Monday, July 23, 2012

Campfire Apples & Peaches With Whiskey Caramel Sauce

 On a camping trip many moons ago, Robb and I invented an alternative to the classic s'more: we chopped up an apple and threw it onto a piece of foil with a few caramel candies, then we wrapped it up and chucked it into the fire. Once we extracted the bundle, it was pretty yummy. But it wasn't perfect. I seem to recall that the apples weren't cooked evenly, and the caramel stuck to the foil in places and melted in an altogether questionable manner, as though it wasn't quite sure what to do.

Many summers have passed since then, but as Robb and I shopped for our camping trip this last weekend, I found myself thinking fondly of our apple experiment and wanting to do better. The truth of the matter, which I might as well confess now, is that I'm a little tired of s'mores. The stick-hunting, the messiness, the way I always break the graham cracker in the wrong place. (I mean, it's hard can it be?) But I DO love dessert, especially while sitting around a campfire, and so I once again reached for a couple of apples and a bag of caramels as I perused the ShopRite aisles.
We were lucky enough to have a visitor join us for dinner at our campground! Morgan, who has made the wise choice to live on a lake in the woods, was a mere hour drive from our camp site and gamely drove up to have dinner with us. After consuming chips and guacamole, stinky cheese and olive bread, corn drenched in hot butter, asparagus drenched in garlic butter, and steaks (for them) and veggie sausages (for me), we got to thinking about dessert.

Robb and I are pretty low-maintenence campers. We should probably have a camping stove. Hell, we should probably have camping chairs. But in a way, we can't be bothered. Instead we just bring an old, cruddy skillet that we can put on the fire, and when we're ready to eat, we sit on a picnic bench or perhaps a log. Done and done.

As I chopped up apples for dessert, I started eyeing all of the ingredients splayed out on the picnic table and came up with a master plan. Instead of just apples, let's also use these peaches we bought from the farm today. And instead of foil, let's use the skillet. And instead of just caramels, let's add some butter. And just when you think it's done, let's douse the whole thing in whiskey and light it on fire.
 The "lighting on fire" part was particularly exciting as it requires that you dip the pan into the flames so the fruits are terrifyingly close to falling out, then watch as the pan ignites.
When the blue flames appear, you know something magical is happening.

Incidentally, we had to do the whiskey flambe part a few times so that I could get a decent photograph (a task I am still not sure we achieved), so our sauce turned out especially lively.
But wowie zowie was it delicious. After we ran out of the cooked fruit in the pan, we started cutting more fruit and running it through the bottom of the pan. And then I had to get gross and lick the spatula.
If you, too, would like to lick the spatula on your next camping trip or even at your next backyard campout, here is the official recipe!:

Campire Apples & Peaches With Whiskey Caramel Sauce

1 or 2 apples (I like Pink Lady)
1 or 2 peaches
8 to 10 squares of soft caramel candies
2 tablespoons butter
2 (or 3 or 4) ounces whiskey (I like Jameson)

Chop up the apples and peaches into bite-size chunks and toss in the skillet with caramel candies and butter. Place the skillet over the fire and stir the ingredients now and then with a spatula (or just flip the fruit around in the pan a bit). Once the caramel and butter begin to melt, keep stirring and let everything get nice and oozy. After a few minutes, appoint a brave person to reach into the pan and try an apple...when it's soft, you're ready to add your booze. Pour the whiskey right into the pan, then tilt the pan ever so gently into the flame. When the pan catches fire, keep the ingredients moving by shaking the pan, and try not to get distracted by the squeals of delight erupting all around you. The flames will extinguish after the flames go blue (which is a sign that the alcohol has burned out). Grab a're ready to eat! For the ultimate campfire experience, I recommend eating straight out of the pan.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Who Can Resist Green Unicorns??

When the president of our company saw the cover for this book for the first time, he said to me (in all seriousness), "So are green unicorns Heather Ross's thing?"

"Yup," I replied. And really, it's the truth. Though I could have said the same of ugly ducklings or frogs, VW buses or mermaids. 

You see, when you work with Heather Ross's prints, you forget which designs are supposed to be for the adults and which ones are for kids. The answer, in all cases, is both. Her aesthetic speaks to that part of me that will always marvel at Sanrio pencil boxes, with those puffy covers and secret compartments that pop out and the erasers that smell dangerously like candy.

When we originally started talking to Heather about writing Heather Ross Prints, one of the first things we decided was that we wanted it to feel like a giant coloring book--a big pad of paper that was full of potential, with pages you could rip out and stick on the fridge with magnets. This was one of the reasons, in fact, that we decided to print the last 32 pages of the book with full color illustrations and perforate you can rip out the pages and do with them as you please. Make an origami rose, write a note with a Sharpie, wrap a very special gift, fold a very special paper airplane, or, literally, stick the piece of paper on the fridge with magnets. The choice is utterly up to you.
It was in this childlike spirit of excitement that, when the printed book arrived on my desk, I picked it up and (I kid you not) gave the cover a little kiss. It was just so cute! Green unicorns, guys! And orange wildflowers on page one. And newspaper boats, and a DVD in the back that contains all of this art. ALL of it.

You may be wondering, what the hell IS this book? And for you, I will explain.

Heather Ross is an illustrator and fabric designer and the author of the wonderful book Weekend Sewing. For this book, she decided to share 50 of her most popular illustrations and fabric designs in both jpeg and PDF format so that YOU, my friends, can upload the artwork to a place like Spoonflower and print out as many yards of this fabric as you like. Or you can make your own stationery or paper crafts with her designs. Or you can wallpaper with unicorns or decoupage with little cowgirls. And she also gives you twenty awesome step-by-step projects that walk you through how to take that DVD and turn the artwork into impossibly cute and special creations.

(She also wrote a whole chapter showing you how you can create your own really cute designs in Photoshop, but I don't even need to tell you that because I know I already have you excited with the unicorns.)

It's a really special book. And it will be available on September 1.
Also, I'm in it! (Apron model EXTRAORDINAIRE!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Building Fences

Today we built fences. I feel like there should be a metaphor in that statement, but it's the truth. It was Sunday and we each ate breakfast-for-one (mine were two slender* slices of toast with peanut butter and a brulee cup filled with peaches, strawberries, yogurt, and Kashi GoLean Crunch; Robb got four fat slabs of bacon from the Brooklyn Meat Hook and fried them up, then wisely ate them as a BLT [*We only had one roll and I donated most of the bread to Robb's BLT cause.]) And so, after coffees and foods and pretty good nights of sleep, we headed out into the hot muggy yard. You couldn't pick a worse day for building fences. A layer of thick, wet heat hung around our heads. I pulled up weeds and discovered the birthplace of all mosquitoes ever. Robb set up his sawhorse and consistently misplaced his entirely see-through safety glasses. (My joke about them being like Wonder Woman's jet--invisible, and therefore hard to find on the runway--did not find great reception.) We measured and sliced our lattices into smart little pieces, stapled together the broken bits, drilled two-by-fours into the corners. Camper sulked at the kitchen window for hours before finally laying down on the cool tiles, where he continued to sulk in his sleep. You see, our fence is blocking him from his favorite hang-out--under the rhododenron bush is where he spies on the kittens that seem to have been born in the weeds of the neighbor's yard. He likes to lie in the cool dirt beneath the bush and watch for movement, barking at mysterious branches that bend in the wind, squirrels, birds, butterflies. And on very special occasions, kittens, who are not scared of him, mind you. They just stare at him blankly, knowing they are safe. 
While Camper has been enjoying a summer full of kitten chases across our vegetable beds, our lettuce crops, funny enough, never grew. If the life of a single lettuce plant ever began this summer, it was ended quickly under the paws of sweet Camper, who likely tore up their delicate roots in his impossibly futile kitten hunt. After a while, the weeds crept in and we felt too tired to figure out which (if any) were seedlings and which were weeds. And so we let the area grow over with a rampant vine called purple bells. It's a vine we planted on purpose years back, hoping to train them to climb our fences (which they did), but without knowing that the bells would find their way into every bed of dirt--even between the cracks on the walkway--and if you feel just weary enough from life, just tired enough to let go, the purple bells will take advantage of your malaise and literally grow up and over every plant and structure in your garden. (The year we got married, we came home to find our garden shellacked in the vine--even the cherry tree had long, twisting vines snaking around every branch.) 

But because we are the ones who decide if there will be arugula in our future, we have elected to take control of the situation. Yesterday, all of the purple bells came out (except the ones on the fence, because they will still always be pretty). We built the short lattice fence and re-tilled that area of the garden and started all over again, which feels very ballsy in the middle of July. It is called a mid-season crop in many gardening books. In my gardening book, I call it a do-over. And why not have a do-over? (And here, I will make a metaphor, because I believe this to be as true in life as in the garden.) It's just seeds and dirt. It's just sun and time and sweat. And when you come indoors, it's just air-conditioning, and a tall glass of bubbly water with a splash of cranberry, and a bowl of homemade salsa and tortilla chips, and the second half of the original 1976 version of The Bad News Bears (because the damned Netflix on-demand crapped out on us last night right as the Bears were making a comeback). There's a scrape on my arm from the raw edge of wood, but there was also a very good shower and a very good nap. But best of all, there is the feeling that we took back our garden today from forces that we felt were beyond our control. We said damn it, I want to eat a fancy salad of mesclun and arugula and beets, and I don't want to buy it at the farmer's market. I will grow it myself, thank you very much. And you know what? I do believe we will.
A final word on growing a successful garden. I am no expert, and I have (and continue to have) many failures, but I have come to realize that my most successful gardens are the ones that I look at every single day. Not from the back steps. I mean that you should take a tour of your garden every day. Visit with them all as you brush your teeth before work, and say hello when you come home later that day. See how the plants are doing. Take note of what is being nibbled on. Then worry about how you can fix it. Take pictures of the plants you're most proud of. Say prayers for your weaklings. Think about fertilizing, even if you don't do it. Pull the weeds as they pop up, and most importantly, at all costs, you have got to stay on top of those damned purple bells. (And now, if you feel like it, you may make the metaphor, for who knows what plague of vines haunt your yard, just waiting for your summer ennui to kick in so that they may run rampant.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Glaze Changes Everything

Dear Friends,
A lot has happened since we last discussed pottery! Remember how I decided to take a pottery class because I've been editing a pottery book and I needed to discover with my own two hands how the heck you make a pot? Well, somehow or other, my ten week class has come and gone. I seem to recall that there was a period in the beginning when I was making very good pots, and then I was making REALLY BAD pots, and then Aimee re-taught me how to center the clay on the wheel and things started looking good again. On one epic pottery day, I decided to have a mimosa on my way to class after a rotten day at work, and let me tell you, that was the best class of my life (so relaxed!). But even after all the fun I had coming to class and throwing pots each week, nothing really compares to the day you show up and your glazed pots are waiting for you on the "just fired" shelf. 
These were two of the first pots I ever glazed, and I could not get over how cheerful they were! And deliciously imperfect! The little yellow one in back has a chip in its lip, and the blue one is nine kinds of wonky, but just look at how the glaze reflects the light from the window. (Oh, little blue finger bowl, I could totally get lost in your eyes...)
But all blues are not the same, and in the case of this particular little blue finger bowl, I used a matte turquoise glaze. I love how the drips from the glaze create these areas of depth, almost like navy blue asphalt.
This little creamer is my absolute pride and joy. It was created on the day of the mimosa in a moment of extreme bravery. (When you throw a lovely little bud vase, it takes a lot of courage to convince yourself it's a good idea to crease the rim and turn it into a spout. Thank God Aimee was there to walk me through it!)
There were, of course, some not-so great pieces. That little cherry-red pot on the bottom left is, well, not exactly the most symmetrical pot I've ever seen in my life. And the cream-colored pot above it is a miserable little receptacle...the stepchild of the bunch. But all of my little pots--even the ugly ones--fall perfectly into my theme of "Mediterranean Finger Foods," which is a dinner party I must now host in celebration of completing my class. I have a few more pots to finish up this weekend--and a few of them I have already declared "the ugliest pottery anyone has ever seen in their life"--but I couldn't resist sharing a selection of my glazed pots with you now.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Dear Friends,
It appears as though I went on summer vacation. I didn't mean to. And I didn't really go anywhere. But there was yoga to be done. And there were knitting conferences to attend. And pottery classes to finish up. There have been all these books to make, and fact sheets to edit (and if you talk to me about fact sheets one more time, I might just have a good old-fashioned tantrum). There have been books to read (Nancy Drew, of course, and I just recently finished re-reading The Color Purple, which blew my mind all over again.) There have been friends visiting, and hardly any enemies, and when people come over they remark on the strength of our air conditioner, which fills me with an odd sense of pride.

There have also been many things to make, like homemade pizzas, glazed pots, knitted baby wear and sewn kimonos. There have been things to dream of making (a quilt, an Alabama Chanin Dress, more individual ice cream cupcakes with homemade magic shell, and of course, someday I'll finish Robb's sweater.) There's also the garden, which is in desperate need of a blog post update (and a good weeding, to boot).

But for now, let's talk about breakfast. Honest to God, I did not know where to begin with so much swirling around my head these days. But when I am confused I find it often helps to start at the beginning. And for me, the beginning is usually breakfast.

As many of you know, Robb works until very late at night. And when he works on the weekends, that means I usually get up and make breakfast just for me. It's not a sad thing, and I don't feel particularly lonely while eating said breakfast. In fact, eating breakfast alone allows you to do all sorts of weird things that you wouldn't do if you were making breakfast with someone else. Just recently, I boiled two eggs and sliced them up into a bowl of chopped kale, which I called "breakfast salad" if only because I was eating it before noon with a cup of iced coffee. (BTW, I don't eat meat, but if you put bacon in breakfast salad, I bet it would kick an enormous amount of ass.) Another favorite is pancakes-for-one, where I literally make enough batter for two pancakes (which is all I ever really want). And then, because I don't like my pancakes too sweet, I do one pancake with blueberries and eat it with butter, and the other pancake plain with syrup. Annoying? Sure! But that's MY problem, and I'm totally cool with it.
My other favorite breakfast-for-one is this: two hard-boiled eggs heavily sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper, a salad of arugula and cherry tomato with a bit of lemon/olive oil/balsamic dressing, a small ciabatta loaf sliced and smothered in hummus, and a little fruit on the side.

I'm not sure why, but this is a breakfast that sings to my soul. It looks happy, it is happy, it makes you feel healthy and not too full, it can be eaten as little sandwiches or as individual pieces. Forks are optional. And best of all, I don't know anyone else who eats this breakfast, thereby making it my "thing." And you know what? I bet we all have a "thing" we eat that is our signature feel-good food. (And now I'm curious to know what you people all eat for breakfast...could it be that I'm hungry as I write this?)
But soon enough, my days of breakfast-for-one will be over. As of this week, Robb has quit working weekend shifts at the bar, meaning that for the first time in our nearly six years together, Robb and I will have whole weekends together. To go camping! To go to the beach! To go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time! And yes, to have breakfast. But what on earth will we eat, I wonder? Am I too set in my breakfast-for-one ways? Will he love hard-boiled eggs as much as I do? Or will we wind up not able to agree and making two breakfast-for-ones to eat together? (Actually, that doesn't sound too bad. It's a very personal choice, after all.)

Either which way, I would like to make this blog post at least somewhat useful, so I thought I would leave you with instructions for how to hard-boil a perfect egg (a task that, believe it or not, eluded me for many many years.) Ready? Here it is:

Put the eggs in a pot with cold water (the water level should be at least an inch above the eggs). Bring the water to a boil, and as soon as it reaches a boil, turn it down to a very low simmer and put a lid on the pot. Set a timer for 13 minutes. When 13 minutes is up, immediately drain out the water, then transfer the eggs to an ice bath. Let them sit in the cold water for at least five minutes (preferably ten). If you crack the shell any sooner, they will be very hard to peel. When you do finally peel the eggs, the yolks will be golden yellow and there won't be any gray or greenish areas. Might I recommend you eat the eggs with an obscene amount of kosher salt? Yes, yes I might.