January 30, 2009


I grew up eating hazelnuts. My mother kept them in a basket in our living room and on winter evening we would toss a few on the edge of the wood stove to roast for a few minutes before knocking them off with the poker and cracking them open, devouring them while they were still hot enough to burn our tongues. During our college days, Will and I used to walk our black lab Morgan through an aged and abandon hazelnut orchard, and scavenger though I was, I never stopped to pick any up. For one thing, the squirrels usually got to them first, and for another, hazelnuts were everywhere in Oregon, every store had them in bulk, every restaurant had them woven into their menu, so why bother. I don't love them the way I love my children, or my husband, or figs, but they have always been there, a part of my food life from birth.

Virginia is not hazelnut country, you can buy them, but they aren't cheap. I've tossed them into our granola on occasion when I want a change up from almonds, but I almost forgot about hazelnuts until this week. As I scanned though food blogs and cookbooks, compiling this week's menu and corresponding grocery list, I came across this interesting looking recipe and thought I'd give it a try. (In the oven as we speak and smelling divine!) So I grabbed a scoop of whole raw hazelnuts last night at the health food store.

Having them around, even for a different recipe, inspired me and for lunch today I pulled out an old recipe that I hadn't made since our pre-Evie, Oregon days. I happened to have chicken left over for the very successful Poule aux Riz, barley in the cupboard and a new pot of caramelized onions on the stove so it was a perfect storm of goodness.

Rejuvenation* Chicken Salad

1 cup cooked chicken, cut in smallish pieces
8-10 hazelnuts (I forgot to toast them first which would be better)
3 T Cesar dressing ( I use Cardini's because as far as Will is concerned, there is no other brand)
2 T caramelized onions (or more to taste)
salt and pepper (to taste as well)
1/4 cup cooked Barley

In a food processor chop the nuts finely then add the chicken and onions, also chopping finely (you want to end up with an almost tuna fish salad texture) Mix in dressing, seasoning and barley, adding more or less dressing until you get a loose cookie dough consistency then gently fold in the barley. Let it sit for a few minutes and then taste and adjust seasoning. This is great on toasted whole wheat or honey wheat bread and if you have it (which I didn't but oh well) some arugula or spinach leaves are a great addition.

*No, this does not have magical powers to rejuvenate you (well, maybe if you were really hungry it would) It's loosely inspired by a sandwich I had in the cafe at Rejuvenation House Parts, the landmark Portland store, years ago.

January 29, 2009

Ode to a Cooking Pot

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my father pulled an old red book off of one of our shelves and gave me a lesson in poetry. "If you even need a poem to memorize, I've got a great one for you." he told me. The book was Ogden Nash and the poem was titled Ode to a Cooking Pot and runs just three short words


There was something about it that I loved even then. Maybe it was an early understanding that I would never "get" poetry. I tried, I really did. In college I tried to be one of those poetry reading literary people, but other than a few tried and true favorites and a smattering of Shakespeare's sonnets, I'm just not that into them. I think I love books too much. But I still love Ogden Nash.

I like to believe that the first poem I ever read led me to love cooking. It's probably not true, I probably just enjoyed my father's conspiratorial manner when he taught it to me. It was as if he was telling me to go out and be a smart ass in life, and I was happy to oblige.

But all kidding aside, this truly is an ode to a cooking pot. My new (second) favorite pot. I am, I believe, contractually required by my husband to declare this pot only my second favorite since he was a very good husband and bought me my longed for Le Creuset French Oven for Christmas this year. And to be honest, the Le Creuset is my favorite. If I could only have one pot for the rest of my life, that would be it (although if it were my ONLY pot, I'd probably need a bigger version, but that will have to wait another 5 Christmases I fear). However, if I was could only have TWO pots for the rest of my life, the second would be my new bain marie. Ok, it's a just a double boiler, but doesn't Bain Marie sound nicer? I thought so. I've never had one before. I've always been a pop a pyrex bowl over a pan of water girl, or, failing that, a shamefully brazen user of the microwave to melt things-that-should-not-be-melted-in-the-microwave.

The only reason that I have one now is that Evelyn and I took a walk on a semi warm day last week up the road to my favorite junk/antique shop to look for a toast rack. A toast Rack you say? You know, those strange little metal things the Brit's use to hold their cold toast! Yeah, one of those. Why? You ask? Well, I got it in my head that one of those would make an excellent holder for my new stationary, but alas, no toast holders could be found. But, while I was perusing the junk section of the store and letting Evelyn ride the one wheel missing plastic wheelie horse that has been there for at least 6 months, I found this lovely little pot on the two for a dollar shelf. This is the spot in the store that things go to before getting chucked, the last resort, the bottom of the heap. I took it (and a funky little biscuit cutter that was also there) up to the counter and asked if it were really just fifty cents.

"If it was on that shelf if it." The clerk told me. How could I resist. Two much needed items of kitchen equipment for a mere dollar. I was in heaven. I pulled out a crumpled dollar and stuffed the pot and the cutter in the basket under Evie's stroller.

So what have I made with this marvel of ingenuity? Well, so far just a batch of uber rich brownies from the website Cocoa and Me, a new find for me from the blogosphere. It worked like a dream. The chocolate melted quickly, the eggs didn't curdle, the brownies turned out rich and dense. I was in love. "This is my favorite pot!" I exclaimed. " I mean, except for the Le Creuset of course." I amended when I saw Will's hurt expression.

Tonight I'll put it to work again, this time to make a sauce for Poule auz Riz (yes, that 's just chicken and rice, but this time I come by it honestly, it's from the fabulous book Clementine in the Kitchen). Up till now, though good, the sauce has never turned out quite right, so I'm hoping that the double boiler will make it perfect. Plus, I forgot to start my no knead bread so I'll have to slave away on some real yeast rolls on which I can use my cutter to make yummy parker house rolls. If I can remember to get them started at the right time......

January 27, 2009

Snow Day! Well, almost....

This morning when my alarm went off I lay in bed thinking "if ever I needed a snow day, it's today" Then I hauled myself out of bed, looked out the window at what was either rain or sleet and flipped on the news to find that it WAS a snow day. And back in bed I went. Briton, who for reasons only known to himself, has been not going to sleep at night. Both kids get sent up to their rooms between 7 and 7:30. Evie usually cries for a little then promptly drops off, only occasionally staying up long enough to compleatly trash her room. Briton has always been a struggle at bedtime, but for the most part he plays for an hour then drops off after only one or two (or ten) warnings. Sunday night, however, he was just not sleepy. I can only guess that, like me, he just has nights where he cannot get to sleep. I know that he was still awake at 12, despite my threats, when I went to bed and when I got up in the morning he had clearly been down to the playroom at some point after that because the floor was litttered with bits of construction paper. After school he an major grump and he still tried to stay awake at bedtime despite being totally exhausted. So I was glad to let him sleep this morning (until almost 10!) and glad of the extra hour the rest of us got.

Snow day, here in Virginia, is kind of a relative term. Threat of snow day, threat of sleet day, might be some ice at some point today day would be more accurate. They cant help it though, they're southerners. I grew up in Northern Idaho where it snowed, and I mean SNOWED, from October to May. We're talking snowsuits under our Halloween costume, 6 foot high drifts have to have a snowblower snow. When I see snow here, or even when we lived in Portland and it would snow it's annual inch or snow, I can't help but think of Crocodile Dundee. "That's now snow, THIS is snow."

When we had a snow day in Idaho, it meant things were really bad. I loved those days though. I had an obsession with cooking over the big woodstove in our living room. My parents tried to explain that even if the power went out from ice on the lines, we could still cook since we had a gas stove, but I had read too many Anne of Green Gables and Little House books and I was always determined to cook over the wood stove. my mother, ever tolerant of her crazy child, gave in and would let me heat up a pot of soup over the wood stove. She probably thought it was less work to let me "cook" than to listen to me ask over and over about it.

My kids have been content to watch a little extra tv, play cars and legos and slide down the little plastic slide I hauled up from the basement this morning, so no cooking over a wood stove for me. (Which is good since even our fireplace is gas in this house and a woodfire would involve de-icing the bbq) While they have been playing I heated up some frozen chicken and rice soup in the crock pot and made mini apple crumbles for Will's lunch from the apple that Briton took one bite out of yesterday and then abandon in the fridge. Yumm, hot soup, hot apples, hot oatmeal and sugar and butter. What could be better on a cold, wet and almost snow day.

January 23, 2009

Bake Day

I love Friday, and not just because it's the start of the weekend and my whole family will be home with me for two days. I love Friday because Friday is my baking days. As we try to pinch more pennies I have been making more and more of our food from scratch, and, truthfully, I wish I'd done it sooner. The more I make the more I want to make.

I am a creature of routine. I work out at about the same time each day, I do the same chores on the same day each week, I shop once a week on Thursday evening, and I bake on Friday. Normally I can get all my shopping in on Thursday evening so I can dive right into the mixing and making when I get home from my Friday Squash game (sounds posh but I'm such a beginner it's more like run around the court trying to hit that damn ball without tripping or wacking yourself in the leg (again) with your racket) before moving on to house cleaning. But last night I (well, Will, since he is the one who was late coming back from his squash game making me set off late to the store) didn't make it to the health food store where I buy all my granola and some of my other baking ingredients. Fortunately my morning game was cancelled and while I briefly thought about being good and going to a spin class, I decided to chuck it and head out to get my oats and flax seed and everything else I needed and get busy.

Evelyn and I bagged up what we needed plus some coconut covered date rolls that she loves, (she was chanting "date rolls, date rolls" as soon as we pulled into the parking lot) ran a few other errands since I already had the car out (I'm trying to take the car out as rarely as possible as we are rationing ourselves to $8 of gas per week) and then came home just in time for her to watch Charlie and Lola, her favorite cartoon.

While she watched I started the granola. We are big granola eaters and it was costing us a fortune (for the yogurt that we eat it with as well,but more on that later) until I started making a months worth at a time. I'm not sure it's a whole lot cheaper, but it sure is a whole lot better.

I've played around with the recipe a lot and still change what all goes into it each month, but here is my basic recipe.

3 1/2 cups oats
1/3 cup dried coconut flakes
2-3 T flax seeds
3/4 cup nuts ( I change what kinds each time, this week I used sliced almonds and chopped hazlenuts, sometimes I throw some sunflower seeds in as part of this amount)
1 T Cinnamon
1 t salt
1/3 cup veg oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 T maple syrup
1-2 T molasses
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup dried fruit ( I used chopped up figs and cranberries this week but apricots, cherries and raisins are all good additions to this recipe)
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Mix everything except the fruit and chocolate in a big bowl and pour into a foil lined sheet pan and bake at 375 until it starts to brown. The time it takes will depend on the size of your pan and how brown you want it. darker=crunchier. Sometimes I get thick rolled oats which are extra yummy in granola and I also use mini chocolate chips since I think they go further. (my boys always complain that there isn't enough chocolate in my cookies when I use a whole bag of regular chips but they never do when I use a half bag of mini chips, go figure)

While the granola was cooking away I emptied and filled the dishwasher and mixed up some chocolate chip cookie dough and spooned out one sheet pan (about a dozen) cookies which went in when the granola came out. Granola in the bowl to cool while I scooped out the remaining cookie dough onto a foil covered cutting board to freeze for the rest of the week. I know this sounds like a pain but it saves a tone of time later and means that I can pull balls of cookie dough out of the freezer and have warm gooey cookies 12 minutes later and really, my spoon and fingers are already covered in dough and it takes me 2 and a half minutes to spoon it all out ( I timed it today). Cutting board of cookies in the freezer and onto the applesauce.

I have, from my apple butter making days, one of those cool old apple peeler-corer that makes this recipe so fast. In the remaining 9 minutes that I had on the cookies I peeled, chopped and cored 7 granny smith apples and popped them into the crock pot with a 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup water and a table spoon of cinnamon. Tonight I'll mash it up a little and put it into jars for the week.

Whew. Evie's show was by then finished so I put milk in the microwave to heat up for yogurt and then did the fish puzzle with her for about twenty minutes straight(it's her favorite, can you tell) while the milk cooled enough to add the starter and pop it into the yogurt maker.

So, other than starting tomorrows cinnamon rolls (Saturday is my breakfast day, Sunday Will cooks) I am done for the day. Hummm, unless I can think of something else to make.....

January 13, 2009

The chair! The chair is DONE!

It's a crazy day with no time to write (other than budgets that need reworking, bills that need paying, emails that needed responding to) but just had to say TA-DA! The chair is done and beautiful and I think it will be more than an until kind of chair now that I see it at my newly cleaned off desk (yay, no more ginormous screen, I've transferred everything I NEED to my new-used-really cheap and slow but portable- ibook and now my desk is set for the editing that I should have got back to today but will have to put off till tomorrow. Yay for paint and fabric! I love my chair!

January 12, 2009

THE chair, part two

Somehow this weekend slipped by without me making a trip to Lowes for some paint for the chair, sigh, but this morning Evelyn and I popped over to our neighborhood hardware store. I love this store. It's like the hardware stores my grandpa used to take me to, all sorts of screws in little bins and tiny paper bags to hold them. My grandfather used to buy big buckets of this one kind of nail, I want to say he called them five penny nails but I'm not sure. There were always scads of them around their house. Anyway, Meadowbrook Hardware is great. They have the nicest old men working there and a big old chocolate lab named Gracie who loves to lick my kids and let them love on her. Sadly, they close at noon on Saturday for the weekend and I can never seem to get myself in gear to go get what I need before then. But since I couldn't get myself in gear at all this weekend, I got to buy my (more expensive but accompanied by Gracie love) paint there today. While Evie took her nap I took off the seat, covered it with it's new fabric and painted the first couple of coats. I decided to paint the caning a different color but we'll have to wait for the tan to dry to get started on that.

I also attempted no knead bread this weekend. My neighbor and I had both started batches after simultaneously hearing about it from totally different sources. Hers turned out beautifully, mine didn't rise as well due to the fact that I stupidly left it to rise by the kitchen window where it's a little chilly and nowhere near the 70 degrees called for in the recipe. Regardless, it turned out pretty yummy and we had it with out steaks and corn tonight. I think I'll try again later this week. It's going to be a baking week. This is our snack week for Briton's class and while I did send in a few bags of crackers, I always worry that the kids will eventually get bored of goldfish and wheat thins. This morning I baked a banana bread after B left for school and took it in right before snack. Briton reported that his class now wants banana bread every day for snack so I guess it was good. Friday is Pajama Day at school so I thought I'd make some semi healthy pumpkin fairy cakes for snack that day. Yummm....

January 8, 2009

A chair of my own

I have a thing about space. I have to like it, to use it. I have a hard time working in an ugly building, singing in a church that doesn't look just right, or writing at a cluttered and disorganized desk. In fact, I have a hard time writing when the house is disorganized at all. It drives Will crazy that I use up half my writing time doing dishes and picking up toys, but it's just part of how I work. When I started writing my book last spring, I set myself up at my pretty little desk in our bedroom. It's simple, dark wood, straight lines, no drawers just a small platform that slides out for a keyboard (or for papers if you are like me and haven't owned a separate keyboards since.... well since ever, I'm from the age of laptops baby) I picked up a few funky teal cut glass vases at a thrift store for dried hydrangea's (my perennial favorite) and my pens and set to work. Then my laptop's screen died and I had to drag Will's giant old Sony monitor up from the basement (while he pointed out over and over how many times I had tried to get rid of it over the years, of course, of we didn't have it I could make the excuse to go out and buy a nicer looking screen, but that's another issue) So then my desk was less pretty, due to the giant ugly monitor, but still tidy enough to write. But I still had chair issues. As in, I didn't have one.

For a long time I was dragging one of our dining room chairs in to work because a) they are comfortable and b) they match my desk as well as my table, and yes, that was a factor. Will tried to get me to sit in one of the ugly oak chairs that he accidentally inherited from our elderly neighbors (read, he has a hard time telling them no, which has resulted in two funky, but when recovered, useful, armchairs, four very ugly, very uncomfortable oak dining chairs and boxes of books and toys found at the recycling center; fun times) but it was, as I said, very ugly and very uncomfortable.

I was searching for THE chair. I had been inspired by a photograph in an old Domino of an all white studio apartment where the modern-ish desk was paired up with an elegant and compact Louis the somethingth style chair painted white and upholstered in fun fabric. The magazine, as they always do, claimed the chair had been purchased for some trivial amount of money, $3 at a yard sale or something. Well, Charlottesville yard sales do not have $3 Louis the somethingth chairs. Antique stores have them, but not in my budget. So I kept dragging a chair from the dining room in and out of the bedroom every day at nap time.

I'm still looking for THE chair, but in the meantime, I found this one. Our local Salvation Army has either nothing, or lots of cool things that Will would kill me if I brought home. Last week they has a beautiful piano and a thirteen foot tall mahogany kitchen queen. Sigh. The chair was a whole $5, and while it might not be perfect-the back isn't padded and is a little high and the wicker is a little too 1990's instead of 1790's- with a little paint and fabric, it'll be good enough to get me though the rest of the book. It's also pretty darn comfortable.

Now that Christmas is over and we are (fingers crossed) though with the evil stomach bug that has hit us over and over for the past two weeks, it's time to refinish the chair and give my desk a little makeover. So behold the before picture, and stay tuned for the after.

Now I just have to decide on a paint color....

January 7, 2009

Soda Bread and Carmelized Onions

Due to a shocking lack of bread in our house this evening (seriously, we were down to one heel until Briton decided to make himself toast, and then there was none...) I decided to bake our favorite soda bread for dinner tonight. The recipe for this most Irish of breads is based on one out of the Avoca Cafe Cookbook, one of my favorite of all time cookbooks. And since tonight's dinner would be a strange mix of Italian and UK/Irish food with the main course being Nigella's Rapid Ragu I decided to italianize my bread with some fresh rosemary.

Usually Briton helps makes soda bread but tonight he and Evelyn were busy building a mammoth snaking train track across the kitchen (and under my feet, despite the fact that their playroom is in the breakfast nook attached to the kitchen!!) So I was on my own.

Beside the bread and the ragu, I also started a pot of caramelized onions, the secret ingredient in Nigella's recipe for which I had just used up the last of my previous batch.

The onions are so simple and so good it's hard to believe I've only been making them for a few weeks. Once I'd tried them in a few recipes I was hooked. Chop and onion or two, toss them in your brand new for Christmas Le Creuset Pot (or another heavy pot if your husband didn't finally cave to years of begging for a ridiculously expensive but oh so lovely cooking vessel) and cook them on low until they are soft and brown and sweet. I keep mine in a jar in the fridge, have no idea how long they last since I keep using them up almost immediately.

Avoca-ish Soda Bread

450 g flour
1 level tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
14 fl oz milk with 1 T vinegar (experiment with this, garlic or tarragon vinegars can be very nice, I usually just use white wine vinegar)
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 450 and grease a loaf pan. Mix all dry ingredients while the vinegar curdles the milk (this replicates buttermilk, if you have buttermilk, use that) then slowly add the milk and mix till combined. Pour into the loaf pan and bake 30 minutes.

A Legacy of Wooden Spools and Cherished Wisdom

My grandmother had a rack of spools over her sewing desk in the spare bedroom of her house when I was growing up. Every summer I would spend a few weeks at her house and every summer she would take me to the fabric store, almost as soon as I arrived, to pick out a pattern and fabric to learn during my visit. I spent hours each summer in the room affectionately known as the waterbed room with it’s green and white butterfly papered walls, it’s wall size shelf of family photos, and my grandmother’s sewing table. When I wasn’t in the kitchen learning how to stew figs for drying or experimenting with pudding and gelatin or out in the back yard trying to work up my courage to attempt my aunts famous “death Drops” off the swing set, I was in the sewing room working on increasingly difficult patterns and never fully understanding the valuable skills I was acquiring.

The sewing room was a haven from the Redding heat. The shade from the house next door, the dark walls, perhaps even the waterbed itself made the room cooler than the rest of the house. In the cool quiet I could pin and cut and stitch, or lie on the undulating mattress of the waterbed, or in my tween years, watch Days of our Lives on the tiny black and white Television that was perched on the bedside dresser.

Sometimes in a fit of teenage self-righteousness I would do nothing but spin the spools of thread on their wooded pins or finger the gold stork handles of the delicate sewing scissors that hung from a ribbon on a hook. The wooden spools were always my favorite. It seemed she had hundred of them, but it was probably no more and a dozen, plastic spools were already taking over by then. When one of the wooden spools ran out of thread we made them into dolls or furniture or animals or spool crochet sets. My grandmother’s imagination was endless and she always had something new to make, to teach, to show.

When she moved out of her house after my grandfather died, a pair of wooden spools was among the treasures I took away with me. I have carried them across states and oceans and they now sit in one of the mason jars of thread on my sewing table, a reminder of the lessons of those long hot summer days of my child hood. Of sewing dozens of tiny buttons down the front of a dress and sneaking dried figs out of the freezer in the family room, of my grandmothers dried apple kitchen witch and the thumping of the dough hook on her beloved mixer beating away at her bread.

My Grandmother, who now lives in a second floor apartment and uses the Internet and has a Judi Dench haircut, continues to amaze me, to inspire me. And every time I sit down to sew or slide dinner in the oven, or set out on a new project, I am reminded of those summers, the rows of wooden spools and the cool of the waterbed room, and of my grandmother.