Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands - and then eat just one of the pieces." ~ Judith Viorst

Truth be told, I am one of those rare women who is not wild about chocolate.  Now - this is not to say that I don't ever eat or enjoy chocolate - I just don't crave it, need it or wax poetic about it.  Now lobster on the other hand - I could wax, buff and shine poetic about lobster. 

I may not be a serious fancier of chocolate, but I truly do enjoy learning about the process or the craft of creating something.  I know that this is why I so thoroughly enjoy Craft in America, the PBS series that I devoted a post to a short while back.  I know that I'm not going to craft a violin, or create ceramic art that is going to be displayed in museums - but I love to see how it is done, and to learn about the people who do it.

And so I come to this video, which I stumbled upon on another person's blog.  The video is of the Mast Brothers, located in Brooklyn, NY.  They truly "craft" their fine chocolates in a very personal way.  It's 
so interesting to watch, and could easily be the subject of a Craft in America episode.  If you are reading this via e-mail - please click here to view.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pinternalysis: The process by which one analyzes specific aspects of one’s life through the use of Pinterest boards.

OK - I totally made that up!  I am going to attempt to explain Pinterest and Pinterest boards a little further down, but I am caught recollecting when the trademark book “What Color is you Parachute?” was first published for the general population – 1972, when I was a sophomore in high school (I know that I am seriously dating myself).  A means by which to determine the direction of your life – your strengths and weaknesses – your likes and dislikes – “What Color is you Parachute?” has been around ever since – updated yearly – thank goodness – because in 1972, anything dealing with computers, the internet, etc. was not even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ or Bill Gates' eyes. 

I happen to have the 1998 edition of “What Color is you Parachute”  by my side – it’s the only edition that was readily available at my library – outdated yes – but the premise has remained the same over the years – helping would-be college students and career hunters zero in on what they want to do with the rest of their lives.  Here are a few of the questions that the book suggests that you ask yourself:

1.   What do you want out of life?
2.   What turns you on?
3.   What are your favorite interests?

Now – this is where Pinterest comes into play. Having been around for about two plus years, Pinterest's popularity has skyrocketed.  Virtual bulletin boards allow users (pinners) to create a board focusing on any topic that they would like, and to virtually tack pictures, websites etc. to their boards directly from what is found on the internet.  Watch the video clip below to get an idea of how it works:

 Really – your Pinterest  boards will answer a lot of those “Parachute” questions for you!  Very recently - I realized that a trip through my Pinterest boards proved to be very insightful - for example - I clearly have a thing for salted-caramels - I've never made a single salted-caramel recipe out of the 27 pinned to my “Dessert” board - but without a doubt - I lust after salted-caramels ~ who knew?

I also clearly enjoy dresses that date back to another era – even though I can’t remember the last time I wore a dress.  Looking at my “Fashion” board however, indicates that if I were to go down the “dress” road again, I’d be wearing something out of “Mad Men”.  What fun!

Looking for personal insight? Want to know what might be a career choice for you?  Begin “pinning”.  Make no mistake though – it is addictive – on more than one occasion I’ve said “Back away from the computer, Tracy.”  I could spend (and have spent) hours scouring the pins of complete strangers for that next great recipe, that next wonderful knitting pattern, the next perfect accessory for my beach house. Yes – I have a board titled “My Beach House” – I just want to be ready when the time comes.

In short – to quote a friend - I need a Pintervention - perhaps it could be a new Lifetime reality show?  I know that I'm not alone out there.

(Click on the red "Follow me on Pinterest" button on the right-hand side of my blog in order to see what I'm interested in - it's insightful!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We are off on the road to Morocco!!!!

It's funny how sometimes life intersects in the most unusual ways. Last month - it was my turn to select the cooking theme for May's BITE gathering.  Several weeks ago I came across a recipe for Chicken B'stilla, which then became the inspiration for May's Morocco.  Not long after choosing this, my book group selected the story The Tenth Gift, by Jane Johnson.  A good portion of the novel takes place in Morocco and Moroccan food is woven abundantly into the tale.  All of this was pure coincidence - but a very pleasant one.   Add to this another coincidence - two of the food blogs that I enjoy reading (and you will find on my side bar) happened to focus on Morocco the very day that we had our dinner - check out Crepes of Wrath (5/21) and Global Table Adventure (5/21).

Tzawaj Magalhalia by Morocco on Grooveshark

From my last BITE write-up, you may recall my sincere disappointment with the photos that I took of our Malaysian themed food.  Sadly - I'm not sure that the pictures below show much improvement - though truth be told, I didn't do anything but "hope" for better pictures.  Also - I realize that attempting to take mouth-watering food shots while dishing it up, chatting and getting ready to eat is probably not the best time to do it.  I think that I need to plan the occasional dish outside of BITE to prepare and photograph, and to accept that the BITE photos are really just an attempt to capture the wonderful dishes that everyone has made.  In reality, we are not a cooking show, but a group of fun-loving women who enjoy cooking, laughing, talking and eating!

And so - another delicious meal!  My Chicken B'stilla really was wonderful - so different - somehow chicken and cinnamon-sugar just don't go together in my mind - but in this dish - delicious!  My son devoured the leftovers when I got home!  Ellen came prepared with kebabs right off the grill.  Her Moroccan Chicken Kebabs were wonderfully spicy and her Moroccan Vegetable Soup with Chicken and Rice, while with a bit of heat - was very light and spring-like.

Chris brought three different dishes with her.  The first was a cold eggplant dish - I need to get the recipe - nice and tangy!  Next she had Couscous with Fresh Cilantro and Lemon Juice -a lovely taste, texture and color!  Her final contribution was a delightfully light and fresh Moroccan Carrot Salad.

For dessert, Tierney, after contemplating a couple of different recipes, chose Moroccan Orange Cake, with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and a sprig of fresh mint - a delightful ending to a delightful evening spent in delightful company!  All of the recipes can be found in this post, but also on my side-bar on the right under "Pages". 

Next month - Antigua!!!!  Dessert suggestions are welcome!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"If you have a mom, there is nowhere you are likely to go where a prayer has not already been." ~ Robert Brault

Three generations of loving mothers.  I don't know if I'm laughing or crying (or what I'm wearing) - I just know that I'm cute!
A couple of weeks ago, I did a blog post about knitting, about the things that knitters say, about drinking wine while knitting.  I also mentioned that I had recently begun a project that required my attention more than most the projects I undertake.  Happily, I did complete it - with a few minor flaws, but generally I'm pleased with it. Also, it is done in time to give to my mother for Mother's Day.  

The name of the pattern is Pogona by Stephen West.

So - Happy Mother's Day Mom - I love you! And - Happy Mother's Day to all of those women - mothers, grandmothers, step-mothers, aunts, sisters, teachers, friends - who are there for the others in their lives!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"And they're off!!!!!"

This past Saturday, we hosted our second annual Kentucky Derby Party!  It was a blast!  There were nearly 60 of us, in a wide assortment of headwear.  Bruce made his splendid mint juleps and guests brought every kind of delectable dish to add to the merriment.   I mentioned last week that one of my life's greatest pleasures to  spend time with family, friends and food - I got it all!!!!  So here is a . . . .

Party in Pictures!

A grand time was had by all!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

“What is elegance? Soap and water!” ~ Cecil Beaton

Several years ago I took a cold-process soap-making class.  We have used nothing but my handmade soap since.  When I first began making it and acquiring all of the materials and paraphernalia that go along with soap-making, I did consider trying to sell it.  I decided not to though- the timing just wasn't right. However, I have continued to make it for us and for family and friends - I'm never looking for a last minute gift to give because I always have a wonderful array of soap to wrap up.  

Soap-making is something that I never do while sipping a glass of wine.  It involves using lye (unlike melt and pour soap-making) and it's not the kind of thing that you want to do with any kind of distraction around you such as pets or small children.  The process of saponification is actually a chemical process by which soap is formed.  There are all kinds of resources on the web for cold-process soap-making, but I would recommend taking a class if one is available.  This will not only teach you about making the soap, but also about the safety precautions that should be taken.  After that, you really can go off on your own and create your own recipes.  Essentially, if you can bake, you can make soap!

Over the past week, I have been soaping up a storm!  My niece, Mairead, will be getting married late this summer, and I have offered to make soap to have as favors for her reception.  Mairead and Andrew chose the scent "White Tea and Ginger" and this seems fitting since they met each other in China while each was doing a semester abroad.  Andrew spied Mairead on a bus and was taken with her rosy cheeks ~

Making this now for an end of summer wedding may seem a bit early, but I really want to give the soap a chance to cure and dry out completely.  This will allow me to wrap it well ahead of time without worrying about it further drying and shrinking some underneath its wrapping.  Plus - I really am a bit compulsive about some things - and getting something like this done well ahead of time is one of them!  And - my house now smells of lovely "White Tea and Ginger" instead of last week's sauerbraten!

I snapped some photos along the way to give you an idea of what goes into the process:

Top row:  a container of all of the vegetable oils that I have weighed for each batch- this process takes quite a bit of time; into the pot; lye water heating up in a hot water bath (I mixed this up the night before and let it cool down from its incredibly high heat- then warm it up when I am ready to make the soap); rubber gloves and goggles - I have a healthy respect for lye!
Bottom row:  4 pots ready to go; heating up the oils on the stove; pouring in the lye water; begin stirring by hand
Top row: begin to mix it up using an immersion blender (alternating with hand stirring); I have 2 immersion blenders going at once; the mixture reaches "trace" - about the consistency of thick pudding; pouring in scent
Bottom row:  mixing in calendula blossoms - one of the few botanicals that does not turn brown in cold-process soap; pouring into a wooden loaf mold lined with freezer paper; smoothing the top; four completed loaves for one morning's work
Top row: the soap enters what is referred to as the "gel phase"; it heats up tremendously and goes from opaque to a gel form and then cools down to opaque again; finally - 10 unmolded loaves of soap
Bottom row: I slice and trim each bar individually - approximately 17-18 bars per loaf; here they will sit and dry for a few months before I wrap them in preparation for the wedding.
~ A sea of soap, and a labor of love ~

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Craft gives us a big-picture view of our history and development as a country and a people. It’s a cornucopia, covering cultures and climates, philosophies and science, social causes and social action. It’s about discipline, excitement, and creativity. In short: it’s what makes America, America – and Americans, Americans." ~ Craft in America

A few years ago, I stumbled across a program on PBS, called Craft in America.  I immediately fell in love. Having always loved to make things with my own hands, I have also always loved the history of crafting. The series Craft in America has had seven episodes over the last few years, with its eighth  coming next week on May 11th, and its ninth scheduled for October of this year.  Each episode focuses on a specific aspect of crafting and highlights artists who speak to that particular focus.  You can watch full episodes online of all of the previous seven shows, as well as additional footage not shown on the TV program.

The episode airing next week is titled "Threads". A brief clip below gives you a preview of the show.
If you are uncertain of your local PBS station and what time this episode may be airing, PBS has a site where you can type in your zip code information and it will answer these questions for you.

If you enjoying crafting and/or history, I strongly urge you to explore all that Craft in America has to offer. It is visually rich, historically informative and ever so inspiring.  I've given you a week and a half to either clear your schedule or set your DVR - you won't regret it!