Thursday, December 31, 2009


I whipped up a flower to wear for the festivities tonight. We are walking around the city to different concerts after we drop the children off with my parents for an overnight (oh hallelujah!). There will also be Ethiopian dinner with friends, buckets of champagne, and fireworks at midnight. Oh, I love me a big party on New Year's Eve!

So I couldn't just wear my black coat and grey hat for the festivities - hence the whimsical flower. Perhaps I'll remember to snap a photo when the flower is on, but [lowered voice] I kind of lose my head when my children are away (oh glee!).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dark Days: Southern Style

We had a wonderful local Christmas ham, much bigger than we needed. So I warmed up some leftover ham slices while I baked a pan of cornbread (all local: cornmeal, my homemade yogurt, organic whole wheat pastry flour, egg). We ate it with local honey and local butter.

And I chopped up a big bunch of local kale.

I put it in my cast iron Dutch oven with a little water, salt, pepper, some red pepper flakes, and a smidge of sugar. I learned this method of seasoning for kale and collards from living in red-dirt Georgia and also from a southern cookbook.

Anyway, I put the kale on medium heat, covered, and stirred occasionally for maybe 10 minutes. The kale started getting bright green.

When it got darker and softer (easier for my children to chew), I added some finely chopped garlic

and let it cook a few more minutes (my southern cook mentor, Queenie, cooked hers for an hour or so! and garlic never touched her greens). Ahhhhh - greens, so refreshing after all the rich Christmas food!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bad Recipe

I have heard so much good about How To Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. It's got gorgeous photos, Nigella is gorgeous and witty, and the recipes look delicious.

But. . .alas. The first recipe I tried out of the book was Christmas Morning Muffins (we're observing 12 days of Christmas around here, ok?). I followed the recipe carefully, only subbing 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour for some of the white flour and cutting the sugar back slightly.

But. . .yuck. They tasted like baking powder (THREE teaspoons!); they were hard and dry (probably the melted butter instead of oil that quick breads usually use); and despite what Nigella says, they are not loaded with dried cranberries at all. In fact, my toddler had a merry time dissecting his muffin to find the cranberries (I read the comics during this time).

My family ate them for breakfast anyway - I was the only irritated one. But I will try more recipes from Nigella; bagels are up next, I think.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Gift Reveal II

Knitted dishcloths for my daughter's Sunday School teachers, as a tangible thank you for all their work and care.

My grandmother taught me to knit these dishcloths when I was newly married. I have knitted a few scarves and even a few hats, but hundreds of dishcloths. It is the perfect handwork for me - small, portable, automatic. I can knit these in my sleep and no one gets tired of a pretty, practical gift so I give a lot of dishcloths away.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Gift Reveal

A pair of potholders I made for my sis-in-law in colors I'm very pleased with and she seemed to be too.

But a note about the "bias" tape: I didn't cut it on the bias. I was using scraps and would have had to piece it unreasonably to get a bias line. I also made the tape probably 4" to start before I folded the raw edges to center and that was much too wide. I ended up folding the tape under double to sew it to the back side, a sweary (as Angry Chicken says) project.

The second photo is blurry, but in my Christmas rush, I had the potholders wrapped before I realized it. So the photo is just For the Record of Colors & Fabrics.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I did not stage this. I walked by and saw it. My husband added the poster, my daughter added the extra baby and parents. What will Jesus do??

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dark Days: Soup & Salad

This was a very thrown-together meal. I chucked some frozen turkey stock and turkey pieces in the pot (from my aunt's local Thanksgiving turkey), added the leftover baked corn from Sunday and started to dump in the local noodles. Then I read the bag. I had gotten the wrong noodles: these were made in a neighboring state, not a neighboring town (sometimes these mistakes happen when I shop with children!). Boiled it up. At the end I added local parsley and un-local garlic (why can't I get local garlic?! I haven't seen any!).

We also ate the remnants of the green salad from Sunday, but this time with some roasted beets and a local salad dressing: 1000 Island based on a recipe in the More with Less Cookbook that my mother made a lot.

1000 Island Dressing
In a jar with a tight lid, dump the following:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 c. ketcup
2 Tbs. pickle relish
1 tsp. paprika
2 Tbs. minced onion
snipped parsley or minced green pepper
salt and pepper

Put lid on tight and shake well. My mom also added chopped hard boiled eggs.

Only after I made the dressing did I realize how local it is: I make my own mayo with local eggs. I made ketchup this year with local organic tomatoes. I also made pickle relish for the first time because my parents' little garden grew so many cucumbers. And then I used local onions and parsley of course.

And we had Christmas cookies for dessert. With Italian meringue (which deserves its own post soon).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thrifty Boots

I looked for snow boots for Ben in a desultory way and then, suddenly, we had a surprise December snowstorm and Ben still didn't have boots. Fresh air is mandatory at our house. What to do?

I hazily recalled something my mom did when I was a kid. So I put a pair of socks on Ben, pulled plastic bags over his socks under his snowsuit, put on another pair of socks and then his rain boots (the very cool ones from Paris!). He stayed dry if not very warm.

My dad grew up in a big farming family with no money to spare for snow gear. Dad told me he used to wrap burlap around his legs and tie it with baler twine before hogging around in the snow. My mom thought that was too Valley Forge for her style; I was thinking Russian peasant. Ben did not look that peculiar, and fortunately, I hit ebay with determination and his new snow boots came in the mail today.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In the Night Kitchen: Blueberry Coffee Cake

My favorite cooking trick of all time: mixing up breakfast the night before, setting it on time-bake, and waking up to fresh hot baked breakfast!

My friend alerted me to the fact that double-acting baking powder acts twice: once when it hits the wet batter and again when the heat is applied. So, I can mix up a coffee cake and hey presto, 8 or more hours later it can begin baking with no adverse effects!

Truly, this is wonderful news for anybody who
a. has hectic mornings
b. likes a hot breakfast
c. likes coffee cake, baked oatmeal, & muffins but can't bear the thought of setting the alarm 45 minutes earlier to have them.

How useful this would have been when I was a teacher tearing out the door with toast and coffee in hand. Now my morning rush is children who wake up sobbing with hunger. I like going to bed knowing at least one important thing is tidily taken care of for the morning. I have done this method for over a year now with muffins, various coffee cakes, baked oatmeal, and oven french toast, so I feel confident that this tip could make your mornings more pleasant too.

Blueberry Coffee Cake from Recipes from the Old Mill
Mix together until smooth:
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
scant 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. oil
1/2 c. milk
1 egg

Pour into greased 8" baking pan. Sprinkle batter with:
1.5 c. blueberries (frozen are fine, but you can thaw and drain them too; can also use fresh berries)

Cut together (I use the batter bowl):
1/3 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. nuts
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbs. butter

Sprinkle topping over all. Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes OR do like I did tonight: set in cold oven, set time bake to come on at 6am at 375 for 35 minutes. Hooray for double-acting baking powder!

Updated to add: 1/2 cup milk to the recipe (ooops! and my friend A discovered my omission by baking this coffee cake for Christmas morning - so sorry, A!) The recipe is now correct.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dark Days: Porcupine Balls

I saw this challenge to cook a totally local meal once a week from November through March and thought, sign me up. The challenge is to use SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients.
So here is Sunday dinner today, with the recipe for Porcupine Balls from The Mennonite Community Cookbook following. Except for the green salad, this is a rather typical Mennonite Sunday dinner!

Green salad, with local lettuce, arugula, radishes, and carrots (vinaigrette had nothing local, sorry to say).

Baked Corn with local organic corn from my freezer; local milk, local eggs.

We also had pickled red beets, that I canned this summer from local organic red beets. And finally, the Porcupine Balls, made with all local organic ingredients except the rice and my homemade organic bread. The beef was raised on grass by a friend of ours, butchered by a local Amish butcher.

Porcupine Balls

Crumble (or use food processor) 4 slices bread and soak in 1 cup milk
Add 1 egg, breaking it and mixing together.

Chop very finely (I use food processor):
2 medium onions
2 stalks celery
few stalks parsley

Add the vegetables to the milk mixture along with
1 lb. hamburger
1/4 cup raw white rice
1 tsp. salt
few grinds pepper

Mix thoroughly with hands. Form 8 balls roughly the size of a baseball. Place them just touching each other in greased casserole with not much room to spare (smaller than a 9x13 pan).

Blanket the balls with 2 cups tomato juice or puree.
Bake at 350 for 1.5 hours.

Until we got snowed in and church was canceled, I had planned to put these on time-bake so I mixed everything the night before with the exception of the rice. In the morning I added the rice, formed the balls, and dumped on the tomato puree.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Italian Bread

We were invited to our pastor's house for dinner and when I asked if we could bring something, she said, yes, bread.

I get my jollies (as my dad phrases it) out of this kind of assignment: someone else preparing dinner and me selecting and fussing with just one recipe. Fun! So I chose a new Italian bread recipe and I thought it was more fetching than the one I usually make, but still the same yeasted-homemade-bread taste which is good, but is not Italian bread.

But see? Very fetching.

Updated to add for S:

Italian Bread from Recipes from the Old Mill

**note that this bread must be in the fridge for 2-24 hours to rise - this is perfect for the small chunks of time I get to do projects with children in the house! Mix and knead at bedtime for fresh bread for supper the next day!

Combine in large bowl:
1.5 c. unbleached bread flour (updated in March 2011:  I use 1.5 c. whole wheat flour for this step)
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. dry yeast

Gradually add and stir vigorously.
1 3/4 c. very warm water

Beat 2 minutes by hand.
Then add:
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 Tbs. oil

Beat vigorously for 2 more minutes.

Stir in 2-3 c. unbleached white flour
Knead 8-10 minutes.
Cover with a towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
Divide dough in half, rolling into 10x15" rectangles. Beginning at wide side, roll up tightly, pinching seam to seal. Tuck ends under, pinching.
Grease a baking sheet, sprinkle generously with cornmeal, and lay the loaves on it. Brush loaves with oil. Cover with towel and refrigerate for 2-24 hours.

When ready to bake, allow loaves to stand uncovered at room temperature for 10 minutes. With a very sharp knife, make 4 diagonal slashes on each loaf. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush with 1 egg beating with a little water; sprinkle sesame seeds if desired. Return to oven and bake 5-10 minutes longer or until FETCHINGLY golden.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Best Cookies for Children

I screwed up my courage and baked Christmas cookies with my children. Thanks to my friend Chris, I have The Perfect Recipe.

Gingerbread Cookies I
(from, Colonial Williamsburg, with some modifications by me)

Stir together in large bowl:
1/2 c. white sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening

Add melted fats to dry stuff in bowl, stirring, along with:
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1 cup unsulfured, blackstrap molasses
3/4 tsp. vanilla

Stir in, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each cup:
2 c. unbleached white flour
2 c. whole wheat pastry flour

Roll dough to 1/4" thickness on lightly-floured surface. Cut into shapes. Place on nonstick or greased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes at 375. Cool on racks. Yields 4-5 dozen.

What makes these cookies The Best for Children:
1. they don't suffer from re-rolling, lots of flour, and handling
2. they're healthy enough that I don't feel guilty letting them eat a lot. um, A LOT.
3. no eggs, if you're worried about salmonella in the raw dough
4. the batter stirs together - no electric mixer to supervise

This year, going by a great post from ModObject at Home, we painted the cookies. The paint didn't show up as well on these dark-brown cookies, but my kids were tickled. And they stuck red-hot candies in the wet paint too. To keep the paint manageable, I let them each pick out about 10 cookies to paint and squirreled the rest away for a time when I'm not weary of Christmas sweets.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Homemade Sewing Cards

I like to sew and I would like to teach my children to sew. But when I priced the boughten sewing cards, I nearly passed out.

So I got out some markers, cardstock, yarn and a holepunch. And I bought a pack of needles - I forget what type they are exactly, but I also use one to sew in the ends of a knitting project.

I was fiddling around with patches for Kim's quilt, so Genevieve got out her sewing too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hattie's Lighter-Than-Lead Biscuits

I consider soup and biscuits a fast winter meal. And these biscuits are fast and they use up a pesky leftover: hot cereal. Even *I* do not reheat hot breakfast cereal! There's the compost pile for last resort. . .
Enter Hattie Big Sky, that included a very thrifty recipe for biscuits using leftover cereal!

I freeze any leftover cereal in very approximate 3/4 c. amounts and just whip it out whenever I have 20 minutes before supper and desire something bread-ish.
Tonight we ate our biscuits with mushroom bisque from Moosewood, and roasted beet salad (with grapefruit, feta, and walnuts).

Lighter-Than-Lead Biscuits

3/4 c. cooked and cooled hot cereal
1 1/2 c. whole wheat or rye flour [I use WW]
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt [depending how you salt your cereal]
2 Tbs. lard [or shortening, I suppose]
approx. 1/3 c. milk

Cut together dry ingredients and cereal. Cut in lard. Add milk just until you can squeeze a soft dough (it helps if you've made traditional biscuits before so you know what texture you're aiming for). Knead a few times gently. On floured surfact, pat gently into 1/2" shape (I aim for a square). Cut into shapes (I aim for squares). Bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beginning Kim's Quilt

Kim! Spoiler Alert!!!

My friend Kim commissioned a quilt from me. Her guidelines were broad: orangey-red, browns; warm, rich colors; use up-cycled goods. I've been shopping other stashes I know about and even bought a corduroy shirt at Salvation Army.

Tonight I just couldn't think of a reason not to begin (well, except for vacuuming and piffle, vacuuming).

And I despaired because it looked ugly. I rarely do "pretty" as an aesthetic for anything, but really, I told myself, maybe I should have aimed more for pretty here. All the fabric seemed so strange, but I made myself work on the block for an hour because patchwork is magical after a few rows.

I really really like it. What do you think?

I am cutting, designing, and sewing all in one swoop. It's more time consuming than I thought; I don't know enough about quilting to know if anyone else does it this way. My plan at this point is to machine quilt stitch in the ditch (maybe using yellow thread!). I haven't found a backing yet. I want to start sleuthing for a sheet

Monday, December 14, 2009

3 Meals for 4 People from 1 Roast

Even though it sounds like me, I honestly did not try to make 3 meals out of this roast (and 2 of my 4 people are under age 5).

But a week ago, I put a beef roast in the crockpot with potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and pretty baby carrots (as in not-cut-out-of-big-ones - REAL baby carrots). So we had a dignified Sunday dinner.

Then I used those leftover vegetables, a few pieces of roast, and gravy to make shepherd's pie a few nights later.

And I still had a chunk of roast left.

So I turned to Mennonite Country Style and made "All-Purpose Barbeque Sauce." And also made whole wheat sandwich buns.

We ate our sandwiches with oven sweet potato fries and pepper cabbage. Everyone was very happy. . . .

Sunday, December 13, 2009

P.S. to the Oven Towel

My mother very drily pointed out that these oven towels have been around for a long time. Yes, Mom, I've been seeing these ugly terrycloth things cutesied up with ducks and hearts and whatnot for a long time. These towels are very practical. But mine is DIFFERENT! It's hip and vintage-sweet. You'll see, Mom: I'll make more and maybe I'll even give you one (gasp). You don't have Williamsburg blue and geese in your kitchen any more, hallelujah, so I'll make you a cool oven towel.

St. Lucia Buns

A tradition in Sweden for a young girl to wake her family on December 13 with coffee and saffron buns. These were very easy and so fun to roll out and shape.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Check? Check. And an Oven Towel

Here I am, a bit nervous. It *seems* simple to blog, but is it? I'll find out!

In keeping with the point of this blog, here is a photo of an oven towel I made last night. It was 10pm when I pulled out my sewing machine and put my itchy fingers into my fabric scraps. I just "shopped" a glorious stash of fabric at my friend's mother's kind invitation, so I couldn't concentrate on, oh, dishes or getting children to bed or anything, until I cut into and stitched something up.

The oven towel was made with both fabrics from the mother's stash and a vintage button from my stash. I didn't measure or pin a thing, so I shouldn't be irritated that the box pleats are not even. But I am. This was mad hot get-it-done fever.

I realized that this oven towel concept could be a great thing. I always flop any number of dishtowels over my oven handle and use them interchangeably for drying dishes and hands. Not very sanitary. So now I can reserve the oven towel just for hands. I hope.

This might be a Christmas present. I'm not sure if I can live with the imperfect box pleats or not. I'm pretty casual about projects for my own home, but for someone else? Hmmmm. In any case, I will be making more of these.