Monday, December 28, 2009

Looking forward to making this....

One of the downsides of keeping this blog for a while (and, let's face it, getting older) is that I worry about repeating myself. I know I've written more than once about macaroni and cheese and bread pudding. On the other hand, we don't tire of our favorites, right?

I did a search of my archives and it appears that I've really never written about the fruitcake that is so fabulous it should be called something else. We've all heard those tired old fruitcake jokes and have maybe even had to politely eat some of those dark, heavy bricks bursting with chunky nuts and oddly colored "fruit". The fact is these are neither cake nor fruit and really should be called something else so that the name fruitcake might be bestowed upon a lovely confection I like to make for the (secular) new year. The recipe came from an early issue of Saveur magazine.

This one takes a little time. I like to candy the fruit peel myself which will add a day to the process. Also the pans are a strange size. I've used small (4 cup) bundt pans before and this year I am going to try an actual pudding mold with a snap on lid that I found recently at our local thrift emporium.

The cake isn't just baked, but steamed, which makes it moist and tender. While slightly boozy from the orange liqueur, it mostly tastes like fruit, butter, and almonds. Nothing green and oddly chewy here, just pure fruity loveliness.

Sadly, I don't have any photos, but that's ok because what I do have is a link to the recipe. It's a bit of a production, but if you've got a little time, there's no sweeter way to ring in the new year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December 23--Web Tool(s)

Web tool. It came into your work flow this year and now you couldn't live without it. It has simplified or improved your online experience.

Two things come to mind which I've test driven this year and have come to rely on. I got myself a snazzy Blackberry phone in the spring and immediately set about trying to make it as useful as possible. One of the things I discovered which (nearly) always makes my life easier is Evernote, a note gathering application that works on your PC. mac, phone or on the web and I've found it extremely handy for consolidating and organizing all the random bits of information I come across in a day. Whether I'm looking at knitting patterns on my home computer, researching something at work, or trying to consolidate all my recipes in one handy place, everything gets dumped into the appropriate Evernote folder and is then available to me on my home computer, phone, and any computer with access to the web. That way I can look up recipes at the grocery store and patterns at the yarn shop and all the information I need is with me. The only downside is that you are dependent on web access to get at your information using a mobile device. I have had Evernote fail me, for example, at the beach where there was no wireless coverage and I found myself wishing I'd just written that scone recipe down and taken it with me. And on days like yesterday when Blackberry service was down throughout North America I had no access to my information when I was out which was annoying as I was cooking with a friend. But those are the only two instances I can think of in 8 months where I was stuck. The other 99% of the time it's brilliant. And even free!

The other service I've come to rely on is Mint, a free money tracking website which is phenomenal for seeing where your money goes. I've tried using Microsoft Money and Quicken for this purpose over the years and found Mint infinitely easier to use. It connects with your bank account and downloads the most recent information every time you log in. It's remarkably good at categorizing expenditures from day one, but you can tweak categories and individual entries to make it more accurate and it will remember your changes for future transactions. I don't know how well this works for people with complex financial lives but for us it's been a simple way to track money in and money out and to give us the cold hard facts about just how much money we've spent at the local Indian buffet this month.

I am so thankful to the brilliant and generous people who make these tools available for free.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 22 Startup.

What's a business that you found this year that you love? Who thought it up? What makes it special?

I am particularly pleased that we have a brand new Indian restaurant right here in our food wasteland neighborhood. I was not prepared to love buffet style North Indian food, but every time we've been the food has been quite tasty. There's good variety, great value, nice folks working there and top in my kids' view is the soft serve mango ice cream machine. What's not to like?

Namaste Indian restaurant at NE 82nd and Sandy in Portland.

Monday, December 21, 2009

December 21: Project.

December 21 Project. What did you start (or in my case finish) this year that you're proud of?

The skirt! For sure--the skirt! I had no idea I had that much patience or that I would enjoy hand sewing quite so much. The Alabama Stitch Book and the Flickr group I joined were both tremendous sources of inspiration and encouragement.

With luck, I'll be able to add a beautiful green February Lady Sweater to my 2009 accomplishments as well. One sleeve to go!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20--New Person

New person-- She came into your life and turned it upside down. He went out of his way to provide incredible customer service. Who is your unsung hero of 2009?

This one was easy. While I met Chris a couple of years ago, only this year did we start spending time together. Chris is an amazing person who knows so much about raising, cooking, and preserving food and she is very generous with her knowledge. I love how she tackles big projects with the right combination of research and fearlessness. We've done a few food oriented projects together now and I love when we work in the kitchen, her calm and quiet energy balancing my more hyper tendencies. If you're reading this, Chris--thanks for hanging out with me this year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A little handmade holiday goodness

I always have to laugh a bit when people bring up that myth of eight nights of Chanukah gifts. Seriously? I don't know of anyone who does that. We usually stick with one night of gifts and I like to have as many as possible be homemade. The teen boys, of course, would be happier with cash or video games, but they smiled politely at their freezer paper stenciled shirts. Tovah, on the other hand, is a maker and as a maker she's still delighted by home made gifts.

She's currently in a big cat phase: lions, tigers, pumas, you name it. She will confidently list the differences between cheetah and leopards (who knew?) and fill you in on all the details of diet, habitat, and more. So it was easy to pick a design for her stenciled shirt.

I can't quite remember where I came up with the idea of this skirt, but I really liked the idea of a pieced border near the hem of a full, swingy skirt. It all made sense in my head but when I started putting it together I had trouble securing the top edge of the border neatly and that's when I began rummaging through my stash of old trims. I was delighted to find I had enough of the cherry red to trim both edges. I find sewing rickrack to be somewhat harrowing, but it came out well enough with a bit of hand sewing here and there.

I'm not sure how long my sweet girl will enjoy mama made gifts but she appeared to be delighted with this one.

December 19--Car Ride

What did you see? How did it smell? Did you eat anything as you drove there? Who were you with?

This was the second year I drove to California with my kids over Spring Break and much as I love my husband (and knitting while he's driving) I also really love loading my kids in the car and heading off on an adventure. Like most fathers I know, my beloved is, shall we say, rather goal oriented. But when I'm at the wheel, there's a bit more wandering.

On this trip we listened to Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country, stopped for coffee and ice cream whenever necessary, and took a little time to explore, leading us to the most amazing Sundial Bridge in Sacramento. And I only had to pull over once to make the sibling bickering stop. They got the message pretty quickly and we went on to have a grand journey.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best of Catchup

I'm catching up on a few days of Best of 2009 prompts:

12/15 Best packaging--Did your headphones come in a sweet case? See a bottle of tea in another country that stood off the shelves?

I freely admit to buying these ginger chews based entirely on their packaging. They aren't the best ginger chews I've had but I love their fancy little tin.
I almost bought a set of these just because I was similarly charmed by the packaging but then reminded myself that I hate working with double pointed needles. More money for ginger candy, I guess!
12/16 Tea of the year? I can taste my favorite tea right now. What's yours? So far no one has been able to make me like tea. Apart from my delicious, spicy homemade chai, I'd never choose tea over coffee. But, on the ever changing coffee front, I recently scored a little old Krups espresso maker that makes a lovely cup of coffee, especially when I use Doreen's Italian roast.

12/17 Word or Phrase--A word that encapsulates your year. "2009 was _____."
How could one word or phrase describe a whole year? What stands out most about this year has been waiting. We're doing a lot of waiting to see how it all turns out. When raising little ones it was easy to feel confident about where they'd end up but now with almost-adults making their own choices it's harder to be certain. So we're waiting to see how it all turns out and hoping that all these bumps prove useful in the long run.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

December 14 --Rush

Rush. When did you get your best rush of the year?

Ha ha ha. I'm a middle aged mother of three. Rush? I don't do rush. I don't even think I'd recognize rush if it smacked me upside the head.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Insanely Good

When I saw this recipe in my friend's Fine Cooking magazine, I was very, very interested. So many flavors that I love: brown butter, pecans, blue cheese, and Brussels sprouts. Sounds a little busy, doesn't it? But it is a heavenly combination.

The first time I made it I followed the recipe exactly and loved the rich, buttery flavors. When I made the dish tonight, I used onions in place of shallots, half and half instead of heavy cream, and Gorgonzola in place of the blue cheese because these were what I had on hand. The resulting dish was a little lighter, but no less delicious.
I particularly love the Brussels sprouts which are sliced and then roasted before being tossed into the pasta. I'd never had them prepared this way and will definitely consider the roasted sprouts as a side dish.

December 13

What's the best change you made to the place you live?

Well I didn't make it but one day I came home to find that my lovely husband had taken it upon himself to rearrange our microscopic living room. I was skeptical as part of the shake up involved adding furniture to an already tiny space but somehow it worked and it's a more pleasant space than before. Thanks, dear!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

December 12--New Food

Yummy home-made idlis with chutney and sambar!...Image via Wikipedia

You're now in love with Lebanese food and you didn't even know what it was in January of this year.

Colleen introduced me to idli last spring: spongy steamed cakes made of fermented rice and lentil flour which require a funky little tiered stand to steam properly (and yes, I bought one). So far I've only made them from a mix but they're so tasty I haven't felt a need to make them from scratch. Soon, I'm sure. Especially wonderful is the dry chutney powder served with them: nutty and spicy and wonderfully complex. Great stuff!
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Chanukah Around the World

Chanukah is here and the deep fryer has been released from its basement exile for its one week of service. A holiday that gives a green light to fried food--what's not to like?

On the first night, of course, we had the classics: potato latkes and doughnuts, both delicious. Tonight we opted to begin our international tour of fried foods with Swedish rosettes. My dear friend loaned me her rosette iron and I googled until I found a promising recipe.

The rosette iron is just a little metal snowflake on the end of a long handle. I did my research and learned that after heating the iron in hot oil, it's dipped into a thin batter and then back in the hot oil where the rosette shaped cookie thing magically disengages and bobs about until fished out, crunchy and golden brown. I had my doubts about how simply the rosette would leave the iron but it was a snap. I just held the iron in the oil and watched. After just a few seconds, the batter had cooked just enough to float off on its own and continue cooking until done, about a minute later.

The cookies were delightfully light and airy. We ate them dusted with powdered sugar and they really were just a little bit magical.

Oh, and if you think that Scandinavian Chanukah cookies are a stretch, I am one eighth Swedish so I figure it kind makes sense. More sense than the Sonoran enchiladas (minus the lard, of course) and Indian jalebis I'm planning to make later in the week, anyway.

Chag Samech!

I don't have the skills to get the whole greeting in one frame, but the sentiment is sincere. Tovah helped me design our new family Chanukah banner and it really does make things jsut a little bit more festive. I hope those of you who are celebrating enjoy a warm, light-filled holiday.

Friday, December 11, 2009

December 11 The best place

A coffee shop? A pub? A retreat center? A cubicle? A nook?

Here in Portland, it would have to be Loyly. Sauna plus steam, peace and quiet, the smell of cedar and lemongrass. Pretty much heaven in my book. How fortunate that I have doctor's orders to visit the sauna as often as possible.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December 10 Album of the year

What's rocking your world?

I tend to listen more to carefully assembled playlists of individual songs than to whole albums but I have really been loving the debut album from Balkan Beat Box which inevitably gets me dancing around the kitchen with a smile.

While I wouldn't say it's exactly rocking my world, the self-titled album by Kiran Ahluwalia is one of the loveliest things I've heard in ages and is in pretty constant rotation around here.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

December 9 Challenge

Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you?

This is easy. The biggest challenge of the year for me, by far, has been regularly attending Nia dance classes at our local community center. For a person who generally loathes gyms, sweating, workout gear, and exercise in general, it's no small thing that I get up at least 2 and often 3 mornings a week and dance like crazy for an hour. In public. With other people. About halfway through each class, I reach a moment when I feel exhausted, like I can't possibly last another second, and then I keep going until those final minutes when I get to stretch out on the floor, tired but also exhilarated in a way I rarely experience in other areas of my life.

It's so much easier to not go. To come up with excuses as to why I'm too busy, kids need to be taken to this and that, I'm tired.....but I can feel myself getting stronger every day. My balance has improved. And my back rarely hurts anymore.

Every Nia class is different. I never know which part of me is going to be working extra hard on a given day, but I am stunned and delighted to find that I relish this challenge of moving my body.
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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

December 8 Moment of peace

An hour or a day or a week of solitude. What was the quality of your breath? The state of your mind? How did you get there?

Hmmmm....I have three children, two of whom are homeschooled so solitude is a pretty rare commodity for me--are enough that I don't really handle it well at all. I get all nervous and twitchy and start wishing for someone to come along and talk to me. Unless I am busy making something. When I go downstairs to my basement craft cave and crank up the music, everyone pretty much knows to let me be. If my hands are busy and my mind is humming, I have yarn and fabric and color and texture to keep me company and I then I am perfectly content.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Mosaic Monday

I haven't done this in ages. I wonder why. My goodness, there are some lovely images out there!
1. Fall in Love, 2. time to choose the right colours.., 3. Crafting 365 / 36 - round like a circle in a spiral like a wheel within a wheel, 4. Thread, 5. 337::365 India's found shell..., 6. Untitled, 7. •oO.°, 8. if the klompen fits wear it bench monday, 9. Strawberry Fields Quilt

December 7 Blog find of the year

That gem of a blog you can't believe you didn't know about until this year.

I have collected an astonishing number of titles in my Google Reader over the past couple of years, enough that they are now divided into sections (crafts, food, Bollywood, etc) though lots of what I read doesn't necessarily fall neatly into categories.

One of the treasures that I discovered this year is Lelo in NoPo, a blog full of all the things I love best: food, gardens, beautiful photos, humor, compassion, and lots of home grown Portland goodness. The blog's been up for years--I'm not sure how I only stumbled upon it recently, but I'm always happy when a fresh Lelo post shows up to brighten my day. I give this blogger extra points for allowing me to share my slightly modified version of her jam-filled scones on my food blog.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

December 6 Workshop or conference

Was there a conference or workshop you attended that was especially beneficial? Where was it? What did you learn?

I attended a one-day workshop in July with Janet Zadina connecting current brain research and education. So often these events are only tangentially related to the work I do but this one was fascinating and applied both to my students and my children so I considered that a plus!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

December 5 Night out

Did you have a night out with friends or a loved one that rocked your world? Who was there? What was the highlight of the night?

My husband and I are not really the going out type. We've pretty much just stayed home for years. But for whatever reason (probably that the boys are old enough to watch their sister and put her to bed) we've started going out dancing once a month and it's more fun than I could have ever imagined.

It's all about the music for me. At Filmistan, DJ Anjali and the Incredible Kid play nothing but Hindi film music. You wouldn't think that would draw crowds as Portland is nowhere near Bombay, but lots of people show up and dance for hours. The first time we went we worried about being too old or too fat or too dowdy but the lights are dim and no one is looking anyway.I don' t know why we're only just now discovering the fun of going out dancing (in our 20th year of marriage) but it's a good thing nonetheless.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Winter Salad

It's almost the end of the term and, in our program, the end of the term means it's time for a party. ESL program parties are great because we get to try tasty foods from all over the world. I've had fabulous Cuban chicken and rice, Vietnamese spring rolls, Mexican tacos, and Turkish baklava made with homemade filo dough. All amazing stuff.

One of the Russian or Ukrainian students will inevitably bring a Russian salat, a layered salad of boiled potatoes, peas, carrots, cucumber, and hard cooked egg, carefully arranged and glued together with copious amounts of mayonnaise. It's not bad, but I find a little goes a long way.

I found a Central Asian take on the potato based layered salad in Darra Goldstein's The Vegetarian Hearth which is a wonderful resource for hearty, meatless meals for the colder months. The mayonnaise is replaced by a garlicky nut and herb based dressing which makes the vegetables positively sing.

I wish I could say this salad is a snap to make, but it isn't. It's fussy and there are beets involved. But it's the prettiest vegetable dish you'll ever find on a winter table and it tastes fresh and full of life. I hope you'll give it a try.

Printable recipe here.

December 4- Book

The Hungry TideImage via Wikipedi

What book - fiction or non - touched you? Where were you when you read it?

I've read a lot of good books this year but I don't think anything sucked me in quite like The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh. I took this along on a weekend beach trip in the hopes that I'd enjoy it as much as The Glass Palace which was the Ghosh novel I'd taken to read over spring break. I wasI caught up in this story within the first few pages and its characters stayed with me long after the last pages. I don't read a great deal of fiction anymore but this is exactly the kind of thing I want when I pick up a novel--to be completely transported to another world and caught up in the lives of the characters.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Playing Along

I love reading Heavenly Days where Amisha writes about her latest projects and shares gorgeous photos. I'm always happy when a new post shows up in my Google Reader as I know I'll be in for something lovely.

Today Amisha shared a link to The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge and, despite being a few days late, I decided to jump in and play along. This might be just the push I need to write more regularly and keep my most loyal reader (Hi Della!) happy. The daily writing prompts will allow me to remember some of the highlights of 2009 that might have otherwise slipped away--how cool is that?

I'll try and post an entry each day and I'll start off with December's first prompts.

December 1 Trip. What was your best trip in 2009?

I'm not exactly the type of person that has numerous exciting travel experiences every year. But we did make our second annual spring break excursion to San Jose in March and had a grand time with our friends Colleen and Sanjay who are marvelous hosts. The trip was capped by lunch with my inlaws. Those of us who live in Portland definitely need a little California sunshine but the time March rolls around!

December 2 Restaurant moment. Share the best restaurant experience you had this year. Who was there? What made it amazing? What taste stands out in your mind? My husband and I celebrated our 19th anniversary with a lovely meal (and a few margaritas!) at one of our very favorite places. We had an exquisite Mexican meal early enough in the evening that hours later we were ravenous again and headed out for al fresco french fries.

December 3 Article. What's an article that you read that blew you away? That you shared with all your friends. That you Delicious'd and reference throughout the year. I shared this one about BPA in our food containers with lots of people. And this one about the H1N1 vaccine.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Chanukah comes earlier this year than last. It's not really "early" as it falls on the same Hebrew calendar dates every year. But in relation to the secular calendar and my work schedule it feels early as the holiday begins the day after my last day of teaching which is why I find myself uncharacteristically doing a bit of thinking ahead.

There are two really great things about Chanukah as far as I'm concerned. The imagery of lighting up dark, midwinter nights is lovely and also, we get to eat fried foods for a week to commemorate the miracle of a day's worth of holy oil lasting for eight days.

We used to go at this half heartedly: a few nights of latkes until we grew sick of them, one round of apple latkes for variety, and some sad attempts at making doughnuts in a frying pan. Then a few years back I went down to my local Kmart and bought me a deep fryer which was the best $25 I ever spent.

Now delicious homemade doughnuts are a regular part of the Chanukah repertoire. Usually I just make little 1-inch balls of dough, fry them up in high quality oil, and then roll them in cinnamon sugar. No one complains and there are never leftovers.

However, I'm thinking of trying something new this year. My friend Chris pointed out this recipe for pumpkin doughnuts and I can't stop thinking about them, especially in conjunction with hot spiced cider and roaring fire in the fireplace. Doesn't that sound like heaven?

We've also started exploring deep fried foods of the world during Chanukah. First there were loukamades, the lovely honey-drenched puffs of yumminess from Greece. These are fun to make. As they expand in the hot oil, they flip themselves which is amusing until the good part: eating them!

We've made pakoras along with an Indian meal but I am thinking about maybe making samosas....from scratch. Maybe. Manjula makes it look easy. Or maybe jalebi?

Last year, in the middle of the epic snowstorm that shut Portland down, we had a wonderful meal. I found a recipe for a Sonoran style enchilada which is basically a thick, deep fried masa patty topped with chile-tomato sauce, and whatever other toppings (cheese, scallions, shredded chicken, sour cream, etc) you can think of. My kids always like these kinds of assemble-it-yourself meals so this was a big hit, especially as we followed the enchiladas with churros and hot chocolate.

My goodness...I am getting hungry just thinking about all this good food. I've probably put on a few pounds just writing this, too.

Any Chanukah (or other holiday) food traditions and inspirations to share? I always love to hear from you!

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Buy Nothing New Day

I'm not really much of shopper and when I heard our hostess' friends talking last night about plans to hit the mall before 6 am I was horrified. I avoid malls and large shopping centers the way I avoid smoky bars and McDonald's and can't quite imagine making the experience worse by getting up before the crack of dawn. There's nothing a big box store has to offer that justifies my engaging in that kind of nonsense.

However, if I am coming across a completely virtuous non-consumer, this is the time to set the record straight because while I loathe thumbing through the racks of pretty much any chain store, a good thrift store is a whole different story.
I think I have a sense of what gets folks out of bed at an ungodly hour to hit the mall for bargains because I love nothing more than a great thrift store find. I love to poke through piles of old dishes and fabrics, wondering about how things were used and why they were given up. I love looking at colors and patterns that haven't been made in decades, imagining how I might take that old curtain and refashion it into napkins or a new skirt. I like finding things that are unique and made well enough to have held up for many years, I like giving my money to local businesses and non-profits, and I really, really like giving old, discarded things a new home. An added bonus is that I have a husband who enjoys this process as much as I do and we have a grand time poking around together.

While the rest of my fellow Americans were loading up on the latest electronics and whatnottoday, we went out after a leisurely breakfast to peruse some east side thrift shops for a couple of hours. We always look for interesting fabrics (check!), unusual dishes (check!), good books (check!) and, my particular obsession, vintage Pyrex cookware.

Today we did well, with a few yards of vintage fabrics, lovely Japanese ceramics, and an almost complete set of old Pyrex restaurant ware. Another set of dishes? Seriously? We go through an alarming number of dishes. The combination of teen boys + tile floors is hard on the ceramics so these will be put to good use.

I'm quite taken with the large golden poppy plate which makes a fine challah tray, and a little flowered ....vase? Creamer? Double-spouted, no handle pitcher thing? I don't know its original purpose, but it's a far finer pistachio holder than anything I could pick up at the local Kmart.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

It's the last week of November and I had yet another chance to get all teary when we had our annual Thanksgiving lesson in my classroom. What I wrote last year remains true:

I find myself incredibly grateful for my own family. We've never had to send anyone away to earn money and we've never had to communicate with one another by long distance. I have parents, in-laws, and a grandmother who love me and are always there for me. A blessing, indeed.
Though they've both gotten more challenging, we've both managed to keep our jobs this year and we are keenly aware of how lucky we are in that area. Apart from the endless dental bills, my children are healthy, creative, and growing up well. Our parents and my 91 year old grandmother are still going strong . My health has improved bit by bit and most days I feel strong and capable. I don't miss being the fragile, frazzled wreck I was a few years ago, that's for sure.

My kitchen is full of good smells from the tasty dishes we'll be sharing with friends today. I hope those who are celebrating today have a joyful holiday.

Oh--and don't forget that well deserved Thanksgiving nap!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Recently Made

My brave daughter finished some truly epic dental work today. Over a few visits she had fillings, sealants, and crowns (oh my!). If you've been reading here for a while you know that I am not a huge fan of going to the dentist so I was miserable at the thought of my poor girl in the chair.

I try really hard not to pass my dental issues on to my kids but I was pretty nervous at the thought of all the work needing to be done. I wanted to give her something to honor what I considered her exceptional bravery and overall good cheer about having people mucking around in her mouth and sticking her with needles. Ideally this something would be small, soft, and smile worthy. Which explains a couple of secretive evenings spent in the basement making.....felt teeth. With faces.

I got the patterns from the book Softies by Therese Laskey which is full of charming little projects. Honestly, these are really pushing the cutesy boundary for me but they seemed to do the trick as Tovah made it thorough both long appointments without even a tear. Maybe it was just due to the skill of my truly wonderful dentist. But I'd like to think my goofy little handmade teeth helped just a bit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rough Count

I was just reading this post over at the Bitten Blog and it got me thinking that I never did tally up all the canning, freezing, and drying I did this year.

I've given quite a few jars away and we've run through a few as well, but I must have filled close to 100 jars with apricot jam, sour cherry jam, strawberry jam, blueberry marmalade, peach butter, apricot marmalade, stewed tomatoes, chili sauce, sweet tomato chutney, apricot-red pepper chutney, cranberry marmalade, satsuma plum jam, cranberry-orange preserves with cardamom, Asian plum sauce, and cranberry vinegar. I dried blueberries, peaches, cherries, and apricots. And I filled the freezer, too, with bags of blueberries, strawberries, apricots, peaches, cherries, elderberries, cranberries, and roasted tomatoes. And many quarts of slow cooked tomato sauce.

I've used my old copy of the Rodale book Stocking Up for years but this summer I got a couple of new additions to my bookshelf. The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp has a wonderful variety of recipes and the small batch aspect takes some of the stress and frenzy out of preserving. Not the book for a tomato avalanche, but nice for variety. Some of my favorites from this book were red pepper and apricot chutney, blueberry marmalade, Asian plum sauce, and a super fresh tasting, barely cooked strawberry jam.

I also got my hands on Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty. I can't tell you how many times I've come across references to this book over the years, but it went out of print long ago and the library doesn't even have it. Every time I looked it up I found copies for $50 and more so I figured I'd never see it. When I shared my despair over this with my friend Chris, she found me a battered but completely serviceable (and affordable) copy on that very day. I love this book. I think there's something about that classic 1980's page layout from Workman Publishing which really works for me, possibly because that's when I started looking at cookbooks seriously. It's a fun book, loaded with tasty things like candied cranberries, peach preserves with brown sugar and rum, and other delicacies. Like the best cookbooks, it's as much fun to read as to cook from. If you come across a copy of this while out and about, snap it up as it's a keeper!
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Thursday, November 12, 2009


I've been down with a cold the last few days which does strange things to my appetite. I know most people like bland, simple food when sick but for me, the spicier the better. All I wanted this time was spicy Asian noodle soups and blistering curries. I ended up with simple, bland chicken noodle soup because I didn't have the energy to make it more interesting and an egg curry which wasn't nearly hot enough despite what I thought was a generous use of Dundicut peppers.

I started feeling better this morning and a new craving arose, this time for the jam filled scones they sell at my favorite cafe. I was still feeling too lazy to actually go out so imagine my surprise when I found the very thing I was craving while scrolling through my Google Reader.

Lelo in NoPo is a wonderful blog full of color and life an so many good things: food and photos and gardens and more. After my busy summer of preserving, of course I had to follow a post entitled What the heck are you doing with all that jam? I was delighted to find that Lelo had a recipe for the very jam-filled scone I'd been craving. All I had to do was make a trip down to my basement shelves to choose a filling.

Have I written yet about how many jars are down there? There are quite a few. Maybe more than that. But they're all neatly labeled so that's something.

After looking over the possibilities I decided on an apricot filling and pulled out a particularly special jar. This jar came from a box of old canning jars found in the back of our garage when we moved in. It doesn't look like any of my other jars and is emblazoned with the words Drey's Perfect Mason. I suppose it's silly to be especially fond of a particular canning jar, but there you have it: one more oddity on my ever growing list!
I'm not much of a scone or biscuit maker--I don't think I have that light touch which everyone swears is necessary. So when I saw that this recipe was made using a countertop mixer I was a bit skeptical. But this came out light and crispy and extremely delicious. My only complaint? I only got six good sized scones from a batch of dough so next time I am definitely doubling the recipe.

Since I had an ideal jam-topped scone in mind, of course I had to fiddle with the recipe just slightly. I know my dream scones have some coconut and I think some oats, too. And nothing is ever harmed by the addition of a deep, strong, long-steeped vanilla extract so I added that as well. Lelo generously gave me permission to share her recipe with my changes. You'll find a printable recipe here. Enjoy!
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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Is Nothing Safe?

I recently (and with no small amount of reluctance) traded in my beloved old Sigg water bottle for a stainless steel version made by Earthlust. Why? Well it turns out that after denying their aluminum bottle liners contained BPA for years, Sigg finally revealed that, in fact, BPA was used in their older bottles. But it's OK, because it didn't leach into the contents. Really! They promised. Well, that wasn't good enough for me so I opted for food grade stainless, a non-toxic material that doesn't require a suspicious lining the way aluminum does.

Then I began worrying about the potential dangers in drinking hot coffee through a plastic lid. The waste generated by so called disposable cups is already appalling enough but who knows what leaches from those cheap plastic lids into my latte? So I made a deal with myself: no more to go coffee unless I have my snazzy BPA-free, leak proof, insulated stainless steel cup along with me. So far so good.

But no. I just read a disturbing report on the blog Civil Eats about BPA in the linings of virtually all food cans, organic or not.
Consumer Reports’ latest tests of canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, have found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA).
I'm not a huge user of canned food but there are few canned things which are staples in our home: organic tomatoes, coconut milk, beans, and tuna. I can't imagine cooking without some of these things in my pantry. I haven't been able to find much consistent information about which companies use cans containing BPA but someone at the Organic Grace blog has sone lots of research on the subject. Thanks, Organic Grace blog!

You'd think this would motivate me to do more canning next summer but even that's not safe as most commonly available home canning lids also contain BPA. What to do?

For years I really thought that my daily exposure to toxics wasn't really a big deal. But after recently reading a truly frightening book entitled The Autoimmune Epidemic , my Pollyanna tendencies are starting to wane. This stuff really does matter because we have no way of knowing which toxic chemical may be the one to tip us into any of over 100 autoimmune diseases. I already live with one which ups my likelihood of developing another. I've learned to live with Graves Disease in the last few years, but that's enough, thanks. I imagine it's only a matter of time until BPA goes the way of DDT and PCBs but how many people have to get sick before that happens?

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Comfort Food

With the recent acquisition of my 3-in-1 slow cooker, I've been looking at a lot of new cookbooks in an attempt to move beyond the chili and bean soups I can make with my eyes closed. There seem to be two camps in the slow cooker world: those who slow cook for convenience, and those who slow cook for the added depth of flavor imparted by long hours over low heat.

There are a lot of slow cooker books out there, enough that I've had to develop my own simple litmus test to use while scanning for promising recipes. If onion soup mix or anything from Campbell's show up in the ingredient list, that's when I put the book down and move on.

I've had some hits (arroz con pollo) and some misses (Moroccan chicken) and learned a few things, namely that most things taste better if I take the time to brown meat, saute onions, and warm spices in oil. Oh, and that you really can overcook slow cooked dishes.

Tonight's dinner was delicious. I made a slow cooked kitchari from the wonderful Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Book in which I've found interesting recipes with real ingredients--nary a can of cream of mushroom soup in sight! The recipe called for heating spices in melted butter to release their fragrance for the base flavors and the last hour spice paste addition gives a bright, fresh taste to this protein-rich Indian comfort food.

My modification: the recipe calls for moong dal but I used the split chana dal I had in the cupboard and was happy with the results, but they didn't completely disintegrate into the rice. If that sounds more appealing to you (or picky little ones) by all means use the moong dal or even red lentils. Also, though the recipe directed cooking on low heat, I cut the cooking time nearly in half by cooking on high. If you choose to do this, watch it at the end so it doesn't dry out too much.You'll find the printable recipe here. Enjoy!

Oh--and if, like me, you can't keep your dals straight, this is the guide I refer to.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Why, hello!

I just looked up my visitor stats for this blog and noticed that a lot of people have been visiting lately. Like, people that don't even know me in real life. So....welcome! I'd love to hear what brought you here. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments--I'd love to know more about my readers.


The recipe I'm sharing with you today came from David Lebovitz' delightful new book The Sweet Life in Paris which I recently devoured. It's my favorite kind of travel writing, the sort that mixes bafflement and delight, good information and random observations, with the added bonus of a generous serving of recipes.

The recipe for Breton Buckwheat Cake caught my eye for reasons not entirely clear to me. There are much flashier recipes in this book for sure. But when I was a kid my dad occasionally made us buckwheat pancakes and there is something about that distinctive flavor that was very attractive--mysterious and familiar at the same time. I had no idea how that would translate to a sweet cake and was anxious to find out.

The sad truth is that I couldn't take a sexy photo of this cake. But please, don't be fooled by its homely appearance because it is a thing of beauty indeed. Its flavor is very nuanced and surprising--I kept getting hints of almond and honey despite neither being included in the ingredient list. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks suggests serving the cake with fresh fruit or Greek yogurt lightly sweetened with maple syrup. But I was enchanted by this cake all on its own. Really, it's the best kind of magic. Do give this one a try and let me know what you think.

You'll find the recipe here. And don't despair about all those leftover egg whites--that's what meringues are for!
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

St Johns + Art

Our homeschool group had the pleasure of a guided tour of the St Johns + Art exhibition by its organizer today. It was a lovely, foggy autumn day, the kind that makes the changing leaves pop as if the trees had all been wired for electricity. Forty different storefronts had art pieces ranging from embroidery to ceramics--so much to look at but sadly very little photographed well through glass so I'm mostly just sharing images from our walk. If you're in Portland you should get on up to St Johns right away as this is the last week of the exhibit.