Once upon a time there was a shout across the blogosphere. It said, "do something zany this weekend." That it how it came to be, once upon a time directly after, that a small and largely unassuming Russian dwarf hamster named Mazrim Galileo McSnout became the center of a supremely festive birthday party. There were chocolate effigies complete with Basque cream dust ruffles; there were dainty flowers of colourful tissue paper. Later, there was even a t-shirt.
By the next year (the next week, to be regretfully honest), Mazrim was gone, but El Dia de los Hammies was by then both legend and tradition. El Dia 2005, a hamcake breakfast in honour of Minerva being 2-and-a-half-and-such, was a brilliant success. (Quite the feat for just a little hamster: not only are dwarf hams lucky to hit 18 months, but Minerva was Mazrim's grandfather, to put it all into perspective.) So successful, the t-shirt was even offered in a stylish black.
And so we came to this year. How would we uphold the values of the holiday? They are, by the way, threefold:
- to promote new personal adventures in cooking
- to promote a winsome hamster-based lifestyle
- to build a sense of community, if only amongst those who tend to use these things as evidence against me
The hamsters, many of whom, even those who got to meet Minerva near his Methuselaic end, regard the old guard of hammies such as Mazrim as tales from myth, were quick with their theme:
BACK TO THE BIG TOP!
Once upon a time, the aforementioned upon-a-time, even, the circus came to town. It was grand. Edwin and Brian ran day and night. Snout set up a flying sofa. Mazrim and Snowpea worried Uncle Isaac to pieces. Alas, I seem to've not uploaded any evidence to Flickr. Ah well, there's always this press release from when, inevitably, the circus was torn down.
To hear today's hamsters talk about it, the circus was the Las Vegas of hamitats. And, in a way, I suppose it was. Take one inflatable kiddie pool, layer (a little too late) a few towels in the bottom, set up a small just-in-case fence around the inside, fill with bedding and toys, and make way for the whole business in the living room, and yes, you have good times. So many wheels! So many tunnels! Water bottle shows every half hour!
Luckily, the hams of today don't know any of the details, or it'd be nothing but wah-wah-wah until I redecorated in such a way as to guarantee the loss of my security deposit. Very insistent, hamsters are.
But what they do know is that El Dia is all about food, which is how they talked me into making a three ring circus of cookies.
There shall be ginger, they cried, for its spicy spirit of fun and Mazrim-like colour.
And there really ought to be almonds, chorused five of them, because Almond has been ever so sweet and helpful this year. (Cynics will say this was a Butterfield 8 Oscar-moment for our massive white ham because he has a tumour on his leg. Hush.)
Thus directed, the menu for El Dia de los Hammies 2006: Back to the Big Top was created:
Oh, the fun we had. I got to buy parchment paper!
I learned that if you need a few tablespoons of homemade candied orange peel, you don't need three oranges, no matter what the recipe says. One. You need just one. Any more and you're just wanting to spend ten minutes playing Happy Fun Time Sugar Fairy:
I bought crystallized ginger for the first time. It was fresh, in bulk, and on sale at Wild Oats. It was also really... bendy. I challenge anyone to "finely chop" this stuff. Ha. Ginger barnacles for your knife, I tell you. For all three recipes, I substituted the words "tear into smaller chunks" for "finely chop." I'm an English teacher; I get to do that.
While it was plenty freakish that I happened to have some almonds in the house, it was super-freakish that I had exactly enough for all three recipes. (3/4c, 3/4c, and 2/3c.) Exactly.
Mind you, it was less impressive after I burnt some and had no spares.
The Florentines looked all wrong when being spooned, or dripped, onto the foil:
No, I wasn't supposed to chop the almonds, believe it or not. No comment on the orange peel. This is a mix of whipping cream, butter, sugar, and the aforementioned goodies. While it cooked, I got busy with the biscotti batter:
There's that parchment paper in use - a first! However, the recipe called for wax paper. However-however, I was not going to go to the store for a fifth trip to once again pick up "just one ingredient I thought I had." No, that would happen when we got to the wafers and discovered we needed... flour. Some hamsters theorize that this is why El Dia actually lasted three days this year, but most prefer to believe that it was for the extra round of wheel-racing. Which of course it was. Totally.
I was a vision of multitasking when I put the biscotti batter in and brought the Florentines out.
If you don't eat praline-type things, you probably don't get these Florentines. (This might also be true if you eat real Florentines made by people who mix their ingredients well and shape the cookies into perfect three-inch rounds as directed.) If so, it is very much your loss. The smell? Gorgeous. The taste? As chewy and buttery and orangey and gingery and almondy as promised.
And then add chocolate?
"Dipping" didn't work well, so the above is from when I started coating parts of them with the back of the spoon. I recommend only doing half of the cookie in chocolate, just as the recipe says, because then you can spend a lot of time debating over which half is better. I still haven't decided!
Mind you, it was all crap compared to this biscotti loaf:
This is what realtors need to put in the oven before open houses. You'd buy a condo on the Strip for this smell. I was terrified to turn it into proper biscotti - why push it?
Why push it? Because it's El Dia! Push! Push!
And as you see, I cut a biscotti for each hamster and one for myself. (None for Mike because he was asleep. And in Australia.) What became of the remaining inch of pre-biscotti cake was, I swear, purely for scientific purposes.
Get closer. Admire the chunks of almond, of ginger. Wonder if I'm being arty with that blur or if I was too lazy to take the 1.8mm lens off the camera.
And so they went into the oven for fifteen minutes, and so I turned to begin the wafers, and so I realized that there was (geez louise) no more flour, and so there was a two-day break of feasting and wheeling and merriment. Is it any wonder that I still haven't finished my paper?
Recently I discussed my non-blondeness. Now you know that the gingery tones added to my mouselocks were really just part of the pre-Dia warmup. Go Circus Hammies!
(Yes, all bathroom mirror poses look dorky. Yes, my hair needed washing. Yes, my shirt is covered in bleach - I had to retire it yesterday after a strategic bleach spot finally wore into a hole that would only upset my UPS man.)
Finally, finale: the ginger almond wafers. We began with a fine pile of powdered sugar, flour, crystallized ginger, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. (That was the third trip back to the store, by the way - isn't it a pity you can use baking soda for baking powder but not the other way around?)
And of course El Dia always supports fresh, organic materials wherever possible.
Please note how I skillfully used a too-shallow bowl for mixing so, when the beaters came on, flour whirred up in a tizzy and spread across the countertops. Better than fireworks.
The hamsters began to place their cookies in formation with Almond's slightly denser cookie in the middle.
There is a long explanation for what dragonflies have to do with hamsters that you are not going to hear about. (If you can't be bothered to book a flight to Vegas then take a cab to the middle of the suburbanfied desert then hang outside my security gates for all of 20-30 seconds before someone goes in, well, you're just going to have to expect to miss out on a few things.) It doesn't matter; the exciting part is that I used a cookie press for the first time. It's all about adventure!
About this time the agouti normals showed up with their own special tribute - cookies shaped like Milkbones. (For our woeful hamsterless friends, Milkbones are a staple of the hamster lifestyle. Otherwise their teeth grow painfully into then out of their innocent little faces, and boy is that a story for another time.) Here you see how Hammond, so thoughtful, gave Almond a special salute:
And the other normals each put a chocolate chip on theirs, a chip for each year of El Dia. Also, we thought it might taste good. We were bold!
At last there was the powdering of those cookies meant to represent our white hamsters (with a partial dusting for Holly, a mottled).
And then they went in the oven and then they came out and that's the end of the story and another El Dia has come to a jubilant end. HOORAY!
And for everyday treats, I strongly recommend the Florentines and the biscotti - oh, you must make the biscotti - and I probably recommend the wafers, not that we're talking about them. (Have I ever mentioned my idea for a Cajun cooking show with your hamster host, Antoine de Vroomfoote? He could make these wafers like we did, with the oven set at 375 and not 325. On purpose, though - um, just like we did. That's what we're telling the media.)
Let every day be a swing-your-held-hands day of circus-worthy childlike wonder and unexpected spectacles. HAPPY EL DIA de los HAMMIES 2006!
24 June 2006