Thursday, April 29, 2010

Voluptuous Delight #1

I want to apologize in advance. I've been cooking a lot from this Sophie Dahl book because it's quite the most visually appetizing book I've read in a while and I'm so excited by everything I've made that I want to share it. Plus, maybe you, like me, are in a rut in your meal repertoire and could use a little injection of zest. If this description sounds familiar, then you are going to love this variation on your standard pancake fare. The combination of lemon zest and ricotta cheese makes these doll-size cakes airy and fluffy, and spring-like, if you know what I mean. Sophie suggests serving them with maple syrup but I layered them with honey-sweetened creme fraiche and fresh berries (the pic here shows raspberries but when Sam requested them a few days later, we used blackberries which was just as yummy). They are also made with spelt flour which is super duper healthy and easy to find at most co-ops or in the Organic/Special Foods aisle of most grocer's. The batter is rather delicate, so make chocolate coin size pancakes, otherwise they will fall apart upon flipping. Enjoy and happy Spring!

Lemon & ricotta spelt pancakes (adapted from Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights)

1 cup soft ricotta cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tblsp. agave or maple syrup

sunflower oil for pan

In large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, milk, and egg yolks. Stir in the flour and baking powder and mix until you have a batter.

In separate bowl (I use my pyrex measuring bowl), whisk egg whites until they are foamy and white but not stiff (you aren't making meringue) and then fold them into the batter. Add lemon zest and syrup and stir.

Heat the oil on your griddle (or fry pan) and drop in small dollops...the largest I could safely flip was the size of a child's tea party plate). Cook for about 3 minutes per side until they are a honeyed brown.

If you have creme fraiche, stir in a tablespoon of local honey until well mixed. Place pancake on plate, spread a teaspoon of creme fraiche on top, add some berries then place another pancake on top and repeat. Sprinkle with light dusting of powdered sugar if desired.

This recipe makes about 20 small pancakes, which has been enough for our family of 6 most mornings. I say "most mornings" because there was one day when I had to settle for an egg over potato latke because the boys devoured these before I got to the table! I hope you don't share the same fate.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Simple Joys & Favorite Things #1

It's hard not to be cheerful when you wake up to these sunny sheets, a birthday gift from my mother-in-law Patti. The dhurrie rug is from John Robshaw, one of my favorite textile artists, a steal from anthropologie friends and family days.

This is post #1 of a little Oprah-esque series I'm calling favorite things.

Friday, April 23, 2010

We're Getting There

Here is what we are currently working with between kitchen and dining room. Ryan started the cabinets but then realized he didn't have the tools he needed to do the doors and drawers the way we wanted them to look. Which is just as well because now we are rethinking along the lines of something like this:
Here's Ryan's rough sketch for an open bottom shelf solution. It will actually have 4 legs instead of 2, and feel like a sturdy harvest table with an shelf underneath. The guy who planed our wood is coming over to the house to get a feel for our style because he's going to make the piece for us. He suggested a partial maple butcher block top with the rest being concrete. He showed us some amazing cuts of reclaimed Ash, Maple, Cedar, and Black Walnut that we can choose from to incorporate into the piece to complement the rest of the wood we've used in the kitchen.

The boys loved watching him plane another board for us to use as shelving in the boys' room.
We have an antique wood tool box that will sit on the divider wall behind the piece to hold olive oil, vinegar, sea salt, and some utensils, and on the dining room side, we'll have a concrete breakfast counter with stools. It's a better use of the space we have and will be nice since that area is where everyone gravitates when meals are being prepared.
Our wood flooring is really cool- planed so that some of the original barn red paint is still showing in places. Our friend Kate is helping us find a good environmentally friendly finish that will seal the wood but not ruin the look of it.

When it's all said and done, we'll throw a big party. I'll make fried chicken and a big fat chocolate cake and you are all invited!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Lights dimmed, restless crowd began cheering with alacrity as the band filtered on to the stage. And then she walked out. Long legged, gamine in Dune-esque slim leather pants, boots, black bra and loose white tank top, grabbing her straight brown hair to one side as she approached the mic. She grabbed at her chin in a recognizable gesture of slight nervousness before thanking the crowd and launching in to the first song from her sophomore album IRM, a brilliant collaboration between Beck and the "her" in this description, Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Staged at Park West in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, this was only the second time in 18 years Charlotte had graced Chicago with her presence and the only time as a musical artist. Betraying a slight shyness, she didn't share much but let the music do the communicating.

In spite of tight musicianship, I am always slightly disappointed at live shows where the songs sound, note for note, the same as what is on the album. While this is fine and doesn't always detract from the experience and energy of hearing (and watching) a musician or band live, I find myself a little let down. The first 3 songs from Charlotte and her band felt the same way, as if I may as well have had my ear phones in listening to it at home. But then they launched in to "Heaven Can Wait", "Le Chat du Cafe des Artistes" (a nod to her late father Serge Gainsbourg)and "Trick Pony" and the beauty of live improvisation and reinterpretation began. Structurally, the songs were still very recognizable, but in the hands of her amazing band, there were extended rhythm sections and ridiculously hooky bass lines that enhanced my appreciation of the songs I already loved. The best song was The Operation from her last album entitled 5:55, a collaboration with Jarvis Cocker and Air.
I personally couldn't keep my eyes off the bassist Bram Inscore, who looked like every math geek you've ever seen depicted on the silver screen. Sure he wore skinny pants and hipster Sperry for Band of Outsiders Black Canvas High Topsiders, but from the waist up, he was ready to buzz in with the square root of 144. Tie, button up shirt, gray vneck sweater and nerd glasses. Math wizard or no, he layed down amazing bass lines on a Hofner-style four string with mathematical precision and an artist's vision. He was joined by the incredible (and fresh faced) Eric Gardner on drums, Amir Yaghmai on guitar and strings, Beck's own Brian Le Barton on keys/percussion and Nicole Morier on guitar. Each musician was responsible for several instruments including an upright marching drum, violin, Korg analog keyboard, xylophone, and a wicked bass drum inclined on an old frame that added just the right wooden sounds on certain songs.
Charlotte herself was enchanting, largely because she is guileless. Perhaps it's because she grew up with such iconic parents and presumably around other iconic musicians, artists, and actors, that she is lacking in pretense, but she seems to have a self-awareness of the privileged life she grew up in and the fact that many may be skeptical of yet another actress cum pop star. There is something very childlike and almost innocent about her and it seemed fitting when she chose to cover Bob Dylan's 'Just Like A Woman' ("she aches just like a woman, but she breaks just like a little girl"). It's not just her voice, which drops to a faint whisper at times, it's in her stance and her lyrics as well. IRM chronicles her stint in the hospital after a brain hemorrhage brought on by a water skiing accident and in a very bizarre coincidence, Beck wrote the lyrics "drill a hole inside my head" without knowing of her accident. The second song and title track mimic the electronic buzz and noises of an MRI machine that she became very familiar with over a 6 month period of intense brain scrutiny. Her lyrics, co-written with Beck evoke the image of a person in the middle of their life, remembering, taking stock, and embracing the inevitable that is to come. In the hands of a far less capable band, it would be a difficult album to tour.

In trying to round out her song list for this tour, she chose a few covers and although she said she'd never dared before to cover her father, she did it on this, her first real tour. She chose L'Hotel Particulier from the Melody Nelson album and I couldn't help but think Serge, Gitane ever dangling from his lips, would've been proud.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Voluptuous Delights

I treated myself to a new cookbook from Anthropologie this week that I haven't been able to put down since purchasing. Aptly titled Miss (Sophie)Dahl's Voluptuous Delights, it reads as much like a short autobiography that is as engaging as the colorful photos that tempt one to make (and eat) every single recipe. Organized by season, as well as meal of the day, it's very easy to find a recipe to utilize the last of the swiss chard from your CSA box or a soup that will use the verdant bouquet of watercress that tempted you at the farmer's market but with no idea of how to prepare. Indeed, Sophie uses many whole ingredients that normally make me nervous. My mother, when we lived in Eugene, Oregon, went through a phase of cooking through the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook, which on the whole is a very good cookbook, but our family likes to summarily dismiss this period as Mom's barley lentil kasha days...days where, in an effort to feed us as wholesomely as possible, we unfortunately sat down to bland, if not plain old uneatable meals that made me suspicious to this day of anything too, you know, healthy. Things like quinoa (which is not pronounced phonetically, making it even doubly suspect), spelt, buckwheat groats and tofu all make me inwardly quake and turn up my butter-loving nose, but this book has changed all that.

Sophie's recipes are healthy, balanced, mostly vegetarian and you can't help but love a girl who went through a very public weight gain and loss to come out the other side writing appreciatively about all bodies "we have to deal with what we've got, appreciate it and move swiftly on. We all spend far too much time focusing on what we don't have and undermining what we do in the process. It's a cunning little distraction from what is truly important." Lest you think she sounds a little too much like an Oprah clone, never fear. Sophie Dahl inherited her grandfather's wit and writing ability and her personal stories that are interwoven throughout this delightful little tome add rather than detract from the recipes. Having enjoyed a stint as a model working with iconic photographer's from Vogue to being black listed because of weight gain to dealing with criticism for rapid weight loss and rumors of eating disorder (which was mostly due to a major illness she had while filming in India), she has run the gamut with food and come to a place of balance in her approach to food. Clearly, for her, it is about family and friends and the joy of sharing a meal with the ones you love. She summarizes at the end "sexy is inherent in a healthy appreciation for food, in having the energy to romp with your beloved, pick up your baby, cook dinner for your friends, go for a run or simply take a gentle walk to the market. Sexy is in feeling sated, having options and feeling alive." In sharing these recipes, she's definitely given options I feel good about making for our family, in particular these pear & ginger muffins (made with spelt flour) which were devoured by five hungry boys within minutes of coming out of the oven. Loaded with healthy ingredients but never lacking in flavor, moisture, or texture, this is one of many recipes I will be reaching for again and again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Jill Missed

We had the sweetest house guest with us this past weekend, little Ruby (and her Papa Josh, too, who is great but isn't a small, flaxen haired girl with a chirpy voice). Ruby's Mama Jill went to San Francisco with a friend for a much deserved birthday weekend and we got the joy of hanging out with this little lady. The whole weekend was wonderful but here are some highlights from Sunday.

After waking up and feeding the fish (Ruby's morning ritual at our house consisted of feeding the fish and then taking tea, being very careful and studied with both), we set out for brunch at Sardine.
Got home in time for a
bike ride to the Co-op to buy ingredients for...
tea in the little copse nearby, a place my niece Indy would deem a fairy glen.
A creek ran joyfully by and Sam was soaking wet by the end of his exploration of it.
Ruby found the Frog Prince. Who opted out of the kiss in favor of diving back in the creek.

Beautiful warm day, just right for exploring the creek.
Josh and neighbor friend Lily eating scones.
Jasper does not believe in standing on ceremony.

Ruby takes her tea drinking very seriously. A girl after my own heart.

After we picked up O, we went to Joel & Jenny's for a bonfire and fireworks.
I heard that while all this was going on, Jill was having adventures of her own, namely making it on to the Food Network channel while eating wonderful baked goods from Tartine and getting to spend the night with my dear friend Jen (whose etsy shop you really must check out).
It was a sad Tuesday morning when Felix came downstairs, sat down to breakfast then put his spoon and asked "Where's Ruby?" accusingly...I think he, like all the boys, were quite smitten and we hope for another visit soon!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Open Heart Surgery

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then ours has been under triple bypass surgery since about a month before we moved in. We are coming up on our fourth anniversary in our snug little home and I simultaneously pat ourselves on the back for what we have done, and shudder when I look around at all the projects yet to be completed. Mainly the latter. In fact, I would say there is very little in the way of patting on the back so just pretend I didn't say that.

I can't remember now why we had access to the house before actually moving in, but we did, and we naively and with great confidence tore into the kitchen one afternoon about two weeks before moving in. With the aid of my younger brother Noel, we ripped out the hanging cabinets and a large wood rectangle frame that encased fluorescent lights in the middle of the ceiling(trust me, it was UGLY). Never mind that we had two young children and were about to see the bright pink plus sign on another pregnancy test. I was waiting for Hansi to meet me at Francoise's bakery when I took it and felt relieved thinking, "so that's why I've been so exhausted and falling into bed at 6pm every night." And thus, all the energy, vision, creativity and back issues of Dwell and Domino that had caused me to triumphantly pull down the only real storage the house had (that the 8 boxes of china, dinnerware, and kitchen stuff in the garage dictated we needed) was swallowed up in a bleary eyed wall of fatigue and nausea.

So yes, this kitchen has been a labor of love. A slow moving, not dilating past 3 labor of love. Kind of like Sam's birth. Fast forward four years since moving in and here we are, with half-finished cabinets, half-painted walls, and in many places, huge chunks of tile missing from where large heavy objects have landed at just the right angle to crack and chip our floor. Despite all this, there are things I really love about our kitchen, like the two "prints" above the sink that are really hand printed paper I bought in Florence, Italy and decoupaged onto canvas...they are pomegranates, just the loveliest fruit you ever saw and even on the dreariest days, they cheer me up. I love our open shelves that Ryan salvaged from friends who live in an old converted dairy creamery and had this extra wood laying around. We've had to explain those open shelves to quite a few perplexed visitors who don't quite know what to make of them, but that's okay, because they make me happy. There's my stove that was an amazingly generous gift from my sister-n-law Summer and her husband when our old one died. Being a baker and someone who enjoys cooking (and has 6 hungry mouths to feed several times a day) it is easily my most prized is gas, after all and has a convection oven!
Big huge pieces of the puzzle are still missing but part of me, despite the un-doneness of the thing, enjoys the process, even if it is long and drawn out. I'm not sure how I would feel having the means to hire an interior designer or architect to come in and bang it out in a matter of months. I think I might feel a little crestfallen because as some wise person once said "it's not arriving but the journey that's important" (although that might be something I made up or read in a fortune cookie so take it with a grain of salt). Rita Konig shared with Domino readers that "once a house is done, it's time to move" so maybe I'm staving off the inevitable.

We did find 15" wide old barn siding from our local farm and the boards are currently (finally!) being planed and notched and it's possible that we may have our new floor ready for installation sometime this month, so we've been planning and saving and scheming on a sink, cabinets, and counter tops (friends are helping us make them out of concrete)and the prospect of having the kitchen all stitched up good as new makes me positively giddy.

So giddy that I started celebrating preemptively and purchased this lovely roll of vintage 1940's wallpaper. Of course I agonized about where to put it, but in the end, think it belongs here:

Above the stove and the old beam that holds my cook books. I think it looks amazing against the barn wood and old scale, don't you?
So stay tuned and hopefully in a few months, I can put up pics of our work as we install the floor.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

We Heart Vera

Anthropologie, where I work very part-time on the weekends, recently collaborated with the archives of Vera Neumann, the New England housewife-turned-printmaker who launched her own scarf company in 1946. She and her husband used excess parachute silk from WWII for her first runs and soon, her vibrant prints were seen on everything from scarves to plates to slipcovers. I walked into my store 2 weeks ago and immediately honed in on these beautiful mugs, printed with scenes from different places she visited in her many travels. One is ablaze with a sunset that reminds me of Florence in early Autumn, another feels possibly set in Cinque Terre on the Mediterranean. My favorite mug is one that is predominately red, the same red as the tissue paper thin of poppies in Italy. Grasping it takes me right back to a certain bend in the road near Monte Giove, with two tall cypress trees standing sentinel as I watch Blythe stoop just so to photograph the poppies for me.

One of the many things I love about Vera Neumann is how prolific she was. When anthropologie contacted her estate (she passed away in 1993) about collaborating, they found 7,000 prints in the archive. She had a mission to create one print per day and it seems as if she may have met her goal. I love picturing her in the 50's, 60's, and 70's travelling all over the world and using those travels to inspire her work.
We currently carry a proper day skirt that could have been lifted from Gwyneth Paltrow's character Marge in "The Talented Mr. Ripley", a linen/cotton A-line with a gorgeous print of boats and village in strong turquoise, red, and white. If I were the kind of girl who could pull off espadrilles and a white button up shirt with peter pan collar, you can bet I'd be purchasing this skirt. Heck, I may buy it anyway, hang it on my wall, and daydream that I'm in Positano when I look at it.
Anthropologie's label for this collaboration is We Heart Vera. This is printed on the bottom of the well of the mugs in such a way so every time you take a swig, you see the logo. This is particularly heartwarming to me as Vera is the name of Ryan's Grandma who passed away two years ago, and I think of her every time I use these.

Bern, Switzerland

When I was 15, I spent the summer in Hungary helping build an orphanage. It was truly a life changing experience for so many different reasons and was a pivotal time of shaping who I am as a person today. At the end of our summer, we took trains and buses to Switzerland, where we stayed in the mountains for a two week "debriefing" period before heading back home to the States, our families, and the drastic change privileged American life is to what we had lived those two months.

During that 2 week debrief, I remember walking around Bern, Switzerland, and being struck by how perfect everything was. It is a perfectly beautiful city with perfectly beautiful window boxes out of which perfectly groomed red geraniums bobbed their perfect little heads. I vividly recall being initially impressed that I never saw one stray piece of litter or graffiti and yet something kind of nagged at me in the back of my head until it hit me: Perfection is boring. I was startled to realize that I much preferred the grit and dilapidation of parts of Hungary that we passed on our morning walk to our work site to the post-card perfect scenes in Switzerland . In Hungary, I couldn't stop staring at the deep lines in the faces of elderly men and women who hung about the cafes, and I wondered what suffering they had lived through. Democracy had overthrown communism in their government just a few years prior, but things outside of the government, where the real people lived, were still very impoverished and broken down. Roads were full of potholes where they weren't non-existent. Foundations had deep cracks running up the sides of buildings. There was a lot of work to be done. And yet, those men and women who had seen and lived through so much, seemed very serene and at peace with their corner of the world and what "life" had doled out to them.

I was thinking about all this the other day because the honest truth is that my life, from certain angles, actually, from most angles, is anything but perfect. I don't want to go into it here as it is too much a public forum, but we've been through a lot as a family the last few months. I, personally, have been stripped of much that I hold dear, and I've been thinking a lot about suffering and how it's our natural response to push against it, and yet, without this thing called suffering, I know I wouldn't be the (read: awesome, amazing, wonderful, i'm joking here can you tell?) person I am today. We went through a lot several years ago, too, and I would tell people who asked that the best thing to do when faced with uncontrollable situations is to submit to them, and here I am wrestling with the same thing myself. It's difficult to acknowledge that we don't (not really) have control and that the things we do have control over maybe aren't the things we should be focusing on. But I digress.

What I want to say is that Switzerland really is a beautiful country, with notably clean cities and sparkling water (literally and figuratively). But underneath it all is a country that enables criminals, con artists, arms dealers, and Jason Bourne with its banking system and neutrality. When you look at Switzerland a little closer, it's actually not a very nice country at all, despite all superficial evidence to the contrary. And if I really do believe that there is beauty in broken things, in brokenness, in being broken, and I do, then I have to look at a country like Hungary circa 1992 and see beauty in the rebuilding, the restructuring, the reinvention, despite the crumbling facades and the dirt and grime. And I have to look at the brokenness in myself and in my family and learn to see beauty and hope there too. And it's hard not to when you wake up to the grinning, happy faces of four beautiful boys, full of hope and expectancy. And you come downstairs to your best friend, who also happens to be your husband, who has made you coffee while you slept in and greets you with "pancakes are on the way." This same man who knows you inside and out, has walked through the last 10 years of life with you ("for better and for worse"), been at your bedside while you birthed the children you share, and who is still excited for whatever lies ahead. And the outpouring of love and support from all our dear friends who love us and love our family. It really is a beautiful life.

This was not meant to sound like a Hall Mark Greeting Card found under the "Feel Better About Your Life" heading, but I do hope that any readers facing their own difficulties and disappointments, and maybe even injustices in your life, will find solace in looking at things from a different angle. And if it's any comfort at all, our dear friend Jeremy Bryan reminded us the other day of the Beatitudes, which seemed fitting in light of all the suffering worldwide that we see and hear about and feel helpless sometimes to do much to relieve:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit;
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Happy Easter!