Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Lately, my life has been nothing but a whirlwind of deadlines and stuff to do and, as you may have noticed, this is not good for my blog.  Today, I forced myself to take the afternoon off and spend it normally-weeding the soft fruit bushes, which were filled with grass, puttering around the sewing room, and then, finally, doing some recreational cooking.  My eye flitted over The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book and I knew that I had to make something out of it.

This beautiful cookbook is written by the two owners of a pie shop in Brooklyn.  It is of the modern style of cookbook that I think of as being heavily influenced by blogging.  Lots (and lots and lots) of beautiful pictures, styled within an inch of their lives.  If you look at old cookbooks, there might be a few diagrams, a few sparse pictures just for clarifications, but piles of pictures?  Goodness, no.  And, I have to say, while I am fond of old cookbooks, I appreciated lots of pictures.

The recipes have to be some of the best pie recipes I've ever seen-interesting pie crusts from a chocolate all-butter crust, a cornmeal crust, a pistachio coconut crust, an animal cracker crumb crust. And those are just a smidgen of the gorgeous pie crust recipes.  But wait, we haven't even delved into the pies themselves.  Chamomile Buttermilk Custard Pie, Apple Rose Pie, Concord Grape Pie (in a gorgeous design),  Cinnamon Apricot Pie with Vanilla Pouring Cream, Bourbon Pear Crumble Pie....

Pie is something that has a bit of a bad reputation.  It's viewed as something that is terrify and impossible to do, particularly the crust part.  This cookbook calms all these fears.  The writers of this cookbook seem to assume that, of course, it's easy to make a pie.  Of course, pie is not the easiest thing in the world, but it is not an unsurmountable task.  And these writers communicate this through their cheerful, confident approach to pies.  There is probably about 40 pages at the beginning of the book just going over the basics and I really recommend that everybody read those thoroughly, although I still maintain that the best way to learn to bake a pie is to look over an experienced pie baker's shoulder.  However, this is definitely the next best option.  I loved how carefully they covered everything from utensils to types of flour to using locally sourced ingredients, all accompanied, of course, by stunning pictures.  Who knew that a pile of winter kitchen scraps was so beautiful?

While I love a good basic peach or apple pie for everyday, I am an experimenter cook at heart and so I really appreciated this kind of cookbook.  However, I know lots of cooks who prefer to stay with the tried-and-true and perfect the basic recipes.  If you are that kind of cook, then I probably wouldn't recommend buying this book.  But everybody needs to at least check this out of the library.

Tonight, I will be serving a lovely Buttermilk Chess Pie made with a cornmeal crust.  What a treat!  Now, go out and get your hands on a copy of this cookbook and improve your pie baking skills.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Slices of Life: A Food Writer Cooks Through Many a Conundrum by Leah Eskin

I've mentioned a time or two how much I love reading about cooking and food.  I read cookbooks for fun, devour cooking memoirs, articles in magazines by chefs...I love pretty much any food writing I can get my hands on.  I spied this book on the new book shelf at the library and eagerly snagged it because, hey, it was a nice, thick, fun-looking book all about food.  I started it last night and sped through the rest of it this morning.  Overall, I really enjoyed the book.

Leah Eskin is a food writer for a variety of pretty big papers (Chicago Tribune, to name one).  She's also appeared in Saveur (one of the world's loveliest food magazines, I am convinced), Elle, Salon, and handful of other big-name magazines and newspapers.  She writes about food, but, particularly, cooking for her family.  Each article is an essay accompanied by a delicious-looking recipe.

I admit to being just a little underwhelmed by the writing.  The writing was, for the most part, good, but Eskin's writing tone and style wasn't my favorite.  She repeatedly used a present simple tense in the second person (yes, I did have to look that up), which I didn't love.  I think some of that is just my own stylistic taste, but I do think that the writing ended up coming out just a little bit awkward.  The tense and style changed with each article, but the majority were written as described above.

But, sometimes Eskin's writing would suddenly blossom, painting a perfect word image, or elegantly describing a scene.  For instance, when talking about decluttering for moving, she writes, "Gamely, you straighten up.  You square heaps of mail into stacks.  You crack apart the forty-eight pieces of Our Solar System and cram the universe into the black hole of the puzzle cupboard."  See?  Comparing the puzzle cupboard to a black hole?  Smart.  And funny.

Now, let's talk about the amazing food in this book.  I finished this book up this morning and I am convinced that I left several drool marks.  Delicious pasta dishes and salted caramel, brisket and pot roast, greens and beans and pistachio ice cream sandwiches, mushroom broth and walnut pesto crostini.  Oh dear, now I am so hungry.  Leah Eskin is obviously a very good cook, capable of dreaming up some delicious food.  In fact, this book made me want to go hunt down her kitchen and follow her around for a day.  But it also made me want to work in my own kitchen.  Try some of her recipes and maybe even dream up one of my own.  And isn't that the ultimate goal of all good food writers?  To inspire people to get into their own kitchens and create beautiful, delicious food.

So I would definitely pick up this book if you are a food reader like me.  Eskin's recipes all look delicious and her stories about her family are fun to read.  I don't think I would ever buy the book, but as a library read?  It was definitely worth it.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bits and Bobs

I decided to write a rambling post today.  While I'm enjoying the Little Women read-along so much, I decided to take a day off and write about happenings.  Early March seems to make me ramble.

The kitchen has been filled with activity all week.  With chilly weather and blizzard-like conditions pretty much all the time, we've been keeping the kitchen going to keep the house warm, since the kitchen is the draftiest, coldest room of the house.  There is always something on the stove or in the oven these days-sourdough bread, lime and sea salt brownies, hot and sour soup, pots of stock, baguettes, and much more.  While the table was a mess, the sun came streaming in a window and I snapped a couple of pictures.  It's amazing how pretty a baking mess can look.
The baguettes.  Delicious, but not pretty.
Lime and Sea-Salt Brownies from Kitchn.  Delicious!
Just a pretty mess.  A tea towel, dusts of flour, and the lime zest for the brownies.

Homemade Hot and Sour Soup, also from Kitchn.

I started a book called To the Wild Sky by Ivan Southall who is, apparently a fairly well-known Australian children's author from the 50s and 60s who wrote about children having adventures.  To the Wild Sky is about six children who are on a plane to a birthday party in New South Wales.  Their plans are immediately thrown to the wind when the pilot dies, leaving them in a rapidly falling plane.  One of the boys steers the plane to safety on a deserted island, where the children have to learn to fend for themselves.  It's very exciting and I'm really enjoying having such a gripping book.


While spring is lovely and I absolutely can't wait to see ground again (even muddy ground!) I saw struck by the absolute gorgeousness of winter as I looked out the window at this.



Today is World Book Day!  What are you reading today?  I have To the Wild Sky, Little Women, a few inspiration cookbooks, and November Knits, a knitting book.


It's the Easter Dress time of year again!  I have my dress about half done and waiting by my sewing machine.  I found some fairly cheap organic cotton voile that looks like watercolors.  I'm making it up in a 50s party dress pattern, which I think is going to work perfectly as an Easter dress.

I'm doing the view with sleeves


I am so proud of those neat little pin tucks all down the front.  I still have buttons, a skirt,
and sleeves to put on, but it's starting to feel like a real dress now!




Friday, February 20, 2015

Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen by Louise Andrew Kent

"Some of the best reading in the world, Mrs. Appleyard says, is found in cookbooks.  She ought to know because she began to read them as literature long before she took to wielding the egg beater.  "

So begins this charming book that had been sitting on my TBR pile for several months.  The Mrs. Appleyard books, written by Louise Andrews Kent in the 1940s are about the indomitable Mrs. Appleyard, a busy, cheerful, plump housewife with an eye for the funny and interesting in the mundanities of daily life.  I first was introduced to Mrs. Appleyard through Mrs. Appleyard's Year-a book that covered a year in Mrs. Appleyard's life through her journal.  I loved that cozy read and was so excited when I found Mrs. Appleyard's kitchen, a book oozing with all of Mrs. Appleyard's charm and chock full of recipes I want to try.

The book is organized like a normal cookbook, with sections for meat, cheese, fish, soups, cakes, preserves, and, my favorite, "Vegetables, including Spaghetti".  I actually do want to try quite a few of these delicious-looking recipes, from the peach ice cream to the cheese rusks to almond-butter frosting.  The recipes are not presented in the more modern fashion, with pictures and diagrams and whimsical musings from the author (I scoff, but that's not to say that I don't love reading those cookbooks on occasion).

However, in addition to recipes that make me hungry, there are all kinds of stories about Mrs. Appleyard's family and her thoughts on food.  You have to read through the recipes carefully because, scattered among the recipes, you will find little gems of stories.  For instance, after a recipe for Rhubarb and Strawberry Conserve comes the following story:

"An accident, such as might happen in any home-if Mrs. Appleyard happened to be in it-produced an interesting variant on this conserve and also a word for the Appleyard family dictionary.  There were not quite enough strawberries for the full twelve cups, it was discovered after Mrs. Appleyard had been out and pulled up the rhubarb from behind the springhouse and cut it into juicy green and pink cubes [can I add how, in late February, this is making my mouths water?].  Remembering that she had seen a bowl of crushed strawberries in the ice chest, she got it out and with a sweeping dramatic gesture poured it over the rhubarb and strawberries.  Now, the flavor of onion is a delicious one, but not usually associated with strawberries.  The bowl, in point of fact, contained about a quart of borscht with plenty of onions in it.  
No one needs to think that our heroine was dismayed by this happening.  She simply added a half-teaspoon of cloves, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a little nutmeg, two more lemons thinly sliced and quartered, and proceeded as above.  The conserve was a particularly handsome color and of a flavor that-luckly, perchance-defied immediate analysis….It was natural, after this episode, for the verb 'to borscht' to establish itself in the family dictionary….(You can borscht a dinner party, too, Mrs. Appleyard says-but not always with such happy effect)."

So, if you like reading cookbooks, gently funny novels, and books that will keep you happily absorbed for at least a day, then I highly recommend that you find this book.  I think that it should be fairly easy to find.  I'm not sure about the other Mrs. Appleyard books, but Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen was republished in 1993.  I recommend that you seek this book out.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Snow Day

We're in for a blizzard around here, which means that I'm battening down the hatches, but also making sure that I'm stocked up on entertainment and things to do.  There's a dirty house to get tidy and all the animals to tuck up first, though.  And a blog post to write, because it's been on my list for so long.  Be warned-this is a multi-part post.  So sit down with a cup of tea and prepare to listen to me ramble.
A little wooly worm that I found creeping across the icy snow.
Of course, I tucked him up into the hay in the barn.

*********************************************************************************
Part 1-Snow Ice Cream
Yesterday, the snow hadn't started for real, but we had about 5 inches, so I went outside and filled a metal bowl and prepared to make snow ice cream.  Have you heard of this?  I first read of this in the Melendys books when I was elementary school aged.  The idea enchanted me and I remember making a batch and ending up with sweet, watery milk.  After that, I abandoned the idea.  The memory of that flashed through my head and so I ran to get the ingredients and hurried outside to try snow ice cream again.  And it was delicious!  It's not like regular ice cream, but the trick is to keep everything thoroughly frozen in the snow and to eat the ice cream outside, exclaiming about how cold it is all the while.  I love making this recipe because it's pretty ridiculous to sit outside making ice cream in the middle of winter and, oh is it delicious.  I firmly shut my brain off that is reciting the litany of nasty stuff in that precipitation and pretend that I've never heard of acid rain, er, snow, and heaven knows what else and make this ice cream.  It's lovely.  Here's my recipe:
This is a terrible picture, but white ice cream against white snow is extremely hard to photograph.

Fill a smallish bowl with cleanish snow.  Sprinkle sugar liberally into the snow.  Now that I think of it, maple syrup would be delicious as well.  Actually, maybe more delicious.  Pour about a capful of vanilla into the snow.  Splash full-fat, maybe even raw (if you're a rebel) milk into that sugary snow and then lightly toss together, kind of like you stir egg whites into batter.  Your goal is to keep the snow intact so you have a kind of ice cream-ish texture.  While you're doing this, keep your bowl sitting firmly in the snow so it's staying as cold as possible.  Enjoy!
*********************************************************************************
Part 2-Winter Activities
I have the hugest pile of mending to do.  And, you know what?  I'm actually looking forward to tackling it in front of the fire during these blizzard-y evenings.  I've got a bag filled with yarn and thread and needles and a thimble and I'm ready to go.  I'm also planning to entertain myself with my camera.  I'm in the process of going through the pictures I just took off of my camera and sorting them and, I'm sure, throwing great quantities away.
The cute sweater-wearing (trust me, it's necessary) dog, but also
this perfectly illustrates wood stove season.  There is always ash.  Always.


*********************************************************************************
Part 3-The Buzzards in the Tree
I can't believe it, but these buzzards haven't made it into a blog post.  I apologize to them and now will post several pictures.  We have this very old tree that is dead, but provides great shelter to so many animals.  It is a spectral sight to look out and see that stark, old, dead tree filled with buzzards with their wings spread (we think they're drying their wings, but who knows).  I do wonder what they're watching for.  The chickens?  There are no carcasses that I know of.   I have become peculiarly fond of those old birds.

*********************************************************************************
Part 4-My Book List
I do have a book list, readers.  Of course I do.  Here it is:
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, because it seems extremely fitting
Essays of E. B. White
The Edwardian Lady: The Story of Edith Holden
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
A new vintage magazine that I plan to read
I plan to keep busy with these titles.  I'm sure there will be more reading.  I'll keep you updated.
*********************************************************************************
Whew!  I'm finished rambling.  If you've reached the end, thank you for listening.  Now I'm off to stuff the cracks of the chicken coop with straw.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Best Hot Chocolate

We've been in the middle of a pretty bitter cold snap and that means that I've been spending huge amounts of time inside.  Sure, it leads to cabin fever and absolutely must be relieved by (very) short daily runs outside, followed by standing by the fire whining about not being able to feel my legs.  However, my book load is lightening at such a rapid pace; I can't remember reading this much in a month before.
Can you see the little flash of red from the cardinal?

But, I absolutely require that there is a steady stream of hot beverages while I'm sitting by the fire of an evening.  I've narrowed it down to, truly, the best hot chocolate.  It's also the speediest.  It was (very roughly) copied off of this blogger's recipe, but I've gotten more loosey-goosey with the method in order to spend the minimum amount of time in my freezing kitchen.

When I was young, my mom used to make stove top hot chocolate when we came in from sledding-stirring cocoa and sugar and water until it boiled, then adding milk and heating for what seemed an interminable amount of time.  Then on the other end of the spectrum is the tepid watery sludge made by mixing powdered milk (blech), cocoa powder, and heaven knows what else into water that, for some reason, is never quite hot.  I'm grossed out just thinking about it.  This hot cocoa is the happy medium.  It's got the full-body flavor of the stovetop method with the quickness of the awful hot cocoa mix method.

This is like no hot chocolate mix you have ever had before.  In fact, it doesn't even deserve to have the same name as that sludge-in-a-package.  I think you'll agree with me after you've made a mug.

Here's the recipe and, oh, is it a lovely to have that hot chocolate ready and waiting in the pantry.

Get out a pint jar and into it put:
1/2 c. cocoa powder (don't bother using some cheap, Dutch-processed, alkalized baking cocoa…use a very dark cocoa powder instead-the flavor is far better)
1/2 c. white sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch (This is to make a smooth hot chocolate mix…don't leave this out!)
Now, this part is pretty optional and I haven't actually seen a huge difference when I omitted it.  However, you can add about 1/4 c. very, very finely chopped dark chocolate (I stuck mine in the food processor)
Then, when you go to make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, just dump, oh, about a tablespoon into a mug full of milk and heat.

Enjoy with your next good book!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Peggy Parsons at Prep School

My latest read has been a very indulgent one-Peggy Parsons at Prep School-one of those boarding-school-girl books from the teens and 20s that were a dime a dozen back in the day.  I have a certain fondness for these books and found this particular one in a dusty little, out-of-the-way bookshop that was housed in an old mill.  I think the charming setting went to my head, because I bought three or four of this genre of books, I read all of them except for this one, which I finally got around to reading just this past week.

Peggy Parsons, etc. etc. is, of course, about Peggy Parsons and her multitude of wholesome adventures at her charming prep school.  Of course, there are the characters who have to be won over by Peggy's charming personality.  And there is the problem that is cheerfully solved by the resourceful heroine.

In this book, the main problem is the joining together of a handsome college boy (who conducts a serenade with the glee club for the prep school girls in the first chapter, by the way…that part was pretty fabulous) and his long-lost,  gruff grandfather who has a soft spot for Peggy.  But, along the way, there are picnics and midnight fudge parties and matinee shows at the local theater and strict headmistresses to win over.

Here are two excerpts from the book, so that you get a picture of what this book is like to read:

"The domestic science class, well under way with an excellent teacher, decided to have a 'bacon bat', after the custom of the Smith College girls, all by themselves on some bit of rock that jutted into the river….There was a jar of bacon strips in a paper bag, the bottle of olives in another paper bag, and two dozen rolls, a generous supply in the biggest paper bag of all.  There was a tiny box of matches, too, that Peggy slipped into the pocket of her rust colored jacket."

And…one of those fudge scenes that are so frequently talked about in this type of book:

"The room, with the little whispering group of girls in it, some on couches and some on the floor, garbed in all the delicate shades of boudoir attire, pale blue, pink, and rose, saffron yellow, lavender, and dainty green; with the tiny spurts of golden candle flame dotted here and there on table and mantlepiece; with the hot, chocolate-smelling fudge bubbling away in the chafing dish, looking like some fairy meeting place…When the fudge was done they put the pan out of the window and hoped that it wouldn't fall down and all be lost.  It didn't, and before it had fairly cooled, they cut it and lifted the squares in their eager fingers and ate them with greedy pleasure, down to the last, last crumb."

The book by no means displays good writing and is quite formulaic, but there is something so charming about such adventures, full of pretty 20s clothes and archaic food the likes of which I have never heard or seen.

I don't quite know why these books hold such charm for me.  They are often sub-par-ly written and, after you've read one, you've read them all, but for some reason, that doesn't disgust me.  They were also obviously a huge money-maker (rather like the Nancy Drew books) back in the day and written in large part to secure the attentions of girls for years on end while more and more books were churned out.  In a modern book, I would not hold with any of these things and would firmly refuse to ever pick up such a cheap bit of book, but something about the age of this book keeps me from throwing it out or refusing to read it.

I wonder, did these boarding schools actually exist, or were they romanticizations of a certain school-girl lifestyle that rarely, if ever, existed?  I don't know the answer to this question, but I do know that these authors always present these stories as if every other girl was going to one of these boarding schools that are always full of fun and games and little education.

If this sounds like something that you would enjoy reading, purely for a little enjoyment and light reading, I highly recommend seeking one of this type of book out.  They are fast reads and are an interesting, much-forgotten bit of fiction.  Unless you just happen to stumble upon a few of these at some cheap bookshop, they can be very hard to find and, when found, ridiculously expensive.  Also, most libraries don't have them anymore.  So if you happen to find one, like I did, snap it up and enjoy yourself!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Book Lovers Cookbook

I've missed you, dear readers.  After a rather hectic start of October, I'm looking forward to settling done and (hopefully!) getting a good amount of blogging done.  I have two posts lined up for today and tomorrow, so you can get your blog fix this weekend.

Last night we went to a movie and, of course, I kept up my bad habit of tucking a book under my coat. You know, just in case.  Have I ever mentioned this little quirk about myself?  It's true, I very frequently will carry a book with me into the movie theater, particularly if it's a very gripping book that I can't. stop. thinking. about.  Usually I don't need the book, but once that book-under-the-coat move saved me.   It was somebody else's idea to go see the latest Spiderman (can't remember who, but they should thank me for forgetting).  The ending was truly awful and after about five minutes of that nonsense, I quietly pulled my book out and started reading by the flickering of the screen.

Anyway, last night, we got to the theater early and there were those obnoxious ads playing before the trailers start.  I was so thankful that I had along a book-The Book Lover's Cookbook-to read so I didn't have to have my brain melt in puddles around my feet over dumb ads.

I think this cookbook might have been written for me, I mean, a cookbook that is about books?!  I can't think of anything lovelier.  This cookbook did not disappoint.  Most of the recipes were very basic things that you could find in pretty much any cookbook, but there was something so special about having these recipes linked to some of my absolute favorite books.

Each recipe starts with a few paragraphs from the book about that particular dish and then the recipe.  And, of all cool things, some of the book authors actually helped write the recipes like they had imagined.  It rather thrilled me to know that I was reading a recipe for fried green tomatoes written by Fannie Flagg herself.

This book made me exceedingly hungry to read, but it also gave me some great book recommendations.  Just from reading an excerpt from a book, I could pretty much tell whether I would like the book or not.  So now I've added some more books to my TBR list.

I really liked this book.  I think that you would, too if you like cookbooks, books, or both.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Oh, readers.  I have fallen head over heels for this ice cream book.  Seriously.  I think it's the world's best ever ice cream book.  Ice cream books are definitely not a new phenomenon- from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop to People's Pops (a hipster ice cream/popsicle cookbook).  But this cookbook is brilliant in a different way.

The thing that stands out to me is the fact that every single recipe I see in this cookbook sounds delicious.  I would happily eat any of the (sometimes unexpected and strange) flavors of ice cream enclosed in this book.  But here's the thing, these recipes aren't just bizarre for the sake of being bizarre.  Oh, no.  You know those recipes that are written simply for the sake of shocking and grossing out a large portion of the population?  While this cookbook has some interesting combinations, they are well-thought out and inspired, not just weird.

This cookbook is written by Jeni Britton Bauer, who started a small collection of ice cream stores all across Ohio.  As the restaurants grew in fame, Bauer began trying more and more combinations of flavors and found that the public was actually thrilled with this new, inspired flavors.  Bauer is a strong supporter of the local food movement and so the recipes are very conveniently arranged by season.  So you're not going to be making a roasted strawberry ice cream in January.

The photography is breath-taking.  I am completely in awe of people who can photograph food well.  The pictures are all beautiful and well-lighted and make the food look even better than I ever could.  Now that I think about it, it's probably because they don't just shove the random bits of household junk to one side of the table and then forget to turn on any lights while they take a few dimly lit pictures of a bowl of food.  Ahem.  But back to the book.  Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful picture of a spoon full of ice cream.

As I mentioned earlier, the flavors are genius- things that would never cross my head.  Take this list that I made of a few of the ice cream flavors in this book:
-Wild Berry Lavender Ice Cream
-Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream (peanut butter ice cream with cayenne pepper, coconut milk, and honey)
-Gucci Muu Muu (a chocolate ice cream with curry powder)
-Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream

I'm currently waiting for a small, 1-quart ice cream maker to come in the mail.  We have the big gallon crank that you pull out for family gatherings and make a whole bunch of vanilla ice cream.  But, honestly, you don't want a gallon of celery ice cream with candied ginger.  But if a family of four each gets a small bowlful?  Perfect!  So once that comes, I will be celebrating the end of summer with lots of ice cream.

I sat drooling over this ice cream.  You simply must read this.  It doesn't involve turning on an oven.  All you need is a pile of dairy products, a couple other ingredients and an ice cream crank.  I know that you'll like this book.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The 100 Foot Journey

I'm taking a little break from book blogging to write about a movie that I saw recently-The Hundred Foot Journey.  I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.  Oh!  And there's a book by the same name on which the movie was based, so I'm excited to look for that book.  As a basic summary, The Hundred Foot Journey is about an Indian family who runs a restaurant in Mumbai.  After a group storms through their village and sets fire to their restaurant, killing their mother, the 4 children and their father flee to Europe.  They end up in a small French village, where a young sous-chef takes them under her wing.  However, things become slightly tense when the family decides to buy a restaurant just 100 feet across the street from a Michelin-star-winning French restaurant run by the town matriarch, Madame Mallory.  Things become even more complicated when it turns out that Marguerite, the sous-chef, works at this restaurant.  Meanwhile, after much conflict, the Indian restaurant begins to draw people and it becomes apparent that the one son, Hassan, is a very gifted chef.  Of course, there is the requisite romance between Hassan and Marguerite, which I quite enjoyed, but the real focus of the movie was food.

As many of you know, I quite love food and I love cooking.  I am by no means at a chef-level of cooking, but I think I am fairly skilled in the kitchen.  When I saw this movie, I was completely inspired by the gorgeous scenes of knives flying across cutting boards full of onions, spices spread liberally, and perfect omelets concocted. There was also the side-interest of the gorgeous clothes and the beautiful French countryside was, of course, perfectly gorgeous.   Marguerite wore lovely dresses that I coveted and had a bob that I am seriously considering.  However, the main interest of the movie was the food.

Now here are the things that I scoffed at:


  • The produce-There are so many scenes where markets and people's tables are shown and they are, of course, beautiful.  But the produce obviously came from a California greenhouse and were shipped to some supermarket in a Sysco truck.  Since the feeling of the movie is supposed to be one of farm-to-table eating and uber localness, this was not a good move on the filmmakers' part.  The tomatoes were the fakest looking things and the peppers were all these huge, flawless, bright red bell peppers.  No heirloom produce there.
  • There was this side-story about this chest of Indian spices that were bequeathed to Hassan.  Now this is nit-picky, but spices that are at least 20 years old should not be put into a curry.  Actually, those spices shouldn't go anywhere.  Not even a very mild dish.  I'm sorry, Hassan, they may be Mama's old spices, but they need to be lovingly put in a trunk somewhere and then you can go out and get some new spices.  Trust me, your food's going to be soooo much more flavorful.
  • They could have talked more about food.  No, I think for the average viewer, the food focus was just about at capacity.  But I want to know more!  I want to know just exactly how he was making that gorgeous looking vegetable jalfrezzi.  Heck, I want that guy to come give me some cooking lessons.  
But, really, I was able to overlook these picky things.  The movie was beautiful and the filmmakers did a wonderful job.  The movie was one of those where you feel like you've been in a different place when you emerge blinking from the theater.  I was also inspired by a great many cooking details from the movie.  After seeing Madame Mallory make the world's most perfect omelet, I am determined to master that skill.  Also, in every cooking scene, there was a cup that was full of spoons.  The cooks all pulled out a clean spoon to taste at every step.  I'm going to look for some spoons at the thrift store and do this.  I think it's a great idea!  But the thing that most inspired me the fact that nobody cooked with a cookbook.  Now, I understand that these are chefs, not lay-cooks, but I was still impressed.  

After the movie, as we drove home, I contemplated food and realized that nothing else would please me except a big bowl of curry.  When I got home, I instinctively reached for a cookbook and then pulled back my hand.  No, I was going to make curry by taste.  I've always been too afraid of a complete cooking failure if I don't follow a recipe, but I finally did it!  And it was wonderful to smell the heavenly scent of curry and see the piles of steam and feel the ingredients in my hands after seeing all those things in a movie.  Here's the rough recipe of what I did:

Lamb Curry

I pulled out a 1 lb. packet of lamb cubes (we raise sheep and therefore always have a good supply of lamb in the freezer) and set that to defrost while I chopped onions and garlic and sauteed them in olive oil.  Then I added the lamb, cooked until brown, and then began to add the most important thing- the spices.  I found a little jar of curry paste at the back of the pantry and then I added garam masala, coriander, and I can't remember what else, just adding by taste and smell.  Next, I added a quart of tomatoes, half a can of coconut milk, about half of a container of yogurt, and cooked until thick.  I served it with yogurt swirled at the top and sprigs of cilantro on top of the whole thing.  And you know what?  It turned out fantastically!  I will definitely be cooking curry without a book again!  And I've become inspired to try more non-cookbook cooking, using smells and tastes to cook.  

So anyway, this is definitely a must-see if you like pretty movies or good food.  I really loved it and it was a huge inspiration.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tea With Jane Austen

I'm finally getting around to doing some Austen in August posts.  On August 30th.  Oh well.  My Austen in August writing will probably go into September, but that's fine.

The first book that I picked up was Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson-a slim volume devoted to life in Jane Austen's day as it pertained to tea.  There were fascinating facts, quotes from letters Jane wrote, and all sorts of charming pictures and recipes.  I quite adored the book.  

The book was arranged throughout a day, starting with tea for breakfast and finishing with tea for dinner, with stops all along the way.  The author carefully went through the steps that were taken to make tea, depending on class, and argues that tea was something extremely important to Jane.  Wilson quotes liberally from the novels with loving descriptions of taking tea and discussing tea and judging people who don't take tea seriously.  

Wilson obviously cares very deeply about tea and wants all of her readers to care as deeply about it as she does.  Now I am not a devoted tea drinker, but I love history and I love Jane Austen, so this was a perfect book.  And, really, this book was just a sort of history of that time period, seen through the lens of tea.  

The writing was not breathtaking, however.  There were some awkward, stumbling sentences and things were quoted with no clear source.  I believe that this is Wilson's first writing and so we'll credit the mistakes with a not-very-great editor and inexperience.  

I think that this book could be read as a coffee-table book; flipping through the pages at the pretty pictures and reading the quotes at the side.  However, I sat down and read the thing cover to cover and was glad I did.  Halfway through reading, I got up and made a pan of apple (the first of our own apples!), sage, and cheddar scones. I rooted around in the cupboard for a pretty, non-earthenware mug and curled up, feeling perfectly content.  Readers, it was lovely.  In fact, I think a pre-requisite when reading this book should be having a nice teacup filled with a period-appropriate tea (I chose Oolong), and a little something to eat.

One of the best parts was the recipes.  Wilson would quote from a letter or a paragraph in one of Jane's books that mentioned a recipe and then Wilson modernized the recipes and included them in the book.  I copied several down before I returned this book to the library.

If you have ever enjoyed reading anything about Austen, then this is a book for you.  It's fun and interesting...the perfect weekend read.  I quite enjoyed it.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canning Tomatoes-An Excerpt from The Melendys

Today is the beginning of the canning extravaganza-where every surface is covered in pulp and seeds and we all collapse on random kitchen chairs at 7 pm, wearily watching the last canner.  Every year that I do this, I wonder why I think this is a good idea, but when I see the beautiful ruby red jars full of tomatoes sitting in the basement, I feel completely gratified.  The other thing that always crosses my mind is the story of the Melendys, written by Elizabeth Enright.  The Melendys have all sorts of adventures (see this post, where I wrote about them), but here's an excerpt from their canning adventure, accompanied by pictures of our canning mess.   Enjoy!
Onions in the food processor, for pizza sauce.  (Note the clean kitchen.
It's the last time you're going to see a tomato-less surface for the rest of this post)

So in summary, Cuffy (the kindly housekeeper) has left to take care of her sister-with-a-broken-leg, widower Father is on some vague business trip (he frequently is), and that leaves the four children at home, the oldest of whom is fourteen.  You heard that right, fourteen!  It's August and the garden is, of course, overflowing.  Mona (the 14 year old) is completely enchanted with cooking and proposes that she and Randy (the 12 year old) can the produce-

""We eat tomatoes for every meal except breakfast now," Randy said.  "And the cucumbers are just getting boring."  "Maybe we could sell them," offered Oliver helpfully.  "Nix, small fry.  In a rural community like this it would be coals to Newcastle."  "Canning is the answer," Mona said.  "Oh, if only Cuffy were here!""

"A moment later she looked up, striking the table with her mixing spoon.  "We'll do it ourselves!  We'll surprise Cuffy."  "O-o-oh, no!"  said Rush.  "And have us all dead with bottling bacillus or whatever it is.  No, thank you."  "Botulinus bacillus," corrected Mona.  "Oh, Rush, don't be so stuffy.  I'll get a book about it and do everything just the way it says.  I'll only can safe things like the tomatoes and I'll make pickles of the cucumbers."

"Mona slept an uneasy sleep that night, and her dreams were long dull dreams about tomatoes.  She rose early the next morning, got breakfast with Randy, and studied her canning book.  By the time the boys and Willy began bringing the vegetables, she knew it almost by heart.  She and Rand were enthusiastic about the first bushel-basketful of tomatoes, it seemed a treasure trove: an abundance of sleek vermilion fruit, still beaded with dew.  The second bushel also looked very pretty, the third a little less so, and by the time the fourth one arrived she stared at it with an emotion of horror.  "There can't be that many, Rush!"  "You asked for it, pal.  There's the living evidence.  And in twenty four hours, there'll be this much over again." …."The kitchen was swamped with vegetables."

"It was a long, hot, clumsy business.  Mona dropped sterilized lids on the floor, and they had to be sterilized all over again; Randy cut herself with the paring knife; Mona half-scalded her fingers getting the first jar into the boiler.  Randy skidded and fell on a slippery tomato skin which had somehow landed on the kitchen floor.  They lost two jars of tomatoes from the first batch when they were taking them out of the boiler.  The first was dropped by Mona when she thoughtlessly took hold of it with her bare hands.  The second exploded like a bomb, all by itself.  "I guess there was something the matter with it," said Randy brilliantly.

"Her [Mona's] face was scarlet with exertion.  Her hair was tied up in a dish towel, and her apron was covered with tomato stains.  Randy looked worse if anything.  There were tomato seeds in her hair and an orange smear across one cheek.  She was wearing nothing but a faded old playsuit and an apron.  "Gee whiz," she said.   "You know how I feel?  I feel like an old, old woman about forty years old, with fallen arches."

I hear ya', Randy, I hear ya'.

Still, later…"They look sort of nice.  The tomatoes, I mean, not your arches.  Look, Ran."  They were nice.  Sixteen sealed jars of scarlet fruit, upside down on the kitchen table.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Great Marshmallow Experiment

Last night, on the spur of the moment, my family and I decided to have a little campfire in the back yard.  Some rummaging was done and graham crackers, chocolate, and a pack of hotdogs were found, but no marshmallows.  I turned to this trusty cookbook, of which I gave such a glowing review, and, sure enough, there was a homemade marshmallow recipe.  It's quite easy, just sugar and corn syrup (I'll talk about that later), vanilla, gelatin, and water.
I made them in squares, but there's no reason you couldn't cut them
into any pretty shape you wanted.


I heated up the sugar and water and went to find a bottle of corn syrup, you know, that white syrupy stuff that most cooks have a bottle of languishing in the back.  It's not that same thing as the demonic high fructose stuff, but as I pulled the bottle off of the shelf, I happened to glance at the back and saw that, sure enough, in regular corn syrup, there is high fructose corn syrup.  Cussing inwardly, I went back to the cupboard and wracked my brains for a suitable alternative.  I knew that honey would have way too strong of a flavor and I wasn't sure that maple syrup was thick enough.  Aha!  My eye fell on a bottle of agave syrup, this strange syrup that is a quite popular in health food stores these days.  I think it's from some kind of cactus in Mexico, but don't quote me on that.  There was a little bottle of it stuffed in the back of a cupboard.  I dumped that in and, surprisingly, it gave the marshmallows the most buttery, rich flavor.

I really recommend that you get Homemade Pantry, but if you refuse, here's how you make marshmallows:

Heat up your 3/4 cup of syrup (whatever you choose), 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 cup of water.  Don't touch it, just stick a thermometer in and let the temperature come to 250 Fahrenheit.  Meanwhile, put a package of gelatin in the bottom of a stand mixer and pour another 1/2 cup of water over it and let sit.  when your sugar water has heated up to the right temperature, pour it over your gelatin and turn the mixer to the highest setting until the mixture turns shiny and white.  Pour it into a greased 9x13 pan and let sit until they're marshmallow consistency.  Then cut into squares when you're ready to eat and dust with coconut or powdered sugar.

People, these were so good!  They toast gorgeously and turn into this buttery, toasty pile of goodness on your graham cracker.   I will never buy another marshmallow again.  These are dead easy, the flavor far surpasses anything you could buy, and they have such a gorgeous texture!  So often, if you buy an organic marshmallow, they're weirdly dry and flat and chewy, while the jet-puffed ones taste like chemicals and who knows what's in them.  These are perfect in every way.  You must go make them!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Homemade Pantry

Whew, readers!  I've been on a cooking streak the past few days!  One of the recipes on the docket for today was a whole bunch of flour tortillas.  Here's the wonderful cookbook that holds this recipe and many more:

The main premise of Homemade Pantry is that most convenience foods that we think of as being strictly store bought (eg. cheese crackers, breakfast cereal, graham crackers) are actually worth making at home from scratch.  It's a fairly generally acknowledged thought that homemade is always better, so why not extend that idea to our everyday boxed food?

I knew about a lot of the recipes.  For instance, I've been making granola forever.  It's no surprise to me that you don't have to eat store bought cornflakes for breakfast.  However, the recipes are so delicious and, at least in all the recipes I've tried, are fail-proof.  There's everything from the perfect pie crust to potato chips to homemade poptarts (pictured above).  The recipes are explained in careful (sometimes too careful) detail.  The author, Alana Chernila, is clearly working to make this cookbook accessible to readers that are not accustomed to working in the kitchen.

The book is laid out in a new and charming way.  There are 11 chapters, each labeled with an "aisle", like in a grocery store.  So there's aisle 1 with the dairy products and aisle 2 with the cereals and snacks.  If you're trying to find a good snack food, just turn to aisle 2 for some recipes for granola bars, cheese crackers, or beef jerky.  The other interesting thing about this book is the way that the recipes are presented.  Each recipe is preface by a little reflection by Chernila that ties into the recipe in some way.  Actually, they remind me of little blog posts, which is not surprising as she is also a blogger.  It gives the reader the distinct impression that she is reading in on a journal.

Aside from the great recipes and the gorgeous photographs (I so admire food photographers), the writing is eloquent and skilled.  No awkward, unwieldy sentences that desperately try and fail to explain something.  No bad grammar (thank you, editors) or tangled-up-mumbo-jumbo wording that ends up making less than no sense.  It's a pleasure just to sit down and read this book like a novel.

If you're not a cook already, then it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense to get this book.  However, if you have ever had any interest in cooking or preserving, then this is a must-read.  I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pictures of Today

Instead of being a good blogger and review two finished books, or writing about my first draft of the Katniss dress that is finished (!), I'm doing this:

Just one of the containers that held apples.

Here's the drama that was unfolding in this picture:  I was cutting up apples for applesauce,
when who should drop by, but Tom.  He proceeded to get most infernally in the way.
A while later, I took the cut up apples inside, leaving that box that had held
the apples and now had two knives at the bottom of it.  A gust of wind
blew up, blowing the box and Tom went chasing after it.
At some point, Shadow came and joined in the fun.
That is, I'm making applesauce today.  Yes, folks, canning season is in full swing, which means that writing about interesting things takes the back burner.  

Ps.  These pictures were taken with the camera on the laptop.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  My camera has croaked, leaving me sadly picture-less.  I was extremely surprised by how good these ended up turning out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Saving the Season

It's canning season and I'm having fun looking through canning cookbooks for ideas and inspiration. There's something so exciting and anticipatory about looking through a really beautiful canning cookbook. One of my favorites this season is Saving the Season by Kevin West.  It's a big, fat canning cookbook, full of recipes for canned everything, from marmalades to pickles to syrups.  It also has the added advantage of being full of all kinds of eccentric fruits and vegetables, not just your basic strawberry freezer jam.

I love this cookbook for a number of reasons. The pictures are all gorgeous and perfectly portray the tone of the book.  The recipes are written with enough instructions to be clear, but not so much that the reader becomes bogged down by unnecessary details-a fine line to balance for cookbook writers.  The book has that lovely, crisp, new-book smell that I so adore.  And finally, the food all looks delicious.

As a little picture of the recipes that this cookbook holds, let me tell you what from this book is on my to-can list this summer:
-Watermelon Rind Pickles
-Elderberry Syrup
-Yellow Peach Slices in Tea Syrup
-Spicy Sweet Squash Pickle
-Apple Jelly with Mint
-Pine Cone Syrup

Actually, I would happily make anything from this cookbook, if given the time and ingredients, but these are the main things that I am itching to try.  I don't think I would regret trying any of these delicious recipes.  So for those of you who can, what is your favorite canning cookbook?  Do you have one, or do you stick to the basics?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Dessert Cookbook

As I sit writing this, I am eating the most delectable thing.  It is a pink, creamy, quivering mass, gently perfumed with the scent of garden strawberries-a strawberry yogurt panna cotta.  I made the recipe two days ago and, like a bad blogger, completely forgot to take any pictures.  But this book still deserves a glowing review from me.  It's called Bakeless Sweets and it's by Faith Durand who is the editor of the wonderful cooking blog, The Kitchn. The cookbook is composed of desserts that are bakeless, most of them things like pudding and panna cotta, but also icebox cakes and no-bake bars.  

Yesterday, I made my first recipe out of the cookbook, a strawberry panna cotta, and it turned out perfectly.  Faith Durand perfectly broke down the steps without going overboard in her instructions and after a night in the fridge in a vintage jello mold, the panna cotta came out perfectly and I ate some for breakfast (yes, breakfast *blush*).  Panna cotta is made by mixing gelatin with something cold, be it a fruit puree, juice, or water.  Then, you simmer cream or milk or coconut milk or something with sugar and stir in the juice and gelatin until the gelatin is completely dissolved.  The final step is to pour it into a jello mold or little ramekins and stick in the fridge until it sets up.
The recipe I made-photograph from the book.

Walnut, Fig, and Barley Pudding, Coffee and Cream Jelly Cups, Deepest Chocolate Mousse, Vietnamese Coconut Tapioca Pudding, No-Bake Meyer Lemon Bars...the list goes on and on in this gorgeous cookbook and I am determined to make them all.  The title makes me think of a slapdash cooking 80s cookbook title (you know the type-"Why the heck would you go to any work in the kitchen when you can throw something together that, you know, kind of tastes like food?!"), but that is not at all how the cookbook comes across.  The pictures are gorgeous and the book is well written.  Each recipe in this cookbook makes me hungry.
Vietnamese Tapioca Pudding-the next recipe I want to try,
also a photograph from the book.

I have a special soft spot in my heart for the old fashioned comfort of jelled things and puddings, but even if you don't, this cookbook is sure to win you over.  Really, you must read it and make a least 5 things out of this wonderful cookbook.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Pretty Cookbook

I heard the Kinfolk Cookbook mentioned briefly on a blog and was fascinated.  Wonder of wonders, our public library actually had it on the new book shelf, so I snapped it up and read it aloud on the way home from the library.  I am familiar with Kinfolk and I think we even got a few issues of the magazine.  It is, essentially, a hipster lifestyle magazine.  Actually, I think it's food and entertaining specifically, but really, it's pictures of pretty stuff and then short essays and recipes, most of which are about food.  The pictures are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to find a rough wooden table and mismatched, chipped china (it sounds weird, I know...you just need to see these pictures).  The magazine fascinates me because it's so different from the 90s ideal.  It's still very much this idyllic perfection just like Martha Stewart's magazines, but what you're supposed to be trying to attain is radically different.

So when I found out about this, I was looking forward to a good cookbook read.  Like I said earlier, some of the pictures are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to spend hours with my camera.  However, the writing is...meh.  I think that the writers could do with a little lesson on sparse use of adjectives and avoiding flowery language.  The run-on sentences abound, filled with an adverb or an adjective every 5th word.  It makes for funny, but slightly tiring reading.

However, in spite of the writing, the overall tone of the book is inspiring in that they're encouraging people to get back into the home and cook and entertain.  All of the recipes look delicious.  The format of the book is a short bio about one of the Kinfolk editor's friends, and then recipes that the friends shared.  I wanted to warn you about the writing, but the overall message of the book, the photography, and the recipes make up for it.

Friday, June 6, 2014

What the World Eats

I took a little break from my usual reads, cozy pre-1980 novels, to pick up a very inspiring and fascinating book called What the World Eats.  This was a much-talked-about book (I think it was originally meant for children, but you can't tell in the least) when it came out in 2008 and I just never bothered to pick it up.  Then several weeks ago, I was reading a blog post that mentioned this book and warmly recommended it.  So I headed off to the library and picked this up and read it right away.  I was writing a post in my head while picking strawberries and now I've come in to write it.  Be prepared for a (minor) rant, everybody.

What the World Eats covers families in different countries, describing their daily work and what they eat in a week.  The family poses next to their table (or the ground) covered with all of the food they eat in one week.  All different people are mentioned in this book, from the French family with two college-aged daughters to the large, multi-generational Bhutanese family.  
That's probably the worst picture I've ever taken.  But you get the gist- those
people don't have enough food.

As would be expected, there is a heartbreaking difference in the amounts of food.  The poor family in Chad with 16 people in their family have about 1/4 of the food of the American family of 4.  The disparity in quantity was so strikingly unfair.  
...Aaaand the American family.  Sigh.

The other thing that struck me was the *ahem* crap (for lack of a nicer word) that so many people in the western world are eating.  Now I'm not just talking about the occasional box of Oreos as a little treat or the gorgeous green bottles of seltzer water (which I do adore) or perhaps some boxed cereal.  Oh my, no.  We're talking the whole table covered with boxes and plastic bags of stuff and then one sad, measly head of broccoli (I kid you not).  And please remember that this was the food in a week, not a month.  Oh dear, and the McDonalds.  It was everywhere, from the Chinese family to the Mexican family.  In this book, the Mexican family has 6 gallons of Coca-Cola a week.  I'm sure they're thanking America for handing them a nice helping of diabetes.  
Beautiful, beautiful green kale growing in a flower bed.

So now that I've gotten my rant out, I'll give some practical thoughts.  First, let's look at some of the families in the book who had enough (that's key) and were eating fairly responsibly.  The Mongolian family had eggs grown by a neighbor, fresh meat from the market, some oil, rice, salt, and soy sauce from a store.  Added to this was lots of produce, most of it grown locally or preserved (fermented, I think).  The large Turkish family had great food on their table.  The only prepared thing that was bought was some sesame seed paste cookies from the market.  There were eggs, fish, beef, potatoes, yogurt, pasta, feta, and milk.  And there was a nice long list of vegetables, some of them grown locally. Well, there was the pack of cigarettes, but aside from that, they had good choices.  I think it's important to look at the people that are making better decisions for inspiration.
The strawberries are starting to come on fast.  6 quarts
in one morning!  Yippee! 

Second, I think it takes baby steps (and the authors of this book back me up in the introduction).  For instance, in my part of the world right now, everything is flooded with beautiful, local produce.  We happen to have a large garden, but there are markets in pretty much every city nowadays.  It would be ridiculous to be buying Central American strawberries right now.  If we just got rid of, say, 3/4s of the packaged stuff just from March to October, we would make such a difference.  And as if cutting out all that nasty stuff wasn't enough of a reward, we'll be stealing less from people like the family from Chad because we won't be shipping unneeded resources from halfway around the world to ourselves.  

This book is fantastic and if you are the least bit skeptical after reading this post, go read this book and you won't be. Oh, and I'd love to hear what you think about this.