Posts filed in: House and Garden

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.

Happy New Year!

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Well, hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Hello. Happy New Year! I hope yours is starting out well. Lazy days turned into lazy weeks, here. It was glorious. It snowed. Things got cancelled. Things got rescheduled. Family came. Family went. The house got trashed. Movies were watched over and over. I knit and knit. Toys were played with. Books were read. Lots of treats were eaten. Lots of snuggling happened. Lots of days involved no driving whatsoever. Lots of mornings started incredibly late. Lots of baths got taken. Antidote to occasional intrusions of holiday stress: hours of mind-tranquilizing tasks. Like knitting row upon row upon row of stockinette stitch. Winding about a hundred skeins of embroidery floss onto tiny plastic bobbins and arranging them by color into boxes (a job that has needed doing for YEARS now). Cross stitching, ripping out, stitching again. Middle age descends: here's me, sitting in my cozy corner under a comforter doing these things while wearing a new flannel nightgown and watching Just in Time for Christmas. My happy place. I think I was purring. Ohhhhh, you know. It was lovely. I needed it. We all did. I hope your holidays were just as wonderful.

I blocked and put buttons on my Ellen Cardigan (still have yet to put it on Ravelry, sorry) and oh, how I love that thing. I'm really proud of it. It's the third or fourth sweater I've knit for myself and the first one that's ever fit me perfectly. As I mentioned before, I followed the colors of the original pattern exactly, and I made no modifications to the knitting (size 48). I loooooove it. I immediately started  another one based on the exact same sweater pattern, but changing the yoke design. For a while now I've been wanting to make the Ryðrauð sweater but I was nervous about doing any sweater from the bottom up, or, honestly, any sweater other than the Ellen (from now on, forever and ever) because I find it almost traumatizing to make sweaters for myself that don't fit. As I said, I've only made a handful for myself but, if I'm honest, there is something about every one of them that I just don't like. The neck on my Ramona cardigan is just way too big and falls off my shoulders. My Strokkur I made too short and I'm constantly pulling it down (well, I would be constantly pulling it down if I actually wore it). My Birkin sweater was tragic (yoke too deep, my colorwork too puckered, the neckline too funneled, body too big, sleeves started way too low on me, etc.). It just doesn’t fit my shape well. And that was size XL in fingering-weight yarn [shrieking]. I’ve seen plenty of people make this pattern now and it looks so gorgeous on them in all of the photos I’ve seen, but I just didn’t succeed with it. I don't have very much experience knitting adult-sized garments and I find it to be very intimidating and weirdly heartbreaking when I do finally take the plunge and it just doesn't work out. I know I should just chalk it up to experience but I don't. Instead, I just stop trying. But for some reason the Ellen Cardigan seemed like it would work out for me and then it did, and I don't know that I've ever been so happy with anything that I've ever made for myself, sewing included, and it gave me a lot of confidence. It was such a good feeling. Has that ever happened to you?

So, back to the Ryðrauð. I first saw Lori's version of that sweater a few years ago and I just thought it was so pretty. But, as mentioned, immediately after finishing Ellen I was nervous about ever making a sweater that doesn't fit like Ellen. So I took the Ellen colorwork chart for my size and figured out (on my cross-stitch software) a modified, simplified version of the Ryðrauð flowers that would fit right into the Ellen yoke and also could be done from the top down. And that kind of looked like this:

MyYokeSweater

I really had no idea how to do the chart the right way re: the repeat, so this is the whole yoke. Pffff! It worked out pretty well, except that as you can see there are huge spaces between the contrast color stitches of the taller motifs on the first few rows. I tried to float the yarn as loosely as I possibly could but it's still puckering a bit so we'll just have to see how it goes. But I think it's okay-enough. Also, I knit the neckband directly onto the yoke in the navy blue version; the Ellen has you pick that up last and I found that it curls a bit (and also makes the buttonholes space out rather poorly at the top, then).

Anyway, this morning I was trying to get caught up with my overflowing and neglected email in-box (yes, I pretty much suck at everything that has to do with answering all but the most urgent emails, even on my best days) and noticed that a blog reader named Kristi (hi, Kristi!) had suggested that I watch a podcast from Nicole at The Gentle Knitter. I follow Nicole on Instagram and love her work so much but I didn't really know about the podcast. I tuned in to the first few episodes and was totally thrilled to find that she was (or, actually, had been a year ago) knitting the Ryðrauð sweater (also inspired by Lori's version)! Snap! Well, Nicole is, like, the most patient, lovely, gentle creature on earth and she explains everything in such a calming way and she has so many interesting things to say about the Ryðrauð that it is well worth watching if you are interested in knitting it. She also talked about how you can catch long floats on the back of the sweater and I didn't even know that, so I will definitely have to look into that for next time. Also, I don't know, but if this navy version works out and I find myself with at least two sweaters in my closet that I love to wear, I might branch out a little more and risk making more things for myself. I purled the colorwork, above, and it's kind of a giant pain. So, all this is to say that 2018 might be my year of steeking more sweaters (I've only done it once before, for Mimi), and that's kind of an exciting feeling.

Ramble, ramble. I haven't gotten out too much lately.

What kind of cake should I make for my birthday?

Sparkle Shine

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Oh, sweetness. The days are cold and sun-sparkled, though it's dark and warm in the house. I'm done with all of my shopping and shipping and general fussing now so I'm feeling fine. We have a shop, above, and we sell, apparently, pillows, earrings, "anything you want to put on Susie Sheep" (Susie Sheep [i.e.: Peppa Pig's best friend] is the name of our dress form), and ornaments if you need to do some Christmas shopping. We are open for business at 6:00 a.m., and ready for you.

Imagine this: I get all day today to work in the studio and cook! Andy's doing Daddy Duty all day, including school runs, grocery shopping, and ballet. I'm very excited. It's not often that I get to stay home all day without having to go somewhere or other. I'm going to bake cookies and make some more chicken and dumplings. I've put cedarwood, orange, and pine essential oils in my diffuser and I am pretty excited. I might even write a Christmas card or two. I made a couple of pomander balls from Kyrie's recipe and I'm waiting for them to cure. One of my favorite memories of childhood Christmases past.

The rosy-cheeked dollies are dressed in warm sweaters. A few people have written and asked me questions about the dolls, patterns, kits, etc. So, here's my plan: I'm planning to release a pattern for the doll with an outfit, just like all of the animals had. She will also come in a kit form, and you'll be able to choose between two different skin shades and four or five different hair colors. The kit will come with fabric, yarn, and embroidery floss for the outfit, which is likely to be an 80s calico peasant dress with an embroidered pinafore along with bloomers and knitted lace stockings. Then there will be many different new clothing item patterns available, both for knitted and sewn clothes, and maybe even crocheted accessories. So far I've got a wool cape, a cross-stitched peasant blouse, a gathered skirt, knitted cable turtleneck, colorwork sweater, pixie hat, knitted skirt, knitted cowl, and ballet outfit. I'm also going to repackage all of the existing animal-family clothes patterns so that you can buy and make each of them separately. I am outrageously excited about this, if you couldn't tell. Nothing will be available until spring, sometime. It takes a while to make it all happen. But thank you for your interest and I'll keep you posted!

We went to see The Nutcracker downtown this weekend and it really was magical. That picture of the Waltz of the Snowflakes is by Blaine Truitt Covert and I found it online. They are very strict about not letting you take any photos of the performance but years from now when I look back on this post, I will want to remember that stage, and what it was like for us to sit next to our little girl in the dark auditorium with the orchestra playing and glittering snowflakes falling through the air, and all of those ever-lovely dancers twirling. The sweetest dream. A perfect day.

December Now

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I haven't quite reached a peaceful holiday state of mind. I like the week between Thanksgiving and December better than December, in a way. As soon as December starts, I feel — in spite of my best efforts — like I'm being a little bit . . . chased. Chased by a calendar. I'm a cartoon character with legs spinning. I finally sit down to have some tea and a cookie. "Oh shit! I have to order the Christmas cards before they're not 40% off anymore!" Get back up. Go get stupid computer. Ugh. So many things like that. You know. Even though you try not to have too many things to do there are still a lot of things to do. . . . I resist feeling that anything is actually urgent but things feel urgent. . . .

Amelia decorated her little tree. It is so adorable. It looks like somebody stood across the room and threw lights and ornaments at it but in fact she was quite deliberate. Around the house she sings and hums a constant medley of carols, making up half the words. It's amazing how kids just . . . pick it all up, somehow. Every year there's a little more intensity to her experience. It's completely fascinating to watch her put things together in her mind. "Oh!" she exclaims, looking at her tree. "I need to go say my mushroom prayers!" A million things said like that a day, things I couldn't make up if I tried. It's like interpreting a Mad Lib. She is so engaged with everything she does, and it's done in her very own way. Five years old. Enchanting. Darling wonder. Sweetest, sweetest heart.

Frost Fields

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Oh, hello! How are you? I've been doing almost nothing but making dolls, doll dresses, doll stockings, doll capes, doll hair, doll sweaters, doll blouses, doll skirts, doll collars, and doll hats, and then remaking them trying to get them how I want them. It is so much fun. I have so many ideas. I'm thinking about all the details quite a lot. I dream about them at night and wake up with potential solutions in the morning. Then I try to work them out that night. Yesterday we forgot Amelia's ballet slippers and had to borrow some from the ballet mistress. She asked me what size slippers Amelia wore. I told her I wasn't sure, but said I knew what size my doll's feet were (16 sts around on size US5's in sport weight yarn). Everyone in the foyer laughed nervously. The teacher turned and asked Amelia. Amelia said she was size 11. I knew that!!! Sheepish.

Did you have a nice Thanksgiving weekend here in the U.S.? We sure did. My family came and squeezed around our table and it was great. My sister Susie stayed on afterwards and made me laugh for hours with her work stories. Me, in nightgown, falling asleep: "Good lord, this story is taking forever!" Her: "Dude, I told you, I work 12-hour shifts! A lot of stuff happens!!!" On Friday I hung my two new prints that I got for my birthday last year from the English artist Jo Grundy. I had wanted these forever and I am so glad that I got them (for Andy to give to me [wink]). They inspired my mantel decoration this year, which is a frosty-winter-fields theme. Andy worked on Saturday and Amelia and I went out to Craft Warehouse and got some new little things: the lighted willow garland and a couple of little resin birds and her absolute favorite, the snowy owl. Believe it or not, I had almost everything else already, and a lot of it came from Craft Warehouse (a local indie craft store here in the Portland area) over the past few years. The little wooden plinths and the woolly trees and the metal houses (not sure where those were from, actually) and the cottonwood wreath I already had. Andy's grandfather carved the tall Santa many years ago. We bought a spray of fake frosted fern leaves and cut them off and scattered them around, along with a couple of little bottlebrush trees and juniper sprigs. The teapot was from Goodwill for $3. The snowflake garland I've had for years and years, and the stockings are from Etsy. We couldn't find Amelia's bunny stocking but I think it's in with the Christmas ornaments; we're getting our tree this weekend and I'm sure we'll find it when we open those boxes. Speaking of, Andy brought up everything seasonally related from the basement — Christmas stuff, other fake-foliage stuff for spring and fall that makes Andy insane, wreathes and such. We went through it all on Sunday and that was sort of an exhausting exercise. At some point while Andy was still cleaning I tried to pluck Amelia from the fray and took a bath while she played on the side of the tub. This is one of our favorite winter activities. I love winter baths and I never cease to give thanks for them, and for hot water. Afterwards, when everything in the living room was clean and pretty, Andy put on carols and made us some hot chocolate and it felt like the perfect start to this lovely (my favorite) season. Winter is here. I wish you peace and warmth and kind shelter and love in the days ahead. XOX

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.

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.

Already: Five

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Glory be, what a party! Parties, plural. Amelia is a partier. The girl's got game. And stamina! Party stamina. It was a blast. A friend-party and then, this past weekend, a family party. Andy's parents flew in from Chicago last Thursday. It's so special to have them here with us, and then to have everyone — Andy's parents, Amelia's birthparents and siblings and grandparents, and my family, including a surprise visit home from our niece Arden (now away at college!) — here together in one place is just magical. I really have no words to describe it. I just love this group so much, and feel so lucky and so incredibly blessed to be part of this family. Amelia is like the sun. She talks into a megaphone: "ATTENTION, EVERYONE. I JUST GOT. ANOTHER CARD. IT'S GOT A DOG IN A CAR ON IT. " Her brother: "It's a bus." Amelia: "IT'S GOT A DOG IN A . . . TRICKY BUS." Oh, my dear, sweet love. "ATTENTION, EVERYONE! SIERRA CAN'T FIND HER BALLOON!!!" Everyone: What color is it? Where did you last have it? I'll help you look for it! There is so much laughter, and so much loving. There were so many pictures I didn't get to take, and so many moments I want to remember.

Because just like that, she is five.

Andy's mom and dad ("Grandma and Pops") leave tomorrow. I'll be sad to have the celebration close. Amelia's at school this morning, for a little bit of normalcy in an unusual week. We got a huge box of apples from a neighbor-boy of ours who was selling them for Boy Scouts. I have subscribed to the New York Times cooking app in hopes of kick-starting my flagging cooking mojo. I spent the morning looking at apple recipes and hope to try out at least a few with the thirty apples now sitting in the kitchen. Autumn is here in earnest. Flowers in the garden bleach out from the sun then sog under the weight of sudden, gumball-sized hail, then sun again, and then a huge rainbow goes right through the tree across the street. Clouds whirl, lightning flares, and then sun again through flashing trees. Cold nights, the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Pumpkins on the porch, and Halloween ahead. I'm making a cat costume next. Our girl is five and she picks these things for herself now. I couldn't be more proud of her. I love her and all of it so much.

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!!!

Couch and Cake Topper

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WHEW. There is little rhyme or reason in how these pictures are presented here. Everything's all over the place and that's probably a good metaphor for my mental state. Some of these things, like that sweater up there, I've been working on all summer. The pattern is called Carl's Cardigan and I used Woolfolk Far in Pollen for the yarn. I'm not even sure why this is the first time I've taken a picture of that sweater, since I've had it in my hands almost every single night for months. The stitch pattern seemed endless. It's basically ribbing, so you're constantly going back and forth between purling and knitting in each row, with a wraparound thing every fourth row. Et cetera. I finished it last night, now just need to block and add buttons. It's cute. The color is going to be really versatile. It's super stretchy, so even though it looks skinny, I'm hoping it will fit for a while. I'm turning into Practical Mom about kid-knitting anymore. It's weird how that happens. I never thought that would happen.

Okay, next. COUUUUUUUCH. I love it. I sit on it and never want to get off of it. It's called the Radley sectional from Macy's. I think the color was Chrome. It looks a lot like our old sofa but 1) it is soft and not scratchy, 2) it is tall instead of the height of a toddler bed (as was the Kivik, at least for me) and 3) it's firm and doesn't collapse like a souffle when I park myself on it at the end of the day. I got the protection plan thing with it so my goal is for it to be here for a long, long time. Thumbs up on that. Andy and I actually sit around at night and talk about how much we love our sofa. Middle age.

CAKE TOPPER. I made it. :))))))))) SUPER FUN. I started it this summer and I wish I could tell you exactly where I got everything for it but it was either JoAnn's or Michael's — I went to both places when I was shopping for supplies for this. The cake is made out of Fimo and I didn't make that — I got it years ago from someone's Etsy shop but I can't remember whose. The present is just a wooden block wrapped with origami paper. The bunting is washi tape cut into flags. The flag poles are stripey straws topped with mulberry-paper flowers (also had those, from way back when, when we used to sell clothespin doll kits). The balloon is made out of yellow Model Magic. Her dress is made of the same fabric Amelia wants her Hunca Munca birthday dress made out of (still gotta do that). I basically hot-glued everything together when I was done with the pieces and it was a total blast. I spent a long time looking at cake toppers on Pinterest for ideas, and then I actually whipped this out in a day or two, as I tend to do. This will go on top of the cake for Amelia's family birthday party, here in a few weeks.

The felt birthday crown: I got the idea for this entirely from the one that Ginny made for Mabel's first birthday. The embroidery pattern comes from this book. I forget how cool waste canvas is, because you can cross stitch (or, in this case, evenweave stitch) on anything. Then you soak the whole thing in water and that canvas becomes totally pliable. You use tweezers to pull the waste canvas threads out from under the stitches. It really isn't hard at all and it's really cool. The crown shape I just drew on a sheet of paper — well, I drew half of it, then flipped it. The crown is lined with really soft, thin pink polar-fleece. Amelia was mildly disappointed when she saw the birthday crown. She wants flowers all over it. She's sure I can do this. I'm not sure how I'll do this. . . .

I knew I'd taken a picture of her school dress before she wore it and put it on Instagram, but I wanted to post it here so I would remember it, because she didn't get to wear the blouse on the first day of school, since it was 100 degrees. . . . It's McCall's pattern #7590 from 1981. It's the same dress that I made her for her first day of school last year, but that one was plaid. I loved that one, too. This is one of my favorite-ever patterns on her.

Okay, what else. I rearranged Amelia's room for her last weekend. The lovely artwork in her room is from various places, but my favorites are the things made by friends and family: Amelia riding a bunny, which is possibly the coolest thing ever, and was a gift from Emily when Amelia was really little; a floral monogram from my friend Rebekka; the sweetest deer pair painted by my sister, Julie; the gorgeous dandelion photograph was taken by Amelia's birthmama; the silhouette of her when she was one was made by my brother-in-law. The mushroom light I got years ago and I don't remember where now. Maybe Smallable? It's European, I do remember that. The alphabet samplers are my designs and patterns are here (and by the way you can get a wool pack for that project now) and here. The pillow on the chair is a project I made for my second book, years ago. I'm going to make a new one with my punchneedle and I can't wait to start it. I found vintage Laura Ashley sheets on eBay and I was psyched. They are hard to find.

I'm finished with my new wintertime cross-stitch sampler for this year, and will open pre-orders for it in few weeks, after Amelia's birthday parties when I'm more organized again. You can see a glimpse of it up there. I am excited about it. I have some ideas for the cover photo I want to try. So stay tuned for that. I don't have a good sense of what the numbers will be for this kit so that's why I want to do pre-orders to make sure we get the quantity right. Not too many, not too few. Normally pre-orders make me ridiculously nervous. But we have the floss in hand already for up to 600 kits, and the fabric manufacturer has the fabric coming in in a few weeks, so I think it will be a good idea to do pre-orders this time. These projects are easy to do when I'm doing them but hard for me to re-issue once they're sold out, so if you're interested in this, I'll keep you posted. Many of my old kits are sold out and won't be reissued. Now that Amelia is in school every morning, I have more time to work, and I want to focus on my new ideas for patterns and kits for 2018.

Anyway, what else. My charity quilt. When Hurricane Hugo Harvey (!) hit, I wanted to make a quilt to raffle off for charity. There have been several other heartbreaking disasters since then, including Irma and now Maria in Puerto Rico, that I would like to contribute to as well. I haven't started the quilt yet the way I thought I would have time to, but I'm still planning to do it soon. I'm not quite sure how to make it available — someone told me they did a raffle and got in trouble for it because it was considered gambling, or something like that, so I will have to look into it and I just haven't had the wherewithal yet. But it's all on my list. The needs are great. I don't even know the best ways to help. Helpless feeling.

We went with our pre-school to see the swifts the other night. That's an event that happens here every fall where the Vaux's swifts use a local school's (unused) chimney to roost in at night on their annual migration. See all of those little freckles in the photo of the school chimney up there? Those are the birds. Here is a pretty rad video of what this looks like when they final spiral in. It was a really fun night. Everyone brings blankets and picnics and watches from a hill — it's a perfect viewing spot for the show. The weather was excellent, too.

Well, that's it for me, I guess! I hope you are all well! Thanks for looking at all my stuff! Have a great weekend!

***Ooops, forgot the sweater picture originally but it's there now, and thanks for the head's up on Harvey! Doi! Slaps forehead.

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.