Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'tis the season to celebrate...

Life has been crazy. Good crazy but crazy nonetheless. I am still in recovery mode so the craziness exhausts me but it has been so worth it. We started with a soup party for 24. Five days later was Thanksgiving for seven. Three days later, a birthday celebration for five. Four days later, another birthday celebration and a visit home from my kids. Three days later, a brunch for 16. I can't really talk about that. The food was bought, the dishes ready to go, the tables in place and then we had a plumbing problem big enough to call the plumber. We had to cancel. All that work without being able to actually gather with people we love around our table. WB and I have been eating a lot of eggs and potatoes the last four days. Tomorrow is another birthday celebration. Working on the sauce for the lasagne and then will start on the pie. Whew! It has all been fun but something must be wrong because my photography of all these events is practically nil. Looks like things will be settling down in a couple of days. I will miss it all, especially my kids being home. Here are a few pictures until I am back.


The table was made by WB. He made 2. We proved we could fit 24, if 2 are little ones who can share an end.
We found this old table at a junk shop that's former life was in a Mexican market. We rarely eat around it but it sure comes in handy for holding lots of extras, needed at dinner. It also is a great surface for photography. I am so crazy about texture.
Pine cones collected by us from all over. We collected the ones from the mountains. Our kids have brought some from their homes and around the world. Berries are from our nandina bushes. Pine boughs from a very kind man at the tree stand who gave them to us. I've asked before but this is the first time someone gave us some.





I just love eating outside!

Joining Susan at Between Naps on the Porch.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

decorating today...


A very kind man at the tree lot gave us greens so the house already smells divine, a week or so before the tree is brought home. We're celebrating my mother's birthday with dinner and a play, "A Christmas Carol". What a wonderful way to start the season! Here's hoping a bit of holiday is finding its way to you too!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

we gather together...

When I was a little girl, my favorite church hymn was "We Gather Together". There is some distant memory of standing with my family, next to my father, singing that song. Gathering the people I love around our table is one of the happiest things that I can do. This year has been difficult in many ways but oh, we have so much for which to be thankful.
Our celebration for Thanksgiving will be a little small this year but we have some big birthdays to celebrate a week later.
For those interested in the table, I was surprised to find myself putting my brown plates on a turquoise tablecloth. We had a big soup party last week. I used my turquoise cloths with pumpkins and bittersweet. I just couldn't get beyond how much I liked the turquoise and orange together.
This is just the kind of table I like, mixing styles and elements. I always like having some nature on my table. This time, pumpkins and bittersweet. We don't have bittersweet in the desert but etsy does.

I like having the linen tablecloth rumpled but mixing it with the Delamere china. I have used a haphazard collection of vintage silverplate flatware.
When I saw these "Gather Together" plates at West Elm, I could not resist. They brought back such wonderful memories. Shanna Murray, I am a fan.
The weather tomorrow is supposed to be perfect. There is nothing I like more than enjoying our Thanksgiving dinner outside.

I can't wait for a taste of the stuffing. We may have to get a fire started in the fire pit by dessert time.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. I will be counting my many blessings and be grateful.

Joining Kathleen at "let's dish" and Susan at "between naps on the porch" for more holiday table inspiration.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

wrap it up...

When I was a little girl, I thought it would be so much fun to be the person in the fancy department store who did the gift wrapping. Do stores even do that anymore? I was nosy enough to want to see all the gifts. I would imagine the recipients surprise and of course, awe at the amazing wrapping job I would provide. I haven't changed much. I still love to wrap presents.

These days, I know I wouldn't make it a day as a department store gift wrapper because I am not too excited by sparkly ribbons and flashy paper. I tend toward the simple. For years, I have wrapped most packages in brown kraft paper. When my kids were small, we would decorate the paper with their drawings. One year, after a way too ambitious apple picking day, we used the very small ones (gathered by very small hands), cut in half as stamps to decorate the paper. With a sharpie, I added a few green leaves and black seeds to their stamps and we called it good.

Today, I am wrapping a gift for my daughter. She lives too far away. I miss her. She misses us and the desert. This video came out this year and it is wonderful.

I highly recommend it to anyone who loves the desert or is curious about the desert. I have already bought 3 copies and I imagine I will buy more. Take a moment to watch the trailer.

I decided to wrap her present in kraft paper stamped with images of a tortoise.

We have desert tortoises that hang out around here and I know she will like this. I stamped with more intent than I usually do.

I liked the idea of lining up the images rather than the randomness I usually use.


I should have placed the present a little differently on the paper but then it left me with the perfect place for the ribbon.
Then I switched to twine. You can't beat "brown paper packages tied up with string".

I just have to give you a peek at my roll of paper. After years of picking it up here and there, I finally committed to a huge roll. It makes me happy to have it at my disposal for everything. I can't get over how often I use it. I bought my roll and the dispenser at papermart.com.
Love their ribbon too.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

easiest bread EVER ...


I used to bake bread many years ago but it had been a while. I started up again in February. I wanted to bake sourdough. I had a starter years ago but when I finally threw it away after too much neglect. I took the easy way and ordered a starter from King Arthur Flour. I do want to put in a plug for King Arthur. The information and recipes on their website are amazing. They have a great community of bread bakers who are so helpful in their community forum. You can even call them if you are having a problem and there is a person to help. I think their flours are wonderful. {I will tell you about my pie experience one of these days.} I won't spend time now telling you about all the breads I have made in the last few months because I want to tell you about THE EASIEST BREAD EVER. Really. The crust is divine, the taste amazing. It is a rustic bread that would stand up with any bakery bread out there.

In 2006, there was an article published in the NY Times about Jim Lahey's bread making method. There have been so many versions. I don't think it matters which version you use. I just want to tell you about it because it is so easy and so delicious! I missed it in 2006 but found this recipe at Williams Sonoma. I had to give it a try. If you have no experience making bread, using yeast freaks you out, and you don't want to knead, you will still be able to make this bread. All you need is time, a bowl, measuring utensils, a few simple ingredients and a heavy, oven proof pot. This process is long but your time with the actual making is probably about 10-15 minutes.

Recipe:

3 cups flour (it can be bread flour - I use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (Wms.S recipe calls for 1 3/4 so do according to taste)
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (yes, that is correct, only 1/4 teaspoon)
cornmeal, as needed
1 1/3 cup water (Wms.S recipe calls for 1 5/8 which I think is too much)

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. You will probably want to try the recipe as is for the first time but if not, feel free to add any extras you would like. I have made this with lemon zest and rosemary. Our favorite add-in is black sesame seeds. I don't really measure - about a tablespoon maybe? I just kind of do it by look.


Add the water. A note about the water. I live in a really dry climate. I have found that adding a bit more water than this works well for my climate. The dough should be shaggy (you may not really know what this means, I didn't. You will know what it means after you have mixed this together.) and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it alone for 12-18 hours. Depending on when you want your bread ready and when you have time to attend to it, will depend on when you start it. For me, I have found that Saturdays are great bread days so I mix up the dough Friday night, after dinner. The 12-18 hours is very flexible. I have almost always gone for the 18 hours. Your dough will look something like this:

This is dough with black sesame seeds. If you look closely, you can see that it is dotted with small bubbles (click on the photo to make it larger). Yours may have bigger bubbles, fewer bubbles, just as long as it is bubbling a bit. My kitchen is probably about 75° right now. If your kitchen is very cold, you may need to let the bread sit for longer than 18 hours.

Lightly flour a work surface and your hands. Gently remove the dough from the bowl onto your work surface. Don't worry if the dough feels really sticky. Fold over the dough once or twice and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes.


The next step involves flour sack towels if you are using the other recipes but I have found a piece of parchment paper works really well. I just sprinkle cornmeal on a piece of parchment paper. Again, coat your hands with flour and if the dough is so sticky, you can't work it, add just a little bit. Gently shape into a ball. Don't worry if it isn't perfect. Put the dough, seam side down on the piece of parchment paper. Dust with more cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel (don't use terry cloth). If you don't have a flour sack towel or a non-terry dishtowel, a large cloth napkin will work. Let the dough rise until it is more than double in size. I have to admit, this part always stumps me a bit. How do I know if it is double in size? Do I measure it? Do I take a photo? I have let my perfectionism go on this and just know that after 2 hours, it is ready to go. Some say to poke it and if it doesn't spring back, it is ready.

At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put a cast-iron pot in the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F. This is another discrepancy in the recipes. I use 450°. I have still not seen if this includes the lid. I don't know why but I don't preheat the lid. I am guessing you probably should. I have heard about people having problems with the handles. I have not. You can use a variety of sizes. Jim Lehay recommends a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 quart pot. Williams Sonoma recommends a 2 3/4 quart pot. Both use the same amount of ingredients. I double my recipe and use my 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset dutch oven. You can see by the photo that the doubled recipe still leaves some room. My friend uses a cast iron pot. Another dug through her camping equipment and found a old cast iron pot. It needs to have a lid and be able to be in hot temperatures in the oven. I read that someone bakes this bread in cans left over from pineapple or tomato juice.



Remove the pot from the oven. Again, choose your method. Some say to slide your hand under parchment paper and turn the dough over into the pot. It will look like a mess. Just shake the pot once or twice so the dough settles in. Others just lift the dough up on the parchment paper and place the whole thing in the pot. I have done it both ways and it turns out great either way. I have settled into removing the parchment paper before it cooks but you don't need to. As the dough hits the pot, you will even get a faint whiff of how wonderful your kitchen will be smelling soon. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the loaf is brown. The recipes say to cook for 15-30 minutes. I tend to do 10 minutes. It's up to you and how cranky your oven may be.


Put the pot on a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Carefully (the pot will still be hot), remove the bread from the pot. This is the hardest part of the recipe. Let the bread cool. Yes, cool it before you slice it.


I have been baking this while I worked on this post. Don't let my rambling scare you away. Trust me this is really good bread and it is easy to make. It smells amazing in here. Now, the hard part, waiting for it to cool.

Sunday, May 12, 2013