Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Alone and then there's ALONE

With a recent end to a relationship, a somewhat impulsive move to the house in the mountains and a snowfall that has me snowed in, I've taken to brooding on the subject of living alone.

When my husband died almost seven years ago - alone was paralyzing for a while. And then I hurled myself into a flurry of activity - massive renovation on the house and garden, travel, volunteering. Anything to stop me thinking in terms of being alone, confronting my loneliness. It took a couple of years to slow down, calm down and appreciate life alone. I still had friends, health, a comfortable lifestyle and of course dog. Had Samantha the cat too but she passed almost three years ago.

There have been two or three relationships in the past five years - all long distance and I have to say, pretty much on my terms. I have grown accustomed to my independence, actually enjoy time alone - maybe a bit too independent one man ventured to say.

With the ending of this last relationship, one in which we had attempted to live together, I've come to realise that I do like time alone, my own space so to speak. It's also clear to me that I am capable of sharing but  not capable of compromising on those issues important to me.  I guess my acid test with a man is can I visualise a future with him - in this last case - no, the picture wasn't there.

I'm just in from digging a "potty" path for dog (he has very short legs) and a path round the side of the house to where I can get to the logs under the deck. I've filled the log carrier on the deck with enough pinon wood to last me three days, dog is happy with his path, the Sun is shining.  As I was hurling logs over the railing it occurred to me that this was a job for man.  Down with that thinking - as long as I'm mobile I can take care of myself! Moving the snow was easy - it's incredibly light and fluffy. I poked around the garage looking longingly at my XC skiis - ancient by most standards and with bindings that no one makes boots for anymore. The boots themselves are beyond the duct tape repairs I've effected for several years now. I'll head into the nearest burg with a ski shop when the roads are clear and see what I can find. Did find a dead mouse in the garage - oh gross! that is a job for a man.

All my kids, spouses, grand kids and daughter-in-law's parents will be up for the holidays - extra dogs too! My 14 year old grandson, an avid skier watches weather reports daily and informs his parents of snow conditions around the world.  Maybe a meteorologist in the making. There's been a flurry of emails about meals over the holidays - recipes for mole (the sauce not rodents) flying back and forth along with banter about the year I made a 43 ingredient mole - although in the re-telling it becomes a 100 plus ingredient deal. Truth is it's Rick Bayless' recipe for Mole Negro and I think has 23 ingredients.  We have a tradition of a New Mexico themed meal on Christmas eve. Once I gave up the need to control every aspect of what goes on in the kitchen and delegated meals to willing cooks it's been a lot more fun for everyone including me.

So on a snow-packed day, with a turkey soup simmering in the slow-cooker I'm wandering around my place up here, fire-blazing, The Three Tenors entertaining me and life is good.  Would I like the company of a man - no question, yes I would - but am I willing to settle for less than what makes my toes twinkle big time - no way!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons - Make Lemon Curd

Miserable few days - head cold that won't go away, layer of dust throughout the house result of putting in laminate floors, brilliant idea for a native stone patio out front has evolved into a skating rink - need to re-direct the gutters.  There's always something!

Headed into Tucson for a few days to hang out with grandsons while the parents were away. Visit coincided with a hard freeze. October, when I leased my Tucson house for a year and made the trek up to the mountains, I moved a miniature Meyer lemon tree over to my daughter's house. Saturday, in anticipation of the big freeze, I stripped it and brought the haul of wonderful, juicy, fragrant lemons back up here with me.  On a side note my daughter commented that "something has eaten all the lemons, do you think rabbits would do that?". With visions of Mama Rabbit daintily picking lemons floating in my head I came clean and confessed to being an *indian giver and "borrowing" back the lemons. I promised her a share in the bounty by way of preserved lemons and lemon curd ... great hostess gifts or stocking stuffers.

Preserved Lemons couldn't be easier to make. I use them in all sorts of dishes from polenta to sauteed spinach and of course Moroccan type tagines.

Sterilize whatever size jars you want to use. Place a tablespoon or so of sea salt or kosher salt in the bottom of the jar.  Quarter the lemons to within about 1/4" to 1/2" of base and stuff the lemon with salt, place in the jar. Continue stuffing lemons until the jar is full. Press down to begin the juice extraction process and then squeeze in the juice of a couple more lemons. Cap the jar and keep in a warm dry place for a few days, turning frequently to aid in dissolution of the salt.  If the lemons are not covered in liquid, add more lemon juice. Do NOT add water. Lemons will keep indefinitely in a cool dark pantry or refrigerator.

Lemon Curd : a  lick-the-spoon childhood favorite, wonderful on toast, on scones, in tiny tart shells - uses are as good as your imagination. I like to make a lemon trifle around the holiday season that includes sponge cake sliced and sandwiched with lemon curd.
The only tricky part about this recipe is the heating/cooking of the curd itself. You must use a double boiler (or improvise as I do with a curved stainless bowl set into a pan) and you must keep whisking while the curd is heating. The moment it's thickened and will coat a metal or wooden spoon, take it off the heat. If you over cook you'll have a mess of sweet, lemon flavored scrambled eggs to deal with!

Makes 6 Cups so prepare number of jars according to size by sterilizing and drying.

Enough ripe, glossy lemons to yield 2 or more tablespoons of very fine zest and 1 full cup of juice.
2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
pinch of salt
8 large egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs
2 1/2 cups of sugar

Zest the lemons directly onto a piece of parchment paper. One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is a microplane zester. If you don't have one use the finest grater you have. Put the zest into the top part of your double boiler.

Juice the lemons measuring out 1 Cup. Strain to get rid of pips. Add to the zest
Cut the butter into chunks. Add to the juice and zest along with pinch of salt.
Put about 2" of water into the bottom part of the double boiler and bring to a brisk simmer.
Beat the egg yolks and whole eggs in a large bowl  until they are foamy. Gradually add the sugar beating continuously until the mixture pale, fluffy and thick.

Place the top part of the boiler into the bottom half over the heat, immediately add the egg mixture and begin whisking vigorously.  Keep whisking (will take about 10 minutes) until the mixture is steaming hot (but NOT boiling) and will coat a metal or wooden spoon. Immediately remove from the heat.
Pour into the sterilized jars, cap and store in the refrigerator.

I had some tiny bitter oranges from the same pre-freeze harvest. Wasn't really sure what to do with them but have experimented - we'll see.  I peeled them and left them whole and made a simple syrup as follows. You could substitute "cuties" or mandarin type oranges. Select a size of jar to hold the number of oranges you want to use. This recipe makes about 10 oz of syrup

Simple Spiced Syrup

1 Cup water
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup peeled , sliced ginger root
4" cinnamon stick
6 Star anise pods
10 cardamon pods
1 Tbs Pomegranate syrup
1 Tbs of loose sweet orange tea leaves

Place peeled oranges in a sterilized canning jar. In a stainless saucepan bring all of the above to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Strain, return clear syrup to clean pan, bring to the boil,  pour over the oranges, pop the cinnamon stick in the jar, cap and seal tight once the lid pops and seals. I plan on holding these until the holidays and using them as a condiment  with cold pressed beef. Might work- could be a disaster! The idea was to create a spiced syrup to offset the bitterness of the oranges and provide an interesting contrast in flavor.  I added the pomegranate syrup for color - I think pomegranate seeds would be nice too.

In my little still life of the jars there's also a jar of mango/pear chutney that I made a couple of weeks ago as I channeled my inner pioneer woman putting up for the winter! Happy to share that recipe if anyone is interested.

I still have some lemons left and I'm thinking Limoncello - stay tuned.

*Indian giver - derived from the  days when the white man gave things to the Native Americans and then took even more away from them.

Friday, December 2, 2011

When the going gets tough - the tough bake!

Oh long silence from this blog - survived the Wallow Fire - took off on a sailing odyssey and now, back on dry land (well, snow-covered) am contemplating a winter in the mountains as opposed to my beloved Tucson house.
Long story - no need for details. Suffice to say this resolutely independent, single woman of a certain age got herself involved with a man! Gasp. And today with the tail-lights of a UHAUL blinking through the snow as he and it wended their way down the lane, a chapter closes.
Never been one to kiss and tell so no details forthcoming. The ending was my plan, my need. Not easy and not as swift as I wanted. So picking myself up, dusting myself off what else was there to do today but bake.

The mojo is not with me!

Bustled around my kitchen - did a complete mis en place for a cake that's a no-brainer for me.  Or was. Guinness Cake is my go-to cake whenever I have to hustle a cake together at the last minute. Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson - oh goddess of the kitchen I thank you - it is a moist, sinfully rich chocolate cake. I'll make one excuse for my series of disasters - never have baked this at 7,500 ft elevation before. First iteration burst through the parchment paper, over the rim of the cake pan, into the oven in a roiling boiling mass reminiscent of some of the rapids I ran this summer. Guinness Toffee - awful and I'm still burning it off the oven floor. Next version I simply spaced and missed out the baking soda. Guinness Pancake - awful. Third and final one of the day just gave up on me and collapsed into a sad volcanic like depression as it came out of the oven.

Not even faithful dog wanted a taste.

Thirty minutes ago, a neighbour knowing that this was D Day for the man to depart, stopped in. "Good lord" he said, "look at you and what's this all about" sweeping his arm in the direction of my normally immaculate kitchen. He stopped, eying the collection of Guinness bottles on the counter top. "This is not good." There was pity in his eyes. "You wanted him to leave - drinking isn't going to help."

I didn't even have a piece of cake to offer him.