Monday, July 29, 2019

the quotidian (7.29.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Keeping the kitchen cool(er) and feeding the masses: two birds with one stone. 

To go with ice cream: all the berries, plus rhubarb.

It's a never-ending task.

Making space.

Always, dirty clothes.


Country girl. 

Footers: the clubhouse gets decked!

River rocks. 

Learning to throw each other.

"Break the wrist and walk away" — name that movie!

Vacuum wrapped.

This same time, years previous: hill of the martyrs, proofing baskets, in the kitchen, dance party, story of a trusty skirt, the quotidian (7.28.14), rest and play, classic bran muffins, spicy Indian potatoes.

Thursday, July 25, 2019


Our Puerto Rican friends crashed our place last week, right around the same time a heatwave rolled in.

the bottom number is the INSIDE temperature

And so we fled to the river!

rock body paint

And then my brother’s family came to stay with my parents for a week, and our friends’ friends (who just moved to Maryland from Puerto Rico) came down for the day and we all ended up at my parents’ house for my brother’s birthday party — roughly six households under one roof.

The next morning, my older son and I took the train up to New York (along with the three Fresh Air kids we were escorting) and then played tourist for the next 36 hours or so. Highlights: a nighttime ice cream run in the pouring rain, watching the astoundingly bizarre Frances and Friends in bed while drinking decaf coffee and laughing uproariously (it was like watching a fever dream!), a morning run in Central Park, a visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, front row seats to Fiddler on the Roof, people watching, riding the subway, giant pizza, more ice cream, and way too much pasta.

Back from getting ice cream: soaked through.

Then we escorted a Fresh Air Fund bus back home, kicking off a week of hosting (we are having so much fun with our Fresh Air boy!), sweet pickle making, bread baking, the start of tomato canning, and theater shows: tonight’s my younger son’s theater debut as Slightly, leader of the Lost Boys, in the Valley Playhouse production of Peter Pan.

photo credit: my younger son

This same time, years previous: the best one yet, lemony cream cheese frosting, all practicality, vegetarian groundnut stew, curry potato salad, rellenitos, cucumber lemon water.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

italian meringue buttercream

The highlight of making those dragon eggs — aside from 1) the thrill of creating, and 2) her reaction — was the Italian Meringue Buttercream. I’d made it several times before but this was the first time I got it right.

It was glorious.

I’m not an icing sort of person (I always thought that frosting-shot trend was just plain weird), but now I think I understand. Buttercream, the real stuff, is not too sweet, and the texture — both impossibly fluffy light and creamy rich — is a marvel. I worked with that lusciousness all day, dirty icing the cakes and then giving them a second coat (and then one more, just to be sure they were sufficiently sealed), and at the end of the day, instead of feeling sick from the buttercream, I actually craved it. I had a little leftover in the fridge, and every now and then I’d sneak some.

So what’s the trick to getting a good buttercream? Temperature! Everyone always said the proper temp was important, and it turns out they’re right (imagine that). Probably, when I’d made buttercream before my butter wasn’t sufficiently soft, or I didn’t take the time to cool the meringue and hot-syrup mixture all the way to room temp.

This time around, I beat the syrup and meringue mixture for the full twelve minutes and then, since the bowl still felt warm, I wrapped the outside of the mixing bowl with a cool cloth. Then to chill it even faster, my husband suggested I hold a bowl of ice water up against the bottom of the mixing bowl. Worked like a charm!

Also, since it was such a warm day, my butter was almost completely soft. It incorporated quickly into the meringue and then, three minutes more of beating and — FROSTING!!!!

A couple days ago I made another batch of buttercream, just to play. I tried to chill it faster, and heated the syrup a little more, etc, and consequently (maybe?), had a few minor problems.

After 12 minutes of beating, the whites sprang up super high, perhaps a sign they were overbeaten.

With the addition of butter, turning soupy (this is normal).

And then it came together! (Though it was a softer mix than the other time.)

It had a bit of trouble getting as light and fluffy, and I read somewhere that that might be because I overwhipped the whites? Also, we’re in the middle of a heatwave, so that may have played into it some.)

I flavored some of the icing — along with the vanilla, some orange marmalade and chocolate — and then chilled them down till they were hard so I could re-beat them, making the frosting break and reincorporate, just to get a feel for it.



In other words, I’ve still got a ways to go, but I'm well on my way. 

Italian Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Yolando’s recipe.

*All the recipes I’ve read say to use unsalted butter. I used salted and it was fine, but maybe it would be better with unsalted?
*Do not stir chilled (or frozen) buttercream! Wait until it completely comes to room temp; otherwise, it will curdle and separate. If it does, though, just keep beating (applying hot or cold compresses, depending on the room's temperature, to the outside of the bowl). It will come back together.
*They say that buttercream is an ideal base for other flavors and colors. Play!
*With the leftover egg yolks, make chocolate cream pie. (It calls for 6 yolks, but a couple extra don’t hurt.)
*What with all the whipping, you’ll probably want a stand mixer.

½ cup water
1¾ cup white sugar
8 egg whites, room temperature
1 pound butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put the sugar and water in a medium-sized saucepan, attach a candy thermometer to the side, and bring to a boil. Once the syrup reaches 230 degrees, start whipping the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Do not overwhip; if peaks form before the syrup is ready, reduce the mixer speed to the lowest setting, just to keep them moving.

When the syrup reaches 240 degrees (though I’ve seen some recipes that say anywhere from 235 to 248 degrees, so I think there’s some wiggle room?), take it off the heat. Pouring carefully, with the mixer on low speed, incorporate the hot syrup into the egg whites.

Increase the speed to high and beat for 8-12 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temperature. (After about 8 minutes, you can start applying cool compresses to the outside of the mixing bowl to speed the chilling process.)

Once the meringue mixture is cooled to room temp, add the butter a couple tablespoons at a time, waiting until each chunk is incorporated before adding more. The mixture will loosen, becoming slightly soupy. Add the vanilla, increase the speed, and beat for another three minutes, or until it’s whipped up into a glorious, luscious, creamy frosting.

This same time, years previous: last night, et cetera, such a hoot, sweet sixteen, in the kitchen, on his own, the quotidian (7.21.14), roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, how to beat the heat, picklehead, zucchini-Parmesan frittata.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

three shining dragon eggs

When I asked my daughter what she wanted for her 18th birthday cake, she said, “Surprise me,” but I had no idea what to make until I came across these Game of Thrones dragon egg cakes. My daughter is a huge fan of the show, and they looked simple enough: just three eggs. How hard could it be?

And then I read up on the process — hollow chocolate eggs filled with buttercream, hundreds of handcut fondant scales, multiple cakes — and began to have second thoughts. But then my older son (also a GOT fan) got wind of the idea and was like, This is the cake, Mom. The cake. DO IT.

So I squared my shoulders and set to.

For two weeks, I chipped away at that cake, running to the store for piping gel and chocolate candy melts and glycerine, and ordering brushes and ivory dust and petal cutters from Amazon. I scoured the Internets for egg-shaped pans. Except for some outrageously expensive ones on ebay, there were none — NONE — but then at the last minute I posted an ISO on our church website and one of my friends actually had a set and said she’d give them to me, WHAT ARE THE ODDS.

Hollow chocolate eggs were also impossible to source, so I finally just ordered molds and made my own. Which turned out to be ridiculously easy and now I can make professional-looking chocolate-coated peanut butter eggs whenever I want.

I needed three batches of chocolate cake (each batch made one whole egg), so I made four just to be safe.

I made fondant in three different colors and spent hours painstakingly cutting out each of the scales with the petal cutter (and now have the blister on my thumb to show for it).

The deeper in I got, the more obvious it became that I was in over my head. This was, by far, the most complicated cake I’d ever made.

Saturday, the day before the celebration, I worked all day, from ten in the morning until 8:30 that night.

"If you don’t like this cake,” I told my daughter, who had no idea what I was making, “I will disown you.”

Now, about the display box. A few days before, I’d politely asked my husband if he’d please come up with something in which we could present the eggs. He dug in his heels, claiming he had no idea what to do. I pushed back: Figure it out. And then Saturday morning, he traipsed out to the barn to work on his own projects, and I blew up. This was birthday time, dammit. HELP ME.

My older son played intermediary — feeding my husband ideas for the display box and commiserating with me over the impossibility of being married to that man — and eventually my husband started whacking something-or-other together out in the barn. One thing let to another and before I knew it he’d built her an actual present.

That man.

For two days, none of the children were allowed to look in the fridge (even though the other three had all helped at different stages, I wanted the final product to be a surprise for them, too), and then Sunday evening, after the birthday supper and presents, we banished the kids to the upstairs while my husband brought in the trunk from the barn where he’d been chilling it in an empty freezer. To help keep the cakes cool, he explained.

He placed three loaf pans upside down in the trunk and covered them with black cloth, and my older son — who argued that he should be allowed to help because he knew more about Game of Thrones than we did and could give us valuable staging advice — nestled his Bose speaker under the fabric. I positioned the eggs, and we closed the lid and locked the trunk.

For the big reveal, everyone gathered on the porch. First my husband presented her with the key to which he’d attached a strip of leather, then, Close your eyes! and he dashed back inside for the trunk. As he came out the door, my son hit play on his phone. As soon as the muffled strains of the Game of Thrones theme song reached my daughter, her eyes flew wide.

My son presented her a Game of Thrones knife...

And then she knelt to open the box.

She cracked the lid, the music swelled, and there they were: three shining dragon eggs.

video credit: my brother

It was every bit as spectacular as I’d hoped, and then some.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.17.18), four weeks down, three to go, ouch, Saturday nights, the quotidian (7.16.12), whole wheat zucchini bread, in the pits.