Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Glory That Is Ginger

This one speaks for itself. Classic soda gingerbread at its finest.
Preheat your oven to 350.
In a 9" round cake pan put 3 tbsp of butter (or more for an extra goopy topping) and put it in the oven to melt. (3 minutes). Remove from oven and sprinkle 1/2 c. of lightly packed brown sugar on it. Peel, core and thinly slice 2 ripe pears and fan around pan covering the sugar and butter.
In a mixing bowl blend 1/2 c. molasses, 1/2 c. milk, 1 egg and 1.5 tbsp of freshly grated ginger.
Mix 2 1/4 c. flour (2.5 for a really nice heavy gingerbread) 1/4 c. sugar, 1 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp salt.
Add molasses mixture to flour mixture and blend. Add 1/4 c. melted butter and blend.
Pour batter over the pears and level.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until cake pulls away from the sides and cake tester (toothpick) comes out clean.
Place a large plate with sides over the cake, and quickly flip. Tap the edge of the pan and release the gingerbread glory!!! Yummy yummy yummy.
Enjoy with whipped cream. Or, after a few days, if slightly stale, soak in cream! OMG!

Monday, September 26, 2005

It's not just for cheese anymore.

Bree also makes for fantastic TV viewing! I don't have cable, but for the joy that is Desperate Housewives I wrestle with my TV antennae. And for the season premiere, the wrestle was well worth it. Even in her period of mourning, Bree maintained proper phone etiquette and prepared baked goods for the new neighbours. "I'll take the tray. You take the gun." Does it get any better? As you can probably guess, Lady Van De Kamp is my favourite character on the show, and last night she was in fine form. All summer I was convinced that Rex's death had been staged by the police so they could end up pinning an attempted murder charge on her. Apparently not. Unless, that is, he is REALLY good at playing a corpse. The tie switching at the funeral was bloody fantastic not to mention the way she kept her monster-in-law in check.
Don't get me wrong, I know it takes all the women of Wisteria Lane to make the show work. But Bree, in my humble opinion, is the most colourful hydrangea on the block. From spanking Lynette's son and her own husband to making a gourmet meal from scratch, this woman can do it all.
Considering all the other guilty pleasures out there, I think a little piece of cheese every Sunday night is relatively harmless. Try it. Bree makes it herself.
After a summer of unanswered questions, the show has started this season with even more. Who is in that damn basement? Arrrgh! I bet it's Rex!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Smile! It makes you gorgeous!

“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked”….well I am not so sure I would use fabulous but I was damn cute.

I continue to attend my pack-rats anonymous meetings each and every week! Snaps for me! Organization is now the name of the game. The recent purge under my bed produced several boxes of photographs that have not seen the light of day since leather ties were in fashion (and I don’t care what anyone says, they must never make a comeback!). As I started to arranged them chronologically and get them into albums, I realized that my fondness for smiles, pastry, cowboy boots, hats and horses has been with me my entire life.

Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are days for feasting and laughing with family. In addition to roasting a turkey, rabbit, goose or chicken, we also roast each other. It is almost a guarantee that I will be the ‘attacked’ with 2 stories. One involves the day my great-grandmother – a saintly woman with the patience to match – babysat me as an infant and when she handed me back to my mother said, “this baby has me beat”. The second involves the origin of my nickname - Troop. Apparently I was not too fond of anyone but my father or anything but food. If I wasn’t sitting on his knee and eating, I was crying. Even on his knee though, I constantly made this “grrrrrrrrrrrr” noise that sounded like a tank, hence the name troop. These stories, I believe, are the product of a few over active imaginations and need to be filed in the “fiction” section of our little family library.

This year though, I have hard evidence to defend my good name and reputation. Even moments before my brother cracked me over the head with a bat, I was smiling. (My siblings and I have had A LOT of stitches at the hands of each other). Also evident is the fact that all you had to do was give me food to make me smile. And look at me smile in my cowboy boots! Apparently walking around naked also made me smile. And it still does! Try it. When you don't have company.

My fondness for food eventually led to an overbite. Still, I liked smiling ‘chiclet’ teeth and all - kids can be so cruel. I was called Bugs Bunny and apparently saw a ghost behind the school photographer one year. Even through that I smiled! 5 years of headgear and braces, didn’t make me stop either! Or eating. Braces did turn me off gum for life. Thankfully. In Robert Land there would be no gum and no filtered cigarettes. I hate seeing them on sidewalks, beaches and in parks. If anyone has a spare country, let me know so I can set up my throne. But I digress.
Remember to smile! Like McDonalds says, they are FREE!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

And a fine lagacy it is.

As a recovering pack-rat, I can honestly say that my former hording ways brought me two good things. One was the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I felt after I had “recycled” my once treasured possessions. Dropping off huge suitcases full of stuff at the Salvation Army and filling several dust bins to overflow capacity was just the beginning. Gone is the Spice Girls doll collection, the Hummel figurines, the ever so lovely collections (yes, plural) of Bradford Exchange plates and other assorted bric-a-brac. Now I don’t want to mislead you. My apartment is still packed to the gills but is much less cluttered, more functional and relaxing. As I can now actually get under my bed – a space formerly occupied by more boxes and bins than I could shake a duster at – and clean it, there is no more slut’s wool (why use a phrase like dust bunny when you can say slut; I mean honestly) and I actually get a better nights sleep. Stick a pea under the mattress and call me a princess.

The second thing is that I discovered is that I come by my pack-ratting ways genetically. When my grandfather passed away, my grandmother founds boxes stashed away in their condo locker that she had no idea were there. It seems that he too had a tough time letting go of the past. As I brushed the sluts wool (yeah, I got to say it again!) off some of these same boxes that had made their way under my bed (I am telling you, I had pack-rat-itis BAD) I discovered something very important. A legacy much more profound that pack-ratting….

My legacy began in the small town of Smithville, in the small family run business of M.B. Cosby and Son. - my great-grandfather and grandfather respectively. Sellers of Massey Harris (later Massey Ferguson) farm implements and they were also a Studebaker dealer. It was a booming business in its day, but like the Studebaker, farming as it was at the turn of the century (sadly) and the dinosaurs before that, it is now extinct. Luckily, it was sold before things headed south. In addition to this enterprise, the Cosby men were breeders, buyers, sellers and exhibitioners of cocks. I mean the feathered kind. Get your mind out of the gutter!

In and amongst all these boxes were hundreds of ribbons and dozens medals my forefathers had won for displaying their prize winning cocks. The legacy started in 1894, as far as I can discover, at the Canadian National Exhibition. Some of the highlights include a 1913 “First Premium” ribbon from the 25th Annual Exhibition in Madison Square Gardens (if your cock can make it there, it can make it anywhere), several art deco bronze plates from the 1920’s and 30’s, judging pins and ribbons from as far away as Texas and California (I guess if you exhibit long enough, they let you judge too!) and two rather unique ribbons for “Best Shape Male” and “Best Cock in Show.” Well I dare say.

Naturally I felt it was my ancestral duty to carry on this fine family tradition. Enter Howard. You may think it foolish to have a rooster in a one bedroom apartment, even with a balcony. And you would be right. It is dang foolish. The plan was to have Howard live on the balcony during the day, have access to the apartment when I got home and sleep in his pen at night. Did you know roosters do that annoying cock-a-doodle-doo thing even in the city? In an apartment? You would think coming from such fine farm stock, I would know that. You’d think. Ah well. Suffice it to say that after a week Howard went off to live at my friend’s country estate. He now spends his days in the company of 10 hens with over an acre of land to strut around on. He truly is the cock of the walk.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Finally, a recipe!

Light and flaky is long overdue for a yummy recipe! Inspiration for this one came from an unlikely source. As the saying goes “Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it.” Here is some sound, free advice – Don’t go see Transporter 2. Not only is this advice free, it saves you $13 and gives you a free hour and a half. A bargain at half the price. Thankfully Francois Berleand was there for comic relief and his cooking stimulated my tummy into craving French food. The recipe is basic, simple and damn good. Enjoy!

Cook 7 c. of onions (yellow or white - mix them up!) in 3Tb of butter over a VERY low heat for about an hour. You want them tender and golden yellow. And use butter, not margarine - it's French for heaven's sake! Sprinkle 1 1/2 Tb flour over the onions, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Beat 2 eggs in a bowl and add 2/3 c whipping cream, 1 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Mix well. Add 1/4 c grated swiss cheese.

Pour over the onions and transfer the lot into an 8 inch partially cooked pastry shell. Spread another 1/4 c of grated swiss cheese on the top along with 1 Tbsp of butter cut into pea sized bits.

Bake in the upper third of the oven for 20-25 minutes until the quiche has puffed (it is quiche after all) and browned.

bon appétit!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A boy, his bag and a yoga mat

I did it! I survived my first weekend at yoga boot camp! Never in all my days would I have believed that I could get into plow position before 9:00 AM. That was a pose saved for the end of the day. After I had walked, stretched, scratched, relaxed and moved about for 10 or 12 hours. Oh I had tried doing it in the morning before, but as my ego insisted on getting my toes to the floor, I only ended up giving myself a sore neck. Not this weekend. By the time I discovered I was capable doing such a thing, I was already up and moving for about 3 hours after our “wake up” call. None-the-less, I was tickled to be able to do it without making myself, or my neck, snap.

Still Point was wonderful. Intense? Absolutely. But it was also confirmation that I am heading in the right direction. Our manual is the size of a phone book (did you know you can use that to get into triangle pose?) and when I was handed the “Atlas of Anatomy” I had flashbacks of Mr. Towler’s high school science class. Definitely not my strong suit.

Thoughts of “what have I done?” and “what have I gotten myself into?” greeted me EARLY on a foggy Saturday morning. As the day progressed, the tensions of my mind eased (just like those in my body) and I found Sunday afternoon approaching far too quickly.

One thing that really caught me off guard was our Saturday night chanting. I consider myself spiritual although not overly religious. I believe in God. I don’t believe in most of the people speaking on his behalf. So I found it rather curious that as I chanted, sanskrit, I felt guilty. Growing up, attending church on a Sunday was de rigeur. Out on my own however, my practice fell on hard times. After my grandmother died I attended out of respect for her but once I moved to the Middle East, finding a Presbyterian church was not easy. Not that I looked very hard. Apparently though, something stuck during those years, because I felt like I was betraying my faith. I guess the cubes of wonder bread and tiny shots of Welch’s grape juice (NEVER real win for us Presbyterians and everyone drinking from the same cup? No, but thanks just the same.) did the job. I will see how this one unfolds.

I have loads of studying and practice to do before my weekend in October and am nothing but excited about it.

Friday, September 09, 2005

3 Musketeers, a Baroness and an Island.

For summer vacation this year I over-packed my backpack (two pairs of boots and two pairs of shoes for two weeks????) and headed off to a meditation retreat in Scotland. I know, I know. Meditation? Scotland?
It was actually on an energized little island off the coast. I use the word ‘energized’ as ‘magical’ seems to whimsical and ‘mystical’ is too…..well, inappropriate. In a nutshell, it was a life altering experience that I embrace with an open mind and compassionate heart. 20 of the most wonderful people participated in the retreat. The Musketeers - hi boys! - Lord Lamlash and our leader, the Baroness Alistair Appleton, all contributed to my epiphany. And Holy Island itself gave me that much needed “re-charge”. I can’t begin to put into words the overwhelming sense of contentment and clarity that it gave me. So I won’t. The only drawback is that I lost 14 lbs and now I can’t do sit-ups as my tailbone digs into the ground – I actually managed to get a scab down there - ouch! I bring this up now as today I am off on the next step of this continuing journey - Still Point Yoga Retreat!

There are 3 things I love to do – cook and put on dinner parties, yoga/exercise and decorate. My friends and family are always saying “you should do this or that for a living.” I have always resisted earning my keep at a leisure activity I enjoy for fear of turning into something mundane. My experience on “the island” has given me a new perspective on this. If I keep looking for that “perfect” job (or perfect anything else for that matter) I am never going to find it. Perfection does not exist, life does. But enjoying the here and now, which is all any of us really have, will at least bring happiness for the here and now.

Thanks to the encouragement of those near and dear to my heart, and with my newly re-charged spirit in tow, I start down a new path. At Still Point, I will not only get mini vacations every month out of the city, but also become an accredited yoga instructor. I look forward to sharing many light and flaky moments with you!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Season is Back in Swing! And Line too.

"$150 in gold."
"For what lady sir?"
"For Mrs. Charles Hamilton."
"Mrs. Hamilton is in mourning Captain Butler, but I am sure any of our Atlanta Belles would be proud to....."
"Dr. Meade. I said Mrs. Charles Hamilton."
Pause. "She will not consider it sir."
"Oh yes I will!" (I love Scarlett)
"We've sort of shocked the confederacy Scarlett."
"It's a little bit like blockade running isn't it."
"It's worse. I expect a very fancy profit out of it."
"Oh I don't care what you expect or what they think. I am going to dance and dance. Tonight I wouldn't mind dancing with Ab Lincoln himself."

Now that is a woman who likes her dancing!

Summer Musketeer Michael sent me a text yesterday. It read, in part, “ ….summer is coming to a close and the days are getting shorter.….” While I too lament the demise of summer, I open my arms to autumn. Not only is there pumpkin and apple picking (not to mention the pies), there are also lazy sunny Sunday afternoons hiking with Little Lord Fauntelroy and Blair, getting to wear my Aran sweater and Halloween! Little toasts in the shapes of tombstones set in peas – Rest in Peas. Is there anything better? Why yes there is! Dusting off my swing shoes, pressing my Kensington Market find sailor suit and practising with CJ! Dovercourt house once again comes alive with the sounds of Tyler Yarema and Co. “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” and “Sing Sing Sing”…..bring it on. Once you learn one or two basic steps, you can dance to any song and build your skills and improve your fancy footwork. And is there anything sexier than dancing WELL? Don’t even get me started on good lead Latin dancer.
When the shoes come off, the boots, jeans and cowboy hat go on! Line dancing is something I encourage everyone to try. Many people think not liking country music = not liking line dancing. Having dragged several people to line dancing (who now have better attendance records than I do) I can tell you that this is not the case. After a few shuffles, heal stomps and basketball turns (that one threw me for a loop too. Basketball in line dancing.) Unlike swing, most line dances go with one song and one song only. But if you go in with an open mind and energetic feet, you will have fun.
Both forms of dancing are great exercise, fantastic ways to keep warm (those long cold nights are coming whether you like it or not) and help make hibernating a little less tempting.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was.

“What are you doing?” My sister asked me while we chatted on the phone.
“Making apple butter.” Was my response.
“How do you do that?”
Well, let me tell you. First, I apologize for a non-pastry story but good peach season is over and apple season is just starting. Not that fruit is the only thing that goes with pastry, not by a long shot, but we haven’t got that far yet. Anyway, back to the butter. You start by going to a BBQ at a friend’s place out in the country. Actually, they don’t have to live in the country, they just need a yard with an apple tree. You then enjoy some Polish beer and Italian wine – the order matters not. As you sit around chatting you will inevitably hear the occasional ‘thud’ as apples fall from nearby trees. Remembering your “bin shoppin” bin in your car (for those of you still using plastic bags to do grocery shopping, you have to get one of these bins. Plastic bags are a plague upon this planet and I have the fond memory of swimming into one in Acapulco Bay – not actually inside it your understand, just face first against it – to prove it) and think, hmmmm, I am sure I can do something with all those apples. It seems like such a waste to just let them rot no? Then you remember, not so fondly, the time you thought it a smart idea to can a bushel of tomatoes. In your one bedroom apartment. Without air conditioning. In August. Not so much. And of course, they aren’t magazine perfect apples either. Small with hail scars. Then again, there are no pesticides. That fact, another beer and a few ‘thuds’ later you are vigorously shaking tree branches and picking up apples. Not the proper way to pick apples to be sure. Unless, that is, you’ve had Polish beer and Italian wine to inspire you. One must be DELIGHTED when one finds a recipe for apple butter that says you don’t have to peel the apples! Happy dances all round! Simply quarter, core and boil with apple cider. The worst part is pressing the ‘mush’ through a sieve – I need a food mill – but all-in-all, a painless process. You then let this caramel coloured thick stewy goodness simmer for about an hour and a half and pour it into jars for preserving. Oh and unless you end up with at least one blister on your hand from butter spatter, sterilizing the jars or touching the lid of your dutch oven, you’ve done it wrong. Place a good dollop of hot butter on the side of your hand, dash to the sink and run it under cold water. Ahhhh. While you lick your wounds and eat toast with that little leftover bit, make sure you listen for the glorious ‘pop’ as the lids seal. Lovely.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

We all have something to smile about.

I think this picture says it all. If this guy from New Orleans (my thoughts are with you) can find a reason to smile, we all can.