Friday, July 22, 2011

Beyond Cream Cheese

My mind sort of stops with cream cheese for a bagel; I mean, there's lox and I love it, but it's a treat, and I just revert to a soft creamy cheese.

I saw a tidbit on SouleMama the other day that led me to mashing some mild local feta with a little fresh lemon juice, good olive oil, fresh pepper, and freshly snipped mint.  Spread on sesame bagel.  With a slice of the first ambrosial cantaloupe on the side and black coffee.  Breakfast heaven. 

It may interest you to know that my children did not eat much of this breakfast - probably due to the horrible heat sink we're having.  But I don't usually pay much attention to these whims - they have little food fads all the time, but I just cook what is good and figure they'll eat if they're hungry.  So yes, I will be serving this breakfast again.

And now, dear chickens, I am off for a bit to the beach.  I was dying of the heat anyway, so being forced to sleep and live in an air-conditioned beach house sounds like a delightful prospect.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Do Real Letters Still Exist?

I was sorting through old letters the other day when it occurred to me:  I don't receive or send real letters any more!  Mass mailings like Christmas letters are not what I'm referring to.  I mean a newsy little sheet sent to friends and family far away, maybe with big news or maybe with daily vignettes.  I don't even exchange emails like that anymore!  People tweet, text, blog, and email, but not with the composition of a letter.

What happened?  (Are you sending and receiving real letters?)

In case the pleasure of a letter is not enough, the act of starting a letter, getting into the news, switching topics, and drawing it all to a close are skills that frequent letter-writers are working at subconsciously.  Writing skills are thinking skills, training our brains in a way that talking and texting cannot.

Ok, it's July, and I'm making a resolution:  I'm going to write one real letter a month until Christmas (I had a hard time deciding what is realistic - first it was four, then two, then one - sighhhhh).  After Christmas, I might try to enlarge the habit.

Of course, you could rightly point out that stamps are getting expensive - email can be free - so thrifty!

Well, yes, but money is the wrong bottom line for some things. 

There are other factors to consider in this case: community, my brain, my pleasure in the paper and stamps, choosing to invest in a tradition I want to see endure. . . and I got my new Philatelic the other day, and promptly went online to buy all the cool new stamps: Mark Twain! modern industrial design! groovy Love! Gregory Peck! a cool car for the Indy 500!

Just think of the fun I will have, sitting down to a little cherry writing desk in my peignor with a cup of tea, dealing with the morning's correspondence and then ringing for Jasper to take the letters to the post. . .

(linking up with Leila's pretty happy funny real collection today)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Popsicles after SSR

 My husband, who is at home with the children while I'm at my job, has taught them Silent Sustained Reading (SSR).  No more naps for Ben, because he was having a hard time falling asleep at night.

 And after SSR, there are popsicles.  The yellow ones are leftover pouring custard.

The orange popsicles are apricot nectar.

 Check out that hair!  Genevieve loves to style hair and this time, her hanky was involved for some Bohemian chic.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cobbler's Family is Shod

So satisfying to apply my talents to my family's needs, not just my etsy shop, which has been humming recently.

Here my husband was fixing a drill and I was putting new velcro on Ben's shoe straps.

Then later I had a bit of sorely-needed sewing therapy.  Ahhhhh.  Much better!

I'm getting close to the end of the handquilting for the Klara Annabella thanks to dragging it to a reunion and swimming lessons, but for now, I have to turn my attention to sewing madly for a craft show stint coming up.  And packing for the beach! And planning a party and a dinner for a dear friend!  And then, my family gets hungry and dirty too!

I am a naturally highstrung person, so I have to keep calming myself down and reminding myself to enjoy what I'm doing and everything will be lovely.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shoofly Cake

. . .for breakfast. With peaches or blueberries or what have you on the side.  It's listed with desserts in my Mennonite Country-Style cookbook, but it's no different from some coffeecakes I've seen and probably healthier with its molasses.  It's wonderfully easy and not as rich as a pie.  Bake one on a cool sunshiny morning.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Office Supplies in the Kitchen

A paperclip to pit cherries when you have a bucket of cherries and only one pitter.  Or, stick a hairpin in a cork and grasp the cork to pit the cherries, as a market farmer told me this week.

(Did you know you can make fantastic fruit cobbler in your crockpot??  Perfect way to eat summer fruit and not heat up the kitchen. My family likes 2/3 cup sugar to 4 cups sour cherries in a dessert. It's useful to know this when you're making a cobbler that has options for several kinds of fruit.)

A binder clip to hold a recipe card.

And a pushpin to make a tiny hole in the end of a very fresh egg before boiling.  Such a simple thing makes a new egg a cinch to peel (the older the egg, the easier it is to peel after hardboiling).  Rebecca spotted this tip on SouleMama.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Heatproofing with Curtains and Blinds

I recalled the nailing heat of the sun last summer after our neighbors removed some trees that shaded our house.  My husband and I decided to try to block the sun as much as possible in this old kitchen space that leads out onto the balcony.  It's a mess and we haven't decided what we're doing with it yet.

We bought 2 outdoor blinds for the balcony ($80), and then I made curtains for the windows (free!).  This was such a satisfying project because the blinds were the only new thing.

My friend Kim had just helped her parents empty their attic in preparation for moving, and she gave me some fabric and dresser scarves her grandmother embroidered.  There were panels of this great home dec fabric - I didn't have to cut a thing.  I just sewed them together and backed them with old white muslin curtains in my stash.

Unfortunately, I measured the length for a pressure rod and even bought said rod, and then my husband found a regular curtain rod in the basement.  I cleverly forgot to adjust my math, so the curtains on the wall window are a bit short.  Tra-la, they're in the box room anyway!

All this sun blocking has made the upstairs noticeably cooler . . .and the only thing we bought were those shades.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Polly, here's the recipe you asked for - I remembered!

2 cups cooked, drained garbanzos
3 Tbs. tahini (sesame butter)
juice & zest of 1 lemon
1-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
3-5 Tbs. olive oil

OK, honestly, I haven't measured ingredients for hummus for years.  I just dump approximate amounts, except for olive oil, in the food processor.  Then I turn it on and drizzle in olive oil until it's spreadable, but not runny.  I taste it and usually add a little more salt and lemon juice.  I err on the acidic side. 

I think not getting out measuring cups and spoons every time I want to cook something is such a shortcut in my kitchen.  And I feel so experienced, cooking by eyeballing and tasting.  Baking is the major exception, however - there is chemistry involved in the amounts of fat, dry ingredients, and leavening.

For the hummus, if you don't have tahini, you could toast sesame seeds and add them, or you could skip the sesame thing altogether.  Tahini is a pantry item for me because we also put it in hot cereal in cold weather.

My sister in law adds interesting things like sun-dried tomatoes or spinach.  I usually keep mine plain, and then vary what we eat it with.  We usually make openfaced sandwiches with whatever vegetables we have around, although cucumbers and tomatoes are especially nice.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flirting with Warby Parker

Background: I have a terrible time picking glasses frames:  I take along husband, friends, mother, sister and visit multiple stores, uncertain whose advice to take. Glasses are expensive, so I aim for a serviceable frame and try to change frames as little as possible.
The five pictures against the brick are me trying on glasses - read on for why I was doing this in my back yard.

I read about Warby Parker in a W magazine as I waited for Genevieve to get her hair cut (my favorite part of appointments is the magazines, don't you agree?).  I was wishing for bolder glasses, so I scribbled down the website.

They were wonderful to deal with.  I tried on 10 frames through their handy free trial system (and took goofy pictures of 5 - this is a lot of pictures of me for just one post).

And I swept through the mall glasses stores too, coupons in hand.  Their glasses were still hundreds compared to Warby Parker's $95 and their donation to charity.  Really - $95 for cool glasses.

I really really wanted Warby Parker glasses, but in the end, I liked the reddish tortoise frames at Eyemart Express best (below, against the Victorian fish scales).  And at $150, they were still relatively inexpensive.

However, either my face is crooked or the optometrist is crooked, because I've been back twice now and I swear these glasses are still crooked.

These glasses require a bit of confidence for me to wear.  They are bolder and bigger and chosen more intuitively (I still have spasms of doubt - too 80s? too masculine? too overpowering?).  But usually I'm digging the look.

 Dear Warby Parker, I will try again next decade when I need a new pair of frames.  Au revoir! xo

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Summer of Puddings

I think I like puddings better than ice cream, and I do love ice cream.  It's just that ice cream forces you to hurry if you want to enjoy it in its best state.  Puddings are cool, silky, and slooooow.  You can sit there forever with pudding, talking or staring in the humidity, and the pudding will still be there.  It's what I crave when I'm hot and bothered - and less trouble for me to make than ice cream.

My friend Peter gave me some chocolate pudding which I did not share with my family.  I followed his directions to the Alton Brown recipe.  It's a neat trick - homemade pudding mix.  But I put too much salt in mine, which gave it an unwanted peanut butter flavor.

Then there was my old favorite, easy-peasy vanilla tapioca, this time with crushed blackberries on top.  Fantastic. [updated with recipe below]

Sunday was the version of eclair dessert.  I think there will be floating island this week. 

I keep seeing fascinating pudding recipes at my job.  And I have my eye on a chocolate charlotte and a mocha fluff from my 1952 Joy of Cooking.  Do you have suggestions, too?  But first I need to get sweet cream at market  - my cream has gone sour again.

Easy Peasy Tapioca Pudding

Mix together in a large saucepan (the pudding expands):
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbs. minute tapioca
2 3/4 cups milk
1 egg, well beaten
pinch salt

Allow to stand for at least 5 minutes, but longer doesn't hurt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly so the milk won't scorch.  Bring to a full boil, then turn off heat.

Stir in:
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour into a serving dish or storage container.  Let the pudding sit for 20 minutes, then stir.  Either dish into bowls and eat it warm, or refrigerate until chilled through.  Lovely garnished with fruit or fruit sauce.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Salade Necoise

The version of salade necoise that I use varies with what I have on hand.  I got the idea from More with Less, but I've eaten different versions in restaurants, most notably a French restaurant in Montreal with A.  I love salade necoise in all its versions! (And I had a room mate in college whose name was Necois. . .she taught me some cooking tricks).

My version of salade necoise is potato salad on a bed of lettuce, with cucumbers and tomatoes, a steamed, chilled green vegetable, some tuna, and fresh herbs and a vinaigrette over all.  I used frozen peas this time, as we had just picked and eaten our green beans a few days ago.  I usually like salade necois with good bread, but yesterday there was dessert instead.

Saturday:make Aunt Linda's Potato Salad
chill a can of tuna
wash, dry lettuce
chop cucumbers

Sunday morning:
defrost frozen peas
make vinaigrette

Sunday noon:
put the tuna in a serving bowl
slice tomatoes
snip fresh herbs from the backyard
set the table

The dessert was a variation of eclair dessert that I made up.  I made a batch of vanilla cornstarch pudding, and layered it with chocolate graham crackers.  Then I put peanut butter icing over the top.  I allowed it to sit for a few days in the fridge.  The flavor was great, but there should have been more pudding in my opinion.