Another thing I really don’t need but totally want, regardless

A truly elegant wine carafe by Sagaform.

A beautiful wine carafe by Sagaform. Photo courtesy of canopy.com

I already have a carafe that is almost exactly like the example above. But this one has a beautiful oak ball as a stopper. And, in the photograph at least, the top looks like an orb floating magically over a miniature lake of red wine.

My carafe doesn’t have any of that, but it was a wedding gift, and I have used it regularly and loved it… until this one popped into my field of vision, tempting me with it’s organic addition.

But I will remain strong and walk away. One must remain faithful to one’s first love, if at all possible.

You, however, should go buy it right now. And then invite me over for a drink so I can live vicariously…

Three apps worth sharing with your kids

Drum roll please:

I am finally loading up a few kid’s apps onto the family iPad. We are a screen-wary family. Not 100% against all things electronic, by any means, but just very mindful of what kind of media we expose both ourselves and our daughter to. I am not against TV per se, I’m just not into bad TV, if you know what I mean, and this policy runs through all media… books, film, music and video.

My rule of thumb? If I don’t want to watch/play it, we don’t download it. And luckily, there are some real gems out there amidst the Barbie movies and the violent soldier-of-fortune style video games. Here are three of them:

Blek is a beautiful combination of elegant simplicity and a game that is really really challenging. Even for grown ups. In fact, I had to put on my pre-school teacher hat and remind my husband about the importance of sharing and letting everyone have their turn. There is no loud annoying music, no gun shots, no explosions. Just draw a little black line with your finger and try to hit all of the colored dots without touching the black ones. It’s about doodling, making patterns and spacial problem solving, but it’s hard to describe, so just watch the trailer. Or if you really want to go deep, read this review, which does a nice job of explaining everything.

Bloom is a generative music app created by Brian Eno. Which is all you need to know. But here’s a bit more. Created with the clearly brilliant software designer Peter Chilvers, this app turns your phone (or tablet) into it’s own unique musical instrument rather than trying to pretend that it’s a piano or a guitar. You make a pattern and it repeats. You add on to it and the pattern becomes more complex. You can also just turn it on and let it do its thing. An informative review, for the curious, is on gizmodo.

A screenshot of Hopscotch, a programming app for kids. There are videos of Hopscotch in action on YouTube, but the music was so horrible I couldn't bear to have them up here. Sorry...

A screenshot of Hopscotch, a programming app for kids.

Hopscotch is a coding app for young kids, or really anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals of computer science, which they define as “the study of computational thinking, or how to use logical thinking and abstraction to develop generalized solutions to complex problems.” And who doesn’t want their kids to master that?

Basically this app allows you to make games, stories, animations, etc by dragging blocks of code into specific arrangements. The code is translated into English, so that even the youngest programmers can make things happen on their own without having to struggle with difficult computer syntax. But the commands are the same, which makes moving into the more advanced stages of programing a snap for all interested parties.

Waaaay back in the 1970′s, when I was a kid, we learned how to make simple computer games using BASIC (this dates me…) and I still remember the thrill of getting the terminal to go through my predetermined motions and print out whatever I wanted. It was a profound and intelligent introduction to technology as a tool that I will never forget.

Now we have animals jumping through hoops and standing on their heads, but the basic intent is the same. If we can help the next generation to understand that these digital objects are tools with which we can help to create a better universe, our future begins to look very bright.

Monday, Monday– or a ride down today’s stream of consciousness

maria cornejo pea coat

If I were going to be buying a new coat this winter, it would most likely be this little peacoat by Maria Cornejo. I’m probably not going to (hell, I haven’t even gotten around to replacing my tea kettle yet) but a girl can dream…

As if I didn’t need any more fodder for my conspiracy theory dossier, here’s a piece about the letter that the FBI wrote (while pretending to be a rabid ex-fan) to Martin Luther King, Jr suggesting he kill himself.

Reading that piece got me all riled up, so I decided to check my e mail. My husband sent me this link to Opening Ceremony’s new collab with Intel: a glamorous wristwatch/smartphone. “Why not just get an implant and call it a day?” I wonder out loud to myself.

So in a desperate attempt to turn my attention away from the fact that we are all just drones-in-waiting and towards something more wholesome, I go to Etsy. Etsy UK, actually. I figure it’ll be less commercial. There I find this super cute idea for holiday spice biscuits that hang out on the rim of your mug.

Which of course gets me all freaked out about the holidays. Suddenly I feel horribly behind, and we’re over a month away from the big day. In order to help ease myself off of that ledge, I go for more practical concerns (aka Thanksgiving) and decide to get lost in the NY Times Cooking’s exhaustive guide to the holiday. We’ve got vegans joining this year, so the tried and true ain’t gonna hold.

A person could meander around for hours on that site. Maybe I should just get practical and prepare some of Julia Moskin’s cranberry sauce, as it’s one of the few things you can make way ahead that will still be delicious next Thursday.

Or maybe I should get even more practical and make a quick brine for the pork chops I have in the fridge waiting to be transformed into dinner.

Or I could just wander on over to the Zero Maria Cornejo webstore and fantasize about this peacoat which really should be in my closet even though I have no pressing need for more outerwear…

Last night’s dinner: Craig Claiborne’s beef stew

craig claiborne beef stew

To be honest, this is not a picture of the dinner version of this dish, which was served on a bed of lovely brown organic rice and had parsley garnishes for a bit of color. Nope, you guys get the quick leftover before-school-pick-up lunch version. But let me tell you, it was even more delicious today than it was before…

Why I find it necessary to mention the fact that this beef stew comes to us via the late great Craig Claiborne, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because, as a kid growing up in a household that read the New York Times religiously, he was the first real food writer that I was aware of. (Well, besides Julia Child who came into our hearts via Dan Akroyd’s brilliant Saturday Night Live impersonations). Or maybe it’s just because “beef stew” sounds kind of pedestrian and lame, but “Craig Claiborne’s beef stew” suddenly feels more debonair.

Whatever the reason, this dish is stupendous. And the perfect thing to serve these days, now that the weather has suddenly switched from Indian Summer to Arctic Vortex overnight.

I started preparing it early in the am, left the stew to simmer for a nice long time and then actually left the entire pot just to sit for a few hours before it was time to reheat and eat. As with all stews, this one improves with age, and I am really looking forward to the late lunch of leftovers that I’m about to sink into now.

Details are below, or you can go to the ever-awesome NY Times Cooking site, for the full monty with photos, links to similar recipes, etc…

Craig Claibporne’s Beef Stew

Ingredients

4 pounds lean, boneless chuck steak
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups dry red wine
2 cups water
4 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon thyme
6 sprigs parsley, tied in a bundle
6 large carrots, about 1 1/2 pounds, trimmed and scraped

Preparation

Cut the meat into two-inch cubes.
Using a large skillet, heat the oil and add the beef cubes in one layer. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring and turning the pieces often, for about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat the meat evenly.
Add the wine and stir until the mixture boils and thickens. Stir in the water. Add the cloves, bay leaf, thyme and parsley. Cover closely and simmer for one hour.
Meanwhile, cut the carrots into one-inch lengths. If the pieces are very large, cut them in half lengthwise. Add them to the beef. Cover and continue cooking for 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Serve the stew sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Monday, Monday– or more links about projects I would get around to doing if I were a productive person instead of the clearly lazy procrastinator that sits before you now.

thesecretyumiverse.wonderhowto.com

Like, for example, after having been inspired by this post on thesecretyumiverse.wonderhowto.com, maybe I would take some time out to experiment with different ways to wear my scarves.

Here’s a friendly and encouraging post about what you need to start scrapbooking (which would be a great thing for me to do with all of my millions of photos and little scraps of paper).

I could always take playing with cars to a whole new level like Chris Burden did for his piece Metropolis II on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I could actually open up the Tassajara Bread Book that I bought 2 years ago and begin baking bread in earnest. Hell, I could even make more of that no-knead bread Mark Bittman made so popular a few years back.

For the upcoming holiday season, I could hand make all sorts of incredible, useful gifts that don’t take up very much space whilst greatly adding to the quality of life of the receiver. Like these home made, all-natural, whole food vitamin C pills. Who doesn’t want those?

And I actually think I am going to make some of these gold dipped wooden candle holders (so hopefully all of my friends/family are too busy to really pay attention to this post and as such will be surprised when they receive one of these babies as a gift this year).

The minimalists have some really good advice on how and why to start a blog, which is the ultimate current cultural pastime, if you ask me. I can actually check this one off of my list (hooray!) though I sure do have plenty of room for improvement…

Last week, some guy in France went 207 mph on a bicycle with the help of some rockets he strapped on. I’ll probably never get around to doing something like that, though a girl can dream…

El Anatsui!

art
Anthem for A-Nu by El Anatsui at the Mnuchin Gallery in NYC

A small but powerful woodland elf admires Anthem for A-Nu by El Anatsui at the Mnuchin Gallery in NYC

This past weekend, on our way to yet another Halloween party with our daughter (which, I might add, had quite possibly the best holiday themed snacks I’ve seen outside of Pinterest) we stopped by the Mnuchin Gallery to have our breath taken away by the beautiful work of the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui.

We knew what we were getting into, as we’d seen his work in a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum and literally couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks afterwards. Josh and I had a friendly-ish who-can-take-the-best-photo-of-the-show competition, which we both lost. The work is monumental and tactile and three dimensional in a way that makes it difficult to capture with an iPhone. And yet I continue to try…

Metas II by El Anatsui

a detail of Metas II, one of the pieces in the Mnuchin show.

This detail gives you a bit of an idea of how the pieces are constructed… they are sculptures and quilts and installations all in one, transforming locally common found objects (basically trash) into profound and moving pieces of social and cultural commentary. El Anatsui has been described as a post industrial african urban pointillist, and while that doesn’t roll off the tongue all that easily, I think it’s an accurate description of his work.

This Art 21 video does a great job of describing his process and is well worth watching. Even my 6 year old daughter was mesmerized.

The exhibit, consisting entirely of work made in the past year, is not to be missed, and it’s open through mid December. If you can’t deal with the upper east side, there is another show of his work at Jack Shainman in Chelsea, but you have to get there before the 15th of this month. If you want to learn a bit more about the work, check out this slide show on the New York Times’ site… it has images from the Brooklyn Museum as well as a bit more information about the artist.

Disciples, by El Anatsui at the Mnuchin Gallery.

Disciples, by El Anatsui at the Mnuchin Gallery.

Every time a new person walked into the space, you could hear them gasp with wonder. In these strange and uncertain times, with so much craziness going on in the world, it is lovely to know that there is still a way to tap into our childlike sense of wonder.

Please go and see this man’s work and tap into yours.

Monday, Monday (the Election Day edition) or a few links that have nothing to do with voting…

grüner veltliner called H&M Hofer.

This is a lovely but illegible photo of the bottle of wine we drank last night with dinner. It was delicious, and should you wish to check it out yourself, it’s a Grüner Veltliner called H&M Hofer.

Last night, we had some friends over for dinner. I am sick of the logistics of going out to dinner, finding sitters, debating the merits of driving vs. taxi vs. subway and then freaking out (for no reason, mind you) about parking, etc etc. Lets just have them come over, I say to my husband. It’ll be so much easier.

Unless your name is Brooke Williams, which is, unfortunately, my current situation.

So instead of planning way ahead, buying food in advance, maybe even cooking something that involves short prep time and isn’t too complex, and outsourcing some of the meal (you guys bring desert!) I basically worked from 6 am to 6 pm straight to make it happen. Not, mind you, because I chose to do/make anything really complicated, but because my name (as mentioned before) is Brooke Williams, and I have a rare gift for figuring out how to make even the simplest tasks exceedingly time consuming.

So today’s links are all about the construction of yesterday’s meal. Please enjoy and rest easy in the knowledge that, if I had it to do over again, I would in an instant. We had a great time and it was worth every minute of preparation.

So I rise at 6 am, in order to get the Long Island cheese pumpkin (that we picked a couple of weeks ago at our favorite pumpkin spot in Bridgehampton) into the oven. Because we are making pumpkin pie and GOD FORBID we use canned pumpkin. (Did I mention what my name was?) And it’s not just any pumpkin pie, this one is from Florence Fabricant via the NY Times and has applesauce in it. Which means we get to use the sauce my father made from the apples that my daughter and I picked from the tree in my parents’ backyard. This is insanely satisfying and makes the whole thing worth it.

Kid gets dropped off at school, pumpkin comes out of the oven, scooped out and placed in a strainer for 2 hours to drain out the excess water. I followed this recipe for the roast pumpkin, but turned elsewhere when it came to the actual pie, because who can compete with Florence Fabricant, when it comes to these kinds of things?

I then look around and realize that the house is a bit of a mess, and that cleaning up is gonna involve vacuuming. So off I go!

Next stop is Union Square, where I get to take advantage of the Greenmarket, and Whole Foods at once. I am, of course, overwhelmed by the choices of sweet potatoes and spend far too long trying to decide which type to get. Oh if only I’d had the Saveur Guide to Sweet Potatoes with me… Luckily, you can’t really lose in this dept. I went with the sweet and nutty Japanese variety.

Then into Whole Foods, which for some reason was INSANELY CROWDED for a Monday late morning. I might have made up for the excess time I spent outside thinking about sweet potatoes but for two elusive products. One was evaporated milk (for the pie) which I don’t think I’ve ever even thought about before, much less bought. It took me ages to finally find the cans, which live way down on a lower shelf in the baking area, in case you were wondering.

The other was pomegranate molasses, which I needed to dress my kale salad. I saw the recipe on Bon Apétit and was determined to make it happen. Despite being listed in the Whole Foods website, there was none of the evidently-common-in-the-middle-east-but-I’ve-never-heard-of-it-before sweetener in the store. A desperate web search on my phone uncovers the fact that I can make it myself. Problem solved. All I need is some juice, sugar, lemon and 70 minutes on the stove.

Ok so now we rush home (clock is ticking!) make the molasses, stick the butter in the freezer so it stays nice and cold for the crust and then go pick up my daughter from school.

We get home, after stopping by Bakeri on Wythe, which makes, hands down, the best baguettes in this neck of the woods, if not the entire city.

Next we make the crust for the pie (which is gonna need to sit in the fridge for at least an hour before we roll it out). This recipe comes from the indomitable Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, whose crust has no equal, as far as I’m concerned. We cheated and used a food processor (much to my daughter’s dismay) but only because we don’t own a pastry blender and there wasn’t time to go buy one. The clock was ticking.

By the way, doing any cooking with a kid under the age of 10 or so is going to take you twice as long. Just keep that in mind.

Dinner centered around a roast chicken, and I’d been given very precise directions by my best-cook-ever husband, which I chose to ignore, because my name is Brooke Williams. Instead, I panicked, searched online and came up with this version of the “perfect roast chicken” from the good people over at the Kitchn (aka Apt Therapy’s cooking site). Chicken goes into the oven, along with the peeled and cut potatoes and we’re off to the races!

Then we mix up the filling for the pumpkin pie, realize we don’t have ground cloves (text husband who is on his way home at this point), take the chicken out, panic internally about whether it is done while maintaining an outwardly calm exterior, make salad, roll out the dough (a task completed entirely by my daughter, which makes me incredibly proud), receive guests and cloves, get pie in the oven, instruct husband to carve chicken, drink wine, sit down and have lovely dinner with friends.

Phew. Now you know why I didn’t get to posting yesterday…

Kettle time

burnt kettle

The latest example of why sleep is really helpful, both spiritually and economically. If my brain would only remember that I turned the water on, this poor kettle might not have been burnt (for the umpteenth time…)

The time has come, as you can clearly see, for a new tea kettle. I don’t want to disclose exactly how many times I have almost burned the house down by forgetting all about the boiling water in the pot… only to be reminded by a sharp and pungent smell of burning metal. This past time, the entire bottom of the pot was glowing a dull red. Let’s just say that this particular pot has used up it’s nine lives.

So on to the next one!

I am, of course, shopping around and taking forever to decide which new model gets the place of honor on our stove top, but I think I’ve narrowed it down to these… Let me know what you think:

Yanagi Tea kettle, from Japan.

Yanagi Tea kettle, from Japan.

Yanagi tea kettle. It just sounds impressive. This is the one my oft mentioned friend Nancy covets, and since, when it comes to choosing stuff for the home, I’d happily follow her off of a cliff, I too am desperately in love with it. Yanagi is one of Japan’s most admired and prolific designers, so it’s got artisan cred, plus it’s made out of durable stainless steel which… well… does not stain.

The Kaico Kettle, also from Japan

The Kaico Kettle, also from Japan

One might think that all good kettles come from Japan, but that is not true. Only most of the really-beautiful-and-slightly-more-expensive-than-I-want-to-pay ones do. Remodelista (a pox on you for being such a treasure trove of lust-worthy objects) has also offered up this lovely kettle designed by Shoei Kogyo. Called the Kaico Kettle, it has a white enamel coating over it’s steel interior, creating a thermally efficient and easy to clean pot. Which is good, because it’s wooden handle means it’s not dishwasher safe (I don’t care as we are dishwasher-free here in Brooklyn, but that may matter to some of you people out there).

Also priceless is the below description of this kettle that I found (poetically translated into English) on the Japanese website Rakuten.com:

To mass consumption in the family in the summer barley, etc Kama in the capacity of a little may be unsatisfactory, but think minutes to consume at any given time to make the just the right size. Size also put at kitchen kettle is also not in the way, love the look is very nice. Using, enjoying the look in the eyes. It may be this comfortable communing daily design leads to attachment.

I mean, who can resist buying the Kaico after reading that testimonial?

The Staub La Thiere tea pot in black cast iron.

The Staub La Thiere tea pot in black cast iron.

But then I think… Hmmm… Should I go back to the white enamel style? Or should I get something made of sterner stuff so as not to worry (as much) about burning the pot again and again? This thought turns my gaze towards the Staub La Theiere cast iron pot, the sturdiness of which I’m sure would have pleased even Ma from Little House on the Prairie. It’s sold on Amazon (of course) but it looks like right now there’s a bit of a sale happening via Remodelista, so it might be worth checking there first if this is your model of choice.

The Dualit cordless electric kettle

The Dualit cordless electric kettle

Or do I just bail on the whole stove top concept and get all modern and European with this electric kettle by Dualit? It’s not bad looking, can hang out anywhere on your counter and evidently has no cord, so you don’t have to worry about trying to run the plug behind the sink and over the spice rack to reach the one outlet in the kitchen. This would constitute a major life change for me, and I admit I am not sure I’m up to it. But I am putting it out there, in case any of you are leaning in this direction.

So there you have it. A few tea kettles to consider. Now the big mystery is in figuring out just how long it’s going to take me to actually make a decision for myself…

Yesterday, at some point…

elfandpups

On the way to the Sag Harbor Ragamuffin Parade

So lets see… we have a wood elf, two dogs, and… is that… Gilligan?

___________________________________
Yesterday, at some point is a series of photographs that describe a moment I experienced during the previous day. The posts are meant to be stand alone images, though at times I can’t control myself, and I end up expanding the caption into a more lengthy bit of text. Hopefully the extra information is useful, or at least interesting. If not, feel free to ignore it.