Saturday, June 30, 2012

June in Instagram

Geoff and his sister, Zoia 

Geoff and his brother, Drago

 Crape Myrtle are blooming like crazy all over town.

Captured: Bathroom Gecko

It's hot, everyone needs a popsicle.

There is something sort of poetic about how hard it is to take a picture of a rainbow.

 When Geoff and I first started dating, we played hours and hours of You Don't Know Jack.

Love is sharing the keyboard.

I'm trying not to get too ambitious with gardening this year.

King of the Wild Front-beer (I crack me up).

Salted Caramel Rice Krispie Treats: 
4 tbsp butter + 7oz Marshmallow fluff + 2 cups Milk Maid Caramels + 5 cups Rice Krispies + Sprinkling of Sea Salt
= Delicious Road Trip Snack

The End!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Everything's Ellipses

When I decided to add learning to draw to my 30x30 list, I should have anticipated that I would have to show you all my works in progress.  And those works are rough, so please be kind.  I'm using the Line by Line series from the New York Times blog a few years ago, and the first lesson was learning to draw ellipses using a quick and fluid movement.  I filled a page with uneven ellipses and thought about giving up.

But I wasn't about to let a flattened circle beat me.  I pressed on to lesson two, drawing cylindrical objects - glasses, markers, nail polish, and tubes of paint. They aren't all perfectly to scale, but the directions helped me to understand the influence of perspective on objects and I managed to draw a few, fairly recognizable things.

The third lesson is where things started to get more complicated where shadows started to come into play.  After a few attempts, I was able to mimic the shading that I saw in the example drawing.  The final challenge, however, was drawing a pitcher (at the top of the post) without an example sketch to copy.  I know I still have some room to grow, but I'm pretty pleased with my shading!  The drawings will only get more complicated from here, but I can only get better.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Freakin' Awesome Focaccia

I am so glad that I started on this project of baking my way through the Bread Baker's Apprentice.  It's taught me that patience really makes the best bread.  I think the reason that no-knead bread has caught on over the past few years is not that kneading is too demanding, it's that the 24 hour rest period allows the flavor to develop.  I used a focaccia recipe that calls for the use of a poolish starter (aka biga or sponge) which is just flour, water, and a small amount of yeast allowed to ferment for 48-72 hours (the longer, the better) before more flour, salt, and water are added to make the dough.

After about 45 hours, my poolish looked nice and bubbly.  For the sake of research, I tried a bit.  It tasted like slightly sour flour.  It really benefits from the additional ingredients.  Also baking.  The depth of flavor and the tender crumb really does come from this step.  It takes 3 days advance planning, but the amount of work is minimal.  The morning you want to make the foccacia, you want to bring the poolish to room temperature for about 3 hours.  While I did this, I made stock in my crock pot.  I keep a bag of chicken, herb, and vegetable scraps (especially mushroom stems) as well as parmesan rinds in the freezer. When I have enough to fill my crockpot, I dump it all in, still frozen, and cover it with water.  After 6 hours on high, the stock is ready and full of umami from the mushroom stems and parmesan.  A bit of Worcestershire sauce can also add some depth of flavor to the stock.

Before baking, I topped the focaccia with herb oil, fresh rosemary, and extra-coarse salt.  The crust is fantastically crisp thanks to the oil and the chunks of salt which contrasts the tender interior.  I used rosemary because I just bought a rosemary plant and the flavor really permeated the whole loaf.  Next time I'm tempted to try topping the focaccia with grapes or gorgonzola.  The recipe fills an entire 12" x 17" pan so you could even top each quadrant with different toppings.

I served the focaccia alongside a simple soup of summer vegetables - peppers, zucchini, tomatoes - and white beans topped with parmesan and a big dollop of pesto.  The bread is great for sopping but we liked it best on its own.  I think this is the best bread I've ever baked - at least until next month.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bundles of (Knit) Joy

My facebook news feed is back-to-back baby photos.  I suppose it should come as no surprise considering about three years ago it was back-to-back wedding photos.  My favorite thing about babies (other than that baby smell and being able to hand them back to their parents when they start crying) is knitting tiny things for them.  While I usually knit sweaters using my grandma/mom's sweater pattern (seen here and here), I've accumulated quite a few other baby patterns in my Ravelry queue and decided to tackle some of them for this recent spate of baby gifts.

 Baby hats are a great project for using up partial skeins and can be done completed in just a single night - or on a flight to California, as was the case for this blueberry hat.  (It was a gift for the couple we were staying with, so I finished it in the car on the way to their house - thus the weird photo.)  I cast on as we took off and finished as we landed about three hours later.  As we were getting off the plane, the couple across from me confessed that they had been surreptitiously watching the hat come into existence over the course of the trip and were amazed, "It was just yarn when we left San Antonio!").

If you have a bit more time, maybe a weekend, you can knit a coordinating hat and toy.  I've had my eye on this panda hat forever, but found myself without black yarn, yet with quite a bit of leftover superwash wool in a froggy green, so I adapted it to be a frog hat and I love it!  I can imagine it being a sweet little Halloween costume this October, but isn't so costume-y that you couldn't put it on your baby the rest of the winter.  How cute are these buttons that I found for the chin strap?

I've knit this frog stuffed animal before and I think it is the perfect size for a toddler (it fits easily in the palm of my hand).  And the long arms and legs make it easy for a little one to grab and drag around.  The round belly can either be stuffed with a tennis ball or regular poly-fil.

Knitting for Texas babies is a little bit tricky.  There is only a brief window where they need warm and cozies, but it's hard to guess just what size they will be for those two months.  This cabled baby vest, knit in washable cotton, is a great solution because it can be worn over short-sleeves or long-sleeves.  I love the cables, but what really makes this a great pattern is that the left shoulder buttons to make it easier to get on and off - genius!

This is the sort of pattern that I'm slightly hesitant to knit because it looks sort of commercial - like something you could easily find at a store.  To personalize the pattern, I skipped one of the cables and then duplicate stitched an "A," the recipient's first initial.  Once I found those cute duck buttons, I decided to include a washcloth puppet, rubber duckie, and bath-time book as part of the gift.

One of my favorite things about all of these patterns is that they use only a single skein of yarn (or less) and I was able to use a lot of orphaned skeins from my stash (yay for de-stashing!!!).  I had two skeins of Lion Brand Homespun that I had absolutely no idea what to do with or what I bought them for originally.  Then, I came across this pattern for a toddler-sized kimono!  The kimono shirt is brilliant because it closes with ties so it can grow with the child.  I knit two in two different colors for a friend who recently had twins.  The pattern is quick and straight-forward which lets the fun yarn come through.  Phew!  That's a lot of baby knitting.  Back to knitting for myself for a while.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I've heard of using chia seeds as a vegan substitute for eggs and Sarah added it to couscous for a round of Feeding Friendship, but this recipe from SkinnyTaste was the first time I had seen it used in a pudding and I was intrigued.  Chia is known as a "super-food" and is touted as a source of protein, calcium, iron, potassium, and anti-oxidants.  Take the health claims as you will, but trust me when I tell you that they make a surprisingly tasty pudding.

When chia seeds are soaked overnight, they develop a coating of gel, much like a tomato seed.  I know that doesn't sound very appetizing, but it actually reminds me a lot of tapioca pudding (which I hated for it's texture as a child, mostly because my dad liked to refer to it as "fish eyes").  This version is lightly sweet and a nice summer dessert, especially if you are entertaining vegans as this recipe calls for almond milk and coconut milk in place of dairy.  I found it a bit bland so I amped up the flavor a bit by adding some almond extract, but some cinnamon or perhaps cardamom (a nod to kheer) would be tasty too.  The chia seeds are virtually flavorless, so the potential combinations are unlimited!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Feeding Friendship: Chocolate Balsamic Strawberry Jam

HUGE and perfectly sweet strawberries have been overrunning the market lately.  Although they seem to be ever-present at the grocery store, it's this time of year when strawberries are really at their best - and their cheapest.  Knowing that strawberries will soon give way to their blue- and black-berry cousins, I wanted to put up some strawberries.  What I think my be my favorite book on home economics - Make Bread, Buy Butter - makes the very credible argument that you shouldn't can things you can buy perfectly good versions of at the grocery store.  And at my fancy-schmancy Central Market, you have shelf upon shelf of strawberry jams.  Some adorned with sweet, gingham fabric, some even made by nuns.

What you can't find, however, is chocolate-balsamic strawberry jam.; so that is what I set out to make using this recipe from Toronto Tasting Notes and the chocolate balsamic vinegar I picked up at the Tasteful Olive in Overland Park, KS.  My berries were huge so I cut them into about 8 pieces before allowing them to macerate about 3 days (I kept meaning to get the canning, but I procrastinated).  The flavor of the jam is quite complex with the sweetness of the berries (and lots of sugar) balanced by the tang of the vinegar.  The chocolate flavor isn't pronounced, but adds a depth to the flavor like it does for mole.  I'm in love with the jam and so glad that I have six more jars to last me into the winter!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

All About Eve

The movie has some really great lines from both Bette Davis ("Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!") and Celeste Holm ("The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!").  The machinations were delicious and the 1950s clothes so much more chic than anyone wears today.  The film revolves around the women, although the men clearly control the theatre world and the downfall of the villainess comes about largely because a man now "owns" her in a way that seems quite creepy to my modern sensibilities (there is also a rather depressing quote about how a woman isn't a woman unless she has a man - like smoking while pregnant, some ideas are best left in the 1950s).  I recommend checking out All About Eve if your idea of action is backstabbing and witty repartee.  And can I say, Bette Davis does withering disdain like no actress since.  This film is definitely slower-paced than most modern films, but there is a lot more going on than it seems on the surface.  Definitely a film that's good to knit through.

Despite lots of drinks (we opened a bottle of wine, but didn't even approach Margo Channing-drunk), there isn't much in the way of food in this movie, so I went with period-appropriate dinner party fare.  We started with jumbo-sized canapes - creamed mushrooms on English muffins.  Then, a deconstructed wedge salad (chopped romaine topped with blue cheese, tomatoes, and bacon) which is an old-school favorite of mine.  And for desert, the most 1950s dish I can think of - pineapple upside down cake.  I used pecans in lieu of the classic maraschino cherries and I sort of missed them.  How cool would the fluorescent green ones look in the middle of the pineapple?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Independence Day Wreath

I put this wreath together in less than an hour spread across two nights and I couldn't be more pleased with the results.  I bought the wreath for $6 with a half-off coupon and paid $3.50 for a bag of small, medium, and large wooden stars.  I had craft paint on hand to paint the stars red, white, and blue and the next night, I hot-glued them onto the wreath with the largest stars in the center and the smallest ones on the outside.  A quick bow, and it was done!  The whole thing sort of reminds me of fireworks and makes me smile every time I come home.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

California Love

Earlier this month, Geoff and I took a week-long trip to Los Angeles.  Since it is his hometown, I let him take the lead with planning as long as we made it to the beach!  We did.  The water was FREEZING!  But I didn't care - I love beaches.

I've always pictured it as very urban, but LA is surprisingly beautiful.  We took a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains which are scrubby and semi-arid and not what I expect so close to the ocean.  There were two trail and we took the one that went up and back down the mountain (instead of through the valley) to arrive at the ruins of a mansion and this idyllic waterfall.

Feet cooled and rested, we headed back to civilization for a drive around Hollywood to see the sites - the Hollywood sign, Mann's Chinese Theater, and the Capitol Records Building.

Other than the beach, my only request was to visit the La Brea Tar Pits, because I'm a huge nerd.  There are a number of other museums I want to see when we're there next (the Getty and the Los Angeles County Museum are my other top two), but this was at the top of my list.  It was smaller than I anticipated, but their were fossils of 2 foot tall deer and 12 foot tall sloths, so I was happy.

What I really loved about LA wasn't the places we visited as much as getting the chance to hang out in the gorgeous weather (I couldn't stop talking about it, I think the locals thought I was nuts; but it was 70 every day and 90 in Texas) and getting to know Geoff's friends and family.

For several days, we stayed with a friend of Geoff's in Santa Monica.  We spent a few afternoons drink beer at a pub on Venice Beach with friends and people-watching.  Venice Beach was full of street performers, people selling their art, and dudes in bikini bottoms at Muscle Beach (I'm pretty sure they are the same guys from the 80s as they all seemed to be pushing 60 now).

The impetus for our trip was Mel and Christine's wedding.  It took place at a vineyard in Malibu.  The setting was gorgeous and the ceremony was short but very moving.  The vows were sweet and funny - much like the couple.

For the last several years, we have been so far from LA that we pretty much only get to see Geoff's friends at weddings so it was great to get to see and catch up with everyone.  Hopefully, we'll be back soon now that it is just a 3 hour direct flight away!

This was the second time I've ever had an In-N-Out burger and it was just as delicious as the first one I had in Las Vegas.  Evidently there is one in Dallas, so we know where we are having lunch the next time we drive up to Kansas!

After the wedding, we spent a few days with Geoff's dad, wife, and their kids.  Knowing we don't get much great Vietnamese food in San Antonio, they took us to their favorite place for pho.  I had the bun with char-grilled pork and the pork was basically bacon.  It was awesome, but I digress.

That Sunday night was a solar eclipse.  We punched a whole in a piece of paper so we could safely view it, but we soon realized that you could make a better aperture with your hands (it worked, try it).  We had a great time hanging out with the family and we are looking forward to making it back soon.

Our last night in town, Geoff, Lee, and I rented a karaoke room for an hour (which turned into three).  My singing voice is, let's say, unpolished.  But I belted out a few songs and was mostly content to let my much more talented companions steal the show.  Singing before, after, or in the same room as Geoff is always intimidating.  It was a fun final night in LA and we were both sad to leave!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs

Have you ever heard the proverb "success has many fathers, failure is an orphan"?  I think it holds for meals as well.  So it should tell you something that this recipe is the fortuitous offspring of a meal at my favorite brunch place in Lawrence, KS, an impulse-buy at the grocery store, and one of my favorite food sites.

A few months ago I was gazing at the massive number of Chinese sauces for sale at the grocery store (50% of which are just flavored soy sauce) when a little can of harissa caught my eye.  Harissa had its food moment several years ago in the U.S., but it is staple of northern Africa - a cuisine I love, but rarely cook.  I brought the harissa home and it sat, forgotten, in my pantry until my epic clean-out a few weeks ago when seeing it reminded me of the recipe for Moroccan Merguez Ragout I saw on Food52.  I couldn't find ground lamb to make my own merguez, so I made my merguez patties by cutting open 2/3 of a pound of premade pork and lamb sausages and mixing in a tablespoon of harissa and a tablespoon of homemade ras al hanout.

Here is where the Milton's influence comes in.  Summer and I had brunch there last Christmas and I couldn't decide between eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine so they graciously stacked ham, spinach, and eggs under a layer of Hollandaise. The spinach makes you feel just the tiniest bit virtuous and adds a mineral coolness to contrast the spice from the sauce.  The combination of harissa and warm spices from the ras al hanout gives a roundness to the spice instead of just a chili heat.  I can totally understand why harissa was the en vogue hot sauce for a while there (I believe it is now sambal).  I suspect you could poach pretty much anything in this sauce with great success. I imagine spinach and chickpeas over quinoa would be a fantastic vegetarian main course.  And if you try it, may I suggest a poached egg on top?

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