Down Home

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So, naturally, all we ever do is eat now, with occasional trips to some kind of water and some kind of summer reading. NOT BAD.

It's very good.

There has been: Homemade pizza dough and sauce from one of my all-time-favorite cookbooks, The River Cottage Family Cookbook; another very excellent pasta dish with prosciutto and peas from Barilla; possibly the best pork carnitas tacos I have ever had, let alone made — done in the SLOW COOKER, to boot! My history with the slow cooker basically sucks (you might remember the Alicia-slow-cooker-disasters of a few years ago), but I'm not kidding — this stuff was beyond good. I did everything exactly how that recipe said, and served the tacos with really good thick, home-style tortillas (can't remember the brand, but I think they're new, they have cursive writing on the package), minced red onion, diced avocado, diced mango, and a few blobs of sour cream (go for Wallaby, if you can find it, oh my). Squeeze of fresh lime over all. My gosh. Reason alone not to take the slow cooker to Goodwill.

I've been so lucky with my recipes lately. I also made this blueberry custard pie. It was delicious, though a bit heavy on the streusel topping for my taste. Next time I make it I might even leave that off; it looked so gorgeous when I took it out of the oven to put the streusel on (you bake it for twenty minutes before to put the streusel on) I almost didn't add it. It kind of overpowered the more delicate custard and blueberry flavors, for me. But still, seriously not complaining, it was very good. And some of those blueberries came from our little bush.

I got a huge stack of young-adult library books for myself from our downtown library the other day. They have a ton of vintage books in the children's department. I actually had, like, a bit of an emotional moment back there. It's just trippy to see these actual copies of books I read as a kid in the 70s and 80s. They have tons of them! I've never thought too much about time travel before, but I think I just did it. . . .

I have so many library books checked out right now it's just silly. Meems and I have gone to a different branch every other week or so this summer. We've hit Belmont, Hollywood, Woodstock, NW 23rd, North Portland, and Central (downtown). Central is my favorite so far. Mimi's still a little too young — she prefers playing with the toys there, or pulling all of those plastic alphabet separator things off of the shelves, or just pulling books off the shelves and throwing them on the floor in general. Or pulling the special library tape off of the special library-book dust jackets. I've had to ask a couple of librarians to give her a little speech about not damaging the books and she takes that very seriously. When she forgets and starts to pull the tape off a cover at home I say, "Remember what The Lady said about not pulling off the covers of the library books?" And she gets this wide-eyed "oh yeah!" sort of look on her face, and stops, remembering what The Lady said. But she's also at the great age where we can now pretty much read any book and she will sit still and listen, and help finish sentences. (Isn't it incredible, what they remember?) We read five or six and sometimes up to nine or ten books a night. For a long time she would reject half of any new ones I introduced, preferring to read the same ones over and over. But now, at almost three, she's down with all of it, and my heart trills with joy. I could read all night.

Speaking of books, try Hemp Masters: Ancient Hippie Secrets for Knotting Hip Hemp Jewelry (I say this with a straight face) if you want to make a micro-macrame necklace like mine. I got it a few years ago and made myself a necklace then (here's a picture, no pattern). I wore it so much it broke (they eventually break). I've wanted another one ever since but just never around to it, even though I still had all of the hemp and beads and stuff. I used 42 feet of 10lb hemp cord (like this) and some small wooden and stone beads for one necklace. I pretty much looked at the book to learn how to do the knots but I couldn't seem to follow the patterns. So I just started going, figuring that when I got down to about 8.5" I would place my center bead, and then mirror what I had done (square knots, switch knots, pretzel knots, half knot sinnets — these are all in the book). I've done most of it at night while watching my favorite show, Ice Lake Rebels. I'm almost finished (probably tonight) and I'll add the lobster clasp (bites nails — a little nervous about finishing it off properly, stay tuned).

And, yeah, I'm also making a plastic needlepoint canvas log cabin for my daughter's third birthday. Because I cannot help myself.

Little Kitchen

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Well, I persist. I cleaned out the kitchen cabinet and added forty recipes to my Paprika app and I've been shopping and cooking almost every day. Since my original freak out, we've only eaten out once as a family (when Andy's work picnic got rained out on Saturday and moved to the brewpub) and I had lunch by myself out yesterday. All of this still feels very, very good and is making me happy. It was truly shocking how much money was being spent on eating out or ordering in. I still am astonished at how much groceries cost (like, 'cause then you have to cook them, etc.). It will be interesting to really run the numbers at the end of this month and see how much was spent on groceries and how much on eating out.

At night I'm going back through my whole entire blog and adding all of my recipes — well, my recipes and things I've linked to that I've liked — to my Paprika app. My sister told me about this thing over a year ago but I never really got into it before. It's basically like a recipe box for your online recipes. You add recipes and photos to the box from anywhere on the internet: There is a list of compatible foodie web sites where you can download (from inside the Paprika app) any recipe very easily; if you're on another web site, and the recipe's format is not easily readable by the app (like the recipes in my blog aren't), then it's pretty easy to use the cut/paste function and get it formatted properly and into the recipe box. What's also cool is the scaling function (you can cut the recipe down to a sixth, or multiply it several times over) and the grocery-shopping function (you tap the recipe and it adds the ingredients to the shopping list for you). Oh, and the meal planner calendar. And the app syncs with my iPad and my iPhone as well as Andy's phone (though you have to buy the apps all separately, I think?), so we don't have to tell each other what to get, etc. I'll just say, "Can you pick up the stuff for fish tacos?" And he just goes into his app (synced with mine) and it's all right there, shopping cart full.

I'm sure everyone knows all of this already and is using all manner of apps like this. I have no affiliation with Paprika, I just think it's very cool; if you know about stuff like this and know of something better, please let me know, though I might be already too-invested in this one — it does take some time to get all of your recipes in there, one by one, and I've spent a few hours on it now. I wasn't using any recipe software at all, so I'm thoroughly goggle-eyed excited by this. My Paprika recipe box doesn't contain anything that I haven't actually made yet. My plan is to get all of my tried-and-true things in there first (and honestly, there are more than I thought, which is good). I've only gotten through about two years of my blog posts that contain recipes (forty) so far, so I have a ways to go. But I feel happy and inspired, and I'm pretty energized. It's a start. When I'm done I'll probably go through my cookbooks to see if any of those recipes that I like are online already. And then, if I'm not totally fried, I'll look at my actual handwritten recipe cards and see if it's worth at least putting a reference to each recipe (and a photo) into Paprika so that I can find add them to the meal planner calendar and find them in my own kitchen, etc. This all brings me no end of satisfaction. I have honestly been trying to get myself organized like this for years, probably for as long as I've been cooking.

Last week I made roasted tequila-lime shrimp and put the shrimp in this excellent quinoa salad by one of my dearest friends Sarah Kline, who is an incredible cook and an inspiration to me in every way. The whole thing was awesome. Then I made more of the blackened fish tacos again but this time I baked the fish in the oven in parchment-paper pouches and I MUCH preferred that, even to grilling. I also added my dad's coleslaw (which is very sweet, and which I really love with spicy stuff) and an easy sauce with a bit of sour cream, a bit of mayo, and some chipotle sauce. Then one morning I woke up and just wanted waffles. This required going out to the garage and finding the waffle maker, which had fallen off of its shelf (we keep some of our extra kitchen appliances in the garage because our kitchen is so small) and I had to haul it up by its tail and thread it back through a giant baker's rack, with the garage door falling on me, etc., etc., to get it out. Got it out and had to clean it within an inch of its life because it hadn't been used in I don't even know how long. Cleaned it (got tennis elbow here), made the waffle batter, then destroyed the first batch of waffles (which required cleaning the waffle maker again, swearing, foot stomping, general despair) as well as the second batch of waffles (which got scorched when, while banging the waffle maker over the sink to "clean" it, I accidentally turned up the darkness setting to Burnt). Luckily I had made so much batter (I'd doubled it, because I intended to be very clever and freeze some of them) that I had enough for one more batch, which came out very nice (though floppy) indeed. And lastly (you're bored now), I made spaghetti and sausage with peas (I added the peas) from the Barilla web site, which I think is very good in general and I have gotten a lot of nice recipes from there over the years. 

DAMN. It was a good week. But I am rusty nails. Out of practice. And kinda tired. That was a lot of cooking. And a LOT of cleaning. But I am determined to improve. Thank you to everyone who left helpful comments about the whole cooking thing on my first post about this a few weeks ago. I do plan to go through those suggestions to see if I find other things that are going to help with this, because it seems that I am not the only one who finds it all very challenging.

I remember a long time ago my favorite teacher (the elegant and inimitable Mr. Don Rehkopf from Oak Park-River Forest High School) told us that he'd had terrible, illegible handwriting as a student. But one day he had a teacher who had beautiful handwriting, and he was so inspired he decided to change his own. And so he diligently adopted a whole new model for his handwriting, and, as a result he had the most unique and gorgeous handwriting I'd ever seen, before or since. I've never forgotten the story, and I can picture his lovely handwriting as I write this. A metaphor. I always think of that lovely, kind gentleman when I'm trying to do something new.

In other unrelated food news, our pretty apples are doing amazingly well! I counted them this morning. There are twenty on our tree, and they are just starting to turn the most gorgeous shade of blush red. How do we know when to pick them? Will they fall off or something when they're ready? I can't believe how happy this tree makes me.

Also, IT RAINED. POURED. Oh my stars it was the best fifteen minutes in the world.

I'm making myself a new macrame necklace. The one in the picture is too short (ran out of cord) so I had to start over. Details to come.

And how do you like my pretty party hats?

PArtyHats

For your party-planning pleasure! We're making kits (and a pattern)! They should be done by maybe next week? Stay tuned! I will discuss!

Eighteen XOX

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Thank you EVER ever ever so much for all the Cooking Things and meal-planning advice! Awesome. I haven't even had a chance to check everything out, but seriously, I am inspired and excited. Yesterday I thoroughly cleaned out the two big cabinets in the kitchen (baking supplies, cans, pasta, oils, etc.). It really wasn't as bad as I thought. It just needed some TLC, which, admittedly, not much other than this big, beautiful baby girl has gotten over the past three years. I left her in the living room to her own devices most of the day yesterday while I cleaned. Seriously, she was psyched. I think she's at the perfect age to have a little less attention. She built a dolly high-chair fort, spread out every single ponytail holder and barrette we had (oh, soooo many), dumped entire baskets of Fisher Price and Calico Critters people/cars/animals all over the room, took out all the shoes and boots in her basket, took out all the hats and scarves and mittens in her other basket, rode the neighbor's electronic fire engine, watched Charlie and Lola, ate her weight in fresh fruit, "read" her magazine, had a fit when I wouldn't give her any more bubble-tea straws, and made block towers. I made breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was exhausting, all that cooking, and cleaning up after all that cooking, but pretty cool (especially since today I have everything we need). We almost never just stay home all day, ever (well, we did take a walk up to the grocery store). But anyway, it was a good day (possibly because it was also cool and cloudy and so wonderfully gray out), and I am feeling excited. After she went to bed (passed out at 6:45, actually), I added more recipes to my Paprika app, and that thing is AWESOME. More on all of this as I get more organized. But again, thank you for the commiseration and encouragement. I really needed it! I was so overwhelmed. But even in just a couple of days I've gone from panicked to pretty excited, which is so nice (for once).

Also so nice: Being married eighteen years last Sunday to my true love. Celebrated at the river, right where we started going so many long years ago, talking talking talking, then and now, and dreaming our dreams together (then and now). Driving home through the woods, sandy baby (miracle baby) sleeping in the back seat, Joan Armatrading on the radio, sun flashing hot through the trees. All I need. It's everything.

***We didn't build them, but the rock formations pictured are called cairns. Interesting and lively (as they say) debate here about them to be found here

The Plan

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Hot days, hot nights. It looks like we've been home a lot but really we've been outside, in or around water, almost daily. At home, the garden is quickly sizzling, turning from the bright greens of early summer to the pale, wispy, washed-out parchment-colors of late summer, though it's only mid. I pick the blueberries from our one little front-yard bush in the morning. Amelia comes out and takes the basket and says, "'Bye, Mummy. I going on holiday." She watches British cartoons. She eats all the blueberries before they can make it into the house.

In the kitchen, I have a new plan to start cooking things. It's called the Cooking Things plan. Yeah. It means you have to buy actual groceries and cook them instead of ordering things from Delivered Dish and/or eating out in general (getting extra salad rolls at lunchtime to bring home for dinner) or making smoothies. Yes, kitchen. You and I are going to get reacquainted. You, grocery store. I'm coming to you. And you, meal plan, YOU AND I ARE GOING TO FALL IN LOVE WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT. I will make myself love you, M.P. There is no doubt you won't even like me. At all. I've lost count of how many times I have written about this. A hundred million. I should have just copied and pasted an old post here. But this time, seriously. I'm a mother now. Mothers should be able to plan a meal more than forty-five seconds before dinnertime and do more than cut up fruit.

In no particular order, things that have to happen here include: All cabinets (not to mention all drawers and closets, but that's for another rant) need to be cleaned out and reorganized. The fridge and freezer are both in decent shape but could probably stand a swift weeding out of expired condiments and a really good scrub. My spice cabinet is completely insane, with bottles toppling and things literally stacked on top of each other, falling into pots on the stove-top (when we actually have pots on the stove-top). My pantry, my beautiful new pantry, is totally underutilized, currently holding party plates and toddler art supplies. And my recipes that I've printed out from the internet are currently in a giant ruffled (waterlogged, spattered) disorganized pile on top of the microwave and need to be curated and filed. My beautiful recipe box that I worked so hard on a few years ago actually makes me laugh-cry. I see it in the cabinet when I go to feed the dog (I do feed the dog) and it looks so long-suffering and forlorn. My cookbooks, or lord. So many cookbooks. Too many cookbooks. Get ready you, too, cookbooks. You're going to be taking a trip to Powell's very soon.

So, look above: I have tried to cook some things. I made corn salad (fresh corn kernels, a little olive oil, a diced jalapeno pepper, a handful of sliced cherry tomatoes, a quarter of a diced red onion, fresh lime juice, salt and pepper). I made blackened fish tacos (a little too blackened, dang). I made some more chocolate ice cream. I made cantaloupe agua fresca. I’m starting small. I have the Paprika app on my iPad. I have a cute shopping basket. My apron is in the laundry right now. I’m going to find a new binder. I can do this. People do this! I can do this.

Haystack Rock

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It's only an hour or so away, but it feels like a million miles. What you don't get from pictures is the smell of the ocean and the sound — the incredible volume! — of the waves. It's loud. It feels like the edge of the world. The air is always moving. Everyone is there, and everyone is so happy. The sound of children all around, and the waves, and the birds. We arrive at low tide, and walk all the way to the rock. Amelia screams and points when she sees kites. She draws a face and carries shells. She runs and runs and runs, a little tiny run, only inches per stride, around and around. Carrying buckets and dodging waves. The water flashing silver under gray skies. Fish and chips and a caramel apple. Flowers along every fence and saltwater taffy. Home by sunset, with a sleeper in the backseat and Ryan Adams on the radio. These loves. You forget how extraordinary the ordinary can be. I absolutely love Cannon Beach.

Her first time. Second time. Those were from last summer with Amelia and Andy. This one is from my trip with the girls last September. Awesome place. I want to go back again.

***Yep, that's my Ramona cardigan! And her swimming costume (as we call it) is from J. Crew.

Berry Hot

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Meems and me to Smith Berry Barn, Hillsboro, Oregon; July 8, 2015.

Yes, that's string cheese in the candle holder, "just like Mommy's."

Her dress, made here, exactly five years ago. Never, never, never give up.

Summer Circles

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Big full moon :: Pinky-pie skies :: Finished Ramona cardigan (needs blocking and buttons) and immediately started another :: Hot hot hot and yet, knitting :: Apples on my tree, and I am so charmed :: Pool day, fountain day, pool day, fountain day (with Sarah & Charlotte) :: Warm, big, beautiful, round, scrumptious golden peach of a girl I can't stop kissing :: Trying to recreate the quiche from Maurice and failing :: Chocolate frozen custard :: Andy-made ribs and Susie-made dessert :: Party-hat pattern-writing :: Streaming Wimbledon on the computer in my studio :: Listening to this thoroughly delightful podcast from my dear and beautiful friend Rebekka :: Ready for some cloudy skies and cooler temperatures :: It's possible that last picture is in my top-ten favorites of anything I have ever taken. I'm not even sure exactly why.

Hello, Heatwave

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We alternate between pool and air conditioning. The air feels, as they say, like a blanket. I know exactly which kind of fluffy wool blanket, too. Soft and thick and pale gray and vaguely fuzzy. Water, water everywhere. My yard absolutely feels like August, not June. It's dry, and there are things blowing around, dry things. There are plums already falling, and smashing, and smearing the front sidewalk and the stairs. There is brown grass and brown plants. But we have apples, for the first time, in the backyard. The Cox's Orange Pippin tree we planted I don't know how many years ago — it has apples the size of billiard balls on it, and that's a first. Usually they all fall to the ground when they're the size of golf balls. I don't know why in either case. The climbing hydrangea on the garage wall, once lush and so green it didn't look really, looks like it's hanging on for dear life now. Sigh. This is too hot.

Strangely, with the heat, over the weekend we had clouds. Don't let them fool you; it was still hot as a gray blanket. At the pool our girl is so happy, and so are we. We might have been there four or five times this week. I think I was born to be a pool bum. I think I was actually born to be a ski bum, believe it or not, but oh, right now, I love the pool so. Not that there's much bumming with a two-year-old (well, there is for Mama when Daddy's there). When he's there, I sit in the shallow water and never want to leave. My tolerance for pool time has always been high.

Back in the studio, I have an idea. Usually I have a lot of ideas and no time to work. Yesterday I had all day to work, and a bunch of party hats burst forth. So weird how that happens. I was going to do something else, actually. But then, these came out. I try to go with it. I'm thinking kit, actually. No ribbons on the hat, but elastic instead. Off to find the right kind. And poms to top.

Oaks Park

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First time at the amusement park! Cautious but confident. Went around the merry-go-round three times. Went down the big slide three times. Won two donuts and a star. Shining eyes, up for everything, so happy with what she finds of the world. and the summer. Choo-choo! Xoxo


Oaks Park, Father's Day, June 21, 2015.
One of the best days ever. I love it there.

Sweet Days

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Thank you very much for all of the comments on my last post, and for the music recommendations! I haven't had time to check them out but I plan to — thank you. Thank you also to those of you who suggested here (and emailed — my inbox is a disaster, so I can't often get back to everyone, I'm so sorry) portrait artists several months ago. I wound up having Amelia's portrait painted by Olga of Olinka Fine Art on Etsy, who I found myself while browsing Etsy for portrait artists. She did an absolutely incredible job, and was a total joy to work with. The picture I gave her (from this post) was taken a little over a year ago, but even when I took it it just looked like a painting to me, and I always meant to have it painted. I really don't know how she could have interpreted it more beautifully; I think it perfectly captures Amelia at that time and with that expression, a face I've seen a million times, tired at the end of the day, her serious, slightly melodramatic look (which I think it sort of amuses her to give), hanging out in her high chair, with the late afternoon light coming down from the west-facing windows. I love it.

We had a busy weekend, and I have more pictures, but little time! The pool is open. I find it hard to leave.

Do you like frozen custard? Try this. Crazy rich. You hardly need to eat any to be quite delighted, seriously. And I think I'm going to change that recipe so that you heat the half-and-half and the cream at the same time. Why would I have you temper the eggs with half-and-half and then add that back to the (cold) heavy cream separately? Couldn't the creams both be heated, added to eggs, then put back in the pan to heat a bit further? Trying to think of the best way not to scramble the eggs. . . . I'm no expert; please advise!

embroidered A

About

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

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Photography

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.