December days. The weather is dim, wet, the sky very low and filled with purple. Afternoons out, nights in, mornings dark with candlelit showers. Early Sunday morning I found myself driving out to Powell Butte where I sat in the morning-bright, cold-blowing wind and looked at the mountain. The sun rose, glowing white behind the thin layer of clouds. I had hot coffee, and one of those jacket-hoods with fake fur, a zipper that went up to my nose, and drawstrings, which I tightened. It was glorious.
Deep breath, in and out. The tree is trimmed, the lights are up, the parties are scheduled, the gifts have been shipped. There are cards to write and cookies to bake, but those are the things I look forward to. I'm still knitting the pink sideways coat. That thing is taking forever, and honestly, I'm not trying too hard to finish it. Andy's crocheting a great big whale, which is super rad. For the past few months, we've been putting together things for a tiny play kitchen for Mimi for Christmas. I'm quite sure I've already spent many more hours with it and and enjoyed it as much as she ever will (so. much. fun.) but I can hardly wait to play with it with her. The flannel sheets are on the bed, and I fall asleep before I can even open my book. I got a few chores done, and I feel like things are trickling now, and that's how I like it. That's how I like winter here. Slow, dark, and simple, molasses in a chocolate-ginger cookie. Because our girl's on a tolting run, most of the time. A beautiful whirlwind I counter-balance with hot tea and lots of sitting with my feet up at the end of the day.
I'm in search of a candlelight Christmas concert. Would you know of any pretty ones?
***I just read this post of Heather's — it's so lovely. She has such an honest, beautiful way with words, and motherhood, and everything.
Over the river and through the woods we go to get our tree. Breakfast high on the cliff above the river, and a short drive further to the little farm. We don't chop our trees down ourselves. We just buy one of the ones that are already cut at the farm for $10 then go on the hayride around the field, twice. The hayride's the thing. Amelia squinting at the sun, pointing at the trees, wobbling on the bales, calling, "Wheeeee! Wheeeeeeeeee!" as we bump and rumble through the field. It smells good out there, fresh and green and cold. It's very cold. We drive a bit further on to see the sheep (which say, "Baaaaaaaaaaaaa! Baaaaaaa!" She does an uncanny impression). The late-afternoon sun is flaring through the moss-covered trees, which always makes me cry. The impossibly huge, impossibly white moutain gleams behind us. We wiggle back through the woods, nothing else to do. We turn up the music, take detours over hills and dales, feel old and new. My love runs into Starbucks and brings back hot chocolates. It's Sunday, and I'm Sunday driving, with a little tree in the back of the car and a little girl singing in her baby voice to herself in the back seat. I'd go around twice, if I could.
Let it begin, let it begin: The Christmas season is here. I found Milla's post (and its comments) very poignant. I think I was meant to be Finnish. I'm channeling Finnish Christmas. It's funny how Christmas makes you want things — things that have nothing to do with money. Our yard is dark with mud and muck. Bee the cat is sleeping in Amelia's sled, the one that's layered in buffalo-check polarfleece and hiding in the office until we go to the snow. My friend tells me about the ice-skating party she was invited to. There were kids, dogs, cocoa, and a bonfire. I howled with envy. Do you want to build a snowman? Yes, I do!
I cultivate a collection of candles. I make too many runs up to Pip's for cinnamon mini-doughnuts and their (quite awesome) chai (Heart of Gold) in the pouring rain. Amelia stands on her changing table in her pajamas and we look at the bright winter moon out her nursery window. The window is cold, condensation drifting like frost. "Bubbles," she says of the drops of water, and pulls her tiny finger along the glass. Goodnight tree. Goodnight stars. Goodnight moon. In the big bed, I listen to her snore softly beside me. I pull her hair out of her mouth, tuck her under the quilts, snuggle close. I say my prayers: Let me give. It's all here. Go slow, winter. Go slow.
Gee whiz, hello, you! How are you? I've been here, there, and everywhere, and all of it was just lovely. I so wanted to be organized enough to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving on time, but the days seemed to evaporate; I sincerely hope your holiday weekend was like ours was, filled with good food and quiet joys and loved ones and all of the precious beauties that belong to this season and this season alone. This morning it was ice-cold, silver-gray, and the air was filled with woodsmoke. I stopped to get a hot chai and a cinnamon bun to munch in the car on my way to jury duty. When my name wasn't called and it was clear I and almost everyone else was dismissed, my heart leaped like a toy on a tight spring, and I drove back through the frosty morning feeling free and full of delight and gratitude, again. The rare gift of a free day at the end of a long weekend of gifts. I am so grateful for my blessings. I try to count them and I get choked up, and cannot speak. A world of wonders, daily. My heart is full.
Leaves crunch, wind swirls, birds huddle. Our big baby girl is talking, talking, suddenly opinionated, thrillingly swift, picking up words and letters and numbers so fast and so suddenly, all spoken in her sweet, lisping, earnest, excited trill. It's almost constant, this bird-like chatter, and oh, it is wonderful. Her eyes shine as she realizes she is understood, sees that she can participate in the conversation. She talks about things I don't even notice, and as I listen hard and try to understand her (because it's still quite tangled and laced with sounds I attempt to parse) so many times it turns out that she is talking about something I was totally oblivious of: The moon in the daytime sky! A leaf that fits just like a hat! Three trees that look like daddy, mommy, and baby! So many things I didn't see until she told me to look. I had no idea it would be this exciting and charming and funny and delightful and really, just utterly incredible, watching someone learn to talk. It's like magic, for all of us, effervescent and full of bubbles popping, glittering the freezing air.
Peace be with you, and joy, this blessed season. And magic. And great love. Xoxoxoxo.
At around four o'clock on several afternoons this week I've gone racing home from wherever I am to grab my camera and then careen back out to the east side of Mt. Tabor to try to catch the alpenglow on Mt. Hood. It's short-lived but so worth the race (I only have a 50% success rate in catching it so far). I've already got the sled, the toddler snowpants, the toddler snow mittens, the toddler snowcoat, all ready for when we actually go up there. Up there, to where the snow lives.
This week has been cold and blustery, nevertheless. To warm up, I made chicken curry and these things we always made when I was a kid, from one of my mom's Pillsbury cookbooks — we called them apple babies:
Take a can of refrigerated crescent-roll dough and cut the triangles lengthwise so you have sixteen long, skinny triangles. Peel and core two apples and cut them into eight slices each. Starting at the fat end of the triangle, wrap each apple slice in dough. Put them in an 8" x 8" baking pan. Drizzle about 1/4 cup melted butter all over the tops of the babies. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (don't skimp). Add about 1/4 cup apple cider or orange juice or whatever you have to the pan, pouring it around but not on the apples. Bake in a 350-degree (F) oven until nicely browned. Serve plain or with a bit of cream. Try not to inhale all sixteen before other residents get home.
My curry was based on this recipe, though I used the shredded meat from a roasted chicken (I've been roasting or buying one every week, then making stock), didn't add the tomatoes or tomato paste (I'm not super keen on tomatoes), and did add a diced sweet potato, a diced Yukon gold potato, a bag of peas, and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Oh, and I used Dean & Deluca yellow curry powder (my favorite). If left to my own devices, I would probably eat some form of chicken and rice every single day. I should have a board for that. I'm still working my way through your suggestions for soups. There are so many amazing-looking ones; the comments on that post are like their own cookbook, I'm so excited. I made this potato-leek soup (photo above) and it was delicious (thank you, commenter Amelia!). You can't imagine how much this inspiration is helping me get back into the kitchen! Thank you all!
Today it's errands and a few chores, and haircuts, and getting a new binder, and getting some magnets, and taking the hose inside for the winter. Yesterday I bought candles and fake autumn flowers for the table (toddler-proof). I got placemats (toddler-proof), and made an appointment to have the windows measured for wooden blinds. A little bit of everything, and not too much at all, just the way I like these days. Slow and cold outside, warm and wooly in.
Have a good weekend, dear friends!
***Yep, that's the water room in the toddler area at (and the view from) our science museum, OMSI; Mimi's crocheted dress pattern is here; and she's showing you her thrifted prairie-girl dress, which I absolutely love and wish I had a pattern for (it's clearly homemade).
As the leaves turn and drop, and the winds blow and blow, and the rain falls, and the clouds cover, and the frost comes, and the heat turns on, and the fake fireplace glows, and the apple cake bakes, and the chicken with wild rice soup simmers, and the mountain gets whiter, and the nights get longer, and the golden mornings become more and more rare, I try to keep my baby warm. Sweet baby girl. All warm. Sweet and soft and warm. Dear girl.
I had my handwriting analyzed when I was twenty-four. One of the (many) things it told me was that I was not spontaneous. This is true. I'm plodding. My one spontaneous act seems to be to start making a quilt at the exact time that I have lots of other things going on. It's really weird. It must be some sort of reflex. It's like just all of a sudden if I have all of five minutes to myself I walk, zombielike, to the rotary cutter and start slicing away at stacks of fabric. Before I know it, I have a basketful. In this case, I cut 2"-wide strips of dozens — I don't know how many — tons — way more than I needed — of the cutest, sweetest fabrics in my stash, to make a little quilt for my cutest-sweetest. Creams, pinks, blues, flowers, bunnies, dots. Tiny rosebuds and little elephants. Hedgehogs and purple cherries. Polka-dots (which she calls "bubbles") and baby cats (which she calls "ah-ahs").
Do you know how to make a log cabin quilt? It's a wonderful thing. My friend Susan taught me how to do it. It's so easy. I don't do it exactly clockwise. I just do it randomly. It might be clockwise, but it might not be. I just go. When the blocks are done, you add the blue strips, horizontally between blocks and then a long strip of vertical "logs" with 2" squares at each intersection. I used wool batting, and then a grayish polka-dot flannel for the back. Cream-colored cotton with little lavender dots for the binding (which is done by machine and by hand). This one I'm going to tie (which is how I did this one and this one [and this is just plain funny]). I don't always tie them; sometimes I have them professionally finished. But I want to tie this one. I like how soft and floppy they are when you tie them.
We also made cinnamon baked doughnuts. They were delish. Ish. Maybe too much vanilla? Is that possible? Two teaspoons of vanilla is a lot. I think next time I'll leave out the vanilla and leave out the cinnamon in the batter. (I always leave out the nutmeg, in everything but bechamel. I don't like it in anything else.) The doughnuts were a little too . . . something. I can't put my finger on it. Almost perfect, though. The concept, in general, worked very nicely!
Been making soups, too. Will tell you about that, too. Thank you again for the inspiration! Still getting everything pinned!
***If you eat as many Mandarin oranges as we do you can simmer the peels with a few cloves and cardamom pods (and some cinnamon sticks, whatever you like) in a bit of water on a back burner throughout the day (don't forget about it; add more water as needed). It makes the house smell really wonderful.
My dear Meems in her lopapeysa. Special guest appearance by the incomparable Mt. Hood.
I forgot to say thank you most sincerely to all of our veterans and military servicepeople and your families for your tremendous sacrifices to protect and defend our cherished freedoms. Your efforts and trials do not go unnoticed. We are so grateful for you. Thank you.
Oh, we're in the thick of it, and it delights me: Cold clear days, cold gray days, mucky-bright leaf-slicks, neighborhood tromps, drooping gardens, hikes on the butte, boots and sweaters, roasted things, flushed cheeks, woodsmoke, white moons in the early evening sky. Halloween was just utterly adorable — Amelia had a fantastic time going door to door with her friends (that's the neighborhood crew, above, and my friend Gillian in her totally rad Mary Poppins costume — isn't that just brilliant? She looked so awesome). There are a LOT of stairs in our neighborhood. We made it to about fifteen houses, and once the Tootsie Pop showed up she was so focused on the lolli it became hard to walk up and down them and hold/eat the lolli at the same time. Man, it was cute. First-ever lollipop. I had to sneak it away when she was distracted. We didn't trick-or-treat last year because she had just learned to walk, so this year was basically her first Halloween. I had her wear the costume I made last year. It's so adorable watching her trying to figure out what in the world is going on. Every time someone opened their door she'd push past them and walk right into the house. Hilarious. Sweetly, she would also take the candy out of her basket and put it into the other kids'. Definitely my favorite Halloween ever.
When we weren't out walking — that was Powell Butte, on Saturday — I was cooking. Yes, me! I made this black bean soup (which we both thought was totally delicious). And then on Sunday we did our traditional First Fall Feast, though we did it a little differently, and just made several really savory side dishes: Ina's spinach gratin, and Brussels sprouts lardons, and caramelized root vegetables. Everything worked really well together and I was very happy! I also made a salad with mushrooms, shaved Gruyere, candied walnuts, pear slices, and my favorite salad dressing, Stacy and Elizabeth's "What Vinegar?" Salad Dressing. I swear I've written this down on the blog but I can't find it (all I can find is a picture of the recipe card, but I'll keep looking, or I'll rewrite it when I get a sec). THANK YOU thank you thank you for all of the soup suggestions. I'm in the process of pinning them all to my board and I am so incredibly inspired. Thank you so much. I even ordered some new soup bowls. I actually feel quite thrilled to cook now — thank you! Now I just have to figure out which one to start with! I think I should experiment with some breads, too. Okay. I can do this.
I'm still trying to cook. Remember when I used to cook? Oh, those were the days, those were the days!!! My fragile mojo for cooking has left me again. This is getting to be a thing. My people need to eat. I think I feed them pretty well, but I'm not inspired. I don't seem to care so much about what I eat. I slurp the dregs from Amelia's discarded mango-peach pouches, eat the second half of a toddler-handled banana that I catch in midair as she hurls it toward the table, and lick raisins off my hand — that's breakfast. Lunch — I don't even understand what people eat for lunch besides pad Thai. Dinner: Okay. I like dinner. I search the archives of my mind, remembering that I used to cook dinner, and if not cooked then surely I assembled it, at least. Roasted chicken from New Seasons, shredded and turned into tacos with avocado and black beans. Swedish pancakes for Sunday breakfast, with most of the pancakes saved to make spinach crepes for dinner. Vegetarian mushroom sauce? I can do it. Serve over pasta with a small mountain of ricotta cheese.
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
In a large pan, melt butter and saute onions until soft. Add mushrooms, garlic, and spices. Cook until mushrooms are soft but still have a bit of bite to them. Add tomato paste, tamari or soy sauce, and honey. Simmer ten minutes. Add pepper (and salt, if needed) to taste.
This was my friend Ann's recipe, and I've had it for over twenty years. Very simple, very tasty, not very tomato-y, just how I like it. I'm quite sure it probably came from a cookbook but I don't know which one. If you recognize it, please let me know.
Rainy days, rainy days. Rain in the forecast as far out as I can see. It's soup-making weather if ever there was, and now I'm on a mission to pull together a freezer-full of it. "Don't touch Daddy's phone, Amelia; it's very, very important to him and he loves it more than anything," I say as she reaches for it sitting on the landing railing, about to throw it down the stairs. "That's because I don't have an iPad," says he, wryly, scooping the phone out of her reach as I (in the dark, in my nightgown) surf Pinterest on my iPad like a hungry bat, looking for good soup recipes. Ha! Well played, sir! It's 6:00 a.m., a rainy, still-dark morning, and I'm seeking inspiration in pictures of steaming soup bowls and crusty bread. My new plan is to plan better. I'm actually going to plan dinner before dinnertime. No, really, people actually do this! It's like a real thing that people do! Today I'm going to make black bean soup. I've decided that, and it's only 10:30 in the morning. Winning.
What's your favorite soup? Would you link me to an actual recipe so I can put it on my soup board?
I'm setting the TiVo to start recording a season pass of Barefoot Contessa. I used to watch this all the time but not for cooking inspiration, necessarily. It was more of just a general stress reliever. Cooking shows in general, but especially Ina's and Nigella's. Ubiquitous but so appealing to me. They are the right pace for me. Their voices and methods sooth. Even the way Nigella massacres things with that mezzaluna (the woman will not cut even the simplest things with a knife, I swear) I now find charming and encouraging. I have so many of their cookbooks. Perhaps I should start reading them instead of Anderson Cooper's memoir, which is (I'm only halfway through) unbelievably depressing (though, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of AC).
Knitting: Knit knit knit. For that, I'm onto this garter sideways sweater (that photo is the sleeve — see where you fold it down?) which I should get cracking on as Amelia could be wearing it right now (though I can't resist buying her Zara coats — ack). I plan to line it with some Liberty, or something lightweight and flowery. The sweater-coat I made her last year turned out to be an awesome thing, and it's too small now (sniffle). Also, very pilled. (Alpaca.) That's okay. Clothes too small? Music to my ears! I'll make more!
Also: The sweetest bunny mittens, made for Meems by my dear friend Gillian. Amelia would not take these off this morning, though it made it hard to pick up every leaf and stick on her walk as she likes to do. No matter, such cuteness is worth the extra effort. She was delighted. Man, I love age two.
And: Wee Chickadee. My first Ysolda pattern. Inspired by kimlynn's version. I love the single color against the blue. I'm using a very, very pale pink (though it probably just reads as a rosy white against this blue). Fingering-weight yarn, am I nuts? Once I finish the yoke, though, it's just gobs of stockinette, so I think it'll be fine. I always think that. Until, of course, I get to the sleeves. By the way THANK YOU for all of the bind-off suggestions. After reading through them, I think on my next ribbed bind-off I'll try a tubular. I'll let you know how that goes. I did wind up finishing the second sleeve of the Bloomsbury, so thank you so much for the inspiration to get that done. I needed it.
My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com
Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.