Friday, June 29, 2012

The Double D Longhorn Ranch

On Tuesday evening Dan and I visited the Double D Longhorn Ranch, by invitation of owners, Harry and Debbie Macey. This ranch is only about a 15 minute drive from our house. They have a herd of about 40 longhorns that have been raised, by Debbie, as pets! The herd includes some adorable new calves. Because of continuous human contact since birth, these animals are gentle, and will allow you to pet them or hand-feed them. Debbie knows each animal by name and is familiar with their individual personalities and quirks.

I have to admit that, when I first crossed the cattle guard, and the longhorns headed toward us, I felt pretty intimidated. But, in time, I became comfortable walking among them. I was there to take pictures, and although I got fairly up-close-and-personal, I chose to maintain a respectful distance. The animals are gentle, but they often swing their heads to chase away flies, and I had no desire to get smacked by those amazing horns.

Many, many thanks to Harry and Debbie for the evening spent visiting with them and their beautiful animals.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Daring Bakers' Challenge for June - Battenberg Cake

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry's techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

(Recipe Here)

Due to the tile work done in our kitchen last month, I missed out on completing my Daring Bakers' challenge. That made me all the more determined to post this month. The Battenberg Cake . . . such a proper British dessert! I can just imagine it being served at high tea! The first Battenberg cake was made to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Victoria, to husband Prince Louis of Battenberg. A Battenberg, traditionally, is a pink and white checkerboard, almond-flavored sponge cake, held together with some kind of icing or jam, and with a rolled icing of some sort on the outside. Some folks prefer fondant, some marzipan, and others chocolate plastique. I opted for the fondant.

I had fun baking this little gem. I did it on June 11, which is my mom's birthday. Although we were almost 500 miles apart on that special day, I baked this challenge cake in honor of her birthday. I sent her a picture, but the tasting was left to us, on this end. The cake turned out very pretty, I thought, in its quilted top and little pink candy pearls.

I have to be honest though. I probably won't ever make another Battenberg. I found it much prettier than it was tasty. First off, I'm not a fan of sponge cake. Secondly, almond flavoring is one of my least favorites; this cake had both almond flavoring and ground almonds in the recipe. And, thirdly, the rolled fondant was so sweet and leathery that I found myself peeling it off, like an orange peel, before eating the cake.

Despite my so-so review, I'm glad to have baked the Battenberg cake. I had never done a checkerboard cake before and found it the most fun part of the process. It was also my first time to cover a cake in rolled fondant icing. That went pretty well, I thought.

And now for the best part! In trimming the cakes, I ended up with a lot of cake scraps (probably 4 cups worth). I froze them, thinking that I'd be able to use them, somehow, to make another dessert.

About a week later I pulled the scraps from the freezer to try making a bread pudding, using the cake pieces instead of bread. I thought it would work. After all, sponge cake is quite dense, so I had faith that it wouldn't turn to mush in the making of the pudding (and it didn't). 

I put the scraps under the oven broiler for a little while, to help dry them out and give them a little crust. Then I mixed up the bread pudding ingredients, including one apple, cut into small pieces, and three chopped up prunes (I didn't have any raisins on hand). Here's what the pudding looked like when it came out of the oven.

Finally, I cooked up a vanilla sauce and poured the hot sauce over each serving of the pudding.

YUM! It was so good. Both Dan and I preferred it to the original cake. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Series Review - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

It’s summertime . . . summertime in Central Texas. And that means hot and humid. It also means, for me, a slower pace, which translates, among other things, into reading. 
Exactly two months ago I purchased a book, recommended by my friend, Cindy, from Juneau, titled The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. It was a simple book and immediately sucked me into it’s world, the African world of *Botswana, and the world of its main character **Mma Precious Ramotswe. 
I always hate it when a good book ends, so you can imagine how happy I was to find that this book was only the first in a series. Off I went, to to buy the second one. But when I discovered that there are currently 13 books in the series, I decided to save some money and use our local library. I’ve been checking the books out, two at a time, and have just finished reading the tenth one: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.
What a wonderful summertime series! These books are unlike any I’ve ever read. They are completely character-driven, and exude gentleness, peace, kindness, grace and the kind of humor that puts a smile on your face, as opposed to the kind of humor that makes you laugh out loud. These books are also a window into the rich culture of Botswana, where the traditional lifestyle and modern lifestyle are continuously struggling with each other.
From every one of the books I found gems, in the form of ideas and words from Mma Ramotswe, who proudly describes herself as “traditionally built” (as opposed to the more modern, slender, stylish women of Africa). Maybe because I am “traditionally built” myself, I felt a kinship with and a love for Precious Ramotswe. Here’s one of my favorite quotations, from Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, which I just finished:
Mma Ramotswe sensed that Mma Tafa was glad of the company. She knew that it was not always easy for women in such places, where the easy companionship of the village had been replaced by the comparative anonymity of the town. Such a woman might spend much of the day without any contact with other women - an unnatural state of affairs, in Mma Ramotswe’s view. We are born to talk to other people, she thought; we are born to be sociable and to sit together with others in the shade of an acacia tree and talk about things that happened the day before. We were not born to sit in kitchens by ourselves, with nobody to chat to. (Page 127)
Cindy (from Juneau), thank you for your suggestion that kicked off my summer reading. Only three more books in the series, and then I’ll be looking for something new, but my summer will have been a richer experience, having read through the entire No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series.

* Botswana is located in Southern Africa, just north of South Africa. It is very sparsely populated, and is an arid land, 70% of which is covered by the Kalahari Desert. Botswana became independent from Britain in 1966, and is a democratic republic. Its capital is Gaborone, where this series takes place.
** According to Alexander McCall Smith’s website Q&As, “Mma and Rra are the formal terms of greeting and respect in Botswana. Mma is pronounced ‘Ma’, with a gentle m sound and a shortish a. Rra is exactly as it is spelt, with a rolling R.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Neighbor Pokes Her Head In

(or The Sun is Always Brighter on the Other Side of the Fence)

Friday, June 1, 2012

National Donut Day - First Friday in June

As most of you know, I come from a family of bakers. For many years of my childhood I awoke to the aroma of freshly frying donuts coming from the bakery beneath our apartment. How, then, could I let National Donut Day go by unobserved?!!

Temple doesn't seem to have either a Krispy Kreme or a Dunkin' Donuts shop, but there are a couple Shipley's Donut Shops. So Dan and I made the trip to Shipley's, this afternoon, in honor of National Donut Day. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Shipley's was offering one free donut per customer on this special occasion.

This evening I did a little online research on National Donut Day, and found out that it isn't just another marketing gimmick. National Donut Day was established way back in 1938, to honor the women who served donuts to the US troops who were overseas in World War I.

Hurry up! You still have a few hours to hit your favorite donut shop before midnight, in honor of these national heroines. And you don't have to feel guilty about the calories - this isn't just eating donuts; it's being patriotic.