Guest blogger: Becky the townie

Well, I've been busy in the last week or so with traveling, eating, and of course Christmasing.  When the electricity went out at my parents' house due to a fierce ice storm, my plans for posting this guest column got postponed.  But now, I am visiting with the awesome columnist herself - my only girl cousin on this side of the family and my partner in Eurotravel.  She's done a great job of showing me around Carrboro and Chapel Hill - home to UNC basketball, Carrburritos, a rocking PTA thrift store, and Cousin Becky's Easter-egg purple house.
According to Becky, she felt inspired to guest post because she wanted to take the burden off me to be creative all the time.  Really, I think it's that she's so talented and awesome herself that she couldn't help but overflow her creativity into rhymeswithquilt.  She is a talented seamstress (she told me to write that) who learned to sew in high school.  
She's now completed a number of dresses, "pillow paintings" (as she calls them... see above), 4 or 5 quilts, and this tree skirt that she wanted to share with the rhymeswithquilt community.  So, here goes ...

Here's my story:
My family has been using the same Christmas tree skirt for as long as I can remember and, given my advanced age, it has definitely joined the ranks of scrunchies, acid wash, and other thoroughly eighties memorabilia.  The aforementioned Christmas tree skirt was made by our grandmother, Mimi, and is red with frilly lace around the edges and adorned with teddy bear elves, Santas, and angels.  To give some background, this is the same grandmother that gave Katherine and me (the only two girls in the family) matching nightgowns with a kitty kat on them that was wearing the same nightgown we were... it happened to be Katherine's 18th birthday that day. 
My mother would not dare throw away the Christmas tree skirt for fear that our 85 year-old grandmother would show up on our doorstep unannounced one day and not see her timeless skirt under the tree.  I did the dirty work for her and decided that I was going to make one this year.  When I told my mom that I was making it and I wasn't sure that she would like the fabric choices I had she replied, "Anything is better than teddy bear angels."  Truth.
So I set to work on constructing a Christmas tree skirt with no idea where to begin.  I started with a square (about a yard) of green polka dot fabric and added a 4-inch trim of a matching fabric.  I repeated the same pattern with red fabric on the other side so that it could be reversible (versatility for the coming decades!) and laid a piece of quilting batting in between the two sides.  To get the perfect size of our tree stand I laid out newspaper and traced the outline, cut it out and placed it on the skirt.  I then outlined the perimeter of the stand with tape and cut it out.  I decided to only quilt the outer border (and not the polka dots) because I didn't want it to be too busy.  The skirt came to a finish with a hand sewn border and poinsettia beads that my mom picked out.  The whole project, start to finish, probably took about 4 hours.
It made all the difference at the family Christmas this year and finally brought us into the new millenium.  Now that we've left the teddy elves and Santas behind along with big hair and shoulder pads, we're ready to welcome 2010 in style. 
Check the rhymeswithquilt blog again in twenty years for my granddaughter making fun of my super-outdated polka dots.
Happy sewing!



4 days without power + holiday travel = delayed blogposting.

Updates coming soon.

I promise.


4 days without power + holiday travel = delayed blogposting.

Updates coming soon.

I promise.


Front Porch Salad

A good cabbage salad (invented by Mom)

1/2 head green cabbage, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. ranch dressing
1-2 Tbsp. balsamic vinaigrette dressing
1/4 c. bleu cheese crumbles
1/4 c. feta cheese crumbles

Place chopped cabbage in a bowl.  Add ranch dressing and mix until all the cabbage pieces are coated.  Add vinaigrette dressing, adjusting for taste (adding more makes it a bit spicier).  Stir in cheeses and serve.

Yes, it's a little ridiculous to name a salad after a front porch when the front porch looks like this:

But there's a story behind the name, so I'll go ahead and give it to you so it makes sense.  Last week my parents celebrated their 32nd anniversary and took each other and my two younger brothers to an Australian-themed national chain steakhouse for dinner.  Mom liked the salad that Dad ordered so much that she decided to try making it herself at home.  But of course she didn't want to name it after the restaurant so she called it "Front Porch Salad" instead.  Perfect name, actually.  My parents' front porch is the summer fellowship venue; the kitchen table is the wintertime rendezvous point.  We're getting a lot of use out of it this week as we're together to celebrate Christmas.  Though the details are somewhat sketchy, we think that it has been somewhere around 5 years, possibly 6, since the entire family was last together over Christmas.  So, we're REALLY enjoying this time we're getting to spend around the kitchen table, our winter-time front porch!


a nod to blue

I got inspired to make this quilt when I found an awesome blue-and-white striped sheet at my favorite thrift store.  Twin size, great shape, already soft.  I couldn't help it - I KNEW that it was going to be the back of a quilt.  I started thinking of what I wanted the front to look like, and this is what happened:  

It became the back of this wonky log cabin quilt that I gave to some friends who are UNC-CH graduates.  I went with blues and whites (for obvious reasons) but I LOVE the simplicity of a quilt with lots of white.  White is so forgiving!  And I think it makes the log cabin blocks pop out.  The finished size of the quilt is somewhere around 75" x 90", depending on where you measure. (HA!  I have yet to get the exact-measurement thing down)  

I did a pieced binding with the leftovers of the sheet that were wide enough when I trimmed the quilt and some tarheel fabric that I think my mom passed along to me from one of her projects.  I love it.

Here's to finding more inspiration in the most unlikely places!



Four 79 cent fat quarters and a big blue button ... 



A pie for Roy

Roy is not anyone that I personally know.  I just know of him.  More about Roy later.

Pumpkin Pie Spectacular
from November 2009 Southern Living, adapted to the way I made it

1 deep-dish 9-inch pie crust (buy it or make your own)

2 cups crushed gingersnaps (about 40 gingersnaps)
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Pecan Streusel (see below)
Ginger-Spice Topping (see further below)

Preheat oven to 350°. Fit piecrust into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp.

Stir together crushed gingersnaps and next 3 ingredients. Press mixture on bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of piecrust, to make a crust-within-a-crust.  Yum.

Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack (about 30 minutes).

Watch the rerun episode of The Office where Jim and Pam start dating.  Sigh profusely and wish the happy couple lots of joy.

Stir together pumpkin and next 6 ingredients until well blended. Pour into prepared crust. Place pie on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.  If there's extra batter, pour it into little souflee cups or a smaller pie pan to bake with the rest.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Sprinkle Pecan Streusel around edge of crust. Bake 40 to 45 minutes more or until set, shielding edges with aluminum foil during last 25 to 30 minutes of baking, if necessary. Let cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Dollop slices with Ginger-Spice Topping.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

Stir together flour, brown sugar, melted butter, and chopped pecans.

1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Beat whipping cream with mixer at high speed until soft peaks form.  Stir in cinnamon and ginger.  (Substitute frozen whipped topping if desired - just stir in the cinnamon and ginger).

I made this pie for Thanksgiving (yeah, so I'm a little late in posting the recipe).  It was definitely a process (3 hours of process actually), but worth every minute.  The gingersnap crust-within-a-crust is incredible, and the struesel on top is like candy.  Hmmm.  So good.

I would like to dedicate this pie to Mr. Roy Blount Jr.  The name may sound familiar to those of you who listen to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, the NPR news quiz that airs on weekends.  He's an occasional guest on there, as well as appearing on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion every so often.  He is perhaps the dryest, funniest Southerner I've ever heard.  I encourage you to google him or find him on youtube, just for the sake of hearing a genius with a Southern accent (they're not as rare as some think).  My favorite essay of his, and the reason I'm dedicating this pie to him, is called "The Way Folks Were Meant To Eat." 

Try it out (the pie or Mr. Roy Blount Jr., I don't care which).

And let me know what you think. 


my vegetative state

Over the summer I had a fortuitous encounter with Freecycle.  I posted a request for fabric scraps, and was answered by a lady whose grandmother had collected BAGS of scraps from her lifetime of projects.  (BAGS = 5 large black trash bags full).  Some of the scraps were tiny, less than 1"x1", while there was yardage of others.  There was even a kimono in there.  Boo yah.  Let the games begin.

My first job was to sort everything (loosely) by "color" - I wish I had taken a picture to show you my billowing piles of blues, greens, pinks/oranges, yellows, denims, flannels, polyesters (yuk), stripes, and faux furs.  I sorted for hours.

Then came the fun part ... doing something with these scraps!

Our garden was bountiful at the time, so I had vegetables on the brain ...

So, here's what I did: I put a scrap on a white background.  I set up my machine as if I were going to free-motion quilt (lower the feed dogs, attach my darning foot, and change the stitch length to "0"), and then I literally drew my design over the scraps.  In the one above, I went for a set of green peas.  Below, some carrots and a radish (whose design my friend Laura helped me come up with):

So, well, maybe I got carried away.  I don't care, though.  They're just so much fun ... carrots are my particular favorite, probably because they're so distinctive.  (I confess: I tried to do a pear.  It ended up looking somewhat like a green egg.  DISCARD!)

So, a lot of them have gotten turned into pot holders.
Some became wall hangings.
Others are still waiting.

More ideas?


baby baby

For the first time ever, I sewed something for a baby doll.  Since I was one of those girls who was all about her dolls when I was growing up, I know how important it is for the little mommy to make sure that the dolls are properly clothed, fed, and warmed.  And, since I've got a plethora of friends with babies these days, I thought I could pass along a little love in the form of a doll quilt.  This little quilt (16"x24") is for a friend's daughter for Christmas.  My mom, who was visiting me this weekend, helped me come up with the idea and encouraged me to try something new with the quilting pattern.  I tried a little loop-de-loop deal -  it did go pretty quickly though it took me a few minutes to get the feel for it.  Don't look too closely ... I had a few snaffoos, but I kept them in there and just kept going.  Sorry for the dark photo quality.

In other baby news (no, not me silly), congrats to my dear friends Katie and Adam R. on the birth of their first daughter, Rylie Joy, last night!  Apparently, the text message announcement read "6 lb 14 oz beautiful" (I don't actually know first-hand what it said, because we may or may not have blocked text messaging from our phone ...).  However, I can't wait to hold 6 lb 14 oz beautiful in my arms!


I want you all to check out my friend Sara Beth's Christmas candies.

So.  Yummy.

She has three kids AND comes up with things like that.  What a superhero.



I found some coarse red linen fabric on sale at Walmart for $1.50/yd and have used most of it for a Christmas project.  I had these little squares leftover and some down time at work.  That, paired with some white thread and an etsy.com search of "snowflakes" for inspiration led me to these:

Coasters, maybe?  Ornaments?  Still not sure.  I'm feeling the ornaments thing, but I like them as a set.  They measure about 4.5" x 4.5" ... too big for ornaments?  Hmmm.

Hand stitching is actually more fun than I thought it would be. 

Oh, joy!


Four corners, part dos

It's done!

I am in love with this quilt ... really, I've considered buying more of the same fabrics to make another one exactly like it. 

Check out the back - such an awesome green!

Some things I'm particularly excited about:
-the way the brown pops out
-the improv-ness (improvisationalism?) of each block
-the way the binding blends in with the back and shows up more on the front - a little edging effect
-the size - about 39"x39" - a little bigger than other baby quilts I've done, but perfect for a baby to lay/play/roll on

I ended up going with brown for the stitching.  Bold, I know.  It really contrasts with the white and pink, but (surprisingly) it works well with the backing fabric, and (unsurprisingly) it matches the brown on the front.  Check it out:

Here's one more picture, just a close-up of one of the blocks ...


More to come ... I've been a busy bee ...



This recipe for Chocolate-Chocolate Chip-Coconut cookies is a slight variation on last December's Triple Chocolate Cookies, in case you're wondering why it looks so familiar.  Variations marked in bold.

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, melted
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Melt butter in a small pan over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Continue stirring until butter separates.  Add to mixing bowl. Cream butter and sugars together until smooth (this won't look like your traditional "creamed butter and sugar" fluffiness, but go with it anyway.  Scrape the sides of the bowl a few times), and beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and mix until almost blended. Add the chocolate chips and coconut and mix. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 12-14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, and store in an airtight container up to 7 days. Makes 2 to 3 dozen (depends on the size of the cookie!).

OK.  This was a little bit of an experiment.  My general rule is to not experiment with baking, only with cooking ... but I ran into a snag when I went to make these cookies: the only butter I had was frozen, and I didn't have time or a microwave to defrost it.  So, I had to come up with something.  I remembered a friend had made chocolate chip cookies with browned, melted butter because the test kitchens of Cook's Illustrated had suggested it. 

Browned butter?  Hmmm.

I decided just to melt it and let it sit in the pan for a few over medium-low heat to see if I got anything brown.  I didn't.  Maybe I didn't let it heat long enough.  What I DID get, though, was butter separation.  The oily stuff stayed on the bottom and foamy stuff came to the top.  I didn't skim it, though that seemed like something logical to do.  Again, hmmm.

Well, cookies are cookies, and I'll be dadgummed if I didn't just decide to use the mysterious melt anyway.  I poured it into my mixing bowl and added the sugars and mixed away.  As I mentioned in the directions above, this didn't look like the usual "Cream butter and sugar" outcome.  I thought the cookies would be runny because of the melt.  Of course, that didn't keep me from plowing ahead ... there were cookies on the horizon and nothing was going to stop me!  So I proceeded to add everything else, following the directions.  I threw in some coconut at the end because (a) I love coconut (b) I found half a bag of it in my freezer and (c) I thought it would add an exotic flair.

Pleasant surprise:

The cookies held up nicely.

They didn't run and flatten out at all.

In fact, the dough was pretty sturdy, and when I rolled it into balls it wasn't sticky at all.

What I don't know is if the sturdiness of the dough is due to the melted butter or the coconut.  Hmmm.

Mmmmmostaccioli Salad

Mostaccioli Salad

3/4 c. canola oil
1 c. white vinegar
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. dried mustard
1 medium red onion
1 green pepper
1 can chickpeas
1 can diced tomatoes (or 3/4 c. chopped fresh tomatoes)
1 package mostaccioli pasta

Cook pasta according to package and drain.
Mix oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried mustard in a bowl for dressing.
Chop onion and pepper.  Add with chickpeas and tomatoes to the dressing.
Stir in the pasta.
Cover and chill for 24 hours.

I confess that I didn't know that mostaccioli existed, much less was edible, until this salad showed up.  But now I know.  And, oh, goodness.  Am I ever glad I know about it now.  The longer this sticks around, the better it gets.  24 hours is good, but don't be afraid to let it sit longer.  The flavor of the dressing gets all up in the pasta's space ... proof of this: our friends Aaron and Catherine brought this to the bloggiversary Friday night potluck; there was one serving left in the bottom of the bowl that we kept in the fridge for a week (yes!  a week!) that I promptly consumed upon returning to town from our Thanksgiving travels.  Incredible, yes, delightfully incredible. 

I'm making this one again. 

Now, if I can only find the mostaccioli aisle in Kroger ...


Four Corners

As I write today, I've got this spread out on the dining room table: 

I'm a little frenzied about finishing it, though no one is pressuring me except me ... for some reason, I feel as though I must finish today or I'm going to bust.  The tough thing, though, is that I don't know what color to quilt it in.  I tend towards white because it's standard, but I like the boldness of the chocolate brown so much that I'm afraid a white-on-brown deal would let me down.  So I've called my friend Rebecca (this is for her neice) and am waiting on her to tell me what she wants.  My guess is that she's going to "trust my judgment" and "leave it up to me" and all that stuff, because she's nice and trusting like that.  Haha!  

Maybe light pink?  Or light green?  Or light brown?


early bird gets the warm

Santa came just a wee bit early to our house ...

My husband was just so cold now that winter has decided to set in, and Mr. Claus must have known that my dear needed this to keep him comfy and cozy before Christmas.

The pattern is a "Wonky Log Cabin" inspired by the crazymomquilts and tallgrassprairiestudio blogs.  I'll put a link up to their tutorials when I get a chance but I encourage you to check them out in the meantime!

The back is a simple pieced deal, once again inspired by crazymomquilts (I've got a lot of props to give her because, despite the fact that she doesn't know this, she's my quilting guru.)

I don't know if you can tell or not, but the binding is made from the leftover strips that I had from the backing when I trimmed it, offset around the edge, plus this awesome candy-cane-striped deal that I think my grandmother gave me a long time ago.

Here's some detail of the stippling also.  I'm still not great at it and the quilting is still pretty wide apart, but I like the effect anyway.



I've decided to add something new to my plate.

A quilting and sewing blog.

I'm new at quilting so I can't really promise much, but I want to share what I am doing. And this is the time to do it ... I've got my Christmas projects underway, lots of plans for next year, and a few completed projects laying around the house. At least I'll have the first few posts taken care of ...


favoritas: Spicy Sweet Potatoes

Spicy Sweet Potatoes
4 side-dish servings

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 lb sweet potatoes, cut into chunks

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander

juice of 1 lime or lemon

1 teaspoon sugar


1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Saute the potatoes in the oil for 10 minutes until golden all over.

Add spices, juice, sugar and salt.

Cover and cook for 10 - 15 more minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs, toss and serve.

Rebecca (who first introduced me to this recipe) suggests to go heavier on the spices, light on the sugar, use 1 teaspoon of dried basil instead of fresh, and omit cilantro. I made it her way and loved it. It's nice to have a spicy little twist on sweet potatoes. It's like seeing your granny put on red lipstick and her dancing shoes.

Sweet potatoes are my favorite fall vegetable*. I absolutely love them. I fixed these for the Thanksgiving 2009 meal with my husband's family. Actually, I should clarify: I fixed these for the Thanksgiving 2009 meal for myself and my father-in-law. He warned me that no one else would eat them, but in naive hope I disregarded his advice and peeled/cubed/spiced two pounds of potatoes. Oh, well. I brought home leftovers and promptly put them in a burrito with rice and beans. I had the rest of them for lunch today with some cheddar cheese on top. I think that this might be my standard sweet potato recipe from here on out. I'll miss the casserole with marshmallows on top but I like the chili and lime kick.

I'm into this sweet potato thing. A few weeks ago I tried this sweet potato pound cake that I heard about on All Things Considered (yes, I listen to NPR and I'm under 65) and it was great. Butter? Check. Sugar? Check. Mashed sweet potatoes? Checkity check.

If you like sweet potatoes, try out Rebecca's spicy ones. If not, make them for me when I come over for dinner.

*Technically, I think sweet potatoes are tubers, not vegetables. I just have a hard time saying that I have a favorite tuber. Doesn't sound right.


Haiku thanku

Mixed Baked Butter Potatoes - a Laura Original
8 medium potatoes - a mix of sweet and regular potatoes
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. olive oil
2 Tbsp. sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut up potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes and mix in all other ingredients.  Spread in baking dish and cook at 375 degrees until potatoes are soft (30-45 minutes).
I've decided that we need a short post since the last few have been so long.  So, here is all that I have to say, in haiku form:
Add some more sour cream
Your tummy and friends will smile
Thanks Laura; you rock!


parsley salt a shallot and THYME

Herbed Roast Beef (from Cook's Country December/January 2010 edition)
Serves 6-8
1/3 c. finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 (4-lb) top sirloin roast, fat trimmed to 1/4 inch thick
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. pepper
Combine parsley, thyme, and shallot in bowl.  Transfer 2 tablespoons herb mixture to another bowl and stir in mustard and 1 tablespoon oil until combined.  Add butter to remaining herb mixture and mash with fork until combined.
Butterfly roast (see description below) and rub inside and out with salt and pepper.  Spread herb-mustard mixture over interior of meat and tie securely with kitchen twine at 1-inch intervals.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees.  Pat roast dry with paper towels.  Heat remaining oil in large skillet over medium0high heat until just smoking.  Brown roast all over, 8 to 12 minutes, then arrange on V-rack set inside roasting pan.  Transfer to oven and roast until meat registers 125 degrees (for medium-rare), 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
Transfer roast to carving board, spread with herb-butter mixture, tent with foil, and let rest 20 minutes.  Remove kitchen twine.  Slice roast crosswise against grain into 1-4 inch thick slices.  Serve.
To butterfly roast: slice horizontally through the middle of the meat.  Leave about 1/2 inch of meat intact, then open it like a book.  After seasoning the meat with salt and pepper, spread the herb-mustard mixture over the interior of the meat.  Fold the meat back to its original position, then tie securely at 1-inch intervals with kitchen twine.
Some bits of advice when working on this roast:
1.  It's totally worth it, but give yourself lots of time.
2.  I couldn't find a 4-lb "top sirloin" roast so I purchased a 3-lb and a 2-lb sirloin tip roast - after the research I had done about desirable cuts of meat, I found that this was the closest I could get to top sirloin.  Bonus: it was on sale for $1.99/lb instead of $4.99/lb.  Score.
3.  Unless you just have kitchen twine already, go ask for some at the butcher counter at your local grocery store.  The butcher asked how much I needed and then just gave it to me.  This was great, since I don't use twine often ... I had just enough for the roasts AND didn't have to pay for it.
4.  Use fresh herbs - makes a big difference.  The parsley and thyme give the roasts a delicate flavor - absolutely amazing.  
5.  So you know how I just said that I did two smaller roasts instead of one bigger one?  I forgot to adjust the cooking time, so instead of coming out with medium-rare roast beef, it was a bit overcooked to medium.  I mean, that's fine with me (I like all the moo out of my meat), but my husband gently suggested we lower the cooking time next time.  
6.  I don't have a V-rack for a roasting pan - what I do have is a roasting pan with little ridges all over the bottom.  I was afraid that wouldn't give the roasts enough loft, so I twisted 1-ft. lengths of foil into crescent shapes and put 6 or 7 of those on the bottom of the pan.  The roasts went on top of those after they were browned, and stayed up while they were cooking.  I collected the juices that came from baking and will probably use them to flavor some soup or something after Thanksgiving.
I'd love to know if you make this!  Let me know what you find works for you.  I like the idea of buttering the roast AFTER it comes out of the oven and may try that technique with other recipes.  YUM!


twice desserted

World's Best Ever Plain Pound Cake: this - be aware that it makes a rather large cake and it needs the ENTIRE time to bake, maybe even a bit more.  Don't be fooled by a brown top - check the cake with a toothpick or knife to see if the middle is completely done before removing.  If you have any leftovers, they're great toasted for breakfast with a bit of jam on top.
World's Easiest Chocolate Sauce For Pound Cake: Heat 1/4 c. butter, 1/2 c. chocolate chips (though I'm pretty sure the original recipe called for baking chocolate), 1/4 c. milk and 1 c. sugar over low heat.  Bring to boiling; stir constantly and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and cool before serving, if desired.
We had this cake at the bloggiversary potluck - I forced my friend Rebecca into an evening of slave labor in my kitchen in exchange for dinner, so she did this one start to finish for me.  She got rave reviews.  I'm not surprised.  She's quite the kitchen diva.
A few noteworthy things have been happening this week:
-I'm officially into my second year of blogging
-My father-in-law supervised my mozzarella-making adventure that will result in tomorrow's tomato-mozzarella-basil salad
-I viewed a chicken deboning a la Julia Child and it was everything she said it would be: "By the time you have completed ... this, [it] will appear to be an unrecognizable mass of confusion and you will wonder how in the world any sense can be made of it all."  The formerly mentioned FIL worked a bit of magic with the smoker and some mushrooms, with such a spectacularly tasty result that Julia called and asked to feature him in her new edition.


eat! this! first!

We had four desserts at the potluck: dark chocolate brownies,  no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, chocolate cupcakes with espresso buttercream frosting, and pound cake with chocolate sauce.  My friends must know about my thing for chocolate.

Here is the recipe for the cupcakes.

Easiest Chocolate Cake makes 32 cupcakes

Recipe found in Sarah Magid’s Organic and Chic cookbook and here 

2 1/4 cups organic all-purpose flour 2 cups organic cane sugar 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 2 teaspoons baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt1 tablespoon vanilla extract 2/3 cup organic canola oil 2 teaspoons organic white distilled vinegar2 cups cold water


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners, set aside

2. In a large bowl, place sifter on top and add dry ingredients. (Or you can sift each ingredient and mix together in the large bowl).

3. In a medium bowl, mix all wet ingredients together.

4. Slowly add wet ingredients to dry, using a whisk to incorporate.

5. Using a ladle or spoon, pour batter into cupcake liners, filling batter 2/3 up in each liner.

6. Bake for 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool before frosting.


Espresso Whipped Buttercream

Makes 3 1/2 cups


2 sticks unsalted organic butter 1 cup organic cane sugar 1 cup organic whole milk 1/4 cup sifted organic all purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons strong espresso (either from a shot or from powdered espresso)


1. In small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of the milk and flour, whisk until there are no lumps, then slowly add remaining 3/4 cup milk. Over medium-high heat, whisk frequently until mixture is thick and bubbling, remove from heat. Keep stirring and let cool to room temperature. (You can cheat by flash chilling in the freezer).

2. In standing mixer, add softened butter and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Then add sugar and beat for 3 more minutes until mixture is light and thick.

3. Add cooled milk/flour mixture, and beat for 4-5 minutes until it is thickened and creamy.

4. With mixer on low speed, add espresso, and whip at high speed for 1 minute.

5. Frost cupcakes, or cover with plastic wrap and keep in refrigerator up to 3 days. If refrigerated, make sure it comes to almost room temperature then re-beat for fluffy texture.


Good news!  This recipe can be adapted to those of us who don't have organic cane sugar laying around - just use regular flour, sugar, and oil.  Either way, the cupcakes and espresso frosting taste like heaven.  This is the second time in a month that I have had the extreme pleasure of eating these delights from Mary's kitchen, and I'm afraid that I will never allow her to bring any other dessert to a potluck.  I won't judge you if you make a batch for me, just to see how they compare to Mary's.  I may have to eat six or seven of yours just so I can give a well-informed statement about the quality of your cupcakes and buttercream frosting.  And then take a few home to see what Mr. rhymeswithsmile thinks of them too.  I'm just saying.  I want to be fair to you.


A few of my favorite things ...

Wow, I love friends, and potlucks.  I love the friends more, but the potlucks are a nice accompaniment to friends.  We had some great eats ... my plateful of food looked something like this:
Go ahead.  I give you permission to drool a little ... 
We had:
Herbed roast beef
Goat cheese salad with vinegrette dressing
Homemade macaroni and cheese
White & Sweet potato bake
Colombian bean dip
Mostaccioli salad
Pound cake with chocolate sauce
Easiest chocolate cupcakes with espresso whipped buttercream
Dark chocolate brownies
Don't you wish you could have come?  
You're invited next time.


Peter Peter

My pumpkin eaters: the dear sister-in-law Ashley and my first teaching-friend Anna - both of them dear, sweet women who I am SO excited to send pumpkin chocolate chip bread to! I'd like to thank everyone who participated in the first ever rhymeswithsmile blog giveaway, and I'd also like to thank www.random.org for allowing me the opportunity to pick two winners randomly. If it had been up to me, I would've picked each one of you ... So stay tuned for the next giveaway. Can't promise when it will be but I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks everybody!


Giveaway countdown

Well, my goal was to post at 12:00 PM and remind you all that you have exactly 24 hours before the giveaway ends, but I missed it ... whoops. This will have to do instead: you have approximately 23 hours and 42 minutes to enter rhymeswithsmile's first ever food giveaway, in honor of one year of blogging! See this post for details and how to enter.



Here it is: the plan for rhymeswithsmile's first birthday.  Ready? 
I took a little survey of friends and the overwhelming feedback was either to have a great meal for everybody or send them food.  So, I've decided to have TWO parts to the first bloggiversary event.   Read on.
Part 1: This coming Friday (November 20, 2009) rhymeswithsmile and Mr. rhymeswithsmile will be hosting a Potluck for all of our friends that can come.  We (ok, I) want it to be a nice meal from scratch ... you know, the meat and sides and done-up desserts that you only pull out for special occasions - your grandmother's roast, Aunt Jane's asparagus and bacon appetizers, the neighbor's cornbread - you get the picture.  And bring the recipe!  The collection of recipes will be featured on rhymeswithsmile in the coming week, on the actual bloggiversary.  
Logistically speaking, we will provide the main dish and a dessert.  You can bring whatever you want!  Let us know that you're coming, though, so that I know how much main dish to prepare.
Part 2: For those that won't be able to make it to the potluck (that's right - potluck attendees are ineligible, sorry!), you are invited to the first ever rhymeswithsmile giveaway going on RIGHT NOW!  I will draw TWO lucky people to receive either a loaf of pumpkin-chocolate-chip bread or a batch of cookies (probably chocolate-chocolate chip, unless you object).  All you have to do is put your name, an email address (so I can get in touch with you about winning!), and which prize you'd prefer in the comments section.  Feel free to tell your friends about it.
Contest closes on Friday November 20, 2009 at noon, at which time I will draw the two winners!  
I'm so excited I could just bust.  This is so much fun.


feliz cumpleanos ... almost ...

I love birthdays. You have no idea. Mine is only 42 days away, but that's beside the point. rhymeswithsmile has a birthday coming up soon - the big 1! - and I want to do something to commemorate it. I'm looking for your ideas. Should I give something away? Should I do a special feature? Should I get my two faithful readers to do something with me? Just looking for suggestions.


the granola lady

Granola Makes 12 cups Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine: 6 c. oats (I prefer old-fashioned but quick-cooking oats are fine too) 3 c. cheerios (or any other cereal) 3 c. corn flakes (again, any other cereal works) Optional: slivered almonds, shredded coconut, other tasty things like toasted wheat germ or Golden Grahams cereal In a saucepan, heat until boiling: 1/2 c. water 1/2 c. oil 1/2 c. honey (substitute same amount of white or brown sugar or molasses if that's what you've got) Pour the liquid mixture into the oat mixture and stir until everything is moistened. If you feel like it's not moistened enough, make more liquid mixture by heating equal parts water, oil, and honey and stirring that in. Put the mixture into two 9"x13" cake pans (or one large roasting pan if you've got it) and spread evenly. Some people say use cookie sheets - I find that I tend to accidentally throw stuff out of the pan if the sides aren't high enough, and I find that cake pans or a roasting pan work better for me. However, if you're more precise and can handle well-manicured stirring, by all means use the cookie sheet. Put pans in a 325 degree oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Add raisins or other dried fruit if desired. Store in airtight bag (or back in the oats container). By now you've probably figured out that all of my recipes are more "madness" than "method." I don't even measure for this one anymore, except for the wet ingredients (and even then, the only reason I measure is to make sure I have equal parts of everything). I have used all oats before, thrown in some cinnamon and cloves, and crumbled up stale cookies in with the oats (no waste, right? Makes for an amazing batch though ...). Granola is AWESOME for that reason - just moisten everything, bake it at a low temperature for an hour or more, and stir periodically, and the result is a tasty breakfast, snack, or ice-cream topping, depending on when and how you decide to consume it. And the best part? People who stay overnight ask for granola for breakfast. Yes. It's happened twice now. I guess of all the things cooks get known for - corn casserole, biscuits, or pot roast - granola is fitting for me. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but I'll take it.


dry spell

I did it!
I dried tomatoes, peppers, and apples.
The apples are particularly amazing. And it was so easy ... I've become a fan of the kitchen-appliances-that-do-ALL-the-work-for-you. One blissful evening, I had the bread machine clonking, the dehydrator whirring, and the crock pot bubbling all at once ... it was a good night. I have, however, fallen down on my job of actually cooking. With a husband that's been in class three nights a week until at least 9:00, three weekends in a row of travel, and friends to hang out with, we've been living on favorite standbys like burritos, homemade rhymeswithsmile nachos (my husband's specialty!), quesadillas, homemade pizza, and crock pot soups. So, no real adventurous cooking to speak of. But I do have a few things on the horizon, including roasted Delicata squash, granola, and a cake that has mashed potatoes in it. It's coming, I promise.


new reads

I've started (re)reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, which is one of the most revolutionary things I've ever put in my brain (not quite competing with the gospels, Romans 8 and the idea of grace, but still mind-boggling). I read this for the first time last fall, and am rereading it for my book club (!) that will meet the first Monday in November.
Some things I love about this book:
- Pollan urges readers to embrace FOOD, and be hesitant about manufactured food-like substances blasted with invisible nutrients. Adios, Doritos (I will miss you!) ... Butter, potatos, cream - hurrah!
- At the end of the book (and here I'm giving it away), Pollan gives some guidelines about how to shop for and eat food. My favorite is this: "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" (p 144). Think about it. Sorry, kiddos, but the gogurt has to go. It wasn't around when Great-Grandmother Dillingham was on the planet.
- Finally, Pollan has an easy-to-read style that is just ... easy to read. It doesn't read like a nutritionist textbook. If anything, it's the anti-nutritionist non-textbook. I like his style. I don't know how else to describe it. You should read it for yourself.
Book #2, in the list of Books That I Checked Out From The Library But Still Haven't Opened:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It is in my possession. And highly recommended by numerous friends (I confess that I have actually recommended it as recently as this weekend to friends, even though I've not yet read it). I'm excited about it though, as it is about Kingsolver's move to a farm in southwest Virginia (!) where she and her family vow to only live on what they can grow or buy locally (as in eggs, meat, and cheese) for one year. Can't wait to read that one in connection with In Defense of Food.



Mother's Biscuits
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
Butter (glorious butter!): probably 6 tablespoons + extra for topping
1/4 to 1/3 c. milk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Cut in butter until thoroughly mixed. (I like to use my fingers at this stage, instead of a fork, because then I can flatten and press the butter into the flour mixture instead of chopping it in.)
Add milk, starting with just 1/4 c. and increasing by tablespoons to get the right consistency. You should get a biscuit dough that is somewhat stiff, can round up rather nicely on a spoon, but is not so dry as to still have flour left in the bowl.
Sprinkle flour on a counter and turn out the dough. Pat into a circle-ish form, about 1 inch thick. Cut little bits of butter and spread them on the dough (easier said than done, unless the butter is at room temperature). Don't worry if you have butter globs. It'll melt eventuallly.
Fold the dough over onto itself. Pat out again. Butter it again. Fold over one more time, pat out again to about the same thickness (1 inch or so) and cut biscuits (I do not have a biscuit cutter so I use a handy juice glass. A small tin can could work too. I should just go get the biscuit cutter, I know ... it'd make things so easy!)
Place biscuits on a cookie sheet* (or pie pan, or whatever), butter each one (AGAIN!) and bake at 450 for 10-15 minutes.
*I like my biscuits like I like my friends - cuddly and all up in each others' business - I place the middle one, then all the ones around it touching that middle one, then gather up the scraps left over on the counter to make one or two more funky biscuits for the outskirts. I'm biased to placing biscuits this way, but of course if you wanted to separate your biscuits you can place them in nice rows on a cookie sheet and get an equally tasty result.
Do you remember when I went on and on about finding the perfect black dress for all my summer occasions?
Well. You know that I found it. It was perfect. simple. black. awesome. comfortable. and Cindi's.
Summer may be over.
But I am so not over that dress.
A good lbd (little black dress) is hard to come by.
So some friends and I did a little bit of sharing ...
I wore it to one dinner and two weddings: me and Dixie
It got worn to three OTHER weddings by Mary, Andrea, and Cindi.
Mary and the red shoes

Andrea and Tim

Cindi and Kurt
lbd. little black dress.
it will make more appearances, I promise.


Chocolate for Rachel

Frances Jones Cocoa Cake 2 c. sugar 1/2 c. shortening 1/2 tsp. salt 2 eggs 2/3 c. cocoa 1 tsp. vanilla 1/2 c. buttermilk (make your own: put 1 1/2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice in the 1/2 c. measure, then add milk up to the top. Let it sit for a minute or two - the acid sours the milk and it starts to curdle a little bit) 1/2 tsp. baking soda 2 c. flour 1 c. hot water Mix sugar, shortening, and salt. Add unbeaten eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add cocoa and vanilla and stir. Add baking soda to buttermilk*. Add flour alternately with buttermilk mixture to the sugar/shortening mixture. Add hot water and stir. Pour into greased pan (I've used a 9x13pan, a Bundt pan, and 2 8-inch round cake pans. It's your call). Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. *Remember elementary school science project volcanoes? If you make your own buttermilk as I suggested above with vinegar in milk, I ... um ... advise you to transfer the 1/2 c. of milk to a larger measuring cup before adding baking soda, or you'll have a mini-Mt. Vesuvius on your counter. Not that this has EVER happened to me. This is my "fall-back-perfect-every-time" chocolate cake recipe. It's moist and fluffy. And delicious. And easy! And chocolatey. It's one of those cakes where you eat a piece and don't feel weighted down by all that you just ate - it's that amazing. I wanted to post it for my friend Rachel, who is living and teaching with her husband in Guatemala, where access to certain ingredients can be tricky sometimes. Aah, jungle living! Viva el 3rd world! If anyone knows of any resources for her ... like, let's say you know a good cookbook that doesn't use many pre-packaged ingredients, or a website she might like to look at, leave it in the comments and she'll see it. This recipe came to me from a mission guesthouse in Ogbomoso, Nigeria, called Frances Jones Memorial House. The cooks there used to turn out the most amazing desserts (well, entire meals, really) and this one was always a favorite. And since today is Nigeria's 49th Independence Day, it's only fitting that this recipe is from there. Happy chocolate, Rachel!



A blog is about putting oneself out into the world, right? Being honest and open. So, I have a confession. Prepare yourself. I have a condition that is scientifically classified as carnivorium grandiosium trepidatia, or CGT for short. It's not hereditary, so I'm not sure how I got it, but I began to notice it springing up about 3 1/2 years ago (oddly enough, coinciding with getting married and being on a budget). It is sometimes vicious, leaving me stranded in the back of the grocery store, clutching my food dollars and wishing I could make a quiet escape without anyone noticing. Horrifying, really.
So, I was visiting my counselor the other day (I know a really good one, by the way - let me know if you need a recommendation) and I saw this pamphlet that caught my eye:
Meat & Greet:
How to Avoid Being Intimidated
When Large Cuts of Meat Come to Dinner
Published by the International Consortium of Members Engaged in the Advancement of Tender Sustenance (ICMEATS)
I was startled - there's hope for people like me! I don't have to live with CGT forever! I, too, can face my fear of large cuts of meat and prepare them, boldly facing even the largest roast with a dry-rub and the glint of a sharp carving knife.
So, I, having faced my fear and gained some ground over this hobbling condition of carnivorium grandiosium trepidatia, am now ready to share with you some of the things I've learned about dealing with large cuts of meat. You know which ones I'm talking about: the Pot Roasts and the Whole Chickens and the Boneless Pork Shoulders in Heavy-Duty Shrink Wrap (how do they do that, anyway?).
Today, I would like to share some insights into the Whole Chicken, Crock-Pot method:
- Of primary importance is reremoving (yes, re-removing) the innards that were so perfectly removed and packaged and placed BACK into the chicken cavity for you to purchase. Seriously, do they REALLY think that I want a liver pouch? OK. So, just remove it. Throw it away. And take out the trash.
- Next, rinse the Whole Chicken under running water, and pat dry with paper towels. Throw THOSE away too, and take out the trash again. Remember, you're preparing a DRY rub, so make sure your chicken is satisfactorily dry.
- Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. You're going to want the oil to be really hot - almost smoking - when you're ready to put your Whole Chicken in.
- Set the Whole Chicken aside on a plate or dish, and prepare your dry rub. Here are a few suggestions:
1. 1 Tbsp salt + 1 Tbsp pepper
2. a Cajun Dry Rub found here
3. pre-packaged spice and herb mixtures like Mrs. Dash Steak Seasoning or Cavender's All-Purpose Greek Seasoning (both are personal favorites)
4. 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. oregano, 1 tsp. garlic powder, and 1 tsp. onion powder (a little fajita-y dry rub for you there)
- Combine the dry rub in a small dish or jar, mixing well.
- Sprinkle liberally on ALL parts of the Whole Chicken and rub in. It's called a dry rub, people, so just do it. If you have any leftovers, just keep it until next time.
- When oil is hot (it should sizzle like crazy if you sprinkle a few drops of water in there), carefully place Whole Chicken in the pan, and if you're like me, grab the lid as a shield for the splattering. I usually use my kitchen tongs for moving the Whole Chicken around - you want to make sure you've got a good grip on the chicken, otherwise it might fall into the oil suddenly, splatter, and burn you.
- Leave it for 5-8 minutes or until the side that's down has turned a crispy brown color. Turn the Whole Chicken over, and leave it for another 5-8 minutes. At this point, you face a choice: you can turn the Whole Chicken on one end and brown that (hot buns!), on one side and then the other, or remove the chicken. It's completely up to you. The point is to sear the outside of the chicken to lock in the moisture when you're cooking it.
- Remove Whole Chicken from the pan and place it in the crock pot.
- Add about 1/4 cup of liquid to the pan that you just seared the Whole Chicken in - it could be water, broth, or cooking wine - I'd suggest you avoid milk and orange juice, but if you do go down that road please let me know what happens. Reduce heat and stir to loosen the stuff on the bottom of the pan - it should simmer for just a minute or two. Pour this over the Whole Chicken in the crock pot.
- Cook in the crock pot for 8-10 hours on Low or 4-5 hours on High.
- At this point, the chicken is going to be so fall-of-the-bone that you can't really serve up a leg, thigh, or breast to fulfill the usual expectation. But you do have a number of possibilities, including de-boning the meat and using it for chicken salad, on pizza, or in pasta dishes. Or you could just pull meat out of the crock pot and eat it with mashed potatoes and green beans. It's your call.
I hope that this has been helpful in some way, especially for those closet sufferers of carnivorium grandiosium trepidatia. There is hope! Just reach out and find it here!