Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Crust of a Hint.

I am fortunate enough to have berries all summer long. In late June the black raspberries start popping up everywhere, and when they fade out at the end of July, blackberries happily take their place. With so many berries, I've been baking all summer. Berry muffins, berry pancakes, berry crostatas. I consider a crostata to be my easiest dessert. Roll out a pie crust, throw down some fruit, sprinkle with sugar, fold up the sides and bake. Simple. I know many people would not agree with me. I'm always reading the woes of fellow bakers who can't make a good pie crust. In all honesty, I've never understood the frustration. Pie crusts always come out marvelously for me. When I began making them, I always followed a recipe, usually from Barefoot Contessa or Joy of Cooking. Eventually, I did it so much I didn't need a recipe. I do it from memory, a conglomeration of every recipe I've ever read. As such, my crusts are slightly different every time. Though always good, I've finally stumbled on what I deep to be the winner. In an attempt to make all of you love the art of the pie crust as much as I do, I'm going to share my recipe here. This is how I do it, from start to finish:

  • Before you get any of your other ingredients together, get out your butter and shortening (I use Crisco). Cut four T of butter and four T of shortening into squares and put in a bowl. Put this in the freezer along with some water while you prepare the rest of the crust. It is important for the butter and water to be very cold.
  • Measure out a little over one cup of all-purpose flour into a bowl. I recently received these measuring cups. Although they're adorable, The cup measure is actually closer to 1 1/4 cup. That's the one I used for my crust and it was perfect. Sprinkle in a dash of salt and 1/4 c of sugar.
  • Now get the butter/shortening out of the freezer. Using your fingers (I always do this by hand), incorporate the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles rolled oats or little peas.
  • Get your cold water and pour in about 2-4 T (sorry, I never measure). Incorporate (with your hands) until a soft dough is formed. Wrap in wax paper and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  • Roll out between two pieces of wax paper
  • Put fruit on top. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon if desired. Roll up the crust around the fruit. It won't cover all of it.
  • Bake at 400 for around 30 minutes.
It is certainly not necessary to arrange the fruit as I have here. But I'm a tart lover at heart and can't resist making such beautiful displays.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Saturday was the perfect day to go for a sail. I feel lucky that living in Pennsylvania I was able to do this, but there's a great state park nearby with a glorious lake for sailing. I hadn't sailed since I was about 13 and did a sailing camp with my friend who'd moved to Florida. I didn't really remember any of the necessary skills, which was perfectly alright, as it wasn't my boat and I wasn't in charge. Just along for the ride. In my opinion, that's the best way to sail. I don't feel the need to learn how to do it for myself. I was content just lay at the front of the boat and look up at the beautiful sails on our boat. We were definitely the best dressed boat out there that day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Make Drinking More Fun

No, in this case I'm not talking about alcohol. If I were, this post would be quite different. Usually alcohol is what we use to make other things more fun. To make alcohol per se more fun, all you really need is a person or two to flirt with. But what about the every day? What about orange juice (and we're not talking mimosas)? I'm usually not much of an orange juice drinker, but now that I have this fun juicer, I feel like drinking it everyday. This clever two part juicer is pretty and practical. Just juice the orange halves on top and the juice falls through tiny holes, which block seeds and allow pure Florida sunshine to fall into the bottom (which also has an easy-pour spout).

Those of you who know me know that I am a big tea drinker. I usually go through a pot a day. Sometimes more. Tea is already fun. There are loads of options and it comes with great accessories--tea pots and cups. But I just got one accessory that goes beyond these staples. And it makes tea even more fun. A lovely tea cup caddy is the perfect way to store and display delicate tea cups.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An Alliterative Age

Yesterday I turned 22. This was the year I thought birthdays wouldn't be as important anymore. I've hit all the big ones--16, 18, 21. All that's left for me are the decades. 30. 40. 50....80? I was wrong. Birthdays for me just get better and better each year. This year was no exception. To start, I must say I've had some pretty good birthdays. As a girl, I started getting excited for my July birthday sometime in February, because that's when my sister's was. I had fun, elaborate, but not excessive birthday parties, which always included a treasure hunt and a sleepover. One year I even had a Hawaiian luau, complete with shrimp, pineapple, grass skirts, and the hula. When I turned 13 I had a surprise party. When I turned 18 I was in Florida visiting my friend Catherine. We ushered in my birthday by having a picnic breakfast on the beach to watch the sunrise. To say I've had some great birthdays would be an understatement. This year, I thought it would end. Not in a sad, wistful way, but in a "life goes on" way. I can't be a kid forever. It has to end sometime. But what yesterday really told me is that it doesn't. I can be a kid forever. I will be.

My birthday began when I woke up around 9. Dad was at work, Mom was out, and my siblings were asleep. I read my Bible and did some journaling. I then decided to make some blueberry/black raspberry muffins for breakfast. Right as I was putting them, Mom walked in the door. "Hey birthday girl, how about some red raspberries and whipped cream?" Um, yes. We had a glorious tea party with the muffins, raspberries and whipped cream. I couldn't stop smiling.

Little raspberry soldiers.

That wasn't the end of my day. At the farmer's market I got fresh peas for my lunch, and basil so spicy and fragrant, I smelled it before I saw it.

The rest of my day was spent in the sunshine, and then off to Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle for Irish whiskey, beer, music and dinner. After dinner, my family presented me with an array of glorious gifts. I now have enough anthropologie to start my own kitchenware store. Or at least my own kitchen.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I'm a color person. I love bright colors. I love to see them, I love to wear them. For example, I love this cheery hibiscus:

Although I often gravitate toward colors of this caliber, like every rule there are exceptions. Some days a soft lavender or faded gold are just what I'm looking for. I like black. And I even like gray. Love it, actually. In the winter, it's one of the colors I'm most drawn to.

But one color I've never been much for is brown. Brown has always seemed the most bland and boring color. Even its name seems unfortunate. Cream is also a boring color, but at least it sounds lovely.

Imagine my surprise when this caught my eye:

I was sweeping the floor yesterday and had to stop when I saw this, the biggest moth I have ever seen with my own eyes. The floor is brown and the moth is brown, but it still seemed rather exciting. This moth was half the size of my palm. And it just sat there. I was right next to it and it didn't fly away. I thought maybe it was dead, but when I touched it, this happened:

I know those large dots are nature's way of protecting innocent moths. They're meant to look like eyes and scare away predators. But they charmed me. I couldn't help but stare. How miraculous that something so beautiful could be hidden underneath all that brown. It strikes me now that the flower and the moth have something in common--both are accented by the same saffron-y, golden-y yellow. Which shows that when a color has a good supporting actor, it can always be a star. Even brown.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I eat my peas with...

Ravioli. It's been awhile since I made fresh pasta, so I decided to last night. I'm on a search for the best dough recipe. Usually, regular flour doesn't give me quite the results I'd like, so I tried using semolina flour, and was met with success. Next time, however, I think I'd like to try a combination of the two. For those interested, the exact recipe was a cup of semolina flour, one egg, 1-2tsp of olive oil and 1-2tsp of water. I kneaded the dough for a couple minutes then let it sit while I prepared the filling. I know some people add eggs to their ricotta, but I kept it simple with just a bit of salt, a good sprinkling of fresh ground pepper, and a generous chiffonade of basil leaves. The basil was the perfect ingredient to push the ravioli into the realm of all things wonderful. I used a roller to roll out sheets of pasta, put dollops of filling on half and folded the other half over. I cut the squares out with a knife and used the tines of a fork to make sure they were sealed. I kept the ravioli in the freezer while waiting for the water to boil, and dropped them in the salted boiling water for about three minutes. Success.

The peas were fresh from the Sewickley Farmer's Market, and were simply delicious sauteed in butter and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A lovely summer dinner.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Last weekend was my Grandma Marie's 80th birthday. We had a huge surprise party for her with extended family from out of town, and of course, lots and lots of food. Though I had my hand in on the party, as did all seven of grandma's children, it was mostly a success because of the superb planning skills of my mother, the middle child. We had a white tent in our yard, flowers and old pictures everywhere, and my mom walked around serving her now-famous breadsticks and polenta to everyone.

That's my grandma up there. All took was one person to say, "Marie, get up and dance," for her to stand up, kick off her shoes, and start to move. I hope I still love life as much in sixty years.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Into the Future

Friday night I went down to Pittsburgh to check out a bit of the Arts Festival. It was great to see all the artisans' booths, and was especially exciting to see so many young people trying to make a living by creating something. It was also great to see so many different people milling about. Endless people watching. In hindsight, it makes me think a bit about myself. Who am I? Not sure exactly. I've entered into a phase in life where I seem to be discovering and (hopefully) falling in love with myself all over again. I make lists of what I like and don't like, trying to figure out who this person is. I like lavender, poppies, rosemary, Italy, Mary Oliver, and yellow. I don't like bananas, Faulkner, or taupe. I hope to figure out what sort of person I'd like to be. I think I'm on a good road to discovery.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Think Green

Cabbage is a humble vegetable. Rarely does anyone raise a flag for it. Many turn up their noses at sauerkraut. Save coleslaw, few people ever eat cabbage, except maybe boiled with potatoes on St. Patrick's Day. I consider this a tragedy. I have recently decided that cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables, and lucky for me, as it's also very inexpensive. It all started when I was flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, The Silver Palate Goodtimes Cookbook, and came across a recipe Que Sera Silk Salad. Intrigued, I skimmed the ingredients, and saw that the main one was cabbage. I started talking to myself about how I needed some, when my mom pulled a head of cabbage out of the fridge. Lucky me. This particular recipe required soaking shredded cabbage in salt water for hours so it would take on a silky consistency. It was delicious. But my favorite way to eat cabbage? Sauteed in a pan with some butter, salt, and pepper. Simple. Heavenly.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I returned home from Kiawah Island, SC on Saturday. It was incredibly relaxing. I spent most of my time reading travel/food books, and I even did a bit of writing. I wrote this poem (still in the works, though) for this view (though at a different time of day).

The sun looks like and orange eye as it lowers
and peeks at me through the thick tress on the small island
floating in the river across from me

while a heron matches the river in blue, doing nothing
but parading through the marsh grass like a guard on duty
and he notes that all is in order, for the tide is rising steadily,

making invisible the sandbar that I saw only an hour earlier,
while next to me the fiddler crabs scurry about, their large claws raised
and ready to do battle with the incoming tide

that is threatening to dilapidate the shoreline
but only for now, because by morning tomorrow the water
will not seem dangerous anymore, as it folds down

to reveal the jagged line of oyster shells, a minature fortress baricade
or Great Wall of China, but for now, they are just shells,
hiding beneath the river, afraid of the night.

Next to me, a family poses for a group photo,
trying to capture the moment.

One of my favorite parts of vacation is the Oyster Roast. Everyone stands around at great wooden spools, which are piled high with fresh oysters, roasted in fire pits right there. Take a knife, crack one open, douse it with lemon and hot sauce, suck it out of the shell. Delicious. But the best part of the night is dancing and dancing and dancing with my dad to the live island band.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


I confess to being a sporadic blogger, a fact which needs no confession--it should be clear to anyone upon glancing at the frequency of previous entries. I would like to change that. My inspiration for this blog, was of course the fabulous yarnstorm, and though I will never reach such blogging mastery, I would like to try a little harder. Tonight I was inspired by a friend who began a blog and shared it with me. It was such a dear experience and entry into part of his life, that I would like to provide the same for others.

I actually took these pictures a bit ago with intent of sharing them here. One of the great joys of summer--life, really--is food. How refreshing for me especially after years of cafeteria cooking. Now I can choose what I eat. Recently, this choice led to oranges. But not just any old oranges. The day before I took these pictures, I was making cookies with my Italian grandma and her sister. Interspersed with singing along in Latin to Andrea Bocelli, they talked, talked, talked. My grandma spoke of eating an orange just this way--with olive oil and mint. Since I have an abundance of mint, I decided to give it a try. Pure bliss. Especially with a glass of vino rosso. Always perfect.

Of course, I can't wait to see blood oranges in the market again...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


So what's a girl to do when she's home alone on St. Patrick's Day? Well, throw on a festive apron, and get to work! I began with lemon squares. Not exactly festive, I know, but I make them so rarely, and they're so delicious, that I thought they'd be celebratory enough. Perhaps St. Patrick liked a good ol' lemon square (nevermind the fact that he probably never had one). I made a real feast for dinner, so much that I've been munching on leftovers all today as well. To begin, Irish Soda Bread. I never actually made Irish Soda Bread before, but it turned out wonderfully. A real treat. I had some leftover boiled vegetables (carrots, turnips, parsnips) from the family St. Patrick celebration a few days earlier, so I jazzed them up and made a wonderful Irish vegetable soup with crumbled bacon on top. Fantastic. And it wouldn't be Irish without potatoes, so I made some scalloped potatoes with cheddar cheese and onions, that tasted even better the next day.

Raw material for the lemon squares. Beautiful.

My lovely Irish feast for one.

Pale orange and green, subtly festive.

The celebration continues with breakfast.

Of course, I know St. Patrick's Day isn't just about being Irish or Irish food or wearing green (though if someone ever wants to drink a beer in my honor, I won't stop him). St. Patrick did some great things, and he deserves to be remembered. I prayed his breastplate prayer this morning. Here's part of it:

I arise today through a mighty strength,
The invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of creation.


Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in very eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A fresh start

Ah...at last, spring is in the air. Of course, it probably won't last for long, but the fresh burst of sunshine was as refreshing and cheery as this colorful bouquet. As they say, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb...well, to spin the saying my own way, I'd like to say that the sunshine was certainly clawing and roaring its way into existence today.

In keeping with last Spring's tradition, I've decided to keep up with the sun dress photos. May the whole world know that I embraced the sun today:

And in a lemon drop bathroom, no less. Keep turning, baby.

"By noon, the ice as thin as an eggshell veined to show life seeping yellow" ~Mary Jo Salter