Sunday, December 14, 2014

How We Got the Middle of the Tree

Here's the first Christmas-y post of the season for me - all about decorations in this post because I didn't take pictures of the Christmas cookies.

I bought a plain pine wreath from the church youth group fundraiser, and pulled out my stash of picks to decorate it.  A pick is a little posy of things on a single wire and you poke it into a floral arrangement or wreath or whatever.  I have a weakness for fake fruit and bright colors, but I rarely use my picks.  I love how this wreath turned out!

The children set up the two manger scenes; this is a new spot for this bookcase because we are also shifting rooms around upstairs.  That's a topic for another post!

Now, the tree story.  My husband's best friend came along to the hilarious tree farm that our family  usually goes to.  The two of them, out in the muddy tree field in a cold misty rain, suddenly got grandiose visions and selected "the twins."

The twins were two enormous, unshapely trees that the tree lot was selling for $25 (thrifty, sure, but just read on).  See those 9-foot poles that Genevieve and the best friend are holding?  Yeah, the twin trees were feet taller than those poles.  In vain, I tried to coax the men out of their Napoleonic complex.  In vain.  They stretched out in the mud (no one had warned the best friend to wear old clothes and bring work gloves - he was wearing his nice black concert clothes and dress shoes) and sawed the trees down.

The netted tree laid in our dining room while my husband finally understood that it was two feet taller than our dining room ceiling (shocker), so he sawed off the bottom of the tree.  Finally upright in the tree stand, its top branches still bent against the ceiling.  He was rigging up a special brace for it when it fell over while we screamed and grabbed and fled.  So my husband sawed off the top and now we had nothing but the middle six feet of a Christmas tree.  It looked so. . . .strange.

For the first time, my husband looked at me in apology and embarrassment, and offered to chuck this tree and get a new one. I couldn't bear more money and more mud, so I suggested we just make the best of it.  He fetched the tippy-top of the tree back from the trash, plunked it a cup of water, and wired it back on top of the tree.

It looks much better decorated (nothing breakable - just in case) and next year, I am choosing the tree.

My husband tells me that next time, he wants to put such a magnificently tall tree in our living room which has actual 11-foot ceilings.  I pointed out that we'll have to get rid of some furniture in that room first.  Makes the Christmas tree seem not worth the bother. . .
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Back Yard, December 9, 10:47 am

*Genevieve's new tree house ladder boards on the maple tree which she begged to do on Sunday afternoon, while her father and I waved her sleepily away with vague permission, quite sure she couldn't manage; imagine our (proud) surprise when we looked out finally on Monday morning!
*I think that's a house the children were assembling with an overturned wooden chair, wooden table, and assorted seltzer bottles from the recycling bin
*a pink plastic chair I pulled from the neighbor's trash a few weeks ago; my husband is horrified; I told the kids it was supposed to stay in the clubhouse - we have the only small children on this block and we try to keep not to be the eyesore next to the prim yards around us
*one of my retractable clotheslines - the white disc opposite the board ladder on the maple tree
*the Radio Flyer full of mud and a snow shovel
*in front of the black compost bin which sits among the three raised beds
*bars on the law firm's windows - no one else has bars on their windows in our neighborhood
*pale green parsley in the bed to the left; I hope it keeps hanging on because it sure brightens up our winter soups.

*an immediate camera turn to my left is the clubhouse, with the rags Genevieve nailed up as curtains; I thought it would a nice beginner sewing project for her to sew curtains for the clubhouse, but she asked for rags instead.  I wonder what the judge and the state representative next door think. . . .

This post is due to Jennifer Jo's brilliant series - I hope she makes it A Regular Thing and invites us all to share links.  It's poignant and funny to see what's going on in one shot (I cheated here with two) of our lives.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

A Selfie, With News

I told you I had news, and now I finally got around to taking the photo to go with it.

Yes, that is me, and I am almost 20 weeks pregnant.  Wheeeeee!  We are thrilled, and the children are especially thrilled because they are old enough to grasp a large part of what is happening.  They were so sweet, keeping our family secret for so long, and then joyfully, shyly, telling people once we all agreed it was time.

I still have flashes of nausea - the first trimester was pretty bad which is why there was a lull in blogging (and I can't bear the thought of these beans, although tomato soup remains my friend).  The exhaustion has retreated for now.  We are hoping to find out the baby's gender at the next ultrasound and then, of course, I will begin some baby sewing.

This is a special time in our family life and I'm so grateful for my health and the experience and maturity we bring to this special time.  Of course babies are wild cards and there will be times of frustration and (my nemesis) sleeplessness ahead, but my husband and I have been through it before and we won't have toddlers around this time.  We're a bit giddy, actually. Pin It

Monday, December 1, 2014

Slow Cooker Kale and Sausage Stew

To celebrate the gift of (organic! delicious!) sausage from dear Rebecca's farm, I made this stew.

 I am surprised I have never blogged about this recipe because we love it, it's easy, and it's a clever way to get good flavors out of the slow cooker.  I am picky about slow cooker recipes because I cannot tolerate the bland, overcooked mush that results if the cook doesn't understand the cooking method of the slow cooker. Yes, the slow cooker is forgiving about cooking times, unlike the oven or the stove which is timed to the minute; however, continuing to cook dishes after they are done (dry beans and stock excepted here) erases any flavors they used to have.  I love it when flavor and ease meet, as they do in this recipe.

Slow Cooker Kale and Sausage Stew - originally from a Real Simple mag

Combine in 6-quart slow cooker:
4 cups canned tomatoes - maybe chopped or broken up
1 large onion, chopped
several garlic cloves, chopped roughly
1 lb. sausage - bulk or links, whatever flavor you like (Italian? country?)
some grinds of pepper

Nestle 2-3 large potatoes (about 1 1b. total) in mixture. Pile chopped kale on top to fill slow cooker to brim - maybe 7-8 cups chopped, but really, I just use the amount of kale that I have.

Put the lid on and cook on low for 6-7 hours (until the potatoes are tender and the sausage is cooked through - might even be just 5 hours, depending on  your slow cooker).

Fish out the whole potatoes and put them in a serving dish.  Add 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil and 1/3-1/2 cup warm milk, a bit of salt, and mash well with a potato masher; they should be quite soft, although I don't peel my potatoes, so there are delicious shreds of potato skin throughout. Set aside to keep warm.

Stir the stew together in the slow cooker, breaking up sausage links if you want to.  To serve, place a dollop of mashed potatoes in a soup plate with a scoop of stew on top/beside.  Serve with good bread for swiping up the delicious juices.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Scandinavian Christmas Nightie

I wish I had a white painted barn or an old farmhouse, white, with a bleached wood bench for Genevieve to model this nightie.  It says Christmas in Scandinavia to me (or an LL Bean catalog shoot).  Every time I see this nightie, I get a happy holiday vibe.

She barely let go of her pink nightie which had worn thin and short, been patched, and was fraying.  However, as soon as the Scandinavian nightie was done, she ditched the old nightie so fast I had to get Ben to "model" it for posterity.

Everything for the new nightie was from my stash (important these days as I condense my sewing space). She chose the striped flannel and, due to that voluminous 80s skirt and ruffle, I had to supplement the stripes with the flowered flannel.  I was thrilled to dig through my pretty stash of woven ribbon for a little piece for the bodice, and it only took a few minutes to hunt out the eyelet lace.  I have already explained my philosophy of (not) matching buttons, and I told Genevieve the button in the middle is a kiss from me.

Originally, I thought the nightie was long enough without the ruffle and I was worried about tripping hazards, but Genevieve begged and got her floor-length nightie.  We are both very pleased with the Scandinavian nightie; she barely lets it out of her hands to be washed.  Success!

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Things For the Shop (But Not Black Friday!)

When I listen to the noise, they say it's Black Friday and the sales and lines are enormous.  I am not interested, even though I love bargains and some years I fret about the bargains I may be missing at the cost of the time in lines and traffic.  Not this year.

However, I know that my Etsy business always picks up close to the holidays as people buy presents.  So I put in some extra effort and added some new things to the shop

And now I am off to continue dismantling my sewing room.  I have sewing ideas, but no space for the work at present.  We are jiggering around kids and bedrooms and work spaces.  I abhor the chaos, but I am purging stuff and looking forward to the freshness afterward. 

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Very Favorite (Easy!) Pizza Crust

I will make almost any kind of food at home because I'm stubborn like that, but secretly, I do think some food is best made by the professionals.  They've got special equipment or ingredients or knowledge that I would prefer to leave with them.  I'm thinking of sushi, macarons, artisan sourdough bread, croissants, and yes, pizza.

I have blogged about homemade pizza a lot over the life of this blog, but it was always second-best to the pizza shop a few blocks away.  This revelation might hurt my thrifty cred, I know, but it's the truth.

But I have a new truth!

In the past, I saw two routes for homemade pizza dough:  a yeast dough that is like bread, or an artisan dough that requires pizza peels and baking stones. I adore homemade bread, but I don't like that flavor and texture under pizza sauce and cheese.  And I'm not willing to store big single-use items (the peel and stones) for the occasional pizza.

My new truth, my third route, is this crust from Smitten Kitchen that I've been making for at least 2 months.  I like that it's not fussy and  I can slap it together in minutes with pantry staples.  When it's time to make pizza, I just have to stretch the dough out into the pans; this stretching does take some getting used to, but it is totally worth it to me when I consider the alternatives.  And the flavor and texture of this crust is amazing!

naked dough
If you recall the phenomenon of the no-knead bread from Jim Lahey, this pizza dough borrows his technique of a pinch of yeast and a long setting time (it doesn't rise in the true yeast-bread manner).  Then it is baked in a super-hot oven to give a chewy, non-yeasty crust that definitely reminds me of a pizza shop. . . made homemade with love and whole-wheat flour.  Yesssss!

Lazy Pizza Dough, slightly tweaked from Smitten Kitchen

Mix in large lidded bowl:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/8 tsp. yeast for a 22 hour rise-time (use 1/4 tsp. for 12 hours and 1/2 tsp. for 6 hours)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups water

Mix until craggy dough forms.  May add another Tbsp. water.  Cover tightly and allow to sit at room temperature for the time you chose with the amount of yeast you chose.  Grease two 11x14 rimmed baking sheets (or equivalent) and sprinkle with cornmeal.  Divide dough in half.  Flour it lightly so it doesn't cling so much to your fingers.  Pat/stretch/dangle dough to fill each pan.  I find it helps to "play piano" with my fingertips to push it out.  Put on toppings.  Bake in lower racks of oven at 500F for 13-16 minutes.

Note:  May refrigerate dough once it has risen.  It can hold this way for 3 days, but set it out at room temperature for 2-3 hours before using.  I have also successfully frozen the dough.

Breakfast one morning: spinach and brie and pizza crust.  Amazing.
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