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archive for December 2011

work with it

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Recipe: chocolate crackles (cookies)

Hey! Did you catch the lunar eclipse Saturday morning? I spent all day Friday watching the weather reports online as well as out my door. I had every intention of waking up early to watch the eclipse, but it goes without saying that if I could shoot the moon, I would. Toward evening there were blobbish clouds overhead and mildly gusty winds. Where I live, 55 mph is what we start to call “windy”, but 25 mph gusts are generally mild conditions… except when you want to photograph a lunar eclipse. I got my gear ready and tried to get to bed before midnight.

full moon

My alarm went off at 4am and I quietly bundled up in layers, tip-toeing around in the dark. I popped my contacts in, told Kaweah to go back to her bed (she didn’t, she waited at the door until Jeremy woke up), and stepped outside the bedroom. On the deck it was in the teens. To my delight, the clouds had moved out and the wind had periods of calm between gusts. I could live with that. Due to my location on the planet, the moon would set before I could witness it reach totality. Due to my local geography, the moon dropped below the Continental Divide before that! But, you make the most of what you get. It’s a beautiful phenomenon to witness regardless.

composite of the lunar eclipse

pink rays of sunrise on james peak not long after moonset

Back in August 2007, I attempted my first capture of a lunar eclipse. I totally didn’t know what I was doing, but we all have to start someplace or else we can’t ever expect to get anywhere. And it’s sooooo cool!

august 2007 total lunar eclipse composite

I can’t say I know all that much now, just that I have screwed up sufficiently in the past to have learned what not to do today. Every time I shoot, it’s a learning experience. I must thank my friends at Pro Photo Rental for the use of their lovely 200-400mm f4 Nikkor lens. Sometimes size DOES matter…

can you have a crush on a lens? because i think i do

It’s crunch time over here which means all manner of cookies and confections are marching their way through my kitchen. Each year I try to add one new recipe because I like variety and it keeps me on my toes. Jeremy reminded me that people who are gifted cookies once a year generally don’t get upset if you have some repeats. In fact, he said, his administrative staff request the lemon-ginger cookies each year. I waved him off and said I had a new recipe in mind to try and that it should be easy.

let’s get crackin’

In case you are looking for ideas, here are links to some of the goodies I like to gift this time of year (I tend not to make French macarons over the holidays because they don’t ship easily and have a rather finite shelf life):

almond crunch cookies
chinese almond cookies
coconut macaroons
cranberry oatmeal cookies
espresso chocolate chip shortbreads
lemon ginger cookies
lime meltaways
macadamia shortbreads
mexican wedding cookies
pistachio sandies
raspberry cream cheese cookies

brownies, bars, cakes, quick breads:
chocolate chip banana bread
cream cheese brownies
macadamia nut chocolate chip blondies
rice crispy treats (with sprinkles)
zucchini nut bread

candied lemon slices
chocolate truffles
macadamia nut orange brittle
pepita brittle
peppermint bark
vanilla bean caramels

boozy infusions and other goodies:
buddha’s hand citron vodka
membrillo (quince paste)
pear liqueur
sugar plums
homemade vanilla extract

And here’s the newest addition to the repertoire… chocolate crackles.

sugars, cocoa, eggs, butter, chocolate chips, milk, vanilla, flour, salt, baking powder

mix the dry ingredients

**Jump for more butter**

just be patient

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Recipe: preserved lemons

Good grief it feels so good to get things done again! Baking, candy making, and assorted projects are underway and in full swing. After candying a double batch of orange peels, I had a good bit of orange sugar syrup left. I’ve had several people ask me what to do with the sugar syrup and so I’m gonna tell you (I also edited the post on making orangettes to include these suggestions). If the syrup is thick or starting to solidify, you can stir some water into the leftover sugar syrup over high heat to get it to a uniform distribution. Let it come to a boil then turn off the heat and let it cool. Pour it into a glass jar and store it in the refrigerator. You can use it as an orange (or citrus) flavored simple syrup for fruity cocktails, add it to fresh lemon or lime juice and seltzer water for a fizzy fruity cordial, add it to hot tea, use it to soak tea cakes, eat it with pancakes, waffles, or French toast. You get the idea…

orange sugar syrup

So in my last post, I mentioned that I would tell you how to make preserved lemons. I wouldn’t have made these except for the fact that 1) I really wanted to make that Moroccan butternut squash and chickpea stew and 2) I couldn’t find preserved lemons. After a few weeks, I said to myself, “To hell with it! I’ll make my OWN preserved lemons!” I went to the store in search of organic Meyer lemons and found zippo… for two weeks straight. In early November, after I had dragged Jeremy to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, we passed the Bi-Rite Market just down the street. I popped in to look for organic Meyer lemons. I found them. I bought them. All of them.

yup, that’s all of them

Why organic? I try to buy organic in general, but I’m insistent when it comes to something like citrus if you plan to eat the peel. And the peel is the the big deal in preserved lemons. You don’t have to use Meyer lemons. Regular lemons work fine too, but Meyers are so fragrant and sweet. They are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. That’s awesome crossed with awesomer as far as I’m concerned. Oh, and Meyers are super juicy.

lop the end off

quarter them, leaving the base intact

Some folks cut the lemons into quarters, others quarter them but keep the lemon connected at the base, and I’ve also seen whole preserved lemons in stores. Cutting them into quarters makes it much easier to pack them into a jar, but keeping them intact at the base or whole is prettier in my opinion. It’s that geometry issue with elliptical spheroids in a finite volume. Make sure you have a good deal of kosher salt on hand.

kosher salt

pack the lemons with salt

**Jump for more butter**

every december

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Recipe: moroccan butternut squash chickpea stew

I feel like it’s late in the game even though we’ve just finished the first week of December. I get that way when it comes to time. I like to plan things out so that I’m not doing stuff at the last minute, not rushing around – because it stresses me out and I’m supposed to reduce my stress in general. I was super happy this week when I woke up and was able to get out of bed without much pain. I thought to myself, “Now I can work on all of those things that need to get done!” And then I looked at the calendar and had a little freak out moment because I lost a week somewhere. Better get crackin’… There is a long list of homemade goodies scrawled out on my notebook because I like to give a sampling of treats. I don’t plan orangettes every year because they are an enormous pain in the ass to make, but I know how much Jeremy loves them and that makes it worth the effort. Plus, he’s so sweet – he washes all of the dishes!

the first phase of making orangettes

The only two people in the world who specifically get Christmas presents from me are my niece and nephew, because they’re kids and because my sister celebrated Christmas when she was alive. I used to make something for them every year, but quickly exhausted my paltry sewing and knitting skills and got tired of thoroughly sucking at it, feeling like a bad auntie, and feeling like I let the kids down… let my sister down. These days Jeremy and I try to select thoughtful and/or educational toys as my parents have the fun (and expensive) stuff covered. Well, we try to include fun stuff too! I probably overthink it. I’m sure I do. December does it to me every time.

kaweah is especially attentive when i’m shooting food on the floor

We were sitting in the single digits (Fahrenheit) for a few days straight, but have since bounced back to the balmy 20s, which I love. When we dip into single digits and below, we have to watch Kaweah when we let her out. She wanders into the yard, does her business, stands around sniffing the snow, and then suddenly discovers that her paws are freezing cold and gets stuck. Luckily for her, Jeremy is standing by ready to run out into the snow, pick her up, and bring her back into the warm house. So yeah, we’re glad it has warmed up a little. 20s are my perfect temperature for backcountry and resort skiing. 20s are also tolerable for standing around outside waiting for things like sunset, sunrise, or total lunar eclipses. You’re gonna catch the lunar eclipse this Saturday, aren’t you?

snow dunes on the frozen reservoir

they could easily be sand dunes

So there’s this Moroccan stew that I wanted so badly to love, but wasn’t sure I would. I like to incorporate squashes into our menu come autumn because they’re local, good for you, and beautiful. [Spaghetti squash scares the hell out of me, though. I fear for my fingers trying to cut those in half.] It’s a good thing butternut squash doesn’t spoil quickly because it took me forever to get a final ingredient: preserved lemons. My local Whole Foods used to have them at the olive bar and the day I bought the butternut squash THEY WERE OUT. I checked back the following week. Nope. I tried Cured. No dice. I finally tried Peppercorn and paid an arm and a leg for a jar (then I found out that Savory Spice Shop carries them too – doh!). But at long last, I could make this recipe.

butternut squash, potatoes, onion, tomatoes, olives, garlic, chickpeas, preserved lemons

minced garlic, diced onions, spices, butter, olive oil

sauté the onions, garlic, and spices in the oil and butter

**Jump for more butter**