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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