Sunday, November 27, 2005

knitting circles (redux)

Our Sunday afternoon of being almost incomprehensibly domestic (cookes were baked, soup was made, tea was drunk, rumors were gossiped, and knitting was done, to various degrees of success...) was, as it turned out, just lovely. Only three of us made it to this one, but I did manage to finish this (crocheted, not knitted) baby blanket. This has become my latest project, this making of little baby afghans. They're fun and easy and, if I do say so myself, very pretty. And there are lots of craft fairs where I'm contemplating the notion of trying to sell these things.

Monday, November 14, 2005

pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce

Now this is an actual recipe, with actual measurements and stuff, that I sort of follow for the most part, but generally use a lot more than their recommended spice dosages and I've never actually added the raisins because that seems weird.

Bread pudding:
2 cups half and half (though I tend to use half plain old milk instead)
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin (I've used a jar of pumpkin pecan butter for this too, homemade by a dear friend of mine, which was delicious)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 cups 1/2 inch cubes bread (preferably white or egg bread, slightly stale)
1/2 cup golden raisins

Caramel sauce:
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream

For bread pudding:
Preheat oven to 350. Whisk half and half, pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, spices and vanilla in a large bowl. Fold in bread cubes. Stir in golden raisins (if you really want them). Transfer mixture to 11x7-inch glass baking dish and let stand for 15 minutes. (I actually use a 2-qt. round baking dish instead, though it doesn't really matter, and I butter it first). Bake pudding until tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce:
Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about three minutes. I know this looks really scary, what with the whole stick of butter and the heavy cream and all, but this much sauce is actually more than enough for two whole bread puddings, and it keeps just fine in the refrigerator for quite awhile.

Sift powdered sugar over bread pudding. Serve warm with caramel sauce.

leek & potato soup

head of garlic
4-5 red-skinned potatoes
chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 of a bag of baby carrots
2-3 large leeks (white & pale green parts only)
2 tablespoons butter
cup of white wine
pepper (black & cayenne)

Peel all the cloves in a head of garlic and wrap in a pouch of aluminum foil, drizzled with olive oil and a little salt & pepper. Close up the pouch and roast in the oven (or toaster oven, if you've got one) at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or so, until soft and slightly golden.

Dice but don't peel the potatoes, bring to a simmer in water or chicken broth (enough to cover). Dice the carrots and add to the potatoes about 15 minutes later. Leave to simmer until all the veggies are very tender, 10-15 more minutes.

While the potatoes and carrots simmer, rinse and chop the leeks. Heat some butter, a tablespoon or two, in a big soup pot (mine is 5 quarts) and toss in the leeks, cook over medium-high heat until soft, stirring occasionally so they don't burn (a little browning is good though). Pour in about a cup or so of white wine and let boil down until it's reduced by about half. Season with pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon black and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, if you want a little kick).

Mash up the roasted garlic (don't worry about making it smooth, just mash it up a little) and add to the soup pot.

Add chicken broth (I used one of those boxes--Imagine, I think) and the vegetables (with the water if you want, or set aside the cooking water and add later if the soup is too thick). Blend with a hand-held immersion blender (my favorite kitchen item ever) until kind of smooth (I prefer my soup with texture--bits of potato and carrot and leek and roasted garlic in a thick creamy base).

This is delicious plain, or you can serve it with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped chives.

We used a Borgo Maddalena pinot grigio for this, which went really nicely with the soup. Had to drink it while we cooked the soup, just to make sure...

Our dinner guests that evening, Julie & Dave, brought fixings for a lovely cheese fondue, and with that we drank a deliciosly sweet and crisp late harvest riesling from Hogue Cellars, one of the bigger Washington State wineries. Scrumptious.

For dessert, a pumpkin bread pudding. Recipe to be added soon.

Friday, November 11, 2005

knitting circles

I was surprised, to tell you the truth.

Last April I spent nine days out in Washington State. This was the first time I went to visit my mother on my own, with no brother or boyfriend in tow, for several years. I was anxious, a little, but Mom and I had a lovely couple of days in her coastal town of Anacortes, WA, and then the two of us headed east on a little "ladies' road trip" we'd bantered back and forth about for years but had never actually managed to do. We got up early, packed up the trunk of the car, and took off. Stopped at a gas station for gas, coffee, snacks for the road. Drove over mountains and desert and farmlands to end up in Pullman, WA, on the eastern edge of the state, barely west of Idaho, at my grandmother's house.

My grandmother and aunt, in from Malaysia for a month or so, and my mother and I spent the next few days together, and those days were oddly magical. We spent time walking around Pullman, and Mom and Aunt Ellen and Grandma pointed out various places to me--where Mom and Dad had their first date, where they first listened to the Beatles, where Dad fell down a hole in the middle of a field as a wee lad. And Grandma and Ellen taught me and Mom how to knit. We spent much of the time we were there making our first scarves and rummaging around in arts & craft stores looking for the perfect yarn.

This past July my friend Cindy and I had to go upstate for the wake of a woman we knew from growing up days. Cindy had mentioned before then that she'd like to know how to knit, so I brought some yarn and an extra pair of needles to Grand Central Station with me and showed her the basics while we took the train north. It was a difficult afternoon, unnerving and sad. But somehow the knitting, the learning and teaching of how to make something soft and beautiful and warm, provided a ballast of sorts. There is something both mesmerizing and safe about chatting over the quiet click of knitting needles.

In the months since that day, Cindy and I have thrown back and forth the idea of getting together some afternoon to knit together and just hang out. And finally we picked a date. Tomorrow, in fact, though it's now been postponed until next Sunday. But what's been odd, what I've found so surprising, is that all the other friends I've mentioned this to have immediately asked if they could come too. And they don't even knit!

And I've been pondering this ever since. What is it about the idea of a knitting circle that is so strikingly appealing to a bunch of modern urban gyrls? I've been joking about our afternoon of tea and knitting, about maybe even breaking out the bottle of port I've been stashing away and getting a little rowdy. But I'm also honestly surprised at the excited, almost joyful, response I've gotten from my women friends when I've mentioned this idea to them.

Cindy's grandmother has been ill recently, and Cindy just finished knitting her a scarf and was about to start in on a hat for her when I saw her earlier this week. I recently finished a large afghan that I've been working on for years and have since taken up crocheting little baby blankets. We were talking about this the other day and came to the conclusion that, for us at least, there's something intensely moving about creating something to keep warm the people that we love. I want to wrap my blankets and scarves around Chris and my family, around these women and all of my friends, and I want to hold them close to me, and keep them safe.

In the end, who knows? The ladies will be gathering in my living room next Sunday to learn how to knit or crochet, to chat, to sip tea and maybe something stronger. I'm going to put a big pot of soup on the stove, maybe pumpkin or tomato or squash, something easy that can simmer away quietly for awhile. And we'll probably not get much done, will end up gossiping or watching a movie or our newly acquired first season of the Muppet Show as it grows dark outside. And maybe next month, what ever each of her reasons, the consultant, the computer programmer, the housewife, the child psychologist, the law school student, and the library geek will gather again for another round.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

going girly

Survived the pedicure (though with a sore toe), the shaving of the legs & the pits (how women do this all the time is beyond me, the itchiness alone is more than its worth), the ankle-length dress (here a shout out to Jill) & the heels & the stockings (I almost wrote stalkings...can anybody say Freudian slip?), the wedding itself (though with a massive headache the next day--due as much to the loudness of the band, I think, as to the vodka & caviar), and Long Island (with much less travel time in the car than anticipated, thank god!). And that's all I have to say about that.