Monday, April 30, 2012

Zomerse Vruchtentaart

So we've come to the end.  I'm grateful, the past five or so posts have been hard ones.  Thanks to all that have checked out my blog this month.  I've enjoyed reading all your comments (and I apologize for not responding to each of them).  I'm happy to have started following some of your blogs and reading about your worlds and interests.  Can't wait until next year!

I'm stretching things today, but I wanted to end on a sweet note (I know, puns are the lowest form of humor, but I still love them).  So, I'm using the Flemish name for this Belgian Summer Fruit Tart.  Also, it's not yet summer, so I had to substitute berries for the summer stone-fruit typically used in this recipe.  I'm looking at it as a practice run for when fresh plums, peaches, and sweet cherries are plentiful.

The beauty of this tart is its simplicity.  Fresh fruit is the star, surrounded by a sweet, bread-like crust.  It doesn't take too long to make or bake, and can be served warm or at room temperature.  It's the perfect dessert for a casual get together with friends.




Zomerse Vruchtentaart (Belgian Fruit Tart with Fresh Summer Fruit) adapted from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek

A quick note: if you do as I did and substitute berries for stone-fruits, you will probably want to decrease the amount of sugar and increase the amount of flour used (my tart was a little sweet for my taste, and very juicy).

Ingredients:

2 lbs of fresh summer fruit: pitted sweet cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, or fresh red currants, all peeled and pitted if necessary.  In Belgium its very common for them to use combinations of fruits in radial sections around the tart.
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 T flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Flemish Yeast Dough (see link for recipe)
egg wash (1 large egg lightly beaten with 1 1/2 T of sugar)

Glaze:
2 T of sugar
1 T red currant jelly
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 T cold water

In a large bowl, mix the fruit with the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Transfer the fruit to a colander r set over a bowl to collect juices.  Let sit for 30 minutes.

While the fruit is macerating, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and butter and flour two 8" tart pans or one 12" tart pan.

Roll out the dough (divide in half if making two tarts) into a circle about 1/4" thick.  Press into the pan, trim and crimp edges, and prick bottom all over with a fork.  Brush the bottom of the tart with the egg wash, then cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes.

Fill the tart shell with the fruit, reserving the juices for the glaze.  Brush the sides of the pastry with the remaining egg wash.

Bake until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing the sides of the pan.

While the tart is cooling, make the glaze:  Place reserved fruit juices, sugar, and red currant jelly in a small saucepan.  (Depending on how much sugar is left in the fruit juices, you may not need the full 2 T for the glaze.)  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water, add to the pan, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute or until thickened.  Remove from heat, and spoon the glaze over your tart to give it a shine.

Yeast; Taking You Places

Specifically, Flemish Yeast Dough is taking me back to Leefdaal, the small town in Belgium where I spent half my childhood.  Leefdaal had one main street running through it, Dorpstraat.  Everything you need could be found off that street, including three bakeries.  Michotte was our favorite.  My parents would send my siblings and me down on a Saturday morning to pick up pastries and we'd stare at the display cases, fascinated by the cream horns, the eclairs, and the beautiful fruit tarts.

Photo source
Truth be told, it took me a long time to come around to these tarts.  I thought they were very good, but there was something not quite right about them.  They looked like pies, but they weren't pies.  They didn't have that flaky, buttery shell that I expected.  Instead, they were made with a yeasty, sweet, bread-like crust, and once I started to accept them for what they were, I found them utterly delicious.

I love working with yeast.  This crust in particular brings back memories of my childhood and thoughts of another country, but anytime I make a yeast dough I am transported.  It's something in the sweet tangy smell as the dough rises, the promise of great flavor once baked.  It's the limited amount of control we have over the process, and the necessary waiting as the yeast does its natural thing.  Even while I am making it in my modern kitchen, I can imagine bakers from generations past all over the world doing the same thing.

Flemish Yeast Dough for Pie Crusts adapted from Everybody Eats Well in Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek

This crust is fairly straightforward, perfect for someone who is not too familiar with working with yeast.  It's the base of many Belgian tarts, one of which is my Z-post.

Ingredients:

1 pkg active dry yeast
1/4 cup of milk, warmed to 100 degrees F
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour, plus more if needed
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 1/2 T unsalted butter, melted

In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over milk.  Let it sit until it gets foamy, about 5 minutes.  Stir.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.  Add sugar and salt and then whisk to combine.  Make a well in the middle, and pour in the egg, butter, and yeast mixture.  Using your fingertips, slowly work the flour into the liquids until you have a smooth dough.  Gradually add a little more flour if needed to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers; no more than 1/2 cup.  Make sure you don't overwork or knead the dough, or your crust will be tough and chewy.

Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in volume, around 1 hour.

To roll the dough:

Butter and flour a tart pan (preferably one with a removable bottom)

Punch down the dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough into a disc, somewhere between 1/4 or 1/8 an inch thick, depending on the recipe for the tart and personal preference.

Transfer the disc of dough to your tart pan.  Trim and crimp the edges.  With a fork, prick holes all over the bottom the tart.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 20 to 30 minutes before filling and baking.




Saturday, April 28, 2012

Taking a Day

My Y post is going to come the same day as my Z post.  This is for practical reasons relating to the post, and because I need to take today to catch up on things.  I want to take some time to catch up on the blogs I've missed reading the last few days, and just to rest, do laundry, finish one of my dozen or so projects, those sort of things.  Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

Friday, April 27, 2012

eXasperated

X is for exasperated; frustrated by all the foods that I am currently not supposed to eat.  Reading through May's Bon Appetit was slightly tortuous yesterday, and Pintrest just mocks me each time I log into it.  I think I'm going to create a board of all the verboten items for pregnant ladies, and then next year make everything on it.  It's especially hard because summertime is coming up, and that is the time I want to most make and eat these things.  These things are:

Soft Cheeses:  Goat cheese, brie, an Icelandic cheese that a friend of ours brought to a party and I can't find around here.  Every night I crave a giant cheese platter.  It's gotten worse since we recently watched Ratatouille with the boys.

Sushi and Shellfish:  I love seafood, but it's not normally something I pine for.  Now, I shoot dirty looks at people enjoying spicy tuna rolls or crab cakes (I don't really. I think horrible things about them, but I don't project it).  Soon it will be summer and I wanted to hammer down on some crabs up with my sister in Maryland, to have perfectly seared scallops, host a clam bake.

Runny Eggs: not much I can say about them, except, yum, and I miss you.

Caffeine: Bon Appetit just featured a recipe on Vietnamese Iced Coffee, made with condensed milk (I've been making it that way for a while, and I didn't know I was being gourmet).  Iced coffee and Thai Iced tea are two of my favorite summertime drinks.  Even on the hottest days, I love to start my weekends with fresh brewed coffee.

Booze:  It's not that it's really hard for me to give this up, but an ice cold beer on a summer day, or having a mojito or margarita on a warm evening, or just the right glass of wine with a great meal, these will be missed.

I'm going to be honest, I applaud all the women that really follow all the rules, but I know I won't, and I'm not going to feel guilty about it.  I drink coffee and tea, not as much as I used to, but it's more than just occasionally.  They just opened a Jimmy John's not too far from my house, so I've already broken the "no deli-meat" rule.  While I'm not about to go out and order a sushi platter, I probably will make a beet, arugula, and goat cheese salad this season.  Besides, sometime between the second and third trimester the baby's taste buds start to develop, so I'm just giving her an early start for an expansive palate.  

On another note, thanks for all the well wishes for my son.  His fever is finally going down, and he's gotten some of his appetite back.  Hopefully he'll be back to his normal self tomorrow.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No Waffles; Lots of Waiting

W was one post I had planned out.  I was going to make soft/crunchy, crisp/chewy, warm Belgian waffles from Liege.  These are the kind you'd buy at a street vendor downtown Brussels, a warme waffel or a gaufre chaud.


That post is not happening today, but will be written sometime in the future.  My youngest has been battling a fever hovering around 101 for the past three days, and today I took him to the pediatrician's office.  After one hour, two throat swabs and a nose swab, he's negative for strep and the flu.  He just has some sort of virus, and all I can do is monitor his temperature, keep him hydrated, and wait it out.  He's been needing a lot of extra love and attention, so I'm gearing up for another day.  He's actually in my lap right now as I type this.  I can only imagine how tired he has.  I'm exhausted, and I'm not the one with the 100 + degree fever.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vera Pavlova

I love poetry, but seem to have trouble finding contemporary, living poets to read.  I suppose I have trouble finding current music, books, films, those things in general.  It's not that I think the present has nothing to offer us, that only classics offer substance and entertainment.  I think I'm just generally too unplugged.  When I was commuting to D.C. and listening to NPR to and from work, I had a little more exposure.  It takes more of an earnest effort effort now to seek things out.

I came across Vera Pavlova fairly recently.  She was born in Moscow, studied the history of music, and wrote her first poem when she was twenty years old, while she was still in the maternity ward after the birth of her daughter.  I know very little about her history, mostly what I read here.  I first became interested in her not through reading her poems, but some of her quotes about poetry.  Here are just a few from Heaven is Not Verbose: A Notebook published in Poetry Magazine.  You can find them all at the Poetry Foundation's website.


There are moments when I feel the universe expand.


Poetry should be written the way adultery is committed: on the run, on the sly, during time not accounted for. And then you come home; as if nothing ever happened.


Time is like a diatonic scale: it consists of major and minor seconds.


Went to bed with an unfinished poem in my mouth and could not kiss.


"The ovaries of a newborn girl contain up to 400,00 egg cells."  All my poems are already in me.


Madness is inspiration idling in neutral


The longer the poem, the weaker the impression that is has been dictated from above: Heaven is not verbose.  Besides, the more you talk, the more you lie.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ultimatums

This is not what I wanted to blog about today, but this is what my day/week/month has been about.  My 4-year-old is very smart and very loving, and lately, very obstinate in his refusal to cooperate with my requests.  I've been trying to give him choices.  The Parenting Pro's tell you, kids love choices, they love the feeling of control.  It's true, I can see that, and sometimes it works.  Most of the time, though, my real life experience does not reflect the scenarios written in parenting books.  When I ask Max, "do you want to leave the park now, or in ten minutes," he happily agrees to leaving in ten minutes.  However, when those ten minutes are up, does he joyfully get in the car, content that he was able to make the choice to stay a little longer?  No, and reminding him that he chose this time to leave does not help quell the crying.

I'm not going to lie, I really don't know what to do.  Lately the choices I have been giving him end with "or do you want to have time-out in your room?"  It's not really a choice at all, more of an ultimatum, and one that isn't really working.

So I guess this post is more of a cry for help, encouragement, advice?  Are some kids just more prone to fits and tantrums?  How do other parents deal?


Monday, April 23, 2012

Tea and Toast

I love mornings.  That's not completely true.  I love the potential that mornings have.  Before I fall asleep at night, I think of the next day; what I will make for breakfast, talking to my sons about the dreams they had, all the things that I will get done that day.  Of course, that's all the night before.  I am normally awakened way too early by either one of my sons, breakfast ends up being something out of a box with some fruit or yogurt to ease my mommy conscience, and by the time I've done dishes and gotten everyone dressed, I've given up on my To Do list.  Still, every night I lay down with my quixotic dreams for the next day.  I think of myself as an easily discouraged optimist.

There are two things that can provide calming on even the most hectic of mornings, tea and toast.  Whether you are drinking herbal, chai, green or black, whether you brew from loose leaf or steep a tea bag; there is something almost sacred about this simplest of breakfasts.  After the kids are fed and dressed, we come back downstairs; and for the three to five minutes that my tea is steeping and my bread is toasting, I'm somewhere else, or perhaps I've just turned my mind off for that time.  I pull the butter and strawberry jam out of the refrigerator; spread carefully to the edges of the slice.  I add my milk and sugar to my tea (if that's the way I'm taking it that day), and then sit and sip.  I might flip through a magazine, or read a book.  When my boys come shouting, "Look at me!" or "Mommy, Sam/Max is being bad," it's "Not right now, mommy's drinking her tea."  They seem to respect that, and it gives me those few moment of quiet time I need to regain my optimism from the night before.



If you want to really treat yourself, make this cinnamon toast.  I know, a recipe for cinnamon toast sounds ridiculous, but this is delicious.  I grew up baking my cinnamon toast in the oven.  My mom would spread (I use this term loosely.  My mother is a notorious globber, and she's comfortable with that) butter on a piece of white bread, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.  What normally happened was that the outer edges became dry and stale, but in the middle the bread would be soft and gooey with buttery clumps of cinnamon sugar.  I loved it.  This recipe just takes my mom's way a step further.

Cinnamon Toast

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Melt one stick (1/2 cup) of butter in a shallow dish.  In another shallow dish or plate, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 or 3 tsp of cinnamon.

Cut six slices of hearty white bread into triangles (for a pretty presentation, you can remove the crusts and cut into quarters).  Dip each side of the bread into the melted butter, and then coat each side with the cinnamon sugar.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, or until crispy.

The result is toast with a cinnamon-sugar crust.  It's very sweet, and may be hard to make a breakfast out of it, but it's a great snack and pairs very nicely with a cup of tea.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sweet and Sticky

Such sensuous words.  I think of honey, a summer day, a melting Popsicle dripping down my skin, chicken wings.

Okay, maybe chicken wings don't incite the same sensuality as the rest of the list above, but oh man, these ones are good.  Jenny blogged about these at Dinner: A Love Story, and I'm just helping spread the word.  They don't fall off the bone, they slink off.  All conversation at the table stops, as mouths are too busy licking sauce off fingers and uttering sighs of contentment.  The best part, they take almost no work to make.  There are four ingredients:

about 2 lbs of chicken wings
1 cup of soy sauce
1/2 cup of pomegranate juice
1/2 cup of sugar

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Lay your chicken out in a single layer in a large baking dish.  In a small saucepan, pour the soy sauce, the juice, and add the sugar.  Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, and then pour over your chicken.  Bake for about 45 minutes on one side, turn over and then bake for another hour.  Done!


I like to decrease the amount of soy sauce I use, and add a little more juice.  I like the fruity tartness the juice provides.  I just kind of eyeball it.

Also, don't worry too much about them getting charred.  Trust me, charred is your friend.  They will get very dark and very sticky, and all of this is a good thing.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ramble On

Which is really all I am going to do for this post.  It's been a day.  But now, I'm rocking to Led Zeppelin, so that's making things better.  I think everyone has three lists when it comes to songs, not music or even bands, but specific songs.  There's the list of songs that you can't stand to hear (for me, Walking on Sunshine falls into this category), songs that you love, but may be slightly embarrassing (I'm not easily embarrassed, but songs like Come on Irene could fit here) and then there are YOUR SONGS.  The ones you feel comfortable calling "favorite."  The ones you blast in your car whenever they come on, that you can help to smile or move or whatever to.  Ramble On is on the top of my list.  It's best when it comes on the radio when you're driving on a sunny day, or at bar, a few hours after people have been doing a fair amount of drinking (songs from category two are also good, especially anything by Neil Diamond [who I love, I'll admit])

But back to rambling.  I thought about writing about respect, or the lack of it I've been getting from my oldest.  Then I thought about rain, how happy I am that are finally getting some this weekend.  Or maybe relaxation (what is that again?), but no.  I don't have the focus.  We went shopping this morning for kid shoes and maternity clothes.  Shopping always tires me out.  Then we came home and pulled ivy from an overgrown corner of our yard.  We found the beginning of a very nice rock wall hidden under the 15 or so years of growth; who knows what else will be revealed?  My contribution to the actual pulling of the ivy was small, but I had to run interference between my sons.  Max has started to get pretty bossy. He was trying to tell Sam how to sit, how many crayons to have, that he was a bad boy.  Every time he barked an order at Sam, Sam responded by blowing raspberries at him.  I should have broken it up early on, but it was hilarious.  Don't you wish you could do that to your boss, or spouse, or kids when they said something you didn't care for?

A walk to the lake and back, and now it's bath time and then bed time, for all of us.  This might be one of the days I tuck myself in at 8:30, so I will try to get to catching up on reading your blogs tomorrow.  Right now, Sam is having a staring contest with our Goldendoodle, and Max is serenading me with Hall and Oates Kiss is on My List.  Not a bad end to the day.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quotidian Questions for Parents of Young Children

What's that in your mouth?
Why is it so loud?
Why is it so quiet?
Do you want to do it your way, or Mommy's way?
Do you think that is a good idea?
Is that chocolate on your hand? (Oh please, let it be chocolate)
Do you need to go to the bathroom?
Why didn't you go to the bathroom when I asked?
Where are you going with that?
Why did you throw your toy/hit your brother/color on the wall...?
Where did you learn about that?
Do you want to help?
Are you okay?
Can I have a kiss?
Do you need a hug?
Do you know how much I love you?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Poetry, and Pastry

One of the things I've loved about this challenge thus far is reading so many original poems.  I love poetry (hence the name of my blog).  I used to write quite a bit, and when I started this blog I had every intention to start writing again.  I've written a few lines now and then, some sections that could be developed, but I don't think I have one complete poem.  Like all writing, poetry takes discipline.  At least enough to sit down and finish something.

 My husband and I once wrote a poem together, back when we were much younger.  I had just read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and we played around with the idea of adding a refrain to the poem.  Ed came up with that part, and it's all I really remember:

Through my window gently gleams
the salty sheen of your moonbeams

Anyway, it was my intent to post a poem about pie.  I didn't get around to writing it.  My husband came through for me though, and came up with this short poem fairly quickly.  He has a knack for words, although he doesn't care for them much (unless he's trying to make someone laugh).


Custard, cream,
or fruit-filled.
Lattice-top
Hot or chilled;
Whichever pie you undertake,
Whistle merry as you make,
A slumb’ring circle sweetly bakes,
‘Till golden-kissed, it awakes.
One thing’s for certain:
I need crust.

 --Edward Hull

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ouch!

Today was supposed to be about organization, as I need to work on that in every aspect of my life.  In fact, it was one of my resolutions for this year, and it hasn't been given its due.  My house is in disorder bordering on chaos.  The other night the power went out for three hours.  I could not find a flashlight, a lighter, or a match.  I'm not sure why I was as freaked out that night as I was, but I waved my cell phone around looking for anything that would cast light or ignite and called my husband three times until I found the lighter outside on the deck.  Just one example of my lack of organization; we don't put things back where they belong.  I could also describe the baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded, the wrenches we have in a pile by the front door (not really a kid-friendly way to store them), and I've already briefly described our dining table in a previous post.

There's also digital organization, something I'm just as bad at.  Twice a year I try to make some sense of all our computer files with new folders and conscientious deleting.  It works for a few weeks, and then I go back to saving files with no sense of convention.  This blog is a perfect example.  I forget to label half my posts, and many times I just don't know what to label them, so I leave them blank.

I need a major organizational overhaul on my life.

The thing is, I'm really motivated to do this stuff right now.  I think it might be the nesting phenomenon, but I want to get things straight and clean.  It's just feels that every time I try to do anything right now, my body gives up.  Before I had some pregnancy related issues that forced me to take it easy, a task that is hard in itself when you have a 4-year-old and 20-month-old around you all the time.  Today, I can barely move my neck without pain.  Almost anything I do causes discomfort.  The hot shower I took to help relax the muscles led to a sudden onset of nausea (hot showers are supposed to be no no's for pregnant women).  I'm hurting and frustrated, and trying to figure out the best way to make it through the nine or so hours until my husband gets home.

I do apologize for the self-pity at the end of this post.  Tomorrow will be a brighter day.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nutella for the Win

First, a confession.  I have not yet eaten one of these cupcakes.  I have, however, tasted every component on its own, and I fail to see how they could not be spectacular together.

There are three parts to this cupcake:  chocolate cake, Nutella, and Nutella buttercream frosting.  I love the combination of chocolate and hazelnut, therefore I love Nutella, therefor I love Nutella cupcakes (the law of syllogisms at work!).  I actually want to kick myself for all the time I spent not eating Nutella.  I think I first tried it when we moved to Germany.  I must have been about six, and for a long time I didn't like nuts or things that were too sweet.  I've outgrown both those phases, thankfully.  I just didn't take to the chocolate-hazelnut spread, and avoided it until last year.  I purchased it on a whim, and thank goodness I did.  It is back in my life where it belongs.

Another confession.  The cake part is not completely made from scratch.  We had a busy weekend; pulling ivy, pressure washing our driveway to remove the paint the bank put on it, and general running around.  So I kind of cheated.  I used a Devil's Food cake mix as the base and doctored it up.  It's still delicious.  Moist and flavorful, and does not taste at all like a box mix.  Sometimes you've got to use shortcuts when they are available to you.
My assistant

A few lessons learned:  Nutella does not pipe well into cupcakes.  I tried to use the piping tip from the decorating set my sister got me.  I ended up with a very large mess.  The apple corer technique works much better.  I also tried using a round decorator's tip to pipe the icing, but let's just say the result was not appetizing.  I've only gotten as far as star tips.  Oh, I'm a big believer in different music to cook different things by, and Supreme Being's of Leisure's Never the Same is perfect music to pipe frosting to.  That smooth, jazzy thing they do just helps get you into the groove.  After that song I listened to David Byrne's Look into the Eye-Ball because, well, I can always listen to that.


These will be garnished with a piece of a chocolate-hazelnut candy bar


Here is where I got my inspiration and the recipe for Nutella Buttercream Frosting.  The recipe I used for the cake is below:

Ingredients:

1 pkg devil's food cake mix (with pudding in the mix)
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.  Either with an electric mixer or a wire whisk, slowly combine all ingredients.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then mix vigorously until batter looks well combined.

Divide batter among cupcake liners and bake for 20-23 minutes, or until tops look firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely before filling.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Edna St. Vincent Millay


Edna St. Vincent Millay is another of my favorite poets.  I was introduced to her only seven years ago, when my husband briefly studied her in college.  I was so impressed with the small selection that I read that I went out and purchased her biography, Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford.  I have had some trouble getting through biographies in the past, and I've found that those written about poets hold my attention best.

Millay has written sonnets, ballads, plays, propaganda, and much more.  Her first great success was Renascence, a poem about the omnipresence of God.  Each time I read this, I just feel bigger, more expansive than my physical self.  She finished this poem in 1912; she was 20 years old.

Still, she is perhaps better known for some of her other work.  Many people have heard this short quatrain before; The First Fig:

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!

She felt the impermanence of life, and took a glib attitude towards love.  Here is her poem, Thursday:

And if I loved you Wednesday, 
   Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday --
   So much is true.

And why you come complaining
   Is more than I can see,
I loved you Wednesday, --yes--but what
   Is that to me?

Still, she was a woman of great feeling and passion.  Her poems in her later life were not all so flippant.  The Ballad of the Harp Weaver, dedicated to her mother, is sentimental in the best of ways.  She was a progressive, she fought for women's rights and justice for those who she felt wrongly persecuted.  She was a fascinating woman living in a fascinating time.

If you would like to learn more about Edna St. Vincent Millay, you can find information here and more of her poems here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Leavening

Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

I am actually a food chemistry dork.  I can pour over facts about protein content in flour, shortening mediums, and natural and chemical leaving agents.  I love using yeast, but cultivating my own rather daunts me.  I checked out Pastries from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton.  She outlines her process for creating a sourdough starter.  It takes 14 days, and you have to feed the starter three times a day.  It's not necessarily difficult, but I have my hands full feeding myself and my children, I'm sure I would neglect my dough.

Chemical leaveners have their place too.  Baking soda and baking powder work by reacting with acids to produce carbon dioxide, causing your baked goods to rise.  Baking soda needs acid in the recipe (buttermilk, sour cream, molasses) to react with.  Baking powder is basically baking soda mixed with a dry acid and double-dried cornstarch.  When it gets wet, the dry acid reacts with the baking soda, and viola!  There's no need to use extra acid in your recipe.

The beauty of chemical leaveners is that you can make bread and baked goods quickly.  Yeast can be fickle and time consuming, all relative to moisture content, temperature, any additives in your recipe (sugar, salt).  Baking powder and baking soda are so much more straightforward, which is sometimes exactly what you need.

Tonight I made beer bread.  Since I can't drink it, I figure I might as well bake with it.  It's a simple recipe from Williams-Sonoma.  Since the beer is a product of fermentation, it adds some leavening power along with the baking powder.  You can use any beer you like, and each one will impart a different flavor to the bread.  In the winter, I like to use a nut-brown.  Tonight, I made it with Fat Tire Amber Ale.  It was subtle, a little malty and sweet.  To top it off, you pour 1/4 cup of melted butter over the batter before you bake it, giving it a crunchy, almost fried texture and heavenly butter flavor.  Beer and butter, it may sound gluttonous, but could you ask for anything more?


Beer Batter Bread adapted from Williams-Sonoma

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 T firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 bottle (12 fl oz) beer, unopened and at room temperature
  • 4 T unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing and serving
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter a 9" x 5" loaf pan

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Open the beer and add it all at once.  Stir just to combine.  The batter should be lumpy.  You want to be careful not to overmix.  Pour the melted butter over the top the loaf.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is crusty and a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  It's best the day it's made, but heat it in the toaster the next day, slather it with butter, and it's still delicious.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Kitchen

I love kitchens.  I love the way they look, the smells that come from them, the dishes and memories you create in them.   I get excited when I see an old Aga stove, an apron sink, soapstone countertops.   The kitchen is the one room above all others, where form should follow function.

We live in our kitchen, and for as much time as we spend in it, it needs some major design changes.  Right now, it's one long, dark room.  Our cabinets are slightly warped and hung a little crooked, we have a plastic folding table serving as an island, and the lack of storage means I have several small appliances scattered in corners or shelves in other rooms.  Not the best situation.

My ideal kitchen is bright and warm.  There is a large farmhouse table on one side, a table that had families gathered around it generations ago.  The floors are soft pine, and against one wall a fire would be going in a brick fireplace.  I'd have an Aga stove, a walk-in pantry, and enough counter space to have a designated place for prepping vegetables, working with meats, and rolling pastry.  There would be a chair near the fireplace, and a bookshelf filled with cookbooks, craft books, and novels.  It would be obvious that it was a room where people lived and worked, with just the right amount of useful clutter.

We will be redoing our kitchen sometime this year.  I'm fine that it won't be the kitchen of my dreams, so long that it's the right kitchen for this house.


image sourced from here

What's your ideal kitchen?  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jelly Beans

I figure some of you probably still have some hanging around after Easter.  Growing up, I was never fond of them.  They  tasted like someone had captured all of the excitement of pastels, and then put it in a chewy/crunchy candy.  Who was making them before Jelly Belly came around?  Probably the same people who made candy corn.  I just remembered that I tried to avoid all of them, but especially the black ones.  You didn't want to go near the black ones. While I'm still not a huge fan, there are some Jelly Belly flavors that I like, perhaps even go out of my way to get.

Here is a wonderful sentence from a short story by Harlan Ellison, called "Repent Harlequin!" said the Ticktockman.  It gives me a new appreciation for the confection.

Jelly beans!  Million and billions of purples and yellows and greens and licorice and grape and raspberry and mint and round and smooth and crunchy outside and soft-mealy inside and sugary and bouncing jouncing tumbling clittering clattering skittering fell on the heads and shoulders and hardhats and carapaces of the Timkin workers, tinkling on the slidewalk and bouncing away and rolling about underfoot and filling the sky on their way down with all the colors of joy and childhood and holidays, coming down in a steady rain, a solid wash, a torrent of color and sweetness out of the sky from above, and entering a universe of sanity and metronomic order with quite-mad coocoo newness.  Jelly beans!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Italian Soda: Escaping the Inevitable

I woke up this morning convince that J was next.  It wasn't until I logged in this morning and saw everyone's I posts that I realized my mistake.  If I am being really honest, I even had to think about it for a moment and recite the alphabet in my head.

What to write for I?  The first thing that came to mind was the word inevitable, but it was just too depressing.  I wasn't thinking so much in a death and taxes sort of way, more in a dishes and laundry sort of way.  I'm already steeped in day to day reality, and need no reminders.

Instead, how about an Italian Soda?  The moniker is a little misleading, as they aren't Italian at all, but were created here in the U.S. of A.  We were drinking them growing up in Belgium, before I had even heard the term "Italian Soda."  We would buy the large, metal canisters of lemon or orange syrup and stir it into bubble water (which we always had on hand there.  I wonder why I don't keep it around now).  Since I'm greatly reducing the amount of caffeine I intake (I can't give it up completely), I've started making my own syrups.  I know you can get the Torani or DaVinci brands, but making them yourself is really easy, a lot cheaper, and you get to know everything that goes into it.  That always gives me a warm fuzzy.

It's important to take time to make things like this, little everyday treats.  If I wanted to, I am sure that everyday I could find enough stuff around my house that NEEDS to be done.  It's nice to do the things that are extra.  The fact that they are unnecessary makes them so essential.



Here is my recipe for orange-flavored soda syrup:

1 cup of orange juice (it doesn't have to be fresh-squeezed, so long as it has no added sugar)
1 cup of water
1 3/4 cups of sugar (if you make this with lemons, use 2 cups of sugar)
orange zest - about 3 thumbsize pieces

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  When syrup is reduced by half, remove from heat.

Pour through a mesh sieve and allow to cool, you should have a little under 2 cups. Pour into a squeeze-bottle, jar, your choice.  My mom got me these cool glass flasks, so I like to use those.  It makes me feel like some sort of witch or mad scientist to have many multi-colored filled flasks in my refrigerator.

To make an actual Italian Soda, just mix the desired about or syrup with seltzer water, club soda, or sparkling water.  Ice and stir.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hummingbird Cupcakes

I had another opportunity to try out some cupcakes this weekend.  Even better, they start with H, so I can use them as today's post!



These are hummingbird cupcakes, a flavor my sister specifically mentioned she was interested in.  They are made with banana, coconut, and pineapple; iced with cream cheese frosting; and topped with a dried pineapple flower.  The recipe is from Martha Stewart.  It's a hearty cupcake, almost more like a muffin.  Everyone who tried them this weekend really liked them (or told me they did), but I think I need to make a few modifications to get them right for the wedding.  The banana flavor was very strong and it was hard to taste the coconut and pineapple.  I'm considering adding some flaked, sweetened coconut along with the dried, unsweetened.  Tess, my youngest sister said that although they looked beautiful, the flavor just didn't seem fancy enough.  I know what she meant.  They were delicious, but a little heavy and plain.  I'm thinking about making a filling for them, perhaps of a lighter cream cheese-pineapple frosting.  I think that would give them enough something to make them more like a wedding cupcake and less like a frosted muffin.


I mentioned in my previous post on cupcakes that icing has never been my strong suit.  Well, I normally don't even attempt garnishment.   I'm glad I did here, though.  The pineapple flowers were fun, and without them the cakes would just be too plain.  Still, I definitely need a little more practice, and a sharper knife.  They're pretty simple, the most laborious part is scooping out all the pineapple "eyes" with a small melon-baller.  The tricky part is slicing them thin enough.  My husband helped me out.  I have mentioned before, I have horrible knife skills.  Whenever something requires "paper thin," Ed is called in.  He worked in a restaurant for a few years, and can dice and slice like a pro.  The knife was dull however, and it was hard to cut consistently through the core (so he tells me).  All in all, I was fairly happy with our first attempt at them.  They were to thick to fully dry out, but they still looked beautiful and were pretty tasty as well!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Goldendoodle

I would like to introduce you to one of our dogs, Mortimer.  He's an 85 lb Goldendoodle, and as you can see, he is not a paradigm of the breed.

Mortimer as a puppy
My husband and I found him in a pet store.  I'm not a huge fan of buying dogs from pet stores, but in a way, I feel like he was a rescue dog.  We stopped at this place on our way to look at an English Sheepdog.  This was a store that specialized in birds and small breeds.  Think Yorkies, Westies, Pomeranians.  How a black Goldendoodle ended up there, I have no idea.  We saw him, laying in the back of his kennel.  Apparently he had been there a while, as no one came to this shop to look for large dogs.  We asked one of the attendants to let him out of the kennel, which really meant that we were going to take him home that day.  In the car we named him Mortimer.  I'd been reading Terry Pratchet's Mort, the story of DEATH's apprentice, and it seemed appropriate for a big, black dog.

What can I say about Mortimer (Moe for short)?   Goldendoodles are a cross between a Standard Poodle and a Golden Retriever.  Typically their hair is the color of a Golden with the texture of a Poodle, meaning they are not supposed to shed.  Mortimer obviously got the coloring from the Poodle.  He doesn't shed, but his thick hair can get pretty unmanageable, so we keep him trimmed pretty close.  Goldendoodles are also supposed to be very smart.  I think Mortimer has the potential, but I blame the crowd he runs with.  He's picked up too many traits from our wired-hair fox terrier. Sometimes it's hard to have an 85 lb lap dog with a tail that swings like a whip.  We don't have anything breakable on level with his tail, and I can't wait for Sam to grow just two more inches so his face will be above the line of fire.  Still, Moe's gentle and loving and a great cuddler.  My children hug him, climb on him, use him as a step stool, and he simply allows it.  It's hard to imagine our household without him.



Mortimer today

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Fun; F is for Fake-Believe

Some readers who have little ones may recognize the title of this post from a children's song by They Might Be Giants.  I couldn't help myself.  As I was sitting down, thinking, "What is F for, what is F for?" the lyric just popped into my head.

I think there are two types of fake-believe.  There's the fun kind, and then there is the kind that is possibly detrimental.  At 7:00 am, when I turn on my side and see Max's eyes open wide, level with mine as he stands beside my bed and says, "Hey Mom, I want you to be a ninja," that's the fun kind (it's more fun later in the day).  It's fun when you buy a lottery ticket, and for the next day or so you get to imagine what you would do with all that money.  Perhaps you act out a few scenes in your mind of the trip you will take, or how you will decorate your new house.  Or maybe, like me, even though you love your life, you sometimes indulge in daydreams; imagine living in different places and knowing some different people; doing different things.

There's also a potentially dangerous type of fake-believe, and I think more people experience it than we realize.  It happens when we are in situations that make us unhappy, whether it be work or school or relationships.  It's when we pretend to be someone other than ourselves, pretend to care (or not care) about things that don't (or do) matter to us.  I've been there.  My last job was for a huge, world-wide company.  While I just had a small position in the business development team, the people I worked for were wonderful and worked on my behalf to give me opportunities to climb up.  I acted determined and motivated, thinking, "clearly, I should want to rise; really start my career."  I tried to really put myself out there, even though I'm very much an introvert.  I aggressively pursued business classes; my boss unofficially took me on as a mentee; I tried to network and take on as much work as they would give me.  My husband wouldn't have recognized me at the office.  By the time I got home from work, I was exhausted.  I had spent all this energy being someone I was not, caring about things that weren't important to me, that I had almost none of myself left over for my family.  It took me almost a year to realize that I simply wasn't interested in a career like that.  No matter how good it looked (or would make me look), it just wasn't me.

Sometimes you do have to "fake-it till you make-it."  Occasionally it's necessary to seem more confident than you really are, more certain.  But be careful when you really start to believe you are the alter-persona you created.  I'm so happy I understand this now.  Now, I get to be a ninja.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

e.e. cummings

Today I want to write about e.e. cummings.  I've found that I've spent most of the time I put aside for writing just rereading his poetry.  Writing about poetry (or a poet) is hard, especially when it's poetry that really moves you.  Poems can be dissected, analyzed, probed for content and meaning.  That's difficult, but straightforward work.  To discuss what poetry means to you, what is does to you, that's something entirely different.

It seems that those who know of E.E. (Edward Estlin) Cummings either love him, hate him, or just don't get it.  Many people are bothered by his creative use, or lack thereof, of syntax and punctuation. I'll be honest, some of his concrete poetry is just too much for me.  All my effort goes into figuring out what words he is spelling, with no energy left over to think about why or what he means.  Those poems are fewer than at first seem.  Most of his verse speaks of innocence and optimism.   He embraced nature and love and sex and beauty and all aspects of life, even death.  He seems to have loved the world and humanity, even when he is pointing out its darker, petty sides. 

It is impossible for me to share my favorite poems of his.  There are just too many.  Many of his poems are known by their first line, so here is just a small sampling.  I've linked to various sites where you can read them.


and my list wouldn't be complete without

  
If you would only check out one, please read the last one.  

"and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dinnertime

My house moves to the rhythm of mealtime.  I think that this is only natural when you still have very little ones.  The first year of a child's life seems to be broken down into 3-6 hour increments between feedings.  Of course, there is also the fact that all of us here really enjoy eating.  There are times that Max, my oldest, tells me what he wants for breakfast as soon as he wakes up.  Sam occasionally hyperventilates when I open the fridge around lunchtime; he's so excited.  The real reason that mealtime is so important to us, however, is that it's the time when everyone stops what they are doing and sits down together.  It can't always work out for breakfast and lunch, but for dinnertime, we make it happen.

I realize that a lot times, it's just really hard to get everyone gathered around the table.  It's tricky during the baby years, when the parents either scarf down their food at the speed of sound in order to feed their child, or end up eating cold food after everyone else is finished.  I can only imagine the obstacles that arise as kids get older and start having their own schedules and events that have to be worked around.  Still, I think (hope) that if you  start the tradition early, it will carry through as long as you are all together.




Here are four tips that I think help dinnertime come together and go smoothly:

  1. Keep the dinner table clear.  My friends and family are probably laughing at me for making this number one.  At this very moment, I have books, mail, tax papers, laundry to be folded, and more on my table.  My current bad habits aside, it seems obvious that a clear and clean dinner table invites you to sit down.
  2. When at all possible, serve everyone the same thing.  Unless there is a medically necessary reason to do it, I've never been a big fan of making individual dinners for every member of the family. Exposing kids (and adults) to new foods help expand their palate and hopefully deter picky eating.  Obviously, kids have some hang-ups, and this is where clever labeling comes into play.  Onions and peppers are sweet onions and sweet peppers, certain vegetables are described as "the stegosaurus's favorite food," and the word spicy is avoided at all costs.  If, while you are placing the meal you just made on the table, your child whines, "What's that?" and all creativity fails, you can always use the old standby, "That's dinner."
  3. Create some R.O.D. (Rules of Dinner).  Jenny at Dinner: A Love Story posted about this sometime last year.  Rules of dinner just help things go smoothly, and creating them is a great thing to do as a family when your kids are old enough.  We haven't sat down and spelled them out, but we have some unofficial ones:  You have to eat at least one bite of everything, you have to ask to be excused, no singing at the dinner table (sometimes we allow this one to be broken).
  4. What's for dinner isn't as important as sharing dinnertime.  Yes, what you eat is important, but there are days when people are too tired to cook, or sometimes just want to make a meal out of French Fries and mayo (I've been that person too many times).  Don't worry too much about it.  Even when we bring home McDonald's, we all sit together and have the same conversation we would be having if I had made beef bourguignon.  In fact, sometimes those are the best times.



Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cupcakes Galore

For a moment after I wrote my B post, I considered picking up a pregnancy/post-partum theme.  Some letters just scream out to you.  E could be epidural, L for labor, N for nursing, and V for, um... oh yeah, vitamins.  I decided against it though; not quite my style.  So the winging it will continue.

Today I made cupcakes.  My sister is getting married in May, and she has asked me to make the cupcakes for her wedding.  I'm still a little unsure of exactly what I was thinking when I said yes.  She's having a candy bar, and I suppose I thought that she just wanted some cupcakes as part of that.  I don't think I realized that the cupcakes were going to BE the wedding cake until much later.  I have all the confidence that I can make some delicious cupcakes, but typically, wedding cakes are supposed to be pretty.  That is where things get tricky for me.  Frosting and I don't really get along when we have to spend a lot of time together.  We like each other, we just don't work well together.  Sort of like hook-up buddies.  I'll get intimate with frosting, but we've never had a relationship.

Now though, it's practice time.  Today I made lemon cupcakes.  One quick pointer before I go further, if you bought cupcake liners but lost them, go out and buy some more.  I know it's a pain to make another trip, especially if you have to load up the kids, but it's worth it.  Do not, (unless you are good at this sort of thing) try to make your own liners out of parchment paper.  No matter how cute and simple the woman on the online tutorial makes it seem, it's not worth it.  If you do make them, however, and have already filled them with batter, just stop looking for the other liners.  I promise, when you find them, the feeling you will have will not be joy.

Notice how these do not have homemade parchment paper liners

The extra frustration aside, I'm fairly happy with how they turned out.  I pretty much followed this recipe, but doubled the zest to punch up the lemon flavor.  I always forget how much I love lemon, but these are delicious!.  They're like a little bit of summer in your mouth.  I know the pretty factor needs to be upped a bit, but as far as flavor is concerned, these are definite contenders.  Now who wants to help me eat these 22 cupcakes?

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for...

When I first signed up for the A to Z challenge, I tried to think through the first four letters of the alphabet, just to make sure I did some planning.  I was having trouble deciding what B would become.  Maybe bread, I do love baking bread.  Maybe brownies, one of my biggest weaknesses.  Or perhaps beer (okay, maybe this ties brownies in the weakness category).  Really though, it became obvious to me at the beginning of February what I would write for this post.

The things is, I haven't been drinking any beer lately (although I have increased my brownie consumption), because B is for Baby! Today I am 13 weeks pregnant with my third child.  They say that every pregnancy is different, but until now, I had no reason to believe it.  My first two were pretty easy going, at least in the beginning, while this one has been fairly rough.  I had two small scares (if any scare can really be considered small), but I had a sono today and everything looks good.  So I'm really happy to be celebrating B today, and sharing this news with all of you.
My first two babies - Photo by Linda Hughes Photography

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April


I cannot decide if April is cruel or kind.

T.S. Eliot wrote that: 

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. 

Maybe I understand this.  Perhaps April puts me “In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts / Bring sad thoughts to the mind.*” Color insinuates itself into the world once again and the air is sweet smelling and warm on our skin.  Yet while I enjoy all of the sensory pleasures of April, I also feel an oppressive sadness.  It’s during this time of year when I can most vividly remember what it is like to be a child.  Remember the wonder of things growing, the simple joy of dirt and dying eggs and short sleeves.  I can remember it, but I can’t exactly feel it.  Not like I did then.  I watch my own children now, living their joy fully, doing everything a child is supposed to do.  It makes me smile, but I’m also reminded that someday, this will all be a memory for them as well.

So maybe April is cruel.  But, it does bring tulips as well, and how could a tulip ever be construed as cruel?

*from "Lines Written in Early Spring" by William Wordsworth