Friday, May 30, 2014

Spring in the Urban Garden

Lots of garden activity going on around here!  I snapped some pictures, and this is a long post.

The lovage overwintered in the big pot.  I added thyme and purple basil, as well as some flowers.

Two weeks later, it is lustrous and lush.  And I did add a chervil plant to the side there.

The pots on the front porch posts got begonias and winter savory (still haven't looked up how it's different from summer savory). 

And we got the casualties of potting for pretty:  a marigold and a twig of savory.  I am eternally grateful to A for giving me tiny vases.  I don't always have a big fancy bouquet, but I always have tiny ones.

The hen-and-chicks succulent is coming back in Ben's old sneakers.  

In the spirit of spring, I suddenly furbished up a wire stand I found in the trash several years ago.  Doesn't it look nice in red spray paint?  It holds the shoes now, as well as a baby bay tree (and a clay pot for some stability).  That's a pot of mint next to it.  The winter killed it off in the pot, so I dug some out of my bed and repotted it.  In midsummer, the mint in the bed struggles and gets spotty while the pot keeps going strong.  The bed is close to a black walnut tree, and it's also rather damp there.  

This is a praying mantis nest that our friend Harley gave us.  They will hatch any day now.  We glance at the nest every time we go in and out the back door.

I successfully transplanted an enormous (to me) rhubarb plant from my friend Naomi.  My neighbor identified the vine growing on the fence as a clematis, although it's a mystery to us where it came from. 

Naomi also gave me a big bag of cut rhubarb from another plant.  After several pies, a batch of chutney, and a batch of rosemary rhubarb jam, I am contemplating pickling the rest.

I had put the rosemary plant back outside into a garden bed, but it seemed to be getting powdery mildew.  After a little online research, I yanked it out of the bed and potted it in a clay pot and set it where it could catch the sun and breezes.  Fingers crossed.

And this is spinach, cut from our raised bed from a spring planting.  I absolutely love going out to my back yard and getting something good to eat.  I think I am getting the hang of this gardening thing so I can do that more often.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Angel Biscuits

I love recipes that give me some time between the start and the finish - somehow it feels like a luxury to have this beautiful food appear at the end with minimal fuss!  The work is not really less, of course, just spaced out.  I started finding these recipes and shortcuts when I had babies and could never depend on a chunk of time in the kitchen.

My new favorite recipe, courtesy of Rebecca, is angel biscuits.  They remind me more of rolls than biscuits, but the texture is delicate and melting.

I like to bake them for a breakfast bread, or serve them as dinner rolls with jam. You can't beat the freshly-baked bread scent or warm bread in your hand!

Angel Biscuits

Combine in a measure that can hold at least 2 1/2 cups and set aside:
1 Tbsp. yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water

In a large bowl that has a lid, combine:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour (I bet you could increase this proportionately)
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt

Cut in:
3/4 cup shortening (could probably use butter or part lard)

Add to yeast mixture:
2 cups buttermilk, sour milk, kefir, or whey

Stir buttermilk mixture into flour mixture just until a soft dough forms.  Clap the lid on the bowl and refrigerate.  Keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge.  When you want some biscuits, take a hunk of sticky dough, put it on a floured surface, sprinkle lightly with flour, and roll gently to 3/4" thickness.  Cut into rounds or cut the whole thing in a grid for square biscuits with no re-rolling.  Space apart on baking sheet. Bake at 400 F for 11-12 minutes until nicely browned and also springy to the touch.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Repelling Moths without Chemicals

The other day I killed a moth inside that looked suspicious.  When my husband got some of his shirts out of a storage closet, there were tiny holes in one.  Drat it!

I took everything out of the closets and aired it.  I am pretty careful to wash everything before it goes into storage for the season, so I've been adding loads of winter clothes to my regular laundry here and there.  I probably ought to clean the closets, too, but I'm on to outside projects at the moment.

After a little research, I came across a way to repel moths with a herb/spice mixture.  I used a quarter of the original recipe.

Moth-Repelling Sachets
1/2 oz. dried rosemary (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 oz. dried mint (about 1 cup)
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
2 oz. whole cloves (about 1 cup)

Place mixture in tea sachets or fabric bags.  Hang in closets or tuck between layers of folded clothes.

I made some hanging sachets as well.  I put about 4 sachets in each closet that stores clothing and quilts.  I plan to air the contents of the closets in the sunshine at least once this summer, and I intend to thoroughly clean the closets at that point, too. Let's hope it works!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ben is 6

Actually, he turned six on Easter and wanted a birthday treat for the whole church's Easter breakfast.  I baked 7 loaves of paska, a rich yeast bread flavored with lemons and oranges, with icing and sprinkles on top.  Ben was sold on the icing and sprinkles, I was sold on the easy bake-ahead-and-freeze factor.  I never took any pictures of the bread, for some reason.

Then there was his requested birthday cake.  He wanted a chocolate cake covered with white icing with green around the edges.  As far as I could tell, he was describing a layer cake that was totally iced (he wasn't impressed by the paltry amount of ganache that was "icing" my birthday cake; never mind that it was a delicious cake).  I made a wacky cake in 2 round pans.  I put peanut butter icing between the layers for some extra flavor, and iced the whole thing with cheater Italian meringue. Then I tinted some Italian meringue green and experimented with piping it.  

The blank spot is for the 6 candle (re-used, of course).

It worked pretty well, although the lines softened after several hours. What did not work was my vintage cake cover.  It was too small!  Which led to a strange contraption on my counter involving my dishpan and several dishtowels.  

Fortunately, Ben loved his cake, and it tasted good, so everyone was happy.

I was even happier when I bought a cake stand and dome.  The dome is actually acrylic because I like its shape and I was nervous about a large, fragile glass cover. I'm planning to use the cake stand for more than just cakes, and I want the children to be able to use it, too. (The cake stand debuted on Mother's Day with the poppyseed violet cake, when I realized I wanted to tell you about piping Italian meringue.)

There were presents, too, and quite special that his sister thought of him and bought him gifts with her own money. 

It's a joy to have a big boy in the house!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Special for Aunt Maggie

Because she asked, because I'm her namesake, because she loves all things ya-ya and sweet. . . .

a bib apron and a clothespin bag to go with her new house in the country.

Aunt Maggie fell in love with the vintage kitchen curtains in my stash, but there wasn't much fabric for a bib apron, so I asked Rebecca if she had a nice, skimpy apron pattern.  She did!  It's from her great-grandmother, and it was so fragile and old that I felt compelled to trace it out first before using it.

The instructions assumed I knew a lot more about sewing than I did, so I also took notes as I sewed, just as I would do with a new recipe that I was tinkering with.

I'm definitely planning to sew more of these aprons.  So charming with just a yard of fabric, some rick rack, and some bias tape!  Might even sew a few for my shop. . .

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reusing an Old Children's Book

I have a lot of fun doing the Pinterest boards for A's creative reuse shop.  However, I am appalled at some of the projects people do with perfectly good antiques, clothes, and books.  I like to repurpose things that are otherwise junk, but I hate to see perfectly good books cut up for art, secret boxes, and planters.  Horrors!

Here, we have a vintage book that a couple at church passed on to us in a box of books.  It was coverless, and the pages were so browned and fragile that they almost crumbled to the touch.  The illustrations were so dear and droll that I couldn't bear to recycle it, however.  I finally knew what to do with it when I needed a new baby card.  I simple cut out the right picture with its fragile side and sewed it onto a blank card.  Charming, easy, and very appropriate reuse!

Monday, May 12, 2014

And Violets on the Cake

We don't usually do much for Mother's Day, but my sister and I thought perhaps we could get all the family together for a dinner. We discussed going to a restaurant, but I suddenly felt that I wanted a home-based celebration and thought of a simple menu to keep me easygoing.  I also wanted to use my new cake stand and dome. (Oh! I suddenly realized I never wrote up the post about Ben's birthday which included a layer cake and accompanying "discoveries").

2 roasted chickens with rosemary, garlic and lemon with potatoes and carrots
roasted asparagus
angel biscuits with homemade beet jelly
poppyseed cake with custard and whipped cream (actual recipes I used on my Recipe Verdicts board)
kiwi, pineapple, and purple grapes

Aunt Mel for the win! (wishbone with Genevieve)
Melanie brought some of the food, the beet jelly was from Mom's cousin, and everyone chipped in to help ferry dishes back and forth and wash up. It was a lovely time and everyone said the food was perfect (I humbly agree - I was so pleased).

The chickens were absolutely succulent. I attribute this mostly to the local Amish farm where I bought them!  I put a sliced lemon and some garlic cloves inside them, sprinkled them well with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and roasted them breast up at 400 F for 1 hour with the lid on, and then another hour with the lid off. I wasn't expecting them to take that long, but I had allowed enough time for a long rest before carving, so they simply had a shorter rest. I made a quick pan gravy thickened with milk and flour, with an extra sprinkle of poultry herbs and pepper. The leftover carcasses and shreds are simmering into stock in my Crockpot down cellar, to be canned tomorrow.

The cake was delicious, but it cost me some swear words.  I made it the day before, and I didn't slice the layers horizontally because they were so fragile, but then the custard blobbed out the edges and the whipped cream frosting was quite soft, so the whole thing looked pudgy at the bottom.  I shut it up in the fridge and resolved to make it into a trifle with frozen raspberries early Sunday morning if I needed to.  Well, it held up, so we decorated it with violets and my husband took photos.

The violets are fading and the dandelions have gone to seed.  I'm so pleased with the ways we enjoyed violets this year. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Job Opening: Team Leader, Laborer, and Domestic Mastermind

Here's a little job description I amused myself with as I looked for a new job this spring.  Just in time for Mother's Day. . . 

The right person for this three-tier job will provide support to other team members to gain increased efficiencies and profitabililty by possessing skills in the following areas:

1. Prepare three meals daily for team members, using proper nutritional balances, fresh ingredients, and various ethnic styles. Must demonstrate skill within budgetary limitations.  Nutritious snacks as requested. Occasional gourmet meals for visiting guests. Provide on-the-job training to junior staff.  Tasks may include other aspects of coordinating and maintaining a 24-hour kitchen and dining room.
2. Maintain inventory including, but not limited to, the following categories: clothes, food, cleaning agents, office supplies, garden supplies. Demonstrate skill within budgetary limitations and stock rotation. Purchase new equipment and supplies as needed for maximum efficiency. Car and company credit card supplied.
3. Manage all aspects of laundry, including training junior staff and acquiring new garments as needed to surmount growth spurts, stains, carelessness, and changing styles.  Experience with mending required.
4. Ensure optimal cleanliness and appearance in building, supervising junior staff as needed. Daily tidying encouraged.  Organize and perform weekly cleaning as well as periodic deep cleaning.
5. Manage incoming paper and mail daily so that other team members can locate their papers up to one year later. Schedule appointments as needed. Handle accounts payable.
6. Manage social calendar, maintaining appropriate stature in neighborhood, school, church, and general acquaintances.  Explore and initiate proper enrichment activities for junior staff.  Transport junior staff as needed.
7. Provide assistance to the Significant Team Member as requested.  Duties and hours vary.  Flexibility and cooperation is key.
8. Provide assistance to junior staff as requested.  Unlimited hours.  Patience and kindness required.

An ideal candidate can perform these duties enthusiastically, consistently, and skillfully.

Daily hours:  6am-9pm, breaks by chance only, on call 24 hours a day

No salary. No sick days. Benefits package includes contentment, frustration, love, antidepressants, and coffee.  Health insurance provided through Significant Team Member (we hope). Disability insurance and 401-k provided through junior staff's future careers and largesse.

No opportunity for advancement.

Photos on this post from a trip we took to New York which included the Staten Island Ferry and Central Park.

And the job I was looking for?  I landed several freelance editing contracts that are just right. I am still getting the hang of working from home, but in general, we are doing well and I am very pleased.