Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Bookmarks

I made scads of these bookmarks and gave them away to almost everyone on my list.  I only photographed a few, however, due to the lassitude of my December. (I also sewed a red-and-white striped infinity scarf for my sister-in-law and hotpads for my mother-in-law, but alas, no photos)


I adore making these bookmarks because each one is a chance to play with color and texture and takes maybe 15 minutes to make.  You can see the possibilities here, right?  Some sort of fabric medallion attached to an elastic loop.  I used felt and a pinking shears, but it could easily be patchwork, a quilted scrap, lace, or leather.  A useful way to use up tiny, pretty scraps!

Genevieve has yet to use hers in a book. 

I saw her reading Barbie in space (ugh) tonight.  As a treat for Christmas vacation, I took the children to the library and let them check out as many books as they wanted to carry home.  And I didn't say no like I usually do to trashy books, baby books, or books that we already own.  They were jubilant and I was grinning as they struggled their bags of books home.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Through a New Lens

This lens (but purchased at a local camera shop, thank you, dear husband). I'm so pleased with how the lens handles the low light inside.

old lens - I didn't open my present yet.

the remains of Christmas breakfast in the sun

Ben's best trick with his new skateboard.

G with Barbie and Skipper, my (now-vintage) ones from childhood


We had a lovely Christmas - I hope you did, too!  And now, let's get on with the rest of winter.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Low-Key Sourdough and Its Resulting Crackers

My sourdough starter has to be very hearty to survive my treatment.  It lives in the fridge and I make bread about every other week. Ideally, sourdough likes to be at room temperature and fed with fresh flour and water daily.  That is too needy for my kitchen! 

My sourdough starter is almost 4 years old and it has a very strong, rustic taste (locals, I'm always happy to share - just email me from the link in my sidebar).

But after my sourdough got so weak and weary from neglect that it could hardly raise the roof on bread loaves, I have been careful to feed it at least weekly. Instead of throwing away the starter from the feeding, I make crackers.  I tweaked this cracker recipe from Gina, who has some other great ideas for using the discarded sourdough.

I am pleased to have such easy crackers on hand for snacks and packed lunches.  They're cheap and healthy, and I don't have to go to a store and throw away subsequent packaging to have them on hand.

Sourdough Crackers
1 cup "discarded" sourdough starter
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine sourdough starter and butter in mixing bowl.  Add flour and salt and knead until smooth.  Depending on the weather and the thickness of your starter, add more or less flour.  Dough should be stiff.  Cover dough tightly with a lid or enclose mixing bowl in a bag.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 7-10 hours. Break dough into pieces and spread evenly on parchment or Silpat on a large baking sheet.  Roll out to a 1/4" thickness or less, using a sheet of waxed paper between the rolling pin and dough.  Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut into cracker shapes (I cut small squares).  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Remove any crackers that are hard when you press on them.  Hard crackers should break away from their partners easily.  Turn oven down to 300. Return soft crackers to the oven for 10 minutes.  Repeat pressing test, again removing hard crackers and returning soft crackers to oven.  Repeat in 10 minute intervals until all crackers are hard.  Cool all crackers and store in airtight container at room temperature.

Play with flavoring the crackers:  sprinkle with an herb, more salt, or freshly ground pepper. Press it lightly into the rolled crackers.  Once, I used part rye flour and added caraway seeds to the dough.  I bet cheese or sesame seeds could be added. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

St. Lucia Buns for Breakfast

It's not hard for me to make fun bread during the day when I'm at home and the children are at school.  I find yeast breads easier to make than, say, cookies, and the baking scent is so deeply delectable. 

So that's how come I made St. Lucia buns early in December and cached them in the freezer for December 13.  The dough is a fairly standard sweet yeast dough, but the added saffron and the s-shape makes the buns special. They are pillowy and subtly exotic from the saffron and then there's a dark little spot of sweetness from the raisin in the fat curl.

The batch was so large that we had St. Lucia buns again for breakfast yesterday, and this time I snapped a picture. Warm St. Lucia buns, red oranges, and yogurt cheese.  And strong black coffee for the bigs and hot chocolate for the littles.  A nice way to start a dark winter morning that's not Christmas yet.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I Almost Left You Here

But I think I'm back to blogging. 

Not only was I struggling with the overwhelming nature of the holiday season (I mentioned it), but then poof, the company I worked for evaporated and my job with it.  So strange the way my lovely job came out of the blue and disappeared again just as suddenly. 

So I've just been feeling all the feelings and deliberately not making any decisions during this time of change. Truly I've been through much worse in my life, but nevertheless, I miss that job and the world it was in.

And I didn't feel like blogging since the layoff.  I just kept up with the daily house and family work and occasionally enjoyed a little creative cooking or sewing spurt - but I didn't pull out my camera and document anything. 

This blog was born from a chaotic change in my life and perhaps something new will be born out of this time, too.  I don't know.  But for now I'm sticking around to tell you about it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Appolonia and Hope

Genevieve was asking for a baby doll for Christmas - not big like Bella, not a girl like Helen Jane, but a little cuddly baby. 

Then, one Saturday in November, she asked me urgently for some socks to make a craft.  And with no help from me, she made her brother a sock baby.  She stuffed it with wool scraps and drew its face on with a Sharpie.  She cut some fabric into a robe and sash.  Then she made a sock baby for herself. 

Boy, was she happy!  She told me triumphantly that she has a baby now and doesn't need one for Christmas.  We had a convivial little talk about the satisfaction of creating things with our hands from scraps.  I was so encouraged that she is picking up our values and skills!

Because this is an unusual moment in the last few months.

I've noticed that Genevieve is really interested in money and buying things for herself.  We are trying to guide her to save money for worthwhile things or to be generous to other people with her money, but I'm not sure we are making any headway in a world where there is so much pressure to consume and be selfish.  She has some very nice toys that she never plays with at all, but she still begs for more.

I try to walk the line between acknowledging her natural childish state (and mine!) and guiding her to be content (as I want to be also!).

Ben named his sock baby Appolonia, by the way, which he learned from a children's book we have called The Egg Tree.  Genevieve named hers Hope.  And now their family is complete - they have babies.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fun with Infinity Scarves

First I found a teal beret on the sidewalk in a rainstorm.  Then I got Genevieve some aqua gloves with purple butterflies on them when the weather turned sharp.  Then I wanted scarves to tie all these colors together with her coats.  I thought maybe I could make an infinity scarf instead of a ruffle scarf.

Of course I could have used just one fabric, but I used my scrap box and I love patchwork, so I mixed it up.  You can see where I simply topstitched the loop closed on this scarf.  It was the first one I made. On subsequent scarves, I used Anna Maria's tutorial for handstitching the last seam.

a vintage hand-me-down from a friend - a lovely, swingy, navy coat

Genevieve loves the scarves.  I love the scarves.  I made two for myself!
The first one used up some cashmere scraps left from this skirt that I accidentally shrank. I mixed in a little bright plaid and some deep green.

8-year-old L.L. Bean wool coat

Then I used a precious length of Hawaiian fabric that Rebecca gave me - not only do I love the colors, but it was a gift to Rebecca's mom for babysitting a little girl whose parents traveled to Hawaii.  I don't really look good in yellow, so I mixed the Hawaiian fabric with colors that do look good on me.
my 10-year-old Land's End wool coat

It's nice to have new accessories from the scrap box for my "old" coats (I didn't realize just how old they are until I tallied up the years for this post). And it's nice to make Genevieve look polished as she grows out her coats every year.  I'll probably make some more scarves - maybe even some Christmas gifts!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Ham with Apples and Cheese

When I made space for our yearly beef order recently, I found several things in my freezer that I didn't know I was missing. One of them was a package of ham scraps left from Easter.  I made this casserole (below) and my husband complimented me over and over, saying this was pure comfort food.  Perhaps you can use your Christmas ham scraps to make it!

waiting for Sunday dinner

thaw ham

Sunday morning:
assemble Ham with Apples and Cheese, put on timed bake
set brussels sprouts out
thaw cornbread

Sunday noon:
set table
saute brussels sprouts
warm up cornbread in oven

The ham dish is quite rich and soft, so I like to serve it with a crunchy green salad or, in this case, brussels sprouts with vinegar and salt.  I also served cranberry applesauce and a few slices of cornbread for mopping up the delicious juices.

caught in the act of eating out of the serving dish

Ham with Apples and Cheese - copied from a cookbook at work, but then I tweaked it a bit
1 1/2 - 2 lbs. thick ham slices, chunked
2-3 tart apples, sliced (I don't peel them)
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
6 slices sharp cheddar cheese, enough to cover the top
1 cup plain yogurt

Make a layer of the ham over the bottom of a greased, deep-dish pie plate.  Lay the apples over them. (I had sweet apples, so I sprinkled them with lemon juice)  Separately, mix flour, sugar, and butter to make crumbs.  Sprinkle these on top of apples.  Cover with cheese slices.  Dollop yogurt over the top.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until bubbling and browned on top.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Turkeys, Afterwards

8:21pm  Thanksgiving evening.

I asked for, and got, the two turkey carcasses from our extended family Thanksgiving today. Thanks, Aunt Elena! After the long drive home, I fixed them up for their long simmer into stock.

Everyone is settling down gratefully- children listening to their daddy read Pooh and Piglet next room room over, me in my pajamas, the cold night outside. I have everything to be thankful for.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Yogurt for Infinity

I have been making yogurt for years.  I used to refresh the starter every few batches with some freeze-dried yogurt starter or a new cup of plain yogurt from the store.

Then I read in Sandor Katz' book that these are commercially controlled starters, and it's possible to acquire wilder starters that are self-regenerating if properly fed.

Consequently, I bought a Bulgarian yogurt starter online (here) this summer.  As long as I remember to save a little yogurt and make a fresh batch every week or so, I will never need to "refresh" my starter by buying something again.  I love this independence (which comes with the caution to keep the Bulgarian starter alive!).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Construction Pajamas for Ben

Ben had a pair of pajamas that looked like capri bottoms with an elbow-sleeve top.  They weren't meant to be that style. Suddenly, he's taller!

I had a length of flannel with construction stuff all over it, purchased at a thrift store for $2 for this very purpose.  I added 4" to the length in the pattern so hopefully the pajamas will grow with him.  I used bias tape (like last time) to finish the cuffs to make them look nicer when they're turned up.

Good morning, G! in your thrifted rosebud long johns

Because of the length, I decided to add another button, but I only had 4 blue buttons. So I took a little orphan gold star button (left from this dress) and used it as the top button.

It's been my shopping experience that children's pajamas are not cheap or cute (see Genevieve wearing her exception above).  I'm pleased with these jammies because they are inexpensive and nice.  Ben is pleased because I made them and they're covered in trucks and traffic cones.

The first morning after he wore his new pajamas to bed, I asked him if he had any dreams, which is a mild morning conversation starter around here.  Ben said yes, he had dreams about trucks.  "And those dreams were noisy, Mom!" But he was grinning.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Warm French Lentil Salad

I took some photos of supper tonight because it's a delicious recipe and I thought I had not blogged about this recipe before.

Apparently I have now written so many blog posts that I don't remember them.

The original post, with recipe, is here. The current photos are much nicer (and I hope that Santa is paying attention to the new lens I have my eye on for even nicer photos in the future; actually, I just nudged my husband to pay attention).

I see that I add a bay leaf to the lentils now.  I've been enamored with bay leaves for a few months.

I almost always use celery instead of a fennel bulb and red wine vinegar instead of lemon slices.

I highly recommend this recipe for its ease, elegance, and nutrition. Pretty cheap, too, unless you're lavish with the walnuts and cheese.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Happy Wallet

I needed to replace my vinyl, 6-year old wallet.  I decided to use this pattern (Diva Frame Clutch).  In addition to the pattern, I had to buy the metal clasp frame, which cost about $10 as well.

I was dubious. I like a highly functioning wallet.  I carry a lot of things in my wallet besides just money, and I despise fumbling around for them or having them dumped all together.

I pondered the color choices for a long time because I wanted to feel happy carrying this wallet no matter what style mood I was in (I'm sure I'm not the only one who veers from simple to boho to lacy to outdoorsy).  After doing this solid-color patchwork, I feel like I want to get rid of all the prints in my stash and just collect solid colors.  I love the color play that much.

I am proud to say that this wallet came entirely from my scrap stash. I did not buy fabric for it, nor did I cut into dress-lengths of fabric.

The pattern was a little unclear at points, but I made notes on it for next time because I'm pretty sure there will be a next time. My sister wants one. And yes, after about 2 weeks of use, I love mine.  I get a happy little jolt every time I pull it out of my bag.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Feeling Perky

I'm joking:  I don't personally feel perky, but I love our new percolator.

Our old drip coffeemaker (one of those free Gevalia ones from the late 90s) was feeble and plastic.  We wanted to see if we could avoid plastic, but our French press is only 8 cups and you have to do the 2-step boil and pour and the coffee cools off. We're lazy, I'm afraid (I call it efficient).

Meanwhile, my uncle left his vintage percolator in our car by accident, so we tried it out and absolutely loved it.

Delicious coffee: strong, not bitter.  Stays hot for a long time without burning.  No filters, no plastic.  Classy exterior.  Sold!

We love it.

And to return the beginning of the post, I am feeling the creep of holiday busy stress already.  My shoulders are high and tight and I'm waking up early with too many niggling details on my mind.  I'm following standard practices I've learned the hard way over the years:  exercise, sunshine on my face, prayer, sleep, being kind to myself, and saying NO to anything extra.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Peasant Blouse

 Genevieve is modeling her new peasant blouse. I loved making the gathered parts on the front and back. This was new to me: bias tape channels on the inside, insert shorter elastic, match the channel and the elastic ends (thus the gathers), and sew both ends down together. Fun!


The not-fun part was the front keyhole, which seems unecessary for style or dressing ease.  Also, for some mistake that I made that I can't trace, one shoulder seam is front farther than the other one, but fortunately, the plaid hides it and the neckline shape is not affected.

Fabric and pattern given to me, everything else from my stash. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On Finding Big Tablecloths

The best source for big tablecloths that I have found is the home dec section of the fabric store.  Wait for a good sale and know your table's measurements; I wrote mine down on a slip of paper I keep in my tablecloth drawer. 

Choose a cotton fabric that has some drape, but is not sheer - really, just run your hand over the samples at the store and think "tablecloth? tablecloth? tablecloth?" 

After the fabric is cut to the length you need, all you do at home is hem the thing.  You can be fancy and do a rolled hem, or you can do what I did here:  a zig zag stitch on the raw edge and turned up once with a topstitch.  The people who normally gather around my table are not likely to examine the hems on my tablecloths; I like to think I am a much better cook than that!

It's not my blog style to iron before photos. 

This is my new tablecloth for the dining room table with one board in it.  I had plenty of tablecloths for no-board status (72x55") and two for two-board status (108x55"), but none for one board (90x55").  At a sale at the fabric outlet, I got this fabric/tablecloth for $15.  I was quite happy with that price and the tailored look.  And Mr. Thrift admired it, too; oh happy day when we agree on home decor!

Any tips on where you find nice, big tablecloths that don't cost a fortune?