December 18, 1999
Fruits, Nuts and Bicycle
There were a number of things I had to take care of before I could indulge in my new obsession. The first thing was getting all the Christmas packages off to their various destinations. I'm not detailing anything here, as the various people are getting things probably know about this site. Suffice it to say John and I packed everything up after wrapping and ribboning with bright abandon. The best thing about living in a small town like Erie is being able to go to the Post Office on Saturday morning, actually the Saturday morning before Christmas, and find a line of three people. A line that was long enough that they actually opened another counter to handle the load. I think we were an entire ten minutes in the Post Office building. Compare that to the lines we saw coming out the door of the Boulder Post Office.
After mailing everything off we decided to have breakfast at Jean and Jeanette's Eatery. A simple bacon eggs breakfast with hash browns and toast, wheat or white. They slice the bacon very thin, so it cooks up crisp, and the hickory smoked taste is intense enough to bring savor to the entire plate.
The one thing I was missing for the fruitcake recipe was pecans. I really intended the just get a bag of shelled pecans, but Alton Brown had said that it was best to shell your own. He didn't really give a good reason, but it did help to have the raw, whole pecans be about a quarter of the price of the shelled ones. I bought three pounds of the raw nuts, while we also bought various groceries for the weekend.
I had also used the last of the rum, last night. So on the way home we dropped by the Erie liquor store, and I bought another quart of Bacardi while John went to the bank. I think the only concession we're making to Y2K hiccups is to have a little more cash on hand, maybe an extra week's worth, for the weekend. Which probably says all that needs to be said about my attitude towards Y2K fearmongers. Right next to the liquor store is a new organics grocery store, and both John and I wandered in to see what there was to see. It's the first grocery store in town, and it carries some very eclectic stuff, everything from herbal remedies to Ben & Jerry's ice cream. It was good to know that it was there, and that it was open until 7 most weeknights.
We went home after that, and I listened to NPR while shelling pecans. I'd forgotten how relaxing it is to just listen to the radio, and not try to watch a TV while doing something else. It was very nice to have less to focus on in addition to what I was trying to do. Car Talk always entertains me with the informed mixture of good information, wild speculation, and tongue-in-cheek humor. Michael Feldmen's Whadya Know was after that and I really, really love his take on current events, things one 'ought' to know and his take on the holidays. That was really fun, and it made the shelling go pretty quick. I only really needed about 3/4 of a cup of pecans, and ended up shelling enough to fill the bottom of the toaster oven pan. It was easy then to toast the nuts. The one thing about toasting pecans is that they have a very high fat content, so they burn very easily. So I watched them fairly carefully, and started pulling out the darker ones as they tasted somewhat unevenly.
All the rummed fruit went into a pot with apple juice, sugar, and quite a lot of spice. The entire mixture was then brought to a boil, and then left to simmer for about 15 minutes. The spices needed time to infuse the liquids and the fruit, so the simmer time and subsequent rest time gave the entire mass little more time to mingle. While it was cooling I mixed together all the dry ingredients in a sifter, and when I thought it was cool enough I sifted all the dry ingredients into the mass. Sadly, it wasn't quite cool enough, and both the baking power and baking soda reacted to the liquid and the heat, and the entire body of batter increased in bulk by about two times. Rather than crying over released carbon dioxide, I just dumped all the batter into the four prepared mini-tins and then slid them into the oven, which had been pre-heating since I started simmering the fruit. I also added a pan of water underneath the tins to provide some steam so that the top crust wouldn't cracked while it was baking.
While it baked I cracked the last of the pecans and listened to more radio. It surprised me to realize that I hadn't set a timer, but when I could smell the fragrance of the spices and the caramelization of the fruit I figured it was close to done. So I took it wooden toothpick and tested each tin, and all of the toothpicks came out clean. I then sprayed all the cakes with brandy, and put them on a rack to cool. That's when I told John that I was done.
The two of us then ran off towards Denver, as John had seen advertisements in the newspaper for exercise equipment. There seem to be a sale going on before Christmas at various stores, especially those that specialized in just exercise equipment and were in warehouse districts just north of Denver. We drove Borax down. We had seen one other place, and gotten prices off the Web as well as the prices we had seen at the one real store. The first store we went to have a very pushy salesperson, and equipment that made my knee hurt. The stuff that didn't make my knee hurt was in a higher price range, and the guy was doing everything in his power to push us towards taking something, anything home with us. I really didn't like the sales style, or the equipment. The prices weren't too bad, especially in comparison to the specialty shop we'd seen in Boulder. But I wasn't going to use it, it wasn't worth buying.
The second store turned out to be a good find, and had a nice sales man with no pushy agenda, and it was fairly obvious that he actually liked what he was selling. The Schwin exercise bike was far less bulky than I would have thought, the price was good, the equipment itself was solid and had a good warranty. John and I did go outside in order to talk things over without anyone else listening to our conversation, but when we finished speaking with each other we went back into the store and just bought the bike. Loading it into Borax was a bit of a puzzle, but we finally solved it by pushing the passenger seat all the way forward and putting me in the back compartment with the bike.
When we got back into the house, it was filled with the scent of fruitcake. While the instructions said that we should wait for two weeks before actually eating the cake, I couldn't wait. I cut myself a slice, and it was really good. It was dense, not only and structure, but in flavor. Every bite had the richness of the spices alongside the chewy texture of the fruits and the buttery crunch of pecans. There were flakes of zest, almost with the texture of coconut, but with the tangy citrus of oranges and lemons. Much of taste is made by scent, and everything in this cake is fragrant. Especially the brandy. I don't know if I can wait two weeks to actually really eat this cake.
Dinner was the leftover prime rib from last week, and it was still delicious. I reheated the potatoes, cooked some vegetables, and left the beef cold, but let it warm up to room temperature. I didn't want to make it more cooked, as it was a perfect medium rare. We mostly spent the rest of the evening watching TV.
Brought to you by Dragon System's Point & Speak.