Symphony

Program: Overture to Manfred (Robert Schumann), Piano Concerto in A minor (Clara Schumann), Symphony No. 1 in C minor (Johannes Brahms)
Conductor: Steven Sloane
Pianist: Natasha Kislenko
Narrator: Peter Strauss

This past weekend I learned that I regret waiting five years to go to the symphony here in Santa Barbara. I think it was a combination of unwarranted snootiness (the Philadelphia Orchestra that I went to as an undergrad is one of the “Big Five”–not that I could tell the difference) and plain old business/laziness, but thanks to a gift from a friend Anna and I finally attended the symphony here, for their “Valentine’s Love Letters” concert.

The use of a narrator to introduce the Robert-Clara-Johannes love triangle and read their love letters was an interesting choice, but it helped give a bit of context to the works (not that they really had anything to do with their love for each other). Sloane, the conductor, was a lot of fun to watch as well, being more physical than I remember Eschenbach being in Philadelphia. The lead viola also had a crazy hipster mustache.

The music, of course, was great. Anna liked Clara’s work the most; I thought it was great until the middle of the second movement–there is a period where the piano trades off with the cello, and after that it starts on the path to a great and energetic section but in my opinion never quite gets there. I preferred the Brahms symphony, of course–finally we have someone who knows how to use the back section of the orchestra. I have a special place in my heart for Brahms No. 3, but nevertheless I thought this one was damn good.

The moral of the story: go to the symphony, wherever you are, whenever you get the chance.

A Galaxy Sorbetto

galaxy sorbetto

You may remember that I have a slight, err, problem, when it comes to Colette Sorbettos.  The truth of it is, I haven’t gone clothes shopping for more than shoes, socks, and tights since I started sewing over a year ago now.  And as the only shirt style I have tried to sew and actually liked wearing is the sorbetto, they now take up considerable real estate in the closet.  What with a return to sewing separates in a multitude of mabels, it occurred to me that I finally have a good excuse for making a similar number of tops.  That, and I was gifted the most lovely astronomy-themed fabric by my sewing friend Alicia.  Seriously, this fabric is out of this world! (ehem, sorry about that)  I’ve seen quite a few space or galaxy themed fabrics floating around the sewing blogosphere, but nothing that compares to the real thing… until now.

neck line

Unfortunately (for viewing purposes), I decided to use the darkest sections of the fabric for my newest sorbetto experiment, but you can still see the splatter of stars in what reminds me of an image of our very own Galaxy.  Since the fabric is so light, I decided to make a looser fit sorbetto, sewing the pleat only at the top.  I have a black tank top that I wear underneath to keep things PG.

bottom hem

If scientists had uniforms based on their area of research, mine would involve a whole dress made out of this fabric (for example this beauty here).  But before you get too excited about a Galaxy dress, I should tell you that it isn’t happening any time soon.  You see, this fabric was tricky to work with and is so sheer that I would have to line it, a skill with which I am still unacquainted.  I was actually so frustrated with this fabric that I ended up finishing the neck and arm holes by hand, just so I wouldn’t have to make and attach bias tape.

One final note: I’m not the only person obsessed with sorbettos, for example see this, that, or the other.

Limoncello, Part 2

The Limoncello BountyThe limoncello was finished quite awhile ago, and it’s been well enjoyed since then. There are certainly some alterations I would make to the recipe, but first let me state how it was finished.

In mid-June (about two months after I started), I boiled four cups of water and dissolved three cups of sugar into it. In an attempt to reduce the sugar-water a bit, I let it boil for a while, but eventually gave up. It had a somewhat syrup-like consistency. This was added directly to the lemon-alcohol extract, and I let it sit in the cabinet for another couple weeks. I then put it in wine bottles for serving. I got just over two 750 mL bottles out of it (see picture), which means that it is a bit under half the strength of the original 750 mL bottle of everclear–that is, it is now about the strength of most hard liquors (just under 40% ABV).

The color of the limoncello is a bit… browner… than I would like. This I attribute to the sugar: I used unrefined pure cane sugar (or something–I don’t remember exactly but the sugar was a bit darker than typical table sugar), so were I to repeat this I would use refined white sugar. I would also cut the sugar content in half; this is somewhat too sweet for me. It’s only a bit sweeter than what I remember the commercial limoncello of Italy to be, but my personal taste would have it much less sweet.

Limoncello, Served

The Hiking Zinnia

hiking zinnia

After trekking across a dormant volcano in an elastic-waisted skirt that is very sadly past its prime, I knew I needed to make a replacement.  Thankfully I am no more scared of altering patterns than I am of deviating from recipes, so I decided to try the Colette Zinnia skirt pattern with an elastic waist.  The alteration was easy really, I just ignored the waistband and added 1-inch elastic to the top of the skirt pieces.  The end result is both comfy and practical, sporting the hidden pockets I’ve come to rely on for hiding keys and my phone while I’m at work.  I actually made this skirt ages ago, around the time I made my first Zinnia, but perhaps because I didn’t wear my hiking Zinnia much at first, I never posted pictures.  Well, it is now one of my most worn pieces of clothing, perfect in hot weather with its light layers of cotton whipping in the breeze and equally perfect for cold weather with either tights or a Colette Mabel skirt layered underneath.  The only thing I would change next time is to make the skirt less full.  I didn’t sew the skirt to the elastic anywhere but the middle of the back (which I could only identify easily once I’d added a “tag”), so the fullness tends to migrate towards the skirt front.

tag

Hem

Santa Barbara Sourdough Bread

Santa Barbara Sourdough

Disclaimer: This is an old sourdough recipe (March 2013!) that has been somehow overlooked. This was how I first learned sourdough, but I have since moved on to the Tartine recipe, which I now recommend. I post it now for completeness.

I have a love-hate relationship with sourdough. Mostly, actually, it’s love–especially because I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. The hate part only comes in when I try to make sourdough myself, and fail. I can, at last, say that I have successfully made a sourdough that I would consider as good as San Francisco sourdough. The yield isn’t quite there yet–I’ve had only a couple batches that I would consider AGASF (as good as San Francisco)–and it’s not as healthy as I’d like–I’ve only really had success with up to about 20% whole wheat–but it’s been a few months since I’ve used any commercial yeast, and we’ve had pretty good bread (on average) for the duration.

The sourdough starter we’ve got was, like all sourdough starters, a gift from a friend. I don’t have instructions for the creation of the starter, but the maintenance is pretty simple: 60g water and 60g white flour, twice a day. Well, twice a day is the ideal, it usually works out to be once a day in practice. The starter can be kept in the fridge indefinitely, as well–I recommend feeding and waiting about 12 hours before use when taking it out of the fridge.

The recipe comes in three stages: making the sponge, making the dough, and baking, with about 12 and 24 hours between each. Here are the details:

Santa Barbara Sourdough 2

Sponge
55-60g starter
225g white flour
140g water

Combine all ingredients and mix until evenly distributed. Allow to sit for 8 to 12 hours at room temperature. If you’re not ready to use it after 12 hours, put it in the fridge at that point (for up to a week, probably).

Dough
all the sponge
567g white flour
400g water
18g salt

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix (with bread hook) on slow speed for 5 minutes. Wait 10 minutes, then mix 5 more. Repeat until there have been a total of four mixings, then divide into two oiled bowls, and put them in the fridge for at least one and at most seven days.

Baking
Take the dough out of the fridge two to four hours before baking. After one or two hours, shape the dough into a boule (a mound) on a well-floured pizza peel. Preheat the oven with a bread stone and a water pan (regular baking pan works fine) to 500 F. When ready to bake, make sure the dough isn’t make stuck to the peel and then quickly slide it onto the baking stone. Pour about one cup of water into the water pan, set the temperature to 450 F, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the internal temperature is 190 F. Allow to cool, and enjoy.

Modifications
As I mentioned above, I’ve had success with limited amounts of whole wheat–about 200g and it still rises fairly well. Above that, I’ve tried increasing the water as well, with mixed success.

Yogurt

As predicted earlier, I’ve now been promoted to “Master of Fermentables” with the creation of my very first fermented milk product, yogurt (cheese still to come–keep an eye out!). Turns out that yogurt is pretty easy to make (much easier than beer or wine, for example)–basically you just heat up some milk, cool it off, add some existing yogurt, and let it grow at a fairly warm temperature for a couple of hours.

Persimmon Yogurt

You know what’s great with this yogurt? Fresh, ripe persimmons.

I highly recommend Dr. Fankhauser’s website for beginning cheesemakers. It got us started, and it can get you started as well.

Before I dive into the recipe, I’d like to share (1) the modification I made to Fankhauser’s recipe, (2) some advice, (3) some interesting tidbits, and (4) a judgement:

  1. Only use half the amount of cultured yogurt that Fankhauser calls for as a starter; that is, half a cup for 1 gallon of milk (instead of 1 cup).
  2. Don’t heat up the yogurt too fast. The first time I did this, I heated it with the stove burner at four or five (out of ten). While I was careful to stir frequently and tried not to let it heat any one part of the milk too much, the yogurt still came out a bit grainy. The second time, I heated it at two to three, and while it certainly took longer, I didn’t have to stir it at all, practically, and it came out wonderfully.
  3. In the course of yogurt making, the milk is heated to ~90 C. This causes the proteins to precipitate out of the liquid (whey), so there’s nothing you can do with the whey remnants after you’ve made yogurt–so don’t feel bad about throwing it away (though it does have a bunch of vitamins, I guess). When making cheese, the milk is heated to ~40 C, so some of the proteins remain in the whey, so the leftover cheese-whey can be made into things like ricotta.
  4. The yogurt is delicious! While I sometimes wish it were more solid, the commercial yogurt we got the bacteria from is pretty runny, so I don’t know what I was expecting. The taste is actually just about exactly the same as the commercial yogurt, so I think it counts as a success.
Persimmons

We have a lot of persimmons.

Ingredients and Directions

I really can’t give you better directions for yogurt making than Fankhauser’s, but here you go anyway. For equipment, you’ll need a pot capable of holding 1 gallon of milk, a method for sterilizing jars (see #2 below), a thermometer, four quart jars and one pint jar (and their lids), and a cooler capable of holding them for thermal insulation. (Other methods of thermal insulation may work as well, but I haven’t tried them; I’ve just done what Fankauser says.)

Ingredients:

1 gallon milk (we used Organic Valley brand whole milk)

1/2 cup yogurt with live cultures (we used Strauss brand, European style, plain whole milk yogurt)

Directions:

  1. Put the milk in a pot and heat it to 90 C over a low flame (see above for commentary).
  2. Meanwhile, sterilize four quart jars and one pint jar by putting them in a big pot; filling it with about 1 inch of water; bringing to a boil, covered; and allowing to boil for 10 minutes. Because the water heats gradually, the glass is in no danger, but it will be hot to handle when done, of course. After 10 minutes, turn off heat but leave the lid on until you’re ready to use them.
  3. Cool the milk to 55 C in a water bath; that is, fill your sink with water and put the pot in there.
  4. Meanwhile, warm a gallon of water to 55 C. This will be used for thermal insulation. Pour the water into the cooler, and check that the cooler temperature is near 50 C.
  5. Remove one cup of milk at 55 C, add the yogurt to it, mix it thoroughly, return it to the main pot, and mix thoroughly.
  6. Distribute the inoculated milk into the jars. I have yet to do this without spilling it all over the place. Somehow, though, I always end up with more than 1 gallon + 1/2 cup, so it doesn’t bother me (other than for cleanup). Close the lids tightly.
  7. Place the jars in the water in the cooler. The water should come up to the neck but not touch the lids (i.e. no possibility of it seeping in). You may have to prop up the pint jar so that it doesn’t get completely submerged.
  8. Wait for three to six hours, and refrigerate!
  9. (Bonus step!) If you want Greek-style yogurt, you may strain the yogurt as follows: line a colander or strainer with a cheese cloth or similar (we use a “nut milk bag”) and put the yogurt in that, and put the whole thing over a bowl for the whey to strain into. You can strain for as long as you like; we typically do overnight. You should probably do this in the fridge; we always have, and I don’t know what would happen if you left the yogurt at room temperature for a while.

Food Stumbled Over

potroast

Photo of delicious pot roast from the pot roast recipe.

While there hasn’t been a lot of food blogging lately, that doesn’t mean we’ve been starving to death.  Between the baked potatoes, sweet potato fries, and popcorn we have been known to call dinner, there were a few gems worth sharing, even if they were inhaled before the camera was found or even thought of.  In absolutely no particular order, I invite you on a tour de food found on the internet:

  • The best pot roast we’ve ever made.  Meat falls apart after being heavily browned.  I’m sure the homemade wine doesn’t hurt either.
  • You’re going to hate me for telling you about this, but it’s surprisingly easy to make your own peanut butter cups with way better chocolate than any brand bought in a store (even a health food store, and I should know, because I’ve tried THEM ALL!).  I forgot to sprinkle salt on the top of mine.  Wups, I guess that means I need to make these again.
  • It turns out dumpling wrappers are ridiculously easy to make yourself.  What’s less easy is having the patience to roll and fill them all.  This reminds me that I need to find that recipe from Dan for puffy/spongy dough for wrapping dumpling filling.  Apparently I have a serious dumpling addiction!
  • Pretty good lentil soup or dahl recipe using red lentils.  As proof let me tell you that Peter likes it so much he is willing to make it himself and Peter does not make soup.
  • I sometimes forget how delicious eggplant parmesan is, but cooking eggplant on the stove frustrates me — something about the way it soaks up oil until it’s obviously drenched, by which point it’s clear you’ve gone too far.  Thank you Mario for reminding me to just bake the mofos and move on with my day.
  • This is from the archives, but I recently made the most heavenly dark chocolate pudding pie using this crust recipe (my favorite) and something like this pudding recipe (except we didn’t have enough sugar, so I just added lots of dark chocolate chips… the final consistency was veering towards ganache territory).

And finally, a friend graciously gave us a bag of lemons and a box of persimmons this week, which left me wondering whether it might be possible to make persimmon-lemon bars.  That and we are out of sugar, and Peter is using it as a way to keep me from baking decadent desserts (perhaps someone should remind him that it’s not in his best interest, seeing as he loves sweets as dearly as I do).  It turns out that a recipe for persimmon-lemon bars already exists, although a shortbread crust sounds more tasty. I’ll have to report back once our persimmons are finally ripe.