Tuesday, February 17, 2009

M is for Maris

My sweet friend Shelby welcomed her second child, Maris, into the world two weeks ago and boy is she cute. I made this little dress for her this weekend, and although it looks huge now, I bet she'll be in it by the time she's three months old.

I never want to find out the gender of my babies before I have them, but this time around it is much more tempting. With Andrew, I was just starting to sew. Now, I feel like there would be no end, especially with little girl things. Just as well I don't know, I suppose...

This is a easy pattern, New Look 6576. It sure does make me long to have a serger, though. I can never figure out the best way to bind those edges.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Very, Very Romantic Valentine's Story

Pete: " I'm going to Krogers - do you need anything?"

Me: "I could use some flour."

Pete: "Not to take the surprise out of it, but what kind of flowers do you want for Valentine's day?"

Me: "Oh, I don't care." [Then I start to think about how we're having company all weekend.] "Actually, don't worry about it because we're going to keep having to move them on and off the kitchen table for meals...."

Pete: "And they do jack up the prices this time of year..."

Me: "You're right. That's fine. Maybe we should just wait and get some next week."

Pete: "Sounds good."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

YIKES!! (and an announcement)

Oh, lordy! Where has the time gone? Actually, I can tell you. I just endured a rather unfortunate adventure in midwifery, so I have quit my job and am now (and hopefully temporarily) a kept woman. The crazy thing about creativity is that even though it can flourish during stressful situations, it can also wilt away. That's pretty much what happened. Ahem. So that's that.

I tend to love all spring holidays (or the two of them, Valentine's Day and Easter) and this year Andrew and I are going to a Valentine's party at our friend Julie's house. She has 2 cuties about A's age, and other neighborhood kids are coming too. Getting Andrew to sit down to make a Valentine was nightmarish, so I decided to take charge. Fortuitously, I got an email from The Toymaker. Such a lovely little website, and I decided to cut and construct these little paper chocolate trucks for the boys at the party (a 4:1 ratio!) and fill them with chocolates.

We're having company for the weekend, so I have done some cooking today: a carrot cake with orange-cream cheese frosting, orange scones, and passionfruit curd. The first two recipes are from my new very favorite cookbook, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. I used to live just a few streets down from the bakery in Brooklyn and loved to go. In fact, I ate there all the time when I was pregnant with Andrew.

Sooooo, it is fitting that I cook and eat my way through it now as well, as Pete and I are expecting a sweet little addition of our own come late August. We are thrilled.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Check It

I have a cool husband. In an effort to jump-start his creativity and get back into the hang of illustrating, he's posting a new illustration and story every day this year on his blog. Check it out.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stop Train, Stop

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting my friend Amy and another mutual friend for lunch. Amy was an amazing presence in my life in grad school, and it's been a thrill to grow our friendship. She still lives in Queens, so I needed to take my Yankee friend for a little spin around Durham. We hit the Federal and Vin Rouge, and she loved it. Two midwives out on the town... watch out.

I've got to get busy around this house. I started a new job about three weeks ago and also had a mega-order of cloths from The Red Hen to fill (check it out!!), so I feel soooo behind. This time last year I had my pantry spic-and-span for baking season, my Christmas decorations displayed and my holiday activities underway. Maybe it's because Thanksgiving came so late, or because of my recent flurry of obligations, but I feel like I'm running after a train on the move. (fyi, we rented Darjeeling Limited this weekend. Weird, but so, so beautiful.)

Thanksgiving was lovely, I have many pics and stories to share, but this horendous house beckons. 'Hope all of you made great memories too.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Scrap Exchange

I'm a big fan of Durham's Scrap Exchange, and recently received this email from a member of their board. Unfortunately I can't make this event, but I would encourage any locals to go!

5th Annual Charity Game Night for The Scrap Exchange
Mission - Promote creativity, environmental awareness and community through creative reuse of industrial discards.

Date: Saturday, November 8
Time: 7pm-10pm
Location: The Scrap Exchange Store, 548 Foster Street, Durham, NC

-No-limit Texas Hold-em is the game of choice.
-Beginner and veteran poker players welcome.
-For every $20 donated to The Scrap Exchange, players will receive $200 in poker chips and a tax deductible receipt.
-No need to pre-register but reserve your space by emailing Kelley at kdennings@gmail.com
-The player at each table with the most chips at the break and end of the night will receive a prize.
-Drinks and snacks provided.

Current prizes include gift certificates from: Carolina Rollergirls, Barnes & Noble, JJill, Drag Bingo, Phydeaux Dog Supplies, Frankie's, Consolidated Theaters, Galaxy Theater, Red Lobster, Nice Price Books, Sarla licensed massage therapist and more added daily.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Flying by...

Lordy. It's a damn shame I only get around to writing every month. Horrible. Forgive me.

I work in a clinic of many, many women. Only female providers, nurses, and patients. My friend James is the lone buoy of testosterone in an estrogen sea. Plus, in any environment, dear James is a king among men. A few weeks ago, he told me that his wedding anniversary coincides with his birthday, and he wondered if I would try my hand at dessert for him and his sweet wife. Pictured above was my solution, a take on a lemon-meringue pie, although the crust was shortbread and the filling passionfruit curd.

Another reason I wanted to do something nice for James is that even though I love it, I have decided to leave public health to join a private practice. This was a tough thing to consider, especially since I wasn't looking for new work. However, (and pardon the cliche), my new practice simply made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. I am excited in a tentative sort of way...I am always suspicious of opportunities that just fall in my lap and seems too good to be true. Anyway, my last day is Halloween, arguably my favorite day of the year, so that has to be an auspicious sign, right? Right?

I don't know if it's the transition in my life, or just growing older, but this fall in particular feels like sand through my fingers. It seems like every year I just live for October, and this one has been so satisfying - all chilly and saturated with color. We took Andrew to a little pumpkin farm down the road a few weeks ago.

He loved the pumpkin-bowling but flat refused to do a hayride or a trip around the yard on a donkey. This was disappointing to me - I really wanted a hayride.

Today we went to the state fair. It made me kind of sad to think of last year and how I was so turned on by all the vibrancy and camp of everything there. I must have taken dozens of pics then, but today I felt a little flat. However, this is a great shot...how are these boys for precious pumpkins:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Honey Love

Aren't these gorgeous? My succulent cousin Jennifer makes these and I'm just gonna say - They make me glad to be a woman.

They're little pearls and beads beautifully tangled up with silver wire around sterling hoops or loops.

Friends, let's all try to buy our holiday gifts, as much as possible, from talented crafters here in the US, shall we? Sites like Etsy have opened up a new world of beautiful items to conscious consumers and I am going to try to support our independent crafters and artisans. You in?

Jennifer's business is The Honeyfitz Factory and you can find it here:
www.thehoneyfitzfactory.etsy.com. Her prices are incredible and include free shipping. Get shoppin', girls!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

French Kiss

Let me just say that for years I have been attempting to learn how to make French macarons, the type I, and so many others first devoured at Laduree in Paris. They always, forever and without exception, failed. Anyway, I was doing my usual food-blog whoring around the other day and visited on of my favorite sites, Tartelette, and noticed that she had an excellent tutorial on how to make them here.

I do not think these are perfect (the little "feet" stick out, probably because the batter was just a tad too thin) but they are as close as I've ever gotten to the real thing. I filled them with the passionfruit curd I'd made yesterday, and aarrrrggghhhh.....my head is killing me from the sugar high.

I agree that this is probably more about technique than ingredients, since they consist solely of almonds, sugar and eggs. I know some people don't think it helps, but the big key here was to let the macarons dry out for an hour before baking. I also used egg whites that were a few days old, out of their shells.

My inner pastry chef loves when something a little exotic comes out of my kitchen. Which is to say, these are perfect for days when Durham is nice, but Paris is just so....you know.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sugar Garden

When we lived in New York, one of my favorite outings was a trip to NY Cake and Baking, serendipitously located just down the block from Pete's agency. This no-nonsense supplier is best suited, I suppose, for hard-core amateur and professional cake decorators, but I would spend hours and a fortune on the sparking, metallic dragees and gum-paste flowers so intricate they could hardly be discerned from the real thing. What I had most occasion to buy were the little hardened royal icing flowers, perfect for adorning the tops of cupcakes. I even carried some of these fragile treasures back from our most recent trip to the city because I can't find them in this area.

I have a little celebration coming up next weekend and wanted to use my little flowers on a dessert, but really didn't have enough of them. However, when I looked closely at them I couldn't help but remember nights spent in a back room at JC Penney, just 12-yr-old me and about eight other women over 60 taking a Wilton Cake Decorating Course. Surely I could make these suckers.

So this morning I got up and piped out about 120 little flowers, my own crystalline, edible garden. Some I am going to use for the party, and the rest I will just hold onto until the next time I make cupcakes or chocolate mousse. You really should try this. Once the consistency of the icing is correct, it is seriously easy. All instructions are found here. Just pipe them out and let them dry. This is not Ace of Cakes.

Last week I ordered a cookbook I have wanted for a long time, Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros. Sometimes when I get a new cookbook, especially one this gorgeous, I am kind of paralyzed when trying to choose a recipe.

Everything in here is so achingly beautiful and simple that I literally do not know where to begin. I have to quickly shut the book and then my eyes to avoid overstimulation. Sometimes too, I think that I am almost afraid to try a recipe for fear that it won't be as luscious as it looks on the page, recipes which are beautiful but lack substance, a sad state of affairs in any situation.

Today I finally selected a recipe but started small, making her Ripe Tomato Salad, which basically just involved cutting up some ripe tomatoes, coating them in olive oil, and giving them a gentle toss with some oregano, fresh basil, a bashed-up garlic clove and some salt. Give it about an hour to enjoy it's savory bath and serve with good bread and cheese. A perfect lunch. Of course.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Last week we went blueberry picking at a local organic farm.

Somebody couldn't get enough.

I ended up making a blueberry cornmeal skillet cake and took it to work. Nurses are a kind audience for new recipes. It is excellent. Martha has redeemed herself.

I had the privilege of reading Haven Kimmel's book The Solace of Leaving Early in one glorious gulp on Sunday and am still not the same. She actually lives right here in Durham and her work is beyond description. Her new book is Iodine. I'm quickly working through them all. It's really all I want to do as the summer fades.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Not just bad. Awful. I made a simple rhubarb crisp the other night and it was so horrid I couldn't even eat more than a bite. It was grainy and pasty and disgusting. Characteristically, neither Pete nor I had the heart to chuck it out, so it sat, covered, on our counter for 2 days until he finally did the dirty work and sent it to its final resting place.

This has never happened before. Anyone else out there had that experience? Ugh. If several people have had this experience, that would explain why there aren't more rhubarb enthusiasts. And there was one other factor. A reason which seems almost blasphemous to name, but....I used a Martha Stewart recipe from her website. Martha is, of course, one of my Favorite Folks On This Earth, living or dead, forever and ever, amen. And maybe it's just me, but sometimes the recipes from her website leave something to be desired. Like the whole flippin' desert you were planning to have and now is just sitting sadly on your counter, like a dead fish in a bowl.

This is probably good, because I have to go to a wedding in just 2 short days and the dress I am going to have to wear is just a tiny bit too small. I've been subsisting on about 900 calories a day for the past week to squeeze my tush into it. I joke that it's like the diet from The Devil Wears Prada where she says, I don't eat anything all day, and when I feel I'm going to pass out I eat a cube of cheese. Anyway, my mother is visiting tonight, so I'm sure I will get a honest assessment. Mothers are good at those sorts of things.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mall Rat

I have a real love/hate relationship with the mall, most likely because I was raised in a small WV town where the best stores in the mall were Spencer's and Deb, and also because my parents are small business owners. Video killed the radio star.

But my kiddo really likes the activity at the mall, and Durham's Southpoint mall is nice. I went into Pottery Barn Kids today, again a store I have mixed feelings about, but I found these awesome placemats for $2.5o on clearance. I got pink and black. When I saw the black ones I thought, in an obvious stroke of genius, Wouldn't these be cool if you could write on them like a chalkboard? I ask the saleswoman about this, hoping to impress her with my ability to think outside the PB-box, and she said that in fact, you could use chalk on them. I smiled knowingly. When she rang me up, I saw on my receipt that these placemats are literally called - by the company - "Chalkboard Placemats". Oh, well. Nothing new under the sun. But aren't they cute?

No, your eyes do not deceive you - I may have to write another post about rhubarb. Arrrggghhh!!! First of all, I have such a problem with baked goods, the biggest being that I cannot refuse them at all. Last night I was browsing Amy Karol's site and discovered that she is wild for rhubarb as well and then saw this, and oh, my.

They are just delicious, and believe it or not, I have only had half of one. This is because I have sequestered myself to the upstairs of the house. Using her recipe I got about 5 pies, with some rhubarb left over. I also added a few chopped strawberries. The next time I make these I think I will throw in a little more sugar, but no harm done here - any tartness is completely off-set by the vanilla ice cream you will want to have on top.

I also recently became completely disgusted with the amount of extra cotton yarn I have lying around everywhere. This time last year, when I was just learning to crochet, I bought some really inexpensive cotton to play around on. Now that I'm much better I splurge on the good stuff, but that left dozens of half-used skeins on my hands. So, I've decided to make dishcloths with it. I made a red one the other night, very easy, just ch 31 and then sc until it's square. These dishcloths are so nice - heavy and textured and good. Perfect for scrubbing baked-on rhubarb.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rhubarb Bars

(courtesy Cooking Light)

I made these a long time ago, have in fact, been making them for years and years, but am just now getting around to posting them. Here is the recipe.

They will call to you while you're drying your hair, or cleaning out the car, or even reading a book. They're dangerous in their addictiveness. Of course, I feel that way about nearly everything rhubarb.

The first thing you do is to make a shortbread crust and bake it until lightly brown. While the crust is tanning in the oven, the rhubarb is combined with the makings of a custard. After the shortbread is ready, the eggy, rhubarby mixture is poured over the hot crust and baked.

Now you muster up every bit of patience you have and wait for it to cool. And it really does have to be cool. While it's cooling, make sure the ingredients for the cloud-like topping are coming to room temperature. It simply will not work if they're not.

Top, chill, and stand by with fork in one hand, a glass of prosecco in the other.

This recipe comes from Cooking Light, thereby implying that it is guiltless. It also clearly states that a moderate person should be able to get 40-some servings from this. Hardly. I would count on it serving 12-16, conservatively.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Portland, reinterpreted

Around February of this year I suddenly got interested in the idea of folk-art quilts. I've only made a handful of quilts but they've all been carefully cut and pieced. When I started looking at more folk quilts I was excited by how everything just seemed to be cut on a whim and then sewn on, like coloring with fabric.

This is my sad little attempt at folk quilting, made for my friend Bo who spent a luscious, whirlwind year in Portland, OR. He's back in NYC now and he misses his sweet River City. When I gave this to him he joked that he was going to curl up underneath it and pretend he was back in Oregon.

Just like with so many things, simplicity is often harder than it looks. If I ever do another one of these I will probably plan a little more. What I really am proud of, though, is that this was the first quilt I've ever really quilted, using a free-motion foot. I think I'm off the quilting for a while, though. It's just too daggum hot to be working under folds of fabric.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Staff of Life

Friday I bought the book Beautiful Breads and Fabulous Fillings by Margaux Sky. It's a lovely cookbook - gorgeous pictures of sandwiches piled high and creative sides as well. I have to admit though, when I order a sandwich I don't like a mountain to be placed before me. I like to eat most sandwiches with my hands, not a fork and knife. (Unless, of course, it is a Croque Madame, which I would gladly eat while hanging upside down by my toenails.)

She did include a chapter on sandwiches which were more like a stromboli, the fillings all rolled up inside the dough pinwheel-style, then baked. The beauty of this is that one can just slice off a big chunk of this loaf and chuck it into a lunch bag - no muss, no fuss. Her dough recipe looked heavenly, too, but honestly....1 cup of heavy cream? A stick of butter? I've not been known to run from fat, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. At least today.

So I looked around, revisited my Nigella cookbooks, and revised one of her bread recipes to create a sandwich anyone would be thrilled to find inside their Dukes of Hazzard lunch box. (oh, was that just me?)

I think this would be fabulous with almost any combination of ingredients you could imagine, and the recipe here just happened to be what I had lying around in the pantry and fridge.

Greek-ish Baked Sandwiches, a la Nigella and Margaux

For the dough, you want to combine 3.5 cups of all-purpose flour with a good teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of yeast. (since I always buy my yeast in bulk, I'm not sure how many packets of yeast you will need. I'm guessing three or so.) Stir your dry ingredients together and then add 1 cup of warm water with 1/3 c. olive oil. Mix until it all comes together. You may want to add some more water if it seems dry. Knead until elastic and springy, or use a dough hook. Once you have a smooth, ivory ball, oil it with olive oil, cover the bowl, and leave it to rise until it's about doubled in size (an hour or so).

When the dough has risen, punch it down and roll it out on a floured board or counter until it's about 14" square or so. At this point I added my filling, just like you would add toppings to a pizza. I used about 1.5 cups of ground beef that had been mixed with 1/2 c. softened sauteed onion, a tsp of thyme, S&P and then browned. I also added about a half a cup of spinach that had been cooked, wrung dry, and seasoned with a little grated nutmeg and salt. I threw some chopped fresh mint and oregano over the beef and spinach and then added crumbled feta and chopped marinated artichokes.

Once my dough was covered with all of the goodness, I started at one end and carefully rolled it up, tucking the ends under when I was finished. I let this sit for about 20 minutes on a baking sheet and stuck it into an oven at 375 for about 20 minutes, or until the top was nice and golden. This will easily serve 6.

I think this bread is the ultimate meal when friends come over for lunch. It can be made well in advance and all you need on the side is a little salad.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sweet Days of Summer, or, Why I Can't Lose Weight

I think sometimes it's the smallest of your friend's preferences that speak to the heart of why you love them. I remember Kerri, one of my dearest dears, telling me when we were freshmen in college that she loved rhubarb. Ahhh, a soul mate. Kerri's from Alabama by way of Ohio, and I'm from southern WV, so I always assumed that rhubarb was one of many unusual and delicious southern crops. Only until I lived in the south did I realize that rhubarb is a gift from our Yankee friends.

It's actually sort of difficult to find rhubarb around these parts, even in season, and it tends to be sort of expensive, I think. Tuesday I went to the grocery store and saw rhubarb for $2.29 a lb. I bought all they had, three and a half pounds. When I got to the register, Andrew was screaming his head off. The young kid behind the counter holds up the long, fuchsia stalks and incredulously ask me what they are. I tell him rhubarb. It was only until I got home that I realized that instead of charging me for rhubarb he had actually charged me for rutabagas, at a mere $.99 a pound. Rhubarb. Kind of like rutabagas, but not really at all.

So what was I to do with all of this hot rhubarb on my hands and conscience? Rhubarb and Raspberry Grunt, of course, topped with homemade raspberry ripple ice cream. The grunt is a Martha recipe from her April 2008 Living. I adore me some Martha, but I grow weary when her ingredients are so prohibitively expensive. You can watch a video of her making this on her show with the lovely Seth Meyers, and she's talking about how it cost her something like $38 to get all the ingredients. Phooey. I used rhubarb in season and frozen berries. Even if I hadn't lifted the rhubarb, it still would have been a cheap dessert. It's heavenly. Ethereal. And you don't even have to turn on your oven. If you think you don't like rhubarb, I implore you - please try this. It will convert you. And you and I can be proper friends.

Here also is a picture of my Tarte Tatin, a la Julia Child. Another easy, gloriously elegant treat. No offense to my home country, but I would prefer a Tarte Tatin to most American apple pies any day. Or, as some my call it, Freedom Pie.

So how's this for funny? For ages I have been at my wit's end with our new Canon Powershot. I loathed it. Loooaattthhed. The pictures all turned out blurry and grainy and I spent hours on end on online help sites and poring through my manual. Nothing helped (see first pic below). Today I'm again whining about my predicament to Pete and he causally says, Why don't you try cleaning the lens? (see second pic.)

Thanks. I may need it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Normally I think it's kind of creepy to post pictures of your intimate spaces but I had to share this picture of my bedroom taken this weekend. The large crocheted pieces were done by my great-grandmother and my mother had them framed for me the year before I was married. There's also a framed dogwood branch from my grandparent's lawn, home of said wedding.

Many of these had been hanging in my dining room for ages, in nearly every place we'd lived. However, we recently papered that room with a pattern that would have been too busy to accommodate the heirlooms. After a rather long and useless stint leaning against the desk in our studio, viola! - into the bedroom and all is right in my decorating world.