Monday, August 31, 2009

... a jar full of cookies

cherry almond biscotti

dear friend,

yes, these cherry almond biscotti were originally meant for you. in fact, i baked them specifically with you in mind but, as you can see, they are now nesting happily in my cookie jar and not in yours. you see, they just didn't live up to my high standards of excellency in baking, and i felt ashamed to share them with you. i just didn't find that this batch of biscotti had the proper crunch, and i did not want you to think less of me or my baking skills for that.

however, that doesn't mean that i can't enjoy them with my tea. i am terribly sorry that these didn't end up in your tummy, as originally planned. i hope you can excuse me. perhaps you will find some forgiveness in your heart when i bring over another batch of cookies at a later date. cookies that are as perfect in every way as i hope they will be.

yours,
ara jane

Friday, August 28, 2009

... tomato tarts

tomatoes from the garden

i got some kind of bee in my bonnet this week and had the impulse to make not just one, but two tomato tarts for dinner. and not just because our garden is currently exploding with tomatoes all of a sudden.

(please forgive the poor photos. by the time i finished the tarts it was dark and i couldn't find any good lighting in the house.)

fresh tomato tart

tart slice

the first i made was an heirloom tomato tart with a parmesan pepper pastry crust. i used a variety of tomatoes from the garden, including sasha's altai, yellow taxi, black prince, grushovka, and something else i can't remember. i was just picking whatever looked ripe. the tomatoes were layered with pesto and fresh mozzarella. yum

tomato goat cheese tart

the second, a tomato goat cheese tart in a cornmeal pastry, allowed me to use some cherry tomatoes from our csa. and also, who doesn't like a good goat cheese custard?

tart slice

now, to come up with more recipes involving tomatoes. a lot more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

... grey and yellow

sew mama sew bundle

i originally set out to just get a bunch of white linen and some pink mendocino to finish up a couple of quilts, but then i got sidetracked on this grey and yellow kick and then I couldn't be stopped. sew, mama, sew, i blame you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

... chocolate zucchini cupcakes

zucchini

isn't it lovely when you can meander out into the garden, pick some home-grown produce fresh off the vine, and then turn it into delicious baked goods? yes, i think so, too.

this was our first year growing zucchini, and i seriously can't get enough. yes, there is zucchini coming out of our ears (not literally, that would be gross and painful), but i am happy to grate it all up, add some sugar, flour, and eggs and transform it into something moist and sweet and yummy.

chocolate zucchini cupcakes

thankfully the newest issue of gourmet had a recipe for chocolate zucchini cupcakes that sounded just perfect, though theirs was meant to be served sans frosting. the horror! i turned to my old pal martha and found a frosting recipe that seemed to be made to grace these cupcakes (a combination of butter, cream cheese, sour cream, chocolate powder, melted bittersweet chocolate, and powdered sugar). it was a match made in heaven.

chocolate zucchini cupcakes

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

... my second jane market bag

jane market bag

see, i couldn't resist, could i? i just had to make another jane market bag. and the thing is, i like this one even more than my first.

jane market bag

i used a slightly stiffer group of fabrics for the body than i did before (some kokka and lecien linens, and seriously, how cute is that fairy tale print?), which gave it more structure. and as i was sewing, i realized that i skipped a step on my first bag (didn't top-stitch the side panels to the front pocket), so that also helped with the structure factor, too.

jane market bag

and i am totally smitten with the green & blue striped handles (from the red letter day line, which i love love love right now).

i am so excited to head off to the store now with my two jane market bags.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

... a late night snack

chocolate covered banana

sometimes when i come up with things like this i feel like an evil genius. it was late last night, i was desperate for something sweet, and c was unable to help me locate a secret chocolate stash in the house. but then i remembered my baking supplies! sure enough, i unearthed a hunk of callebaut bittersweet chocolate in the pantry and devised a devious plot.

i made an impromptu ganache by microwaving some chopped chocolate (gently) and then stirring in some half and half. i then took some banana chunks, coated them in the ganache, and then rolled them in chopped up salted pistachios. i put them in the freezer for as long as i could possibly stand to wait (roughly a half an hour, should have been longer) and then enjoyed this treat immensely.

chocolate covered banana

sure, it looks like doo-doo, but trust me, it was delicious.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

... red velvet cake

red velvet batter

red velvet cupcakes

red velvet frosted

red velvet tops

to be honest, i just really like anything i can put cream cheese frosting on.

Friday, August 14, 2009

... my summerhouse pillow

summerhouse pillow

sometimes i feel like i'm stalking alicia paulson. just a little. in a good way. i can't help it that i'm in love with her patterns. and her blog. and her dog. (oh, how i want a corgi! or five!) and since i had such a great time sewing her jane market bag, i figured the summerhouse pillow would be just as awesome. and, yay, it was!

scraps

this was a new sewing challenge for me. can you believe i actually sewed piping on something? because i can't. and yet it totally worked out as promised. the pattern involves a neat way of sewing the patchwork together on interfacing that makes the whole process easy peasy. i chose to sew the smaller patchwork pillow so that i could use a bunch of the scraps from the $2 bag i got at the rotary auction last month. and i pretty much used only scraps from that bag, with just a few from my stash.

i'm supremely happy with the results, and am glad i picked up a second pillow form so that i can make another.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

... my deep sea quilt

deep sea quilt

my second quilt top ever, and i dearly love it. i designed it myself, which also pleases me to no end. yes, it's quite simple, and yet the combination of the squares and the sashing makes me very happy.

deep sea quilt up close

i started with a few fabrics from the heather ross mendocino line and added in some other pinks, aquas and yellows. it's a combination i can't get enough of lately. i initially intended to make the sashing in brighter fabrics, but i asked c's opinion and he suggested something more subdued, so i went with some robert kaufman essex linens. and then i wanted to do half of the sashing in white and the other half in that lovely darker aqua, but didn't have enough of the blue and couldn't find more anywhere. so i worked in a paler blue and am ultimately quite happy with the result. i think it looks like gentle sea colors that contrast nicely against the bright bright bright blocks.

deep sea quilt

i still need to make a back, and intend it to have some pieced elements, but haven't quite figured out the rest of it yet. and, of course, i'm still in a quandary over whether to pay someone to quilt this or figure out how to quilt it on my own. hand quilting is now out as an option for me, after having taken a class and realizing that there's no way in hell i will be able to quilt something this large in any reasonable amount of time. suggestions? is machine quilting with a walking foot that difficult to master?

deep sea quilt on the bed

Thursday, August 6, 2009

... blondies

blondies

oh, blondies! it is possible that i just might love you a wee bit more than i love brownies. when i was a teen i had this blondie recipe that i made for every possible occasion. i haven't made that recipe in years, and i have no idea where i got it or where it might be now, but i found a newfangled recipe that i just had to try out for the very special occasion of our neighborhood block party on tuesday.

blondie ingredients

the recipe came from the cookbook that has what is quite possibly the best title in the history of cookbooks, sticky, chewy, messy, gooey. these are called "big blondies," and they are true to their name, jam packed with pecans, almonds, walnuts, coconut, toffee, and chocolate chips. oh my goodness!

blondie on plate

i think they turned out quite nicely. the batter-to-chunk ratio is about 1:2--how can you beat that? my favorite chunk may have been, surprisingly, the toffee. it was crispy and tasty amidst the nutty chocolateyness.

cookbook stack

the best part was choosing just the right recipe. I've always enjoyed pulling out a stack of cookbook contenders and leafing through until the perfect recipe jumps out at me. tuesday morning was lovely and warm, and a nice breeze was floating through the trees, so i took my pile o-cookbooks to the backyard with a mug of hot tea and whiled away a good half hour daydreaming away in cookbook land. not only did a find a winning recipe for the block party, but i also found some inspiration for future recipes to try.

it's a win-win-win!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

... national night out

official night out

on saturday i realized, with a start, that national night out was only a few short days away, and our neighborhood hadn't yet organized our block party. yipes! fortunately, we are a scrappy and determined bunch and we threw together an impromptu gathering in the street, and even managed to register our party within an hour of the deadline so we could be all official-like. yay!

the between-the-lines story here, is that i adore my neighbors. who wouldn't love this bunch?

walter & chris

street closed!

neighbors gathering

neighbors

lindsey in sunset

chris & george

and what's a block party without some killer food? there were multiple grills (one just for veggie dogs--thanks chris!), an amazing salmon fresh from lindsey's smoker, some tasty salads, chips, guacamole, olives, cheese, figs from walter and anita's tree, watermelon, and blondies (which i baked). it is possible that i am still full from last night.

food table

figs

jenn

and we know what's important for a good party...

wine

and, of course, kids. plenty of kids.

kids

far

closer

closer

closer

too close!

this one's a real handful. and yet unbelievably adorable.

officer maxwell made an appearance, and made us all junior detectives. perhaps that was meant for the kids, but i think us adults will make much better detectives, no?

officer maxwell & the junior detectives

fortunately things wrapped up before we got too drunk punchy.

end of night

sunset on bbq

what did you do for national night out?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

... my new print

peace be still

this little print makes me so happy. finding it made it feel like it was meant for me.

let's go back several months. my friend alice put together a mix cd for our book club (that's a whole other story for another day, though), and on it was a gospel song, "peace be still" by the reverend james cleveland and the angelic choir. i became obsessed with this song. i listened to this song on repeat for weeks in my car. i thought about the lyrics constantly. the song played on a continuous loop in my head day and night. perhaps i heard it at just the right time in my life. or perhaps the song is just remarkable on its own.

let me say, for those who still don't know, i am not remotely religious. i do not really believe in god. and yet i find gospel music stirring and beautiful. and this song and this sentiment give me chills.

have a listen.



i particularly love when he sings, "carest thou not that we perish?" and his voice climbs up and up and up in question on the "perish". ooh, it gives me goosebumps every time!


ok, so second half of the story. i have been reading this mormon woman's popular blog for the past year, and recently saw a cute little print that read, "i am a child of god" on one of cjane's auxillary blogs. while i don't believe that sentiment personally, i thought the print was sweet and colorful, so i clicked through to the printmaker's etsy shop, and it was there that i discovered my peace be still print. i loved it so much i also got one for alice, who, it turns out, may be as obsessed as i am with the song. and when the orders shipped, susan also included two mini-prints (one of the "child of god" prints, and one "give us this day our daily bread" print). yes, all these prints make me look like a religious fanatic, and yet i don't really care.

if i actually worried about these things, i probably wouldn't be very happy.