Friday, March 16, 2018

Pie Crust Scares Me

So, this happened today.
My first ever, completely made from scratch, lemon meringue pie.

I've decided my challenge this year is going to be to master pastry. I'm happy making bread, cake, cookies, etc., but I'm a coward when it comes to pastry. I've made a few simple tarts in the past, but mostly, the few times I've made pies, I've used store-bought crust. I know, I'm ashamed. So I've decided that this year I'm going to try various kinds of pastry, and keep making them until I'm satisfied I've got it down.

I'm at the farm for a couple of weeks and was going to make lemon curd with the Meyer lemons again, but then I thought I'd make a start on the Great Pastry Experiment while I'm here, so found this recipe for lemon meringue at Epicurious and made their basic shortcrust. Of course, the proof is in the eating, but Mom made little pear dumpling things with the scraps of pastry and they were pretty good, so I'm fairly sure the crust part of the pie is OK. I licked the spatula after I poured the filling into the crust and it tasted great, and the meringue looks gorgeous, so I'm confident it will be edible. Dad's been away for a couple of days for medical treatment and it's his favourite pie, so it should be a nice surprise for him when he gets home this afternoon.

On my list of other pastry to try is (in order of ascending scariness):

Choux - for cream puffs, profiteroles, and eclairs.
Flaky - for sausage rolls, pasties, and turnovers.
Puff - for palmiers, pot pies, and croissants.
Filo - for baklava, strudel, and hors d'oeuvres.

I'm hoping that, by the end of the year, I can confidently whip up a pie from scratch at any given moment.


Monday, February 05, 2018

So, 2017

In 2017 I didn't make New Year's resolutions. Instead, I made of list of things I'd wanted to do in the year, and I purposely made it challenging. Not to make myself feel bad when I didn't "accomplish" everything, but to make me more intentional for the year.

Unfortunately, some health issues basically kicked my butt in 2017, so there were things I wanted to do that I just couldn't, but I AM NOT beating myself up about it.

I'm not going to list the things I didn't get done, but I am going to glory in the things I DID!

1. Make and attend all necessary medical and dental appointments.


2. Do one thing I'm scared of.

I went to my first ever protest march.

3. Put a new raised bed in the garden.

I did!

4. Finish off one of my many half-done projects.

I painted and put back together a beautiful cast iron floor lamp that had been in pieces in the garage for years.

5. Make 12 favorite and 12 new recipes.

This one was fun.


Most of these I made multiple times during the year, except the hot cross buns, which obviously I made a Easter; the pavlova, for a dinner party; and the mashed potato, which was for Christmas.

1.     Hot Cross Buns – The Pioneer Woman’s recipe. I halved the amount of currants and added the zest of one lemon and one orange (in lieu of the candied peel they have in them in England).
2.     Best Cinnamon Rolls – these no-knead rolls are the BEST! I did change the cream cheese frosting for a powdered sugar/cream/vanilla icing so David could eat them.
3.     Banana Bread – from my ever-handy Better Homes and Gardens recipe book (best wedding present ever).
4.     Peach Crumble - ditto
5.     Kombucha – My favorite flavoring for the second ferment has turned out to be Concord grape juice.
6.     Morning muffins – Also from BH&G
7.     Cornbread – and this.
8.     No-knead Bread – the famous recipe from The New York Times
9.     Pavlova with Lime Curd & Raspberries – this was a combination from a couple of different recipes and was amazing. I swirled the lime curd with whipped cream, topped with raspberries and sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Best pavlova ever.
10.  Peach Jam – one batch with yellow peaches, and one with white.
11.  Chili – basically throw tinned tomatoes, tinned beans, tomato paste, garlic, chili flakes, cumin, and balsamic vinegar in a pot and let it simmer for as long as possible.
12.  Mashed potatoes – this has been a bugbear for me, but I finally got it right this year. Thank you, Kitchen Conundrums.

New Recipes

Some of these were more successful than others, but we enjoyed all of them.

1.     Deconstructed Eton Mess – I didn’t really use a recipe for this. I made bite sized meringues and served it with a bowl of sliced and sugared strawberries and a choice of Chantilly Cream or Cashew Cream (see below).
2.     Cashew Cream – I made this from the recipe book we got from the Take 10 program we did in California a few years ago.
3.     Carob Brownies – I used this recipe and just used regular flour and added peanuts. They were gorgeous, and if I hadn’t known they were carob I probably wouldn’t have guessed.
4.     Curried Potatoes & Chickpeas
5.     Apple Butter – two batches, one with some gifted Red Delicious, which I’m not fond of  eating fresh (too mealy), and the other with Honey Crisp, which are gorgeous. I did it in the slow cooker with apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, whole cinnamon and cloves, and freshly grated nutmeg. I’m really pleased with how both batches turned out.
6.     Pickled Beets & Eggs – this was really fun and turned the eggs a lovely shade of magenta.
7.     Cherry Compote – I bought some cherries that looked gorgeous but tasted really disappointing. I didn’t want to waste them so I found this recipe and it turned out amazing. I ate it on everything.
8.     Refrigerator Pickles – from my home-grown cucumbers.
9.     Peach Ice Cream – It was OK, but I folded in too much fresh peach chunks at the end and it froze a bit grainy. Next time I’ll just use puree.
10.  Gluten free peach crisp – not bad but I used a rice flour topping which didn’t stay very crisp. I’ll have to work on this one again.
11.  Blood orange sorbet – absolutely bloody gorgeous.
12.  Carob cake with Swiss Buttercream – my crowning achievement in 2017. I made it for our Boxing Day dinner and it turned out perfect. And no one knew it wasn’t chocolate until they were halfway through. The red walnuts on top are from my parents' farm. 

Tune in next time for This Year's Goals.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Everything Looks Better with a Little Beaded Fringe

Several years ago I found a cast iron floor lamp at the thrift store for about $10. It was a bit bashed about and didn't work - but $10!!!

I took it apart, intending to repaint and rewire it, and then it sat in a corner of the garage. One of the things on my list of things to do this year is to finish one project that's been languishing and this definitely qualified. So, I busted out the Rustoleum Heirloom White and gave the pieces several coats, and then finished with a clear coat. I bought a lamp rewiring kit from Home Depot and put the whole thing together. This was a bit of a challenge, because there is a narrow tube that runs up through all the separate pieces, holding them up and together, and it was just wide enough for the cord to go through, but too narrow to actually push it through. I tried pushing string through and it just kept bunching up inside. So in the end I tied some sewing thread to a narrow nail and dropped the nail through the tube. Then I tied the string to the end of the thread and pulled that through, and then tied the string to the electrical wire and finally pulled that through. Rewiring a lamp sounds a little scary, but if you buy a kit it's actually fairly straight-forward. Everything is pretty much put together for you and the most technical part is screwing the wires into the socket, and the instructions tell you exactly how to do that.

Once the whole thing was together I had to find the perfect shade for it. I knew what kind I wanted - the old-fashioned fabric dome shape, to complement the old-fashioned style of the lamp. Unfortunately, it's so old-fashioned that it's out of fashion. Unless I wanted to pay many, many $$$$ to have a bespoke shade made for me (they are beautiful and I was very tempted), there were only two ready-made options I could find online, anywhere. The one I could have afforded was the right shape, but looked a little cheap. The other one was outside my price range, but, fortunately, I had a birthday coming up so my mom, bless her, ordered it for me and it's perfect. The right shape, lovely fabric, and dripping with beaded fringe.

One more tick in the "accomplished" column for this year. Yay!


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gardening 2017

One of the things I promised myself this year was to expand my garden by getting another raised bed. We have really heavy clay on our property so, short of the huge effort of digging organic material into the soil, the easiest way to grow anything is raised beds. For the last couple of years I've grown various things, particularly tomatoes and peppers, in a single 8x4 cedar plank box full of municipal compost.

This year I ordered another box, put it together (inhaling the beautiful scent of cedar as I did) and set it out perpendicular to the first box. My gardening guru, Master Gardener Bob, brought me a pickup load of the most beautiful compost I have ever seen from the Howard County (where he lives) landfill, and twenty trips from the driveway to the back yard with a wheelbarrow later, I had filled the new box, topped up the old box, and filled three new patio planters. I also filled three of the four tires I've had hanging around since the last time we got the tires changed on our car. I've been meaning to plant potatoes in them.

Since we've been travelling so much this year I didn't have the chance to plant seeds indoors this year, so I went to a local garden center and bought most of what I wanted as seedlings.

In the new box, at the front, I have eight tomatoes (four cooking and four eating), four peppers (three bell and one hot), two cucumbers (for eating and pickles), a yellow squash, a basil, and two marigolds.

In the old box, at the back, I have planted four marigolds, a line of sunflowers along the back of the box, and a patch of beets (from seed) in the left half. It was a little late for cabbage so I'll plant those in July for a fall harvest.

I've also branched out in the herb department.

 In addition to my rosemary, thyme, sage, mint and oregano...
I've added lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon basil, amethyst basil, dill, cilantro (coriander) and chives.
 I've also finally added parsley (in the middle) to my box of sage, rosemary, and thyme.
I felt a little adventurous and bought something entirely new to me - Sweet Woodruff/Sweetscented Bedstraw - just because I liked the smell of it, and because it's supposed to grow well in shade - of which I have a lot. It's supposed to make a nice sweet tea, too.

My favourite new acquisition is this:

The smallest bay tree in the world.

(I may be able to sneak a couple of leaves off this year, but I'm really going to have to wait till next year to start harvesting.)
I love cooking with bay leaves but the dry ones you buy in the grocery store really don't have much flavour, so I've wished I could have my own tree. Voila! Unfortunately they aren't hardy to Zone 7, but, fortunately, they do really well in pots, so when it freezes I'll bring it in and set it by the back door for the winter. It will be a bonsai bay.

Due to unforeseen circumstances I had to fly to California yesterday, the day after I planted everything out, and the weather forecast is for record-breaking heat. Thankfully, my dear friend Reiko has promised to keep an eye on them when she comes to feed the cats while I'm away, so hopefully they'll all be thriving when I get back.

I am so looking forward to having a few months of just being at home!


Sunday, January 22, 2017


This tweet perfectly sums up yesterday for me.
Any introverts (and/or Brits) will understand why this
was so hard for me.

Showing up to a crowd that ended up exceeding half a million people, alone, in a hot pink, knitted, pussy hat.

Only something truly serious could get me out doing something so silly.



I am a well-educated, middle-aged, middle-class, Protestant, white, American citizen who is becoming increasingly aware of my privileged status, at the expense of millions of others.

I am the mother of a twenty-something daughter.

I am the aunt of two brown-skinned girls.

I am the sister-in-law of an immigrant.

I have been an immigrant.

I have benefited from the welfare system.

I have benefited from the education system.

I am a Christian.

Because the new regime is targeting all the most vulnerable members of society and is clearly intent on pillaging the world for their own benefit.

Because of all these things, it is my responsibility to stand up. Even when I'm shaking inside.


Sunday, January 01, 2017

Not New Year's Resolutions

I'm not a very organized or ambitious person, and I tend to meander a bit aimlessly through life, going wherever the current takes me, and mostly I'm OK with this. Life has taken me in some really interesting directions over the years. But I got to the end of 2016 and realized that I didn't have much to show for the year. I certainly went to some amazing places, for which I am grateful, but I didn't feel very stretched as a human being.

Partly this was because of pain, fatigue, and depression, but also, as Evie kindly but firmly pointed out to me, I just make excuses. I'm very good at finding reasons why I need that extra slice of cake, why I can't go outside for a short walk, why I have to sit on the couch and play Skyrim instead of [insert activity here]. There are always lots of things I want to do, but inertia is like the gravitational pull of a very large planet, and I end up mentally kicking myself because I've let another period of time elapse and haven't done the things I want to. And it's not just hard things, or virtuous things, like cutting out sugar, or exercising more, or drinking more water that I fail to do - it's fun stuff like baking and knitting and gardening. Time just slips through my fingers without me noticing.

So, instead of making a New Year's resolution, I've made a list of goals for the year. Not things that I HAVE to do - things that I WANT to do.

And. so I have a bit of accountability, I'm posting them here. One of my goals is to post 12 times in 2017. I haven't even said once a month - I might post 12 times in January (but probably not). Hopefully this will give me the best chance of actually getting them done, since I'll have a structure, but won't be putting so much pressure on myself I chicken out. I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't accomplish everything either - at least I'm making an effort.

So, in no particular order (except that I thought of them in this order) here are the 12 goals I have for 2017.

Wendy’s 12 Goals for 2017

1.     Increase the size of the garden – buy and install another 8x4 raised bed.

2.     Build up my strength so I can walk 5 miles in one go.

3.     Try 12 new recipes – and make 12 favourite recipes.

4.     Repaint one room in the house.

5.     Read 12 of my books on medieval mystics.

6.     Send 12 handwritten letters to 12 friends.

7.     Do one thing I’m afraid of.

8.     Make and attend all necessary medical/dental appointments.

9.     Post on my blog 12 times.

10.  Start and finish one knitting project using a new technique.

11.  Finish one of my half-done projects.

12.  Try out one of the crafts I’m interested in that I’ve never done before. 

Hello 2017.


Monday, September 05, 2016

Playing Catch Up

I have got to stop saying that I'm going to do things on this blog. Every time I do, the universe kicks me in the backside, and then stands back laughing.

We came back from India sick; David with a chest infection that turned into pneumonia, and me with a cold/ear infection. Because of all the immunosuppressants I am on I have to nip infections in the bud so I went straight to my ENT and she said I had such a classic blister on my eardrum she wished she had students there she could show it to. Thanks Doc.

Anyway, we were pretty much down for the count for the whole of March. Then I spent April and the first part of May in a funk, realizing that this is now my life. (More on that in another post.)

However, on the whole, 2016 has been a year of milestones and ticking items off the bucket-list.

India - see previous posts.

Thirtieth High School Reunion - 30 years! How did that happen?

Only five of us turned up, partly because the school had moved Alumni Weekend up a week, so it caught people by surprise. We had a great time anyway. Amusingly (in a dark way), our dinner conversation ranged through stories about our jobs, our children's escapades, and eventually turned to our parents' health and I realized we were at that age now. All of us had either already lost or parent, or had at least one with some serious health issues.

Girly Weekend

I had a Canada Air voucher I needed to use, so I contacted my college friend, Alicia, in Toronto and asked her if she was up for a weekend visit. Happily, she was, so I left the husband behind for a weekend of long conversations, macarons, yarn shopping, pink lattes, playing with Miss Mable (the cat), and (me) trying poutine for the first time. Seriously, what's not to like about fried potatoes, cheese, and gravy?

Photo courtesy of Alicia Homer

This was the first girly weekend I've had in years, and Alicia is a very gracious hostess: to the point of giving up her bed and sleeping on a mattress in the living room, so I didn't have to heave my arthritic bones up and down off the floor.

Annual Leave in England

We took our Annual Leave (previously known as furlough) at the end of May. David had to attend meetings at Newbold the first few days, so we rented a cottage on a farm near Maidenhead, and drove to Binfield nearly every day, partly for the meetings, but also to see as many friends as we could while we had the chance, which was lovely. We had so many meals out that week I hardly had to cook!

The second week we spent in Cornwall. Finally! All that time we lived in England, and Cornwall was one of the places we never managed to get to. I've wanted to visit Tintagel since the first time I read about King Arthur as a child, so that was definitely a check mark on the bucket-list. There's a lot of steps to climb to get up to the top of the island, and many stops were made to catch our breath, but it was totally worth it. I wasn't expecting an atmosphere, as there were a lot of people about (unfortunately our week in Cornwall turned out to be half term), and also because it was a blazingly hot day, but somehow, despite the people and the cheerful sunshine, I could feel the history of the place. There were several places I could just sit on the grass, or a bit of stone, and stare out over the sea, as clear and green as glass, and imagine Merlin smuggling the baby Arthur down the cliffs in the dead of night.

 Knitting was done.

We went to the Eden Project, which is an amazing accomplishment, and I'm glad we saw it, but what I really loved was the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Just the name alone is enough to tantalize. It's an estate that lost most of its gardeners in the First World War and was allowed to fall into ruin until a couple of crazy people discovered it in the early 90s and brought it back to life. (They went on to create the Eden project later.) It was another hot, sunny day, so the walks in the woods were very welcome, but my favourite thing, and the reason I knew about Heligan, was the Mud Maid. I'd seen a postcard of her at my friend Stacy's house years ago and have been fascinated every since.

So many cream teas were eaten in Cornwall. This one was the best.

Turkey and Greece

Every five years, after the church elections, each of the executive departments (Presidential, Secretariat, and Treasury) have a "bonding" trip. David's department comes under Secretariat so, as head of department, he gets to go on the trip, and spouses are encouraged to come as well. We moved to Maryland in 2011, so three weeks after we moved into our house, we were off to Italy, Germany, and Switzerland for "The Reformation Tour" - sites related to the Protestant Reformation. This time it was the Journeys of Paul, so we got to visit Turkey and Greece.

We started in Izmir (Smyrna) and saw various sites in Western Turkey, including Ephesus and Troy! We weren't originally scheduled to go to Troy (no connection with Paul) but our guide decided at the last minute to go anyway, since we were going to be so close. David and I were mentally punching the air when that was announced!

It was so hot! The first few days we were there, when our schedule was the heaviest, it got up to 105F. As we clambered over dusty ruins, every time the guide would stop speaking, everyone would scatter in the search for shade, wherever it could be found.

We travelled up and around the north eastern part of Greece and then down the center, visiting the monasteries at Meteora, and then stopped at the site of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans faced down the armies of Persia. David, in particular, was very excited about this.

In Athens we saw the Pergamon Parthenon (we did go to Pergamon, but the week before, obviously), visited the Pergamon Parthenon museum and, because we had a free day, wandered over to the Archaeological Museum, where David got to fulfill another boyhood dream and saw items from the excavations at Mycenae and the Mask of Agamemnon. We didn't even realize it was there until we turned a corner, and there it was, staring at us.

The final thrill was taking a ferry to Patmos and seeing the Cave of the Apocalypse, where John is said to have had his vision, and written Revelation. I am totally in love with the Greek Islands. I was determined to swim in the Aegean Sea, so we spent an hour in the afternoon paddling at the tiny beach in Skala, near our hotel. The water is indescribably blue. It's no wonder artists go mad trying to capture just that particular shade, which seems to shift every time you look away.

Folk Singers and Children's Books

Last month, David had a conference to attend at Harvard. Normally he'd fly up, but we discovered that the night before the conference was to start, one of our favourite folk singers, Dougie MacLean, was going to be in Schenectady, NY. I saw Dougie in Seattle a few years ago, but David hadn't seen him live, so we decided to drive up to Schenectady on the Monday, attend the concert, stay the night, and then drive to Cambridge, MA, Tuesday morning. We were hoping to get there in time to check into our hotel and unpack, but it took longer to drive up than we expected to we drove right to the theatre, and were about half an hour late. He hadn't brought his band on this tour, just himself and a guitar. I think it was the first concert of his tour as he said he'd only been in the country for 48 hours and was still jetlagged; his energy levels were lower than the last time I saw him, but it was so worth the drive.

The next day we drove to Harvard. I've never even been to Massachusetts before, let alone Harvard,  so it was a week of firsts. I had been hoping to get into Boston, but I had to work that week so I spent Tuesday afternoon and all of Wednesday on the computer. However, I was absolutely determined to get to Concord. I've loved Little Women for as long as I can remember. It was one of the first "big" books I ever read; I think when I was about seven, I pretty much had it on permanent loan from the library until my parents finally bought it for me one Christmas. After that, I think I read it about every other Christmas for the next 20 years. It's been a while since I've read it now - I should get it out again. And of course I read almost all her other children's books over the course of time.

On the Thursday I drove out to Concord and got to Orchard House just before it opened. I browsed around the exceedingly charming gift shop until the first tour started. I'd been excited (by my phlegmatic standards) about getting to finally see the house, but I wasn't expecting to get as emotional as I did - I actually teared up as we started the tour.

I take terrible selfies. So I don't take them very often - only when I'm really excited to be doing something, and there is no one else around to take a picture for me. Also, the sun was in my eyes and I couldn't see the screen, so I had to kind of guess when I had both the house and myself in the frame. But here's me - at Louisa May Alcott's house!!!!!!

I also visited the Concord Museum and Emerson's house, which I very much enjoyed, but neither gave me the sheer joy of the Alcott's house. I would have liked to see Walden Pond, but it was $10 just to park in the parking lot, and by that time I was getting tired. If I'd had time and energy I'd have liked to walk around the lake, but as it was, all I would have done was walked to the pond, looked, and left, and I'd already spent a fair amount of money for the other three sites. So, I left it for another visit. I'd seen the things I really had to see.

Wow, looking back it's been a lot of travel this year! A lot of really good travel. I'm glad I'm home for a while now. I had the chance to go to Bermuda with David next week but I'm really ready for a break. Nothing now until Thanksgiving.

Next year's travel plans include a trip in February to Australia to see David's family, and camp meeting in California next summer. But I don't think it's going to be as intense as this year. That's probably a good thing. I'm kind of exhausted!



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