Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sunday mornings around here are usually an occasion for lingering over breakfast and the newspaper.  S is a great breakfast chef and always makes something delicious; flipping pancakes or scrambling eggs to the strains of our favorite Sunday tunes:  Charlie Haden and Hank Jones’s album Steal Away:  Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs.

To celebrate that impulse (and because our old one has recently been retired to the garage) I got S a new waffle maker for Valentine’s Day.

So, of course, we had waffles. S used the recipe for Buttermilk Waffles that came with the waffle maker (his extensive collection of breakfast cookbooks is currently buried in a pile of other cookbooks as a part of our preparation for some home repairs) and they turned out perfectly.

Buttermilk Waffles
(the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen / All-Clad recipe)

Makes 8 waffles

3 eggs, separated
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
8 tbs unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar

Preheat a waffle maker on medium high heat.
We just eat them as they are ready; but if you plan to make all the waffles before serving any, preheat the oven to 200 F.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the buttermilk, butter and vanilla until blended.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.  Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold 1 cup of the egg whites into the batter, then carefully fold in the remaining whites.

Pour about 2/3 cup batter into the center of your hot waffle maker and close the lid.  Cook until golden brown and crisp, 4-5 minutes (or until the waffle maker cheeps at you!).

Serve immediately with warm maple syrup, or place on a wire rack in the oven and keep warm until ready to serve.  Repeat with remaining batter.

All that butter probably helps them develop that perfectly crisp exterior.  S also thinks that beating the egg whites makes a big difference.

Whatever the reason, they were good to the last bite!

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Crab cakes anyone?

My husband S and my brother T are great friends.  One of the things they love to do together is cook.  As far as I can remember, the first food they conspired on were crab cakes, and for a long time they never made them except when they could do it together.

These days, though, S sometimes makes crab cakes on his own; especially at this time of year, when Dungeness crabs are in season in the Northwest.  The dish has also become one of my stepson’s favorites, so we usually have them at least once when he is staying with us.

The recipe S and T like (after trying several) comes from the Joy of Cooking.  It’s not complicated; like most great food it depends on great ingredients rather than fancy footwork.

Crab cakes
(adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
Serves 3-4 (the recipe can easily be doubled if you need to feed more people)

1 pound fresh lump crab meat (we use Dungeness crab here in the Northwest; in Maine we used the local “peekytoe” crab)
2 Tbs butter or olive oil
¼ cup finely diced red bell pepper
½ cup finely diced scallions
1 Tbs minced garlic (or more to taste)
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup mayonnaise (use homemade if you feel inspired, otherwise the kind from a jar works well)
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup minced parsley
2 Tbs + 2 cups Panko style bread crumbs (divided)
4 Tbs butter or olive oil (for sautéing crab cakes)

Carefully pick over the crab meat to make sure you have removed any stray bits of shell.

Heat the butter or oil in a medium saucepan until it foams.  Add the bell pepper, scallions and garlic and sauté until soft (8 – 10 minutes).  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the crab meat with the egg, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt and black pepper, cayenne, parsley and two Tbs of Panko breadcrumbs.  Add the sautéed vegetables and mix well.

Spread the remaining 2 cups of breadcrumbs on a rimmed baking pan.  Shape the crab mixture into 8 small cakes and gently coat each with the breadcrumbs.

Refrigerate the cakes, covered, for at least 30 minutes before cooking them (1-2 hours is even better, if you can manage it).

When you are ready to cook the crab cakes, heat the butter or oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the cakes to the pan 1 at a time.  Don’t crowd the pan (it’s best to cook these in small batches and keep the finished cakes warm in a low (250 F) oven while you cook the remaining cakes).

Brown the cakes on both sides, turning after about 5 minutes (these small cakes will need about 8 total minutes of cooking to be fully browned and warm throughout).

Serve hot with lemon wedges and Aioli or chipotle mayonnaise (or both, if you feel motivated).

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The perfect present

Have you ever gotten the perfect present?  The one that makes you gasp a little when you open it; amazed that the giver knows you so well?  The one that you could never have picked for yourself, but when you see it you know it is “you?”

I got one of those this year.

Before I go on I have to let you know that all of my friends and relatives regularly give me wonderful gifts.  I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such thoughtful, loving and giving people.   I am a very lucky person.

This year, though, one of the gifts I got literally rocked me back on my heels.  It was from my niece, A, a twelve year old wonder.  She was clearly excited about it in the days leading up to Christmas, but didn’t play games with me (ask me to guess, giggle quietly to herself, or get that “I know something you don’t” look in her eyes).  Instead, she seemed calmly confident that she had made a good choice.

And she was right.

So, with all that build-up, before I let you in on the secret, I’ll remind you of an earlier post I did on one of my collections.  Even though that post was back in August, it must have made an impression.

Here’s the gift:

According to A and K (her mother) this was A’s idea completely.  She ignored suggestions given to her by others, AND she picked every button individually, with me in mind.

And every button, every single one, is perfect.

She won’t tell me where she got them (probably a good thing).  Right now I am playing with these buttons; imagining adding them to hats, scarves, mittens, socks.

And feeling good every time I look at them.

Thank you.

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Around Thanksgiving, on one of my first Christmas shopping trips (this one on Portland’s fashionable NW 23rd Avenue), I found a cool scarf that I thought I would get for my niece.  The scarf was made of many long thin strips of a jersey material, tied together at a couple of places.  It came with a booklet of suggestions for different ways it could be worn: draped loosely around your neck, braided as a belt, twisted around your head.

The one drawback was the hefty pricetag:  $70 for the one I liked.

As soon as I got home I started looking online for a similar scarf.  I couldn’t find one like the one I had seen.  I did find the site of another blogger who had made her own from a recycled T-shirt.

As soon as I arrived in St. Louis, my sister-in-law and I headed for the nearest Target where we picked out 4 X-Large T-shirts.  We couldn’t find the seamless ones recommended on the website, but decided to give it a try with the ones we could get.

Once home I reviewed the instructions and got started.  The first step was to cut off the hem and the top part of the shirt, including the sleeves.  Then I started cutting strips from the tube of material that remained.

I cut each of the resulting loops along one of the seams to create thirteen long strips of fabric,

and tugged on each strip causing them to lengthen and curl.

I then took 12 of the 13 strips I had made and divided them into three bunches, braiding them together to form the center of the scarf.  I used the thirteenth strip (which I first cut into two shorter strips) to tightly wrap the ends of the braid to hold them in place.

In the end, I made a total of four scarves, one for each of the women in my family.  They are already in frequent use and get noticed wherever we go.

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Christmas dinner

Yesterday, instead of cooking the dinner myself, I had the pleasure of watching (and photographing) as others prepared a wonderful seafood feast.

Venetian black rice served as the elegant foundation for a rich, savory risotto.

Other ingredients included fish (cod and drum),


squid, clams and shrimp.

Lots of hands helped with the preparation;

there was a lot of chopping to be done.

In the end it all came together with the help of some champagne

and the use of many pans

into an amazing dish.

The perfect end to a wonderful day.

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And all through the house….I was baking cookies.  I don’t always bake when I am not at home, but we got invited to a cookie sharing party and I decided to go for it.  After flipping through a number of cookbooks, I ended up with my favorite, dependable and delicious Baking from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan.

I have NEVER baked something from this book that did not turn out perfectly.  Today was no exception. Because this was an after dinner party that included a lot of adults, I decided to look for some more grown-up cookies. The first recipe I chose was Salt and Pepper Chocolate Shortbread cookies; an R-rated cookie flavored with unsweetened cocoa,

fleur de sel and ground black pepper.

These are the kind of cookies that you mix, roll, chill, slice

and bake.

They were a big hit.

I also wanted to make something equally elegant that the gluten- and dairy-intolerant members of my family could enjoy.  I chose Dorie’s Cocoa Almond Meringues.

They were also a hit, with kids and grown-ups alike.

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Swim meet

Sunday afternoon (after I had my first (great!) experience with a spinning class) my brother and I took my niece to her swim club swim meet at the local community college pool.

Not having been a swimmer growing up, this was a new experience for me.  My niece, however, is already an old hand (as is her father).

The afternoon started with a vigorous warm-up.  Since there were several clubs competing there were a lot of kids in each lane of the pool.  Luckily I saw very few collisions.

After about thirty minutes of practice the meet started.

My niece, A, competed in five events:  the 100 yard individual medley, the 50 yard freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke, and the monstrous 200 yard freestyle.

I was incredibly impressed with A’s stamina, poise and good spirits as the meet progressed.  Even though she had been up (too) late the night before, she finished every event and came in a very close second in the breaststroke for her age group.

The final event was the 200 yard freestyle; a truly grueling race that I knew A was not looking forward to swimming.  In the end, she decided to go for it

and swam every lap.

Bursting with pride is too mild a description for how I felt at the end of the day.

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