Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bake Sale!

Pane Dolce di Zucca Posted by Hello

My church had a bake sale last Sunday and asked for members to contribute items. I thought of the pile of recipes I'd been accumulating for trying out on rainy days, and this seemed like a great chance to make something new without having to (oh the humanity) eat the whole recipe myself. So I picked these three recipes and had a lot of fun baking during the week.

The bread is from the Italian Country Table by Lynne Kasper, a really nice cookbook I got for Christmas a few years back. It was a relatively easy recipe with an unusual sweet/savory flavor of pumpkin, rosemary and golden raisins in a yeast bread. Yum!

Date Nut Cookies Posted by Hello

I picked up this recipe at the Pittsburgh Penzeys Spice store. Penzeys is a great place to get a huge variety of really fresh spices that you didn't even know you needed until you get there and spy the zataar and juniper berries and involuntarily cry out, "Where have you been all my life?" No, they aren't paying me to say that, but when they open their store here in Arlington Heights (that's the rumor), I would certainly appreciate a job offer.

I've had this sort of odd date obsession lately (no singles jokes please, we are talking about food and therefore this is VERY SERIOUS). Actually, my newfound date fling is related to a bad food pun: I went to a lovely wedding last year (hello, Susan!) where they served an absolutely stunning appetizer: dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon. Their name: "hot dates", of course. Before that, I never liked dates. But the sugary contrast of the datemeat with the crunchy almond and the super salty bacon just about slayed me. So now I seem to always have a supply of dates on hand. They really are like candy. Anyhow, this recipe used dates and I had some and there you are. They were good, in a grandmotherly sort of way.

Gooseberry Sage Thumbprints Posted by Hello

This last cookie was probably the most adventurous. The original recipe used blackberry jam but the rule of thumbprint cookies is, use whatever jam you've got. Or at least, that was my rule last week when I looked in the fridge and there was this lovely jar of home-made jam my Aunt Mary gave me. The recipe includes corn meal and sage which are always a good combination. It all worked out really well. They were a cookie targeted at a slightly more sophisticated audience although most kids wouldn't really notice anything weird about them, I don't think.

Anyhow, all of the bake sale items went like the proverbial hotcakes. It was fun to be the anonymous baker as I watched someone pull out $5 for my loaf of fresh baked pane dulce. It was even worth the huge mess I made in my kitchen (see below).

Very Messy Kitchen Posted by Hello

Will I Ever Get Used to This? Do I Want To?

Life as a doula continues along nicely, with some new clients and a few new births under my belt. I'm still so amazed and honored when people ask me to be their doula. Really? Me? Well, if you're sure ... OK! OK! Hooray! One birth seems to lead to a new referral which leads to another ... and so it really becomes something that I do. This is how it works. Fascinating.

Perhaps once you've seen birth a couple of hundred times you start to get used to it, but it still just stuns me. For days afterward I feel a bit off, like I just saw something, and it kinda blew my mind and I don't know what to make of it. It's a bit hard to wrap your head around something like that. Obviously, I'm not doing a great job of describing the feeling, maybe because there just aren't words. Afterward I'm not happy or sad or thrilled or maybe I'm all of these, but mostly I'm just stunned. It's all very normal and routine, happens every day. We've all been there in some way or another. Yet, there it is. Life.

Sometimes the only thing I can do after I get home from the hospital is sit on my bed, take off my socks and shoes and then continue to sit there, kinda blank. And then I go in my studio and draw weird images for hours.

The other day at a party when I told someone I was a birth doula, they asked if I had ever heard of a death doula. I had not. And I am amazed and awed at the beauty of such an idea. We can all use a little help with the big transitions.

Roadfood: Framingham

Piloncillo and Luker Posted by Hello

I was in Framingham, MA this month for a work meeting, and lo and behold, across the street from my building was an interesting ethnic grocery store. I am always intrigued by these places, as you never know what you might find. It's like a quick trip to another country without needing a passport. At least for those of us who love trying new things on vacation. This name of the store was something like "Island Specialties," right on Hollis Street in the downtown area.

In the back there was a steam table with at least a dozen interesting choices of stewed or bbq meats, and some beautiful looking plantains. I chose an empanada which was fresh and cheesy and tender with lots of scallions. Yum!

In the store part was every kind of Hispanic specialty you could imagine. I always want to know what is going on in the world of chocolate, and this place did not disappoint. Four to five kinds of drinking chocolate for dirt cheap prices ($1.69 for a pound of chocolate is basically giving it away). I was excited to see some Mexican sugar called piloncillo. I headed up to the counter where I discovered the trove of little candy treasures up at the checkout and started grabbing a few to add to my pile. The very nice counter guy clucked and said, "Dulces, dulces, muchas dulces!" (what a lot of sweets!) to which I smiled and said, "I know, bad for the teeth." He continued to speak to me in this teasing way in Spanish (which is hilarious because I'm such a gringa). I wasn't sure if he knew I understood what he was saying or if he just didn't care. Thanks to some time in Mexico, I did. And that made me smile. Gracias a ti, senor!

I took a photo of the chocolate and sugar as they were so colorful ... and I loved their names. They seem vaguely scandalous. Luker y piloncheeeloooooo, woo woo. I would have included the other delights mentioned here, but by the time I got some batteries in my camera, the empanada and the candy were long gone. One of the biggest struggles in food blogging is waiting around long enough to take a photo before you eat your food. Whew. The sacrifices that must be made for blogdom are indeed daunting.

It was definitely one of the best ethnic groceries I have seen, and the prices were insanely low, which is the reward you get for being in Framingham. Perhaps it isn't first on your next weekend getaways, but hey, you never know when you need some Luker and Piloncillo...

Monday, February 14, 2005

Layers of History

Life in an Old City Posted by Hello

One of my favorite things about old cities is illustrated in this photo. I took this on Tremont Street in the Theater District here in Boston. The layers of the past over time, the encrustation of the old with the new and the old still peeking through. I wonder what that previous building was. Someone's house? An old shoestore? Who lived or worked there? What did they see? What was their life like? What did the city look like then?

There is just something about old cities.

Cheese Illustrated

Curds and Whey Posted by Hello

In my previous post about cheesemaking, I promised some photos of the process. This was my second time making mozarrella, and so I'm fine tuning the process. The top photo is what happens after you warm up a gallon of grocery store milk and add citric acid and rennet. It quickly gets all lumpy and separated. After letting it settle, you spoon off the curds and then squeeze as much whey as you can.

Curds in Action Posted by Hello

Squeezed Out Posted by Hello

Then you heat the cheese, knead it, heat some more, knead some more, etc. And ta dah! Chewy, yummy mozarella cheese, cheaper than you can get at the store and fun to make. It takes about a half an hour, start to finish. Easy!

And the final product is below. It makes a pound of cheese, which compared to the size of a gallon of milk, is somewhat disappointingly small. It also leaves behind about a gallon of whey. So there it is, folks. Cheesemaking in your apartment in the city.

Mozarella! (with spoon for size reference) Posted by Hello

For Those Unfamiliar with the Pleasure of Chinese Pastry

Chinese Pastries Posted by Hello

As a follow-up to the Chinese New Year post (oh and happy Tibetan New Year today!) I thought I'd share some items from the new Chinese pastry shop in Teale Square in Somerville. Queen's Cafe is definitely still trying to figure out its niche in this Tufts student/working class neighborhood, but I love going in to see what surprises lurk within. The owner, Jean, always has wonderful, fresh Chinese pastry which she purchases in Chinatown each morning and then sells in the shop. In the photo, on the lower shelf on the far right in a little pie shape are the egg tarts, which are basically custard in a flaky pie shell. Yummy! The middle pastry (looks like a dinner roll) is filled with a custard. Another common filling is a sweet red bean paste that is really good once you get past the idea of eating sweet red beans. In addition, the store sells bubble teas and juices and some pretty interesting meal options like soup or rice dishes that look good. I always mean to try those but I get sidetracked by the pastry.

As a side note, I'm sharing these photos as an altruistic educational endeavor, because an absolutely SHOCKING number of my friends and family have never even HEARD of Chinese pastry. I know, I know, I guess they all live in caves somewhere and have been cut off from the joys of sesame balls and red bean paste. Poor things.

Anyway, Jean also offers the jello you see in the photo below which she proudly says she makes herself -- a heartwarming touch especially for me, jello devotee that I am. Notice to the right a tiny corner of a lovely birthday cake that you'll often see in Chinatown. Chinese cakes like this are beautiful to look at and also delicious -- not radically different from our birthday cake but a little bit spongier in consistency.

I love jello Posted by Hello

This last food picture (if you can read around the reflection) would win some contests on scariest food combination. I'd like to say, hey, don't knock it til you've tried it because it is delicious, but, well, that would be a lie since I haven't tried it. Too scary. Even I have my limits. Yikes! So yes, I may foist an egg tart on you in my dessert proselytization project if you come and visit my neighborhood, but you should be safe from any scary milkshakes.

Banana Tomato With Milk Juice Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Happy (Chinese) New Year of the Rooster

Festive Treats in Chinatown Posted by Hello

Happy 4072! As I understand it, today is the big day. I was in Chinatown yesterday after a meeting, and the place was abuzz. Trying to shop there was like, well, trying to shop on New Year's Eve at your local grocery store. Everyone is stocking up on special party foods. Instead of cheese and crackers and champagne, these folks are into tangerines and turnips and bean cakes. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

Funny Spongecakey Good Luck Thingies Posted by Hello

I wish I had someone to fill me in on what the good stuff was for the holiday. I've seen the lotus cakes and the turnip cakes, which may be good but look kinda scary. I did try these spongecakey guys. (see photo) I think they are called Nian Gao. At the bakery where I bought one (for a mere seventy cents), the woman behind the counter said it would bring me prosperity. When I said that was fine by me, I could use a little luck, she corrected me. Prosperity, not luck. Huh. I never really thought about the difference, but I'll take that too.

The Sign of a Good Sandwich Posted by Hello

I love wandering around Chinatowns, in any town. I've seen New York's and San Francisco's. I have heard Toronto has a good one. I do a pretty good Chinatown tour for friends visiting from elsewhere. If you're here in Boston, be sure to look for this sign for Bahn Mi at the Mix Bakery on Beach Street. A banh mi is a yummy sandwich, composed of toasted French bread and various fillings. My favorite is the tofu filling with cilantro, hot peppers and some mysterious spread. I know it sounds bizarre but it is delicious. For those non-tofu lovers, there are also wonderful meat versions. It might look funny, but don't knock the potted meat until you've tried it. And if you don't like it, well, it only set you back $2 so why complain?

Tonight I'm having dinner at a Tibetan restaurant in Somerville because a friend wanted to try it. The Tibetans have their own new year called Losar, coming up next week. Please don't get them confused -- at least I'm trying not to do so. Oh, the cultural gaffe that would be. Whew.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Halftime Cupcakes Posted by Hello

Living in New England, we all were required by law to watch the Superbowl on Sunday evening. It was OK. I can't say I'm a huge football fan. Perhaps I am understating that. My coworkers tried to coach me into sounding somewhat knowledgeable about some guy named T.O. and Vinny Vinnetari or something, but all my ignorance was revealed when I asked if the Phillies had scored yet. Well, I tried.

However, no one minds your ignorance when you bring Halftime Cupcakes to the party, as suggested by the Amateur Gourmet! These don't hold a candle to the beauties done by some other folks out there in blogdom, but I did my best. And my friends thought they were a big, er, hoot.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Small Beauties

Icicles Posted by Hello

Having a camera in your bag allows you to capture moments like this that make me happy. I love water and ice and curlicues on a building. Just thought I would share.

I love the BPL

Seriously Spikey Cool BPL Entrance Posted by Hello

Life working in the Back Bay of Boston isn't all bad. (No one ever said it was, I think the 'working' part is the problem). Because of its proximity to where I work, I've gotten to know the Boston Public Library, which has become one of my favorite places in town. The Reading Room of the Boston Public Library is just a wonderful place to sit and think, and arguably nicer than the world famous reading room of the NYPL. In the wintertime when there are no farmer's markets or sunny park benches to sit and muse during my lunch break, I can frequently be found there, doodling in my journal. I particularly love the ceiling and the lamps.

Reading Room Lamps Posted by Hello

During a recent visit, I spotted something new, or at least something that seemed a bit odd. Tiny plaster birds were scattered on high shelves throughout the room. Where did they come from? Why are they there? Is this one of those whimsical things that people do and wait for someone to notice? Or is there some deeper, more sinister meaning? Hmmmmm!

Mysterious Little Plaster Birds Posted by Hello

Finally, I think this statue out front is really lovely. And I think she is saying to me, get your dang self in your dang studio this weekend, woman! So I may do just that.

My Muse? Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Note to Myself (and anyone else who needs a little comfort)

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Very Serious Sledding

After my post whining about grownups not liking to sled, I have been receiving indignant feedback that I just did not ask the right people. Apparently, there are many souls secretly salivating about sledding. Who knew?

Many grownups, shockingly, do not even own a sled. They were not aware that you could buy a sled at just about any hardware store. Heck, you can order them on! However, buyer beware: whatever you do, do NOT buy the Sled of Death. I've seen this one and it is ugly. Who on earth thought it was a good idea to create a sled that you strap your knees into? Going downhill on your knees is just wrong, especially strapped in. Sheesh.

Ultimately, the greatest thing about sledding is that it is so simple. That it is just you and the plastic thingie and the snow. Even a cafeteria tray will do, as any college student will tell you. Like anything else in our charming little capitalist country, there are a few very sexy sleds out there. Unsurprisingly, folks have done a lot of thinking about sled technology. (Use if they try to make you register to read that). And of course, if you are night sledding, in which a glow in the dark snowsuit, a headlamp, and night vision goggles are handy.

If you need some safety tips, you can check out this site.

Those of you returning to the sport from a long hiatus and in need of a brush up, one of the major factors of sledding is the hill. Here are my criteria for a good run:

Degree of slope. No slope, no move. Duh.
Number of folks who know about it. This is a subtle balance. You want enough people to get there before you to pack down the snow (and perhaps put in a ramp or two), but not too many that the place is mobbed and you have to wait turns to go down.
Distance from my apartment. Bonus points if I can walk there. Bringing a sled on a bus or subway does tend to attract throngs of admirers, but it can be awkward, especially during rush hour.
Where the hill ends . Negative points if it ends in a road. Getting hit by a car while sledding sucks. In some places, the town puts haybales at the bottom of the hill to prevent such accidents. And crashing into the haybales can actually be kinda fun, especially followed with snow/hay fights.

My local newspaper has gotten into the spirit, publishing this article about the best sledding locations. Fortunately, they don't know about my secret sledding spot. And no, I won't tell you where it is. What, you want the MILLIONS of people who read this blog to go and MOB the place???? Well, maybe I will tell you but only if you agree to go sledding with me.

Oh and to get your skills warmed up, you can always play this silly game.

Happy sledding!

The Dark Side

Well, it had to happen. You probably have all seen this, but just in case. It just makes me so happy. It's so perfectly ... the essence of what Darth is not. Ah, good ol' Darth. Do you think it is OK that I call him Darth?

Oh and while I am being silly, if you are attending a Superbowl game on Sunday, February 6, please be sure to make these and bring them along. I certainly am planning on doing some baking on Saturday. But shhh, don't tell the folks attending the party. Fortunately or unfortunately, I don't think they read my blog.

OK back to our regularly scheduled very serious programming. Whenever it is time to be very serious, an old friend would tell you to think of Burt Reynolds. It works horribly every time.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Eating My Curds and Whey

At the risk of increasing the number of my friends who think I am nuts, I wanted to share word of my latest endeavor: cheesemaking. It isn't hard to do at home -- and no, you don't need to live on a farm and have a cow; I live in an apartment in the city. It is cheaper than store bought, and it is often better tasting than store bought. So why not try it, I ask?

Because we live in a country where you are supposed to buy everything at the store, it doesn't occur to folks that most things existed first as something you make that then became mass produced. But via the power of the internet and other such stealthy devices I have discovered that some things are wonderful made at home, in fact, much better than their counterparts. Pita bread is probably the best example of something ridiculously easy to make at home and much better than the cardboard stuff. I have also tried making tortillas (another good one although will never match the Mexican fresh kind), graham crackers (hard to replicate Honeymaid but an interesting experiment nonetheless), gingerale (not bad), truffles (wonderful, easy and cheap), mayonnaise (amazing), and roasting coffee (odd, quirky and tricky but fun). Oh and I found a yogurt maker at the Goodwill, so I've been making that at home for a while now -- easy and yummy and much milder than the sour store bought kind.

So, I mail ordered some cheese making supplies and last Friday I tried them out. I need to take some photos next time which I will add to this post. It's all very interesting to play with the amount of fat in the cheese, and I'd bet if you used very fresh milk or even unpasteurized milk you would also have something with which to compare results. One of the most interesting factors is the huge amount of whey you have left over. After making a pound of mozarella, I still had almost the entire plastic milk jug filled with whey. I just learned that boiling this whey is where you get ricotta cheese, so that is the next step. Also, whey is supposed to be a great addition to recipes like pancakes and muffins, and even a nice boost to your houseplants. Who knew?

My grandmother grew up on a dairy farm in Eastern PA so maybe milk is um, in my blood (ew). If I only had a cow or access to fresh milk ... I guess that could be the offshoot of this little project. And then, dreams of owning a goat.

So if you stop by, I may let you try some. And even better, barter with you if you happen to have any crafts to share. PS I'm a sucker for homemade pasta.