Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bento prep

Candy Penny and I both bought bento boxes last week, and have been dying to begin practicing what is basically the Japanese art of packing a beautiful and delicious lunch. I bought two bento boxes from these brilliant people: one for me and one for Ben, who responded positively to my inquiry into whether or not he would be interested in eating something other than a peanut butter sandwich and a Fuji for apple for lunch every day. He said he was game, but pointed out that he doesn't mind the sandwich and peanut butter, either. He is so gentle and undemanding!

Anyway, they arrived in the mail yesterday and they seem just right. The boxes are Americanized (i. e. bigger), which is why I chose them, and they have four compartments in bright, simple colors (because I'll be goddamned if I'm going to send my husband to work with a Hello Kitty lunchbox), and come with a fork, a spoon, and an itty-bitty dressing container.

I've been brainstorming satisfying foods that taste good cold or at room temperature, because even though the boxes are microwaveable, who wants to concern oneself with that? I've also baked a couple batches of muffins and mini-loaves (like the chocolate one pictured above), because they're so easy to freeze and then stick in one of the bento compartments when packing the lunches the night before. They thaw overnight in the fridge, and in the morning. Part of my developing theory of bento is that if I'm going to pack a lunch with several elements, one of those elements might just as well be a bit of cake.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My misspent summer

My long and magnificent summer vacation is over. I didn’t
do absolutely everything I’d planned over these three
months, like attend an outdoor evening concert with Ben
and bring a picnic basket dinner.* I didn’t bike the awesome
Minneapolis bike path nearly enough, either. Or make much
art, or work on my zine. But I did do some of the things
on my long and merry list. For example:

went to the Minnesota state fair with Ben and ate French fries and saw baby animals

knitted thirty cupcakes

ate prodigal amounts of fresh summer fruits, especially peaches and blueberries

finished reading the longest novel in the English language

grilled on the patio

haven’t worn long pants** since early May

sat on the porch and ate watermelon and spit the seeds in the yard

finally traded my Washington state driver’s license for a Minnesota driver’s license

made big batches of homemade tomato sauce

planted a backyard garden that actually yielded vegetables

listened to lavish amounts of NPR

baked a tart

kept the house groundbreakingly clean, and scrubbed the kitchen floor three times

enjoyed burritos, one of my favorite summer meals, for dinner at least ten times—with lots of fresh tomatoes and spinach and salsa and sautéed veggies and avocado…

finally hung out at the Tea House on 26th and Hennepin

made homemade ravioli

watched fireworks

froze several pounds of fresh blueberries for winter


* No particular outdoor evening concert. My passion for packing a picnic and taking it to the park for an outdoor evening concert cannot be overstated. It began to develop four years ago when Ben and I discovered Opera in the Park, an event at which Madison, WI locals eat delicious food and drink wine and listen to opera under the stars. It’s free and wonderful.
** Or closed-toe shoes, for that matter.
*** And pierogies!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blueberry-lychee sorbet

Score: lychee one, Johnsons zero. My blueberry-lychee sorbet was a variation on this recipe, which is basically how one makes sorbet of any kind. We froze the blueberries and the peeled lychee fruit first, then blended and froze the mixture. The verdict? Refreshing and sweet and kind of weird-tasting. But that's lychee for you. If you didn't grow up eating it, lychee just tastes weird.

Left: blueberry-lychee sorbet in ice cream maker; pretty lychee fruit

Friday, August 22, 2008

Something else he's good at

One kitchen thing I'm not very good at is baking cookies. Cupcakes, yes. Lovely breads, okay. Fabulous vegan cakes, check. But I swear to god, I can't make perfect cookies to save my freaking life. They're always either too cakey or too brittle. I'm not saying my cookies are the worst thing ever, or that they don't usually taste good. But they're varying degrees of imperfect. Sometimes very imperfect, and sometimes, like my peanut butter cookies, almost correct.

Ben, though, makes terrific vegan cookies! Thank goodness! They're buttery-tasting and sweet and perfectly tender/chewy/crisp. The ones pictured above are a batch of chocolate chip granola cookies that really rocked my socks. Maybe he'll make them for me again this weekend, as I prepare to say a bittersweet goodbye to summer vacation.

We still have a garden

Our little backyard garden has produced some really beautiful green beans this summer. They taste about the same as grocery-store green beans, but are so much more tender. They melt in your mouth like a... like a... green bean truffle! However, our two big, formerly healthy squash plants suffered a blow when Ben and I went gallivanting off to the northern woods for a week. They seem to be back in the swing of things now, but no squash or zucchini yet. Perhaps the week of neglect (and the summer-long drought) caused irreversible damage after all?

We do have carrots growing (carrots!), and a few scallions, but they're wee yet.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Homemade tomato sauce and vegan ravioli

When you spend your summer in pursuit of brilliant housewifing, you get to do things like cook vast quantities of homemade tomato sauce and cut out dozens of tiny, homemade vegan ravioli.

The ravioli pasta is a semolina dough (with dried oregano, which is what those dark bits are) that I roll out paper-thin. I use a small wine glass (diameter of about 2", which is quite small) to cut out the ravioli, then I fill them with vegan ricotta (in the ravioli pictured here, I added a handful of spinach and some fresh basil to the vegan ricotta before puréeing). If you want to do it the way I do it, press the edges of the ravioli together with wet fingers first, then use the tines of a fork to seal the deal.

It's a time investment, but if you put on some music you'll be able to make a couple dozen ravioli before you start wanting to kill yourself. The last dozen or so are the real challenge. But if the Olympians have taught us anything, it's that hard work pays off (and never let go of your dreams! and anything really is possible!).

Boil the ravioli 3-5 minutes.

The pasta sauce is the real delight, though, when you sit down to eat. Sauce made from fresh tomatoes is really tops. You can google it and find a million different recipes, or you can just peel the tomatoes, cut them up, and cook them down until it starts looking like pasta sauce. You need to throw some salt and onions and garlic and chopped fresh basil in there, too. I let mine simmer on the stovetop all day while I'm doing other haus-frau things, like baking bread or scrubbing the kitchen floor with a sponge.

Above: many cutie-cute little ravioli; semolina dough being cut into small circles; homemade basil-tomato sauce simmers all day; ravioli with spinach-basil vegan ricotta, although I photographed one that doesn't look like it has much filling.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


My laptop is home again, fixed. After the
Apple repair place got through with it, I had
to take the poor thing to school and have all
of the software reinstalled on it, and now I'm
spending the afternoon trying to get all the
settings back where I like them.

I'm also trying to remember the address of anybody's blog,
since all of my bookmarks got wiped out. So if you know or suspect that I read your blog, could you leave a comment with your blog address? Because I'm just not smart enough to remember all those addresses, dears. This means you, Pavotrouge, Candy Penny, Sara, Roxanne... and others...

In other "news":
a) I'm thinking about buying a Wacom Tablet. I love using these digital drawing tablets, with their robot pens, for digital illustration and comics.
b) We've had some gorgeous green beans from our backyard garden!
c) I slept like ass last night. I lay awake thinking about some sad news I found out yesterday about a couple of Cleveland friends.
d) A swap I was in over at the 'Bot got canceled. Which was too bad, because I'd already made my toadstool stuffie. So, if anyone out there would like to swap toadstool stuffies with me, drop a line, yo.
e) School resumes in a week and a half! And, like a lazy teenager, I've wasted the entire summer!
f) Ben and I are going to the farmers' market tomorrow. We haven't gone all summer, if you can believe that! Ingrates!

End transmission.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Laptop, Olympics, pissed off

My laptop totally crashed last week, and as
a result:

a) the hard drive has to be completely replaced,
b) everything I've made or written on that
laptop is gone, most of which I won't miss
except for the source files for my animations,
c) the Apple repair place has kept my computer
for a week-long slumber party with other
broken-down, busted-up laptops, and
d) I'm checking e-mail at the public library
with the rest of the proletariate (this result
is the only fun one; I love the library! And
the proletariate!).

So, I haven't had a chance to blog about the Olympics, and I don't have much time right now, but I do have to ask if any of my four readers saw that ass-head George W. Bush yawning and looking at his watch during the opening ceremony? He looked completely bored, then looked at his watch. Then Laura Bush looked at her watch, probably wondering when she could get back to the hotel and eat some more children.

I don't usually much care about the Olympics myself, but that opening ceremony was something else, wasn't it? I was overwhelmed by the bringing together of history, culture, art, politics, technology, IDEOLOGY... just, wow. But, one serious complaint: this crap about NBC making everyone take down YouTube videos of the opening ceremony? That is seriously offensive. NBC can copyright the footage they themselves shoot, but you can't tell the whole fucking world that they're not allowed to take video of the Olympics and share the video. You can't copyright an international public event, assholes. Anyway, this is a big controversy (google it), and it should be, because it's total bullshit!

Also, one more sore spot: what is up with Taiwan not being allowed to be called Taiwan, or carry their own freaking national flag? As I'm sure you know, China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and Taiwan, who has no interest in being claimed, has a small problem with that. It's this whole decades-long thing. But, in order to be admitted to the Olympics, Taiwan had to agree to be referred to in the Olympics as "Chinese Taipei," and to carry some special flag designed just for the Olympics. Ridiculous. The Olympics are free of political influence and interference, are they?

Monday, August 04, 2008

A good man with a good book

Here's a picture of how Ben, like the rest of us layabouts, passed much of our dreamy, low-key, nothing-to-do-but-unwind vacation.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cute curtains, plus jokes Scandinavians
tell about one another

Since returning from our vacation in the woods, Ben and I have been restocking the kitchen, doing some laundry, and enjoying being back in our own place. No matter how relaxing and fun the vacation, returning to the comforts of home is always reassuring, isn't it? And I do love comfort.

But I kind of wish we had some cute Swedish curtains like these, which hang in the adorable, rustic kitchen of the cabin we borrowed last week.

P. S. While researching traditional Swedish fabric design, I came across this collection of jokes Scandinavians tell about one another. They're funny in the same way that the original British "Office" is funny to an American.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Blog cabin

A week spent at a sweet little cabin "up north" has rested and revitalized me, and now I kind of understand those "I'd rather be at the cabin" bumper stickers.

Oh, it was fun! Ben and his parents and I (and our dog, and theirs) spent the week canoeing, reading, and relaxing.* No e-mail! No Facebook! No uploading photos to Blogger! There were cell phones, but we turned them off.

One morning, I made pancakes with the wild blueberries we picked.

My sweet father-in-law brought his copies of Pullman's Golden Compass series, on which novels Ben and I were instantly hooked. I'm nearly finished with the second book, and Ben is occupied with the third. I also re-read The Turn of the Screw over the course of a couple of cool northern evenings, and relished having the bejesus pleasantly scared outta me. Honestly, that novel chills me to the marrow. Are you familiar with the tale? A most elegant ghost story. Personally, I love to think it was all in the governess' head, which is obviously the most terrifying interpretation, and therefore the most satisfying.

In addition to the landlubberly pursuits of reading, knitting, sleeping, cooking, and listening to NPR (we are civilized folk, after all), we also, some of us, canoed and splashed about in something called Rose Lake. (I'd convinced Ben to pack his swimming trucks, but was not able to induce him to put them on and go in the water.)

I didn't take many photos, and most of the ones I did take are of interesting fabric patterns discovered in our little log cabin. There was a beautiful handmade quilt, for example, with the loveliest combination of colors! And the sweetest little Scandinavian curtains (just visible in blueberry pancake batter photo).

* Us. Not the dogs. Well, one dog did go on a reluctant turnabout in the canoe.