Welcome to One-Quarter Acres

Here's a chronicle of life on a plot of land right smack in the suburbs in Minnesota, whose owners would much prefer to be in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pete and Repeat were in a boat.

I've already posted this recipe, but I feel the need to now show off my stellar photography skills and share the epiphany that was the version I made last night. Fasten your seatbelts—it's devil's food cake, another time.

So it doesn't look like much. Who cares? How many times have I had a pretty little bit of pastry or cake and it tastes, well, bad? This is not gorgeous, no, but it will make your tastebuds sing.

So what did I do differently?

  • The fat. Butter, my friend. Butter.
  • The cocoa powder. My go-to cocoa powder is the Dutch-process cocoa powder from Penzey's, but I haven't had the occasion to stop in the store or place a mail order recently, so this time I used Hershey's Special Dark. But here's the thing—I haven't liked the results of the Penzey's cocoa powder much. Hershey's Special Dark is a blend of Dutch-process and natural cocoa powders, and maybe therein lies the difference, as different types of cocoa have different levels of alkalinity. Whatever happened this time around, the chocolate flavor was richer than other attempts at the recipe.
  • The flour. Because I'm a sucker for a low price-per-unit, I've been baking with Ultragrain flour from my beloved Costco. I've had pretty good results with it. The texture of the finished products can be crumbly, as with whole wheat, while at the same time becoming tough easily. It's a tricky flour to use, but it worked with this recipe.
  • The sugar. Due to an unfortunate run-in with red wine vinegar, my white sugar met an untimely demise, so I used brown sugar.
  • The icing. Since it's not likely that I have unsweetened chocolate and cream lying around my house, I threw some things together and ended up with the icing I wanted all along. It's pretty much a whipped ganache, but it is made of much less fancy ingredients than you'd expect.
Some might say I've created a whole new recipe. I say it's just an improvement. 

Beatrice's devil's food cake, improved

2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 eggs
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. milk
3 heaping T. cocoa
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. baking powder
2 T. baking soda
3 c. flour
1 c. boiling water

1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. half and half
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 T. butter
1/4 t. vanilla
  1. Using a stand mixer, cream the brown sugar and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add salt, milk, cocoa, vanilla, baking powder, and baking soda and mix to combine.
  2. Mix in the flour at a low speed, one cup at a time. 
  3. Gradually mix in the boiling water. Mix until smooth.
  4. Pour into a prepared 9x13 pan (greased/floured or sprayed with nonstick spray). Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. 
  5. Meanwhile, make the icing. In a saucepan on medium heat, combine the chocolate chips, half and half, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, and boil for four minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in butter and vanilla. In a stand mixer with a wire whip attachment, whip the icing until it is cool and begins to become fluffy and lighter in color. This should take at least 15 minutes.
  6. Cool and spread icing on the top. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My summer bucket list

I have SO MANY DREAMS, guys. SO MANY. I gave myself an entire year off from anything but the bare minimum, because you really can't do much more than the bare minimum when you have two babies at the same time. But now it's go time. No more messing around. Let's make this summer count.
Here is my summer bucket list, as in what I want to do before summer kicks the bucket, not me.

  1. Brew some beer. I'd love to shadow one of my several friends who homebrew to see how their process goes and pick up some tips and tricks. I'm confident I can master the process; it's just that I've already done plenty of hobbies where there's a massive investment in infrastructure and where I've learned that much of the infrastructure is unnecessary. 
  2. Increase gardening space. My backyard is home to three 4x4 "square foot gardening" boxes. I've never managed to get a decent yield from this setup and would prefer a more haphazard and fun method of gardening. Liz @ Food Snobbery is my Hobbery has a great garden to which I aspire. I'd like to double the size of my raised beds.
  3. Re-contemplate chickens and—is this too ambitious?—take some real action on getting them again. It seems absurd that I spent years whining about wanting chickens, finally got two ladies (the picture is a rare one of them—I miss you, Mabel and Beatrice!), and then had to find them a new home. This time I'm going to do it the way I should have in the first place—permit from the city, a coop built by us, and lots of hens.
  4. Go camping. Even if it's just one weekend, or one trip out to my mom's boyfriend's cabin, we're going to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars with a thin bit of nylon between us and them. 
  5. Preserve ALL THE THINGS. Okay, not all of them, but some. One thing I will skip is canning apricots, aside from a bit of jam, as even with very, very heavy syrup they ended up sour. I must remember to make dilly beans, as the eldest child devours them whenever she can.
  6. Do some sewing. My mom helped me buy a really sweet sewing machine as a Christmas present two years ago. Have I used it? Hardly. I have a bunch of materials to make diaper covers and two babies who are growing out of their medium-size covers. I have quilts I could make and dresses I could stitch. 
  7. Exercise, exercise. I've kinda-sorta started up Couch to 5k again. My bike needs some work, which needs to be done soon because I am eager to start biking to work again. The downside of this particular item on the list is that it requires so much stuff. I have to fix my ripped or purchase a new set of saddlebags so I can transport things to work. If we want to go biking as a family, we need a second trailer (or, in my dreams, a Madsen). I need new running shoes and running clothes (five-year-old maternity capris don't really make you feel like an athlete). I exercise because it makes me feel good, not to lose weight, but the monetary expense it sometimes entails cuts down on those good feelings.
  8. Cook a lot/bake a lot. Some people may not want to cook or bake when the temperature rises. I'm the opposite. My oven will be going all summer, and I am eager to take fresh, local produce and turn it into amazing food, especially after this year of too much pizza and too many frozen chicken nuggets.
  9. Write more. I have a bee in my bonnet to start blogging about lactation, postpartum care, and a little about pregnancy and parenting on my business website; I find I have too much to say about these things to keep it to my Facebook page. Then there's this space, which I'd love to fill with more recipes and snapshots of our oh-so-exciting lives. Maybe, just maybe, if I distract myself with writing actual words I can pull myself away from all of the one-liners I feel compelled to leave on the ol' book of faces.
Should be no problem.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A little jar o' sunshine

It's been a very, very long time since I've put up some food, but I managed a dozen jars of orange marmalade recently. The task kept shifting further down the to-do list until I realized that the oranges were starting to look a little weary and my lemons were threatening to turn to mush on the counter.

It's nothing fancy, just something from the Ball blue book. Since I live on the edge, though, I roughly doubled the recipe and didn't use quite as much sugar as called for, because I like a tiny little bit of bitter (or sour) with my sweet.

We had a rare day of sunshine and I had to take a photo of a few jars basking in it. The sun has been such a tease in Minnesota, hiding behind clouds in the morning only to pop out in the afternoon and then disappear again. The snow is finally melting, although temperatures are once again below freezing today and dirty bits of ice hang on still.

The weather has not been cooperative for sugaring, that's for sure. I've collected a few measly gallons so far, and half of that—four hard-earned gallons, precisely—fell victim to a 3.5-year-old boy as they sat on the back stoop. I'm sorry, sap, that you were fed to the driveway instead of boiled down to delicious, sticky syrup. The weather forecast looks ideal for collecting sap in the coming week, but since three of the five taps are barely producing, I'm not going to hold my breath.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My grandma's Amish cookies

My grandma was (well, is) the kind of grandma who had a jar (or, more accurately, a giant, green Tupperware container with a ridged lid) of cookies on her counter for hungry little hands to place into hungry little mouths. Her standards were chocolate chip cookies and these "Amish" cookies, which are flaky, tender sugar cookies. She would use a glass to press the cookies down, leaving a starburst shape on each.

But now, it's the end of an era. Really, the era's been gone for awhile, because my grandma hasn't been baking like she used to, but now it seems the door is officially closed. My grandma has moved out of her house, which has now been sold, and her stuff has moved out as well. My mom hauled a bag of goods to my house, and this bag included two cookie stamps—one of a bunch of tulips and another of the sort of owl that was retro before it was cool. In retrospect, I wish I would've told my mom I wanted one of those glasses. The cookie stamps are nice, and since there are two of them, my older kids could do the stamping without any arguments, but they just aren't the same.

Since I'm a sucker for old-fashioned recipes, I'll reproduce it as she wrote down on a recipe card long ago. The "double it and share" suggestion always gives me a chuckle. I did exactly that the first time I made the cookies, and it was certainly a batch that was worthy of that underlined "a lot."

I did not have margarine in the house, so I used butter. They would be better with margarine, since it lends a lightness. Shortening might do this, as well, but might not have the right flavor. (But, go ahead, use butter-flavored Crisco. I won't judge.) I baked these at 350 degrees until they just barely started to brown at the edges.

My Grandma's Amish Cookies

Beat 2 eggs and set aside.
Beat 1 c. oil and 1 c. margarine, 1 c. powdered sugar, 1 c. white sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. soda, 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar. Add eggs and 4 1/2 c flour. Cool. Roll into balls and press with cookie stamp or sugared glass. Makes a nice sized batch. Double it and share. It makes a lot.


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