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It must be spring in the air—Over the last couple weeks I’ve been wanting to launch all sorts of new ventures and start really trying to make a go at doing the things I love.


Venture 1: Straw into Gold

I love decorating, especially when I get to be super creative on a tight budget. I think a lot of people in the post-post-college phase of life are ready to move on from the futons and hand-me-downs but aren’t yet able to plunk down a ton of cash. I can help make spaces pretty, livable and reflective of their occupants, even on a shoestring budget.
(Ben gets credit for the name: We were talking about goals and things we wanted to do a few weeks ago, and he said “What you’re really good at is spinning straw into gold.” I like that.)

Venture 2: Custom paintings

I have painted custom art for friends’ babies for a while now, and I finally got around to listing my services on Etsy. The Herbert boys are recent recipients, and I used the photos from their triptychs for the listing.

bee

giraffe

Maybe one of those something that could be helpful to you? Let me know if you’re interested!

Feeling nervous,
Kate

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Ok, so. I have spoken before about my unending love for Jamie at Home, and back in February I watched the pizza episode and promptly felt the urge to make dough from scratch. Hurray! It’s so easy! (Note: I had a tremendously bad day leading up to this attempt.)

Pizza Dough
adapted from Jamie Oliver‘s Jamie at Home
7 cups strong white bread flour or 5 cups strong white bread flour plus 2 cups finely ground semolina flour (next time I want to try it w/ semolina)
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 (1/4-ounce) packets active dried yeast
1 tablespoon raw sugar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

pizza ingredients

Ok. So you’re supposed to sift the flour and salt together into a mountain on the counter. No sweat! I am a brave person who will go ahead and work straight on the butcher block. No fear! Mountain, ahoy!

flour

Now, that photo does not accurately depict the towering majesty of the 7-cup flour mountain. It was tall and steep. Back to the recipe:

“In a large measuring cup, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.”

Sounds easy enough, and Jamie made it look like a cakewalk on the show. Proceed: Liquids mixed with sugar and yeast:

liquids

Commence whisking, while feeling extremely smug and craftsmanlike:

whisking flour

Here’s the important part: Get cocky and pour in too much liquid at once, collapsing the walls of the too-tall mountain and flooding yeasty-oil-water down the dishwasher and your pants. And socks. And under the baseboards. Stand stock still while it gushes over, before fitfully trying to shove flour into the liquid to stop the onslaught. Grab paper towels to make a moat, then take a photo that doesn’t come close to portraying the chaos:

mess

(Aren’t I brave, giving you the warts-and-all view into my kitchen?)

Take stock, recognizing that you have used nearly all of the flour in the house, all the yeast, and you don’t have an alternate plan for dinner. Decide to soldier on, mixing what liquid is left on the counter into the flour and then adding additional water and kneading until, miracle beyond miracles, the dough pulls together into a gorgeous, silky smooth ball.

Set it to rise while you pry off the baseboards and scrub yeasty flour paste off the inside of the cabinet doors.

Now, back to the original plan!

“Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called punching down the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straightaway, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas. “

Fine! The dough rose, though maybe not quite as much as normal:

I froze half and made the other half into four pizzas:

dough balls

It rolled out like a dream, not sticky like store-bought dough:

I made half with flat edges and half with pinched crusts like my mom does, to see which I preferred. (Note: The Food Network version of the recipe doesn’t specify baking time or temp. I cranked my oven to around 450 and just watched the pizzas carefully; I think they took about 10 minutes but I could be wrong.)

Pinched won:

And dinner did eventually get served. Without the 45 minutes of cleaning up the kitchen, it would have been a really easy process.

(BTW I think I’m over white pies, at least with the slightly-dry cheese blend I have been using. The other half of the dough got slathered with various sauces, to be explained in a future post.)

(Also, I’m totally uninspired and haven’t been cooking much. Is it just the late-winter doldrums? Anyone else feeling it, too?)

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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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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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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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