Feeling Brittle

Every year I am asked to make the same contribution to the Passover seder we attend at the home of friends.

Matzoh brittle, with its buttery-caramelized crunch and chocolate-almond (and sometimes shredded coconut) toppings is as delicious as it is easy. In years past I was reliably guilty of consuming way, way more than my fair share.

But not anymore. Oh, sure, I still make the matzoh brittle – several batches, in fact. But being on a gluten-free diet means I no longer eat it. This could be considered a new form of culinary torture, if you ask me.

So knowing about my legendary sweet tooth, you are no doubt wondering if I was able to find a substitute gluten-free and yeast-free confection that would be an acceptable Passover treat.

Oh, yes. Yes, I did.

After making a triple batch of these light yet chewy almond macarons (though not as fine and fluffy as the Ladurée version from Paris that is showing up on every trendy dessert menu these days), the proverbial lightbulb went on. I borrowed the Ladurée macaron filling concept…

… and dug out the jar of Nutella that had been languishing at the back of a kitchen cupboard just waiting for its close-up.

Nutella is the ultimate mouth-gasm, in my opinion, and it spread with perfectly unctuous smoothness across one flat side of my macarons.

At our seder, I snagged a couple of these decadent treats for my dessert and left the matzoh brittle to the others.

And you know what? I did not feel at ALL deprived.

It’s Never Too Late To Have a Happy New Year

At least, that’s my operating strategy going forward, as we kiss January good-bye and usher in that short but unpredictable month of February. So far 2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year. In order of magnitude, let me share the following:

1)  Brave New Knits has gone into a third printing, only five months since its original publication at the end of August, 2010. I had the fantastic honor of doing author signings at both TNNA in Long Beach, CA and at VK Live in NYC; it was so amazing to hear how many knitters keep BNK on their bedside tables to read those designer interviews as much as to drool over the patterns.

2)  Including the holidays, I’ve been stuck and/or stranded in at least two blizzards. Can’t remember the last time I had so much fun in inclement weather.

These experiences made me realize that I should just shut up about my less-than-favorite aspects of living in California, because absolutely no one back east feels the least bit sorry for me; in fact, they undoubtedly view me as the thin-blooded sissy Californian I have become.

3)  I’ve been working on projects both secret and not-so-secret, including the Sabine cardigan which I made for my daughter:

4)  I learned that I have a gluten sensitivity (but not celiac disease, for which I am grateful), and have embarked on a strictly gluten-free diet. One of my two New Year’s resolutions is to explore the GF lifestyle and make sure that everything I eat is as delicious as anything wheat-based would be.

It’s a whole new world out there. So far, I’ve discovered some great GF blogs and websites, and made my first batch of GF biscotti – they are so delicious that I had to stick a packed baggie of them in the freezer to keep myself from snacking on them all day.

What is my other New Year’s resolution, you ask? And if you know me, you’re likely aware that I am not a resolution-making kind of person, so this is rather aberrant behavior for me. And I usually stay away from political commentary on this blog. However, I feel strongly enough about the subject to do this:

5)  In 2011, I will not buy a single item for my own use that was made in China.

Here’s a challenge: go take a look in your closet. If it looks anything like mine, somewhere between 50 and 95 % of what you own and wear was made in China. It occurred to me that as a consumer, I have supported the Chinese economy very generously for many years. I decided that it’s about time I searched for ways to support my own country’s economic efforts more conscientiously.

If you, like me, shop the sales at stores like J. Crew and Banana Republic (and sister stores Gap and Old Navy), not to mention Target and large department stores – pretty much all mainstream clothing purveyors – then most of what you buy was made in China. All those great sweaters from Anthropologie that we scoop up in order to figure out how to knit them for ourselves? Made in China. Next to nothing in those stores is made in the U.S. Sure, you’ll find a few things manufactured in India, Vietnam, and Mexico, but for the most part they come from China. No wonder that country pretty much owns us.

I won’t even start on home electronics, small appliances, and toys.

Part of my goal is to identify manufacturers, designers, and purveyors of stuff made right here in the U.S. The good news is that most of the yarn I buy is U.S.-grown and dyed. Obviously, there are tremendous resources right on the internet. And our good friend Etsy will undoubtedly fill many a need. But please feel free to share resources, since I am a newbie here. Reading labels is just the beginning…

Happy Anniversary

My long-suffering husband and I have been married thirteen pretty wonderful years as of today.


Last night we went out for dinner to celebrate at a local restaurant where the staff spoiled us rotten; they seemed so happy to see us, and were so attentive that it seemed almost ungrateful to quibble over the weak cosmopolitan that had been described (optimistically but, alas, erroneously) on the specialty drinks menu as “The Best Cosmopolitan In the World.” It seemed as if everybody who worked there knew about our special occasion, and even our menu got into the act; at the top of the page there were several “Happy Birthdays” listed and then our jaws dropped slightly when we noticed, “And a special happy anniversary to Mr. and Mrs. T.” How sweet is that?

Tonight, sentimental as I am, I cooked a reprise of one of the first dinners I ever made for my husband when we were dating. We’ll disregard the fact that he had absolutely no recollection of this meal when he saw it again tonight, even though I distinctly remember him making a big fuss over it at the time… and that was, what, a mere 15 years ago? I sauteed jumbo shrimp until they were just firm, and served them blanketed in a sauce of finely minced onion, lime juice, white wine, butter and heavy cream, with lime zest scattered over all. Not diet-friendly, but absolutely delicious over a blend of black, red, and brown rice. 

And with a centerpiece of flowers from the garden, what more could we ask? Well, another 40 good years would be much appreciated.

Scones with Jam, Anyone?

Still no new knitting content to share, but last night I took a break from the Big Secret Project to make cherry jam with my friend Diane, who brought over a cooler filled with about 16 pounds of sour Morello and sweet Black cherries from the trees in her orchard. Here’s what we made over the next three hours (We’ve got this canning thing down to a science, let me tell you. What would once have taken me the better part of a weekend I can now do in half a day, and with a second pair of hands it goes even faster.) in our own patented assembly line fashion:

Morello and Black Cherry Jam with Kirsch

Sour Cherry Preserves with Almonds (Lip-smackingly good over cheese)

Black Forest Preserves (Sweet cherry jam infused with cocoa and amaretto… unbelievably delicious over ice cream. We had to taste test, naturellement!)

We made roughly fifteen eight ounce jars of each, and Diane left the last four-cup baggie of frozen cherries in my freezer. Thanks, Diane! They won’t go to waste.

It was a fabulous break from the deadline knitting (which I have to do with my right elbow resting on an icepack at this point, due to a sudden case of the dreaded Knitter’s Elbow), even though I felt a little guilty taking the evening off. There’s something so satisfying about making preserves: that sense of connection to our past, the camaraderie of shared labor, the glistening jewel-like colors of the final product and their delectable flavor. All this rolled into an activity that makes me feel productive and frivolous at the same time.