Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Belated Christmas Cookies

Between being busy and fearing to gain weight, I didn't bake any Christmas cookies this year, but the fruit on my lemon tree is almost ripe so I may have to make a post-Christmas batch of these.  This is another recipe that my mother has been making forever but she doesn't remember where it came from originally.

The squares taste almost like little cheesecakes when first baked, but as they chill the lemon flavor becomes more and more pronounced.  I also like to freeze some of each batch and eat them before they are fully defrosted.

Lemon Custard Squares

1 can Eagle brand milk
1/2 c lemon juice (at least part of this should be fresh)
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Stir together until thick and set aside.

1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
1 c oatmeal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Cream together the butter and brown sugar; add the flour mix and the oatmeal and blend until it reaches a crumbly texture.

Grease an 8" x 12" pan.  Pat half of the crust mixture into it firmly.  Spread on the filling.  Top with the remaining crust crumbs.

Bake 25 minutes; cool on a wire rack before cutting into squares.  Store in the refrigerator.

"I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade... And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party." ~Ron White

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in the Garage

A massive cleaning binge, a space heater, and a tree - and it worked so well that some attendees want to come back for all our big family holidays:
The Garage
The Food
The Family

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Very Long Coffee Break

Last night was the December meeting of our book club.  We ate at Los Sombreros, an excellent, authentic Mexican restaurant in the East Valley.  (Fabulously fresh guacamole!)  The woman who suggested this month's book also selected the restaurant to stay with the Hispanic theme.

The book we read was Bitter Grounds, winner of the 1998 American Book Award.  The author is Sandra Benitez, who was born in El Salvador but attended high school and college in the United States.  This is the sort of novel that's generally described on the jacket as a "sweeping multi-generational epic."  It follows six Salvadoran women through the turbulent period from 1932 to 1977.  Three of the women are mother, daughter, and granddaughter of a poor peasant family; the other three are mother, daughter, and granddaughter from a family of wealthy landowners.  During the course of the book their lives intertwine ever more tightly, with ultimately tragic consequences for all of them.

What I liked: the characters were well-drawn; the language was beautiful and evocative; the plot was at times intricate but never confusing; and I learned much more than I had previously known about the culture and history of El Salvador.  What I didn't: when I have spent 444 pages, 45 years, and three generations with people I like, I prefer a happy ending.  Yes, the grim resolution was probably more realistic than a feel-good finish, but it left me feeling exhausted rather than satisfied.  Read this book when you are in the mood for Literature rather than escape.

"You say, but for the golden hope of coffee
few men would get ahead.
I say, when the people harvest,
all they reap is bitter grounds."
~Sandra Benitez, Bitter Grounds

Thursday, December 15, 2011

All This and a Baby Giraffe

You wouldn't think two people who live in the Phoenix area would need any additional exposure to desert flora and fauna, but today my sister and I went to see the Living Desert Zoo & Botanical Garden in Palm Desert.  The Living Desert is a linked series of gardens and habitats for plants and animals from the deserts of North America and Africa.  Their animal hospital (which we got to tour) also does animal rescue and rehabilitation, and several groups of school children joined us in the amphitheater for a show by some of the resident birds and beasts.  A tram is available for those who don't feel up to the walk, and food is available at three cafes on site.  Unfortunately, the cold weather and the time of day meant that quite a few of the animals were taking naps in various caves and burrows, but here is some of what we did see (straight from the camera):

Cool place. We just missed the jaguar's annual physical in the hospital - and the cheetah had its root canal last month - but the goats in the petting zoo were happy to see us.

It really is "all happening at the zoo."

“Despite all their flaws, zoos wake us up. They invite us to step outside our most basic assumptions. Offered for our contemplation, the animals remind us of nature’s impossibly varied schemes for survival, all the strategies that species rely upon for courtship and mating and protecting the young and establishing dominance and hunting for something to eat and avoiding being eaten. On a good day, zoos shake people into recognizing the manifold possibilities of existence, what it’s like to walk across the Earth, or swim in its oceans of fly above its forests—even though most animals on display will never have the chance to do any of those things again, at least not in the wild.”~ Thomas French, Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Playing Hooky

Yes, I know, Bad Blogger this month.  Between getting ready for Christmas, lining up new clients, and planning for the first vacation I've had in over a year, I've really let things slide.

I feel a little guilty about the vacation, since I ought to be staying home and saving money, but I've actually already paid for most of it.  About two years ago I bought a block of timeshare points for Barry and me; I thought a resort apartment would be the perfect vacation venue for him because it would involve a minimum of travel, we could minimize expenses and calories by eating breakfast and lunch in, and he would be able to swim and work out (his favorite leisure activities).  Alas, he decided he didn't want to do anything that so closely resembled his (if not my) everyday life, and the points remained unused.  They expire next month, so I finally decided not to let them go to waste, and my sister and I are spending this week in Palm Springs to use most of them up.

Because I'm providing the room and driving my car, Sue is paying for the food and entertainment.  So far we've shopped the Cabazon outlet malls, visited the air museum and the art museum (Andrew Wyeth exhibit this month!), taken the tram up to what's still snow country, and eaten in a succession of fabulous restaurants.  Some of the foodie highlights of the trip have been the 3-course prix fixe dinner at Zin American Bistro (best mushroom soup and aioli ever), the bouillabaisse at Pomme Frite, and the buckwheat crepes at Zini Cafe Mediterrano.  At night we're working our way through a bottle of wine, a block of fudge, a box of popcorn, and the stack of chick flicks we brought along.  We've already watched Chicken Run, Saving Grace, Starman, and Julie and Julia, with Shakespeare in Love to follow.

Of course, this is not an entirely non-working vacation.  I still have two online classes running (winter break starts next week) and I'm uploading blog posts for my real estate friend.  Still, I'm seeing something other than the inside of my house and someone else is cleaning the apartment and cooking a lot of the meals.  A week of this and I will feel recharged and ready to go back.  Maybe I'll even be able to get back onto a more regular blogging schedule.

If not, Santa may be leaving a lump of coal in my stocking this year.

"A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking." ~Earl Wilson