Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seriously Martha Stewart

Seriously, Martha Stewart? 

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and I just got the 1995 Martha Stewart Christmas book at the library.  The Dot and I love to look at Christmas Craft books at Christmas.  That might seem obvious, but one of us (I'm not saying which) would look at Christmas Craft books on Veterans Day.  Alright, both of us would.  But since Christmas is almost here, the time seemed right.

I'm sure there are plenty of great ideas in this book.  There are lots of festive pictures and illustrated instructions.  And I do my fair share of baking, sewing, knitting and general crafting, so I'm not easily put off.  But, come on.

On page 15 she shows a very nice swag made of green, red and orange leaves.  Perfect.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I'm decorating Wellington, so maybe I'll give this one a shot.  In the first sentence, you're told that this is a "more temporary decoration".  You simply use very fresh leaves (because they soon start wilting and you have to throw it away), take some green cotton thread and sew the leaves together.  One by one.  Then throw it away.  Because it will look like lawn-rakings.

I love the succulent wreath.  But you have to buy a wire frame and a huge bunch of "sphagnum moss", which you then have to soak overnight (I'm already lost because I don't have the attention span.)  The next day if you didn't already lose interest (I did), you put some soil on top of the moss and frame, then wrap the moss around it, tie it with wire, then poke holes all around the moss.  It isn't until this point that she mentions that your "cuttings" (where do you get these "cuttings"?) should be "callused."  So I should have stolen them from my neighbors last week and I didn't.

There's one page that shows a lovely fruit-themed tree.  She has actually tied real grapes onto this tree with ribbon.  My grapes are already moldy and I just bought them yesterday.  There's no way I'm going to have a moldy-fruit-themed tree in my house and it isn't just on account of the ants.  What's Christmassy about that?

The cookie recipes are doable.  I'll probably give them a try.

On page 76, Martha explains how to make a "Keepsake Box".  It's a lovely gold pyramid with a bead and ribbon coming out the top.  I think you put stuff inside.  I could put one of my truffles inside and give it to the neighbor whose cuttings I stole for the sphagum-moss wreath.  Step 1:  using a compass (??), draw a circle with a 2" radius on cardboard.  From the center, mark five 72° segments on the perimeter with a protractor.  (More gibberish here.)  "Open compass the length of one side, place its point at b and draw an arc.  From c draw an arc intersecting the first . . . extend a straight line from center a through d to point e 9 inches from a . . . "  I'm not kidding.  There's more, and it includes an X-Acto knife.  And this is all just step one.  I'm not that desperate for a truffle box.

But, the best bit in the book, better than making your own candles, using potatoes for rubber stamps or sewing your gift bags closed with a needle and thread, is the Acorn Box.  First of all, you have to decide what you can give someone that would fit inside an acorn.  Then:  "Gently remove the cap from a newly fallen acorn.  Carve out the white circle underneath and remove the soft meat . . wrap fine-grade sandpaper around a pencil eraser and smooth the inside . . STAIN THE OUTSIDE WITH WOOD STAIN . . . select a cork that snugly fits . . . "  Seriously?

Here's a link to Martha's Thanksgiving site.  In her defense, this book is from 1995.   Her publications seem to have become more practical lately for some reason.

Gobble gobble.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christmas Cakes!

For the past 25 years I have been using a Christmas Cake recipe from The Farmhouse Kitchen by Mary Norwak.  This book is so old, I can't find a picture of it online and since I'm too lazy to take a picture and upload it, you'll just have to imagine.  I found this book on a sale table in front of a grocery store in about 1986.  It's absolutely delightfully chock full of English photos and English recipes that require translation. 

The messiest page is 209 which includes Special Christmas Cake.  (For those who don't cook:  messy = well used.)  Interestingly, it also includes Miss Pedeltys Christmas Cake which I haven't tried.  Yet.  Even though it has a much more whimsical name.  I have a feeling Miss Pedelty was a teetotaler.  I notice a lack of (much) brandy in that recipe, which means that I probably won't be trying it.  Because you absolutely have to have brandy in your Christmas Cake or else, what's the point?  Not only that, but you make them early and let them ripen in a puddle of brandy.  So there.

It's not so much a puddle as a basting

UPDATE:  One of my loyal readers has written and requested Miss Pedelty's Christmas Cake (see comments below) so I am publishing it here.  I'm sorry if I'm in violation of copyright laws but this person has tried in vain to find the recipe.  So here it is:

8 oz butter
8 oz Demerara sugar
5 eggs
10oz plain flour
2 oz ground almonds
8 oz sultanas
8 oz currants
4 oz peel
4 oz glace cherries
2 oz chopped almonds
1 tsp mixed spice
1 grated orange rind
1 grated lemon rind
1.5 fl oz rum
1/4 pint milk

Mix like the previous cake (cream together butter and sugars til light and fluffy.  Beat eggs well and add gradually with a little of the sifted flour and spices.  Fold in the rest of the ingredients.  Turn into prepared tin and make a slight hollow in the center.) bake for 2.5 to 3 hours at 325° F, 170° C, gas mark 3.  This makes a nice Christmas cake which will keep moist for a long time.

And since I put that recipe in, I may as well include the recipe I use, which is called:

Special Christmas Cake (In parenthesis I have included the conversion and doubled the recipe, which is the way I make mine every Christmas)

10oz butter (2 1/2 C)
5 oz caster sugar (1 1/4 C)
5 oz light soft brown sugar (1 1/4 C)
5 eggs (10)
12 oz plain flour, sifted (3 C)
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (1 t)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon (1 1/2 t)
8 oz currants (2 C)
8 oz sultanas (2 C)
8 oz seedless raisins (2 C)
4 oz glace cherries - quartered (1 C)
4 oz chopped candied peel (1 C)
1 lemon (2)
4 oz chopped walnuts (1 C)
2 T brandy (4 T)

Grease and line an eight-inch tin (2 tins) and tie a band of brown paper round the outside. (Follow steps from above recipe.) Bake at 300° F, 150° C, gas mark 2 for two hours, then reduce heat to 275° F, 140° C, gas mark 1 for two hours.  Cover top with a sheet of paper if getting too brown.  Keep for three weeks before cutting.  This makes a lovely moist cake.

So I made my Christmas Cakes a couple of weeks ago, dribbled brandy all over them and wrapped them up.  That's when I noticed that sometime between moving out of the old house we had lived in for 21 years, moving to our interim residence, then finally (FINALLY) into Wellington, I seem to have misplaced my Christmas cake tin.  It's not that I didn't make the cakes last year (I did).  I was just on cloud nine and must not have noticed the tins were missing.  But this year I've noticed and there can only be two explanations.  1.  they're in the garage somewhere; 2.  The Hub donated them to someone else.  I'm guessing #2.  It's my belief that you can never have too many tins, and in this belief I am apparently alone when it comes to my marriage.  So I say it's time to shop for a new old tin.  Until then, they are napping in my Tupperware cake keeper.  I have a feeling that's where last year's cakes spent a good part of their holiday season, but it's mostly a blur so I can't be sure.

Speaking of Christmas Cakes, I am currently reading a book entitled An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor.  It's very evocative which is the whole point of Christmas stories.  One scene in this book deals with the cook showing a woman how she decorates her Christmas Cakes.  I follow a very similar method.   First I roll out a layer of marzipan.  Then I mold it over the cake.  Then I make a royal icing and spread it on.  Finally I create a snow scene with tiny Christmas ornaments I save year after year.

But for now, the Christmas Cakes are ripening in the pantry in my Tupperware container.  I'll add an update once they're decorated which should be around December 20.  Or if I manage to find new tins.  (For those who aren't British:  Christmas Cake = fruit cake.)  (I'm only British by marriage.)  (But I'm counting it, especially at Christmas.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quonset Hut Update 2

Readers of The Blog will remember that around the corner on East K Street, there is construction going on!  This is our gorgeous, historic City Hall building.  There used to be two quonset huts in front, so you couldn't even appreciate this architecture.  They have been torn down and the parking lot is being rebuilt (see original post here ).  Solar panels are also in the works.  It will be a definite improvement.

It already is.  Because look!  Those are the new steps coming up from East K Street.  It used to be when you walked along East K street you had to move as quickly as possible so as not to be buried under ruble created by the collapse of the damaged retaining walls.  I would say this is way better.

And you can appreciate how gorgeous the old Benicia High School (now our City Hall) truly is!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Autumn Trees

The trees in this post are from my Mom and Sister's house.  I love autumn and I love trees, so it stands to reason that I love autumn trees.  The one above is an elm.  It's at least 40 years old.  Mom has been told it's the oldest elm in the county!

Here are a couple of birch trees.  My sister's favorite.

A Japanese Maple.  They have a lot of these.  One of them I grew from a little baby seed.  It's now six feet tall!  (It's in the back.)

I have no idea what this one is.  There are four in their driveway.  Update:  It's a Chinese Elm.

Here is a view up the street.  Is this so gorgeous?  The tree to the left is a fig tree.  My mom was just telling me that she had recently seen some wild turkeys IN the tree, eating the late-season figs. . .

. . . when suddenly, the turkeys came around the corner! 

It was a beautiful day.