Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Oh, the chaos!

photo, originally uploaded by isfive.
It's been a busy December -- I finally have some energy again now that my parasite (sweet, lovely parasite, but still a parasite) is now in its 4th month. Energy, just in time to move four states away right before the holidays! Here's the chaos we're heading back home to in a few days, and I can only hope it will take less than a week to resolve. We have 3000 pounds of books (who knew??), but those are the easy things to unpack (if I can keep myself from stopping to read) so they're saved for last. I am very excited about our historic home with hardwood floors and crown moldings and a fantastic screened-in back porch, and a new year with lots of new adventures -- starting a new freelance career as well as a new baby! I'm just hoping there's a little time in there for knitting and sewing.

Happy New Year! What are you looking forward to in 2010?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Drizzly day recipe

Hello? I know it's been ages since I've posted, but I promise I'll be back to a regular schedule soon. It won't be until after the holidays, but things will pick up a bit. I've been working on a rather energy-intensive DIY project -- a baby! -- but now that I'm past the first couple of months, I'm finally able to get through the day without collapsing by 7 p.m.

This weekend, the weather was cool and drizzly, a standard Texas November. Feeling tired after working all week, and in need of something comforting for my unreasonable moodiness, I put on a pot of pinto beans when I got home from work Saturday afternoon before indulging in a nap. Nothing comforts a Texas soul like pinto beans and cornbread, and when the weather turns cool and wet, you can bet we'll be making either a pot of beans or a pot of chili. My mom talks about coming home from school to smell beans cooking, knowing it meant her mother was home for the afternoon. Mom's pinto beans are the second best, but no one makes them like Mama, her mother. Saturday, I was pleased to make the very first batch I'd proudly serve to Mama. They weren't as good as hers, or as my mom's, but they were a great step in the right direction.

Pinto beans are deceptively easy -- cover them with 2-3 inches of water, add a ham hock (or an onion and bay leaf if you're vegetarian) and cook slowly all day. Don't let the water cook out or they'll burn, and don't salt them until 20 minutes or so before they're done. I salted mine when I put the cornbread in the oven. Serve with chopped onion, jalapenos or even salsa -- or just plain with a little salt and pepper.

This cornbread was a concoction of my mom's. It's a hearty, crunchy whole grain cornbread with lots of flavor, and tastes as good for breakfast with a little butter and honey as it does the night before with dinner.

Whole wheat cornbread

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup stone ground cournmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup milk

Pour vegetable oil into a large cast iron skillet and place in oven. Preheat oven (with pan and oil) to 400 degrees. Pour all other ingredients in a bowl and mix with fork until blended. Pour hot oil into batter and stir, then pour batter into the heated pan. Place pan in oven and cook 25-30 minutes until fully baked. Top of cornbread will be slightly brown and firm to the touch.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dulce et decorum est

Today -- Veterans' Day, or Armistice or Remembrance Day -- is a good day to think about the horrors of war, to thank not only those who sacrificed their lives and loved ones, but those who sacrificed their innocence and happiness. If you know a veteran, thank them, especially an older veteran. Thank the World War II vets who saw such awful things, but came home to a country ready and anxious to move on. The men and women who saw and had to do things they'll never forget, but had to live as though they had. Thank the Vietnam vets for all they went through, especially when they returned home. Thank them for enduring the awful treatment from their own country's citizens, because their terrible experience taught our country it's possible to oppose a war without punishing the innocents who get sent to fight it. Our current veterans and their families are supported and taken care of, and it's because of the shame we feel over the treatment of our past soldiers.

Don't think of today as just a day to buy a cheap sofa. Instead, the Wounded Warrior Project is a great charity that provides help and support for our injured soldiers, and helping them is a way to help veterans. Find a local organization, a shelter or soup kitchen that cares for homeless vets -- and they're not just Vietnam veterans.

This poem by Wilfred Owen is the antithesis to Rupert Brooke's famous poem "The Soldier" and John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" and one I read every November 11. Maybe one day we'll learn.

Dulce et decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! –  An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.
8 October 1917 - March, 1918

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday baking

In a perfect world, I'd spend Sunday baking for the week -- muffins and breakfast cookies, bread, maybe even pancakes or waffles. But of course, it's not a perfect world (and I think mine is less perfect than most when it comes to housewifery). But this morning is my favorite morning of the year -- the morning I awake to find Standard Time has given me a whole hour to do with as I please. So I donned my magic apron and pulled out an old cookbook that's just right for the kind of classic I had in mind, and mixed up a dozen blueberry muffins. These baking-powdery muffins are almost like biscuits, and with only a few mods (erm, like using a paring knife to chip lemon zest since my grater is sadly unsuited for the task), they came out perfect for a sunny, cool Sunday morning. Split one open hot from the oven, add butter and enjoy.

Blueberry muffins
from A Taste of Texas; recipe contributed by Mrs. Joseph N. Freeman of Amarillo, TX

1 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 white whole wheat and 1/2 white)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
2/3 cup milk (room temp)
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 cup fat (melted butter for me)
1 cup fresh, frozen or well-drained canned blueberries (frozen here)
2 tbs. poppy seed (didn't have any, so didn't use)
Yield: 12 medium muffins

Preaheat oven to 425. Reserve 2 tbs. of the flour to dredge blueberries. Sift together remaining flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add lemon rind; stir.
Add milk to beaten egg; beat together well; add melted fat; stir. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir just enough to mix.
Dredge blueberries in reserved flour. Stir quickly into batter. Fill well-buttered muffin pans two-thirds full.
Sprinkle tops with poppy seeds. Bake. Remove at once from muffin pans.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Impromptu pasta

This hearty pasta is perfect for all seasons, and is a snap to throw together. We call it Florence Pasta because we cooked several variations of it in Florence a few years ago on a trip -- we'd hit the San Lorenzo market and pick up everything we needed, from vegetables to fresh cheeses and sausage, then head to our rented apartment and toss it together. There's really no recipe for this pasta -- it's really just a list of food groups. Pasta, protein, vegetables, cheese. Try it with whatever you have on hand, and I promise it will be delicious.

Some ideas:
  • Penne pasta, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes (if your garden fails you like I do and you have no fresh ones, and certainly not enough to make your own sun-dried tomatoes), mozzarella, spinach, Parmesan (pictured)
  • Bowties, Italian sausage, eggplant, red bell pepper, lemon juice and olive oil, asiago cheese
  • Orrechiette, prosciutto or pancetta (or plain ol' bacon), kale, pecorino

Monday, October 26, 2009

Goodbye, garden

After an entire summer of birds and too much sun and more birds and squash grub and ants, and an autumn of rain, I finally, finally got a tomato. ONE TOMATO. It's a cherry variety, at that, so it's just one little mouthful of summery tomato. The weekend was sunny and warm, so I had high hopes for the fat green tomato hanging on one of my vines, but today is cold and rainy and I think my garden dreams are over.

I had big dreams this year (like every year) of homemade salsa and pickled okra and home-canned vegetables, and ended up with a few baby squash and delicious fried squash blossoms in early spring, and my one tomato this weekend. Last year, I managed to have tomatoes all summer and into November, but vicious hungry birds dashed all those hopes this year. I will admit I'm a very laidback (ahem ... lazy) gardener -- I did no soil amendment beyond scratching some compost into the soil when I planted, I often forget to water and I don't do pest treatments or fertilizing like I should (and when I do, I use neem py for pesticide and Garrett juice for fertilizer) -- so I'm sure I'm getting what I deserve. But maybe next year will be different. I can always dream.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Already? Really?

Cross-stitch potholder for an aunt's Christmas gift one year

October's almost over (I know!), and I'm just starting to think about the holidays. Most crafty types and organized people usually have Christmas shopping taken care of by Halloween. As much as I'd like to be finished, I'm just starting, and today I was thinking about gift giving and crafting and where the handmade/homemade fit in. There's always that one recipient who thinks a handmade gift is automatically worth less than something storebought.

5/7 of the overdue wedding gift

Time is also a factor -- how in the world is it possible to make something for everyone on your list and get finished anywhere near on time? I have a wedding gift that's 18 months overdue, and still not totally finished -- somehow doing something handmade and thoughtful doesn't really make up for ridiculously late gift giving (although a surprise gift in March is rarely unwelcome). Also, there's no real way to do something handmade for everyone on the list, unless you're Martha Stewart. Which I'm not.

Crocheted clutch for a friend's Christmas gift last year

So what to do? I'm planning a few things handmade by me, and a few things handmade by other folks, and definitely a few storebought items (thoughtfully selected, of course). I love the idea of donations to charity in lieu of big gifts, and we do that with some family, but it's still nice to have something small and thoughtful to go with it. And how to find the time to get things finished ...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Anonymous needlework

I organized a crafty stash swap at the library a couple weeks ago, and amongst all the really crappy stuff (hello, no one wants your weird fake, frayed grass that sheds bits and pieces everywhere) and pretty nifty stuff (I scored some extra sewing machine bobbins and embroidery hoops, and there was loads of fabric and yarn), there were these two needlework pieces. I don't know who did them but I snapped a couple of pictures to share. I like the colors and the fill work. A really darling little girl, about 8 or 9 years old, ended up taking them home.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Apple sweater

Holy moly, I'm not doing well keeping up here, am I? The problem is I'm in the middle of a big craft project, but one that's not very interesting to follow, and some personal things are keeping me busy. This little apple sweater was great because it was a quick project, and it also (I hope!) made someone smile. Happy birthday, Rose!

The pattern is ravelled here and I just changed the edge of the opening -- I thought a nice little picot would be a bit more interesting than a plain single crochet. I've been disappointed with this Peaches 'n' Cream Fiesta yarn before, but it striped well for this project.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Crepes and French Onion Soup

Anyone can turn their kitchen into a quiet bistro with this simple and satisfying meal. Great for the cool days of autumn, when fresh greens are easy to come by, and surprisingly easy to make, spinach and cheese crepes and French onion soup are a perfect pair to add a little rustic charm to your day. The other day, I started the soup in the morning before work, and within 45 minutes of getting home from the library, Chris and I sat at our tiny kitchen table to share this delicious dinner. Would you like a taste?

The Easiest French Onion Soup
from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook 

Cooker: medium round or oval
setting and cook time: HIGH for 9-10 hours
(this makes a lot of soup -- I'm going to freeze the leftovers, but I'm unsure how that'll work out. Anyone had experience freezing onions before? Do they get all mushy?)

6 large yellow onions
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 14-oz can chicken broth
1 10.5-oz can beef broth
2 tablespoons Marsala or red wine (optional)
4-6 1-inch-thick slices French bread
8 oz Gruyere cheese, cut into thin slices

Peel and thinly slice the onions by hand or in a food processor. Put in the slow cooker and toss with the olive oil. Cover and cook for 9-10 hours on high.

Add both the broths and Marsala; add no water or salt. Cover and continue to cook on high until hot, 15-30 minutes.*

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the bread slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof soup bowls and place on a baking sheet to prevent the bowls from tipping over. Top each bowl full of soup with a toasted bread slice and cover with a slice of the Gruyere. Adjust the oven rack to comfortably fit the bowls under the broiler with at least 4 inches to spare. Turn on the broiler and slide the soups under the flame; broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

*Before you add the broth to the soup, mix the crepe batter. Add the broth and let the soup heat up while the crepe batter rests.

adapted from The Silver Spoon 

makes 4-6 large (9-inch) crepes

2 eggs, lightly beaten
scant 1 cup all-purpose flour (white whole wheat works great)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

handful of torn spinach leaves
a couple slices Swiss cheese
optional: a few slices prosciutto

Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk and a pinch of salt to make a smooth batter. Let rest for 30 minutes.

About 3 minutes before you're ready to cook the crepes, put the spinach or other greens in a microwave-safe bowl with the cheese and cook it just until the greens are wilted and the cheese is melted -- about 1 1/2 minutes. Set the filling aside. 

Brush a crepe pan or a heavy skillet with a little of the melted butter and heat the pan. Pour in enough batter to cover the pan with a very thin coat of batter.

Watch the batter -- it'll start changing color from the outside toward the center, and small bubbles will form in the edges. If bubbles form before the color changes, you might need to lower the heat a little bit. When the crepe has almost changed color, but the center is still unchanged, and there are bubbles in the edges, gently work a spatula under the crepe to loosen it completely from the skillet, then flip it quickly. It only takes 30-90 seconds to cook each side.

Place a small amount of filling in the center of the crepe, then fold it in half, and in half again. If you're using proscuitto and cheese instead of spinach and cheese, you can roll the crepes like cannelloni.

Cover to keep warm until serving.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Provencal chicken salad

This quick dinner salad is perfect for September -- the warm chicken and cool greens combine with a vinegary dressing and marinated vegetables to be comforting in cool weather and refreshing in warm. Don't skimp on the oregano, either, because it does something magical when combined with the roasted red peppers and green olives. The best thing about this salad is it only takes about 20 minutes to prepare (if that), and if you make enough for leftovers, it's an excellent lunch the next day. I love salads like this, because I can stretch them into two meals by serving a large dinner portion the first day and serving a smaller amount the next with a warm soup, such as French onion or tomato bisque.

Provencal Chicken Salad with Roasted Peppers and Artichokes
from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 can (14-oz) artichoke hearts
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
1 roasted bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 cup pitted French green olives, sliced lengthwise into quarters
3 tablespoons minced parsley
4 cups mied baby lettus greens, washed and dried

Dijon-herb Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 t Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let rest until softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain tomatoes and mince them. Rinse the artichoke hearts and cut into quarters,
then pat dry with paper towels.

2. Preheat a stovetop grill pan, outdoor grill or skillet over medium-high heat. Remove tenderloins from the chicken breasts and pound the chicken into an even thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Oil the grill and either grill or pan fry the chicken 4 or 5 minutes on each side until just cooked. When cool enough to handle, slice into 1/2-inch wide strips.

3. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted pepper, artichoke hearts, lives nad parsley.

4. To make the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk all of the dressing ingredients; season with pepper. Before serving, whisk dressing again and combine with the chicken salad.

5. To serve, place baby greens on a platter and top with the chicken salad or serve on individual plates. The vinaigrette from the salad will seep through to flavor the greens below.

Variations: To serve this as a vegetarian meal, omit the chicken and substitute just grilled or roasted vegetables such as zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant. Use fresh tomatoes in place of sun-dried tomatoes if they're in season. Try different herbs, such as chives, basil and dill along with, or instead of, parsley.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hand-felted mug cozy

I made this little guy last week for a coworker's birthday, and decided to give hand felting a try. The last time I made one of my mug cozies, I used the washing machine to felt it. It worked fine, but I felt guilty using all that hot water just for a couple bits of crocheted wool (and lets be honest here -- throwing in towels just gets the felt all linty and, just possibly, dog hairy. ahem). It turns out, hand felting is actually faster than using the washing machine and uses way less water.

It's super easy, too -- I just followed the exact steps I took when I accidentally hand felted a lambswool sweater my freshman year in college. Put a few inches of super-hot water in the sink, add a bit of detergent to open up the wool fibers, and swish your piece around in the water. Wear gloves so you can get the water really hot, and you might want to scrub the wool pretty hard. I took the wool out, rinsed it under very cold water, then put it back in the hot water and dumped in a kettle of boiling water. The whole process only took about 15 minutes and left me with this:

The final result was very easy to sew up, and I arranged the buttons to resemble a panda (not Mickey Mouse) for my panda-lovin' coworker. I love this pattern because the wraparound design makes it adjustable so you can use it on multiple sizes of coffee mug. This one works on everything from a regular mug to a bowl.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Slow cooker pork roast with fruit

This delicious recipe is perfect for autumn. All day, while it was cold and rainy and I was busily working away at the library, my handy slow cooker was busy making dinner! The picture doesn't even come close to doing justice to the rich aroma and sweet, tangy flavor of the roast. Ginger and dried mustard give a sharp, zingy undertone to the sweet apricot, orange and cranberry sauce. Paired with roasted garlicky new potatoes, eaten while dressed in cozy flannel jammies, it was just the right meal to welcome autumn.

Slow cooker pork roast with fruit
Maybe from Prevention magazine? I can't remember ...

1 can (16-oz) whole-berry cranberry sauce
1/2 c quartered dried apricots
1/2 t grated orange peel
1/4 c fresh orange juice
1 large shallot, chopped (1/3 c)
2 t cider vinegar
1 t dry mustard
1 t salt
1 t grated fresh ginger
2 lbs boneless pork loin roast, well trimmed

Mix all ingredients except pork in 4-qt or larger slow cooker. Add pork and spoon some of the cranberry mixture on top.
Cover and cook on low 7-9 hours or until pork is tender.
Remove pork to cutting board. Spoon off any fat from top of cranberry mixture. Slice pork into 6 thick slices and serve topped with sauce.

The pork (sans sauce) is also good the next day shredded and served in corn tortillas with mild cheese (queso fresco if you can find it, or monterey jack) and green salsa.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hello, fall!

Guys! It's fall! My favorite season! (I know, I say that to all the seasons, but fall, I really mean it with you.) I loved summer, but it really outstays it's welcome around here.

Today it rained and was cold (for Texas in September -- 60 degrees), and I got to do two of my favorite fall things: wear tights (!) and drink steaming hot, spiced tea in the afternoon.

Here are a few of the things I love about fall.
  • the clothes. tights, sweaters, scarves (sometimes), cute raincoats!
  • apples
  • soups simmering all day in the crockpot
  • red leaves
  • no longer having to mow the lawn
  • cool nights
  • the golden color of the sunlight
  • impossibly blue skies
  • red lipstick and nail polish
  • school supplies!
  • *not* having to go back to school
  • halloween!
  • hot tea
  • the first bowl of chili
  • snuggling up in blankets on the couch
  • the clarity of the stars and moon in the cold air
Of course, it'll be hot again by the end of the week, but I'm enjoying fall while it lasts. What do you love about fall?

It doesn't look like autumn here yet (and may never), so photo credit goes to Flickr user Grant MacDonald for the gorgeous pic. Thanks!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New furniture!

Remember the Paul McCobb/Planner Group console at Uptown Modern I posted about a couple of weeks ago? The one we loved, but felt was out of our price range? Well, as weeks passed and we kept thinking about it, so we decided to check the store's website to see if it was still available. It was, so it was a sign. It was meant to be ours!

Monday, we drove down to Austin and brought our new baby home. It's been completely restored -- the store owner said she got the console in pieces and had to put it back together -- and refinished, so I didn't feel too guilty about drilling a couple of holes in the back to run cables through, especially since there were already two little holes eaten into the back anyway. We just enlarged them with a drill and a bit of trial and error, and everything's all set up and perfect.

Paul McCobb was a furniture designer in the 1950s, and his name and Planner Group/Directional Group lines are often mentioned alongside the more well-known Eames and Heywood-Wakefield.
McCobb was definitive post-war '50s -- his mass-produced and affordable furniture was modern without being avant garde, perfect for the baby boomers filling the suburbs.

Chon Gregory, who was McCobb's chief associate in his company for 17 years, said: "The Planner Group was the furniture of the people. It was basic and simple, easy to understand and easy to use."
Retro design and midcentury nostalgia is in full swing right now, thanks in large part to AMC's Mad Men, although it's certainly not new, or even still in its first iteration (Austin Powers, anyone?). It's comfortable for consumers and designers, and it's no surprise that nostalgia waxes stronger during uncertain economic, social and political times.*

While new furniture with retro design is easy to come by (just visit Crate and Barrel's lower-end CB2),

I'm attracted to vintage furniture because it's so well made and because it feels more responsible to me -- part of the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle refrain I was brought up on, thanks to Ranger Rick. I also just love the clean lines of midcentury modern, and it fits with several other inherited pieces in our home.

Our before (Target special -- it barely lasted 5 years):

And after (it's lasted nearly 60 years already):

Next project is bookshelves.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pappa al pomodoro

It's still hot here, but there's definitely cooler weather in the wind. Summer's on its way out, taking with it the warm, fresh flavors of summer produce. This fragrant soup is perfect for the fading season -- the tomatoes, basil and onions are full of summer flavors, but the warmth of the soup is comforting during cool September thunderstorms. It's hearty and filling on its own, but is also great paired with sandwiches.

Pappa al pomodoro
from The Joy of Cooking Page-A-Day Calendar

2-3 thick slices country bread
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
salt and ground black pepper to taste
5 cloves garlic
1/3 c tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped, or one 28-oz can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped (I reserve the liquid to add later)
pinch red pepper flakes
2 c chicken or vegetable stock
fresh basil and parmesan cheese to garnish

Dry bread slices in 200 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes.
Heat olive oil in a soup pot, over medium heat. Add onion, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until beginning to color, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, rub the bread on both sides with 1 garlic clove.
Coarsely chop 4 cloves garlic and 1/3 c basil leaves. Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in the garlic/basil mixture, and cook until the garlic barely colors, 2-3 minutes.
Add tomatoes and pinch of red pepper. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until thick and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Stir in vegetable stock. Add reserved liquid from tomatoes if needed.
Boil for 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. break up the bread in the bottom of the soup bowls. Ladle in the hot soup and top each serving with torn basil leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan cheese (or parsley, if you're out of basil like I was).
Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Forever Young Adult

I love YA books, and I'm delighted and honored to be a part of this fabulous review blog, Forever Young Adult. If you're an adult who loves to escape into the world of high school and first crushes (normal, vampire or otherwise), check out the blog -- the work of the awesome poshdeluxe. Yay FYA!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009


We finally have rain here in Central Texas, thanks to El Nino (unfortunately, we can thank the boy and global warming for the drought in the first place).

Texas -- especially Central Texas -- has had a serious drought this year. My county is actually under exceptional drought conditions, which are the worst conditions possible. The state hasn't seen conditions this high since 2006 -- the year from which many climatologists date this current drought -- and July was the hottest month ever recorded in Austin.

The Barton Springs salamander is near extinction, and the agricultural impacts are near catastrophic for some crops such as cotton and sourghum (although sesame does very well). The worst drought the state has seen lasted from 1950 to 1957, and some researchers think this one will outstrip it.

While the rain we're getting probably won't completely relieve our dry conditions, every little bit helps. It's not time to stop water conservation measures (is it ever, really?), but maybe it'll give our firefighters a rest for a few days. And it was lovely to run in the rain this morning, feeling the ground soft under my shoes and splashing through 6-inch-deep puddles. I love the way plants and trees glow green in the diffuse light of a rainstorm, don't you?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Night and day

Sun side of felt-covered tape measure I made for my mom

I'm not a morning person. Mornings are for snuggling closer under the covers and hitting the snooze button ... 5 or 6 times. I think dawn makes a better end to the day than a beginning. But the sad fact is, the world is a morning person's world. And I daydream of being a morning person who gets up and does sun salutations as the sun rises, someone who can bake a loaf of bread before heading to work, a woman who can fit in running 20 miles a week because she's up and out with the birds (especially during hot Texas summers).

But nights are so wonderful, too. Quiet, calm. I've had a whole day to think and let ideas simmer, and I get creative surges while others sleep. I love night runs, glancing in people's (open and lighted and from the sidewalk -- I'm not creepy) windows as they relax before bed. I like tidying up before I go to bed. No matter how tired I am, I tend to force myself to stay awake just for the sake of it, reading or sewing sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning.

Moon side of tape measure.

Every now and then, I resolve to get up earlier. "Just 15 minutes earlier," I say to myself. Or, "I'll just hit snooze 4 times instead of 5." It sometimes lasts a couple of days, sometimes doesn't even stick until morning, but I try. I'm going to try it tomorrow, and see how it goes. I'd love to have quiet time before the world wakes up to work on the sweater I'm knitting, or design a new tea towel, or just read a book (although I've learned that's dangerous and can make me later to work than oversleeping). Besides, you can drink more coffee if you get up earlier.

We'll see how it lasts. Is it possible to become a morning person, or am I out of luck? Are you a night owl or an early bird?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Arrrr, it be a hat!

The hat's for my brother, by request, from Son of Stitch'n'Bitch by Debbie Stoller. The two-color knitting turned out to be surprisingly easy and interesting, unlike the miles and miles of boring black.that.never.ends. Until it finally did, and the hat was finished. Yay! PS -- all the Stitch'n'Bitch books are really rad, and have at least 10 awesome things each, so if you're into making stuff from string, as Chris calls my knitting, check 'em out!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Banana cupcakes

I baked two dozen of these delicious cupcakes yesterday morning, and there are only three left. We ate a dozen of them at the pool yesterday picnicking with friends, and the rest today. This recipe is so perfect -- it's really a dump-stir-and-bake recipe, and only has a few ingredients. The cupcakes are so dense and sticky, and have just the right balance of sweetness and banana flavor, and the cream cheese frosting is as tangy and irresistible as cream cheese frosting can get. They're also great with peanut butter for breakfast.

Banana Cupcakes
from the Moosewood Restaurant: Simple Suppers

Yield ~20 cupcakes

Wet ingredients
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3 or 4 bananas)*
1/2 c olive oil
1 1/3 c packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/4 c plain yogurt

Dry ingredients
1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Coffee or chocolate cream cheese frosting (I just make vanilla)
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temp
3 T butter, at room temp
1 c sifted confectioners' sugar
2 T brewed coffee or 1 T cocoa powder (or 1 t vanilla)

Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare two standard cupcake pans with liners, cooking spray or butter.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, mix the wet ingredients until smooth and creamy, a minute or two. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix at low speed until smooth. Spoon the batter into the cupcake pans, filling each cup about three-quarters full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all the frosting ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy and smooth. Cool the cupcakes for at least 15 minutes and then frost.

*I'm picky about bananas, and only eat them if they're smooth and yellow, with a pale green stem and no brown spots. When they start to turn (most people say ripen), I put them in the freezer. They're great for baking with, because you just have to thaw them, then cut off the end and squeeze the liquified banana out. No mashing! I have a freezer full of these guys, so I'm always looking for good banana recipes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Goodbye, weekend

You were lovely. Sunny and hot, but with a hint of autumn in the wind.


Tea, knitting and Gilmore Girls



Sunset at the lake

A book by the pool

Friday, August 28, 2009

Chicken Parmigiana

My little brother came for a visit this week. I'd promised to pick up chicken parmigiana sandwiches from this great little Italian restaurant near the library the day he got home, but they were closed! Indefinitely! Until further notice! We were all very sad (especially the guys, because they're not crazy about udon noodles, which was the replacement dinner), so the next night we put on some tunes (Gogol Bordello -- his choice) and I put on my apron and got cooking.

I learned to make chicken parmigiana from my friend M.E., and it was one of our comfort meals the year we shared a duplex while our husbands were in Iraq. The secret is to pound the chicken very thin. You can easily substitute eggplant slices for the chicken, and make sure you make enough to have leftovers -- this is delicious the next day.

Chicken Parmigiana

2-3 chicken breasts
1 c breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1 jar marinara sauce (unless you're really awesome and make your own)
provolone or mozzarella cheese
2-3 T olive oil
spaghetti or sandwich rolls

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're serving this over spaghetti, go ahead and start the water boiling. Prepare the chicken while the spaghetti cooks.

Working with one breast at a time, cover the chicken with plastic wrap or place it in a ziploc bag. Pound it flat using a meat mallet (or a rolling pin, if you don't have a mallet). Cut the breast into 2-3 pieces and salt and pepper both sides.

Put the breadcrumbs on a plate, then press the chicken pieces into the crumbs and cover them well. Meanwhile, pour enough olive oil in a heavy skillet to cover the bottom and heat over medium-high heat.

Saute the chicken in the oil, removing when the breadcrumbs are crispy and brown and the chicken is cooked about 3/4 of the way through. You might have to cook the chicken in two batches to avoid crowding the skillet.

Pour about a cup of marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish, then place the chicken in the dish. Pour another cup of sauce over the chicken, then top with slices of cheese. Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the cheese is melted. Serve on toasted sandwich rolls or with spaghetti.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baths not bombs

I just got these yummy not-bombs from Etsy seller katevw last week. They're nice and fizzy, and made with natural essential oils, epsom salts and moisturizing ingredients like shea butter or apricot kernel oil. I got six different scents. The only one I've tried yet is GLEE, the sweet orange and bergamot, and it was very citrusy. I love the extra decoration in the not-bombs (and the cute names) -- GLEE had flower petals. Some have glitter, others have salts or even bee pollen sprinkled on top. Kate's a great seller -- check her out!
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