Sunday, December 23, 2007

I'm a Cooking Machine...Look Out Emeril

The one way that's always worked for me to get in the Christmas Spirit was to bake and cook. That's what I accomplished today, well, that and demolishing 2 bottles of a great, cheap Oregon Pinot Noir.

I took it upon myself to help Step-Mom (SM) a bit more this year. Last year was my first Christmas in Pensacola, was living with someone else's kitchen, and was the Sous Chef, Busser, Banquet Captain, Setter-Upper type person.

This year is different. I've got my own place, all my possessions are in one place, for the first time since '03. Cookie sheets, stainless-steel measuring spoons, all the accoutrements to follow through on any of 100's of recipes that have been waiting, patiently.

First, I made Sharp Cheddar Cookies from BLOGHUNGRY, They turned out great, should be great as a snack tomorrow.

Then, I put on my cranberry sauce. I couldn't find my old recipe I used 5 years ago, so I combined a few, and worked them in with my memories (shaky at best). I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but may have to add in some gelatin tomorrow.

After that, on to Grandma Hazel's Cookie/Candy. It was much drier tonight, but not quite what it would be in Michigan. I guess that's why I've only seen them way up North.

Through in some laundry, chattin' on the phone to my aunt/sisters, and doing some cleaning, and it's been a fairly productive Sunday.

Tomorrow should be a short day, traditionally we close at noon on Christmas Eve. Then, I can make Banana Pudding for the second time in 45 days. yummy, but a pain in the derrierre.

Happy Holidays to All!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Cheer

When I first started with this company, I was regaled with how the owners were so 'giving' and how they treated us so well during the holidays. I was giddy with anticipation, as today was our holiday party.

In years past, the party was given at the swankiest restaurant in town. White tablecloth, crumbers at the ready, vintage wine, all the best.

This year, lunch at Carrabas. Beer and wine was included, as long as you drug your own ass up to the bar. And the bartender was not the most jolly of fellows. Nor the fastest of pourers. And the Shiraz was Yellowtail, all of $10 per 1.5 liter at your nearest Wally-world. (I'm not a wine-snob, but really)

We all started out with Caesar salads, over-dressed and a bit soggy, but on nicely chilled plates.

My steak was done just right, medium-rare, but those around me were less than thrilled. Quite ordinary for a banquet type setting.

Better yet, we were all awaiting the envelopes that were distributed after the heart-filled speech given by our Leader. Interjected with Bible quotes.

I opened the envelope later after leaving. It would be gauche to open it up amidst the masses.

$100. Thanks, now I can afford 2/3rds of one tire of the four that I need to replace after running all over two counties to drum up business for you.

I'm underwhelmed, to say the least.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Google Surprises.

Have any of you googled yourself before? It's a very enlightening thing. For shits-and-giggles, I did. The third item states in big letters:

Ex-Restaurant Manager Charged in Sexual Abuse...

I may have to change my chosen name.

I swear that I've never been to Salt Lake City. Really. Cross my heart.

Maybe I should be Former Restaurant Manager?

The Secret Recipe...Shhhh...Don't Tell Anyone.

This recipe was handed down for generations. I might get kicked out of the family for divulging it, but screw it, I'm the only one with the balls to still make it. It's not easy, even though it only has 5 ingredients. It's all in the execution.

Grandma Hazel's Cookie/Candy

1 egg white
1 cup light brown sugar (must be fresh or you have to sift it [pain in the ass])
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecans (buy the halves and manually break up into 4 or six pieces. Save the prettiest
ones [approx. 24] to put on top of cookies)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg white with mixer until stiff peaks form. Add brown sugar a little at a time, until thoroughly blended. Add vanilla and salt until well integrated. Mix should still be pretty stiff. Back away from the mixer. Have some egg-nog. Add in broken pecan pieces until all are well coated.

On ungreased cookie sheets, drop mixture by teaspoons. Place one pretty pecan half on each cookie, making sure it has contact with brown sugar mixture, but don't press too hard.

Bake for 30 minutes (baking time may vary, blah, blah, blah, see helpful pointers below). Set cookie sheets aside to cool completely. After 10 - 15 minutes cookies should pop right off the pans.

Tips for successful cookies:

If you live in Florida, do not make these on a humid day. You want them to be crunchy.
Moisture = no crunchy. Those up North should not have a problem this time of year. Do
not refrigerate, the humidity in the fridge will make them dissolve. Keep in a cool, dry
place for up to a week.

This recipe can be doubled, but do not triple or quadruple it. These take a long time to cook,
so you don't want this to sit for a long time. The brown sugar tends to re-crystalize after
a while.

Do a trial run first with a 1x batch. If the cookies are chewy in the middle, add 5 - 10 minutes
cooking time (they will still be yummy, but when they are that perfect crunchiness, they
are sublime). They should almost shatter when you take the first bite.

The best rule is to have 4 cookie sheets. While the first two are cooling, the other two can be
baking. If you double the recipe, you will have to scrub the pans before using again, for
they leave a deposit after popping them off.

I give these as Christmas presents to co-workers and others in those foldable boxes you can
buy. Place a paper towel in the bottom for cushioning and they should be fine. The most
successful present I ever gave was to my aunt. I bought an antique glass Hoosier jar and
filled it with these cookies. She thought I had stolen Grandma Hazel's cookie jar. Happy
tears ensued.

These go excellent with a hot cappuccino or latte while watching your favorite Christmas cartoon (The Grinch being my favorite. The original. Not Jim Carrey's over-acted version). Good luck and if you make them, let me know how it goes!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Cookies and Memories

My earliest memories of the holiday season regard going to my great-grandmother's house. It was usually a 2 or 3 car processional, since my mom was the oldest of 7. I remember being on a lot of laps. Yes, this was way before laws regarding child retention in cars, Britney notwithstanding.

The drive up was not long, approximately 90 minutes or so. But we were always squirming in our seat (and laps), awaiting the festivities to come. Grandma's house had much to recommend.

First, was pulling into the quaint old town my great-grandma lived in, Camden, Michigan. Clean, well-manicured, turn-of-the-century houses line the streets. No 'bad side of town' to be had. There was a nifty soda shop/5 and dime, a small department store, a furniture store, and other small businesses at the main cross-street. Nobody does the holidays like small towns in the Midwest, and we always oohed and ahhed at the decorations in the windows.

Next was pulling up in front of my great-grandma's house, just off the downtown area. A quaint (there's that word again) stick house with a large porch and lots of gingerbread detailing, always painted a pristine white. We'd stand in line, usually tallest to shortest, and give Grandma Hazel a tight hug, usually commenting how we were catching up to her petite stature.

After the greet was what we were all waiting for. Who cares about the presents? The tree had no relevance to us yet. Our main object of affection was the back pantry and the Hoosier cabinet stationed there. For inside were the cookie jars of the Gods. No one, and I repeat no one, could make cookies like my Grandma Hazel. There were usually at least 3 large glass jars with tin lids. Each held a different variety, all delicious, my favorite being the Brown Sugar - Pecan delicacies referred to as Grandma Hazel's Cookie/Candy. It was like Amazing Race getting to the cookie jars, pushing, elbowing, even though there were enough for everyone, and then some.

After the great sugar massacre, all us kids were shussed outside to play, while the grown-ups got dinner together and chit-chatted. We had plenty to keep us busy. There was the old-fashioned water pump in the backyard that endlessly fascinated us. Unless it was frozen solid. From there, we'd hit up the veterinarian across the street to say 'hi' and see if he had any cute dogs in. If he was not there, we'd go for the main object of our adventures, the abandoned school down the street.

It was a neat old school, abandoned when small-town schools fell prey to larger, incorporated school districts. We usually found a way inside (breaking and entering was a foreign concept to us back then), and would explore the dusty rooms, keeping us occupied until an older relative was sent to fetch us.

All in all, good times. All good memories, as if nothing bad ever happened. The only bad thing I can remember is how long my grandma would take to unwrap her presents. Methodically and pain-stakingly unsticking each piece of tape, so as not to tear any of the beautiful wrapping paper. Then folding each piece as if it were the finest silk. It must have come from depression days, but we did not have the patience she had. And we had to wait for her to open each present before we could open another one. Faster, Grandma, faster!

All of this comes flooding back because I made a practice batch of my Grandma Hazel's famous cookie/candy. I'm the only one left who still makes them because they are such a pain in the ass. But, oh, so worth it. This week, I'll post this super secret recipe. Tune in, you won't be disappointed.

By the way, the cookies only turned out so-so. It was way too humid today. And 75 degrees. Eat your heart out, Northerners!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sweet, Sweet Justice

With age comes the realisation that risk comes with repercussions. I've had my sports car moments, those nightclub bacchanals, challenging normal and safe and sane. Things have changed since then. Been there and done that, according to the title of this little blog.

Years in the restaurant biz have taught me patience, the up-side of orderliness, how rules and laws lead to structure.

Which is why this morning's commute made my day, nay my week.

I'll preface this by saying that I hate people who weave in and out, and out and in, of traffic to gain 10 extra feet of asphalt. Eons ago, I was one of those who could not abide that traffic abomination who left an extra car length between them and the car ahead. Those people obviously had too much time on their hands! Get out of my way! I have places to be and people to see!

Now, I take solitude knowing that if I stay in one lane, and one lane only, I will end up in the same place at the same time as those who weave in and out wantonly. I giggle to myself when I pull up to a stoplight at the same time as one who I've observed trying to be a speed-demon.

And why this morning was so gleefully rewarding.

An impatient woman made her presence know from the time I entered traffic this morning commute. She was in a shiny new red Toyota RAV4, and was noticeable changing lanes many times amongst the orderly bumper-to-bumper traffic. But she never seemed to gain any ground, always staying within sight, no matter how many times she cut in and out. I've always remarked to myself that there ought to be a law limiting how many lane changes someone should be allowed each mile travelled. (I know I sound like an old fogey, but really, in slow-moving, orderly traffic, what's the use?)

The big bottle-neck I face each morning is approaching Gulf Breeze High School. Four lanes turn into three with people trying to merge from one side to the other for various reasons. The speed changes from 45 to 35, and then to 20 in the school zone. The far left lane often gets backed up with those needing to turn into the school. Just past the turn lane, it turns into a long expanse of open lane, beckoning those who are patience-challenged. And the perfect place for a cop with a laser gun.

Miss red RAV4 couldn't pass up the opportunity to swerve to the left and zoom past all of us lemmings in the middle lane. I was doing my usual 24 in the 20mph school zone, and she left me in her dust.

And there was Gulf Breeze's finest, where he should have been. One slammed door, two chirping tires, many swirling lights, and one fist pumped in approval signalled someone finally getting her due.

I hope I wasn't the only one celebrating. Speeding in a school zone has grave consequences at worst. I'm hoping the hit to Miss Rav4's pocketbook will make her think twice about why she's in such a damn hurry.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What Can You Say....

Every once in a while, we happen upon someone who touches our emotions in a way we don't expect strangers to do. A seemingly normal woman, 70ish, 80ish, entered my store looking over assorted cooking paraphernalia.

"Hi, how are you? What can I help you with today?"

"Well, I'm looking for a coffee cup that's not too heavy. Not one of those porcelain ones. Those get too heavy when you add coffee."

"Okay, so you're looking for maybe a plastic or melamine cup?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"Right this way, we have a small selection of those, not too many restaurants request that, but we have some that we sell by the each. Here we are, but I'm afraid these we have are not the most fashionable of colors."

"Oh, The colors don't matter much, as long as they're not too heavy."

By now, I've noticed the not-quite-straight fingers signalling arthritic digits. I've also noticed a slight down-trodden attitude from this amiable, but sullen woman. Wanting to fill the silence that has intruded, I probe for a talking point.

"Have you visited our store before?"

"Oh yes, I've been here 3 or 4 times before with my late husband. He absolutely loved to cook. It was his passion. He could shop for pots and pans for hours, but not me. This was his world, and I only came because he loved it so."

"So he was the cook in the family?"

"Definately, I hardly boiled water, but he spent many hours cooking for us and for friends and family. I have so many big pots and pans, I don't know what to do with them. I don't use them, and I can't handle them very well either."

At this point, she was getting semi-emotional, which was getting me big time. It was obviously a fairly recent loss, but she remained fairly composed. I blathered on a bit about how I love to cook, and how many pans I have also, blah..blah...blah. What I wanted to do was to hug this poor woman who was missing her late husband so much. The store had no pull for her beyond it's magnetic pull for her deceased spouse.

She was looking over these salmon-colored melamine coffee cups we had that had probably been there since Madonna was a virgin. They had a riduculously high price on them, and she said that they were more than she had planned on. She probably didn't need them, but wanted something from the place her husband felt so at home.

"Let me look these up on the computer. I can probably get you a better price than that, they look like we've had them awhile." (Probably from when I still had a full head of hair)

She started talking more about her late husband, how much he loved to cook, and how she never got that involved with that aspect of his life. I stood there, trying to respond to her small talk, trying not to get too involved, all to no avail.

Although I didn't ask, her loss must have been recent, and I felt the deepness of her emptiness. It really touched something within me, and I had a hard time not succombing to my feelings. She truly exuded that much pain and loneliness.

I only wish there will be someone who feels that way about me someday. And I wanted to tell her how lucky she truly was.