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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Finally, Food to Post About

Summer is rerun season, no less in my kitchen than on TV. We've been eating lots of good things, just not much new or different (I can only write about Copper River sockeye so many times, right?). Tonight's menu was something I came up with much earlier in the week, but didn't get around to making until today. Its genesis came last weekend, when we had a leftover half-baguette and half a pound of pork-sage sausage. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I should make a strata. And what better to accompany a rich, creamy, cheesy, sausagey, eggy dish than a light potato-veggie salad? So here they are. The strata is adapted from Cooks' Illustrated from several years back (useful mostly for knowing the basic proportions of stuff to fit in the pan--my combination of add-ins was not one they featured), and the salad was inspired by one I've made from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and also by happy hours passed recently watching The Naked Chef on BBC America. Mavis and I liked everything. The wee feller liked (snarfed!) the strata, but had to be cajoled to eat even those parts of the salad he will admit to liking (asparagus, peas, potatoes).
3S Strata

1/2 baguette
couple tablespoons butter
1/2 lb sausage
3 shallots, finely chopped
big handful fresh spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
a little olive oil
about 6 oz cheddar cheese, grated
6 eggs
1 3/4 C half and half
1/2 t kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Slice baguette into 1/2-inch slices and leave spread on a cookie sheet overnight to fully dry out (or put in 225-degree oven for a half hour). Spread each slice thinly with butter on one side. Heat olive oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat, then add sausage. Brown it, breaking it up into small chunks. When it's nearly cooked, add the shallot and keep sauteeing. When shallot is translucent and starting to brown, add spinach and saute a few minutes until fully wilted.

Arrange half of bread in one layer, buttered side up, in a buttered (or Pammed) 8x8 dish. Top with half of sausage-shallot-spinach mixture, then half of cheese, and repeat. Beat eggs with half and half and salt and pepper, then pour over the top. Put plastic wrap directly on the surface, weight the top, and put it in the fridge for at least an hour and as long as over night (I managed a couple of hours today).

When you're ready to cook it, take it out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature while the oven is preheating to 325 degrees. Then bake for 50-55 minutes, until puffed and slightly pulled away from sides. Let cool on rack for five minutes, then serve.

Potato-Veggie Salad

1 1/2 lbs or so baby potatoes, boiled until just tender
1/3 C corn kernels (I used the first corn of the season, three tiny ears, but I think frozen would work well, too)
other veggies, blanched and cooled (I used a few fava beans, the last few spears of on-their-last-legs asparagus, a handful of green and yellow beans, a handful of sugar snap peas from the garden--you get the general idea)*
1/3 C finely chopped herbs (I used chives, basil, dill and parsley)
juice of 1/2 lemon (a couple of tablespoons)
about twice that much EVOO
salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk herbs, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper in medium bowl, then stir in warm potatoes. Stir in other ingredients and put in fridge to cool. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*I think the perfect amounts of blanching time are: 1 minute each for favas, asparagus and sugar snap peas; 3 minutes for green and yellow beans. For corn, drop it into the boiling water, replace lid, then turn off heat and leave it in the pot at least 3-5 minutes or until you're ready for it. With this method it won't overcook.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

You Have GOT to Be Kidding

Mavis and I went out to dinner and a movie tonight because I had a free movie ticket I got for spending money at Old Navy. Of course then we dropped $60 on dinner because I decided late this afternoon that I felt like eating at that particular restaurant, so with that and the babysitter it wasn't exactly a bargain. But we did see Knocked Up, which was quite funny.

What really bugged me happened at dinner. I ordered the lamb sirloin, served with a spring pea-pearl onion risotto and pea shoots. Sounds great, right? But the risotto was Not Fully Cooked. Every other grain of rice still had an opaque white center, and it was downright chewy. Lovely flavors (it included truffle oil--actually a bit much of it, because it was on the greasy side), but bad texture. So I mentioned it to the server when she came around to ask how we were doing, and she came back saying that they like it that way, that it's supposed to be al dente. Okay, first of all I've had risotto in many fine eating establishments (it's a favorite), here, in New York, and all over Italy, and I've never before been served one that wasn't silky and creamy and delectable AND FULLY COOKED. And second, there's al dente (which I don't think should ever apply to risotto) and then there's CHEWY. They brought me some (delicious) mashed potatoes to make me feel better, but what I really would have liked would have been a PROPERLY FINISHED risotto with spring peas and pearl onions. Harumph.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hot Shopping Tip Update

The saffron arrived today. Turns out the Sur la Table clerk I spoke with made a mistake in telling me how much saffron is in the box. It's not 10 oz. (which would indeed be an astronomical amount of saffron), but 1 oz. I opened up the tin and pulled out the plastic baggie inside so you can see just how much an ounce of saffron is:

It's a lot (my counter tiles are two inches square, for scale). I won't be running out for a loooooooong time.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scarred for Life?

Maybe I should stop calling him Number Two.

The wee feller had been getting pretty good about pooping in the potty (well, toilet, really--I don't believe in those little stand-alone potties), occasionally initiating a session, but more often just being amenable to the suggestion, after meals or upon waking. Then, last week he started being less willing, giving ambiguous answers when asked if he needed to go, etc. One day (Wednesday? Thursday?) he told me "no" when I asked, but then a few minutes later I heard him grunt a little. I ran out of the study and rushed him downstairs to the changing table; the contents of his diaper seemed a little scant, so I sat him on the pot to finish the job, put some books within reach and then went to do some laundry. He was quiet, but then called out a few minutes later.

Experienced mothers can surely guess what I saw when I ventured back into the bathroom. His older brother had occasionally gotten some poop on his fingers when playing with himself on the potty, but this kid had done his brother, shall we say, two better. He had apparently reached down and caught his, um, product, and was covered up to his elbows and all over his belly and thighs, with the unused material sitting in a lump on the potty seat between his legs. Naturally I started shrieking in horror, then ran for some baby wipes to start cleaning him up. The noise frightened him enough that he started to cry, then reached for me for comfort. "Don't touch me!!!!" That had to make him feel good.

Anyway, I got the worst bits off, then ran a tub and plopped him in it to get the rest off. Then we had a serious talk about how you should never, ever, touch your poop. He seemed contrite, and comprehending, but then he didn't poop on the potty for a couple of days. Of course then I started wondering if I'd permanently damaged his psyche and given him poop hangups for life. But then he got back on the horse, so to speak, and we seem to be back to the status quo ante.

But what if I had scarred him for life? All those do-you-or-don't-you parenting choices (epidural, breastfeed, co-sleep, immunize, etc.) get so much press, but the things that will really affect the kind of person your child becomes just don't. The way you interact with your child, how you react to the things he or she does, the examples you set of how you use your time and interact with others, those are the things that really matter.

So when I said, in a comment on a post of Adriana's, that we are much stricter about behavioral rules than some other crunchy-ish parents of our acquaintance, I was only partially talking about basic rules like saying please and thank you and not hitting (are there really any parents who don't at least think they're strict about these?). I was also talking about the other things we're really strict about, like getting meals and sleep on a regular schedule. Sure, our kids could probably be more flexible about these things than we typically are, BUT . . . well, here's how I figure:

In my experience, otherwise happy and well-adjusted kids don't much misbehave (whine, purposely do things they know will annoy you, etc.) unless they're either tired or hungry. When they act up/out, you correct/punish them, right? And thus they learn how they should behave.

But if you make sure they get the right amount of sleep and the right amount of food on a regular schedule, they are less likely to misbehave, and you are less likely to have to correct them. And thus you can spend a larger proportion of your interaction time enjoying each other's company, instead of every other thing you say to your kid being some variation of "no." I think the cumulative effect of this practice is hard to overstate. There will always be a need for a bad guy, the mean mom, the stern parent, but by planning ahead and being proactive you can make that person's role as small as possible.

But even this choice, about which I feel quite strongly, can be characterized as a parenting style. Where, though, does parenting style turn into plain old bad parenting? Surely somewhere this side of one instance I recently heard about, in which the hands-off, let-kids-be-kids parents of a little sociopath in training reacted to him stealing from the wallet of a friend's mom during a playdate by giving him his own wallet (I swear I'm not making this up).

I know from plenty of experience, first-hand and otherwise, that much of what kids are is born, not made. Certainly my own two sons have quite different personalities, and my brother's two sons are the proverbial chalk and cheese. But as parents we can and should do what we can to make sure each kid ends up being the best chalk, or the best cheese, he or she can be. Gosh, our job would sure be easier if all kids came out as unformed clay, or blank paper, and all we had to do was follow the simple instructions like in the "draw me" section of the Sunday comics. But the vagaries of genetic recombination being what they are, our approach has to change for each kid. We have to pay attention to their strengths, their faults and weaknesses, and try to bring out the good and minimize the bad all the while without infringing on their free will. It's a tricky process.

So there aren't any one-size-fits-all approaches to parenting, unfortunately. I did read a book several years ago that I found quite helpful, though. In fact, it's time to read it again, and add it to my permanent collection: Building Healthy Minds by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. The subtitle is "The Six Experiences That Create Intelligence and Emotional Growth in Babies and Young Children," so it really focuses on helping you raise smart, stable kids. I highly recommend it.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Brush with Fame

An honest-to-goodness famous person (well, to me) showed up in my prenatal yoga class today: Ariel Gore. Her book, The Hip Mama Survival Guide, was a lifeline to me in my first pregnancy. All the stuff out there--books, web, online communities--I was finding about pregnancy and birthing was either sanctimonious or sticky-syrupy-sweet or some freaky passive-aggressive combination of both, and her book was a breath of fresh air. I even participated in the Hip Mama online community for a while (under the username momesq, if there are still archives out there somewhere from 2000-2001), but eventually the militancy of some of the users (you're a bad mama if you immunize your child/shop at the Gap/don't co-sleep/use medicine instead of homeopathy) made me feel like a real fifth wheel (Adriana has written about crunchy parent sanctimony quite eloquently in this post and others).

Anyway, for the next several weeks, I hope (she was in line to pay when I left the studio, and her first class--today--was free) I'll see the famous author on Saturday mornings.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Waayyyyyyy Loosening the Apron Strings

So this morning we sent Number One off for two weeks with his grandparents in Maryland. It's safe to say that we had much more anxiety about the whole affair than he did. He just called me from his grandfathers' car, and when I asked him how his flight was, said, "It was kind of normal." Since he doesn't see himself as being anything other than perfectly competent, it's hard to faze him. The thing he was most excited about was that there were four other unaccompanied minors on his flight (he was, of course, the youngest one).


And Yet More Party Pics

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hot Shopping Tip

Act now! Sur la Table has La Mancha Oro Saffron at 50% off. The tin looks big, and I called to ask just how much it holds. Okay, people, 10 oz. Spanish saffron for $35! With luck, this box will tide me over until my own domestic saffron produces enough to meet my needs (as it is now, a season's harvest produces enough for just one pan of risotto).


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Quarantañera on Film

Thanks to the fabulous MWR, who was snapping surreptitiously all evening (and who consequently is never pictured). Here you can see more of my parents (who don't look nearly old enough to have a daughter my age), the wonderful hosts J&J, a fleeting glimpse of Number One (who spent most of the evening observing from his post in the laurel), my nephews, and friends from high school and elsewhere. And of course the fantastic band (yes, my brother is singing along with them in the one B/W shot--who knew he knew the words to so many mariachi classics?).

And yes, I know Quarantañera is technically a misspelling, but that's the way we've chosen to do it all along, and I've kept it for the sake of continuity. And maybe a little contrariness (who, me?!?).

Thanks again to all who helped make it a truly memorable evening.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Do You Speak Rrrrredish?

I've finally figured out the best way to describe the way Number Two talks: he sounds like the love child of Scooby-Doo and the Swedish Chef. Any translators out there?


Baseball + Strawberries = True Love

Tonight was Number One's final baseball game, with pizza party immediately following. Because our last name is in the second half of the alphabet, we were assigned to bring a dessert. For some reason it occurred to me, and I could not banish the notion, that I should bring homemade strawberry ice cream to this event. So I looked through my books, took a guess as to how many times I should multiply a one-quart recipe for my larger ice-and-salt freezer machine (one quart being woefully insufficient for 14 Little League players and their families), and went to it. I made the custard last night (the original recipe does not call for any cooking, but since I'm not supposed to be eating raw eggs, I took the extra step), picked up some fresh-picked Hood strawberries this morning, and had it finished and in the basement freezer to cure before I went to pick up Number One from school. It could have used more curing time (I discovered when I started scooping and the middle of the canister was still quite soft), but that would have meant picking up the berries earlier, which just wasn't happening this morning.

Here's the recipe for a one-quart maker (which includes most frozen-canister or internal-freezer ice cream makers), adapted from the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream book:

Sweet Cream Base:
2 eggs
3/4 C sugar
2 C cream
1 C milk

Whisk eggs until light and fluffy (1-2 minutes), then gradually add sugar and mix until fully blended, light and smooth (another minute). Whisk in cream and milk (I used my KitchenAid for this, but I had to mix in the last bit of liquid by hand because I tripled the recipe and the top of the whisk attachment would have been submerged. As it turned out, 2 1/2 times the recipe probably would have been plenty, and I might have even been okay with 2 times). If you're going to cook/pasteurize it, put in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently (at the beginning) and then constantly (as it gets hot) until it reaches 180 degrees. You will need to do this part the night before so it can cool down to 40 degrees before you put it in the ice cream freezer.

Strawberry addition:

1 pint strawberries, sliced
1/3 C sugar
juice of half a lemon
pinch of salt*
1 T vodka*

Mix all ingredients together, then let macerate for at least an hour. Next time I do it, I'll probably try for three or four. The original recipe calls for slicing before macerating and then mashing before mixing into the base; I diced, which probably would have worked great if I'd macerated longer. As it was the berries were just a tad icy. I used about half the called-for sugar, which was still plenty for my juicy and sweet Hoods. If you're using California berries with a firmer texture and blander flavor, use the whole amount. I used less lemon juice than this (after tripling) and regretted it, so use it all even though it sounds like quite a bit--I think it really needs the acidic punch to bring out the strawberry flavor. The last two ingredients I added based on a Cook's Illustrated recipe for peach ice cream, and they seemed like a good idea here as well. The salt just brings out the fruit flavor, and the vodka helps make a smoother, less icy ice cream. Certainly you couldn't detect it at all in the finished product.

When both the custard and the berries are fully chilled, mix them together (mashing the berries first if desired) and freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Sorry I don't have pictures for you tonight--I'm not 100% sure where my camera is at the moment. I'll try to take a picture when I eat the leftovers tomorrow, and add it to this post then.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Birthday Bash Post Mortem

I know you've all been dying to know how the birthday bash went last Saturday. Well, we should have known that with the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade scheduled for that day, we were destined to have rainy weather. It started raining just before parade time, and rained pretty steadily all day, growing harder in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had put up the main party tent on Friday evening, so the ground underneath it was dry, and it provided shelter during Saturday's rains to put up decorations. By the time of the party, the rain was letting up, and it only sprinkled sporadically throughout the evening. The overcast skies helped keep the temperatures warmer, too--I hedged my bets by wearing socks and shoes and a lightweight wool cardigan under my shawl, and even with temperatures in the low 60s I was comfortable all evening.

One of the best parts of the whole birthday weekend happened on Friday just before dinner. I was at J&J's (my brother and sister-in-law, who hosted the party in their enormous backyard) in the kitchen, and was surprised to see a car drive up that looked like my dad's Trooper. And then my dad got out! My parents and youngest sister drove all day Friday to come for my party, and left Monday morning first thing. I was so happy to see them! It really meant a lot to me that they went to such a great effort to be there. And their help in the final party preparations was invaluable.

Another good thing happened on Wednesday, when I mentioned at Enrichment that I wasn't sure if the tent I had ordered would arrive on time. A woman sitting at my table had purchased a party tent for her daughter's wedding several years prior, and offered to let us use it. With the way the weather turned out, having that second tent ended up being crucial--I don't know what we would have done without it.

With a few last-minute cancellations due to illness, everyone who said they'd come did, and brought marvelous food to share. The band, Mariachi Viva México, was amazing.

Here's the erection of the main party tent on Friday night, just after the arrival of my parents and sister:

A bird's nest, perilously close to the party setup. I hope the bird didn't abandon her eggs as a result!

My sister and nephew hanging pompoms in the party tent:

The finished effect. I found the instructions for the pompoms via someone's blog, who found them on Martha Stewart. Very cheap materials, but quite expensive in terms of labor. These will all be hung in a basement for future re-use. The heap of brush containing the bird's nest can be seen at right just behind a table.

My brother feeding the fire. The fire pit was another loaner from someone in my ward.

The dinner/music tent. The woman in the band had an amazing voice that could carry over all the instruments without amplification.

Cutting the birthday cake. You can't really see it, but the icing on top says, "Feliz Cumpleaños." The cake, filling and icing were all chocolate (of course!).

Whacking the birthday piñata. When was the last time you went to a party where they had a piñata for grownups? This one was filled with about six different flavors of Lindor balls.

People actually brought me presents! There were quite a bit of chocolate, no fewer than three copies of the new Pink Martini CD, the 80s Trivial Pursuit edition (thanks to my best friend from HS--all of us children of the 80s did fine, but my parents felt completely lost), and (my favorites) original art from MWR (a framed photo) and my sister (a batik).

Thanks to all who made my birthday bash a smashing success! Especially J&J who hosted, arranged for the band and made marvelous chalupa (both beef and pork) to anchor the food table, plus tons of cookies. And my parents and sister who traveled the farthest (beating out MWR who drove down from Seattle), then slaved for hours helping assemble the decor. And the nice people in my ward who loaned the items that took the party from good to just perfect. Now I just have to start thinking what I want at 50! High on my list is figuring out some way to get all the Scary Feminists there--start planning now, gals!


Monday, June 4, 2007

Angelic Imps

Number Two likes to try on his brother's baseball cap:

And look: a rare shot where Number One's smile doesn't look terribly grimace-y!

The orange shorts were a gift to Number One from Auntie Swizzies lo these many years ago. The elastic in the waist is totally dying, but they are too cute to give up.

Number Two is about the cutest kid imaginable, but lately we're all growing increasingly frustrated with his unwillingness/inability to use actual intelligible words. He's got a large repertoire of animal noises, and knows what sounds most letters of the alphabet make (and he knows all his letters and numbers), but he's just not putting sounds together to make words. This weekend he seemed to be taking an Ugly American approach to making himself understood: if they don't get it the first time, say it slower and louder. Lots of shouting (fortunately mostly in a happy tone of voice), not much communicating. Sigh.

Oh, and because I know you've all been dying to know, it looks like Number Three's in utero name will be Ingeborg. Recognizably (to reggler 'Murrican folks) Scandinavian + odd enough that we'd never actually use it + popped into my head before I got to that section of the name book (and before I'd read MWR's "Inger" suggestion => hint of synchronicity) = perfect choice.


Something to take to all those summer potlucks

I actually made this a couple of weeks ago, remembered to take a picture and then never got around to posting on it. It's one of my favorite recipes ever: easy, usually assemblable without a lot of shopping, and almost universally popular (though Number One now says he doesn't like it, after eating it like there was no tomorrow as a toddler). The recipe comes from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook. She calls it Curried Couscous, but we call it Couscous Salad.

1 1/2 C couscous
1 T unsalted butter (I usually use a little less)
1/4 C plain yogurt
1/4 C good olive oil
1 t white wine vinegar
1 t curry powder
1/4 t ground turmeric
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper (I usually use about half this much)
1/2 C grated carrots (I use a julienne peeler, and blanch them before adding)
1/2 C minced flat-leaf parsley (usually about a whole bunch)
1/2 C dried currants (I usually use a combination of currants and golden raisins)
1/4 C blanched sliced almonds (I use whatever I have on hand, usually diced roasted)
2 scallions, thinly sliced (I chop finely)
1/4 C small-diced red onion (I usually omit)

I usually add:
1/2 C frozen petite peas (has the benefit of shortening prep time by cooling the warm couscous and carrots)

I have added in the past at various times and in various combinations (and really liked--it just all depends on what I have on hand, and this salad is just about impossible to screw up):
1/4 C diced red bell pepper
1/4 C small-diced celery
1/2 C blanched fresh green beans
1/2 C blanched asparagus (snapped into two-inch pieces)

Prepare couscous according to package directions. A note here on couscous: I think the whole-wheat variety is vastly superior to the regular stuff. It tends to be less gummy, has a wheatier flavor, and according to the package has 7 (!) grams of fiber per serving. I used to be able to buy it bulk at our local co-op, but their source dried up and now I buy the Casbah brand in the little boxes.

Whisk yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, spices and parsley in the bottom of a large bowl to blend (I add the parsley to the dressing here so the olive oil can pick up and carry the flavor of the parsley, which otherwise dissipates quite quickly. The same goes for anything with cilantro in it, so I usually add just a tiny bit of oil at the beginning when I'm making salsa. Your handy herb tip of the day.).

Mix in the prepared couscous and all the other ingredients, and voilà! Serve at room temperature or chilled.

I also leave you with a family favorite: Fish Sauce. My dad did (and still does) a lot of fishing, so our menus while I was growing up regularly featured salmon, steelhead and trout that he caught. It was invariably served with this sauce. We try to eat salmon regularly (especially now, when the Copper River sockeye are at the market!), and I often but not always serve it alongside. These measurements are very approximate.

1/2 C sour cream
1/3 C mayonnaise (using light versions of either of these produces grossly unsatisfactory results)
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 t capers, minced
1-2 T fresh lemon juice
optional, and not the way we had it when I was growing up: 1 T minced fresh herbs (tonight, a blend of dill, chives, mint and basil)

Mix everything together and taste. If it tastes sour, add more lemon juice. Counterintuitive, I know, but it works. Bon appétit!


Saturday, June 2, 2007

Three Junes in June

Our book group selection this time was Three Junes by Julia Glass, a National Book Award winner from a couple years back and a very enjoyable read. Part of the book takes place in Scotland, which I thought presented the perfect opportunity to make the recipe on the page before the Salmon-Wrapped Poached Eggs from last time: Oatmeal Brûlée with Macerated Berries from The Gourmet Cookbook. The weather has also been ideal this week, plus I didn't feel like cleaning my projects off my dining room table, so I set up a small table and large umbrella on the back patio. Instead of having a floral centerpiece, we were surrounded by my profusely blooming backyard. Unfortunately, I am lame so there aren't pictures--I didn't remember until everything was entirely consumed.

We started with a simple cheese course: Valentine from Ancient Heritage Dairy (featured this week in the Oregonian FOODday section), a soft sheep's-milk cheese, and fresh goat cheese with dill from Country Pride (both purchased at the Portland Farmers' Market this morning). Then on to the Oatmeal.
First, you macerate the berries in simple syrup with chopped fresh mint. I knew I would want to use the same berries for the strawberry shortcake for dessert, so I doubled the recipe here, using two pints of berries, two tablespoons of chopped fresh mint, and a simple syrup made from 1/2 C sugar and 1/2 C water. The recipe says to macerate for at least four hours. I think I ended up with about two hours before I started serving them, and they were very juicy and delicious. I think with our juicy local berries, it would probably be fine (and save a step) to macerate in just sugar, without making the syrup.

Put racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 400 F.

Make the custard in two small bowls. In one you whip 1/4 C cream with a handheld mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. In the other you whisk (I used my handheld mixer, without rinsing the beaters in between) together another 1/4 C cream, two eggs, and 3 T brown sugar. Then gently combine the contents of the two bowls.

Then, cook 1 1/2 C old-fashioned oats in 3 C water (the usual proportions, according to the side of the Quaker box) until it's thick and tender. Divide between four flameproof shallow soup bowls and smooth with the back of a spoon. Pour custard over oatmeal. Bake until set, switching positions after 5 minutes. The recipe says 12 minutes, but I think a minute or two shorter would have worked. Remove from oven, sprinkle top of each with 1 t sugar (recipe calls for granulated; I used turbinado), and melt/caramelize with a blowtorch. Top with a scoop of the macerated berries and serve.

For dessert we had strawberry shortcake, using the other half of the macerated strawberries, lightly-sweetened whipped cream, and Southern-Style Shortcakes I made from a recipe that ran in the Oregonian (which I can't find online for some reason). I mostly ignored their method instructions, and used my regular method of cutting very cold butter into the dry ingredients using the Cuisinart, then adding the liquid and just barely mixing them before transferring the dough to a bowl for a last 5-second hand knead to stick everything together. I also skipped rolling and cutting (this dough was quite sticky) in favor of my scone method of patting the dough into a thick round and cutting into wedges with my bench scraper, and reserved a tablespoon or so of the liquid ingredients to brush on (and then sprinkle with sugar) before baking.
2 C all-purpose flour
3 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt (I used 1/2 t kosher salt instead)
1/2 C butter, almost frozen, cut into cubes (they called for softened, which is asking for tough biscuits IMO)
1 egg, beaten slightly
2/3 C half-and-half

We talked about picking our next book, but didn't do it. I would really like to read something meaty and juicy, along the lines of past favorite reads like Ahab's Wife or Daughter's Keeper. We mentioned The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood as a possibility. And I've read interesting things about The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (yes, I know you hated it, Janet). Any other marvelous suggestions from you, my faithful yet mostly silent readers?

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Baby Love

Several months ago, when my sister and sister-in-law were pregnant and I wasn't, I decided that I would make baby blankets for those two boys and for Number Two, who has only ever had hand-me-downs from his big brother. Somewhere in the process of making them, I found out I was pregnant, and so there was a time when I wasn't sure if Number Two would end up with the blanket after all. Now that I know Number Three is a girl, I'm back to the original plan, which is good because I was thinking of Number Two when I designed them.

When my parents moved to Utard several years ago, I inherited all my mom's stash of fabric. A lot of it is scraps from completed projects, and there were quite a few larger pieces from aborted projects. The latter category included 6.5 yards of baby flannel, surely originally intended for a baby quilt for one of my brothers. It's a slightly aqua blue, and has teddy bears and giraffes with gold bows around their necks, and roses with green leaves. The first category included some light aqua velours left over from a sweatsuit my mom made for me in the 70s (wish I could find a picture of it to include here!). Somewhere along the line I also acquired a turquoise velveteen bridesmaid dress probably worn by my mother's youngest sister some time in the late 1960s. It had a couple of faded spots that made it unsuitable for wear as a dress.

So, I cut up the dress into the largest regular-sized pieces I could, and started laying out fabric, filling in with the velours. An early decision over which I agonized was the size of the finished quilts. The size of the largest pieces from the dress helped me settle on 24x36. I had originally planned a simple gold satin binding for the edges, but then I saw a baby with a fleece stroller blanket with ribbon loops sticking out of the ends. Besides looking really cute, the loops have the developmental bonus of working the baby's fine-motor and hand-eye coordination. There were just enough smaller pieces from the dress left to make three bunnies, one to go with each blanket, using this pattern (thanks to Angry Chicken for the link).

With both nephews due in May, I had a deadline (always crucial) for my project, and I was able to finish everything but the bunny face embroidery before leaving for Utah last week. Hopefully the boys will like them as much as their mommies (and older siblings) do! I gave Number Two his blankie and bunny yesterday, and he is in love.

And here is new nephew #2--isn't he cute?!?!

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