Friday, June 29, 2012

Strawberry Cheesecake Smoothie

Michael and I picked a flat of strawberries at the u-pick place. I made 8 pints of jam; we sliced and froze loads; we ate some plain and with ice cream, alone and with friends. Then we picked another flat of strawberries.

I am like the chipmunks with the bulging cheeks, on their endless quests for seeds, seeds, more seeds! Because it is June, but just barely, and winter is coming.

That said, here's one of my carpe diem strawberry recipes (although you can make this in the winter with the berries you were smart enough to freeze). It's tangy and pink, lush and protein-packed. Also, despite the cottage cheese, it falls into the children's category of "not weird" smoothies--which means that I have not, at the last second, added a large handful of weeds. If you were ever thinking of serving smoothies for dinner--and you know I'd encourage you to--this is a good one.

Happy weekend.


Birdy has pajamas to match every smoothie!
Strawberry Cheesecake Smoothie
Serves 2-4, depending on whether it's the whole meal

The cottage cheese turns completely smooth, I promise, and really makes this taste like cheesecake. There are no discernible curds.

1 1/2 cups sliced fresh or frozen strawberries
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (or plain or strawberry yogurt)
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup milk
3 ice cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla
Agave syrup or another sweetener, to taste (optional, but I use about a tablespoon)

Whir everything together in a blender until smooth.

Friday, June 22, 2012

. . . and the livin' is easy

Ben graduated from 6th grade.
I'm so happy the kids are done with school. I've been missing them terribly during the day. I see folks out grocery-shopping with their toddlers, and I say, "Oooh, you're so lucky!" and they look at me like I have an arrow sticking out of my head, which I totally understand. But I had to talk my friend Emily into having lunch with me the other day, and when she said, about her preschooler, "You know I'll have Lena with me," I acted all casual-like and said, "Oh sure, that's fine." And then spent the entire lunch hour flirting with her.
Can you see the Garfield tie that he bought on ebay? 
And now it's those lazy first few weeks of summer, which are my absolute favorite. You know, in spite of the fact that I have tons of work that I'm trying to do while the children moon around seductively, getting out board games and other things I love to do.

I've mentioned Agricola, right? Someone here first recommended it to us, and it is my all-time favorite game. If the summer loosens up for you at all, this might be the time to try to learn it. I may have mentioned that Ben sat with the rules for hours and hours, predigesting them for us, and it was still challenging. That said, it is the most edgy edge-of-your-seat strategy game ever and, seriously, two hours of your life will whiz by in a blur of delightful anxiety.

We've also become completely devoted to Bohnanza, which, again, someone here first recommended to us. (Thank you!) At first you'll think it's really stupid. It says something on the box like, "The fun bean-trading game!" and you'll wonder if I only like it because of my weird obsession with pinto beans. But the strategy kind of creeps up on you in a great way. Plus, it's super-easy to learn and not that expensive. I don't love the art (I'm kind of picky that way), but it is nonetheless our current go-to birthday present.

We borrowed the Cities and Knights expansion to Settlers of Catan, and have been LOVING it. Again, it is about as easy to learn as Organic Chemistry, and it makes Michael and me want to choke each other to death in competitive homicidal rage, but it is really worth it. Just to add a weird gamer's caveat: this is an expansion, and you need to have the original Settlers of Catan game as well or you won't be able to play it.

The folks at Blue Orange Games kindly sent me this Pocket Yamslam game, and it's our new keep-in-Mama's-bag at all times game, which means it's what we play when we're waiting for our chicken wings. It's like Yahtzee, but much quicker. And it takes about 1 second to learn. It is currently replacing
Pocket Farkel, which had been the game in my bag, and which is another simple, quick, awesome one. In truth, we just had our dice from Yahtzee and a Farkel scoresheet, but I think the actual game is adorable. It's less about strategy than gambling--and just be sure to play with the "piggy" rules to maximize your fun. (Google them if they're not included in your set.)

But we're not just gaming.

We're whittling (again).

We're eating strawberries. (I'm sure you need a gadget like another hole in your butt, but this really is a fun one for kids.)

We're crafting. Those are the matching cupcake shirts we made for our friend Noe and her doll Julia. We made the cutest pattern for it--does anyone know how to post a pdf of a pattern? I'd happily share it! (Julia's shirt is made from the cut-off top of a newborn onesie, and it's the perfect size for an American Girl type of doll.)

And crafting. That's the frog sock puppet Birdy made for her doll Nadia. Have I mentioned this book before?

It's so sweet and simple, and Birdy's been making stuff out of it for ages (here you can see Nadia's red wing blackbird sock puppet). I see that it's out of print, but Amazon still seems to have lots of inexpensive copies for sale, and your library might have it. (Birdy wastes no time: she's already written a letter to the president of the American Girl company, complaining about the lack of short-haired girls in their My American Girl collection. You go, my bad-ass daughter.)

It's not all fun and games, of course. We're also working a ton (Michael and me) and barfing (Ben) and "dying from heatstroke" (Ben again). The cat lies around like a whale who was clinically depressed even before the beaching.

Oh, but have you read The Art of Fielding? "You were wrong," I complained to Michael, 20 pages in. "You said that even though it was about baseball I'd love it. And it's really, really about baseball, and I'm dying of boredom." Only then I turned out to love it completely; it has the most perfect final paragraph of, perhaps, any book I've ever read. Also, you've probably already read this or had a million people recommend it to you, so let me be a million and one. Totally harrowing and lovely.

Stay cool, my chicks, and have fun. And please, please share books, games, fun summery things with us!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Potato Salad with Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette

It only occurs to run this recipe today because you were so mad that I’d withheld the vinegar egg for so long—and this potato salad? I have been making it for almost 20 years. I happen to know that, because I made it the first time for a picnic we took to this concert. No wonder I’m so old! It’s on account of the oldness.

Birdy's first not-home haircut! Which she loves, loves, loves. Sorry, I had to sneak it in here.
It is one of my signature potluck dishes. In fact, a friend of mine requests it so often that we mostly refer to it as “Becky’s potato salad” as in, “Do you want me to bring the bacon potato salad or Becky’s potato salad?” Like the mandatory green sauce I serve with salmon, it is one of the most transformative dishes I have ever made. It changed the way I thought about flavor, lo those 18 years ago, when I had to scour the entire Bay Area to find the tinned chipotles. (I ended up buying them from the Mexican grocer at the Ashby flea market.)

The potato salad is tangy and smoky and sweet and, oh, perfect in every way. Unless you’re a child, in which case it is unperfect in every way: spicy and sour, and filled with such slithery horribleness as peppers and onions. I can tell Ben is really growing up because yesterday he said, devouringly, “I can’t believe I used to not like this,” and I feel for him, for all those wasted years. We were eating it as part of our picnic lunch at Six Flags, where I went for the first time ever. I loved it! I will never, ever go back even if I live to be a hundred, which I won't, now that the Bizarro took 20 years off my life.

Raise your hand if you look like your normal self (Michael). I was so scared that I kept my eyes squinched shut the entire time except for when I squinched them open for a nanosecond to make sure the kids hadn't fallen out. "I can't believe you're buying the photo!" Ben said. "That's so not like you." So true. But it's the best ten dollars I ever spent.
Potato Salad with Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette
Serves 8-10
This takes a surprisingly long time to make.

Adapted from the marvelous Fields of Greens cookbook. I always roast the peppers, but over the years I have done different things with the potatoes, depending on my mood. You can absolutely boil them in salted water and then dice them, and this is a classic and good way to make the salad, and it’s easier. Likewise, you can leave the onion raw if you like, but then I’d use only one, and I’d dice it. Annie Somerville roasts and then grills the potato, which sounds great. If spiciness is an issue, you could try making this with smoked paprika instead of the chipotle. If you want to add crunch, you can top the whole thing with roasted pepitas. All that said, this here is my favorite way to make it.

2 red bell peppers, halved and seeded
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, diced into 1-inch cubes (or tiny potatoes, halved or quartered as appropriate)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
2 red onions, halved and sliced ¼-inch thick, slices kept more or less intact.
Chipotle Vinaigrette (below)
1/3 cup or so of chopped cilantro

Heat the broiler and cover a small baking sheet with foil. Lay the peppers cut-side-down on the foil and broil them close to the flame until they are entirely black, around 10 minutes or so. Wrap them loosely in the foil and leave them to cool while you deal with other stuff. Turn the oven down to 450.

In a large bowl, toss with potatoes with 3 tablespoons of the oil and a teaspoon of salt. Spread them on a very large baking sheet that is either completely reliably nonstick, or that you’ve covered with parchment. They’ll be super-crowded, even a little heaped, and this is fine because by the time they’ve cooked through they’ll have gotten as brown as they need to, given that they’re getting tossed with dressing, not served as is. However, if this is too alarming for you, spread them over 2 sheets, and plan for them to roast shorter. Put them in the oven and roast them until they are completely tender and browning in spots or on one side or something, depending on whether or not you’ve turned them with a spatula in the middle of roasting them (I make a point of stirring them around once or twice). This will take around 45 minutes, but check them at 30 to get a sense of what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, cover that small baking sheet with foil again, oil it heavily with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Lay the onion slices on it carefully, then flip them so that both sides are covered in oil. If you have cooking spray, you can spray their tops if that’s easier. Pop them in to roast alongside the potatoes, and take them out when they’re browning but before they’re black, after 15 or 20 minutes or so.

Peel and rub the black skins off of the cooled peppers, then cut the peppers lengthwise into skinny strips and then crosswise into thirds so that you end up with 1-or 2-inch strips.

Now you’re an old, old woman. Put all the cooked potatoes, onions, and peppers in a large bowl, and add half the dressing. Fold it all together with a rubber spatula and then taste it. Add more dressing and/or salt until it tastes really good, then cover it and leave it on the counter until you’re ready to serve it. (Try really hard not to refrigerate it, because it is so much better unrefrigerated.) Now taste it again and re-season with salt and/or vinaigrette and/or chipotle puree, as needed. Stir in the cilantro, top with extra cilantro, and serve.

Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup

2 tablespoons white wine or Champagne or sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from, say, 2 small but very juicy limes) (Note: It is atypical for me to use the juice from a lime but not its zest. I think the zest would be good here—but there’s so much else going on, flavorwise, that I’ve never included it.)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
* 2 teaspoons chipotle puree
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or put through a garlic press
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
½ cup light olive oil (I use half olive oil and half canola oil)

Whisk together everything but the oil, then slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify.

* To make the chipotle puree, scrape an entire 7-ounce tin of Chipotle in adobo (brands to look for include Embasa, San Marcos, Herdes, and La Costena) into the blender and puree it. Store it in your fridge in an impeccably clean glass jar where it will keep indefinitely—unless it doesn’t, which is what sometime happens. A thin layer of oil over the top seems to prevent mold from forming.

There are so many process shots that would have been helpful, but I didn't take any. I'm sorry!

Friday, June 15, 2012

A winner, a preview, the last day of school

Um, Mendel Schmirtz? Is there a Mendel Schmirtz in the house? You, randomly generated number 8, are the winner of Improv Sewing! Send me your address and I'll get it right out to you. Unless of course, you're Bart Simpson, and I'm Moe the Bartender, and you're just teasing me.

Thank you all for entering, and for your enthusiastic comments about the book. Nicole loved them, and so did I! But really, more than half of you talked about getting it for your child. How did we get to be these old people with the big kids? Sheesh. Ben graduated from 6th grade last night. Please.

Meanwhile, a sneak preview:

And a happy fact of my life:

This is an old photo. At some point a bad, bad cat chewed the bottom of the U off.

Have a lovely weekend, my friends. I'll be back with a recipe on Monday.



Monday, June 11, 2012

Improv Sewing book tour and give-away: the "it's all about me" stop

"If you’re holding this book, then already you understand how ridiculously gorgeous it is. But don’t be dismayed! Because the best part is that you can actually make this stuff. I swear it, and you can trust me because I’m usually kind of an armchair sewer, admiring a how-to book with a beer in one hand. But they’ve got me actually sewing, and actually making lovely things. Improv is a beautiful, inspiring approach to sewing—and, even beyond that, to life itself."

Wow. What a great blurb, right? Can you believe they edited it? Well, sure.

The thing is, I cannot approach this blog-tour review in the usual fashion. Because this book? It is so incredibly beautiful, so realistically useable, and so intimately intertwined with my own personal everything, that I feel compelled to give you the Catherine's Life tour of the book itself. The book which you should buy if you haven't already. 

Starting with these gorgeous women: my friend Debra, on the right, who wrote the book and with whom I have the pleasure of working at FamilyFun magazine, and my friend Nicole on the left, who thought up, developed, and created every one of the stunning 101 projects in it. Did I mention that another friend of mine designed the book? The ridiculously talented Carolyn Eckert. Plus, it's published by Storey, which is just the most fun publishing house in, possibly, the whole entire world. (If you don't believe me, click on the "Traditional Skills" tab of their site. Woodstove Cookery! God love them. Also, they publish this entire book about mending.)
Oh, did you need to see Nicole again? I know I did. Plus, don't you love the cute cardi? That's what this book is all about--taking thrift-store finds, or clothes you almost like, and adjusting them with a few stitches here and there until they're just perfect and fun. Long-time readers: Nicole is Ava's mom.
Speaking of Ava! Ava is Ben's best friend of, er, 9 years. The book is a mix of fantastic ideas for tarting up clothes you already have with fairly simple from-scratch garments and detailed instructions on how to make your own patterns. The "Two-Panel Garment" is a classic example of this: a dress sewn from two pieces of jersey. Boom. Want to start sewing? Here's my advice: don't do anything until you're sure you have a good sewing machine. Talk to your friends who sew, then hit Craigslist.
The four-panel garment gives you more shaping opportunities. If you happen to be fabulously shapely cough *nicole again* cough.

A manly reverse-applique t-shirt. On our dishy friend Jonathan, who happens to also be both Nicole's husband and Ava's father. (It's a family affair.) If you are not a big sewer or don't have a machine, the book has plenty of ideas like this for stuff you can sew simply and by hand.
Birdy's friend Noe, sporting the cutest dress in the world. . . 
. . . and the cutest hat (and face, for that matter).
The dress Nicole wore to the last dance party we went to. Modeled by our favorite check-out person at Whole Foods, a.k.a. The Most Beautiful Woman in the Pioneer Valley. This is the project I'm tackling next: I love this dress so much.
The curtains in Nicole's kitchen, where I spend the better part of my life. When she's not on a crazy-ass book tour. Ahem.
The very pouch Ava gave Ben for Christmas or his birthday--I can't remember which.
The awesome embroidery "paper" that Nicole gave both kids at Christmas.
The bookmark Nicole gave Michael for his birthday. These are not representative photographs: these actual objects are in our possession. I know! I can't stop bragging!
My 15 minutes of fame.
Okay. I could go on and on. I mean, 101 projects, and I have a personal story to tell about, oh, 80 or so of them. So I'll stop. I will. But oh my gosh, I cannot enough recommend that you buy this book. Because even if it weren't, like, a gorgeous visual diary of my life? I would love it and use it. Whatever level of sewing you're at, there's something in here for you. And you don't have to fiddle with hemming and finishing--almost all of the hems are unfinished, which gives everything the loveliest look, and makes your life SO EASY. Plus, there are so many great ideas for decorating clothes that if you screw something up massively, you can just hide it behind an applique flower or something, which is what Nicole and I are somewhat famous for doing.

Some links: the Improv Sewing facebook page is here; their blog is here; their book trailer is here; Jonathan and Nicole's incredible hard cider is here (slightly tangential, but still).

Storey is kindly giving us another copy of the book, so let's do the give-away in the usual way: comment here, and I'll pick someone on noon, EST, on Friday. Sound good? 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Brain, Child

If you haven't heard already about the end of Brain, Child, then you should click that link to read Tracy Mayor's moving and wonderful Motherlode post about it. Or you can go here to read about it from the perspective of the magazine's editors Jennifer and Stephanie. I won't waffle on and on about how, when Ben was a baby and the magazine was just starting, it was like a buoyant, feminist life raft keeping me afloat in a sea of milk and dull-wittedness and pediatricians calling me "Mommy." I probably don't need to tell you how ferocious and courageous they've been in their commitment to intelligent discourse for and among mothers. If you read it or have read it, you probably know all this already. But I will tell you this: working for them has allowed me as much grace as I've ever known in my life as a writer. It's not just that they've let me go with the flow of the weirdo shit I always write for them (Darwin? Boredom? Sure. Sure. Conjoined twins? Great.) It's that they edit so humanely, so compassionately. They have always understand, it seems to me, that it's a political act, editing. To really listen, to represent, to illuminate, you have to let voices be different from your own, and they have. I don't know what to say about this except thank you. And I worry I'll choke on everything I'll want to write for you. And you better be serious about this being a kind of commencement and not just an ending.

Some of the pieces I've written for them are here, here, here, and here. And there's one coming out in the final Summer issue. Sigh.

There's also editor Jennifer Niesslein's book Practically Perfect in Every Way, which is not the magazine, I know, but which is such a wonderful book that you should read it if you haven't yet. It's about self help, yes, and you'll glean all kinds of interesting ideas along the way--but really, it's so much more than that. There's this way that the book ends up being about her humble, kind, lovely family--the way they take care of each other--that's much more profound than the sum of its parts. I totally loved it.

Random, compensatory girl/cat photograph.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Rhubarb Round-Up

So, it’s June, which is just about the jaw-crampingly best news I can think of, because rhubarb is
in the house

Actually, it’s behind the house, but still. I thought I’d better do a little round-up of Rhubarb Greatest Hits:

There’s the straight-up Rhubarb Crumble, which ran in O magazine, and which I love because it does not cave to the pressure of adding strawberries to everything rhubarb. Buttery, brown-sugary, achingly tart and sweet, one single clean, good flavor.

On the website it says, "Photo courtesy of Catherine Newman," which is generous, because I did not take this photograph. I wish I had that cool spoon, thought!
Then there’s the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble, which precisely caves to the pressure of adding strawberries to everything rhubarb. Oh, but it is so good, and the strawberries are coming in now, too, all ruby gorgeousness, so who can resist?

Brace yourself. Because, this?

Real men bake crumble.
This is the strawberry-rhubarb crumble that Michael made last night, on his very own, while I was at a baby shower. I came home and he was already taking it out of the oven! He had picked the rhubarb and everything. It was as perfectly fantastic as any crumble I’ve ever eaten, and I say that as the reigning Crumble Queen. You really can teach an old dog new tricks! (Birdy was completing proverbs for a friend of mine—proverbs she didn’t know and was just supposed to guess at—and she wrote “to not be so droopy-looking” to conclude “You can’t teach an old dog_______”)

Oh gosh, and this, Strawberry-Rhubarb Pudding Cake, which I made, like, every single night last June. Why have I not made it yet this year? What was I thinking?

. . . drooling. . .
And instead of giving you something totally new—something cool, like a Rollicking Ruby Rhubarbtini—well, I’m going to reinvent the rhubarb crumb bar. As you surely understand, if you’ve been with me on this journey, I have become a person who less and less wants to be using white flour, and so even my most beloved recipes are getting roughed up a little. This one, though—you won’t even notice it, the whole-wheat flour, not really. It just adds a little grit, a little malty sweetness. The bars are still oaty-butterscotchy-rhubarby heaven, you'll see. Report back, please! 

Rhubarb Crumb Bars
Serves 12
Active time: 20 minutes; total time 1 hour and 10 minutes.

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole-wheat or whole-spelt flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 cup butter (2 sticks; I use salted), sliced into small pieces
6 cups sliced rhubarb (about 2 pounds before trimming and cleaning)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 400 and heavily grease a lasagna-sized (11- by 7-inch) baking dish. I confess to using that unholy Pam baking spray--the kind that comes out of the can like foaming extraterrestrial phlegm but really keeps everything from sticking.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flours, oats, brown sugar, and salt. Now add the pieces of butter and toss to coat them with the flour mixture, then use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. This is a messy but not unpleasant job: you'll be lifting handfuls of the mixture up out of the bowl, then gently letting it fall through your fingertips as you rub it together. Eventually, you'll have a bowl full of pebbly crumbs, which is what you're going for.

Reserve a heaping cup of crumbs, and press the remaining crumbs into the baking dish, patting them down firmly to form a bottom crust. Spread the sliced rhubarb evenly over the crust. Now, here's a weird step that was in multiple recipes, and so I tried it, even though normally I would toss the sliced rhubarb with flour and sugar instead of doing anything so strange as creating a separate syrup: in a small saucepan combine the white sugar and cornstarch; stir in the water and cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it turns clear and thickens slightly--around five minutes. It will foam up and it will never get especially thick, but this seems to be okay. Remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and pour it evenly over the rhubarb. Sprinkle with the reserved crumbs and bake the pan for ten minutes at 400 before turning the temperature down to 325 and baking for another 40 minutes. Serve in squares, warm or at room temperature, with or without whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.