The Old Girl

Those of who who know me well understand that I have this crush on my old stove.  Circa 1941, my Occidental Electric last lived in a dusty old Barn here at Annadel before we rescued her.

Only two burners work regularly, sometimes only one on really cold days and gas has trouble reaching the house.  Plus, the whole left hand side of the stove has been converted to storage.  But I love her.  Even though she is starting to split from modern kitchen use (hours of simmering for my Coq Au Vin anyone?) and countless cups of tea, I like to think she is happiest belching away in the kitchen, helping me feed my family and warm the bellies of visiting friends.

Found in the old Carriage House here at Annadel

Because this stove is my partner in crime.  My one true constant as I’ve experimented and learned and grown on this culinary odyssey of mine.  And now Anni’s.  She’s my right-hand girl brave enough to simmer curry or explore French casseroles or perfect baking bread.

But lately, the Old Girl has been showing signs of true exhaustion.  An irregular, slight gas leak of which we can’t find the source.  The ominously growing split in the enamel on the upper left.  And the worst of them all: failing to hold a consistent baking temperature.  I’ve baked some disastrously flimsy chickens in the last few weeks — twice with important guests.  Yuck! There is no doubt about it, the Old Girl needs some mechanical love.  A full servicing back to her pre-war glories.

But on cold days like today, when we come home from holiday travels and the house reads 9’C even now — that’s a sweltering 48′ F! — as the heat has been shut off, the old stove kicks on and helps heat the kitchen old school.  Even if I can see my breath everywhere else — and that includes braving the ice-box toilet seats with frigid cheeks — I trust the Old Girl is gently warming the old horse-hair and plaster walls, getting ready to help roast some chicken and wilt greens tonight with sauteed garlic and olive oil… I can’t help but think fondly of her and imagine her seven decades of life.  How many families she fed, cookies baked, and kitchens warmed on cold nights just like tonight.

Tonight, I wish I could hug her.  Without burning myself, I mean.  But that’s the romantic in me I guess…

Gingerbread House Adventures — Part V

Finale!  We did it!  Sort of.

Anni and I seized the day! And tackled the final stage of our Gingerbread House Castle:  the Assembly and Decoration.  We pulled up the “Royal Icing” recipe and measured out our ingredients: 3 & 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 tspn vanilla extract.

Disclaimer: The recipe actually called for only the whites of eggs but Anni loves to use her yellow toddler whisk and insisted on using the yellow yolks too.  (She loves anything yellow.)  At this point, with fuzzy airplane wings and four charred walls, I thought, “why not?”  Well, after blending, we learned that apparently yolks from my Mom’s farm fresh eggs are pretty potent and added a sort of Cadbury Cream Egg quality to this Royal Icing: a slimy, sweetly yellow, sludge.

So we dumped in what was left of the powdered sugar.  And mixed.  Now it was too thick.  We added more vanilla which helped but it was still rather yellow… But we were out of leftover ingredients and water seemed like a bad add.  The last thing I want at sundown today was a still-half-made Gingerbread house thing sitting under a tea towel on my counter!!!  *Ahem.*  So we spooned it into our $4.99 pastry tube courtesy of Safeway.

Yellowish, too thick "Royal Icing" glue

With the help of my awesomely eccentric, painter friend Nicola, we laid out the ‘design’ of our Castle and decided, it was in fact going to be a “Ruins.” Four charred walls and now-crumbling airplane / heart gingerbread cookies do not a Castle make.

I squeezed the pastry glue out of the tube but being thick, it clogged the spout and enthusiastically backed up, spilled out the top, and all over my hands.  Sh*t.  So we took the blasted spout point off and proceeded to use our hands in an attempt to somehow crafts some semblance of elegant design.  And failed miserably.

But the four walls held!!!  They held!

As I’ve learned in wine making, the prettiest of stemware can help mask botched productions.  Thus, we broke out the pretty candy decorations!  First off, I peeled open the Almond Rocas and placed a good handful into an extra strong Ziploc sandwich bag.  Using our trusty kitchen mallet, I hammered at the Almond Rocas until they began to crumble.  But the shards of firm toffee carved clean incisions into my sandwich baggies and after three or four blows, shot toffee across my kitchen…much to the thrill of the dog.

So we opted for chunkier styled ‘decomposed granite.’

Next came our vegetation and flower decorations — i.e. the bags of jelly goos and candies: I am not embarrassed to admit I had to wipe off the top two bags of jelly goos before tearing them open.  But once open, Anni had a field day! Green and red jellies became shrubbery and red roses.  Orange and yellow Skittles became flowers scattered across the decomposed granite ‘pathways’.

But the best idea came from Nicola — to add the colorful purple and mini pearls candy sprinkles to the top of the Gingerbread Ruins for color.  Anni had a blast.  Little fistfuls of spritely goodness thrown by chubby fingers was just what we needed!

Craziness with sprinkles -- a toddler's heaven!

And voila!! Our Gingerbread House completed:

Ta Da!!

I don’t think I will ever do this again….!

Gingerbread House Adventures — Part IV

Our four flat Gingerbread House walls are still on my kitchen counter, on my favorite green cutting board, and draped in a clean dish cloth.  Waiting to be pasted together with sugary icing and holiday cheer.  While I have decorated the rest of the house merrily, it has been a whole SEVEN DAYS since starting this thing and now the wings of our Gingerbread Airplanes are starting to grow fuzz:

Seven Days Later: Charred Walls holding strong. Airplane wings sprouting fuzz.

But I think I charred the crap out of our four Gingerbread ‘Castle’/Ruins/Winery Barn walls just enough so that the burnt edges are waging their own resistance to mold.  (…Perhaps it will add more authentic character?)

I’d love to have something witty to say about why I once again procrastinated on making this Gingerbread creation. But I do not.

Instead, I spent the week running errands, selling wine, selling art, doing our ABCs, feeding my family, going to the Bank, secretly eating an entire carton of ice cream “It’s Its” sandwiches before Anni woke up from naps, play dates, and harboring my own personal grudge against my newly acquired ass fat.  I love that I grow big, healthy babies and all but I would still like to not break the 200 pound mark this time ’round.  I fear that will not be the case.  While closing a drawer this week with my left hip, I damn near took out a whole stack of clean bowls.  Stacked on the counter above.

We had Greek Salad for dinner that next night.

Gingerbread House Adventures — Part III


Anni and I continued where we left off and began drafting plans for our Gingerbread Princess Castle on parchment paper.  Note to readers: children’s washable Crayola markers is not ideal for castle renderings.

After much (one sided) deliberation on turrets, we devolved into breaking out the bag of Mint M&Ms intended for decoration…and opt for a simple, box-like structure.  Think early Celts, not Baroque anything.

Mixing sugar and plans may not have been the best idea

As you can imagine, her resulting sugar rush led to an afternoon free of naps — for either of us.  So we rolled out our now firm cookie dough on a lightly floured surface.  Giddy from high fructose corn syrup and crunchy chocolate candy, we enthusiastically rolled out a lovely gingerbread plank… that started to systematically crack everywhere.   And crack and crack and crack and crack.  The absolute, very best we came up with was this:

Cracks everywhere

So we skipped the carefully drawn out Castle plans in favor of the “how-many-walls-can-Mom-fit-within-this-gingerbread-thing?” approach.  The answer?  Four.  Four baked askew, slightly charred Gingerbread Castle walls.

What remains...

But I think we can work with this!  Making a sort of ruins-esque Castle with sugar piping and plenty of sugary, gummy bits colored to sort of resemble vegetation….? Yes?   But Tomorrow.  Little Miss is practically twirling in circles as she comes down from a rare processed sugars high and this preggo needs carbs.

And yes, we did in fact make “Frankenstein cookies”.  Et Viola!

Frankenstein Airplanes