Spring Photo Walk, May 7

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This morning the light was just long enough to justify a photo walk at one of my favorite places on this earth, the Allen County Children’s Garden which is situated directly between the town library and county museum in Lima, Ohio. I have not tired of this location after 17 years of visiting it. The wide array of flora here is impressive considering it is the collaboration of many volunteers.

Next week I will go back there to see the peonies begin their bloom.

Coconut Frosting

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A traditional coconut cake should have a chiffon-style base, but I lack the patience to deal with separating eggs and folding whipped egg whites into the batter. Actually, I cook with eggs only when omitting them would destabilize a recipe. I just don’t like eggs at all. This evening I found an easy recipe for coconut cake on Pilsbury.com that did not require any egg separating. I skipped the frosting portion and made some of my own.

Coconut Frosting

Frosts a 2 layer cake generously

1 stick salted butter, softened

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 lb powdered sugar

1/2 t vanilla extract

1/2 t coconut extract

1 T half and half

14 oz bag sweetened shredded coconut, divided

Whip butter, cream cheese, half and half, and extracts with a mixer until well combined. Add powdered sugar. Mix on low until sugar is all moistened then whip on medium until fluffy.  Fold in 2 cups shredded coconut. Sprinkle the rest of the coconut on finished cake, pressing gently into surface of the icing.

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Back to Reality

I refer to reality in the title of this post solely because I lack the mental focus to invent a more topical title. My husband has the album Master of Reality by Black Sabbath in his car at all times, and the sight of it has inspired me to comment entirely too often that reality really is the hardest thing to master.

I have survived my first week back from medical leave. Aside from soreness due to some quadricep exercises for physical therapy, I haven’t had any struggle in meeting the physical demands of this transition. Instead, I have had a hard time adapting to the sudden expansion of the company I keep. I spent seven weeks in solitude seasoned only by people who understand me implicitly. This was such a heaven that my reaction upon the prospect of conversing with “mixed company” was to fantasize for a moment about what it would feel like to walk back to my car and drive home, where I would stay indefinitely in a reverie of dessert recipe trial-and-error, family tree research, and books partially read.

Alas, the cost of living prohibits me from such a retirement, so I pressed onward through the week. I ended my week with a dinner loaded with enough grease and refined flour that I’d be sure to fall asleep while binge watching Father Brown.

In other news, I am excited that my mom and my sister are going to do the 23andMe test. After a flurry of testing last year with both that service and AncestryDNA, I felt I needed a break from waiting for test results, a span that can be oddly unpredictable. For example, my results were ready in 27 days, but my brother’s took 11 weeks! If you, dear reader, also decide to take part in direct-to-consumer genetic testing, be prepared for discrepancies in testing times that aren’t explained well at all by the companies involved. You could have your results in as little as three weeks, but the whole process could take three months.

However long the wait will be for these two tests, I will be pleased to see them. I think that 23andMe has the best admixture test and matching, and these aspects of the test are greatly enhanced when a parent is tested and a parent/child phasing takes place. Both of my parents have been tested through AncestryDNA, but that service does not do phasing. Now that the price of 23andMe is half what it was last year (at least for an ancestry only test), we have a better opportunity for phasing (and I hope I can talk my dad into doing this test, too). This will also be the first time my sister has tested anywhere, and she is the only hold out among my first-degree living relatives.

I really enjoyed seeing the DNA segments that my brother and I have in common:

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I am eager to see the matrix of overlapping segments between me and both of my siblings. We will also be able to see which parts of my mom’s DNA we inherited, and I am sure there are a few spans of her genome that were passed to none of us. One of the most curious things I noticed with having so many family members tested is how some segments are not passed while others can pass through many, many generations. There are also oddities such as I have a cousin who has segments in common with my dad that I do not have. Likewise, my great uncle and one of his sons have tested, and half of the matches I have in common with my great uncle are not a DNA match with my first cousin once removed.

Lunch beckons, but I am looking forward to seeing a chart of the genetic connections between me and my siblings. I will see in numbers and graphics what has been so apparent since childhood:

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Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream

I’ve been tempted to buy an ice cream maker for several years, but I refrained from getting one until last week out of fear that such a device could enable an unprecedented body mass. As I did a bit of research on the categories of models available for home use, I noticed that ice cream making has very little to do with instant gratification. The old-fashioned ice-and-rock-salt machines produce a batch of soft ice cream in less than an hour, but I do not have a freezer large enough to harbor enough ice to make this option practical.

Getting a model with a frozen bowl looked to be the better option. These machines have a double-walled bowl filled with a sealed coolant solution that needs to be frozen solid before churning a batch. Since I have a KitchenAid Mixer, I considered getting the ice cream maker attachment, but my daughter noticed that the Cuisinart ICE-45 soft serve machine had a similar capacity with the added fun of extrusion into cones or bowls and automatic mix-in delivery.

I picked the ICE-45 for its fun factor, and it arrived over the weekend:

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Every time I get a new small appliance, I can’t resist testing if some of the recommendations in the owner’s manual should be taken seriously. I was one of those fools who had to see for myself that metal really should not be microwaved. With the ice cream maker, I learned that everything involved needs to be as cold as possible, especially the frozen bowl. The bowl really should be stored in a freezer for at least 24 hours between batches, unless your goal is to make a treat with the consistency of a melting milkshake.

Our first batch was the basic vanilla ice cream in the owner’s manual. My machine has a 1.5 quart capacity, and the ice cream recipes scaled for it tend to have 3 cups of liquid. The basic vanilla recipe had 3/4 cup of sugar, and the results were too sweet.

Today I tried making vanilla soft serve again, and the combination I used had a taste and texture that was quite similar to commercial ice cream stand soft serve vanilla. In the future, I plan on experimenting with lower fat, lower added sugar, and nondairy recipes. Today’s concoction was a bit indulgent, but I was glad the result was reasonably sweet. Learning to make an ice cream with smooth, tiny ice crystals is a challenge akin to baking a cake with tender crumb. It requires trial-and-error, and this trial produced decent crystals for a recipe that is not full fat.

Vanilla Soft Serve

Makes 10 1/2 cup servings

2 cups half and half

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup white sugar

1 t vanilla extract

dash salt

Mix all ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

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Wasabi Pea Dip

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This afternoon I made an edited version of Cooking Light‘s Pea and Wasabi Dip, a recipe which is available both online and in their May 2017 issue. My anemic blender/food processor combo was overdue for the some vegetable crushing action, so I went ahead and tried making this dip. The next time I make it, I will try using a full pound of peas, for I thought this version was just a bit too thin.

Wasabi Pea Dip

2 cups frozen sweet peas, thawed

1/2 to 2/3 cup fresh parsley leaves (I prefer the curly variety)

3 T extra virgin olive oil

Juice of one lime

1 t salt

1 t wasabi paste

Place all ingredients, liquid first, in a blender or food processor. Pulse until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Serve with cut raw vegetables or crackers.