Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bananas at Their Finest


The sad truth about bananas is that they pass the point where you can just peel and eat them within three days. (Unless you are one of those people who doesn't mind a few brown spots.) I happen to be one of those people who deliberately buys several bananas with the hope that a few of them will brown a little too quickly for my taste. Because that's when I get to bake.

Banana Bread

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 egg
3 bananas (ripe)
1-1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda

Cream together butter, sugar, egg, and bananas. In separate bowl, mix together flour, salt, and baking soda. Add to wet mixture and mix well. Pour into greased bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until middle springs back when touched.

Since bananas are sweet and smooth and have such a dominant flavor, banana bread is one of those things that needs extra texture and a little bit of "something else." That "something else" can be anything. Bananas love company. I like to throw in raisins, chopped apricots, or chocolate chips. When my sister makes banana bread, she likes to sprinkle the top of the loaf with cinnamon and sugar before baking (and she hates it with apricots). I like to coat the inside of the pan with cinnamon and sugar and then sprinkle the top with chopped nuts and about a 1/4 cup of brown sugar. You can't really go wrong with adding whatever you like to banana bread.

More on bananas in later posts...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Multipurpose Charm of Biscuits


biscuit- n. [bis-kit]
1. any of various hard or crisp dry baked products
2. a small quick bread made from dough that has been rolled out and cut or dropped from a spoon

Pretty much everywhere else in the world, a biscuit is a crispier cookie or cracker. But the word "biscuit" has come a long way from the original Medieval Latin term bis coctus, which literally means "cooked twice." Ironically, the American "biscuit," is cooked only once and is really more of a scone by English standards. What it really comes down to is how you eat your biscuits. Whether you spread them with Devon cream and raspberry preserves or smother them with white gravy, the basic biscuit is really the same thing. This recipe is for the "drop biscuit" method which doesn't involve rolling and cutting.

Drop Biscuits
makes 10-12

2 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 to 2/3 c. butter-flavored shortening (you can use butter here, but the texture will be a bit different)
2/3 c. milk

Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add shortening and mix until the texture is even throughout. I use about 2/3 cup of shortening because it makes the biscuits just a little bit more buttery and soft. For a more crumbly biscuit, use 1/2 cup. Add milk and mix. At this point, I usually knead these by hand because the dough is really thick. When the texture is consistent throughout, drop spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes. They will be very lightly brown all over the tops. Don't overbake these! Cool on waxed paper or a cooling rack.

Now, you just have to decide whether to throw a fancy tea party for some dainty ladies or a giant breakfast for some lumberjacks.

Pssssssst! More on scones later!
For more on lumberjacks, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zey8567bcg

Saturday, April 21, 2007

To the Honorable Mayor of Benville


Dear Mr. Damon,

Well, hello there. I can see that the mayor is working his way through the cast of Ocean's Eleven in his search for body doubles. I do hope he's paying you what you're worth. If not, I am looking for someone to work freelance churning my personal butter at the Bethville Dairy. If you're interested in churning butter...otherwise I might be able to find another position for you and your muscles.

Anyway, I am completely aware of the mayor's temper and ability to give the silent treatment. There have been several instances where his temper got the best of him and he was very nearly impeached for his actions. For instance:

1. The time I planned the 2005 Bethville Henrik Ibsen in the Park Festival for the same weekend as the Benville Monster Truck Rally and Cookie Toss. He was quite put out when the more sophisticated Benville residents flocked to Bethville to see me perform the role of Nora in "A Doll's House." He snuck backstage wearing a dark, curly wig and tried to force his way onstage to assume my role, before the Bethville bouncers escorted him from the park.

2. And then there was the time he poured laxative powder in all the punch bowls at the Blueberry Cotillion and Spider Monkey Preservation Telethon because the blueberry custard gave him diarrhea.

3. And let's not forget the time he kidnapped the grand prize winning partridge at the Bethville Fowl Appreciation Festival because no one attended his Annual Pancake Supper and Worming. Really quite petty to my notion.

That said, Matt, think about my offer. You can churn my butter whenever you're ready. Give my best to the mayor.

Toodleoo,

The Sophisticated and Quite Attractive President of the Newly-Founded Matt Damon's Muscles Appreciation Society and Mayor of Bethville

To the Exalted Mayor of Bethville


Hey there Ms. Mayor,

Body-double #2 here, just going through the Mayor's mail. He's kinda mad at you right now. He keeps going off on how you should run yer own city and leave his alone. He said something about "he'll fill the water tower with strawberry daiquiris if he frickin wants to" or something like that. Anywho, don't kill the messenger. I'm just letting you know he's not too busy or anything, he's just giving you the silent treatment. I'd give him a couple days, just let him pout for now. He'll send you a formal reply when he blows some steam. He kinda has a hot temper.

I took some pine tree air fresheners from the mayoral limosine and stapled em to the back here. Should do you for now until I can coax him into calming down and thinking over the whole daiguiri tower thing.

Anywho, uh, thanks for the letter, and uh, he'll be writing soon.

Matt Damon
The Official Mayor of Benville's Body-Double #2

To the Honorable Mayor of Benville


Dear Mayor of Benville,

Please keep the finger and consider it a gift from the former mayor of Bethville. I'm sure he would want you to have it. He was a staunch supporter of prostate upkeep.

That said, Mr. Mayor, please do not be alarmed by the red stains you will find all over this note. I am writing to you from the site of the 2007 Bethville Ketchup and Barbecue Sauce Festival, Cherry Picking, and Blood Drive. As you know, every year tens of patients die in Bethville from not receiving necessary blood transfusions after assassination attempts, mishaps with kitchen appliances, and unfortunate meetings with bears in Bethville Forest. I've personally donated 8 pints today. I'm barely able to hold my mayoral quill to pen this note, but the knowledge that I'm doing something so very selfless has kept me going. If one bear attack victim can live to see the next Bethville Watermelon Picnic and Rabies Prevention 6-Mile Run-Walk, then I will know my efforts as Bethville mayor have not been in vain.

And now to some important mayoral business. It has recently come to my attention, via anonymous note, that the Benville water tower is actually filled with frozen strawberry daiquiris. Need I remind you, Mr. Mayor, of statute #59873 in the mayoral code, that water towers be filled with water and only water. Not iced tea. Not milk. And, no, not even tropical punch. Like any mayor, I understand the need to tie one on after a long day meeting with the town council and driving myself around Bethville Lake in my luxury mayoral golf cart. But your citizens need to shower, Mr. Mayor! Telling them to just run through the sprinklers on the town hall lawn, which feed directly from the Benville aquifer, is really inexcusable. The odor of the Benville residents is wafting, Mr. Mayor! Please take care of this as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

The Very Anemic but Powder Fresh Honorable Mayor of Bethville

Sour Cream...Not Just for Baked Potatoes Anymore


Sour cream cookies are neither sour nor creamy, so a mention of them draws mixed reactions from different people. People who don't like sour cream tend to look rather disgusted. BUT DON'T BE MISLEAD! Sour cream cookies are perfectly delicious. With the consistency of a sugar cookie and a distinctive tangy flavor, it seems almost a travesty to frost them.

Sour Cream Cookies
passed down from Elfleda Smith
makes 4 dozen unless I bake them

2 c. sugar
1 c. shortening
2 eggs
1 c. full fat sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
3 cups flour

Cream together shortening and sugar (as always, the shortening can be substituted with softened unsalted butter) in large mixing bowl. Add two eggs and beat well. In smaller bowl, stir baking soda into sour cream. Add to the egg mixture and beat again. Add extracts and flour and mix well. Since these are cookies that will be rolled and cut, there needs to be enough flour in the dough to give it a rather stiff consistency. Just trust your instinct if you feel like you need to add more flour. If you can handle the dough and shape it, then it is just right. Cut dough into halves, wrap each in waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least three hours.

The dough should be quite stiff when you roll it. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay one of your dough balls between two sheets of waxed paper. I always sprinkle the waxed paper with a little bit of flour and keep a small measuring cup with more flour close by to keep the dough from sticking to the paper. Then, roll the dough flat with a rolling pin. I like these to be quite thick, so I roll them out to about 1/2 inch. But anywhere between that and 1/4 inch works fine. It's always good to get a bit of flour on your cookie cutters before cutting dough with them. Cut shapes and place them on a greased cookie sheet. I use a round cookie cutter for these because at this thickness, they tend to lose their shape. If you find the dough getting too soft, just refrigerate for about twenty minutes. Continue cutting until you use up both dough balls. Bake at 350 degrees until edges are lightly brown. You don't want to let these get too brown, or they get too crunchy. Nobody likes that...

For a slightly tangier flavor, you can add a bit of lemon zest to the dough or cut the vanilla out altogether and add two teaspoons of lemon extract. If you must frost them, just don't tell my dad you did it. He likes them, and pretty much everything else, frosting free.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

To the Honorable Mayor of Benville


Most Life-Endangered Mayor of Benville,

I'm very pleased that you enjoyed the cupcakes. I enclose another dozen with my compliments and an absence of gardening tools. And I'm terribly sorry to hear about the loss of your body doubles. I will keep my eyes out for any potential doubles and will personall frisk them for weapons before sending them your way. In the meantime, I am also enclosing several of my best personal bodyguards to protect you. You'll just need to inflate them and draw some menacing eyebrows on them with the enclosed black magic marker.

Well, assassination attempts aside, I hope you will be attending the first annual Bethville Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment and Ninja Throwing Star Trade Show next Friday! I have personally hired several of the best marksmen in Bethville for the reenactment to make it extra exciting. And the group of ninjas I found to take part in the event seemed very, very excited to meet you. And let's not forget the displays of garrote wire and feather pillows through the ages. Fascinating! I sincerely hope you will be in attendance.

That said, I am off to rehearsals for my latest stage debut. I'm starring as Julia Child in the Bethville Playhouse stage production of "Battle of the Undead Chefs!"

Sincerely,

The Most Stage Presence Having, Charmingest Mayor of Bethville



My Dearest Mayor of Bethville,

I would be delighted to attend your first annual Bethville Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment and Ninja Throwing Star Trade Show next Friday. It doesn't sound the least bit dangerous, so I think I will be just fine attending myself without body-double protection.

Thanks again for enclosing another batch of Bethville Crematorium gift shop cupcakes. The first seven were quite delightful as expected, complete with hickory sprinkles and an absence of gardening tools as you promised. However, when I reached the eighth, I discovered a partially burned finger instead of hickory sprinkles. This, as you can imagine, was most disturbing. I had to pick off several millimeters of the pastry's surface to eliminate the "ick factor" before downing it in one swallow. Now, I enjoy a good challenge as much as the next authoritarian mayor, but this simply required far too much effort for pastry consumption. I must request that the next batch, if you would be so kind, would be sent without the decorative seared appendages.

Oh, and may I keep the finger? It fits perfectly in my Do It Yourself Prostate Exam kit. I lost the last one in a most embarrassing kit malfunction, and I need to wait another four or five hours before I can get it back.

Thank you ever so.

Sincerely,

The Awkward-Walking, Pastry Connoisseur, The Mayor of Benville

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lalalalala-Lemon Bars


I've always thought that if you sprinkle powdered sugar on something, it makes it all the better. Even better than that? Sprinkling that powdered sugar on something with a sweet crust and lemon filling.

Lemon Bars

2 c. flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter
4 eggs
2 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Sift 2 c. flour and powdered sugar. Mix in butter. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake 20-25 minutes until light brown. Beat together eggs, granulated sugar, and lemon juice. Mix in remaining flour and baking powder. Pour over crust and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar and cool. Makes 30 bars.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cupcake Snobbery


What is it about cupcakes that makes me want to do a happy dance? Probably that they are cakes that you can eat all by yourself. And at most bakeries, they offer a variety of flavors and frostings, so you can get whatever kind you want without having to be agreeable and settle for boring white cake with lame vanilla frosting.

Personally, though, if a cupcake isn't the best I've ever had, I'm not going to eat it. Nothing is worse than biting into a cupcake and suspecting that it was baked and frosted yesterday. When the edges are all dry and crumbly. And even worse, when it's decorated beautifully but has no flavor. A pretty but gross cupcake is a travesty like no other. Therefore, I'm currently on a mission to find cupcake recipes that produce flavorful, moist, and perfect cupcakes. Plus, I have just a little bit of a passion for unique and interesting new flavors... So, as I find and try out these new recipes, I will be sure to post the winners.

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes
makes 2 dozen

2 (1 oz.) squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 eggs
1-3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. grated zucchini
chocolate frosting

Melt chocolate. (I always melt things like this in a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup, in the microwave for about 3 minutes. Stir every minute or so and cook again until melted.) Beat together eggs and sugar until light and frothy. Mix in oil and chocolate.

In a smaller bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add to egg mixture. Stir in zucchini. (I also threw in about 1/2 a bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips here for extra chocolatey meltedness.) Spoon batter into 24 paper-lined or greased muffin cups, filling to about 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes or until tops spring back when touched or inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pans and let completely cool. Then, slather with chocolate frosting and sprinkles or chopped nuts.

These are moist and delicious and excellent for using up that zucchini that is ready to go bad in your crisper.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What I'm Reading: The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster


David Zimmer has just written the definitive book on silent film star Hector Mann. Mann has been missing and assumed dead for over 60 years, but then Zimmer gets a letter from a woman claiming to be Hector's wife. Hector is still alive but near death and wants to share the remaining films in his collection with the man who wrote this incredible book about him. The ones that he made after his disappearance. The ones that no one has ever seen. Hector's will stipulates that all of these films be destroyed within 24 hours of his death. So time is of the element.

Completely excellent!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why Don't You Love Bread Like Bread Loves You?


Why are the diet "experts" so hard on bread? What did bread ever do to them? All bread has ever wanted to do is sit warm and crusty in its little basket waiting to be dipped in olive oil. It wants you to toast it and slather it with butter. Bread wants to be peanut buttered and jellied. Bread just wants to be loved. Well, good news, bread. I love you.

I know that with all the low-carb hype in the news today, it's really hard to just give in and love bread. I know; I spent two years on the Atkins Diet. Having a sandwich became this nefarious act of endulgence. I was only allowed "low-carb" bread that was full of wheat gluten, flaxseed meal, and soy flour. I told myself I was happier not eating bread, that I really did like to eat hamburgers with a knife and fork. Bread just got in the way! Now, I could take this time to go off on how much I hate diets, but I won't. This isn't about diet hate; it's about loving bread. So, all I'm going to say is that you can have a healthy relationship with bread. And the best way to do that is to learn how to bake it. Because, that way, you can control exactly what goes into it. And homemade bread is the best bread there is. Here is a simple and delicious recipe to get you started.

Whole Wheat Bread

3 to 3-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 package yeast
1-3/4 c. water
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
3 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1-1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. whole wheat flour

Okay, now the actual mixing of these ingredients is where it can get a bit tricky. Making bread takes some practice. Mostly because yeast is a living thing and if you kill it, your bread will not rise. So, some important things to remember about yeast:

1. Keep it refrigerated.
2. Replace it when it expires.
3. Don't overheat the liquid mixture.
4. Yeast eats sugar, so you have to use a real sugar, not a sugar substitute.

Before you mix any ingredients, turn on your oven to about 200 degrees. Bread dough needs a nice, warm environment in which to grow, so your kitchen needs to be warm. Mix your flours, salt, and yeast together in a large bowl. Heat your water, oil, and sugar to between 120 and 130 degrees. You can use a baking thermometer OR just dip your (very clean) finger into it. If it burns you, it's too hot. But if you think, "Hmmm, I could take a bath in this," it's just right--I never use a thermometer. Now, I use a bread machine to do all my kneading. If you have one then all you have to do is follow the directions. If not, that's totally fine. Kneading by hand is good for your arm muscles and is quite therapeutic. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture. Mix it up as well as you can with a wooden spoon. Then, turn the mixture onto a lightly floured surface, and with very, very, very clean hands, dig in. Kneading of dough is just folding it into itself again and again until the ingredients are completely mixed. This should take about 8 minutes. When the dough is thoroughly kneaded, put it into a larged, greased bowl, cover it, and put it in a warm place to rise. (My mom would always set the bowl on top of the dryer while it was running or in the microwave while it was off. You can also put it on top of the stove, but set it toward the front, away from the oven vent.) Let the dough rise until it doubles in size (usually about an hour). Then, (FUN!) punch the dough down. See? Totally therapeutic. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide it in half. Shape each half into loaves. Put each half in two lightly greased 8x4x2-inch loaf pans. You can use foil pans if you don't own bread pans. Cover and put them back in the warm place and let them rise again. When the dough has nearly doubled in size, bake for 40-45 minutes at 375 degrees. Immediately remove the bread from the pans and let cool on a wire rack or waxed paper surface.

Don't cut these until they are completely cooled, or the bread will collapse! When the loaves cool, eat with much haste. See below for the alternative outcome...

To be used in case of yeast failure:

Okay, so you tried it, and the dough rose a little bit and then sort of flopped to one side, whimpered, and died. Yep, bread is a big, whiny baby. When this happens, I divide the dough into twelve or so "rolls" and put it on a greased cookie sheet. Give it another 45 minutes to rise and then bake at 375 degrees until the tops are nice and brown. Let these cool and then taste one. Does it taste somewhat like bread? Excellent! Use that bread pudding recipe I gave you in an earlier post. Never waste your bread dough!

Good luck, and remember that bread takes a bit of practice. Sometimes you surprise even yourself with how perfectly it comes out, sometimes it flops. Just keep trying. Experiment with some different recipes until you find one that works for you. Look for a recipe that uses molasses or honey for a different flavor. Bread just requires a bit of patience and some care. Once you master one loaf, your bread baking instincts will take over and all breads will become a cinch. Once that happens, you can invest in a bread machine and let it do all the work. ;-)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chocolate Chipulation


All right...apparently people are quite offended by my allegation that my oatmeal cookies are more delicious than chocolate chip cookies. Let me just say that they totally are if you are me and prefer the moistulous oatmealization that they bring to my tummy. That said, I do take my chocolate chip cookies quite seriously. I've spent many years trying different recipes in an attempt to find a recipe that produces soft and moist cookies every time, ones that freeze well and keep for many days. Then, my college roommate gave me her recipe. I adjusted it just a bit for the lower altitude. If you are baking these in a higher altitude, reduce the flour to 3-1/8 c. and add just a bit more brown sugar.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
from: Lisa Ternes

1-1/2 c. Crisco
1/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
3-1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 bag chocolate chips

Cream together your shortening, sugars, and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips and mix. Drop in teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until very slightly brown.

I find that it's quite important to use an entire bag of chocolate chips, and not just a cup or two. And I also like a good quality chocolate chip, like Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips or Hersheys. You can also use M&Ms or crumble bits of your favorite solid chocolate bar if that's what floats your boat.

Friday, April 13, 2007

To the Honorable Mayor of Benville


Dear Mr. Mayor,

Happy holidays! Thank you very much for the large basket of fruit that you sent to my office last week. I ate all of it the moment it arrived, including the basket, and was violently ill all that evening. But your thoughtfulness was much appreciated. I thought of you fondly as I vomited bits of wicker.

I hope you enjoyed my gift as well. I spent hours and hours peeling all of those potatoes, boiling, and mashing them. Then, I just sculpted them in your image and dipped the whole thing in brown gravy to give it a nice sheen. I thought it safest to transport it to you on the backs of the Bethville burros, rather than my usual technique of asking you to come by and pick it up. It is quite heavy.

Anyway, to business, Mr. Mayor. It has recently come to my attention that you will be out of your office on business during the week of January 8th through the 12th. How very interesting. Could it be that you are planning to attend the 4th Annual Knicknack Extravaganza and Potato Chip Nibbling in Bayleyville? It is rather odd that you were asked once again to give the keynote address, especially considering the very nice note and large box of truffles that I sent to the Mayor of Bayleyville just last week. I suppose she is saving my keynote-giving talents for one of the more special occasions, such as the 15th Annual Scratch and Sniff Sticker Trade Show and Muffin Festival.

This reminds me, while you are away from your office, would you object if I stored some boxes there? It is just some mayoral paperwork that is of slight interest to the CIA and/or IRS. I will have it moved out of your office promptly on Saturday morning before your return. Unfortunately, the Bethville paperwork storage shed has been recently infested with important-paperwork-eating moths.

Anyway, Mr. Mayor. My best to you during the holiday season.

Sincerely,

The Esteemed, Stamp-Collecting, Very Talented Mayor of Bethville



Hello my dear Mayoress!

Thank you soo much for writing the office of the Mayor of Benville. I’m sorry, but he’s not in at the moment. He stepped out quick for a diet non-fat no cream lightly fluffed slightly sweetened non-dairy ginger bread latte with a lemon twist, and some ammo. He should be back in a few hours if you want to try again later.

On a personal note, thank you VERY MUCH for the mashed potato statue of our beloved Mayor of Benville!! It compliments the ladies restroom tile very well!

Again thank you soo much for writing, and sorry for the inconvenience you’ve experienced.

Ta!

Patty-Mae Mimsidelorienperriwinkle

Administrative Assistant to the Glorious Mayor of Benville



Dear Patty-Mae Mimsidelorienperriwinkle,

How lovely to hear from you. Unfortunately the mayor of Bethville is also currently out of the office and cannot respond personally to your letter. I am writing on her behalf, her very loyal and dashingly-handsome personal assistant, Marvin Muddlefingers. I am enclosing a dashingly-handsome photograph of myself for you to hang over your desk and swoon over.

As you will notice from my dashingly handsome photograph, I have a very distinguished chin dimple, firm pectoral muscles and buttocks, and a very handsome head of flowing blond hair. If I were a woman, perhaps a lowly administrative assistant, I would find myself quite attractive and want to reproduce with myself with much haste.

But enough about me. Down to mayoral business.

The Mayor of Bethville said to tell you to tell the Mayor of Benville that she greatly appreciates the potted plant that he sent two weeks ago as a consolation prize for the Honorable, Quite Lovely, and Very Humble Mayor of Bethville’s losing the title of 2006 Mayor of the Year. She also said for me to tell you to tell the Mayor of Benville that she hopes he will use his prize money for something useful, such as a set of encyclopedias because he is such a nitwit. Then, she said for me to tell you to tell the mayor of Benville, “No, no. Don’t write that, you moron!” After throwing a large desk manual at my head, she stormed from the office, leaving me to finish up this letter that you are now reading.

I can only imagine that my becoming pectoral muscles and firm buttocks drove her away temporarily to relieve the sexual tension that is quickly becoming a problem in our place of business.

Regards,

Marvin Muddlefingers

Personal Assistant to the Absent, Frightfully Short-Fused, Still Very Lovely, and Rather Overheated Mayor of Bethville

enclosures



Mr. Muddlefingers,

My name is Beatrice Doomsday, and I am the HR representative here at the office of the Mayor of Benville. I am writing to inform you that a Miss Mimsidelorienperriwinkle has filed a grievance against you for the previous said email, informing her that she is a “lowly administrative assistant”, and soliciting her to “…reproduce with [you] with much haste”. This sort of conduct is unacceptable from a mayorial assistant. If this behavior does not cease immediately, I will be forced to deploy certain CIA and/or IRS field agents to your place of business to seize and detain you until the grievance informational hearing can be held. I hear they are already looking for that location, so they are most anxious to hear from me.

Please respond with your intent to comply.

Regards,

Beatrice Doomsday
HR representative for the office of the Mayor of Benville
@#$% with me and you’ll find the tables turned



Dearest Ms. Doomsday,

Thank you for your letter. Regretfully, it has come at a very bad time as Marvin Muddlefingers, dashingly-handsome personal assistant to the mayor of Bethville, is dead. He was the victim of an unfortunate accident involving a ceiling fan.

The mayor, as would be expected, keeps a trampoline in her very plush mayoral office, and uses it for exercise and stress relief. Right after Miss Mimsidelorienperriwinkle last heard from Mr. Muddlefingers, he dashed into the mayor’s office in her absence and bounced on her trampoline, knowing full well that he is prohibited from doing so. Unfortunately, the ceiling fan over the trampoline was on its highest setting, as the mayor seemed to be suffering from hot flashes that afternoon. Mr. Muddlefingers jumped a little bit too high and with too much exuberance and his very handsome head was severed from his very becoming, firm, and attractive body. The mayor returned to find her office in disarray. It was quite a mess indeed.

I am the mayor’s new assistant. Actually, right before accepting my current position, I was a paramedic. But seeing that there was nothing we could do for poor Marvin Muddlefingers, I decided to replace him instead. I am not quite as attractive as Mr. Muddlefingers and have been trained thoroughly in proper office conduct. Therefore, I would never tell you or Miss Mimsidelorienperriwinkle that you are very foxy women with large hooters. I know that that would offend you.

Thank you again for your letter. I will pass your deepest sympathy along to the Grieving, and Yet Perfectly Flawless Mayor of Bethville.

Toodles,

Larry Hottentottenrotterdam
Former Paramedic and Current Personal Assistant to the Very Sexy and Perfectly Coiffed Mayor of Bethville



Mr. Hottentottenrotterdam,

As an HR representative for the office of the Mayor of Benville, I am very knowledgeable in the area of escaped convicts. Therefore you must realize that I am aware of your true identity.

I personally helped the CIA and/or IRS track one “Lunatic Larry” across the eastern seaboard, and cornered him in an ambulance barn before he evaded our pursuit. Not only do you still carry the same first name, but you have remained in the same occupation for the last six months, traveling across the country in an ambulance, drifting from local government office to local government office impersonating a paramedic, getting to the scene of the crime where an innocent mayorial assistant has just been killed…or should I say MURDERED! How convenient Mr. Hottentottenrotterdam, that you arrive just in the knick of time to assume their previous position after they have conveniently become deceased.

Marvin Muddlefingers didn’t just “jump into a ceiling fan and get decapitated” did he…..LUNATIC LARRY! Tell me Larry, do you still have the same hair-do, or have you changed your appearance to avoid detection by your wanted poster!

Don’t try to run Larry, I have already dispatched the CIA and/or IRS agents to your location. They should be arriving momentarily.

Oh, and please let the Mayor of Bethville know that the grievance against one Marvin Muddlefingers has been withdrawn due to unexpected decapitation. Thanks.

Suspiciously yours,

Beatrice Doomsday
HR representative for the office of the Mayor of Benville
currently in route to the ladies to tighten her bun

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Power of Bread Pudding! Say AMEN!


Bread pudding. You can have it for breakfast. You can have it for dessert. And it's good all day long because it's awesome hot or cold. Not to mention that it requires the simplest ingredients.

Blueberry Bread Pudding

4 c. bread cubed
2-1/2 c. milk
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 pt. blueberries

Whisk eggs in large bowl. Stir in milk, sugar, and almond extract. Add bread and let it soak for about 15 minutes. Then, stir in the blueberries. Pour mixture into a greased 8x8 baking dish. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. Bake with the foil on 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Okay, cubed bread? Please. Tear it into pieces. Nobody will care once they've tasted it. But wheat, white, or honey oat bread; it doesn't matter. The fun part is experimenting with the fruit. As with most fruit, you can use just about anything you have laying around, canned or fresh. Just adapt the extract accordingly. I like almond with all kinds of berries and vanilla with pears and apples. A good rule of thumb to remember is if you would sprinkle cinnamon on it, then use vanilla instead. Also, be sure to peel and stew apples or pears before adding them. All you have to do after it bakes is whip some cream to top it all off. (And don't even get me started on all the add-ins for whipped cream, or we'll be here all day.) And if you want to really get crazy, toss in a cup of mango and use 1/8 tsp. of rum extract in addition to the vanilla. This is really excellent drizzled in warm caramel sauce and served as a dessert. Or you can do the same thing with pineapple and use rum or coconut extract. See? There is no limit to what you can do with bread pudding. And it's just some bread, eggs, milk, and sugar!

To the Honorable Mayor of Benville


Note: For almost a year, my brother Ben and I have been corresponding as the mayors of Bethville and Benville. No, it makes no sense, but just go with it. We're lame, but we think it's hilarious.


Mr. Mayor,

Please excuse my abrupt greeting upon seeing you this morning. I meant no offense. I was on my way to the Bethville Crematorium and Patisserie to pay my respects to the previous and unfortunately late Mayor of Bethville. I was also late, but not in the same way that he was late. The former mayor was right on time, but unfortunately he was also dead.

Apparently, over the past weekend, he was jogging in Bethville Park when he tripped over a watering hose, left there by a careless gardener, no doubt, and impaled himself on a rake. The rake had also most likely been left there by the same careless gardener, who may have been, now that I think about it, less of a careless gardener and more of a crafty assassin. Anyway, I was enroute to his memorial service when I passed the Benville mayoral limosine and only waved. On any other day, I would have immediately pulled my mayoral roadster over to the side of the road and commenced to chit chatting with you. However, that was not to be on this sunny and rather sad Monday morning. Please accept this box of delicious cupcakes that I purchased from the Crematorium gift shop and my apology.

That said, I am writing you most urgently to see if you would be able to help me with just the teensiest little favor. I am in the process of crocheting a blanket for one of the Bethville carriage horses, and I need someone to try it on, gallop around the mayoral office, neighing in adulation of my gift, and eat some oats while wearing it so I can make sure that all the yarn colors I picked out match. You're the only person I know who has the same eye color as this particular horse. And you did go as the back legs and tail of Mr. Ed at last year's annual Benville Dress Up as Your Favorite Television Star Parade, Picnic, and Group Immunization, so you are qualified, having played the part previously. Do let me know if you can trot over this afternoon and help out.

Sincerely,

The Honorable, Most Fragrant-Armpitted, Cheerfullest, Patron of the Arts Mayor of Bethville



My Dearest Mayor of Bethville,

How very gracious of you to send your apology and delicious cupcakes when they were most certainly not needed. As of late, I have employed several body-doubles to ride around in the Benville mayoral limousine, carriages, mopeds and flying hotdog stands to create diversions in the event that I should leave my mayoral chambers. It was body-double #6 who informed me of your drive-by waving this morning. I have employed none other than George Clooney to ride in the mayoral limousine since he displays such an incredible likeness in appearance. Recently there have been many attempts on my life by crafty assassins posing as careless gardeners, and a few too many close calls have forced me to seclude myself from public view. When I do venture out for ceremonies, contests, body-double autopsies and the like, there are no less than sixteen body-doubles in various positions throughout the city. You happened upon Mr. Clooney just before he met his most unfortunate demise.

A crafty assassin posing as a careless gardener, or Chuck as I have come to call them for short, was at it again just this morning, attempting to cut my mayoral term a few decades short. Just after body-double #6 informed me of your kind gesture, he choked on a gardening trowel carelessly baked into the middle of a Benville Bakery pastry. He was making my afternoon snack run, and as required by the body-double #6 job description, was testing a random sample. It seems some type of gardening utensil was baked into every pastry in the Benville Bakery this morning, so your delicious cupcakes came at a most convenient time. Not to worry, I'm having the remaining 15 body-doubles sample my pastries before I commence consumption. We can identify most of the suspicious desserts rather easily, like the bearclaw we found discreetly filled with a rototiller, but the others I'm afraid will just have to be swallowed whole by my remaining body-double staff. It seems I'm going to be in short supply soon, so please, if you know any more 6-foot tall, Herculean figured gentleman with chiseled jaws and careless attitudes towards life, have them send me their resumes and glamour shots.

I'm afraid body-double #6 (Mr. Clooney) was also employed the day I made my appearance as Mr. Ed's hindquarters in last year's annual Benville Dress Up as Your Favorite Television Star Parade, Picnic, and Group Immunization, and it was he that made such a fabulous display to the public. (Of course, at that time he was only body-double #13 and had since then been promoted). I did choose the costume for him however, since he was such a horse's ass-
ociate enthusiast to begin with. He always was an avid fan of the horse-farming community and was therefore perfect for the assignment. I'll sift through my remaining body-doubles and see if I can find a suitable replacement to model your blanket.

Please do send more of the delicious cupcakes you acquired at the Bethville Crematorium gift shop, they were most delightful. I especially liked the gray sprinkles on the top. Such an unusual hickory flavor, but it complimented the frosting excellently!

Sincerely,

The Mayor of Benville, not to be confused with the recently deceased George Clooney

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I Will Now Make Out with These Oatmeal Cookies


Homemade cookies are the perfect dessert. They are small, warm, and satisfying.
They can be square and lumpy or round and smooth. And the best part is, it's very, very hard to screw them up. If you have a good recipe, measure the ingredients out fairly accurately, and take them out of the oven before they burn, you can usually end up with a few dozen of these yummy little treats.

And let's not even mention the thousands of different kinds of cookies, giving everyone ample opportunity to choose a favorite. Personally, I've always favored chocolate chip. But then I discovered this little recipe...and, yes, these are now my favorite cookie of all time.

Soft Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 5 dozen

1 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 c. cooked raisins
5 tbsp. raisin juice
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 c. flour
2 c. oatmeal
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. nuts (optional)

Boil raisins. Cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg, soda, baking powder, salt, and raisin juice. Drain raisins and add them to the mix. Mix in oatmeal, flour, vanilla, and nuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees until tops are slightly brown. These are really good if you let them stay just a little bit doughy inside. But let them cool for about two minutes before taking them off the pan. If you have a fancy cooling rack, hurrah! Otherwise, wax paper on a flat surface works totally fine.

Now, the fun part of baking these cookies is that you can be as creative as you want. You can replace the water with orange juice and throw in some dried cranberries. You can just use warm water and add chocolate chips to the batter. Add a tablespoon of cinnamon and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Maybe a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves for a more seasonal autumn taste. Replace the raisins with chopped dried apricots, cherries, or apples. Personally, I like to stick with tradition, but I insist on using golden raisins. They have a better flavor and texture, and more importantly, they tend to thwart those whiners who always say, "I hate raisins," with their crafty ability to blend in with the batter. I don't particularly like nuts in this kind of cookie, but if you are a fan of nuts, don't be afraid to be all crazy and throw in slivered almonds or chopped pistachios instead of the usual pecans or walnuts. Try a different extract flavor; almond or orange instead of vanilla. Use your intuition and experiment with different flavors. And if you are concerned about trans fats, just use two sticks of softened unsalted butter instead of shortening. Share with everyone you know and you won't have to worry about scarfing down all the leftovers by yourself.