Monday, August 27, 2007

I hope I’m not the only crafter who has a stash of unfinished projects languishing in the closet. I have a bad habit of starting more projects than I can finish, and I’m determined to check this tendency. After my m*th infestation last year, I decimated my stash. I kept only my cotton yarn and the projects pictured above. I also resolved not to buy any more yarn until I’d finished the works in progress. Knitters will be unsurprised to learn that I did, in fact, buy more yarn within months. Most of that yarn has been knitted up into charming objects of great beauty, I’m happy to say, so I can focus once more on de-stashing.

As soon as my current project is finished (Wren’s lace cardigan) I’ll tackle this lot. I’ve made a prioritized list, beginning with the blue striped rompers, of which one leg is pictured just to the right of the green sweater. I’d actually knit both legs, joined them and knitted up to the bib shaping when I realized that I simply don’t have the skill to shape them without unsightly edges. If Finch were a girl I’d be able to knit or crochet a cute edging to hide the shaping but he wasn’t so I stopped in dismay. Then he outgrew them, as babies will, so I ripped out all the way down to the join. They’re wide enough to fit several of his little legs, so I’ll just make both legs longer, join, and make some wiggle pants instead. Next in line is the tweedy-green sweater there at the top, next the romper leg. I stopped work on that as the weather heated up and Finch’s birth put an end to all knitting. I’ve lost the chart, but since I got all the cables from Barbara Walker’s First Treasury, I’ll be able to make another. My goal is for Robin to wear it by October

Next in line will be the blue longies pictured at bottom. Those also fell victim to hotter weather and a demanding baby, but I’m sure I can knit them up pretty quickly once I get to them. Goal for the longies is November. The rainbow scarf will be next. I love Feather and Fan lace, and even the reverse side is attractive, but oh. my. word! Those ends are going to be a bore -- it really does make sense to weave in as you go, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be disciplined enough to do so. No goal for this one, except to finish it One Day. The other striped scarf is probably dead-in-the-water, at least until one of my kids decides to finish it – I started it years ago when garter stitch stripes were the height of my skill, but I got bored pretty fast, as you can see.

The green and white hat is finished except for the weaving in; Finch outgrew it before I finished so I suppose I might frog it and prep the yarn for another use. More likely it’ll languish forever, poor thing. The multi-colored cotton ruffly thing on the bottom is another project that will probably languish. It was going to be a halter-top for Wren, but I don’t really like the yarn anymore. Comment if you’d like to trade for the yarn. The baby-cable socks in green wool are likewise in danger of languishing, and even if I finish that one I doubt I’ll ever make it’s mate. Sad but true – I’m no sock knitter.

That leaves the orange sweater in the middle, which is a challenge. I started it for Robin using the random cable pattern from knitty. I like it, really I do, but it’s just not coming together for me. Eventually I’ll knit a swatch to see how the fabric feels after a wash, and hopefully it’ll tell me what it wants to be. Any ideas?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Market Day

A small sampling of Saturday's loot

Saturday is market day. We usually go to the 32nd Street Market in Waverly, just a few miles away. Sometimes we hit the larger downtown market on Sunday, but it is overwhelming and my favorite orchard doesn’t have a stall. Both markets open at 7am, and if we get there much past 7:30 we have to contend with the crowds, and that makes me tense and angry. Why, oh why must folks bring their dogs and jogging strollers and wagons to a crowded market – do they enjoy frustrating their friends and neighbors? They must. It’s the only answer.

But I digress. Market day, if I get to the market early enough, is a joy. What a succession of sights and smells! The herb guy has terrific prices, even if his basil bunches have gotten a little smaller this year, and I love to bury my face in an armful of cilantro, dill, parsley, basil, sage, and thyme and wait for the inspiration to hit – I usually go to the market with a list, but it’s not until I smell the herbs that I begin to know for sure what the week’s menu will be.

Then I head over to One Straw Farm, the organic growers, for my leafy greens, squash, eggplant, beets, beans –whatever looks and smells good. By now, my first bag is full, and the menu has definitely taken shape. I’ll usually have made space for corn on the cob somewhere, so I visit each of several corn stands to find what looks and feels the nicest. I look for luxuriant, golden silk and plump ears. Sometimes I squeeze the tip of a few ears to see if they’ve gone soft. One wagon in particular tends to have excellent corn that is mildly sweet and rarely starchy. A dozen ears of corn (a farmer’s dozen of 13) fills up the 2nd bag, and it’s time for my tomatoes. I bring separate, smaller paper bags for them, so they won’t get crushed.

The tomatoes are gorgeous – red of course, but also yellow, purple, and green. Fat beefsteaks, long Romas, tiny sweet millions, and a host of other varieties tempt me. Mortgage Lifters, Arkansas Traveller, Amish Paste, Uglies, and others --- surely tomatoes are the most varied fruit on the planet! I usually settle for a pint of snacking ‘cherry’ tomatoes, a few big slicing tomatoes for sandwiches, and a few pounds of Roma for pasta.

Whatever money I have left from my market budget is now available for fruit. The family I buy my fruit from are always ready with advice about what’s at its peak, and what’ll be ready next week or the week after. If I’m not sure which variety of plum I want, they hand me one of each so I can taste and decide for myself. Whatever I buy, they’re sure to throw a few extra into the bag. If I have anything left over (I usually don’t) I might visit the lady who sits under her big yellow umbrella selling slices of 7-Up cake, and then to the Ginger Lemonade folks next to her. If I’ve neglected to order my meat and dairy from the farm, I have my choice of 3 stalls, all of which have delicious meats, cheeses, milk, and yogurt.

By now, it is just about 8am, and the market is filling up. I stagger away with my loot, to the corner where Justin picks me up, and we head to the grocery store to pick up whatever wasn’t available at the market, and then head home. I nurse the baby down to sleep while Justin and the kids put the groceries away. The market produce they leave for me – I’m particular about how each item is stored, and anyway I like to have my riches before me as I write the menu, to be sure I don’t forget something. Few things are as disheartening as finding an herb or vegetable, far past it’s prime, languishing in the back of the crisper drawer at the end of the week.

This week’s menu:

Grilled tequila-lime chicken thighs, corn on the cob with chipotle-lime butter, tortilla chips and tomatillo salsa

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Basil

Black bean and corn burritos with queso blanco

Apple-sage turkey burgers and roasted beets topped with gremolata

Tomato lime soup, quesadillas

Homemade papparadelle with Italian sausage and sweet peppers sauce

Friday, August 10, 2007

"Eggs all gone, baby!"

I've been dissatisfied with a lot of our meals this week. The corn chowder and
Niçoise salad were a delight, but the rest of my nearly* vegetarian menu fell flat. The zucchini from Saturday's market were over mature and seedy, so the summer stew lacked the delicate sweetness that makes it so good. I'd also underestimated the amount of lemon juice needed to balance the olive oil in my wheat salad, so the entire meal was dull and uninspired. The falafel-stuffed pitas were pretty good --- after all, how wrong can you go with falafel? -- but the yogurt cucumber dressing was too garlicky and insufficiently dilly. By the time I got around to black bean and corn salad, the corn had lost it's sweetness and the cilantro was flavorless -- a dead loss.

Yesterday I was daunted and dis-spirited, but not utterly defeated, so I opted to go ahead and give the kids their long-anticipated blueberry pancake feast. They inhaled them, smothered as they were in butter and maple syrup, but I know the sorrowful truth -- half of them were pale and undercooked and the other half were spotty and scorched. Pancakes are simple but they do require that the pan is just the right temperature, and I couldn't find the sweet spot so to speak, so I was constantly adjusting the flame up and down. I used to think myself above such things as electric griddles, and I thought I had the touch for this stove but I know what my next kitchen purchase is going to be!

So, after a week of mediocre cooking I wasn't feeling up to anything more ambitious than a bowl of cereal, but naturally we were out of milk this morning. Despair. Then I remembered how easy and delicious is a pan of soft and buttery scrambled eggs. I had half a dozen jumbo, double yoked eggs from the Italian deli that were, of course, unsuitable for baking, and a few Tablespoons of half and half if I sacrificed my morning coffee. I wish I could say that one look at my hungry children's faces decided me, but I actually was leaning toward coffee for me and dry cereal for them when I spied a fresh pint of half and half -- of course! I'd just been to Trader Joes! We were in business.

I know most folks have their own favorite method for scrambling eggs, from high heat and fast scrambling to low heat and gentle turning, but I've also eaten some tough scrambled eggs in my time, so the following is for anyone whose scrambled eggs are tough and always seem to have that awful brown skin with it's attendant metallic taste:

Simple Scrambled Eggs for 4-6

Heat a 10" pan over low medium heat for several minutes.
Meanwhile, crack 6 eggs into a bowl and whisk lightly with a pinch of salt, just to break up the yolks and mix in the salt.
Put 1T butter in the heated pan -- if it sizzles immediately and starts to brown, your pan is too hot -- the butter should take about a minute to melt, foam up, and subside.
Pour the lightly beaten eggs into the pan, and allow to set for a minute. Then, using a spatula, gently pull the eggs from the edge of the pan to the center, as though making an omelette. How frequently you pull will determine how big the 'curds' are -- I like 'em nice and big, so I pause for 30 seconds each time. I also gently flip them a few times while they're cooking.
When the eggs are almost done, but with a little bit still liquid, pour in 1-3 T of half and half (or milk, but half and half is better!) and gently mix and turn with the spatula until the eggs are done to your liking. My kids and I eat our eggs pretty soft, but I leave my husband's share on the heat for a minute or two longer -- he likes his a little on the dry side! The baby is especially fond of these, as you can see from the pouty face he made when I told him they were all gone!

* the
Niçoise salad had anchovies and tuna

dinner tonight: probably carry-out --- the eggs were good but I'm not pushing my luck!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hot Milk Cake

I fulfilled a week-long yen for Hot Milk Cake this evening, to the delight of my children. Once the cake was in the oven I had a crisis that lasted several agonizing moments over whether to embellish it or not. Hot Milk Cake is very plain indeed, and cries out for something sweet and sticky on top, but a hunk of it cold from the fridge and unadorned first thing of a morning is oddly satisfying. There is just a hint of sharpness in the flavor that is muffled by the sweet and sticky. However, I went with the embellishment, which decision occasioned further agonizing; should I go for a thick, fudgy smear, a la Berger Cookies, or the old standby 7 Minute Frosting? What about a thin glaze of simmered and cooled raspberry jam, sprinkled with powdered sugar? Tempting, very tempting. But, gooey toasted coconut frosting won out in the end. I almost regret the jam and sugar, but, I do adore gooey coconutty frosting. Half of each of the finalists would’ve been good too. My recipe:

Hot Milk Cake

This makes a 9 x 13 cake – halve the recipe for a 9” square


3 T butter

1 cup milk

4 lg eggs

2 cups sugar

1t vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ t salt

2t baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease pan (or spray with baking spray) pretty generously. Heat milk and butter together until butter is melted and milk is just steaming. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, in mixer bowl, beat eggs together with sugar until light and fluffy and increased in volume – several minutes at medium speed. Mix in vanilla. In separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder with a whisk until well combined. Alternately fold flour mixture and milk mixture to the eggs, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake about 30 – 40 minutes until ‘springy’ – a cake tester should come out with a few moist crumbs and the top should be golden with a few lt brown spots. Allow cake to cool if using jam or 7 minute frosting, but if making a gooey coconut frosting, frost while hot and pop under the broiler to toast the coconut – be careful not to let it burn!

Gooey Coconut Frosting

1 stick + 2T butter

1/3 to ½ cup brown sugar

2-4 T milk or cream

1 ½ cups coconut (the sweetened, flaked kind)

½ cup walnut pieces (optional)

Heat the butter and sugar to boiling over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Add the milk or cream, and bring back to a simmer. Turn heat off and stir in coconut and walnuts, if using. Spread over cake while still hot, then pop under the broiler. Check frequently – broilers vary – and remove when the coconut is nicely toasted and the frosting is bubbly. This takes my broiler about 4 minutes, but seriously, rely on your instincts and sense of smell here, not on the recipe! Devour while still warm!

Or, allow cake to cool while you heat to simmering 1/3 cup of your favorite jam or jelly. When jelly is cool but still liquid, spread it evenly over the cake with a soft brush. When completely cool, dust artfully with powdered sugar.

Dinner tonight: spaghetti carbonara, wilted spinach salad