Saturday, November 23, 2013

Our Labors of Love + Bourbon

Bourbon Pecan Cake. It's all I want to talk about. It took me almost as long to write the post about this rich and sentimental holiday cake, as it did to make the cakes!

And while I am shamelessly eager to promote Chickenblog, to get my mad props, I still have a little charity in my heart and I want to share the bourbon & blog love. I just saw a beautiful cake, a Caramel Bourbon Cake, at the always inspiring Farmhouse 38. She made a gorgeous masterpiece, for sure. But. Well, not to quibble, but her recipe calls for 1.5 Tablespoons of bourbon, the good stuff, and that's sweet and all, but you gotta go with our Bourbon Pecan Cake if you are looking to kick your heels up! That's 1.5 Tablespoons bourbon vs. 2 cups + more in the cheesecloth bourbon! We have a clear winner... urp... sorry... excuse me. Pioneer Woman is cooking with the hard stuff, too, but do carrots count? Well, she's got sugar and butter, and half a cup of bourbon in her Whiskey Glazed Carrots, and I think I'd call that a dessert.

And you? What hoops do you jump through for the holidays? Do you have a bourbon recipe, or any recipe that makes your heart sing... maybe it's not good for your heart, but it does wonders for your soul? My friend, Anna Banana, wants to get together to make tamales for a dinner we are co-hosting... talk about jumping through hoops! But traditions, and elaborate preparations are part of the joy of the season. Not to overtax ourselves... the secret is in sharing the fun, dividing the workload, and belting out the carols while we play.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Delia's Amazing Bourbon Pecan Cake From A Recipe In The Magazine She Read in 1970-Something

This is my mother's Bourbon Pecan Cake. It is a labor of love and nostalgia, it is the smell of Christmas. I believe she found the recipe in a waiting room magazine. Probably a ladies magazine, in the early 70's. Mom, was it earlier? Were we in Ramona?

This is a copy of the recipe my mom typed up for me. The first time I tried to make it on my own, we had just moved (surprise!) and William was three years old, Alex was just a baby. We were hosting all the family for a Noche Buena. Geoff knew this was a special recipe, one I referred to in hushed and reverent tones. He offered to help by doing the shopping, and I had to insist that we not buy the "pricey" bourbon! My reasoning was this: We had to stay true to the recipe, and my mom was on a tight budget in those days when she was baking these as holiday gifts, so I reasoned that she never would have been able to buy the good stuff. We brought home the cheapest jug we could find. We found all the ingredients, including those day-glow *candied cherries that arrive in markets at this time of year, and then I braced myself for a major baking scene. It starts well ahead of the day you want to serve the Bourbon Pecan Cake, because the cakes, once baked, are wrapped in bourbon soaked cheese cloth, then sealed and stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks. It's quite a commitment!

Someone convinced me to double the recipe. After all, if you are determined to go for it, then go for it! The trouble was my mom made a slip... she forgot to type the amount of flour needed. I was already up to my eye balls in double butter, double eggs, double everything! My mom was out of reach, the Internet was not the Internet we know and love today, and I had to guess.

Shall I get to the point? Bourbon Pecan Cake baking session in 1994 was a disaster. I underestimated the flour, and we had a gooey mess, that was impossible to rectify.

Thanks to a successful Internet search I was able to find the original recipe, and in 2001 I dared to try again. I gathered our ingredients, cleared my counters, and calendar, and went to it! Two more moves, and one more baby, and a deep longing to connect with childhood memories and Christmas past, led me to trying, again, to bake my mother's Bourbon Pecan Cake.

In 2001 it worked, and we had Bourbon Pecan Cakes for Christmas. I wrote a word of caution in the margins, though. Grandma and I were sampling the cakes, and after a slice, or two, we realized that the cheesecloth was awfully saturated with bourbon... urp!

The first step is to put two cups of *candied cherries, two cups of golden raisins and 2 cups of bourbon into a bowl and let them sit, sealed over night in the refrigerator. The smell alone makes me want to play Nat King Cole, and wear wool socks. The next day requires a sturdy apron, and determination. And big bowls!

The recipe is rich. Did I already mention this? You'll want good coffee on hand when you serve it, and slice it thin.

I love the pecans. They sweeten, and get a bit soft in the cake.

Here comes the fruit. Is this a fruit cake? Maybe. Kind of. But it's so good. It can't possibly be fruit cake, ridiculed and maligned, unloved.

But. It sort of is, isn't it? I mean, that's a lot of fruit, for a cake. And bourbon, too. Don't forget the bourbon. Geoff gets a kick out of this, because I am not much of a drinker, and I come from a family that didn't (doesn't?) drink much, but if I catch a whiff of hard liquor I get all starry-eyed and sentimental, and start humming White Christmas and Joy to The World.

Oh-my-gosh! What a heap! I was feeling even more nostalgic and sentimental about making my mom's recipe, because I was using her Pyrex bowl, too. But, maybe she had an even bigger bowl back then, because at this point I am out of space, and there are still whipped egg whites to fold in!

Oops! Looks like I was supposed to fold in the beaten egg whites, and then add the fruit and pecans. No harm done, thankfully.

Bigger bowl. And at this point, let's be honest, the kitchen is piling up with dishes, and spills. But it smells great! And I'm belting out the carols!

If the mile long list of ingredients, the multiple days of preparing, and the weeks of waiting have not discouraged me... this is where I get overwhelmed, but there is no going back now! None of these steps can be abbreviated, or skipped. Believe me. It says so in my mom's typed recipe and it says so in the online version I found: Do not take shortcuts, here! Grease the pan, then line with wax paper, then grease and flour the wax paper! The kitchen is already a mess, so just do it.

I don't have a tube cake pan, so I made six cakes in small aluminum loaf pans.

They baked at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, for about two hours. Do the toothpick test, to check for doneness.

Once the cakes cool, bring out your aluminum foil, cheesecloth and bourbon. It's time to wrap!

I cut a length of cheesecloth, enough to wrap around the cake, and wring it out. A bit. Or not. But get a designated driver, if you don't!

Wrap your cake, then seal it up in foil, and put the cakes in an air tight container, and stash them in your refrigerator. I used grocery bags. I checked them after a week. I thought they seemed a bit dried out at this point, so I re-soaked the cheesecloth, and wrapped them again.

After two weeks came test day. Just a slice, or two!

Very thin. Just to be sure everything worked out. Science.

Geoff came home as soon as could, to help. You know, with the science.

It's Christmas! Bourbon Pecan Cake success! The cake is moist, and even the cherries are yummy. And it's raining, today, which is about as wintery as can hope for. Bourbon Pecan Cake tastes even better when it's raining. Only one thing could make this a complete success... friends and family to share it with. Happy holidays! Merry Thanksgiving!

*It's been twelve years since I last baked this cake. Besides the labor, and the fact that the richness can stay with you and last a decade, I was reluctant to revisit this recipe because of those candied cherries. No-no. Even when I was a girl, I plucked them out of my slice of cake. They are dyed, shot, poisoned, reconstituted, converted, inverted... they're unnatural! I couldn't bring myself to bake with them again. Which is why I was thrilled-thrilled-thrilled to find Tillen Farms natural maraschino cherries! James and Geoff gave them a pre-bake taste test and declared the Tillen Farms maraschino cherries yummy. I drained the juice, and added them to the raisins and bourbon, just like the recipe says, but now we have no dye worries! Once again, I am happy to shop at Major Market, where the service is excellent and the selection inspiring. (No paid endorsements, just my own effusive and bubbly enthusiasm.)

{this moment}

A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

:: Inspired by Soule Mama ::

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments, for all to find and see.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

If Our House Were A Ship...

If the Bird House were a Blue Ship, and our backyard an island, it could look something like this.
Found the barn? The bamboo teepee? Thanks to William for drawing up this excellent map and party invitation. Now we have set the tone for the party theme Maria chose two years ago! Our Maria loves a good theme, and I think she's found a really fun one. Her brothers have offered all kinds of help and suggestions, so we are off to a great start. Raise the flag, set the sails, bake a cake! Maria's birthday is going to be a treasure chest of play and laughter.

I cannot help gazing at this map, imagining a mermaid lagoon, goats in the foothills, chickens on the shore, and happy adventuring with family and friends.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Tiny Painted Farm

It all began with a Pinterest sighting of a Thanksgiving craft... stones painted with the letters to spell t-h-a-n-k-s-g-i-v-i-n-g. I loved how simple the craft was, and I knew Maria would enjoy making words with the letters. The best part was that I happened to have all the supplies I needed to get started. From around our yard I collected the small flat stones, and then I dug out craft paints... satin and gloss work best. I painted the twelve letters, and could have stopped there, but I kind of felt like I was just warming up! Everything was out and ready, so I just kept going. Next thing I knew I had a fox. Then an owl. The next day I tried to capture Ada, our little fawn goat, followed by a plucky yellow hen. It didn't seem right to leave Tasha goat out of the picture, and that was followed by the nesting hen, Malcolm rabbit, and the bunny bun in the tall grass. It's liberating to work so small... not a big commitment, easy to start over, and too whimsical for fretting over specifics or accuracy of forms. They're silly! Really. I love them for their sillyness.

I am thankful for paint, brushes, time, and my willingness to play.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ten Things

Bonus: Whenever I smell a good orange, I recall this day. 1970, La Mesita {dirt runway airport}, with Abuela Antonia, my brother, Bill, and my Mom, Delia. Leaving El Valle de Tacupeto.

1. When I was ten years old our family lived, briefly, in Guatemala. I even attended school there. Our "English" teacher taught us the seasons: "Winter, spring, fall, and autumn." When I oh-so gently asked about summer, she replied authoritatively, and with obvious disdain, "Summer is an American holiday." Not wanting to get my palms rapped with a yardstick, I let it go at that.

2. I have 1.333 functioning kidneys. (I asked Geoff to help me compose this list of "Ten Things You May Not Know About Me." Because I blog, I feel certain I have said everything already. I figured he could come up with something genuinely new. But. Well. I get shy talking about my kidneys. Still, he's right, and it may be something people don't know about me.)

3. I failed biology at UCSD, then took the class again and got a B+. The plus really matters.

4. Someday I will go to Maine, and Massachusetts, and I hope to live a year in the Pacific Northwest, and another year in Hamaku'a.

5. Geoff said I should mention how I can name all fifty states and their capitals, but then I couldn't remember the capital of Delaware. Technically, I've lost the bragging rights on knowing all the capitals, and I wonder if I should bother trying to hold on to that former glory.

6. In middle school I feigned an intense crush on Clark Gable, so my peers would believe I was neuro-typical, but I see, now, that Clark Gable may not have been the figure to swoon over in the 1980's if my intention was to seem like one of the gang. Besides, I really preferred Gregory Peck, and Julio Iglesias.

7. I have slept in a gilded mansion, and under the stars. I much prefer sleeping under the stars.

8. When I was five years old I was curious about how my bread toasted, and how clothes came out clean from a washing machine. After some thought, I reasoned that it must be accomplished by very, very small beings inside the machines, who know what to do, and this satisfied me for quite some time. Recent observations have given me reason to doubt my beliefs.

9. My ancestors were Crypto-Jews from Spain, various Native American tribes of the Southwest, and Cuban, from Cienfuegos, and there is rumored to have been someone who was Chinese. I think about them, and hope they were happy, and wonder if we will ever meet. I'd like to hear their stories.

10. I feel squeamish, shy and goofy about sharing this list, and I over-thought and muddled through this whole thing, then considered dreaming up ten lies to tell about myself... the four I came up with are so satisfying that I feel really nice imagining they are true, which tempts me to start a new meme.

Learning To Be...

He is looking like a cat. Not a kitten, a cat. Oh, dear Mister Washburn Foo, please remain a kitten, or at least retain your kitten charms. Be playful and clumsy, stay small, chase string, give hugs, sleep trustingly, like babies do.

The secret to a successful Monday is anticipation and acceptance. Most times, Mondays sneak up on me. I feel 'em coming, and dread the inevitability of the Monday rush, the Monday return to school and office, but I fail to get the upper hand, to face the coming day with my best.

Well, even though I wish our year could be nothing but Sundays, this time I managed to get over the weekend's swift passing, and prepare. Sunday night, I put frozen croissants on parchment paper, to rise. I double checked to see we had everything on hand for making hot chocolate, too. I put the dishwasher to work, before going to bed. And I reminded Maria to put everything in her school bag. Maria fell asleep downstairs... she was so warm and snuggly in slippers, bathrobe and the knit Viking cap Diana made her, sleep overcame her, so I found her shoes and socks and set them by the door for her.

It was still a Monday morning, and I still wished it were Sunday, or Friday, but even the few small steps I took in anticipation made everything easier. We ate bacon and eggs, with warm croissants. Max asked for a hint of peppermint in the hot chocolate. And even when we did fall behind, there was far less panic: Socks and shoes! When we know where the socks and shoes are it's like we are golden, amazing beings with powers over the unseen.

I like to imagine that a week well begun will herald more golden moments, more serenity, and domestic cleverness. There is so much to learn, to adopt.

If I can learn to accept kittens growing into cats, and Sunday slipping into Mondays... accept the messes with the blessings, face the hurdles with something good... chocolate, or laughter, rain boots, or a broom, I suppose a Monday can be alright. Pretty good, even.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Five Good Things

I think it is safe to say, Chango and Foo are friends.

Not BFF, or even bff. It's a little more tentative than that.

Chango allows Foo to chase him, he stops to let Foo bat his tail. Chango sleeps near Foo, and eats with Foo, and even refrains from walloping Foo. It seems as though, with Benjamin gone, Chango accepts that this little newcomer needs some patience, a little attention, acceptance into the fold, and so Chango plays with Foo, and is about as friendly as he can be. This makes me happy, for both of them.

Good Things...

1. We caught Inara... our escape bunny, who had us at her whim and mercy, stayed out two nights, and made herself almost impossible to return to the run, and her sweetheart, Malcolm.

2. William's vest is nearing completion, even after we decided to rip out the side seams and cut them again, trying for a better fit. Ahead: A lot of slipstitching.

3. William took a temporary job, and will be taking care of an amazing, eclectic, and even exotic collection of pets, including a tarantula, a snake, turtles, chickens, dogs, guinea pigs, fish, and a frog + more!

4. Maria got a haircut. Not a trim. A haircut... something she's wanted for quite some time. She looks happy!

5. The weather forecast calls for ten consecutive days with highs only in the sixties, and possible rain on Thursday! Fall, fall, fall. I do love fall, and rain, and clouds, and blustery, cuddly, snuggly weather!

Sunday, November 17, 2013