Thursday, October 30, 2008


I own four lovely Pottery Barn dining chairs, given to me by my fairy god-mother-in-law. She has excellent taste, and sometimes when things aren't just to her liking, and the relief and good karma of passing them on to her appreciative daughter-in-law beckons, she frees herself to find things that suit her better by passing the other ones down to me.

I absolutely adore this arrangement.

We've had these chairs two years. We know that once you wash the high-end, Italian cream-colored linen slipcovers, even if you use cold water, they shrink. They no longer fit. I've called Pottery Barn and had them replaced once (for free, thank goodness) and never washed the replacements. I survived by using our upholstery attachment, and a lint roller.

The thing is, after two years of use (and cats) the cream is subsiding to brownish. Some are a little frayed in places where Pete has decided they would serve to sharpen his claws. In short, with Thanksgiving on the horizon, they need replacing.

Charlie Brown's Antiques, my favorite enormous junk shop, yielded a bag of cream-colored linen curtains, with crocheted cotton lace, for $4 on Tuesday. Tonight, I saddled up my dressmaker's shears, and summoned the very best of my pattern-making abilities, and got this far:

Pottery Barn slipcover, right; Kristina's own signature slipcover, left. I didn't want to complete a slipcover and try it on and realize it didn't fit, so this is as far as I came, and if it wasn't already 10:30 I'd sew that pretty lace around the bottom tonight.

That I will save for another day. I'm excited. I just hope I can finish all four before Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My my, Pad Thai

L-R: Garlic, Tamarind paste, red cabbage, bean sprouts, green curry paste, rice noodles, extra firm tofu, scallions, stereo, mug of tea
Front row: carrots, peanuts.

This is the cast of characters. The plot goes something like this: Pad Thai is one of my favorite dishes to make. Its flavors aren't something I usually dabble with, so when we're eating Pad Thai, it's a welcome departure from what we usually have at home. Also, it's easy, and can provide a welcome vector for the disposal of some vegetable that have been sitting in the fridge for way too long (note the above red cabbage). And even though it's easy, it doesn't sound easy. It sounds exotic and impressive.

It's not, really.

Pad Thai

8 oz. rice noodles

1 tbsp peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp tamarind concentrate*
2 cups plain soy milk
1 tbsp green curry paste*
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
a few shakes of tabasco
1 pkg extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled or cubed
About four cups raw vegetables, which often include: carrots, bean sprouts, cabbage, bell pepper, zucchini, broccoli

For garnish:
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
3 scallions, sliced thinly

First, start bringing 3 quarts of water to a boil. When it's boiling, drop in the noodles, cook for about 3 minutes, drain, and return to its pot. Let it sit, covered, off the heat, until needed.

Take down a big old frying pan. Warm the oil over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the garlic. Saute for about a minute, then add the sugar and tamarind, stirring to dissolve the sugar crystals. Then add the soy milk, curry paste, peanut butter, and salt, tofu, and any vegetables that would benefit from some cooking time. I always save my bean sprouts until the very end. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally.

Once your vegetables have reached their desired tenderness (about ten minutes), incorporate the cooked noodles into the pan. I find it's easier to do this forkful by forkful, as opposed to dumping the whole mess in at once. Live and learn. Swish the noodles around so they pick up plenty of sauce and veggies, then serve them in great heaping piles, garnished with scallions and peanuts.

*About ten seconds in the International section of a well-stocked grocery store will turn up the ingredients you need. And once you've got 'em, they'll last you many a Pad Thai.

There. Poof. My cover's blown.

This was the perfect day for such a flavorful, belly-warming meal. As I started the car and turned the heat dial to full, I noticed that the smats of rain hitting the windshield had tiny particles of ice in them. Half snow, half rain. Snain? It's no joke, either. The leaves are barely off the trees, and we're supposed to get three inches tonight.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Oh how I love this state. Looking back, it seems thoroughly unfortunate that I didn't discover it until just this summer, while we were passing through on our honeymoon. Only good things happen when we're in Vermont.

We are welcomed into warm kitchens where bunches of herbs hang from the rafters and vegetables are roasting in the oven.

We are required to read to irrepressibly cute one-year-olds.

We savor long views of winter trees and cloud-kissed mountains.
We enjoy long afternoons by the woodstove, and baby smiles.
We take hikes on brisk days. We celebrate larches and crab apples and geese.
We gather inside and share music and wine while cold rain beats against the windows.
We wake up early in the morning and meet the farm's woolly black calves. Hello!
This weekend we journeyed north to Vermont to stay with our friends Jeff and Sarah, and their son Monroe. They inspire me. The way they live, and the way they parent, is simple and organic, whole and nurturing and honest. At times I feel like I've got one foot firmly planted in mainstream, materialistic America-- I like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, I eat at Burger King occasionally, I spend a lot of money at JoAnn Fabrics. But my heart wants to live close to the land, and simply, mostly by what I can provide with my own hands. Jeff and Sarah are more committed to that ideal than I am. They walk the walk. When Patrick and I move out of town, I imagine it'll become easier to live close to the land. We need land first, though, and that day will come.
In the meantime, we can always visit. Thanks to our hosts for food, shelter, and excellent conversation. And thanks to Monroe for enlightenment on the many uses of blocks, new adjectives to be added to my vocabulary, and endless entertainment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Puking pumpkins

Last night the venerable Kat hosted a self-titled Puking Pumpkin Party.

You get the idea.
I can't explain how nice it was to be in Ithaca for a night. Don't get me wrong, I love the Southern Tier, but Ithaca is just an exceptionally creative, exceptionally green sort of place. A place where no one blinks when you announce that you just learned to make cheese. A place where after the pumpkins are carved and the beer is drunk, people sit around in a circle enthusiastically troubleshooting solar showers, home beermaking, and vermicomposting. When I feel like all I'm seeing, over and over, is the same Walmart-shopping, label-wearing, SUV-driving people, I can go to Ithaca and be reminded that wonderful, intelligent, unabashedly independent and wacky folks like myself do exist. It's just nice to feel sometimes that I'm not alone.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Winging it

So tonight, as I marched to the kitchen intent on making lasagna, and realized that if I was going to make lasagna, the first step would have to be making the mozzarella, and realized also that the whole production would take me three hours... my eyes fell on that cookbook in the picture, and I was gripped with rapture.

The cookbook is Brunch: 100 recipes from the Five Points Restaurant, and Mrs. Danby was with me when I bought it. It is as perfect a cookbook as they come. The pictures are stunning, the recipes are exciting and inspiring. The chef's tips are informative and useful, unlike some chefs' tips that make me want to roll my eyes. (For example: If you don't want to clean your own octopus, many well-stocked grocers offer cleaned, boiled octopus, which is fine for this recipe. Yes, there is a limit, even for me.) I've already made the book's Rosemary Cornmeal Scones, Puffed Oven Pancake with Broiled Apples, and Red Cabbage Slaw. Tonight, I set out to make the recipe I most wanted to try: Pasta Cake.

One problem, though. I didn't have penne, I had rotini. I didn't have mozzarella, I had ricotta. I didn't have spinach, I had two pounds of green tomatoes. This is my favorite kind of cooking, by far. You pan through the recipe, shake out anything extraneous, take the basic gestalt, and go for the gold. Pasta, eggs, cheese, vegetables. Got it? Got it.

Sometimes it flops. Oh, yeah, have we all been there. But sometimes you're standing in the kitchen unmolding this heaven-scented, perfectly browned creation, this opus of culinary ingenuity. (How's that for over-the-top?)

It tasted pretty damn good, too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


In my book, it isn't officially autumn until I've settled down with a steaming hot bowl of borscht and some good crusty bread. Borscht is cold-weather soup, made with those stalwart, sturdy vegetables that can be stored for months on end without complaint: beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions. It was very apt that as I chopped vegetables and stirred the soup, I heard on the radio that snow is forecast overnight. Perfect. Winter is coming: we settle down, we draw inside, we hunker over hot soup.

In my parents' household, I could always count on an annual pot of borscht, usually about this time of year. I would come inside from playing, my ears tingly and pink with cold, and mom would be stirring the borscht. It was like coming home and finding your live-in lover packing up and moving out. Even if you wanted it, even if you were eager for this new season of your life, it was still bittersweet. Well then. It's come to this. The ease of summer, the months of sun and warm rain and good growing weather have left us with this hearty pot of vegetables on the stove, bright pink. A goodbye note.

So, another year finds me enacting those rituals: maneuvering long ribbons of cabbage into my mouth, crushing pink potatoes with my tongue, angling to get just the right amount of sour cream on each spoonful. Tomorrow there might be a frosting of snow on the car windshield, but I can take satisfaction in knowing I didn't let the season pass me by. I focused. I meditated on chopping vegetables. I faced the change of seasons fully, without distraction, and I was ready for it when it came.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A splash of color

Because I spent the day in a wholly uncreative fashion (washing windows), I have no pictures to show for my efforts. So I will send you to Alicia's blog, for pictures of the absolute most exquisite garden I've ever seen.

If Patrick and I had it all to do again, this is where we would do it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

When the moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie, that's amore...

Lately I've been revelling in two things:
a) my parents, in an attempt to divest of clutter, sent me home with their bread machine last time I visited.
b) I embarked on a path to home cheesemaking.

These two facts collided in grand fashion last night, as the bread machine churned away at the pizza dough and the whey drained out of my whole-milk ricotta over the stove. In the space of an hour Patrick and I were piling toppings onto our pizza-- sauce, ricotta, sauteed kale, kalamata olives, fresh tomato-- and very shortly afterward we were eating it, the best homemade pizza I've ever had.

At this point I'll back up and explain about cheesemaking. It doesn't involve a backyard bovine, nor vats of molten wax, nor a temperature-moderated curing room. It involves only a few ingredients of the most ordinary kind. And making mozzarella takes, no joke, thirty minutes.

I am nowhere near enterprising enough to have started making cheese myself, just for the hell of it, without prior inspiration. Inspiration this time came from Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which also gave rise to the Canning Frenzy of 2008. I'm not going to approach cheesemaking with the same fervor, lest my marriage become squashed by a wheel of gouda the size of a kiddie pool. For now, I've got me a 30-Minute Mozzarella kit from The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, and a book with recipes for every cheese I've ever heard of (and a whole lot I haven't), and I'm satisfied with that.

And let me tell you, fresh mozzarella for the same price as a gallon of milk (plus about $0.32 of enzymes) is unbelieveably good.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Get your grape on

Here's my belated pie. Grape pie is one of those things I've read about in blogs and in cookbooks, always written about with an air of "the good old days." Finally, after acquiring Deborah Madison's wonderful book Local Flavors last week, the allure of grape pies proved to be too much. She even went on to say, "No grape pie, commercial or even from a farmers market, is half as good as homemade. Well then.

And was it as good as it's cracked up to be?

It was.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I'd love to post pictures of the grape pie I made yesterday, but I left my camera at my in laws' house. D'oh! What's a blogger without her camera? Grounded, that's what.

Tomorrow, there will be pie pictures, rest assured.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunshine therapy

It was the perfect fall day for a hike with the brilliant warrior goddess herself, Dandelion Dreams. We found ourselves up at the SUNY Binghamton Nature Preserve at about 10 am, surrounded by flitting monarch butterflies, restless songbirds, scurrying squirrels, and downright glorious fall colors.
We had a therapeutic hour or so wandering around, enjoying the gift of Indian Summer. I'm so glad we got to have this week. Usually, upstate New York falls take a little while to settle in-- there will be a week of cool weather, then back into the eighties for a bit, then another dip, and so on, until everyone's gotten used to the fact that fall is final.

This year, it got cool early-- mid-September-- and stayed that way, without wavering, until last week. We were all forced to face the music a little more abruptly than we would've liked. I held out hope for one last week of halcyon weather before the snow flew. The heavens delivered this week-- highs in the seventies, clear skies, the perfect days for a last hike in a t-shirt.

It was great to meander for awhile, catch up on girl chat, and share the things we have in common: great husbands, fixer upper houses, Thanksgiving hostessing.
Good times.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Weekend matters

Pete spent Sunday morning rolling in the sunshine.
Pure bliss.

I took pictures of the colors at their peak.
Autumn leaves were reflected in the windows of our house.We took a quick drive to Montrose, PA, to a stone wall overlooking a field. We like to sit here, and fantasize about what it'll be like when we own the sweet farm in the valley like this one.
Jen and Corrine and I cleared the garden, piling the spent bean plants and tomato vines on the compost heap.

I took home our fennel, which found its way into this vase, with five yellow nasturtiums.
I made an abundant dinner with sweet potatoes, apples, butternut squash, onions, and green tomatoes.
A big, hearty Sunday night dinner feels like starting the week off on the right foot. Along with the squash soup, we had fried green tomatoes, dill pickles, fresh bread, and my first homemade cheese experiment. Yes, homemade cheese. And that was a satisfying weekend.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Frog Pond on Friday

After I filled my trunk with produce, I walked around holding my camera at chest level, just snapping quick pictures. I always feel awkward taking pictures in public places, and this was a good way to get over that so I could show you all the beauty that is Frog Pond on a sunny Friday in October.

Apologies in advance for whatever was smudged on my lens-- it sort of gives that soft, glamour shots vaseline-y glow, doesn't it?

This pumpkin, grown in Walton, NY, weighed in at three-quarters of a ton.

This weekend there will be eating, dancing, and drinking with good friends. There will be October sunshine, and hot soup for supper. Good things. I hope your weekends are filled with the same!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do you work here, or are you just over-zealous?

For the first time in weeks, the thermometer touched 70, and the skies delivered us from cloud cover into one of those crisp, clear October days they tell you about in books and movies. The hillsides popped with carnival colors. Leaves crackled underfoot. Flocks of geese flew by overhead. I spent the afternoon at Lone Maple Farm, picking apples.

It wasn't hard to fill the boxes I brought. Year after year, I'm consistently in awe of how loaded those little trees are. Barely ten feet tall, laden to the point where their stems will give way if one apple is plucked from a cluster. This tree is a Gala (my favorite), but I also picked Macouns and Cortlands. The Galas will fill my last five quart jars with slices in syrup. The Cortlands will become a dried-apple experiment (more on that tomorrow). The Macouns will (purportedly) last up for five months if kept cool and damp, so they'll be spending time in the basement.Look at those colors!
While I waited for Farmer Mike to drive up with the wagon and take me back down to the store, I thoughtfully munched a Macoun, and photographed my haul. Someone actually asked me, "Do you work here, or are you just over-zealous?" Over-zealous, guilty as charged.

Here comes my ride!
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