(Many) Shoes and (Pumpkin) Pie

Hi, my name is Wink and I used to blog with frequency. I’ve been with the busy, however, what with this whole the-boyfriend-is-moving-in dealio, as well as filling my free time with helping a local estate liquidation company organize and price a hoarder house for an upcoming sale. Since we last met…

That there above-mentioned boyfriend* moved in. He didn’t bring a lot of Things into the household, but what he did bring was Not Small. We had his parents over for dinner last night, which forced the issue of (finally) organizing the living and dining rooms. They look pretty dang good right now, at the expense of the guest room and basement. Which currently look an awful lot like the hoarder house I’ve been working in.

The hoarder house. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s wrong. This house is in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, and was inhabited by an upper-middle-class couple. For decades, these were “normal,” rational people. And then, about 10 or so years ago, the woman cracked. In a ceaseless attempt to fill that crack, she bought stuff. Lots of stuff. Lots and lots and lots of stuff. In fact, during the last couple of years, she bought so much stuff and with such frequency that she didn’t always have the time to remove the price tags or even take items out of their shopping bags before heading out to buy more stuff. A professional organizer was hired to help deal with all the stuff, which only wound up making more room for more stuff. Which she filled. And then she died. Leaving behind a husband who had grown accustomed to living in a smaller and smaller space, and a hell of a lot of stuff. So the husband moved out and said “to hell with all of this stuff.”

I’ve been to estate sales described as hoarder homes, and I’m always disappointed (?) that they don’t look like the dark, magazine-and-newspaper addled homes that I’ve seen flash by on the news. (I hear there are a few different reality shows that focus on hoarders, but I’ve never seen one so I can’t compare.) I now know how much work goes into clearing those homes out so people can actually walk around in the space. Which seems obvious, but I never did put 2 and 2 together. For two or three weeks now, we’ve been going through this house room by room, clearing out the receipts and tissue paper and shopping bags (we filled a roll-off Dumpster) and trying our best to organize and price the remaining clothing and shoes and furniture and DVDs and artwork and cosmetics and collectible figurines and avoiding altogether the packed-to-the-rafters basement, which will have to be an entirely separate sale.

So anyway, if you live in the greater Denver area, you should really swing by this sale. We’re running the first half (pre-basement) for four days, and while the selection will be greatest on Wednesday (day 1), I can guarantee that there will still be plenty left on Saturday (day 4). Everything is in like-new (or brand-spanking-still-with-tags-new) condition. In an interesting twist, when we finally worked our way into the husband’s home office, we found that it was loaded with antique books and historical artifacts from his family. So this sale has the brand new AND the very old!

Above-mentioned pie: I’d stopped in at Dollar Tree for something or other, and was greeted at the door by a display of canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin! For a dollar! How could I pass that up? Pumpkin pie is super easy to make, especially when using a store-bought Graham cracker crust (which I knew I had in the pantry), so I whipped one up. A week later, I made an eggnog cake for no reason other than I had some eggnog in the house. I’m crafty that way.

A few posts back, I’d mentioned that I was going to have to start meal planning now that there are two mouths to feed. I’ve been doing it, and it’s surprisingly easy so far. I understand how it might get tedious over time, but so far, so good. This week we’ll be eating a lot of recipes that call for fresh tarragon because I needed it for one recipe and you can only buy one size package which is enough for, like, four different recipes. I used it last night to make the béarnaise sauce required for Sautéed Steak, Henri IV, my very first attempt at a Julia Child recipe. It was delicious and pretty easy, if a bit fussy to plate. Tonight we’ll dine on Fluffy Cracked Wheat With Mustard And Tarragon, and tomorrow I’ll roast up some tarragon chicken.

Part of the meal planning adventure includes serving up something every Wednesday from one of my many vintage cookbooks, and we’re two for two so far. On Halloween I cooked up an Irish Stew (or, since it was Halloween after all, Slaughtered Lamb stew) in ye olde pressure cooker. Actually, I used ye olde (1954) Mirro pressure cooker cookbook, but my spiffy late-model (2011) Cuisinart pressure cooker did the work. I’ve never eaten, let alone made, a lamb stew before, and I have to admit that I am floored by how absofreakinglutely delicious it is! And because pressure cookers are magical things, I went from raw veggies in need of dicing to hot stew ladled into a bowl in just about an hour.

The following Wednesday, I turned to my copy of 641 Tested Recipes from the Sealtest Kitchens for something a little less meat-centric and more retrotastic. I had hardly flipped through the pages when I came across Peppy Cottage Cheese Peppers (“A man’s main dish”) and knew that I had the week’s winner. Green peppers, stuffed with a mixture of rice (I used brown), cottage cheese, sautéed onion, tomato sauce, a bit of Worcestershire sauce, and topped with diced bacon. Not vegetarian, but at least it wasn’t based on meat. And while the squishy pink filling in the peppers looked dubious going into the oven, this turned out to be another will-make-again recipe.

My selection for this week is something called Applesauce Meatballs (Sunset Cook Book of Favorite Recipes, 1949), and I’ll have to report back with the results at a later date. I plan to serve them up with a side of spaghetti squash seasoned with, you guessed it, fresh tarragon. If there’s still any tarragon left at that point, I’ll put it in a small bottle of vinegar to steep for future use.

And on that note: until next time, my dearest readers!

*For the first time in 12 years, someone else did my laundry yesterday. IT IS DELIGHTFUL.

That moment when…

Gingerbread cupcakes with buttercream brains.

It’s Thursday night and you’re baking festive cupcakes for a party the next night and at the same time you’re boiling a roasted chicken carcass to make stock and then it’s Friday and you go to work and you go to the party (and you don’t forget the cupcakes) and Saturday you spend most of the day moving your boyfriend’s stuff into your house and then there’s a costume party and Sunday you spend the whole day moving more of your boyfriend’s stuff in and the house is a bigger wreck than usual and you spend all of Monday trying to get a grip on reorganizing furniture and clothing and wall art and you’re barely making a dent but you at least get the living room chairs out of the kitchen and that’s when you realize…

…that you never strained, let alone refrigerated, that chicken stock. The pot is still sitting on the stove. Since Thursday. And you pour the whole thing out. Because it may smell delicious (and it does) but 4-days-at-room-temperature chicken stock is probably how the zombie uprising will begin.

Tirammmmisù

Do as I say, not as I do.

Tiramisù!

First, if you’re opposed to the consumption of raw eggs, stop right here. Come back tomorrow, when I share with you all how I manage to turn some unattractive TV trays into (hopefully) pillars of retro beauty.

Superfluous photo of Yolky, my goofy egg separator (which fits perfectly on a Fire King soup bowl) by JO!E.

Today, I’m going to give you the recipe for Tiramisù exactly as it is written on this (Italian) package of (Italian) ladyfingers (imported from Italy).

Are you catching that? I want to make this clear: this is an authentic, traditional, Italian recipe. As promoted by Vicenzi, the “No. 1 in Italy” brand of savoiardi (ladyfingers). This tiramisù may not be what you’ll find in your local supermarket bakery, and it may not be what you’re accustomed to. It is, however, delicious. And incredibly easy. When made according to these instructions.

Tiramisù
Ingredients for 6–8 servings
400 g Vicenzovo ladyfingers
400 g mascarpone
4 eggs, separated
100 g sugar
2 cups espresso
30 g cocoa powder

Beat the egg yolks with sugar until thick and foamy. Whisk in mascarpone. In separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold the mascarpone mixture into the egg whites. Line a rectangular dish with halve of the Vicenzovo ladyfingers dipped into coffee and cover with half of the mascarpone cream mixture. Top with a second layer of dipped Vicenzovo ladyfingers and mascarpone cream. Sift cocoa powder over the whole surface. Refrigerate until serving time.

The very first time I made this, it was exquisite. The only change I made was to use, instead of the Vicenzovo “hard” ladyfingers, an equivalent amount of Trader Joe’s Soft Lady Fingers, which had fallen into the back of my pantry and gotten stale anyway. They fit perfectly into my large Pyrex baking dish, and with the addition of the eggy mascarpone cream and a dusting of cocoa powder, the result was heavenly.

But I still have 400 grams of these Italian ladyfingers in the pantry. And an invitation to dinner with friends. “I’ll bring dessert,” I say. But this time…this time, things will be a leeeetle bit different.

Egg yolks, sugar, faux-mascarpone.

Have you shopped for mascarpone lately? My local supermarket carries two brands, at $5 and $6 per container. This recipe requires two containers. Now don’t get me wrong, I like my friends and all, but that’s a steep price for someone as cheap frugal as I am. Enter: the Internet. And an assortment of recipes for making a mascarpone substitute. I can’t imagine that any of them will taste like proper mascarpone, but I pick a substitute formula that I think will come closest: a mixture of neufchâtel, sour cream, and heavy cream. The ratios required will make too much “mascarpone” for this particular recipe, but I figure hey, did anyone in history ever once complain that their tiramisù was too creamy? Probably not. So I mix up a batch, thus cutting calories while doubling the prep time and dirtying an extra mixer bowl.

Lay, lady, lay.

I start lining my Pyrex dish, and these ladyfingers are not the same size as their Trader Joe counterparts. I have to break them to fit, and even then, each layer of ladyfingers is coming in well shy of the prescribed 200 grams. Oh heck, it’ll be fine, right? Right? I spread the layers of floofy (technical term, that), creamy cheese mixture, I dust with cocoa, it looks lovely. See photo at top of this post. Delightful, right? Because of all of the extra cream mixture, the dish is precariously full. I set it into another, larger dish for travel, and head to see my friends.

We dine on delicious black bean and corn tacos, we chat, we laugh, and now it’s time for dessert. I grab a spatula and some plates, and start serving…tiramisoup. The scant amount of ladyfingers can’t soak up all of the extra cream mixture. Well, that’s okay, it will still taste like…cream cheese. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean, look at cheesecake, right? But this does not taste, or feel, like tiramisù. It has a vague tanginess that cream cheese has, and which mascarpone does not. And it’s soupy. So, follow the recipe as instructed. Use a big enough pan. Learn from my mistakes. And enjoy!