April 21, 2016

Blueberry Oat Scones

How do you like your scones? I like mine sturdy, craggy, and a little bit chewy. They don't need eggs or cream, sugary glaze or extra adornment. I have, of course, found many great bakery made scones, but I love them best when I can mix them up on a morning's whim. That's exactly what I did today. 

Perhaps it is misguided of me to think that something freshly baked, sweetening the air as it rises and browns, could make the day more special. But, giving just a few extra minutes to pop them in the oven on a regular morning is a nice way to stray from the ordinary. My mornings don't usually reach a level of hectic. Considering it can take hours to convince, cajole and encourage Amos to pick out clothes and get dressed, I can get a few other things done.  If, for you, time is ever precious, these are ideal for a weekend or day off, too.

Blueberry Oat Scones
This is based on a recipe from the bakery where I used to work. There are many many variations and additions you could try (dried fruit or nuts instead of berries, buttermilk instead of regular milk etc). I used frozen wild blueberries but when the season comes these would be great with fresh berries, too. 

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar plus more for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup blueberries
3/4 cup milk or buttermilk plus more for glazing

Preheat the oven to 375'  Combine flour, oats, 1/3 cup sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces, toss with flour mixture and use your finger tips to break up the butter and work it into the flour. Continue working until the butter and flour make small crumbs with a few larger chunks of butter. Add the blueberries and toss with a fork to distribute. Pour in the 3/4 cup of milk and toss again with a fork to evenly wet the flour. Knead in the bowl, folding over the dough several times. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lift up the mass of dough and dump any dry flour from the bottom of the bowl into the middle of the baking sheet. Place the mass of dough on top. Pat into a circle about 7 inches wide and an inch thick. If your hands are sticking, rinse them in cold water and, with wet hands, press the dough so it comes together and is mostly smooth on top. 

Use a knife to cut the circle into 6 even pieces and separate them onto the baking sheet. Brush the top of each scone with milk and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until they are a nice golden brown on top (this will insure that they are not underbaked on the inside). Let cool for 10 minutes before eating.

April 13, 2016

The Small Things, Always the Small Things

I am in that time of trying to slow down while also tying up loose ends and checking off the last things I want to accomplish. I am accepting that I won't have everything perfect before the baby comes which is fine because no matter how much I clean or prepare, it will be a mess again in a moment. I am glad that I am able to reflect a bit and do my best to enjoy these last weeks and days before our new family member arrives.

I was lucky enough to have a few days to myself recently. As in, no husband, no child, just me at home doing whatever I wanted. Although I have had many days and weekends like this before, I have not had a stretch of time like that in the past 3 years and it will be many years before I have a stretch like that to myself again. At times, I felt like I was wearing a an old favorite sweater that, although it had been long forgotten in the back of a drawer, fit well enough to remind me of the person I was the last time I put it on.

A few days free from taking care for another person nudged my thoughts toward the ideas, goals, and dreams that I have when I am not consumed by parenting. For now, I'm tucking them back in the drawer but in several months or a year I will make sure that they are a part of every day. In the mean time, it is the small things, the short term goals and the satisfaction of getting rid of clutter, making a few things for babies to wear, finishing knitting projects without interruption, or doing nothing more than watch the sunlight creep along the bedroom wall.

P.S. That sweet little dress is the little geranium dress from Made By Rae, free on her website, if you are interested. I made up the other pattern.

March 25, 2016

Cloth Covered Rope Basket

Where did it come from? Who made it? Amos asks these questions all the time. My answers range from: I don't know to A farm or A cow or, often, probably a factory. Sometimes the answer seems simple, I made it. As I've gradually sewn things for our home, I can look around and see many things I've stitched together for the place that I spend most of my time. It is gratifying to make things I love for the place and people that I love, but sometimes it seems like so much patchwork!

As someone who rarely measures and often cuts more than once, I have a huge basket of small scraps of fabric. Many of these are from trimming off an edge or a little extra fabric, others have found their way there when they are not big enough to iron and fold neatly on the shelf. Cloth covered rope baskets are currently my favorite way to turn many of these scraps into something that is as useful as it is lovely to look at. I have often wanted to be able to make more baskets and containers for storage and was delighted to discover a kind of basket that I could sew instead of learning the more complicated skill of basket weaving. Making fabric covered rope baskets is a slower process with a few extra steps than just coiling and sewing the rope alone but it is a fun way to choose color combinations and use up scraps.

I have a lot to learn about shaping the baskets and I still can't be sure they will turn out exactly as I envision. This one was headed away from what I had hoped, but adding the little handles made all the difference and I am quite happy with the final result. This basket will be just the spot for keeping a few toys for the baby separate from all the other toys in baskets, drawers and strewn about.

March 17, 2016

Mascarpone Vanilla Ice Cream

More adventures in inspired re-purposing, which seems like the appropriate term when reducing waste is really about making the most delicious thing I can. Truthfully, there are some foods that have almost no chance of going to waste in our kitchen. Others must be carefully monitored and kept front and center so they will not stay in there long past their prime, but mascarpone, ricotta, or just plain cream will always be put to good use. And, when I say good use, I mean that I will probably  choose the most appealing option of the moment. Leftover ricotta will become gnocchi or orange ricotta cake. Cream must be whipped and eaten as soon as possible (or maybe, made into creme fraiche). Since I tend toward indulgent recipes for these spare amounts, it is probably good that these things are in our kitchen only occasionally and mascarpone may be the rarest of all. I made some mascarpone butter to put on french toast for brunch and before that I was over, I had a plan to make ice cream with the rest of it. 

It might seem silly that in using up one thing, I need more of other ingredients but this is one reason why I love the challenge of using up what you already have -- it doesn't have to be completely practical or boring. The mascarpone gives this ice cream a subtle, but welcome tang. I think substituting creme fraiche or greek yogurt would do the trick nicely as well. And if you are concerned about what to do with the leftover egg whites, look no further: these cookies are amazing.

Mascarpone Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted from this recipe. I enjoyed this ice cream on its own, but it goes very well with chocolate, caramel or berry sauce. Makes about 1 quart of ice cream.

2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 pinch salt
4 egg yolks
1 cup mascarpone

Bring the milk and sugar to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, whisk in the vanilla bean seeds and salt. Whisk together the eggs and slowly add 1/2-3/4 cup of the hot milk to the eggs while whisking constantly. Return the pot of milk to the stove over medium low heat. Slowly pour in the egg mixture and continue to whisk. Once it is all incorporated, stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until it thickens enough to coat the spatula. Remove from heat, pour through a strainer into a bowl. Stir in the mascarpone and refrigerate until completely chilled. Freeze in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturers instructions.

March 10, 2016

Binding it together

My latest quilting endeavor is, of course, for our baby, due in about 8 weeks. I didn't have a specific pattern in mind but while browsing for ideas I came across the disappearing nine patch. I chose nine fabrics that I loved because they contrast with and compliment each other so well. My favorites are probably the three that I couldn't resist from a collection called faraway forest by Lizzie Mackay. I don't often choose fabrics that are meant to go to together but the squirrels and mushrooms and flowers were the beginning of my color inspiration for this quilt.

To make the disappearing nine patch, I stitched together blocks of nine, with one square of each different fabric. Then I cut each nine patch into quarters. These new blocks can be used to create patterns and shapes by putting the colors together but that's not really my style. Instead, I put the blocks together somewhat randomly and then refined that randomness until it seemed just right. I love the way that a lack of symmetry or complete pattern keeps me gazing for longer and searching to make sense of it visually. I think of lying in bed when I was young and staring at the cracks in the ceiling or a design on the wall, letting my eyes and mind wander. I am more intrigued by something when I want to keep looking at it then when I can see the pattern right away.

I loved choosing the fabric and the simple process of creating the squares but I have to admit that the final result was not quite what I had hoped for. Too much orange? Too random? Either way, I enjoyed the process immensely. I find it hard to believe how much I enjoy the simple meditative act of hand quilting those long straight rows. It is more than just the back and forth between layers of fabric, I think I love the feeling of binding things together. Connecting, strengthening and putting the tiniest bit of myself into it.

March 3, 2016

Oven Crisped Polenta Fries

I was talking to another mom today about how easy it is to rejoice when things seem to be going well and, for a few minutes or days, you feel like you've got this. And how, inevitably that feeling quickly gives way to disaster, confusion, and chaos. It is probably best to take it moment to moment without relaxing into a false sense of security and success, but that can be hard to do.

So I won't even hint at the sense that, at home, we've fallen into a pretty good routine. But I will enjoy the sense of accomplishment, however tiny, that comes from getting most of the dishes and laundry put away, getting the process of dinner started, and managing to encourage and help Amos to clean up the variety of blocks, pom poms, trucks, at kitchen utensils that he has spread out over our house. And then, sometime between four and five o'clock, it's bath time.

We recently got an actual bathtub installed in the bathroom of the apartment we rent and my water loving child has taken to spending a good long while plunked in there. While he pours, mixes, scrubs, and squirts water, I take four steps and I am in the kitchen. My own mixing, pouring, scrubbing and chopping is done in small spurts, punctuated by frequent visits to the bathtub and always with one ear listening to Amos. The other ear is usually listening to NPR and the rest of me is relaxing into the small luxury of a few minutes of uninterrupted cooking.

There are plenty of times when Amos helps me make dinner. He's not bad at chopping vegetables, if I cut them into small pieces first he can slice them smaller with a butter knife. He loves to mix ingredients together. If I don't have something practical for him to mix he will find or ask for anything available to make into what can only be called an inedible concoction but, no matter, Amos pours it into a jar and puts it in the fridge.

I know there will be so much more cooking together tomorrow, next week and next year. I love that he enjoys spending time in the kitchen with me, but it can be so challenging. Even a few minutes of uninterrupted progress toward a meal borders on luxury.

The recipe I want to share today can be a chance to slow down and do some meditative stirring if, like me, quiet uninterrupted stirring is sometimes just what you need. Constant attention is certainly not required as long as you can keep and eye on the pot while you do other things.

In addition to occasionally allowing me to stand in one place and stir, I find polenta to be such a comforting food. I love a bowl of soft polenta topped with roasted vegetables, it makes a fabulous gratin or lasagna alternative, and I've recently been perfecting my recipe for crispy polenta fries. I served these to a group of friends a few weeks ago. That batch wasn't as perfectly crisped as I had hoped but they disappeared fast. Polenta is a great dairy and gluten free option, although it certainly does not hurt to lace it with butter and cheese, and crisping it in the oven with olive oil it will appeal to almost everyone. To clarify, this polenta is not actually fried and it can easily be made a day or two ahead of time and crisped in the oven before your meal.

Oven Crisped Polenta Fries
I discovered the technique for crisping polenta in the oven in Amy Chaplin's At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen. She cuts it into triangles, crisps them with olive oil in the oven and serves them with a delicious black bean stew. Polenta goes well with so many things. I served these with a homemade ketchup, cheese sauce, or pesto for dipping.

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1 cup italian style coarse cornmeal (uncooked polenta)
Olive oil for the pan and for brushing the polenta
Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a medium sauce pan. Add salt. When the water is boiling, pour in the polenta and whisk to make sure that it is smooth with no lumps. Reduce heat to medium low so that it simmering but not bubbling too much. Cook, stirring the polenta every few minutes (or constantly if desired, but it is certainly not necessary), for about 25 minutes or until the polenta is tender and no longer has a slight soapy taste. It will become thicker as it cooks. Taste and add more salt if necessary. 

While the polenta is cooking, grease a half sheet pan with olive oil. When the polenta is done, spread it evenly over the prepared pan. Let it cool until it is solidified and not too hot to cut or cover and refrigerate it for up to two days. 

When you are ready to crisp the polenta, preheat the oven to 400' F. Cut the polenta into small rectangles or your desired shape. Divide the sliced polenta evenly between two half sheet pans, brushing both sides of each piece with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Use a spatula to flip each piece over and bake for another 20 minutes or until they are crispy on the outside. Enjoy while they are hot.

Serves 2-3 people with a meal and more people for snacking.

February 25, 2016

Kitchen Scraps for Dyeing Fabric

My most recent adventure in using my scraps and making the most of what I already have was a kind of kitchen magic that won't disappear into hungry mouths. My first attempt at dyeing fabric with plant materials was an exciting transformation that makes me want to try more.

I have been saving onion skins for months. Peeling off the translucent outer layers of yellow onions and tucking them into bags in the cupboard before dicing the bulb and tossing it in the pot for dinner. For months I was also looking for a pot that could be solely dedicated to dyeing. Despite many visits to thrift stores, I still haven't found one, but I decided it would be safe to use one of our big cooking pots for dying with something more or less edible.

After all those months of saving, the skins didn't amount to much, but I simmered them for an hour while they turned the water to a rich reddish brown. I scooped out the skins and added two pieces of cotton fabric. Whenever I can find them, I buy plain white cotton sheets from goodwill, another way make something unwanted into something new. I soaked the fabric in hot water and added it to the pot of onion skin dye, simmering the fabric for another hour. I stirred it occasionally and then left the pot of dye and fabric to cool and sit for a couple of days. I used these instructions as a guideline for my dyeing process.

The result was a not unpleasant but not at all dazzling color. The fabric did not take the dye evenly, or perhaps I didn't stir it the way I should have. But, I am dazzled by the possibilities of transformation that can come from a pile of kitchen scraps. I am eager to do more experiments with the bits and pieces that I already have on hand.