Friday, May 28, 2010
How could things not go smoothly? After all, it is Friday. But, I should have known my best laid plans would have been better left alone.
Walking home from work I didn't notice the distinctly ominous mood prevailing over our little hedgerow of houses. Severe weather reports bubbled off my parent's television when I got inside. Great, I thought. But storms I could deal with considering that the weather reporters in my city are, at best, touch-and-go. What I wasn't expecting was the fire station to be called to my neighbors as I stood outside, key in hand, looking befuddled. The neighbors in question are away in Boston for the weekend and I had (gladly) agreed to watch their two charming cats like I do most summers. But, reaching for the laundry hanging on the door I noticed the alarm buzzing inside and, ever so softly, I heard the report issue over the radio at the fire station. After all, we live a meager half a block away. Within the 30 seconds it took me to call my neighbors the truck was pulling around the corner, siren and lights flashing. The siren, really?
Leading 3 middle-aged firefighters into the house, all of whom resembled very amiable teddy-bears, I couldn't help but notice that any strapping young firemen must have stayed in the truck or on the cover of a grocery romance novel. I suppose I didn't look startled enough to elicit "strapping bare-chested male rescuer". Thankfully there was no fire and no one had broken in, despite the ominous warnings on the security box. It was just a hiccup in the system. But as the truck drove away it took my resolve to produce something fantastic and inspirational with it. Instead, I could only pick up my most innocent looking cookbook, "Afternoon Teas". With beautifully illustrated pages it resembles a child's storybook with tidbits of history and snippets of tea time rhymes. I'm sipping a mug of ginger tea even now, swirling the little ribbons of lemon zest and feeling grateful it is finally the weekend.
An herbal tea, or tisane, is by the very definition, a drink brewed with anything other than the leaves of the tea bush(wiki, 1). Here I'm using powdered ginger but anything from mint leaves to rose petals would be fair game. (Believe it or not ginger and lemon are an ideal flavor match). For the bars I used lemon curd because we had an open jar in the fridge. For a less expensive option try any number of fruit jams. The original recipe suggests raspberry but blackberry or even apricot might be nice substitutes.
8-10 ounces water or more or less enough to fill you mug
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon honey or to taste
2-3 ribbons of lemon peel
1. Heat the water in a saucepan till very hot or boiling.
2. Wash a lemon and, using a pairing knife or zester, make long curls of zest. Be careful not to go too deeply into the pith (bitter white inner flesh).
3. Add the ginger, lemon peel and honey to the mug.
4. Pour in the hot water and stir until dissolved.
Easiest Jam (Lemon) Bars
These bars have delightful little shortbread bottoms and an elegant meringue top that will be lightly browned and cracked.
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/4 cup + 1/2 cup sugar, separated
2 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 jar fruit jam or lemon curd
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons curls of lemon zest (optional)
1. Grease an 8 x 8" pan (or an 8" cake pan at your own risk)
2. Cream the butter and sugar with a fork. Add the egg yolks, reserving the white and beat. I use a wooden spoon here.
3. Mix the flour and salt into the butter mixture using a spoon or your fingers until it holds together, more or less. It will be a little crumbly.
4. Press the batter into the bottom of the pan. Try and compact it a little. Spread the dough with the jam or lemon curd. Warming stubborn jam in the microwave slightly will help spread it. (If you're using lemon curd I like to sprinkle some extra zest over it before covering it with the whites).
5. In a clean bowl beat the egg whites until fluffy with an electric mixer, about 2 minutes. If you have a whisk attachment now is the perfect time to use it. The whites should be thickened slightly.
6. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar slowly, still beating on high. Add the vanilla (clear vanilla is preferred here to keep the whites extra white). Continue to beat another 3-4 minutes or until the whites are shiny and cling onto the mixer when the whisk is lifted clear from the bowl.
7. Spread the egg whites over the jam or curd evenly. Then, dab the back of a spoon against the top of the whites to create peaks. These will puff up cheerily in the oven.
8. Bake for 28-30 minutes at 350. Watch for over browning. Cool completely and then cut into squares.