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!

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