Sunday, August 31, 2008

a hot breakfast for a cold morning

I love fall. I particularly love the beginning of fall: the romance of the leaves starting to change colour, wearing sweaters and boots and tights, the way the air is sharp and clear and even a little smokey with the cold. I love the way the sunlight turns kind of silver in the afternoons, and the spicy smell of leaves and fallen apples starting to decay.

We have a cold front from Alaska visiting Seattle this weekend, and last night (and this morning) were supposed to be the low point: snow levels falling to 4,000 ft., temps dipping into the 30s and 40s overnight. Expecting the house to be on the chilly side this am, I got up at six to bake us up a warm, cozy breakfast. I'd really hoped to have a friend over to sit, drink cocoa and eat all this, listen to cozy CD's like Yo-Yo Ma and spend some time crafting together, but it didn't happen. Maybe another time?

Baked apples are a no-brainer, but these muffins are something really special. I really think Donna Hay needs a fan club and that I need to be in it. Here's the recipe with my alterations - to decrease fat content and to deal with the fact that passionfruit are hard to come by these days.

Blueberry and Passionfruit Muffins:

parchment paper and kitchen twine
1.75 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c. sugar
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1 c. non-fat plain yogurt (preferably Greek-style)
4 tbl. (1/2 stick) softened butter
grated zest and juice of one medium lemon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 5-oz. container passionfruit paste*
1 - 1.5 c. blueberries

*I found a little 5 oz plastic tub of this by 34 Degrees foods at my local Whole Foods. It was stocked over the Olive Bar, by the specialty cheeses. Look for quince paste and date breads and other frilly cheese accompaniments, and you'll probably find it!

Tying parchment wrappers from heck: this is the hardest part, so sit down and get comfortable, you'll be at this for a few minutes at least. You need 8 4-oz. ramekins, a roll of parchment, some twine, and I used my rotary cutter (for quilting) and Salem rule (if you're not familiar, it's like a big, wide, ruler with a grid). My roll of parchment is the small one, about 12" wide or so. Cut eight 3" wide strips of parchment.

Before you try to roll it, take a look at the strip. It will probably be slightly convex (one side curves up). Make this side the inside of your roll, and your parchment will actually stand up better, as it'll be kind of curving against itself. Roll the parchment so you have a 3" tall cylinder that just fits inside your ramekin (I actually used my ramekins to hold the parchment up while I tied them in there). Wrap your twine around the parchment and tie it firmly. I tied mine in front and back so I could kind of cinch it closed.

Once you've got those all together, set the ramekins with their parchment sleeves on a baking sheet and get down to the (much easier) business of muffin mixing:

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder) in a large bowl with a fork until evenly combined.

In a smaller bowl, mash up your quince paste until fairly smooth. Add yogurt, lemon zest and juice, egg and butter, and mix thoroughly.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Fold in approximately 1 c. blueberries, reserving a few extras. Drop dough by spoonfuls (carefully! See how some of mine ended up crooked? Getting the dough in evenly/centered is important!) into parchment rolls until each one is about 3/4 full. Press remaining blueberries gently into the dough on the top of each muffin (because the fruit on the top is always the best, in my opinion!), and bake until tester placed in the center of the muffin comes out clean. Mine took about 50-60 min, but I think my oven might run on the cool side.

Seriously, folks. They are SO good.
Now. Who wants to be my crafting friend and come over for early mornings of food, drink, and some kind of drawing/sewing/collage/beadwork/what-have-you? I'm in the market for a crafty buddy. Is there a craigslist forum for this?

Friday, August 29, 2008

productivity flags, continues

Things are moving a bit more slowly (and messily!) around here than I'd like, as I've hurt my back again. I finally caved and called the chiropractor yesterday, after gasping and yelping in pain most of Wed. It's still pretty bad - every sneeze or cough that I feel coming has me grasping for something to brace against. Chiropractor says it's probably already begun to heal itself, but I'm to take it easy all weekend.

Anyways, I'd give all the details, but I don't want to. I'd much rather ask for you to share your opinions on this:

I started drawing on this platter a few days ago, but I haven't decided if this is it, or if I should do more. I was thinking I might do a little bit more - a vignette, if you will - kind of kitty-corner on the opposite side/curve of the platter. What do you think? A little more? All the way around? Leave as is?

I don't know what I'll do with it when it's done. It might end up being a yuletide gift for a friend, or praps I'll shove it in the cupboard. Should I colour it all in, do you think? I kind of like the black and white, but I'm not certain that I wouldn't like it better with a bit of green. Thoughts?

Here's another glimpse of what's been going on around here - I bought (and broke, darn it!) my first two felting needles and some black and white roving today. Until I ran out of the proper tools, I was happily trimming this little one out with some tufty shading. Now I'm trying to figure out eye placement (no, this is not some form of stuffed-animal torture). I can't wait to show you when it's all done, I think this one may get a cape or a vest - some sort of clothing. Of course, the finished pics are going into the yule file for now...expect to see it again in a few months!

Monday, August 25, 2008

grey day

a nice grey day today, pouring rain and thunder and everything! I was whining this morning that I wanted it to rain today. It's nice to get one's way, isn't it? =) Fall is my favorite season and I am impatient to Get Things Started with the sweaters and the tights and everything? Oh yes, I am ready.

I am also waiting (and waiting and waiting...) for my porcelaine ceramic paint pens (yes, PENS!) to arrive - I even found a couple of nice noritake Japanese china pieces to experiment on. My excitement has been somewhat quashed by the lack of drawing-on-china today, which I really really really really really wanted to do (really).

But on the upside, Cass and I had leftovers for lunch, which gives me the opportunity to make up somewhat for the lack of proper pictures from last night. We reheated the few bites of corn that were left, but we didn't dare heat (and thereby toughen) the hanger steak, which was smothered in the remaining shallots. Some TJ's tomato and roasted red pepper soup to round it out, and we're off to the races!

Only, that was hours ago. And it's not quite dinner time. And I'm hungry again. Must go nose around the kitchen ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008



It started as a simple attempt to beat the doldrums: let's have friends for dinner. It got us up, out of bed, cleaning the house, and cooking food that was interesting on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Perfect. We'd worried about having too little food for what grew to dinner for five, but it worked out pretty well - I, for one, am stuffed.

I didn't take pictures during because we had Cass' classmates over and they are unaware of my strange, blogging habits and I didn't want to weird them out (unlike my friends, who give me tomatoes with the agreement that I will photograph what I do with them and put them on the blog - love you guys!!).

Do you want to know what we had? We started with a bottle of Hitching Post Highliner, with bread and olive oil with salt and fresh tarragon, and a little bowl of those aforementioned tomatoes seasoned only with salt and pepper. We had salad: greens topped with roasted fennel, tomatoes and onions, with a garlic-balsamic vinagrette and kalamata olives. We had hanger steak in a shallot and red wine sauce with classic, twice-fried pommes frites and a sort of creamless creamed corn with tarragon. After the entree, we sipped cognac au chocolat (think I nailed it this time), then I made a pot of chai tea with World Spice's sweet chai spice blend and their northwest afternoon lapsang tea, and ate black-pepper-and-cinnamon biscotti I'd baked.


now it's nearly 9, we've only washed a few dishes (eh, we'll do the rest in a flash tomorrow am). It was dark by 8:15 (oh, how the seasons are changing) and just these two little candles are illuminating the front room. With the cool air filtering in from the many open windows (we heated up the place plenty with all that cooking), it feels like autumn, and I am dreaming of more downpours, more warm cozy evenings, more hearty meals shared.

thanks for coming, friends! You really made our weekend.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

tasty experiment

do a google search for "cognac au chocolat" and most of your hits will be blissful raves of local restaurant Cremant. I'd heard about it via the blogosphere and been itching to go for months. My parents insisted that we have at least one special dinner out and I made reservations here. We had foie gras, jacques st. coquille, hanger steak with pommes frites, even one of their eponymous sparkling wines.

For dessert, I serendipitously chose the cognac au chocolat, a sort of smooth, melted-pudding drink of the two titular ingredients and - the waitress said - condensed milk. I spent tonight dabbling over the double boiler with sweetened condensed milk, dark chocolate, and a bottle of cognac. I ended up adding regular milk to the mixture to leaven the consistency, but still used too much cognac (not that Cass and I really minded as we sipped out on the patio tonight - mmmmm).

We are having friends for dinner tomorrow, so I'm going to give it another try, this time with a 50/50 milk and condensed milk and a blend of dark and milk chocolate. I'll report back if/when I think I've got a suitable interpretation figured out. Until then, I'll just have to keep my nose to the culinary grindstone. (Who says work ethic is dead?)


after a very pleasant visit with my parents (I even managed to sleep on the airbed for four nights without serious back pain!), which included very successful shopping trips for Mom AND for me (a j.crew blazer and a pair of paper-bag-waist jeans from anthro on killer sale), I haven't done much this week. I think I'm a little down, missing them, and also feeling like everything I was working toward (preparing the house for my parents to see and be proud of) is kind of over. I think I just want school to start now, and I don't know what to do with myself in the meantime ... despite the obvious options of finishing those projects I haven't yet finished!

I think radishes might be even better instant-gratification-in-the-garden than growing peas. Scarcely a month from sowing to harvest. I took a bunch of these over to a friend's house this am and just left them on her porch. A lot of them are still small, but it seems every day there's at least another pair (or two) of round red shoulders ready to come out. Man, they grow fast!

I mentioned that I finished those pillows. Here's what they look like together, in daylight. I think over Christmas break I'd really like to do a little bolster pillow for the couch, maybe in teal velvet, and beaded or something? Hm.

If you haven't heard of Donna Hay, I highly recommend her cookbooks. This dinner during my parents' visit came together in a flash. You'll recognize the goat cheese and beets from my previous post. The pasta is simply topped with steamed asparagus and a brown butter that takes all of 4-6 min on the stove. It's so good that Cass insisted we make it again this week. All three recipes are from the garden lunch (I paraphrase, probably incorrectly) section of Ms. Hay's Entertaining cookbook. Don't let the title fool you - though entirely suitable for guests, Hay's recipes are simple (most have around 6-8 ingredients) and quick (a good many take less than 30 min to whip up) and thus equally suited to a rushed midweek dinner. I think I may have to look into buying all of her cookbooks at some point, hm.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


making yogurt cheese in the fridge from goat's milk yogurt, some chili pepper and lemon thyme.

finished the bathroom, finally. Pale green, olive green, dark olive. It's all about green in there.

roasted three colours of beets and got them in a sort of sweet pickle marinade for tomorrow, when we'll eat them with that yogurt cheese and some asparagus and pasta in brown butter for dinner. I also got the fruit and syrup prepared for some cherry cordials, and plan to put a summer pudding in to mold in the morning.

I remember a time when being up on summer evenings, taking pictures at 1am, did not involve pickled beets. Or a productive day did not mean we managed to haul patio furniture.

Mom and Dad, I think we're just about ready for you. See you tomorrow!

oh yeah, and I finished those pillow covers. A better shot tomorrow (erm, later today) when we have that wonderful thing called daylight going on.

Friday, August 15, 2008

sometimes you just want to play

I was feeling kind of down about how much work I'd been doing while the house seemed to remain a perpetual mess, and a little shot of almost-free jewelry was, I think, just what I needed. I had this leather piece kicking around after the black leather necklace I made for that swap, and I came up with a crazy idea for it a few days ago that I wanted to try out.

It's only "almost" free because I had to buy the toggle clasp and some jump rings and eye pins, but all in all, it came to less than $10, and everything else I had on hand. A friend on flickr suggests I start an etsy store, but I've little faith in my ability to promote myself and run a business. Plus, where on earth would I find the time?

So if you'd like to steal the idea, here's how it's done: I cut this leather motif by hand, stiffened it with a good application of resin (both sides), and then punched holes through it with a hammer and nail (and an old wood cutting board that I keep for just this kind of abuse). the loops are a kind of bullion made from wrapping fine gauge silver wire around a thicker piece brass wire (that's the tricky part). From there on out, it's just putting pearls on eye pins and linking jump rings together and whatnot.

I used all silver metal/findings/chain/wire/etc., as the most expensive parts (yards of wire and the moderately thick chain) were in my stash already and I wanted to use them up, in a properly nice-looking piece. If you had to buy it all yourself and decided to use silver, I'd estimate material costs at $50+, just to warn you. This is also why I suspect it wouldn't be a good etsy product - you'd have to charge through the nose to get any kind of compensation at all (the bullion took me hours to do), and then you're up against supply and demand: who would pay so much for such a simple thing?

(this photo taken in a mirror) the bf says it's weird, though he's tempering his statement today by sayind that "weird" doesn't mean "bad." Anyhow, regardless, I think I like it. Just the thing for fall, and just the cheap thrill to inject a little insta-joy into my life. In fact, I bought more head- and eyepins than I needed, just so that I might have a go at using up some of my other raw materials tonight, but we'll see if inspiration strikes.

Now I need to go finish that second fern cushion - I am SO close to being done, it's ridiculous that I haven't just finished the thing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It doesn't read. Does it?

Remember how I was so excited to do "more more more" reverse applique? Well, I suppose I still like the technique, but this has taken some of the wind out of my sails. I have this thing about overdoing things - it's kind of what I do. So, true to form, I chose to reverse applique an intricate stencil of a maidenhair fern on my pillow covers (made with an already-busy printed velvet). In addition to being a ridiculous amount of work, I don't think it reads quite right. It comes off as some sort of strange affliction, perhaps? As if my pillow has been infected with leopard-print-itis? Perhaps, up close, it still looks a little leafy? While I hope so, I suppose the slightly-more-abstract pattern is okay - we've already got a lot of foliage going on in this room with the large leaf-print on our curtains.

This is the other project I finally finished in the last week:
This is the view from the living room. Those french doors open into our bedroom. Most people balk at the lack of privacy, but I actually kind of like it. I did actually want a little screen, though, so I whipped up these curtains using some orange poly chiffon (left over from a halloween costume I made in 1997!), edged with some of the same silk/cotton blend that I used on the pillows, and that I plan to cover my Ikea Poang chair with.

My parents come to town on Sunday and will stay with us for four days. I'm desperately trying to finish all the projects by then, but I'm not entirely hopeful that I'll succeed. It's a good kick in the pants for my productivity, though; I would really, really like to show you this place, and maybe this visit is what I needed to finally get it into fighting shape!

Alright, I have one more pillow to make, so I'm off to do a whole lot more of this:

another dose of velvet leopard-print-itis coming your way!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

it came from the bathroom...

whoa. Sorry, I should've put a notice: the following images are of a disturbing nature and may not be suitable for all viewers. I'm painting the bathroom - gold star if you can guess why?

Hope to have "after" shots soon. I painted about 5 hrs. last night and another 9 today. I'm not kidding when I say that I haven't left the bathroom all day. Ugh. Worse, I can't have a shower and clean up because it has to dry! But it's nearly there, I tell myself. Nearly there...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

my cup runneth over

oh friends, you are too good! I checked out Donna Hay's Entertaining from the library last week, and we'll be trying a number of things from it this week. Tonight we tried the grilled chicory with lemon and sorrel - only we substituted broiling for grilling, endive for chicory (not sure how appropriate this is, I'm going by structural similarity, which is all I know) and watercress for sorrel, as neither of these ingredients was readily available. We paired the lemony, parmesan-topped veg with a salad and smoked salmon (per Ms. Hay's recommendation). The real beauty of this dinner was the bounty of our friends' pantries and generosity of their warm hearts: N. brought her grandfather's smoked salmon when she stayed one, too-brief night with us last week, and K. and B. made the lovely white wine (very like a Pinot Grigio) that we paired with it (and are sipping the last of now).

All of this and a card from C. featuring pressed pansies from her garden. Truly, you are too much, all of you. I had written today off after some frustrating issues with the US postal service, but this definitely amends all of that (and to boot, Monday promises to be like Christmas around here).

Before I go, I wanted to share this with you. This is what I see wben I look straight down from my raised front porch. When I moved in, I would see that little evergreen shrub (bottom right corner) and the skeleton of a dead ... something. Looked rather like a rhododendron. And bark dust.

I've rather messed up the bark dust, but I've torn out the skeleton of the dead thing and replaced it with (clockwise from top left - but not top left corner, that's lavender and that was already here): a dark rose astilbe, pink japanese anemone and a galadriel fuschia (they actually kind of blend together in this photo), a dark burgundy heucheria (coral bells), another anemone, another fuschia, another astilbe, bear's breeches, and a "midnight" bugbane (which has leaves and flowers like the astilbe. It's my shade garden!

I have high hopes for it! The bear's breeches should grow 5-6' tall and mask much of the concrete stair to my porch. The others are moderately-sized shrubs (all 2-3' tall when fully grown), with dark foliage or rose-pink flowers of some sort. And the "Galadriel" fuschias just make my inner nerd giggle with glee at the name! I plan to mulch twice a year to gradually improve the soil and enhance the bed's water-retaining potential (because ye gods it's a lot of watering at this point! especially the astilbes!) , and to add some hostas and tuck in some little ferns in the future. I'll add some better photos after things fill in, but isn't it pretty for now? =) I'm so excited!

Friday, August 8, 2008

what not to do when sick

frivolous, spur-of-the-moment projects sure are a lot of fun. I also find they recharge my creativity and my enthusiasm in general. Be that as it may, carving turf up from around a tree on an 80+ day with high humidity when one is a bit under the weather (stomach flu or heatstroke? We are now leaning toward the latter!) was not necessarily one of my brightest moments. However, I soldiered through, and now an ailing patch of grass has been replaced by burgundy stonecrop, lavender, burgundy barberry, russian sage, red coreopsis, and red mums.

I still need a few shade-friendly plants for the shadowy side of the tree, and definitely more soil/mulch, but we'll get there. I also bought paint for the bathroom (finally!) and expect that to be the major time-suck for the next week or so.

Meanwhile, she just sits around looking gorgeous. Every day is a photo op around here - I mean, really, you'd think I bought the sheets just because they matched her eyes or something.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


just saw this on borrowed bought stolen and had to embed it. Seriously, is this not one of the cutest, happiest things you've seen lately?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

it's beginning to look a lot like...

ugh. still sick. anyway...

I'd love to show you the rest of this, but as this blog is actually intended to keep my friends and family up to date on my goings-on, there's a good chance that the recipient might see it. (I have saved a full-size picture in a "yule 2008" file, so I can post it after the holidays.)

Yes, it's August and I'm getting down to the business of Yule gifts. I've all but resigned myself to the fact that there isn't any time to get a proper new Halloween costume together. Although, there may still be time for that. I seem to be going along at a pretty good clip the last few days or so, so who knows what I might accomplish this month?

I'm so in love with the reverse applique technique that I just want to use it on everything. More! More! More! It's so terribly simple, quick, and relaxing, don't you think? I think I may actually use it on the cushion covers I need to make for my couch pillows. If you aren't familiar with the reverse applique technique that put Project Alabama (now Alabama Chanin) on the map (along with their commitment to preserving a piece of American cultural heritage, recycled materials, and unique business model), you can learn more about it by checking out Natalie Chanin's book, The Alabama Stitch Book, or you can get all of the same instructions on her website. I actually learned it from the website, but then purchased the book all the same. Couldn't resist. I've lusted after those T-shirt corsets since middle school. One of these days I really need to get around to making one, now that I've the pattern and all.

And, as promised, pie pics:

This one took about a day in the fridge to properly set - I was actually surprised it set at all (and quite happy that it did). I can attest that it is as good runny as it is firm.

The filling is about three-quarters red huckleberries (a native plant and relative of another excellent American crop, the blueberry), and about one quarter wild mountain blackberries (not to be confused with the evergreen berries that run rampant alongside our freeways, in our yards...ack, everywhere!!). No, these little suckers have tiny berries and do take a while to pick. We eyeballed how many berries it would take to fill our pie plate, and added about 1/4 c. sugar, a Tbl or so of lemon juice (in the plastic squeeze bottle) and maybe 2 generous Tbl. of flour. Toss all of this together (obviously) before pouring the berry filling into the crust.

This was also one of my bests pie crusts to date. I didn't actually use a recipe for either, but let me recap what's in this. The crust was 14 Tbl salte butter (I know, I know, shockingly bad...) and 2 c. flour cut together with a pastry blender (and my fingers, which I always prefer). I added ice water, about 1-2 tsp at a time, until the dough came together. I divided the dough into two balls, and rolled one out for the base, added the filling, and rolled the other out for the top. I trimmed the crust and made the fluted edge with my fingers, and added some cut outs. We brushed the top with a lightly beaten egg and baked for about 45 min at 375 F.

sorry, sorry!

I looked through my photos today and realized that I have at least two (or three if I wanted to stretch it, which I don't) posts backed up. I've been rather fatigued lately (I am not one to sleep 15-18 hours a day!!) and rather miserable with some kind of virus or bug of the stomach variety. It seems to be passing, however; last night I risked proper nosh, as my friend Nat was in town, staying with us before catching a flight to London (and thence to Sweden) this morning. And lo and behold, the food stayed down and all was fairly well. Perhaps I just needed company to set things finally aright (after days of thoughtful and attentive care from Cass, of course, who has kept me in sympathetic company, ginger ale, and movies from day one).

So here's a little catch-up from last week. That "mediterranean feast" in my recent/current activities column was a dinner for old friends last Wed. I prepared the Madras Tofu with Curried Vegetables from The Millennium Cookbook (I've said it before and I'll say it again, I feel The Artful Vegan clearly shows a more sophisticated and developed haute vegan cuisine, but there are some great recipes in the Millennium volume, and the recipes are definitely more accessible/realistic for the home cook). Above, the peach-lime chutney cools, and the yellow curried onions await inclusion in a vegetable stir-fry that accompanies a saffron basmati pilaf and tandoori-marinated broiled tofu steaks. Even if you think you don't like vegan food, these cookbooks are totally worth a look. Check your local library if you to try before you buy! (that's my rule of thumb, anyway!)

But as I, myself, am not vegan (it's just the safest cuisine for my sensitive stomach), our dessert came from In Nirmala's Kitchen: a semolina cake topped with thickened honey flavoured with saffron and star anise. The cake looks like a baked custard, but actually, it's quite firm and dense, and not very custard-like at all. It's not sweetened, so you poke holes in it and then pour the honey on top so it sort of oozes down through. It's pretty wonderful, but I had some problems with the milk/semolina ratio - I think there may be a misprint in the book. If you try this easy-as-pie and totally delicious recipe out, try using 1 c. milk and 2 1/3 c. semolina. If you check out Nirmala's cookbook, be sure to try the Yucatan lime soup with lobster and tequila. We make ours with crab and halve the amount of shellfish (and it still seems to be a handsome amount), and it's really wonderful - light, flavourful, amazing. Just make sure you use fish stock and not water. It will make all the difference.

Alright, I'm off! I'm meeting an old friend at a theatre I interned with a few years ago to start up as a script reader again today. I'm excited, but also nervous; I'm being paid! It's not much (I like to joke that I have an allowance rather than a job), but still. It's money. For theatre work.

However, I'm kind of contracted until the end of the year, which means that, on top of all my Ph.D. reading, I'll be reading and churning out reports on six plays a month this fall. eep! I'm going to admit right now, this is going to be a bit of a challenge, and perhaps I ought not to stretch myself like this. HOWEVER, that said, it's going to be excellent to have my fingers on the pulse of new playwriting again (I can't tell you how handy this is when undergrads ask you, "do you know any good monologues I could use?"), and it's pretty fabbity fab to slap that on my resume. One works for free for a long time in theatre.

alright. Expect some fabulous pie pics tomorrow - Saturday (before the collapse into illness) we hiked in the woods with Cass' family and foraged wild berries in the dripping wet of a light rainstorm. To me, this is the quintessential northwest experience and I loved every minute of it, even as my hands went numb with cold and my wool coat got soaked (gee, I wonder why I got sick, eh?).