Friday, January 22, 2021

Foodie Friday - Fruit Cake


 I know at some point in the past, I have written about fruitcake, the post and my praise of fruitcake inspired David a blogger in the Pacific Northwest to send me a wonderful fruit bread. It was lighter in texture than a fruitcake, made with wonderful local fruit.  Very easy to enjoy. 

I don't recall why my mother started making fruit cake, but when I was a teenager she did.  I made them on and off, now that my parents are gone, I have taken up making a fruitcake each year.  It takes time, and planning, but I can make it the way I like it. I know my mother expected fruitcake at the holidays.  My father liked it, he loved sweets.  At 88 his doctor diagnosed him with lung cancer and explained treatment options.  He was in poor health, the treatments would have been torturous.  He said, "I am going to go home, enjoy life, and have that second scoop of ice cream" his doctor agreed that ice cream was the best treatment option.     

Making your own, you can adjust to your taste. There are a lot of fruitcake haters. Most of them fall into one of two categories, either they expect a fruitcake to be cake, or they have only ever had bad commercial fruitcake.  A fruitcake is unlike any cake you have ever had.  I wouldn't call it a cake, it is really in a category it own, a sweet composed of candied fruits, nuts, and confectionary glue. It is sweet, it is moist, it is dense, it is probably not for everyone.  If it is for you, I urge you to try making your own.  Commercial cakes are constrained by being someone else's taste and by time and ingredients.  When you make your own you control those variables.  

The Ingredients: 

4 ounces butter (I use salted butter for everything.) 

1 cup brown sugar 

1 teaspoon lemon or other extract (can be left out) 

2 large eggs 

1/2 cup heavy cream 

1/2 cup molasses (treacle)   

2 cups flour (all purpose) 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

1.5 teaspoons cinnamon 

1/2 teaspoon allspice 

1/2 teaspoon mace 

1/2 teaspoon cloves 

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I use freshly grated.) 

4 cups +/- of candied and dried fruits- (I use 2 cups cherries, 2 cups raisins) 

1/2 cup mixed candied peel 

1 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts, many people use pecans) 

Booze - I use bourbon, dark rum, and brandy. 

Cheese cloth

Process:

Start 30 to 90 Days, before you expect to enjoy the fruitcake. This cake is aged in booze to develop full flavor.  

Heat oven to 325 F.  I use a non-stick tube pan. Spray the pan with baking spray, the line with baking parchment (bottom, and sides) and spray the paper.  Fruitcake tends to be sticky. 

Vary the mix of candied and dried fruits to your taste.  I soak dried fruits and raisins (not the candied fruits) in a mix of about 1/c cup each bourbon, dark rum and brandy for 30 minutes or more  strain the fruit out before mixing the fruit into the batter, and save the booze. 

Mix spices, baking soda and flour and set aside.  Adjust the spice mix to your taste.  I go lighter on the cloves, heavier on cinnamon and add freshly grated nutmeg. 

Cream the butter in an electric mixer, until fluffy, beat in the sugar (for a lighter fruitcake use granulated or caster sugar - for a darker fruitcake use dark brown sugar), ad the eggs and beat until fluffy.  You will notice a change in color and texture, this step incorporates air into the batter adding lift to the final product.  Add the molasses (some lighter fruitcakes us corn syrup in place of molasses) and cream (you can use milk) and beat on medium for a minute or two.  

By hand stir in the dry mixture of spices, flour and baking soda.  When well incorporated, stir in the fruit and nuts.  

The finished batter, is thick and heavy, more like a cookie or bread dough, than a cake batter.  Transfer to baking pan. 

Bake 60 to 75 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Baking time will vary. 

Remove from oven, let sit for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and remove from the pan.  You may need to use a knife or palette knife to loosen around the edges.  Remove paper, and allow to cool completely (2 to 3 hours, this is a dense cake.) 

Place a large sheet of aluminum foil or plastic wrap on the counter, you want this large enough to wrap the entire cake in, I use extra wide heavy duty aluminum foil.  Cover that with cheesecloth, transfer cake to the center of it. You can buy cheesecloth in the baking department of most grocery stores or at kitchen specialty shops. It is a single use item. Baste the cake with the reserved booze (or fresh if you didn't soak fruit.)  You want it moist, but not soaking wet. Baste the sides. Wrap in cheesecloth, foil, slip into a plastic bag that will seal tightly (I use a 2-gallon size Zip-Lock freezer bag) and refrigerate.  

Fruitcake needs to age 30 to 90 days to develop it's full flavor potential. After a couple of weeks, open and check for moisture, if it is dry, add additional booze (bourbon, dark rum, brandy.) I check for dryness about once a month adding as needed so the cake is moist, but not wet.  You want the booze to soak into the fruitcake. There is a alchemy that takes place in aging, the fruit and binder (cake) become one.  The flavors mellow and meld.  I think the aging step is what is missing on many comercial fruitcakes.  Some of them are dry, lacking the moistness that develops in aging.  Others use corn syrup or honey to try to get the moistness without the ageing.  The finished product should be moist, but not wet or 100 proof (my mother made some famous 100 proof ones, a little heavy on the pour.) Experiment on the booze and aging to your taste.  

Did you have fruitcake this past holiday season? 


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Do Not Disturb - We are disturbed enough


 I love hotel do-not-disturb (DND) signs. I especially like funky, unique, one of a kind, one's that hang over the door handle, ones that have DND on one side, and please make up room on the other side.  I have seen them made out of plastic, paper, wood, even leather (Fairmont hotel in San Francisco, and Viking Hotel in Newport Rhode Island.) I miss hotel maid service, one of the highlights of a hotel stay for me, is the room freshened and fresh towels each day.  One of my personal splurges at home, is a fresh bath towel each time I shower.  

I have kept a log of hotel stays since 2005. 2020 was the fewest nights since I started keeping track, only 18 nights (if we hadn't been gone the first two weeks in March, it would be 4 nights.) My average is 39 nights a year. Looking back through the book there are a few notes about particularly spectacular rooms, only a couple of places marked NEVER AGAIN.  My grandmother kept a daily diary for decades, when they traveled she made notes about hotels, where to stay again, where to never stay.  If those books still exist, I would love to get my hands on them.  I should reach out to my cousin again.  

What is your favorite part of staying in a hotel? 

    

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Way We Were Wednesday - Inauguration Day In Washington DC



 This is my fourth inauguration day, that I have lived in the Washington DC area.  I moved here, and started a job just around the corner of the White House in late 2008, just before the Obamas moved into a hotel just down the street from my office.  I actually did a seperate blog about the new neighbors.  At that time I posted that happiness is moving vans at the White House, oh how that feeling is amplified today.  

The west front of the Capital is the sight of the swearing in to of the new President and Vice-President.  The stands are built for every election, planned and started before election day.  In recent history the inauguration has been moved indoors once due to foul weather, and Barack Obama took the oath a second time at the White House, as the Chief Justice messed up the words the first time. 


The Reviewing Stands in 2008, in front of the White House, a five minute walk from my desk at the time. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Travel Tuesday - Amtrak New Jersey


This was taken out of the window of an Amtrak Passenger train stopped at a station in New Jersey, on my way to New York, about 5 or 6 years ago.  I love the darkness, the people mostly in shadow waiting in front of the No Waiting sign.  A framed print of this hangs in my bedroom. I am so glad I looked up, looked out as the train stopped at that station.

What is your favorite memory of something seen as you were passing by?   

Monday, January 18, 2021

My Music Monday - Ray Charles - America The Beautiful (Live in D.C.)


Even if we voted against him, we still owe the world an apology.  He who must not be named was a mistake, as a civilized country we owe the world better.  We are making changes, effective this week.  We promise to try to do better in the future. The first time I visited the Grand Canyon as an adult, this song was playing in my head as a hiked along the south rim. What a wonderful memory.  



Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Five - Retirement


 I recently had an hour lone Zoom video call with a friend who is thinking about retirement in a decade or so.  She is planning ahead, as she puts it, continuing her practice of overthinking things.  Much better to overthink that not plan at all.  Thinking about that call, inspires this weeks Sunday five. 

  1. Are you retired? 
  2. What is the best thing about retirement? 
  3. What is your greatest concern about retirement? 
  4. If money, or health insurance where no object, when would you retire? 
  5. What is the hallmark of a successful retirement? 
My Answers (because I won't ask you anything I won't to myself.) 

  1. Are you retired? No, my spouse is. 
  2. What is the best thing about retirement? Flexibility in schedule. 
  3. What is your greatest concern about retirement? Not having good health to enjoy it. 
  4. If money, or health insurance where no object, when would you retire? For me this would have been about age 60.  
  5. What is the hallmark of a successful retirement? Personal Happiness. 
Please share your answers in the comments.  

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Saturday Morning Post - It's a Life Around Birds


 This appears to be an Eastern Phoebe, pretty bird, and this one was fairly easy to photograph, I followed him or her, from branch to branch for probably 100 feet.  I am finding in colder weather, some birds flit about less, making them easier to photograph.  I a recently morning walk I saw a record five bald eagles.  Two of them were far enough off to not be able to photograph them.  I am hoping this is a sign of a third nesting pair within a mile of river front.  

We have a couple of large hawks, one may be a falon, one eludes identification, it may be an immature osprey or eagle that has lacks adult coloration.  

Here in the Washington DC area we are in a major flyway for migratory birds. The shoreline of the Potomac River (about a mile away as the eagle flies from where I live) is an ideal viewing location. Many bird species pass through in the spring and fall, but are not here in the summer or winter.  We are also far enough south, that some birds that summer farther north, winter here.  Some birds that are classified as migratory, stay here year around.  A moderate enough climate. 

I seem to have overcome one of my irrational fears.  Flying birds.  There is a reason we LOVE penguins, I had a fear of being hit in the face by a flying bird (thank you Alfred Hitchcock!) I would still be uncomfortable in an enclosed space with free-flying birds, but in the open I am doing really well.  A couple of weeks ago, an eagle flew over my head, perched on a branch almost directly above me, let me take photos for 20-30 seconds and then flew off.  A decade ago, this would have caused significant panic, today it bring amazement at being so close to such a magnificent bird (the photos turned out so-so, very backlit and some focus issues with branches in the way.)  

So there I am, exposing another one of my irrational fears? 

Are there any irrational fears you will share with others?