Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Easiest Yummy Dessert

Here's a recipe I got from my sister about twenty years ago, and have used umpteen times since then. I don't know where she got it.

Easy "Black Forest" Cake
1 box of chocolate cake mix
1 can of cherry pie filling

Empty cake mix into mixing bowl.
Add 2 eggs.
Add 2 teaspoons almond extract.
Add the can of cherry pie filling.

Stir until all the cake mix is moistened.
Don't add any water or milk.
Pour into a 9"x12" cake pan, preferably
lined with parchment paper.

Bake according to directions on cake box.

Serve warm with 2 scoops vanilla ice cream.

You can make it even better by spreading a container
of chocolate frosting over the cake.

This is always so good, and serves a big crowd.
It's the dessert I always take for quilt club, or barbecues,
etc. (I didn't take it to L and M's barbecue because they
already had a big bakery cake coming.)

This recipe reminds me of the recipes of the 60's which, as I recall, read: a box of this, a can of that, a carton of the other thing. Almost all of my cooking is done "from scratch" meaning I try to use only fresh ingredients, not packages of ingredients. This particular dessert is an exception to that, and a very successful one.

In 1971 when we moved to Alberta I decided to do all our baking from scratch. That included chocolate cake, angel food cake, cookies, muffins, breads, buns, whatever!

It wasn't until we lived here in our retirement home that we quit eating dessert with meals. That was a relief! No more having to think of what dessert would be the right finish to any particular meal. There's one exception: whenever I make stir-fry, we have homemade orange sherbet for dessert. That somehow seems a necessity.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pride Goeth Before Spill

Today I was doing some baking, as I often do on Saturday. Two loaves of whole wheat bread for the coming week, and then some pecan sticky buns. As I put the bread in the oven I thought, somewhat smugly I'll admit, how seldom I've had to clean my oven. I do a lot of baking, all our baked goods for the two of us, but hardly ever roast anything that splashes and makes a mess. So today I suffered the worst oven spill ever.

It came about this way: our good friends, L and M, celebrated their 25th anniversary this week with a party last night, a barbecue, to which I had promised to bring two buckets of home-made ice cream. Yesterday I bought 3 bags of ice, a gallon of homogenized milk, a quart and a half of whipping cream, and coarse salt. I had decided to make strawberry ice cream and pralines and cream ice cream.

For the strawberry ice cream I got out a quart of cleaned, chopped, frozen strawberries from last summer's harvest (since so far there are only flowers in the strawberry bed, no berries yet). I made that into a quart of strawberry topping (same as freezer jam), which I added to the two quarts of vanilla ice cream when they were finished.

I use a fairly large ice cream freezer that operates the old-fashioned way with ice and salt, but has a motor to turn the paddle. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to freeze a batch. When it's ready it's very soft, and benefits from spending some time in the freezer to harden up a little. Just don't let it freeze all the way or you get an impenetrable brick.

Then I made pralines according to a recipe from Epicurious. It called for boiling brown sugar, white sugar, cream, salt, up to 238ºF. But it had called for a 2 quart sauce pan, and because the pan was slightly too small to achieve that temp without boiling over, the pralines never really hardened. I put them in the freezer as a slurry on two cookie trays.

I made a batch of butterscotch ice cream and dropped in the praline mixture in small chunks, and we were off to the party.

By the time we ate the ice cream the praline mixture had melted into the ice cream as flavoring, and the pecans were simply in there as in butter pecan. Oh well, it tasted just fine. Next time I'll use a bigger pan and be able to boil the mixture up to the proper stage.

However, I had OODLES of praline mix left over. So this morning I thought: wouldn't that make a nice batch of sticky buns? Unhuh! It did. But I put the buns on my largest cookie tray, not in a pan with taller sides.

Jim and I were sitting in the solar space, reading the Saturday Globe and Mail from Toronto, watching out for the occasional customer while the buns baked upstairs. When I came up to take them out of the oven the kitchen was full of smoke, and more smoke was streaming out of the oven vents. Help!

I quickly turned off the gas, pulled the buns from the oven (they turned out just fine), and surveyed the damage. About half of the oven floor was covered with a bubbling mixture of sugar and butter, and some had even dripped down the sides to the underneath part.

I immediately started scooping up what I could, the part that was still liquid. But there were large areas that had hardened into a black crust. As the oven cooled I cleaned. When it was cool enough, I removed the floor of the oven and was able to reach down to the lower level and clean off the spills there. It took over an hour to get almost all of the mess cleaned up.

Now I think I'll put the floor back in and turn on the self-cleaning feature to get it all the way back to pristine again.

What's the lesson in this? Maybe not to be proud of a clean oven? Maybe, use a bigger pan so the sticky mix doesn't boil over and make a mess!!!!

P.S. It was too horrendous to take any pictures!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How to Beat the Heat

I was in Ontario for a week recently, to attend the university grad of Grandson#1. It was typical Ontario summer weather--sometimes glorious (especially because Alberta had been so consistently cold and rainy), and sometimes smotheringly hot and humid. So here's what to do when it's hot and humid: find a shady porch, fill up a glass with ice and cold water, add a good book (Cormac McCarthy's "Road"), combine with an interesting knitting project (hat for #1 Son) and spend the morning there.

Eat a light lunch and repeat the above. Should take you through the afternoon. About 3:30 or 4 p.m. when oldest granddaughter comes home from work, put on your bathing suit and jump in the backyard swimming pool with her.

Well, that's how we handled it, and it was great!

The ceremony at York University in Toronto was excellent. York has convocation ceremonies for several days in a row in June. There were about 500 students receiving degrees at the one we attended, so the ceremony lasted for approximately 2 hours. The speakers were excellent and we were all so proud and pleased to see T. walk across the stage and receive his diploma. He graduated with honours in Fine Arts, with a double major. His aim to is become a writer for t.v. and movies. So he now has to somehow find a way into that field, a little harder task than landing a job as a teacher, nurse, or whatever. We wish him all success!

We all went out to Red Lobster for a celebration dinner afterward, which meant that when we got on the road again to head home, the traffic had thinned considerably, and the drive wasn't bad at all.

When I went to college (in the dark ages) my tuition fees were $300 per semester. I was able to earn all my fees, books, etc. by working part-time, just 20 hours a week. It's not that easy anymore. Tuition, books, room and board are EXPENSIVE!!! DG#1 did win scholarships based on his good grades, but he still has a loan of well over $20,000 to pay off.

His sister, two years younger, has finished 2 years of nurses' training, with another 2 to go. She is fortunate to have a steady job as a waitress at Swiss Chalet, and it's not unusual for her to come home with close to $100 in tips from a good shift. A good job is a great blessing!

It was such a treat to spend time with them. I'm very grateful to be able to get on a plane in Calgary and be in Hamilton, Ont. just three hours later. Modern travel and communications are a blessing!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Duck Update

We didn't see Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings on Friday or Saturday, and I began to worry what might have happened to them. Then on Sunday we spotted them on our dugout. That's about 300 feet away from the front pond. She had to get them to trek over the front "yard", the driveway and through many feet of dense plantings and down the embankment to get them on the water in the dugout. But there they were on Sunday afternoon, nestled in the tall grass at the water's edge. The three drakes that have been around came flying down to the water, stayed a few moments and then flew away again.

This morning when M. and I came home from our walk, we saw the whole brood, all 10 of them with Mama, on the dugout across the road from ours. Another prodigious feat: getting ten little ducks up out of our dugout, up the fairly steep embankment, down the bank on the other side into the road ditch. Then up, over the road, down into another fairly deep ditch, up the other side of that and another 50 feet to the new dugout. I'm in awe!

The little ones are noticeably braver and more independent than they were on Thursday, bopping all around this smaller dugout on the west side of the road.

After I listed the birds I had seen by last week, I sat down with my Birds of Alberta book to list a few more. Here's what I came up with in addition to last week's list: Red Winged Blackbird, Northern Rough Winged Swallow, hummingbirds, some variety of blue jay, Northern Flickers, Red Tailed hawks, Gray Partridge, House Sparrow (identified with the help of the book), Goldfinches. Last year M. and I saw four Western Tanagers in the neighborhood, and one time on the way to Red Deer I saw four Mountain Bluebirds (tentatively identified--they were totally, startlingly blue). There are still lots of the smaller birds that I haven't identified yet.

In the 70's when we went camping in the mountain parks we noticed how many fewer birds there were in that area than on the prairies. But we do have wonderful bird habitat here: lots of trees, bushes (especially those with berries) and water. Our old dog Honey doesn't bother the birds at all, and Sam, our cat perished last winter. He wasn't ever that much of a threat, but a yard without a cat is surely preferable for birds.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fine Feathered Friends

When I got back from my walk with M. this morning, Jim said, "Take your camera and go quietly to the pond out front!" This was the lovely sight that greeted me when I got there: Mama duck and ten ducklings! We were so happy to see them. This is Mrs. Mallard who visited last year, but was frightened off her nest. This year we carefully avoided working near the pond, and this morning she had her brood out on display.

When I was a kid we used to sing a little ditty
to the piccolo tune in Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." It went like this: "Be kind to our fine feathered friends, for a duck may be somebody's Mother." Well, this duck is a mama for sure.

She took her brood to rest a bit under the overhanging greenery. They all seemed perfectly at ease and peaceful as I snapped again and again, 19 photos in all. I really wanted to catch them paddling in a line, the way Jim had seen them earlier, but it
seemed like it was morning break time for ducks.
They were quite content to float quietly in a tight little group.

I'm wondering, Do ducks have an easier time feeding their young? I think these little ducklings probably eat the bits of green that grow in the shallow water of the pond. Contrast that with the pair of robins who have a nest in one of the spruce near the house. Either mama or papa is always rushing off and returning with a worm. At least, I think that's what they have in their beaks. It has always seemed to me that birds have to work so hard to build a nest with just their beaks, and then to feed their young.

This year I'm keeping a list of the various species of birds that I see on our place. Here's what I have so far: blackbirds, robins, geese, swans, ducks, owls, blue jays, cedar waxwings, mourning doves, a meadow lark, curlews, magpies, crows, starlings, a rock dove (the domestic pigeon), seagulls. I don't know the various little ones: sparrows, wrens, etc., so I haven't listed them.

Monday morning Jim and I were walking and saw a bird across the road that was an orangey yellow with dark wings. It flitted into the bushes so fast that I couldn't identify it. This morning M. talked about seeing the same bird, and named it an oriole.

There is also one she told me is a Thresher (I think that was the name). A very plain, medium sized brown bird that sings and sings and sings, a real variety of calls. It was serenading the world Tuesday morning when I hung out the wash.

It seems as if the world is just bursting with new life these days. In spite of it being a cold spring the air is filled with the chorus of birdsong. You couldn't find a more cheerful sound.