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Hello!

Hello and welcome. I stopped blogging after a decade and four months because I believed I’d had my say. Closing down and moving on was the thing to do. I did. I chilled, I did new things, read a small stack of new books, drew a lot, read a slew of blogs, cooked up a storm and worked on being the best me possible. Here I am again in a knitting frame of mind, hoping we can hang out, share our stories, create together and learn from each other. And while we’re at it . . . bring on the yarn if you are so inclined.

In All My Favorite Colors

Ice cream comes in a bunch of flavors and a rainbow of delicious colors. There’s pink and blue, a yellow hue, all striped and piped and pistachio’d too. Blueberry, boysenberry. strawberry and cherry. I might be partial to all of these too . . .

Eighteen Flavors

Eighteen luscious, scrumptious flavors—
Chocolate, lime and cherry,
Coffee, pumpkin, fudge-banana,
Caramel cream and boysenberry,
Rocky road and toasted almond,
Butterscotch, vanilla dip,
Butter-brickle, apple ripple, 
Coconut and mocha chip,
Brandy peach and lemon custard,
Each scoop lovely, smooth and round,
Tallest ice-cream cone in town,
Lying there (sniff) on the ground.

by Shel Silverstein (Where the Sidewalk Ends)

swirly twirly yum-yum

And then there’s homemade vanilla with chocolate syrup swirls–in JC’s favorite bowl! Yes, I made more! The Cuisinart recipe is noticeably different from the recipe I’ve used the last several years, but it’s especially vanilla-y. So, what’s next? Figgy!

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

caramelization magic

Winter is coming, so fine tuning the ice cream recipe that will define how we hygge a poorly defined sweet tooth this season is paramount. We may never walk the frozen dessert aisle again. Not even for gelato. Talenti used to make me gasp; especially their pistachio! Check out the link for a step-by-step teaching moment, and be amazed. I always believed gelato contained gelatin. I like those gelato storage containers, but seeing as how they say they contain no BPA, they fail to mention what they are made from. What? Plastic? Silicone? It matters. I’ll pass. Perhaps there are safe paper containers available.

awesome sauce

So. Wanting to up my game a little. A whole lot while avoiding products that contain chemicals to extend their shelf life, I decided to go with the sweet/salty taste that gets me every time. I chose salted caramel. I chose Bobby Flay’s recipe. It’s simple and easy. You will find it here: Salted Caramel Sauce. We make a point of not using recipes from the NYT because some ingredient or step is always messed up. Not this time. But, in all honesty, I had to toss the first effort because it was a failure. I stepped away for a second and it burned. Never, ever, forever, do not turn your back on a pot of browning sugar. The Sugar Imps will get you every single time. When it happens, never be discouraged or deterred. Simply dump, clean pot, and carry one for a delightful reward that makes you feel like you can do anything Bobby Flay can do. Well, almost. I don’t want to do everything he can do, because I don’t need to. Moving on . . . Oh. One more thing though. If you like cookbooks; old cookbooks have little gems you never knew you might enjoy reading. Such gems are strewn throughout Caroline French Benton’s, “A Little Cook Book for a Little Girl.” I have a recently purchased e-copy. I like the ice cream recipe. The one I’ve used comes from a page torn from a magazine. Naturally, it’s gone MIA overnight. There’s custard cooling in the fridge even as I write this. It’s from the Cuisinart recipe section that’s almost the same but uses five eggs instead of six. More later.

salted caramel ice cream sampling

The second batch of salted caramel sauce was a success. Thanks you, Bobby Flay. I wish I’d thought to distribute the kosher salt better, but I was so excited I forgot. Live and learn. It’s all yummy though. I’m already dreaming of Roasted Pistachio Salted Caramel Ice Cream!

Winter is coming.

What the Hell, Bluebell?!?

vanilla thrilla

Not much beats homemade ice cream. I said it yesterday and it’s on repeat today. It doesn’t take much to make it, ingredient and time-wise. Hand-beating the eggs wore me out though. In the end, it was worth the shoulder aches.

JC bought what used to be the best ice cream sandwiches. I say used to be because they are no longer the best of anything. The best part of the box was on the outside. That girl always makes me laugh. But not so the list of ingredients. Vanilla flavored? Artificial flavor added? Why? What’s wrong with natural? What the hell, Bluebell? That unnatural whatever-you-want-to-call-it was known as mellorine when I was growing up. The Urban Dictionary defines it as: 1: Non-dairy alternative to ice cream, wherein other fats are used instead of milk fat. It can be made out of both animal fat and vegetable fat. Simply stated? It tastes like oily foam. Did you know Mellorine is also a female name? Only a really pretty girl should be so monikered.

lemon cardamom cookies

I knew I could do better. So I did. All it took was determination, homemade ice cream, and the trusted recipe for lemon cardamom cookies. Oh. And a bit of trial and error. I had to whip more air into the ice cream to make it spreadable. It only took a minute. The cookies have to be completely cool, and the wrapping paper and foil should be cut ahead of time.

it doesn’t take much to fill four sandwiches
melting

Next time I make these, I’ll use the same cookie cutter to cut the ice cream for a more perfect union. Even desserts and treats should have roughage though, so toasted pistachios will be in the dough next time. Right? I ate a sandwich straight from the freezer and almost lost a tooth. Talk about hardened. Nothing tasted quite as good though. The lemon zest made the them zing. Freshly grated cardamom is so much better, but hands down, they beat Bluebell’s artificial mess until they were black and blue.

two for the next day’s tea

Leftovers are always better. Yes? So guess what. I took the leftover ice cream to another level. Why? ‘Cause I am on a roll.

Remember. Winter is coming.

to be continued . . .

Ice Cream in Winter

the vanilla thrilla

Growing up, our mother made winter the season for ice cream. We never knew when but it was as regular rare treat–as much of a tradition as hot coco. Ice cream summers were special only in their unannounced occurrences, some being more special because the frozen treat came from Bryant Jolly’s store in Jasper. Until Aunt Hazel introduced us to the hand cranked, followed by the quicker electric ice cream maker.

Mama made her ice cream from the recipe she knew by heart. Vanilla. She had a lifetime of recipes filed in her memory; how I wish I’d thought to record them, but growing up, no one ever imagines a parent’s absence. Our mother made it without an ice cream maker–her only tool being a hand-held beater and her ingenuity. I tired quickly as I obeyed the recipe’s direction to beat the eggs, then the eggs and sugar until the sugar dissolved. Mama never missed a beat. See how modern appliances have weakened our whisking and beating muscles? I watched a woman beat eggs, eggs and sugar, and then batter, with the fingers of her right hand. The demo can be found here: cake for ice cream. I’m embarrassed to say that I was embarrassed because she did not have to take a break!

But anyway, Mama’s entire pot of custard was placed in a snow drift while the magic happened on its own. From the outdoors it was relegated to the freezer to finish the ripening sequence in dark, frigid isolation. My sister and I kept a nonchalant vigil on the upper portion of the refrigerator, no matter what game we played at. Being the well behaved children that we were, we knew not to ask when it would be ready to eat. The lesson in patience, learned in the long-ago, still stands us in good stead to this day. Yes, it is indeed a virtue. It is a good and useful thing. Especially so, because waiting is still a necessary part of the process of reaping and enjoying the magical end results.

Those winter family ice cream socials were my favorite parts of living in Lawton, Oklahoma. The winters were brutal and long and isolating, but ice cream and books made life bearable. Such is the stuff memories are made of.

Winter is coming.

to be continued . . .

Harry & David Delivered

mister “i have everything”

So. What does one give a man who has everything he wanted? Well, “everything” I can afford. What do you give a man who says “Nothing” when you ask what he’d like for his birthday? You turn to last resorts like Harry & David for overpriced everyday snacks you hope are edible and satisfying to a man who will eat just about anything. Okay, men who are “easy to please.” Men who deserve something more special than a home cooked steak, baked potatoes and arugula salad. We won’t mention the inedible homebaked cake. Ahem.

ingredients for a white fruitcake

Last year I ordered him a mini fruitcake from Harry & David for Christmas. I even baked one from scratch. JC liked both so much, I decided to bookmark their site for an annual subscription. (Baking one took too much time and energy.) Their friendly reminder to re-order lit up my mental lightbulb, and I thought “Aha! The new go-to guys will have something!” It took days of searching and planning and choosing, and in the end I chose sweet and savory combos. I chose the basket with summer sausage, white cheddar, German chocolate squares, caramel corn, three seed crackers, and extras: dark chocolate covered almonds, peanut butter caramel balls, and chocolate covered caramel balls. And stuff I don’t recall. Oh! The spicy nuts and seeds. In essence? Thinks I knew he would like.

Yesterday, JC walked in with his arms filled with two boxes and questions, “Did you order something in my name . . .? Am I supposed to open these, or give them to you?” FEDEX never rings the bell, so I never had a chance to wrap everything. JC discovered the boxes on the porch before I had time to secret them inside and hide everything for the right moment, bless his heart. But his face lit up when I said, “YOUR name is on them, right? So you’d better get busy before I open them.” You couldn’t see him for the flurry of . . . Okay, okay. Truth is, he meant to hurry, but the men I know take too long to open one box, let alone two. I had to help him. Okay, again. I gave him a knife to cut through the tape, but even that took too long. So I opened the boxes for him. I’m helpful that way. And this is how the story goes:

surprise!

pleased
digging in
summer sausage for one
single snackables for bingeing netflix
cracked up, huh?

reading material and an enclosed b’day card
chocolate peanut butter balls
decidedly delicious caramel corn and nuts
my portion
a more equitable portion

So. He packed up his edibles and went his merry way. All in all, I think he’ll enjoy the birthday delayed. ‘Cause once again, Harry & David saved the day.

The End

P.S. Sorry for the mangled mess. Sometimes it works, sometimes it won’t. Am searching for a better place to blog.

Hanging Out

hanging out above the fray, and water

I came across this discarded shell yesterday, before the warnings, predictions, and persistent threats of impending doom. This one I left alone. It was smart enough to reach high, unlike others that cling to low-lying hiding places. Perhaps they know when there’s impending weather threats because they were noisier than usual yesterday. Sometimes they are so loud the sound is uncomfortable. My Aunt Pauline used to say they were praying for rain. I never took note so assumed she was right.

We are under super severe weather advisories. Ida must not have been generous enough, so here comes What’shisname. Areas are predicted to take on twenty inches of rain. We’ve been warned to expect anywhere from one to four inches per hour inland. I believe the twenty-inch warning is for Galveston. As if the Gulf isn’t full enough. But who am I to question Mom Nature? It’s just . . . Well, when will we reach saturation point? Never mind! Forget I even asked.

I don’t understand the push for electric stoves and other appliances. People with gas always do better. We can boil our water, cook, warm our home, handwash and dry our clothing, use a generator to keep the fridge going . . . With an all electric home, you’re where Moses was when the lights went out. In the dark, up a creek without a paddle, and rowing with a cantankerous disposition.

It is eerily quiet now. Trees barely moving, especially the neighbor’s banana trees. The birds just up and left a while ago. They raided the pokeberry bushes but left the giant fig for me. There’s no traffic polluting the peace and quiet we crave either. Wish I knew how high the blanket of clouds is. Not that I can do anything about it, but it is natural to wonder.

Pray for us in our hours of need. We are in need ’cause we cannot make like a cicada and slip our shells, high above the fray and fears.

Be well.

Cake, Rattle & Roll!

Sometimes, you eat the bear. Sometimes, the bear grabs you by the ass, shakes you hard, and leaves you on the ground–wishing you’d brought your gun. Or a bear trap? That’s life though, eh? I’ve been cooking a lot lately. Great ingredients are harder to find this month. I’m having to reach way, way, way back, to my pre-Knorr days, when I had to build my own flavor profiles. It was easier enough because everything had its own unique flavor. Food tasted great because it was great. Salt and pepper only enhanced the dishes.

My mama never used bouillon. I picked up the habit after discovering the little flavor enhancers when a recipe called for it. I was a newly wed. I never saw my mama use a recipe. I don’t think she ever owned a cookbook. I ordered my first from the Imperial Sugar Company: My First Cookbook. I wonder if they knew the good they did, offering it for a few proofs of purchase and a postage stamp.

My first snickerdoodle and peanut butter cookies were baked from their recipes. Mama made tea cakes. Not cookies. Sweets were rare in our home, yet we never felt deprived. She never passed on her recipes though. It never occurred to me to ask for them. I believed she would bake tea cakes forever. Why didn’t we have enough foresight to record the unwritten recipes–the tried and true from four generations of baker/cooks? The last Armstrong sister (there were ten of them), to bake their famous tea cakes by heart, died yesterday (September one). My aunt was only seven years older than me. Cause of death was a brain tumor. When she couldn’t remember how to cook, dress herself, find her way out of her room, a diagnosis of dementia was offered up the men who practice medicine. Then she started falling. Her granddaughter was assigned the duty of grandma watching. Finally, a brain scan was done. Turned out it wasn’t dementia, but a brain tumor. A tumor that took years to develop and grow in a frontal lobe of her brain. According to an online source, “As a whole, the frontal lobe is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as memory, emotions, impulse control, problem solving, social interaction, and motor function. Damage to the neurons or tissue of the frontal lobe can lead to personality changes, difficulty concentrating or planning, and impulsivity.” Why did it take so them so long to figure it out?

JC’s birthday was three days ago. (August thirty-one) I learned of my aunt passing while I was cooking his b’day dinner. Hadn’t even baked the cake yet. It’s Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge. Four eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, butter . . . There was apricot jam, toasted walnuts and whipped cream to make it extra special. It did not happen.

The special dinner didn’t go according to plan either. I overcooked (burned) the roasted vegetables. The curry was forgotten because suddenly, the recipe disappeared. It’s MY recipe. This mind shuttered itself before the grief storm I just knew wasn’t even in the forecast–could shut things down. I hate crying. But this is how the story goes:

overbaked sponge

Mary’s sponge is the best cake for a couple. It calls for eight ounces of sugar, eight ounces of butter, eight of flour, a whopping four eggs, a little baking powder . . . The hand mixer does the job just fine. I used the KitchenAid to whip the cream, making clean-up easier than eating. Yum! There was no yum.

Cooking when I am unwell, angry, sad, or not in the mood always ends badly. I have a reputation to uphold, so why am I sharing? This is called beating myself up for doing what I knew should not have been done. I get points for trying though. JC will never be this age again. He deserved this one more than the last one. But the last cake came from Whole Foods. The one with whipped cream and tasteless berries. Tradition often trumps common sense.

mary berry’s black bottom

So. I could not find two eight inch cake pans. Why not use one large enough to hold all the batter, slice the sponge in half, and end up with the same results? Right? Wrong. The batter jiggled like Jello after it had baked twenty of the twenty to twenty-five recommended. It burned at twenty-five.

what looks like a hat isn’t
band-aid

I should have stopped before ever I whipped the cream. But a woman can dream. And dreams can morph into nightmares. Daymares, even, because a lot can happen when a woman turns away to stir a pot . . . It over whipped itself. Pastry chef daughter told me how to rescue the disaster with more cream. I think the powdered sugar hindered the process, yet the whipped cream tasted better than it looks.

lord, have mercy, and judge me by my intentions

I had to give him something! Right? So I removed it from the plate, shifted it to the cake taker (because the dome would not fit), wiped away the crumbs, covered it, and presented it to the birthday man.

,We each had a slice. It tasted like coarse, overly sweet burnt cornbread, topped on the sly with over-whipped cream and toasted walnuts. I sneaked and tossed it the next day, with a promise to try again. It hasn’t happened, and that was five days ago. I hear what is meant to make me feel less like a failure: “Girl, the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions.” Small comfort there, but still and all, no, I did not rock Mary Berry’s sponge again. Yes, I tried to roll with it. But truth is, sometimes we fail on the pathway, even with a flashlight and asbestos drawers; and failure can rattle us hard enough to keep us from baking for a while. It’s mainly the thought that counts anyway. Right?

Comfort Food 101

jinya’s tonkotsu black with bokchoy

I’ve been cooking a lot lately. My tastebuds haven’t fully reawakened just yet, so I tend to add extra salt to most dishes because my brain tells me “It needs something.” My eyes roll to the three types of salt on hand. Choices are good. Used to be I’d grab the box of Knorr. Not any more.

There have been four horrible dinners in a row this past week. I beat myself up for trying to force flavor and taste, but taste and smell are important. Am unable to eat bland food. Adding too much salt and pepper does not make sense, and it never works, but what’s a picky eater supposed to do?

Well, the cure for such foolishness and a waning appetite seems to be ramen. It view with chicken soup, but Crowd Cow wrote, “We’re outta chicken this time.” My protein order for the month, minus the three birds I subscribe to made me sad. Who runs out of chicken? What will I do without the bird? No roasted chicken lickin’? No chicken stew? No chicken with rice? JC said, “No more fried chicken?” It’d been twenty-three years since I last fried a bird. So, ramen to the rescue. I miss chicken soup with fat noodles . . .

Sorry for the sloppy bowl, but I cannot bring myself to eat ramen from the cardboard bowl it comes in. Gimme my fav porcelain bowl–the tsunami or the one that reminds me of Pearl S. Buck. The broth is separate, so I pour it in first, and gently transfer (plop) the goodies on top. Nothing floats. The noodles are always stuck together. The fried shallots are no longer crisp but one can pretend. The mushrooms are always crunchy and firm though.

It takes an annoying amount of time and effort to untangle and separate conjoined threads of noodles. Who has time for that? So, I forego the chopsticks and dive in with a fork for the noodles, the big bits, and spoon up enough broth to make it all worthwhile. At the end, I pick up the bowl, cup it with both hands, tilt my head back, close my eyes and let the last of the medicine go down.

JINYA makes the best iced tea too. Ramen with an iced tea chaser is the best medicine for most of what ails a body. An ample dose brings both comfort and joy, with no side effects.

Wrestling Cats

minuet on her pillow post match

Lately, life has been a bit like wrestling cats. Evidently, I’m losing. Ran out of BandAids and hydrogen peroxide, so here I am, resting at my desk in the evening shade. Life is good and grand and epic. Or am I just full of myself?

minuet tries hypnosis

This has to have been the best spring and summer that I can recall in decades. Everything is more intense and peaceful, full and full-blown. Overblown? I am grateful for absolutely everything. I’ve been a both-ends-candle burner for as long as I can remember. Never read one book when I could be reading four or five. I learned the ins and outs of so many how-tos I lost count. I once wrote sixty-five letters and postcards in a week, in answer to more than sixty-five received. Learned how to knit from books. Learning watercolor the same way. Life is big and wide open. Everything and anything is possible. All we need is time. And goodness knows I have, and have had my share of it. Life is good.

pre-match stare-down

Have you done a thing recently that you haven’t done in a raccoon’s age? Like frying chicken? Pruning trees and shrubs? Like sitting for an hour or two, doing nothing more pressing than staring at dragonflies, butterflies and birds through the window in front of your desk? When’s the last time you used an ice pick to attack a bowl of frozen water just to make ice water? Do you ever sit down to brush your teeth with a clay-based toothpaste? You brush longer and more thoroughly for sure. Ever massage CBD oil on your face and neck? Ever written a letter to the president to offer your input? There’s a long list of firsts tallying itself inside my head. Life is good.

Trying to change the world is a lot like wrestling cats though. I cannot right every wrong. I cannot wring my hands over every sorrow that presents itself on television, in blog posts or in newspapers. I cannot rescue every child that needs saving, or feeding, or mothering. I have a single super power that works, and I use it twenty-four seven. And then I live some more.

Today, I did not fry a chicken. I had an avocado sandwich on a bun. I have no intention of cooking dinner today because I have ruined three meals in a row. Yep. You bet. Yesterday’s was especially painful because I ruined two cups of the much coveted Carolina Gold rice. Carolina Gold, the rice my ancestors brought with them from the Mother Land.

the gold standard of rice?

I had to smile about my lamentation of rice, a food I never even really cooked until after I was a married woman. Growing up, hated it, as anyone who will listen has heard me confess often enough. My mother’s rice is memorable though. It was eternally perfect. Each grain separate, cooked to perfection, and a showcase for gravy or rice pudding. It’s funny how I hated rice but loved rice pudding.

history in the palm of my hand, like broken teeth

Cooking the Carolina Gold rice was about as bad as wrestling with rabid cats. For real. I have watched African women wash rice with the admonition to “rinse until the water is clear.” My mother and aunts did the same. Perfect rice every time, which is a good thing because they were not wasteful. Ever. Truthfully, I am the only Armstrong/Davis descendant to ever ever commit a rice do-over. Holy smokes, but ’tis true. Singing, “Rice-a-roni! The San Francisco Treat!”

unwashed grains
eww to the gelatinous

Wait. Rice-a-Roni isn’t even rice! It’s as good as though. Used to be, I preferred it to rice. Small wonder, huh? Is only fitting that I moved to the rice capital of Texas. Do I have a story about it, too. I need time to find the photos. They’re over a decade old. So, just you wait. Until then? Rice is nice. No wrestling involved, either. Shakalaka, shakalaka, shakalaka! Boom!

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