Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Finery and Food

We were quite fancy for Easter this year, except for the mister who protested that he was wearing a blazer at least.

Genevieve wore the Holly Hobbie outfit that Grandma sewed for me in the 1970s.  It is exquisitely sewn, with sheer eyelet and candy-like buttons and ruffles.  And a bonnet! 

I am wearing the dotted black dress I have had for 10 years and rely upon for every dressy occasion, with a hat I have had even longer but always wore plain.  This year, I tried my hand at millinery and fancied it up with a homemade flower, feathers from the creative reuse store, and a twist of tulle.

Ben did not request a new bowtie, and I didn't volunteer to make one because the plaid is so Easter-y.

As for food, I hosted my in-laws this year, although we halved the food assignments, so it wasn't much work for me. 

It's possible that some people iron tablecloths when they get them out of the drawer. 
I made an apple cake from Rustic Fruit Desserts, recommended by Rebecca, that was delicious. 
I neglected to take a picture of the ham; in a burst of Southern cheer, I used the Coca-cola glaze.  It was fine, but I have buckets (almost a quart) of the stuff mixed with ham drippings left over.  It's pretty sweet.  What on earth should I do with it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday and Getting Ready

The pretty flowers are ready.  Our church takes flowers to the meetinghouse on Easter morning to decorate it.

I'm so happy I found two boxes of my childhood things, just in time to wash up the Holly Hobbie dress Grandma made me for Genevieve to wear on Easter.  It looks to be chilly for short sleeves and sandals and the dress reeks of mothballs, but Genevieve and I are both excited to link our girlhoods. (And stay tuned for the Fashion Plates!)

Today is my birthday, and I am wearing a necklace that Genevieve made me with the guidance of Aunt Mel (thank goodness, because the funny necklace G made for herself is eye-popping in its ingenuity).  At the bus stop this morning, I told Genevieve she may wear my necklace sometimes if she likes because she simply adores doo-dads, and she said quite kindly, "No, Mom, that's okay, I have my own diamond."  She does, indeed, have a Chinese diamond as the centerpiece in her necklace.

The real part of my day:  making my own birthday tart and concealing it from family and guests until late tonight.  You see, our church is having Agape meals in homes tonight.  We are hosting a meal.  We will have a simple soup supper with our brothers and sisters, while reading Scripture through The Last Supper.  There will be foot-washing and communion.  We will end quite soberly and leave quietly.  And then (don't tell!) I will whisk my family back to the dining room for lemon tart and a little birthday fun!  I'm pretty sure Jesus will like that, too.

We are getting ready for Easter!
(And this post is a collection of moments that are pretty, happy, funny, and real - linking up with Leila and Rosie)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ben's Quilt is Done

Just in time for the end of winter, here is Ben's quilt!

I have been happily adding a bit of handquilting with white perle cotton for the last couple of weeks, almost overdosing on girly movies after the children are in bed and my husband is studying for an exam, but enjoying myself nonetheless.

This is the first quilt where I combined handquilting and machine quilting. It was a lovely balance, as I didn't get tired of either method. I think the perle cotton quilting really adds a nice spark to the texture created by the machine quilting.

I'm quite proud of the machine quilted border and how the corners are 90 degrees and match up to the bound corners!  The binding is also exquisitely done.

Other things that could have been improved on:  the backing did get folded and quilted such in a few places.  My careful pinning and walking foot still did not prevent that.  A few of the quilting lines are not straight, but that isn't obvious unless you turn over the quilt. 

I do really regret not matching the gingham where I had to piece the strip at the bottom of the patchwork, but oh well.  I'm not a perfectionist, and my boy is deliriously happy to have this quilt. 

When I presented it to him, he was speechless, and then he laid it on the floor and rolled on it in love.  Well, melt my heart.

And, oh, lovely, I get to consider the next quilt.  I'm pretty sure I want to work on an unfinished quilt top my Aunt Nancy gave me.  She started it in college from her childhood dress fabrics. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Casserole + Short-Cut White Sauce

So, I've blogged about this casserole before which takes a can of cream soup.  You realize that cream of mushroom soup can be replaced by a homemade white sauce?  It's just that most people consider it more convenient to open a can than stand over the stove, stirring.  I do.  Making white sauces gets on my nerves.  I just usually avoid recipes that call for cream-of soups because I don't feel like making a white sauce.  Nothing annoys me more than doing a bunch of stovetop cooking with a dish and then baking it as well.  Humph. 


This method (below) of making a white sauce has me so excited because it's foolproof and fast!

My senior editor has been making her white sauces in the microwave for years and it's awesome, especially suited to the casserole application because it lessens the sting (in my mind) of cooking it twice. 

The method:

2 Tbsp. butter in glass measure (I have a 2-cup one that works perfectly)

Get it hot and melted in the microwave.

Add a bit of chopped onion or mushrooms or both.

Microwave for 30 seconds.

Whisk in 2 Tbsp.  flour.  Microwave for 45 seconds or so.

Pour in 1 cup milk and whisk it.  It will be lumpy, but the lumps will dissolve with additional cooking.

Now, microwave in 45-60 second increments, whisking after each increment, until sauce is thick and smooth.  It takes about 4 1-minute increments in my old feeble microwave.  Sure beats standing over the stove stirring stirring stirring!

The benefits, as I see them:

1.  no can of chemical-ly soup
2.  local ingredients
3.  fast (have I mentioned how fast this is?)
4.  the children can do the microwaving and stirring!  They loved being involved like this and there's no open flame to worry about!

the finished Make-Ahead Chicken Casserole

I think I would still make a traditional white sauce with a roux for the flavor if the sauce was going to be the star of the show in creamed spinach, say, or cheese sauce.

So, anyway, besides the chicken casserole, the rest of Sunday dinner was cranberry applesauce, sauteed chard with balsamic vinegar and garlic, and then, for dessert cardamom cake (a Moosewood recipe, like pound cake, only laced with cardamom, walnuts, and cinnamon).  And we all sipped some decaf cardamom coffee, too (just add a pod or two of cardamom to coffee beans and grind them up together).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Day at the Free Museum

It's so worthwhile to sleuth around and find out if you can get into regional museums for free.  Our library actually has free passes to 6 local museums that you can check out!

Recently, we took a day trip to a local museum for free - normally, tickets for our family would have been close to $30.  We packed a picnic lunch of bread, jarred salmon spread, cheese, salami, apples, cookies, and water; gas in the car was our only expense (although I almost bought a straw broom for the children).

Pretty:  Genevieve put a dried weed in her hair and posed in the sunshine.

And the lichens on the old rail fence were pretty.

Happy:  I am in a photo with my babies!  Thank you, Mr.Thrift.  It was a good family day.

Funny:  the children dipped some candles.  However, the colonial chickie did not explain anything to the kids, not even "dip the string down in the stuff that looks like water but is melted wax," so there was great confusion and timidity.  She acted annoyed with them, as if they had been colonial children who were responsible for making candles for the household every fall and why could they not form a line?  We didn't finish the candles and I didn't mind because they weren't beeswax.

Real:  I was reminded again how many labor-saving devices I have and how little time I actually spend on basic human necessities such as food and shelter.  The process for creating fabric to make clothes from was incredibly involved - no wonder people only had 2 sets of clothes and mending was an art.

I got to show the children this trundle bed, something we had read about in the Little House books.

Those are straw ticks, too, which sound so charming in books but in reality, when I touched it, I couldn't imagine sleeping on that scratchy, lumpy thing.  It's good to contrast my modern life with the olden days - I learn that I like my comforts and modern conveniences and I'm not as hardy as I think I am!

I'm linking up with Leila and Rosie's collection of pretty happy funny real.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Answer to Everything is Popcorn


Want to give the kids a snack at playdate?

Don’t know what to take to the party, any party?

Don’t feel like cooking or going out?
Want to stock a local, cheap, healthy snack?

Need to send a snack to school for a class party?

Want to please a group of picky eaters?

Invite friends over at the last minute on Sunday evening? Add apples and cheese and call it a party. Dig around for some pickles or frozen cookies to add to the fun.

Need a cheap snack to keep on hand for lunches that your husband won’t eat in his nightly snack prowl? (He’s not going to go to the bother actually making the popcorn for himself, you know - he's not that hungry).

Wouldn't you agree that the answer to everything is popcorn?  Those scenarios I listed are all ones that are true for me.  Maybe you have a different answer - do share, please!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Recent Kitchen Flops

Since I was writing about the "abundance of a certain material to make an impact" in my last post, let's talk about my spate of kitchen flops as a blog post.  Here they are in order.

1. I didn't use my sourdough starter for a week or so because I made a batch of oatmeal bread with regular ol' yeast for my mother who was convalescing from a terrible bout of flu.  The bread was like manna from heaven for her, so that warmed my heart.  But. But. But. I mixed up a batch of sourdough bread.  I left the sourdough loaves to rise overnight and in 12 hours, they had hardly risen. I, the old kitchen genius, baked them anyway and handily underbaked them while I was at it.  So they came out like bricks with doughy centers.  I'm pretending nothing is wrong and I just toast it before it gets eaten, but it's embarrassing.  I will not neglect my starter again!

2.  Around the time of the pink living room, I made a batch of Jeni's black coffee ice cream that was truly the most divine thing I put in my mouth this year.  Then last week I made a second batch, dreaming of that flavor, and lo, I messed it up.  It acquired too much liquid (milk? water?  did I just totally space out and add water???) and it's so hard and ice-crystally and the intoxicating flavor is totally diluted.  Very sad.  Tonight I pried a few icy scoops out and added them to vanilla seltzer to make floats, but still sad.

3.  I was charging through my excellent recipe for hot-and-sour soup when I reached in the back of the fridge to get my staple box of tofu and it was a frozen-solid brick.  Apparently the cold spot had gotten really cold.  Bless my husband for grabbing up a whiny kid and whipping out the car and returning with tofu in hand.  It wasn't exactly my fault, but on the heels of these other flops, I was not cheered.

4.  Yesterday I was making a lemon sponge pie when I realized I had poured in 2 1/2 cups of milk instead of 1 1/2 cups.  I was horrified.  All that butter, eggs, sugar, wasted?  I had nothing to lose, so I poured off a cup of the filling and baked it beside the pie like a custard.  I actually put it in the fridge and did not look at it yet - maybe it's a sauce?   The pie itself was oozy and watery around the edges, so I put it in the freezer for an hour before I served it today and guess what?! It was fine!  The flavor was not diluted too much and the custard was just set from the freezer.

Want to share any of your recent kitchen woes?  I could use another laugh.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Storing Extension Cords a Better Way

I won't show you a before photo because it's just unpleasant to look at a tangle of cords in a plastic bag.  I had seen and pinned a tidy box full of toilet paper roll tubes holding cords.

Below is my good-enough version.  I'm pleased.  It took me less than 10 minutes to sort and bundle up the cords and label the box.  Back to the closet it goes and I get a little thrill of pleasure at having yet one more detail nailed in my house.

The only catch to this project is that you have to patiently set aside t.p. tubes and conceal them from crafty children in such a way that you remember where they are when you want them.

One last thought:  so many of the projects I see on Pinterest rely on an abundance of a certain material to make an impact:  hundreds of pennies for a backsplash, 20 old doors for a neat wall, 15 old buckets for a planter display, etc, etc. This is a design lesson.  If you don't have a lot of money to decorate, buy one inexpensive something and buy a lot of it (yellow mums, for example, or yards and yards of sheer curtains). I want to look around and see what abundant odd materials I have and make a design statement in that manner.  Ahem.  Toilet paper tubes.  Right.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Soft-Boiled Eggs

For years I avoided soft-boiled eggs because I thought they were runny. I don't like runny egg yolk - just a weird quirk of mine.  Then I saw a photo on The Kitchn of congee with an egg that I suddenly realized was soft-boiled and I wanted to eat it.

So I made congee in my slow cooker overnight.  It's 1 cup of rice cooked very slowly for hours in lots of liquid until it makes porridge.  I had heard of it before and was curious.  We weren't crazy about it.  I think it falls under the comfort-foods-you-have-to-grow-up-with-to-love category.

I served the congee for breakfast with a softboiled egg on top.  Suddenly I knew what people were talking about when they said "two-minute eggs" (all those British novels, all these years - now I know!).  Turns out, I really like two-minute eggs; I think softboiled eggs can be even runnier, though, right?
  The way I made my soft-boiled eggs was to start as if making hardboiled eggs:  cold eggs in cold water to cover over low-medium heat.  When they came to a gentle boil, I timed the soft-boiled eggs for 2-3 minutes (for hardboiled eggs, I turn off the heat and let the eggs sit undisturbed for 15 minutes).

This was also over the time that Ben was just recovering from the yuck, and he was quite pleased to have an egg and a slice of white toast, homemade whole wheat toast being a bit too rough for his stomach yet.  I boiled his solitary egg in a tiny little pot from a cooking set my mother-in-law got for the children (from Ikea, I think).  And I was glad for all my odd little saucers, ramekins, limoncello glasses, and espresso cups to serve him tiny portions in adorable style.

He's now back to regular boy eating and stayed at the table a full 30 minutes after the rest of us at lunch today, eating and eating and eating.  He cleaned up a bunch of leftovers for me.  I love it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Bias-Cut Copper Skirt

For reasons I have not examined, I think I look frumpy in khakis.  So I bought tropical-weight copper wool on sale to make myself a skirt.  I used a pattern someone gave me and did not realize I was driving into new sewing territory, Bias Town.

In Bias Town, you must let the fabric hang up overnight to allow it to stretch itself out fully.  I did know that.  But I did not know that zippers in Bias Town require different treatment, so I blithely sewed the zipper in and it rippled like a snake, like a bad home ec. project, like homemade-not-in-a-good-way. 

The rest of the skirt sewed together beautifully - the hem alone is worth wearing the skirt inside out so you can see my perfect hem lace.

Thanks to my husband for the photos!

Well, that skirt stayed neglected in my closet for a full year and I just did not have any tan-ish bottoms and finally I needed that color so much that I got new directions and tried again. 

I unpicked the zipper.  I used my iron to shrink the stretched out bias.  I applied interfacing down the seam lines.  I sewed in the zipper again.  It looked perfect and I started wearing the skirt triumphantly, but I see now, a month or so later, that it has started to sag into a little ripple again.  Drat and blast. 

In the future, I will skirt (ha!) around Bias Town zippers (ha!) and let the professionals sew them in for me.

In the meantime, I am trying to hold my waning interest in my winter wardrobe by wearing dark tights with my chestnut-colored Dansko sandals and the copper skirt. 

But I'm planning sleeveless dresses in my daydreams.