Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Give it to Laura"

Recently, a friend's mom, Ruth, contacted me to see if I would like some boxes of vintage fabric that her mother Laura had saved over the years in a farmhouse in a northern valley. Ruth told me that when people had a scrap they didn't know what to do with, they said, "give it to Laura!"  Some of it was from Laura's mother, even. 

Laura's things were sorted through when her son took over the farmhouse, and some of the relatives wanted to throw the scraps away, but Ruth, Laura's daughter, saved the boxes. Laura considered this fabric like money in the bank, a valuable resource for making things. 

Ruth kept the boxes for years and now gave them to me because she looked at my work and thought I could appreciate the beauty and utility of vintage scraps.  I am so honored.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Breakfast Mushrooms

My family and I have parted ways over breakfast, and it's great! I had been still making breakfast for everyone every morning, a default mode left from the days when the big kids were too little to make their own.  They had started to grumble because different morning temperaments have different breakfast requirements, can I get an amen? 

It was one of these situations that happens often with growing kids where I forgot to step back and reevaluate the routine, and once I did, it seemed so obvious that we needed some tweaks! I still set Phoebe up with breakfast, but first and foremost, I please myself at breakfast time and provision everybody else.

Sometimes they want ideas, or I coax them to eat a perishable that needs to be used; sometimes I even make muffins or something and then they eat them . . . or not (I make sure the leftovers can be frozen so that food is not being wasted). The big kids and my husband really appreciate making their own choices, and I appreciate the break.

I'm on a savory breakfast kick, so I'm often making mushrooms. Simple, delicious mushrooms that make me feel like a hobbit at home eating breakfast (certainly not out on the lonesome, dangerous trail to destroy the ring - oh no, but at home in Bag End with the sun shining and the kettle humming).  

I chop a number of creminis, usually more than I think because they shrink as they fry, then I fry them in a little bacon grease over medium heat.  The trick to frying mushrooms is not to stir them too much at the beginning, but let them release their water and start to brown. 

I sprinkle them with some dried thyme, fresh pepper, and truffle salt.  I keep a small jar of truffle salt to really amplify mushroom flavor when mushrooms star in a recipe. 

When the mushrooms look nicely browned and the kitchen smells like a hobbit-hole, I turn the heat down to low and splash in a tablespoon or two of heavy cream as I stir.  The cream will sizzle and then disappear as it clings to the mushrooms. If you want creamed mushrooms, then sprinkle the mushrooms with a bit of flour before you add the cream, and add more cream to make a sauce that will thicken as you stir.  So so so so so good.  

How do you do breakfast at your house?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Cloche and a Cowl

I tried again with a navy hat for myself; the previous one just couldn't hug my ears the way I wanted it to. Was it too big? Too small and thus sliding up?  It's a mystery to me.  There's stretch in the yarn, stretch in the stitches, and I'm baffled.  So I switched to a different pattern.

The Nola Cloche has a dramatic twist that appealed to me.  I struggled with understanding the twist (done like a cable), and got help from Christy and the hat designer herself.  Finally, I got the cloche done and the band was too loose for me while the top was too shallow!  But the hat itself was fine, so I chucked it over to the thrift store and started again.  This time, the hat fits perfectly, but I messed up my decreases at the top so it's a little lumpy.  I swan.  I might have to do it again, but not until next winter.

I taught my sister to knit back in December because she wanted to knit her boyfriend a scarf for Christmas.  I gave her some chunky yarn and needles to practice with, and when she knitted her practice square, I admired the yarn so much that I made it into a cowl when she was done with it (she made a great scarf, by the way!). 

The yarn was passed on to me by a neighbor who moved, so I don't know what its content is or anything.  I do really like the cowl (which I made up) and I especially like that I knit it in one day while I went with my parents to Virginia for a great-aunt's funeral.  Knitting is so slow, at least the way I do it.

Hopefully I will now jinx winter by posting this.  It's been an unusually cold spring; in fact, it snowed for several hours yesterday afternoon.  Even the kids were disgusted! We're all ready for warm weather.

Friday, April 6, 2018

What's Your Domestic Super-Power?

We've all got a domestic super-power, something that we enjoy doing in our homekeeping or feel really proud of our efforts and results.  Decorating? Open-house hospitality? Beautiful photo-worthy bedrooms? Fantastic flower beds or garden? Shrewd e-Bayer who keeps the household supplied and profits by selling the extras? What? Do tell!

I'm really on top of food at my house - I even usually enjoy it! I cannot stand bad food or boring food, so I'm cooking and stocking to please my palate and my family comes along for the ride.

I'm also pretty good with laundry - at keeping it eco-friendly, getting it done, getting stains out.

However, the areas I am not great at are cleaning and our social calendar. I am usually content to live in tidy filth; inviting people over usually motivates me to clean a bit. Visible dirt can also motivate me to clean, but I'm way more interested in food and sewing projects than cleaning. So boring!

I'm also not great at planning social things or deciding what to do with invitations to social things - I'm a homebody until I get housebound and then it's usually too late for my organized self to just, you know, add something to the calendar. Fortunately I live with social people who propel me out.

So tell us what your domestic super-power is.  Pat yourself on the back and feel the love!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Red Hammer Soup

The inspiration for this soup comes directly from Rebecca, who served me a hot virgin bloody mary this winter.  It was fantastic, sipped directly out of pretty china cups, with chicken-salad sandwiches and chips.

 I have never liked this name for a drink, even though I do really love the drink (tomato juice anything, really), so I did a little sleuthing.  Back in 1942, a bloody mary was called a red hammer.  So that's what I'm renaming this splendidly versatile soup.

Red hammer soup brightens up a winter menu as a soup, yes, or an appetizer cup, or even just a vegetable to go next to pesto and pasta and green salad, as we had it here.

 Essentially, make any virgin bloody mary and heat it up: now it's a red hammer, ok?  This is how I make mine, although the measurements are guesses.  I add the seasonings, taste, and adjust.

Red Hammers
Heat together:
1 quart tomato-soup base* (see recipe here)
2 tsp. Worcestershire
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. Tabasco (or add individually if you have spice-adverse eaters)

Serve hot to sip in mugs, or in bowls garnished with chilled, diced shrimp or chopped celery and onion.
Other ideas of add-ins or garnishes: squeeze of fresh lime juice, minced parsley, Old Bay seasoning, oyster crackers

*I think you could absolutely start with something other than homemade tomato-soup base.  I'm using what I have.  Try pureeing fresh or canned tomatoes, or use tomato juice or V8.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ribbon-Tied Oxfords

I had already put a pair of little girl's brown boots in my shopping cart at the thrift store, when Phoebe seized these little brown oxfords.  She insisted that she wanted them, not the boots.  I usually ignore such requests because she changes her mind back and forth about five times every time there's a decision. Literally every time.

But when I threaded ribbons in them instead of their brown laces, Phoebe and I were truly thrilled. We call them her "ribbon shoes" and she loves wearing them.  Three dollars from the thrift store and a few minutes of lacing - I'm pleased!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sheet-Pan Meatballs with Lemon Yogurt and Onions

The reason to make these sheet-pan meatballs and chickpeas is for the flavors.  It's got several steps and components to the meal (unlike sheet-pan chicken which blew my mind with its simplicity and flavor, and so far no sheet-pan meal has topped that).  

I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and tweaked it a bit to make it even easier.  As is the case with sheet-pan meals, we all loved it, so that's an incentive to go through a few extra steps.  I also like how meat is present here but not dominant. 

Besides the meatballs, chickpeas, yogurt, and onions, we also had steamed broccoli and French bread. I have some big kid appetites to reckon with. 

Also, the yogurt with salt, pepper, and lemon juice was a real revelation. I've since salted and peppered plain yogurt a few times just because it was so delicious. 

Sheet-pan Meatballs and Chickpeas with Lemon Yogurt and Onions

Mix and set aside (I did this in early afternoon and kept it in the fridge until suppertime):
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne, more or less, to taste

Prepare the lemon yogurt and lemon onion toppings and set aside. 

1 cup plain yogurt
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
few grinds fresh pepper

half a large onion, sliced thinly
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
few grinds fresh pepper

Now to cook! On a sheet pan, combine:
3-4 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tbsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. ground cumn
1 tsp. turmeric
half a large onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt, pepper

Toss to coat.  Roast at 400F for 25 minutes. Form 1" meatballs while the chickpeas roast. Place meatballs on top of chickpeas after 25 minutes are up, and roast again for about 15 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Serve hot with lemon yogurt and lemon onions.  Bread or pita on the side is really great. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Something stylish but not fashionable"

"There's a certain type of woman who is always dressed in something stylish but not fashionable, expensive but never ostentatious, exquisite yet hard to place: some thoughtful, meticulously cut piece of clothing that channels the contemporary moment while remaining aloof to trends." - Amanda Fortini in T, December 2017

Now that sums up some dressing goals for me! Except for the expensive part. 

I've never been trendy, but I do love clothes and looking nice.  I've found I can wear trendy skinny jeans with some more off-beat, whimsical tops and that looks current.  I also adore plaid and polka dots, which are generally classic and trend-proof.  And I try to wear on-trend shoes, which is not easy because I have big feet and almost always have to order shoes online (try on and return, try on and return - the expense! sigh). 

Are you "stylish but not fashionable"? What are your tips?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Meadow-Stripe Mittens

Phoebe had her mitts from last year, but now that she is so big, she is out of the stroller and down on the sidewalk needing to pick things up.  That is hard when you don't have your thumbs! So I made her some mittens. I figured if I could knit socks, I could surely do mittens. 

The pattern, World's Simplest Mittens, has the ribbed cuff being knitted with size 0 needles, which felt like knitting with flexible toothpicks.  And the resulting cuff is almost too tight to get over Phoebe's hands.  I think the idea is that mittens would fall off without a tight cuff, but since I put them on an I-cord, that's not an issue for Phoebe. So I'll remember that for next time.  I also found the decreases confusing at the top of the mittens, and the mittens don't lay flat the way I think they should. 

The yarn is called Meadow Stripes by Patons, and I adore the colors and how the mittens are fraternal, not identical, twins. 

Phoebe also adores her mittens and handily picks up any old thing she finds on the sidewalk; we've now had lessons in What Phoebe Can Pick Up (basically, sticks and pennies).

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wonderful Lettuce as a Wonderful Side Dish

I have eaten lettuce as a side dish for lunch for 6 days straight now since I read about this in the newspaper last week.  I regretfully cannot quote the writer or article, because most of the article was about the French vinaigrette she fell in love with and took years to re-create at home.  But she did mention that she puts excellent olive oil, flake salt, and fresh ground pepper on butter lettuce and it's so good it doesn't need vinegar.  

This is a game changer!  No tedious salad prep! No emulsifying a vinaigrette! I adore green salads, but I consider them kind of a production.  I wash and dry the lettuce, chop and shred some veggies, sometimes toast some nuts, make a dressing or vinaigrette if there's not one sitting in the fridge, and hope for leftovers so I can have some for lunch the next day.  

But!  If you simply pull some lettuce leaves into a bowl, drizzle with your best olive oil, sprinkle with some flake salt and fresh pepper, stir, and oh-my-goodness-EAT IT, it is wonderful and fast and I can have it whenever I want!

I am extremely fortunate to have local farmers who grow gorgeous, organic lettuce year-round in their greenhouses or hydroponically; their lettuce is clean enough to skip the washing and drying steps, hallelujah. 
My favorite serving dish, from Grandma Weaver.
When I steam broccoli or something like that, I sprinkle it with salt and pepper and give it a slick of butter or olive oil when it's done.  So that's what's going on with the lettuce here - that's why I call it "side dish lettuce" instead of a salad.  

You could add vinegar or lemon juice if that's what you do with your steamed broccoli (and then you could go on to add other veggies. . . and you've got salad). I am just thrilled for the simplicity that allows me to assemble side dish lettuce in the 33 seconds it takes to microwave the toddler some lunch. 

You may also be interested to see this study by the Center for Disease Control that ranks vegetables and fruits according to their nutrient density; leaf lettuce outranks kale, collards, cabbage and others as a nutrient-dense powerhouse vegetable.  Hooray for lettuce!

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Bright Wool Wrap Skirt with a Kilt Pin

I bought this wool from my favorite thrift store: 3 yards of soft, pure wool in a gorgeous plaid for $5.  Amazing!

I was a little nervous to cut into it, but you can see that I did in this post.  And I matched the plaid by making sure I laid the bottom of the pattern pieces on the same stripe in the plaid. I decided to line the skirt to make dressing even easier and wearing even more comfortable (I hate when my slip and my skirt/dress don't move in the same way so that I'm conscious of two separate layers - lining eliminates this!). I used a navy lining fabric from JoAnn's and simply made a duplicate skirt.  The waistband facing at the top holds the lining in place, as does my handstitching at both sides.  I left the lining hem free of the skirt hem.

The kilt pin is pretty and also functional when you have kids crawling across your lap randomly.  I'm still debating if I should put belt carriers on the waistline like the pattern calls for.

Thanks to the deep green in this skirt, I'm having a new color crush.  I don't know what it looks like on your monitor, but it's a deep jewel green.  Like cobalt blue is to navy, this deep green is to the 80s hunter green.  It's lively.

I bought this elbow-sleeve sweater at the thrift store for $3 and got it home to realize it was kelly-green. So gauche next to the deep rich colors in the skirt. So I dyed the sweater! 

The sweater in these photos was overdyed with Rit Dark Green #35. I did it the Saturday night before I wore it to church, while Ben and a friend roared through the dishes (nothing broke, just the silverware drawer spilled over the floor, so I took the opportunity to clean the silverware tray while the sweater simmered on the stove).  And the girls shrieked in and out of the kitchen, and I told my husband I was dyeing a sweater, and he said, "I'm impressed, but not surprised."  Isn't he the best?  I flopped the wet sweater on the radiator overnight, and wore it (I confess) smugly to church the next morning.  And these whimsical green gems that I bought from an opera-singer neighbor years ago finally have an outfit!  I still have some wool plaid left:  maybe I can get one of my girls to wear a matching skirt.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Best Jobs for Toddlers

I found a great job for Phoebe and she agrees (key point of this being a great job).  I let her stand on the stool (important!) in order to pinch off the eyes of the storage potatoes.  She can't really break the potatoes or the basket I keep them in.  She can see her progress, and this is a truly useful way to keep our potatoes nice. 

Other best jobs for toddlers?  Phoebe has lots of energy to spare!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Candles From Old Scraps

I play a little game where I try to reduce the trash we produce weekly. Our volume is a little high right now because Phoebe wears disposables overnight, but I'm looking at the big picture.  We have an excellent recycling program in the city, and often our recycling bins are fuller than our trash bins. 

I wondered if I could do anything with this big pillar candles that burn through their wick in the center and leave behind a heavy chunk of wax for the trash.  I did a little research and successfully made some new votives!

Supplies I used:
wax from old candles 
a metal coffee can + a saucepan to make a water bath to melt wax
small paper cups
candle wick string
container to hold candle molds while I poured

I put all the old candle chunks, wicks and cinders and whatever included, in the metal coffee can and set it in water in the saucepan over low heat.  Stay in the room while you do this - liquid wax is a fire hazard! Once the wax was totally liquid, the impurities went to the bottom.

I had set up my little votive molds by greasing the paper cups, and putting the wicks in the middle by punching a hole in the bottom of the cup, knotting the wick underneath, and then tying the wick to the toothpick at the top.

I set the molds in a newspaper-lined tray, and poured the hot wax in each mold. You can see that I did two color batches.  The votives hardened fairly quickly, but also left a sinkhole in the middle of each votive.  Since I made these just for winter evenings for us, I don't care, but I'm sure there are ways to prevent that sinkhole. 

And the votives burn very nicely! So I've started collecting scraps of wax and candles again in a bag for an easy, thrifty project that reduces our trash volume and keeps the house bright. 


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