Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Ubiquitous Holiday Post

I thought you'd enjoy a few pictures from the past month or so. It's been busy -- trips to London, Pittsburgh, and back to Pittsburgh again soon.

Both photos are from Liberty's in London -- it was like an Anglophile's fantasy Christmas shop. The lights in the first photo are just strand after strand hanging from the ceiling -- really beautiful. And the tea and scones were lovely there too, no surprise.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season.

Monday, October 03, 2005

News Shocker: Vermont is Beautiful

Right. No surprises there. October in Vermont, how much more of a cliche can you get? Still, it was lovely and the leaves were turning and the sun was surprisingly warm, and all the little shops were full of cheddar cheese and maple syrup. And I bought me some. And I'm sure you'll be pleased to see this city girl was not eaten by a carnivorous chipmunk.

Anyhow, despite the cliche, I thought some of you might enjoy a few photos.

As planned, I stopped at good ol' King Arthur Flour Company and bought a ridiculous amount of kitcheny stuff. Some practical and some just fun. And I'll tip my hat to say that the sticky buns in their bakery are the best I've ever had. Usually with a sticky bun you just eat the bun part so you can get to the sticky. But these were good all over.

As if a baker's haven wasn't enough, right next door was a little farm stand with beautiful organic produce and cheese. These people get the best possible location, right next to King Arthur with food-lovin' people coming from all over the country. I bought some raw sheep's milk cheese. There is a difference with raw milk cheeses that is difficult to describe but impossible to miss. It's a sort of, well, piquancy I guess. Yoy. Next I'll be talking about how the cheese has legs.

Some day when I grow up after I become an astronaut or whatever, I think I'll raise chickens and sheep and goats. And pretty pink flowers like these. Aw.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Once a Month Posting Time

Yup, still a lousy blogger. I seem to be logging in about one per month. However, considering the intensity of the jobs I'm holding, I guess that isn't bad.

An overall summary:

How many times was I on call for the entire month? Two times. How many times did I get beeped? Twice. Sheesh. No wonder I'm so tired. But I'm glad I went. Being a doula rocks. And I still love my scrubs. I've gotten to the point of competency that I no longer need to grab sheaves of papers to take with me to remind me of techniques. I just go, hang out with the mom and dad, and we wait and see what happens. That's how birth goes. You'd like to prepare for it, but ultimately there isn't that much you can do but play along.

I'm reading two vaguely connected books: I finished Blink by Malcom Gladwell and now I've just started reading Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner. Both books are crammed with "I never knew that!" information, the sort that rewires a paradigm or two. Freakonomics is especially prone to throwing in fast bits that challenge conventional knowledge: real estate agents (says Levitt) are more compelled to sell your house quickly rather than for the highest possible price because their profit is better with a fast turnover of houses. Huh! I love that type of learning, so both books are fun to read. And they are fun to talk about at cocktail parties. (Does anyone really ever go to something called a cocktail party?)

Right now: I'm nibbling on a piece of candied ginger. I don't really like it. But I bought it to use as an ingredient for a plum crumble I'm making for this weekend (see below). Some people love candied ginger plain, which makes me think maybe I'm just not getting the concept, so I picked up a piece to try again. Nope. But it will be fine in the plum crumble I'm sure. We're seeing the last of the plums at the farmer's markets so I feel like I should honor them with a proper dessert.

Tonight: Back to Tacos Lupita, a saving grace in Somerville, for dinner with a friend. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have access to a decent hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint like that. It's one thing if you've never had good Mexican, but once you've had it, you can't live without it.

This weekend: To Vermont for a camping wedding (and a quick detour to get supplies!). I've never heard of such a camping wedding either, especially not in chilly October. But I'm game. Just wish me luck that I don't get eaten by a carnivorous moose. I guess you'll find out if I survived in my next post. Stay tuned!

Oh and next weekend: Off to the 'Burgh for the birthday. The picture above is one of Pittsburgh's saving graces. A French bakery in the middle of Millvale (where?) with the best croissants I've had this side of the Atlantic. Don't forget to check out the furniture store across the street. I won't tell you why here; you'll have to see it for yourself.

Friday, August 26, 2005

End of August Lull

I'm welcoming a little lull here ... everyone seems to be on vacation or thinking about going on vacation. The summer has been hot, but in a good summery way that makes it less painful to see it give way when the cooling nights of September start in. The farmer's markets are overflowing with tomatoes and cukes and peaches and zucchini. I'm trying to pickle some cucumbers. The corn this year has been wonderfully sweet. I like to shock people by eating raw corn on the cob. It really is good that way, and well, it doesn't take much to shock people. I put it in salsa, add it to a zucchini salad, right off the ear with lime and cayenee, throw it in ratatouille, ... next step is coming up with a nice sweet corn ice cream recipe. I'll let you know if I can pull it off.

And it's quiet at home. The new cat is still settling in but has become much more affectionate and trusting of this human she's adopted. I've let her come out on the back porch which she loves to do. I'm hoping this might deter my nemesis, the evil squirrel who comes around and eats all my cherry tomatoes. Grrrrrr. Evil! Jasmine hasn't noticed other species yet, but maybe the squirrel won't be able to tell and will be filled with fear.

The new standing mixer arrived but somehow I've managed the willpower to keep it in its box until I feel called upon to welcome it to my kitchen.

So this here is one of those quiet posts. Not much going on, but wanted to say hello to everyone. Yawn. Maybe time for one of those summer afternoon naps.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Jasmine Dillard

Many moons ago, I posted about flying solo and getting my very own apartment. It's worked out well, but sometimes I have thought it would be nice to have a little pal when I come home at the end of the day. After much debate and perhaps with a little help from fate, I am now co-habitating with a friendly black cat named Jasmine. She's a very sweet, independent cat. She does her thing and I do mine, and so far it has worked out OK. I've never had a pet larger than a parakeet before, so this is a new realm.

I will admit it is taking me a little time to get used to this new roommate. When I'm sitting reading a book on the couch, I still find it startling to suddenly be approached by a black furry mammal. Or to be woken in the middle of the night when a black furry mammal jumps on my bed. Did I mention her black fur? It is slowly appearing on everything in the apartment. This I am not so pleased about.

Yet somehow we are becoming friends of a sort. At least she seems to know I'm the one who feeds her. And she has her ways of showing me how to take care of her, since I'm pretty inept at this whole cat thing.

So this is big news here in Dillard-land. I want to avoid being one of those people who obsess about their pets both internally and externally, but I wanted folks outside of town to be introduced to Jasmine, and see how cute she is when she perches by the window.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Wonders of Sanding

Sand on the beach is great. I really like the sand dunes at Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA and also the dunes of Lake Michigan. But sand is also useful for making a terribly beat up butcher table look like new. When a friend moved out of an apartment last summer, a butcher block was left behind, all alone and forlorn and looking pretty shabby. But, as they say, it had wonderful bones. So I lugged it home somehow, and it sat around looking pretty shabby for many months until finally, when Elizabeth came to organize my kitchen, she also brought her sander. (Ah the joys of friends with power tools).
So I sanded it down, and now it is just beautiful. I just loved the before and after cupboard picture, so I thought I'd share the before and after butcher table photos. This is turning into the home improvement blog.

Speaking of which, I'm guessing I'm not the only person out there who has seen America's Extreme Home Makeover or whatever you call it on Sunday nights. Some family who has gone through hell and back gets their place made over. It is moving to see such a lovely thing done for people and how grateful and happy they are. If you can stand the excruciatingly cheesy build up to the climax, and the family trying valiantly to look properly grateful, it does make you think people are doing good things out there.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Brilliant Ideas in Baltimore

I don't travel much outside of Boston for work (unless you count Quincy as traveling). Sometimes I feel twinges of jealousy toward friends who go to, say, Phoenix or London or Florida for work. But then I remember the grass is always greener -- when I have traveled for work you do spend a lot of time in hotels and airports.

However, in June I attended a conference in DC for work and got to visit a lot of my favorite old stomping grounds from when I taught school there while living in Chevy Chase, which happened to be close to the conference hotel. I visited my favorite bookstore/coffeeshop where I once spent many hours drinking coffee and grading papers, Politics and Prose. Next door was one of my favorite bakeries, Marvelous Market; this was long before food quest days had begun, but nonetheless I remember being very excited at their selection of yummy things. I was not disappointed during my visit 10 years later. They had a very interesting cookie called Salty Oat -- oatmeal with coarse salt sprinkled on top. It was lovely -- the salt gave it a caramel-like aftertaste. Cool!

Just wandering around the old neighborhood was such a treat. It is amazing how much of a place you retain in your memory, even if you don't consciously think about the details until you are walking on the streets again. I even had a sense memory for the many roots that were integrated into the sidewalks -- how I used to have to be careful at certain sections that were especially bumpy when I wandered around my neighborhood after a tough day of teaching, admiring the pretty houses and the happy-seeming families.

As a bonus, I added on an extra travel day and went up to Baltimore to see my old pal, Karin. Out of all of my wonderful friends, I think Karin gets the oldest friend award -- not due to her age but the length of our friendship -- I think we met when I was about four years old at a family church gathering. We still keep in touch faithfully and have gotten to hang out a few times each year. There is just nothing in the world like an old friend. They were there when you lost your baby teeth, for goodness' sake! Lots of shared memories.

Karin now lives in Baltimore and she gave me a wonderful tour of that city. I had no idea how cool it was there! My new favorite museum, as in it is at the TOP of my list, is the American Visionary Art Museum. The photo above was taken there. It's complicated to explain, so just go to their most excellent website. It's one of those places that you feel overwhelmed with excitement at all you are going to see, but also exhausted because you know you don't have time to appreciate it all. And I'm a huge folk art fan. To top it all off (literally), the top floor was a modern Mexican restaurant called the Joy America Cafe, where Karin and I had an incredibly good and inventive lunch. (Plantain soup, anyone?) I was so happy. Really. Just the name of the restaurant made me happy.

But the whole town was great. To finish off my exuberant post, let's have a little dessert. I had to include this brilliant idea sold at Vaccaro's, an Italian bakery that specializes in Cannoli.
Anyone who has eaten one of these things knows how good they are but how messy they are to eat. So to turn it into chips and dip is just ... Baltimore brilliant.
So now I have to go back, to see Karin of course, and to cover the rest of the things that I missed.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Little Organization Will Do You Good

My friend Elizabeth has recently started exploring the idea of being a Professional Organizer. Friends who explore new career possibilities are often very nice friends to know. I received many a wonderful complimentary massage from my friend Katrina as she was doing her massage therapy homework (now I'm a faithful paying client so I try to be a good friend too).

And Elizabeth jumped at the chance to organize my cupboard. Can you imagine? Jumping at the chance to organize a cupboard. That seems like a good indicator of professional interest. I guess I know the feeling -- I'll jump at the chance to bake a birthday cake, while others think, wow, I'd much rather be organizing a closet. People are funny creatures, aren't we?

Anyhow, here's the before and after photos and I think she did a great job. Gosh, we even have makeovers on this blog. You just never know what you'll find here. We're just a hoot and a half around here.

Don't Miss the Berries

If you haven't noticed, it is berry season. And if you haven't noticed, do you live under a rock? They are every where. Even when I go jogging at a local track, there are blueberries just waiting to be plucked after your run, a quirky little New England reward for doing your 8 laps (well, or something like that is close enough). Then there are the gooseberries close by as well. After eating all those berries, you've kinda cancelled out the caloric benefits of the run, but at least you have the exercise endorphisn and the berry endorphins. So it's all good.

And they look so pretty in a bowl, no? I've been eating them on my morning cereal. Gosh, didn't I post about gooseberries just a year ago on this very same blog? How the time does fly. The circle of life and all that. Hope you are enjoying your own local versions of these tiny bits of summeriness.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Big, no HUGE Baking News

I have had my eye on one of these babies for years now. Many of my friends, lucky ducks that they are, got them as wedding presents, and now they sit on their counters, looking beautiful and pristine. They use it about once a year, if that, to make Christmas cookies. "I don't bake much," my friends say. "I never use it." And inevitably, "Since you bake so much, I'm surprised you don't have one." Uh huh.

I do bake a lot. And cook a lot. I bake and cook more than anyone else in my circle of friends/family/acquaintances (which obviously and sadly includes no professional chefs). But alas, the wedding registry option had not yet arisen for me. And these machines start at about $200. While that isn't going to cause me to take out a loan, it seems extravagant. I have a perfectly good hand mixer, and I can deal with standing over a bowl for a few minutes. I can stop the hand mixer, set it down, and add eggs. Why would I really need one, outside of the convenience and authentic-baker-status factor? I put my mom on alert if she saw one at a garage sale as she is a pro at these, but both of us knew not to hold our breath for one to appear. (Although I got a great ice cream maker for $5 this way).

As I have pondered the machine over the years, I debated for a while about the merits of a standing mixer vs. a food processor. Apparently bread-making is one reason for getting a machine to help out, as the old fashioned kneading thing does not always yield the results that you can from a machine. It turns out you can knead bread in either a standing mixer or a food processor. Plus food processors offer all those wonderful crust making options, not to mention slicing and dicing. So for my 30th birthday, I requested the food processor. And I love it. I use it constantly. And it works pretty well for kneading bread, although it has become obvious that a standing mixer would work better; the processor gets heated up and obviously annoyed with me when I try to do breads in it. Dough gets stuck under the blade, the machine slows down, it rocks and growls at me, etc. Nobody is happy when this happens, so I avoid making bread. The standing mixer itch was not going away.

Finally, things came to a head. I am a big fan of chowhound.com and someone posted that KitchenAid mixers were on sale for $99 at amazon.com. Wow. I'd been eyeballing a few sales that went as low as $120, as well as factory reconditioneds for $150, but I just wasn't ready to take the plunge. But $99, and then $70 when you sign up for their card, well. Wow.

Secondly, as I was pondering this option, last weekend I had a large group of folks over for drinks and dessert. I decided to make 3 desserts in one afternoon. This was one of my most ambitious baking days ever (and did I mention the 90 degree heat?). The goal was to bake as many of them at the same time as possible, in order to use the 350 degree oven as little as possible. And while I pulled it off nicely (blondies, upside down pineapple cake, and Robert Redford -- more on this later), if I'd had the mixer, things would have been much simpler and less stressful.

So I did it. At $70 (free shipping plus a $20 future coupon!), that is the cheapest I'll ever see it new. It is on its way, to arrive the first week of August. Now I'm trying to decide if I should save it for my birthday or something, or if it will be totally irresistible to open and use right away. I know it's silly, but this machine is a real treasure to me -- a sign of taking my cooking interests seriously, physical evidence that my life is not on hold while waiting to get the free shopping spree along with Mr. Someday-My-Prince.

Ok. So it's big news for me. Maybe not a small step forward for peoplekind, but a small step forward for me in letting myself love what I love, to paraphrase Mary Oliver. Just you wait til you see what I cook up!

By the way, this is my first attempt at posting an photo from someone else's website. It may be totally against some copyright dealie, but since I'm pretty much promoting a sale at Amazon, I can't imagine this will make them too upset.

A Post in Which I Sorely Repent My Wayward Blogging

Oh, woe is me. Is this new job really taking me down so hard that I haven't posted on here in almost two months? I am a bad, bad blogger.

But I resolve to be better! And I have so many fun new things to share!

I was all set to download a million pictures on here for your viewing pleasure, and then I realized I don't have my pictures with me today. Sigh. So close, yet so far.

But seriously, get ready to read. There will be lots of new things to share. Oh the new things about which I obsess. Oh the new recipes (and old ones) I have tried.

So yes, my apologies.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Late Spring Poem

It is late springish, although you'd never know it in Boston. And here is a spring poem, although a little late to post it since it is called "Eastering."
thus, a doubly late spring poem. I think this one captures that weird feeling of spring thaw.

From a lovely little book of poems called Morning Watch by Barbara Pescan.


Why this sadness toward spring?
Half smiles at the first yellow flowers,
Tears pooling for no reason with each rain and sunset?

Each year this green show
blows wide winter's coverings and lets us see
the swell and push of beginning again.

Am I meant to rise too?
To push away what leans against the door of my
pinched heart?
I cannot.
Compassion for myself
is a slow growing crop,
however carefully tended
it yields an unreliable harvest.

These resurrections
ask more than I can give
every time
this hurts more
than the pains of my body
than the old world of sorrows
this offering of love
this unbearable gift of another chance.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Suspicion: Alfred Hitchcock Raises Some Questions

I rented this the other night as one of Hitchcock's Masterpieces. I've seen a few other of his films, and I'm always curious to learn what the fuss is about, this genius of film, this mastermind of mystery ... this guy with the profile.

A few quick facts I learned about this particular film:
Joan Fontaine won an Oscar for her performance. She does have a way with wiggling her eyebrows individually that is fun to watch. But the whole fainting thing always seems silly to me. I guess it isn't unusual for a female character to do that in films those days. Women in my generation of films only faint if they are pregnant or if they have to eat a gallon of grasshoppers in two minutes. When she fainted twice, I kept wondering if this meant she was going to say she was pregnant. Nope, just oh-so upset!

The luminescent glass of scary milk actually had a light bulb in it to create that effect. Cool!

The ending was changed by request of the censors and was not Hitchcock's desired ending. But for some mysterious reason, no one is telling me what he would have done otherwise.

Hitchcock shows up 45 minutes into the film, mailing a letter (I missed this moment).

Question for the audience: What is up with the small cubist painting in their front hallway that the police officer keeps looking at? It doesn't seem to play a role in the film and no one mentions it in their discussion of the film. Yet Hitchcock deliberately lingers on this painting at least twice. I have googled this one to no avail. Does anyone know?

It was a fun film, and certainly did leave you guessing until the end. And even after the end, when Johnny's explanation of his intention is accepted but you remember all the previous lies he told .... is this just another one of his stories? Hmmmm....

Monday, May 23, 2005

Foodquests Not Forgotten -- Flour

I know all of my friends who actually kinda like my food quest posts are wondering about my latest searches, my latest endeavors to find the truly yummy out there in Boston and beyond. Never fear, my friends. My silence is not indicative of the end of the search, but just the same old boring excuse about being too busy to write about them. Oh, they have been happening, believe me. Food quests are an integral part of my week. What meaning would life have without them? It is too grim to even ponder. In addition, I have been lazy with my camera lately, and it isn't nearly as fun to write about food wihtout providing a photo for you to scrutinize. That's something that annoys me about art criticism -- if you can't see the work they are talking about, it drives me nuts. Although I suppose a taste of the food you are critiquing would be more helpful ... hmmm. But I digress!

A few new quests have been attained, even if I cannot prove it outside of maybe a few crumbs.

I've heard for a while about the homemade granola bars at Flour, a highly regarded bakery in the South End. As my new job puts me in this general vicinity, it seemed like a good one to add to the list. And it was definitely worth the not-very-long trek for the variety of interesting treats. I struggled for a moment with the granola bar quest as I spotted "twice baked brioche" and "chocolate banana bread" and "scharfenberger chocolate cookies" and ... and ... whew. I was starting to break into an anxious sweat when I realized I could go back another day. So I calmed down and just got the granola bar. The verdict? It is good. Pretty good. Not weepingly good but good. I'm probably not the best judge as there is no chocolate involved. There's a layer of granola-ish bar, then fruity jammy layer, then another granola layer. Pretty straightforward.

Next time then, the twice baked brioche. Can it compare with the twice baked brioche at the cool bakery in Chevy Chase Maryland next to Politics and Prose, my favorite bookstore/coffeeshop on the planet, the bakery whose name I can never remember? Stay tuned ... an upcoming visit to DC is my opportunity for a brioche smackdown. Hee hee, brioche smackdown. I crack myself up.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ten Best Boston Sweets Experiences

This entry was inspired by the great blog, Words to Eat By, where she lists 10 of New York's best. She was inspired by an article in the Observer of Top 50 Food Experiences. Why are these lists so addictive? I don't know, but here I am, adding to the craziness. I'm narrowing in on dessert because the larger food list is too overwhelming. Also, this list seems to be comprised of "easy access desserts" -- perfect for tourists or busy professionals on their dessert break, er, lunch hour. I reckon it would be easy to do a separate "sit down dessert" list which would include things like the Baked Alaska at Oleanna ... don't get me started.

Without further ado, my personal list of ten favorite Boston sweets/dessert!:
1. Chocolate mocha cookie from Rebecca's, preferably still warm.
2. Custard filled pastry from the bakery near the gate in Chinatown (preferably still warm too) and a bargain at all of 75 cents.
3. Hot chocolate from LA Burdick's. Or any chocolate there, really.
4. The wet walnut cookies at Athan's in Brookline. They are soaked in something sticky and yummy. I don't know what they are called, but don't miss em.
5. Brownies from Rosie's Bakery (they don't call 'em Chocolate Orgasms for nothing). And I claim these to be the best in town, only after a careful research study with the arduous task of tasting brownies all over Boston. A big claim but I take this seriously
6. The chocolate bread pudding at the Chocolate Bar at the Langham Hotel. Wow. It's made with chocolate and croissants. That is all you need to know. (Not really a quick access one but definitely a good tourist stop).
7. The Schlesinger Sandwich at the Parish Cafe (Ham and cheese on banana bread). Sounds weird; it IS weird. But scary good. It's in the dessert area because it is like eating lunch and dessert all at once.
8. The filled muffins at Souper Salad always crack me up. Gilding the lily, you know? Their banana chocolate chip muffin is the best in town.
9. The torrone from Modern Pastry. My mom makes me bring this across the country for her.
10. The miniature ice cream sundae at Toscanini's, preferably with burnt caramel ice cream. Just right.

Whew. I'm going to need a glass of milk or something.

Feel free to add your own list in the comments area or to your own blog!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Careful What You Wish For

My new job has started and then some. This is a good thing. Not good for a blog, but good for my life in general. I wanted a job where I felt needed, where I was challenged, where I was put to good use. I think I got all that. Oh boy did I get it.

It is always interesting to watch one's response to stress. I generally do well at first (who doesn't) and then over time, funny little things start popping up. This morning I thought I was in a pretty good mood until a small thing happened and then WHAM! I realized I'd better go sit outside on my lunch break and stare at some trees for a while. It had been too long since I had really even breathed.

That was a good idea. I took some breaths, wrote in the journal, took a walk, ate a cookie. I came back to my office and cleaned up the piles of papers. I put up some pictures. I wrote a to do list. (You know you're feeling stressed when you feel too busy to write a to do list). And now I am feeling more caught up. Enough to write a quick blog entry!

So there it is -- entry from Amy the Professional rather than Amy the Doula, Amy the Artist, or Amy the Vigilant Food Questor. This blog isn't the most focused one in the world, but neither is my life I guess. Oooh. Does that count as profound insight?

Anyhow, yes, be careful what you wish for. Or at least remember that when you get what you wish for, it might take you a month or so to appreciate it.

Will I have have photos on this blog again? Time will tell.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Dillard-land Silence

It's going to be a little quiet at dillard57 for the next week or two, my apologies. I just started a new job, plus Somerville Open Studios is (gasp) next week. I'll be back in the swing of things in May, I hope, posting away and pontificating on all kinds of fascinating things, no doubt.

But spring is here and you all are outside enjoying the gorgeous weather and not stuck inside sitting at a computer terminal anyways, right? All except us poor suckers with our 9 to 5 lives. Sigh. Well, the flowers look really pretty on the other side of the glass, far away down the street, in the park where I am not.

Quick update: (sorry, I'm not going to link all the books up to save time, just today)
I finished a mostly silly book: The Reading Group (predictable, fluffy but well intentioned)
An OK book: The Book of Salt (Kinda interesting but a bit hard to follow)
And a perplexingly boring book: Reading Lolita in Tehran (For such an intense topic, the story wasn't terribly compelling)
And I started Herzog by Saul Bellow and couldn't manage to get past chapter three. Not my kinda book I guess.

I had yummy Ethiopian Food at Addis Red Sea with the fabulous Monica. Gosh I love that spongy Ethiopian bread and the whole eating with your hands bit is so much fun. I also highly recommend Zoe's in Somerville on Beacon Street for Szechuan food; I had my first experience with tea smoked duck and I hope it isn't my last as it was fantastic.

I saw a cool movie: Steamboy which is much more accessible and fun than you might think upon first glance (not too many folks I know get really excited about the idea of a Japanese anime film science fiction story set in the 1800s. Unless they dig it and just don't tell me for fear I will laugh. I promise I won't!). It is visually wonderful and the story is cool too.

Of course I've been cooking a lot as always. New recipes including posole, chicken adobo, atole using the blue corn flour I got in NM, and strawberry crepes using egg roll wrappers.

So there, at least a little info. My friends have been so lovely and patient about my crazy life these days, so thanks to all. Things will settle soon. But I hope to see some of you at Open Studios next week!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Show Me Adobe

Adobe Blue Door Posted by Hello

As promised, a little adobe. It is an attractive medium, soft and smooth. Keeps things warm in winter, cool in summer. In need of constant upkeep (it literally melts away over the years), but it can be built with your bare hands. And it really is beautiful.

These photos are from the Taos Pueblo, one of the most famous and oldest in the world. As in 1,000 years old or so, as in a World Heritage Site. (If you're curious about how you get on this list, their criteria are pretty interesting). So this is one serious Pueblo. Native Americans live here as they have for, well, a millenia. That means no electricity or plumbing. Just lots of dust and blue sky and light brown earth walls that are rough but cool to the touch.

The round structure at the left side of the photo is an oven, called a horno. The women use these to bake bread and pies which are sold to the public. Being ... me, I couldn't resist trying out a few. And these pastries were, well, they tasted like something that had been baked in a mud oven. Not terrible, kinda primitive, but also kinda ancient and interesting. I don't think they'll be served at Petsi's Pies (my current standard after my mom's) anytime soon, but, well, if they made pie with apricots 1,000 years ago, I think I can imagine what it tasted like.

The church below was lovely too. The inside had a very colorful, folksy painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of the coolest of the Catholic Marys.

So there you are, a little adobe. Hope you enjoyed my little Santa Fe trip report! I'll likely be selling prints of these and other Santa Fe photos at this year's Somerville Open Studios. I'd love to see you there!

Taos Pueblo Church Posted by Hello

Chile Chocolate: A Very Good Idea

Really good stuff Posted by Hello

Anyone who has seen the sweet little movie, Chocolat, knows the secret of combining the heat of a chili with the earthiness of chocolate. The sweetness followed by a fiery flare at the end is a very fun little gustatory trip. And New Mexico, of course, being known for its chile, would have to use it whenever possible. However, a store called Chocolatesmith on 2nd Street in town definitely had it figured out. Their chocolates were so good they deserved a blog entry.

My favorite was the pistachio chile bark (on the right in the photo). Salty nuts, bittersweet chocolate and then that zing. Wow. That's a lot of territory in one mouthful. Second favorite was the pinon caramels. Pine nuts with their odd, piney flavor wouldn't be the first thing you'd think to combine with a salty carmel and chocolate, but it all worked just fine. They also sold these fun chocolate pates, encased in wax. Supposedly you could keep them for months in your car or backpack without their melting. You know, for chocolate emergencies. Well, OK, but who is going to manage to keep it around long enough for an emergency, may I ask?

Truly I do not normally wax so rhapsodic over an everyday chocolate shop. This place was great. So now I just have to figure out how to get some of those chocolates out to New England. I may have to have a little chat with the folks at UPS.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

New Mexican Food: The Rant

Now This is New Mexican Posted by Hello

I love Mexican food. I LOVE Mexican food. I'm not referring to Chi-chi's or Taco Bell. Oh no. Pretty much I love Mexican food you can only get in Mexico or US states close to Mexico. Food you can't get in Boston. So most of the time, there is a small hole in my life, a missing piece in my daily food intake that if I lived elsewhere, would be taken up with sopes, sopas, carnitas, tortas and lots of proper salsa. There are a few decent places I can go when desperate (the best, imho, being Tacos Lupita in Porter Square.) But mostly I just suffer quietly, waiting for my next opportunity to find culinary bliss.

So when I make a plan to go to New Mexico, there is definitely a plan for eating this kind of food. And I've heard of this "New Mexican" food concept, extolled by many tour books. Ohhh the red chile or the green chile or the mixed red and green, called Christmas. Oohh, sopapillas. So I was eager to see what this was all about. I went there and ate them. I ate red, I ate green. I ate sopapillas. It was good. Red chile was especially interesting. Kindof bitter and fiery. But you know what, real Mexican is still better.

I'm not sure if I completely determined the difference between NM food and Mexican. New Mexican seems milder than Mexican, more beany and ricey. Although in some ways it is spicier than Mexican. Mexican food is not generally that spicy unless you are eating peppers, whereas this NM chile thing can be pretty hot.

Anyhow, one of my favorite places in town was Pepe's, above. That's my other theory, still upheld. The best Mexican food is the cheapest hole in the wall. Fancy Mexican (or NMexican) is kinda just expensive blandified Mexican. This was true in Mexico as well. Not sure why or maybe I just haven't gone to the right places yet.

Blessed Tamales Posted by Hello

These are proper tamales (dulce) from a Mexican place in Santa Fe (not New Mexican). They were fragrant and wonderful and one dollar a piece. Perfect in every way. Alicia's Tortilleria off Cerillos. It helps to speak Spanish to go there. Thanks, Chowhound for the tip! I also bought a dozen tortillas there (also one dollar), still so warm and fragrant it was all you could do not to just wrap your face in them and go to sleep.

Every proper New Mexican meal supposedly includes sopapillas. I think this is a very good idea. They end up being dessert, because you spread honey on them and they are very good and fattening and fragrant and like a big donut of love. Thus ends my New Mexican culinary sojourn. For now. I still have to tell you about Chocolatesmith.

Sopapillas Posted by Hello

Folk Art Makes Me Happy

My Kinda Wagon Wheel Posted by Hello

One of the first stops on my trip to New Mexico was Tinkertown, on the way from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. It's a whole building outfitted with miniature mechanized displays as well as random sculpture and overall bottle encrustation. Just my cup of tea! The motto of the place was, "I did all this while you were watching TV." It was a wonderful place to visit, although a bit poignant as the artist, Ross Ward, died just a few years ago from Alzheimer's at only 57. I met his widow (who ran the gift shop), who felt like the place was a way of keeping him alive.

Antlers Posted by Hello

The antlers above were in a box in a mining museum in the town of Cerillos, just outside of Santa Fe. You could definitely imagine tumbleweeds blowing through this town. It was quiet and empty and a little bit eerie. But the antlers were fun and very O'Keeffey.

Speaking of O'K, I visited her winter home in Abiquiu, as well as the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. There is nothing like seeing an artist's work in the context of where she painted it. After seeing the terrain, You gain an insight and an understanding you would never have otherwise. I remember a tour in Arles of sites where VanGogh painted. All those works that seemed so swirly and abstract suddenly made sense -- they looked exactly like the countryside.

The Museum of International Folk Art was one of the best museums I've ever seen. Worth the trip in itself. Every room was crammed full of the stuff you find in nooks and crannies around the world, art that people make out of what is right there in front of them, as they are living their lives and playing around with their world. An exhibit on Carnaval, the party before Lent, and its manifestations around the world was especially cool; I really enjoyed all the costumes and music styles that each country developed.

The best part of the museum visit, however, was a tour I accidentally joined. I thought it was the 2 PM docent tour of the museum, so I gathered with a clump of people at 2 PM. The tour guide, Dr. Nunn, was one of the curators and said she was going to do a very casual, behind the scenes tour. I thought, wow, they are so laid back here in New Mexico. Turns out this was a special, anthropological tour which was part of a conference in town that week. I only realized this when I saw everyone else had special name tags around their necks when we were already downstairs in a storage room. No one seemed to be offended at my presence, so I hung around until the end when they were going to have a collective chat about the postmodern implications of anthropological whisker-growing or something like that (ha ha). But I got to meet two local folk artists, Arturo Lopez and Arlene Cisneros who explained their pieces in the museum as we asked dorky questions like, "What is that weird thing that Mary is holding in your sculpture?" The answer: scapulars. Oh. How often do you get to ask an artist in a museum stupid questions like that?

Thus concludes the end of this portion of our cultural tour of Santa Fe. I know I promised adobe but I don't have those photos yet. Hang in there.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Crazy Life but Good

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last week or two. Lots of things came flying at me all at once, and then I went on vacation! I was going to write the "watch this space" note before I left, but instead I did what I could to keep my head above water before leaving for Santa Fe, and the poor little blog got neglected.

So I'm promising lots of cool new photos, in-depth art-world analysis, and thoughtful ponderings about New Mexican style food. Really! I promise. It was a good trip. I took my REAL camera there, so I don't have much digital to share except for stealth food shots (I always feel like a dork taking a picture of my plate). I'll get my real camera photos back on Wednesday so I can start sharing then (from the cds). Prepare for the sight of a LOT of adobe. More adobe than you knew was possible.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Three Births in Two Weeks Equals Tired Doula

I'm a little better today, but yesterday I was shredded. Down for the count. You know that expression, "so tired you can't see straight"? That was me, literally. When I tried to focus, my eyes just didn't know what to do.

I've never experienced this before. Do most people know this feeling, and I'm just being introduced? I mean, I've done international travel where you don't get much sleep and you are jetlagged, but you do kinda sleep on the plane usually. I woke up at 7:00 AM on Tuesday and didn't go back to sleep until 10:00 PM on Wednesday night. So that's 39 hours awake. Wow.

Unsurprisingly, I'm really stupid on so little sleep. Decisions are really difficult. I remember taking a long time figuring out if I wanted to turn on a light switch or open the windowshades. What to do, what to do? I stood there for several minutes, trying to decide. Operating heavy machinery (like a car) or doing any sort of detailed task (like the lab work I have to do after the birth) becomes really complicated. Interacting with other people becomes a bit precarious. I take a long time to formulate a sentence and often it comes out wrong. I tell odd, pointless stories that seemed relevant when I started. People make a remark to me, and I simply have no idea what to say in return so I stay silent and hope they will help. I forget what I was thinking about that seemed strongly compelling thirty seconds previously. Well, OK, maybe I'm not all that different when I lack sleep. Ha ha. Very funny.

You know, it was worth it. I definitely learned lots and experienced some intense stuff. First time I've heard a mom literally scream in pain. First time I've gotten to see the doctor say to mom, "Reach down and bring up your baby!" just as he emerged from the womb and there he is, in Mom's hands. Such amazing families and so much love between these moms and dads. Whew.

I'm still tired. I am still missing six hours of sleep -- where do they go? How do I get them back? But I'm glad I could be the doula. Just maybe a few weeks off to catch up on my sleep (and my life) would be nice.

Guess what: tomorrow I'm first on the call list. Whimper.

Monday, March 28, 2005

What People Did Before Television

Ukranian Easter Egg Attempts Posted by Hello

I saw an ad the other day for a television station, which said simply, "Hobbies Shnobbies," followed by the television station. The implication being, why do a hobby when you can watch tv? I know it is a joke, but it made me kinda mad/sad. I wonder sometimes what humanity has lost since people have television rather than empty time with which to fill with hobbies or art or neighbors or sleep or whatever. Okay, that's as much of a soapbox I'm going to get on there. You've heard it all before.

Speaking of such, I was invited to go to a friend's place and make Ukranian style Easter Eggs, which means instead of using the Paas Easter egg kit, you draw on the egg with a stylus and wax and dip it a million different times in different colors. It was tricky because you have to think backwards, but it was very fun. My eggs aren't anything close to art, but they are festive. It's time consuming, mostly useless but very pretty!

And I finally managed to encourage this little paperwhite bulb to start growing. I check on it like a thousand times a day to see if it has changed.

Happy Easter!

Spring Tentatively Arriving in Boston Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Found Art

Encrusted Barometer c2005 Posted by Hello

I'm entering an art show using "found objects" at the Somerville Museum. Above is one of my entries -- a barometer I found on the streets of Somerville, which I then encrusted with lots of flotsam and jetsam such as buttons and seashells and toys. I've always been fascinated by the way time changes an object, the scars and various accumulations that are picked up over the years, not unlike our very own inner selves. I also really like the symbolism of a barometer or a compass. A friend once counseled me to make sure I stay in touch with my inner compass and barometer and that way of thinking about life has really resonated with me.

Oooh. We get deep here on the blog when we talk about art, don't we?

I think this may be the first time I have beene willing to post a photo of my art (other than photos of course), so, well, there it is. I think I'm most shy about my paintings, so none of those yet. I'm fond of this particular piece, and the compass/barometer theme has shown up in some of my drawings and paintings as well.

The show requested that along with artwork, we include a photo of some "found art" that we haven't turned into something else. I'm not sure if a lamp like this counts as art, but wow, what a find. Lamps with dangly things are the best. Especially as it goes so well with the wallpaper! Can you believe someone was throwing this away? I know, I know, it's hard to believe.

From My Friend Debris Posted by Hello

Friday, March 18, 2005

Boiled Supper is Good

Home Corned Beef Posted by Hello

Success! The corned beef was a big hit. It was tender and salty and spicy and everyone was happy to eat four kinds of root vegetables (the yellow ones in the photo are the rutabega). The Irish Soda Bread was soft and salty and sweet and fragrant, and the conversation (while not in anything resembling a brogue) was fun and as warming as the food. I think I like this whole having people over for dinner thing!

The burning question: was home corned beef better than store cured? Well ... I guess I would say yeah. I wouldn't say "heck yeah!", because frankly, the difference was pretty subtle. It was more beefy than regular corned beef, and certainly less chemically oriented, I am sure. It isn't necessarily cheaper; it probably was about the same price. It was fun to try a new approach, but I wouldn't be ashamed to buy store cured in the future. Who knows. It isn't like I'm planning on consuming corned beef on a regular basis anyway. As for rutabega, now that was a big hit! Everyone took seconds! If you can buy stock in rutabega, now is your big chance, as it is sure to become the hippest new vegetable around any day now. I jest, of course, but it really is better than its obscurity would lead you to believe.

Another St. Patrick's Day come and gone. Now I have to start thinking about Easter. Oooh hot cross buns. Ooooh chocolate eggs.

Irish Soda Bread Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Insert Appropriately Corny Title Here

Raw Meat in Plastic Bag (Corning) Posted by Hello

Because I enjoy trying out recipes for things you wouldn't expect you could make at home (cheese, graham crackers, tortillas, etc.), of course I also had to try corning my own beef for St. Patrick's Day. Friends may call this making life more complicated (why make graham crackers when you can buy them? they say, throwing up their hands in exasperation), but I call it fun. Research. A kind of science, if you will.

My blogdaughter Susan was enthusiastic about this idea, bless her heart. And she brought up the question that has left us all stumped for so long: what is the difference between corned beef and pastrami? I promised to do a little research and post the answer here. Very basically, the answer is that the two start the same (corning means to preserve with salt, which used to be shaped like little corns), but pastrami is also smoked and then steamed. So there you are! More knowledgeable than you were, just moments ago.

The above photo is what it looks like while corning, which is not the most thrilling photo ever but it gives you an idea of how easy this is. Rub it in the salt stuff, put in plastic bag, stow in fridge. Ta dah!

So the home cured beef is now simmering away in the crockpot. Two friends who agreed to be guinea pigs for this experiment are coming over to help me eat it. The Irish Soda Bread is cooling on the kitchen counter. And the enormous variety of root vegetables are waiting to be boiled with the beef this evening. I couldn't stop myself at the store; I bought carrots, cabbage, parsnips, boiling onions, turnips and best of all, rutabega!!! When the cashier at the grocery store picked it up, she asked me what it was. I said "Rutabega." She said, "What?" And stared at me like I had just spoken in Mandarin. Ah, kids these days. They just don't know their root vegetables. No wonder things are going downhill.

The Elusive Rutabega Posted by Hello

Anyhow, I'll post the photos tomorrow from the dinner tonight. I'll be curious to see how the flavor of home corned beef is different from the store corned, which Cooks Illustrated dismisses as inedible. Time will tell ...

Monday, March 14, 2005

Signs of Humanity/Signs of Spring

When Irish Ducks are Smiling Posted by Hello

You know, humans are a funny species. When you live in a city, this becomes more apparent than elsewhere. You're wandering around, doing your thing, and in the middle of a sidewalk, someone has built a snowman. Or drawn a picture in chalk. Or built a little shrine out of toothpicks to their favorite frog. People just make stuff like that and set it out. I suppose it makes them happy. It isn't useful, it is often a bit odd, but you know, it's pretty cool. I believe it makes the world a better place.

Every day I pass the famous Make Way for Ducklings Duck statue in the Boston Public Garden. It's a fun statue. It isn't particularly challenging or revolutionary, but it is a beloved landmark in town of a beloved book. And kids are always clambering all over it since it is kid-sized, which is fun to watch. Occasionally, one of the ducks disappears to who knows where. Lately, someone has taken it upon themselves to clothe the ducks in festive hats, as seen in this photo that I took this morning on my way to work. Well. There you are. Just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

Another sign that spring really truly is only a week away (oh please oh please), is that the ducks that hang out at the pond have an increasingly larger hole in the ice, as seen in this photo. I'm sure they are pleased.

Public Garden Thaw Posted by Hello

The next sign of spring? The reappearance of the lovely swanboats and then the Ducktours along with the tourists on the streets of Boston. It won't be long now.