Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bûche de Noël

Or, "I wanna make shrooms!"

Ok, yeah, I should be writing all about new year stuff: fresh beginnings, what I did and didn't do in 2009, hopes for 2010. But I'm not. First, you're probably getting sick of that stuff, second, I've never been able to get too excited about changing numbers, and third: I promised you I'd tell you what a bûche de Noël is, didn't I?

Well, yes, I did. And be prepared, my friends, for there follows a regular Passel of Pictures, a Plethora of Photographs, a Collection of...Colored Images?

And why, you may ask, would I have so many pictures of a single dessert item, specialty though it may be? Because, I answer, not only am I "married" to a chef, but this particular chef just happened to land herself a contract for ten of these cakes, to be delivered this past Tuesday.

So guess where I was this post-Christmas weekend? Right by her side, in the professional kitchen of her third employer, who graciously allowed her to use his facilities for this project. (He was in France anyway, what did he care?)

So, for those of you still interested, hereforth follows a pictorial instructory of How to Make a Bûche de Noël (sort of).

This dessert requires lots of mixing of stuff (especially of eggs...)

And a bit of melted chocolate (with butter and's French, whaddya expect?)

I think I was supposed to be watching the butter melt over the double boiler (yawn!), but I ended up wandering around trying to take "artsy" shots of the kitchen.

Sharp stuff:

Ok, this isn't artsy...this is the attachment for the floor mixer. See that red lid on the lower right? That's a 2 lb. jar of peanut butter immediately behind it. Just for perspective.

Ladle dee dee...

Stiff peaks, baby!

Ok, well, Miss Chef did put me to work. First, there were eggs to be separated (where do you think those stiff peaks came from?):

...LOTS of eggs (oh, look, how artsy!)

In the meantime, Miss Chef had whipped herself up a little batch of almond cake batter (for the gourmets among you, joconde and genoise are two types of cakes used).

(Oh, and that bowl weighs about 20 lbs, FYI.)

Miss Chef spreads the batter very, very thin.

Oh, hey, what are those white thingies on the next sheet tray?

Those are the building blocks to my next assignment: shrooms!

From the whites of those separated eggs, Miss Chef made a meringue (remember those stiff peaks?), and piped out some giant kiss-like shapes:

And then some other, more squat ones that I went behind her and smooshed down the peaks on. These will be the caps; the pointy ones will be stems.

Once they're baked dry, bore a little hole into the flat bottoms of the caps, apply a little melted chocolate as glue...

...and voila! Shrooms! (They dry better upside-down.)

She wanted a shroom for every serving. How many was that? Over a hundred!

Shrooms, as far as the eye can see...

Ok, well, once the cake was baked off, Miss Chef brushed it with a simple syrup (just lots of sugar melted into hot water), and left it to soak overnight. This whole process took us 3 visits, partly because of a missing recipe on Day 1.

The next day, the cakes were spread with chocolate pastry cream (thus some of the melty chocolate and egg yolks from earlier).

And rolled.

Now, those of you with some French knowledge, or a French dictionary, may have already caught on that bûche means "log." See how the ends are starting to look like the rings of a cut log?

Well, they look even loggier when coated with chocolate ganache! Yum!

Typically, the ends are cut and rearranged on top to resemble branches cut off the log.

This was as far as Miss Chef went for presentation before she delivered her bûches. But I'll use a picture of one of Chef Adam's bûche cakes to show you what happened to all my shrooms:

That's not one of my shrooms, but that's where they went...on the log as decoration, dusted with cocoa powder for color.

Chef Adam also went so far as to make marzipan leaves and berries. The log itself is dusted with powdered sugar to simulate snow.

Yummy snow! Notice Chef Adam uses a thicker cake. Doesn't matter; it's all good! This was the cake he served us at the annual Christmas dinner he hosts to thank all his employees at the end of the year. He's also very generous in inviting family too. We eat well, drink lots of wine, play charades, and go home buzzed, tired, and happy. Restaurant people may be crazy, but they're fun!

So ends the life of the humble Yule log cake. Hope you enjoyed it--I know I enjoyed eating it!

Oh, and...Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

"Ok Ma, can I go eat my Christmas treats now?"


Update: Okay, since you're undoubtedly wondering, yes, Miss Chef did make a fabulous Christmas dinner. And here's what we had:

Pan-roasted duck breast with port wine and fig reduction
Duck confit
Sautéed spinach with tomatoes
Corn casserole (I made that part!)
Tossed salad (complete with duck cracklin's, mmmm!)
Dread Pirate Robert's red wine (from a NC winemaker we discovered this summer)
Chef Adam's Bûche de Noël (what's that? Well, for starters you can check out this CakeWrecks post...and then you can check back in a day or so, 'cause I plan to have more to share!)

Oh, and yes, Rosie got to taste the duck!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Chug, the determined locomotive, I am slowly climbing out of my valley of stress, heading into the station of Christmas Spirit.

Though the days continue to be dull at times, some important landmarks have slid past.

The cards have been signed, stuffed, sealed and mailed...carrying with them my first ever Holiday Newsletter. I finally gave in this year, knowing that if I attempted to write individual notes in each card, the added obligation would tip me over the edge. As it was, the composition of the newsletter had me up past my bedtime Wednesday, but that's ok. I actually enjoyed it.

I was starting to relax Wednesday, as the I had started building momentum for climbing out of the valley. I had a half-day off work, to use up some leftover vacation time before year's end. I'd planned to use it in case I needed extra time to prepare the final exam for my French class that evening, but as it turned out, I was ready already.

So I came home from work at noon, actually cooked myself lunch, did some laundry, vacuuming and dishes, and finally felt like I was (nearly) caught up with housework.

The exam was short, so I got out an hour early, came home and finished grading...even submitting the final course grades online. Done! Free--relatively--until the second week of January.

Work is still busy, busy, but that half-day off helped me catch up, in an oddball way. So, though I had to still go in to work on Saturday, I got as far as touching on some of Friday's work--the most caught-up I've been in a month. I'll have to backtrack on Monday, but it's still good to know I'm getting closer.

And so, today, I took some time this morning to address my Christmas cards, pack up some gifts to mail off, and go to the post office on the way to work. Done, and done!

And maybe, just maybe...Rosie will get a little more attention these days. Here she is, helping clean out a casserole earlier this week.

Such a good, helpful girl.

(Nancy, the train pictures are for request!)

Chances are, I won't have time to post again before Christmas, so I'd like to wish everyone who celebrates it a happy one! Your continued reader- and friendship is one of my most valued gifts, every day of the year. Truly. Thank you.

And, as a gift to you, I'm gonna share a couple of new blogs I found recently (yeah, I know, what the hell am I doing looking for more blogs to keep up it holiday optimism).

The first, I picked up from the Blogroll of the Courteous Chihuahua. It's called Old Picture of the Day. It's exactly what its title describes: each day, a new photo, normally in black and white, or sepia, bringing to life a bygone era. It's a fascinating way to see what history looked like before it was history, and a pain-free way to learn something once in a while!

The second was on the Blogs of Note page, which I almost never look at. But I'm glad I did, because Not So Humble Pie is such a perfect fit for me: food, gorgeous pictures, and a bent for the scientific and nerdy. Yummy!

Enjoy, and hope Santa treats you all well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I've been so busy, and cranky, lately that the whole Christmas season seems to be in a parallel universe. I'm just waiting for a spare moment to take a breath and stop and smell the fir trees. In the meantime, I'm stealing a little employer time to try to focus back on the holidays.

So, it's 5:45 on Friday night, and guess where I am? Yep, still at work! Never fear, I'm gonna use inspiration from two other blogs to bring inspiration to YOU!

The Spirit of Giving

First, I know most, if not all of you, already read Cake Wrecks. But if you don't, or if you've fallen out of the habit (ahem), I strongly encourage you to go check out the December 11th post. Jen is using her newfound fame and fortune to spread the wealth...literally! She and her husband will be donating $200 to 14 different charities over the next two weeks.

And here's where you come in...Jen is challenging all her readers to donate just $1 each day. That's only $14 to you and me, but when you add up all her readers, that's tens of thousands of dollars! She's also asking readers to suggest their favorite charities, since she and John can't come up with 14 of them on their own.

I thought this was a fantastic way to raise a whole hell of a lot of money, and her first charity is the kind of thing I wish more people were aware of--it raises money to supply clean drinking water to developing countries.

Go check out Cake Wrecks and see how you can help!

Christmas Questionnaire

On to something a little more light-hearted. In trying to re-direct my focus, I found a fun way to spend some time thinking about the whole Christmas season, past and present. It was by doing this fun Holiday Questionnaire I stole borrowed from Casa Hice (who also stole borrowed it from another blog. So, feel free to steal borrow it forward!) What a great way to gain some insight into our different holiday traditions.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
When in doubt, chokkit is always the way to go!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree?
I always thought it was the elves, but Santa's presents were always wrapped.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White on the tree...and they'd probably be white on the house, if we had time to put them up! Our neighbor wants to hang lights on our 40-foot high leyland cypress; big-bulbed old-fashioned ones, so maybe we'll end up multi-colored too.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Nah, we don't need no stinkin' mistletoe to steal a kiss!

5. When do you put your decorations up?
The weekend after Thanksgiving--which is a big surprise to me, that we actually manage to be so prompt about it!

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Christmas has never really been about special food for me...except for the Christmas cookies! Unfortunately, with our stove at half-power, I doubt I'll try to make any this year. Oh, but I might try to establish a new favorite dish; last year Miss Chef made a duck that was to-die-for. I'm crossing my fingers that she'll be willing to repeat that this year!

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child?
It's one I just barely remember. I must have been about 4 or 5. My older brother had gotten a Big Wheel earlier that year, and I really, really, really, really wanted one too. So of course I put it on my list for Santa. That part I don't actually remember, but I do remember my brother coming in to wake me up at dawn on Christmas morning: "Wake up! Santa came, and he brought your Big Wheel!" Truth be told, I was a little disappointed he blew the surprise, but he was so excited for me, it still remains a vivid memory. And I did use that Big Wheel for a long time!

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
Actually, I figured out the Easter Bunny first. And when I asked my mom about it, then made the leap to Santa Claus...well, let's say Mom should never play poker in Vegas.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Nope. Miss Chef and I both enjoy the anticipation too much!

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Our first or second year together, Miss Chef declared we would have a theme. A theme? I'd never heard of such a thing. My family always just piled on as many ornaments as we could, so much that you'd barely see the tree. But now Miss Chef and I choose a color theme each year. This year, we went with red, gold and white. One year we did cartoons and children's shows. Someday I want to do a food tree--I'm already starting to collect ornaments!

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
I grew up in the snow belt, so there wasn't much of a just Was. Although there were one or two winters when we didn't have snow on Christmas day itself, and that was definitely disappointing. After spending almost a decade in the south, I do get very excited about any snow, since it only lasts a day; not long enough to turn into that dreadful black slush. Plus, Rosie goes crazy nuts in the snow--what fun!

12. Can you ice skate?
Not that you can tell.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? many good ones. Other than the Big Wheel, there was my Baby Alive, and the one year my parents surprised me with a parakeet! Oh, and last year I asked my brother to just donate to Heifer International. They went all out and paid for a water buffalo. I still feel happy thinking about being able to make that happen--so that gift has certainly lasted a while!

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Right now, it's the guilt-free opportunity to stop everything, and just spend time with Miss Chef. When I think of Christmas, I picture the two of us on the couch, carols on the radio,

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Again, I don't associate any particular dessert with this holiday. But anything with chocolate will do!

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
As seldom as we get to do it together, making cookies. I had a memorable time making green cookies with my nephew when he was about six! These, obviously, were from a different batch...

I first grew attached to this tradition as a kid. When I was very young, it would be a family activity--Mom made and rolled out the dough, and we kids (and Dad) would help cut out the cookies and decorate them.

As I grew older, I became vaguely aware that this was one time that Dad really had fun. He was a pretty traditional dad when it came to discipline, but he has a good sense of humor, and I've always enjoyed the times when he let his hair down, so to speak. Faced with a tray of blank cookies, he would suddenly decide all his snowmen were going to be blue, with big red noses, or Santa was going to wear yellow boots this year. Ever since, decorating cookies has been a leave-yer-baggage-at-the-kitchen-door time for fun.

17. What tops your tree?
We have three toppers, depending on our theme..and mood. Two stars--one gold, one silver--and the gold-clad angel crowning our tree this year.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?
Oh, that's a hard one. I do think I can honestly say I prefer giving. But only since I've loved Miss Chef have I really understood what joy it can bring to see someone open your gift. And how fulfilling it is to make somebody else happy.

19. Candy Canes: Yuck or Yum?
Meh. Fine when I'm in the mood, though I'm rarely in a candy cane mood. But I will say I only want traditional, peppermint-flavored ones--none of this aggressive cinnamon hot stuff. Bah, humbug.

20 Favorite Christmas Show?
It's a tie between Rudolph and Peanuts...and the music on the Peanuts show just might be a tie-breaker.

21. Saddest Christmas Song?
I don't think of any Christmas songs as really sad...but there's a song about a kid buying shoes for his dying mother that gets Miss Chef all teared up. I've never heard the whole song!

22. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
It changes from day to day. A well-done "Carol of the Bells" has been known to give me the shivers.

As always, thanks for stopping by...and leave me a comment, so I know you were here, you ghostly little followers, you!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I had a shitty day at work today.

In fact, I've been having a string of shitty days. I worked 50 hours last week, and I'm still 5 days behind. I'm limited in how much overtime I can work: I've got to skedaddle Monday through Wednesday for teaching, and the whole office shuts down at 5:00 sharp on Friday. We've also been told not to work more than 4 hours on Saturday.

Today the site manager fussed at our supervisor because our department is so far behind. All this while the manager's department, which is supposed to be a team with our department, spends the first hour of the day in the breakroom, and the rest of the day wandering in and out of each others' offices, talking about sports.

Top this off with being exhausted, fuzzy-headed, and having pains in my stomach for the past day and a half--probably acid from the stress of keeping up with work, work, and the holidays. All our family is out-of-town, so not only do we have to find time for presents, but we have to pack them and lug them to the post office in time to ship them out. Since Miss Chef is working 8 am to 10 pm six days a week, I guess that's gonna be on my shoulders.

And, as I finally left the office today, after dark--again--I walked into a cold rain that dripped straight down my neck. Once in my frigid car, I paused a moment. The relative silence was soothing--no phones ringing, no faxes beeping, no raucous conversations going on around me. Just the metallic patter of rain on the car roof. I briefly considered not going home, just spending the night in the parking lot listening to the rain.

Of course, I knew I had to face the rush hour drive home, in the rain and dark, only to spend another two hours trying to focus my tired, fuzzy eyes on a computer screen. But as I inched closer to the entrance to I-465, something made me stop and think, honestly, girl, aren't you feeling just a bit sorry for yourself?

Yeah, I know, I'm damn lucky to have a job at all, much less two. But even without a job, I'd still be lucky.

I don't have to spend half my day gathering wood to cook the meager portions available at a refugee camp.

I don't have to worry about being killed by a bomb at WalMart every time there's an election.

I don't have to worry about my nephews being kidnapped, tortured, and forced to fight a war before their voices change; or about my young niece ever being sold into prostitution. (Or myself, for that matter.)

I don't have to worry whether the water I'm drinking carries bacteria or parasites that will lead to an excruciating death.

I don't fear that my partner is risking her life by going to work every day.

I don't have to worry about whether I'll find a safe place to sleep tonight.

There are horrible, unthinkable things happening to human beings every minute of the day. It's impossible to hold them all in your heart, or wrap your mind around the suffering. And here I sit, in my own safe, dry and warm house, growing an ulcer because the phone wouldn't stop ringing, and somebody grumbled at my department.

I'm not gonna stop stressing all of the sudden. But maybe putting my troubles into perspective will help.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Town

Biggerize me!

Flartopia has once again become a whirlwind of work. Thanksgiving was a brief lull, well-appreciated and now a fond, if fuzzy memory. I talked to my parents today--they returned home on Monday--and when they asked if we had recovered from Thanksgiving, I said, "Thanksgiving feels like a year ago."

While we're one person short in our normally four-person department, and taking time out to train the New Girl (whom several of us worked with at a different company, so that's nice), I'm back up to 50-hour weeks crammed in between my teaching and lesson-planning. Miss Chef is working three jobs now, her 2nd and 3rd bosses fighting over her spare hours. I feel like we're living in a parallel universe, listening to news reports putting a positive spin on losing fewer jobs this month!

So don't--whatever you do--don't think I'm complaining.

Back to the topic at hand...we used our brief Thanksgiving weekend lull to advantage, pulling ourselves off the couch from our carb-loading haze for our new tradition of early tree buying. I grew up in a family that often procrastinated on tree procuration until the weekend before Christmas, but then made up for it by leaving the thing up until the tail end of January, crispy dried needles and all. Miss Chef has successfully launched us into a new habit, thanks to her general enjoyment of all things Christmas. Now our tree goes up the weekend after Thanksgiving, to be enjoyed during the full run-up to Christmas day.

We did something different this year, something that, had anyone suggested it to me several years ago, I would have pooh-poohed with a disdainful wave of the hand. Instead of our usual six- to eight-foot tall Fraser beauty, we decided to leave a Thanksgiving-related side table in the living room, put a board on it for Miss Chef's train, and buy a smaller tree to put on top.

This train-table-board has long been on our list of projects. Last year, though we had a gorgeous tree, we never got around to getting out the train matériel. I had bought Miss Chef her own HO-gage set a few years ago. Nothing fancy, just a simple round track with an engine and a few plastic cars.

Finding a place for it was always a problem. The track was just a little too big for any of our tables, and there was no room under the tree for both track and gifts. Last year, the problem got a bit larger: my parents were thinking of moving, and started to--once again--minimize their belongings. They offered, and we accepted, a large portion of my father's HO set. Not so much the cars, but a lot of the decorations: houses, trees, animals. That's what I remember most about that set as a child, messing around with the imaginary town under the Christmas tree every year.

Now that we finally have an appropriately sized surface for the train track, we also have room to spread out our entire collection of miniature decorations. So, if you look closely at these pictures, you'll see a combination of old and new--shiny plastic Jersey cows sharing a pasture with faded Guernseys (or super-faded Holsteins, who knows?), wooden-based firs growing next to plastic-trunked pines, and 40s-era cars molded from '00-era plastic.

I'm very happy my dad was here to see us put his old toys to use again. In fact, we had some mechanical difficulties getting the engine going, and I was doubly happy that he was here--not only was he once again problem-solving man of the house, showing off his particular expertise, but it also saved me from having to stand by and say "I don't know, Honey," while Miss Chef guessed her way to a solution.

And, to top it all off, today is Dad's birthday. So, while he probably won't read this post--certainly not today, there being only two hours left 'til it's no longer his birthday--I'm still wishing him a happy birthday, and many more.

Happy Birthday, Dad!