Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I Cooked For My Birthday

I've had little birthday treats scattered over the last few days, and apparently a few more to come.  Delightful!  Dinner at a fabulous place with my sis and mom, a great Italian sub with my in-laws and relatives from Virginia that I haven't seen in years, daffodils from my husband, a whole bag of homemade cards and little-girl treasures from Genevieve, and then this meal. 

(Ben finally named his dolly Murry; I think he got the idea when Genevieve named a stuffed cat Purry)

I invited friends and cooked, because I like to cook and I've wanted to make this soup for a while.  And I am slightly insane on the topic of my "cake," eclair dessert - that will get its own post because I want to discuss the recipe with you.

Now, the Colombian soup.  One of my favorite things about mingling and learning to know other cultures is the food.  In the fall when I taught an ESL class, one of my students was Carlos from Colombia.  He made Ajiaco for us, and I pieced together a recipe from what he told me, a recipe online, and my cooking experience.  So this is not totally authentic, but it's really good and the proportions and timing are forgiving so it's easy. 

Ajiaco should actually have corn on the cob in the soup - this summer I will freeze some whole cobs for this purpose, because Ajiaco deserves a place in my winter standards and I'm sure the cobs add a unique flavor. 

Ajiaco - Thrift at Home Style

Cut into pieces (wings, legs, breast, etc.):
3 lb. chicken

(If time and inclination, put into a hot oven and roast for a bit - this develops good flavor in the soup; I did my pieces at 400 for almost an hour)

Combine in large stock pot:
chicken pieces
4 quarts water
2-3 onions, peeled and chunked
3 stalks celery with leaves, chunked
fresh ground pepper

Simmer for 1-2 hours.  Remove chicken pieces and set aside.

Add to pot:
2 cups canned tomatoes and juice

Puree the stock and vegetables.  Return the puree to the pot and turn on heat again.

6-10 cups potatoes, mixed varieties, chopped (I really wasn't paying too much attention to how many I did - I just kept in mind that I needed to add the chicken and corn yet)

Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes until getting soft.  Use this time to take the now-cooled chicken off the bones (discard skin and back/neck).

chicken pieces/shreds
3 c. corn
1 carrot, grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 cups cilantro, chopped, with stems

Cook a few more minutes.  Taste to correct seasonings.  All the recipes called for several chicken bouillion cubes; I added a few because it seemed a bit watery and unsalted, plus some poultry seasoning, fresh ground pepper.

At the table, add some heavy cream, capers with their brine, and pieces of avocado to each bowl.  The garnishes are imperative - they really make this soup unique and tasty.

Carlos insisted that Ajiaco must be made with guascas, which is a South American herb that looks and tastes a lot like dried parsley.  He gave me a little packet and I used it, but it didn't make any discernible difference to me, so I will probably not worry about it in my future versions.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's a Good Day

Although it's still too cold. . . .

. . . and I'm nervous the warm weather will not appear by the end of the week when I am doing a-little-selling -table-outside stint.  I have lots of prep to do for that, too.

But it's a good day because my mom called me early this morning to sing me happy birthday and tell me she was glad I was born.  I'm 36, friends!  Holy cow.

Off to the kitchen to cook.  I planned my birthday myself and it's fun already.

(great photos by my husband)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fixing Holes

I'm learning to darn socks by doing it.  I did read a tutorial online somewhere sometime, and I have seen a darned sock, but otherwise, I just thread my needle with embroidery thread and go at it.

My husband has not actually worn these socks since I darned them - I hope I didn't make lumpy, uncomfortable darns.  I'll report back.

A beautiful thrifted vintage blanket ($2) for one of the children's beds.  I'm not sure what this blanket is made out of, but I used a sturdy brushed cotton twill.

My little modern art patch pleases me.

And then I patched Genevieve's jeans with a darker denim heart.  I opened up the inside seam, sewed a large piece of the same blue twill  underneath to strengthen the thinned area, and then satin stitched (appliqued) a denim heart over the hole proper. 

We are halfway through On the Banks of Plum Creek and she is making a hole in the back yard:  a dugout for ants.  A dugout, like Laura and Mary's.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tolstoy Lied. . . and Another Book

"Tolstoy lied!" has become a kind of code phrase around my house for "life is good."  Tolstoy (and others) seem to think that misery is the only state of being that's interesting and authentic (have you ever read Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy?  Desperate unhappiness for 800 pages - I loved it when I was in high school).

The phrase is the title of the novel by Rachel Kadish and I love it: the phrase and the novel.  The main character in the novel wants to prove that happiness is interesting, worth knowing about, and real.  So the novel does not just end with a happily ever after, but gives details about the happy part.  And there is plenty of unhappiness and complications in the novel, too.  It is the best character study and plot I have come across in modern realistic fiction ever.  No murder or creepiness, either.

Now, on the other hand, I read The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch for a book club.  Essays from an undertaker about his vocation.  Interesting and tender at points (not nearly as well written as Tolstoy Lied), and tickled my funny bone when Lynch called the baby boom "a demographic aneurysm."

Here I was reading while eating Pumpkin Cornbread, a recipe my friend Crystal recommended to me from Recipes from the Old Mill to use up some pureed pumpkin in the freezer.  I did not like it for breakfast, my original plan, but with afternoon tea it is fabulous:  cornbread gussied up with dark brown sugar, pumpkin pie spices, pumpkin, and pecans.  I want to remember to make it in crisp autumn weather.

What are you reading?  Using up from the freezer?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three More Meals from St. Paddy's Leftovers

Lunch, Meal 1:
corned beef sandwiches with mustard on daily bread; popcorn; dill pickles; seltzer
(Reubens would have been good, but I didn't think ahead to defrost some sauerkraut).

Supper, Meal 2:
used leftover pot likker from the corned beef to make beans, putting in the scraps of cabbage and carrots too; Trisha Yearwood's Cornbread salad (using dried tomatoes); hot fudge sundae cake

homemade raspberry cordial for the adults to go with the cake - yummmmm

And finally,

Lunch, Meal 3:
fried mashed potato cakes, eaten with cocktail sauce and whatever else we could scrounge out of the fridge

Sometimes we do just heat up the leftovers in their original incarnation.  And sometimes I have energy, time, and ideas for the leftovers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How Much Would You Pay for Your Son's Haircut?

My husband took Ben along to the barber shop last week, promising me that Ben would just get a trim, just get his homemade haircut cleaned up.  I was a little worried (about his homemade haircut showing up in a professional place, about the length of Ben's precious blonde hair, about Ben's ability to sit still).

The haircut came out fine, but my husband and I were astonished at the cost:  $13.  For a little boy.  Maybe this is representative of all barber shops, but at this rate, my $23 investment in supplies to cut Ben's hair every few weeks is a bargain.
Ben's only insight into the professional hair cut was that he got a lollipop.  And it was red.

(Just showing the boy and his daddy using January photos that I love - our Christmas tree is long gone).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm Not Irish, But. . .

I cook corned beef with cabbage every year on St. Patrick's Day.  It's just a fun ritual, a rhythm, and really good food.  I started doing this a few years ago when I noticed that corned beef always went on sale the week before March 17.  Next year I'm going to start from scratch, thanks to Natasha's directions.  Sometimes we invite friends, and this was one of those years, so I didn't snap any photos mid-dinner.  I did want to put this On the Record as what we like to do on St. Patrick's Day.

Menu:corned beef cooked with cabbage, onions, and carrots - brown mustard on the side
garlic mashed potatoes
Irish soda bread (sometimes I make lemon curd too)

apple crisp with whipped cream spiked with Irish cream whiskey

and of course, beer, and maybe a leetle more Irish cream for the coffee

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shoestring Chic #5: Jeans

These jeans were passed on to me by my Aunt Nancy and I love love love the color, fit, and straight leg.  I didn't have to go jeans shopping all day at the mall to find them!  They fit me perfectly. . . although they are getting a little loose because it's been so long since I washed them.  My rule for washing clothes is that they have to smell or show visible dirt, unless it's a white shirt and that gets washed immediately so as not to get sweat stains.

You see I'm wearing my ex-hoodie and smashed quarter again, kind of like my winter uniform, I guess.  I like the European model of fewer, better clothes worn more often.  This was a work-at-home day, but it helps my attitude if my clothes please me. 

My husband's precious bike (as opposed to his everyday bike) is on the wall in our workroom.  Too lazy to lift it down for a photo!

Shoestring Chic:
wool zip-up sweater: $4
thrifted pale blue shirt:  $3
thrifted scarf from high school era
jeans:  free
thrifted argyle kneesocks: $2
the shoes I would be wearing are brown sneakers, bought with Christmas gift money

Total:  $9

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Similar to Stamp Collecting

I'm not a real stamp collector, because I use the stamps; I do not buy the boring flags, but search out the pretties. If I'm going to mail something, why not use a stamp I like?  I know I'm not alone in this - my friend A and I keep each other updated with fabulous stamp alerts. 

It's one of the reasons I don't do all my bills online. . .maybe not strictly frugal, but definitely enjoyable to handle the stamps and envelopes and keep my nice mail carrier in letters.

A few years ago I discovered that USPS.com ships any size of order for just $1.  That beats waiting in line at my little post office during their quirky business hours -  only to discover a mediocre selection of flag stamps.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sunday Night Models

Hanging out to eat Sunday night popcorn with my extended family.  I pressed my mom, sis, and cousin into modeling some new flowers for the shop.

I love this photo of my mother in her flower-filled living room, even though it was too dark and busy for etsy.

There are some new flowers and hotpads in the shop - check it out!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sauer Klops, a Mennonite Soup

My beam of concentration is on sewing and the online class, so I've been cooking old standards for meals (which come up with surprising swiftness; when will I get used to that?).

But here, like a lovely late winter gift, is a delicious soup recipe using mostly pantry staples from More with Less.  I haven't actually tried every recipe in More with Less, even though I write about it so much. However, it's been so rainy that I actually read through the soup recipes instead of assuming I have.

According to More with Less, this soup comes from Prussian Mennonites; even if my Swiss-German Mennonite heritage includes Prussia, this is not a soup I've seen or heard of before.  Well, with the exception that its pepper and vinegar reminds me of Chinese hot and sour soup, which my family loves.  

Sauer Klops (Meatball Soup) - tweaked slightly

Combine and form into 1" balls:
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 c. fine cracker or bread crumbs
1/2 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
dash pepper

Set the meatballs aside.

Combine in soup pot:
2 c. cubed potatoes
1 onion, chopped
7 kernels allspice
1-2 carrots, chopped
3 c. water (maybe a little more)
1 tsp. salt
dash pepper

Bring to boiling point, and then add meatballs.  Simmer over low heat 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are soft and meatballs cooked through. 

Add a handful of fresh parsley, chopped.
Add 2 Tbs. vinegar.

Mix together until smooth (I use my Tupperware batter shaker)
1/2 c. cream or half & half
3 Tbs. flour

Pour into soup, stirring continuously until soup is thickened.

One option listed is to add peas at the end; I'm going to try that next time.  This amount supposedly serves 4, but with biscuits, it barely served my little family of two adults, two kiddos; I will double the recipe next time.  Maybe not everybody makes a meal out of soup and bread?  That's our staple winter meal. 

And then we had fasnachts - spring must be coming!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ruffle Scarves

I've been sewing a lot and I haven't been documenting well For the Record.  I think I need a portfolio of all the ruffle scarves I'm making. I'm going to be doing an extra little show in April, so I'm sewing like mad.

This scarf is to scratch the itch I got when I saw the Sartorialist's post; I also made this etsy treasury on the same theme.  I think I got it out of my system now.

Genevieve suggested she model the scarves and the poses were all her idea.  She's peeking out from a vintage upcycled pillowcase with gorgeous sherbet colors, black leaves, and daisies; I combined it with aquamarine linen and topstitched it in double rows of black.

(different time, different child, same child-initiated modeling)

Genevieve, showing a vintage Holly Hobbie print with green linen and brown calico.

Here, boringly enough (where are the children?) is a gingham and roses + cherries combo with rick rack edging.  It's not easy to mix patterns in a fresh, yet congruent way; I thought I was giving it a fresh vibe, but it turned out a little more Laura Ashley than I thought. 

I love the color play and stories that are built into these scarves; like making a quilt, but far less time investment. . . and I've never seen someone wearing a quilt around her neck. . .

Whatever does not sell in the April event will go into the etsy shop; well, I guess if you fall in love with one of these I can sell it to you in a reserve listing on etsy.  And then I'll sew some more.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Did You Learn to Cook?

This was the question posed by Phyllis Pellman Good, the speaker at our women's retreat recently.

I love thinking about this as I have two children I want to teach how to cook.

1.  I recall "home ec" in eighth grade - learning the difference between liquid and dry measures.

2.  I made cookies and bar cookies a lot in high school, very successfully;  I also distinctly remember the time I rooted through my mother's spice cupboard and dumped all kinds of things on potatoes as I fried them.  They tasted different and better.

3.  I was a "salad bar attendant" at a local restaurant when I was 16, and that involved making broccoli salad and some other stuff I can't remember; I was learning how to chop, measure, and combine savory things, not just cookies.

4.  I bought myself a More with Less when I was in my first apartment in college and cooked a bit with my housemate from the Virgin Islands; I remember my astonishment when she made yeast bread and dumped in water until it "felt right."  I had never seen someone make bread, let alone by feel. From then on, I was deeply captivated by cooking and baking.

But I do not recall being instructed in the basics at home, although I'm certain my mother must have taught me because I learned how to make cookies somehow.

(Posts where I show my children learning in the kitchen:  dumplings, chopping mushrooms, peeling eggs, and Christmas cookies.)

I'd love to hear how you learned to cook and how you plan to - or do - teach the youngsters in your life.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Drying Laundry in Winter

I do about a load a day and put it on my creaky drying rack; it's in the kitchen, not pretty, unless I get an all red load like this one.  I shut the rack away in the bedroom if people are coming over so we don't look like the tenement poor, but otherwise, that humidity is good for the dry winter inside air.  When the air is dry, your dry tissue does not keep germs out so well and you are more susceptible to germs.

If the wind is moving outside and the sun is shining, I may brave the cold to hang a load of whites; free bleach, after all.

In this manner, I still avoid using my electric dryer.  Good for us, good for the environment.