Thursday, March 25, 2010

new blog

Spring has sprung & change is in the air. And so I've decided to set up shop with a new blog. If you'd like to continue following my adventures in the kitchen, around the garden & bumbling through life, then please mosey over to - cute, huh?

Thanks to all who have read my rambles from the concrete garden thus far. I will be continuing on in a similar manner, just want to refresh my focus & polish things up. I hope you'll join me (and Sausage... and the husband) over in our new home on the webs.

(Remember to update your reader/bookmark/following device if you're stickin' with me!)
my bendy dog

Thursday, March 4, 2010

long weekend

I've been cooking up a storm & making some exciting plans for the patch (at least I like to think so) but I'll have to wait to share the specifics because today is like Friday for me. Home friends Melanie & husband Brian just arrived from Boston this morning. I was up late last night (it was like Vacation Eve for us too) & up early this sunny morning to bake banana nut muffins. Mmmmm. Banana nut.

We love having visitors. You're all welcome to stay in Stoneybatter with us should you ever find yourself in the neighborhood. Sausage even asked for a bath so she would be all soft & flowery smelling for the new folks who would be petting her non-stop.
Check out those fingers!
Last night I took my second stab at Neil's new favorite low fat super fudge brownies. According to the mister, I'm really on to something with those. They are too good & fairly healthy & like lovely super dark chocolate turned into a dense, fudgy square. I also tried making my own crackers for the first time. Simple flour 'n olive oil crackers with sea salt & "magic" Shaker spices (a lovely Italian mix we put on everything). It was busy in the shitty kitchen last night. And smelled kinda awesome.
We're lucky to have some much-needed sunshine today. That always seems to happen when visting Americans arrive. I'm really excited to have a long weekend of meandering around town, sipping coffee while looking at the city through first-time visitor eyes, stopping into pubs for afternoon pints. And of course, catching up with old pals that I feel like I only saw for 5 minutes at the wedding. (Oh, the wedding.)
This is the good stuff.
Pictures & updates to follow once vacation time is over. Enjoy your weekends, all.

Friday, February 26, 2010

black friday

Today is Johnny Cash Day + I am dressed all in black in his honor. I think Johnny Cash would like my little underdog garden. And the bits of homecookin' that come out of my crappy kitchen.

Like homemade bread. Such as this rye bread that I made the other day.
Homemade bread is another of those things that is often intimidating. Does one need a bread machine? No. Does one need a lot of brute strength? Not really (not if you have a stand mixer + even if you don't, the average elbow should have enough grease in it to suffice). Does one need a lot of time? Yes. Yes, you do.
Or really, I should say, just some forward-planning. Because your dough can be going through its scientific metamorphoses, mysteriously bubbling away + miraculously doubling in size, while you go about your business. So don't be put off by bread recipes that seem to take upwards of 8 hours. It doesn't mean you have to dedicate all 8 hours to staring in awe into the mixing bowl as the magic happens.
I followed this recipe that originates from The Bread Bible cookbook, via Smitten Kitchen. I changed it up a bit, using organic wholemeal flour instead of white. No malt or honey because I had none (though I'd like to try to include it next time). Whole caraway seeds + olive oil.
It was a near perfect success, though I'm still coming to grips with my shitty oven. I haven't quite learned how to time things in the alternate universe that it seems to operate in. All three of the risings looked great, yet in the end the baked loaf (or round, I should say) ended up flatter than it should have been + a little on the hard side. Just fine for toasting (and very, very tasty) but it makes the cutting after day one more like sawing through wood. But that did not take away from the taste. I enjoyed two very yummy, very skinny sandwiches for my lunch the next day.
MMMM. Rye bread.
I will experiment with cooking temps, times + tins next time. Hubs really enjoyed this.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

dispatches from the concrete patch

As work continues to stress me out & Dublin continues on bein’ wet & cold, let’s take a moment to look at this.
Signs of life in the mismatched pots. I can't tell you how happy these tiny bits of color make me right now.
Those are bird's eye glimpses of my crocus, hyacinth & tulip bulbs making their presence known.
This is how the concrete garden was looking last Saturday. Bathed in rare sunlight & perhaps a harbinger of spring? Maybe. (Though I woke up to a light dusting on the neighbors' cars this morning, so maybe not yet.)
Hydrangea buds.
Mini mini carrot.

And inside the homestead...
Saturday sun shining on a tin can full of flower seeds. And a succulent arrangement I made that reminds me of my wedding.
So... spring has sprung… almost.
Would you believe it snowed later that night?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

leopard print pill box hat

Love this. Imagine making your own little pill box hat from pieces of a cereal box & a roll of tape?
I probably wouldn't buy one of these 'cause I'd feel silly wearing one. BUT I'd feel ever so glamorous sporting one I made myself. (I recently wore a little electric blue wool skull cap  that was meant to be a hat - very proud of that one.)

Image from Inspiration + how-to by Threadbanger.

(I'm doing this tomorrow.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

homemade vietnamese wontons

When I discovered Andrea Nguyen’s vegan wontons recipe on design*sponge not too long ago, I had already embarked on this “from scratch” kick that’s been occupying me in the kitchen lately. So I thought it was about time I tried something a bit more advanced. Something a little intimidating. I view these little nuggets as advanced. And like homemade spaghetti or Grammy's gnocchi, it certainly intimidated me.

But unlike some pastas of the long strand variety, no fancy machinery is required for these wontons. Unless you count my favoritest thing in the world right now
Bear in mind, a KitchenAid mixer isn't technically required, but it's so fun & makes a very easy task even easier. (And really, what’s easier than flour & water for making simple dough?)
This recipe, more formally known as Poached Vegetable and Tofu Dumplings with Spicy Oil (yum), is really surprisingly simple. The steps & all measurements are so precise & really so small – I was shaking my cynical head as I composed a teaspoon of this & a half teaspoon of that. I’m normally a big handful of this & a lump of that type of gal. But these seemingly microscopic ingredients add up to one mighty tasty morsel.

The end result – my first try! - was fantastic. So impressed with myself! You could easily make a ton of these & freeze them for future quick meals (as a main course or dropped into soup).
Light-yet-filling, low-fat, so tasty & just darn to pretty to look at. Well, maybe not in this lighting, but check this out for proof of tastiness
Mmmm. Lovely gingery, garlicky, with a hint of heat, perfectly textured crumbled tofu (read: not squidgy, cause Neilo doesn't do squidgy). Dashes of soy with toasty sesame add even more layers to this unsuspecting little dumpling.

We served ours with my own version of fried rice: brown rice stir-fried with bits of egg, more sesame oil & wilted bok choy.
{Note to defensive meat-eaters, who might otherwise bypass a vegan recipe, mistaking it for a pile of sprouts - don't. This isn’t a watered down vegan version of something else. Yeah sure, you'll find it stuff with pork in other places, but this recipe is so satisfying with its harmonious, aromatic flavors & made simultaneously light & somehow hearty by using nutritious tofu to fill it out.

Poached Vegetable and Tofu Wontons in Spicy Oil
From Andrea Nguyen {modified slightly to suit what we had on hand}
Serves 4 as a snack, 6 to 8 as a starter - we kinda lost count to be honest!

1/4 pound tender leafy greens, such as mustard leaf, baby bok choy, or spinach {We went with spinach}
3 ounces firm tofu
3/4 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small scallion, finely chopped, white + green part
Generous 1/8 teaspoon salt {How exactly do you measure 1/8 tsp? I just did a pinch}
1 pinch white pepper
Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/4 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry {I left this out completely}
1 teaspoon sesame oil, plus extra for garnish
24 wonton skins, homemade or store bought **See easy wonton skin recipe that follows
1 to 2 tablespoons chilli oil {or a lovely little fresh green chilli like I used! Just seed as needed, chop & let steep in oil of your choosing)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small clove garlic, minced + crushed into paste
3 or 4 sprigs cilantro, coarsely chopped {Left this out too}

1. Fill a saucepan with water & bring to a boil. Add the leafy greens & blanch until tender. Drain immediately, flush with cold water & drain well. Finely chop & then put in a dishtowel. Squeeze to remove excess moisture. You should have 1/4 firmly packed cup.

2. Put the tofu in the dishtowel & squeeze to remove excess moisture. {I usually put the whole block on a paper towel on a dish, cover with another paper towel & lay something heavy, like a pot, on top, then leave until lots of moisture comes out.}
Transfer tofu to a bowl, mash, then add the chopped greens, ginger & scallion, combining well.

3. In another bowl, combine the salt, white pepper, sugar, 1 1/4 teaspoons soy sauce, rice wine (if using) & the sesame oil, stirring well. Pour over the vegetable & tofu mixture, and then vigorously stir to create a compact mixture. Cover the filling with plastic wrap & set aside. Makes about 1/2 cup. Mine measured more than 1/2 cup!

4. Fill each wonton skin with about 1 teaspoon of the filling, creating triangles or nurse’s caps (form a sealed rectangle, then bring the two folded corners together, cross then seal). Remember to moisten the edges with water before folding & seal well. As you work, put the finished wontons on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet that’s been lightly dusted with cornstarch. When done, loosely cover with plastic wrap or a dry dishtowel to prevent drying. {I didn't do the cornstarch thing, or the plastic wrap & all was fine + dandy}

5. To cook the wontons, fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add all the wontons to boiling water, gently dropping each one into the water. Use a wooden spoon to nudge them to prevent sticking. Return the water to a gentle boil & then lower the heat to medium to maintain it. After the wontons have floated to the top, let them cook for another 3 minutes, until they are translucent.

6. While the wontons cook, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, chilli oil, canola oil & garlic on a serving plate or shallow bowl. Taste & make any flavor adjustments. Add a touch of sesame oil for nutty goodness, if you like. Set near the stove.

7. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to scoop out the wontons from the pot, pausing above the pot to allow excess water to drip back down. Put the wontons in the dish with the sauce & toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro & serve immediately.

Unbelievably simple wonton skin recipe from Recipezaar here. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


You think I'd learn by now. Yet, this morning - as I have for the past 4 years, I fell into a Valentine's Day trap.

Neil, stereotypical Valentine's curmudgeon, swears up & down how stupid the day is, how he's not getting me anything. So not wanting to be the one fool who buys a card or does anything too special, I stick to simple baking (which I do a lot of anyway, but I just put the word "valentine" in front of whatever it is I'm making - hence, today's valentine brownies). And then he goes & does something really sweet anyway.

This morning, after having a terriblenogoodverybad night spent writhing around on the bathroom floor with stomach pains from the depths of hell, followed in the wee hours by fitful sleep, I had a lovely breakfast in bed. And this:
He knows I love green things. And goofy schmaltzy things. And I'll admit it, cards. Not just a cookie cutter card. But something funny, a little stupid, preferably with a monkey on it. Or in this case, a bear. 

He didn't even realize it I bet, but this card is very similar in, um, tone to the very first card Neil ever gave me. My first birthday card from him. And then, even more girly giggle inducing, this was my first card with the word WIFE on it.

I couldn't help but feel like an ass - AS USUAL - for not having anything on hand. Well, I had made my own low fat dark chocolate brownies from scratch last night before the pains set in, but somehow not having them on a pretty plate for morning presentation left me feeling a little lacking. 

So I used his red envelope & mades a tiny response card.
I don't think it's all about store-bought presents & boxes of chocolate, but just the act of getting a little schmaltzier than usual. Just for an afternoon or morning. Handmade paper sentiments, ladybugs filled with flowers. Anything baked with cocoa. 

Happy Sunday.
My first Valentine confection 4 years ago today. See the encouragement I get??

Saturday, February 13, 2010

taking a moment

I'd like to use this blog in a diary-like fashion for a moment.

Basically, there's been a real hubbub happening in my tiny world recently.

Yes, first it was my laptop problem. But now it's a little more serious. As in, losing my job serious. And what better place to air a few rattling thoughts than a humble blog where a handful of nice people come & visit? It's just that little bit better than talking to yourself. Or the dog. (Though I enjoy doing that too.)

Without getting into it too much, my job is in danger. As you might expect, this kinda blows not having a computer plug out of the water. To say I'm distracted & a bit stressed is putting it mildly. So I apologize in advance for being erratic in both my blogging as well as in my personal life, if you are reading this & fall into both worlds.

But change is good right? And what better test can a newly married couple take on than changing the way they live & think about the future in the face of drastic financial changes? We can handle it. We can handle anything (right?) & we are keeping our chins up. "Chins up!"(old family motto:)

I think the best way to approach something that, on the face of it, seems terriblehorriblenogoodverybad is to use it as the spark you've been needing to make changes, get on with things & basically get sh*t done. Which for me, means finally making some changes that will put me on a better path career-wise as well as personal happiness-wise. I've been more motivated than ever since getting married & starting the new year. But now it's a little more urgent. I think we can all relate to that.

I expect this blog to change too, which I've been contemplating for a while but haven't really gotten around to (ya know, due to that whole getting married, losing my computer, having my salary slashed thing recently). So you can expect some changes here & I am grateful that any of you might be patient with me & follow along as I figure out what my purpose is (I mean on this blog, not in the universe - that's a bit heavy).

I have an overhaul in the works that I hope will give my blog a little more polish & focus. I plan to post more regularly & on more cohesive topics (though not completely, cause that's the fun of it). I'm also contemplating a complete move to another format. Anyone have any strong feelings about other blog services other than Blogger? I'm researching Wordpress right now. Will I go down the multi-blog route - one with a food focus, one for the personal mish mash? I haven't quite decided.

Anyway, that might explain why I keep changing the blog title & header picture. It's kind of like when you think you might get the can & start obsessively re-organizing the plants on your desk. Or perhaps in those student days when your thesis deadline was looming & you found the task of rearranging kitchen cabinets irresistible? Surface housekeeping as a means of procrastination & creating a sense of control.

So that's that. I'll announce any major changes as they happen. I also have a few more posts planned that I hope to get to this weekend. I made some rather awesome vegan wontons from scratch recently that beg to be shared. And with V-day being tomorrow, I hope to bake up something chocolatey & wonderful today. As ever, even though it's arctic outside, I've got the gardening itch too.

I'll leave you with a cute mental picture: it's Saturday morning. Neil's working some overtime (good husband). Sausage & I are snuggled up in our room easing into the day, when those weird people start knocking on the door selling... LOGS. Seriously, is this something that happens in other countries? Neil seems to think it's the most normal thing in the world ("What's the deal with those people?" "They're selling logs." Carries on watching TV). Door to door tracksuit-wearing LOG-PEDDLERS? Are they stolen or something?? Anyway, poor Saucy goes *mad* when they knock on our door. It just happened.
The Sauce in more relaxed times.

Friday, February 5, 2010

i defy you, laptop

It's a hectic day at work today, but at least it's Friday. So I have a late wake up call, some yoga & general pottering around to look forward to tomorrow.

To pass the day today, I'm fantasizing about surrounding myself in vast quantities of spring bulbs. As the teensiest of green starts to poke its way out of my many mismatched pots out in the concrete patch, my bulb fever is coming back with a vengeance. I'm just browsing because really how many pots can I *actually* have out there? Plus, the ones I'm waiting on are my first ever & I hear they're tough, so maybe my heart will be broken come spring.

For now, hope springs eternal - is that how the saying goes?
Isn't that a pretty sight? Imagine that greeting you some chilly spring morning. (That's what we have here, chilly spring mornings, most likely covered with drizzle.)

I hadn't really considered planting MORE bulbs, having already gone a little bulb crazy in the fall. I always relate bulbs to fall. But if I coul d possibly have beauties like this in my garden, I'd happily go bulb-mad again & get some more dirt under my nails.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


My internet rambling will be halted for the foreseeable future... at least until I fix my computer woes. It's sad how reliant I am on this little silver machine for making me feel connected, amused, knowledgable, productive. I have a few creative projects at the midway point, a few written things I'd like to finish up, some purchases, trip planning & wikipedia diagnoses I'd like to do as well. Humbug. And now all I have is my husband, dog, TV, DVD player, books, nature to keep me occupied? Double balls.

All those projects will have to wait until I'm back up & running with a new bought-with-cash fancy computer machine.

Just so I don't feel like I'm not accomplishing anything, I can tell you that Neil finally allowed me to capture his kitchen wizardry on video so the first episode of Neilo & Doodles Kitchen Canoodles* is not too far away. He made this delectable green curry:

I also continued on with my rice krispy fascination by trying the fluffernutter krispy treats I mentioned before. Very tasty. Still can't quite get the  amounts right to form a neat little bar, but the sticky clumps of marshmallow, PB & dark chocolate is yummy.


In lieu of an actual recipe, since my quantities were questionable, you can follow a traditional rice krispy treat recipe involving butter, marshmallows & cereal.... and take it to the next level by using peanut butter melted with globs of that monumental non-food stuff treat (FLUFF) instead of the mallows & dump that sugary slop on top of rice krispies tossed with chunks of dark chocolare. Oh boy.

Unintentional bonus - Fluff is vegan! :)

*Name has been changed to amuse myself & embarrass Neilo.