Posts filed in: Baking and Cooking

THANK YOU!!!

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* * *  T  H  A  N  K      Y  O  U      Y  O  U      G  U  Y  S !!!!!  * * *

I am gob smacked. Thank you for your orders and all of your kind words. You guys are seriously awesome. And I am truly grateful. Super-stellar awesome-assistant Stacey has shipped almost everything, with the rest going out on Monday. Then there will be more five thousand Maggie and her animal cousins' kits all over the world at this point, and I'm so proud of them. Thank you ever, ever so much for buying and making my patterns and kits. I love designing and producing them more than I can say, and am very grateful for your enthusiasm and support. Thank you so much.

So, it's deep fall, isn't it. October was really busy. Halloween came and went (in a torrential downpour). The Red Riding Hood cape (McCall's M4567) was a total fail. It was so crazy big and so heavy (I even shortened the thing by about a foot or more!) it wouldn't stay on her shoulders at all, and I couldn't blame her for not wanting to wear it even once! I tried a few solutions, including buttons at her shoulders (her hair wound around them horribly) and tying it on like a backpack under the arms but nothing really felt functional. Halloween morning I made a run to JoAnn's for yarn and a giant hook and wound up speed-crocheting a new hood in a few hours. The pattern was also sort of nuts and no one was more amazed than I when, lo and behold, a hood came off my hook, and the child donned it willingly. Until it started raining cats and dogs and every one of us and our friends were in a ton of rain gear, slogging through the drowning neighborhood in a downpour to get about twelve pieces of sopping candy. Man, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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It's a gorgeous, gorgeous morning here today. Andy and Amelia are headed out together for the day and I'm sitting in my newly reorganized office trying to collect myself. My office is so clean and tidy and . . . where am I, seriously. It hasn't been like this in years. This morning I made a giant list of all of the things I want to make this fall. Bathrobe (she wants a bathrobe, which cracks me up) for Meems. Nightgown (she wants nightgowns) for Meems. Thanksgiving dress and pinafore for Meems. Thanksgiving skirt (gathered, with pockets — I've made two already and love them — will tell you how I did it as soon as I get my act together) for me. Friendship quilt with Martha like this gorgeous one by Lucy. This sweater for Amelia. An advent calendar. A crocheted blanket I am halfway done with but I don't think I've shown you yet. A kooky flowered skirt for Amelia. Christmas dress for Amelia.

Seriously??? It does seem like a lot. I think it will be okay. The quilt's obviously a long-term project. And a lot of the other stuff can be done on the sofa while watching Christmas movies, so what could be better?

I've also been cooking a lot. I made Ann's No-Knead Bread. I made Thai curry lentil and sweet potato soup. That was excellent. I made Tessa Kiros's meat sauce from Apples for Jam, which is one of my favorite cookbooks (though the font they used for the recipes is seriously unreadable). I made dirty chai (that's chai with espresso, FYI) cinnamon rolls using the one-hour dough from this recipe and the filling and frosting from this recipe. OH MY STARS WHAT AN AWESOME PAN OF CINNAMON ROLLS THOSE WERE. I made butternut squash and spinach lasagna. That, too, was very good.

I guess I made a runner for my dining room table, too. Apparently Andy had the whole week off and I got a little excited.

It's October

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Oh, autumn, everywhere, and yet, it's still consistently above 80 degrees here. But the sun is low and lovely in the morning. Amelia and I play in the front yard. She collects leaves, crow feathers, splinters of chalk, seed pods and puts them in a candle holder that looks like a bird cage. I sit on the top stair and watch the world go by — dog walkers, cars and bikes, baby strollers, squirrels. Up and down the stairs she goes, leaning against me as she passes, pausing to give me a hug or sit on my lap, hair blowing against my face, sturdy little body pushing into mine. I lift her shirt and kiss her soft belly. So much sweet softness in such a hard, sad world sometimes. My heart is heavy for the people of Roseburg, Oregon. I send a prayer into the sky, up toward the morning moon. Peace be with you, friends. Please, peace.

Inside, the light is changing. I've forgotten how pretty my pipsqueak of a kitchen is in the afternoon. It has a big door-window facing south, and the light turns rose-gold around three or so. Rice pudding must be the ultimate comfort food, and Andy's grandma's is my favorite — it's more like a cooked custard with rice in it. This is her recipe, written in her words:

Helen's Rice Pudding

Wash 1 c. rice (not Minute Rice) in ice cold water. Put in double boiler and add 2 c. hot water. Steam rice until dry. (*Note: I just cook it like normal; I actually always use a rice cooker. You just want cooked rice here. :) Put in large baking bowl. Add 2 more cups of milk and 1 can [sweetened] condensed milk, 3/4 c. sugar, and 4 beaten eggs. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle cinnamon on top and put pieces of butter. Bake in medium oven — 375 degrees about 1 hour, until pudding is firm.

I've made a lot of homemade Swedish meatballs. I've never liked any of them. Or at least, I felt they were rarely worth the work they took to make (I don't like making meatballs). Martha and I were on the phone discussing something else entirely when suddenly we were talking about Swedish meatballs, and she told me that her brother made the meatballs from the Ikea cookbook (or something like that? This recipe is the same as the one she gave me that her brother had written out) and they were awesome. I then immediately made them and they were AWESOME (though still a lot of work. But awesome, so it was okay). In Andy's family, they serve Helen's rice pudding with Swedish meatballs and this is, indeed, just the best, heaviest, but most comforting plate of food in the world, should you be in need. Highly recommend.

Peanut-butter chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, with raisins added. Not bad.

For the past six months or maybe a year or so I've been more-or-less consciously really trying to bust my stash, both yarn and fabric. Now that Amelia's birthday quilt is finished (it's finished! Photos to come!) I am in the mood for something easy easy easy. I'm thinking a blanket like this: single-colored solid granny squares (that tutorial makes a very nice "square" square, in my opinion), in a checkerboard pattern but with this sort of pale salmon pink I happen to have about six big skeins of (why?) instead of the cream. I saw the blanket in that pin and went really crazy for it and I think it will be a very nice project to work on a square at a time, with no fuss. Just a bag of skeins of worsted-weight yarn, and an ever-growing pile of squares. People don't like the joining part, I guess, but I always kind of do.

We're about to get ready for a birthday party around here. I can't wait!

***The painting is "Spring Lambs" by Bonnie Fisher.

Soup and Sew

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Well, thank you. Thank you, thank you. What an incomparably lovely experience it was to read your kind comments (for Andy, too; I don't know if you know he reads every post, and every comment as well). Thank you so much! I took the quilt top and the batting and backing (yep, I embroidered a tag, as well; I'll show you that sometime, probably when I'm completely done with it all) over to Modern Domestic for the afternoon that same day last week and used their tables to lay it all out and pin the quilt sandwich together. That place is pretty rad; you can pay to use their space and equipment to get stuff like this done, and I'll never do it at home again. The tables were nice and tall and I spent hours pinning and my back did not hurt at all (mine at home is way too short — I absolutely need risers — all my stuff is too short for me, actually, including the kitchen counters). Anyway, I got it all pinned together, and got the front part of the binding sewn on, and now I'm hand quilting a few squares and stitching down a bit of binding every night. I have two more weeks. I'll definitely finish. I'm really happy.

Answers to some questions that came up:

Yes, I changed the October patch significantly. I kept the same girl, because I really did not want to lose any of the continuity of this amazing design, but added a simple birthday cake from another book by the same designer and some bunting.

As far as getting the book that these patterns are in, it is (sadly) out of print. I found mine easily on Etsy, but I'm guessing there aren't too many of them out there, I'm sorry. I don't really have any good advice about how to get your hands on a copy other than Googling the title or ISBN (in the previous post), or trawling eBay, Etsy, or other Japanese craft book sellers.

The top was pieced with strips of the salmon/silver background fabric. I think I did all the blocks going down with short strips between (to make three columns) and then added four long vertical strips to finish. For the back I used this 100% cotton gingham in gray. The salmon/silver background calico came from JoAnn's. As far as the rest of the fabrics used to make the calico frames, er. . . . I'm not great at keeping track of that kind of info. All of it was already cut into strips by me at some point, and kept in my big 2" strip scrap basket. I buy almost all of my fabric locally, at JoAnn's, Fabric Depot, and Mill End Store, and also at Knittn' Kitten. Some of my fabrics are Liberty of London Tana Lawn cottons, which I've been collecting for probably twenty years. I have never been good at keeping track of the names and designers of fabric, and I really am going to try to be better about that. But my stash has been accumulated over such a long period of time and from so many places that it just overwhelms me to try to keep it straight. (And also, for the people who have asked where I find most of the vintage patterns I use for Mimi's dresses, I just get them on Etsy or eBay, or at Goodwill or Knittn' Kitten when I see something I like. Eventually I'm sure I will sell my collection of vintage patterns but I don't really have time to do it right now. I like vintage patterns because they have already been cut out [most of the time] and you don't have to fight with multiple sizes and giant pieces of tissue paper, or printing and cutting and taping, etc. And of course I just like the styles better, too.)

Anyway, I was mostly just kidding about not letting Mimi use the quilt. She'll absolutely use it, but I will try to keep it nice. I will absolutely try to keep Clover and Bridget off of it (they are going to be bewildered, seriously — I've never tried to keep them off of anything in their lives). I'm definitely going to wash it cold with some of those color-catcher things. I've never been worried about dye in embroidery floss running before, and of course I did absolutely nothing to mitigate the possibility, but in that June block especially, oh shasta. That one's gonna be tough to imagine not running, honestly. . . . That umbrella is so solidly packed with red thread (against a white ground). Ugh. Oh well. That's life.

Anyway, once again. You guys. Thank you. Your enthusiasm made my day just so big and fun and bright. I truly appreciate your kindness and, just, I don't know how to explain it anymore, but all the thoughtfulness that goes into what you say. All of the things you said, the stories you offered, the kindness you shared, all of it has also gone into that quilt now. And I don't know, that makes me cry, too. It's just cool. Thank you.

So, there's a lot of soup up there. There's chicken with wild rice. There's black bean. There's Andy's chicken soup (we were sick). There's a loaf of bread, as well, but it was a just a loaf of frozen white from the grocery store, which, though it only weighed about an ounce (seriously, I actually laughed out loud when I picked it up) after it was baked, made kind of a nice turkey sandwich, I have to say. Also, there's a Halloween costume. It's Little Red Riding Hood's dress from Simplicity #2571. I know. I . . . yes, I already made part of a Halloween costume. I have no explanation.

***Her poncho; her dress; her sweater.

Hello there!

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Hello there! How are you? We're settling into fall here. It's come on with speed and determination. At 6 a.m. this morning, Amelia and I laid in bed in the dark bedroom, listening to the rain outside. She noticed it. It sounded beautiful. It's so dark in the morning now. We snuggle until the quilt and the wool blanket, both kitters and puppers in the bed, too. After a long summer of tremendous heat, everyone's suddenly cold, and grateful for that. The transition to new season and new routines has been unexpectedly hard for me these past few weeks, though. I feel like I'm scrambling to find traction somehow. I think I'm getting it, but I've been a bit all over the place. I was so anxious for it that I immediately started panicking and flailing about once it happened. Typical.

We went to the river for the last time this summer. It was so shallow it was hard to believe. A flock of geese sat on the sandbar all afternoon. The leaves, tinged yellow, fell into the water. I really loved all the days we spent there this summer. I know Andy and Amelia did, too. Our intrepid explorer has grown so much these past few months. What a blessing, to have these nearby places to be free together. Home by dinner, bath, and then early to bed, clean and tired.

Thank you so much for your incredibly kind comments lately, and for all of the glorious-sounding apple recipes, and for the big-girl-chair advice. I made my sour cream apple pie and this thing just never, ever disappoints. Highly recommend. Double the topping if your pie plate is big and wide. (Put tinfoil under your pan if you think that stuff might bubble over and drip off, though; you don't want that spilling in your oven.) Next I'm going to go through the recipes you suggested and find some more that sound good (they all sound good!). I'm getting back into the whole cooking routine I was so excited about a couple of months ago. SOUP is going to make life just ever so much easier. It tastes just as good the next day. I made kale and potato soup with corn and chorizo and it was fantastic. I had it again the next day and it was absolutely just as good. Tonight I'm making the chicken with wild rice soup I made last year, because I know that was really good. Should walk up to the store and get some sweet potato to make biscuits to go with. And boom, that's tomorrow, then, too.

The big-girl chair is a work in progress. We got a Keekaroo — I happened to spot one at the kids' resale shop that cost the exact amount of the credit I had. I like it (though, as everyone says, we've tripped over it literally every single day since it's been here) but the seatbelt has got to be replaced — she is totally able to take it off herself, thus completely defeating the purpose. Dinnertime now is a constant negotiation where I try to get her to stay in her seat. Last night I said, "Well, I just started eating, and if you can't stay in your seat for a little while I might have to go get your old high chair and bring it back, if it's really hard to stop getting down." I thought that warning might work, since just last week the idea of sitting in the high chair was so distasteful it caused all sorts of pandemonium . But she just got these big, bright eyes and said, "Oh! Can I have my high chair?" Pfffft! LOL. But the big-girl chair'll be good with a toddler-proof seatbelt. The clip is just too easy to snap open. She's not quite ready to be free yet, and, quite frankly, neither am I. Getting there, though. She and I eat dinner alone three nights a week when Andy is at work, and our days start around 5:00 a.m. By 5:00 p.m., I just need to sit for a little while.

Do you like the poncho? I think I like it — well, I love the pattern, I just don't know if I like my colors that much. Does it look like I went to Michael's and got one of those little strips of acrylic paint pots (the "country" colors), and then matched them? Maybe that works, I don't know. This has yet to be blocked. I was going to wait for a warm day and block it outside on the outside table so it will dry faster. The details are on my Ravelry page. Her groovy dress is from a vintage nightgown pattern (Simplicity 4719) that I shortened. I like peasant dresses that gather onto a bias strip, and have a continuous placket and a snap in back. I added pockets to this one but I matched them to the fabric so they almost don't show. It's the softest baby wale corduroy, from Fabric Depot, a few years ago now, I think.

Some very cool vintage postage stamps to use on Amelia's birthday invitations. And paper party hats I can't stop making: I used some of the floral designs in this most awesome book, printed them onto lightweight cardstock on my ink-jet printer, then traced my party hat pattern, glued them together at the seam, added some cotton rick-rack, and made a yarn pom for each. These are for everyone besides the birthday girl (who will get a felt one, of course). I absolutely love party preparations. Love them.

Honeycrisp

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Autumn weather is taking her time, coming in in spurts, though the apples are already mostly picked, with brown spots and worms in the ones that are left. We found a few small beauties, sweet and crisp and filled with summer, still. This is the time of year when I feel the most longing. I can't seem to get traction. September sparks emotions that are russet-colored, and crackling, and capricious. I feel one way and then another. The grass is colorless, defeated. The skies routinely cover-over in a merciful low, gray haze. Right now I'm looking out at my backyard and it's as still and clear gray and matte-flat as I've ever seen it. There is no breeze, but it is cool. I hear squirrels and birds and, a-ways off, cars. No one's mowing a lawn, no one's cutting down a tree, no one's nailing shingles to a roof. There are no flashing highlights, no glints, no searing-white light-spots. It's very quiet. And I feel relieved, for a moment. I wish it would stay.

I want to stand in the kitchen and peel fall things, apples and squashes and onions, and I want to saute mushrooms, and roast garlic heads, and make oatmeal for my boo. I made Eve's Pudding (it was okay, not life-changing) and have plans for my pie, and a cobbler, and a crisp. I love apples. I crocheted a toddler poncho and have embroidered ten out of twelve panels (still need to take their pictures for you) on my girl's birthday quilt, all of this at night, on the sofa, watching Ice Lake Rebels and a movie my friend Martha recommended, The Grand Seduction. At night, the breeze blows through the windows at my back. It gets dark before Andy gets home from work. I'm still in my summer nightgowns. I'm trying not to rush so much. It's so hard to break the habit with some things.

***Any apple recipe recommendations?

Still Summer

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Wah! Here, there, and everywhere. Often in the kitchen. I'm surprised, with all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning, and the broken dishwasher, there's been time to go anywhere, seriously. And yet, I have a moment every single day where I ask myself, "Can what I'm about to do wait until fall?" And if the answer is yes (and it's almost always yes, though I'm so anxious for it), we go back outside. These days. There is so much to do. Andy's two-week vacation starts today, and we are staying home this time. Already, most of the days are accounted for. I picture myself running around a track, knock-kneed, arms flailing wildly; I cross the finish line, and fall dramatically to the ground then do a really fast volleyball roll where I land flat-out on my back, and then someone pours an entire bottle of water directly onto my face — and that's September. I bought Amelia her new yellow raincoat and she put it right on. It's very wishful thinking but we girls can dream. We had one lovely, rainy moment that we watched from the kitchen door and I tell you, no two-hundred-and-fifty raindrops and ten whole minutes were more appreciated in the history of the world.

THANK YOU thank you for all of the party hat kit (and pattern) orders. Thank you!!! Things started slowly but have been rollicking along, and I truly thank you. It's a weird time of year to be launching a new kit, but I have so many plans and projects coming up. I'm sort of just whacking at things and hitting them back over the net. But I'm so excited that these hat kits are out there, and I hope you like making them. I'm already working on stuff for Amelia's birthday in October (that embroidery project above, which will be a quilt, bumped the log cabin out of the queue, and that's now planned for Christmas). I absolutely love where her birthday falls in the year. I think it would be my favorite day of the year anyway, but this is the first special occasion we've ever had that falls in October, and wow, what a treat.

Is this not an insane amount of cooking above? Agreed. And much of it repeated recipes, which I'm finding is, as you mentioned, the way to go. I'm ridiculously happy with how this is all going. Above please find blueberry custard pie (without the streusel this time and just a sprinkle of demerara sugar; much improved, in my opinion), chicken with peanut sauce and ginger rice (and steamed broccoli; and I have made a LOT of peanut sauces, and this one is my favorite by far), Sarah's quinoa salad with tequila shrimp added, my dad's Chili Lobo, and another round of blackened fish tacos (which I now make regularly, baking the tilapia in parchment paper at 400 degrees F for twenty minutes, and serve with my dad's coleslaw, avocado, and mango). Amelia and we are in negotiations for a big-girl chair, so she can sit at the table and not be in the high chair. I have mixed feelings about this, as it will change dinnertime from what is now a pretty relaxing scene (because she is fully restrained in her high chair, and seems rather content to be once she is actually in it) to one where she constantly wants to leave the table (cue ensuing negotiations, etc.). She may be ready but I'm not sure I am. Especially with all this 4:00 p.m. cooking, I really can't even express how much I love collapsing into my chair for dinner knowing that she's happily strapped in, unable to destroy anything else. We successfully negotiated the stop-throwing-your-dishes thing (which was a big problem here); I used my Parental Reverse Psychology on her (yay!) and bought a bunch of Very Fancy china salad plates and bowls at Goodwill ($1 a piece, cheaper than plastic, quite frankly), explaining that she now had her own set of Very Fancy Dishes and needed to take care of them, and could not throw them, drop them, fling them, or otherwise. Weirdly, this totally worked. She carries them in to me after dinner as if walking a petri dish across a crowded lab — very, very carefully (she assures me). I make a big deal over this, and she is proud. And I am so proud of her. Any advice for the chair?

Also, yes, I should advise you that I intend to fully embrace the whole toddler bento phenomenon when she starts playschool two mornings (including lunch) a week next month. Whaaaaaa? What is happening here?!?! How have I never heard of such a thing? It's too adorable. I'll now be spending approximately all of my free time in the kitchen cutting stars out of cantaloupe and piercing hotdog bites with dry spaghetti. I can't wait.

***Garter scarf to go with new toddler raincoat. Not at all impressed with my edges or weaving in of ends. May rethink concept, or actually Google proper way of doing this. Go through back loop on first stitch? You can't slip it, when changing colors? . . .

***Her coat is from here.

Sun Shines

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We've had a week of perfect weather. It's incredible, just incredible, how much easier, happier, and sweeter it makes everything. Today it's perfectly sunny, with a slight breeze blowing. Birds are singing. The sprinkler's waving. I feel as if I can think. The other day Andy and Amelia were out and I was sitting in the yard with the sprinkler going. It was spraying just inches from where I sat reading, in the middle of the day, which I usually never let it (or myself, for that matter) do. Within ten minutes, I had four hummingbirds playing in the sprinkler, just feet away from me. I could actually hear their wings buzzing. It was amazing. And then, all of a sudden there were about a dozen little chickadees or finches (I don't even know) playing in the magnolia tree (just a few feet away in the other direction) that was getting wet from the sprinkler. The little birds were all taking showers in the wet leaves, and just singing and singing. It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. I felt like Snow White. It only lasted about fifteen minutes but I had the biggest smile on my face the whole time. I dared not move a muscle. It was just so wonderful.

Have you heard of Magic Custard Cake? This thing is really quite amazing! It's kind of like a giant Dutch baby pancake. Or what I always wish clafoutis was but it never is. Try it. I thought it was absolutely perfect. I really like this kind of plain, custardy-type stuff so much. Plus, it's magic (you'll see!), so that's cool.

Party hat kits won't be ready this week. Wah. My fault. I need to reprint one of the pages of the pattern and will send that back to the printer tomorrow. But that's the only thing that's holding us up, so I'm thinking we can put the kits on sale next week, and I will let you know the details on Monday. So sorry about that. I have lots of things to tell you about shop-wise, so I will put together my thoughts about all that very soon! It's been hard to think but, as mentioned, it seems to be getting easier.

Munch, munch. Try this banana bread from Nigella, too. I have it in her How to Be a Domestic Goddess cookbook, but I can only find this one in metric online. You'll have to translate it. It's incredibly moist. I made two loaves and shared one at a play date and we're still eating the other one, two days later, and it's just as good as it was the same morning I baked it. Andy made this chicken tikka masala for us and it is one of my favorite dinners (and again, you have to change the salt amount recommended if you make this recipe — it's insane; we use 1 teaspoon wherever they call for FOUR).

Meems and I are going to have a lazy day today. Thrifting, grocery store, picnic in the yard, maybe another mango milkshake for dessert. This weather. What a blessing. I wish you a truly wonderful weekend! xoxo

***No, that's neither my nor Andy's tattoo; it's my mom's. 'Cause she's cool like that.

August

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August. Dry and irritated and fragile with longing. I was in the back yard this morning, shuffling like a shaggy bear through dead leaves, pawing my way through gossamer cobwebs connecting every object in a fine lace of shimmering silk threads. Everything is so, so dry. Everything is in the wrong place; the chairs are all at odd angles, the table tilted and shoved. There are overturned pots on the patio, toys filled with dust and dirt, broken saucers, sizzled stalks, lanky flowers. Two dirty washcloths left outside for weeks. Cups crusty with the remains of juice. Crushed sidewalk chalk, colorless leaves, apples fallen with wormholes the size of pennies. The hydrangeas, of which there are many and of which half are so parched they are dying, are dramatic in their need for attention, and still they suffer from my neglect. Some of them have some kind of bug that wraps itself in a little white pod, and slowly sucks. Some, the ones that climb the walls, are covered from head to toe in the sepia-brown remains of their once-white flowers, a wall of sepia-brown. Things have been let go. Once they start to go, my instinct is to flee. If only some water would fall from the actual sky! To the river we go.

Amelia has begun a new phase; I hold my breath while thinking this. It seems that she can now play by herself for long stretches, her own imagination occupying her for hours, in fact, especially at the rivers. Who knew this would happen? Everybody? Not me. She's still pretty much playing parallel to other children that are around, but she likes to be near them, easily sharing her toys and easily asking to use others', interested in what the bigger kids are doing, very concerned if any of the littles cry. But these stretches of play are suddenly so much longer, so much more interesting to her, so much more involved. I watch in fascinated admiration, listening to her made-up voices and made-up conversations between rocks and cups, sticks and sand. She squats and stirs and talks and trills. I sit half-deep in the cold river and try to breathe as deeply as I can. It's been years since I was able to sit for a long stretch, and it turns out you don't forget how. My whole body sinks with relief, warming a thin layer of water around me. I don't move at all, just let the green water run slowly past me, downstream, away from the sun. The most beautiful day in the world, right here.

There have been clouds. Some. I sang a rain song and she asked to put on her rainbow coat. There was no rain. But there could have been. I felt it. Sweet promise. These pictures are mostly from the front yard, which has benefitted from the sprinkler and some of my capricious attention. Andy's taking Amelia to the museum and making dinner (Indian) tonight. Today I'm staying home. I just want to be here, clipping hydrangeas and dragging the hose from place to place. I think it will be really nice when they get back.

For your dinner, might I recommend a fish sammie, or some yum woon sen?

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!

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.