Saturday, February 25, 2017

Playing the Waiting Game

I got all excited about the baby and now he's running late. So, it's the waiting game.

What do you do when you are waiting for something? I'm having a hard time doing anything productively since I don't want to get into too much of a mess. But I did tackle the dreaded basement. All the holiday stuff was down there but in totebags and needed to get fully put away. That felt like a big monkey off my back because while I was down below I did some purging, too. (Don't expect photos of that one!)

Here's a tip I learned from Eilis when I was in Dallas. I bought a gift that had a wonderful box and the never-take-me-off price tag was stuck to the front of the pretty box.

The remedy? A hair dryer! Took it off like a charm. Thanks, Eilis!

Lizzie has discovered she is a herbalist. In addition to her catnip she's developed a taste for the herb pot on my office desk. I brought it in so maybe just once I wouldn't kill it before spring.

But she might beat me to it.

She's also taking to being a domestic diva (along with her Princess tendencies).

Mom's little laundry helper drew blood while attacking my hand under some laundry. I told her laundry wasn't a blood sport but I'm afraid she was showing her inner alley cat.

I'm reading two wonderful books right now. When I'm feeling like thinking it's "The Almost Nearly Perfect People" by Michael Booth which focuses on the cultures of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. There's a chapter on Hygge! (Hygge and Action are my two words of the year.)

The other is "The Queen's Accomplice," the most recent book in Susan Elia McNeal's "Maggie Hope" series. This one finds Maggie, an American math whiz working for the SOE in WWII England, on a case that involves a Ripper-like killer, along with a couple of very good subplots.

Minding the garden -- well, not really yet, but I'll have to soon.

Yes, these are daffodils shooting out. This should not be happening in Michigan in February. I kept covering them with mulch when it started but I think it's beyond that now. Wish me luck. They're pretty resilient.

In addition to the baby's arrival, I'm anticipating our March trip to the Berkshires and Marlborough, Massachusetts. Rick has a trade show there and we always combine our visit with a trip to his brother and sister-in-law. Will the Shaker Village look like this...

....or this?

Who can say. One day I will get there when the darned thing is open to the public! Meanwhile, this time I plan to get to Stockbridge and the Norman Rockwell museum. Speaking of which, dabbling a bit with watercolor charts.

And baking. I made some oversized chocolate chip cookies for a dinner dessert.

I need to get these out of the house fast!

So, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. As soon as I hit post the baby will arrive. That's just what always happens!

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Drumkickers" -- A Recipe Request

Every year at Christmas I try to add at least one new recipe to my repertoire. Back when I was still working, I remember my boss, Kent, bringing in a tin of cookies that were to die for. He called them Drumkickers (or Drumkekar, in German) and he said it was his German grandmother's recipe, which he kindly shared.

And they were good. Think of a combination of vanilla and brown sugar (which isn't an ingredient!). It was like a blondie cookie, if that makes sense, sweet and profoundly addictive.

When I mentioned making them, none of my German readers were familiar with the recipe but I did have a couple of requests for it (and you'll find it below).

But I was stumped. If Kent's German Grandmother called them Drumkekars (the "Drumkickers" moniker came from his boys), surely it must be a German recipe. So, I tried tracking and googling, finally hitting pay dirt of a sort with the terms Vanilla Cookie.

Well, according to all I could find, it was a Swedish recipe called Brunscrackers and in fact, I found pretty much the identical recipe right here. (There are other similar versions online) The quantity is different from the recipe below, as is the baking temperature, but the same ingredients more or less.  My total yield was about six dozen but could be more or less depending on how wide you cut them. Or tons and tons if you made them the size of a Wheat Thin.

But to be honest, I liked Kent's instructions better. They had great character (like Kent), as you shall see, and that's why those are what''s below!

A couple of things about this recipe. It calls for vanilla powder and vanilla sugar. I'm told you can find it at World Market and I would guess at specialized food stores or possibly King Arthur. But I didn't have it. So I used a little more vanilla. It tasted fine to me.

And Kent's didn't call for icing but I think an icing glaze always looks pretty, especially at the holidays so mine is basically thinned out powdered sugar, milk, butter and vanilla to a "pouring" level.

My recipe also calls for a 325 temperature (vs. 350). 

Kent's Drumkickers

Cream 1 c. butter (softened)

(Kent's Note: I only use real butter, not margarine or Crisco. They don't turn out as well if you don't use real butter. And besides -- you're supposed to use real butter! Generation after generation of plump German Fraus can't be wrong.)

1 c. vanilla sugar (or regular if you can't find)
2 T. Lyle's Golden Syrup (OK, maybe 3 T if you like really sweet)

Beat vigorously

2 c. flour
1 t. soda
3 T. vanilla powder (you can substitute an equal amount of vanilla)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. I'd recommend parchment paper. Roll dough into a four "logs" that are about one in in diameter or square and about 12 inches long, give or take. They will flatten out, so give them room on a cookie sheet (see photo below to see how it flattens.) It works to do three lengthwise and one across the width of the pan. Bake 20-22 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 3-5 minutes on cookie sheet. Cut baked logs into strips while on cookie sheet. You could also use a deep cookie cutter but there is likely to be spoilage.

(Since I glaze them, I drizzle the glaze after they've cooled but still on the cookie sheet).

The rest of Kent's Instructions:

Dough is thick compared to cookies like chocolate chip and log size approximate.
I sift the flour but I don't know that this recipe really benefits from it.
Liberal applications of Schnapps (brandy, port or riesling may be substituted) for the chef during the baking seems to help the results, I find. Or perhaps just make the results easier to accept. It easily makes a double batch or two full cookie sheets.

Edited Note: Blogger Commenter Lisbeth wrote the her mother makes these cookies regularly and calls them 'sirapskakor', that is Syrup cookies. They are cut like in the Swedish recipe you linked to.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Keeping an Eye Out

We are keeping an eye out...

Watching the clock...

Waiting for the phone to ring as the minutes tick by.

We're waiting for the call to hit the road and welcome Kevin and Molly's first baby. Our first baby. We're watching!

And we know as much as we want to get things rolling, they want to more!

Due today. I wonder if there's a fine if he's a day late?

(Clock photos from Musee d'Orsay and Big Ben; Eyeballs by unknown artists, photographed in street exhibits.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pressing Issues

Those of you who follow the Marmelade Gypsy know that I rarely post politically-oriented pieces. I believe that one's political opinions are their own and whether or not they agree with mine, it doesn't affect our friendship (or family relationships) -- and shouldn't. We keep our distance on that topic and when it's too hot to handle, I back off, remove myself from the situation if at all possible.

First, if anything good has come from the chaos of the past few months it is this: People are becoming engaged. They know the names of their Senators and Congressional Representatives. They are reading and watching news, most of which is not fake -- it may be opinionated but it's not fake. And it's pretty clear we care about our country. Care passionately -- and that is a good thing.

I learned a long time ago that you can't convince people who are deeply entrenched in a thought -- on any topic. And that, I'm sorry to say, sometimes includes me.

But if I had any advice to give to our president it would be "Stop talking about the press and fake news. It makes you look like a buffoon."

Whether he is or not isn't the issue. His continual harping on the issue doesn't help. It just makes him look paranoid and unpresidential. It doesn't help.

I know some of you may not agree and I hope that we'll still be "friends." But that's up to you.

Without the press we wouldn't know about Watergate. Sunday, Feb. 19, on "Face the Nation," Reince Priebus was advocating the concept of reporters revealing their sources. One of the tenets of the press is that sources are protected. That's how you find out things that merit investigation. Some play out, some don't. But without Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein would have had much less to work with and one of the great cover-ups of all time would have remained a secret.

This is personal for me. For more than 30 years I worked in public broadcasting and the station I worked for had both radio and television coverage of news and politics. I was also part of a university department that housed the school of journalism. Over the course of years I worked with many journalists in one capacity or another. I remember being in the newsroom on election night tweeting results as they came in. It was exciting and exhausting.

credit: Bill Richards, WKAR
I've seen debate production and let me tell you, these politicians are picky. Podium height must be the same, note pads provided. They haggle on dates and who is in and who isn't till you're ready to pull your hair out. You talk about prima donnas in the performing arts? Honey, you ain't seen nothing yet -- and some of these folks are just running for Governor or Mayor!

Since 1972 our senior capitol correspondent has anchored a weekly show on Michigan politics with a rotating panel whose members alternate. I worked with "Off the Record" host Tim Skubick for decades and I could not tell you if he is a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. And this has been the topic among many of my colleagues and none of us know. And Tim's not telling. It's interesting to observe that after a particularly feisty program we would get calls saying both that "He was too hard on that guy," and "He was giving that guy softballs." The same guest.

credit: Stacey Hoxsey, WKAR
Our radio staff, as well, hits hard topics and does it unflinchingly. A little over a year ago, one reporter's interview of our university president following the controversial topic of selling broadcast spectrum angered her to a degree heard over the radio in terse snotty-nose answers. The anchor himself faced direct wrath. And, I'm proud to say, was backed for journalistic integrity both in-house and from listeners.

Now, you can say, "Well, that's local. It's different with the president."

No it isn't. It's just bigger. And the reporters aren't different either. They're just better known.

There's an important document we should all be aware of -- the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. You can (and should) read the link. But basically, there are several key principles: Seek truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable and Transparent.

In the section of this document on "anonymous sources" the ethics code says: "Few ethical issues in journalism are more entangled with the law than the use of anonymous sources. Keep your promise not to identify a source of information and it’s possible to find yourself facing a grand jury, a judge and a jail cell. On the other hand, break your promise of confidentiality to that source and it’s just possible you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit." (there's more at the link.)

In fact, laws protect the journalists in this action. They are called "Shield Laws" and they provide statutory protection for the “reporters' privilege” — legal rules which protect journalists against the government requiring them to reveal confidential sources or other information. 

Remember when Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) went to jail for not revealing a source? Check out this National Law Journal article to see how that episode was mentioned in a later, related case. 
20th Century Fox / National Law Journal
The point is, as Bob Woodward of "Woodward and Bernstein" said on "Face the Nation, "The press is not our enemy... democracies die in darkness." Or, as Senator Lindsay Graham (R, SC) says "The backbone of America is the free press and independent judiciary and it is worth fighting and dying for."

John McCain defended the freedom of the press on "Meet the Press" this week, reminding viewers that suppressing the press is "how dictators get started." He admitted to host Chuck Todd, "I hate the press... but the fact is we need you. We must have a free press." (source here. Link to program not yet posted.)

I'm not sure that our president understands what a clown he makes of himself with the repeated attacks on fake news and the press. (Clarification: fake news is "The Onion" (and often that term reflects satire). Fake news is "The National Enquirer." Fake news is not the standard press organizations. They may or may not have some bias but they are calling it as they see it..)

When one witnesses a train wreck, there will be different descriptions of what happened. When I witnessed the train wreck of a press conference the other day I thought, "Of course you have to report on this. A man who is leading our country becomes completely unhinged in public -- and you can't have a bigger public than television. He doesn't listen to the questions (remember the reporter who said, "I know you are not anti semitic but what does your administration plan to do about the increase in hate crimes?" and he was railed at for being perceived as saying Trump is semitic.) It was a legitimate question and a very good one that I'd like to know the answer to myself.

He insulted an African American reporter and he repeatedly referred to fake news.

Well, he made news with that one -- as he predicted in the conference he would. And he should have.

My plea to you is to ignore his Fake News rant. Clear your mind and prejudices and try to listen, and objectively. And I know that's hard. I force myself to listen to Fox News but I do sometimes, because I need to hear that take. Listen to different sources. You will see a variety of viewpoints and clearly some are more liberal and some more conservative.

It doesn't mean that one or the other is wrong necessarily. It means it doesn't match with your view or mine.

I am reminded of my first Consumer Behavior Class where we learned about something called Cognitive Dissonance.

This psychological theory is defined as the mental discomfort or stress one has when holding conflicting beliefs or values or when confronted with new information that contradicts an existing belief. For example, if you buy a new car, we are inclined to hold onto our belief that it is the right choice even when confronted by recalls, airbag problems or defects. "Well, I love my Toyota, I will probably even get another one."

We hold tight because we didn't want to be wrong. It's our attempt at internal consistency. Or, as I find in myself, a real tough challenge to admit we may have made a mistake. (Flip flop!)

I hear a lot of cognitive dissonance regarding the election. We make choices based on what we know, what we think is right or on one issue that overrides all others. And sometimes that's what you have to do.

And sometimes it isn't.

If I want to change things, I have to take action (one of my words of the year). We all do. Sitting around and complaining gets us nowhere if we don't do something, large or small (write postcards, march, attend meetings, call to make our voices heard.) So I will continue to do what I do and expect or hope others will do the same.

One last story. When I was in high school choir, we had to sing a song made popular for choral groups by the Fred Waring Singers. The words, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." from Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty, took a satiric turn ("Give us Fred Waring and we'll ring his neck, huddled in the corner till he dies...").

We didn't have a clue, some many of us being little white-bread and white-bred kids. Then my mother told me about her friend Mrs. Lepkongs, to whom she taught English when they fled Soviet-controlled Latvia after the war with few belongings. And in the years since, I've studied history -- the horrible mistakes the US made during World War II in imprisoning our Japanese immigrants, the tragedy of the Holocaust and a narcissistic, psychotic dictator (who also silenced the press). I've learned that we must open our doors as well as our hearts.

What counts most now -- at least to me -- is that we go forth in love and in measured thoughtfulness. Do what we need to do -- but think about our words, our actions, our hopes for our country as a land of the free.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cork Poppers: Italian Wine and Valentines!

Our Cork Poppers wine group settled in for an afternoon of Italian tasting and a Valentine celebration. The setting was my house and apart from Rog and Meredith (traveling) and Dick (home sick) we had a full group. My friend Suzanne, visiting from Canada, joined us!

My house is a festival of red at this season. (Isn't it nice that Christmas is leading up to it so we can just keep some of our red at hand?)

Well, if you can't do red on Valentine's Day, when can you do it?

My notes on this are pretty bare not (as has happened once or twice before) that I had bad notes, but because every single wine we had was one I would buy again or give as a gift. They were delicious. Most were reds but we started off with our sole white from Cheryl.

Dipinti Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti (IGT) is a tasty white. Imagine this one on a warm summer evening while you're sitting on the beach. It was clean, crisp very tasty. I would buy this again in a minute, especially at the $11 price (and for my two cents, it won the label competition hands down!)

Of course, we don't just go for the wine. Pat and Cheryl had pulled together an elaborate collection of crackers and cheese.

And Rick made bread the size of his head!

Next, Pat offered Prodigo Sangiovese di Romagra DOC 2013. This was a rich red, and like most of the other wines we tasted that day, had notes of blackberries and cherries. Now, I don't taste either one and I'm not sure anyone does really -- but that's what people say. I tasted "good." And good is good enough for me, especially at $9.99.

Our third wine was a top of the line chicanti, Gabbiano Chianti Classsico, DOCT, 2013. Here's an interesting tip. If you are buying a chianti and see a rooster on the neck of the bottle, go for it. That's the sign of a higher grade chianti (as is the determination DOCG).

Of course we often think of a chianti as being served with pasta (or included in the sauce!) and this would do the trick, although to be honest, it would be a good sipping wine on a cold winter night. It was sweetly fragrant with nice tannins and a long finish. I was tasting it well after the swallow and delighted to do so! This was regularly $15.99 but on sale for $13.99.

Barb and Mike were up next with one of my favorites, Monacello Primitivo di Matera DOC. If you take a look at a map of Italy you'll note the "heel of the boot." The grapes for this were grown in the "instep" of the boot. Primitivo grapes are what we might more easily recognize as Zinfandel grapes, so if you like Zin (not White Zinfandel) this might be for you (Once again, it was great and at $16, while a bit more than most, is worth it.)

In between sipping we had some valentine activity. Most of us had one card to trade but Barb and Cheryl both made individual valentines for all of us! Cheryl went with "Hamiltines" -- each featuring a quote from the popular musical.

Barb made us colorful valentines with a paper plate as the substrate with loads of color, photos and a personal connection.

Back to the wine! Jan was next with Umani Ronchi Sangiovese Marche 2009. Sangiovese is the most popular grape in Italy and this was very drinkable.

Suzanne was up next. This wasn't her first rodeo with Cork Poppers and she knew what to expect. Her choice was a Cantina Zaccagnini Montelpulciano Abruzzi DOC 2014. It was very full and rich or, as Barb described it, "not sissy wine." This is available at World Market, $15.99.

Our last wine was another Prodigo from Rick -- Prodigo Nero dÁvola IGT 2014 (same company as the first.). (IGT, like DOC and DOCG, reflects the region in which the grapes were grown. I lift and edit this wording from The Kitchn (please visit them for details). DOCG means that the wine producers followed the strictest regulations possible to make that wine and is the least common. DOC wines are much more commonly found. The rules governing quality and authenticity are still very strict, but they're a little more generous than those for DOCG status. IGT doesn't quite meet those production standards but is still a great wine.

Even though we'd been loading up on bread and cheese, when dinner came no one passed it up. We started with Barb's always-amazing salad, then on to Anne's broccoli dish and my lasagne. (I'll tell you more about the lasagna in another post.) Jan wrapped it up with a tiramisu to die for. And of course we opened the rest of the valentines!

The table theme was a valentine party -- lots of red.

I was lucky to find mini-roses and some cute buckets at JoAnn's that made for floral interludes on the table.

Between the flower pots were vintage valentine cutouts, used like confetti, amidst red ribbons.


I pulled two kinds of china -- my Royal Doulton Royal Gold pattern and some simple Mikasa white bone china I bought at Home Goods to round out the place settings ($3.99 for the dinner plates, not bad!). The silver was a combination of my Francis I (Reed and Barton) and my grandmothers.


Place cards were made by photo transfers of each guest, painted and adhered to a card with the menu below. A red heart was on the back so they didn't look too plain from the back side.

No one was complaining! (You might note a tree in the room. I leave up two winter trees and lights for awhile after Christmas to cheer up the dark Michigan days and nights.)

I had favor bags for everyone -- a couple little homemade Valentine cookies, some chocolates and a potholder with a wine bottle-themed design. (Here's a tip -- if you are looking for party favors for a large group, especially a group that enjoys food and cooking, don't hesitate to check out Dollar Tree. These cute potholders were two for a dollar so for $10 I had a useful, thematic favor for our group. And they were even decent potholders!)

But I have to say Rick one-upped me in the party favor department. Two days earlier someone from the performing arts center called and asked if he could play his guitar for the sound check of classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, performing that weekend with Lansing Symphony. This was a huge big deal for him -- it would be for any classical guitar geek -- and he was pretty nervous! But he had a wonderful time and got to meet her after and hear the rehearsal.

This remarkable woman is a Grammy-winning classical musician and founded the classical guitar department at Juilliard. Well, he was able to get tickets for our group! So as soon as the tasting was over, most of us headed over to hear a remarkable concert! Now that's a party favor. (And when she played her solo encore, you could have heard a pin drop in the large hall.)

Coming soon, some tips I learned making my lasagne! Meanwhile, if you are into wine or need to bring wine to an occasion, check out any of the above. They were all good -- and we all agreed. Eleven wine tasters can't be all wrong! (And if you enjoy wine, don't forget to check the Cork Poppers tab at the top of this blog where you will find our past tastings listed by category-- country, reds or whites, or theme).

Meanwhile, I leave you with the other little one who has my heart! Let Valentine's Day be every day!

This week's post is joining the following blog parties: Monday Social, Share Your Style, Share Your Cup     /    Best of the Weekend    

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