Monday, August 31, 2009

Banana cupcakes


I baked two dozen of these delicious cupcakes yesterday morning, and there are only three left. We ate a dozen of them at the pool yesterday picnicking with friends, and the rest today. This recipe is so perfect -- it's really a dump-stir-and-bake recipe, and only has a few ingredients. The cupcakes are so dense and sticky, and have just the right balance of sweetness and banana flavor, and the cream cheese frosting is as tangy and irresistible as cream cheese frosting can get. They're also great with peanut butter for breakfast.

Banana Cupcakes
from the Moosewood Restaurant: Simple Suppers

Yield ~20 cupcakes

Wet ingredients
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3 or 4 bananas)*
1/2 c olive oil
1 1/3 c packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/4 c plain yogurt

Dry ingredients
1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Coffee or chocolate cream cheese frosting (I just make vanilla)
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temp
3 T butter, at room temp
1 c sifted confectioners' sugar
2 T brewed coffee or 1 T cocoa powder (or 1 t vanilla)

Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare two standard cupcake pans with liners, cooking spray or butter.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, mix the wet ingredients until smooth and creamy, a minute or two. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix at low speed until smooth. Spoon the batter into the cupcake pans, filling each cup about three-quarters full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all the frosting ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy and smooth. Cool the cupcakes for at least 15 minutes and then frost.

*I'm picky about bananas, and only eat them if they're smooth and yellow, with a pale green stem and no brown spots. When they start to turn (most people say ripen), I put them in the freezer. They're great for baking with, because you just have to thaw them, then cut off the end and squeeze the liquified banana out. No mashing! I have a freezer full of these guys, so I'm always looking for good banana recipes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Goodbye, weekend

You were lovely. Sunny and hot, but with a hint of autumn in the wind.

Bratwurst

Tea, knitting and Gilmore Girls

Naps

Snowcones

Sunset at the lake

A book by the pool

Friday, August 28, 2009

Chicken Parmigiana


My little brother came for a visit this week. I'd promised to pick up chicken parmigiana sandwiches from this great little Italian restaurant near the library the day he got home, but they were closed! Indefinitely! Until further notice! We were all very sad (especially the guys, because they're not crazy about udon noodles, which was the replacement dinner), so the next night we put on some tunes (Gogol Bordello -- his choice) and I put on my apron and got cooking.


I learned to make chicken parmigiana from my friend M.E., and it was one of our comfort meals the year we shared a duplex while our husbands were in Iraq. The secret is to pound the chicken very thin. You can easily substitute eggplant slices for the chicken, and make sure you make enough to have leftovers -- this is delicious the next day.


Chicken Parmigiana

2-3 chicken breasts
1 c breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1 jar marinara sauce (unless you're really awesome and make your own)
provolone or mozzarella cheese
2-3 T olive oil
spaghetti or sandwich rolls

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're serving this over spaghetti, go ahead and start the water boiling. Prepare the chicken while the spaghetti cooks.

Working with one breast at a time, cover the chicken with plastic wrap or place it in a ziploc bag. Pound it flat using a meat mallet (or a rolling pin, if you don't have a mallet). Cut the breast into 2-3 pieces and salt and pepper both sides.

Put the breadcrumbs on a plate, then press the chicken pieces into the crumbs and cover them well. Meanwhile, pour enough olive oil in a heavy skillet to cover the bottom and heat over medium-high heat.

Saute the chicken in the oil, removing when the breadcrumbs are crispy and brown and the chicken is cooked about 3/4 of the way through. You might have to cook the chicken in two batches to avoid crowding the skillet.

Pour about a cup of marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish, then place the chicken in the dish. Pour another cup of sauce over the chicken, then top with slices of cheese. Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the cheese is melted. Serve on toasted sandwich rolls or with spaghetti.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baths not bombs


I just got these yummy not-bombs from Etsy seller katevw last week. They're nice and fizzy, and made with natural essential oils, epsom salts and moisturizing ingredients like shea butter or apricot kernel oil. I got six different scents. The only one I've tried yet is GLEE, the sweet orange and bergamot, and it was very citrusy. I love the extra decoration in the not-bombs (and the cute names) -- GLEE had flower petals. Some have glitter, others have salts or even bee pollen sprinkled on top. Kate's a great seller -- check her out!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day trip

We went to Austin yesterday to check out a couple of vintage furniture stores, drop by Half-Price Books and stop in at Hill Country Weavers so Chris could choose the yarn for his sweater, which I'll start if I can ever finish John's hat. We're definitely in need of a new piece of furniture for our living room to replace the Target-newlywed-special that's listing several inches to the left, which makes the cabinet doors inoperable, and we really want to get something vintage rather than something new. The two pieces we fell in love with at Uptown Modern -- a remarkable place for midcentury modern finds -- were a gorgeous Paul McCobb credenza well out of our price range, and a great credenza that had already been sold. The owner purchases about 70 new pieces each week, so we'll definitely be checking the website frequently for new stock.

Hill Country Weavers is across the street from a funky little parking lot collection of street vendors in shiny Airstream trailers, including Hey Cupcake! Of course I had to finish the day off with a delicious cupcake -- who wouldn't?


We didn't find any furniture to take home, but we did see some crazy stuff at one of those consignment-booth antique mall stores, including this great collection of Hawaiian shirts. What?

And these jars of buttons


I thought these painted wooden letters could look cool on a wall in a cottagey sort of house


At the yarn store, Chris finally settled on a Cascade 220 tan heather for his sweater -- good choice -- after considering some beautiful dark blue merino. I wish I worked faster so I could justify adding several new projects just to have an excuse to buy some of the pretty handspun and lace yarns I saw. Next time, I suppose. Anyway, here's the yarn on the nifty electric swift, being wound from a hank into a neat little ball.


It's hard to see the color, but it's a nice little woodsy heather brown.

That was our exciting weekend -- how was yours?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Indulgences


Some days you just need to do something special for yourself -- that first day of a long weekend after a long work week, or the day you planned to go to the pool and couldn't because you fell while running and scraped up your knee, or when you get a rejection from a job you really wanted and thought you'd get, or just for a day you're down in the dumps.


For me, nothing is as indulgent as a leisurely breakfast. Lingering over coffee with a good book in the morning just shouts, "I am more important to me today than anything on my to-do list." So break out the good stuff -- the linen, a silver tray, a handpainted coffee mug -- and treat yourself to Jen from IndieFixx's delicious breakfast cookies (found on her food blog, Some Clever Spoon). Take your time, and only get up when you feel relaxed and ready to face the rest of the day.


This works well at other times of the day, and doesn't have to cost anything extra. A nice lunch on your balcony or back patio is sometimes more enjoyable than a pricey, crowded affair in a trendy cafe. I like to settle down in the late afternoon with a mug of tea or even just a glass of water with lime and a piece of fruit and just turn off for a few minutes, or get the leash and take Daisy for a long wander, letting her set the pace and stop to sniff whenever she likes. What small indulgences do you make time for?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WIP Wednesday


Update on the hat I'm making for my brother. I finished the stranded knitting part, and now I'm just left with miles and miles of tiny, black stockinette. If he didn't have such a huge head, I'd be finished by now (maybe not ... either that, or I have an equally huge heid).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Housekeeping


Right after Chris and I got married, I quit working and started grad school. While I was in school full time, my classes were all evening classes, which left me with lots of time at home during the day. It was difficult for me to embrace being a housewife -- although I was a student, not having any paying job was something I hadn't experienced in a long time. Having a career was always part of my planning and my identity. In an effort to deal with my new role, I decided to make as housewifely a garment as I could: a frilly, ruffly, 1950s full apron. It was part sarcasm, sass and a little spite, but it soon became one of my favorite pieces. The tongue-in-cheek message helped me learn to embrace housekeeping (or at least those aspects I enjoyed anyway), and it's now one of my favorite pieces. When I slip on the now-frayed red-and-blue emblem of domesticity, it's like slipping into character and I can carry on housekeeping a little more cheerfully than before. I also love it in the kitchen because the full front keeps my clothes clean, the pockets are handy for stashing scissors and the skirt makes a great towel for drying my hands. I'd still rather knit or read a book than vacuum the carpets or scrub the toilet, but at least when I do finally break down and clean, I have something that makes me smile while I'm at it.

A lady is never without her pearls -- even while doing housework.

The pattern I used was Butterick B4087, view E. I modified it a bit by using two different fabrics, one for the front and skirt, and a different for the pockets, ruffle and waistband. It's super easy, and makes a great gift. The red and turquoise apron with pearl buttons was a gift for Chris's aunt one Christmas.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Besem Natural Scents


I was actually excited to run out of soap last week because it gave me a chance to try some new handmade products from Etsy. After browsing the extensive and tempting bath section, I picked
Besem Natural Scents. These soaps and candles come from just down the road in Brenham, Texas, and they're delightful. The cold-processed bars stand up well to the shower and don't get melty -- they survived several hours on my front porch post-UPS delivery in 100-plus-degree heat without even a touch of squish. The scents I chose (Lemon Tea; Rosemary Mint and Almond, Honey and Oats) come from essential oils only, so they're strong and fragrant in the shower without leaving an overpowering perfume on the skin afterwards like artificial scents do. The lather is so rich and creamy, it makes it hard to keep my resolution to take shorter showers in this awful summer drought!

Check out Besem Natural Scents on their website or their Etsy storefront. Wendy was a great seller to deal with and sent the soap promptly, even including a cute little sample bar of Lavender Harvest!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jammies


Whipped up these roomy jammies this weekend for a new mom friend of mine -- the baby always gets tons o' gifts, and sometimes mom needs something cute but comfy to snuggle around the house in. Normally, I'd make a practice pair first to keep from making silly mistakes (like not flipping the bottom layer of fabric to make the prints line up ... I like to pretend it was on purpose so it looks like the chicks are marching up one side of the PJs and down the other), but I needed to get these in the mail quickly since the baby made his appearance at 11 yesterday morning.

Pattern is Simplicity 3571 and the fabric is Urban Farm for In the Beginning from Over the Rainbow fabric shop, a great source for quilting and whimsical prints. I used this pattern for some flannel pajamas for my grandmother a couple of years ago, and it's definitely a great beginner pattern, but I'd forgotten some of the weird things about it. It calls for interfacing in the collar (seriously, how much stability does a pair of PJs need?) and the top is only 4 pieces (sleeve and torso cut as one piece) rather than with sewn-in sleeves so it's kind of funny.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sneak-peek Sunday

Crepe Myrtle



It's hot here in Texas, really hot. My garden is dead, the grass is dead. The state shrub, the crepe myrtle, is lovely. Chris and I went to College Station Sunday to meet my cousin and his wife, and Scott took us on a nice tour of the Texas A&M campus. I'd never been farther than the rugby pitch, and this pretty little area with crepe myrtles was a pleasant surprise.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Preserving


One of the charms of home economics is the history of the activities, the ties to the past. There are time-saving devices to make things easier -- microwaves, gas stoves with automatic lighters, electric and computerized sewing machines -- but the philosophy and processes are still the same. We sew and craft and cook because we love our homes and the people in them; we do it to create a comfortable environment but save money. The necessity isn't as strong as it once was -- mass agriculture and supermarkets ensure I won't starve if I don't put up food for the winter, but food I buy locally and cook and put up at home is healthier for my family. Many of the local suppliers' agricultural processes are healthier for the planet, too. It's not utopian by any means, but being more connected with the the food we put in our mouths and the clothes we wear make us more mindful of the consequences of consumption.

My mom got a bushel of peaches for me last weekend, and I've been busily putting them up all week. Standing at the sink peeling peaches reminded me of summers at my grandparents' farm, my cousins and I spending afternoons clumsily peeling peaches with a dull paring knife while our mothers and grandmother worked in the kitchen packing them into freezer bags, boiling jam and making cobblers (and occasionally ice cream). Most of my peaches got frozen -- it's the safest and easiest way to preserve them for the dreary winter months.


While I was looking over my recipe sheet (it's the one my peach-growing grandparents used to hand out to customers), I saw a recipe for peach chutney I'd never really noticed before. I don't ever remember having it, and I do remember everything else on the sheet. Maybe it's something they made before I can remember, or just something extra added to the sheet; Mom will have to tell me. Thursday, I sliced up several ripe peaches and made a small batch. I've canned food several times with help from my mom and both my grandmothers, but this was the first time I put anything up myself, and I was so proud to hear the jar lids pop as they sealed properly. It made me feel a little older and a little more grown up, like the first time I made dinner by myself and had every dish come out ready at the exact same time -- something I'd seen my grandmothers and mom do, but which always seemed like alchemy when I tried.

The chutney needs to sit for at least a month to develop, but I can't wait to try it out. It smelled delightfully spicy and tangy, and could be wonderful around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Click the photo below for the full sheet of recipes, including how to freeze peaches and the chutney recipe.
For more on the history of food preservation, check out the University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation (look also for loads of hints on home canning).
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