I should be writing. Instead…biscuits. [Again.]

Yep, when in doubt, it’s biscuits.

IMG_0459

Savory biscuits bordered top and bottom by the traditional ones.

Well, that and the suggestion from my wife that, ‘gee, with all this fruit around, I think biscuits would be perfect.’.

And so, with the Beatles’ ‘Penny Lane’ playing in the background, two versions are in the oven, with the aroma of the parmesan cheese-colby cheese-chive-Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute version [a not-so user-friendly label] filling the kitchen.

Starter recipe: Sky High Wheat Biscuits from Bert Greene’s The Grains Cookbook. I can send it to you.]

As always, I can’t help but stray from the exact instructions, but I’ve used this recipe for over a decade. [Instead of 1 cup cake flour : 1 cup wheat ratio, I went with 1.5 cups all-purpose and a half cup of wheat flour.]

The other version, what one might call ‘plain’—I added an egg and some vanilla and a little extra sugar. So yes, feel free to call them ‘shortcakes’–the accompanying strawberries won’t argue with you.

As I was hand-blending the frozen butter chunks [an upper-body workout hack.], my mind drifted to my semi-recent high school reunion.

And I pondered some of the questions I would like to have posed to the folks.

No, nothing about the staged–I’m dating myself here–Godfather-themed ‘abduction’ of a favorite teacher. And nothing about the senior boys’ version of ‘Alley Top’ during intermission at a Friday dance.

Instead, I would want to know what they’ve been cooking. And when they started cooking.

After all, when many of us parted at graduation, few of had any baking, sautéing, or barbecuing skills.

So, my questions:

What are your specialties?

What events pushed you into the kitchen? A lonely Saturday night during or soon after college? Forsaken by a spouse for a weekend? Expectations of kids? Having Thanksgiving hosting duties dumped in your lap? Or how about the age-old ‘just because’?

My first ‘real’ cooking experience took place sophomore year in high school.We were supposed to contribute to a culinary celebration in French class and I teamed up with my lifelong friend. He proposed [and made] stuffed French rolls. [I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t have the heart to tell him.]

I went with chocolate eclairs and son of a gun if I didn’t whip out the Joy of Cooking and successfully crank out the cream puffs shell recipe [page 646] and follow up with some variation of a chocolate icing. [Would have been fitting to try to make Fudge Cockaigne as a further nod to the French theme, but I was probably still dumbfounded that the cream puffs recipe worked for me.]

I would love to hear of your first successful experience in the kitchen. Chime in down below. Thanks for reading.

Bonus photo: [Seems my ‘craftsy’ wife needs an alternative leaf press.]

leaves in Joy of Cooking

I should be writing. Instead…it’s time to adopt a dog.

dogs-984015_1280

I’d take all three of these guys.

Yep, once he/she arrives, there will probably be umpteen ‘I should be writing’ opps.

boo retirement

Boo was my career counselor.

We lost Boo over a year ago and I usually need more healing time, but as the years progress, I realize I can’t be dawdling on this. I want a dog’s spirit, loyalty, and companionship in the house. Not to mention the entertainment value.

Note: My wife is actually spending more time on the local shelters’ websites than I am. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s harder to live with a dogless me. 😉

 

 

I should be writing. Instead…blueberry muffins, with variations.

muffins horizontal

I was going to launch a mini-rant against technology this afternoon [Safari and WordPress weren’t playing nicely], but I redirected toward wholesomeness. And comfort. And calories.

After all, frustrated writers don’t rant; they bake.

In my case, blueberry muffins. A new recipe. A simple one, since I just wanted something straightforward so we could squeeze in a little afternoon coffee. Never mind that the temps outside are in the high 90’s. When the need for ‘fresh-baked’ arises, I spring to action. [Well, not exactly ‘spring’. That would imply flexibility…agility…youth.]

Breaking news from the kitchen–[Hey, if CNN can do this 24/7, so can I.]…They’re halfway done and they’ve already earned the ‘They smell goood’ pronouncement from my wife and they look like they’ll turn out ‘normal’—a relative term in my kitchen.

What constitutes ‘normal’?

These muffins [here’s the recipe] will form fit to the muffin tin. That’s about it. Anything less than that, I add the word ‘mutant’ to the title.

Today, three of these little hummers are traditional, I’ve added a sweet ginger jam to two of them, and one of them has nary a blueberry. [Yes, a blatantly forced rhyme.] I populated it with ’60% cocoa’ chocolate chips. My wife…ever so subtle. When muffin fixins emerge, you can bet she’ll saunter by and plop some usable form of chocolate onto the counter.

Impressions

  • Good ‘blank canvas’ recipe. I will gladly reuse this as my muffin base. Add cinnamon, etc. for stone fruit muffins. Add peanut butter to join the chocolate chips. You get the idea. [Thank you, Joanne and Adam Gallagher.]
  • I used muffin-top tins today to shorten the cooking time. Again, I wanted quick results. In the future, I would use traditional tins for more moisture.
  • Ginger jam: Yep. I’d repeat this. The marriage of blueberry and ginger definitely worked.
  • Chocolate chip muffin: I bungled this one. The muffin was fine, but someone [me] turned out to be chintzy with the chips. [Divorce proceedings imminent…]
  • Everything tastes better when it’s served on my favorite ‘dog plate’.

I should be writing. Instead…an expected winning recipe and, well…

Let’s start with the good news– a recipe I’ve relied on for a decade.

best cocoa brownies

This is my chocolate chip-studded version of Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies. These babies are uncooked and darned if I forgot to take a photo this morning before they [and their counterpart batch with walnuts] headed over to a staff celebration.

But the serious ‘dark’ should tell you anybody eating these might well liken them to a  candy bar. [Only a half-cup flour is needed.]

The kitchen gods–whose voices sound oddly like my wife’s– are beckoning me to whip up another tray–one that won’t leave the premises.

***

And now, for a venture into the land of culinary unintended consequences…

refried beans unintended

There in the fridge sat a bowl leftover red beans and a bowl of cooked quinoa.

Hey! Why not doctor them up with a caramelized onion, sun-dried tomatoes from the jar, and some paprika, granulated garlic, and chili powder and make veggie-burgers? I’ve had good luck with this combination in the past, so why not?

Aaaand you’re wondering where the recipe is.  Me too.

I did a short consultation online, but paid as much attention to the recipe as I did to the cranked-up food processor.

So…burgers? Malleable patties out of this glop? Not a chance.

But…refried beans? Absolutely. In fact, the best I’ve tasted in years.

All due to my lapse into ‘kitchen shlub-hood’.

Nice save, T.

I should be writing. Instead…hand pies.

Two-fisted hand pies, that is.

cherry hand pies cropped

In our kitchen, ooze rules.

We had considered the more elegant look of a galette, but we laughed that off once we rolled out the dough.

My wife and I just wanted to slap those babies on the preheated cookie sheet and get’em baking.

I started with a glance at a crust recipe of author Linda Lomelino [Book: Lomelino’s Pies].

She goes with 3/4 cup of flour and nine tablespoons of butter. No salt or sugar.

So I, of course, veered a bit–1 cup pastry flour, a quarter teaspoon of salt, a little more than a tablespoon of sugar pulsed in the food processor joined by a stick [cubed] of cold butter. Add the cold water by the tablespoon until the dough sticks a bit to the sides. Scrape the dough into a piece of plastic wrap, and, once wrapped, sculpt it into a disk. Refrigerate until it’s baking time.

We were pleased with the crust. I think the pastry flour makes a difference.

But it was a good starting point and the book offers quality advice, photos, and recipes.

Pie filling for today?

Pie 1: Canned dark sweet cherries, thoroughly drained, with a little sugar and flour and a syrup of a reduction of creme de cassis, brandy, vanilla, some sugar, and a little juice from the can.

Pie 2: The rest of the cherries and diced Granny Smith apple dredged in sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice.

We have actually decided to follow baking protocol and are letting the pies cool.

I know, that’s crazy talk. But every once in awhile, we are able to resist.

Verdict–on the count of not sealing the pastry borders: Guilty

Verdict–on the count of assembling a quality, comforting, repeat-worthy treat to chase away the Sunday evening blues: Guilty

Verdict–on the count of eating more than you should have: Guilty.

I should be writing. Instead…a little culinary decadence.

hot chocolate

Camped out at Bellden Cafe in Bellevue, Washington with family.

Revelation: Some of the best idea generation sessions take place are when author tools are nowhere in sight.

Conversation at the table yielded these possibilities:

  1. Why not create a journal of light-bulb moments in the classroom? [Both teachers’ and students’]
  2. The world could use a new business-speak glossary pretty much every year.
  3. Student artwork posted online should/could/might be accompanied by a short audio clip from the artist revisiting the process.

 

 

 

 

 

I should be writing. Instead…hero worship.

unknown leonardo book

I was cruising the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on Saturday and my wife held up this treasure.

A 10″ x 13″ 300-page tome on da Vinci to add to my ‘Leonardo Library’.

$2.50.

Major score.

So much more gratifying–for the time being–than rambling endlessly. [Well, other than this endless rambling.]

I have a shelves of books that need to be thinned, but the Leonardo Library is untouchable.

Last summer’s visit to the Machines in Motion exhibit at the Aerospace Museum of California last summer did little for my writing projects, but was another feather in my procrastinator’s cap.

leonardo flying machine copy

 

I should be writing. Instead…reading obituaries.

born-1264699_1280

I think I first got the idea from Austin Kleon in his book, Show Your Work.

Here’s a short piece from him on the topic:  http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/24956947198

In his book, he talks about how it inspires him to get a move on. They are good reminders of how short our time on earth really is and that we shouldn’t take it for granted.

Amen to that.

It always makes me think back to a neighborhood stroll a few years back. A guardian angel** [trust me on this] slowed me down a half-step as I approached a tall hedge that reached out toward the sidewalk.

If I hadn’t paused for that extra moment, I would have been road kill, courtesy of a driver who was blindly backing out his SUV at breakneck speed.

Did that moment launch me into a whole new existence? Did I stop and smell every rose along the way?

Nope. I should have and should continue to do so, but real life intervenes.

In his book, Kleon talks of Tim Kreider, who for the year following his own brush with death, did appreciate his second chance, but fell back into what he called ‘the busywork of living’.

So, a quick look at the obits not only reminds me of my tenuous existence, but it tells me I, like Austin, have projects to finish and good deeds to perform. No, my name won’t be spread across a marquee, but, now in my 60’s, it feels more and more as if part of every day should be spent making some kind of difference.

Back to the obituaries:

  • the co-creator of what became the world’s longest running musical
  • a ballet star whose career was derailed by a spinal tumor
  • a man who collected 75,000 volumes of English language poetry
  • a researcher who saved many from fatal cardiac disorders.

The question arises: What will I do? What do I care to do? Is it enough to try to be a solid family member, someone who values serving others more than picking up a larger check, a guy who would just as soon…well, that brought to mind the next question:

If I could wave a magic wand, what would I change in the world? What would I want mentioned in my obituary?

Assuming that ending famine, eradicating disease, and forging world peace were beyond my reach, I would:

1. build a massive college/trade school tuition fund for those kids who are otherwise saddled with crippling debt in the face of an uncertain job market.

2. finance construction of comfortable animal shelters and pay living wages for those who run them.

3. create an all-purpose recyclable plastic that replaces all the other types and obviates the nagging ‘does Waste Management take this?’ question.

4. provide accessible and abundant water supplies for those whose daily lives are reduced to traveling for hours for just enough to make it through the next 24 hours. [That Stella Artois commercial during the Super Bowl really got to me, as well as its longer version.]

5. raise money to preserve our national parks, reserves, and refuges.

6. build a foster-care support system that can fill the gaps and provide stability for the current overburdened system and its clients.

Time out! After I’d scheduled this post, I ran across this story and I want my obit to feature something like what this officer did…

So, will I do all this? Of course not, but putting this in words might nudge me forward to at least do my part.

And so, here I sit on a Friday night, not an inch nearer to finishing my current projects, but some worthy rumination just the same.

Such is the power of procrastination.


Note: Talk about procrastination. I wrote this post’s draft a month ago, but the seriousness of it didn’t fit with my usual approach and it felt stilted. Basically, it was more difficult to write and it needed time to sit. The time away from it helped. It’s not an award-winner [see point #1 from this post], but it’s done.

 

 

I should be writing. Instead…wildlife management.

no deer
Seems local deer have denuded [Will that word choice get this post an ‘X’ rating? Anything for readership, right?] our front yard lately. The crocus plants are reduced to nubs and the nandina appear to be less than productive.

Always armed with rational solutions, I took matters into my own hands.

It was obvious–appeal to the deer’s logic. Let them know they’re not welcome.

So far, the sign’s been up for an hour. No deer in sight.

I knew it would work.

My wife–cynic that she is–seems dubious.

If the deer do reappear, it will be time for a summit and a ‘candid exchange’ with hopes for peaceful coexistence.

More later. Stay riveted.