30 July 2006

A Conspiracy of Bananas

There is some kind of banana conspiracy going on in my kitchen. I keep buying bananas and we keep not eating them. No matter how many bananas I buy, there are always bananas going brown and squishy on the kitchen side. I mean, I am only buying three or four bananas at a go -- it seems we ought to be able to eat them before they go brown and squishy, but no. One day there are three bright green bananas. The next day, there are two squishy brown bananas in a cloud of fruit flies. I thought at first this was because we are very choosy people when it comes to banana consumption (I like mine still faintly greenish and The Husband prefers them a nice unspeckled yellow) and weren't eating them fast enough. But, no. There is a conspiracy in the kitchen. How else would three (vibrant green) bananas I bought on Tuesday become all brown squishiness by Thursday?

Even though we do not eat the brown bananas, I am loathe to throw them in the compost. Waste of perfectly good banana! I could always make bread or muffins out of them, after all. So off they go into the depths of the freezer and never again shall they see the light of day.

Yesterday, I had three bananas in the freezer and four more squishy ones on the side. Do I need seven frozen bananas? I think not. I made "Streusel Banana Bread" from the Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). I lacked a pastry blender for blending in the butter to make the struesel topping, but found that the combination of mashing with a fork and pinching with my fingers worked pretty well.

I brought the loaf over to my parents, later, and my dad liked it well enough that he ate three slices and kept half the loaf. He seemed really enamored with the streusel topping. My mother makes a good banana bread, but it is very different from the BHG bread and I suspect half my father's infatuation was due to shear novelty.

Berry Mini-Muffins on Winnie's Tier

Because everything in the is going bad, I wanted to use the raspberries and blackberries before it was too late. They were almost over-ripe when I took them out of the fridge, so freezing them did not seem like a good idea. Happily, I found a recipe at joyofbaking for "Buttermilk Berry Muffins" which seemed promising. Since I'd already used half the lemon zest in the banana bread, I used a combination of lemon and lime zest for the muffins. I also drizzled a lemon glaze over the tops of them after they came out of the oven and had cooled for a bit. Because the blackberries were so very ripe, they disintegrated when I tried to fold them into the batter and turned the batter a nice bluey-purple. The raspberries, however, managed to hold together and look quite pretty nestled in the purple muffins.

They taste pretty good, too. My mother is allergic to bananas (yet loves my father so much she bakes him banana bread), so I brought some muffins over with the loaf and she seemed pleased and surprised I had brought something especially for her. Note to self: bake more for your mother.

My mother is a diabetic and making sweets for her can be a bit of an adventure. She can eat things with sugar, obviously, but prefers to consume sugar substitutes. Sugar substitutes bake up a little weird, you know. Even Splenda, which is supposed to be some kind of miracle sweetener, doesn't work out as well as I would like. Unfortunately, a lot of the recipes that use natural sugar substitutes use ... bananas.

26 July 2006

Nothing Wrong With A Little Paranoia

Our refrigerator, it is not good. Not good at all. Monday, I thought my breakfast watermelon was a little warm, but figured I'd been pretty slow about eating it since taking it out of the fridge ... but (while at work) I kept thinking that a lot of perishables didn't seem to be lasting in the fridge the way they used to and maybe I needed to turn down the temperature dial ... and then I came home for lunch and The Husband was all "does the fridge seem warm to you?" so I turned down the dial ... but my little brain was already making cash register noises ...

And you know what? There's nothing wrong with paranoia. Paranoia allows for the possibility of refrigerator breakage so that when the fridge is opened and the butter is discovered to be squishy rather than firm, there is no panic.

This whole week has been about breakage, anyway, so what's a fridge? The library's AC and security systems are broken, our lawn mower is breaking, and The Husband entertains the possibility of being broken.

Here is a hint: When your wife is driving you to the hospital for a sigmoidoscopy because you are bleeding again, do not say anything like "now would probably not be a good time to tell you I was dizzy last night," because she will then spend her two hours in the same day surgery waiting area worrying that you have something exciting and fun like rectal cancer.

23 July 2006

Over Thinking

I get a little confused about grocery shopping.

Every once in a while I get bit by the "eat locally" bug and become enamored with the idea of purchasing all our fruits and vegetables from local farmers' markets and stands. Then, just when I'm about to commit to this new venture, I seize up with doubt. These local veggies ... how are they better? Yes, yes, small intensive farming and whatnot, but they're still full of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, aren't they? Most of the local stands and markets aren't sporting the organic labels that the stuff I buy at bigregionalchain are. And the prices ... holy crap. And the produce doesn't always look as good as at bigregionalchain. I don't need my peaches perfect, but they shouldn't look like someone was using them for footie, either.

Usually, I end up doing what I always do. I buy whatever nibbles take my fancy at stands and markets, but purchase the majority of produce from bigregionalchain.

Sometimes, I also think that, regardless of eating locally or not, I should try to do more specialized shopping -- cheese from the cheese shop, meat from the butcher, produce and eggs from the farm stand -- because wouldn't that be better than shopping at bigregionalchain? Theoretically, wouldn't foods from specialty shops be better quality? But, again, the prices can be horrifying and frequently the foods don't look a whole lot different from bigregionalchain's. And this isn't England, dahlings, where I kept tripping over butchers and fishmongers. This is Burbville -- land of the bigregionalchain.

I bring this up because we went to a farm market, today. It was small, but rather nice, and we came home with a loaf of bread, jar of honey, and half pints of raspberries and blackberries. All delicious and all many times the price I would pay at bigregionalchain.

We also picked up a card from a local poultry farm which will sell us freshly butchered pastured chickens and turkeys, if we reserve them in advance. I am torn. The price is good(ish) and the product sounds excellent, but the reservation process seems like a pain in the ass and do I want to drive 20 minutes down the highway to pick up my pastured chicken when I can walk 5 minutes down the street to bigregionalchain and buy one of their organic chickens that will probably taste the same as the pastured one, anyway?

Life was easier when I didn't care about what was behind the food we ate. When there was no question about shopping at bigregionalchain and factory farming seemed normal. Now, when I look at a pint of blueberries, I find myself not only wondering whether they will taste good and are worth the price, but also where they came from, how they were picked and shipped, whether they were treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and whether they really do fight cancer and heart disease.

Hello? Over thinking grocery shopping a bit, you think?

16 July 2006

The Dog's Breakfast

Because I am insane, I baked the second installment in my father's year long birthday cake extravaganza a scant three days after returning from England. Was I prepared to be baking? No. Should I have been baking? No. Did it even seem like a good idea at the time? Not very. But, I was full of this weird nervous energy. Kept feeling like I ought to be doing something or going somewhere. And baking a cake seemed like a good way to take the edge off.

Surprisingly, the cake was not a disaster. I don't think the cake was as good as it should have been -- the layers didn't rise as much as I had expected and the frosting was a bit too sweet -- but my dad seemed perfectly happy with it and he and The Husband made serious inroads when I brought it over. I used the "White Cake" and "No-Cook Fudge Frosting" from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). I'm really starting to like my BHG cookbooks as the recipes are all pretty straightforward and tend to yield good results. My mother knew what she was doing when she gave me the red and white standby for my twenty-first birthday.

Dad's leaving August's cake up to me, but Mom specified something light and non-chocolate. It's not her present, but I do think two chocolate-y cakes in a row is enough for this time of year. Actually, I'd like to try my hand at Eton Mess, but I'm not sure I could call that a cake. Somehow, I don't think Dad would complain ...

At the end of our stay with The Father-in-Law, we went down to Birmingham and visited The Husband's Auntie and other sundry relations. Auntie's Husband is quite a capable cook and one of the things he served us was Harry Blumenthal's Eton Mess with bananas and lime. It looked like the dog's breakfast, but the lime-banana-meringue combination was truly delicious and I've been thinking about it on and off ever since I ate it. I found a recipe at joyofbaking.com for the traditional strawberry version ("Strawberry with Cream and Meringue Bits") and I think my dad would it eat. He'd eat the banana version, of course, but Mom is allergic to bananas and while it's his present, she'll be eating it, too.

Mmm! Fairy cakes! Get in my belly!

Earlier this week I also made fairy cakes using the "Vanilla Cupcakes" recipe I also found at joyofbaking.com. I substituted lemon for the vanilla in the batter and frosting and they came out well. A nice taste of lemon, but not "Wow! Lemon!" I don't usually frost things I make just for us as The Husband is not too keen on frosting, but he quite liked this butter cream frosting. Well, of course he would. It's nothing but butter and sugar with a bit of cream and flavorings. How could you not like butter and sugar whipped together?

13 July 2006

Back From Foreign Parts

We're back from Blackpool, baby!

I think The Blackpool Grandparents are my favorites out of all The Husband's relatives and it was really nice to spend time with them. It is disheartening to realize how old they are getting (85!) and that we may not have many more chances to see them before they die. Blackpool Grannie gave me a couple cake tiers she doesn't use anymore and I plan take pictures of them when I used them so she can see they are not just idling, unwanted, in a cupboard somewhere. I'm thinking fairy cakes (cupcakes) with buttercream frosting.

Also, The Husband and I spent a number of days just wandering around Blackpool on our own and that was quite lovely. We bought tasty things from Hampsons (savoury vegetable tikka pasties are yummy, but cream cakes are pretty much to die for) and various chip shops, sat by the sea and ate ice cream (a 99 Flake is a soft-serve ice cream cone with a Cadbury Flake stuck in it -- really lovely), walked up and down the North Pier, shopped for books and chocolate, took the tram into "Lovely Cleveleys by the Sea," talked about much about nothing, and made out a little bit more than mature married folk are probably supposed to.

And, you know, that's all I wanted from my holiday. Much of nothing.

10 July 2006

Penguin Touch

Today we finished off our vacation with the final part of The Husband's 30th Birthday Extravaganza -- Penguin Contact at the Mystic Aquarium. It was pretty cool. Of course, when could touching a penguin not be cool? There were nine of us in the group, plus the Penguin Trainer and her summer volunteer, and only one African penguin between us all so there was not as much touching of the penguin as The Husband would have liked, but it was still pretty cool.

Needless to say, the penguin touching was pretty much the best part of our vacation. In-laws are great and English junk/fast food can be pretty nummy, but penguins can't be beat.