Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend Edition: Little Snippets

We had a lovely sunny weekend with predictions of falling temperatures and a winter storm today.  In  between taking advantage of the weather to do yard work and laundry (hung outside), I did a lot of cooking this weekend.  A little too much cooking, as by Sunday night I was completely exhausted.  
Each week after making bread, there is a bit of sourdough sponge left over.  Sometimes I just incorporate it into the bread dough and increase the size of the loaf, sometimes I make pancakes, and other times I make a cake.  I've been developing the cake recipe week by week, and I'll share once I think its consistently good.  Most weeks I've been flavoring it with orange zest, rosewater and cardamom, but this week I had no rosewater or oranges.  I experimented with apples and a vanilla glaze instead.  Its good, but I'm not sure that I really like apples in cake.  The sourdough has made for a nicely textured cake each week.  Its similar to pound cake, but with very little sugar or fat.  Just a third of a cup each.

Most of the exhaustive cooking on Sunday was the result of making lasagna the hard way--- with everything from scratch. None of it was hard, it just took forever.  (We used this recipe from Deborah Madison's The Greens Cookbook). The noodles, two sauces, and the ricotta.  Ricotta is ridiculously easy to make-- one gallon of milk mixed with a teaspoon (or two) of citric acid and a teaspoon of salt, brought to just below boiling at 195° F, at which point curds will start to form.  Let it sit in the pan for ten minutes, drain in cheese cloth-- seen above-- and then really drain by tying the cloth into a bag and hanging it for half an hour.  Voilá, ricotta, and you can use the whey, the liquid you've drained off for baking later.  I like how you can still see the texture of the cheese cloth in the picture above.  One gallon of milk resulted in about 2.5-3 cups of ricotta.
In between the cooking, I was reading this.  Super romantic story that is almost guaranteed to make you reevaluate the quality of any love letters you've ever received.  Todays' men(and women) with, their affinity for the text message, seem sorely lacking.  If you like a man (or a woman) who is good with the written word, this book is for you.
And, this afternoon, during the gloomy hours, I took advantage of being stuck inside to do a little beauty maintenance.  Good-bye grey roots.  I started dying my hair in college because I didn't like the way it turned red in the summer.  Sigh, if only I could have that hair back.  I think naturally auburn hair is awesome now.  Especially since you can't achieve it with hair dye without spending a fortune or having it look fake fake fake.  Now I can't stop because I have a shocking amount of grey hair.  This hair dye is kind of expensive, but its free of a lot of the bad things found in hair dye, an important fact since I'll be continuing to cover that grey for many years to come.

What did you make this weekend?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Culinary Chronicles: Oatmeal Crisps

These are very thin crunchy oatmeal cookies, sometimes called Oatmeal Lace cookies.  I far prefer them to the thick chewy raisin laden type of oatmeal cookies.   I'm pretty sure that I first copied this recipe down out of my Grandma Jan's recipe box when I was about 9 or 10.  At this point the recipe consists of no more than the list of ingredients below, and I just rely on memory to get the rest of it right.  There are no spices included in the ingredient list, but I did add some classic spice-cookie spices the last time I made them, and I think it was a pleasant addition.  Make your own call.

Oatmeal Crisps

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. sifted flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 cups quick oats
1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
*1 tsp or more cold water, as needed to keep dough sticky
[1/2 tsp. each of ginger and cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. cloves-- optional}

Cream butter and sugar together.  Beat in two eggs and vanilla.  In a separate bowl sift the flour, salt and baking soda together, along with the spices if you are using them.  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet.  Stir in the oats and nuts until well incorporated.   Scoop what seem like small balls of dough onto a cookie sheet with plenty of space in between each one, using a teaspoon sized measuring spoon, or a melon baller. The trickiest part of this recipe is making sure that the dough is moist enough so that the cookies spread out as thin as they are supposed to.  The dough should be pretty sticky, but the dollop should still hold its shape as it sits on the cookie sheet.  Bake at 350° F, for about 12 minutes.  You may have to test bake a few and adjust the moisture level as needed for the second round.  It's also helpful to have two cookie sheets for baking because the cookies need to cool for a couple of minutes on the sheet before you try to remove them due to their thinness.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Natural Selections

Emma over at The Marion House blog has a new feature where she's highlighting some of her treasured possessions.  This week she talked about her penchant for picking up rocks and shells and the like when she takes walks.  Since I've been short on time for posting the last few weeks, I thought that I'd show a couple of my own natural collections that are currently adorning my house.
Moss picked up in the mountains and kept alive under a makeshift terrarium, bleached out crawdad claw from the ditch, owl feather (I think) and two pieces of wood with circular woodpecker holes.

Set of rocks with water holes that form a mask.  Found up near Abiquiu on one of our annual Thanksgiving hikes.

Cow vertebrae.  Found in the Jemez on this trip.
(Ugh, that's a really great view of my floors which need refinishing like nobody's business.  They always look dirty, no matter if I just mopped them or not.  So frustrating!)

How about you?  What are your favorite souvenirs from nature?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Weekend Edition: Soup Making Machine

Last night I proved my ability to multi-task in the kitchen by simultaneously making this Pad Thai for dinner, this Andalusian Cabbage Stew and this Sweet Potato & Sausage Soup to eat throughout the work week, and my weekly loaf of sourdough bread.  The combo of it being dark when I finished and the aforementioned simultaneous dishes means that I don't have a photo of soup for my soup post. Oh well.  Enjoy these baked goods.
This week's sourdough and oatmeal crisps that I made on Saturday.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Little Things

Just some little things from around the house on a Sunday morning.  I've had these brown bear salt and pepper shakers for years, but this christmas I actually wanted to use them for the first time.  I bought them at an estate sale, I guess back when I lived in St. Paul since they are souvenirs from the Gunflint Trail, which runs from the shore of Lake Superior up into the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area in northern Minnesota.  Now faded and pretty much invisible in the photo below, unless you know it's there, someone wrote Aug '65 on each the bear's feet.  I lived in MN for six years, three each before and after college, and there were great estate sales there.  Estate sales in Albuquerque often suck.  Things are ridiculously overpriced and often not very nice to begin with.  While my style has changed a lot since those years in MN, some of the pieces, like these,  still appeal to me.  

 Yesterday I finally got around to melting the nubs of old candles out of their holders, one of those tedious chores that I always put off.  I ended up with enough wax to re-pour a new candle into this marmalade jar.  Its a cute little kitchen candle now.
In the process the tip of my index finger got coated in wax and I was able to remove it intact, leaving behind a little wax mold.  Its a little weird, but also cool.  Again, I like it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Culinary Chronicles: Oaxacan Black Bean Tamales

We made more tamales this morning.  This time they are filled with black beans flavored with Oaxacan pasilla chiles, garlic and hoja santa.  They were wrapped in banana leaves, but I'd already discarded them before bringing the plate to the table.  The filling was based on this recipe for tamales Miahuatecos from Zarela Martinez's cookbook The Food and Life of Oaxaca: Traditional Recipes from Mexico's Heart.  We didn't have any pumpkin to mix into the masa, so the sweet elements (brown sugar and canela [cinnamon])were excluded.  I love a mix of savory and sweet, so the next time I'd like to make the cinnamony pumpkin casings with the spicy black bean filling.  I know this sounds weird, my mom wrinkled her nose at the idea, but I might top one of these with Trader Joes seasonal pumpkin ice cream that's currently in my freezer.  Anyone a fan of sweet tamales?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inspiration: Los Angeles' Union Station

My trip to California in early December was a bit of an adventure thanks to the fact that I decided to take the train.  The trip from Albuquerque to Los Angeles mostly takes place overnight, and in the winter was primarily dark, so the potentially beautiful scenery was non-existent.   On the trip back I was also sick, which influenced the experience negatively.  Nonetheless, there was one really great reason to travel by train-- arriving at Los Angeles' Union Station.  Gorgeous.

 After being on the cramped train all night it was such a relief to step out into this central courtyard.
The station was completed in 1939, and it's sort of California Mission Style/Deco.  The stone and tile work is really cool.

This is the main entrance hall.  Behind me is the waiting room, to the left would be the central courtyard to to the right is the old ticket hall.  I tried to capture the scale of the place, but I don't find any of these photos to be very good at that.  This video might be better.
 This was one of the side courtyards.  It was so pretty and peaceful.

This window was off the ticket hall... I assumed that those bells might have wrung to announce imminent arrivals and departures?  Or maybe they were just a reference to the old mission bells.
Wave tiles surrounding the courtyard fountain.
The old ticket hall.  Currently closed off to the public.  The big chandeliers sort of mess with your perception of scale, but use those wooden doors at left for an idea of how big the space is.
The old restaurant, also closed to the public.  I had to take these through the glass doors, and as a result the copper details really didn't translate well.  I love the Native American floor pattern expressed in terrazzo.
This water fountain was right outside the restaurant.  A couple of guys looked askance at me when I photographed it, but I was amazed that it remains intact.  Stay away vandals!
This is a view from my seat in the waiting room.  The old chairs are huge.  The doors to the courtyards were open, and birds kept flying in and seemed to be making nests in the chandeliers.

The station services Amtrak and commuter rail in LA.  If I lived there I'd want to commute through here every day.

Fashion Inspiration: Office Work

With the new year have come some changes for me already, going back to work (part-time) in an office.  This is a good thing for my pocketbook but I've had mixed feelings about my chosen profession over the past couple years, so its not without some trepidation that I'm doing it.  In order to get myself a little more excited about the prospect I've been thinking about workplace fashion.   Since I haven't been back at work long enough to get my first paycheck, I've just been using polyvore to virtually put together outfits.  This is what I'd like to be wearing to work.

Culinary Chronicles: Chorizo, Wild Mustard Greens and Potato Tamalés

We actually made these tamales on New Year's Day, a little late by New Mexico standards, where many families make and eat tamales on Christmas Eve.  We like to make them over the holidays and freeze them so that we can eat them on Sundays along with atole, remembering our favorite tradition from one of our joint trips to Mexico City.  In the neighborhood we were staying in there was this stand that would pop up outside the local church on Sunday that sold dozens of varieties of tamales and atoles.  Yum, so delicious.

This year we had chorizo on hand, but not a lot, so I came up with the potato and greens combination.  Its tasty.  We also made the same version of pork in red molé wrapped in banana leaves that I chronicled last year.

Culinary Chronicles: Bread

This week's sourdough.  I usually like to make it half white and half whole wheat because I think it improves the flavor, but I was out of whole wheat flour.  I also got distracted yesterday by hosting a brunch for friends and then rescuing a very scared puppy from the street outside our fence, and I totally forgot about my bread dough.  It rose for a long time as a result, and I had to refrigerate it overnight for it's final rise because it was getting too late to bake it.  I think it rose better than most of the recent loaves.  Don't know if it was the overnight refrigeration, or the fact that I baked it on this pizza stone instead of in a dutch oven.  It's a constant experiment, and this morning I got to enjoy that still warm piece for breakfast.

Inspiration: Newly discovered Chicago Photographer

Wow, this story inspired me.  A young Chicago realtor buys a box of old negatives from an abandoned storage locker auction and discovers the work of a Chicago nanny, Vivian Maier,  who took street photos for decades on her Sundays off.  Discovered via landscape designer Deborah Silver's blog, Dirt Simple.  John Maloof, who discovered the negatives, has a blog dedicated to Vivian Maier here, where there are many more of her photos.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Resolutions for 2011

Last year's Valentine's cards.
1. Utilize my hands more.  Doodle more, write by hand, craft things, play frisbee with my dog*.  Part of what I do professionally is to illustrate things digitally, and I like doing it, but it's not all I want to do.  I heard this interview with Linda Barry on NPR back in November, talking about how writing by hand and doodling can calm you, keep writers block at bay and inspire further creativity.  I need all of those things, so I'm going to try to utilize my hands this year.  *My dog Gert is nine.  She's super smart and has a lot of energy, but so far I can't get her interested in the frisbee, and I fear she might be a little old for all that jumping since lately she's limping a little more often.  Still I'm trying to find a more interactive way for the two of us to hang out because she's less active now that she lost her dog companion.

2. Yoga.  For the past three years I've been doing yoga with various degrees of regularity.  I was doing yoga at home each weekday and a class once a week until April, when I went on vacation and fell off the wagon.  Now that they finally are offering yoga classes at the Community Center near my house, I'm totally getting back on board.  

3. Eat Less Meat.  I shop consciously to buy mostly organic foods, hormone-free meats, free-range eggs, and as many local products as possible.  (I've even been using local shampoo, conditioner and SPF moisturizer for the last couple of years, which is one of the hardest "buy local" categories to fulfill in my opinion, but that's probably a whole other post).  I'm sure I already eat less meat than many Americans, but I'd like to cut back more.  I don't have strong ethical reasons,  this is probably just a reaction to all the rich foods over the holidays and winter comfort foods, but I'm in the mood to simplify my diet a little.  A few years ago I did a two week cleanse diet that allowed you to eat real food (instead of just juice and raw veggies), but it was essentially all vegan, sugar and gluten-free.  It required tremendous will power and preparation each day, especially since I was working full time while doing it and needed to take enough food with me each day to fight off the temptations of lunch out with clients, or a quick coffee break with friends.  I'd never become a vegan full time for many reasons, but I have to admit, I felt really great for those two weeks.  My moderate idea for recreating some sense of that time is to go vegetarian for a while, or at least for most days of each week.  These are a couple of the vegetarian recipes that I've found lately that I want to try.  Garbanzo Bean and Roasted Eggplant Soup and Sikil Pak (Mexican Pumpkin Seed Dip).
Huge thistle along the road in the Jemez.
4. Explore more.  I think I did pretty well exploring new things in 2010, and it was fun.  I finally went to Mesa Verde, I visited to Palm Desert for the first time, I started a quest to find the best eclairs in the state, I tried my hand at tailoring vintage clothes, I stopped straightening my hair and let it be curly, I took the Amtrak train to Los Angeles and marveled at Union Station.

Meanwhile, how'd I do with last years resolutions?  My resolutions last year were all culinary, I wanted to learn to make a mean pie crust, make English Muffins, Bagels and Croissants.  I did pretty well since the only one I did not attempt was making English Muffins.  I did start making sourdough bread, which I'm accepting as a substitute.  Having a starter now, I'll just update that resolution a little and say that in 2011 I want to make sourdough English Muffins.
Croissants pre-oven.
Croissants post-oven with coffee.