Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Great Wall of Soledad: Progress Update

It's slow, but it's coming along. Several weekends ago, we got the second footing for the back wall poured and right after Thanksgiving, Brian and I started putting in the first row of rocks. We made a lot of progress in just a few hours! Brian borrowed a concrete mixer from Dave's brother (thank you!) - just to help speed up the progress and it has made a HUGE difference. Dad also gave us the great suggestion of adding lime and clay to the mix - we're very happy with that addition - it does seem a lot stronger and easier to work with (thanks Dad!). Hoping to have this done soon, though we joke that it will be done in 2012. Why or how 2012 started coming up, I have no idea, but it stuck and we laugh about it all the time!

Here are some pics:

In the beginning:

Front wall:

Digging second trench:

Pouring footing for second wall:

The second wall that Brian and I are building one Saturday, Sunday and rock at a time...

And finally a "stitched" panorama of four pictures of the wall:

Pictures taken December 7, 2008.

Back soon with more cookies and knitting projects for Christmas.... the two things consuming my time today! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday Cookies: Round One!

So yesterday, I finally stopped drooling over my favorite cookie recipes, magazines + cookbooks and started baking cookies! I decided to start out by making one new recipe and one favorite recipe yesterday.

First up was the new recipe, which I must say we loved and will definitely be using again: Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti! yum! The recipe comes from this cookbook:

Martha Stewart's Cookies

But you can also find it here on her website.

A little difficult to work with when cutting because you don't quite cook it as long as you would normally bake biscotti before cutting and finishing the baking, but it's worth the effort because it's a great blend of sweet + salty. I love to make biscotti, so this recipe is a definite keeper! Definitely have to eat with a big glass of milk or even a cup of coffee. Here's how mine turned out:

The second recipe is a family favorite, one that you can really only make this time of year when the fruit comes into season and shows up in the produce section: Persimmon Cookies. A form of spice cookie, almost like carrot cake, that is totally worth the effort in buying the persimmons and giving them lots of time to ripen on the counter! The recipe comes from my Mom's grandmother, "Nana Olson", and I love these cookies. Now I have to admit, I have altered the recipe slightly by adding the vanilla, mixing in stages (originally it was mixed all at once), using a cookie scoop and the step of flattening the cookies mid-baking, but either way they are really yummy!

Persimmon Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 and mix the wet ingredients:
1 cup persimmon pulp
1/3 cup butter (you can use shortening if you are out of butter)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Add sugar and mix:
1 cup brown sugar, packed tightly

Add dry ingredients and mix:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves

Dough will be thick, stir in (optional):
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts (you can use any type of nut)

Scoop out with cookie scoop (about a tablespoon) onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 350. Pull the cookies out of the oven and flatten using the bottom of a flat glass. Bake for another 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for at least five minutes before moving to cooling racks or serving plate. Makes several dozen cookies.

Some pictures of the process and finished product:

I haven't tried, but I am tempted to whip up a little something to top them with - maybe a brown butter icing or a cream cheese frosting. mmmmmm.... maybe next year!

In an attempt to provide some persimmon knowledge (by no means am I an expert), here is some extra info, tips and a step-by-step of preparing the persimmons for the cookies. When buying the persimmons, there are two types of persimmons: the hichaya and the fuyu. The hichaya is more bitter than the fuyu, but both need to be really, really ripe before using. The more ripe the persimmon, the less bitterness you will taste. This year, I used hichaya persimmons, which look more like an acorn. The fuyu have a tomato shape. When you buy your persimmons, keep in mind that each persimmon will give you 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pulp. I bought ours about 3-4 weeks ago, so it can take a while depending on how ripe they are when you purchase them.

Here's how I prepare the persimmons and fyi... they are super sticky, so be prepared for really sticky hands!

First, I cut off the top and slice the persimmon in half.

Next, you scoop out all the pulp with a spoon.
Basically, you just want to get rid of all the skin.

Next, I dice the persimmon into small chunks. Consistency is kind of like chunky applesauce.

Now you are ready to use your persimmon pulp! Measure the pulp and you will have to either (a) toss the excess or (b) adjust the recipe. Now my four persimmons this year gave me a cup and a half of pulp. I chose to adjust the recipe by multiplying the ingredients by 1.5. For the egg and the butter, I increased the proportions of those ingredients by using an egg plus one egg white, discarding the second egg yolk and a whole stick of butter. Turned out fabulous! I love the taste of persimmons, so I think maybe next year I will branch out and try one of the persimmon pudding recipes out there. Anyone got a good persimmon recipe??

Today, I will be making dough to freeze and planning out the rest of the cookies between now and Christmas. I know what I want to make, it's just the when to make it so that we don't overdose on sugar and have plenty to give away on Christmas. I love baking cookies at Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thanksgiving + Christmas Decorations

Well, the house has been quiet this week, which is a little bit of a bummer! Katie, Kile and Creighton were here last week from Sunday through Wednesday and my parents arrived on Wednesday and left on Saturday. Got lots of pictures of my nephew, but took no pictures of Thanksgiving! All those photo opportunties I had and I must admit, the food and company distracted me from taking pictures. Oh well! So this year was a good Thanksgiving. We were happy to have a great meal, a quiet day and time with each other. Turned out to be Brian's first entire day off since the beginning of September when he started working the second job. Hope you all had a great one!

And, of course, here's one of many pictures of Creighton taken while visiting his Auntie Amanda and Uncle Brian. How seriously cute is my nephew?!

Picture taken while roaming the streets of Pacific Grove with Katie, Kile and Creighton.

This week has been filled with Christmas decorations, knitting stocking stuffers, shopping for presents and planning the cookie baking. For the last several years between working long hours this time of the year and the fact that we were typically gone on the weekends, we didn't go to the trouble of decorating the house. So because I am home 24/7 right now, the tree is up, the lights are twinkling and we are enjoying watching Nala break ornaments... silly cat thinks a tree is for climbing! :)

Nala is a little sleepy after playing with ornaments all day!

Getting ready to bake some cookies tomorrow... persimmon cookies (after 3 weeks, they're finally ripe!) and chocolate pistachio biscotti. yum!


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