Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Haircuts for the Wooleys"

I live in Swarthmore, PA and each Saturday between mid-May and late-November, the Borough hosts a Farmer’s Market. As I was strolling through, I noticed the most beautiful basket of bright, bulky yarn off to the side of a table filled with brilliant farm-grown greens. Being an inquisitive sort and considering that everything I see, hear, or touch is fodder for a blog post (I warned you all to be careful!), I asked the lovely individual at the stand, Rachel, if I could take a few pictures and ask a few questions.

Wynnorr Farms, in Westtown Township, has been consistently owned and farmed by the Stratton family since 1924. Their mission is to maintain the land as a working farm and to educate others about the business of farming. Rachel explains that they visit classrooms all the time and routinely welcome school groups. The farm sells fresh corn and other seasonal fruits and vegetables and they also raise Dorset sheep and the sheep, of course, produce wool (btw...9 baby lambs were just born!). The Dorset is an excellent eating sheep that produces a medium grade of wool. The farm hires someone to shear the sheep each spring, which is then sent to Maine to be spun and dyed. The result, as you see, is a lovely, bulky weight wool. I purchased a vibrant lupine purple that will be made into something warm and cozy for my daughter.

If you’d like to learn more about the farm, please visit their website at

Wynnorr Farm

Writing this post reminded me of a book I used to read to my children when they were little called “Haircuts for the Woolseys” by Tomie dePaola. It is a charming little tale about the sheep of Fiddle-Dee-Dee Farms that get their first spring haircuts and wake up to snow-covered fields the next morning. Thank goodness Granny is a knitter!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Solanum Melongena, aka, Eggplant!

I’ve always admired the grace of the eggplant…the colors are amazing and they are a fine example that nature routinely produces the most amazing palette combinations. The eggplant’s brilliant aubergine body and mossy green cap serves as deserved inspiration for a beautiful garment, painting, photo, or piece of pottery.

The eggplant gets its name from its egg shape and is actually in the same family as the tomato, which is really a fruit but is commonly thought to be a vegetable for cooking purposes. When choosing an eggplant, look for one that is firm and heavy, free of blemishes or dents, which often indicate rot. An eggplant is ripe when, if pressed, the skin springs back….if the dent remains, put it back! Eggplants are fat-free, high in dietary fiber, iron and potassium in addition to being beautiful and delicious.

As you can imagine, there are many ways to prepare eggplant, and, being half Italian, I like eggplant parmesan. On Tuesday night I made a variation of this dish…eggplant roll-ups!

I made a very light sauce with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, onions, pepper flakes, and sautéed mushrooms and I let this simmer for about 45 minutes.
Realizing that I would be pressed for time on Tuesday evening, I prepared the eggplant ahead of time. First, I peeled the eggplant and sliced it lengthwise into fairly thin pieces, laid them out on a cookie sheet, brushed each with olive oil and garlic and baked them for 15 minutes at 350°. The filing is a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese, an egg, parsley, basil and salt. I placed a tablespoon of filling onto each slice and rolled the eggplant up starting from the narrow to the thicker end. I placed the roll-ups, seam side down, in a baking dish, topped all with the San Marzano sauce, sprinkled with some mozzarella cheese and baked it, covered, for 40 minutes. I have to say, this dish was delicious! We also enjoyed a salad, some leftover checkerboard cake and, of course, wine.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Making a Checkerboard Cake

I had very special guests this weekend that I was meeting for the first time and I wanted to make a dessert fitting for the occasion. I have been reorganizing my basement to make room for a pantry and I found my “checkerboard cake” kit…this gave me an idea. Considering I am now a bona fide patriot, being born in July, raised in Philadelphia, having just returned from Boston and, lest I forget to mention a proud, card-carrying member of the National Constitution Center, I thought that a red, white and blue confection would not only be appropriate, but expected…compulsory even. So, I set out to make a red, white and blue checkerboard cake.


If you’ve never made a checkerboard cake, the prospect seems daunting, but it is actually quite easy (I am using a cake mix – forgive me – but will make my own icing). Basically, it involves a different series of rings that, when arranged and layered properly, create the checkerboard pattern.

I have posted the basic instructions for making a Checkerboard Cake without using a Pampered Chef Kit on the "Recipe and Tips" page and here is the link to the "Pampered Chef" kit instructions:

How To Make A Checkerboard Cake
If you would like a kit, let me know...I know a consultant.

Considering my all-American status, I felt qualified to offer some patriotic spirits.... Yards Revolutionary Ale beer (Yards is a Philadelphia brewing company located on Delaware Avenue) and Bluecoat Gin and Tonics (Bluecoat Gin is made at Philadelphia Distilling in the East Falls section of Philadelphia). I also offered a favorite of my guests, Manhattans...even though the origin of this drink is, no doubt, New York based, home of two evil-empire baseball teams each of whom are deep rivals of the Phillies or the Red Sox.

For dinner I dished grilled chicken breast in a bourbon/apple marinade, risotto with asparagus, mixed green salad with mandarian oranges, pistaschios and goat cheese, and of course, the checkerboard cake for dessert (which was supposed to be red and blue inside but turned out teal and some unknown shade of orange...but you get the idea...guess I'll follow the instructions and use a white cake mix instead of a lemon cake mix the next time. Perhaps I should have paid better attention in grade school when they taught us about mixing colors to create other yellow and blue makes green?!?!?!

Despite the color calamity and my disappointment that my cake was not red, white and blue, we had a fabulous time....lovely people.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


As I mentioned last week, one of my friends who frolicked around Cuba speaks fluent Spanish and her family hails from Argentina. Her stories are always colorful… especially the ones about her grandfather. Her mother is a charming woman and, one very pleasant evening, I had the pleasure of meeting her mother’s sisters – all of the same time! One can only imagine the hilarity and pandemonium at a full-family function…it would be a delightful memory indeed. During their visit, we all went to a high school football game to watch our daughters march in the band...what a riot. This particular high school has over 420 members in the marching band and when they occupy the field it is quite an impressive – and intimidating – site, let me tell you.

Anyway, my friend will often surprise us with cultural favorites and Tuesday night we had Empanadas….what an absolute treat. The word, Empanada, comes from the word empanar, meaning to wrap in bread. These semi-circular surprises are usually filled with a seasoned meat and other things, such as onions, eggs and olives. The fillings vary slightly in each Latin American county and include ingredients such as cubed cheese, potatoes, carrots, beans, and fruit, like avocados.

The prepared Empanadas are typically baked, but we had a fried version on Tuesday night. I arrived a little early and eagerly watched the assembly process while drinking wine (I didn’t want to get in the way, and besides, I had to take pictures). I post a link to the recipe from the blog "From Argentina, With Love." We also had a delicious spinach, golden beet, Gorgonzola cheese and walnut salad and lemon bars for dessert. Our gracious hostess served a wonderful Malbac from Argentina, 2006 Finca Flichman Misterio, medium bodied with hints of cherry, vanilla and sage (don’t be too impressed – I read this on the label….my wine nose is not yet sophisticated enough to pick up such subtleties).


Other cultures offer their own takes on these pouched palate pleasers …. in Italy, the Calzone, the Pierogi in Poland, India serves the Samosa, Knishes in Jewish culture, and I would be totally remiss if I failed to mention the all-American, Hot Pocket….yum. Calzones would be fun to make and (naturally) write about so, restate sintonizzati!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Sweater Story

Ok, so here's the deal...the progress on the sweater is, regrettably, slow but I am giving myself a break for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is apprehension!). I decided that I needed some motivational speak to get me purling again so here are my inspirational reasons to pick up my needles and knit more frequently:

No one will have a sweater like mine (and I am being very generous when I say this because, perhaps, no one will WANT a sweater like mine);

I would pay much more for a hand-knit, fine wool sweater if purchased retail (the retail transaction, however, would be much more efficient);

The process of knitting actually calms me down (the stress of my self-imposed deadline may kill me);

I am perfecting a craft, a knitting apprentice of sorts (thank goodness I did not choose to dabble in electricity);

And finally, however speedy the retail transaction, I will be so pleased with my hand-knit garment and amazed with proud of myself for finishing it (I will wear this sweater, damn it!).

I am now newly inspired (I think). I post a picture of my progress so far. What you see is the beginning of the back.

Stop laughing.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Start Splainin, Lucy!

My cooking companions returned from Cuba (can you believe it!) with a boatload of memories! The trip was a humanitarian mission sponsored by a local synagogue. While there, they did manage to tour this beautiful country, which is still a snapshot of itself from 50 years ago. They report that the architecture is amazing, the vintage cars (many in pristine condition) are incredible, the music enjoyable, and the people are warm and engaging.
One stop along the way was to a cigar factory where a charming woman by the name of Milagros (Miracle in English) demonstrated the fine art of hand-rolling cigars. Milagros, is known as a “torcedores” and has been rolling cigars for 43 years and proudly touts that she can easily roll 125 cigars in one day. My frolicking friends’ videoed her demonstration and we watched it after dinner. Milagros was, of course, speaking in Spanish, but one of the two frolickers is fluent in Spanish so she translated.

The process is very traditional (passed down from the “Indigenous” people) and it begins with collecting and drying leaves - for at least two years -- hung from poles in thatched-roof houses. Different leaf types, naturally, produce different flavors. Once dried, the leaves are crumbled and collected in an outer “sauve” (soft) leaf and placed in a hard-wood form press for 15-20 minutes. Milagros instructs that the veins of the leaves cannot be twisted during this process because twisting would inhibit proper burning, that, in turn, would hamper the Cuban cigar smoking experience (and that would be a tragedy!). The seams of the newly rolled cigars are sealed with a plant gel and the newly rolled cigars are then cut to an equal size. Once cut, the top is sealed with a “media luna” (half moon) leaf and the end is sealed with a full-circle leaf. Milagros explains that she talks a bit with tourists, but since she is paid by the cigar, she doesn’t dilly-dally and prefers to get right to work. While there, my friends also got a lesson in the art of smoking these forbidden fruits …how much fun is that! One reason why Cuban cigars are so expensive is because they are all hand-made…now you see why!
The Cubans supported the former Soviet Union during the Cold War which is why Cuban goods, including cigars, are banned in the United States.

The Cuban color-coding of vehicle license plates is borrowed from the former Soviet Union, and this system serves as a way for the government to keep tabs on how, when and where a driver can use their car. I include some photos of the cars that line Cuban streets.

On Tuesday evening we had sautéed, boneless chicken thighs with a lemon/wine reduction, served over a bed of spinach and roasted fingerling potatoes (the foodie of the three can make a gourmet meal out of any unlikely group of ingredients). Of course there was wine and we lamented that we should have had mojitos in homage to the trip. During dinner we enjoyed a slide show of photos taken during this once-in-a-lifetime excursion set to a background of fun, Ricky Ricardo-type music. I was vicariously transported!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Did you hear the story about the mother duck that was restlessly wandering back and forth near a sewer grate? Turns out she was distressed because her ducklings fell through the grate and she could not get to them. The mother duck was trying to ask someone to rescue her babies, and, since she obviously does not speak (don't let that insurance duck fool you), pacing would have to do.

Hug your mom - or any other significant woman in you life - and tell her you love her today (even if only in your thoughts)….thank her for everything she’s done for you, for the dinners she kept warm, for the buttons she sewed on, for the scarves she knitted, for the questions she didn’t ask (and give her a break for the questions she did ask), for all the times she didn’t say “why didn’t you call?” and for the guidance she happily and lovingly dished along the way. Moms aren’t perfect – as my daughters will tell you – but they are the closest thing we’ll ever have to a real-life guardian angel and they would move more than a sewer grate to get to you. I think your mom deserves a home-cooked meal...and a cake...and some flowers.

The mother duck and ducklings photo in the previous post is a statue in a park in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. It is a tribute to “Make Way for Ducklings” a children's picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey first published in 1941. It is the official children's book of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bean Town

As you know from my previous post, I am in Boston this week attending a conference and I would like to give you a brief summary of the week’s culinary capers.

On Monday evening, we romped to the North End and dined at an Italian restaurant (which was right across the street from “The Garden” where the Bruins/Flyers were playing game two of the playoff series…we did not admit we were from Philly for obvious reasons…we value life). My friend had an Italian version of Sweet and Sour Chicken (Marsala and Lemon sauce…very interesting and, after fiddling with my version at home, will post a recipe). Tuesday evening brought us to the Beacon Hill section and to “Cheers” where nobody knew our names but they were, nonetheless, very friendly and where I had the best clam chowder ever. Last night, Wednesday, it was off to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox Play and, I have got to say, sausage and onions (served up by a charming gentleman who introduced himself as “Uncle Joe”) and beer never tasted so good. I think the relaxed atmosphere of a ball park adds a special surreptitious ingredient to any food – even those we know are just not good for us! This picture was actually taken on Tuesday evening by my friend. Prior to the game there was a storm....check out the rainbow!

Speaking of not good for you, as you may have heard, there was a water main break in the city of Boston which instigated a ban on drinking the water for several days. I forgot the first day and brushed my teeth with the tap water so if I come down with the Boston version of Beriberi, there may not be a post for a while….the incubation period, I am told, is seven days….I am at T minus three days.

The conference ended today so I will meander on my own and wait for my daughters to arrive tomorrow. We plan to visit colleges and take a trolley tour of this beautiful city. Stay tuned!

Photo from Google Images.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


As anticipated, the “Cake Boss” show was amazing. Mix a beautiful venue, an enthusiastic crowd and a charismatic speaker and how can an evening be anything but fantastic! Buddy engaged the audience by inviting some to come up to decorate cupcakes with techniques that he quickly demonstrated… the rest of he audience voted on the best cake-boss-want-to-be. He told stories about his Italian family and how his dad got started in the bakery business and his dream of someday making the bakery a household name (mission accomplished, my friend!). Family is vital to Buddy and he talked about his mom and grandmom and his memory of making gravy and meatballs and he introduced us to his lovely wife and delightful children, Sophia and Buddy. Buddy told us how touched he was when a 17 year old girl dying of cancer asked to make a cake with him as her “Make a Wish” dream…what a nice guy.

While telling funny stories about the antics in the bakery, Buddy mused “you can’t make this shit up!” Working in HR, I often think the same thing… workplace situations, many times, provide endless fodder, and watching the show not only provides familiar and comforting comic relief, but reinforces my belief that a little levity is good and healthy in our work environments.

Carlo's Bakery will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in mid-June with a huge event, complete with cannolis and a street closing…I bet you can’t guess who will be there!