Monday, January 31, 2011



Here's a funny one: I don't like tiramisu. I've also never cooked with cardamom...but I just entered a Fig and Cardamom Spiced Tiramisu in a contest. Go figure.

The good news is my husband loves tiramisu. Like, obsessively, disgustingly, loves tiramisu (which is good as he's got a lot to eat)...and I, well, I have a new love for cardamom. Double win!

Fig & Cardamom Spiced Tiramisu

Before I go any further though, you can check out the recipe, "like" it, make comments, whatever you like over on the Food52 site. Food52, by the way, is the brain-child of Amanda Hesser (of abundant New York Times and food-writing fame) and Merrill Stubbs (her partner in crime). The premise is that home cooks make some pretty amazing food. Each week there is a contest with a theme of sorts (this week was cardamom), and the winner's are published in a compilation at the end of the year.

The article mentioned on the Food52 site, on Saveur, about cardamom is really interesting - the final paragraph is the best! Worth a read just for the ending alone!

Fig & Cardamom Spiced Tiramisu2

Things I've learned from this endeavor? Well, for one, photographing tiarmisu or some trifle-like dessert is really difficult. Kudos to people who do it well! Secondly, I realized I love the challenge but the prize isn't all that important - the challenge spurs creativity and invention, and that I always welcome.

Dried Figs

But most importantly I invented another excuse to use and eat figs...and really, that's all I needed to make me happy.

Hope you enjoy the recipe!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Creative Re-Use: Cork & Sponge

We've all done it: thrown away an old dish sponge. What else do you do with it?

First of all, you can clean sponges: make sure the sponge is a bit wet and pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds, run with your dishwasher, or wash with your kitchen rags in the washing machine. Barring that sort of reuse there are a few other reuses.

Got a perfectly good sponge but need some scrubbing action? Wrap it in the plastic mesh that onions and other produce often come packaged in, secure with a bread or twist tie and you've got a scrubby sponge.

If you have a particularly thirsty plant you can use worn out sponges and scraps in the bottom of a pot to retain moisture for your needy little flora.

Worn out sponges also work well for kids craft projects (as stamps, for clean-up, or for paint texture), painting tools (especially for touch-ups and clean-up), for buffing and polishing shoes or silver, and finally, for cleaning other areas of the house.

Even more cost saving but very useful? Use your sponges as bottle brushes. Bottle brushes cost a pretty penny and rarely do you find on that isn't a mix of mediums - bristles and cloth - to actually just clean a bottle or glass.

Bottle Cleaners
Super fast, super easy bottle brushes:

1) Using kitchen scissors and cut your sponge into strips:
  •  For a thin bottle brush - best for cleaning things like fluted glasses or smaller necked bottles, cut strips length-wise.
  • For a more larger bottle brush - best for cleaning things with a wider neck, baby bottles and jars, cut strips width-wise.
2) Using a chopstick with a more pointed end (some are more blunt), pierce the sponge strips:
  •  For a thin bottle brush - pierce one long strip and slide along length-wise. This takes a big of patience so don't go too fast!
  • For a larger bottle brush - pierce strips through the middle width, 3-5 or so, like you might do with a kebab, turn pieces in alternate directions.
Cork Tip
3) For either version: if you are concerned about the sponge staying put, take a cork and slice a quarter inch round with a serrated knife. Place the cork on the table then pierce with the chopstick - you can go all the way through or just stick on the end, your choice.

Note: I've tried this both with wet and dry sponges. For me the project was easier with a dry sponge.

Cork Rounds

But now you've got a cork with an end missing. What to do with that? I've use cork rounds for a few applications and I'm sure you can think of more.

Continue cutting rounds from the cork. Use the rounds on the back to secure slippery coasters by affixing with hot glue. Use the cork rounds to stabilize furniture or prevent it from scratching floors. If you're really in a pinch you can cut them down even smaller and use then on a high heel that's needing to be repaired.

If you are particularly crafty you can use cork rounds to create some pretty amazing jewelry as well!

Cork Reuse Placecards

Or use whole corks as place card/escort card/business card holders:

1) Again, using a serrated knife (or a very small saw, if you like) cut the length of the cork to make a more stable surface, and so the cork won't roll around.

2) Not lay the cork on the flat side and use the knife to create a slit across the top, as deep (or shallow) as you like. Voila! Slide a card in and you are all set!

For a fast and fun hostess gift take a piece of thin cardboard, cut into equal rectangles, coat with chalkboard paint, slip cards into a muslin bag with a piece of chalk and a matching number of cork holders and tie around a wine bottle. Quick, easy, useful, and a little more than just a bottle of wine!

Kids Sponge Ball

This idea, from the August 2009 issue of Family Fun magazine uses the same idea of cutting sponges down - only this time to make a fun summer toy for the kids, or a fun bath time toy for kid who just can't get enough of bubbles!

Other bath time ideas? Cut x's and o's out of your sponges and use them to play a game of tic-tac-toe, in the tub with bath crayons. Cut a slit in the end of your sponge and slide in a small bar of soap (from a hotel or nearly done): now your kid has soap and a sponge in one!

What other creative re-uses and tricks do you use for your sponges or corks?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

52 Pickup: 4/52

Remember, all 52 pickups are open to interpretation. My interpretation might not be the same as yours - make it yours, make it a mantra, make it life lived well.

This week the pickup is:

Do you have conditions and contingencies to be met before you allow yourself to grow? Do the dishes have to be done in order for you to take time to knit?

Do you note who was last to call whom in a friendship and let that limit you when you want to pick up the phone?

Would you really work harder if you had a raise?

What is holding you back from the growth you want to achieve?

This week try to take note of the conditions you set for yourself that hinder your growth.


"Yes, you can be a dreamer and a doer too, if you will remove one word from your vocabulary: impossible." Robert Schuller

This little guy is a cutting from our ficus. The ficus that we've had since before we were married. That ficus has lived indoors and out, upstairs, downstairs, in houses and apartments, but the best growing it ever did wasn't in a pot.

A few years ago we had a dinner party. Having spent my money on the food, the decoration had to be minimal, so, I took a few cuttings from the ficus and popped them in small vases and vials with a touch of water.

Weeks later I realized one cutting was still alive. I went to pull it out of the tiny egg vase it was in and low and behold, it had roots so large it couldn't be removed. The little plant simply wanted to grow. It grew without a single, appropriate condition: no soil, very little water, not much light to speak of (it was on a shelf)...and yet it grew and grew until it was too big to be contained. 

I watered that little cutting and tended to it after that - and it continued to flourish. Finally, by accident, the little vase broke, and I replanted the roots and cutting into the same pot as it's parent - where it continues to grow. 

Sure, a cutting of a branch is not the same as a human, but in it's simple desire to be more, in its single-minded, unhindered goal that tiny cutting became what is now a huge plant, not a single proper condition met for it's early progress; and we can, if we choose, move beyond our demands, expectations, and conditions to grow, achieve and become someone unimaginably beautiful.

"Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day." Zen Proverb

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spring Dreaming & Local Eating: Book Ideas

Book Recommendations Local Eating
It's rare that I buy a book. As you'll recall, we sold off a huge number of books and are dedicated library patrons. For you long time readers you'll know that I positively love Molly Wizenberg's (of the blog Orangette) book A Homemade Life ... and yet, I only just bought my own copy a week ago, this is how dedicated I am to not wasting, to enjoying and savoring every book in my collection.

Book Recommendations Local Eating2

Funny enough the books that happen to stick around and populate my library often have something to do with food - usually local eating and often gardening. Perhaps because my thumb is only partially green and I need all the help I can get, or perhaps because I do so adore great food – regardless they are books that I come back to time and time again.

As winter wears on I find myself planning the garden and thinking about great, fresh, local vegetables again. A peek through some of my favorite books leaves me inspired and ready to face another imminently cold day.

Deeply Rooted

Deeply Rooted, by Lisa M. Hamilton, is more a novel than a reference. It's a exploration of three farmers facing off with modern agricultural business models - and yet it isn't preachy, or guilt-ridden. Deeply Rooted is engaging, at times delightful, informative, and, as so desirable but often lacking, leaves you wanting more. 

How to Buy (or not buy) Organic Inside

Conversely, but in a (mostly) non-confrontational and audience embracing manner, To Buy or Not to Buy Organic: What You Need to Know to Choose the Healthiest, Safest, Most Earth-Friendly Food, by Cindy Burke is the primer I recommend for everyone starting to delve into more conscientious eating. The first section of the book, in particular, detailing lists of best foods to buy organic and why, is a good introduction, reminder and reference.

How To Pick a Peach Inside

How to Pick a Peach: The Search For Flavor From Farm to Table, by Russ Parsons is an encyclopedia of sorts. Laid out as a reference manual, the book details the most popular crops by season, then describes how to choose, store, and prepare each fruit or vegetable, ending with a few simple recipes highlighting the flavor or each food.

For less information but a more extensive collection of foods consider The Produce Bible, highlighted below.

The Produce Bible Inside
The Produce Bible, a full color mega-reference by Leanne Kitchen discusses just about every fruit or vegetable you can dream up. While the depth of the information about each is not as in-depth as in How To Pick A Peach, it covers all manner of rare and obscure vegetation you might run across. For the beautiful imagery, recipes, discussion of selection, storage and preparation is is worth a read - or at least a check-out at the local library.

Local Flavors Inside

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets, by Deborah Madison, quickly became a favorite when I checked it out of the library last summer. Covering not just vegetables and fruit but also eggs, cheese, foods that keep and a chapter just on "basics" (stock, pizza dough, tomato sauce, and the like), it's amazingly compact book for so much information. It's punctuated by sidebars and interlude pages that discuss various farmers' markets and informational highlights. Local Flavors is as useful as it is delicious - I haven't found a recipe we didn't enjoy.

Seed to See Inside

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth is pure, hardcore information - more so than I can almost handle at times - about how to save seeds, where to plant, harvest, and every detail you could never have though you would need about down in the dirt true gardening/farming. While most know it as the definitive seed guide it is accessible for all levels of growers - and absolutely bursting with information. After finally getting my copy from the library I tagged each page I wanted to copy regarding something we were growing - then I put the book down only to realize I had marked far more pages than could be worth copying - I ordered my own copy and haven't looked back since.

What are some of you absolute must have books about food or gardening? Have you read any of these?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Poached Eggs with Roasted Red Pepper Chipotle Sauce & Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Roasted and Sauced

When my husband, Em, and I first met I had been on a mission for some time to learn to poach eggs. I tried everything. No amount of swirling water and careful reading of Julia Child could overcome my one major cooking obstacle. I could cook eggs, of course, but I couldn't cook them the way I preferred, which haunted me. Every weekend I would try again. I even went so far as to buy the jumbo box of cheap eggs at a wholesale club. 72 eggs later not a single one was poached (but I had some excellent egg drop soup).


How? How was is possible I could make up cookie recipes with nary a recipe but the simple egg eluded me? Julia Child had let me down. I had let myself down. I confided in my husband about my failings. He assured me it was tremendously difficult, then got up, went into the kitchen, rifled around a bit and came out, 20 minutes later with 2 perfectly poached eggs...which I ate, full of disbelief (and resent), and demanded more.

Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Turned out I just didn't read the right instructions...or rather the ones that worked for me (us). It's actually really easy to poach an egg once you stop flailing around and read more than one recipe.

Alas, though fully capable of making our own poached eegs we still often went out to a local pub that served an inexpensive, yet fabulous poached egg atop a crabcake smothered in a red pepper sauce.

Roasted Pepper Poached Egg

And so, for some reason, this Sunday, not a crabcake in sight, I waxed nostalgic for our old neighborhood. Though I craved a traditional hash brown all we had were sweet potatoes (or yams, whatever your linguistic choice). Though there are a million ways to make a sweet potato even more delicious than it already is, I adore them with rosemary - the savory with the sweet always makes me happy. Thus, sunday breakfast was born: Poached eggs with a Roasted Red Pepper and Chipotle Sauce with a side of Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes. And it was divine...even better than the crabcake inspiration.


At first I peeked at a few red pepper sauces...and I gave the peppers a whirl with some garlic, just like many said. Tasted like the sauce I remembered but here's the kicker, I never really loved the sauce - it was the crabcakes that did me in. So, as always, I made something up...some salt, some mustard...then an idea – chipotle pepper and sour cream! It's a delicious sauce - great for the poached egg but would be equally at home on a fish taco or swirled atop a subtle soup. Em took one bite, ran off for a piece of paper and demanded a full recount of ingredients and method, which, in my book, means its a keeper.

Roasted Red Pepper Chipotle Sauce
Roasted Red Pepper Chipotle Sauce

1 jar roasted red peppers (3-4 whole roasted red peppers) + 1 teaspoon water from the jar

2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sauce from can/jar or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce or 1/4 chipotle pepper (adjust to taste if you prefer more heat)
1-2 cloves garlic or 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Adjust heat by adding more chipotle pepper if necessary. For a more viscous sauce add more water from the roasted peppers or a splash of plain water.

If you would like your sauce warm you can heat in a saucepan, otherwise use as is.

Sweet Potatoes
Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 medium/large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon dried rosemary
3/4 teaspoon sea salt (not ground), if ground use 1/2 teaspoon
3/4 teaspoon pepper (I prefer a blend)
3/4 teaspoon cumin
olive oil or reserved fat

You can do this recipe in a few ways: baked or pan fried, in olive oil or, if you happen to make bacon for breakfast, in the reserved fat.

First, if your rosemary is still in longer needles you'll need to pulverize it, preferably. I use a mortar and pestle and put all the spices in and grind. If you don't have a mortar and pestle you could a) put the spices in a bag and beat with the flat side of a meat tenderizer, b) put everything into a clean coffee grinder and grind, c) put spices in a plastic container or something unbreakable with a lid (like a martini shaker), add in a clean golf ball and shake like crazy.

Toss diced sweet potatoes in olive oil or reserved fat to coat, then toss in spices.

Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350F, tossing a few times as the sweet potatoes bake, for about 20 minutes or until done (longer for a larger dice). OR put in a pan over medium heat, stirring/tossing often, until cooked through: crispy on the outside, tender inside.

Poached Eggs

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Fill a high sided frying pan (with a lid) with water nearly to the top.

Add in vinegar and bring water to a boil.

Crack egg into a small ramekin or prep bowl. Set aside.

Once water is boiling turn off the heat then quickly but gently slide/pour the egg(s) into the water. Cover immediately and leave lid on for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes remove the lid and use a slotted spoon or spatula to remove your cooked eggs! For more runny eggs reduce time to 3 minutes, or increase time if you prefer your egg cooked through.

Roasted and Sauced2

Hope you enjoy as much as we did!

Don't forget: If you need a conversion chart you can always download one here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weekend Reads: Winter Fun for Young and Old

It's cold here. Really, really cold. Like -30F windchill cold. A perfect time to stay inside, admire the snow from under a blanket, make pancakes and read. So basically, it's maple syrup season.

Let's get started with the pancakes, shall we? My mom isn't a fan of pancakes...and while I like them, I find them a bit too much sometimes. Funny enough I made a homemade pancake mix last year - and we both fell in love. Alton Brown's Instant Pancake mix is a perfect blend of not too heavy, not too light and not overly complicated. Bonus, since you make it yourself you can easily modify or remove the sugar content and no packaging (yay for the earth!)


Of course you'll want maple syrup on your pancakes, and since you did something nice for the earth you might as well try to get something as local as possible. Local Harvest makes that search easy.

We got super lucky with our syrup - it's from a neighbor's (who happen to also be a foodie, writer, and fabulous food writer) mother in law's own property - she brought a case with her when she came to visit and you can bet we were quick to pounce on that exciting find!

What if you don't like the sticky sauce, or what if you want to use maple sugar instead of refined sugar in your pancakes? What about this amazing maple sugar cube? You just grate what you want and leave the rest in all it's beautiful self-packaging! This particular cube is from Ninutik - I found it via Martha Stewart Living's December issue, but is mentioned online as well.

Can you imagine how fun and sensory delightful a small grating of maple sugar might be on the top of a pie or a savory squash soup? Yum!
For some fun educational material, and a good snuggle with the kids, Maple Syrup Season is a beautifully illustrated, well told story about a family going out and procuring, then enjoying their own maple syrup. For those of you who can't stand the wordy kid's books this one is just about right - a little longer than the simple counting books but not yet a beginning reader.


Plus the image of "sugar on snow" with a whole family rushing to eat maple syrup taffy right off fresh snow is almost too cute to stand. Maple Syrup Season is written by Ann Purmell and illustrated by Jill Weber.

Another great book on a snowy day: Snowflake Bentley chronicles the real life of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, a man so obsessed with snow that he made it his mission to photograph it - as individual the 1800's. Wilson Bentley, a Wisconsin man, is responsible for what we now now to be the highly unique and individual nature of each snowflake that falls. He also photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes in his lifetime, contributing to major scientific publications such as Popular Mechanics (take a peek at just the first short paragraph - talk about passion!) and National Geographic.

I'll admit, the book Snowflake Bentley, is a bit on the wordy side - but it's really interesting and you can edit as needed for your child's age and understanding level.

"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated., When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind."
 – Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, 1925

If you are a photographer you'll probably find some of the resources, images, and other information on the Snowflake Bentley site quite interesting. 

If you are in a cold climate this weekend then keep warm my friends! If you are in Australia, or somewhere warm just know, right now, someone is jealous of you...enjoy those beautiful warm rays from the sun.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ruthless Organizing: Tools and Tricks

I know it isn't always screamingly obvious but we're a pretty 'crunchy' family...even more so in the past few years. Which is another part of the problem. We needed to get real and stop trying to save, reuse, and repurpose everything in sight. Not that you shouldn't, but that it wasn't working.

By investing in tools that really work for us we were able to start fresh and stay the course – meaning less packaging, more bulk pantry supplies in our own glass containers, more use of our reusable produce bags, and control over our 'un-paper' products - too many rags to wash is just as wasteful as too many paper towels. Did I mention that article from Sunset really set something off in me? It did.

A few things that helped:


1) Investing in and using containers that really work for us:

We use a lot of canning jars because we have them and they are the right size for most things we need in the pantry. Bigger containers store grains, etc. Baskets confine and store unpaper towels, etc - if if doesn't fit in the basket it doesn't belong in the house.


2) Bistro Markers - aka chalk markers:

I bought one of these on a whim - it's the best thing I've probably ever bought. We use it all the time, on everything. Chalk markers, much like many dry erase markers don't have to be confined to chalkboards - any slick surface will work (test it first, of course).

We use our chalk marker on our big chest freezer (the top is painted with chalkboard paint), on the tops of containers in the fridge (plastic and glass - to note the contents and date), on our fridge, on jars in the pantry, and pretty much anywhere else I want to label and erase/change easily.

I don't have any, but I'm guessing china markers do all the same things...with even less waste. If this marker ever runs out (it's been years) I might go that route.


3) Labels:

Plain old labels. I make my own and have some available for you to download, edit, print and use however you like.

Funny enough, labeling even simple spaces has helped us - my husband loved when I labeled the linen closet and is prompt and helpful when putting items away there now. Victory in two parts: organization, and help! Sometimes a system is the entire solution.


Ok - so for those label downloads. You have a few options. All are writable PDFs - so just click where the text is, change to whatever you like, and print away. Print on label paper, or plain, heavier stock or not - whatever you need! Need quick laminating? Cover the smaller labels with packing tape on both sides and cut out the label - bonus, if you leave the label blank you can write on it with a dry erase marker and reuse it over and over!

All the labels use the font "lobster" which is free - if it doesn't show up in the file try downloading here and installing the font.

Download the PDF here: Organizing Labels (go to File (on the left side), Download Original File - then open and change on your computer from there!)


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

52 Pickup: 3/52

Remember, all 52 pickups are open to interpretation. My interpretation might not be the same as yours - make it yours, make it a mantra, make it life lived well.

This week the thought is:

How often do we assume an answer before we finish asking a question? This week it's all about asking without expectation.

My former boss said something to me once and it's stuck ever since: expectation is pre-determined disappointment. I won't even pretend that sunk in fully right didn't. Eventually though, it became more of a second nature thing...and though I am still chock-full of expectations one of them is not for gifts, rarely for favors, never for wild requests, and less so for deeply embedded role-assignments (job-wise, specifically)


When I got this beauty from my husband I was entirely surprised. Same goes for the magazines I asked my mom to bring back from Australia for me.

Letting go of expectations, asking without the expectation that what you ask for will be done/given/etc brings with it an incredible sense of fulfillment and gratitude. When you ask without expectation each favor, each gift, each "yes" you receive is doubly rewarding - it's a surprise, a gift, and a delight.

When you ask without expectation you receive twice: once with what you asked for and the second time with the joy at having been given something unexpected. That fulfillment you feel, it will show, and it will make the person who fulfilled your request feel full too...and who knows where all that positivity can go from there!

"You get in life what you have the courage to ask for." 
- Oprah