I can’t help it. As soon as Halloween is over, I’m thinking about Christmas. That’s not to say I don’t love Thanksgiving. It’s more that I think of the holiday season as one big conglomeration of family and friend time, gift-giving, good food, and all that seasonal splendor. The next couple of months are also a particularly wonderful season for quilters and knitters since it gives us the excuse to go craft crazy—I mean, how can I not hand-make every single gift that I give? (If you’re familiar with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, you’ll recall that this ambition can beoverwhelming at times, though word it). On the other hand, it’s not the best time of year for blogging since I’d rather not spoil any surprises; don’t be surprised if my next few entries are a little less loaded than usual. For now, I still have some projects to share…
First of all, it didn’t take me long to think of the perfect application for that hilarious mushroom fabric from Autumn. As far as I’m concerned, mushrooms belong in the kitchen—and so do aprons. So I fiddled around and came up with this design, which couldn’t be simpler (you can easily make one in an afternoon):
I’m a big fan of the beautiful apron movement (ever been into Anthropologie? Half the time I like their aprons more than their skirts and wish I could find a way to get away with wearing them on the street). Aprons are one of the most essential kitchen accessories. I used to try to sneak in some slicing or stiring while not wearing one every now and then, but that’s always the time when you wind up with grease splattered across your favorite sweater. Now, I won’t even spread hummus on a slice of bread without wearing an apron. Even though aprons meant to get dirty and you should use them to the max, they can still look lovely (that’s what washing machines are for).
Whenever I go away for a weekend—even if it’s a one-night trip to NYC—I like to spend the next one hunkered down at home, taking immense pleasure in grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, and generally relaxing. So last weekend’s nine-patch is a homey one:
One of the fabrics reminds me of the Log Cabin motif. The other one qualifies as ‘homey’ because, well, it’s actually from a pair of my boyfriend’s old boxers (washed, don’t worry) that didn’t fit anymore. I realize how odd that may seem but boxers are such an around-the-house kind of thing… work with me here…
As much as I love home and my homemade pizza, I have to admit that NYC pizza is amazing. On Halloween night, having forgotten to make dinner plans, we spontaneously bought these absurdly delicious slices of pizza. It may have been the circumstances, but they tasted… unbelievably good.
Around 3 am, we were struck by a major craving for more and searched around what felt like the entire city, but no luck. Shouldn’t you be able to procure pizza at any hour in the city that never sleeps? Anyway, the memory of those slices has lingered, so I tried to capture a bit of their delectable flavor in my latest pasta:
This is basically mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and shredded rotisserie chicken (you’ve gotta love those lovely warm grocery store rotisserie chickens). Nothing’s better than long strings of melted mozza, and the quintessentially pizza-y essence of basil. This one’s definitely a keeper, but I’m going to do some tweaking before I post the recipe.
For the first time in a long time (possibly ever) I used my mixer to make something other than fool! Gingerbread. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love those little gingerbread people cookies that you can decorate, stick on trees, and give away as gifts. But truth be told, I’d much rather eat the fluffy, dense gingerbread that you cut into like a piece of cake. So I did some browsing and found this simple and surprisingly healthy recipe—don’t worry, it doesn’t taste as healthy as the ingredients would suggest. I did a little fiddling to accommodate my personal preference for a slightly more seasoned and gooier loaf:
Wholesome Holiday Gingerbread
- 1 ¼ cups molasses
- 1 cup honey
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp ground gloves
- 1 ½ tsp liquid ginger (or ground ginger)
- 2 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat together the molasses, honey, eggs, and oil. Mix together the dry ingredients and add them to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. Pour the batter into a greased 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking pin. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This is heavenly when served warm from the oven, but don’t fret if you don’t finish it all in one go- the generous amount of molasses keeps this bread moist for quite some time. I enjoyed it reheated for about a week; simply wrap a piece in foil and place in a 350 degree F oven for about ten minutes.
Nothing tastes more like Christmas then gingerbread dunked in eggnog (with a side of pomegranate fool, of course). Yes, I already have a stash of eggnog in the fridge. What I didn’t have in the fridge when I went to make my latest yeast bread, however, was milk (I think it all went into the gingerbread). In fact, I didn’t really have much of anything besides the bare essentials. So I combined a couple bread recipes, did a little subsisting (slightly nervous that this would be a total failure— I tend to think of yeast breads as incredibly fragile and prone to disaster). In the end, it turned out beautifully.
The more bread I make, the more convinced I am that the most crucial element of the process is allowing your yeast to proof separately in warm water before any other mixing begins. Being patient with this step is crucial. If it goes well, there’s room for experimentation without a major mishap.
The eggnog in this loaf imparts a subtle hint of nutmeg but is far from overwhelming—it still works wonderfully as savory sandwich. The texture is both soft and dense, but this may have to do with the brilliant La Cloche that my mother gave me. If you’re a bread-baker, trust me, these are worth the investment. Overall, this is a straightforward and gratifying recipe, well worth trying out this time of year:
Eggnog Wheat Bread
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- ¼ eggnog, room temperature
- 2/3 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 2 tsp white sugar
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- 1/3 cup rolled oats
- 2 cups bread flour (whole wheat or white)
Pour the yeast into the warm water, gently stir, and allow to proof until slightly foamy (usually about ten minutes). Meanwhile, combine the vegetable oil and eggnog in a medium bowl. Once the yeast has proofed, add the yeast, salt, and sugar to the oil and eggnog. Mix in the wheat flour and the oats. Add the bread flour, ½ a cup at a time, to form a thick dough that can be kneaded (I used about 2 cups of bread flour but you may find that you need more or less).
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5-7 minutes until it is slightly sticky and elastic in texture. Place the dough in a greased medium sized bowl, and turn it over so that it is lightly greased on all sides. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth. Preheat the oven for one minute, turn it off, and place the dough inside. Allow to rise for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Turn the dough onto a board and knead it for about 5 minutes. Shape into a loaf and place on a greased bread pan (or La Cloche). Place it back in the oven and allow it to rise for about 30 minutes. Remove the bread and allow it to continue rising for about 10 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the bread for about 40 minutes (if you bake it in La Cloche, remove the lid for the final ten minutes). Turn it onto a drying rack and allow to cool before slicing (not too much—nothing’s more divine than warm bread fresh from the oven).