Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Back in the Kitchen, with the Cake as Big as a Football Field

This month the Bite Club selection is Melissa Clark, whom I've often heard on WNYC talking at such speed that I rarely get more than a word here and there.  But her books are entertaining and very conversational in tone, and today I took a shot at a recipe from Cook This Now.  This was for a figgy demerara snacking cake.

Except I don't have fresh figs, nobody does in this region right now, and I didn't have brandy, which she puts in her baking.  So I used black plums, quartered and pitted, and subbed the brandy with merlot, figuring that if she's after an alcohol touch, that should work. And I didn't have demerara sugar for sprinkling over the top, so I used ordinary granulated.

And I had to buy a new baking pan to accommodate this giant cake, which she explains is so big because you can't reduce the recipe without ruining it.  Because -- one egg! etc.

Her instructions say, after making the batter, to nestle the fruit on top all over it.  And as I was nestling away, I realized I was making a giant version of Marion Burros plum torte...oh. I make hers in August using prune plums, but other than that, not a lot of difference.

Except that I actually like this one better, grainy with wholewheat flour, and at 18 x 13, enough cake for the foreseeable future, which suits me fine, needing a little something when I'm home in the afternoon for tea.  I did feel as if I were cooking for a summer camp, though. But I'm glad to have the new baking pan, since my old ones are not quite up to the task after decades of use.

I'm listening to The Big Short, about the financial prime mortgage collapse and what led up to it, very good stuff to bake by, even if I did get a bit lost in the financial technicalities, but since I remember it all coming down, it in fact worked fine for me, explaining a lot of what was mysterious when it was in the news. 

And when you're hearing about the blind greed verging on lunacy that brought about the housing finance collapse, it's good to be grounded and baking and generally doing something sane and part of civilized life, and with a desirable result.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter Sunday if you celebrate it. Happy Sunday if you don't!

Since the Dollivers had their big outing last week to the artist event, a mini revolt took place back on the bookcase.  Frilly Bear whined that she's never had a starring role, Greensleeves said she hadn't had enough pix, and Victorian Doll just looked hurt and put upon, despite her lovingly handknit outfit.

So they got to be the Stewards of the Eggs this year, and wish you all a happy Easter and a good Spring.  

This year's eggs are the bronze, gold and turquoise ones, yet to be distributed.  And you see the tiny painted eggs in the miniature teacup? from my long ago cockatiel Emily Hope.  And various other kitty and eggy items all with histories, sitting in an antique New Jersey spongeware dish. And you can see the White Rabbit, back to the camera, issuing instructions for his forthcoming role when the month turns again.  I wonder if he's hiring Frilly Bear for the heavy lifting?

They also took care of the miniature chocolate bunnies, which won't last long today.

Now it's off to the kitchen to finish the Easter lunch menu, part of which Handsome Son will supply, such as hors d'oeuvres and dessert.  Chocolate will feature in the latter, I expect.

Main event is ham with pineapple and with cherry sauce and mustard, scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables.  Nice bottle of Prosecco brut. And I have to find the tablecloths and napkins and cheese board and knife, and various other festive items.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Dollivers Report on Their Residency this Afternoon

My dears, we are EXHAUSTED.  Such a long afternoon, so many admirers, we can't tell you.  It was Week Four of the Artist in Residence series at the library, Boud's series on the textile arts.  And of course we were the stars. We were dressed in knitted outfits, Boud needing to show them to the people who came to see us.  

And we brought along a lot of our knitted wardrobe, see it there next to our traveling hatbox, so people wouldn't think we were one-outfit yarn people.  We were introduced to our admirers, by name, and they were suitably impressed, we think.

We brought the Dolliver Kennels dogs, too, and it's too bad we don't do autographs, because we could have been signing and signing...

Boud of course, was messing about doing unrelated things like spinning to show people, and showing knitted art and crocheted art, and talking about the history of textiles and the physics of spinning, and who knows what else.  But we must say that our traveling hatbox made a great viewing area for us to observe the passing crowds.  We think it should have been nearer the front, but if you want a thing done right, do it yourself, and we let Boud set this up.

A couple of people decided they should check this blog to see our adventures, what Boud calls, rudely, exploits.  And we did observe library etiquette and omit Elton and the musical accompaniment, though we did think it wouldn't have hurt to have a bit of Ruffles and Flourishes when we arrived.  Considering we were the Main Event of the Day.

Nice glass of wine now, we think.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Dollivers Plan a Big Day Out

The Dollivers are coming along to the Artist in Residence afternoon tomorrow -- local people please do come! 2-4 at Plainsboro Libe.   The subject is yarn arts this week, and a friend, thank you Margaret, pointed out that they are actually yarn artworks.  I forget they are knitted by me, tend to think of them in character all the time.  So anyway, they're coming and bringing the Dolliver Kennels with them.

Along with actual artworks, that is, which will be exhibited in June.  Right now, this is how the gear for tomorrow looks:

Stay tuned for more pix tomorrow once they get out of the box, the hatbox, that is, and strut their stuff.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Demise of the wild cherry friend, partly

You know the wild cherry I've been looking out for and thanking for many years, food for birds and squirrels, shelter for them and shade for humans on the patio?  It grows on both sides of the fence, having been planted by birds long ago, and has flourished, only needing to be trimmed back a little off the roof now and then.

The next door neighbors, on whose patio the other half of the tree grew quite happily, moved out several months ago, leaving the place empty while they look for a tenant.

Then a few days ago, I woke to the sound of a chainsaw.  And ran to the window, in time to see the other half of our beautiful tree falling down, cut up and thrown into the trees out back.  Neighbor came to the door to explain they couldn't be bothered to trim it, and what if it fell on a tenant and they sued, and so they had decided, without consulting anyone affected, to chop it down.

So here's the sky where masses of foliage used to be.

 And here's the new blossom from my cherry bushes, on my side of the fence  planted years ago, coming through faithfully for me.

And here's the sad little stump, remains of the wild cherry  next door.And the blossoms from my bushes showing through the fence.

It all seems even more poignant since the Brussels attacks yesterday, and a lesson that life has to go on, even after ugly and stupid actions seem to say the opposite.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

DIY and spinning

I seem to have written a blogpost that belongs in both blogs, so I'm putting a link in Beautiful Metaphor to bring people over here, so as not to miss this enthralling adventure. 

 Today's DIY was the result of resuming spindle spinning again, with a view to including it in the Artist in Residence series I'm presenting at the local libe, on textile arts.

I had to review how to spin, first, then how to set the twist, which I did by hanking the yarn over thumb and shoulder, the old fashioned way, then removing it from my arm, and fastening it in sections, while  attempting to stop it from tangling in itself before I got it soaked.  

I was out of practice, owing to not being able to do this for a while, on account of the arm and shoulder issues.  But now I can do it for a while anyway.  Here's the second try at spinning, a bit more fluid movement now, it's getting there

And here's the first sample of yarn, hanging to dry on a doorknob. Note the weight I'm using, handiest thing at the time, and the string fastening the yarn securely so it doesn't get away

 I had dyed this merino roving partially with Koolaid ages ago, to give a kind of stripey effect.

The better solution, I realized, and here's where Field and Fen comes into its own,was to use a niddynoddy, which is a thing you string the yarn on, among other purposes, in order to soak it to set the twist.  The nn holds the yarn steady, then you slip it off to dry it using a weight to hold it as it hangs from whatever you put it on.

But I didn't have a niddynoddy.  So I checked out a few sources for a diy for a cheap nn, and came up with this:

Parts and tools

One piece of half inch pvc piping, four end caps, two t joins.  Total cost a little over $5, and a few minutes sawing with a little handsaw.  See shopping list and bill. Happy to give a shout out to my local Ace hardware store

Since the pvc piping comes in ten foot lengths, too long to transport legally in my car, the man obligingly made the first cut for me -- the whole nn only uses 40 inches of half inch pipe.  So I only had three more cut to make at home to complete the deal, no tools other than a saw needed and another leftover 80 inch length in my storage place for future use


It's adjustable, so it can be turned at right angles for hanking, as shown here, or made flat for soaking.  The end caps can come off, and let the yarn slide off when ready.

Very good stuff, all in all.  About an hour's work, including the trip to the hardware store and an interesting discussion with the man there about why you can't use pvc for plumbing in high rise buildings.  It's the pressure.  When I explained that wouldn't be my plan, my pressures being different ones, he allowed as how I was getting the right stuff for my purposes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Faux finishing, now it's furniture

After painting some frames, described over here
I was musing about  doing a similar faux finish on a scraped bedside table.  This was a nicely finished piece, which, in the course of furniture moving done for me by eager, generous and inexperienced friends while I was in the hospital undergoing sudden large surgery, was gouged by a lousy piece of metal stuff.  Really ruined its complexion.

Not that I was in a mad rush to fix it, the move having happened two moves, and about twenty years, ago.  Anyway, this morning about ten o'clock I decided to just do it, selected a bronze acrylic liquid paint, a saucer and a sponge brush. Removed the items from the table, arousing great suspicion in the cats.  What is she DOING with our table that we run about on at night when she's asleep?

They decided to continue their investigations under cover, as you see here. The mountain ranges are the spies getting into position.

And by ten twenty (old joke about that, which I won't repeat here), here's the finished top.  

You might call this a teabreak DIY, since that's about how long it took.  And as usual it cost zero, really, the studio supplying the materials, and it took about two teaspoonsful of paint.  The effect is of a metal top on a wooden table. Nice.

Upcycling rules!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dollivers serve lunch, Pi Day preview 6WS

Although the Dollivers declined to get into chefs' whites, and hung on to their posh red dresses, they declared they are tired of not getting the credit for these exciting weekly lunch events, and thought it was time to sit down and take a stand.

The spatula is the badge of office
So here they are presenting today's menu:  clam chowder, zucchini baked fritters, roast pork sausage, followed by the Pi Day preview: a mixed berry and apple crumble.  The food seen here before baking, since after baking, too much eating going on to take pix in time.

Pi Day, 3.14, coming on Monday, they thought to get ahead of things and present the crumble, nearest thing to a pie that happens around here, before the clocks change and confuse everyone.  

It was a pretty good crumble, too, the fruit macerated and the juice reduced and added back in.  The topping is a mix of oatmeal and whole wheat flour. The berries colored the apples a deep and lovely red, and as you see, the cook took the privilege of sampling it ahead of time.

And of announcing that there are enough zucchini fritters now in the freezer to bring out for several days, along with the last of the chutney.  The sausages are a rare viewing, but they were pretty good.  I rarely eat anything as processed as that, but everything in moderation, including moderation.

And soon we'll reach the last of the zucchini.  This usually happens -- still using last year's farmshare when the markets open up again in May. Still bell peppers and green beans to go through.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Spring on the Marsh

Today I had to put in a bit of time waiting for the chimney sweep, so I made the most of the afternoon, stitched up the final part of an artwork, then after the sweep had been and gone, walked out in a different area, behind the condo, which is not where I live.

See the milkweed in the foreground, monarch butterfly food. They're having a resurgence this year so we may see more than the one or two monarchs we had around last year.

Beautiful warm early spring day, though we're all gloomily remembering Aprils when we had blizzards, but still, hearing the redwing blackbirds shouting in the phragmites grass, and the other songbirds zooming around, was enough to take your mind off winter.  The water is very high from recent rains, and there were quite a few ducks as well as the all too present Canada geese.

I kept a respectful distance -- nesting season, and they take no prisoners if they're setting up house.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Family lunch, good food, good company 6WS

Today we had a great menu and a great chat, good time.

Here's the evening before's makings of the chicken:  four thighs, skinned and boned, and pounded flat in a plastic bag, I love hitting stuff, and in the background the parmesan cheese, egg, and cooked chestnut, foreground the mushrooms with onion and garlic. The rest of the cooking happened this morning.All the stuffing ingredients mixed thoroughly, then the thighs rolled up over a spoonful or two, and the rest spooned over the chicken to roast.

So today the menu for lunch was tendli and broccoli soup, with wholewheat toast, then chicken thighs stuffed with mushrooms, fresh grated parmesan cheese and the last of the chestnuts, yay, with roasted sweet and white potatoes cut into fries.  Nice glass of red wine and homemade lemonade. Ketchup and homemade date and tamarind chutney.

 Here's the cast of characters before the chicken and vegetables were roasted. Soup is thawing, and the stuffed figs just sitting.
The roasted vegs were tossed in olive oil with black mustard seeds, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and a pinch of that spice mix from Ottolenghi whose name always escapes me.  Stove at 400F, potatoes in for about 40 minutes, chicken in for about 30.

Lunch is served, or will be as soon as it's carried through


Lunch table ready for onslaught.  Soup's done, main course about to happen.

Dessert was twofold, figs stuffed with yogurt cheese (lot of stuffing happening this week) and homebaked shortbread donated by Handsome Son, himself a pretty good baker and cook. Fresh figs are a very short season, in September, so I buy the dried kind and steep them in boiling water for a while, to make them juicy and edible.

The bonus is that I have a couple meals leftover to use for myself in the next few days. 

Yogurt cheese is great to use where you might use cream cheese, and more interesting to my taste.  You just strain plain yogurt through cheese cloth or a linen napkin, in a strainer set on a bowl, and what remains in the cheesecloth after it's been in the fridge overnight, is the cheese, which you roll off the fabric and into a container.  The whey caught in the bowl underneath, is good to use in soup, very tangy.

The roasted vegs were tossed in olive oil with black mustard seeds, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and a pinch of that spice mix from Ottolenghi whose name always escapes me. 

These rather elaborate meals have become great fun for me, and a good getting together time for our family of two, both cooks.  When the farm markets open, we'll have to move the time and day to let me shop.  But for the moment, it seems to be working well.

I like very much the challenge of coming up with a new three course menu every week, bearing in mind what we both like (except that Handsome Son loves meat, and I don't).  

It might have been a good idea to write the menus down, but I never bothered with it, seems a bit formal, like taking notes in the art studio, I don't do that either. 

One tip I gave myself yesterday, when it came upon me like a blinding flash: my freezer is made of metal.  This means I can attach notes to the lid with a magnet.  This means that the current recipe can be attached, and the list of what's on the menu with it. No idea why I never thought of this before, but some of us are a bit slow on the uptake. But it beats scrambling about in search of the bit of paper I made the notes on that the cat played with.

The other food related event I enjoy is to have a friend come to tea, every few weeks, let's not get carried away here.  Then I can bake a little something, but the main event is the talking. Very low key, just a nice cup of tea between friends. Tricky when she, it's usually she, can't do caffeine or gluten, since afternoon tea consists pretty much of that, but we can deal if we have to. And it seems to be well received. As long as the guest can deal with cats.  They're nice cats, but allergies don't respect that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tendli soup makings and art gets involved, surprise.

I am getting down to the end of last year's vegetables from the farmshare, yay.  And today I made  soup from tendli, which is not from the farm, it's an Indian vegetable, given by my friend the great Indian cook.  She usually gives me little dishes of this, highly spiced, as a side dish.  

Once I had got the hang of the name (there are several depending on what part of India the speaker is from, and the spelling varies wildly since it's just transliterated into English).  The English name is ivy gourd, which does not sound like food.  It's a tiny little cucumberish sort of vegetable, tastes a little like cucumber, and you top and tail and slice it to get working on it.

She gave me a bag of fresh tendli, since I was interested in trying my hand at cooking it, and today I embarked on it.  I wanted a nice green spring-like soup, and the raw tendli with the remains of the broccoli and a handful of watercress, the two latter from the freezer from last year, seemed a good idea.  

Onion skins in the foreground, dish of spicy tendli with raw behind there and onions

I added in the dish of her highly spiced cooked tendli, seen above, as part of the seasoning.  About a tablespoonful of diced fresh ginger (well, from the freezer, I prep and freeze), and another of lemon zest.  Started with an onion and garlic in olive oil, and toasted some cumin seeds in there, too, with curry leaves, coarse salt and black pepper.  And, in case she wants to sample it, I used water rather than chicken stock, she being a religious vegetarian.  She knows she can trust that I will not slip in anything she doesn't know about.

It came out well, but a little too peppery for my taste.  I like spicy, but it has to have flavor under it, too.  So I added in a big blurt of lemon juice, and then thickened  with a shake or two of potato flakes. Between them they tamed the heat and gave a bit more texture.  Might serve this with some plain yogurt dropped on top, too.

And the art got in there since I had a new bag of  Spanish onions, and kept the outer skins for natural dyeing.  It makes a lovely yellow, soft color, and soon I'll be dyeing again.  The rest of the onions, cut once across the equator, went into the freezer.  

I was reminded to keep the skins when I dived into the freezer to get the broccoli and realized I was getting down to the layer of dye containers I put up last summer.  All labeled in case anxious readers wonder if I might end up cooking with them.  Most of them are safe anyway, but it would be a waste to eat them after all the trouble I took!