We do potluck dinners in my neighborhood once a month. We started this when the economy started going south. It's a great way to see friends and catch up, share a good meal, and not spend a ton of money. I got the dessert this month, so I made strawberry almond cream angel food cake. Looks rich, but it's a very light dessert. I think it was a hit because several people asked for seconds!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Out of the oven....
Homemade cream cheese frosting to go with the red velvet....
Baking from scratch.....it always sounds lke a good idea. When will I learn?? I have always been a fairly good cook, but baking is an entirely different animal. Pillsbury and Betty Crocker make a lot of money from prepared cake mixes for a reason. Despite this, I am once again overtaken with the notion that maybe, just maybe, this time will be different.
A wonderful red velvet cake recipe came my way a few years back. I once had the honor of meeting Sylvia Woods, who is the founder and owner of Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem. I was doing some design work for a documentary film company, and they were looking into doing a documentary on Sylvia and her restaurant. (sadly, it never came to pass) The director asked me to come along for the initial meeting in Harlem, and I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation. I hadn't been to Harlem much, but I had passed through via train on my way to work or school every day for many years. I had watched it transform from a burned down, abandoned and sad place, to a vibrant and restored area of the city.
Sylvia is the self proclaimed "Queen of Soul Food" and her food doesn't disappoint. She has the classic American dream story....from a small town in South Carolina, got married, moved to NYC in 1944, became a waitress, bought a luncheonette, and the rest is history. Bill Clinton is a big fan of her food. Our meeting was scheduled at her restaurant. When we arrived, she welcomed us and made us feel right at home. I remember thinking she made me feel like I was coming to dinner at her house. (and I really was) Sylvia was very charming, warm and exuded classic southern hospitality.
Our meal was an incredible array of classic southern cooking....fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens, black eyed peas, ribs, fluffy biscuits and white gravy, etc, etc. This was satisfying, no calorie counting food......lots of frying, butter and cream....yum! Dessert was a piece of red velvet cake. (by then I didn't think I had it in me to eat dessert, but I managed)
I had always been intrigued by red velvet cake. Maybe it's the artist in me that finds the vibrant red color and velvety texture of the cake so appealing. I never had this cake as a child, which is odd, because my mother has southern roots. I asked Syliva about the cake and how it was made. It contains some strange ingredients to my ear, (vinegar??) but somehow it works. Syliva wrote down her recipe for me and I saved it for some special occasion all these years.
This week, I decided to make red velvet cupcakes for a potluck dinner with friends. I carefully measured, mixed and poured. When I pulled the cupcakes out of the oven they looked good. I thought I had made it over the hurdle. Not so fast...although they tasted alright to me, they were a bit dry. I knew it certainly wasn't Sylvia's recipe, since I had tasted a piece of the cake at the restaurant. Sigh....it was me. Once again I had to accept that my lot in life was that of the artist and not the baker.
I still need a dessert for dinner tonight. Trader Joe's here I come! You can always count on them for a wonderful dessert—fully baked and perfectly tasty. Someday I'm sure I will decide one more time that baking from scratch is a good idea, because, maybe....just maybe...one day I will get it right! When will I learn??
Posted by Megan Ferrell at 11:49 AM
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Max (short for Maxine) and I first met about a year ago when my friends, Kathy and Marc, asked me to let her out during the day. I lived and worked around the corner and was happy to have the break during the day. Max has been blind since she was young (she's now about 8) and she was a recent "only dog". Her partner in crime and fellow Airedale, Jacey, had been ill and passed away. I asked Kathy if I could take her for a walk when I stopped in. This began an interesting learning experience for both Max and me.
Max was initially very tentative about walking with me. We could barely get to the corner before she wanted to go home. I quickly realized I was the "seeing eye human" for her and had a new responsibility. The language of a dog walk would be very different than that of sighted dogs. Max picked up the slightest things from me and used them to interpret what was ahead. I had to be very aware of what I was projecting and what I was letting her know was around us.
Max has always been good on our walks but she does have one issue. She lunges and barks at any dog who barks at her or passes us. The added difficulty with this issue is that her sense of smell is extremely heightened without sight, and she can smell another dog a block away. Her reaction is to intimidate what she can't see by barking. I use the "Dog Whisperer" approach to correct this—to snap her out of the focus when she fixates—but I'm no dog whisperer, so it only works some of the time. And there are a couple of dogs that get to her no matter what.
Her next door neighbor, Blanche is one such dog. She is very sweet and quite a character. Blanche is a mix of Chihuahua and Beagle and would qualify as an ugly-beautiful, but cute as hell dog. Blanche has the run of her yard via an electric fence. When she sees Max walking by on the sidewalk, she sneaks up like a little ninja, and startles Max with a quick shot of barks when she is a few feet from her. Of course Max goes ballistic and then there is no return from that state of mind until I wrangle her past.
These days, when I go over to take Max for a walk, she greets me at the door with unbridled excitement. I always touch her on her right shoulder to let her know it's me. At one time I had to coax her out the door. Now she bounds out the door and pulls me with her. I have always stuck to the same route so she knows where we are going. I barely have to guide her anymore.
I've grown to love Max and our walks together. She always makes me laugh when she flops on the floor for a belly rub and gets a KoolAid smile on her face. She has taught me a lot about trust. She has also reminded me to live in the moment and enjoy the simple things in life. Dogs do that so well. They don't fret about what happened last week, yesterday, or even an hour ago. They only care about what is happening in the moment. We would all probably be a lot more content if we could do the same.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Mona and Lee are good friends of mine who own a wonderful home in Silvermine called The Little Orchard. They have lovingly restored it over the last few years and the home was featured on the recent Silvermine Historic House Tour. As with most Silvermine homes, it has a very interesting past. Its most notable former owner was John Vassos. He was a colorful character with a past of full of vocations—industrial and graphic designer, inventor, and even spy. He was also quite a ladies man by all accounts. His life was what I would call a classic piece of Silvermine history—a rich and interesting story, complete with "juicy bits" to make it even better.
The Little Orchard has always been one of my favorites houses in Silvermine. It sits on a lovely parcel of property, complete with gardens, waterfall and pond, and a long driveway that guides you past the orchard to the house. Lee is an architect who specializes in high quality designs and historic preservation, so it's no surprise that the restoration of this house under his watch is magnificent. They have also created a very welcoming and comfortable home, and visiting with them is always a pleasure.
For the last two summers, Lee and Mona have asked me to water their garden while they are away on vacation. The first year, they had just planted a new area of garden and wanted to make sure it didn't whither away in the summer heat. (although I almost did while watering at times) This past year, they added a lovely pond and waterfall with all sorts of water plants and fish. Each time I was there, I felt an immense sense of peace around me. It's a place where you can take a deep breath, relax, soak up the sun and wander around the lovely gardens, lost in the color, smells and textures. The only sounds heard were those of nature. It was a welcome respite to my own hectic days.
As I watered the garden over the weeks the house was in my care, I began to see—aside from the obvious beauty of the house—the details, colors, light and shadow that the house created. I grabbed my camera and took it along over a few days each time. What emerged was a series of photos that created a new viewpoint on The Little Orchard.