26 February 2016

CIRCLING THE SUN




CIRCLING THE SUN was a fascinating read, although the story stopped long before Beryl Markham's story was over.  I did find that the author's notes in the back of the book really connected a lot of the dots, supporting what I had already found. 

 Before I began reading the book, I did a bit of research, because while I was familiar with the Out of Africa story, I did not realize that she was entangled in a well-known love triangle involving Isak Dinesen (real name Karen Blixen) and Denys Finch-Hatton, the two principals of that well-known story.  It seems that Beryl Markham was deliberately not mentioned in that book, written after Finch-Hatton's death, although there was genuine affection between the two women.  Unfortunately they were in love with the same man, the daring Mr. Finch-Hatton, and as they say today, "it was complicated."


McLain is an outstanding writer.

There is tragedy, many of them in fact, sadness, daring, hope, and lifelong friendship in this story.    Beryl was abandoned by her mother, who left her father with another man, returning to England from Africa when Beryl was a small child.  Her mother was a real piece of work, turning up a couple of times in later years, always needing something.  Isn't that the way it usually goes with long-lost relatives?  She was a larger than life character, totally amoral, sometimes described as a libertine, who followed her own instincts.  Yet, for all her daring and bravery, training horses, becoming a commercial pilot, she was subject to the dictates of her husbands, one of whom (#2) who took away their son, just because he could.  Markham, that husband #2, was a world-class snob, and also left her to return to England to be with his even more snobby mother.  Another serious Mama's boy -- you all how I love those.    



Absolutely fearless her whole life, Beryl Markham flew solo across the Atlantic in 1936.  Not to spoil the read for you, I won't tell you any more of the story.  She did write about it herself in the above book, which should arrive in the mail today.  I am so looking forward to her version.  It didn't do well in the beginning, but Hemingway jumped on the bandwagon because he thought it was wonderful, and it was later republished, giving her a bit of income in her old age.  She was said to be living in poverty back in Africa by then, but she never seemed to care about much of anything material but her horses and her airplanes.  She died at age 83 in the mid-1970s.

I do think anyone who enjoys a good story, particularly a real one about a real person, will love Circling the Sun.  



Linking up this post to Literary Friday at Ricki Jill's blog Art @ Home.


Here are a few of the articles I found about Beryl Markham if you are interested in reading further.

http://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/travel-guide/a3648/animal-attraction-beryl-markham/

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/29/books/review/Williams.t.html?_r=0

http://tishfarrell.com/2014/03/16/caught-inside-a-kikuyu-garden-a-memorial-to-karen-blixens-lover-denys-finch-hatton/

25 February 2016

THE CASE OF THE EXPLODING CAKE



I was looking for a cake to bake this dreary rainy afternoon, yet another rainy day in a series.  I have to tell you that this recipe called for an LOT of stuff, even though it began with a Duncan Hines German Chocolate Cake Mix.  Looking through my stores, I found this box, and decided that it probably had been here a little bit and I should use it. 


Try this at your own risk!

The husband and his entire family think that GC cake is the proverbial nectar of the gods.  I can take it or leave it.  This was a recipe on the side of the box called GC Upside Down Cake.  Sounds good right?

First you put some melted butter and brown sugar in a 9 x 13 baking dish, then sprinkle on some pecans and coconut.  Then you mix up the cake and put that over the nuts etc.  Last, you mix up what is basically a frosting of butter, creme cheese and powdered sugar and spread that over the uncooked cake batter.  



At this point, I thought I might be in trouble.  You see, the whole UNBAKED thing came up to the top edge of the called-for 9 x 13 pyrex dish almost, and I debated adding a cookie sheet or something underneath.  And whoever heard of baked frosting????  I should have listened to that little voice...  Or made a foil collar or something.  There was no way to transfer this still-unbaked creation to another dish at that point, obviously, since it was three very carefully constructed layers. 

Here I had just pulled it out of the oven and set it on a cookie sheet.
Too bad I didn't do this before I put it in the oven!
What's missing was all over the oven.

Or something, all right -- the damn thing EXPLODED all over the oven!!!  It was that weird baked frosting.  Right now the oven racks are out on the back steps in the rain, having been sprayed with Easy Off.  The oven has been scraped and is sprayed, too, and the husband is thrilled that he will be cleaning it up.

Now about that cake:  it is freaking delicious!  We sampled it a bit ago.  Would I make it again?  I don't know.  Right now I have it wrapped up in several layers of plastic wrap, and I will figure out what to do with it tomorrow.  I should have realized when looking at the photo on the recipe that what is shown appears to be a four-layer cake, not the one-dish cake the recipe says to make.  It says to turn the servings upside down so that the pecans, etc. are on the topside.  

Ah well.  It has three sticks of butter and 8 oz. of creme cheese -- how bad can it be?

Update:  I wrote this yesterday, and I decided that after making that photo of the serving shown above a little while ago, I'd better tell you a couple of other important things.  I actually might make this again because it does taste great and it makes a lot, great for a crowd, but I would take some precautions.  

First I would use my big lasagne pan, because a 9 x 13 pyrex is just nowhere nearly large enough; and I would spray it with Baker's Joy, line it with baking parchment, and spray it again, before putting in that melted butter, sugar, pecan, coconut mix on the bottom.  This is because this stuff turned to praline, not a caramel sauce, and it was really hard to scrape it off the bottom of the dish.  Tastes good, but not pretty.

Second,  I would gently turn this entire cake over onto a large sheet pan or tray of some kind as soon as it comes out of the oven.  (I am sure I would need Sweet Husband's help for this.)  Then peel off the parchment immediately.  This should remedy the problem of that "upside down topping" sticking to the pan and staying on the cake instead.  I am still guessing that it will be more like a praline, but it at least it won't be stuck to the pan.  

I am still not sure what purpose that baked frosting serves, but I am thinking that I might add an egg or two to it, drop it on the cake batter and swirl it gently through the batter.  This would give a marbled cheesecake/cake effect.  I actually read the recipe very carefully several times, because I wondered if it was meant to have an egg or two and do just that, but that's not what the recipe says.

And speaking of that recipe -- I went to the Duncan Hines site, and there are quite a few versions of this cake posted.  Some do not include all these ingredients shown here on the box.  I wonder if people have done their own thing with it and possibly these are reader's posts -- I am not sure.

The last thing I will point out is that while boxed cake mix has come a very long way, most of the time I can tell.  Most mixes are very forgiving, though, and allow you some leeway to "doctor" them.  Ann Byrn wrote The Cake Doctor series of books some years ago which contain some excellent suggestions, including using sour creme.  Sour creme does work fine, but I rarely use it in anything, and so don't routinely have it around.  What I do always have is buttermilk, the whole fat kind, and that works great.  For just about any kind of a mix, I add one more egg than the recipe calls for, replace the oil with a stick of butter, and use the buttermilk instead of water.  Don't forget the generous splash of good vanilla.  Anything out of a box will taste better if you do this. I find that a hand-held mixer is more than adequate for a boxed cake.

I did that with this cake, and as I have been doing it for a very long time, I can assure you that is not what made the cake explode.  It was that crazy baked frosting!

So -- if you are still with me here, feel adventurous, and you need a large cake to feed a lot of people, go to it!  I froze half of mine in a pyrex dish with a snap on lid because there are only two of us, and half will last a few days.  

Sweet Husband just finished cleaning up the oven and the racks, so it is sparkling clean, ready to go again.

ETS

24 February 2016

GREEK MEAT SAUCE WITH FETTUCINE


This is not turning into a food blog, I promise, but the weather has been so wet, that we cancelled a little trip we had planned.  We will try again when the sun reappears.  That leaves reading and cooking, following the silly elections (well, the husband is doing that), or watching some TV.

 Speaking of which, am I the only one who was totally irritated about Sunday's Downton Abbey?  Once again, Edith gets the shaft and Mary rides off into the sunset with a crown on her head???  Puh-leese!  I hope Edith makes a tremendous success of her newspaper, and Mary loses all her money in the impending stock market crash and has to ask Edith for a loan.  Ha!  That wimpy guy didn't have any shoulders anyway, and besides, he was too attached to his mama.  Trust me -- that is never a good thing.

Glad that's off my chest!  Now, let's talk about what I made for dinner yesterday.  It was so good!    Got some leftovers, too, for tomorrow.  Today's dinner will be leftover Chicken Pot Pie.  

I devised this dish from what was in my freezer, fridge and pantry. You don't have to have the exact brands I used, but this is just what I had.  I do think the ground lamb as opposed to ground beef is probably crucial since there is a difference in the flavor.  

GREEK MEAT SAUCE WITH FETTUCINE
by Ellen

1 package of basil/garlic fettucine from Trader Joe’s
1 lb package of ground lamb from Sprouts
1 jar Italian Herb pasta sauce from Whole Foods

6 cloves garlic chopped
1 small onion chopped

Greek yoghurt
Feta cheese


Seasonings:
Greek Seasoning from Penzy’s
Allspice and Nutmeg and Fennel Seed
Sea Salt for the pasta

Brown the meat.  Remove the skillet from the fire and blot up the excess fat with paper towels.  

Reduce the heat.  Put skillet back on the fire, and add the onion and garlic.  Season to your taste with Greek seasoning, the Allspice, and Fennel Seed.   Cover and cook till onion and garlic are soft.  Add the jar of sauce.  You can add a little red wine here if you like.  Or not.  Simmer on low heat for a bit.

Cook the pasta.  Drain and turn out into a big pasta bowl.  Toss the hot pasta with about a half cup of fat free Greek yoghurt.

Pour the sauce on top of the pasta, then cover top with crumbled feta cheese.  Serve with the green vegetable of your choice.  I like green peas or spinach.
I do not know how to put on the gadget that makes a recipe print, so you can select and copy the recipe if you like, then print or save it.  If someone knows how to put this gadget on a Blogger blog and would like to share this with us, that would be great.  Keep in mind I am kind of a dork with tech things, so it has to be easy!
This afternoon I am trying a new cake recipe, so come back next time to see how that worked out!

23 February 2016

CHICKEN POT PIE




Is there any more quintessential 
American comfort food than chicken pot pie?  Not in my book, unless it is chicken and dumplings.  We have had a rainy few days, expected to continue through tomorrow, so of course, I was in the kitchen.  Some of the time, something was cooking, some of the time my nose was in a book.  More about that book another time.



This pot pie was a mostly homemade version, in that I used the Pet-Ritz crusts which come two rolls to a box, and the chicken meat was the white meat portion of a rotisserie chicken from Costco.  The stock came from a box, too.  That's OK -- everything else was fresh -- all the veggies unless you count frozen peas.  


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Take all the white meat of the carcass and discard the bones and skin.  (I had already used the dark meat in Chicken Mole.)  Set aside.

Chop in fine dice:

1 medium Idaho potato peeled
2 ribs celery
1 medium shallot
two handfuls baby carrots
~~~~~

Nuke the potatoes, shallot and carrots for three minutes in a pyrex pie plate with a wet paper towel over them.  Put into big bowl with chicken and celery.  Add in  

1 cup frozen English peas.
Set aside.

Then:  

In a heavy sauce pan, over very low heat--

whisk together:
1 stick butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Add about 1/2 box chicken stock, and leave it to thicken, whisking every so often.  As it thickens, add 
1 to 1 1/2 cups half and half. Whisk and let thicken again a bit.

Add sauce to the big bowl with your chicken and vegetables, seasoning the whole liberally with white pepper, mixing well.

Pour into a buttered baking dish appropriate to size of the amount of the filling.

Center the first piece of piecrust on the dish.  Cut off what you need of the other one to fill in the ends.  Drizzle with a little more butter.  


Bake at 350 till nice and golden and the filling is bubbly and thick.  This will take about an hour, depending on your oven.

Prepare to be amazed.  Your house will smell so good!  Your husband will be beside himself.  





As you can see, it was good!

22 February 2016

THE TROLLS ARE AT IT AGAIN

I debated for three or four days about posting about this at all.


I discovered when checking stats the other day (which I do every now and then) that something called RRSING is a source of my blog traffic.

I clicked on it to see what it was, and lo and behold, here are my very own blog posts, with this crap up at the top of the page with a different URL!  I suppose they are a site which gathers up other people's posts and makes money on them with some sort of redirect?

There is a place to ask them to cease and desist if you think that this page as been added without your permission.  Duh!  The only fly in the ointment is that page does not work.  Neither does their "contact us" option on the menu bar.  

I have heard of this scheme before, and I did report it to Google/Blogger, numerous times.  If you have successfully dealt with this, I would like to know how you did it.  

It seems that there is always some jack-butt who is trying to take the pleasure out of blogging for those of us who do it for pleasure and friendship and fun.  

I would love to hear from anyone with suggestions on this subject.

Next time I will come back with something more pleasant to share.  I have a chicken pot pie made from scratch in the oven, and today is National Margarita Day.  So yes, there are more pleasant things than Internet trolls to talk about.  



19 February 2016

THE DOMINO EFFECT

Last week I brought that little camelback sofa home, which may or may not go into the bedroom later on when we tear into that this summer.  At any rate, for right now, I wasn't loving it too much where I parked it last week, right in front of the console table, so I decided to rearrange the furniture while Sweet Husband was off to the gym.  Of course, he fussed at me when he got back for not waiting for him to move heavy stuff, but I managed. 


WonderWoman, you know. 


For now, the console table is in front of the FP.


The red Bramasole chairs got tucked back in front of the windows.





The camelback got pushed up against the wall where the console table was.  



At the same estate sale last weekend, I found this green biscuit barrel.




I am thinking that this camelback will get a new cover in this fabric.

I found another Indian pillow in HomeGoods.
It will probably wind up elsewhere.


So there you have it.  This is what happens when the husband is out of the house and something seems off kilter.  




Tomorrow we are off to another sale or two.  Who knows what we might turn up?  One of them listed a camelback in acid green silk -- maybe I should have waited one more week???  Oh well....


17 February 2016

LEMON CHICKEN PAPPARDELLE SOUP



LEMON CHICKEN PAPPARDELLE SOUP


Ever since we got Trader Joe's here in Birmingham late last year, we are like kids in a candy store.  It is a great place for people who love to cook and/or enjoy good food to go exploring and find new and wondrous things.  I know -- many of you have always had access to Trader Joe's, particularly if you come from the West Coast, and you probably think our honeymoon euphoria is amusing.  


I ran across some lemon pepper Pappardelle, which are big fat broad noodles seasoned with lemon and pepper, with no real idea what I was going to do with them.  We like all kinds of pasta so I decided, 'How bad could it be?'  I noticed a recipe on the back which called for shrimp, and I thought that might be what I would do, whenever I got around to it.



Then we had a thoroughly saturated day on Monday, with very heavy rains, quite cold.  The husband was working on our taxes, and that kind of weather always brings out the Julia Child in me.  Off to the kitchen and the food reserves I go, looking to see what I can find to cook that will warm up the soul.   The bag of Pappardelle were looking at me, and I found chicken breast fillets in the freezer.  Having just been to Sprouts, I had shallots, celery, carrots and Greek yoghurt.  Two boxes of chicken stock stood on the shelves, so that was enough for a soup of sorts.  Hmmmm.


I devised a game plan.  I cut up the chicken into bite size pieces; cut up the veggies; there were a couple of little Meyer lemons in the fridge, so I sliced one of those very thin, too, removing the seeds.  After layering all of the above in the crockpot, I noticed about a half jar of Alfredo sauce that I thought should be used up, so I mixed that with some chicken stock and poured that over, adding the remainder of the stock box, too.


I set it on high because I was using my old crockpot (it is smaller than my big slow cooker), and I let it go all afternoon.  When it was closer to dinnertime, I opened, rinsed and drained a can of cannellini (white kidney beans), and threw those in.  In a separate pot, I set the other box of chicken stock to boil, then tossed in the Pappardelle.  When the noodles were al dente, I combined the contents of the crockpot with the pasta.  I served it in pasta bowls with a heaping tablespoon of Greek yoghurt which made it creamy.

It was even better Tuesday night. The flavors had married for 24 hours; and first -- we had steamed the lobster tails I found in the freezer.  To go with those, I made some garlic butter with the juice of another Meyer lemon.


I will spare you the details of cracking those damn things with a ball peen hammer and all the cussing and the orders from Sweet Husband to just throw the G.D. things in the garbage, blah blah blah.  I persisted, and we actually did get a couple of bites of 'lobstah' meat each.  Bottom line:  we each had a little bowl of that garlic butter left.  

I heated up about half of what was left of the soup/pasta, added the dollop of yoghurt, and then we each poured the remainder of the garlic butter over our servings.  It was fantastic!  I think I would recommend doing this a day ahead because it was so much better the second day.  The garlic butter was a game changer, so you might want to add some of that, too.  


If you can get some of this pasta, I strongly recommend you give this a whirl.  Make it ahead, and people will think you have spent half your life in the kitchen and kiss your feet.  




P.S.  Sweet Husband ate it for the third time tonight and said it had gotten even better.  If you decide to try this, let me know how you like it! 

14 February 2016

HEARTS, FLOWERS & THE INTERLOPER




Red Tulips


Breakfast a few days ago -- creme cheese and fig jam baked inside crescent rolls 
shaped into hearts.



Pretty red begonia,
me with hair au naturel
catching the morning sunbeams.

Sunbeams dancing through the door panes.



Flowering plants in sunny spots


T'is the weekend for hearts and flowers.  So it is here at the home of Scribbler and Sweet Husband.  
These birdies just keep on preening about --
now they are lovebirds.
I found the box of Valentine decorations in the attic after I picked up all the Mardi Gras.  What has come over me this year, I do not know.  I never decorate the nest like this seasonally, especially with party decorations because I rarely have parties anymore.  I must have just decided, "Why not?"





I am not one for banners,
but in for a penny,
in for a pound.  

 Garland fills the vases.



Hearts fell on Alabama!








Some landed in the kitchen, too

















~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



The Interloper!



We have had some fun, my man and me, the last couple of days.  

We went to an estate sale, bought a sofa I don't have anywhere to put, talked about some renovation and travel plans.  


Now it is covered in throws, sitting in the LR; PB's leopard, somebody's furry one, and a couple of pillows.  It's destination will be the master bedroom, because we plan to make some changes in there this year.  I was too exhausted to think about it last year after we finished the living room.


For now it is parked in front of the console table.
Some of the little pull-up chairs had to leave the room
for a while. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~






Put on my high heel sneakers 'cause we're goin' out tonight!
Put my wig-hair on my head, 
but not my red dress.  
It was the Little Black Dress.

Our Valentine's dinner out at a good local restaurant was so good!  

I hope you have a romantic Valentine's weekend, too!





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