Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sunday Afternoon in the Kitchen

Whether it's the after-church Sunday roasts we always had when I was growing up or Lynne Rossetto Kasper's fabulous public radio program The Splendid Table, which airs on our local station on Sundays, the day of rest seems to be all about food. Matt and I like to make a big pot of something for Sunday supper that stretches for lunches and quick dinners throughout the week.

This Sunday, we got ambitious.

Matt's been wanting to learn how to make bread for a while now. I took a class in breadmaking with George De Pasquale from Seattle's Essential Baking Company a few years ago, but found myself generally bewildered by all the chemistry involved and the dificulty of making good bread without a commercial oven and commercial mixer. For Valentine's Day I bought Matt a baguette-making class with Bellingham breadmaker Scott Mangold of Breadfarm. Matt decided he'd better try making it on his own at least once so that he understood the process somewhat.

After a lot of kneading and patiently waiting for the dough to proof, here's our result. Sadly, a bit dense with a tough crust. Like most homemade bread I've tasted. How do those artisans do it?

I was feeling a little under the weather this weekend, so I wanted to make a soup. I decided it was high time to start making use of my new cookbook, full of great ideas, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper.

The first thing I found that really caught my eye, was their recipe for Cheater's Homemade Broth. Short of boiling the carcass of a chicken itself, this recipe allows you to use boxed stock as a base and create a richer homemade stock from that.

-makes about 4 cups of stock-
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 large garlic cloves
1 whole clove (the recipe calls for two, but I thought the result was a bit overbearing)
1 canned tomato
1 bay leaf, broken
1/2 tsp. dried basil
3 14 oz cans chicken broth*
1 onion (med-lrg), course chopped (if organic, cut away root, but leave skin)
1/2 lrg celery stalk with leaves, course chopped
1/2 medium carrot, course chopped (leace unpeeled, if organic)

*I used organic, boxed stock. Swanson's 99% Fat Free All-Natural Organic is a good choice for flavor. This cookboook and a chef have recommended this specific brand to me on two separate occasions.

I went to work chopping vegetables and adding spices. I made a double batch, threw it all in the pot, brought it to a simmer and kept it simmering for a half hour, partially covered. Then I strained it for my soup base and set it aside, but I could have frozen or refrigerated it for later just as easily. Maybe this all seems like a lot of work for what you can essentially get from a can, but the richer stock was, I think, worth the trouble and I didn't have to roast a whole chicken first.

Once I had the stock, I made the Simple Garden-In-A-Pot Soup, which is all about the thinly sliced vegetables, kind of like ratatouille. It reminded me a lot of a soup my friend Ashley makes and finishes with a dollop of pesto and a handful of parmesan cheese, so I finished mine the same way. I was also craving potatoes, so I added four or five baby yukons to my recipe.

Good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, thin sliced
2 medium carrots, thin sliced
Top third of 2 celery stalks with their leaves, thin siced
6 large garlic cloves, thin sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 generous teaspoons dried basil
2 generous teaspoons sweet paprika (I only had normal paprika, so I used just one teaspoon)
2 small zucchini, thin sliced
a handful of fresh spinach leaves, chopped
1 portobello mushroom, washed and rough chopped
1/4 large head of green cabbage, chopped (thin slice the core too)
5 small yukon gold potatoes, skins on, thin sliced (my addition)
6-8 cups cheaters homemade broth
pesto and grated parmesan, optional

1. Film the bottom of a heavy 6 quart pot with olive oil. Add onions, carrot, celery and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over med-low heat for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are wilted and aromatic. Stir often and don't let anything burn.

2. Uncover, raise the heat to med-high, and stir in the tomato paste, basil and paprika. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Then add all the remaining vegetables and stock. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender and the soup tastes of deep, satisfying flavors. If weak, take off lid and boil uncovered for 5 minutes.

3. Serve in deep bowls with a dollop of pesto and grated cheese on top. Yum.

Ok, so our last endeavor on our very industrious Sunday was granola, which is becoming a standby in our house. The recipe we have makes tons and it is one of the best granolas I've ever tasted, not to mention really simple to make. It makes so much that I've been sending it away in care packages and now my friend Nina has set up her own granola sweatshop. We were converted when our friends the Ingraham-Browns gifted us with a bag that they had made for Christmas. When I go to the grocery store and see the boring granolas available and the pricetags on the tiny bags, I understand why this recipe is catching.

4 cups good thick rolled oats
2 cups unsweetened coconut
2 cups sliced almonds
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1.5 cup small, diced, golden raisins
1 cup small, diced, dried figs
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup roasted unsalted cashews

Preheat oven to 350. Toss oats, coconut & almonds in a large bowl. Whisk oil & honey in a separate bowl and pour into oat mixture. Stir until oats are thoroughly coated. Spread out on a non-greased baking sheet. Place in oven, stirring every 5-10 minutes until golden brown (approx 30 minutes or less).

Remove from oven continuing to stir occasionally until cool. Mix in the dried fruits and nuts--enjoy!

My favorite way to eat this rich granola is on top of some plain organic yogurt, but I also munch handfuls of it for a quick snack.

So it's Wednesday now and I am still gladly reaping the benefits of last weekend's efforts. I don't know what it is about the windows steamed from good food in the oven, padding around in your socks with nothing on the agenda except a huge meal later, and a good movie on in the background, but I wish Sundays were every day. Don't you?

Paint and Polish

So, when we moved into our apartment here in Anacortes, we were aware of the several improvements that would be necessary for us to make it functional. It's an upstairs apartment in an old house that was subdivided four ways and it's small. Our living room, dining room and kitchen are the same room with no division.

We were fine with the idea of not having a television, but the one foot of counter space in the kitchen? That just wouldn't do. Nor would the coral walls in the living room or the pink and purple bedroom.

First, thanks to the kindness of Mama and Poppa Roddy, we found a welcome gift of a great old table with an enamel top from a local antique dealer. Matt put it on casters for a makeshift counter. The table came with matching shelves and these became our cupboards. We also painted over the coral with a celadon green.

Even at this, we could still use a little more kitchen space. Half our kitchen stuff is still in storage. I've become a little obsessed with a few refurbished hutches I've seen on design websites, so I watched Craig's List for months for the right hutch at the right price. Finally I found it and brought it home.

Now I know that to some, painting over wood is a cardinal design sin. All I can say in my defense is that it was pretty scratched and dinged and would have needed sanding and new stain anyway, so I can always strip it and return it to its original wood, and it will be even better than before!

The hutch took me several days to sand, prime and paint and the lower half still needs a second coat. I also plan to back the upper inside with a cool shelf paper or wall paper. Does anyone know where to find some??

In the bedroom, we turned our pink and purple room to butter and cocoa. Back in November, my friend Jenny, who is a sensational and creative sewer, helped me make these great curtains. I am also quite proud of the small Meyer lemon tree we have growing, thanks to Jessi and Damion for the great Christmas gift (I've been wanting a lemon tree since I was sixteen).

And I was able to do a few extra little things for the main room. Matt bought me Nikki McClure's Collecting Raindrops art book for Christmas, which I promptly took an exacto knife to and framed a few of my favorites.

And I found a lamp on the side of the road that I purchased a new shade for from Anthropologie. I'm still considering spray painting the base white to cover the gold, but I'm not sure. What do you think?

So our place is looking more and more polished. I still want to get a 4X4 or 5X5 Ikea expedit bookcase to put in the hall for our many books still in storage, but that will have to wait a bit, I think. Meanwhile, it's fun to nest and work with my hands on projects--such a welcome difference to all that heady writing. Sometimes a girl's just gotta roll up her sleeves and get some paint in her hair.

Monday, February 09, 2009


It is February--my favorite month. Winter languishes, but the dark, post-holiday bleakness of January is over. The days grow pinker, like something newly born. Roses are everywhere. By end of month here in the temperate Northwest, early cherry trees will bloom, the burgeoning developed sisters of the more demure trees, who will wait for April with a modest sense of propriety. But I love these bawdy early-bloomers--their soft pink petals inviting you to kiss them, to drink them in like nectar from a tea cup. Soft, exultant, blushing, wild. They strew my path with springtime, urging me to hang on until it really arrives sometime next month.

February pulls from its magic top hat feats of illusion, sleights of hand to make believe winter's already over. Here a crimson cupcake, here the purple and pink streamers of a classroom Valentine's Day party, here a shoebox covered in construction paper and glitter to receive pretty words that ask, "Be Mine?"

When I was a child, all of our birthdays stretched across the month of February from beginning to end, transforming our after-school house to an aromatic box of wonders. Bursting through the door, backpack thrown down anywhere, I inhaled the promising whiff of chocolate cake, found balloons in the dining room and a single long-stemmed rose on the table. We always were allowed to choose the menu on our birthday night and one of us always asked for it: mom's lasagne. I would smell of the spaghetti sauce, simmering all day in preparation for it. One year I asked for fish sticks and artificial mashed potatoes (my favorite lunch at school). Beside the fact it didn't taste the same, I'll never live it down.

There were birthday parties, dancing to Janet Jackson in the basement family room, the strobe light making our thirteen-year-old bodies flail and collapse dizzy. Roxy Coberly bought me the pink felt robe I loved and wore through college. February, always pink.

And now in my grown-up days, it's all I can do not to decorate the mailbox and make Valentines for everyone I know. Despite my greatest abilities of restraint, February means cupcakes at least, so that is what I offer.

February, I heart you. Be Mine?

Orange Chocolate Cupcakes made with Agave Nectar and Spelt
from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
(PS I'm not a vegan, and I love (cage-free) eggs, but I'm avoiding dairy these days for tummy health, so vegan recipes come in handy for things that use butter and such)

*please use organic ingredients*
Makes 12

2/3 cup soy milk
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp orange extract
zest of 1/2 large orange
1 cup spelt flour (you wheat tolerant people can use all-purpose flour)
1/3 cup organic cocoa
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1. Line muffin pan with liners and preheat oven to 325
2. Mix the soy milk and vinegar together in s large bowl. Let sit for a few minutes to curdle. Beat in agave nectar, canola oil, vanilla and orange extracts. Stir in orange zest
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix together with wet ingredients until smooth.
4. Fill liners 2/3-3/4 full. Bake 20-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. (DON'T PEEK at them the first 15 minutes so that they rise properly!)
5. Allow cupcakes to completely cool for at least an hour before frosting them.

Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting
*this makes a double or triple batch*

1/2 cup nonhydrogenated vegan shortening (Earth Balance)
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine (Earth Balance)
3/12 cups organic powdered sugar (sifted or whisked if lumpy)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain soy milk

1. Beat the shortening and margarine with a mixer until well-combined and fluffy (it will turn white). Add the sugar and beat for 3 more minutes. Add vanilla and soy milk and beat for another 5-7 minutes for cloud-fluffy frosting.

Frost your cupcakes and decorate!

Cap Sante

So... we got a new camera. At last, a digital SLR. Matt promptly took a walk up to the Cap Sante lookout near our house and went crazy. Enjoy.

The Strong

Ella likes to roll