Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Klara Annabella is Done

Finally, finally, I have finished the handquilting on the Klara Annabella.

She's pieced on both sides because she's going to be tossed around as a living room throw.

The other side.

This quilt is meant to tie together the twin red sofas and chartreuse drapes.  The final stop in the living room style is a new wall color.

I marked no quilting lines - I just quilted in circles guided by the quilting hoop. The hoop, borrowed from my friend Jeanne, allowed me to quilt on the go. 

I dragged this quilt everywhere since summer 2010.  It's not even a twin size quilt and it took me so long to finish - at this point, I'm not eager to handquilt a whole quilt again.

Now it's home on the sofa for good, a satisfying finish to 2011.

Next year I will start a quilt for Ben.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pity-Party Avocado Sandwich

I have gotten acid reflux and I can't stop obsessing over all the food I might not eat again without pain.  I started taking omeprazole this week - only $9 over the counter, far cheaper than a doctor apppointment and still reasonable this early in the game.  My faint hope is that I will be back to normal after 14 days.  My fear is that I will struggle with this, in spite of drugs and a limited diet, which is a reality for my mother and my best friend.

I snapped a photo of my avocado, salt, and sourdough bread lunch at my job this week - it's tasty and supposedly safe for someone with acid reflux.

Sometimes I face the acid with stoicism, with all my past adversities backing me up. Most of the time I mourn the food I love and complain that the universe is so unfair (this is ridiculous - my faith in God does not support this, but that's my honest gut reaction).

But one thing I am firm about:  continuing projects and work.  It's therapy to me, a kind of refusal to sink into the depths and cower on the sofa.  I finished a quilt last night - pictures coming soon!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cleaning Oven Hood Filters

My zone (deep) cleaning sort of went missing this year.  I'm trying to regain that routine - it always feels more germane in the dead of winter! 

I borrowed a trick from teaching days by putting my sheet of zone cleaning jobs in a page protector.  Then I use an erasable marker to cross off the jobs.  I can wipe it clean now, instead of needing to print off (and in the process, edit and fiddle and get distracted) a new sheet.

A recent job I did was cleaning the oven hood filters.  They were caked with grease and fuzzy with dust.  It's true!  I gently popped them out with their little pull tabs.  I laid them in a sinkfull of hot, soapy water.  After a while I gently scrubbed them a bit - not too much because that would destroy the grease-catching web.  I left them to dry for a while, and popped them back in.  Much better! 

I haven't done any zone cleaning this week - maybe because I'm not hosting any New Year's festivities?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dark Days 5: Transforming the Ugly Beets

Don't they look awful?  They were some odd cross between golden and regular beets, but they were also woody inside.  I had a plan, however! 

1.  Scrub.  Bake, covered, for 1 hour or until tender when poked.
2.  Allow to sit for up to 10 minutes.
3.  Dump beets in cold water.  Slide skins off - they will come right off with your hands!  Run a little more cold water over them if needed.
4.  Now you have cooked, skinned beets.
5.  Puree according to Mollie Katzen's directions in Moosewood.  Flavored with salt, homemade applesauce, apple cider vinegar, and local honey (and non-local lemon).

I only used a few beets for the sauce.  The rest I pickled with a siriacha brine.

Beet sauce served with Cottage Potatoes (local cheese, butter, potatoes, sweet onions; not local rosemary and homemade bread - but made with organic flour).  Roasted brussel sprouts.  Local, and sadly, according to my market farmer, the last ones until next fall.

Family's opinions:  The kids weren't very enthused about the brussel sprouts, but I paid no attention because sometimes they adore them.  Logically, I think they'd want some nice vegetables after all the Christmas sweets, but their tastes aren't logical.

My husband and I enjoyed the flavors in this meal.  The beet sauce is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

Genevieve and I ate together after some shopping, leaving a Christmas gift from Aunt Mel spread out on the table.  Genevieve didn't eat much before she wanted to work on her mosaic again.

(Dark Days Challenge explanation here, in case you haven't read any back posts)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"We Wish You Were Merry, Christmas"

Title quote by 3-year-old Ben, with my comma inserted to make the joke.

We are having a lovely, quiet Christmas Eve.  We're looking forward to clam chowder, candlelit carols, and stockings before bed.  The children will open the 24 on the Advent calendar - the homey Advent calendar my parents got in Germany before I was born.

And tomorrow, Christmas service and then curry and presents with family. Hopefully a walk in the crisp winter air.

May your Christmas be merry, too

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark Days 4: Apple & Potato Latkes

I saw the latke recipe on the New York Times website, and saw how easily I could make local latkes.

apple & potato latkes with thick yogurt
French endive, arugula, red lettuce, and escarole salad with poppyseed dressing
pumpkin pie

I have clear memories of my mother's potato pancakes in my childhood.  We usually ate them with ketchup.  As an adult, I would prefer applesauce, except that I haven't made latkes/potato pancakes as an adult. 

The New York Times recommended Greek yogurt with cinnamon and maple syrup. I skipped the flavorings, and strained my homemade yogurt to make it thick. I saved the whey in the fridge to make oatmeal pancakes some day - does anyone know how long whey keeps?

I forgot to add the onions to the latkes - I was so disappointed! However, the meal was delicious and my family gobbled it up.

Also, you should know that squeezing the liquid out of the potatoes and apples resulted in a stained dishtowel.  When it was clear the stain would not come out, I folded it up and put it on the bottom of my dishtowel stack.  I will be making these latkes again (and adding the onion this time!), so I'll just re-stain the dishtowel.

Dark days ingredients, all local and where noted, organic:
organic potatoes, apples, milk (homemade yogurt), organic greens, organic pumpkin, cream, organic eggs, organic WW pastry flour

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cultivating My Image As Someone Who Loves Free Stuff

In my circles, I am known as somebody who is happy to take unwanted stuff.  This isn't a culturally popular image, right?  But I'm finally middle-aged enough not to mind.  I am reducing trash, saving money, and staying home where I want to be instead of shopping.

How I cultivate my image:

1.  Take what's offered, even if I don't think I personally will use it.

2.  Check to see if the giver wants it back if I can't use it.  If the giver doesn't want it back and I decide not to keep it, then I donate it to a thrift store or check with other people I know who love freebies.  (We've got a hotline and a password - shhhh, don't tell)

3.  Make sure the giver knows how grateful I am for the stuff. 

The benefits:
1.  Useful stuff!  That I don't have to track down in some shopping edifice!  I think most of my fabric stash is pass-ons from other people.  If you are one of those people and you are reading this post, thank you, again!  You rock.

2.  One person's trash is another person's treasure, right?  I am so pleased when something marked for the trash turns out to be useful to someone.

3.  The warm community feeling.  Makes me feel like sharing my stuff too. 

4.  Creatively, life is more interesting.  I sometimes confine myself to the things people give me because it's an exercise in thinking outside the box and finding solutions.

And yes, these curtains.  My mother-in-law did not need these curtains which came with their house 2 years ago.  She offered them to me.  Perfectly serendipitous, as I was wanting plain curtains in our bedroom. 

But I like to have light sometimes, so the curtains needed tiebacks.

I pulled a delightful assortment of fabrics out of my scrap bag - some from this pillowcase, the cuffs from my bathing chemise, and some leftover stripes from the brick wall comforter (which is on the bed).  Bias-tape loops. $21 for three curtain rods. High-up hooks so the light can still get in when the curtains are pulled back. 

I'm very, very pleased with the functionality and the way the curtains fit right in. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Creme Anglaise Instead of Ice Cream

Because it's delicious, slightly unusual for guests, and made with cheap pantry staples. Plus, you get to use a pretty pitcher on your table (not shown, as I forgot to take a picture).

I served creme anglaise (pouring custard) not long ago to guests on top of apple crisp.  And the next day, we finished it up with gingerbread.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Sweets to Please Me and the Children

Idea:  Make Christmas cookies and memories with the kids.

Strategy:  KISSS: Keep it small, simple, short. . . or risk the mama and kids escalating into tantrums of exhaustion and holiday disenchantment.


1.  Make 1 batch of gingerbread cut-outs with Genevieve and her friend, plus Ben.  Ben and I mixed them up before the girls came home from school.  No need to have so many cooks in the kitchen!  And no time for the camera, either, as I sped between kids to keep the dough pliable and the cut-outs on the cookie sheet.

2.  Another day:  ice the cookies with Italian meringue.  Let Ben do the sprinkles and the licking.  (Bonus:  TWO beaters when your sister is in school!)

3.  Make the fiddly kind myself in a small batch:  chocolate-dipped peanut-butter Ritz sandwiches.  I melted 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips with 2 teaspoons of vegetable shortening in my "double boiler" (bowl on top of pan).  I was warned by a veteran candy maker to avoid getting moisture in the chocolate and to avoid burning it.

And that's the end of our Christmas cookies this year.  Frankly, I'd rather just eat chips.  I think we succeeded in avoiding an overwhelmed-mother-tantrum while making memories, so I'm pleased. 

I didn't give Genevieve the idea that she was missing something because Ben and I did some of the fun work while she was in school.  She gets to do fun things in school without us!

Most of the cookies were eaten when our families gathered after Genevieve's school Christmas program.  We had eggnog, cookies, and candy and (thank goodness) pretzels. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A New Cover for the Ugly Bible

I finally snagged a New Revised Standard Version!  For $3, at the used book store downtown while I was killing time before picking up Genevieve.

But it was so ugly.  My first idea was to decoupage the cover.  Three problems:  1. decoupage is expensive, even with a coupon. 2. Decoupage can, apparently, get sticky in humid weather.  Not cool.  3. And then, I couldn't really imagine what kind of images I would plaster my Bible with.  The obvious Christian symbols?  Neutral landscapes?  Yawn.

So I covered that baby with fabric, a la eighth-grade-paper-bag-on-the-social-studies-book.

I love it.  I take my Bible along to church now.  The right translation, plus a vintage patch for quirky sweet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dark Days 3: Simple plus Dessert (updated with pickle recipe)

Roasted sweet potatoes with lots of salt and pepper. 

Collard greens cooked long and slow with sweet onion, salt, hot sauce, and finished with a splash of vinegar.  Satisfyingly strong dill pickles. 

And then, dessert because I was using up dabs out of the freezer and keeping my family off a new batch of Christmas cookies made for later this week.   I love gingerbread with peaches!

Specifically, the Dark Days aspects:  sweet potatoes, onions, and collards from local farmers.  Gingergread made with local organic eggs, local organice whole wheat pastry flour, homemade yogurt from local milk, and locally produced molasses (but I don't know where their raw ingredients come from - that warrants a phone call, don't you think?).

Homemade, home canned dill pickles with dill from our backyard and cukes from somewhere local - I had several different suppliers this past summer.  Homemade ice cream with local cream, milk, and eggs.  Home canned local peaches.

Updated with dill pickle recipe:

Phyllis Rhoades Kosher Dills

Have ready 6 clean quart canning jars.  Wide-mouth is easier to work with.  Have lids and rings hot and ready.

Prepare brine and bring to boil:
1 c. pickling salt
3 quarts water
1 quart cider vinegar

Working with one jar at a time, put in:

1-2 cloves garlic
2 heads of dill (or 1 Tbsp. dill seeds)
hot pepper to taste (I use a slice of jalapeno)
pickling cucumbers, cubed or sliced, fill to top

Pour over boiling hot brine, leaving 1" headspace:

Immediately wipe jar rim, lay on hot lid and screw down with hot ring.  Process in boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.  Set aside for 12-24 hours  Check for seal.  If a jar did not seal, store in fridge for several weeks.

For long term storage, remove canning ring.  For best flavor, allow to sit in dark cupboard or basement for a month or so before eating.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Pizza IS a Vegetable

Did you hear about the new law in Congress, allowing 1/8 cup (2 Tbsp.) tomato paste to count as a serving of vegetables in school lunches, instead of the half cup required of other vegetables?  It inflates pizza's nutritional profile. 

I was musing on this as I made pizza for supper the other night.  School pizza is made of white flour crust, tomato paste and corn syrup, and cheese.  No flavor, no whole grains, just some high-sodium tomato paste and cheese product mozzarella.

Homemade pizzas are different.

Exhibit A:  100% whole wheat crust, homemade pizza sauce thickened by hours of simmering, not tomato paste, mozzarella, Parmesan, green olives, mushrooms, and onions

Exhibit B:  same healthy crust, sauce and cheese, just with lots of spinach, blue cheese, and garlic

Monday, December 12, 2011

the frailest leaves - An Anniversary

Here the frailest leaves of me and yet my strongest lasting,
Here I shade and hide my thoughts,
I myself do not expose them,
And yet they expose me more than all
my other poems.

Walt Whitman

Doesn't blogging expose us?  No matter if you blog like me, just a slice of your life and the good slice at that. . .Odd to think that I have never physically met or talked to many of you.  I feel like I know you!  I dearly love my online community.  Thank you all so very much for the conversations, suggestions, thoughts, and prayers.  This blog is 2 years old today . . . because of you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mixing Up More Hot Cereal

Now it's getting cold around here.  Hot cereal tastes good in the morning!  I've been eating mine savory, with cheese, spinach, and walnuts.  The rest eat theirs with raisins, brown sugar, milk, and tahini.

To keep the cost down, I excluded amaranth from the mix here.  Before mixing, I snapped a photo of the striated layers.  From the bottom, it's rye, buckwheat groats, millet, and spelt.  Sometimes I grind up some oats or wheat, or add some cornmeal for a change of flavor.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Picking and Choosing Our Christmas - the List

Finally, I am starting to enjoy hearing Christmas music and make plans - and it's only December 8.  Christmas, as done by the internet and retailers, can be so overwhelming.  It's so easy to feel like I'm missing something, or that there's still another great sale or great craft just waiting for me to search it out.  Won't my children be deprived without a plethora of cookies, crafts, and activities?  Well, they would be very deprived if their mother exploded.

So I made a little list of the Christmas essentials we want in our family.  Anything else that happens is a bonus.  I depend on the list to keep me focused.

Christmas 2011
1.  hang & (lightly!) fill stockings
2.  set up manger scene
3.  get and decorate Christmas tree - hot chocolate and candy canes
4.  Christmas breakfast - same as last year
5.  Christmas caroling
6.  make gingerbread cookies with kids
7.  make chocolate dipped cracker sandwiches
8.  Advent calendar
9.  gifts for families, teachers, friends
Still thinking about whether to send out Christmas cards or photos.

This post is illustrated with a lovely Christmas bonus: Rachel invited Ben and me to come over and handprint  Christmas balls. 

Rachel's John, who is 4, dearly wanted to try my camera.  So I helped him support it, but he pressed the shutter button.  Funny.  And very happy. 

And a real part of Christmas for us this year.

(photos by John with the exception of the white hand photo I took of John.)