Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Digs and a Bountiful Harvest

Wow, the summer is gone! It's been a long time since the last post here at Strange Cookie Central Headquarters. Actually there are a number of reasons why that happened, but number one is that our Headquarters has moved! Not in the World of the Web, but here in the nonvirtual plane. My computer was in a box for a couple of months, actually. Well, it will still be awhile before we've really settled into the new house, but we have a small living area pretty well set up while the rest of the house undergoes some further changes, and I have happily made some cookies to present to tell a little more of my story.

I have had the joyful opportunity this year to have a GARDEN. Oh, finally, dirt, and license to dig in it! As you can see from the top of the page, I have made some cookie representations of a few of the products from our small but bountiful back yard. But first, one more story that I've had on the back burner.

Moving really put things into an uproar, and face it, summer is not cookie season. Now as September winds down, the winds are changing, and ovens all over the city are lighting up, including my own.

What a wonderful tool we have in our convenient home oven! How easy to use: twist the knobs, and open the door! Seldom these days do we need to kneel with our ear on the floor to light the pesky pilot light, thanks to the brilliant invention of the electronic ignition. Hey, I grew up using a wood stove for heat and cooking in the wintertime, which took a bit of experience, and maintenance. (Not without its reward, I must add. Cooking with wood is wonderful.) I've learned to not take for granted the luxury of a reliable, WORKING oven, having lived without one in a previous (affordable but rough) apartment. It was the prospect of having a beautiful and functional stove/oven that made the sticker shock of moving from that apartment to the next (pricier) one an easier prospect to bear. Imagine my dismay when last winter, just before Christmas, as I closed the oven door on our prospective pizza dinner, it disengaged itself from its hinges, and refused to go back on!

Well, more accurately, one side of the oven came off the hinges. What a bitch. (I've made an effort to keep the language clean here at Strange Cookies, but there is no better description of the moment than that.) Eventually, it came off on its own, but in order to eat our dinner that night, I attended the baking of the ill-fated pizza dinner holding the door onto the oven with my backside.

Oh, yeah, you know the little light inside? Well, no amount of duct tape would hold that little button in place to keep it from shining. Nothing less than an oven door would do, and I couldn't seem to get the cover off to remove the bulb.

I tried to fix it myself, but narrowly escaped injury to my fingers and stopped. Eventually, I cornered the maintenance guy as he performed some other duties around the building and explained my problem. (Anyone who has rented knows that this is sometimes the best way to ACTUALLY get things done, rather than going through the regular channels of communication.) He was very nice, but after attempting the same things that I had, he declared that he (Paul) would have to call the Appliance Guy, Jim.

I'm a fix-it type. I eagerly awaited Jim, and what promised to be some kind of very specific (and possibly magical) tool that he had in his possession to reengage the hinges of my oven door. Jim himself was a pretty normal looking working man, very quiet. He came in, did all the same things that Paul and I had done, then disappeared to his truck. I was really curious about what he would have in his hands when he returned. As he reentered the apartment. I saw that he had fashioned a pair of crude hooks with coat hanger wire. After a few minutes of wrestling, the oven door was back on. He smiled silently as I thanked him, and left.

I've changed homes and ovens since then. The one I have now works well, and we've had no issue. As Fall begins, the squashes arrive, and Ken and I look eagerly forward to baking and eating our share. Happily, some of those will come from our own garden, as we have an impressive butternut squash plant that popped out of the compost pile in Spring and has proceeded to own the rear quadrant of the yard.
With a little bit of direction from myself, it has grown up and around our compost, making an attractive and productive screen.

It grew up along the Rose-of-Sharon bushes, over the shed in the back and headed toward the alley. Before reaching that, it took a quick left toward the parking area behind the house, where I was able to grab the tip of the vine and point it back toward the yard. On the roof of the shed is a cute weathervane shaped like a pony, and next to it is a giant butternut squash.

I'm growing another type of squash as well, a zucchetta squash, (Zucchetta Tromboncino Rampicante), which can be eaten young ala zucchini (summer type). If allowed to ripen fully, it can be served as a winter type squash (zucca).

It too has begun to rampage, and has produced some impressive specimens, two of which are suspended from another shrub on the opposite side of the yard from the butternut. The largest of the two last measured in at 4 feet and 1 inch, with the other right behind. As there are a number of others to eat now, I plan to let these develop as fully as they can before the weather turns cold.

The other vegetables that I have chosen to represent in Strange Cookie form are a lovely Red Burgundy okra, a plant I love for it's form and flower as much as the wonderful vegetable it produces, as well as the humble and delightful green bean.
No bean compares with the bean that is home grown and freshly picked. This is also one of my favorite cookies because it was so simple, and looks quite true to life. Also, the green icing represents my first attempt to use a natural food coloring-- liquid chlorophyll. I did have to modify the color with the addition of some yellow to get the green I wanted, but the icing maintained its integrity with addition of the liquid (which has a glycerin base), and it worked beautifully in a straight application with a brush for a watercolor type glaze (the stripes on the zucchetta squash.) The cookie dough itself is a modified recipe in progress, replacing a portion of the creamed butter with olive oil, and a chocolate version using the same idea, but replacing a portion of the flour with cocoa. I will give the recipe soon, I want to run it through its paces one more time to firm up the method. It works well and tastes great!

As a last note, I will be following this blog shortly with another to tell the story of the South City Iron Chef competition that I competed in over the weekend. I'm happy to announce that I won the competition, and although I will not reveal the Ultimate Secret Ingredient, I will hint that it could not be any more appropriate to this blog if I chose it myself. I look forward to sharing that experience.

Until then!!