January 30, 2012

Over the Weekend


I'm easing into Monday of what promises to be a busy week. I spent most of Saturday in the kitchen. Using up veggie scraps to make stock, turning oranges, sugar, butter and eggs into orange cardamom curd (which I cooked for too long. I am tempted to make another batch to get it right, but I might try lemon or another citrus curd instead). I used the extra egg whites from the curd to make meringues. 

This morning I have sourdough rising on the counter, orders to send at the post office, and plans to make some napkin sets today. Maybe this evening I'll have a chance to finally start my sweater. 

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So far I've turned several of the skeins of lichen colored lark yarn into balls ready to knit. I wish I had gotten this project going a month or two ago, but maybe I can finish this before winter loosens it's grasp. 

What have you been making lately?

January 27, 2012

This Week

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Not so much the studio, other parts of the house.

Last week it was time for another overhaul of our living space. I love eliminating clutter and finding ways to use our space differently so that it feels new and refreshed. I've realized that I need to do this three or four times a year. I did some repurposing of things, as well as spaces, and turned an old bulletin board into a chalkboard (with several coats of chalkboard paint).

I think I mentioned before that I love pinterest because it seems so full of hope and inspiration. So many people have dream home or dream apartment boards. I love that everyone dreams about the perfect, amazing space they want to create and I also love the challenge of making due with what we have in our apartment and making it work for us. It will never have the look of a gorgeous home decor photo, but these little changes can make such a big difference especially when it is dismal and gray outside.

I watched this short film from this must be the place and it reminded me of how much I hope for that someday place that we will be able to dig into and really make our own.

Happy Friday!


January 25, 2012

The Challenge and Delight

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When it comes to cooking and eating, Ray and I have very different approaches. He likes to eat out when he's not at home and eat what I cook when he is. When he occasionally makes food he tries to perfect his favorites like mac and cheese and french toast topped with a maple berry compote. Also, he brews beer which I appreciate because it is good beer and it is homemade.

I secretly hope that Ray will be impressed when I tell him that I made ketchup to go with our oven fried potatoes for dinner or bake my weekly loaf of sourdough bread. Since I love the challenge and delight of making something that is ubiquitously store bought I do it often. Ray is used to it and barely notices, except to note that it doesn't taste quite the same as the version that comes in a box, a bottle, or a jar. I know I'm a little crazy for making so many things from scratch, but it's what I like to do.

I try to persuade Ray to take a homemade lunch a couple of times each week. When he mentioned his favorite sandwich at a local shop: avocado, cheese, sprouts, mayo... I started plotting. I started seeds sprouting, baked two loaves of ciabatta bread and at the last minute whipped up a batch of mayo. It didn't take much for me to latch on to the creative opportunities of this point of intersection in our divergent tastes and interests. I cook to satisfy myself, but it means even more to be able to share my love of creating good food with my husband.




Homemade Mayonnaise
Admittedly, I fear mayonnaise and usually stay away from it, but the idea of making it myself was still intriguing. I recently read Ratio by Michael Ruhlman in which he explains the simple ratios for making many common recipes. Mayonnaise is one that he explains and though it took some furious whisking, it turned out perfectly. Making the transformation from eggs and oil to the white wiggly spread was amazing and all of that whisking was a good way to warm up on a cold evening. If you have any interest in mayonnaise at all, you should try it. This recipe makes about a cup. I'll explain it in paragraph form like I would if I were telling you in person how easy it is.

Grab a medium to large mixing bowl that will rest on the counter while you whisk and pour. Put one egg yolk, two teaspoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and one teaspoon water into the bowl. Measure 8 ounces of vegetable oil (I used grapeseed) into a liquid measuring cup. This recipe takes only a few minutes, but I tried to concentrate and whisk really hard because it is possible that the mayonnaise can break and become a runny sauce instead of a thick spread.

Start by whisking the egg, lemon juice, salt and water together in the bowl. Pour in a few drops of oil and whisk it all together. Add a few more drops and begin whisking continuously. While whisking, slowly pour in the rest of the oil in a very thin stream. It should begin to thicken as you add the oil. Keep whisking until all the oil is added and the mayonnaise is thick enough to cling to the whisk.

If the mixture is pourable then it has broken, but don't fear. Michael Ruhlman suggests pouring the mixture into the measuring cup, cleaning out the bowl and added a teaspoon of water. Gradually pour the mixture into the bowl with the water and whisk as you did before until it emulsifies.



January 23, 2012

Glorious Transformation

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On a chilly winter's evening, get a cutting board and stand near your stove. Cut the stem and root end off two or three medium sized yellow onions. Slice them in half from stem to root and peel off the skin. Cut each hemisphere of onion into thin strips along its latitudes. Warm a skillet or saute pan over medium-low heat. Pour in a glug of olive oil and add the pile of sliced onions. They are pungent, crisp and pale in color. They make your eyes sting and cry. This temporary torture is the unfortunate price, but you will be rewarded soon. As they begin their quiet sizzle, stir the onions every few minutes to distribute the heat and cook evenly. They will begin to change color, at first a hint of  golden then darker. The goal is not to brown them, but to let them melt and become their better selves.

Add some salt, stir when you think of it, and then go about your business as though nothing truly magical was happening on your stove. The onions will let go of their stiff pretense and start to relax, becoming soft and flexible. Stir. Ignore. Stir again. After 15 or 20 minutes they will have changed color entirely, but don't stop too soon. They need to stay on the heat to realize their true potential. This warm weather vacation will turn them a deep golden brown and bring out all of their sweetness. Keep stirring and checking them until they have become the color of caramel and are soft, limp and unrecognizable as the vegetable you chopped minutes ago.

Now enjoy. Use them to top pizza, focaccia, stir them into risotto, use for soups, add to sandwiches (grilled cheese, anyone?), toss into salads. I have a jarful the fridge to ensure that I can enjoy their flavor as often as possible. It is a glorious transformation.

January 20, 2012

This Week In the Studio

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Washing, ironing and cutting fabric. I made and shipped this custom order. Then I cut more fabric and matched it with other fabric for more placemats.

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I love working with these beautiful fabrics and it is quite fun to choose which ones to put together.

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After many placemats in the past year, I am happy to finally be very proficient at making them and I love the way they are turning out. It is gratifying to know that my work improves and that I actually have some skill at sewing.

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I've been very slow at getting new items in the shop, but I plan to make that happen next week. Happy Friday!

January 18, 2012

Delight in Sharing

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Since my subscription to the New Yorker ran out last month, I happily have more time to read books. It is a great magazine, but I decided to forgo witty cartoons and fascinating articles about people I'd never heard of because it took up all of my reading time. The pleasure of getting lost in a book one of life's greatest luxuries.

I intend to read lots this year and to keep my imagination and my bedside table full, I've been rekindling my relationship with the library. I love that I can take home a pile of books on diverse topics and ideas. In my excitement I sometimes get a little greedy and bring home 3 or 4 or 5, but as long as I return them three weeks later, they are mine to read, or not. I've been browsing the cookbook selections as a way to try new recipes and learn about techniques. I only have them for a short time so I know that they won't languish on the shelf, neglected, as some of my cookbooks tend to be.

I am delighted by this giant communal bookshelf. I don't always find the exact books I was looking for, but I always leave with something to read and a sense of excitement. Free books! As many as I can read! (also dvds! museum passes!) The only drawback is that often find myself with squeaky shoes as I walk through the quite rooms. I know that some communities have tool libraries, but I wish we had more communal resources and ways to find delight in sharing.




P.S. As I wrote that last sentence I realized that the internet is course it is an incredibly vast resource which is very much powered by sharing information. A library in its own way. I was reminded of this because many sites are blacked out today to raise awareness of SOPA and PIPA. I did not write this post in any way because of these acts and I'm not really qualified to talk about them, but I definitely support our ability to share resources and information through as many ways as possible.

January 16, 2012

Coming Together


Years ago, I lived in an old farmhouse with three other women. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen of that house, even once spent an afternoon scrubbing the floor that was layered with grime from previous inhabitants. When I wasn't in the kitchen or swimming in the lake or sitting on the porch where we often grilled on summer evenings, I worked in the market garden of the farm. Most mornings I would walk or ride my bike past the woods and fields and cows, enjoying the ever changing views of the mountains, far across the lake. 

I lived a simple life there working hard all day, dreaming of which vegetables I would cook for dinner and spending a lot of my evenings and weekends making food. I baked bread and made baba ganoush from the excess eggplants in the garden. Living on this farm I became acutely aware and deeply appreciative of knowing where each ingredient in a meal came from. When my housemates were around we would all contribute to cooking our meals. We also worked together on more involved cooking projects like making ravioli and canning jam. I often remember that when something turned our really well or was especially beautiful Jessica would suggest taking a picture of it. I'm sure I took a few pictures of our food and I have lots of pictures of the garden, but this was before food blogs were abundant and before I had an inkling of the beauty and challenge that I could discover in trying to capture what was on my plate. 

Since starting this blog I have often thought of Jessica's long ago suggestion to capture our edibles on film (I didn't have a digital camera at the time). Back then I brushed off the idea, but in the past few years I have taken many pictures in my kitchen. It has been a very slow process of learning little bits here and there but barely making a dent in my knowledge of photography. I often feel more rooted in the process than in being able to come up with a perfectly presented final product.

Like the disparate ingredients of a salad coming together in a transcendant bite, my past experiences marinate and mix to bring me to where I am today. Taking a moment to look back reminds me to I appreciate that where I have come from is just as important as where I will someday end up.


Raw Kale Salad with Parmesan Date Dressing
Adapted from Cook this Now by Melissa Clark
Citrus and dates transform the hearty kale into a lighter tasting winter salad. The orginal recipe uses anchovies but I used parmesan instead. The kale benefits from some marinating so you can make the salad a few hours ahead of eating. It keeps well  for a few days. I used a mix of lacinato (also called tuscan or dinosaur) and red russian kale.

6 large medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (or 6 anchovie fillets, finely chopped)
3 garlic cloves, minced
Zest of 2 oranges
Zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 bunches of lacinato kale, washed and dried
Sea salt, to taste

Chop the dates very fine and mash them into a paste. In a small bowl, mix the dates with the parmesan (or anchovies) garlic, orange and lemon zest. Stir in the olive oil and vinegar.

Remove the stems of the kale by ripping the leaf part off. Thinly slice the ripped leaves and place them in a salad bowl. Toss in the dressing and add salt to taste. 



 

January 13, 2012

This Week in the Studio

Finished Aprons

Aprons, dishcloths, and cloth napkins are all constant use in my kitchen. Well, I admit that I don't wear an apron as often as I should, but for big projects or days with lots of cooking I certainly put one on. These kitchen textiles are essential to the workings of my kitchen for keeping things somewhat neat and also for their aesthetic appeal. I love that an apron is something that becomes part of your kitchen, the routines you have, the meals you make and maybe it holds memories or perhaps it is just a useful scrap of cloth.

Objects can hold memories, connections and meaning beyond their useful or decorative purpose. Its not that we need objects to give our lives meaning or make them richer. Rather, as we use the tools and vessels that surround us we enrich them with our own meaning. I think of my sister when I pull out the green dishtowel she brought me from France. When I use our two burner griddle, I remember that my aunt and uncle gave it to us as a wedding gift. I have a favorite wooden spoon and spatula. I know that the best things in life aren't things, but I appreciate that certain objects can be more than just tools.

I realize that I don't always think about who makes these objects or where they came from before they landed in my utensil drawer. I do care and I do try choose carefully what I buy and who makes it, but that can be a real challenge. I listened to this amazing podcast earlier this week and was reminded that there is always more to the story of where things come from and it is worth knowing.

I finished three half aprons this week which will be in the shop very soon. In the next few weeks I'd like to take more photos of my process to show a bit more of what goes into the things I make. 

January 9, 2012

Find the Place of Contentment

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I worry a lot about being productive, even though I don’t know what that means or why it is important. There are days when baking a loaf of bread is my greatest accomplishment. Sometimes the most I do is make sure strangers are comfortably fed and each table is taken care of. On those days at the restaurant, I don’t question my accomplishments because I know that I did my job as best I could and for that I will be paid. On the bread baking days, though, I wonder if there should be more. I wrestle with the challenging of doing what I enjoy, wanting to make a living with my creative skills, and hoping to share my knowledge and interests meaningfully with others.

I am filled with questions. Are we here to be productive and make the world shinier and better? Or is it enough to do the best with what you have and be satisfied with that? There are days when I am clearly aware of how short our time is here and how it all becomes dust and fossils in the end. The things we want, the experiences we have, even the love we shared will eventually be forgotten. In light of this, what does it mean to be productive? I am trying to get at the tiny seed at the center of this fruit, I don’t know exactly what it holds or why I need to understand. Perhaps there are no answers but I long to find the place of contentment where this doesn't matter so much.
 

I have a BA with a major in studio art but since college I’ve been making most of my money in minor management positions at restaurants that care about serving good food and knowing where that food comes from. I can stand behind this work, but I’ve always been sure to have other things going. Work that really means something to me, like growing food at a community garden, volunteering at an after school program, and more recently sewing and blogging. I am a firm believer that your job or source of income does not have to be who you are or what matters most to you. For me, it has been a means of support so that I can do the things I really care about. On the other hand, my creative pursuits allow me to justify a day job that doesn't feed my soul.

The constant forward motion of modern life, from school moving toward achievement and college pushing toward career and the milestones we think we must reach, doesn't always leave space for fully appreciating what we have right now. My interest in making food from scratch, stitching together cloth and spending hours planting and harvesting allows me to slow down, look around, and make much of my life by hand. I realize that I don't always accept this as enough but instead wish that I could do and be more. 


I don’t consider myself a minimalist, but I try to proceed with caution when it comes to material needs and wants. The hardest part is is the less material side of living simply. The simplicity of knowing that what you do each day is enough. It is important to try and to learn and to grow, but I hope there is a sweet spot where contentment can be found. I imagine the balance that trees seem to achieve. They root deeply into one place, but they are constantly stretching their branches in different directions, changing as the seasons do.

January 6, 2012

This Week in the Studio

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I've been hoping that this month I will be able to take some time to play with new ideas and processes. This week I have been doing a bit of fabric collaging. Really it is just more applique and sewing, but these informal sketches feel like drawing, sewing and collage all in one.

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I've been inspired by the beautiful, sweet and juicy citrus that I've been eating in the past few weeks. When I am not making something useful,

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I love and struggle with the flow of creativity that sends me in many directions. I feel like I need to focus on making certain things and not go too far in different directions but I am inspired to make more of these sketches. I'd like to make some that are more finished, too. But there is a tension, a back and forth struggle, between making for the sake of making and feeling the need and desire to earn income from my creative endeavors.

I don't think that all creative interests should be turned into jobs or businesses but here I am with an online shop and a wish to share what I make in some way. I put a lot of time and passion into my work for Seedling Design and would like it to be more than a time consuming hobby. I hope that this year will give me a chance to really see what I can do with this. This blog is a good place for me to explore and try to articulate and improve my creative processes. Sometimes it seems disjointed and messy when I wish it could be perfect and polished, but thanks for coming along for the ride!

January 5, 2012

White Bean Spread and Rosemary Focaccia

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Sustenance. Food that nourishes our body, work that nourishes our souls. Conversations and friendships that help us grow, spaces and places that fill our need for beauty, wonder and delight.

On dark winter days, I seek out warmth and light wherever I can. At my sunny kitchen table, in a seat next to the radiator. Piling on layers and heading out for a walk or huddling under a down comforter late in the day. As a great aficionado of coziness, I am prone to dinners in our warm kitchen and cooking at home as often as I can. That doesn't mean that I will turn down an evening out.

On the first day of 2012, Ray and I left the house in the dark of evening, bundled against the wind and harmlessly fluttering flakes of snow, to meet friends for dinner. The place we ended up was spacious but glowing with warm candlelight. The exposed brick walls and golden brown wood floors and tables exuded a toasty feeling. We relaxed into our chairs and ordered from the simple menu. Wine arrived in small juice sized glasses. The white bean dip that we ordered as a starter was silky but substantial, warm with hints of lemon. It didn't take long for me to want to recreate it at home.

Our rental kitchen rarely comes close to the glowing atmosphere of a comfortable restaurant. I try to ignore the dusty corners and dishes in the sink and come back to the feeling of arrival. We are here at the table, we will be taken care of, we will be fed. To find this sense of well being and sustenance, I planned a few hours ahead. Beans soaked in a cast iron pot while focaccia dough rose in a ceramic bowl on the counter. I cooked the beans in the pre-heating oven and then pureed them into a velvety spread while the bread baked into a golden sheet of chewy springy dough.

A simple meal for a cold winter evening, bringing warmth home in so many ways.

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This is the ideal lazy Sunday meal, which soaks, cooks, and rises while you are enjoying other things. There is very little active cooking time but requires some planning ahead.

Creamy White Bean Spread
There is very little hands on work with this recipe, most of time is soaking and cooking the beans. If you prefer to use canned beans, warm them up a little bit first. This spread is quite fine when cold, but best when warm. I used great northern beans, but I suspect that cannellini beans would be very good (here's a little bit about the differences)

1 cup dry white beans
1 small head of garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little for drizzling
salt and pepper

Place the beans in a large bowl or pot (a dutch oven works well for cooking them, but any pot will do) and cover with a few inches of water. Leave the beans to soak for 4 hours or more.

About an hour before you want to eat, place the beans and their water in an oven-proof pot (make sure there at least two inches of water covering the beans). Turn the oven to 400 and put the pot, covered, in the oven. Meanwhile, take the head of garlic and cut off the stem so that the very top of each clove is removed. Peel off most of the outer skin, but leave the skin around each clove intact. Put the head of garlic in a small oven proof dish and drizzle some olive oil to cover the top. Roast the garlic in the oven for about 20 minutes or until each clove is very soft (they will be burning hot, so poke them with a fork to check them). Let the garlic cool.

After one hour, check the beans. They should be completely soft, but not falling apart. Carefully remove the pot from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

Spoon the beans into the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of each clove and add to the beans. Pour in the lemon juice and olive oil. Puree for several minutes until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add some of the cooking liquid from the beans to thin it to a smooth, spreadable consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve while warm.

Makes about 2 cups.

Rosemary Focaccia Bread
Adapted from the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
This dough can rise for nearly as long as the beans are soaking. If you can't leave the dough rising for four hours, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight and take it out an hour or two before shaping the dough. As always, you can use just all purpose flour, but I like the added texture and flavor that comes from the whole wheat. I used my stand mixer to mix this, but I think it would work fine to stir by hand.

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/8 teaspoon yeast (active dry or instant)
2 cups minus two tablespoons room temperature water
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried), chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt for sprinkling on top

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl) place the flours and yeast. With the paddle attachment running on low speed, combine the flour and yeast. Keep the mixer running and slowly pour in the water. Mix until the dough comes together and then increase the speed to medium. Mix until the dough becomes smooth and shiny, about 15-20 minutes. If stirring by hand, stir until the dough is smooth and shiny, ideally for 15 to 20 minutes (the stirring helps develop the gluten). Add sugar and salt and mix well to incorporate.

Oil a bowl or container with olive oil and pour the dough into it. Cover so that it is airtight and let rise for about 4 hours, or at least until it has doubled. About an hour before you are ready to bake the dough (around the time you put the beans in the oven) coat a sheet pan with olive oil (parchment paper may also be helpful to keep the bread from sticking while it bakes). Pour the dough onto the baking sheet and gently stretch it until it covers the pan. Let the dough rise for about an hour.

If you are cooking the beans then the oven is already preheating for the bread. If you haven't turned the oven on, preheat to 475' while the dough is in its final rise. Place a rack on the lowest level in the oven and put your baking stone (if using) on the rack while preheating.

When the oven is ready and the dough has risen for an hour, drizzle a table spoon of olive oil over the dough. Sprinkle on the rosemary and salt.

Bake the bread for 12 to 14 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and drizzle on more olive oil if desired. Cut or rip into smaller pieces and serve immediately.

Quick Caramelized Onions
For topping the white bean spread or the focaccia

1 medium red or yellow onion
olive oil
salt

Slice the onion into thin strips. Heat a skillet or saucepan over low heat and add a small amount of olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the onions. Cook over low heat, stirring every so often and making sure they don't burn. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the onions darken to a rich brown. Add salt, if desired. 

January 2, 2012

The Sense of Possibility

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Although there is no tangible difference between December 31 and January 1, I appreciate the division we have created between the boisterous, decadent celebrations of the year's end and the chance for a fresh start when the calendar changes. We can make a clean slate any day, but the new year is when I think of all the things I want to do better in the next 366 days.

I've read many wonderful year end/new year posts and now I'm not quite sure what I want to say about this time. I like setting goals and dreaming of new routines and accomplishments. I like the feeling that things are going to change slightly, because I want them to. Because I want to waste a lot less, listen to music more, learn more about food and cooking, and make leisure time more of a priority I am making a list in early January to keep in mind all year. I welcome this annual chance to look back thoughtfully and refocus on what's to come. 

I spent a lot of the first day of 2012 serving people brunch, so the second day of the year seemed more like the start of something (slightly) new. I went to the crowded grocery store and brought provisions home to our sunny kitchen. The sky was a bright winter blue and the sun glints coldly off the ice on the sidewalks and roads. The weather was finally gotten cold enough to enjoy a cozy afternoon making granola and squash soup. Nothing new about that, but I still revel in the sense of possibility and dream about what is to come.