November, 2009

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Cookies Cookies and more Cookies

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Here is this year’s list of Christmas cookies; pretty similar to last year with two new kinds thrown in. The madness starts today: 16 kinds, 36 batches (they all get made twice or more), approximately 3100-3400 cookies in total… on top of that pesky thing called work, I’ll be baking 8 to 10 hours per day for the next 11 days. No sleep ’til Brooklyn (or in my case, no sleep ’til Munich, and even then, sleeping won’t be high on the agenda)!

Ausstecherle (Sugar Cookies / “Cookie Cutter Cookies”)
Butterzimtschnecken (Cinnamon Swirls)
Cappuccinnosterne (Cappuccino Stars)
Heidesand (Cinnamon Sandies)
Julkuchen (Swedish Marzipan Slices)
Kokosmakrönchen (Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons)
Lebkuchen (Molasses Crinkles)
Mandelherzen (Almond Hearts)
Mandelschnitten (Chocolate-dipped Almond Slices)
Nougatkipferl (Chocolate-dipped Nougat Crescents)
Schartzweißgebäck (Black/White Checkerboards)
Schokoabdrücke (Chocolate Drops)
Schoko-Orangen-Espresso-Schnitten (Chocolate Orange Espresso Thins)
Spitzbuben (Raspberry Linzer Cookies)
Terassenplätzchen (Lemon Terraces)
Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

If anyone wants recipes, let me know. I’ve translated most of them already, except for the new two.

A Very Long Shopping List, Already Shopped

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Presently in my kitchen… taking up pretty much all available pantry, counter, table and refrigerator space:

1 pound blanched almond slices
1 bottle almond extract
5000 grams almond flour
German baking powder
American baking powder
Baking soda
15 pounds brown sugar
25 pounds butter (93% fat content)
20 packages chocolate glaze
1 jar cinnamon
1 jar cloves
1 pound unsweetened cocoa
2 pounds shredded coconut
1/2 pound dried cranberries
5 dozen large free-range eggs
35 pounds unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
1 jar powdered ginger
1 kg hagelzucker
1 pound hazelnuts
1 jar instant coffee
1 jar instant espresso
1 jar instant mocha powder
3 jars lemon curd
6 lemons
1 kg marzipan
1 quart milk
1 jar molasses
1 kg nougat
1 quart orange juice
6 oranges
2 pounds blanched almonds
15 pounds powdered sugar
500 grams raisins
3 jars seedless raspberry jam
1 bottle dark rum
500 g sanding sugar
1 box salt
2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate chips
10 pounds granulated sugar
1 large bottle vanilla extract
500 g vanille-zucker
5 cups / containers plain yogurt

Thanks to a little advanced planning, this wasn’t all one shopping list, because not only would the shop have laughed at me for buying 25 pounds of butter all at once, but the price tag would have been enormous!

Whirlwind Wedding-Planning Weekend

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

(Jean’s wedding, not mine)

It was a bit of a whirlwind weekend, so I don’t really know where to start and end. Jean’s in town for Thanksgiving and to sort out a lot of the wedding planning for her and Joe’s big day next summer, so I helped out as best I could, which mostly involved driving, drinking (not at the same time of course [grin]), providing decision making support (“yeah, I like that dress too — so far you look amazing in all of them!” — very helpful!), sampling wedding cake (twist my arm) and documenting the whole extravaganza with the camera. Fun, a little overwhelming (and hell, I’m not even the one getting hitched!) and very exhausting.

We whirled through three bridal shops — in one, Jean tried on at least 20 dresses — and there is one more to go before she makes up her mind. In one of them, they actually let us photograph (which, from what I gather, is a little unusual) and while I did take about a million pictures, as the dress is not to be seen by the groom, I won’t post them publicly. Here are a couple of me though, trying on a bridesmaid dress. Jean’s pretty much settled on those at this point and the color (claret) doesn’t even make me look like Barney the dinosaur (or whatever Barney is suppose to be; the dress is the one I am wearing in the picture of both of us, but in the red/”claret” color). Dress decision making is hard. I mean, it’s easy to narrow down to a few contenders, but them deciding between those is a wracking decision.

DressFitting1
DressFitting2

We also checked out the venue, Pleasant Point Inn on Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine. It reminded me a lot of one of those old-fashioned resorts from like the film Dirty Dancing (only smaller). It’s got a main house with some quirky guest rooms and the function room and then a lot of cabins. It’s right on Kezar Lake and the perfect place for an August wedding (of course, if you could eliminate all mosquitos, it would be even more perfect!). Of course it is closed for the winter now and even the heat was off so we could see our breath as we looked about the buildings and rooms. Great atmosphere though and the owner who met with us was very nice and accommodating.

If you find yourself in Conway, NH (right across the state line from where the wedding will be), make sure to stop in Riverstones Bakery (don’t think that they have a website). They will be doing the wedding cake and we, of course, had to sample [grin]. I’m not a big fan usually of carrot cake but it was to die for. I suspect that people will be fighting for every last piece of it (I hope I’m not giving away secrets here, but the cake will have a chocolate tier, a vanilla-chocolate chip tier and one of carrot cake – yummy!)

Today it’s meetings with the florist and photographers. I’m back in Boston while Jean stayed up there with her mum and aunt and uncle for a few more days. Wednesday afternoon we have one more dress fitting appointment for her and then hopefully that will be sorted too. Even though I am very work busy today, that is almost more relaxing than running around with appointments for her!

Pyara Spa and Salon, Harvard Square

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

I went for the quarterly hairchop last night. OK, ‘chop’ is a bit over an overstatement — more like a trim on the curls. I have such unruly hair; mind of it’s own.

That said, if anyone in Cambridge is looking for a good Edward Scissorhands type, my recommendation is Nikki Ruby at Pyara Spa and Salon in Harvard Square. She does a great job, isn’t overly chatty and generally seems like a nice person. One thing that I hate is people who talk too much when they have scissors in hand, but she remembers just enough details about her clients (I was greeted with “How was Germany?” this time because last time I saw her, I was headed to the Wiesn) and is efficient. A good haircut doesn’t come cheap, but $50 is better than $500 that they likely charge on Newbury Street these days.

Oh, and I know that she was most likely gunning for a larger tip, but it was nice to hear “You’re face looks thinner; are you losing weight?” before I even mentioned the squeeze-into-bridesmaid-dresses diet that I am on. [grin]

Cranberry-Walnut Tart Recipe

Monday, November 16th, 2009

I make this pie / tart every year either for Thanksgiving or Christmas (‘cranberry season’, so to speak). I like it because it is both sweet and tart vs all the overly sweet pies one is usually subjected to this time of year.

Cranberry Walnut Tart

Hardware: a 10- or 11-inch round tart pan (1 inch deep) with a removable bottom and pie weights

Ingredients
- Your standard pie crust ingredients (everyone has their favorite, or cheat and use one out of a box -gasp!-)
- 3 large eggs
- 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/4 cups chopped fresh cranberries (7
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (1/4 pound)

Preparation
First make the pie shell:
Roll out dough into a 13-inch round (1/8 inch thick) and fit into tart pan. Trim edge of dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang inward and press against side of pan to reinforce edge. Lightly dock bottom of shell all over with a fork, then chill 30 minutes.

Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 425F / 220C. Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights.

Blind bake until pastry is set and pale golden on rim, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and bake shell until pale golden all over, 5 to 10 minutes more. Transfer pie shell in pan to a rack.

Then make the filling:

Move oven rack to middle position and reduce oven temperature to 350F / 175C.

Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth, then stir in cranberries and walnuts.

Pour filling into shell and bake tart until filling is set and golden, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.

Seriously, what was I thinking?!

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

With the storm passed and a beautiful autumn day on tap, I decided to go for a long run-walk-shopping trip. And I officially overdid it. For those Bostonians in the peanut gallery, perhaps you can envision this:

Run: from my apartment down Cambridge Street, past the Boston Garden, along the North End waterfront to Christopher Columbus Park to Fanuiel Hall (3.5 miles)
Shop: a quick stop for a few Christmas pressies at Quincy Market
Walk: from Government Center across the Commons and the Public Garden, up Newbury Street, down Boylston Street (3 miles)
Shop: pit-stops along Newbury and Boylston for a few more pressies
Run: up Commonwealth, along Mass Ave, across the smoots bridge all the way to Harvard Square (4.5 miles)
Shop: had to buy something at Curious George and Friends
Walk: up Garden St past Radcliff and then up Concord Ave to Didrik’s (2 miles)
Run: back down to Mass Ave and on to Porter Sq (1.5 miles)
Shop: the last of the staple goods for the cookie extravaganza starting in a week, including two 5-pound bags of flour
Walk: Porter Square to my apartment in Inman Square, carrying far too much; silly to have that much flour in the rucksack (1.5 miles)

Total silliness: 9.5 miles of running (ugh) and 6.5 miles of walking

And now I am going to curl up on the sofa and ponder leg cramps. Doh!

Celebrating Elizabeth’s Birthday

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Despite the rainstorm last night (the remnants of Hurricane Ida blew through Boston yesterday) I ventured out and spent a lovely evening out with Elizabeth for her birthday last night. We went to Sel de la Terre at Long Wharf. It’s one of my “usual” special restaurants when there is a special occasion to celebrate (I’ve been there with my parents and also for Mother’s Day with Heidi). While higher end and excellent food, of course, there is something comfortable and completely unassuming about the place. Liz had the roasted chicken and I had this amazing braised shortrib dish. Great, homey comfort food. And even though I got a glare from Liz when I mentioned to the waitress that it was her birthday, they casually just wrote happy birthday in chocolate on the dessert plate and didn’t make more of a fuss than that.

LizBirthday

Definitely a great night out, even if it was quiet. Elizabeth wasn’t celebrating a “round number birthday” so it was a perfect way to spend the evening with one of my closest friends. Happy Birthday, LizzY!

Heavenly Socks Yarns, Belfast, ME

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Heavenly-Socks

For any knitters out there in short supply of good, high quality yarn and find yourself in Belfast Maine (or, like me, make a major pilgrimage to go there), check out Heavenly Socks Yarns. It’s gotten to be a routine that whenever I visit my parents, I have to drive the hour to visit Helen (the owner) and buy new yarn, even if I have no real project in mind. Her selection is amazing! Even better, if you find yourself short on yarn mid-way through a project, she is supper accommodating and will match the dye lot for you and send you more. I’ve had to do that three times already because clearly I am not so great at estimating.

Mom and I went on Saturday; a beautiful day and a good excuse to drive the hour from Orono to Belfast anyway. I am mid-way through two knitting projects so I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for, and once there, was overwhelmed, as usual, by my options. I couldn’t make up my mind but Sunday I drove back on the way back to Boston to for some wonderful baby alpaca yarn for a lace wrap.

Maine for the Weekend

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Being the complete insomniac that I often am, I was awake at 4 AM this morning so I barreled up to Orono for the weekend a few hours early (I was planning to drive up anyway, but leaving at 5 AM meant that I didn’t make the usual stop at Whole Foods in Portland – not open yet – but I did get a jump start on avoiding traffic). They had predicted snow in the overnight, but except for the few inches between approximately Brunswick and Carmel, the roads were clear and dry. It’s cold up here though, so I was a little worried about ice (after last year’s near car-flipping at Christmas, I am a little more careful). The sun was just rising when I drove that stretch and the snow on the trees was simpy beautiful. I, of course, won’t be saying any snow is beautiful in March.

No plans for the weekend up here really, except to hang out with my parents.

Sofra Bakery, Cambridge

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Sofra

While I was in the Mt. Auburn neighborhood yesterday, I finally managed to make it to Sofra. I’ve been meaning to go there since it opened last year, but then it always slipped my mind and because the Cambridge-to-Watertown part of Cambridge isn’t typically where I find myself, I seemed to never make it there. Sofra is owned by the same people who own Oleana, Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick. Oleana is my favorite restaurant, hands down, not just in Boston/Cambridge but in the entire world (and conveniently located just a few short blocks away from the apartment).

Anyway, Sofra turned out to be exactly what I expected and wonderful. It was so crowded! I didn’t stick around to have breakfast, but did load up on eggplant/pinenut mezze, some walnut pate and two flatbreads (a spinach and cheese one and a chickpeas and potato one). They also have the absolutely to-die for warm buttered hummus there (which would have been a shame to order as take out). They serve at at Oleana too and it is quite possibly the best hummus in the world.

I’ll be back, for sure and next time will hang out. The atmosphere seemed great — lots of happy people on a Sunday morning.