Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick-maker.

My latest posts are proof that I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately, and I had a revelation: life cannot go on any longer without a dishwasher. No forward progress can be made while carrying the burden of all our dirty dishes. With that decided, I called an architect and he came over straight away to discuss where the dishwasher would go. The best part? I paid him in cheese and crackers. (He's my brother! I'm a lucky gal — check out his work!)

Since there is no place to put the dishwasher under existing countertop, the project will be a little bit of an undertaking. We'll be knocking out part of a wall, creating an island, moving the sink, and getting new countertops. It will make a big impact in the flow and functionality of the kitchen (probably the most important room in the house) for not too many bucks. We have been strongly advised not to let ourselves become dominoes, falling for new cabinets, floors, and new appliances while we're at it. It isn't that hard once you see the price tags. 

What am I most excited about, besides saying goodbye to dishpan hands and revolving resentment about who did the dishes last (that's a biggy)? New countertops. Specifically new butchers block countertops. I have loved them for a long time and can't believe they're about to be mine. I love the look, love the functionality, love the price. You can get them at Ikea for about $11/sq. ft. 

I've been combing the internet for inspiration. We are keeping our white cabinets so the overall look will be bright and clean.


From Restoring A House in the City by Ingrid Abramovitch, via Katy Elliot's blog.

Antonia Thompson's kitchen, from

Isn't it bea-u-ti-ful?

Found this photo by googling "domsjo" — the Ikea sink we are considering. These homeowners also picked the faucet I like. Looks good although it seems like they sealed their wood which we will pass on.

Monday, February 22, 2010

From Pupcakes To Popovers

If I told you that popovers were just as, if not more labor intensive than pupcakes, would you believe me? Those golden brown, mishapen, not quite muffins, without any kind of icing or adornment. Those little known gems of American baked goods, Yorkshire pudding's upstart cousin in the New World. Man, they are not easy as pie, nor pupcakes. 

I first had them at the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. I was a young kid spending a couple of weeks with my beloved aunt and uncle in Maine, and man was I wrestling with a wicked case of homesickness. I was pretty much a nightmare of a house guest, and the only thing that quelled my anxiety was hiking in the mountains of Acadia. When, one day after a hike up Bubble Mountain, we wound up at Jordan Pond House for afternoon tea, I was able to leave all my troubles behind. Tea and popovers can cure any manner of ills. 

In recent years my parents have been enjoying their retirement by visiting Maine several times a year, and I've been the beneficiary of several Jordan Pond themed gifts — a tea pot, strawberry jam, popover mix, and popover tins. Well, you know what those gifts mean: the pressure's on to have everyone over for tea and popovers. 

Several months went by and nothing. The thing about popovers is they're like belgian waffles, another specialty of mine. They must be eaten hot out of the oven or not at all. And the popover tins feed six. Too many for me and the mister, not enough for a proper brunch. But called upon to do something special for my mom's birthday, out came the special tins. 

The party was at her house, so I showed up a little early to help set up and make the batter. Little did I know that all told, those suckers would take about two and half hours! For six popovers, holy smokes! Making the batter, letting the batter rest, baking at one temperature for almost an hour, poking holes in them, turning the heat down to bake them some more, letting them rest for ten minutes! Still, we shared like good kids, they were delicious. 

Exhibit A:

I didn't use the Jordan Pond mix (I'm a mix snob, no matter what kind, though maybe not any more after I explored the alternative.) I followed the America's Test Kitchen recipe I found in Cook's Country, an excellent publication you get free when you shop at Hannaford. Those guys really know what they're doing, but man, are they committed to their cause. 

Maybe that's the difference between baking for a living and baking for sport. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cupcakes For a V.I.P.

I'm sorry, did I say cupcakes? I meant PUPCAKES!

Today is my niece's 11th birthday and in honor of her I cracked open the Hello, Cupcake! book that she and her sister gave me for Christmas and tried my hand at one of the elaborate decoration techniques. 

Hello, Cupcake, by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson is not a recipe book, like Cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans, which features all sorts of delicious fillings, icings and flavors. It's the definitive guide on how to tranform regular cupcakes into penguins, panda bears, corn on the cob, spaghetti and meatballs, and dogs using no more than cake, icing, and candy. 

My niece is pretty obsessed with puppies, and my parents' schnoodle, Bebop, who all of my nieces just love love love, looks a little like the grey dog* on the cover, wouldn't you say? 

I dispensed with the mini cupcakes that the book called for and used the regular sized cupcake for the head. This meant that I had to use regular size mashmallows instead of mini-marshmallows to build the ears and snout. I was a little nervous about adjusting the proportions, but I turned out great. You can see here how the diced marshmallows are applied to the cake with a little icing, to be covered with piped-on icing "fur." Pink or red sugar is applied to the sticky side of the marshmallow ears to disguise the marshmallow. 

My Stop-And-Shop didn't have chocolate covered sunflower seeds for the eyes and nose, so I just used black gel icing. And I nixed the pink tongues made of Starburst because, well, I just don't have that much time on my hands or the desire to bring a bag of Starburst into my house.

The book describes great, low cost ways to turn Ziplock bags into piping bags with different tips (to make fur, leaves, petals, etc.) Once I really got going, the whole endeavor was pretty easy, (little precision required, just some finesse) and I'm really pleased with the results. Can't wait to bring them to the birthday party and watch everyone dig in! It's our little secret that underneath all the fur they are actually vegan chocolate cupcakes! Don't tell the 11-year-old!

*I didn't make a grey dog, because I couldn't figure out how to make grey icing from yellow, green, red, and blue food coloring. I didn't want to end up with purple dogs.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snowed In and Loving It

The snow did not derail my weekend plans and good times were had and art was made! Here's the magnificent chair to prove it.

Of course I don't have a magenta floor, but a girl can dream, can't she?

Then, on Sunday, to my great surprise and delight I got to play host to my two nieces. They helped me figure out how to make this year's felt valentine. They know what they're doing, wouldn't you agree?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dusting Off The Beret

Those of you who know me well know that I grew up worshipping Picasso and wanting to be a painter when I grew up. I took art lessons in elementary school and continued to paint on my own up until high school. I painted canvases, tables, shoes, knobs, and my dad's old Led Zep records (without asking for permission, sorry Dad!), basically anything that was plain and seemed to call out for personal embellishment. 

Once I went to college I got more and more into collage, probably because construction paper, magazines, glue sticks, and scissors are much more portable (and cheap). But painting has always been something that I periodically think I should pick up again -- not that I was ever all that good, just that it was something that I really enjoyed doing.

After considering several adult ed classes at SVA and various other art institutions in New York, it occurred to me that I do not actually need someone to assist me in my painting. Except for maybe a friend -- someone to get excited about it with me and also force me to set a date to do it. I remembered that one of my favorite people on earth is actually an art therapist, and a very intrepid traveller, meaning that she probably wouldn't mind hopping on a NJ Transit train and coming to visit me for a day of artsiness.* And low and behold, that day is tomorrow! Mr. SevPrez is away, so it we will have full reign on the house, our messes, and our marathon stories full of sidetracks (men have a lower tolerance for these). Who knows, maybe I will even work out some deep seeded issues with her assistance! 

Inspired by Maira Kalman's chosen medium (learn more about her process here), I picked up a primary mixing set of Holbein Artists' Gouache at Dick Blick's (formerly The Art Store). I also got a cobalt blue (I remember it as a real staple from my acrylic days), silver, and gold (because I love Klimt?). 

I actually had to consult with someone who studied fine art in college to ask if I was being conned by the CMYK set. In a world of burnt sienna, raw umber, and cobalt blue, it's not something I expected to exist. But being that I have spent the past seven years of my life ensconced in Quark's CMYK color world, I am kind of an expert on mixing colors that way. My art aficionado thought it was actually a very cool thing. So we will see how it goes. 

Not sure what I will be painting yet, but I have been thinking about maybe Rufus on one of my magnificent yellow chairs. Full report next week.

*I'm hoping her super-intrepidness is not tested by a blizzard, don't get me started with the weather this year!

Butternut Squash Pasta Dish Update!

I wonder if any of you have made the recipe for whole wheat penne with onion, greens, and butternut squash that I posted back in November. There was some definite interest! I made the recipe again two nights ago and substituted 4 garlic cloves for the 2 cups of onions, and it perfected the recipe, if I do say so myself. I found it much more flavorful and well-balanced. Also, I sauteed the white beans in the garlic and oil, instead of adding the beans to the pasta directly.

I also remembered that I diced the squash too large last time -- they were a little bigger than bite-sized if you are like me and like to have a little bit of everything on one forkful. This time I made them pretty tiny (a little smaller than 1-inch cubes) and roasted them a couple minutes longer, and low and behold, those suckers were extra delicious! They almost tasted like sweet potato fries. Unbelievable. I think I might slice one up and try to bake some chips this weekend when my friend comes over for a day of art and catching up (and snow!). I'll let you know how it goes!