From Maddie’s perspective she has 2 jobs. One is to get as many be-bys (as in be by me. be-bys) as possible with me and to keep me safe. She guards me, she puts herself between me and the world and she does an excellent job. She has earned many peanut butter biscuits for her efforts. And this is what I see…
I see her little piggo tail, it’s how I know I am safe.
A year ago we found out Maddie has cancer in her bladder. I expected it would happen sooner or later, she’s an old dog. We took her off the prednisone put her on piroxicam because it’s good at reducing inflammation. The tumor in her bladder was causing constant bladder infections and piroxicam can sometimes reduce the size of the tumor. I read up on it, it seemed like a 50/50 thing for shrinking the tumor and it would be good with her arthritis. Much to everyone’s surprise the piroxicam didn’t reduce the tumor, it got rid of it. She still has the cancer in the walls of her bladder but the tumor is gone.
I AM NOT in any way touting piroxicam as a miracle drug. It had a 50/50 chance and it worked out for us. I did a lot of research and I tried to be very realistic about what might happen on the piroxicam. I was not keen on switching her off the prednisone, which had kept her healthy for many years, and putting her on a new drug. I did a lot of research and worrying. But it worked and I am grateful.
Maddie is 14 years old. She’s headed to 15 years. She is 14 years old and she has cancer in her bladder, she is losing some control over her back legs, she a little noodly in the head sometimes. She is Maddie
As I have mentioned before, I like projects where I have a hand in as many steps as possible. This one is special.
First, my mom sent me a couple bumps of black shetland wool roving. This roving came from sheep owned by my mom’s friend. I don’t have a great picture of it but it is on the right side over there.
I have a backlog of fiber to spin. I know!
My friend Kristen lets me use her drum carder. A drum carder is a terrifying machine with a million horrifying teeth that want to scrape the flesh from your bones. Also, you can use it to blend different fibers so that you can spin them up together. I took the wool, ran it through the carder with some very sparkly bits. Not too much, just enough to accent it.
There i have it, wool from my mom that she got from her friend and now I have it and it is ready to be spun.
I asked my mom to help me line a purse and in exchange I gave this yarn to her. It was the best thing, sharing this gift with her. And then for Christmas I got a most excellent present from my mom.
She gave me the wool, I gave her the yarn, she gave me a beautiful scarf. This is one of those projects that really mean a lot to me. I get many compliments on it and I love to tell the story. There is a photo of me in the scarf but also I am covered in dirty ice and crappy grit because I fall down all the time and a picture of me coveren in crap really isn’t something you want to see.
Caramels is now my Christmas thing. The old lady that makes all the cookies or pralines or fruitcake for everybody for Christmas? That’s me, I make caramels for Christmas. It’s a bit of a cheat out for me, making it so I don’t have to try to find the perfect gift for everyone every year. You know what’s perfect? A great big box of caramels! Totally perfect.
Let’s back up a bit. This is my base recipe for caramels. I’ve made a few changes, I don’t know which of the changes really made the difference but these caramels this year were my best ever. I am actually going to brag about this. This was my best year ever for caramels.
I made most of the changes together without doing ‘control’ batches. I just said, hey! this might help!
I dropped the finishing temp from 248 to 245, and I am using a digital thermometer instead of a regular thermometer. I made sure to use regular pasteurized heavy cream instead of the ultra-pasteurized, this does actually make a difference. I do have access to raw, unprocessed cream but that doesn’t make a difference since I bring the temp higher than the 162 degrees used for pasteurizing. I started using only 100% cane sugar. I know there is debate about this and mostly I don’t care. I don’t know for sure if the cane sugar made the difference or if bumping the temp down changed it. I don’t know but I do know that this year I was strict about these factors and it worked beautifully.
This year I made butter pecan, gingerbread, chocolate orange and dark coffee chocolate caramels. The coffee chocolate caramels where the best of the bunch. I used a much richer and darker cocoa powder. It had a much deeper and darker flavor than the cocoa powder in the grocery store. I had a bag of really terrible coffee, so dark it seemed burned. It was perfect in the caramels, so much dark coffee but choco-sweet. The orange chocolate caramels were not quite as I had hoped. I didn’t quite know what proportions I needed for orange and for chocolate. They were orangey good but there wasn’t much chocolate flavor. I cut the caramels and tossed them in the unsweetened cocoa powder. On first bite your mouth fills up with unsweetened dark chocolate, it’s almost too much. But then you chew and the sugar sweet rolls in and on the tail of that is the orange. Not my best but I think they worked out okay. The butter pecan caramels were solid and good, exactly as expected. Butter, vanilla and roasted pecans. Took some notes about how make them better for the next time.
Gingerbread caramels were my favorite. Okay, the coffee chocolate caramels were my favorite favorite in terms of flavor and chew, but the gingerbread caramels were my pride this year. I worked a perfect balance of ginger, molasses and spice. Not too strong one way or another, good flavor, good chew. I ended up making a double batch of them because I dumped 2 bottles of corn syrup into the pot instead of 2 cups. I still have some leftover gingerbread caramels in the kitchen. I can’t eat anymore!
I’ve started to feel a bit possessive about my caramel recipes. I like them, I am proud of what I make. I want to leave a little mystery in there. Maybe I’ll pass on my caramel knowledge to one of the noogles and they can expand on the recipes and pass them on.
The hard part of all of this is experimenting. Making caramels isn’t cheap and it certainly isn’t calorie free. I can’t just whip up a batch to see if an idea works. If it doesn’t work out at all then the money is lost. If it sort of works out and I make something that can be easily tweaked into better form it’s a good deal but also it is a jelly roll pan of sugar and cream that needs to be eaten. I wish I could email caramels to people, so much cheaper than postage. You wouldn’t download a caramel, would you?
I’m still trying to get a good chocolate orange caramel for my grandfather. Rumor has it he likes a good chocolate orange treat. Also might work on an orange creamsicle flavor and revamp my apple pie caramels. Coffee chocolate will always be on the list, people love them and gingerbread feels like a solid holiday flavor.
I have a hand crank pasta roller that I thoroughly loved but I cannot use it anymore. Two surgeries on my wrist have caused their damage and cranking that machine would leave my hand numb for 2 days. I love my roller but it did not love me so much. A friend had the attachment roller and the 2 cutters for the Kitchen Aid and she was getting rid of them. I promptly bought them! Much excitement!
I used it a few times and then it was time to practice my ravioli skills.
So, first we have the cheese. If you recall I did try to make ricotta from the whey of the mozzarella I made. My intention was to use the ricotta for the raviolis and that would have been some sort of hardcore food ownership magic something something. But it didn’t work. So, what was I to do? I definitely wanted that specific ricotta texture, it was the mostly correct filling. So, I noodled on it and had an experiment idea.
I make paneer pretty regularly, it’s cheap and easy and pretty foolproof. Half gallon of whole milk heated to a soft boil (make sure it is a soft boil, not just simmering or scalding and certainly not a hard boil) add 1/3 cup lemon juice. Stir gently, watch the curds come together. Strain it through butter muslin, rinse, suspend and drain. But…but what if I added flavors to the cheese between adding the lemon juice and draining the cheese?
I don’t know, let’s find out.
For the ravioli I wanted to make an orange and parsley flavored cheese filling. I zested and squeezed a fat orange, finely chopped some fresh parsley and added salt.
Heated the milk, added the lemon juice, waited about 30 seconds and gently stirred the mixture into the cheese.
It worked! It actually turned out better than expected. It was pretty dry but we can deal with that. Off it went into the fridge for the night and I went to bed visualizing rolling pasta sheets.
The Science of the Best Fresh Pasta. I sat down with this and read it through a couple times. I’ve made pasta a lot with varying degrees of success and I figured it was time to come up with a solid plan based on knowing things instead of always sort of winging it. I had to futz a bit with the recipe because I suddenly found I did not have the number of eggs I thought I did and also it is just David and me and I didn’t want some huge amount of leftover pasta (and, yes, I know dry it or freeze it or whatever…). I cut the recipe in half and there was not nearly enough moisture in there at all (sometimes egg sizes are not consistent here). It was just crumbles so I added another egg. That helped but it was pretty stiff dough. I could make it into a ball but it was never springy or elastic, just stiff. And though I had the pasta roller to save my hand from the cranking pain I did not have enough pasta dough volume to be mixed together in the stand mixer. I had to knead by hand and that was not awesome, my hand ached. A friend pointed me to mixing the dough in my food processor and I will definitely do that next time.
I let the dough rest and then I rolled and rolled and rolled and I paid attention and I took notes in my brain. I was serious about getting this into the smart part of my brain, not the inattentive and winging it part of my brain. The first few sheets were okay but as I went through they got better with more consistency and cleaner edges. I rolled 8 sheets from the dough. I didn’t have a good idea at all what size wrapper to cut from the sheet to make a balanced dough to cheese ratio for my raviolis. I ended up cutting them way too big. Lesson learned and noted in the smart part of my brain. I rolled the pasta down to level 6 on the rollers and I think next time I will only go to 5 and see if I like that better.
You will notice that there are no pictures of the actual ravioli. They were ugly, insanely ugly.
For the filling I threw the orange and parsley paneer into the food processor with the egg whites leftover from making the dough. That worked out well, no extra egg whites shoved to the back of the fridge never to be found until we need that one mustard that we never use and we find it and see the egg whites and feel sort of bad about them. So, cheese, egg whites, more salt and some black pepper. Zoom the food processor and then what came out was really exactly what I wanted. The texture was actually even better than what I had imagines, and the fat in the cheese drew some of the orange flavor from the zest and it had an excellent orange flavor. Needed more parsley and salt though.
I was not going to sauce these in spaghetti sauce. Instead…
Then I toasted up a bag of walnuts in obscene amounts of brown butter. I cook up brown butter a pound at a time and keep it in the fridge along with the fatback, bacon grease and leaf lard, I do a lot of fat type experiments.
Then I added sage, rosemary, cinnamon, allspice, ground coriander, garlic…um and some other stuff I don’t remember right into the hot butter and let that cook a bit with the walnuts. I emptied that into the big bowl of veggies, mixed it up and threw in onto a jelly roll pan and roasted it in the oven until it got suitably crispy. Boiled up the ravioli and served them with the roasted cabbage mix.
The filling in the ravioli was perfect, it was even better than ricotta (in my own wienery opinion). It was creamy and not sticky and the orange flavor was evident without being overwhelming.
There was not enough cheese for the amount of pasta that I made, I ended up cutting the leftover pasta into fat noodles and boiled them up with the ravioli. The individual raviolis had more noodle than they should for the amount of cheese in them. So, this means next time I do this I will double the cheese and cut smaller wrappers.
The whole thing could have used more salt in any of the components. I fear over salting things but I pull back too much sometimes. Also, a good dose of red pepper flakes would have been welcomed somewhere in there, but I am out of red pepper flakes (but my Penzeys order just shipped today.)