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Archive for May, 2011

photo by Flickr user ArkanGL

One of the things I sometimes wonder about is what is up with all the food allergies and intolerances that abound these days.  I am convinced that the prevalence is due, in part, to awareness of the conditions and the ability to test for an diagnose them.  I don’t think that’s all there is to it, though.  I’ve heard a number of theories as to why allergies and sensitivies, to peanuts in particular, are on the rise.  Some say exposure at too young an age can cause a food allergy, while others claim that eating peanuts early in life helps prevent an allergy (if I recall correctly, peanut allergies are very uncommon in African nations where peanuts are a staple even for babies.)

Here’s the thing.  I have the luxury of idly wondering about food allergies.  I complain about my allergies to dust and mold and pollen, but I feel very lucky that I don’t have any food allergies.  Working in the medical field, I sometime see the scary effects that food allergies can have, and I have also worked with patients with Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, whose lifestyle is greatly affected by the ways their bodies react to food.  Though it is sheer speculation on my part, I think it might be harder to have celiac or another type of sensitivity, since so many people just don’t get it.  People seem to understand  the need for vigilance with ingredients if exposure could trigger an anaphylactic  reaction that could lead to death.  But a person with celiac disease isn’t going to have that kind of sudden, obviously life-threatening reaction, so I think it is difficult for others to comprehend why that person needs to avoid all traces of gluten.

I recently read two fascinating blog posts about food allergies and intolerances that really made me feel for folks who have to live with these conditions.  The first was a post for BlogHer aboutaccomodating kids’ dietary restrictions for parties and playdates. The blogger tells about overhearing a mother, who was planning a birthday party for her child, wishing she hadn’t invited a child to the party with a food allergy, because it would be “such a pain” to deal with the child’s needs. That really got me. You know what? It is a pain to deal with food limitations, but that parent only has to do so once in a while. That child and the parents have to cope with the inconvenience, expense, worry, and fear all the time. Plus, think about how that child would feel about being excluded. I love that the blogger has simple, easy to follow tips for welcoming children with food restrictions into your home. While the post is geared toward hosting pint-sized guests, the suggestions are equally valid for having an adult with an allergy or sensitivity over for a dinner party or movie night. Planning a menu around dietary restrictions takes extra time, but we are lucky to live in the age of the internet, when information on appropriate products and recipes are at our fingertips. Folks with these conditions already miss out on a lot; those of us who are lucky enough to be able to eat freely without health concerns shouldn’t make them miss out on our social events, because of minor inconvenience.

Carol of Alinea At Home, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote movingly about the burden of celiac disease. That post shows how the daily wear and tear of coping with the disease can wear you down, even a woman like Carol, who is savvy and has an amazing ability to adapt recipes.

Hopefully, awareness of food allergies and intolerances will continue to grow, so that life is easier for people living with the conditions. I also hope this post helps a little in raising that awareness.

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I kind of took the easy way out with this first foray into “Cooking by the Book”.  These two dishes are not complicated.  But, boy howdy, are they yummy!  The Fettucine with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce is from my Sundays at Moosewood cookbook, and the WIne-Poached Pears come from New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant.

I picked the pasta recipe first (from the Italy section of Sundays at Moosewood, which has sections from all sorts of regional and ethnic cuisines), and what goes with bleu cheese? Fruit and wine, of course! So the wine poached pears were a no-brainer. Guess I wanted easy, gourmet comfort food.

Both dishes are simple, but the pears take some time, so I started with them.  I only used 4 pears, because, much as I love leftovers, half a dozen poached pears seemed excessive for one person.  I peeled the pears and put them in a pot with a sliced orange (the recipe doesn’t say whether to peel the orange, so I took the sangria approach and left the peel on), a cinnamon stick, and some whole cloves (I think I grabbed five or six).  I didn’t have any whole allspice, so I just skipped that bit of the recipe.

Then a cup or so of apple juice and about 4 cups of red wine went in.  I brought the contents to a boil and then let them simmer.  According to the recipe the cooking time varies depending on size and variety of pear, but “will probably not take more than half an hour.”  I didn’t time them, but I think it was more like an hour before my pears were “tender and rosy”.

I let the pears cool, while I made the pasta for my entree.  The recipe suggests serving the pears with lightly sweetened whipped cream, but since the pasta dish called for cream, bleu cheese, and cream cheese, I figured I could, and should, skip the cream for dessert.  Honestly, the pears didn’t need any additions, but I will get to the final verdict later.

The Fettucine with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce is ridiculously easy.  It’s definitely going in my weeknight repetoire, since it barely takes longer to make the whole dish than it does to prepare the pasta.  While the pasta water came to a boil, I cut the bleu cheese and cream cheese into chunks.

I had picked a “gorgonzola dolce” at the store, and it worked fine, but I think a more typical, saltier, more pungent gorgonzola would have been even better.  I also used reduced fat cream cheese, since that’s what I had in the fridge.  Once the pasta was in the boiling water, I melted the butter in a saucepan and added the cream with the heat on low to prevent boiling.

Then the cheeses were added, and I stirred the pot regularly to incorporate the melting cheese.

Don’t forget to also stir the cooking pasta once in a while, so it won’t stick to the bottom of the pot or stick together too much. While the sauce and pasta were cooking, I also chopped and toasted some walnuts to go with the dish, which is one of the variations mentioned in the cookbook.  Finally the sauce was all melted and smooth, and I added a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper.

Once the pasta was perfectly al dente (which I never seem to manage, so hooray!), I drained it and put it back in the pot with the gorgonzola sauce.

A quick stir, and the pasta was ready to go.  I put some on a plate and topped it with a sprinkling of the toasted nuts.  The recipe calls for adding parmesan at this point, but I forgot.  Oops.  No great loss, though.

I rounded out the meal with a salad of mixed greens, sauteed asparagus, and lemon vinaigrette, which kept me from feeling too guilty about that creamy, cheesy pasta.  The pasta was luscious, and the crunchy walnuts added just the right amount of contrast.  The dish packed a lot of flavor for something so quick and simple.  And the poached pear was a refreshing end to the meal.  Why don’t I make poached pears all the time?  It was sweet, but not too sweet, with the wine and spice flavors adding to, but not hiding the yummy pear taste.  It didn’t need any whipped cream to be delicious.

I call both dishes very successful!  Maybe next time I do a Cooking By the Book post I will tackle something a little more ambitious, but if you make either of these dishes, I don’t think you’ll mind their simplicity one bit.

Fettucine with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce (from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant), serves 4

1 pound fettucine

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup heavy cream or mikl

4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, cut into pieces

4 oz. cream cheese, cut into cubes

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Bring a large covered pot of water to a boil.  Add the fettucine, stir, and cover the pot until the water returns to a boil.  In a saucepan large enough to hold the cooked pasta, melt the butter.  Mix in the cream or milk and heat carefully, never allowing it to boil.  Add the gorgonzola and cream cheese, stirring frequently, until they are melted and the sauce is fairly smooth.  Add freshly ground pepper.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and mix it into the sauce.  Toss well to coat the pasta and serve immediately topped with chopped walnuts and parmesan.

Wine-Poached Pears (from New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant), serves 6

6 pears, peeled with stems intact

5 to 6 cups poaching liquid: red wine and fruit juice (pear, apple, apricot, or other) in any proportion

1 orange sliced

1 cinnamon stick

a few whole cloves

several whole allspice

heavy cream, whipped with a little vanilla and maple syrup

Put the pears into a stainless steel pot large enough for an uncrowded single layer.  Add enough poaching liquid to cover the pears so they float and bob around.  Add the sliced orange and the spices.  Simmer on medium heat.  Roll the pears over once or twice so that they poach evenly.  Poaching time will vary depending on the variety, size, and ripeness, but will probably not take more than half an hour.  When the pears are tender and rosy-tinted, carefully remove them from the pot.  Arrange them upright in a bowl.  Add poaching liquid to about 1 inch deep and refrigerate.  Whip the cream with a little vanilla extract and syrup until stiff.  Serve each pear on top of a generous scoop of whipped cream and spoon on a little poaching liquid.

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Art in Bloom

As I said in my last post, I returned to the MFA for their annual Art in Bloom event.  For this event, garden clubs are invited to create floral arrangements to be paired with one of the works of art in the museum.  All the floral designers clearly used the art as inspiration for their arrangements, but it was interesting to see the different ways in which they used aspects of the art, from color to shape and texture.

This arrangement clearly used color and form to mimic the composition of the painting.

This designer used a similar approach, but I like this one better.  I like the way the flowers are grouped, with each color being a separate type, to match the sections of the painting.  It’s almost the opposite technique of the painting, where small strokes of varied colors come together to make an impression.  In the floral arrangement the colors are pulled from the painting in solid, homogeneous sections.  Nifty!

This was one of my favorite displays.  I assume the floral designers got to pick which piece of art to interpret, and I think choosing a sculpture like this is more of a challenge.  You can’t use color to dictate the flowers and composition, and I really like how this designer met that challenge.  The palm fronds clearly echo the wings, and the mossy, dangling plants at the bottom of the arrangement are a nod to the texture of the flames at the base of the statue.  I also like that the arrangement avoided being too structurally literal by using three white blossoms, where it would have been more obvious to use two to match the two figures.

I am sad that I got a blurry photo here, because this was another arrangement I really liked.  This designer used colors that exactly matched the painting, but then took a playful approach with the shapes and composition, using open, metal (I think) cubes tumbling around the organic shapes of the flowers.  It both matches and contrasts with the ordered, geometric lines of the painting.

This photo doesn’t come close to showing how well the floral designer matched colors to the painting.  Here the approach seemed to be using certain elements of the painting, specifically color and curves, to inspire the arrangement rather than shaping the arrangement itself to match the painting’s composition.

This last one might not be my favorite, but the interpretation of the art is really interesting.  Who would look at that ancient relief piece and think, “I could base a floral arrangement on that”?

Art in Bloom was a fun way to spend an evening and make myself feel a little more cultured to boot.  Even if you aren’t a fan of floral arrangements, I think the juxtaposition of the flowers and art makes you see the art in a new way.  Though the event is over for 2011, it is an annual event, so you could check it out next year.  Art in Bloom always includes a Community Open House evening when admission to the museum is free, so you don’t even need to open your wallet to enjoy.

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Much like the arboretum, though I live near the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston I don’t go there frequently. I have visited the museum twice in the past couple weeks, though. First with a coworker to see the new exhibit, “Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass”, then with my brother to check out the annual “Art in Bloom” event. “Art in Bloom” is already over (it only last a few days each year), but the Chihuly exhibit will be at the MFA until August 7, and I definitely recommend a visit.

I’ve liked Dale Chihuly’s work since I first heard about the artist, while I was taking a glassblowing class for the short, unconventional winter term at my college. I’ve always been drawn to glass, color, and graceful shapes, and Chihuly’s art is a beautiful combination of all three.

Since I first became aware of the artist, his work has expanded from mostly cup, bowl, and platter shapes to include spiky pillars, sinuous chandeliers,

and juxtapositions of sleek, colorful glass against natural and weathered materials.

Each room in the exhibit housed a different style of glass sculpture or installation of many pieces.  One of my favorites, Ikebana Boat, was at the very beginning: a simple, rustic, wooden boat overflowing with colorful shapes that would fit well in a Dr. Seuss illustration.

The black backdrop (which is used throughout the exhibit) really sets off the piece, and I love the reflection in the sheet of glass that is the base of the display.

The next room had an assortment of vase-shaped pieces sprouting flower and vine motifs and showcasing methods of cutting and shaping the blown glass that were new to me.

In the claw-like part, those dots are air bubbles that are somehow evenly dispersed in the glass.  Wow!

The next section had many pieces inspired by Native American textiles and baskets.  The shapes in this part were more akin to the Chihuly works I was already familiar with, but the colors and patterns were more muted and clearly inspired by the crafts displayed with them.

From there, the exhibit moves on to a very dramatic room with a huge installation (the largest Chihuly installation to date, I believe), called Mille Fiori, made of glass shapes in a rainbow of colors sprouting from a platform that extends about sixty feet in the center of the room.  Sadly, I couldn’t get a picture that even comes close to capturing the drama of the piece.

The chandelier room was next, with six different chandeliers in different colors (and one made entirely of clear glass) composed of clusters of bulbs, buds, and curling, twirling tendrils.

The Persian Ceiling room was the only one with white walls.  In this room, the glass pieces (the first picture in this post shows a section of them – see if you can find the glass octopus) form the ceiling, with light shining through, and the white walls allow colorful designs to appear below the installation.

The final part of the exhibit, Neodymium Reeds on Logs, seemed the most contemporary to me, and certainly the most minimal.  It was striking and interesting, but I still can’t really decide if I like it.

While you can see a lot of the exhibit here, there is much more than I have shown you.  And the glass is much more beautiful and detailed in person.

This got pretty long, so I will save the “Art in Bloom” recap for another post.

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When did May 4th become associated with Star Wars?  I first heard about it last year, I think, and it took me the better part of the day to figure out the pun behind the day.

At any rate, though I am not a Star Wars buff, May the 4th seems like an appropriate day to share some fabulously geeky links.

Firefly cupcakes from Vivian's Blogorama

These Firefly cupcakesare so awesome and adorable (look at Wash with his dinosaur!), they might be the only cupcakes ever that I couldn’t bear to eat.

According to Craft, May is Geek Crafts Month. Sweet.

Bet you never thought about how an astronaut’s spacesuit gets made. Turns out it’s quite the production. I love the collaboration between engineers and seamstresses.

Need a new lunchbox? How about a Lego one? How cute is the drink bottle?

A thermoreactive wall that makes pretty colors when you pee? No fair – the guys get to have all the fun!

You have to see this San Francisco themed ball run made of 100,000 toothpicks to believe it, so here you go:

Scott Weaver’s Rolling through the Bay from Learning Studio on Vimeo.

I am a sucker for the combo of cute and geeky, and Wookie the Chew totally hits that happy button for me.

And speaking of cute and geeky, I have a thing for adorable robots – R2D2 was, and is, my favorite Star Wars character, and I absolutely adored Wall-E.  So it’s no surprise that I love Machinarium. I played through the demo a while back and was charmed by the little robot and enjoyed the problem-solving involved in the game, plus the art is just lovely. I was recently reminded of it, and am definitely going to have to buy the full game.

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I am noticing one upside to the long and snowy winter we had in Boston.  I am appreciating spring even more this year than I usually do.  Maybe it is just the contrast to those long months of white and gray that is making the season seem so vibrant, but I could swear everything seems to be blooming at once this year.

Since the weather was sunny and relatively warm this weekend, I went for a long ramble in the Arnold Arboretum.  I live within walking distance of the place, and it is shameful that I don’t visit it more often, but I always manage to make at least one trip each spring.  This visit was spectacular.  I have never seen so many different kinds of flowers there all in bloom.  There were hyacinths and daffodils here and there, carpets of violets in white and blue, rhododendrons and azaleas and forsythia, all kinds of blooming trees, and even a few early lilacs.

It felt so good to get out in the fresh air and surround myself with green and other colors.  And I know my body needed the exercise.  I have been extremely sedentary lately.  But every time I go to the arboretum I wish I knew more about identifying trees.  Maybe one of these days I will actually take one of the classes they offer and learn a little botany.

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It’s been a lovely spring weekend here in Boston.  So lovely, in fact, that my main goal for today was a long walk.  So my outfit had to be practical, but I think it’s pretty cute, too.

(Sorry for the blurry photo.  I am still trying to figure out how to get a decent outfit photo by myself in my apartment.  It may not be possible.  You have no idea how many photos I took, and this is the best of the bunch.)

This isn’t the greenest outfit in the reuse sense, as all the clothing items were purchased new, but everything except the jeans, which I have had so long I don’t recall where I bought them, came from an outlet, sale, or discount store, so it is definitely a thrifty look.  Speaking of the jeans, they are Lee, midrise bootcut, and they are the most comfortable jeans I have ever worn.  Jeans never used to be comfort wear for me, but these changed my mind.  Turns out jeans are actually comfortable, if they fit my curves properly.

This outfit highlights a couple other fashion items I have changed my mind about: scarves and long sweaters.  For most of my life, I only wore scarves with outerwear to keep warm.  They were practical items, not fashion.  Which is funny, because I love accessories.  I was convinced I had a short neck, though, and thought scarves were unflattering on me.  Since cutting my hair short, I have done a total 180, and have a small collection of scarves that I use often.  I need to work on how I wear them, though, since I only seem able to tie them in one way, and it is getting a little old.

As for the long sweaters, this purple one converted me.  I am barely five feet tall, and I am curvy, so I had assumed a long cardigan would make me look stumpy and dumpy.  But the color and softness of this cardigan, not to mention the $15 price tag, lured me in.  When I tried it on, I decided it actually works.  Go figure.  Goes to show that every so often you should re-evaluate what you think works and doesn’t on your figure.

I didn’t tell you about my jewelry, though.  After getting totally dressed this morning – in fact, after I had already left the house – I remembered that I had bought a super cute ring yesterday and realized it would be perfect with this outfit.  It was still in my bag from the day before, so I was able to add it to my look.

Yesterday some friends and I wandered around an open studios event in Somerville.   One home/studio we visited belonged to the artists behind EsotErica, Citizen Chain Jewelry, and the adorable Smiley Baby Hats. There were lots of nifty things, but I was especially drawn to the rings made from vintage clip earrings and buttons. They were very reasonably priced, so I treated myself to this lavender one.

My long walk took me to the arboretum, where there were tons of pretty trees and flowers to enjoy, so expect a post on that soon.  And if you haven’t voted in the poll in my last post, please do!

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