Monday, August 31, 2009

Reflections on Julie & Julia

Julia Child's Kitchen, image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Yesterday one of my best girlfriends and I went to see Julie & Julia. It was a wonderful movie spanning modern and traditional themes, with insight into lives lived decades apart. It will no doubt strike an intimate chord with anyone who watches it. I left the movie feeling a warm sense of admiration for both women and for their accomplishments. They lived out their passions and pursued their dreams. They didn't let setbacks or snags stop them, at least not for long. I also, like many of you I suppose, left wanting to go home and cook like a fiend!

For me there was another specific revelation. Neither Julie or Julia had especially large or fancy kitchens. The magical work spaces where the creativity of both J's came to life were pretty unimpressive. Think about it, a tiny kitchen in a cramped apartment and a moderately-sized kitchen lined with pegboard and hooks like a tool shed. No custom-tinted countertops, Italian tiled backsplashes or islands with built-in twin sinks. The exception for Julia, IMHO, was her Paris kitchen because I'm thinking anything in Paris is inspiring! On the contrary, they both had excellent tools and appeared to use the best quality ingredients. But the kitchens themselves were fairly basic.

My husband used to be a kitchen designer. He designed many impressive kitchens with beautiful stone countertops, stunning hardwood cabinetry and top-of-the-line appliances; all customized to near perfection. And most of these kitchens were huge. He would tell me about whatever kitchen design he was working on at the time, often during dinner. There we'd sit, in our undersized eat-in kitchen, talking about dream kitchens. Other peoples dream kitchens.

I used to have a larger kitchen; not particularly fancy but spacious. Not my dream kitchen, but it had potential. Back then though, I only cooked for survival. I enjoyed experimenting sometimes but at that point in my life, cooking was mostly a means to an end. Now, in comparison, we live in a house with the least impressive kitchen we've ever had. It's dimly lit, lacking cabinet and work space, and very small.

Despite my humble setting, I now have a growing passion for cooking. Yes, I have found passion in the mundane! I want nothing more than to stay home and cook, cook, cook. It's not about the space I'm in anymore. It's about what I do with it. I seek out cookbooks and ingredients like a woman possessed. I have a running list of gadgets like Le Creuset stock pot and Silpat that I carry around in a small notepad to every thrift store I go to. Hoping against hope that I might find them there. I come up with recipe ideas before I go to sleep at night and end up turning on the light a half a dozen times to write them down. Once I find a recipe that I want to try, it gnaws at me until I try it. I'm finding the more I enjoy the process, the more I enjoy the outcome.

I still fantasize about my dream kitchen, but it's not particularly large or fancy. It's in an old farmhouse with big windows, a walk-in pantry and well-worn vintage furniture. Maybe even a windowsill deep enough to cool a pie on. Turns out it's not about the style of cabinets or what the countertop is made of. The kitchen of my dreams looks a lot like my Aunt Maude's kitchen. My dear Aunt Maude was a precious woman with an amazing heart and a true gift for cooking. She had a very hard life, one that most wouldn't survive in. My memories of times spent with her when I was little are priceless to me. There, in her large farm kitchen with sunny light glowing through the tall windows, I witnessed something amazing; a woman truly happy in the moment. Despite the terrible things that she'd been through in her life, she was a woman of great faith and inner joy. She made simple food that was simply incredible. She would spend most of her days cooking, baking and serving her family. It may have looked to an outsider like a life of indentured servitude; but I believe she loved the process as much as she loved being a true servant of unconditional love and great food.

I'm grateful for the special people in our lives that teach us more than they intend to. I'm glad to be reminded that our circumstances don't define us, but that our passion and sense of purpose does. And I'm thankful for a leisurely Sunday matinee that brings all of this into perspective.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Cookbooks

This is a story about two cookbooks. One that I really wanted for Christmas last year, but didn't receive. And another that I'd never seen before but found on the library cart on my way out the door. You know the old saying, never judge a book by it's cover? It is SO true...

First, the hefty beauty, The Golden Book of Chocolate. The cover is alluring, with a shiny gold wrapper and a chocolate bar imprinted on the cover. It looks like you're picking up a giant candy bar. (Score one for the design team!) The book starts with a rather indepth history of chocolate, which is interesting but reads a bit more like a textbook. There are nice full color images of each recipe. Being a visually-oriented person, I like to know what I'm shooting for before I start. Beyond that, I found the book to be lacking in charm and not very user friendly. There are no referential lead-ins to the recipes or details about ingredients. It's starkly organized: just the ingredient list, the recipe and photo. I think the Drink and Basic Recipe sections are the best this cookbook has to offer. I was disappointed in the book overall which really surprised me. The Nobake Cookie bars were really awful tasting. It's the first time we have ever thrown out chocolate in my house. Seriously, in the trash, because no one would eat them. That's sad. This book is worth perusing, if for nothing more than the dishy photos, but I'm sure glad my husband didn't shell out $30 on this for my Christmas gift!

Now for the second cookbook, Here in America's Test Kitchen. The cover may not be sexy (no offense) but it's what's inside that counts. I must confess that this is one of my favorite food shows on PBS. But this cookbook really does deliver to the foodie-geek that I am! Each chapter consists of a theme, equipment corner, science desk and testing lab all focusing on the recipe theme of the chapter. For instance Chapter 12, American Casseroles. It talks about why we American's love our casseroles. It describes each recipe in-depth giving well-rounded information on history, ingredients, etc. Then the recipe, in this case Macaroni and Cheese (cue the angels singing). Just following the recipe is the testing lab where they tell you how ingredients, such as different brands of cheddar cheese, fared in taste tests. This information is organized in a handy chart explaining why something was or was not recommended. Equipment corner explains what tools are best for the job, prep, baking, etc. In my opinion, if you're going to make mac and cheese, why not hit it out the park? I love making ordinary foods taste extraordinary and I'm impressed by all the testing and tasting that these folks put into their recipes. While it's not loaded with tons of recipes, it certainly gets down to the nitty-gritty on the recipes it does contain. This book was published in 2002 so it's also very affordable. Check out the great deals on amazon if you're interested or borrow one from your local lending library. It looks like they've published over a dozen cookbooks from this show, wowza. Guess what I'll be looking for the next time I'm at the library?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dear Seattle Chocolates

Hi. I know you don't know me but I had to write to tell you that I think I'm in love with you. Before yesterday I didn't even know you existed but today you're all I can think about. You see, I was having a really stressful day. My schedule was tight, my tummy was sad and I was feeling...well, overwhelmed.

So I decided to swing into Foods of All Nations to pick up a little treat for myself. Maybe something chocolate, I thought. That would definitely make me feel better. This particular market has a huge chocolate selection and I found myself again, rather quickly, feeling overwhelmed trying to decide on just the right sweet treat. I knew I wanted something different, something I'd never had before.

And there you were, looking all cute in your colorful little wrapper. I got close enough to read your label and my heart lept: Coconut Macaroon, dark chocolate truffle bar with coconut and sea salt. You see, coconut is one of my favorites. But you already knew that, didn't you? And the idea of a hint of salty with my dark's like you could read my mind! I knew it was meant to be.

I picked you up and held you gently as we walked to the checkout counter. I hope you didn't mind being handled briefly by the clerk, she didn't mean any harm. And then you were mine, all mine! I could hardly wait to get to the car so we could be alone. I'm not one to kiss and tell, so let's just say you were the best candy bar I've ever had. No, I really mean it. THE. BEST. I only hope that you liked me too. Please keep in touch and lets get together again real soon, okay?


Thursday, August 13, 2009

He did a bad, bad thing

Look at this face -- so sweet, so innocent. Surely he would *never* do something as diabolical as pee on the carpet...on purpose? I know this is not the most glamorous topic. But for those of us who are cat lovers and cat owners,
it happens. Ours happened while we were on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Our senior citizen man-cat, Mango, got a little ticked off that we were away and decided to pee in my daughter's closet, on her vintage wooden dollhouse. Yeah I know, he really couldn't have picked a more irritating place to make his statement. What didn't soak into the dollhouse ran down the side into the carpet. I pretreated the carpet with Natures Miracle (which usually does work miracles) and then ran the carpet scrubber...4 times. Each time it dried, it smelled just as bad as it did before I scrubbed it. I was getting really frustrated. So I did what most modern day house divas do, I googled it! My search led me to where I found the solution. A very simple recipe made of common household ingredients that you probably already have onhand: Baking Soda, White Vinegar, Dishwashing Liquid & Hydrogen Peroxide (3%). That's it! Here's the recipe and instructions if you're interested. I mixed it all up, worked it into the carpet, let it dry overnight (with the help of a small fan) and vacuumed it up the next morning. I'll have to run the scrubber one more time to perk the carpet up but we're oh-so-happy the smell is finally gone! Thanks for this most awesome DIY remedy for a very unpleasant little problem.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Robot Love

[Not sure why the fonts are freaking out tonight in blogger.
Sorry for the inconsistent fonts & sizes in this post.]

My 8 year old is
really into robots. Early on it was Buzz Lightyear, later Iron Giant. He likes to build robots out of legos and found objects, draw them, read about them -- anything that has to do with robots, he's into it. So this evening, while Dad and Sis are at Middle School orientation we thought we'd have a little fun online hunting up interesting robots on etsy. You'll immediately notice that my son likes happy robots, not mean scary ones. I'm glad for that! Hope you enjoy our robot treasure hunt:

Barjan by Adoptabot

Robots, Rockets and UFO's Amigurumi Pattern set by AmyGaines

Set of 5 Miniature Robot Scenes by James Spicer

They Recycle print
by Hearts and Laserbeams

{He says this one reminds him of himself, since he has to take the garbage too!}

Manabot and Robotee Tshirt by hamburgerpanda

{This one reminds him of us, sweet!}

Note: I plan to do themed treasure hunts on etsy from time to time, writing posts featuring handmade artisans and their fabulous wares. I encourage you to buy handmade, supporting your friends, neighbors and fellow crafters.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life's a Beach

Surprisingly, I don't have much to say tonight. I'm feeling very worn-out from a long week of sick dog tending, back to school madness, design deadlines and my own personal economic booty-kicking. Just before I head off to bed with a cup of tea and a good book, I thought I'd share one of my favorite moments of zen from our beach trip last month. Some people contemplate their navels, I personally would rather contemplate the beauty of a morning glory quietly thriving in a sand dune. On that note, sleep well my peeps. We all have much to accomplish tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I am on a real kick with french baked goods this week. Yet another recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Brioche is something I've never tried but have always wondered about. I'd hoped to taste my first brioche in Paris, stopping by a patisserie for something sweet to nibble on while out for a stroll past the Seine. But seeing how that kind of travel isn't in my immediate future, I decided to make some myself. The dough is beautiful! Buttery yellow and the honey makes it smell divine. I even upped the ante by deciding to make the ganache filled brioche. I know, I am *so* bad. I think my first attempt went pretty well, though the american in me wishes the pastry was just a little sweeter and maybe have a hint of orange or almond flavor. I still have half of the dough in the freezer so I will try infusing the second batch to get closer to my idea of brioche perfection. Is there a recipe that you've always wanted to try but felt like it was blowing your mind? Maybe something you always wanted to taste but haven't? I'd love to know about it. I figure there's no time like now to do something you've always wanted to.

note: please forgive the lack of clear focus in my last two post pics.
My camera is having lens/focusing issues.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fear not the Croque Monseiur

I've been dying to try these ever since the day my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbook arrived in the mail. I noticed this tasty recipe for a unique ham and cheese sandwich. Everyday street food in France it said, but wow, the name, Croque Monseiur; I wasn't even sure how to pronounce it. Why is it that a simple recipe, given a complicated sounding french name, makes you immediately think it's difficult to make? Well this is not a hard recipe to master. It also isn't diet food. But what it is, according to my husband, is the best tasting sandwich he's ever had. Huh, that's saying something considering he's quite a sandwich-man.

While driving to the Cheese Shop to pick up the gruyere and ham, I shared with my kids about what we'd be making and why I'd waited so long to make it. I explained how I let the name alone intimidate me but how we were going to prove just how simple it was to make this tasty french treat. The kids decided if it was so easy that they could make it themselves. I would basically just supervise. They were so excited. I did help with cutting and flipping the sandwiches in the skillet. After all we didn't want any shortened fingers or sandwiches on the floor. They did a great job and enjoyed the process. I loved seeing that sense of accomplishment and ownership come over them. "Hey Mom, these would be really good to pack for our school lunches," my 11 year old said. "Mmm, yeah!" my 8 year old agreed.

I thought it would be fun to share this great recipe video tutorial from videojug. Though I do want to mention the recipe in Artisan Bread called for spreading a mixture of dijon mustard and mayonnaise on the inside of each slice of bread before adding the ham. Otherwise I think the sandwich would be fairly dry. We used Smart Balance Omega Plus light mayo because it has such a great flavor. We also included a slice of fresh garden tomato which made the flavor of the sandwich come alive. We added the tomato right before serving so the sandwich wouldn't get soggy. I loved the fact that watching the video not only taught me how to make it, but also how to pronounce it!
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