Thursday, August 28, 2008

The week in review

I've been a bit scattered lately and so thought I'd just encapsulate the week here.
First of all, the happiest news came. We learned that our best friend's sister was MISDIAGNOSED with a terrible disease. Several months ago, she was told she had leukemia, and now, it turns out, she really doesn't!
It doesn't get any better than that, and what a profound reminder that life can turn on a dime. We are so happy for Tom and his whole family, who deserve a return to happiness!
In far less pivotal news, the food highlights of the week were the Greek village salad, inspired by Anna...

...and the potatoes, which accompanied marinated steak & some awesome onion & mushroom soup. Best meal of the week there.

I completed watching the entire Season 1 of AMC's "Mad Men," and got caught up on Season 2. I was inspired to flip my hair, kitty-cat my eyeliner, and don (no pun intended, hehe) a Kenneth Jay Lane neckace. Be thankful for the dark/no-flash photo, as it could otherwise be scary, I'm so unphotogenic. The necklace, a faux (glass) grey baroque pearl three-strand, is probably up for grabs, by the way, b/c I never end up wearing it for more than 15 minutes.
"Mad Men" is fantastic! I can't wait until Sunday now to see the new episode.

In "Friday Friday" news, poor Friday is just exhausted, as you can see, from waiting by the phone to hear whether or not he's going to be called upon to be Vice President or not. After a long day, he finally collapsed alongside his advisors, Glow-Worm, Peter Rabbit, and Lambo, who were equally tired from the week's events. It's true that Friday can't tell you how many houses he owns, but I think we all agree he could sniff out Osama Bin Laden. Definitely!
Whatever happens, happens -- and we're behind him all the way.

When the stress hits, I head for the pool, and tonight I asked Troy to stand guard against any pre-schooler interlopers.
Lucky and I had a relaxing swim together, and as I floated on my back and looked up at the sky, I thought, "That is so beautiful!" Nature is a true tonic for the soul.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hundreds of stars in the pretty sky,
Hundreds of shells on the shore together,
Hundreds of birds that go singing by,
Hundreds of birds in the sunny weather.
Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn,
Hundreds of bees in the purple clover,
Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn,
But only one mother the wide world over.

- Author Unknown

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Motor city madhouse

But, lucky me, my work is play. -Terrible Ted

Last night we had a birthday party for my friend, Sally, and we had so much fun it refueled my flagging desire to host parties.
While planning, I asked Sally about some of her specific likes/dislikes in tastes, and then planned accordingly. Two inspiring details were that she likes the color red, and loves chocolate. I therefore set out a red tablecloth & red votives; got red balloons, red napkins, and concocted a drink using raspberry puree. I also bought flowers, and put them in a vase but kept the bag for them so that, at the end of the night, Sally could take them home.
One time we went to this birthday party, held at a Ritz-Carlton, for a very spoiled girl I'll call Sydney, and they had a drink named "The Sydney," which I thought was so funny. I reminded Troy of this, and we knew we had to make up a drink for the occasion. After a thorough discussion, I decided on Champagne, raspberry sorbet, and a maraschino cherry, and Troy christened it "The Sally-Bo-Bally."
I couldn't find any raspberry puree or syrup whilst shopping, and was pressed for time, so I bought raspberry fruit sorbet, and thought "this is the same thing w/out the cooking down & straining." Theoretically, the idea seemed sound, but in actuality, I think the sorbet made the Champagne bubble up more than a puree would have -- certainly more than a syrup would have. So, a lot overflowed and there was spillage mess. But the Sally-Bo-Bally was still a tasty cocktail, despite the volcano effect.

The cake had to be chocolate, Sally's favorite. Furthermore, she and I both grew up in Detroit, where there were these ice cream parlors called Sanders. One of the specialties of Sanders was "bumpy cake," which is chocolate cake covered with buttercream bumps and then a chocolate ganache icing. I found the recipe for the cake, and decided to forego the bumps b/c I didn't want to experiment w/a new recipe. I used a ganache recipe I knew worked, and luckily the cake turned out perfect. It was delicious.

Here's the recipe.

Chocolate cake
1/2 c. hot black coffee or water
1/2 c. cocoa
1/2 c. oil
1 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 t. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour

In large bowl, combine coffee and cocoa; beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add oil; beat for 30 seconds; add buttermilk; beat for 30 seconds; add baking soda; beat for 30 seconds; add salt; beat for 30 seconds; add vanilla; beat for 30 seconds; add eggs; beat for 30 seconds; add sugar; beat for 30 seconds. Add flour; beat for 5 minutes. Batter will be very bubbly. Pour batter into greased round tins and bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes.

Ganache frosting
1/2 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 stick (1/8 cup) unsalted butter
Spread a layer of ganach between the cooled cake layers, and then pour the remainder over the whole cake.

Before everyone arrived, I put together a party playlist w/a Detroit theme, with music ranging from Aretha Franklin to Iggy Pop to the White Stripes. Oh -- and don't forget Madonna (who celebrates her birthday today)! We made Sally guess what the thread was tying all the tunes together, and it took her a little while, but the lightbulb went off when "Workin' Hard, Playin' Hard" by Ted Nugent came on. The inspiration for this idea comes from Rachel, who makes me a great CD every year for my bday. I always love it, and -- as our man Colin Cowe says -- these thoughtful details make all the difference in life! Sally said she had so much fun & felt very special, which made me, in turn, very happy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Table escape

As I impatiently wait out the end of summer here, I must mentally travel to more appealing destinations to put my mind at ease. I find the month of August monotonous; like a long good-bye.
And so, for a little perk this weekend it was a Scandinavian-inspired dinner of fish, potatoes, and cucumber salad, with lots of fresh dill.

The swordfish was delicious, grilled with lots of olive oil and lemon, which is actually culinarily leaning towards Sicily, but I cannot stand cooked salmon, so could not have it on the menu despite it being the more traditional choice.

This weekend I also made, for the first time, a gooseberry fool, following a recipe given to me by Snowy. I was excited to find green gooseberries at Whole Foods, because I'd never tasted them. As per instructions, I cooked the berries down and sweetened them with sugar, and then strained them to achieve a seedless puree (not a very appetizing sight).

When it comes to whipped cream, Nigella always stresses that it should be floppy, but I can never comply, as something about a wimpy whipped cream annoys me. I prefer it heavily beaten.

A splash of elderberry flower juice completed the taste, which was all at once tart and rich.

Very nice!

As I write these descriptions, I can imagine a Freudian analyst gathering fodder for the patient file. Nevertheless, I guess a mental journey is better than no journey at all.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Costumes & confusion

Things have been just a little "off" around here.
It's August, but the boys had their own personal Halloween celebration yesterday. Here's Scooby Doo trying to get upstairs.

Meanwhile, Harry has been wearing this outfit all week.

It strikes me as very John Galliano-ish, so who knows, maybe he's onto something and will make a splash in Paris in the future.
I was happy to finally get into the kitchen and make something -- Bill Granger's yogurt panna cotta, a favorite. If you've never tried this, from the excellent Bill's Open Kitchen, you must, it's so delicious.

Bill's Yogurt Pannacotta
375 ml (1 1/2 ups) cream
115 g (1/2 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
10 g (1/4 oz) sachet of gelatine powder
500 g (2 cups) skim milk yogurt

The problem was that I did not have a vanilla bean. Well, I actually did, but forgot I did. So I used vanilla extract instead. That is, I thought I did. When we tasted the pannacotta after impatiently waiting for the little portions to chill, they tasted a little...strange. Good, but strange. That's when I realized I'd grabbed the almond extract instead of the vanilla. Oops.
I guess this week has been a reflection of life in our house this summer: a little offbeat, a little confused, but still nice.

*Place the cream & sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat. Using the point of a knife, scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the saucepan before adding the entire bean. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then just bring to the boil before removing from the heat. Discard the vanilla bean. Pour 125 ml (1/2 cup) of the cream mixture into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatine powder over the top and whisk with a fork until smooth. Pour back into the saucepan and stir until the gelatine has completely dissolved. Add the yogurt and whisk until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine seive and divide between eight 125 ml moulds, cover w/plastic wrap and chill for 3 hours or until just set.
To serve, dip each mould into hot water for a few seconds, making sure the water only comes halfway up the sides. Place a plate on top and invert the pannacotta. Serve immediately.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Friday

With a nod to Melissa Morris' "Monty Mondays", I thought I'd have a "Friday Friday."
Friday has been slowly trying to rehab his urge to eat the cats. He's so good now, he only chases them a little bit, and, as you can see, lets them sit on him for warmth and affection.

Well, certainly warmth.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Gott Sei Dank for the Germans!

Thank goodness for the Germans!
As you may recall, we last left Troy in the distillery building with a lot of loose still parts.

The classic copper pot still is handmade in Germany by a family-run company. On Wednesday, Alexander and Nick flew in to help us put together the still.
Alexander arrived at our house from Germany, after a long day of travel, since Lufthansa is currently on strike. He was routed from Munich to London to somewhere to Tampa, rented a car, and drove to our house -- in the dark. I'm surprised he didn't collapse on our front porch after his journey.
Nick flew straight in from his home in Philadelphia, and joined us for dinner. We all had a really nice evening together, with a lot of laughs. I wish my mom could have been with us.
In the morning, everyone was up at the crack of dawn for a quick breakfast, and then off to assemble the still.

Alexander even brought his own work gloves. Sehr impressive.

Talk about efficient!

Many thanks to Alexander & Nick!!

They took off early that afternoon to catch a flight to a distilling workshop, leaving us very excited about being one step closer to making rum!