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  • a happy, ordinary, middle-aged, suburban woman who paints odd pictures, gardens in a straw hat, lives with the love of her life, is owned by one cat and the ghosts of several others, and walks a little funny 'cause she has a fake leg. She started this website because there's more to life than what we lose, and we need to let each other know what's possible, even if it's only a happy, ordinary life.

November 2011

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    sara at saraarts dot com

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Ummmm. Wish I lived next door - just to get the fragrance. No baking this year - hopefully next. Hope you're having a peaceful, happy holiday season.


Heh -- funny you would say that. As you can see now that I've finally put in all the photos is that one of them features my own nose (blurred by proximity to the lens) thrusting toward the open door of the oven just to suck up as much of that scent as possible.

You wouldn't want to live next door to us, though. First, year-round, my true love makes me give away a lot of the stuff I bake because I am a compulsive baker, and if I didn't give a lot away (to neighbors, etc. -- whoever's around, basically) we'd be morbidly obese diabetics. Second, we yell a lot, not always angrily, but loudly, sometimes in quite salty language, sometimes in several languages, and at all hours.

This morning, for example, we were having a passionate [loud] discussion about psych studies (sparked by this and this) and also about the effects of drugs, illicit and not, on human neurology and different kinds of treatment because my true love is taking a class on that at Harvard Extension this semester.

We get excited, and we get loud. When we're not fighting, we are fun to have dinner with, but not, I think, the best people to live next door to. We are both fattening and loud.

Oh, and we encourage the squirrels.

Ron Sullivan

Except for the squirrels, hey, sounds good to me. We've had to inform various housemates and neighbors over the years that when we're yelling, we're probably not fighting -- we tend to do that in hisses and snarls -- and when I'm yelling solo and salty, it's probably at an inanimate object.

Come to think of it, at least your squirrels are native, no? The squirrels here are invasive exotics.

Joe made a couple of his mother's cookies this year. She used to send him-then-us a huge box of various cookies every year. I weighed one at the PO, and it was 14 pounds.

...after punting the whole modeling career idea, I worked in a chocolate store...

Now, see, there's a sign of a well-led life.

shuna fish lydon

what about june taylor marmalades?

thanks for the link. your cookie making looks like so much fun! as much as I have to do it I'm not such a fan of rolling out dough to a desired thickness. but that trick about the two pieces of parchment-- it's great for many things!


You know, Ron, I'm not sure about our squirrels. There's a local naturalist who writes a column for our town paper, and I seem to recall him talking at some point about the three different types of squirrels we have -- red, grey, and black -- which ones were native, and what is happening to the population of each variety as it interacts with the others. I think the red and black are giving way to the grey, which I believe are more territorially aggressive and at any rate are almost all I ever see anymore, but I don't know if the grey started out locally or came from somewhere else, e.g., Europe, like the starlings.

The thing is, as I may have mentioned, I come from somewhere else and derive accidentally (a surprise baby) from a long line of people who all came from somewhere else no matter where they were, so I have different issues about invasive species. I don't believe in killing something just because it's foreign and opportunistic. I also won't knowingly plant something I know will escape cultivation and take over the land. However, if something is growing here already, especially something like the squirrels, the starlings, and the wild roses, something that's been here longer than I have and will probably still be here after I leave, something which is beautiful no matter where it came from or what its effect on native species, though I may try to control it, I don't feel compelled to discourage it. I think we can be responsible about this, but at the same time, that this, too, is evolution, and nature.

I don't know the answer, but I have seen the struggle that all living things suffer just to enjoy each day. The squirrels I fatten shamelessly with seed I don't put in "squirrel-proof" birdfeeders and with whatever pumpkins I leave around in a misguided attempt to decorate for Hallowe'en themselves make very nice meals for hawk families. I have seen this happen. The hawks don't care what species squirrel they eat, either, nor do the owls.

Most people around here just don't like squirrels because they can be expensively destructive of old houses sometimes, not to mention gardens. And then there's the whole rabies problem, which has made a resurgence in northeastern wildlife populations in recent decades. That's why my encouragement of rodents generally might not make me the world's best neighbor.

Oh, well. At least there are the cookies.


Shuna, I have never seen any June Taylor product for sale around here, but if I do, I promise I will try some.

Also, yes, fun is the point -- at least of home baking. I believe a career should also be something fun, but as my mother used to say, "There's diaper changing in every job." When people consider baking holiday cookies at home, though, if any part of it feels like diaper changing, I really don't think the answer is to run to the store and buy pre-rolled, pre-cut dough made of terrible ingredients sold by immoral corporations just for the purpose of "making memories." I think the answer is to go to a good bakery and buy cookies from someone like you -- and then share them with all the same people. The point is to share a good time, a really good time, not to create a look for a scrapbook.

I don't think anybody ever failed to love their grandma because she didn't bake cookies from scratch with them, you know? My maternal grandma never set foot in a kitchen except to get another bagel, yet when I was a little girl, I loved her just fine. I remember the fun we had, which is not the same fun they show in commercials for pre-rolled, pre-cut cookie dough, but was real and memorable all the same.

The time mattered. The way it photographed did not.


glazed Australian apricots enrobed in chocolate.
It sure *sounds* flavorful. Who could have known... Given the taste shift that happens when candied, maybe the best foundation is an unthinkable candidate -- like sundried tomatoes. The citrus peel obviously works well. How about hot pepper. Or whole cloves made soft somehow?

I recently bought a bag of salted licorice. Strong. Almost poisonous. It may last a whole year.


Yes, Evan, you understand the issue exactly. The problem with the Australian glazed apricots we typically see here in the U.S., whether they are ultimately enrobed in chocolate or not, is that the apricots used are typically chosen for consistent "good" looks and size more than flavor. I'm sure these are lovely tasting apricots when fresh. Dried, however, and then sugared, and then on top of that coated with chocolate, well, it's like when you use a really fine, really smooth-drinking wine with a subtle, delicate bouquet for cooking a sauce. Basically when you do that you're just ruining good wine.

Hot red pepper is very delicious as a seasoning for chocolate (as noted in the movie Chocolat; also, it's an ancient South American flavor combo, see, e.g., mole), and so are cloves. The Belgian company Dolfin, which uses non-GMO ingredients, and now the American company Dagoba, too, which uses only organic, fair trade ingredients, make some lovely chocolate bars using masala seasoning, peppercorns, rosemary -- all sorts of amazing, strong flavors. So delicious. Attempting to replicate the experience of my first masala chocolate bar (it was a Dolfin), I added similar seasonings to the chocolate cake recipe I inherited from my mom with delicious results, especially when the batter is baked in madeleine pans and then dusted with cardamom sugar. That recipe has both red pepper and cloves.

I believe you can buy candied red peppers, or candy them yourself. I think they'd be delicious chocolate covered. I'm less certain about the sundried tomatoes because there's a lot going on texturally in a sundried tomato that might not be so nice in a confectionery context. Let me know if you ever try it, though. I always add tomatoes to mole when I cook it at home (as explained here), and it always comes out very rich and deep.

Salty licorice can be intense. "Almost poisonous" indeed! When you have to have it, though, nothing else will do. In that way, it reminds me of dried, salted plums. I had a Japanese landlady once who tried to get me to quit smoking by feeding me dried, salted plums (ume). It just gave me another thing to crave.

Mmmm...the salt... I wonder what ume would taste like enrobed in dark chocolate? I bet they'd be awesome, with or without the lightest possible dusting of wasabi powder. I think the licorice would be interesting chocolate-dipped, too. In fact, I think it would be great, though you might want to cut the pieces up a little bit before enrobing to raise the chocolate-to-licorice proportion. I could be wrong, though. My perpetual, untrammeled lust for both chocolate and licorice might be clouding my judgment.

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