31 July, 2007

I couldn't stay away!

Well, I tried to take a break! Filled up the birdbath that John repaired after it fell over the first year we tried to provide his precious birds with the amenities (but they still prefer the pond and the stream), managed to make a start on powerwashing the white picket fence and the Red Gate (John has taken over the chore, though, since it involves a power tool). I think we can start painting it on Friday. As you can see, it's embarrassing right now, but that's the nasty halfway point of a project. The FedEx guy delivered something today and when John said, "Enjoy your afternoon," he grinned and said, "Ayuh, you need to get back to that fence!"

We've been keeping a close eye on the family of wild turkeys that frequent our backyard, as well as the groundhogs who will eat any fruit and the squirrels who turned up their noses at some stale almonds, but will do anything for bird seed. And we have spent some time jumping with Avery on the trampoline, tooling around in the Land Rover now that the registration is legal again, and over the weekend took another trip into the city to watch Avery ride (the lovely and tiny Albert, this time -- his show name is Little Einstein--).

But I can't stay silent on the subject of the flooding in my adopted land. I feel guilty enjoying a gorgeous rainstorm here in Connecticut when so many of our favorite spots in gorgeous England are underwater, and the townspeople suffering such agonies of ruined homes, no drinking water. We're very worried. Stay safe, everyone, and we'll keep fingers crossed for dry weather to come.

Then, too, of course I found myself in the kitchen and turned out two new recipes, each of which is a milestone in its own way. Number one: I thought I didn't like zucchini, and number two, I almost never make or eat desserts. But rules are made to be broken, aren't they?

We found ourselves the other day at the farmstand owned by Farmer Rollie's wife Judy's brother (got that?), and manned by Judy herself, and there was a lovely display of green and yellow zucchini. "You know, I want to like zucchini, but I just don't," I said. "Why not try this?" she suggested.

Judy's Baked Zucchini
(serves four as a side dish)

2 slender green zucchini (leave the big monsters for someone else!)
2 slender yellow zucchini
2 cloves garlic, minced
handful basil leaves
3 tbsps olive oil
sea salt
1 cup grated cheese: cheddar, Gouda, Edam, anything

Wash and slice the zucchini into thin disks. Spray a 9 x 9 dish with nonstick spray and line with half the zucchini, then sprinkle the garlic over them and top with the remainder of the zucchini. Chiffonade the basil and sprinkle it over top, then drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and layer the cheese over all. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly and browning.


This was just divine. Of course, anything with garlic, olive oil and topped with melting cheese can't be bad, but there was something fresh and appealing about the combination of zucchini and basil, too. It was a definite winner.

And then for some reason Avery said, "I wish I had a chocolate cake." "I can do that," I said bravely, not really knowing what we had in the way of ingredients. It turns out that even my dessert-starved pantry yielded some interesting stuff. I ended up over the next two days with two varieties of the easiest cake you can imagine, each of which is really good. They strike me as very old-fashioned, with a nursery-like warmth and no surprises. Simple, nothing fake or fancy, and you'll probably have everything in your cupboard and fridge without having to shop. The frosting, especially, made me laugh as it was a complete emergency inspiration. Go on, have a piece as soon as it comes out of the oven. Very comforting. Plus, I have declared a moratorium on white sugar, so this cake is made with something called "Sugar in the Raw." This sugar is made from a very minimal initial processing, without going to the lengths that it takes to remove its natural amber color. It's a nice crunchy texture, too, and has real flavor, as opposed to just a vague "sweet" impression.

Avery's Favorite Chocolate Cake and Crazy Frosting

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups "Sugar in the Raw"
pinch salt
2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted (they stay a bit grainy, don't worry)
2 eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract
3/4 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sour cream, plus 1/2 cup more for frosting
1 packet Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate mix

Now, in Connecticut I don't have a hand blender, and guess what? You don't need one. I also do not have a sifter, and as far as I can tell, I don't need one of those, either. I just mixed all the dry ingredients together, beat them about 300 times with the milk, sour cream and vanilla. Then I added the egg and beat about 150 times more, then stirred in the chocolate chips which were grainy and not liquidy at all, so the resulting batter is a sort of golden color with brown flecks. Bake at 325 degrees for about 35-40 minutes.

Now, the crazy frosting. Not feeling confident about what frosting involved in the way of ingredients, I looked up many recipes in my trusty and venerable New York Times Cookbook. The link I've given you here is to the fabulous, quirky, intelligent and delightful Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Connecticut, our "local" bookstore. It is always a favorite (and extremely expensive) afternoon there, as we all find things we had no idea existed but then feel like things we can't live without. But I digress.

About frosting. So all the recipes I read called for confectioner's sugar and light corn syrup, neither of which I had. Also, I knew the chocolate chips wouldn't melt enough for frosting. So I had an inspiration: why not hot chocolate mix? Listed on its ingredient label were both confectioner's sugar AND light corn syrup! Further inspiration: sour cream? And sure, enough, the extra half cup of sour cream made the mix absolutely creamy, spreadable, and it melted right over the top of the cake, and into the holes I made with the tines of a fork. Delicious!

And if you want this cake to be lemony instead of chocolate, substitute the grated rind of three lemons, plus 2 teaspoons of lemon extract, for the chocolate. Then, I did acquire some confectioner's sugar by the time I tried the lemon version of the cake, and a little lemon juice plus sour cream plus confectioner's sugar makes a DIVINE glaze.

Never say I'm not sweet...

Tomorrow I get to see my friend Alyssa! For the first time since February. We just have not been able to get it together this July. So August 1 will see me in Tribeca, dogging her heels, following her around and generally making a nuisance of myself. I can't wait.

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