Moving

You know what they say, life is like a box of chocolate pile of boxes.

 

 At least mine is right now.

Kyle and I are moving into our new apartment on the Harvard Business School campus a little sooner than anticipated so I’ve been knee-deep in packing tape and bubble wrap. Not fun.

Especially when all I really want is to be here:

 

So we took a break and had a nice little Memorial Day escape to the beach. It may be pushing 80 degrees, but the water is still icy cold; a bit of a shock to the system, but nourishing for the soul nonetheless.

I’m also moving my cyberspace home and in the midst of setting up a new website/blog, so you may be seeing a little less of me during the next couple of weeks. I think I need a breather and some space to refacilitate myself in more ways than one, but I’ll be back in full force soon enough!

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Yarn and Yeast

I’ve spent the past few days at Quilt Market in Minneapolis, thus the blogging absence. There’s no way to describe Market, so I’m not really going to try. I’ll just say that it is as exciting as it is exhausting. By Sunday morning, my mind was a foggy blur. So when my boss suggested I work from home the next day while we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I nearly cried from relief into my granola.

My flight landed at 11:30 pm on Sunday night, and shortly thereafter I poured myself into bed and I slept like there was no tomorrow to wake up for.

But wake up I did. And while editing and attending conference calls, I baked rosemary craisin wheat bread from my own recipe:

 

Amazing how stabilizing a little bread baking can be.

Speaking of stabilizing, while at Market I used my spare moments (basically, the airplane rides there and back) to work on my wonky crochet scarf:

 

Apparently, yarn and yeast keep me sane.

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Exciting Developments

My weekend was highlighted by two very exciting developments.

The first was the realization that almond flour is in fact…ground almonds. Perhaps I’m the last one in the know here, but for several weeks I’ve been trying to justify spending $35 on a bag of flour. Unfortunately, little financial inconveniences kept cropping up: you know, paying for rent, laundry, new running sneakers (doctor’s orders), etc.–I just couldn’t bring myself to splurge.

But I’d heard too much about the wonders of this grain substitute: high protein, distinct rich flavor, and gluten free (which actually makes little difference to me, but is still intriguing). So I did some research (ie Googling) and discovered that ‘flour’ is a somewhat misleading term in this instance.

Fortunately, due to my current obsession with homemade granola, I do keep my kitchen well-stocked with nuts:

The fourth jar from the left just so happens to be blanched almonds.

It gets better. The ratio of slivered almonds to almond flour is apparently equal–how easy is that! So I measured out a cup and a half of nuts, placed them in the food processor and pulsed away until they had a grain-like texture. (Warning: over-processed nuts will turn into butter).

While many think of Friday night as an opportunity to hit the town, in the Eccles household this was always (and still is) pizza night. Pizza night involved pajamas, plenty of wine, a good movie, and, of course, pizza. It’s a tradition that I’ve never entirely gotten over, which is perhaps why the majority of Friday nights I still find myself craving a nice cheesy pie.

As luck would have it, almond flour can be used to make a delectable pizza crust. It has quite a strong, almost sweet flavor. What’s the word I’m looking for…nutty? And it’s firm but moist, more like a thin crust than deep dish. Best of all, it’s quick, easy, and well worth a try if you’re looking to put a new spin on your pizza pie.

Almond Flour Pizza Crust

1 ½ cups almond flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 large egg

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the almond flour, salt, and baking powder. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg and olive oil. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir to combine. Place a piece of foil on a baking dish and grease it very generously. Press the dough into a 10″ circle. Cook the crust for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove, add toppings, and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

Using almond flour makes the crust such a distinct component, there’s really no need to go crazy with toppings. In this case, I used what I had in the kitchen pre-Saturday morning grocery trip: sweet potato, broccoli, tomato sauce, and lots of cheese. I baked the sweet potato for an hour at 400 degrees, mashed it with salt and thyme, and stirred in about 1/3 cup of tomato sauce. I spread this on the crust, sprinkled it with a hefty amount of shredded cheddar, and topped it off with steamed and salted broccoli.

Exciting development number two: I think I’ve gotten the hang of this double wedding ring quilt. I spent some quality time on my misbehaving seams and we seem to have to come to an agreement. I won’t bore you with the details of ironing/seam-pressing/pinning techniques… but lookie here:

I did a little more work after this picture was taken and I have officially finished one row. Only seven more to go. And you know what? After all my talk of not being in the mood for a big, time-consuming project, I’m loving this. It’s methodical and slow-going, but I’m finding that mode of working very comforting at the moment—my quilting muse works in mysterious ways.

I hope you made some delightful discoveries this weekend too!

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A Mean Tuna Pasta

My mom makes a mean tuna pasta.

When Kyle and I first started dating—back when I was a youngin of only 16 years old and we still pretended to sleep in separate bedrooms when he stayed over at my parents’ house—my mom decided to make said pasta one evening for dinner. As we walked downstairs to the dining room, Kyle confessed to me that he really didn’t like tuna. I assured him that my mom wouldn’t be offended (she’s an amazing cook so I think she knows by now that if someone doesn’t like one of her dishes, it’s their problem and not hers).

Kyle proceeded to scarf down an entire bowl—and then asked for seconds. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, ‘gosh, he’s really good at faking it.’ I assumed it was part of his Southern boy politeness (I still couldn’t get over the fact that he called my parents ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ for crying out loud). Afterwards, he confessed that it was one of the best pastas he had ever had. I told you it was good.

Naturally, when my mom gave my sisters and I recipe books last Christmas, this tuna pasta was one of the first entries. She must have photocopied it from some magazine years ago.

 

But the first time I made this pasta on my own, I realized that the recipe is almost entirely irrelevant. It did not taste the same—and it occurred to me that during the dozens of times I’d watched my mom make this dish, I hadn’t seen her use a measuring tool once, let alone follow a recipe.

So, while I often enter the kitchen with the goal of making something original and interesting, when it comes to dishes like this tuna pasta, my only ambition is to make it taste exactly like it does when my mom makes it. Sure, I could always just ask her what exactly she does differently–but where’s the fun in that?

It’s taken some trial and error, but I think I’ve finally nailed the tuna pasta. When I made this last night, I couldn’t stop pestering Kyle: “Doesn’t it taste just like Anne made it?!?” His mouth was too full to reply, which I’ll take as a good sign.

The trick seems to be this: more sauce, more tuna, and more veggies (cooked, not raw) so that the pasta-sauce ratio is nearly equal.

This is a perfect summertime (or any time) pasta: light and healthy, but still oh-so-flavorful. Give it a go—even if you don’t like tuna.

Mom’s Mean Tuna Pasta

  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 3 heaping tablespoons capers
  • 3 7 oz. cans tuna, drained
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 large carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups sugar snap peas, trimmed
  • 1 ½ cups broccoli florets
  • 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • Plenty of olive oil and salt
  • 12 oz. of pasta*
  • Parmesan cheese, for grating

 In a large sauce pan, heat the shallot in a generous coating of olive oil. Add the carrots and continue to stir until softened (about 8 minutes). Add the peas and broccoli and, again, stir until softened. You may want to continue to add olive oil as you add veggies—and, of course, sprinkle with salt to taste. Finally, add the red bell pepper, stir until softened, then turn off the heat. Add the tuna and capers.

 Boil a large pot of water, add the pasta, and cook. While waiting for the water to boil, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar and thyme.

 Add the cooked pasta to the veggie and tuna mixture. Poor the olive oil and vinegar mixture over the pasta and stir to combine. Serve warm in individual bowls (it’s great cold, too) and top with grated parmesan cheese. 

 *Normally, I would make this with bow ties but since Kyle and I are moving to a new apartment in only a couple short months, I’m trying to empty out our pantry so I used whole wheat penne instead.

Like everything else in my life, I like my pasta colorful.

Speaking of colorful, look who’s finished:

 

While my fingers are very fond of crocheting these days, sewing together granny puffy squares is only slightly more fun than stitching together knitted seams. Still, though the final construction of this scarf wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the individual components, the end result is just what I’d hoped for.

 And if you thought scarf season was over…you clearly don’t live in Boston. It’s a cold rainy morning and my landlord apparently doesn’t believe in heating the building post-March so I’m happy to have a scarf to wear today.

 

Meanwhile, my crochet kick is still going strong:

 

As for my double wedding ring quilt…well, I’ve been using my seam ripper as much as my sewing machine, but it’s getting there.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to think of some indulgent treat to make this weekend since I can no longer turn to my chocolate pudding in times of stitching-induced anxiety. Sadly, I finished it off post-pasta last night, topped with a roasted marshmallow and graham cracker leftover from last weekend’s dessert-making binge:

Oh warm chocolatey goodness, I will miss you. Fortunately, I buy my sugar in bulk at Costco, so I’m sure I’ll figure out a comparably indulgent substitute soon.

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Some More

When I was in Cairns, Australia last summer, I bought these pants…

 

Actually, they’re not quite pants. They’re sort of a harem pants/skirt hybrid. Sometimes wearing them makes me feel like a genie, other times I feel like a total dork and can’t help but be reminded of Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed and her gaucho pants…but they’re not really gaucho pants either.

All that really matters in the end is that they are incredibly comfortable. They’re soft, swishy, and allow all the free leg movement of a skirt, but all the ‘coverage’ of pants (meaning I can bike in them, sit cross-legged, pop a headstand if I’m so inclined). I love them.

So this Saturday, while it thunderstormed outside my window, I decided to make some more of them.

I made a pair out of my Jay McCarroll Germania knit:

 

And another out of this fun, paint-swiped fabric that I bought at Mecca for approximately $2:

 

And then… I made three more.

 

It probably goes without saying that these are incredibly easy to reproduce. And I now have a lifetime’s (or close to a week’s) supply of genie pants. How marvelous.

Speaking of some more of a good thing, when I was put in charge of dessert for our Mother’s Day dinner, only one thing came to mind. Summertime meals in the Eccles family are all about outdoor grilling and this often followed by roasting marshmallows over the remaining coals. However, I decided to step it up a notch this time and make the s’more ingredients myself.

First, I whipped up a batch of graham crackers from this recipe. Quite easy and loaded with cinnamon:

 

Then I tackled the slightly more daunting task of homemade marshmallows.

Whenever I’m going to make a recipe that intimidates me, I read through it several times—often over the course of a few days—so I know exactly what to expect. This is helpful, but can also exaggerate the difficulty of the task. Making marshmallows did require some attentiveness—I diligently watched my thermometer for about 8 minutes until the sugar-water mixture was exactly 240 degrees—but it wasn’t rocket science.

And the result, if I do say so myself, was pretty divine:

 

Fluffy, sweet, soft…delicious. And even better when roasted.

 

In case you were wondering, you can also roast a marshmallow over a regular old candle. I may have experimented with this on Saturday afternoon—you know, just to be sure these babies were really truly marshmallows.

And while I bought Hershey’s Dark chocolate for the s’mores (I figured making 2 out of 3 of the ingredients was good enough), I did make some other chocolatey treats this weekend.

Friday was a crazy busy day at work, so by the time I got home I was craving some comfort food, nothing complicated or fancy. In fact, I really just wanted one flavor. The solution could only be chocolate pudding:

 

No words. Really, there are no words. All I can say is that whatever comes in those individual Jell-O cups is not even remotely the same dessert. Fresh, warm chocolate pudding is like eating a bowlful of the gooey middle of a piece of warm chocolate cake—which is the best part anyway (and we all know how I feel about warm chocolate cake). Oh, and if you’re thinking that warm chocolate pudding topped with roasted marshmallow would be as close as your taste buds can get to heaven, you’d be right…

My only two alterations to the recipe would be this: I found that I didn’t need to use a sift, and the only way this would amount to 5-6 servings was if you have the willpower of the gods.

I also made dark chocolate-covered espresso beans for my Dad’s birthday (which is today):

 

Basically, there’s always room for some more chocolate.

Progress on my latest quilting project has been a bit more modest. Those of you familiar with traditional patterns probably recognized my sketch of a Double Wedding Ring Quilt. Yes, I decided that in light of my recent engagement, I had to make one of these quilts—I’m an art historian at heart, after all, and I love the quilting tradition as much as I love its contemporary counterpart. I figured that using my own multi-colored dyed fabrics would allow me to put my personal stamp on it.

So far, I’ve managed to cut nearly all the necessary pieces:

 

But have only gotten through this much actual piecing:

 

Turns out, I’ve taken on a very ambitious project—methinks that this pattern was invented at a time when young brides-to-be had nothing to do but sew (hey, no judgment; I often wish I had nothing to do but sew). So far, the process is slow-going and finicky, but hopefully it will start to come a little more naturally. Either way, I’ve committed to this project and I’m determined to succeed. It will be hard work, but worth the effort—not unlike a successful marriage.

And if Kyle this quilt ever really starts to stress me out, at least I’ve got lots of leftover marshmallows and a bowlful of chocolate pudding in the fridge.

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Moms… and Madness

I honestly don’t know what I would do without my mother.

When I tell her I need a larger container for my fabric dyeing, she shows up at Hamersley’s Bistro with a large, red, horse feeding bucket.

 

At our impromptu family dinner the other night, she gave my sisters and I the type of gift that only a mother could give.

 Her style is a bit more elegant and, frankly, subtle than mine, but she knows my taste well enough to buy me fun and funky accessories like this multi-colored cuff:

 

She keeps me well-stocked with fresh chicken eggs:

 

And delicious little surprises like stinky cheese. This  Roquefort made my usual salad-and-sandwich lunches so much more interesting this week:

 

 She gave me a bottle of Vitamin D for Christmas, and a few weeks later sent me an email about the dangers of taking vitamins due to their high folic acid content.

 

She makes me part of a larger history. I’ve inherited so much from my mom, including the majority of these threads and a lovely packet of crochet hooks which I’m finally putting to good use these days!

 

I can’t even begin to photograph all of the pots, pans, and kitchen accessories that she has passed down (not to mention bed sheets, table cloths, furniture…). I’ll take her hand-me-downs and all their memories over new goods any day.

Whenever there’s some sort of mishap or crisis, she sends out an email with the ‘victim’s’ name in the subject line. My most recent example: an email titled “Z” about my little sister’s car crash. I wonder how many “Pippa” emails she’s sent out over the years…

She has an incredible garden, full of fresh fruit, veggies, flowers, and even chickens—and requested a Mother’s Day dinner rather than brunch so she could spend the day tending to it. She also requested our help, so in addition to my usual crafting endeavors and an abundance of long-neglected chores, I’ll be spending my Sunday in a sunshiney garden.

On that note… Happy Mother’s Day!

Meanwhile, is it possible that I’m  a crochet convert? Granny Puffy squares are just so full of possibility…

 

Just as crazy—did I actually make a rough sketch of my next quilting project instead of taking my usual, improvisational approach?

 

Craziest of all: could it be that I met my chocolate cake match last night at Prezza and wasn’t able to finish every last drop of this incredibly rich, succulent, flourless beauty? OK, so I only left a couple bites, but still…

What is the world coming to?

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Engagemoon

When I discovered that the latest meeting of the New England Modern Quilt Guild was going to be held at this marvelous place:

 

I decided that this would be the perfect excuse for a little getaway. Portsmouth is only an hour (or 45 minutes when Kyle is driving) away, but it’s one of the most charming, classically New England towns ever so once you’re there, you inevitably want to spend the night. Conveniently, Kyle proposed a week before the guild meeting, so we had yet another excuse to go: our Engagemoon.

What does an Engagemoon involve? Well, after ogling some gorgeous quilts at the guild meeting’s show-and-tell, I managed to escape Portsmouth Fabric, which is a literally overflowing with temptation, having only purchased this:

 

Really, the last thing I need is more fabric, but who can resist such a lovely fat quarter pack of Kaffe Fassett polka dots?

 

 Sigh, I didn’t even try to fight it.

Afterwards, Kyle and I met up for an evening on the town, starting off with a bit of bar hopping. In honor of the Kentucky Derby, one bar was offering $5 Mint Julips. This may sound like a light, refreshing summer drink—and don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely tasty—but as far as I can tell, it’s basically just sweet whisky and this made the rest of the night rather entertaining.

We dined at Black Trumpet, a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we enjoyed lots of delicious food, the highlights being duck confit and a cheese sampler:

 

Hours later, we ended the night with Izzy’s ice cream where I got the best possible combination—warm, gooey, chocolate brownie buried beneath coffee heath bar ice cream. I didn’t take a picture; I was eating.

The lovely thing about made-up holidays, is you can use them as an excuse to do whatever you like, and to declare every little mundane aspect of the day(s) special. Our Engagemoon, therefore, included much more than just the trip to Portsmouth. It extended all weekend long and included homemade berry muffins (from Jessica’s recipe—thank you, they were delicious!):

 

And turning my fat quarter pack into a swingy, polka dot skirt:

 

Not to boast or anything, but this was quite the success given that I used no pattern, and really wasn’t sure how well it would turn out. It fits beautifully, and isn’t it just so joyful? Wearing it puts me in the mood to twirl.

Part of our Engagemoon also involved grungy clothes, the new red bucket that my mother gave me…

 

And a whole lot of fabric dyeing.

I know have a massive pile of hand-dyed fabric, ready and waiting.

 

Again, I stuck with solids; I’m drawn to them these days. I also enjoy the low-water immersion method since I get that mottled, imperfect look which gives the fabrics more character. Wait until you see what I have planned for these fabrics—it’s a little different than my usual quilting, but it’s sort of a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity.

What we didn’t expect was that our Engagemoon would involve a massive water contamination problem in the Boston area, and having to boil all of our water before drinking it—not incredibly convenient. But if there’s one thing the Eccles family does well, it’s turn lemons into lemonade (made with bottled water, of course). So we (my parents, sisters, Kyle and I) used this unpleasant problem as an excuse to get dinner together at the Summer Shack in Cambridge, one of the few non-contaminated towns. What a lovely way to end the weekend—with people I love and a dinner that’s just as classically New England as Portsmouth: a big old steamed lobster.

 

 Delicious.

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