In the pits

Apologies for not getting a post up on Tuesday this week. It’s been just a little crazy lately. I’m getting better at managing the timing so please be patient with me! πŸ™‚  

Caroline, a colleague, had told me several times about U-picking at Homestead Farm, but I never quite made it to pick. About a week or so ago, the topic came up again on Skype chat, and she mentioned she was planning to pick tart cherries that weekend.
My ears of course perked right up, and Caroline graciously let me invite myself along (thanks, Caroline!). I adore cherries of nearly any kind except maraschino, which really? Dyed? Anyway….  

 I hadn’t ever actually seen cherries on trees that I recall either, but I was not disappointed in their gorgeousness:

 Montmorency:          

And Jubileum: 

We spent nearly two and a half hours, and I picked about 17 pounds of cherries!! (Caroline stayed after and also picked blueberries, so I’m not sure how much her box full ended up being.) I neglected to take a photo of the full containers, but if you look at the pic above with me in it, it’s two of the containers I’m holding, plus two additional that are slightly smaller. The darker cherries are semi-tart, and called Jubileum. The brighter ones are very tart, and are Montmorency. There was a third variety as well, but I don’t think I ended up with any of them.

I’m not 100% sure what I’ll do with them yet. In the meantime, I’ve pitted and frozen them. Pitting 17 pounds took nearly as long as picking 17 pounds did!

  
Can you kinda see the juice in the bottom of the pit jar? I strained that into a glass and topped with soda water. No, I did not pay close enough attention, and even though I only got the glass about half full of soda water, adding soda water to other things often results in a minor volcanology modeling; pink fizz went all over the counter, but the remainder of the glass was the best cherry soda ever!

Tomorrow morning I’m off to North Carolina to celebrate my birthday with my twin sister. (As long as the weather holds, I’ll be taking off on LME. Whee!) The cherry pits are soaking, and my husband will drain them and spread them out on a baking sheet to dr for me, so I can figure out what’s next when I get back. I’ll be googling how to make those cherry-pit microwave heat packs – there’re definitely enough pits to make a small one, but I also definitely don’t want rotten pits. I’ve heard they keep the heat longer/better than rice bags, but wow are they expensive in the store, so I haven’t tried one. Now, how can I not try, with free pits? πŸ™‚

Fancy cake, definitely for an “occasion” (aka, adventures with gelatin)

Two beautiful  young ladies at my office are getting married in August. We had a dual shower/party last week, and I volunteered to do the cake, which of course had to be fresh and beautiful like them. After checking what allergies or dislikes either had, I found myself with complete free reign! 

Sometimes that’s not good – sometimes, you just need a “limit” or an idea to work within, but sometimes it’s awesome, if I do say so myself. 

Having fond memories of Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego, I looked up Karen Krasne’s cookbook, Extraordinary Cakes. While it didn’t have the recipe for the chocolate green tea cake with sesame ice cream concoction that I remember so vividly, it does have plenty of showstoppers!

I opted to make Marco Polo, a layered joconde, custard, fruit, whipped cream fantasy with a streusel side crust and a blackberry miroir glaze on the top surface. If you read reviews of the book, you’ll know in advance that you need to plan out your steps in order to get them all done. Thankfully, she helps with this!

My only issue with the whole recipe was that it called for leaf, or sheet, gelatin, and she’s pretty adamant about it. A little internet research showed that leaf-vs-powder is a raging debate, especially when it comes to conversion factors. I hit AmazonSmile (did you know your Amazon orders can benefit for your favorite charity? Check it out at smile.amazon.com!) and ordered the leaves, which would arrive Saturday, in time for the Sunday preparations. 

Saturday came, and my husband wanted to shop for plants (we’re working on creating a native habitat out of our little postage stamp), so we headed to Frederick. Unbeknownst to me, while a package containing, say, a computer my husband ordered, gets left at the door – a 6×9 package of shelf-stable, non-perishable gelatin does not, and although we arrived home at 4, about 6 pm I receive a “delivery attempted” notice. Knowing full well the gelatin will not be on time no matter who I call, I spend my time researching who might carry it locally. Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Rodman’s, Glen’s, Balducci’s, MOM, Williams-Sonoma… I drive to several and call others but it is not to be found. I buy several extra boxes of the powder just to be sure and try working out the conversions. 

The first step was the joconde. I hadn’t seen that term before in spite of having once owned an entire 6′ bookcase of just cookbooks; it appears to be a nut-based sponge cake with whole eggs instead of just whites. 

The cake was ridiculously easy and came out as close to perfect as I get:  

While the joconde was cooling, I started the first filling, a vanilla custard. Suffice it to say it was an interesting challenge. The custard (which I normally make only with egg yolk, never before with gelatin added) broke, so I took it off the heat and beat well, which was enough to save it. (I realized then I should have added the gelatin more towards the end of cooking. Gelatin 1, Amy 0.) I set the custard aside to cool. After it was close to room temp, it still looked soft, but I pressed on – wrapped and fridged. 

When I came back to it, having decide if it sucked I’d just make a standby custard recipe without gelatin, I found a large flat pencil-eraser – I could literally flip the custard out of the bowl in one solid piece! Unfortunately I was so flabbergasted I didn’t grab a photo. Gelatin 2, Amy 0. Determined to save it, I chopped it up and tossed it in the KitchenAid. Quite a few minutes later, it actually resembled custard, thankfully. Amy 1, Gelatin 2.

I also made whipped cream, and a simple syrup in which I steeped the namesake tea, Marco Polo. Smelled heavenly! 

Assembly entailed slicing the cake, then layering with cake soaked in simple syrup, custard, halved blackberries, whipped cream, repeat:   

      

Then it needed to be frozen so when I poured in hot glaze all would remain well. In the meantime, I made streusel out of ground almonds, ground tea, sugar, and butter, baked, cooled, and crumbled, then pressed into the sides of the cake. (Right about then, thankfully before adding the crumbs, I also remembered to put little strips of wax paper under the edges of the cake – which, when later carefully pulled out, would leave a clean edge on the serving plate.)

The blackberry glaze, miroir, also used gelatin, plus blackberries and a bit of jam, cooked down. For some reason mine would not hit the temperature she specified, so due to the long cooking time as I waited and stirred in vain, it was much thicker than her instructions implied, and definitely not mirror-like, but it did get an intense blackberry flavor that worked out great.  Amy 2, Gelatin 2.
That went back in the freezer. The next day at work, I topped it with a few fresh roses (well washed, stems wrapped in plastic wrap, and even a small “flag” of wrap sticking out from the stems, under the flower heads, to keep them off the glaze. Just didn’t know how organic they were – they are edible so I wasn’t worried about the flowers themselves but the potential pesticides.), and a pile of fresh blackberries.  

        

(Even the inside looked ok:) 

It went fast, and everyone seemed to love it. Since the purpose, for me anyway, of making cake, is for people to enjoy it, I counted it successful. πŸ™‚ (Take that, gelatin. Amy 3, Gelatin 2; I win!) 

Plus, I kept the extra roses from the bunch I’d gotten, at my desk all week, where they smelled wonderful, and reminded me of a former colleague who always kept fresh flowers at her desk.  

PS The recipe is long, and several pages, so I’ve not included here. 

Lots of sewing

I still owe y’all a fancy cake post (I even took photos in prep for a post), but at the moment I’m recovering from a weekend full of sewing! 

90+ degrees made me have zero desire to spend any time outside – walking the dog was plenty. I recently discovered another sewing blog to follow, The Monthly Stitch, which for June has an overall contest, but also smaller weekly challenges. I made up my mind I was going to try last week’s challenge – separates. It meant two items in one week. 

I ended up with very few evening hours available this week. Scruff’s old car finally bit the dust and he needed to get a new one, but didn’t end up trading the old one in, so, long story short,  several evenings were taken up at CarMax! But now he’s back to one car and all is well.  I also had a work event take up a full evening, but I did get a top partially cut out; however,  when I re-read the contest info, I had missed that  it was Indie Patterns… and the partially cut top was a Big 4.

Not to worry, I have a number of indie patterns. After a bit of pondering and shuffling and pondering some more, I decided to try one of my Wearing  History patterns. I’ve had the patterns for a bit, but only made one item. 

So I dug out the “1930s Sport Togs” pattern. Of course, I’m a modern girl with a, shall we say, slightly modern figure, so I pretty much spent Saturday  afternoon tracing out the top pattern and adjusting it to fit me. After a few mis-steps in reading the instructions, it came together nicely, and now needs only buttons.

Of course, Separates meant a second item and Sunday I spent a good deal of time tracing & adjusting the trousers pattern pieces from the Sport Togs.  Perhaps one day when I’m a more accomplished seamstress, it won’t take me quite so long to figure out the pattern changes needed, but for now, it takes a long stare and six or seven measures before I’m ready enough to cut into fabric. For these, while I didn’t finish in enough time for the challenge, I surely still got a lot done! 

What’s left:

Top – needs buttons.

Trousers – needs hook/eye, hem/cuffs, and the self belt.

Here’s a sneak peek – and yes, those are belt loops! πŸ™‚ First ones ever. The daisy print is a scrap from the top. More details to come in later posts. 

  

Argh.

I am overdue on Me Made May final week round up. I’ll definitely get that up this week, but probably will have a fancy cake post first. Tomorrow at work we are celebrating two young ladies’ upcoming weddings in one big potluck, and I am on cake duty. 

There’ll be a longer tale in the actual post, but suffice it to say, it’s been quite a day!!! However, the cake is finally in the freezer, and should taste awesome tomorrow, even though it’s not as close to perfect as I’d like. 

Pics after the party!