Yesterday: gingerbread (cake not cookies); candied grapefruit peel (the first time I've ever done candied peel); sugared walnuts.
Today: cappucino shortbread; honey cookies; two-layer fudge.
Tomorrow: visiting. Other activities uncertain.
The sugared walnuts are dead simple, so it's a sort of public service to share it. Take two cups, or three cups, or whatever amount you have of walnuts (most recently a 1 kg bag). Put them in a bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to just cover them. Leave for 3 minutes, then drain in colander. Tip them back into the bowl and toss with 1 cup of sugar (my observation is that one cup of sugar will do up to 6 cups of walnuts, and possibly more if I could afford more) until covered. Spread them on a baking sheet in a warm oven, and leave overnight. If you've been broiling or baking at 400 or so, just turn the oven off and leave it. If the oven is cold, turn it to 200 or so for a half-hour or so, or kick it up to 400 or broil, then turn it off, and leave the tray in overnight.
Cream 1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
6 tbsp instant coffee, ground fine
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
Form into coffee bean shape, indent tops. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes. When cool, dip into melted semi-sweet chocolate.
I only dip them halfway (this time I used fondue 70% dark chocolate mixed with 2 tbsp butter) because dipping the whole thing tends to obscure the indentation, and lose the coffee bean resemblance. And the half-dipping gives them a classy sort of Florentine look.
And evidently I'm on the spectrum, because it bothers me that in a real coffee bean the indentation is on the flat side, which would be the bottom of the cookie.
I'm kind of excited over having done candied peel, which has always seemed to me one of those dainty high-end things, even though the grapefruit rinds ordinarily go into the compost. The recipe came from a Culinary Arts Institute pamphlet called 500 Delicious Dishes From Leftovers, which is fascinating reading. I kept asking myself where all these leftovers came from, or rather, where they've gone.
Sour milk and cream are still with us, but I'm not at all sure I'd use a cup of maple syrup to avoid wasting a cup of sour cream (though the gingerbread recipe is tempting) instead of something cheap like cornmeal muffins. On the other hand, leftover coffee can nowadays just be microwaved. And what the heck is leftover jam? Why not just have toast and jam for breakfast for a couple of days? As Peg Bracken pointed out in her I Hate to Cook Book, there is no such thing as 'leftover cake'. Inspired by the ethos, though, I did take the water that the grapefruit peel was boiled in, and use it for the hot water in the gingerbread. It makes the gingerbread a little sharper, but still good.
All of which does have a writing application of sorts. My friend Joanna (retired bookshop owner) and I have been bookswapping, mostly fantasy and mystery. She follows a number of mystery series, and I think it would be fair to say that it is far more important to her that the characters be interesting and sympathetic than that the mystery be tightly plotted and challenging. So we've both liked the Jill Churchill suburban mystery series, until the last entry which was ... dreadful. And we both decided that one sampling of Mary Jane Maffini's home organiser mystery series was enough, because the main character is a self-absorbed shrew.
The current favourite for both of us is the Home Repair is Homicide series by Sarah Graves. Looking at it from about book 8, I'm deeply impressed by how the author has woven together so many strands of continuing interest.
First, of course, there are the characters. The soap-opera aspect, if you want. This may have started with Dorothy Sayers and the long courtship of Peter and Harriet. Here we have Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree, leaving a bad marriage and high-pressure career, taking her troubled teenage son and starting a new life in a small fishing town. So right there you have the ex-husband entanglement, the new boyfriend possibilities, and the responsibility for her son, all situations that keep on providing complications.
Graves doesn't stop there, but gives us a townful of continuing characters (some of whom are going to die violently) who have ongoing stories, most particularly Jacobia's best friend and confederate in crime-solving, Ellie, and Jacobia's son Sam, struggling with dyslexia and falling in and out of love.
Then there's setting. Eastport has a wild history and economically-strapped present, and can be cut off by bad weather. Setup for tense situations whether there's a crime in progress or not. Plus, colourful as all-get-out.
Most impressive is the nonfiction aspect. Sure, infodumps are a bad thing, but an awful lot of people either read fiction for information, or justify their fiction reading by claiming that it's educational. That's one reason why romances are so often set in exotic places--not just the wish-fulfilment of being able to travel, but the excuse of learning about those places. Half (possibly more) of the appeal of technothrillers is the stats-laden infodump about some weapon or piece of hardware.
Churchill's suburban series used to regularly send her heroine off to nightschool classes or weekend retreats to learn something or other and incidentally run across a murder. The classes and the quirky fellow-students were at least as much fun as the mystery itself.
Now, Graves has this absolutely knocked. First, Jacobia was a financial whiz back in the big city, so she can explain all sorts of high finance quirks and slang (the first couple of books had finance slang titles) as well as having useful and not-entirely-respectable contacts that she can call in favours from. Second, Jacobia has settled herself and son in a tumbledown early 1800s mansion, which is in continual need of repair. So, in between checking out crime sites and interviewing suspects, she repairs plumbing, puts up rain gutters, sands shutters, and so on and so on, all in detail explained to the reader. It's like This Old House with murder. You only have to look at how long This Old House ran to see that this is a subject with legs.
And because the books are first person, Jake can just pull us aside and explain how to sand a hardwood floor or cover your windows with plastic, without having to justify the digression.
I'm not sure how much space the actual mystery takes up in any one of these, but I suspect half the pages at most. When they were handing out hobbies and professions to murder-mystery sleuths, I think Jacobia grabbed one (or two) of the best. Much stronger and longer potential than the scrapbooking mystery series.