Entries categorized "At My Table" Feed

Ah, Summer!

Happy Summer to all of you in the northern hemisphere!

I found myself up early on Saturday (it's those robins!) so I thought I'd do a proper welcome to my favorite season . . .

Sunr1se1Sunrise at St. Mary's June 21, 2014, 5:31 AM

And then I came home to this.


I like to do a lot of handwork in the summer, but I don't really have a project in mind.

I truly feel the need to refine my big-stitch technique, so I put this happy quilt in my floor frame.


The idea of getting up early when it is still cool, making coffee and sitting down at my frame

seems like an excellent way to start the day.


Take care,


Fatherly Advice

    A while ago, I started thinking about how advice is passed around and down the family line, much like quilts.  Recipients of either are lucky indeed.  Good advice is rare, and family quilts, lovingly and carefully made, are rare too.

    I thought that preserving familial advice in a quilt would be a nice project.  I showed you a piece I made that summed up my mother's best advice.  It was an idea that lodged itself in my head for the longest time and I just had to get it out there.  Back in November, I showed the piece to a small group of fiber artists that I meet with, led by the wonderful Jane Davila.  My advice?  Hang out with people who know more than you do. One of our group members liked the piece but she gave me a very simple suggestion:  go smaller.  I was encouraged by that because I didn't want this piece to stand on its own; I wanted it to be part of a series, as in a series of blocks.  Duh.  The idea is still not complete, but I'm getting there.  I've got a bunch of images in my head and I'm working my way through them.

    So this being Father's Day I though I'd share a little advice from Pop.  He would have turned 100 this week.



    Note the cigarette in his left hand.  

    Anyway, food was (and is) a pretty big deal in our family so it was often the topic of discussion.  We were taught early on about the importance and prepartion of good food.  Processed foods were a definite no-no except when it came to potato chips and then all bets were off.  Speaking of bets, my father also taught me about horse racing, but that's a story for another day.  (By the way - anyone know where I can get horse-themed quilt fabric?)


     Eat nothing white, he told us.  Sugar, white flour, white bread and whole milk were big mistakes.  Unsweetened butter didn't count because technically it was pale yellow.  He made a wicked bolognese sauce but I have only a vague memory of the pasta which accompanied it.  His chicken curry was excellent, but the white rice served with it was a minor player.  Baked potatoes were a rarity, but not during the summer, when they were roasted on a smoky grill.  I highly recommend that method, and serve the potatoes with (pale yellow) butter, of course.

    So with all of the nutritional advice we are given every day, this one still stands the test of time.  I think if Pop were still around, he'd just shake his head in disbelief, amazed that people have to be told this stuff again and again.  

    And yet, here I sit, hot tea on my desk.  All children rebel, of course, and I am no exception.  My tea has just a bit of sugar in it, but at least the milk is 1%.

Take care,


Fortune Cookie Roulette #24


Stay in touch, above all, with how you feel.

Some days are less than best, and today was just one of those days.  Nothing major happened - lost keys, exploding coffee, a stubbed toe, return trips to the store - a series of less than stellar moments.  Fortunately, that is all.

It was the kind of day that makes me glad I have my own little meditative practice.  Hand-quilting does it every time, fortunately.  

And, also quite fortunately, I have a very generous neighbor who shares her cucmbers and tomatoes with me.  Her unexpected delivery at 5:30 in the afternoon made my dinner complete - and eliminated one more trip to the store.  Might I recommend replacing your hamburger bun with two slices of a Big Boy tomato, warm and fresh from the garden? 

And all of this made me feel quite better and I managed to forget all of those goofy little things.

Have a fortunate weekend.

Take care,


Thursday: At My Table - Consider The Cheez Doodle

If I have absolutely nothing to do in the late afternoon, I'll head down to my studio for a quick right brain activity.  Working as a left brainer all day leaves me lop-sided so an hour of creativity sets me straight.  I don't know what part of the brain is activated by heading to the gym, which is probably what I should do, but nevermind.  The studio (corner of my basement, heretofore referred to as comb) can be a bit on the chilly side in mid-February, and yesterday being a typical New England mid-February day, and nothing on the agenda, I made myself a cup of tea and headed to my comfy couch, iPad in hand.

I am notorious for sending articles to people insisting that they read what I consider important, challenging and life-changing, hoping that they will be as moved as I am.  I've done it in this space, of course, about quilts, movies, art, food, and books, and now I want to share this article with you, but I insist you read it.  In the February 24th edition of the The New York Times Magazine section, you will find The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Moss. 

No pictures today, I 'm afraid, because that would have meant buying a bag of Cheez Doodles and after reading this work, I simply could not justify that.

I am going to stop right here.  Spend your precious time reading this important article. 

Take care,


PS With apologies to MFK Fisher and Consider the Oyster.

Tuesday: Written, Spoken & Sung - And Baked: Buche de Noel

I just bought a Buche de Noel from my favorite bakery, Isabelle et Vincent, because, quite frankly my dears, I ran out of time.  On a similar note, I am going to re-run my post from last year.  Merry Christmas to all of you and havea very peaceful 2013!

JUST ABOUT EVERY YEAR SINCE 1988, I have made a Buche de Noel for our family's Christmas Eve dessert. It Saint-Honore caps off a rather bizarre gustatory affair which includes Hot and Cold Antipasto, Jambalaya, Coq Au Vin, Potato Salad, Spicy Kidney Beans and a Spiral Ham. It all works somehow and it wouldn't be Christmas dinner without any of those dishes.

I guess I started making the B de N because my mother always had a Gateau Saint Honore made especially for Christmas - Saint Honore being the patron saint of bakers (love the French, don't you?). There was always some leftover and it made an excellent breakfast. And lunch. The recipe I use is from Michael Kenyon's "Buche de Noel: Peter Kump's New York Cooking School" as it appeared in Cooking Up A French Christmas (Gourmet, December 1988). The article is charming and it features Paul Grimes, currently a food stylist, but also my favorite teacher when I was a student at the school. It is possible to order back issues of this wonderful magazine, as well as the beautiful cover art.

First of all, do not be afraid. Any recipe you find that you are comfortable with is fine and this is so worth it because

A. the presentation is beautiful

B. it's really, really fun to do and

C. and it's not difficult. Just think of it as just a large Christmas Yodel.

Yup - now you're interested, aren't you? I will make one suggestion, however. If you have the time to make home-made meringue mushrooms and rain is not in the forecast, then by all means make your own. If you do not have the time and you live in Seattle, then by all means buy them. So these are my plans for today: There are a few gifts to buy and a few cards to mail. White Christmas, which I will review for tomorrow, has got to be on somewhere, and I will start preparations for my Buche de Noel because it just wouldn't be Christmas without it.

And I'll say a little prayer to Saint Honore.

Take care, Byrd

Thursday: At My Table - Potent Pesto

BY NOW, IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE that your basil plants have withered in a frost or been picked clean.  If not, I suggest you make yourself some pesto because come one miserably rainy wintry day you will be happy that you did and you will think of me.

A few things to note: as the title suggests, pesto is a potent additive to any recipe.  Yes, I said additive because I believe anything can be improved by it in small doses.  One can get carried away with pesto when served as a sauce for pasta or salmon. 

I do not use pine nuts as they are unbelievably expensive and toasted walnuts are a good enough replacement.  

You might want to cut your olive oil with canola oil since that is a healthier choice and olive oil can weigh rather heavily on the senses.  

Cheese should not be added until you serve your dish.  Cheese does not freeze . . . well.  Romano cheese is way too sharp for me; I prefer Parmesan.  But I'm not you - you are - so do what you like.  

On this point, I must insist: unless you are an experienced canner, freeze your pesto.  There is some wicked bacterial danger that can develop when olive oil and garlic are left to their own devices for too long at room temperature.  I'd rather you not curse me on your way to the emergency room in the middle of a cold January night.

To begin, preheat your oven to 425'.  Lay your walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Toast them gently, carefully for a few minutes, maybe 4, but keep a close eye on them.  Nuts can burn quickly.  

Let them cool.


Grab a few bunches of basil leaves (I grew Neopolitana this summer) and snip off the best leaves.  Run them under cold water, roll them up in paper towels to absorb excess water.


I also like to add about ten branches of flat parsley because I love parsley and it tempers the bite of the basil.  Put in a food processor and pulse until chopped.  Remove from the bowl and set aside.


 When the nuts are cooled, grind them to a coarse texture in the food processor or chop them by hand.  Remove from the processor and place in a bowl.


Get some garlic cloves and hit them with the broad side of your knife.  This splits the little paper jacket and prevents you from going insane while peeling off those transparent layers.


Get a pinch of peppercorns and some sea salt.


Put in a food processor with the garlic cloves and pulse.  If you are doing this by hand, salt added to garlic will ease the process.  Chopping garlic with salt makes it sweat so you end up with a nice paste. Either way, you should end up with something like this:


Those green bits are parsley and basil remnants, by the way.

Put everything back in the food processor.  Add the oil.  My processor does not have a tube so I add it all at once and pulse just to combine.  It's fine.

I like to store my pesto in 4 ounce jars.  Wash them in hot soapy water and dry them.


In your best handwriting, write a descriptive phrase of your pesto on a label.  I wrote Walnut Pesto on mine since my nephew has a nut allergy and I'd rather he didn't have this.  Place your pesto in the jars and then into the freezer.  


Since I made this a week ago, I have already used a jar to brighten a roasted tomato sauce for Eggplant Parmigiana and another jar for a white bean and vegetable main dish.

I am very happy that I did and I hope you will be too.

Take care,


Thursday: At My Table - Our Table

I recently came to a decision that I had to let something go.  I read Amanda Soule's thoughts on her table and it really helped.

A year ago, I took possession of my family's dining room table after my sister had it for a number of years. Table-1 This table once sat 18 people and it was the center of everything at my parent's house.  We had elaborate sit down breakfasts and long-lasting dinners every weekend at this table.  We are a fortunate family that, despite our differences, loved (and still love) each other very much.   Yet even the closest families find assigned seating necessary - not because of brewing resentments or disputes, but because we had a few lefties in the group.  I'm not referring to political assignations, but with a left-handed father and a right-handed mother,  there were bound to be a few of each in the offspring.  Careful seating made sure that few of us ever got elbowed when de-clawing a lobster or wrestling with a pork chop, which we were allowed to eat with our hands because it was summer.   We played endless games of Monopoly (at my urging) and patiently shared each section of the Sunday New York Times.  Once my father had given his best to the puzzle, he would throw down the gauntlet, his pen, and challenge us to finish the rest. And being a family of many summer birthdays, the dinners would end with huge ice cream sheet cakes.  It even held my wedding cake and my father toasted us - all of us -at that table, a long time ago.

My son came along later, after my parents were gone way too early.  The house was gone by then too, into the hands of another family whom I hope share what we had at our table.  My son did not have the chance to sit at the table where the littles would fall asleep after a long day on the beach or hold his hands to his ears once the after-dinner singing began.  He did not have the chance to hear the somewhat inflated stories my father would tell or engage in a private laugh, there, way down at the other end of the table.  He did not get to play the ridculously silly game of putting your finger to your nose if you heard someone burp.  So when I got the chance to have the table in my home for a while, I jumped at it.  This enormous table sat in my rather petite dining room and it was here that my son held court telling his own stories, joking with his cousins, talking politics with his uncles, hearing tall-tales from my sisters, and eating spaghetti while watching football every Sunday night.

Table-2But there was no getting around the table, literally, because it was too big for our tiny room.  I missed my smaller farm table which we were using as a desk.  It had a little drawer for napkins and its slight width fit perfectly in our small spot.  The big table wasn't working.  I needed to baste Win and I was afraid of scratching the finish.  It was time to go.  We said goodbye to the table and it sits now in our garage, waiting.  Once we moved the farm table back, I wasted no time basting Win. Memories buried for a year came flooding back.  In our table are divets from a bouncy seat,  holes from banging a little fork, swirling curls from a scribbled pencil impression, faded silver model paint, and edge finish worn away from a wrist working on homework.  These are memories carved in the wood and there is still room for more.   And when I brought dinner to the table the other night, I walked in to find my son, adjusting his seat at the table, engaging in his own private laugh, there, way down at the end of the table, with my husband.

"Glad our table is back,"  he said.

So am I.

Take care,


Thursday: At My Table - Julia Child

I only wish. Julia-Child

When I was in cooking school, a long time ago, we hosted a benefit for the James Beard House.  One of the auction items was a signed cookbook from Julia Child.  I wasted absolutely no time in making a bid.  Somehow I won the book, Julia Child And More Company, and it remains one of my most treasured items.  It is written with charm and gentle humor.  Like all of her books and Julia herself, there is not one bit of pretension.  In fact, whenever I read any of her books, it's as though she standing next to me, gently leading, taking me by the whisk and saying, "That's it - that's how it's done.  Lovely!"

It's fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day.  That's what human life is all about: enjoying things.  I have this framed quote hanging in my kitchen.  Another gentle reminder of how life should be.

Happy Birthday Julia Child - 100 and a day!

Thursday: At My Table - Deep Summer

I took a little road trip today to Jennifer Paganelli's gorgeous showroom. An old friend (the friendship is old - my friend is not) and her darling daughter went with me.  If you are familiar with Girl's World, you can understand why this was a good idea.  I cannot get enough of Jennifer's kind of happiness.  Her place bursts with sunshine, fresh air, cool waters and radiant warmth.  It is summer all the time at Jennifer's.

I needed backing for my next quilt (Win is almost finished) and I also picked up some scrap packs.  I cannot resist a scrap pack for two reasons:  a) I like pleasant surprises and b) they bring me back to my days as a video editor.  I always had a lurking fear that after a day of taping, we had forgotten a shot or a mic would be in the frame and it was going to be a long night in the editing room.  Watching a day's worth of video is just like opening a bag of random scraps and not knowing what you are going to make of it all.  It always worked out somehow, but I liked playing that mind-game just to make my job a little more interesting.

Buying dinner from the farm is like that too.  After my fabric-buying spree, I went to our little local farm stand.  Not knowing what they have and planning dinner around what's available is a lot like working from a scrap bag.  What can I say?  It's the little things in life that keep me happy.

Here's what I bought:

Country Gentleman White Corn and Girls World Vibe ~ Coco


Beefsteak tomatoes and Crazy Love ~ Brown


Mini Purple Peppers and Crazy Love ~ Orange


 When I came home and snapped open the fabric packs, a familiar fragrance filled the air: the smell of new school clothes.  Combined with the spray of mist when I stripped the corn brought me way, way back to my own girl's world a long, long time ago. 

This, my friends, is deep summer.

Take care,




Thursday: At My Table - Cod En Papillotte

I DO LOVE SUMMER and all of the food that goes with it.  The season mandates outdoor cooking because there's always a fire going somewhere and why heat up your house if you don't have to?

Cod En Papilotte (for one, but it is easily doubled)

A piece of cod to your liking

2 basil leaves, shredded

6 cherry tomatoes, slice in half

a lemon slice

2 Tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons white wine


Preheat your oven to 450 degrees or get a good heat base on your grill.  If baking in the oven, place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.  If grilling, use just a sheet of foil.  Place your cod slice on your respective paper or foil.  Put aside.

In a small saute' pan, heat your oil to just hot.  Toss in your tomatoes and basil strips. Swirl around the pan, sprinkle on your salt and pepper, and swirl again.  Cook for about one minute.  Swirl again, adding the white wine to deglaze the pan.  As soon as it stops sizzling, pour the mixture on the cod.  Fold over the long side of the paper or foil towards the middle.  Grasping the short ends, bring them to the top to make a little tent and fold over to warp the fish snuggly.  Put in the oven or on the grill.  If you are using cod, it will be about 1 inch thick.  Cook for ten minutes.  This is based on the Canadian cooking method, preferred by James Beard:  ten minutes per one inch of fish.  Fool proof or foolproof.  Or both.

After ten minutes, remove from the heat, wait a minute and unroll the foil or paper.  I promise it will be a beautiful thing.  Using a fish spatula if you are lucky to  have one, carefully remove the fish to your plate.  If the fish falls apart, that's good thing because that means it's cooked.  Dress with the lemon.  


You can serve it with any vegetable you like - mine is asparagus. If it's twilight, light a candle.  Pour yourself a cold crisp white wine and sit out doors.  Ask yourself why you don't do this more often.

Take care,