Saturday, June 23, 2012

Farmers' Market and Loving Food (again)

When I was 16 years old and newly drivers' licensed, I would wake up at six in the morning to shower, put on a pretty dress, and drive down to the Saturday market to buy produce.  I often arrived before the market opened, so I would sit serenely on a nearby bench, waiting for the puffy eyed farmers to welcome me over.

I used to be so passionate about food and cooking.  Somehow, however, having a spouse who usually gets home from work at 9 p.m. and who is pleased as punch to eat a quesadilla or, if that's too much effort, a slice of cheese and a beer for dinner, and often getting home late myself, famished after a long day, has turned me into somebody who is fairly ambivalent about food.  Yes, I love to eat.  Yes, I would love to sit at the table, candle lit, to a glass of wine and a real dinner more often.  But I have a confession.  I've moved from being somebody who painstakingly plans out every meal of the week, prepares the appropriate grocery list, then (here's the kicker) actually cooks those meals to somebody who may have had chips and guacamole twice for dinner in the past week.  And I might also have had cheese and crackers at least once.

In some ways, this move toward easier meals has been a blessing.  Yes, I used to eat better dinners.  Yes, I used to experiment more with food.  Yes, I used to love that food more.

But, looking back, I was also a leetle obsessed.  Come on.  Sitting down with all of my cookbooks every single week, making an elaborate meal plan, waking up at six on a Saturday to grocery shop, then cooking said elaborate meals every single night, having a slight panic if we happened to go out to eat on a whim, leaving the meal plan askew?  I used to call cooking my passion.  I wanted to turn it into a career.  But now I see that, although I was certainly passionate about it, there was more than a bit of compulsion involved.

I've started noticing that the people I knew in high school almost always make reference to my cooking when I run into them these days, and I realize now that, as a shy person who moved to a new state in the middle of high school, cooking was the way I found to connect to people.  Handing somebody a cookie is easier than saying, "please be my friend."  And it felt wonderful, after almost a year spent alone finding my footing in this new place, to have an excuse to interact with others.  I clung to cooking and baking because feeding people accomplished something just being myself didn't: it got people to talk to me.  When they loved my food, I could convince myself that what they really loved was me.  Maybe I had to walk away from it because I had to realize that I was a worthwhile friend whether or not I had a tin of cookies to hand out.

The friends I have now have no idea that I used to be the kind of person who would host a week long fundraising bake sale on my own.  They have no idea that I used to read cookbooks for fun.  When I have them over for dinner these days, they aren't shocked when I offer them store bought ice cream for dessert.  And I love that about them.

I have more time to develop and indulge other passions these days.  Food doesn't rule my house and, truth, it's kind of nice to be more relaxed about the act of eating.  It's indescribably wonderful to have the freedom to decide that cheese and crackers sound much more appealing than chicken piccata and a beautiful salad, and to act on that decision without a second thought, without any guilt or shame.  It's been freeing to become the kind of person who doesn't flip out when she has only two servings of produce in a day, to know that it will naturally balance itself out.  I like this me more.  She is more loving, more compassionate, and more fun.

That said, I sometimes miss that old flame.  Maybe because I have built a coterie of such lovely, true friends, and maybe because I am at the point in my relationship with food that cheese and crackers carry equal virtue as kale salad, it feels safe to tiptoe back into the world of exploring and loving food.

Over the past several years, I've gradually fallen out of the habit of shopping the farmers' market.  I've gotten busier, and too often it's just simpler to buy produce at the grocery store, especially since I'm usually doing my big grocery shop on Saturdays anyway.  Produce has become just another thing on my grocery list, and many weeks, uninspired, I throw a few heads of lettuce and a bag of frozen broccoli in my cart and call it good.

But a little inkling has been creeping in that maybe, maybe if I treat produce, maybe if I treat all food as something more, maybe the act will create the feeling.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I went to the farmers' market today.

And I can't make any promises, but there is hope.

I remembered artichokes.  Why do they seem so much more precious when there are only 17 of them for sale, set rolling about on a table, rather than stacked into a uniform pyramid?

I remembered how wonderful it feels to stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers, scooping handfuls of green beans out of a plastic storage bin.

I remembered that raspberry red does not refer to the color of the berries sold at Costco.

And I remembered how getting into a warm car in which three bunches of basil have sat, filling the interior with their pungency, is instant, visceral bliss.

Farmers' Market,

Thank you for reminding me that life is abundant.

Much love,

Kate



Monday, June 18, 2012

El Diablo, aka Fizzy Ginger Blackberry Margarita

Most of the adults I know seem to have gotten themselves out of the habit of throwing birthday parties.

Not me.

I feel that having the opportunity to mark another year of life is not to be taken for granted.  It is to be celebrated.  Many others have not been afforded the gift of another birthday!

It's also an excuse to DIY it up and drink cocktails with the people who form my cherished community.

Oh, who am I kidding?  It's an excuse to drink cocktails.

I first had this cocktail, or a version of it, at least, a couple of years ago at one of my favorite local restaurants, Granite Street.  I was fairly new to cocktail drinking at the time, having just been introduced to vodka presses, aka the most boring cocktail in the world (though delicious, and I would love one, thanks), and, on a whim, picked El Diablo off of their great cocktail menu.

Holy sweet heavens to Betsy.

I haven't really been able to try anything else off of their great cocktail menu, because I became completely and utterly hooked on their perfect El Diablo.

Last year, I made a big batch of El Diablo cocktails for my birthday fiesta and happily slurped them from a drink dispenser all night.  Yummy and effective, but a little too sweet due to the ginger beer base and the cloying elderberry liqueur (granted, I purchased cheap elderberry liqueur, which might be responsible for the cloying part).

I've been thinking for months on what I want for the signature cocktail (aka let's use a drink dispenser instead of a bartender) at our wedding.  I feel like I should mix it up and serve something different.

But I just can't.

I also can't stray from my beloved for my upcoming birthday.



El Diablo, Kate style

(Feel free to stay true to the elderberry liqueur version instead of straying into blackberry territory like I do.)

1 part ginger liqueur
1 part silver tequila
1/2 part blackberry liqueur
1/2 part lime
3 parts sparkling water

Layer the alcohol and lime into a glass and stir.  Slowly add the sparkling water to taste.

The lovely piece is that, working in ratios, you can easily make either a single cocktail or a large batch for a party.  When making only one, my "one part" is usually 2 tablespoons.  For the party, I will be using a 2 gallon dispenser, so will likely turn my "one part" into 3.5 cups or so, giving me 21 cups total.

This is such a luscious, refreshing and perfect summer cocktail.  Make it.





Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cloth Napkins


Last year, while sitting with some coworkers and talking about our days, a couple of them (lovely ladies, all) mentioned that they had visited the home of a mutual acquaintance who, gasp, never used paper napkins.  All were aghast and completely confused as to how a mother of two could get away with using only cloth.

It was the first time I consciously realized that I've never purchased paper napkins in all of my adult life.

We always used paper while I was growing up, pulling out nice white linens for holidays and special events only.

I might mention here that, in my home, I always use the nice silver, even to eat peanut butter out of the jar.  I don't own any other set.

But on the topic of napkins, it's never seemed an inconvenience to me to use cloth over paper.  I'm sure this all started out with my exaggerated earth-mama tendencies as a young adult, a desire to save the world one patterned napkin at a time.  However, over the years, I've fallen more and more in love with textiles, and using cloth is an easy way to incorporate some pretty into my everyday.  And, perhaps because we are a small household, it doesn't seem an issue to toss a few napkins into a load of laundry we're already doing; it doesn't use up extra soap or water, and line drying does away with any need to iron (not that I'd mind a wrinkly napkin anyway).

This isn't to demonize any busy individuals who, for the sake of convenience or of simple preference, choose paper.  I'm a full advocate for making things easier where it counts, and for some people, napkins count.  However, in the name of slowing down a bit, of adding some beauty to something that can be rather banal, napkins are a nice place to start.

I purchased the above as a set from the sale section of bhldn.  I actually purchased two sets of 20.  We'll be using them for the wedding bash.  I just love the idea of beautiful bright pops of color on white textiles, almost as much as I love the idea of using our wedding napkins--the ones held by our treasured guests--for years to come.

Angel Food Cake with Red Wine Strawberries


My sweet mama's birthday is this week, and, due to the nature of everybody having busy lives, our family is getting together tonight, a couple of days early, to celebrate her.

My mother's mother was a tremendous baker and always made Angel Food cake for my mom's birthdays while she was growing up.  My mother doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but she always requests angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream for her birthday still.  I think of it as a way to bring the spirit of my grandmother back as my mom marks the passing of another year.

As I only make it once a year, I can't say I have a go-to recipe for Angel Food.  However, I completely trust America's Test Kitchen, especially when it comes to baking, so I used the Angel Food recipe in this book and it turned out beautifully.  While I typically can't leave recipes alone and usually decrease something and add something else, I've learned my lesson with America's Test Kitchen and followed this recipe to a T, only adding an extra teaspoon of almond extract because my mom goes crazy for the stuff.  Though I almost always bake from scratch, I'm not one to turn my nose up at the convenience or taste of boxed mixes.  Use what works for you.  However, I might suggest adding a bit of extra almond extract or some lemon zest to a boxed mix, just to make it your own.  Incidentally, I also like to add a bit of almond extract to the whipped cream; maybe just 1/2 t. or so per cup of cream.  Delicious!

But onto my little secret.

Strawberries.

Yes, you can certainly just slice up some strawberries and eat them with cake and whipped cream and everybody will be in heaven.  You can even sprinkle on a little sugar before serving to bring out their juices.  However, especially since everybody in my family has reached solid adulthood and no little ones will be partaking of dessert tonight, I have my sliced up berries macerating in a little something extra:


Red wine.  Yum.

Maybe everybody already knows this trick, but I love to pull it out when I'm serving something plain that can really showcase a little extra flavor.  I also love to use it when my berries aren't super juicy or sweet--it dials up their strawberry-ness.

Ingredients:

2 lb. strawberries, hulled, washed and sliced
2 T. red wine, or to taste
3 T. sugar, or to taste
1 t. vanilla extract

Mix all together in a bowl, making sure all of the strawberries are coated.  Allow this mixture to sit at room temperature for at least an hour.  By this time, the mixture should have created a lovely, syrupy liquid.  Taste and add more wine or sugar as desired.



Serve as a topping for ice cream, cake, yogurt, etc.  I love the way the flavorful syrup soaks into the nooks and crannies of Angel Food!


Revealing Wood Floors in a Rental


H and I have rented our cute little house in our cute little neighborhood for five years this month.  FIVE YEARS.  I remember looking for a house after returning in May 2007 from study abroad in Spain and what a nightmare the process was.  For some reason, the rental market was tough that summer and we kept lowering our standards further and further and there were many, many tears.  Did I mention we were living with my parents in the interim?  We were desperate.  Then one day, H found something in a neighborhood we hadn't considered.  Normally, because of this neighborhood's reputation at the time, I would have said no, absolutely not.  But we needed our own space.  I needed to be able to nest after living in other people's houses for six months.  So we looked at it.  And through the permanent marker on the walls, the cinder block and weed filled yard, and the mysterious red splotches on the carpet, we saw home.  We got the keys that day.

Over the years, we've slowly spiffed it up, painting every wall and every inch of trim, removing the cinder blocks and planting gardens, inviting friends for dinners and two sweet cats to share it with us. With luck, we'll have the opportunity to buy a home sometime in the next few years.  And while I look forward to that experience, I know I'll miss this little house.

I recently read a quote from a wise woman who said, in essence, that being able to create a home--a grounding space--in a rental, rather than using it as an anonymous temporary crashing pad, is worth the loss of one's deposit.  Now, I realize this is a hugely privileged position.  Not everybody can sacrifice that money in the name of putting paint on the walls (or tearing carpet up, but we'll get to that later).  But this sentiment rang true to me.  Not counting my living quarters in Spain or a brief stint in a mint colored dorm room in Eugene, Oregon, I've lived in three places since leaving my parents' house.  One of those was a 200 square foot studio apartment that I loved dearly, and I showed that love by painting four different jewel tones on the walls to demarcate the different "rooms."  The second was the first place H and I lived together--worse than having a cinder block filled yard, it was made of cinder blocks and was so cold in the winter that we would wake to a thick layer of ice on the inside of the windows each morning (the water tank was also large enough to fill only half of the bathtub with warm water.  H's willingness to boil pots and pots of water on the stove to fill my hot baths is one of the many amazing things about him.)  H was adamant that we not risk losing our deposit by painting and, in the throes of young love, I didn't think to challenge him.

But when we moved into our current home, I don't know what changed, but somehow I convinced him to let me paint.  The act of painting, even if bold jewel tones aren't involved, feels like staking a claim, saying, "this is mine."  And even if we don't ever see that deposit money again, to be able to say "I'm going home" and to really mean it deep in my heart is worth it.

Last year, H wondered aloud if the stained carpet in our two bedrooms might have been laid over hardwood oak floors, the flooring material used in our living room.  So he pulled up a corner of the carpet.  And yes.

I can't speak to others' relationships, but I know in mine, there are some areas where I must tread lightly.  It has been a worthwhile lesson in subduing my natural stubbornness, my natural "I'm the youngest child"ness.  H didn't want to pull the carpet.  That whole deposit thing again.  I wanted to.  He didn't.  I did.  Et cetera.

But we know who eventually won, right? I kid, I kid.  We "compromised."  Which means the carpet goes.

(side note: I did call our landlord to humbly ask if I could pull the carpet up.  I probably wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had the go ahead from him, mostly because H was more comfortable with it this way.)

I might mention that I decided to do this on a whim, at 3 o'clock on an afternoon.

Here's what it looked like initially, after I had started moving things around and stacking them to prep.


Carpet is surprisingly easy to take up.  It's connected around the periphery to something called tack strip, but the middle is free.  I didn't want to move all of the furniture out of the room (remember, I was doing this with my 5 foot tall self), so I scooted the furniture to one side, used regular kitchen scissors to cut/tear strips of carpet, then simply rolled them into neat little packages to be hauled outside.

Progress shot (forgive the sub par photos--I'm (kind of) learning!):


  That red stuff is called carpet cushion and it's super easy to tear, which made removing it a breeze.  However, you see those little specks left behind?  Those are staples.  Staples directly into beautiful oak hardwood.  Staples that have probably been there since the 1970's.  Staples that took several hours to pull out with needle nosed pliers.  A process that, several days later, still causes me to wake up with a sore, stiff right hand.  I strongly (strongly strongly strongly) recommend using one of these instead.  It'll save your hand, I promise.  

After the red stuff came up, I took a small crowbar and pried up those slats lining the edge of the room.

It would have been nice to unearth perfectly clean, glossy, rich oak under there.  But unfortunately, there was a dark time in American history when carpet was thought to be the miracle flooring of the future.  And people did things like this to hardwood floors


White paint dotted the entire floor.  After pulling up the carpet and pulling out the staples, I swept the floor several times, then washed it with strongly brewed and cooled black tea (apparently wood floors like the tannic acid).  Then I did this

Pure acetone, scouring pad, heavy duty rubber gloves.  Because there were not only concise drips of white paint but sprays of paint as well, I pretty much went over the whole floor with this.  Please note that I would not have used this chemical if my floors had any kind of finish on them, but they're pretty raw, so I wasn't worried about damaging a finish.

At this point, I started getting back into familiar territory.  Our living area floors aren't really finished either--I'm sure they were at some point, but they were dry and washed out when we moved in.  In the name of prettifying them without making a huge investment, I bought some Restor-A-Finish in dark walnut (my local stores don't seem to carry oak).  This is an amazing product, especially for jazzing up wood furniture that isn't bad enough to justify a full refinish job.  According to a worker at the hardware store, it just barely dissolves the top layer of finish so it can restore the original color, then reseals itself.  I can't 100% guarantee that this is accurate, but in my experience, it deepens the color of the wood just so it looks healthy again--it just sort of brightens it back to what it looked like originally.  And it's easy.  I just use an old rag that I don't mind throwing away, pour on some of the product, then rub it into a clean floor or piece of furniture.

Here's the floor after the Restor-A-Finish treatment


Exciting!

Then, because the floors aren't sealed, I chose to wax them.  I've previously used Johnson't No Buff Wax, which I chose because in my heart, I'm slightly lazy and I liked the no buff part.

But, I have averaged two hardware store visits per day in the last week, and the store I happened to be in didn't have the No Buff, so in the name of saving an extra trip, I bought Briwax in Dark Brown.  After allowing the Restor-A-Finish to dry for an hour or so to ensure I wasn't trapping any moisture, I applied one thin coat of the wax, semi-vigorously working it into the grain.  I used a clean old rag to apply


After allowing it to dry for an hour, I went back with another rag and buffed it until it started looking a bit shiny, then I applied another coat, waited for an hour, and buffed it thoroughly until I wasn't getting much residue up anymore and the floor started to look glossy.  Some tutorials say to do three coats, but at this point I'd been working on the floor for three days and I was happy with how the two coats looked.  It's a small enough room that I can always go back and do another coat if need be.

(Note: do me a favor and just throw your rags away after using them.  I thought I'd experiment with washing them to see if I could use the same rags again for similar projects.  My washing machine received a nice coat of dark brown wax.  Imagine trying to fit your body into a stacking, top loading washing machine to scrub dried wax off the bin and the agitator.  Imagine having to do this four times with a hand that's still painfully sore from pulling out three hundred staples.  Imagine that, even after the wax is gone, the washing machine is still stained brown.  Please.  Use old rags that you don't mind throwing in the garbage.)

And finally, after hours of work, bruises on my knees, premature arthritis, and upper body muscles that will need at least three massages and seventeen hours of yoga...


In.Love.

This is home.
   



Easy Sparkly Utensils DIY


I have an easy easy DIY for you today that (to my glitter loving self, at least) just screams, "PARTY!"

I pinned this idea quite awhile ago from the Oh Happy Day blog, which I adore, especially for doable DIY's and party ideas.  This blog is a goldmine of creative ideas to bring lots of fun and some quirk to the everyday.  Please visit her for the original of this project, along with lots of other inspiration.

I planned to make these utensils for my upcoming wedding bash, but I conveniently have a birthday this month and I thought, why not test run some of the projects and activities I plan to use for our reception?  That way I get the triple whammy of having an excuse to do DIY projects, getting extra use out of some of the things we'll use for the wedding, and hopefully identifying any hiccups to make things run extra smoothly on the big day.

I don't know what has gotten into me, but not only have I lately fallen in love with sparkle, I also have a little thing going with gold right now.  If you had told my minimalist, silver-loving self that four years ago, I would have laughed myself silly (or, let's be honest, raised an eyebrow and stopped talking to you).  But when you throw rules out the window and just go with what appeals to you on any given day, surprising (and sparkly) things can happen.  That said, please use whatever color glitter appeals to you!

So anyway, I ordered a gazillion Birchware utensils a few months ago.  This week, I went to the craft store and bought some gold glitter paint.


Step one: paint a thin coat of glitter paint onto desired portion of utensil.  Step two: allow to dry.  Step three: repeat to desired level of sparkle.  I did two coats on these bad boys.

That's it.  So easy.  The key really is to use glitter paint, so don't try to shortcut it with glue and loose glitter.  I'm afraid if you do, your guests might end up with some bling in their teeth and intestinal tracts.

Enjoy!  I'm so excited to have a way to party up something that can be a bit ho-hum.  I'm looking forward to seeing a little sparkle on the party table.

-Kate

Hello and Welcome



Lovely early summer afternoon.  Doo Wop playing.  Sheets drying in the warm sun.  DIY projects in the works.

This is (one version of) it.

Welcome.