31 October 2009


Teddy the Friendly Ghost

Unfortunately, he looks a bit like Teddy the Unfriendly Klan Wizard. He must have known this. Here he seems to be thinking, "If I just keep my eyes closed this will all go away."

Shortly before "kitty torture" we made Halloween cupcakes. These are Nutella Swirl Cupcakes. This recipes got it's start in Donna Hay, using peanut butter. Then, blogger, Nicole Weston tweaked the recipe and substituted Nutella. The recipe quickly made the rounds, appearing on numerous blogs, forgetting poor Donna altogether. And even forgetting Nic, who now blogs at Baking Bites.

We tried the original recipe, easily identifiable because it calls for 10 tbsp. of butter, but thought it a bit dry. We also wanted a larger batch, so we tweaked the recipe and here it is:

Nutella Swirl Cupcakes, with a Halloween Twist

3 sticks of butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups AP flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 small jar of Nutella

Halloween Twist
1 ounce yellow food coloring
1 ounce red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Line 24 standard muffin tins with cupcake papers

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating fully

Add vanilla

HALLOWEEN TWIST: Add the food coloring until you have a lovely orange

Add the salt and baking powder to the flour and whisk together to incorporate, then add flour mixture to batter.

Using a small ice cream scoop, add a scoop of batter to each of the lined tins, filling about 3/4 of the way

Add a teaspoon of Nutella to the batter and swirl with a toothpick

Bake for 20 minutes

Cool on a wire rack

This is a thick batter to hold up to the addition of the Nutella(or peanut butter), so it will dry out rather fast. It will take 20 minutes to cook the cupcakes, but don"t be tempted to leave them in any longer than that. Swirling the thick batter and the Nutella with a toothpick is easier said than done, so don't be alarmed if it doesn't work like a charm on your first try.

Have a Spooktacular Halloween.

29 October 2009

The Larder Is My Favorite Room In The House

Yesterday I spent the day running up and down the highways and byways. Among my many accomplishments was a long overdue trip to the grocery store. It was after dark when I got home and I unloaded the bags rather unceremoniously and left everything that would not parish, sitting in the floor. This morning my larder was a disaster. I though of how lovely it was when I first built its shelves and stocked them.

After seeing a swatch of Benjamin Moore's Sweet Pea in Domino, I knew I would one day use that color. It took several years, but I finally got a single wall of Sweet Pea. Since you can see the larder from the doorway in the wall, I used the same color for the wrought iron shelf supports.

I then began adding supplies.

Soon my larder was a vision.

This morning it was a nightmare. So I off to bring order from chaos.

While I am organizing, you can listen to Lyle Lovett sing about the larder, well he calls it a pantry, but we forgive him.

Pantry (Acoustic Version)
-- Lyle Lovett

24 October 2009

Dangerous Muse

Girl In Bed Caroline Blackwood by Lucian Freud

I have a lot of books and one book leads to another. At Cookbook Of The Day, I was going to feature Darling, You Shouldn’t Have Gone To So Much Trouble, by Caroline Blackwood. Before I could write about it, I searched for my copy of Caroline Blackwood’s biography Dangerous Muse, by Nancy Schoenberger.

I searched for days and couldn’t find it and finally, it showed up. I read about the cookbook, and I continued reading, then I went back to the beginning and started re-reading all over again. Then I re-read Great Granny Webster and then I re-read Robert Lowell’s The Dolphin, about his break up with Elizabeth Hardwick and his relationship with Caroline. Then I moved on to In The Pink, Caroline’s book on fox-hunting. By now weeks have passed and the cookbook is still sitting on my desk.

So after all this, Darling, You Shouldn’t Have Gone To So Much Trouble is on Cookbook Of The Day and here are some highlights of all my reading.

The biography of Caroline Gordon was entitled Dangerous Muse because she was just that.
She was muse to three husbands:

Lucian Freud by Clifford Coffin

Lucian Freud – famous painter

Israel Citkowitz – famous composer

Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell – famous writer

Then, in no particular order, she was muse to several lovers:

Caroline Blackwood by Walker Evans

Walker Evans – famous photographer

Andrew Harvey – famous classics scholar

Cyril Connolly – famous critic

Ivan Moffat – famous producer

Many people believed that Evans was the father of her daughter, Ivana but it was actually, Moffat. Connolly tried valiantly to woo Caroline to no avail, and though he was married twice, Connolly was most probably gay. Andrew Harvey was definitely gay, but he was more than willing to have sex with Caroline.

While I am fond of Blackwood’s fiction, her prose really shines. My favorite of Blackwood’s books is her exploration of hunting, In the Pink. She looks at both sides of the fox hunting debate with humor and history.

“The rich are different, claimed Scott Fitzgerald, and if he had moved in English fox-hunting circles he might have had to say that the rich who fox-hunt are different from those who don’t.”
Of the vegan, anti-cruelty, bloke who refused to help an abandoned fox cub she writes:
“He was prepared to kill a huntsman because he hated the huntsman cruelty to foxes, but the following morning he was going to that the fox-cub out of his stable and send it off to almost certain perdition.”
On the Duchess who continued to ride side-saddle:
"Hunting in the 1930’s, the duchess of Marlborough could choose her saddle, and she accepted the responsibility if the love of the costume that went with it brought her unnecessary pain and unpleasantness.”

If you have never read Caroline Blackwood, give her a try. Or you could read Dangerous Muse, but be prepared to be enthralled and watch as your nightstand fills with additional reading.

22 October 2009


Do indulge me in a bit of ranting, but I feel that gossip, the way it is practiced today, is a mere shadow of its former glory. My mother didn’t like to watch Ingrid Bergman. “She left her husband and daughter and ran off and had twins,” my mother told me the story as if she had been left. Had she done the same thing today, Ingrid Bergman would have been made an Ambassador at the United Nations.

I inadvertently (honest it was inadvertent) saw the last few minutes of one of those “entertainment” gossip shows the other evening. It was appalling. I suppose we once gossiped about what went on behind closed doors because there was no access. Now we have access 24/7. We have lost the notion that to be a “celebrity” one should do something to be “celebrated.” Today if you can get naked and shout profanity, you just might get your own show.

To be gossiped about today you seem to need:

A grainy sex tape, to be sold at a later date on the Internet. It is best if the woman is under 20 or the man is a football player, or both!

A lot of children, all born with in the same 24-hour period. Frankly the Dionne Quints wouldn’t even turn a head today.

To be designated a “housewife” which seems to denote you are rude, profane, vulgar, tasteless, self-centered and greedy. You don’t actually take care of a “house” and you don’t really have to be a “wife” and on most days, you couldn’t tell someone which side of the plate a fork is placed. I believe that the housewives of American should band together and file a class action suit for defamation!

A father so intent on being on television that he has his profane, out of control children, lie on national television, pretending to be in danger and costing law enforcement nearly $20,000 and untold man hours that could have been spent looking for children who were really in danger.

I moved some books the other day and found Andrew Barrow’s Gossip. I remembered another book he did as a corollary entitled, The Gossip Family Handbook and I took them home for diversion.

Gossip covers the 1920 –1970’s and is drawn predominantly from British gossip. In my opinion, the banner decade for gossip was the 1930’s. Here are just a few of the tidbits.

Augustus John’s painting of Tallulah Bankhead scandalized the Royal Academy. (And she was fully clothed)

Sir Francis Laking, 26, died from drinking yellow Chartreuse. In his will he left all his motor-cars to Tallulah Bankhead. Alas, Laking was lacking any motor-cars. (I’m now thinking of willing things I don’t own to people. How much fun would it be to leave your Swiss bank account to your smarmy sister-in-law!)

Cecil Beaton acquires Ashcombe, home to a decade of merriment. (Madonna now lives in Ashcombe)

Wallis Simpson is presented at Court. With in five years, Edward VIII would give up his crown to “marry the woman I love.” (There is a “housewife” I would watch.)

Unity Mitford was reportedly “dating” Adolf Hitler. (Imagine a sex tape with Osama bin Laden, that’s gossip and National Security!))

With all of its tantalizing tidbits, the most intriguing thing about Andrew Barrow’s Gossip is the endpaper. The writer, Hugo Vickers, suggested that there was a way to form a “family tree” as it were, that linked people in a sideways fashion. He envisioned these endpapers.

For his next book, The Gossip Family Handbook, Barrows expanded Vickers’ idea and constructed just over a hundred pages linking 3,800 individuals through birth, marriage and siblings.

Here is an example with some well-known Americans in the mix.

The pages leave something to be desired in a blog, but on the page they are fascinating! I would love to see this book expanded into this century! In the meantime...

if a producer out there would like to do a serious, thoughtful, truly entertaining show featuring "housewives" they should look at blogs. How much fun would a show be featuring, Mrs. Blandings, Pigtown Design, little augury, An Aesthete's Lament and on and on...

I'll watch!

21 October 2009

Blueberry Gingerbread

Kathy Edwards came up with this recipe to make in her Lucinda's Wood Cake Box. As always, Anne is is the kitchen baking. Harry Lowe headed over for a taste and to try out his new iPhone. He was a little too close, but he'll get better!

Blueberry Gingerbread

1 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1cup buttermilk (or 1 cup fresh milk mixed with 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice; allow to thicken before using)
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen), tossed lightly in 2 Tbsp. flour

Whip sugar and egg together until fluffy, and light in color. Slowly incorporate vegetable oil and molasses. Combine dry ingredients and add to egg mixture alternately with buttermilk. Combine until smooth. Fold in blueberries that have been tossed lightly in Tbs. flour. Pour into greased and papered cake pan (follow cake box guidance for prepping box).

Bake at 300 for 30-40 minutes, or until top springs back when touched lightly.
Cool completely before removing from pan.

When the gingerbread is baked, Kathy cuts it in squares, smears the top with some lemon curd, sprinkles that with some coarse sugar, and then lights her torch and brulees the top - it is magnificent according to her sister, Nanci.

19 October 2009

Mastering The Art....

Julia Child with Ann Burrola at Julia's 90th Birthday Party

Today is Julia Child day around the blogs. Well, around my blogs and the one at the Smithsonian. Here's the timeline of how it came about.

The Smithsonian got Julia Child's kitchen.

Julie Powell wrote a blog about cooking every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Then she wrote a book, Julie and Julia.

Nora Ephron made it into a movie, Julie and Julia.

The Smithsonian blog, O Say Can You See?, decided to do a series called Julia Child Recipe of the Week and asked for staff to volunteer and cook a recipe and write about the experience, and my friend, Ann (seen earlier with Julia),volunteered -- she volunteered me.

Amy Adams as Julie Powell serving Pâté de Canard en Crouté

Ann, is not a cook. Her most famous dish, the one everyone still talks about, was boiled hamburger. She boiled balls of hamburger and served them with a side of canned, stewed tomatoes. She will never live it down!

My dish was one the more difficult dishes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Pâté de Canard en Crouté.

Ann made baked cucumbers, one of the easiest dishes.

Read about our exploits at the Smithsonian blog, October 19, 2009

Read the recipe for Concombres au Beurre at Cookbook Of The Day.

16 October 2009

The House In The Country

Nan Fairbrother was an English writer who wrote extensively on landscape and land usage. While her most influential book was, New Lives, New Landscapes, which provided a visionary view of the future of land use in England, I think her most poignant book, is The House In The Country.

It is a familiar story, after living in London for many years, she and her husband venture out into the countryside to build their dream house. About thirty miles outside of London, she sees the chalky landscape of the Chiltern Hills and she finds her home.

The House In The Country details the trials and tribulations of building a house, but it at its best when she talks of building a home and the impact of that home on its surroundings.
"This house is much more than the shelter of walls we live in, and built anywhere else than here it would be a different house entirely. For more essential than even its walls is the landscape in the windows, the deliberately imposed consciousness of the countryside it is set in. This house now defines this valley for everyone who comes here, and the landscape radiates from its fixed focus as the world for each of us radiates from our own individual consciousness."

15 October 2009

The David Hicks Book of Flower Arranging

This week has been marked by relentless, cold rain. It is hard accomplish anything. It is the kind of weather that lends itself to sitting inside and pouring through books. So that is where I am.

The generic boilerplate of jacket flaps of is either too simple or overstated or, as on the flap of The David Hicks Book of Flower Arranging, both:
“Flower arranging is probably the best loved and most widely practiced of the crafts.”
The qualifier of “probably” alludes to the fact that flower arranging is practiced because putting flowers on a table is considered part of setting a table. If it is considered a “craft” it bears a marked craft-like appearance. For those who do actually arrange flowers, it is an art. Alas, I fall into the “craft” section of flower arranging. David Hicks understands the art.

“For me, one of the greatest pleasures of flowers is their juxtaposition with furniture, objects, pictures and the general atmosphere of a room.”

“My love of flowers began in childhood. Although my mother did not arrange them, she was a very good gardener and so I grew up surrounded by plants and blooms. I remember, when I was about sixteen, doing a wildly elaborate autumn arrangement with apples and figs, gourds and berries and yellow and orange flowers with foliage, a crescendo of orangey-red colours at a time when I had certainly never seen anything like it done by anyone else. There was a container, but, by the time I had finished, it had vanished under the harvest extravaganza. Of course, in the exuberance of youth, I had gone too far, but I have never forgotten it and every autumn it is at the back of my mind as I do the flowers at home.”

Not a bad way to spend a rainy day.

13 October 2009


I love my eggs...

and the chickens who lay them. Here are Queen Latifha and Sister in their laying boxes.

I also love old poultry books like this one explaining how to make a glorious living selling your eggs for 4 cents a dozen. Well, here in the US, it might have been closer to 6 cents a dozen. Or you can buy them today for $4 a dozen.

10 October 2009

Cornmeal Olive Oil Cake with Chile Spiced Mangos

Sometimes one goes to the market and is enamored of a new ingredient. That is what happened when I saw these chile spiced mangos. I immediately bought them, ignoring the fact that I am not a big mango person. After about a couple of months the bag of chile spiced mango was still staring at me. I had not a clue what to do with it. I had originally thought that I would add them to a cake.

I began thinking about this cake. It needed to be substantial to stand up to the chile spiced mango, so I thought of an olive oil cake. Then I thought that a bit of corn meal would be a great counterpoint to the spice. So I went to work.

The cake has a big crumb and the dried mango slices were embedded nicely in the cake. It needs a bold olive oil and as often happens with my desserts, it is not overtly sweet. It turned out nicely. Here's the recipe:

Cornmeal Olive Oil Cake with Chile Spiced Mangos

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
4 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cup corn meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 scant cups chile spiced mangos, chopped into small squares ( if you can't find them pre-spiced, drege you chopped dried mangoes in a tablespoon of chile powder)

Pre-heat oven to 300 F

In a large mixer bowl, blend the sugar, milk and oil

Add the eggs, one at a time until fully blended

In a large bowl whisk the flour, corn meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt to mix.

Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and just mix until all the dry ingredients are blended into the batter

Dredge the mango pieces and fold into the batter

Pour into a prepared Lucinda's Wood Cake Box and bake for 90 minutes

I mixed a teaspoon of chile powder and 1/4 cup of 10X and sprinkled the top to dress it up a bit. As I was trying to take a photo, my picture was interrupted by Teddy who was on the prowl for some leftover cake. Teddy loves anything made with cornmeal and this cake was no different.

A profound love of cornmeal happens when you are raised by chickens and Southerners!

09 October 2009

Famous Food Friday -- Yul Brynner

He sings, he dances, he… cooks! Yes, I’m talking about Yul Brynner, author of The Yul Brynner Cookbook. Everyone knows Brynner as an actor, but did you know he was a polyglot (speaking 11 languages including Russian, Chinese and Romany), a nightclub entertainer, a musician, a trapeze artist, a member of a traveling gypsy troupe, a pro jai alai player, and a director, as well as the King of Siam?

So let the guy cook!

Brynner was born on Sakhalin Island, a slim strip of land off the southeastern coast of Russia and north of Japan. The island is sub-arctic and during the 1940’s both Japan and Russia claimed the island. His family took him to China when he was 6 months old. The cookbook features cuisines from his multi-ethnicity. There is a Russian section and a Japanese section. There are sections from his many travels featuring French and Thai cuisine. By far the most interesting section features his Romany or Gypsy heritage.

In his introduction to this section, Brynner tells us:

“My mother was a gypsy, and I spent several of my teenage years traveling through France with a gypsy troupe.

…there are inherent difficulties in constantly moving from one place to another. Just think of the everyday chore of preparing meals.

Gypsies have always favored soups and stews. These dishes are easy to make, and just about anything you put in either of them winds up tasting good. These marvelous concoctions also can be quite exotic.”

One of the more exotic soups is dandelion in cream, while one of the more traditional stews is pork.

Pork and Sauerkraut Ragout

1 1/2 –2 pounds pork shoulder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon slat
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 cup water
1 cup beer
1 1/2 pounds sauerkraut, drained
1 cup sour cream

Trim excess fat off pork, and cut the meat into small pieces. It’s all right to cook this dish with pork bones included; they should be discarded before serving, but they add flavor to sauce. Set the pork aside, and heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven. While the oil heats, peel and chop the onion. Sauté the onion and garlic clove in the vegetable oil until the onions are transparent. Remove the garlic, add the pork, and brown well on all sides. Add paprika, salt, caraway seeds, water and beer to the Dutch oven. Cover, cook for one hour, periodically skimming fat from the top of the sauce. After one hour of cooking, add drained sauerkraut, cover, and cook another 45 minutes. Garnish with sour cream.

Whip up a cauldron of this Pork and Sauerkraut stew and pop The King and I in the DVD and make a night of it. To whet your appetite:

A Puzzlement - mp3

08 October 2009

Christmas times a comin'...

First, let me preface this by saying I am not a real "Christmasy" kinda girl. Perhaps it is that "only child" thing, but I just never got into the big over-the-top decoration contest that has become Christmas. I start getting ready for Christmas mid December and on December 26th I want all evidence of Christmas decorating GONE.

For years I had a blow up tree that someone, I-know-but-I-have-no-real-proof-of, deliberately punctured so I couldn't use it again. My next favorite tree, seen above, was a string of lights in a realistic tree shape with a genuine "tree stump" for a stump. I will admit to a soft spot for weird Christmas music. My iPod Christmas folder runs the gamut from Andy Griffith to Yoko Ono, with RuPaul, Charo, and Mae West thrown in for good measure.

Secondly, let me say that I am a huge Bob Dylan fan. When I heard that Bob Dylan was going to release a Christmas disk, I did what most people did.

I laughed.

Then I found out it was true, Bob Dylan was doing a Christmas disk. Recently, the cover was releaased:

Today, I received an advanced copy and though it is still the first week in October, before Columbus Day, before Halloween, before Thanksgiving, before the middle of December... I have been listening to Christmas Carols ALL morning!!!

As I said, I am a huge Bob Dylan fan, but I am still a realist and I must say when I pushed PLAY, it sounded for all the world like a bad Saturday Night Live skit. After hearing it over and over and over and over, I will tell you that you simply haven't lived until you hear Bob Dylan break into a chorus of ...chestnuts roasting on an open fire. And his rendition of Adeste Fideles in its original Latin is divine.

So you heard me exclaim
on October 8, right,
Merry Christmas to all
and to all a good night....

07 October 2009

Etiquette Wednesday -- Constance Spry

I do, one day, aspire to dress like this while doing my needlework! Today's etiquette tips come form Constance Spry, who virtually invented floristry as a profession. Hostess was Spry's last book, finished in rough form a few days before she died.

There is a short preface by the Countess of Home. Yes, there really is a "Countess of Home", Elizabeth Home, not to be confused with Elizabeth Home, who in the late 1700's, was known affectionately as "The Queen of Hell". The earlier Elizabeth Home built a house in Marylebone that was called "Home House" which is now a private club/bar. But I digress...The Countess of Home wrote this about Hostess,
"Mrs. Spry could never have anticipated all the pitfalls into which lesser mortals could fall, but with typical imagination she invited questions from succeeding generations of Winkfield girls, and so her advice ranges over being a good listener and making original tablecloths for a yacht to the ladylike eating of artichokes, and somehow her meticulous attention to detail is never dictatorial."
"Winkfield girls" is a reference to a Winkfield Place a school that Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume ran for many years. The school featured a yearlong course on how to cook, how to sew ones own clothes, and how to run a house. Including entertaining in the "homey" part of the house.

As Mrs. Spry tells us:
"The near disappearance of the professional cook and the advent of the cook-hostess has done much to change the face of entertaining in England. For example, the cuisine in the type of home in which the cooking was at one time left to people of mediocre attainments and limited imagination has changed greatly for the good."

For those who may be of "mediocre attainments" or who have never been seated at any event more formal than a buffet, the is a lovely drawing of a simple table setting.

I must say that I do love a book with a drawing of a table setting. Even though for years now, it is simply, fork to the left, knife to the right, I just love these diagrams. Speaking of the drawing in Hostess, they were done by none other than the wonderful Lesley Blanch, of whom I have written before.

My favorite drawing in the book is above and it shows everything an overnight guest might need. Notice the gun in the nightstand drawer. Ah, Lesley!

In her section on overnight guest, Mrs. Spry recounts her own visit to a rather formal house where...
"...the chatelaine...was known to be a real dragon...I asked about a convenient time for a morning bath, somehow indicating that I was thinking in terms of the bathroom, whereupon she glanced stonily at me and said: 'Your bath will be brought up to your room." And then in an aside all too clearly audible, she added: "Ladies do not use the bathroom.'"

The bathroom is one of my favorite rooms! In addition to Mrs. Spry's hostess tips, Rosemary Hume added a section of timely recipes since one no longer has those tedious kitchen folk to produce their uninspired fare. Head over to Cookbook Of The Day for the "cookbook" portion of Hostess.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin