Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sneak Peek Sunday

A bit of what I've been working on all week. Details soon!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Weekend recipe: Spa-worthy salmon

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
Dar Williams, "Februrary" from Mortal City

Sometimes this time of year is crushing. The nights are still long, the days cold and cloudy, and no matter how anxious we are for spring, it's nowhere in sight. It's times like this that a break from quotidian cares is much needed, and while a few hours at a day spa would be ideal, when your budget is one of those daily concerns, spending several hundred dollars pampering yourself is not realistic. But you can create your own spa atmosphere at home this weekend with soothing music, a long hot bath and this delicious salmon. The tzatziki is so light and fresh, and the cucumbers bring a hint of spring breezes. It's a nourishing and satisfying meal -- a nice break from the satisfying but oh-so-heavy winter staples of mac and cheese and casseroles, and will really make you feel like you're taking care of yourself without sacrificing taste. Bonus: it's super quick and easy to make, and you can make the tzatziki ahead of time. If you can't find Greek yogurt, place regular yogurt in a cotton (or paper) towel-lined strainer over a bowl for 5 minutes or so to drain out some of the whey (that watery stuff).

Cumin Salmon with Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce (Tzatziki)
from Fitness Magazine

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
4 salmon fillets (about 4 ounces each)
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1 large pickling cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 scallion, trimmed and finely chopped
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
8 ounces whole-wheat couscous or orzo, cooked according to package directions

In a bowl, combine the olive oil, cumin, sugar, black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Lay the salmon on a foil-lined baking sheet and brush the tops with the oil mixture. Refrigerate for 10 to 20 minutes.
Preheat the broiler. Combine the yogurt, cucumber, scallion, parsley, lemon juice and the remaining pinch of salt in a small bowl.
Broil the salmon until it is barely opaque at the center of the thickest part, 7 to 10 minutes. Serve over the couscous or orzo, topped with the yogurt sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Winter bouquet


Sunday was gorgeous -- bright, sunny and warm. Perfect for a walk. My mom gathered these pretty objects and we arranged them when we got home. Don't the crepe myrtle seed pods and cypress cones look great next to the ethereal dried grasses? Until spring comes and I can bring flowers into my home, I can easily make do with these fairy-light grasses and cones for natural decor.




Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Penpal project!

Jen over at Indie Fixx has started a penpal project with the aim of bringing back snail mail. And who doesn't love snail mail? I know I do -- I think the reason I buy things online is so I can get fun mail. I have a dear friend from college I send mail back and forth with a few times a year, and I collect postcards so when friends visit or live in other countries, they always send me something. But I haven't had a proper penpal -- a total stranger -- since about the 4th grade.

I'm excited to introduce one of my new penpals, Nicole of Blue Bicicletta. She's an amazing artist, and from what I've learned from her Etsy shop and blog, I can't wait to get to know her better. Check out her super-awesome Everyday Creative kit and workbook! There's something so fun about exchanging letters and parcels -- the sharing of tangible bits of your life with someone else that isn't possible through our electronic media. Blogs and Twitter and Craftster are super and fun, and definitely feed my addiction to instant gratification, but unless you participate in a swap or purchase something from an independent artist, at the end of the day you have nothing tangible to show for the interaction.

I'm already planning my first letter, and I'll be posting about the project as it progresses. I have two other lovely penpals, Julia and Cathy, whom I can't wait to introduce to you!

If you want to join in, hop over to this post on Indie Fixx and sign up in the comments!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sneak Peek Sunday




Friday, February 19, 2010

Weekend Recipe: Butternut Squash, Sausage and Chevre Ravioli

This recipe is perfect for weekend cooking -- it's simple, delicious and makes enough to freeze for quick weeknight meals later on. It takes a fair amount of time (about 2-3 hours), so it's best for a rainy Sunday afternoon when there's nothing else to do, or to impress dinner guests.  It's simple enough for kids to help -- try cutting out the pasta into shapes with a cookie cutter and letting the kids fill their own special ravioli.

The maple-y sweetness of the roasted squash is a wonderful complement to the savory sausage, and the goat's cheese gives the mixture just enough of a tangy kick. Fresh sage adds another note. It's also easy to make vegetarian -- just leave out the sausage and use more squash and cheese, perhaps including a cup of shredded pecorino. Serve with a browned butter sauce or just tossed with olive oil and cheese, and accompanied by braised fennel and sauteed greens for a lovely winter dinner.

Butternut Squash, Sausage and Chevre Ravioli
serves 10-12

The filling can be made a day or two in advance.

1 pound Italian sausage
1-1.5 pound butternut squash
4.5 oz. goat cheese
4 fresh sage leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings. Brush the cut side with olive oil and place the squash cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast for one hour. Set aside to cool.
2. Brown the sausage in a skillet. If you can't find ground Italian sausage not in casings, just remove the casings from the sausages and chop it up in the pan. Make sure the sausage is completely cooked -- it won't boil in the ravioli long enough to cook later. Set aside to drain and cool.
3. When the sausage and squash are cool enough to handle, place the sausage in a food processor and process until it's quite fine -- about the size of lentils. Place in a bowl and set aside.
4. Put the squash, cheese and sage leaves in the food processor and process until just mixed. Add the sausage and grind until the whole mixture is almost pureed.
5. Refrigerate the filling until you're ready to use it.

For the pasta, you'll make one quantity green and one quantity whole wheat, or two quantities of a single type. You might have a small amount of filling leftover, which is wonderful formed into small patties, breaded and pan-fried. If you want to use all your filling, make three quanitites of pasta and cut your leftover pasta into ribbons and freeze for future use.

Green pasta: 
adapted from The Silver Spoon, Phaedon Press
2 3/4 c white whole wheat flour plus extra for dusting
3 eggs, lightly beaten
generous 1.5 cup spinach, chopped, cooked and well drained
(Chopping the spinach before cooking it is easier than chopping it after cooking. You can just microwave the spinach for a minute or so to cook it quickly. Reserve the liquid you drained and use it to add to the pasta if it's too dry.)

1. Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into your mixer bowl, or into a mound on the counter. Make a well in the center and add the eggs and spinach.
2. Gradually incorporate the flour, then knead for a few minutes. If the spinach is very damp, add more flour, a little at a time. If the dough is too dry, add the liquid drained from the spinach or water, a little at a time.
3. Shape the dough into a ball and let rest for 15 minutes, then roll out on a lightly floured surface or use a pasta machine to make a fairly thick sheet (I went up to setting #4 on my pasta machine -- about the thickness of 3-4 sheets of cardstock). You don't want this too thin or the ravioli will break open when it's boiled. Set the pasta aside on a lightly floured surface (I like to use a cotton flour-sack towel or pastry cloth).

Whole wheat pasta:
adapted from The Silver Spoon, Phaedon Press
2 3/4 c white whole wheat flour plus extra for dusting
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1. Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into your mixer bowl, or into a mound on the counter. Make a well in the center and add the eggs.
2. Gradually incorporate the flour, then knead for 10 minutes. If the dough is very damp, add more flour, a little at a time. If the dough is too dry, add water, a little at a time.
3. Shape the dough into a ball and let rest for 15 minutes, then roll out on a lightly floured surface or use a pasta machine to make a fairly thick sheet (I went up to setting #4 on my pasta machine -- about the thickness of 3-4 sheets of cardstock). You don't want this too thin or the ravioli will break open when it's boiled. Set the pasta aside on a lightly floured surface (I like to use a cotton flour-sack towel or pastry cloth). 

Assembling the ravioli:

1. If you rolled out your pasta in a single sheet, use a pizza cutter or a sharp knife to cut it in half. If you used a pasta machine, make sure you have an even number of pasta sheets (cut one if you need to make an even number).
2. Using a spoon or your fingers (fingers are easier, but messier), drop the filling in little blobs on one sheet of pasta.

3. Take another sheet of pasta the same size and place it over the top of the filling. Make sure the edges are more or less lined up.
4. Using your pizza cutter or sharp knife, carefully cut out the ravioli.

5. Pinch the edges of each square closed. If you plan to freeze any for later use, lay out on a cookie sheet or in single layers in a freezer container separated by parchment paper. Place in the freezer for a couple of hours before storing in a freezer bag. Pre-freezing the ravioli will keep it from sticking together in the freezer bag.

6. Boil the ravioli for 15-30 minutes. Drain, sprinkle with Parmesan or pecorino cheese, and serve with olive oil or a browned butter and sage sauce.

Browned butter and sage sauce:
1/4 cup butter
8 fresh sage leaves

Melt the butter in a small pan and cook the sage leaves until golden.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Linocut block prints and easy-peasy bunting tutorial (no sew, cut or glue!)

I am not a Valentine's Day fan, so when I saw this "Valentine's Day is Lame" card featured on Scoutie Girl, I knew I had to get it for my husband. Of course, when I headed over to ghostacademy's shop, I saw there were lots of cards I just had to get! I restrained myself, filing a few away for later, and just ordered the valentine. But the post office lost my first shipment, and I couldn't keep from ordering another card to ship with my replacement. Imagine my delight when I received my package a few days later, and she had thrown in a third card as thanks! And it happened to be one of the ones I'd debated over ordering! So, my dear at ghostacademy:

have I told you lately that you're freaking awesome? She is -- great communication and service, and awesome cards. Check out her lovely blog, too!

I hung these cards up on my mantel for photographing, and quickly decided it was my new favorite way of making a quick and easy display. Bunting is all over the place right now, as I'm sure you've noticed, but not everyone has the time, the fabric scraps or the confidence to sit down at a sewing machine and whip one out. Also, I wanted to display my collection of postcards, and I don't want to sew, cut or glue them. All you need is yarn, ribbon or string, a couple of pieces of tape (or thumbtacks), and some paperclips. Save your favorite valentines from this year to make a bunting next year, like this one I put up with two awesome fabric valentines my mom made and the ghostacademy card (Mom actually sends these little postcards through the mail!):

Or use photographs, postcards or your children's artwork. The fun thing about this bunting is it's easy to rotate and change, as simple as it gets, and makes no mess!

1. Take your string and tape or tack one end to your mantel, wall, windowsill, bookshelf or wherever you want to hang your display. Don't cut the string yet, because you'll want to adjust the length depending on the weight of the objects you hang.

2. Choose your objects, and get enough paperclips to hang them. I used both regular clips and a few filing clips with little label tabs on the top (the green one in the picture below). These would work great if you wanted to write titles for children's artwork, or one-word descriptions of your objects.


3. Hold the yarn across the back and very top of your object. You want it just below the top edge so it runs behind the card. Paperclip the string and card together. Make sure the yarn stays behind the card and doesn't slip up above it, or your card will twist around. See how the yarn runs behind the cards here?

4. Fix the other end of your string to the mantel, wall, etc. Slide your cards around to fix the spacing how you want it, and trim any hanging end.
5. That's it! Step back and admire your handiwork.

(Be prepared for your audience to be a little less enthusiastic.)

Monday, February 15, 2010



I wish it was still light outside when I cooked dinner so you could get a real sense of the great colors here -- the vibrant turquoise of the baking dish and the deep orange of the butternut squash. My kitchen's flourescent lighting doesn't do this any justice. This bright combination was enough to chase away the mid-February blahs (and so was the resulting meal -- a lovely Butternut Squash, Leek and Apple Gratin).

What brightens your day?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Weekend recipe: Baby cakes for your babycakes


Whether you've been making valentines for a month already, or you've forgotten Sunday is Valentine's Day, a little homemade treat for two sets the mood for romance. These special cakes, from Debby Maugans Nakos' Small-Batch Baking cookbook, are decadent and rich -- and each recipe makes just enough for you and your sweetheart, no more. There's just something about that tiny bit of exclusivity to make this dessert wonderfully intimate. These aren't difficult to make, but they take a bit of preparation time, so you might want to start them the day before you plan to serve.

Blood Orange Tarts with Raspberry Orange Sauce
Makes 2 tarts (one pictured)

Rich Sweet Pastry Shell, partially baked
Yolk of 1 egg
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
Pinch fo salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
Two 4 1/2 x 3/4-inch (or 4 x 1 3/8-inch) tart pans with removable bottoms or 1 jumbo muffin pan (3/4-cup capacity)

1. Place the egg yolk in a small bowl and beat it lightly with a fork. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the yolk for hte pastry and set it aside for the pastry. Reserve the remaining yolk for another use.
2. Sift the confectioners' sugar, flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and 2 teaspoons of egg yolk, and pulse until the dough just begins to clump together.
3. Turn out the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk, adn wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
4. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.
5. Lightly grease the tart pans, and place them on a baking sheet for easier handling; set it aside. If you're using a muffin tin, line 2 cups with aluminum foil and lightly grease the foil.
6. Roll out each disk to form a 5 1/2- to 6-inch round. Fit each pastry round into a prepared tart pan or muffin cup, pressing into the grooves of the pan's sides or pleating the dough in even folds to fit it into the cup. Roll the pin over the top to cut away the excess dough.
7. Prick the bottoms of the tart shells with a fork. Chill the shells in the freezer until firm, 15 minutes.
8. Line the shells with aluminum foil and fill them to the top with pie weights or dried beans. Fill the empty muffin cups with water to prevent them from scorching. Bake for 20 minutes.
9. Remove the pans and carefully remove the foil and weights. Return the shells to the oven and bake just until the crusts are dry and set, 5-8 minutes.

For the tart filling:
1 large egg
Yolk of 1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed blood orange juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Raspberry Orange Sauce (recipe follows)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish
Sifted confectioners' sugar, for garnish

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 F. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet for easier handling.
2. Place the egg, egg yolk, cream, sugar, blood orange juice and cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk until combined (do not beat). Pour three-quarters of the filling into the tart shells, dividing it evenly between them, and carefully put the baking sheet in the oven. Fill the shells the rest of the way.
3. Bake until the tarts are just set in the center, 35-38 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the tarts on a wire rack to cool. Cover and refrigerate the tarts until they are cold, at least two hours and up to 24.
4. Just before serving, swirl with Raspberry Orange Sauce. Decorate the tarts with raspberries and sifted confectioners' sugar.

Raspberry Orange Sauce
makes about 2/3 cup
3/4 cup fresh or thawed frozen, unsweetened raspberries
3 tablespoons raspberry jam, warmed
2 tablespoons fresh blood orange or tangerine juice

Place the raspberries, jam and juice in a small bowl and stir to mix. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and press the mixture through the sieve. Scrape the pulp off the bottom of the sieve and add it to the pulp in the bowl. Discard the seeds. (The sauce may be made up to two days in advance, and refrigerated in a covered jar.)

Dulce de Leche Cheesecakes with Candied Pecans
For the crusts:
Candied pecans
2/3 cup shortbread cookie crumbs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup canned sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 large egg, at room temperature

For the caramelized milk sauce:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
Cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons canned sweetened condensed milk
Pans required:
Two 4 1/2 x 1 3/8-inch tart pans with removable bottoms
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F. Line the tart pans with aluminum foil, pressing the foil into the grooves fo the pans. Grease teh foil. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet for easier handling, and set it aside.
2. Make the crust. Place 1/3 cup of the candied pecans, all the shortbread crumbs and the melted butter in a food processor and process until the pecans are finely ground. Reserve the remaining pecans for garnish. Press the cookie mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the prepared tart pans, dividing it evenly between them, pressing it firmly into the fluted sides of the pans. Bake the crusts until they are lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from teh oven and transfer the tart pans to a wire rack to cool completely. Keep the oven on.
3. Make the filling. Place the cream cheese, condensed milk, flour, vanilla and lemon juice in a small bowl. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer on medium speed just until the batter is smooth. Add the egg, reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat just until the batter is blended, about 10 seconds.
4. Return the tart pans to the baking sheet. Pour the batter into the crusts, dividing it evenly between them. Bake until the filling is set, 20-25 minutes. Place the pans on a wire rack to cool. Refrigerate, covered, 6 hours or overnight.

5. Make the sauce. Place the cream, brown sugar and cinnamon stick in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir in the condensed milk and lemon juice.
6. To serve, unmold the cheesecakes by pushing up on the bottom of the tart pans. Carefully remove the foil, and place the cheesecakes on serving plates. Sprinkle with the candied pecans, and spoon the sauce over the cheesecakes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tutorial: Using Press 'n Seal to transfer embroidery patterns

 There are lots of different ways to transfer embroidery patterns -- carbon paper, tracing directly on the fabric using a light box or window, drawing freehand, use an iron-on transfer, use the "prick and pounce" method, print/draw/trace on stabilizer ... I could go on.

For my anatomical tea towels, I started by tracing with pencil onto the towel, but quickly discovered the Glad Press 'n Seal method. I came across a mention of using Press 'n Seal plastic wrap on Craftster a zillion years ago, and can't remember who mentioned it (let me know if it was you!), and this combo of tracing and stabilizer is my current low-cost DIY favorite. The plastic wrap sticks to your fabric, and works as a stabilizer. It's also thinner than a lot of water soluble stabilizers, so your stitches are nice and tight when you remove the plastic. It's more of a pain to remove than water soluble stabilizers, but it's more durable than plain tissue paper and you can also trace the pattern directly from your book, original drawing or computer screen! No printing or backlighting required!

Materials needed:
Press 'n Seal plastic wrap
Permanent felt-tip markers (important to keep the marker from poking a hole in the plastic and marking up what you're tracing)
Tweezers and embroidery scissors

1. Find or draw a pattern. I did an image search for diagrams of each of the organs I was embroidering and used those.

2. If you're using a computer, enlarge the image until it's the size you want for your work. Now you can either print your design, or if you're feeling brave, just move directly to step 3.

3. Place a square of plastic wrap over your design. If you're working directly from your computer screen, hold the sheet up to a light to check for holes first!

4. Using your marker (I like regular Sharpies), trace the design onto the plastic wrap. You can use different colors to indicate which color embroidery thread you plan to use, or you can just go monochromatic. Be careful, and use a very light touch to avoid poking holes in the plastic.

5. Apply the plastic wrap to your fabric (um, it's probably best to iron your fabric first ... ) and place in your hoop. You're ready to go!

6. When you finish, make sure to remove the plastic carefully. It pulls away from heavy stitches like stem stitch really easily, but for looser stitches like French knots and blanket stitch, be careful. You might want to use embroidery scissors to cut it away from the stitches. For small areas, like the trachea above, you'll need tweezers to help you remove the plastic.

7. Wash your work according to your usual method to remove any adhesive residue.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anatomical day-of-the-week tea towels

I started this wedding gift for a close friend an embarrassingly long time ago (no, I won't say how long). When I started it, she'd just graduated from med school (she's now a pediatrician), and has a dry sense of humor, and she also loves handmade crafty things (she knitted all through med school lectures). One of my favorite wedding gifts was a set of hand-embroidered day-of-the-week tea towels my mom made for me -- it's a perfect touch for a newlywed kitchen. So for Lauren, instead of using a standard fruit or flower pattern, I opted to make my own from anatomical diagrams of various human organs.

Here's the complete set. I took the pictures before washing and ironing, so some are a bit rumpled. Sunday's the heart, Monday's the eye, Tuesday's the kidney, Wednesday's the lungs, Thursday's the brain, Friday's a neuron (I was running out of interesting-looking organs), and Saturday's the pancreas.

A few close-ups of my favorite days. I love how pretty the kidney is, with its heart shapes.

The French knots for the alveoli were super fun to do. I found my favorite patterns were the ones combining different stitch types, rather than just stem stitch.

Isn't a neuron cute?

It's the combination of colors and stitches that made me really like the pancreas. After a week's worth of designs in mostly purplish-red and sickly gray-pink, being able to stitch in this vibrant green was a treat. The shiny part you see in the pancreatic duct is what I used for transfer paper -- I'm posting a tutorial on that tomorrow.

Now, to get these in the mail!

See these in progress on this Sneak Peek Sunday.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A good walk, unspoiled


No snow here in Georgia, but we've definitely had our share of precipitation. It seems every other day it pours, and we only see the sun once a week (I know, it could be so much worse!). Sunday, appropriately enough, was beautiful and I decided to slow my usual run down to a walk. I took my camera so I could photograph the beautiful things I see every day and share them with you.

Moss in the sunlight.
A forest of tiny moss trees.

My lovely companion, Daisy

Ross Pond, an old-fashioned swimming hole.
Street crossing.
Hidey-hole. Anyone home?
Checking for cats.
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