Southern Comfort

I spent the better part of my summers growing up in Magnolia, AR. with my father’s sister and her family. Located in the southwestern part of Arkansas I benefited from both southern and “Texan” cooking.  My aunt, a true southern belle, cooked up timeless favorites like barbecue shrimp, fried chicken, sweet potato pie, seasonal fruit compotes, and every vegetable you can imagine only smothered in butter.  Southern food takes me back to those glorious summers and comforts me like few other things can. However, these days I do not consume red meat, and only minimal amounts of chicken or dairy products. Thus I meet my cravings head on with catfish, collard greens and biscuits or a healthy portion of chocolate pecan pie with an even healthier portion of whiskey.

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This past weekend  I wanted to relax, which meant nourishing my mind (catching up on reading) and satisfying some of my recent cravings for comfort food.  Sunday afternoon gave me the chance to dig through my ever expanding binder of recipes. Halibut on Mashed Fava Beans with Mint from the April, 2009 issue of Bon Appetit was the perfect response to the previous evening’s dinner of popcorn and diet cola I’d consumed during STAR TREK. It would also be a nice compliment to a relatively quick and easy corn bread recipe from my newly acquired copy of  the Babycakes: The Cookbook by vegan, gluten-free NYC based bakery owner and mastermind Erin McKenna.

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With this combination of fish and cornbread I got exactly what I wanted in my final holiday weekend meal, a blend of comfort and health. I even got to try out the marmalade jam I’d picked up at the farmers’ market Friday.

Babycakes Corn Bread (makes 10 slices)

2/3 cup rice milk
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose baking four
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup corn flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (homemade recipe in book as option)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly grease a 7 x 4 x 3-inch loaf pan with oil.

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Pour rice milk and apple cider vinegar into a small bowl, but do not stir; set aside to develop into “buttermilk.” In  a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, corn flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.  Add the oil, agave nectar, applesauce, and vanilla to the dry ingredients. Stir the batter until well combined. Pour in the “buttermilk.” Mix gently until the ingredients are fully incorporated and a slightly grainy batter is formed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the corn bread on the center rack for 32 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees after 20 minutes. The finished corn bread will bounce back slightly when pressed, and  toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

Let the corn bread stand in the pan for 20 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edge of the bread. Cover the top of the pan with a cutting board, and invert the loaf onto the board. Carefully lift the pan away and re-invert the corn bread onto another cutting board. Either cut and serve warm, or wait until completely cool before storing. Cover the uncut corn bread with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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On My Nightstand

I do not own a TV so apart from Netflix my evenings home are spent reading cookbooks, fashion magazines, biographies, and novels. Some of  the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had with friends are based on what we are currently reading. Following is what I am curling up with these days.

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The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris by Alice Drake. An elegant account of the decades long rivalry between Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.  My fashion-minded friend Crista has shared some terrific books with me over the years with this being no exception.

A signed copy of The Widow Cliquot, which I picked up at the Market Basket in Rockport, ME. The story of  Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the woman who built a champagne empire.

Alabama Chanin Stitch Book, because I am stitching the Bloomers Reverse Applique Swing Skirt from the book.

Vogue (I’ve subscribed for years), Lula, and Harper’s Bazaar UK edition.

From the Boston Public Library Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern about Napoleon Bonaparte’s ambitious military campaign at the age of 28 to establish an Eastern empire in emulation of Alexander the Great.

parita-candleFor a bit of atmosphere I have 2 Note Botanical Perfumery’s Parita candle. I love the subtle scent of Geranium, Patchouli and Eucalyptus. Check out their travel-friendly 3 ounce size.

With the Stroke of the Pen

pen3I spent a good part of my childhood trying to better my handwriting to no avail as even my name is practically indecipherable when scribbling it off in a hurry.   That said I appreciate beautiful script and hand-written letters, so it was with great delight I learned my friend Brian Willson is an expert of old penmanship who makes fonts based on historical documents.

The advantage of having Brian’s “hand-written” fonts has given me the ability to dress up event posters and promotional materials. They are also perfect for personalizing invitations, save-the-dates and envelopes.

I thought it would be fun to share some of Brian’s personality here since he was a creative force behind this blog and my website.

Brian created “American Scribe” after famous scribe Timothy Matlack, engrosser of the Declaration of Independence.   A Texan at heart, a lot of his early fonts were based on notable Texans from the early- to mid-1800s. His favorite among those he has designed is “Lamar Pen,” from  the writings of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar the 2nd president of the Republic of Texas.

In all Brian has created approximately 20 fonts, which have appeared in such places as: Dave Matthews Band CD cover art, Cheerios website, Discover Card ad, membership card for the alumni association of the University of Texas, and a current UPS ad campaign.

The license fee for each old handwriting font is $39 (a one time license fee), a pretty affordable way to create a unique identity.

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Lamar Pen is one of six old penmanship fonts Brian has created so far.

Cookies & Bars

Finally getting around to sharing a yummy recipe from the hands-on baking class “Cookies & Bars” I took with Holly Ann Pierce at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education a couple weekends ago. 

Lemon Oat Squares from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook 

Crust

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup light or dark brown sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (Holly recommended Red Mill’s quick cooking or partially cooked oats)

2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, ground in a food processor

3/4 cup all-purpose flour 

2 Tbsp orange juice

Filling

1 can sweetened condensed milk 

1-2 Tbsp lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 1/2 lemons)*the more the better

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 9×13″ pan.

lemon-oat-oneTo prepare crust: Beat butter, sugar, baking powder & salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Add the oats, ground oats, flour & orange juice, mixing to combine. The mixture will clump. As soon as it starts to look cohesive, stop making.

Sprinkle half the mixture (generous 2 cups) into the prepared pan. Press it into the bottom of the pan, patting the crumbs firmly to make a smooth layer.

lemon-oat-twoTo prepare filling: Whisk the condensed milk, lemon zest & juice in a small bowl, stirring until smooth and thickened. Spread the filling over the crust in the pan and sprinkle with the remaining crust mixture.

For added affect sprinkle confectioners sugar on top.

Bake until light golden, about 35 – 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and cool completely then refrigerate overnight before cutting and serving.

To switch it up a bit Holly suggested putting blueberry, raspberry or blackberry preserves on top.

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Take Care of Yourself

Accepting a break up can be tough business and moving on often means calling in the cavalry, which is essentially what French artist Sophia Calle did when she received a breakup letter in an email. 

Calle’s exhibit “Take Care of Yourself” at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City  through June 6, 2009 is a powerful response to her request to 104 women from all walks of life to interpret this letter. Chosen for their profession or skills Calle said she wanted the women to “analyze it, comment on it, dance it, sing it.”  Using multiple mediums including photography, video, and film the exhibit is an honest and engaging interpretation of this task and an invitation on an emotional journey many of us taken but been unable to dissect so completely. 

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Paula Cooper Gallery

Dill, Lemon and Goat Cheese Pesto

Photo by Dave Eskelund

Photo by Dave Eskelund

Comfort food is good for the soul and believe me Anne Mahle (chef, captain, owner historic windjammer, mother, wife, writer, avid knitter, master gardener, horseback rider and friend) is very good for mine. That woman knows how to cook!  She continues to influence what I eat and how I live my life. From recommending Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma to being the voice of reason on the other end of the phone when I’ve just dumped ALL the seed packet contents into a small pot she offers humor and some pretty frank very good advice. 

Visit her blog Artichokes & Asparagus for yummy tales from home and at sea and read her weekly column The Maine Ingredient in The Portland Press Herald.

Annie’s Dill, Lemon and Goat Cheese Pesto

1/2 cup lightly packed parsley leaves
1/2 cup lightly packed dill leaves
1/4 cup pinenuts
2 tablespoons goat cheese  (I prefer Appleton Creamery avail @ farm stands in Midcoast, ME)
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic
several grinds of fresh black pepper
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor or with a mortar and pestle.

Makes 1/2 cup.  

dill from my garden

dill from my garden

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by Sharon Kitchens

Weekend Truffles

Sunday was spent contentedly eating chocolate truffles thanks to my friends Kate and Steve of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, who down for a quick visit from Maine, brought some of their homemade chocolate goodness with them. Partially because they are artisan chocolate makers who support local agriculture and think pretty much solely outside any box not containing chocolate we are kindred spirits.  I admire their partnership, passion and craftsmanship. 

Inspired by our walk earlier in the day under a canopy of pink flowering dogwoods Kate dressed the table with pink leaves and my antique serveware creating a feeling of spring. After my friends were seated Kate instructed us on the fine art of chocolate making, the distinction between French and Belgian style truffles, and how to observe the taste. With an understanding of what we were sampling we closed our eyes and journeyed from Venezuela (birthplace of cacao) to Aix-en-Provence (fields of lavender). 

0-20 Degrees Latitude  (infused w/ locally roasted organic coffee beans)

0-20 Degrees Latitude (infused w/ locally roasted organic coffee beans)

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Lavender (infused w/ dried organic lavender blossoms)

In honor of Kate and Steve’s visit I baked the Chocolate Caramel Tart from Marlow & Sons featured in the April 2009 issue of  Saveur.

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Andre Baranowski for Saveur

Cultural Direction

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Robert Indiana, HOPE, 2008; collection of Michael McKenzie

The Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland, ME) will present a major exhibition on renowned American artist Robert Indiana drawn almost exclusively from his extensive holdings at his home and studio on the island of Vinalhaven, ME.  I’ve been told this will be the first time some of his work will be seen publicly in 30 years!

Kudos to the curators at The Portland Museum of Art (Portland, ME) who always put together remarkably clever and interesting exhibitions. I’m thrilled my friend Joyce Tenneson, an extraordinary woman, teacher and photographer, will be featured there this summer in “Joyce Tenneson: Polaroid Portraits”. 

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, MA) is a gorgeous place to spend an afternoon. The intrigue of the great theft, the flower filled courtyard, El Jaleo by John S. Sargent and her collection of letters by historic figures in the Long Gallery compels one to this creative home. 

Ongoing shows at the Museum of Science (Boston, MA) include Bees featuring a glassed-in-beehive, In the Butterfly Garden (visitors can walk among the butterflies!) and Colossal Fossil: Triceratops Cliff a 65 million-year-old fossil.

pictures_generation2The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) exhibition “Pictures Generation” explores how images shape our perceptions of the world and ourselves.  Focus is on photographic works from 1974 – 1984 by 30 contemporary artists including Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman. Through August 2.  While there check out the Greek and Roman galleries and collection of contemporary furniture.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s (D.C.) iconic collection includes rockets, missiles, Mercury Friendship 7, Apollo 11 command module Columbia, airplanes, educational exhibits on spaceflight and a planetarium.

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(C) Richard T. Nowitz

about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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