Thursday, July 29, 2010

Four day old dough is delicious

Today I used the pizza dough that I saved from Sunday to make pizza for dinner.  This was a convenient experiment with what happens when you let the dough rest in the fridge for a couple days (or more, if you half forget about it like I did)... as it turned out, it was really yummy!  Like I had heard, it gave the crust a bit of a sourdough taste, or as Lawson said just made it taste less "flour-y."  It tasted a lot more like authentic artisan pizza.  Lawson suggested I call this post "saving dough pays off" but I was not up for the pun.

We are drowning in tomatoes from our super-productive tomato plant in the garden, so for the first pizza we topped it with slices of tomato and shredded mozzarella, with chopped basil added after we baked it.  No, I didn't use all these tomatoes on the pizza, so I gave up and peeled, seeded, diced and froze the rest for future use... I was getting anxious looking out at the plant and seeing even more ones ripening, so I thought it would be good to clear the decks.  Here's the pizza before it went in the oven...

And getting eaten.

I also made another one with tomato sauce that we needed to use up, chopped peppers from the garden, and more mozzarella.  Also delicious!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wedding Paper Crafts - Part II

Photo courtesy of Joe Shymanski

In keeping with the stationery I made for our wedding that I described here, we also made coordinated paper items for the wedding ceremony and reception.  It wasn't too much work and was a good, affordable way for us to carry our wedding themes throughout the day, with lots of soft green colors and leaf accents.  As I mentioned before, and you can see throughout this post, I found paper source to be a great resource!

For the wedding programs, we laid them out in Word (using two columns on a landscape oriented sheet and then just playing around with the spacing until we liked how it looked), then we had them printed on two shades of green cardstock and folded.  Then I stamped them all on the front with one of our leaf stamps and also on the back with a smaller matching stamp (in between two paragraphs of text).  We were really happy with how they turned out!

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Thurston
In keeping with our garden theme, we used seed packets as escort cards - we printed the names and table numbers on green paper source labels and then stuck them at the top of seed packets for a variety of flower seed types from Renee's Garden (which I think have particularly pretty packages).  People seemed to really get a kick out of them!  Also visible in this picture is the lovely guestbook we got from CreativelyKept - I don't have a picture of the outside cover, but we really love how it turned out.

I printed and stamped matching menus for the lunch buffet table and bar, although I don't have photos of those.  Finally, we made fun labels for the yummy beer our friend Carl brewed for the reception! (And Carl was kind enough to put all the labels on in addition to making the beer).

Photo courtesy of Joe Shymanski

I will write more about the pottery I made for the wedding in a later post, but for now I will show the flower pots which I made for centerpieces - I made table numbers to stick in each pot using the 5 1/2" round cards from paper source and then the 4" round labels.

Photo courtesy of Joe Shymanski

Monday, July 26, 2010

Indian Food Feast

Last night I made a delicious feast of Indian food for dinner.  The keystone was a dish I have made many times, Sweet Potato Badi from Entertaining for a Veggie Planet.  Since I had the time, I went whole hog and made roasted cauliflower, raita, and flatbread (aka pita) to go along, as well as the usual long grain brown rice.  It was really yummy and well worth the effort - I have lots of leftovers to eat for lunch this week (and some more stashed in the freezer).

 The first thing I got started was the flatbread.  I used the pizza dough recipe from Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and then just cooked it as a flatbread.  This is my favorite pizza dough, and it made a great bread all by itself.  Following instructions from the Sunlight Cafe, after the dough had risen I punched it down and then cut it into pieces.  I actually put half of it in the fridge to experiment with the idea of letting it sit for a day or two and get a little bit of a sourdough taste (I have been wanting to read Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day but get the basic gist of it from reading articles etc).  The other half I cut into four pieces and smooshed each one out into a disc, then let them rest for five minutes and then rolled them out very thin.  Some of them sat for another five minutes at this stage which I remembered after the fact seems to be what gives pita its pocket - so I basically made pita breads.  I cooked each one for about 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.

While the Badi was simmering, I chopped up the cauliflower and roasted it in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes.  I used 2 teaspoons of an Indian spice mix that I had from Penzeys, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  I stirred it a few times while it was cooking to make sure it cooked evenly.

Finally, while the breads were cooking I pulled together a quick raita - mixing 1 cup each of plain yogurt and shredded cucumbers (from my garden) with about 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and salt.

Over time, I have made some tweaks to the Badi recipe, so here is my version.

Sweet Potato Badi
Modified from Entertaining for a Veggie Planet
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 large sweet potato (or 2 medium), peeled and cut into 3/4" cubes
  • 2 small zucchini, halved or quartered lengthwise and then cut into 1/4"-1/2" slices
  • 2 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded and cut into 1/2" cubes (or diced tomatoes from a can)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1-2 small skinny chile peppers (jalepeno or serrano work fine), minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a large pan, heat the canola oil over medium heat.  Saute the lentils 5-10 minutes (adding the spices part way through), stirring frequently, until they begin to brown (or before - they burn pretty easily).  Add the potato/sweet potato and 1 1/2 cups water (or enough water to cover them when you put the pieces in a bowl after you chop).  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover almost completely; simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the zucchini, tomatoes, and peas and bring back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer again.  Cook until the vegetables are fork-tender and the liquid is mostly gone, about another 10-15 minutes.  Add more water while they cook if needed.  Remove from heat.

While the sweet potato mixture is cooking, heat a small frying pan over medium heat without any oil.  Toast the coconut until it is light brown (about 5 minutes), stirring frequently with a fork to mix, or shaking the pan.  Remove from heat before it is entirely done, as it will continue to cook in the pan (or transfer it to a bowl at that point).  Combine the the coconut, yogurt, chiles and salt in a bowl and mix together thoroughly.  Fold the yogurt mixture into the sweet potato mixture, then cover and let sit for a few minutes.  Serve over rice.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Here is my spout

Today I went in for a makeup pottery class and worked on assembling the teapots that I had thrown at my last class.  I enjoy making teapots because they bring together so many different pottery techniques (lids, handles, spouts...) and it always feels like an accomplishment when I make one I really like.  To make a teapot, you throw a teapot body and lid to fit.  I usually throw at least two lids per pot to be sure that I end up with one that fits and that I like.  I also try to throw 3-4 teapots at once, and then try to make all the openings the same size so that I will be able to try out various lids with the different pots.  There are a lot of different styles and types of lids so it can be fun to try out different kinds and see what looks best.  I also throw 2-3 spouts per teapot and try to make a variety of shapes so I can see what looks best with each pot.

After the pots get to be leather hard, I make the handles and assemble the pots.  I pull the handles off a lump of clay and let them dry a bit on a board.  This was the first thing I did when I came in today so that they would have a bit of time to dry and be a bit easier to work with.  The pottery studio where I take classes now also teaches a technique where you pull the handle on the piece, but this is the way I have always done it - I'll have to try the other technique at some point.

While the handles were setting up, I trimmed the lids and the teapot bodies, picking out which lid I thought went best with each piece.  Trimming is just the process of removing extra clay and making the bottom of a piece (where it was originally attached to the wheel) look nice and cleaned up.  Then I picked out which spout I thought looked best and cut it at an angle to attach to the pot.  I hold it up next to the pot to see what angle looks best and how high on the pot to attach it.  You have to be careful that you position the end of the spout higher than the top of the teapot body or you won't be able to fill the teapot all the way without spilling!  I am happy with how these pots turned out (and the other two partially finished today).  I could theoretically let them dry out at this point but I like to keep them wrapped in plastic for another few days to a week so let all the pieces get to the same moisture level before they start drying out - this helps reduce cracking as it dries.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wedding Paper Crafts - Part I

One of my favorite parts of planning our wedding was picking all the various paper products - most of which we made ourselves.  Our wedding had a garden/leafy theme, and was pretty low key (no wedding party) so having a consistent feel to all the stationery and paper products I thought really helped to establish the feeling for the wedding.  We ended up buying the wedding invites and response cards themselves from Wedding Paper Divas - we got the Merry Branch design (in Bark), which fit perfectly with our theme.  Pretty much everything else I made myself though - I used a variety of rubber stamps, and papers and cards from paper source, mostly in the colors leaf and sage.

For the save the dates, we printed the text right onto the paper source cards in our laser printer.  It was a kind of a pain because if you printed a few in a row, the ink would start to flake; I had originally thought we would have kinkos print them, only to find out they will only print on full sheets of card stock and then cut them down to size.  Then I stamped each card with a leaf in green ink and embossed with clear embossing powder.  We got a custom-printed return address stamp which got a lot of use.  I found that the colorbox ink pads were great for using with embossing powder, and the vivid ink pads were great for anything I didn't want to emboss, as they dry super quickly.

I also made all our thank you notes; some were folded note cards and some were flat cards with a design printed at the top.  I got a great set of acrylic thank you stamps online (I found I gravitated to a few of them that I liked the best and seemed appropriately formal).  It was fun getting to see all the designs again as we wrote the notes!  This is just a sampling of some of the ones I made... I kept meaning to take photos of them but there were a lot that never got photographed.

Coming soon... Part II with some of the paper crafts I made for the ceremony and reception.

Disclosure: I received compensation in the form of a promotional credit for adding links to Wedding Paper Divas to this post.  All opinions are my own.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fun with Farmer's Market Fruit

I have always been a big fan of farmer's markets, and I am loving the fact that this year they started doing a farmer's market right outside of my office building every Wednesday! It makes it so much easier to get to a market every week, especially if we are away on the weekend, and I find that I am often stopping by several different markets to pick up different things during the week. DC folks, if you don't already know where your nearest market is, here is a listing of all the ones run by FreshFarm markets (not totally comprehensive, but a good start).
Amazingly, I have been finding that this summer, I have been able to grow nearly all the vegetables we need, so my farmer's market purchases have trended more towards fruits (well, fruits and green beans, as my beans this year have again not been so successful).  I have been loving snacking on fresh apricots, which have such a lovely delicate flavor compared to dried ones.  I am a huge peach and nectarine fan, and have been enjoying trying the different varieties as the season progresses.  Berries always feel like a splurge to me but this week I got blackberries which I have been eating in my cereal each morning.  Growing up going to Maine each summer I really can't get on board with the big (relatively) bland blueberries that we get down here in the mid-Atlantic, but the abundance of other delicious fruits makes up for it pretty well!

I have been eating up the fruit as a delicious snack, but with such an abundance I have also been enjoying trying out some fruit recipes.  In addition to the two shown below, I made peach ice cream from The Ultimate Ice Cream book, which I had made last summer and it was really yummy once again.  I have found the book to be really comprehensive and all the recipes we have tried have turned out really well.  Although, I have recently been tempted to get another ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop.  Is it bad to want to own two books of ice cream recipes?

For a coworker's going away party today, I made a recipe from my mom, a plum torte.  It looks fancy (I think) but is actually really easy to put together, and very tasty.  You make it in a springform pan, here is mine after I took off the outside ring today:

Plum Torte
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4-5 plums (underripe is OK, mine were overripe which was OK but not ideal)
  • more sugar and lemon juice (lemon juice optional) 

Butter and flour 9" springform or deeper than usual cake pan, and preheat oven to 350°.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt, then add the flour to the wet ingredients in several additions, mixing after each, and then adding the vanilla and mixing until it is smooth.   Spread the dough (which is fairly thick dough) to cover the bottom of the pan.  Cut the plums in half and arrange them around the pan, cut side down.  Sprinkle pan with sugar and lemon juice if desired. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour (I baked mine an hour and it was a bit on the done side); as it bakes the dough rises up around the plums and kind of encases them.  You can serve it plain or with vanilla ice cream.  Cut and serve from the pan--don't try to take the bottom off the springform/remove it from the cake pan.

Finally, the last fruit recipe that I have to share is a savory dish and super easy and delicious. I am pretty sure this is a Mark Bittman recipe, but I originally was served this at a friends and have made it several times since.  It's just a variation on a classic tomato basil salad where you add peaches to the mix... and dressed with a simple drizzle of olive oil and plenty of salt.  For mine, I had yellow pear and red carmello tomatoes from my garden, green and purple basil also from my garden, and then white and yellow peaches from the farmers market.  Yum!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Glass four ways

Last summer I took a break from my usual pottery class and enjoyed having a more flexible schedule and a bit more free time... and I also took the opportunity to explore some new crafts that I hadn't tried before.  One great thing I tried was a beginner glass lover's weekend class at the washington glass school.  I had done stained glass before, but I had never tried any other glass techniques so it was fun to get to try out a variety of things.

My favorite was fusing and slumping.  You use a piece of glass as a base (we used clear glass) and then cut out shapes out of special "bullseye" glass (which melts well) and arrange them on top of the base in a pattern of your choice.  Then they are fired in a kiln and melt together (fusing) and you can either keep it as a flat piece or fire it again over a mold to give it a shape (slumping).  Here is the piece I made:

We also did some kiln casting - we made a shape out of wet clay, and then poured a plaster mold around it.  The next day after the plaster had hardened, we pulled out all the pieces of clay and then filled it up with glass shards.  They fired it in a kiln and then broke apart the plaster, revealing the shape we had molded.  I made a fairly intricate christmas tree (I had tried to think what figural glass object I might want to have around the house and that was what I came up with... although it has been sitting out year round since then which is a little strange now that I think of it).  It was hard to get all the plaster picked out of the nooks and crannies of this shape so I don't totally love how it turned out, but it was fun to learn the technique.

Finally, we learned another technique that they actually invented at the Washington Glass Studio (the studio affiliated with the school), dry plaster casting.  They have a kiln where the bottom is covered in fine dry plaster (kind of a dust), with bricks dividing it into tile sized areas.  You press objects into the plaster to make an indentation, and then put two pieces of glass on top stacked on each other; when they fire the kiln, the glass melts into the indentations and takes on the shapes you created with really a lot of detail.  One of the glass artists there had some neat 3-D leaf shapes she had made which I really liked (given my affinity to all things leaf-shaped or themed), that she was nice enough to let me use.  I used my fingertip to make a dot border around the edge.

All in all it was a great class!  Of all the techniques I learned I am most interested in doing more fusing.  It reminded me of stained glass but without having to be so precise (in stained glass the pieces really have to fit together exactly) and without all the soldering.

I also took a glass-blowing class last summer at Glen Echo which was something I had always wanted to try.  It was really hard!  The hardest part for me was the heat, especially when you were working in the "glory hole" but even when you had the glass out in the open, it radiated a lot of heat just from the glass.  It was also really physical and required a lot of lifting and constant movement... and a lot of coordination.  I was glad I tried it but don't think it is something I will probably do again.  I made a tumbler but actually never went to pick it up (it is pretty far away from our house).

Finally, another glass project from last summer was that I made another stained glass window.  This is the fifth or sixth one I have made I think - all using the lead technique.  Sometime I would like to learn the copper foil technique which allows you to make more intricate designs.  This is the first window I have made where I drew the design myself!  I am really happy with how it turned out although I definitely learned a few things about how to draw stained glass window patterns to make them easier (or harder) to make.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Restarting the blog... and self-watering containers!

I haven't updated this blog basically since Lawson and I started dating nearly 3 years ago... I have had all kinds of crafty and cooking adventures in the meantime, including our wedding in May! I want to get back into blogging and hope to share many of the projects that I do moving forward. I will also try to post some of the highlights from the past couple years.

With that in mind, here is a crafty garden project that I did in 2008 when we moved into our house - making self-watering plant containers. The basic idea is that you plant plants in dirt in the top half, with wicking material going from the top to the water reservoir below, allowing the plan to "self-water" for stretches at a time. Since our entire patio garden is in containers, this helps lighten the watering load (and in fact often enough rainwater gathers in the reservoir that I don't have to water at all!).

For each container, I bought two plastic bins from Ikea - one shallow one and one deep one (11 gallon and 22 gallon sizes, I believe). They shallow one fits snugly inside the deep one, leaving half the space of the big one as a water reservoir. I also bought wicking material from Gardener's supply company - but if you don't want to buy this, you could probably also use flannel fabric or any other material that would be wicking. I also used a small square of flat rubber (about 5" x 8") for each container, which I got at a local hardware store, and some epoxy to attach it.

Tools needed: power drill and bits, jigsaw or sturdy knife.

Putting the smaller bin inside the large one, drill large holes evenly spaced throughout; these holes allow water to go though the dirt and enter the reservoir below. In order to insert the wicking material, you need to have a few slots in the bin, so I also drilled a line of large holes in the plastic. After drilling the holes you will have some bits of shredded plastic around that you will want to clean up, and you can use a knife to cut off any hanging bits.

Then I used a jigsaw to saw those slots open, and threaded a piece of wicking material through each slot. I cut the pieces in half width-wise so that they would still be long enough to reach into the reservoir below, but not as wide. I left about half to a third of the wicking material in the top part of the container, so that it could be wrapped around the soil when I filled up the container, allowing good wicking action!

Then, I drilled a few holes in the side of the larger container, just below the level which the top container goes to when it is inserted into the larger one. The idea is that you want a drain on the side so that the container does not fill up with water past the reservoir and into the top container - which would water-log the plants and kill them. Then I glued the rubber patch on over the drainage holes, applying glue along the top edge and side edges but not the bottom, and scoring the side of the container a bit to make it stick better (I let the glue dry with the containers on their sides to make sure the patches stayed on). The patches are so that mosquitoes can't use the drainage holes to access the water reservoir - it creates a seal, but allows water to drain out when the container fills up.

After the glue had dried, I assembled the containers with the top part inside the larger container, then filled each one with dirt and planted some seedlings. You can water them using a hose to add water through the dirt, and they will also do a good job collecting rain water when it rains.  You can actually see a tube in the photos that I included for watering when I first made these, but I have found it not to be necessary and didn't include it in these directions.  I have found my plants to be very happy in these for the past two seasons - I have grown lots of greens, herbs, peppers and even small tomato plants in these pots with great success!
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