Thursday, January 27, 2011

Something ugly this way comes.

My very first Daring Bakers' challenge: January 2011.  It works like this: the recipe and instructions are posted on the first of the month in a very exclusive/secret forum, the bakers dare to bake said challenge during the next 26 days, and then post their results on their own blogs on the 27th.  

The January 2011 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro.  She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Jaconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.


My thoughts exactly.  Here's some background:
A jaconde imprime (French Baking term) is a decorative design baked into a light sponge cake providing an elegant finish to desserts/torts/entrements formed in ring molds.  A jaconde batter is used because it bakes into a moist, flexible cake. The cake batter may be tinted or marbleized for a further decorative effect.
Entremets is an ornate dessert with many different layers of cake and pastry cream in a mold, usually served cold. (Think triffle in a mold vs. a glass bowl.)
And. Yeah. Mine's not that pretty.

Here's how it starts--with jaconde pattern paste, mixed from powdered sugar and butter and egg whites, and colored and put into a pastry bag and piped into a pattern on parchment on the up-turned bottom of your jelly roll pan. This goes into the freezer for 15 minutes until it's hardened through.

And then you make a sponge that goes over top of the paste and into a very hot oven for a very short time.  It comes out looking like this:

Flipped over, it looks like this. Or, mine did. Yours might not be wrinkly like mine is, since I don't think it's supposed to be.

You then cut the finished jaconde to size, lining the edge of a bottomless mold.  See here:

After that I was on my own to figure out how to fill it.  So I made mousse: one with a pound of white chocolate and one with fresh blackberries and framboise.  And then I filled the jaconde with three layers of the two mousses--white chocolate in the middle and the berry on the bottom and top. I tried for a layer of the extra sponge in the middle, but it was so thin it didn't have much structural integrity. 

Lessons learned:

1) Go to Sur la Table and buy real baker's food coloring. The Betty Crocker stuff makes florescent stripes, and they're just not that appealing;

2) I guess I need to learn to make a mousse. It turns out I'm not a fan of mousse, so I've never bothered to perfect it...but mine ended up chunky and sad.  Even after the double-boiling and the delicate stirring and the chilling. Chunky. Sad.  (And so rich you couldn't eat it. And, dear readers, this is why I don't love a mousse.  Three cups of heavy cream, plus two eggs and two egg yolks = too heavy to bother eating.)

3) Plan for garnish. I finished the dessert after a frantic 4 hours in the kitchen (I think I used every mixing bowl I own) and had nothing to put on top of the ugly thing to distract the eye from the unappealing chunks in the mousse.  And, compared to the rest of the people who participate in Daring Bakers, I'm a serious amateur both in the baking arena and in the photographic styling.  Time to up my game.

Tune back in on February 27 for next month's challenge. Here's hoping it's prettier. Or at least less rich and therefore edible.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sweater curse, be damned.

I'm knitting Joe a sweater. It's a birthday present, which is to say, you can't surprise the one you love (and live with) with a fully-formed sweater. Instead, he got a box of yarn for his birthday.

A potential gift.

A gift-in-progress, if you will.

There's a thing about knitting your significant other a sweater. A curse.

Sweaters take time, people. And they take yarn. LOTS of yarn.

And by the time you're done knitting said sweater, you could have gone out and bought three sweaters for the price of the one you completed. Plus, you'd have all those hours of knitting back too.

So. Knitting someone else a sweater is a true labor of love.

The curse goes like this: as soon as the sweater is done, so is the relationship.

And since I highly value my relationship, I have been reluctant to knit this man a sweater.

But, we've been through a lot over those 14 years we've been together.

So I decided to take the leap.

I'm deep in it. The back is complete, the two front panels are complete, and I'm half-way up the second sleeve.  There will be a critical point, say, at the end of next week, where I put all of these pieces on a huge circular needle to complete the shoulders and neck, and that is the first time I'll be able to gauge whether this thing is going to fit him (and, therefore, whether or not I'm going to have to frog half the sweater).  This will determine, as well, whether Joe gets to wear this sweater this winter or next winter.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The governor's tomb and a hole

The first governor of Arizona, George W.P. Hunt, upon his wife's death in 1931, built a pyramid in which to entomb her, and--the best part really--completely covered it in white ceramic bathroom tiles.

He, along with four other family members, was eventually buried here as well.

The hilltop, including this pyramid, were later absorbed into Phoenix's Papago Park and this ugly iron fence was added to protect the...tomb? pyramid? integrity of the bathroom tile?

There's a lovely little parking lot right below it and a number of interpretive plaques that tell you about the Governor and the love his people have for him. You can walk all around the tomb/pyramid and take photos and generally love the fact that the world is big and huge and weird.

Straight across from the pyramid is a natural wonder, affectionately named Hole in the Rock.  It's a fitting name, too, since it's a hole. In a rock.

This too has a rocky but generally cactus-free trail up and around the back of the rock to a place where climbing up to the hole is quite simple, assuming one has sturdy legs and good shoes.  I don't have a photo of the hole from a distance, which I see now is a mistake, as you can't tell how impressive this hole is up close.

You can, however, see how impressive the greyhound and the husband are. So that's something.

Look here for the far-away view that I should have taken while up on the hill of the tomb.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christmas Cake

Joe's parents flew in to Arizona on Christmas evening, and we decided to greet them with a festive dinner.  Living within the constraints of a limited kitchen (as in, there's no mixer) and not wanting to buy a bunch of ingredients that we'd never use up in the three weeks we're here, I opted for the simplest of desserts: a chocolate cake.

The meal was a lamb leg, marinated in chipotle, adobo, and lime accompanied by roasted root vegetables and a citrus/serrano pepper/cilantro salad.  In keeping with the southwestern theme, I found this lovely (and adventurous) Mexican chocolate cake (balsamic vinegar in your cake, anyone?) online from Pink Bites.  I also found a tiny tiny bundt pan in the cupboard!  Home. Free.

I made the glaze from the recipe too (YUM).  And then sprinkled pomegranate seeds on top.

Because nothing says Christmas like the juicy red garnet seeds of the pom. Nothing.

Friday, January 7, 2011

World's Largest


The 32-foot tall, humpbacked, flute-playing god of fertility and harvest graces a strip mall in Camp Verde, AZ, containing a drive-thru Starbucks, a Verizon wireless store, and--wait for it--the Krazy Kokopelli Trading Post.

 It was definitely worth the stop.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

33 things to do before I turn 34

  1. play with the daring bakers. this is a year-long commitment, as you get kicked out of the secret daring club if you miss more than two months. hmm.  started here.
  2. learn to roller skate backwards. (I'm not actually ever going to do this. Let's be honest. Maybe it would be better just to learn to skate competently forward.)
  3. etch some glass. Like this.
  4. make (or pay someone to make) a real gavron website. done.
  5. read more poetry.
  6. make patchwork wall hangings. 
  7. provide pro bono graphic design work for a local charity.
  8. keep playing Toy Society quarterly.
  9. play with my niece.
  10. bake with my nephew.
  11. roast the coffee beans. (this is a repost from last year, but dammit, it's going to happen this year. I swear.)
  12. draw. add watercolor to said drawing. repeat.
  13. make brioche.  this takes three days, people. and that is why, thus far, it has eluded me.
  14. learn (and then do) to take better/prettier product shots. more light. more props. more patience.
  15. make a ruffled shirt. one of these.  (done) maybe this scarf, too.
  16. spray paint the cuckoo clock.
  17. knit weight covers for the cuckoo clock.
  18. three words. bunting. stamp. roller.
  19. go to ye olde curiosity shop. (how have I not made it there yet?)  done.
  20. continue the search for Roadside America treasures
  21. knit or sew outfits for the posable artist models.
  22. next holiday season: make these walnut ornaments.  heck. you might not have to wait until the holidays.
  23. get tattooed. maybe.
  24. make a cover for the sewing machine. the machine works so hard, shouldn't we keep it free from dog hair?
  25. eat a croissant in paris. done.
  26. have some family portraits taken. family = me + j + t + roo
  27. witness my friend sayra's wedding. (yippee!)
  28.                                           [<--- this space left intentionally blank.] leave space.
  29. make injera. convince joe to make food to eat with said injera.
  30. look to nature to solve a problem. (thanks to Second Sam for this one.)
  31. continue working on Not a Book.
  32. find a vintage typewriter to call my own. (this is a repeat too.)
  33. find...and note...small bits of joy along the way.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

World's Largest

Kachina Doll.

And it's for sale, people. So if you wanted a photo or two with it, you'd better hurry.

To find it, look here.

In other news, we also visited the America's Largest Sundial, though if you've been following along, you know that we recently visited another sundial, and it was bigger than this one.  (That one, however, only works one day a year, so maybe it doesn't count.)  This one is adorably in the center of the town of Carefree, Arizona, and it is festooned in yellow holiday lights.

The Roadside America app may be my new best friend. Just sayin.