Monday, December 31, 2007

Raise a glass, give a cheer, 2008 is here...almost

I don't know about you guys but I'm pleased as punch that 2008 is here. I hate to speak ill of the almost dead, but 2007 really stunk for me and mine. My grandmother's house burned to the ground this year, my husband had surgery, our property line dispute turned into a court battle, and so on and so on and so on. Whew. What a relief that in a few scant hours, a brand spanky new year awaits us all.

I'm sending out good wishes to all my new blog friends for the coming year. I can't wait to read your posts in the coming days and learn what 08 has in store for you. So come on, big old shiny ball, start dropping. We'll take a cup of kindness yet in the days of auld lang syne....

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Butter, Schmutter

Contrary to what the lipidly-challenged might say, butter isn't the greatest thing you can eat for your health. I know this. But, butter is the greatest thing to eat for your tastebuds. What tastes better than butter? Butter in baked goods. We ate our way one step closer to a triple bypass yesterday. Hubby had the craving for homemade chicken pot pie, so his accomodating wife (that would be me, for those folks who know me and are snickering) spent two hours making it up from scratch. The crust had 2 1/2 sticks of butter and 4 tablespoons of Crisco. The sauce had 6 tablespoons of butter and 1 cup of heavy cream. If that doesn't sound deadly enough, we rounded out the eating with a heavenly chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. Another couple of sticks of the good stuff went into making that confection, so all told, our butter intake yesterday was somewhere close to the national average for Bulgaria.

Did I mention that I love butter? Oh yeah. On the bright side, I think our fridge is empty of all solid fat products, so things shouldn't be quite so deadly from now on.

But it was good while it lasted.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Grumble, grumble...

You may have noticed a new template here at Nostalgic Homemaking. What you might not have noticed is that my nifty new template wiped out my nifty blog links, site links and book links. So, I'll be searching my memory-challenged brain to remember all the links that I love so I can add them back in. Pardon the mess while it is under construction.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Back to life, back to reality...

Well, the holiday hoopla is over and I'm sitting in my living room, surrounded by the debris of merriment. Scraps of wrapping paper, candy cane plastic wraps, foil from miniture chocolates left by Santa in the stockings. And that's not even talking about dismantling the tree, taking down the garland...and so on and so on and so on.

Whew. I'm tired thinking about it. As it turns out, my family has a (convenient) tradition that states the tree cannot be removed before New Year's Day or it is Bad Luck (with a capital B and L). So I don't have to deal with the tree just yet.

This week is about cleaning up my house, since I neglected many chores these last few craft-filled weeks. This week is also about getting back my cleaning mojo and keeping to the Schedule (Monday is wash day...etc.). It's like exercise, I know it is good for me, I know it really works, but for some reason lately, I've avoided it like the plague.

So January will find me back on schedule, back at the gym, and working on my book. Yeah, yeah, I know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but don't burst my bubble just yet.

I'm off to research knitting pirates. Yes, the seafaring kind. I've heard a crazy rumor that there was much knitting on those boats, so I'm gonna find out if it is true. I should be vacuuming something but....

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What a wonderful Christmas!

We had an amazing Christmas. Santa outdid himself, that's for sure. NR received the toys he had most wanted, so he was pleased as punch. I finished my homemade gifts (well, with one notable exception) and the recipients really liked them. We spent the day in matching pjs that my dear Sis had sewn for us all; eating some great roast beast (ham, actually) and savoring some of Mom's out-of-this-world potatoes au gratin.

The gifts we received were wonderful, especially the oil painting of the black swan my mother made for me and the gorgeous quilt from Sis, but more importantly - so much more importantly - we had a fun time together. We even had a Christmas miracle here in Seattle; it snowed on Christmas. Yes, for a few brief minutes, we had a white Christmas.

So, I'm gushing about this Christmas. I'm positively giddy, like the Grinch after his heart grew two sizes. What can I say? It really was a wonderful day. Did I mention my fantabulous new sewing machine? /kiss to my hubby.

Oh, here are a few bragging photos of my handmade creations, just to top off the gushiness of this post. I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas had just as wonderful a day, and for those who don't partake, I hope your Tuesday was equally as magical:

Sis, Bro-in-law & their portrait


Amigurumi Strawberry Shortcake


Yo Yo pillow

Monday, December 24, 2007

Not So Random Recipe Monday - Chocolate Egg Nog

This recipe isn't all that random because I went looking for an egg nog recipe to share. I have never had chocolate egg nog, but I just might give it a try tonight. If you are interested in making up a batch yourself, check out eggnogrecipe.net for this and other versions of the classic Christmas drink.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mea culpa, mea culpa....

I'm a rotten, no good sister. No, really. Ask anyone. Well, rather, ask my sister. Almost one week ago, we celebrated my baby sister's birthday and I did not post a congratulatory "Happy Birthday". I had a lame reason; I didn't want to encroach on her private life. Yeah, blah blah blah. Stinky reason.

So, without further ado....ahem...."Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dearest Sister. Happy Birthday to you!!!!!!"

I love you.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

And speaking of Yule....Daring Bakers' Challenge



This is my first month participating in the Daring Bakers' Challenge. The super secret project was.....wait for it.....a Yule Log (buche de noel for our French friends). I've never made one before so it was quite a challenge indeed, and loads of fun. Here are photos of my little darling.


Note the lovely bump on my log. The marizpan mushrooms, holly and little mouse. The mousey prints through the powdered sugar/marshmallow cream snow. Ah....so cute I'm almost sick from the sugar. I kept the challenge genoise the same, except I added vanilla extract. The coffee (and rum) buttercream is straight from the challenge as well.

My only concern now is how the heck to transport this baby to the party at Mom's house today. Hmmmm...let's hope my log doesn't turn into kindling on the ride there.

For info on the Daring Baker's check my Blog links to the right.

Happy Solstice - Winter 'tis here

Old man Winter has arrived. The shortest day/longest night has come and now each day will bring more sun. Yippee. It's funny how Winter is always associated with darkening days, but that really belongs to Autumn. Many thanks to Lorraine for the great link to the streaming video of the sunrise at Newgrange (neolithic passage tomb in Ireland, aligned to the Winter Solstice, for those not into Celty things).

I visited Newgrange on my previously mentioned package tour from hell and found the site breathtaking. I'm sad to say that I was too clausterphobic to brave the passage with the throng of tour members crushing on all sides, so I missed out on seeing it from the inside. But the carvings and the size of the structure are impressive, certainly.

I've always had an affinity for Yuletime. Sure, Christmas gets the hoopla, but there is something wonderful about the idea of the sun coming back, bringing warmth and light, a little more each day. Conversely, I'm always a bit saddened in June when the Summer Solstice reminds me that the luxury of light and warmth is ebbing away. I'm not as tuned into the turning of the seasons as I ought to be, but Winter Solstice always perks me up.

Looking out my window, on this wintry day, I see rain falling. Typical for Seattle winters. I think I'll watch the video of the sunlight illuminating Newgrange again. I could use a little ray of light on this dark, cold morning.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jack Frost? Try Suzy Snowflake

*
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I...well, we don't get them here in Seattle. But I'm dreaming anyway. So I thought maybe paying a little attention to Suzy Snowflake might coax her into twirling down here and waving her wand. Not familiar with our gal, Sue? Well, check out the niftiness of her 1951 television appearance at Youtube. I don't know if Jack Frost is her brother, her rival or what, but the girl has it going on.

*Image courtesy of Tuneheaven.com.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Born in the USA?


I am always surprised when I find seemingly mundane and innocuous ideas are now seemingly political and devisive ideas. Take, for example, the idea of products created in the US. My Dad and I were having a "chicken and the egg" conversation the other day about the demise of small businesses and the rise of big box stores with low low prices. Dad feels that the increased taxes on business owners have driven them offshore. I feel that the middle class pays a disproportionate amount of the taxes and that is why we are forced to shop at these retailers, instead of the local (and more expensive) mom and pop stores, thereby driving them out of business. The issue is more complicated than either one of us thinks, no doubt. But the conversation got me thinking about products made in the US. Where are the US products now? Do I even own anything that originated in the US, other than handicrafts and things like that?

Ok, so with this in mind, I did a little surfing to find out what is available, which leads me to me point of politics. I was amazed to find such "anti-everyone else" instead of "pro US products" language in their content. One site had a list of things made in France, so good Americans could boycott - are people still refusing to give up on that? I thought Freedom Fries had died long ago. The sites seemed to be enticing shoppers with negativity, darn near Hate speech, rather than talking about why US made products are the way to go. I find that unsettling. We hate it when our politicians "go negative" and fail to talk about what she or he can do for us. Why in the world would we want to make our consumer purchases under that same practice of mudslinging?

So, once I again, I sit at my computer, scratching my head and thinking "huh?". I must really be out of sync with things. I like to support local folks, US jobs, quality products. But I don't want to be in the company of the people who wrap themselves in the flag and damn everyone else in the world. I still like French fashion, English tea, Swiss chocolates and Japanese tech. Does that make me a traitor to my country? I want to buy US made clothing, toys and household goods but I won't frequent websites that traffic in hate speech.

Damn, why does something that seems so simple have to be so bloody political? Bah humbug.

If I manage to find sites that sell US products without the strings of political extremeists, I'll list them at the bottom of this post.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A little something for grandma...



Feel better soon, Nana.

Everybody Eats When They Come To My House
as performed by Cab Calloway


Have a banana, Hannah,
Try the salami, Tommy,
Give with the gravy, Davy,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Try a tomato, Plato,
Here's cacciatore, Dorie,
Taste the baloney, Tony,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

I fix your favorite dishes,
Hopin' this good food fills ya!
Work my hands to the bone in the kitchen alone,
You better eat if it kills ya!

Pass me a pancake, Mandrake,
Have an hors-d'oeuvre-y, Irvy,
Look in the fendel, Mendel,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Hannah! Davy! Tommy! Dora! Mandrake!
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Pastafazoola, Talullah!
Oh, do have a bagel, Fagel,
Now, don't be so bashful, Nashville,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Hey, this is a party, Marty,
Here, you get the cherry, Jerry,
Now, look, don't be so picky, Micky,
'Cause everybody eats when they come to my house!

All of my friends are welcome,
Don't make me coax you, moax you,
Eat the tables, the chairs, the napkins, who cares?
You gotta eat if it chokes you!

Oh, do have a knish, Nishia,
Pass me the latke, Macky,
Chile con carne for Barney,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Face! Buster! Chair! Chops! Fump!
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Transcription of lyrics originally posted here

Song available on iTunes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yep, he's real alright

NR ran into the home office this morning and the first words out of his mouth were "You know that Santa is real." I hugged him and said "Yes, I know." He looked at me earnestly, saying "Yep, he's real alright." Satisfied that he had convinced me, he was ready for his orange juice and cream of wheat.

Kids accept Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other fantastical beings without skepticism. It's natural for them to put a tooth under a pillow and find money there the next morning.

But somewhere along the line they start to question, to doubt, to wonder if the things they know to be true are really false. What causes the change? Friends that poke holes in the story? Parents who stop supporting the reality of Santa? The questioning nature that comes with puberty? I don't know.

For me, Santa is real. I went through an adolescent phase when I didn't believe, but ever since NR was born, I've known the truth. He's as real as any other idea that we believe in, like good will, helping out those in need, the goodness in giving. Just because we've adopted an image from advertising as his icon doesn't make him any less real. I didn't lie to NR when I agreed with his statement. Santa is real in our home.

Yep, he's real alright.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Who killed the electric car?

Ok, I gotta give a quick shoutout to the film "Who killed the electric car". If you haven't seen it, rent it quick. It sounds boring as hell but trust me it isn't. I'm mourning the loss of the EV1 even as we speak.

Random Recipe Monday - Saucy Hamburger Crumble


I hope I don't ruin anyone's day when I say that Betty Crocker wasn't a real person. I know, hard to believe, but she didn't exist. Be that as it may, Betty liked to cook. In 1958, she published a book about cooking for boys and girls. Unlike Mrs. Seinfeld today, Betty didn't try to hide good veggies in her brownies. She tried to impress upon the little children the importance of purchasing her products to make some swell cakes.

Although there is advertising aplenty in this book, there are some recipes too. One of the recipes is the Saucy Hamburger Crumble. Betty calls for this to be served over mashed potatoes. I'm not sure why this is something that kids should be cooking, since it calls for frying hamburger and adding liquid to hot grease, but hey, who am I to question Betty.

Melt in frying pan 1 tablespoon fat. Add and brown lightly 1 small onion chopped. Then add and brown 1 pound ground beef, 1 teaspoon salt. Break the meat into small pieces. Stir in 1/4 cup Gold Medal Flour. Then stir in 2 cups water or milk. Heat until gravy bubbles. Serve over mashed potatoes. Serves four.

Friday, December 14, 2007

We now return you to your...

I'll be enjoying the soggy breezes at the ocean for the next couple of days, roughing it without any Internet. See you on Sunday.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

One big melting pot

Some foods are identified with specific regions of the world and it's hard to think of them in any other light. For me, gratins fall into that category. I really think of them as a French food, though they probably exist in other cuisines. Perhaps because I'm not adept with French cuisine, I feel less able to mix and match ingredients to suit my taste, so I tend not to stray too far from the recipe.

Lately though, I've been in an experimental mood and my cooking has reflected my willingness to wing it - just ask my husband about the lasagna we had last night. So today, as I was browsing through some French-style recipes, I thought about the gratin and whether I wanted to tinker with it too. The fact that my fridge lacked swiss cheese of any kind led to me to throw caution to the wind. So a new gratin (to me) was born. I used baby red potatoes (unpeeled no less) and cheddar cheese, milk and sour cream. It's in the oven right now, so I'll have to update this post after dinner.

Right next to it on parchment sheets are ground pork meatballs. These too went through a transformation. I really steered far afield from the Italian recipe and added fish sauce, sweet red chili sauce and worcester sauce, plus a healthy dose of minced onion. These were inspired by some really great dim sum I had the other day.

So quasi-French-meets-West-coast-cheddar gratin and started-as-Italian-but-ended-up-Thai pork meatballs are on the menu. Finished off with an old-school apple crisp. Sounds like a recipe for a split personality, doesn't it. Not to me. I like my food in the melting pot tradition. Sometimes it is nice to have a unified menu but more often than not, it is exciting to try tastes that don't seem to suit each other, but miraculously do. Sometimes it is a bad call and sometimes it is a success. We'll see what happens tonight.

Update: Meatballs were good but the gratin was just meh. Win some, lose some.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You say Lasagne, I say Lasagna

Mmmm, lasagna. All ooey, gooey, cheesy, tomatoey (yes, that is a word) and full of Italian goodness. What's better than lasagna? Well, some would say lasagne. It depends on what spelling you are used to. Me, I've known it both ways, but I tend to type "lasagne" but I'm thinking "lasagna". Capisco? Probably not. Oh well. Doesn't matter because they both taste good.

Growing up, my mom made it with small curd cottage cheese. I've never been a fan of the curd, so when I had it with ricotta, I made the switch. I think my aunt might even make it with tomato soup. I'm not going that far, but I do use canned sauce most of the time, along with "no bake" noodles and turkey instead of hamburger. Hardly authentic, I know. But it still comes out ok.

The thing about lasagna is that it doesn't have to be about tomatoes, meat and cheese. Heck, cheese doesn't have to figure into the equation at all - although, why would you want to leave it out is anyone's guess. The Internets are full of folks who put pumpkin, squash, eggplant, and other various veggies instead of meat. Many folks are partial to the bechamel style sauce, instead of ragu. Me, I'm cool with whatever shows up on the plate because I just find the beauty of those stacked sheets of pasta to be soul satisfying. A lovely blogger named Maryann shares many wonderful recipes at Finding La Dolce Vita. Check out her "ricotta and besciamella" lasagna for something far more interesting than cottage cheese and tomato soup. If anyone must know the secret behind the tomato soup version, let me know and I'll get it to you.

Ooh, gotta go check my dish in the oven right now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The working world...

I haven't blogged about my "former life", working as a paralegal. Mainly because who the heck cares about that, other than those in the field. What I also haven't mentioned is that I quit my job (a job I really truly liked, with folks I really truly cared about) because of a stressful dynamic with my supervisor (that's the polite way of saying that we were like Tom and Jerry in the office). So, one day, I just had it. I quit. With no other job prospects, with no plan, with nothing but several boxes of my office frou frou (my bobble-head Heat Miser, Snow Miser dolls; neon color sticky notes, and iPod dock, to name a few).

So why am I mentioning it now, you may rightly be wondering. Well, six months later, I just went back and had a little lunch with some of my former co-workers. I have been dreading this, because I left in such a huff and frankly, I've been feeling uneasy about my new life, sans-gainful employment. But I wanted to see my friends, so I bit the bullet and walked through those glass doors again.

Boy, it was awkward. I felt odd, almost like the ghost of Jacob Marley come back to haunt. What surprised me most of all was how I quickly belittled the work I am doing now. I made pithy little comments about my homemaking, my blogging, my need to find some direction soon. They smiled, nodded, but didn't look me in the eye. I think they were embarrassed for me. I think they feel sorry for me that I let a dispute end my career with them.

And until the day I had lunch with them, I felt sorry for me too. I felt foolish for throwing away the job, the good contacts, the case work that I loved. I felt stupid for letting someone else push my buttons. Driving home on the same freeway I've taken hundreds of times from work, I realized that working there wasn't who I was, it wasn't how I describe myself or what I value. Now is the time for me to do the work that is important to me and my family. Tapping into my strengths, learning from my weaknesses, developing what I can do. That's my New Year's resolution this year. Normally, my resolutions are kicked to the curb before February even hits, but this year, it's about more than losing weight or being a better person. It's time for me to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. If there is one thing that December always reminds me of, it is that time gets away from us all. Time for me to enter a new working world, one of my own making.

Whee, this is gonna be fun. Hope I like me as a boss.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh Fudge (Random Recipe Monday)


Three cheers for the folks that put together foodtimeline.org. What a great resource for those of us crazy for food history trivia. Ever wondered how candies came into our holiday lives? Well, maybe not. But fudge is one of those treats that I'm glad to see grace the plastic tree-shaped dishes so prevalent right now. It's one of those things that I don't keep around because I'd eat the whole thing. But with get-togethers on the horizon, I have an excuse to make some up and a reason not to eat it all.

There are many fudge recipes, and I'm no expert candymaker, that's for sure. But I'm going to be trying out Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower's Miracle Fudge this week. According to wikipedia, this was a favorite treat of Ike's and was served at dinners at the White House. I can't quite imagine such a straightforward little treat surving in today's White House.
Here's wiki's version of Mamie's fudge:
4-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 pinch of salt
1 tall can evaporated milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate bits
12 ounces German sweet chocolate
1 pint marshmallow cream
2 cups chopped nutmeats
Heat the sugar, butter, salt, and evaporated milk over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil for 6 minutes. Put chocolate bits, German chocolate, marshmallow cream, and nutmeats in a bowl. Pour the boiling syrup over the ingredients. Beat until the chocolate is all melted, then pour in a pan. Let stand for a few hours before cutting. Remember it is better the second day.

Oh, and the origin of fudge? Foodtimeline.org says that college girls in the late 19th century cooked it up as a way to stay up past their bedtimes. My, how times have changed.

Photo courtesy of AllRecipes.com. Click
here for advice on fudgemaking.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lost in the kitchen...

I didn't blog yesterday, I didn't craft yesterday, heck I didn't even check my email yesterday. I spent most of my day in my kitchen. What kind of a Saturday is that, you may ask. A really enjoyable, relaxing Saturday, I'll answer. I like being in my kitchen (when the dishes are done). I like having pots on the stove, something in the oven, hands dusted in flour, apron strings around my hips. I really like it when I am trying new recipes. Yesterday was experimental. As you may recall, I've been on a From-Russia-With-Love kick lately, so I made a Russian-style dinner. Beef stew with horseradish and sour cream, vareniki (like pierogies) filled with cheese and panfried. The stew was really good, and I don't like stew as a general rule, so thumbs-up on that recipe. The vareniki were just meh. I substituted ricotta instead of cottage cheese in the filling and that was a mistake. The filling leeched out and all we were left with were fried vareniki wrappers. Still, fried in butter is kinda tasty, but I'd try them again with the potato filling.

I made a big ole batch of curried egg salad because I had some eggs that were less than fresh and I wanted to use them up. NR chose some cupcakes for our Saturday cupcake baking (which we haven't done in a few weekends, so it was nice to do it again). "Neapolitan" cupcakes, with the batter divided into three colors and swirled together for baking. It was fun watching him dollop the chocolate one into the baking cups. He kept touching the spoon onto the edge of the paper, which pulled it from the baking tin. Kinda like the cooking version of Operation.

Several dishwasher loads later, the kitchen is more or less clean. Still some splattered butter lurking in corners from the fried vareniki. We have enough stew left over for dinner tonight, which is nice. Today, I don't have time to hang out in the kitchen, and I'm sad for it. I wanted to make up some bread. Salt-rising bread, challah bread, french bread. All kinds. Guess that will have to wait for another Saturday.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Toys of Yesterday....

Visit Memomuseum
here

Do you ever wax nostalgic for your toys? I do. I think about the stuff I had growing up, the toys that made Christmas really fun and something I looked forward to all year. I had the Wizard of Oz's Witch's Castle, the Princess Leia doll with the "real" hair in those donuts, the Atari game system with Pong, Frogger and PacMac. There were lots and lots of Barbies, her dream house, her car, and her boyfriend, Ken. Did Sis and I have too much? Oh probably, but we appreciated it nonetheless. I wasn't blase about my stuff the way NR is about his toys. I don't know why it all seemed to mean more to me or maybe that is just revisionist history talking. I'll have to ask my mom if my memory is accurate.

I wish I had those toys still. My Shaun Cassidy locket, my ballerina jewelry box, my collection of weird, anime-style dolls in antebellum style satin dresses and severely-parted bun hairstyles. I still have the old Cabbage Patch doll and my sister has her Care Bear somewhere. I picked up a few Strawberry Shortcake dolls for Sis a few years ago on eBay but they just didn't smell as good as I remembered. No, you can't go back, no matter what all the toy collectors think, but it is nice to hold a bit of plastic in your hands and remember how it felt to open the package and see it for the first time. Even as wonderful as seeing Christmas through NR's eyes is for me, nothing will ever be like waking up at 4 o'clock on Christmas, waiting anxiously until 6:30 until I could wake up my folks (reading Charlotte's Web to pass the time), staying in my bedroom until Mom had the Christmas tree lights turned on, and then walking into the living room, all lit up with wonder. Our Christmas mornings were magical. Not because of the pile of gifts, well that didn't hurt, but because everything was transformed for those moments while we opened our gifts. Those are the memories that my toys bring back to me.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The extended family...

Every year, somewhere between my sister's birthday and Christmas, we get together with the extended family. By "we", I mean my immediate fam (mom, dad, sis, grandma, hubbies and kids) and by "extended family", I mean my dad's clan. Generally, it's a fairly sober event - no alcohol and no merriment. My dad's clan is reserved. They don't like garlic, or spices, or loud things. They like lefse, and crocheted afghans, and Rice-a-Roni "Spanish" rice. They are all really good at Trivial Pursuit and take it seriously. I used to think they were so different from my immediate family because they were so Scandinavian and we were so Irish. I pictured them as frosty, stoic, bland, like some nordic ice village, but without the cool ice hotels or castles. Lutefisk, that gelatinous wobble of fish soaked in lye (no, I'm not kidding) really epitomized them in my mind. While my Irish bunch, though not into whiskey, were loud and boisterous. Everyone talks over everyone else. Everyone eats and plays pinochle. We know how to have Fun - capital F kinda fun.

Ok, so do I still see this as an US versus THEM kinda thing? Well, sort of. I've come to appreciate my grandmother's silent strength (heck, she scrubbed her kitchen floor right before giving birth to twins so the house would be clean when she got back from the hospital) and the way they all seem quite content with their lives. They aren't looking for spice, for excitement, for novelty. Bland potato lefse is just fine with them, thank you very much. There's something to be admired in not seeking beyond the comforts of your own home - something very Dorothy-after-she-comes-back-from-Oz-ish about that. Me - I'm always searching. I'm always looking for the next thing, the next new recipe, new spice, new interest. Some of these things stick around with me (I couldn't live without garlic) and some of them pass along (like those fancy ice hotels that melt each spring). So I guess I'm a weird amalgamation of the stoic Scandinavian and the hot-blooded Irish.

My Norwegian grandmother used to hate The Golden Girls when it was on TV. She felt the portrayal of Rose Nylund was undignified, that it made Scandinavians look stupid, simple. She didn't like it. I've never though she was stupid but I have thought her approach to life was too simple for me. I just couldn't get around the fact that she was happy crocheting the same afghans year and year after year. She didn't vary them, she didn't change them up, she just held fast to her way of doing things. Looking back though, that isn't simple. Holding fast is very hard to do.

So We will meet up with Them and I'm offering to make the food this time. No hidden spices, or disguised garlic. Nope. I'm making a 1950s menu straight out of Betty Crocker.
Chex mix
Onion dip
Pigs in a blanket
Deviled eggs
Hot cheese puffs
I hope they like it. My wish is that I can learn to see them as a little more like family and a little less like strangers we see a few times a year. Maybe grandma will even be excited to see I've taken up a crochet hook. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I smell a theme coming on....

I like themes for parties. Cliche, you say? True. Unoriginal, you think? Sometimes. But honestly I find theme parties to be fun. That of course depends on the theme. I wouldn't do a Cinco de Mayo party on May 5 because it is overdone, but perhaps a Dia de los Muertos on November 1, a family get-together to honor those we've lost, or a St. Lucia party for my Scandinavian family (wonder if Uncle Calvin will don the lighted candle crown if I ask...)

I like unusual theme parties. So much so that I'm working on a little vanity press book on the subject, which would be easier if I could take decent photos. But that aside, the theme of this post is about themes in general (yes, that was corny).

Themes are everywhere. From musical scores to menus, fashion collections to hardware stores, themes abound. Don't believe me? Think about the literal meaning of theme: a unifying idea that is a recurring element. I like the sound of that...an idea that brings things together and happens over and over. Kinda like the holidays, dontcha think?

Should adherence to a theme be rigorous? No way. I think the best themes in our homes, our kitchens, our families, our fun times are not rules. They are markers on a map, the lattice that supports the climbing rose of our lives (wow, that was overly poetical). Once I started thinking about themes, I saw them everywhere. My preference for 1920s art, architecture and household items; my interest in handmade, rustic, artisan materials; my ever-present love of vintage fashion. All these recurring elements sprout from the same unifying idea: for me, keeping the past close makes me feel grounded, connected to those that have gone before. It gives continuity to life.

Ok, that's heavy for a post that started as a discussion of party themes. Whew. But nonetheless, I'm interested in hearing what other people think about this. Are themed events an homage to the setting/time period/holiday or a cheap imitation? Does it depend on the spirit and intent of those attending? Is corny in the eye of the beholder? I'm curious....

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Only four movies...

I watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies. Lately, TCM has been asking celebrities to guest host and select four movies they want to share with viewers. I can't imagine narrowing down my favorite movies to just four. How could I pick four? It depends entirely on my mood, the season, whether I'm alone or with friends, and on and on. Could you pick just four? I'm curious what folks would select for their top four films to share with an audience. And since I can't restrict myself to four (my post, my rules) here are some of my favs:

Chocolat: Ok, it isn't because of Monsieur Depp that I love this movie. But he doesn't hurt it, that's for sure. This is a gorgeous film that makes me warm up a mug of hot chocolate with chili powder every time. Love, love, love it. Same deal with Enchanted April, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. All good chicky-flicks.


His Girl Friday
: Rosalind Russell was one of the all-time great comedic actresses. This film is a great showcase for her talent and Cary Grant wasn't half bad either. Goofy plot but who cares. Ditto for Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series.


All About Eve
: Bette Davis, George Sanders, heck even Marilyn Monroe. This movie is really perfection. Great casting, and some of the best lines ever. Hang on for the bumpy ride. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is another doozy. Davis and Joan Crawford.

The Illusionist: This movie really stayed with me, mainly from the strong performances of Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton. That, and I'm a sucker for Houdini-style magic.

Family Plot: Greatest runaway car scene ever. Bruce Dern was hilarious. My favorite of Hitchcock's movies, except for Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Notorious..Oh dear....

Films I loved but will never watch again: Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Silence of the Lambs.

Musicals I'm not ashamed to say that I love: Singing in the Rain, Gypsy, Mame (with Rosalind Russell, not Lucille Ball), Anastasia (love the music, story is whacked).

Oh, there are just too many. Oh well. As long as TCM keeps playing 'em, my list will keep growing. Funny how my favorites never seem to be anything currently playing. Hmmmm, wonder why that is...

Is there an Elves' Union?

I decided back in October that I would make as many of my Christmas presents as possible this year. You'd think that starting in October would have given me plenty o'time to get them all done, but not so. I still have several projects that are in various stages of construction. I've basically given up any other daytime activity during the week, so you can imagine the state of my house. The pressure is really on to finish all these up before the big day. According to my scheduling calendar, (yes, I had to plan it out with a calendar) I should be done in time. My wonderful family reads this blog so I can't divulge what's on my craft table (yes, we had to install a craft table in our office so I'd have somewhere to work) but as soon as the gifts are given, I'll post photos of all the work. Hint: most of the items are embroidered and crocheted.

So, if this is so much work, why am I doing it? Because even though it is time-consuming, it is great knowing that these things from my tired, carpal-tunnel prone hands are going to those that I love. The fact that these are all unique and individual makes me happy and I really like that I didn't run to a box store and grab something labeled "stocking stuffer". That's not to say that folks who buy their gifts are taking short cuts (backpedals slowly), quite the contrary. Finding a good special gift out at the mall takes time and patience to handle the insane crowds. But for me, this year, I wanted to give my lumpy, bumpy, slightly off-center gifts, made with lots o' love (Ah....ain't that special....)

If you want to give some homemade lovin' but don't have the time or skill to make gifts, check out Etsy.com. Tons o'crafters have amazing items up for sale - jewelry, leather items, T-shirts, you name it. Plus the money goes to artisans not chain stores. (Steps down from soap box).

Ok, back to work. Santa gets really nasty if we elves take too long on our smoke/pee breaks.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Testing, testing, 123

I just downloaded Windows Live Writer and I am testing this out here. My anti-Windows husband recommended I give it a whirl, so that alone made it worthy of downloading. It lets me write my blogposts in my blog's format, so things look as they will look in the blog. I'm hoping it has other bells and whistles that make it worthwhile, but since it was free, meh.

Anywho, Elvis has left the building...

Random Recipe Monday - Russian Tea

Matryoshka from wikipedia
For some reason, I am way into Russian images and iconography right now. St. Basil's Cathedral? Check. Matryoskas? Check. Big tall Cossack hats? Check. No idea why. My heritage isn't Russian but I've been fascinated by tsar-era Russia for sometime (I did a 25-page report on the entire Romanov dynasty in 10th grade; I should have apologized to my teacher).

Russian tea always seems like a good winter beverage. You can go whole По-русски and make your tea in a samovar, or just drink it out of the saucer, as those in the know do. You can make a Mad Russian by adding brandy to it, if that's your thang. Go Rasputin on it, if you like.

You'd be amazed how many recipes for Russian Tea include Tang. I had no idea that not only the astronauts but the cosmonauts were into that stuff. Oh, and fyi - the famous Russian Tea Room in NYC started in 1927. See? All good stuff began in the 20s.

Russian Tea (courtesy of www.ruscuisine.com):
8 tb Black Ceylon tea leaves
2 tb Whole cloves
3 tb Fresh orange peel or
- Tangerine peel
4 ea Cinnamon sticks whole
1/2 c Honey
1/4 c Lemon juice frshly squeezed

Place the tea leaves, the cloves, the orange peel, and the cinnamon sticks into a cheese cloth or muslin bag and tie the top tightly. Bring 2 quarts of water to a brisk boil, add the the bag, remove from the heat, and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Add the honey & lemon juice and serve. This tea may be made in advance and kept for 2-3 days if it is covered and refrigerated.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Childhood is calling...


Ok, that's a trademark phrase, so Kellogg's lawyers: don't sue me. I'm making a batch of Rice Krispie Treats today. Puffed rice, marshmallow and butter somehow transforms when it is all together into a really delicious treat. As with all wonderful things, Rice Krispies had their start in the 1920s - 1928 to be precise. But the treats didn't come on the scene until the early 1940s.

The whole "snap, crackle, pop" thing has been around along time but when I found this list of translated slogans at wikipedia, I had to giggle:
Canadian French: "Cric! Crac! Croc!"
Spanish: "Pim! Pum! Pam!"
German: "Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!"
Swedish: "Piff! Paff! Puff!"
Finnish: “Riks! Raks! Poks!”
Dutch: Pif! Paf! Pof!

I have a hard time imagining the French eating Rice Krispies, but maybe they like a batch of ooey-gooey treats just as well as the next kid. The recipe for these little yummies is right on the box, so I won't even post it here. I'm fixing up a double batch, turning on Dean Martin Christmas songs and pulling my fake tree out of its box. Childhood is calling.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Snow!


Holy Ice Crystal, Batman, I woke up to snow today. Here in the PNW, that is something unusual. Sure, it wasn't much - just a dusting. But opening my eyes and seeing snow out my bedroom window, I was instantly giddy. And let me tell you, this girl doesn't get giddy that easy. I'm not sure why snow makes me feel all goofy inside. Maybe because snow used to mean "no school", so it was hooky all day. Maybe because there is something so beautiful about snow all over the grass, the leaves, the fence railings - well, beautiful until my labrador gets outside.

I have a thing for snowflakes. The microscopic images of them. I'm fascinated by how they look. I'm also amazed that there are people out there that collect them and photograph them. The closest I've ever come to seeing the individual shape of a snowflake was when I found one on a scarf that was all by its lonesome and I could make out the tiny fronds and points of part of it, before it melted away.

The thing I like best about snow around here is that it doesn't last. It comes, gives me a cheap thrill and then goes away. I wouldn't want to live in places where snow hangs around, where snow plows pile it up on sidewalks, where it turns nasty black from exhaust and sanding. I like snow when it first falls, but a day or so is all I want. Kinda like really good chocolate or some other confection; just a taste of it to savor, then no more. If snow came all the time, I wouldn't be giddy at the sight of it, and I like feeling giddy now and then.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Waiter, there's a carrot in my soup

I made a batch of carrot soup last night. Why would I do that, you ask? Well, long ago, I visited Ireland on a really horrible package vacation. One of the few highlights of that trip was dinner in a medieval castle where they served carrot soup. I'd never had it before and it was delicious - although maybe I was just starving from all the blood sausage and dry brown bread we were served, bleh. Anywho, I've thought about that soup now and then through the years and occasionally tried to recreate it.

Alas and alack, last night's soup wasn't a recreation, because it had a goodly portion of curry. But I thought it was tasty. Unfortunately, I was the only one that thought so. NR and Hubby said Uh uh. Oh well. For those interested in getting in some veggies without cream or cheese, here's what I made. It makes a ton of soup, so if you like it, you can always freeze the leftovers and save it for knights when you are busy storming the castle. Get it? Knights? Ah, I just slay myself. TeeHee...

Ye Olde Curried Carrot Soup

1/2 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons curry
2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp pepper
2 qts chicken stock
2 cups water
2 pounds carrots, peeled, rough chopped

Melt the butter in a stock pot. Add onion, saute for 2 or 3 minutes. Add spices, cook another minute. Add stock, water and carrots. Simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Serve with crackers. Note: If you use a regular blender, whirl it in small batches and never fill your blender to the top - hot liquids expand. Be careful!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gingerbread - gum drops optional


"And I had but one penny in the world
Thou should'st have it to buy gingerbread"
--William Shakespeare
Love's Labours Lost

Wow, that's some sweet tooth that Will had on him. I like gingerbread as well as the next gal but I usually don't think about it until December. For those who care about such things, there is much history of this little sweet out there waiting for the googling. One thing I didn't know was that in Germany long ago, only Gingerbread guilds could bake the precious Lebkuchen. Oh, those zany, organized Germans. The story of Hansel and Gretel also inspired the gingerbread houses that pop up this time of year.

So, what are we waiting for? Get those oven warmed up and make up a batch of your favorite Gingerbread recipe. Don't have a favorite recipe? Never fear, Martha is here with hers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Goodbye, Gayle

My mother-in-law passed away over the weekend. We found out on Monday and things have been topsy-turvy since then. She was 73 and a long time smoker, so we think that was the cause but we'll know more in a few days.

I debated whether to post anything about this. I've only met her a few times and though she seemed to be a lovely woman, I really didn't know her that well. She gave me an art nouveau style necklace once worn by her mother, which I dearly love. She was funny, with a quirky sense of humor. Her relationship with my husband was certainly different from the one I share with my mom, but it appeared to suit them both.

In my life, it seems that people pass in the winter. I'm not sure why that should be; I haven't done any research on statistics to bear this out, but it just seems to be the case. The holidays are always tempered in our household because of it - we celebrate the season but we mourn those who are gone from the table.

I hope I can help my husband through this, though I certainly have no expertise in grief counseling. But I'd like to keep her memory alive and help him to remember the times in their lives that were special to them.

Goodbye, Gayle. Your family misses you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Flannel - not just for sheets anymore

My bedroom gets cold in the winter. I'm talking "Is a window open?" cold. The room has lots of windows and the house is old, so heat just moseys on up and out of the room. Consequently, I have a thing about being cold when I go to sleep. Now granted, the chattering teeth make a nice white noise, but icicle toes just are no fun. So, on come the flannel sheets. Flannel is great, at least for those who don't have allergy issues due to lint. Perusing Wikipedia, as I often do, for information on the origins of flannel (yes, I am that weird), I found a curious little list of famous flannel wearers. Taken straight from the source, here are some famous folks who dig flannel as a garment:
Filmmaker George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga.
Neil Young, guitar player, singer and songwriter
Lead singer and guitarist from Nirvana, Kurt Cobain
Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam
Grunge/Metal band Alice in Chains
Mick Foley in the persona of Cactus Jack, a WWF/WWE hardcore wrestler who wears red flannel as part as ring attire
Rory Gallagher, the Irish-born blues guitarist.
Duane Allman, guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band.
Mike Watt, bassist for The Minutemen, Firehose, The Stooges, and various other bands.
Phil Anselmo, in a handful of early-to-mid 90's promo photos with Pantera, Anselmo was photographed wearing flannel shirts.
John Linnell, lead singer of They Might Be Giants
Larry The Cable Guy, American stand up comedian and actor
Matt Corby, contestent of 2007 Australian Idol
Dr. Steve Hoeltzel, American Philosopher

Personally, I really only dig flannel in its bedsheet form, but who am I to question such luminaries as Larry the Cable Guy and Eddie Vedder when it comes to warm and fuzzy fashion. So, maybe I need to look around for some flannel socks to complement my sheet set.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Household: 50s magazine fun


I was so excited to go to the mailbox today and find my eBay acquisition, a magazine from 1957 titled "Household". I love old magazines - the ads are often hilarious and the articles and photos provide some interesting looks into another age. I was especially excited to find this period magazine on eBay (I have a couple other issues on their way, yippee!). Ok, so it doesn't take much to excite me. But so you don't feel left out, I will be sharing some gems of wisdom from these magazines. Talk about Nostalgic Homemaking:
From Household (August 1957) - Freezer news
* Custard pies do not freeze well either before or after baking, but pumpkin pies are satisfactory if frozen before they are baked.
* Frozen layer cake batter may be put in the oven directly from the freezer or it may be thawed for about 30 minutes at room temperature.
* Seven-minute frostings become frothy and spongy when frozen.
* Mrs. Lewis Young of New Carlisle Ohio recommends frying frozen corn on the cob in her deep fryer. She defrosts them 3 to 4 hours and frys 2 or 3 ears at one time at 375 degrees for 4 minutes. (I wouldn't try this; I fear exploding corn.)

The Bombe Alaska on the cover just screams Fifties to me. It is so technicolor. I may just have to plan a 50s party and serve this as the big finish.

Random Recipe Monday - Burnt Sugar Cake

Here's another 1940s cake for you to check out. I haven't made it yet, but I am going to this week. I love creme brulee, so I hope this has a bit of that flavor:

2 cups sugar
1 cup boiling water
3 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup shortening
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla

Place 1 cup of the sugar in a skillet and heat, stirring constantly until sugar melts and becomes brown; remove from heat, add boiling water and stir until sugar is entirely dissolved. Cool. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Cream shortening with remaining sugar until fluffy. Add unbeaten egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each is added. Add vanilla. Add sifted dry ingredients and caramel sirup alternately in small amounts beating thoroughly after each addition. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into greased pan and bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) 30 to 35 minutes. Makes 3 9-inch layers.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recipe, Shmecipe...

Recipes are for sissies. Ok, not really. But there are plenty of folks who cook just wonderfully without a written recipe. These folks know exactly how much flour for perfect pancakes, how many eggs for that birthday cake, how much salt is in a pinch, and so on. Diametrically opposed to the precision of those who follow the letter of the culinary law, these folks wing it. Willy-nilly, they add their spices, never getting a recipe exactly the same twice. Yet somehow, it all works out. "It's a mystery" comes to mind (cue Shakespeare in Love theme song)but it isn't a fluke. People who cook without recipes have innate senses, seasoned through time and practice, about what makes a dish "right". My grandmother (when she still cooked) was one of these folks. Recipes weren't something she really utilized much. Maybe if she saw something on a cooking program, she'd jot down the ingredients, but probably not the amounts. She cooked by taste, by sight and by memory. Now granted, she wasn't making really complicated, Martha Stewart-style dishes; just good old comfort food like roast, gravy, cakes, and the like.

So I wonder, does abandoning recipes give more or less freedom to the cook? For me, I tend to use recipes as guidelines, rather than rules (cue Pirates of the Carribbean music), unless the dish is something complicated or precise, like baking. But I tend to swap out items at will, add more salt or change the cooking time, if I disagree with the recipe. Generally, this works out ok, occasional flops aside. I find for me that distance between the dish and the recipe does give me freedom but I like having the safety net there, just in case. For people who never use recipes, I have to wonder if they are limiting their repetoire to those dishes that they know well or that are family favorites. How much improvising do non-recipe cooks do on their own? Are recipes the equivalent of a sewing pattern - making the cook either a manufacturer if they use one and a designer if they don't? Not being a designer, I would only guess that all design is based on some basic principles, that once mastered can be bent or tweaked (or even broken). I think cooking is the same (cue Project Runway video).

Ok, so once again, I fail to pick a side on the issue of Recipe - Yes or No. I guess I'm too much of an Aquarian. But since my cooking style is quasi-free form, I guess my opinion on this is too. Who knows, who cares - pass me some cake.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Thanksgiving Time - by Langston Hughes

When the night winds whistle through the trees and blow the crisp brown leaves a-crackling down,
When the autumn moon is big and yellow-orange and round,
When old Jack Frost is sparkling on the ground,
It's Thanksgiving Time!

When the pantry jars are full of mince-meat and the shelves are laden with sweet spices for a cake
When the butcher man sends up a turkey nice and fat to bake,
When the stores are crammed with everything ingenious cooks can make,
It's Thanksgiving Time!

When the gales of coming winter outside your window howl,
When the Air is sharp and cheery so it drives away your scowl,
When one's appetite craves turkey and will have no other fowl,
It's Thanksgiving Time!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And like a good neighbor....

*
I wonder if folks have good relationships with their neighbors nowadays. Do people still have block parties and potlucks with those that share their streets? I know that we don't. In fact, we've recently sued our neighbor over a property line dispute. But that aside, we've never had a relationship with people near our home. No "can I borrow a cup of sugar" or "may I use your lawn mower" kinda thing. It's too bad, really. I'm sure we aren't the only family that doesn't talk to their neighbors. I wonder when the concept of Neighborliness went out the window for some of us? I don't go out of my way to ignore them, well some of them I do, but we've never had words. There was no welcome basket when we moved in four years ago, and I've never done one for the people that moved in several months ago. I suppose it's time to change that. It would be nice to have people close by to call on if something happens or just to share a cuppa with some afternoon. Maybe it isn't too late to make up that basket and take the plunge.

On a funny related note, I did run into one of the neighbors near the mailboxes and we briefly talked about the lawsuit. When I explained the situation to her, she responded with "Oh, I guess you aren't the devil worshippers we thought you were." Nice, huh?
*The Kravitz's from Bewitched

Monday, November 19, 2007

Random Recipe Monday - Corned Beef

Ok, this recipe isn't that random because we had it for dinner last night. But I have to wax poetic on corned beef for a second. Yes, I said corned beef. The phrase conjures up images of boiled meat and stinky cabbage, I know. But I assure you that we had neither last night. First, a spot of trivia about the name. The dish contains no corn, contrary to its name. The term "corned" means that it has been cured in a seasoned brine. If you don't believe me, check wikipedia, which of course means it must be true. This dish is old - 1600s old - so folks have been enjoying this far beyond the obligatory St. Paddy's day meal. Something else you might not know, if you care about food trivia, is that if corned beef is smoked, it becomes pastrami.

Anywho, here is a recipe for actually enjoying corned beef. It couldn't be easier because it uses the crockpot:

1 packaged corned beef brisket
5 russet potatoes
1 onion
1.5 cups water
1 crockpot

Slice potatoes into thick wedges and add to the bottom of your crockpot. Quarter the onion and add it to the pot. Add the brisket on top. Pour water along the side of the pot. Cover and cook for 8 hours. (You can add baby carrots with the veggies, they make a nice addition.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Starting from Scratch

My hubby and I have a herculean task ahead of us. Our office/junk room has been out of control for quite some time but I have reached critical mass and have to do something about it. The problem, other than being kind of lazy, is that we have opposite ideas about how to deal with the problem. We both agree we should clear the decks, start from scratch, haul everything out and only bring back what we actually use. I am ruthless with garbage sacks and probably toss stuff that shouldn't be tossed, but I get in a frenzy. I attack the clutter and just want it GONE. Hubby, not so much. He likes to post things on Freecycle.com and have people come get those ancient monitors, those out of date books and such. I'd just box it up and drop it off at Goodwill. He likes to sort through each box of stuff methodically, deciding if each item will be kept. I like to toss the whole thing out if I haven't used it in a year. He hangs on to his things, "just in case". I collect stuff until I get tired of it and then I want it outta here.

See? This is a problem. We've read a zillion posts on decluttering. I want to just nuke the room and start from the beginning. Somewhere in the middle (I smell a compromise coming up) we'll get it done, but I would write into one of those DIY/HGTV clean up shows in a minute if I wouldn't be mortified to have TVLand see the state of this room.

When - notice I said When and not If - we get this done, I'll post a photo, the blogger equivalent of an animal pelt, as proof of our victory.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What tabs do you have open?

Ok, this is as random and ridiculous as you are going to find on a Friday, but what the hey. At any given time, I keep six to ten Internet Explorer tabs open on my computer (Yes, I should be using Firefox, but I like IE, go figure). And yes, I have heard of Favorites, so there is no actual need to keep the tabs open, but I like to. I like keeping thoughts that are at the front and back of my mind on the tabs, simmering soups of thought, if you will. So on today's menu, I have the following tabs:
Fark - because where else do I get my news?
Fruit from Washington - Heirloom Recipes: I'm going to make a little ditty called Bird's Nests from some apples.
Culture of Spain - Doing a little global homemaking reading
Gmail - That is always open, for the few important emails that I get and all the rest of the junk.
Google - with my last search "fpdc crochet". Cannot live without google.
Auld Hat's blog - I usually have at least one blog cued up.
Etsy - Looking for a good, local supplier of interesting yarns.
Burlesque Daily blog - Ok, don't be shocked. I like to check in with the nouveau BurlyQ crowd because I find Burlesque fascinating. (Bloggers are like onions, we have layers...)

So that's my line up for today. What's on your tabs? Inquiring minds want to know...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scent of a Memory

It's weird how scents can really bring up the memories associated with them. Certain scents trigger visceral reactions for me and they are more powerful than looking at photographs or listening to songs. Some scents remind me of specific people - like the smell of sawdust always makes me think of my grandpa, who was a carpenter. Familiar places can be brought to mind by a special scent; eastern Washington, around a little town called Leavenworth, has the most amazing smell of pine needles, smoke, mountain runoff, and apples that always reminds me of family trips there. Food scents trigger feelings especially, like the smell of my mom's curried chicken or the molasses from an old family recipe for cookies. Childhood scents, like Play-doh and the scent of new vinyl from Halloween costumes, Princess Leia dolls and Cabbage Patch kids sends me back to those years. (Sure wish I had held on to my Leia doll - big money now.)

Advertisers have tried to capitalize on this idea for years - think about all the perfume ads (I can't seem to forget you, your Windsong stays on my mind...) and scented candles. And generally, I am a sucker for this kind of advertising. I'm always bringing home scented stuff, which of course drives my scent-sensitive husband crazy. But that is only a fringe benefit (Ah, I kid, I kid...); the reason I buy the blackberry fern candles, and the apple martini body wash, and the lemonade shampoo is that I like the places that scents take me. I like to remember fun times, people I have loved, and places that are special to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A cobbler by any other name...

Probably second only to pie, I love cobbler. I'm a sucker for warm cobbler with melting ice cream; it doesn't even matter what it is filled with - ok, maybe not mince meat. But cobblers and their ilk have many different names, depending on the part of the country, the ingredients and the cooking method. Check out the interesting info at What's Cooking America to find out the exciting differences between cobblers, buckles, slumps, pandowdy, crumbles, crisps, brown betty and croustades. Me, I'm a crisp and cobbler fan. (For those who won't click links, a crisp has a crumb topping on the baked fruit and a cobbler has a biscuit type topping.)Here's the crisp recipe I made up the other night to go with our Chicken and Dumplings.

Easy Apple Crisp

3 apples - granny smith are nice, but whatever you have on hand, peeled and sliced
1/2 stick of butter, 1 tablespoon for buttering pan
1 c sugar
1/2 lemon for juice and zest
2 tsps cinnamon
pinch of Allspice
1/4 cup flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
two pinches of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice your apples, squeeze the lemon over the slices and grate some zest into the mix. Add 1 cup sugar, pinch of salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon and pinch of allspice; toss. Butter your baking dish (a shallow gratin dish works well) and place apple mix inside. In a separate bowl, mix oats, flour, sugar, one pinch of salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon. Pour topping on apples. Cut your butter into small chunks and dot the top of the crumb mix. Place your dish in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A chicken in every pot - and dumplings too

Quick bit of trivia for you; which president promised "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage"? Give up? Before you google, it was Herbert Hoover. Old Herbie was on to something because a chicken in a pot is a mighty good thing. On a day when you are going to be around the house, think about making chicken stock and then chicken and dumplings. Homemade stock is so much better than its canned cousin and the chicken used to flavor it up is perfect for C & D. Plan on being around your home for at least half a day, but actual cooking time for you is pretty small; the pot does the work on the stove largely unattended. I made up a batch yesterday and here is my recipe - feel free to tweak it*:

Stock:
1 young chicken - about 3.5 pounds
Six carrots - unpeeled
2 onions - peeled and quartered
6 cloves of garlic - peeled and halved
1 bulb of fennel - sliced
Handful of chopped fennel tops
Water to cover - approximately 1 1/2 gallons
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons course cracked pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 potatoes
1 onion
Olive oil

Dumplings:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 c cream
1/4 c milk
2 tbs butter, cold
Herbs de Provence, optional

In a large stockpot, bring first 10 ingredients to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for four hours, skimming the top as necessary.

Remove the solids and reserve. Pour three quarts of stock for use in other recipes into containers suitable for chilling and freezing. (Chill your stock in the fridge overnight. Skim the fat and then freeze the stock for later use.) Place remaining stock (approximately 2 quarts) back in the stock pot (or dutch oven), place on low heat. When solids are cool enough to handle, remove chicken meat and shred it. Place chicken back in the remaining stock. Carrots may be added back in if desired. Discard rest of solids.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a non-stick saute pan. Chop onion and add to oil when hot. Sprinkle with kosher salt and cook for 4 minutes or until onions are transluscent. Add to stock pot. Slice potatoes thinly. Add to stock pot. Simmer on low for at least 45 minutes prior to serving (I let mine go for 1 1/2 hours).

Dumplings: Dumplings should be added right before dining. Allow eight minutes of covered cooking after the following:

Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Add butter, coursely chopped, to the flour. Using your hands, work the butter into the flour, leaving it no larger than a pea. Add cream and milk, stir in 1 tsp of herbs (if desired). Dough will be sticky. Using a large spoon, spoon out some dough and shape it into a ball in your palm. Add the dumplings to your simmering pot, cook for eight minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 6 - 8.
* I used a stock recipe from Ina Garten with some changes - I don't like celery but you can add in some chopped celery ribs if you like it. I also modified a C&D recipe by Cathy Lowe, found at Food Network.com

Monday, November 12, 2007

Knit Your Bit - Knitting (or Crocheting) for Vets



Did you know that the Red Cross organized US citizens into knitting brigades during WWI and WWII? Nope, me either. Apparently, the Red Cross gave knitters yarn and instructions for socks, gloves, scarves, sweaters, anything that service personnel could use during the war (in blue or olive drab only). Children were asked to knit to help the war effort and a famous poster from 1917 asked people to Knit Your Bit.

Cool, huh? There is a way that we can honor those past Veterans today with a renewed Knit Your Bit Campaign. The WWII museum in New Orleans began this drive in 2006 and is continuing the work in 2007. Get more information here as well as the pattern for knitting or crocheting the V-for Victory scarf. Scarfs donated will be delivered to Veterans in need of warmth this winter. I'm going to Hook my Bit and make a crochet scarf to send off.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans' Day



To all the veterans who have served our nation, I give my thanks and my respect for your service.

My grandfather, Wayne, (top photo, far left) served in WWII in the Pacific theater and my great-grandfather, Les, (bottom photo) served in France during WWI. My younger cousin just returned from a tour in Iraq, for which we are all extremely grateful.

My grandmother shared a story of Les tromping through French fields, gathering blueberries in his doughboy helmet to add to the pancakes he made for the men in his platoon. I've been privileged to read the letters sent home by both Wayne and Les. That is as close to battle as I have ever been and I cannot imagine what such a sacrifice would be like. But for them and for all those who have served, I give my thanks.

Clams Casino


Being born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I do like me some seafood (as evidenced by the above photo of the Dancing Clams from Ivar's Restaurants - a local fav). I draw the line at raw oysters or anything overly slimy looking, but I love clams (except geoducks). Clam Chowder is my top soup and steamed clams with drawn butter are pretty darn good. Razor clams, for those in my neck of the woods, can be harvested in November and December (at least at my local beach, on specific days) so clams are an in-season treat. Not that I'm going to do the digging, mind you - I'll leave that to the local fishmonger shop. But wherever they come from, clams are good eating.

I heard recently that placing live clams in cool water with a handful of flour will force them to disgorge all sand prior to cooking. That's a trick that I am going to try when I make Clams Casino. This dish combines bacon and clams for a tasty treat. See Food Timeline for the lowdown, but it orginated around 1917. (As an aside, this dish also shares its name with a Burlesque dancer, Miss Clams Casino. That alone makes it worth checking out.) There are many recipe versions of this oldie but goodie, but check out the traditional version provided by Food Network. It calls for cherrystone clams but I think I'll try it with the local Razors, just for the heck of it. And if you are feeling really adventurous, give Tyler Florence's Clams Casino Pizza a gander. I like unusual pizza pie, but this might be going a bit too far even for me.

But however you enjoy them, give three cheers for a delicious bi-valve. If anyone tries the pizza, let me know how it goes.

Rationing in the time of Plenty

Most folks know that during WWII there was rationing of certain household staples, like sugar. During the War, people understood the necessity to reduce, to reserve things for special uses, to plant a Victory Garden as a means of self-sufficiency, to do without because they had to and it was the right thing to do.

That certainly isn't the case anymore. Nobody of any means, or even those folks without means but with credit, does without. Candy isn't just on Halloween or holidays anymore, cakes aren't just for birthdays or celebrations, roast isn't just on Sundays. If you want it, you can get it, whenever you want.

So is this a good thing? On the one hand, people have access to comforts that make life more pleasant, more enriching, which arguably is a benefit. On the other hand, we don't respect the specialness of anything because we have it all the time. I realize that this train of thought leads into my previous thoughts on Patience, but it is more about observing the landscape within than the changes outside.

I've always been Instant-Gratification girl, because I do believe life to be "brutish and short". You gotta take your happiness where you can get it, eat dessert first, get those great shoes before they are sold out, yadda yadda yadda. I'm all about Seize the Day. But I'm beginning to think that the philosophy of the Dead Poets Society really only works if you are on the short term track. Life is a long-haul, at least theoretically, so perhaps burning through all the fuel early on isn't the best idea (how's that for some mixed metaphors).

Ok, so what does all this rambling mean exactly? Well, I'm not totally sure. I'm wrestling with some gators right now - gators that keep me up at night, that make me wonder if I am doing what is Easy, or doing what is Right, gators that question my Live for Today kind of thinking. I think that I've made some choices along Life's road that were the equivalent of bingeing on candy because it tasted so good; now I have the sugar hang-over and the tummy ache. Things that taste sweet now can leave a bad taste in your mouth later. Rationing the sugar of our lives rather than bingeing on whatever tastes sweet in the moment, seems a bit more wise to me. What is the Sugar? I think it is different for everyone. For some people, it is materialistic crap. For others, it is hanging onto things, people, places that just aren't good for them.

Part of my journey into making a Home is about cutting back on this Sugar. Like all cravings, it makes it difficult to do without it - at first. But time will help with that, I'm sure. If I ration the Sugar and leave room for other, truly sweet things to take its place, I think my home will be a more satisfying place for everyone. All this sweetness ruins my appetite for what is real.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Stormy Weather


Today it is drizzly and dreary and boy do I feel it. I have a case of the Friday blahs (if such a thing exists outside of Mondays). I have a ton of cleaning to do because my house is under renovation and my 2 year old nephew is coming to spend the night. I've really let things slide this week so now I have to play catch-up.

And because I am avoiding doing my cleaning, I thought I'd share a little you-tube love with you (I'm so inspired by Lorraine's Friday music idea). I am a big fan of the 1920s, particular some of the silent screen actors. Louise Brooks is one of my favorites, so here is a lovely little montage of photos of this lady, set to an instrumental of Stormy Weather. Perfect for such a gloomy day. Click Here (For more about Louise Brooks, check out the Louise Brooks Society.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The 1950s home - another perspective


It isn't hard to find writers who claim that the 1950s were the pinnacle of American homemaking. Just run a search on google for "1950s homemaking" or "daily life 1950s" and you'll see what I mean. The results are the familiar stereotype; subservient wife, spotless home, happy nuclear family, wholesomeness. I find this amusing because so many eras in history are looked at with a modern eye and the "history" of the time reviewed more critically. Not everyone in 1920 was a flapper - far from it. Life before the civil war wasn't anything like at Tara, and on and on. But perhaps the proximity of the 1950s makes it less appealing to deconstruct. We like the images that the decade epitomizes; Elvis and Marilyn, the diner and the malt shop, the hot rods and the poodle skirts. The 1950s represent Americana at its best for many people.

So what was it really like? Like most times, it depends entirely on who you were. For white men, the 1950s were very different than for African-American women. But speaking in a generalized, societal way, was 1950s homelife really as we imagine it? There are clues to that answer left in the writings of the period. Period magazine articles, books and letters give some glimpses into daily life. Television, like movies, tends to show the stereotype, not the reality, so not much fact can be taken from the fiction.

It is true that many middle-class women stayed home to care for the house and children. It is also true that the end of WWII brought more disposable income into the economy and luxuries became part of the post-war boom. There were more kids, more cars, more homeownership than before. The development of kitchen tools, such as the can opener, four slice toaster, double ovens and such, certainly changed the landscape of the kitchen. But the 1950s home was more than just Ranch houses with jello molds and matching appliances. In a fascinating article, Caroline Hellman discusses the 1950s kitchen in terms of political and social upheaval. Nixon took American domesticity to Moscow as a cold war weapon; writers used the kitchen as a setting for upheaval - think about Peyton Place and Catcher in the Rye - and architects like Frank Lloyd Wright were designing homes and developing Utopia at the same time.

Why is this relevant, you may ask? Well, I think it is relevant because we are currently in a revival of the "domestic arts" and homemaking is once again fashionable. With the 1950s held up as a model of sorts - if a somewhat benign and Stepford kind of model - I think we ought to know a little bit about the decade before we proclaim it the high point of the American homemaker. Yes, I still like "Leave it to Beaver" reruns and I wish crinolines and bullet bras would make a comeback but I like a side of perspective with my gelatin-molded spam, thank you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thanksgiving - then and now

No, this isn't one of those "pilgrims never ate cranberry sauce" posts. We've all heard before that our current thanksgiving menus bear little resemblance to those foods shared by the hardy folks of yesteryear. But, I do think it is interesting to see how little our current menu resembles "traditional Thanksgiving" meals from the last hundred years or so. Here's what folks in 1878 would have been enjoying:

"Oyster soup, cod, with egg sauce, lobster salad, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, mixed pickles, mangoes, pickled peaches, cold slaw, and celery; boiled ham, chicken pie ornamented, jelly, mashed potatoes browned, tomatoes, boiled onions, canned corn, sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli. Mince, and pumpkin pie, apple tarts, Indian pudding. Apples, nuts, and raisins." (As relayed at FoodTimeline.org)

Maybe it is because I'm from the northwest or just an omission on the part of my family, but we don't have oysters with thanksgiving. And yet, most of the historical menus found at FoodTimeline include oysters in some way or form.

Check out this menu from 1961, nearly one hundred years later:

"Celery Hearts, Olives, Radishes, Small Cheese Canapes, Roast Turkey with Favorite Stuffing, Sweetbread and Oyster Pie, Hashed-Browned Potaotes, Broccoli, Hoolandiase, Hot Ross, Cranberry Jelly, Tipsy Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, Ice Cream, Coffee." I can't figure out what "hot ross" might have been, except a typo relating to Hot Cross buns. Definitely a different menu than the first one; more streamlined and less about over-abundance.

Even thirty years later, my how things change. Check out this suggested menu from Sunset magazine in 1991:

"Red or White Belgian Endive with Smoked Salmon and Mustard Sauce, Buttered Toast Triangles, Roast Turkey, Giblet Gravy, Cranberry Chipotle Relish, Steamed Mini-pumpkins with Fresh Raisin Chutney, Red Bell Peppers and Caper Rice, Green Beans and Butter-browned Onions, Wild Rice with Aromatics, Fila-wrapped Rum Cake Bundles, Chardonnay, Sparkling Apple Juice."

Not exactly the menu one might think of for a traditional Thanksgiving but I guess that's the point. Holidays, like everything else, evolve over time. Recipes come in and out of fashion, global economy brings unusual foods to our table and "seasonal" is optional not required. I think this fits with the spirit of Thanksgiving. Not the cardboard idea of pilgrims and native americans feasting, but the coming together of families and friends, sharing old favorites and new experiences on their plates. I wonder what the next hundred years will bring to the table, this unknown favorite placed right next to the nutcups of candy corn or the slabs of pumpkin pie.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Random Recipe Monday - Grapefruit cake

Ok, this one really is random. It is from my 1940s cake recipe book and I've never tried it or even thought about using grapefruit in a cake. But, I must adhere to the laws of fate that give me a random recipe, so here 'tis:

3 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 c shortening
3 tbsps grated grapefruit rind
2 1/2 c sugar
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
3/4 c grapefruit juice

Sift flour, salt, soda and baking powder together. Cream shortening with grapefruit rind and sugar until fluffy. Add whole eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each is added. Add sifted dry ingredients and juice alternately in small amounts, beating well after each addition. Pour into greased pans and bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) 30 to 35 minutes. Make 3 (9 inch) layers.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

You say you want a revolution...

I missed out on the Haight-Ashbury experience. Alas, I wasn't yet a gleam in my mother's eye in the summer of love, 1968, but I've always been interested in the counter-culture movement and the art that it spawned (or vice versa). I'm a fan of Janis, The Doors, hell, even bell-bottoms to a point, and flower power rocks. But I didn't know that crochet - especially my grandma's penchant for loud, proud, acrylic afghans and lap throws - was also subversive back in the day.

In the latest issue of Interweave Crochet magazine, there is an interesting article discussing the history of crochet in the late 60s and early 70s and the kind of statement that making (and wearing) crochet had on the public. This idea of changing the world, one stitch at a time, intrigues me. Can the simple act of drawing loops together really be influential - then or now?

I'm thinking it can. Even now, how we choose to spend our leisure time (and money) has a big impact on our families, our community, even the economy. What of the grannies who crank out afghans and donate them to the shelters or the church groups that sew hats for the homeless? Are these people changing the world, one stitch at a time? Yep, I think they are. And it isn't just the crafty that can do this. What about the people who buy the homemade soaps, the handmade aprons, the quilted coverlets? Isn't the money spent on these things going to local crafters rather than Wal-Mart? Not only that, but those items can be given as gifts, spreading the revolutionary spirit, so to speak; a (quilting) Bee-In, if you will.

Handmade, whatever it might be, seems to me to be a powerful way to make a statement. For me, the statement is about independence, community, values and ingenuity. It says that I'm resourceful, thrifty, useful, connected and that I support my local artisans and neighbors. It says a heck of a lot more to me than things made in sweatshops and sold at rock-bottom prices at a box store that drove away the local merchants.

That's a lot of revolution in one little stitch.

Friday, November 2, 2007

In the age of Youtube

It's hard to remember the good old days of several years ago when Google and Youtube didn't exist. Back then, if I wanted to know how to do something, I would have to trot down to the library or the bookstore. Now, a few keystrokes and the answer is there. Stuck on how to double crochet? Watch a Youtube video. Want to know the best way to make challah bread? Google, of course. Need a halloween music mix for your party? Download from iTunes and you are set.

Nothing takes much time anymore, when it comes to quick answers to average problems. And because of this, we expect all answers to be just as quick - whether the problems are simple or difficult. It's amazing how quickly my own threshold for patience has devolved; It's hard to imagine how kids born now, with no memories of times before wikipedia, iPhones and constant Internet access, will view the world with patience. Not unless parents find ways to bring patience and the value of time back into perspective, at least a little bit.

So I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I'm looking for opportunities to build more patience into our lives. I love the technological advances that allow me to blog, to learn crochet from Youtube, to search for recipes on the Web from my phone in the grocery store, all of it. But something is lost when time isn't part of the equation anymore. The more we can recognize and acknowledge time and the role it plays in our lives, I think the better. Celebrating the seasons, marking the holidays, planting seeds to watch them grow - slowly. Creating projects and memories that last longer than a sitcom or a google search or a Youtube video.

So as Daylight Savings time switches this weekend, I'm taking a moment to think about Autumn and what changes it brings to my home. Nights are getting cold here and frost is on the lawn every morning. Squirrels are plundering around my plum tree for pits and spiders are creeping into the house for warmth. With the holidays on the horizon it is so easy to plow into pine boughs and holly, poinsettias and snowflakes, but I'm holding out as long as I can. I want to watch this Autumn as it changes to Winter. I want to see the transition and notice the daylight slipping away.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Parties are not for the weak

Whew, I made it. NR's Halloween party was a smash and everyone had a great time, including me, but I am wiped out. We had some great food - thanks, Mom, for the salmon mousse shaped like a skull and the great graveyard dessert - and we had tons o'fun with Halloween pictionary. We have enough leftovers to eat off of all week, so no cooking for me for awhile and I'm glad for that. But for all the fun, parties wipe me out so I'm staggering off to bed to read Wicked. Happy Halloween, y'all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Crafty Crochet Tuesday - well, err, sorta, not really


Ok, I'm all thumbs today. Maybe it is because it is Hallow's Eve Eve, or because I've had enough sugar this week to turn my tears to simple syrup. I don't know, but I'm having one of those days. I put WAY too much cinnamon in the applesauce for NR's party tomorrow. The dog has been rampaging the house and I'm too annoyed to deal with it and to top it off, I'm apparently all thumbs when it comes to crocheting.

Why, you may rightfully ask, should someone with as many bedwarmers in the oven as I have, take up another craft. Blame it on the Happy Hooker. No, not that one, this one. I found this gem at the bookstore and had to get it.

My grandmother, bless her, can crochet without even being able to see the yarn. So why can't I master a simple single crochet stitch? I can chain just fine but then all hell breaks loose. I'm chalking it up to the "no good, very bad day" vibe rather than I'm just missing the genetic code that lets my brain tell my fingers what to do with a darn crochet hook.

But don't let my inadequacies keep you from checking out this book. It has some interesting projects and the author's style is engauging (en-gauging, get it? As in yarn stitch gauging? Ah, yarn humor, gotta love it...)
Ok, so I'll round out the day by putting aside the spice-riddled applesauce and the lumpy purple crochet chains and go bash some virtual bad guys in World of Warcraft. Yes, I am that much of a geek. Here's to a better Wednesday!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Global Homemaking - France - Part Un

As I explore homemaking, past and present, I have started to wonder about homemakers in other parts of the world. What is important to someone managing a home in Prague or Hong Kong or Buenos Aires? I thought it might be interesting to find out, to travel virtually inside these homes and see what makes good homemaking in other lands. First stop on my world tour is France. This country has been on my mind lately (see my post on French scrambled eggs and my recipe for Onion soup) though I'm not sure why. I travelled to Paris in the late 90s and while I adored the architecture, the art, the ambience of the city, I have other places I'd rather visit. So why am I all about France right now? No idea but my homemaking passport is stamped for Paris so maybe I'll figure out a few things while I'm there.

To start my journey, I found a 1987 NY Times article discussing the way that French homemakers save money in their cooking. It's an interesting read, especially for a great quote by Simone Beck (Julia Child's former collaborator) - ''But good cooking, is like being in a kind of religion. It's made very, very carefully and slowly, with all your heart; this is important.''

French homemakers, so the article tells us, purchase seasonal food and stretch their francs by making soups, they eat plenty of bread and hors d'oeuvres to round out smaller sized meals, and they reuse leftovers for simple, economic fare for their families. So much for the idea of fancy, frou frou cuisine. This seems to be borne out in the 1905 book Homelife in France by Matilda Betham-Edwards. Even my modern day cooking idol, Ina Garten, translates French cooking with a focus on simplicity. Compare this with American cooks who tend to buy out of season, who cook by recipe, not by technique, and who focus a lot of the meal around an expensive cut of meat or fish. As Americans, we also don't tend to visit our market daily, which is something many French homemakers do to acquire the freshest ingredients. I can see the benefits of both French and American styles but my interest in seasonal food and saving some money leans toward adopting some French cooking habits.

Part deux of this little journey will explore a bit more of French home life before I depart for my next destination.

Random Recipe Monday

Mondays often need a little jolt; for me, I have a larger than usual mountain of laundry to conquer today (it is "wash day" after all). So, I thought I would introduce a little randomness into the day and pick a recipe to share. I grabbed "The Figs Table" by Todd English and Sally Sampson from the bookshelf and opened a page at random. If you aren't familiar with Todd English, his claim to fame is his restaurant, Olives, and his amazing pizzas. The fig jam and prosciutto pizza is amazing - I know, jam on pizza is heretic, but really, it is too good. Unfortunately, random recipe day did not produce that recipe for me to share, so here is what fate offers to you:

Semolina Gnocchi a la Romano*

4 cups milk
1 1/4 cups semolina
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced virgina baked ham
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 spanish onion, chopped
1/2 head savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup Chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
4 ounced Italian Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Light grease a 9 x 12 pan. To make the semolina gnocchi: place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and slowly whisk in the semolina, continuing to whisk until it has thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the cream, Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix well. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth out with a knife or spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerated at least 1 hour or overnight. Cut out 12 circles with a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass and set aside.
To prepare the cabbage: place a large skillet over medium heat and when it is hot add the butter. Add the ham, garlic, onion, and cabbage, stirring well after each addition, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the broth and cook until the cabbage is wilted, about 20 minutes. Add the rosemary and cook for 2 minutes.
Transfer to the prepared pan. Place the semolina circles on top of the cabbage in a circular pattern. Top with Gorgonzola and Parmesan, drizzle with cream, and sprink with the salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake until bubbly and browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately (6-8 servings)

*For the copyright police - I am encouraging the purchase of said Author's work by highlighting a wonderful recipe. So there.