Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's Spring Somewhere.....

The Earl took my car this morning to get its oil changed.  Thank heavens for him, because I'm such a ditz I would never change the oil.  I barely put gas in Mini Me.  I resent having to stop what I'm doing to sit at a gas station smelling gas fumes and cooling my heels.  And I live in a state that prohibits self-pumping, so literally, I sit there.  You would think I'd appreciate the chance to stop for five minutes, but I don't.  It's an annoyance.  Somebody invent a car that's fueled for life, please.
But back to my story....so I'm without a car for the morning, and I'm Manor-bound.  The Manor needed some sprucing and spring-ing up, and frankly, I need the promise of all things spring so out came the Easter decos.  It's miserably rainy and cold here.  We've had the wettest March since, like 1952 and even I, who don't mind the rain, have had enough.  I climbed up on my trusty chair (I have a step ladder, but it's a hassle to get out) and unearthed Easter/Spring-In-A-Box from the top shelf of the linen closet.  It was there behind Halloween and my one and only St. Patrick's day thing.  We're having guests for Easter dinner, and it's Duke Zeus' second U.S. Easter, (he was still jet-lagged at Easter last year), not to mention Princess Pooalot's very first Easter so I want to really doll up the Manor.  In case the food is lousy, you know.
For Duke Zeus, whatever we do will be pared down in comparison to Easter in Greece. Easter in Greece begins with Apokreas several weeks before with partying and costumes (think Mardi Gras), then Clean Monday to fast, spend time with family and calm down after Carnival.  Beginning with Palm Sunday, there are church services every day, with Thursday morning services commemorating The Last Supper and the betrayal of Christ.

Eggs are dyed red (signifying Christ's blood) that day and tsoureki, Easter bread is baked.  On Saturday night positively everyone is in church by 11 pm and at midnight all the lights are turned off.  The priest announces that Christ has arisen.  Everyone in attendance (as I said, it's virtually the entire population) has a candle and it is lit from the priest's.  Worshipers then file out, candles in hand and walk to their homes, candlelight and fireworks lighting the way.
The evening is warm, people are joyful.  The Countess du Greece said it's wonderful to experience.  And I haven't even mentioned the lamb in the yard yet.
For this year though, we'll have a good old American Easter celebration, with these harbingers of spring to accompany us.....

Banish the rain please, Mr. Bunny

As long as the Earl and I don't break them first, this guy and his identical twin can entertain a couple of our young Easter guests....
The Manor is basically pretty boring if you're a kid.  Our latest game system is an Atari.  And it probably doesn't work.  So these seemed appropriate for Easter.

There's bound to be baking and crafting goings on in the next few weeks.  I'll be sure to keep you posted, as I'm certain you simply cannot live without knowing what's going on at Fairfield Manor.

Adieu, mon amis.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Busy Weekend

It was a very busy weekend around the Manor.  So busy, in fact I forgot to take pictures, so you'll just have to imagine the goings on.  The Earl and I spent Friday night visiting and dining with friends.  The hostess asked me to bring a coleslaw to go with dinner ( it turned out to be corned beef, and I was thrilled because I missed fixing corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's), so I fixed this one and it was so good.  As per usual, I didn't have all the exact ingredients, so I substituted a mixture of milk and white vinegar for the buttermilk (it makes me wretch, so I don't keep it in the house, but I do understand it has magical powers as an ingredient.  But still...) and left out the lemon juice entirely.  There was apparently a lemon heist at the Manor last week, because the lemons I thought I had, I did not.

I worked on Saturday, beautifying my neck of the woods.....

......aaaand the Earl and I were having a dinner party for 9 on Saturday evening.  It wasn't a typical dinner party, but a little thang that we call Supper 8 (or in our case, 9).  When we first started attending our church a couple of years ago I signed us up for Supper 8 right away as a way to get to know people.  I did another thing that I thought would be a good way to meet people too, but that's for another time.  Eeenyhoo, the idea is you are put into a group of approximately 3 other couples, or a mix of couples and singles to equal 8-10.  Each couple hosts a get-together, dinner, breakfast, Sunday lunch - whatever the group decides, once during the go-around.  As host and hostess, you plan the meal and provide the main dish and the others fill in with sides, salad and dessert.  I typically like to do a roast or some other budget-busting thing because it's simple and most of all, everyone really enjoys it.  And it's a great excuse to serve some of my favorite wine or this one.  I don't really need an excuse, but I like to keep up appearances.
This time for our turn at hosting the Earl requested my lasagna.  Since I haven't fixed lasagna for a loooong time, probably since the Duke and Countess du Greece were in residence I figured I could oblige him.  When we got home of Friday night, I set to it.

The Lady's Lasagna
(measurements are approximate, and vary with the amount of wine consumed whilst cooking - but close)

1 lb. ground beef
1 1b. Italian sausage (we used to like hot, but we're old now and I use sweet)
1/2 of a medium to large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed (use a garlic crusher so you get all that awesome juice, too)
  Saute and crumble this mixture until it's nice and brown.  Add:
28 oz. can tomatoes (I use 2 cans of chopped tomatoes - those that they claim are roasted - I dunno, are    they?)
2 cans tomato paste
about 1/2 c water or earthy red wine
2 T sugar (depends on my mood whether it's brown or white)
2 t dried basil (I always crush it in my hands as I put it in)
1 1/2 t dried oregano (again, crush)
1 T salt (don't skimp here)
1/4 t or so black pepper
a good handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  Simmer this, covered for 1 - 1 1/2 hrs.
Meanwhile, have a sip of your earthy wine and bring a big pot of salted water to boil.  Slip in 12 dry lasagna noodles.  If you want to use fresh noodles, I'll not quibble.  They're delicious, but I can rarely find them easily. I will make a judgement about 'no boil' noodles, though.  They're an abomination in my opinion. When using dry noodles, it takes about 7-8 minutes for them to reach the point I like.  I don't want them completely done.  When ready, drain, rinse and toss with a little olive oil.  Lay them flat on sheets of foil until you're ready to assemble.
Also meanwhile (this stuff keeps you busy), mix:
16 oz. ricotta cheese (I've used cottage cheese here, too)
2 eggs
3/4 c grated parmesan (people, I implore you, ditch the green can and buy grated or shred your own)
a little dried parsley here is nice but there will be no judgement made should you decide against it
When ready to assemble, you will also need:
8 oz. cream cheese (shocking, I know)
about 3/4 lb. sliced mozzarella (fresh is out of this world, but the other works fine, too)
about 1/2 - 3/4 c shredded parmesan

Lay four noodles flat, overlapping slightly on the bottom of a deep-ish rectangular pan (at least 9x13).  Top with a layer of meat sauce, a layer of the ricotta mixture, slices of mozzarella and then knobs of cream cheese.  Repeat twice.  Make sure you have good meat and cheese coverage.  The last layer should be:  noodles, ricotta mixture (thinner layer is fine),small knobs of cream cheese, meat sauce, mozzarella and top with shredded parmesan.  It's now time for a good rest in the oven, at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes.  The cheese on top will get deliciously bubbly and brownish - and the aroma in your house will drive you mad I tell you.  Do your best to let it rest for 10 minutes or so before cutting into it.
Easily 12 servings.
Enjoy with delightful people, vino delicious and Puccini for a memorable evening with new friends.  Or old friends, if you must.  If your friends are as wonderful as ours, they will bring delicious bread, salad and fruit to round out the meal and tiramisu for dessert.  And you'll fall into bed satisfied in every way.

If your friends are not that wonderful, you'll at least have some delicious lasagna while you ponder broadening your circle of peeps.

Buona notte per ora i miei amici

Monday, March 21, 2011

(Do not) Let the Sunshine in....

The dining room here at Fairfield Manor has a big west facing window.  I have struggled to find cheap  not crappy looking window coverings for this room.  To complicate things for me, it has a north facing window that butts right up against the corner of the west facing window.  Lots of light (too much in the summer - it's like a pizza oven in there), and what the heck are you supposed to do with that dang corner and curtain hardware?  I know, I should have called a curtain hanging wizard long ago and had hardware made for it (I know you can do that, I've seen it at a friend's house who actually spent some dough), but add that to the cost of custom draperies and well, I've mentioned the Earl, haven't I?  He was happy with the macrame-esque things that were hanging in there when we bought the Manor.  Plus, I can sew, people.  So, I've made several stabs at window coverings for the dining room, none really successful.  Until now....

I found fabric for 50% off at Fabric Depot last year.   On a side note, I'm sorry for you if you don't live in Portland, where you can shop at Fabric Depot, it's fabricy/crafty heaven.  Back to my story:  later in the year I found blackout fabric at Joann's for 50% off (surely you have a Joann's in your town?).  I placed the blackout fabric in my sewing room near the Fabric Depot fabric and left them alone for several months.  They didn't spontaneously mate, so I set to work recently.  As I mentioned here, I don't always have what you would call a concrete plan when I start a project.  I did have the Duke hang some hardware for me, though. Using a very fancy saw as big as my dishwasher, he cut a perfect angle on a each of 2 wooden rods, making the dang corner non-problematic.  Now, we needed curtains/drapes (what's the difference?).
I measured the width of the window, added 1.5 times that measurement (for floof and fullness), and cut that measurement in half so I'd have 2 drapes hanging that will gloriously slide along the rod and close out the blasting sun (when it arrives).  I then measured the length and added 2.5 inches for the rod pocket and 5 inches for the hem.   Cut, cut, cut.  Re-measure, cut.  I cut the blackout fabric 4 inches narrower and about 6 inches shorter than the drapery fabric.  I'll explain later, as I go.
I sewed the blackout fabric and the drapery fabric, right sides together, along the long sides, making a gigantic tube with the hem edge and the rod pocket edge open.
Notice that the top of the blackout fabric is not even with the top of the drapery fabric.  The picture shows the top of the drapes (before turning right side out), with the fabric that will become the rod pocket without blackout fabric.
Next, I turned the tube right side out and pressed the edges.  I hope this picture makes clear what I did:
See, the blackout fabric is narrower, so when I turned it all right side out, it created that nice finished edge.  Pretty nifty.  Again you're looking at the top where the rod pocket will soon be.

Time to sew the rod pocket.  I just turned down the top edge, turned under the raw edge 1/4 inch and sewed it down.  I caught the blackout fabric in the sew-down, so it's all tucked and tidy.
If you decide to try this yourself and all the math and the fact that you don't have a plan and you're making up the rules as you go is making you nuts and ready to snatch yourself bald, wad the whole thing up set the project aside....
and fold your SmartWool socks fresh from the laundry.  Go back to it later.

After you've taken a break and perhaps had a cocktail, you are ready to hem.  I did the same thing here as I did for the rod pocket, fold over, turn raw edge under 1/4 inch and sew that thing down.  Except on the hem I had to use someone's freaky wrinkled hand to help....
No, actually, that's a freaky wrinkled hand sewing the right sides together at the very beginning.  Just do as I say, not as I show.  It works fine.  Seeeee.....
One more to make for the narrow north facing window and I'm done!  I finally feel like I've got the right thing hanging there, ya know what I mean?

I sat at the dining room table and ate a salad with croutons made from this and felt pretty dang good about life....

I've linked here:

Le Birthday Sunday

Today is our youngest daughter-in-law's birthday and we're having a leetle dinner soiree in her honor.  I'm taking a little break from the Manor kitchen to recharge and make sure that I haven't forgotten anything.  Besides forgetting to make the salad dressing yesterday, that is.
For her cake, I'm using what's become my go-to scrumchie chocolate cake and the most amazing frosting I've   ever tasted.  I first tasted this cake and frosting in cupcake form at a book signing for Alicia Paulson's book Embroidery Companion.  My daughter, the Countess du Greece introduced me to her blog, Posie Gets Cozy several years ago.  It was so much fun to meet her, and she brought cupcakes to boot!  The cake recipe is from Hershey's, and it's great, but the frosting is one her mother makes.  Don't be put off by the teeeeny bit of work it will take to make it, people will be swooning and dropping just plain dead from chocolatey/sugary ecstasy right in front of you.  And that's so worth it. I give you le recipe:  Alicia's (and mine) Go-to Birthday Cake.

Now, the Duke's wife the Countess de Couv, is actually older than 11.  We're not weird at the Manor.  Well, not that weird. It's hard to remember everything on your shopping list when it's at home.  Ya know?  So we multiply these candles by something and add something (or not) and square root the base and you've got it.

Here's the flour and milk goop from the frosting (which, as it turns out, is called Butter Roux Frosting) when it's ready to sit on the counter for an hour or three before it gets whipped to within an inch of its life along with the powdered sugar.  
See how pudding-esque it is?
After it has cooled, add the powdered sugar and beat the daylights out of it until you have boofy clouds of yummy......
Be sure to use your pirate utensils.  It helps awfully.

I was reminded tonight of something I'd forgotten.  While this frosting is plenty for 18 cupcakes, for some reason it's a little skimpy on a 2-layer cake.  When I make it again I'll do it as Alicia does, leaving the sides nekkid.  The dark chocolate-y cake looks really striking with white clouds of fluffy frosting on top.  Sort of like you do when you have a good tan and blond hair.   I told myself  I'd do that last time I made it.  Nekkid sides, I mean.  It's so complicated being me, I can't remember everything all the time.

Before we dove into the Countess' cake (and low-fat ice cream - what's that about?), we dined on The Pioneer Woman's Perfect Pot Roast.  Honestly, what does one do without the internets for recipes?  Use one of the 75-ish cookbooks one has?  Pfft..
This is the first time I've made this and I'm sold people.  I grew up on my mother's pot roast and had not moved too far afield - chuck roast, onions, potatoes and carrots topped with a packet of onion soup mix and covered with a can of cream of mushroom soup.  Wrap that in enough foil to build a plane and stick it in the oven for many hours on a low temp.  That was good, and always rang nostalgic every time I fixed it,  but it was perfectly boring. Not to mention off the charts sodium-wise.  Ree's recipe was fun to make, different for me and absolutely delicious.
This made super gravy, too.  Gravy used to be an enigma to me, but since my other daughter-in-law over at Moss and Clover told me the secret formula (if you use 2 T fat, then use 2 T flour and nearly 2 c liquid), I'm doing much better, I must say. Rosemary rolls, smashed potatoes (gravy platform) and tossed salad rounded out our birthday dinner.  Yum.

After dinner we engaged in Manor games, where we sorely missed the Countess du Greece's hubs, Duke Zeus who was benched due to a bad cold.

Princess Pooalot demonstrated atrocious manners and sat on the table with bare feet, which she is absolutely allowed to do.  So if she visits you and and does the same, you are to say nothing.  Except how adorable the Princess Pooalot is. And I mean it.

Happy birthday to the Countess de Couv!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Loo Re-do

Fairfield Manor is, in reality, a post-war (and by war I mean The Big War, WWII) daylight ranch.  Daylight ranch means that there is a window in the basement.  Not anywhere near a room that you need daylight in, but whatever.  Ranch because, well I think it sounded appealing to returning veterans who were settling back into domestic life,  "You can own your own ranch!  New modern two bedroom home with furnace, $9,000."  But there is no resemblence to a ranch.  No barn, no horses, no cowboys in tight jeans and chaps, leather gloves, western cut shirts, guitar slung over their shoulders....but I digress.  Ahem. 
None of these guys around the Manor

What we have here is a long and low 4 bedroom (one bedroom used to be a garage), 2 bath work in progress, built the year I was born.  I mention it's birth year (and mine) only because I've had various repair gents here at the Manor (the Earl is clueless with tools) and almost always the conversation gets to this:  "Well, with these really old houses....." insert any problem you like here.  What they mean is, "Lady, it's old, really old...."  I take umbrage.  Many umbrages.   Anyhoo, progress at the Manor can crawl at a snail's pace, but  there's always alot of dreaming and scheming on my part.  The Earl, not so much.  He's happy the way things are.  If it's not crumbling or falling through the floor, it's fine.
The Earl and I bought the Manor about 16 years ago.  It was billed as having been "recently updated".  As recently as 1974, as it turns out.  You do the math....  We were blinded by the amount of space, the size of the yard, proximity to school and the price - meaning we could just about afford it.  It didn't take me long to realize that something would have to be done about certain "features"  of the estate.  Namely, the capacious use of golden brown ceramic tile.  Everywhere.  And dark brown grout.  Everywhere.  Kitchen, bathrooms, fireplace, entryway.  Lord love a duck.  Several years ago, I decided to take action.  Our son, the Duke was old enough, clever enough and eager to tear something apart, so I enlisted him in my plan.  I was gleeful as we began demolishing the upstairs bathroom.  Here's the best "before" shot I can find - as the loo isn't a spot I routinely photograph, you'll just have to make do with this one:

Awful, isn't it?  This was taken as we began the demolishing, it wasn't normally this messy.  Look at that tile!  Yuck!  Dark brown floor and vanity tile, gold ceramic tile for the walls and tub surround, dark brown tub and pottery sink.  Very groovy.   Right after we first moved in, I tried to mitigate all the tile by painting the walls a similar buttery (to the tile) yellow color, and we replaced one of these:

Mercifully, The Earl agreed.  He didn't want to, he thought this was cool.  Doing these two things and removing billowy curtains were as far as we got for about 11 years.

Fast forward a decade or so:  The Duke of the Manor has begun working as a finish carpenter and he has some really neato tools.  As is my usual m.o. we begin the demolition without much of a plan, except to get rid of the gold and brown.  
The Earl:  "Do you guys know what you're doing?"  As I mentioned, he's not big on change.
me:  "Not really."  How hard can this really be?  After all, I've mentioned the tools.
The Duke:  "Not yet.  We'll figure it out as we go."  I like that boy's spirit!

I think you can see by this picture the reason for the Earl's concern.  We knew not what we were doing.  But soldier on, we did.  Out came the tile, out with the vanity, sink and old window. I knew that I wanted a much breezier, roomier loo. Beyond that, cheap was imperative.
All in all, I don't think we spent much more than $600, including refinishing the bathtub.  Many of the materials were salvaged (like Brazilian Redwood floors!).  What a difference!

New beautiful floor, partial base and unpainted bead board (eventually it was painted white), and the new door.  I found an old glass doorknob at the Goodwill that looks perfect on it.

It's been about 4 years since we took this project on and I still love it.  I've recently been giving some thought to revamping it a little.  I have a cabinet in the basement that could look like this and take its place next to the sink:

Don't ya think??
I'll keep you posted on that project.

I linked here!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Weekend Away

The Lord of the Manor and I are off to the beautiful and wild Oregon Coast this afternoon. We're celebrating 36 years together, and a trip to one of our favorite weekend getaways is in order.  We will probably see some tsunami remnants, a reminder of the devastation on the far side of the Pacific.

Before we go I'll be doing my day job, involving some of this:

I love doing that.  But I look forward to stuffing this with us and a couple pairs of jeans....:
(That's the weather  at the Manor 80% of the time, people)
....and heading here:
....with him.

Have a wonderful weekend, pals.  See you next week!  I'm working on a post about our first big remodeling project.  It's a hoot.

PS:  Clearly, I haven't figured out my buttons yet.  I can get them on the blog, but haven't figured out how to make them functional yet.  Don't let that put you off....I'd love to hear from you anyhoo!  I'll figure out at some point.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Two years ago this month, on little more than a whim, I climbed on a plane a flew nearly 9,000 miles away.  I wasn't running away from anything.  In fact, I left the northwest with the Earl's blessing on our 34th anniversary.  He was looking forward to complete control of the remote for March Madness and had no desire to experience a culture so foreign.  Let me interject here:  I am crazy curious about things.  Anything, really.  Him, not so much.  My compulsive need to know-ness hasn't always served me well, but mostly so.  And now, my curiosity was taking me to Vietnam.  So foreign, yet hauntingly familiar.  If you came of age in the mid-60's you had Vietnam and Walter Cronkite for dinner.  Frightening stuff.
Eeennyhoo, back to my story.  I was traveling with a friend and co-worker and her 7 year old kiddo.  She had left Vietnam in the '80's.  Alone, a girl not yet even in her teens, she was packed into a boat with strangers on the Mekong Delta and left all that she knew, a poor rural life in a tiny village south of Saigon.  She was going back to see her dear Granny and to show her 7 year old where she came from.  A noble and important journey.  I was tagging along, completely unaware of what I was about to experience.
Vietnam is a country of a little over 87,000,000 people.  
They were all at this intersection in Ho Chi Minh City on a Friday night.
Me:  "Where are the police to control the traffic?"
Driver: (through interpretation, 'cuz nobody speaks English):  "They're all drunk."
Me:  "Oh."  
In my head:  I wish I was.
This was an oddly calm and managed scene.  Horns tooting, scooters inching along, more tooting.  It took about an hour, but we made it across this mass to our hotel.  Mercifully.  That is Ho Chi Minh City.

This is Ben Tre......

And this is the preferred method of transport.....

Ben Tre is the sleepy village where my friend's family still lives, near family graves that they cannot abandon.  It has a market, motor scooter repair shop, a school and a beauty salon.  For the equivalent of about a dollar I could go to the salon (where they loved my snow white American hair, and my map arms - what's that?) and get a 20 minute shampoo and a facial......
Not sure why the fancy dresses, but they were in many shops in every village we went through.  This was apparently a Diep/Mr. Tuxedo.  Whatever, I did this every day that we were in Ben Tre and it was fab.
A side note:  map arms?  fat arms.  They were not uncomfortable at all patting, gently pinching or stroking my "womanly" arms.  They also loved my pasty-colored skin.  Ahhhh!  To be in a country where my God-given, formerly disdained features are revered.

On the other hand, the market was an interesting place....
We didn't buy any of these.
We bought some of these instead.  They were alive.  Whatever they were - alive I tell you.
And we bought this for Mama (it's what they call Duchesses apparently).  Does anyone see refrigeration?  No?  Me either.

All in all, it was an exciting, wonderful adventure.  We road-tripped in a 15 passenger van on the Mekong Delta. Me and 14 or 15 members of the fam, who periodically ate durian with the windows up, who spoke no English and who were the warmest and sweetest people I've had the pleasure to share time with.  We traveled from just south of Ho Chi Minh City to near Ha Tien.  It was magical.....
Not magical in a slick, touristy kind of way.  Magical in the way of touching places and faces that I'd known, but not known.  Vietnam, for me, had always been a terrible, strange jungle where war was.  A place from which friends never returned, where those friends were fighting a war nobody understood, and nobody I knew thought was right.  Me included.  It's not that place anymore.  It has beautiful and warm people, an economy that's moving ever so slowly forward edging away from state domination and gorgeous scenery.  There are remnants of the American War:  a museum (aptly named The War Remnants Museum full of horrific photos and artifacts), Highway 1 built by American G.I. know-how to move heavy equipment in and out of then Saigon and Zippo lighters at the big market in Ho Chi Minh City said to have been found in the jungles and having belonged to American G.I.'s.  I don't know if that's true, but I bought one for our young Duke at home that had a soldier's name stamped on it along with his station, Da Nang.  I bought it for him to remind him that guys his age fought in a war in a strange and terrible place because they had to, and perhaps left a Zippo behind on the floor of a jungle 9,000 miles from home.  And to replace the one that I found in his room and confiscated.  That's another story altogether.
At the end of our trip the entire Manor household was at the airport (they really miss ya after 17 days!) to greet us home.
Our son, the Duke of FM to 7 year old:  "Did you have a great trip?"
7 year old kiddo:  "Yeah!  It was awesome! DeeDee barfed on the plane!"

So, yeah.  I did.  There ya go.  Seventeen days and 9,000 miles from home, having seen crocs and monkeys in the wild, spiders as big as my hand, meeting his family and that's what he remembers.  The barfing that occurred between Portland and Seattle.  As entertaining as that was for him, I hope he actually remembers even just a portion of what I remember.  I'm sure he will.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Finished Product....and some bloggie stuff

I made my Pain de Mie in 2 standard loaf pans, which I haven't done for awhile.  Recently, I've been baking just one loaf (in a standard pan).  If you want sandwich size bread slices, then use just one pan and you will get a great rectangle.  All flat on top, which makes me feel like a bakery.  Either way, it's delicious and I can almost hear Julia "....you've really got to slap that dough rectangle around", as if she and I were in the kitchen together.
As I mentioned yesterday, if you want a crusty rustic loaf, this isn't it.  But I know where you can find one!  Trot on over to see Terry at Moss and Clover http://mossandclover.blogspot.com/2011/03/yummy-ymmy-in-my-tummy.html
That bread is so delicious!  And so easy!

Now to bloggie stuff:  I'm trying to reduce the size of my header, learn to take better pictures and in general learn a bunch of new crap.  I'll figure it out, but it might take me a day or two.  Today I'm going to try and make a button.  Whatever that is.  Bear with me while I learn.  I'd love to have you stick around!  I've got some Manor remodeling tales that will curl your toes.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I've had a long love affair with Julia Child.  I remember when I first became aware of her in the mid '60's.  Her unmistakable voice made me stop as I passed through the room (the "new room" that was the former garage) with the television.  I was at my friend since 5th grade house and her family watched PBS.  We didn't, so I always felt high brow at E's house when PBS was on.  I must have been fascinated with Julia's control of the scene, the elegant things she talked about (fois gras - whatever that was), and her pearls.  Those pearls.  So lovely.   Anyway, before too long E and I realized that her mother was in possession of a chafing dish (gasp), and was also absent from the house (double gasp).  I honestly can't remember if it was Cherries Jubilee or Crepes Suzette that we decided to make.  Here's what I do remember:  brandy and fire and fear.   In that order.  We were somewhere around 11 or 12.  Nonetheless, it began a journey for me that will never be finished and is always interesting and has been a gateway to other creative jaunts.
Whenever I'm feeling high-brow in the culinary sense I go back to my smeary editions of Mastering and try something new that stretches me.  In more ways than one, I might add.

Lately, I've been reminded of Julia's baking genius with her recipe for Pain de Mie (White Sandwich Bread - for sandwiches, canapes [cuz I make lots of those, pfft], toast and croutons).   It's from Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume Two.  I think it's the nicest loaf of sandwich bread I've ever made.  It's a close-grained loaf, absolutely fab for grilled sandwiches and toast.  We love it plain or toasted.  It shouldn't be confused with a chewy crusted rustic loaf (also heavenly), but an everyday workaholic loaf of bread for your family to enjoy in sandwiches, slathered with butter or jam or with morning eggs.  Merveilleux!
Because of copyright concerns, I won't be posting the entire recipe, but I'll show you some of the process.  It can be found in the Volume Two book on page 75.  Or leave me a comment with your email and I'll be happy to send it to you.
My deary, smeary Mastering, Volume Two.

I use my food processor (Julia says it's okay).  I throw in 3 1/2 c of flour (a word here:  I prefer King Arthur, I swear it makes a difference), pulse it a few times and, with the machine running pour in the wet ingredients:  yeast dissolved in 3 T warm water and 1 1/3 c warm water in which 2 t of salt have been dissolved.  I run the machine until the whole thing looks like this (above).  It's really shaggy.  Dump it out onto a very lightly floured board and knead in 4 T of butter with the heels of your hand (or feet, it's your kitchen).
Form the dough into a ball and put the wad in a large-ish bowl.  Cover it and wait for it to double (another word:  I set the bowl on a folded towel to insulate it from my cold tile counters and set it under the light over my stove - perfect temperature).  When it has doubled (could take 2 hours), flop it out onto a floured board, push it into a rectangle, fold it, rectangle it, fold it again and back into the bowl for the second rise.
Before the first rising.  This is the only bread that I cover with plastic wrap during the rise. Don't know why, but it is and it works.
All poofed and purdy, ready to be smacked and folded.
Bread rectangle.  Soft, yeasty and lovely.
Here's a hoot:  the pan that Julia suggests is $33 (on sale).  It's one of those with a sliding lid thingy.  She also illustrates this pauper method and it works fine.  Be sure to oil the baking pan that's acting like a lid.  Make sure you weigh the loaves down securely.  Those suckers are powerful.

There, I didn't actually give you the recipe, did I?  I'll show you the finished loaves later.  If I remember to take a picture before I accidentally eat them.

Bon appetit!

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