Thursday, December 30, 2010

End-of-the-Year Wrap Up

What a year 2010 was!

In January, we sent Lovely Daughter #1 off to England, where she studied for a semester and learned to cook.

Because Cambridge University might be beautiful, but the only thing worse than most English food is most English dorm food.

In February, we rescued a pug puppy. Seen here about 7 or 8 weeks old, "Pao Pao" is the first puppy I've had since I was 13.

Raising Pao has been one of the hardest things I've ever done.

For months, his sensitive stomach resulted in spectacular messes all over our floors on a daily basis.

I learned first-hand why vets and trainers say pugs are one of the hardest breeds to potty train.

And his insistence on eating the inedible (gravel, shards of glass, nails, poop) has brought me to tears of frustration many times.

And yet, he is incredibly intelligent and funny and--at just a little over a year old--knows more commands than my other two pugs.

In May, The Hubby and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and decided our gift to each other would be the upcoming kitchen re-do.

We begin to pick out appliances. Because nuthin' says love like a gas stove and downdraft blower, baby.

In June, we spent a lovely, enchanted week at our favorite family camp (yay, Week Two!) in the High Sierra:

And campwide, we mourned the untimely death of one of Week Two's teenagers, whom we've known since he was a little boy.

In July, The Hubby and I saw the sights in London...

...and Cambridge...

...and the Lakes District (where sheep outnumber people 70 bajillion to one):

We saw Bath...

...and the Salisbury Plain... I tea-and-scone'd my way across England:

In August, our kitchen underwent heavy cosmetic surgery, and a brand-new island was installed:

I thought I would never get rid of the construction dust. But the results are lovely:

Now, one of my favorite moments of the day is tiptoeing into the kitchen to make my early-morning pot of coffee on our new gas stove:

In October, Lovely Daughter #1 flew off to Dubai for love and adventure...

photo by A. Alzarouni

...and came back, safe and sound, a month and a half later, with wonderful stories to tell.

In December my little family of five spent a week in the snowy beauty of Mammoth, skiing and snowboarding, cooking and laughing together. This is a rarity, since only The Boy lives at home any more.

And at the very end of the year, my entire family clan rejoiced as my sister's third grandchild--and first girl!--made her appearance.

Welcome to the world, baby M!

Love and loss, birth and death, injury and triumph, adventure and calm: as a family, we have seen so much in 2010.

Just like most every other family.

May 2011 tip the scales for you and yours toward health, happiness, success, and love.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter Wonderfulness

This past Sunday, the Teapots & Polkadots family left the pug thugs in the capable hands of a housesitter/professional dog groomer. We are enjoying a winterful wonderland in Mammoth, CA.

When we arrived, the resort already had about 13 feet of snow. Last night, a new storm deposited another 24 inches overnight.

This is the spa on the deck of our condo. Last night, the top was bare:

Few people were stirring early this morning, but I spied this intrepid man walking toward the free shuttle-bus stop:

I hope these icicles on the power transformers are harmless!

The roads are snowy but navigable, thanks to an army of snowplows that worked all through the night:

Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and dry and cozy and safe.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mushrooms for Lunch

After a week of incessant rain here in Los Angeles, the pouring stopped and a rainbow appeared:

And so did the mushrooms:

Beeeeg piles of mushrooms:

They are sorta lovely:

In a creepy kind of way:

This kind smells like the elephant exhibit at the zoo. Whew!

But they sure are pretty:

Oh, look! Here's another, totally different type of mushroom that's popped up:

You know the only thing that's scarier than a bunch of mushrooms in a yard that has a puppy?

HALF a bunch of mushrooms!:

Oh, sh**! Pao has eaten approximately two cups' worth of mushroom caps, here:

Okay, Denizens of the Dark: It's WAR! Y'all are goin' DOWN! I don't care how much you remind me of fairy tales, forests primeval, and various dancing vegetables in certain Disney films:

I'm AFTER ya! Don't you be eyeballin' me from behind that fence!

(At this point, half an hour of furious digging ensued.)

I dug up every mushroom I could find and dumped them in my city-issued compost bin:

I also dug up a couple of really cool-looking rocks:

At the end, the city can was stuffed with mushrooms:

And so was the puppy.

I called the vet to ask about the signs of poisoning. She said to watch out for vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, or balance problems:

So far, all he's exhibiting is signs of Excessive Contriteness and Cuteness.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best-Ever Chocolate- Chip Cookies...AND Sugar Cookies

It's been raining non-stop for seven days here in Los Angeles. Record-breaking rain means long days indoors. Around these parts, long days indoors can only mean...

It's time to bake!

First, I made three batches of chocolate-chip cookie dough, using a recipe from the New York Times. These cookies have been getting a lot of attention because of an unusual step: The batter must be chilled at least 24 hours before baking (up to 36 hours is fine).

The original recipe calls for a combination of cake flour and bread flour: I had those. It also calls for bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content.

Oooh! Fresh outta feves! (Seriously, I had to look up what feves were; I never heard of them before.) Lovely Daughter #1, who first alerted me to this fantastic recipe, assured me that regular chocolate chips were fine. (She also told me she used regular, unbleached flour, and the results were fine.)

But letting the dough chill for at least 24 hours is non-negotiable. It has something to do with the process of distributing the liquids fully into the dry ingredients at a molecular level. (You can read all about it here, starting with the bottom of page 1 and going on to page 2.)

I experimented with three different types of chocolate--regular Hershey's Chocolate Chips, Ghirardelli buttons (most like fèves in appearance), and Hershey's Chocolate Chunks.

The good news is they all made fantastic cookies.

Another distinctive feature of the NY Times recipe is that it calls for a sprinkling of sea salt on each cookie right before baking.

If you have every sampled a sea-salt-encrusted caramel or chocolate candy, you know what I'm talkin' about. It's divine:

I had two types of sea salt available: a fancy-schmany one that The Boy gave me as a gift, and a more humble one straight from the supermarket:

I went with the oak-smoked Chardonnay salt, on the left. It smelled fantastic and tasted just like it was made to be paired with chocolate.

Another distinctive feature of these cookies is their size. They are huge!:

They bake up to be 5 or 6 inches across, so you can only fit a half-dozen or so comfortably on a cookie sheet. I did five at a time because I didn't want to run the risk of the cookies touching:

The sea salt was still visible on the top of each cookie after baking:

Ummm nummmm nummmy nummmmy!

The huge size allows each cookie to sport three separate "zones"--an outer edge of crispiness, an inner "bull's-eye" of melting softness, and a ring of about an inch and a half between these two zones that is the Holy Grail of chocolate-chip cookies--chewy, yielding, yet not mushy.


Something else I love about these cookies: You can freeze the balls, then take them directly from the freezer to the oven. They bake up perfectly.

So, if you have the craving for a big, warm, crunchy-and-chewy cookie with melting pockets of chocolate softness, you can have it.

Twenty minutes after the craving first hits you over the head, you can be holding this in your hands:

Oh, lord-a-mercy!

This is a perfect gift for bakers and non-bakers alike. Non-bakers don't have to do anything more than sprinkle them with salt and pop them in the oven. Bakers will love having a pre-made goodie ready to go when they're too tired to make anything from scratch themselves.

So I packaged up a half-dozen frozen balls of dough at a time in some handy cellophane bags and tucked them in the freezer:

Cellophane bags like these are so nice for gift-giving; they're a lot prettier than zip-style plastic bags. You can find cello bags at a cooking or candy-making specialty store, or you can order them online.

The frozen cookie balls stick together, or onto whatever you put them on to freeze them. When you pull them apart or off the tray or bowl, they leave little bits of rough spots. Don't worry; it doesn't detract from their deliciousness.

To give the frozen cookie balls as gifts, I added small bags of sea salt, tied in pretty ribbon:

And added instructions on how to bake the cookies:

I dropped a cello bag of frozen balls into a brown-paper bag, then stapled the salt and instructions to the brown bag for a cheery presentation. And then I ran through the raindrops to deliver them to friends and neighbors:

Back at home, I whomped up a batch of my favorite-ever sugar cookies and cut them out in scalloped circles. Then Lovely Daughter #2, home from college on winter break (yay!), helped decorate them:

We did lots of green-and-red decorations, because some of our recipients celebrate Christmas.

And we did some snowflakes and gingerbread themes for others, who do not:

Today, the forecast is for yet more rain. So, next up, I'm baking two more kinds of cookies and several batches of banana-bread mini muffins!


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