• All whole wheat

    I attempted to make bread using just my freshly ground whole wheat. Actually, it wasn’t one hundred percent whole wheat because I did have to use some of my white starter. But I only used six ounces of the starter, to which I added three ounces of whole wheat and three ounces of water the night prior to making the bread.

    The resulting bread tasted like, well, like wheat. It was earthy and dark and kind of strong tasting, almost like molasses. It was heavy, too, though it did rise, it didn’t get very high. Mr. Handsome and I don’t care for it, and while the kids will eat it when I serve it to them, they don’t usually ask for seconds.

    I will not be making this bread again, but now I’m left to wonder about those people who say they make their bread with only freshly ground wheat. Does it actually taste good? Am I doing something wrong?

  • Results, sort of

    So I called the doctor’s office to find out the results from Sweetsie’s lab work and the nurse told me that the test for wheat came back negative but the one for milk came back positive, “So she should avoid all milk,” she said, “and that means everything, including butter, buttermilk, casein, cheese, cream cottage cheese, curds, ghee, hydrolysates, lactoalbum, lactoglobulin, lactose, all forms of milk—malted, powdered, evaporated, condensed, goat’s—rennet casein, sour cream, whey, and yogurt.”

    When I got off the phone, I freaked, phoned some friends and my mom, freaked some more, and then tried to forget about the fact that the whole bottom shelf of my refrigerator was filled with white foods (milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt) while I helped the kids with their chores and studies. But after sending them out to play, I took up the freaking out where I had left off. I decided that I had too many questions about the whole diagnosis, so I called the doctor and made an appointment to chat with him for later that afternoon.

    The doctor, who I finally got to see after waiting for an hour (I’m really not at all resentful), said that he doesn’t really think she has a milk allergy. Excuse me? Do they blithely inform all their patients of false information? He said that the positive result was a weak positive, and therefore possibly a false positive. Once he realized that I wasn’t going to be satisfied with simple answers and that I knew a bit of information myself (“Whatever you’ve been reading is right on the money…”), we had a good conversation, brainstorming the problem from all angles.

    The verdict is this: omit milk from her diet for two-plus weeks and then return to the office to reintroduce milk using lactaid milk to rule out the possibility of a lactose intolerance. If we don’t notice any difference in her energy levels/crankiness and/or she has no trouble drinking the milk, then he recommends that she see a GI specialist to run some tests for celiac disease (intolerance for gluten, not to be confused with a wheat allergy).

    On the way home I stopped by the grocery store and purchased milks—soy, rice, and coconut—as well as some old bananas to add to her smoothies and some nuts and a bag of pretzels for her own special snacks when she can’t have what everyone else is having. (Re the spending freeze, for those of you ready to pounce: this is medical.) However, we’re not cutting out the milk until after we celebrate her birthday today (one day early due to some other weekend plans) because she’s requested Lucky Charms for breakfast and ice cream cones for dessert.

    I’m only partially freaking out at this point. Maybe it’s not a milk allergy (though I’d definitely prefer a milk allergy to celiac disease), but on the other hand, if she shows marked improvement without the milk, then that would be good news, too. I hate to think that we’ve been pumping her with milk for the last five years and subsequently making her miserable.

  • An afternoon in my kitchen

    I had a horrible time in the kitchen yesterday afternoon. Everything went wrong. It all started with The Baby Nickel. He was tired and needed a nap (or maybe, I needed him to take a nap), but even after forty-five minutes of flopping about beside me on the bed (while I finished reading See You In A Hundred Years—a book that partly inspired and mostly irritated me), he didn’t go to sleep. I had hoped to write and was plenty annoyed about his wide-open blue eyes. They were pretty, but at that time of day I think he’s cuter with his eyes shut.

    I came downstairs, made coffee, and decided to make Deb’s Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, except I didn’t have any hazelnuts so I substituted pecans. The recipe said to toast the pecans, but I burned them. The second time around I scorched them.

    The Baby Nickel and Sweetsie were hovering close by, trying to get as near me as possible, climbing stools, chattering away, picking up utensils and lifting lids, and generally disturbing my (what was becoming sparse) mental peace, but it wasn’t until I was dumping the second ruined batch of pecans into the compost, that I blew a gasket. I started yelling, I AM SO MAD. I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID THAT! GET AWAY FROM ME! And once I started I couldn’t stop, though I did have the presence of mind to clarify myself to my wary offspring: I AM NOT MAD AT YOU! I AM MAD AT MYSELF! EVERYONE GET AWAY FROM ME! OUT OF THE KITCHEN! GO! GET OUT OF HERE! Nickel backed up a little, hovering around the kitchen’s periphery, giggling nervously, and Sweetsie made a beeline to her bedroom where she listened to her tapes, sucked her thumb and twiddled her spit rag. (Later when I went up to apologize for my outburst, she turned her back and wouldn’t talk. I wonder how many therapy sessions she’ll need as a result of that little outburst of mine.)

    The third time I tried to toast the pecans, they did not burn. But that was mostly because they didn’t even get toasted, just barely heated through, but by that point I didn’t care—they weren’t burned, and that was what mattered.

    The cake, which should have been a fragrant, delicate affair, flopped. The half-pound of vanilla bean-infused butter, the cup (plus two more) of pecans, the six egg whites, were all for naught because I under-baked the cake. It tasted of pecan dough, densely saturated with butter. Edible, yes, but not what it should of been. (I wondered if I could crumble up the cake and toast it to make sweetened crumbs that could then be sprinkled over a fruit crisp, but decided I’d better not—I’d probably scorch them.) In the comment I left on Deb’s blog, I said that I was getting over my pissed-off mood and transitioning into my I’m-gonna-get-this-cake-right-if-it’s-the-last-thing-I-do mood.

    I have approximately one cup of pecans left. Think I can do it?

    Now, that same afternoon, back in the beginning before the screaming episode and when I was still humming to myself and stumbling gently over the little people that were stuck in my armpits, I started a batch of butterscotch ice cream. I like to multi-task. I also apparently like to multi-fail, because I scorched the butterscotch.

    My humming stopped. I dumped the syrup into the compost (lucky chickens), washed out the kettle and, with lips pressed tight together, remade the butterscotch. The second time it turned out fine, but by then I was starting to toss out pecans like they were a penny a pound so I didn’t fully appreciate my little victory.

    Sweetsie was still around when it came time to temper the egg yolks for the custard, and she cheerfully held the bowl steady as I whisked in the warmed cream, but she was long gone by the time I was straining the ice cream mixture into a small bowl set down in a bigger bowl filled with ice cubes. My hands were trembling as I poured the cold water over the ice to chill the cream, and when I finally lifted the chilled bowl of cream, hands still shaky and nerves shot, a vision of shattered glass and a butterscotch-splattered floor flitted before my eyes. (Try saying that last line five times fast.)

    This vision of broken glass, lost food, and wasted time did not come out of nowhere. Last spring when my aunt and my mother were coming to visit, I dropped a half-gallon jar of chilled caramel custard (twelve egg yolks) on our tile floor. I took one look at the mess and backed away silently, they quietly turned and stumbled out of the kitchen, face pale and eyes vacant. Mr. Handsome cleaned up the mess.

    But I didn’t drop the bowl this time, and after supper Mr. Handsome cranked the ice cream (while I communed with my computer, upstairs in my quiet bedroom) for our after-kids-are-in-bed snack. Then, while he stayed up to pay bills and listen to Obama’s address, I climbed the stairs and crawled under the covers, both defeated and victorious, and most definitely tired.

    This afternoon things are looking up. I had a little scoop of the butterscotch ice cream, my extremities have ceased twitching, the kids are outside playing in the sunshine, and I think I may be ready to try that cake again soon.

    Butterscotch Ice Cream
    Adapted from Deb’s recipe at The Smitten Kitchen

    I browsed a variety of websites before I made this ice cream, reading up on different recipes and techniques, and I learned that if you add a bit of alcohol to your ice cream (the alcohol in real vanilla will probably be enough to do the trick), it will stay soft for weeks instead of just a day or two. This recipe calls for two teaspoons of bourbon, and while I was concerned that the flavor would dominate, I do not taste the alcohol at all (and neither my children nor my husband complained). I also learned that you can prevent freezer burn by pressing a piece of plastic wrap over the top of your ice cream before you put a lid on the container.

    The texture of this ice cream is ideal: firm, while at the same time softly scoop-able.

    Oh, and one more thing: the difference between butterscotch and caramel is that caramel is made from white sugar while butterscotch is made from brown. (Does that mean that Grandma Baer’s popcorn recipe should actually be called “Butterscotch Popcorn”?)

    1 cup brown sugar
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 tablespoon vanilla
    2 teaspoons bourbon
    3 ½ cups cream, divided
    6 egg yolks

    Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and then add the brown sugar, stirring until the sugar has melted and the mixture is bubbly. Deb said this would take about four minutes, but I found it took longer. Whatever you do, be careful! If it smells burned, throw it out and start over; hopefully you won’t have to do it more than twice.

    Remove the sugar-butter mixture from the heat and stir in one-half cup of cream. The syrup will bubble up and steam violently and you’ll singe your knuckles and yell, but it will all be okay. Keep stirring until the cream has been incorporated. (I still had a few lumps in my butterscotch, so I simply poured the syrup through a strainer to get rid of them.) Stir in the vanilla and bourbon and set aside.

    In another saucepan, heat the remaining three cups of cream. Put the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl and break them up with a fork. Slowly add about a half-cup of the warmed cream to the yolks, stirring constantly. Then, gradually add the tempered yolks to the warm cream, stirring constantly. Heat the custard, still stirring, till it has thickened slightly and coats the back of the spoon. Do not boil.

    Strain the custard into a bowl and place the bowl in an ice-water bath. Stir in the butterscotch. Occasionally stir the mixture as it cools, adding more ice as needed. Refrigerate the butterscotch cream until thoroughly chilled.

    Freeze in an ice cream maker.

  • Reverse Cleaning

    This morning the Baby Nickel dusted my hallway and bedroom with Gold Bond Powder, à la Amelia Bedelia.

    I reacted accordingly, à la Mrs. Rogers.

    He didn’t even have a lemon meringue pie in the oven! I don’t know what he was thinking.

    I still love him anyway. I think.

    (Okay, okay, I’m sure.)

  • A vintage treat

    Not only did Grandma Baer, my mother’s mother, tell engrossing stories (here she regales Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo with some old-timey tale—probably the one about Johnny, the little boy who refused to eat his milk and bread),

    she also made fabulous caramel popcorn. Each October she would make several batches of the popcorn, divide it up into small zip-lock bags, and hand it out to the trick-or-treaters that ventured down her driveway that wound through the woods and separated her ranch house from the road.

    Even though my plain Mennonite grandmother handed out sweets to her disguised neighbor children, my own mother didn’t let me or my brothers celebrate Halloween. We weren’t allowed to go trick-or-treating, and more often then not we didn’t even hand out treats. One year we did hand out apples, and when one little neighbor girl reported back to me that her mother made her throw out the apple we gave them because it might have contained a razor, my mother was miffed. What good was a holiday that made people distrustful of others? (That was the same neighbor girl who ate a raw egg for twenty-five cents, on a dare that my mother gave her, an incident not at all connected with the imagined razor event—my mother is not a vengeful woman.) Instead, come the hallowed eve, we hunkered down in our dimly lit house, porch lights off, doing our best to give the impression that we weren’t home. Or we’d go visit friends.

    However, despite my mother’s abhorrence of the holiday, one year she did permit us to go trick-or-treating, but just to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I have a vague memory of my brothers and I standing on the concrete stoop outside Grandma’s front door, our only costume the brown paper bags (with cutout holes for our eyes and mouths) jammed down over our heads. When Grandpa opened the door, Grandma declared heartily, “Well, well! What have we here!” We scampered past them into the foyer where we traded our brown bag heads for the role of popcorn dispenser, shyly handing the bags of popcorn to the witches and princesses that rang their doorbell.

    Grandma continued her popcorn giving tradition even after Grandpa died and she had moved into a condominium. She collected pretty tins from the thrift store where she volunteered, and at Christmastime she filled the tins with her popcorn and handed them out to all the family—the singles and college students received the smaller tins and the families received the larger tins.

    Sometimes my mother, aunts, and I got a bit possessive over the tins, trying to lay claim to the prettiest ones. The last year Grandma handed out the popcorn, I received this tin (or did I filch it from someone else?), and though my aunt tried, she couldn’t convince me to relinquish it. Now it sits atop the hutch, holding my sparse collection of sewing tools.

    The first Christmas after our wedding, Mr. Handsome and I followed Grandma’s example and made numerous batches of caramel popcorn for hostess gifts. We bought several of the huge Christmas tins from Wal-mart, the kind that comes filled with three different kinds of chemical-laced popcorn—cheese, caramel, and plain—dumped their contents in the trash, washed the tins, and then refilled them with our own caramel popcorn. Even though it was a labor intensive gift, it provided many sweet snitching opportunities along with the mountains of sticky kettles and pans, so we didn’t fuss too much.


    It is a cold and blustery Sunday afternoon and the children, cheeks aflame and noses streaming, are coming back inside after helping Mr. Handsome clean up the back field. While they were outside, I had munched through multiple bowls of the popcorn and finally, in an effort to maintain some semblance of self-control, had divvied out the last of the popcorn into bowls, reserving it for the children. Now, when the kids spy the bowls, they squeal with delight, snatch them up, and head straight for the fireplace, shucking coats and boots as they go.

    “Can we have more after we finish this?” they ask.

    “Sorry,” I say. “It’s all gone.”

    “What happened to it?” they persist.

    “Um, I ate it.” I smile pleasantly in an attempt to convince them that I had every right to eat more than my share (cooks privileges, you know). They heave grumbly sighs in my general direction, but their mouths are too pleasantly full to do any serious complaining.

    As they finish, they bring their bowls back to the kitchen to deposit on the counter. I’m hunched at the computer typing all this up when Yo-Yo’s friend bluntly says, “Too bad you ate it all.”

    I pretend to ignore him, but I think to myself, Yep, too bad, Sonny Boy. I want more, too.

    Apparently, it doesn’t matter how little or how much of this popcorn you were able to consume—it always appears to be a nasty trick when this sweet treat is all gone.

    Grandma Baer’s Caramel Popcorn

    Recipe update, November 16, 2011: for extra delicious popcorn, decrease the amount of popcorn from 6 quarts to 5, and increase the butter by 2 tablespoons. Wow.

    3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) butter
    2 cups brown sugar
    ½ cup light corn syrup
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    6 quarts popped popcorn, unsalted and unbuttered
    2 cups peanuts (optional)

    Place the popcorn in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the nuts (if using) on top. Do not stir. (The nuts have a better chance of getting coated with the caramel if you start out with them on top.)

    Put the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and baking soda in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and then lower the heat until the mixture stays at a steady boil (more than a simmer, less than a rolling boil). Continue to stir constantly.

    After five minutes of a steady gentle boil, remove the caramel from the heat, add the salt and vanilla, and stir well. Working quickly, drizzle the caramel over the popcorn,

    tossing to coat as much popcorn as possible.

    Divide the popcorn between two large, greased cookie sheets or glass 9 x 13 pans (one of my cookie sheets was too thin, so I tragically scorched half of the popcorn—next time I’ll be using the glass pans), and then hand over the sticky-bottomed mixing bowl and spoon to any children you may have hovering nearby.

    Bake the pans of caramel popcorn at 250 degrees for one hour, stirring every fifteen minutes. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

  • I don’t feel much like writing…

    … because I have a cold that makes me feel droopy. I even skipped church council last night because of my high snot levels, and it’s really not at all like me to skip evening outings. Instead, eight-thirty found me snuggled under my down comforter, cup of camomile tea in hand, a video in the boob tube. I slept in till seven-thirty this morning.

    I’m making vanilla bean ice cream—David Lebovitz’s recipe. The rich custard smells good, even through this thick cold.

    Sweetsie drags herself around the house, fussing and sucking her thumb. She’s been doing this for as long as we’ve known her, and we’re finally beginning to wonder if she has more extensive allergies. Mr. Handsome took her to the specialist yesterday and had the jolly privilege of restraining her during her skin pricks and lab work. We’ll find out the results sometime next week.

    Last week The Baby Nickel threw a rock and it accidentally hit Yo-Yo’s hand. (Apparently, Yo-Yo was digging around in the rock pile that Nickel was trying to add to, or something like that.) Anyway, Yo-Yo screamed bloody murder and didn’t let me look at his finger, choosing instead to bandage it up himself. After a week of being tightly bandaged, Yo-Yo started to complain that his hand was hurting worse. And it stunk. This morning, after I imparted a series of stern commands, Yo-Yo painstakingly removed the band-aids, piece by smelly piece. I made him soak it, and after he dried it, Yo-Yo looked at the finger and then freaked, “I need another band-aid! It’s leaking oil!” I scrutinized his finger, trying not to breath too deeply, and then stated bluntly, “That’s puss. Your finger is rotting.” Since then he has been rather docile about following my directions.

    After his Saturday night bath, The Baby Nickel slipped on the tile floor and took a bite out of the toilet. Literally. There is a tooth-mark indentation on the toilet seat, and he knocked his top tooth loose. Sometimes after biting into a hard crust of bread or some granola, a look of shocked surprise and intense pain washes over his face. I’m hopeful the tooth will re-adhere, but I guess it’s not the end of the world if it turns brown and falls out. At least that’s what the experts say.

    I didn’t get a picture of it, but last night Miss Becca Boo had me put her hair up into eight ponytails. Normally, she’s quite the ditz, floppy and spastic and random, and her new hair-do just served to intensify those personality traits. (An example of her zany sense of humor: the other night she ringed her mouth with applesauce, puckered up, and then said, with a snooty voice and her nose in the air, to Mr. Handsome, “Kiss me, Husband!”)

  • Taking all things into consideration

    In my home, the Saturday before our monthly church potluck is fraught with wishy-washiness, last minute decisions, miniature anxiety attacks, and too much time spent in the kitchen. You would think that someone such as myself who loves to cook would be tickled pink to take food to a potluck, but if you thought that about me then you would be very wrong. The truth is that potlucks leave me in a mild state of panic.

    There are so many things to take into consideration when preparing food to carry out because the normal cooking worries (not burning the food and making sure it actually tastes good) are amped up and combined with other potluck-specific worries, such as transportation, presentation, storage, and last minute assemblage. Furthermore, I want my potluck offering to use up some of my vast stores of food—no fancy ingredients that call for a special trip to the grocery store, please!—and not necessitate that I spend my whole Saturday sweating over the stove. And one more thing: It would be an added bonus if the dish would cause people to swoon in ecstasy and wonder aloud to their neighbor who in the world made such a fabulous dish, and then come scurrying over to my chair, pen in hand, to request the recipe. Yes, that would be nice.

    The final bottom line (after all those other bottom lines) is that I want my food to be enjoyed and eaten. As Mr. Handsome says, when taking food to a potluck, the goal is to come back with an empty dish.

    (If you read between the lines, you’ll realize that this is becoming an essay on my shortcomings as a cook: not only do I occasionally burn, or under-cook, my unseasoned and unattractively-slapped-together dishes, but I’m also stingy, selfish, and lazy. I am not a kitchen goddess. Sorry to burst your bubble.)

    In any case, on the Saturday before our last Sunday potluck, I made a list of ideas as a way to combat my brain-freeze. Soups were out of the question, and I didn’t waste ink on all the little sides dishes, like carrot sticks and deviled eggs and loaves of bread, because everybody takes that type of food, me included, and I knew I could always fall back on those options in a pinch. No, I was searching for Solid Potluck Fare, and in the end it boiled down to two things: side dishes and casseroles.

    So many times my casseroles are just second-rate dishes; in other words, leftover rice and chunks of meat tossed into a crock-pot and pronounced dinner. While I don’t mind eating that type of food, I can’t bring myself to combine food that tastes best served separately, or combined only a few moments before eating, and contribute it to a potluck. If I make a casserole, it needs to be a first-class combination that I wouldn’t want to eat any other way.

    (I could, of course, make two dishes and then place them beside each other in the serving line, but there are two problems with that little arrangement. First, when people take the time to butter bread or scoop the barbequed meat into the dinner rolls, the line backs up. Second, and more importantly, when food is served separately you run the risk of people not putting the foods together properly, and when they find out that it was you that made that dry cake, they wrinkle their noses at your cooking abilities when really it was their own fault for not knowing that the Three Berry Sauce and the bowl of freshly whipped cream were meant to be served with that cake. I hate it when that happens.)

    Some of the ideas that I included on my potluck list included spinach-cheese crepes (I hope to write about these later), baked hash brown potatoes, pesto dip and crackers, layered bean dip and chips, potato salad, baked corn, baked beans, baked Brie with bread, macaroni and cheese, and tortilla pie.

    It was the tortilla pie that I ended up taking this last time around, and I was pleased with how simple it was to make and transport. I mixed up the filling on Saturday, and then on Sunday morning before church I made the crust and assembled and baked the pie. The servers only had to heat it up for about twenty minutes in the oven before slicing it and setting it on the table.

    The only downside was that the recipe says to serve the pie with sour cream and salsa. I toyed with the idea of spreading the condiments on top of the pie, first the sour cream and then the brilliant red salsa, but I was afraid the crust would turn soggy, so I scooped my homemade sour cream and salsa into their respective pint jars, labeled them, and hoped for the best.

    While nobody fell at my feet pleading for the recipe, I heard rumors that some favorable sentiments were expressed. And the pie plate came back empty.

    Tortilla Pie
    Adapted from recipes given to me by my girlfriends Erika and Shannon.

    For a vegetarian version, simply omit the ground beef and increase the amount of beans.

    This recipe makes a large amount of filling, way more than you need for one pie. Any leftover filling may been frozen in quart-sized containers—one quart of filling makes a nine-inch pie. To use the frozen filling, simply thaw it at room temperature and proceed with the directions for assembling the pie.

    The measurements are estimates. If you want a meatier pie, decrease the amount of beans. Likewise, if you want a spicier pie, amp up the chili powder or toss in some jalapeño peppers.

    For the filling:
    1 pound ground beef
    1 onion, diced
    1 green pepper, diced
    2-4 teaspoons chili powder
    1-3 teaspoons cumin
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    3-4 cups cooked beans (black, red, pinto, etc.)
    1-2 cups salsa
    1 cup frozen corn

    Brown the ground beef with the onion and pepper. Add the next six ingredients (down through the corn) and stir well. Remove the pan from the heat.

    To assemble a 9-inch pie:
    about three cups of grated cheese (Monterey Jack, Colby, cheddar)
    3 large flour tortillas or 6-8 small corn tortillas
    1 quart of the meat and bean filling
    1 double, unbaked, 9-inch pie crust

    Line the pie plate with the bottom crust. Spread a third of the meat filling over the bottom, sprinkle on some of the cheese, and lay a tortilla on the cheese. Repeat the layering process two more times. Place lots of cheese on top of the last tortilla, then lay the top crust over the pie (it will make a rather high mound, but it will cook down as it bakes) and cut slits into it so that the steam can escape. Crimp the edges and bake the pie at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes.

    Serve hot. Garnish, if desired, with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, black olives, and cilantro.

  • Cleaning up bad attitudes

    It was time for our morning reading and Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo wouldn’t stop picking at each other. After repeatedly telling them to be quiet and then slamming my fist on the table and using my “megaphone voice” (my sister-in-law’s term), I finally recalled what my girlfriend Linell told me that her mother did when Linell and her sister wouldn’t stop bickering: window washing.

    I stomped off to the bathroom and came back with two wet rags and a sheet of newspaper for each child. “Yo-Yo, you’re to do the outside and Becca Boo, you do the inside. You are going to wash windows until you can get along and I don’t care how long it takes you. I have a lot of dirty windows.”

    They were laughing before they even started, and they finished in about four minutes.

    The rest of our reading time progressed smoothly.

  • Slow thinking

    Just last week I noticed that my food dehydrator has a setting for “Living Foods”. Huh, I thunk to me-self. What could that be? Crickets? It wasn’t until a few more minutes of absent-minded puzzling that it hit me: Yogurt! By gum, that setting is for yogurt!

    I never said I was the smartest babe in the woods.

    I first experimented with one quart jar of prepared warm milk. It set up into a lovely yogurt in only three hours. The second time I made yogurt, I doubled the amount (two quart jars, not a half-gallon jar), and once again it worked like a charm.

    Do you realize what this means, people? It means that I can make at least four, maybe six, quarts of yogurt in only about four hours! All this time I have been putzing along, turning out a single quart of yogurt at a time, sometimes making as many as four different batches in a week.

    My life has been simplified and it only took me a year to figure that out.

    Crickets, huh.


    Update, For Lily Girl:

    The dehydrator actually has a setting for “living foods” (105 degrees) and for “yogurt” (115 degrees). I totally missed seeing the setting for yogurt and it wasn’t until I saw the setting for living foods that I realized I could make yogurt in the dehydrator. Like I said, I’m rather slow.

    The dehydrator functions in two ways: it uses electricity to raise the compartment’s temperature, and it has a fan that blows around the hot air, helping to dry out the food. Even though the fan is blowing while I’m incubating the yogurt, it is not drying out the yogurt because the jars are tightly lidded. It is the hot air part of the dehydrator that is at work, slowly “cooking” the yogurt. Does that make better sense?

    And by the way, I think I could easily fit eight quart jars in the dehydrator, and maybe even use half-gallon jars, too. It’s a fabulous machine.

  • Togetherness Glorified

    I was going to do a post about something profound, like the benefits of composting or how to get your kids to love each other, but then I took a bite of Mocha Pudding Cake and gained a new appreciation for the word “profound”. Glory be!

    I didn’t think I was one to favor pudding cakes. I enjoy cakes and I enjoy puddings, but I couldn’t see the point of putting them together in the same dish. It reminded me of those adulterated jars of swirled peanut butter and grape jelly that you find in the grocery store. Peanut butter is good and jelly is good, but in my opinion they are meant to be stored separately and smeared together just minutes before eating.

    Such was my thinking about cake and pudding. Until now.

    In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that my sentiments about cakes and pudding were totally unfounded as I don’t think I had ever even tasted a pudding cake before today, thus proving that I am not above passing judgment on things of which I know nothing. While confessing to my cake-n-pudding close-mindedness might, under normal conditions, be just slightly embarrassing, it’s not at all difficult at this moment, probably due to the splendid creamy rich warm feeling that is zipping through my veins.

    Oh my word! I just put it together! You know how in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory when they are all floating down the chocolate river in the pink candy boat and Wonka reaches over the side and scoops up some of the liquid chocolate and gives it to Charlie and his grandpa to drink?

    Charlie put the mug to his lips, and as the rich warm creamy chocolate ran down his throat into his empty tummy, his whole body from head to toe began to tingle with pleasure, and a feeling of intense happiness spread over him.

    I find it practically providential that, even before making the connection between Wonka’s liquid chocolate river and this cake, I used the very same adjectives. I’m telling you, this cake verges on the magical. For real.

    Goodness, I do have a buzz. It’s a bit unnerving how this cake has loosened my tongue (and fingertips). I better quit writing before I start blithering about things more consequential than food.

    Mocha Pudding Cake
    From Nicole’s blog, Brewed Daily

    I used decaffeinated coffee (and made it extra strong) so I could freely eat this cake anytime, night or day.

    Choose your cake-eating companions wisely because you never know what secrets might come pouring out of your mouth once the chocolate hits your blood stream.

    Update, February 10, 2015: I made this today and think it’s awful. Flat-tasting and blah. Perhaps because there is hardly any fat in it? I like the concept of a pudding cake, but this is one doesn’t cut it. At least not anymore.

    3/4 cup flour
    2/3 cup sugar
    ½ cup powdered cocoa, divided
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
    ½ cup milk
    3 tablespoons oil
    2/3 cup brown sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 1/4 cup hot coffee

    In an ungreased square 8-inch pan, stir together the flour, white sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Add the milk and oil, stir till combined, and smooth out the batter.

    In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar and remaining 1/4 cup cocoa. Sprinkle it over the cake. Add the vanilla to the hot coffee and pour over the top the batter. Do not stir.

    Bake at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

    If you are in danger of scarfing down more than is appropriate, store the cake in the jelly cupboard where it will (mostly) be out of sight.