Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Book Report: Prodigal Summer

When I was a child, I would stay up until all hours of the night reading by the nightlight I convinced my parents I still needed at ten or the flashlight I hid in my pillowcase (under the pillow being too obvious). As quickly as I devoured books, I remember the loneliness I felt when I finished one and the feeling that I couldn't go to sleep until I had read at least a few pages of a new book. As a grown-up, I still stay up too late reading from time to time, but I hadn't thought much about that peculiar sadness that comes from finishing a book you loved until I finished Prodigal Summer.

This was the first Barbara Kingsolver book that I read, despite many recommendations and I now completely understand why do many of my smart, strong, female, scientist friends loved this novel full of smart, strong, female scientists. The story covers a brief period of time but the characters have rich back-stories that unfold as the story progresses. I found the characters' world-views instantly relatable and enjoyed the way the several disparate stories wove together and set each other off.

The book really did have the feel of summer, slow but fulfilling. Like lying on a soft bed with the windows open as a warm breeze stirs the curtains- doing nothing but feeling utterly contented.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feeding Friendship: Spanish Tortilla

To help Veronica use up her eggs, I submit the tortilla.  A Spanish dish traditionally made with just onions, potatoes, and eggs that I've gussied up a bit.  From what I can tell, it is frequently used to sop up any residual booze late in the evening.  We had it for a sober dinner.

First, I strongly recommend that you make sure all of your potatoes and onions fit in your cast iron skillet before you start cooking.  You want your tortilla to be nice and thick, but not to overflow the pan.  I looked at quite a few recipes that call for a quarter to a third of a cup of oil to cook the potatoes and onions.  I used about 2 tablespoons and thought it was fine.  I also browned my potatoes more than is traditional, but I liked the flavor and texture.

I decided to add some additional ingredients which I layered in with the potatoes.  To keep things Spanish (and delicious), I used dry chorizo, roasted piquillo peppers, and manchego cheese.  The only hard part of this whole recipe is the flip.  As the tortilla cooks, run a spatula around the edge and as far underneath as possible.  Once it is nearly set in the middle, loosen it really really well and slide onto a plate.  Flip the pan on top and then invert to finish cooking.

Serves: 4-6

5 yukon gold potatoes
1 small yellow onion
4 eggs
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 oz. Spanish chorizo, sliced and roughly chopped
6 oz. Manchego cheese, shredded
10 oz jar piquillo peppers, diced

1. Thinly slice the potatoes and onions.  Using 2 tbsp of oil, cook over medium heat until the potatoes are soft and lightly browned.  Remove from pan.
2. Cook the chorizo until slightly crisp.  Remove from pan.
3. Add the remaining 1 tbsp oil to the pan and layer 1/3 of the potatoes to cover the bottom.  Spread half of each of chorizo, cheese, and peppers over the potatoes.
4. Beat eggs with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the remaining potatoes and onions in the egg mixture then layer half into the pan.
5. Repeat layer of chorizo/cheese/peppers and potatoes.  Pour remaining eggs over the top and jiggle to work the eggs down through the potatoes.
6. Cook over medium heat until just set in middle (7-10 minutes).  Flip tortilla and cook 2-5 minutes more.
7. Delicious hot, but leftovers are great at room temp for lunch the next day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


A few weeks ago, an unexpected package arrived on our front porch. When my grandma came to visit us in August, we ate at a wonderful little empanada restaurant near us which inspired her to send me this adorable set of empanada makers and a cookbook full of delicious-looking recipes for pocket pies from all over the world.  I'd been thinking about making samosas for a while, but the filling and crimping was deterring me.  Problem solved. I was a little skeptical about them staying closed, but it was no problem at all.

How cute is that little tiny one? The opening is about the size of a quarter.
 I diverged in many, many ways from a proper samosa, but the root - veggies flavored with ginger, garam masala, and cilantro - was still intact.  Rather than making the thinner wrapper common for samosas, I used a naan-inspired dough recipe from the book which resulted in a chewy and crispy crust.  So good!

For the filling, I decided to skip the potatoes (I was already frying them, after all) in favor of cauliflower.  Since I only wanted a small amount each of cauliflower, carrots, and peas, I found a frozen mix.  Thawing and chopping took less time that softening the onions, garlic, ginger, and garam masala in just a bit of oil.  I tossed in the vegetables and when everything was tender-crisp, I pulled it off the heat and stirred in a dollop of yogurt to add some body to the filling.  I think the starch from the potato would have served that purpose.

The back of the cutters can be used to cut out the perfect-sized disk of dough.  A bit of egg wash around the edge made sure that the seal was solid before the samosa was dropped into 350 degree oil until golden brown.  You could certainly bake these, I just happened to have a pot of oil from the doughnuts I made earlier in the day.  Once drained and cooled slightly (seriously, resist, they are lava inside) they were delicious with mango chutney and a salad.

Monday, November 21, 2011

IKEA Hack: Fjellse Trundle Bed

This is probably the thing I made recently that I am most proud of (thus the many photos).  I had been searching for a trundle for a while.  Our second bedroom was an office and music studio already so there wasn't much room for a guest bed.  Unfortunately, it was $500 for anything that didn't look like it was going to fall apart the first time that someone slept on it.  So what's a girl on a budget to do?  Make one yourself, obviously.

IKEA run!!!!!!!!!!!!  You will need two Fjellse twin beds and two sets of Sultan Lade twin bed slats (plus whatever else you convince yourself you "need" at IKEA).

Get your mom to help you assemble both headboards.  Get my mom if you can - she's awesome at this stuff.  The Fjellse beds are low to the ground so to make room for the trundle underneath the main bed, the crosspieces need to attach higher on the headboards.

My very clever mom suggested that we use the available holes to make a template in a piece of paper (the instructions).  Align the template for the bottom hole with top hole on the hadboard and drill two new holes (for a total of 5 holes).  Then attach the bed rails to the two headboards using the top three holes.  The fit of my trundle is really tight so you may want to attach the bed rails a bit higher if your mattress is plush.

Put the slats in and take a break - the hard part is over........................................................okay, back to work.

Cut two inches off of each of the remaining long bed rails.  Flip them over and screw in the cross pieces that belong to the foot boards.  Position then about a third of the way in from either end.  Rather than adding wheels, we found four of these felt sliders.  They are self-adhesive and also cover the screws so they don't gauge the floor.

Flip the trundle right-side up and attach two handles to the trundle then go ahead and add the slats. We screwed in the two end slats as well for extra support. Put the mattresses on and slide the trundle underneath the daybed.

Your trundle is complete.  You can leave it like this if you want, all clean lines and simplicity.  But I was hoping to make this into a comfortable spot to curl up with a book on a lazy weekend afternoon (which never seems to materialize).

Getting that comfy upholstered look starts with - duh - upholstery foam.  This piece was about 1" thick.  We wrapped it around each end and secured it with heavy-duty thread in several places.  Then we made slipcovers for each end out of royal blue duck cloth.

This is my intense sewing face (except I'm mostly laughing).  The exact dimensions are going to depend on how thick your foam is.  We put in a gusset but you could go even simpler and just run a seam up each side. The slip cover should be snug and compress the foam slightly.

Upholstering made a huge difference.  Geoff does all his class reading there, when the cat hasn't already claimed it.  And the best part is that when we move in a few years, it will all come back apart into small, easy to pack pieces.  I was a bit concerned at first because the spartan frame looked a little flimsy, but this thing is so sturdy.  I LOVE IT!!!

  • 2 Fjellse twin beds: 2 x $40 = $80
  • 2 Sultan Lade slatted bed base: 2 x $10 = $20
  • 2 matresses (with Groupon): $110
  • 1 yard 60" wide duck cloth: $10
  • 1" x 60" x 36" piece of foam: $25
  • Super Sliders: $5
  • Total: $250

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pumpkin Doughnuts

So I don't know if I mentioned that in preparation for the pumpkin Feeding Friendship, I bought four cans of pumpkin.  You see, I was deeply scarred by the 2009 pumpkin shortage so the urge to horde just kicked in.  When I found this recipe for pumpkin old fashion doughnuts at Not So Humble Pie, I knew where that second can of pumpkin was going.

I made the dough the night before and cut it out in the morning.  I realized that my large round cutter was terribly misshapen and I don't even own a small enough cutter for the holes.  No problem, I used a drinking glass and a narrow shot glass with great results.  I love doughnut holes so I ended up with 14 doughnuts and 21 doughnut holes by cutting out extras wherever there was space in the dough.

It's really important to get everything set up ahead of time and do the frying, draining, glazing and cooling within reach so that you can be right on top of your fry oil.  Do your best to keep the oil as close to 325 as possible.  The doughnuts that were cooked without letting the oil temp rebound were denser (but still delicious - don't get me wrong).

When you first drop the doughnuts in the oil, they will sink.  Don't panic. They'll pop back up to the top after about 20 seconds.  You'll flip them twice and then drain them on paper towels.  I found the easiest way to turn them without splashing hot oil around is to use chop sticks.  One set for the oil and one for the glaze.  These are pretty involved, but worth it for the freshest doughnuts you'll ever eat!  They make a wonderful snack alongside some mulled cider.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Foto Friday {32}

Saturday November 12: Too early for Christmas Trees!
Sunday November 13: Collage for Geoff
Monday November 14: Spin Class!
Tuesday November 15: Home erectus contemplates
Wednesday November 16: Luxurious Sweater coming!
Thursday November 17: Cute clementines!
Friday November 18: Yummy wine and Masterpiece Classics

Saturday, November 12, 2011

October Book Report: Remarkable Creatures

I'm turning in my October book report late, can I still get partial credit? On my trip to Montreal, I read Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier and I loved it! My friend Kris recommended it as part of her ongoing science book club. When I stumbled across it at my work library while I was waiting for a meeting, I figured it was fate.

I read Tracy Chevalier's earlier novel The Girl with the Pearl Earring in a single night several years ago (although I never saw the movie because Colin Firth's mustache is just too creepy).  I enjoyed this just as much, although I read it at a somewhat more leisurely pace.  The story is inspired by two real women who were fossil hunters along English bluffs in the Victorian era.  You can read a bit about Mary Anning on Wikipedia.  The novel touches on questions of science and religion, the value of hands on experience vs. academic expertise, as well as class and gender in science and society.  All of these are certainly questions that are relevant today as they were in Victorian era, but the novel avoids getting weighed down with these issues.

I'm a big fan of historical fiction with modern implications and this is a great read if you are all interested in historical novels and/or science.  For those familiar with the history of evolutionary theory, it is fun to see names like Cuvier turn up in the plot.  Now I want to go to the British Museum of Natural History and see the ichthyosaur Mary finds in the novel.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Foto Friday {31}

Saturday November 5: First Dance
Sunday November 6: Happy Hour
Monday November 7: Banh Mi!
Tuesday November 8: Moon rising on my way home from work
Wednesday November 9: Failed at giving blood :(
Thursday November 10: Too early for gingerbread?
Friday November 11: Finally chilly enough to need my (fingerless) gloves

Feeding Friendship: Gingerbread

I love how Sarah always picks such versatile ingredients, but sometimes it leads to too many options.  The first thing that I tried was an extra gingery marinade for banh mi.  Then I thought about making ginger bubble tea, but I couldn't find the right tapioca pearls or big enough straw.  Through all that, I couldn't get the idea of making gingerbread of out my head.  Specifically, this gingerbread.  The chilly (60 degree) weather has me craving warm and spicy things.

Plus, as much as I love my Kitchenaid mixer, I do adore a simple loaf cake that comes together without it.  Just mix up your dry ingredient with the spices (ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon - the foundations of all great fall and winter baking), mix in the wet and bake.  The only additional step is to first boil the molasses with the beer.  Perhaps to help the molasses dissolve? I'm not convinced it does anything, so feel free to skip it.  For the beer, I used Coffee Porter from local Real Ale Brewing Company.  The remaining 4 oz of beer was quite tasty.  So tasty, I wasn't paying attention when the pan boiled over (don't be like me).  I also subbed in my vanilla-bean infused brown sugar for the regular brown sugar.

I decided to use fresh ginger instead of powdered so I doubled the amount called for.  My favorite ginger trick is to put it in the freezer, even if you are going to use it soon.  You can grate it straight from frozen without any of those pesky strings, just nice light powder like you see in the photo above.  The ginger flavor came through the molasses to give just the right bite.  As good as it was straight from the oven, the dense gingerbread was AMAZING the next day (okay, for breakfast) toasted with a tiny bit of butter.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Foto Friday {30}

Saturday October 29: Persimmons
Sunday October 30: Fresia Bush Smells Amazing!!
Monday October 31: Happy Halloween
Tuesday November 1: Meal Planning
Wednesday November 2: Chili for the Cold Front
Thursday November 3: Too Much Smoothie
Friday November 4: Leaving Work
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