Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"The Savior promised long"

"Rejoice, rejoice! the Savior comes, the Savior promised long. . . He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure. . . and heav'n's eternal arches ring with your beloved name!"

from the hymn text by James Montgomery, early 1800s

 Our modern-day nativity on Christmas Eve, fulfilling one of my mother-wishes to see my children in tinsel halos.  There's my soccer-angel and farmer-angel.  Merry Christmas, all!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Using Curly Girl Method for my Wavy Hair

For about 10 years, I've been wearing my hair up and frizzy in the summer, and then in the winter I straighten it with product and blow dryer and wear it down. For the last few years, I've had to fight it considerably to get it straight in the winter.  After reading Jennifer's post, Rebecca texted me:  "your hair would do that!"  So I bought some new products, poked around on the Curly Girl website (totally overwhelming!), checked the Curly Girl book out of the library (less overwhelming), and tried some things.

Here's what I've been doing for 3 weeks now.

To wash my hair, I put a quarter-size amount of sulfate-free shampoo on my fingertips and put it only on my roots.  I scrub my scalp with my fingertips and ignore the rest of my hair.  I rinse it well with cool water by standing under the stream of water and just lifting and scrunching my hair to get all the soapy parts rinsed. I usually count to 60 to make sure I'm really getting it rinsed.  I do not swirl, rub, or otherwise roughly disturb my hair.  My reasons:  shampoo, even sulfate-free, can still be drying to hair and curly hair needs so much more moisture than I ever imagined. Cool water is less drying than hot water. Even while wet, curly hair is trying to keep its curl pattern, so I don't want to mess it up unduly.

Then I squirt apple cider vinegar directly on my scalp and give it a quick rinse. My reasons: my scalp likes to get itchy and flaky quickly, and the vinegar helps to disrupt that pattern.  Plus, it removes any product build-up on my hair.

To condition, I use a half-dollar size amount of sulfate-free conditioner.  This time, I ignore my scalp and scrunch it through my ends, getting to within an inch or two of my head. Then, I run my hands lightly over the top of my head, to hit the "hair canopy" where most of the frizz would be. I let the conditioner soak in for the rest of my shower ablutions. Then I stand under the water, cool again, for just a few quick rinses. My reasons: conditioner is going to moisturize my hair, not my scalp.

Just done putting on gel: drowned rat look.
As soon as I'm out of the shower, I squeeze the ends of my hair in a towel - no rubbing whatsoever! But no special towel, either, as Curly Girl would have me use.  I just blot the water out of the ends. 

Immediately, I flip over my head and scrunch DevaCurl Light Defining Gel through the ends and up to about an inch from my scalp. I stand up and ignore my hair as much as possible until it's thoroughly dry, several hours. It will look fairly crunchy and 1980s gelled, which is a scary look, but Curly Girl calls this a "gel cast" and says you can break it by shaking your head and shuffling the roots.  I find that just general living with kids breaks my gel cast before I get around to it.

The next two days, in the morning, I spray my hair generously with water with a few drops of lavender essential oil in it.  When it's quite wet and the curls are springing back, I flip my head over and scrunch in One and Only Argan Oil Styling Cream. Then let it alone completely until it dries.

Some issues, notes, and questions I have:
1. Lorraine Massey (Curly Girl method) says frizz is just parched hair reaching out into the atmosphere for moisture; it's a curl-in-waiting.  My hair is hardly frizzy at all anymore!

2. I'm not sure if I actually love how my hair looks.  I can see it's healthier and I'm not fighting its natural wave, but do I actually like it?  Thinking this might be a reason to seek out a Deva salon to get a good cut.

3. Apparently my wavy hair will adjust and develop more the longer I stay on this routine.  I'm curious to see if I like the looks more, or if it gets more curly?  I know it will be more curly in the summer humidity.

4. If sulfates are so drying for hair, should I ditch all the sudsy sulfate shampoos in our house?

5. My scalp is less itchy, but more flaky than pre-Curly Girl method.  Not sure I have the stamina to brave the Curly Girl forums and do research.

Please chime in with what you know about curly hair, wavy hair, or hair care in general.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Wool Cape for Genevieve

My neighbor went KonMari on her attic, so she gave me a load of patterns and fabric.  There was a gorgeous length of double-sided wool, and since Genevieve had outgrown her Sunday coat, I wondered if she would like a Sunday cape.  Indeed yes!

 Over the years, we have received some dressy coats as gifts or hand me downs, or I have found them at thrift stores for a few dollars.  I don't usually set out to look for a dressy coat, although there was the time Ben requested one and I do love to support my children's interest in looking good. I doubt I would have bought Genevieve this cape, but since the wool and pattern fell into my lap, I seized the opportunity. 

I'm glad I had already sewn a cape from this pattern with fleece for Ben.  I lined the cape with satin, but I didn't follow the pattern precisely.  I essentially made a second cape out of grey satin, where the pattern was excluding front panels for the lining, which I couldn't understand. I used the red side of the wool inside the placket and hood so that it would show (I was afraid that a full red cape would always and forever mean "Little Red Riding Hood" in a tiresome way). 

I also made more of a placket for the buttonholes than the pattern directed, but this wool was so plush that keeping it smooth under the presser foot was very tricky.  I think I should have used my walking foot when I was sewing double thickness.  I would like to pick out one of the placket seams and straighten it out a bit, but I'm worried that I'm going to snip the wool in the process because the stitches are so deep in the plush. Oh well. 

Genevieve adores the cape, and (don't tell!) I'm going to make her a muff to go with it.  She probably needs a lantern in her hand, too, don't you think?  She was hoping I would make it floor-length like Ben's, but I thought it would look so costume-y that she would have to switch her wardrobe to hoop skirts and bonnets. 

As it is, if she keeps growing straight up the way she has been doing since toddlerhood, this cape should fit her forever, even as it becomes above-the-knee length.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Gingerbread Cookies and Snow

I made the gingerbread dough and turned it over to Ben and Genevieve, who fought over it and cut out cookies.  I helped Phoebe cut out a few cookies, too.  Genevieve was so excited to do these cookies, even though she doesn't like them all that much, because she says they are Christmas at our house.  I guess we have traditions now!

This year, I tweaked the recipe just slightly and they got so good!  Plus, the kids did the cookie decorating, too, and landed on a genius flavor combination.  Genevieve made a simple powdered sugar frosting for the cookies and sprinkled crushed candy canes on top. Pow! The spicy cookies plus the sweet frosting plus the sharp peppermint:  so delicious.

Gingerbread cookies and snow - so festive! The children even had a two-hour delay and sledding out of the snow, so they were thrilled.

Gingerbread Cookies - from Colonial Williamsburg, tweaked a bit by me
Stir together in large bowl:
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

Stir in:
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup melted shortening
1/2 cup heavy cream (or evaporated milk)
1 cup blackstrap unsulfured molasses
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2-4 drops food-grade lemon essential oil (or 3/4 tsp. lemon extract)

Stir in 1 cup at a time, mixing after each cup:
2 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough should be stiff enough to handle and not too sticky - may add up to 1/2 cup of flour if needed.

Roll to 1/4" thickness on floured surface.  Cut into shapes. Place on silpat-lined baking sheets (or greased). Bake 375 for 10 minutes, just until top springs back when touched.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Phoebe Rocks Her Vintage Sunday Coat and Bonnet

This coat and bonnet on our little Phoebe-bird is so perfect. Rebecca found the coat and bonnet and, wait for it, overall snowpants, while I was pregnant with Phoebe. I remember our delight over the style of the whole thing: the pleats, pearly buttons, blonde fur collar, the bonnet the bonnet the bonnet.

Phoebe was not yet named, was not yet known to be a blonde firecracker with charming manners, but this coat planted a vision in my mind of such a little girl.  And here she is.  I have no more words for how much I love her.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Little Mocha Oreo Cheesecakes

I used my husband's birthday to make little individual cheesecakes.  He does like cheesecake, but I'm not sure how he feels about Oreos.  I can tell you the children love Oreos, but I don't necessarily. However, these little cheesecakes turned out quite delicious.

My in-laws gave us a package of Oreos some time back, and I stuck it in the back of the pantry because why.  Because I don't buy Oreos, and I don't know how to just hand out Oreos to a hungry kid?  Because Oreos are boring?  But if I use Oreos as an ingredient, nay, as a crust for a little mini cheesecake?  Now that's more enticing.

When I was buying my two blocks of cream cheese at market, I mentioned to the friendly girl who tells me about her new puppy that I was planning to make these little cheesecakes.  She immediately remembered her mom making such cheesecakes, but mocha flavor.  I took note.

I can't even link to the recipe I used because I combined several traditional recipes after googling "individual Oreo cheesecakes."  And no way was I going to crush up Oreos and bake them with butter first to make a crust - people, please, I have a toddler who was thrilled to drop whole Oreos in the bottom of the muffin papers, taking bites occasionally while saying in her serious, sweet voice, "We are not eating dem - we are just putting dem in dere."

I divided the cheesecake batter in half.  To one half, I added a hefty teaspoon of instant decaf espresso powder.  To the other half, I added crushed Oreos.  Then I layered each batter on top of the Oreos in the muffin cups. Bake them, chill them, done.

Now I have a whole bag of little candy canes that my children picked off the ground at the park one night in somebody's terribly misbegotten idea of a fun holiday activity for children.  My children know me well enough to know they were never going to eat more than a few, but what in heaven's name do I do with all these boring, plastic-wrapped stupid candy canes? 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

More Aprons for the Shop

I kind of miss my Etsy shop and the random local events where I sewed and sewed and sewed to enjoy my deep love of patchwork and color.
But I honestly do not know how I would have time for that in this season of life.  I don't even feel like I have time for some basics (hello, almost-tidy but rather dirty house).  I am able to sew some fun things for my children, and I knit on the go, but jeepers, that's about it.

So when the museum store manager-friend asked if I could provide more aprons, I said yes because I love color and aprons.  It took me a while, but I got the aprons done just before Thanksgiving, in time for the holiday shopping rush, whew.

Previously, I had used the "Kitchen Gaiety" apron pattern of charming provenance, but I knew that in order to turn out aprons more quickly, I needed a simplified pattern.  I was pleased with this retro Simplicity pattern, with one caveat:  the small is quite small or else Genevieve, at 12, is the size of a small 1940s lady. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Turkey Banh Mi

My aunt sent home some turkey from the Thanksgiving gathering we missed (and two turkey carcasses!  I made and canned stock, thanks Aunt Elena).  I saw this recipe for Turkey Banh Mi by Alison Ashton in the newspaper, and I suddenly knew where some turkey scraps were going.

You all, I love turkey sandwiches to begin with, but this sandwich is something amazing.  I didn't actually follow all Ashton's suggestions because I had a faint memory that the veggies on the sandwich were pickled, and doing some research landed me on the The Kitchn's extremely useful post.  The resulting banh mi was so excellent that I just made it over and over until I used up my ingredients, but I'm going to put Ashton's sauce recipe at the end of this post because it sounds good and I'm sure I'd like to experiment with banh mi again.

How I built my banh mi:
French bread (hollow it out a little or else be prepared to press down firmly when you attempt to get it in your mouth)
generous squirts sriracha
sliced cucumber
Do chua (recipe below)
generous chopped cilantro
chopped scallions
cold, cooked turkey shreds

We ate our sandwiches with hot and sour soup, even though they really hit all the food groups.  Everyone loved them.  I confess to hiding the various components in the fridge so I could have banh mi every day for lunch until the turkey was gone.  But I shared the idea and recipes with you!  I'm generous like that.

Do Chua, adapted slightly from Andrea Nguyen
Cut in large matchsticks:
1 large carrot
1 lb. 2" diameter daikon radishes

Mix in bowl with:
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar

Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes until there's a puddle under the veggies and you can bend the matchsticks (alternatively, if you stay with the veggies and massage them you can speed up the process - depends on how you like to spend your time).  Drain off the liquid, pressing the matchsticks gently. 

In container that is between a quart and a half-gallon, combine:
1 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

When the sugar is dissolved, add the drained matchstick veggies. Cover and store in fridge.  Marinate at least 1 hour before using, and use up in 2 weeks.

Alison Ashton's Thanksgiving Banh Mi Sauce 
2 Tbsp. smooth cranberry sauce
1Tbsp. warm water
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
minced serrano chile (I would use sriracha)
1 grated garlic clove
juice of 1 lime (I would add the zest, too)
Marinate the turkey for the banh mi in this sauce at least 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Phoebe Pounds Cabbage

My dad couldn't resist the huge heads of cabbage from Uncle Merv in Thanksgiving week.  My basement is now highly insulated as part of our new boiler installation, so I didn't know where to ferment cabbage into sauerkraut.  But with cabbage so cheap (ok, my dad wouldn't let me pay him back, but I think it was something ridiculous like $1.50) and labor so willing, I had to experiment. It's a feat to find real work for toddlers (they're not easily fobbed off with fake chores!) that is actually helpful with minimal potential for breakage, bodily harm, and disaster.

I borrowed a mandoline from a neighbor and sliced two heads.  Phoebe took up the meat mallet with proud purpose to pound the cabbage to release its juices. Another key to having a toddler helper:  act like it's normal and don't over-praise because then you will mark their helpfulness as somehow abnormal. I want to encourage all the helpers!  We all eat food in this house and by gum, we can all pitch in.

I lugged the crock up to the balcony - I'm going to try fermenting outside!  The crock is in a sheltered spot and will get strong morning sun.  So far the weather has been fairly mild, so we'll see how the bacteria like being outside in the fresh air to make sauerkraut.

Friday, November 24, 2017

An Unexpected Thanksgiving

I've been through colds with my children before, but never have I seen them sink so dramatically from robust health into pneumonia (Ben) and prolonged fever and coughing that stumps the doctors, even after labs and bloodwork (Genevieve). Phoebe continues to cough and cry.  I continue in health, thank God, because someone has to make tempting snacks and tea and new bribes for forcing liquids at all hours, piling up the little dishes and cups in the sink and washing washing washing laundry and dishes. And don't forget the myriad runs to various medical establishments (my husband had to go on a 2-day business trip in there, too) and food stores to coax the healthy color back into the sickies' faces again.

We realized the necessity of canceling all Thanksgiving plans with extended family on Wednesday afternoon.  Sitting with Genevieve in the hospital lab, I quickly sketched a menu that I thought could work to make Thanksgiving at home traditional and doable. I flew down to market, forgetting its holiday hours, and got there in time to see it shuttered.  I begged the meat stand to quickly sell me something, anything, and got a chicken just before he drove off.  There was just one produce stand with all its boxes packed, but Laura dug through her boxes in full sympathy and good cheer to find what I needed. 

For years, I have wished to cook an entire Thanksgiving feast with everything exactly to my taste, recipes researched, rejected, and chosen with care, ingredients gathered for weeks ahead, and linens fussed over and prepped.  And here I was, thrown into my own feast in less than 24 hours with lethargic children coughing in the other room. 

So I am thankful for things I was not expecting to be thankful for this season: for skilled doctors who use their diagnostic tools well, sympathetic nurses, supportive parents and family who jump in with childcare and errands, the relative health and incremental recovery of my children, an abundance of food from kind market sellers, and all the big things that underpin our lives that I can take for granted.

What are you thankful for this season?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ben, Tucked Up in Blankets

He's home sick from school today with a nasty cold.  The weather is mild - the air smells fresh and the sun is going in and out of the clouds.  My husband suggested that Ben read on the balcony to blow the germs out of his lungs.  So, with hot tea and a good book, chosen, I am sure, for his interest and not for the irony, he got himself snug on the balcony loveseat.

He's not the only who's coughing and complaining in our family just now.  I have escaped the pestilence (so far! knock on wood!).  I tell them all to force clear liquids, even in they're not thirsty, to get lots of sleep, and wash their hands before touching anything other people touch.  At night, they use humidifiers and homemade cough syrup (it's worth clicking on that link just to see 3-year-old Ben!). 

When I was growing up, Mom would have us take Vitamin C to help our immune systems.  What's the modern equivalent?  What do you give your people to boost their immunity in the season of lots of people inside sharing germs with each other?