Saturday, January 29, 2011

BREAD - So Easy To Make Even I Could Do It....

BREAD – So Easy To Make Even I Could Do It…

Yup, bread even I could make!  I didn’t - but I could!  Richard did, though.

This no-knead bread recipe was created by Jim Lahey, owner of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC’s SoHo district and I loved every “crusty on the outside, soft on the inside” morsel. 

No story to tell… just that nothing smells better than bread baking in your own oven.  And nothing tastes better then slicing open a warm loaf, ‘slathering’ on some butter and taking a bite. 

No labor intensity… No expensive bread-making machines…  Go for it!

No-knead bread.   No need to wait. 

No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1-5/8 cups of water
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1-1/4 teaspoon salt.
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

In large bowl combine flour, yeast, salt.  Add 1-5/8 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky.  Cover bowl w/ plastic wrap.  Let dough rest at least 12 hours (preferably about 18 hours), at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when surface is dotted w/ bubbles.  Lightly flour work surface (Richard uses his large marble ‘cutting’ board or our marble counter-top); place dough on it.  Sprinkle w/ a little more flour, and fold dough over on itself once or twice.  Cover loosely w/ plastic wrap; let rest for about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.  Generously coat cotton towel (not terry cloth) w/ flour, wheat bran or cornmeal;  put dough on towel, seam-side down.  Dust w/ more four, bran or cornmeal.  Cover w/ another cotton towel; let rise for about 2 hours.  When ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked w/ a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees.  Put a 6 to 8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic – Richard uses our Le Creuset ‘soup’ pot) in oven as it heats.

When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven.  Slide hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up (it may look like a mess, but that’s OK) Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.  Cover w/ lid, bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned.

Our oven cooks ‘fast’ so Richard baked it for only 15 minutes after removing the lid.

Cool on rack.

Yield:  One 1-1/2 pound loaf

Time:  about 1-1/2 hours, plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising time

Saturday, January 22, 2011

JOAN'S ON THIRD (Lemon Bars)

(Lemon Bars)

Who’s on first?  Haven’t a clue – don’t really care… but Joan’s on Third and I do care about that.  Why?  Because “Joan’s On Third” is one of my favorite sandwich shops/cheese stores/‘bistros’ in Los Angeles. 

Richard and I first met Joan McNamara when Richard produced a piece about her mac & cheese for the Food Network.  I was in the process of designing a minor remodel of our kitchen taking it from a 50’s formica past to a modern-day New England farmhouse future, and was debating the use of marble for the counter-tops.  I wanted marble, but friends and fellow designers were nixing the idea – it ‘stains.’  But I couldn’t get my great aunt’s old New Hampshire farm kitchen out of my mind.  Connecticut white/gray marble, wide-plank wood floors, white enamel sinks and wonderful country-kitchen faucets.

To help w/ the final decision, Richard took me to Joan’s On Third designed almost exactly the way I was envisioning our kitchen… all her tables and counters were honed Carerra marble (translation: the glitzy shiny surface was taken off) which is quite similar to the marble from Connecticut quarries.  They looked gorgeous!!  Just what I wanted.  So we sat down w/ Joan and ‘talked’ marble while we ate her fab mac & cheese.  I explained all the stain warnings I had been receiving and she just smiled and said, “Patina.”  When I realized she wasn’t sending me to a Joachim Splichal restaurant, I looked more closely at her counter tops and saw exactly what she meant.  There were tons of stains and ‘spots’ and they all just blended into the stone.  Patina!

OK, my mind made up – no granite for me (hey, I’m just not a granite girl) – I was going to fulfill my country-kitchen vision.  To celebrate, Joan brought out her lemon bars.  Full disclosure… I don’t like a lot of sweets, so my first bite was w/ much trepidation.  What if I didn’t like them?  Joan was still sitting w/ us and I knew I’d have to at least eat half.  Well, nooooooooo problem.  They are just plain amazingly delicious.

Here’s how to make them:

Joan’s on Third’s Lemon Bars

Total time:  45 minutes, plus
Cooling time for the crust
Servings:  makes 9 bars

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, divided
½ cup powdered sugar, plus more
    for dusting the bars
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter w/ 1 cup flour and the powdered sugar, stirring just until the dough comes together.  Pat the dough into an 8-inch square pan and bake just until lightly golden, about 16 -18 minutes.  Remove and cool the pan on a wire rack to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, baking powder and remaining 2 tablespoons flour.  Whisk in the lemon juice and eggs until thoroughly combined.  Pour the custard into the pan over the baked crust and bake again until it’s set, 20-25 minutes.  Remove and cool the tart on a wire rack.

When cooled, dust lightly w/ additional powdered sugar and cut into bars.  The lemon bars will keep for 1 week, refrigerated.

Each serving:  277 calories; 3 grams protein’ 42 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber, 11grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 74 mg. cholesterol; 44 mg. sodium

Joan’s On Third
8350 West Third Street
Los Angeles, Calif.  90048

Sunday, January 16, 2011

THE ROYALS, GINA & ME - A Real Life Fairy Tale

A Real Life Fairy Tale

The Oscars are coming!  The Oscars are coming!  And with them America’s royalty -- glammed up movie stars seeking coronation from their peers.  My favorite movie this year was the royal “The King’s Speech” and I hope that actor/movie star, Colin Firth, in the title role, will be crowned ‘Best Actor.’  With all this Oscar and royal fever in the air, it reminds of another fairy tale night when royalty met ‘Hollywood.’  My very own “once upon a time.”

Like Cinderella, I was a young girl grieving over the death of my father.  A grief that blended overwhelming sadness and denial with alienation.  A feeling that my friends looked at me as if I was now somehow ‘different.’  Little shivers crept up the back of my neck when a friend would awkwardly approach me on my first day back to school not knowing what to say.  I was afraid that nothing would be ‘normal’ again as I listened to my mother cry silently in her room at night.

But unlike Cinderella, I had a loving mother and neighbors to care for me... specifically, the Pfisters, who lived across the street.  They were older than my mother, and though they never had children they empathized, and decided that Mom and I needed something special in our lives.  Something to look forward to.  Something to take us out of our pain. So they gave us tickets to the opera.  I did a 13-year-old’s shrug.  The opera!?

But this was not just any opera… we had coveted tickets to a box in the “dress circle” for a debutante charitable fundraiser the Pfisters had helped organize at the glorious, old Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan.  The opera was Verdi’s “La Traviata” and was to star someone named Maria Callas.  The event was black-tie.  I still shrugged.  Maybe I yawned.

I’d never been to the opera.  To me it was a lot of screaming in a foreign language, but
eventually my mother’s excitement was contagious as we planned what we were going to wear.  For me, she chose a pale blue/gray brocade, below-the-knee, long-sleeved fitted dress in a “princess”-cut (there’s that royal thing again).  I already had curves and the dress emphasized them before it flared out at my waist into a full skirt.  My low heels matched.  It wasn’t a ball gown, but it was my first 'cocktail' dress and only my second pair of heels.  I felt 16!

To this day, I don’t remember how we got into the city from Bayside, Queens (of course, I lived in “Queens”) – whether by LIRR, car (though my mom didn’t know how to drive at the time) or limo.  I do know it wasn’t a pumpkin or a royal carriage.  But, it might as well have been because when we arrived outside the old opera house, I felt I had landed in an enchanted world of kings and queens and dukes and duchesses and was about to be let into a beautiful castle.  Turned out, I wasn’t all that wrong.

As we entered the lobby, the season’s debutantes lined the grand staircase in beautiful, billowy white gowns, handing out programs as we walked up to the mezzanine/dress circle level. Huge crystal chandeliers sparkled.  Celebs and NY notables were milling about sipping champagne as we mingled among them.  There was Miss (this was before the ‘Ms.” era) Gina Lollobrigida, a “queen” of Italian-American movies.  There was Miss Miiko Taka, the star of “Sayonara."  There was Rudolph Bing, the “ruler” of the opera house.  There was a Rockefeller or was it a Vanderbilt, maybe a Getty?  My mom wasn’t sure. The jewelry, the gowns, the glitter made it seem like I was in a  royal court.  A few people chit chatted with my Mom and she learned that a little further down the mezzanine was the dress circle bar where Elsa Maxwell was hosting a large, catered dinner party.  I didn’t have a clue who Elsa Maxwell was and, when my mother explained that she was the doyenne of ‘hostesses’ in America, I thought that to be an odd ‘occupation,’ but off we went to see who was sitting behind the rich, burgundy velvet ropes closing off the bar.

And there Elsa sat at the end of a long table covered in white linen… old, fat and rather homely (well, I was only 13), dressed in a brown matronly gown w/ silver threads (or were they gold?) woven into the fabric.  A huge, rather gaudy ruby necklace hung around her neck, complemented by equally gaudy matching earrings. She wore a tiara.  Her lips were blood red.  She was the Queen of Hearts and, at that moment, I felt more like Alice than Cinderella.  I wondered why this bizarre old woman w/ mousy permed hair was so important and why anyone would want to have dinner with her.  Maybe she was a QueenMiss Lollobrigida rejoined the table as did Mr. Bing.  And then I saw them just as my mother whispered in my ear to tell me they were there.  Sitting on either side of Miss Maxwell was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  The former Prince of Wales crowned King of England who gave up his throne for the woman he loved, then known as Mrs. Wallis Simpson.  Their love story was legendary.  A romantic real life fairy tale.  By the time I was ten, I had read all the light and superficial stories about them.  And in all his pictures, the former King was so handsome.  But seeing them not more than 15 feet away, they were not the figures I imagined when reading those picture magazines and flowery short stories.  They were no longer young and beautiful (well, the Duchess never was beautiful, but I thought she was ‘exotic’).  She was scarily skinny.  Her gown seemed to be hanging on a skeleton… a skeleton with a garishly painted face.  She was wearing more jewelry than you’d see in Harry Winston’s window.  I marveled that she could actually lift her painfully thin, overly bejeweled arm to inhale her cigarette.  The Duke, dressed in white tie and tails, was also skinny, proving that you can be too thin.  His skin was as white as the milk he was sipping (my mother had read that he had an ulcer).  They looked frail, desperate, trapped, totally bored and terribly sad.  It wasn’t until I was older and learned more about them that I realized what an accurate assessment that was -- even at 13.  Years later when I saw Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” with all its ‘Technicolor’-distorted painted characters’ glory, I thought the Duke and his Duchess would have fit in perfectly with that cast. 

A debutante ushered us to our box alongside Mr. Bing’s where Miss Taka was sitting and two boxes away from Miss Lollobrigida.  The Duke and Duchess and Elsa Maxwell were nowhere to be found.  As the curtain went up, I gasped.  On the stage was a completely other world – a fairy tale within a fairy tale.   I’d never seen anything like it.  And, as the singing began, I was glad my mother had made me read the libretto, though I would have been mesmerized even if I hadn’t a clue what was going on.

At intermission, my mother encouraged me to see if I could get Miss Lollobrigida’s autograph.  So, armed with my program and a pen, I left our box and walked over to hers.  (I have to preface this with the fact that at that time my curly hair was cut into a sort of ‘poodle’ cut that I had modeled after mouseketeer, Annette Funicello… it was also the same haircut as Gina’s.)  When her entourage emerged they took one look at me and quickly ushered me into Miss Lollobrigida’s box and plopped me right in front of a very confused movie star.  But, not as confused as I was, as everyone tried to hug me while they waved their arms and prattled excitedly back and forth in Italian.  I had no idea why I was chosen to meet this movie queen, or why they were all fussing over me.  Suddenly, Miss Lollobrigida started to laugh, then took my hands in hers and sweetly explained everything in a lilting Italian accent.  It seemed that her Italian box-mates, comprised of an agent and other business associates, thought I was her sister who had been seated elsewhere in the opera house. Then she smiled and graciously signed my program.  My Mom stood outside Miss Lollobrigida’s box as I floated out on cloud nine.  And, when I told her about my encounter as we rushed back to our own box for more arias, she was delighted for me, but said she wasn’t surprised… even though I had light brown/blonde hair, my texture and style were the same.  I was around the same height, thin, but curvy, and had similar brown eyes and full lips.   Moms are like that.  But, by saying that, she made me feel very… Italian.

And then the opera was over.  For a minute (well actually just a couple of seconds) there was complete silence, then the house broke out in thunderous cheers and bravas.  Devoted opera fans in the top tier, standing room only section were screaming with delight and throwing flowers on the stage (most hitting the people in the orchestra) as everyone in the theater gave Callas a standing ovation.  I’ve never heard such applause since.  It went on for more than ten minutes. 

And then, that was over, too.  Neither my mother nor I wanted the evening to end, so we sat in our box as the audience departed.  When the house was fairly empty, my Mom suggested we walk over to the bar for a “nightcap” before going home.  The burgundy velvet ropes gone, we sat down at a little table and ordered a soda for me and coffee for mom as we excitedly talked about all that we had seen and heard that night… the old-world, European beauty of the Met, the beautiful debutantes in their lovely white gowns, NY’s gentry eating w/ a duke and a duchess and movie royalty, the beautiful opera, and Callas’ performance... and then we saw them.  Sitting far in the back, all alone in the dark, were the former King of England and the woman he loved.  They didn’t talk to each other.  They didn’t even look at each other as they held court over no one. 

We soon left and my fairy tale evening was over.  It had been total magic and introduced me to the wonderful world of pomp and theater even if I did learn that night that fairy tales really only exist in fairy tales.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What A Crocker! - Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento CA

Crocker Art Museum
Sacramento, California
a pictorial tour

OK – so here’s the deal… Richard and I have been visiting my brother in Sacramento for more than 20 years, but in all those years, I had never heard of the Crocker Art Museum.  Oh, I’m sure Bob told me about it – he’s been a member forever, but you can’t prove it by me (it’s that ‘peri-senility’ thing – it’ll get you every time)…

Well, one morning a few weeks before Thanksgiving while sipping black decaf, I ran across an LA Times review of an exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud’s work at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.   Crocker what?!  Where?! Thiebaud, a renowned artist, lives in Sacramento (Who knew? Not me.) and though his work has been exhibited around the world, his museum home is the Crocker.  I loved the pieces I saw in the paper and wanted to go.  Richard wanted to go.  And Bob & Nguyen wanted to take us.  So when we arrived for our Thanksgiving-week visit, we set aside a day to see the exhibit, have lunch (Bob promised the café served a great cheeseburger) and explore the museum.  Sounded like a plan.

I had no idea how amazing this world class museum was.

The museum is named for Edwin B. Crocker, a 19th century state Supreme Court judge and a prominent California “Abe Lincoln” Republican who promoted national unity and opposed slavery.  His brother was Charles Crocker one the major railroad barons ‘back in the day’ and one of the organizers of the Central Pacific Railroad Company for which Edwin was legal counsel.

Edwin and his second wife, Margaret (also an ardent abolitionist) lived in an Italianate mansion

w/ a connecting “Italianate” building built as an art gallery to house their extensive collection of art

  – but that was only the second floor.

The first floor

had a skating rink, a bowling alley, a billiard room, a library and a natural history museum.  (I could’ve lived there!)

When Edwin died in 1875, Margaret gave the art gallery building and its collection to Sacramento “in public trust” forming the EB Crocker Art Gallery, the predecessor to the present day Crocker Art Museum, which recently reopened after renovations that added a new 125,000 square foot space (the Teel Family Pavilion) – a classic contemporary design, which tripled the size of the museum.

Though the Crocker remains dedicated to the history of California artists, the museum’s collection has expanded to include world class work from all over the globe.

And it has a terrific plaza-like indoor café/cafeteria

that serves entrees such as ale braised Bledsoe pork on creamy polenta, oven baked salmon w/ roasted root veggies, Petaluma chicken breast salad w/ Shaft blue cheese dressing… a kid’s menu including fried, grilled cheese, chicken fingers and mac & cheese…. (had to get the food in, right?)

And yeh – that cheeseburger made from Niman Ranch beef.  Bob was right.  It was good.

But as good as that cheeseburger was, the art was way better.

Here are just some examples of the Crocker's diverse collection...

A few pieces by Wayne Thiebaud (the ties pic is a particular favorite of mine):

Pottery, Ceramics & Glass:


Tail of the Pup is a personal favorite because it was one of my favorite hot dog stands in Los Angeles.

Interior 'landscapes':

Still Lifes:


All of these, of course, are just a few examples of the artwork housed in this wonderful museum.  So, if you're ever in Sacramento, the Crocker Art Museum is a MUST stop.  Enjoy the art ... the architecture - and, have a delicious cheeseburger.