Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: "First Snow" by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, it's white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain- not a single
answer has been found-
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

- Mary Oliver

(photos taken over this past weekend in New Jersey)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, a time for everything

There is a time for everything,
a season for every activity under

A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to

A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to
gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to
turn away.

A time to search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to throw

A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to
speak up.

A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

white chocolate pudding with blackberry curd

Continuing the countdown of sweets in honor of Valentine's day: I think these are like the little black dress version of pudding- they are so chic and classy looking. What is great about them is they are not terribly difficult. It does involve focused attention but it is for a relatively small span of time and then, into the fridge they go (up to 3 days in advance!) A great dinner party solution or, again, late night Valentine's day dessert.

I will admit, I was not initially thrilled by the prospect of white chocolate. I tend to steer clear of it in everyday life. I blame the proliferation of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies in the 90's (seriously, they were everywhere.) However, these silky puddings are not overly sweet and with the tartness of blackberry curd, it is a lovely bite.

Knowing how much my husband loves blackberry, I actually doubled the blackberry curd recipe below. If you make the recipe as shown, the layer of topping will be narrower.

The recipe makes enough for 6 servings and I played around with a couple larger glasses and smaller mini-pint glasses too. How darling would a tray of these be on a dessert buffet for a spring bridal or baby shower? I cannot think of an occasion these would not work for (again, just like that perfect little black dress.)

This recipe is from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

white chocolate pudding with blackberry curd

ingredients for pudding:
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 1/4 cups whole milk
4 1/2 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

ingredients for quick blackberry curd:
1/2 cup fresh blackberries
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1) make the pudding: combine the cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Before turning on the heat, slowly whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan with a heatproof spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over gently simmering water, and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary, should lumps begin to form.

2) After 15 to 20 minutes, when the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, add the chocolate. Continue stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thickened. (Take care to not cut this step short, otherwise, the pudding will taste floury.) Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

3) For perfectly silken texture, you can strain the pudding through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl with a spout, and pour into individual serving dishes. Chill in fridge.

4) Meanwhile, prepare the blackberry topping: Puree berries in a food processor or blender until as smooth as possible. Press through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds. You should have between 3 and 4 tablespoons of puree.

5) Whisk together the blackberry puree, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and egg in a heavy 1-quart saucepan. Stir in the butter, and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until the curd is thick enough to hold the marks of the whisk, and until the first bubble appears on surface, about 4 to 5 minutes. Pass through a strainer again if you want perfect texture. Divide curd among prepared cups gently spreading it on pudding surfaces.

Note: Perelman writes, chill puddings in fridge for at least an hour and up to 3 days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: "from Whatever Became of Me" by Richard Shelton

this morning a woodpecker woke me
practicing on his drum
and all afternoon cicadas rang
like the telephones I haven't answered

I am what has become of me
a man who lives in the desert

where coyotes wail more skillfully
than hired mourners
at the funeral of an Eastern king

where every night the stars
whose light I have not earned
and will never deserve
return as if to keep a promise

and even the rain
when it falls is coming home

Richard Shelton

I read this poem in a small book, Poems of the American West. It is a collection of poetry edited by Robert Mezey and part of Knopf's Everyman's Library (which I think are some of the most beautiful books.) The book was a gift from my older sister during her last visit.

The above pictures are from an early December weekend in Joshua Tree National Park.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

molten chocolate cake with mint ice cream

(With Valentine's day still a few weeks away, between now and then, I thought I would share a few recipes that I think would be a nice way to celebrate.)

I love mint and chocolate together. During high school summers, I worked in a restaurant that would give a couple Andes mints to dinner guests at the end of their meal. The chocolates were kept in a large box in the walk-in fridge and they practically screamed at me every time I walked in there - their shiny green wrappers flashing at me, faint chilled mint fragrance calling my name. I considered it to be a sign of great personal self-control that I did not eat them all day long.

For ice cream, I have faithfully selected mint chocolate chip all my days, but my husband is pretty "meh" about it. He doesn't actually like the chocolate blended into the ice cream. I recall him saying, 'Now, if someone could make like a plain mint ice cream, I might be into that." Challenge accepted.

If you do not share my obsession for mint ice cream, please substitute whatever ice cream flavor you prefer in it's place. But I do strongly believe in including ice cream with warm molten chocolate cake. It is such a nice contrast between the cool sweet ice cream and the warm bitter chocolate cake. I love how the ice cream melts at the edges and puddles up.

Nowadays whenever I see a recipe for molten chocolate cake, it is always accompanied by some apology about how 90's it is or so cliche because every restaurant serves it. I would only like to say the 90's were awesome and molten chocolate cake is everywhere because it is so stinkin' good. True, not all versions are good, but the recipe below is a very good recipe. It is dark chocolatey and not too sweet. Also, it can be mixed up and portioned out ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator until ready to bake. It feels like a 'ta-da' moment to bring these little darlings out to end a dinner.

One note: the recipe below instructs to bake the cakes in a muffin tin. I have followed those steps before and it works quite fine. However, if you are making this dessert for less than six (say two people for Valentine's day dessert *wink*), I would recommend using individual ramekins and only bake the number desired. Prep the ramekins just like the muffin tin. The remaining will keep for another day. I have refrigerated this cake batter up to a full 24 hours before serving and it still baked up lovely. Just increase the bake time by 2 minutes.

Both recipes are from Martha Stewart.

mint ice cream recipe here.

molten chocolate cake
(makes six small cakes)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for muffin tins
1/3 granulated sugar, plus more for muffin tins
3 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter 6 cups of standard muffin tin. Dust with granulated sugar, and tap out excess. Set aside.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, beat in flour and salt until just combined. Beat in chocolate until just combined. Divide batter evenly amount prepared muffin cups.

3) Place muffin tin on a baking sheet; bake just until tops of the cakes no longer jiggle with the pan is lightly shaken, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes. (Resist the urge to rush the 10 minutes of standing time. This brief rest time helps ensure that the cake will actually turn out of the pan. I am writing from experience here.)

4) To serve, turn out the cakes, and place on serving plates, bottom sides up. Dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve with whipped cream, if desired. (or my recommendation- mint ice cream!)

mint ice cream

Even all by itself, this would make a refreshing and light dessert. 
The color is not quite green- more lemongrass or light pistachio. I attribute this to the number of egg yolks in the custard. 

A note I have learned about making ice cream: when things are warmed up, the flavors appear much stronger. For example, after making this ice cream custard, but before freezing it, when I first tasted it, it seemed far too minty and sweet. I panicked a little bit. However, once frozen, the mint and sweetness are perfect.

The recipe is from Martha Stewart. 

mint ice cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
pinch of salt
2 bunches fresh mint
1 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks

1) Combine the cream, milk and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and add the mint. Remove from heat and let steep at least 1 hour and up to overnight (I think I steeped it for 5-6 hours) Covered in the refrigerator.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and yolks; set aside. Remove mint from cream mixture, and discard. Bring the milk mixture just to a simmer. Using a measuring cup or ladle, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Keep adding milk mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time until it has all been added. (Be patient with yourself during this process. The goal is to avoid making mint flavored scrambled eggs.)

3) Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. The custard should retain a line drawn across the back of the spoon with your finger. Pour through a fine sieve into a medium bowl set in the ice bath. Stir occasionally until cooled. Cover and transfer to refrigerator until chilled at least 1 hour and up to overnight. 

4) Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturers' instructions until set but not hard. 

5) Transfer the soft ice cream to a plastic container, freeze at least 4 hours and up to overnight. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday's poem: The Peace of Wild Things - Wendell Berry

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

- Wendell Berry

I first read this poem in a book titled "This Place I know- Poems of Comfort." It is a collection of poems selected by Georgia Heard. After September 11, 2001, she was approached by a friend working in the New York City school system who asked her for a selection of poems that could be read to the school children in the city. The poems are accompanied by illustrations from well known children's book artists. It is a lovely book and I find myself referring to it on days when the daily news of the world is loud and overwhelming.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

books in the fireplace

Overall home decor, post-Christmas, is a bit sad. After taking down the tree and all the other holiday decorations, it feels nice to have a cleaned-up house, but it also feels a bit bare.

Growing up in Alaska, after Christmas, the winter nights remained long and dark. For January through March, my mom would string pink lights in our large houseplants. It was such a cheery glow to keep us going. As a kid, I liked the lights but as an adult I appreciate the extra efforts my Mom made to keep such large houseplants going and the detail of adding lights to them. She really worked hard to have a happy space for us.

Now that I live further south, the winter nights are not so long, but I still feel that momentum in January to change things up a bit. I have left two strings of colored lights up in our bedroom and re-arranged books in other spots of the house. Our fireplace has needed some sprucing up. So, I am jumping on the "books in the fireplace" bandwagon.

Because my fireplace is a middle pillar separating the kitchen, dining and living rooms of my house, to keep space feeling as open as possible, I avoid putting a large mantel or painting on it. I am sure I will change my mind on that eventually (probably next January- ha!) but for now, I like keeping it small scale with the simple branch jutting out.

(A while ago, I wrote about the oversized chalkboard I created on the other side of this central pillar. Please feel free to check it out here.)

I did not buy any new items but pulled together existing pieces. Some of the details:

The center arrangement is a metal try made by my Grandfather. The glass vases (Ikea) are filled with driftwood from a beach back home and dried devils club stalks.

The small marble sculpture is by Skandar Reid, an artist working in Bishop, CA. It was the grand prize for a raffle at a showing of the Banff Film Festival and I actually won (!).

The large glass cloche was purchased on clearance at Home Goods a couple years ago.  

The center branch has small paper cranes, a crochet yarn garland and two small vintage wooden bird ornaments (my husband calls them the love birds.)

On the whole, I like the mix of neutral elements (white, birch, marble) and the pop of the bright books.

Did you make decor changes for the start of the new year?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

satsuma mandarin sorbet

Do you not love to see stacks of Satsuma Mandarin Orange boxes in your grocery store? They seem to start to show up sometime after Halloween and before Thanksgiving. Or maybe it's closer to Christmas. Either way, whenever they do show up, it is one of the signals of the holidays for me. Growing up, each mandarin was wrapped in dark orange paper and there were always a few in our Christmas stockings.

This year, after eating our way through a few boxes, I decided to try something new. The flavor from this citrus is so stunning and I was curious about how it would turn out if made into sorbet. The answer? lovely. It is a more subtle citrus perfume than other fruit I have made into sorbet but so welcomed after a month of chocolate, butter and spice.

I was also inspired to make this because of my husbands love for the flavor of creamsicles- orange and vanilla. If you like that sort of thing too, there are two ways you can accomplish it: serve a scoop of very good vanilla ice cream alongside a couple scoops of sorbet (my husbands preference) or dollop with fresh whipped cream (my preference.)

satsuma mandarin sorbet

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 to 2 cups mandarin juice (I think I used about 10 mandarins)

1) Make the simple syrup- Place the water in a saucepan, stir in the sugar and boil until dissolved. Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool. Congratulations- you have now made simple syrup! (equal parts water and sugar, it is used in all kinds of desserts and cocktails)

2) Juice the mandarins- peel the mandarins into segments. Place segments in the bowl of food processor and puree until smooth. Set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the puree into the sieve. This is to separate out the pulp. To extract the most juice possible, I also found it helpful to smoosh the pulp around in the sieve with a spoon. Depending on the size of your food processor, it may take a couple of batches to puree enough mandarins to have the right amount of juice.

3) Pour the mandarin juice in a separate bowl. Once the simple syrup is cooled, add about half the simple syrup to the mandarin juice and taste. If not sweet enough, add more syrup. Transfer this mixture to the fridge and let it chill completely.

4) Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers instructions. Transfer the sorbet mixture to a freezer safe container and freeze for at least a few hours to firm up.

To make whipped cream for creamsicle:
recipe from Ina Garten

1 cup cold heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1) Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla. Continue to whip until it forms stiff peaks. Serve cold.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tuesday's Poem: "The Sun" - Mary Oliver

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening, 
relaxed and easy, 
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea, 
and is gone-
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning, 
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streamed upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance-
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love- 
do you think there is anywhere, in any language, 
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun 
reaches out, 
as it warms you

as you stand there, 
or have you too
turned from this world-

or have you too
gone crazy
for power, 
for things? 

- Mary Oliver 

(photo credit: my husband)

Tuesday's Poem

For the new year, I decided I would like to try a new weekly feature here: Tuesday's Poem.

Each Tuesday, I will post a new poem. I want to do this to share some of my favorites but also (with 52 weeks in a year) to learn new poets. I may or may not include a few lines about why I choose a particular poem. I will be a little flexible with that.

Later today I will post the first entry. In the meantime, I would love to know, who are some of your favorite poets?