Saturday, September 30

A Saturday Morning in Echo Park

This morning I was hanging out in Echo Park with Mel as we waited for the truck to get detailed. What should have taken three hours took five and resulted in a minor sunburn. But in truth is was a lovely way to spend a morning, sitting on a bench, looking at the fountain,

reading a british mystery novel for work. Occasionally another dog would come by and if it was a friendly dog it would play with Mel for a while. One body checked her into the lake. She doesn't swim and I think she was surprised to discover that she sinks. I pulled her out and now she's much more respectful of the lake.

All morning some folks were setting up a stage on the lawn and periodically blasting Chris Isaac. When it sounded like bands were actually beginning to play around noon, we wandered over and discovered the 2nd annual Echo Park Music Festival. This was one of the bands.

As you can see attendance was low, but I'm thinking it was because the hipsters were all still asleep.

When we left the park we passed the lotus garden, which is past its prime.

I think those are seed pods left over from the blooms.

A few blooms still remained so the season isn't completely over, just getting close.

It's days like these that make me really happy to be living where I'm living.

Friday, September 29

All Better

Two weeks later and I now have a new windshield, hood and headlight.

In other news, Bryan thinks I'm getting obsessed with baking bread. Moi? Obsessed? Just because I said I was going to read every word on every page of this bread book before I mixed flour and water again? I thought that given how many of my loaves have met their maker, and then been thrown on the compost pile, it was a good idea. He assures me he agrees.

I already know a couple of places I went wrong:

1. FLOUR. I was using regular ordinary Pillsbury Flour from the grocery store. Apparently this is a big mistake as only stone ground organic flour will give you the good tasting old world style breads that I want to make.

2. Temperature! Temperature! Temperature! Apparently this whole baking thing is a VERY PRECISE science, involving not only measuring spoons (which were only added to my repoirte in the past year) but also thermometers. In order to get the yeast to behave just right, it's important to have the correct temperatures for the flour, water and air. Not to mention factoring in you friction factor (which is how much the dough is heated by your individual kneading style). Yikes! So I can't say exactly where I went wrong in the past because all I have is a candy thermometer, and I only used that for the water (with the thinking, 'well it's within 10 degrees of what the package says, that should be fine')

3. Baking Sheet. Silly me for thinking I could use a cooking sheet to bake bread. No in fact I need a piece of stone or brick or tiles to get the crust nice and crunchy.

These things will be gathered before my next attempt. I'll keep you all posted, as I'm sure you're all routing for me right? right? Come'on you know I'm going to show up to the holidays with a loaf of bread, and if I don't have your moral support it will be inedible. Just be glad you're not my guinea pig - I mean husband.

Thursday, September 28

Sourdough Bread - Day 7

And the results are in! This bread is...(drum roll please) A Horrible Failure!

I know. I'm sad about it too. Crushed in fact. Yesterday afternoon I mixed in the salt, dissolved yeast and white flour just like the Greens cookbook told me to. Never before has that cookbook let me down. Until now.

I kneaded the heck out of that dough, with my hands, and then let it rise two hours until it doubled in size.

After it rose I punched it down and formed to round loaves on a corn-meal-scattered cooking sheet.

I made those cuts so that it could rise without becoming misshapen. I think my first mistake in the baking process was I didn't let them rise enough this second round of rising. I went by the 40minute time the book suggested, but the truth was the kitchen had cooled off and in retrospect they should have been given more time to rise.

Here they are right before entering the oven. Note that they did rise some, you can tell how the cuts have separated.

So into the preheated 425 oven they went. I also heated up a pan that I then poured a cup of hot water into, to create steam in the oven.

And the results:

Not bad to look at, but my god, they were the most sour sourdough I've ever tasted! Bryan was home when I pulled them out of the oven and Eva stopped by after they had cooled. I gave them each a taste and each reaction went like this:
"Oh, it's not as bad as you said" They swallow "My god that's sour"
You see the sourness had a way of growing on you as you chew and swallow. Somehow it just kept getting more and more sour in your mouth. Not like a rancid kind of sour, more like a super-condensed Sourdough sour. It didn't help that as per usual my bread was too dense.

Mel didn't seem to mind though; she was ready for her piece, and she didn't complain that it was too sour.

So after a week's worth of work (Bryan reminded me that most of that work consisted of my sniffing my starter and exclaiming how wonderfully it was fermenting - I like to pretend I know what I'm doing) I'm back to square one.

I was feeling very depressed about this bread baking disaster and about my general inability to bake a decent loaf, when I went to the mailbox and found this:

For a minute I couldn't figure out what someone in Wyoming could possible be sending me, but then I remembered that I had recently made a purchase on Amazon (which also lead to my recent selling of my soul for corporate profit).

I tore open the package and found my ray of hope

He promises to walk me through making a classic country-style heath loaf step by step, in such a way that even I, a proven failure at bread, will be successful. Daniel Leader, I'm in your hands, lead me to bread making greatness. (and yes, that is an iron scorch mark on our ironing board cover, we can't all be brilliant in all aspects of domestic godessness)

Tuesday, September 26

Sourdough Bread - Day 6

I was SO READY to bake bread today. I've been waiting almost a week for my starter to be ready and today it was nicely bubbly and I knew it was finally ready. So I cracked open the Greens cookbook, turned to the country french bread page and read what I was to do next to have my bread ready for tonight.

I've been thwarted.

It turns out that after making a starter, it suggest that you then make a sponge, which takes a day to sour. Sigh. OK so the recipe calls for 2 cups of starter, which is all the starter I've made. To that I added 3 1/2 cups of warm water and then 4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour.

This creates a sponge batter, which will sour until tomorrow. In order to make sure it only takes until tomorrow and not longer, I followed their suggestion to place it in the oven with only the pilot light on.

Apparently tomorrow I'm supposed to remove 2 cups to replenish my starter, but since I've used up all my starter I guess if all goes well I'll take that bit and use it to build up a new starter. This is all so complicated, how did anyone manage to feed themselves before Gelson's and Trader Joe's?

Sunday, September 24

Sourdough Bread - Day 4

I had been regularly stirring in the crust of my starter, as the book said to, until I realized it was all crust. Fortunately it was also time to feed the starter, which I did with a cup of water and a cup of wheat flour. The crust dissolved into the batter. It's beginning to bubble and definitely smells sour. A couple more days of this and I may just have a starter that's ready to use.

Saturday, September 23

I've Sold Out

That's right. Corporate America came knocking on my door, and I not only answered, I served tea and cookies. I'm such a bad anarchist.

As you may have noticed, there are now ads on my site. The good news is that I didn't bend to the will of google and put on adsense ads. Instead I chose to back Amazon, because, quite frankly, they've never done me wrong and we order a lot of great used books thru them, like the bread baking book I just bought.

Here's the deal, there are links to a few of my favorite items, and there is also a link to the store in general on the right sidebar. Since I'm writing this blog mainly for friends and family, I was hoping you'd do me the favor of using my site as a portal when you want to buy something from Amazon. Just come here first and click a link to Amazon.

Thanks. I appreciate it. And so does Corporate America. Here's to widening the gap.

Friday, September 22

Sourdough Bread - Day 2

Day 2 finds my starter starting to get a bit stinky.

It's also getting a bit crusty. Though I've regularly "mixed in the crust" as the cookbook tells me to, I'm a little concerned that it's drying out too much before it sours. Fortunately I have this guy to worry for me so I can go about doing other things... blogging.

On a sidenote, that's also what Bryan looks like when I tell him I'm going to do some baking. A holdover from back when I didn't have any measuring spoons and was trying to make muffins from scratch, with no recipe other than my sense of what ought to go into muffins. I had a reputation for a while as a terrible baker. I've gotten better, I swear.

It Must Be Fall ( Veggie Tortellini Soup )

Ok, I know people have been saying it's fall for weeks now, but it's only really settled into fall for me. I think it's my urge to curl under quilts at night that is the real giveaway; or maybe it's that I've been pulling out my sweaters and long sleeves. Either way, there's one thing that's certain, Summer is officially over; which means it's time to make soups! I already posted the recipe for the fabulous Corn and Green Chili Chowder I made last week, and last night I made a wicked (if I do say so myself) veggie tortellini soup.

The bread I made to go along with it left a little something to be desired. OK I'll admit, it was dense. Like throw a slice and end up with a shattered window, dense. Either my yeast isn't working, or I'm doing something wrong. But watch out bread, I know I've failed in the past, but this time I am determined to conquer you. I might even sign up to take a class. I'm getting that desperate. But anyway, back to the soup...

I adapted this recipe from How to Cook Everything and the Williams Sonoma Pasta cookbook. Basically it involves everything I had in my kitchen last night. Here it is:

Veggie Tortellini Soup

8 cups vegetable brother (I made mine from scratch a few nights ago and got made fun of for not using the cubes. It tastes better, I promise)

1 fennel bulb
3 leeks
1 clove garlic
a couple of sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
corn cut from 2 ears
2 medium sized zucchini
2 Tbsp sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 bag Trader Joe's dried cheese Tortellini
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper and Sugar to taste
Parmesan to garnish

Cook the pasta until just al dente, rinse, toss with a splash of olive oil and set aside.

rinse and chop leeks, Dice the fennel bulb (caveat - this was my first time working with fennel so I actually diced the bottom part of 3 big stems, so that I ended up with about the same amount of chopped leeks - anyone have any idea if that's what you're supposed to do with fennel?) and a few lacy sprigs. Saute in about 4 Tablespoons olive oil until they've softened. Make sure you're using your stock pot and not make my mistake of using a pot that's too small. Toss in the corn, garlic and zucchini and saute for a few more minutes. Add the sundried and diced tomato and broth. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and leave at a lively simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the pasta and cook for a few minutes until warmed through. Season well.

Serve with a bit of Parmesan and bread. But not the bread I've baked. Not yet at least. Not until I defeat the bread recipes.

This recipe is very much Bryan-approved, especially if it goes along with watching Noir movies on the couch, which last night, it did.

Thursday, September 21

Sourdough Bread - Day 1

I am currently embarking on the most potentially terrifying baking experiment to date, namely: making sourdough bread. Here's the thing about sourdough bread, it's my favorite, but it also requires you to mix flour and water and let that sit out for three days and sour. Gross. So yesterday I mixed up some flour and water (I believe the ratio was 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flower to 1 cup water). It's now sitting on my counter, souring.

I remember one summer my mom was baking a lot of bread in her bread machine. At one point she decided to try to make sourdough and my memory is a little fuzzy on this, but I believe the starter turned green. And she had to feed it everyday. So if my sourdough started turns green and starts singing "Feed me Seymour" I think I'll follow her example and toss it out. Stay tuned for further updates on the process.

Tuesday, September 19

Irrigation Works!

Back in February when Bryan and I first attempted to tame the garden, there were several incidents of shovel and irrigation PVC pipe meeting and shovel winning over plastic. Needless to say, we've been hand-watering the garden ever since, much to the distress of some of the plants.

At one point I thought I'd take it upon myself to repair our blunders, only to almost throw out my back trying to pull off the broken coupling from the PVC pipe. Later I leaned about the cement used to keep them attached.

The good news is that last weekend my mom and dad visited and while they were here, my dad helped us repair the damage. So now we have sprinklers that work. Like this one:

In other garden news, my white potted flowers, whose name I've already forgotten, are on their third bloom for the season.

The zucchini are chugging along nicely, happy in their new found regular watering.

The tomatoes alas, are dead.

The tomatoes are dead. Long live the zucchini!

Saturday, September 16

So Sad

I can almost understand breaking a window if you're going to steal something. But just smashing my windshield for no good reason? So uncool.

There goes buying plants for the fall.


Friday, September 15

Thursday, September 14

Spinning Dog of Destiny and a Really Good Soup

This is the Spinning Dog of Destiny

And this is the recipe for a the best corn chowder I've ever had. Seriously. It's from Greens (of course). I don't know about you but I think Summer is over. There's a bit of a bite to the night air that wasn't there a week ago and right now I'm sitting at my desk contemplating putting on socks! This is the perfect kind of late summer/early fall comfort soup that we all need some days.

Corn and Green Chili Chowder


Milk heated with herbs

3 1/2 cups milk
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 bay leaf
4 branches parsley
1 branch thyme
One 4 inch branch marjoram
3 Anaheim chilies
8 oz tomatillos
5-6 ears corn
1 cup water
2 Tbsp Butter
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz Muenster cheese, cut into small cubes
cilantro for garnish

Slowly heat the milk with 1/2 the onion and the herbs. Just before it boils, turn off the heat and let it steep, covered, until needed, then strain.
Roast the chilies in the broiler until the skins are blistered. Let cool, peel, remove seeds and cut into small squares.
Bring several cups of water to boil and then turn it down to simmer. Remove papery cover of tomatillos, rinse and simmer in water for 10 minutes. Remove and blend into a puree.
Slice the corn kernels off the cop. Set aside one cup of kernels and blend the remaining with 1 cup of water in two batches. Work the resulting puree through a fine mesh sieve.
Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the remaining onion; cook until softened. Add the pureed tomatillos, corn kernels, peppers and salt. Cook 2 - 3 minutes and add the pureed corn and strained milk. Cook on low for 1/2 hour stirring frequently.
Serve the soup over the cubes of cheese and garnish.

SO TASTY!! The chilies and tomatillos give it a great kick without making it too spicy.

I keep forgetting to have my camera handy when I'm cooking. I'll try harder next time.

The chowder and the spinning dog of destiny are completely unrelated of course, but they did happen on the same day and so they have to share this post.

Wednesday, September 13

A Quilt, Some Photographs and Photographs of a Quilt

Alison just completed this gorgeous quilt/wedding gift.

It's fabulous. I love it. It looks amazing in our home and we've been curling up in it every night on the couch as the summer heat turns into fall evening chills. The woman is amazingly talented, and I'm not just saying that because she's probably my most loyal reader. Her quilts are art. Our family has had a long tradition of quilt-making starting with my paternal grandmother (the one I share with Alison). Actually, it clearly started before that as I've seen some of the antique quilts that have made it thru the years. At any rate, my grandmother used to sew all the grandkids pajamas every year for christmas, as well as make an occasional quilt. When I graduated from high school Grandma made a quilt for me made out of all the flannel pajama fabrics she used over the years. I am happy to report that Alison is keeping the quilting tradition going strong, as you can see from the photos above. Thank you Alison.

On a side note, I know I said I wasn't going to post any pictures of photos we've printed, but that was a big fat lie. I admit it. I'm a liar. I can't help it. I feel the need to share these. The wall of photos above our desks is expanding.

Let me tell's SO MUCH FUN to print 11x14 photos. It's not even funny how much fun it is.

Tuesday, September 12

Zucchini Frittata

Last night I made this quick frittata for the two of us as we were in day-off mode and not interested in doing anything more complicated than sitting either in the sun or on the couch and reading. It's adapted from the Greens cookbook and it's supposed to have a green sauce but the last time I went shopping I forgot those ingredients. Instead I made some fresh salsa to go along with it. For the salsa, in my mini prep I combined 2 tomatoes, 1/2 small red onion, cilantro, a bit of garlic salt, and some S&P. Here's the recipe for the frittata:

Zucchini Frittata

6 eggs
2 oz provolone
2 Tbsp Parmesan
4 med size zucchini, sliced and halved
4 scallions, white with a little green, finely chopped
Olive Oil

Saute the zucchini and scallions in a couple tablespoons olive oil until the zucchini browns.
Beat the eggs and stir in cheese and zucchini mixture.
Heat butter in a skillet on high and pour in mixture when the butter foams. Immediately reduce the heat to med-low and cover. When the frittata is set but runny on the top in the middle, slide onto a plate and flip back into the skillet to finish cooking. Serve with salsa.

It's extremely easy and Bryan-approved. (He really liked how few dishes were involved).

Sunday, September 10

A Year Ago Today

These are in no particular order and I didn't choose them for any particular reason. Just thought some images would be a nice trip down anniversary lane.

There were more but Blogger isn't letting me post them right now.

Saturday, September 9

Birthday Gifts

My birthday was Thursday and to celebrate I spent the whole day out at various gardens taking photos to develop in our new darkroom. I also received these beautiful flowers from my mom.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon developing our first rolls of film and then all night printing them.

Here's my first photo that I took, developed and printed.

It's better in person. Here's the second one and I promise this is the last photograph I photograph because that's just ridiculous.

What's the plan for tonight? More printing!

Friday, September 8

Enough Work...

Mel wants her walk.

Thursday, September 7

Let there be...


Bryan and I decided that instead of going away for our birthdays/anniversary, we would spend that money on the equipment needed to turn our bathroom into a darkroom. I've been traveling a lot lately and just couldn't pack my suitcase one more time and this is something I've always wanted to do.

Bryan didn't know that he wanted a darkroom until he realized that it wasn't just a pipe dream and we actually could afford one. Here's the thing: ever since sophomore year of high school I've wanted my own darkroom to work in, and it's a desire that's built with every intro to photography class I've taken. Bryan's never taken a photography class, but has an incredible eye and loves black and white photography almost as much as movies (and that's a lot).

So I figured that though it's been a good 5 years since the last time I was in a darkroom it would all come back to me. And it has, mostly.

First things first, we had to make our bathroom light proof.

We then assembled the enlarger...

and after a not-so-quick trip to Home Depot (which sucked my soul out) we arranged the chemical trays.

Look how happy Bryan is, and we haven't even made our first print at this point.

But now we have, and here it is in the wash bath!

You know you're jealous.

But you don't need to be. Friends and family are all welcome to use our darkroom anytime. We only ask that in payment you give us a print. We'll even walk you through the process. If we can figure it out...anyone can.

Oh, and now we're officially hooked. Bryan's busy trying to arrange his schedule so that he has the maximum number of night to print without having to work the next morning.

And today to celebrate my birthday, I spent all day at the LA Arboretum taking photos so that I can develop after dinner tonight and print tomorrow. We've officially turned into printing junkies, a not-so-unusual occurrence according to the folks who work at freestyle. I'm not giving up my digital camera yet though. I wouldn't have these photos if it weren't for the digital.

Wednesday, September 6

Eggplant Gratin with Saffron Custard

But let's be serious and call it what it really is: fancy Eggplant Parmesan. I made this last night and it was a HUGE hit with Bryan. Not surprisingly it's out of the Greens cookbook. Normally I shy away from anything with saffron, not because the spice itself is so expensive, but because the flavor can be a bit much for me. But this time it blended really nicely with everything else. I made a simple cucumber-tomato salad to go with it that was also a hit. Here's the eggplant recipe.

Eggplant Gratin with Saffron Custard


2 lbs eggplant
light olive oil for frying
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence
2 1/2 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped OR 1 large can diced tomatoes
Salt & Pepper
Sugar, if necessary
2 eggs
1 cup ricotta
3/4 cup milk or cream
1/8 tsp saffron threads soaked in 3 Tbsp hot water
1/2 cup Parmesan
10 basil leaves, torn
3 oz Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced

Slice the eggplant in 1/2 and then slice into 1/2 inch thick semi-circles. Fry until both sides are colored and remove to a paper towel to drain.

To make the sauce slowly cook the onion, garlic and herbs in the oil for 10 minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook until thickened. Taste for S & P and add sugar if needed.

To make the custard, beat the eggs, stir in ricotta, milk/cream, saffron and Parmesan. Season with S & P.

Preheat oven to 350F. Assemble gratin in an attractive baking disk with 2 inch sides. Spread a little tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish; then lay down a layer of overlapping eggplant. Salt and Pepper the eggplant, and scatter 1/2 the basil and cheese on top. Make another layer of eggplant followed with the remaining basil and cheese and cover with remaining tomato sauce. Pour the custard over the top and bake until the custard has gently swelled and browned, about 40 minutes. Let sit before serving.


Tuesday, September 5

Broccoli with Roasted Peppers, Capers and Olives

I found my way back into the kitchen (much to Bryan's delight - apparently he was tired of frozen meals), and last night I made the following recipe as a side dish to a phyllo strudel with port wine sauce. I know, sounds good right? And it was, mostly, but the recipe needs some work so I'm not quite ready to share it yet.

The side was a hit though and not surprisingly it came from the Greens cookbook (I'm slowly working my way thru remember?)

I, of course, forgot to take pictures until after we'd eaten most of it, but it's pretty simple.

Broccoli with Roasted Peppers, Capers and Olives


1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper
Light olive oil for the peppers
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp capers
12 Nicoise Olive (yeah right, good luck finding those, they didn't even have them at GELSONS!!! - substitute the readily available Kalamata version) pitted
3 scallions, white parts with some greens, finely chopped (I only recently learned, from Alison, that all these years I've been using the wrong part of the scallions - sigh)
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp marjoram, chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
dash of balsalmic vinegar
S & P
1 bunch broccoli (1 1/2 to 2 lbs)

Preheat oven to 400F. Halve peppers and remove seeds and veins. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on baking sheet skin side up. Bake until skins are wrinkled and slightly brown. When they cool, pull off skins and cut into thin strips. Mix peppers with garlic, olive oil, capers, olives (sliced in 1/2), scallions, parsley, marjoram, pepper flakes and balsalmic. Season with salt.

Blanch the broccoli and drain. Combine with the rest of the ingredients and toss together. Taste for salt, add more S & P and Oil and Vinegar if necessary along with a grind of black pepper.

I didn't, but you could add some feta cheese to make it more substantial.