Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Colonial appropriation

I have cherished an ambition to make my own mince pies ever since I was first introduced to them way back in December 1998, the first year we were living in England. My office Christmas lunch was my initiation to several iconic English Christmas traditions (chipolata sausages served alongside the roast turkey; flaming Christmas pudding; drinking copious amounts of alcohol at an office lunch), but the mince pies was the one that really took hold of me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all who celebrate a peaceful, joyous, and very Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas baking

The Christmas season has been characterized by feelings of upheaval for me since we first moved overseas, 12 years ago. Since then, we have travelled to Boston for six Christmases (two of them stopovers in the midst of long-distance moves), packed up and left Boston immediately after another, fit two more in between trips for a job where I was travelling 50% of the time, and stayed put for one that was spent largely in the hospital with Miss B. By my reckoning, that leaves two relatively peaceful Christmases since 1997. Possibly an underlying reason for my reaction to seeing astronomical airfares to Boston and deciding that staying put again this year was the way to go.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Multiple influences

The plus side to reading as much about food as I do is that you are always coming across new ideas, techniques, food combinations, etc., that spark your imagination.

The minus side is that all that stuff is really hard to keep track of and try out in any kind of systematic way.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lessons learned

Late last Friday night I made a large chocolate sheet cake for a graduation party we were hosting for DP’s students on Saturday afternoon. I used my mum’s chocolate cake recipe, and baked it (for the first time ever) in an 11” x 14” pan, because I thought that would be easier to slice and serve to a large group of people (and maybe even to write “Congratulations!” on if I got really ambitious).

I love that recipe: it only uses one bowl, and as always it came together really quickly and baked up beautifully. I put it on a rack on the counter to cool while I got on with some other party food prep.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mixed emotions

I can’t decide how I feel about the fact that my star recipe for using up Thanksgiving leftovers got gazumped by one of the biggest food blogs around.

Should I be annoyed that Simply Recipes posted an entry for Turkey Mushroom Risotto yesterday? Or thrilled that I had independently come up with a recipe so similar to one devised by an internationally known recipe guru?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving















Just popping in on a break from the cooking extravaganza to wish all who celebrate a very Happy Thanksgiving. (And for those of you who don't, an extra lovely Thursday/Friday.) My Thanksgiving Gratitude List hasn't changed much from two years ago, except that this year I'm extra-grateful to have DP with us for the first time in three years.

And, as you can see, Miss B has us covered in the turkey department. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday traditions

If you like food blogs and you’re not from the United States, I imagine you’re thoroughly sick and tired of reading about Thanksgiving by now. I’m getting fed up with it myself, and I’m preparing the whole traditional meal—turkey, stuffing, apple pie, the works—two days from now. I wasn’t going to post anything ahead of time about it; I haven’t really gotten the hang of being the kind of blogger whose content is dedicated to filling (or maybe it’s titillating?) seasonal user need. (Probably the reason I only have 12 followers.)

But last night I made homemade cranberry sauce, and couldn’t stop admiring its glowing, festive color. Then my sister called me three hours later and asked if I had posted a recipe for homemade cranberry sauce on my blog. “No, but I will tomorrow,” I promised.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Glorious cheese

This past weekend I went into downtown Kansas City solely to visit a cheese shop I’ve been hearing raves about since I moved here. The fact that I walked out having spent nearly $50 on cheese is the best proof I can offer that it lived up to the hype.

I didn’t try any new cheeses, although there were loads there that I’d never seen before, because I was too busy getting re-acquainted with old favorites. Between my sojourn in Australia, where European cheese costs a fortune, and the supermarkets I go to in KC’s Northland, where the selection is rather limited, it had been a long time since I had been able to get my hands on any real provolone. Or gorgonzola, for that matter. So I stocked up.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Either/or

Prominent among the many personal rules of thumb that enable me to live a life of cloudless serenity (*cough cough*) is the rule that, in order to qualify as suitable for company, desserts should include either chocolate or fruit. Very occasionally they may include both, and even more occasionally I may be coerced into serving something that includes neither. Certain people in my household who shall remain nameless (but whose names rhyme with BP and Kiss Me) would like to make that coercion happen far more often or, failing that, to go for the chocolate option every. Single. Time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Action points

Conferences are great, especially if, like me, you work alone most of the time. They allow you to re-connect with friends and colleagues, resolve problems in a five-minute discussion that would’ve taken days over email, brainstorm projects for the future, talk about things using jargon and shorthand that only your co-workers can understand and appreciate. They send you home feeling professionally recharged, motivated, and inspired.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October numbers

Out of town guests: 4

Suitcases not yet completely unpacked from last week’s trip: 1

Emails awaiting attention in various inboxes (work, personal, blog): 550+

Assignments backlogged for self & team following last week’s conference: 25 (~800 pages of editing)

Outside temperature last night: 33F/1C

Beds still awaiting cold-weather covers: 2

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Conference food

Sorry for going AWOL there for a bit with no explanation; I’m just back from spending a week in Keystone, Colorado for my day job—our organization’s annual meeting. (Last year’s was in Singapore: it’s the only time I get to see most of my colleagues—we work together via the internet the rest of the time and gather once a year in some far-flung location to have presentations, posters, workshops, and as much socializing as we can cram in.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Both ends

This morning it occurred to me, as I crawled out of bed at 7:00am after another late-night work session, that there is a direct link between how much sleep I get and how cheerful I feel when I wake up.

Yes, I am sure that this cause-and-effect relationship is already blindingly obvious to the vast majority of you. However, those of us who are chronically sleep-deprived sometimes take a little longer to make these connections. And it is slowly, slowly dawning on me that I cannot continue to burn the candle at both ends without feeling the effects, now that I’m officially middle-aged. (Eh? Speak up!)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Apple festival

One of the nicest things about the weather finally cooling off around here is being able to enjoy getting outside and doing stuff. Everyone has spent the last 3-4 months taking full advantage of their central air conditioning, giving the impression that there had been a temporary mass evacuation from our new hometown. Every time I ventured out of doors to do anything other than scurry to my car, I got funny looks from people driving past with all the windows rolled up. But now everyone’s out and about, enjoying the beautiful weather and the numerous festivals that take place at this time of year to make the most of the respite between the brutal extremes of Midwestern summer and winter.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Egg salad

I never ate egg salad when I was growing up. Not even once. No one ever offered me any, and I’m sure if they had, I would have declined with disgust.

Even after I emerged from my egg-hating phase, I had no interest, although by then plenty of opportunity. Aside from its starring role in grade-school lunches, egg salad is a perennially popular sandwich filling at the ubiquitous English sandwich shop (under the name egg mayonnaise) where, adoring mayonnaise as they do, a sandwich filling has never yet been found that they didn’t believe couldn’t be enhanced by the addition of copious amounts of butter or mayonnaise. Possibly both. (How about on hummus with roasted vegetables? I kid you not.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

PB fail

Since I already had one spectacular failure in my one and only attempt to make jam in a slow cooker, it seems only fitting that its companion in this illustrious category should be peanut butter.

I’m not sure what I did wrong, or if I even did anything wrong. As one of my everyday cooking challenges, I decided to try making my own peanut butter in my fancy new food processor (aka Archie). I looked up some recipes, all of which seemed perfectly straightforward: grind some cooked peanuts until they turn into peanut butter. Add seasonings as desired. Eat. I bought some dry-roasted peanuts (I figured that, if my first experiment was a success, then next time I could maybe try roasting the peanuts myself.) I put two cups in the food processor and turned it on.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autumnal equinox

Before I started writing this post, I checked on when the autumnal equinox (or vernal equinox for those of you in the southern hemisphere) of 2010 is happening. It’s not officially until September 23, but I’m already ready and waiting.

I’m really looking forward to autumn this year (or fall, the term to which I must return now that I’m back in the US). I haven’t had a proper North American fall for more than a decade, and as much as I enjoyed autumn in Canberra, the fact that it was happening in April and May (and that the major holiday of the season was Easter) gave the whole experience a surreal edge.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Developing recipes

I’ve already mentioned Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio a few times, but I haven’t gone into any detail about its rather significant impact in my kitchen. But if you, like me, are not professionally trained, but rather an inquisitive home cook maybe looking to push the boundaries a bit, then I bet you might feel the same way about it. Because Ratio is like the Rosetta Stone for home cooks and especially bakers: it enables you to understand the basic structure of some two dozen preparations and, once you have absorbed this knowledge, it enables you to develop your own recipes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inventing dinner

I cannot think of a way to write this post without trotting out the following food writing clich├ęs:

1. The weather is getting cooler, which makes us think about heartier, more filling cold-weather food.
2. Soup is a great way to use up leftovers.

Just so we all know where we stand.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ooooh baby

I feel certain that there have already been numerous jokes made about Dutch baby pancakes and cannibalism, and you do have to be careful about how you offer them to people who might not be familiar with the dish. I’ve gotten some very strange looks when I’ve unthinkingly blurted out something about making a Dutch baby, and had to rapidly explain the absence of any actual babies in the recipe.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wordless Wedesday















(Can anyone tell me what kind of flower this is?)
Garden, September 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Musical fruit

I’ve already written about a couple of my food prejudices, deeply entrenched from childhood. The red pepper one disappeared of its own accord, and I’m still working on the whitefish one.

Here’s another one I’m still working on: beans. As in, legumes/pulses. (Not green beans. I love those.)

I’m always kind of fascinated that other people go out of their way to eat beans: that they actually like them. In England, baked beans on toast was everyone’s favorite storecupboard meal, from tiny children on up; and since I’ve moved here, every cookout I’ve attended has included a huge, enthusiastically consumed dish of baked beans on the buffet table. I know people who eat beans and rice as part of their regular dinner repertoire, and they’re not even vegetarians. And don’t even get me started on chili.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Red tape

Speaking of needless complication….

I think I have neglected to point out that, in buying a house, we are also not in Kansas anymore, but have moved across the Big Muddy to Missouri. Although keenly observant readers may have noticed that the blog subheader has recently changed to reflect this. (It was really just to stop the Wizard of Oz jokes. The house was gravy.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Needless complication

The other night, someone I follow on Facebook posted a query: “Anyone have an easy carbonara recipe?”

I thought, “Huh? Easy carbonara recipes? Is there such a thing as a difficult recipe for spaghetti carbonara?....I’ll just post a link to my recipe….um….”

At which point I remembered that I’ve never posted about spaghetti carbonara. Possibly the dish I make most regularly. The one that DP requests for every last meal before he goes away, and every first meal when he gets back. The one he requests so often, in fact, that when I say, “What should I make for dinner for X?” I now immediately follow it with, “…and don’t say carbonara!” He would be completely on board with Calvin Trillin’s campaign to have it replace turkey as the national dish for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carpe-ing practice

I worried a little bit that Friday’s post might come across as mawkish or proselytizing, especially since I wrote it to myself as much as anyone else. I have a deep-rooted tendency to perceive the glass of life as half-empty (or maybe it’s that it’s half-full but cracked?), and recalibrating that perception is an apparently never-ending ongoing self-improvement project.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Carpe diem

Since I got back from Boston, two good friends of mine have lost close family members. One was dreaded, coming at the end of a long battle with cancer. One was brutal and unexpected, coming out of the darkness on a Texas highway. Neither of those lost had done anything like their full share of living: they were 48 and 29. Both leave behind grieving children, spouses, extended family, and friends.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

First day

Recipe for a Successful Memorable Bearable First Day of School

1 excited six-year-old child
2 apprehensive parents
1 giant bag of school supplies
1 elementary school
1 experienced kindergarten teacher
2 outfits
12-20 pages of information
1 pen
1 lunchbox
1 envelope
40 cents
1 backpack
1 healthy breakfast
1 sprinkling maternal tears (optional)

For best results, begin preparing this recipe the night before.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tomato salad

I haven’t cooked dinner for seven days. I can’t remember the last time that happened. We’re visiting in Boston for a week, and our priorities for the trip were to organize a mini-move of some of our belongings from here out to the new house; to catch up with as many local friends and family as possible; and to squeeze in beach time wherever we could.

Well, the movers have left with six boxes packed full of miscellaneous household items, and as many pieces of furniture. We’ve managed two days at the beach. Dinners have mostly involved visiting favorite local spots with siblings, nieces, parents, and friends in tow.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Six years

How can it be that another year has passed? And yet the yearning for aquatic-themed cakes continues unabated.

Wishing the very happiest of birthdays to the world's smallest budding oceanographer (but sometimes paleontologist): the mighty Miss B.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

July numbers

This past month feels like it has been exceptionally crazy, and I see that the relative lack of blog documentation supports my blurred memory. I blame the combination of Miss B going on summer vacation, DP’s teaching going into high gear, and an(other) absolutely crushing work deadline for me. The heat didn’t help, and neither did the mental stress of transitioning into the second phase of moving (aka “you should be completely unpacked and settled in by now”) on top of everything else.

So what has been going on this month?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Active socially

Remember how I was lamenting having no one to cook for a while back?

Scratch that. First we hosted my sister and her gang a couple of weeks back. Then, DP, who is in the throes of teaching his first intensive seminar in his new position (eight students, 8-12 hours a week), decided that the least he could do in the way of hospitality would be to offer each of the half-dozen or so visiting guest speakers a home-cooked meal during their stay. Plus have a cookout for the seminar students and their families. Oh, and invite a prospective student or two (plus families) over for a weekend lunch. Oh, and reciprocate invitations to the people who had us over when we were camping out in the serviced apartment. Oh, and….

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tonic detox

If you don’t know me personally, here is an embarrassing fact about me you probably also don’t know: despite all the time I spend baking my own bread, making desserts from scratch, and buying one-ingredient food items, I can count on two hands the number of days I have gone in the past quarter-century plus without consuming tonic (aka soda, pop, fizzy drink—using “tonic” to describe a carbonated beverage is the linguistic stamp of an old-school Bostonian of a certain age, FYI). Specifically, Pepsi.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interfamilial bonding

I don’t think posting on Sunday afternoon is the best way to optimize blog traffic, but it’s either this or slide into another week and whatever fresh mayhem is in store….

Summer vacation has officially begun chez RL. I wish I could say I hadn’t been posting because I’ve been too busy relaxing, but it wouldn’t be true. I have been having lots of fun, because we kicked off summer vacation with a weeklong visit from my sister S. and her family: BIL D. (previously mentioned as the BIL who can cook), and offspring Miss I., Miss R., and Mr. C. We took them to some our favorite local spots, and discovered some new places. And, of course, consumed a lot of food along the way.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

DI who?

Even if you have no pretensions to DIY ability (and I absolutely don’t), it seems to be an inevitable part of owning a house (speaking from my vast almost-three-weeks’ experience). You can’t just call a contractor for every little thing; not only is it expensive and time-wasting, you might as well put a sign on yourself that says, “Hello, I am useless.” I’m related to people who’ve done their own lead paint abatement and cut and installed their own drywall; I reckon I ought to be able to figure out how to install a shade bracket.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday















Sign in the entranceway of the largest (and most surreal) sporting-goods store I've ever visited, Kansas City, KS, March 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Friday puttering

Purchase update: paperwork signed and sealed, down payment delivered. We are now officially homeowners (or, rather, mortgage-holders).

Appliance update: when I wrote the first draft of this post earlier today, I was making positive noises here about progress. Then I went downstairs and found a huge puddle in the basement. So now I’m going to make positive noises about my home warranty instead. And move swiftly along to….

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Appliance fail

Despite the fact that I move a lot, I don’t really like being in transition. I know there are people who thrive on chaos but, despite all indicators to the contrary, I am not one of them. I like structure, routine, making lists, all those things. I like having a place for everything and knowing that everything is in its designated place. (Note that in a box, in a container, on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean does *not* count as a designated place.) During my long, long stay in the serviced apartment, I daydreamed about the day when I would be puttering in my own kitchen, putting homemade stock in my own freezer, baking cakes in my own oven with my own pans. All my stuff would be unpacked, neatly arranged, easily accessible, and working smoothly in harmony with the array of gleaming appliances that would come with my house.

Notice how I neatly skipped over the part where I got myself situated, figured out where to put all the stuff, and learned how to use everything?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Moving in

Yes, I’m alive! Digging my way out of a pile of cardboard boxes, overflowing shopping bags, and where did we get all these stuffed animals, anyway? Wrestling with the uncooperativeness and/or absence of every piece of household equipment you can name, or swear at. (Today is the first day I’ve had more than 15 consecutive minutes’ access to the internet since last Wednesday.) Faxing, forwarding, and signing about an acre’s worth of trees. BUT we are out of the serviced apartment and in a house at last. I promise a more complete report later in the week--maybe even with a recipe!

In the meantime, who wants to guess which room is the closest to being completely unpacked and organized?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Midwestern sightseeing

Last weekend included a Monday holiday. We (well, really DP) decided that we needed a change of scene, so we headed off on a road trip. (Or, as my sister said, “You’re going to stay in a different hotel!”) Since we’re still total newcomers in this part of the US, just going to a different state that we’ve never been to before sounds exciting, so that’s what we did. Two, actually: Nebraska and Iowa. DP found some Miss-B-friendly sights to base our itinerary around (trains in Omaha, animals in Des Moines); I did some restaurant research; and we headed off on the back roads to see a little bit more of the Midwest. Here are some of the things we discovered.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Plan B

(Or really, at this point, Plan D, but who’s counting?)

Things have started to look up on the housing front. We are still no closer to knowing when—or if—we’ll be able to buy this house, but the owners, exasperated on our behalf at how long all the bureaucracy is taking (and perhaps on their own, since the house is sitting empty and costing them money), have offered to rent it to us as an interim measure, and then cancel the lease if and when there is a mortgage to replace it. So, barring any further unforeseen hitches, we should be in the house in the next 10 days.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday




















KC's version of the Citgo sign: the Western Auto Building, from Union Station, May 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mixed blessings

Today marks four months that we’ve been living in a hotel serviced apartment. Four months! Not an anniversary I’m particularly thrilled to be celebrating commemorating.

(Will you bear with me for one moment while I digress to gripe that I can’t believe how long this whole process is taking? I thought the first one was bad, but at least that time we were trying to sort out various banking and mortgage complications at the same time. This time, our financial paperwork is more or less in order. And still it’s been five weeks…and counting…and no closer to knowing when—or if—this one is going to work out. It makes me want to go scream into a pillow. Maybe I will. Excuse me.

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