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This article from last week’s New York Times is interesting. It basically makes the case that clutter is often a symptom of a deeper neurological condition. This could finally provide a physical basis for what Meghan often calls “male pattern blindness.” (Credit goes to Steve’s mom for that phrase.)
So first I guess I should clarify my title. While I do leave the “house” for work everyday, I still consider myself a house-spouse. I guess that just means that I try to pay attention to things like household cleaning, cooking, organization and interior decor. I am however, genetically disinclined to do these things well. That’s why I have to come up with tricks and distractions for cleaning.
So here’s my first tip- save up podcasts to listen to while cleaning. Yesterday I had to do a lot of sweefering (that’s the process of sweeping dirt into piles using a Swiffer-ish device- feel free to use the term yourself) so I loaded up my iPod with the latest episode of The Best Show on WFMU and the time just flew by. Try it- I’m sure you’ll agree.
Be on the look out for posts from the spouse, Andrew. I’ve just added him as a contributor to this blog in preparation for the awesome changes that are soon to come! He and I are partners in house-spousing, so I thought he should do some writing for the blog. You should see him go with a swiffer mop! (He’s also the man responsible for most of the photos that appear with my posts.)
So it’s 10:25 in the morning, New Year’s Eve, and I’m still in my husband’s snuggly robe, unshowered, unexcercised, unmotivated. The mission is to ready the apartment for a mini soirée, which means cleaning and cooking and running errands. We haven’t even unpacked from our trip to LA, yet! Andrew had to work this morning, and as I’ve said, I’m severely unmotivated, hence the sense of impossibility surrounding the mission.
I suppose it’s nothing a little jog around the neighborhood can’t fix. That is, if I can at least up myself out of this chair to put on my make-shift cold-weather running clothes.
This is the first time I’ve had people over and have done so little planning! We’ll definitely have an odd assortment of foods: desserts and snacks, sweets and sides. I’m thinking I’ll order a few dishes from Hema’s and prepare some of those bacon-wrapped stuffed jalepeños that I made when there was still hope for the Bears (I’ll admit that I’m a fair-weather fan by proxy). Then there are the cupcakes from last night, and I intend to slice up that filo pie. I think that I need a few other things, but I’m not sure what. Clearly, serving foods that go well together is no longer an option. I’m racking my brain for more delightful savory snacks. Nigella has a recipe for Irish Blue Crackers I could try (a bit obsessive of me, no?), and stuffed mushrooms are always a nice classic, but with the cleaning I have ahead of me, I’m wondering if I’ll pass out from exhaustion before guests even arrive!
When I get like this, all spinny and out-of-control, I have to make a list of everything I want to get done. Then, I star the priorities and start with those. Once those things are checked off, I can move on to the other things, which I’ll probably also prioritize. The most most important thing when faced with little time and a lot to do is to recognize that it’s not the end of the world if it’s not all accomplished.
What I like best about this recipe is the process of burning the butter. Perhaps because it feels like intentional rule breaking. I recall that when I was younger and making my first attempts at baking, my mother would caution me to take care not to burn the butter lest I waste expensive ingredients (which I did quite often, usually resulting in temporary banishment from her kitchen).
I’m still quite clumsy when it comes to measuring out sugar, butter and flour. Andrew refers to my state while cooking as my “kitchen zen,” but when I’m baking I’m just as bumbling and awkward as I was the first time I made “cookies” and they emerged from the oven, globs of mess rather than disks of delight, stuck solidly to a cookie sheet that eventually was just pitched because it was too hard to clean.
But I’m trying, really trying, to lose the baking woes and morph into Nigella’s notion of “a domestic goddess, trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie in [my] languorous wake,” a “cross between Sophia Loren and Debbie Reynolds in pink cashmere cardigan and fetching gingham apron, a weekend alter ego winning adoring glances and endless approbation from anyone who has the good fortune to eat in her kitchen.”
Here is my latest attempt. My thoughts on how the cupcakes turned out follow the recipe.
for the cupcakes:
1/2 c plus 2 T unsalted butter
3/4 c self-rising cake flour
3 T sugar
5 T light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
2-3 T milk
for the icing:
1/2 c plus 2 T unsalted butter
1 2/3 to 2 c confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 T milk
Preheat the oven to 400 F and then get on with burning your butter (I love the way Nigella writes out her recipes!). Put it in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring all the time until it turns a dark golden color. This will take about 10 or so minutes. Because I’m a dork, I really enjoy this process, watching the butter go through all these weird states as it cooks. Take the pan off the heat and strain the butter into a bowl or cup, as it will have made a sediment.Line a sieve with a coffee filter or two unfolded paper napkins. In other words, this is like clarified butter, but with a smoky note. Let the butter solidify again but don’t put it in the refrigerator; you need it to remain soft for the cupcakes. Guilty! As the night wore on, I needed to speed up the process some. Just be mindful to keep checking on the butter that it doesn’t become hard.
When the butter is solid but still soft, put all the cake ingredients except the milk in a food processor and blitz into a smooth batter. As normal, add the milk down the funnel, pulsing sparingly to form a soft, dropping mixture. OR, cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour between each. Fold in the rest of the flour, adding no baking powder, and when all’s incorporated, add a little milk as you need.
Divide among a 12-cup muffin pan lined with paper baking cups, and cook for 15-20 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, get on with the icing. It’s the same procedure for the butter––burn, strain, solidify––then beat it with half the sugar or enough to make it stiff. Add tablespoons of milk and the remaining sugar alternatively to reach a good consistency, and finally the vanilla.
My cupcakes tasted a touch eggy to me, but I find this to be true with most baked goods. The eggs always stand out to me. Also, while I loved the flavor of the burnt butter, the icing is really really sweet to me. Like eggy-ness, this is most often the case. I’m certain that a more seasoned baker would have the finesse to turn these into perfect mouthfuls of sweetness.
Andrew and I returned yesterday to icy sidewalks and brisk air after a week of sunshine and sixties in Los Angeles. My Vitamin D levels are up, and I’m certain this elevated mood will last for at least a few days.
Just before we left, I got to open two Christmas gifts (so as to avoid lugging gifts to and from California): a stand up Kitchen Aid mixer and Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. Opening gifts was bittersweet because while I was thrilled with these two new kitchen additions, I knew I’d have to wait an entire week to use them. Last night, after a full day of travel (and a loss of two hours), exhausted we ordered Thai from our fave neighborhood spot and planned for the morning a re-stocking grocery run.
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1/4 tsp ground cumin)
1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, finely diced
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground coriander (or 2 T fresh cilantro, finely chopped)
3 plump zucchini
generous 1/2 c basmati rice (I used brown basmati and cooked it about half way before starting)
2 1/4 c vegetable stock
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained
scant 1/2 c melted butter
7 ounces filo pastry dough
Preheat the oven to 400 F and put in a baking sheet.
Gently fry the cumin seeds and onion in the olive oil until soft (or, if using the ground cumin, wait to add it with the rest of the spices). Add the tumeric and coriander (if using cilantro, add it at the very end, with the chickpeas). Dice the zucchini (unpeeled), add them to the onions and cook on a fairly high heat to prevent the zucchini becoming watery. When they are soft but still holding their shape, add the rice and stir well, letting the rice become well coated in the oil. Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring while you do so. When all the liquid has been absorbed the rice should be cooked, so take it off the heat, stir in the chickpeas, and check the seasoning.
Brush the insides of an 8-inch spring form pan (unfortunately, mine is a 10-inch pan, meaning my pie turned out shallower) with some of the melted butter. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with 3/4 of the filo, buttering each piece as you layer. Leave a little filo overlapping the sides, and keep 3 to 4 layers for the top. Carefully put in the slightly cooled filling, and then fold in the overlaps. Butter the last layers of filo and scrunch on top of the pie as a covering. Brush with a final coat of butter, and put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the filo is golden and the middle hot.
I served the pie for dinner with orange slices and a salad with yogurt dill dressing. I’m looking forward to a room temperature slice for a savory breakfast.
Mondays are good days. I don’t care what the Bangles say, Mondays are my days. It’s the day I get the chance to start the week right. I go to the gym, I eat right, and I get so much school work done. By Tuesday, I’m skipping out on exercising, having second helpings and coming up with excuse upon excuse not to work on pending research papers. But Monday. I love Mondays.
Last night, before heading to the gym (I was so good), I prepared a spinach salad courtesy of Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday. The inclusion of bacon was totally off set by the fact that I used an entire bag of baby spinach for one meal. Do you know how much iron and folic acid that is? You don’t need a multivitamin when you’re eating that much fresh spinach for dinner.
So here’s the recipe. Make it. I think we have a regular Monday night meal on our hands.
Roasted Mushroom Salad with Spinach and Bacon
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Scatter onto a baking sheet
8 thick slices of bacon cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
Sprinkle on top of the bacon and put into the center of the oven
4 cups sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
1 large red onion, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
Stir after about 10 minutes, then cook another 10 more minutes, or until the onion is richly browned and the bacon is fully cooked.
While all of that is cooking, combine in a bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds
8 cups (approx. 8 oz) salad spinach
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
Sprinkle the mushroom mixture over the spinach, then drizzle the warmed dressing on top and toss to combine. Serve right away.
Real Simple’s Web exclusive this week features 14 recipes for quick, easy and belly-warming soups ranging from an ultra-basic French onion to a slightly more exotic spicy sweet potato and coconut and everything in between. Even if you’re not a recipe follower (and who really needs to be with soups?), these are good for a little inspiration and can definitely be improved upon.
Lack of time and interest in long and/or involved culinary projects made the French onion, the simplest soup of all, stand out. Also, the inclusion of French fried onions in the recipe. My husband loves these things, and yes OK so do I. We’re not doing a traditional dinner for Thanksgiving this year (i.e., no green bean casserole!), so I jumped at another excuse to buy them. I used Jarlsberg instead of Swiss and cut the recipe in half (to avoid left overs and over eating). The Jarlsberg is on hand thanks to a tip on another onion soup recipe.
This was an out-of-the-ordinary morning. We didn’t get up until 10:30 a.m. Then, we laid on the couch for another half hour and talked about the weird dreams of making pancakes I had last night and how I was going to give up meat for a while. In my crazy pancake dreams, I was trying to cook in someone else’s kitchen for a group of people I barely know. I was attempting to cook on a griddle heated by a tea light candle and trying (and failing) to chop walnuts with a plastic butter knife. Finally, someone came in and in a rage threw the “griddle” at the wall, destroying what little progress I had made. I threw my hands up, walked into the room where the people for whom I was cooking were watching the same movie on about three or four different laptops (because there wasn’t a TV big enough for them all to crowd around). I told them that if they wanted to eat, we’d have to order out or just go out. One of them, the woman whose kitchen I was cooking in, got up and said, “Oh, I can come help.” So, I was doomed to keep attempting these blueberry walnut pancakes.
Fortunately, the pumpkin pancakes I made this morning were a success. I prepared them in my own kitchen and only for myself and Andrew. When he ran out to get some maple syrup and soy milk, I brewed some coffee in the French press and whipped up some orange nutmeg “butter” with Earth Balance, orange zest and freshly grated nutmeg.
Although I tend to drool over quiches and omelets, I was really happy with how these guys turned out. They were a little soft in the middle, sort of like pumpkin pie filling (which we love), but not so much that they seemed raw (which we don’t love). A pat of that orange “butter” and a drizzle of maple syrup made them just sweet enough.
Vegan Pumpkin Pancakes
Combine in a medium bowl
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
Juice of half an orange
1 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 – 2 cups unsweetened soy milk
In a separate, larger bowl whisk together:
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 – 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp sugar
Make a well in the dry ingredients into which you’ll pour the wet ingredients. Whisk together until blended, adding more soy milk as needed.
Ladle desired amount of batter onto a lightly oiled griddle. Cook pancakes until edges begin to brown and bubbles form on top. Flip and allow to cook for 3 to 4 more minutes. Serve hot with the orange nutmeg butter and maple syrup. They’re great with a side of sliced apples.
Note: These pancakes are not very sweet. If you’d like them sweeter, add more sugar to the dry ingredients or just use more maple syrup.