Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Conditions at Casa Prata


Backyard next door.

Mama bird busy feeding young. This birdhouse is used year after year.

Morning glories and other items on my patio potting table.

Inside, meanwhile, Bert likes to stay close to me as I write. He doesn't like to get on the table like Murray does, but he does like to be comfy. So I give him Murray's kitty bed while Murray is holed up under the covers for the better part of the day in the bedroom, even though Bert is big for it. Somehow he makes it work.

Afternoon. As the morning slides to afternoon, I take a cup of tea. Clipper teapot, Tuscan bone china teacup & saucer, Duchess pattern.

Uh-oh. It's 3:00 and Murray woke up and is looking for both his kitty bed and his dinner. I feed the boys at around 3:00-3:30 or so, and after that, Bert will go into the bedroom and snooze and Murray will spend some time with me at the table in the kitty bed. I love it when siblings get along.

In two weeks I'll be back at school, and these nice quiet days will end as I return to my job at the elementary school with all its bells, hustle, bustle, and children. Even then, all will be well because I love kids. I'll miss my kitties though, Bert and Murray and I have had a good summer together.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Some photos

We've been spared so far of the hundred degree heat, but likely that is coming in August. The drought is ongoing but a few drenches of rain here and there enlivened the lawn to a greenish-brownish instead of crunchy dark brown. I'm still enjoying the leisurely days at home with the cats. Murray especially seems to appreciate me being home. He's been a cuddle bug. I still have two and a half weeks to go before school starts, which is still longer than many people get for a vacation all year!

The walk around the yard yielded up these beauties the other day, to which I added some Pixlr gizmos and overlays:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mixed Media Morsels

I found a mixed media tutorial on Facebook that I really like. It's called Morsels because she shows how to do techniques in small format, a "morsel" as it were. I can handle small. A regular sized journal page or a canvas scares me. As you can see by my 81/2 X 11 journal which has a painting that only uses half the page.

So morsels is good. The lady put up an 18 minute video which I watched last night and tried the technique this morning. I'll leave it to you as to whether my attempt was successful.

Her collage was on a 3X5 card.

My collage was on a 4 1/2 X 6.

I was sad to discover that I'd brought my colored pencils to school, and I have no crayons or colored markers here either. So I used paint for the stems and cut out green paper and glued them onto the stems for leaves. I don't have sequins or buttons for the flower center. I used watercolor paint to make a background for the paper, but next time I'll use watered down acrylic so it comes in thicker and hides the words more, and I'll use two colors like she did.

Live and learn!

Monday, July 04, 2016

Frugal Cooking: garden eggplants. What to do with them?

It is hot in Georgia in July. And August. And half of September. So needless to say, weekend cooking comes to a near-halt during the dog days of a southern summer. Not to say that stove top cooking ends. But sauteing eggs is done quick and microwave poached eggs are best.

The heavy heat means the heavy foods can wait until fall and winter. I eat Salads, humm
us, sandwiches, cold antipastos.

However I do make some stove top things. I got some tamarind sauce and rice noodles recently and made a pad thai for the first time in a long time. Boy, I love that dish. I like the rice noodles because as an alternative to boiling noodles (or rice as in other Asian dishes), Pad Thai noodles can be soaked in cold water till soft, then flash sauted at the end. Since rice noodles are made with rice flour they are a good choice for those who are gluten intolerant. As always, read the package to be sure it's not got additives to which you will be sensitive.

I used this recipe: http://rasamalaysia.com/pad-thai/ . Yum! It's a quick and filling stove-top dish. Since shrimp are expensive for me, I leave them out and just rely on the tofu and the egg for protein. Since sprouts are hard to find, I use more scallions.

Once in a while I need to use the oven to make a more substantial dish. It's veggie-garden season and I love to take advantage of the bounty. A friend at church had brought in some bounty from her garden, and gave me some eggplants. I had already bought two eggplants the other day. But you can never have enough eggplants! And garden fresh is a luscious opportunity I cannot pass up.

Many people around here do not know what to do with eggplants except make friend eggplant parmigiana. I like that too but i hate to make it. Others use the eggplant rounds to make a Stack, here is Mario Batali's Eggplant Stack recipe.

Two other ways I offer as considerations for your eggplant enjoyment are Caponata and Baked Crispy Eggplant.

I decided to use the garden eggplants in a bake, and the older store bought eggplants for caponata. Caponata is a Sicilian recipe that is complicated and uses some luxury ingredients like fresh olives, capers, and pine nuts. I don't often have those particular ingredients on hand so I skip them. Some recipes call for roasting the eggplant or frying it first. Again, I skip. Here is one example of a traditional caponata recipe: Sicilian Caponata

Caponata also uses vinegar but I skip that too, lol. The finished dish can be used in sauces with pasta, or as a topping on Italian bruschetta, or as a vegetable side dish by itself.

What I do is saute the onion, and when they are soft, I throw in the celery. Whey they are soft, I throw in the eggplant, which I'd cubed small. Let that dwindle down covered on medium heat. I use oil but also some apple juice if I have it on hand. If not, then add water if you're watching the fat content, just so the eggplant won't stick.

Sometimes if I have enough tomatoes, I add those. If not, then later when I'm ready to eat it I add tomato sauce. Or not. Caponata is versatile! Add salt and pepper to taste, and since I am a Philistine, I add canned black olives, lol. Voila, a fast way to use a lot of eggplants.

The baked eggplant recipe I used is here, Crispy Baked Eggplant. I like this recipe because it is simple and uses few ingredients. Also, it takes less time in the hot oven than Eggplant Parmigiana. That's always good! Remember, this essay is called 'frugal cooking'. If the eggplant is really fresh I don't think it needs to be salted, wait, press to drain, and all those steps. I like to save steps. Again, frugal cooking means not only using few or inexpensive ingredients but also saving time. Time is money too. The older eggplant had a higher water content so that is why I decided to use them for the caponata, which needs moisture as it cooks. To make crispy eggplant, less water is better, so normally if you get store eggplant that has been around a while then do go thru the process of getting rid of the water content by salting and pressing..

I keep the skins on the baked eggplant, because that holds it together better. For the sauteed caponata, I stripped the purple skin off because I want it to break down.

Aren't these garden eggplants cute! And beautiful! They are a deep purple, nicely shaped, and firm.

Cutting the rounds. The skin-on will be baked. Cut 1/2 inch to 1/4 inch. Thicker, and it won't bake through before burning, thinner and it won't hold the egg/bread crumb mixture.

I scrambled two eggs with a bit of water in one bowl, and in another poured a mound of bread crumbs. I dragged one round through the egg mixture, using my fingers. If you use a fork or knife it will puncture the skin and the eggplant won't be as crispy since the liquid will seep into it.

I cooked according to the recipe. When they were done I took them out and tested one. Crunch!

The frugal part: in addition to choosing recipes that use fewer ingredients, or a shorter cooking time (electricity costs more on weekends), or using what I have in the fridge already, or accepting a gift of veggies even though I already had some veggies but I knew I'd use them... if you're going to turn the oven on during a hot day, don't turn it on for one item only! STUFF the oven. So I used up some squash I'd had rolling around the bottom of the veggie tray. They were rolling around because they had very thick skins and those take a long time to saute. If the oven was going to be on I might as well put some more in it to have on hand for later in the week when it's supposed to be even HOTTER. In went the thick-skinned yellow squash.

The green are Poblano peppers my friend gave me in addition to the eggplants. At the bottom of the photo are pita bread triangles. I wiped the top of some whole wheat pita bread rounds with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt, and cut them into triangles to make pita crisps. They will be holding hummus later this week. I also put into the oven a few potatoes washed and encased in tin foil for baking, again to have later this week to make potato salad or home fries. I could squeeze them in between the baking trays. Voila, a stuffed oven!

Between the oven being on and the stove top pot containing simmering eggplant for caponata, it got hot in the kitchen. One of the potatoes being baked was quite a bit larger than the other really small ones, and it was taking forever to finish. I could not take the heat any more so I turned off the oven and kept the door shut. The residual heat would finish baking the potato. I do this on the stove top as well, turning the burner off a few minutes before the item is completely done, and letting the residual heat take care of the finish. I got this tip from Clara Cannucciari of Great Depression Cooking. "Anything to save anything" she had said.

One last tip. I started early when the day was cooler. I don't like to work a lot in the morning, preferring to do my chores in the PM after I've studied my Bible and read my theology books and had my coffee. All the important things,you know. LOL. But with the temps predicted to rise quite high, and it happens fast once the sun is up, I began at around 7:00am and finished at 8:30, and that included washing the pans. This gave the apartment a bit of time to cool down and the oven to return to its resting state before the sun came up over the trees and began to heat up my apartment. As it was, I heard the AC click on higher fan setting about a minute after I opened the oven each time. Ugh. So start early and get it done, why ask your AC to cool the hot air you asked the oven to provide?

So that was the morning! For lunch I plan to have a green salad and caponata on Italian toasted rounds, topped with Parmesan cheese. Abbondanza!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

My first bone china cup: Tuscan "Duchess"

I'd like to announce a new addition to the luxury items I've carefully been collecting over the many years. From the small marble slab I use as a end table top, the Raku vase, vintage Kodak Camera, this or that piece of art ... announcing...

Bone China.

I love hot tea and write about it a lot. I subscribe to TeaTime Magazine and enjoy reading about the history of tea, types of tea, and accessories to brewing it. It is the last part I've been resisting the pull toward. One can begin collecting and never stop. That is OK for some folks, but I live in a 350sf apartment with one closet. I have no room for collections! I have enough books as it is. But tea...

Tea is small. Tea is consumable. But with tea comes ... a teapot. Another teapot. A cozy. A strainer. Perhaps an electric kettle. And teacups.

If a teacup, do I use a glass tumbler with a strainer at the top? A mug? A cup? A porcelain cup? A bone china cup?

In reading edition after edition of TeaTime I became enchanted with all the ritual and history of tea. I admired the lovely table settings charmingly displayed and expertly photographed. I got interested in the discussion of how porcelain, especially bone china, affects the taste of the tea.

Who wouldn't love to sit and sip tea at a charming little teahouse, with the beautiful mismatched china sets lain carefully at table?

current issue of TeaTime photo
I learned that bone china specifically, not porcelain and not ceramic, does enhance the taste of the tea. The UK newspaper Daily Mail had an article in 2013:
They've got it down to a tea! Scientists work out how to make the perfect cuppa... and it needs a china cup 
--Britain drinks 165 million cups of the beverage a year, but there is little agreement on exactly how a proper cuppa should be made
--Scientists say that the cup, freshness and temperature of the water as well as the precise moment the milk is added are all crucial to tea's chemistry
It seems that the bone ash added to the clay mixture plus the thinness of the cup somehow make the tea taste better. They don't really know, but that is the theory.

A friend had given me a Whittard teapot with cup, the Clipper pattern. I wrote about that here.

Whittard of Chelsea has been around since 1886. And I was off and running in loving the charm of a perfectly shaped teapot and cup. Here's Whittard with a lesson on how to brew the perfect cuppa--

Perfect Cuppa Guide

I went a direction of Japanese for a while, acquiring a tetsubin (cast iron pot) and several small Japanese cups. I like it because I like small. The tetsubin is a calming color of deep green. However I am still entranced by the china.

I have a Tea Bar, with selected herb teas, which I love. I come home from school and view the selections and choose a tea to match my mood. I've got Rooibos, a South African red bush tea that is more mellow than Red Zinger, Honey Lavender, Green tea, Chamomile, Hibiscus, Rose Hip, English Breakfast, Paris Breakfast, and Pomegranate. I'm not a huge fan of white tea, nor of fruit teas (except the pomegranate), and I like only a few Black teas. I prefer flowery herb.

I decided to buy a bone china cup and saucer. Not one to just go out and buy something, that would be silly, lol. I researched it thoroughly first. Which manufacturers are sought after, what to look for in bone china. For example, much of bone china has a gold or platinum gilding on the rim. Look for wear - is it dim, or rubbed off in spots? Hold the item to the light and if it is actual bone china it will be slightly translucent. Run your finger along the rim to check for small cracks your eye might not pick up. Learn the marks, the identifiable manufacturer mark on the bottom. Is it embedded (pre-1900, or inked, post 1900). I looked at shapes and kinds and the history of bone china. I looked at tons of pics eBay and Ruby Lane and Replacements.com and CakeStandHeaven.com sites. I made notes, printed out manufacturer marks (so as to ensure I was buying actual china), and THEN sallied forth.

There is one place in town that has vintage and antique items. I also learned the difference between vintage and antique. It cannot be called an antique if it is less than 100 years old. It's a very small town and the block on which the Shabby Chic Cottage is located has a few other stores on it, such as a ceramics gallery, an Asian grocery, and a photography studio. I poked around in the Cottage looking at their many selections of china. The lady proprietors were in absentia, either painting in their warehouse next door or speaking with one of the other store ladies along the block. That's OK, preferable actually. I saw one set I liked very much, and I took note of its properties.

Antique retailers usually sell bone china in something called a trio. It is the cup, the saucer, and a slightly larger dish on which to place your crumpet or petit four you're eating along with sipping the tea. The ladies had a good amount of trios to choose from, but since they have rolling inventory at this moment they had only a few of bone china. I went home to look up the kind I had seen and was interested in purchasing.

It contained the necessary stamp "Made in England", and also the note Bone China, from Tuscan. According to The Potteries, Tuscan was a company located at Stoke-On-Trent, founded in 1898 and sold to Wedgwood in 1966. After that its marks contained the "Royal Tuscan" designation. The entire operation ceased in 2006.
The business was a partnership between Richard Hammersley Plant and his brother Simon Lucas Plant.  They operated from the Tuscan Works in Forrister Street, Longton - which they purchased outright in 1914. The brothers became a Limited Company (R H & S L Plant Ltd.) in 1915.
Harold John Plant (Richard's son) and Frederick Sutton Plant (Simon's son) succeeded their fathers in the management of the business. Frederick died in an accident in 1939 leaving the business in the hands of Harold who continued as manging director and then as chairman until his death in 1960.
Harold's son, Richard Plant, continued the family management of the business until 1966. In 1966 RH & SL Plant were taken over by Wedgwood and the renamed "Royal Tuscan" - the works continued as a manufacturing unit of the  Wedgwood Group - producing mostly hotel ware. The works closed in 2006.

Here is the gorgeous trio I have acquired:

Right now it is 98 degrees and next week it is predicted to go above 100 real temp, so I will not be making hot tea anytime soon! But I am thrilled with the delicate colors, the ladylike pattern of the rose bud with silver leaves, and the two tone baby blue and ivory. I love it and I can't wait to add it to my Whittard and Tetsubin tea accouterments at my tea bar to be loved and admired by me.