Archive for the ‘kitchen miscellany’ Category

During the last scene of that old movie “Splendor in the Grass” (starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty), the main character visits her first love at a farmhouse at the end of a dusty, dirty road.  His wife is barefoot, working in the kitchen and a little roly-poly baby is playing in the corner with a wooden spoon and a chicken.  I love that.  When we vacationed last week at Ryan’s parents’ house, Ryan found Juniper playing on the kitchen floor.  With an old spoon.  And while my in-law’s dog Reggie doesn’t look much like a chicken, he sure makes a good playmate.

best friends forever

playing what game, I don't know.

she really loves old spoons, which happen to double as magic wands. seriously.

For those who are wondering what’s new in the world of Juniper besides making a true and fast friend in Reggie the dog, you must know that she’s cut her two first teeth.  And she started crawling, really crawling, this past Monday.  She’s everywhere!  And now she pulls herself up to all available furniture, empties bookshelves of their books, and tries just so hard to climb stairs.  Ryan and I are certainly on our toes.  She’s so very close to waving “good-bye;” Grandma is teaching her.  I caught her laughing in her sleep last night.  How many times will she break our hearts with her adorable, silly self?  She’s got personality spilling over, everywhere, onto everything, and making all innocent bystanders fall in love.  What a girl.


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I bake bread for my household at least once a week.  The recipe has burned itself into my head, I’ve used it so often.  Really, though, I cheat and use the bread maker to do the mixing, kneading and rising.  Once that’s done, I let it rise one last time while the oven heats up to 350 degrees then bake it for about forty minutes.  We like the texture of bread and thickness of crust better when it bakes in the oven.  Anyway, here is my latest loaf:

fresh, delicious bread

Just thought it was too pretty not to share.  I’m looking forward to baking bread for our new household.  In nine days Ryan, Juniper and I move into my parent’s place in Michigan until we find and fix up a home of our own.  My grandparents live with my parents, too.  There will be plenty of loved ones around to enjoy fresh bread.  Bread of life.

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I’d like to take a moment and thank Pam, my dear sweet housemate and insect-killing hero, for coming to my rescue this very morning.

A cup of tea sounded like a good idea until I opened the cupboard (the one housing various teas, blue agave nectar and honey) to find hundreds of tiny black ants having a happy heyday all over everything in the cupboard.  Ew.  So gross.  I tried to fight off the little buggers single-handedly, but lost heart and morale when they started crawling all over each under the sweep of my not-so-deadly paper towel.

Pam stepped in and proceeded to quickly and effectively kill them off and clean the cupboard by spraying Green Works all-purpose cleaner on every last one of them.  I wouldn’t have even thought to kill them, er, drown them actually, with our earth-friendly cleaner.  This is why Pam is my hero.

We both agreed that insects who crawl over each other might be the epitome of grossness and creepiness and then decided that this is strictly weird alien behavior.  Not welcome in our human-dwelling-only house.  We hope that’s the last of the ants, but are keeping the Green Works nearby.

So, thank you, Pam.  For saving me when I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ants in our kitchen.  Thank you for bringing peace back to my cup of morning tea.  Thank you, also, for every single spider you’ve killed for me this past year.  You are gracious and kind and we are certainly going to miss you for many, many more reasons than your mad bug-killing skills.

Note to self and other selves like me: next year, try to remember to clean out the tea cupboard before it starts getting really hot outside, before the ants get curious and … out of control.

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ryan's graduation cake (chocolate + peanut butter = true love)

In our house I like to celebrate major holidays, birthdays and other such events by baking.  I know it might be slightly old-fashioned, but putting hours of time (and love!) into a made-from-scratch cake just feels like the right way to remember a special day.  On Ryan’s birthday I bake a Bittersweet Chocolate Cloud Cake that knocks socks off.  We look forward to this once-a-year cake every time November 13 rolls around.  Establishing meaningful baking traditions is important to me as I raise and feed my little family.

Last weekend, Ryan graduated from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding with his Masters in Conflict Transformation.  I’m quite proud of him.  And for this exciting event, I baked the Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.  Three layers of moist chocolate cake, fluffy peanut butter frosting in between and encasing the layers, topped with a chocolate peanut butter glaze: oh my word.

It was amazing.  So very rich.  Such a perfect balance of peanut butter and chocolate.   We celebrated his graduation from Thursday until the following Tuesday; like a good soup, the cake tasted better and better with each passing day.  We shared it with Dora and Derrick.  We shared it with Scott and Cheryl.  We shared it with Pam.  And Jolie.  And our parents, Tim and Debbie.  We didn’t share it with Juniper and I think this made her a little sad.

So I recommend this cake, wholeheartedly, if you want to celebrate someone special in a loving and chocolaty way.  Be warned: it’s very rich, making the serving sizes small; be sure to invite lots of friends to celebrate with!

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things lost

Tolkien said in a book he wrote once that “not all those who wander are lost.”  It does not follow, however, that all who are lost are just wandering.  Especially if those lost individuals were inanimate objects to begin with.  Let me explain.  There are a number of things that I grieve to have been prematurely parted with, a few items rather trivial and others much more meaningful.

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Most recently, the tablespoon has turned up missing.  Our dear tablespoon (tbsp) has been missing for going on three weeks and it’s brother and sisters (tsp, 1/2 tsp and 1/4 tsp) are crying out in shock and severe lonesomeness.  Their big brother is gone and they are beginning to give up hope for his safe return (I know this because they told me).  Now, I do not blame any specific house-mate for misplacing such an important baking apparatus, though I have a sneaking suspicion regarding who used it last…  and I know what was being made: a cheesecake.  But this doesn’t matter so much, as it’s not the heart of the issue.

While the mystery of where the tablespoon has run off to unfolds (did he run off with a dish perhaps?!), I am learning valuable lessons.  Lessons like how I need to clean out the dark corners of our cupboards and drawers, which are slightly crummy.  I am learning how many teaspoons go into a tablespoon (three) and how a tablespoon is about a sixteenth of a cup.  And, most interestingly, I am learning to guess at measurements and more or less feel my way through a recipe.  This is a lost art, I am told, to many North American cooks and common practice to the rest of the world.

So, dear tablespoon, we miss you but are somehow able to make do without you.  We wish you would come back, though, because without you, our kitchen and our measuring spoon set is sorely incomplete.

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When I was little, my grandmother would make homemade red applesauce.  This was always a big hit with the little people, as the applesauce was flavored with red cinnamon heart candies and tasted like a soupy, fruity dream.  If I was lucky enough to be visiting while the applesauce was being made, Grandma would let me sit on a stool and watch her boil the apples, wind the food mill, and add the little red hearts.  They slowly disappeared into the warm sauce after stirring and stirring.  This was no less than magical.

As I grew older, she made her red applesauce less and less often and now she has passed away and cannot make it anymore, in this world.

I think sometime in college, while Grandma was still living, I asked her for the recipe as I believed there was more sweetness added than just tiny red heart candies.  Also, I didn’t know the slightest on how to make applesauce, red or otherwise, and needed guidance just from her.  Grandma wrote everything out on a recipe card and put it in a letter.  While I know I’d never throw that card away, today I don’t know where it is hidden.

Last summer, Ryan brought apples home from the farm and we made and canned applesauce.  I tried to improvise and recreate Grandma’s red applesauce without her notes, but it just wasn’t the same.  I’m thinking that the recipe card may be in one of several shoe boxes stored deep in my girlhood closet back home in Michigan, but I’m not quite sure.  This summer I will rummage through those old shoe boxes, as I would very much like to find that recipe card, see Grandma’s handwriting again, and know the secret to creating that delicious homemade red applesauce.

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I’ve lost my dearest, most precious piece of jewelry, the one with the highest amount of sentimental value ever.  It’s been missing for eight years.  I was in my late teens when Grandma Blakemore (mom’s mom, not dad’s mom of the red applesauce) gave me the identity bracelet she wore as a young woman.  As I am her namesake, the name on the bracelet was much like my own and I treasured it deeply, as I treasure her name and her person.

It was silver, the dull silver that only comes with the passage of time, with a dainty, twisted chain.  It had a lovely little metal tassel on the clasp, which acted as a weight to keep the nameplate atop of the wrist.  The clasp was unique, unlike any I’ve ever seen before or since: two tiny metal rectangles which would close around a loop, holding fast and secure.  It was given to her by peers and she, of course, kept it harbored safely away for years.

It fit perfectly.  Both my grandmother and I have tiny wrists and the delicate bracelet was something physical, something I could see, touch, wear with joy, and know that she and I were alike.  And know that she trusted and loved me.  I always wish to be very similar to my grandma, as she is one of the most remarkable women that ever existed.  I know, because I’ve been researching.

But then I lost the bracelet.  I lost it during my freshman year of college and grieve for it still, when I let myself remember.  It’s now somewhere in the middle of Illinois, probably buried deep in a dusty road of an abandoned asylum (a story for another day), without the hope of being discovered.  But if it is ever found by anyone, that person will find a little piece of my heart.

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It’s warm.  It’s heavenly, springtime, super-gorgeous warm and I love it.  It’s the kind of warm that has you put on a sweater to go inside the house.  The kind of warm that dries clothes hanging out on the line.  The kind of warm that turns buds green, beckons crocuses out of the earth and makes pussy-willow trees all fuzzy and lovely.  Pussy-willow trees.  As a very little person I called them pulley-whistles; it became part of the family language, another way to tease the baby child.  But I liked it.  So maybe that’s what I’ll call the pussy-willow tree in our backyard.  It’s now officially a pulley-whistle tree.  Horrah!


I have made a discovery, one that I’ve not yet been able to fully appreciate and I’m not sure I ever will.  It’s a place called Ravelry (yes, its virtual), home to thousands (and thousands and thousands) of knitting and crochet patterns, hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of which are free.  Ravelry’s ginormous network of designers, knitters and crocheters post projects and link them to specific patterns, then post comments: what problems they had in the pattern, what modifications they made, etc.  It’s so darn useful.

How useful?  Well, if I’m interested in knitting from a new-to-me pattern, I can log on to Ravelry and see the maybe hundreds of others who have knitted the project in real life and get an idea of how it might turn out for me.  All use different yarns and colors, with a plethora of interesting results.  If I have a problem with a pattern or am stuck at a certain spot, I can read where others had the same issue, how they managed, and what advice they give.

And this is just the tip of the Ravelry iceberg; there are hundreds of similar applications (regarding yarn, needles, knitting hopes and dreams, etc).  I could go on for hours describing these tools and how cool Ravelry is; it’s just a crazy amazing resource.  If you knit or crochet and haven’t been introduced to Ravelry, this is definitely one band-wagon to jump on.  Oh, and it’s free.


So I think I’m turning into a better [host]mom/homemaker.  The other day, out of the clear blue sky, a fabulous idea come to me regarding leftovers.  Now, what follows may be a huge “duh” to some, but you have to understand that me and the kitchen did not click until very, very recently.  My brilliant idea for turning leftovers into something glamorous and delicious?  Enchiladas.

I used leftover brown rice, lentils and black beans along with veggies not needed from a previous meal: onions, scallions, green pepper and garlic (sautéed with oil, oregano, crushed red pepper and Lawry’s), all mixed together with frozen corn and canned diced tomatoes then stuffed everything into tortillas with re-fried beans and shredded baby swiss and voila: beautiful and yummy Tex Mex.  Um, and luckily I had a can of enchilada sauce to pour over the top.  The leftover Leftover Enchiladas are lasting days, which in itself is reason to be truly happy.

sweater news:

The sweater I’m currently knitting is coming along more slowly than perhaps ideal.  It’s actually a cardigan, a very lightweight summer-breezy cardigan, which will be worn by my very own Marmie.  For the sweater to be so lightweight, it must be knit from lace weight yarn.  I think the gauge is twelve stitches and eighteen rows for every two square inches.  It’s taken me four days of four to six-hour knitting to achieve 12 inches (including a dreadful frogging of an inch along the way).   Is this insane for my first sweater project?  Perhaps yes.  But maybe, Lord willing, sweaters from here on out, those knit from worsted or chunky weight yarn, will be leaps and bounds easier… or at least quicker.  However, I am not complaining about this sweater;  I actually enjoy the snail-paced process.  For every minute of knitting, I am sitting in the sun, with birds overhead and a cat at my feet.  I am so blessed to stay home and knit my heart out.

cream-colored cardi, knitted top down.

little miss fat bottom:

In other crafty news, my dear sister-in-law has been sewing, sewing, sewing to get ready for today.  Because it’s the vernal equinox?  Um, no.  Because she’s in a craft fair?  Yes!  She has her very own booth and is selling charming handmade items for infants and babies.  I’m so excited for her and very much wish I could be in Illinois to personally buy up some of her goods.  Not that I have a specific reason to purchase baby miscellaneousness.  It would just be fun to do some money transactions over handmade wares.  If you live anywhere near Illinois and are looking for something to do today, head over to the Spring Spree (details of which you can find here, along with a sneak-peak of Christine’s wares).  And if you don’t live close to Illinois (like me), you can find little miss fat bottom on Etsy (here).  Cheers for Christine and for pretty baby accessories made with love and care!

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While I go on and on about baking, it’s only fair that I share the cookie recipe that shaped my life (per Christine’s request).  Since before I remember, my mom has made one type of chocolate chip cookie, the one that I love.  She was given the recipe from her friend Beth; the recipe card that’s taped inside our cookbook cupboard door reads “Beth Boyce’s Chocolate Chip Cookies.”  I’ll now give Beth credit for these amazing [just please don’t pay attention to the butter content] cookies.

2 sticks butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt (more or less depending on if you use salted butter or not)
1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl and beat well.  Combine the next three ingredients in a smaller bowl and mix well.  Begin mixing the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until all is combined.  Mix in chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonfuls on baking sheets; bake for 10 (to twelve) minutes.  Cool one minute and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Janie’s notes: I sometimes add cocoa powder to the dry ingredients, just to give the cookies extra chocolatyness.  For the past couple of batches, Ryan has chiseled off chocolate chunks and shavings from a massive Pennsylvania baking chocolate bar that my former co-workers gave me upon leaving the office.  Not sure how long the chocolate bar will last… it’s going fast.

If you can believe it, I bake more than just sweet things in our oven.  I recently found a great recipe for crustless quiche by simply typing “easy crustless vegetarian quiche” in Google (emphasis on “easy”).  So this website shares good recipes and helpful tips of the day.  The quiche was, in fact, easy to make and very, very good.  I used farm eggs, random veggies we had on hand and others frozen from the summer, and basil and thyme (with plenty of salt and pepper).

not really sure what happened to that middle tomato

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