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.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jill and Julia

So I'd bet that my #1, most favorite activity for ever and always is reading. On the contrary, I would also say that one of my decidedly less favorite activities is driving. I drive almost 35 minutes to and from work each day and by the time I hit my exit my eyes start to cross a little and my legs ache from lactic acid build-up - stop, go - stop, go.

My little neighborhood library recently started lending books-on-CD, and suddenly the genius of this concept hit me. It's like reading, when I'm driving. Brilliant. I knew from past experience, however, that I don't do well with fiction. I like fiction, but for some reason I don't like fiction to be read to me. This reminds me of something my friend Bill's Irish mother says: If it didn't happen, it's not true!!

The point of all of this is to say that there, tucked between the Deepak Chopra and Danielle Steele, was Julia Child's autobiography, My Life In France. As cooking, Paris, and succulent tall women are also among my favorite things, I snatched it up and have devoured it much like I would have her sole meuniere. The book is crisp, yet tender, solid, yet yielding. Perhaps what satisfies the palate also satisfies the mind.

I enjoyed the food in France very much, but have never had an overwhelming urge to prepare French food, especially entrees. Even Julie Powell's lovely book, Julie & Julia, didn't move me to the point of culinary action. But there's something about experiencing, in her own words, the seminal moments that defined Julia's rapture with food, that is a turn-on to the cuisine, if not the woman herself.

Tuesday I returned to said library and borrowed the only copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. While I doubt I'll ever systematically cook my way through each page, I did try my hand today at an easy recipe, Tarte Tatin, and it was a success. I'm feeling energized by the idea of exploring the rest of the cookbook and am dreading playing the last CD.