Friday, January 29, 2010

Hair Cut

I've never been much for beauty routine being more of a "get up and go" kinda girl, and a tomboy most of my life to boot, however a good haircut is the kind of luxury I never tire of, especially when the grow out from the last cut is flopping around like limp noodles and getting in the way of everything, particularly my eyes. (see fig. 1)

I met the guys at Baci nearly 5 years ago, introduced by a friend, and I've been a loyal customer ever since. It sounds weird to refer to myself as a customer because over the years, I like to think that I've formed a special sort of friendship with Casey, similar I suppose to that of a bartender and regular lush, but without the alcohol. No matter how long I go between cuts (and it's usually 4-6 months), I'm always greeted with a side hug, a shampoo, and we dive right into familiar banter of celebrity miscreants, anecdotal stories from Casey's foray into the world of stand-up, and a general feeling of mutual agreeableness.
All the while, he's cutting and slashing with a fervor that honestly makes me a little nervous at times, but like Edward Scissorhands' ladies, I've never, not once been disappointed by a cut.
For me, comfort trumps style-always. Not having to think about my hair is much more important to me than looking good, but the brilliance of Casey is that I don't have to choose between the two. It's a fine line between edgy/artistic and cliche; today's Rihanna is tomorrow's Kate Gosselin and if I have a vain fear, it's in looking like a suburban soccer mom (which is funny because when you get down to it, that's what I am. And it's an honest job, but that doesn't mean I have to dress the part.). In a world where I just don't have much time to think about my appearance, it's nice to be able to wake up and go without any fuss, feeling the most myself with all my hair gone.
(can you tell how awkward I feel getting my picture taken?)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding

photos by Summer Stetter
"One of these days, I'm gonna sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I've known..." is a Neil Young song that ran through my head as I mulled over all the friends I've had through the years who have in some indelible way shaped who I am as a person today. What is it that is said about friendship, that you can't put a price tag on it? Good thing because according to Facebook I have 218 friends. And while I value each and every one of those people I have known and the mark they made on my life, the reality is there are very few "lifers", the friends I'll be sitting and laughing with on a porch in 35 years. And every once in a while, you find a person who blurs the line between family and friend and find a sibling that you were separated from at birth. Freya is just such a friend.
Photo by Summer Stetter
We met at someone's graduation party late spring 1998 and have been through some very high highs as well as some low lows together. She's funny and passionate, interested, and sweet, and like any good sister, can be annoying as hell, although I can't remember any such instances just now. She has many lovely qualities but the thing I find so enduringly beautiful about her is her honesty, both of herself and with those around her, and her unwavering pursuit of truth. She's the kind of friend who won't fib when you ask her if your butt looks good in those jeans, but more importantly, the friend who will tell you when you are being a selfish ass. Everyone needs a Freya-friend.

This past November, she and another dear friend, Debbie, flew me out to Seattle for a weekend of rest and relaxation. The highlight of our time together was an amazing prix-fixe tasting meal at the Inn at Langley compliments of the amazing chef Matt Costello. My favorite course was a dessert of Sticky Toffee Pudding with Green Apple Sorbet and Toffee Sauce. Debbie commented that all three flavors together were reminiscent of a Caramel Apple, which was brilliant, if deliberate, since the night we ate there was Halloween.

Freya and I couldn't stop raving about the pudding so as soon as I returned home, I started searching for a good Sticky Toffee recipe and finally hit on a gem. The "sticky" comes from the cup and a half of dates, which carry a natural caramel flavor of their own. After doing some research, I'm still unsure as to the difference between toffee and caramel. In some definitions and recipes, it's the inclusion of cream that makes the caramelization of sugar "caramel", but other recipes claim the adverse to be true. There are those who will tell you toffee isn't toffee without nuts. It's a point I don't care to quibble about; I'd rather get my spoon in my mouth. You will want to as well. It's achingly good. The warm toffee enveloping the pudding with the sharp, tart, cold sorbet on the tongue feels the way my face does after a run in winter, blithering hot with a sting of cold. The warmth of the pudding is the perfect foil to this mid-winter high of 5 degrees, or even Seattle's balmy-by-comparison 35 degrees. It's meant to be shared with good friends, maybe with a finger of Scotch, or savored in bed with the hubby while watching "Spooks".

So without further ado, Freya, here's your recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding w/Apple Sorbet
1 3/4 cups packed pitted dates (I buy Deglet dates in the cold case at our co-op or Calmyra in Whole Foods Bulk Section)
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs

For Sauce:
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla (optional)

Grease and flour 8x8 baking pan. Preheat oven to 375. Coarsely chop the dates then put them in a saucepan, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then off the heat and add the baking soda. Mixture will foam, stir it well to mix, then let sit for 20 minutes.

While dates are sitting, cream the butter and sugar together. Sift dry ingredients together. Add eggs one at a time, then add flour mixture in thirds. Add dates and quickly fold in with wooden spoon.

Pour batter into pan, set pan into larger pan and fill the larger pan half-way up the side of smaller pan with boiling water. Place in middle of oven and bake for 45-55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Set on rack to cool.

To Make Sauce:
Melt butter in saucepan. Add brown sugar and mix together well. Bring to a boil, add cream and vanilla and simmer for at least 5 minutes, until mixture thickens.

For Sorbet (This can be made ahead a few days):
8oz. tart green apple puree
8oz. sparkling apple juice or cider
5oz. simple syrup (1 part water to 2 parts sugar, bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes)

Strain the puree then mix with other ingredients and freeze in ice cream maker.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm Not Going to Lie

This has been a tough month for us. Not many people know this, but the enduringly popular Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was largely based on our family. The Monday before Christmas, Felix's actual birthday, was spent hovering around the toilet as all of us (except Oliver who had it 2 days prior) succumbed to the worst stomach flu ever. I'm sure there are worse things in life than having 5 family members sick all at the same time, but I can't think of any of them right now. I must have done 6-7 loads of laundry and we still had to use make shift bedding. The down time was spent with all of us huddling around a Christmas movie, holding on for dear life until round two hit. Suffice it to say, it was Christmas Day before I ate my first real meal, and tentatively at that. I missed our usual pre-holiday baking frenzy except our traditional coffee cake for Christmas morning, but the mixer must have noticed my lack of enthusiasm because it didn't rise to its full potential. By the time New Years' Eve rolled around, I was ready to shed the sickies and meet up with friends for a night of games and snacks. But it was not to be. Jasper had 103.2 fever and was in no condition to do anything but stay home, so I kissed all the dearies good-bye and said I'd see them in the New Year. Jasper sat on the floor playing with the measuring cups while I turned to the only decent thing a girl can serve guests New Years morning- homemade, and dare I say artisanal croissants.
Croissants are just about my favorite thing to make, but they are time consuming and require a 14 hour commitment on the part of the baker, including but not restricted to waking up early to roll them for the second rise. It was the perfect activity for a New Years' Eve with just me and Jazz. I put on Handel's Messiah, set him on the floor with a metal bowl and shiny measuring spoons and got to work. It begins with whacking lots of butter and a few tablespoons of flour until you have a malleable mass that you form into what is known as the butter packet. You move on to making the dough and then let both elements chill out in the fridge while you make yourself a drink. Next comes laminating the dough, which consists of rolling out the dough into a sizable rectangle, placing the butter packet in the upper third, folding the whole thing as you would a business letter, sealing the edges, and giving it a quarter turn. You then roll, fold, seal and turn again, a total of four times, which, if done successfully, gently works the butter into the dough in such a way as to create pockets of air when baked, which is what gives a croissant its delicate flakiness. Honestly, the French are to butter what Picasso is to a brush and canvas.
I made half of the batch filled with Bonne Maman Apricot-Raspberry preserves and the other half into proper pain au chocolats, the perfect hand warmer for little boys coming in after sledding. Ryan made a second french press and Jeremy, Hansi, and I fell into a daydream of being together somewhere in Paris or the French countryside. It was nice while it lasted.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Christmas for the Grandparents

Twas the night before Christmas when what should appear but some boxes with jammies to last the New Year.
The boys settled down for Christmas story night than fell asleep to carols sung by candle light.
Papa with his Balvenie and I with my tea, had just settled down for a rest by the tree.
The stockings were ready, the parents were worn, so they went up to bed to sleep hard til next morn'.
The kids awoke early and snuck down the stairs to see if any presents awaited them there.
Imagine their delight when full weaponry awaited these Jedis under the tree.

Star Wars and Legos and a dump truck with dirt as well as Felix's new rumpus shirt ("Where the Wild Things Are" tee that he wore day and night for a solid week before I insisted on washing it.)
Jasper got into the action too; with all of his presents he knew just what to do.
He ripped and he tore with a gurgle and a coo.
The rest of the day was spent in delight, with putting together Legos and a light saber fight.
Thank you Grandma and Grandpa for all of our gifts. We love you and miss you and hope soon for a visit.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Winter's Tale

On a lonely country highway somewhere between Mineral Point and Darlington, sits this spectral ghost of a house, empty and forlorn on the top of a snowy ridge. Despite it's forlorn-ness, there was something about this place that drew me in - it had such an arresting effect on me, I nearly drove off the road craning my neck to look back at it as we passed. The unexpected landscape. Yet another reason I love Wisconsin.

The Dude Abides