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Border Houses

After pondering the border trees for a bit longer and not achieving any clear vision, I decided to set them aside and work on the border houses, where I did have a much better feel for what I wanted to see.  The sewing has been fast and furious, in part because the quilter should be done with my log cabin quilt sometime this coming week, and if I can finish this quilt I can take it along when I go to pick up the other and have all three quilts finished and off to the quilters in good time.

Fruitcake intervened... )

25

Oct. 3rd, 2012 02:23 pm
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We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary today.  With a good old English fry-up, served in the dining room of our RV.  Fried eggs, fried toast, streaky bacon (from Broadbent’s, yum!) baked beans… oh, and a bottle of Roederer Estate’s extra dry champagne from our trip to the Anderson Valley earlier in the year.

With the chemo and all, we’re being low key this year.  Our fancy celebration will come at the 25.5 year mark in the Florida Keys, once we’re past the medical foofaraw.  But I’m still highly amused, thinking that if anyone had told me this is where I’d be after 25 years of marriage, I would never have believed it.

Here’s to 25-plus more years to come.

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So, after our gorgeous weekend in Santa Fe, J’s work summoned him back to Texas.  We looked over our options, and decided that it would be best if I continued westward with the rig while he was in Dallas.  I stayed in the campground at Cochiti Lake for a few more days, then made a short drive down to a casino campground just west of Albuquerque.

Campgrounds, travel, and food roulette... )

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I don’t know why it works out this way (planning maybe?) but every time we leave Baton Rouge headed west, it just so happens that right about lunchtime we’re just east of Lafayette. Just in time to stop at the Boudin Shop off exit 115 for lunch. Well, we’re going right by, it would be a shame not to stop, right?

The Boudin Shop is a long narrow building with windows on two sides. From the outside, it almost looks like an enclosed porch that forgot to have a building attached. Inside, there’s a counter to order at on one end, with cold cases containing pie and packages of boudin, and tables in the windowed area. There’s a rack of Cajun spices and tourist junk in the middle of the eating space, in case you’re inspired to take some seasonings home after lunch.

Etouffee and rice and potato salad, that’s lunch. They’ve got other things, the titular boudin, crawfish boil, but we always get the etouffee. It may not be the best in the area, but it’s crammed with crawfish; and oddly, the potato salad makes a good foil, the crisp crunch of celery chunks complementing the rich stew.

We went pretty much due north from lunch in Lafayette to Ruston, LA, where we settled back into Lincoln Parish Park for a quiet week of R&R after our loud week of R&R with the folks in Baton Rouge. Just hanging out and walking around the lake and enjoying the beautiful weather. It’s coming on spring in Louisiana! Daffodils are blooming in the plantings along the campground road, and the trees are all leafing out in new spring green.

There are a couple of small flocks of ducks in the lake. They’re sorted by color; there’s a set of four or five white ducks, a set of black ducks, and one of mallards. And then there are the miscegenists; one couple, white and mallard, all by themselves across the pond. The black ducks must have been tame at one point; every time we were out on the shoreline path they came over, convinced that this time we would get the point and break out the duck chow. Hope springs eternal.

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We’re in Baton Rouge for Mardi Gras. It’s a get together of friends that has been going on for… eight years now? Maybe nine? We’ve been coming, off and on, for eight years anyway. I remember because the first year we came (2005), the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. And the Super Bowl was going to be on the same night that we were planning to go to New Orleans to see the parades. I was really, really torn whether to go or stay back at the hotel and watch the game. Our hosts found out about my dilemma and went out and borrowed a mini-TV and I watched the game and the parade at the same time. That’s pretty much the way they are, the folks we come to meet. Above and beyond the call for people they’d only met online up till then.

We met in Everquest, the very first MMORPG I ever played. We’re still playing together all these years later, in SWTOR now and in the same guild at long last.

It's like coming home... )
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I got some great tips from my Uncle D about how to lower the angst next time I have to work on the rig; thanks Uncle D! Sorry for the lag between posts; we’ve both had colds and mine seems to be settling in for the long haul.

We had a few weeks to kill in New England this fall, as J had week-long training classes in the Boston suburbs in September and October. J and I have made rather a hobby of touring the Biltmore family estates (in Ashville and the Hudson Valley) and we’ve never camped in Rhode Island, so we wanted to kill two birds with one stone and visit Newport, RI, to see the Breakers and other Gilded Age ‘cottages’ and to add RI to the visited states map. And once we got a good look at the Newport Preservation Society page, we knew what we were doing for our anniversary trip, too!
The Newport Mansions, complete with Festival.. )
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I am very much done with hot, as are all of you, no doubt. It’s been hot and sunny, hot and rainy, and just plain hot since we arrived in Florida (really since we arrived in June, and not just in Florida.) I’m staying denned up in the rig other than for brief forays to do the laundry. I finally got the wii fit going again this week and am starting back into what I hope will be regular exercise. J and I are also taking short bike rides around the campground in an attempt to raise the general movement level, but those have been curtailed by the.. say it with me.. HEAT!

Castillo with cannon.. )
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From Nashville we drove pretty much due west to wind up near J’s sister’s place, at a little campground in Kensett, a little town in central Arkansas. The campground was a bit run down but the owner was very friendly, and recommended a place he said served “the best catfish in Arkansas!” There was just enough time to get there for dinner, so we piled into the van and drove east to an even tinier town (pop 132.) Georgetown is literally the end of the road; the tarmac just suddenly ends in the woods. The restaurant looks like someone’s house, and we were worried we’d walk into a living room and surprise the owners watching TV when we pushed open the door. Instead we walked into a homey, cheery dining room with white laminate tables and walls covered floor to ceiling with snapshots: winning high school teams, fishermen holding monster catfish, various record bucks or sometimes just the one they got that year, homecoming dances and so forth.

A quiet week... )
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Pho..  (pronounced, I believe, Fuh, though I’ve always said Foh.)  We love pho.

 

It’s Vietnamese noodle soup.  Clear beef broth with pieces of thinly sliced cooked beef, cilantro and sliced onions floating in it, hiding a small mound of rice noodles that you stir up with your chopsticks.  It comes with a side plate of bean sprouts, fresh thai basil, jalepeno slices so you can add what you like.  I quickly grab a lion’s share of the basil and leave the bean sprouts and peppers for J.

 

It’s the ultimate customizable soup (even moreso than gazpacho.)  The beef combinations can run to 15 to 20 variations.  J always gets beef tendon and tripe, sometimes more than one kind (yuck, yuck, and yuck again.)  I always get nice lean beef, and maybe meatballs if I know they’re good.  Besides the side plate, in good pho places there will be fish sauce, plum sauce and hot sauce to further dress up your noodle soup, all set on the table in a holder which also contains stacks of chopsticks, spoons, and napkins.

 

It took me a while (and some stained shirts) to figure out how to eat pho.  After watching two oriental women at lunch one day, now I scoop up noodles in the chopsticks and pile them into the bowl of the spoon to slurp them down.  That gets rid of the dangling noodle ends that splash your shirt if you slurp the noodles right from the chopsticks.

 

Why has pho come to mind today?  Because, since we can’t get it in our neck of the woods, it’s a special treat.  Hence, it’s what we had for Valentine’s Day lunch.  And, for the friends of ours who are in the DC area, I wish to recommend to you the Pho 89 in Laurel on route 198.  It’s in a strip mall west of the Home Depot.  It’s the best broth I’ve ever had in a pho shop; we mentioned that to the lady that runs the place and she said (I think) that they don’t use MSG in it, just lots of good bones and brisket.  They’ve got other stuff on the menu, I suppose. :-)

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My grandmother was a wonderful baker. She made fruitcake by the hundred-weight for Christmas, cookies by the thousands, tiny yummy cakes with butter icing, but the holiday recipe I liked best was honey fruit bread, toasted with butter, if you please.

When I first tried to make this bread myself, after she had passed away, all I had was a list of ingredients. Knowing little about baking at the time, I turned to usenet for help. (Remember usenet? Yeah, it was a while back.) The usenet baking group was able to come up with a set of instructions based on generic bread baking, which I’ve used ever since (with some refinements as my experience grew.)

A couple of years ago, my hard drive crashed and took with it all the recipes I’d saved, including the honey fruit bread. I really missed it this year (last year was far too rushed for holiday baking) so I asked my extended family if any of them had the recipe. Thankfully my uncle was able to send me a copy. Interestingly this one had the original instructions, and it’s very different from what I remembered doing (I remembered the method fine, it was the amounts I was stumped on.)

Some of the changes are stylistic. I use golden raisins rather than dark because they are so pretty in the finished loaf. I substitute pecans for walnuts because my mother in law is allergic to walnuts (and actually I think they’re a little better in the bread.) This bread is also great with mixed dried fruit instead of candied fruit if you’re making it out of season. The candied fruit gives it that particular taste that just says Christmas to me, and takes me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen, and my grandfather buttering the toast.


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This makes a very dark very spicy cake. It's better the day after baking when the spices have had a chance to mellow.

Gingerbread cake

Recipe from Baking with Julia, comments in parentheses

2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup instant expresso powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature (I use extra-large)
2 ½ tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cups unsulfered molasses
melted butter for greasing the pan
sweetened whipped cream for serving

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Brush the insides of either a 10 cup bundt pan, or a 10-inch round cake pan, or eight 4 by 1 inch mini cake pans with a light coating of melted butter, dust with flour, and tap out the excess. (Original recipe is for 8 “baby cakes” with the variant of one 10-inch round cake. I’ve always used a bundt pan for this recipe with good results.)

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, expresso powder (I’ve used instant coffee with good results), cocoa, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, and black pepper together just to mix; reserve.

Put the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use a hand-held mixer, and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. The butter and sugar must be beaten until they are very light and fluffy, so don’t rush it – the process can take 6 to 8 minutes with a hand-held mixer, 3 to 4 minutes with a heavy-duty mixer. (The butter and sugar mixture will lighten considerable when it is beaten enough; look for a color change from medium brown to light brown.) Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating on high speed for 30 seconds to a minute after each addition. The mixture may look curdled, but that’s ok – it will smooth out as you continue to mix the batter. Beat in the fresh ginger and add the molasses, mixing on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until completely smooth.

With a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.

Fill the prepared pan (or pans) with the batter, and bake for 50 to 80 minutes, until the top is springy and a toothpick or tester inserted in center comes out clean. (Baking time is highly variable, depending on the pan size and shape. For the bundt cake, I make a trough in the center of the ring of batter in the pan, using a rubber spatula; it seems to help the bottom of the cake come out flat after baking. For round cakes, just level the batter in the pan. The cake will rise very little.) Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen and unmold the cake. Mini cakes will take 20 to 25 minutes to bake. If making a round cake or cakes, turn them over after unmolding so that they cool right side up.

Contributing baker Johanne Killeen

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