Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Happy City

"If you woke up this morning and decided to try a completely different method of getting to work, could you do it?  Could you walk there?  Ride a bicycle? Or catch a bus or a train that would get you there in the time it took to read the paper?  Could you mix and match your modes?  Now take it further.  Does getting to a grocery store or a doctor's office or a restaurant without a car seem like a pretty big chore?  Can your children walk or cycle to school safely on their own?  If you think these are unreasonable questions, then chances are, real choice has been designed out of your city.  You may still benefit from the tremendous utility of your automobile, but the system is impoverishing you and your family and friends in ways you have never imagined.  How do we build systems that truly make us free in cities?"  Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

These are photos of Ben from last summer.  

And the quote is relevant to discussions my husband and I have been having recently, especially in light of a pecha-kucha on walkability he took part in and some work he did with Jeff Speck.  Living downtown, we walk to our destinations quite often.  Also, our city church has recently launched a challenge to the congregation to try a more earth-friendly way of getting to church every fourth Sunday. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tweaking Two of My Standard Recipes

I do like to mess around with recipes, even my standard recipes I've made for years.  It's one of the perks of my job as a cookbook editor to get ideas from other peoples' recipes and then there's Pinterest, where I collect recipes that I'm curious about (and I do have a board, Recipe Verdicts, where I make notes on my results).

In this case, I was thinking of other ways to flavor sticky buns, which I usually make caramel pecan. I decided to see if I could bring in the flavors of cardamom balls, sort of a baklava-type profile.

I used my standard sweet roll dough and method (recipe in this post).  When the dough was rolled into a rectangle, I spread it with 3 Tbsp. softened butter.  I sprinkled on 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, 1 cup finely chopped walnuts, and 1 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom mixed with 1/3 cup brown sugar.  I rolled up the dough and sliced it into rounds.  I placed the rounds in a pan that was buttered with 2 Tbsp. butter with 1/3 cup honey drizzled evenly over it.  I followed the baking method for the recipe I linked to above.

Genevieve was very impressed that I was making up a recipe - she thinks this recipe could make me famous, bless her heart.  She was worried that I wasn't writing it down as I went along, so she got a paper and pencil and recorded the measurements and ingredients as I went along (I wasn't really measuring - I was guessing for the sake of her efforts).

Her book at breakfast, however, was much more fascinating than the buns.

Delicious!  I might try adding a sesame presence next time - either toasted sesame seeds in the dough, or perhaps some tahini spread inside the buns with the other goodies.

Then I took Jennifer's raves about Ruth Reichl's cherry pie to heart.  I made my standard sour cherry pie, but I used Ruth Reichl's fabulous crumb topping instead of the traditional pie crumbs I use.  Amazing!  I think I will be trying Ruth Reichl's crumbs on some other fruit pies as well.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday Life

Some random photos of our life recently, organized by pretty/happy/funny/real, the blog round-up that Leila and Rosie do.


These might be my favorite hotpads to date.  I did list them in the shop, although I'm still thinking of yanking them out and keeping them.

I just love the colors together.  I'm on a hunt for duck-egg blue, which is very hard to find - a kind of calm blue-green, a kind of muted aqua?  It's hard to describe and find, but if I squint at these hotpads, I see it.

Also, I love the handmade wonkiness in these.


Ben is 7 now and he thinks he had the best birthday ever.  Granny and Grandpa took him up to the cabin to meet some cousins for a weekend of fishing and endless (junk) food and paddle-boating and no chores.  Then, at home, he had a birthday meal of his choosing that ended with his favorite Banoffee Pie.  He was so disgruntled at having to go to school on his actual birthday that he put on his pajamas when he got home, even though I reminded him that Grandpa and Grandma were coming for his birthday dinner.  So much for the dignity of dress that I referred to yesterday!

photos by my husband 


The boy and his daddy read books in a cozy pile on the sofa in the evening.  Ben is devouring chapter books at a crazy speed, several a week, sometimes re-reading old favorites until I can get a new batch.  Thank goodness we live a block from the big library because I would be loathe to purchase all the books his appetite needs!


This is the vintage bassinet given to us by former neighbors of my parents.  My handy mother-in-law made a new flannel lining for it  just before Ben was born, and I put together the plain white skirt.

 Genevieve and I both agree the bassinet gives us the urge to play dollies.  Well, we are waiting for our real little dolly to be born any day now.  I thought I was in labor yesterday, but I feel quite normal today.  Such is the end of pregnancy sometimes!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Up to Some Mending Tricks

I was visiting my friend Mary Anne and we got into discussing mending, particularly a tricky zipper job that she wanted to do.  Then she showed me how she can slip a pant leg or sleeve on her sewing machine because of its space under the bobbin case.  I went home (fully loaded with a boppy, clothes, moby wrap, and baby extras she offered me - ah, the generosity of other mothers!) and went straight to my machine to see if I, too, had that handy space.  I do!

How has this escaped my notice for 7 years?  What is this called?  Does your machine have it?

 Of course, sliding a leg or sleeve onto this space means that I can't turn the fabric in all directions to patch a hole, so I use parallel stitching lines to mend.  For a really big hole, I think I would still rip out a side seam so I could really maneuver the problem area under the needle.

I slide off the plastic tray to reveal the smaller spaces where I can slide on a pant leg or sleeve.  I hope the photos make up for my lack of vocabulary for these machine parts!
But so often, I just want to quickly stitch up a hole and get the clothing back in service - I try to match my mending speed to the children's growth, which means I need to be fast.

When I started mending and darning, I was so proud that I took photos of every project.  Now, I mend so often that I rarely stop for a photo.

Recently, I mended these black pants for Ben - both knees had small holes.  They are knit pants, what we call "soft pants" around here and reserve for wearing at home or to bed, which is my attempt to preserve some dignity in public life.

Then I patched a strange hole near the hem of Genevieve's jeans.

I also patched a hole in my pajama sleeve that I got one morning as I was tearing (literally) out the back door with a full load of wet laundry to hang before we walked to school.

And then there was the loose flap of velcro on my husband's biking shoes, the unraveled seam on one of Ben's slippers, and the loosened stitching on a coat seam.  And I'm not even sure I could guess at how many socks I darned this winter - a lot, I know!  I love mending because it's so much faster than starting a whole garment from scratch.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Layette: Nursing Cover and More About the Wipes

The baby is not here yet, but I am spending all my time in serious preparation (a.k.a., nesting) which is why I have been silent in this space; I haven't even stopped often to take photos for blogging purposes.  I ask myself if I would rather do X with an infant in my arms or in utero, and yes, I would far rather buy socks for Ben, pay bills, clean blinds, bake bread, and such like while the baby is still safely inside. Any time I have a few items on my grocery list, I go shopping; this is efficient only in the sense that the baby could come any minute (my kids' italics).  

I'm enjoying myself, really.  I know for a fact that nothing was ready when Genevieve made her surprise appearance (3 1/2 weeks early) and I have an absolute blank about preparations before Ben (I had a toddler running around - I think that accounts for it).

I've noticed the young things using nursing covers, and I love this idea for times when I want to stay with the people or the activity, but the baby needs to nurse.  I doubt I will use the cover at home or around familiar people; I doubt I will even use the cover as the baby gets older and we become brisk nursing partners (positive thinking here).  So I didn't fuss much with making this cover.  I used this tutorial.  It said nothing about fabric weight, but I think the gingham I chose is too lightweight because the piece of boning doesn't hold the cover out far enough from my body.  I'm thinking of stitching on some fabric or ric-rac in horizontal rows to give it some more heft.

I also did not have the specified D-rings, so I modified the straps to use what I had on hand:  three cute little white buttons, no need to match.

Now, after reading AmyK's comment on my previous post about wipes, I decided to alter my system to her practical method.  I bought a cute metal mug at Old Navy - big enough for my fist to fit in, sturdy enough that the children can't break it when I ask them to refill it.  Normally I would sleuth around for a nice vintage or used mug that cost less than $8, but see the first paragraph above re: dramatic surprise any day now.  

The vintage tray, a lucky find at a cute shop downtown, is so that water drips don't land on the wooden desk that we're repurposing as a baby changing table.  

And here is a photo of my kitchen this morning, as I dared the baby to come while I got several projects going (Rosie said the best way to get a baby to come is to start a multi-step project that the baby can derail). 

 Left to right: cream cheese pound cake, pancake syrup in the pot just vacated by Scarlet and Grey ice cream base (Jeni's, of course), sourdough crackers, black beans.  Still on the list: pizza cups, bagels, sesame cookies.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring in the Shop

I made a big rectangle of patchwork with lots of flowery calico and a little gingham I found in my scrap bag.  This was back when there was snow on the ground yet, but I was handling flowers and happy.  Then I cut the rectangle into hotpad-sized rectangles.  One hotpad went out to you in the 1000-post giveaway, and now the other 4 are in the shop!

There's also a new clothespin bag there, too.  The lining is from some fabric left from Genevieve's skirt (which she doesn't like to wear - oh dear).

I had the satisfaction of hanging out reams of laundry in spring sunshine earlier this week - it dried to sweet-smelling, crisp perfection.  I was drying most of our laundry on racks inside this winter to keep the humidity in the house where we needed it.  Are you ready to hang laundry outside again? 

The children are outside in the yard every minute they are not in school or kept inside by their mean mother doing chores and homework; this means that there has been some mud splatters on the clean laundry, but the sunshine and fresh air makes me so nice that I just shrug and brush it off.

Mud! Flowers! Sunshine! Wash lines! Ah, spring.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In Which I Make Cheese Jello

I have never liked Velveeta cheese and American cheese and all that processed cheese; it was too bland with an odd plastic taste.  I liked Cheez-Whiz as a kid because of that amusing squirt can.

So I was attracted to do-it-yourself Velveeta not because I desperately needed a whole-foods substitute in my kitchen, but because the cookbook I was editing needed it.  And I was game for  testing the recipe because it was odd.  I am drawn to odd recipes, I know this.

Turns out, I was just mixing shredded cheddar with milk and gelatin.  Cheese Jello!

The recipe was remarkably easy and accurate, but after I went ahead and tested a cookbook mac-and-cheese recipe with the DIY Velveeta, I had a fair amount left over (and the test recipe was a dud - my family and I like my slow cooker mac-and-cheese much better).

The flavor of the DIY Velveeta was not plastic-y at all, just a little less sharp than the original cheese.

  I can't even remember what all I used it in, trying to use it up. The very last thing was melting it with some salsa, and then adding some cilantro and green onions to make a kind of queso that we poured over baked potatoes.  It was tasty, but I don't think the gelatin aspect helped me in any way in my kitchen.

Helped the cookbook, sure, and now my big deadline is past and I have more time to catch up with freezer-filling and sewing before the baby comes.  I think.  It was just at this very time in my first pregnancy that Genevieve was born, catching us entirely off guard.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Warm Easter

We had a lovely, tranquil Easter. My husband's parents joined us and all the food was delectable, the conversation funny and happy.

Ben wanted to make Easter basket cupcakes.  I used this excellent recipe and iced them with Italian meringue.  The kids did the rest, although the Twizzler handles did not cooperate in an upright manner.

I glued together an artsy little nest out of twigs Genevieve scavenged out of the back yard and used some pale washes of commercial dye on brown eggs to make a centerpiece.  I rarely have centerpieces, just candles, but I was pleased to have time to play like this on Easter morning before church.  The whole thing was eminently simple and I love how it came out.   Next year, I really want to use onion skins and whatnot to dye eggs.

The children were quite silly with sugar and maintaining company behavior by the time I coaxed them to take pictures.  Still, family photos and a belly shot, thanks to my mother-in-law!

My "corsage" is this fascinator from the pearl party.
Genevieve's dress is from last Easter (hooray for making it long enough!).
And Ben's bow tie is the very first one I ever made him, from this Easter.
And the man?  Just wearing his regular duds in his usual cool way.

We finally let them change and tear around the park while we drowsed on a bench nearby.  Such a treat to sit in warm air and sunshine!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Layette: Diapers and Wipes

The diaper service that breezed me through diapering my first two babies does not exist in our city anymore.  So I was planning to just buy cloth diapers and rubber pants and Snappis, the same system I had used before and so much less taxing to me than trying to make heads and tails out of the newfangled diapers out there.

Out of the blue, a very kind reader and fellow blogger emailed me to ask if I'd like to have a pile of diapers that she was done with.  Her timing was perfect, and when the big box of diapers came, she had handily introduced me to several diaper systems and when I could hold the diapers in my hand, I didn't feel confused at all.  Thank you, dear Madame, for your generous gift.

I love how all the baby stuff is passed around to the new mamas who pass it on again - seems like the last vestige of the generous support and sharing small communities used to enjoy.  We can be so disconnected and independent of our neighbors and families now, but the way these baby things make the rounds speaks of such practicality and hope to me.

I'm cutting up whatever knit fabric I can get my hands on to make wipes.  My original blog post discussing wipes is here, from when Ben was two.  Good grief.