February 27, 2015

Works In Progress






I've been meaning to make new pillow covers for quite some time. I'm really happy that I got to use some of my favorite fabrics from my stash and I had fun reinforcing them with decorative lines of stitching. I still have two more pillows to cover. I'm not sure if I'll use the same style or colors. It might be fun to do a tutorial on how to make these striped covers. What do you think?








Another project that has been in progress for months. I am planning to hang this on an empty wall in our living room. I just have to figure out how I want to hang it.







I made my first Esme Top last fall and I really love it. I cut this fabric in December to make another one but it has been neglected since then. Hopefully I will finish it soon because I am excited to be expanding my clothes making skills beyond skirts.







Another neglected project. I started this sweater for Amos before Christmas. Then I lost the directions in my house! I have the directions again and I just have to finish the sleeves. Luckily it is a size that should fit him for a while and sweater weather won't be over any time soon.


I sometimes have projects that I am not sure I will ever finish, but I'm always glad to have many opportunities to create. What are you working on?

February 20, 2015

Pizza Night For Everyone + Gluten Free Pizza Dough Recipe

Homemade pizza is one of my favorite things to make, I've written about it several times. There are unlimited possibilities for topping the flat expanse of dough and it is always delicious. On Friday nights, we usually make two pizzas, enough to have some leftover for lunch the next day and an opportunity to have two (or sometimes three) different combinations of cheese, vegetables, and sauce or no sauce. A few years ago I learned that canned whole tomatoes make the absolute best sauce. I just crush them right on the dough with a sprinkle of salt and sometimes minced garlic or dried oregano. I love pizzas without sauce, too, topped with goat cheese, sweet vegetables (like beets, red peppers, or squash), and, sometimes, balsamic reduction. I adore caramelizing onions and I make them almost every time we have pizza.

I love sharing our pizza nights with friends whenever possible. When we have people over, I don't want anyone to feel left out and do my best to cook and bake things that people with dietary restrictions can enjoy, too. There are plenty of pizza doughs, with and without gluten, that you can buy ready to stretch or already shaped for baking. Obviously I prefer to make my own and it is one of the easiest things you can make with flour water and yeast.

Gluten free pizza dough is only slightly more difficult. I am not a gluten free pizza expert but I enjoy this crust. My brother is a gluten free pizza afficianado and both he and my friend Emily, who also does not eat gluten, gave this their seal of approval.

Gluten Free Pizza Dough
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
I definitely recommend pre-baking the crust before you top it. The original recipe suggests baking it until the crust is dark brown which will give you a really crispy crust but I don't think it is necessary to bake it quite that long. I prepare my pizza dough on a piece of parchment paper and then slide it onto a pizza stone, this works well for the gluten free crust too.

My flour/starch blend is based on this recipe and I use a mixture of what I have on hand such as brown rice flour, white rice flour, teff flour, sorghum flour, cornmeal or others. For the starches I have most frequently used potato starch, corn starch, or arrowroot.

Makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas. The dough freezes well and can be used the same way once thawed.

12 ounces of gluten free flours (see above)
5 ounces of gluten free starches (see above)
2 1/2 ounces almond flour
1 1/2 tablespoons ground flax seed
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups warm water

In the bowl of a stand mixed fitted with the dough hook attachment add the flours, starches, almond flour, flax seed, baking powder, salt, yeast, and olive oil. With the mixer running on low, pour in the water 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to come together into a ball. You may need to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides to make sure that the water reaches all of the flour. When the dough can be kneaded in a large soft ball, cover it and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours. It will not rise much.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the ball of dough in half and shape half of it on a sheet of parchment into a round thin disk. Olive oil on your hands will keep it from sticking. Place the parchment on a baking sheet or directly onto a pizza stone. Bake for 15  minutes or until the crust begins to turn golden brown. While the crust is baking, prepare your toppings. Remove the crust from the oven and top with sauce, cheese, and any other toppings you like. Return the pizza to the oven until the cheese is melted and baked to your liking, about 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

This is the dough recipe I use most often when my pizza is not gluten free.



February 12, 2015

Pause

The world around me is piled high with snow, the renewed vigor of the start of the year has given way to ordinary clutter. It is a good time to turn inward, find renewal, and make sure we have the basics under control. Sometimes you just need a pause. In our house, that means I am trying to keep things simple as I try to help Amos sleep better. We will all be much more rested once we work through it. I decided that for the next few weeks this needs to be a priority and there are other things I can let go.

A pause is a chance to focus on the things that are essential and that really need our attention. It is also a way to slow down and take care of yourself, the things around you, and the people you care about.

When you need to pause:

Make time. Use whatever time you can find, it doesn't have to be a whole week or a whole day. Maybe you choose an evening when everyone will be home to connect around the dinner table. You could take a walk or find some quiet during your lunch break. Or, try implementing a few minutes to pause at the beginning or the end of the day. The idea is to let go of the things that are not essential and focus on those that matter most.

Deliberately let go of distractions. Turning off or putting away your phone, computer, television and other distracting devices will give you at least a few extra minutes to focus on things that matter more. Ask yourself if something is essential, if it has to be done now, or if it will make life more wonderful. If not, let it go.

Choose what you want to focus on. Depending on how much time you have, maybe you will spend an evening focusing on an important person or relationship or spend a weekend getting the rest you need. Choose what you can outsource or do ahead of time so you can really benefit from taking this time to catch up with yourself.

Prioritize taking care of yourself. It can be tempting to just veg out when you are tired and need a break and sometimes this is okay. Instead of making it a habit, though, find healthy ways to nurture yourself. Finding small moments to pause to eat a healthy meal, drink water, write in your journal, stretch or meditate or do anything that makes you feel nurtured and cared for can make a big difference.

Figuring out how to take care of yourself in the midst of busy-ness of life is a challenge. Remembering that you can pause anytime anywhere (close your eyes right now and take a deep breath) is a start and it is something you can return to again and again.

January 30, 2015

Enjoy a Hot Mug


January is a good month for drinking tea. We've had many days trying to keep cozy inside when temperatures are below zero. Now that everything is covered in feet of snow we are venturing out more among the piles and flakes. Pulling Amos around the snowy streets in the sled is a good way to warm up but I also enjoy a hot mug to sip and wrap my hands around.

Chai Concentrate (Updated)
I posted this recipe a couple of summers ago. I have reworked it to taste more of the flavors I enjoy. I love a good does of cardamom and ginger but you can adjust the spices to your taste. I highly recommend ordering bulk spices (Penzeys or Mountain Rose Herbs are good sources) so you can try different combinations and it is more affordable to make your own Chai blend that way. I used dried ginger root but fresh ginger would also work, you may need to add more.

2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
16 cardamom pods
10 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried ginger root (not powdered)

1-3 teaspoons loose leaf tea (black or green)
2-4 teaspoons sweetener of your choice

Measure the spices into a pot and add 4 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, add the tea and let it steep for 5 minutes (or longer if you want a strong tea flavor). Stir in the sweetener and add more if needed. Store the concentrate in an air tight jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

To serve: Combine 3/4 cup of the concentrate with 1/4 cup milk or non-dairy milk of your choice. Serve hot or over ice. Makes about 6 cups.

January 21, 2015

Thoughts at the Kitchen Sink


I've been thinking about work and the way that it is often so tempting to get a job done quickly without too much effort. When there are endless jobs to be done and the promise of some time to not do anything, it seems to make sense to choose ease and convenience. They are, after all, what everyone wants most, along with instant gratification. As someone who tries to make instead of buy as much as possible I shouldn't be drawn to doing the bare minimum and calling it good. But when someone comments on the food I have prepared or something I've knitted or sewn, my first response is, It's really easy. I say this because I want you consider trying to make something yourself, too. I say it because I don't want you to think I've gone to a lot of trouble or that I am insane to take all that time to make something when I buying it would be easier. I wonder what would happen if I said, I put a lot of time and effort into it and that's why I like it so much.

There are daily and weekly tasks that I don't want to linger on and there are meals that I rush to prepare and sometimes rush to eat. But I find that when I gloss over things quickly it encourages me to keep doing less instead of engaging in a task. When I go deeper into cleaning, making, listening, I feel more connected, grounded, and appreciative. It is certainly not always possible to do this but I remind myself that these moments are all we have and I'd like to enjoy experiencing as many as possible. I don't plan to take more time and care with scrubbing the shower but I do want to remember the satisfaction of a job carefully and thoroughly done.

P.S. This article is not entirely related, but I really loved it.

January 8, 2015

A Fresh Start In The Kitchen


We've lived in our new apartment for a few months now, but I still don't feel a connection to our kitchen the way I did to the off white formica counters, brown stained linoleum, and simple gas stove in the kitchen that was my home for the previous four years. I miss the light that would filter in on sunny afternoons, spreading itself across the table and lighting up the walls. I miss the high ceilings that made the small room feel more open and less cluttered than our new kitchen. I think what I really miss is all the time I spent in there chopping, sauteeing, kneading, mixing, washing dishes, and sitting at the the wooden table eating, writing, or staring out the window, uninterrupted.

It will take more time to feel at home in the better kept and better equipped kitchen in our new place but it will be a completely different feeling of home. I stand at the maroon counters in this space and feel a tug on my leg as Amos says "Mommy Peease" and hands me the broom so I can sweep up the black beans that have fallen out of the bowl and muffin tin and cups he has been sorting them into. I can barely cut an onion in half and start peeling off the skin before I hear him dragging the heavy wooden chair behind me so he can see what I'm doing at the counter. The oven beeps when it is done pre-heating and Amos immediately lets me know that it is hot. It's hard to find room to do dishes when he always wants to play with water in the sink.

My kitchen experiences in this apartment are almost entirely different than they were before I had a little one who wants to explore and be part of everything. As December ended and we began a new month and new year I realized how much I wanted a fresh start and renewed motivation in the kitchen. For the past few months I have been making lentil soup, beans and rice, fritattas and a few other pretty easy, pretty tasty recipes. Even though it is more challenging to find time to cook and to enjoy cooking now, I am trying to come up with ways to do this and to fill our plates with more variety, more nutrition, and better tasting food. I would love to hear your strategies for getting out of a cooking rut I want to offer some of mine:

Go to the books. Or Pinterest. Or wherever you store recipes that you haven't tried but want to. I pulled some cookbooks off the shelf in the corner of the kitchen and sat on the floor with Amos and we both flipped through pages while I searched for recipes that sounded good and would work well for our meals. I wrote the name of the recipe, page number, and cookbook on a piece of paper. I also looked back at the many pins I have on my recipes to try board and jotted down some that I haven't tried or had forgotten about.

Add new things slowly. I plan to choose a recipe from my list each week. If I enjoy making it and we enjoy eating it then I will try to make this recipe more often. I find it is easiest to incorporate new recipes gradually and it is ideal if they call for ingredients that I can use for other meals in the same week. Usually after I've made a new recipe once or twice, I go off book and make it more or less from memory.

Dig deeper. I often feel more motivated when I can spend more time on something and get involved rather than just trying to pull together a quick meal. This is definitely not always possible or desirable, but when I can take a couple of hours to carefully prepare a meal or make several things for the week in one sitting, I feel excited about cooking and more satisfied. Sometimes this happens when Amos is asleep, when Ray can hang out with him, or when I can find things that keep him occupied for longer stretches.

Start fresh. Its always nice to have a clean slate, or clean cupboards and fridge. Starting fresh can also mean stocking up on ingredients you need or adding a few new ingredients that you haven't used as often. I realized recently that I wasn't doing very well with eating breakfast since I don't always want to eat as soon as Amos does so I made a batch of granola bars to have something nutritious and easy to start the day. Starting fresh means setting yourself up for success with cooking and eating well.

I'd love to hear your tips for feeling motivated to make good food, enjoying the process and any must make recipes that you want to share. Here's to a fresh start and a chance to find renewal in the kitchen and throughout your days this year!

December 17, 2014

Make Magic Happen


I don't enjoy coffee or any other caffeinated drinks but I love a nice hot cup of cocoa. At first I thought of drinking hot chocolate as something of a guilty pleasure but then I decided to embrace it and drink it often, especially in the long cold winter. I usually make it at home on the stove using an easy favorite recipe. A good cup of cocoa needs no embellishment though a dollop of whipped cream is always welcome and this time of year I often think of marshmallows. Once a year, usually around the holidays, I get an irresistible urge to make them.

Marshmallows require ingredients that I almost never use in anything else. Though they are probably harmless, I avoid recipes that call for gelatin or corn syrup. Homemade marshmallows are actually very tasty but I think the real reason I like making them is that these odd ingredients come together to make magic happen in a bowl. It always seems impossible that this sticky syrup and gelatin can be transformed into little puffs that bob around and melt slowly into a cup of cocoa. I always feel a bit nervous about whether it will work, but the recipe is actually quite foolproof. When it comes down to it, its just really fun to make marshmallows.

Marshmallows
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila.
It turns out that you can use light or dark corn syrup to make these (I used dark since I forgot to specify when Ray went to the store, it worked fine). The marshmallows will be off-white not white if you use dark corn syrup and have a hint of molasses. You can also add other flavors besides vanilla if you like that sort of thing. 

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon of other flavoring such as peppermint, almond, orange

Grease a 9 inch square pan with a neutral oil or butter.

In a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, pour 2/3 cup of water and sprinkle in the gelatin. Let that sit while you combine 1/2 cup water in a sauce pan with the sugar, corn syrup, salt and vanilla bean seeds, if using (if you are using extract you will add it later). Cook over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes until a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees F. Remove from heat. Begin beating the gelatin on low speed and pour in the hot sugar and syrup. Add the vanilla or other extract if you are using it. Increase the speed to high and beat for 10 to 15 minutes until the mixture becomes thick, white, and shiny.  

Pour the liquid marshmallow into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Let cool at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Cut into squares or rectangles of your desired size. Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks.