December 29, 2012

My Jam Envy

I admire people who make their own jams and jellies. Everything about the process has charm, like a slightly faded floral quilt and French country-side. Take my friend Eve, those photos of strawberries and neat little jars invoke long summers of childhood. I have not ventured into jam-making so I rely on stores like Mom's to supply me with nearly-as-good as homemade jams and jellies.

So if you don't can, here is your essential jam round-up. First the lingo. Jam, jelly, preserve, spread, marmalade. Jelly is only juice. Spread is a rather new term for jam with too little sugar content. Marmalade is citrus.

First Crofter's. I love the bear on the jar. And the continent-themed fruit spread. Europe here has currants, pomegranate, cherries, and grapes. North America is chock full of blueberries, cranberries, and cherries. South America and Asia are a bit more exotic. It's organic too!

ModernKlatch Jam Envy Crofters
Got some in the fridge and it is going fast!

These jellies and preserves are made by the monks of St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer Mass. Trappist Monks, people! We discovered Trappist jellies on a trip to the Cape.

Trappist Monks Jelly Modern Klatch
We had orange-cranberry (super!) and hot pepper (meh). If you know of a store that sells Trappist outside of Mass, I am on the lookout for quince.

Bonne Maman is my third pick, as much for the jar as it is for the preserves. Bonne Maman is made in France with a label that looks handwritten, as if it was actually made in someone's kitchen. No wildly exotic flavors here, just good old-fashioned strawberry, cherry, apricot. Perfect for a hot scone and a cup of Earl Gray.
Bonne Maman Modern Klatch
What other almost-homemade no-Smuckers-in-sight jams should be added to this list?

December 19, 2012

Holiday Spirits

A glug of good bourbon, a pour of organic soy nog, a dash of nutmeg. Stir and enjoy.

December 11, 2012

New (Old) Crayons

‘Twas the night before Tuesday, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The lunches were packed, counters wiped off with care,
In hopes that weekend soon would be there.

The children were bathed and at last in their beds,
While visions of angry birds danced in their heads.
And mamma, nose-deep in her Pinterest app,
Instead of hitting the treadmill had decided to make projects from scrap.

Yes, that is how it happen. With old broken up crayons and a silicone mold in hand, I embarked on remaking of the crayons. A wiser woman would have poured a glass or yesterday's Chardonnay. And, I might add, melting crayons turned out to be very satisfying and easy.

Look familiar?
I've had a silicone ice cube mold for years but never got around to making sea-shell shaped ice. Bits of crayons went into the mold and into the toaster oven at 200 degrees. Ten minutes or so should melt the crayons. Be careful pulling out the tray, so you don't end up with orange crayon goo all over the toaster oven.

At long last ice-cube silicone tray had a purpose.
I could hardly wait for crayon liquid to cool! Pop, out of the mold came out cute little crayons shaped like shells (hearts or fish would be cute too, no?). Sure, I could buy a box for $3 at Target but would they be as cool as this? You tell me.

Note to self: Melting stuff is fun, must do more often. And invest in more silicone trays for future crayon-making.
That's that. One more thing - stick with high quality crayons and trash the off-brand ones, they just didn't melt well.  

December 3, 2012

Lessons in Marshmallow Making

For starters you may wonder, what on earth processes one to make marshmallows when perfectly puffy ones are available at every store in sight. I wondered the same when I first encountered homemade marshmallows for the first time at my friend Dina's house about a decade ago. And then one day I woke up thinking: "Marshmallows."

Among  the some 5,800,000 or so search results for "homemade marshmallows" I chose this recipe from Martha Stewart - if anybody can do it, Martha can! Plus this version is simple (more about that later) and eggless. But not so fast.

Lesson 1: Sugar Pitfalls On my first try I used powdered sugar rather than plain granular sugar. Big mistake, my friends. Turns out powdered sugar contains starch and my mixture, heated up to just the right temperature, just would not fluff. Instead I ended up with with sticky gross goo.

A few days later I summoned the courage to try again. While my gelatin mellowed in water, I started heating up granular sugar, corn syrup, and the rest of the water with a pinch of salt. With thermometer clipped to the side of the pot I felt like a pro!

Lesson 2: Not all corn syrup is created equal. Plain corn syrup might be ok, but some bottles have caramel color and high fructose corn syrup (there is still debate about the health impacts but I just try and avoid it!).

The mixture begins heating up quickly and then the heating process suddenly slows down. The last ten or fifteen degrees seem to take forever! Apparently that's just what should happen.

But back to the marshmallows. Once the mixture in the pot heated up to the magic 244 degrees "firm-ball consistency," it went in slowly into the water/gelatin swirling in KitchenAid. A few minutes later the mixture in the mixture begun to fluff! The fluffed mixture went into a glass pan generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Lesson 3: this is SERIOUSLY sticky stuff. Don't give the bowl to lick to your kid unless they are headed for the shower. And you may want to pull your hair in a ponytail or something.
Just a few minutes into whipping, I knew that this batch of marshmallows just may work! It quickly turned glossy white and thick.

Let the mixture dry uncovered  for a day or two before attempting to cut marshmallows into squares. Kitchen shears are your weapon of choice. Lesson 4: You are not Martha, you marshmallows will not look perfect, as evidenced by lumpy specimen below.

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

November 27, 2012

Baker's Kitchen: Holiday Ready GF Kitchen

This post is a bit of a departure from posts past. But holiday baking is just around the corner. Last year we had great fun with the virtual cookie exchange. This year will be my first holiday season baking GF-style since we switched to no gluten diet six months ago. So to follow up the last post about baker's arsenal of tools, this post is about the pantry necessities to set up a GF kitchen ready for holiday baking.

Picture source

Gluten-free isn't for everyone and it may not be for you. It is hard before it gets easier.  But many people do give up wheat, beer and barley because of health, allergies, or vanity. And it isn't all THAT hard. There are plenty of excellent recipes and products. Many cooks and bakers who've walked the walk and are willing to share. So there you have it, things to stock up on to bake in style.

The Basics

When I started baking GF style, I just bought a packet of each type of flour. Research came later. But it turns out some types of flour are more indespensible than others. When  you do not use wheat flour, you have to rely on a mixture of several types of flour to bake. Some cooks vary the mixture depending on the recipe, others stick to one tried and true formula, even pre-mixing it it by the batch full. With these on hand you can make just about anything - pancakes, muffins, cookies.
  • White Rice Flour or Sorghum Flour, that's your flour foundation. Both have very neutral flavor.
  • Tapioca Starch and Potato Starch, both are lighter and are mixed in with the heavier flour. Tapioca in particular gives a nice crispiness and improves the texture of the baked goodies.
  • Xanthan Gum - not so very scary, just a tiny bit of xanthan helps ingredients stick together. The other alternative is Guar Gum but from what I hear Guar is better for cold foods, while Xanthan is preferable for baking.
Bob's Red Mill has this nifty bundle to get you started. They offer just about every type of flour you can imagine and are at most stores, I really cannot imagine what we'd do without Bob's Red Mill!

Not to state the obvious but eggs, baking soda, and baking powder come in handy too.

Nice to have
These are some additional ingredients to vary your repertoire and boost the nutrition factor.
  • Almond Flour it is excellent in power-breakfast muffins and desserts and is lower in carbs, higher in protein.
  • Amaranth Flour has a unique taste that you'll either love or not, some call it nutty. It is high in iron and protein.
  • Buckwheat Flour - despite the name, also GF. It is a very heavy flour. We've made blinis and even added it to pumpkin pie mixture.
  • Cornmeal
  • Garbanzo Flour has a very pronounced bean flavor. But surprisingly it works in sweets (I will be attempting Middle-Eastern chickpea cookie this year) and also is the main ingredient in socca, French savory pancake. 
  • Quinoa Flour is super-nutritious but a little goes a long way.
  • Brown Rice Flour is only slightly healthier, but to me it tastes grainy so I pretty much stopped using it.
A few additional flours that I have not yet tried are hazelnut (what can possibly be wrong with that?), soy, and  millet.

Wet and Fat Ingredients
I couldn't give up eggs in my baking but forgoing dairy is easy-peasy.
  • Soy or rice milk do the trick, just one-to-one substitution for regular milk. Coconut milk is also a nice substitution.
  • Coconut oil is amazing and makes the best pancakes ever!
  • Oil, olive, grape, or vegetable, works in most goodies.
  • Vegan shortening doesn't leave the funny aftertaste like animal products. Spectrum seems to be the agreed upon staple.
  • Vegan butter, thought I do not often use it for cooking, is also an easy substitution. And don't be fooled, we use gobs of Earth Balance on toast, it is tasty stuff.
Last by not least, a couple favorite sources to get you started - there are other sources for course but these are the ones that I've turned to again and again:
  • Bob's Red Mill for everything! Most stores actually carrry it.
  • Silvana Nardone's recipies have not steered me wrong! And her cookbook is super.
  • I bake something from Gluten Free Goddess at least once a week!

November 10, 2012

Baker's Kitchen: Most and Least Useful Tools

I've been baking a fair amount. No, scratch that. I've been baking at LOT. Muffins. Doughnuts. Tea cakes. Slowly but surely Klatch kitchen became more functional, more attuned to the baker's needs. The frequently used tools are now within arms reach and we've stocked up on additional baking tins, while other clutter has been relegated to the space above the fridge.

So here is a round up of the best and most undervalued baking equipment and also the items that seemed like a good idea but turned out to be utterly useless.

First, the Hall of Fame.If you have been telling yourself all these years that KitchenAid is only for serious bakers, stop this nonsense and get yourself one. Aqua or bright pink are both formidable options. And if you have one, plant it firmly on your counter and never ever move it (when you do not have to pull it out, you WILL use it). I may one day upgrade to a professional grade with extra juice, but my basic model, black with little specks, has served me well for the past few years.

I have my eye on Kitchenaid ice cream attachment but please skip fripperies like citrus juicer and meat grinder.
Don't underestimate the cookie scoop. This little fella gets a whole lot of use around our kitchen. When handling sticky dough it is the best way to fill up muffins or cupcake cups.

After countless muffins, my cookie scoop met its untimely demise just this morning. I have my eye on this slick one but will probably go with the more practical OXO.

A pretty ceramic pie dish, from France like so many other good things, goes the distance. I have not made an actual pie in some time, but this dish is a standby, whether we are making Sheppard's pie, a crumble, or just need a pretty plate to pile on the veg.
Ceramic pie dish with wavy edge just makes everything more special.

Surprisingly enough, my doughnut pan gets a whole lot of use around here.The thing is, a homemade and baked (rather than deep-fried!) doughnut isn't all that unhealthy. We had doubts, but this doughnut pan is worthy of the cabinet space.

If you are GF like us this pan is a MUST.

On these few things, the jury is still out. Obviously, measuring cups and spoons are very useful. But mine are, well, boring. I am not a fan of over-designed measuring tools but am on the look out for simple, functional, and cute ones to replace the current ones.
how cool are these measuring cups from The Container Store?

c Much of the year I wonder why a cookie press box is occupying valuable real estate in the baking cabinet. It is a one trick pony, if you know what I mean. But then holidays roll around, and I am glad to have spritz cookies, even if it means battling this deceptively simple device.

We are also fully stocked with loaf pans around here. From banana bread to meat loaf, no kitchen should be without a solid set of two (because one just doesn't cut it)l. But this Crueset loaf pan is adorable. It would look lovely next to the previously mentioned ceramic pie dish.
 Now for the overrated category. Don't get me started on the Bundt pan. Don't get me wrong, I like it and it is so pretty, but truthfully, how often does one make a bundt cake? I like my bundt pan and won't part with it, but that pan is lucky to see the daylight once a year.
Maida Heatter's Lemon White Pepper and Ginger Bundt cake is my favorite! Perhaps it is fine time to adapt it and make a GF version!
Cookie cutters are oh-so-pretty, especially the copper ones. But, seriously, how often do you bake roll-out cookies? They never quite turn out with edges slightly over-baked and oftentimes spread out in baking to look like a big doughy blob instead of intended Fleur de Lis or Lobster.

My cookie-cutters are comfortably stashed out of the way.

You might also enjoy last year's cookie posts.

October 24, 2012

Old Friends (from the permanent collection)

Last week I took a day off work. I was not traveling and I did not spend the day on the playground. Instead I headed for the National Gallery of Art. As I made my way through the galleries, I visited some old "friends" and spotted some new works.

I have the softest of spots in heart for Andre Derain's Charing Cross Bridge. I had a print of this work years ago in my very first apartment. Of course no print can convey the vibrant colors and beauty. The pink sky still takes my breath away.

Andre Derain Charing Cross Bridge
André Derain, Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1906, National Gallery of Art, Washington, John Hay Whitney Collection

Just feet away, hangs Tugboat on the Seine by a chum of Derain's, Maurice de Vlaminck. Did friends ever imagine some hundred years ago that their works would hang side by side in museums?

Maurice de Vlaminck Tugboat on the Seine
Maurice de Vlaminck, Tugboat on the Seine, Chatou, 1906, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney

Robert Delaunay's work has a striking resemblance to the style of his wife Sonia Delaunay.  The same flat vibrant color. The same spheres. Surely today they would run a design studio and have their own Target product line.

Robert Delaunay Political Drama
Robert Delaunay, Political Drama, 1914 Gift of the Joseph H. Hazen Foundation, Inc.
On a wall just over is a portrait by the great Pablo Picasso, before he went off the deep end into cubism (I get it, just don't love it). A search for Petrus Manach, an art dealer, doesn't reveal much except this portrait that forever immortalized his likeness. Money well spent, Sir.

Pablo Picasso Petrus Manach
Pablo Picasso, Pedro Mañach, 1901 Chester Dale Collection

Despite the gentle colors, I have always found this work heartbreaking. It is their faces full of sorrow, the thought of what these haunting eyes have seen, their closeness and distance (Gorky's mother died of starvation long before this work was started).   Beautiful, fragile, and tragic.

Arshille Gorky The Artist and his mother

Arshile Gorky The Artist and His Mother Alisa Mellon Bruce Fund
I confess, I have not heard of Lyonel Feininger before this visit, but the movement of this work, drew my eye immediately across the gallery. Dynamic and bright, it shook me out of melancholy of Arshile Gorky.
Lyonel Feininger The Bicycle Race, 1912 Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Yes, I know what I said about cubism, but this work takes breath away (literally, holds you still so to not make too much noise). For its diminutive size it packs a lot in, creating a feeling of standing in the middle of a cathedral and expecting to hear echo. It is fantastic!

Max Weber Interior of the Fourth Dimension, 1913 Gift of Natalie Davis Spingarn in memory of Linda R. Miller and in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art

October 9, 2012

Klatch Kitchen's Fall Bounty

Fall is here. We've carved our first pumpkin. Drank the first cup of hot chocolate. Have been blitzed by acorns from our oak tree. And stocked the kitchen from Mom's and neighborhood Asian supermarket with cozy fall foods.

Not sure why anyone ever badmouths Brussels Sprouts. They must have only experienced them as overcooked bland mush. We roasted our first batch this weekend and Brussels Sprouts will most likely appear among Thanksgiving side dishes at our house.

Simplest and tastiest Brussels: quarter them, drizzle and mix with olive oil, sea salt, cumin, and coriander and roast at 375 degrees 30-35 minutes (just watch closely for golden brown, pulling out before they burn).  
This is no ordinary yam. Korean Sweet Potato (Goguma) is nutty and sweet, more akin to a chestnut's flavor than regular sweet potato.

Baked or roasted, Goguma is a tasty alternative to sweet potato with a unique flavor. Be sure not to undercook it, the texture is too firm and the flavor just isn't there until it is fully cooked.
We carved our first Jack-O-Lantern and toasted the seeds. Our kitchen is the coziest place in the world these days. Don't believe me? Come on over.
Pumpkin Seeds drying off before toasting.
Homemade spiced donuts getting some mileage out of my new donut pan! These are baked and GF (that's inside speak for Gluten Free). Kid folk was over the moon.
A year ago, I couldn't imagine making donuts at home. But it is surprisingly easy once you take the whole deep frying out of the equation. Donuts were especially good just out of the oven.
Chef Matt got me past my prejudice for beets but golden beets are a whole another ball game. For one, there is no staining to deal with. And they are so very pretty. Besides, aren't beets the trendy veg these days? Roasted and tossed in vinaigrette, excellent. 
Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash, rich in beta carotene, iron, and potassium. We've always stuck with butternut and acorn, how very dull. Until now (I mean a squash is a squash, right? How hard can this be?).
Kabocha awaits its fate in my kitchen.
A nod back to the summer, the makings of tomatillo salsa. Tomatillos, onion, lime juice, and jalapeno, into the food processor and done! Spicy tasty salsa to top off anything boring. I must say while the flavor was great, the texture of tomatillo was a turn off. Perhaps green tomatoes next time!
Happy Fall! Drop me a note and tell me what's cooking in your kitchen.

September 24, 2012

Mom's Market Down the Street

Just days ago Mom's Organic Market opened its doors just two stop lights down the street from me. Mom's Organic is like Whole Foods' hipper little sister, slightly cooler and the type of appeal to a country general store shopper, even if a little less posh.

Let me tell you, WF may be bigger but it has nothing on Mom's when it comes to nut butters, non-dairy mayo, and a slew of other products that use to be just for the most crunchy set.

I hear coconut oil does wonders for baking. Send recipes, please.
Our tots were not fooled by the fetching display of radicchio and celery root.
Look at all this bounty! This display inspires one to cook just a bit healthier.
Best of all, the store has a formidable selection of raw, gluten-free, vegan, and otherwise atypical foods. No Twinkies here, friends.
Bob's Red Mill, a staple.

September 12, 2012

Learned Tot: Nutrition

Learned tot knows all about science and math, but also about feelings and nutrition. And when it comes to teaching tots to eat the right foods instead of sugar bombs and nasty chemicals, it is an uphill battle. Lets face it, we all bargain, blackmail, and bribe to get that extra piece of broccoli down.

In desperation to diversify Klatch Tots' diet, we've searched for tools to teach them to eat right and on occasion resort to deception of the most benevolent nature (liquefied spinach in a brownie never hurt anyone!). There is no shortage of nutrition activities and games, trouble is they are unbearably boring. So, here is the round-up that's more palatable. If you have suggestions that do not include food pyramids, send them along!

Play food sets go a long way to talking about healthy foods and "sometimes" foods. We can also hope that pretending to cook and serve a meal will stick with them so that tots learn to prepare and eat healthier foods than consuming a week's worth of saturated fat in one restaurant sitting.
Parent Involvement: VARIES
Does your tot know what jicama is? Eating the Alphabet is a charming little picture book that introduces produce from A to Z and teaches letters in the process. The illustrations are scrumptious and will expand the tot's world beyond bananas and apples. My friend Eve compiled this awesome list of books about food for tots, check it out.
We use this book to talk about foods but also to learn letters and colors.
And this little carrot friend is adorable and snuggly to get the smallest pookies to embrace vegetables.

A sectioned plate become our great ally in the quest for better nutrition, splitting up the plates with thin masking tape, each section to be filled with a different food. But this plate is more fun and according to description BPA free.

Then of course there is trickery. The recipies in this cookbook are fairly ordinary, but the idea of sneaking veg into all kinds of meals from eggs to brownies, is brilliant. And so our children routinly consume brownies with spinach (you just have to let them cool, then you really can't taste it!) and meat loaf with made with pureed pumpkin and covered in ketchup mixed with carrots.

Jars of baby food work just as well if pureeing your own is daunting.

You might also like these Learned Tot resources:

August 26, 2012

From the Highlands

Somehow, I stumbled on the National Galleries Scotland website. In addition to a well chosen and rich collection, the gallery features local talent. Admittedly my knowledge of Scotland's art and artists is lacking but I was instantly taken with the paintings, the sort of paintings that would be easy to live with, reminiscent of the French artists, but more understated.

One of the ‘Scottish Colourists’ is John Duncan Fergusson. The street scene is, well, as street scene. But it is restful to look at even if not completely unique.

John Duncan Fergusson: Rue St. Jaques from National Galleries of Scotland

Another Scottish Colourist - and a friend of John Duncan Fergusson's - is Samuel John Peploe. The flat surfaces reminded me of Cezanne but more sober with grays and blues.

Iona Landscape Rocks Samuel John Peploe
Iona Landscape: Rocks. Samuel John Peploe
 Then there is this still life by William York MacGregor, one of the Glasgow Boys. The bounty is charming and very much reminds me of the modern day farm stand. X-rays reveal that the artist originally painted a girl next to the table of produce but then thought better of it and covered her up. Whatever his reasons, the painting is better for it.

The Vegetable Stall William York MacGregor Glasgow Boys
The Vegetable Stall, William York MacGregor
Lastly a more modern piece, a portrait that caught my eye with its movement and color choices. Learning that the subject is theoretical physicist Peter Higgs (yes, the elusive particle is named for him), made the piece even more intriguing.

Peter Higgs Portrait by Lucinda Mackay
Peter Higgs by Lucinda Mackay
 All the photos are from National Gallery Scotland website. They have comprehensive background on Scottish art (if not Scotland's National Gallery than who?).

August 19, 2012

August: All Things Japanese

As of late we've been admiring all things Japanese everywhere we turn. Take Hokusai's wave. Recently we saw this iconic image for the very first time in person. Despite the crowds clustered in the small gallery, we braved it. The print was diminutive for a work of this magnitude and, perhaps, better admired in solitude, yet it was a sight to behold. Sharp deliberate lines, still vibrant colors, and that odd mixture of two dimensional flatness with a hint of perspective.
Detail from Under the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai. Published by Eiudo. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847). Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, U.S.A. Photo Credit: Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY


By chance, I found myself reading about WabiSabi, Japanese aesthetic that accepts and embraces the beauty in transience and imperfection. The philosophy felt like a calming antidote to overwhelming  consumption and hallow cheap props. All about delicate and understated, rather than grand and showy. I imagine it is about rough linen, weathered wood, slightly uneven pottery. I find myself longing to simplify and declutter.


During the morning commute an unlikely subject came up: haiku. Realizing gaps in our own knowledge we put Siri to work. There is an excellent lesson plan on haiku if you are supplementing your tots learning at home. The itty bitty poems, often with a seasonal reference, pack a surprising emotional punch, a depth of feeling boiled down to three lines. How does one choose the right words to convey complixity and observe humanity?

First autumn morning:
the mirror I stare into
shows my father's face.

~Kijo Murakami

Packing lunches, lets face it, is a bane one one's existence. No doubt Klatch tots will not be opening cute bento boxes to the envy of their tot friends. For now, I will stick with sticking notes into their lunch packs.
Photo: Jason Miller in NYTimes
Until next time!

August 15, 2012

Wednesday: Virginia by Rodger Fry

I haven't posted a Wednesday painting in some weeks so perhaps it is time. The Bloomsbury Group still captures imagination today, a bohemian Olympus of sorts. Artists Rodger Fry by all accounts had a complicated life and was close to both Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf. So behold a portrait of Virginia by Rodger Fry.  He painted her likeness and she wrote his biography.

Virginia Woolf by Rodger Eliot Fry
Copyright:  © Bridgeman Art Library / On Loan to Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery)


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