Gourmet Dining

This is a post from several years ago. It’s a bit long, but I hope you can find the time to read about this fiasco. I changed the names, but everything else is absolutely true.

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“This was a good idea of yours, George,” Carmen said. “After two weeks of camp food, I think we’re all ready for a gourmet meal.” The six friends who congregated in the entrance of the small town’s only hotel restaurant, nodded in agreement.

George craned his neck to look into the dining room. “No hostess. I guess we just go ahead.” He rushed in to claim the only available table.

Carmen looked around for a waitress. Still no one in sight to say, “Hang on a minute and we’ll clean the table for you first,” so the campers settled into their places and stared at the mess left behind by the previous diners. Bits of mashed potato and blobs of ketchup, the pepper shaker lying on its side, and leftover cutlery littered the table.

“How’re y’all doin’?” The waitress—Jackie, according to her name tag—was a friendly young woman wearing a uniform one size too small. She shoved the remaining cutlery to the center of the table and attacked the food dribbles with a stained, sour-smelling cloth. She wiped the table, leaving behind little beads of gray dishrag juice. Before it was dry she slid a water glass in front of each of them, rim side down.

Carmen glanced at her husband, Bill, and muttered, “No water for me today.”

Jackie reset the table using the cutlery from the heap in the center. No place mats. Carmen surreptitiously pushed the used pieces aside while the waitress finished the settings across from her. She noticed that Bill, George, and Millie did the same. “Could we please have new forks and knives?”

“Hnnf! Sure! No sweat.” She shrugged and turned to get more cutlery from a side counter.

“Anybody feel like a glass of wine?” George asked.

Five voices eagerly agreed. “Good idea.”

Jackie brought a tray of wineglasses already filled. Again, the six friends exchanged looks. Whatever happened to pouring the wine at the table?  Carmen sighed and wiped the rim of her glass with a napkin. The others followed her lead.

The glasses were filled to within a half inch of the top. No way you could swirl the wine or toast with your neighbour without spilling.

“I filled yer glasses right up.” The waitress beamed. Apparently wine etiquette was all about quantity. Quality was not a consideration.

Jackie took out her writing pad. All but Carmen ordered steaks and were asked if they wanted gravy with their mashed potato.

“Yes,” they all said.

“White or brown?”

“White or brown what?

“Gravy! Y’all want white or brown gravy?”

Five sets of eyes rolled as they answered “brown.” Carmen imagined the cook reaching for food colouring according to the order.

After Carmen ordered her chicken parmigiana with pasta, Jackie smiled and said, “Y’all help yerself to the salad bar.”

Carmen looked around. “Bill? Do you see any plates?”

“Must be those bowls at the end of the counter.”

“I thought those were cereal bowls,” she said, “…for children.” Dish in hand, she looked over the choices in the salad bar. The huge bowl holding the main ingredient, pale iceberg lettuce, was nearly empty. Dribs and drabs of sliced mushrooms, beans, pickled beet, and other additions meant to liven up the plate, were almost gone, but the six friends managed to scrape together a tired-looking salad.

“Meager pickings, eh?” George said.

Hunger took over and the campers cleaned their plates.

“You guys were sure hungry, eh?” Jackie said. “Don’t worry. I’ll have yer orders up in a jiff.” She layered the empty salad bowls up the length of her arm, apparently oblivious to the blob of mayo that smeared yet another stain on her bespattered white blouse.

Carmen looked forlornly at her dinner. She touched the edge of her well-worn, glass plate. Ice cold. Maybe she should have had the steak too? The spaghetti was cold. She put her finger into the middle where the white chicken breast lay on the white pasta. Lukewarm. She eyed the splash of colour on the side of her plate with dismay—the contents of a can of tomato paste—and one spoonful confirmed that it, too, was only heated to lukewarm. She had opened enough cans of the stuff in making spaghetti sauce to know how it looked and tasted. But pure tomato paste as a sauce? Nothing added, nothing taken away.

“Gross!” she muttered. Bill gave her a sympathetic glance.

A piece of white Wonder bread toasted on one side and slathered in margarine—she knew that smell—teetered on the edge of the plate. “Now I know why they call it Wonder bread. You wonder how anyone can eat it.”

The group made half-hearted stabs at conversation that coincided with half-hearted stabs at their food.

“I should have had steak like you fellows did,” Carmen said to the group.

“You didn’t miss a thing,” George said. “My jaw is tired from trying to chew that flavourless piece of rawhide.”

Jackie had disappeared. Under the circumstances, Carmen thought she would have done the same.

No offers of tea or coffee. No question of dessert. Only the bill already tallied, slapped onto the table. “Y’all have a nice evenin’ now.”

Leaving the hotel, Carmen said, “Ice cream and brandy at our place?”

“Yahoo!”

“Now you’re talking.”

“I feel better already.”

Heron Junior

This not so great, “great blue heron” landed in the firs outside my house. I say he’s not so great only because I think he’s a juvenile. The adults have much more of a show of feathers. I’m guessing this one is a new chick from this spring. You can see an adult great blue heron in full plumage at the end of this post.

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Someday Junior may look like this beauty.018a

The Nightgown Shapeshifters

Flannel on the clothesline

Sheds the dusty coat

Gathered in the fabric store,

All those tiny motes.

Filtered sunlight and a breeze

Scent of cedar from the trees.

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Quickly! No one’s looking now.

Let them stand and wonder how

The seamstress waves her magic wand.

Of nightgowns she is very fond.

Scrunch together, stretch again,

And two new shapes, now remain.

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Shapeshifters, you can take a bow,

And sleep in cozy dreamland  now.

Sticky Business

On a whim. I decided to bake some sticky buns today. These are not buns you’ll find in a recipe book but they’re easy to make and even a beginner could make them. I didn’t follow a recipe, but made it up as I went along. If you’d like a taste, you’ll have to make some and try it out.

Whenever I cook or bake, I might start with a basic recipe but I always end up substituting things depending on what I have in the house.dscn6476

Anneli’s Fennel Hazelnut Buns

First I make a sweet dough. I doubled the recipe today but I’ll write down the basic one here – and you must remember that everything is approximate. I just throw things into the bowl according to what I feel is right.

A basic bread recipe is 2 cups of milk and 5 cups of flour. Based on that, I used:

2 cups warm milk

3 Tbsp. melted butter

3 Tbsp. honey (or use sugar)

2 scant tsp. salt

1 tsp. fennel seeds (if you like them – they have a licorice taste)

Add some of the 5 cups of flour before adding the

2 tsp. fast rising yeast (bread machine yeast).

I put all this in the mixing bowl in my Kitchen Aid mixer and let it mix using the bread hook. When the batter is thoroughly mixed I add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until the mixer is struggling.

Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it (adding more flour if needed) until the dough is smooth and elastic but not dry and hard. It should be just at the stage where it doesn’t stick to your hands anymore.

Put it in the big bowl that you’ve warmed up in the oven and have rubbed inside with melted butter. I put the dough into the bowl upside down to coat the top with the butter and then flip the dough over so the top of it will stay moist and not get dry and cracked as it rises. Cover dough with a towel and leave it in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours. I leave it in the oven which is not turned on but has been warmed.

When the dough has risen, take it out and roll it into a rectangle about half an inch thick. Maybe about 10 inches by 15 inches. Spread melted butter on the rolled out dough. Sprinkle it with a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon, then sprinkle it with raisins or currants. Lastly sprinkle it with ground hazelnuts (or you can use chopped nuts of your favourite kind – soft ones work best  – pecans, walnuts ….)

For baking I use a  rectangular glass baking dish – the kind you’d make lasagne in. I put a syrup in the bottom of the baking dish.

To make the syrup, put about a quarter cup of water in a pot, add a big spoon of butter and about a cup of brown sugar and let it all come to a boil. Stir it as it bubbles and be careful not to let it boil over. It will want to froth right out of the pot. After about a minute of boiling, pour it into the baking dish and spread it all over the bottom of the dish. I sprinkle ground hazelnuts on the layer of syrup, or you can sprinkle other kinds of chopped nuts on it.

Back to the dough with all the goodies on it. Roll the dough up tightly and cut the roll into twelve one-inch pieces. I cut the roll in half and in halves again, and then into thirds. That gives me twelve rounds. Lay the coiled up buns in the syrup which should be only lukewarm by now. Let the buns rise for about half an hour and bake them at 350 for about 35 minutes.

Turn them out onto a platter while still warm so the syrup from the pan will stick to the buns.

Now go put the coffee on and call your favourite person to share a sticky bun with you.

Return of the Bag Lady

I’m still working on improving my handbags. None is perfect, but each one is unique and fun to make. Last count I think I had made about 15 bags and have given most of them away. I really enjoy making them because I never know how they’ll look when they’re done. Each one is different. Often they are made with scraps of interesting material – small pieces that are not much good for larger projects but are perfect for patchwork.

Making the bags gets easier each time. The bag on the left was more expensive than the others. It cost me two broken sewing machine needles when I was impatiently “driving” over the heavier parts.

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I just finished the brown one today and am already wondering what the next bag will look like.

The Sunny Side of Life

We have five apple trees. One is a baby, a Gravenstein, parked right next to the grandfather Gravenstein tree. The little tree is doing fine but the big one has been leaning towards the sun more and more each year. By the time I noticed, it was too late to pull it back, but it probably would have been a good idea to put a stake in and tie it back anyway, to stop it from getting worse.

And worse it got!

With this early spring and warm summer, everything grew more than usual and the apples grew mostly on the sunny side of the tree, weighing it down even more on the leaning side. One day, I realized that the whole tree could fall down under the weight of so much fruit all on the sunny side. The apples must have watched the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” When I went out into the  backyard, I could have sworn I heard the apples singing  “Keep on the sunny side of life.”

I propped up the tree with a 2 x 4 as a desperation measure until the Captain could come home to help save the tree.

The plum tree to the right of the apple tree has a long branch that is also low to the ground. It is so loaded with plums that it lost two branches under the weight.

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The photo below shows a Wilmuta, an early cross of Jonagold. They are late apples — hardy, sweet, and juicy.  Again, the sheer weight of the apples on this dwarf tree, mostly on the sunny side (apparently they listened to the same song), had branches breaking and the tree trunk leaning.Tying it to the nearby plum tree helped for a while, but as the apples got bigger and heavier, the tree leaned even more. A couple of pieces of wood put in to prop the branches and the trunk have not prevented breakage and the tree is still in need of triage (or is that tree-age?) As soon as the apples are harvested, I’ll call  NINE- TREE-TREE. 9-1-1 is only for people, I think.

dscn6375The other two trees, a Transparent and a MacIntosh, are behaving well. I have certainly been able to have “an apple a day,” but this year, maybe we’re having too much of a good thing.

P.S.  A friend just reminded me that I haven’t pruned the trees for a while and that is a major contributor to my problem with the breaking branches. I know she’s right!