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Thursday, July 28, 2011

On to Pie

My last posting was about cake (metaphorical, but still...). This one is all about pie.

I love pie as much as I love cupcakes, which is a lot. Especially cream pies. However, the multitude of backyard BBQs I've been to this summer have failed to impress me in the pie arena. No offense, but cream pie, to me, does not equal store-bought crust, instant Jello pudding mix and whipped topping. I think I'm just spoiled.

There is a little diner called Stott Brothers on the highway between Upper Hillsborough, NH and Stonington, CT (where we have relatives) that makes HANDS DOWN the BEST cream pies in the world. I mean 5lbs of tender, flakey crust, thick homemade pudding and real whipped cream (NOT out of a can) good. I grew up eating this pie. Jello just doesn't cut it for me.

After yet another instant pudding based "pie" appeared on our break room table at work yesterday, I had a hankering for a real pie. Plus, I really wanted to use my coveted Emile Henry (pronounced "Emeel Onree," not "Emilee Henree") ruffled pie dish. I dug out my mother's tattered copy of James Beard's iconic cookbook and got to work.

The end result wasn't very pretty, but it was delicious! For all you perfectionists out there, I suppose I should have cleaned up the edges of the (beautiful!) pie plate before photographing it. But this isn't some Stepford Wives blog. This is about real people nesting. And real people have messy pie plates. Right?

Next stop? Banana cream.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I'll Have My Cake and Eat It Too

July 19, 2011
Now is the summer of my discontent. My ideal life and my ideal career are butting heads.
I have never made it a secret that my career is my first priority. I zipped through undergraduate and graduate school with the intent of getting some valuable job experience before continuing on to do my PhD. Upon completing that, I would move to the East Coast and secure a great job designing culturally sensitive, sustainable post-conflict community reconstruction policies. In my spare time I would work as a volunteer excavating mass graves to gather evidence for war crimes prosecutions. Eventually I would get married and have a couple kids. A pretty great life plan if you ask me.
Then the reality of the job market, particularly the non-profit human rights job market, took me down a notch. Over a year after graduating with my Master’s degree I am living with my mother and working as a manager in retail. Somewhere along the way my plan was derailed. I am still career oriented. I want the cool job and the PhD. I keep being told I have to go to where the jobs are. For my field, that means Washington DC or New York. At the immediate level, I find these places exciting but not wholly appealing. Living at home I’m surrounded by kitties and my family and am ten minutes away from my boyfriend. Awesome. What impetus do I have to pick up and move to a major city where I don’t know anyone and have to live with 4 other people in a tiny apartment and work three crappy jobs to pay my rent and deal with the smog and noise of a people-packed, concrete jungle?
I’ve also been thinking a lot about where I want to settle down in the future, and I’m realizing that the places that offer the great job aren’t the places I want to raise a family. I always imagined myself being a cosmopolitan adult, but more and more I find that I like the sound of cicadas and the glow of fireflies. I like grass and trees and having my own space. I like being able to hop in the car and drive to the Badlands of South Dakota or the mountains in Colorado. I want to raise my kids in a nice house with enough property that I can have a garden. I want a small grove of peach and pear and olive trees. I want a pond with water lilies and an arbor with grapes so I can make bad homemade wine. I want to try raising a few chickens and a duck or two. I could never have that kind of lifestyle in the DC or New York areas.
Fortunately, I’m more of an action kind of girl than the brooding kind. My new plan? Keep plugging along until the great job and the PhD are mine. I’ll work for a few years in the “proper” locations, get the experience I need, then move someplace I actually want to live and start my own non-profit. Who says a successful international organization can’t be run from Oregon or Ohio or Tennessee or Maine? I shouldn't have to sacrifice one dream to satisfy another.
After figuring out my new life plan, I am feeling both refreshed and optimistic. As my favorite fictional heroine, Amelia Peabody, would say, “Righteous indignation has that effect on my character.” I want total quality of life, dang it, and if the world isn’t prepared to offer it to me I’ll just have to create it on my own. So there.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aesthetic Eating

When I was little, my family’s house in New Hampshire was small and very old, having been built in the early 1700s. To keep us entertained and out from underfoot, my mother insisted my brother and I spend the majority of our time playing outside. Being in the country, the house had an acre backyard with woods behind it. With the exception of the  weather (snow 7 months of the year and biting black fly swarms for another 2 months), it was an idyllic environment to grow up in.
My mom kept a large vegetable garden and we had a hedgerow of wild raspberry and blackberry bushes. When my brother and I needed a snack we could forage amongst the available roughage. Green beans, snap peas, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and berries were our primary staples, but I also loved to graze in the flower garden. Many of the flowers my mom grew were edible, and I used to nibble on nasturtiums, carnations and violets, along with bok choy flowers, squash blossoms and herbs from the vegetable garden. 
While using edible flowers on cakes has been popular for quite some time, over the past few years more and more restaurants have started adding edible flowers to their soups, salads and appetizers. The effect is not only delicious, but aesthetically appealing. 

For the even more adventurous, there is also the option of making rose, violet and other “floral” jams and jellies!

Of course, not all flowers are edible and it is important to do your homework before using flowers in your cooking. Poisoning one's dinner guests is generally frowned upon. The internet has a number of “eat this, not that” flower websites and there are several cookbooks available regarding the use of flowers in cooking. The best of the ones I’ve seen so far is this one:

The recipes are pretty straight forward and the pictures are beautiful. I found it at a half-price bookstore and nostalgia demanded I buy it. Sadly, it is really only useful for a few months out of the year. As lovely as poinsettias and holly are, they don’t make for tasty (or safe) eating. Still, for those who want to get the most out of their summer garden or local farmer's market, I highly recommend adding more flora to their cuisine. Make squash blossom soup, nasturtium salad,  or rose petal-almond scones. Even instant pudding looks impressive when served in little glass cups and topped with sugared violets. It's so "green", so chic, so incredibly easy. Throw a backyard garden party with floral foods and herb-infused cocktails and everyone will be calling you the next Martha. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No Mere Coffee Table

My brother recently moved into a new apartment and we have been furniture hunting as a result. In particular, he needed a coffee table. My brother is a tad...well...particular. He didn’t want just any coffee table, he wanted the perfect coffee table. Six furniture stores later, we finally found one. 
In short, over the past week I’ve seen a LOT of coffee tables. Glass ones, wood ones, metal ones, round ones, square ones, large ones, small ones, modern ones, traditional name it. I never knew there was such variety! However, my personal favorite by far (and by this I mean the one that amuses me most, not the one I would actually buy) was a coffee table that opened up into a TV tray. 

That’s right. A TV tray. Eating on the couch in front of the television is now even easier! It struck me as the kind of contraption one sees on a late night infomercial...“This may seem like a mild-mannered coffee table, but no! There’s more! Wow and amaze your friends and family!” Part of me feels like it’s one more harbinger of humanity’s downfall. Fewer than 100 years ago people used to change into formal dinner attire just to eat family dinner. This seems a bit overboard to me. But now? Just pull on your sweatpants and pop up the leaf on the coffee table (for a person living alone, this is forgivable; for everyone else...not so much). 
Mostly though, I found this coffee table incredibly amusing. I picture it being most appropriate for the kind of person who never really outgrew the Transformers phase they went through as a kid and now loves multi-use furniture. Complementing the coffee table/TV tray would be a futon sofa and those storage ottomans that also double as extra seating. Perhaps even a reversible rug. Dinner would be served on those dishes that aren’t deep enough to be a bowl but are too deep to be considered a regular plate. 
Forget the rewarding feeling of helping my brother set up his first solo household. The real highlight of furniture shopping was definitely the discovery of this coffee table. Thank you to whomever came up with the idea...your hard work has kept this nester highly entertained.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Desperate Nester and the Garage of Dreams

I have been in need of a project. The nonstop heat and rain here make it impossible to spend time outside, and I’m getting tired of reading. In hopes of finding something to do, I trekked out to the gold mine that is our garage and found some old roofing slates my parents had left over from the roof of our old house in New Hampshire (don’t ask me why they carted them around for 20 years and through 4 moves). These are not the man made roofing shingles one finds today...they are real slate, a la historic New England. Apparently my Mom used to paint and stencil them as welcome signs and sell them for a little extra money when we lived in New Hampshire. Stenciling is very popular in New England...even our kitchen floor had a stenciled border around it. But I digress.

Also in the box were some antique door handles with the latches still attached. My crafty little brain was in overdrive. What could be done with roofing slates and old door handles? I finally settled on making a memo chalkboard. The surface of the slate is perfect for such a purpose and there’s nothing I love more than getting to use spray paint and industrial strength glue. It makes my crafting feel more manly somehow. Especially if I drink a beer while doing it. 
After a coat of paint and some glue, my obsession with birds and organization created this:

As you may have noticed, I don’t take myself too seriously and I enjoy making things that are fun and a bit whimsical. The handle and latch just looked so much like a bird I couldn’t resist painting it like a parrot and adding the feather. After adding a decorative bag to hold chalk all I need now is to make a hanger out of some colorful yarn. 

Can’t wait to use it! Even paying bills seems more fun now. Once again the garage of dreams comes through. I still have more slates left over. Some I’ll use to make herb markers for the garden, but I’m still thinking about what to do with the rest. Any ideas?