Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gourmet Pizza

My youngest son turned 18 on Friday and we went to Mesa to celebrate. After stopping by to see my oldest son and then my niece, we stopped off at Joe’s Crab Shack for a great meal of coconut shrimp and a couple of orders of deep fried calamari. It was all quite delicious.

The fun part was when they put a large bib on my birthday boy, and then later put a large sombrero on him, stood him in front of everyone and sang some strangely interactive birthday song where he sang the chorus. Fun stuff.

On Saturday, my son in law made us fresh pizza. He started by making the pizza dough the night before and letting it rest in the refrigerator overnight. He used high gluten flour, and apparently it is best when the dough sits for one or two days.
We had the freshest of ingredients and for our pineapple pizza, he used fresh pineapple—something I’d never even thought of doing, but it was very tasty. Instead of ham, he used Canadian bacon. I hadn’t tasted Canadian bacon on a pizza since the 60’s when they spared no expense for quality.

I learned a couple of things about pizza making. He cooked the pizza at 550—I’d always hesitate to cook anything higher than 375. It just seems so hot! However, it appears that pizza does very well with the higher temperature. My son in law was able to put raw sausage on the pizza and it cooked just fine.

As with all things, it’s a lot easier to make good pizza if you have the right equipment. I’ve spent years making pizza in cookie sheets. Cutting the pizza in the cookie sheets really tortures the coating on them, too. Years ago my daughter gave me a pizza stone to make pizza on, however it seemed like such a mess.

Not quite knowing how to use it, I’d put the stone in the oven to preheat, but it required a corn meal coating to keep the pizza from sticking to the stone. We always wanted more than one pizza, so getting the cooked pizza off the stone and adding the uncooked one was a real problem. Saturday I learned that parchment paper works wonders to fix that.
Another tool I discovered that is quite necessary to make pizza making easier is a pizza paddle. I don’t know if that’s what it’s really called, but it’s a very, very large and flat spatula. Make the pizza on the parchment paper, then scoop the paddle under it and transfer it to the pizza stone that’s waiting on the bottom rack of the oven. (The good thing about parchment paper is that it can be cooked in the oven without burning.) Then, after the pizza is cooked, the pizza paddle is also quite handy for getting the cooked pizza off of the stone.
So, if you have a good pizza recipe but the pizza’s aren’t turning out quite as good as you’d like, believe me when I say that making good pizza starts with using all of the right equipment.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

By Love or By Sea, by Rachel Rager

If you want a light read that involves a sweet romance, some adventure, and a couple of pirates, By Love or By Sea, by Rachel Rager is the novel for you.

Her characters are well written and believable and I was hooked right away. After all, who can resist a story about a sweet yet naïve red head with two totally different yet handsome men chasing after her? Alice Lind Frank is the red head.

The first young man—Clarence Hielott, is the son of a wealthy shipyard owner. He dotes over Alice and flatters her continually. He has a scar across his face from a childhood accident, but time has diminished it, and the local girls no longer see it.

The second—Caleb Newman is all muscles thanks to the years he spent at sea, not counting he’s handsome, and he’s been in love with Alice for thirteen years.

Did I mention that Alice has loved Caleb for thirteen years as well? It sounds like a no-brainer. Yet, because of an overheard remark, and the fact that Caleb’s ship was wrecked and he was presumed dead—the two haven’t spoken for a good part of that time.

She was a beautiful little girl of ten the last time Caleb saw Alice, and he was counting the days when she would be old enough to court. He signed aboard a ship to keep his mind off of her and allow her to mature. Unfortunately the ship sank in a storm, he developed amnesia, and signed on as a pirate. Crazier things have happened—in real life, not the novel.

Caleb is a good man, but he now has secrets in his past that he doesn’t want everyone to know. Alice wants to give her heart to Caleb, but she’s afraid—he broke her heart when she was little and she worries that if she loves him, he’ll do it again.

Afraid she will never have Caleb’s full love, and afraid she can’t give her whole heart to someone, she settles for Clarence. He seems like a good choice and no one tells her any different until after they’re engaged. However, things aren’t always as they seem, and neither is Clarence. He’s got some pretty dark secrets of his own.

I wish that Rachel would have added another hundred pages to the book—so that I wouldn’t have finished it so quickly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kindergarten Teacher's Aid

Well, only a few months after the weekly paper that I was managing editor of bit the dust, I am happily working as an aid for a kindergarten class. It’s actually a job that I’ve wanted—rather I should say it’s a job that I thought I’d be good at and have considered for the past ten years. I didn’t apply until recently, and voila! I got the job.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a five-year-old and having 13 at once is a handful. They’re full of energy and just starting to learn about their place in the world. As an artist, it’s interesting that about half the class (boys) don’t like to color. It’s like the hardest thing they’ve ever done.

Some are too busy looking at their neighbor’s page to color their own and would prefer I do it for them—ah, but I won’t. Others are artists in the rough and painstakingly color each project to perfection and are quite impressive for kindergarteners.

The teacher let them use colored pencils today and a few of the kids used a lot of pencil by pushing hard and scribbling over and over. At that rate they’ll only be able to use each pencil on two or three pictures before they’re turned to nubs. I was kept busy at the pencil sharpener.

It’s a lot of fun, and with one kind word, one moment of offered help, they repay in smiles and hugs. If only the rest of the world were so easily charmed. I hope that I’ll be allowed to continue as the kindergarten teacher’s aid for years to come. Now, if only I can get all of my other ‘hats’ in line and accomplished because I still have several novels that I expect to get published hopefully sometime soon, and I’m also working on an art show for later this month. Busy, busy, busy—just like a classroom of kindergarteners only without half the energy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte with the same—or a similar morbid curiosity with which one might watch a train wreck, or watch the paramedics as they do their job. One page into the story it was evident that all classic novels are not created equally.
Sorry Emily.

True confessions—I decided to read Wuthering Heights after reading New Moon, by Stephanie Meyers. The latter author referenced it in her novel and I wanted to see how it fit in, and why Edward sympathized with Heathcliff.

In truth, I still don’t understand why he (Edward) did, other than it was occasionally suspected that Heathcliff was a vampire. Heathcliff was a dark, miserable, malevolent person and no one knew his exact origin or parentage. Perhaps Edward used Heathcliff’s life to direct his—I mean direct his path away from the choices that Heathcliff took.

The books were similar in that two opposites were attracted to the same woman—and she in turn loved them both. Is Wuthering Heights a love story? Perhaps—yet in a totally less romantic way than Romeo and Juliet. Wuthering Heights is chiefly the story of Heathcliff—a young boy brought to live at the Earnshaw residence by the family patriarch after his visit to London. You’d think that a near starving orphan would take kindly to the person and family saving him from starvation.

Not so with Heathcliff.

He grew up spoiled and selfish, and full of ill will toward everyone he knew. His near step-sister he loved with a passion but it wasn’t a true love, it was truly selfish. Heathcliff despised his near step-brother, Hindley Earnshaw, and after Hindley’s parents and wife were gone, Heathcliff did his best to accelerate Hindley’s death and secure the Earnshaw estate for himself.

Catherine loved Heathcliff but she knew his vile character and wouldn’t marry him. She married Edgar Linton instead. He loved her purely and doted on her every need. During Catherine’s life, Heathcliff did everything he could to cause Edgar Linton grief and was partly to blame for Catherine’s illness and subsequent death.

During Heathcliff’s life, he did everything in his power to make everyone around him miserable. He was bent on exacting revenge on everyone he knew and people, to him, were merely pawns to get what he wanted. He took over the Earnshaw estate, treated Hindley’s son as a slave—not only as a slave, but taught him to loathe his own father and to cuss, but never taught him to be an important part of society nor how to read or write.

Out of spite, Heathcliff married Edgar Linton’s little sister, Isabella, then despised her for loving him. She bore him a son, but snuck away to London before the boy’s birth. After her death (yes, everyone dies), Linton as the boy is called, is forced to live with Heathcliff, who then through intrigue and deceit manages to get Cathy, (Catherine and Edgar’s daughter), to marry his son, Linton, before the lad dies (see, everyone dies) so that he can have the ultimate revenge by making Edgar miserable and then steal his estate.

His plan backfires to a degree. Edgar doesn’t mind that Cathy marries Linton—he doesn’t know the boys temperament or that he’s on his deathbed—and Edgar dies believing that his daughter is happy and well taken care of.
The casualty list: Papa Earnshaw, Hindley Earnshaw, Catherine Linton, Edgar Linton, Linton, and eventually Heathcliff himself. Heathcliff also did his best to ruin Hareton’s life and Cathy’s lives—yet this odd couple are the only ones who end up with a happily ever after.

The story is told through the eyes of the maid. She witnesses the whole thing and unwittingly plays an important part in helping Heathcliff ensure the fate of Catherine and Cathy, and all the others.

Toward the end of the book, when everyone has died except Heathcliff, Cathy and Hareton—Heathcliff owns everything he’s ever dreamed of, yet he is still miserable. He’s been tormented his whole life by his love for Catherine. Then Heathcliff is all of a sudden haunted by Catherine’s spirit—it brings him more joy than he’s had his entire life. He’s so giddy he forgets to eat or sleep and eventually dies with a smile on his face. In one last coup, he insists on being buried next to his life-long love, Catherine.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Roadrunner Rescue

Cats will be cats, I suppose. However, when my husband saw our cat capturing and trying to eat a roadrunner, he had to intervene. The roadrunner was valiant in its effort to get away—it ran across the yard, jumped over the fence and into our garden. However, the cat followed and had the bird in his mouth.

The roadrunner was in shock. He probably thought he was a gonner, and wasn’t any more reassured when my husband grabbed him. Although his eyes were open, he made no move to get away.

Rather than taking the exhausted bird where our cat could watch, we walked around the corner and set him down in the alfalfa field behind our property. Having been perfectly still the whole time he was in my husband’s grasp, he jumped down and ran away at my husband’s first effort to place him on the ground.

Well, that’s one good deed for the day—what’s next?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aebleskivers for breakfast

I don’t remember when I first had aebleskiver. I remember my mom making them, but I also remember my husband’s aunt making them for us after we first got married. I was a little suspicious of the little round pancakes at first, sure that they’d be doughy inside. They weren’t.

My mother acquired a pan and made them semi-regularly. My father was three-quarters Danish, so it’s not surprising. Yet, because the pan’s temperature has to be just right, you have to know right when to turn them and work fast—they can be tricky to make.

They’re fun to eat and fun to make—unless of course you’re making them for a crowd. Nevertheless, occasionally when my adult children gather around I’m tempted to make Aebleskivers for them. It’s a nostalgic occasion because we can both remember mom making them when we were young.

Aebleskiver’s begin with the batter (and of course a special Aebleskiver pan). There are a variety of recipes, you can use Bisquick like my mom did, or you can use your favorite pancake recipe, like I do.

Warm the pan on a burner and melt in each cup a small amount of butter (or margarine). When the pan is hot, fill each cup ¾ full with batter.
I add a small dab of apple butter to the center.

Wait until the batter is pulling away from the sides a bit, the batter has risen, and then turn them over as quickly as possible so that none of them burn. I use a knitting needle to turn them. The needle pokes into the bottom of the Aebleskiver and sticks long enough to turn it over.

After that turn them into a plate and start the process over again.
They go so fast!