December 23, 2013

Mince Pies - Part 1 (Filling)

I am new to mince pie making but it seemed just the thing to go with our Olde-Worlde meets Whole Foods gluten-free holiday feast. None of the recipes were quite right. Some called for "good quality ready made mince" oblivious to realities of the New World - a sad dusty little jar of mince at the bottom of the grocery store shelf. Does that count as good quality?

Other recipes had precise measurements in metric system or called for beef suet (tradition or not, I am not prepared to bake with beef fat). It was time for desperate measures - winging it. 

All the recipes boiled down to dried fruit, apples, spices and brandy. On to the the mince.

Gobs of dried fruit and spices
So into the pot went:

  • Loads of golden raisins
  • Handfuls of prunes chopped up
  • Dried chopped apricots, not too many
  • Chopped dry figs
  • A baggie of dried cherries
  • 2-3 tart chopped apples (mine were Granny Smith)
  • 2-3 Meyer Lemon juice and zest 
  • Juice of an orange and zest
  • Spices: cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg
  • Some dark molasses
  • In the absence of brandy, in went Cointreau (but later, once the fruit is close to being done)

Into the pot the goodies go, stir and cook, smell the goodness. Here is what did not go into the pot - no beef or any meet products and no sugar. Most recipes called for extra sugar but dried fruit are so sweet that sugar seemed an overkill.

Mince smells and tastes like Christmas.
Next step pie crust. Good luck to me!

December 13, 2013

Magic Macaroons

Macaroons are magic - they are easy, gluten-free, and universally beloved (except by coconut haters). So, without further ado, on to to the macaroons. This recipe is courtesy of Danny Macaroons.

This is the plain old regular macaroon version but I see salty caramel and spiced pumpkin in our future. And the recipe couldn't be simpler. Pop your oven on to 350 and start gathering your ingredients. Arrange the said ingredients in an artful way - 14 ounce standard issue back of sweetened shredded coconut (make sure it is sweetened!), 14 ounce can of sweet condensed milk, 2 egg whites and a pinch of salt. A dash of boozy vanilla doesn't hurt either.

making macaroons - gluten-free!
This was a double batch.
Add salt to egg whites and whip them. There are different schools of thought on whether it is better to use cold or room temperature egg whites. Mine were cold and whipped well. Oh here is a tip, use a mixer, don't be a hero with a hand whisk.

See? Upside down! I took a chance and flipped the bowl over to test if my egg white whipping skills were up to snuff. They are!
This is the sticky part - mix shredded coconut with condensed milk and then fold in the whipped egg whites.

Egg whites are folded into coconut & condensed milk mixture.
Scoop spoonfulls of the mixture onto cookie sheets lined with parchment and in the oven they go for 25 or so minutes (I kept mine a little longer to get them golden).


Danny Macaroons just came out with a book "The Macaroon Bible" - mad props! This is going on the holiday gifts short list. But then again, I might keep it for myself!

November 13, 2013

All about (BBQ) Oysters

As it happens, barbecued oysters are a specialty in Northern California. More specifically in a town of Bodega Bay (pop. 1,077). Bodega Bay, known for being the site of Hitchcock's Birds, is a tiny town perched on the rocky coast of Bodega Harbor in Sonoma County. Other places surely have considered tossing oysters on the grill but for the purposes of this tale, Bodega Bay is the cradle of this genius idea.

So back to oysters. Raw oysters may be stuff of legends but they do not rock my boat. I don't love the slimy texture nor am I keen on possible pathogens. Barbecued variety came as a revelation (thanks, Ash!) - smoky, buttery, garlicky, irresistible!

Lunch of BBQed oysters from a tiny shack, ahem, cafe.

Lunch left us longing for more oysters, so to the fish market we went to pick up these beauties. After a thorough scrubbing to get the grit off, oysters go on a hot grill (though our batch had to be finished off in the oven). The oyster dude at the grill in Bodega Bay shucks oysters before grilling to avoid handling hundreds of hot oysters but at home we thought we could manage shucking a couple dozen after cooking them since they are so much easier to pop open.

Freshly scrubbed oysters - not a fun job, by the way, and a scrubby brush helps.

Oh, right. Warm and shucked, oysters on half shell got a dose of sauce - we had to wing in here: chopped onions (shallots may have been better here), garlic, barbeque sauce, Siracha (because it makes everything better!), squirt of lemon or lime. I do dearly wish we had fresh parsley to sprinkle on top and I am sure bacon or a splash of dry white wine would not be unwelcome. But we had a perfect accompaniment - Ace Pear Cider, but that's for another post.

Behold, two dozen beauties!
Lastly, I am not a seafood expert so eat the bivalves at your own risk.

October 31, 2013

Pretty, dreamy Marie (Laurencin)

It's been some time since I have written about great women artists and it is time. Most have not heard of Marie Laurencin, but she sure had some famous friends. Like Mademoiselle Chanel.

Marie Laurencin - Portrait of Mademoiselle Chanel, 1923 Source

Marie was born in Paris and studied porcelain painting before falling in with hip cats of the day: Braque, Picasso, Gris, Apollinaire. Were these artists aware that they were to become something significant? Did they instinctively seek each other out? Were any perfectly ordinary friends among them now lost to history?

Marie Laurencin, Group of Artists (1908). Image via Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Marie was there when crazy notion of cubism cane about. A few of her pieces have a whisper of cubist lines and sober colors. But mostly Maurie Laurencin stuck with what she did best, lovely, effervescent, with the same cast of languid girls. 

Marie Laurencin - Les jeunes filles - Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Why isn't Marie Laurencin's name known worldwide like the names of her posse? Was she too much of a one-note?  Is her art just too pretty, lightweight, lacking the grit that would make it important? Perhaps it is all those things, pleasant and superficial. 

October 7, 2013

Excellent GF Pumpkin Bread

After a year and a half of intensive gluten-free baking one can adapt "regular" wheat-reliant recipes with a degree of competence. This one is adapted from this Bon Appetit version. My version, obviously, uses a different flour mix and also cuts down, way down, on sugar.

Don't even think about cutting the recipe in half to make one loaf. These will be gone fast.

INGREDIENTS (Makes 2 loaves!)
  • 2 cups of white rice or sorghum flour
  • 1 cup of tapioca flour or potato starch (or do half and half)
  • 3/4 teaspoons of xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ground nutmeg, cloves. I also like a bit of cardamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of veggie oil (we used olive oil, which worked very well)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can of pumpkin (15 oz)
Mix the first seven ingredients together. In your trusty KitchenAid, beat sugar and oil, then mix in eggs and pumpkin. Stir in the dry ingredients mix. Pour equal amounts into two loaf pans (I line mine with parchment but you can probably spray and flour them too.

Bake your loaves for about 1 hour 10 minutes until ready, let the loaves cool and enjoy with a cup of tea. I am thinking a smear of apple butter would not hurt things either.

Perhaps I better go test out this recipe another time, just to be sure.

Here is my Gluten Free 101 guide and Ginger-Apricot scones if you are on a GF baking spree.

September 20, 2013

Real Boy

This sort of painting, despite its merits, would not typically catch my prolonged attention. My favorites are more modern, more ambiguous, and less academic. But this portrait of a little boy with a long name, destined not to grow up, came to life during story time with  my younger son.  The painting is in our An Alphabet in Art book under M for Magpies. Suddenly, through the eyes of a three-year-old, I saw this painting for the very first time.

This is a portrait of a tiny kid, a toddler really, just the sort of boy we would meet at a playground. And birds, oblivious to danger. And kitty-cats, a little sinister but soft. As I watch my own little boy look at length at his long-lost friend, asking questions, the formal portrait fades and all that's left is a real boy.

Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes - image loaned from the Met
Read about our favorite kiddie art history books here.

September 8, 2013

Apricot-Ginger Tea Scones (GF)

A few months back, with a bake sale looming, I couldn't find a suitable gluten-free scone recipe (plain old wheat ones were abound, of course). I settled on chocolate chip scones from Gluten-Free Goddess. But with a few substitutions. Vanilla rice mild (meeh!), became soy milk. Spectrum shortening was replaced with coconut oil. And chocolate chips were replaced with apricots and ginger. So, behold my very own version of gluten-free scones.

These puppies went fast!
Set the over to 375 and get mixing. 

  • 1 cup of white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup of amaranth flour (or millet - hey, baking GF, you can't avoid a few oddball items)
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of soy milk
  • A dash of boozy vanilla 
  • Grated fresh ginger and chopped dry apricots
 Mix, mix, mix.

Form a circle on the cookie sheet lined with parchment and score it with knife into wedges. Sprinkle with sugar (raw sugar if you have it on hand). In the oven it goes for 25 minutes.

Serve with dairy free butter, Earl Gray for grown ups and berry tea for classy tea-loving tots.

August 18, 2013

Beach Book Bag

I belong to the annoying tribe of people who feel the need to be productive. At the beach completing a book offers a sense of accomplishment, provided you choose your reading well. Beach reading cannot be too heavy  (I don't think this is the time to start Proust) but it cannot be blatantly trashy. Here is my list that got me through July in the city, a week of sandy beach and I expect will take me through to seaside girls weekend in September.  

You cannot go wrong with the tried and true authors. It is a shame Stella Gibbons is mainly known for Cold Comfort Farm because her books do not disappoint. Nightingale Woods is a clever Cinderella story set among 1930s gentry. Twenty-one year old widow Viola Withers is not terribly clever or sparkling, but you cannot help rooting for her. Read it! And let's hope more of Ms. Gibbon's books come back to print.

Fair warning - Brunelleschi's Dome is not strictly speaking a beach read, but you will learn a lot about Renaissance architecture. Ok, it is not a beach read at all, but it is short and feuds between capomaestros do spice things up and you really will up your ante on the construction of cathedrals earning your own esteem.

I will read anything Jasper Fforde will dish out.  This is my number #6 Thursday Next book. These books are chock full of wordplay, book jokes, and familiar characters from the classics. Did I mention it is set in book world where there is a feud between Racy Novel and Women's Fiction genres?

I am eagerly awaiting the last of Corfu trilogy by Gerald Durell. Durells are quirky, kooky, and you just want to be among those dropping in on them in their villa. There is mild Mother, bookish Lawrence, gun-toting Leslie, and perpetually obsessed with her looks Margo. The writer, Jerry at the time, is the youngest. What would it be like to spend your childhood collecting animals on the Greek Isles?

Sorcery & Cecelia is for the Austen-lovers. Two well brought up girls, one in London for the season, the other moored in the country, usual Regency fair.  Oh and there is magic, of course, nothing extreme, just some enchanted chocolate pots and charms. It is a silly little book and a good one at that.

I read Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle a few months back, but should have saved it for the summer! Though it would be just as perfect on a chilly fall evening. Sisters Cassandra and Rose grow up rambling in a ancient castle. They are bohemian and naive. And then Cotton brothers show up. Of course.

Remember Lemony Snicket? Yes, one in the same. Daniel Handler wrote several grown up books and I am yet to read them, certainly an oversight. Adverbs is a novel written in short stories. Can't wait!

Here is last year's Summer Reading list

August 1, 2013

Conversation Piece

I am in love with this itty bitty painting! In this most comfortable of rooms, chock full of art and books but with adequate seating, pleasant conversation flows. Do you suppose they are sensibly chattering about weather? Or debating the merits of life dedicated to the pursuit of arts?

Vanessa Bell, Conversation Piece 1912 oil

The piece is by Vanessa Bell,Virginia Woolf's sister and a talented artist in her own right. BBC has a treasure trove of art - here is a slideshow of Vanessa Bell's works.

July 29, 2013

Charming Little Book of Stories

Don't let the title fool you, "Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm" isn't just for holiday reading. Nor is it only for lovers of Stella Gibbons - only one of the stories actually features Starkadders of the "Cold Comfort Farm" fame.  It is a lovely little book, even it has never shot up to stardom.

Stella Gibbons Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm Modern Klatch

The book's cleverness is reason enough to pick it up...

"She felt that if she had to spend another year of interesting, congenial work during the days, and sensitive, cultured, intelligent talk in the evenings, she would go mad or die"

...and its stories are reason enough to hang on to your copy after you have finished. Though written some eight decades ago, the book does not feel like a time capsule. One protagonist struggles to balance work she loves with family happiness - sound familiar? Bohemians and sensible people are forever at odds with each other. Characters  face their choices, pressing ones and reflecting on the path they have already taken. And stories are about capacity for change, not dramatic important change, but a quiet change impacting only the intimate circle of those involved. 

This book is a rare gem. "Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm" is easy to read on a morning commute or poolside but it also has depth and subtlety. It is easy to care for its flawed characters. Without delivering dramatically happy endings most stories are satisfying in the end.   But the book also catches one by surprise as if the stories are a lens to one's own choices. 

Can you tell I enjoyed it? This one will be a tough act to follow.

July 8, 2013

Mojito Madness by the Pitcher

When you find yourself with a bowl of limes there is only one thing to be done - mojitos. Lets call margaritas plan B.

There are tons of recipes for mojitos by the glass but no definitive ratios for a pitcher. The following mixture produced formidable and refreshing results. 

2 cups of fresh lime juice (about 30 limes or so)
3 cups of simple syrup (water heated up with sugar to dissolve it, Klatch version is not too sweet but it is all the matter of taste)
4 cups of light rum, like Bacardi
Fresh mint muddled with a few spoons of sugar

Mix it, cool it, and add a splash of seltzer to top off your glass. Bonus tip: hang on to gallon glass jugs like ones that apple cider comes in, with the help of a funnel those work like a dream for mojitos storage and transport.

June 24, 2013

Boozy Vanilla: DIY

I first had the notion of making vanilla extract at home from "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter." Do it. Order your vanilla beans from Amazon (seems to be by far the cheapest purveyor), slice 3 or 4 open along the length, and stick them into a small bottle of Bourbon (vodka if you are looking for a more pure taste). In the baking cabinet it goes to become in a few short weeks vanilla extract.

Bourbon gives vanilla a more tropical, distinct taste. 

P.S. All my photos are from iPhone these days - would a proper camera produce better results?

June 22, 2013

Organized Chaos: Art Supplies

My art supplies habit dates back to my own childhood and I've been hording pastels and gouache paints ever since. So it is no surprise that we order art supplies in bulk these days. But a bigger question is how to corral the goodies.

We've tried boxes on the shelves but tucked away the paints just never come out. Freely roaming art supplies around the house drive everyone here mad. Little jars for crayons are good in theory but if the crayons were out, they never made it back into the said jars. So now we are trying stackable boxes. So here are our must-have supplies, one box at a time.

Labels are really a road map for supplies to make their way back.
Paper - plain white and colorful construction paper, extra packs are stashed away. Tissue paper is helpful too.

Crayons are a given, loads and loads of crayons. This isn't the place to skimp. Crayola is the way to go, cheaper crayons just don't stand up and are too waxy. While natural and posh crayons appeal to my own sensibilities, Klatch kids like Crayolas very well. 

Crayons are bound to break and ratty broken up crayons are not fun to draw with, but fun to melt.

Oil Pastels. These are not a must strictly speaking but a nice addition, bright and vibrant.

Keeping crayons in jars failed us miserably so now crayons get their own box.
Markers. Self explanatory. Washable are best. The skinny pencil size ones remind me of the ones I had as a kid. The small pip squeaks are popular around here too.

Pencils. These do not get as much play around here these days, perhaps time to invest in a decent pencil sharpener.

Tools box is full of glue (liquid Elmer's and glue sticks), glue gun for supervised activities, extra scissors since they always seem to go missing. Masking tape in different colors has been a welcome addition. Sponges and droppers are waiting for the right project to come along.

Odds and ends - this is the fun box bursting with goodies. You can never risk running low on goodly eyes. The pad of paper dolls is possibly the best thing we ever bought. One never knows when pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and poms will come in handy.  Feathers and glitter. We need to replenish our glitter glue supply.

Two other very worthwhile additions for non-messy fun. Floam, sticky little foam beads, though somehow the colors get mixed together right away, and Wikki Sticks, bendy waxy sticks.

Of course there are other supplies that do not get every day use and are squirreled away elsewhere. Since we are a gluten free household, Play Doh is out of bounds and early experiments with Moon Sand proved to be detrimental to the carpeted area. Our molding product of choice is Model Magic - clean and bright, at least until the colors get mixed. A tub of clay is popular around here. Turns out cardboard six-pack boxes are perfect for storing pint sized bottles of tempera paints on the very top shelf.

So to recap, must-have supplies to buy in bulk - I am a big fan of Discount School Supply and Michael's:
  • Paper - stacks and stacks of paper, different colors, textures, and size
  • Crayons - a good supply of fresh crayons
  • Washable markers
  • Color pencils
  • Tempera and watercolors (acrylic is too risky for the younger set!)
  • Lots of brushes in different sizes
  • Extras of glue and scissors
  • Googly eyes (yes, these make the must-have category)
  • Popsicle sticks
  • At least one of the following - poms, glitter, pipe cleaners, feathers
  • Something to mold - play doh, model magic, clay
Nice additions:
  • Colorful tissue paper
  • Paper doll cut-outs
  • Pony beads
  • Floam and Wikki Sticks
  • Felt fabric
  • Foam shapes
  • Ink pads and stamps
  • Stickers
  • Sun paper
  • We'd like to try Magic Nuudles, seems like a worthy addition
Anything else to add to this list?

May 23, 2013

Learned Tot: SAT Prep for Kiddie Set

It all started with a word of the day on our daily commute. Simple words soon became more complex, inspired by view outside the car window: facade and obelisk, twilight and desolate. When it comes to vocabulary, one does not need a whole lot of special equipment, just remembering to make the time, five minutes at a time.

This is our kitchen wall. And meet Barnaby the Whale. A quart of chalkboard paint and some bistro-style chalk markers is all you need. It is also a solution for a white wall in need of a statement. At meal time, we point out the words and remember to work them into conversation.

For word ideas, just google "SAT Vocabulary List" - abhorrent anyone?

Endless Alphabet is the best app ever! And free. Silly monsters march, spell, and act out word definitions. New words are added all the time. Smallest tot loves "demolish" and who wouldn't like to see a monster scattering blocks all about?

Parent involvement - pretty much nonexistent after loading the app!

Yes, you could make your own flashcards. But these Big Word Flashcards are more awesome and they often come out at mealtimes. "Nincompoop" and "mollycoddle" have been very popular with our lot.
Parent involvement - for younger tots pretty high but in small time increments.

Last but not least, here are our a few of our favorite words to get you started:
  1. Petulant - applies in many situations and super useful when little brothers annoy you
  2. Shenanigans - see above
  3. Multiply 
  4. Nincompoop - no explanation needed
  5. Befuddled
  6. Hobnob
  7. Mediocre - a polite substitute in many sticky situations
  8. Extraordinary

May 11, 2013

Landscapes from Frozen (Urban) Tundra

This post is long overdue. These photos were taken a few weeks ago while visiting snowy tundra (Twin Cities, which indeed had snow while azaleas were in full bloom around here). The combination of industrial and sleek buildings, bridges, and desolation of snowy landscape took my breath away. So there you have it. Marvel.

at Gutherie Theater
This was taken through the window of Gutherie Theater - only the middle part is 'real' the rest is reflected.

Despite buildings and bridges, this feels desolate.

The bridges arches - and their reflection in glossy water - have a rhythm to them.
Clear cold air.
I will scout urban landscape paintings for a future post. Stay tuned.

April 14, 2013

DIY Projects from Klatch Home

I have been obsessed with Jennifer Reese's Make the Bread, Buy the Butter book. Author embarked on a series of DIY projects to evaluate the quality, pain-in-the-butt factor, and cost of outcomes. Home-made soy ice cream? Check. Our own vanilla extract? Yep, in the pantry. Tamales from scratch? Why, yes, and not a bad tamale. Here are a few other recent projects from our home.

This is Toothy. An itty-bitty pillow for tooth fairy's visit. A forgotten toy, a scrap of felt, and in 20 minutes we were ready for the visit from the dental deity.

tooth fairy pillow diy
Yes, make it! It made for a memorable occasion and was pretty darn simple if you know how to use a needle.
Made at home stocks are Mr. Klatch's department. Aromatics mixture gets sauteed (carrots/celery/onion). Then add veggie scraps for vegetarian stock or chicken bones for chicken stock. Simmer and in the freezer it goes.

home-made stock
This is a no brainer, do it!

Yes, you can make marshmallows at home. And yes, they are better than store bought. Is it worth it? Make them once and judge for yourself. Here is how to make marshmallows.

make marshmallows at home
It is a sticky business so your call if it's worth it or not.

Donuts! Everyone should own a donut pan and you, gluten free folk, need to master the art of donut.

home-made gluten free donut
These are very very good. Make them and invite me over.

Broken up crayon scraps, melted into pretty shapes. I am not saying run out and invest in a mold, but if you have one laying around, it's super-easy and fun. Here is how to remake crayons.

old crayons melted
So fun!

I always forget about granola but it is so good when made at home, fresh and toasty. Oats, coconut, raisins, this is well worth while.
Home made granola
Home-made granola is a definite yes.

What projects are you tackling?

April 10, 2013

Soup with a French Accent

I am not a disciplined cook and so soups are just the thing for someone who isn't so good with precision. And this soup, a hot version of Vichyssoise, has a lot going for it. It's fancy enough to serve to guests and easy enough to make any time. It is vegan (unless you sprinkle bacon on top!) and gluten-free, but will appeal to all palates and is a good choice for a get-together periled by the Venn diagram of dietary restrictions. This soup is also a good choice to make with the youngest members of your household, but more about that later.

Hot Vichyssoise
Leeks, potatoes, and fennel, that is pretty much all that is required.
Ingredients are easy but there are a few tricks.
  • 4-5 stalks of leeks - you want to trim the dark green parts and only use white and lightest green. If you've never cooked with leeks are are filthy and if you don't want a dose of grit in your soup so a good soak is a must. 
  • 2-3 potatoes - a little goes a long way! Red potatoes are better, they are less starchy. We went rustic and did not peel the potatoes and by that I mean couldn't be bothered!
  • 1 bulb of fennel - the whole thing goes in, fronds and all. 
  • Vegetable stock (or chicken stock will do the job too)
  • Nutmeg, sea salt, freshly ground pepper.

Leek fennel potato soup rustic
Leeks are vastly underrated!
The cooking part is easy, saute chopped up vegetables in a little bit of oil for a couple minutes, add stock and water if needed, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and let simmer for a bit (once veggies are soft, it is ready).

Blend the soup - I recommend immersion blender, easy and less mess. That's it.

The smallest Klatch member busied himself scrubbing potatoes and cutting them up. His knife skills are still emerging so the chunks are irregular shape. Never mind that, since the soup is  puréed, it does not matter if the chunks are, um, awkward.

cooking with kids
This puppy knife from Kuhn Rikon is awesome, sharp enough for chopping but not sharp enough to cut little fingers. 
All photos by ModernKlatch.


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