April 13, 2015

We Make Messes

We make messes around here. Lots of them.

Our messes often start in the kitchen where flour flies or gets mixed into clumps with water that spatters and sticks. Many of our messes turn into the meals that we enjoy together. Many turn into sticky hands, wet floors, or seeds stirred, sprinkled and spilled.

Some messes start small, a few crumbs on the table, a drop of soup on the tiled floor. The smudges on chairs, counters, and faucets slowly grow as they are touched by little hands covered with exuberant eating.

I love freshly vacuumed floors, counters wiped clean, blankets folded for later use or spread evenly across the bed. I feel calm and refreshed when our home is clean. Without a mess, the clean wouldn't feel so clean.

Messes are alive and we make them when we are creating, sharing, enjoying, playing. It's not a mess it is part of the process, a way of learning, so much of life itself.

April 3, 2015

If April Were a Cake

I wasn't thinking about cake while I was still cocooned in our down comforter watching the light gradually brighten the widows from black to a glowing blue. But when I got up on the first day of April and saw the clear skies and let the sun stream in as I pulled up the blinds, the idea crossed my mind. April seems like it will surely bring spring but spring in Maine is mostly a nice story until sometime in May. So far April has arrived with full on mud season complete with lingering piles of dirt covered snow and air that only feels warm because you are still wearing your winter coat. In a few weeks, maybe, we will get a balmy day that entices me to open windows and go outside without a jacket but for now we dwell in the hope of spring, not the reality.

Anyway, back to cake. I was thinking of the kind of every day cake that I might throw together on a sunny afternoon alone in the kitchen. Most of my afternoon time alone these days is spent sewing or writing and sometimes I miss the days when used to be able to head into the kitchen and whip something up without a second though. I enjoy being in the kitchen with Amos, too, though. It is unpredictable, usually messy with a tablespoon of chaos and lots of flour everywhere.

A quick mental inventory reminded me that we were out of oranges and chocolate and low on olive oil. I wished I had raspberries and ricotta. I considered making a buttermilk cake. Then I came across this recipe for a yeasted sugar cake. I had to make it. This is a cake that Amos certainly could have helped with, but it was nice to work quietly in the kitchen.

If April in Maine were a cake, it just might be this one. Take brown and white ingredients, nothing fresh or colorful, mix them together and then wait for them to rise. My cake batter didn't seem to turn out the way the recipe suggested but fortunately it still baked into a light, toothsome cake. Slightly chewy and pleasantly yeasty, I wished I had berries to put on top, though it was delicious all by itself. Just like spring, it will turn into a lovely treat.

Yeasted Sugar Cake
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
When I made this cake it turned into more of a batter than a dough. I will make it again soon and update the instructions if it turns out more like the recipe that I followed. I think this would be ideal with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, I can't wait until June!

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm milk
2 eggs at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar

Stir the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Let stand until foamy, 5-10 minutes. Combine the flours, remaining sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, milk and eggs and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the butter and beat on medium high until the batter is smooth. Scrape down the sides, cover and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how warm it is. 

Butter a 9-inch round pan (I always use a springform pan because it is the only 9-inch pan I have and it makes it easy to get out). Pour or gently pat the risen dough into the pan and spread it so that it fills the pan. Mix the butter and brown sugar and sprinkle it on top of the dough. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the cake for 25 minutes until the dough baked through and the sugar melted and begun to brown. Serve while still warm, although it is also very good once cooled and will keep for a few days. 

March 19, 2015

Calm, Clean, and Just Right

I will never have a perfectly decorated home. I will (and do) have a home that feels right, that is put together with things that I enjoy. This includes a lot of color, handmade things, artwork and pictures of people that I love. I like my spaces to be uncluttered as much as possible and I love it when I can read or cook or work in a clean organized space. With a toddler at home, I relish the times when things are tidy even more. I know that my living space will never be perfectly put together or anything close to magazine worthy, but I try to make it as enjoyable as possible for us to spend time in.

Although I don't consider our living space to have specific decor or themes, I have always really loved blue and white in our bedroom. These colors are calm, clean, and just right for a room that should be both relaxed and cozy. Of course, much of the time our small bedroom is a space for laundry piles, rumpled blankets and socks that have made good friends with the dust bunnies. The blue and white fabric of our comforter cover, quilt, sheets and pillow cases are not perfect coordinated but I still like the soothing colors that bring them all together.

After years and years of use, our pillow cases are looking quite shabby so I decided to replace two of them. I picked out some fabrics that I like and wouldn't mind seeing every night and every morning right in front of my face. Pillow have to be the easiest thing you can sew, all straight lines and no need to worry about how to turn them right side out. A couple of years ago I wrote about the little things that make home sweeter (and how to keep your pillows and pillow cases fresh) and it is still true.

March 12, 2015

Thrift and Frivolity

Our compost bin is beginning to emerge from under four feet of gradually melting snow. We abandoned our daily trip with a bowl of peels, stems, shells, and grounds sometime in January when we could no longer trudge over the piles of snow that filled our tiny back yard. There are almost always opportunities to make better use of food scraps but I don't always take them. In a moment of thrift and frivolity, I began stashing orange peels in a jar in the fridge for several days until it was packed full. The thick flesh surrounding the juicy citrus piles up quickly and with a little time, some water, and sugar it can easily be transformed into sweet and tart bites.

You are turning trash into treasure when you make candy from compost. Candied orange peel isn't something completely essential to my kitchen but frugality doesn't have to be about eating stems and patching holes. In fact, I think saving scraps is a way to find greater abundance in what you already have.

The candied orange peel is tasty on its own or dipped in chocolate. Pop some in a little jar, tie on a ribbon and you've got a sweet unexpected gift. I've been thinking about chopping it up and tossing it into this olive oil cake instead of the chocolate or the rosemary. After boiling the peels to remove the bitterness, I had a pot of orange scented water. Once it cooled, I added some of it to my 50/50 vinegar water cleaning solution. Now that I know how to use up every bit of an orange, I'm looking for other ways to save and reuse.

Candied Orange Peel
Adapted from Put Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton
You can use any thick skinned citrus for this recipe, just make sure that when you cut the peels they are all about the same size.

Peels of 4-5 oranges (about 10 ounces)
3 1/2 cups of sugar plus 1 cup for rolling the candied peel in
1 cup water
1 vanilla bean (optional)

Cut the peels into 1/4 inch strips. Place the peels in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Strain the peels, cover with water again, bring to a boil and drain. Do this once more. This process softens the peels and removes the bitterness from the pith. After the third time, let the peels drain.

Put the 3 1/2 cups of sugar, one cup of water, and vanilla bean in a pot over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the peels and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook the peels until they are translucent, about one hour. 

Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet. When the peels are done simmering, remove them from the syrup and place them on the rack (you can save the syrup for flavoring seltzer or glazing cakes). Let them dry for several hours and then roll them in sugar to coat each peel. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. They will keep for several weeks.

March 6, 2015

Something that Won't Compute (or Make Something!)

The way that I spend much of my time is an ode to the joy of making. I hope this blog reflects that and I hope to send out sparks of inspiration whenever I can. If I'm not specifically focusing on why I like making things, then I am telling you about my most recent creation. Every so often I get an extra jolt of excitement from a projects and recently that has been from sewing clothes. I finally finished the second Esme top that I mentioned last week and I got to experience, again, the thrill of making something that is not only useful but also makes me feel great when I wear it.

In one of my favorite poems, Wendell Berry writes, "So, friends, every day do something that won't compute." Something that is more satisfying and fulfilling than making a purchase with the click of a button and waiting for it to show up on the front porch. Something that might not turn out perfectly, might be hard, and will take time. I've had way more disasters than successes whether I am cooking, sewing, or trying to build something but I still believe that using your hands and your mind to create is a way to bring your ideas and dreams into reality. It might taste, look, or feel better than anything you've done before. It might make you laugh and start over again.

I don't know how to express it perfectly, eloquently but the other night finishing the last seams and putting it on I wanted to shout to everyone who needs to hear, Make Something!

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.