Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend info-gathering roundup #5

It was a funky weekend around here with an odd internet outtage, but that didn't stop me from reading a bit (can we just all bow in praise of the iPad?). I did make some major progress in my office while watching (listening to gunfire?) the final season of 24, and in between recycling very old magazines and finding some tired/old/dead electronics in the back of my closet, I did read some goodies over the weekend...

Mark Bittman chose his 25 favorite recipes from the 1,000+ that have been posted under The Minimalist column in the NYTimes. His last column (13 years!) appeared this past week... he's on to new things... I will miss him, but I also very much enjoy his pieces in Runner's World. I hope *that* column doesn't go away any time soon...

My cousin Brent posted a sweet image on Facebook last week, and I thought I'd share further. Good for all times of year, not just as we approach Valentine's Day:

See if you can do this. (It's a touch harder than it looks, but not undoable. The place I found it online, the writer said it took him 2.5 times to make it through... so to all who think I have ADHD (Kim), let me just say it only took ONCE.)

Check out this very cool map at National Geographic.

Holy cow, I could never go on this ride. (And, I'm assuming the actual ride would run a bit more smoothly than his final simulation!)

I love these monograms...

Don't you think I need these cheery cherries? They are almost alien. I know, not very "real food." But SO fun for an occasional crazy dessert... (plotting, plotting...)

Some tips on freezing casseroles, from the good folks at Cook's Illustrated. Their recommendations make complete sense to me.

IKEA: I always knew there was something up with their store layout!

Art from tweets, called twaggles... here's a fun one:

Do you know Oatmeal? You should know Oatmeal. He's hilarious. His State of the Web post this week tickled my funny.

If you ever thought your ears were big? Proportionally, these are hilarious.

I hope your Monday is off to a great start!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday night grateful moment

The week has moved so quickly, with many many good things in it. My much-wished-for snow storm has apparently gone a bit off course and hit the East Coast, again... no, no, snow. WEST Coast. But alas. Even in my non-snowy state, the blessing bucket overflows...

Gratefulness tonight for a warm bed, a loving husband, a thoughtful son and plenty of food in the cupboards.

I am always touched by the kindness and constancy of the group of work folk who go to make and serve dinner at a local soup kitchen once a month. The time and energy put into that simple act is such an example to me. As I reminded Seth this week, we need to flex THOSE muscles a bit more often. I'm grateful, too, that there IS a place for those who would otherwise go hungry in our community to find a warm meal in a warm room.

And when I heard of the litter of three-week old puppies left by the roadside, I couldn't help but be especially grateful for the local humane society for giving them a home until they are old enough to be placed. And grateful too for the staff and volunteers there who took them each home and bottle-fed them over the weekend, knowing the pups needed that extra-special feeding. Oh, I must go see those puppies soon! (And no, I won't be bringing one home. I won't be bringing one home. Repeat after me: I won't be bringing one home.)

I'm grateful for the crew that's been working on our house for the past two-plus months, that they have been polite and tidy and (mostly) responsible and all-around good guys. It makes having people in your house so much more palatable. (But, I am very glad to be at the end of that road, no matter how nice they are!)

I'm grateful for opportunities and information. Opportunities to learn (see this link from the BBC, very cool!) and be amazed (click on this link from Discover, one image above) and entertained (check out this listing of funny British town names. Hilarious--please don't be offended! And I thought living in WW, I knew of funny town names...).

I love and am so grateful for good food. For my butternut squash risotto (which actually froze pretty well--I thawed some from the freezer and ate it for lunches this week. Yum. Total side note: that recipe is THE most searched item on my blog. How funny is that?), for cheese in all its many iterations, for apples and oranges--lone staples of winter fruit that I enjoy, for popcorn in the evenings and those heavenly marshmallows when I need a sweet nibble. Happy tummy. Looking forward to making pizza with my boys this weekend, and haystacks (taco salads) too.

I'm grateful for family. For the emails and texts and phone calls that remind me how blessed I am to have family nearby (20 acres away!), and a little further away too... feel free to move closer, further-away-family... we would love that!

I'm grateful for friends, for our little traditions of lunch, and the spontaneous coffees and chats as well. For almost-spontaneous visits (thanks, Kate!) and surprises and parties and singing. And for the support. Definitely the support!

I'm grateful for laughter. Husband and Seth and I went and saw Brian Regan last night and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. A good laugh-out-loud time. There were a few women sitting up near our section who had these contagious laughs and they laughed at EVERYTHING. Of course, that made me laugh. So, aside from the fact that Brian Regan is really funny, it was *all* extra-super-duper funny last night. My jaws hurt afterward.

This interesting video happened upon my digital path this week: what's the one question you would like to ask and get the answer to? Talk about variety in the questions...

And how's this for a voice? And an arrangement that surprises and delights? I loved this song so very much, in that way when you find something that just fits what you needed at that. very. moment.

Hope your weekend is already off to a lovely start; wishing you all the rest that you need to face another week!

Friday socks source

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thursday 13: Thirteen recent inspirations

Some weeks you (and by you, I mean, me) just need a little inspiration... a little bright spark to cheer in the midst of winter blues (fog) and rejuvenate the creative juices...

And, you'll notice, my little bright sparks have a great deal to do with color. I'm not complaining about the mild-ish January we've had, but I am ready for some SERIOUS color.

Here are 13 things I've found inspiring, lately...

1. Flowers by Bornay
Love these arrangements. So sunny and beautiful!

2. Stairs!
Continuing with the yellow theme... wouldn't these just be a pick-me-up to climb?

3. Crazy fun wedding cakes
This dotty one is rather tame compared to some others at this link. I could *totally* get into having this rainbow-ish cake at a party...

4. Pretty Valentine illustrations

5. A worthwhile motto via heavenishere

6. More ah-love-heart pictures...
These are but a couple of examples of hearts in nature... do go check the others out.

7. Colorful cookies!
These I'm posting especially for my Pantone-loving mother! Aren't these just adorable?

8. A clever way of getting kids to do chores. Quite clever... I think my son would have a heart attack to see a glass jar of chores just for him! This must be best for kids with siblings, right?

9. A colorful collage of photos that makes me smile!
I especially want to crochet something super-colorful this year. Of all my crafty things that have been put away for a few months, it's the crochet I've missed the most. 

10. A post with some very colorful and flavorful sounding exotic foodstuffs!

11. Same blog, but a different post with some pretty pretties for a tropical vacation. Obviously I'm not the only one looking for sun and the ocean...

12. And how about these shoes?

13. Lastly, because words bring inspiration so frequently to me:

I found the image above a while ago, with no attribution as to who wrote it, where it came from. So I did a little research, found the whole poem, and think it's a sweet one.

You are the trip I did not take;
You are the pearls I could not buy;
You are my blue Italian lake;
You are my piece of foreign sky.

You are my Honolulu moon;
You are the book I did not write;
You are my heart's unuttered tune;
You are a candle in my night.

You are the flower beneath the snow,
In my dark sky a bit of blue,
Answering Disappointment's blow
With "I am happy! I have you!"
-Anne Campbell

I hope you have a lovely Thursday and have been at least a little bit inspired by some of the pretties that inspire me! Now, off to create a little something of my own...

Here are the other Thursday 13 participants. Check them out!

The family that marshmallows together, stays together!

The idea of homemade marshmallows has been on my mind for some time... but only insofar as "those seem like a good idea." I'd never even really looked at what it would take to make it happen... until last week.

We are a marshmallow family, 'tis true. In hot chocolate, in s'mores, right out of the bag. This past holiday season, the discovery of tree-shaped and star-shaped marshmallows was a particular delight. Little green trees, little red stars... we happily popped them rather rapidly on a few occasions. (I swear, they just taste better. Really. Although, there were also snowman-shaped marshmallows, and for some reason, they did NOT taste as good. They were also slightly off-white--dare I say yellow-ish--and that's just NOT a good shade of color to bring to mind while eating something that has "snow" in it's name...)

So when helping to plan a party for a dear friend last weekend, the idea of a chocolate fountain/fondue came up, and immediately (after considering the lack of really good fresh fruit to dip in the chocolate) I thought, "This is the perfect opportunity to figure out homemade marshmallows!"

Turns out, they're not that hard, at all! In fact, they are springy and delicious. Can't wait to make these again and try some different flavors, too.

For the recipe, I turned to the ever-reliable Smitten Kitchen and read up on her trials and tribulations with the goo that is created from hot sugar and gelatin... I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't end up with head-to-toe sugary goo on me, but I'm pretty sure reading her story helped me avoid that experience!

Springy fluffy marshmallows
Makes about 96 1-inch cubed marshmallows

About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar (cane sugar worked just fine)
1/2 cup light corn syrup (I had none in the house, so used honey and it worked out fine)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites or reconstituted powdered egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla (alternately: 1/2 of a scraped vanilla bean, 2 teaspoons almond or mint extract or maybe even some food coloring for tinting)

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold cold water, and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer.

In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. (Next time around I will do this step before the gelatin-hot sugar mixing, since I don't have a handheld mixer currently. I ended up using my food processor, and it did OK, but not fabulously.) Beat whites and vanilla (or your choice of flavoring) into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and don’t fret if you don’t get it all out. Sift 1/4 cup confectioners sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and ease onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly one-inch cubes. (An oiled pizza cutter works well here too.) Sift remaining confectioners’ sugar back into your now-empty baking pan, and roll the marshmallows through it, on all six sides, before shaking off the excess and packing them away.

These babies are a bit addictive... but you're talking to a marshmallow lover here. I took them to the party and they were well received, and definitely got the Seth seal of approval here at home too.

Other goodies for the chocolate fountain included rather sad January strawberries, pineapple,
pears and angel food cake.

Birthday girl Megan with Anna, enjoying a marshmallow or two!

Maybe up next?
Chocolate marshmallows
Chocolate Swirl Marshmallows

What flavor do you think I should try? Something special for Valentine's Day?

Mid-week inspiration: That's what unlonely is like

Source: Look to the sea

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ten Words Tuesday: Good thought to keep in mind...

"Consider, Sir, how insignificant this will appear a twelvemonth hence." -Samuel Johnson

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday night grateful moment

For many things tonight, I am grateful...

Peace. It's a great thing to live in a country that is not actively AT war. Some days it may feel like we're a warring bunch, the way people talk, but we're not. Not really. And that's a very good thing. And even though sometimes it seems like we (the collective "we") have a hard time keeping the peace amongst ourselves, the truth (to me) is that peace is IN us. Not an outside factor. Not something we put on for a day or a week or a month as it suits us. IN us.

Quiet. I may love the city on occasion, but the country quiet makes me very happy in my soul.

A dear and supportive spouse. (I saw a couple walking along today where their disconnect was palpable, and I felt extra fortunate to be where I am, with whom I am with.)

A son who is growing up into a thoughtful and kind young man.

Health. I don't take that for granted. This week, in passing, I saw the doctor who did my thyroidectomy in 2003, and it brought back memories of a less-well  time, and how glad I am to be healthy and energetic (but not too much so, don't worry, Ma!) and well.

Sleep. Have had some hilarious dreams lately--what's the theory on those ones where you miss deadlines?--but in general, the sleep time is a good time. Ah.

Flowers. Check out those pretties above... such a lovely gesture. Thank you, MJ.

Family. For my near and dear, and the faraway and dear as well. I am blessed with lovely inlaws and extended family... just simply blessed.

Rainy days. I loved seeing it pour down today... must be because we don't get a ton of that kind of weather around here. My Oregon friends keep making duck comments on Facebook, so I'm pretty sure they're sick of this weather, but I still like to hear the rain against the windows... (Don't get me wrong, I'll be happy about the sunshine when it comes around too, sooner than later. But for today, rain seemed right.)

Quotes that inspire and move me, and remind me of what's important:

“We’re bound to run into obstacles in life. We might trip, and we might fall. But don’t let these obstacles put you down, and keep your head from looking up. Because the best things in life comes to those who never allow obstacles to dampen their spirit. The best things in life comes to those who always keep their heads held high. Don’t miss your rainbow because of a tiny rock." (Can't find who this should be attributed to. If you know, please let me know! And you know I had to save that rainbow reference...)

Oh, and this one! I do like this one:

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” -Aldous Huxley

And lastly...

"One is happy as a result of one's own efforts, once one knows of the necessary ingredients of happiness--simple tastes, a certain degree of courage, self-denial to a point, love of work, and, above all, a clear conscience. Happiness is no vague dream, of that I now feel certain." -George Sand

Friendship. I'm so grateful for my friends and their love and support. For a fun girly birthday party for a close friend tomorrow night, for surprises and cake and fondue too! And for emails and texts and  phone calls and all the many ways we keep in touch, thank you all. So much.

For the weekend. Which has within it's two short days so many of the things I'm grateful for, in spades.

And for fun music... Zooey can do no wrong, in my humble opinion. Here's the latest from She&Him:

And, because once I get started with the She&Him, it's hard to stop, here's another...

Happy weekend! What's on top for your weekend? Hope it's a good one.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lemon curd-filled meringues

Meringues have always appealed to me, and when I traveled to Australia more than 20 years ago, I discovered a meringue dessert--pavlova--that is very popular there, and also revered; it seemed to be the go-to dessert for most birthdays and celebrations I attended. There are various tricks to making a pavlova--a large round meringue that is crisp on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside, filled with fruit and whipped cream. These "tricks" tend to make the pavlova seem somewhat difficult and intimidating, and over the years I have tried various recipes, with various levels of success.

For the holidays this year I conceived these miniature pavlovas (essentially meringues). By denting a little hollow in them (before baking) for some lemon curd, it created a kind of a reverse lemon meringue pie. What's not to love about that?!

And so, the experimentation began. I ended up with a sweet treat that is definitely a make-again bite-size dessert. They went like little hotcakes at the work event where I served them, so that's a promising sign...

1 cup superfine granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

Preheat oven to 300°F with rack in middle. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together superfine sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Add water (whites will loosen) and beat until whites again hold soft peaks.

Increase speed to medium-high and beat in sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time. After all sugar has been added, beat 1 minute more.

Add vinegar and beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes (longer if using hand-held mixer).

Fill a pastry bag (or even just a ziploc bag) with meringue mixture (snip off a corner if you're using a ziploc bag) and pipe small filled-in circles onto the parchment paper. If you're wanting to make individual desserts, you could make 4-inch rounds. The original recipe calls for one large round, but I got probably 24-30 mini meringues from one recipe.

Take a small spoon and dip it in water, then using the back of the spoon, make a small indentation in each meringue.

Bake until the meringues have a light light golden hue and a crust has formed.

Turn oven off and prop door open slightly with a wooden spoon. Cool meringues in oven a half hour.

There is a lemon curd recipe associated with the meringue recipe above, but I had recently stumbled across the following lemon curd recipe and really wanted to give it a spin. It turned out wonderfully, and was really yummy and easy. I highly recommend this recipe, for many purposes (who doesn't need a pot of lemon curd sitting around?!).

Lemon curd
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh)
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
1 lemon zest
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Mix the cornstarch in the water. (I increased the cornstarch by about an eigth of a cup; my gut said it was going to be a little too runny for my purposes. The increased cornstarch worked great and the consistency was thick, as I wanted.) Put all ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth. Pour from the blender into a saucepan and cook over low heat until it thickens.

Done! Doesn't get much easier than that.

The meringues kept very well for a couple of days in ziploc bags sealed tight, and assembly of the meringues, curd and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds over the top went really well. (I stored the curd, once cooled, in ziploc bags as well, and simply piped the curd into the meringue shells as I needed them. Worked spiffy.)

Just seeing the picture above makes me feel festive, and ready for the holidays again...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ten Words Tuesday

Getting my unpacking groove on, bolstered by friend and coffee.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Weekend info-gathering roundup #4

What was a lovely "regular" weekend has now morphed into a long-ish weekend complete with an unexpected extra day with Seth... So I'm using this additional day to keep on puttering around the house, and thought I'd share another batch of my weekend reading... though, truthfully, this time around it reflects reading from the whole week,  not just the weekend. But still, I'm "rounding it up" on the (long) weekend, right? Let's not split hairs! There's some good stuff here.

A great blog post at ZenHabits: The No. 1 habit of highly creative people
“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for contructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” ~Rollo May

Cool code sharing over at the NYT. The tech on this is rather over my head, but I love the concept and the many uses I'm sure we'll see over the coming years.

A pretty fun sequel map for movies... (You know, how they say the sequel isn't as good as the original? That idea.)

Downton Abbey on PBS... I am looking forward to seeing this! I have somehow missed the first installment, so I will be scouring online to see when/how I'll be able to make that up. I'm so impressed with what Masterpiece has been doing lately--still thinking fondly of the too-short Sherlock Holmes series last fall.

A creative food flow chart for those interested in eating real food.

Check out this game if you want to have some fun with typing and improve your skills.

New (to me) fun shop: Olive Manna. Love the rainbow-arranged items, especially!

Looking for an occasion to need to make some pom-poms... this need doesn't arise much in a house with my men... Aren't they pretty? (Somebody needs to have a baby girl so we can properly shower her... so get on that, would you?)

10 things your mom said that were actually right. I don't think my mom ever said the thing about fish, but I do believe I've heard the rest of those...  and a few other choice tidbits!

We watched that new show The Cape last week (I don't feel the need to watch it again...). I read a post about the promotion for the show, and how they draped 30 statues in NYC with capes. Funny stuff. (Lady Liberty was NOT one of the caped statues, but I couldn't resist sharing such a fun photo.)

Found a cool pattern for a crocheted beret. I can see this in green, can't you?

Found a fun jewelry site where I could play with the color for hours... Kendra Scott Jewelry.

I went through a bundle of old food blog feeds and found a few tidbits for the holidays next year... I'll share those as that happy time grows closer. And, it also seemed like Valentine's is big out there--since when did that day become a huge decorating occasion?--and everyone else in the blogosphere is craving spring. Color is everywhere!

Hope your MLK Day is off to a lovely start. Here's my favorite King quote for the day: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." -MLK Jr.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pear-brie pizza

Buddies are playing together (Seth and Jake) and that means pizza. I have been working around the place all day, and in no state to go out pizza-getting. The delivery options seem to be getting slimmer and slimmer around town too, so that leaves homemade. Once I got the yeast to play properly, it was a snap.

For the boys I did the basics of sauce and cheese. But there was a little crust left over, and that made me want to play... So here's my experiment of the day, based on what was around: Pear-brie-blue cheese-parmesan-white cheddar-arugula pizza. But I'll shorten it, just to make it easy on you: 

Pear-brie pizza
Pizza crust
1/2 cup blue cheese dressing (Litehouse worked great)
1 red pear, sliced thinly
Brie slices (about a dozen, cut into 1-inch pieces)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup white cheddar, grated
1/3 cup pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Spread the pizza dough out on a sprayed and floured pizza pan. Spread out the blue cheese dressing and arrange the pear slices around the pie; scatter the brie, parmesan, cheddar and pine nuts over the pears. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cheese and crust are golden.

In homage to California Pizza Kitchen's pear and gorgonzola pizza, I couldn't resist tossing some arugula in a light vinaigrette with some thinly sliced red onions and placing that on top of the pizza (if I'd had blue cheese crumbles on hand, I'd definitely have tossed those in too).

This pizza made for a lovely accompaniment to watching the Golden Globes, fast-forwarding through those speeches and checking out movies I haven't seen... (I think I might just check out The Tourist. I'm not usually a fan of Johnny Depp, but the preview looks interesting and he seems different than his usual one-trick "thing.")

A wonderful supper, and a great reminder of how easy the pizza dough is. I'll be pulling that out again soon, especially for calzones, which are a great school lunch for Seth.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday night grateful moment

This week was quick in some ways, long in others... I'm already fantasizing about the sleeping I will do tomorrow. Sleeping in, nap #1, nap #2... you get my drift.

It's very peaceful and quiet on the homefront... a perfect time to put my feet up and think about those blessings...

This week I'm thankful for:

Seth's safe return from his trip to see his grandma in Australia. It's been a long week for him, getting caught up on homework and sleep, but he's been a trooper.

Husband and his unflagging support and love.

A circle of friends that is lovely and true.

That the fix for the hot tub on Monday was an easy one, and that no pipes got frozen while I figured it out!

For our new wood floors, which are quite beautiful. I think I have them figured out enough that I should be able to keep them clean(ish) with less work than the old ones.

For a pretty quick and painless tooth procedure this morning. New crown, and an oddly fun time watching the dentist make it... got to see some new-to-me technology. Very cool.

I thought I lost something pretty precious to me today... and looked and looked and looked. My track record lately has been quite shabby in the losing column, so I thought, "Here we go again. Ugh." A few prayers were offered up, some promises made to the universe, and some fast, intense cleaning, and voila, there it was. Right where I left it. (Yes, we're talking about my wedding ring. Man, that would have been awful.) I am very thankful for my friend Sara, who talked me off the ledge when I thought it was gone. And for giving a hip-hip-hooray and PTL when it was found!

This week was the splash back into the deep end of volunteer time, post-holidays. Spent one day in a worthwhile strategic planning session, and bits of other days working toward a fundraiser in February. I am thankful for the time to be able to give to these organizations, and thankful for the people I get to work with and the work we get to do.

I'm always thankful for new web sites to discover. Here's a fun one, right up my alley: Yum & Yuk.

Found a quote I loved this week:

“Winter is a time to gather golden moments
and enjoy every idle hour.” -Judith Boswell

Now I just need to find a few idle hours...

I'm thankful for moments of sweetness. Take a look at this video I found this week, and tell me the ending doesn't make you smile:

I hope your weekend brings you a little peace, a little love, maybe a little snow? I'll be fantasizing about that too...
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