Sunday, October 28, 2012

Breaking my rules

I really, really hate almost all processed foods.What they're doing to American health is criminal. But with off-the-chart cholesterol, even though I'm not overweight, and a habit of grabbing for cheese, I sometimes do steam/fry a few Ling Ling frozen potstickers from Costco for a quick lunch snack. They come with little packets of dipping sauce that I find too salty, so I make my own by mixing a little bit of Trader Joe's sweet chili sauce into TJ Asian dipping sauce. I think the result is actually better than the dumplings you get at P.F. Chang. Only eight minutes to prepare, and you don't have to wait for the server to introduce himself or herself then hear for the zillionth time the spiel about the special sauce they're mixing up for you. Bless their hearts, as they say down here.

Madeleine Update

An Internet friend on a forum read about my madeleines and posted that she had a lovely childhood memory of rosewater madeleines served up by French neighbors. Intrigued, I had to try making them. Martha Stewart has one for weddings (why on earth are all the pretty tables and tasty,  dainty foods reserved only for weddings, anyway?), so I took some elements of hers to come up with my version. I stuck to my own madeleine recipe (earlier post), but subbed a tablespoon of rosewater for the lemon juice in the batter, keeping the lemon rind. Then I madeMartha's syrup by  simmering a half-cup water with a half-cup sugar for a couple of minutes, cooling, then adding a tablespoon of rosewater. When the madeleines and the syrup were both cooled, I dipped the scalloped front edge of each one in the rose syrup, then in pink sanding sugar. Martha said to use pink powdered food coloring to tint sanding sugar, but finding it is a hassle, so I used some pink sanding sugar in the pantry that I'd bought one day at HomeGoods on a whim. As to the rosewater, I actually had found a it at one of our several local Middle Eastern shops. Of course, by the time I bought it, I'd forgotten what for, so I'm happy that I've used at least a couple of spoonfuls now.. Kind of like the harissa I searched for, found, and haven't used yet.) I have to say the resulting cookies are well worth the effort. I'll make them to serve to "the girls" next time they're over for needlework and tea.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Doing Proust Proud

"Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?" --from Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust

Though a lit major lo these many years ago, I was a lazy scholar who never really tackled Proust in a serious way. But his passage exalting the madeleine cookie did get my sensory antennae up. Thanks to my culinarily gifted mother, I've always been a foodie, and when I read that bit of Proust, I knew I had to find out what kind of cookies could inspire such writing. It was some years beforeI first tried a Madeleine, and I was disappointed because it tasted like nothing more than a miniature pound cake, heavy and boring. So, remembering the light and airy sponge cakes my mother used to make, I set out to create Madeleines the way I imagine they should be: light and airy on the inside, with the slightest hint of a crust. Downright ethereal. I decided that to achieve this, the eggs had to be separated and the whites beaten separately into peaks then folded into the batter at the end. Voila! The result was just as I'd anticipated. The really cool thing is that these days, there are nonstick madeleine molds. In the old days, it was almost impossible to remove cookies from the non-nonstick pans, and they lost their lovely shell shape. Now that I'm retired, I have the luxury of devoting an afternoon to baking Madeleines, eating them with a cup of jasmine tea, and enjoying a good book (not Proust). They are definitely to be savored fresh from the oven.

Magical Madeleines

¾ cup self-rising cake flour or use substitute*
½ cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs, separated
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
Pinch of salt (omit if using substitution)
1 tablespoon grated lemon (or orange) rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon (or orange) juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two nonstick madeleine molds (each with a dozen capacity). Melt butter and allow to cool. In a small bowl, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. In another bowl, beat sugar and egg yolks together until light in color (mixture will be crumbly at first, but will turn more runny). Fold in flour, salt, and lemon rind (this mixture will also remain crumbly for a while). Fold in cooled butter and juice. Fold in egg whites. Fill molds 2/3 ful and bake for about 9 minutes, or until they rise and are firm. They do not have to be brown on top. Let pan cool for a minute or two before removing the madeleines. Cool on rack. Yield: two dozen cookies.
*Substitute for cake flour:
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons regular flour
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Options: Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Or, dip one-third of wide end in melted chocolate. Drizzle melted white chocolate over some of the cookies (both chocolate and bare portions). 
To melt chocolate: In a small bowl, microwave at 50% power for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave 30 seconds more or until chocolate is softened. Stir until smooth.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Creamy white roses to lift the spirits

There's simply nothing like flowers in the house to brighten the spirits when you're not feeling good. For me, the flowers can be real, silk, or the ones I crochet into afghans. Going through a string of nonserious, but aggravating maladies for the past couple of months -- ranging from vertigo that needed treatment to resolve itself to a doggone nasty first cold in years -- my spirits can rise when I've bought a nosegay at the local supermarket.

Most of my life, I didn't care much for roses, because the ones I saw were a depressingly dark burgundy color. But after drawing a rose in a drawing class, I've learned to appreciate their sculptural attributes, and now I especially love white, peach, and yellow roses.

The half-dozen creamy roses from Trader Joe's have graced our breakfast room table for at least 10 days or so. When I first brought them home, I left the stems fairly long and had them in a green glass vase. Per a friend's advice, I crushed the stems with a hammer, and that seemingly destructive measure seems to prolong the lives of flowers. After about a week, I decided to cut the stems short and place them, more fashionably, in a small, square vase with glass pellets. They're still perky -- certainly perkier than I feel.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A trip back to the '40s via my crochet hook

This project had its genesis on the addictive website,, I love popcorn crochet, the way designs emerge magically from my hook, lending splendid texture to afghans. When I saw the beautiful -- almost ethereal -- photos of this on pinterest, I knew I had to give it a try. It started when somebody found a vintage afghan in a thrift shop, took it home, and tried to reproduce the pattern.

 A Korean crocheter posted her version of the pattern in universally understood crochet symbols.
Aren't those blue,  yellow, and green hues lovely!

Pinned Image

Then the discoverer of the pattern translated it into written directions.

I capitalized on both these ladies' efforts to come up with my version, winging it on the joining round, then choosing to add a popcorn edging instead of bordering the afghan with whole motifs in a different color. Here's the result:

My corner joinings are less than perfect, and I toyed with the idea of covering them with some four-petaled popcorn flowers, but then decided they might spoil the circular flow of the design.  For the background color, I used Michael's Loops & Threads Impeccable Heather (l wish the earthiness of the color showed up better in my photos). The green and yellow flowers also are Impeccable colors, and the third color is Red Heart's Coral (which, disappointingly, looked more orange than coral when all was said and done).

As I was crocheting this, I kept having feelings of deja vu. It made me think of those sweet chenille bedspreads I remember from the little house nestled in the Virginia mountains that my mother and I lived in while waiting for my dad to get back from dangerous missions over the Himalayas during the great war. The puffy, raised swirls and flowers did indeed look like fuzzy caterpillars winding their way around the bed (chenille is the French word for caterpillar). Even the entwined wedding ring design itself seemed familiar, so I googled it and found there are very similarly patterned vintage chenille bedspreads for sale, and thought we must have had that pattern covering one of our beds, too. Anyway, crocheting this was really a trip, and I think I'll have to keep this little coverlet for myself, because of all the memories it brought back.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A $3 project, courtesy of the dollar store

Whenever I have a couple of tables of canasta at my house, pencils are always needed for scorekeeping. To make them easier to find, not to say prettier, I made a little vase of floer pens. All it took was three items from Dollar Tree: a pack of stick pens (they need to have caps), a roll of green florist's tape, and a bouquet of six flowers and six leaves. And, a couple of things I had on hand:  wire cutters and craft glue. I just cut off the stem of each flower to about 2 inches, attached it to the top of the pent (flush with the bottom of the bloom) with some green floral tape. I found I needed a dab of craft glue to make the starting end of the tape adhere, then wound it round and round, almost to the place where the top of the cap would be. Then, another little dab of glue to make sure the end sticks. When I found I still had six leaves on the stems, and they were too pretty to throw away, I attached one of them to each flower pen, in the same way.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Birdies on the cheap

Loving the way these bird cloches

  look on a table with just a few pretty cookies in them, but unwilling to pay a whopping $40 apiece , I scored with these knockoffs at Marshall's this week.They, too, are long-stemmed, but it's hard to tell from my photo.

 The globes do have a subtle design etched on them, and I'd prefer them plain. But, what the hey. At only $12.99 each, I "saved" $55 on these cute little gew-gaws. Now to figure out what I can get rid of to make room for them in my ever-overstuffed house, which -- because of an unaccountable fondness for bird motifs -- is already looking like an aviary. They will be cute to put on the table with just a few cookies for those who don't like the dessert I'm serving, or the handful I leave out before sticking the rest of a fresh-baked batch in the freezer. . . There must be another clever way to use these stemmed globes . . . maybe as part of a centerpiece . . .

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A quick afghan for Project Linus

Just finished this, using a pattern from a Leisure Arts booklet, altering from the pastel colors to some Loops & Threads shades in my stash, and adding part of Kim's lovely border for more of a lacy look for a little girl. Made it years ago with pastels called for in the original pattern. And both times I had to fudge a little to keep the stitch count on those multi-stitch rounds.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Finally finished!

This started out as a scrap afghan a couple of years or so ago. However, since I don't use variegated yarn very often, I did have two buy three or four more skeins of coordinating variegated. Then there's the matter of needing more of the white background color . . .
This afghan sat in a basket in my workroom for more than a year before I finally picked it up and decided last week to finish it off. The original pattern for the Star Quilt afghan called for making a bunch of little white diamond shapes to sew onto the edges in a certain way to fill in gaps, but I didn't think them necessary. And, not being fond of fringe, I omitted that, too. I just evened out the edges with a couple of rounds of single crochet, then added a last round of crab stitches for a neater look.
This is not my favorite afghan of the many I've made, and I don't know what I'll do with it. But every one always seems to find a home eventually.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Love that chipotle -- and hominy

This has to be one of the quickest and tastiest suppers ever, and I love the presentation. It combines two of my favorite igredients: chipotle in adobo and hominy:
In the spirit of Use What You Have, I subbed peach preserves for apricot -- maybe not giving it as intense a flavor as apricot, but still awfully good. And, I thought scallions better in the hominy than cilantro -- especially since a certain family member has an aversion to the herb. All in all, a success, and I've made it twice now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pampering myself with flowers

Winter in Atlanta this year has been weirdly warm, and who's to complain about temps in the 50s and 60s well into February? So I don't have the excuse of gloomy winter days to buy myself fresh flowers, but I did anyway. And how they've lasted. The gorgeous peachy rose and green hydrangea plant was kind of a splurge at Kroger, but it's lasted in very moderate sunlight for two weeks now.
Same for the mix of white and green cut flowers brought home from Wholefoods a couple of weeks ago. They're in repurposed salsa jars (I love Trader Joe's jars), which fit perfectly in the cute wire holder that was a bargain at $6.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bed of a Compulsive Crocheter

Too crowded for another crocheted thing.