Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah's Birthday, l'Opera, and Pierre Herme's chocolate eclairs

"Consider how the lilies grow. 
They do not labor or spin. 
Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor 
was dressed like one of these. 
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, 
which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, 
how much more will he clothe you."
Luke 12:27-18

My Mini Eclairs

I promised Sarah (who is 28 today) that I would make the l'Opera for her birthday, not realizing that her birthday would occur on the Daring Baker Challenge Day. But if I can pull this off it should all be very nice. There will be 14 for dinner (Caleb included), and 2 more for dessert. It's always good to have lots of eaters for one's desserts.

I've already got a good start on the l'Opera - jacond made, butter cream made, ganache made, and syrup made. They are sitting in the kitchen waiting for me to get them all together so that I can put it into the refrigerator while we are at church. 

Now I have had plenty of experience with choux paste and pastry cream, though not chocolate pastry cream, so I am r e a l l y hoping that it will all go okay this afternoon for making the eclairs. One rather difficult hitch in the situation is that my oldest daughter is bring to dinner her new amour, who is from France! I hope I don't look like a duffus in front of him and embarrass Heidi.

Well at church, or should I say after church, we met Stephan and his young son Parker. We all had our usual coffee and eats at the Fleur de Lis next door to church. Stephan is rather reserved, and I was not able to really get an idea of what he is really like. He is assuredly very intelligent, and that is a very good characteristic to have. He and Heidi seemed very comfortable with each other, and that is also good. He made absolutely no effort to impress us, as did Heidi's last "boyfriend", That in itself does say a lot. I do hope he enjoys the dinner party tonight, and doesn't find us all a bit weird, even if we are.

I am currently waiting for my glaze to reach 90 degrees, because a very knowledgeable Daring Baker told me that the best way to get smooth glaze is to pour it on at 90 degrees. I must also start the bread and then get serious about the eclairs. I'm rather nervous about it. I have a huge fear of failure. .... Well it got to 90 degrees and it went on perfectly.

I put it onto a pan that could fit into the refrigerator and put it in to chill up. By about 2:20 I finally got serious about the eclairs, get everything I needed in place, reading and rereading the recipe to make sure I could remember what I was on about. It all seemed to go together really well except on really rather serious cafufle - my large piping tip that I had just purchased would not fit onto the coupler that I bought!!!!! I felt as though I were up a crick without a paddle. There seemed nothing to do by pipe through the hole in the end of the piping bag. This did work, but I was going to be serving mini-eclairs, that was all there was to it.

I had many more things to do, and people to visit with, and everything continued at a very haphazard way for the rest of the day. Sarah and Zac and Caleb arrived way before everyone else, so I could visit with them. I needed to take a shower, and I did that around four, having got the table set in the dishes that Sarah chose - Lowesoft Bouquet, which was her grandmother Millicent's wedding set.

It was decided that I should fill the eclairs with vanilla pastry cream, so I made the cream on the page just before the chocolate pastry cream in Pierre's book on chocolate. It was dead simple to make, though I must add that I'm glad I own a water jacket, thus making icing things fairly easy. I (well actually Sarah did the stirring for me) made up the cream, poured it into a bowl that I had set into the jacket, and then ignored it until much later, when it was found to be perfect. I'm sure that the chocolate cream would have been really lovely, but as we were having a chocolate cake, and there was to be chocolate on top of the eclairs, enough is enough.

Dinner finally came together around seven. The eclairs were in pieces. I had decided that I would top the eclairs with the remaining ganache from the l'Opera. We all sat down to have bread and salad, while the steak set up and the coals heated back up for the barbecued shrimp.

Then when dinner was quite finished, all the steak and shrimp eaten, and the younger children had left the table, I got up to go into the kitchen and create my mini-eclairs. They went together very easily. I slit my tiny little eclair shells down the side, and used a dinner knife to insert the pastry cream. After they were all filled I spread the ganache from the l'Opera on the tops. The tiny little things did not want to stay upright, but oh well.

Evaluation: My eclairs were almost a disaster, but Zac thought that they were great. I don't know how to make big eclairs and I need to find out how. I made the vanilla pastry cream instead of the chocolate and it was very nice, though perhaps I would go with just a tad less cornflour. I used the ganache from the l'Opera, so I don't yet know about the other chocolate sauce for the top. I bet it's wonderful. My daughter's boyfriend from Paris was very impressed that I made the l'Opera myself, and he had a second piece. He did not eat the shrimp at dinner, so I know he's not the type to eat something just to be nice. Since I love eclairs I need to try these again. The family did scarf them all up in a very big hurry, so mini-eclairs are a good thing.

"If A is success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. 
Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut." 
Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dinner with the Rinderknects

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, 
set your hearts on things above, 
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 
Set your minds on things above, 
not on earthly things.   For you died, 
and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Colossians 3:1-3

The Rinderknects are dear friends from France who we have known since the early 90s. I really can't remember when we first met them. Nicholas was attending Western Seminary, and the family went to our church. They were in their late twenties at the time and had 2 sons, Nathaniel and Timothy. But soon afterwards Precille found out that she was pregnant, and she eventually had their third son, Jean. Nicholas is a pastor/missionary in France. Precille is a cellist, and the boys are all musical.

The Parks, Steve and Liz, also game to dinner. They are also old friends. We first met them in the early 90s, before they were married. They have three children, Leana, Haley, and Ian, and with them came a young girl who is a relative of some sort, but I confess I never figured out the connection. The Rinderknects have been staying with the Parks for part of the time while they are in America. Quelle chance!

Last Sunday we came to the realization that the sore on Riley's left hand was actually rather serious, and needed immediate attention, so off we went Sunday evening to the emergency ward of our nearby hospital. To be emergency wards on a weekend in the summer is just about the luniest place you can go. This was no exception. It was an hour or so before they called Riley to be seen, but he was back there so long I began to imagine the worst, plus I was freezing. And talk about crazies ...! SO I finally asked where he was and they immediately sent me back. There he was, laying on a hospital bed with and IV in his arm and tubes up his nose, watching the Olympics. The nurse was very nice, and when I mentioned that I was quite cold she promptly brought me two heated blankets, which I promptly wrapped around my whole body. They had taken his blood to be tested, and we needed to wait for the results. In the end he was given a big dose of anti-biotics and some other things, and was instructed to go to the doctor first thing in the morning. We were there five hours in all.

The next morning the doctor squeezed him right in, and quickly prescribed for him more anti-biotics. He also lanced the wound. It seems that the hospital doesn't like to do that for worry that he could get a staph infection. So in the end Riley got a really heavy dose of anti-biotics, and consequentially he developed a yeast infection, which in turn caused him to be greatly fatiqued. So this weekend he was very very lethargic. On the one hand this wasn't too bad. He wasn't at all talking about things he wanted to get done. We went to Starbucks and sat and read for a long time. The Starbucks on NW 12th and Gleason has a bunch of new easy chairs that a very eclectic, and very comfortable. When I first saw them, several months ago, I thought "how weird!", but I really like them now. I wish that I had one in my house to lounge around on.

But because of all the just hanging out that we did, I wasn't ready enough for having 20 people over for dinner. So on Monday I had Emily and a lot of work to do. I had to fight off a feeling of panic all day long. But I wasn't doing to badly. I was in my "just do the next thing" mode. Riley spent the day sleeping, going to the doctor, and then going to the pharmacy to buy medicine to counter the bad effects of the anti-biotics. Corey was also in the house, but she didn't come out of her room until some time in the afternoon. Fortunately she offered to take Emily for a walk.

But I think in the end, despite the fact that my house wasn't tidy enough, or clean enough, and that I was late in getting dinner on the table, things went well. We only get to see the Rinderknects about every four years, so one doesn't want to waist too much time not visiting when they do come. They once lived with us for 6 weeks, and that was delightful. I especially enjoyed cooking with Precille and then "discussing" theology after dinner with Nicholas.  

I decided that I would set two tables, one in the dinning room for the adults, and one in the back room for the people under the age of 18. As usual of late, I didn't get the right amount of places set at the perspective tables. There were actually 8 in the back: Nathaniel, Timothy, Jean, Leana, Haley, Ian, and Christian. And in the dining room we had: Riley and I, Liz and Steve, Nicholas and Precille, Sarah and Zac (and Caleb), and Annie and Corey and Heidi and Emily.
Nicholas and Thimothy

I had asked people to come at 6 for dinner, but I didn't have dinner ready until almost 7:30. This does not sit well with my son-in-law. I think I might come to the end of my life without learning how to get dinner ready on time when I have company, or even when I don't have company. What I really really need is a good amah. I Hong Kong Lita (our amah) always had all meals exactly on time. She was amazing. Of course if I was out in the afternoon and was then late getting back, so that she had to watch the children and get dinner ready, she was rather upset with me.

The Young People's Table

I had started the bread in the morning, but for some reason I was a bit behind on that. Maybe it was because the kitchen was messy and I had to straighten it up first. Then I had a bit of a struggle finding the cake pans I wanted. Emily and I went to Costco and The Barn around noon. We had a great time. But when I got back she was all reved up, and I had a terrible time until Corey took her for a walk. The menu seemed so simple, so why did I feel like I was struggling. But with Corey taking Emily, and then Zac and Sarah coming a bit early, I did begin to get back on track. Never mind that the bathroom never did get straightened up.

Nathaniel ...  Jean  ...   Thimothy


French bread
green fruity salad with orange dressing
Spaghetti sauce
spaghetti noodles: thin and thick
Chocolate Orange Gateau

Orange Chocolate Gâteau


3/4 cup dark cocoa, best quality (60 gr)
1 1/2 cups boiling water

8 ounces flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp salt
1/3 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 sticks butter
a scant 2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Chocolate Orange Butter Cream:

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
4 teaspoons orange liqueur
or 1 teaspoon orange essence (Penzey) plus 1 tablespoon brandy
5 oz dark chocolate, copped up (I like to use Trader Joe's Pound Plus)

2 cups icing sugar (8 oz), sifted to remove any lumps

Whipped Cream Frosting:

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sugar

Make the cake first: preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and paper and grease two 8 inch cake pans with at least a 1 1/2 inch side.
Combine the cocoa and the boiling water and stir to dissolve the cocoa and leave to cool somewhat.
Cream the butter and sugar, and then mix in the eggs, beating until rather light.
Mix the dry ingredients and add them to the creamed mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture.
Make sure all is mixed well, but don't over-beat.
Pour the batter into the pans and tap the pans on the counter to flatten and remove any bubbles.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until done. While the cakes are cooking make the ganache.
Remove from oven and place onto a cooling rack. After about ten minutes run a knife carefully around the edges of the cakes, then turn the pans over on the rack and leave to let the cakes fall out.

While the cake baking put all the ingredients for the butter cream except the icing sugar into a microwavable dish and heat in the microwave just enough to melt the butter and the chocolate. Remove from the microwave and give a good stir to make all smooth. Add the icing sugar and beat with a hand mixer to make all smooth. Eject the beaters and leave them in the chocolate mixture, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until very hard. This will take at least two hours.

When the butter cream is good and hard, take from the refrigerator, remove the beaters and place them in the machine, and starting on a slow speed, and increasing as you go, beat the butter cream until nice and smooth and spreadable. As you beat it it will warm up a bit and become spreadable. You want it to be soft enough to spread on the delicate cake. Then get the plate for the cake (put a doily on it if you like). Cut the layers in half. Put the first half layer on the plate, cover with about 1/4 of the butter cream, and so on. When you put on the last layer, do not cover it with the butter cream, but instead, use the remaining butter cream to fill in the chinks on the side of the cake, so that the edge of the cake is all even and smooth. Then put the cake into the refrigerator to chill thoroughly.

When ready to finish the cake, put the whipping cream into a bowl and place in the freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes to chill. Then place the sugar and vanilla into the bowl with the cream and beat until nice and thick for spreading on the cake. If you like you can reserve a bit of the whipped cream for piping on the cake. Cover the cake with the whipped cream.

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TWD - Granola Grabbers

"Train a child in the way he should go, 
and when he is old he will not turn from it." 
Proverbs 22: 6

The was just the right kind of day to make these cookies. Last week the temperatures were approaching or over 100, but yesterday we plummeted into the low seventies, and it definitely was the kind of weather to make you start to believe that summer is almost over, and school is about to start. The TWD project for today is from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From my home to yours and is called Granola Grabbers.

These cookies were easy to make, and produced 55 cookies. I had to go to the store and buy granola ($3.50/pound), wheat germ ($1.99 for a 1 pound package), and golden raisins. I thought that I had slivered almonds, but I only found sliced almonds - so that was my one deviation. Well, actually, I did dip the bottom of a cheese class into sugar each time before squishing the cookie dough.

The family was standing around waiting to have cookies. Heidi liked them and soon ate two or three cookies. Christian thought that they would be much better with chocolate chips in them. Everyone else liked them, though Emily found her cookie rather formidable. As for myself I would just add chopped pecans instead of the almond and peanuts. I don't really like any kind of peanuttiness in a cookie. But all the other elements were very nice.

But if I were to make this cookie again - which I might - I would think about what fruit and nuts I wanted, those that suit my mood. I would also change the butter about from 1 3/4 sticks of butter to 2 sticks of butter, and perhaps add just a bit of leavening. For fruit you can add: golden raisins, dark raisins, currents, dried cranberries, dried cherries, dried apricots, prunes, etc. And for nuts, any kind you like will work, and in a proportion. And of course with granola, the sky's the limit, as there are so many different kinds. Then lastly, there's the options of different kinds of chocolate, from chocolate chips, to chopped dark chocolates, to m&ms.

"I am always ready to learn 
although I do not always like being taught." 
Winston Churhill

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Baby Tea for Sarah and Caleb

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, 
"We should go up and take possession of the land, 
for we can certainly do it." 
Numbers 13:30

This is a picture of the sky at 6:33 this morning. When I first looked out at the sky at 6:30 there was a bright red sun on the horizon, but by the time that I ran down to the first floor, and then ran back up to the third floor, the sun was not there.

Today we had a baby shower in the form of an open house tea. I've never actually like showers. You have to sit in a large circle and play really stupid games with people you don't even know, and then you watch the bride/mother endlessly open presents that you are supposed to oooo at. And finally you eat a store bought bake and drink coffee or tea or punch. So when I was asked to put on a shower I said sure, but I felt a panic inside about what I would actually do. After many weeks of thinking about it I came onto the idea of an open house tea, where I could serve all sorts of traditional tea goodies, and people could come when they could, and the presents would be opened as they came. There would not be too many people in the room at any time, and people could enjoy visiting with Sarah and the baby.

As is to be expected in life, things did not go totally as planned. For starters, the weather was expected to break a record for hottest day yet recorded on that date. It was something over 100 degrees, and since this is Oregon we don't have air-conditioning. But .... we have a great big pool in the back yard, and it was suggested to people bringing children that they could go swimming, and they did, and they had a great time.

But also because of the heat on the days leading up to the tea, I was rather slow at getting things done. I had had great plans of having many things done ahead of time, but it simply wasn't happening. So by the time the tea started I still had many things needing to be done, some of which never were accomplished. To quote Robbie Burns: "he best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley." But what was most important of all was that everyone enjoyed themselves.

The house was reasonably clean, though not everywhere. Riley was able to set up the upper deck very nicely with out newly acquired outdoor carper from France. I love how it came together. I closed the doors to places I didn't want people to go, but children managed to find their way into them. The food was actually only half ready when the people began to arrive. But in the end the only thing that never made it to the party was the champagne grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. The Swedish cream didn't set enough, but some were eaten. But all in all, people enjoyed what was served.

Menu for a baby tea:

Lemonade - part canned lemonade, part water and lemon juice, no extra sugar added
Iced Earl Grey tea
Iced mind tea

mini quiche Louraines
tea sandwiches from homemade French bread
.... cucumber and cream cheese with chives
.... egg-salad with bacon bits
lemon squares
.... fruity nutty banana cakes
.... lemon blueberry bundt cake
.... chocolate zucchini cake
Swedish creams with strawberry coulis
flakey scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam

"Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors." 
 Alice Walker

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Big Family Dinner

John 15:17  "This I command you, that you love one another."

Well of course this wasn't as big as the picnic, but big none the less.  We ended up with 15 of us sitting at the table which is tight at 12.  We are thinking about getting a new table, though this will probably take a long time to find.  I do love the one we have, it's just not big enough.

The dinner started with Sarah and Zac inviting themselves to dinner.  I immediately thought that that would be a good time to also invite over my sister, her daughter, and my parents.  Then I thought that Ken and Marilyn might like to join us.  For some reason, no matter how many times I counted everyone I came up with 12, which is why I invited Ken and Marilyn.   They were part of the twelve.  I guess in future I better write the names of the guests down and then count them.

But also, we have decided that if all possible we would like to buy a new dining room table. We have already gone and checked out new tables at Versaille - my favorite French store. They have huge tables, which is quite interesting as this would indicate that the French are much more likely to have big dinner parties than the Americans. We are looking to get a table maybe 96-126" x 45". They had this one oak table from France in oak that was 96-127x39 that was very awesome, but it would cost $7,500, and that is quite a lot. The name of the table was "du mas", c'est chouette.

This is not the exact table, but it's the exact store.

But anyway, back to dinner on Saturday. I decided to make my meatballs in spicy sauce with spaghettis, and because I had cherries and rhubarb, I made two cherry rhubarb galettes, and because my Dad was coming I made a rustic apple pie. And to go with the dinner I made bread and salad. This seems like a simple meal, but I was at it for a long time. I don't understand - am I such a lame cook. I think I need to learn more about getting more things ready ahead of time.

Despite being crammed at the table, we all had a good time, including Emily, who very much likes noodles.

Then after dinner several of us went outside to put our feet in the pool, or at least to sit by the pool.

I was sitting on the edge of the pool with Emily when Riley came out. He looked at Emily and asked her if she thought Papa should go into the pool. She nodded her head, then all of a sudden I realized the Riley was going into the pool with ALL OF HIS CLOTHES ON! I couldn't believe it, and neither could Emily. She was absolutely shocked, as were we all. Turns out that Riley was feeling really hot and wanted to go into the water, but he didn't want to go all the way to the third floor to get his suit on, so in he went.

Here he is wringing out his socks.

We ended the evening by watching the start of the Olympics, which Annie had set for recording at 2 o'clock in the morning. We had a really good time doing that.

“The only reason for time is so 
that everything doesn't happen at once.” 
Albert Einstein

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Big Family Picnic

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters 
or father or mother or children or farms 
for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, 
and will inherit eternal life."   
Matthew 19:29 

My sister Nancy comes to town every summer. This year she decided that we should have a big family picnic. She wasn't here for Thanksgiving, so she doesn't get together with everyone at that time. I had thought that maybe we should have the picnic in town, as the cost of gas is so high. But it was decided that we would have the picnic at brother #5's house in Dee Oregon, up around Mount Hood. It is a lovely place. Craig has created something akin to paradise up there.

My mother grew up in that area, and that's about where I lived shortly after I was born. Not that I remember any of that.

For my part of the picnic I made baked beans, Oriental cabbage salad without the chicken, fruity nutty carrot cake, chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing. I made the beans the day before, but the rest took all morning to make. But when it was finally made, we collected Heidi, Emily, and Annie and headed to Dee. It was a lovely day, and a lovely drive. We got there without a hitch before they all started eating. Most people did arrive before we did, but we weren't late. I worry about such things.

Just about everyone came. It's easier to name who didn't come. For starters from my family Corey (who had to work), Christian (who was at camp), and Sarah and Zac and Caleb (since Caleb was only 6 days old) weren't there. From Bill's family only two grandchildren - Ryan and Mackenzie - weren't there. Georges wife Noriko wasn't there - she hates family gatherings. Peter's son Tristan wasn't there, perhaps he had to work. David's whole family was there - which was terrific. The party was at Craig's house, so they were all there. Nancy's family was all there - they came from Los Angeles. That's only nine missing people, and five were from my family.

My brother Craig and his wife Beth have really created a piece of paradise where they live, and since they have recently adopted two boys, they have even added more to their place. They had a trampoline and a basketball court.

All the boys, plus later a girl or two, had a rousing basketball game. This is a picture after the game, when the older and more tired players had gone to sit down.

Emily had a great time on the trampoline. I was so relieved to see that it was enclosed, and really rather safe. She took to it right away.

We all gathered for a picture. My family has been taking group pictures on a fairly regular basis since I was 16. That's when there was finally ten of us. As you can see, there is now 11 of us, with the addition of Hien. Since I am terribly homely I am reluctant to put this picture up, but besides me it's a nice picture. This should be good motivation for me to loose 20 or 30 pounds. I've gained 13 pounds since November and I think a good deal of it is around my middle, which is NOT good. I had given my camera to either Taku or Tatsu and he did a good job.

This is my bother David's little family. His wife has cancer, but the doctors had decided that she needed a rest from her therapy because she was so sick from it, and that is why they were able to come. I certainly hope and pray that she will have a complete recovery.

That is my brother Michael's dog, who was determined to lay there asleep. This is actually David and Lauren and Sophie's dog, whose name I forgot. But it's a cute name.

Heidi and Emily, enjoying themselves.

"You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you."
- Desmond Tutu