Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cake Wrecks

I've been preparing for a Caribbean cruise (watch this space) and my blogging has suffered. So sorry! But I just had to take a minute to direct you to a blog that will have you laughing until you can't breathe. My daughter (a pastry chef) told me about it (Thanks, Andy!).

Here it is: Be sure to click on the "fan favorites" on the right side of the screen. Have fun!

The minute I return from my cruise, I'll blog with photos . . . (sounds of steel drum music and water softly lapping at the ship's hull . . . .)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chocolate Chip Muffins

Sometimes you need comfort food. That was true yesterday when my sister visited for a little "girl time," an occasion for chocolate chip muffins! This recipe is adapted from one in a very old cookbook which was my grandmother's. These are good, old-fashioned muffins, a little crunchy on top and moist inside with plenty of chocolate!

Here are the ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup soft shortening
1/2 cup chocolate chips, more or less to taste ("mini" chips if you can find them)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk (fat-free half-and-half is even better)

Here's my method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a standard 12-cup muffin pan.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

With a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.

Stir the chocolate chips into the dry ingredients. This keeps the chips from sinking to the bottom of the muffins as they bake.

Crack the egg into another bowl and whisk it. Add the milk and whisk again. Pour the egg & milk mixture all at once into the dry ingredients.

Now here's the key to light muffins: With a fork, stir the mixture from the bottom, lifting the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until everything is moistened. The batter will be lumpy -- Resist the urge to over-stir.

Portion the batter evenly into the muffin pan's cups. I use a cookie scoop to do this, but a spoon works just as well.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until just golden brown.

Enjoy with a dot of butter, if you really want to razz the diet-police!

Now go jog around the block to work off those muffins before they morph into a muffin-top!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Memories of Saudia Arabia

During the 80's, my husband worked in Saudia Arabia for several years. Daughter and I lived there with him for three of those years. I have so many memories of our time there, mostly good ones.

We lived in Yanbu, a small but modern city built to house industrial workers, near an ancient fishing village (also named Yanbu) on the Red Sea. The highlight of our month was traveling some 200 miles to the big city of Jeddah, a drive which took us down the Red Sea coast and across desert landscapes marked by beautiful, ever-changing sand dunes. In Jeddah we could buy American food at a westernized grocery store (but at a price: CocoPuff cereal for about $8.00 U.S.) and even indulge in pizza and Baskin-Robbins ice cream (at $6.00 per scoop)!

My favorite activity in Jeddah was visiting the old souk -- wildly colorful, teeming with activity, fragrant with the spice vendors' wares. When we were in Saudi, the marketplace hadn't changed much through the decades. In fact, if you glanced above the rough tents which housed each small "shop," you would see that the ancient buildings were constructed of coral harvested from the Red Sea.

At the Jeddah souk, I bought Bedouin articles -- two incense burners, a bracelet, and a container for kohl, a type of eye cosmetic

silver jewelry

and a spice box

which, when opened, reveals a tray and smaller containers.

You could also buy carpets, textiles, baskets and other handcrafts, and of course gold jewelry.

You might see many Saudi women in the souk, but always clothed in the traditional black abaya which covers everything, neck to wrists to ankles, and the women were always -- always -- fully veiled, so that no facial feature or hair was on display.

Early one evening, as we were leaving the souk, I noticed a policeman hand-in-hand with a young boy, not much younger than my daughter. As I watched in surprise, a Saudi woman across the way removed her veils, and I could see tears streaming down her face. The policeman released the youngster's hand, and the little boy ran across the souk into his mother's waiting arms. As any mother would do, she covered the child's face with kisses, crying all the while. Instantly I understood -- This little one had become separated from his mother and, in her relief and happiness at finding her lost child, the requirement of the veil was forgotten.

Mothers are the same the world over, as are children, as are all humans in so many ways. I would have done the same had I lost my child -- whether in the Jeddah souk's warren of vendors or in a modern shopping mall. Ideology may mask the commonalities of us all, but it does not erase our humanity -- the common thread which links us all as fellow passengers on our separate journeys in this world.

Peace on earth, my friends. That is what I pray for at the beginning of this new year, and it is what I wish for you in your life.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lazy Saturday

What a gorgeous Spring-like afternoon this has been.

The mild weather was so welcome after weeks of cold, damp, rainy, foggy days.

Forget housework and other chores -- I stayed outside to enjoy the day.

The moon made an appearance in a brilliant blue sky --
though clouds are building in advance of a cold front.

The local wildlife was hanging out, waiting for fresh sunflower seeds and peanuts in the feeders.

Our neighbor's dog Webster visited, recovering from leg and knee surgery --

but he remembers how to beg for treats at the back door and fog up the glass. Time to break out the Windex!

The amaryllis my mother-in-law gave me is blooming, and I cut holly branches and nandina berries from our yard to bring inside. That's a Christmas ornament that our neighbor's granddaughter painted just for us!

I hope your Saturday was just as good as mine!