I forced myself out of bed extra early this morning on a self-imposed mission to make English muffins from scratch. I've been thinking about English muffins for weeks, ever since watching an episode of Cook's Country that featured English muffin bread. It was one of those persistent cravings that would not let up. And, for whatever reason, buying a bag of them from the store would not do. If you ever find yourself with a similar hankering, this recipe is the way to go.
English Muffins (makes approx. 9 muffins)
recipe from All Recipes
1/2 package active dry yeast (1 and 1/8 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water (110°F)
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp melted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
cornmeal, as needed
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 110°F water. (If you don't have a kitchen thermometer, the water should be very warm but not hot.) Set aside until it foams, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, warm the milk in a small saucepan until bubbles appear. Immediately remove from heat and mix in sugar, stirring until dissolved. Let cool for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, milk mixture, melted butter, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Mix well. Add the salt the remaining flour gradually until the dough is soft. It should be smooth – not sticky, not too dry. (I used a little less than 2.75 cups of flour total.) Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until the dough has doubled, about 30 minutes. If your house isn't warm enough, try proofing in the oven: heat your oven to its lowest setting, turn the oven off, then place the dough inside.
Sprinkle a thin layer of cornmeal on a baking sheet. Set aside. When ready, uncover your dough and punch down (here's how). Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and roll to 1/2 inch thick. Cut out circles with a biscuit cutter or drinking glass, dipping your cutter in flour each time to prevent the dough from sticking to it. Place the cut circles of dough on the prepared baking sheet, sprinkle with more cornmeal, cover, and let rise for another 30 minutes.
Grease a skillet or frying pan and heat over medium heat. Cook the muffins for about 10 minutes per side. If they brown too quickly, lower the heat. When done, the interior temperature should be right around 200°F. (Or just break one open to test.) To split open, use a fork (not a knife!) to pierce the outer edge of the muffin, working all the way around until it easily breaks open. Enjoy with butter and jam, or drizzled with honey, or turned into an egg sandwich. And, of course, they're even better when toasted.
It's been over a year since I started taking adult ballet classes, and my only regret is that I didn't go back sooner. Better late than never, though, right? These days I go to class once a week; sometimes, when I am feeling ambitious, I go twice a week. The rare times when a week passes without any dancing, it feels like something is wrong.
I am not great at it. You don't have to be great at it to really enjoy it. I like it because it's challenging. It's slow, it's quick, it takes every part of you, from your fingertips to your toes. It forces you to leave the rest of the day at the door. Did I mention how good of a workout it is? Because it's a heck of a good workout. Every time I walk out of the studio I leave happily exhausted.
I was lucky enough to see PNB's last Sendak Nutcracker over the holidays, Don Quixote last month, and will be seeing Swan Lake next month – and though I have always loved going to the ballet, it is a richer experience now. Those dancers are what inspire me, when I myself am standing at the barre, to arch my foot a little more, to go deeper into a plié, to better anticipate the next step before the beat comes.
I may not be great but I am getting better. My slippers have become soft and frayed, and they have kept their place on top of my dresser, nestled together when not in use.
I'm very excited to announce that Mignon has a brand new look and collection of goods! I dropped "Kitchen Co." from the name, because the shop has expanded to now carry personal accessories, party and gift provisions, greeting cards, desk accessories, and books of poetry and prose. (It shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm probably most excited about the books + writing accessories.)
My goal for 2015 is to keep Mignon fresh with new goods and to stock more handmade/local products. If you know of any great small brands that could be a good fit for the new Mignon, I'd love to hear about them. I'll also have a seasonal section that shows up periodically – I already have some Easter goodies lined up.
I hope you guys like the new shop. (Also, if you're interested in signing up on the mailing list and getting notifications of updates + sales, you can do so right here.)
Have a wonderful start to your week.
Four books I've really enjoyed in the last few months:
1. Foxes on the Trampoline (Charlotte Boulay) – "My hands press / the sheets smooth. I wish / I didn't have to be over or under all the time / just whelmed, not false and not true."
2. A Town Like Alice (Nevil Shute) – "She stared out at the wet, miry expanse of earth that was the street. 'They'll get their hair wet in the swimming pool, so we'll have to have a beauty parlour,' she said. 'I think that's the next thing. And after that, an open-air cinema. And after that, a battery of Home Laundries for the wet wash, and after that a decent dress shop.' She turned to him. 'Don't laugh, Joe. I know it sounds crackers, but just look at the results.'"
3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce) – "They had kept themselves apart from others, and over time neighbours had come and gone, while only Harold and Maureen remained. There had once been vegetable beds, and an ornamental pond. She made chutneys every summer, and David kept goldfish. Behind the house there had been a potting shed that smelt of fertilizer, with high hooks for hanging tools, and coils of twine and rope. But these things too were long since gone. Even their son's school, which had stood a stone's throw from his bedroom window, had been bulldozed now and replaced with fifty affordable homes in bright primary colours and street lighting in the style of Georgian gas lamps."
4. Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson) – "I want to tell him how the stewardess gave us wings / to pin to our blouses and shirts and told Mama / we were beautiful and well behaved. But / my grandfather is sleeping when we come to his bedside / opens his eyes only to smile, turns so that my grandmother / can press ice cubes against his lips."
How about you? Read anything great lately?
I've got some big changes coming soon to Mignon, which I can't wait to share with you. In the meantime, I've marked down a bunch of items – visit the sale section to see what's on clearance. (Up to 60% off some items!) Most of the sale items won't be restocked once they're gone, so get 'em while they last.
A few literary links I thought you guys might like...
The satirical short story "Breadman" by J. Robert Lennon. I enjoyed it so much that I read it twice.
A fascinating infographic showing how old writers were when they published their most famous work.
Also, celebrating authors who made their debut over age 35.
15 gorgeous Little Free Libraries. (Do you have Little Free Libraries where you live? I adore them.)
A beautiful video and heartfelt reading of the poem "Shirt" by Robert Pinsky.
Hope you're having a nice weekend! (Photo above from Christmas day at Lake Whatcom.)
We recently did a bit of furniture rearrangement, part of which consisted of reuniting two bookcases and creating a 'book nook' in the corner of the living room. It doesn't feel quite like a reading nook, since the closest chair faces away from the bookshelves, but I did add an Ikea stepstool and a sheepskin rug on the floor, so there's at least a comfy place to linger.
I made a deal with myself some time ago that I'd start only buying books I love (or really like). I don't own every book that falls into that category, but they're slowly being added to these shelves, filling up the gaps and replacing ones I don't feel as strongly about.
Also making an appearance: beloved books from childhood. I find it very sweet to revisit them. My latest purchase was a gorgeous compilation of Beatrix Potter's tales. Tom Kitten always makes me smile.
I can't even remember my reason for picking pad thai as a New Year's Day tradition when I started making it three years ago – I suspect I was craving Thai food and looking for a unique way to ring in the new year. The first two years the results were lackluster, the third time was pretty good, and this year, my fourth time making it, it finally turned out great. This version does not have any tofu or meat, since I think it's best to stay simple when attempting a recipe that's already involved to begin with. Without further ado... here's how to make pad thai!
Vegetarian Pad Thai (makes 2 generous portions)
adapted from About.com
8 oz. dry Thai rice noodles (linguine width)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 chili (optional; I use 1/2 of a jalapeño, seeds removed, which was a medium spiciness for me)
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 egg, whisked
oil for stir-frying (I use avocado oil because of the high smoke point)
3/4 Tbsp tamarind paste, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
4 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp chili sauce or Sriracha (again, this is optional)
3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add noodles and reduce heat to low. Cook noodles until they are soft but still have a slight bite to them. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water to prevent them from sticking. (It's crucial to cook the noodles the right amount. But if in doubt, err on the side of underdone, because you can add more liquid while stir frying to compensate. I boiled mine for 5-6 minutes.)
2. Prepare the sauce by thoroughly mixing the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. (A note about the sugar: it may seem like a lot, but the 4.5 tablespoons are needed to balance the tartness of the tamarind.) Set aside.
3. Heat a bit of oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the garlic and chili for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and sauce. Stir fry for about 5-6 minutes, frequently moving around the noodles. (I find this easiest to do with chop sticks.) It will seem like there's a lot of liquid, but it will gradually be soaked up by the noodles. As soon as the liquid is absorbed, taste a noodle; if it's still too hard, add a little water or stock and continue cooking. The noodles will take on a "sticky" quality when ready.
4. Slightly reduce the heat, add the bean sprouts, and cook for another minute. Move the noodles aside, add the egg in the empty spot in the pan, let cook for a few seconds and then begin incorporating the egg in with the noodles. Cook another minute, then turn off the heat.
5. Divide the pad thai onto plates and top with cilantro, green onion, and peanuts. Squeeze fresh lime juice over top. Serve with steamed white rice, if desired.
If you try the recipe out, let me know how it goes! My recommendation would be to chop & measure out all of your ingredients first and have everything organized in the order they'll be used. The actual cooking part goes relatively quickly. Bon appétit!
One thing I know to be true as a writer: you are constantly cycling through moods about your writing. On Monday it can all seem worthless, the metaphors too transparent, the dialogue stilted; on Tuesday you decide it's maybe not so bad after all, that there's actually a few diamonds in the rough; Wednesday morning, you gain more confidence and rewrite the clunky parts; by Wednesday night that confidence has veered into smugness and has gotten in the way of being productive. In other words, feeling really bad and really good about your writing are equally dangerous. The sweet spot is when you feel cautiously optimistic. You get work done, and it's good work — not perfect by any means, but it's solid and heartfelt.
It's with that same cautious optimism that I want to share this with you: I just finished the first draft of my novel. It's not the same novel I started writing two years ago but it's the same type of story (family-centric, set in the Pacific Northwest). As for that first attempt, I scrapped it and started again from scratch four months ago. This new version is a novel-in-stories threading through a character's life, from childhood to her last years. I once read that you should write the kind of book you'd want to read (as opposed to what's trendy or what you think your friends/parents/editor wants to read). That may just be one of the best pieces of advice about writing I've come across. It's freeing. It means the difference between the act of writing being a chore and being a pleasure. It doesn't make writing easier, but it makes it more fulfilling.
So. Now: a big breath. And onto the second draft.
I've never given passwords much thought other than the typical, "Ok, how do I make this hard to guess and not hard to forget?" "The Secret Life of Passwords" digs a bit deeper. It's a fascinating read.
"Less was more, smooth was better, and absolute precision essential to the monthly grand illusion. Going to work for Vogue was, in the late nineteen-fifties, not unlike training with the Rockettes." Joan Didion on her early writing career. (Plus a peek at her rejections.)
15 Ways to Write a Novel. Yep, yep, yep. I've done 14 of these. (I've yet to try "The Word Ceiling.")
Did you know you can check out a ukulele from the library in Chicago and Portland, Maine? Pretty cool.
Hope you're having a wonderful weekend.
The World's Longest Tattoo Chain: temporary tattoos of the text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I immediately put my name on the waitlist.
Ez and Kaia's adorable new shop. I'm not surprised their handmade softies sold out so fast!
I thoroughly enjoyed these videos of Bob Mankoff discussing New Yorker cartoons. (And whether or not some of them truly are "ungettable".)
I've been using this KeepCup and it's pretty great.
Two fantastic things I watched recently: Olive Kitteridge and Interstellar. In some ways they are complete opposites — one stays within the confines of a small town and the other hurtles through the universe — but at their core they're both about what it means to be human and how to survive.
I have a poor track record with sewing clothes – I'm talking unwearable results – and it's been several years since I've attempted to sew anything. But a few weeks ago I was writing a scene in my novel rewrite (more on that soon!) where a character is sewing a dress for her daughter, and I needed to brush up on the terminology. And then, of course, I got sucked into the massive amount of sewing tutorials online, and was inspired to try again, and do it right this time.
I pulled my sewing machine out of the back of the closet and spent an hour in a local fabric store trying not to go overboard. With everything I needed in hand, I made a "beginner difficulty" tank from Grainline Studio because I appreciate how modern Jen's patterns are. That turned out well, so I tried a shirt with sleeves, and that, too, was a success. After that I started playing around with making some minor changes to the pattern to fit my body type better, which naturally lead to reading about pattern drafting, which is intimidating but really exciting. When I go shopping it seems like I'm constantly saying, "I like this, but I wish it had different sleeves," or "I wish it was in a different fabric," or "I wish it was just a tad longer," and the idea of being able to make exactly what I want and have it custom fit would be a dream.
When I stumbled across this Nani Iro fabric I immediately knew I wanted to make a dress out of it. I also knew that the type of dress I wanted to make was essentially just a top with a skirt attached – two things that, on their own, I knew I could figure out. So, tentatively, I started to plan out the dress, making a test version in muslin first, then using the Nani Iro fabric.
The skirt of the dress is just two big rectangles of fabric that are pleated and then sewn together, but for the top I drafted a pattern, starting with a basic bodice and adding a princess seam and making it fitted and shorter. Then the top and skirt were sewn together and an invisible zipper put into the back. I'm simplifying, of course – there was a lot of trial and error, stitches that had to be ripped out and redone, and many, many, careful rounds of trying the dress on while pins held parts of it together. But there you have it! A dress. I have dinner reservations with a few girlfriends tonight and I'll be wearing it with a cardigan and tights.
(Do you have any favorite fabric/pattern/sewing resources? I'd love to hear.)
Six and a half months ago, when I planned out a vegetable garden, I secretly hoped that gardening would be my new thing. A new passion. As it turns out, it's not, and that's totally okay. It doesn't mean I'm going to give it up. I'm sure I'll be back out there next spring, sowing seeds, putting markers in the dirt. But it's more of a, "Hey, gardening? Let's just be friends," rather than an, "I love you, gardening. I can't get enough of you, gardening."
One aftereffect of trying on a new hobby for size: newfound appreciation for those who do it well. I have a hunch that some amount of talent and intuition is required, but mostly I think it's fervor that is vital above all else. You put love into it, you get love back. The next time I pass a neighbor's flourishing vegetable patch, I'll have a keener sense of just how much work went into making it that way.
The last edibles to come out of my garden are a handful of small potatoes and two itty-bitty bell peppers. I would've let the bell peppers hang in there for a while longer, but I worried about blight, especially with loads of rain in the forecast. (It's downpouring as I write this.) The peppers are so small, and they didn't even taste any good, but at least I can save the seeds. It's not entirely a bust.
Thanks for following along these last several months! The rest of my gardening posts can be found here.
Have you read anything great lately? These are my favorites from the last few months, all very different from one another. I loved On Beauty because the prose sparkled, The Book Thief because it was dark, poetic, tragic, and beautiful, 10:04 because it was hypnotic and daringly self-referential, and The Martian Chronicles because Bradbury is a master at making you feel like you're really there. A taste of each:
1. On Beauty (Zadie Smith) – "'Very enterprising,' said Howard. Then he laughed and looked at his son with fond wonder. What a period this was to live through! His children were old enough to make him laugh. They were real people who entertained and argued and existed entirely independently from him, although he had set the thing in motion. They had different thoughts and beliefs. They weren't even the same colour as him. They were a kind of miracle."
2. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) – "I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away."
3. 10:04 (Ben Lerner) – "I thought I could smell the light, syrupy scent of cottonwoods blooming prematurely, confused by a warmth too early in the year even to be described as a false spring, but that might have been a mild olfactory hallucination triggered by memory—or, I found myself thinking, a brain tumor. Across the water, a helicopter was lowering itself carefully onto the downtown heliport by South Street, a slow strobe on its tail."
4. The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) – "They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed, and no one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp."
For a while I've been wanting to go to Rattlesnake Ridge, especially when I saw these engagement photos, and this morning ended up being the perfect time to make the trip. It's just an hour from Seattle and a 4-mile hike roundtrip. It's a stunning view at the top, well worth getting up early for. (If you go, go as early as you can – we started hiking at 9am, and it was getting pretty busy by the time we left two hours later.)
Hope you're having a wonderful weekend!
A few weeks ago I realized that it's been five years since launching my jewelry shop. Five years! In some ways a lot has changed since the beginning and in other ways it's still very much the same. I haven't kept up with adding new jewelry to the shop as much as I would like to, and I hope I'll get better at that. Only time will tell. But today, at least, there's something new – a necklace and bracelet, both called 'floret', featuring a pendant set with crystals. The pendants come in both gold and silver; my personal favorite is 'seafoam' but all the colors are really pretty.
The new pieces are currently available for pre-order (find the necklace here & the bracelet here) so I can see which colors are most popular and order more accordingly. Within the next couple weeks I should have them available with the regular turnaround time.
In the meantime... a giveaway! I'll be randomly selecting two winners from the comments in this post. Each person will get to choose between a necklace and a bracelet and any color pendant.
To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment with your favorite pendant color. Giveaway ends on September 19th at midnight PDT; the two winners will be randomly chosen and announced in this post the following day. International entries are welcome.
Update: the winners are Caitlin T. and Charmaine. Thanks everyone for entering!
To any of you who live in or near Seattle – you should check out the book sale this weekend at Magnuson Park! I went this morning (my haul, above) and was certainly not disappointed. The books are super affordable and most are in great condition. There's more info here if you're interested.
It's beginning to feel like fall, and I'm craving soup... tomato soup in particular. I have three 'tricks' for making a delicious tomato soup: (1) roasting the tomatoes first for more complex, rich flavor, (2) adding just enough half-and-half to make it creamy but not too rich, and (3) straining the soup for a silkier, smoother texture. A cup of this soup with a grilled cheese sandwich? Ultimate comfort food.
Roasted Tomato Soup (makes about 2 cups / 2 servings)
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (I prefer San Marzano)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp Herbes de Provence*
1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock or chicken stock
1/4 cup half-and-half**
Preheat oven to 400°F. Drain the tomatoes, setting aside the juice for later use. Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet, lightly coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast for 20-30 minutes, until caramelized. In a pot, heat a little olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic and onion. Cook until translucent and fragrant. Add the roasted tomatoes and reserved juice, plus the basil leaves, Herbs de Provence, and stock. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and blend until smooth. (Careful, it's hot!) Mix in the half-and-half. Taste; add pepper and salt if needed. Strain the soup by setting a sieve over a bowl, pouring soup into the sieve, and then using a spoon to stir and press along the bottom of the seive until all the liquid has passed through. (If you want the soup really smooth, you can repeat this process, but I just do it once.)
*The packet of Herbes de Provence I use is a mix of rosemary, lavender, savory, fennel, basil, and thyme. Anything similar will work—the reason I use it is because it's a nice combination of flavor and I only have to measure out "one" spice.
**I use half-and-half because it's what I usually have on hand. But you could use cream or whole milk instead, or yogurt for a healthier twist.
Hi! I'm Rachel, and these are bits of my days and things I like. I run the online shops Elephantine and Mignon, am working on a novel, and live in Seattle with my husband and two cats. Read more about this blog...
This blog is a mix of my own photos + images by others. Please link back if you share one of my photos on your blog. Email me if you'd like me to remove a post that features your images.
A small disclosure: I use affiliate links in my "what to wear" posts as a way to pay for my blog fees. In other words, I earn a tiny commission if you end up buying the item from my link. The posts are entirely curated on my own. I do not have sponsored posts.
This blog design and all original content ©2016 by Rachel Ball / Elephantine.