Archive for December, 2006
I just got back from watching the launch. I wasn’t sure if I was going to go to the space center or just watch it from the backyard, but Andy reminded me that I had never seen a night launch up close and said that I should really see it. He was out there at work supporting the launch and he forgot to bring his boots, so I brought those to him and used it as a good excuse to go see. I took some photos even though it was almost too bright for my camera to handle. It was like the sun came out in the middle of all that darkness. See for yourself.
I am headed out here in a few minutes to the space center to meet up with Andy who is working to support tonight’s planned launch. This will be the first night launch in several years, so I have to go out to see it. Photos to follow if it goes- wish us luck!
Well, we have just scrubbed the shuttle launch for tonight due to weather, but it still remains to be seen what the scrub turnaround plan will be. I am hoping that they will make another attempt tomorrow even though the forecast is not looking that great right now. Stacey will be back from her cruise tomorrow, and I would love to be able to take a blog friend to a launch and share the experience. Pray for good weather tomorrow!
This morning I started the final stages of cucci making. I had high hopes, but I wasn’t really sure if they would turn out right or anything near how Grandma’s are. I set to work around ten o’clock. The first step was to roll out the little dough balls I had made yesterday into flat ovals. I quickly realized that things would go much faster with some help, so Andy came over and rolled out the dough for me until he had to go to work.
After the dough was rolled out, I placed a large spoonful of the fig/almond/orange zest/honey filling I made yesterday in the center of the dough and wrapped it up like a little package. Then I flipped it over, shaped it a little into roughly a kidney bean shape and then made decorative slits in the top with a razor blade. Then I repeated this over and over until I had a whole cookie sheet full.
Before going into the oven, the cookies were brushed with egg whites to glaze the tops. It is an optional step, but I like them better with the glaze. Then they went into the oven for around twenty minutes.
And finally, you can see how they came out. I made one hundred and two of them, so it took me five hours of work today in addition to the five hours of preparation yesterday. Whew! I mostly cut the tops the way Grandma usually does with tiny slits in the sides and some arcs across the tops, but I got a little crazy and did some flowers and birds on a few for fun. Dough doesn’t behave very well for carving.
The best part is, the cuccis actually taste just like Grandma’s, even on my first try. I was hopeful, but a bit skeptical as Grandma is a fantastic cook and has been making these for decades. So, after an entire weekend of cookie making, I have come to a few conclusions. These are my “lessons learned”:
-An insulated cookie sheet does not work for these cookies. I tried one on the first set into the oven and they didn’t quite cook right. Switched over to the regular kind of cookie sheet and everything was fine.
-If you are going to mix the dough in two separate batches, because there is so much of it, measure the flour instead of trying to eyeball how much is half of a five pound bag. I did this, and my dough was not consistent between the two batches. It all tastes fine, but next time I will measure or weigh the flour.
-If you run out of flour, even if you are just using it for rolling out the dough, whole grain flour will NOT do in a pinch. Go to the store. We did two or three cookies this way and then stopped and bought more flour.
-Invest in a good rolling pin. We bought a cheapo wooden one, and it made things a lot more difficult than they had to be.
-Watch your almonds carefully when you toast them. Move them around a lot and don’t try to do something else at the same time. I burned about $10 worth of almonds because I wasn’t paying attention and had to buy more.
And finally, I learned that my Grandma is one hell of a woman, because I am freakin’ exhausted. My back hurts from grinding up all those figs and kneading all that dough and standing for so long. It has been a lot of fun, but I am glad this experiment is over. I think that I’ll be making cuccis every Christmas now. I need to pack a box up to send to Grandma; she’ll be so proud!
In case you didn’t read about it last week when I posted about cuccidati, the story is that my Grandma has always made these traditional Sicilian fig filled cookies at Christmas time since before I can remember. They are called cuccidati, pronounced “goo-ji-data” or cuccis, which sounds like “goochies” for short. Around fifteen years ago, I was at Grandma’s house around Christmas when she made them. I had the thought that I should write down the recipe and that is what I did. Grandma is the only one in our family that makes the cookies, and she does so from memory. It is quite an ordeal to make them, and no other family members have ever tried, but this year I decided I was going to keep the tradition going and make the cuccis. I purchased a meat grinder to grind the figs, a rolling pin, and all the ingredients, and this weekend I decided to set to work on the two day process of cucci making.
On day one, the fig filling is prepared, as well as the dough for the outer shell of the cookie. Then both are set aside to chill in the refrigerator overnight. After seeing how much goes into just that part of it, I am glad that the work is split into two days. Sheesh.
First and foremost I got some slivered almonds, no skin, and gently roasted them in the oven while moving them around frequently. I burned the first set because I was trying to do too many things at once, so then I decided to do one thing at a time.
Next I cut the stems off the many dried figs for the fig filling. They are hard little stems and wouldn’t be too nice in a cookie.
After that Andy and I fed the dried figs and roasted almonds through my handy little meat grinder and ground them to a nice consistency. I got the same type of simple meat grinder that Grandma uses- they have been making the same one for over a hundred years. I read that in Sicily, the women would bring the figs to their butcher for him to run them through the meat grinder. You can get a real workout from that darned thing, but it does a great job.
Next I boiled a small jar of honey with a little bit of water, and added some vanilla. While it was boiling I zested an entire large orange. That’s “oinge” to you, Mel.
Then I added the orange zest and the boiled honey/vanilla mixture to the ground up figs and almonds, and stirred. The whole thing was sprinkled with cinnamon and then set aside to chill in the fridge overnight.
Then I started on the dough. Grandma’s recipe makes a TON, and I can see why. It is not worth doing to make only a few cuccis. So I am having to make the dough in two batches because I don’t have a large enough bowl to hold the FIVE POUNDS of flour it takes.
Once the dough is made, it is kneaded into small balls and set aside in the fridge to chill overnight. Then the fun will really start tomorrow.
So that is day one of the process; it should get really interesting on day two. I am off to make the second batch of dough now and I am praying that there will be enough room in the fridge. It isn’t looking too good now. I can definitely see why these are traditionally Christmas cookies, they are way too labor intensive for everyday. Wish me luck!
Update: I just fished making the last of the dough balls. One hundred and two of them. Five hours of work and the cookies are only half finished. I have a lot of respect for Grandma!