Blog Archive for June, 2009

l’aperitif

06/25

Years ago, I came across a book called “Apertif: Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French Style” by Georgeanne Brennan. At the time, I was an extremely poor student who had just returned from blowing all my savings on a trip through Europe, and I was thrilled to find the book at a fire sale (literally – it’s still a bit sooty) at my local bookstore. The author describes beautifully the significance and tradition of the apertif in French culture, and is full of gorgeous photos (by Kathryn Kleinman) and recipes for various “vins maison” or homemade fortified wines.


One day during my trip, when I was in a little town called Saintes Maries des le Mer, I met a couple who ended up inviting me to their grandmother’s house for lunch. Before the lunch (which turned out to be a delicious ratatouille, crusty bread and cheese) the grandmother offered us an apertif, and brought out a bottle of her homemade artichoke wine. I had never tasted anything like it (nor have I since) and I fell in love with the idea of these artisan, house-made drinks.

After reading more about it, I also fell in love with the tradition of the apertif, the brief social gathering that takes place before lunch or dinner throughout much of the Mediterranean. It is a fairly defined custom in which time is set aside to socialize with friends and family – including children – and share a drink (alcoholic or not, and generally not very strong) and light snacks before the meal. So civilized! Every once in a while when Dave and I have had a long day, we’ll come home, put on some jazz, set out some olives and cheeses, pour a glass of wine and just sit and talk and unwind. It’s a deliberate, conscious effort to calm down, connect and enjoy ourselves. And it works. I always feel better and more centered.

The book doesn’t have a recipe for artichoke wine, but it does have a number of delicious and exotic sounding vins maison, including one called Vin Marquis, which I have made several times over the years. A lot of the recipes call for things that aren’t readily available to me (like green walnuts and the leaves and blossoms from a peach tree), but the Vin Marquis is an easy one and I decided to make some yesterday. The recipe is large, but since the wine needs to age for 6 months I’ll often make it in May or June and then share it with people at Christmas (or give it as presents).

This recipe calls for 7 bottles of medium-dry white wine (I use Sauvingon Blanc, but the recipe calls for Chenin Blanc or Riesling), 7 oranges (I used 2 tangerines this time, just to mix it up), 1 lemon, 4 1/4 cups sugar, 1 vanilla bean and 3 3/4 cup vodka. You roughly chop the oranges and the lemons, and combine all in a very large (or 2 large) wide-mouth jars. Store in a cool dark place (I use the refridgerator) for 40 days, stirring every other day or so. After 40 days, strain the wine through a seive lined with cheesecloth into a clean non-reactive bowl discarding all fruit.


Wash the bottles and sterilize them, either by submerging in water in a pot and boiling for 10 minutes, or by putting them in a cold oven, setting the temp to 250 and baking for 30 minutes. Use new corks and soften them by soaking in boiling water for several minutes. Using a funnel, fill the bottles to the bottom of the neck and cork. I have a little tool for this – the Handy – that I got at a wine supply store, but you can do it manually too (it’s just tough). Store the wine for at least 6 months before drinking.

Oh – and the strawberry brandy is finally ready! Yum!

Happy midsummer! I can’t believe the sun is already on the wane, especially since we haven’t had much warm weather yet in Oakland. This weekend was gorgeous, though, and we got to take in some public art at the Oakland Block Party, enjoyed a leisurely Fathers’ Day picnic with my dad and celebrated the solstice with an urban interpretation of a bonfire (a little woodfire in our mini-weber, situated on our tiny porch).


The Oakland Unveiled Block Party was organized to show off the recently renovated Arts District, including the fabulous Fox Theater, and was full of all kinds of music and public art, including sculptural lighting and community-painted murals.


Some of Oakland’s old, art-deco buildings have been renovated and turned into clubs and restaurants.



These kids looked like they were having so much fun…

Michael Christian’s lighting sculpture “Sphae” in the day and at dusk.

I think my favorite part of the block party was the guy who set up his bike and a little chair and hawked type-written poems written while you wait. Customers would give him a subject, and he’d start banging away at his little typewriter, pausing every once in a while to stare into space before he started writing again. Beautiful.


I hope you all had a nice weekend, and I’d love to hear if anyone celebrated the solstice and what you did!


A couple of months ago I stumbled onto Jasmine Surovec‘s blog A Print A Day and discovered her incredible self-published/edited/designed/written and illustrated magazine Parasol. The magazine is designed to promote art and design as well as creative small businesses and emerging artists, it is gorgeous, and it is FREE. Uh-huh, that’s right. How cool is that? She recently put out the 3rd edition, featuring artwork and interviews with an impressive array of photographers, painters, clothing designers, jewelry makers and bloggers, as well as some crafty D.I.Y. projects and even book, movie and music recommendations. Check it out! Here’s just a tiny sampling of what she’s included:

The hauntingly beautiful photographs of Greg Girard above, and Aaron Feaver, below

(I can’t stop looking at this photograph, and just discovered it’s for sale at a ridiculously inexpensive price here)

jewelry by Margaux Lange

Italian clothing designer Maria Lucia Squillari


gorgeous illustrations of Jessica Gonacha

… and some of Jasmine’s own brilliant illustrations.

mmm… pie

06/11

Resistance is futile. That’s been my experience, anyway. Eventually, thoughts of lemon meringue pie got the best of me and I had to make one.

Several times lately I’ve heard people comment on how difficult it is to make pie crust, and I have to disagree. I’m not a fussy baker, and there are lots of things I find too time consuming, but pie is, well, not hard.

There are lots of rules about making pie crust – you should use very cold unsalted butter, you should use pastry knives, everything must be chilled – and it may be that these guidelines lead to a better pie, but I tend to be a casual pie maker, and so far no one has complained. The only hard and fast rule I follow is to handle the dough as little as possible after you add the water. If you overmix at that point, you get shoe leather. Here’s my very easy pie crust recipe:

1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. butter
2 Tbsp. water (w/ 1 ice cube)

I start by dicing the butter and using my hands to crumble it with the flour and salt. Once it’s roughly blended – like the 3rd image, above – I sprinkle in just enough water for it to hold together in a ball. If I have time, I chill it a bit, and then roll it out.


Easy.

The recipe I used called for pie weights, so I used some rice I keep in the freezer for this. I usually skip that step, but then every once in a while my crust gets kind of misshapen, so I guess it’s a good idea. I used a lemon meringue pie recipe from epicurious.com.

This juicer is probably my favorite kitchen tool. I LOVE it!

… and voila!

lemonheaded

06/09

It’s grey and foggy in Oakland today, and I’m busy painting while listening to Jolie Holland croon in her lovely southern drawl. Martin, the colorful Welshman who lives next door, stopped by with some lemon meringue pie the other day, and now I keep peeking out at our lemon tree, wondering if there are enough ripe lemons to try to replicate it. Maybe I’ll take a baking break this afternoon…

I’m home again, and finally getting settled back into the routine of my life. The last three weeks have been a complete whirlwind of visiting, meeting and gathering inspiration, and now I’m feeling full with ideas and plans, but also way behind on the minutiae of my daily life. It’s definitely been one of those weeks when I wish the world would just stop and let me get caught up. Since that’s unlikely, though, I’m trying to take it in stride and prioritize. Never one of my strong suits.

In the last three weeks I’ve managed to take in the Quilt Market, the NY Stationery Show (and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair and Surtex at the same time!), and, upon my return to the bay area, the Maker Faire – a smorgasbord of innovation, creativity, technology and art like I’d never seen before. High on the list of priorities is noting – and sharing with you – some of the inspiration highlights from the shows. There was SO MUCH great stuff, and many designers that I didn’t get info or images from, but here are a few good ones.

I’ve already given you an overview of the quilts at the quilt market but there were also tons of great clothing patterns, as well as some cool new textile designs. My favorites were the whimsical and super colorful kids clothes… I wish I were brave enough to dress like this:

from Pink Fig (above) and Bananafana (below)…

My favorite new textile collection is Lantern Bloom from Laura Gunn (for Michael Miller) – rich colors and a painterly hand.


The stationery show was full of lovely letterpress cards and prints in muted, almost antique colors. Gorgeous stuff! I was completely smitten with the prints at Old School Stationers and after checking out their website and story, I’m even more in love. As soon as we have a house with more wall-space I’m going to buy a series of the old camping prints. LOVE!


Some of the nicest people I met at the show were Anne and Brian from Give Studio in Holland, MI. Their work is beautiful, and their message equally so.



Gorgeous images from Hannah Berman (“Printer and Pie Maker”) at Pie Bird Press:

And one of my favorites, though I don’t have images of her work, was Pikku, designer of unique cloth and wares. Check her out here.

The ICFF was full of amazing furniture, but as Dave, my lighting rep husband, was playing photographer, most of my images are of lighting. But what COOL lighting!

From the talented Megan McSweeney at Immersion Design


The “Hungry” chandelier by Ali Siahvoshi

Climbing Lights from Black+Blum

Serious statement lighting from Viso

Gorgeous printed pillows from Ferm Living

Cool wallpaper from MissPrint in London

Finally, the Maker Faire was a riot of creativity and d.i.y. innovation. There were more robots and techy gadgets and computerized musical instruments than I’ve ever seen in one place, but sprinkled in there were also spinners and embroiderers and quilters and battery operated textiles. Pretty cool. And then there was a huge room where artists and crafters had their wares for sale. Well. That was my downfall. Here are some great ones:


Cutest owls ever, from WendyZ at buttercupbloom

Gorgeous prints on wood and paper from furniture-maker and printer Bradley Boggie at Tiny Sparks Design

Cute bags from Queen Puff Puff.

Also, check out the cute jewelry designs (and at the show she hand handbags) from Oakland-based designer pollyannacowgirl. “Accessories for the cute-minded”!