Thursday, November 30, 2006
A big pot of homemade soup makes a lovely cold weather supper, but I sometimes feel ungracious presenting *just soup* for dinner, especially if we have guests at the table. Of course I always include salad and bread or crackers as part of the meal, but somehow, though the soup pot may include meat, many vegetables, and a starch, the menu can feel a little bald.
So here is what I do to round out the meal and present a more gracious table:
•Bread or crackers are naturals with soup. I like to offer at least two choices in the bread basket or on a tray. Several types of hearty crackers, slices of sourdough bread, biscuits, cornbread, or rolls.
•Additional protein in the form of a small cheese tray. A wedge of Brie, or cubes of cheddar or jack. It doesn't matter how much cheese I slice and set out, it will all be eaten with soup--and my children aren't even big cheese eaters.
•Something fresh and crunchy. NOT a vegetable that plays a role in the soup. Instead, fresh and shiny red radishes with a salt grinder beside. Or cucumber spears.
•Something sour. Tiny dill pickles, a bowl of olives, or best of all for Southern people, okra pickles.
That really ought to do it, I think!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Felix has taught us not to hang suet out in warm weather, as the heat melts the fat and tragically it can clog the birds' nostrils (!). In fall and winter, however, the cardinals enjoy finding suet-and-seed blocks hanging on the wisteria arbor in the front garden.
Giles took this great picture of the mud room door today. Behind that door lurks a very large woodpile, brought inside in advance of the snow and sleet we hope to see tomorrow.
It is such a luxury to have a room that can withstand dirt and mess. I credit my mother, who designed this wing of the schoolhouse (it was added on later). For the floor she put in large quarry tiles in cement and I love how durable and impervious they are.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
It's time to:
•clean out the dryer vent hose
•wash the ironing board cover
•wash the laundry basket liners
•wipe down the laundry supply shelves
•and restock the handwashing soap and rose geranium ironing spray.
Monday, November 27, 2006
We had our traditional Sunday-after-Thanksgiving-at-the-cabin.
I love the understated beauty of winter there. The colors are so subtle--the white sycamore! The textures are beautiful, and the silence, with just the river running, is enchanting.
The Composer's parents cooked a lovely dinner. I won't even mention that I spent part of the afternoon knitting.
Daisy in her Thanksgiving onesie: "It keeps me warm under my dress!" But she's not wearing one.
(photo credits to the Composer this time)
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Another sunny, leisurely day--we had a birding outing this morning at a wildlife refuge in some hardwood bottomlands at the river. Felix informed us that we could expect to see birds of prey, ducks, and geese.
As back-up fun I took my knitting along.
Giles took pictures. Daisy ran around.
Our big sighting of the day was spectacular. This is a juvenile red-tailed hawk sitting on a fencepost not thirty feet from us. We got as close as we could without scaring him, and Bella got him to turn his head and look at us by making squeaky mouse noises.
Daisy cooed respectfully, "Oh, an owl!"
Friday, November 24, 2006
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Now this was a nice Thanksgiving Day. We made our pies yesterday--pumpking and pecan. I love the restfulness of planning Thanksgiving dinner. What's to plan? We're having what we always have!
We planned to have our meal at midday so Clara and I spent a very pleasant morning in the kitchen. We diced and sauteed vegetables for our cornbread dressing, which was the best ever this year. I dried the white and corn breads out in a low oven this morning tearing them into little pieces. Made all the difference.
We set the table with the Rosemeade china and a vase of alstromeria left over from the wedding shower, as well as a ceramic chicken. It was a beautiful balmy day. We left the kitchen door open while we ate, and sunshine was streaming in.
A little parsley left over in the kitchen after all our cooking. Parsley is supposed to aid digestion. Instead of eating this bouquet, though, we all went for a really long walk in the beautiful weather.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Here is the finished hat I began knitting on a sunny morning in October. It only took a week to finish but I never did get around to knitting the lavender flowers--instead I pinned on a felted wool corsage that my mother had used to ornament a sweater for Clara last year. It's a perfect near-match: I love clashing shades of bright pink and orange together. I think the hat will belong to Clara since she looks so dear in it, and I just made her a dress that truly is a perfect match.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
"I never made a list as important as this one, [Betsy] thought, writing at the top, Rules for Married life.
1. Handle Joe's money well. That, she knew, was important. She had noticed that married people had more trouble about money than almost anything else. She would keep accounts, she resolved, and never be extravagant--unless Joe wanted to be.
2. Keep yourself looking nice when Joe's around. Don't plaster on sticky creams at night, or wear your hair in curlers. She would put up her hair after he went to work, she planned.
3. Wear pretty house dresses, like Mamma does, and see that they're always clean. Some organdy aprons would be nice, too.
4. Learn to cook. Betsy frowned over that one. You're fairly bright. You can learn if you try.
5. Always, always, be gentle and loving. No matter if you're tired or feeling cross. Papa and Mamma don't quarrel, she thought. You and Joe don't need to, either.
She read the list over several time, looking sober. Then she tore it up and, getting out of bed again, she knelt down and pressed her head against the blankets."
--Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy's Wedding, 1955
Monday, November 20, 2006
Yesterday afternoon we hosted a wedding shower here at the schoolhouse. The bride's mother is such a wonderful lady--one of those women I want to be like when I grow up. The bride herself is a lovely, quiet, red-head, and it was delightful to host a party for them.
These cups and saucers were for hot cider, my big hit of the season. Again, I was surprised to see how much *everyone* loves cider! In fact, after all the guests were gone, the engaged couple and their best friends lingered in the kitchen drinking the last of the second urnful, talking and laughing.
I realized when setting things out on the table how convenient it is that all my "party things" go together easily--the dishes all complement each other, the napkins and linens are all similar enough to blend nicely without matching perfectly. That makes setting out a party table very simple--I just pull out whatever seems right and it seems to work.
Here I laid ivory and white tablecloths over the table, and got out white and gold china. I used a casserole dish for the centerpiece. I cut floral oasis to fit roughly, and took a dozen white-with-touches-of-green roses from the grocery store. I trimmed their stems to two inches and filled the bowl. Then cut a big handful of rosemary from the garden and used sprigs to fill in the bare spaces. Beautiful and clean-smelling!
Saturday, November 18, 2006
I am a big fan of invisible zippers in my sewing. Truth be told, I have never installed a regular zipper--I went from complete zipper ignorance to the three dollar plastic invisible zipper foot I am using now.
My biggest zipper challenge is always to install it evenly from the top so that my left and right waist seams match perfectly. I have tried basting, with only moderate success. My hand stitches are not enough like the tight machine stitching to ensure that the two sides of the zipper are going to end up that same distance down from the top of the dress, like they promised during basting.
Here's what I hit upon in the last dress I made (see Clara playing her cello in the coral corduroy, above): I sew the zipper in on one side. Then, counter to all the instructions I have read which order me under pain of death to not zip the zipper up until both sides have been sewn in, I zip it up and use a pencil to *mark where the waist seam should hit*. Then all I have to do is move heaven and earth to make sure that little pencil mark lands on the waist seam. Easy as pie! Or easier than it used to be.
Now that I have this nailed I'm going to miss all the ribbons-stitched-around-the-waist styles I have made in the past to cover up my mismatched waist seams.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Bella and I made many, many muffins today. First we made cranberry (love the crackly sugared tops):
Then vanilla (these are miniatures though you can't tell in the photo):
A dozen blueberry:
And because no baking session is complete without them, a double batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Giles is spending the weekend in the mountains with his youth group and I'm catering breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow--hence the flurry!
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, I invited a neighbor to come over for tea and knitting. I wanted to serve something to nibble on with the Cream Earl Grey but had very little time and no eggs in the house, so settled on ginger shortbread. I mixed it up in five minutes, popped it in the oven, went for my half-hour walk, and came home to find it perfectly done.
Shortbread is so easy to make, looks rustically elegant, and tastes both complex and homemade. It is also pantry-handy, so good to keep in mind when you need a quick treat.
Stir with a fork:
1 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 T. ground ginger
1/2 t. baking soda
Cut in like you would for biscuits:
1 stick butter
Press into an 8-inch round cake pan, then prick evenly with your fork. Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes. The sides will puff up slightly, and it will become firm to the touch. While still warm, slice into twelve wedges, let cool slightly, then lift them out and let cool on a plate. You will love the way they look and taste.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Henry celebrated his six-month birthday today. He is a real bright spot in my day--every time I walk by Felix's room, going down the hall, he lets out a beautiful, loud wolf whistle! Most cheering.
He's now diligently practicing the Andy Griffith theme song.
Posted by Anna at 7:04 PM
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The girls and I made donuts this afternoon after putting our loaves of bread together. I accidentally used all whole wheat flour in the dough, instead of half white, and the donuts were a little more fragile to handle before cooking, but tasted just fine with a nice crumbly texture. First we mixed everything up by hand:
Cut them out (this is the fun part and Bella got to do it all today):
Fried them (Clara's job):
Then sifted powdered sugar over them:
Then we ate all the donut holes!
Monday, November 13, 2006
What can I say? The dire predictions came true and during Clara's last rehearsal I went to the yarn shop again, this time with my mother, the worst of ennablers. A wonderful knitter herself (Daisy's hats and sweaters are locally famous--well, famous at Kroger), she egged me on to purchase all *eighteen skeins* of Debbie Bliss cashmerino for my next project, a cardigan for Clara. Found in the Junior Knits book above, it is styled like a parka--a hood, a drawstring waist, fun pockets, and a "fishtail" back that buttons up to the waist. I realized after the fact that it is one of the most complex patterns in the book but oh well! I'm committed now, with almost two skeins used up.
Giles was sadly overworked by school projects today (ha!) but promises photos tomorrow . . .
Saturday, November 11, 2006
A peek into Daisy's bedroom, the Mango Lounge. I painted three of the walls this rich orange color (aiming for "ripe mango") when I thought the room would be my painting and sewing room. Little did I know I would use it for a nursery!
The tiger lily watercolor on the wall is one of my favorites. Unlike many of my paintings which are cut up and reassembled, this one was painted in two fell swoops and left alone: quite a success in my terms!
Friday, November 10, 2006
My recent creation from this pattern, McCall 1018, dated sometime in the 40's, is a bed jacket:
I made View A with lace only at the yoke seam and at the wrists. I used a crisp pale pink cotton which was nice and firm for the embroidery. The pattern offers several fabric choices, including "fine flannel or albatross." Sounds delicious.
I had so much fun doing the embroidery! The instructions called for some odd choices of stitches--all those tiny leaves were supposed to be done in outline stitch, which I tried unsuccessfully before deciding to do lazy-daisy loops. I think that whatever works is the best choice. Even the dots were supposed to be done in outline stitch--changing to French knots was a no-brainer and looks wonderful.
Now I am looking for a little bout with something not too uncomfortable that will call for a little bed rest while looking glamorous . . . .
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Soup is one of those things you cook that is all about *why*--once you know that, the what, when, and how much all fall into place, and you will never need a recipe. There are different members of the soup family--I've posted a recipe for cream soup before that it is infinitely changeable for any vegetable you might be hosting. Making a good vegetable soup is a little different, but once you have mastered the basic process, the world will be your oyster. Remember, it's not about a specific list of ingredients, and it's certainly not about going out and shopping for a bunch of exotic items you'll only use once. Get a feel for the process, and all will be well in your kitchen.
*Schoolhouse Vegetable-Beef Soup*
1. You want some meat to flavor your soup and lend it protein, so that you don't get hungry half an hour after the meal. So get a pound of frozen hamburger out and brown it, with a chopped onion. If it was fairly greasy, you might want to drain the grease off. This is your base.
2. Next you want a flavorful liquid to add volume and, well, flavor. Now, I was raised a storebought-stock snob. My mother never had it; she was above it. I have changed though. I have no problem at all with a nice box of chicken or beef stock from the grocery store waiting in my pantry. I do read labels and avoid brands with chemicals--but that aside, a box of stock in the hand is worth two pots of stock I haven't made yet. So put a box of stock in--chicken, beef, or vegetable. If it needs to be a big pot of soup, go ahead and put as much water in also. This is your liquid.
3. Now you want to think about flavoring the liquid. You are always going to want a can of tomatoes--diced if you don't mind pieces of tomato, crushed if there are children in your house good at picking things out and laying them aside. I use a 28-oz. can because I always need a lot of soup. Guess what? You can use tomatoes in *any* form. What do you have in the pantry or freezer? Tomato sauce? Stewed tomatoes? Rotel? V-8? It will work! Now get to work punching the flavor up a little. Salt? Check! Minced garlic or garlic powder? Yes! A big slosh of Worcerstershire sauce or pepper sauce or tamari sauce? Of course. Half a cup of wine? Why not! Bring it all to a boil.
4. Veggies next. Think about how long they need to cook. I like my soup veggies soft and forgiving. If they need a while to cook, they go in now (white or sweet potatoes, winter squash, frozen green beans, frozen lima beans, carrots, celery). I like to make sure I use at least five kinds of vegetables all together, and onions count, so that's just four more.
5. You made it to base camp. Now you get to simmer; aim for at least an hour. I also like to turn it off after awhile and just let it sit on the stove for a while--gives the flavors time to blend without beating the vegetables to a pulp.
6. Half an hour before dinner time, get out any fragile vegetables you're going to use--frozen or fresh corn, yellow squash or zucchini, fresh or frozen spinach. Give them ten minutes of simmer, then turn off the pot and put a lid on it to keep it hot. Taste and see if you need more salt, some pepper, some balsamic vinegar, etc. Serve.
1. Don't simmer broccoli or cauliflower; they're just too strong in a mixed soup.
2. Cook pasta or rice separately to add in; they will soak up all your tasty broth if you throw them in the pot.
3. Add fresh basil after turning the heat off.
See, you don't need a recipe. You can make a thousand different soups all your very own invention, and you will feel so smart. I do!
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Several years ago I became enchanted with the David Austin roses from Wayside Gardens and planted many of them in my flower beds. The hot humid summers have been hard on them and I have lost several, but my Heritage roses are hanging in there. I have found for the last several years that the biggest, sweetest blooms appear in November and early December, before the first truly bitter frost. And they seem even softer and pinker in cool, foggy weather, like today.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Some ideas on how to integrate a learning seamstress into a *real* sewing project:
1. Start by laying out the pattern pieces yourself and having her cut them out. Truly sharp scissors are essential and can be handled carefully by a medium-aged child. Demonstrate notches and other markings.
2. After learning about grainlines, the child can do the pinning herself. Check before she cuts! It doesn't hurt to have a little extra fabric either for the layout, just in case!
3. Even a beginning seamstress can run up straight seams--skirt sides, bodice sides, shoulders. First I pin them and hand them over for sewing, then we move on to the child pinning, getting checked, and doing the sewing.
4. Pressing seams open is a great job for a learner--especially those straight seams.
5. After practicing with the zigzag function, set her to work zigzagging raw edges of seams.
6. Let her run easing or gathering stitches--show her how to change the machine setting, how to use two rows of stitching for gathering, and how to leave a long tail of thread.
All of this seems to take more time and effort at first than doing it yourself (oh right--that's teaching a child anything!), but a child who is interested in sewing will take these basic skills and run with them! I have been so pleased and surprised with Clara's wonderful workmanship, and look forward to teaching Bella more soon.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
We took a fall color day trip today--just in time, as all the leaves on the north sides of the mountains were down. The south sides were still glorious and the deepest, brightest yellow we have ever seen, much more so than usual.
We picnicked in the car on our packed lunch and in early afternoon arrived at a favorite stop, a funny town perched on the mountainside, with streets full of Victorian-style cottages, many of them gloriously shabby.
We wandered in and out of little shops: Daisy found things to look at in the toy store.
Richly-colored pansies in a window-box.
The Composer with Giles and Felix ("the guys", Daisy calls them) in the park.
A happy autumn vignette.
We finished off with dinner in a renovated mill--a treat indeed. Although Daisy, with her head cold, was not hungry and systematically rejected each bit of food we placed on her saucer. At last she held up the frilled toothpick from Giles' ham sandwich and asked, "Can I eat this?"
She is safely tucked away in bed now, after a long and beautiful day.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Daisy is suffering from a dreadful cold, tortured by congestion that makes her suddenly let out a war-cry and run for the Kleenex box to wipe unassisted. She doesn't nap when she's sick, and of course doesn't sleep well with such a stuffy nose.
Here's what I am doing for our mutual comfort:
1. Boxes of Kleenex everywhere. I think I have eight boxes in circulation downstairs.
2. A sick child should have her own bottle of saline nasal spray. This is unmedicated, but still very helpful in clearing out nasal passages for easier breathing. Of course, it should never be shared.
3. Even though Daisy usually sleeps without a pillow, I have been putting her to bed on one as raising her head keeps her a little more comfortable. A fresh, ironed pillowcase every night.
4. A humidifier by the bed, cleaned and refreshed before bedtime.
5. For me, I make sure to dress in something warm for bedtime, knowing I will be up and down. Setting aesthetics aside, I will be choosing the flannel sock monkey pajamas, and keeping my slippers handy. Even cosier, I will make sure I have a large warm blanket ready at the chair I will sit up with Daisy in.
6. Library videos for tomorrow afternoon.
And maybe tonight will be better.
Posted by Anna at 7:36 PM
Yesterday I finished this flouncy skirt for Bella, working without a pattern. I had the cutest, softest, finest-wale corduroy with polka dots (as you see), and made three tiers. The waist is elastic, and the other two tiers gather into the one above. I trimmed the two seams with hot pink velvet ribbon.
Not my favorite project, as gathering corduroy seemed to go on for hours and hours and my bobbin was *continually* running out of thread at the most inopportune times. I never did get my gathers very evenly spaced, but if there was ever a trotting horse that was not going to show mistakes, that horse is Bella!
Thursday, November 02, 2006
This is my all-time favorite way to prepare chicken for an easy family dinner. First of all, I like to start with my favorite chicken arrangement, the Whole Cut-Up Chicken. Yes, the frozen bag of breasts is wonderful in the freezer for elegant boneless dishes, and the whole chicken wins for cuteness and Sunday dinner, but for ease of fixing and a mix of light and dark, I go for the package of parts.
You can do this early in the day, or as late as half an hour ahead of time. I like to aim to have the chicken marinating all afternoon. And don't forget--your version will be as good as mine if you need to substitute something. I use:
juice of a lime and an orange (or two limes)
about 1/3 c. mirin or honey if I'm out of mirin
about 1/2 c. tamari (crucial)
3-5 crushed cloves of garlic.
Mix and pop it all in a gallon ziploc in the fridge.
Heat oven to 425. Spread your chicken out spaciously, no touching. Make sure the skin side is up. I often need two pans for this--so be it. Do not cover. Stick in the oven and leave for 45 minutes or so. Fancier cooks will turn the chicken pieces over for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking--I often don't bother.
Oven technique is everything here. Don't be afraid of that high heat, and don't start thinking you need to drape some foil over the meat! Your chicken is going to go to a deep dark delicious mahogany brown, and it will be crispy on the outside and juicy and tender inside.
I use the pan juices straight or the fat separated off if I'm feeling virtuous, poured over rice, or even stirred into risotto at the end of cooking. Salty but so good!