Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Bon Appetit!"

As you might have guessed, my week has again been filled with baking, rather than sewing. I baked more Madeleines and also perfected the basic Financier recipe. Initially, I found most of the recipes for Financiers to produce a batter that was more heavy in texture than I personally preferred. Therefore, true to my nature, I abandoned the standard recipe and began experimenting. I combined several recipes and incorporated my own ideas to achieve a Financier that still has a nutty almond flavor without a mealy texture. Yes, again I'm baking with the BBC to keep me company. Both my usual lemony Madeleines and the chocolate ones were baked while listening to a BBC Radio 4 broadcast of a discussion of the 1963 book Beyond the Boundary, a sociological commentary and philosophical study of society and the game of cricket, written in memoir format, by CLR James. But by the time the final batches were in the oven, I was listening to beautiful, melancholy pieces from Bach over on BBC Radio 3.

All of this talk of batch after batch of Madeleines would give the impression that I must have an abundance of these precious little tea cakes in my kitchen. On the contrary, Daniel made quick work of devouring nearly all of them in one sitting. (Lucky for me, I taste as I cook, so I was able to have a few also.) He has already discovered the Financiers, so I'm sure I'll be baking more soon. And he is happily anticipating my upcoming Ladyfingers. Yes, my former somewhat finicky-eater-of-a-husband has become an official, self professed, "foodie." (With the exception of our, "date-night-out dinners," all of our evening meals are homecooked as well, so it's great for the both of us now being foodies, traveling via recipe to all sorts of interesting places.)

It seems that I've somehow discovered this latest preoccupation, accidentally. It happened as I was planning on making sewing my latest endeavor, but instead became sidetracked in the kitchen. But I don't perceive all of this cooking business to be mere hobby. On the contrary, it is more serious for me. It is an honorable duty to my household to become the absolute best possible cook that I can. Which of course, means considerable culinary research and experimentation. Julia Child was my age, when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. And while I do not have any future formal culinary education plans, I'm not too old to take the occasional specialty course now and then. In the meantime, I do however, plan to continue reading, studying, and cooking. An adventure already, cooking will become even more challenging and exciting once I become completely immersed in my vintage 1961 copy of Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Until we meet for coffee,

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

For the Freudians: Dora and the practice of Home Economics...

Last week, my featured french pastry was the beautiful little Madeleine. (Those with whom I shared these pretties, agreed with my use of, "Heavenly," for their description.) This week, I've become enchanted with Financiers, or Friands, as they're sometimes called. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Barquette Molds and Friand Pan, but until then, I'm simply going to use an ordinary mini-muffin pan. They'll not be as dainty, but they'll still be as yummy! (Don't worry, I'll share the results!) And so my culinary adventures continue.

But, again, concerning the sewing...last night, I had a vision of a quilt I must make. Okay, admittedly, it wasn't really a vision, but a normal, ordinary dream. Well, not necessarily normal, since I'm incapable of, 'normal,' dreams. My dreams are often similar to the scary montage scene in the original Willy Wonka movie with Gene Wilder. Some of you may recall those unsettling, nearly pyschedelic images, complete with violence and chickens, etc. But I digress. As I said, my dreams are always filled with crazy and seemingly nonsensical sequences, where various people or inanimate objects which have for whatever reason, become personified, appear and then disappear. Yes, it does seem odd, but it is rather, 'old hat,' after all these years, so I don't bother too much about it. The intention for this bit of Freudian dream analysis was to discuss the quilt which appeared in my dream last night. This quilt was handmade, primarily sage green in color, with toile patterns and some pretty little Victorian-English tea cup flowers. It was somewhat earthy and provencal, yet springlike and floral. It might be said to have had a Laura Ashley feeling to it, although, it was completely handmade. Okay, I must apologize for this bizarre description that doesn't do any justice to the mental image of my dream quilt at all. I'll leave it at this: it was pretty, cozy, and perfect! And I want to attempt to make it myself. My grandmother often used to make quilts by hand. When I was a little kid, I remember helping her a few times and it was nothing like what I see quilts being made like today. Her quilts (I still have one from when I was very young) were all, "hand stuffed, tied (with yarn), and sewn." In comparison to the more popular ones without ties, this must seem completely primitive and odd. However, once completed, these quilts were very warm and comforting. I am definitely planning on attempting to duplicate this technique someday in the not so distant future.

Yes, for someone who, previously was always too busy working, to consider these sorts of endeavors, I've got quite a lot of future plans to complete. In addition to the culinary adventures and sewing experiments, the current domestic project is getting the basement in order. My mother in law has an immaculate basement and I want mine to become immaculate as well. Or at least, nearly immaculate. Daniel has set up his workbench, which has helped to alleviate the problem of various tools and hardware being strewn about on the floor. We've gotten rid of some old clothes that neither of us will ever be able to squeeze into, never, ever, ever again. And we're currently sorting through some old, stowaway odds and ends that came with me on the moving truck last year. All in all, it's a productive process.

Finally, I feel the need to share some thoughts on frugal home economics. For me, using a coupon at the grocery, becomes a small victory against the large corporation. It's not a matter of being in dire straits, but it is simply a matter of why pay more for the product than necessary? Currently (no pun intended), I am preoccupied with kilowatts. I'm sure that most of you are aware that utility companies have mysterious peak and off peak hours, where the kilowatts per hour charges vary accordingly. But how many of you are aware of exactly what the particular times of the day when those peaks and non-peaks occur? To determine yours, visit the website of your utility company. This may seem trivial to some of you, but personally, I have always had an issue with these peaks and valleys. I will always have an issue with paying twenty-one cents (summer; eleven in winter) versus six cents per kilowatt hour for the exact same electricity! It's a matter of principal. Yes, it is partially unavoidable and sometimes impractical to wait for certain times of day to perform certain tasks, but some habits can be altered to maximize the off peak usage. But again, I digress.

Until we meet for coffee,

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


What could be lovelier than early morning concertos and my beloved Madeleines? I baked a huge batch of these Heavenly petite pillows this morning, while listening to BBC Radio 3 (courtesy of the wonderful worldwide web)...They're so pretty and sooooo scrumptious...I had to share the original recipe (although I always add my own personal variations to every recipe)! And yes, ladies, these come out exactly as pictured! Absolutely Lovely! Proust would be proud.

Until we meet for coffee,

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sugar, spice, and everything nice to be followed by a brief sermon

So, as I've said before, I've become the best of friends with my stove, therefore, my primary domestic pursuits lately have been mostly culinary. Each week seems to bring a new quest for various triumphs in cuisine, and this past week has been no exception. From homemade pierogies (dough, filling and all) to my beloved custard tarts, my happy stove and I have been exploring such wondrous adventures (mind you, this has also led to new adventures in exercise equipment for both myself and my husband). My current preoccupation is Madeleines; they're simply so pretty, how can anyone resist? So, today was devoted to my husband's special Valentine's Day cake and tomorrow will be for me and my Madeleines (which I will share with my mother-in-law, Alice, who is perhaps, the most generous, loving, and supportive mother-in-law around). Yes, I have just gotten a shiny new Madeleine pan and I'm most anxious to use it.

Yes, despite my former reservations, I've obviously become quite the blissful wifey. This is where I should proudly confess to belonging to an online retro housewives network and Darla Shine's Happy Housewives Club. I make homemade lavender spray (recipe courtesy of Alison, who inspires me daily), I've just added two more titles to my vintage cookbook collection (Betty Crocker's Hostess Cookbook c.1967 and Setting Your Table: Its Art, Etiquette, and Service c.1941), and yes, I occasionally use aromatherapy oils. Still not modeling the wardrobe of June Cleaver, but perhaps as the seasons change (and warmer weather arrives), I'll start dressing the part. Daniel will love that! This whole being a stay-at-home wife thing was initially his idea, remember? Yes, he's become the blissful hubby.

While I've not yet found ultimate enlightenment with my Singer, I have made peace with the machine. I have some ideas to work on (sans patterns) and have just sewn a nifty full length bistro apron, using an old bedsheet. It was quick and easy, but this bandana apron from Martha must be the absolute easiest apron for anyone to sew. Oh, and regarding sewing, I'm very excited that my new friend, Kerry, is soon forming a sewing circle. Kerry is an extremely talented seamstress and all around creative spirit, with whom I've recently found many mutual commonalities. Spending time with her more often should prove to be creatively challenging, intellectually interesting, and simply fun. (Unless she becomes too cross at me for my lack of patience in the sewing room, lol.)

Years ago, my favorite spice was Saffron. Not because I was cooking a lot, but because it was an inside joke between myself and my coworkers, subsequently becoming one of my many nicknames. These days, Thyme is my favorite spice. Could there be a more powerful and versatile spice? I'm sure there are many of you who would argue that your favorite spice is both powerful and versatile also, but for myself (at least at the moment), Thyme is my personal choice. Why the discussion on spices? It just seemed appropriate, since I've been pondering all sorts of homecrafts that incorporate spices into their construction. Think pomanders, sachets, etc. I realize that neither Saffron, nor Thyme, would be appropriate for these types of domestic niceties, but they are still very interesting. In fact, all spices are historically fascinating. Next time you reach for the Oregano, just remember it's popularly known as, "Mountain Joy", and it's origins date back to the Greeks. However, I suppose not everyone would share my enthusiasm for the historical stories attached to the global spices of the world. So, if all of this talk of spices bores you, then at least patronize me by allowing yourself to let the flavor of the various spices linger on your tongue at bit, before gulping down your next meal.

Finally, I know some of my cubicle dwelling friends mockingly scoff at my new lifestyle, which I've enthusiastically embraced. I will not apologize for my most recent reinvention of self, nor will I defend it to anyone. It is not agenda driven and it isn't intended to demonstrate any artistic statements. I have simply exhanged my expendable jobs working for others with the permanent job of working for my family. Out of all the many different jobs I have held throughout the years, working for the betterment of my household is by far, the most important, reputable, and beneficial (Proverbs 31:10-31) employment. I am equally (in some cases, superiorly) intelligent, capable, and assertive to those who look down their noses at me. The difference is: I know who I am, which makes all the difference in the world.

Until we meet for coffee,

Friday, February 3, 2006

Zen and the Art of Sewing Machine Maintenance

I realize that Friday is not the usual day for posts, but since I've been somewhat productive on the Singer this afternoon, I thought I'd write the weekly update a few days early (especially since Monday will be a busy day, spent mostly away from the computer). This past week has been one more devoted to planning, rather than an enormous amount of doing. I have decided to try and eat healthier, exercise regularly, and get a better quality of sleep, since my GP has strongly recommended it, again. By eating healthier, however, I do NOT mean, "diet," I simply mean try to decrease the bad foods and increase the good foods. Actually, since being a stay at home wife, I've already been doing that, but the exercise bit, well, um....not so much. I've just recently gotten the daily meal planning, routine chores, and daily/weekly/monthly household maintenance schedules worked out; I haven't quite gotten 'round to establishing a daily sleep schedule and weekly workout schedule yet. Still, it shouldn't be too difficult to introduce a regular workout schedule and somewhat regular bedtime, but I refuse to watch my cholesterol! I'll spare my usual diatribe that normally follows a declaration such as that.

As I first mentioned above, I did some sewing this afternoon, and it went much better than when I previously sat down in front of it on Wednesday. At this point, I should say, "thank you," to Autumn (my favorite Domestic Goddess), who enlightened me on the method of avoiding extremely crooked lines (seams). I was telling her about hating going slowly to try and make straight lines, when she said, "What are you talking about? "That's what those guides are for!" And then, she laughed and laughed, much like yourself, as you are reading this post. I am quite intelligent, but patient I am not, especially when it comes to reading manuals, directions, etc. I had never bothered to read anything characteristic about that metal plate, above the bobbin, which shows lines for guiding the fabric. Now she can ridicule me!

I'm sewing relatively straight lines this afternoon, but my apron remains questionable. It has to do with patience again, since I have decided that sewing patterns and myself are not to be friends. I am slowly becoming friendly with the sewing machine and I am already great friends with my stove, but I am positive that I will never be friends with sewing patterns. Acquaintances, maybe; friends, never. Therefore, I carried on, sewing without the pattern and well, the apron is questionable. It's because these patterns are very similar to those mathematical word problems and equations, where I could usually get the correct answer my way, but not usually with their formulas and variables. So while I haven't yet managed to sew any professional looking products, I have at least managed to become much more comfortable with my sewing machine. But patience...

Apparently, sewing is an art of practiced patience and I am not a person of patience. I've done many things in my life, but never has any of it been done with patience. (Admittedly, much was learned, "the hard way," because of this.) Why am I suddenly afraid that a sewing machine may become my albatross? I have resolved to not let this happen. On the contrary, I must practice, with patience, this deliberately steady art of sewing. I must overcome any obstacles (sewing patterns) that attempt to impede my goal of mastering mechanical stitchery. I am determined to discover the mysterious peaceful joy of those enlightened seamstresses.

Until we meet for coffee,