Friday, May 24, 2019

The Results

We got back our test results for our backyard soil, and it is contaminated with lead. This has been keeping me up at night, stirred into the dire climate/environmental situation, worried about my family's health and the future. In all the years we have gotten extra blood tests for our children, they have never had elevated lead levels.  So I'm thankful for that.  

But I'm so sad about our soil!  Now that the black walnut tree is gone, I have sun and so much growth in the mint and the berries.  I am going to do a more focused soil test, to see if the beds are all contaminated, or just the area by the house which is typical of old houses with their former lead paint. 

I still have my raised beds with their clean soil that we brought in, so I'm growing edibles there; I may need to rip out my berry bushes and mint - I'm assuming that once a plant has been grown in lead-tainted soil, it doesn't help to transplant to clean soil. 

New this year, I colonized a ledge with two big planters filled with nasturtium seeds.  Little babies are coming up! I will never get over that excitement. I had wanted to plant grapes to climb up our side porch posts, but given our lead situation, I planted a clematis instead.  Perhaps I will become a flower gardener and rely on the excellent farmer's market 2 blocks away for my local produce.  Perhaps that is my silver lining - that I can plant all the flowers, instead of prioritizing for edibles. Poppies! Peonies! A lilac bush!

We planted our little oak tree, free from a city grant program.  It's barely taller than the irises, and I'm trying to be all mature about "planting for future generations" when I just want it to hurry up and give us some sheltering shade. 

Our street tree, a zelkova, is growing tremendously.  I planted some red creeping thyme as a groundcover in the tree well, and now I'm going to add some fencing because I think the neighborhood dogs are peeing in a corner and killing my thyme. 

I feel better for having written this all down.  This helps me have some perspective and cling to the good parts of this story and my life, instead of focusing on the bad and chewing on it to feed despair.  Today is a beautiful, breezy spring day, and I'm going to go out and sow some cilantro seeds in my  raised beds.  Onward!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Little Vintage Feedsack for a Little Nightie

This vintage feedsack scrap came in the box from Laura - all the sky-blue and coral polka dots, pretty roses, and yet not at all dainty or saccharine. I paired it with this pale blue striped cotton because I do really like light colors in sleep clothes, especially summer ones. 

I was thrilled to find the perfect coral bias tape in my stash, so I used it inside and outside the bodice. The buttons are Beatrix Potter. (side note: I have always adored the name "Jemima Puddleduck" and thought she must have a delightful story, but recently found the book in our Little Free Library and was in for a nasty surprise as the fox gets after her. I'm going to put it out of my mind and think instead on her lovely name.) 

Unfortunately, the age of the feedsack scrap means that it's not holding its seams very well.  I may be patching it up a few times, but it's worth it for Phoebe's pleasure in the nightie and my pleasure in the colors together. She's such a dear.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Lemon Rhubarb Marmalade

I am trying the third time with a rhubarb plant in my back yard.  This year, there is no black walnut tree to poison things, so we shall see. 

In the meantime, I buy rhubarb at market.  And I overbought lemons for Ben's birthday party.  So this recipe from Food in Jars' Preserving by the Pint jumped at me - I've been looking at my preserving with fresh eyes since I read Marisa's new book, The Food in Jars Kitchen.  I've got a rather crowded schedule these days with three freelance projects right on top of each other, but this recipe is done in in flexible stages, so I thought I could pull it off.

I didn't take the time to slice the lemon peel really fine, but fortunately, it cooked down soft and I like it.

The color of this marmalade is so pretty, and I can attest that it is delicious. It pleases me that there's no pectin involved other than what's in the lemon seeds (tied up in cheesecloth when the jam boils) and pith - and the viscous nature of cooked rhubarb.

A lovely slice of toast on a chilly spring day with a cup of hot chocolate and a fascinating book to edit.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Phoebe is Four

Phoebe has been celebrated for several days now.  She is just a delight, especially when we wonder aloud who would need a present? Or what are these cupcakes for? And let's have a party just because, right? And when Phoebe remembers all over again that it's her birthday, she bubbles over with joy.

Yes, darling, let's have lots of joy. Let's remember the first few moments of your life, your wondering eyes and calm.  Let's see again the sweetness of your brother and sister meeting you for the first time.

We need this joy to counterbalance, to season, the pain of other dear ones who are sick and dying.  And I do believe there is joy for them on the other side of death, but for us who stay here? Oh, that is hard. Phoebe asked me the other day: "when is Uncle Ron going to come back to life?"  Getting Jesus and Easter and our loved ones all stirred in together.

Joy and pain.  The contrast that makes the patchwork of life.

 Let's look now at the Phoebe's birthday cupcakes - made and decorated by Genevieve, shared with preschool friends and then later with grandparents.  I don't have a good photo of the layer cake I made for Phoebe - it's from Smitten Kitchen Every Day and I highly recommend it.  Easy to make and one of the best-tasting cakes I've had in a long time. It was a yellow cake with fudge icing, and Phoebe requested "pink and purple" ice cream, so we had strawberry and raspberry ice cream to go with it.

Happy, happy birthday, darling girl! Many happy returns!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Spring Things

It's all happening, and I want to pay attention, truly I do.  Something new and pretty happens outside every day!
My oregano plant came back, which astounds me because I thought it was an annual.  I hope that I am gaining gardening skills every year, but man: I don't seem to make much progress overall.  The profusion of spring, green everywhere! all the pink flowers! weeds sneaking everywhere! It's just a little overwhelming. I signed up to get a red oak tree for our backyard, but I don't exactly know where and how I will plant it.
We are finally getting our soil tested after eating food from it for years - city soil can be laced with heavy metals, oh dear. But I have a serious vision of a grape arbor, so I'm checking the mail every day for our test results. My raspberries, both black and red, are growing by leaps and bounds; I pruned off old canes (I think) and got some nasty old thorns stuck in my skin.  I have started wearing my gardening gloves more faithfully.
Some days, I can only manage to grab at a weed as I take a break from writing and editing projects, or hang up and take down the endless laundry that my people require. We bought a badminton set, which the children love, and which caused my neighbor to look wistfully at their leaping and shrieking and tell me about her spring badminton matches with her four older siblings.
All of this eases my heart a little: my dear uncle died on Palm Sunday morning. He was full of juice and fun and nothing about spring or any season, actually, was wasted on him.  He paid attention, and he made everything into an adventure.  I cannot really believe that I will never see that adventurous gleam in his eyes on this earth again.  So my heart is a little broken, but I have vowed to Uncle Ron, wherever he is with God, that I will take inspiration from his approach to life.  See? Spring is so lush and vigorous, and I am looking.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

My Children Match!

I can explain how this happened, but not the why.  Really do not understand the deep desire to dress my three children alike.  What is this? An orphanage with uniforms? A type of branding? What?  I cannot tell you, but my delight in these outfits (and these children) is real and true.

I asked Genevieve if she wanted me to make her a spring dress - she is definitely working on figuring out her style, so I deferred to her in pattern and fabric choice when she said yes.  Well, there was so much of the splashy daisies fabric hat I wondered if she'd like me to make Phoebe a dress and be twinsies.  Why yes, she thought that would be fun! Giddy, I then told Ben I should make him a splashy daisy bow tie but he said what about a shirt.  Well. Holy cow!  You see? I was in deep.

Genevieve resisted all the cutesy features on her dress pattern and kept it simple.  We had to have a number of fittings because the pattern was too big.  The plan was for her to wear her cute turquoise flats with the dress, but as I was hunched over the sewing machine, she outgrew the darn shoes.  Such is the way with kids at this age!

I played around with trims on Phoebe's dress, and I love how it turned out.  The white bias tape on the ruffles really punches them up.  I was thrilled with the lace placement I came up with on the bodice, a kind of Lilly Pulitzer look that I am itching to do again.  It didn't require a ton of lace and is much more effective than just a neck trim. 

As you can see, I ran out of splashy daisies for Ben's shirt.  He's so big! So I mixed in some navy gingham like it was on purpose. I thought he would wear this shirt with dark jeans, but he chose the shorts and Converse. His style veers towards flamboyant (hello, bow ties), so this shirt suits him well. 

I'm a little surprised I managed to churn out these clothes this spring! I can easily justify zoning out to Netflix and knitting every night, but I've been redirecting my waning energy to the sewing machine recently. Sometimes I do just go to bed when I'm too tired for anything but staring.  My daytime brain is for my freelance gigs. It was fun to pull off this splashy daisy project!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

New Cookbook Review: The Food in Jars Kitchen

The Food in Jars Kitchen is a cookbook after my own heart: it uses little bits of food in clever, flexible ways and gives the home-canned pantry lots of work to do.  I've been keeping track over the years of what my family eats, so I've cut back on making jam because we don't go through much toast and jam.  Marisa is evangelical about people like me in her Introduction - there's so much more to do with jam than toast! She is giving me an "empty-jar-to-empty jar education."

When my copy came in the mail, I put my nose in it and my pencil to paper as I jotted down all the recipes I could make right away.  There are so many! I did make three before I wrote this post, and I will make all of them again.

Also, please note: I received this book free as a review copy, but my opinions and my decision to write a review are my own.

First, I made Popunders.  Isn't that the most adorable name? I made them one morning at breakfast time and while we did, indeed, spoon a little jam in their little hollows, I could also see a dab of cheese or pesto or a bit of anything that I would put on bread.  Popunders are super-fast to whip up, sugar-free, made with pantry staples and standard muffin pans, and just need 20 minutes in the oven, no-preheating needed.

 Even though Marisa recommends them hot from the oven, we found they made a perfectly fine snack at room temperature a few hours later.

For a family gathering, I made the Concord Grape Butter Pizza with Camembert.  Oh! that was delicious! When I make and can grape juice in the fall, I use the spent skins to make grape butter, so I've got plenty of grape butter on hand.

I followed Marisa's pizza crust recipe instead of using my standard favorite, and it was the perfect thickness and texture for its toppings as well as easy to make and handle.  Marisa also explains the ratio of sweet spread to cheese to green topping which is helpful to cooks who want to go off-recipe.  I used Brie instead of Camembert and chopped arugula instead of baby arugula.  So, so, so delicious. I will definitely be making this for future neighborhood potlucks.

Yesterday, I made Marisa's Jam-Lacquered Chicken Wings for supper (excellent name!). I buy whole chickens and when I cut them up to cook, I've been collecting the wings separately in the freezer.  I've never made wings before, just threw them into stock, but I was determined to try since Ben has requested wings several times. 

Marisa's recipe was very clear and produced excellent results.  I didn't know meat can literally cook under the broiler - I typically just use the broiler to brown something.  But the wings cooked under the broiler exactly as Marisa indicated.  To paint the wings, I finished up jars of fig jam and grape butter and added some tomato jam as well as enough runny pepper jam (from 2013! it was waiting for its destiny) to give them a nice kick.

Next time, I will salt the wings on both sides and also broil them on both sides to increase the caramelization.  I find it annoying to get my fingers so messy for such a little bit of  (ok, delicious) meat, but my family was loving these wings, so ok, I do love seeing my people enjoy their food. Too bad my fingers were too sticky to operate my camera!

There is really a lot more to love in this cookbook.  I'm going to use my onion jam in a Goat Cheese Savory Jam Tart, and I'm going to consider all the options for a jar of apple butter that I don't think we will spread on toast.  I appreciate Marisa's inclusion of some basic canning recipes in the final section because I have a deep yearning for Orange Marmalade Ice Cream and no marmalade in my pantry.

 I have two small quibbles with the book, both of which are typical of me and typical of most cookbooks being published (and probably not Marisa's decisions, either).  I prefer spiral bound cookbooks for kitchen use because it's tricky to get a stiff hardcover book to stay open while I cook. But good job keeping the recipes mostly on the same spread! It's also very tricky to turn pages between ingredient list and instructions while cooking.   I also prefer a very detailed index that includes major ingredients as entries so that I can look up recipes based on the ingredients they use, not just the recipe name or type.

I highly recommend the Food in Jars Kitchen cookbook.  It's beautiful to look at and full of recipes for daily cooking - from quick-the-kids-need-a-snack to the fancy-food potluck happening on the weekend. 


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