Sunday, April 29, 2012

A not-quite-named dessert

Now that both the choir season and the semester are over, I feel as if I have hours more free time, both at work and at home. I spent all weekend replenishing our freezer stores. I'm going to continue with those once-a-month freezer meals, because even if I plan to do more day-to-day cooking, meals in the freezer means I'm not tempted to spend money (that's not in the budget) on restaurant meals. I can't really do a month's worth of cooking in a day, whatever they think I should be able to do on the website. But in two afternoons I made twelve dinners for the freezer, and lunches for the whole week. I'm most proud, however, of the dessert I made.

When I was a kid, someone gave me a cookbook which purported to have recipes from Laura Ingalls Wilder's time. I had read those books many times, so it was a fitting gift. One of the recipes was for a cake that was cooked in boiling water, rather than baked. I imagine that in the time of wood stoves, it was easier to maintain a constant temperature boiling water bath than to maintain a constant temperature oven. It was the first time I had ever had what I would now call a steamed pudding, and I loved the moistness of this kind of dessert.

If you've never made one before, here's how it works. You make a fairly typical cake batter (this one is flavored with raspberries and vanilla rum), and pour it into a well-greased tin. I used a stainless steel mixing bowl, because I needed something that would fit in my 8 quart stock pot.

 Wrap it with waxed paper, aluminum foil, and then tie it with string. One of the recipes suggested making a string handle, so that it would be easy to remove.
 Place it in a pan with a rack, fill it half-way with boiling water, put the lid on, and then boil it for two hours. Unmold.
A very moist cake. I think it would be called a pudding (which I'd need to differentiate from the custard-style puddings common in America). I've also seen it called a sponge, but I can't figure out the difference between a sponge and a pudding. Can anyone from the UK or Australia help me out with that?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stormy Weather, again

We had some really serious thunderstorms last night, during my choir concert. We were singing in a beautiful, modern church in Fort Lauderdale, with a large, three-story vaulted ceiling. The huge space contains only pews and mosaiced walls, which means that the entire building is basically a giant drum. It was a challenge to sing against the ensuing noise, but the audience seemed to like us nonetheless. As I slowly and carefully drove the 30 miles home through the downpour, I was reminded of similar drives through snowstorms in Ohio: the futile gesture where you try to turn up your wipers, only to find they are already on high, and then the carefully ignoring of all the drivers whizzing by you. The tiniest tap on my brakes told me my car was not going to stop if I needed it to, so I crept home at 20 mph.. Eventually I arrived home, only to find that the storms hadn't yet hit Miami, so Andrew did not properly appreciate my adventure.

We've got two more concerts this weekend, and then the season is over until next August. I have loved singing with this choir. (Except when we sing Britten. There is no love lost between Britten and I.) It's challenging to sing with so many people who are almost-professional, and having extremely talented directors and accompanists makes a big difference. It makes me think a lot about teaching, and learning. Talented teachers know little tricks for getting your to think about a concept in a new way. One week I was particularly amazed at how the conductor conveyed the importance of watching her for the tempo, rather than listening to the organist (because the organist is in a different part of the room, and because that tends to make our tempo drag). We were instructed to sing at the tempo she conducted, while the organist continually varied his tempo so that we had to work against him. I was amazed that the organist  had the skill to play against the conductor (it's liking singing one song and listening to another), and I was amazed that the choir could do it. I still have a lot to learn about singing, so I hope I can do this again next year. It's a big time commitment - every Monday I spend over five hours in rehearsal plus commute, but it's nice to be a learner instead of a teacher for a while.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paella and pride

In October, Andrew and I are taking a trip to Spain and England. My uncle is organizing the trip to Spain, and has found a house in Andalusia, where we'll be staying for a week with half a dozen other couples. There's a suggested reading list for the trip, so I've been learning about medieval Spanish history, which can be summed up as, "Sometimes the different religions got along, and sometimes they didn't. But either way, they built lots of beautiful buildings."
All of this Spanish history got me thinking about paella. Paella is not a vegetarian-friendly dish. I've had meat-free versions once or twice, but mostly they taste like a plate of yellow rice and vegetables. I tried my own take this weekend, and the end result is shown below.

I'd rate it about three out of four stars. The sausage, along with lemon and capers and a good base of onion and garlic added a lot of flavor. And I was able to get that toasty rice crust on the bottom (called socarrat, I think), which definitely enhanced in the dish. I think this is a dish best reserved for meat eaters, though, because it just didn't knock my socks off.
Then, fueled by all those carbs, I marched in a parade. My church had a group carrying a banner in the Miami Beach Gay Pride parade. It was loads of fun, because everyone looked so happy to be there. I had it on good authority that the Miami Beach parade is quite tame compared to the New York or San Francisco versions - there was no actual nudity among either the parade-goers or parade-watchers. I only took a few pictures, but hopefully this one conveys some of the color and exuberance.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Back to normal

The verdict after our changing chores experiment: we both do a lot of work, and it seems pretty fairly divided. I learned that I really hate flea combing the cat (ugh) and that Andrew is not a very good kitchen manager (a lot of food spoiled). But now I physically appreciate the fact that Andrew gets up and makes coffee in the morning. When I first wake up, I feel bleary-eye and nauseous. (Can you tell I'm not a morning person?) Being greeted with a cup of coffee in bed is such a different thing than stumbling around getting dressed and fending off loving pets.In the end, we didn't change the amount of work, but we reshuffled the chores a bit because we each discovered some chores we'd rather be doing.
With the end of that experiment, life goes back to normal. The end of the semester, combined with my looming choir concerts, has left me a bit frazzled. So, for now, please be satisfied with some photos:
The hat I wore for Easter.

A view of the Everglades, where we took a tram trip through Shark Valley on Sunday afternoon.
A yawning alligator.