Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pizza on the grill

Yep, you heard right – pizza cooked outside, directly on the gas grill grids, no stone or cookie sheet.  Let me tell you, it’s fabulous, delicious and a different social thing to do with family or when you have friends over.  By some miracle, the crust doesn't stick!  Last night was the 6th time I’ve done it; the crust was perfectly crisp and the toppings gooey and melty and flavourful and simply the yummiest!

I’ve discovered Fleishmann’s Pizza Crust Fast and Easy yeast.   I’ve been using the recipe on the pouch at the back, starting with one cup of all purpose flour, and then adding the yeast, salt, sugar, oil and warm water.  I mix it up quickly and add enough flour so that it’s not sticky.  Then I knead it for a couple of minutes.  This is where I detour from the pouch recipe {which is not necessary, but I'm having better results doing this the last 2 times.}  I divide the dough into 2 balls per recipe, and let them rise for an hour in a floured mixing bowl with plastic wrap over and a towel to keep it draft free.  Then it goes in a warm place until it’s time to have the fun.

The toppings take a while to assemble.  Decide on a base sauce – a tomato base or a pesto base…last night my friend just brushed olive oil on hers, which was simple but looked really good too. Caramelized onions are something that hands down, simply make a yummy pizza, and lots of garlic too – so I definitely have those as a topping.  Sometimes I lightly cook mushrooms, other times I have them sliced and raw.  Gosh – really it’s whatever floats your boat.  I’m not much of a meat eater, so shrimp or prosciutto or chicken - that would be up to you.  Here are some ideas:  olives, buffalo mozzarella, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, torn fresh basil leaves, shredded cheese.

When you’re almost ready to cook, it's time to take the dough and flatten it out into personal pizzas.  I get 2 out of each pouch of yeast/recipe.  They are bigger than a dinner plate, so about 12 inches I’d say.  You’ll know how big to make them as you can’t make holes in the dough by stretching it too much {or else you’ll have a difficult time – that’s why!}  Place each ‘pizza’ on a plate or cookie sheet, and brush the top with oil.  This will be the side that you put face down towards the flame on the grill.

When the grill is ready {last night it was set on low, said 500°F and was perfect}, carefully turn the blank pizzas over onto the grill.  They may lose their shape. Yep, that’s just the way it goes.  With grilled pizza, they aren’t all round, and you just gotta get over it!  Close the top of the grill but don’t go away!  Peek in after 5 mins and lift up a corner.  You definitely don’t want to char your pizza at this point.  When it’s nicely browned, use a spatula – a nice big one really does help  – transfer to a plate and you’re ready to put the toppings on.  If you’re making more than 2, go ahead and start the other pizza’s on the grill.

Sauce goes on the cooked side, then cheeses and then toppings.  When the grill is  ready for these to cook, using your spatula, transfer them, close the lid and bake for about 5 to 10 minutes.  It varies, but do watch like a hawk.  

Your family and guests will have their own ideas of how to do it, and how much they like to pile on, and this is definitely the fun for them.  I love watching them enjoy the novelty of making their dinner....and then eating the results. 

I just remembered this!
                                 - have yeast will travel!

Last year I took some pizza yeast with me to South Africa when I knew I'd be staying in a self catering B&B with Shannon, my daughter.  We were in the gorgeous Golden Gate National Park's traditional Basotho village, staying in a little mud hut, and having a blast waking up to a host of zebra grazing down below us on a verdant pasture.  One night we had delicious pizzas, cooked over the coals that Shannon artfully prepared from firewood on a very windy night.  We waited for what seemed like utter ages for the coals to "cool down", and even so, the crust got a bit charred.  {Okay, it was bloody black on the bottom waiting for the cheese to melt!}  We enjoyed them and it was memorable mother-daughter evening with a daughter who lives very far away!

Quilts and tea

Some of the most superb ladies in town have invited me to join them at their weekly quilter's meeting.  I feel both honored and humbled.

New to the States and a new bride with not much social outlet living in Miami, and completely self-taught, I made my first quilt in the seventies, entered it into a national magazine contest and won as finalist.  I have never again attempted such a large quilting undertaking, but over the years, I've dabbled in a few baby quilts, some crazy quilt vests, pieced duvet covers, and more, including a class here and there.  I would not, however, classify myself as an expert quilter by any stretch of the imagination and even calling myself a quilter is probably stretching it.  So that is part of why I feel humbled by this group.

Yet, it's their sheer generosity of time and spirit that is really moving and humbling.  They make quilts - yes, great big quilts with hours and hours of love stitched into them - for so many needy causes.  For friends who have babies and grandbabies, for friends who have trials and tribulations and for sheer acquaintances who have sickness and sadness in their lives.

The evening progresses with laughter, sharing, caring, helping each other pin and piece, "show and share", talk about fabrics, quilting techniques and art styles.  And get this...there are lashings of hot tea and warm Irish soda bread.  Yum!  It's such an honor to spend time with them.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


My mom moved into the nursing home last weekend.  She has made the adjustment well and sounds so happy!  Do you know how blessed that makes a daughter 8,000 miles away feel?  

She’s had a warm welcome by the residents.  She likes her room with her new closets and curtains. She has some new "things" to excite her, like a duvet cover and fluffy sets of towels – the sorts of things that delight most women, obviously at any age :)  My sister-in-law helped her think through taking some of the old familiar things too – the important ones – for comfort and familiarity.  The nursing home is right across the street from the library with a pedestrian crossing virtually from door to door.  An avid reader, Mom has already been to the library to check out a book. Sunday, she was picked up for church and asked by the minister to stand up. I hope and pray that, here, in the very golden time of her life, she has a fair span of golden days to enjoy with good health and energy and that she has courage to make golden opportunities of everything she can.  I phone her almost every day, so I’ll keep nudging her with enthusiasm and praise.

But let me tell you about Tina

After my dad died 4 years ago, a sweet little fox terrier on the farm suddenly adopted my mom.  It’s just what she needed in her time of deep loneliness and grief – a furry companion to cuddle, to lie with her when she napped and to follow wherever she went like a quick spotted shadow.  In the mornings, when Tina is let out of the kitchen, the first thing she did was to dash to my mom’s cottage, push the door open and jump on her bed!  I’ve heard Mom tenderly say, “Feel her little ears – they are like velvet!” and “Doesn’t she have the sweetest face you’ve ever seen?”  This has been the most precious love relationship which I have relished seeing on my visits over there.   Needless to say, I knew that Mom would be devastated to part from her little doggie when she left last week.  The plan is that once a month she will go back to the farm for a long weekend, and she's already talking about  her first visit, just so she can see Tina family.

When I was there, I had the idea to take pics of Tina so I could frame one and send it over for the new room.  Last week when I was rootling around in my sewing room, I ran across some June Tailor Sew-In Colorfast Fabric Sheets for an inkjet printer, and so my cogs started turning and instead a pillow idea started manifesting.   {You can never have enough pillows, right?}

I made a collage, printed it in black and white first – good idea because the 8.5x11 cut off the edges so I printed the 8x10 format on the fabric, sending off a breath prayer as it went through,  and yesss! it came out looking perfect.  Just a minor wrinkle that I was able to work around.  Following the instructions, I heat set the ink, and then washed and dried the print.  I sewed a border around the collage, log cabin style, and made some piping.  I'm not crazy about how busy it looks with the quilted border beside the collage.  If I had to do it over again, I'd definitely just use one fabric and a contrasting piping. Oh well!

It will be far cheaper for me to just send over the cover in a padded envelope and not make it into a pillow.  It so happens that there’s a material shop on the same street as my mom’s nursing home, so she can have a little activity to go over there and ask them make an insert.  

I’d so love to be a fly on the wall when she opens her present and sees Tina on the pillow.  {I hope it’s a comfort and not sad-making.}

I loved doing the photo collage. I've been doing some thinking! Since she doesn't have many surfaces in her room and therefore didn't take many photos, I may just have to make my mom a book tote bag and include grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s photos on it…like a brag bag.  That will be for another time.  She has her 88th birthday coming up in October, but I need to do better about mailing it in plenty of time….

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More on yogurt cheese

As I wrote recently, I’m back into yogurt making and yes, more yogurt cheese making.  This time around I’m loving the results more than I ever remember.  Last weekend I needed to make an appetiser so I made a smoked salmon pâté.  I didn't have a recipe, but I remembered how we used to make smoked snoek pâté in Cape Town, and I basically did the same thing, except I used yogurt cheese in place of the creamy cottage cheese we use there. 

This is how I made the pâté :  I flaked some wonderful Norwegian smoked salmon from Costco, mixed it with wasabi, a squeeze of lemon juice and dumped in all the yogurt cheese* I had on hand.  *{made with 2 containers of yogurt}  To serve it, I formed it into a little patty, dusted it with black pepper and served it with baguette.  It was very good and so easy.  I forgot to take a photo of the finished product but the next day for lunch I made myself an open face sandwich with avocado. Yum-yum-yum!

I baked banana bread and discovered how divine it is with yogurt cheese.  Ditto on baked potatoes - it has a sour cream taste, but it's so creamy and yummy.

Almost every weekday I take fruit to work for lunch and a container of home made yogurt. I’ve been reveling in summer’s bounty – peaches, berries, and cantaloupe with yogurt is a match made in heaven.  {Just thinking out loud here, but melon, yogurt cheese and prosciutto would be extremely light and summery and....mwah!}

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A touch of antiquity

Last week I had a phone call from someone I’ve known for 25 years or more. She’s a new grandmother and her first grandchild will be christened next month. The reason for her call: the family heirloom christening gown that her father-in-law, husband and two children {amongst others} have worn, was in distress.  Ha! My name came up, as it so often does, on the subject of christening gowns needing this or that.  It most likely goes back to my days of being a smocking and fine needle arts shop owner.  I have both made and repaired a fair number of gowns in my day.

Over the phone I agreed to take a look at the “tiny broken crochet” that she spoke of needing repair, pleading that I may not be able to mend it.  She brought the gown by.  One look told me that it's not crochet in need of repair but a Swiss insertion lace, called entredeau, which has disintegrated.  About 3 inches of the yoke was detached from the skirt. I told her this may be something that I could repair, but I doubted it would look anything like the original, and it would definitely be different in that area.  My friend agreed that would be just fine.  She was happy to just have the 2 parts sewn together in any form, so it will be wearable for the next generation.

I brought it home and I have pondered the 3” hole for days on end now.  I knew I would not be able to match the entredeau because, one it’s a double row, and two, it’s so tiny.  Over the course of the week, I’ve been going through my lace boxes and each time not coming up with a solution.  Today, I contemplated the entredeaux that I do have – a yard here, and two yards there, some white, some ivory – but none seemed suitable and I was wondering if I should try and {heaven forbid} make some, somehow.  All the time I was looking, I was disregarding wider laces, when all of a sudden I spied a decorative Swiss edging lace that, if cut up, might be just the ticket.  And it was!  You can see in the photo that I cut it apart, and used the center mesh part, where the “holes” are offset just like the entredeau in the gown. I did all the stitching by hand, of course, with heirloom denier thread.  However...there is a little “bulk” behind where I sewed, because I didn’t want to trim the lace down too much, lest it fray and fall apart in the course of time.  As it is now, I think it will outlast the dress.

 It is always such a treat to work on someone’s heirloom.  I love thinking about who made the gown – this one, apparently 95 plus years ago – and think back to her life and what the world was like then.  Her stitches are impeccable, every stitch done seemingly effortlessly by hand.  I wonder how many cups of tea she drank while she was stitching?  I had a couple in her memory today.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

A new African tradition for me

I’ve been admiring bottle trees for a long time.  I can’t rightly say when I saw one for the first time, but it was years ago, and I was fascinated. Fairly recently I learned that they are an African trad ition to ward off evil spirits that were brought to the Southern US by slaves from West Africa.
Some of the images I found when I was looking up bottle trees
Not knowing about the evil spirits connotation, a couple of years ago, I decided I’d put a small collection of blue bottles that were collecting dust in my pantry to better use and arrange them on a corner fence post in the back yard, bottle tree-style.  I needed long nails.  I consulted my friendly Ace Hardware man who gave me a handful of different length nails to try. Straight home I came to hammer them in. I had so much trouble driving those suckers into that weathered, treated lumber.  Argh!  Besides, the nails were all too short and the pair that I did manage to drive in to some extent, had the bottles sort of hanging off them.  It would not do.  So I took the nails back and traded them for the longest nails they had: longer and fatter too.  Back home I traipsed. These wouldn’t go in at all.  My arm tingled all the way to the elbow with each smack of the hammer, and the hammer itself just ricocheted off the nail each time. I gave up and put a bottle on a bamboo post next to my temperamental hibiscus, and one “hung” on the corner of the fence.  That was that.  Until now.

This was my sorry attempt at a bottle tree
I had an unusual South African wine
bottle on a bamboo stake

I don’t know what got into me but last week I googled "bottle trees".  There are dozens out there - images, stories, and those available for sale.  After perusing the web for a good while, I was bedeviled enough to just order one that very evening.  I was so excited, I was about to pop!  It came in 2 days. Susannah helped me put it up and bend the branches.  We had fun gathering all the bottles I had clustered at the bottom of a trellis in the garden and happily arranging them on the tree.  Now I just need to invite friends over, drink more wine {that comes in colorful or interesting bottles, of course} and fill up the empty branches. 

I’ll share a secret :: I feel mildly eccentric having a bottle tree in my yard.  But, hey! Could that be the real me coming out?

It was relatively easy to install.  See the little foot rest? Susannah hopped on it
like one hops on a shovel. It came with a tool to open out the "branches"

Love it!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Stitching that I love

A few posts ago, I was going great guns to make a dress for my great niece’s birthday on July 11. Tonight I made the buttonholes and stitched the hem.  The dress is done - yay!  Today is July 7, so it would seem that I’m right on track…..with one minor major hitch:  even if I package it up tonight and mail it tomorrow, it won’t be in Perth, Western Australia by Monday, or even by {probably} the following Monday.  I could kick myself now for the days when I let other things get in the way of my progress, especially since I cut it out and prepped it to take along as hand work for my trip to South Africa way back in early May.

Instead of kicking myself too much, I must stop and look at this little dress and think what it means:  I accomplished “something smocked” again, which is really awesome!  I also found it’s still a form of stitching I really, really love, love, love!

And happy birthday, precious Rebecca! How can you already be a grown up 3-years old?

Front view - this style can also be a jumper
or pinafore. Since it's winter in Perth now
it may well start out that way and later
become a sundress!
The back crosses over.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Independence Day

Lemon cheese tart with star spangled fruit :)

Tonight I had some neighbors over for a 4th of July cookout.   I planned  a pretty traditional menu – hamburgers and hot dogs with all the trimmings. Even though I don’t eat much beef these days, they were  - delicious!

Planning dessert, a lot of options ran through my head.  It needed to be easy because I worked today. Luckily I remembered this easy, almost cheesecake-like tart.  It made me wonder why I ever go to the trouble of making the real thing when this is all one really needs.  Here’s the recipe for Lemon Cheese Tart.  Of course you can heap on any fruit your heart desires.  Warning: there will be oohs and ahs when you pile on red, white and blues on the 4th of July!

We ate in the dining room because one, it was so hot and humid.  And two, it began to storm, so it was a very sound reason to be indoors and to be comfortable.  The table looked festive and patriotic. During dinner, I couldn’t help but eye my little flag and know what it represents. Ladies from the DAR presented it to me at my Naturalisation oath ceremony on December 3, 1982. “My” little flag has never left the pencil holder on the desk, except to grace the odd Independence Day table as it did today.  It is a fit reminder of how amazing it is to be an American citizen – what an honor, what a privilege.  I am well enough traveled to be adequately aware of how precious my freedom is.

Today, I thank all the men and women who have given of themselves and I am humbled by those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this freedom.  

Oh, and I'm just loving my hydrangeas this year. I've been picking bunches,
sharing them and keeping them on the kitchen table too.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Dusting off the yogurt maker

I bought a Donvier yogurt maker and loved making Bulgarian-type, plain yogurt but when life went to hell in a handbasket four years ago, many things in my life came to an abrupt halt.  Yogurt making was definitely one of them.

I don’t know what got into me, but a week ago I dusted it off and made a batch.  I remember now why I love homemade yogurt so much.  I simply adore the pure, delicate taste.  This week I made another batch, as well as some yogurt cheese.  Yogurt cheese was the basis for the caramel tarts I made this weekend, and not crème fraiche as Jamie Oliver stated that he used in his recipe {I still have not seen a written version of this recipe – just my notes jotted down on the plane ! }

Five years ago, when I bought my yogurt maker {online} I heard of yogurt cheese for the first time.  I’ll confess.  I thought, yug.  I could not have been more wrong. It is fabulous.  It’s a lot like the texture of softened cream cheese, but, again, it has a delicate taste and it has umpteen uses.  It can be spread on bagels and crackers, used in dip recipes, and in fact, used in any and all recipes that call for sour cream, cream cheese, creamy cottage cheese {not really available in USA}, ricotta or for crème fraiche.  Best of all, it’s healthy and low fat or non fat depending on the milk used, and did I say, quite delicious?  Here are some facts about yogurt cheese.

This is how I make it.  I place two containers of my homemade yogurt in a special funnel that I purchased for this purpose.  {The funnel has a plastic mesh liner and the point is open.}  I place the funnel over a jug,
cover it with plastic, and place it in the fridge overnight.  The whey separates from the yogurt and drips into the jug, leaving creamy cheese in the funnel.  I store the cheese in a sterilized glass jar in the fridge.

I see that the type funnel that I have is no longer available for purchase, but there are others if you do a search.  But the cookbook that I bought, Not Just Cheesecake, can still be ordered here.

Yogurt cheese is a spreadable consistency
Mwah on fresh fruit and berries

Caramel tartlets before caramel
...and after

Apologies to Jamie Oliver

On a 19 hour trans-Atlantic flight, I always find that I have a lot of time on my hands.  What did we do before personal entertainment screens though?  This most recent trip home, I couldn’t find a movie that appealed to me so I found myself enamoured with two documentaries.  One was Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens. I confess I learned so much about Annie, her life and her art the first time, that I watched it again the next morning.

I also watched a Jamie Oliver: 30 Minute Meals twice.  Kind of dumb maybe, but when else do I have that kind of free time?  This was a complete and delicious looking dinner that Jamie prepared, in total, in half-an-hour.  I jotted down the basic ingredients after the first watching, and then I wrote down the quantities and the rough sequence the second time. {Then came home to find the whole thing on YouTube – oh well!}

Chicken Piri-Piri with Red Peppers
Smashed Sweet Potato with Feta and Coriander
Caramel Tartlets

Susannah came home for the weekend, so prior to her arriving and with little time to spare, I pulled off a really tasty meal.  Jamie Oliver, however, may have shuddered at some of my improvisations, which were, in part, because I was making it for two!

Making the piri-piri sauce in the blender.  I was afraid it might be too hot, but it was fabulous and the chicken was very tasty

My caramel was a little chewy - I could have cooked it longer.  There's that fine line where you can burn it
- next time I'll get it right !
One of our family traditions is giving the "best plate" to the recipient of an honor, or someone who just needs a hug or a welcome.  This was Susannah's first time home since graduating from university in May