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

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Little Shameless [Mister] Promotion

It may already be clear to many of you that I not only submit to the occasional, but also tend to admire, mildly shameless behavior.  And so today, in that vein, I'm indulging in some shameless mister promotion.  Which, as far as I'm concerned, is far more admirable than some shameless self-promotion.  And of course, I'd never stoop that low. 

I've also got to promote our awesomely generous friend, Scott, for designing the mister's new website, StuartKingDesign.  (As well as his previous one.)  Scott is superbly talented, and also regularly engages in shameless behavior, and is thus, obviously, owed my admiration.

It's to be expected that I just might be the mister's biggest fan, but let me say, it's deserved.  For not only does he put up with me and all my erm, quirks, he is an inspiring, and inspired, artist. 

This guy funded his surf adventures, and travels around a decent part of the planet, with a paint brush.  He began by painting signs and murals for hostels and businesses in whatever corner of the world he was visiting, often for a free place to crash, and an open bar tab.  And back in those days...our invincible twenties, that bar tab could run up something fierce.  Nowadays, being the rather more responsible husband and father that he is, he actually gets paid for his work, in real money...rather than endless jugs of kamikazi and shots of absinthe.  Oh yeah, that's the way it went down, back in the day.  Good times.

Okay, I'm going to tell you just one, and I have many, little stories of when I met the mister.  But before I do, and before you start judging me for being a sentimental sap, and anticipating a possible issue with regurgitation (don't want to use the "I just puked in my mouth" thing yet again)...please know this:  I am no sentimental sap.  Period.  And this is only one anecdote from the past, and it's loosely related to painting, so calm yourself and your queasy stomach.  This will not be a hearts and flowers love story.  (Although I have those too.)

Right.  Here's where we met.

Praia da Luz.  A lovely village on the south coast of Portugal.  Full of some serious, and I mean serious characters.  Some of which may (or may not) have included:  British ex-pats turned entrepeneurs, ex-cons turned entrepeneurs, surfers turned entrepeneurs (a la surf tourism), and a healthy number of honest-to-goodness talented, friendly, and generous souls. Including the mister.

I'd just that very week landed myself a job waiting tables at a beachfront cafe, as well as a flat near the beach.  (The flat I later lost, thanks to my over-active mouthy tendencies.  Another story, for another time.) In walks Matt, whom I'd already met, a fast-talking, crass, and hilarious character that seemed to me, in all my Yankee naiveté, to be straight from a Guy Ritchie film.  With him is a quiet, tan, and lovely surfer.  Eye contact made. Boom.  That was it.

Okay, it's sounding sappy and sentimental, but just hang on.

Following a (shameless) round of drinking games, some minor, but to be expected, injuries from taking a tumble on the rocky part of the beach, while probably (shamelessly) trying to impress with my ability to handle my liquor, that was IT.  I know, super romantic.  And the big bonus:  I didn't frighten him off with all my spastic tendencies.  Which is really, honestly, miraculous.  Because I possess a fair few.

I soon discovered that he was painting a surf mural on the front of The Shack, a cafe adjacent to the one where I worked.  (Legally, of course.)  I am, in all my shameless glory, actually ashamed to admit that I fairly stalked the mister at his work, painting.  Folks, this was a very, very small village at that time, fortunately for me, because it gave me all sorts of excuses for constantly passing by The Shack, oh-so-conveniently, while the mister (then known as Stuart, or Stuey, to his friends, which was everyone) painted away in the hot sun.  Maybe shirtless.  (How could I not pass by, repeatedly?  I am, after all, a devoted patron of the arts, people!) 

It probably went something like this:  "Oh hey...how's it going...painting?  Nice...nice.  I'm just off to pick up my laundry.  Yeah, so, um, going out tonight?  Right...well...see you."

An hour later:  "Hey again...still painting that part, huh?  I just forgot to get something at the AliSuper.  Wow, that's really cool ...seriously... um...so...where are you going to be tonight?  Privé?  Cool...I'll be there after I get off at 2...Right...well...later."

45 minutes later:  "No way...you're still here...Oh my God...you probably think I'm stalking you...Can you believe I forgot to get bread, and I was just at the AliSuper...ah...I'm such an idiot.  Well, see you tonight...maybe...you know...whatever."

Yeah.  Painful.  I have pointed out previously that I am a major geek.  Get this though, he to this day, didn't think anything of it...had no clue that I was a huge, nerdy, full of (bad) artifice, stalker.  Just figured I was rather forgetful at running errands.  Ha! 

So, I scored the painter of surf.  And he's awesome.  Go check out his work, and Scott's great site design, at StuartKingDesign

And if you happen to be in Seattle, on June 11, stop by Venue Gallery in Ballard, from 7pm til close, for some wine and app's, and art.  The mister is the featured artist, and you know, I'm biased and all, but he is worth checking out.  Take my word for it.

Oh, and I just may be pouring the vino.  Which is a sure sign of a good time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(not quite) Perfect Pound Cake

The back story:

After being away for the weekend, I had one night to bake three pound cakes for Tyler's medieval feast at school.  Not an overly lofty goal, some may say.  For me, however, it felt a little bit like shooting for the moon.  I am, most decidedly, not a baker.  I love cooking, but the precision required in baking gets me a little uptight sometimes.  If you're not a seasoned pro, there is no adding a dash of this, and a dollop of that, and certainly an uncomfortably small margin of error allowed.  Feel my shoulders tensing up as I type this.

Until a few years ago, I was quite content to stick within my comfort zone, food-wise.  Cooking allows me to do this, easily.  Most mistakes are readily corrected.  Add a bit more salt to awaken the flavors, a squeeze of lemon to brighten things up, a spoonful of sugar to cut the spice.  But baking?  Too many rules for the rebel in me to feel at ease, I suppose.

The mister comes from a family that digs their desserts.  Pretty much daily, at least once, if not more often. Always a biscuit, or a bakewell tart with tea in the afternoon.  Often a cake of some sort after dinner.  And, as I'm fairly committed to making my family's food, myself, and prefer to know exactly which ingredients we're putting into our bodies, I began taking the baking thing on.  What it comes down to for me, the hard part, is sticking to the exact recipe, and following instructions.  Word for word.

So, having developed a fairly solid relationship with Dorie Greenspan's wonderful recipes, I opted to go for her Perfection Pound Cake, from Baking:  From My Home to Yours.  The mister questioned my sanity, if only briefly (knowing that I'd stubbornly stick to my guns), by stating that the effort would be wasted on third graders.  Of course, he's probably right.  But hey, I needed to get a recipe on here, right?  Thus, I found myself, after dinner, mixing up a triple batch of Perfection Pound Cake that would hopefully make it to school in one (or three) pieces.  And would hopefully be enjoyed by some unlikely food critics. That is, a classroom of third graders.

Here's the rub.  (Aside from the part about me struggling with following recipes, word for bloody word.)  A smallish kitchen.  A lack of stand mixer.  My largest mixing bowl not large enough to beat 6 sticks of butter, a dozen eggs, and 3 cups of sugar.  And to top it off, and make things really interesting, an oven that can be compared to a geriatric old man, given a double dose of Viagra.  Which is to say, it takes some serious incentive to get warmed up, but when it does, hold on baby!  This oven has no regard for propriety, that heat is going hard, and isn't about to be held back by such silly things as temperature gauges.  (Okay, perhaps an off-putting metaphor, but it made sense to me last night.  The very sincerest of apologies to the more faint-hearted, or easily offended, of you out there.)

Putting my creative side to good use, I creamed the butter and sugar in my largest stock pot.  Which wasn't easy, but it worked.  Nice and light, and perfectly fluffy.

Then I added those dozen eggs, one by one, and beat, beat, beat.  That was a damn lot of eggs, I tell you.

Then, having only two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pans, batch one went into the oven, which was behaving with quite decent manners so far.  Dorie, in her lengthy, and helpful, tips on perfect pound cakes, recommends baking slowly, at a low heat, with the pans atop an insulated baking sheet.  Done, and done! The first batch (and we sampled, obviously, because I had enough batter for four cakes), baked for an hour and a half at 325 degrees, was beautiful.  Moist, pleasantly dense, with a fine crumb. Lightly sweet, buttery goodness. As near to Perfection as I was going to get.

I was getting a little cocky.  And a lot tired.

Batch two:  not quite the screaming success of the first batch.  I'd hit the proverbial wall, was questioning my sanity, as well as wondering where my cool, up til the wee hours self of the past had disappeared to.  And I made the mistake of upping the heat to 350 degrees, in a rather misguided attempt to speed things along. (There's that second dose of Viagra!)  The oven thermometer shot up to near 400, midway through baking time, and short of leaving the oven door open, I could not get the temperature to drop.  So, once that knife came out clean, after about an hour of baking, I put the last two seemingly fine, if a bit darker than the two preceding, cakes on the cooling rack, covered them with a tea towel, and said to hell with it.  I'm going to bed.

They were a bit hard this morning.  Oops.  Lesson learned.

My sweet mister did point out that the kids are studying the medieval times, after all.  And these were probably still a far sight better than what folks were eating back then.  Probably.

Having said that, here's the recipe.  Learn from my mistakes.  Follow it.  Exactly.  Word for bloody word. And you will have a lovely, almost Perfect Pound Cake.  (Perhaps don't attempt to bake multiple batches either, if you have a dirty old man for an oven.  You don't want to have to go medieval on anyone's ahems.)

Perfection Pound Cake - adapted from Baking:  From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour, or 2 1/4 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Okay, first off, and this is a biggie.  Really make sure that your eggs and butter are at room temperature.  Leave them out on the counter for a few hours.  This gives the cake it's lift and fine crumb, because warmer ingredients blend more readily than those that are chilled.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch, or a 9x5 inch loaf pan.  Place the pan atop an insulated baking sheet, or two regular baking sheets.  This saves the bottom from browning too quickly.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

With a stand mixer (sigh, I wish), or a large bowl and electric hand mixer, beat butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, a full 5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl, and and reduce mixer speed to medium.  Add eggs one at a time, and beat 1-2 minutes, until each is fully incorporated.  Mix in vanilla extract.

If you're using a stand mixer (sigh), turn speed to low, and add flour, mixing only until it's just incorporated.  If not, put aside the hand mixer, and mix in the flour with a rubber spatula, adding it in thirds, until just incorporated.  Don't overmix, or you'll have a tough cake.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and place in oven.

At 45 minutes in, check to see that you're cake isn't browning too quickly.  If it is, loosely tent it with foil.  If you're baking in a 9x5 inch pan, it needs a total of 70-75 minutes baking.  If 8 1/2 x 4 1/2, it'll need about 90 minutes total.  Check in on it!  Especially if you possess a nasty, maladjusted old fart like my oven.  The cake is done when a thin knife, inserted into the center, comes out clean.

Let rest for 30 minutes in the pan, on a cooling rack.  Okay, this is what Dorie recommends.  I, terrible recipe follower that I am, and impatient to get my second round in the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes, and it was fine.  I'd go with Dorie, to be safe, though.  She kind of has more experience in these things than I do.

Lovely with a few strawberries, and an espresso.  I even, in all my sleep-deprived craziness, dunked a piece into my espresso...oh yum.  Dorie likes to serve hers, she says, sliced thinly, with a chunky fruit jam on the side.  Or ice cream.  Whipped cream and berries.

Oh, the possibilities are endless...enjoy!  And mind the recipe, folks!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Never Mind

So, I haven't done a recipe on here in a while.  And I'm not posting one today.  Never mind.

So, the computer's on its last, emphysemic, wheezing gasps, and I cannot, nay WILL NOT, wrap my head around buying a new one.  Never mind.

So, I'm in the midst of baking not one, not two, not even the three called-for, but four...that's right...FOUR pound cakes.  And it's 9pm.  Which means bedtime is going to be well past my happy time tonight.  Never mind.  (I plan to post the recipe to share on that one, later this week, provided they taste as wonderful as they smell.)  Baking til the wee hours?  Never freaking mind.

So, the laundry's piled up, the house could do with a tidy-up, the weather wasn't as warm as promised today...Never Mind.  Because nothing, nothing, is that much of a bother, when you've just returned from a trip to the beach.

Which has me realizing we really do not get away often enough.  Nor does our entire culture, for that matter, get away enough.  Ah, experiencing some nostalgia for our former life...on the beach.  In Europe...the land that goes on holiday.  With alarming (for us nose-to-the-grindstone Yanks) regularity.  Never mind.

Here's how it went down.

Oregon Coast.  A beach front cabin.  The mister, the kiddos, and myself.  Blessedly alone, together.

Plenty of time spent playing in the sand...

...flying kites...


...catching waves a major priority (for all but this photographer)...

...and plenty of time spent gazing out at the ocean.

Ah...what's that there?  Tyler's Beachcomber?  That's right!  Off the needles the very first day at the beach!  Phew...I managed it!

And he actually loves it.  This gal here, the one typing while looking at the photo of an awesomely grinning boy, is one proud and happy gal.

What a lovely weekend away.  It is so good to just go...and be.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Get There in the End

It appears I have a little problem with commitment, or more specifically, seeing a project through to the end.  I get all excited to start something new, things progress smoothly for a while, and then...meh.  Hit a little speed bump, or minor snag in the project, and it's just not that fun anymore.  It looks like I have a need for some self-improvement in this area.  But hey, at least I'm self-aware, right?  Knowing's half the battle...and whatnot?

So, amongst the cache of yarn and fabric, and patterns purchased or found for various knitting and sewing projects that I absolutely must do -  the very next thing! - I am trying, very hard, to finish some stuff.  Especially when I had to face facts, and acknowledge that I'm just a teeny bit crap, when I brought a not quite finished knitted hoodie to one of my very best friend's baby shower this weekend.

It's the Snug (pattern available Here on Ravelry.com).  It's the first full sweater I've actually completed.  Well, except for the buttons, which I'm seeking.  Turns out, I live in a toggle-free zone.  So, Shannon, dear friend, must wait.  At least that baby's not coming out for a bit yet.

And...another gift faux pas.  Mom's birthday quilt.  Oh yes, turned up for her birthday with an unfinished quilt, and the excuse of a several week's long illness (I do always have excellent reasons for my craptastic antics.)

You see, things were going great for a while.  Sewing machine humming along, I was even enjoying myself for a bit.  But then, when it came to quilting...and a rather curious kitten...things went a bit awry.  On top of feeling like complete rubbish.  So, it's also in the "yet to be completed" mountain, erm, pile.  I'm thinking I may be a bit tacky, with all this gifting of unfinished projects.  Please know the intentions are the very best.  And the love is there.  (At least when I begin the project.)

Remember this one from a while back?

Tyler's Beachcomber.  (From Timeless Knits for Kids)  Which had to be set aside for time to work on baby shower and birthday gifts.  And now...

That's me, looking pretty damned stoked that I'm on the LAST SLEEVE.  And perhaps a little surprised at myself.  I've got a little push to get this one done, because we are headed to the beach this coming weekend, and that boy must have his Beachcomber, right?  Cross fingers, knock wood...I obviously need all the help I can get here, folks.

Okay, okay, enough berating myself.  I do see a thing or two through to the end, once in a while.  We have had this cool desk chair that the mister found about 5 years ago, on the side of the road.  I know, right?  Crazy.  And I have had every intention of recovering the nasty ripped pleather seat, for that same amount of time.  And for the last few months, Vincent the kitty has taken to pulling bits of foam out of the seat.  Which is lovely, and not at all trashy.  But hey!  A finished freaking project!  Check it out!

Looks like I get there in the end.  Just takes me a while.  Okay...a rather long while.

I will say though, that where it counts, I have no fear of commitment.  In fact, I think that these three...

...the kiddos...

...and the mister...

...show that I can commit...when I want to...and when it really counts.

I do indeed get there, in the end.  All in my own good time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Just a Quickie

I hope you all either had, or gave, a lovely Mother's Day!  My peeps treated me like the proverbial queen, and we feasted on deliciousness, which is really prerequisite to a good day, isn't it?  Well, for me, anyway.

The mister always makes an amazing breakfast (smoked salmon...mimosas...two of my very favorite things!), and then we get together with my Mom, and feast some more.  This year we were hoping to picnic, but alas, the weather is what it is, and we had to stay indoors for an Afternoon Tea.  (Pronounced:  Ah-ftahnoon Tea, Dahling.)  Something my mom loves.  Vegetable tea sandwiches, scones, and lemon muffins.  Perfect.

These lemon sour cream muffins were a serious treat!  Light, fluffy, a kiss of lemon, just a hint of sweet...the perfectly balanced muffin.  If you do nothing else on the computer today...visit Dana Treat for the recipe.  It is simply marvelous.

Dana says that the recipe makes 12 large, or 18 standard size muffins.  Either I underfilled my cups (nah!), or my muffin pans, from when we lived in New Zealand, are smaller than average US sized ones.  Anyway, I ended up with 18 pseudo-standard muffins, and 15 mini muffins.  Which seemed just right!

Have a great day.  And go make some muffins!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Read On

Okay, so I've got a little secret for you all.  Now, keep it quiet, we don't want everyone catching on...wait!  Yes, we do!  Spread it around!


Do you know there is a place, a magical, friendly sort of place, where you are welcome to hang out as if you're a long-lost friend, for as long as you like...and when you leave, you can borrow pretty much as many books as you want?!  Because they trust you.  (This is probably a good boost for those with trust issues.  Just saying.)  Do you know about this place?  Okay, sure you do.  Everyone knows about the library.  But how many of you are taking advantage of their amazing generosity?  (Not to mention their abundant forgiveness if you return books late...10 cents a day?  You are too, too kind!)

We are serious library patrons around these parts.  And while our local library isn't huge, and I often can't find a particular this, or a special that, here's another awesome bit of news:  You can hop on your computer, place a hold on the longed-for item, and they deliver it to your local library.  Free.  Waiting on a shelf for you, until you can pick it up.  These folks' generous spirits are boundless.  I heart the library.

And one last bit of coolness, before my rant goes on for miles.  Borrowing books from the library is a damn efficient, and clever, way of testing before you buy.  You may have heard such and such is a must read, and you order it, and eh.  It's okay, but do you really need that sitting on your bookshelf?  Will you ever read it again?  Waste not, want not, right?  I have fairly limited space in my house...and I am passionately devoted to books.  Like, almost as devoted as I am to my family, my food, and a good cocktail.  In that order.  Well, books probably fall before the cocktail.  Depending on the day.  But the only books I am buying, are the ones that I absolutely cannot live without.

Here are a few gems we've got happening at our house right now:  (And I've included an Amazon link, for those of you who trust me that much, as you should, or so you can just check out the item mentioned.)  Anyhoo...here they are:

The French Market, the sequel to My French Kitchen, by Joanne Harris (one of my favorite authors), and Fran Warde.  Delicious, soulful, French.  Need I say more?

I am digging on Lotta Jansdotter.  Handmade Living, and Lotta Prints...I love her style.  Swedish, minimalist, unfussy, and just so very cool.  Handmade Living is one to own, for sure.

And because I like to be a bit of a conundrum, here are a couple wildly different reads.  Exploiting My Baby*, Because Its Exploiting Me, by Teresa Strasser.  While I have a pretty intense love of pregnancy and birth, having trained as a doula, and attended a decent number of births, Strasser's blatantly candid, crass and irreverent tale of her pregnancy (mis)adventures is awesome.  And she can write.  I couldn't stop laughing, which is a good thing.  And on the other end of the scale, Less is More, by Cecilie Andrews & Wanda Urbanska.  I've just begun on this one, and am enjoying it thoroughly, even if I'm not laughing.  Keeping it simple, I like that.

Drawing books for the kiddos.  By the way, Ed Emberley rocks.  Check him out.

And because I just think it's so precious, and so Tyler, to choose books on how to improve his skateboarding.  He's much more of a thinker, than a do-er, my boy.  And I love that.  Bless.

A final word, hopefully leaving my soapbox aside (we'll see), on library books.  We have one specific shelf that library books live on, while they're at home.  Unless they are in your hands, being read, that's where they go.  This has been drilled into my kids' heads (figuratively, of course) from day one.  Because, baby, I am not losing my library privileges as a result of you being irresponsible.  This is too sweet a deal to lose!  Books get treated with the same respect a visit from a sainted relative (pretty sure I don't have any of those though), or the Dalai Lama would get.  I don't mean to say that you're a soulless monster for not giving books the reverence they deserve...but well...you are.  Kidding...mostly.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Celebrating the Sun

Well...it's been a little while, hasn't it?  Hello again.  I fear I haven't been accomplishing much in the way of cooking of late.  Having been down with a bug for the past few weeks, I just haven't felt overly inspired in the kitchen. At long last, I do believe this bug's on its way out, possibly from the hefty dose of Vitamin D - a la day spent soaking up the sun yesterday, and I've (finally) got a little recipe for you fine people.

But first, let's reminisce on yesterday's beautiful rays, whereupon we headed to the river for a lovely day of fun with friends.

It's about bloody time we had some nice weather.

There was time for a little wood sprite sort of action...

 ...time for a little explore...

...time for fresh water sand sculptures...

...and as it usually goes, time for a good laugh.

So, after our (very needed) rejuvenating day, a little celebratory dinner was in order. Something bright and cheerful, yet quick and simple to prepare, as we had some tired kiddos.  Tyler requested Mexican, and apparently I was feeling a little retro, hence...here's what transpired:

Taco Salad with Creamy Lime Dressing - serves 4

Salad Ingredients:  This is just a list of what I had in the house, feel free to mix it up, use what's local and fresh, or whatever you've got in your house. You really can't go wrong here.

1 head hearts of romaine, chopped
1/4 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tomato, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup corn kernels (I used frozen, as fresh isn't happening just yet around these parts)
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1 avocado, chopped
1 small bunch radishes, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (measure after chopping)

**Other ideas to include:  chopped, grilled chicken breast; grilled salmon and asparagus, ground beef or turkey, black or pinto beans

Toss all above salad ingredients in a large bowl, and set aside until ready to serve.

Creamy Lime Dressing:

1/3 cup sour cream ( I recommend the full fat variety, I think it mixes with the lime juice better than low-fat, but do what you've got to do)
zest of one small-ish lime
juice of 1 1/2 limes
pinch paprika
pinch ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
few dashes hot sauce, to taste
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a small bowl, using a whisk or fork, mix all dressing ingredients together, and set aside until you're ready to dress the salad, just before serving.

Toppings and Extras:

1/2 cup grated cheese
Fresh salsa, store bought or homemade
1 can refried beans (or whole beans, see above **note), heated if refried, cold and tossed into salad if whole

Retro Taco Salad Bowls:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place 2 oven-safe bowls on a baking sheet, mine were old-school pyrex, sized just a bit smaller than the tortillas.  You're going to use these bowls to shape your tortilla into a bowl, so you can either use a slightly larger bowl and press the tortilla inside it, or a slightly smaller bowl, upturned, and drape and fold the tortilla over the outside.  I used one of each.  The larger bowl works best, but they're both perfectly fine. Lightly spray the side of the tortilla that will be touching the bowl, with cooking spray, arrange it inside (or over the upturned bowl), then spray the other side of the tortilla.  Bake for about 10 minutes, checking regularly.  If the taco bowl needs a little more crisping, after 10 minutes in the bowl, remove it from the bowl, place directly on baking sheet, and bake for another 2-3 minutes.

Horrid photo, I know, but just so you get the idea.

Now, all the remains, is throwing it all together.  Toss the salad and dressing together, and spread the refried beans, if using, on the bottom of the taco bowl.  Fill the bowls with the dressed salad, and garnish with cheese, salsa, or whatever else your heart desires.  

Healthy, colorful, tasty, and darned easy after a day out in the sun.  And seeing some of these photos makes me painfully aware that I really must look into getting a new camera.  Or asking for one for my birthday...wink, wink.