lblanchard: (swannfountain)
Some time ago I sent my kid a batch of springerle. He thanked me and told me that he had given them to his co-workers because he had discovered he was gluten intolerant. This is self-diagnosed but he says his doctor is pretty sure he's right. Who am I to argue?

It has taken me some time to steel myself to venture into the world of gluten-free baking. I went to a specialty shop to buy the necessary ingredients and came out $45 poorer and slightly stunned. The most expensive ingredient, though, was the xanthan gum, of which I suspect I now have a lifetime supply.

Today, being tired of all these little bags of expensive flour-like substances sitting on my kitchen counter, I mixed up The Blend and mixed up a batch of gluten-free springerle. The recipe was full of what sounded like conflicting advice to me -- don't make the dough too stiff, and this stuff is incredibly sticky so you won't actually be able to roll it out. O bananas, said I. I turned out the dough on a board floured with another 1/2 cup or so of The Blend and kneaded the dough until it was about the consistency I thought would be right for rolling. Of course, it was sorely lacking in that lovely gluten-y elasticity, but never mind that. It rolled out just fine. After I dusted the top of the rolled-out dough with my secret mixture for stick-free molding (1/2 confectioner's sugar and 1/2 flour, or in this case The Blend) and dusted the mold ditto, I got lovely impressions.

The recipe was also full of shrill exhortations to make sure the cookies weren't too close together on the parchment sheets -- leave plenty of room! they need to dry! So I put them 12 to a sheet, two sheets total. I usually do 24 per sheet but I thought I might as well do it their way this time. So they look fine and I have two dozen of them. Tomorrow I'll bake them and, perhaps live dangerously and make the next batch 18 to a parchment sheet.

Christmas continues to creep out Chez Blanchard. I've made several winter arrangements out of some purchased winterberry holly and sprigs of this and that from the back yard and front planters -- euonymus, pachysandra, dusty miller, boxwood, rosemary, sage, and marjoram. I've also blocked the shawl I was working on, which I've decided I'll give to my daughter-in-law. We think we may even put up the tree tomorrow.

lblanchard: (Default)
This year's snowflake, adapted from a pattern by Faye Shelton. I don't love it the way I loved last year's, but it will do.

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
The gingerhobbits are much tastier after spending two (or is it three?) days locked in an airtight cookie tin. I may try the recipe again, but with the added egg and possibly with flour sifted before measuring instead of afterwards.

It's been a wonderful day. I go thud now.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
Well, almost. I'm waiting for Roy to get back from his errands to go out to the Acme and get various baking supplies etc. Then there will be snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies and gingerhobbits and such. And I'm almost recovered enough from the near death springerle experience to mix up another batch, except for the serious egg shortage...

All the gifties that actually need to be in hand before Christmas are in hand, with only two remaining to be wrapped. Last year I set up a wrapping station in the basement, away from the curious eyes of the giftees, and that has worked well, so I've done it again this year. I found the Word file that prints gift labels on Avery 5160s, and the one that would print gift tags on business cards if I had any card stock left. All that remains is to locate all the recycled gift bags for the stuff I don't feel like wrapping because it's an odd size.

I was scheduled to do tutoring today. I thought about that long and hard. Yeah, I'm going to spend the last half hour before second graders are released for Christmas break trying to get three kids, one totally ungovernable, to sit still and read. Did I mention they'd have to be pulled out of their class party to do it? Oh, that would work out well. So I called the school, spoke to the teacher, and suggested that this may not be a good idea. She said I could come in if I wanted, but she clearly didn't much care. One of the volunteers in charge of the tutoring program has asked for feedback and I plan to give him some...

The skies are gray, and although it's not actively precipitating at the moment and although it's too warm, it looks like snow -- which is nice for Christmas time.

And so there's not much else for me to do right now until Roy gets back, except to go wrap those two presents and rummage in my Christmas swag looking for other bits of decoration.
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
And I do mean epic. First of all, I misremembered the recipe and beat NINE eggs instead of SIX, and then wondered why I had batter instead of dough after adding an entire box of cake flour. Second, instead of doing my lavender experiment with 1/4 tsp or less, I put in a full tsp.

I tasted the batter and yecch. So I added enough all-purpose flour to make a drop-cookie type dough and baked a test batch of six to see if baking improved the flavor. It didn't -- it was a bit the way I imagine cookies made of pine needles might taste. But the texture of cookies made with cake flour, hartshorn, and 10x sugar was pretty nifty and I think I might experiment with that.

After that fiasco, something snapped, and I watched movies on Netflix for the rest of the night. An A&E biography of Charles Dickens, followed by the entire 2005 Bleak House in one gulp. I finally turned off the computer at 2:00 and wiped down the upstairs kitchen counter. The lavender-scented dishes are still in the sink.

Today is packed to the rafters -- dentist at 8:45, scamper up to Temple University and then back to the Academy of Natural Sciences meeting at 11:00 that will ease into lunch, followed by another meeting at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. All work-related, all on less than four hours' sleep.

I'm too old for such shenanigans. Well, at least I've finished my Christmas shopping for Roy -- on Amazon. So I can relax and ruin several more batches of cookies between now and Christmas.

My mouth still tastes of lavender. No more lavender springerle experiments!
lblanchard: (swannfountain)
After plaguing me to the point that I was beginning to think about calling the doctor (two weeks of escalating discomfort) my hip is suddenly back to that "recovering from an insult" kind of stiffness this morning.

This is a huge relief. My mother had a misbehaving hip for about the last eight years of her life and complained about it bitterly. (The fact that she was religiously opposed to as much as a regular walk may have had something to do with it. She lived less than two blocks from her church and drove there, for crying out loud!) I most certainly don't want to grow up to be like my mother in that respect.

I especially didn't want to be sidelined while the kids are here, which is this coming Thursday through Sunday. Which means some preparation. So Roy and I took the bus to into town to buy important things -- toner cartridges, transit passes, etc., and then spent an eternity in a Trader Joes checkout line. After that we came home and cleaned the upstairs sitting room -- removing what must have been a year's worth of dead jade plant, Schlumbergera, begonia, and coleus drippings, opening up and vaccuuming the icky bits of the sleeper sofa, etc. My hip appears to have liked the workout.
lblanchard: (Default)
Begin as you mean to go on. So, I'm writing down everything I eat again, and making sure I don't stay housebound two consecutive days, and I'm eating fruit or vegetables at every meal. This last has been made easier because my niece left me a nice baggie of raw sliced stuff (peppers, celery, grape tomatoes, wee carrots) and I can grab some with no prep. Hmmmm....they've lasted about five days....hmmmmm...

All the laundry I did yesterday has been put away. The holiday darks are in the washer to get transfered to the dryer when I go downstairs. And I did knee bends as a down payment on additional exercise. I think I found a hamstring exercise that I won't mind doing, too.

There's still a bit of Bad Holiday Food to be consumed. I can't bring myself to pitch it out. There is stuffing (but no gravy), turkey...four macaroons...six snickerdoodles...six brownies....and quite a few ginger midgets and springerle. We can probably handle cookie rationing once we're through the tastiest ones, which we should be by the end of the week.

We couldn't figure out what was causing our feet to stick to the kitchen floor until Roy realized he'd spilled about a quarter cup of sugar when decanting the contents of the holiday sugar bowl back into the canister. Add water and track around and you have a right mess. That's fixed.

I also brought in all the potted herbs that want cold weather but not too cold. They're where the hippeastrums used to be in a south-facing window in the back house. While I was doing that, I found two packs of daffodil bulbs I had forgotten, so I stuck them in the big barrel out front. While doing that, I found what looks to me like a broken off shoot of canna that had sprouted, so I brought that inside and potted up. If it turns out to be Tradescantia pallida I will be very annoyed, as I have heaps of that. Finally, I brought the entire Class of 2006 in -- they're in the basement, having been wetted down thoroughly so that I'll be able to pull out and re-pot the keepers (all marked with yarn).

And now I do believe I'll find myself some turkey and stuffing (but no gravy) for lunch, eat some raw vegetables, and toddle off to the Super 8 for more of our regular food -- broccoli, choi, tofu, etc. And get used to the new normal.

EDITED TO ADD: The Class of 2006 has been sorted. Those that did not bloom last year have been discarded; eleven bulbs remain. I worry a little because the discarded bulbs were some of the largest and I'd have expected them to be the bloomers, but oh, well.

I've also been working on Christmas repairs. I broke the hand off a Father Christmas music box that became part of my swag when we cleaned out my mother's apartment. A little Krazy Glue and it was good as new. I also had two decorative cardinals made of god knows what -- the beak disappeared from one of them. I fabricated a replacement beak of cut and folded paper that looks surprisingly like the other one, and am putting on layer after layer of tinted Elmer's to give it more substance. There may be another laggard or two to be put away (like the snowman spoon rest that's in the dishwasher right now) but I think I'm about done.

I also ordered our 2012 cards today. The Met puts its cards on half-price right after the holidays, so that's when I buy. The railroad industry is still heavily into sending holiday cards, so the savings is nontrivial.


Dec. 28th, 2011 08:02 am
lblanchard: (Default)
First test of the 2012 model. The second run-through took precisely one hour. I tweaked the pattern a bit but won't know whether I like the tweak until I've blocked it. I have a second tweak planned if the first one isn't quite right, and a third right behind that.

lblanchard: (Default)
I rolled these a lot thinner (1/4"), dried overnight, and baked in a slow oven (225-250F) for 20 excruciating minutes.

They look a lot better to me. I'm still planning to try the no-shortening, no-leavening version. I looked at my Mixmaster beater holes and it looks like the bits that hold the beaters in are semi-stripped. That means, I think, that they'll be okay for light duty such as beating eggs but will come unstuck if they're beating something heavier. Much frustration ensues when beaters detach themselves.

I'm also thinking that the next time I tackle springerle after time off I should plan on making one really awful batch before I settle back into the rhythm. Maybe I should bake some with some other flavoring elsewhen so I don't fall out of practice so badly.

lblanchard: (Default)
The wretched things *still* puffed up too much and broke through the crust that keeps the designs from blurring. For the next crop I try a thinner cookie, a slower oven, and....after that...a different recipe. Later today I'll drag the Nikon upstairs so that I can document my humiliation.

But I *will* achieve springerle this season, or suffer a sugar coma trying.

(EDITED TO ADD: Rolled out the second half of this batch of dough, somewhat thinner this time, I think. I'll bake them at a lower temp, too.)

Graphic evidence of springerle fail 2

lblanchard: (Default)
There are a lot of buds on the Schlumbergera all over the house, and the red one that is the pod parent of my seedlings has burst into exuberant early bloom over the past few days. The violently magenta ones in the second floor bathroom are right behind them. Buds on my yellowish ones are a little further behind, which pleases me -- I'd rather have them bloom closer to Christmas.

The true leaves on the Schlumbergera seedlings that have reached that stage are growing very quickly -- from something smaller than a match-head to something larger than my little fingernail in the past week. If this keeps up they may be ready to re-pot in late winter/early spring.

All the coleus I wanted to overwinter have rooted and one of each is doing well under grow lights in the basement.

Two of Missy's three squirrel babies, now big, sleek and sassy, are spending significant time in our back yard. Now that my next door neighbor has evicted them from his house I don't feel quite so bad about feeding the bold one the occasional peanut. They hang around under the bird feeder, eating up whatever falls, but so far have shown no inclination to raid the mother-lode. Unlike their mother, they have a serious sweet tooth and will eat all the apple cores I will give them.

I have more hippeastrum seedlings from this year's pods than I know what to do with and will need to re-pot them soon. The exotic cross I was sent has produced nine seedlings, none as vigorous as my mongrels. After Christmas I will cull the nicer of the Class of 2006 and discard the rest. They all have Hippeastrum mosaic virus so I won't be sending them along to anyone, but if they bloom nicely they may stay here.(Although....I read somewhere that virtually all commercially-available bulbs are carriers of said virus, so what's the difference? Also...everybody was terribly stressed last summer...maybe it wasn't mosaic virus after all. But still, no sense sending possibly infected bulbs to my friends.)

All the snowflakes are starched, and my Christmas card labels are printed out. The stamps arrived yesterday. I have already purchased the major presents for my niece, one daughter-in-law and my son. I'm pretty sure I know what I'm getting my nephew and my brother-in-law. My other daughter-in-law and our grandchilden haven't weighed in on what they want for Christmas. The granddaughter is a freshman in college, so I imagine cash will be welcome.

I brought up a few more Christmas decorations from the basement and will deck the dining room mantel this evening. The scarecrow window wreaths will come down and the snowman window wreaths will go up.

Today I was reminded that after January 1, 2012 it will be illegal to sell 100 watt incandescent bulbs. Screw that, says I, and ordered a lifetime supply from Amazon. We're okay with compact fluorescents in many places, but there are two places in the house that we want, nay need, nay deserve bright incandescent light. So there.

I have a nasty crick in my back and am walking around looking more like Richard III than usual -- hunched over, one shoulder higher than the other. I'm hoping it will go away soon and have started some stretching exercises.

I worked today. For a little while. Tomorrow will be easier.


Nov. 27th, 2011 08:50 am
lblanchard: (Troll)
An oven setting of 250F is too low, *grumble.*

Also, that first cookie sheet full had dough that was too soft, and they've swelled up and obliterated the designs. The impressions on the cookies on the second and third sheets are sharper and the dough stiffer. That plus a hotter oven might just do the trick. I hope. We'll see.

But I am thinking of making a second batch, now that I've remembered the importance of a Really Stiff Dough and a few other things. I will make notes on the recipe so that if another five years or so goes by I'll be ready. In fact, I may make notes here:

springerle notes )
lblanchard: (Default)
It has been raining, off and on, all day: a good thing, given that they had to release water from reservoirs into the Delaware to keep the saltwater out of our water supply. As far as I'm concerned, it could rain all week. It's too late to save the fall foliage season, I think, but it may help the trees nevertheless.

I've done a little garden-to-bed prep -- that is to say, I've taken cuttings of the seven varieties of coleus I plan to save, plus some basil, plus some sage. I'll start new marjoram and thyme next spring, I think, along with parsley.

I don't know whether they're runners or seedlings, but I have a lot of new rosettes of Oenothera. That will be nice.

There are fat purple things growing on the moonflower vine. I am guessing that they're seedpods.

The piece of the Aunties' Rosebush that my sister brought me appears to be doing well. I should move it to the big tub soon so that it has a chance to establish itself before winter.

As the internet obliterates older traditions, my Christmas card list has dwindled, and I now only need 20 snowflakes. So far I've made 32, which gives me some for the tree, some for gift decorations, some for spares. I'll make a few more just to be on the safe side.
lblanchard: (Default)
Yesterday was pretty frantic with cleaning and such. And I've done something to my knees -- I suspect a combination of weight gain, water retention, and the challenge of biking home with a 19 lb turkey and accoutrement after not biking at all. So I hurt like hell.

But the table is set, the turkey is in the oven, and I am enjoying a cup of coffee while I wait for the ibuprofen to kick in so that I can take a shower and finish up the prep.

It's a simple, artery-clogging feast: roast stuffed turkey with gravy; baked macaroni; frozen french cut green beans dripping in butter. My daughter-in-law is bringing dessert. My brother-in-law is bringing a salad. And Roy's first wife's second husband is bringing homemade bread.

Snackies of the prefab and kid-friendly type have been acquired -- potato and tortilla chips, pretzels, dippy thingies. All the gifties are wrapped, and I have found things that will serve for last-minute guests -- niece's boyfriend, brother-in-law's mother, Roy's first wife's second husband's second wife. Now all I need is a slight reduction in knee pain and a trip to the shower.
lblanchard: (Default)

Originally uploaded by lb_philly.
Once again blooming well on Christmas Day, these are Schlumbergera truncata 'gold charm' (left) and 'Xmas flame' (right). I got mine from Whitton Greenhouses in April 2007.

EDITED TO ADD: There have been juncos in our little backyard for the past three days. I've started feeding the birds and trying to keep an extremely annoyed Scamp indoors.

Last night last thing I noticed that the Scamp had helpfully placed -- on the living room floor under the piano next to my little USB keyboard (where I keep it when I'm not using the ASUS), and precisely where I would want to use it if I happened to be keyboarding on the living room floor -- a dead mouse. I thought about photographing it, since on one level it's such a sight gag. But then I decided it was just too gruesome. Apparently all wasn't calm last night after all. Roy did the funeral rites, involving a paper towel and a trash can.
lblanchard: (Default)

Originally uploaded by lb_philly.
All is not bright, because it's been cloudy all day and because I haven't yet lighted the 238 candles I plan to burn this evening. (It's more like 18, but you get the idea.)

I'm still negotiating with this cold, so I've been moving slowly all day. Still, I got the last of the decorations up, the living room (mostly) dusted, and such Christmas baking as I ever do (that would be snickerdoodles with red and green cherries in the middle and "You call this fruitcake????" brownies fabricated from Betty Crocker triple chunk brownie mix, walnut bits, and fruit & peel chunks from the Pathmark). My final shipment of presents for Roy is somewhere between Harrisburg and here according to the Amazon order tracker, but if they don't get here in time I have other things to give him. Now to put candles in the candleholders, finish dusting, and await Roy's return from walking the dog to start our Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas Eve, especially when we have nowhere to go, and nowhere to go tomorrow either. Roy has a choice bottle of red wine and four loin lamb chops from the megabucks butcher in the Reading Terminal, so we're ready to eat, drink, and be merry. And we have snickerdoodles for dessert!
lblanchard: (Default)

Originally uploaded by lb_philly.
This is grander than most, and obviously well-maintained. More than I can say about the door to its left. Damn taggers. I saw this while biking back from an unproductive run to The Craft Shoppe by the Delaware on Saturday. It faces a small city park.

Last I looked, the thermometer outside the kitchen window said 14F. Winds are supposed to gust between 25 and 45 mph. And I have a full set of rounds to make on foot and on the bus.

At least the sun is shining.
lblanchard: (Default)
Here's my overwhelming happyhappyhappy for the day:

The University of Pennsylvania award is actually ours, with Penn being the host library and fiscal agent. Whee!

Also making me happy: our final quarterly board meeting of the year is this afternoon, and after this we go into the semi-somnolence of year-end accounting and so on. So I'll be archiving files, chasing the last checks, etc., and maybe even returning to dropped projects such as refurbishing our web site.

I had a slam-bang happy time with my sister yesterday and learned that the interesting mural on the side of Harry's Occult Shop was done (at their own expense) in 2000 by the tattoo parlor formerly on the other corner. She had delivered perfectly appropriate shinies for all the Blanchard girls. So that's all right.

Also also making me happy, but not exactly. All my Christmas cactus are blooming. I was grumbling to myself that they're far ahead of Christmas, until I realized that Christmas is -- gulp! -- a week from tomorrow. Certain aprons have not been made. Certain other gifts have not been made. Other gifts have not been ordered. No gifts have been shipped. Oh my oh my oh my. Well, there will be happy confusion this weekend with the sewing machine whirring, the paint pots out, etc. For some reason, now that Mom is gone, I have totally stopped stressing about Christmas on some deep visceral level.
lblanchard: (Default)
The Herding Cats cabernet shiraz was surprisingly tasty.

We got our Christmas tree as part of a two-mile walk. (No, we didn't carry it for two miles; it was delivered.)

I got pictures of a mural, several interesting buildings, and a freeze-dried rose, which I will put on Flickr, probably tomorrow.


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