Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Long Weekend, Not Long Enough

It's been a four-day weekend and I could have used another four days off. The rain and wind interfered with my plans to ride every day and take two lessons. I managed one less and got on Ace to walk him for three days (after the wind died down on Saturday, the day I couldn't take a lesson.) He was fairly mellow, and enjoyed keeping company with a pretty paint mare named Pebbles in the arena.

I managed to get my kitchen cleaned up pretty well on Monday while it was raining, so I didn't feel guilty about not being at the ranch. My kitchen has many flat surfaces, which my husband feels obligated to fill. There are no empty surfaces for any appreciable amount of time in our house no matter how hard I try. My friend Gillian quoted someone as saying "clutter absorbs light" and it is so true. I love to cook, but I can't work in a kitchen where there is no counter space.

The other problem with space in the kitchen is that Len shops like we're going to be snowed in and he's addicted to the $.99 Store. So we have 800 unhealthy boxes of rice or noodle mixes and multiples of many kitchen gadgets, like potato mashers, tongs, spoons, measuring cups, etc. I simply can't figure out how one of each used to be adequate for my kitchen. Two of each is more than enough, because I only have two hands. No. We have at least four sets of plastic measuring cups, five or six of measuring spoons. There are countless wooden and plastic spoons. So many, in fact, I really don't have drawers enough for them. I think there are at least seven sets of tongs in various lengths. I know there are at least three sets of barbeque implements, two of which have their own plastic carrying cases. I doubt that my kitchen is more than 50 square feet in size. 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound sack.

Right now, there is counter space in the kitchen and great grandmothers Hoosier Kitchen with the enamel top is available for kneading bread and rolling out pie crust. That's because I put things away and threw away all of the out-dated food I could find in the cabinets. (I even tossed two potato mashers--which I never, ever use--but I've tried doing that before and some always grown in their place.) I've got a problem with the dining room table at the moment because it is holding items that used to be in cabinets, but we lost a big cabinet when we put in a new range in November and the handyman hasn't yet been back to build our new cabinets around the sink and take out the unused dishwasher to make up the lost space. Soon, he tells us. Soon. Apparently the beginning of March. We were supposed to have them before Christmas.

The dining room table has to be clear for the annual Oscar night party we have to watch the show. That means the objects will move into my office for the evening. Which means I've got to finish rearranging things in there. And I still have to finish my paperwork for my county business tax--I don't owe any money but the paperwork still has to be done. It's a very complex dance.

Back to the kitchen. The clean-up was prompted by the thought of next week's Oscar party and the beginning of the new season of "The Amazing Race." We have a group of friends who come to watch the Race at our house, so we really like this season's time of 8 p.m. on Sunday. It means folks can come over early, socialize, have dinner at a civilized time, and still get home at a reasonable time to prepare for work on Monday. It was a little harder when it was on Tuesdays at 9.

Since today is Mardi Gras, I thought we should do New Orleans food for dinner on Sunday and I would make a King's Cake. Ah, the best laid plans.

Len did the main dish, a jumbalaya. Thanks to the Food Network, it is possible to find any recipe you could ever want on line and this turned out quite well.

I had also had gone to the Food Network website and found a King's Cake recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, which I had with me when I went to the store to get ingredients. I had checked our refrigerator, and couldn't find the citron I would have sworn was still there. Citron is candied citrus peel which is not difficult to find at Christmas, but a little challenging the rest of the year. I use it when I make pannetone, a traditional Italian Christmas bread, and I didn't think I had used it all.

The other thing that I needed was colored sugar sprinkles. Again, something that's easy to find at Christmas but not other times of the year. So I went off on a trek to find citron and colored sugar (specifically, gold, green and purple colored sugars.)

Ralphs, Vons, and Gelsons had neither. But the Gelsons had a nice selection of dried fruit which helped me with a Jeopardy! question last night. (See my husband Len Wein's blog at http://lenwein.blogspot.com to learn more about the part Jeopardy! plays in our lives.) I moved on to Albertsons, where, amazingly, both citron and colored sugar was in stock. There were two kinds of citron. The sugars had two of the three colors I needed. Inspiration hit: a place that had supplies for cake decorating might have the other color (purple) which I was missing.

I went to check out with my goodies and, while I was standing in line, I was groped. I just about hit the ceiling and was going to sock the man behind me when I heard my husband's voice. He had dropped into the same grocery store to pick up what he needed for the jambalaya. The man behind me was greatly relieved that my spouse had spoken.

I went off to Joann's, which did have the other color I needed. At which point I realized that I had lost the printout of my recipe that I had carried with me while shopping. That could be reprinted when I got home. I also needed to find a box of Cafe du Monde mix for beignets.

Beignets at the Cafe du Monde is one of the traditions of a visit to New Orleans. The cafe sells two things: beignets and chickory coffee. It is open 24 hours a day. I've heard it is back in operation following Katrina. When we were in New Orleans for the World Fantasy Convention, a large group of us would congregate there every night, breathe in the powdered sugar, and pass the time until we picked up a shuttle back to our hotel.

Our local bakery sells beignets on Sundays and usually has the mix for sale, but it was already past closing time. I did remember that Cost Plus Imports sometimes had the mix for sale, so I headed over there. I couldn't find it, but I did something my husband will tell you I never do: I asked a sales person if they had it. He shook his head yes and I got the next to the last box. The Cafe du Monde coffee was sold out. We weren't the only Mardi Gras dinner in town, obviously.

By perusing the shelves, I found one other thing: a boxed mix for King's Cake which included the colored sugars and the baby to hide. I picked that up too, because it had a faster rising time than Emeril's recipe.

I can now report that the boxed King's Cake was very good. It's essentially a raised coffee cake, in which a ceramic baby or a bean or a nut is hidden. The person who gets that piece is supposed to bring the King's Cake next year or is crowned king of the party or there may be other traditions. King's Cake may be the same as an Epiphany cake, designating the day the Magi arrived to honor the Christ Child (hence, the baby), so I may actually make one next year for our Twelfth Night Party. My research has said that King's Cake can be served from Epiphany until Mardi Gras, that entire period between the Christmas season and Lent. Some folks know how to party.

The Amazing Race All Stars got off to a good start, except that Rob and Amber won the first leg. We do not like Rob and Amber. They brought an unpleasant element to their previous appearance and our whole group was on our feet screaming at the television as Joyce and Euchenna (I'm not sure how his name is spelled) managed to beat them out. That race ended in Miami and this one started in Miami. We're looking forward to the next 12 weeks of television.

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