly what I was doing to make this post possible (avoiding life). So grab a cup of tea, then sit back and enjoy!
This is a strange concept really, because normally I would choose to avoid cooking. Like set-fire-to-the-stove avoid. But my life is currently in a bit of a twister, and so I did what anyone might have done. I avoided my life and made Watermelon Preserves. This is something from my childhood that is a comfort food. I’ve had the recipe (well, if you can call it that) for about 15 years, and this was the first time I’ve tried it. You must understand then that my schedule crisis must be significant – for me to attempt this thing that I LOVE but have put off for this long. I understand now why I put it off. See, the recipe is hand-written on a half sheet of paper, now faded and stained from being shuffled in that box of recipes for so long. It’s moved from CA to TX to GA to OH to DE and to its final home here (yes, I moved with the recipe box through all those states too). But that half-sheet is misleading. When you see a half-sheet recipe, you don’t imagine that the thing will take 3 days to accomplish. At least I didn’t. Apart from that little section that says to soak something overnight – there is NOTHING that would make you think it would take as long as it did. But I’m getting ahead of myself. (In hindsight I did notice the writers’ recognition of the lengthy procedure where she says "to speed up the process." I wonder if she was successful)
In addition to cooking, I actually took pictures too (big shock, huh?) Thought you’d enjoy the experience, but in a fraction of the time, even considering how long you’ll be reading this. You’re welcome. And you know, because there’s so much for me to accomplish this week, today, this hourimmediately yesterday, I’m going to bring you the full report. Right now. Yet another symptom of this growing avoidance phenomenon. I’m not even calling it procrastination. No, that word is for the people who intend to do the work, but just not yet. You understand that I’m trying to get out of doing it altogether. Like "go ahead, fire me!"
Watermelon Preserves (I grew up calling it "Waatlemoen Konfyt") probably stems from my ancestor’s desperate attempt to make every resource go as far as it possibly could. So when the rest of the world was eating their delicious watermelon meat (you know – that reddish pink part), my countrymen were thinking "there has to be something that we can use the rest of this stuff for" (referring to the white covered-with-green-peel part of the watermelon – the rind). So here is what they came up with. And after taste-testing during the process, I can’t imagine the first people a) deciding to go through this process, b) experimenting with the ingredients and c) doing it until they got it "right." I mean, it is insane. I’m so glad they didn’t give up though. I have to admit that I nearly gave up at day 2. I was positive it just couldn’t work out. This might have something to do with the fact that the hand-written recipe was slightly significantly vague in most steps.
First, you cut the watermelon and eat the naturally yummy stuff (or in this case, throw it out – it was a dud watermelon. I had to find a redeeming quality to make me feel better about the purchase, so I embarked on this adventure). Then you peel the green part off (just like a cucumber, only tougher).
The old people didn’t tell me what to do with this green part. They probably took it out to the "hole" (my grandmother had one – it was a composting hole – so it didn’t go to waste). Or maybe they gave it to the chickens
(I didn’t feed it to the chickens – I fed it to the garbage disposal. Right while the dishwasher was running. DON’T run the disposal while the dishwasher is draining. The peels get washed to the other side of the drain -under the other sink- and it clogs the whole system, making Prince Farming not-so-very happy to have to do an indoor plumbing job while the barn plumbing job is still unfinished.)
After peeling the entire watermelon, you have to poke it with a fork. I imagine that the first time this recipe was made, way back when, they omitted this step. I mean, it doesn’t totally make sense. Until you’re part way through, and it’s just not working. I’m sure the poking of it was probably in the 3rd attempt. I imagine them saying (like after day 1 1/2) "maybe if we prick holes in the stuff it might get softer faster." (these last two words almost rhyming)
This was a bit tedious. Do you have any idea how hard watermelon rind is? And how MUCH rind there is on a watermelon? But I was in the beginning of the process, and still full of courage.
The next part was the easiest to accomplish, but the worst for what I was really trying to do. My objective was: AVOID. This next step allowed me to engage. I had to soak the cut-up pieces of naked, poked rind in baking soda water. Actually, the old people used slaked lime. But a) I have no clue what slaked lime is, and b) I had a box of baking soda handy. I didn’t make this comparison/leap on my own. It was actually provided on the recipe. This soaking had to occur for 12 hours.
My concern was that the watermelon pieces were floating, and therefore not getting all the benefits of the huge pot of baking soda water they were in. I put a dinner plate on top of them and pushed them down (ever so gently – no displacement spillage). I had to wonder here: Did they initially soak the rind in plain water, and it just didn’t work? What made them add slaked lime to the mix? I can tell you, these people were determined to get the rind into something edible. And enjoyably so.
After the baking soda soak, I rinsed the rind (twice, it said) in fresh water. And let it soak in fresh water for 2 hours. I half thought it might be to get rid of the residual toxins of that slaked lime or concentrated baking soda. Not sure.
So here’s where I thought the process would speed up. Boil the rind in water. Until you can poke it with a matchstick. I thought this was strange. But then I remembered that they probably didn’t have toothpicks back then. After completing the process, I imagine they would have suggested a matchstick over a toothpick anyway. They really needed the rind to be broken down more than just fork-prick tender. I really wish I would have timed this part. I didn’t. Nor did they. What I can tell you is that it boiled. For a very. Long. Time. And I only broke one match-stick trying to poke that dull end into the rind. I didn’t take a picture of this step. You know what boiling water looks like. And you can imagine the soaking picture above, just at a higher temperature.
After more than 2 hours of boiling in water, I transferred the rind into boiling syrup. A lot of syrup. Made with sugar, water, salt, lemon juice, and fresh ginger. The recipe called for 2 pieces of bruised ginger. I wonder if, way back when, they could go to a store and purchase bruised ginger. Because when it calls for 2 pieces, I had to ask – how big is a piece? The piece I had would have been 2 tablespoons, had I chopped it up. It’s all the ginger I had, so I used it. Except I rebelliously chopped it into FIVE pieces – hoping to make it go a bit farther.
You can see that this still looks like watermelon. There is still a greenish and pinkish hue to it. I was fairly skeptical at this point, because it’s NOT what I remember Waatlemoen Konfyt looking like. After all the abuse, you’d think it would start changing appearance at least slightly. I was in Day 2. I can tell I have matured over the past 10 years. Ten years ago I would have opened the back door and thrown this whole pot of junk out. And maybe covered it with some leaves. But somewhere between my maturity level and the still strong desire to avoid, I kept on going. I was sure that since the rind was SO tender (what, with being poked, and soaked, and boiled till a match-stick could slide in) it would absorb this delicious syrupy mix and be all done.
I washed all the cute little jars and lids in preparation for the final step. I put the lids in a pot to boil and the jars in the oven (steralize). I was ready.
It boiled. And boiled. And boiled. The 3 litres of syrup reduced and reduced and reduced. For a L O N G time. At 10:30 pm I got up to check on the stupid thing and all the syrup was gone. And the rind wasn’t done. I turned off the stove and went to bed. I was sure that the whole thing was a complete and utter failure. It sat on the stove over night (again) and all morning (while I did some of the work I was trying to avoid). Then I had to clean the house because we have a group who meets here every Tuesday evening and it’s a great motivator to get things picked up and wiped off. But there sat this massive gooey pot of junk, like an elephant in the middle of the room. So I mixed up more syrup. Without fresh ginger. I added some powdered ginger, just in case. And I brought the whole mess to a boil. Again. For a LONG time. But guess what!!~? It started changing color and texture. The recipe said for it to boil until the pieces were translucent. The night before I could still see greenish/pink. And I could see the fork-pokes fairly clearly. NOT the image I had from my childhood. But on this attempt at boiling, I could see the change in some of the smaller pieces. So I turned up the heat and let it boil more. And finally,
It looked more like what I remember. The pieces were translucent.
I could finally drop these puppies into their jars. The only slight hang-up was that syrup was supposed to fill all the jars around the watermelon preserves. But I was totally out of sugar! Do you have any idea how much sugar this recipe takes? It called for 1kg of sugar for every 1kg of rind. Having no kitchen scale and no idea how to guess a kg, I just "wung" it. So not all the jars are filled with syrup. That’s okay. I’ll eat the "empty" one first. This stuff is SWEET. And yummy. And amazing. And wonderful. And DONE.
I used to eat these preserves sliced, and on bread. After Googling it, I see that people around the world eat Waatlemoen Konfyt as an accompaniment on a cheese platter. Mmmmmm. That sounds good too. You’ll notice I haven’t shared the recipe (other than the photo of the half-sheet). It’s not because I’m not willing. I’m more than happy to spread the wealth. I just can’t imagine someone going through this ordeal without a foretaste of what they’ll end up with. If you would like the recipe, I’ll be happy to send it. OR you can get a copy here. Scroll down, click on "preserves" and then scroll down to Watermelon Preserves.
- – - – - – - – - – -
LATER EDIT: Some stroke of insight hit me while I was doing some of my avoided work. I’ll send a cute little jar of Waatlemoen Konfyt as "Blog Candy" to one of my lucky readers!! Simply leave a comment on this post between now and October 23, and then I’ll do a drawing and email you for your address, and you’ll get to experience the fruits of my labor!! How easy is that!!?
Whenever people come to Gredemeer, they drink tea. Not just any tea, though. It’s the best tea in the world. Really! They can have it hot, or cold. Iced tea is made almost daily and is ever-ready. A gallon and a half of it. When the pitcher starts looking like this:
It’s time to start brewing. It won’t be long till it’s totally empty.
This tea is special, because it’s something I grew up with. It’s one of the few things I’ve been able to hold on to or revisit over time. Not only is the tea delicious, it’s very good for you. It’s chock full of antioxidants. That’s not all. Rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) tea has an abundance of other amazing properties. Rooibos was first documented as far back as 1772. But it’s healing properties weren’t recognized until much later (1986) when the mother of a colicky baby used it in the baby bottle. The crying stopped. Studies were done and it was found that Rooibos has many healing properties.
"Rooibos Tea has a tasty flavor. It doesn’t have any caffeine. It relieves depression. It relieves stress. It even relieves constipation, among a wide variety of other problems ranging from insomnia to colic. It helps you relax at bedtime but also keeps you refreshed during the day. The list of benefits goes on and on, but this herbal tea doesn’t have any negative side effects!"
Here’s the recipe:
Three teabags in the brewer basket. Add 24 cups of water run through the brewer (with the same teabags)
Add a cup of sugar to the first batch (brewer holds 10 cups) so it can dissolve while it’s hot.
There comes a problem though. When you open up the box and it looks like this:
Then it’s time to log on to African Hut and place another order. You could go to some trendy place and buy it like this or like this. But why spend that much for so little, when you can get
80 teabags imported from the very place it’s produced in the format traditionally used and loved for a fraction of the cost?
Any way you prepare it, Rooibos Tea hits the spot. Stop by for some delicious, soothing, aromatic and wonderful Rooibos Tea. Hot or cold. With milk or mint or not. You’re welcome any time.
This recipe is one I originally downloaded from a bed & breakfast place (Agate Cove Inn). As much as I don’t like cooking, I really do enjoy reading recipes. I found this one when doing a search for something travel-related (I way prefer traveling and eating out to cooking – that would explain this discovery more appropriately, I suppose). My printed recipe tells me this discovery was made on October 17, 1999. Alrighty then.
This is one of the easiest recipes I have. No – that’s not true. All the recipes that I have that I will share would have that description. I’m all about Flop-Proof Cooking. There are so many ways a person can flop. It’s not a confidence booster. So this recipe, while it turns out slightly differently (you’ll see why) it’s always a big hit. And people are totally impressed that a) I know what biscotti is and b) I actually make it from scratch.
Here’s the original recipe:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon strong coffee (cooled)
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup walnuts
1-1/3 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet)
3/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries
In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients and blend well. In a small bowl, whisk together all liquids, add to dry ingredients with mixer. You may want to add a few drops of coffee to get mixture gooey. Add chocolate chips, walnuts and cranberries. Turn dough out onto a well-floured board and form into 1/2 x 3-1/2 inch flat logs. Cook on greased/floured cookie sheet at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes. Cook until cake-like. Cool. Cut logs into 1/2-inch pieces, lay (cut-side down) flat on cookie sheet and bake another 6 to 8 minutes at 300 degrees one side only. (For a harder Biscotti, cook both sides of cut pieces for 6 to 8 minutes each side.) Cool and serve.
Variations: Pistachios, almonds, or dried cherries.
Yields: approximately 32 Biscotti. Recipe easily doubles if needed.
Okay. That’s how it started. By the way, this recipe has never been done without doubling in my kitchen. It’s ALWAYS double.
I’ll share pictures of my process and tell you about variations. You see, whenever I see things like "1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon" of anything, there’s WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL in that. Give me a break. I call that "a quarter cupish" I think that’s descriptive enough.
The dry ingredients are a no-brainer really. I did pretty well following those directions (maybe because they’re at the beginning of the recipe.
Then come the wet ingredients. Oh – wait. Before I start, I always put the craisins (dried cranberries) into a container, fill it with water, and microwave it for 3 minutes(ish). And then let them sit. Because craisins are already dry. So if you put a dry ingredient in the oven, it becomes rock-like. If you re-hydrate the craisins, when you put them in the biscotti to bake, they end up moist and manageable in the final product.
If this looks like more than what the recipe calls for. . . ummm. . . it might be. This particular measuring cup doesn’t give the sum of 3/4 and 3/4. So I just went over the line(ish) with a few extra for good measure. Then filled it with water. BTW – if this overflows in the microwave, . . . consider yourself warned.
Okay – then the wet ingredients. Eggs. A lot of biscotti recipes call for lots of eggs. I’m not sure why. This recipe is great – and healthy . Only 1 egg (well – two if you double the recipe). And these are nice fresh farm eggs. Brown ones. With very healthy yellow yolks. This picture is here specially for Louise’s Prince Charming. Nevermind – when you come to visit, I know a place that sells insipid weak-looking unhealthy whitish/creamish colored yolks.
Did you know that when you get eggs from chickens, it’s a good practice to give them back their eggshells? Otherwise they peck at their laid eggs to get whatever nutrient they need from these shells. All this is part of my farm-life education. And I’m sharing it with you. This is really apparently true. I had no idea.
Now it calls for "strong coffee." I understand that. But if strong coffee is good, then wouldn’t this be better?
I mean – in reality, I’ve used strong coffee before. I’ve even used Sanka when I made this recipe for a cooking class. As for the 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon? Well – let’s just put it this way:
Today it looks like I used about half a cup. And the reason the picture is blurry is because . . . it’s hard to take a picture of something while holding something else. And the reason the bottle is empty is because I’ve obviously made this recipe a lot of times before this. And I don’t think any other inferences are necessary. Actually, I use anywhere between half a cup and 3/4 cup.ish.
I forgot to take a picture of the bowl with the wet ingredients. It doesn’t look like much to go with all the dry ingredients. But that’s okay. Just go with it. I’m telling you – this is a flop-proof recipe. Sometimes it’s a little wet. Sometimes it’s a little dry. It turns out. Really! So if your mixture looks something like this, it’s okay.
Because then you’re going to add the craisins. Pour off most of the water from the craisins, but save it – just in case. The moisture from the craisins does the magic.
Today’s biscotti turned out drier than last time’s biscotti. There are two reasons this might have happened. 1) My empty bottle of coffee flavoring and 2) I let the time on the craisins in the microwave go longer than normal, and a lot of the moisture that I might have saved ended up splatted and pooled all over my disgusting microwave (btw – this is one reason I don’t love cooking. . . clean-up issues)
After you add these things:
You can mix the whole mess together. Oh yes. You don’t want to put the chocolate chips in immediately following the craisins. Especially if you forgot to rehydrate them from the beginning. This is a little physicschemistrynaturekitchenscientific chocolate phenomenon. When chocolate chips come in contract and are stirred with something warmish in nature, they end up not holding their integrity. They become mushy. And smear all the way through your biscotti. Which is not a bad thing, per se. It’s just different from the final product picture that I’m going to show you. It has happened to me before – and then you have like chocolate ribbons throughout the biscotti, which is actually quite attractive. It all depends on how you want the chocolate. Oh – another variation: The time I used Sanka for coffee flavoring, I also used sweetened carob chips. To make it healthy.er. People really liked it. But I have issues with fake/non-chocolate, so I prefer to go with the full strength, unadulterated chocolate. Semi-sweet.
Okay, so you divide the biscotti mix onto two baking sheets. Then you flatten them out and sprinkle them with flour (to make it look "official") then you put them in the oven (pre-heated – did I mention that?).
I bake them for about 20 minutes. I actually check them when I start smelling them. If they look crispy around the edges already, I turn the oven off and leave them in there to cool with the door closed. Because it’s easier to cut slightly dried biscotti. And I don’t let it go all the way to normal biscotti consistency. We prefer to eat them like cookies. So if they look and smell like this they’re probably ready to turn off:
When they’re cool, and you don’t have anything else going on, you can cut them. I find a bread knife works well. They might be pretty crispy (depending on how cool they are – if you want an easier slicing job, just take them out a bit before they’re totally cooled) And you’ll end up with delicious, hearty, yummy and in high demand