Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No butter, no sugar, no taste?

I've mentioned rationing during World War II before, the special quality of sugar when it is scarce. Recipes from the early and mid-20th century interest me and I frequently hang out at Foodtimeline.org to get my fix on foods from our past. Beyond just the rationing of sugar, cooks during The Great War, The Great(er) Depression and Dubba Dubba II, found ways to still have their cake and eat it too. Recipes for cakes calling for no milk, no sugar, no eggs came on the scene.

Does it sound unappetizing? Um, yeah, a little. Substituting tomato soup for milk or mayonnaise for eggs does make me a bit squeamish. Heck, I've heard of chocolate cakes that take sauerkraut for moisture. Some of those "make do" kind of recipes belong in the past, quaint but not revived, I think. But others are handy reminders of what you can do with a little ingenuity.

Take that mayonnaise cake, for example. Plenty of people swear that chocolate mayonnaise cakes are deliciously moist. The newer book, America's Best Lost Recipes, put out by those venerable folks at Cook's Country magazine, holds a recipe for this cake (and the sauerkraut cake too.../shudder) so you know at least some folks are still partial to this concept of making do with what you have.

It's funny, at least to a odd duck like me, in this time of celeb chefs and pancultural dishes, that a niche of the lucrative cookbook market is celebrating the recipes that have long thrived in dusty recipe boxes. These unfussy, unpretentious, dowdy recipes never are as glamorous as their TopChef-fusion style cousins, but here they stay. Collected, recorded by various food historians and passed along.

I'm glad to see it. I'd rather see these recipes get more attention, rather than the glitzy stuff that shows up on celeb cooking shows. They are homely and homey, and that's ok. I don't want them every night, but it's nice to have them there when all you have in your pantry is a jar of mayonnaise and a dream for chocolate cake.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Sticky Chicken and Blood Orange Stirfry

I've been inspired by Kylie Kwong lately. I enjoy her Simply Magic show on the Discovery Home channel. She is an Australian chef of Chinese heritage and she demonstrates simple cooking methods, inspired by her heritage and her travels.

Chinese New Year is coming up on February 7th, and that is as good a reason as any to try out some different recipes. Chinese cooking is something that I haven't mastered - not even close. I never get the kind of results that I want and I'm frequently disappointed by how blah or uninspired my efforts turn out to be. I'm hoping to try some of Kylie's recipes, though it will be hard to find some that my picky family will like; Kylie uses plenty of seafood in her cooking.

You'd expect today's recipe to be one from Kylie, but no, I'm linking to a recipe that showcases blood oranges. I saw them at the grocery store yesterday and decided to pick some up without a recipe in mind. I found a recipe using ginger, honey and the blood orange juice that sounds interesting, so I'll be giving it a try.

For those who aren't familiar with blood oranges, they are a bit more bitter than the average orange. That should be tasty when paired with the sweet honey. We'll see.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Tagged, I'm it"

My blog has been tagged by Bright Meadow Farms' Blogspot, she found me through Mary Jane's Farmgirl connection. Now normally, I'm not one of those people who like chain letters but memes are all the rage with the young folks, so here we go.

The rules of the game are this: Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Post 7 random or weird facts about yourself on your blog. Tag 7 people and link to them. Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged. For those who get tagged, forgive me.

1) I once sang a song set to the wedding vows of Bill and Melinda Gates, recorded as a gift for them by a friend. No, I never heard from them, so I don't know if they liked the recording or not.

2) When I was little, I was diagnosed as having an allergy to Lanolin. Yes, the stuff that is in every skin care item known to woman. It never has seemed to be a problem for me.

3) I play World of Warcraft. Watching the South Park parody, I felt extremely uncomfortable. No, I've never asked for a bedpan while playing.

4) I once ran around like a madwoman through the remains of Sir Walter Raleigh's castle. Extreme case of cartrip-itis.

5) I ate in a Burger King while in Paris. Hard to believe, huh?

6) Things I wanted to be when I grew up: lawyer, writer, humanities teacher, massage therapist, opera singer.

7) I believe in ghosts.

Pardon my absence - I have the flu

Wow, why didn't I get the shot? Because I almost never get the flu. Well, this time around I did and it is a dilly. Stay well you guys - you don't want this. Trust.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tick Tock...

We're waiting, still, for word on the house. In the meanwhile, we're starting preparation to move and realizing that we have too much junk. I'm going to aggressively freecycle anything we can because I don't want to move this stuff. Old computer parts, old game components (hubby is a gamer), old books from my myriad interests, heavy stuff that takes up tons of space and isn't worthy of being schlepped around one more time.

So this week begins the big toss out/freecycle effort. It's amazing how much junk we accumulate in our homes, even if we've only been there a few years (4 years for us). Despite the lack of storage in this place, we've managed to squirrel away loads of stuff that has to be sorted and packed or tossed/given away.

Even if we don't get the house (which of course, we WILL), this massive clean out is long over due. The beauty of moving is that we'll get a clean slate, a chance to do things right from the beginning. An organized space from the ground up. I wonder how many people move just because they are sick of dealing with their current house? That's not why we are moving, but it sure is a nice fringe benefit to have a chance to start fresh and organized.

Oh, and I'm going to be Ms. Polly Sunshine in the new neighborhood, taking the first step by meeting neighbors and being neighborly. I screwed it up with the current neighbors so I'm going to do it right this time. Mayberry here I come!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gardening by the square

I know that I've waxed poetic on enjoying the season, savoring what is happening now and not rushing on to the next thing, but in my heart, I'm wishing for Spring. Winter in the Northwest is dreary, bonechillingly dreary. It's wet, it's gray, it's cold but not snowy (not here on the west side of the mountains). I'd like Spring to spring forth soon. I'm keeping vigil by planning a new garden.

I'm not a gardening type by nature. I hate weeding, digging, basically anything but smelling the flowers or eating the veggies. With that in mind, I've read about a method of gardening that supposedly reduces the need for a lot of the hard work that frankly I don't dig (get it, dig?). Square Foot Gardening is the name, authored by Mel Bartholomew. I'll be purchasing his book shortly but from what I've gleaned online, Mr. Bartholomew recommends preparing raised beds (4 feet by 4 feet) divided into one square foot sections. He recommends this to avoid digging and overplanting, which results in puny plants or thinning (more work). Weeding supposedly is minimal and depending on the height of the boxes you build, you can avoid stooping and killing your back. This gardening method is touted as offering more produce for less work, which is always what people want - more bang for less buck.

For those without gardening inclinations or limited space, you might want to consider whether a table top size garden would be a benefit to you. Fresh herbs, flowers, whatever rings your bell, are mighty nice. Mr. Bartholomew even recommends a soil mix that contains no dirt, so "clean" gardening is at hand apparently.

Anywho, I pass this on to those who might be curious about coaxing a little Spring into their lives early this year. Let's hope the groundhog does his thing this year and the daffodils make an early return.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Ina's Carrot and Pineapple Cake

Carrot cake is one of my favorites. Particularly if it has a yummy cream cheese frosting. According to Foodtimeline.org, carrot cake and cream cheese frosting didn't hook up until the 1960s. The history of the cake itself is interesting; it is likely derived from medieval carrot puddings in Europe, with carrot acting as a sweetener. There was even a reference to George Washington being served carrot tea cake in the 1780s, but the carrot cake we know and love didn't really appear on our plates often until the 1950s.

For a bit of a twist on the carrot cake, give Ina Garten's carrot and pineapple cake a try. Eat enough of it and get a serving of fruit and veggie at the same time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

We made an offer...

Well, we found the house of our dreams, a mere week or so after looking in earnest. It is a bit far out, but the price is right. Now we wait to see if the offer has been accepted. Several other bidders have done so as well, so we aren't the only ones trying to snap this up. Please cross fingers, toes or whatever else for us. We need all the good luck we can get!! I'll let you know when we know - probably not until next Thursday.

Boy, waiting is hard....

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There's no place like home

We're in the process of looking for a new house. It's been a few years since I have done this but things haven't changed much; we scour the online search engines, find possible houses and send those to our agent. The process isn't much different than searching for a used car but the value of what we seek is certainly more. Not just in financial terms, but in quality of life terms. Each house we see has to be evaluated, measured, imagined as our home. Could we be happy here? Could this kitchen make cooking a pleasure or a chore? Is this family room warm and cozy or dark and isolated? Can I picture my family here?

The process is daunting but the reward is worth it. We hope that we'll find a place that is as close to perfect for us as we can hope to find (in our price range anyway). I hope I'll walk in the door and I'll just know. I want to walk in and think "I've come home".

Monday, January 14, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Lemon Bars

I love lemon. Sometimes chocolate can be too much, but not lemon. It is great in pie, cupcakes, cookies and bars, especially bars. Here is Ina Garten's recipe for lemon bars. Pucker up and enjoy some lemons.

This recipe is from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbook, as found on foodnetwork.com.*
"For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners' sugar."

*For the copyright police, I am encouraging people to buy Ina's cookbook. Really. It is wonderful.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A little cup of sunshine...

Ain't it the truth. Cupcakes are just perfect little cups of (insert favorite image here). I love all kinds, especially those piled high with good frosting and cutsy decorations. There are no shortage of blogs extolling the virtues of cupcakes (I have a couple linked in my blog read section) and recipes are everywhere. But good cupcakes can be elusive. They can be dry, crumbly, tasteless, and generally lackluster if the recipe or the baking aren't just right.

One thing that helps with making cupcakes, or any cake, is using cake flour. Cake flour is high in starch and made from soft wheat, which gives the finished product a light texture. I use Softasilk, which has a great devil's food cake recipe right on the box. It works great for cupcakes too.

I'm taking a field trip today to check out a new cupcake bakery in town. Rumor has it that the bakery makes red velvet cupcakes on weekends, so I'm off to find out. I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: Well, we sampled several varieties and I'm sorry to report that it was just Meh. I'd like to give a plug to a good local bakery starting out but this ain't it. So man your batter stations (oooh, punny) and make up a batch for yourself.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Mommy Diaries

I watched The Nanny Diaries today, which was a bittersweet kind of film. If you haven't seen it, a naive girl gets a job working for an Upper East Side family in New York; neither parent can be bothered to take care of their son. Long story short, movie has a somewhat happy ending.

Ok, so as I was watching the film I thought about how different my life is compared to Mrs. X. She's a "stay at home" mom but she never has time for her child. I scoffed, I tut-tutted, I pee-shawed, and then I took another look at myself. I'm in no way as bad as Mrs. X but I have my days when I am "tuned out" as it were. I'm making lists, I'm crocheting or thinking about projects, I'm planning the future. I'm doing all this stuff, living in my head. Now there is nothing wrong with everybody having "me time", but I have to keep it in the front of my mind that the whole bloody reason I am home is to spend more time with NR. Not to learn new hobbies, plan new careers or anything else. Sure, that means playing Operation for the zillionth time, but that's ok. That is why I am here.

So, as remote as our similarities might be, I'm going to keep Mrs. X in my mind. I'm going to think about her from time to time and check in with my life to make sure I'm keeping it real, keeping it about what is important. I love the other stuff but nowhere near as much as I love NR, so my renewed focus is going to be about "NR time" as much as I can.

Though during school hours, all bets are off.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Toga optional...

I am smitten, in seriously deep smit, with the HBO series, Rome. I just watched the first 6 episodes, close to back to back, and I am loving it. It reminds me of Deadwood, when Deadwood was good (season 1) and it beats the pants (literally) off anything on the networks right now. It's a bit risque, for those with sensitivity to that sort of thing, and definitely not for the younger set, but my oh my, what a good show.

And lest you think this topic is too far afield from Nostalgic Homemaking, here's a little ancient Roman recipe for your reading pleasure:
1 pound of boiled wheat grains
3 pounds of new cheese
1/2 pound of honey
1 egg

Mix it and eat it. Serves several.*

Can't wait to see how this all works out for Julius, Marc Anthony, et al (so much suspense - well, not really). Hey, notice the Latin? Wonder what the Latin is for "I made a funny"?

*Found in Life in Ancient Rome by Frank Richard Cowell

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Praying to the porcelain god

I had a religious experience yesterday. Well, religious in that "pause to meditate on the moment, Zen-ish" sort of way. As you know from reading my posts last week, I have been in a funk of late. One sad side of effect of a funk for me is letting housework slide. This was especially true in the kitchen. Dirty dishes as far as the eye could see. Well, yesterday I surfaced from my funk with renewed vim and vigor. It was time to tackle the mess, within and without. The kitchen was first on the list.

The dishwasher was loaded and yet there were plenty of dishes left to be cleaned. Now normally, I would leave those dishes in the sink until the dishwasher is done; after all, that's its job, not mine. But yesterday I couldn't stand to leave them sitting around. So I did the rare thing and filled up the sink with scalding water to handwash them.

I stood at my big farm sink, staring out my window at the large maple in the backyard, wet and soggy leaves piled at the trunk. My hands dipped from the lavender and lemon dishwater, hot enough to turn my fingers red, to cool water for the rinse. Hot and cold, hot and cold. It could have been fifty years ago as I washed those dishes, the timeless act repeated by so many; the simple act of scrubbing away the left-over bits of yesterday's dishes.

I finished the last dish, disappointed that there weren't more to wash, to rhythmically transform from dirty to clean. I drained out the dirty water and then scrubbed down the sink. The last dregs of the funk seemed to flow down the drain with the water. I felt better than I had in days.

I'm still going to use my dishwasher but it was nice to remember the restorative power of clean. For a few minutes, it was prayerful.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Recipe for Change

This blog isn't about politics. It could be, because politics interests me, usually in a negative way, but it isn't. My posts sometimes talk about current events or "why do people do this" kind of stuff, but generally I leave the big political debates to those who enjoy wrastling that particular gator.

But today is Random Recipe Monday and I decided I would give a little plug to a recipe for change. I don't really care if those who read this blog are republican, democrat, or independent. I myself am a Democrat and a fairly liberal one, but I like hearing opinions on both sides of the aisle. Up until today, I really wasn't interested in jumping into the political fray that is the 2008 Presidential campaign. Sis and I were just discussing this yesterday and we both felt we should just wait until the primaries are closer to completion before we start tuning in. I didn't want to get burned out because November is a long way way. But today, I changed my mind - you might even say I flip flopped.

November isn't that far away. The primaries are important because even though I want anyone with a D after his or her name to be Prez, it does matter that the best person hold that job. If I don't get involved in the process for choosing that person, how can I have anything to say about the job that he or she will do down the road? If not me, then who? If not now, then when?

So I took the leap. I joined up at my candidate's website, I added my name to my local chapter, and I decided that now is the time for me to get involved. My candidate may win the primary or may not, but getting involved is the only way I'm going to feel like I'm part of something pretty darn important this year.

My recipe for change is pretty simple. Plug in to what's going on, choose a side, take a stand, be part of the action. I think a lot of our current trouble can be traced back to apathy. Me, I'm pretty hopeful this morning.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The new homemaking club?

I've read that homemaking clubs began to appear in the 1920s. I don't know when they started to decline, but at least in the years when the idea of "modern homemaking" came into being, groups would gather to discuss, at least in theory, ways to make homemaking easier. I imagine it was more about socializing and sharing a bit of gossip than anything else, but the idea of these clubs got me thinking.

Is blogging the new homemaking club? I think, in a way, it is. Now granted, there are plenty of groups of people that meet in person - church groups, farmgirl groups, community activists - but the Internet and blogging has opened up a forum for people with specialized interests to meet up virtually.

I've been impressed with blogging since I first discovered it, waaaaay after those on the cutting edge were already into it. I love the democratic nature of it, the ability for anybody anywhere to get out a soapbox and speak their mind. Sure, a lot of it is crap, but I'd rather wade through the crap then have people restricted in what they can say. (I say that even after getting a nasty and stupid spam comment the other day...)

Blogging, at least for me, serves as my homemaking club. I find out all kinds of information from visiting other sites, reading stories from other homemakers, sharing things that work and don't work for me. But as much as I like the virtual nature of blogging, I think there is something to be said for meeting folks in person. I dream of meeting up around a kitchen table, sharing coffee and life's ups and downs. A regular old coffee klatch, as it were.

But in person or online, I do think there is value in community, in sharing our stories - whether they are about homemaking or not - and making our lives a little more than just the daily grind. I hope you think so too. Have a cup of virtual coffee and take a seat at our Internet table. I'm excited to hear what everyone has to say.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Happy Friday - oh, are those nachos?

Happy Friday to you all. Today is more of a lavender color, rather than blue. But the color I have in mind today is green - guacamole green, to be precise. I heart guacamole, big time. I like it in all versions; chunky, smooth, with tomatoes, without onions, spicy or subtle. Mash up some avocado, add a few spices, and I'm happy.

With hopes of guacamole in my mind, I'll share a recipe for guacamole salad written by my fav, Ina Garten. Getting the ingredients from the grocery store just might convince me to abandon my shut-in status and grab my coat.

Where I live, avocados are never in season, so I'll have to break my "buy it local" credo, but good guacamole is sooooooo worth it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Blue Thursday

Ok, I'm in a funk today. I'll warn you right now. If you are looking for a perky post about vinegar or chicken pot pie, it'll have to wait. Today I'm blue. I'm listening to the City of Angels soundtrack (soon to be followed by Chet Baker), which is my Blue Album and drinking tea. I'm still in my jammies and will likely stay that way all day, unless I get enough pep to throw myself at the gym.

So what's up, you may ask? Well, I'm not sure. NR went back to school today after a two week break. I love having him home during the day but by yesterday I was glad that school was coming back because I just wanted a little "me" time, if you know what I mean. I should have known this was coming on because I craved chicken fried steak, mashed taters and gravy for dinner last night. Nothing like comfort food when the blues are sneaking up on ya.

I've got nothing big to complain about. Things are going well. I'm excited to try my new ventures for 2008 and everyone is in good health and relative spirits in my family. Things could be a lot worse (and have been before) so my inner voice says "buck up, kid". And that's when I reach for the blankie and the tea cup.

January frequently bums me out. Spring is too far away to be felt, the Christmas hoopla is over and all those new resolutions are looming. I'm too broke, too fat, too slacker-y, too old to be still figuring out what the heck I want to be when I grow up, too...(fill in the blank) in January.

Oh, it's raining. The misty, smears your windshield, kind of rain. I actually like that kind of rain. Think I'll cuddle up under the blankie on my couch and watch the rain mist my ferns in the garden.

I did get a delicious rosewood crochet hook yesterday, which I dearly love. Maybe I'll get wrapped up in fuzzy wool yarn, letting the repetition unplug my always chattering brain. Sounds like a perfect plan for a blue Thursday.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Chaos Theory

Humilitating as it may be, here is the evidence of the state of my craft area right after the Christmas rush. It was out of control, yarn everywhere, patterns scattered to the wind.

BeforeThe Before shot

Now it is at least functional and I can see easily that I really don't need any more red yarn, which I seem to pick up for no reason.

AfterThe After shot

It is amazing how much more pleasant it is in a room where things are organized. Given the state of the rest of my house right now, I may just stay in here forever. Actually, that wouldn't be accomplishing much because one of my January resolutions is to bring my home back into my desired standards of livability (aka not a slob pit). I will be contacting Lorraine for help with some of the trickier areas. I am also reading a useful book from 1942 about housekeeping. The author has some handy task lists, which I will post for those of us who like lists.

Oh, one more thing on the subject of Chaos. Have you ever wanted to see the crocheted likeness of Chaos? I thought so. Check this out.
Who say Physics is boring?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I got the baby!

No, I'm not expecting. I'm talking about the baby found inside a King Cake. Before you call the authorities, let me explain. King Cakes are famous in New Orleans and are made to celebrate Twelfth Night (January 6) and the pre-Lent period leading up to Mardi Gras. There is some fascinating history of the King Cake here and a recipe from 1901 to try out here. Don't forget to warn your guests about the baby (or crown or whatever you bake in the cake) so they don't swallow it by mistake.

For the rest of us on New Year Diets, enjoy the celery and V8.

* Photo courtesy of RecipeTips.