30 January 2010

Simplistic Complexity

How I am loving soft boiled eggs and their trusty English "soldiers" for dunking. A perfectly done egg is such victory! So velvety and scrumptious.

In my ever-so-brief European summer in college, we ate soft-boiled eggs most every morning. A little bit of skill to develop so one can crack and then scoop without bits of shell to munch on, but a rather pleasant routine to attend to.

I have found, however, our very round American spoons are not always accommodating. Must keep a thrift-store eye out for the pointy "egg spoons" that make eating these treats so much easier!

29 January 2010

A Little Bit of Life

Because even though I prefer a sight like this:

It frequently looks like this:

And this:

Of course a bit of this:

And definitely some of this:

Life isn't always tidy ... and that is just fine.

28 January 2010

Days of Opportunity

When I took my New Year's morning earlier this month, I thought about what I wanted to be more purposeful about this year. I'm not much for resolutions, but wanting to capitalize on my own life ... yes, I would like to pursue that.

Early morning New Year's window display, Portland

I came up with three things I wanted to give specific effort to. Regular exercise, reading more books aloud to the children, and ... gulp ... actual family breakfasts' during the school week.

Exercise. One of those things I'm always glad I do ... once it is over. I'm averaging four times a week for about 40 minutes on the treadmill. This is a good start, but far from becoming habit. Blah. Must keep going.

Reading. I often am rushing to get the children into bed so the quiet part of the evening can begin. Storytime has become a casualty of this pursuit, which is horrible given my near desperate and personal love for literature. My father's old third grade copy of Clarence Goes to Town (passed on to me when I graduated and set off to teach my own third grade class) has come to the rescue, and this part of our day is quickly becoming an easy habit. Hurrah!

Breakfast. This past year we established Sunday dinners and it has proven to be the highlight of our week. The food? Yes, it's wonderful. But combine it with time together and it becomes a rich experience. So, enter breakfast. It's always been slapdash during the week. Oatmeal, muffins, pancakes or eggs, all nice enough, but pretty much tossed at the kids to eat at the counter while Pops and I scurried around with our own agendas.

We've now done two weeks of breakfast together. Sit-down style at an actual table, eating with each other. Yes, I get up a little earlier than I used to. Yes, I plan it out a bit more than before. However, our mornings are so ... pleasant! It's not yet routine, but I think it just might become so.

Do you ever feel like me? Realizing there is just so much in your own life to participate in that you don't want to pass you by? My days are full of life's imperfections, but still, such opportunity they hold.

Love in the Kitchen

Ah, Pyrex. You began many a love-affair generations back and you are still just as suave as you ever were. A darling dish that can handle the heat? Just listen to the housewives purr.

Speaking of which, would you look at this vanilla casserole dish with gold dandelion puffs? I adore this pattern and I adore Pyrex. You can do almost anything to this stuff, and don't we all love dishes that can go from the oven to the tabletop?

If you do any measure of thrifting, you are certain to run across the divided Pyrex dish. True, some look like they've had a life of hard work, but others still seem to sing. And if you find them with the lids? Even better.

And while I'm always drawn to these particular divided dishes, I find myself never knowing what exactly would be a brilliant use for them. A dual cobbler? Heating leftovers? Ladies, do tell!

26 January 2010

25 January 2010

Pickle Attempts

Attempting the refrigerator pickle over here. The slicing and experimentation have begun. Most recipes have you boil the brine, but I've read of other kindred spirits who embrace their laziness and skip that part all together. I'm definitely trying the dump and splash method on this first batch.

Jane is excited. Jane loves pickles. Apparently she loves cider vinegar too. She cleaned up all the counter spills ... with her tongue.

They have to soak for a few days and then the evidence will be examined by a panel of three short and cute judges and one who is rather large and swarthy (but still cute). I'll let you know when the verdict is in.

23 January 2010

An Original

A card from the hands of Lucette. Sketches of all that delight her, a swatch of turquoise with favorite buttons sewn on. What could be better?

22 January 2010

Sugar Coated Strategy

They gotta' come home from chess club and practice some maneuvers.

It's serious business around here.

Especially when licorice is involved.

21 January 2010

Full of Surprises

Now, would you just look at this sweet face.

You'd never guess this little doll would wedge her bare leg in between the back slats of a wooden chair at the library, now would you? Nor would you guess that globs of lotion from the librarian might loosen, but not free that little appendage.

And you certainly wouldn't imagine that the nice men from the city public works department would come take a look and have to break out the hack saw and set to work on the chair just to free the dear.

No, you wouldn't think it. But sometimes the days are full of surprises.

On the Reading Docket

19 January 2010

It's Almost Time

It's like anticipating a pregnancy. We're definitely in the third trimester and I feel like a proud, expectant parent. All this waiting ... it's even a little nerve-wracking.

So much could come into play, you know. A rogue super-ball could ricochet off the mantel and accost a young bud. Small hands might get too curious, or it could just tumble to it's doom during some evening wrestling mayhem. Such perilous possibilities!

Now I just pace the floor, wringing my hands in wait for the birth of the first bloom. I'll let you know just as soon as they're here.

18 January 2010

A Space of Her Own

Miss Lucette wanted a desk for Christmas. We found a lovely antique vanity (minus the mirror) on craigslist and put a whole lotta' love into fixing it up. Sandpaper, wood filler, primer, paint, wipe-on poly, the works.

She wanted a place for her very own and the desk was all that it took. When it was revealed to her on Christmas, her eyes got wide and she caught her breath. "It's just too much" she whispered.

The old desk lamp painted gold and cream nestles nicely amidst her bits of beauty on display.

The desk itself we painted an antique white, which turned out to have a rather lovely buttery quality to it. A bit of distressing on the edges, as it seemed to warm the piece up and feel just right. I also had some leftover fabric from the curtains and recovered the seat cushion to match (with a practical piece of clear vinyl over top!).

The drawers were rather difficult to open initially, but nothing a few swipes from some bar soap couldn't handle. Inside she has drawer organizers to manage her endeavors. I think desk drawers are such insight into personality. I see Lucette represented in every little item.

What pleasure it gave us to prepare this desk for her. I hope it brings her many moments of pleasure for years to come.

16 January 2010

My Kind of Comfort Food

Oh, my darlings. It is bread heaven! One of the many reasons I wanted to acquire Edith was to bake up crusty artisan bread. I've read of the swooning that this dutch oven bread induces and I was aching to have a go at it.

There are similar versions of the recipe available, but here is my breakdown in case you'd like to try. Just remember ... start it the night before. Part of the magic is in the long-rise.

Dutch Oven Artisan Bread

• 3 - 3.5 c. flour (a mix is fine)
• 1.25 t. salt
• .25 t. instant yeast (although, out of habit I used a couple of teaspoons of regular, and all seemed to be well)
• 1 t. sugar or honey
• 1.5 c. very warm water

Mix in machine with bread hook until incorporated but still "shaggy" and sticky, but not gooey. Compensate with a smidge more water or flour if need be. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight in a moderately warm place. Inside the oven works great.

After a good 12-18 hours (top of dough should be bubbly looking), plop out onto a flour coated surface, and fold over on itself a few times. This will incorporate some flour and push out air bubbles. Let sit for 15 minutes covered with the plastic.

Gently/quickly form into a ball shape and place on a sheet of parchment paper for about 1.5 hours to rise again.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with dutch oven inside. Allow pot to heat inside for a good half-hour so it's nice and hot. After tossing on some flour or cornmeal and scoring your dough with a knife (optional), carefully pick up sides of parchment as if your dough-baby is in a sling. Don't burn yourself and carefully lower into the hot dutch oven.

Bake on low rack with lid on for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake 15-20 minutes more until golden brown. Lift bread out by parchment paper and allow to cool fully on a rack.

Delicious slathered with butter and a fantastic accompaniment to some Leek & Potato Soup!

14 January 2010

In the Sewing Room

A while back I culled the children's toys, placed the remainder in their rooms and took over the spare bedroom -- all with a greedy giggle and complete lack of remorse. What luxury to have a work room! Lots of endeavors take place in this room, but mostly my sewing.

I picked up a well-loved (read: slightly beat-up) 1950's yellow-marbled formica drop-leaf table for pattern cutting, set up some shelves for fabric and plunked my machine on a Costco fold-up table. Works very nicely.

I'm a sucker for old sewing books and recently nabbed this Better Homes & Garden binder. The color photographs in this one remind me of every snapshot of my early childhood, as they all have a deep golden-orange hue. Certainly makes a statement ... of some kind!

Look at this late 60's/early 70's sewing haven. Must have been chic perfection! While I am perfectly content with my current room set-up, I do find myself dreaming of spiffing the room up a bit. Granted, my visions are not quite as bold as the above!

Of course this guide is also full of practical suggestions. I'm thinking of bringing back the "shift" dress code in my wardrobe. Functional and chic, if you ask me.

And, the book wouldn't be complete without instructions for slip-covering your davenports and adding "perky trims" to little girl dresses.

I'm itching to try some of the patterns and suggestions. Wherever do I begin?

13 January 2010

Little Candies on the Windowsill

I do love when pretty little things and sugar come together.

And when wrapped in crisp cellophane? All the better. What makes for a bright spot in your day?

12 January 2010

Dutch Baby Bliss

In pursuit of exploring my new-found love for cast iron, we whipped up a colossal Dutch Baby courtesy of a cookbook devoted to just such a mission.

You can make them savory and add in herbs and perhaps some ham or sausage, but we opted for sweet. Dust on powdered sugar and you have a near masterpiece.

It reminded me a of an egg-y beignet. Mmm ... can't go wrong with a little bit of Cafe Du Monde. Pops and I nearly ate our weight in beignets and stupendously copious amount of confectioner's sugar when were there several years ago. Speaking of which, New Orleans is a city to eat your way through! Aside from the baked goods, I also ate 2 pounds of bacon and three servings of bread pudding after a meal one afternoon. You read that right, and no I don't regret it at all. It was a magnificent experience. But I digress.

We sliced our sweet dutch baby into large wedges, added more powdered sugar, and a nice little custard cup of applesauce to complete the breakfast. A lovely little morning meal ... even without any bacon.

11 January 2010

09 January 2010

To Be Four and Dance

Jane started ballet lessons today. You can see her enthusiastic hand raised just at the very tip-top right. She was so excited and talked non-stop on the car ride over. She must have had all sorts of ideas swirling as to what the experience would be like.

Mama, they have dressing rooms to change your clothes in. I read it in a book. I also know you have to listen to your teacher. (Brief pause.) Mama, sometimes they put the dancers on top of horses.

Oh really? Well, Jane, they will not be asking you to get on any horses.

That's good. 'Cause I tried it on top of Peter and I couldn't do it.

(Taking great pains to stifle giggles) Well, there are not going to be any horses at the dance studio.

Yeah. It would be really messy.

We had a lovely (and very tidy) morning at the dance studio. Much toe-pointing and gauzy handkerchief waving, little bunned-heads bobbing and sparkling smiles flashing. Now that she's done it once, she's a veritable pro and has no qualms for the next session. I think Saturday mornings will be a winter highlight.

08 January 2010

An Introduction

I'm not typically in the habit of naming my crockery. However, exceptions take place and so must introductions. With a nod, smile, and wave of hand, I present Edith. Edith, seen here, is warming olive oil for me in anticipation of some onions and garlic.

She is welcoming and practical. Pretty and ingenuitive. She can handle a frozen Christmas ham-bone and chicken stock, split peas and onion, tomatoes and yams, all with ease. Whatever you find to toss at her, she can handle. Now don't rush her, but wait. And when she's done, you'll be greatly rewarded with a serving of contentment and a sense of being happy to be yourself.

Spending time with Edith makes me imagine I'm her namesake, cooking on the farm for her family of eight. It's good to feel like Nanie V.

Thrifting and Citrus Jewels

Lunchtime included orange wedges in one of our thrift-store spoils.

Jane found this little amber beauty for a quarter. We agreed that not only did it sparkle well in the light, but it also made our citrus all the more juicy and delightful.

06 January 2010

Clicking Some Needles

I'm learning to knit. Still. I first started when Lucette was a baby and have only attempted some simple projects: Hats, scarves, booties. Only what I can manage to learn from books, and heaven forbid I make a mistake or drop a stitch. I've abandoned many-a-project simply because I had no idea how to fix my lapses in concentration. In sewing, you just need a seam ripper and an extra breath of patience. In knitting? It's like an IQ test that I'm failing miserably.

However, I recently decided to take on a new project. A lap blanket. Granted, a lap blanket is probably the easiest project out there, but this has a slight alternating pattern. K2, YO, K2tog and some similar business on the purl side. To seasoned knitters this is sleepwalk knitting. Me? I had to start over three times until I (sort of) got the rhythm of it.

So. It's progressing. The ribbed pattern is looking mostly ribbed and I'm easing up on the tension, as I have a habit of making ridiculously tight stitches. Easing up is always a good thing.

And truly, knitting is a lovely, tactile experience. This yarn is an awfully nice chunky faux-wool that just feels good sliding through fingers and clicking on needles. I'm also quite happy with the color selection of "wheat." It's a simple neutral with just enough variegation and fiber to disguise the tea I will most certainly spill on it once it gets put to use.

To all my friendly knitters out there, any advice you have to impart? Chances are, I could use it!

04 January 2010

A Friend Indeed

Found a dear little piece of needlework that just didn't seem happy in it's frame. While lovingly crafted, it had made it's way to the thrift store and just seemed a touch out of date. Stuck in a frame, it looked a bit fuddy-duddy rather than kitchy-cute.

I would have liked to meet these two.

Ethel placed this piece of needlework in the frame with such purpose, I wondered if I'd ever release it from it's gilded bonds. No less than 27 nails held this darling to the frame!

Inspired by other such re-creations I've spied out in blogland, the handiwork is now backed with vintage yellow calico, trimmed with handmade bias piping, and stuffed with fresh batting, I think Ethel and Margaret's friendship lives on in a sweet, new way.

Sitting in the shop (along with some new zippy pouches!) waiting for a new friendship to place claim. Friends are a good, good thing, no?

**As a side note, three cheers to Jane who took the top photo! Camera atop a tri-pod, Jane atop the first step of the staircase, and a quick lesson in pressing the big silver button. I like having cute little minions to do my bidding!