Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Week for Extras

Time for the little projects that have stayed down on my list for too long! I have:

•defrosted the freezer. Oh, it feels so good.
•tidied various closets.
•shopped for underwear.
•sorted baby clothes.
•tidied drawers and shelves as I have come to them.

It's just nice not to be so rushed! School and work will pick back up soon, but in the meantime I am enjoying a little extra order in my spaces, and some time to putter (but no baking--we're still living off interest from Christmas).

Friday, December 29, 2006

Winter 1973

My family moved into this schoolhouse when I was four years old--before that we lived around on the other side of the mountain in what we still call "the blue house" even though it's now covered in rockwork. This picture is from those Blue House years--my brother Matt, and my father, and our dog Caleb, and me, in a rare snowfall. I'm sure we had no power and the pipes were frozen, but that didn't bother us as children!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Help with Knitting

I hate getting stuck in the middle of a project because I don't know how to do a stitch, or can't understand the directions. In the past, I would have to wait for a visit from my mother, a knitting diva, to straighten me out. Oooh, or go to the yarn shop!

But I have found a third alternative that is much more convenient, though not as much fun: This site is so great that it even accomodates continental-style knitters like myself, by offering video clip instructions for each stitch in both English and continental style. No trying to read descriptions! No interpreting diagrams! You can watch it over and over until you get it! No excuses!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Schoolhouse Pork Ragu

This is a rich, meaty dish, excellent for winter. It smells wonderful cooking, and gives you that smug sense of "dinner's taken care of". Note that a ragu is prepared just like a pot roast, except that it is braised in an acidic tomato sauce rather than broth or beer-- it's nothing complicated, so don't be intimidated. Like a pot roast, this dish is at its best cooked in a cast iron pot on the stovetop, not a crock pot.

*Schoolhouse Pork Ragu*

2 T. olive oil

any size pork shoulder on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove to a plate and set aside.

In drippings, saute:
1 chopped onion
4 cloves minced garlic
2-3 sprigs worth of fresh rosemary, minced.

Return meat to pot.
Add 1 35-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 t. coarse salt
lots of fresh-ground pepper

Bring to boil, cover, turn down to simmer, and let simmer for 3-4 hours. You want it very, very tender. Careful of scorching towards the end as your sauce thickens up. When ready to eat, remove the pork to a pie plate and break apart into manageable chunks, then return meat to pot. Serve over broad pasta such as fettucini or pappardelle, with freshly-grated Parmesan, of course. Add bread, salad, and eat happily.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Elephant Sanctuary

Random adventure day: the elephant sanctuary! Bella: " Why is the elephant sanctuary so far away from town?" Well, let's think. . .

We were meeting grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousins, who got lost on the way. *We* didn't get lost, owing no doubt to the brand-new GPS in Giles' pocket! So we had some time to wait, and allowed Daisy to take the (stationary) wheel.

Mother and baby, always a popular theme with our own baby . . . so cute! Of course Daisy was saying, "He's tiny. He's this tiny. I want to hold him in my hand, etc." I wanted to myself.

A greenhouse on the campus held a healthy crop of succulents wintering over.

Cold and windy as it was, we enjoyed warming up and inspecting the cactuses for a few minutes.

But the elephants were best.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Cosiest Night of the Year

Christmas Eve is no doubt the most festive and exciting night, but Christmas night is my favorite: cosiest ever. The work has been done, the presents have been opened, and peace descends. We like to go out in the afternoon and come back home at dusk to our books, puzzles, a warm fire, and the best leftovers in the calendar year.

We always go for a hike on Christmas afternoon, after our big mid-day dinner. We had a cold, cold rain all morning today, but it ended and we were able to bundle up and go. Daisy currently finds clothes unacceptable so it was difficult to keep her warm, but we stuffed her into the backpack against her will and eventually she subsided.

The rocks and boulders were a glowing seafoam green from the wet mosses and lichens. There was not another soul out on the trail.

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

(photo credits to the Composer today)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Festive Saturday Pleasures

• Breakfast with grapefruit.

• A little time to read in my sunshiny sitting room.

• The fragrance of tangerines.
• A long crisp blue walk after lunch.
• Knitting Clara's sweater by the fire.

• The luxury of a stash of gift boxes--no wrapping odd-shaped bundles, or scrounging for old shoe boxes in the attic.
• Plenty of tape in a weighted dispenser.
• A wonderful rich pork ragu on the stove.

• Arranging my Christmas roses.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Gingerbread Open House

This afternoon the kids and I went to a lovely party at a friend's house--her annual Gingerbread Open House. Her (beautiful, Italianate) home was gorgeously decorated, her Christmas tree was themed with the twelve days of Christmas (very clever), snacks and a huge earthenware punch bowl were on display, and a long table was laid out with the makings of gingerbread houses so all the children could build candy-covered cottages. I spent most of the time assisting Daisy with her gumdrops and acknowledging her admiring comments about the six-month old baby across from us ("She's tiny. She's this tiny. I love her. I want to hold her in my hands like this.").

While I was sitting I was appreciating the fact that Jane had gone to so much trouble to make a lovely afternoon for her friends. I was glad my girls were all in pretty dresses having a good time, that Felix was building a mighty gingerbread structure, and that Giles, though not in his element, was being polite.

Having been raised in a family so outsized and cumbersome that no one wanted to have us over (!), I am grateful for any invitations I receive now.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Card: 2006

This year, instead of hunting for a vintage Christmas card to cannibalize, I followed the Composer's brilliant suggestion. Our dear friend and neighbor Phyllis had painted a pair of paintings celebrating Advent and hung them up in church at the beginning of December. With her permission, we photographed one and turned it into our Christmas card:

I especially like the way the brown X-shapes repeat each other.
The other painting is just as wonderful and perhaps it will stand in in 2007!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wrapping the Presents

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Ornaments

I love our humble indigenous cedar Christmas tree. It may not have the lush dark denseness of a fir, but it has its own airy beauty.

It's not too dignified for the occasional cornhusk lady ornament.

The branches have beautiful feathery tips.

My favorite ornament ever, made by my mother in the early seventies:

A glass icicle:

I love these beautiful German birds but their clips fall off and I can't clip them to the tree, especially the old ones. This year I made them a little nest of cedar clippings in a tiny red vintage suitcase (with polka dots). They seem very happy!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pleasant View of the Barn

Christmas Bird Count

It's a good thing that birders aren't planning to take over the world; they'd probably succeed. They are all armed with binoculars, amazing memories, and lots of facts, and they are exceedingly well-organized.

I had never heard of the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count until this year, when Felix got a call from an ornithology grad student inviting him to go out in the field with the local ornithology professor to cover some territory in the National Forest. Not surprisingly, Felix did not decline the invitation, and spent from sun-up to sundown yesterday counting birds with the professionals. He was in his element, and earned the title of "sharp cookie" from his companions.

I'm not really sure how he made the connections to get brought along on that expedition--and he's going again on Wednesday to count another area--but I do know that within a couple of minutes of talking with *anyone* he has gauged their interest in birds and gotten the lowdown on their best sightings.

There is no joy like the joy of seeing my children grow up smart and accomplished and figuring out the work they are supposed to do in the world!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Putting up the Tree

Today was putting up the tree day at last! The Composer and the kids went out and found a nice cedar halfway down the driveway. They brought it inside and as always, what had seemed little outside zoomed all the way up to the twelve-foot ceiling and fills the corner of the living room.

While we were decorating the tree I set out special storebought treats for everyone to enjoy:

Very helpful for motivating weary workers to keep on going.

I think the special snacks will be a good one to repeat next year. It was fun shopping for the goodies I never buy but everyone loves.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Clara's December recital was tonight; each cello student from her teacher's studio played a piece. I was immensely proud of her this evening as she presented Daniel van Goens' "Scherzo" for cello and piano. It has around a million notes, and goes a billion miles an hour. You can click here and scroll down to Track 4 for a sample of this piece. Really fast playing is not her thing; she is more meditative and introspective and glories in rich, deep music. But tonight she pulled it off!

She was accompanied on piano by the Composer. It makes me so happy to see them play together. Almost like we all landed in the right family somehow.

A very tiny and precocious six-year old boy went first with his little tenth-size cello and bow. Daisy looked with alarm, then shouted (twice), "His stick is too small!"

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Daisy in Winter Sun

A very warm afternoon, and a little sunshine on beautiful bare skin . . .


No tree yet, but the stockings are up! Needlepoint and velvet, and no Santas:

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Delicious Tiny Treasures

Another court date in Tiny Town, another trip to the best and cheapest antique mall in all the world . . .

Vintage satin padded hangers in candy colors (green not shown):

Gratuitously pretty metal trashcan--can you beat dogwood blossoms?

I also bought two wonderful flowery metal trays for dirt cheap, and a cheery yellow breadbox, the garage kind with the door that slides up, painted with flowers, for Clara to set on her dresser top and store her toiletries in. Sunshine!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Vintage Forties Robe: Simplicity 1778

Come to think of it, I have done a lot of sewing lately! I have been wanting an equivalent to my wrap-around apron of summer, something for winter that I could put on after a shower, before getting into Sunday clothes or work clothes, for mornings when I have to go out. I do have a robe that I love, but I can't cook breakfast in it, it doesn't stay closed very well, and it's cashmere, so not easily washable. I wanted something warm, decent, close-fitting, washable, that feels more like "clothes" than a robe. Well, turns out women used to wear that garment *all the time* and they called it a housecoat!

I found a pattern from the forties, and some very inexpensive flannel, only $2/yard. It is wonderful flannel, very heavy and warm. The nostalgic print is reminding me of something I loved when I was little, but just can't place . . . It was fun making it extravagantly long, almost floor length. It's actually got very slimming lines, which I'm not sure is evident in this picture.

I couldn't keep from finishing the inside seams in a contrasting pale blue just for fun.

The other fun is the wonderful gathered pocket!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Vintage Inspiration: Dressing for Christmas

I love the idea of dressing to be cheery and agreeable for others to see:

"A gay little mossy green jersey dress with buttons like red berries seemed the proper frock for the occasion, and a scarlet ribbon for her hair. Or was that too coquettish? But no, not for Christmas Day, and not for children . . . "

--Grace Livingston Hill, Astra

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Pleasant Winter Supper

The Composer and I headed out to a Christmas party last night at 6:00, so I prepared a supper for the children that could be done ahead. We were happy to come home to the leftovers after our evening out at an event which the caterer apparently could not locate, *actually.* Many, many people standing around wondering why there was no food. I would have been more curious myself if not for the thought of:

*Leek and Potato Soup
*Chicken Salad on Rolls
*Leafy Green Salad

Leek and Potato Soup:

Wash and slice thinly the white parts and a tiny bit of the green part of:
1 bunch leeks

Saute in 3 T. olive oil until translucent.

Add one box chicken stock
4-5 cubed potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender.
Puree soup in blender, in batches. Stir in 1 c. cream and heat but do not boil.

Excellent Chicken Salad

I use my chicken breasts straight from the bag in the freezer: so convenient!

Place 6 frozen chicken breasts in large pot and add water just to cover. Add 1 bay leaf and 1 T. salt. Bring to boil, turn down heat, and simmer very slowly until chicken is cooked through. Maybe 30 minutes?

Remove from pot, and set out to cool.
When cool, cut or pull into shreds and place in large bowl.

Thinly slice:
one bunch green onions
4-5 stalks celery

Add to bowl.

1 cup pecans in skillet over low heat. Don't burn!!!
Cool and chop coarsely. Add to bowl.

To dress:
1 c. lowfat mayo
1 t. kosher or coarse salt
juice of 1 lemon

Toss and toss until everything is well-mixed. Chill thoroughly. We have all been craving this salad for weeks. It's the best chicken salad ever! Serve on rolls if desired. Allow toddlers to pick out the "green and brown" parts--to eat first!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Vintage Fifties Dress: Advance 6798

I got this pattern several months ago to make a cooler-weather dress with. I love Miss Snooty on the left with her nose in the air! I made it up in a nice quality cotton, using the longer sleeves:

I didn't have quite enough fabric so I faced these so-fabulous cuffs with a co-ordinating print from the scrapbag:

I have been very happy with my last few vintage projects. I've found that the bust and waist darts fit exactly right, out of the package, which is almost uncanny. With modern patterns I find it necessary to fit every bodice to my dress form in order to get a nice fit and the smaller amount of ease I like. I think modern sewing patterns are just designed to be super-baggy, and I think I am built with a New Look bodice.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tangerines in Afternoon Sun

Citrus fruit is so beautiful. Such saturated color!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Beauty in the Back Hall

A log cabin quilt the Composer's great-grandmother made:

Bluebirds of happiness in the window:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hot Water Bottle

Hot water bottles are an underutilised domestic comfort, at least here in the south where we don't know what to do with ourselves when it gets cold, and don't even own boots. However, a hot water bottle can be a very good friend on a freezing night. I like to tuck a child up with one when they are feeling under the weather. It makes me feel like I'm doing *something*, and it certainly is cozy for the sick little person.

Every hot water bottle must have a cozy cover. Here is mine--I simply cut a rectangle of red flannel, folded it over, and machine stitched it down one side and across the bottom. Then I turned over enough fabric at the top to make a casing, and stitched that down with decorative green embroidery thread. For a drawstring, I ran red grosgrain ribbon through with plenty of extra to tie a big bow with. The cover comes off every time I fill it, to make sure it stays perfectly dry.

I would love to knit a cover some day out of a truly luxurious yarn, but in the meantime, my toes stay plenty warm with this one.

One last note--I'm showing off my schoolhouse quilt underneath the water bottle. My grandmother made it years ago to match the house!

A Wreath for the Kitchen

We received an early Christmas treat today--a gorgeous wreath sent by my brother and his wife. It's beautifully spicy and full and scents the whole kitchen.

I sense the fine hand of K at work--thank you so much!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Golden Marzipan Fruitcake

We made our fruitcakes over the weekend--starting Thursday with chopping and macerating fruit, and ending Saturday with five beautiful cakes cooling on the stovetop. They are now tucked cosily away in my enormous Boy Scout Popcorn Tin (thanks Felix for his aggressive sales talk!) ripening for gifts and for afternoon enjoyment with tea.

Before I share the recipe I would like to state that this is an absolutely delicious cake and should never be presented as a *fruit*cake, lest you scare people away. So, the recipe is adapted closely from Nigella Lawson's in How to Be a Domestic Goddess and it follows shortly. Note that this is a two-day affair both for practical reasons (freezing and macerating), and emotional--it's just so much more fun to mix up the cake when everything is prepared ahead of time!

Day One:

1. Cube an 8-ounce can of almond paste into dice-sized blocks and set on saucer in freezer overnight.

2. Slice one pear as thinly as possible. Line a cookie sheet with foil, then spray with Pam. Lay pear slices out neatly and flatly, and put in a 250 oven for a couple of hours, turning over after one hour. You are approximating dried pear, but your slices can retain more moisture than the leathery chips from the store. When dry enough, cool, coarsely chop, and add to fruit and brandy bowl.

3. Choose from the following and chop if necessary:

dried cherries--these are so, so good in this cake!
golden raisins
dried figs
--great grainy texture!
dried cranberries

4. When you have a total of two cups, place in a glass bowl and pour 1/3 cup brandy over. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave overnight.

5. Grind 1/4 c. almonds in blender or food processor.

Whew! You have done all the hard part and tomorrow will be easy and fun.

Day Two

Cream together:

1 cup + 2 T. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
2 eggs
1 t. orange extract
zest of 1 organic lemon

and your ground almonds

Stir in your prepared frozen almond paste and drained fruit (actually mine usually soaks up all the brandy). Spoon into a springform pan, or round cake pan, which you have buttered and lined with wax or parchment paper. Bake at 250 for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. A cake tester should come out clean.

After it cools, lift it out of the pan by its paper. Wrap the whole shebang in foil and put it in a tin and leave it for a week. As many times as you like, you may check on it and spoon tiny spoofuls of brandy over it, first poking some toothpick holes. Rewrap and count the days.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Vintage Christmas Shopping Inspiration

"First of all she had it in mind to get a warm lovely negligee for her mother, and comfortable pretty slippers to go with it. The doctor had given them hope that she might be able to come downstairs for dinner on Christmas Day if she was reasonably careful beforehand. She needed something to wear down. Marjorie chose a charming one of wine red wool, exquisitely finished with soft silk facings, a rich sash girdle, and frothy lace ruffling falling deeply from the wide sleeves and surplice neck. It was such a lovely thing she couldn't resist it. She selected a rosy quilted dressing sack for wear now when Mother began to sit up in bed, and then a couple of very pretty simple dresses . . . She bought a couple of little brother and sister suits for Sunny and Bonnie. They were so cute she could not resist them . . . Children's things were so pretty it required strength of character not to buy the store out.

After that it didn't take much time to select a warm house coat of brown for her father, a nice leather coat for Ted, and a thick, warm sweater for Bud with a bright Roman band of colors in the roll of the turtle collar . . .

She stopped on the way out of the store to get a five pound box of candy and another of salted nuts. Those would be things she couldn't well purchase at the little grocery store near Aster Street."

--Grace Livingston Hill, Brentwood

Friday, December 01, 2006

Morning Oranges

This morning when I came into the dining room the sun was glowing on the silver trays of oranges I have on my little sideboard. I am enjoying the pure wintery look of citrus fruit and pomegranates on display before I move them to make room for richer, darker Christmas goodies.

Related Posts with Thumbnails