Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lemon Tartlets in a Small Kitchen

Isn't it pretty? I used the recipe (both the filling and the crust) from the Smitten Kitchen recipe.  With...well...subtle changes.

I decreased the butter in the filling by one tablespoon, mainly because I had one stick short of a tablespoon in the fridge and decided that would have to be enough (don't think that I'm stingy on butter.  I'm not.  This recipe is not short of butter!).

Also, I don't exactly quite have a food processor.  I have a food processing attachment that goes with our immersion blender, which works great, but only ever holds about a cup or so of anything.  So I processed in smaller portions, mixed, processed some more, at least with the filling.  I did the crust by hand.  I realized that my pastry cutter (among many other things) is in storage, and cutting the butter in with knives wasn't floating my boat, so I rubbed the butter in with my (clean) fingers.  Mary Englebreit got me onto that, and sometimes it's quite handy.

Discovered (belatedly) that it would have been easier to simply press the chilled dough into the tartlet pans, rather than try to roll it out using my can of Baker's Joy.  I was afraid of overworking the dough, but as a result of not whaling on it, the crust was thicker than I intended.

But it tasted good.

The tartlet shells did shrink up just the tiniest but, but it actually made it easier to remove from the pan.

As for the lemon filling, it set up without any problems.  However, I actually think I'll use a regular lemon next time with the zest of a second lemon (as opposed to one Meyer Lemon).  Or maybe one Meyer Lemon and the zest of a regular lemon.

Anyway, not as sit up, hold the phone lemony as I wanted it to  be, so I'll tweak that for next time.  And don't get me wrong - there's definitely going to be a next time!

Cooking in a tiny hotel kitchen-let is not for the faint of heart (or specifically for the faint of heart, the kind who order take out all the time.  It can go either way).  With two burners (and one saucepan), it really forces me to streamline the prep process for anything I'm making.  But its been a good exercise in using things creatively.  Rather than sautĂ© veggies every time, I may roast them in the mini-convection oven (which has proved its worth, btw) so I can use that second burner for something else.  If I'm making a brown-butter sage sauce, I skip the browning and melt the butter with the sage in the microwave.  Is it purist cooking? No, but it works.

Though sometimes, it's easier to order Thai.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Out and About in Tennessee

We had a wonderful weekend in Nashville last week.  Far and away, the highlight was the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. From the architecture to the gardens, to the sculptures to the FabergĂ© collection, it was absolutely worth the drive.

My favorite, the Glass Bridge by Siah Armajani, was created with the memory of the bridge designed to span the Grand Canal in Venice, during the heyday of Murano's glass industry. The original collapsed, but this one stands surrounded by oak trees.

This is bamboo in the forest near the Japanese gardens.  Almost makes me want a bamboo forest of my own.

Except I don't, because bamboo is like a tattoo for your yard.  Once it's there, it's not budging.

We also really loved the spider-web patterns formed in the melting ice over the ponds.  At some point, someone must have thrown rocks in, breaking the ice.  As it melted, it left the sheerest traces of patterned ice.

 Moments later, we literally watched as the wind blew over the surface.  When we returned 40 minutes later, most of the patterns were gone.  I shot these two photos with my point-and-shoot; I'm really pleased with how the exposure turned out, since it was entirely guesswork on my part (LCD screens not being wildly reliable).

We'll actually be going back to Nashville to meet up with some college friends of mine.  Since we weren't able to visit every part of the grounds (it's quite extensive), I'm not-so-secretly hoping to go back.

And when we return for a brief time to Memphis in June (most likely; we don't have solid dates yet), I'm hoping for another weekend Nashville trip.

In less sophisticated entertainment, we finally got to see the Peabody Ducks!

There they were! Swimming around and around in the fountain in the center of the lobby.  And after swimming, sometimes one would hop up on the ledge to get a look around...

...and preen.

Which makes sense, because it's not an insignificant audience.  We arrived twenty minutes ahead of the 5pm march out, and the place was packed!  We were able to get a spot on the mezzanine.  This was good, since we got a nice overhead view, but bad, because the flowers happened to block quite a lot of the exit.

Like, pretty much all of it.

After a while, the Duck Master (I'm totally not making this up) starts to prep the area by shoving away small children and preparing the red carpet.

Not an easy task.

After a rousing retelling of the hotel's origins - and how the ducks came to reside inside - the music played, the ducks swam more frantically, and the Duck Master called up!

And as far as I can tell, each duck jumped up.  But it's hard to say, because the flowers were in the way.

Then the Duck Master and the Honorary Duck Master (the elderly lady in the chair on the left, celebrating her 85th birthday, bless her) proceeded to walk the ducks down the red carpet.

At least that's my guess.  It's hard to see ducks when there are two adults walking behind them.  But they waddled (the ducks, not the adults) right into the elevator.

It was an excellent time.  As was dinner at Bhan Thai, which had one of the best Pad Thais I've had.  And very nice people, since I left my navy blue cardigan (the one I wear almost three times a week) and they not only found it but folded it nicely until we picked it up later.

We head back to the West coast on the 26th.  We both miss being near friends, family, and familiarity terribly.  But until then - we're still cramming in as much sight-seeing (and eating) as possible.  We'll meet Danny's cousin and great aunt at the Memphis Zoo tomorrow; Sunday, it's a whirlwind trip to Nashville.

And then...Washington!

Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Odds and Ends

When I put together the Things to Watch on Netflix, I had on my list (but somehow neglected to write about)...

The winner of 2009's Best Foreign Film, it only played at one film festival.  That was enough, though, to get it onto the Oscar ballots.  

Like the best of films, it's both funny and tragic.  Like Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, it explores death and burial, this time within the context of Japanese culture.  When he is let go from the orchestra - after purchasing a very expensive cello, musician Daigo returns to his hometown where he answers a job ad to make ends meet.  The job is to be an assistant to the town's nakanshi, who prepares the dead for burial (there's a sequence involving the filming of an instructional DVD that's completely hilarious).  Social taboos regarding the handling of the dead, however, threaten Daigo's marriage even as he finds in the nakanshi, Ikuei, the father figure he never had.

2.) We're headed to Nashville this weekend! It's out little Danny's Birthday / Valentine's getaway; we're excited.  It'll only be a short trip, but it'll be fun to get out of town.  The biggest piece of the itinerary is a trip to the REI store in Brentwood; Danny's North Face jacket, after 13 years of honorable service, is going to be ...upgraded.

Not quite replaced.  Just upgraded.  And there aren't a lot of REI stores in the area.

Go figure.

3.) I'll admit, we skipped the Super Bowl.  Neither of us were much interested in the game, and with this newfangled thing they call the "internet," commercial watching has never been easier.  Our favorite?  It is (not surprisingly, the Audi Ad.

I love it all - the Kenny G, the Russian Wolfhounds (gorgeous dogs, actually - I totally want one), the spleen complaint...it's just glorious.

BUT, you've got to see the BMW commercial too.  Watch it!  The Spartanburg factory?  That's where we were last summer.  Remember the Big Giant Robots I kept going on about?  THOSE ARE THE ROBOTS!!!

4.) The one downside to missing the Super Bowl was that I missed the advertising blitzkrieg revealing the Glee episode afterwards.

I was probably the only American with a TV who didn't know.  But hey, there's hulu.  And it was a good episode.  The season's struggled with consistency; the writing at times just not as sharp and perfect as we know it can be.  This episode?  Sue's taking raccoon hormones?  Of course she is.  And now I totally want to watch 13 Going on 30, if only for the Thriller sequence.  And Katie Couric at the end?  Wow.  So great.

5.) Danny's birthday chocolate is, like, 18 inches away from me, and that's too close.

6.) There's a geeky guy with dark, curly hair in The Social Network in one of the Harvard scenes, and I've totally seen him in something, but for the life of me (and even with the help of imdb.com) I can't figure out where I've seen him.  If you have insight, share please.

7.) Naptime approacheth.

8.) I think I'm going to make the Pecan Pie Muffins again soon...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Travels: Part IV - Your Turn Signal, Your Friend

I let Danny take the car to work this morning.  We may or may not get more snow/ice/questionable precipitation, and I didn't feel like dealing with Memphis drivers in weather again.

There are days when I think God moved us to Memphis so that when we moved to Washington, the Washington drivers wouldn't seem so bad.  Because as erratic as Washington Drivers are, Memphis drivers are a whole other brand of nuts.

Why? Well...

1.) Memphis drivers don't like to signal.  I believe the thingy to the left of the steering wheel is colloquially referred to around here as a "sissy stick."

2.) Memphis drivers don't like to stay in their own lanes. Lanes, oftentimes, are merely suggestions. (Mind you, this can apply for both white and yellow lines from time to time).

3.) Memphis drivers don't like to check their mirrors or look over their shoulder before changing lanes.  Often this is lanes, multiple, because hopping over two-three lanes gives them great joy.

4.) Especially at 70-90+ miles per hour.

5.) Also disconcerting, Memphis drivers get lonely.  This is why they like to drive in blind spots.  Now, it's a driving phenomenon that when one driver passes another, he'll unconsciously match the speed to mimic the car he's passing before accelerating past.  Memphis drivers just happen to be more prone to this.  Which is why it's reeeeally important around here to check before shifting lanes, because more often than not, there's someone right there, just hanging,

6.) Even if it's snowing.

7.) Or icy.

8.) Which is why you can get pretty twitchy on the roads.


9.) Memphis drivers tend to view using headlights as optional in the rain or snow.  Or, not infrequently, at night.

10.) The slow lanes are actually in the middle of the freeway, rather than the right. This makes merging a blast.


11.) We watched as a police officer spent five minute trying to parallel park his Dodge Charger downtown.  

12.) Danny stopped laughing eventually.