Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Forcing Hyacinths

I checked on my pots of hyacinths and narcissus, and all the bulbs are up! I've got an enamel pan of hyacinth bulbs on the fridge, and several pots in the living room. I had kind of forgotten they I had put them there a couple of weeks ago, but they're all sending up spears.The narcissus will be blooming around Christmas time and the hyacinths right after, in January.

I start craving flowers during long cold months, and dawdling in the floral department of the grocery store. This year I will have my own fragrant pots!

A Walk in the Woods

Yesterday was cold but beautiful, so in the late afternoon we ditched our inside plans ( I skipped the cleaning!!) and headed out into the woods. Daisy rode in the backpack, commenting on everything in friendly unintelligible baby language.

It was like being in another world, only fifty feet from the house. We hiked down the steep back side of the mountain until we came to the old roadbed that runs through the woods. We collected some grapevine for wreaths which will hang in the living room windows for Christmas.

Eventually we came out a ways down the road and stopped to visit with the neighbor's horse, which was most exciting for that lover of all animals, Daisy; then came home, much refreshed.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Felix Feeds the Birds

Felix has added a new feeder to his inventory, and it's proving to be very popular with the front-yard birds. He dug through the dumpster at the cabinet-maker's shop and got a discarded cabinet door, which, laid down flat, has a decorative rim all the way around it to keep birdseed from falling off. He mounted it on a 4 x 4 post which he stuck in the ground, and keeps it supplied with sunflower seeds. A whole flock of juncos were on it this morning, and we often see sparrows, cardinals, and jays.

The nice thing about this feeder is that it's visible from the dining room, sitting room, and school room, where we spend our mornings. It's fun to look out and see all the tiny activities going on. Even Daisy likes watching the birds.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday at the Cabin

We spent the afternoon and evening with the Composer's parents at their cabin up on a creek in the hills. It's a beautiful one-hour drive, through one small town, then up into friendly little mountains and high valleys. The south slopes were covered with trees still hanging onto gorgeous leaves--the oaks are especially brilliant and late this year. The north sides were bare of leaves, and looked like winter.

We had planned on hiking, hanging out at the river, and taking some photographs, but there was enough soft rain to keep us on the porch or indoors. The boys took turns firing some kind of gun at a pie plate hanging on a tree, the girls played bingo, and the Composer and I enjoyed sitting around doing nothing at all.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Salad Every Night

Once we had a sweet family over for dinner, and when the salad was passed, the dad said, "Oh, none for me, thanks. I tried salad once and didn't like it." I'm not sure he's been back for a meal--if he returned he would find out that we have salad every night, almost without exception. Well, sometimes I make that cole slaw exception.

Sometimes the kids are in a salad mood, and fight over who gets more. Sometimes they have to be reminded to take their share. Even Bella, who loves the drama of not liking salad, has no problem eating hers.

Romaine is the lettuce of choice--it's how I was raised--but a big treat is one of those plastic containers with a head of butter lettuce inside and on the outside a sticker saying "It's alive!!!," like a preview to a cheap science fiction movie. The Composer doesn't like me to buy those though because they're much harder to fit into the fridge.

*Schoolhouse "House" Salad*

Romaine lettuce
Dressing: extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar (a sweeter one), and Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt

To make dressing, use a small jar (like from pimentos), and fill 1/3 with oil. Put in almost as much vinegar, and salt to taste. It's best if Giles does this for you, like he does for me. Shake and pour over lettuce. You don't have to use it all tonight.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Pie Social

We went overboard with the Thanksgiving pies. It was my mother--she brought five. I had made two. Together we made another. That's eight pies! So this afternoon we called a few friends and invited them over to eat pie. I set out tea, coffee, and whipped cream. It was very relaxed, and best of all, we are down to two and a half pies, with one more in the freezer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

How Blessed Am I?

. . . and not only is she lovely, she has learned to say "Bad cat!" to our most annoying pet.

Charming Girls in Retro Aprons

I finished Bella and Clara's aprons a couple of weeks ago--they are completely darling! These pictures don't do them justice. Both of my big girls are susceptible to the spell cast by aprons--once those ties are tied, they are ready to get to work! There will be plenty for them to do the next two days as Thanksgiving food prep rolls into a higher gear.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bulb Work

I spent much of my weekend in the flower garden. I was trying to dig up all the perennial weeds that had crept in, but ended up multi-tasking, as my spade was frequently running into massive clumps of daffodils that needed to be divided anyway.

Several years ago I did a large planting of Ice Follies narcissus, and they have multiplied extravagantly. Every spot where I planted 3-5 bulbs is now loaded with 20-30, badly in need of some legroom. So I would weed for awhile, unearth many many bulbs, divide the clumps, and then stab hopefully for a blank spot to plant them.

These flowers are beautiful in the spring. I especially like them when the sun is getting low and shines through the blooms at the end of the day.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thanksgiving Plans

Daisy sat second chair today as we finished up making the fruitcakes. Actually she sat on the counter eating an apple and jabbing a wooden spoon into the bowl of batter. That's some good-smelling batter.

I have laid my Thanksgiving plans, and this year, unlike last year, we are having a (relatively) quiet family day. The only ones coming are my mother and two of my brothers. Last year I think the headcount was 30-something, and included many crazy people. No Crazy People is my standard for this year.

The menu never changes, so that part is easy:

Roasted Turkey
Smoked Turkey
Cornbread Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce
Green Beans
Green Salad

Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Apple Pie
Whipped Cream
Darjeeling Tea

Not slimming, as Raffaella would say.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fruitcake, Actually

Today I began on the Marzipan-Dried Fruit Cakes I'm making for Christmas gifts (thanks Nigella Lawson for the recipe, which I use with some changes). I chopped the marzipan and put it in the freezer, and chopped cups and cups of golden raisins, dried cranberries, and dried pears to soak overnight in brandy. I've not been able to find dried pears at the store, so I just bought some fresh, sliced thinly, and spread on foil-covered cookie sheets and left in a 250-degree oven for a couple of hours. I did turn them over halfway through, and they came out just right (and cheap).

This is the best cake, and also includes lemon zest and ground almonds. It seems a shame to call it a fruitcake; on the other hand, if people avoid it, that means more for me!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Back in April or May I picked up a package of tuberose bulbs at Lowe's and stuck them in a pot, and put the pot out in a flowerbed. I don't think I watered it once this summer, yet the spindly foliage persevered. A month or so ago the plants put up stalks that clearly intended to flower and looked a lot like hosta flower spikes.

I've been waiting for weeks for them to open and show me what a tuberose is--I've never seen one in real life. Today I got tired of waiting/afraid of the hard freeze that's due, and cut the stems and brought them inside. They opened and they smell heavenly, like gardenias and honeysuckle. They're perfuming the whole front of the house. Next year: multiple pots of these beauties.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Comfort Cooking

Tonight I felt the need for some comfort cooking. I had a hard morning in court that didn't last long, but felt ugly. The best thing to do when life outside the house gets nasty--whether it's work, extended family, bad news, or financial worries--is plunge into domestic work, and what better than a nice dinner, preferably something that needs a lot of handwork?

Meatballs and sauce: mixing, rolling, and simmering are all very calming activities, and things are better now.

*Schoolhouse Meatballs*

Mix (latex gloves are handy here):
2 lbs. ground round or sirloin
1 c. breadcrumbs
2 eggs
3 T. Italian seasoning
3 T. dried onion flakes
1 t. salt
lots of fresh ground pepper

Shape into 1-inch balls, and fry til brown and crispy in small amount of olive or canola oil. When brown, drop into pot of bubbling pasta sauce and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

These are dairy-free for Giles, but are delicious served with pasta, sauce, and Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Autumn Work in the Flower Garden

My flower garden has been sadly neglected the last two years--that whole new baby thing. Fortunately it does have some mature shrubs and perennials, and stone walkways to give it some structure even when I haven't done much. Next year will be better!

This weekend we got out in it and did a lot of weeding, although it still needs a couple more sessions. I haven't planted fall pansies yet, and am going to do that this week. This week is also for fall bulb planting--down in the mudroom there are lilies, hyacinth, and daffodilI bulbs waiting for me. I'm also getting a giant free load of pinebark mulch from the neighbor down the road who runs a tree-trimming service. Once I get that spread, it will be looking good!

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Daily Walk

Now that it's not swimming weather, I walk every day for about two miles. I have two choices after I go down the driveway--left, or right; both are beautiful. Today I went left, with my camera. The first one is our view out over the bayou which is hidden in the valley.

The last one is the back of our ridge; the schoolhouse sits up on top under the tallest oak tree.

"Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Vintage Finds: Retro-Style Aprons

How cute are these? I've been making the lower right apron for Clara and Bella this week. Clara's is done--I used a pale pink retro print with bright yellow bias binding. Bella's is started and has a similar print in pale blue. The patterns has adorable vintage details--pockets outlined in bias tape, back darts, gathered flounces, seams finished in bias tape, and little bows tacked on. I am really enjoyed sewing these, and am realizing how much my attitude toward sewing has changed--a couple of years ago I would have chosen the simplest, fastest pattern out there and raced through it as quickly as possible. Maybe it's just that I'm getting old; I have actually learned to enjoy the process.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Local Art

The little road we live on is outside of town, and quite short--about two miles. And not built up at all, so not that many houses. So far, five people on our road have had solo art exhibits in the last few years! Tonight we went to see my sweet neighbor Eve's opening. She's a textile artist who works at home on a loom and creates beautiful, deeply-colored woven pieces. They were gorgeous and superbly displayed at the university in town. I bought a huckweave, hand-woven kitchen towel in beautiful strawberry and periwinkle plaid--for only $9.

Local exhibits and showings can be great places to find interesting, original pieces you can afford, often with the bonus of knowing or meeting the artist! Most towns of any size have art centers that showcase local artists, and any college with an art department will have lots of student shows--especially in the spring when seniors are finishing up. There's lots of great stuff out there if you go out and look!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kitchen Day

Yesterday was Kitchen Day--cleaning and extra cooking. It feels good to get caught up in the kitchen. I cleaned the countertops, microwave, stovetops, breadbox, crackerbox, compost cupboard, sinks, and did the dusting, vacuuming, and mopping. I made the week's worth of bread, a pot of chicken broth, a triple batch of cookie dough, and a pot roast (that was for dinner). This time I was smart enough and did the cooking *before* the cleaning.

Clara Has Sewing Success!

This is the stuffed animal Clara made yesterday completely by herself--I'm so proud of her. She bought the polarfleece and cut out the pattern several months ago. Yesterday, something lit a fire under her and she did the entire project, start to finish, in a couple of hours, as a gift for Bella. Go Clara!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Vintage Find: The American Home Diet

I found this delightful book today at the vintage bookstore. It answers "the ever present question: What Shall We Have for Dinner?" The copyright date is 1920 and it was written by two professors of "Chemical Hygiene"! Most of the book is a full years' worth of menus--breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These are priceless. Examples:

May 8 Lunch:

Vegetable Soup
Baked Beans
Green Onions
Sliced Oranges and Shredded Cocoanut

May 8 Dinner:

Lamb Chops
Mashed Potatoes
Creamed Lima Beans
Watercress Salad
Spanish Cream (I think this is a flan or custard?)

November 19 Lunch:

Cheese Souffle
Cole Slaw
Banana and Nut Salad

November 19 Dinner:

Broiled Trout
Boiled Sweet Potatoes
Creamed Carrots
Egg Sauce
Baked Apple

Butter is present at every meal, to promote health (as stated in the introduction). Saltines are also on many menus in an odd spot, usually following the dessert! The Sunday suppers are fabulous. They are the secondary meals as the main meal is served at lunch time. I'd love this menu for March 8:

Oyster Stew
Egg, Olive, and Potato Salad
Nut Bread
Chocolate (sounds great but I think it only means cocoa)

Nut bread, olives, and cocoa with marshmallows seem to be standard Sunday supper fare. Welsh rarebit, salted peanuts, and grapefruit and celery salad are other standbys. Bring them on!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Getting Groceries

The decision about where to buy the weekly groceries has become an economically-charged and morally-laden one, now that the SuperWalMart has opened in our town. Do we give them our business, thereby assuring that some day they really will be the only store in town for anything and everything? Are low prices everything? Can I stand the enormous parking lot? Do I want to load the groceries into the car by myself or have the helpful Kroger bagboy do it?

For now I am sticking with the grocery store, which for the last two weeks has been eerily empty, ever since the grand opening of the SuperW. And reminding myself how blessed I am, to be able to go to the store and get everything I need and lots of things I want. After all, as Grace Livingston Hill said so succintly, "The primary duty of a woman in a home is to see that her family is well-fed!"

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