We are all just a little bit tired this morning. The last week or so was a whirlwind, I'll tell you. I was just going through the family Christmas photo album to get ready for writing this post, and I started to think that maybe I'm losing my mind! I'm only three years old -- surely that is too young to start losing my memory, isn't it? Maybe I just had too much rum punch.
But none of this looks familiar. It's like a dream. It's almost like I wasn't THERE!
Shortbread: Simple. Delicious. Wonderful. Except for the waistline, perhaps. Oh, and the cholesterol levels, maybe. But it can even be made gluten-free quite nicely, I am told, using tapioca flour instead of wheat. I have not yet tried this, but I imagine will at some point.
Recently I bought a beautiful shortbread pan (you can get it cheaper on Amazon, it turns out) and some wonderful friends (they know who they are) sent me a package containing some special vanilla extracts to add to my Penzey's Double-Strength, so now I have a bona fide vanilla collection.
It's the holiday season, when gifts of cookies are usually welcome, so I can pawn off some of the extra calories and white flour and sugar and butter by bringing them to parties and offices and such. This is essential to my survival. Otherwise, I will eat the whole thing all by myself.
I wanted to experiment with the flavors of the various vanillas (the aromas vary wildly!), and shortbread seems to be a simple way to appreciate the flavor of the vanilla without a lot of distraction from other elements. So I broke out the fresh Vermont (salted*) butter, the King Arthur flour, and some sugar, along with my assortment of vanillas, and went on a little baking bender over the past few days.
I've used various shortbread recipes over my lifetime. The original Scottish recipe I used as a child called for something that was very hard to find around here then -- rice flour. But I persevered, found the flour, and I remember it being truly lovely. I seem to have lost that recipe, which was given to my mother by friends of hers who lived in Nova Scotia at the time. I'm sure I could find a reasonable facsimile of it on the internet, but more recently I decided to give the recipe on the King Arthur Flour site a try. There are two reasons for that: 1) That's where I bought the new snowflake shortbread pan I got, and the recipe was right there in my face, and more importantly, 2) I recently baked their original poundcake recipe (warning: not for wimps) and it was hands-down the best poundcake I have ever baked or eaten (there are still two mini-cakes in my freezer). I also baked their Vanilla Dream cookies, with the same result. So I figured maybe their recipes are WINNERS.
And it appears that they are.
So how did it go, you're wondering?
Batch One: Made with Penzey's Double Strength Vanilla and no almond extract. DELICOUS -- maybe the most delicious of the bunch, but then I keep on saying that. Each one seems to get better than the next. Perhaps I am drunk on my vanilla (don't get me started by the wingnut comment I saw on a food site -- a recipe for making homemade vanilla extract) where a person said, "Vanilla has alcohol?! Good to know. I won't put any in my kids' food until they turn of age." It's now official, as if it wasn't already: I have zero tolerance for stupid people. ZERO. I JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. Oops. You got me started.) Ahem.
My mistake on Batch One was that I put the whole batch into my new snowflake pan. It came out delicious, but very thick and heavy, and less crisp than shortbread should be -- closer to a bar cookie in texture.
Batch Two: Made with Mexican vanilla and a touch of almond extract. This time I put half the batch into the snowflake pan, and rolled out the other half and used a 2-inch cookie cutter to make little rounds to bake separately. Excellent texture and flavor, but I think Mexican vanilla is not my favorite of all the vanillas (sorry all the baking writers who say Mexican vanilla is the best! It's great, and if I didn't have anything to compare it to, I think I would agree. But lo, I have Tahitian vanilla.)
I can spend a good part of the day just sniffing the jar, and be happy. It even helps to tolerate The Stupid People. Sometimes.
So onward to Batch Three.
Batch Three was made with Tahitian vanilla and a little bit of almond extract. In my opinion, the flavor is the best of them so far. BUT I used two 9-inch round cake pans for my shortbread, and this is what happened when I turned it out.
I was able to salvage some of the edges. They are the small triangle-shaped shortbreads shown on the plate in the photos. I could very happily spend the day eating the crumbs, but I won't.
So I'm not sure what the problem was there. I think I did everything right. I sprayed the pans with non-stick spray. I baked it at the right temperature and baked it long enough. I might not have worked the dough quite enough before patting it into the pan, or I might have tried to release it from the pan either too early or too late -- I just don't know.
Today may warrant more experimentation.
*Salted butter is recommended, because there is limited mixing and no real liquid involved when making shortbread. Added salt might not be uniformly mixed in, and/or fully dissolved in the shortbread dough.
And there is some overflow over the tops of people's cubicles, as well:
There is a "scarf processing operation*" scheduled for this Saturday. As of November 14, after two processings, the scarf tally stood at 1,163 beautiful, high-quality red scarves. Cash and gift card donations to the emergency fund have been coming in also, to the tune of almost $1,500 since September 1st.
I feel much better now. I have not been blogging as much, and therefore not reminding and haranguing people to knit, crochet, or weave more red scarves. And I have only been able to knit one scarf this year, which I have yet to send in (maybe today, so it will arrive in time for Saturday's processing event). I was worried that I had not been doing "my job," but it looks like things are pretty well under control here. Carry on as you were, good soldiers.
Lynn Davis of FC2S (Foster Care To Success) tells me that the quality quotient of the scarves is high. That is perhaps the best news of all. The word has finally been heard that the goal here is for gift-worthy scarves, the kind of gift you'd be proud to give you own college-age upward-bound child, grandchild, niece, or nephew. Way to go, knitters, crocheters, and weavers!
AND OOH! Almost as soon as I pressed "publish" on this post, I ran across Knitspot's newest Red Scarf offering. A gorgeous scarf, and proceeds of the sale of the pattern between now and December 31 will go to the Red Scarf Fund. It's a win for everyone!
*"processing" in the words of Lynn, means, "the act of determining whether a scarf is best for a female, male, or either (unisex). Then refolding the scarf and placing in a bag that will keep it dry and should anything else in the care package break, melt, ooze, or otherwise harm the scarf, it will be protected. The sorted and bagged scarves are then labeled and stored until the are ready to go in the care package." All this work is done by volunteers.
I know Tuesday is almost over, but as you can probably imagine by my late missive, things have been busy around here. I've got some big terrier news to relate, but first off, I am told by She Who Owns This Blogspace that I must show you how she's doing on the sweater she's been working on, and tell you a little bit about it.
She says to tell you this is a pattern from a Classic Elite booklet called Noble Fibers (the pattern is called "Lush Shaped Cardigan"), and she's knitting it in sportweight Peace Fleece in some grey color -- "Father's Grey" maybe? Leftover yarn from David's sweater from last year.
Anyway, she was going gangbusters on this thing until she got a bit confuzzled by the neck cast-off directions. She thought she'd just put it down for the evening and re-read the directions after a good night's sleep and carry on from there. But then she ended up spending the next couple of days lying in bed on a heating pad and taking lots of drugs because her hips hurt so wicked bad from running and then going to yoga which, to her surprise, exacerbated the hip pain.
She said a lot of bad words for a lot of days in a row, I'll just tell you that. Cranky doesn't even BEGIN to describe it.
She finally got in to see her Wonder Therapist (not Cindy, but Cindy has hired someone else with the same training), and now she's doing pretty fine -- or at least much better than before. So, she says, hopefully she will get back to the sweater, but it turns out she is quite a bit more busy with work than she thought she would be for December. It's all good. More work for her means more toys and treats for me, plus it makes her happy.
She is pinching me right now and saying, "Tell them about the buttons!" The copper buttons from England arrived, and they are very pretty, interesting, and unique, even to a little Yorkshire pudding like me. You can't really tell from this picture how awesome they are, but hey, I'm doing the best I can.
But can we PUHLEEEEEZE talk about me now?!
As you know, I've been having quite a bit of up-close-and-personal time with wildlife of late, and this week was no exception. A couple of days ago, I just ran like a bat out of hell off the deck, like I do, to scare away any wildlife that has the gall to be in our backyard. Usually everything just scatters faster than even I can catch up to it. But I've been working out, dontchaknow, and this time I caught right up to a squirrel! I'm not kidding! I had him right in my grasp! The stupid dummy, he's supposed to RUN! I told him so. I was like, "What.the.heck.are.you.doing? You're supposed to just run up the tree or something!"
To be honest, I was a little bit stunned, and truth be told, I kinda didn't like the feeling of his furry little neck in my mouth anyway. Actually......... I just didn't know what to do.
But I will deny that in a court of law.
So I barked and I barked, and I told that frickin' squirrel, "Get your fluffy-ass tail UP that tree, and don't you come back DOWN!" And the squirrel was pretty stunned himself, and he eventually pulled himself together and ambled up the tree, where he heaved his breath and looked at me and he probably thought, "Oh my god, there IS a god."
I taught him a thing or two, I'll just tell ya. Next time I might not be so forgiving, I'm just saying.