Day of the Dead/Halloween Decor Garland

28 Sep

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I have been restraining myself from decorating for Halloween until October and since we are just about there, I thought I would share my latest creation. The garland isn’t really new, more like ‘upcycled’ from when I was living in Amman  (when I was in the throes of skull making mid-March due to  Halloween withdrawals), but because I lacked access to a craft store, or basically any store that had DIY supplies, the finished product never really did much for me and so it made its way into a junk container. As I was rifling through my junk containers, I came across it and decided to give it another chance. To make this garland, here’s what you do.

Materials:

  • various shades of felt
  • embroidery floss
  • sequins
  • pillow stuffing
  • felt balls or glitter balls

Directions:

1. Create a pattern on card-stock.

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2. Outline pattern onto felt and cut out.

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3. Embroider each skull’s face–I am a beginner embroiderer so I was limited to back stitching, French knots, and chain-stitching (I think that is what it’s called), adding sequins, beads, or any other design elements.

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Close-up glam shot #1

You have to add cha-cha to the skull's

You have to add cha-cha to the skull’s

Close-up glam shot #1

Close-up glam shot #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Blanket stitch the two pieces of the pattern together, leaving a little bit open to stuff with pillow stuffing, and then sew it all up.

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If you are not sure how to blanket stitch, Google ‘blanket stitch’ and you will find countless videos and tutorials that will teach you–that’s how I learned. I love this stitch–it’s so versatile.

 

 

 

5. Using a needle, add felt balls or glitter balls (I found these at Michael’s in the Halloween section in all colors) in between the skulls and hang up. It’s that easy!

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Here are a few more close-ups of the garland. Enjoy.

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Sailing to Two Harbors, Catalina, CA

3 Aug

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The Captain

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Sunrise on our departure

Growing up, my sister and I hated going  ‘to the boat.’ We liked inviting our friends down to swim on the dock, sailing in the Snark (a smaller version of a Laser and much more kid-friendly), going out in the dinghy (with the motor), and I loved fishing, but sailing, not so much. Once we were old enough, my parents would take the sailboat out, leaving us happily behind to hang out on the dock, go to the candy store (in Oceanside Harbor), and tool around  with our friends (whose parents were probably on the boat with ours).

Years have gone by and age has a way of softening the memories of seasickness and claustrophobia, which used to haunt me on our sails and overnight trips. Since Raj and I have been together, I’ve reminisced about the fun times we had growing up on the boat, going to Catalina, and spending time just hanging out on the water with my family. Raj bought into the fantasy and has been telling my parents for years now that once we got back Stateside, we would be up for a sail to Catalina on the boat.

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Looking over Two Harbors

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View from the trail into Two Harbors

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Satin Doll

We originally were going to sail first to Avalon, as we’ve done in the past, but in the interest of avoiding the crowded and kitschy scene, we chose to go straight to Two Harbors, the less crowded harbor about two hours further of a sail than Avalon.

We left very early in the AM and immediately faced gail force winds and six to eight foot swells–so much for forgetting about seasickness. Luckily, my mom was prepared with wrist bands and some type of non-drowsy, motion sickness pill, which did the trick. My strategy, since being a child, has always been to sleep it off, so in the interest of everyone, I nodded off for as much of the eight-hour trip over there, as evidenced by my horrendous sunburn.

We arrived to great weather and immediately got to work doing nothing, which was the plan. We spent two nights and three days reading, soaking up the sun, running along the coast, walking, eating at the one restaurant on shore, checking out the Banning House (the one B & B located on shore), watching ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm, and sleeping. It was a great time followed by an easy and pleasant sail home.

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Raj working hard…

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Two Harbors Yacht Club

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One room school-house

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One of the many ravens

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The Banning House, B & B

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View of the second harbor from the Banning House

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Inside the Banning House library

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This is the type of trip whose memories get sweeter over time.

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Fourth of July Harbor

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Cherry Cove

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Lancaster’s Central Market: One of the World’s Ten Best Fresh Markets?

13 May

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I love farmer’s markets and Raj and I frequent Old Town’s very own regularly on Saturday mornings to buy DSC05130produce, flowers, and freshly baked bread. [In case you didn’t know, Old Town’s market is thought to be one of the nation’s oldest continually operating farmer’s markets and George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon (just down the road) to be sold here.] Anyway, we were searching for a day trip to take and I came across this CNN Travel article, Ten of the World’s Best Fresh Markets. Considering the article’s glowing recommendation and pairing it with my desire to shop for Amish jams and jellies (and perhaps a quilt–Lancaster is the heart of Amish country), it sounded like a perfect day!

DSC05132Lancaster’s Central Market is located in the downtown area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s nice, but in no way, shape, or form does it belong on a list of the ‘Ten Best’ in the WORLD (let alone the country). It’s relatively small (think Eastern Market in DC), indoors, and not particularly Amish (as I mistakenly presumed). There were a couple Mennonite and Amish (not sure which and I’m no expert) merchants selling their wares, a couple of flower vendors, a fair sampling of beautiful farm raised vegetables, herbs, fruit…, a few bakeries, a small food court where sandwiches and such were prepared, along with the requisite tchotchke profferers. We bought a couple of loaves of bread from a cute couple and three jars “Amish” jam, which turns out are ‘made in the Amish style,’ meaning we were hoodwinked.

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DSC05150After a short jaunt through the market,  I wanted to get out of the city and onto the country roads where I envisioned bucolic farms and out-of-the-way stands selling unique, one of a kind items along with jams and jellies packaged by unjaded Amish women and girls and made in’ authentic’ ways (without corn syrup–the first ingredient on one of the jams we purchased). We headed towards the towns of Bird in Hand and Intercourse, but my fantasy was left unfulfilled. We stopped at a few ‘Amish’ markets that were less than noteworthy and ended up buying nothing. Nada. Zilch.

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This was an enjoyable day trip that I would highly recommend (preferably on a sunny day), but one needs to go with the understanding that this is a nice fresh market, not a mecca of amazing foodstuffs. Your local farmer’s market is probably better than this one, and if you’re in the mood for authentic Amish wares, you’re better off driving to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, where a much more impressive array of items are readily available.

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After a long drive home, we settled in for the night with a few items we picked up along the way.

Classic Chocolate Mousse in Mini Cocottes

9 Mar

I’ve been a lazy, slothful blogger again despite already having this post ready to go since Valentine’s Day. I’m not a big mousse fan, but these little, easy beauties provided me with an excuse to pull out my utterly useless, yet adorable Le Creuset mini cocottes. It’s amazing what little you can do with them, so any opportunity is cause for celebration. This can be made ahead a few days in advance and then dressed up just before serving. I served mine with a dollop od whipped cream with a sprinkling of cocoa powder and fresh strawberries.

Classic Chocolate Mousse

6 Servings

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  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy cream, divided
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup espresso, room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate (61-72% cacao), chopped
  • 2 large egg whites

Beat 1/2 cup cream in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form; cover and chill.

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This recipe calls for yet another excuse to pull out rarely used equipment such as the espresso machine.

Combine egg yolks, espresso, salt, and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large metal bowl. Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water). Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is lighter in color and almost doubled in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 160 degrees, about 1 minute.
Remove bowl from pan. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until room temperature.

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Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another medium bowl on medium speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually beat in remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until firm peaks form.
Fold egg whites into chocolate in 2 additions; folded whipped cream into mixture just to blend.

Divide mousse among ramekins or mini cocottes. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. Do Ahead: Mousse can be made a few days ahead; cover and keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

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The serving size of these is more like two servings, not one as it would be in a ramekin.

Before serving, whisk remaining 1/4 cup cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form; dollop over mousse.

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Homemade Fettucini with Clams and White Beans

23 Feb

Homemade Fettucini with Clams and White Beans

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Going out to eat on Valentine’s day is overrated and for amateurs, right…but who has the time to cook, especially when it happens to fall on a weeknight? Not me, but that’s why we celebrated on February 15th. Here’s a relatively simple meal that can be completed in about an hour.

Fettucini

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For this recipe, I used Dave Lebovitz’s recipe. I PROMISE, making pasta is the easiest thing ever and it makes SUCH a difference from dried pasta!

Homemade Pasta Dough

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1 1/2 pounds – 4 servings

  • 7 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 7 ounces coarse semolina
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

 

 

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  1. Mix together the flour and semolina in the bowl of a stand mixer, or mix them up and create a mound on the counter top with a crater in the center. If using a stand mixer, add the eggs to the dough and mix them together with the paddle or dough hook until well mixed. On the counter top, crack the eggs into the center of the flour and semolina. Use your fingers to gradually draw the dry ingredients into the center, mixing them with the eggs. The dough will be hard to mix at first – a pastry scraper will help you draw it all together – but eventually it will come together and be relatively smooth.
  2. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for at least three minutes until the dough is very smooth. The dough should not feel sticky. If it sticks to your fingers, knead in a small amount of flour, just enough so your fingers come away clean when you pull them away. Wrap the dough and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

(You can keep the dough for several hours at room temperature.)

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Clams and White Bean Sauce

  • 2 tbl (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 tbl olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
  • 1 lb fresh fettucini
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 lb clams
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat butter and 2 tbl. oil in large heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices, crushing tomatoes lightly with your hands. Increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until sauce thickens, 10-15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking liquid.
  3. Add beans and wine to sauce. Cook, stirring often, until wine has almost evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add clams and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until clams open, about 5 minutes (discard any that do not open).
  4. Add pasta and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid to clams and stir to coat. Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Divide among bowls. Drizzle with oil; garnish with parsley.
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Our pairing, a Christmas gift saved for the occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

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Next up…our dessert….

Won’t You Be My Neighbor Carrot Muffins with Brown Butter & Currants

10 Feb

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A friend of ours just recently purchased a new home and I took it upon myself to be kind and neighborly and to make something sweet from scratch…the only problem? She wasn’t home and wouldn’t be for hours. Raj couldn’t bear the thought to leave these muffins out in the cold on her porch…SO? We ate them. ALL. And have no regrets!

We’re not as rude as this sounds, but they were WARM and smelled delicious and why leave something out in the cold when WE could enjoy them? Plus, they’re easy enough to bake again some other day when I’m feeling especially kind and charitable (not often). The fact that they have currants in them and Raj still loved them says a lot. As you know, currants are fancy for raisins, which I’m not especially fond of either, but in this recipe, they add the right amount of layer on top of the carrots, orange zest and spices.

Carrot Muffins with Brown Butter and Currants

(makes 12 muffins)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup (about 2 medium) peeled, grated carrots
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

 

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.
  • To make brown butter, place butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the butter solids are browned and smell toasty, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes or a little longer. Watch carefully so the butter does not burn. As the butter browns, the foam rises to the top and dark brown particles stick to the bottom of the pan. As soon as the butter is dark golden brown, pour it into a small bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature.

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  • Combine the currants with the water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until the currants are plump, about 10 minutes. Remove the currants from the heat, drain, and transfer to a small bowl to cool to room temperature.
  • Into a bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and ginger together twice, then set the dry ingredients aside.

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  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, and salt. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. The egg mixture should begin to “ribbon” but not hold the ribbon.
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer. Without stirring, place the carrots and currants on top of the egg mixture. Then pour the dry ingredients on top, and using a rubber spatula, gently fold everything together. Finally, fold in the browned butter, combining everything thoroughly and gently.
  • Scoop the muffins into paper-lined muffin cups, dividing it evenly, using about 1/3 cup, of batter per muffin.
  • Lightly sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of the turbinado sugar on top of each muffin. Bake until the muffins are cooked through and golden, about 18 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through the baking time. A wooden skewer inserted into a muffin should come out with a few crumbs clinging but no batter.

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  • Remove the pan rom the over and cool on a wire rack about 10 minutes before unmolding.

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DO NOT LEAVE THESE MUFFINS UNATTENDED. Someone may decide to steal them. They are best enjoyed warm with a cup of afternoon coffee or tea.

 

Way Too Much Work Veal Meatball Pie

2 Feb

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In my recent quest to make Friday Night Pizza more interesting than the usual “Raj’s Pizza,” comprised of red sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella (for the past six years!), I’m continually seeking out pies that will sway Raj towards variety. The latest, a Veal Meatball Pie, was amazing, but WAY too much work for anyone who works, has a life, hobbies, a dog that needs walking… The recipe is comprised of FIVE separate recipes (which I had to break down between two days) if you count making the pizza dough, sauce, meatballs, caramelizing the onions, and compiling the pizza…but for those of you with lots of time and motivation, knock yourselves out. Raj says this is a keeper–but then it would have to be relegated to Saturday Night Pizza–he won’t be seeing the likes of this pie anytime soon.

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Veal Meatball Pie

  • 1 ball of dough–I used is the same one I always use–my whole wheat standard (see Raj’s Friday Night Pizza)
  • 1/4 cup Basic Tomato Sauce (see below)
  • About 2 ounces fresh Mozzarella, pulled into 5 clumps
  • Scant 1 tbl Caramelized onions (Oh my God–all that work–1 HOUR of pure devotion for 1 tablespoon of them?! See below)
  • About 5 pitted Alfonso olives–good luck finding these at any other place than Whole Foods (Did I mention shopping for the ingredients took lots of time too?)
  • About 3 tbl Parmagiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 4 or 5 Veal Meatballs, broken in half
  1. Put pizza stone in oven about 8″ from broiler. Preheat oven on bake at 5oo degrees for 30 minutes. Switch to broil for 10 minutes.
  2. Place dough on pizza stone (you can also assemble the pie on a peel and then slide it onto the stone, but I’ve never had luck doing this), spoon tomato sauce over surface and spread evenly, leaving about an inch of the rim untouched. Distribute mozzarella over the sauce. Space meatballs evenly over the pie. Distribute the onions evenly on top, then the olives. Sprinkle the Parmagiano.
  3. Broil for 4 1/2 minutes under gas until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.
  4. Using the peel (yes, I use it here with the help of a spatula), transfer the pizza to a cutting board. Sprinkle additional Parmagiano over the pie. Slice and serve immediately.

Basic Tomato Sauce (SO SIMPLE that it really shouldn’t be called sauce)

  • 28 ounce can peeled Italian plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Using your hands, squish the tomatoes in a bowl. 
  2. Stir in olive oil and salt. (I only used about half of the sauce and froze the rest for next week’s pizza)

Veal Meatballs

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  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 pound veal
  • 1/2 medium Idaho potato, peeled
  • 10 grinds black pepper
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tbl whole milk
  • 1 tbl canola oil
  1. Bring salted water to gentle boil in medium saucepan and cook the potato until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and then pass through food mill (which I don’t have so I grated it).
  2. Add the veal, salt, pepper, garlic, thyme leaves, and milk and blend thoroughly, but gently, with your hands. With moistened hands, roll into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. You should have about 35 to 40.
  3. Coat a saute pan with the oil and brown the meatballs for about 7 or 8 minutes over medium heat, until they medium (just a bit pink in the center). Set aside until you are ready to use them, or let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

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Caramelized Onions

  • 3 medium onions
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
  • leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Cut the onions in half and then into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. With your fingers, separate the slices into strips and put them in a medium bowl. Toss with the vinegar, oil, and thyme leaves.
  2. Transfer the onions to a 10-inch saute pan. Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes, over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Do not burn. Uncover the pan and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden and soft, about 30 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle with the salt, transfer to a platter, and set aside to cool to room temperature.

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