Monday, August 30, 2010

A smelly return and other stories

We came home to a very bad smell at our front door. Rotting cheese puffs? A drunk nesting in our portico? Nope. It was milk gone horribly wrong. We have our milk delivered via old-fashioned milkman, and for the second time, our cancelled order got delivered anyway. The milk had exploded onto the portico brick floor, giving our entryway a delightful vomit aroma. Not the way you want to be welcomed home.

In kitchen news, cabinet crown molding has been installed. The hood has also been installed (though not its innards). That lost hood insert has finally found its way here from California. Now it's our Rohl kitchen faucet that's mysteriously missing. No word from Yale Appliances on where it is or when it will arrive (or if it's already there). Kitchen fixtures seem to stray off-course worse than wayward teens.

Photos from today. This one's a little gollywonkers. Am I still wobbly from the ferry? (Speaking of ferries, book the passenger ferry if you're bringing your car to Nantucket. The passenger ferry has food service and lots of seats and tables on deck so you can enjoy the scenery. The freight ferry takes some passengers, but has none of the above. I'll have more photos from Nantucket later.)

Here's the hood with its reclaimed white oak trim. I haven't decided what color to paint it. The wall color? The Cooking Apple Green? I'm taking suggestions.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A tasting flight

Sorry. Sorry. Time slipped away. At the end of each sandy, salt-kissed day, I realized that there went another day without a blog entry.

But look at what was around me. It was so easy to get lost in this. And the eating and laughing and swimming and cycling and lazing and reading and more eating.

And oh yes, imbibing.

If you happen to be in Nantucket (and if you happen to enjoy a brew now and again), I highly recommend a visit to Cisco Brewers. If you enjoy a brew, but are sadly off the island, look for their beers at your local East Coast restaurant or market. Tucked away on a side road, Cisco Brewers sits behind a sign so discreet that you could easily whiz past it. Only the number of cars parked nose to rump on the side of the road hints at something happening. Something fun. Something popular.

We chose the tasting flight. The tasting flight, eight samples of Cisco Brewers' beers, is served in this adorable miniature glass that's yours to keep. We had amiable debates about which samples were our favorites. Mine was the Pumple Drumkin Spiced Ale. Possibly because of its name. Possibly because it tasted of fall, my favorite season.

The expansive stone-paved courtyard provided the perfect venue for sipping, people watching, and relaxing in the summer breeze. Dogs wandered past the table, pausing for brief, tail-wagging visits. Children explored the grounds, clutching icy cream sodas.

Blue skies. Good brew. Live music. Good company. Happy times.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Marcella Hazan's pesto

For many of us, a hotter-than-normal summer has spurred basil to grow lushly in our gardens. This is a wonderful way to use that bounty.

Pesto by the Food Processor Method
- from the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

For the processor:
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine before putting in the processor

For completion by hand:
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated romano cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

1-1/2 pounds pasta

1. Briefly soak and wash the basil in cold water, and gently pat it thoroughly dry with paper towels.
2. Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, and an ample pinch of salt in the processor bowl, and process to a uniform, creamy consistency.
3. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the two grated cheeses by hand. It is worth the slight effort to do it by hand to obtain the notably superior texture it produces. When the cheese has been evenly amalgamated with the other ingredients, mix in the softened butter, distributing it uniformly into the sauce.
4. When spooning the pesto over pasta, dilute it slightly with a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta was cooked.

Freezing pesto: Make the sauce by the food processor method through the end of Step 2, and freeze it without cheese and butter in it. Add the cheese and butter when it is thawed, just before using.

If you don't already own it, Marcella Hazan's cookbook, full of simple and delicious ways to prepare food, is an essential for your kitchen. This plate features both her pesto and her oil and vinegar dressing. Thanks to my sister- and brother-in-law for bringing this pesto (made from homegrown basil) from their Princeton kitchen. It made for a lovely meal to end the day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

At the heart of it all

"Shoes?" you ask, puzzled.

No (though shoes are dear to my accessory-lovin' heart).

Maybe we take such care in creating our kitchen because it's where our family and friends gather for nourishment, both physical and emotional. The kitchen may be the heart of our home, but at the heart of it all is family.

We're taking a break from our regularly scheduled kitchen updates for a family getaway in Nantucket. Grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and the reason for the staircase of shoes, our shoe-loving pup-in-law, Pekoe.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just put one foot in front of the other

"Just put one foot in front of the other,
And soon you'll be walkin' 'cross the floor.
Just put one foot in front of the other,
And soon you'll be walkin' out the door!"

- Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Christmas in August? Almost. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve, buzzing with anticipation. Cabinets are almost, but not fully installed. We need to adjust some doors.

Renovating our kitchen has been a lesson in taking one step at a time and shrugging off the occasional, inevitable step backwards. That said, I love walkin' 'cross our new floor. Sawdust and all.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Hardware. I've had a heck of a time with hardware. This is what happens when you get all cutesy and buy vintage library pulls. Next to all that authentic, patinated goodness, most modern hardware looked too glossy, too perfect. Plus, I was trying my darndest to keep to a restrained budget.

This is where Horton Brasses came in. Founded in the early 30s, Horton Brasses is a family-owned company in Connecticut. Their foundry produces beautiful reproduction hardware of all sorts from hinges, casters, furniture trim to house numbers.

Online, their Antique finish looked like a match for my pulls. The pull shape was simple, and the finish looked muted. Perfect. The hardware arrived yesterday. When they said it would come quickly, they weren't kidding.

In person, their hardware was even better. The metal was ever-so-slightly distressed. Nothing gaudy, but a lovely, barely discernible texture to the metal. The shape and heft were perfect. Comfortable in the hand. The only downer was that their 8-3/4" appliance pull that I'd been hoping to use for my 36" pot drawers was too massive. Just far too beefy for the quiet, delicately colored apple green cabinets. So I'll exchange them for the AD-4010 4-7/8" pulls and just use two per drawer.*

So here are my hardware pieces. Forgive the dusty background. My theme song lately is "Sawdust Gets in Your Eyes." Much less romantic somehow than "Smoke."

*Am I the only person who footnotes their blog posts? Too much academia at an impressionable age? Anyway, Horton Brasses will finish Restoration Hardware pulls in their Antique color. A fellow blogger and cool cook/kitchen chick had them do exactly this in her new kitchen. So I dallied briefly with buying 8" Ephraim pulls from Restoration Hardware, and having Horton Brasses finish them in Antique. But I still worried about scale. So I decided to be lazy and go with the smaller pulls. I know those will look good, and I'll get over not having one center pull.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green cabinets

I said cabinets were going to be installed today, right? I was a little right. The cabinets are a little installed.

And I'm not mad. Really. Because our GC loves our cabinets, and is installing them very, very, very carefully. Which is good. I'd rather that he take time and be extra careful than to make a mistake. An error at this stage would be even more costly (and would probably make me cry).

Because we're in the little crooked house with little crooked walls and the little crooked floors (and we have a little crooked dog...really!), the crew had to scribe every cabinet side that touched the walls. But wow! What a little crooked kitchen this is going to be! (And to go with that theme, even the photo is a little crooked!)

The Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green. I angsted about this color. I did. I stared at swatches until I was cross-eyed. And my poor husband was cross-eyed. And every neighbor, friend, and relative who was dragged into my kitchen was cross-eyed. Who in their right mind does pale green cabinets? So not neutral. So scary. Even as they were unloading the cabinets, I was fretting and worrying like crazy. But I love them. They're cheerful and vintage-y and look so at home here.

Here are the glass knobs from Anthropologie. They'll be mixed with vintage library pulls from Ebay and antique brass knobs and pulls from Horton Brasses. The Old White cabinets have wooden mushroom pulls painted the cabinet color.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Base cabinet with furniture feet painted in Farrow & Ball Old White. Love! (My heart goes pitter patter over cabinetry. Who'd a thunk?)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


No. Not me. Though with the reno stress, it's very tempting. Very. Did I mention our missing hood? It has somehow wandered away somewhere between California and here.

In this case, I'm talking about cucumbers. We've had an abundance of cucumbers this summer. More than we can eat fresh. So, of course, I decide this is a good time to try pickling them. Cuz smack in the midst of renovation chaos is the very best time to learn how to pickle!

Refrigerator Pickles

1 small sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Maui), thinly sliced
2 pounds medium pickling cucumbers, scrubbed, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 large bunch dill, coarsely chopped (stems included)
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons dill seeds

Divide sliced onion between two 1-quart wide-mouth glass jars. Pack cucumber slices horizontally in jars. Top each jar with dill.

Using mortar and pestle or resealable plastic bag and mallet, crush mustard seeds and peppercorns together. Place crushed spices in medium saucepan. Add vinegar, 1 cup water, sugar, coarse salt, and dill seeds. Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Ladle mixture evenly over cucumbers. Refrigerate jars uncovered for 24 hours. After that time, cover glass pickle jars tightly with lids. Refrigerate.

Note: If you have very large cucumbers, make more brine. The cucumbers will not pack down well in the jars and will require extra liquid.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

DIY reclaimed white oak floors

Not a very inspired title, I'm afraid, but I'm running long on tired and short on inspiration. In a haze of fatigue that even coffee can't clear. I feel all thumbs, grappling clumsily with words. So, photos instead.

Reclaimed white oak tongue-and-groove flooring from Longleaf Lumber in Cambridge, MA. They're very nice folks and have beautiful wood products, including antique heart pine counters and flooring.

Will had the grueling job of installing the floor.  I unbundled and sorted the planks. Longleaf Lumber's oak flooring isn't graded as carefully as their heart pine so the planks varied from clear to very distressed. "Character," I called it. The planks with so much character as to verge on loony (if they were people) were placed where the cabinets will be. The rest of the floor mixed clear with character planks. See the gorgeous grain?

Will sanded the floor using a U-Sand orbital sander rented at Home Depot. Not difficult to do, but I was a little nervous when I read this:

Not very reassuring. That along with the many Waterlox warnings ("Liquid evaporates and forms vapor (fumes) which can catch fire and burn with explosive force."), the nail guns, and power saws, the asbestos, and the lead, it's a wonder we've survived this renovation. Knock on reclaimed wood.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Roast poblano pepper quesadillas

I picked up some gorgeous poblano peppers at our local farmers market. An easy and delicious prep method is to roast them, either on the grill or in your oven. Roasted, they have a wonderful, smoky, spicy flavor that combines beautifully with many other ingredients: cheeses, avocado, diced tomatoes. You can toss in some grilled chicken if you're not feeling vegetarian. A quick, flavorful meal.

Next time you're at your local market or grocery, pick up a few and give this a try. You'll be saying, "¡Muy auténtico!"

Roast poblano pepper quesadillas

3 poblano peppers
1 cup shredded queso fresca *
1 cup grated cotija *
8 flour tortillas
(2 grilled chicken breasts cut into strips if desired)

*Trader Joe's and some specialty stores have these cheeses. Queso fresca is a mild, creamy, crumbly cheese. Cotija is sharp with a texture resembling parmigiano reggiano. If you can't find these cheeses, any shredded Mexican cheese blend or cheddar/monterey jack blend will be fine.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Lay poblanos directly on the grill. Turn frequently until charred and softened. It will look like the photo above. Remove from grill and place in plastic bag. Close bag. Let sit for five minutes. Take peppers out of bag. Remove skin. Cut off stem. Slice open the pepper and scrape out the seeds. Slice peppers into strips.

While preparing peppers, grill chicken breasts (if desired). When chicken is cooked through, slice into thin strips.

Reduce grill to low heat. Place pizza stone on grill. Leave the grill closed for five minutes to heat the stone. Assemble the quesadilla by sprinkling cheeses, poblano peppers, chicken (if desired), and more cheese on one tortilla. Top with second tortilla. Place the quesadilla on the pizza stone. Grill until the bottom tortilla starts to brown. Flip quesadilla. Cook to brown the second tortilla.

Cut into pieces. Top with diced avocados, salsa, or pico de gallo if you want.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Where, oh where...

Where, oh where are my plasterers? 
Oh where, oh where can they be? 
With their schedules short
and their blueboard long,
Oh where, oh where can they be?
(sung to the children's song, "Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?")

Work is being done in my kitchen at a phenomenal rate of 1.5 days per week. Who knew a schedule could be so elastic? Ours is getting stretched longer than silly putty.

An unforeseen downside to having a not-so-big house is that it quickly becomes a much-too-small house during a major reno. It doesn't look like we'll be done by the start of school so there will be the challenge of finding a homework spot in the middle of this mess. And a place for the piles of school-generated paperwork. My kids may be lucky enough to say, "My mom lost my homework." 

Then there's the laundry obstacle course. How do we get to the washer and dryer? We go through the Plastic Tarp Forest, under the Low-Hanging Chandelier, and around Oak Flooring Mountain! We did it! Hooray! (Yes. Too much Dora warps the brain.)

Deep breath in. And out. And go find chocolate.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Deal flash: Sundance verdigris pendant light

A few weeks ago, I ordered two of these verdigris pendant lights from Sundance. They were industrial and vintage in style, smaller in size. Perfect for my kitchen. They were backordered and just shipped yesterday. So I was surprised to see that today, they are on sale for $49.99 each. The original $95 wasn't a bad price, but this discounted price is fantastic! Fedex should be delivering my lights in a few days. I'll let you know what I think once I have them in hand.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The story of the tortoise and the hare

Once upon a time, the tortoise and the hare decided to embark upon kitchen renovations. The hare sprinted away immediately in a frenzy of work: demo, rough electrical, plumbing, plaster, cabinet install. The tortoise plodded away from the start, moving laboriously toward the finish line.

Guess which one I am?

The tortoise does win in the end, doesn't she? Forget winning. Does she, at least, get a finished kitchen?

Shot of what has happened this week:

We got our new window. And just out of frame, plumbing that now meets code.

A renovation bubble is ballooning here in Boston. Everyone who worried about job security, retirement funds, stock market, etc. last year is plunging ahead with his plans. Everyone who decided that she couldn't/shouldn't buy a new house is fixing up her old one. Subcontractors are deluged with work, and every single blessed one of them is running behind.

It is looking nice though.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Boston's 1st Annual Food Truck Festival

Flip Happy. Torchy's. The late, lamented Shuggie's.

I never thought I'd see the likes of them in Boston. These funky, tiny operations (usually housed in revamped trailers) channeled the soul of Austin. Laid back. Outdoorsy (there's nowhere to eat but outdoors when you're cooking out of a trailer). Serving up surprisingly sophisticated and delicious food. With its wintry chill and more buttoned-up rep, Boston wouldn't have anything similar, would it?

Then I found out about Boston's 1st Annual Food Truck Festival, this coming Sunday, August 8, from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Located at 500 Harrison Ave. Boston, MA, the festival promises to bring together an extensive and eclectic gathering of Boston food trucks.

Confirmed participants (per the event's Facebook page):
speed's hot dogs
m&m ribs
lincoln street coffee
dragon mobile disco
taza chococycle
south end pita
boston frosty
herrara's mexican grill
food truck nation
equal exchange coffee trike
grillo's pickles
the sausage guy
roxy's grilled cheese
b. good
trolley dogs

From my initial glance at this list, it looks like the food is more fair fare than the Austin Airstream contingent's menus. But if the gods (and my kidlings) cooperate, I plan to be there getting my calories on.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Garlic-lime halibut

Market day today. Everything on this plate was either grown in our garden or purchased at the farmers market, including amazingly fresh halibut steaks. As we learn to cook without our kitchen, I find that we're eating healthier. Grilled meats and vegetables. Little added oil or butter. Lots of leafy greens.

Produce at the farmers market can be expensive. It's a real factor for people who're working with a tight budget, and sadly, sometimes the emptiest calories are the cheapest. However, I've found that our food bills haven't gone up as I've begun to purchase more from farmers markets. I wonder if it's because the food is more flavorful and therefore more satisfying. We're also eating more vegetables and smaller portions of meat which reduces cost. Growing one's own vegetables is another option. I know a couple of families who have thriving vegetable gardens in their front yards. Attractive landscaping doesn't have to be all shrubs, annuals, and water-guzzling lawn grasses.

And speaking of growing vegetables, does anyone know where I can get mustard seed and dill seed? I'm planning to make refrigerator dill pickles with our cucumbers, and can't find these at my usual haunts.

Garlic-lime halibut
1 and 1/4 lbs halibut steak
juice of 2 limes
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a small bowl, mix lime juice, minced garlic, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat grill to medium heat. Spoon marinade onto both sides of halibut. Place on grill. Cook approximately 5 minutes per side, until firm and flaky.

Delicious and so easy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Campfire-style mixed berry cobbler

Question of the day: what to do with pounds of freshly picked blackberries and blueberries? With no working kitchen, my options were limited. What about a mixed berry cobbler, campfire style? After research, I discovered that most campfire cobbler recipes used boxed mixes and canned fruits. Practical for actual camping. No one wants to hike for days carrying fresh, bruisable fruits and baking supplies. Not good for my needs. So Will, grillmaster turned baker, made up his own, a blend of several different recipes.

Will's campfire-style mixed berry cobbler
3 cups blueberries
3 cups blackberries
1/2 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystalized ginger
1 teaspoon orange zest

Mix berries, lemon juice, ginger, orange zest, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a large bowl. Let sit while you make the topping.

Mix remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cornstarch in a small bowl.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup boiling water

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add hot water and mix until just blended.

Once topping is prepared, add cornstarch mixture to filling and mix well. Pour into a large dutch oven. Spread topping evenly over the top. Preheat grill on medium-low. Put in covered grill at 450F for around 25 minutes (until topping is firm). Remove cover and bake for another 5 minutes. Grill needed to be on medium-low to keep temperatures from going over 450.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

This worked beautifully on the grill, and is a great summery sweet for whenever you don't have an oven or don't want to heat up your kitchen. Next time, I'd bump up the amount of blueberries and reduce the blackberries. Also, you may want to reduce the amount of crystalized ginger. My husband liked it, but I found it a bit too gingery.