Monday, February 28, 2011

making whoopie(s) and getting nostalgic

A few weeks ago I made whoopie pies to bring to a friend's screening of Saturday Night Fever (the last in a 70s themed film series), in honor of two things:

1) A bill currently under consideration and hot debate in the Maine State Legislature - "An Act To Designate the Whoopie Pie as the State Dessert", sponsored by Representative Paul Davis. I dont know a lick about his politics (I am sure my Grandmother could fill me in - see below), but he's got my vote on this one.

2)  My Grandmother's birthday on 2/5. To me, whoopie pies are synonymous with picnic desserts with Grammy when I was little. They were messy, irregular and wonderful - much like Grammy herself, who is as far a cry from your traditional cute granny sitting in a rocker knitting mittens as could be. 

And that's ok with me. 

My grandmother is the most selfless person I know, sometimes to a fault. After one conversation, most people can't help but adore her, despite her sometimes rude/lewd jokes, embarrassing stories told loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, and tendency to break the never-talk-politics-with-family-or-strangers rule (the daughter of a Baptist minister, she is a staunch Democrat who once penned an Op-Ed piece for the Boothbay Register called "In Defense of Clinton").

When I was visiting my parents 2 weekends ago I asked my mom to dig out her box of old family photos, which she let me take back to Buffalo so that I could scan them for myself. 

My Grandmother's college portrait.

Grammy is not your go-to person for the Emily Post rules of etiquette. 

However, if you need information on
  • the best thrift shops in town (The Humane Society Thrift Shop and the "Boothbay gift shop" - the part of the town dump where people donate used home goods and everything is free),
  •  the best lobster stew (at The Sea Basket in Wiscassett),
  • just about anything to do with the Boothbay Harbor Region, 
  • plants (indoor or out),
  • rising stars in the Democratic Party, 
  • Maine politics, 
  • the history of US/China relations, 
  • how to raise a hermit crab, 
  • how to make beautiful irises out of mussel shells, 
  • when the best time is for clam digging, 
  • or where to get free crab meat 
 ... she's your gal. 

And did I mention she makes a mean whoopie pie? To learn more, hopefully you can reference the book I plan to write about her some day. *smile*

 (She's the cutie with the ribbon in her hair.)

When my mom found out I was making whoopie pies she jokingly asked for me to save a couple to bring home when we came to visit.

I was sure to set aside two in the freezer, and we enjoyed them together on the last night of my visit with a cup of my favorite tea (which I got her for her birthday earlier this month), after spending hours going through the old family photos and baby albums, laughing until tears came.

My little brother and his wife just had a baby, so it was a real trip going through his baby pictures. I still believe he was the cutest, most expressive happy baby I've ever seen. I was 9 years old when he was born, so I remember those days very well. It blows my mind to think how long ago that was - long ago enough for him to be holding his own baby now. Crazy.

I also really enjoyed seeing a lot of old photos of my Grandfather. When he passed away a few years ago I helped my mom put together a photo collage that was displayed at his wake. The feelings most people in the family had toward my grandfather could best be described as "complicated" - so there were a lot of mixed emotions running through us after his passing. The photo collage was a beautiful reminder of better days and really helped us celebrate his life in a positive way. 

My Grandfather and Grandmother

I'll be doing more scanning soon. There are so many of my grandfather in the early days of my grandparents' relationship where I was struck by what a cool looking guy he was in the early 60s! His passion was singing and playing guitar, and I got the sense that he was someone that the local girls might have swooned over  (including my grandmother, of course).

As I get older I find myself trying to gather as many stories of the lives of family members as I can, and photographs are such a special way to do that. Not to be morbid, but the thought of people passing on without others knowing their stories well enough to pass on to future generations really saddens me (and gives me an anxious feeling too, wishing I could visit my grandmother far more often than I do). 

I generally embrace getting older myself, but realizing that everyone dear to you is getting older too sure makes it bittersweet. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Making me happy this weekend

1. Closed tulips.

I love buying flowers before they've bloomed, watching them progress day by day.

When I got them home and put them in the pitcher recently acquired at Amvets that I've been dying to put to use,  I realized that I should have bought 2 bunches.

To say I need practice with flower arrangements would be a gross understatement.

Looking around for what I might use to help fill out the arrangement, I decided to snip a few stems from the rhododendron bushes outside, and a few squirrelly asparagus fern trimmings. I'm actually not a huge fan of rhododendron bushes, but I'm pretty happy with how their rusty green foliage added to the arrangement. 

I had no idea what color these tulips would be, having picked this bunch out of a bucket of other bunches already in bloom, and in all different colors.

Today, I was thrilled to see a hint of yellow! Just the sunshine we could really, really use right now. The days are thankfully getting longer, but they've been pretty dreary just the same.  

2. Friday night in.

A good bottle of Cab (a splurge for us at $22), and the fixings for my Mediterranean fish stew and baguette with parmesan and roasted garlic. A 2011 resolution - to eat fish more often, at least twice a week. 

3. My new glasses.

Two weekends ago, after trying on several frames at Eyes Downtown, that were either just a little too out there for me, too boring, too round or too square - these frames, hidden behind a more garish neon green pair in the very last display case I checked out was the the third bowl of porridge.  Well, hello, Prada - nice to finally meet you.

See how they dip down a little where the temple and hinge meet the frame?

That one little detail did it for me, as well as their not-quite-square, not-quite-round, not-quite-catseye, and yet somehow, all three shape. Trying them on, I turned from someone not very jazzed about having a permanent accessory attached to her face every day to being absolutely smitten. 

I've needed to wear glasses for distance for about 15 years - for driving, TV, movies, not being rude to people I know by inadvertently snubbing them in public, or the flipside, enthusiastically waving to strangers on the street, thinking they are friends - and worst of all, mistaking fluffy frou-frou dogs with any black and white markings for Boston Terriers from a distance. 

4. A weeded out and clean refrigerator.

I will spare you photos. I'm guessing you aren't disappointed. But if you only knew how much extra space we gained in this exercise, and how liberating it was to throw away about 30 jars of miscellaneous mustards, jams, Asian condiments and jarred sauces (all of which apparently have NO expiration date) in order to make room for another 2011 resolution - to jump on the pickling, canning and jamming bandwagon, - you might understand how discovering all that free space in a fridge that I curse out as "way too small!!!" on a daily basis gave me such a sense of accomplishment. 

5. Gabrielle Hamilton on the Splendid Table.

I often spend Sundays alternating between our two local public radio stations - FM 88.7, WBFO and AM 970, WNED - as I do things around the house. The schedule goes something like this:

8-10am: NPR Weekend Edition (FM)
10-11am: Wait Wait Dont Tell Me (FM)
11-12: Bob Edwards Weekend (AM)
12-2pm: A Prairie Home Companion (AM) - you know you are getting old when you start to tolerate, and even - dare I admit this? - enjoy the hokeyness factor here.
2-3pm: The Splendid Table (AM)
3-5pm: To the Best of Our Knowledge (AM)
5-6pm: All Things Considered (FM)
6-7 or 8: This American Life (FM) - the highlight of my Sundays, always.

So imagine my delight when, after expressing my excitement over Gabrielle Hamilton's new memoir Blood, Bones and Butter here, I was treated to an interview with Gabrielle on the Splendid Table. What a genuine down-to-earth lady she is. Can't wait to read the book. Just stumbled upon the Facebook Page for her book launch party, where there's this quote from Mario Batali:
“I will read this book to my children and then burn all the books I have written for pretending to be anything even close to this. After that I will apply for the dishwasher job at Prune to learn from my new queen.” .... (woah!) ... well as this blurb:

"Gabrielle’s childhood home in a burnt-out nineteenth-century silk mill in rural Pennsylvania was the lush setting for her parents’ elaborate parties, where pigeon pies were eaten and whole baby lambs were roasted over wood fires while beer and wine chilled in a nearby creek. Her father (a theatrical set designer) transformed their home with refrigerator-sized cartons of fake snow, dry ice machine fog, and stacks of Kilim rugs depending on the party's theme. However, the magical childhood abruptly ended when her rigidly disciplined mother (a former ballerina who  'spent the day in a good skirt, high heels, and an apron') announced to her Bohemian, dreamy husband that she was finished with the marriage." 

Double woah!

I'm heading for a little getaway to Florida on Thursday - definitely have to add a trip to Talking Leaves to my to do list this week.

Ok, dears, time to get ready for a friend's Oscars party. Too bad I haven't seen ANY of the movies up for nomination!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ode to Food & Wine (the magazine, that is)

On the trip back from Maine I finally had the chance to catch up on the last few issues of Food & Wine magazine, thanks to Evan's driving stamina. 11 hours and no break! God, I love that man.

When a friend got me a gift subscription to F&W a few years back, the magazine wasn't really on my radar. I'm not much of a wine connoisseur, and the internet was my primary source for recipes. Now I can't imagine my cooking life without it. So many of my "keeper" recipes that get put into heavy rotation come from this magazine. There may only be a few recipes from any given issue that I actually make, but the happiness they bring us is worth it.

Even though the bulk of every issue's content is available on the website about a month later, I cant imagine getting the same satisfaction out of staring at a computer screen for hours, as I get from curling up with the magazine in the sun room with a glass of wine or cup of tea, or killing an 11 hour car ride flipping, dreaming, and making notes.

I could not believe how many pages I dogeared in the January issue, mostly recipes. I kept excitedly blurting out out recipe names and ingredients to Evan, which was rather cruel considering our food choices along the New York State Thruway (shameful, New York, just shameful ...). Here are some that I found exciting:
* Beet and apple salad *
(I'm on a major beet kick right now) 

* Pork tenderloin braised with elderflower and fennel *
(uses one of my favorite liqueurs, St. Germain!)

* Nordic winter vegetable soup *
(one of the only reasons I can find to be glad that we are still in the seemingly endless throws of winter: soup)

* Toasts with ricotta and warm balsamic-caramel apples *
(this is my kind of dessert)


* Duck confit tacos *
(I've always been put off by anything requiring duck confit, thinking that I'd have to "confit" the duck myself - but thanks to this issue, I now know that not only can you buy duck already "confit-ed" at the grocery store, you can also can crisp the skin in the microwave) 

* Cavatelli with mussels, lillet and dill *
(since Evan is shellfish and dill adverse, this one is going in the "Romantic Dinners for One" file that gets pulled out when he's away or otherwise engaged at dinnertime)

* Honey-chili chicken wings *
(lately I'm such a sucker for anything featuring poultry with bones and skin, as you may notice, reading on)

* Kung pao turkey drumsticks *
(I am not wild over turkey, but these sound fantastic!)

* Focaccia with caramelized onions, pear and blue cheese *
(this would be great to bring to a party)

* Persian chicken stew *
 (ingredients include pomegranate juice, cardamom pods, allspice berries, walnuts, lime zest and cinnamon - so different from anything I have ever made before, which is always fun)

* Butter beans in miso bagna cauda *
(dying to make this for my weekday lunches)

* Grapefruit and Campari ice pops *
(another excuse to expand my bar ... ok, so maybe its a little early to be dreaming of ice pops - this was featured along with a few other ice pop ideas - cranberry + lychee juice, pear juice + fresh lemon juice, pomegranate juice + elderflower cordial - in F&W's food trends forecast for July 2011)


* Chicken parmesan with pepperoni *
(as eclectic as my taste in food may be, I still instantly salivate when presented with anything involving cheese, good tomato sauce, and pepperoni. If I wanted to be pretentious foodie about it, I'd say its my body craving umami, but really its just a byproduct of my enduring love for pepperoni pizza.)

And then there was the mention of Gabrielle Hamilton's chef memoir, gruesomely - yet deliciously, I think - titled "Blood, Bones & Butter", whose cover boasts this accolade from Anthony Bourdain: "Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever."

And if that weren't enough to draw me in, and prompt me to immediately whip out my blackberry and add it to my book list on memopad (yes, this is why it takes me hours to dissect a single issue of a magazine), this photo would have sealed the deal:

Whatever she's doing with all those tomatoes, I want some.
And, oh god, is that her house?

Gabrielle, can we please be friends - please?

Then there was the feature on "Food Blogger Kitchen Design Ideas", which profiled A Country Farmhouse's gorgeous kitchen (I can't wait to devour the entire blog):

A kitchen renovation is pretty low on our list of near-future priorities, but I've started amassing photos from blogs and magazines as inspiration. I find the simplicity and timelessness of this one stunning. 
And it has confirmed that Ikea butcher block counter tops are what I want - er, need - when the time comes. If you are dreaming of a kitchen renovation, check out A Country Farmhouse's kitchen post - its pretty inspiring.

Oh, how I long for the day I get to say goodbye to this Tuscan Villa / Provence inspired counter top (came with the house) ...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the smirking bootie

We leave for Maine tomorrow to finally visit my brother, his wife and their firstborn Emily - the little one who made me an aunt on January 28.

I am so excited, and so unprepared. Laundry still needs to be done, and I haven't even put 2 seconds into thinking about what to pack. Oh yeah, and we are going to a hockey game tonight. But we are driving, which somehow takes a lot of the stress of traveling out of the equation, even though it means 11 hours on the road. Thankfully Evan likes to drive, and I get to catch up on some Food & Wine, Martha, and my first issue of Imbibe.

Our trip finally being just days away, I had to bite the bullet and begin the sewing stage of the baby bootie project.

I wont lie, picking out the fabric and ribbon and cutting out all the pieces was a lot more fun than the sewing part. I think deep down I knew that would be the case - which is why it took me months to actually sit down at the sewing machine.

These babies (or baby's booties) were tricky! Turns out small sewing project does not mean simple - quite the opposite in fact.

Things were going along fairly smoothly until it came time to attach the 3 layered sole to the top ...

... and then things started to get messy.

Very, very messy. Oh dear. I can't even believe I am showing this to you.

After the sewing on the first bootie was complete, I turned it right side out, thinking, Oh yeah, this is pretty cute. 

And then, turning it around - there it was.

The unintentional, awkward pleat.

I know you see it - but let me ask you this, my friends, was your first thought Oh my god! Its got a snaggle-tooth! And its smirking at me!

Maybe it was the two glasses of wine and the late hour? But that's what went through my head, and I lost it.  Belly laughs. Tears rolling down my cheeks. Hah hah hah hahhhhhhh!

Evan thought I was laughing hysterically at something Anthony Bourdain had just said on the television. I should have just gone with that - because when I tried to explain how the bootie was laughing at me, he  furrowed his brow, looked at the bootie in my hand and said, "It looks like a bootie."

So he didn't get it. Do you? Have you ever had one of those moments in your creative endeavors where you just have to stop being frustrated that what's in your head or on a pattern in front of you simply cannot be executed by your fingers, and just have a really good laugh at yourself?

I sent the pictures of the first completed bootie to my mom and told her that sadly, I would not quitting my day job to get into the baby bootie business anytime soon. In the way that moms have, she convinced me that it was still adorable and that I should finish the other bootie.

I got the impression that if I didn't come home to Maine with her first grandchild's baby booties in hand, she would be very, very disappointed. I can live with myself for making less than perfect booties, but cant live with myself for disappointing my wonderful mama. So I sucked it up and made the second bootie, which went a little better, but ended with another, though less mocking, unintentional pleat.

But imperfections and all, they are still pretty stinking adorable.

in their most flattering light

And without even realizing it, I made the (im)perfect companion accessory to this adorable cape from Plum Bunny that I forgot I'd bought a while back (I ordered it in Charcoal).

So long friends - I have a couple of other posts in the works, including a PSA about liquid mercury oozing from an antique mirror, but they'll have to wait until I'm back from Maine, hopefully smelling like I've spent a few days cuddling a baby (in the clean baby hair kind of way, not the someone-needs-her-diaper-changed kind of way). 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine's Day, done right

The big Two-Fourteen is around the corner - maybe you love it, maybe you hate it, maybe you are indifferent to it. I fall into the third category. Aside from gagging a little every time I catch a snippet of a Kay's, Jared, or Zales commercial on TV, I don't really mind it. It's just not a holiday I normally pay much attention to - probably because I am too busy thinking of ideas for all of the early February birthdays of friends and family (Feb. 1, 4, 5, 6, three on the 10th, and the big one - Evan's - on the 12th). 

But over the past couple of weeks I have seen many posts on my favorite blogs featuring  Valentine's Day themed craft projects and thoughtful ideas that have sucked me in, swept me off my feet, and left me vowing to get into the spirit next year. 

Take, for instance, these incredibly easy but sweet and thoughtful handmade valentine tea bags, featured on design*sponge:


And then there is Amy Merrick's Begonia Rex and Flowers: A Love Story, also at design*sponge, that makes me want to spend the weekend shopping for flowers and putting together small arrangements  to give to all my friends.  

All that gorgeousness tucked inside of a little salt shaker? I would swoon over this tiny bundle of beauty in a way that a dozen long stemmed roses could never do.

And speaking of roses. Could this arrangement be any more romantic? This would be such a beautiful gift - not only for Valentine's Day, but for any one of my several amethyst birthday friends this month.

Please check out the full post, and Amy's other posts on design*sponge to get the full effect of this woman's eye for beauty and style, especially when it comes to flowers. For me, they always trigger badly needed endorphins in this brutally cold and dreary February. Her blog is also wonderful.

The antique Valentines Day card in Amy's post is a good reminder that with a little hunting, or advanced planning, there is absolutely no reason to waste your money and time, in a rush, looking for the one tolerable card in a sea of generic and overly cheesy greeting cards at the drugstore, or even Target (though I will admit their selection is quite cute) when there's an endless supply of antique/vintage cards and postcards out there in antique and junk shops, or online.

Take these, for instance, from Etsy:

Sort of  progressive for such an old card, dont you think?

Antique cards and postcards just instantly seem more romantic and timeless to me - like maybe they would make their way into the recipient's box of "special" keepsake cards rather than going into the recycling bin after a sufficient amount of deference has been paid (one week? Two? Perhaps I shouldn't confess to such things publicly?).

I also love that some vintage cards can be quite quirky and odd (give me quirky over sappy any day):

Back when we threw our "Happy 100th Birthday, House!" party in December, I got really into finding cards, postcards and photographs from 1910 to use as decorations. There are a ton of interesting old photos out there, far more charming, and for far less money than a card at the drugstore, which would do the trick for conveying your thoughts on Valentine's Day.


I absolutely love this one. Talk about an action shot.

And this one! What a find for Valentine's Day, with old vintage scrapbook corners still in place (if not entirely in tact).

And if you were up for a splurge, how excited would you be to receive this from your main squeeze, friend, or relative?!

All of this is not to say that we can't be friends if you prefer modern cards - whether clever, witty or just plain beautiful - for Valentine's Day. Here in Buffalo you can find excellent card selections at Talking Leaves Books, Everything Elmwood, and a number of other boutique shops.

Not to mention the 624 options you get when searching for handmade letterpress Valentine's Day cards on Etsy.

A few of my favorites:

If you're in the mood for something other than red.

 A little morbid maybe, but I couldn't resist. I love that the little steam bubbles form a heart.

I love that this one is called "A love aquatic."

Some of the letterpress cards may be a bit more expensive than the Hallmark or American Greetings cards you'll find at Walgreens, but they are handmade, beautifully done, and even frame-worthy.

While at this point it's probably too late to order anything in time for Valentine's Day 2011, they've inspired me to get on the ball for 2012.

Oh, and one more easy, sweet gift idea before I go - this one brought to you courtesy of Martha Stewart:

Here's to receiving or creating something special this 2-14. (Or maybe 2-14-2012).