>> Tuesday, January 27, 2009

If you want to engage in some short procrastination, I offer you this creativity quiz. I'm apparently a "Hands-On" type. While I don't put too much stock in this sort of thing, I'd say it's not inaccurate. It's certainly true that I derive satisfaction from the process and finished product. Whether I'm a rebel at heart I'll leave for others to determine.


Fresh from CT: A Quilt In Use

>> Monday, January 26, 2009

It's always nice to see one's products in use. Yona & Tzvi sent me this photo of Mia Hadassah's crib decked out in rectangles & squares.



>> Sunday, January 25, 2009

Image from here

Ride up and ski down.
Sit down in the lift, whoosh down the run.

I woke up to the radio telling me it was -7 and "one of those mornings when it's best to get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and crawl back into bed." Ignoring the radio, I assembled 4 layers of clothing (long underwear #1 with a mock turtleneck, long underwear #2 with a regular turtleneck, long underwear #3 with a zipper, and winter jacket). I put on 2 of those layers, made sandwiches for lunch, and collected the assortment of hats, gaitors, gloves, mittens, and goggles that would accompany me to the slopes today.

Slopes, heh. If a hill behind a grocery store that we missed twice while looking for the turn-off counts as "slopes." Ah, midwest skiing at its finest. Or finest within an hour of where I live. My friend and I went skiing today and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

As two people used to skiing out West, this experience was fascinating:
We went down every run multiple times.
We went down every run in less than a minute.
We never waited behind more than 5 people at the chairlift.
We were suddenly catapulted into the "expert" skier category.

We did not fall off the chairlift, run into a tree (what tree?), or otherwise do ourselves harm (thus allaying the fears of my friend's wife who will perhaps learn to ski on these gentle slopes).

While the skiing was not challenging, it was plenty fun. I couldn't always feel my fingers, but the sun emerged and kept things sort-of, mostly warm. We made up games to challenge ourselves. We watched the ski patrol folks practice toting people down on a sled. We spent much of the day outside. We lost count of the number of runs we did.

And the clock above the chairlift for the local black diamonds read "11:50" all day long.


Secret Admirer? Mysterious Benefactor?

I owe someone a big thank you. But I don't know who that someone is. After a less-than-ideal Friday (for this and other reasons), I awoke to sunshine streaming into my room on Saturday. It was already off to a better start. I puttered around my house, went for a run, and did some reading. A couple minutes before leaving for a lovely shabbat lunch, I checked the mail. There was the usual end-of-January assortment of tax documents, a postcard urging me to pay money to activate my membership in some national honor society (Your Membership Number is Included!), and a small manila envelope filled with something soft.

I racked my mind to think if I had recently ordered fabric or something else that might be enclosed in softness. Nope, couldn't remember anything and I'm not usually prone to forgetting such things. I look at the return address and don't recall knowing anyone by that name or from that place in North Carolina.

Stymied but curious, I open the envelope and find two lovely handmade totes, one in green and one in pink. With a cute cat card wishing me a nice day. Hmm. Very nice, but still no clue as to whom bestowed this upon me. Clearly someone who knows my name and address and perhaps knows my predilection for handmade items.

I've called my parents and several friends who I thought might be responsible for this gesture. Nada. No clue as to who made my day even brighter. I'd like to thank this person, whomever he or she is. If you are this person, please identify yourself so I can thank you properly.

This surprise package reminded me of the wonderfulness (let's just pretend that's a word) of unexpected gifts. A college friend of mine has a policy that rather than set out to buy people gifts for their birthdays or other occasions on which gifts are de rigeur, she simply buys and gives gifts as she sees something that she thinks a person should have or would like. The gifts show up according to no calendar and no set of rules. Some years they may be no gifts, other years multiple gifts. It just depends. And it's nice to have a friend like that (and maybe another one too, as she is not responsible for this package). I highly recommend trying out this theory. I've done it, and it's fun to make people's day with such surprises.

Since I'm not sure to whom to direct my thanks, I'm left to speculate. And every time I tell this story to a friend or family member, one of the first suggestions is "perhaps you have a secret admirer." Perhaps. And I confess to loving the idea of having a secret admirer. But then the rational part of the brain kicks in and asks "what kind of secret admirer would send bags instead of, say, chocolate?" I guess it all depends on the message trying to be conveyed.

So shed your secret if you will, or send me a clue, or just accept my internet thanks -- for the bags, for brightening my day, and for bringing me a mystery to ponder.


Friday Recipe: Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Pancakes

>> Friday, January 23, 2009

I was deliberating about whether to post a recipe for cauliflower soup or whole-wheat chocolate chip pancakes. The chocolate won out, in part because my morning called for them. But I ate them before I took pictures (I was hungry), so you'll have to imagine the goodness. Here's some chocolate chips to jumpstart that imagination.

image from here

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Makes ~ 10 pancakes

1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
1 c. white flour
1.5 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt (scant)
1.25 c. skim milk
3 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
(white) chocolate chips

1. In a large bowl, sift or mix the whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

2. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour in the milk, melted butter, beaten egg, and vanilla. Mix -- but don't overmix. Some clumps are ok.

3. Let rest for about 10 minutes (or until you see little bubble indicating the baking soda/powder is doing its job).

4. Oil the skillet and set it over medium heat. Drop 1/4 cup of the pancake mixture and add as many or as little (white) chocolate chips as desired. When it starts to look golden brown, flip, and cook the other side.

5. Eat.

*I love white chocolate, so I often add white chocolate chips or a mixture of white and milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips.

*The basic whole-wheat pancake recipe can clearly be used for other types of pancakes. Simply add the toppings of your choice. Or add no toppings and have plain pancakes with syrup or jam.

*The size of your skillet or griddle will obviously determine how many pancakes you can make at once. I often turn the oven to 200 and place the pancakes on a plate in the oven to stay warm while I cook the rest.

*This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled...whatever you need.




I trudged home last night after a long day of back-to-back classes, working, seeing people, attending a (boring) board meeting, and seeing some more people. Wait, that's kind of a lie. Not the whole sentence, just the trudging part. A friend gave me a ride home, so I only trudged from his car to my door. In any event, with a long day behind me, I approached my door and saw a piece of paper attached to it. I assumed it was a note from the tree trimmers since I left before they finished. Or maybe it was a solicitation of some sort, as those have been increasing of late.

But no, it was none of the above. Instead a "Sidewalk Snow Removal Notice" greeted me, and not too nicely I might add. The document's seal and strict language would seem more official if it wasn't clearly printed from Word. But looks aside, it was official. It sternly ordered me to clear the compacted snow from the sidewalk and driveway, remove all patches of anow/ice, and return the sidewalk to its full width.

I won't write down the thoughts swirling through my head as they were not very nice. I trust you can come up with language of your own that might mirror mine. But beyond the silent cursing, the notice bothered me for two reasons.

1) I prefer compacted snow to cleared sidewalks. Why? One does not slip on compacted snow; one slips (as I have many times) on basically cleared sidewalks that leave an all but imperceptible thin layer of water that freezes. As a result, I find that a cleared (each time it has snowed, I shovel the new snow) compacted snow path is easier to grip, easier to gain traction on, and thus easier to walk upright on. I learned this lesson well last year in Madison, where compacted snow is apparently acceptable, and much better than certain sidewalk sections that were inevitably slippery.

My compacted-snow-sidewalk was wide enough for 2 people to walk side-by-side, for a stroller to roll on, and for a wheelchair to fit on. So I was annoyed because I like my non-glassy sidewalk. But once presented with the city code, I understand how the language can restrict cleared sidewalks to the non-compacted snow variety. Not thrilled, but willing to be compliant, I prepared myself to deal with the sidewalk this morning.

2) Despite the extraordinarily diligent residential parking permit enforcers, the city does not send out equally assiduous sidewalk clearing enforcers. In order to receive the notice I did, someone had to call in to the city's "community standards unit" and complain. I don't know who* complained as that information is kept confidential. There are, I'm sure, good reasons for maintaining the privacy of the complainer.

At the same time, however, I can only guess that the caller was a neighbor. Why couldn't the neighbor knock on my door and ask me to take care of the sidewalk? I just moved here about 6 months ago, and I don't know my neighbors well. But I'm a pretty neighborly person. I've helped more people than I can count shovel and push out their plowed-in cars. I don't know all of their names, but when I come upon someone struggling to deal with their car, I help. I help because I've been there, and the silent (or vocal) cursing that comes with the plowed-in car far exceeds that which the sidewalk notice compels. I help because others have helped me. And I help because it's the right thing to do. So, please neighbor, come and talk to me before reporting me. If the compacted-snow really affected you, come and tell me why. I'll probably very nicely take care of it, and do so as soon as I can.

Un-neighborly: Calling in my sidewalk without talking to me first.

Neighborly: my rock-star neighborhood hardware store.

This morning, I wake up, grumble about having to deal with the sidewalk, bundle up, and get to work. Except my shovel isn't cutting it, and I know I need to acquire some salt. The city claims that residents can get 5 pounds of salt for free at the city yard. I grab my keys, scrape off the front windshield, wait for the car to defrost, and head over to the city yard. Which is vacant. Or vacant of people. With no visible salt pile.

Hopes for an easy snow-removal morning dashed, I get back in my car and head over to the local hardware store. Finally a ray of light. The very very very nice guy working this morning (not the owner, who I got to know well this summer when figuring out how to redowel the couch legs to the main couch) was extraordinarily helpful.

He asked about the condition of the sidewalk/driveway and about the length of the sidewalk. He asked whether I have animals (no, not right now, but plenty of people walk their dogs on my section o' sidewalk) and if I have a metal pick/trowel thing for breaking up the ice. And so on and so forth.

He gathered information and told me how the salt in 2 different bags is the same salt. He informed me which (not exactly) salt is better for animals (I know salt was painful for Max when wedged in his paws). He estimated I would need about 10 pounds of salt per snow and let me know what the best deal is (40 pounds of salt). He suggested the best way to remove the compacted snow and commiserated about the being "told on" to the city. And so on and so forth.

He brought the 40 pound bag of salt out to my car and wished me luck. I went home and got to work.

And now I'm done, or I think I'm done and hope the city inspector agrees.

I think it's time for some whole-wheat chocolate chip pancakes -- I'll provide the recipe later today.

*Left to my own devices, I can only assume that the obnoxious neighbor who kicked Max complained about my sidewalk given his expressed willingness to call the police over an unleashed dog in my own yard.



>> Thursday, January 22, 2009

The tree people are outside my window lopping off, err pruning, the large mulberry tree in my front yard. It's big, it hangs over the roof, it fiddles with the chimney...it was about time for trimming. I'm hoping it will reduce squirrel access to the house because the far-to-tenacious-for-my-taste red squirrels make their way into the house. I know. I can hear them. I can hear their dancing, bowling, burrowing, scratching ways, and I hate them. I don't much hate much, I try not to hate, but I hate the squirrels.

Turning to more positive things, the tree trimmers inspired me to take a look at Etsy and find some eyecandy, err some of my favorite prints. All of these come from betsythompsonstudio out of Portland, Maine. Any donations to my living room walls will of course be graciously accepted. Or just treat your eyes.

feels familiar
Winter Wait

cheerfully winter

haunting & beautiful
Solitary Journey

love it

who doesn't need
Peace in the Garden


Crumbly Goodness, or a non-Friday recipe

>> Wednesday, January 21, 2009

If you need a post-Inauguration, midweek pick-me-up, I recommend this chocolate-chip coffee cake. I used this easy recipe from Pete Bakes with a couple of modifications. The main difference is that I cut the sugar and cinnamon topping as the version he has left me with lots of extra. Perhaps one could mix it all up and make some cinnamon sugar toast with the leftovers. I also used a smaller brownie pan because the batter was too thick to effectively spread in a 9x13 pan. And maybe I used a little more than 6 oz. of chocolate chips. But that's a decision I'll leave to your best judgment.

Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake
Makes a lot (your officemates, housemates, family, etc will be pleased)

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
6 oz chocolate chips
1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp water
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

1. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, chocolate chips.

2. In a large bowl, cream butter, 1 cup white sugar, and eggs. Add in the sour cream, vanilla, and water. Mix well.

3. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and soda. Pour into the wet ingredients and mix well.

4. Pour half of the batter into a greased and floured 9×13 inch (or brownie) pan. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon, sugar and chocolate chip mixture on the batter. Pour in the rest of the batter and top with the rest of the cinnamon, sugar and chip mix.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for (at least*) 30 minutes. Let cool for at least an hour before cutting into it, or the chocolate chips will be too melty and it will be hard to get out of the pan.

6. Eat. Share. Lick your lips.

*If you use a smaller pan, it will probably need to bake longer since the cake will be deeper. Mine took about 40 minutes, but I recommend checking after 30 minutes with your favorite toothpick/knife. Then keep checking every 3-5 minutes until the toothpick/knife can be inserted and removed cleanly (or with just some chocolate smearing).


Friday Recipe: Tomato-White Bean Soup

>> Friday, January 16, 2009

It doesn't really look like this, but I guess I moved as I took the picture and ended up with this image which is kind of fun. This soup is delicious and easy to make. Here's a more realistic picture of what you can expect when you've made it:

(No nice bowl this week, as I packaged it up to take with me for lunch. The soup reheats very well, as most soups do.)

Tomato-White Bean Soup
Serves 4-6

1.5 lbs roma tomatoes, chopped
1.5 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable broth
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 cans white (cannellini/northern beans)
1/2 tsp dill
1 tsp oregano
dash of cayenne pepper

1. In a medium-sized soup pot, heat olive oil on medium.
2. Add onions and garlic. Saute until starting to turn brown.
3. Add in chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, spices, and broth. Raise to high and let boil.
4. Lower the heat and let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes.
5. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until relatively smooth (some chunks are fine).
6. Add beans. Mix thoroughly.
7. Eat!

[edited to add tomato paste into the recipe. sorry for the earlier oversight.]


Window Art

>> Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's now -3 degrees, or so the online weather folk tell me. Today's high was 9 degrees. The mercury may or may not reach that balmy spot tomorrow. To be honest, however, when all bundled up, I was fine outside. And in the daylight hours, today was bright and sunny. And the daylight hours brought me window art.

From the living room looking out to the street, with a stop by the mulberry tree. I would like the tree much more if the red squirrels liked it less.

The middle kitchen window with some frozen ice, some unfrozen glass, and some steamy icy glass.

A little artier.

A lot artier, impressionism of sorts.


Google Reader Question

I started using Google Reader this summer and, for the most part, it's stellar. However, sometimes it shows complete posts with pictures and all, sometimes it shows text without pictures, and sometimes it shows only the first paragraph. I don't see a pattern in how this plays out -- blogger, typepad, specific domain name...they're all mixed up in how they get presented. Is there a way to fix this in Google Reader or is this a function of the blog settings themselves? If you know what's going on or have any suggestions, please comment and tell me. Thank you!


And snow

>> Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The view out my back door, through the "saran-wrapped" window. The weather people are predicting another 2-4" today. The snow is fine, the dropping temperature not so much.



>> Monday, January 12, 2009

Judging by its continued listing on the New York Times' "Most Popular Emailed" list, I'm going to guess that many of you have seen The Minimalist's (Mark Bitmann's) article, "Fresh Start for a New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen." His main suggestion, declutter your kitchen, is well- worth pondering. Unless, like me, you only moved into your kitchen in the past 5 months, you're a neat freak, and accumulation still seems necessary. Some of his specific suggestions make sense; others, well, let's see:

OUT Bouillon cubes or powder, or canned stock.

IN Simmer a carrot, a celery stalk and half an onion in a couple of cups of water for 10 minutes and you’re better off; if you have any chicken scraps, even a half-hour of cooking with those same vegetables will give you something 10 times better than any canned stock.

He's right that fresh stock is better than powdered stock. (I've never used canned stock, but I imagine it's not great.) But sometimes I don't have an extra 1/2 hour and want to make soup quickly, or as quickly as soup can be made. I recommend keeping some powdered bouillon (what kosher kitchen doesn't have some of that osem fake-chicken stuff...not that it's good for you or even tastes fantastic, but it has a job to do and does that job well). Moreover, I highly recommend Trader Joe's organic vegetable stock in the box. At $1.99, it's a well-priced 32 oz., and helps make soup-making much quicker. If you do have the time or need a special stock (lemongrass vegetable stock is fantastic), make it. If not, say thanks to TJ's and start cooking.

OUT Aerosol oil. At about $12 a pint, twice as expensive as halfway decent extra virgin olive oil, which spray oil most decidedly is not; and it contains additives.

IN Get some good olive oil and a hand-pumped sprayer or even simpler, a brush. Simplest: your fingers.

Good call. This is something I want to do. Mental note to self: buy a spray and maybe a new pastry brush.

OUT Bottled salad dressing and marinades. The biggest rip-offs imaginable.

IN Take good oil and vinegar or lemon juice, and combine them with salt, pepper, maybe a little Dijon, in a proportion of about three parts oil to one of vinegar. Customize from there, because you may like more vinegar or less, and you undoubtedly will want a little shallot, or balsamic vinegar, or honey, or garlic, or tarragon, or soy sauce.
In general, I agree. Homemade salad dressing is easy to make, customizable, and delicious. However, if there's a certain dressing you love or crave that you can't easily replicate, buy it. Especially if having that dressing on hand will make you eat salad more often, don't feel guilty about dressing out of a bottle. But do try to make your own dressing every so often. I prefer more vinegar to olive oil, but I'm tangy like that.

OUT Canned beans (except in emergencies).

IN Dried beans. More economical, better tasting, space saving and available in far more varieties. Cook a pound once a week and you’ll always have them around (you can freeze small amounts in their cooking liquid, or water, indefinitely). If you’re not sold, try this: soak and cook a pound of white beans. Take some and finish with fresh chopped sage, garlic and good olive oil. Purée another cup or so with a boiled potato and lots of garlic. Mix some with a bit of cooking liquid, and add a can of tomatoes; some chopped celery, carrots and onions; cooked pasta; and cheese and call it pasta fagiole or minestrone. If there are any left, mix them with a can of olive-oil-packed tuna or sardines. And that’s just white beans.

I guess I have a lot of emergencies, but I like keeping canned beans around. I know dried beans are a better value, and I'm working on buying more and using them more frequently. And I'll take up Bittman's suggeston to soak and cook a pound a week, freeze, and use later. But until I have that down, I'll take the canned variety for quick, healthy, and easy meals. Want Mexican? Open the black beans, sir-fry some onions and peppers, shred some lettuce, grab a tortilla, add some salsa and sour-cream (light, of course), and in less than 10 minutes, you have a meal. When I come back from campus and NEED. FOOD. NOW. I want those canned beans. When making a salad for lunch, those canned kidney beans and chickpeas add a big dose of protein really easily. Clearly the beans issue centers on time. If you have time and/or manage to plan ahead, dried beans are fantastic. If you have less time and/or don't plan menus a week in advance (I'm one person, I'm going to eat what I want to eat), canned beans are wonderful. For the record, I have a stash of dried red and green lentils on hand and use them with some frequency, so I may yet be converted to dried beans. I'll let you know.

OUT Canned peas (and most other canned vegetables, come to think of it).

IN Frozen peas. Especially if you have little kids and make pasta or rice with peas (and Parmesan!); not bad. Or purée with a little lemon juice and salt for a nice spread or dip. In fact, many frozen vegetables are better than you might think.

Agreed. Frozen vegetables are much better than canned veggies. In my cupboard, you will find canned corn (in water, for use in salads), canned tomatoes (the one major exception to Bittman's rule, I would argue, and key for winter tomato soups), canned water chestnuts (do they make them frozen?), and canned artichokes (though I just bought the frozen ones from TJ's; I think frozen is fine for making artichoke dips but I'm not sure about their place in salads). In contrast, in my freezer, there are frozen french green beans (from TJ's, notice a theme?), spinach, broccoli, corn, edamame, etc. And there are (or will be, once I make it to the store) plenty of fresh veggies in the fridge.

OUT Tomato paste in a can.

IN Tomato paste in a tube. You rarely need more than two tablespoons so you feel guilty opening a can; this solves that problem. Stir some into vegetables sautéed in olive oil, for example, then add water for fast soup. Or add a bit to almost any vegetable as it cooks in olive oil and garlic — especially cabbage, dark greens, carrots or cauliflower.

This I need to find. Tomato paste is another key item to have on hand for soups and sauces, and I must confess I've neither seen it in a tube nor looked for it. The latter might have something to do with the former.

OUT Premade pie crusts. O.K., these are a real convenience, but almost all use inferior fats. I’d rather make a “pie” or quiche with no crust than use these.

IN Crumble graham crackers with melted butter and press into a pan. But really — if you put a pinch of salt, a cup of flour, a stick of very cold, cut-up butter in a food processor, then blend with a touch of water until it almost comes together — you have a dough you can refrigerate or freeze and roll out whenever you want, in five minutes.

Right on. I often make crustless quiche and spinach pies (or turn that apple pie into an apple crisp). Here's an easy savory pie crust recipe. For sweet pie crusts, use the graham cracker method above (sub any cookie you want, vanilla wafers are another great choice).

Bittman also writes that "you should stock":
Real Bacon of Prosciutto
Fish Sauce
Canned Coconut Milk
Miso Paste
Capers, Good Olives (buy in bulk, not cans), and Good Anchovies (in olive oil, please)
Dried Fruit
Dried Mushrooms
Frozen Shrimp
Winter Squash and Sweet Potatoes
As the resident vegetarian, I'm going to disagree with about half of that list on veggie grounds and some of the list on taste grounds. I would argue that one should stock:

*Coconut Milk (great for easy curries and soups)

*Tofu (ok that doesn't go in the pantry or the freezer, but it's key)

*Quinoa (high in protein, easy to make, kosher-for-passover to boot)

*Cous-cous (cooks in all of 5 minutes; get some big "Israeli" cous-cous as well -- it's a lovely soup add-in)

*Good olives (although "good olives" and "stock" don't go together in my book; the olives go straight to my stomach)

*Cashews (for snacking, salads, and stir-fries)

*Dried fruit (apples and cranberries top my list)

*White flour & wheat flour (for baking, of course. Bread-making is easier than you make think as simple recipes go a long way and most of the "prep" time is spent rising which means you can do other stuff and be elsewhere)

*Frozen butter (see baking, above)

*Eggs (again, they stay in the fridge, but they're key to have around for breakfast, baking, and quick meals)

What would you add or change?


Do-It-Yourself Doyenne

>> Friday, January 9, 2009

Image from the New York Times.

Ruth Taube, 85, continues to run the Home Planning Workshop at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City's Lower East Side. She uses a 100+ year old Singer at home -- that she transformed from foot pedal to electric herself! I don't think I would meet her exacting standards. According to today's New York Times article,

Be prepared, all ye who come, to heed the three dreaded words of a dissatisfied Ms. Taube: “Rip it out!”

If you don’t want to, Ms. Taube said, that’s O.K., too. “But if you don’t rip it out, don’t say you did it at Henry Street,” she says. “Because it’s my name you’re besmirching.”

Love it!


Friday Recipe: Zucchini Ziti

This is an easily adaptable meal that serves many, so it's great for either a big group of people or to make and have for leftovers. Except that I've eaten most of the leftovers and don't have a great final slice/plate picture, but I prmise it's good. I have witnesses, err tasters. They ate it and liked it.

Zucchini Ziti
Serves ~8-10

1 lb. whole-wheat pasta (I prefer penne or the corkscrews)
16 oz. low-fat/skim ricotta
1 package tofu
1 c. part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 onion, chopped
2 zucchinis, sliced
1 jar sauce (I like TJ's Organic Vodka Tomato Sauce, but pick your favorite or make some)
Rosemary (fresh, if possible)

1. Boil the pasta. When done, drain and return to pot or put in a bowl
2. Saute the chopped onion and zucchini together

3. In a blender, puree the ricotta, tofu, 1/2 c. mozzarella, and spices (to taste).
4. In a blender (if space) or in a bowl, mix together the cheese and the onion/zucchini.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5. In a dutch oven or oven-safe pot/baking dish with a lid, layer 1/4 tomato sauce, 1/4 pasta, 1/4 cheese/zucchini mixture. Continue layering until you've used up everything. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella on the top.

6. Cover and bake for ~25 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
7. Eat!

*You can easily add other vegetables. Spinach works particularly well but try anything you like.

*I like adding tofu because it adds protein. I don't view this as hiding the tofu as much as making it into a healthier dish. By pureeing it with the ricotta, the blended version is smooth. If you truly hate tofu, you could substitute more ricotta, but I recommend trying it this way first.

*When you layer the ziti, it's important to start with the sauce so the noodles don't burn on the bottom of the dutch oven/pot.



Perhaps it's just me, but I'm pretty sure the stairs are closed for winter non-maintenance, not for winter maintenance. Just sayin'.


A Match

>> Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Purple coat,
meet scarf,

Have fun together

As I mentioned previously, one reason I wanted to teach myself how to make scarves was to create a scarf that matches my purple wool coat. I love my purple wool coat, a $20 or so find in Madison when I went to visit several falls ago. Wool coats are useful and often stylish but generally black, or maybe camel, or sometimes even red if you're feeling wild. I thought purple was a nice way to be stylish, professional, and not boring.

But I own a light blue scarf (so soft! bought in Glasgow 7 1/2 years ago) and a stripy green/turquoise/yellow one. They work well with my other coats and jackets (I've collected a few over the years) but don't look professional or stylish with the purple. The light blue is ok and has been the stand-in for the past few years but I never loved the combo.

I got a remnant of the fabric I used (which might be called "Rio Floral" but I'm not sure as the selvage on the piece I have doesn't say) from jcaroline creative this summer. Originally I was going to use it for part of a duvet cover, back when I lived in a white room. But then I moved and moved again and painted my room blue and the fabric was no longer a viable duvet cover option. But as winter approached and I looked in the closet and remembered that I wanted a scarf to match the purple coat, the fabric emerged from my stash as the leading contender.

I thought about a more patchwork-y scarf and I thought about additional quilting, but in the end I went for simplicity. One fabric + off-white fleece (it's neutral, warm, and matches the fabric and the coat) = new scarf. I like letting the fabric stand on its own. As for the quilting, to be totally honest, I'm good with straight lines and wavy lines but I kind of suck at curves (it doesn't help that I break the rules and lack a walking foot; if someone would like to donate a walking foot to my cause, I'm ready and willing to accept it). I didn't want to ruin the fabric or the scarf. And also I was impatient and leaving for New York and wanted to just wear it. So here it is. I'm happy with it.


Improv Quilting

Jacquie over at Tallgrass Prairie Studio (home of this sweet wonky log cabin quilt) is spurring and organizing some improv quilting.

Jacquie's "Square Motion" quilt, her first improv quilt and one that I much admire.
(Image from her website)

What does improv quilting or "quilting outside the box" or "quilting outside the lines" mean?

As she says,
I have done several log cabin quilts, most of them improvisationally, but I have barely scratched the surface of all the possibilites for improvisation of this traditional block. These are some of the things that we could explore: variations of the construction of the block itself, the fabrics we use, how we cut our fabric (rotary, scissors, tearing), color/pattern combinations, wonkiness (of course), sizes of the logs. What other ideas do you have?
As part of her larger project to encourage improv quilting, she's creating an improv collaboration to make charity quilts. All you need to do is make one 12.5" improv log cabin block in one of the following color combos: blue/green, red/aqua, orange/pink. Check out her post for more information and signing up.

If you've been thinking about quilting, this could be a great way to start. All you have to do is piece one block. All you need (i.e. the very basics) is some fabric, some thread, a pair of scissors, and a needle. In other words, you could hand-piece this block if you don't have a machine. And because it's improv and wonky, you don't even need a rotary cutter, ruler, and cutting board to cut straight and evenly. Just think about....now click the link...read the post...and sign up. I promise that if you choose to do this, I'll make myself available for all consultation and walking you through the basics of patchwork piecing.

I'm looking forward to playing -- and log cabin blocks are excellent for digging into the scrap stash. I'm looking forward to participating in quilting beyond the confines of my home (which is nice and all, but it's nicer to work with others). And I'm looking forward to seeing what smart and brilliant blocks others design and how they all fit together into some bigger quilts.


Friday Recipe Links

>> Friday, January 2, 2009

Apologies for the Friday Recipe hiatus. They will return next week, Friday, January 9, 2009. I'm at a conference today and life was a little too chaotic to take the pictures and write up a recipe before I left for the Big Apple.

However, in lieu of recipes from me, I offer a few links, moving backwards from dessert to the appetizer.

*Super-easy and amazingly delicious white-chocolate covered Oreo (or Trader Joe's Jo-Jos) truffles from Bakerella. They are sure to impress you and your guests. I recommend making them and keeping them in the freezer. They are an excellent, if way too indulgent, snack/dessert after your guests depart. Or just make a bunch, hoard them for yourself, and eat them all slowly over time. The freezer is magic.

*From Tigers & Strawberries (what a fantastic blog name), you can learn some best practices for stir-frying tofu in a wok. There's also a blog entry on apron-making for those like me who have some desires to venture into that sort of sewing project in 2009.

*Interested in Indian at home? Here's a vegan version of Palak Paneer (my favorite Indian dish!) using tofu instead of paneer (cheese) from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

*Winter is soup season. Stephanie over at Loft Creations offers this tomato-white bean soup. I haven't made it yet but I'm planning to next week, perhaps with cannellini beans instead of navy beans (someone is probably going to tell me they're the same thing, but I've always preferred the ones that are labeled cannellini beans).

*Who doesn't love artichokes? And if you can't get them fresh, dips are a great way to go with either the canned or frozen variety. 101 Cookbooks presents this baked artichoke dip.

And with that, have a wonderful weekend!


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