Archive for May, 2008


Monkeying with Meringue

So I baked a banana pudding the other day to take to a party. The meringue tore when I took it out of the oven. I put a spoon in the tear to make it look like the spoon had done it, but that just made the meringue split completely in two.

Someday I will learn to accept gracefully baking’s small disappointments, but it wasn’t going to be that day. I projected my anger on to John by freaking when he got too close to the fender of another car as he parked. I apologized later. He said, “You had pudding rage.”

And I did.

It’s worth knowing what I screwed up, because I love meringues. Meringue adds beauty and structure to a pie, but relatively few calories and no fat.

Besides yelling at my spouse, here is what I did wrong: over baked the pudding, cooled it too fast and mixed too few egg whites for the size dish I used. Like a lot of beautiful things that are low in calories and fat, a meringue can be as moody as a drag queen in a monsoon, so these mistakes were bound to take their toll.

Actually making meringue is easy.

Mix 1/2 cup sugar and two pinches of cream of tartar in small bowl and set aside.

In a very clean non-reactive bowl (stainless steel, glass or copper) place four room temperature egg whites (no yolks) and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form (soft peaks flop over, stiff peaks don’t).

Continue beating and add sugar/COT mixture one tablespoon at a time.

Continue beating until egg whites reach stiff peak stage.

Spread meringue on WARM filling all the way to the edge of the crust or dish to seal it.

Bake a meringue at a low temp (325 degrees) in the middle of the oven with plenty of headroom for about 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly. Let it cool completely there.

My mistakes? I was in a hurry so I cooled the pudding on top of the stove. I used a recipe for three egg whites instead of four (from now on I’ll use a four egg meringue recipe no matter what the recipe calls for), and I left it in the oven a little too long, which also caused the meringue to weep.

I know. It sounds like a disaster. I tried to sneak in when we arrived so no one would see me lay the pudding down. Somehow it was still the first dessert to go. I guess a lot of people really love banana pudding.


If You’re Going to Flip a House…

There was a time when venerable old homes were lovingly maintained by owners. Then they got to be too much for today’s smaller families. Sometimes people just wanted the convenience of newer homes in different places. Many beauties were unceremoniously cleared off of their lots.

The preservation movement of the later 20th century, slowed the seek and destroy process down some. And the Modern era, with its “if it ain’t new, it’s crap” mentality is now comfortably sitting alongside a Postmodern sensibility that values lessons learned from the past.

So why am I not happy with house flippers? Don’t they slow the tide of history’s destruction?

Well, I am happy with some of them. We live in neighborhood where old homes are flipped a lot. Some are done well and sell quickly. But some flippers seem bound and determined to make things worse – Broken front door? Put the cheapest one you can find on it. Odd sized windows? Just board the window up until it’s a standard size. Hellbent on getting rich as quick as they can, they create eyesores that probably send them into the poor house just a little quicker.

If it weren’t rainy and cold outside, I would go snap a photo of the offending house I’m thinking of now. Instead, I’ll post a photo of a book I feel all home flippers should be required to read: Virginia and Lee McAlester’s classic A Field Guide to American Houses.

Field Guide To American Houses

If you love old houses at all, you might want to consider buying it. It’s like an American home family tree. It’s not huge, but you will still learn the roots of everything from the New England Salt Box to Ozark Dog Trots to “Traditional,” whatever that may mean now. The maps of where things show up are interesting, too and reflect migration patterns over time.

Even if you are designing a new house, it can come in handy. When John and I built our house we used the Field Guide to keep from getting too far off course. We didn’t want some Disney idea of home, but we did want a house that matched who we are as people. Aesthetics and our geographic roots are an important part of that, so proportion, scale, eaves depth all ended up playing a role.

We are no experts and our house probably shows it, but if we weren’t keyed into history, things would have turned out badly for us. I have to believe that if some of these people who are flipping older homes paid a little more attention, they would be getting a MUCH bigger return on their investment.


Michigan Supreme Court: Sure They Lie, But The Religious Right is Smarter than We Are

“I think John and Troy should be able to protect their relationship, I just don’t think they should call what they have ‘marriage.’”

It isn’t that most people don’t want us to have a happy home and a long life together, it’s the word “marriage.” That’s the issue for a lot of people, probably even some of my readers. It was, in fact, what one member of my own family believed until I challenged him to tell me what qualities my sister’s 2nd and 3rd marriages had that our relationship doesn’t. (Answer: None.)

But the “let them be protected, but not married” logic is at least somewhat humane. In fact, back in 2004 Michigan voters passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage being assured by its pushers, people like Marlene Elwell and the Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, that:

“(This) has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman…”

They made a point of saying similar things in brochures and websites. Voters were told nothing would change, except that it would be for sure, for sure impossible for gay people to be “married.” Deb Price of the Detroit News tells of a frightening result of that constitutional change, however:

…Proposal 2 included language about not recognizing a “similar union for any purpose.” After getting the proposal passed, Citizens for the Protection of Marriage [edt.- yes, the same folks who said this has nothing to do with benefits] turned around and argued the “marriage” amendment bans public employers from offering partner health benefits.

And what happened? The Michigan Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for public universities to offer partner health benefits! So partnered faculty who had been invited to teach with those benefits for their partners and children as part of the deal (and believe me, we don’t make decisions to move these days without knowing we have them), are screwed.

Universities are scrambling to figure out a way around the law, but Price points out, with a quote from one of the two dissenting judges, a far reaching result of the precedent setting ruling that should scare all of us, gay or straight:

“(T)he majority condones and even encourages the use of misleading tactics in ballot campaigns… (I)n the future, organizations may be encouraged to use lies and deception to win over voters or the court. This should be a discomforting thought for us all.”

Nineteen of the similar amendments to state constitutions, including Arkansas’, had similar “state shall not recognize similar union” clauses. It will take the U.S. a long time to climb out of this ridiculous hole. In the meantime, I guess Michigan won’t be getting as many talented professors as it once did and the religious right will continue to abbreviate the Ten Commandments to nine.


A Good Idea for Your Fridge

I’ve been obsessed with the Democratic primaries and posting a lot on GrowingSense, so I apologize for ignoring Good Home.

Still don’t have a lot to post, but I ran across a simple idea from Barb Berggoetz in the Indianapolis Star the other day that seemed so practical. Ready for it?

Take your vegetables out of the crisper drawer in your refrigerator and keep them on a more visible shelf where you are more likely to use them. If you’re like me, you should add the step of scrubbing the swampy goo out of the drawers. THEN, put your soft drinks, or some other over-consumed temptation, in the crisper, and let the memory-erasing powers of those plastic drawers transform them into less of a temptation.

Of course, it might be a good idea to figure out a way to stack vegetables in the main cavity (eww, sounds like a hollowed out side of beef) of the refrigerator. Any ideas? And don’t berate me on how “not fresh” my veggies are gonna be, since limp ones are better than liquified ones any day.