Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Dessert

I made Tangerine Semifreddo with Salted Almond Brittle for dessert. Recipe from Epicurious. It was a process!

The first part was to make an almond brittle which was a literal hot mess - but not that complicated. 

Clockwise from top: Yolk custard, Egg Whites, Almond Brittle, Cream

For the filling  I had a number of different bowls set out on the counter at once. First I had to cook the egg yolk/tangerine mixture in a bowl over simmering water and then cool it really fast by beating it while the bowl was set over ice water. It was my first time making any type of custard so the process was new to me. 
Next up was whipping the cream. I chilled a bowl first and then poured the cream in and whipped away. Pretty simple. 

Then it was egg whites time. Whipping egg whites scares me - what with the possibility of both under whipping and over whipping and a fine line in between. Turned out beautifully though! 

After that I folded together the yolks, whites, and cream and layered the fluffy mixture into plastic-wrap lined loaf pans sprinkling some chopped almond brittle in between layers. I wrapped it up tightly and then stuck it in the freezer to set overnight. It looked yummy!

And then about midnight I suddenly realized that while the recipe called for the yolks to be cooked the whites never were. So I started worrying about giving people salmonella and did some googling on freezing raw meringues and decided it would just be better if I re-did the dessert in a safer way. So I drove to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night to  get more eggs and such and then followed instructions I found online to cook/cool the egg whites similar to the process for the yolks. (And, yes, I do embrace my insanity. Feel free to laugh at me. :) ) The egg whites did not get anywhere near as fluffy - but at least there was no raw egg?  The result was a MUCH shorter loaf of tangerine yummyness - but it was still yummy.

The day of I made the tangerine sauce. I think the sauce turned out a little bitter/salty and I'm wondering if it's because I used a juicer to get the tangerine juice rather than hand squeezing. Perhaps some of the rind or something got into the juice.  So, I'd suggest hand juicing.

In the end it had a creamy ice cream texture with a nice tangerine flavor and the crunchy brittle throughout gave it a nice texture variety.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter: The Food

All of the dinner recipes are from Whole Foods

 I had to plate up some leftovers the next morning in order to get pictures. I didn't take the time to take pictures of the food when it was hot and fresh.

Spiced Lamb with Lentils

This was really good. I think if I made it again I would up the spices, add salt, and reduce the chicken broth. The meat and spices smelled SO GOOD before I added the lentils/broth to the pot. Of course - it still tasted good but  the finished aroma was not nearly as strong. 

The cucumber-tomato salad/salsa for the top was really yummy and added a nice coolness in taste/temp to the dish. 

Spinach Salad with Plums and Goat Cheese

I admit, I was a bit leery of plums in a salad. I don't think I'd ever sliced a plumb before - I had always just eaten them like an apple. It was really good though! Worked well with the dressing. This was also the first time I'd cooked with shallots.

Celery Bites with Roasted Red Pepper Cream

I was originally thinking appetizer for this dish - but it turned into a side. The olives made it pair nicely with the Mediterranean feel of the entree.You definitely need a food processor to get this to the right texture  - but they were really yummy. Olives are a new food for me - I don't really like them but have begun to appreciate their flavors in combination/contrast to other flavors. Also, this is dairy free as the "cream" comes from tofu!

Watercress and Green Onion Stuffed Eggs

No pictures of the eggs! They were all eaten during dinner so there were none to photograph as leftovers. They were quite yummy though!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Easter Table

I wanted the table to be pretty but the only tablecloth I could find that was not too expensive was also a cloth-backed vinyl one - not the feel I was going for. ;)
Planning Stage - nothing sewed yet!
So, I browsed the bed linens aisle and grabbed a couple of flat bed sheets that were packaged individually. My table is about 10 feet long - so I needed two of them. I simply cut off the extra and sewed them together leaving the large hem of the sheet at each end of the new tablecloth. I knew that I wanted to make two runners to go across the short-length of the table - so I left the seam off-center rather than in the center so that one of the runners would cover the seam.

For the runners I used blocks of fabric remnants and then sewed ribbon up each side.

Purple, white, and green theme.

For the floral arrangements I used some glass containers and a few short drinking glasses. I bought some moss and a few stems of fake flowers and made five short arrangements for the table. I knew I didn't want anything too tall but wanted something that would fit with the size of my table - so I just made a row of flowers down the center. 

Thanks to my 7th grade home-ec teacher I ironed the napkins into a simple, but elegant, shape. I then put everything together on the table where I may or may not have used a tape measure to get the distances between items. ;)  I was happy with how the overall look turned out. Part of the result of using cotton for the table meant it was still a little wrinkly even after a few times under the iron - but was still happy with it.

Here's the final table! 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Preview: Easter Dinner

A couple weeks ago after I figured out that I would be here for Easter weekend without any other obligations in the days surrounding  I decided to host a dinner party and invited some friends over.

I've spent this week preparing for the dinner tomorrow in full-force "Nicole LOVES this stuff!" mode. It's getting to the point that an intervention may be necessary. Today I ironed napkins and did a "dress rehearsal" for the table setting (Where I may or may not have used a tape measure to place the floral arrangements. I really shouldn't admit this stuff to The Internet.)  And while I did take the time to wash all the china, I resisted the urge to dig out and polish the real silver. The normal stuff in the drawer will be just fine. See? I have self-control!

So, here's a preview of the dinner with some prep pictures I took during the process:


Grocery List! I'll post the actual menu later - -hopefully with pictures of the dishes. We'll see how cooking goes tomorrow and if I have time to use the camera. :)


I made a tablecloth and some runners with bed sheets and fabric remnants. 


Put together some artificial flower arrangements. 


And, dyed some eggs using silk scraps. I was going to decorate with the eggs - but they didn't quite turn out as I was hoping! So, just a fun project.

More on all of this later! (probably in a variety of posts over the next few weeks)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Art

A link to a poem about loss - small things, big things, and convincing yourself to move on. 

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thankful List: Vacation Edition (with pictures!)

Last week I decided I needed a break - and since I had the rare occasion of having two days off in a row that week - I booked an impromptu vacation. I opened google maps, zoomed out, and picked a town!

So here is my thankful list additions all related to that wonderful time of introverted recharging.
 29. Change of scenery: rolling hills, red barns, and roads that aren't measured in blocks. I kept giving restful sighs every time I rounded a new curve or topped a hill and caught a glimpse of of the hills and valleys dotted with cows and lined with fields.
View from a Scenic Overlook on The Old River Road

30. Hotels. Seriously. What a fabulous idea: a clean, comfortable place to stay when there is need or desire to be away from home for a bit.

31. Whirlpool tubs. Sometimes, the ability to soak in warm water is just fabulous.
A bit tricky to get in and out of - but so worth it!

32. Comfy beds with lots of pillows.

33. Good Hair Day

34. Spring weather that means I can start breaking out the capris and sandals. I was probably a bit premature doing this - it was only in the 60s - but I'm so ready for spring!

35. People who preserve history. I toured one of U. S. Grant's homes. It had many original furnishings. It was a vacation home of sorts of his family's during his time in office. I love history and antiques - so I really enjoyed the chance to tour the home.
All original furnishings. :)

36. Cute little towns.
Galena, Illinois as seen from the U.S. Grant home.

37. Truly enjoying the relaxing experience of window shopping. Whole day wandering around and didn't buy a thing. Enjoyed looking. Enjoyed not depleting my bank account unnecessarily. :)

38. Museums. How fun to be able to learn and interact and expand your knowledge. :)

39. Architecture. This is a bridge spanning the Mississippi River. I enjoy the gracefulness of the evidence of human's gifts, talents, and skills as it meshes with God's creation.
Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa

40. Farmland. This heartland farmland is different for some reason than the Southern farmland I know. I can't explain it. But I was drawn to it.

41. Really good apple pie a la mode with black coffee.

42. Being totally ok with being back in the hotel by dark eating instant mac and cheese and alternately reading and watching TV. I'm so thankful that God has given me peace where I can embrace those quiet, bland, moments of life rather than wishing for false excitement that would get me into trouble. :)

43. As much as I wasn't particularly excited about it on this particular morning - I do love fog in general - being able to "drive through a cloud" - pretty cool.

44. Following up on 42 . . not feeling self-conscious at all when I answered happily, "Just went alone! No friends or family in the area!" to the  polite queries of the rental car agent. I am so so thankful that God has blessed me with a mindset where I am not "embarrassed by loneliness and know it's only a place to start" (a loose quotation from the Julie Ormond version of Sabrina).

45. Being able to return to a vocation that I love - it's been non-stop busy since I returned - but at least I love it. :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vacation to the Country

Just got back from a quick impromptu vacation. I was going to update the blog from my phone to keep up with poetry month - but it seems the mobile version of the blogger website is a bit buggy. So, oh well.

Back later with pictures of and a thankful list inspired by the trip. :)

But for now - here's an animated poem by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. It's called "The Country" - but it's not all that much about the country. I like when poetry does something different besides just being words on a page. :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Latinate and Anglo-Saxon Words

In the last post I mentioned the idea of using big words in poetry and how they often have the very opposite effect of the intended result.

When I was an English teacher one of my favorite things to teach was the history of the English language - how it grew and changed over the years as old "Angle Land" was invaded and/or controlled by Germanic tribes, the Roman Empire, and invaders from Normandy among others. Not to mention the words that were added to the American English vocabulary as it moved across the ocean and mixed with languages of the Native Americans and immigrants from all over the world.

In poetry we often classify words as "Latin" or "Anglo-Saxon" 

For the most part - in the history of English - the Latin/Romance words were the words of the ruling and wealthy class - - the government, royalty, the leaders of the church. By contrast - the Anglo-Saxon, or Germanic, words were the words of the poor and the lower class - the everyday farmers and tradesmen and people who lived in the country.

The fact that both of these language influences were part of the history of English has left us with many synonyms in contemporary English - one word Germanic in its root, the other Romantic.  (And by Romantic I  mean the languages derived from Rome  - Latin, French, etc) By nature - the Germanic words tend to be short, bold, with a hard sound. The Latinate words tend to be multi-syllabic with a "pretty" sound.

And while there is much beauty to poems written in the Latinate style - it is the poems full of Germanic words that I find appealing. They often feel raw, honest, to the point.

A few examples of these types of words:

Anger/wrath = rage/ire
Bodily = corporal
Brotherly = fraternal
Leave = exit/depart
Thinking = pensive
Dog = canine
Come = arrive
Ask = inquire 

For the sake of poetry and the "raw, honest, to the point" feel - the words don't actually have to be Anglo-Saxon in origin - but we're going for that idea of the shorter, harsher, words rather than the flowy pretty ones. And, obviously - not every word will be short and harsh - but in general, that's the feel you get.

Here are a couple of poems I love by Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) that I think have a lot of good usage of Germanic-sounding words.

Root Cellar
Theodore Roethke
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!--
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

A poem about rotting food and plants in a dark cellar would just not work with Latinate words. 

 and I'm pretty sure everyone read this in at least one English class during school

My Papa's Waltz
Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Even though waltzes are short steps they are supposed to be elegant - you'd expect flowy words in a poem about a waltz. But - not in this poem, not this waltz.

I'll try to stop my geeky ramblings soon and just post some great poems :)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Good and The Bad

I took a creative writing course my senior year of college. The class was educational and challenging as creative writing classes should be and still stands as one of my favorite courses in my educational history.

In this class I learned about bad poetry. That is, that poetry can be bad. There is something in us that says that if someone writes poetry from the heart, if it expresses an emotion, if it uses figurative language of some sort then who is anyone to say that a poem can be bad?  While bad poetry can be meaningful to the author and perhaps even others - I still think that we can call poetry bad when we're talking about an art form.

The truth is - there is a lot of bad poetry in the world. Just check out - - if you submit something and they offer to publish it in a book - it's not because it's good. I cannot count how many times I had that conversation with students. Just call me a dream crusher.

Among other things, bad poetry begs the audience to feel something, it uses metaphors that don't make sense - even abstractly, it uses big words for the sake of using big words, it is predictable, expected, and sometimes it just lacks the gift of a poet.

I did learn much about good poetry in that class though - and the lesson that stuck with me the most about good poetry is from the poet Adam Zagajewski - the beginning of his poem, "A River."

Poems from poems, songs
from songs, paintings from paintings,
always this friendly

In other words - art inspires, gives birth to, art. I love how he used the spacing in the poem to show how inter-connected it all is. If you read the two lines together from left to right you see, "Poems from songs", "from poems paintings", and "songs from paintings."

Just as people study real money in order to detect the counterfeit - - those who study good poetry - know when they read a bad one. And, those who study true art - will produce good art. One of the most beneficial disciplines I learned from that class was to take the work of a known poet and "copy" it to a degree. I'd find a poem I loved - count out syllables and rhyme scheme and rhythm and then write my own poem - filling in my words but using the devices of the original poet. These poems didn't always turn out good - mostly they didn't - but when I started writing poems completely on my own - I found that my poetry started to develop a rhythm and a flow.

And as I've found often in my life - poetry relates well to life. When I copy greatness I find that I create greatness. When I try to give an emotional plea - I find that it usually falls flat. When I use big words in hopes of appearing intelligent and thoughtful - I end up sounding fake and without a human connection. Poetry - both good and bad -  has taught me to search life for greatness and inspiration - and for that I am grateful.

Friday, April 1, 2011

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. Every year around April 15th I remember that it is and think, "Man, I wish I would've remembered earlier and done a month-long blogging project on poetry!"  And , finally, 2011 is the year I remembered early enough!

So - the goal for the next 30 days: something about poetry in the blog every day.

I first thought it would be fun to travel through the month with poems I've loved in the order I've loved them - but my brain does not remember chronologically - so you'll just have to settle for scattered memories and new finds.

This first poem I share is one that made me love the use of rich words in poetry. I was in high school when I read this poem and as I discovered the denotations and connotations of unfamiliar words the poem became more and more meaningful. I read this poem so many times as a teenager I practically memorized it.

Holy Sonnet, Number 14
John Donne  (1572-1631)

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
but is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am bethroth’d unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

It was that last part that got me. "never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."  It's startling imagery - when you consider the word ravish. Ravish is destruction. Earlier in the poem the speaker uses the simile of a town - and ravished towns are destroyed. The coastal towns of Japan that were hit with a tsunami have been ravished. Towns throughout history that were subject to the forceful invasion of military forces have been ravished. These towns are not free - they are broken and destroyed and humbled.

But even beyond the image of a town - there is the other comparison in this poem. A person betrothed to one and desiring another. There is image of a lover - a human - claiming that being ravished will lead to being chaste - pure.

A person who is ravished? That means rape. And while I am blessedly not qualified to discuss the horrors of rape - and the 2011 version of myself  challenges the word choice and authority of the 17th century author to use ravish and chaste in the  same line and brings a whole host of modern culturally sensitive issues to the table when reading this poem - in 2000 when I read this poem I just thought the dichotomy was startling, powerful, and poetic. It made me love words and their layered meanings and the way we as humans can express ourselves in beautiful ways that will carry messages that last for centuries.

(side note: I just looked up ravish in the etymology dictionary and it seems that at the time the poem was written there could have also been another meaning to ravish: in the sense of "enchanting" it is attested from early 15c., from notion of "carrying off from earth to heaven" (early 14c.).    It is an interesting addition to the many layers of this word. )