June 29th, 2011 / comments
After a warm welcome and brief introductions, the first question at most dinner parties is, “Red or white?” I rarely drink wine so my response is usually “Anything non-alcoholic would be fine.”
Watercolor painting by Carol Egbert
Often the choice is water, either still, fizzy or flavored, from a plastic bottle. Perhaps some of my non-alcoholic drink combinations will inspire you and at your next party you will ask your guests, “Red, white, spicy, fruity, sweet, minty, on the rocks or straight up?”
Label for your Ginger Syrup
Ginger ale made by the glass has a bright flavor and the ginger zing can be adjusted to suit the sipper. Not only do I use ginger syrup to make ginger ale, I also use it instead of sugar or honey to add zip to hot or iced tea. A pitcher of lime/ginger fizz along with the bottles of reds and whites makes every guest feel well taken care of. Ginger and clove syrups keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. I have created labels for both that can be downloaded and printed by clicking here. I use the home brewers’ trick of using milk as the glue to stick the label to the bottle.Here’s how I make it: … read more
June 2nd, 2011 / comments
Once a month, I meet with a group of fellow artists.
Trillium and Bloodroot Kathy Fiske
Tea Art by Barbara Bartlett
Our group is Art Wise Women and you can see more by clicking on this link or by going to www.ArtWiseWomen.blogspot.com.
After we have caught up with tales of travel, news of children and grandchildren, wild animal sightings and gardens, we talk about new projects, successes and failures in our studios and upcoming shows; we move on to more philosophical topics like ‘dealing with isolation as an artist’, ‘where to find inspiration’, ‘what does it mean to be an artist’.
At our last meeting, I realized that one of my favorite creative activities takes place in my kitchen rather than in my studio. Baking a cake for a dinner party is filled with artistic decisions: What will it look like? What will it taste like? How will I decorate it? The process ends with a plate, empty except for a few sweet crumbs and the anticipation of the next gathering when I will happily offer to bring dessert.
Recently, I wanted to make a cake that would welcome our friends who had returned to Vermont after spending five months in Australia. A hummingbird cake sounded just right. I assumed that since there were lots of hummingbirds in Australia that a hummingbird cake had to be Australian. My research quickly revealed three facts:
- There are no recorded sightings of hummingbirds in Australia;
- Hummingbird cakes are a specialty of the American south; and,
- It’s called a hummingbird cake because each bite makes one hum with delight.
Undaunted by these facts, I made my version of a Vermont hummingbird cake for the party. Here’s how I did it: … read more
September 8th, 2010 / comments
Last week, our friend Richard called to say that it was time to pick pears. As I drove to his house, I remembered the first time I had seen pears on that tree.
It was nearly fourteen years ago, just after we had moved from Washington DC, leaving behind townhouses, taxicabs, and sirens, to come to live in rural in Vermont with farmhouses, tractors, cows and of course pear trees.
For the most part, adjusting to the changes was easy. I loved seeing mist rising on the river, wildflowers at the roadside and blue skies with white fluffy clouds. I wasn’t so comfortable when a snake appeared when I was mowing the grass or when a troop of turkeys wandered by. Luckily, those creatures were as timid as I was. Cows were another matter. I liked seeing them in the pastures, I marveled at their beauty but I needed to have a fence between me and them – until the first time I saw Richard’s pear tree. As I drove along the road near his house, I had to stop for a herd of cows. The cows were not in the meadow, they were in the middle of the road, and in no time at all, I was in the middle of the cows.
What to do? I sat in my car, with the windows closed and, after a minute or two, all of the cows, except for one lovely Jersey, walked slowly up the road, away from me and toward the barn. The remaining cow turned, looked back at me, batted her glorious eyelashes and headed for the pear tree growing in the center of the garden in front of a large house. She downed at least a dozen pears and then her herding instinct overwhelmed her desire for pears and she hustled off. I followed the cows at a safe distance, until the wanderers reunited with the rest of the herd at the top of the road. When I was certain that the cows had no interest in me, I knocked on the front door of the house and told the woman who opened the door that her cows were on the loose. She shrugged her shoulders, and said, “They’re not my cows but they like to stop by. I’ll call the farmer.”
A couple of years later, that woman, Nancy, and her husband Richard became our friends. I shared my story about the cow and the pear tree at our first meeting. Nancy explained that even though the cows still stopped by I was welcome to share the bounty of the pear tree with them. Each August, as summer winds down, when Richard calls about the pears, I think about Nancy who died four years ago.
On Saturday we had a picnic with friends and other sculptors at the opening of Sculpturefest in Woodstock. Charles’ sculpture of a mosque made its Vermont debut and I wanted to mark the day with a celebratory cake. The pears from Richard’s tree and a chunk of bittersweet Callebaut chocolate from the Coop inspired me to make a chocolate studded, pear cake. Here’s how I did it:
… read more
July 29th, 2010 / comments
It’s birthday season in our neighborhood. Last week, we celebrated Michael’s New Decade Birthday. Michael is a foodie and one of the best cooks I know and I like to make over-the-top cakes. Michael asked for a cake with berries and cream. I decided to make a not-too-sweet, white cake that would show off bright pink raspberries.
The magic of science in the kitchen is why I like to bake. I have always been fascinated by chemical reactions–vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, milk curdled with lemon juice, sugar changed to an amber solid with enough heat. Cake recipes must be followed much more carefully than recipes for soups or salads because, when you bake a cake from scratch, you are a chemist in the kitchen. Substitutions are possible but they must be made with an understanding of the role each ingredient plays in the cake. Precise measurement and proportion are even more important to consider when baking cakes.
My kitchen is well equipped, I have a stand mixer, an oven with an accurate thermostat and timer, a dependable refrigerator, measuring cups and spoons, and, assorted pots and pans. Until last week, my kitchen was lacking a user-friendly kitchen scale. I found a measuring cup with a built-in scale at my favorite kitchen supply store and bought it. This was just the tool I needed to turn my American kitchen into an international one. Except in recipes written for the United States, measurements are given in weight rather than by volume. Not only is it a more precise way to measure, but with the right scale, it’s much easier. The scale I bought measures in ounces and grams as well as by volume. The Raspberry Buttermilk Coconut cake I made for Michael is the first recipe I have written using this scale. Here’s how I made it: … read more
May 13th, 2010 / comments
I wanted to use the rhubarb that came in my CSA bag to make something incredible. I like rhubarb in pie, as sauce, in quick bread but my goal was to make something exotic with this reliable, New England, early spring offering. The most exotic ingredient I found in a recipe was nutmeg. Nutmeg – sure I like nutmeg and use it when I make a rhubarb pie but it wasn’t the zing I was looking for. When I wondered what Julia (Child) would do, I thought of butter. And when I wondered what James (Beard) would do I thought of butter and cream. An idea was coming into focus.
I would poach rhubarb in butter and sugar and then nestle it into meringue shell and top it with whipped cream to make a rhubarb pavlova. Here’s how I made it: … read more
May 5th, 2010 / comments
Last May, I made a perfect Mother’s Day brunch even though I had forgotten that it was Mother’s Day. I had found strawberries and local yogurt at the market and decided to make a sweet Yorkshire pudding for Sunday breakfast for our friends Annie and Andre who were spending the weekend with us.
Andre and Charles had shared an office and architectural practice in Washington, DC, and Annie and I were pregnant at the same time. We talked late into the night about Annie’s current theatrical role, Andre’s newest project, Charles writing, my blog and shared the latest news about our children. Bleary eyed, we agreed to continue our conversation at breakfast.
We began with cups of tea and coffee and considered how we would spend the day. Breakfast was a cooperative affair – Annie set the table, Andre worked a Sudoku puzzle, Charles cleaned the strawberries and cooked the sausages, and I made the sweet Yorkshire pudding.
It was easier than making a traditional breakfast of eggs and bacon, pancakes, or omelets, and more festive than bagels and cream cheese. The batter, a combination of eggs, milk, and flour, is similar to a crepe batter and not temperamental. It will wait patiently until everyone is awake, showered, coffee’d and ready to eat, to be put into the oven to bake. Half an hour later – breakfast is served!
Here’s how I made it: … read more