Thursday, December 24, 2009

Belgian Mattentaarten.

One of my favourite childhood treats was the mattentaart. It’s an unusual little almond-flavoured cheese-curd tart cooked in puff-pastry. I found a recipe for it the other day and became resolved to make one for this weekend.

So last night, after I got home, I performed the first step that creates the curd used in the recipe. It’s pretty simple. You take a quart of milk, pour it into a deep pot, and bring it to a boil. Then you put a pint of buttermilk into the boiling milk, and let the milk curdle. You remove it from the heat, and strain it through some double-folded cheesecloth. Do not squeeze the curds to wick out the liquids, let it drain on its own. Stir the curds to keep them loose and to help drain now and again, and store in the fridge for about 12 hours.

So this morning, I got my curd-ball (I had squeezed it, which made the texture wrong… lesson learned!) I had to break the curd-ball apart. L I set out the required ingredients and got started.

The first thing I needed to do was separate the three eggs. There are three yolks in that bowl, I just broke one. Argh. I then took the whites and popped them into my KitchenAid bowl. I whipped them up into stiff peaks.

Once I did that, I set them aside long enough to mix together the other ingredients; the yolks, 3 ½ oz of sugar, a teaspoon of almond essence and the curds. Mix well. It’s not a pretty mix. Once blended, you then gently fold in the egg whites.

The next step is to cheat and use commercially made puff-pastry. I’m all for made-from-scratch, but rolling and folding pastry just doesn’t seem appealing to me. So I got a box of Pepperidge Farm Puff-Pastry, which contains two sheets, and cut one to line the bottom of a cake pan. A quick note: I usually ate these as small tartlets. The are usually sold that way at bakeries in Belgium… but I don’t have small tart pans anymore (ahem coff coff, Steph II) and so I did it in one large cake-pan).

I then poured in the folded mixture, and cut the second sheet of puff pastry as a round to cap off the top, and I scored it once I lay it on top (maybe scored it too much! Heh heh).

Into the oven which was preheated at 400º F for 10 minutes. Then I lowered it to 350º for fifteen minutes, and then boosted it back up to 400º for the last five minutes. I actually let it back another few minutes too, just to let the puff pastry brown a smidge more.

And voila. The finished product. Let it cool and then feel free to scarf. Because I squeezed the curds into a tight little ball and left them like that overnight, the texture of the tart is not at all what I recall. L The flavours are similar—but texture is just as important. But I learned my lesson… an excellent failure. Next time I’ll do better. Give ‘em a try if you’re brave. Don’t let the making of curds deter you, it’s EASY. How hard is boiling something, adding something else, and then straining it? Not hard at all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve's Eve thoughts...

I confess, sometimes the Christmas season gets me down. I am made insane by the commercial thoughtlessness the whole thing has become. It’s not what it’s supposed to be about! Christmas can mean many things to many people… But to me, no longer a practicing Catholic, Christmas is about is a time to huddle in with the people close to me; to look at them in the way I sometimes forget to do, to love them; to show them that I appreciate them, that I pay attention and that they are so important to me. It means celebrating the depth of the season before you move on to another year together. It’s about togetherness, warmth and love. It’s about appreciating what you have—being thankful for the blessings of life, family and community. For others, it’s about the birth of Christ—of the values he represented, the goodness he brought to the world. It’s celebrating values.

And for some, it’s a time to fill one’s yard with inflated snowmen imported from China, and to crowd stores at 3AM, stampeding for 30% off of a flatscreen television and X-box games. It’s about HAVE HAVE HAVE. It’s about outdoing everyone in the giving department because your ego and selfish self-satisfaction is more important than the meaning of the gifts or who they’re going to; it’s about buying something thoughtless and random for the sake of wrapping it and cramming it under the plastic tree. It’s about kids sitting in a pile of brightly coloured toys, bored, materialistic little eyes searching for that thing they *really* wanted and they didn’t get. It’s about overindulging already overindulged children—and the appreciation and gratitude they’re supposed to be learning about during this season flies right out the window.

Whoa, that fake plastic candle fountain is just what I've been longing for all year.

Somewhere in Asia, there are factories churning out tons of volatile organic compounds, spewing chemical-laden wastewaters, employing criminally underpaid workers for long, hard hours so we can buy the blow-up plastic yard-decorations and life-size talking Santas—so they can give someone a cheap makeup palette kit made of questionable materials, or those toys that break within a few hours of being gifted. People are buying ridiculous products like Chia pets, ugly slippers, Snuggies and Fragrances by such commercial luminaries as Usher, Faith Hill and Mariah Carey. I mean really? Really?

Ooooh, what I always wanted. ::smirk:: World peace and a Chia Pet.

Kids are being buried in tech toys and games so they can spend the holiday sitting in front of the television, riveted to Halo or Guitar Hero, their spoils of Christmas scattered like flotsam all over the floor around them. Wasteful and just plain crazy.

It’s insane. It really is totally insane. Every year, my husband and I struggle to make ends meet. Every year, we put ourselves in financial dire straights to buy gifts for everyone. We buy one gift for each person. We try to find something relevant, something thoughtful if we can. If we can’t think of that, we get something at least useful. It’s painful to see the kids dismiss our hard-earned gift for the blinky-boopy-techno-gadgets the family “Power-gifter” got them. It hurts to see the significance of our intent be missed by adults because they’re busy calculating what we spent in their heads. We go home with hat and glove sets... one-cup coffee machines and K-Mart sale-table bath and makeup sets. Obviously, these gifts are more about the giver than they are the receiver. It’s about how much they spend, not how much they really care. No thought was put into the gift at all. It's as random as it can be. It’s about getting something wrapped up in paper to fulfill an obligation. I would rather get nothing at all than get piles and piles of stuff that is in essence, wasted money and thoughtless clutter.
OMG, I have to have that because regular throws are SO impractical.
I couldn't survive without it. Do we lose IQ points for every object of convenience we buy? I wonder.

We feel bad for the way we look at this clutter—this stuff that serves no purpose except to take up space. To prove what? That someone cares? I wish they’d take the dollars spent on this clutter and donate it to a family who needs a home or food—put it towards the bills of someone who is over their head… and in place of the pile of gifts, give one, simple, unpretentious, thoughtful gift to us. Even if it’s five dollars! Who cares?

I cannot control what other people do; I am always gracious and thankful, regardless of my feelings towards the presents. We cannot find it in our hearts to tell the family members that we prefer not to receive all these gifts… to spare them hurt feelings. We simply do the next best thing, and the gifts that we don’t need, use or want to store, we donate to Goodwill or Deseret. I know it would hurt people’s feelings to find that out, but we only have 700 square foot house at most… space is at a premium—and there’s no point in storing something that serves no purpose or isn’t used at all.

Ugh. I dunno. But at times like these I think about the bookmark that stepmother-in-law gave me a few years ago. She knows I read a lot. So she made me this bookmark; a simple thing, a string of fishing line with pretty beads on each end. I lose bookmarks constantly… the traditional ones just fall out. This bookmark that she gave me is one of my most treasured Christmas gifts. I use it CONSTANTLY. I look at it, and sometimes smile, thinking; “Sandy… great gift…” It snugs right between the pages, so it never falls out… the beads make it impossible to forget it inside a book, and when it’s not in use, it drapes over the wall-lamp by my bed. Now THAT is a perfect gift. Looking at it, it’s really nothing… fifty cents worth of materials at most, and a few moments of elbow grease. But it’s my favourite Christmas gift I’ve received from family in years. It was thoughtful, useful and handmade. It’s perfect.

Yesterday, we put up our tree. My husband went out and got a live tree, as we do every year. We are not always successful in keeping them alive, but at least they get a fighting chance. I could feel that Christmas spirit again as I hung snowflake after snowflake on its soft, green limbs. I hung up the cards on a string, and put the stockings on the mantel. Tomorrow and Friday, we will spend our days traveling around to see everyone. The decorations are pretty much only for us, in the end. At least we will have Christmas breakfast at home, and have Grandma Georgia and brother in law over this year. Yay!

As today winds down, I will go to see my horse and kiss his muzzle, and give him Christmas treats. Then I’m going to go home, and finish wrapping presents—and spend some time with my frequently absent husband—try to get as much quality time from this holiday furlough as possible. Ultimately, with all this crazy buying and wrapping, quiet criticism of gifts and people ‘Powergifting’ the season into a competitive, mutated version of what Christmas is supposed to be… well… I try to remember what really matters. My husband, my dogs, my horse; my sisters, who I did not buy gifts for because they understand I cannot afford to and would never judge us for that; the ladies I work with, the people I love and care about, and those who love and care about us.

As my father’s health dwindles, and he lies alone in a bed, 3,000 miles away at the Tufts University Hospital, lost in his memories… what I really want for Christmas is for him to be okay. I’d give up the gifts and trappings of the whole season if I could have that.

Merry Christmas everyone. Don’t let the real intent of the holiday get lost in the shuffle of commercialism and materialism. Don’t forget what is really important.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Friday! ....And Badgers.

Sooo..... Steph II, the evil pastry chef, has been stealthing about planning a ball in honour of... well... me. It's my own birthday Regency ball! How COOL IS THAT?? I've NEVER had anything like this happen on my birthday before. Nobody's ever planned such a fête for me! OMG! I'm so excited! And humbled too! I'm so afraid I'm gonig to burst into tears and weep the WHOLE night. How embarassing. ::heh heh:: I will NEED a new gown for this event, no doubt. I will have to start researching the extants again. I want something beautiful. Maybe in silk taffeta? I dunno. But ... YAY!

My Husband comes home tomorrow! YAY! I'm so excited to have him for TWO WEEKS! This is huge. Six days is barely enough. Of course this means it will be through the holidays, which is stressful, but nonetheless, he'll be there with me. I won't be alone--thank God.

I have FINALLY found a farrier to trim Tag's feet. Apparently American farriers are afraid of large horses. Many, many of refuse to do draft horses, and those who do, charge 'California' prices to do it. It has been a task and a half to find someone to trim and balance my boy. I found a reasonable farrier who seems excited to meet my stompy fellow. What makes me laugh is that Tag; relative to most standard European horses, is really not that big. Tag is only sixteen hands. His legs are thick, his hoofs are biggish... but my first full-sized horse, Tequila, was taller than Tag, and had the same size hoofs (she was clunky, an ex police horse, not exacty graceful, but she was the best horse in the world). Apollo, a Dutch Warmblood, was almost 18 hands. American horses (Mustangs, quarter horses, etc...) are pretty dinky in comparison to the warmbloods and heavy European breeds. The farriers apparently balk at anything that has a little size and heft. And Tag has both.

I was offered another free draft. A black percheron mare named Katie. She is huge. Taller than Tag by a lot, and beautiful, with wavy raven mane and tail. If I could afford the keep and the time, I'd take her in a second. Alas, it isn't practical. Another will come along at the right time. I want to focus on training my big boy Tag (besides, Mares are such a pain in the rear, temperamental and PMSey; Geldings are much more pleasant to work with).

This is a new office special! OMG! it's my Mr. and Mrs. Badger go for a stroll picture. I finished it no more than half-hour ago.

Happy Friday all. ;)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Horse-talk. How riveting.

Sunday, I had a late breakfast at the Cozy Cabin, our favourite breakfast haunt. I donned a nice warm sweater, my riding pants, had breakfast and then went to the barn to see my boy.

I've noticed that Tag is losing a bit of weight from his new exercise regimen. I am going to have to start supplementing his diet to compensate for it. He is a happy guy though. I got there, brought him inside. He was allowed a reprieve from being indoors-only-boy because the ground was frozen and hence, no mud to aggravate his Scratches sores. He was a pill to get out of the little annex from the paddock. He put on the brakes, afraid of something in the parking area near the arena exit/entrance. He has been doing this for some time, being a big doofus about going outdoors from the arena or coming from the turnout areas to the area near the arena entrance. Something spooks him there.

I eventuallly managed to get him indoors, and to groom him down. He likes that bit. Especially when I curry his inner thigh.. he stretches out his whole back quarter and relaxes, his eyes closing partways. So cute.

I tossed on the saddle with his plaid saddle-pad and thought... man he's adorable. Looks like a Shetland Pony someone put into an Enlarge-a-Tron. I took a picture. His attention is always on me when I'm over by the tack area, because that's usually where nummy snacks come from.

This is one of the few English saddles in the the whole barn. I have only seen one other one. I am frequently teased about my English saddle and gear; the Western rider majority find me to be a bit of an anomaly. I am what I am I guess. Anyway... I love this saddle. I've had it a long time. I laughingly say that it's never met a horse it didn't fit. It's so comfortable--and even after all this time unused, the leather is softening again, and I can feel those little spots that were worn in by me years ago giving way again. ::sigh::. I want to buy a cheap used Aussie saddle to trail and beach ride on without fear of messing up something valuable like my Stübben. I like German saddles. For now, arena riding is fine, so I use my all-purpose all the time. I might break out the Dressage saddle sooner or later. For now, this is fine.

Tag is now in his winter coat. When I first met him, he was still golden and velvety; now he's full on furry. It poses a small problem when we ride, because he sweats, and the long fur holds the moisture--making it difficult to cool him off, dry him off and keep him from getting cold after were done working out. It sure is cute though. My sister Helen recommended a trace clip. which means I'd be shaving a big racing stripe on his sides, neck and half his face. Poor baby. Have we no respect for his dignity? It would help him dry faster, but of course that means I'll have to find a big ol' blankie for him to keep warm if he's partially furless.

The Trace Clip.

See how sweaty? Poor baby. :) I let him roll after I rub him down with shavings and a towel.

Tag was being a doofus about letting me ride him outdoors. He feared leaving the arena. Of course, being the stubborn type, I fought him until he complied. Once he was outside, he was delighted. Ears pricked forward, he watched everything. We trotted up and down the long driveway to and from the barn... and around the side of the property. He was thrilled. Silly boy. We made the entrance and exit to the arena several times to establish it wasn't monster infested or whatever it was he was afraid of... it was a nice ride. A nice day. I love my horse. He's my baby-boo--even if he is about 1600 lbs.

I know, I know.. but it bears reposting

I put this on the Oregon Regency Society's blog-page... but I watched it again this morning when I most needed a laugh, and thought it direly needed reposting. One bad word is used in it, fair warning to those of you with tender hearing. But anyone who loves P&P would appreciate this.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Jane.

Wednesday will be the birthday of my favourite author; Jane Austen.

I first discovered her in AP lit in Middle School. Pride and Prejudice was on our required reading list, and it was one of the books we were told to buy for the school year. My mother, stumbled into the British book shop near the mall at Woluwé-Saint-Lambert, and bought a book of Jane's works instead of just P&P. It was a thick book with a soft cover, and those really thin crinkly sounding pages. Somewhere on my shelf, among the many other versions of Jane's works, that dog-eared book still lingers. The spine has creases in it, and most of the cover is worn off. I read, and re-read, marked, folded, quoted, browsed, referred to and thumbed through every page. It's in rough shape--but I still can't bring myself to throw it away.

I've always been a reader. I remember reading Jean Auel's Valley of the Horses when I was in the second grade. With a family of 'book thieves' (which means that if you were reading something and left it sitting in an accessible area, you risked it being stolen by another family member and would have to suck it up and wait for them to finish before you got it back)'--it was inevitable that I would be a book-nerd. I was one of the few kids in class that actually enjoyed required reading. That doesn't mean I did my assignments on time or at all; I was a lackadaisical student to say the least, but I did my reading regardless of whether I cared to prove it to my teachers. And Jane's books were hands-down the ones that had the greatest impression on me. There are a series of books I've kept all these years; 1) Jane Austen's complete works... 2) The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt 3) The Velveteen Rabbit, 4) and the complete collection of Beatrix Potter books and 5) Jean Auel's slowly growing 'Earth's Children' series. I have all of those. The children's books are meant to go to the child I hope to have someday.

As the years have gone by, Jane has sort of grown into my life. I am not historian, I don't claim to know everything about her life... I only know that her humour, her satire, her style and her imagination sustain me sometimes when other books just don't cut it. Her characters are timeless, her subtle truths are beautiful. I love Jane Austen. She's my eldest sister, who keeps my morale up. I feel connected to her through Anne Elliot's quiet tolerance and through Mr. Bennett's wit and sarcasm. I feel that her works are so relevant--and every time I read about the gentlemen boasting about their driving equipment, I think of men today, drooling over their cars... It's all so wonderful, I can only wish I could throw Jane a great surprise party, with a huge glistening cake and a circle of loving friends who appreciate all the gifts she's given us. Happy Birthday Jane!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Preparations are underway...

Kay Demlow of Lavender's Green Costuming has put together a delightful event at an old church in Hillsboro for tomorrow. It's from five to eight PM. She has kindly provided me a table to sell some of my things. So I have put together a little collection of my many office specials, and I have gathered up all the trinkets and such I have lying around and I am making some pretty cards with my little sheep from the prior post. I'm very excited. It's my first table at a fair or such, I hope they sell. :)

And for the first time in a while, I'd like to wish you all Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Christmas Meme--stolen from the Lady of Portland House

1. Eggnog or hot chocolate?
Hot cocoa, hands-down.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Wrapped, no doubt. Nothing is better than the surprise and delight of a mysterious gift, prettily wrapped (I LOVE wrapping gifts...)

3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white?
White—I feel serene when I see white lights glowing inside a tree or adorning a house. Maybe if I ever have a kid, I’ll go with coloured lights.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Yes—when I can find it. Smoochies are nice.

5. When do you put your Christmas decorations up?
St. Nicholas’s day (12/5) when we were kids. I remember the tree being pretty much naked of needles by Christmas, most of them sprinkled on the presents and the floor around it. But as an adult, I usually decorate a couple of weeks before Christmas, three at most. I don’t like to be sick of the whole deal before the actual holiday comes ‘round.

6. Favorite holiday dish?
Glazed duck. It’s a tradition I miss quite a bit.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
Lying down on the floor beneath the tree, listening to William Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices, and looking up at the coloured lights, the tinsel, and the ornaments and blurring my eyes.

8. When did you learn the truth about Santa?
I don’t remember. Early on. Parents weren’t too keen on keeping the illusion alive.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Yes. One gift each.

10. How do you decorate a tree?
I am obsessed with snowflakes. I have snowflake ornaments of all sorts; crocheted ones, plastic ones, glass ones. I have icicles, clear glass and white bulbs. I like to do white and silver themes, with the occasional punch of colour. Some years I add red apples—once I did blue highlights and that was beautiful. I stick to pearly whites, silvers and glass. It looks ethereal.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?
I love snow.

12. Can you ice skate?
No. And all attempts to do so have ended in a bruised coccyx. I used to ski pretty well though.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
A violin--oh and a telescope.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you?
Being with the people you love.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Gallette des rois frangipane” cake. It’s an almond cake that is traditionally served on Three Kings Day in Belgium.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
My family’s traditions usually revolved around food. Hubby and I haven’t really developed our own ‘traditions’ yet. One that belonged to his grandmother that I like very much is the Christmas morning breakfast. I’d like to do that every year and invite family that can’t be there for Christmas dinner.

17. What tops your tree?
A big, garish, sparkly snowflake.

18. Which do you prefer-Giving or Receiving?
I love the feeling when you scored on the right gift for someone. You show you’ve been listening to them, paying attention to the things they like, and then gift them something you know they’ll love. There’s no better feeling.

19. Favorite Christmas song?
O Holy Night.

20. Candy Canes-Yuck or Yum?
I like them during this season.

21. Favorite Christmas show?
The Nutcracker Ballet

22. Saddest Christmas song?
I can’t think of one.

If you steal this meme, comment so I can read your version. :)

Congratulations to my sister...

She just got married at the infamous "Little White Chapel" in Vegas.
Couldn't be happier for her. She looks so pretty. :)


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