"Things won are done,
Joy's Soul lies in the Doing."
- William Shakespeare

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Freeing the Inner Geek

Remember when, once upon a time, it was considered a fate worse than death to own up to being a nerd?  Or geek...dork...you pick the epithet.  Back in school, most of us, except for a few highly evolved misfits, smothered our inner geek, desperately trying to appear cool.  And then, in our twenties, we rocked the "I don't give a damn what you think, I'm just being me" attitude, while actually caring a fair bit, and desperately trying to figure out who "me" was.  Now, I say, it's time to free that oft-hidden, ever-misunderstood, inner geek!  I'll go first...

I possess some fairly geeky tendencies.  I admit it.  And it's pretty liberating to shout it out here.  Here are a few examples, past and present, of my nerdiness:

I played Barbies until well into the eighth grade.  Yep, and blamed my younger sister for forcing me to play with her, when friends came around.  For shame. I didn't kiss a boy until I was 15.  And then lied when he asked if he was the first person I'd kissed.  Which means it was pretty bloody obvious that I didn't know what the hell I was doing with lips and tongue and all.  (I'm still a little embarrassed about that.)  While my younger brother and sister were playing sports and cheerleading, I was in honor roll and Spanish club, and wishing to be a character in (any) Bronte novel.  Yep, laying it out there, because I am just that secure in my present coolness. Haha.

I think that Laura Ingalls was bad ass.  Seriously.  That girl rocked it out on the prairie.  I aspire to Laura-ness.  Are you kidding me?  Bake some bread, knit some lace, sew a quilt, and then go stomp down the hay in the wagon, and race the horses across the prairie?  Freaking sweet.  (Do not confuse this with Ma, who was appallingly obedient and wishy-washy, in my humble opinion.)  Some would, perhaps, see this as supremely nerdy.  To those that doubt my view, I simply ask:  "How does it feel to be wrong?"

And now...my inner geek tends toward perpetual timeliness.  Seriously, I am always, or at least 95% of the time,  ten or more minutes early.  To everything.  School drop off, bus pick ups, appointments, playdates, you name it. Part of that is my uptight worrier self, trying to compensate for any weird unknowns that might pop up and make me, oh horror of horrors, late.  Traffic jam, alien abduction, flat tire...I have got it covered, folks.

Why on earth, you may ask, do I have to be early all the time?  Well, friends...so I can do this:

That's right.  I will stress myself out getting out the door early...just so I have ten extra minutes to sit and knit.  Told you I was freeing my inner geek. Judge me if you want, just know this:  As adults, and parents, how much time do we have to ourselves?  To do something for no other reason than that it makes us happy, or calm, or relaxed?  How often do we fit in a few minutes a day to focus on a little "me" time?  That's right.  It's rare.  So, I worked out a way, you see.  (And I get to appear highly organized and responsible, when really I'm being completely self-centered.  Tricky me.)

And on the weekend, that one lovely day of sunshine that graced us with its presence?  We headed out, some for a little of this kind of action:

While some of us chose a little (nerdier? nah!) sort of action:

It's good stuff.  I am one liberated geek, and I get to do what gets me happy.  As the mister says: 

 "Up here for thinking." (Point to noggin.)  
"Down here for dancing."  (Wiggle your booty.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Snack Time

Devin's kindergarten class has a shared snack policy...which means, once a month, I try to figure out something healthy for 22 kids, and know that much of whatever I pack will be thrown in the bin.  Uber-frustrating.  The first time I had snack, we packed snack baggies (which I also hate to use) of sugar snap peas.  What kid doesn't like sugar snap peas?  Turns out, almost every kid in Devin's class.  She came home looking distressed, and told me, "Everyone but me and two other kids threw them out, because they're green."  Gr.

On principle, even though I know they won't be wasted, I refuse to buy those (admittedly convenient) snack packs of goldfish, or cracker sandwiches, or whatever is (rather ironically) thought of as "kid-friendly."  How are pseudo-foods that are full of fake color, preservatives, and a butt-load of crap friendly to kids?  So, I've played it somewhat safe, and packed apples and carrot sticks.  Nothing green.  Gr.  (Why kids will eat fake green and blue dyed food is beyond me, when natural green veggies are so much more appealing.)  This week, I decided to go a little further, because I was bored with the same ol' thing.  And according to Devin (and despite the fact that these are chock full of healthy, that's right - healthy, ingredients), almost every kid was diggin' my muffins.  Take that, junk food!

This recipe is adapted from Williams Sonoma Complete Outdoor Living Cookbook.  Their recipe calls for raisins, and while I like almost every fruit and vegetable you can throw at me, I do not dig cooked raisins.  The whole swollen plumpness kind of weirds me out.  So, I usually replace the raisins with dried cranberries.  This time I used both cranberries and fresh dates.  Experiment.  You could use dried ginger, or dried cherries, any dried fruit with a bit of chewiness to it would work great.  Get crazy with it.  And these are so tasty that picky kids won't even realize they're full of good-for-you foods.  And the best part of this recipe, you can make the mix the night before (even two nights before!), and just pop the muffins in the oven in the morning!  Quick and easy, just like I like it.

Overnight Carrot Muffins - adapted from WS Complete Outdoor Living
-makes 12 standard sized muffins (or a whole bunch of mini muffins!)

2 cups (315 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (90 g) rolled oats
1 cup (220 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup (185 g) dried cranberries (or another dried fruit, or combination of fruits, of your choice)
2 eggs
1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk
1/2 cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
1 cup (155 g) lightly packed shredded carrots (I grated mine on a box grater)

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and spices.  Add dried fruit, and toss to coat with flour mixture.  In another bowl, beat eggs, buttermilk, and oil until well blended, then add carrots to wet ingredients.  Pour wets over the flour mixture, and stir until just blended.  Don't overmix.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days.

To bake, preheat oven to 375F.  Place 12 cupcake liners in muffin pan, and spoon batter into cups.  Bake about 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cook-time, until golden brown, and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes.  Serve warm, or let cool completely, before packing up for your kiddo's class.

*Note* I made a double batch, so we'd have enough for the kinders, as well as ourselves at home.  I spooned half the mix into regular size muffin cups, and the rest into mini muffin pans (also using cupcake liners, I am notorious for stuck-muffins-tantrums without them).  To bake the mini muffins, bake at 375, for about 12 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cook-time. I didn't count how many mini muffins we ended up with, but it was between 3 and 4 pans worth...so round about 72 to 96?...wow, that sounds like a lot.  No wonder we ended up with so many!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Something Savory

Okay, have I got something tasty for you.  And yes, I may be harping on (and on, and on) about Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan, but what can I say?  It's what I'm into at the moment, and it's a really big cookbook.  With a ton of tempting recipes.  That I absolutely must try.  And sometimes share. Forgive me.

So, today's treat?  Smoked Salmon Waffles.  I may be alone here, but these were, as far as my sieve-like memory is aware, my first savory waffles.  And I am a devoted waffle lover. (Have you tried Molly's waffle recipes on Orangette, by the way?  Go there. Make them.  Eat them.  And love them.)  Anyway, I've had savory crepes aplenty, scads of savory pancakes, but nary a savory waffle.  How odd.  I freaking love savory things.  

Right.  Conjure up a vision of light, yet richly flavored waffles, with tiny, barely noticeable slivers of smoked salmon frolicking throughout.  Just a hint of salty smokiness in the background, nothing aggressive that hits you over the head.  Which we do try to avoid first thing in the morning.  I don't know where you were last night, after all.  Garnish that richness with a little lemon and chive scented sour cream.  Perfect for a late breakfast or brunch.  Or lunch. Or a grab-one-whenever-you're-hungry sort of snack, which is exactly how my kids rolled, with the leftovers.

Smoked Salmon Waffles - Adapted from Around My French Table
-makes 8 waffles

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 cups whole milk (*see note)
2 large eggs
6 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
3 oz thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into slivers
5 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
3 Tbs snipped fresh chives, or more scallions, plus more for sprinkling

*Note:  I didn't have whole milk, so I substituted with 1 cup 2% and 3/4 cup half and half.  Worked great.  Just saying, get creative if you have to.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  In a large measuring cup with spout, or a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and melted butter.  Pour the liquids over the dry ingredients and stir together gently. (You'll have some lumps, don't worry, that's fine, better than beating the living daylights out of the batter and ending up with heavy waffles.)  Stir in smoked salmon, chives, and scallions.  Let the batter rest, covered, at room temperature for up to an hour.  (I let mine rest for half an hour, hungry kids, after all!)

Follow the directions for your waffle iron, using about 1/2 (or so) a cup of batter per waffle.  My batter was very thick, but who knows, yours could turn out differently, and that's just fine.

Garnish each waffle with a dollop of creme fraiche, or lemon scented sour cream, recipe follows.  Dorie recommends also adding a little salmon roe, but as my normally huge supply of fish eggs was, for the moment, depleted (ha), we omitted that one.

Lemon and Chive Scented Sour Cream

1/2 cup sour cream
zest from one small lemon (or half of one large lemon)
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp snipped chives
freshly ground pepper

Mix it all together, that's it!

Enjoy your brekkie!

Do you have an outstanding waffle recipe to share?  Leave me a comment, if you do!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Simple As

Has anyone tried Upland Cress?  I am in love with this stuff.  It's got a nice, peppery bite to it, but not quite as sharp as watercress, and it, people, is delicious.  I threw a quick post-yoga dinner together last night, and it went something like this:

Toss in a few handfuls of Upland Cress, with some herb salad mix (mine was from Trader Joe's, but you could use anything, or just stick with the cress)...

Mix a simple balsamic vinaigrette, directions below.  Serve on its own, or top it with goat cheese or croutons.  We had a slice of tart with it.  Simple as.
Balsamic Vinaigrette:

1/2 to 3/4 tsp dijon mustard (I like the bite of dijon, use whatever you like, but it binds the dressing nicely, so it doesn't separate)
1 tsp minced shallot
3 Tbs balsamic vinegar
6 to 9 Tbs olive oil (I like a bit of tang on the salad, more olive oil will make it milder, it's usually a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil, though)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, whisk together the dijon, balsamic, shallots, a pinch of sea salt, and few grinds of pepper.  While whisking continuously, drizzle in your olive oil, and that's it!  Throw some over your greens, and enjoy!

Another easy way to do this, which makes for good storage, is to throw everything into a jar, shake vigorously, and then save whatever's left in the fridge, it will keep for about a week.  Just take the dressing out about 15-20 minutes before using, as the olive oil solidifies in the cold.

Who needs bottled salad dressing, with all it's nasty additives, when you can mix up a lovely vinaigrette yourself in about 3 minutes?  Easy peasy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bits and Bobs

With this seemingly never-ending cold weather, in order to maintain a socially responsible level of sanity, we've been doing a lot of indoor project-ing.  It is tough to keep those kids from bouncing off the walls, when it's yet another cold, rainy day...here's what's been happening in our world:

A little sewing, for the girls.  (By the way, Tyler can sew quite well, but usually gets a bit of a too-cool attitude about it, and I know better than to push.)


My cutie niece there is having a go at her first sewing project, and I gave her the same tools Devin began with.  A tiny embroidery hoop, a plastic needle (you can pick these up at craft stores and quality kids' toy stores, I got mine at White Horse Toys, in Issaquah), and a piece of burlap, cut from an old rice bag.  The loose weave on the burlap makes it easy to poke the big plastic needle through, and gives her time to get used to the feel of sewing.  And she was so sweet doing it...every stitch was prefaced with:  "Like this, Auntie?"  Aw.

Devin's working on a project from a very cool book,  Sewing School: 21 Projects Kids Will Love to Make  by Amie Plumley, and Andria Lisle.  I like the handiness of this book, because it's something she can browse through herself, and decide what she feels like getting up to.  Don't get me wrong, it's fun (sometimes only in theory) coming up with a project for a child, but I don't always have the time or the inspiration.  Plus, this way, she's actively pursuing what interests her.  Which means she's pretty sure to maintain interest and see the project through to the end.  Good stuff.  And here's the end project:
He's called Stuffy.

Tyler has come up with the clever idea of making pop-up birthday cards.  I have no idea where he found his inspiration, but love that he found it, on his own.

And Miss Devin's been designing some felt clothes for her felt dolls (which are store bought, but she decided they didn't have enough of a wardrobe).  This too was her own idea.  A little pattern-making, cutting and sewing, and voila!

Boy, I love this phase my kids are in!  Still young enough to be cool with hanging out and crafting with Mum, but old enough to sort it out themselves, should I have my hands in a few other pies at the moment.  And they are pretty darn creative.  Not that I'm biased or anything.

And we've rediscovered this lovely book in our home library:  Beach, by Elisha Cooper.

I adore this book, the illustrations are a little abstract and funky, the words are almost poetic, with an Ernest Hemingway bare-bones kind of style...and it gives us hope that winter may just go away, and we can get ourselves to the beach...soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In Season: A little something tart

I first tried kumquats last spring, at a nearby market.  I'd seen these funny little guys around before, a few times, but had no idea what you were meant to do with them.  So, I swallowed my pride (I'm learning this helps on many occasions, especially with food questions!), and asked the woman there how to prepare them.  She popped one in her mouth, and said:  "Like so!"  Devin and I each tried one, decided they were the perfect balance of insanely tart and stunningly sweet, all in one little package, and so took some home.

This week, they popped up at Trader Joe's, and despite the fact that I doubt they were exactly local (oops), I bought a pint-sized box.  I'm guessing that because these were trucked a fair distance, they weren't quite the luscious bite of heaven I recalled from last year.  It was a bit like biting into a lemon, not quite that sour, but close.  And after watching my friend's two year old daughter, Haley, wince and spit one out, I figured these were going to go to waste if I didn't do something else with them.

And thus, Kumquat Marmalade.  I looked through my cookbooks for a recipe, but to no avail.  I looked all over online, and found several, but many needed to sit overnight, to develop the pectin from the seeds, and whatnot.  No time for that, friends!  I had decided to have it for dinner, with some homemade bread, and goat cheese, and I was not to be stopped in my mission!

So, here's what I came up with:  (Note:  measurements are approximate, a common rule of thumb with jams is to measure the amount of prepared fruit, and use the same amount of sugar.  Thus, a cup of prepared fruit would call for a cup of sugar.  However, this felt a little excessive to me, and I didn't want to kill the tartness completely, and we were having the marmalade for dinner, not dessert...sooooo...I had about 1 1/4 cups prepared fruit, and used a rather heaped 1/2 cup of sugar.  Perfect.)

Quick Kumquat Marmalade

Thinly slice the ends off the kumquats, then turn it on its (now flat) end, and slice in half, longwise.  With the tip of a paring knife, pop out the seeds, and if you're so inclined, slice out the middle white pith.  (I started to do so, but it was too fiddly, so couldn't be bothered.)

You can either cut these even smaller, or if you're feeling a little Saturday afternoon laziness like myself, just toss them into the food processor.  Cut the peel off an orange (I used a tangelo, I think), and segment the fruit out with your knife, between the pith.  Here's a helpful how-to, if my paltry directions just aren't cutting it for you:  http://freshcatering.blogspot.com/2007/04/how-to-supreme-segment-orange.html  Toss the segmented orange in with the kumquats, and pulse it a few times, until the fruit is somewhat chopped, not pureed.

Place the prepared citrus fruit into a suitably sized pan, add your sugar (I used a bit less than half the amount of sugar to fruit, see above note), and the juice of half a lemon to 1 cup of fruit. You may spot a few seeds in your jam at this point, but don't worry about it.  I'm sure they're adding a little of that natural pectin to thicken the jam, and if not, you can't even taste them, so let it go.  This is quick marmalade, after all, folks.

Turn heat to medium, and bring to something between a boil and a simmer.  Basically, it's bubbling away, but you don't have jam splatters all over yourself or the stove.  Stir it frequently, making sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.  After 10 to 15 minutes, it should start thickening.  When you run a spoon through the mixture, it will leave a stripe in the pan, and won't immediately close back together.  Think mini "Parting of the Red Sea" here.  (I know, I know.  Ridiculous and sacrilegious.  Just trying to give you a visual!)  Remove from heat, and let cool.  The jam will further thicken upon standing.

This will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, or in the freezer, for a few months.

Get your delicious, fresh loaves of bread...

(I know, a little shameless self-promotion, but seriously, this bread keeps getting better!)

A little goat cheese, or even cream cheese...

And that's it!  

As my mister said, this "rides the line between sweet and savory perfectly."  Well said, mister.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Getting my Knit on

I think it's about time I get on this one.  After all, I've been busy lately, finishing projects left, right, and center.  And boy, does it feel good!  I was having a bit of a slump for a while there.  Not so inspired, neither the time nor the inclination, and the yarn budget was sort of, well, non-existent.  But baby, I'm back.  Here's a bit of what's been happening.

My Shalom.  Available for download Here, on Involving the Senses.  My very first project for myself, and first almost sweater.  (Read:  No sleeves.)  This was nice and easy, and fairly cute.  After my initial pride and shock that I managed to knit it wore off, I'm slightly disappointed by the fit, I hate to say.  It does fit pretty much how it's meant to, I guess, but I don't think it's necessarily the right fit for me.  And being new to the whole figuring-out-a-size gig may have attributed to the fit problem.  Oh well, not terrible for a first go.

The cutest ever Pixie Hat, the free pattern available Here on Ravelry. I had been very keen on making this for quite some time.  The pattern is quite simple, and easy to follow, even though I had no idea how it was meant to work itself into a hat for a while there.  And then, genius, it just did!  I love that.  The yarn however, was tricky for me, in all my beginning knitter-liness.  I had stashed some Mini Mochi, in the Beach Scene colorway, with no idea what it was going to turn into.  And then, hello, a pregnant friend, and baby's dad's a surfer?  Why, of course!  Never mind that I wanted to pull my hair out, working with that fine a yarn.  It did turn out so cute, and so soft, for a newborn bub.

Okay, the hat is on Devin's doll, which is a little creepy, I know, but what can you do?  That baby was just not available for photos then.

My completed Simple Yet Effective Shawl, pattern available for purchase here, again on Ravelry.  I used one skein of Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn, which was absolutely lovely to work with, and softens up nicely after a little handwashing and blocking.  I can't say that I've owned a shawl before (is this grandmotherly?  nerdy?  nah!), but I think I kind of dig it.  The only thing is it's a rather small shawl, more an accessory, than a cozy-up-for-winter thing.  But, well, I am a girl after all, so I suppose an accessory or two should be embraced.

Okay, this?  This I am super excited about.  Because, well, it just so happens to be my first real and actual sweater.  Kind of a milestone in knitting land.  It's called Beachcomber, from Chris de Longpré's Timeless Knits for Kids, and it's for my wee boy.  Who's actually not so wee these days, but you know.  I fell in love with the photo, and well, Beachcomber?  What's not to love?  After ripping out, at the beginning, three, yup, count 'em, three freaking times, and figuring out a couple of stitches that I hadn't yet learned, the fourth try is going great.  Pretty darn easy actually.  I just may pull this thing off.  Stay tuned.  Oh, and wish me luck.

So, we're accomplishing some stuff in my world, and it feels pretty, well, accomplished.  I have a list approximately 3 miles long, of projects that I'd like to get around to, knitting and sewing, cooking and baking.  We'll see what we get up to.  Half the fun is in the planning and daydreaming anyway, isn't it?

And I so cannot wait to see my boy in that sweater, watching his dad catch a few waves.  Or perhaps warming up after catching a few himself, this summer.  He's pondering the possibility, whilst I ponder what I'm going to knit next...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Alchemical Magic

We had a bit of a treat this weekend, up on the mountain.  Our good friend, Matt, is a self-taught, and allow me to say, masterful brewer.  The fam and I were invited over to witness the magic, and it truly is a magical thing to watch.  This is alchemy, folks.  Taking a few ingredients, and while honoring their innate integrity, transforming them into something else entirely.  It may not be the gold that alchemists of old were speaking of, but I've tasted Matt's hefeweizen...and it is liquid gold, and precious indeed.

A long time ago, in a life far, far away, I worked in a brewery.  So I can respect that these guys are not only passionate about their craft, but a little uptight about having an audience around while they do their thing.  Matt however, was gracious enough to allow us to witness, up front, the age-old, and hours-long, process of turning grain into beer.  With only the gentle warning that loss of limbs may occur should anyone, adult or child, get in the way.  (Kidding, mostly!)

And since I not only value our friendship, but also my life, I'm not sharing a brewing recipe here.  Just a few snapshots of our day as brewer-sidekicks. Enjoy.

There's a whole lot of heating and mixing.  Waiting and measuring.  A little more mixing and heating...and a bit more waiting...

And in those waiting times, a few mimosas...

An impromptu yoga session with Jamie...

 Some general fun...

 As you do.

And...a bit more measuring, and dig this:  the old Vorlauf.  Which sounds rather like an evil wizard or mad scientist.  Which I guess sort of fits our Matt.  My understanding of that oh-so-perfect word is that he's circulating the brew through the grain, allowing those grains to form a sediment, which filters out the cloudiness and impurities.  (Hope I got that correct, despite a possible couple of mimosas at that point.)


What with all the alchemy, the witchy cauldron-stirring, the bubbling steamy brew, and mad wizardry going on...you pretty much know this stuff is going to be good.

What a day.