Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Finish With Songs that Make Me Smile...

So just to wrap the month (I fully intend to blog more frequently from here on out...), I wanted to leave you with songs that make me smile...maybe you will add them to your play list and think of me when you hear them...

And please-what songs make you smile, jump out of your seat and dance or just bring you some joy? I want to know...

My favorite tango song--just melts me and makes me think of being on the tango floor with a smile on my face...It is Corazon de Ora, a "vals" (waltz)--it's hard to find even just a clip, but here's one using the song...

I always go back to this song, Stand by Me by Playing for Change...I just love the song anyway and this version is touching.

Marc Broussard's Home--this gets me moving..

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

9 Things I've Learned from Blogathon

Yesterday's post about the most popular posts for me this month led some to comment on the random, rather wide-reaching subject matter of the popular posts. This is true, which may mean I need to refocus the blog itself...I think the 31 days of blogging lets me wander a bit off track with subject matter and that's fine, but if I want you to "feast with me," I really should be blogging

Things I've Learned:

1. I need to focus more.
2. I need to really write a lot to get a little of great. Essays require craft and honing and editing. I need to write more and edit more to get a few good posts a week, in hopes that I'll end up with a few great posts every year.
3. I love reading compilations. I learn a lot when someone takes the time to show me what they've been reading. I think I will keep this feature, but focus more on the food world.
4. I need to set firmer hours for work. True, the freelance life is about flexibility, but there have been days when I've flexed myself right out of any work at all. Not a good way to be a successful freelancer.
5. I need to give myself permission to read more during those work hours. Reading about what's going in in the food world is part of my job. I think I sometimes feel almost guilty about "just" reading...but that's crazy.
6. There is always room for improvement. My goal for the next year is to really hone the craft of writing. Focus on craft and focus on business. Because in the end I really do like to write.
7. Sometimes a photo is enough.
8. Even *I* can write a haiku, one that might make someone smile or tug at your heart a bit.
9. Wordle is always fun.

What have you learned?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Makes a Popular Post?

We are on the downward slope of the blogathon!! As usual, I've enjoyed it. I like thinking about it, coming up with ideas, really keeping tabs on the thoughts I have as I go through life just so I can sit down and write a few words about one thought or another.

I have enjoyed sharing watercolors and photos with my blog readers..

That said, I'm always curious what posts prove most popular--If you are wondering, too, here are the top five Babette Feasts posts of the month:

1. Rules to Break in the Kitchen. This post was top post when I wrote it before--it was a re-blogged post..does this mean we are all kitchen rebels?

2. Guest Poster Charmian Christie--she's fun, funny and has a following of her own at Christie's Corner, so she brought readers. Note to self: have more guest posters.

3. Second Act: Barb, Triathlete. I think this resonated with other women AND it was picked up as a link on Second Act's own page. Again, broadening the audience, linking to other spots and having others link back is always a good idea.

4. Calendar Watch. This post marked the one-year anniversary of my brother's death. For better or for worse, the blogathon, if held in May, will always mark the anniversary of his death. I think it is for better, as I can share the good memories and remind myself to bake some bread or make some homemade pizza, as I did this year. I think, again, this post just touched a lot of readers.

5. Five New Things--this is about great things I found to eat or to use in the kitchen. Again--a list, useful info, and a little bit of fun.

What were your top-read posts? Why do you think they were popular?

Editing to add that Jackie Dishner, a.k.a. The Bike Lady took today to look at blog stats, too...great minds and all that...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wordle Monday! May 28--

Wordles are always fun--I like looking back at my words. It doesn't mean much. But it is fun. Painting, photo, geochaching, watercolor. Those words jump out. And try and trying...

What does your wordle look like? Leave a link!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Photo Sunday: Hibiscus

I love the way I caught the sun shining through the leaves of this hibiscus. A simple shot but nice.

Have a peaceful Sunday.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Roundup: What I've been reading...

If you've heard me talk at all about blogs I love, you know I'm insanely jealous of  crazy about Food52. This week, I had a good read over there on "Oats In All Their Many Forms." Now at least I know what the answer is to that age-old question, "What ARE steel-cut oats?"

I took a walk this week and saw an OCTOPUS IN THE OCEAN. And all I could think was: Dinner.
No, just kidding. Sort of. But it really was cool and it put me in mind of this most awesome video of an octopus working its camouflage magic--we saw the octopus, which was trying hard to look like the rocks it was nestled into, change color in a flash. Watch this video, which was shot by Dr. Roger Hanlon and see just how cool and quickly they CAN do that...if I were a kid and saw this video? I would SO grow up wanting to be a marine biologist studying octopi. Octopuses. Octopi.

You know what I mean.

And this was funny--Stolen iPhone Adventures. A woman's phone is stolen while on a Disney cruise and the phone starts auto-uploading photos to her Facebook, yep, including photos of the alleged thief, Nelson, who happens to work for the cruise ship. Oops.

And now for some inspiration--a teen invented an inexpensive and easy-to-administer test for pancreatic cancer. Kinda gives you some hope for the next generation, right? Do add he won the Intel Science Talent Search?

And remember the Make it Count Nike ad video link from last Saturday's roundup? I just read (and loved, of course) this piece about Director Casey Niestat taking the risk and going rogue to make this ad.

And this just in--it brought tears to my eyes...So joyful!

Friday, May 25, 2012


I am heading off to watercolor right now...hope I have something lovely to post upon my return...just putting this up as a placeholder!


So I took this photo of a lovely gate in St. George's:

 And here's my start (the photo is very dark of the's not so sepia-colored)...

I am already off...Perspective, everything. I may finish and then do it again, working to correct my lines.

Also, the print of the photo from my machine does no justice to the I am trying to justify an iPad for my photos...hah. I'll try anything....

If I finish, I'll add the finished painting to this post.
In other painting news I actually gifted the photo of the chimney top to a friend. My first gift of art...It was nice to give something so personal.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What's New? Try Geocaching

Nothing to do with food today, but I wonder what have you done that is new lately?

In the past year and a bit, I've tried tango, renewed my love of watercolor painting and, very recently, tried geocaching, just to name a few.

The geocaching is something I've wanted to try for years...It's like treasure hunting with a hand-held GPS. There are geocachers the world over, and they have quite a network. From what I've seen, if you geocache, you can find a connection almost wherever you go.

What I love about it is that it's a reason to be out and walking, getting to know a place and there's this little nugget of a reward if you find the cache. Open it up, sign the log and check out where in the world others who have found the cache came from...It happens to be a great family activity, too. Kind geocachers leave trinkets for the kids--marbles, inexpensive charms, that kind of thing...

Here's how the Geocaching official website defines it:

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

Check out the site, find a group and give it a try if you have even a bit of interest. You will probably like it and you may just find yourself some new friends...

So what have you done that's new lately? Tell me about it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If I Started Blogging Today...

Six things to tell you about what I'd do differently OR the same:

1. Buy your name and pay for it for about 10 years AND use an email account you read. One you read often. I lost the URL because I read the first post about "we are renewing your URL. Expect a charge" email but MISSED the one saying the charge didn't go through because we had moved and our address didn't match the one on file. Life goes on, but I kinda hate that I lost the URL. Now I'm, which is okay. But it really took the wind out of my sails for a bit.

2. Play with all the features. Just because they are there. It's worth having a look around.

3. Stick to it year round, not just during the blogathon. Every year, when I do blogathon (this is year three), I realize that the more you do it, the easier it is. I see ideas everywhere, I write them down and I really have fun with it. My blog is in my's worth it to blog often.

4. Ignore any negative comments. I haven't ever gotten many (my blog is not exactly controversial), but when I have, it's felt as if I insulted someone. But the truth it, I haven't...I just get hung up about wanting everyone to like me. That's just silly. Delete the comment and move on.

5. SHARE the blog. Post links places, encourage people to click over, make it easy for them to comment.

6. Read and comment on other blogs. You'll find readers and friends and good things to read all at once. You won't like every blog you read, and not everyone will like yours...not to worry. The blog world is a big one. We all fit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Have I been Doing Lately, You Ask?

No, I haven't moved to soft-core porn (although I am about to read 50 Shades of Gray, and I hear that maybe I WILL be reading writing some soft porn. I hear it's lucrative....I digress).

To celebrate a friend's birthday, another mutual friend volunteered to make a pink panty cake (because one of the birthday girl's favorite drinks happens to be something called pink panty: pina colada frozen mix, melon rum, coconut rum, grenadine and pineapple juice)...with me.

 HUH? I don't bake much--although I love to decorate...But anyway, after googling "how to make a butt-cheek-shaped cake" (don't do it. results are ugly), I realized we'd have to go it alone...and this is what we came up with. We are delighted with the results, it was a fun cake to present, and it was even delicious...

To make it, I baked one round layer and two cereal bowls of Dorie Greenspan's pound cake. After some discussion of ideas, Kerrie had the vision that became the finished cake. (She's done this before..)

We sliced the round layer in half on the horizontal, then used that for the legs and the waist/back. We carved the bowls into a lovely bum, and then we "glued" it together with strawberry jelly (no fruit pieces) and covered if first with the flesh-colored fondant, then the little panty, then the ruffles and then the pink pearl trim. I still think we should have covered the entire thing with buttercream to smooth it out, but that was my learning curve....

Anyway, we loved making it, and I will have fun making more decorated cakes in the future...

And Dorie's pound cake is the perfect medium for these sculpting efforts...
(And for those of you wondering, we put the candles in little cocktail glasses to the side of the just didn't seem right to put candles...well, ANYwhere into the cake...)

And Ps. I am especially proud of us for having done this without any template at all, just a vision and collaboration...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Haiku Blog Monday: Sleeping Dog

Sleeping dog, quiet
morning. How can she do that?
Wish I slept so well.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Calendar Watch

I've been watching the calendar all month, dreading this day.
One year ago, my brother David died very suddenly. I opened the blogathon with an essay inspired by David and about the time I spent at his house after his death.

But this entire month, a knot would come in my stomach when I knew I'd have to mark this date.
The details of the morning I learned of his death are etched into my memory. I had just pulled into the parking lot at my daughter's school. I had to pick her up for a doctor's visit. I remember the exact parking space. The day was gorgeous.
My phone rang and caller ID said it was my mom. "Hi, Mom! How are you doing?!?!"
I answered with fun, with enthusiasm.
"Not so good. David died last night."

I lost it. Lost it. Shouted. Pounded the steering wheel. And knew I had to pull it together to get my daughter and get her through the visit.
I remember standing in the hall in front of the school office, waiting for her to come, leaning against the wall and quietly sobbing. Someone came and guided me to a seat. All I could say was, "my brother just died."
I made an eight-hour drive to my mother's house that day, to the house we all grew up in. I spent the time on the road alternately crying, angry at the wrongfulness of it, talking to friends and family to get me there. The next weeks were filled with memories, a trip across the country, a memorial service, family and lots of questions.

I think I can say the pain is less 365 days later. The heartbreak is the same. I miss him more now than I did then. It's still every bit as wrong as it was 365 days ago.
And this from a message I wrote last May 31:

So today, please go open a bottle of wine you may have been saving for a special day. Pitch the sliced bread and either bake a loaf or go get REAL bread, good bread. Drizzle out a bit of really good olive oil, and savor it all with family and friends. Because today? Today is a special day.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Round-up #3

Things I've loved this week!! Enjoy your Saturday.

Here I learn about the life of a literary translator (and think: I want to do that!!)

Peter Shankman's Open Letter really was touching...loved it.

A funny, cute post-it note prank gets seniors suspended and the adult janitor who supervised them FIRED. That's some crazy overreacting!

I found this article on cyber security by Shelly Palmer chilling. We had better be paying some attention.

Happier stuff. I occasionally revisit this video of a murmuration for some magic. Watch it.

Around the world in one-second clips:

And one more! A Nike Make it Count commercial...Love it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Watercolor Friday!!

Last week I turned out these two copies...the originals are in pastels and gouache; mine is all watercolor. In case you need help, that's a grapefruit on the left, a pomegranate on the right.

See what I mean? I do pretty well with FOOD.

I wanted to add this lovely little piece of Bermuda chimney, too...this I did all by myself, not from a photo, not a copy of another painting...

Over the weekend, I found some frames at a church sale, so I am busy getting the photos up and finally getting some color on these white walls...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Second Second Act: Tango Dancer!

While I am enormously proud of the fact that I am a triathlete, I can honestly say that the most fun and joy and passion I've found in the past year has been as I danced tango. Tango gave me a cool thing to do with my husband, gave me a new group of wonderful friends who love to dance tango as much as I do and can teach me along the way, took me to Buenos Aires for 10 days to tango until I was exhausted and introduced me to my first pairs (that's right, plural: PAIRS) of finely made tango shoes, stilettos made just for dancing. I am especially in love with the purple pair (looks blue above, but trust me: they are purple)..

What do I love about tango? When I have a strong leader, it's a connection. It's trust. It's a willingness to follow where he will lead. With my teachers, who are just fabulous dancers and fabulous leaders, I've found myself dancing with my eyes closed, chest to chest (in tango, this is a close embrace), following them wherever they lead. They make me look fabulous, too.

This much I know: I dance with my eyes closed, a smile on my face and joy in my heart. I'm not young or old or worried about anything. I am just happy.

This second act? This is one that will be with me for the rest of my life.

Here's what YOU should do. Google tango in your town. Then show up. Show up and dance.

And if you happen to be in Charlotte, NC?
Google Passion for Tango. And get a dance with Daniel or Bill. They will make you love this dance.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Second Act: Barb, Triathlete

So. "One" hits 50.
But one feels, oh, I dunno. Eternally 26? But the mirror, the scale, the clothes, the eyes (oof, the eyes!)..they pretty much convince "one": You are SO not 26 anymore.

Two years ago, when I was 50, I did the usual medical annual exams. I was heavier than I'd ever been. For the first time, my blood pressure wasn't something to brag about. A colonoscopy (TMI? Too bad.) had benign polyps--that was my third or forth colonoscopy, since my dad died at the age of 50--from colon cancer. Cancer that first showed up when he was 40, if I recall correctly. But it was the FIRST time I didn't have an "All Perfect" result.

And I like perfect.
It was, frankly, a wake up call. Use it or lose it. If I was heavy then? I'd probably be even heavier if I didn't pay attention. Watch what I eat the way I used to. Move more.

All that coincided with a commitment to swim on a relay team for Paul's Posse (read all about it here)--the relay team was doing the NYC Triathlon, and I volunteered to swim.

In the Hudson.

I did that swim. And about 2 hours after swearing "never again," I was high five-ing teammate Dakila--we were both going to do the whole thing the following year.

Which meant one thing: I'd have to run. And I don't run. But Couch to 5K got me to 30 minutes of running. The same approach got me from 5K to 10K. I continued to eat well. The weight dropped off. I bought a sweet, sweet bike and rediscovered my love of biking. When I finally jumped in the Hudson River for the second time, I had dropped about 50 pounds. I had worked out with a personal trainer and I was in the best shape of my life. That year's annual was just the way I liked it. Zero problems.

Now I call myself a triathlete.

Maybe all our life we get second acts. It's up to us to take on the role.

What have you done that's new? Different?
 (Tomorrow's tale continues with Second Act: TANGO!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Small Things

 Sometimes the big things seem to really get me down. That's when the small things matter most.
This year, with a small outdoor balcony (last year I had a door I could open for fresh air, but no space), I've got a grill, a table and chairs and, now, planters.

Herbs come first. I bought oregano, dill, thyme, mint, basil, marjoram, cilantro, chives and parsley (flat AND curly)...Then I saw the seed packets and I planted peas and beans, chard and Brussels sprouts (I kid you not, I LOVE the sprouts)...

And then? THEN I saw lettuces. I had to have them. I bought 12 tiny seedlings, transplanted them immediately and now I get at least a salad a week from them. And when the lettuce bolts? Well, that's the box that holds the beans and the peas, and I'll fill in with more.

I cannot tell you the pleasure I get from going out with some scissors, cutting off the biggest leaves, tossing in some dill, basil and cilantro and having a salad.

It's the small things that give me comfort when the big things bug me most.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Guest Poster: Introducing Charmian Christie, Author of Kitchen Disasters

Well, naturally I have an affinity for anyone who writes an app about kitchen disasters and, far more notably, how to FIX said disasters. (See her bio for the link to the app)
Charmian is funny, a great writer and obviously, a great chef.
And a great blogger friend for being today's guest poster!
Her bio:
Charmian Christie is the blogger behind Christie’s Corner where she lives up to her motto: Real food. Real life. It ain’t always pretty.  A seasoned Meal Fixer, she shares her hard-earned knowledge via a handy app, Kitchen Disasters & Fixes. It’s available on iTunes  with an Android version coming out before June.

The Baking Rules

1.     Never bake when tired.
2.     Never bake when tipsy.
3.     Never bake when boiling with rage.
4.     Never baked when rushed.

And that’s just the short list.

While cookbooks will tell you pan size, oven temperature, and measurements to the gram, not one of them will tell you what you really need to turn out a light cake, a golden-crusted pie or a chewy cookie. A baker can always work around equipment failures and inferior ingredients.  The only trick you need in your pastry kit is Mental Focus. And not the kind you get from knocking back a Red Bull. You need the I Haven’t A Care in The World kind of concentration that hovers between Zen and hopscotch.

I learned each and every one of the above baking rules the hard way. I blame fatigue for forgetting the sugar in the dark chocolate cake. All my University-days culinary disasters can be pinned on baking with friends and a bottle of cheap wine. Beating all my frustration into the batter has turned out more tough muffins than answers, and two tiny minutes spent rereading the recipe would have made a big difference to the brick-like pan of gingerbread I baked without the much-needed leavening.

The Rules are as important as using the proper flour, room temperature eggs and fresh baking powder. And even though I know them, wrote them and quote them, I just as often ignore my own advice.

For example, just this past Saturday I broke #1 and #4 simultaneously while making pavlova  for Mother’s Day. I hadn’t eaten dinner, it was getting late, and I had to make the meringues that night while writing my Mother’s Day post and feeding the neighbor’s cat. Instead of making two big rounds, I decided to pipe a dozen individual nests to cradle the lemon curd my mom requested. I preheated the oven. I got out the parchment. Drew the circles. Filled the bag and piped – from the outside in, not the inside out.

The result? Meringue snails.

Not the end of the world, but not the neat little nests I’d intended.

Will I bake again? You bet. Because Rule #5 is Never give up.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Photo Sunday: The Sand? Yes, it really IS pink...

Dip your toes into some warm water on pink sand....

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Posts That Caught My Eye

As with last week, I've collected things I loved that I found while stumbling around the internet this week. Some may call it procrastinating, but I call it meditating.

I watched the Cheerleading Dad at least three times. Cute and great message.

A beautifully-written piece about a woman living with ALS 

This is making the rounds--A commencement speech about things the author wishes HE had been told on Graduation Day.

Jen Miller reminds us that there's nothing good about acting the Damsel in Distress.

Gabriela's Specatucul(un)ar Moonwalk Around the Globe

Another blogger linked to this blog, Southern Fried French. Southern Fried French Fun.

Roxanne Jones, a writer from my FLX board, reminded us this week: And remember what Maya Angelou said about when someone shows you who they are, believe them. 
I never heard that, but love its simple truth.

Monica Bhide mentioned Wicked Noodle and this lovely, lovely post. I'll start following her. (Oh, I'll follow anyone who uses the phrase Wicked Noodle! Pasta AND cool? I'm in!)

Really like Caitlin Kelly's Broadside post about The Art of Conversation.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Watercolor: Working on Walls...

I have a good habit of always liking at least something about a this one (unfinished), it's the stone walls...One day, I'll like everything in a painting.

In the meantime, I've collected a stack of paintings and will crop them. I can do it with a photo, why not with my paintings?

Cropping works, right? Cut out the bad, focus on the good. Metaphor for life these days.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Food Trends

Trends according to the National Restaurant Association, that is...
Here's the link. I'll do a quick recap.

Numbers 1 and 2 are interesting--smaller, individual-sized portions for number 1. Indulgent desserts comes in at Number 2. Yes, we are finally ready to have our cake and eat it, too.

Number 3 is customizable coffee. Say what you will, but good coffee still takes time and attention. I like the ease of the "pod" coffee idea, but I don't like the flavor as much as my own espresso every morning.

4. Southeast Asian Flavors. Still. No more needs be said.

5. Sustainability. Glad to see big operators getting on this bandwagon. It matters.

6. Molecular for the masses. This kind of cracks me up. Can you say Dipping Dots? That's been molecular for the masses for 15 years, but...oh well. I am one of the food professionals who still finds amusement in the molecular movement. I'm not too stuffy to be delighted by neat little tricks. (Except foam. not a big fan of foams)...but it still better taste great.

7. Better For You, things like kefir over yogurt and stevia...Okay. But I don't think I'll be trading in my Greek yogurt for kefir anytime soon. Willing to give stevia a chance.

8. Convenience solutions--individual servings of LOTS of things...guess if you can deliver better quality and the restaurateur eliminates waste, that's a good thing.

9. Hypoallergenic foods--again, this is a trend for owners who want to offer foods for all their customers--"one-product solutions for sensitive customers"--I would say this is a good thing for owners and consumers alike--when a label has only one ingredient, at least you know you are eating real food.

As for me, trends I tend to see in the store? Buyers looking for good prices and quality food. Buyers objecting to things like pink slime and meat glue. GOOD. We should object to that. And, btw, if you buy from a local farmer who cares about what he or she is raising and selling, you would know there's no pink slime OR meat glue in your meat.

Keep demanding quality. We deserve it in our food supply. That's a trend we should watch for year after year.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reblogged: 6 Rules to Break.

Today I am reposting one of the most popular posts I ever wrote. It comes from Blogathon 2010--who knew people were so eager for permission to BREAK rules?

I say have at it!

6 Kitchen Rules I Routinely Break--You Should Too

There are some absolutes in a professional kitchen, some from home kitchens--things we do just because...well, we do... And some of them are great...and some simply don't work for me. So here you go...things that might make my first chef (Hi, Peter Hoffman, owner of Savoy in Tribeca!!) or my mom or my nana shudder...(Edit: Savoy has closed, but you can visit Peter's Back Forty.)

1. I wash my black cast iron pan. Look, I get it--layers of flavor settle into the very being of the pan. Romantic. Flavors down the centuries. Blah blah blah.

No. Just no. Here's why. I might be cooking up onions and garlic one day...and then making biscuits for shortbread (sweetISH if not sweet sweet) the next. I don't WANT the flavors to be there.

So while I may not scrub with Dawn and a scrub brush, water always hits the pan after use. Mind you, so does a coating of oil and then I pop it into a still warm oven. It is pretty damn nonstick at this point and I love it. (Buy Lodge: Made in America....) But really? Wash it. (Edit: I've come over to the dark side. Now I almost NEVER let water touch my beloved pan...I let it cool. Then I turn the heat on high and let any residue kind of burn off. Add oil and salt, scrape a bit with a wooden spatula and ...done...I don't break this rule much any more.)

2. While we are on the subject of washing, I give my mushrooms a rinse. I was taught to patiently wipe the shrooms with a damp paper towel...washing them would make them act like sponges, I was told. Well...I'm not that patient. Now I toss them into a colander and give 'em a quick shower, shaking off excess water before popping them into a hot pan. Me? I don't think they suffer. (Edit in 2012: Still do this.)

3. I cook ALMOST exclusively with extra virgin olive oil. I'm told it's a waste of money, but...hmm. I like the flavor...(sometimes, I know, I really DO want the non-flavor of vegetable oil and that is in the house..)...and it's what is at the side of the stove. And I like the flavor, did I say that already? (Edit in 2012: Still doing this!)

4. I don't buy expensive nonstick pans. Don't put your money into nonstick pans if that coating is on the inside of a $100+ pan. Heck, don't do it if the pan is $30+...I haven't come across a nonstick surface that lasts forever--not the way I cook, at least. And no, I don't use metal, I wash them by hand...but ultimately, I toss them and buy a new set of nonstick pans...once a year. And I don't spend a lot (check out Ikea)...(or do what I  plan to do and replace them all with cast iron eventually...cast iron that I WASH...) (2012? Same!)

5. I use skim milk almost every time they say milk, no matter what--yes, even in baking. This is another form of lazy, because unless I plan, skim is what's in the fridge. I've never had it not work...I think some things may lack some depth of flavor, but...not enough that the family notices.

6. I keep butter and some eggs always at room temperature. I have never used margarine, only butter--and I do not like rock hard butter...not at home, not in a restaurant (it's always a mark against a place if they bring be bread and rock hard butter...) Now this doesn't mean there's a pound of butter on the counter...At most, there's one stick in a covered glass butter dish. I guess if you don't have A/C, this wouldn't work in the height of summer, but other than that? Always there. Same goes for some eggs. I go through eggs relatively quickly, so this isn't a problem for me (although if my mom visits, we play the she-puts-the-eggs-into-the-fridge, I-take-them-out-of-the-fridge dance...until I snap and say: LEAVE THEM ON THE COUNTER. IT'S WHERE I WANT THEM..) Again, I used them up quickly and if I'm baking, I want eggs at room temperature...So if half a dozen are on the counter for a few days? No. Harm. (Again, YMMV if you live in a hot climate with no A/C).... (2012: Yup, still do this.)

Bonus Item: SUBSTITUTE, PEOPLE, SUBSTITUTE!!! I have experienced cook friends and family call me now and then and ask: Can I substitute red onions for yellow? Can I use white wine if I don't have sherry? Can I use sherry if I don't have white wine? Chicken thighs instead of breast? Will bourbon work for whiskey? YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN AND OF COURSE IT WILL.
Again, these are some experienced cooks asking. No, of course sherry doesn't taste like white wine. (But onions DO taste like onions)--I can't begin to tell you the recipes I make...when I at times only have half the ingredients. Be bold. You really can't ruin it by subbing one veg for another or one wine for another. (Okay, so there's the time DH wanted a whiskey sour and subbed Scotch for the whiskey? That? THAT didn't work...) (Caveat: The same doesn't hold true in baking, as I bear witness to time and again in my rough attempts at baking...Baking is for is not!)

So now tell me: What rules do YOU break??

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mac and Cheese Anyone? (The evolution of a recipe)

I knocked it out of the park with the mac and cheese this weekend. I made the most awesome mac and cheese and I didn't have an awful lot of the ingredients in the recipe, which was in Best Recipes.

So let's call that a jumping off point--and a good lesson in not letting something like INGREDIENTS keep you from making a finished dish (Caveat: This doesn't apply to baking. Be precise, please, or you'll get my failed scone of last Thursday)...

1. Whir about 4 slices of whole wheat bread in a food processor. Toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter and place in 350F oven on baking sheet. Forget them until you smell ...toast. Run to rescue them. Some will be toastier than others. Remove from oven. Stir crumbs well. No one will notice the "toastier" ones.
2. Cook whole pound of elbow macaroni. Cook VERY al dente. Drain, toss with olive oil and keep guests from eating it plain if you can (you only need half a pound, so you don't have to be too militant).
3. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in sauce pan over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of flour. Realize you don't have any milk. Mix up skim milk from milk powder. Slowly add about 3 cups of milk to roux (that's your butter/flour mix), stirring well to keep lumps out. Cook until thick. Remove from heat. Add about 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and heaping teaspoon of grainy Dijon mustard. Whisk to cool a bit. Whisk a whole egg in a small bowl, then add it slowly to the white sauce (bechamel), whisking as you do so the egg doesn't scramble.
4. Grate all the cheese in the house. This means you'll grate about 6 ounces cheddar and 4 to 5 ounces Monterey Jack.
5. Butter small baking pan, one just large enough to hold 1/2 pound cooked mac (just checked: this pan is 11x7 inches by about 2 inches deep). Add 1/2 pound cooked macaroni to saucepan with bechamel. Stir in almost all of the cheese, stirring until cheese is melted. Pour this all into the prepared baking pan. Top with the little bit of cheese you held back and top this all with the bread crumbs.
6. Place macaroni in oven for about 30 minutes until bubbling. Eat. Eat lots. And talk about how your daughter just ate FRIED mac and cheese as an app. And know that it would taste so good, but right now, this is just perfect.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Movies that Inspired My Blogging

Pistachio and Rosewater Ice Cream

When I looked at the title, I wrote movies but I THOUGHT "other blogs." I've been blogging for a while, so this one, Julie/Julia was the blog first, the movie second. I was a big fan of the blog and it was Julie's blog that finally had me in the store asking for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. (I don't know if you can even find the original blog, but the book is pretty much the blog.) I loved the blog, the book and the movie.

There aren't many others that inspired my blogging. There are plenty that inspire my writing in general, though.

So here are four other food-related movies that have inspired me to love what I write about food even more:

Big Night. This is one of my all time favorite movies. A huge spread is planned by a pair of brothers who own a struggling-but-fabulous restaurant. Louis Prima is to be the guest of honor. This movie is all about food and love. The final scene? Still gives me chills as I write these words, it is that loving and lovely and perfect.

Chocolat. Ah. The magic of food and the wonders it can work.

Tampopo. In search of the perfect noodle. Perfect for me because it is about food and, more precisely, PASTA.

It's Complicated. Not about food at all, but the garden in this movie? To die for (I am convinced each fruit/vegie/whatever was probably wired onto the plants for the shots, it is that perfect. Still, a girl can dream.).

And now, not a movie, but a book that inspired me to cook: Language of Baklava by Diane Abu Jaber. In fact, it inspired cooking and blogging about cooking here (rosewater and pistachio ice cream) and here (falafel) and about the book itself, here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Photo Sunday

Just a little beauty for the day...Sunrise

Saturday, May 5, 2012

This Caught My Eye

 Happy Saturday. It's Derby Day--have a mint julep on my behalf. I hope you bet on the winner. Don't ask me who I am betting on. I have a track record of picking the LAST horse.

In the meantime, here's a Saturday round-up, a few posts--some from Blogathoners, others not-- and articles that stuck with me this week:

Will Your Blog be Obsolete? Our blogs aren't exactly collected letters, are they? Who will remember what we wrote? Who will be able to even READ what we wrote?

Social Media Wills? Are you KIDDING me? I have enough to worry about.

The Scale of Things. Whoa.

Women Afraid Of Math? We don't think so.

Annie C. Logue ALWAYS makes me smarter.

Wow. Even 6-year-old boys get the (bad) media message.

And since I am now a jogger, this from two minutes ago:
Joggers Live Longer

Friday, May 4, 2012

New Old Things: Watercolors and "The Artichoke Series"

About six years ago...well, seven or eight years ago, really, because I had not painted since we left Kentucky. Way back, I was doing watercolors with a fabulous teacher named Aline Barker. This was in Louisville, Kentucky. Hindsight and a few more classes have shown me how lucky I was to have learned from her. I LOVED watercolors.
Then I stopped.
But this year, I swore I would start painting again, and I have started again. The downside is that I may never again have as experienced a teacher as Aline. The upside is just that I am painting again and learning (all over) again. But that's okay. I often paint on Friday mornings, so my plan is to share what I've done with you here.
Be kind!
Painting requires so much "other" energy--creative energy that maybe you leave behind (many of us do, I think) as a child, when you just find joy in creating something from nothing, in putting colors on the paper. I try to find that and try not to be too self-critical when I paint. And one day, maybe I'll find "my" style.
For now, I'll just keep painting because I love it.

This week, I share my artichokes. The first one was done with watercolors and I was copying a label I saw in the grocery store (inspiration everywhere!). The second was from the same label, but I used watercolor pencils, which I had never played with before--FUN.
The third is from a photo a facebook friend posted. As I noted to someone else, I obviously need to work on spatial relationships, and I will attempt this one again, but for now, I call it Artichokes in Space. I crack myself up.

And please share with me what YOU do that takes you away from your normal routine? What puts you outside of yourself, even if it's only a little bit?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'll Never Learn

Welsh Batch NOT Scone
You know that definition of insanity about doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome?
Hm. That's me and baking.

Now repeat after me:
Baking. Takes. Time.
Baking. Takes. Care.

This morning, a few friends were coming over, and I decided to make a Welsh Batch Scone, which I have made a GAZILLION times before. By hand.

Today, clever me thought I would cut the butter in using the food processor, because that does such a nice job of cutting butter into flour for a short pastry.

I did that.

Should have stopped at that point, turned the mixture into a bowl and finished gently by hand. But NO. I just tossed the few remaining ingredients into the mixer and proceeded to process the shit out of it.

This, apparently, cannot be done. Well, not if you expect a light, crumbly scone. However, if you would like a dense, greasy with butter scone, well then, I'm your girl.

Two friends tasted it and persuaded me to cut it and serve it anyway and leave out the part about it being a scone. They are very kind and loving friends.

Do as I say, not as I do: do not EVER overmix a short batter or crust.  Ever.

Here's a link to the recipe. Done right, this is truly simple and simply delicious.

Next time I'll remember. No, I really will!!
(If you are prone to kitchen disasters, you should check out Charmian Christie's Kitchen Disasters and Fixes, a new app... )

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Five New Things

Day Two of anything is easy to show up for, but harder to follow through on. And today is that day.
Here are five new things I've tried in the last year that I've decided I absolutely love. Doesn't it amaze you that you can turn around and find out there's something new for you to learn? It amazes me for sure.

1. Frozen Grapes. Okay, minor obsession. To the point I can't really have them in the house too much because I will eat the entire bunch. No, I'm not joking. One pound? Easy. Two pounds? Mmmhmm. I hazard a guess that I might even be able to eat three pounds...I can't help it! But there is something so satisfying--icy cold, the snap of the skin, then the give of the crystallized grape inside. It's like eating bite-sized, grape flavored (REAL grape flavor!) popsicles from Mother Nature. Yes, they are that good. Buy a bunch, wash, dry, freeze. Thank me later.

2. Reynolds Super-Strength Heavy Duty Foil. Okay, I am in no way affiliated with the company. I bought the heavy duty foil because it was cheaper than the same size roll of the regular stuff. Who am I to ask why? But I WILL save even a dime if I can--and the difference here was more like a dollar.

I will never go back. Do you have any memory of your mom or dad or grandparents saving foil? Washing it, smoothing it and then using it over and over again? THAT'S THIS STUFF. It lasts and lasts. I LOVE this stuff.

3.Medaglia d'Oro instant espresso powder. There is a chocolate creaminess to the stuff that no other instant powder--and few real coffees--have. I cannot explain it, but I love it. My house is now never without it.

4. Rice cooker. Okay, I have to admit, I fought this--I don't do gadgets. Then I inherited one with my new apartment (it just got left behind)'s a tiny one, but I LOVE throwing rice and water in and then walking away. Mind you, that is almost what you do with rice stove-top, but this never burns--when it is done, the cooker keeps the rice warm, it frees up a burner and it's non-stick, so I have an easy clean-up. I've been eating a lot of rice lately.

5. Milk Chocolate. There. I've said it. Okay, this is hardly new, but with everyone talking about how much they love love love dark chocolate, I've realized *I* really love milk chocolate. Good milk chocolate. The kind that just seems to melt and linger...Mm. I even have a favorite brand, Guittard, which is hard to find. Once I found it at a Target near me...I bought a lot.

Want to make some great chocolate chip cookies with Guittard? Check out Domestocrat's blondies, who took the loving shot of the bag of real milk chocolate chips...(Domestocrat also loves photography--when you love food, too, you take loving shots of things like bags of chips...Take some time to page through her lovely blog--and Domestocrat, maybe we can recruit you to our Blogathon 2013 in a year's time!!)

6. Bonus! I know I said five new things, but I kind of cheated with the milk chocolate, so I have to tell you about the best cookies I've ever tasted--ha, and they happen to be covered in dark chocolate (oops. so what if I said I love milk chocolate? See #5 above!). Marks and Spencer makes this extra-chocolaty ginger biscuit.

Best cookie in the world. After writing this post, I had to go and splurge on a pack. They are hidden. And I won't say where.

 A sharp ginger snap with added crystallized ginger absolutely drenched in a cloak of good dark chocolate. At $5 a box, they are too expensive, but when they went on sale near me for $2 a box? Okay, I think I bought eight boxes. Hm. Look! I'm not the only one. She Bakes and She Cooks loves them too...

Let me hear what YOU love--kitchen, non-kitchen, it doesn't make a difference. What's out there that we need to know about?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Welcome Back..Blogathon 2012

Welcome back to the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon and Babette Feasts, now since I had a bit of a misfire and LOST THE name. (Do me a favor and don't visit babettefeasts dot com. Don't give it page views. I have asked for it back, since I've been doing business as Babette Feasts for YEARS, but there were no replies to the requests. I think I might be written by a machine...I digress.)

Change your bookmarks, anyway, to the new (yes, here it is again:

Hope to fill the month with tasty treats, photos and now, coming to a blog post near you, WATERCOLORS of ...well, of food (hah. funny. The thing I can paint best?'s true. That's my Artichoke.)

Last May was a sad month for me. 20 days into the Blogathon, my brother died, and that took over the remaining month. The heartache is still there, but I try hard to remember the good times. The anniversary date will be painful, but I hope this month is filled with plenty of joy, too.

Since this is the opener, and because I am proud of this little essay, here's something I posted a few months back that has to do with food, David and good memories. If you read it when I posted before, thanks for still visiting through the year...If it's your first read, I hope you like it.

My "little" brother David died very suddenly this past May. He was 47.

David was a real intellectual. He had big ideas and frankly, I am sure I didn't always even understand what he was talking about, and we often butted heads over ideas and issues. But we did share one passion: cooking. Any heated debates were quickly forgotten at the dinner table when we--quite literally--broke bread. We would thoughtfully taste, chew and discuss the merits of the loaf at hand, no matter what we'd been arguing about during the day. 

David was a bread baker better than any of us, his recipes spreadsheets (formulas, really, weighing in humidity, type of wheat, etc.) that I didn't really understand. In fact, we found his spread sheets on bread and those are pages I will treasure always. Even if I can't bake from them.

Early in the year, in February, I got an email from David asking for savory chocolate recipes. He was on his way to a Slow Food dinner in Redlands, California, where he lived, and the theme was chocolate. He was determined to do something different. 

I had just written a short online piece about where to find great chocolate recipes and one website had stuck with me, a site with a lot of savory dishes. After we traded a few ideas talking about possibilities, he tweaked a recipe, making corn cakes topped with his own version of Mexican mole-style chicken and some cheese. 

His report back captures David's personality for those of us who knew him and still makes us chuckle, especially reading of his scorn for American cheese "food":
Topped a tablespoon of cornbread batter with a bigger spoon of the chicken mix.  Topped that with a modest amount of mozzarella cheese since I had some handy already shredded -- bad move; should have used the local Monterey jack I bought for the purpose, which is very tasty, or had I thought of it, better still would be supermarket-humble Havarti (which is a great American cheese, IMO, if inexpensive and widely least it's cheese compared to prevalent and therefore so-called American "pasteurized-process cheese food").  15 minutes in the oven and they were done.

He signed off "mangia, mangia."

Three months after those emails, I found myself in his house, my first time in Redlands, but he wasn't there. His death was heartbreakingly sudden and being there was unspeakably sad and difficult.

We spent a week at his house, cleaning it out, preparing details of the memorial we would hold, sometimes finding laughter in our memories, admiring his garden full of wildflowers, touching pots and pans he touched, always aching for his presence.

One day I peered into the freezer and found a batch of little corn cakes, wrapped in foil and plastic, perhaps a little freezer burned. I knew exactly what they were. I pulled them out, heated them up and had a couple for lunch one day, remembering the process, remembering David, and happy to taste, one last time, one of his creations.