Posts filed in: Baking and Cooking

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.

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.

More February Flowers

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Oh, I've been poorly. Sick all week. Hot, cold, sore throat, headache, so tired, no sleep, lots of sleep, achy. Ugh. I actually felt too gross to knit. I'm feeling better, a little bit better, but not great. I started the above, Pickles' Thousand Tiny Tulips, yesterday. It was a rough start, with incorrect counting on my part (duh), too-big needles to start (corrected), some wandering off before finishing an entire row (nope) and coming back and re-starting at the wrong place in the pattern. Pfffft. I really wanted to do it but I was outmatched, even by simple counting. The yarn, however, the yarn. Pickles' Summer Wool. It's 70% cotton, 30% merino. The palette is gorgeous. I've never liked knitting with cotton before but this is so nice (except that there are little tiny fibers in it that I have to pick out — not a huge deal, but they would definitely scratch her if I left them in). The fabric is smooshy and super soft. She's rejecting all my knits lately because I just can't find something soft enough for her. She says they feel soft enough on the skein but then when the sweater's done, she wants to take it off. If she won't wear this, I'll throw up my hands in defeat. I made Amelia another ballet wrap, this time in baby alpaca (and she's still saying that's too scratchy). I wish I had made it out of Summer Wool. For those who asked about Amelia's cowl in my last post, the pattern was this one, but I didn't follow the pattern exactly. I can't seem to tell you what I did do, because for some reason I can't find this on my Ravelry page and I made it years and years ago. I don't even know what yarn I used. Malabrigo, or maybe Madeline Tosh? That one she actually will wear.

Last weekend Andy put up wallpaper on three walls in our house — one in the dining room, one in the living room, one in the kitchen. All of them are from Brewster and the collection is called Andover Miniatures VI. I've been wanting to do this for ages and I really love it. A true testament to Andy's incredible cheerful spirit is that he actually enjoyed wallpapering for two straight days. I did it for approximately seventeen minutes over the two days and it was sixteen minutes too much. He is amazing. Thank you, sweetheart. I love it.

Amelia and I made Valentines inspired by these yesterday. I think they're very sweet. I wound up doing most of them while she brought half of her dollhouse stuff over to the table, plunked it down on top of all the craft supplies, and preferred to play rather than craft. I tried to get her to sign her name and I think she made it through two. (Andy had more success with it this morning than I did.) I sat at the table all afternoon making twenty-eight Valentines. It was really fun, but it was a lot. They're suncatchers, so I need to hang some on the window. Today it is beautiful and sunny, but all week it's been pouring rain. I've never seen so much rain. I got to teach Amelia what the phrase "sheets of rain" means first hand, because we literally couldn't see across the street. Flooding, sinkholes, landslides. We've got it all here this week. My sister Susie lives way out in the country now, up on Dairy Creek, and she slept over a few nights this week because she wasn't sure she'd be able to get out of her area and go to work. It's intense.

I love this Irish soda bread from our local bakery. Love it. I just started watching The Great British Baking Show and it's really fun. It reminds me of that recent Onion headline: "Mom Just Wants to Watch Something Nice." And I do. :)

Took a break from working on the quilt kits while I was at my worst but received five eBay boxes of fabrics this week, all stacked up in my office, waiting for me, so when I'm up to it it will be full-steam ahead. Thank you for all the suggestions on displaying these kits when it comes time to sell them — I was thinking along the exact same lines, so that's good. Fabric previews coming up. Stay tuned.

Oh jeez. It's pouring again.

Thank You Very Much!!!

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* * * T H A N K   Y O U   E V E R Y B O D Y ! ! ! ! ! * * *

Thank you, thank you for all of your orders and enthusiasm for the Love and Joy kit.
I was just not expecting that.
We sold out in a couple of days.
Then we raided all of the Winterwoods kits for their fabric and made some more Love and Joys.
And then we sold out of those. :(

BUT!

The fabric supplier is shipping more fabric to us today.
I've put another 100 kits in the shop, as we have just enough floss to make 100 more.
If you missed out the first time, here is your chance to order.

Click here for a Love and Joy kit.

We won't ship until sometime next week, after the fabric comes in.

If you already purchased the digital pattern but you would like a kit instead,
I will refund the cost of the digital pattern (because you will get a printed pattern with the kit).
Please leave  me a note on the order page (not the Paypal page) or
send me an email and let me know to refund for the pattern and I will do that.

I'm sorry for the frustration! We try to guesstimate these numbers as well as we can so that things sell quickly but not too quickly, but it is hard with some things.

I will be writing to everyone who sent me an email about this or left a comment.
I'm rushing around trying to get lots done today.

Sorry for writing in centered-speak. I thought it was kinda cute.

* * *

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving, and a peaceful time of cooking and gathering together.
Thank you all for paying such loving attention to all of our daily comings and goings and for being such bright lights in my life. I am very grateful for you and your kindness, and all of your kind words and support throughout these many years.
I truly appreciate the efforts you make to share yourselves here. You are the nicest people ever.
Thank you.

Love,
Alicia
and Andy and Amelia and Clover Meadow and The Beeeeeeee
XOXOXOX

Walks in the Woods

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Hello, dear friends. I hope you are very, very well at the end of this week. I've been mostly quiet in every way, trying to process the results of the election and find ways to think about it, listening to voices that I care about, and determined, as ever, to move forward into the future with an open mind and an open heart. On this day, Veteran's Day, I sincerely thank everyone who has served and given their lives to this great country and protected every extraordinary freedom that we get to so often take for granted. I thank every member of their families, as well, as their sacrifices are equally profound. I pray, as always, for peace and acceptance and understanding for all of us and for our children.

I'm extraordinarily tired today, and feeling flat. Daylight savings time, even this autumnal kind (in which we supposedly "gain" an hour), destroys our usual, mostly clockwork-like routine. I will never understand how one little hour can cause so much trouble. A couple of times this week, Amelia has woken up at 3:00 a.m., ready for her day. We've never been good at getting her back to sleep in her own bed after she wakes, so she comes in the big bed and then, and only then, she promptly falls asleep. I, on the other hand, lie curled around her warm body, limp as a towel on the floor except for my eyeballs, which are like that startled-looking, wide-eyed emoji guy's. Wide-awake. That, plus staying up talking way too late into the night for several nights, has got me fighting a cold I can feel coming on from somewhere far, far away. . . . I just know it's coming.

Out in the woods and in the meadow in the woods, all three of us, late last Friday afternoon. The air was so warm, the light was so mellow. There are too few of these golden days in Pacific Northwestern autumns, quite frankly, and we've had several just this week alone. What gracious balm they have been after the second-wettest October on record. On Sunday Andy had to work, and Mimi and I went out by ourselves, to a different forest on the other side of town. We brought a camp chair and a little quilt and walked to a secret viewpoint, across from which Mt. Hood rose glimmering-white in all its perfect, peaceful majesty. The woods were incredibly quiet. We only saw three other people, and one of them might have been the same guy twice (once on his way back). I sat in the chair, as per my dream of the woods. She sat facing me in my lap and we talked. Occasionally she'd put her head down on my chest and we'd just listen for birds. We heard hardly any, strangely, and no birds flew into the birdhouse ornament she'd brought from home (darn!). Sometimes we'd get up and walk again, leaving our base camp set up near the viewpoint. The woods had been muddy until we got into the pine forest. There the path is soft and dense and pinkish, and the smell of cedar comforts. Mushrooms sprouted and sat, so delicately, on pads of loamy leaves. Sticks cracked softly under our feet. Piles of acorn (?) shells at the base of several trees had us wondering. We practiced not shrieking in the woods (this has been hard to learn, but I sympathize there; it's so tempting). But I think quiet is best-practice. Quietly sitting in a chair, listening, looking — this I like. I plan to do more of it. The chair had a strap so I could carry it on my back. When set up it was only a foot off the ground, so I felt like part of the ground. Hiking is nice; sitting and watching her play her afternoon away with acorn shells and pine cones and pieces of fairy food (feathers, and mushroom gills) without getting soaking wet, now, those were some glorious hours. Highly recommend.

Peace be with you, friends. I hope you get to do something you truly love to do this weekend. We have finished all of the assembling and will be putting my new winter cross-stitch kits (and pattern) on sale on Tuesday, I think, so I will see you then, and wish you well until. Lots of love, XO, A

Stormy Soup

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Sparkle and blur, everything rushing by. The days spin past me and I only slow to cook or knit, and, even then, I knit like the wind, finishing entire sweaters that I haven't stopped long enough to put on Ravelry; I can't now remember what the patterns were called or what yarn I used or which needles, though they were finished just weeks, days, minutes ago. Should knitting be done so quickly? On Tuesday, Stacey kindly, kindly helped me reorganize my baking and dry-goods cabinet, emptying mason jars that had been filled with expired flours and grains; hand-washing everything in scalding, soapy water; wiping down shelves and lining up jars (again) like good little soldiers, waiting for me to cook. It worked: I was inspired. It was nice to move the enormous cast-iron Dutch oven three feet higher on the shelves so that I didn't feel like I was breaking my back every time I wanted to make soup but first needed to collect that monstrous beast from (practically) off the floor. Things like this — such practical, obvious things on their surfaces — don't get done because in reality they require not just moving that one pot but actually, like, emptying and reorganizing and entire standing wardrobe of fifty pots, pans, and jars first. Many things like this have fallen to the way, way, wayside over the past four years. That's been okay for a while, but it's time to improve. Slowly I'm reclaiming the domestic territories from their chaotic, swirling depths. Shelf by shelf. Cabinet by cabinet. I impose order in the smallest of ways, facing out labels and sweeping every grain of rice off the floor. I have missed doing these things. Every little stitch, every re-stacked pile of cake pans, every leaking, flour-covered bag of flour emptied into a jar of flour helps restore order to this little corner, when so much in the outside world feels whipped up and wild and wearying. I never seem to have time to do the things that make things feel better.

Cold-weather cooking is preferred over summertime stuff, at least. Fresh tomatoes, heads of lettuce, and mountains of glistening berries delight almost everyone but usually make me feel overwhelmed and vaguely anxious. Give me gigantic pots of things that bubble and thicken. Let me chop piles of onions and carrots and and sweet potatoes, roots that have been waiting, buried in deep, dark soils, to be sweated and roasted and caramelized. Let me preheat ovens and strain gravies and grate Gruyere. Last weekend here was soooo stormy that we scrapped all plans for leaving the house. Amelia wanted macaroni and cheese for her birthday dinner. It didn't even occur to me to make it from a box. Cheeses bubbled and breadcrumbs crisped in their cast-iron skillet under the broiler. Alas, she hated it, and I didn't love it either (er, I made us both some Kraft spirals the next day), but it was great to make. (Luckily, Andy loved it.) On Sunday afternoon, inspired (as with so much) by Amy of Second and Edgemont, I roasted a chicken (using this recipe). It sat on a little bed of potatoes and carrots, and I made a baked rice dish with mushrooms and shallots from The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet in my little casserole pot. The whole meal pleased me so much and filled me with such a strange sense of satisfaction that I went to bed thinking about it all, and woke up thinking about it, too. I'm just realizing now that that might have been because we made stock overnight in the crock pot and the house, all night long, was filled with the scent of simmering bones and broth and bay leaves. I don't know. It all just felt good and made me happy. My people were fed. The kitchen was clean. The chicken was easy. Its deliciousness far exceeded my expectations and far outweighed the effort involved, and something about all of those things just felt like such a relief, like an actual, existential relief.

Like . . . yeah.

It's been a long time since cooking has made me happy. 

Yesterday, Mimi and I stayed home almost all day. We lit every little lamp we could find. Our grocery-shopping trip was poorly timed, and we managed to venture out during the only fifteen minutes that rain was coming down in sheets. Back at home, she wound three skeins of yarn around every knob, drawer handle, chair leg, and table, making an living-and-dining-room-sized spiderweb of wool. I went into the kitchen and sliced up an entire kielbasa sausage — my first ever, how weird is that? For some reason I've just never had it before — and browned it in the (aforementioned) Dutch oven. I fished the (delicious!) kielbasa out to wait on a plate and threw in handful after handful of leeks, carrots, onions, and sweet potato cubes and let it all cook down until the house smelled like bliss. Lentils, tomatoes, Sunday's chicken stock, and a couple more hours of simmering turned into — I can still hardly even believe it — one of the best soups I've ever had. I can't even believe I just sort of made it up myself (after reading a few recipes and taking parts and pieces out of each of them) because I never cook without following a recipe quite literally. When Andy got home last night I was stepping on his heels like a corgi, so excited was I for him to try it. Still in scrubs, he ate two bowls. I went up to bed with a large smile on my face. He texted me: "It's so good!!!!! Sweet, smoky, even a touch tart." I wrote back immediately: "YES MY KITCHEN GAME IS STRONG LATELY!!!" I'm not sure I've thought, let alone said, much less written, anything even close to that in the last four years. Should you need to feel clever and capable one of these rainy evenings, try it.

October Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 lb. kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/8" rounds
4 large carrots, cut lengthwise and sliced
3 large leeks (white parts only), cut lengthwise and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 t. Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato or yam, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
2 c. red lentils
1 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes
6 c. chicken stock

In large Dutch oven, brown sausage in olive oil over medium heat until edges are crispy. Remove from pot and set aside, leaving drippings in pot. Add carrots, leeks, and onion and salt and sautee over medium heat for quite a while — 20 minutes or so — until all vegetables are golden and getting caramelized. Add garlic and sweet potato and cook another few minutes. Add lentils, tomatoes, and chicken stock and bring to a decent simmer. Cook for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender. Return kielbasa to the soup and heat through. Add more stock if soup gets too thick for you, but I like it thick. You could definitely add kale to this — I had a bunch and forgot to put it in!

Serve with garlic bread.

Also: Thank you ever so much for all of your very kind comments on Mimi's party and birthday. She had such a great birthday week and so did we. Thank you for being so sweet — I really appreciate it. You are just so kind. XOXO. And for those who have asked, her invitations were from Minted and a lot of her party supplies were from Sweet Lulu.

Dappled Apple

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Apple picking with Mimi, just the two of us, yesterday. The apples were high in the trees, and small. I love apple trees. The air was cool and dry, the noonday sun dusky and golden. After about an hour she said, "Mom, let's go home," and I had been thinking the exact same thing. The drive through the country was long and sweet. We talked and sang. We're almost never, ever home by 2:00 p.m., but yesterday we were. I peeled and chopped apples while she stirred in the sink and filled it with apple peels and mountains of dish-soap bubbles (a cheap thrill I encourage). Applesauce simmered on the stove. The house smelled like cinnamon. Today I bought an autumn door wreath, little fake red apples on dried grapevine. I knew she'd like it, and she does. It will remind me of yesterday. Xoxoxoxo.

Thaaaaaaaank you for all of your great comments on my last post. Because of them I decided to chill psychologically the way I was already, in spite of myself or my to-dos, chilling physically. It's taking longer than I thought it would to find my motivation to do my chores, or much of anything else, but I'm down with it. I am knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting! I can't believe how much I am knitting. Last weekend we went to the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival with Amelia's birthgrandfather and -grandmother, who is a spinner and knitter. She made me the most gorgeous shawl for Mother's Day, using fiber from last year's festival that she spun and knit in lovely, natural shades. I need to take a photo of it, and luckily it's finally getting chilly enough that I'll be able to wear it soon. We've all gone to the festival together for the last three years, and though I don't often find yarn for myself there (there is more fleece than yarn available to buy, I think) I do come away so inspired. Sometimes I think I just want to do nothing but knit. I've been knitting so much I haven't even taken the time to photograph the things I have knit. This gorgeous, russety weather won't last, so there will be time (though perhaps no gorgeous, russety light).

Amazed and Confused

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We have this saying in our house. You use it when you have just done something that you "obviously" shouldn't have done, or failed to do something that you "obviously" should have done, etc. To use it, just say, when confronted, "But no one told me." Jam the dishes all together and face them away from the sprayer in the dishwasher so nothing gets clean? "But no one told me." Go inside and lock the door, leaving the dog alone in the unfenced front yard? "But no one told me." See how it works?

I'm shocked, actually shocked, at how much trouble I've had concentrating this week, Amelia's first "full" week of preschool. (She goes three mornings a week, four hours per day.) I truly, honestly, actually thought that the minute I got home after dropping her off I would hit the ground running, attacking my to-do list with fervor and efficiency, since so much that is on it are things that I have been wanting to, needing to, wishing I could do for months. And, to be perfectly clear, these are not optional things, or things that should wait any longer, or things that I can just continue to blow off without consequence. I can't even bear to go into details, because honestly I still haven't even made the list of what things these not-optional things all are, and that — to be meta about it — is exactly the problem. I know there are things on my list but I don't know exactly what they are. Instead of trying to determine, I've just sort of been . . . wandering around . . . feeding myself . . . reading Vanity Fair while feeding myself again . . . putting five-pound bags of bread flour into any available space instead of cleaning the cluttered cabinet . . . stuffing new fall clothes into drawers that haven't been emptied of bathing suits and tank tops . . . starting to knit new sweaters before weaving in the ends of the previous sweaters . . . watching made-for-TV movies about Wills and Kate . . . making a puppet theater. Normally I do do all of those (random and generally inconsequential) things but also get, if I do say so myself, a whole shiteload more stuff that actually has to be done, done, too. Lately — nothing. Pretty much nothing at all. Before I know it, it's 12:48 p.m., and time to go pick up Meems, and I am amazed — like, bug-eyed, hands-on-cheeks, cartoon-character amazed. Four hours goes fast. The first day of school it went so slow! But now it's over before I can even believe it. And apparently everyone knows all about this finally-have-some-time-to-do-something-and-now-I'm-doing-nothing inertia. It's a thing.

But no one told me!

Sigh.

In the true spirit of the way we use the phrase here at home, of course it's not at all true that no one told me. To really use it correctly, the thing that no one supposedly ever told you has to be a thing that someone has, you know, all but made a full-time job out of repeatedly telling you. Ah, it's a mysterious phenomenon, this particular brand of "forgetting." I've experienced this exact Mysterious Phenomenon before, and have even told myself about it. Nevertheless, I'm caught off-guard once again, flatfooted and bewildered, my mouth full of bread-machine bread and jam, my thoughts centered on what George and Charlotte's nursery looks like at Bucklebury, my hands filled with tangled yarn or covered in papier mache instead of busy at my computer, working on my new pattern that I'm supposed to have done for you to make in time for your own Christmas. My bank account is bone dry. My social life is destitute. But still I sit around ironing wrinkles (not very well) out of puppet curtains and pinning more cake recipes to my birthday-cakes Pinterest board (how many does one woman need?).

Ugh.

I did cook something. That is my mom's sauce, with short ribs, sausage, and meatballs, and her lasagna. No meal on earth tastes more like my childhood autumns and winters than this one. And seriously, if you want a totally authentic Italian "gravy" that simmers for hours and makes you cry, this is it.

I did finish knitting something. It is the Eithne sweater, and I started it at the river and finished it last night. (And then, as mentioned, cast on something else before I wove in the ends or put the buttons on this.)

I did finish my puppet, Miss Margot Maude Peaseblossom, and she made me very happy.

And don't tell Meems about the doorway puppet theater (I didn't have a pattern for that, I just kind of measured the door, and winged it, but I know there are tutorials for these on-line). It's part of her birthday present (along with the oh-so-practical hat/scarf/mittens ensembles I've been knitting to go with each of her coats [rain/fancy/duffel] which are almost all done). I decided to make her her own papier mache puppet for her birthday, too, since, you know, Margot Maude and her hair, etc. . . .

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.