Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

My latest go to cookbook (besides Alice’s -- and yes, we are on a first name basis, she just doesn‘t know it yet) is In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by food writer Melissa Clark.  For me to actually buy a cookbook, especially new, is a big deal. If I (a former librarian) buy a book, it must be good and worth having in your home library. I’m all about using and supporting libraries for everything we can.

That being said, when I started slopping on recipe pages in the library copy I was using (and had already had it out for a month), I knew it was time to buy the book. I can’t be damaging library property -- kind of goes against my code of honor. I love the recipes in this book -- simple, with few hard to find ingredients. Like Alice (and Heidi Swanson in 101 Cookbooks), Melissa encourages substitutions and adaptations of recipes.  I’m becoming more comfortable with this concept, having not made one of Melissa’s recipes without some ingredient adjustment -- wine for sherry, chicken breasts for thighs, thick pork chops for a roast and so on. Every time I’ve had great results. The chicken with green tomatoes, the pork ribs with green tomatoes, the roast chicken something or other, the mustard-encrusted pork and more. I go back and forth between her book and her blog, where she posts more recipes along with a bit of her life.

I’ve never enjoyed such freedom with recipes, always looking at them like rules I mustn’t break. But I’m learning, and enjoying the kitchen arts all the more for it. There’s Amy Karol’s Bend the Rules Sewing and now I’m having fun with Bend the Rules Cooking. Gone are the days when the still life I drew had to look exactly like a photograph of the still life as it was. If I want to paint that red apple purple, that’s what I’m going to do. And so it’s been going in the kitchen. Wearing an apron of course.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aprons

Katherine Dunn has been one of my favorite artists for a long time. I first discovered her years ago when I discovered the world of blogs and artists connecting via the internet. I found the site Girl at Play which introduced me to a number of female artists I still follow today.

I’ve watched them grow their businesses, carve out a life for themselves, and realize dreams of farms and children and marriages. Many of them are younger and in different phases of their lives, but Katherine is my age, she has a husband with the same name as my sweetie’s (Martin), loves animals, lavender, art and simply creative living. Oh, and she’s into aprons, same as me.

I’ve collected vintage aprons for a while now (as Katherine does for her Pino Project), I’ve made aprons (as Katherine has -- I totally love these ones she made), and I believe in wearing aprons. Granted, I’ve only recently embraced wearing an apron regularly, starting with the flower shop -- I’ve learned that wiping my hands on an apron saves my clothes a lot! They are protected and stay drier than in the days before I wore the aprons. When I put one on in the kitchen, I think of my beloved mother-in-law, Evelyn, and how she always wore one when she was in the kitchen. And so the tradition shall continue. To aprons!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Latchis

Last month Marty and I stayed at the coolest Art Deco hotel in Brattleboro, Vermont, one of our favorite places (it reminds me of West Cork). It’s an artsy, hip, forward-thinking, diverse, sort of crunchy granola big town/small city sort of place. Between the farmer’s market, the politics, the food co-op, the Green Mountains, the Connecticut River, and the cultural scene, it’s a place Marty and I would consider moving to.
That it’s in my beloved former state of Vermont is also a plus. The Latchis offers a fabulous special outside of foliage season -- for about $150.00, it can be quite the affordable getaway for us North-easterners. Besides a double room, it includes  your choice of a movie for two, as well as a dinner choice at participating local restaurants. When we were there, the weather was breathtaking, the meal (at the local Brew Pub downstairs) was excellent, and the first movie we’ve ever seen in a theatre together (Get Low with Robert Duval and Bill Murray) was fun.

The Latchis is an historic landmark, part of the the League of Historic American Theatres, run by the Brattleboro Arts Initiative, and for all the right reasons (historic preservation, art and community), it’s another endeavor that Marty and I are happy to support.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Domestic Care

 I am not as good as I was when I was a kid about washing my hairbrush regularly. Sundays were always major bath and shampoo night, including the weekly ritual  of soaking combs and brushes in a clean sink and scrubbing with a bit of shampoo.

Somehow that task and the weekly ironing, along with my father spit shining his uniform shoes, using wire collar stays (remember them?) and more fell by the wayside. (So did my quarter weekly allowance for ironing all those school uniform blouses for my sisters and me).

Lately, I’ve been trying to revive certain tasks that were just basic maintenance, allowing for a small feeling of accomplishment. The Gentle Art of Domesticity a la Jane Brocket.

Hence, reintroducing my “clean the hairbrush” ritual. While there are many tips on the internet for how to do this (most being the way I used to do it as a kid), I realize if there are too many steps involved in a (cleaning) process, I’m not as likely to do it. So, I’ve invented my own way -- I take the hairbrush in the shower with me and clean it there and then -- squirt a bit of shampoo on it and use a back brush I keep specifically for this purpose. It may not be perfect but it works and I have a cleaner hairbrush. As the saying begins, “there’s more than one way…”  Now if dusting were only so easy.

**Image from Etsy

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holiday Fair Season

An annual event I look forward to every fall is the Waldorf School’s Holiday Fair. Wherever you live, if you’re near a Waldorf School, they have one of the best handmade fairs I’ve ever been to.

The goods are quality, generally local, very low tech, pretty much affordable, and they’re not the standard cliché crafts you’re likely to find at many other fairs. The work tends to be fresh and different, and it’s a lot of fun for everyone. There are imaginative activities for kids, music, good food and just plain good energy.

When I lived in Vermont, my girlfriend used to come back from the fair with some of the best gifts, so when I moved down here to the cape, the local Waldorf School was a welcome discovery for a homesick Vermonter. The first year I went, my daughter was about 10 and it was an activity I thoroughly enjoyed with her. She had her face-painted, made a gorgeous twisted, hand-dipped rainbow beeswax candle, I shopped a little, and we both enjoyed ourselves. It’s one of my cherished memories. This year’s local fair is Saturday November 20, from 10 AM to 4 PM. The national website  may help you find a Waldorf fair near you.

** Image from the local Waldorf school's website and that wizard hat -- yes, another crafty item my daughter made while at the fair. I couldn't afford the tuition but I can the fair!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Great Escape


It's no secret that Marty and I are "old" movie buffs. I will rarely watch a contemporary war-related film, but I will and we do watch some of the old ones. One of our favorites is the Great Escape, based on a true story from WWII. What was so incredible about it is what is so beautiful about most stories of people in situations of great danger and duress -- the ability to work together, support each other and find humor when possible amidst a grim reality.

I suppose there's all different kinds of war -- from wars on poverty to wars on terrorism. We all fight different battles everyday, but today I salute the men and women in uniform who have and who do serve our country.

Marty's the son of a WWII vet and I am the daughter of a Vietnam vet so we cannot let this day go by without a big thank you.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Buttermilk Fried Chicken from Ina to You

I love fried chicken, especially in the fall as the leaves are changing and drifting, the air gets chillier, and we want to cozy up. It’s such a comfort food and has always been intimidating for me to make at home. I detest frying and avoid it if I can. However, after having the most amazing fried chicken several years ago in a restaurant in charming Trumansburg, New York (where everything served was grown or raised locally), I considered reconsidering my “no fry” rule. A year or so ago, my cousin referred me to Ina’s fried chicken recipe. Yes, it involves frying (but minimal), it’s super easy (I don’t bother with recipes otherwise), and it’s fantastic. I think the secret is soaking your chicken pieces overnight in buttermilk.

INGREDIENTS:
2 chickens (3 pounds each), cut in 8 serving pieces
1 quart buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil or vegetable shortening

Directions:
Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour the buttermilk over them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and coat each piece thoroughly with the flour mixture. Pour the oil into a large heavy-bottomed stockpot to a depth of 1-inch and heat to 360 degrees F on a thermometer.
Working in batches, carefully place several pieces of chicken in the oil and fry for about 3 minutes on each side until the coating is a light golden brown (it will continue to brown in the oven). Don't crowd the pieces. Remove the chicken from the oil and place each piece on a metal baking rack set on a sheet pan. Allow the oil to return to 360 degrees F before frying the next batch. When all the chicken is fried, bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink inside. Serve hot.

Recipe and photo from the Food Network

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Allyn Scura

I’ve been partial to men’s glasses and vintage glasses for years now. The men’s glasses just have a more classic look (as does men’s apparel in general, are women just more fickle with their likes?).  Women’s frames (like our clothes) can look dated after one or two seasons. With glasses being so expensive (I’m the age of progressive and bifocal lenses now), I want frames that can stand the test of time and wear and tear. For that, I’ve been turning to Allyn Scura for several years now. Besides vintage reproductions, they carry “new old stock “ frames, and supply the entertainment industry as well.  Scott Iseyama has been in the business now for 23 years.

Over the course of about a month, I tried getting in touch with them via phone and email. I’d never had a problem before, emails always being returned fairly promptly. I was almost ready to give up, but in these times, when I can, I like to return to some of my favorite businesses. So, a couple of last ditch efforts at calling -- “are you still in business? I hope you are all well and there hasn’t been a calamity” -- that sort of thing -- prompted an almost bedtime call from Scott, whom I haven’t spoken to for a couple of years. He left a message apologizing for the lack of response -- they are still in business but he has been short of help, and it’s been tough keeping up.  I ended up ordering my frames (a fantastic bargain!), had them within about 48 hours and they’re at the optician’s now. I am so glad I kept after Allyn Scura as my experience reminded me that yes, this is what it can be like running a Mom and Pop sort of business off the internet. With other jobs that prevent us from being as  quick as we’d like to be responding to the phone and emails, we can get a bit behind. So, as we approach the season of Thanksgiving, this is just another opportunity for me to say thank you so much to all of our customers who have hung in with us over the years.

**Image from Allyn Scura's website (new old stock frames same vintage as I am, my grandmother would and I do love them)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Product Update: Round the Clock

The new girdle top version is still not available. We will carry them when they are finally being produced again. We won't give any more time lines at this point because past ones have turned out to be inaccurate.

The good news is that there are some great alternatives from Berkshire. Berkshire changed the name many years ago from "girdle" to "shaper," but they're the same thing and not to be confused with regular "control top" pantyhose. Here are four Berkshire "girdle-top" styles (just click on the name to go directly to the page):

Berkshire 4757: tummy, hip and thigh shaper, silky sheer leg, reinforced toe (most similar to the RTC 137 BEFORE they went to the sheer toe).

Berkshire 8767: same as above but with the invisible toe (most similar to the latest version of the RTC 137)

Berkshire4810: same girdle section as above but with ultra-sheer (all-nylon) leg and reinforced toe (most similar to RTC 135)

Berkshire 8116: Similar to the 8767 but with a large sewn-on tummy panel for extra firm support.

These styles have been made for years in North Carolina so there is a lot of quality and consistency in these products. The sizing is a little different with Berkshire products, but once you figure out the right size and style, I think you'll be very pleased.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On the Road with...

As the dark closes in upon us for the season (fall back this weekend!), I begin turning to some of my favorite travel and memoir writers for escape. Even if I’m armchair traveling, when the writing and storytelling are excellent, I am traveling all those places in my imagination. Good writers can make you feel it’s the next best thing to being there.

Several of my favorite writers include my go to travel guru, Rolf Potts, Pete McCarthy of McCarthy‘s Bar fame (never pass a bar that has your name on it), Andrew Eames exciting The 8:55 to BaghdadHeather Lende’s If You Lived Here I’d Know Your Name, any of Rumer Godden's non-fiction (I love her India memoirs), William Dalrymple’s  hilarious adventure In Xanadu, and  Tahir Shah’s equally hilarious return to his ancestral home in The Caliph‘s House. The list is endless and I’m checking here for some new ones to read this year.

** Image from Heather's site

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Elections and Bake Sales

This past weekend I made pumpkin whoopee pies and they were the best! I used the “pie” recipe from a Bon Appetit article featuring the work of Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland, Maine. For the filling, I went with a maple cream cheese blend, rather than the marshmallow that the Fat Cats use. I tweaked it a bit, using 1 tablespoon syrup and 2 teaspoons of maple extract. It was yummy. So now, I’m on a whoopee pie kick, having delivered them to some friends downtown, with some more destined for the guys at the flower shop. Next up I'm going to try banana whoopie pies and I ordered the Whoopie Pie book from the library to check out the many variations. (They're perfect for the election day bake sales, you know? Or are bake sales on voting day only peculiar to these parts?)