Sunday, December 20, 2009

The most superb gingerbread recipe ever.

I am unashamed to say that it comes from Martha Stewart, who (malign her if you must) is A-OK in my book.  This recipe for gingerbread is inspired.  It is Just Sweet Enough, wonderfully crisp, holds its shape well, keeps well, and is intensely spiced.  Of all the many recipes I have ever tried, this one is definitely top of the heap.  Without further ado:

6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened [I always use salted]
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
4 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp finely ground pepper [optional, IMO]
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large egg
1 cup unsulfured molasses

1.  In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

2.  In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy.  Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses.  Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture and combine.  Divide dough in half and shape into flattened disks; wrap in plastic, chill at least 1 hour.

3.  Preheat oven to 350.  Have ready multiple baking sheets lined with parchment [or you can spray them with Pam or grease them, or use a Silpat], a long offset spatula, and cookie cutters.  Remove dough from fridge and let stand at room temp for a couple of minutes.  Dust your clean dry work surface with a generous amount of flour.

4.  Roll dough to a scant 1/4 inch thickness [I think thinner is better, although the thinner you roll the more carefully you must watch them as they bake] and keep turning and flipping the dough to reduce sticking to work surface.  Place rolled dough on plastic wrap or parchment and return to the fridge to chill in freezer until very firm, about 15 minutes. [IMO, this interim freezing step is not necessary, as you will cut quickly and then re-chill the cut cookies anyhow]

5.  Remove dough from freezer and cut quickly into desired shapes.  Using your wide offset spatula, transfer to baking sheets, and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes [IMO this step is essential: it helps preserve a crisp design when baking, which is important if your cookie cutters are very detailed or small]

5.  Bake 8-10 minutes until crisp but NOT darkened at all, although times may significantly vary according to the thickness of the cookies.  Let cookies cool on wire racks, then decorate as desired.

Now, I have icing bags and tips and all that tomfoolery, and in truth, it's idiotically simple to use (if you can put toothpaste on your toothbrush, you can ice a cake).  Of course, practice helps.  Anyhow, I recommend you hie yourself to your local restaurant supply store and lay in your own kit.  This should include a couple or three sturdy vinyl icing bags (or disposable plastic ones), plastic couplers, whatever tips you want, and paste food coloring.  For God's sake, don't go someplace like Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table, because they will charge you the equivalent of a mortgage payment for EXACTLY the same stuff you get at the restaurant supply places. There's one in every city, and in NYC, many more than that.

Here's a good recipe for Royal Icing.  It dries as hard as a stone, so careful that it doesn't blob onto anything you can't immerse in hot water to clean.  It does dissolve in water, thankfully.


1 pound confectionary sugar (aka powdered sugar)
2 large egg whites
Scant 1/2 cup water
Gel or paste food coloring

1.  In the bwl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all ingredients on low speed.  Mix until fluffy yet dense, 7-8 minutes.  Use the icing immediately,or transfer to an airtight container.  Beat well before using.

2.  To color icing, dip the tip of a toothpick into the food coloring and gradually mix in color to white icing until desired shade is achieved (a little goes a long way!)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mod Podge rides again...

My folks are true travelers and lovers of all things international.  When trying to think up a good anniversary gift for them, I thought of putting to use all the millions of postage stamps I've got from different countries (courtesy of my own collecting and Jeanne, my connection in the admissions department).  The result?  With the use of a foam wreath form with a plywood backing, some heavy duty craft glue and the oh-so-excellently named Mod Podge (a clear-drying glossy glue originally manufactured in the 1960s for making d├ęcoupage), I now have the lovely wreath above.  I will adorn it with a blue silk wired ribbon (not sure how) and plan to emblazon the word "PEACE" or "PEACE ON EARTH" upon it.  I need to do a little bow research first.  Martha?

The wedding scrapbook project continues at a breakneck pace.  I have gone from 2 pages a day to about 10, and have gotten as far as the after-dinner speeches.  To follow:  dancing, cake cutting, and candids, and that's it!  Hope to finish tomorrow... then on to recycled sweater scarves, two MORE wedding scrapbooks, a puppet theatre for the boy, and a play stove.  Somewhere in there I need to lay hands on some stocking stuffers and finish all this @#$% embroidery!!!  Ugh...  I think I've gotten myself into a craft sinkhole.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Turning Lebanese, I really think so.

(For those--assuming anyone reads this--who don't get the 80s cultural reference in the title of this post, be assured that it's Terribly Clever.

I coerced my spouse into making homemade pita and hummus, I took care of the carrot salad, the potato/olive salad, the tabbouleh, an apple/cranberry cobbler, and the eggplant salad.  Tomorrow the cheese pies, the orange salad, and a little rudimentary cleaning and we're good to go.  I loved cooking all this Lebanese/Turkish food!  You have to go very slowly and chop lots and lots and lots of herbs and vegetables very small.  There is a lot of lemon juice involved (not so hot if your hands are covered in cat scratches).  The results are beautiful looking, densely flavored, and will be just right for our little gathering tomorrow.  In a fit of nervousness about whether my rabbi friend's kids will be into Lebanese food at 11 in the morning, I purchased a Kosher chocolate babka and some raspberry rugelach just in case.  So... we will be convening with a largely Kosher-keeping group of friends to eat middle eastern food, amid our festive Christmas decorations.  I love New York.

Have spent a dazzlingly fun day with husband and son traipsing around Manhattan, doing a little shopping and a little noshing, just flowing with the crowds and feeling good.  I like the weekends before Christmas and after Christmas more than the day itself, actually.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Modern technology be damned... we're going OLD SCHOOL.

I have given up lamenting the demise of my sewing machine pedal.  This evening I hand-sewed the above-pictured hat, mittens and scarf (monogrammed with snazzy rhinestone detail moreover) for my son's Christmas party at school (he was asked to bring a gift for Fabiana, hence the F).  I was amazed that it did not take longer... I guess all that embroidery practice pays off.

Tomorrow I launch into full-on Middle Eastern mode and begin preparations for a brunch on Sunday.  Cooking for two old friends (meaning I've known them for ages--they are my age) and their husbands and kids.  There will be two rabbis among the gathered and at least four people who keep Kosher, so to avoid any meat or milk I'm going with vegetarian Lebanese/Turkish/Moroccan food courtesy of my (fabulous) new cookbook, Arabesque, by Claudia Roden.  On the menu (and all homemade):

Tabbouleh (bulghur wheat and parsley salad)
Slada Batata Bil Zaytoun (potato and olive salad)
Jazar Bil Na'na (carrots with garlic and mint)
Slata Bortokal Bil Zaytoun (orange, olive and onion salad)
Cacik (cucumber and yogurt)
Batinjan Bil Rumman (eggplant with pomegranate molasses)
Sambousek Bi Jibne (puff pastry cheese pies)
Apple and Cranberry Cobbler (hey, gotta make a few concessions to the kids)

Hmm... come to think of it, that looks like a lot of work.  But at least everything except the cobbler and pies can be made beforehand and is supposed to be served cold.  I predict a long-but-satisfying Saturday, punctuated with a trip to see Leeny & Tamara (or, as my son calls them, The Ladybugs) live in concert.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A requiem for a sewing machine pedal.

Funny how some small thing going wrong can throw off your whole game.

I've had custody of my mother's 1980's era Bernina sewing machine, and it works fine.  However, the plastic seems to be growing brittle.  A short drop to the floor resulted in the shattering of a bunch of annoyingly small plastic pieces responsible for the hinge mechanism working.  And now, I cannot sew.  I thought "how much could a replacement possibly be on Ebay?"  Turns out, something like $143.  Looks like I'm relegated to hand-sewing the remaining Christmas gifts.  Not the end of the world, just discouraging.

I hauled my sopping self to New Haven yesterday to work, battling wind, rain, the repulsive toilet-smell of Metro North, and ankle-deep slush in the city of my destination.  For my troubles, I now have a whopping cold.  This is NOT part of the plan.

In cheerier news, I finally finished the third of three samplers I'm giving cousins as Christmas gifts.  They're all wrapped in festive paper, packed snugly in baby hand-me-downs, and sealed in a big cardboard box, ready to mail.  Thank God... that took a long time.  I'm now slogging my way through my wedding album.  I can only knock out a couple of pages a day (hey, the glue has to dry!) but at this rate I still think I'll be ready in time for Christmas.  I think.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Some Pig.

It is accomplished.  The pernil marinated in adobo, recaito, garlic, and sour orange for 12 hours, then roasted low 'n slow for another 8.  The result was crunchy, juicy, creamy, toothsome, intensely seasoned, and pretty much worth the modicum of effort it required.  I have the advantage of living in a largely Dominican neighborhood, where I have at my disposal a constant supply of great picnic shoulders (not a cut every meat counter has all the time), six kinds of adobo, twelve kinds of recaito, both frozen and jarred,  and about ten kinds of pre-peeled/pre-crushed/pre-pureed garlic.  It's a pernil-eating kind of place.  Cannot really find much in the way of, say, organic milk, good coffee, bagels, etc.  But this forces one to branch out, and in this case, with great success.  We served it with buttered peas and steamed rice and beer, and it was outstanding.  And, it must be said, fairly economical:  The entire 8 pound butt was about $5.95.  If I had not used all the very good frozen recaito, pureed garlic, and sour orange marinade, I could've made those things last for 2-3 pernils.  And rice and peas... cheap.  So all you really have to do is plan ahead to make a cheap, luscious meal that will give you some of the most outstanding leftovers this side of Thanksgiving.

A note to myself (and to anyone else attempting pernil for the first time): it really would've helped to cook it in a Dutch oven for most of the time.  This would've concentrated the heat, melted the fat and caused the meat to self-baste better.  Mine did self-baste with its foil tent, but a few parts of the meat were a little on the dry side.  Then again, there were many good, crunchy bits (what my husband and I refer to as "pork candy").

Tonight I got to work on another sampler, designing it on my computer and tracing the design onto muslin.  Gotta make sure I have a good supply of embroidery projects to do on the train.  Also began work on the first of several planned wedding albums.  Yes, I married in 2002 and still have not made my wedding album yet.  Anyhow, I finally got around to scanning, photoshopping, cropping and organizing something around 500 pictures (we had no digital media, sad to say, so this all was based on our proofs), and am now making scrapbook-type albums.  Once the photos are printed, the various materials assembled (glue, paper cutter, punches, stamps, etc.) the putting-together is both fun and quick.  But the preparation has taken months, literally.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Nine-Hour-Plus-Overnight-Marination Pernil.

Embroidery continues apace, but remind me NEVER to attempt another embroidery project on raw silk.  That fabric is a nightmare... it unravels like crazy and not even pinking shears will prevent it.  Nothing but fusible backing.

After a brief chat with the grocer at our neighborhood White Rose (a really cool Dominican guy who always wants to talk about something interesting and thus who taxes the limits of my Spanish vocabulary... today it was the history of Thanksgiving and the significance of turkey.  I now know how to say "persecuted"--I needed to describe the reason the Pilgrims left England-- which you will be happy to learn is "perseguido".  I think), I passed a display of truly luscious looking pork shoulders.  We have attempted authentic Puerto Rican pernil from time to time, which can best be described as a slow-roasted picnic shoulder, marinated with sour orange, oregano, sofrito, and a boatload of crushed garlic.  My chief problem where pernil is concerned is that I am too impatient and always try to eat it before it's really meltingly soft.  The best pernil I can remember is one Doug made when we were back in our little house in Connecticut... he cooked it overnight and the smell made me want to compose a symphony.

So I'll attempt the following recipe, courtesy of, and let you know how it all turns out.


  • 1 Bone-In Pork Shoulder (5-10 Pounds depending on how many you want to feed, 5 Pounds will feed 4-5 hungry people)
  • 5-8 Cloves garlic, some chopped, some sliced
  • Adobo (or a mixture of garlic power, onion powder, cumin, black pepper, salt and oregano)
  • 1 Bottle of Sour Orange Marinade (or 2 Oranges and 1 Lime OR 1 Cup OJ and 2 Limes)
  • 1 Large Onion, chopped up
  • olive oil
SO the night before you cook the meat (or, if you prefer to not let it sit, then the half hour before you cook the meat):
What to do for the marinade:
  1. Take your big-ass, delish pork shoulder/butt, place it in a baking dish skin-side up and sprinkle it all over w/ adobo (Goya makes a few versions of this that you can keep in your spice cabinet or you can make your own by sprinkling garlic power, onion powder, cumin, black pepper, salt and oregano all over the pork). WHEN I SAY SPREAD IT ALL OVER I MEAN SPREAD IT ALL OVER. Don’t be afraid of putting on too much.
  2. Cut slices of garlic up from about 3 cloves of garlic – make slices thick-ish. (NOTE: If you have the extra time, make a paste out of your garlic by smashing it in a mortar and pestle w/ a bit of salt to aid in the smashing until it has the consistancy of a spreadable paste.) ****NOTE: This recipe uses alot of garlic b/c we love alot of garlic. If you don’t like the taste of garlic, maybe this recipe isn’t the best for you.
  3. Take a sharp knife (a steak knife should be fine) and make 1-inch wide (1 inch deep or so) slits all over the pork, skin and all. Every time you make a slit, slide in a slice of garlic into the slit. It’s best if the garlic goes into the hole all the way. If it doesn’t, again, don’t worry… just make a bit of a deeper slit next time. (NOTE: If you made the garlic paste, then just slide a bit of the paste in each slit instead of the sliced garlic.)
  4. MAKE MARINADE IN SEPARATE BOWL: Add one cup of sour orange juice (again, Goya makes a bottled version, I’m sure it’s not as tasty as the real ones, but sour oranges aren’t around all the time to buy) to 3 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 chopped large onion. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper and well as some extra oregano. Mix. (NOTE: You can also substitute sour orange w/ a cup of regular Orange Juice mixed w/ the juice of two limes, or juice of 2 oranges, juice of 1 lime.)
  5. Pour your marinade over your pork. Let sit for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight).
Cooking the Pernil:

  1. Fat side up, place pork in a roasting pan along with the rest of the marinade. Add a bit of liquid if necessary (water or some chicken stock) – so it comes up about 1/2 an inch high. Make sure there’s always some hot liquid at the bottom to mix with the drippings. (This is not necessary – I just liked it this way).
  2. Heat the oven to 475 degrees and cook pork uncovered for 1 hour.
  3. After the hour is over, turn oven down to 275 degrees, tent pork with some tin-foil and cook for 8 to 9 hours on this low setting. (Instead of the quicker cooking of pernil where I recommend a 1/2 hour per pound, this time it’s about an hour or more per pound).
  4. Don’t forget to remove the foil from the top of your pork about 30-40 minutes before your done cooking it. This will crisp up your pork skin only so much. If you are looking to make chicharron by removing the top layer of skin after it’s been cooked (as I did – see first picture, top of post) and frying it up a bit.
  5. Allow to rest for 15 minutes to a half hour before slicing and serving. ENJOY.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I've got Embroiderer's Elbow.

As I sat feverishly monogramming the pieces of my various sewing projects on the Metro North train, I noticed (not for the first time) a nagging ache in my left arm.  For days I have been trying to stretch, pop, relax, and otherwise improve it to no avail.  Then it dawned on me... when I hold my embroidery hoop, I curl my left arm around it and pinch it with a death grip.  Voila... Embroiderer's Elbow.  I think I need a day off.  On a more pleasant note, my springerle mold arrived today.  What's that, you ask?  Heh heh... tune in.  (By the way, the photo was taken on the train.  That's the end of an "E".

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Texas Change Purse Massacre

Tonight, I commence my assault on the summit.  At the risk of spoiling the surprise for my female relatives, I have planned to make some Christmas presents...a suite of purse accessories, including a pocket Kleenex holder, a change purse, and a makeup bag.  I am attempting to embroider the recipients' initials on each piece.  Tonight I cadged patterns from various websites (shout out to, made templates, cut the pieces of fabric and fusible interfacing with my oh-so-sexy self-healing mat and rotary cutter.  Have attached the interfacing to the flimsier of my fabric choices, culled from my admittedly excessive collection of fabrics I have hoarded and schlepped around with me for (in some cases) decades.  Have attempted to scrawl the initials on the various pieces using several highly unsuitable writing instruments (where's a slightly-more-dextrous-than-normal hamster when you need one?).  Plan to embroider on the commute tomorrow.

Fall garden wrap-up...

It is a balmy 50 degrees here and actual cold weather is nowhere in sight.  Seems to me I should wait to plant my bulbs until the weather is consistently chilly... otherwise they might sprout prematurely and suffer through the winter.  Or is that a bunch of malarkey?  My free sample bulbs, courtesy of Breck's, wait in the closet, although the iris bulbs are seeming a little wan and crunchy.  The lady fern seeds/spores/whatever are also looking a tad dusty, but we'll hope for the best.  I'll be interested to see which bulbs from last year make an appearance.  The perennials came back like champs, and the rhododendron showed signs of life.  Watching everything slowly disintegrate from my third story window.  In two weeks I can go dispose of the ravages of last summer's beauty.  Then it's Christmas lights.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is embroidery a dying art?

Nay nay, I say.  It is experiencing a one-woman revival here in apartment 2B.  Behold some of my recent handiwork.  Seriously, embroidery is so ridiculously simple that a hamster with only slightly better than average dexterity could do it.  If you can trace a picture, color inside the lines, and sew a button, you can embroider.  I downloaded a bunch of fonts to my computer, cool Jugendstil and Arts and Crafts-style ones from the last century, and have begun going to town.  I haven't figured out how to post more than one photo per post yet, but I'll try.

Greetings... this is a first.

Is it strange to be an urban dweller (an ├╝ber-urban dweller, even) yet have a secret penchant for handicrafts and the gentle household arts of yesteryear? I suppose not--seems like that kind of thing is terribly trendy these days--but for some reason among my friends I seem to be alone in my predilections.

I get antsy to make stuff with my hands. Baking is semi-forbidden in my house (alas, all we do is eat the things I make), so I'm stuck baking on behalf of others or for holiday gifts. But I can sew, do embroidery, kind of knit (okay, not really), and make stuff out of paper. I guess that's what I'm going to do on my blog, talk about the stuff I make and how my life relates to it, or the other way around. I'm making this up as I go along. The only reason I'm awake is because my son had a bad dream.