Back to the Kitchen!

Once Dad and I had conquered Allerton Park, I headed back to the kitchen to make my Christmas Day dinner menu which had been pushed back a couple of days to become Grandma’s Birthday dinner instead. Under the watchful eye of Millie, we had orange and rosemary buttered mixed nuts (which I made for my Halloween party, too), smoky sweet potato stacks, a vegetable Wellington, a pomegranate and hazelnut salad with maple-fake-bacon dressing, and an orange layer cake with cranberry glaze and brown sugar frosting.

Everything was pretty good – I don’t think I have any complaints, but I also don’t have any raves. I think the cake would have been a rave except that I overbaked it and it turned out a little dry (it probably didn’t help that I made it before dinner got pushed back so it also got a little stale). The Wellington was quite nice with the goat cheese and the mushrooms – again I think I overcooked the butternut squash a little bit because I wish it had had a kind of a bite to it instead of being so mushy (though being pan-fried it’s still less mushy than the boiled one was with the salad on Christmas Eve).

 

Day three: No, seriously. Where the #@%$ is the– Oh, there it is.

All right. Day three. We were serious now. We’d had it confirmed that the maps were useless. We’d been told that the pioneer cemetery up by the Sunsinger was off the path behind the statue – the one we’d looked down but hadn’t chosen because it hadn’t had a map – and that the pioneer cemetery at the south end of the park couldn’t actually be reached from within the park, it had to be driven to from one of the country roads that borders the park there.

We were sure this was going to be a quick trip. We’d head out to the Sunsinger, duck down the correct path (finally!), see the cemetery, and drive around to the other one. And luck seemed to be with us – the road to the Sunsinger was open the whole way, saving us the time of walking from the Centaur to the Sunsinger to start our path. It’d be quick – an hour tops, right?

Wrong! We walked down the path to the point where it split into two directions. The guy Dad talked to hadn’t said anything about choosing a direction, so we went to the left for a little bit. It seemed to be heading back into the park after a while so we turned back and went back to the Sunsinger path and then took the right trail. That ended at a house. So we decided to go back the other way and follow the left path further on. We figured we’d covered every trail that was anywhere near where the map showed the cemetery to be except for this one and therefore, through sheer process of elimination, we were bound to find it this time.

It met up with the path that goes off to the right from the Sunsinger, the one we’d taken on day two, so we turned right and went on to the next fork in the road and then headed left again. Unfortunately, there was still no cemetery. We’d found a path that met up with the river, followed it for a bit, and then headed back to the Centaur. And this time we weren’t parked at the Centaur, so we’d have to walk all the way back to the Sunsinger to the car.

But there was a little old man sitting by the Centaur and as we passed Dad asked him if he knew where the pioneer cemetery was. His reply? “Up towards the Sunsinger. Walk along the road and look east and you’ll see the headstones.” We sort of scoffed to ourselves – how could the cemetery been there? We’d walked circles around the area and seen nothing – but we had to walk that way anyway to get back to the car, so we’d keep our eyes open.

We found what seemed to be a trail head with four concrete trail markers so we started down that and it turned out to be the little ravine we’d seen from the bottom on the path we’d been on during day 2, so we headed back to the road, walked a little bit further and there, clear as day, right where the map said it should be (that was the most galling part), was the pioneer cemetery.

This one is the smaller of the two, with only about 8 graves or so, and the stones are harder to read. This one, for an infant son who died in 1850, is the easiest to read of the group. So after a look around there, it was back to the car to see if we could get to the other one – the one that couldn’t be reached from inside the park.

We did. This one was a bit bigger, with maybe 20 graves that seem to have weathered the years a bit more successfully though they’re only about 30 years younger than the stones at the other cemetery. It seemed to be three or four families all buried in rows here complete with headstones and footstones. I think the most interesting set was that of John West who lived to be in his 70s and outlived his entire family, including a daughter (aged 30, I think), a son (aged 20), and three wives, two of whom were named Hannah.

So it took us three days and god knows how much walking and I’m definitely embarrassed by how easily the terrible map and useless trailer markers confused us, but we finally achieved our goal (and managed to get a bit of exercise along the way, too, which always helps, especially this time of year). And, of course, hopefully now we’ll remember where they both are if we ever want to go back again.

Day two: Where the HELL is the pioneer cemetery?!

On our second day out, we decided to go searching for the cemetery that was up by the Sunsinger. Our adventure started out by hitting a roadblock. Literally. The road that goes out to the Sunsinger is notoriously terrible and they had closed it off with a sign that said we were welcome to walk on past that point but that the quality of the road was too bad to allow cars through. So we parked at the Centaur and walked on down the road out to the Sunsinger because we both had it in our heads that the pioneer cemetery there was off a path to the right of the Sunsinger.

As you can see from the map, there is no path to the right of the Sunsinger. The path behind him didn’t have a map, so although we looked down it for a few minutes, we decided to head on to the path to the left. Fortunately, there was a map there and we’d lucked out! All we had to do was follow the path away from the statue, make a left and then it looked like we should run into a smaller path that led to the cemetery. Sounds easy, right?

Wrong! We walked and walked and scared some deer and walked some more and thought we saw a fox and walked and walked and walked.

About halfway down the trail, where the path to the cemetery should have been, we did see a small path-ish thing leading off to the left of the trail, but it was more of a ravine than anything and we decided that it wasn’t really a path. At any rate, we were sure we were too close to the road at that point – we figured we should be able to see the headstones if it really had been nearby and it was a pretty steep bluff above us, not very prime real estate for a cemetery, so we continued on. And eventually ended up back at the Centaur.

We were both a little stiff still from all the walking we’d done the previous day – it was muddy both days (when is Allerton not muddy, though) and were were getting frustrated by the extraordinarily unhelpful maps and baffling trailmarkers that seemed to be using leagues or furlongs as far as we could tell – so we decided to pack it in and call it a day instead of walking down the road a bit to see if there was a path off of that that might lead to the cemetery. Dad had Rotary the next day and said he knew a few people he could ask about the cemetery’s location – frankly, we were starting to think maybe they’d let the paths grow over them (the maps in the park haven’t been updated since 2003).

Tired but determined, we headed back home to rest up for the following day’s hike and gather information so we could triumph over our adversaries. Here’s what we had walked by the end of day two looking for a cemetery.

Day one: Where is the pioneer cemetery?

The weather here was really nice the day after Christmas, so my dad and I wandered out to Allerton park to walk around a bit. So we bundled up, packed up Dad’s camera, and headed out! We ended up at the parking lot near the bridge that’s out and, after a look at the map at the trailhead, decided we’d see if we could find the pioneer cemetery that was located near the southern edge of the park. I’d been there once years and years ago during a school field trip and hadn’t ever been able to stumble across it since then. But with the location marked on the map, we were sure we’d be there in no time.

We started out kind of slowly because we kept stopping to take pictures. Dad does pottery and likes to include grasses, leaves, and other miscellaneous plants on his pieces so he was looking for some inspiration. I was just fiddling around.

We kept coming across turnoffs that didn’t seem to be on the map – Allerton borders private property at certain places and we kept having to backtrack when we’d come across a house or take a path that was actually a driveway. At least it wasn’t too chilly of a day! We kept shedding hats and gloves as we walked further and further and the clouds got darker and darker. Eventually we hit the parking lot at the south end of the park (toward the bottom of the map that may or may not be cut off in the photo up there) and, after taking a look at the map again, decided we must be nearly on top of the pioneer cemetery at last. All we had to do was follow the trail and take every left we came to – we should be there in no time! Right?

Wrong. Eventually we knew we were heading in completely the wrong direction for the elusive pioneer cemetery, but it was starting to get late and we’d been out for about an hour and a half already so we decided to head back to the car. The problem was that we were about as far from our starting point as was possible to be. Dad suggested that we go back the way we came, but I wanted to at least finish the day having seen the river since it was clear we had missed the pioneer cemetery somewhere along the way.

You’ll notice that, despite the fact that I wanted to see the river, there are no pictures of the river. By the time we reached the point where our path met the river, we were exhausted and mostly focused on not dying before we got back to the car. Which we managed to do, three hours after we had started walking. We’d only meant to be out for an hour so we hadn’t brought any water or snacks or anything and we ended up being out over the lunch hour, so by the time we got back, we were starving! I’m always worried I’ll die in a situation like that because I’d be so embarrassed! I’m a Girl Scout, I really should know better.

So at the end of day 1, here’s what we had walked in our search for one of the pioneer cemeteries in the park (there’s another one over by the Sunsinger. Allegedly.).

Christmas Day brunch!

I’ve already posted my Father Christmas letter from this year which finishes off that project for now – I still haven’t found 2003, 2007, or 2009, but I know they’re around somewhere. I’ll post them when I find them but until next year, you’ve seen them all!

For brunch – which my mom and I actually had ready to go on time! – we had a honey and apple challah, breakfast pizza (Claire, the next time you’re here, we’re going to actually make this – so yummy!), and gingerbread waffles with lemon syrup.

The apple and honey challah was good and easy enough to make – I’m done attempting to use my dough hook, though, I never get it right and the dough always ends up so much tougher than I want it to be – only the old fashioned way for me from now on. I wish it had been a little sweeter, so I might adjust the recipe a little bit next time to get some extra sugar in there. I also should have made a honey butter or something to go with it and up the sweet/salty aspect of it.

The breakfast pizza was the star of the show, I think – sooo good! Nicely salty with the bacon (well, fake bacon in this case – I’m loving it so much, what a great invention) and the cheese. The only change I made was to use Ina’s pizza dough recipe which works perfectly every single time. I tried making Smitten Kitchen’s pizza dough because I liked the idea of preparing it the night before, but I got into trouble because of the dough hook again. That and, I should really know better by now, but don’t trust a yeast dough recipe that has you put in the entire quantity of flour at once. I never end up needing that much flour and it just makes things tough and frustrating. Go sparingly and stop adding flour while the dough is still a little bit soft – you can knead in more to get things to the right consistency if you need to, but you can’t take any out once you’ve overadded. So when I got into the kitchen that morning, I dumped the dough in the trash and started from scratch. Ina hasn’t let me down yet with her pizza dough.

I think the gingerbread waffles with the lemon syrup were my favorite. You can really taste the gingerbread and they have a lovely soft consistency and gingerbread should always be paired with lemon if you ask me, so that was a perfect tart sweetness to tone down the gingerbread flavor a little bit. Perfect!

My grandparents came over for Christmas brunch and to open presents which was fun – my grandmother gave me a lot of cat-themed presents which are all really cute and I got exactly what I asked for from Father Christmas…an ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchenaid and an electric panini press/grill/griddle! So hopefully there’ll be lots of ice cream and panini/grill/griddle-related items turning up here soon!

In which I am clever…and it pays off!

I went to some friends’ for a party on New Year’s Eve – I hadn’t really been feeling like going out to a party, but they convinced me and I’m glad I ended up going. It sure beat sitting on the couch and drinking champagne by myself! But I did still want a kind of quiet New Year’s some way or another, so I spent the day of New Year’s Eve in the kitchen, preparing things that would sit in the refrigerator overnight while I was away that I could pop into the oven when I got back in the morning with little to no effort on my part.

For a savory I had a fake bacon and goat cheese egg bake which used English muffins as its bread layers and was sooo yummy! The saltiness of the bacon and the creamy goat cheese are perfect compliments to each other. I would definitely make this again. And it’s good as leftovers, too – which is good because I’m going to be eating it for a while even though I halved the recipe.

Then I had Alton Brown’s overnight cinnamon rolls. These were…okay. I don’t know if it’s the recipe or that I was using a wrong kind of yeast or that I let them sit in the fridge too long, but although they rose and baked just fine, they’re kind of dense and hard. This has been a problem I’ve had in my search for the perfect cinnamon roll – I really want one that’s soft and fluffy and light and I haven’t managed to find it yet.

And then…I had the best blueberry muffins I’ve ever had. They’re Ina’s blueberry coffee cake muffins and they’re fantastic! I feel like I’ve made these before and wasn’t that impressed with them, but whatever the case, I really got it right this time. I made them in an extra large muffin tin and whipped up some maple butter – they’re supposed to be in place of a blueberry pancake – and they’re ever so yummy! I only baked up one try of six muffins so I’ve still got some batter left in the fridge because I thought it would be nice to have fresh blueberry muffins later in the week, too.

I even made a mimosa courtesy of Martha Stewart with fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice. Very nice! Altogether, my overnight brunch for one turned out to be a good way to celebrate the new year. 🙂

Christmas Eve Dinner! Or, Finally Catching Up on My Blog…

So even though I took the entire last week off, I spent it being alternately busy (usually in the kitchen) and entirely lazy (usually on the couch in front of Food Network). I barely even picked up my computer let alone gathered the energy to tell you about all the food I was making and all the sitting around I was doing. 😉 But now it’s almost time to head back to the real world, so I figured I’d use these last moments of my vacation to catch up on my posting. So here we go!

This year, instead of doing one super, mega, stressful meal for Christmas Eve, I decided to plan for three smaller meals – Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day brunch, and Christmas Day dinner. This worked out fairly well – I got my fill of cooking and baking but wasn’t too exhausted to enjoy the food or my time off from work. Christmas Eve we had a creamy sweet potato and chipotle soup, the famous (c. 2006) No-Knead Bread, a maple-roasted butternut squash and apple salad with a maple mustard dressing, poached pears with cinnamon cream cheese pound cake, and sparkling sangria with cranberries and oranges.

The hits were definitely the No-Knead Bread and the cinnamon cream cheese pound cake. The No-Knead bread I would definitely like to do again to see if I can perfect the process a little bit more – everything worked out and came together in the end, but I really had serious doubts and very nearly threw this dough out more than once. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because it really does work and you get this lovely, almost artisanal loaf of bread with a crispy crust and a moist interior. The cinnamon cream cheese pound cake was more of a sleeper hit – it was good when we were eating it but didn’t seem like anything special…until we found ourselves continually eating it for breakfast (well, alternating with the pies that Claire sent us – yum!).

The soup was really good, too, though my mom said it was too spicy for her – the recipe calls for you to add the chipotle after everything’s cooked so it just gets whizzed up with the other ingredients, but I really wanted the heat to infuse everything so I put it in with everything to simmer. I thought it was good!

I wish I’d saved the sangria for Christmas Day brunch – it was sweet and light and would have been similar to having a mimosa. Oh, well, I’ll know for next time!

Aesthetically, I can appreciate the salad – the flavors are nice, though I don’t think I’d cook the butternut squash quite so long – it was a bit mushier than I would have liked – but my parents and I just really aren’t big into salads. I was trying to get us to be healthy, but I think a salad is just not the right approach. The poached pears ended up being a little bland – I’ve done poached pears before and really liked them, but this recipe just missed a bit. I think there was too much poaching liquid (or I wasn’t using a big enough pan) and that the wine was diluted a little too much by the water. I also think I could have let it go a bit longer – the pears weren’t quite as soft as I’d like.

But altogether a successful, tasty, and quick (relatively speaking) meal for a holiday evening!