Monday, July 28, 2014

A Special Anniversary

My dear, darling friend Martha and her sweet husband Joe have been married sixty years!  And they still seem to adore one another! This is pretty amazing, particularly in that they both are apparently such spring chickens – always on the go, always working on some project.  Maybe this latter has a positive effect on their spring chickenliness.  Martha does tons of cooking, preparing huge family holiday events, and a family picnic and summer celebration every year, but this was above and beyond! 

Most impressive of all, especially to me, the queen of weeds, she manages her fabulous giant garden, and her fascinating house.  She is an all-around marvelissima person.  I went to the party with Rachael and John, and on the way home, John said, “What a wonderful family Martha has.”  She certainly does, with her five boys and her daughter Liz. And gobs of clever, talented, and polite grandchildren (just like my Rachael.)

There were about ten tables set up in the garden, and people to fill them.  There was scrumptious food, and a fun talent show.  I have no talents, but a few of us did get up and sing "Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether", the grace before meals which the Cathedral folk sing at foodish events.  I thought that everyone was going to be singing or I would have been shy, but three quarters of the way through I noticed that only a tiny group of us was standing up front and singing.  A wasp seemed particularly enchanted by my song, and tried to get quite personal.  Fortunately, he went away to bother someone else before giving me time to get really upset at him. 

It was a super party!  

Another little guest, probably uninvited, was the tiny spider who spun this exquisite web.  She was no doubt lying in wait for the wasp who had annoyed me. 

Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways.
 For they shall eat the labour of their hands: happy shall they be, 
and it shall be well with them.
  Martha and Joe have been as a fruitful vine by the sides of their house: 
their children like olive plants round about their table.
  Behold, that thus shall the woman and man be blessed that fear the Lord.
 The Lord shall bless them  and they shall see the good of their family 
all the days of their lives.
  Yea, they shall see their children's children, and peace upon their home.

Psalm 128 paraphrased for the occasion.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A PBS Mystery Marathon Day

Ana is making lots of progress on her lizard socks

 Every day or so, Martha Stewart sends me an email about some household goddess matter.  Usually, after scanning the subject line, I press “delete” on it and its myriad unwanted email companions.  This time, however, the subject line read, “Quick and delicious summer suppers,” or some such thing.  Tempted, I opened it up and found among the potential treats, a recipe for a scrumptious zucchini frittata.  Thinking that this sounded a bit like an oxymoron, I opened it anyway, and Martha assured me that my guests would swoon with delight.  Rebecca, when I told her about it, assured me that they would not.  “Don’t cook it on top of the stove like Martha says to do. Bake it in the oven.  Much easier and nicer.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t use zucchini.  Use kale.”  Foolishly, I believed Martha and not Becca, much to my sorrow and hostess humiliation. My guests, The Twins, always polite, pronounced it tasty, but I knew better.  It was leathery and utterly tasteless. 

Somehow, I was determined to conquer this frittata thing, being the only person I know who doesn’t really understand frittata preparation. So, the next day, when Ana was visiting for a fun time of knitting, tea drinking, and marathon ancient PBS Mystery watching, I decided to give it another go.  Ana, a frittata expert, supervised.  She agreed about the oven, and said that I also need to add a potato, both for fluffiness and ballast.  We went to the store, purchased some lovely kale, and fixed our dinner.  I now have proof positive that Ana and Becca know more about these matters than Martha Stewart does.  Our frittata was light, fluffy, and delicious.  Infinitely better than the one I prepared the day before.  When I told Becca about it later, she didn’t even say, “I told you so.”  Not in so many words, at least.

Super Summer Frittata

1 bunch of kale
I started eating it before I remembered to take a picture. 
1 medium potato (we used a Yukon Gold)
1 largish shallot, (ping pong ball sized) chopped
6 garlic toes
Juice of ½ lemon
2 T olive oil

4 eggs
cheese (we used Quattro Fromaggio from Trader Joes, because that was the cheese on hand)

Early in the day, so that you can prepare dinner in minimal time during a break from tv watching, tear the kale away from the ribs, discarding them.  Blanch the kale for three minutes, squeeze it dry, and chop it up.  Set aside till ready to make the frittata.

With a fork, pierce the potato in several places and then cook it in the microwave for four minutes, turning it several times during cooking.  Chop it up and set aside.

When it’s almost time to eat, heat the oven to 400°.   Using an ovenproof pan, such as a cast iron skillet, sauté the shallot for a minute or two in the olive oil, and add in the garlic for another minute, then stir in the kale. Stir the lemon juice over the kale and then stir in the potato.

In a separate bowl, stir the eggs well, adding a pinch of salt per egg, and some pepper.  Stir in a handful of the cheese.  Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, making sure things are evenly distributed. Top with another fistful of cheese.   Bake the frittata in the hot over for about 6 – 8 minutes.  Check it after six minutes.  It is done when it no longer jiggles in the middle. 

Result:  Light, fluffy deliciousness!

Salad with lettuce from Ana's garden

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Happy Day with a Long (very long) Anticipated Outcome

Have you ever wanted something for about fifty years, and then finally gotten it?  I don’t mean something like getting your PhD or becoming the CEO of your company.  I don’t mean goals, I mean an object.  The finally getting of it can go either way - either a big let down, since the object did not actually bring the expected happiness, or giddy delight that the wished for has finally been obtained. 

It was when I was a teen ager that I noticed that my grandfather was sitting in my other grandfather’s chair.  When I wondered about this, it turned out that when my maternal grandfather ascended to the great reading room in the sky, my grandmother gave his special chair to my other grandfather, and it became his special chair. 

Its delightful growly mouth  - it has two!

I recall being very little and sitting on my Grandfather Forrestal’s lap, listening to the radio, having the funnies read to me, or being told that, “Yes, I could indeed stay up to midnight!  When the big hand is here, on the twelve, and the little hand is here, on the nine, it will be midnight, and then you must go to bed.”  This seemed incredibly exotic, not to mention exciting – this business of staying up to midnight.  I never was allowed to stay up so late in my parent’s house.  Later, I remember many happy times with my Grossvater sitting in the chair while we watched tv or took naps.  A vivid scene, which still seems quite fresh, is little Rebecca being sooooo agitated as we watched Mohammed Ali in some bit important fight.  Rebecca was terrified that her hero might not win, and had been fretting about the possibility for days.  Fortunately, he did win, and family serenity was preserved.  Years later, I was visiting my very aged Grandfather while Dakki was doing errands.  When she returned, she asked him if we had had a good visit.  “Excellent, the best ever!” he told her.  While she left on her errands, he had sat in his chair, I lounged nearby on the couch, and we both had a nice nap.  I thought it was a good visit too, but was a little offended that it had been the best ever.

I desperately wanted that chair, and my aunt knew it, but she desperately wanted to keep it.  She did, however, promise  to leave it to me in her will.  The problem here is that I don’t think that she even has a will.  Once in recent times, after I had performed some valiant service, she told me I could take the chair.  Unfortunately, it was raining, so I said I would get it when the rain stopped.  Even more unfortunately, by the time the rain stopped, she had changed her mind.  And denied ever having said such a thing.  I must have misunderstood, she said.  Harrumph! 

Its darling little claws

Then one day, as I was napping in my chair, through the fog, I heard her voice saying, “Grossvater’s chair.”  I sprang awake.  I had not misheard!  I rushed over and there it was – ready to come to my house!  I am so pleased.  No disappointment with this wish fulfillment.  The original leather cushions were worn to smithereens, so I have to make something new, but in the meantime, I have plopped down a few cushions which have been lurking about here, and it is now my happy new readiing (and sometimes napping) chair.  Hurrah!!!!!

And it is a Morris Chair!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Very Hot Day

Gaaaaah!  I just don’t like hot weather.  Tobias and I are lying about like limp rags, panting and complaining.  I am taking frequent cold showers to cool off, but Tobias says he doesn’t go in for showers – sorry, but thanks for offering. 

Last Saturday, it was hot, but not unbearably hot.  Michelle and I went on an outing to partake in the centennial celebration for the Smith Tower, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi.  Now, of course, it is fairly dwarfed by the other buildings in town, but it still holds its own for a beautiful and amazing  interior.  Somehow, while the Tower has always been a Seattle presence in my mind, and one for which I have long felt a Seattle affection, greeting it every time I walk to Chinatown and see it from across the Denny Woo Garden, or go to Pioneer Square and look up at it, I had never been inside.  It had never even occurred to me that it had an inside,  its outside being so special.  The lobby sparkles with its marble and wood, and the Native American chief carvings which decorate the cornice. 

The elevators, brass and glass cages, and still run by a human operator, are worth a trip in themselves.  At the top is the Chinese room with a 360 ° view beyond the city to the east and  to the west  beyond the bay to the surrounding mountains.   The room is furnished with gifts from the Empress of China, Cixi, and includes a “Wishing Chair.”  The maiden who sits in it is supposed to be married within a year.  Somehow, I do not think this is what Michelle has in mind.

This fellow looks like a nurse I used to work with.  He was not Chinese, but had a similar looking attitude to life.

Details from the ceiling

Afterward, tea at the Panama Hotel, another spot prominent in Seattle history, and then a tour of the Denny Woo Garden.  The gardens always give the sagging spirits a lift with their serene greenery, soft breezes, and even on the hottest day, a sense of perfect weather, cool in the summer, comforting in the winter.  

The Smith Tower peeking up over the Denny Woo Gardens

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Another Fun Day

Fun Sunday Breakfast crowd

When I was a new bride and also a true neophyte cook, I decided to have a tea party for my friends, all other college coeds.  Oddly, although I had about eight guests, and can imagine who they probably were, the only person I actually remember being there is my mother, who loved this sort of thing, and so gave enthusiastic moral support as well as the use one of her lovely tea service sets.  To me, it all felt quite elegant, as well as quite terrifying, this being the first time that I had ever “entertained.”  Previously, I had friends drop in for dinner often, but that was always spontaneous and hence very casual and so not intimidating. I don’t remember what I served that day, besides the cream cheese buns made from my new bread cookbook.  I thought them a very challenging production, and was quite pleased when they were a remarkable success.  Through the years, I often thought that I should make them again, both in memory of a fun day and because they were good,   Finally, as I was having guests for breakfast on Sunday (one of my favorite things to do – way less “performance anxiety” than guests for dinner,) I decided to check out the recipe and see if I could manage it without having to get up at five in the morning. No Problem!  I was hoping to adapt the recipe to one in which the dough rose overnight in the refrigerator, but that was actually what the recipe said to do.  Hurray!!

Egg millinery by Maria

As I happily mixed up the dough, thinking the while about that tea party and my mother, I realized that the dough was awfully goopy.  Is this how it’s supposed to be, I wondered?  Ciabatta has goopy dough, so maybe.  But probably not. I checked the recipe again, and saw with horror, that I had put in twice as much milk as called for.  Freak out time! I pondered my next move, and then decided that bread dough is remarkably forgiving, and so just added more flour so as to get it to an acceptable consistency.  And in the morning, all was okay.  Relief!

Puff Pillow Buns   or
Cream Cheese Fluffy Buns  (24 buns)

1 tsp instant yeast
¼ cup water
½ cup scalding milk
1/3 cup butter (2 2/3 ozs) softened
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, sort of beaten
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups flour

For the filling,

12 oz cream cheese*
1 tbs sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp vanilla

The evening (or at least 4 hours) before:

Stir together the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the butter to the milk and let them cool till just warm to the touch.  Stir in the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest and stir that into the flour.  Beat till it is smooth, place in a greased bowl and refrigerate over night or at least four hours.

In the morning, divide the dough into four parts, remove one part and return the rest to the refrigerator.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the one part out into a 12 by 8 inch rectangle.  The dough will be thin.  Cut it into eight 4” squares.  Put about a tablespoon of the filling** on each square, fold each one up like a little square envelope, with the four corners meeting n the center, and place on a baking sheet, either greased, or better, with a silpat. Paint each one with a little beaten egg white. Let rise for about half an hour and till half again as big.  Bake in a 400° oven for 10 – 12 minutes, or until they are a delightful light golden color.

**For the filling: Just beat the ingredients together until they form a fluffy homogenous mass.  The original recipe says to use 6 oz, cream cheese, and then put two tablespoons in each bun, but do the math.  You will run out very quickly.  I used 8 oz, but then used only ¾ of the dough for the buns. I divided the filling into thirds, used a generous teaspoon for each bun, then evened them out by using the remainder of the third.  This seemed to be the right amount of filling. But…. I only used ¾ of the dough and later made flat breads with the rest. 

Ancient and well used cookbook.