Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cucumber Baja Cream Sauce

1/2 c. sour cream
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 med. cucumber
1 lime
kosher salt
red pepper flakes

Chop the cucumber, then puree until smooth with immersion blender (or regular blender or food processor -- whatever you have).  Pour the puree through a fine mesh metal strainer, separating the juice from the pulp -- Save the juice! Stir the pulp around in the strainer, and press it with a spoon to force a little more juice through.  Then, sprinkle the pulp with a dash of kosher salt and leave to drip through the strainer some more, while you mix up the rest of the sauce.  Don't forget to save the juice for a couple of Cucumber Margaritas (recipe coming up).

Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, juice from half a lime and about 1 tsp. zest from the (preferably organic) lime.  Next, toss in the cucumber pulp. Mix it all together; salt and pepper to taste, and season with a pinch of red pepper flakes if you like it spicy.

This recipe is meant to accompany my fish tacos (recipe also coming up), but it's GREAT as a cool and refreshing all purpose dip: crudites, chicken tenders, falafal... almost anything you might normally dip in ranch dressing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pickled Peppers, Squash and Fennel

2 small yellow squash
1 med. green bell pepper
1 med. fennel bulb
3 cloves garlic
3/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. peppercorns

Scrub those veggies. Slice squash into thin coins; remove seeds & pith from bell pepper and slice into strips; remove bottom/center from fennel and slice into "matchstick" strips; peel garlic and cut each clove in half. Toss it all together and place in 1 qt. jar (pictured is 34 oz Ikea jar).

Boil 1 1/4 c. water with the rest of the ingredients. Pour mixture over the veggies, cool slightly, cover and refrigerate. Use within two weeks... Fish tacos, anyone?  They're also great for just plain snacking, like while you're standing in front of the fridge wondering what to make for dinner.

Meet Frog-Turtle

Malcolm loves it!  He caught me seaming it together (which he recognizes as meaning I'm almost finished with a knit project), and neither of us could wait until his birthday.

Friday, July 22, 2011


I read this today.  A short story that I found both mundane and haunting at the same time.  Simple and plain and... complex.  Truly amazing craft.  I discovered it in my old book of O. Henry Prize-winning short fiction from 2002.  Something I bought after I graduated college, probably with thoughts that I could, like, write a book or something, and avoid getting a real job...  I've always written short stories.  I've written loads of beginnings of stories.  Kind of had this vague idea that I wanted to finish a book before I turned 30.  FAIL!  But lately, I have at least been coming back to a few of those beginnings and fleshing them out a bit.  Then today, I read this, and I am reminded of how far my writing skills have left to grow before I am ready to submit to anyone for review (much less to a reputable publication).  I am inspired and I am discouraged, just a little.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Not done yet

But it's starting to come together. Those little flower petal appliqués were kind of a pain... It still needs some little rectangles around the bottom edge of the shell, and a face. Then it can be seamed to its froggy friend!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ladybug Surprise Cupcakes

Random Tuesday cupcakery: Chocolate cupcakes...  from a mix (GASP).  Use an apple-corer (or a small spoon and a little finesse) to remove a bit from the center of each cooled cake. Save the removed piece to use like a lid.  Then, curl a little gummy worm into the hole, and cover with the "lid."

Frost generously (don't we always?) with chocolate frosting, and carefully roll the tops in crumbled Oreos for dirt.  

For the ladybugs... cut a bunch of store-bought donut holes in half, and freeze them.  They're easier to work with that way.  Melt some plain white store-bought frosting in the microwave (trying not to think about what's in there that makes it melt the way it does), and dye red with food coloring.  While it's still nice and melt-y, spear a donut hole half on a toothpick and dip!  Carefully place it in the "dirt." Repeat ad insanium.

The ladybug heads are brown M&M's. If I'd had them, I would have used mini-chocolate chips turned upside down, for the spots.  As it was, I had chocolate frosting, piped from a ziplock baggie with the corner cut... which turned out very spiky, little ladybugs.  The preschoolers who ate tore through them during Bug Days didn't mind, though.

Dig in!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Peach Mango Salsa

Recipe courtesy of my husband, who I wish had the time to cook more often!

3 small peaches, diced
1 large mango, diced
1/2 med. red onion, diced
1/2 large jalepeno, seeded, diced
3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. kosher salt

Mix and refrigerate. Enjoy!

If you manage not to eat all of this with chips before dinner, it's wonderful atop grilled salmon, too!

Knitting workshop

Photo from Nelkin Designs.  Pattern available here.
Yesterday, I got to attend a 5 hour beaded lace/knitting workshop at my favorite yarn shop.  5 HOURS, you say?  Yup.  But it goes quickly, knitting and learning a new skill. Aside from beading lace, I can finally read lace charts!  Woot!  And I got a solid start on this shawl by designer (and workshop leader) Laura Nelkin.  It's called Entomology -- if you look really closely, those are little dragonflies.  The ones along the edges have beaded wings and bodies, so they shimmer and provide some really beautiful detail on an already lovely little shawl.  I am absolutely in awe of people who can design patterns like this one. Amazing.  My shawl will be knit in orange Spud & Chloe Sock with iridescent red beads by Toho, size 6/0 (the pattern calls for a smaller bead, but I really wanted mine to stand out, and it's a sturdy yarn, so it ought to work out just fine).

And then there's this:

Photo from Nelkin Designs.

Laura also designs patterns for very lovely beaded/knitted jewelry. I picked up a kit containing beads and just enough yarn to complete the necklace pictured above in a blue/green colorway.  SPOILER ALERT: If you're a girl and you're my friend, you might be getting one of these for Christmas. If you're lucky ;)

(And in case you're wondering, I am still working on the reversible frog/turtle for Malcolm's birthday.  Shell and head are done on the turtle... just have to do four little legs and several appliques for the shell... then assemble. I only thought I was starting way early, back in May.  Thank goodness I did.  With a little focus, I will still be able to finish it by the 31st.)  Now focus, focus, focus...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recycled Shirt Dress

I love this shirt.  I got it at a thrift store in Austin, when I was probably... 18 years old?  I've worn it a lot. Up until a few weeks ago, probably.  Now, rather than wear it to pieces myself, I've decided to give Ingrid a chance to enjoy it!  Here is the only photo I could find of myself wearing it.  Both the shirt and I are so old, we did not have digital cameras or even camera phones at the time that I bought it.

Me with Ingrid c. 2006.

Shirt pieces disassembled.

Pattern pieces cut and laid out as they will be assembled.

Malcolm added some sweet armbands to his dress-up collection.

Finished product.
I mostly followed the shirt dress tutorial here, but there are a lot of recycled shirt patterns out there.  What I did differently (in addition to sizing the pattern for Ingrid's measurements; the tutorial shows how) was cut four sleeve pieces, and leave the elastic out of the sleeves for that super stylish flared look, there.  Also opted out of the contrasting fabric waistband, since I knew it would fit Ingrid more like a tunic than a dress.  This project was quick and rewarding.  A good one to help me become more comfortable with my sewing machine.  The best part is it can be completed during a baby's morning nap!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peppered Sourdough Crackers

So, a bit more here on sourdough care:  It's summertime, you fed your bubbly friend before you left on vacation, and it survived without you, alone in the fridge. You heartless monster, you.  But you're home now, and it's time to pay it some attention. Take it out one evening, and let it spend the night at room temperature.  (At this point, you can stir in the alcohol that has separated.  If you want a thicker starter, as some prefer, just pour it off, then stir.)

In the morning, measure out a cup of your stirred, room temperature starter.  Pour the rest into a mixing bowl. This is a good time to wash the crock (the container where your starter lives).  I experiment by feeding my starter various things... sometimes a mix with potato flakes and sugar.  Sometimes a little extra yeast.  Sometimes just flour and water.  This week, the basics: 1/2 c. warm water and 1 c. flour into the freshly cleaned crock, stir.  Pour in the cup of un-fed starter you measured out earlier.  Stir, and let this rest for several hours at least, at room temperature.  I always keep it covered.  The longer your starter is at room temperature, the more that sour, sourdough flavor develops.

Feeding time.

Just fed starter in the clean crock.
Fed starter, unstirred, after resting 8 hours at room temperature.
Fed, rested, stirred.
Once the fed starter in your crock has rested, you can make a loaf of sourdough bread, or a number of other things.  You'll probably use a cup of it.  Then you'll feed what's in the crock and stick it back in the fridge.  If all of this sounds terribly high-maintenance, it's really not.  Sourdough starters can last weeks without attention.  If you don't want to bake anything with it, just stick it back toward the back of your fridge again.

Now, what do you do with the cup of un-fed starter you measured out earlier?  Make crackers!  Why do you have to do that anyway?  You measure out a cup of starter before feeding the rest, in order to more efficiently feed the yeasts in your starter.  And to keep it from growing so large, it takes over your kitchen like the blob.

Peppered Sourdough Crackers
1 c. unfed sourdough starter
1 c. flour
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly oil two large cookie sheets.  

Add oil, salt and flour to your cup of unfed starter, more or less flour, as needed (consistencies of starters vary).  Stir to form a dough that leaves the sides of the bowl.  Turn out onto a floured counter and knead, adding flour as necessary, until you have a dense, slightly springy ball.  Let the dough rest 10 min. to relax the gluten a bit.  If you over-knead, it may be hard to roll your cracker dough thin.

Resting dough ball.
Roll it out as thin as you can get it, picking up, turning and dusting with flour often, to prevent sticking.  Sprinkle with ground black pepper, then press it in with a final pass of the rolling pin.

Use a pizza cutter to cut out your cracker shapes.

Bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Flip your crackers and bake another 2-3 minutes.  (If yours are rolled thicker than mine, you'll have to bake a little longer.)  Remove and cool on a rack.  Store in an airtight container.  These were like sourdough pita chips:

Would taste great served with parmigiano reggiano and honey.
The kids LOVED 'em.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chunky Monkey Mini-Muffins

These started out as a cookie experiment, but they baked up like little, cookie-shaped muffins.  So, I tried them out in a mini-muffin tin, and Success!  Tasty, healthy, easy and vegan.

The immersion blender makes quick work of chopped fruit.

2 large bananas (at least med. ripe)
1 medium apple (I used Fuji)
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/3 c. rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 c. chocolate chips
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a mini-muffin tin and set aside.  Roughly chop bananas and apple into large bowl and puree well with immersion blender. Add brown sugar and vanilla, blend well.  

Mix in medium bowl: flour, oats, salt and baking powder.  Add dry ingredients to the puree and stir until moistened.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or so to soften oats.  

Spoon into mini-muffin tins, filling nearly to the top (they don't rise much), and bake 10-12 minutes or until coming apart from sides of the tins a bit.  Cool 5 minutes, then remove from tins and cool completely.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.  They are moist on top, from the fruit, so don't dust with the sugar until ready to serve (and don't over bake, thinking they look too moist to be done).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Vacation Catch-up

Whew. We're home. Did you know you can drive to central Vermont from Washington, DC in just 12 hours, door-to-door?  That includes stops for three kids and two dogs.  I couldn't believe it.  And I'm also incredibly relieved to know we're so close.  I. love. it. there.  And I can guarantee it will not be three years between visits again!  One more thing I can guarantee?  A farm vacation in VT will not disappoint.  Especially if you keep it simple.  We had such a slow, lazy, unplugged, disconnected, undirected, WONderful time.  Wonderful.

So, this post is just a photo dump to play a little catch-up.  Second String Sommelier will be making an appearance later this week with a very fine bottle of monastrell.  As will at least one of my still-vacationing husband's tasty recipes, but for now:

Let's go...

see the cows.

Side and back of the farmhouse. I pretty much lived on the front porch rocking chair. Finished two books in less than two weeks!
Exploring around the barn.
Taking it all in.

Breathe. Ahhhh. There, now. That's better.

We fed these guys all our scraps. Melon rinds were their favorites.

The trail went up through those trees.
At the hilltop. The AT was less than 500 ft. away, as well as several other trails.
Tireless hiker.

Roasted cherry tomatoes and zucchini stuffed with creamed chard.

It was good.  I need to develop the recipe some before I share, though. The chard/cream cheese mixture baked up just a little dry.

The fact that this vacation was still MONUMENTALLY relaxing, even with three kids and two dogs, speaks volumes about a farm vacation. I just can't recommend it enough.

Three Bean Cafe. One of my favorite places to visit when we lived nearby. The owner  remembered Ingrid and me... maybe I spent a little too much time there ;-).