Archive for April, 2012

Leftovers? Cover them with DIY bowl covers.

We have a problem in our house and it goes something like this:

Child: Can I have some  (juice, kefir, water, milk, moonshine)?

Adult:  Why, of course! pulls out cup, fills it halfway with desired liquid.

Child:  Thanks! proceeds to drink 1/2 – 2/3rd of liquid, leaving the rest and runs off.

Adult:  Sigh…

The truth is, my family doesn’t belong to the clean plate club.  And given the strange feeding habits of the very young, my girls often pick at their plates, decide they’re not hungry, only to return – totally famished – sometime later.  Thus, I was looking for a way to keep food and drink fresh for exactly these occasions, while avoiding plastic wrap – which is not only wasteful, but annoying to use. The collective wisdom of the Internet has a number of tutorials, all variations on this project, and they looked easy enough to try.  My first instinct was to go with oilcloth, since I love all those cheerful Mexican designs, but unfortunately oilcloth isn’t food safe (and its phthalate level makes it unsafe for use around children in general).  However, a good substitute is laminated cotton (which is laminated with polyurethane, not PVC).  Now, I will be the first to admit that I’m not exactly sure how “green” laminated cotton is – but it’s reusability make it a step up from plastic wrap.  Plus, there are a lot of beautiful laminated cotton designs to choose from.  My favorites are from Michael Miller, Amy Butler, and Heather Bailey.  I ordered enough to create a tablecloth and then cut off the rest to make various bowl covers.

The first step was to pull out the glasses and bowls we use most to see how many I could make:

This was also a chance to unearth my sewing machine – a 1970’s Singer that I inherited from my dear grandmother.  I’m not a very good seamstress, but I have kept this machine throughout my travels out of a mixture of nostalgia and optimism.

Aside from the cotton laminate, you need a few other supplies:

  1. A good pair of scissors
  2. A pencil
  3. 1/4″ wide elastic
  4. The compass and ruler are handy, but actually not essential (unless you are a perfectionist).

Step 1:  Take your cup or bowl and trace around it.  You will then want to cut the fabric at a circumference roughly 1-2 inches larger than the rim of your dish.  You can either use the compass or eyeball it. I chose the latter.

Step 2:  Set your sewing machine to a zigzag stitch and adjust it so that the stitch is short and fairly wide. You will want to sew your elastic in the area between the circle you drew and the edge of your fabric. Make sure to back-stitch at the beginning to hold the elastic in place.  The trick is to stretch the elastic while sewing in a circle – which, frankly, isn’t that easy.  Mine looks like I started this project by tossing back several mojitos in quick succession (I didn’t), but they are functional despite the somewhat inebriated nature of the stitching.

When you are finished, your circle will be gathered like a little shower cap and should stretch right over the dish you started with.

I will admit to a bit of a learning curve to the first couple, but once I got the hang of the sewing I was able to make a dozen of these in a little over an hour.  Now, each morning when my daughters inevitably fail to finish whatever they are drinking, we put a little hat on their glass and save it for when they get home from school.  Problem solved!


Do Your Eggs Fly?

Image: From Scratch Club, 2012

When was the last time you read a book that made you hyperventilate?  One where you had to stop every few pages just to catch your breath and contain your excitement?  I just went through a week of that very feeling while reading – no, devouring – Tamar E. Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal: cooking with economy and grace.

Structured as an homage to M.F.K. Fisher’s 1942 book, How to Cook a Wolf, each chapter focuses on the beauty of the most basic elements of cooking: the boiling of water, the roasting of vegetables.  Adler is the champion of the odds and ends of foods (and the liquid in which they are cooked), those disregarded cuts of meat, and of coaxing the best out of what you have. The book will make you walk into the kitchen and apologize to that parsnip that has been languishing there – the one you had in mind to compost, but will now roast and appreciate.  Her writing is a beautiful parallel to her philosophy of cooking: accessible, but perfectly crafted, with sentences that elevate the mundane.  At its most essential, this book is about finding the sublime in the practice of frugality.

Each chapter is written like an essay, but deceptively full of practical information.  In her chapter, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly”, she considers the mystery of the egg and then inspires you to re-think how you cook it.  Once you have,  you will need to take a break to find your best egg and treat it right.  Will you boil it until the yolk is a most perfect consistency? Or will you attempt to poach?  Or use it to elevate yesterdays leftovers?

On vegetables, she counters the conventional wisdom that dictates the under-cooking of most of them, espousing the virtues of roasting.  One of my favorite passages outlines a method of preparing a week’s worth of vegetables in the direct aftermath of a trip to the farmer’s market.  It’s the kind of thing that will revolutionize your possibly fraught relationship with your CSA, just in time for the season to begin. While you’re waiting to get your hands on a copy of the book, the pendant website has a number of lovely videos illustrating the various chapters, such as How to Stride Ahead: Part 2.

You will be tempted to read this book in one sitting – which I couldn’t help.  But don’t!  The way to approach it is to stretch it out over time.  Take one chapter per week.  Savor it and let it move you to boil a chicken, make a transcendent omelette, or consider new uses for an olive.

As for me, I’m planning to start it again with the virtual book group organized by one of my favorite blogs,  From Scratch Club,  through their Facebook Page.  Since I can’t manage to participate in the kind of book club where you actually meet at a location, bring the book, and talk to each other – this is perfect for me!  And maybe for you, too!


Speaking of Edible Books…

As you know, this is the time of year to celebrate the edible book. German design firm Korefe takes it to the highest level with their edible cookbook entitled, Das Echte und Einzige Kochbuch (The Real Cookbook), created as a special edition for the Gerstenberg publishing house.  Made out of sheets of fresh pasta, the recipe for lasagna is printed on the pages of the book.  Follow the recipe page by page – adding the ingredients as you go – and by the end, you will have a delicious (looking) lasagna.  Click on the photo above for a slide show of the process.

File under Edible Books inspiration for next year.  Enjoy!

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On the Tyranny of the Refrigerator

© Jihyun Ryou

Awhile back, I posted some alternatives to food gathering.  In researching that post, I was pleasantly surprised to find so many alternative sources for finding groceries.  But no matter where your provisions originate, the question persists: what is the best way to store it once you are home?  Last year, we managed to successfully reorganize our dry foods storage, but the fridge can be a black hole.  So much so that there are times I open mine with trepidation over what is going to fall out onto the floor.

Artist Jihyun Ryou addresses this issue with her brilliant design project, Shaping Traditional Oral Knowledge, where she created five beautiful storage solutions for various foods that take into account the history of how they were stored before refrigeration was ubiquitous. It is a perfect blending of the oral history of food storage (i.e. the habits of your grandmother) with modern design.  In one example, she stores apples and potatoes in a symbiotic container: the potatoes in a dark box (as they like it), with a perforated top for apple storage.  Apples – like many other fruits – give off ethylene gas that hasten the ripening and subsequent over-ripening of certain types of produce.  However, their effect on potatoes is different: instead, they keep potatoes from sprouting.  Thus, Ryou’s solution is to store apples and potatoes together, but away from other foods:

© Jihyun Ryou

Another interesting food storage issue she addresses is that of the egg.  How do you store an egg? Most would say inside the refrigerator and, indeed, many doors come with a space made just them, but current wisdom dictates that eggs should be stored in the carton inside the fridge, not in the door.  Ryou, counters that eggs can and should be stored at room temperature and created a solution that includes a freshness tester based on the time-tested method of seeing if it will sink or float.  A bad egg will float, and a fresh one will sink :

© Jihyun Ryou

Unlike in Europe, where Ryou lives and works, the U.S. mandates that eggs be washed before being sold, which strips them of their protective coating and makes room temperature storage less reliable.  So, unless you are lucky enough to get your eggs straight from your own hens, this method might not be so viable here.  Still, I love the way it looks.

The point of this project is to get people to re-examine their assumptions about how we treat food and Ryou also keeps a Tumblr site where she invites people to post their anecdotal wisdom on how to store food – some intriguing (store a chili pepper in your rice to prevent bugs), some questionable (cover your eggs with vaseline to block the pores), but all fascinating. Her work asks you to consider the way each type of food wants to be treated, but also succeeds in conveying the visual beauty of food.  By displaying it on the wall, you can see what you have and are more likely to use it.  If these were for sale, I would be first in line.

In reconsidering food storage, there are number of issues to take into account beyond refrigeration:  Do you wash your produce when you buy it or wait until you use it? Do you use plastic or not?  Do you treat your herbs like flowers? Or wrap them in damp paper towels?  A quick trip around the internet will give you multiple answers to these questions, but here are a few sources I think are helpful:

  • Food52 recently ran a couple of useful posts on food storage, organized by counter, pantry and refrigerator.  It’s a good outline on what to store where, but relies heavily on plastic containers and bags.
  • The Berkeley Farmer’s Market was the first to eliminate plastic bags as part of their Zero Waste initiative back in 2009. They have published this handy guide for plastic-free food storage Berkeley Farmers Market Tips for Storing Produce .
  • Last but not least, the Zero Waste Home, has a lot of great advice on waste-free food storage, my favorite being freezing bread in pillowcases!
  • And if you are wondering how long something keeps, check out Still Tasty!

I am inspired to spend the next few weeks rummaging through the fridge to re-think what we are keeping in there. For full disclosure, here is how it looks today:

So let the excavation begin! For more fridge-related voyeurism, check out artist Mark Menjivar’s portrait series on people’s refrigerators entitled, You Are What You Eat.  It speaks volumes.


Windowfarm Harvest

So, my Windowfarm has been growing for 3 months, with middling success and it’s time to make some decisions.  What to harvest?  What to start for the next round?  With such small amounts, harvesting the kale and arugula will decimate the farm and the yield is so miniscule, it would seem appropriate to cook it up on the toy kitchen in my daughters’ room.  Lesson number one:  start your next round of seeds earlier, so they are ready to transplant at the time of harvest.

Having just figured that out, I couldn’t wait for my next round of seeds because I needed to harvest my parsley for our seder plate – you see, I like to source my bitter herbs locally.  I chopped off the whole lot and we passed them around and ate them dipped in saltwater.  Delicious!  Parsley is definitely going into the second round of the Windowfarm.

Lesson number two:  unless you have a gigantic Windowfarm, you are better off growing herbs that you can clip a little at a time when needed. One thing I regret not growing the first time around is basil – who wouldn’t love some fresh basil in the wintertime?  So, basil seeds are on the list.  We only have six slots, so we have to choose carefully.  My tomato plant grew wildly out of control trying desperately to get enough light.  It made me feel bad: all that straining and no flowers.  My plan with tomatoes is to transplant them into traditional window boxes in our sunny stairwell and see how they fare, leaving the more delicate herbs for the Windowfarm. That is, except for our biggest success so far:  Shishito Peppers!

Shishito peppers seem to love the Windowfarm environment, and perhaps I should just make it all about them, but I am inclined to diversify.  Last night, I started a new round of seeds: Basil, Parsely, Cilantro, and Shishitos.  We’ll see what transpires.

In the meantime, I have been reading Harriet Fasenfest’s delightful book, The Householder’s Guide to the Universe. It is an almanac for the city farmer – at least for the city farmer with a yard – starting with January and guiding you through the seasons.  The beginning through March is all about seed selection and garden planning, then it moves on to the actual gardening, harvesting and food preserving through the rest of the year.  There is a lot to ponder in this book and I have been trying to adapt it to my own landless version of householding, by planning my indoor garden.  Here is what I have so far:

Windowfarm (6 hydroponic slots): herbs and shisitos

In window pots  :  tomatoes, mint, scallions and pea shoots.

Under the bed:  shiitake and oyster mushrooms

If I’m feeling particularly adventurous: ginger, quinoa and maybe I’ll throw in a rice paddy!

It’s planting season! What are you growing this year? Indoors or out!


Sephardic Eggs: take two!

For this year’s seder, we decided to take our eggs up a notch.  It was a last-minute decision, actually.  Late Thursday night, we realized we had  used up all the eggs for the cheesecake and didn’t have enough to bake overnight (oops!).  I was looking around for other options and stumbled across a shorter, stove top recipe on The Kitchn, solving our problem of time and had the added feature of these gorgeous stenciled decorations.

Friday morning, armed with a dozen eggs, herbs harvested from our Windowfarm, some cheesecloth and string, we set to work.  This was the perfect project to keep the girls occupied on a frenzied morning of seder preparations.  Here’s how we did it:

  1. Start by dipping your egg in water, which will help the leaf stick to the surface.  Apply leaf of choice. We used parsley and cilantro.
  2. You are supposed to then put the eggs into some pantyhose as the elasticity will hold the leaf in place.  We didn’t have any, so we used cheesecloth and tied it with a string.
  3. Make sure the cheesecloth is tight, not loose like in this photo
  4. Voila! The finished product.

Recipes for Sephardic eggs vary and none are precise, so we basically applied our oven recipe to the stove top with a few additions:


8 c. onion skins

3 T coffee grounds (before brewing)

1 T black peppercorns

2 T. white vinegar

4 T. Olive oil

Before starting on your eggs, take the onion skins and put them in a large soup pot.  Cover with water and put on stove. While it is coming to a boil, you can wrap your eggs.  Once the water is boiling, turn it down to a simmer and add the coffee grounds, peppercorns and vinegar.  Then, using a tongs, slowly lower your wrapped eggs into the simmering water.  Once all the eggs are in the water, pour about 4T of olive oil over the top.  Cover and simmer.  After about one hour, we turned the heat off and let the eggs steep for another couple of hours.  That is probably more than enough time.  The key is to make sure the eggs get a nice, deep color and flavor, but without completely decimating the yolk (still experimenting with this ratio).

When you are ready to unwrap them, set a small bowl in the sink.  Take two or three eggs at a time and run them under cold water until you can easily handle them.  Use scissors to cut away the cheesecloth or hosiery and underneath the mess, you should have a dozen gorgeous eggs!

It was almost a shame to peel and eat them that night, but they were delicious (as good as the oven variety). We don’t do Easter eggs in our family, but this has the same appeal and will definitely become part of our tradition.  Think of all the design possibilities!


Huevos Haminados (Sephardic Eggs)

We eat soft and hard boiled eggs year-round, but only at Passover do we go Sephardic.  The results are so beautiful and delicious, that I always wonder why we don’t bake our eggs in onion skins and coffee grounds on a regular basis, especially since they are so easy to make.  But then I forget until the next year, and so it goes.  I first found the recipe in Mollie Katzen’s “Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant” and tried them on a whim.  When you peel them, they have a bit of a “brown eggs and ham” look about them, but the whites (now browns) have a rich but subtle flavor.  Add some salt and you are in egg heaven.  With the first seder just days away, I thought I would share the recipe with you.  You start them at night and they are finished by morning:

Huevos Hamidados (Sepharidic Eggs)

Heat oven to 200º

Line a casserole dish with dried onion skins

Place up to 1 dozen eggs in the dish.

Sprinkle 2-3 T. ground coffee over the eggs.

Add 1 T. olive oil and 1 t. kosher salt.

Pour water over the eggs until they are just covered.

Cover the dish, place in the oven for 6-8 hours.

Go to sleep.  Wake up to the delicious smell of eggs, coffee and onions.

Happy Pesach!

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