I'm just popping in, today, with a bit of this and that. We've got one recovering from a nasty sore throat, and are still a little flighty from our holiday sugar high. But I couldn't let the week go by without passing along a few crucial announcements.
:: A breakfast table still uncleared mid-morning looks immeasurably better if you blur your vision. Try it. Now, if only I could cross my eyes and call up Snow White's Birds & Bunnies, Inc. to finish the job.
:: Toad lilies and white anemones are total troopers. The yard is rapidly lurching toward wasteland, but these two haven't noticed we're now flirting with freezing. I'm beginning to question that whole lily-livered nonsense. And I'm blessing their sturdy, naiive little hearts.
:: 2,404 miles away is approximately 2,397 miles too many. Boxes chock-a-block with wax lips and card games and finger puppets and pez dispensers go a magnificently long way toward narrowing the divide. So does a round-trip ticket for December. Ready or not, Mamo, here you come!
:: Field trips are fun. I forget just how much. I always coffee up, a little anxious about goodness knows what, that I'll forget the *all quiet* clap, or misplace a few (dozen) children. But inevitably I end up having a ball, learning a few things, laughing a lot. And remembering all over why teacher pay caps are essential. Twice the average neurosurgeons' going rate. Something like that. I don't know how y'all do it.
:: If you are ever given the choice between dipping beeswax leaves with your boy or finally fulfilling your 3-day-old promise to get groceries, by all means pick the first. Seriously addictive, so easy, and smells like, well, the you-know-who's knees. Anyway, they'll still have bananas tomorrow.
(Thanks to my pal, Carmen, for mentioning this project last year. And to the lovely Ginny, for her fine step-by-step. We are hoping this dunking will let us hold on to a little bit of fall, right on through winter.)
:: And a question, for you tornado-belt types: Is it just me, or does foul weather come with some sort of magnificent sunset addendum?
The days this week have been mostly bluster, big winds and tornado-scares, but the evening's last rally has been straight out of Photoshop. Except I don't have Photoshop. And furthermore, these shots aren't the half of it. These are step out on the porch, point-and-shoot, finish dinner. These are scrapings off heaven's factory floor. Spectacular was what came before, and after. One part Turner, one part Parrish, and one part good-luck-with-that, Michaelangelo.
:: OUR DRAWING TABLE, OH - 5:49 p.m., late October - Experts report late fall light is waning. But my, oh my, it's pretty swell while it lasts.
:: The final picks for this week's 4th grade Halloween Party menu? Pizza, blood punch, cookies and caramel apples. I kid you not. I didn't even bribe the voters, didn't even plant the seed. I am never this prepared. The caramel dipped and coated beautifully, and the first twenty were fantastic. Next time, though, I might add an extra Tablespoon or two of cream, to prevent the last few from becoming a danger to dental work. (Water continues to evaporate over time on the hob, so the final few are significantly harder than the first.)
Also, two dozen apples took a triple(!) batch. I may have been (grossly) mistaken about that inadequate caramel:fruit ratio.
:: My ghost and bat cutters have been washed, dried and put away. No, I'm not that prepared. It's just that it's all over, here. Parties, parades, trick-or-treating, everything. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to this Thursday-before Beggar's Night business. But if you've nothing to do on Halloween proper? Call us up. We'll be busy, winding back clocks and washing our hair and such. But we'll make time.
:: Popovers. We haven't talked popovers. How can we not have talked popovers?
Popovers are one of our staple foods. I began making them years ago, when one of my kiddos parted ways with protein. He was never much one for milk, even less one for meat, and then he sort of dropped beans, yogurt and cheese. This left us with starch, noodles, carbohydrates, and bread, which are a tad lacking in long-term energy. So I started making popovers to plug the gap. I kept making them because I couldn't get enough.
Made from equal parts' milk and flour, plus several eggs for tender height, popovers make a sly protein delivery system. I don't make beet-brownies, or macaroni with puréed anything (my hound dogs would sniff these out in a heartbeat), but popovers are, by necessity, honest protein heavyweights. At least as heavyweight as something cloud-light can be. We ate them at least monthly. We still do.
We still do because they're like bread's better half, golden crisp at the edges, custard-soft in the center, and piping hot as they're always baked to order. Is it that last bit that makes people wary? I don't know. All I know is that popovers are E.A.S.Y. I cannot make a muffin to save my life (none of my kids will touch them; they know better), and you know my cupcake track record. But popovers, man, they have never failed me.
There's no careful folding in of ingredients, just blitz, pour and tap feet, most impatiently. Because it's the oven, see, that's doing all the work here, first at 425° to force steam up and out, then at 375° to finish the baking. The only hard part is the absolutely no peeking, which would fatally compromise their pouf. (I'm paraphrasing McGee.) No worries, though; this recipe's foolproof. You need only turn down the heat, halfway through. Other than that, they need no minding, thirty minutes, start to perfect.
They are lovely with butter, or butter and jam, or any manner of fall soups and stews. Come to think of it, I should've added a splodge, there. The inky blackberries would've made a nice contrast. But the one rule with popovers is that when they're announced, you must must must come running, spit-spot. Do not dawdle, don't pass go, and definitely don't fuss with photos. Just pull up a chair, pull apart and devour. This shouldn't pose a problem. But it is crucial.
adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything
My main adjustments to Bittman's recipe have to do with technique and quantity. I'm a big fan of preheating the tins with the oven. You'll get extra height and a far better crust if your batter hits a hot pan. I preheat mine at least 5 minutes (while I blitz the batter), 10 minutes if I can. Also, we only ever make 12 at a time, as any fewer would result in fisticuffs. The recipe is easily halved.
Batters heavy on milk and flour can be hard to incorporate by hand, as the flour likes to clump. A stick blender is ideal, and makes quick work of it, with a standard jar blender a close runner-up. A whisk and two hands will certainly do the job, also; see the recipe notes below for tips. Batter can be made and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance.
Equipment Note: I'm not big on specialized kitchen widgits, but popover tins are a notable exception. The results are truly, dramatically better (taller, lighter, and more even). Muffin tins will work in a pinch, particularly for a first go, to see if you are a popover person. If you like what a muffin tin yields, know that you will adore what a popover tin delivers. Mine are this $9 World Market model, 6 or 7 years old and still going strong.
2 Tbs. melted butter + 1-2 add'l Tbs. for greasing pans
2 cups milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Place oven rack in the lower of the two middle positions, and place ungreased popover tins in cold oven. Preheat pans and oven to 425°, 5-10 minutes
While oven is preheating, blend ingredients: Dump all ingredients (save the additional butter for greasing) into a large bowl (if using an immersion blender) or the blender jar (if using a standard jar blender). Blitz for 30-60 seconds, stopping to scrape sides and bottom several times, until the mixture is homogenous and lump free.
If mixing by hand, add eggs into bowl, then whisk in flour gradually. Once flour has been added, gradually whisk in milk, 1/2 cup at a time, taking care to incorporate fully before adding more. Add sugar, salt and melted butter, and whisk again to combine. Proceed.
Remove pans from oven, and grease with the additional melted butter. Pour batter into popover tins, roughly half full. Butter and batter will sizzle on impact. Return tins to oven, set timer for 15 minutes, and read the paper. When the time's up, turn oven down to 375°, and set the timer for another 15 minutes. When timer beeps, after 30 minutes' total cooking time, remove popovers from the oven and eat, immediately.