Friday, May 13, 2022

Spring Pie


We have been getting some of the awesome strawberries from the farm stand on Hwy 12, just past Llano Rd when you are headed to Sebastopol. They grow them there are so they are picked very ripe and sweet smelling. You get heaped pint baskets, too.

For spring what could be better than rhubarb pie with some of those strawberries mixed in? This pie recipe is from a magazine I was reading on the plane...Southern Living I think...but as usual I mixed it up a bit. First of all instead of three cups of fruit, I used three cups of rhubarb and a cup of strawberries. It's a classic combo for a reason. The sweetness of the strawberries offsets and highlights the tang of the rhubarb, especially if you reduce the sugar as I did. The recipe called for a full cup of granulates sugar in the custard, which would have masked the bite of the rhubarb. I reduced it to 1/3 cup. If you were using all rhubarb, perhaps I would use 1/2 cup. You want that rhubarb zing contrasting with the custard softness but not being overpowered with custard oversweetness.

Another change I made was to substitute a small amount of orange marmalade for the orange zest, mostly because I didn't have an orange to use, but also because using the marmalade to paint the bottom of the pie shell helps prevent the custard from making the shell soggy. You still get the orange flavor.

About the only other change was when I mixed the custard I whisked the sugar and flour into the eggs before adding any liquid...that allowed me to make sure that the dry ingredients were fulling incorporated with the eggs and kept the custard from having lumps.



My experience was that this cooked a bit faster than expected, but ovens vary...just keep an eye on this and don't overcook the filling. Using a thermometer to check the internal temperature is a wise more.

Enjoy this taste of spring! I know that Sweetie did. He said it reminded him of rhubarb pies that his mom used to make in the spring. That's the bonus of baking...it can bring sweet memories, too.



Rhubarb-Strawberry Custard Pie

 1 pie crust circle, raw (I used half of a refrigerated ReadyCrust Pie crust)
 2 large eggs
 1 cup half and half or soy creamer
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
 1/4 teaspoon salt
 1/3 cup granulated sugar
 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
 3 tablespoons orange marmalade

3-4 cups sliced (1/2-inch- thick) fresh rhubarb, mixed, if desired, with fresh sliced strawberries
(I cut all my fruit into small cubes or chunks)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

 Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll pie crust dough out on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch circle. Fit crust inside a 9-inch pie plate, pressing into bottom and up sides of plate. fold or roll crust edges under; crimp as desired. Place in freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from freezer and line with parchment paper, then add pie weights or dried beans. Bake 15 minutes in preheated oven, watching to make sure that the edges don't over brown. Remove pie plate from the oven and carefully remove the parchment and its contents. Return the pie plate to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until pastry is light golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

 While pastry cools, prepare the fruit, then mix together the filling:

Whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, almond extract and salt. Add the 1/3 cup granulated sugar (or more if you like a sweet, sweet filling), and 3 tablespoons flour in a large bowl.

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the marmalade in the bottom of the cooled pie shell and spread all over the bottom with a pastry brush.

 Place the fruit in another bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon flour. Pour coated fruit into the marmalade coated pie shell. Level the fruit, then pour on the egg mixture. Sprinkle evenly with 2 tablespoons sugar. Wrap edges of the pie crust with strips of aluminum foil to protect them from over-baking.

 Place filled pie on a baking sheet, then place sheet in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Pie is done when the center of the filling registers 175 degrees F when a thermometer is inserted in the center.

 Transfer pie to a wire rack and cool completely, about 2 hours. Remove foil shields once out of the oven. Chill pie if desired, or serve at room temperature.


Monday, May 09, 2022

Back From London


My daughter is probably my best friend. We have been wanting to go to London together for years and years, but things, including the pandemic, have gotten in the way. This time we did it. This is a long post because I'm going to pack the whole trip in one post (and you'll understand why at the bottom).

 I was in London for a day before we met up since she was working about an hour away that week. 


That day I visited the British Museum twice, which I really enjoyed. First I visited first thing in the morning to see the one thing I really wanted to see, then I visited later in the day for the rest. So many things that I had only read about, like the Rosetta Stone, make such an impact when seen in person. 



I watched the movie 'The Dig' about the discovery of a funeral boat in a field at Sutton Hoo. At the museum in the morning I was able to see the iconic helmet (see the actual helmet, plus the one created to try to depict what it probably looked like when buried, just above), plus many other items recovered there...such a thrill. I walked around, being somewhat awed by the truly huge dome (see above, photo at top of post) over the central entry area and the library. The bookshop is excellent, too, and I enjoyed a section on clocks as well as another section that has this lovely musical instrument, a kind of a lute I think. 


I often take photographs to record the design of things and watching design elements repeat in different eras and countries is fascinating. Look at the amazing work on this celtic brooch, gold clasp, and carved bone or ivory crozier topper.






I had to get back to the hotel to check out, and then I visited a bookstore near the museum - the London Review Bookshop, so I browsed there and had a delicious vegan lunch in the attached café before returning to the museum.

 I had the pleasure of watching one of the employees use different colors of chalk to write out a fairly long quote by a poet she liked on the prominent chalk board near the door to the outdoor seating area. It really is an art.


The afternoon included viewing of many other sections of the British Museum, although I barely scratched the surface. I was just finishing viewing the treasure in the section that has many of the earliest items the museum collected which included Greek vases, Egyptian statues, rare books, and treasures from China,



and was ready to do some souvenir shopping, when a fire alarm rang and we had to leave the building! Fortunately I was able to return to the delightful bookstore nearby, and sit in the courtyard with some lemonade and enjoy the British spring, then walk the neighborhood and enjoy Russel Square.

Walking around the city is the best thing...so many beautiful terraced homes, parks, and people watching. There were white lilacs blooming in the Russel Square Park near the British Museum and the daffodils had just finished. Lots of walking the first day, which I loved.






The next day we were together and our first stop was the Borough Market on the Southbank. My first time using the London Underground or Tube. I was impressed with how efficient and clean it was, how quickly people moved and what a complex system it is, but the signs were there when you needed them.



 Lots of people were in London for the Bank Holiday weekend, so lots of people everywhere we went and no one wore masks or acted like the pandemic had ever happened. That lent it a festive, positive energy. Highlights of the market were an amazing spice stall, delicious Greek food, a stall that had everything lavender, and one in the Borough Market Kitchen that had fruit crumbles with proper pouring custard (although we didn't have the appetite to try it). These photos show some of the market and crowds.




The days kind of run together, probably because I'm still running a slight fever, but we had a fine time, especially the first few days. We kept exclaiming, 'We did it!' since truly it has often seemed like we would never make it together to London. We had some lovely dinners out, including our first one at Andrew Edmunds near our hotel. The lamb was delicious and we had an unusual and delicious white. 




A highlight was on Saturday when we saw the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, and the two lead singers were probably the best singers I've ever heard in a musical.

I saw Hyde Park  and Mayfair a few days later and discovered that it's not always easy to get a cab in that area.




We had a most unusual tea near Leicester Square. It was a ten minute or so walk from our hotel, through the weekend crowds. There were some amazing buildings around the square, too, plus more being built.  The venue for the 'tea' was Simmons Bar, the decor is kitschy, and the afternoon tea is the usual tiered tray of tea treats (with delicious vegan ones for me), but the teapot holds a mixed drink instead of tea, plus there was prosecco. It was a lot of fun and surely different. Very popular with the twenty-somethings, especially groups brides and their bridesmaids getting started on an evening out bachelorette party. They mostly played loud music from the 80s, but I guess that's nostalgic or something if you're 30. Since it was a weekend it was loud and crowded and very high energy and fun.




Unfortunately, the end of our trip wasn't as delightful as the beginning since COVID came anyway. I tested negative and was able to fly home, but tested positive later. My daughter tested positive, so she was stuck in London an extra six days until she tested negative. We knew it was a risk to be around all these unmasked people, but that apparently is the plan...we should all get COVID or something. 

Just to make things even more interesting, on the flight home I had to change planes...but they lost my bag. Once I got to San Francisco (and this is after about 18 hours of travel, with the time being in the wee hours London time), I had to go to baggage claim and they found out that the bag never made it on the plane! Fortunately it made it to SFO the next day and got here before bedtime. All's well that ends well. Much as I fell in love with London, it's good to be home.



So I have to tell you that the two places I stayed are highly recommended if you get to London. The Bedford Hotel is a short walk from the British Museum. It has character and very kind staff, they serve a delicious and filling full English breakfast buffet, but I had lunch there, too, and it was also delicious. The bathroom was tight, but well designed and the room seemed spacious since it had a bay window and view of the garden and across to the skyline many blocks away. The bed was perhaps a bit too firm for my taste, but the price of the room was reasonable by London standards and service was impeccable. They have a sense of whimsey, too, with a abstract rabbit print wallpaper in the small elevator and metal butterflies on the wall into the dining room.


The Resident Soho, where the two of us stayed for the rest of the trip is a more modern hotel with a beautiful lobby, wine reception in the evening, very comfortable beds and huge, soft bath towels. It's price point is higher, too, about a third more than the Bedford. Fortunately, considering we ended up quarantining there, it was larger and also comes with a small kitchen behind doors, complete with small fridge, microwave, and sink, plus a coffee service, electric tea kettle, and plenty of plates, glasses, and cutlery. It is nicely located, too, about two blocks from Oxford Street for shopping, and a block from Starbucks for lattes for my daughter! Probably the priceless part of The Resident Soho is the excellent, and very kind and thoughtful staff. They did everything possible to make my daughter's extended stay comfortable, considering that we didn't want them to come into the room and be exposed. 

London is such a cosmopolitan city. I met people from all over, from the hotel manager from Italy to the wheelchair woman from Romania who is worried that Putin will invade her country, too. Overall, the most impressive people I encountered throughout the trip were the service providers, of all sorts, many of whom were immigrants, most for over 10 years. The black cab drivers were often Brits by birth and generally over 50, amazing both for their driving and for their knowledge of all the many byways of London. Uber drivers were younger but quite efficient. Everyone at the airport (Heathrow) that I met were interesting people as well as fine at their jobs. I learned with kindness that you purchase your bag to carry home your grocery shopping, that credit cards are used almost exclusively rather than cash, and that Oyster cards are great for all kinds of public transit, so do purchase one. 

It seemed like the Brits were glad that people were coming again. With the way they are so kind, everyone should visit...just be prepared that you might get COVID because no one behaves like it is a thing anymore. Of course that's true in the U.S, too, now. Bring (and wear) plenty of N95 masks to protect yourself! We wore ours a lot but took them off to eat and while walking were there weren't crowds, which I guess is enough time to be exposed, although it's possible that we were exposed earlier. Masks were rare on the flight to London and in the airports, too. Here I am on the flight home, one of the few with a mask.



Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring Ta-La!


 An apricot iris is joined by quite a few deep purple iris. Just today a pale yellow iris with medium purple, pointed fuzzy part (I should know the iris parts, but can't remember what it's called. It's bright orange and fuzzy in the photo above). No photo of the pale yellow one because it was too rainy.


These wisteria are growing outside my dentist's office and they drip down almost tot he sidewalk.



This is an unusual cultivar...a lemon leafed St. John's Wort with white flowers. Usually St. John's Wort have green leaves and bright yellow flowers.



This rose bush, which I think is called Altissimo, is prolific and loves its location by the barn.



This pink geranium has been on our front steps through the winter, so some of the leaves are tinged with orange at the edges from the cold. It gives a cheerful greeting as you come up the walk.


I didn't grow this tulip...it came in a bunch I picked up at Costco...but I just love the color.



Last flower for today is this orchid. I usually kill houseplants, so I'm very happy that this plant not only lived but bloomed again. The last time it bloomed was last spring. Sweetie gave it to me for my birthday, but the blooms last for months. Then it has to be sparingly watered while it's dormant. I love the combination of cream and magenta!

That's it for now. All of these photos have been taken in the last couple of weeks. Soon there will be a Mr. Lincoln rose blooming, plus more iris...maybe some that are blooming or the first time this year!

Monday, April 18, 2022

Hot Cross Buns With Lots Of Orange


It's the time of year for hot cross buns. I haven't made them for a few years, but decided to make them this year with the idea of putting some in the freezer and sharing a few more with a friend.

Usually I soak the currants and/or raisins in rum or bourbon, but this time I soaked them in orange liqueur. Then I upped the orange factor by adding the zest from a whole, large orange. Finally I used fresh orange juice in the dough and in the icing for making the cross on top...lots of orange in this version. I also used both golden raisins and currants, but no candied fruit this time. Still used the warm spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, and I used bread flour.

It might seem like a big deal to make these if you don't often make your own rolls or buns, but the great thing is that you make 16 of them! They freeze well. I haven't had any of the frozen ones yet, but I bet there will the fine fragrance of orange in your kitchen if your rewarm them slightly in your oven or the microwave.  



We had ours yesterday morning with scrambled eggs and a mixed fruit salad. It made a wonderful Easter feast for the start of a great day.




Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns

1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in a few tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liquor
3/4 cup warm (100° to 110°) whole milk (I used soy)
4 1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
finely grated zest from 1 large orange
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
About 31/2 cups flour (mostly wheat with some other grains is fine) - I used 3 cups bread flour, but you might need a bit more
1/4 cup dried currants, plumped with a little boiling water if dry, then drained well

2 teaspoons (about) fresh orange juice
1 cup powdered sugar, put through a fine strainer if lumpy

1. Drain the soaked raisins through a strainer, reserving the liquid. Set aside the raisins.
In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk and yeast; let stand until yeast softens, 5 to 10 minutes, then add the reserved liquid and fresh orange juice. In another bowl, blend with your fingers the brown sugar and orange zest until consistency of wet sand.  Whisk in the whole egg, cooled melted butter, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves. Add to the milk/yeast mixture and beat on medium speed with dough hook until blended.

2. Blend most of the  flour into the batter, a half cup at a time. Beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and stretchy, 10 to 12 minutes, using dough hook. Add just enough additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, (about 1/4 cup) so dough is only slightly tacky.

3. Turn dough out onto lightly floured clean surface and shape into a ball. Coat bowl with spray oil (I used butter flavored spray oil). Return dough to bowl, turn to coat with oil, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.

4. Punch down dough. Add currants and raisins to the dough, pick up dough, and mix with your hands to distribute fruit.(I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured board and kneaded the dough in...that way I was sure that I had the fruit well distributed.) Using a bench scraper, divide the dough into 16 pieces, about the same size. (You can use a scale if you have one...set to grams works best.) With floured hands, shape into 16 smooth rounds. (With all the fruit added it might be difficult to have a smooth top...just do the best you can.) Evenly space rounds in two buttered 8- or 9-in. square or round pans.

5. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm place until doubled and puffy, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°. Brush buns with beaten egg (egg wash is optional). Bake until deep golden, 13 to 15 minutes, up to 25 minutes. Let cool in pans at least 30 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, stir together juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Spoon into a small, heavy-gauge plastic bag, snip a hole in a corner, and squeeze icing onto buns to form large Xs on cooled buns. Let icing harden, then serve.