Saturday, May 30, 2009

Looking Back

Now that my aunt has discovered Facebook, my sister and I have been noticing that quite a few of our baby pictures have been showing up on various walls and in albums and in god knows what other Facebook applications.  

Not that we're complaining, mind you.  We were adorable children after all.  And luckily she hasn't felt the need to post any images in the "naked in the inflatable swimming pool" family.

On my bi-monthly visit to Facebook this afternoon I noticed that my sister has fully embraced the trip down memory lane, and has decided to use this iconic (in our family at least) shot of her as a little tyke wearing my mother's hat:

See what I mean?  Cute kids.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What I Like This Week

I am a massive fan of The Kitchn, so couldn't be happier to have been chosen to write a guest post for them! I rhapsodize over foodstuffs on their site here.

I love bacon candy, so am totally captivated by the idea of bacon caramel, which Nom de Plume has graciously recommended a source for.

Terry over at Blue Kitchen has an inspired idea for my lunch next week with his Chicken Salad With Toasted Coconut and Roasted Cashews.

Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini has an absolutely brilliant idea for a tart dough (olive oil, no butter!), which I anticipate will be making my kitchen debut this weekend.

And on another note, I was lucky enough to get a tour yesterday of the much anticipated Highline. The elevated park is not yet open, as they are still putting on the finishing touches, but will be open to the public starting mid-June.

It certainly did not disappoint! The actual park is stunningly similar to the original renderings that were created at the beginning of the process (with smaller trees of course). The plantings do a beautiful job of approximating a field of wild flowers and grasses, and the architectural elements are sleek and imaginative.

I have a sneaky suspicion that I will be whiling away quite a few hours on the rolling wooden chaise lounges this summer!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cast Iron

I love things that are well made, that seem as though they'll be around for decades to come. And although I'm a bit compulsive about culling my own belongings, there are certain items that have been passed down through my family over the years that I would never dream of parting with. So it will come as no surprise that I adore my grandmother's cast iron skillet, a family heirloom that is also possibly the most durable good you will ever come across.

If you look closely, you'll see the imprint indicating that the skillet was forged in Erie Pennsylvania. Good old time American craftsmanship if I've ever seen it.

Happily, given the limited storage and display options that my apartment offers, the skillet is also an extraordinarily useful item. Despite its considerable heft, I find myself wrangling it to the stove at least twice a week.

It conducts heat evenly and retains heat extremely well, which makes it the ideal implement for searing meats. But I also find myself using it for a variety of tasks including baking (cornbread and frittata particularly), roasting (perfect for a small shoulder roast or the like) and cooking fish on the stovetop. This last task is not traditionally recommended, but in my experience it works wonderfully well, and when I found out that Le Bernadin, the high temple of fish, uses only cast iron cookware, I felt fully vindicated.

So why is cast iron cookware not a more common item in American kitchens? My guess is that people have been scared off by all of the talk of seasoning, of scrubbing with salt rather than soap, and of the ongoing maintenance. And I'll admit that often the instructions that are given for cast iron care are off-putting and complex. But as is the case so often, life doesn't have to be so difficult.

For the uninitiated, when you buy a new cast iron item (they are surprisingly cheap by the way), its surface is just about as far opposite from nonstick as you can get. However, the seasoning process will make the surface more nonstick than Teflon, and will erradicate all of that concern about chemicals in your food and the associations with well liked but adulterous politicians.

Seasoning consists essentially of coating the pan with a thin sheet of oil, and then heating it for some time, either in a low oven or over a low flame, until the oil is absorbed. You do this five or ten times, and the surface is no longer porous...all of the small crevices will have filled with baked oil. The more you oil it, the better the surface (and the more resistant it is to rust), which is why old, well used cast iron pans are highly prized.

General wisdom goes that you should re-season the pan after each use, and that you should not use soap of any kind on cast iron as it will only serve to compromise the seasoning. Therefore you should use coarse salt to scrub away any cooked on food. Now if this were actually the case I probably wouldn't ever use cast iron either.

My mother, as she often does, has debunked this labor intensive myth and come up with a much easier method. Now you can't get around the initial need for seasoning, but once you've got a good thing going, all you need to do after each use is heat the pan on the stove, turn off the flame, rub a little coconut oil on the pan with a paper towel and leave it alone until the pan has cooled down. As cast iron retains heat like nothing else, this will be a good fifteen or twenty minutes. Once it's cool, simply wipe off any excess with a paper towel. Couldn't be simpler. And if I may put my two cents in on the cleaning question, if you can't get the pan clean with a scrub brush and very hot water, a tiny bit of mild soap like Dr. Bronner's isn't going to do any harm.

Et voila, you will eventually have a pan that gleams with nonstickiness.

If you come across an old cast iron pan with old cooked on food, do not despair, there is hope. I speak from experience grandmother, who was a wonderful woman in countless ways, was not, as far as I can tell, a great cook. Thus this pan had a lot of non-iron material stuck to the surface. I can only assume it was the result of some botched cooking experiments.

I started off by sanding the offending particles off. But that was slow going so I began to research alternatives. I was advised to throw the pan into a hot fire for three hours and then re-season. But if I were to come across a fire of that size in Manhattan I am fairly confident that I would want to run away from it, not towards it with a skillet in hand. However, it turns out you can achieve the same effect with a self-cleaning oven. Simply leave the skillet in the oven during the cleaning cycle and you will have a nearly virgin surface to deal with. The seasoning will need to be re-done, but the surface will be perfectly smooth and food-free. No manual labor required.

Aren't you tempted to give it a go now?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What To Do With Buttermilk

I am consistently baffled by the fact that buttermilk seems to be sold almost exclusively in quart-sized cartons. I can't think of one recipe that calls for more than a cup of it (if you are making normal, residence-sized quantities of course) and yet I'm always forced to buy four times that amount at the grocery store.

So, unsurprisingly, after making Smitten Kitchen's buttermilk dressing last week, I was left with the better part of a carton and, loathe to waste a thing, spent the better part of a day casting about for a recipe to use it in. I was in the mood for tea cake (it's a rare occasion that I am not) so focused my efforts there.

Clotilde's yogurt cake is my favorite low-guilt cake recipe (by low-guilt I mean butter and frosting free, and defensibly eaten in the afternoon) so I started there. I replaced a few ingredients (buttermilk in place of yogurt for one), added a few ingredients (inspired by a recent recipe in Gourmet Magazine that incorporated raspberries into a similar cake I did the same) and in honor of my whole grain loving father, threw in some rye flour for a little intrigue.

And I must say, the cake fit the bill perfectly. Light, not a hint of grease, and tartness of the raspberries (which, conveniently enough, were on sale at Citarella) provided the ideal counterpoint to the sweetness of the cake.
Sadly, as it turns out, I'm incapable of taking an attractive photo of a piece of cake, so you'll just have to take me at my word on this one. It was good. Very good. Now I just have to figure out what to do with my remaining 2 cups of buttermilk.

Buttermilk Cake With Berries

2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon rum
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup white all purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
scrape of nutmeg to taste
1/2 pint of raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake tin, springform if available and set aside.

Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, sugar, oil, rum and vanilla. Sift white and rye flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in thirds, whisking until smooth between each addition. Pour half of the batter into the prepared cake pan. Place raspberries evenly over the batter, pour remaining half of the batter into the pan and even out the top with a spatula.

Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Leisure Time

Memorial Day could not have come at a better time.  A busy period on both the professional and social front had left my apartment, and perhaps more importantly, my refrigerator and pantry, in a deteriorated state.  I needed some time to recharge myself, and one of the best ways that I know of to do so is, after a quick trip to the Greenmarket, to spend a few hours puttering about the kitchen while Paul spends some well deserved time on the couch, lifting his head only occasionally to ask after the origins of the aromas wafting towards him.

I was feeling a bit down after a week without flowers in my living space, so my first order of business yesterday was to pick up a couple of bunches from James Durr in Union Square.  

As summer approaches, Mr. Durr's stand is quickly becoming my favorite.  His selection of flowers is almost never the same week to week (although thankfully peonies have been a constant over the past month), and he is bringing an increasing variety of vegetables and fruits to market these days.  With choices ranging from rhododendron boughs to bearded iris to asparagus (the best in the market in my opinion) to rhubarb to strawberries, it's hard not to feel inspired by the bounty of the season.

After picking up my usual milk, eggs and cheese, my last stop at the market was Paffenroth Farms, my root vegetable stand-by, where I picked up a bunch of mellow french breakfast radishes.  Once home, I indulged in the wonderful french children's snack (I suppose adults indulge on occasion as well) of radishes with butter and salt, which I consider to be the perfect warm weather weekend snack (or meal, depending on your mood and how heavily you indulged the night before)

Now, I must insist on being a bit of a salt snob here.  Maldon salt, in my opinion, is utterly necessary in this dish.  As is extremely good butter.  I always use Ronnybrook's butter, which I consider to be among the best available here in New York, but brands like Plugra also make a good product with a high butterfat content.

Once my hunger had been sated, I got to work on my kitchen puttering.  My first order of business was the Zuni Cafe's pickled red onions.  

I hewed fairly closely to David Lebovitz's adaptation, although Molly over at Orangette has a nice one as well.  As they both mention, the methodology that is recommended by the Zuni Cake Cookbook is sort of a pain, but look at what a brilliant pink my onions gained as a result!  I'll reserve judgement on the taste until they've marinated for a day or two but I have to say, based on a couple of sneaky tastes, my hopes are high. 

And lastly, I got to work making my rhubarb compote.  After making a rhubarb custard a couple of weeks back, I've been somewhat obsessed with this very odd vegetable, and have picked up a bunch of the stuff at every chance I've had.  

I rather loosely followed Deborah Madison's recipe for rhubarb compote and the result was utterly delicious (she suggests adding strawberries and mango which I'm sure would be delicious but I took the purist route).  The end product provided the perfect accompaniment to my yogurt for breakfast this morning.

Now I'm feeling sufficiently recharged to venture out of my kitchen to spend time with some long neglected friends.  And tonight I'm thinking traditional Sunday roast.  Yum.

Rhubarb Compote
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

1 bunch of rhubarb (mine weighed about 1 lb 12 oz.)
scant 1 cup of sugar (this is a matter of personal taste, increase or decrease depending on your preference)
juice and zest of one orange
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
dash of vanilla extract or a bean, scraped (optional:  the vanilla will mellow the rhubarb out, if you prefer a more bracing taste, omit it)

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, combine all ingredients and simmer over medium heat until rhubarb is tender.  At the ideal point, some pieces will have disintegrated, some will still be relatively whole.  This should take about twenty minutes.  Serve at room temperature or chill in the refrigerator to serve at a later date.  Keeps for approximately one week.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mayonnaise Remade

For as long as I can remember, I have hated mayonnaise. As a child I would recoil from the small jar on the shelf on the refrigerator door. Gelatinous and pale, the blue and yellow Hellman's label seemed the only indicator that the contents were meant for human consumption.

Each time I would complain about how awful I found mayonnaise to be, my mom would say something along the lines of "I know, this is nothing like the real stuff". The real stuff? She would then regale me with tales of the homemade mayonnaise that she had had the pleasure of consuming when she lived in France. And that would be the last I would hear of it. Back to the horrid jar of gunk.

Fast forward ten years or so, I had graduated from college, moved to New York and was beginning to collect a few cookbooks. My mom had set me up with the basics...Julia Child, the Doubleday Cookbook, Deborah Madison, but I also added a few supplements of my own, including Cooking For Mr. Latte. In this charming little book I came across a recipe for basil mayonnaise chicken salad, and my interest was piqued.

So I set to work making my first mayonnaise. I whisked like mad...I whisked the oil into the egg yolk until the concoction thickened. I threw in a little salt and lemon juice, tasted, and my revelation, one not so different from the one my mom must have had forty years ago in France, was complete. It was smooth, silky, and with the slight lemony piquancy the taste was vastly more appealing than any store bought brand.

I added the basil and mixed my newly herbed mayonnaise through my warm chicken pieces and quickly fell in love. It was my new lunch dish for too many days in a row.

As I became more of a mayonnaise aficionado I began to experiment more. Different herbs (the chicken salad is excellent with tarragon rather than basil), different bases (asparagus is fabulous dipped in good mayonnaise) and different oils (olive oil makes for a thinner mayonnaise while something like safflower oil makes for a thicker mixture). The options are endless, and most certainly worth exploring. To get you started, here is the basic mayonnaise recipe that I have settled on:


1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
coarse salt
1/2 cup mild oil like safflower
1/4 cup high quality olive oil
lemon juice to taste

Select a relatively heavy mixing bowl, one that will not move around too much as you whisk. In the absence of such a bowl, set mixing bowl on either a non-slip surface or a wet dish towel. Whisk egg yolk and mustard together and add a healthy pinch of salt. Then, while whisking, drizzle safflower oil slowly into the mixture. It will begin to thicken fairly quickly. Then whisk in the olive oil. The olive oil only makes sense if you have a delicious one that can add another dimension to the mayonnaise. Otherwise, substitute safflower oil. Taste, and add lemon juice to taste, approximately 2 teaspoons, and more salt if necessary.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Child's Play

Thanks to some very hospitable friends, Paul and I spent most of Saturday floating in a pool overlooking an expanse of green fields and forests adjacent to a very beautiful country house.  It was one of the more rejuvenating experiences I've had in quite some time.

Aside from the good company, I believe that the aqua noodles we all were hanging on to were a key contributor to the extreme relaxation that ensued.

For the uninitiated, the aqua noodle allows one to float in a variety of configurations (sitting side saddle, sitting straddling the thing, arms draped over, noodle wrapped around the waist, the permutations are endless).  You can bob along for hours on end, virtually weightless.  The experience on Saturday reminded me of a time 20 years ago or so when my sister and I were floating aimlessly in a lake in the Sierra Nevadas on some sort of device, singing the song "Bobbing Along" from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  I recall being blissfully happy, not unlike I was on Saturday.  

Now I ask you, why is it that once we become adults we abandon these sorts of simple, inexpensive toys which have the capacity to bring such joy?  And only reclaim them in old age when we need them for an afternoon aquacize class?  In the middle of life we trade them in for more expensive yet less fun pool toys such as the floating chair.  What, may I ask, is the point of those?  It's virtually no different than sitting in a patio chair! 

I say that this summer we take back the noodles.  Spend $2.99 and grab yourself one, you'll thank me once pool season starts in earnest.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kimchi Time

I was on a mad tear yesterday, cleaning out various corners of my apartment and organizing the odd cubbyhole that had fallen into chaos. Mid-afternoon I collapsed, spent from the effort, on my couch. After watching a bit of Suze Orman (I love her, and for all the haters out there, how many of you were profiled in the New York Times this weekend?) I realized that I was ravenous. As I was engaged in a spring cleaning, it seemed that, rather than run out for new food, I should attempt to use up any remnants in my refrigerator.

Admittedly, as Paul and I had been out of town for the majority of the weekend and I had thus missed my usual Saturday morning greenmarket run, the pickings were a bit slim. But I did have one lone vacuum packed bag of fresh udon noodles (left over from my last run to Katagiri) and a small container of kimchi, purchased from the Korean/Japanese lunch place across the street from my office, for what purpose I cannot recall. And of course, there were the scraggly old veggies kicking around in the crisper, among them the garlic chives that I had used for my butter potatoes a couple of weeks back which had held up surprisingly well.

Inspired by the Amateur Gourmet's recent post about kimchi rice, I decided to try to make something of these items...and, as my creative juices were a bit stagnant, I came up with the very unimaginative idea of kimchi and noodles. Unimaginative, but surprisingly delicious, and a wonderful meal for an overcast, unseasonably cold afternoon.

Udon Noodles With Kimchi
Serves 1

one package of fresh udon noodles (approximately 7 ounces)
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 garlic glove, minced
1/2 cup kimchi, chopped (use more if you prefer)
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon garlic chives (optional, scallions would be great here as well)
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Bring medium pot of water to a boil, salt lightly. As water is coming to a boil, heat safflower oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and when heated, add garlic clove. Tip pan such that oil pools and the garlic is in the oil. This allows the garlic to cook evenly without burning. Once garlic has turned a very light gold brown, add kimchi.

Water should be boiling at this point, so add the udon noodles, separating them from one another as they begin to heat through.

Saute the kimchi, stirring occasionally. Add the sesame oil, chives and sugar. Cook further, until you see the kimchi begin to brown. The noodles should be done at this point. Drain them, and add to the kimchi. Saute for a minute or so, until the noodles begin to brown. Add the vinegar, stir through, and serve.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What I Liked This Week

Smitten Kitchen has me craving brocolli with buttermilk dressing.

I have never before though of grilling fava beans, but I'm sort of convinced that the idea has merit!

A Bloomsbury Life waxes poetic about one of my favorite books, Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries. I have been checking it out of the library for may actually be time for me to buy it.

English Muse is really making me wish I had a garden with all of her talk of her roses.

And Chateau de Lu has made me wish I was in the market for a sink.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

They're HUGE!

I'm not sure when I became such a fan of peonies.  They are considerably more frilly than I am after all, a totally incompatible match for me.  And yet, I find them strangely compelling.  They are bright, effusive, like that over the top, vaguely annoying yet totally entertaining and fiercely loyal friend that you love to be irritated by.

So when I saw that my dear Mr. James Durr had them last week I nearly fainted in rapture.  When I took them home they were tight little buds, and I had no idea how idiotically huge they would become upon opening.

But after a day or two, they were like exuberant pom poms sitting on my bathroom sink, and made me smile each time I walked by.

But I walked in the door this evening and saw the saddest sight.

Peony petals in my sink.  And my one pink one is wilting. 

Which means that my giant fluff balls are not long for this world.  Such is life I suppose.  Thank goodness that there are more where they came from.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How The Other Half Lives

My family has always teased me about my "champagne tastes".  When we went on family outings to grand old historic houses I invariably would ask my parents why we didn't live would be so nice to have all that room!  Fancy hotels thrilled me (we generally did not stay in them but often would go to them for brunch or otherwise get the experience on the cheap), and I looked forward to the Christmas season with great anticipation because December meant that I got to pick out a fancy taffeta dress to wear to the various family parties. 

Now it's not that I long to be rich per se.  I don't want seven houses, I'm not all that bothered about a closet full of $700 shoes (although a pair or two would not be unwelcome) and I'm perfectly content to stay in charmingly modest accommodations when I travel.  It's more that I want the easy life.  Not a life of leisure, not a life where working is inessential, just a life where things run smoothly.  

I would like an unending supply of clean, thick towels.  I would like to never run out of toilet paper and thus avoid the last resort that is the napkins that come with takeout orders.  I would like for my clothes to be clean at all times and for them to be ironed when I want to wear them.  And I would like to have a consistently well-stocked refrigerator.

Now all of these wants could be accomplished with a couple of good housekeepers.  But then that would require a higher paycheck than the one I receive every two weeks.

However, a year or so back I came across a short interview with some sort of rich hostess type and she shared her secret for a well run household:  have duplicates of all vital items.  Her vital items included high quality tea cookies so that she could prepare an inviting offering for the odd guest who drops by for afternoon tea.  This is not the type of guest I tend to have, but her basic lesson did not go unheeded.

My truly vital items are almost all of the culinary sort, but I actually enjoy food shopping (particularly my weekly farmers market run) so I rarely run low on these types of items unless Paul has a particularly cereal heavy week and drinks all of the milk before Saturday rolls around.  

However, I like a clean house and a clean person, so my second most vital items all have to do with personal grooming and various housekeeping tasks.  The problem is I really hate going to the drugstore.  The ones in New York are invariably badly lit, cramped, disorganized, grimy and half the time they don't have my brand of choice.  This is not an ordeal that the head of a well run and prosperous household would endure, and hence, as I am trying to fake it till I make it in this respect, neither shall I.

Instead, I have do the work for me.  I don't have to set foot in the hell that is Duane Reed, they always have the exact item that I'm looking for, the shipping is free on orders over $50 and my merchandise arrives within two or three days of me placing it.  

My ordering method is as follows:  every item that I buy on the site I keep at least one extra of around the house (contact lens solution, toothpaste, Paul's deodorant, dishwashing soap, laundry soap, you get the idea).  As soon as I am down to no extra items (i.e. I have just opened the last one) I put the item in my online cart.  They let you keep the contents of your cart for quite some time so it functions as a running shopping list.  As soon as you have either hit $50 or run out of your most vital household item (for me it is my Charmin Ultra Soft), you place your order.  

I find that I feel much less low rent operating this way than I do when I am scrounging around for tiny tubes of toothpaste from airline hospitality bags or various paper products that are not too rough on the plumbing (or backside).  It's a long way from being an Upper East Side grand hostess, but it's a start.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Feeling Covetous

I've had a minor obsession with weekend bags lately, I suppose because the season of weekend trips will be upon us shortly.  Here is my current crush.

A bit androgynous I suppose, probably even verging on masculine, but I love the menswear look on a woman.  The first fragrance I ever wore (I must have been about fifteen) was the men's cologne Egoiste, and I guess my sensibilities haven't changed much over the years.

First Fruit of the Season (sort of)

Now I realize that rhubarb is actually a vegetable, not a fruit, but for my purposes, during this cruel period of warm weather and limited fruit (of the non-apple variety, anyway), it's a fruit to me. I suppose the fact that something that looks like a blushing bunch of celery is my one bright spot on the sweet end of the harvest spectrum is a little depressing, but the darkest moment is always before the dawn I suppose.

Anyway, I picked up a ruby-tinted bunch the other day and have been debating about what to do with it ever since. I was inspired by Smitten Kitchen's rhubarb cobbler recipe, but on a Sunday afternoon following a weekend trip making biscuit dough seemed like more than I could handle.

I have been seeing loads of rhubarb compote recipes lately (I guess I'm not the only one on a rhubarb kick these days), but I felt my first rhubarb concoction of the season should be a little less austere than a compote. Although I have to say that it does sound as though it could be a fortifying breakfast food, perhaps a nice accompaniment to yogurt. And now that I've mastered the yogurt making process, well, it sounds like compote will be my next rhubarb recipe of the season.

But back to my first. As I was flipping through my trusted Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, I came across a recipe for rhubarb tart with orange custard that appealed immensely. As I mentioned before, dough production was out of the question for me, but I amended the recipe to suit my lazy mood. And thus, rhubarb baked in custard was born.

I swapped out a few ingredients that I didn't have for ones that I did, and I must say the result was quite satisfying. Light, tart, sweet, bright...every positive adjective that you could come up with to describe a summer dessert. And yes, I realize that it is not yet summer, but today I wanted it to be, so in my kitchen it was.

Rhubarb and Custard
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

one bunch of rhubarb (once trimmed and diced, mine weighed about 9 ounces)
1/3 cup sugar
two big pinches of ground cloves
zest of half of a Valencia orange
1 egg
1/4 cup full fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup whole milk or cream
1 tablespoons orange liqueur

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly butter a 9-inch cake pan (you could use any baking dish you want of this approximate size). Wash the rhubarb, peel if it is tough and stringy, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Toss with sugar, cloves and orange zest and let sit for 20 minutes.

Beat the egg in a measuring cup, add the juices that the rhubarb has released. Whisk in the yogurt and then add enough of the milk or cream to make 1 cup of liquid. Add orange liqueur.

Distribute the rhubarb in a single layer in the baking dish, and then pour the custard over the top. Bake until set and slightly brown around the edges, about 45 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Roundup

Still haven't bought that floor lamp, but now I've stumbled upon another that I covet...

Sadly, it appears only to be available in Europe and I can't even find a price for it.  Boo.

I am newly obsessed with summer latest desire are these Andre Assous espadrille wedges at Piperlime.

It's been a bit too long since I've had a weekend away, but now that I'm finally getting out of town, I seem to be missing all the best sales!

For those in NYC Saturday and Sunday, check out the sale put on by a couple of former Domino editors, as they will be selling items from photo shoots gone by...for CHEAP. And you know when I say cheap, it really is. Saturday, 10-5, 13 West 9th Street, garden apartment. Cash only.

And Bklyn Designs, a showcase ostensibly for Brooklyn designers (but which apparently has become so well respected that it is attracting designers from Europe as well), is occurring May 8-10 at St. Ann's Warehouse in Dumbo, at 38 Water Street. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

If in New York, enjoy it for me...if not, hope your weekend is beyond lovely.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Yogurt, Homestyle

I had a minor obsession with the book French Women Don't Get Fat when it originally came out. I bought the book, I went to see the author Mireille Guiliano do a reading at the Alliance Francaise, and even did a little google stalking of her (within reason, of course).

In an effort to emulate this very stylish and successful woman, I went out and bought a bunch of leeks for the weekend detox (I lasted 6 of the 72 hours) and also purchased a yogurt maker, as she suggested, to make my own, fabulously french, yogurt. In yet another example of how much I unconsciously imitate my parents, when I mentioned it to them they exclaimed "Oh we used to make our own yogurt back before you girls were born!". They of course didn't need no stinkin' yogurt maker. They simply wrapped a jar of warm milk and acidophilus with a piece of foam rubber and left it to incubate.

Well, I used the yogurt maker religiously for quite some time, but eventually I fell off the wagon and two or three years back, in a fit of spring cleaning and I donated the yogurt maker to charity (I'm sure they found it quite useful).

Until recently, I had no regrets about purging myself of it, but a few months back I realized I eat an awful lot of yogurt, and as I am in the throes of some sort of pioneer-back-to-the-land kick where I feel the need to make everything myself (lately it has been bread, crackers and cured meats), I toyed with the idea of buying another one. Serendipitously, before I actually went through with the repeat purchase, Harold McGee saved me with his article in the New York Times about making yogurt at home (sans yogurt maker).

He suggests heating a quart of whole milk to 180-190 degrees (just before the boiling point), and letting it cool to 108-112 degrees (I've found this to be the temperature at which you can leave your finger in the liquid for twenty seconds without experiencing is sometimes called blood temperature but I find that a bit morbid). Then the milk is to be mixed with two tablespoons of yogurt, put in a jar and then either swathed in towels or put in a warm place, such as an oven with the light on. It is to be left alone for four hours, until the yogurt is set. I would add here that it is prudent to wash all of your equipment in very hot water before beginning the undertaking.

My first try involved two tablespoons of Ronnybrook yogurt and much swathing. My jar ended up looking like a bandito.

And I ended up with sour milk, not tangy yogurt, after leaving it wrapped up for four hours.

But I resolved to try it again. After all, I had done it once upon a time rather consistently, and there seemed to be no reason that I wouldn't be able to again.

This time, instead of using yogurt as a starter, I bought the freeze dried bacteria from Whole Foods. And instead of relying on my swaddling skills I opted for the light on in the oven. After four hours I still had milk, not yogurt. It was late, I was tired and as I figured whatever would happen overnight couldn't be much worse than vaguely sour milk, I opted to leave it in the oven overnight.

In the morning...success!

If a bit sweaty looking.

It was a tad more sour than I would have preferred, so on my next go around I stuck with eight hours rather than the twelve I had used before (and used two tablespoons of my first successful batch instead of the packet 'o bacteria). The result was smooth, rich and slightly piquant. It was certainly many times better than the quality of most mainstream brands you see in the supermarket (fancy organic ones included), and on par with Ronnybrook and Seven Sisters, my current brand favorites. As the homemade option is about half the price of the store bought stuff, it is certainly worth the very minimal hassle every couple of weeks.

I feel my french quotient increasing exponentially. It may be time for a reread of my french lady book.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yurts, etc.

My clearest memories of felt involve red and green costumes, I believe for a Christmas pageant.  I recall that I was seven years old and dressed as holly, a fact I would not have remembered had it not been for the cluster of tennis ball sized holly berries pinned to my chest.  I had a partially obstructed view of of the festivities as a result of this adornment.

So when I read about the exhibition of felt at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum I was a tad skeptical.  Martha Stewart waxed poetic about it, but as much as I enjoy Martha Stewart, this is a woman who gets excited about varying types of high quality glue, so I wasn't prepared to give up my felt prejudice on her recommendation alone.

But it was rainy and gloomy on Sunday, and I was in the mood for an outing.  A museum seemed the only sensible option, and although I have admired the beautiful mansion that houses Cooper-Hewitt from the street many a time, it is one of the few museums in New York that I had never set foot in.  So the time seemed right.

I don't know what on earth I had been waiting for.  Not only is the mansion just as stunning on the inside as it is on the outside (although sadly, the lovely garden was closed), but the exhibit was completely enlightening.  Felt...enlightening?  Who would have thought?

Thankfully, it was not a retrospective on felt through the ages as I had feared it might be.  First of all, the museum is blessedly small so there was no room for that sort of thing.  Second of all, the curators must have understood that presenting the last 8,000 years of textile history would have been tedious both to view and create.  Rather, we see very early uses for felt (it is the oldest textile) such as this baby cradle

and this vibrant floor (or ground) covering:

But then the exhibit moves swiftly to more contemporary times, with examples of felt fashioned couture:

I do love this.  It reminds me of a Rick Owens outfit...that sort of sensual crow look.

And then on to modern era Scandinavian felt furniture (who knew?):

I am having a moment with Scandinavian design, which I suppose may explain why the furniture was one of the high points for me.  But regardless, I found it creative, elegant and new.  It is rare to come across a truly original furniture design that also serves as a functional piece, but there were quite a few examples of just that rarity here.  The sofas especially I found thrilling, but was unable to find photos of them.  So there you have it, incentive to visit!

However wonderful the rest of the exhibit is, the piece de resistance was unquestionably the palace yurt:

Traditionally a yurt is a tent of sorts used by nomadic peoples, but this particular one was fashioned specifically to hang inside of the museum's conservatory.  A combination of wool felt, silk and other shimmering, ethereal fibers, it has an otherworldly, vaguely dilapidated sense about it.  It would perhaps be an appropriate home for Cate Blanchett's character from Lord of the Rings, or maybe is indicative of what Miss Havisham's home might have looked like in the very early stages of decay.  

Sitting inside of it is truly a contemplative experience.  The ideal setting for a rainy spring afternoon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Noble Veg

I've been going on quite a bit lately about the wonders of spring, about how thrilled I am to see some leafy greens in the farmers market and how glad I am to be rid of potato and apple season. But the truth is that I adore potatoes.

Not only does the potato have a noble history of feeding broad swathes of populations cheaply and nutritiously, but there are some unbelievably delicious varieties out there. My favorite purveyor of root vegetables at the Greenmarket, Paffenroth Gardens, carries quite the impressive array. I count at least five each week. They range from fancy French fingerlings to Purple Peruvian spuds to good old Yukon Golds and with only one exception I have found each and every one of them to be a revelation.

Some taste buttery, some are nutty, and all are more complex and interesting than their reputation as a starch conveyor would imply. For ages, I would simply roast them with olive oil and salt. It was easy, healthy and I always liked the crispiness that the hot oven imparted. But everyone needs a change now and again. So when Ina Garten demonstrated a new (to me) method on her show a couple of weeks back, I was eager to give it a try.

If you've ever watched the Barefoot Contessa, it should come as no surprise to you that her method involves some butter. In fact, she suggests steaming the potatoes in butter and then throwing some herbs over the top. As you might guess, it feels a bit luxurious, tastes well, buttery (read: delicious), and provides a more refined alternative to my more rustic roasting method.

I feel that I should point out that the amount of butter is relatively small, and you only end up ingesting a small portion of it. So don't fret about your cardiac health here. You will be fine, I promise.

Ina suggests dill as her herb of choice, my personal preference is mint, but the garlic chives I used last time were quite nice as well, as is parsley. So I leave it up to long as you stick with relatively mild, leafy herbs (i.e. avoid rosemary...raw it is not particularly appetizing) it would be difficult to go wrong.

Buttery Potatoes Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

as many small potatoes as you need to feed your crowd (they should be small enough such that you don't need to cut them up)
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt to taste
herb of your choice (mint, dill, parsley, etc.), chopped

Heat a dutch oven or other heavy pot with a tight fitting lid over medium heat. Melt butter in the pot, and when foam has subsided, add potatoes. Salt to taste, and cover. Shake the pot around a bit to evenly distribute salt and butter, and then turn heat down to medium low. Be careful not to cook these too fast, as the butter burns if you have the heat on too high.

Allow to cook for approximately 25 minutes, shaking the pot two to three times during the cooking time. When potatoes are easily pierced by a fork (do not use a sharp knife can be deceptive as a sharp knife goes easily into almost everything and you can end up with a slightly underdone potato, and frankly I can think of few things worse than an underdone potato) remove from heat. Toss herbs through potatoes and serve.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Springtime Loot

Yesterday was an unexpectedly perfect spring day.  I had been prepared for vaguely cloudy with occasional showers, but instead was presented with 70 degrees and sunny.  The city was saturated with color which was made all that more intense by a slight coolness in the air.

And for the first time in six months, my market bag was filled more with green than brown.  Yesterday's loot from the Greenmarket:  

Lush green ramps (I am convinced that yesterday represented the peak of their season as I counted at least five vendors who had them on offer, and all specimens were beautiful), spears of garlic chives standing at attention, my usual milk and eggs, onions and carrots and my lord those fat, luxurious asparagus spears!  From James Durr, my favorite purveyor of flowers of all places!

In addition to the asparagus, James Durr thrilled me this week with new floral offerings.  As is to be expected now that the various cherry blossom festivals across the east coast have passed, Mr. Durr is moving away from the flowering boughs and towards more traditional bouquets.  The blousy, romantic lilac bouquets made a repeat appearance, bringing much joy to a couple of midwesterners who were milling about the booth, reminiscing how the smell of lilacs always indicated the end of school and the beginning of a carefree summer.  

I was pleasantly surprised to see several varieties of irises, deep purple, yellow and white on offer, but was utterly charmed by what looked like a field of lilies of the valley (it was, in actuality, many buckets of these dainty little bells pushed close together).  For less than $10, I took three bunches home, and they are now perfuming my bathroom with their subtley sweet fragrance.

Ah, springtime.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ask and ye shall receive

Remember those Matt Bernson shoes that I was obsessing about the other day? Well, they're all on sale, serious sale, sample sale, in Tribeca this very moment (and through the weekend). All of the sandals I posted about, plus quite a few more, are $40 per pair over at 450 Greenwich St (in very west Tribeca). But get there quick, the fashionistas are ripping the place apart as I speak. And it's cash only, so remember to load up before you go!

Friday Roundup

With all of the warm weather this week, I've got Lilly Pulitzer on the brain. Not my normal style, but somehow when the sun starts showing its face I start to fantasize about beach houses and perfectly white dresses. And 70s caftan/tunics.

I have been obsessed with Vivienne Westwood's VW Flag design for years. The pillow, the rug, I can't afford either but given how long I've had this thing on my mind, I may have to save up and spend my savings irresponsible. But recently I've discovered that the Rug Company collaborates with other quite talented folks...Matthew Williamson has some fabulous stuff, and unsurprisingly, the great Alice Temperley shows off her considerable talents as well. Yet more items to pine after helplessley.

Deb at Smitten Kitchen shares what looks to be one of the most complex yet delicious bread recipes ever and I fully intend to make it this weekend.

David Lebovitz tempts me with fabulous almond cookies, which I also fully intend to make this weekend.

And The Real Housewives of New York, which I have always loved, officially wore out its welcome with this week's episode. Ladies, I hate to tell you this, but you graduated from high school years ago. Perhaps we should move on from the petty squabbling? Or at least choose a new squabble from week to week so as not to bore your audience?
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