Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Moving announcement

Once again, it's been a while. But this time I have a good excuse: I've been blogging over at Keep the Hearth Fires Burning, where I'm cooking my way through historical cookbooks.

And that's where I'll be from now on. So if you're still with me, take a look at the new blog. Hope to have you along!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mise en place

(Well, almost.)

I recently acquired this bamboo cutting board, and it has quickly become my new favorite kitchen tool. Everything looks prettier when arranged or chopped up on such a rich background. Then again, a fresh avocado sliced in half would look good no matter where it was.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

This is what summer looks like

All right, so there have been a few months of radio silence. It's been a busy, busy push to the end of the school year.* But as of Friday, all my exams are graded, my grades and comments submitted, and loose ends neatly wrapped up (well, almost).

Over here in my apartment, it's summer.

J brought me sunflowers over the weekend to celebrate the end of the year. I'm trying not to rub it in too much that he still has 12 days left of teaching.

I also bought myself a few blooms at the summertime farmer's market. Just because. The place feels so much brighter filled with flowers.

And I made myself a cake to put on my cake stand that's been languishing in its box all year.

Yes...it's summer.

*I have also been working away on a special project for the past few months. It's almost ready, and I'm excited to share it with you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A country village

To cap off my week of history, I visited Old Sturbridge Village. It's a living history museum that recreates life in the 1830s in rural New England, with a few tweaks. For instance, the village boasts both a printer and a tin-worker, neither of which were common in most 19th-century villages. But once you're there, the inaccuracies don't seem to matter; the whole village shows such a foreign way of life that being there is like stepping into another world.

Every room is furnished and set as though the inhabitants had just stepped out for a walk or an errand. Papers left scattered on the table, dinner still cooling on the tavern dining table. I visited on a cool, rainy weekday afternoon, so there were only a few costumed interpreters to talk to.

Except for the groups of middle-school students running from house to house and bleating at the sheep, the village was very quiet. Eerie, even--like the whole town had up and left one morning.

I love living history museums, and this one was no exception. You're immersed in the time period, and you can move around within it at your leisure. At the same time, it's nothing like 1830s New England, since the fields are empty of farmers with their plows, and most of the hearths are cold. Plus, you're always on the outside looking in, even if you're helping churn butter. You're always going to head home to your television and your electric stove.

One of my dreams is to live in a country village, to return to some of those rhythms of life. I'd like a little clapboard house with a red door, and a kitchen garden out back. Some chickens in the yard. I'd like to be able to walk down the street to visit a friend on a moment's notice, and watch the neighborhood kids playing outside on the green. Sometimes that dream seems close enough to touch. And sometimes it seems very far away.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You can get anything you want

I spent the better part of yesterday at an education conference in Massachusetts. Once registered, you could choose to attend any workshop you wished, so I ditched my original pick to sit in on a discussion of how to use popular music in the history classroom. The presenter walked us through the twentieth century decade by decade, starting in the twenties with the advent of radio and cheap records, and ending in the present day. All we did, for 6 hours, was listen to song after song, from Bing Crosby to Bill Haley and His Comets to Buffalo Springfield to Bruce Springsteen. (I'm noticing a trend here...) The presenter really knew his stuff: he'd brought piles of CDs, and at the mere mention of a group or genre he'd slip a disc into his player and select the perfect song.

My freshman year of college, I took a class that studied the formation of modern American culture in the twentieth century. We watched movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers because they exemplified the fear of Communist infiltrators (or so the professor's thesis went). We watched Jimi Hendrix burn the American anthem to shreds on his guitar at Woodstock. That class changed how I looked at history, from something that I liked to study to something that was fierce and alive, something I wanted to possess but could never quite grasp.

Yesterday, in our cold presentation room, I felt a little echo of that breathless feeling I first got in college. It's amazing how music can do that to you; every song buried me deeper and deeper into my understanding of the past.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs from yesterday. Stephen Stills originally wrote it to reflect on social unrest in LA, but it was later co-opted as a commentary on Vietnam. It still gives me chills.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Turkish pizza

April is such a tease sometimes. Sure, you get warm, breezy days, but you still have to scrape frost off your car windshield in the morning. So lately I've been dreaming about summer, and trips to warmer climates, which is how I got to thinking about Turkey.

Last summer some college friends and I traveled to Armenia and Turkey. It sounds like an odd combination, but we wanted to visit N after his first year in the Peace Corps (or rather, he demanded that we visit him), and he wanted to do some traveling in his free time, so off we went.

I remember a few things about our trip especially well: all the jokes and funny adventures you have on trips with old friends; the oppressive heat (in Istanbul, we took nightly showers just so we could cool down enough to sleep); the elaborate drinking culture in Armenia; and the Turkish food. Oh, Turkish food--the dessert alone could send me into raptures. Did you know Istanbul has an entire restaurant devoted to baklava? We spent several blissful afternoons there.

(This is not to say that Armenian food is terrible. On the contrary, their hearty devotion to meat, potatoes, cheese, and vodka kept me full and satisfied throughout our time there. But that story is for another time.)

A few days ago I tried to replicate the first meal we had upon our arrival in Istanbul: Turkish pizza. It's not really pizza in the Italian sense (or in any sense, as J might argue). But in the sense that pizza is just a flat yeasty bread topped with meat and tomatoes, well! It's hard to deny it that name. You saute some ground lamb with onion and spices, simmer with tomatoes, and spread the whole delicious mess on top of a smooth piece of dough, curling up the dough to make sure everything stays put. Then you bake it in a hot oven for 15 minutes, just long enough for sides to turn golden brown.

While the recipe I used is not quite what I remember, it's still darn delicious in its own right. I think you should make it tonight. Preferably with some Greek yogurt or hummus to accompany it. (Yes, I know the photo below shows roasted asparagus instead. Sometimes you have to clean out the fridge.)

Turkish Pizza (adapted from Bay Books' Baking: A Commonsense Guide)

For the dough:
1 tsp dried active yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4  and 1/3 cup warm water, separated
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 lb ground lamb
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup chopped kalamata olives
3 tbsp chopped cilantro

To make the dough:
1. Mix the yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Leave to proof for 10 minutes.

2. Once the yeast has proofed, sift 1 cup of the flour and the salt into a large bowl and mix with the yeast mixture. Mix in 1 tbsp of the oil and about 1/3 cup warm water. Mix to form a soft dough, and add as much flour as you need to make it pliable. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and leave in a warm place for 1 hour.

To make the filling:
Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a pan over low heat and cook the onion for 5 minutes, until soft and fragrant. Add the lamb and cook for 10 minutes, or until brown. Add the garlic, spices, and tomatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add half the pine nuts and 2 tbsp of the cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste, then leave to cool.

Once the dough has doubled in size, preheat the oven to 415 degrees F. Grease two baking trays.

To make the pizzas:
1. Knock down the dough and turn onto a floured surface (I kept my counter floured while I worked on the filling). Divide into 3-5 portions and roll each into an oval, roughly 4 x 7 in. Place on the baking trays. Spread the lamb mixture evenly over the portions, leaving a small border around each oval.* Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts and the chopped olives. Roll the edges of the uncovered dough over to cover the outer edges of the filling. Pinch the ends together (each portion should look like a little boat). Brush with oil.

2. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden. Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and serve.

*You may have some leftover lamb filling. It goes well in pita sandwiches, with sliced cucumber and tomatoes.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Looking forward

Right now Providence is experiencing a mixture of rain and snow. In Massachusetts, where I teach, we're supposed to get up to 14 inches of snow tomorrow (yes, seriously). (And yes, April starts tomorrow.) Spring seems such a long time away.

But inside my little apartment, it's bright and cozy. Bread dough, shaped into two neat loaves, is rising in the oven. Pasta cooks on the stove for tomorrow's lunch. Later, J will come over for dinner, and we'll snuggle under blankets and watch old TV shows. And my two iris bulbs have pushed up through the soil in their pots, set to their internal rhythms, blithely unaware that the weather has decided to delay the coming of spring.

I'm looking forward to April.