Sunday, November 11, 2012

Friday was my first day off in several weeks. My friend, Colleen, and I went antiquing on the "Antiquing Alley" route of Indiana. It's near Richmond, and it has one of the largest concentration of antique stores per square mile than any other place in the U.S. I'm fortunate that Indianapolis is just a short drive from it. We spent the entire day visiting stores, but could have spent weeks exploring all of the shops. One store had hundreds of vintage postcards from various locales for just a dollar or two apiece. I love collecting old postcards, especially the ones that have writing on the back and are postmarked. Given that I'm originally from Cincinnati, I bought several Cincinnati postcards dating from the early 1900's to the 1940's.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

This Little Light of Mine

One of my favorite hobbies is looking through vintage photographs at antique stores and flea markets. Almost nothing makes me happier than sorting through pictures of  long-dead strangers in an attempt to obtain a glimpse or understanding of what their lives may have been like. I particularly like turn of the century studio photographs because they captured their subjects in an idealized way-- the way that they most wanted to be remembered. They wore their finest clothes and their best shoes. The reality of their day-to-day existence may have bare feet, simple cotton day dresses and overalls, but the photographs are all buttoned-up leather boots, lace, velvet and fine gabardine. I collect all kinds of vintage photos--and I'll be posting several of them on here--but my favorites are images of religious events such as baptisms, first communions, confirmations, and bar mitzvahs. Below are some images from my collection. The majority of them were taken in Cincinnati at the turn of the century in the downtown photography studio of Young & Carl. The photo of the bar mitzvah boy and his older brother were purchased on ebay from their great nephew and they were taken in Pennsylvania. (I can't imagine selling family photos on ebay, but I suppose some people aren't as sentimental about their ancestors as I am about mine.)  Also, if you're interested in some fantastic vintage dog photographs, my good friend, Colleen Steffen, has a blog entitled "With Smudge in Yard." Smudge is being revamped, but her photos are available at this link on Flickr:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fall Dinner Party

I moved to Indianapolis from Cincinnati a little over a year ago and I'm still adjusting.  Since moving here, Michael and I have not really entertained much. Our house is a small cottage, so large scale entertaining is out of the question. We decided to host a fall dinner party for a reasonably numbered group of 6 friends. Originally, my plan was to host the dinner party outside, but while the evenings here have turned chilly, the bugs still think that it's mid-July, so we had the party indoors. I have been eager to repaint the small, galley-style kitchen a brighter color and I purchased Valspar Lemon Curd paint about a month ago with the project in mind. The previous owners of the home were an elderly couple and when they last painted the kitchen they simply painted over the hinges on the cabinets, making them difficult to close all of the way--not to mention hideous looking. I had to apply paint remover to all of the hinges just to remove them. In hindsight taking on a major project like that a few days prior to a dinner party was probably not one of my better ideas. Still, Michael and I managed to get it done and the end result is quite lovely and just being in the bright yellow kitchen makes me a happier cook.

I really enjoy menu planning and can spend days rummaging through my cookbooks and back issues of cooking magazines. One of my Moosewood cookbooks has a recipe for an apple sweet potato chipotle pepper soup that I've been wanting to try for years, so that recipe became the focal point. I also made a wonderful apple cider vinaigrette that I served over mixed greens, sauteed green beans, mashed potatoes, grilled flat iron steaks, and pots de creme for dessert. The pots de creme recipe is from another Moosewood Cookbook and it's a favorite because it's incredibly easy, yet is the kind of recipe that tastes as if you spent hours preparing it. Normally, pots de creme requires a water bath (bain marie if you want to use the technical term), but mine does not. The menu and recipes can be found below.

 Sweet Potato, Apple, and Chipotle Soup

Adapted from "Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health"
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 C chopped onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (I used 3)
  • 1 C thinly sliced celery
  • 5 C thinly sliced peeled sweet potatos
  • 2 C chopped apples
  • 1 T minced canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I used a little more, but don't go crazy--it can get overly spicy quickly)
  • 1 quart (4 C) Veggie Broth
  • 1 C water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 C unsweetened apple juice
Directions: Warm oil in soup pot on high heat.  Add onions and garlic and continue to cook, stirring continually, until the onions begin to soften, about three minutes.  Add the celery, sweet potatoes, apple, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, veggie broth, water, salt, cinnamon, and black pepper.  Cover and bring to boil.  Lower heat and simmer gently until sweet potatos and apples are soft, ~20 minutes.  Add the apple juice to pot and puree the soup in a blender or immersion blender until smooth and creamy.  Blend in more chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, and/or black pepper if you need to.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

This is a simple recipe that I found on I doubled the recipe, with the exception of the  1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. I reduced a 1/2 cup of apple juice to 1/4 cup instead because I wanted a more pronounced and sweet apple flavor. Therefore, I used 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar AND 1/4 cup of my apple juice reduction.

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 cup light olive oil
  • 12 cups mixed torn greens (such as romaine lettuce, curly endive and watercress)
  • 1 crisp red-skinned apple, quartered, cored, thinly sliced

One of my guests is a vegetarian so I made a delicious polenta and cheese casserole. This recipe is from one of Jeanne Lemlin's cookbooks. Her vegetarian cookbooks are fantastic.
    1 4 oz can chopped green (mild) chilies - well drained
    1.5 c frozen corn, thawed
    1.5 c Jack Cheese w/ jalapeno
    1/2 c sour cream
    2 c milk
    1.5 c water
    1 c cornmeal
    3 cloves garlic
    3/4 tsp salt
    1/3 c parmesan cheese

1. Butter 2.5 Qt casserole
2. Whisk milk, water, cornmeal, garlic, salt. Boil over medium heat, whisking continuously. Cook until thickened like mashed potatoes - 7 minutes.
3. Pour 1/2 polenta into casserole and spread evenly. Sprinkle on half of chilies, half of corn and Jack cheese. Pour on remaining Polenta, spread. Sprinkle on remaining chilies, corn, cheese. Let sit 20 minutes or cover & refrigerate up to 24 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 400
5. Bake 25 - 30 minutes - until sizzling and golden
6. Let sit 10 minutes

Number of Servings: 6

Pots de Creme a l'Orange

(Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts)

Serves 6
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of half and half
12 ozs semi-sweet chocolate broken into pieces
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons of orange flavored liqueur, such as Grand Marnier ( I have also used Chambord with great success. I think that amaretto would also be good.)
1/4 tsp of freshly grated orange peel

fresh whipped cream

In a double boiler, heat the cream, half and half, and chocolate until the chocolate melts. Stir with a whisk until all of the ingredients are well blended and remove from the heat.
In a blender, whirl the egg yolks, liqueur, and orange peel. With the machine running, slowly pour in the hot chocolate mixture. Return the mixture to the double boiler and continue to cook until it thickens to a lightly set pudding. Divide among 6 dessert cups and chill for two hours. Serve with the whipped cream.

(I love using mismatched china teacups for this dessert. As an avid thrifter, antiquer, and yard saler I've amassed quite a collection over the years.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Here Comes the Sun (Or Not)

I write this with a great deal of shame: I'm a failure at gardening.  Don't let the lush greenness fool you, there is very little produce. The few Roma tomatoes that aren't green are puny, the zucchini never grew (zucchini? Isn't that stuff supposed to take over your garden and yield a bumper crop?), and the eggplants thus far have yielded exactly two. Sure, the green beans were plentiful in late June and July, but the plants died off weeks ago. The only thing that seems to be thriving are the herbs and those aren't exactly high maintenance. I had fantasies that my little raised bed would feed us well over the course of the summer. Oh, the spicy marinara sauce that I would make, the smoky baba ghanouj, and the savory zucchini and cheese pies. Years of reading "Mother Earth News" and cookbooks by the likes of Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver convinced me that gardening was a relatively simple endeavor and that, with a little effort, I would be greatly rewarded with lots of organic produce. Where did I go wrong? The soil was well fertilized and was specially formulated for growing vegetables, the garden received sufficient water and had proper drainage. It appears that my poor little garden was suffering from a serious solar deficiency. I planted the garden behind our garage where I expected that it would get a full day of sun, but in reality it only received about 3 hours of direct sunlight a day--not enough, especially for tomatoes. Next year I'll know better. Container gardening is going to be the way to go. Til then I'll take some solace from my favorite quote by Mr. Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”