Happy New Year 2014 - Hope and Resolutions

On this side of the first storm of the year, we're hunkered down, cooking and baking and grateful for our work-at-home status. We've got about one foot of snow so far and north of the city (where Doc works) they got two feet!

I guess I missed my opportunity to empty the pots and clean up my fire escape garden...

Snowy pots

I saw this tip on a Pinterest board and added it to my Beautiful and Useful Things board. I love the look, as well as the idea of putting something out for our feathered friends. If you're on Pinterest, come find me and see what I'm curating there. I have boards (essentially virtual or online bulletin boards) on various interests from travel, to Eating and Drinking, clothes, Cookbook Hoarders, random interesting things. I've just started a board on Chinese New Year and on New Year, New You. I have a board for Kitchen Confidence tips, too.

And now that it's up - we wait for the birds to discover this wreath of cranberries, sunflower seeds, spelt flakes and amaranth seeds.

Hoping, Resolving, Doing

As we look forward to the New Year, think about ways to look after others - whether birds or people. I'm hoping to develop a regular habit of small kindnesses. But hope only gets us so far. Resolutions, too. Rather than resolutions (often grand statements that are not quantified and to which we lose accountability round about mid-January), why not think of resolving in this way:

  • Take a broad goal, such as "eat more vegetables" and make it quantifiable.

Goals we can count, measure, track have a much greater chance of being incorporated into our lives than mushy, if well-intentioned ones. How about "make one new vegetable dish per week?" Even if you chose per month by next January you would have tried a dozen new things!

You can take something familiar, say carrots. And learn a new way to eat them. If you currently only eat them in juice or salads, learn a roasted carrot recipe. I'm very intrigued by roasting carrots, (try with cardamom and oil or add a touch of honey and vinegar at the end). Or simmer with parsnips and finish with butter and cream if you want to add some indulgence. Or bake into muffins.

Alternately, you can pick an entirely new vegetable. Kale Chips anyone? If that's not new to you, how about celtuce? Or Shanghai bok choy?

Sometimes it helps to have a group that you can be accountable to. I began 30 day fitness challenges a couple months ago and am now on my fifth having done abs, arms, squats, butt. Thanks to Vivian for the inspiration! Now doing burpees and alternating days of the others. Crazy. You can find the Omni Fitness Challenge group on Facebook if you want to join us.


I saw another idea I liked, I think the author called it a happiness jar. Each day random moments of joy or happiness happen, then we forget about them. Her idea is pause to write them down. Then she puts the paper scraps in a large jar. Later in the year, I guess on a bad day it would be particularly useful, you can reach in and pull one out to remember. I suppose you could use social media like Twitter, or Facebook to mark these moments. I try to end each day with a pause to think about what I'm grateful for. Usually, I forget. A new habit with a physical presence might help.

I would suggest a stack of pretty paper, like origami paper, next to a jar. That would be a visual reminder. This would be fun with kids.

  • Want to do a food challenge? Root vegetables? Grains? What would you choose? 
  • Are you on Pinterest? We could do a group board and we could pick one vegetable a week and each post how we made it.

What are your goals? What creative ways have you adopted to bring these ideas into practice?




Summer of Love - Yvette Van Boven's Boston Tour Stops

In celebration of the warm weather (don't worry we're losing it soon enough) I decided to make a batch of Mint Lemmo. It's already gone. I want to make more and try it with elderflower liquor and a couple blueberries...and gin.

Today's was Lillet Blanc, splash and soda water.

Here's the recipe:



As we round out Yvette's Boston tour, making lists of last minute logistics and details, we dip again and again into this beautiful book.

As do others --  like the Huffington Post Books writer Nicki Richesin:

  • "Her cookbooks give the reader a sense of a life well-lived and the abundant joy delicious meals offer when shared with friends and loved ones."

And Food & Wine who interviewed Yvette to get an insider's tour of Amsterdam, drawing on both her design background and her restaurant/catering/cookbook experience.

  • "...the cultural poverty it (simultaneous closing of top two museums) created stimulated an underground scene that was really approachable and fresh.” Read on to learn about this "punk food movement" in Amsterdam.

Home Made Summer Mint Lemmo Ah...

Schedule of Events

April 13 @ 12 -2 have lunch with Yvette at the ICA on Saturday - check with Eat Boutique here.

April 13 @ 4 - Brookline BookSmith - tasting and chat.

April 14 @ 2 - 5 - Stop by KitchenWares for a nibble and a book. (public, stop in, EventBrite info here.)

April 16 @ 12-2 - Media Luncheon - chefs at Les Zygomates will be cooking from the book!

April 16 @7 PM - Trident Bookstore on Newbury - tasting and chat. (public, stop in)

Bonus: her award-winning photographer and husband Oof Verschuren is coming, too!

Essential Kitchen Equipment: A Stock Pot

In my Essential Kitchen Equipment series, I'm going to share overviews of what I consider to be the items no kitchen should be without. I'm not talking about the latest gadget. I'm talking about maybe a dozen or so simple items you must have to make your kitchen hum.

Of course one could spend endless amounts on all sorts of fancy equipment and gadgets. Most of those will not make you a better cook, these will: The Sharpest Knife in the Block.

What are the basic pieces of equipment that will serve you well? Sometime people think the reason they can’t or don’t cook is for lack of fancy equipment. Listen, you’re not ordering take out (again) because you don’t have a sous vide machine or slow cooker.

With a very few items you can make delicious, home-cooked meals for one or for a family. You can choose better ingredients, use healthier amounts of fat and salt. You can enjoy cooking and enjoy the results.

Today we’re going to tackle stock pots: what they are, or aren’t, materials they are made from, pros and cons, features of each and I’ll end with some tips.

What is a stock pot?

A stock pot is designed for making stock. What is stock? Simply put, stock is the base for soups and sauces. Broth is “no bones” and stock includes bones. A good stock pot is designed to heat rapidly, to simmer long and evenly. It should be large enough to cover a whole chicken and lots of veggies with room to spare, for example. Boiling lobsters or a large batch of corn on the cob are two other commonly purposes for a stock pot.

Stock Pot

What is the difference between a stock pot and soup pot or a Dutch oven?

Stock pots may, or may not, serve double duty as pot for making soups or stews. The deciding factors will be how much storage and budget you have to devote to cookware and what you plan to use your pot for. The critical difference is the material the pot is made of, and especially the base of the pot. (A Dutch oven is heavy and used for long braises in the oven. We’ll cover those on another day.)

A soup pot must have a heavier base that heats evenly so a thicker soup (think peas or squash) or stews won’t burn as easily. Since your stock pot is typically designed for a higher liquid content the base can be thinner and the material lighter. In general though, go with the heavier, best material you can afford.

Decide whether you will want to use your stockpot most often for stocks, for soups, stews, chili and this will help you determine what sort of stock pot to buy. In my kitchen, I have both a Dutch oven, a pasta pot (which can double as stock pot for many cooks), and a brand new stock pot which I highly recommend.

Shape, Material, Features

Let’s start with shape. Many stockpots are quite tall. Tall is better in as much as the narrower surface of a tall pot will allow less dissipation of water from the stock.

If you’re short like me, tall is also cumbersome. We want to make our lives in the kitchen easier, not harder! Also, if you’re thinking of a tall pot, imagine the heat source at the bottom and how different the top of the pot and the bottom of the pot will heat. Imagine standing at your stove and stirring or picking up and pouring the contents of the pot.

Choose a stock pot that has the volume you desire and the shape that works for you. I’ve seen some that have a flared base, sort of eggplant shaped. I don’t know if it purports to have any benefit but it certainly will take more space to store. Go straight side especially if you don’t have oodles of extra space. Likewise you will find oval pots in many lines. I find it difficult to get even heating end to end since my burner is not oval shaped.

The material from which your stock pot (or any cookware) is made is probably the most important feature in my opinion. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages   and the choice is yours, people who cook a lot are usually pretty devoted to a type.

Here’s a quick overview of the key choices:


Material Advantages Disadvantages
  • Copper
Beautiful, heats rapidly and evenly.$500+ Prohibitively expensive, constant upkeep; if you want a show piece and have a housekeeper to polish, polish, polish for you...
  • Aluminum
Heats quickly, cheaper models available in hardware, home goods stores.$21 w/o cover Earlier research seemed to suggest aluminum and Alzheimer’s connection. FDA FWIW does not currently say it’s a risk. Does not heat as evenly as stainless and will react with some foods discoloring and changing flavor.
  • Stainless steel
Lightweight, heats rapidly evenly, sturdy without being too heavy.As low as $10 Caveat emptor.
  • Anodized aluminum
Heats fairly evenly and quickly. Brands like Calphalon are well made.$125-200.  Anodized aluminum is expensive. You cannot wash in the dishwasher.
  • Coated Carbon Steel, enameled
I had an 8 Qt stock pot Le Creuset (best known for their enameled cast iron Dutch ovens) for years. Lightweight.$80.00 Enamel coating can discolor. The size was not large enough to suit me. The lid sputtered. Paint can chip.
  • ★ Stainless Steel w/aluminum or copper core base
With rapid heating of either aluminum or copper sandwiched in the base, surrounded by stainless steel, you get the best of both worlds. Easy cleaning and clean cooking of stainless.$59.95 Copper core bumps you into triple digits price range. Save copper core for sauce pan. For stockpot, unnecessary.




  • Vented lid. Genius. My old stock pot would bubble and spit leaving a fine spray all over the stove top. The new one has a small hole in the glass lid with a grommet.
  • Sturdy handles bolted on not simply pressed and adhered on. Remember you’re going to be picking up a heavy pot with hot liquid.
  • Lids can be glass or made of the same material as the pot. Glass has the advantage of allowing you to see the progress of your stock. If you plan to use the stock pot as a Dutch oven, be sure your lid and your handles are oven safe.
  • Curved interior base rather than absolute straight side makes less likely small bits will stick in perimeter.

Size Matters:

  • A 4 or 6 Qt pot will be sufficient for making soup.
  • 8 Qt is good for poaching a chicken, but can be small for making large quantities of stock.
  • 12 Qt is a good size for home cooks who will be making stock, boiling the occasional lobsters.

Stock Tips:

  • Roasting bones (turkey wings or beef or veal bones) in the oven prior to using for stock makes a richer, deeper stock. In addition to developing fond (foundation, the little sticky browned bits) and flavor, it also yields collagen which makes a richer stock with better mouthfeel. Stock Tips of the Culinary Kind: Wonderful Thanksgiving Gravy Begins Here.
  • When straining stock be sure to place a large bowl or pot under your colander! More than one cook (ahem) has simmered a beautiful stock for hours only to watch it flow right through the colander they placed in the sink, and down the drain.
  • Using an egg white raft to clarify stock is a very cool thing to learn and produces a deep, rich, elegant consommé from a humble stock.


My recommendation:

The Chef's Catalog 12 Qt Stainless Stock Pot, a great value for the price. So far has performed really well and cleans up easily.


12 Qt Stock Pot Chefs Catalog


Holiday Gift Ideas 2011

In our family, we draw names at Thanksgiving for the "grownups" to each get one other "grownup" to get a gift for. We decided after my niece and nephew came along, that it was more fun for us to buy gifts for them and none of us really needed more stuff. I like that idea more as time goes by and we re-think what is important. Who needs more stuff? The myriad ways that we take care of each other during the year are more precious to me than any item someone may purchase with hard-earned dollars in an uncertain economy. (God forbid you risk pepper-spray or stampedes to get a popular item for someone! How is THAT in keeping with the spirit of the holidays?)

This year, my family, like many others has our share of challenges, financial and otherwise. We drew names and have begun asking others for "wish lists." I never have one, really. It occurs to me that not only would this be helpful to the person who drew our names, but that the ideas I may have about what make a useful, thoughtful gift might be helpful to anyone shopping for friends and family at this time of year.

So there may not be anything earth-shattering or newsworthy here, but I'll bet there's one or two things you may not have heard of, or hadn't thought of. I hope it helps you choose wisely, give well and enjoy the giving.

Remember, it's not about checking items off the list, it's about bringing a smile to someone you care about.


Homemade Gifts:

How about some easy-peasy Orange Pecan Bourbon chocolate truffles or a hand-blended spice rub in a pretty jar?

Five spice powder on left. Thanksgiving spice rub on right.

Both of these hand-blended spices have multiple uses (pork, chicken, turkey) and the reusable jars will last and last. I love my homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder.



Get a pretty tin they can reuse, or just stuff any old box with pretty tissue paper and wrap a batch of cookies inside. Try these Snappy Gingersnaps.


...or these Monster Cookies from Robin Asbell's Big Vegan cookbook (Vegan cookies my husband loved!)


How about a big jar of homemade granola? Delicious and healthy - this DIY Granola with a touch of chocolate - would be a welcome gift.


  • Reminder: when giving food gifts, please have a list handy of the ingredients, you never know when an allergy might have developed and it could really ruin the surprise.


Practical gifts:

Get Organized: Who doesn't love the Container Store or your local independent hardware or kitchen store? I bought those cute little jars above at the Container Store. I also installed a sliding rack to access deep cabinets. Oxo storage bins, and other organizing tools for any spot in your home make this a go-to destination for obsessives on your list. Gift certificates make it easy.

New Babies/Growing Families: Have a new Mom on your list? Why not give Oxo measured baby food storage containers. Slip a "free babysitting" coupon in an empty container.

Gifts for Cooks: Support independent stores like KitchenWares on Newbury St. and get your favorite cook a new kitchen gadget. Think of pairing a small tool like a melon baller or apple corer with a cookbook like Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. New silicone spatulas, or Oxo tools would be appreciated by any cook. (Remember if you give a knife for gift to also give a penny for luck!)

Tea, Please: I love the idea of a proper cup of tea in a china cup. Why not find a lonely survivor of an antique set at your local vintage store. Buy it and give it along with a sachet or tin of a new tea.



Homemade treats, cookies and spices are great for everyone who loves to eat, right? Other consumables make great gifts, the real cooking enthusiasts on your list:

Real Southern Cooking: Virginia Willis has developed fragrant spice blends (Pecan Smoked Salt, Quatre Epices and more), local artisanal grits, brownie mix and so on under her "My Southern Pantry" label. You could get any of these for a lucky person on your list and if they've been extra good - pair it with one of her books: Bon Appetit, Y'all or Basic to Brilliant, Y'all.

Hit the Turmeric Trail: Raghavan Iyer has just come out with Turmeric Trail spices. While I've not tried them yet, you can rely on this recommendation, as his 660 Curries is splattered and dog-eared proof of his reliable and friendly introduction to Indian cuisine at home. We have enjoyed so many terrific meals thanks to Iyer's guidance. So many different dishes will come together easily with the addition of his new spice blends, and this Thanksgiving I began to ruminate on how lovely Indian spices are with so many traditional Thanksgiving foods.

Oil and Vinegar: Next up on the consumables gift list are oil and vinegar. An artisanal vinegar or oil will elevate most any meal. Katz Vinegars are a favorite around here and Pasolivo makes lovely pressed olive oils with old Italian varieties of olives. These are so well-crafted they stand head and shoulders above anything you might find in the grocery store.

Gourmet Foods: This Thanksgiving we were hosting an extra-large group and I was delighted to put out some D'Artagnan pâté. One of our guests brought a D'Artagnan ham that was so good it disappeared before I got a nibble! Locally we buy our D'Artagnan hams from Panzano in Sudbury. Panzano also carries a lovely selection of artisanal products from various parts of Italy as well beautiful cookbooks and of course, great wines.

Fennel Pollen: A unique gift any cook would enjoy experimenting with - then quickly find indispensable. Try Fennel Pollen Ranch.

A gourmet pantry: stocked with giftable ideas: The Earthy Delights site ships chef quality specialty ingredients to you. I remember how wonderful my harissa was, using their dried peppers. Must. Make. More.



Explore: Give a parks membership like Friends of the Reservation membership which includes entry to Crane Beach. Or, how about a Children's Museum or New England Aquarium membership? Long after the baby outgrows the onesies everyone gave them, the expectant or new parents will be thanking you for giving them a gift that helps the new family share an adventure.

Excite: "Museum" sounds dusty and ossified. A favorite thing to do is to visit the ICA Institute of Contemporary Art when a new exhibit comes to town. They also have dance performances, guest lectures, and classes for a wide range of interests and ages. This cantilevered ice cube hovering over the harbor is like a giant gift box you can open again and again. Even gift certificate for the super cool gift shop would be great. (Hint to Mom: I love this swirly leaf candleholder.)

Expand: The Museum of Fine Arts, with its soaring new wing and dedication to improvement, have made a good museum even better. Spending time there was truly one of the highlights of going to Northeastern Law School across the street! Classes, exhibitions, concerts in the courtyard and films are bringing record crowds to the MFA. Free days exist but a membership affords one the luxury of enjoying the museum without the crowds.


How about a Terrarium? Bring a little green promise into a friend's winter by creating a terrarium in a reusable vase or hurricane vessel.


Raffle in Support of "New Era" for Japan

Thanks to all who've come out to support Japan at various fundraisers so far. Don't forget there are more happening over the coming weeks, and the Japanese people, many of whom still reside in shelters and school auditoriums, will need all our help. It's becoming clearer every day that the situation in Japan, both near the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in the "no go" area, as well as in all of Japan, is going to be quite dire for a long time to come. Remember to Remember Japan.

I've decided to rally some generous friends, and host a fundraiser here on my site. After considering many formats and options, I have settled on a raffle format. For ease of administration, and to keep awareness going about the state of affairs in Japan, I will host this over successive weeks. Each item will be featured independently. So far, we have wearable art, custom Japanese calligraphy, Award-winning author Elizabeth Andoh's cookbooks Kansha and Washoku, Saké pairings.

A New Era for Japan

I can think of no better way to kick off our raffle than to feature the beautiful "Irezumi" style customized New Era cap. This is absolutely one-of-a-kind wearable art, designed by a Japanese architecture student, Hiiro Tomita now attending Cal Poly SLO.

Hiiro Tomita was born in Japan. He began creating his custom wearable art back in 2008 and hopes to one day become successful enough to help defray costs of his education. He works in various styles including the traditional Japanese "Irezumi" art. Aficionados of ink will recognize the style of Japanese tattoos and indeed, Hiiro also designs those, one of which adorns Sasha Mallory who dances for Adam Lambert. His caps have graced the heads of customers worldwide. and you may have seen Sasha rocking her cap in her So you Think you Can Dance audition.
You can read interviews with Hiiro at New Era Cap Talk and view more of his custom work at his site Hiiro Tomita Studios.
I asked Hiiro about his inspiration for this cap. My inspiration for the design comes from traditional japanese art and japanese tattoos. The significance of the rising sun to the Japanese nation as well as the symbolic image of sakura leaves was incorporated to further define the Japanese culture and invoke the pride and honor within the country.


Spread the word, bid high, bid often. Many thanks to Hiiro for this gorgeous wearable art!


Mt Fuji is very symbolic and beloved to Japanese. Hat Size: 7 3/8.


Sakura, or cherry blossoms are as well as the rising sun. Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun.


Let's help Japan usher in a New Era by showing some support. Bid away!


Here's how the raffle works:

1. Minimum donation is $10.

2. You may donate more than once, gaining extra chances to win with each $10 increment. For example, if you'd like to donate $100 that gets you ten chances to win, $40 gets you four chances.

3. Payments will be made via Razoo, using the button below.

4. Anyone who posts on their own blog linking back to mine gets one additional "free" bid. Send me a link and I'll add your extra bid to the spreadsheet.

5. The contest for this item will run for one week only from: today through midnight EST Wednesday May 4.

6. The donations will go to: Doctors without Borders.

7. At the close of the week, I will use the random number generator to select the winning entry from the spreadsheet Razoo generates.


See Hiiro introduce the cap here on YouTube.



Valencia - a Few Photos to Whet your Appetite

Once in a while the stars align and a wonderful opportunity falls in your lap. So it was back in June when a spot opened up in a Wines of Valencia media tour. Would I be available to join some food and travel writers to learn about the wines of Valencia? How fast could I say "Si"?


Welcome to Valencia (front door of Hotel Palau de la Mar, our hotel)

This is a plaza just blocks from my hotel.


Small quiet streets...I was able to walk the city prior to our official tour "duties" began.

No time for the museums, this trip.

Through the middle of the city runs a park - or a series of them - that was once a river that flooded the city. After the flood, Valencia re-routed the river, filled in the old river bed and did what the Spanish seem to have a unique ability to do. They built a modern city center complete with eye-popping modern architecture, science and nature parks, music halls and bridges that incorporate historical references.

Palau de les Arts - the opera house

The Hemisphere


A bridge that reminded me of the Zakim Bridge.


Imagine a place where people place beautiful tiles on the undersides of balconies. You know, just in case a pedestrian should look up she should have something beautiful to look at.

I am smitten and looking forward to when I can return.

Stay tuned as more posts and links are coming!



Ode to a Hand Mixer

  It’s not very often that you grow attached to a beat up old appliance. But this Black and Decker hand mixer has been with me so long, I think it’s taken on some greater significance.

black and decker hand mixer









Never mind that the cord has some live wires exposed in one spot where I apparently let it rest too long on something pretty hot. Never mind it only cost me $12.99 some 20 plus years ago. This little guy represents lots of what I love, what I’ve lost and what I’ve gained.

I distinctly remember when I bought this, and where. You see, I’d moved to Boston with the hopes of getting into law school and living on my own, in my very own apartment. I was Mary Tyler Moore, minus the beret. Only girls that came of age in the same general time period as I will know what that means, but suffice to say we had very few images of single women on their own. Even though she called her boss “Mr. Grant” and he called her “Mary” and she cried at the drop of a hat (or beret), she gave us some sort of idea that we could live on our own, have good job and nutty friends.

So I moved to Boston to become a lawyer and change the world. Or at least make a life. I’d found my first apartment with roommates in Chelsea. This was before Chelsea was cool. It was crazy and scary and at the very end of the subway line and then some. There was a bus from the subway line ("Maverick Station", appropriately enough) that dropped me off right in front of the beat down, walk-up where I rented a room.

The apartment was an old floor-through with two cheating, lying roommates (Christian Scientist lesbians whose family believed they shared the apartment and nothing more). Throw in some mice, an abusive family upstairs, and absentee yuppie landlords who refused to fix the smoke alarm that inexplicably, but regularly, jolted us out of bed at at 3 or 4 AM; and you can see I was thrilled to find my own place, in town, no mice.

It was an “alcove studio” which is real estate-speak for “large closet with kitchen”. Essentially, I had real kitchen (tiny, yet functional); and a single room with an alcove for the “office”. This consisted of a door placed over two file cabinets for a fine, large desk. The futon couch made the one room easy to convert from a living room to a bedroom and back again.

Furnishing the apartment was tough on the budget I had - but luckily there was a Tru Value hardware store around the corner. I love hardware stores. The promise of finding the right tool or practical solution to any household problem is so enticing. This one was the college town variety which was perfect for my needs. We were close enough to Boston College that when students were poised to invade, the Tru Value stocked up on cheap student-apartment types of things. Laundry baskets, bathroom organizers, hand mixers and irons. I think I was the only one to buy the latter two.

shockingly durable

Shockingly Durable








My insistence on a “real” kitchen was anchored in the fact that I cook. No matter there was no place to sit and eat (the steamer trunk coffee table in front of the folded up futon worked fine) - I was going to cook, even if I was starting law school. So the $12.99 price point of the Black and Decker hand mixer was just perfect. The mixer represented a “real” kitchen to me and meant I was really making a home for myself.  Some inexpensive dishes at the Crate and Barrel outlet store rounded out the ensemble as I recall.

To this day, I can’t for the life of me figure out how Black and Decker can survive if it makes such cheap mixers that last this long. Haven’t they heard of planned obsolescence ? Don’t they want me to need a new mixer sometime in this century?

This little guy is lightweight, stores easily and has three speeds: Slow, Mix, and Whip, I think. Only mine has the late addition of “shock” mode, though. It has survived several boyfriends, law school, two bar exams, more jobs than I care to count over three distinct careers (or is it four?), and Thanksgivings each year since 1985.

It’s helped me whip egg whites for Pavlovas and cream for pumpkin pies (no Cool Whip has ever entered my kitchen.) I’ve mixed cake and cookie batters and who knows what else over the years. Every time I take it out, I make a mental note to watch the bare part of the cord, then I say a little prayer that it will work one more time. And it always does.

I’m not ready to buy a Kitchen Aid and have no room or budget for that, nor a Vitamix. Hell, I don’t even have budget to buy another hand mixer.

Mostly, I’m not ready to let go of the last vestige of my new independent life in Boston. I’m just not ready to relinquish that wonderful little hand mixer that seems to say to me each time I take it out, “You’re gonna make it, after all.”

[Cue beret toss.]

[And fade.]

MTM Strawberry Buttermilk Cake









(adapted from Gourmet June 2009)


  • 3/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 C whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter softened
  • 2/3 C plus 1 1/2 TBSP sugar + grated orange zest, divided (turbinado is great for the topping sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange flower water (optional but really makes it sing)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 C well-shaken lowfat buttermilk
  • 1 C fresh strawberries (if early like mine, add a little dusting of confectioner's sugar to sweeten)











  1. Preheat oven to 400, rack in middle. Butter and flour one 9" round cake pan.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, powder, salt.
  3. Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. (I used "mix" setting on the shockingly durable B&D hand mixer.)
  4. Add vanilla, egg and orange flower water.
  5. At low speed, mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in alternating thirds. Just till combined.
  6. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Smooth top, add berries and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  7. Bake until golden and tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
  8. Cool in pan 10 minutes, turn onto rack, cool to warm turn onto plate.

sb cake closeup




Thinking outside the box, housing our selves

  public art in Vancouver

Houseboats Coal Harbor, Vancouver

I've been thinking a lot about housing lately. With the turmoil and foreclosures it seems a natural time to revisit assumptions. We tend to accept choices given to us without questioning what else there might be. Why choose between city apt or center-entrance colonial? Single family homes are the blindly accepted "goal" of many. Thought to be a haven in a heartless world the isolation of that kind of living can be deadly boring and sometimes, just deadly. Just look at the news.

It's as good a time as any to think about community, too. How to break the isolation? What about something like an extended family, but one of your choosing? While I love solitude probably more than most, I'm also one who thrives on social interaction. The trick is finding a way to have both. The article that triggered these ruminations is called To each her own.  It shows how two women created separate but connected living spaces in one large shared floorplan. They've worked out a way that gives them privacy and individual lives but companionship when they want it and how they choose it. Not the forced intimacy of being roommates but sharing a physical space in distinctly separate but connected living spaces. (I don't recommend the loosey-goosey legal and financial arrangements, especially between friends, but it's their choice.) Remember "good fences make good neighbors?" Boundaries are good to know. The paradox is that it's freeing to have them.

Co-housing is another idea whose time has come. An arrangement that varies in form it usually includes separate living quarters with a communal kitchen and meeting space. Members define how much contact and contribution is desired or required. Reading about this Burlington VT co-housing community at meal time makes it seem very appealing. When so many of us no longer live in extended families, co-housing can offer the multi-generational living that is more natural than how many of our lives end up being structured. The point is it's ours to choose. We can live independent disconnected lives on parallel tracks without ever sharing a meal with the family or the single person that lives next door, or not. There are more options than we typically think of.

For women in particular I think that one's own place is of greater importance than most of us realize. It's more than space in the closet or decorating choices, it's a physical manifestation of your self. It is your toe-hold in the world, your connection to the rock whether the waters around you are angry and lashing or calm and mirror-like. In my college days I knew a couple who, at the time were probably the age I am now. They were both artists and lived in separate wings of the same house with common rooms in between. It always struck me as ideal. Each time I saw them, I thought they looked deliriously happy with each other. I attributed this in no small measure to them having the space in their lives to choose to be together how and when it was best for both. Their children also went to boarding school. My husband could not have been more accommodating with my move into his space. But as long as we are here, it will be that. His space. I have lost mine. In some real way I lost my place in this world. It's more than a metaphor. It is a loss I grieve nearly every day and one which I know he struggles to understand. 

Maybe there are more opportunities in the housing market if we think more creatively about them. Certainly the two women in the NYT story had the experience of coming up against confusion and disbelief. Only the architect got it. 

For a completely different spin on architecture see this boîte in HK.