Greens ‘n things

So I hear the east coast is having some weather (much weather! 30 Rock fans? Shall we conversation? No?) Has anyone else heard this? Rain and wind, I think they said. Maybe the news will spend a minute discussing it or I’ll see if I can find it mentioned on the Internets somewhere, we’ll see.

Sarcasm aside, I hope all resolves itself soon, bad weather sucks and is making me dread thinking about the other four-letter “s” word that’s coming sooner than I’d like. But in the meantime, I’m making salad with the last of the really beautiful lettuce I picked up over the weekend.

Greens and purples

Lettuce seems like such an insignificant thing to get excited about. It’s usually relegated to the ubiquitous side salad, pale green and lacking flavor, or added as an afterthought to a burger just to get peeled off after it’s warm and soggy. What a sin. Continue reading

Spicing things up

Six years ago, spices were not something that would have really been a big deal to me–spices come from the grocery store in their little plastic jars to add to pasta sauce, some cinnamon and vanilla extract for baking, maybe some dried mustard for baked beans, that’s about it. Then I smelled a real spice shop, and I haven’t looked back. The flavors are the difference between a black and white picture and a technicolor 3D video with surround sound, they just aren’t even in the same league. And the variety–my cupboards are a victim of the variety. Sweet, savory, multi-purpose, single ingredients, blends, mixes from every corner of the world.

Candied spiced walnuts

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Fall in five senses

I’m not ashamed to admit it–this time of year, I will let out my inner five-year-old and happily high-kick my way through a pile of leaves as they crunch under my feet. Out of all four seasons, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations of fall are my favorites. I’ve made it pretty clear that I love summer, but there is something about the way fall hits all of my senses at once that gets me every time.

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The sound of dry leaves skipping down the street in the wind is so unique and only comes this time of year for a few short weeks. The colors make me want to climb a tree and live in the sun-bright yellow, pumpkin-orange, cranberry-red leaves clinging to nut-brown branches, which match the colors flooding the market during its last few weeks outdoors. The smells–burning leaf piles (not as much in the city, but something I remember distinctly growing up), the earthy scent of wet leaves as they start to decompose back into the soil, getting ready for spring–fill the air.

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Tians, and squash, and breadcrumbs, oh my

I’ve been dipping my toes into fall the past two weeks, trying to let my body and brain know what’s coming before I stand on the edge and cannonball in. This means a few jackets, leather boots, lots of scarves (…I might have a problem with scarves. Help me.). Salads topped with roasted root vegetables and candied nuts, a soup or two, even a casserole…excuse me, a tian topped with enough fresh herbs to resist feeling mid-winter heavy.

Fall feels pretty good right about now.

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Figuring out fall–and printing photos

Fall always seems to catch me off guard. I feel it coming weeks ahead so I make pies, I eat apples, I can things in jars…and then it’s 40 degrees and my brain freezes and all I can think to cook are pork chops and potatoes and eggs–not all at the same time, mind you, but I’m in withdrawal from fresh greens and raw vegetables and dinners that take under 20 minutes to put together and eat while it’s still light outside. I’m struggling with my usual fall cooking inspiration, trying to figure out what my body wants other than to simply start hibernating. In the meantime, though, I found another really cool art project. Maybe I’ll actually hang some of the art I’ve made this summer soon!

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Clockwise from top: black and white image with an inkjet, color copy with an inkjet, color image on a laserjet

While I’m dealing with the change to fall, every store I walk into seems hellbent on insisting that Christmas is right around the corner. I will fight them until December 1, but if you’re the type to think that far ahead, this project would make a great Christmas gift–it’s easy to make very personal but it’s also inexpensive if you want to make several to give to friends and family.

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Perfecting pie crust, part 2

Like a lot of people, I struggle with homemade pie crust. I have recipes from my grandmas on my mom’s side and my dad’s side, but somehow they never turn out quite right for me. At any given point, I’ve tried other variations with all-butter, all-shortening, vodka, eggs, no eggs, white flour, whole wheat flour, sifting, no sifting, freezing the fats before mixing, freezing the fats after mixing, grating frozen sticks of butter, using a food processor, a pastry-cutter, my bare hands. Some variations turned out better than others, some easier than others, none exactly right or consistent from one batch to the next.

Butter-lard pie crust

The Holy Grail of Pie Crusts

So this was the challenge I set before myself: figure out the best fat (or combination of fats) for easy, tasty pie crust. Continue reading

Perfecting pie crust, part 1

Rendering lard was not part of my plan. Really, I just wanted to make pie crust. Yet there it sat—a pale pink loaf of leaf lard on my cutting board, daring me to throw it out and admit defeat. But oh, as just about anyone who knows me will attest, I take things like this as challenges to be overcome. I would not be bested by lard and I would have pie crust!

Rendered and cooled leaf lard

My original plan was to finally get my pie crust right, to try a few combinations of fats and figure out the one that worked best. Continue reading