Saturday, December 30, 2006

Microwave Buttercream?

I'm back- much more quickly than I thought I would be- and I wanted to get this in while I had the chance. My daughter's music program is publishing a recipe book as a fundraiser this year. I've been shameful about participation, so I was trying to come up with some to help. Ice cream, muffins, blah blah blah- but I wanted to add something unique and helpful as well.

I've been making homemade ice cream for a while (not that I don't also buy it in the stores, but mine is better- it just is.) Anyway, the most annoying part of the process is the cooking of the custard. It's not *hard*, but it is time consuming. In an effort to be clever, I took a risk and tried cooking the custard in the microwave. I know- I know- but it works.

The thing is, you need to be patient. It does take just about as long to cook in the microwave as on the stove (a little shorter), but you don't have to heat the milk in advance. I don't advise putting the custard in the microwave for a straight three or four minutes. You have to take it in minute or less increments, stir, then repeat. Again, a little time consuming, but less so.

So it worked with custard- but would it work with just eggs and sugar? Was there something about the milk that was protecting the eggs from curdling? After hemming and hawing, I finally gave it a try last week.

First, I beat the eggs and sugar for a little while until they were pretty thick. Then I put them in the microwave for 30 seconds. I checked- they hadn't curdled- I beat, and then I returned. I was a little nervous, so I put them in for 25 seconds. Still good. Finally, I got the courage to go a full 45 seconds- no curdling. By the time 2 minutes and 15 seconds of cooking time had passed, the egg/sugar mixture was coating the back of a wooden spoon. I put it into an ice bath, beat, and within five minutes I was ready to add my room temperature butter. And you know what? It was the best buttercream frosting I ever made. My family is going to have to pay money to get me to use that yucky powdered sugar version again. The actual recipe will go into the GBYSO cookbook, but I'll give you a hint and tell you that you use 1 egg to 1 stick of butter to 1/3 cup of sugar. And if you can't figure out the rest... let me know :-)

Deb in the City

PS By the way, I hope everyone is checking out the Dessert Comes First blog. So delicious- you could get diabetes just from reading it!

Make no apologies

Okay, I'll make one. Once again, I've been away longer than I would have liked to have been. This time it's because a- virus? bacteria? something in between?- has knocked me off of my feet for the last week and a half. Or rather, I wish it had. I could have used some rest, but between my husband's alarm, my nursing toddlers and my body's response to consciousness, I have been lucky to get more than 8 hours of sleep- and 8 hours only came once. Yoga, which I've fallen back in love with in the last few months, unfortunately hasn't been much comfort, either, since I haven't been able to get into corpse position without suffering from a spastic coughing fit. But I am feeling a bit better, so here I am.

But where shouldn't you apologize? In the kitchen. For years (over a decade), I always felt that I needed to have the latest gadgets. As in, there was something wrong with me if I didn't, and not only should I not invite people into my kitchen if I didn't, but I should resign myself to at best mediocre cooking. I don't have a kitchen Ming Tsai would envy, but I do have the usual expensive appliances- a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, a Cuisinart food processor, an ice cream maker, and a blender (although this blender is nothing to wrote home about or feel any fiscal guilt over). The mixer and the ice cream maker were gifts, one for a birthday and one for Christmas, and the food processor was purchased a decade ago by both my husband and myself- I wouldn't go around spending $150 on something like that by myself.

My realization that I don't need it all in the kitchen came when both the mixer and the food processor malfunctioned at the same time. The mixer is particularly annoying, since this was the third time it broke down and is a pain in the ass to get fixed. There is a fix-it shop in Boston, but it's a pain to get to with my twins and it's $80 to fix. So that's still sitting on my shelf. This was a heart breaking event because 1) I was using it frequently to make challah dough (it was a whole wheat loaf that pushed it over the proverbial edge) and 2) it was right around my twins' birthday, which meant I had to adjust my cake recipe. But I lived, and I'm still living. My food processor, which has never acted up before, is less dramatically broken but still annoying. One of the plastic threads/teeth broke off, and while I have managed to juryrig a fix when I need it, I resist the urge to use it. So I'm less likely to shred cheese- or make pizza dough- if I can get away with it.

Once I adjusted to life without them, I noticed a strange shift. Instead of feeling deprived and like I wanted to kick my cabinets in when I was in the kitchen, I found a perverse pleasure in making due. Yes, I could still make cakes- and very good ones- using my electric beaters (older perhaps than the food processor). Yes, I could still make challah and many other breads by hand. And then I'd find, almost without noticing at first, that as I was hurriedly making morning muffins or pancakes, that I was reaching for my fork instead of my whisk, or that if I needed to stir something (not to the point of *blending*), I might even grab a plain old metal spoon instead of my wooden one. And you know what? My family didn't spit out their food in disgust. If anything, I'm becoming an even better cook and baker, although probably not because I'm not depending on my expensive appliances. So if you're reading this and you've always wanted to be a miniature Julia Child- but couldn't afford to raid Williams Sonoma- take heart: the goal is within your grasp.

And on that note, I have to report that I have finally gotten around to making the No Knead Bread Mark Bittman wrote about in the New York Times last month. I wanted to jump in right away, of course, but I didn't have a large enough ceramic or cast iron pot or pan. I did have my trust 8 quart metal pot, but surely there must be some reason that that wasn't suggested, right?

When my sister S came to my mother's the week of Christmas, she, too, wanted to make the bread. My mother also didn't have a Dutch oven, but she did have two casserole dishes. You know what I'm talking about- the Pyrex kind with the orange flowers? Anyway, she split the recipe and baked up two batches. Horror of horrors, she even forgot to use the lid for the second one, but they were both delicious.

Once I started feeling a little better yesterday, I decided to give it a shot with my trusty dusty metal pot. I mixed the dough as described in the recipe (3 cups flour, 1 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp yeast and 1 5/8 cup water) and waited. I was not surprised at all that my dough was ready to go about four hours before the recipe specified. Why? Because I've been baking bread in my kitchen for years now- the operative notion that it is the same kitchen as I baked in last night. Bobby Flay (whom I have no great regard for after his Iron Chef tantrum some years back) once said (I'm paraphrasing) that a baker who makes bread in a kitchen where someone has been baking bread for decades will get a better product than someone who has been baking bread in a brand new kitchen. The yeast remains in the kitchen, and it helps out it's hungry little cousins every time you make bread. My own experience bears this out. I remember a turning point in my own finished products, and it wasn't just that suddenly I was a better baker. I think there was finally enough residual yeast in the walls of my kitchen to help me out, and boom! Suddenly the bread was really good. Of course, a little confidence never hurt, and I think now I can say I am much more skilled than I was when I started, but I don't think that's what helped in the first place.

Anyway, the bread, needless to say, was a success. However, both my sister and I had the same problem, and that was that while our crust was crackling hard when it first emerged from the oven, it softened within ten minutes of being out. I'm not sure why, but my gut says it has something to do with cooking in the pot and then leaving the pot. But I'm not sure what. Anyway, I'm not complaining- my family loved it- the loaf is almost gone- and I'm working on another one right now, this time with roasted garlic. I may never buy bread again.

Alright- a toddler screams. Next time- microwave buttercream. I'm serious.

Deb in the City

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ugh...

I don't know if potato chips and ice cream are rearing their ugly head, but this morning I woked up with a sore-ish throat. It's not debilitating, but I feel it. And I look a little grey today- I could be sleeping. However, I did manage to stay productive, taking the boys to play (because they were crazy little animals yesterday, and I need to tucker them out on a regular basis), buying my husband his Chanukah present (pyjama bottoms- he will sincerely thank me) and going to Whole Foods for milk, more ice cream, cream and other groceries. Plus I got my regular yoga and writing in. Remind me to throw myself a party when I feel better.

My strategy did seem to work, because the boys turned down by 3:00 (hey, it's an improvement over 5:00), and then woke up when we had to go out to pick up their sister at 4:30. All of which means getting their little butts into bed by 10:00 shouldn't be as traumatic as it was last night.

Most importantly, today was the last day of school until the "new year", and it looks like no one has a big project. Hip hip hooray. I can't wait to not have things hanging over our heads (as much).

Tomorrow should be more enjoyable than today- the grandmothers will play with the kids and go out to lunch while I meet my friend M for brunch. Then I'll take the big girl to her movie, and then we'll just be very mellow at home.... right?

Deb in the City

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why do I never learn?

People, yet more of the Castle set is broken as of today. My husband is under strict orders to bring home wood glue, but I'm not sure how much is going to help some pieces. This is what happens when you buy expensive toys for children- they get destroyed. So buy inexpensive toys- they will still be destroyed, it just won't bother you as much. I've decided two things: 1) I'm moving all of the wooden set out except for the castle proper (don't worry, that still leaves the knights and the court) and 2) I'm not buying anything like this again. Quote me next year.

I taught an early morning Pilates class this morning. The pros: 1) it's nice to make a little bit of money doing something I enjoy and 2) it's nice when other people enjoy something I enjoy doing. The cons: 1) J was late to school and upset that I didn't reschedule, and 2) my husband got a late start to work, which means he'll be coming home late tonight. Considering that my hourly rate is less than his, and that my 1 hour of earnings cost him more than 2, it just doesn't make sense. But con #1 is more pressing, so I promised I wouldn't take a class at that time again.

Actually, there is a third con: because I needed to be out and about this morning, I didn't get to do my early morning writing, which means I've got one more thing to cram into the twins's naptime, if it happens at all before I have to pick up S. Oh well- little setbacks just make me appreciate opportunities (regular and unplanned) even more.

Deb in the City

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Finally out of my hands

Finally, finally, finally. With a little help from J, we posted all of the addressed invitations- there may be a few addresses that S will give me, but otherwise that's it. My husband mailed them today, so anything that happens is now out of my hands. Sometimes it's nice to have no control.

I conducted a semi-successful experiment last night. Instead of waiting until 11 or after to see if I could wear the boys out, and then dragging them off to bed anyway, I moved the process up an hour, so little S came into bed with me at 10. Unfortunately, my husband and little J were watching LazyTown, and when S heard about it he demanded release. I woke up a short time later and pulled him back, and then the others followed. Still, I was in bed much earlier than usual, and I woke up much earlier than usual. The "failure" was that J- whom I also call Rooster- woke up earlier as well. Not a total loss though, because my husband was able to keep him in the living room while I got my newly-self-imposed quota of writing done (20 minutes). It's nice to get that out of the way in the morning, as opposed to sitting here all day, wondering when I will have the time.

Sadly, that is the case with my yoga practice. My sons have a very erratic nap schedule. Yesterday, for instance, they didn't nap until about 3:30 (Ugh!). That was enough time to allow about a half hour of yoga. Today, though, J fell asleep before 10 (you try getting up at 5:30 in the morning when you're that age), and S hasn't gone down yet- and J has already woken up. I can do something when my husband gets home, after dinner (and the big girl's concert), but I am limited to approximately four YogaToday.com podcasts, since my sons broke our computer's DVD player a few weeks ago. *Sigh* But there are worse things. Maybe I'll get lucky later today.

And I thought everyone should know this: You know the castle set I mentioned? (Sorry, I can't show you a link because it's already sold out.) Well, my boys, being my boys (actually just being mine) have already broken two of the components- one of the ropes connecting the door to the castle, and part of the jousting set. I'm not sure how they did the last part- it's wood, but it looks like someone stepped on it. My husband is getting wood glue today (I hope).

And when did this happen? While I was posting the invitations.

Until the next disaster (or pleasant surprise),
Deb in the City

Monday, December 18, 2006

I await postage

Yes, they are still sitting on my computer table, but once my husband comes home with the appropriate postage, they are gone. I gave him a very had time- as I am sometimes wont to do- about printing out the postage, but I finally relented when I realized that I would have to apply about five stamps to each envelope to give them the exact amount of postage- 52 cents- that they require. He said he would try to do a design, so fine. They will be gone by tonight.

For Chanukah this year, my boys and their sister J received the Pottery Barn Kids castle- I think I mentioned that before. Anyway, they got it on Saturday night at my mother-in-laws house. We assembled it at home, but little S was piling boxes and practically throwing them at us to get them opened. So funny. All three of them like it. Last night, we gave the boys these relatively inexpensive ($11 or so) Knight costumes I found at Target (from the blood draw). S took to them immediately, but J burst into tears. That's okay, because J the elder liked them too, and she wore the costume until her brother warmed up. They are now in the other room, playing with their presents and watching TV. I don't feel as bad as I usually do about staying home, because they have plenty to keep them occupied.

And then we're done, except for some gelt for the rest of the nights. My oldest made the mistake of telling me that in Israel they don't exchange presents. Well good- then we're going to Israel next year for the entire month of December. In a way, Chanukah (American style) is better than Christmas because it's incremental; you may end up with the same amount of stuff, but it takes longer to accumulate so you're not suddenly overwhelmed. But in another way, it's even more ridiculous. How much stuff do well-fed and well-clothed (preteen's opinions to the contrary) require?

Of course, we are still doing Christmas at my mother's this year. We're going to keep it small- J and S will get the balance of her presents from my sister and I (gift cards to the Children's Place and Forever 21, respectively), I might throw a book at the boys, and everyone else gets baked goods. There- done. I can only hope my relatives use a similar restraint.

Ideas for baking? Very, very sadly, S broke the pavlova base on the way to my in-laws this weekend (did I mention that as well?), and my husband was crestfallen. I'd make that, but that isn't something you can easily give as a gift unless you know it will be eaten immediately. Ooh- that reminds me- I'm going to test drive some fried ravioli to see how well it keeps and travels in anticipation of S' batmitzvah. Anyway, maybe a bundt cake? Cupcakes? There's always pound cake or meringues, but I'd like to be a bit jazzier.

I'll let you know!

'Til then,
Deb in the City

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Invitations are almost done

God, you have no idea what a big deal this has been. You know when you have something hanging over your head that you want to do not just well but with flair, but you're so worried that you won't have time to do it all at once that you don't do it at all? Well, that's The Invitations and I. To my credit, I do have some excuses for the delay that don't relate to my perfectionism, but that's all I can say on the matter. But last week my husband somewhat petulantly asked when it was going to be done and implied that if I didn't get it done soon, he was going to do it. Granted, the event is on February 1oth (!), but I had some standards that I knew my husband would not feel obliged to honor. So, on Monday night, I kicked it into gear.

First, I looked at some online sites, some of whom have absolutely beautiful invitations (can I host a cocktail party just to have an excuse to order some Kate Spade invitations?), but most of them were way out of my price range. Still, I asked my husband how he would feel about $300 + on them, and he shrugged that if that's what I needed to do... but why did it have to be more than $150? I thought it was a fair question, so on Wednesday I dragged the twins over to The Paper Source in neighboring Brookline after I dropped J off at school. Oh, wow- I could come up with some excuses to spend more time there. I am, perhaps, a frustrated artist at heart, but the frustration comes from my difficulty with form and composition. I can get it after some effort- I actually won a Drawing award in high school, shockingly- but it doesn't come easily or naturally (although old age is making me a little bit freer with it). I am much, much better with color (maybe everyone is). And the colors of the papers were so inspirational. I thank the salesgirl who spent some quality time with me picking about the best color schemes for the invite and RSVP cards. And then, in a stroke of luck, I found some coordinating round labels to go with the colors of the envelopes and cards- so much better than the standard printable labels, and the contrasting color provides a great pop.

Wednesday night, my husband brought home the rest of my purchase (I needed some supplements from the Boston store), and on Thursday morning I picked up something I'd left behind. On Thursday afternoon, while the boys were climbing onto just about everything, I screwed my courage on and started printing onto my text weight paper. Once I had samples printed, I tried cutting the pieces to size. After a minute, I did manage to get the main body of the invitation, but I couldn't see myself doing it 72 times. Sadly, my husband did not have an industrial cutter in his office, so I called the local copy shop, who did and, once I explained what the project was, was willing to help (hmm, maybe that was Wednesday night). So on Thursday, before my School Site Council meeting, I dropped off the paper to be cut. After my meeting (I think...) I figured out how to print labels onto my special-sized labels. That may not sound like much, but as expensive as they were, I didn't want to mess around. By Friday, everything was cut and most of the labels were printed. By Saturday afternoon, everything was labeled, cut and assembled. And for how much? $144, thank you very much. This does not, unfortunately, include the postage, which is going to be about 91 cents per invitation (including RSVP postage), but that's still less than I would have paid online- much less.

Now to buy postage tomorrow, and then we are all set!

Until next time,
Deb in the City

Friday, December 15, 2006

Back!

And yes, I would love to stay :)

The last few weeks have been occupied with bat mitzvah invitation craziness, children's craziness, and goodie making. My mother's Tree Trimming party was last weekend, and this weekend is my mother-in-law's Chanukah party. Tonight is the first night of Chanukah- yeah, tonight, not Wednesday as I had originally thought- so we're going to have latkes (and I'm making them, because I don't want to swim in oil this year), sufganyiot (sp?, but they're donuts) and challah (because it's Friday, and Fridays without challah are sad).

My boys are in a continuing study for a new vaccine. Yesterday they earned Target gift cards for getting their blood taken, so today I took them to buy some things they can open tonight. My mother, mother-in-law and sister went in with me on a castle from Pottery Barn Kids- not that I usually want to buy toys like that, but S's eyes lit up with joy when he was playing, and I couldn't deny him- so I bought the boys some Knight armor and swords. Yeah, I think I am going to regret that. I also bought a Baby and Little Einstein book. Their sister J is going to get a beading kit (also split between my sister and I). I'm not sure if S will have anything to open tonight, but she's arguably getting the nicest gifts (a day of beauty and a gift certificate to Forever 21, her most favorite store on the planet), so I'm not feeling too bad about it.

But you know what their favorite toy has been by far? Boxes. I had this vision (around the time S first saw the Pottery Barn castle) to make them their own larger castles using boxes. I nagged my husband to get boxes, but the ones he came back with were less than ideal (too many open surfaces). After about a week of stumbling into them in the kitchen, I finally decided the boys would like to play with them as they were. What an understatement. They were a train, a ladder, a wagon, a place to color- you name it. As nice as it is to watch a small child play with a beloved toy, there is something magical about watching them play *while* their little minds turn and create. The boxes went back into the kitchen this week, but I think I'll bring them out tonight.

Other than that, the best thing I did by far regarding the holidays was contribute to our Temple's Gift Drive. People like me may whine about how much more we need and that, essentially, someone else has more, but the truth is that we'll survive. The people on the receiving end of most gift drives may also survive, but not with too many extras. Many of the children we bought for were in danger of not receiving anything for Chanukah without help. I happily bought some skincare products for the 11-year-old girl I was assigned. I hope she likes it.

Even better, my mother was looking for some place to contribute to this year. I told her about the gift drive and although it was technically over, we called the sponsoring organization and asked if they needed any list minute gifts. And at the last minute, my mother was happy to get two gift cards to Old Navy (for two sixteen-year-old girls) and a baby doll for a nine-year-old girl. Once wrapped, the Education Director at our temple helped us find someone else at the temple who worked at the organization and who happily brought it over. All four of the children will be opening their gifts on Sunday- I hope all goes well.

Is there someplace you can give to this year?