Saturday, November 6, 2010

Redefining Work

It's suddenly November, and a full week into the month at that. I'm told we "gain an hour" this weekend by switching back to Standard Time. Gain an hour? Hahahahaha....

Somehow end of summer and the beginning of fall did not quite go as planned. We drifted through August, and looked forward to a Little Person's start of Kindergarten. I anticipated a bit more free time to explore my home and devote some time to myself.

Kindergarten did start with only the most minor of adjustments for the child. And I was offered an expanded role at work, complete with a salary bump, flexible hours and benefits. Which would have been foolish to pass up. At the same time, my work-mostly-from-home husband saw a rise in his travel and a lot more time in the office. And no one warned us that elementary school would come with a constant barrage of fundraisers, evening activities, parent meetings AND -- for us -- volunteering to help coach soccer lest our child and friends lose their chance to have a team.

Thus, it's November. Today is the last day of soccer, where I will have my Blackberry with me, and I'm still trying to organize the school papers that came home in September. I haven't been to the gym since October, and my homecooking has only recently come together more like it was in the days when I had much more time in the kitchen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm Still Alive

Just in case anyone out there is reading this.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Can she bake cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?

I’m certainly not a young thing and long ago left my mother, but am delighted to report my very first, unassisted pie-baking success.

The backstory: I can cook reasonably well, and pie fillings turn out great, but homemade pie crust has been my Waterloo. The results have not only been unappetizing, but often inedible and sometimes un-bakeable. This has been known as Tania’s Annual Pie Attempt around here and there have, at times, been tears.

This year I sought help. The talented Jen, who demonstrated sourdough bread earlier this year, invited me over to watch/assist her with some pies while our children went forth and played. Heaven – cooking, adult conversation, and my child safely occupied elsewhere. Thanks to Jen, I went home armed with the best blueberry pie ever

...and a round of dough to try baking myself.

For my solo attempt, I went with this peach and crème fraîche pie. Last year’s try resulted in a gloriously peachy and light filling inside of a dense, hard, greasy pie shell. I scooped out the middle and threw out the crust. This year I rolled and chilled and parbaked and… ended with a decent crust that somehow went short. For some reason, I lost the edges and the thing looked more like a very rustic tart. Frustration.

Do you see a crust? I don't.

Weeks passed and we found ourselves prepping for a small dinner party. It’s still peach season and I decided to try again. Braving record-setting high temperatures, my family sweltered at the farmer’s marker for (and I wish I could type out the drawl) “sweet peaches” from West Virginia. Huge, soft, and so juicy-they-can-only-be-eaten-over-the-sink, I felt the need to put them in a pie.

Enter Cook’s Illustrated and their Foolproof Pie Dough and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible.

CI, with my tips from Jen, gave me a workable dough. Rose is my new hero and her meticulous, multi-step process for both the crust and the filling (wow – what a filling!), yielded my very first, very good, double-crust peach pie… that disappeared immediately.

Here it is before it vanished:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy 3rd!

Not sure where June went, but *I* went on vacation. Now that life is getting back to what constitutes normal in the summer, it's back to housewifery as usual. Ideas on the brain are my need to get the child on some kind of schedule, "emergency dinner," my new obsession with New Mexican food, and the transcendental pie I ate today.

My friend Jen attempted to teach me the art of pie crust. It's possible that I learned nothing -- though there's some pie dough in the fridge waiting for a solitary attempt this week -- but the fun was in the learning and the talking and the total enjoyment of all things food related. And this is some damn good pie. Perfect for the Third of July and Independence Day Eve.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Oh Parsely Tree, Oh Parsley Tree!

Not sure what is going on outside, but there's some curly-leafed parsley out there that's almost 2 feet tall.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May Flowers

It's spring! Well, with 80+ degree weather off and on for weeks now, it is almost summer-like. My thoughts are drifting away from baking (although I really need to pull something together on the wonders of sourdough starter) and on to flowers. We've been weeding, transplanting, and new-planting a bit.

The roses need some food, and I've been practically sitting on my hands to stop them from buying pretty annuals to decorate the porch and deck. Oh, and we've been into the herbs! I have thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, oregano, and parsley of yore and, this year, added chives, more thyme and tarragon. Basil will enter the picture when tomatoes are ready for our teeny vegetable bed.

Happily, it's almost Mother's Day. As a child, my own mom would ask to be left alone all day on Mother's Day (wonder why) and she'd diligently plant flat after flat of begonias all along our flowerbeds. I'm not so into the begonias, but I do follow the tradition myself and use the date to mark us safely past frost warnings. This weekend, I will head off to the garden center for colorful annuals and then, on Sunday, I too will ask for some blissful time alone to dig in the dirt and play with all my new flowers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Morning Musings

Up at 6 am to pour some coffee and get to work (the paid kind) in my PJs. The programmable coffee maker might just be the best thing ever.

Pondering the day's to-do list, which seems to include making a school lunch, a conference call later, laundry, a ream of school forms, some basic housecleaning, and so on. Typical day.

Also, we'll have to finish the rest of our homemade sourdough bread...

...before is gets stale. In the blogging world, plans are afoot to report back on my ongoing obsession with bread and starter.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Grandma’s Pizza Dough

Some weeks ago, as happens often around here, I found myself at a loss as to what to make for dinner. That morning, I threw together some pizza dough. It rose until dinnertime, and then my little munchkin happily helped me load it up with sauce, sautéed onions, pepperoni, black olives and cheese. Within 20 minutes, we had a warm dinner everyone likes and I could argue that I fulfilled my daily “teachable moment” quota.

As I have mentioned in regards to bread making, I’ve been making this dough so often that it’s fairly routine. And I have my husband’s grandmother to thank.

Shortly before Grandma passed away, she sat me down and proceeded to impart some of her kitchen wisdom. Since Grandma also tended to call me Fran and was getting on in years, I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but she insisted on writing down her pizza recipe. One of my prized possessions is small piece of yellow notebook paper with her recipe, as dictated…

6 cups flour
2 packages yeast in ½ cup warm (115 degree) water
½ teaspoon salt
1 to 2 cups water
½ cup olive oil

She then added that I should mix everything together, knead until it "feels right," and coat it with some more oil. It should rise at least an hour – until it doubles. Then just fry or bake and top.

Some days later, I eagerly tried this and, well, it didn’t work. But I tried again. And again. I watched Food Network shows about pizza, and I looked up recipes on the internet. Finally, I came up with something admittedly more like focaccia than pizza, but we like it.

And I have Grandma to thank. Not only did she give me an actual, family recipe to pass on to my daughter, but she gifted me with the inspiration to try something new along with a lovely memory of her. Sadly, she died before I could tell her about how much I enjoyed her recipe, but we remember her with love when we make

Grandma’s Pizza Dough
With some tweaking by Tania…

2 packages yeast in one cup warm water + pinch of sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 to 2 cups water as needed

1) Dissolve 2 packages (check expiration dates) of yeast into one cup of warm (110 to 115 degree F) water. Add a large pinch of sugar and let bloom (about 5-10 minutes).

2) Pour yeast into a large bowl. Add salt, ½ cup olive oil, flour, and corn meal. Mix well. Add between one to two cups more water, as needed, until the dough is sticky but comes away from sides of the bowl into a ball. A stand mixer with a dough hook is great for this step.

3) Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Form into a ball.

4) Pour about a tablespoon olive oil into a clean bowl, add the dough ball and turn until all sides are covered with oil. Loosely cover bowl with cloth and set in a warm, dry place to rise for 2 to 4 hours. Dough should at least double in volume.

Grandma fried her dough, but we haven’t tied that. So:

5) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

6) Stretch dough on one, lightly oiled half-sheet pan. Let dough rest in between stretches if it won’t take shape. The pan will NOT be completely covered with dough.

7) Top with your favorite toppings so long as they are not too wet.

8) Bake for about 15-18 minutes. Edges will puff a bit and the crust should be a pale golden color. Serves four to six people well.

Notes: Dough can be refrigerated for later use or frozen. Recipe can be halved. Dough also works for calzone. Cornmeal and up to 2 cups AP flour can be replaced with whole wheat flour.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Knit one, purl too?

In early January, I attended knitting class a member of our local mom's club put together at a great little shop in Old Town called fibre space.

I'm not sure why I signed up, other than my promise to myself that, in 2010, I'd try new things. And, for some reason, knitting seems to be EVERYWHERE. Then again, vampires pop up all over the place too and, other than reading my way through those awful Twilight books, I haven't been outside at night hunting for prey.

For two hours, I learned how to cast on and the knit stitch. I enjoyed the company of some new and some familiar faces. I left with a rather disastrous-looking purple blob of merino wool thinking, some day, it might be a child's scarf.

Fast-forward two months and the blob hasn't grown much as I've barely touched it. So why did I sign up for yet another class today? Well, it seemed like a good idea to find out why my blob is so blobby, and maybe to learn the second major stitch, the purl. I'm also trying to figure out why I'm drawn to and repelled by crafts, and anything that smacks of creativity. More on that later.

The purple blob

So, today, I will face another fear/challenge and force myself into yet another uncomfortable situation: knitting class, part two.

You can read about - and spot the early days of my purple blog - on Nancy's blog, Summer Sky: Learning as I go. The knitting class is posted here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Homemade bread!

Last Thursday, I finally got my act together and attempted a homemade loaf of bread. Recently, someone on We Love DC wrote about baking no-knead bread during our latest blizzard. What struck me was her amendment of some supposedly famous quote about how there are people who make their own bread, and people who don't. The DC blogger added that, there are people who make their own bread, people who don't, and people who make their own pizza dough.

Well, I make my own pizza dough. I always have yeast in the house, and I'd seen and read a lot about this supposedly easy bread recipe that's been making the recipe rounds forever. Like here.

I dug out my Le Creuset, my January 2008 issue of Cooks Illustrated, and got to work.

The initial dough ball, after an 18-hour rise, did not look promising:

But it did look so happy in my favorite red pot, and the house smelled great:

Sadly, we then lost power for the rest of the day and I didn't actually get to taste my lovely bread until the next day, when I had to cobble together dinner with electricity, but no fridge (victim of power surges). It seems I may have over-baked by a couple minutes, despite taking the loaf's internal temperature. Or maybe you really have to eat it that day. The inside, the crumb, was lovely -- airy-yet-dense and with a faint, almost sourdough flavor. The crust was a tad tough in the darkest places though.

I will, however, try again and shave some time off of the baking. And am eagerly looking forward to a possible lesson on bread-that-you-knead from the talented Jen, of Love & Onions.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Should my historian friends read this...


I admit that phrases like "modernity" and "gendered discourse" floated into my head as I began this, but they flittered right on back out again. While I'm sure I could attempt a discourse on identity and the domestic sphere and whatnot, this is not the place for it.

In fact, IT TURNS OUT THAT [inside joke], I'm not much of a (wanna be) historian anymore and long ago gave up any attempt at an academic life. I'm sure someone out there is earnestly blogging about the notion of work and how identity informs their/our narrative, and feminism and domestic roles, and maybe the media.

My current notion of work is that I have a lot of it, paid and unpaid, cerebral and mundane. Which, I suppose, does play into my definition of modern housewifery.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

PSA: Shovel

Seriously. Shovel your flippin' sidewalks people. Thank you.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Whither Housewifery

I am a housewife? I cringe as I type because the term makes me think of submissive women, patriarchal families, cooking in heels and pearls and some sort of implied and unattainable household order that could drive one to the cooking wine. If one was gauche enough to buy "cooking wine."

Homemaker seems too passé and just a wee bit frumpy. Most people would call me a stay-at-home mom or, even worse, a soccer mom. Those titles suggest, however, that my life revolves exclusively around my child and my days are spent in a minivan shuttling from school to class to play date to grocery store without a thought about anything else.

I do not have a minivan.

I do have a child, a husband, a home and two part-time, paying jobs in addition to my roles as cook, maid, laundress, gardener, teacher, and whatever else comes my way. This does not make me a hero, but a dynamic woman very similar to many other interesting, educated women I know who also juggle their children, marriages, hobbies, housework, and sometimes careers with an eye to keeping it all together and making a home.

Thus, I wonder if it's time to bring back the concept of housewifery: the work or function of a housewife; housekeeping. Maybe it's time for some word that captures the many roles and jobs held by the many women I know. And the time and talent it takes to keep house and make it a home, which I do embrace as my main job.

These are my musings on the balance between being me, keeping house and the life of a modern mom in Northern Virginia.