Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Little Coat That Could

So it started with this...and led to this...spent some time here and here and here till now I am pondering this:











Fiona promptly announced that she will not go out in public with me if I am wearing this coat. Hurray! P-time!


The whole thing really went together in an evening and I COULD have stayed up and finished it right then and there, but I needed to wash the coat first and it being wool, I wasn't sure it was done shrinking, which it being a size large, would not be a bad thing. It's such a warm coat as you can imagine. Not unlike wrapping yourself in a wool blanket, but it's pretty homely. And at first I was just going to make a few flowers to jazz up the collar, but....YOU KNOW ME...most things in excess....I got carried away. And I think it looks all funky and Anthropologie like. Its loud, but I dig it. Fiona however, still hates it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Today was BAKLAVA day

Baklava

Once I was asked by famous New Yorker Chris Wells to provide a food offering for his avant-guard artsy church service The Secret City. I jumped at the chance to do this (after sulking about the fact I couldn't squeeze a NYC trip out of it). I felt I'd waited my whole life to be asked a favor like this.
The following is the piece I wrote to be read at the service that evening. The theme of the service was WORK. I'm publishing it here, 'cause dang! I am totally going to milk a blog entry out of it. It's not like sloppy seconds. Really.

I picked Baklava.. My choice of food had to jump a few hurdles. Certainly I wanted the offering to reflect a fair amount of work involved in its preparation, but also I wanted to choose something that would travel well and still taste good several days after making it.

Why is it special to me? I grew up with a Greek father who wasn’t very Greek except in his love of Greek foods. I wore my ethnicity as a badge of pride as a young person since being half Greek in my small California desert town made me unusual, but not in a bad way.
Baklava is really a show-off’s dessert. I’d watched my mother end many a baking session in tears as she confronted her inability to master the process. In California, baklava is not unheard of, but there’s no Kalustyan's on every corner either. So when I grew up and discovered a natural affinity in the kitchen, I became the family’s official Baklava-Baker. My mother was thrilled. My father was thrilled. And for many Christmas', I baked Baklava in copious quantities that my parents promptly froze in their giant Kenmore freezer and ate thorough out the year.
I don’t necessarily enjoy making Baklava. It really is a recipe that asks you to follow directions to the letter and, at the same time, have the confidence to make decisions based on past experience.
Every time I think I know more than the recipe---something goes wrong and every time I follow the recipe exactly, something is off as well. It is a tricky balance.
To make Baklava, you really need to give it your undivided attention and a good 3 hours of your day. I can’t even imagine what it would take if you made your own phyllo dough…
To start, the sheets of this paper-thin dough are defrosted overnight. They rapidly dry out and will become so brittle they shatter, so once unwrapped from the packaging, they are kept under a damp towel. If the towel is too damp, the sheets of pastry will get soggy and become impossible to separate from each other. Your mother will often cry at this point.

A pound of butter is melted and clarified (milk solids removed). Each sheet is placed one at a time in the pan and painted with a thin coat of butter. The sheets tear, squirm, move, wrinkle. Cursing ensues.One must work quickly so the dough doesn’t become too wet under the towel or dry out. After the layers of pastry and butter have been built to about 1 inch, (aprox.20 sheets of dough), a sprinkling of nuts, sugar and spices is added between each layer.Now the paper-thin dough is asked to rest on the bumpy nuts and be brushed with butter. More tearing and wrinkles. More swearing and ordering of one’s children to GET THE HELL OUT OF THE KITCHEN. However, after 20-odd years of this, today I discovered that if you paint the sheet with butter BEFORE you lift it and put it on the pile...well. It works a thousand-million times better that's all. And thus today I did not cry or abuse children. When this dough/nut layer is about 1 inch thick, we resume layering just the dough and butter.The pastry is cut into the traditional diamond shapes, a clove stuck in each piece. If you are out of cloves and decide to skip it or you realize no one ever eats the clove anyway and leave it out, your father will complain about it for the next 7 months.Speaking of cloves: They are freaking expensive! I don't know why everyone is bitching and moaning about gas prices ---this jar of cloves was $10.78!

The pan of pastry is baked for an hour. Finally a syrup of honey and sugar that’s infused with cinnamon and citrus peel is poured over the hot pastry. Too much and the baklava will be wet and ooze out syrup. This also makes your father grumble. Too little syrup and the dessert will be dry and layers will separate. After it is cooled, all the syrup will have been absorbed up into the pastry layers. You can remove the pieces from the pan and set on cupcake papers or just onto a plate.
My sources tell me it can be eaten straight from the freezer while standing in your bathrobe, and actually some of these sources really have never eaten it any other way that tells you something.


Mmmm. There they are. All ready for Christmas.

After all the Baklava is packed up, these little bits left in the pan are my FAVORITES. They are simultaneously sopped with honey and crispy-crunchy. You can get plenty ill eating these all up, but it's required. The next day, you can go into the garage and , in your bathrobe, stand in front of the freezer and eat a few of the extras that didn't get shipped off to NYC or your father.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Tree-less Christmas Tree

In December of 1984, I was living the big life of my first ever boyfriend and my supremely important job at Carvel Ice Cream. I remember going next door to Sav-On and buying a set of mini Christmas Lights (a string of 25) and bringing them back to Carvel, plugging them in and declaring them the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. I strung them around the tiny tree I'd set up in my bedroom, laid in my bed and stared at it for hours. It's almost absurd to think that in the days before all this iCrap we have now, there was a time when MINI LIGHTS were the most new and exciting things we'd ever seen. I was infatuated with the lights, the music, the Miller's Outpost commercials. This was how much I used to love Christmas.

Somewhere along the line (and actually I can narrow it down to the last 7-8 years) I lost my Christmas.
Favorite Lolly pop ornament from early childhood

another favorite

Someone gave me this glass heart when I was a teenager. It was one of those rare moments when I felt someone really "got me"


'09 and '10 were especially hard. I had no energy nor motivation to do anything--no decorating, no tree, no baking. Christmas wore me out. It had swallowed me whole, and spat me out all used up and chewed on. And although I'm writing this on Thanksgiving eve (early infiltration of the holiday season being another irritant), I am hoping that I can retool Christmas to make it palatable once again. It may (and probably should)change completely for me, but being a Scrooge is a drag too.

So the first stop along the way was to deal with the tree issue. I like a tree, but I hate a tree. I like the way it smells for the first 2 days then it stops. And while everyone wants to decorate it, no one wants to clean it up. And they are freaking expensive. For $65 I'd honestly rather go out to dinner. SO...
Once we had these friends who (in addition to a tree) strung a series of parallel lines of mono-filament and hung all their antique ornaments on them just against a plain wall. It was stunning. Fast forward to this year and I tried to do the same thing on our giant sheet metal bulletin board, and it was an resounding fail. Ornaments were too heavy, strings sagged, too much assistance from tape and magnets...yuck. It looked horrible. It needed more structure, but I was hell bent not to spend any more money. After all, I'd just dropped $5 of 2 sets of lights...whew!

Timing was on my side, for Sean had just taken down a part of our fence that had been extended with some rabbit wire left over from the chicken coop days. I took that, unbent it (harder than it sounds) and held it to the steel board with the aforementioned magnets. Then I clipped it into a tree shape, outlined it with the lights and re-hung everything. I like it.

Cool things about it:
It is right above an outlet...no crawling to plug in!
It doesn't look half bad UN-lit.
It doesn't need water.
It doesn't drop needles.
Ornaments are really SEEN.
It doesn't take up an inch of floor space.
It looks hip, sleek, modern AND traditional all at once.

It could be made of chicken wire as well. And when Christmas is over, it can go on the garden fence as a trellis.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Ok To Have Chocolate Cake for Breakfast. Really.






Have I ever posted my favorite choc. cake recipe?? We had this last weekend and before it disappears, I should share.
This is from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking series and the cake is so easy and fast, it could be make successfully by any 11 year old. But not MY 11 year old, cause I don't like anyone in my kitchen, but that's another story.

Here we go:

Buttermilk Cocoa Cake

Preheat over to 350. Butter and flour a 9" pan (don't start using other size pans, this is important).
Mix together 1.75 c flour, .75 c unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 c sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda and .25 teaspoon salt.
(Please tell me you can remember your fractions people, the "1/4" just doesn't work for me)
To these ingredients add 1 c buttermilk, .50 c veg oil or melted butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Turn batter into the pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 min. or until a tester comes out clean. Cool 5 min. and turn out of the pan.

At this point you're on your own. Because you've floured your pan, the cake looks a bit dodgy and needs a little decorating. Powdered sugar is fine as would be a quick coat of raspberry jam. You could whip up some cream and put a cloud of that on top and nestle some sugar macerated strawberries in it if you were wanting to win friends or make up for being a bit touchy the other day, but personally, I like ganache.Ganache is simply a mixture of chocolate and cream and I'm sure there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, but all I ever do is heat a little cream (not half and half!) say about a cup, and when it is hot, I add an equal amount of chocolate chips and stir till melted and glossy. You pour this over your cake and let the side drip down. Left over ganache goes in an old jelly jar to be put in your 'fridge and eaten with a spoon in emergencies (coming home from work, sitting at the computer, reading the mail...those sorts of emergencies).

The best thing about this cake is it tastes SO MUCH BETTER the next day. So if you were having a dinner gathering on a Saturday night, you could SO make this cake Friday morning or even Thursday night. It really goes together in about 7 minutes.

Then, cause I'm nothing if not a lily-gilder, I made Salted Caramel Ice Cream which  totally rocked. Again, note to self: Make this waaaay in advance. I'd made the custard Sat. night, and thought I'd freeze the ice cream Sunday morning. But it just didn't set up properly and it was softer than gelato at dessert time. Not that that stopped any of us, but even this morning when I pulled out a spoon of it to photograph, it is super soft. And this is in my full size freezer, bottom shelf. Not that I'm going to throw it away you know, but it is not like regular ice cream. I followed David Lebovitz's recipe and it is excellent.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Beatles Birthday Party

Now that my kids are big and don't like "dumb ass" birthday celebrations (their words, not mine) I was forced to indulge my need for a themed party by subjecting Sean to a Beatles Birthday Party.

Thankfully for everyone, I just themed out the food. There was no "Fab-Four Bingo" or "pin the Moustache on the Beatle" games (but you KNOW I coulda...)

 So a few minutes research on the web provided a sweet baby birthday party that I quickly stole and added to for Sean's big 47th. The original link is here, and their photographs are super. MY photographs are not, but you'll get the idea.


These were a huge hit. Graham cracker crust, choc ganache and marshmallows run under the broiler.

Setting these side by side is a must.


Luckily, Sean still has lots of Beatle toys, I mean Action Figures.

Mom and Fifi rocking their 60's up-do's


These were savory and had smoked salmon on them. They look a little challenged in the photo, but  they were fine.

Yellow submarines. I mean, c'mon! However, get this: the Twinkies went a little stale sitting on the table uncovered all night. WHO KNEW???


Oh these fricking T-trees. First of all they were a bitch to bake, a bitch to frost, I had NO orange sprinkles and by Nov. 16 there are none to be had at any store for any price (meaning they didn't have them at Raley's and I was too lazy to shop around) Then they kept sliding down the sticks. THEN I added toothpick branches, and THEN...well. whatever. They didn't even taste that great. Lesson learned.

I also did the sodas with signs, but don't have photos for...
Sergeant Dr. Pepper
For the Benefit of Mr. Sprite
You Say You Want a Coca-Cola?

To supplement the sweets, there were Bangers and Mash, BBQ Meatballs and Roasted Veggies (no Beatles tie-in) but I did make an Octopus' Garden Ceviche.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Where she tries not to burn down the house...




Aladdin opens tomorrow night at Browns Valley (7 pm, T, W, TH)
Yes, my living room looked like a red, pink, ochre and purple bomb went off in there. This is the second time I've done this show. I find it so fascinating how different casts have their own quirks and challenges.
This group is hell-bent on turning their backs to the audience. At this age, "cheating out" is a pipe dream, and all you can really hope for is a bit of a flat, gingerbread man type stance while said child recites his/her lines. It's a little wooden and awkward, but words are heard and faces are seen. HOWEVER. This group. oy vey.
They are profoundly interested in delivering lines to the upstage wall.
It must make them feel more secure, cause they all do it.
I shoulda kept good on my threat and brought the super-soaker.
after a few wet-butts, perhaps these problems would have disappeared!

I discovered that I could "hem" the edges of the crazy skirt fabric by running it through a candle flame. Not as dangerous as it looks, and it went really fast. I also discovered I had about 2x as much fabric as I need, so yeah! The skirts will look extra nice.

Army uniforms--so simple, just a rectangle of felt--there's a slit cut at the top for your head to go through, a glued on emblem and a red sash.
For 17 kids, that was a kick ass costume plan. They will just wear jeans and a white t-shirt under their "tunic". Awesome.

The other kids got stuff from the thrift store, all in the same color palette'cause that's how I roll people. I like it all to match. Makes it look better. Makes it look GREAT even if it's not so great. Just an insider's secret there---free of charge.

.So come out and see us. There is no fee, and the kids really are cute.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tomato Sludge

When life gives you a glut of tomatoes (happening most summers here in Napa, but NOT this one), and you've run out of ideas...you make Tomato Sludge!

1. Coat a rimmed cookie sheet generously with olive oil.


 2. Cut your tomatoes, red, green--it matters not, into halves or quarters. Sprinkle with garlic salt, black pepper, basil, oregano (the usual suspects) and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. We are on a spicy food kick right now, so I added some hot chili powder.
 3. Oops, I forgot the garlic. 7-8 cloves, peeled. Toss them in there and bury under the tomatoes so they don't dry out or burn.

4. Cook at 300 degrees for, oh, forever. Probably 3 hours. I started these in the morning, turned the oven off to go to work, came home and turned it on again...they get very soupy. You will use a spatula and turn them every so often. As you turn them, mash the garlic once it's soft. If you run out of patience, crank the heat up to 350 till the sheet looks like this:
 ...not drippy, but still moist.
 5. Pack this into a jar and loll about in your happy smugness. This stuff is so good. It's the base of every pasta sauce, pot roast, bruchetta, pizza, etc. You can (and will) eat it straight from the jar with a spoon.
6. Ta Da! Keeps in the fridge about a month or two. Freezes also, but don't use a jar--it may crack.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Epic Cookies


The other day I made peanut butter cookies. And these my friends are epic.
They are not the crumbly, fork-hatched, greasy cookies of our youth. These bad boys are chewy. And that's my cookie preference. 



In my house, when the sweets get low, my kids will eat handfuls of chips. Chocolate chips, butterscotch chips...etc. As you might imagine, I have quite a supply on hand. So in these cookies besides peanut butter and chopped peanuts are chips. I like butterscotch and white chocolate, but I was out of the WC. So I just emptied all the little quarter and half bags that remained from the kids' foraging and they are, as always, terrific. 


The key is to take them out in time and NOT OVER BAKE. I am a terminal over-baker. So I lost 1.5 sheets of these and they are crunchy-crunchy. A good thing cause I now will not touch them. Much.
Here's how they go:



Peanut Butter Cookies adapted form the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

1 & 1/4 cups Flour
3/4 tsp baking Soda
1/2 tsp baking Powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (one stick) soft butter
1 c peanut butter
3/4 c white sugar
1/2 packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 T milk
1 tsp vanilla
assorted chips to make 2 cups*
1/2-3/4 chopped peanuts

Oven at 350
Mix butter and peanut butter till light and fluffy. Add sugars and beat till smooth. Add egg, mix well. Add milk and vanilla.
Add flour, salt, baking powder and soda and mix till smooth. Add chips and chopped nuts.
I like to use a scoop for uniform cookies, but you can use a set of spoons too. Drop into a shallow bowl of granulated sugar, roll to coat. Put on parchment lined cookie sheet and flatten a little.
Bake 10-12 minutes, do not over bake. Cookies will appear underdone but they are not. Cool on sheet for one minute then move to a rack.

* I think butterscotch is crucial and other parings might include chocolate, cinnamon or white chocolate. Peanut butter chips sound good but they get lost.

Make these and stand back. The last time I sent these off, my friend declared me a goddess on Facebook. No joking.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Christie, the Jennifer, the Kimberly



Just plugging a few more aprons for the Etsy shop.

If you want to look, follow the link there in the box on the right--->>> But click on jamjarboogie, not the word Etsy.

In other news, I have ONEHUNDREDANDFIFTYPOUNDS of grapes in my freezer. Give or take a few. If you are local and want to make jam---hit me up.

I'm inspired now to make a tile table for the Napa High fundraiser in November. If I can get the Iron people to donate a stand, I think I'm in business. Another thing that's making me crazy: Rag rugs. I've been saving and braiding my scraps all summer, but THEN I saw this:


I want to try this mighty bad. It's crochet! The hook must be as big as a turkey baster! All the more reason to do it!


Then....This! I don't know if I want to scream or roll my face all over it...these are exquisite!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

POT-HOLDER MADNESS!!! and you thought it was just Thursday...


Holy Guacamole, look at these beauties. I made these all in about 3 days.
I'm starting to note a slight obsessive facet of my personality...Hmmmmm.

So head over to etsy and nab yourself a set of the most awesome potholders in the world Napa.

I bundled then into sets of 3 and named them after colleges Maddy wants to apply to. Um, make that  "...Maddy wants and Mommy thinks she SHOULD" apply to.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to change your life with 2 loaves of Wonder Bread



Is it lunchtime already?That's homemade plum jam by the way. Want one?


This is what 15 mornings of peace look like.
A few years ago, (just after the school year had started), my friend called me up for a chat. She confessed that she was making a week's worth of P B & J sandwiches and Ham and Cheese sandwiches to freeze as we spoke on the phone. She said "There's just no other way we can get out of the house in the morning."
I thought it was the grossest thing. I mean, please? Who would eat a frozen sandwich?

Oh guess what? Children do! children who are hungry and trapped at school and have no other choice do! Yippee!
I started doing this soon after that phone call and have never looked back.  A frozen sandwich doesn't spoil between 7 am and 12.
I feel so smug to have 15 lunches ready to roll. Throw one in a bag,  wash an apple or two and find some pretzels or raisins? Ta-da! Lunch.

Monday, September 19, 2011

When life gives you lemons, just throw them away or make pot holders


After posting the pot holder photos a day or so ago, I was compelled to give it a shot. I think the simple ones are better, though it's hard to predict how they will turn out. 





As you can see, I have a hard time stopping...I have about 8 more "middles" that I can cover and then I should be done.
It's one of those situations where I hate to let anything go to waste. Many times this works out, but many times it bites me in the butt. 
For example:
Tried to save left over lemonade (and crappy crystal lite at that) by freezing it. Except that I put it in giant mason jars and even though I left the lid off, they cracked. Ruining not only the lemonade but the really nice jars too. Stupid.

Then a few years ago I got the idea to wash the mattress cover to our fancy European bed. It covers the entire mattress, top bottom and sides, but it unzips. So I just washed the top. But it is wool and it shrunk and matted and was horrible. Gave it to the cats to sleep on. However, when ordering a new one, I had to get the whole thing (top, bottom and sides). So I took the old one off, and cut it into these squares 'cause, dude...they are wool and about 1/4 inch thick...really nice for pot holders. I made up a few and they are great except for the pesky washing thing. Ya can't do that...they scrunch and mat up just like the top cover did. But if you don't care (i don't), and are willing to hand wash them (i am), they are very suitable.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

INSPIRATION


My friend Chris recently asked on Facebook what was inspiring to us. He meant, as artists or as regular folks, ya know, what really gets you going. I hesitated to comment because I always feel other's creativity gets me going and I always feel that's cheating. I'm not down on myself (anymore) and I've accepted and relished the fact I am a technician rather than as artist---and that is totally OK :-)

but sometimes when I'm tooling around the interweb's craft world I see something that makes my heart pound and today...I decided it is color. More specifically, combinations of colors. I have never been able to pick a "favorite color" (although if pressed I'd probably choose pink. Or green. Or that Robin's Egg Blue...crap). Instead I have always been enamoured with sets of colors. I know this cause I'd go in the Gap and see all the glorious sweaters on the table, all folded just so and I'd want one. But as soon as I held one up and removed it from the others...it didn't look as good. I longed for the pop it had with its knitted brothers and sisters left on the table. That being said I am not really a huge "rainbow" fan. But these...these potholders...these make my soul sing.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Good Lord...

so, finding Wordpress waaaaay too frustrating to use, I went back to Blogger and in about 4 minutes, copied and pasted everything and made a new blog. However, despite my best intentions, the first few posts are out of order. WHAT-EVER.
From here on out...nothing but easy blogging for old people like me.

First Batch on Etsy


You can buy all my delicious creations at my etsy shop…http://www.etsy.com/people/jamjarboogie?ref=si_pr