Friday, June 13, 2008

Pick your own

There are two types of people in this world. Those who understand the purpose and enjoy the activity of "u-pick" produce, and those that do not. The not-so-much people figure what is the point of going through all that trouble, when for only a few cents more (and much less bugginess, heat, mud, and trouble) they can get pre-picked baskets that are just as fresh. "What do I know about picking a good apple? Leave it to the experts". I am one of the people that actually likes to pick my own fruit. You get to eat as you pick, you get to choose what you like (for example, I prefer small apples for eating and bigger apples for pies and baking. If I am picking apples to eat out of hand I can make sure they are all smaller. That sort of thing). Plus it makes a nice activity. Like a little adventure. Driving out into the country, watching for signs, picking and eating, weighing in, then making your way back home again. Often it includes stopping for ice cream or french fries or looking in antique stores. Of course, in the case of items like sweet cherries and strawberries you do run the risk of "taste testing" so many that by the time you are done, you can barely look at the ones sitting in the basket. That usually proves to be temporary though, because by the time you get home family members start picking at the ones you paid for again. Which is fine if you bought them for eating but can run you into trouble if you want to, say, make jam. To spend an entire day and a tank of gas so that you can make a batch of jam then end up without enough fruit for a few jars can be a bit disheartening. On the bright side, you can always go picking again! Dh and DD? They are of the not-so-much variety. Which would be fine if they would just let me go and have my little adventure by myself. But DD doesn't want to be without me for a few hours and neither does DH so they insist upon being dragged along. And they are mostly miserable for the entire adventure. Neither one really likes fruit to begin with. To stand outside on a hot day with your feet mired in mud (how does that always happen?) and mosquitoes and other beasties flying around - it is just not their thing. If we walked out, stopped at the first row, picked our baskets and left I think it might be better. But I like to roam. I like to get to the areas that aren't as picked over. Or try the different varieties they may have planted. To these two, a strawberry is a strawberry and a cherry is a cherry and an apple is an apple. To me? I see june berries and everlastings, prince reinier and byng, fuji and mutsu and empire. I find it so interesting that different trees of the same variety can range so much in taste, texture, size, and so on. The princess anne cherries from THIS tree can be smaller and tarter than the ones on THAT tree across the row. THESE black cherries are firmer and sweeter than THOSE. I am nerdy enough that these things interest me. I bring this up because the signs for strawberry U-pick and Pick Your Own farms are starting to spring up everywhere. AND I WANNA GO. That's all. Tee hee! Now. About the fluffy white icing made with the flour paste. There was one comment posted and I got a couple of e-mails that this might not be the best choice. Which is quite worrying. I had already made the paste ahead and refrigerated it, but went ahead and made the icing so that I would have time to run out and get more supplies for something different if I had to before DH had to leave for work. I think I am okay, though. It isn't to frost a cake but rather to fill it. The final product tastes very much like a fluffy custard. In taste it very much reminds me of the filling for a boston cream cake. The texture is not quite the same. I don't know that I would frost a cake with it, but as a filling I think it would be fine. Not as light as the filling for a twinkie though, so this cake might be more remnicent of that boston cream cake after all. I added a couple of teaspoons of half and half to lighten the texture a bit, which worked, but made it look a bit curdled or grainy. The texture feels no different in the mouth though, so I am still fine with it. I wonder if maybe trying doubling the butter and sugar and keeping the flour paste amount the same would yeild something more like what I was looking for. I'll have to try that next time. The only thing I can say is maybe other people did not cook their flour and milk mixture long enough to cook out the starch? I was very careful about that. But thanks anyway for the heads up LOL!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We be jammin'

I finally managed to make the strawberries that were languishing in the fridge into jam. They hadn't gone bad, which is a good thing because they were local and cost an arm and a leg. I won't go back to that stand ever again for produce, however. The sign on the berries said "local" and the person said local three times. I had no reason to disbelieve this information. They smelled heavenly and the top layer looked the right size and colour (our local strawberries, especially at the beginning of the season - are usually June berries. They are relatively small, usually single, and a deep dark red when ripe). While I was cleaning them, I noticed that many of the strawberries under the top layer were lighter, larger, firmer, and not red all the way through. Even the seeds on the outside looked different, and many were "double" or wedge shaped rather than conical. I do believe them thar were californie strawberries, gal durnit! I don't think it was a case of a few being less ripe, either. Underhandedness is never appreciated when it comes to consumables. I jammed them anyway. I needed six cups of mashed berries and what I had came to just over four cups. So I tossed in some frozen blueberries and enough chopped apple to make up the difference. I used Certo Light pectin crystals for the first time. This jam is for my dad and I wanted a lower sugar recipe that was shelf stable and not freezer jam. I could have used Splenda but I have a thing about artifical sweeteners and a belief that they are not as helpful as we would like to think. It still tasted plenty sweet to me, overly sweet in fact. That should mean it is perfect as I tend to like my jams and jellies a bit more tart than other people. The pectin crystals worked pleasingly well. I have another box, I might try strawberry jelly next if I can get my hands on some REAL local strawberries without having to sell any organs or sexual favours to offset the cost ;). I also made chocolate chip cookies with the addition of toffee bits. Just a typical recipe subbing earth balance margarine for butter/shortening, organic cane sugar for the white sugar and sucanat for 1/3 of the brown sugar. I like the taste and performance of these things, so why not? They are okay. I am not a good judge LOL. DD has eaten six, and asked immediately what her "cookie limit per day" was - that my friends is a good sign that the cookie monsters of the house give them a passing grade LOL. Her limit was four, by the way. Methinks the cookie jar needs to go higher up. Tomorrow the baking fest continues as I make a cake ahead for Saturday, which is our Father's day celebration with my family. It was supposed to be a "Ho Ho" cake - to us Canadians a Jos Louis cake. Devils food cake with a fluffy white filling and a chocolate glaze on top. DH was bringing his mom to the grocery store so I made a small list. On that list was "One box devil's food chocolate cake mix - any brand". Somehow he saw "any brand" and thought that meant any KIND of cake mix. He came home with fudge marble. I was looking at it a little confused and he said "But you said any kind!". Um, no. I could see if he brought a different kind of chocolate cake, but fudge marble LOL? He must really want a fudge marble cake, so fudge marble it will be! I still think it will be good. Kind of like a hybrid hostess cupcake and twinkie all in one. I would make a scratch cake, but my family prefers cake mix cakes. I am not a cake eater, so I give them what they want. I am using a recipe for icing that calls for cooking a flour and milk mixture, creaming butter and sugar and vanilla, then adding the "paste". Never made this before, but hear good things about it. We'll see. It's got to be better than that shortening and icing sugar type, or the kind made with nutriwhip. And that was my day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Identity Crisis

This is a bird feeder.













This is not a bird.










Very interesting.
Somebody needs to have a little talk with Mr. BunBun about sitting in his food while eating. And they might mention that he is in fact NOT a bird. Tee hee! You should have seen the birds sitting on the fence, wondering what to do - LOL!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

So far so good

Ruby got her last "vaccination" today. Last year she reacted to one of them, but we weren't sure what. So we did them seperately this time. The one left to go was the liquid they put in the nose to prevent Bordatella, or kennel cough. She hasn't seemed to react yet. We did decide to give her some prophylactic benadryl, just to be safe. Right now she is conked out under the desk. That stuff really knocks her out. I kept an eye on her after her shots last week, to catch any signs of hives or swelling. And wouldn't you know it, I believe she got stung by a wasp! Right on her cheek. Not a bee, because that causes a swollen lump. But rather a flat, raised, pinkish area with a sort of depression in the middle where the stinger went. DH said she was snurffling in the grass and sort of whined/yelped, and ran around in circles but she seemed to be okay after and he didn't think much about it. I noticed the mark after she came in. Poor, poor baby Ruby. So she had a restless night, I am sure it was really sore. The next day she seemed fine. There is something Ruby does that everybody gets a big kick out of. She likes to sit in my lap. If I sit outside on a lawn chair or bench, she thinks she needs to be up there with me. I guess most people find it odd to see a dog outside sitting on a lap. If we are in a waiting room together, same thing. She wants on my lap. Sure, she sniffs around for a bit and takes a good look over the room. But once that is done, up please! If I am on the couch or chair, she is in my lap or lying next to me. If I am laying anywhere, she is curled up behind my knees, at my feet with her chin on my ankle, or on my head LOLOL. What can I say. She wuvs me! Either that or I am cushier than I should be. Ahem. She is not really afraid of storms or things like fire works. In fact, when we had them here she slept on my lap the entire time and only looked up once or twice. Now when she sees them in the sky (sometimes people let them off on the weekends) she wants to go outside and bark at them LOL. But last night a storm rolled in quickly from an unusual direction. Usually when they come from that side, and not from the north, it spells a bit more trouble. Lots of lightning, constant low grade thunder with occasional big booms. Ruby decided she did not like that at all. I was plunging the toilet (don't ask) and she was between the toilet and the wall, peeking around me. Once I finished that, DD was scared so we sat on the couch in the living room and watched the rain. Ruby often sits with us, but will lie next to me or on the arm of the chair. This time? She squeezed right between us and peered out the window from under the blanket ROFL! I don't know what it was, but she did not like what was going on. We had storms two nights in a row with lightning and thunder from the north and she barely noticed. Maybe I should have been more worried ;). This is typical summer weather here. Hot hazy days, then storms in the evening as the cool evening air and hot humid air mix together. Typically there is time to swim for about an hour or two after dinner before the storm hits, so it doesn't really ruin an evening or anything. And most of the time, the bad parts are over quick and either it just rains or the entire thing passes over after just a bit. I think the worst part is the gusts of wind as the storm approaches and the first few nervous minutes as it rolls in, the sky looks layered and it roils and boils. I can't help but watch for sideways rain and green or orange skies. It's inbred I think. They say we are in for a hotter-than-normal summer and a strong storm season. That's a lot of couch time with a nervous daughter and peeking pug! I wonder what "normal summer weather" is like in other areas.