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Zigs and zags

In late January I suddenly decided I couldn’t live with the drab faux-oriental rugs we had in the bedroom and dining room. Couldn’t stand them for another minute. I picked up a striped rug for the bedroom from PB, and ordered the (back-ordered) zigzag rug from West Elm. At the same time, I finally found a new coverlet for the bed–ours was a bit too small and very thin. Finally, last weekend I went to Ikea and got frames for some of the vintage photos I’ve been collecting for years. (I always get sucked in by some of the faces or scenes and feel like I have to take them home with me and make up stories about them.) Today the rug arrived and I finally made the bed up with the new coverlet and took a few pictures. It feels good to freshen things up!

Dining room before:

dining room before

Sigh, blurry pics. Next week I’ll have Ben help me move the rug/table properly under the chandelier. I HAD to see how it would look, so I managed to replace the rug myself this morning. I may be broken. Anyway, Dining room after:

Oh, those are the finished chairs, too!

rug and chairs

No before pic of the bedroom since I carefully cropped the rug out of everything.

bedroom rug

I love the yellow with the blue walls.

And the photos in my office–it’s hard to see them and I’m trying to decide whether to add two more on top or put them somewhere else. You can’t tell in the photo but the biggest frame (containing a wedding group portrait from Brooklyn in the 20s) is hung w/ fishing line from a picture hook, so it’s a little hard to put anything over it.

old photos

By the way, I hung all the small ones with those “command” velcro-ish strips from 3M. My friend Ann told me they worked great for her, and sure enough, they do!

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So here’s a problem I’ve never had before and doubt I’ll ever have again: We are the owners of too much steak. We received generous and delectable assortments of steak from two sources in the last six months, and our small freezer drawer was beginning to get a bit unruly. We gobbled down two of the NY strips at Thanksgiving with my parents, and by mid-December I thawed a couple filets for a randomly fancy weeknight meal.

I’m not a fan of filet mignon, to be honest. It’s a bit mushy and bland for me; I like strip steak or, better yet, hangar or flank. But who am I to look a gift cow in the mouth? I almost never buy any beef except the stewing kind, so grilled steaks are always a treat. I dug through the CSA bounty and emerged with some parsnips:

And a head of bok choy that needed to be used ASAP:

I pureed the parsnips. It’s the second time I’ve pureed parsnips, but the first time they were in a 50-50 mix with potatoes. I didn’t love that, and I definitely hated this; they are just too sweet for me. Next stop (I still have *more* in the fridge): roasting.

I sauteed the bok choy, stems first, and dressed with with a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce. Not bad for a Tuesday, right?

But I was bothered by that sickly-sweet parsnip puree. The next week, for Christmas Eve dinner with Bridge and Ben, I thawed two more NY steaks, and tried again. This time I made celeriac puree and a wilted spinach and bacon salad. Success! Without the nauseating sweetness of the parsnips (ahem. I hated them.) it was the perfect simple meal, requiring very little time in the kitchen and thus allowing more time spent with Bridge’s superior eggnog concoction.

For the celeriac I followed a recipe from Alton Brown, roughly. I had two heads of celeriac–celery root, for the uninitiated. They’re funny, knobbly, muddy things, and the hardest part was scrubbing them clean and peeling them with a paring knife.

After softening the sliced celeriac with garlic and oil, cover it with chicken stock and simmer until it is soft; about 20+ minutes. This part smells ridiculously good and will bring everyone into the kitchen to investigate.

Once the celeriac is soft, add in a bit of butter and cream and whizz it with a stick blender, making really weird sucking sounds and splattering it around a bit:

Appetizing! But trust me, it’s awesome.

Once that was ready I put it in a serving bowl, covered with foil, and put in a warm oven until we were ready to eat. I had saved about 3 tablespoons of bacon fat from breakfast the previous weekend, along with a giant freak-slice of bacon. That saved me cooking any specifically for the salad; I cut up the freak-slice, melted the fat in a big pan, and threw the bacon back in to crisp up a bit, along with a finely-sliced shallot. When the shallot was soft, I added some mustard and red wine vinegar, and a pinch of brown sugar. Mixed it around a bit to create another unappetizing mess:

But once I wilted the spinach in the warm dressing (I pulled the pan off the heat almost as soon as I put in the spinach, and I was using hearty, mature leaves–with baby spinach I’d pour the dressing over the greens in a bowl to avoid the hot pan)… Magic. It had been years since I’d had a warm spinach salad but I can’t imagine why. The bite of vinegar with the richness of bacon is so perfect. The celeriac puree is a great substitute for potatoes, with a nice mild vegetable flavor that keeps it from being too rich with red meat.

Bridge had brought a lovely bottle of wine, and it was, I have to say, one of my all-time favorite meals I’ve cooked. And so easy!

In other news, I am very flattered to say that there’s *another* tour of our apartment up online today, this time at Apartment Therapy Boston. Check it out!

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New Year, new goals

This doesn’t have much to do with food.

I’m not one for resolutions; my attention span is far shorter than a year, and Back to School always feels more fresh-startish than January, to me. But I feel like I slipped into a bit of a funk as the year wrapped up, and I am at a bit of a crossroads in terms of work and health and so forth, so I do want to take the New Year as a chance to re-set and try harder.

For the blog: I did much better in December, but during the fall I really let the blog slide, and only posted a handful of times per month. I want to try putting myself on a schedule (I’m a journalist; without deadlines I can procrastinate until the cows come home), posting on Tuesdays and Fridays at a bare minimum. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s worth the effort, right?

I also want to work on the quality of the photography… Enough with letting the terrible kitchen lighting serve as an excuse, I have little studio lights and a lightbox/diffuser thingy, and I just need to be more consistent about taking stuff into the pantry and shooting it. Not sure what can be done about things I’m actively cooking, but I’ll get there. One day.

Finally, I want to be more specific with recipes. I’m lazy and tend to just say “eh, an onion or so, some olive oil, blah blah blah,” but when I think about the blogs I find most useful, they isolate the recipe so it’s easy to follow, in addition to writing about the process.

For me, I mostly want to figure out if I can freelance full-time for a while, or if I need to go back to an office job. I like working from home, but obviously it’s not the most stable thing. If I stay home, I need to make a major effort to, um, leave the house. For exercise, for socialization, for fresh air.

During the fall I took a drawing class at the MFA’s museum school. It was rigorous and challenging and I learned a ton, but I can’t justify doing something like that right now, so I want to make sure I also keep drawing, get back to painting, treat photography more seriously, etc. I am also hoping to help a few people with some interior design advice. Finally, while I write for a living I’d also like to write something different, for pleasure. Fiction, maybe? I doubt it but I’ll try, perhaps.

sketches
[For my class, we worked on a final project consisting of a series of studies and drawings on one topic. I chose ballet, and used a couple books of photos of the New York City Ballet as my subjects.]

The greatest lesson I learned in my drawing class was how to relax. At the beginning of the semester all my drawings were in pencil, mostly of interiors, very literal, very precise, not very dynamic or interesting. I never expected to enjoy figure-drawing and I never thought about charcoal one way or the other, but those two things brought me tremendous joy. Charcoal is messy and it didn’t let me stick to my precise lines. I couldn’t really use a ruler. And drawing the figure made me want to explore movement. I want 2009 to be like that. I’m feeling closed in and limited in a few ways, and I want to break out and try things I hadn’t considered, even if it means I have charcoal-stained fingernails.

Or hands that smell like garlic. I’ve never minded that!

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I hope everyone else had a Christmas as relaxing as mine. My dearest friend came to stay (before flying out this evening) and we got to visit with another good friend—complete with much-delayed arrival and impromptu sleepover—on Tuesday night. We ate a delicious dinner Christmas Eve (more on that later) and slept in late this morning. Santa blessed us many times over.

Before Christmas is 100% over, a few shots from our holiday party earlier this month. I think about 30 people ended up coming; I focused on food that would let me enjoy myself for once, so I made a couple things in advance and the only hot food was a giant pile of mini pizzas that I’d par-baked in the afternoon and reheated during the party.

I made one dip with butternut squash, a bit of crème fraîche, roasted onions and garlic, lots of parmesan, and sage. That was ok but not something I’d make again. Another dip/spread was basic white bean spread like we’ve always made, but dressed up with a little rosemary and lemon. Easy and so good:

I sautéed the garlic and onion until soft, then added in two cans of organic white cannellini beans and some very, very finely chopped rosemary. Chop as finely as possible; that texture is not good. They are technically already cooked but I find that they always need quite a while to take the canned edge off. I added a bit of chicken stock every so often to keep things from drying out, and cooked uncovered for a while, then covered until the beans tasted good.

I mushed them around a lot with the spoon so that it turned into a chunky spread instead of a pile of beans.

I stirred in lemon juice (about half a lemon) and topped with a bit of zest. I’d seen a Bittman riff on a Marcella Hazan recipe for a bean spread (canned beans uncooked, but pureed in the food processor) that included lots of lemon, and I will definitely add it from now on. It brightens up the beans and really offsets their earthiness and the rosemary flavor. Yum! I could have kept this a little wetter; next time I’ll do a bit more broth towards the end. Still, very very good.

The mini pizzas were a bit of an ordeal but fantastic as party food–easy to eat, no mess, hot and comforting and tasty. I used dough from Trader Joe’s; four bags divided into six little pizzas each. I topped them with sautéed leeks and sausage.

(I cooked them until just golden; during the party I heated them up so they were nice and crispy and cut each one in quarters.)

The living room, ready to party:

Ben’s chocolate chip cookies top the dessert offerings:

A crowd in the dining room:

And, just because I promised, here are Ari and Alex from Ben’s office (they’re not a couple, ladies). Alex is a faithful reader of the blog and likes to inspect Ben’s lunches when I send in leftovers. I hear he’s quite a cook, too!

Now we’re off to our friends’ wedding in CT, then a visit to Long Island before coming back to Boston for New Year’s. Enjoy the weekend!

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I must be some kind of masochist; this afternoon as the snow barely started to fall I thought to myself “Kate, go run 90 errands. It is less than a week before Christmas and they’re saying to stay off the roads, but clearly you must acquire more Pine Mountain logs (like duraflame, but better, and I know we should use real wood but it makes the fireplace smoke, so shh) in order to survive this weekend.” So I got in the car and drove to Everett, where Costco is, and while I was wandering aimlessly in Costco (do those places make anyone else feel like a lost kindergartener?) the harmless drifting snow turned into a pelting blizzardy craziness, but still, instead of heading home I went to three other stores in the complex in order to run lots of other slightly-pointless errands. And then after it took about 40 minutes to drive home, I went to Whole Foods.

The upside is that while the 45 pounds of Pine Mountain Logs remain in the back of the car, I did get the makings for another batch of those meatballs. Posting about them the other day reminded me of how good they were. I also got one of those half-loaves of bread that come slathered in butter and garlic, hurray!

Since this is an aimless sort of post, here is an aimless sort of picture: The wreath I made out of willow twigs I found on a walk after Thanksgiving!

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone, and be careful out there in the snow!

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So the end of October (for shame, Kate!) marked the end of the regular 20-week CSA season. I signed on for the winter share, as well, so I’m still getting vegetables bi-weekly until Christmas.

-2 apples
-1 kohlrabi
-1 ear popcorn
-Carrots (Mostly cropped out of the photo on the right by the stupid, stupid wordpress template…)
-Sweet potatoes (Ditto)
-1 bunch kale
-1 bunch chives
-2 yellow and 2 red onions
-1 bulb garlic

That week we had some friends over for dinner and I made the Suzanne Goin short ribs again (Now With Less Plastic Wrap!), along with a nice beet salad and an apple crostata.

How pretty are the pearl onions, all ready to be roasted? I think I’ll change the image at the top of the blog to have those for a while. I’m tired of the spring onions!

This time I got the cross-cut ribs that Goin calls for…They were much tricker to fit into a pan for braising!

I had to use my enormous roasting pan, and I thought I’d be short on liquid so I put in placeholders (they ended up being unnecessary).

Roasted beets in a bit of dressing, with mâche, ricotta salata and toasted walnuts:

The short ribs, served over fried circles of polenta (with chard and pearl onions):

Crostata–still the simplest and most satisfying dessert (recipe here):

But as long as we’re thinking about pie, check out the *amazing* chocolate cream pie at our favorite diner on the North Shore:

Real pudding, real whipped cream…Perfect fortification for a walk in a wonderful state park:

And I’m always charmed by mushrooms!

Sigh. A couple months ago I changed my blog template because all the photos were suddenly square. Now it’s happening again and I don’t know if it’s because I’m uploading to Picasa on my Mac? Or….something? Argh.

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Now *this* was an exciting thing: Leah from More Ways to Waste Time asked me a while ago if I’d be willing to do one of her House Voyeur tours, and it went live earlier this week!

So here you go–a fairly-complete look at our apartment (I didn’t include the guest room, a dull place containing the stereo, tv, and a futon).

Thank you, Leah!

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