You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2010.
September is always a good time for starting new things – the seasons are changing, school starts (or, now that I’m out of school myself, I get to see lots and lots of kids at the library starting the school year, and boy does that change the rhythm at work), the church calendar restarts. I’m a fan of fall in general (hello, sweaters!) and this year I got my own little kick-start by moving at the end of August. So September has been all about settling in and developing new (hopefully good) habits.
While I can’t say I’ve done anything impressive with my reading this month (pretty ho-hum-average with 12 books read so far – the day isn’t over), I’ve made a few other small steps. I’m back in a super-walkable neighborhood, so I’m trying to develop two habits here. One is walking to stuff I can, like the cluster of restaurants that’s 15 minutes away. So far we’ve walked to eat out once a weekend. Sometimes I’m super hungry and have to fight the urge to jump in the car because it’s faster, but I’m always glad walking back to have a chance to let dinner settle (plus, if I wanted to I could have more than one beer and still make it home!)
The other walkable-neighborhood habit is to just walk. The neighborhood is pretty flat, there are sidewalks, and there are lots of great houses to drool over. My old neighborhood only had the houses, and not even as many of those. Over the summer, I got into the habit of driving to a nearby park where I could do my loop without fear of getting run over. Here, I can even walk after dark, which is especially handy in the winter. Or I can do what I did today and go for a nice long walk up soak up the sunshine while it lasts.
Another step is to get more organized about food and cooking. This involves planning, which I’m still figuring out, and finding a balance between frugality and deliciousness. I’ll feel super-frugal one day and daydream about big pots of beans from scratch, and then I’ll go buy $20 worth of nuts at Trader Joe’s. So far I’ve been planning two meals per week, we’re eating out once, and the other nights are a combination of leftovers and sandwiches. I might work up to planning 3 meals and leaving more leftovers for my lunches.
The nuts remind me of another new food habit – homemade granola. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve made that recipe, each time ever-so-slightly different. The last batch has oats, a double-helping of pecans, a heap of coconut, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, maple syrup, a big scoop of peanut butter, and vanilla. I’m also going through tubs of yogurt with it, so I’ve been slacking on my raw milk drinking, but this is so much more satisfying than cheerios with banana (and raw milk) for breakfast. I’ve been going through enough oats that I think it’s time to invest in more canisters so I can buy oats (and maybe coconut) in bulk from Bob’s Red Mill, instead of buying it by the bag.
Next up on the to-do list: start having people over for meals! The apartment is cozy, but I can fit 6 people around the table.
Now I just need to figure out how it came to be the last day of September…
I’m finally up to June in my Long Distance Kitchen recipes, and the first recipe of the month was the Oatmeal Sandwich Bread from Good to the Grain, a cookbook that’s certainly been earning its keep around here – so far I’ve made five of the baked goods, plus the fig butter (and I’ve made the buttermilk pancakes at least 3 times so far), and I can’t wait to try more. In fact, I have to hold myself back from just assigning a recipe from here every week.
Anyway, the bread – I love oatmeal yeast breads for the way the rolled oats sort of disappear into the loaf, leaving something that slices nicely and makes the best toast ever. As sandwich bread, it’s probably best sooner rather than later, but as toast it’s delicious as long as the loaf lasts. While I’m no bread expert, I’ve worked with yeast often enough to feel confident in what I’m doing. There’s nothing like baking bread on a chilly day, since it’s a good excuse to leave the oven on for a long time.
This recipe actually rose amazingly quickly, which would be great if you’re in a hurry or if you don’t have a nice warm place to let it rise. Both Bronwen and I ended up with super-tall loaves, and I didn’t even let it rise for the whole recommended time. Bronwen also succumbed to the temptation to make it look like the picture, and she made apricot jam to go along with the bread – yum! I was this close to doing the same thing, stopped only by my lack of apricots.
I’ll definitely be making this recipe again – although it’s pretty similar to the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion recipe for Vermont Oatmeal Maple-Honey Bread, which I’ve made several times. If it weren’t for the fact that my arms might fall off after all the kneading, I might make them both at once and do a side-by-side comparison. The KAF recipe is probably a bit sweeter, but otherwise I think they’re close.
While The Underneath didn’t quite hit the spot for me, I did admire Appelt’s writing and wanted to give this a try. It’s similar in approach – a slow, rhythmic, repetitive style that makes it one of those books you can’t really rush through. Keeper is forced to be patient as she waits for the tide (and we get flashbacks into her awful day that led up to where she is now) and we are forced to be patient as Keeper’s series of mistakes and accidents is revealed to us.
The characters really shine, both the humans and the animals – and believe me, animal books don’t win me over easily. Throw in a handful of mermaid legends and a mystery surrounding Keeper’s mother, as well as some fantastic illustrations, and we’ve got a winner. The patience it requires it well worth it.
My parents host an annual Turkey Dinner in May – they cook a couple of turkeys and the traditional sides (stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy) and then they invite a ton of people over on Memorial Day weekend. Guests can participate in the side-dish contest, which has evolved into a side-dish-and-dessert contest (I once took home the grand prize rubber chicken, and once the not-nearly-so-fun hat in the shape of a Thanksgiving table). This year I had some stale bread and extra milk sitting around waiting to be used up, so I killed two birds with one stone by assigning this bread pudding as a Long Distance Kitchen recipe and then bringing it to the turkey dinner.
The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours (and you can find it online here). I’d never made a chocolate bread pudding before but it sounded great. The only thing I changed in the recipe was omitting the (optional) raisins or cherries – although thinking about it now, cherries might be pretty tasty.
I’m not sure if I used too much bread or what, but the whole thing turned out to be not quite as gooey as I’d hoped. I may have also used a crustier bread – a baguette, if my memory serves – which probably soaked up more of the wet ingredients than it ought. The result was a little too much bread and not enough pudding. Next time – and I’m sure I’ll try this one again – I’ll stick to one of the breads that the recipe recommends (brioche, challah, or white). I blame this failure entirely on myself and not the recipe. I know I’ve used baguette in other bread puddings, but perhaps they had more liquid to compensate.
Mmm, just thinking about this recipe months later makes me want to try it again – and perhaps whip up a sauce to serve with it. It would also be delicious warm with a little vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. No pictures exist – I was too busy trying all the other side dishes and desserts to take pictures – but you can read Bronwen’s recap and see how hers turned out (smart girl used brioche).
I know, I know – a sequel to A Little Princess? Does the world really need it? Not necessarily, but the world DOES need all the books it can get by Hilary McKay, and if she wants to write about what happens to Ermengarde and the others after Sara leaves, then I want to read it.
I thought it struck a nice balance between maintaining the world of the original and showing us things from another point of view. What was going on with the other girls that Sara never witnessed? How do they cope with her departure? The result is a sweet story that should please most fans of the original, even though it’s definitely McKay’s construction and not Burnett’s. It’s probably best to read the original book first, although McKay does refresh your memory if you haven’t read it recently.
I chose this recipe for Long Distance Kitchen back in April (I swear this is the last April recipe and then we can move onto May, a month where we took a break for a few weeks while Bronwen was out of town). I love bundt cakes because they look impressive with so little effort, plus they’re easy to transport when unfrosted. I think this was my first attempt at a bundt cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, although I’ve made several others (including that oh-so-delicious chocolate sour cream bundt cake that I documented a while back). And just a few weeks ago I tried another of Dorie’s – the Nutty, Chocolaty, Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake, which had a nice coffee-cake-ish swirl to it.
But let’s get back to that Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake (click for the recipe from the Tuesdays with Dorie project), which I know I made and devoured even though I don’t have any proof. It’s one of those recipes that takes a few different bowls and plenty of “add a third of the dry ingredients then half of the milk” type of instructions. The effort pays off in a dense walnut-flavored batter swirled with the coffee and chocolate batter. And even though I don’t have any memory of what I did with the cake – secret eating? Sharing with friends? Warmed up with ice cream on top? Devoured in a day? - I do remember that it was tasty and something I’d make again, with a nice balance of flavors between the nuts, chocolate and coffee.
The kitchen before (is there anything better than living with a pile of boxes and coolers down the middle of a room?)
And the dining area:
And the view from the living room, once the dust settled (literally – the first time I tried to vacuum, it blew dust out while pulling stuff off the floor – effective, yet not effective at all):
And here’s where I sat while taking that picture – my great-grandmother’s rocker somehow manages to blend in here, while it stuck out like a sore thumb at the old, bright-white place:
Yes, there’s a greenish accent wall – I love that this apartment came with some nice, fairly neutral paint that isn’t white. It’s so much nice for hanging pictures and arranging furniture. Plus, each wall looks completely different depending on the time of day, and it always looks slightly different on camera than in person. Nothing as dramatic as the ol’ mango wall a few places back, circa 2005. I do miss it, although it would probably overpower this particular apartment:
Yet another Long Distance Kitchen recipe from April – Spaghetti All’Amatriciana, assigned by Bronwen. She sent me this recipe for a single serving, as well as a version for more people. Since I was planning to eat it alone, and since there’s a dearth of single-serving recipes out there, I went for the first option. Bronwen ended up finding a more authentic recipe and having a face-off, but I stuck with the one she assigned.
The verdict? Super easy, nice and saucy, plenty of bacony flavor. I’d never had bacon in a tomato sauce before, but it made it hearty and satisfying. In the pictures, I’d actually forgotten to toss the bacon back into the sauce before dishing up a plateful, but I threw it in before I started eating.
Basically, you cook the bacon, then whip up a quick but flavorful sauce – and it’s one of those recipes that uses a can of tomato sauce with no strange quantities leftover, something I’m always grateful for. Toss it with the pasta and you’re ready to eat. Perfect for a quick after-work dinner. It made one large serving – you could add a side dish and easily serve two people with moderate appetites, or just double the recipe.
Hmm, why haven’t I made this again? It would be a great way to use up that spaghetti taking up space in my cupboard.
Oh, new living room! We’re getting there. And red couch, I still love you even though your pillows are getting saggy.
Here’s the couch in its first home, just for old time’s sake:
Here’s another recipe from April – oh the shame! I assigned any combination of these three recipes from Bon Appetit – Chicken-Walnut Salad, Potato Salad, and Tomato Salad with Kalamata Olives. I planned on bringing them to girls’ brunch, where there would be two people who don’t eat gluten and one who doesn’t eat dairy – the same group of friends that I previously fed beets with pistachio butter. I ended up making the chicken salad and the potato salad and skipping the tomatoes, mostly because tomatoes in April are a sad, sad thing.
I cooked my own chicken breasts instead of using pre-cooked specimens, and just chopped it up roughly after it had cooked. I left the parmesan on the side to accommodate the group, and threw everything else together. The result was an excellent basic chicken salad, the kind that you have to keep picking at to get just one more chunk of chicken or another toasted walnut. It’s also the kind of recipe that gives you a groundwork for experimentation. My mom’s chicken salad, for example, uses cashews and halved grapes, which would be easy enough to throw into the existing recipe in place of the walnuts. Or you could throw in a little diced apple, or try other nuts, or add artichoke hearts, or whatever sounds good. I’ve already made this twice, and I’m sure I’ll turn to it again.
The potato salad, on the other hand, left something to be desired. It had a super-strong flavor of onion and wine, and both over-powered the potatoes and didn’t sit well with each other. Less wine, or a different kind (I can’t remember what I used, but it was something that I enjoyed drinking on its own) might change things, or it might be a hit if you love red onions, but it just left me cold.
Ah, I just refreshed my memory on Bronwen’s experience, and I see that she was smart enough to read the comments on epicurious and skip the wine in favor of some wine vinegar. An excellent idea. Or some kind of reduced wine sauce might work, although that’s more complicated.
The idea is a keeper – three little salads together – and the chicken salad is a keeper – so overall a good, easy meal to add to the repertoire.