Friday, August 28, 2009

Blog Move

Hi, Thanks for checking in. I've moved my blog over to Please come visit me there. Thanks! Katie

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back to Blogging - No Excuses!

Okay - I'm back, and I'm not going to let over 2 months slip by before I blog again. I have to laugh at myself because I remember thinking when I first started writing that I would write almost every day. I even saw a few other bloggers that had participated in a blog every day for 30 days challenge where you could get a little icon for your blog that showed that you had succeeded. I thought, "I could do that". I guess not - at least not then, but now I'm turning over a new leaf! Last time I blogged, my obsessions were in the areas of cooking and baking. As you might recall, I was quite proud of myself for planning and cooking sit-down meals for the family and for keeping up with the Bread Baker's Challenge. Unfortunately, that obsession is long gone and I'm on to sewing, and I'm really not exaggerating when I say obsession. It's really actually pretty unhealthy, but I really can't stop myself. I have to work on finding a better balance. As I'm typing those words, I can hear myself thinking, "Yeah, but as soon as I finish working today, I'm going to start working on my next quilting project." Yikes, sigh, I really do need to find a way to fit in everything I love to do and everything I need to do. I really, really HAVE to work, so that's pretty easy, but what I find the hardest is when I get home and have to choose between making a dinner that the kids will probably hate anyway and spending some time with my sewing machine. Oh yeah - and about those kids - I should probably spend some time with them, too. The other thing I can't stand is spending precious crafting hours in the car carting kids around to their various activities. Yesterday, I had to be in two places on opposite ends of town at the same exact time. I suppose the whole work-family-hobby balance issue is an age-old dilemma. I'll definitely share if I figure it all out, and please post a comment if you've figured it out and are willing to share. On the positive side, my hours spent sewing have made me really happy. I will post some photos of my projects soon, but one of my favorites is this beautiful quilted Advent calendar by Oh, Fransson. All of her quilts are just gorgeous. I love her white sashing (which I actually didn't know was called that until I read some of her posts). I've made a few quilt tops before and had even tried some machine quilting on one, but I didn't really get the backing on right, so I had little puckers everywhere which really bugged me. I had never gotten as far as the binding, but Oh Fransson has some great tutorials that walk you through how to do EVERYTHING, so my Advent calendar came out perfectly. Oh - just typing about it makes me want to start another one right NOW!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Just a quick (at least that's the plan) post about the Casatiello bread I made yesterday for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. It was a hectic day capped off by my daughter's dance recital. Thanks to her independence and ability to get completely ready all by herself, I still managed to get in quite a bit of cooking and baking. I pulled the casatiello out of the oven about 15 minutes before it was time to go. About 4 hours later (it was a very long dance recital), I was finally able to sample it. I was quite skeptical, since I had made so many Vegan substitutes; Earth Balance Sticks for the butter, Egg Replacer for the eggs, and Rice Milk for the milk/buttermilk. I also used some caramelized onions and black olives instead of the salami and cheese (even though I would have LOVED to throw some cheese in there - Mmmm). I made it in the 8" cake pan that the recipe kind of alludes to. Surprisingly, it was very good! It was rich yet light and fluffy like the Brioche I made last week with the "real" ingredients. The biggest difference I could detect was the lack of golden color. My husband said he thought it was the best bread I'd made so far. In typical woman-fashion, I was a little insulted by that. In my mind, "real" bread is like the Pain a L'Ancienne that I've been making since I bought the book last summer. Granted I haven't perfected it, but to me, that's good bread. This brioche-y business is just a novelty - no matter how good it tastes. That's just my crazy logic. He meant well. I decided to let it roll off.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dinnertime, Distractions, and Challah

Where to start?! I have so much to blog about. It's been awhile since I've blogged. I got distracted by a sewing project. We've always used cloth napkins (one less thing to throw away), but lately we've been washing them after just one use which seems almost as wasteful. I love my kids and have dealt with every possibly bodily excretion, but I just didn't like the idea of sharing their napkins. Since all the napkins look the same, it would be impossible for everyone just to keep track of their own from meal to meal, so I decided to make each person their own napkin with a different fabric. Since it would be too much to ask some of the less observant members of the family (Dad) to keep track of whose fabric is who's, I also appliqued each person's initial on their napkin. I was determined to use up fabric I already had and not succumb to my usual temptation to buy all new stuff for a new project. Mission accomplished! A few of the napkins have a bit of patchwork on the back, since I didn't necessarily have the right sized scraps, but that just adds to the charm. I just finished them yesterday, and we have yet to actually try them out, since our dining room table is covered with piles (okay mountains) of clean laundry waiting to be put away. Here they are: I hope to make one more set at some point to allow us to have the other set in the wash, but for now, I'm going to try to focus (back) on gardening, baking, and cooking. Oh, and we're going to be doing some rearranging of the house that will let me have a craft room. Woo hoo! I'm so excited about that, but I'm sure it will take me quite a bit of time to get everything set up. My craft "area" up in the attic is quite a mess right now. On to other things. I'm still doing (and keeping up with) the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. I messed up last week though and made the Challah when we were supposed to make the Casatiello. I'll make that this weekend. Although I love the name and have had it stuck in my head all week - with various dramatic (and really embarrasing if anyone could hear me saying it in my head) pronunciations, I'm not all that excited about making it. I loved the brioche (this casatiello is similar with salami and cheese also thrown in), but I don't want to compromise my Vegan diet twice (I had to the first time to try the brioche in all it's buttery, eggy glory). I'm going to have to try to make the Casatiello with rice milk, Egg Replacer and Earth Balance. And of course something other than salami and cheese. I'm thinking sun dried tomatoes. I guess it will be a good experiment. Anyway, I didn't love the Challah either. I had to use quite a bit of Egg Replacer in it as well. It ended up being quite bland, but I think that may actually be how it's supposed to taste. In my pre-BBA life, I probably would have loved it, but now I'm too spoiled by the other breads I've made from the book which are so much better. The challah, at least, was very pretty, and I enjoyed doing the braid. Here it is: Finally (for now - there's still so much more to catch up on), for the past two weeks, I've actually sat down on Friday or Saturday and planned out the meals for the entire week. I know that's probably the norm for most people, but it's a real novelty for me, and it feels like quite an accomplishment. I wanted to share what we've been having: Saturday Breakfast, 5/30 - Assortment of Poppy Seed, Blueberry, and Plain Pancakes, Bacon for kids. Saturday Dinner, 5/30 - Gone to a party Sunday, 5/31 - Pizza - With homemade dough from BBA - cooked in the oven on the pizza stone. Kids had bacon leftover from Sat. breakfast on their pizza. Adults had regular onions, carmelized onions, sauce. Need to come up with some more Vegan toppings. Monday, 6/1 - Sandwiches - Turkey for the kids and avocado and tomato for me Tuesday, 6/2 - Adults: Orange Pan-glazed Tempeh with Bulgur Pilaf. Kids: Leftover Pancakes Wednesday, 6/3 - Adults: Sweet Potato Pot Pies. Kids: Baked Potato Bar (with more leftover bacon, cheese, etc.) Thursday, 6/4 - Pasta Friday, 6/5 - Pizza - same dough - this time cooked over charcoal in the fire pit. I think the dough was too thin for this to work well. The next week was mostly the same, since I had a lot of leftover ingredients to use up. This coming week, I'll definitely have to throw in a few new things. Saturday Dinner, 6/6 - Maple Glazed Tempeh, Roasted Potato, Garlic, and Bell Pepper Salad, Burgers for the kids Sunday, 6/7 - French Toast or Eggs for the kids, Homemade Hummus and Pretzels for me Monday, 6/8 - Tacos for the kids, more hummus and pretzels for me Tuesday, 6/9 - Adults: Sweet Potato Pot Pies. Kids: Leftover French Toast and Tacos Wednesday, 6/10 - I went out with some friends. Dad and kids were on their own. Thursday, 6/11 - Adults not hungry. Kids: Mac & Cheese Friday, 6/12 - Adults: Orange Pan-glazed Tempeh with Bulgur Pilaf. Kids: PB & J I kind of fell apart on the kids meals. I go back and forth between wanting them to eat whatever I make and just wanting them to eat - period. I haven't completed the meal planning yet for this week, but today, I'm going to be making these awesome sounding Berry Beer Baked Beans from my favorite cooking blog, 101 cookbooks. I've had these beautiful, local, Jacob's Cattle Beans that I've been wanting to use for almost a year. They just completed their overnight soak and will go in the oven as soon as I get back from the Farmer's Market (and supermarket) with the rest of the ingredients. Gotta run - I like to get to the Farmer's Market right when it opens, and I'm already late.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gardening Depression

I just went out into my garden to check it's progress for the day, and I'm really depressed. My broccolini that I was so excited about looks like it's being eaten. The biggest and most promising plant is falling over, and many of the others are turning yellow and have holes in their leaves. It's gotta be some kind of bugs. The same thing seems to be happening to my spinach. (A gardening friend of mine who planted hers at around the same time says hers is almost ready to eat.) And my little carrots that were starting to come up have disappeared. How can that happen?! And my basil and marigolds are getting eaten, too. I thought those were supposed to be the plants that are so disgusting to bugs and other critters that they'll even stay away from plants nearby. My tomatoes still look awful, too. I was starting to think that they were perking up, but I changed my mind after tonight's inspection. We have had a lot of rain, but I just don't know. Oh, and my two little watermelon seedlings got eaten. It probably doesn't help either that my husband and kids play baseball out there, and I'm sure the ball has landed on my plants more than once. Patience is not my strong suit, but I think I can manage to wait for things to grow. On the other hand, if they're not going to make it, I should get started on replacements from the farmer's market soon. It's so sad to think that my little seedlings that I nurtured inside for so long and looked so healthy might not actually survive. I guess that's all part of gardening - trying different things to figure out what works, but it's not exactly quick feedback. Trying to think more positively, my peas are doing great, and my Forellenschuss lettuce is still looking good along with the mesclun. Oh on that note, another thing that's bumming me out is that I bought two beautiful bunches of Romaine from the farmer's market this past weekend and my fridge must be too cold, but it looks pretty much inedible after a night in there. I totally should have just left it out. The pepper plants look good although I did spot a hole in one of the leaves today. I'm really going to have to figure out what's eating them. Oh and my cilantro is up after I'd almost given up hope - I guess that's a good lesson. I pinched off a little leaf to make sure that's what it was, and it's funny how even when it's so little, it still has that distinctive cilantro smell. Maybe things will be looking up by farmer's market day this weekend then I can decide if I want to replace anything. Although I have to confess that I already replaced most of the broccolini with some eggplant plants that I bought there this past weekend. I got varieties called Little Fingers and Prosperata. I discovered that I really like eggplant after trying this caponata recipe from Epicurious. (Oh, I think I mentioned that in another post already, sorry.) Although I have to admit, I've only had it that way and in Eggplant Parmesan. I wonder if you can freeze eggplant. Let me know if you have any good eggplant recipes.

Brioche, Crackers, and Beer

The above is a photo of one of my mini Brioche loaves that I made this weekend for week 4 (?) of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. I'm so excited that I've been able to keep up so far, but I can't believe how much flour I'm going through. I haven't spent as much time as I would like following along with other people who are doing the challenge. I'll have to try to spend some time doing that this week. Anyway, for the brioche, it would have been nice to use the classic little brioche tins, but I didn't have any of those. I did have some really cute mini loaf pans that my father had given me a few Christmases ago, so I ended up using those, and they worked out perfectly. I put the egg and the 1/2 cup measuring cup in the photo, so you could get an idea of the size of the loaves. I made four altogether. They came out beautifully. They're the prettiest golden color and taste exactly how I would expect brioche to taste. I sprinkled a bit of sugar on the tops after I brushed on the egg wash because that's how I'd had it in one of my favorite bakeries. It was at least as good which I think is a pretty huge accomplishment. The biggest problem is that they're not Vegan. The recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter and 5 eggs. I just couldn't see substituting that much Earth Balance and Egg Replacer. My new Vegan diet and my new bread-baking hobby were in direct conflict. I compromised and had a slice (okay two) and gave the rest away to some very appreciative coworkers. So now I'm even getting ahead in the book. It'll be nice to have a week or two to spare when I'm feeling lazy. This weekend, I also made the Lavash crackers that are in the picture above. We'd been invited to a party and asked to bring an appetizer. I wanted to bring something homemade and Vegan (in case there wasn't anything else for us to eat - there was actually - a ton of really great food), so I thought I would try these. I bought some Muhammara at a great little local gourmet grocery shop. I'd never had it before, but oh my God, it was sooo good (the muhammara, I mean even though the crackers were good, too.) I'll definitely have to try to make it. We walked to the party with this little basket of homemade crackers and muhammara on my arm. It felt so old-fashioned in a happy kind of way. Finally, I'm giving up beer. I asked my husband rhetorically yesterday, how I could spend months eating Vegan and still not lose any weight. I mean I've given up cookies, M & M's, nachos, etc. It was really just more of a lament that a question that I wanted answered, but he, in such a male kind of way, immediately answered "alcohol". It's not like I'm a lush (I guess that's what they all say), but I do really like to have a beer or two or glass of wine especially while I'm cooking which as you know I've been doing more of lately. So apparently, more cooking = more alcohol. Anyway, I decided my husband has a good point, so since it's the first day of a new month, I'm going to give up alcohol for the whole month of June. We'll see how I do.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


I've been trying to improve my photography skills lately, so my self-imposed project for the other night was to take a bunch of different photos of pretty much the same scene trying out all the different settings on my fancy camera. I have a Nikon D70 which I just love. Most of the time, the best feature for me is its speed. With the cheap digital camera I had before this one, the kids would have moved out of the photo frame before the camera reacted. I have lots of pictures of feet and hands from that camera. Most camera experts would probably scoff at me for having such an expensive camera with so many bells and whistles that I wasn't taking advantage of. I don't care. It's worth it to be able to capture all those shots of my kids. Just the same, I decided that it's time to start taking advantage of those bells and whistles. I tried to do a little reading on the internet to get a better understanding of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. I can't say that I fully understand it yet, but I wanted to try different setting on my camera to see if it reacted in the same way I read it would. I'm still not sure. I have more experimenting to do. On of the other things I read on the internet was to NOT use the camera's built in flash. I already knew that using my camera's flash makes my photos look pretty funky, but I was kind of bummed to read that, since a camera flash is about the last thing I can afford right now. Then I remembered that we did have a fair amount of camera equipment for our old Nikon film camera, and for a change, I knew right where it was. Sure enough, there was a big, fancy-looking flash in the old camera bag. Woo hoo! I tried it out, and it actually does seem to work with my camera. We also had a couple of old lenses that I tried out as well. All this means that all my experimenting and learning has to increase exponentially (because the flash and the lenses have all kinds of different settings, too). Oh well, I always love a project. The photos above are some that I took the other night. I'm not even sure which ones I like the best or even which ones someone who actually knows something about photography would think are better. I do know that I need to start keeping track of what kind of works and what doesn't. Here are the "settings" I used for the above photos. I tried to take diligent notes but after a while, I just wanted to take the pictures. It turns out that the camera actually stores some pretty good metadata about the photos, so I listed that as well. 1. This was before I got the new-old flash working quite right. I had it on top of the camera, but it wasn't actually warmed up, so the only affect it had was not letting the camera's built-in flash open up all the way. I think it's better than the full flash, but the colors are not true. I think my camera lets you change the intensity of the flash, so I'll have to experiment with that as well. Everything else was still set on "Auto". Metadata: Exposure Time - 1/15 sec, , Exposure Program - Not defined (must mean auto), F-Stop - f/5, Light Source - Unknown (probably not relevant with the Auto setting). 2. This was the first one where I actually used the new-old flash. I can definitely tell the difference. Everything else was set to "Auto" still and the flash angle was 90 degrees - pointing straight up at the ceiling. Metadata: Exposure Time - 1/8000 sec, Exposure Program - Shutter priority, F-Stop - f/5, Light Source - Cloudy weather. 3. This one is only slightly different than #2 (at least as far as I can tell), but I think it's a bit lighter which I think is good. (Oh, and I accidentally left the glass of wine I was drinking in the photo. Oops.) This time I had the camera on the "S" setting which means you can control the shutter speed. Although I didn't actually specifically set it to anything. There's an ISO setting on the flash itself. I need to learn more about that, but in this photo, I had it set to 64/100 which is the lowest. Metadata: Exposure Time - 1/8000 sec, Exposure Program - Shutter priority, F-Stop - f/5, Light Source - Cloudy weather. 4. I guess this one is okay. It doesn't seem as natural as #2 and #3, but it is lighter. There's more light reflecting off the lemon, too which I don't think I like. This was the same as #3 except that I had that ISO setting on the flash set to the highest which is 1000. Metadata: Exposure Time - 1/8000 sec, Exposure Program - Shutter priority, F-Stop - f/5, Light Source - Cloudy weather. I added some oranges to the background so that I could experiment with the aperture. What I had read is that with different levels (or F-stops), you can control how detailed (or not) your background is. I also read that you sometimes need a tripod to keep the camera steady enough to take the picture at some apertures. The only thing I learned by messing around with this setting is that that is definitely true. All my pictures with the camera set to "A" came out overexposed or too blurry while the background oranges look pretty much the same. I wanted to try the extremely low and high F-stops to really be able to see the difference, but I didn't even have much luck with the ones in between. Maybe this is better for outside when you really do have more of a background. 5. There's something about this one I like even though it's so dark. I was back to using the "S" setting, and I had the shutter speed set to 8000 (which I think actually means 1/8000). I had the flash pointing up a the ceiling (90 degrees) and the ISO on the flash set to 1000. Metadata: Exposure Time - 1/8000 sec, Exposure Program - Manual, F-Stop - f/10, Light Source - Cloudy Weather. After that I played around with the close up lens we had for our old Nikon film camera. It seemed to work fine, but nothing spectacular. I went back to the original lens. 6. I like this one quite a bit. I used the manual focus (I used the auto focus on 1-5). This time I played with a bunch of settings all at once which was actually pretty dumb because now I don't really know which ones made the difference. I had the flash at 90 degrees, the ISO on the flash set to 200 AND the ISO setting on the camera set to 200. I also played with the White Balance on the camera and set it to flash mode. And my notes say that I had the camera on the "P" setting which I thought meant the camera would control both the speed and the aperture, but my notes also say I had the shutter speed set to 8. Metadata: Exposure Time - 1/8 sec , Exposure Program - Shutter Priority, F-Stop - f/10, Light Source - Undefined. I need to keep practicing, finish reading the manual that came with my camera, and maybe get a book. This Magic Lantern guide by Simon Stafford looks pretty good because it's specific to my camera.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cooking and Cauliflower

I made this cauliflower recipe from 101 cookbooks last night, and it was delicious - kind of like home fries but with cauliflower. The photo on the left is of the lemon zest and chives waiting for their turn to be thrown in the pan. I just thought they looked so pretty together in my handmade (by me!) pottery bowl. The chives are from my new herb garden - which is why there are actually a lot fewer than the recipe called for. I only have a very small chive plant so far that I'm hoping will grow a lot over the summer and come back next year and the next, etc. I may buy a couple more little seedlings at the farmer's market tomorrow. The photo on the right is the yummy finished product in a beautiful pottery bowl that my mother bought for me at a craft fair. I have to say it's kind of what inspired me to take pottery in the first place. It's really simple but the curves are just right and the color is so calmingly organic. The photo in the middle is actually the beginnings of 101 cookbooks' 5 minute tomato sauce that I actually made the other day as well. This time I toned down the red pepper flakes and used the crushed tomatoes as Heidi recommends. Last time I had to used diced because that was all we had. I think I actually liked the diced tomatoes better. Either way, it's definitely going to be a staple (especially on Thursday nights when grocery money is getting low before payday on Friday. I was able to buy the ingredients for this whole meal along with a loaf of French bread for $15 - not bad). I'm very excited about the fact that I've been doing so much cooking at home. I'm guessing that a lot of you especially those with families do that every night and always have, so it probably sounds ridiculous that it's a big deal for me. For a while, we weren't so good about always eating around the table or even eating together at all. When the kids were really little, we'd feed them something healthy-ish and get them to bed then get takeout for ourselves - not every night obviously - but more frequently than I like to remember. As the kids got a bit older, we'd get takeout for all of us maybe once a week or so with, I'm ashamed to say, a cereal night thrown in there every once in a while. Now I have a full head of steam for cooking at home. I really hope I can keep it going. (I'm rather infamous for obsessing over one thing like it's all I can live for then moving on to the next thing with hardly a glance back at the thing I could previously not live without; knitting, sewing, pottery, gardening, etc. And those are the ones that I actually do revisit. There are some things that I dallied in that I will probably never go back to; scrapbooking, needle-felting, linoleum block printing.) I think there were several motivators. The first was starting our Vegan diet which pretty much limits our takeout options (not too mention the lack of funds being limiting). Who wants to buy a pizza only to scrape off the cheese and eat the crust? (Actually, my husband, sometimes. Yuck.) I think it (the diet) helps me have more energy, too. Plus, by some miracle of Veganism, I'm not so ravenous when I get home from work that I just have to eat the first thing I come across. I can actually comfortably wait to eat until I've prepared a yummy dinner. It also helps that my youngest is now almost two and most of the time would rather hang out with her older siblings than cling to me in the kitchen, so I actually have time to cook. Finally, Barbara Kingsolver's chapter in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about cooking together and eating at the table together really helped motivate me as well. Note to self: Read that again if I start losing cooking-at-home steam.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

TasteBook vs. Blurb

Last night, my husband cooked dinner, so while he was doing that I started making my own cookbook. I had starting using the BookSmart software from Blurb to do that a couple of weeks ago. I really love Blurb and have used it to make our family's year-in-photos album as well as an alphabet book for my niece. Blurb has tons of different options for how you set up your book and your pages, and they have some really nice, professional and clean looking cookbook options. When the book is open, I wanted to have the recipe on one page and a full-bleed photo of friends and family doing food-related activities (mostly cooking, but eating, drinking, harvesting, etc. all qualify, too) on the opposite page. I got as far as doing 3 recipes with photos, and they look wonderful. Two things were nagging at me though. One is that I really like a spiral bound cookbook that stays open to the recipe that I'm using. (In the professional cookbook writing world, that's probably not the cool thing to do because none of the really beautiful cookbooks are spiral bound.) The second thing that was bothering me was that I would have to get in all the recipes and photos that I could possibly think of this time around because if I didn't, I'd have to edit the book and buy it all over again. I'm always discovering new recipes that I'd like to include. That might not necessarily be a bad thing. It would be kind of fun to publish a "New Edition" each year, but I know I wouldn't be able to throw the old one away, and it would just get confusing and kind of wasteful. So . . . I had seen a reference to Tastebook on the 101 cookbooks site that I mentioned (okay obsessed about) in yesterday's post. I had noticed it a few times on Epicurious, too, so I finally decided to check it out yesterday. It definitely solves the two problems I mentioned above. It's spiral bound and you can order recipe pages individually - perfect! You can include a personal photo on each page. It doesn't cover the whole facing page like I wanted to do with Blurb, but it still looks very nice. The recipe formatting is pretty similar to what you get if you use one of the cookbook templates with Blurb, but it has a few additional fields that it formats nicely onto the finished page like yield, prep time, total time, and notes. I also like that it's all on-line. It usually takes me a really long time to make a Blurb book, and I always worry that after all that work I'm not going to be able to upload it for some reason. I've never had a problem, but still it's a bit stressful. With Tastebook, you upload as you go which offers the other nice feature of being able to work on it or look at it from any computer. The rest of my family wanted to help me with this cookbook, and I wasn't sure how I was going to do that with Blurb. I'm not sure if multiple users can share a Tastebook without making the recipes public (which probably wouldn't be a big deal), but I can at least log into my family members' computers when we work on it together. The other cool thing about Tastebook is that you can suck in recipes from your favorite cooking sites like Epicurious. Most of my recipes are family recipes, so I had to do a lot of typing, but I have 5 or 6 that I originally got from Epicurious, so I was able to get them from there. The only down side to that is that I would have liked to add a photo and some notes on my modifications to the recipe. Maybe there's a way to do that that I haven't figured out. With Blurb, you get to choose your own photo or photos for the cover. With Tastebook, you choose from about 50 different stock photos. Those photos are more beautiful than any I could take, but they're not of my family. Tastebook also has tabbed sections which I think is handy. I don't think you can get that with Blurb. Utimately, I think Blurb gives you way more flexibility in your formatting than Tastebook, but Tastebook gives you more flexibility as far as adding/changing recipes later on - after you get the book. I love the limitless formatting flexibility of Blurb, but sometimes that's why I think it takes me so long - making all those decisions about how I want to format it, then changing my mind and redoing it a few times. Like I said, I had gotten as far as 3 recipes for Blurb, but I was able to do almost 40 last night with Tastebook. I'm nowhere near down yet, but I'll let you know how it comes out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

101 Cookbooks and Book Club

I found a new cooking web-site that I just love. It's The photos are gorgeous and the recipes are really unusual (but not to the point where it's impossible to find the ingredients). Apparently the woman who does the site, Heidi Swanson, decided that once she had close to a hundred cookbooks, it was time to stop reading and collecting them and start using them and decided to start blogging about it. Now she has a couple of her own cookbooks. (Maybe she had her first cookbook before that. I'm not sure.) How cool is that? I've already tried several of her recipes, but there are a few others I'm dying to try. There are these really intriguing sounding black bean brownies and these beautiful poppy seed pancakes. All her recipes are Vegetarian, and she has a lot of Vegan recipes as well, but unfortunately these two have both eggs and butter. I've had a lot of success substituting Earth Balance for butter and Ener-G Egg Replacer for eggs, but I've only tried the latter in recipes that only had one or two eggs. I think both of these recipes have 4 (oh wait, I just checked, the pancakes only have two - maybe I'll give those a try). The other thing is that I had made (and eaten) the recipes that I converted before I became a Vegan, so I knew how they were supposed to taste. I'd kind of like to try the brownies and pancakes with the right ingredients first. I'm probably just rationalizing. Anyway, both of those recipes have come the closest to swaying me off of my Vegan path so far. I have a similar issue with the Brioche recipe that's next up in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. I think making Brioche without real butter is probably just wrong. I think I'll make it, try a bite, then give the rest away. My co-workers might like the treat. Don't know if the kids will like it or not.
Anyway, more on Heidi's awesome recipes . . . I already made the hummus that I mentioned in my last two posts, but I stumbled across her website in the first place looking for Vegan appetizers to serve at my Book Club meeting last week. I found these Sweet Potato Falafel Bites which I just had to make. Here was my menu in case you, too, are looking for some Vegan appetizers:
Sweet Potato Falafel Bites served with store-bought Tsatziki (Yes, I know Tsatziki is not Vegan - I didn't eat that part)
Eggplant Caponata served with my homemade Pain a L'Ancienne from Bread Baker's Apprentice
Morrocan Phyllo Rolls served with Thai sweet and spicy sauce from my sister-in-law. (I made little appetizer-sized triangles. The phyllo dough was not my friend that day! I gave up after I thought I had enough for the party, so I had a lot of filling left over which was yummy by itself. I didn't make the maple sauce but I'm sure it would have been good.)
I was a little worried that there wouldn't be enough and a lot worried that I was using ingredients that people frequently really hate like sweet potatoes, eggplant, and beans. I guess my friends have pretty sophisticated taste because it was all gone by the time the evening was over. Other people brought delicious snacks, too, so there was plenty of food; asparagus soup, asparagus salad, local pork pate, and veggies and dip. The reason for the abundance of asparagus was that our book was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which I've mentioned in some of my other posts - if you haven't read it, you must). Asparagus is about the best local veggie you can get around here right now.
Wow, I'm amazed by how much I can ramble about one thing! And I'm not even close to being done yet. On somewhat of a tangent, speaking of local food, we also have rhubarb in our farmer's market right now, so the weekend before last, I made the beautiful rhubarb gallette you see in the picture above. It was quite tart but still my favorite way to use rhubarb. This recipe is on page 702 of The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. Definitely a classic cookbook that gets a lot of use in our kitchen.
So the book club was a big success. We have a really nice group of dynamic (a.k.a not boring) people who had a lot to say about the book. For next time we picked An Absolute Scandal by Penny Vincenzi. We wanted a beach read for the summer. I'm on such a reading kick that I already bought it and read it this weekend. It was very entertaining. I've already moved on to one of the other books we almost picked, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I love it so far, and I already want to go to Italy. Am I the only one who gets this influenced by books I like?
Okay just one more thing about 101 Cookbooks and I'll stop. I made the 5 minute tomato sauce from there last night and it was everything it was advertised to be - fresh, delicious, simple but not boring. Oh yeah, and it really only did take 5 minutes. It was also very spicy, but I can't stop eating it. I had my homemade bagel dipped in the sauce for breakfast this morning. How weird is that? (Can't have cream cheese or butter, I'm all out of almond butter, and couldn't bear to ruin one of my good bagels with Skippy, so it sounded good to me.) Still I think I'll cut back on the red pepper flakes next time.
Few. All for now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bagels and Broccolini

I just finished making the bagel recipe from Bread Baker's Apprentice. I haven't tried one yet, but they look gorgeous and very authentic. It was a bit of a baking fiasco at first though. I always use my Kitchen-Aid because I'm too lazy to knead. I dumped everything into the bowl and got all set up to let my mixer do the work. Just before I switched it to on, my husband called from work. Always in a rush (for no particular reason this time), I figured I could multitask and went ahead and switched it on. Flour went everywhere. Much foul language was uttered with my husband on the other end of the phone. He didn't even bother to ask. I don't think he wanted to know. In hindsight, obviously, I should have given it a little stir by hand to moisten the flour. Oh well, I got it all cleaned up and got the mixer going again. It was really struggling, and I hadn't even put in all the flour that the recipe called for yet. I finally gave up and kneaded by hand which I have to say wasn't really that bad. I tried adding more flour that way, but that didn't really work then I think I had it too dry and had to add more water. I must have measured something wrong along the way. Finally, the recipe asks you to fit two cookie sheets full of bagels in your fridge overnight. I have a normal-sized side-by-side (which I would never buy again!), so there's no way even one was going to fit. I misted a couple of freezer bags with spray oil and put the bagels in those. When I took them out of the fridge this morning, it looked like they were all going to be horribly stuck together, but they ended up separating just fine - a bit misshapen, that's all. This is another bagel recipe that I had been making. It's pretty quick, doesn't require the overnight refrigeration, fits in my mixer, and has gotten rave reviews from my family. On the other hand, everything else I've made from BBA has been way better than any other bread I've made, so I'll have to see. (Oh, before I forget, more of a reminder to myself than anything . . . two other kinds of breads I want to try to make that aren't in BBA are pita bread and raised donuts.) Very exciting news to report in the garden. On of my broccolini plants is starting to flower. I think that the flour is the part that you eat. I tried to take a photo, but the flower part is so small the camera couldn't focus on it. (I'll have to try the manual focus tomorrow.) Oh and I did make the hummus I mentioned in yesterday's post. It was delicious, but you definitely need to top with the red pepper oil to get some spiciness.

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Bread

I've been a terrible blogger lately. Just before my week-long hiatus I had stumbled across a cool website that challenges you to write a blog post every day for 30 days. At the time I thought, "Oh yeah, I could do that no problem." Oops. There hasn't been a whole lot going on in the garden but certainly enough that I could have found something to blog about. There has been a lot going on in the kitchen, and I'd like to share some of the fun recipes I've tried and some that I'm dying to try, but first I need to write an update on where I am in the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge.
I think I'm doing quite well in keeping up with the pace. I made my Anadama bread last weekend, and it was delicious. Here's a photo:
I also made another loaf of Multigrain (my third) which is still my favorite for sandwiches so far to send to my mother. I think the family liked the Anadama better though. They polished it off quickly for cinnamon toast. I finished off my second loaf of Multigrain last week with some delicious croutons. They barely even made it into the salad. The Multigrain is delicious in this Vegan sandwich:Toast two slices of bread. Mash up an avocado and spread it on one slice of bread. Top with slices of tomatoes and sprouts. Spread Vegennaise on the other slice. Put your sandwich together and voila.
I ate this at least 3 times last week. Heavenly! (I thought that with the avocado, I wouldn't really need or notice the Vegennaise, but it definitely made a yummy difference.) Oh, and I used rice milk in place of the regular milk in the bread recipe.
So, moving on to my next recipe, this week's was Artos or Greek Celebration breads. I loved the beautiful little bread curly-Q's in the picture of the Chistopsomos bread, so I made that shape but didn't include the dried fruit and nuts. I kind of which I had, but I got lazy at the last minute, and I wanted to save the last of my walnuts for this hummus recipe, I'm going to make later today. I definitely need to work on my dough shaping skills, but I think it's still quite pretty. I snuck a little slice last night before letting it cool the recommended one hour, and I must say I wasn't crazy about the flavor, but maybe toasted with some butter and cinnamon sugar or as french toast. Here it is:

I used the wild yeast starter as the recipe recommended, so I was quite proud of myself for feeding it and taking care of it all week. Now that I have it, I think I should skip to the end of the book and use it in one of the sourdough recipes. I have to read more to figure out how I'm supposed to continue to feed it.

Anyway, I think I'll go down to the kitchen now and try another slice.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Yikes, they're predicting a frost for tonight. At the suggestion of a gardening co-worker, I covered up my frost-sensitive plants with sheets.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Anadama, Flowers, and Farmer's Market

It's 5:30 in the morning. The birds are chirping and the sun's debating about coming out. I love waking up early before the kids do and puttering around the house. I got up about an hour ago and started my Anadama bread for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge that I mentioned in my last post. I'm waiting for the "sponge" to form before I can do the next step. I also started the "barm" for the next bread. As far as I can tell that's like a sourdough starter. I have to feed it everyday for the next four or five days. Hopefully I won't forget. Not too much work to do in the garden yet. I keep debating about thinning out my mesclun lettuce. It seems like the best part of mesclun is that it's a variety of a bunch of different lettuces. I don't want to thin that away. Maybe I'll thin just a little bit. My tomato plants seem to be struggling. The leaves are getting quite yellowish. It's really worrying me. They looked so beautiful and perfect when they were growing inside. I don't know if it's the cold or too much rain or the squirrels that keep digging around the tomato's roots looking for acorns. The darn things (the squirrels, I mean) are driving me crazy. I'll have to create a long tirade-like post about them another day. They probably won't read it though. Yesterday, I puttered around in the yard anyway. Quite a bit of the grass seed that I planted is coming up. I may try to scatter a bit around this weekend. My two-year-old and I picked some violets that are growing all over the place under the apple tree. While we did, apple blossoms were raining down on us. How romantic is that?! I picked some lilacs, too - just a few because they're really not quite ready. I put them in a vase that I had made in pottery class this winter. How's that for homemade?! I organized my nightstand a bit and executed a badly-needed dusting then put the vase of lilacs on top. Going to bed later was even better than usual. I read my Bread Baker's Apprentice book for a bit while taking in the lovely lilac perfume. What a great way to spend the evening! At 7:00 (depending on the state of my Anadama), I'm planning to visit our local farmer's market for the first time this year. I can't wait! I don't think there will be much available yet, but I'm mostly looking for some herb seedlings. It's always fun to see what there is though, and there's always more than I expect. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Square #1 and More on Bread

Here's a diagram of one of my 4x4 foot raised bed gardens:I filled this one up with things I could plant before the last frost. Most of the seed packets said "as soon as the soil can be worked". I think I was a little too excited about that little comment. If I'd been a bit more logical, I don't think I would have planted so many squares of Broccoli Raab and Sweet Peas. I've been wondering what the number of days on the seed packets means exactly. My broccoli raab, for instance, says 45 days. I had assumed that meant that was how long until you'd be eating it, but maybe it means something else entirely. My little 1 inch tall broccoli raab sprouts have some serious work to do in the next week if that's the case. And do you start counting the 45 days from the day you planted the seed or the day you first saw a little sprout come up or what? Something else for me to research. I'm on the fence between loving the mystery of not knowing when I'll have vegies and loving the idea of knowing when to expect them. In any case, I did the date math to figure out when to expect them based on the seed packet dates, so we'll see how accurate that actually is. I ordered most of my seeds from Seed Saver's Exchange in Iowa which I had read about in Barbara Kingsolver's awesome book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. (I just reread it. I love to read, and I read a lot, but this is the only book I've ever read twice. It's really what motivated me to start this whole gardening thing in the first place.) I'm looking forward to trying to save some seeds for next year. The Forellenschuss lettuce is especially cool, since it's one of the vegies in the U.S. Slow Food Ark of Taste. It's still quite small, but you can already see the pretty speckled markings. (I'll add a photo soon.) Back on the bread subject . . . Yesterday, I googled the book I mentioned, Bread Baker's Apprentice, so that I could include a link to it in the blog post. When I did that I happened to spot a site that was doing a Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. Wondering what that was, I checked it out, and it turns out a group of people are baking their way through the book - making one bread per week. Isn't that such a cool idea?! I thought about that for half a second then decided I wanted to do it, too. I just found out that I'm too late to officially join the group. Of course I can follow along anyway, but I'm not sure I'll do as well without the group pressure. I'm still going to give it a try. This weekend is Anadama. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bread and Apple Blossoms

Not much to do in the garden right now except wait. I do have a few more seedlings that I'd like to find a home for. I can't bear to just throw them away, so I'll have to find a spot in the yard somewhere. I'm also hoping to find some perennial herb seedlings (rosemary, oregano, thyme, and lavender) at the Farmer's Market this weekend to plant in the mostly empty landscape-type garden we have on the side of the house. That's where I may end up putting my extra veggie seedlings, too. There IS a lot going on with the rest of the vegetation around here. Our apple tree is blooming, and everywhere you go in the neighborhood, you see lilacs getting ready to pop open. There are lots of azaleas in bloom and little violets popping up everywhere (almost to the point of being invasive - but not quite). The forsythia and tulips are almost done. I've been thinking about planting some tulip bulbs in some of the square foot gardens this fall. I think they'd be just about done when it's time to plant all the plants that you can't plant until after the danger of frost has past. I wonder if I'd have to dig up the bulbs each year or if they can coexist with the tomatoes, cukes, or whatever. I'll have to check into that. Beyond gardening, I've been trying to get away from processed foods and prepare a lot more homemade stuff. I think it tastes 100 times better. I think the rest of the family would still rather have their Wonder Bread and Oreos. Baby steps. Yesterday, I was on a total bread-baking kick. I have this beautiful cookbook called The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Every recipe I've made from it has turned out wonderfully. The only problem with it is that most recipes have to be started a day before. Like I said in the last post, planning is not my forte, so it's a bit of a stretch for me to have to do this, but it's well worth it. Yesterday, I made his "Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire", regular white bread, and Pain a l'Ancienne. I had made the Multigrain one other time. This time, I made it with ground flax seed, wheat bran, oatmeal, and 2T of quinoa for the multigrains in addition to the brown rice that the recipe calls for. I also used 2 3/4 C bread flour and 1/4 C wheat. I wanted to incorporate a little wheat flour but not have it be overwhelming. If this one tastes okay (I was too full from eating too much of the white bread to try it.), I'll up that to 1/2 C next time. The white bread was delish! We've been trying a Vegan diet for the last four months or so, so I substituted rice milk for the regular milk and Ener G Egg Replacer for the egg. The Pain a l'Ancienne is by far the best. It's the kind of bread you'd find in an Artisanal Bread Bakery (Well, okay, maybe mine isn't, but it's close and I think the recipe is meant to be.) with a crunchy crust and big giant air bubble holes inside. This was my best batch yet, but next time, I think I'll let it rise longer. You put the dough in the fridge overnight then let it warm up and rise the next day when you take it out. I let mine warm up for about 4 hours before baking, but the dough was still a little cold. Maybe because I had it in a metal bowl. Next time, I'll try 5 or 6 hours. I'm going to try to bake it a bit longer, too. I think I did about 25 minutes this time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lesson Learned #1

I'm not a planner. I rarely do anything ahead of time. I usually wait until the last minute then get really stressed out about just finishing something in the nick of time. So I'm even surprising myself in saying that I think I actually started the whole gardening thing too early this year. In years past, I've always had trouble finding the supplies I need in stores because I waited to long. Not just with gardening either. With Halloween, for example, I always wait until the last minute to buy the costumes, then my poor kids are stuck with the dorkiest leftover Disney characters. (Yeah, I know I should be creative and make some cool costumes.)
Last year, I didn't really get the gardening bug until it was pretty well into the summer. Looking back at my garden journal, I planted my first 4x4 foot square on June 25th and the second a day later. It actually worked out pretty well considering and made me want to do more this year. So, on the first day in March (March 14th to be precise) that the sun came out and the temperature climbed above 40, I was ready to go. Inside, I planted 160 seedlings in those little expandable pellet thingies. Even at the time, that seemed a little crazy, since I already knew I was only going to have 64 square feet, but the seeds and their little dirt homes were so little then, and it had been a really long, cold winter.
Everything sprouted and did really well. I even had to replant 4 weeks or so after, and of course, I found it hard to just throw away the results of thinning the plants, so I planted those, too and ended up with even more seedlings. Mel from Square Foot Gardening says you really only need to plant one seed for each plant you want. Makes sense, but I guess I just don't have enough faith that they'll all sprout. It's probably better Mel's way, since you don't end up disturbing the roots when you yank out the keeper plants little friends. Maybe next year, I'll have more faith. I guess that's Lesson Learned #2.
I also didn't transplant everything into bigger pots. I wanted to see how they would do both ways (and was also getting a bit lazy after transplanting about 80 plants). I'd say it was about the same either way - at least at first. The basil that I planted in bigger pots seemed to do worse. It didn't look bad or anything. It just didn't seem to be growing very fast while the basil plants in their little pellet things (I'll have to figure out what those are called) were shooting up and getting new leaves. (That's one of them there on the left - happily in the garden now.) The tomatoes didn't really seem to care at first. If anything, the ones in the pellets grew more, but then since I planted so early, those started to fall over and grow sideways. Now that they're in the garden it's probably not a big deal because I know some people recommend planting them sideways anyway so that the bottom part of the stem can become the root. At the time though, it was worrying me. (That's one of my Italian Heirloom seedling there on the right.)
Needless to say, I was anxious to get these straggly, falling over things into the garden, so I planted everything on May 10th and 11th. A friend of mine had said that she read in the Farmer's Almanac that the danger of frost would be past after the first full moon in May. That sounded reasonable to me. Although when I think about it, is that true for everywhere? Because it really doesn't make sense that you'd plant at the same time in Florida as you would in Maine. Anyway, the last full moon was on May 8th, and I liked that date because, like I said, I was anxious to plant.
It got really cold here two nights ago and frosted in some places. That was of course after I had planted all my seedlings outside. I got really lucky, and I think they're going to be fine, but my lesson learned is that next year, I should wait to plant until May 20th or so. (Then again I could be rewarded big time by having the first tomatoes, basil, etc. We'll see.) And the second part of that lesson learned is to calculate a reasonable number of weeks backward to start seedlings inside and force myself to wait until then.
I don't know if any of you readers will benefit from this long-winded lesson learned, but I read a while ago that you can "slurp" (I think that was the word) a blog into a Blurb book. Blurb is my favorite site for creating photo books. I've done a couple, and I just love the way they come out. So I love the idea of "slurping" all this into a Blurb book for myself - sort of a high(er) tech gardening journal.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

64 Square Foot Garden Paradise

So here it is . . . My 64 square feet of gardening paradise. I just finished planting everything last night then it got very cold. I noticed some frost on the ground this morning on my way in to work. Hopefully all my little plants made it through. They looked okay this morning. More later about what I planted, but the most interesting things in the garden right now are the peas. They seem to love the cold and are growing so quickly. It seemed like they took forever to sprout. I was worried the seeds had been too disturbed by the squirrels that keep digging in my gardens (more about that in another post, too), but they did finally come up. (I'll have to look back at my garden book to see exactly how long it took.) Now, they're by far the biggest thing in the garden. On Saturday, I rigged up this trellis for them with this cheap plastic fencing I got from Home Depot, some stakes, and some twist ties. I have two of them quite close together, since I have 9-12 pea plants per square foot. I'm worried that it might be hard to reach in there and harvest the peas, but I'll figure that out when the time comes. I'm so amazed by how the little pea tendrils figure out how to grab onto things nearby. (See in the photo how they already grabbed onto the trellis?) I'm sure there's a scientific explanation, but that just takes all the fun out of it for me. This little guy grabbed on just one day after I put up the trellis. I just think it's so cool. Last year, two of my kids and I were obsessed with watching the morning glories that we planted do the same thing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Welcome to my Urban Peasant Blog!

I'm currently totally obsessed with gardening. I think my friends, family, and coworkers are a little tired of hearing about it, so I wanted to start blogging about it both to keep track of what I've done and to share my excitement with others. (For some reason, I have a hard time finding other people who get as obsessively involved in their hobbies as I do. I like to think that I'm just a really enthusiastic person, but it's probably more that those people are much better at balancing all the parts of their lives.) We live in the city, and for some reason, ever since we (mostly me) started gardening, my husband has been calling us "Urban Peasants" thus the name of the blog. (Completely unrelated to the famous Canadian chef I just found out about in my web surfing.) Most of the time, I really like the "Urban" part. I love our city, and all it's conveniences and opportunities, but lately I've been dreaming about a farm with rolling grassy meadows with stands of lilac bushes and fruit trees and a big barn and chickens and on and on. Then I come back to reality and realize I can't even get grass to grow in our little yard. We're pretty lucky as far as urban gardening goes. We don't have to grow our garden on the roof or anything. We actually have about a sixteenth of an acre complete with several lilacs and one very big apple tree. Maybe if I can perfect our little urban farm after a few years, I'll graduate to something bigger. By then I probably won't want to leave all my perennials anyway. The "peasant" part, however, is getting a little old. I often hear people say that they don't want to be rich, they just want to not have to worry about money. I found myself thinking about all the different levels of not worrying about money. That used to mean to me that the car could break down, and I'd have enough money to get it fixed. Now, I'd like to be able to drive my kid to a school event in the next town and not have to scrounge around for the toll money. Oh well, again, I can't complain. I have a house, a job, really everything I need. Best of all, I was able to set up 4 4x4 foot square foot gardens a la Mel Bartholomew and his Square Foot Gardening. More about that tomorrow, since that's what this blog is supposed to be about. Thanks for reading! p.s. I'm off to read about composting.