Posts filed in: Baking and Cooking

Couch Lounge

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Amelia went to bed coughing and with a stuffy nose on Sunday night, so I kept her home for the first three days of this week. Aside from her feeling a bit poorly, we had such a lovely time together, mostly watching TV and movies, and snuggling on the couch, and reading and playing with Legos, and eating the soup that I told her I always used to ask for when I was sick as a little girl (that Lipton's chicken soup in box with the desiccated chicken and powdery bouillon and grass noodles). I brought her breakfast in bed, which she had recently mentioned she wanted me to do next time she was sick, so I did that. She was cuddly and quiet and sweet and sniffly, and as I knit she put her feet up on my legs and sang along to her baby shows, Blues Clues and Little Baby Bum (nursery rhymes and songs), stuff she doesn't watch anymore, generally, but which I think made her feel comforted and content. On Tuesday she baked cupcakes, doing almost everything herself except for the things she just couldn't do, and she was proud and I was proud of her. She missed Valentine's Day at school but late in the afternoon her friend's mom delivered a bag filled with classmate Valentines and a lollipop (not sugar free) so she was delighted.

Thank you so much for your kind words about the new cross-stitch design! I didn't get a chance to get a lot of Posie work done the way I normally would when she is in school in the mornings, but I did manage to take my cover photo and finish up the pattern. I'll start a pre-sale for the kits on Tuesday morning next week (the 20th). Three of the floss colors are on back-order so we'll pull the floss the minute it all arrives, and plan to ship at the end of March. This week I wore my new blouse (vintage Peter Pan calico made from Burda pattern 6592) and mostly worked on my granny-square blanket, which I'm calling Firefly Jar because it reminds me of little flickers of light against a dimming evening sky. By the way, I get my grannies perfectly square before whip-stitching them together by wet-blocking them all individually. The speckled yarn continues to charm me. Thank you for all the recommendations for other indie dyers. I have about ten skeins of speckled yarn now! I'll have to do a whole post about them. They are just so, so pretty. I started a spring sweater for Amelia with a few of the colors (Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles in Pistachio, Pinky Swear, and Opalite) using the Flax Light pattern from Tin Can Knits and it's working up quickly, being mostly stockinette. It's light as a feather. I picked the green and she picked the pink so it's a collaboration. Thanks also to those of you who suggested that I try to do some dyeing myself with Wilton food dyes. I have tons of those so I am totally going to try it. I'm excited about that. That looks like a lot of fun.

My heart and Andy's are heavy with so much sorrow over the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. We talked and talked about it yesterday. My head is swirling, feverish with bitterness and fury over how this keeps happening again and again and again. I don't even know how to talk about it. I'm so disappointed and frustrated I really cannot find the words I want to say.

Outside, spring continues to peek it's little fuzzy head out from under piles of brown oak leaves and the muck of winter. Around town, daffodils are starting to bloom in earnest now and crocuses cover tiny plots in a haze of lavender. The sky is bright gray, like a gray lightbox, with flat, dull light that leaves no shadows. I'll make tea and work and take care of little things. I wish you peace today. I hope your day has peace.

Winterland

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I don't want January to end. I don't.

Mimi and I were both fighting low-grade colds this past week. We were lucky, and we never really got that sick. But her nose was running a little bit, and her voice was raspy for a day or two. We had taken her out of school last Thursday to all go out to breakfast together and then take her to her first movie in the theater (Paddington 2 — loved it). Then Andy was off on Friday and he just wanted to hang out with her so we kept her out on Friday. Then on Saturday I had a funny feeling in my eyeballs, which is always my first symptom of sickness — my eyeballs feel hot. By Monday I had called her in yet again and she and I made a poorly bed on the sofa and snuggled in for the day. She played with every toy she had and we ate every meal at home, which trashed the house repeatedly, day after day. She insisted on cleaning up by picking up every mini Lego with a pair of tongs. She got all the pieces in that giant yellow box that makes no sense to me (if you have this thing, you probably know what I'm talking about). I was in the kitchen while she was putting it on her shelf and I just heard this tremendous CRASH and then the cascade of Legos spilling everywhere. And then, you know, HOWLING. Etc. Damn you, Legos. Legos at 5 p.m. So we trashed the house and I (mostly) cleaned it, and then we trashed and then I cleaned and then we trashed, etc. This continued through Wednesday. She went back on Thursday. I missed her terribly but it was nice to finally get to take some deep breaths and relaxxxxxxxxxx.

I love winter so much, even though winter in Portland pretty much sucks. No snow, just gray. The yard is seriously disgusting. Rain. Everything's brown except the sky, which is low and gray. Or kind of white. But I don't care. Be gross, Portland. I don't care. Let it rain. Nothing out there needs me. The garden doesn't need watering, the pool is closed. The evening comes early. The morning starts late. I drink coffee and bake. We stay home. I have things delivered. I knit. Apparently, I don't work. :| Yikes. I should be working, but I don't feel like it. I have so much to do but apparently I don't care about that either [insert freaked-out-looking emoji guy]. I have taxes to do and a doll pattern to design and kits to develop and a spring cross-stitch pattern to work on. I gave myself January. I see daffodil and iris shoots starting to appear and they are making me feel anxious. I'm just not ready to be done with this rest.

January.

I finished my Ranunculus cardigan and I absolutely love it. Love it. It's just perfect for me. I still can't believe it. That's THREE SWEATERS now that I've made and that fit me. This one's big and floppy and airy. It's DK-weight yarn knit on size 10 needles (for you non-knitters, that means this yarn is fairly thin and the needles are fairly big and this results in a fairly porous fabric) and the sweater is meant to be quite wide and oversized to begin with. The sleeves grew quite a bit with blocking, so they are a longer than I would like — full-length on me instead of 3/4-length, which is what I was going for. The yarn is kind of strange. I used Arranmore Light, which is mostly wool with a bit of silk and a bit of cashmere (goat). I loved it in the skein but knit up it almost feels like cotton to me. I guess that's the silk. So it's not, like, the coziest sweater in the world. There's very little halo on this yarn, and that's not exactly what I was going for, either. But I still love the sweater and the whole thing was a great experience.

Thank you ever so much for all of the knitting podcast recommendations. Wow. I'm so excited. I haven't had a chance to watch any because I've been with Mimi almost every minute of the past week, but I can't wait to check them out. Thank you!

I'm thinking more about yarn than I ever have. More and more I realize that I'm partial to a very specific kind of yarn, plain wooly with some halo, fairly soft but with good definition, too. I started yet another sweater yesterday. This one is, once again, based on the Ellen Cardigan. I did some math (I did math!) to figure out how to make it a straight raglan instead of a circular yoke and added the honeybee lace panels to the front. The yarn I'm using for this one is Cascade 220 Heather (and the color is Iridescence). This is a very popular yarn that comes in gobs of colors for nice price and for some reason this is the first time I've ever used it, I think, and I really like it.

Shockingly successful knitting balanced by baking fails. That thing with the swirlies was the Butter Cake from Scandikitchen Fika and Hygge and it blobbed all over the oven and turned into goo in the middle. As I said on Instagram, I should've taken a picture of that but I was in crisis and didn't think to. Womp womp. I need to start making soups. Or, like, any food that isn't dessert would be a good start. That might be a good place to start.

Not Much

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Doing not much. Knitting and knitting and knitting. I have so many chores I should be getting to but . . . it's January. I just want to knit. So I am. And trying not to feel guilty about that. I'll catch up (won't I?) in February. . . .

Cinnamon rolls from Scandikitchen Fika and Hygge cookbook :: Sweet little baby Mimi :: Shawl is My Shetland Adventure pattern in Sunday Knits Angelic fingering in aqua :: Breakfast with my loves at our favorite, Besaw's :: Illustrations from My First Little House Books (which I like as much if not more than the original novels) Going West and Sugar Snow :: Andy and Mimi at the store right now getting ingredients for chicken soup tonight, as we all try to stay healthy :: Ranunculus sweater yoke in Arranmore Fine in progress :: Watched all of the first season of Victoria. Wow. So good!

Anyone watching or listening to good knitting podcasts? I am familiar with Woolful, The Gentle Knitter, and Kammebornia. Are there any others I should check out?

So Nice

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I had the nicest birthday. Every minute of it was so nice. It's wonderful to have a birthday fall on a Sunday! I loved it. I had a plan to make my birthday cake (I decided, after all, to do the usuals) and then make bolognese sauce and stuffed shells (from Craig Claiborne via my NYT cooking app). Stuffed shells have been my favorite food since childhood. Andy and Amelia went grocery shopping and got some very fancy ingredients, including handmade ricotta cheese, which was delicious. I made the sauce (but forgot to add the basil and cream at the end) and then my back was bothering me from sitting in the wrong chair for too long at lunch at our neighbor's the day before (it seems fine now) so A & A took over and made the cheese filling and assembled the shells for me while I knit and watched ice skating. It was great. Outside it was cold and gray but inside it was warm and cozy. I got sweet presents and cards and texts and talked on the phone a lot. Before we ate the cake, we put the big camera on the tripod and took some timer selfies of the three of us, which was so much fun. My mom had been reorganizing some things in her house and found a picture of my grandpa with me when I was a baby. She found it in his passport, where he apparently kept it for years and years. I was really touched, and I don't think I've ever seen exactly that picture before. The other picture is of my dad holding me above his head while my sister watched. He used to do this with us all the time. We're standing in front of his teal blue Cadillac. My dad passed away on my birthday, eighteen years ago. It's always a bittersweet day. But I was surrounded by love and family and friends and food and animals and light and warmth, which was the best present in the world.

Here's a delicious present for you:

Stuffed Shells from Craig Claiborne/New York Times

Bolognese Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (2 ounces) bulk sausage
1/2 cup onion chopped fine
1/3 cup celery diced fine
1/2 cup carrot diced fine
1/2 pound beef ground fine
1/2 pound pork ground fine
2 chicken livers, chopped fine, about 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste, if desired
Generous grinding of black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups imported canned Italian plum tomatoes
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup heavy cream

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole and add the sausage, onion, celery and carrot. Cook, stirring, until onion is wilted.

Add the beef, pork and chicken livers and cook, stirring down with the side of a heavy metal spoon to break up lumps, until meats lose their raw look. Add the rosemary, nutmeg, salt, pepper, wine and tomato paste. Stir to blend.

Puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender or crush them by hand. Add the tomatoes and the broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer, skimming the surface of fat, 1 1/2 hours.

Stir in the basil and cream and remove from the heat.

 

Ricotta Cheese Filling (stuffs about 18 large shells)

2 cups (1 pound) ricotta cheese
1/2 cup finely diced Mozzarella cheese
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped prosciutto
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drop jumbo shells into boiling water and cook about 10 minutes or until tender but not overcooked. Drain.

Spoon layer of sauce over bottom of casserole large enough to hold stuffed shells in one layer.

Fill each shell with equal portions of ricotta cheese mixture. Arrange shells stuffed side up in casserole. Spoon remaining sauce over shells. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake 25 minutes.

Full Swing

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We're in it, here: full fall swing. Halloween came and went in a frenzy of costume-sewing/meowing/negotiating for candy. Kids are so obsessed with candy!!! Amelia says she wants one piece of candy after dinner after she accomplishes her "chores." The things she considers her "chores" include: setting up the pillows on the couch in a nice way and propping up various stuffed animals at charming angles to greet me when I come back downstairs after putting her to bed; putting her eighteen pairs of shoes and boots back in her baskets instead of leaving them in the middle of the floor; hanging up her coat instead of dropping it in the middle of the floor; putting away her scarf and hat instead of dropping them in the middle of the floor; climbing on all manner of furniture to reach the wood blinds to pull them down and close them before she goes up to bed; remembering to wash her hands without being told after going to the bathroom. Hrmmmmmmm. . . . Good deal for her, eh? These are all the things she is supposed to do anyway. . . . Maybe it's really a good deal for me. Now she does all of them in lightning speed while singing the clean-up song and then comes skidding to a halt in front of me, smiling and holding her cupped hands out to receive her treat. I don't bribe with sugar under normal circumstances, but hellity hell it really works! Good thing she only has three pieces of candy left. This is too easy. . . .

THANK YOU for the discussion on working from home vs. renting a remote space. That was really fascinating and I truly appreciate so many of you taking the time to share your experience and thoughts with me. I really needed to hear all of that and I am so appreciative of the perspectives. I would only be going to an off-property space during the time that Amelia is in school, and I would still probably keep my sewing stuff here, but honestly, I really am now thinking it's probably too complicated and too expensive to consider. I think I have fantasies of having a really cool, big, shared, white-washed space where other people would be hanging out doing creative things, and I could have room to store my stuff and still have it all within reach, and also not have it anywhere in the living space. Like, embroidery floss, for instance. When we work on kits, we have a palette of probably sixty? seventy? different colors that I routinely use in my designs. Each color has a big, fat 500g cone of floss. For kits, we break down the big cone by winding it onto several different smaller cones, depending on how many strands of that color you need in a kit. So in First Snow, for instance, we have over thirty colors and over fifty separate lengths of floss. Each length needs its own cone since we pull all the floss at the same time. So that's a lot of cones sitting in the office over the weeks that we are working on this. It's just not realistic to be schlepping them up and down from the basement every day. Felt and fabric, too — they take up a lot of space. Welllllll, you get it. But honestly, I took every single comment truly to heart and you gave me so much to think about. And I think the obvious conclusion Andy and I came to was that we need to clean out the basement thoroughly, and think of more creative storage solutions right here on our property. We have a pretty small basement, as half of the house only has a crawl space underneath it. We do have attic storage, although it's truly just storage, not standing room, and you have to use a ladder to get up into it through the ceiling in the hallway. But these are all just details I need to think through more thoroughly, and I think I can do that, especially when I have more time to think. As I said, I definitely have time to decide, as we wouldn't be doing anything (except reorganizing here) until the year after next. But just reading through everything you wrote gave me a more hefty appreciation for all of the great things about working from home, and that was really helpful, so thank you.

It's about the most blustery, Winnie-the-Poohish day you could imagine here today. The trees are whipping around outside my rain-spattered window, and the wind is howling. I keep hearing things thwack against the house and the porch. Tonight is our school lantern walk, and I don't know how those little lanterns are going to stay lit in this gale. I've been cooking and baking lately. I made a frittata like Megan's with roasted delicata squash, sauteed mushrooms, fresh spinach, and chevre, and it was delicious. I made the NYT's curried cauliflower soup and it was really nice, especially with the famous but no-less-delicious-for-that Dutch oven no-knead bread. I did Mark Bittman's speedy version as well as the long version, and quite honestly, there was no appreciable difference that I could taste or tell, so it's Version Speedy for us from now on, and bread in 4.5 hours. That bread is so good. I mean, what in the world? How is it even possible to get something that tastes like this out of a regular kitchen, with so little effort? I can't even deal with it. I don't even like bread that much (unless it's really, really good) but that thing is amazing. I've made it probably ten times over the past few years and it works every time. I also made Mark Bittman's Everyday Pancakes and those were very good. I've totally been getting my money's worth out of my New York Times Cooking subscription and highly recommend it. Everything I've made from it has been great. I love surfing it on my iPad for relaxation. The photos are beautiful. I don't know. I needed some cooking inspiration, and this has been good for me. I seem to need a lot of hand-holding in the kitchen. I love to cook but even after all of these years of cooking I absolutely need recipes. I cannot think of a single thing that I know how to cook by heart. Not one single thing! I'm also kind of a picky eater, so, in all honesty, a lot of cookbooks don't really work that well for me as anything other than inspiration or eye candy, because I find that I might make one thing out of the whole book. Maybe two. I keep the books because they're beautiful. But they aren't that practical for the way I cook. I totally cherry pick, and I like the "search" function. Anyway, this isn't an ad — I mean, I guess it is, but it's unintentional — I have just been happy with that subscription and it's getting me out of my cooking shell, or rather my non-cooking shell, and Andy and I are both happy about that. Maybe it's also just the season of cooking for me. I love fall and winter food so much more than summer.

I've also been knitting hats and gloves and cowls. I don't have any photos of any of them, apparently, but I will take some. I'm using this pattern and have bought lots of colors of Worsted Twist yarn in many of the same colors they show to make us a bunch of stuff that we need for cold weather, and I'm really enjoying this kind of knitting — lots of stockinette, lots of knitting in the round, nothing very complicated, small things that go quickly and feel soft and warm and utterly practical. I seem to need a lot of direction lately. It's kind of a wonderful relief, I have to say.

Feed a Crowd

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Well now, here's some more food! I made my mom's mom's spaghetti sauce for our neighborhood pumpkin-carving party the other night. This sauce was a staple in my mom's party repertoire. It came from her mother, who was not at all Italian. Regardless, this is delicious. It really doesn't taste like any other spaghetti sauce I've ever had, anywhere, but it's one of my absolute favorites. It makes a VAT of sauce — we went through two pounds of thin spaghetti for nine adults and eight children, and had sauce left over. (I should have made another pound of spaghetti, honestly. But there was plenty of sauce.) It has pounds of vegetables in it. It cooks for hours and hours. And it truly seems to please everyone, from kids to adults. It's got a wonderful sweetness to it. Like so many family recipes, this one has two brand-name ingredients in it — Ragu sauce and Kraft Parmesan cheese. I'm sure you could substitute other brands, but I personally wouldn't DARE. But that's just me. When I make this I want it to taste exactly like my mother's sauce, and it truly does. But if you like living on the edge, you should totally use what you have or what brands you prefer because I am sure it is still going to taste so good.

What you don't want to change is the amount of time this cooks for. A total of four hours. It matters. Plan to make this the day before your party and then just warm it up the day of. That's what I did and it worked great. (I'm guessing it would freeze perfectly well, too, if you're not in the habit of feeding seventeen people at one time.)

Mamaghetti

6 medium yellow onions
6 medium carrots, peeled
6 stalks celery (or basically, all of the stalks in an entire head)
1 bunch of parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound of ground beef
1 24-oz. jar of Ragu Traditional spaghetti sauce
3 6-oz. cans of tomato paste
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 bay leaves
2 cups water

1 8-0z. jar/can of grated Kraft Parmesan cheese

In your largest heavy-bottomed sauce pot (I used my enormous oval Le Creuset pot), brown ground beef until it is no longer pink. Pour off all extra fat. Using a food processor or food mill, grind onions, carrots, celery, parsley, and garlic in batches until all of the vegetables and herbs are finely chopped (but so that you can still see a bit of texture). Add all vegetables to the pot, along with Ragu, tomato paste, cloves, bay leaves, and 2 cups of water (I fill the Ragu jar 2/3 of the way up with water, and shake it to get all of that sauce out of the bottle). Bring all of it to a robust simmer, and then turn down to a low simmer and cook, covered, for three hours, stirring occasionally. After three hours, add the entire jar/can of Kraft cheese, and stir into sauce well. Cook at a low simmer for one more hour.

Serve on top of buttered spaghetti with lots more Parmesan cheese and even a big blob of ricotta. Good with garlic bread and a glass of milk, too.

I also made apple crisp for the party from this recipe (I doubled it). I thought it came out very nice. Classic, nothing sophisticated or fancy, but all of it perfect for a dark and stormy night with our friends and kids, and a whole lot of pumpkin (alllllll over the place).

Gonna work on getting my cross-stitch kit ready for pre-order this week, so stay tuned for that, but don't panic. There will be plenty of time to order, I promise. Excited about this one.

Sweater Weather

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Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your sweet birthday wishes and for indulging me, as you all always do. I have so much to say about five. I think I'm going to have more time to talk and I'm looking forward to that. I took Clover out for a little walk, and that's something I rarely if ever do anymore. Andy and Amelia do all of the dog walking; I save my steps for the things that no one but me can do. But it was so lovely to be outside, in the rain, alone with my little dog, who is such an excellent and polite walker, who walks to my left with slack in the leash, who stops to sniff but not so much that it's annoying. We had such a nice time together, and it felt like the first day of fall for me, somehow. This season starts the half of the year that makes me feel the most like myself. I'm a cloud-cover, cold-weather person. I like to huddle and hibernate. I like quiet and I like rain and I like television. I like dark skies and candles and yarn in my hands, and I like sofas. And flannel sheets and flannel nightgowns.

Today was Amelia's birthday celebration at preschool. They invite us parents to come to the school for our kid's celebration every year. We ate vegetable soup with the kids and then the teacher passed out the dried apples that I'd made, at Amelia's request, for snack. It's so sweet. One of the teachers plays the mandolin and they sing songs that all the kids know and we don't. We fold ourselves under ourselves and "sit" in the circle on the tiniest little benches and share pictures of Amelia at every age, and talk about special things that happened to her at each age. She wears a rainbow silk cape and a crown and walks around the "sun" (a lit candle), once for each year, while everyone sings and then says out loud a special wish for her. I'm going to miss these particular preschool rituals that make things so special. We'll have to continue them, though it's clear that part of what makes them so special is that they belong to this group, and to this enchanted time.

Last night I made my mom's chicken and dumplings, which is, in fact, chicken paprika with dumplings. This is the thing that I request most often from my mom when she asks me if I want her to make me something. I had tried to make it a couple of years ago but I did not do it right (I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts) and it was a disaster. Yesterday I used skin-on, bone-in thighs, and it was brilliant. It is quite rich and decadent, so you don't need to eat much, but it's wonderful every once in a great while. I highly recommend this.

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My Mom's Chicken Paprika

Chicken and sauce:

4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, or any combination of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces to make about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
1/2 c. (or more) sour cream

In large Dutch oven, saute onion gently in butter over medium heat. Add paprika and stir around, being careful not to burn paprika. Rinse chicken pieces and add, skin-side down, to pot. Turn after 4 or 5 minutes, and let "brown" on other side (though they won't really brown, since the pan will be pretty juicy; alternatively, to make it a bit less fatty, you could brown the chicken in a bit of oil then pour out most of rendered fat before adding the butter, onions, paprika, and chicken back in, and maybe add a bit of chicken stock to the pan — but the recipe above is how my mom does it). Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper over all, turn skin-side back down, then cover and turn heat down to low simmer for about 1 hour. Test chicken for doneness and remove pot from heat. Discard the skin, which should be falling off (and look really gross). There should be a fair amount of liquid (sauce) in the bottom of pot. Stir a bit of the sauce into the sour cream to temper it. Add sour cream mixture back into sauce. Depending on how much sauce you have, add more sour cream to taste. Reheat slowly if necessary and serve over dumplings, below.

Dumplings:

5 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
Splash of water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Beat eggs with whisk and add flour. Stir to just combine. Add a splash of cold water until consistency is like thick oatmeal. Don't worry if it is lumpy. Drop by half-teaspoons-ful into boiling water (they'll grow quite a bit). Work quickly. Dumplings will rise to the surface as they cook. Let them cook for about one minute more after they rise. Remove risen dumplings with a slotted spoon as they cook and place in colander to drain. To fry dumplings, melt butter in large skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toast for a bit. Add dumplings and toss to coat with butter and breadcrumbs. Fry (sauté) on low-medium heat until golden and crispy. Sprinkle a bit of salt to taste. Serve immediately with chicken and paprika sauce. Yum.

Let me know if you make this, or if you have any questions and I'll ask my mom!

P.S.: Sweater is finished and it's a hit! I'll put it on Ravelry as soon as I get a chance. It's called Carl's Cardigan and I used Woolfolk Far yarn in Pollen.

Pillow #1

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Birthday preparations are underway in the Paulson household. Cupcakes are in the oven. Amelia's "friend" party is tomorrow and we are excited. Her first friend party! Squeeeee! I think you're supposed to have one friend for every year, or something like that? Yeah. I did not get that memo. Apparently she's turning eighteen. . . .

But look at that face. I cannot deny this child ANYTHING, I tell you. Not possible.

On demand: A dress like Hunca Munca's. I might have sobbed with delight. I've finished the dress and am about to start the pinafore, in creamy white Swiss dot. I'm using Little Vogue pattern #1326. More to come on that. That one's for her family party.

A few weeks ago we went to the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival, as we do every year with Amelia's birthgrandparents. Her grandma and I were looking at the punchneedle and rug-hooking patterns and I remembered the pillow I made several years ago, and remembered that I had an Oxford punchneedle (I have the Mini #14) and a big hoop. I bought a piece of monk's cloth at OFFF and then found this cute pattern on Etsy. Marijo Taylor, the designer, generously sold me only the paper pattern, drawn at 10"x10", and I enlarged it on my printer/copier to 18"x18". I think it's originally a rug hooking pattern (curious about the difference between punchneedle and rug hooking? Here is some information) but I wanted to use my stash of worsted-weight yarn, so that's what I've been doing. Punchneedle is FUN. It's really, really fun. The bunny, above, will be the first pillow I make as part of my new Personal Pillow Endeavor. When I'm finished I'll just back it with some calico (with an envelope closure) and stuff it with an 18" pillow form. I like bamboo pillow forms because they're pretty hard. I hate soft pillows, personally. I'll show you more about how I do it when I get closer to being finished. I was hoping I might finish for Amelia's birthday but I have a lot to do so I'm not sure. . . .

I finished the cardigan I showed you last week and it's still on the blocking board, though completely dry. That will get pale pink buttons. I still haven't put it on Ravelry. I like that sweater but I'm not sad to be finished with it. Next up, knitting-wise, are hats for everyone and gloves for me and a new neckwarmer for me.

Last night I made African chicken peanut stew and it was really good. You're here, October. I was so ready for you to arrive it was ridiculous. Hence the creative mania.

P.S.: I got that cute little painting a few weeks ago at Goodwill for $3. And the sweet invitation was from this Etsy shop; I printed it out at home on cards from Paper Source and made the envelope liners with their templates and a printable flower pattern from this adorable book (and CD) that I've had for years.

P.P.S: Oh jeesh, and thank you so much for all of your kind comments on my last post. I really appreciate them!!!

Apple Time

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A morning spent apple picking with school friends. Cool and clear weather, and what a joy to breathe fresh air out in the country. I've been cleaning and organizing the house like crazy this past week. My to-do list once school started was ridiculously long. Big projects and small projects and I am knocking them off the list. First up, go through the sand-dune of toys piled in the living-room corner. We don't have a dedicated play room or even a play space in this house. The living-room corner is where most of the toys live. Slowly but surely, toys have turned into puzzles and games. These are easier to put away and make me happy. I've never been one for a ton of toys. She seems to play harder with things like bottle caps, dead flowers, and tape, for better or worse, than any of her fancy toys. Nevertheless, she had a pile, including things like the giant blow-up hammer that said "I'm the Princess" (won at the fair) that slid down the pile of toys every time I tried to "put it away" (as if) and the two large mechanical arm-and-hands that basically made me insane in about seven different ways and now those have been re-homed, as they say, and this is not bad (for me; sorry in advance to whoever gets these). Andy and I also went through all of the books that were piling up so monstrously that they were lying horizontally in the entertainment center, threatening to come slithering out every time someone opened the cabinet door. It took an entire afternoon to enter every single ISBN number into the Powell's web site to see if they wanted to buy any of them, which they did, but only one-quarter of them. Three giant plastic boxes of books that we've had for ages went to Goodwill. I was astounded at how much had fit in the entertainment center without it collapsing into smithereens. And who says Ikea furniture sucks! NOT ME!!!

Next up was the linen cabinet, and everything came out of that, and that was just your basic insanity. Zero rhyme or reason, causing steam to literally come shooting out of my ears every time it was time to change the sheets. Madness. We also have approximately fifty pillowcases, and it appears that zero of them match. So everything came out and went into the laundry, and I did two giant loads on Sunday with lavender detergent until everything was freshly clean and smelling sweet. I refolded everything and reorganized the whole thing and put the sheets that corresponded with the beds they go on in the trunks at the end of those beds. Now I'm anxiously waiting for the lavender and cedar chips and sachet bags I ordered to get here and then I will have my own Private Moment of complete and utter satisfaction when I fill them and hang them in the cabinet and trunks.

Oh wait, back. Speaking of books, I finally finished Coming Home, the book that basically took over my life this summer. I liked it. It was honestly the perfect book for me these past few months. Now I'm making my way down the list of non-depressing books you suggested back in June or July. I'm constantly putting holds on things at the library and have just started Fever 1793 (though I must say so far, are you suuuuuure this book is non-depressing???). I finished News of the World last week, and that was a gorgeous book. That book was closer to what I wanted The Orchardist (which I read last summer and with which I was disappointed) to be. I loved News of the World. So, thank you again for the list, and I am excited to really dig into this year.

Back to my to-do list. September is ticking away. I have birthday projects I want to do for Amelia, including a new dress, a new doll (ignore the first paragraph), a birthday crown, and a cake topper. I have birthday party invitations to print and address and mail. I have more school clothes to make for if it ever starts raining and our children can wear long sleeves to school. I have a winter cross stitch kit I am done with the pattern for, and will probably take pre-orders for soon, because I have no idea how many to make. And I have more quilt kits for you that I will post very shortly, because I'm on a roll. But first

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I must have pie.

Tilt-a-Whirl

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Whirlwind days, going every which way, and a long weekend filled with friends and family, and a birthday for my love. Andy Paulson turned forty-six and had a very sweet birthday. I went old-school with the cake I made for him, and returned to my old classic, chocolate cake with butter-roux frosting. This time I made the cake in three 8"-round pans, and baked them for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. I doubled the frosting and piled it on. Highly recommend.

A Variation on Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (I actually use Cacao Barry, which my sister turned me on to)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup steaming hot (brewed) coffee*

*Original recipe calls for boiling water but coffee brings out the chocolate flavor a bit without actually making it taste like coffee. I usually reheat whatever was leftover in coffee pot that morning.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour (using cocoa powder so it disappears) two 9" round cake pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water and coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans (see above).

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes (see above) or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely.

As I've posted before, the frosting for this cake is my mom's old recipe for something we in our family called "the milk and flour frosting." (I later learned this is called a "butter-roux" frosting.) When I first put it on the blog several years ago, I renamed it more romantically and called it Cloudburst Frosting because it is really light, fluffy, and not-too-sweet . This frosting also had a long history in our house of being very temperamental but it is totally worth it. We think we have it down now, but you have to do it exactly this way. You just do. Don't ask me why. We really do not know.

Cloudburst Frosting

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup WHOLE (it has to be whole) milk or half-and-half
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

In a small pan, gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking them together into a totally smooth mixture — you don't want any lumps here. Simmer (barely) until thick over low/medium heat, whisking constantly so you don't get any lumps. (Do not walk away from the stove for even a minute — trust me. If you do get lumps, just push it all through a sieve.) You want it to be the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and let it cool completely but NOT in the refrigerator (Mom says if you put it in the fridge it won't work). Let it cool for a few minutes, and then push a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the mixture (so a skin doesn't form) and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two or three until it's completely cool. (Update: My sister says it's totally fine to put this in the refrigerator, so . . . ) Cream together the butter and almond; add the confectioner's sugar and beat on high for several minutes until it is very fluffy. Add the milk/flour mixture and beat until it is super fluffy. The frosting will sometimes appear to separate when you add the milk/flour mixture, but just keep beating it on high until it whips up into smooth, fluffy clouds.

            After frosting the cake, chill before serving for maximum deliciousness. I like this cake very cold.

 

The news of the world and of our city in particular has been so troubling and heartbreaking it has brought me to tears several times this past week. Today Amelia and I went past the memorial at the transit center where two brave men lost their lives. It is absolutely covered in flowers and chalk-drawn messages of love. I send my prayers out to all of the fallen warriors and their families who have given everything to protect us. I truly appreciated all of your comments on my last post. I long for advice about how to live in these troubled times.

We planted our little vegetable garden in the parkway raised beds this past weekend. We don't really have enough in it yet, I don't think. The weather is all over the place — some days in the upper 90s and some days, like yesterday, absolutely freezing cold and raining. We planted the back-porch planters with veggies and herbs, too — tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, corn, basil, lemon verbena. These I'm hoping Amelia will take care of, as it will be easy for her to water them out there. She spends a lot of time on the back porch, so I think it will be fun. I had absolutely no plan with regard to anything that I bought — I just grabbed a bunch of veggie starts randomly and we put them all over the place, in front and back. This is not how I usually do things but hey, stuff's in the ground, at least. I feel like maybe some of it is not supposed to be together, but I've never really understood what that means or why certain veggies aren't supposed to be planted near one another. . . . Feel free to enlighten me, honestly. Is it like a nutrient thing or a pest thing or . . . ? I could Google this, I know.

I'm working on a Birkin sweater, a pattern for which you can only find in the second issue of  Laine magazine. This will be a size XL sweater knit in fingering-weight yarn, with lots of complicated colorwork (three colors per row in lots of cases) so it should keep me out of trouble for a good loooooooong while is what I'm thinking. . . .

My girl dances and twirls, spinning from one thing to the next, riding bigger little-kid amusement-park rides by herself for the first time, pulling all of her bravery from somewhere deep inside her, waiting in line and getting on the rides by herself, waving to us from the tiny plane, the tiny car, the tiny speedboat, us standing on the sidelines filled with so much hope and joy and admiration. She inspires me beyond words in these moments. I can see all of her fear and all of her fearlessness in her face, can see her weighing the risk of participation with the anticipation of just how exciting it will be when that thing goes up in the air, or bounces around the track, or bangs up and down on its metal octopus arm, and she wants to go. She is serious and deliberate and even nervous, but she always moves forward, standing in line on her own, asking the other kids around her if someone will ride with her, racing to the purple car, changing her mind and going for another one, losing nerve a little bit and starting to cry when it all gets too bumpy, then pulling herself back together and smiling hugely on the final round. When she got off the speedboat (the scariest one) she raced into my arms and collapsed, all tension in every muscle gone and making this loud noise that seemed to come from her soul, like an enormously relieved sigh but one that wasn't only relieved but also amused at herself and proud of herself and also just purely delighted at the world. It is hard to describe the noise but Andy and I both knew exactly what it was (we talked about it as soon as she went to bed and we both thought it meant the exact same things). She made the noise for a long time and I held her in my arms for all of that time and could not see through my own quiet, proud, and, yeah, relieved tears. This child, this braveheart. On my shoulder, limp and heavy and soft. Big and small. These moments sneak up on me so. I never knew about them before motherhood. I can't imagine what they are called. What are these called? There have been a few of them now and they are the most moving, poignant experiences of parenthood, for me. I can't even really describe, and I don't think I'll ever forget, but I just wanted to write this so that I could remember it again right now.

About Alicia Paulson

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.