Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pretty Happy Funny Real

These burpcloths are pretty.  I made them for a new baby sweetie girl and delivered them along with a meal.  To the right is some plaid (left from this shirt) that I used to make Ben a bowtie for my grandma's funeral.  I do love those bowties: so easy to whip up and instant cuteness for Ben.
My mending pile is happy to me.  Usually the fixes are fast and it's so satisfying to get the items back in circulation.  Here I have a flowered shoe bag whose seam I made too shallow so it frayed loose.  A pair of oxblood tights that I wore so much they lost their tightness at the top, so I put some elastic in there to help.  A blue sweater with a small hole on a seam that I handstitched closed.  Poof!  Back on the job!

Last Thursday was a funny day.  Ben was requested to dress as a favorite book character for school, and Genevieve was requested to dress crazy in support of anti-bullying school spirit.  Yes, on the same day.  Trying to coordinate this, plus get me out the door for my job was not funny.

Ben was Bananas Gorilla from Richard Scarry.  His daddy helped him make four watches in addition to the two he already had, so he could wear three on each arm like Bananas Gorilla.  Ben dressed in similar clothes to Bananas Gorilla and carried a bunch of bananas.

We had to explain the concept of "clash day" to Genevieve, which is kind of hilarious because she already wears the top-of-the-pile shirt with her red plaid skirt to madcap effect.  Sometimes I make her change before I take her out in public.  She totally owned this school spirit day!
Here is a real Lego creation from the Genevieve.  Those people are standing in line at an ATM.  Which niggles at me, because my husband and I rarely use ATMs and I can't imagine where she sees people standing in line for one.  But there you have it:  a 7-year-old's social observation.
Happy Thursday to you!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Zipper Solution

Suddenly, 3 zippers at our house are snipped between the teeth, so the zipper slider flies right off the track when it gets to that spot.  Not good.  We think it may be from the bunny nibbling at the zippers when the children are snuggling her!

The one zipper is mostly decorative on Genevieve's top, another zipper is on Genevieve's hood so now she will wear a hat the rest of winter, but the other zipper is on Ben's only sweatshirt.  So I fixed it. 

I trimmed off the rest of the plastic teeth above the snip and bound the raw edge in bias tape.  I stitched extra hard to make a zipper stop, but if the zipper pull is being dragged up hard, it can still fly off.  Oh well.


 It's more functional now, and the kids have been warned to keep the bunny's teeth away from their zippers.  I'm not keen to replace coat zippers again!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Didn't Like the Fruitcake

I didn't like the fruitcake. Other people did, but I did not.  It was not transcendent, as I expected.  It tasted like cake heavily laden with raisins and a whiff of marzipan.  It was, surprisingly enough given the amount of brandy I spooned over it, not boozy; I guess the alcohol got used up in the preservation.

Maybe I have a baseline dislike of fruitcake?  Actually, I don't know because I've never really had it before.  So I'm not saying this is a bad recipe, understand, just that maybe now I have tasted fruitcake and it's not a passionate love affair. 

I still have half of the thing left.  I don't want it to become the butt of bad jokes!  Maybe I'll try it with ice cream next time, not just a cup of coffee.

As a Christmas treat, I much preferred Grandma's Christmas bread.  That will go into rotation at our house. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Soap is Luscious

I used the first bar of the soap I made this week.  It is amazing!  The lather is rich and creamy, more so than the homemade soaps I buy here and there.  I'm so pleased

I still have a fair amount of lye, but it will take a while to accumulate enough tallow from stock-making for soap.  Soapmaking was a rewarding, quick project for me, so I might find a different recipe and try again.  Do you have a soap recipe to recommend?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reminder: International Ice-Cream-For-Breakfast Day

A week from today, eat ice cream for breakfast.  Just for fun!  Just because it's midwinter! In unity with my family!

I didn't give you advance notice last year, sorry, but I'm all over it this year. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baking Cookies with Ben

Ben always wants "a kitchen job."  He is a good kitchen buddy - compliant, pleasant, and easily entranced.  Today he wanted to help with the bread after breakfast, but we both forgot.  He kept at me and it was so cold outside that I said we could bake cookies.  So we started on Oatmeal Chip Cookies from Mennonite Country-Style (oatmeal, choc chips, and coconut).

He put the measuring cup on the cabinet pull.
Then I realized that I was embarking on a recipe that made 7 dozen cookies and there were rusks and a full 9x13 apple cake in the house already. That is a lot of sweets for a family where the adults are nominal sweets-eaters.

Fortunately, Rebecca advised me that I was simply thinking ahead (riiiiiiight) by freezing little lumps of cookie dough to bake later when the house was shorn of sweets.

I think the idea is to plop the frozen lumps of dough onto a cookie sheet, bang them into a hot oven, and bake for the required time plus a few extra minutes (right?).

That reminds me:  I need to do a post on how I experimented over Christmas with freezing yeasted goods to bake later.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jar Cozies

I've been using canning jars for lots more than canning.  I use them for packed lunches, leftovers, and transporting food to potlucks and parties.  They're tempered glass, so they don't break easily.  They don't leach chemicals into the food and glass is easier to recycle and breaks down faster than plastic.

What's not to love?  The clashing of glass in a lunch bag or picnic basket, that's what. 

While the jars might not break easily, I don't want to tempt breakage by letting them bang up against anything in transport.

So I made two jar cozies to cushion the jars.  I just made 2 fabric cyclinders, one longer than the other and one made out of some quilted cotton from the re-use store.  I stuffed the longer one down into the quilted one and folded the top over and under to stitch down as a neat edge. 

I couldn't resist a fun patch here and there, but I didn't want to get too cutesy with sturdy, hardworking kitchen tools.

Because yes, the cozies have been wonderful. I can even stick a serving spoon down the side. I love this kind of functional sewing!

Any other jar-transporting tricks to share?

(Linking up with the Eat Make Grow Blog Hop for no-spend February!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Going Home

My grandmother died last week, peacefully, mercifully.  Her funeral was yesterday.  She chose the scripture and songs, one of which was Dvorak's "Going Home," a sweet, simple song.

There are two things I have grudgingly come to appreciate about funerals:  the reunion-like quality of all the people who gather, and the way death cuts through my trappings and gives me a chance to reflect.

Ben made a potholder for his granny (my mother), Grandma's eldest.
He thought Granny would be sad because her mother died.  He was right. 

I'm going to be reflecting on Grandma's legacy for a while.  But these are my initial thoughts:
1.  She chose to love her family above all else, even when we changed in ways she could not approve of.  Other people in her generation judged their families unrelentingly.  My grandma chose to let that go.

2.  from the tribute I gave at the funeral: 
"Grandma always was as neat as a pin with firm ideas about cleanliness and tidiness.  Her home was always so soothing to me because it was clean and neat.  Everything always seemed right in Grandma’s world.  I am not so naïve as to think Grandma had a perfect life, but I loved how she created order and serenity around herself.  This is a skill that inspires me."
3.  from the unabridged tribute which I did not read at the funeral:
"Grandma clung to her homemaking ways when she and Grandpa downsized and moved into their cottage.  I remember Aunt Esther shaking her head because she wanted to take Grandma to buy a new coverlet for her bed, but Grandma wanted to cut patches and sew a coverlet herself.  I totally understand.  Grandma was from a generation of women who found their identity in making a home and caring for their families.  I know some of them resented it, and some of their daughters wished they would take time for themselves, but I guess I, a granddaughter, saw the rosy side of this nesting." 
The potholder, wrapped.  Everything chosen by Ben.
4.  My uncle Ron, whose own mother died when he was 16 and who married into our family, observed that our family is "fiercely together."  He said his family is "cordial" to each other, but nothing like this.  It's true.  Sometimes I get weary of the fierce part which leads to competition, jealous tiffs, and snide remarks, but yesterday I saw the gold.
Pondering.  Counting my blessings - I'm humbled and grateful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mend It Better: Book Review

You asked me to tell you what I thought when I was done reading Mend It Better by Kristin Roach. 

Here are the ideas from the book I want to remember:
1.  turning holes in a sweater into flowers by beading around them.
2.  covering up stains on children's shirts with appliques and decorative stitching.
3.  fix holes in socks with crochet instead of darning - the directions for starting crochet on any piece of fabric look very good.  I have a friend who raves about the usefulness of crochet for this reason.  I want to get serious about learning to crochet soon.
4.  patching holes in coat linings instead of relining the coat, especially using blanket stitch to decorate the edges. This can be a hobo look that is not really my thing, though.

The book covers all aspects of mending and does pull in contributions from other people.  However, there are three intriguing garments photographed with no attribution or explanation.  That annoyed me.  I post the photos here.  Aren't the clothes neat?  I want to know more about them!

The price on the back of the book is $18.95.  I'm sticking with my Sewing Stitch and Textile Bible for individual stitches, my Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing for techniques, and the library for whizzy new books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Still Working on the Bierrocks

We made another batch of bierrocks for the freezer, for packed lunches.  I am not pleased enough with the results or confident enough of the technique to post a recipe, but I thought I'd share the bumps along the way.

This was on a Saturday, so I conscripted the children with their rolling pins (we have 2 child-sized ones for this very purpose and for play-doh, of course, and I'm not very careful about getting the play-doh cleaned off, it's true).  They rolled all the dough into little oblong-ish circles. 

My notes on the recipe indicated that "golf-ball-sized" balls of dough made bierrocks that were too big for the children's lunches.  So we aimed smaller and ran out of filling twice.  Twice!  I was annoyed.

The three fillings, in order of preparation:
1.  chopped, steamed broccoli mixed with a cup of strong cheese sauce (a white sauce flavored strongly with some onions, sharp cheese, and dry mustard)
2.  sauerkraut, grated cheese, and mushrooms
3.  peanut butter, apple butter, and raisins

Genevieve had the peanut butter ones in her lunch.  It was her idea to add raisins, and she said the whole thing was tasty.

But apparently I don't have sealing skilz because most of the bierrocks leaked their filling when they were baked - or maybe that was because of the white sauce being too much liquid for this application?  We'll pack lunches through this batch, and when we make bierrockas again, I'll let you know.

By the way, both our children get free lunches at their schools (for different reasons, but it means the same thing to our wallets).  Genevieve strongly prefers a packed lunch from home, but Ben waffles back and forth. 

On one hand, it's annoying to pack lunches and does cost us money, but on the other hand, the school food is inferior and shreds our home food culture.  I know my children are healthier eating home food, which is, in itself, a savings in the long run of medical expenses and missed school days and activities.  So I do cheerfully pack lunches for them and only occasionally suggest mildly that they could have a school lunch.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Knitting for a Car Trip

I'm going away this weekend, and my first thought was what handwork I could do in the car.  So I'm picking up the socks again.  I did not progress well on them last winter, but this time, I got them off to a good start with minimal fuss and only one youtube tutorial, so I'm hopeful.

I'm sitting at this very desk in my room, typing to you (and eating the last piece of sour cherry pie from the last Christmas gathering).

Actually, I'm feeling a knitting period coming on.  I saw Jodi's scarf.  I saw Leila's shawl.  I want to make both those things.  I foresee lots of weekly knitting as I watch Downton Abbey on the PBS website (no TV here, and generally no desire to go out into the cold and dark on Sunday nights to someone else's TV).

That's my happy little coaster that I made for my room a while back.  I noticed it as I was snapping a photo of the future sock this morning.
I'm feeling apathetic about sewing right now and I haven't explored why.  Occasionally I rouse myself to quilt a bit on Ben's quilt.  I'm sure all creative people have these waves, so I'm just going to ride it up and down.  Happy weekend to you!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cranberry Experiments

I adore cranberries, but I usually do two things with them: cranberry applesauce and fresh cranberry relish which my mother-in-law always requests for Thanksgiving. I've also made cranberry orange bread, which was good.

So, I branched out. I saw an idea from Martha Stewart for cranberry cobbler, but I didn't put enough sugar in and it was terribly sour, even with ice cream. But so pretty! But sour.


Then I made pickled cranberries, partly because they called for juniper berries and I was curious. I was so disappointed that the juniper berries did not announce their presence in the pickled cranberries that I thought I didn't like the pickled cranberries. They do really taste like a sweet pickle to me, except that there's cranberry influence. But the flavor is not exotic.

We were not crazy about adding the marinade to seltzer. Apparently, a vinegar drink is a shrub, a drinking vinegar. I like vinegar, but I was suddenly reminded of a time when I was plagued with UTIs (no more details needed!) and one of the remedies was drinking vinegar if cranberry juice was not around. I do not want to remember those days. I guess I'm biased against shrubs.

I do like these pickled cranberries, although they are a bit too tart and puckery to eat on their own; they are marvelous with bread and cheese, next to chicken and turkey, or any bland winter meal that needs a kick.


Any other cranberry experiments I should do?  I still have some bags in my freezer.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Easy-Peasy Lasagna

I think this is my favorite lasagna, even over the homemade noodle version I raved about.  The texture is perfect, there's no pre-cooking, and it's a flexible recipe.  I made this in the December scramble and even bought spaghetti sauce to use in it instead of making my own!  Up until now, I haven't kept lasagna noodles in my pantry as a matter of course, but this recipe has changed that.  Now they are a staple.  The store-bought spaghetti sauce is not.


The flavor of the sauce is key.  Keep it loud enough because it's paired with bland noodles and cheese.  Also, the ratio of sauce to uncooked noodles in this crockpot recipe is important so that the noodles have enough moisture to cook, but not too much to be soupy at the end. 

I subbed in spinach and mushrooms for the ground beef, but you could always add a few slices of sausage or pepperoni, or put in some bell peppers or olives. 

Here the lasagna is served with homemade Italian bread and roasted, marinated Brussels sprouts.


Easy-Peasy Vegetarian Lasagna (I got the basic plan from Convenient Slow Cooker Lasagna in the Fix-it and Forget-it Big Cookbook)

1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1/2 lb. chopped fresh spinach
5 cups spaghetti sauce, the more herbs the better
12 oz. package uncooked lasagna noodles
3 cups grated mild white cheese, mozzarella is expected
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1/4 cup water (if your sauce is on the thin side, skip the water)
grated Parmesan

1.  Grease the insert of a 6-quart crockpot.
2.  Mix together the ricotta and grated white cheese.  Set aside.
3.  Put a little spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the insert.  Put half the mushrooms on top.  I put a few grinds of pepper in here.
4.  Add a layer of noodles on top, breaking as necessary to fit them in, and covering the mushrooms as completely as possible.
5.  Spread 1/3 of the cheese mixture over the noodles.  Add some spinach, some sauce, more noodles, more cheese, etc. etc. Sprinkle in some dried herbs if you think your sauce is not assertive enough.  I always use fennel with Italian tomato sauces.  You'll use up all the stuff except for maybe a few noodles (I suppose you could work to fit them all in - what on earth do you do with a few random lasagna noodles hanging around? Maybe add another tablespoon of water if you use the whole box.).  End the layers with sauce on top. Pour the water in at the edge so as not to disturb the layers.    Sprinkle with Parmesan.
6.  Clap the lid on the slow cooker, turn to high for 30 minutes, then low for 4 hours.  Keep in mind that slow cookers do vary in temperature, so just keep an eye on it the first time you make it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A New Stack of Library Books

There is a librarian who watches out for me because she knows I like to make things.  I am so warmed by her kindness and interest.  She will catch a book going through the system and put it aside for me.  When I went to the library to pick up some other books I had reserved (The Homemade Pantry, Vintage Cakes), there was a surprise from her rubber-banded to the others:  a mending book.  My heart jumped.  Mending!  Codified!  Explained! Photographed!

I didn't get to have a Sunday afternoon on the couch with the books because I was at the last Christmas gathering with my dad's side of the family.  I truly didn't mind.  They are lovely, polite people who know how to make conversation, so it's truly enjoyable to spend the day with them catching up.

So these books will be my bus reading this week and next. Have you read any of them?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Grandma's Christmas Bread, Russian Kulich

Maybe it's because strokes have reduced my grandma's vocabulary to "yes" that I have lots of questions for her. One of my burning questions: Grandma, how did you make your Christmas bread? I asked my mom and several aunts to see if they knew where the recipe came from. Luckily for me, Aunt Elena had copied it down and she generously went out of her way to get it to me. She warned me that the bread never rose very well for her.

Grandma made this bread every Christmas. It has a mixed reception in the family. I wasn't sure I remembered the exact taste, but I have a very clear memory of Tampa, Florida, in the 1980s at Aunt Elena's house on a quiet street in a development, on a shiny, sunny Christmas morning. I was standing next to the counter close to the screened-in porch, there was a toaster, and it was scenting up the kitchen toasting Christmas bread. Cousins were running and screaming everywhere and I was wearing shorts in the middle of winter. Lovely.

So I hunted around for the weird fruit-ish things in this bread and started a batch.  Then, I googled the name, "Russian Kulich," which was also written on the recipe.  Turns out, it's Russian Easter bread.  Now I have another burning question for Grandma:  Grandma, how did this Russian Easter recipe get into our Swiss-German family and why do you make it at Christmas, not Easter?

In 1994, I was in Russia over Easter time and I do recall eating a tall, eggy white bread.  I do not recall fruit in the bread, but it was a gorgeously elaborate Orthodox Easter, so I'm sure I've forgotten some details.

I am so pleased with this bread; it's delicately fruity and not overly sweet.  We had our bread toasted with butter, alongside grapefruit halves and homemade eggnog.  Ben worked very hard with the grapefruit knife for the first time, a pleasant little kitchen chum. It was the perfect winter white morning outside, and then the sun broke over the breakfast table.

Russian Kulich - Grandma's Christmas Bread

1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 eggs
2 cups white-whole-wheat flour
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
grated rind of 1 large lemon
grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup citron (fruit cake mix)
1/4 cup chopped candied cherries

1.  In a saucepan, heat milk until almost boiling.  Turn off heat.  Add sugar, butter, and salt.  Stir.  Set aside to cool to lukewarm.
2.  Combine yeast with warm water in large bowl.  Add lukewarm milk mixture and eggs. 
3.  Add 1 1/2 cups flour, either kind, and beat well with a sturdy whisk for 2 minutes.
4.  Add the zest, nuts, and fruits.  Stir.
5.  Add enough flour to make a soft dough.  Knead 5-8 minutes, until satiny.  Form into a tight ball.
6.  Lift up the ball of dough and pour a tablespoon of oil in the bowl.  Rub the dough in the oil and oil the dough and the bowl.  Put a damp kitchen towel over the dough in the bowl and allow to rise until nearly doubled - 1-2 hours or a little more.
7.  Punch down and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Form 3 loaves, oil them, and place in greased 8x5 bread pans.  Cover again with damp towel and allow to rise until almost double, maybe 1 hour.
8.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.  Turn out of pans to cool completely.  Slice when cool.  Excellent toasted with butter.  Mom recalls that Grandma used to ice the tops of her loaves with confectioners sugar icing and then decorate them with cherries and green frosting leaves.

Notes on the recipe: 
a. You can replace the white whole wheat flour with white flour, but I would not use regular whole wheat flour in this recipe; this is a delicate, eggy bread and the white whole wheat flour is unobtrusive.

b. Grandma's recipe called for candied orange peel, but I couldn't get my hands on any and didn't feel like making it; plus, I figured the fresh orange zest would give the bread a nice lift.

c.  It's because this is a family recipe that I'm willing to use this crazy candied crap fruit.  It's loaded with preservatives, coloring, and other stuff I can't pronounce and am pretending not to see.  La la la la la, not listening!

d.  Unlike Aunt Elena's, I think my bread rose just fine and baked up beautifully.  I made sure to give it plenty of time to rise, however.

e.  If you're going to lose all your words and be left with just one, isn't it beautiful that the word is "yes?"  I love you, Grandma.  I love making your bread and tasting memories.