Archive for category inspiration

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.


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!


Ceci n’est pas un livre: Happy Edible Books Day!

Janis Ekdahl. Ceci n'est pas un livre.
BGC Edible Book Festival. 2012

April 1st marks (among other things, of course) the birthday of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and is the day we celebrate the intersection of books and food in the form of International Edible Book Day.  This year, I put out the call at my library for students, faculty and staff to create and submit their own edible books for a celebration last Tuesday.  Late spring is a busy time of year for the academic and I had some trepidation Monday evening as I worked on my entry in the wee hours.  What if no one has the time? Am I throwing a party no one will come to?

I don’t know what I was worried about.  If nothing else, the Bard Graduate Center is replete with people who appreciate the material culture of the book and have all kinds of talent to render that appreciation in culinary form.  Over the course of two hours that morning, the display room started to fill up with entries until we had 16!  By 11:00 a.m., everything was in place and people started to come through to enjoy a cup of coffee and vote on their favorites.

We had three categories in which you could win: Best Play on Words, Most Appetizing, and Best in Show.  But the truth was, all of the entries were not only amazing creations but extremely clever interpretations on a theme.  Here are a few highlights:


David Applegate. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
BGC Edible Book Festival, 2012

Using a dried squid from Chinatown, a Francophile submarine sandwich (baguette, ham and cheese, of course!), nori, and some underwater creatures made of candy, this underwater tableau is something Jules Verne would surely be proud of.


Erin Eisenbarth. Lady Tea Sandwich, Country Life's latest debutante.
BGC Edible Book Festival, 2012

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Country Life is a weekly British magazine started in 1897 that covers the world of the landed gentry.  In between advertisements for country estates, are articles on architecture, gardening, hunting and things equestrian.  Our library holds the entire run and each week, when it arrives in the library office, the first thing we do is check out the frontispiece: a full-page photo featuring the debutante of the week with a caption describing her lineage, field of study, and either who she is engaged to or what she will be doing for her gap year.  It’s great fun and so I was delighted when Erin Eisenbarth created her own debutante, the Lady Tea Sandwich, complete with the jewelry and impressive pedigree.


Laura Grey, The Penguin Classics
BGC Edible Book Festival, 2012

Who doesn’t love penguins made out of olives?  Our art director took this to the next level using olives, cream cheese, vegetables and cloves to create open-face sandwiches of three of her favorite Penguin Classics.


Heather Topcik, The Grammar of Ornament
BGC Edible Books, 2012

I racked my brain hoping to come up with some kind of brilliant metaphor of a design history classic, but in the end I went literal with a recreation of Owen Jones‘ 19th-century compendium of ornamental styles rendered both sweet (front cover) and savory (back cover).  The front was a simple tart crust, covered in sweetened cream cheese and decorated with fresh fruit.  The back cover was made out of crackers, olive tapenade, cream cheese and vegetables. The hardest part was piping the words, so don’t look too close.


Ben Tuttle, Moby Dick Fruit Roll-Up
BGC Edible Books, 2012

One of the most gorgeous pieces on the table, our design intern made a homemade, oven-dried fruit roll up version of Moby Dick.  Using Rockwell Kent’s woodcut images for inspiration, he distills the whole story into a few silhouettes.


Janis Ekdahl. The House in Good Taste
BGC Edible Books 2012

Elsie de Wolf’s classic, The House In Good Taste, published in 1914, gives you all the information you need to know to properly decorate your house.  Here, our acquisitions librarian rendered the floor plan in cake and mints.


Karyn Hinkle. & FORK
BGC Edible Books, 2012

This delicious cake is a lovely interpretation of Phaidon’s beautiful product design book, & Fork.  Made by our reader services librarian, Karyn Hinkle, who gets extra points for participating in this project while on maternity leave (as evidenced by the baby fork!).


Sara Rubinow.
BGC Edible Books, 2012

This book is technically edible, although you wouldn’t want to eat it because it is an incredible work of art in and of itself.  Our intern, Sara Rubinow, decided to interpret one of her favorite artist’s books, Pluja, by Joan Brossa, in edible materials.  The original books is composed of sheets of paper that had been left out in the rain.  To recreate this, Sara wet sheets of vermicelli paper and hung them over string in her bathroom.  Achieving the incredible color was done by soaking red cabbage and combining the colored water with a bit of baking soda which turned the red liquid into a beautiful blue-green.  I love everything about this!



Collin Fanning & Sarah Rogers. The Pioneers of Modern Design
BGC Edible Books 2012

Two of our students joined forces to re-interpret Nikolaus Pevsner’s classic book, The Pioneers of Modern Design, in the form of…. a strawberry-rhubarb pie supporting portraits of the major 19th and 20th century designers.  They even went so far as to recreate the cover of this iconic book.


Aislinn Hyde. Miss Havisham's Bride Cake from Great Expectations (using wedding cake recipes from the 1860's).
BGC Edible Books, 2012

Despite the cake’s somewhat creepy connotations, this was voted most appetizing because, well, wouldn’t you want to eat it? Plus, the student who made it is both a master baker and wrote her thesis on the history of wedding cakes in the United States.  Using three recipes from the 19th century, each layer was a different type of cake and it was, indeed, delicious.


Mei-ling Israel. The Book and its Materiality: The Lindau Gospel and Google Books.
BGC Edible Books, 2012

An overwhelming favorite, this entry spanned the history of the book from the heavy materiality of the Lindau Gospel (rendered in cake) to the ephemeral nature of Google Books (rendered in custard).

Needless to say, this year’s festival was an overwhelming success and I was amazed by the how thoughtful and creative all the entries were.  We are already planning next year’s event and I encourage you to do the same.  You don’t have to be a librarian to love edible books!



Newsflash: Midtown Manhattan not the best place to set up an urban homestead.

by wilhelmja on Flickr Some rights reserved.

Last Week, Apartment Therapy posed a Good Question to its masses:  What are the best cities for young, urban homesteaders on a budget?  There were over 70 responses to the question, extolling the virtues of various chicken-coop friendly cities.  The rust-belt featured prominently, with Pittsburgh taking the lead and Detroit (a personal favorite) coming in a close second.  But the rapturous descriptions of Buffalo, Minneapolis (my hometown), Indianapolis, St. Louis, and even Dallas, made me want to jump in the car for an epic road trip to see what the hell these people are up to out there!

Needless to say, Manhattan didn’t feature high in the budget-friendly urban homesteading category.  There were a couple of shout-outs to Brooklyn (Bed-Stuy, not Park Slope), but it goes without saying that NYC isn’t exactly teeming with inexpensive outdoor space.  That is not to say it isn’t urban farming friendly, what with upwards of 25,000 acres suited for exactly that purpose and rooftop farming on the rise.  Such is the topic of next week’s Urban Agriculture Conference at the Horticultural Society of New York.  On Friday, March 16th, the Society will be addressing the issue of urban farming: is it merely a trend? The kind that goes hand in hand with an economic recession? Or does it reflect a deeper shift in how we view our food production?  The keynote speaker will be Thomas Fox, author of Sustainable Living in your Backyard, your Community, and in the World, who will talk about the upsurge in urban farming in an historical context.  Afterward, there will be a Q&A with an impressive panel including Annie Novak and Britta Riley, discussing various community projects specific to New York City.

It was also about one year ago that the fracas over the term Urban Homesteader blew up the web (at least the part of the web I hang around).  Since then, there has been an increase in discussion about all things related to raising food in an urban environment and has had me thinking about what that term actually means. By definition, it is an alternative lifestyle. And of course, there are different degrees of urban – there is the urban of Novella Carpenter (my hero), raising pigs, ducks and chickens in her decidedly gritty Oakland neighborhood.  And the Urban of Harriet Fasenfest (another hero) in Portland, Oregon, using the confines of her city lot to sustain her family. And then there is midtown Manhattan: the end of the road on the urban spectrum.

Clearly, I find this topic compelling. What does it mean to participate in urban homesteading in the context of high-rises and limited outdoor space?  Does growing a few plants in your apartment, composting your building and making your own deodorant qualify?  I’m guessing probably not. There is not much about my life that is alternative: we are your run-of-the-mill two-working-parent family trying to subsist in the center of the largest metropolitan area in the country.  We’re busy. Manhattan is about convenience. About delivery. Some days it feels overwhelming. But despite my back-to-the-land fantasies, I love being part of this urban community and exploring ways to incorporate the values of the urban homesteaders into the laboratory of my tiny apartment and busy schedule.  I think it is about examining our routines and questioning our consumption and I am inspired by the fact that it’s a growing topic of conversation in general. How many of you are out there, working 9 to 5 and doing some kind of kooky, sustainable project the other 9-5?  Urban folk, how are you changing up your food gathering and production?  I’m not talking big projects, but small ones – and I would love to hear from you!


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