Kid’s Clothes Week

April 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m participating in something called “Kids Clothes Week” put on by the super-talented Meg from the blog Elsie Marley.  It’s basically another way to get myself moving on some sewing I’ve been meaning to do, but, you know, just don’t.  It’s amazing how calling something “Kids Clothes Week” and setting up a Flickr group can spur people to action.  Maybe I need to name next week “Organize Your Filthy, Overflowing Closets Week”, set up a Flickr group and see if that works just as well!

These little shorts are the simple, flat front pants pattern you can find at Dana Made It  (a great resource), and I added the little pockets.  They are a small version of the deep pockets on this skirt.   These are the perfect egg collecting shorts.  The chickens are laying a lot these days and the youngest kid is all about pilfering their eggs. Now, she can now carry up to six eggs into the house in one trip!!  No basket required.  Tripping and falling could get ugly, though.

I also put a little, sun hat together from this  Martha Stewart pattern.  It was a bit of a bear to put together b/c the pattern was sort of incomplete or just really confusing.  I couldn’t tell which.  I barreled through, though and it will accomplish the task of keeping the sun off of her fair head.  She has some crazy moles and a dad that had melanoma at age 35, so I’m gonna be as careful as I can manage.   She looks excited about it, doesn’t she?  I experimented with the running stitches around the side panel, so, it was fun for me, at least!

In other news:

This article has me glad to be dealing with a funny smelling, disheveled back yard full of chickens.  No question. It’s worth it.

Love these patterns.  Not sure I can afford them.

Finished this book.  Recommended by Kathy (thanks, K!) Corruption, greed, but some hope, too.

About to start this book.  Anyone read it?


New Stitches

April 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

Somewhere in my home-school days (I only did it for ONE year) I started thinking it would be a good idea to have the kids embroider.  I had dabbled (and I mean dabbled) in embroidery and thought it was a really accessible way to introduce them to the joys of making things with their hands. So, I got four hoops, cut some pieces of leftover canvas,  opened my half-decopaged shoe box of cotton embroidery floss (a gift from a friend in SF) and let them have at it.

We started with letters of the alphabet, their names, and the easiest stitch, the back stitch.  Being left totally to themselves, they started drawing their own pictures on fabric and embroidering around the edges.  They could get pretty gnarly.  And sometimes they would ask me if they could embroider and I would say “no” b/c I knew I would be asked to re-thread their needles about seventy times in the span of five minutes.

My most quiet, quirky, and sensitive (and horse-loving) kid has been the one who is most persistent about getting the hoop and thread out to work. Now that she is 8, she has a lot of the coordination and patience necessary to make smaller, neater stitches (something that really makes a difference), and to thread her own needle and tie her own knots.  We had some time alone recently and she declared (as she likes to do) that she wanted to embroider.  So, we found a picture of a horse (of course) and made a copy.  She transferred it to fabric with transfer paper, and she worked for a couple of hours on it, taking breaks whenever she needed it.

Here’s the almost finished product.  She’s pretty excited about her “horsey” (as am I).  She even learned how to do a french knot for the eyeball.  We are already looking at embroidery books together for new stitches and skills.  We’re both pretty into it, so if anyone has any suggestions for books to websites to check out, let me know.

And some unrelated fun stuff:

This dressing. Oh my.

Fancy chickens

Daisy Chain Sampler and check out her free downloads, too. I love some of the dishtowel designs.

AND I took this picture to my hair stylist and said “give me this”. I’m all over the map about it, loving it followed immediately by wondering what I was thinking,  but I think I’m settling down, now.  What else is there to do, right? It’s a good change, I think.

AND, AND I finished our taxes on time!! Relief.

A Shirt for Spring

April 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

I made this top recently out of some old drapery fabric that I found in a give-away box at my in-laws’ church.  I remember grabbing it out of that box and debating: do I love this or hate it?  Is it so retro, it’s modern, or just dowdy?  I absolutely responded to the colors, though, so I decided to go for it. I thought Lisette pattern 2245 was a good fit since it’s  a little vintage and a little mod at the same time.   I really like this pattern, but there is a major issue with the neck bands and facings in the original pattern.  The pieces just don’t fit the shirt when you go to attach it.  So, I improvised and made a bias band around the top.  I think I like the neck a little more open than the original pattern looks anyway, so this worked out well.

I decided to enter this shirt in the Made by Rae Spring Top Sewalong to motivate me to finish it (being part of a group, having a deadline, possibly winning fabric!).   You can see the Flickr group here.  Maybe you want to make a shirt for spring to enter, too!

Goings On

March 26, 2012 § 8 Comments

Hello reader! It’s been a while, hasn’t it. Well, it has been for me.  I dropped my computer on the floor a few weeks ago, killing it instantly, and silencing me for a while.  If you’ve been paying attention you know this is the SECOND time I’ve done this. My husband is losing his patience.   I may just need to stay away from computers altogether, but for now, here is a quick update on things around here:

:::I made my first loaf of naturally leavened bread!!  I started it from my own starter and everything! Was I this proud of myself on the days I gave birth? I’m not sure.  I used a recipe from Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Bakingbut there are lots of recipes out there.  Try here and here, for instance.

:::I took an old turtleneck from one of my kids drawers and turned it into a dress with the help of some elastic and material I had lingering in my stack.  I was really winging it here and it shows a bit, but all in all, I think it will be a great summer dress for girl number 2.  You can get the real instructions here.

:::And the chickens are back in full force for the spring! We are swimming in eggs and it’s glorious.  I thought this page was a good place to start.

:::I’ve been reading Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and it’s amazingly entertaining and fastidiously detailed at the same time.  I feel very studious when I read it, too.

:::I’m wanting to try something like this.  I think they are so simple and beautiful.

:::And finally, I tried to make goat milk ricotta twice to no (or very little) avail.  I used the directions found here.  It sounds so good, doesn’t it? And it would go so well with my new baby, I mean, bread! Does anyone out there know if my ultra pasteurized version of the milk is to blame?


Some Days Off

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Spring Break.  We are able to be at a family lake house for a few days and are loving it! We brought the fishing stuff, the dogs, and of course, my sourdough starter!

As an aside: I can’t stop listening to this.  The emotion is so palpable…love it.

Living Well

March 9, 2012 § 6 Comments

I know, I’m writing about beans, again. But last week I wrote about how whenever we are in a money crunch the two things that make frequent appearances in our diet are bread and beans.  There was talk about  my current bread of choice and promise of a nice way with beans. So, see, I promised.  And,  I love beans and want everyone to know how good they can be.  So, here we are, at beans, again.  I should say at the beginning that almost every idea I have about making beans is from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal (a treasure trove of thoughts on food). Before I read her excellent chapter on beans, called “How to Live Well”, I had one bean recipe. One. It’s a good recipe, but when your finances dictate inexpensive food (and you don’t want to eat ramen or boxed mac n cheese), you need ideas for beans and lots of ’em.

There is a lot of debate on whether you need to pre-soak dried beans or not (see an interesting thread on the topic here).  After reading about it pretty extensively, and being utterly confused by so much contradicting information, I’ve decided to just do what works best for me and hope for the best.  So, I pre-soak.  There is a quick soak method (bring beans and water to a boil for a few minutes, then take off the heat, letting beans sit in hot water for an hour) that works in a pinch, but I prefer the low-key nature of just plopping them in a bowl of water the night before.   Don’t let the idea of “soaking beans” send you into a “this is too much hassle” state of mind.  There are really only three actions involved: pouring the beans into a bowl, adding enough water in the bowl to cover them by a few inches, and placing them in an out-of-the-way place in your kitchen. And you’re done with soaking.  You can start a set of beans soaking without even having a detailed plan for them.  You don’t have to cook them in 8 hours or even 12.  You can soak beans for 24 hours (some people say even more) before you cook them, so you’ve got tons of time to figure this out. (It’s actually supposed to be great for easing digestion and absorbing nutrients if you do give them an extra-long soak.)

After soaking, I put all the beans in a large pot and cover them by 2 inches of fresh water (a little more if I know I’m turning it into soup).  I bring them up to a boil, but only just to the start of the boil, and then decrease the heat to what produces a light simmer in the water.  While the beans are coming to a boil, I chop up an onion (onion skin can do, too), a few carrots, some celery,  and 6 or 7 cloves of garlic (because I love garlic).  I take the skin off a lemon with a vegetable peeler or paring knife (no pith), and I get out a bay leaf, a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme, and my salt. Once I’ve lowered the heat on the beans, I dump all of the vegetables, the lemon, herbs, and about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of salt (some people say not to salt until the end, but I’ve had better tasting beans doing it this way).  I usually then remember that the best beans (and soups) I have ever made have been simmered with a cheese rind (the hard end of your block of parmesan, pecorino, etc.  don’t throw them away; keep them in your freezer for such an occasion as cooking beans), so I throw one of those in, too.  I add about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, cover, and walk away, letting the beans bathe in all that goodness for about 30-60 minutes (the older the bean, the longer they need to cook). You’ll know they are done when you can peel the skin off the bean by lightly blowing on it (this is a technique from food writer Clementine Paddleford found in AEM and I love it in theory and in practice).  They should be creamy through the middle, not crunchy in the slightest.  Remove the bay leaf, whole herb stems, the lemon peel, and the cheese rind if you can find it.

You now have a pot of flavorful, hearty beans (and some vegetables) and all the delicious liquid in which they cooked.  What should you do now? Here are some places to start (almost all straight out of Adler’s book):

~If I want soup, I add diced potato and some chopped greens (my favorite is kale), and maybe a can of tomatoes, with the juice, to the pot and let it all simmer until the potato is cooked through.  After checking the seasoning,  I ladle it into bowl and serve with a small dollop of basil pesto if I have it, or olive oil and parmesan if I don’t.  Croutons made from yesterday’s bread are good here, too.

~If we are wanting meat and I have some sausage, I brown a few in a pan, ladle the cooked beans and vegetables into a baking dish, and nestle the sausages in so they are cozy.  Then I add a little of the bean broth and put the dish into a low oven (325 degrees F or so).  When the sausage is cooked through I serve them with some herbs and garlicky bread crumbs if available, or just serve it as is.

~Or, you can do my favorite meal that I could eat happily every day (I use pinto beans, but you could use any you like): Saute some chopped kale (or green of your choice) in olive oil. Season it with salt.  Take your cooked beans and veggies and a little of the broth and warm it all over medium heat.  Add the greens to the pan and stir.  Crack as many eggs as people to feed into the beans.  Season the eggs with salt and pepper, scatter some fresh thyme over everything, and cover.  Let cook until the eggs have turned opaque and then take off the heat. Squeeze some lemon juice over the pan.  Put an egg and beans into each bowl, add a some feta cheese or, even better, a bit of olive pesto. You might want to eat it everyday, too (and please invite me over).

Whenever I eat and serve beans in these ways I’m awed by how well we can do with very little money and a little care.  I’ll end with a quote from “How to Live Well” because she says what I mean so beautifully:

“We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our more foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar.  And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.”

Don’t you agree?

For the list makers:

1 lb of dried beans (white, pinto, black, cranberry, etc)

onion (or onion scraps if you need the onion elsewhere)

chopped carrot (how much depends on your taste and what you have)

chopped celery (same as the carrot on the amount)

6-7 garlic cloves (or however much you like)

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of rosemary or 2 sprigs of thyme

peel of 1/2 to 1 lemon

1 hard cheese rind

olive oil


Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread

March 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

If you’ve spent any time here at all you know money is pretty tight for us.  We never go hungry or anything, but there is very little cushion at times and for the past week or so, we’ve been scraping: no spending unless it’s gas in the car.   That means no new groceries (we eat what’s already in the house plus the eggs from our chickens), no drive through coffees, etc..  It’s not a self-imposed period of no spending.  There just isn’t any money until we get paid again, and so we tighten down and make do. This go around hasn’t been horrible (we’ve done it before),  but the boxed in feeling is never fun. Thankfully, these periods pass, and on the other side, I feel a little more confident in our ability to live on very little,  and far more grateful for the relative luxury in which we live most of the time.

As far as cooking goes, when the money runs low, I’ve noticed I make a lot of two things: bread and beans. Suitable, right? So, today, I’m going to talk about bread and next time we’ll go over the method I use for beans. I know, I know. You’re on the edge of your seat! But these are great standbys to have in your arsenal if ever you need to tighten your belt.

So, bread: I’ve written about the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day method before, and I still think it’s a super convenient way to make excellent homemade bread.  It does, however, use a lot of yeast and, I’m wanting to cut back on that (mostly because I’m fascinated by the voodoo that is a naturally leavened bread and consider using less yeast as a step toward that and yes, I might be crazy).  So, I have a new (to me) favorite that is similar in convenience but uses less yeast: Jim Lahey’s (the owner of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery) no-knead method.  It’s been talked about here, there, and everywhere, and for good reason.  This bread will make you swoon.  It’s that good.  It’s hard to believe that the luxurious, comforting, crusty loaf of bread that results is made only of flour, water, salt and yeast.  Every time I make it, I feel like a magician. And like I’m stealing.  Surely something so inexpensive can’t be this good or this simple, I think.  But it is all of those things. And it’s perfectly suited to fill in the gaps of a lean week of meals.  It’s as my Sicilian great-grandfather is quoted as saying, “you take one bite of meat, five bites of bread”. Good advice for our scrappy weeks.

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread

Note: this makes a pretty large loaf of  bread and unless you are feeding a large group, you will have leftovers. This is a great opportunity to make toasts (bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes or so and rubbed with a clove of garlic) that you can top with anything you like (cheese, fried egg, wilted greens, all of the above, etc, etc).  You can also make fresh breadcrumbs.  Or, you can tear them in pieces, toss with olive oil and a bit of salt, bake until crunchy, and have the best croutons you have ever tasted.

3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

special equipment: a 6-8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, cast iron, or ceramic)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is incorporated (not more than a minute). The dough will be pretty shaggy and sticky.  Lightly oil another medium-sized bowl or large container with a lid and transfer the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap or top and let sit for 12-18 hours at room temperature (about 70 degrees F).

When the time is up (the dough will have bubbles on the surface), use a spatula to remove the dough from the container to a well floured surface.  With floured hands, gently fold the dough over on itself once or twice (in half is fine).  Let sit for 15-30 minutes more and then shape into a ball.  Move dough to one half of a floured towel (not terry cloth, but a smooth kitchen towel).  Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with the rest of the towel.  Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.

In the last part of the rise preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees F.  Place the container and lid in the oven to preheat, as well. Once the dough has doubled in size, take the hot pot out of oven, take off the lid and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Don’t worry what it looks like at this point. You can transfer the dough to the pot while still on the towel by picking up the towel like a tray with two hands. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover the pot and let bake for 15-30 more minutes.  Remove from the oven and pot and let cool completely on a rack.