Friday, September 12, 2014

Happy Birthday

I'm a big fan of Laurie Colwin so I thought for my birthday I'd make her Special Spice Cake.  It's a rich, moist cake atop a layer of brown sugar short bread.  Laurie was about my age when she tucked her young daughter into bed on a late October night and went to sleep with her husband only to suffer a completely unexpected and massive heart attack and die.  It's tragic. 



In her first novel, a collection of short stories she wrote in 1974 called “Passion and Affect”, she wrote about Mrs. Parker who died tragically and suddenly in October. She wrote, "She and Mr. Parker were in the middle of their middle age, and neither of them had ever been seriously ill.  It was heart failure, and unexpected.”

In a strange tragic turn of events, that is exactly what happened to Laurie eighteen years after penning that story.  She was 48 years old when she went to bed on Oct. 23, 1992 in the Soho apartment she shared with her husband and young daughter, and never woke up.

This summer I've been reading everything by Laurie Colwin.  Her writing is like sitting in your friend's kitchen listening to stories over coffee while nibbling on something decadent.  Every time I finish a story I am saddened that she is not still with us.  In fact, I enjoyed her book Home Cooking so much that I had a copy sent to my good friend Lori at Crazy Green Studios in Asheville, then promptly ordered a copy of More Home Cooking for myself.




Laurie Colwin's musings about food - chapters such as Stuffed Breast of Veal, A Bad Idea; Repulsive Dinners - A Memoir; or How to Avoid Grilling - reminded me so much of my friend Lori and her sense of humor.  Lori and I were roommates many years ago in Atlanta, Georgia.  This was back when we were super young and could spend all day at work and then work the theatre at night.  Before we were even roommates we were working on The Miracle Worker at OnStage Atlanta.  I would stop by her tiny apartment to pick her up and she would make me a bowl of this dinosaur shaped pasta with a little bit of butter and parmesan cheese on it.  I can't recall why she had all that dinosaur shaped pasta.  I don't remember seeing it at the Piggly Wiggly.  I'm not sure I ever even asked because I was starving.  While I'm not sure Lori would eat a bowl of that pasta today, I know I would.  There's many a night at the hospital when I would be grateful for a warm bowl of anything made just for me like that.

Well, anyway, we ended up rooming together and as it turns out I decided that Lori had entirely too much Tupperware.  Lori was convinced this was not possible.  As I said, this was back when we were super young and had ridiculous things to worry about such as who has too much Tupperware.  Eventually, Lori decided she wanted to host a Tupperware party and I said absolutely not (we were the kind of friends who could dictate things like this).  At the time, I genuinely felt it was in her best interest, I really did.  Lori said ok but planned a top-secret Tupperware party anyway behind my back, for the weekend when I was planning to go back to Indiana to see my family.  When I came back from Indiana I walked into a strange ghost-town of a Tupperware party.  I honestly thought the whole thing was joke.  There was new Tupperware everywhere, order forms, a catalogue, a half-eaten ricotta cheesecake.  Weird.  I really thought she was going to come out and say the joke was on me.  Apparently, someone at the party - our Bruce (of Bruce Starr paintings) I believe got very ill, so much so that he had to be taken to the hospital.  And since it was an emergency and we were all super young, the whole group of Tupperware party-goers took him to the hospital.  So, no, it wasn't a joke, there really was a forbidden top-secret Tupperware party that took place.  Lori called me from the hospital (on a land-line of course).  It was somehow understood that all must be forgiven in the face of the crisis and all.  I believe that there was some talk thrown in there about how this awful thing happened because no one listened to me, but really that was just low-grade groveling for general roommate pacification.  They were planning on cleaning it all up and getting out of there before I got home.  I of course got some free Tupperware out of it.  I got a bright pink and a bright yellow two-compartment container (not quite big enough to hold a real meal, in my opinion), and two little containers with a lid that has holes in it to drain things like olives or pickles that you might bring to have with lunch or something.  Every time I've thought about getting rid of that Tupperware (because I don't hoard it like some people) I've had to smile and keep it.  The whole thing was so ridiculous that I can't bear to part with the physical evidence.  Plus, who am I to dictate someone's Tupperware hoarding?

Welp, I suppose I'm a year older now and getting to that point where I start telling stories that involve land-lines and how things were "back in my day", but considering Laurie's fate, I'm grateful for each year.  Here is the recipe for the cake,  God bless you Laurie and Lori (and Bruce).




Laurie Colwin's Special Spice Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 egg
1 cup yogurt (I used 1 cup greek yogurt plus about 1/4 cup heavy cream)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Butter only the sides of a 10-inch springform pan.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, cut into 6 or 8 pieces, with the flour and dark brown sugar.  Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles fine meal. You are making a short bread.

Measure out 2 1/2 cups of this mixture and spread it evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan.  With your hand flat, firmly compress the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Add the spices to the remaining dry ingredients. Mix well.  Now sprinkle and mix in the baking soda.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir the egg, yogurt, and cream together to mix well.  With a wooden spoon, stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture. 

Spread this batter over the mixture that was pressed into the bottom of the pan, and smooth the top of the batter.  You may optionally scatter the chopped walnuts on top.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean from the center of the cake, and the sides of the cake have shrunk slightly away from the pan.  Cool in the pan, on a rack, for 5 minutes.  Then slide a thin bladed knife around the circumference of the cake to make sure there are no spots still attached to the sides of the springform pan.  Remove the sides of the pan and cool completely.

When serving you must cut through the shortbread at the bottom of the cake.  Serve with a hefty dollop of fresh whipping cream or with a ladle's worth if it's just you and a good friend.

“When life is hard and the day has been long, the ideal dinner is not four perfect courses, each in a lovely pool of sauce whose ambrosial flavors are like nothing ever before tasted, but rather something comforting and savory, easy on the digestion – something that makes one feel, if even for only a minute, that one is safe.”  ~Laurie Colwin


Thursday, May 15, 2014

5.13.2014

I made this kick-ass bread today.  I finally had a full day off and, instead of turning into Sylvia Plath like I usually do, I made this bread.  I finished spinning this yarn too.  I have to clear off the bobbins on my wheel in preparation for the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Fest.  But look at this bread:





You think when you throw it in the pre-heated dutch oven that it will stick, but it won't.  Just make sure you wear some serious hot pads because that thing is hot. 




 
 
 
 

See? Here's the oven after it's over.  You just lift the bread out and it's all good.  Gah, I love bread.

I wish you could smell the kitchen in this old farmhouse right now - in the whole house really.


This bread was so simple to make, compliments of the New York Times and Mark Bittman.  You can click here to get the recipe.  So, so easy.


I polished the wood on my wheel and got her all spruced up for the festival.  I promised her I would.  I've become one of those fiber people with a 25 year old wheel, hanging out old school with a single-treadle.  And in case you're curious, yes I cut the bread open and ate some after it cooled, before I even wrote this.  Our friend's chickens started laying eggs again so we got a fresh stash from him.  I cut up a hard-boiled with some Duke's mayonnaise and the very last canned pickle from last year's garden.  Then I stood in the kitchen window eating and looking down on Main Street from our South Hill farmhouse and I felt like myself again, although I am a big fan of Sylvia Plath.  I have another cake in the works, two actually.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Whole Lemon Cake with Yogurt-Olive Oil Glaze

While Russ replanted some blackberry and raspberry bushes along the south fence line I made this Easter cake for us.  I used whole Meyer lemons and semolina flour.  The farmhouse smells divine right now.  I used the most beautiful golden imported olive oil in the glaze, some of which has now been absorbed into the cake.  Lemon love.



I initially found a recipe for a whole orange cake that I still might try but then I saw this version that is made with semolina flour.  I had to purchase the semolina and Meyer lemons at a fresh market store in Louisville but it's totally worth it.


It's a beautiful day in the bluegrass.  Today is the last day Keeneland is in session so there are lots of tourists driving through Versailles and past our house.  I'll be sad when Russ mows the lawn later however.  It's a complete blanket of wild violets right now and I love them so much.  I walk the dogs to the back of the property and look back across a wash of purple.  I'm so inspired by a simple visual buzz like that.  The violets are so fleeting and after the winter we all just had I'm so grateful for them.


We've got the wine and the cake, the grill and the music, and my heirloom tomato seeds are in their starter soil doing their thing.  It's a great start to spring. 

Here's the recipe for this cake.  I based it off of the recipe I got off of this lovely blog.  I changed a few things.  The recipe I got this from asks you to use a small bundt pan but I don't have a small one.  I think you could also use two smaller cake pans and make a small stacked cake.  I just used one regular sized stacking cake pan.  The cake is not designed to rise a lot, just a little.  I believe you could make this cake and use tangerines.

whole meyer lemon semolina cake with yogurt-olive oil glaze
 
This cake is baked in a small/mini Bundt pan. If you don't have that size pan, you can use a 6 - 8 cup fluted pan, but the height of the cake will be shorter, or use a simple round cake pan as I did.
 
Ingredients

1 tablespoon plus 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), at room temperature (I weighed 4oz from a brick of French butter). 

1 tablespoon plus 1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Meyer lemons
½ cup semolina flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt (I used a kosher sea salt to which I had previously scraped the seeds out of a vanilla pod and added to the salt)
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup natural cane sugar or granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
about 1/4 cup almond milk to added as needed to get the batter to the right consistentsy
 
For glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted to remove lumps
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (I used an Italian imported EVOO) 
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt (plain or vanilla flavored).  I used plain because of the vanilla seeds in the salt that I used. 
1 teaspoon fresh Meyer lemon or plain lemon juice.  I saved back 1 tsp from the pulverized lemons for the glaze.


Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Use your fingers to smear 1 tablespoon butter all over the inside and into the nooks and crannies of your pan. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the flour into the pan and rotate to distribute the flour in an even coating over the butter. Knock out any excess flour by tapping the pan upside down. This is an important step to ensure your cake doesn’t stick to the pan.
  3. Cut the lemons into wedges and remove the seeds. Put the lemons in a food processor and process until fairly smooth – it’s okay if some very small pieces of peel are visible – you should have about 1 cup.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk remaining 1 cup flour together with the semolina, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  5. Beat the remaining stick of butter with the sugar in the bowl; beat in the eggs one at a time.
  6. Add the lemon puree to the mixer and beat until combined; add the flour mixture and stir until smooth. Spread the batter evenly into your pan; bake 40 – 45 minutes, or until a toothpick emerges from the cake with a few moist crumbs. The sides of the cake will separate from the pan and there may be a few small cracks across the top, that's a good indication that the cake is done. Cool the cake in the pan 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the glaze, stir together all the ingredients until smooth; add 1 teaspoon or more water to reach a thick but pourable consistency. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and let it set before slicing.



Friday, April 11, 2014

spinning

This is where my Ashford single-treadle becomes therapeutic.  I've had this foot injury for a couple of months now.  It's such a drag.  I thought it would get better but it got worse.  At one point it hurt to even walk.  I'm advised that moving my foot and stretching it is the best way to heal it.  So I've been spinning and spinning and working that treadle.  Some of these are from bats I purchased at A Tangled Yarn in Nicholasville, KY.  You can go there and get bats for yourself too.  The green yarns are from some natural wool I bought at Dianne MacDonald's open house at her sheep farm two autumn's ago.  You can go to her blog and see her sheep and lambs.  I overdyed the natural cream and brown wool with Greener Shades emerald.  They are all two-ply.  With the exception of the greens they are all Merino top and so, so soft, some with a little sparkly in them.  Love that sparkly.

 
 




I finally, (finally) got a new camera.  So glad about that.

Monday, February 24, 2014

On Handwork



Of course the art therapist in me loves her description of the universal quality of the spiral as a "cosmic gesture of creation":  the view of the earth from space, the spiral on the back of our heads, and how that translates to spinning.  Art therapy also focuses on the meditative aspect of repetitive work.  Mandalas are useful for tapping into that mindspace too.  Anyway, I couldn't say it any better, so I'll just let you watch the video.  This is Renate Hiller of Fibercraft Studio in Chestnut Ridge, New York.  And she's lovely. 



Please visit her website.  It's also lovely.
"Today, more than ever, the crafts have the mission to reconnect the human being to the Earth and her substances, bring healing to the senses and soul, and foster the creative capacities of the human being."  ~ Renate Hiller

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the state of the Main Street farmhouse


Today I'm being forced to take a full day - and night - at the house with the yellow door.  I'm iced in.  It's not that Main Street isn't clear.  It is.  It's just that our old driveway is steep and iced over.  Our house sits almost at the top of what used to be called South Hill.  Well, technically the very back of our property where our long, narrow French-style acre stops and the new McMansions in the South Hill neighborhood start would be the top of the hill.  Anyway, our house sits a good story or two up off the street, which is kind of nice as I sit at the desk in my art studio in the old parlour and watch traffic go by below me, but not so nice when trying to drive a car straight up from the street onto a snowy icy driveway.  In days gone by, before they widened Main Street, I suspect there would have been a more genteel grade to that driveway, it came up next to the house and curved around what used to be a barn (where my blackberry and gourd garden is now) and continued through two huge English walnut trees (still standing back there) to the horse farm behind it.  We know this from old plat maps my nerdy archaeologist husband acquired through the Commonwealth.  Our house sat on the edge of town and because of the zoning, we could actually have chickens, horses, goats, or any other farm critter on our in-town acre if we chose to do so.  But we're not getting a goat, and that's already been discussed.    So today I'm iced in and it's not so bad.  I decided to fire up the crockpot and make this awesome orange teriyaki chicken thing I've been making all winter.  I found it on Pinterest.  Love me some Pinterest.  In my usual style I played around with it and combined two recipes to get the flavor I want.  Here it is if you want to make it too.  Russ loves it so much.  I steam a combination of brown and white basmati rice that I buy bulk from the international grocery store here in Lexington.  I know some of my followers here are frugal like me, so I just want to say that Soy-vay is pricey.  It can be about five bucks a bottle, however I stock up when it's on sale.  Also, when you divide out the number of meals you get from this crockpot of goodness, it's reasonable, I promise - economic freedom is our goal, only secondary to eschewing reliance on a generally overly processed and oppressive marketplace, but that's a post for another day.

my beloved hand-me-down crockpot from Mama Ceil
Orange Teriyaki Chicken
juice and half the rind of one beautiful orange
1 bottle of Soy-Vay teriyaki (I used the island teriyaki for this one)
1/2 coursely chopped sweet onion
1 whole small or 3/4 or a big green pepper, coursely chopped
1 lb of boneless chicken thighs (I use organic, with no preservatives or "flavorings")
2 tsp soy sauce to taste

Rinse the chicken thighs and put them in the crockpot.  Add the juice of a big beautiful orange and the zest. Add about 1/2 cup water.  Turn the crockpot on high.  After about 1 1/2 hours check the chicken, maybe turn it and make sure it's cooking.  It should be bubbling in there.  After another hour stick two big 'ol knives in there and coursely shred up the chicken.  Don't worry, it will fall apart.  Now add the teriyaki sauce and veggies.  Add about 1/4 cup water to the soy-vay bottle and shake it up, to get all of the sticky sesame seed goodness out of it and add that to the crockpot.  Add the soy sauce now too.  The soy sauce is optional. Omit it if you are trying to avoid sodium.  Now turn the crock down to LOW and let it cook another 4 hours.  Steam some rice to have with it.
note:  sometimes I use Sweet Baby Ray's Cola-que when the store wants a ridiculous price for the soy-vay.


You can follow my crockpot recipes board over on Pinterest.  I have another board called recipes I've pinned and tried and I make notes on that too.  I'm one of those people who actually tries what I'm pinning.

I know I haven't posted in a while.  At first, like most bloggers, I felt guilty, as if everyone is sitting around waiting for my posts - ha!  However, in retrospect, I realize that my life is so full that I'm not glued to social media.  That's a good thing right?  Have you heard of these new bars in New York City where there are no televisions or cell phones allowed?  You get to detox from all electronic intrusion.  I love that so much, although I love technology too and I love to connect with some of the most awesome people through my blog.  Anyway, in the spirit of attempting to connect with the world, we finally broke down at Christmas and bought a Roku box.  Awesome, I thought, now I can watch everything.  Turns out I'm so detoxed from cable that I rarely go to it.  The best thing about it is being able to watch what few programs I choose to watch on a large screen t.v. when I feel like it.  We turned on a regular television station the other day to watch the Olympics and I felt like the ads were screaming at me.  It was very intrusive to my psyche.  It made me want to take a huge-ass bullhorn and go to the people who made those commercials and just blow it right in their faces until they cry and beg me to stop.  Ick - - - and wow, that sounded really hostile.  Sorry about that.  So I've come to realize that when I'm not in Louisville doing my career thing that, well, I really just want peace and quiet.

It's that time of year when I start to plan the garden and order seeds.  It feels like a hopeless endeavor right now because of this harsh winter, but I'm always the one pining for spring in early February, which by the way was a hopeless endeavor when I lived in Chicago for twenty years.  God bless you all up there because I know this winter has been hard.  I keep a photo diary of my gardens year to year, and I now keep my seeds sorted in a photo album - another Pinterest idea.  So today I thought I'd share a few of the photos that are inspiring me for this year's garden and also I wanted to share a few canning photos with you.  Last year the cucumbers went gaga so I was literally canning pickles every four or five days.  The peppers freaked out too so I canned lots of pickled peppers too.  They make me so happy.  I also made some plum cardamom jam.  I gave the bulk of it away as gifts but I wish I had made more.  Same with the grapefruit jam.  I found a source for grapefruits when I was at the farmers' market in Marco Island in late fall and the jam is delectable.  I have my mother and my mother-in-law hooked on it, bwahahahahaaa.  It's good stuff!








Silver Queen sweet corn.


 





Cardamom plum jam.  Gifts for some fiber friends this year.
Torch flowers.




















I'll definitely do more torch flowers this year.  They stand tall with dozens of electric orange flowers all over them.  I loved looking out the kitchen window in the evening and seeing them in a row along the ridge in the backyard, with bees and butterflies and insects buzzing around them.  They brought monarch butterflies to the property too, and that made me really happy.

Despite the ongoing construction at this old farmhouse, I have been continuing to create (don't worry Mama Ceil, I'm not throwing away my art talent).  I want to share a spinning video I made, spinning a woolen yarn.  Since that video, I took that one-ply skein I spun and dyed it a lush emerald color using Greener Shades dyes.  I also dyed some other raw stuff (wool and mohair) while I had the dye pot going.  I've been posting some of this over on my Big Fat facebook page, so feel free to check in there if you'd like.

this is the mohair fleece I dyed

Here's the link to the video of me spinning this woolen yarn and I hope you like it. 


 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How the Garden Went Down

Every year I'm convinced I'm not going to get any tomatoes and every year I do.  It's like those horrible Christmas shows where something happens and everyone is sure there won't be a Christmas but there always is.  Russ says I do this every year.  Although I did not get anywhere near the bumper crop I always shoot for, everything produced.  My blushing heirlooms did particularly well despite the rain.  The Cherokee purple and chocolate cherries were the second to produce.


 

By the end of the summer I had some pink brandywine too.  Those dark red pumpkin shaped costolutos that kicked ass last summer came out very late this year, well after the rains stopped.  Still, I was grateful that I had a windowsill full of tomatoes throughout August.  I look forward to that the way I look forward to seeing fields and fields of sweet corn



The peppers are still out there blooming.  Of course the blooms that are out there now don't stand a chance of fruiting.  The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler.  I managed to can a batch of peppers with my first harvest.  My second harvest came out of the back garden today.  I really have Renee's Seeds to thank for it.  All of the seeds I have purchased from them have been prolific.  I wish I had remembered to take a photo of the spaghetti squash we picked but it was eaten or gifted in the first few days.  There's still a delicata, butternut, a couple more spaghetti, and an acorn out there cooking.  I'm going to pickle this second harvest of peppers too.  I've been using a recipe out of Canning For a New Generation.  What a lovely book.  I had it checked out of the library over the holidays last year and then the doorbell rang and a friend in Chicago had gifted it to me.  I love it when things like that happen.  It's nice to have a friend that knows me so well.









After all the rain, the tomatoes came in a few at a time, mostly Cherokee purples and the blushing heirlooms.  I got a Siamese twin.  I'm used to having a bushel at a time so I had to dial it back and get old school, literally picking a tomato at a time and slicing it up for a BLT.  The golden heirlooms are very low acid and make for a sweet, mellow sandwich.  The only problem I had with them was that they didn't have enough natural pectin and my first batch of tomato jam didn't set up as stiffly as I would have liked.  I corrected this with my second batch by wrapping the rind of the fresh lime that I used to add the juice to the jam and let it boil with the mixture at the beginning.  After correcting for that, no problems.

 
 
Somewhere in the middle of August I finally got a surge of tomatoes and since I was inspired to keep it old school this summer, I just cut them up, cooked them down, and froze some fresh chunky sauce for curries and soups.  I can't get enough of how beautiful tomatoes are. 
 
 
 
 My eggplant produced.  The blooms came late in the summer, late for my taste anyway.  I just pulled more off the plants today.  There are still beautiful fuzzy purple stems and blooms on the plants but I don't see how they can come to fruition unless we have a hot Indian summer.




 
I almost though it was going to be the year without sunflowers.  Russ kept making Year Without a Santa Claus jokes, but seriously none - not one - of my sunflowers came up.  The seedlings got pelted with all of that hard rain and I was so sad.  Remember how I mentioned that one rogue sunflower?  It came up and bloomed.  Literally the only sunflower in the garden.  It sprouted inside the opening of one of the concrete blocks surrounding the tomato beds.  The torch flowers that I planted in the middle of the summer as an experiment did fantastic and were my mock sunflowers this year.  They were another seed purchase from Renee's Seeds and they attracted bees and monarch butterflies.
 
 
 
 
 
 
So here's a sampling of the tomatoes starting clockwise.  There are bright red Italian costoluto that look like little pumpkins, zebra stripes,  a golden heirloom next to that on the left, below that a small blushing heirloom, next to that a Cherokee purple, below that is the top view of a pink brandywine and next to that is a chocolate cherry.  Then there are some unripe zebras that need to go in the windowsill and some marigolds that will be dried and used in some soaps I plan to make.  I'll probably make one last batch of tomato jam with these tomorrow after I pickle those peppers.  The winter garden goes in tomorrow after Russ gets home from work, so I'll still have vegetables to fret over in the winter months too.
 
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