Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bonfire Supper

We had perfect weather tonight for a bonfire and three families over for supper. After a gray day, the evening was chilly and almost misty. We lit the brush pile that had been growing over the summer and watched it shoot sprays and sprays of sparks up into the dark.

Inside the house we had everything laid out on the island for a nice junky supper--hot dogs and buns, Fritos, grated cheese, and a huge pot of chili that had simmered all afternoon. An urn of cider and pitcher of iced tea.

I think the best part for the children was tearing around in the dark and flickering shadows, chased by insouciant fifteen-year old boys; then coming in the house to divvy up the huge bowl of candy that had been sitting on display all through dinner.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Corduroy Dress for Clara

Clara needed her dressy winter dress last Sunday, so together we made this old favorite pattern out of a beautifully-draping frost blue tiny wale corduroy. We lined the bodice with white cotton (a sheet!) and included a double-frill of lace at the cuffs to indicate that it is, in fact, a dress-up dress. It's as soft as velvet without being too fancy for church, and perfect for trips to the symphony!

Sewing projects are so fast with her helping--I run up the seams and she presses them, or I get busy setting in sleeves and she finishes seams. Even working with one machine we accomplish things twice as fast.

Giles asks that I note that his *real* camera is out for repairs and he is embarassed by the photos I am posting which were taken with the inferior camera which cannot be focused to his satisfaction.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Modern Breakfast Inspiration

From a wonderful cookbook, given to me by my mother while I was in college. I remember reading it while living in a dorm room, longing for a kitchen and a pantry full of good ingredients. My copy has completely fallen apart, but I keep all the pages tucked inside the cover and use it often for its special breads and general inspirational quality:

"I often ask people what they think of breakfast, and most reply instantly that it is their favorite meal. When pressed to tell what they eat for breakfast, their answers become rather vague. I've decided that they love the idea of breakfast, but they need some good guidance and recipes actually to get them to cook it. Breakfast has remained pure amid all the food trends with their stylish dishes and chic ingredients. The honest simplicity of breakfast is so captivating."

--Marion Cunningham, The Breakfast Book

Friday, October 27, 2006

Vintage Breakfast Inspiration

"She had his coffee all poured, and there was oatmeal with cream and pulverized sugar. There was half a grapefruit too, all cut and ready for eating . . . She was bringing hot buttered toast and scrambled eggs and wonderful-looking fried potatoes. He could have hugged her, they all looked so good . . ."

--Grace Livingston Hill, A New Name

Sugar Maple Turning

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thinking About Breakfast

I have been thinking about breakfast this week and wondering why I have been satisfied to serve my family so little for lo, these many years. I have routinely allowed (made) them to subsist on cold cereal with the occasional pancake morning. And why? Because it felt like too much work to do anything more!

I have resolved to do much, much better and in fact we have had a week of wonderful breakfasts. I have made breakfast every morning since Sunday, and served it at a table set with plates, silverware, napkins, juice glasses, and cocoa mugs. My aim is to serve a little protein, a little fruit, and some nice whole grains every morning. It seems so luxurious to sit down *together* and eat something nice, all at the same time as a start to the day. Such a change from everyone standing around in the kitchen with a bowl of cold cereal.

It is taking much less time that I feared--I start preparing at 7:30 (Clara makes a silver pot of cocoa; I do the rest) and we sit down at 8:00, everyone dressed and beds made.

Sample Menus:

Cinnamon-raisin toast, bacon, cocoa, orange juice.
Toast, scrambled eggs, caramelized apple slices, cocoa, orange juice.
Biscuits, sausage patties, cocoa, orange juice.
Cinnamon rolls, fried eggs, plain yogurt with brown sugar and fresh raspberries, hot tea.

I'm having fun!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bathroom Floor

I am constantly shedding hair on my bathroom floor, and my hair is long and very dark, and my bathroom floor is pale green painted pine. Gross. I have never thought vacuuming the floor every day was a worthy goal, but I don't like living in mess either.

So I stole a fantastic idea from my mother's house--she keeps a Swiffer in her bathroom! One with a dry disposable cloth. It really, truly, picks up all the hair and any dust bunnies lurking on the floor. I keep mine tucked away in the bathroom closet, use it every day for 10 soul-satisfying seconds, and change out the sheet on the day I clean my bathroom. Works like a charm!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My big front circle garden has been an eyesore this summer--drought and deer have just about knocked out the perennials that kept it looking nice for so long. I never watered ever this summer and it was very, very dry. But. Looking on the bright side, I believe I have discovered the plantings that will truly care for themselves, so this week I have been working on clearing space and mulching and now planting some things that will bring it back to life.

When I say we have a deer problem, I mean that there are multiple deer standing in the front garden several times a day, even though Giles gets them with his pellet gun whenever he can. They like to wait until the lilies are about to open, then eat them. Same with tulips. Salvia. Daylilies. Hydrangeas. Ferns.

They haven't bothered my thorny roses, lavendar, crepe myrtle, ornamental grasses, rosemary, wigelia, or spirea. So I'm doing shrubs from this list. Easier to water than lots of little plants. Plus they'll grow big and make more of a showing. Fall is such a great time to plant! It's cool out, lots of things are marked down at Lowe's, and I can see where the holes are in the garden. Onward and upward!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hat Brim

Yes, I am finding the knitting to be addictive. I must confess to having pulled my project out of my purse in court today while waiting for my case to be called. I've worked past the rolled part of the brim only having had to rip out once!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Yarn Shopping

Clara had orchestra this morning, so she and I left everyone sleeping and set off early for the city. I wasn't sure how I was going to put in the two hours of waiting time during rehearsal, so after I dropped her off I drove the few blocks to the shopping district near her rehearsal hall. I parked and started down the sidewalk looking in windows--it was too early for much to be open--but when I got to the yarn shop the ladies inside were convinced I needed to come in, even though it was half an hour til opening time. They opened the door and beckoned me in and oh dear! I have made it this far in my life without getting absorbed in knitting but today spelled my doom!

My mother taught me to knit when I was eleven or twelve, but I have never loved it. I did finish a couple of small projects in high school, and started another before I left for college. I took that one with me--a plum-colored wool sweater vest with a single cable running down the side--and it became a watchword in my dorm. None of the other girls had ever seen knitting up close, or seen a knitter. The joke was that I taught at least a dozen of them how to knit, and before the end of the school year they had all moved on to fantastically complicated, twelve-color sweaters I could never dream of making, while I never did finish my vest.

I was going to be able to walk right out of the yarn store this morning, but a saleslady started flipping through a Debbie Bliss book when I casually mentioned making "soft pants" for Daisy to wear under her dresses. After drooling over the gorgeous photography I started inspecting the baby garments scattered around the shop. My heart went out to the short-sleeved, collared cardigan knit in a lacy stitch (so thirties!) for a toddler, but in a moment of sanity I settled on a hat for myself, a rich and cheery pink merino which I will embellish with periwinkle crocheted flowers.

The shop ladies insisted that I sit right down and knit a swatch before they would allow me to purchase needles (the gauge!). I ran next door for a hot chocolate then got settled in. Too much fun! I was astonished at the endless parade of stylish thirty-somethings in their stacked-heel boots that came to spend their Saturday mornings in the knitting shop. All so helpful and optimistic (especially considering that some of them had only been knitting for a week). I had a lovely morning and look forward to showing off my progress during Clara's next rehearsal.

Friday, October 20, 2006

"The Grace to Get Out of My Own Way"

I love this anecdote from Madeleine L'Engle's book The Irrational Season, in which she writes about discovering the power of being willing to serve others. The story happens in the context of her discomfort with her in-laws while going to their house for a week for a family celebration. The truth, though, is for any time and every place.

"I felt inadequate. . . I was clumsy and inept. . . I could not begin to come up to her requirements. . . I tended to be awkward and defensive.

When we set off for Tulsa I had decided within myself that I was going to do everything possible to make this a happy time for my [husband's family]. So, from the moment we arrived, I really knocked myself out to be pleasant and helpful. We hardly had to think about the children. . . so I was free to cook and do dishes and make beds.

It was an eminently successful week. When we were on the plane on the way home I suddenly realized that I had been given the grace to get out of my own way; all my activities had been unselfconscious; and so, all during that week, I had been given the gift of poverty of spirit without even realizing it.

And there in Tulsa, in a world in which I felt myself to be inadequate and inept, I was given a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Instant Cozy

Say you come home in the rain and it's a little cold and the house feels a little unloved. What to do?

•Do a load of wash and then throw it in the dryer for a little heat, a little background noise, and of course, clean clothes.

•Fix something hot to drink--tea, cocoa, or water with lemon in a china cup.

•Music never hurts, but nothing too rowdy or too gloomy.

•Light some candles, preferably hazelnut.

•For showstopping instant cozy, light a fire in the stove or fireplace. Nothing is better. Of course you have thought ahead and have some dry logs in the mudroom (or at the very least a tarp over the woodpile). And naturally a big box of little starter logs. I am a late convert to these, after a childhood of starting fires from tinder and kindling. You know, I *can* do it that way, but that doesn't mean that I *want* to be shaving cedar chips off of anything when what I want is to be snuggled up by the fire in a rocking chair, playing Monopoly with the children. I call the thimble.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fluffing the House and Embroidering

I had a busy day today of "fluffing the house" in preparation for guests. The sitting room had been collecting stray books; many games had wandered from the cupboard in the dining room; I had brought some ferns in from outdoors that still needed to find final homes; and I had a new little side table to make pretty with candles and a runner. In addition, I had to change sheets and freshen up children's rooms and a bathroom for our company.

I did find a few minutes this afternoon to sit down and work on my new sewing project--a vintage bedjacket. I'm having so much fun with the embroidery on the front yoke. The pattern came with the embroidery transfers unused and included! I'm using a pale pink broadcloth-type cotton for the garment, and chose embroidery floss in shades of chocolate brown, deeper pink, and ivory for some little accents. I think it would look fantastic also done in only black on a crisp white cotton, and if this comes out well I think I will make another in that colorway. It should go together quickly when the embroidery is done, and I will surely show and tell.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Homegrown Apples

. . . in all their irregular glory. Bella picked the Arkansas Black tree today.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hot Cider

I was surprised to see the enthusiasm that greeted my urn of hot cider at our party. It wasn't that cold outside or in, but apparently the fragrance of cinnamon and cloves is irresistable this time of year.

Hot cider can be a big production, with different fruit juices mixed together, spices measured, cheesecloth sachets, etc. I kept things very *very* simple and poured a big jug of apple juice into my (clean) coffee urn, then dumped in about 1/4 c. of sugar--I only had white, though I would have preferred brown. I added a tablespoon or so of cinnamon, a good shake of cloves, and plugged it in without the percolator basket.

It was so convenient--nothing to dip out or pour, just the handy little lever that makes it fun to get a hot drink. I rarely make an urn of coffee, but I think an ongoing urn of cider this winter would be very popular!

Appalachia Waltz

Here's a little taste of the wonderful music from our weekend with Grandpa--in fact, Daisy calls this piece "Grandpa's Song" even though it is, in fact, "Appalachia Waltz" by Mark O'Connor and Yo-yo Ma. Scroll down to Track 2 and click listen.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


The Composer and the children and I had been planning for this weekend for months. The Composer's father, my beloved father-in-law, turned seventy. We decided we were going to do it up right.

The Composer rented a lodge in the mountains. He sent out invitations to *all* his dad's relatives, around fifty. We planned a menu. We sent out maps. We rented tablecloths and coffeecups. Most especially, the Composer put together an unbelievable film about his father's life. Heartbreaking music, beautiful photographs, interviews with contemporaries and grandchildren, archives from his university, everything.

His dad didn't know anything was coming. Every year we like to have a special birthday dinner for him here at our house. This year, we suggested meeting up in the mountains for a hike first, then going over to their cabin where I would prepare supper. He completely bought it. Even when we led him in the front door of the lodge where his family from all over the country waited, he still thought we were at a visitor's center at a trailhead!

My blessed mother and her husband came up with the kids and me the night before, and got up first thing and started in to work with me. She cooked without stopping from 8 in the morning until about 4. We set the tables--for 44 people.

My friend Carol had made the cake and delivered it to our house the night before--beautiful! Layers and layers of maple butter cake, iced in maple buttercream and sprinkled with chopped pecans.

She and her daughter arrived late in the afternoon to help serve and run the kitchen. Bless them too!

The menu:

•mushrooms stuffed with cream cheese, garlic, and spinach
•mixed greens salad with toasted walnuts, pomegranate seeds, and red pear slices
•French bread and butter

•slow-roasted pork loin in wine and citrus
•Greek potato salad vinaigrette
•sauteed yellow squash and zucchini

•maple cake and vanilla ice cream

We served everyone plated courses at their seats. That was a lot of plates! Clara and Bella and their cousins helped pass cake and fill drinks as well. The mountains outside grew dark; inside was candlelight on dear faces.

After cake was served and everyone had another cup of coffee, we pulled down the huge projection screen (this was the perfect lodge for our purposes!) and the Composer showed his movie. No words to describe it.

Happy Birthday.

Friday, October 13, 2006

"As Important as a Dress"

"Do not make the mistake of thinking that an apron is a not-so-very important garment. As a matter of fact, it is really quite as important as a dress—for who can tell when an unexpected guest is going to "drop in" for a chat and find one at the disadvantage of being aproned! But the disadvantage can be changed to an advantage. The apron can be made a very delightful garment. One may actually feel proud to be found wearing a pretty combination of lace and ribbon and soft white dimity—or a rather trig apron-affair of gingham and muslin ruffles.

And then, of course, there is the feeling of utter neatness and satisfaction when one is wearing a crisp little apron. Even though it does hide the pretty dress underneath, it can be so very pretty itself that one hardly minds."

From the New-Way Course in Fashionable Clothes-Making.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Schoolhouse Chocolate Sauce

This chocolate sauce is a useful one for various reasons: the ingredients are always convenient to hand, it's dairy-free, it whips up in a very few minutes, and it keeps well. Unlike a fancier fudge sauce that involves cream, butter, and a candy thermometer, this is a low-stress chocolate fix.

Keep on hand for topping ice cream at night, or for making individual mugs of cocoa in the morning as sleepy children stumble into the kitchen looking for something warm to drink (one tablespoon per mug of heated milk, stir well).

*Schoolhouse Chocolate Sauce*


2 c. sugar
dash of salt
1 c. unsweetened cocoa

in saucepan.

Stir in:

1 c. cold water.

While stirring, bring to boil over medium heat. Turn heat to low and allow to simmer for five minutes. Take off heat and enjoy--be sure to store it covered.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vintage Bowling Dress: McCall's 7734

I found this fabulous pattern on e-bay and had to have it--just look at the vintage sportiness of the lady golfer and lady bowler! It is in fact described as a bowling or golfing dress, and that large pocket I love so much is designed to hold golf balls! Other lovely details are the deeply pleated (inverted box) back under the yoke, a breast pocket for a scorecard, and sleeves that unbutton all the way to the shoulder! I love this dress!

I made it up in a quilting-weight cotton. It holds its shape nicely, has a moderate drape, and I couldn't resist the color or print. The left side under the arm opens with a zipper, besides the functional buttons down the bodice front.

Here's a back view--check out that major center pleat and then the lesser but still grand flanking pleats!

Finally, a sleeve detail--how many times have you needed to unbutton your sleeves *all the way up*?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Extravagant Baking Day

Maybe we got a little carried away today during our session of baking: after putting together my usual four loaves of whole wheat for the week I mixed up almost the entire yeast bread chapter from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book:

•dried cherry and fig batter bread (a very soft dough that is stirred, not kneaded)
•whole wheat cinnamon and raisin bread (two loaves)
•chocolate-pecan butter bread (two loaves)
•a Sally Lunn loaf baked in an angel food cake pan (light white loaf with cream and a delicate crumb)

I made up my different doughs one at a time, working from dairy-free to dairy, of course. I tried to stagger the rise times knowing that I only had six pans to bake in. If I needed a dough to take longer I put it in a cooler spot in the kitchen. Doughs which I wanted to rise quickly I put on my beautiful warming shelf, and they popped right up.

They will wait happily in the freezer and make us many nice Sunday morning breakfasts!

Sumac Turning

Monday, October 09, 2006

Daisy's Own Project

I looked down from my sewing today to see that Daisy had spread this polka dot fabric out carefully over the tiny couch I am recovering, and was fastidiously sticking one pin in each dot.

Just for the record, I don't consider straight pins to be *too* life-threateningly dangerous for a child if that child is calm and focused. Silly and crazy, and I'll take that pincushion away immediately.

"Little Gingham Bindings"

"Her neat blue and white checked gingham was just low enough to show the white of her throat, above the sheer collar that matched the rolled back cuffs and pockets banded with the gingham. The whole school thought that Mary Truman was always well dressed. Those little gingham bindings on the organdy pockets, for instance, marked the line between the banker's daughter and other girls whose mothers had not the time to bother with such details."

--Grace Livingston Hill, Tomorrow About This Time

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Garage Sale Saturday

This morning our church held its annual garage sale, proceeds going to send teenagers out on short-term mission trips. I put a few hours in yesterday sorting and pricing, and went this morning to help run it.

Clara and I got there by 6:40 ready to go. Why so chipper? Because I was wearing a shopkeeper-style apron, of course! I sadly have gotten to the point where I can do no work without an apron. On the bright side, however, tie one on me and I will do anything at all from scrubbing toilets to chopping onions to carrying dusty boxes out to people's cars--with a smile! Further, my handy apron pockets were just the thing for sticky labels, a marker, and stray dollar bills.

Clara and I had cleverly scheduled haircuts for 9:15 so were able to do our time at the sale and then head out to get beautiful. We wrapped up our town errands with a quick poke-around the vintage bookstore (two new Grace Livingston Hills--baby!) and came home in time to find Grandpa bringing over a big box of hamburgers for everyone. We had a delightful lunch, a sunshiney game of petanque in the front yard, and a pleasant afternoon of sewing, running after Daisy, and a walk under a cloudless sky.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Pink Velvet Armchair

Detail of pink velvet armchair.

I love my two new chairs! They are so much more mod in style than anything else in the house, but I think will work as a seating area in our bedroom. I love the tufted button backs especially, second only to the wonderful salmony-pink fabric they're sporting.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Straightforward Broccoli Soup

Tonight I supplemented our grilled-chicken-sandwiches-and-a-salad supper with a big pot of broccoli soup. It was very easy to make, delicious, and full of vegetables, so what's not to love?

In a large pot, saute:

1 chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic


3 T. olive oil

til onion is transparent.


6-8 cups chicken broth (I used two boxes of storebought)
2 large bunches of broccoli, broken into large pieces
2-4 potatoes, scrubbed and coarsely chopped.

Cover and simmer until all vegetables are very tender, about 40 minutes.

In batches, whirl in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pot and season with salt and lots of pepper. If desired, stir in:

1 c. heavy cream

and heat but do not boil. This is a very soothing soup, and good for girls who have recently gotten braces.

Treasures from Tiny Town

The little tiny town where I sometimes have court on Wednesdays has turned into my favorite road trip. I take all the children with me to visit friends, walk from our friend's house over to the courthouse, and then pick the kids up for fun times. Last week we went to the famous Tiny Town Barbeque and had huge delicious lunches. We also cruised through the antique mall next door, mostly just looking since their credit card machine was out of order and I only had a twenty from Giles' pocket.

Yesterday, however, I had court there again and came prepared with a checkbook. What a haul, and all at tiny town prices! I just love antique stores in out-of-the-way towns: everything is dirt cheap and not picked over. I got *two* PINK VELVET ARMCHAIRS in great shape for $56 each!! Also a gorgeous battered green-painted wooden table I will use a sideboard in the dining room ($38, don't hate me), and two wonderful vintage metal painted wastebaskets: green with lilies of the valley, as seen above, and for Bella's room, robin's egg blue with bright tomato-red tulips!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Some Bread Basics

Although I have made bread at least once a week for the last thirteen years, it is something I never get tired of. Every time I go through the process I enjoy taking the raw ingredients and turning them into fragrant, irresistable loaves that we will make into a hundred sandwiches through the week. I also love knowing that for very little money I am providing a truly nutritious staple for my family.

•I never deviate from my recipe for our daily bread, although I often make an extra batch and turn it into sweet rolls, dinner rolls, or doughnuts of some kind. It is very flexible, and I often add more oil or honey when baking something special for breakfast. I appreciate the simplicity of having a standby recipe that is reliable and memorized.

•I use my same old aluminum pans every week. They are lightweight and cheap, but the bread comes out with a perfect crust and perfect degree of doneness. Years ago I discovered that eight-inch pans are much more successful than nine-inch for whole wheat loaves, as they help the dough to get more vertical, and rising can be a challenge with a whole wheat dough. I only use my larger pans for quick breads.

•I turn my dough out onto a damp dishtowel to cut and shape it. The dampness keeps the dough from sticking, and doesn't add the toughness that extra flour might. The damp dishtowel then covers my rising loaves to keep them from drying out.

•I always use a timer so I don't forget I've got bread baking!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Today's Loaves

The bread came out beautifully today. Actually, I have been having excellent success the last few weeks getting my dough to rise fast and high, both in the first rising and especially after it's been shaped into loaves. The secret? Using hot-to-the-touch tap water rather than tepid. I've always been afraid of killing my yeast with too-hot of water, but apparently it can take a little heat. Even though these loaves are almost all whole wheat (12 cups whole wheat + 2 cups white flour) they are coming out light and fluffy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Plan for Baking Day

I'm not doing coconut tea strips tomorrow, but I will make whole wheat bread and maybe some cranberry muffins!

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