Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Flan - Caramel Custard

1/2 c. granulated sugar
5 eggs
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3-1/2 c. milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare the caramel syrup: Sprinkle 1/2 c. sugar evenly over bottom of a small skillet. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, just until sugar melts to a golden syrup. This is a slow tedious process, but do not be tempted to increase the heat. If the sugar is heated over too high a temperature, it will be too dark and taste burned. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, pour syrup into the bottom of a 5-cup ring mold, coating the bottom. Set aside to cool. The syrup will harden as it sits. Prepare the custard: In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar, salt and vanilla to mix well. Gradually add milk, whisking until smooth, but being careful not to create excessive froth. Pour the mixture into the mold. Create a bain de marie by placing the custard pan inside a larger baking pan that has been filled with hot water. The water should be approx. 1" deep around the outside of the custard pan.
Bake for 55 - 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean. Remove the custard pan from the hot water to cool completely. The custard will settle slightly on cooling. Chill. Loosen the edges with a spatula. Just before serving, place an edged serving plate upside down on the mold and reverse the two; shaking gently to release; the caramel will run down the side. Before serving, garnish with fresh fruit, strawberries, grapes, and pineapple pieces.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Sampler of Spanish Cuisine

The Spanish dinner is but a memory now; and alas, the camera was being persnickety last night. Although I took pictures of the variety of Tapas and the Gazpacho, I now understand that the display (write error) on my digital camera apparently means that the data between the Memory Card and the camera is not being recorded, thus, no pictures. Why it wouldn't record those two courses, but captured the final two, I'm not sure, as I said, it was persnickety.

Anyway, the Tapas, or appetizers, also called the 'little dishes' of Spain included mushroom caps stuffed with ham, garlic potatoes with homemade mayonnaise (a personal favorite), and a cabbage slaw. Gazpacho, a chilled tomato soup typical of Southern Spain was our next course. Compared to a liquid salad, it is a refreshing soup for a hot summer's eve, complete with an assortment of diced fresh veggies and homemade garlic croutons.
Our main entree featured Paella Valenciana, a medley of colors and tastes, this festive rice dish features chicken, mussels, clams, pork and sausage. The majority of the preparation is done on the stove top, and then it is put in the oven to finish cooking the short grained rice. Shown here in a traditional paellera, one purchased in Spain many many years ago. It is one of my most useful souvenirs! I can still see the paella pans hanging in graduated sizes from what could only be a doll's pan to the largest paella pan imaginable. This one, with a 12" base, was the middle size, out of about 15 or more pans!
The meal ended with Flan, a caramel glazed baked egg custard, garnished with fresh strawberries.
Truly a meal fit for a knight and his squire; or, for family and good friends.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

A Taste of Spain

What does a culinary artist/tea room owner do with a free day? Play in the kitchen (!) and prepare a Spanish feast for dinner! With Don Quijote and Sancho Panza in my thoughts, nothing is impossible. The menu, to include a variety of Tapas (Spanish appetizers), Gazpacho, Paella, and Flan is a favorite around here, but requires a fair amount of preparation to make, so we don't have it often. Inspiration has struck, and tonight's the night! The cookbooks are out, the grocery shopping is done, the gazpacho is chilling while the clams and mussels are soaking (to plump and also to remove any sand particles), according to Penelope Casas the author of Tapas and The Foods & Wines of Spain. These two cookbooks provide a wealth of information for a Spanish themed dinner. In addition to great recipes, they are full of additional hints and tips for a successful meal. I always rely on them when making this meal. We'll share photos of the meal tomorrow, hopefully!
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tree Trolls! in the Rommegrot Pot

At the Scandinavian Festival, one of the treasures I purchased was the book Tree Trolls! in the Rommegrot Pot. Set in the North woods of Minnesota the book details the adventures of Grandma Pauline, who tangles with the trolls while out hunting for blueberries and has to be rescued by her husband and grandchildren. They trick the trolls using a pot of rommegrot. Rommegrot is a Scandinavian dessert. The book is illustrated by the author Marjory Johnson Wood (pictured) and features rosemaling by Teresa Ann McCue. You can reach the author who calls herself a Tree Troll ambassador at You can find a recipe for Rommegrot here, a sour cream pudding from the Sons of Norway website recipe box.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just Plain Fun to Read

In March (2007) I traveled to London, England with a group of tea enthusiasts. I hesitate to say fanatics, but there is a certain amount of truth in that word also. It was an unbelievable experience, memorable to this day, and totally coordinated and organized by Denise of Tea In London. She is, by the way, hosting another trip in March of 2009.
In addition to a collection of souvenirs and memories, a strong friendship and camaraderie developed among the participants. Although we didn't know each other before the trip, we knew we shared a common thread - tea and the bond it creates. Today, we are scattered across the United States, still in touch with each other privately via email, communally via a small yahoo group, and daily via our personal blogs; updating each other about family, sharing accomplishments, or just plain chatting.
My roommate for the trip, Linda, from Kentucky, and author of the Friendship Tea blog, has bestowed a blog award to my sister and I. We graciously acknowledge this recognition (our first blog award!), and we share in passing it on to Denise, who has recently developed her own blog, Uniquely Tea, which happens to be!
(Photos~ Top: Nancy and Linda in The Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum; Bottom: Linda & Nancy in The Crooked House of Windsor)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Victorian Lady, Milford, DE

My sister and I had the opportunity to enjoy Afternoon Tea at The Victorian Lady in Delaware this past week. It is always an occasion to celebrate when we are able to relax and enjoy this very special treat. A decidedly Victorian tea room, the tables were set with beautiful tea cups and coordinating plates. The water glasses were covered with embroidered doilies. We were first served a chilled peach soup, garnished with a thin slice of peach and a small dollop of cream, it was quite refreshing. The blueberry scone with cream and lemon curd was next. Tasty and moist, it is a requisite for Afternoon Tea.

The arrival of the three tiered tray is always accompanied by oohs and aahs, and this was no exception. The bottom two tiers held an assortment of sandwiches, and the top tier featured a variety of petite desserts.
The variety of sandwiches was fun. There was chicken salad on a baguette slice with cranberry jelly and melted brie over top. Just the smell alone was enough to get the taste buds dancing! The small ham spiral morsel was quite tasty. And the sun dried tomato sandwich with cream cheese and Italian cheeses with fresh herbs added was a burst of flavor. In addition, there was a tomato and bacon sandwich. No ordinary sandwiches here!

The yummy little desserts included a miniature cheesecake, a lime curd tartlet and a chocolate cup filled with chocolate truffle and raspberry cream. Delightful.

If you get a chance to visit The Victorian Lady, do tell the owners, Kay and Jeff Young, that we sent you! It's a perfect spot to visit while vacationing along the East coast beach area.

In case you were wondering, our Jim Thorpe sister Marj, came down to take the kids on their own adventure for the day. They went to Penn's Cave which can only be toured by boat! It also included an animal park, so they were in their own glory.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Problems with Deer? - a book review

We welcome this Book Review and Guest Post by our sister Carolynn Sears:

Creating a Deer Proof Garden
Peter Derano (2007)

Derano practically lives in my back yard; therefore, I rushed to buy his book. I am always trying to stay one-step ahead of the deer that forage my garden and the promise of current and local information regarding deer resistant plants was alluring.

Derano maintains a positive attitude about gardening with deer. He features 117 plants with color photos and descriptions, including cultural requirements. One full page devoted to each plant is helpful. I enjoy his confidence as his puts forth “the definitive guide to deer proof plants”, his optimism, and chatty style. He shares with the reader his favorites and why some plants are not in his favor. I would like to meet the author and exchange ideas.

No book is perfect. This one desperately needs an index (probably two, one by scientific names and the other by common names). An index would also serve as an alphabetical list of the 117 plants. It has two useful lists: one for matching the right plant to the right site and one describing plants by their landscape features. Adding a list of flowering plants by period of bloom would be an asset. Throughout the book, some of the scientific nomenclature needs editing.

Many of the plants listed are invasive; these plants out-compete our natives and threaten the biodiversity of our surroundings. For example, Derano recommends planting Lythrum (purple loosestrife), Berberis sp. (barberry), Iris pseudacorus (Water flag iris), Elegeanus augustifolia (Russian olive), Euonymous alatus (Fire bush), and Gleditsea traicanthos (Honey locust). I would like to see the invasive plants identified as such with at least a caveat to the reader.

From personal experience, I found Derano’s book to be less than definitive. Some of the plants that he identifies as deer proof (Liatris, clematis, astilbe, baptisia, geranium, and marigolds) are eaten by the deer that traverse my property. These same animals leave plants alone that Derano does not include in his book (Leucojeum, Camassis, Scillia, grape hyacinths, Monkshood, and shrubs such as Daphne, Potentilla, Butterfly bush, Caryopsis, and flowering almond). These animals do have their own way of determining what is or is not appealing to them.

Derano includes many herbs but has not completely explored the potential of oils in these plants to deter deer. I did not find reference to the alliums, Perovskia (Russian sage), lavender, thyme, and oregano. Regarding vegetables—no one mentions them--I have success with rhubarb, asparagus, and garlic and plan to test ramps, cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), and ground cherries.

Shortcomings put aside, I am glad to have purchased the book. Derano has inspired me to try at least five new plants in my garden. I would recommend it to others, especially for the photographs and cultural requirements. It is super to have the information all in one place. I hope that Derano has the opportunity to revise his book; I would buy it again. His book can be ordered on line.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Alice in Wonderland

"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice very earnestly. "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (Chapter 6)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Norwegian Rosemaling

Norwegian Rosemaling is a highly decorative art form which originated in 1750 and fell out of favor in the 19th century, although it is now experiencing a revival. Rosemaling means 'decorative or flower painting'. It consists of 'c' and 's' scrolls, taken from the acanthus vine and stylized flowers. The styles vary depending on the area of Norway where they originated. Rosemaling was used to decorate homes and objects used in the home. It was usually done on wood. Many background techniques were also used. The Rosemaling artist here is Nancy Schmidt, Waukesha, WI.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival

On our recent travels out West, we stopped in Moorhead MN/Fargo ND for an overnight and were lucky enough to be there during the Scandinavian festival. This festival honors the traditions and foods of the Scandinavian Countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Saami Land.

Legos were invented in 1932 in Denmark by a man named Ole Kirk Christiansen who was a carpenter. The word lego is made up of two words in Danish "leg godt" which in English means "play well". Twenty billion lego blocks are made every year, and we have a few of them in our household!

The Danes also invented the sandwich which they always served open faced and still do today.

The Taste of Scandinavia menu included the Danish Medisterpoise Meal (Sausage with potatoes, red cabbage, cucumber salad and rye bread), Norwegian Lutefisk, Swedish Pepparkakor (ginger cookies), Iceland's Vinarterta (fruit layered cakes) and Finnish Karalian Piirakka (Rice Pies).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tea Stained Shirt - Naturally

Part of the wagon train experience was to dress in period clothing. We had a lot of fun gathering together shawls, skirts, dresses, bonnets and aprons. The guys really just needed a vest or suspenders and a hat. David had a number of white shirts and to make them more authentic looking we used tea and also chamomile to give them a soft yellow or muslin look. We simmered up a strong pot of tea -- using tea leaves we had already enjoyed once as a beverage. Then strained and added the wet shirt to the pot of tea. It is important to wet the shirt or fabric first so that the dye is absorbed evenly. Let the clothing soak in this tea bath until it has achieved the desired shade. Wring the cloth, and allow to hang dry.
The soft muted shades that these tea stained clothing developed was simply perfect for our purposes. Many professional dress makers will use this process to match material to a faded gown that they are altering.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tea Source, MN

Susanna says, "Leave it to my sister to find a tea shop only 7 miles from the airport." To which Nancy replies, "And find it, we did! " This stop was meant to be, as a week before we left on vacation, I received a flyer in the mail from TeaSource complete with coupons! With Brother-in-Law David at the helm of the rental van, and Susanna navigating, we found our way to TeaSource in St. Paul. Owner Bill Waddington was our featured guest this past Spring at our Mid-Atlantic Tea Business Association Annual Seminar. While here, he spoke about his businesses (one in St. Paul and another in St. Anthony, MN), and conveniently mentioned their proximity to the Minneapolis Airport. With Mapquest directions in hand, we headed towards St. Paul, and delighted in a quick stop at TeaSource. We were able to sample a few teas they had prepared, and then ordered some 'to go'. Susanna had the hot Chai, decidedly spicy and definitely sweetened, it warmed the soul. David sampled iced Monk's Blend, described as aromatic, slightly sweet, and very pleasing. I enjoyed an iced Keemun, a nice traditional black tea. Since we were on the first leg of our journey, purchases were limited to the 'to-go' beverages, and a 4 oz. package of Precious Eyebrows green tea (also called China Moon Palace or Chun Mee) thus named because of the long slender leaf that resembles eyebrows. This green tea is delightful, with a very mellow taste coupled with a sweet aftertaste. Quite enjoyable, it provides a perfect introduction into the world of green teas. While on the wagon train, if we got to the cook before they added the cocoa powder to the hot water, we were able to sneak a cup or two of hot water and enjoy a delicious cup of Precious Eyebrows on the Prairie. Mornings on the Prairie were a bit hustled, so it didn't always happen; but when it did, it was oh so sweet.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


What fun we had! The wagons would pull out of the campsite on the command Wagons Roll!

One morning, we had to ford a small river; wagons, horses, and walkers. It was pretty thrilling to see the horses and wagons cross the river and yet, I can't even begin to imagine crossing the Mississippi with a Wagon Train, or even the Rockies for that matter.

At lunch, and again at the end of a long day,
the wagons would circle the campsite. It seemed a normal routine, but impressive to observe as the teamsters commanded their steed to circle round.

The Tenth Anniversary was duly noted on the Fourth of July. Through a secret connection to the outside world, we were able to procure an anniversary cake, complete with draft horse design, to make note of this celebratory occasion. A night of Fireworks culminated the festivities.

And on our final day, we celebrated the 125th Anniversary of Jamestown, ND as we became part of their parade. The spectators were happy to see us, asking us where we were from, and if we enjoyed the experience. While carrying a very small PA flag, I was surprised there were a few that recognized the design, commenting 'they're from PA'. It was with great pride and a sense of accomplishment that we walked that parade route. We did it. And survived.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wagon Train Responsibilities

The Wagon Train was a community. Just as the Draft Horses had to pull their own weight, the participants also had to pull together to make the week work smoothly.
The two horses we rented became our personal responsibility for the week. That involved walking them to water morning, noon, and night; providing hay for both and additional grain for Joey in the evening, and brushing them after the ride. Tacking was our job also, usually followed by a quick inspection from one of the regular riders. There was an unspoken concern about the city-slickers (us) in horse country.

Daily assignments for the next day for all Wagon Train participants would be posted on the Chuck Wagon. You would scour the list to find your name and chore. You might be Morning Cook (this required an even earlier wake up), Noon (easy, help peel and cut carrots, slice tomatoes and spread out luncheon meat and cheese), Fire Builders (hot job), Morning or Evening Server, Evening Cook, Dishwashers (slightly disorganized), All-Day Picket Fence (a hard job pounding the stakes into the ground to hold the line for the horses), morning or evening Baggage (help load or unload the luggage into a huge trailer), Fleecers (cleanup patrol, typically assigned to the kids), or Biffy Diggers.

"Biffy" is North Dakota slang for bath-room. I thought it was a word the Wagon Train people invented, but apparently it is commonly used. Any one familiar with this expression? This job was a tough day long job, which required digging a large hole, and then rolling the portable john over it. We would have a biffy stop along the trail, where only a shallow hole yet wide enough for a 4-seater needed to be dug. Once we arrived at the campsite, a deeper hole needed to be dug since it was a longer stay. Every time we pulled out, the hole needed to be covered. Best advice here was 'just don't look'.

Typically, everyone was assigned one job for the day. If you were morning server, your responsibility was completed early in the day and you could relax for the rest of the day. If you desired, you could volunteer to help with any of the jobs. The day I was Morning Cook, we had to crack 20 dozen eggs and whisk them for scrambled eggs. We also sliced bread and separated bacon. Oatmeal and stewed prunes were also served every morning. Everyone was off to a good start with a hearty breakfast.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Play Day!

On Wednesday we reached Round Top, the highest point in North Dakota. We camped at the base of this 'hill' and were able to easily walk to the top, which was loaded with gopher holes; it was a veritable housing facility for these little critters. Since we ended the day early, the afternoon was spent relaxing and playing games. It provided an excellent opportunity for all the kids on the Wagon Train to get to know each other, and to expend some energy. There was leap frog for the youngest,
and potato sack races for the next age groups.
There was even a three legged race that included a parent and child. Everyone was happy to hop along the Prairie, accepting the challenge. Tug of War was the exciting end to the days activities, pitting men against women, with the men winning both attempts, alas.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


This adventure included several modes of transportation. Saddle Horses, Wagons, or walking.
We rented two saddle horses, Joey and Itsey, from a North Dakota resident. This allowed us the option to ride the horses, walk, or ride in the wagon. Depending upon how saddle sore we were determined whether we would ride that day or the next. The two third-graders in our group were willing to ride at any opportunity.

This little cutie pie, 2 year old Josie, (the horse owner's daughter) would immediately say 'ride horsie' when she was in proximity to the horse.
Riding in the wagon became a favorite option, however, 'wagon butt' was the dilemma here. The hard piece of board was narrow and inflexible. The Pioneer men and women all walked as the wagons held their possessions, but we frequently opted to ride in the wagon. It was cozy and close quarters, but once we determined the pattern for our legs, it worked out quite handily; provided you didn't need to find something under the seats, such as bug spray, water, or suntan lotion. There were a total of 14 wagons, and we had the smallest wagon, but fortunately we all enjoyed each others company. There was a lot of chatter and laughter from Wagon 12. The team of Draft horses pulling our wagon were Lady and Prince. Their fellow companions, King and Rocky, were pulling the wagon behind us. They would whinny and neigh to each other during the entire ride, keeping track of one another. The view was always the same, until we learned we could roll up the canvas sides. Once we rolled up the sides, we enjoyed cool breezes and a beautiful view of the Plains.
There were intrepid travelers that decided to walk, even a few that walked the entire distance. It was an option that not everyone utilized, particularly after we discovered that a North Dakota mile is really about 5 miles. The men in our group walked a lot, and they have the blisters to prove it.
Whichever option you selected, it was tiring. Traveling at 3 miles an hour, we averaged about 15 - 18 miles a day for a total of 80 miles in the week. Once the wagons circled at the campsite, everyone was ready for a rest at the end of a long dusty day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Home Away From Home

These lightweight yellow tents became our home while on the Prairie. Easy to put up and quick to take down (well, after the 3rd night at least) they provided protection from the elements, including horses that roamed free during the night. My sisters thought I was crazy when I mentioned that I saw a shadow of a horse's head on our tent the first night, but after they heard that a horse was roaming free during the night, they believed me.

Special thanks to Brother-in-law David for coordinating our camping equipment. He organized four separate bags full of camping equipment for our little yellow houses on the prairie. Each bag held the essentials for the two-person tents. After the wagons would form their circle each night we would find an appropriate spot to pitch our tents. Each campsite had its own unique attributes. Tall flowing grasses at one, an abundance of cow patties at another, prairie gopher holes at yet another, short prickly grasses, or excessive mosquitoes, each campsite was unique. But we were happy to set up our tents, prepare for dinner, and enjoy the evening campfire as the nights cooled down.

Here, on a makeshift lazy boy, the anniversary couple are enjoying a moment to themselves! Although we understand that our camping experience was modern, we do have an appreciation for what the Pioneers must have endured. Life on the prairie was memorable.