Category Archives: Channeling the domestic goddess

Every now and then I have an attack of domesticity. Sometimes it’s memorable.

Plum boozy

Standard

Well, on Monday the north half of the planet tipped over to the Dark Side – and no, I’m not referring to the day’s usual bucket load of news crud. I’m thinking about the arrival of autumn, and with it the frantic last weeks of harvest time for lazy gardeners who have been neglecting their veggie patch. The Hubbit trundled next door with a large bucket swinging from a sticky-out thing on his tractor, and brought it back full of plums.

Okay, full disclosure: He did that a couple weeks ago, when I was inundated with dogs, and the plums in the bottom half of the bucket (we’re talking a 20 gallon bucket here, okay? Nothing small about the Hubbit!) went squishy and oozy and … Well, I sweetly requested more plums, and while he was off getting them I tipped the first lot into the sink.

They had started to ferment. But dang … that many plums was way too many for my few remaining hens. My flock has declined inexorably over the summer; two more fell to a visiting husky last week, and I’m now down to seven. Twenty gallons of fermenting plums is way too much for seven hens, even aided by a large roo.

Plus, I’d been googling plum preserving recipes on various websites, and some people intentionally ferment their plums. Meanwhile, regular fruit canning recipes demand juice. Long story short, it went against nature to waste these organically fermented remnants of juiciness, so I didn’t. I washed them off, picked out the pits, squeezed and massaged, and after adding water and straining off the chewy bits (for chickenly delectation), the resulting juice was quite pleasantly plummy. I put it in a large pot, added a couple cups of sugar and a generous slosh of lemon juice, and let it boil while I got busy halving and depitting the nice firm plums the Hubbit had brought me following his second trip to the neighbor’s tree. (Only half a bucket this time, thankfully!)

I filled seven quart jars and topped them off with the juice. Oh – I should mention, before adding the juice, I made it even more delicious by sloshing in about half a bottle of witblitz, aka mampoer, which the Hubbit insisted on buying on a visit to South Africa about 10 or 15 years ago, even though neither of us is an especially enthusiastic drinker. Witblitz (pronounced vitblits – it means “white lightning”) is the Boer answer to moonshine. It claims to be 50 proof peach brandy but it also works quite well as rocket fuel. Also, turns out it tastes not too bad when it’s been sitting in the back of a kitchen cupboard for 15 years.

In any case, the plum juice is bitchin’, and I know this because one of the quart jars didn’t seal properly during the canning process, so of course ice cream was acquired and … yum-meee!

Juicy plums and ice cream, with a hint of witblitz. Can life get any better? I think not.

Anyway, that took care of most of the plums. This morning, I processed the last of them while chatting with my bestie, Twiglet, via WhatsApp. Dang, I love technology – don’t you? Forget all the nastiness and spying and manipulation … I just love being able to sit at my dining table, sorting and slicing plums, while chatting to someone I love even though she’s clear around the other side of the planet. I ended up with a little over five pounds of sliced, still firm plums, which I dumped into a large bowl along with some cinnamon sticks, a slosh of vanilla, a sprinkle of cloves, a couple cups of sugar, and about five cups of non-witblitz brandy. (You’ll find the actual recipe here.) That’s now in a couple of jars, hiding in the back of a cupboard and waiting for the holiday season.

So much for plums. Tomorrow I tackle the tomatoes. And oh, holy cow, do I have a LOT of tomatoes! Well, one tomato at a time they will be peeled and cooked, and then canned or frozen.

I’m really not good at the domestic goddess thing, generally. Or the farm wife thing. But for all that, I find this work immensely satisfying. It will be so good, in the chill dark of January, to eat food that I raised myself in our good earth under a summer sun.

Do you find yourself feeling sad as the days start to get shorter? Or do you welcome the change in seasons? Would a dop of African moonshine make you feel better about it?

Sometimes life demands cookies

Standard

Last week I mourned. I took time out to be happy on Wednesday, when Argos and I drove Cojak to his new family in Seattle, but made up for it on Thursday by refusing in any way celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday I despise despite quite liking turkey, candied yams and green been casserole. Usually I avoid it by sending the Hubbit to visit his sister, but this year that wasn’t an option, so instead I channeled the Mean Wife and abandoned my plan for a feast, and the Hubbit had to fry up a pathetic little piece of ham for himself and the Cool Dude. Friday was no better – I was sad and my face sprang a leak that I couldn’t stop up all day.

Clearly drastic measures were necessary. So I invited 15 people to a cookie party.

A cookie party is a simple and wondrous concept. You invite everyone you know who has an oven to bring 6 dozen cookies to your house.  You then ply them with delectable comestibles and let them entertain you with their conversational brilliance. (Note: Any lack of conversational brilliance is your fault. Bring out another bottle.) When you’ve had enough and want them to leave, you do arithmetic. For instance, if eight people have each brought 72 cookies, 72/8=9, therefore everyone gets to take nine cookies off each platter. Invariably people bring extra, and those are yours – the spoils – and while you can share them if you want to they’re probably better used to distract Hubbits while you hide your stash. And that’s it! For the rest of the year, people will trumpet your name as the hostess who sent them home from a great party with 6 dozen assorted home-baked cookies.

Anyway, having invited a hungry horde to descend upon my humble and chronically untidy abode, of course I then I had to clean my house. And also bake a whole lot of stuff. I thought of canceling the party, but that would have been just too feeble – plus I kept getting texts from happy wannabe cookie-eaters about how their individual baking efforts were going.

Cairo's butt.jpg

I was going to show you some before and after pictures of my kitchen, but really, why would I do that to you? Or to myself? This photograph of Cairo’s butt, from the perspective of my early morning pillow, pretty much says it all.

So I hurled together a double batch of Refrigerator Cookies, as well as a cheesecake and a malva pudding. Other people brought more goodies, so I canceled my plan to make Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake, but you really should try it – it’s wonderful! The end result was good and a vast amount of sugar was consumed by all. And since I couldn’t invite the denizens of the blogoverse to share, I figured I’d at least pass along a few recipes. You still have time to organize your own cookie party in plenty of time for Christmas!

Refrigerator Cookies

Fridge biscuits – aka “Refrigerator Cookies” for my American friends, who have given the humble biscuit a strange and perverted meaning involving gravy – were one of my Marmeee’s standbys. The dough is easy to make, you chill it for half an hour, and then you roll it out into sausages, which you wrap in wax paper and store in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to slice and bake them. The only downside to this is the cookie dough is irresistible, so if you’re planning to hold them for long, make extra. And then, damage control: store them where no one but you will see them.

The basic recipe isn’t wildly exciting, but it is incredibly forgiving and permits many complex variations on its simple theme. An option that kids love is to make two separate batches, one chocolate and one vanilla. You can then roll them out flat and lay one on top of the other before rolling them up into sausages, as described in the recipe. The end result is either a spiral pattern or Rorschach cookies – and which you choose will tell us much about who you are in those deep parts of you that cookies don’t go. For this year’s cookie party I made one batch of chocolate and ginger (I replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder, and added several generous spoons of ground ginger) and another batch with chocolate chips and chopped walnuts (I just made up a batch of plain dough and then, using my hands, squeezed and mixed in as much chopped nuts and chocolate chips as I thought it would hold). You could also add raisins, or lemon or orange rind and juice (plus a bit extra flour), or nutmeg and raisins, or cranberries – just have fun with it!

I roll up my sausages so that they’re about 1 1/4  inches (just over 3 cm) in diameter, and I slice them about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. Based on those measurements, a single batch will make about 4 dozen cookies.

8 oz butter
13 oz sugar
3 eggs
3 ml vanilla essence
17 oz flour
3 ml salt
3 ml baking powder
3 ml baking soda

  • Cream butter and add sugar, creaming well.
  • Add eggs and vanilla essence and beat well.
  • Sift flour with salt, baking powder and baking soda, and add to mixture.
  • Chill until stiff enough to handle.
  • Form into rolls, wrap in wax paper, and store in fridge.
  • When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 340ºF.
  • Cut slices and place on greased baking tray, spaced to allow them to spread, in center of oven until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. (Time depends on how thick you slice them. I cut mine about a half inch thick and they were done in 12 minutes in a convection oven.)
Argos with pumpkin.jpg

Argos thought I should bake a pumpkin pie, and even went out into the yard to find the necessary pumpkin, but that is something I would never do … so this picture is for the self-proclaimed Queen of All Things Holiday, including pumpkin pie.

Easy Baked Cheesecake

This is a good cheesecake recipe, but it does present a few challenges. First, it’s important not to over-bake it. Remember that it will continue cooking after you take it out of the oven. I’m still experimenting with how to get a firm but soft filling, and I imagine you’ll need to do your own experimenting depending on your altitude, your oven, and your preferences.

Second, I’d like a stronger hint of lemon than I managed this time. A “drop” of lemon juice doesn’t really cut it; I think next time I’ll skip the vanilla and add a “dollop” of lemon or lime juice … and maybe I’ll stir in some lemon or lime zest while I’m at it.

Lastly, although it tastes wonderful it doesn’t look that pretty. In my experience the topping tends to crack. So plan on slathering the top with whipped cream!

Base

1-2 pkts of graham crackers or tennis biscuits, crushed
8 oz butter, melted

  • Mix, making sure the crackers are saturated but all the butter has been absorbed.
  • Press down onto base of 8×8″ pie plate.
  • Refrigerate until the butter sets.

Filling

18 oz cream cheese
10 Tbsp sugar
Drop of vanilla essence
Drop of lemon juice
3 eggs
2 Tbsp flour

  • Preheat oven to 390 ºF.
  • Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice until they’re smooth.
  • Add eggs and flour and mix well.
  • Pour over base.
  • Bake 35 minutes until just turning brown round the edges, and remove from oven.

Topping

9 oz sour cream
Splash lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar

  • Mix well.
  • Pour over hot cake, and return to oven for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve chilled with whipped cream.

 

The ultimate brownie

Standard

When I got back into blogging just a couple and a half weeks ago, I promised myself I would post something every week … but friends, the post that was supposed to go up on Tuesday is just so hard to write – yet impossible to ignore.

So you’ll get it next Tuesday. In the meantime, here is my recipe for brownies. I have had some need of comfort food lately, and I have to tell you, these are the best.

Note #1: For those poor souls who don’t have access to cranberries, these brownies are still outstanding without them. I just like the way the tart cranberry flavor cuts the sweetness of all the chocolate. Maybe you can think of an alternative … candied orange might work, provided it’s the good stuff, not the nasty plastic pebbles that renders American Christmas cakes good for nothing but holding doors open.

Note #2: I’m serious about the quality of the chocolate chips. If you’re not going to use good ones, don’t bother … just buy a box mix of brownie batter and call it good.

Note #3: The baking time is an approximation. They’re done when a knife comes out with no actual raw brownie mix on it. They’re overdone if the knife comes out dry – those chocolate chips are supposed to be soft!

Note #4: I usually double the quantity … but you do you.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Cape Town

My brownies never seem to last long enough for anyone to remember to photograph them. Instead, here is a view of Cape Town from the Kirstenbosch Garden, on the flanks of Table Mountain. (If you think it’s peculiar to illustrate a recipe post with a random picture of scenery, take it up with Ellen. Irrelevant photos are her idea – I deny all responsibility.)

CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY BROWNIES

½ cup + 2 Tablespoons soft butter (5 oz / 140 g)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
6 tablespoons cocoa (90 ml)
½ cup flour
Pinch salt
½ cup chocolate chips (use Ghirardelli or equivalent, not Hershey. I like semi-sweet.)
½ cup chopped nuts (I like either almonds or pecans.)
¼-½ cup dried cranberries (depending on personal preference.)

  1. Set oven to 320F (160C)
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla.
  3. Beat in eggs, then sift in cocoa, flour and salt.
  4. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, and cranberries.
  5. Bake in greased 8″ (20 cm) square pan, about 25 minutes

Enjoy!

Lazy entertaining

Standard

What better to do on a warm, clear spring Saturday than to invite a friend over for braai – sorry, barbecue, because this is America – but whatever you call it, it involves steak raised on our own pasture, and a variety of delicious salady things. Of course, the dessert is unmistakably South African, and that’s what I want to share with you today – because it’s easy, scrumptious, and ideal for any but the hottest weather. Ladies and gentlemen of the kitchen, I give you…

Malva pudding!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

Malva pudding, enriched with brandied fruit and served with cream!

In a small saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp white vinegar and 1 cup milk.

While it’s heating, take 1 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp apricot jam and 1 egg, and beat well together.

In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup flour, 1 tsp bicarb (aka baking soda), 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the heated liquids to the egg and sugar mixture, while stirring or beating slowly. Mix well.

Bake at 350 F (180 C) in a covered dish for 45-60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out dry. (Choose a baking dish that has at least an inch clear at the top after you pour in the batter, because you’ll need room to add the sauce.)

While it is baking, make the sauce. In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream, 6 oz (170 g) butter, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup hot water. Stir to mix, and do not allow them to boil.

When you remove the pudding from the oven, immediately pour on the hot sauce. (It can take a while to soak in. Be patient, and add all of it. This is what transforms the pudding from a mere cake to something irresistible!)

Serve hot or cold. I like it with plain unwhipped cream, but it’s also good with ice cream, custard or whipped cream.

A variation that I enjoy – and this is what I made today – is what I call “Christmas Malva Pudding”. Every year when I bake my Christmas cakes (dang, I could have sworn I’d given you my recipe, but apparently I forgot last year! That will have to wait until this November!) I end up with a whole lot of excess fruit mix. I pack this into bottles, glug in the brandy, and store it in the pantry. Every now and then I slosh in a bit more brandy to keep it happy. This makes a yummy addition to malva pudding (I add about 1 cup to the recipe above) and brownies (I guess I’ll have to share that recipe one day too!) More enthusiastic cooks than I could probably come up with a host of other recipes that would use it. Any that’s left over in November simply goes into the next batch of Christmas cakes.

Oh – and no, this is not remotely ketogenic. But when your diet choices are about lifestyle, not D.I.E.T, you can allow yourself some flexibility. Just don’t overdo it – because if your body is used to eating low-carb, something this rich and sweet will make you feel yuck. I plan to send the leftovers home with my guest today!

How are you celebrating the changing seasons? Do you have a favorite fall-back any-occasion guaranteed-winner dish that you like to serve?

I asked my husband for a vacuum cleaner for Christmas

Standard

So it’s official: I’m a plugger. Either that or an alien has taken control of my brain.

A few weeks ago I told Himself that the one thing I truly wanted for Christmas was a Roomba. And when, two days later, he came home from Costco and plunked one down on the counter, and I didn’t see it until I was halfway through bitching at him for not telling me he was going to Costco so he could pick up the things I needed … well, I cried. Yes, really – tears of joy. And then I called all my friends to brag about how much he loved me.

Argh. I’d better check. Did we move to Stepford and I just didn’t notice? Nope, can’t be – there are still six dogs living here. That would never happen in Stepford.

And speaking of the dogs, they are the one disappointing element in this scenario. When we introduced them to Stella (yes, the Roomba has a name, and her name is Stella, long non-PC story), I was looking forward to getting some entertaining video to share on here. But apparently they are inured to my habit of adding new members to our pack. Their reaction was, essentially, “Gee, no butt. Nothing to sniff. Ho hum.”

Argh … those poor floors need refinishing. And the walls need repairing and painting. Oh well, such is the price of five years of rescue. I’ll get to it – and in the meantime at least hairballs are now history!

Shortly after bringing Stella home, Himself departed for Darkest California to spend a week with his family. In his absence, did I set up a comparative research study into local cocktail options? Did I splurge on chocolates and red wine and invite my girlfriends over to watch porn? Did I treat myself to a full body massage and facial, change my hair color, and acquire a boy toy, or even a new vibrator?

I did not. I am a Plugger. I truly couldn’t think of anything more exciting to do than to clean my floor. (Boring? Yeah, well, you try living with six large(ish) dogs. On a farm. In a wind-tunnel. In the heart of a dust bowl.) But as I pondered the logistics of this task, I worried that Stella might choke or have a seizure if I set her loose on the army of dust bunnies. She’s a tough little thing, but it was a mighty army.

Plus, as I pondered and contemplated and generally thought about matters housewifely, it occurred to me that a clean floor would look so much better if the walls, and windows, and doors, and counter-tops, and furniture, and everything else, were clean too. Because here’s the thing … We used to run a dog rescue. (I have mentioned this once or twice before.) And although we used foster homes, sometimes we had more than 20 dogs in our home. Technically, some of them lived in runs out in the barn, but Himself is a soft touch, and I insisted on giving all of them “indoor socialization time”, and the end result was, quite frankly, icky. I retired last January and I’ve been trying all year to fix the mess and damage, but even with the amazing FlyLady as my guru I couldn’t ever quite catch up.

And I thought to myself, “Himself deserves better. I deserve better. Stella deserves better, for crying out loud!” So I blew a hole bigger than the one in Kimberley through our budget to hire someone to help me clean our house. And I stayed up past midnight doing things like reorganizing the pantry.

It's important to keep things in context ... so I just want to mention that Crater Lake, in Oregon, is way bigger than the Kimberley Big Hole. The hole in our budget was nothing at all like Crater Lake.

It’s important to keep information in context … so I just want to mention that Crater Lake, in Oregon, is way bigger than the Kimberley Big Hole. No seismic event occurred here, and the hole in our budget was nothing at all like Crater Lake. That has to count for something, right?

So now, every morning when I get up to let the dogs out, I press Stella’s glowing green belly button. She chirps gleefully and sets off, humming a happy note, to tackle her mission for the day. When she’s done she puts herself away, and I empty her when I feel like it.

And here we are, just days away from hosting our Christmas Day open house for anything between five and 50 guests, and although I am feeling just the teeniest bit of urgency with regard to getting a bit of food planning, shopping and preparation done, as far as cleaning is concerned there are no emergency measures required.

Honestly, it feels just like Christmas!