Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Parties are not for the weak

Whew, I made it. NR's Halloween party was a smash and everyone had a great time, including me, but I am wiped out. We had some great food - thanks, Mom, for the salmon mousse shaped like a skull and the great graveyard dessert - and we had tons o'fun with Halloween pictionary. We have enough leftovers to eat off of all week, so no cooking for me for awhile and I'm glad for that. But for all the fun, parties wipe me out so I'm staggering off to bed to read Wicked. Happy Halloween, y'all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Crafty Crochet Tuesday - well, err, sorta, not really

Ok, I'm all thumbs today. Maybe it is because it is Hallow's Eve Eve, or because I've had enough sugar this week to turn my tears to simple syrup. I don't know, but I'm having one of those days. I put WAY too much cinnamon in the applesauce for NR's party tomorrow. The dog has been rampaging the house and I'm too annoyed to deal with it and to top it off, I'm apparently all thumbs when it comes to crocheting.

Why, you may rightfully ask, should someone with as many bedwarmers in the oven as I have, take up another craft. Blame it on the Happy Hooker. No, not that one, this one. I found this gem at the bookstore and had to get it.

My grandmother, bless her, can crochet without even being able to see the yarn. So why can't I master a simple single crochet stitch? I can chain just fine but then all hell breaks loose. I'm chalking it up to the "no good, very bad day" vibe rather than I'm just missing the genetic code that lets my brain tell my fingers what to do with a darn crochet hook.

But don't let my inadequacies keep you from checking out this book. It has some interesting projects and the author's style is engauging (en-gauging, get it? As in yarn stitch gauging? Ah, yarn humor, gotta love it...)
Ok, so I'll round out the day by putting aside the spice-riddled applesauce and the lumpy purple crochet chains and go bash some virtual bad guys in World of Warcraft. Yes, I am that much of a geek. Here's to a better Wednesday!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Global Homemaking - France - Part Un

As I explore homemaking, past and present, I have started to wonder about homemakers in other parts of the world. What is important to someone managing a home in Prague or Hong Kong or Buenos Aires? I thought it might be interesting to find out, to travel virtually inside these homes and see what makes good homemaking in other lands. First stop on my world tour is France. This country has been on my mind lately (see my post on French scrambled eggs and my recipe for Onion soup) though I'm not sure why. I travelled to Paris in the late 90s and while I adored the architecture, the art, the ambience of the city, I have other places I'd rather visit. So why am I all about France right now? No idea but my homemaking passport is stamped for Paris so maybe I'll figure out a few things while I'm there.

To start my journey, I found a 1987 NY Times article discussing the way that French homemakers save money in their cooking. It's an interesting read, especially for a great quote by Simone Beck (Julia Child's former collaborator) - ''But good cooking, is like being in a kind of religion. It's made very, very carefully and slowly, with all your heart; this is important.''

French homemakers, so the article tells us, purchase seasonal food and stretch their francs by making soups, they eat plenty of bread and hors d'oeuvres to round out smaller sized meals, and they reuse leftovers for simple, economic fare for their families. So much for the idea of fancy, frou frou cuisine. This seems to be borne out in the 1905 book Homelife in France by Matilda Betham-Edwards. Even my modern day cooking idol, Ina Garten, translates French cooking with a focus on simplicity. Compare this with American cooks who tend to buy out of season, who cook by recipe, not by technique, and who focus a lot of the meal around an expensive cut of meat or fish. As Americans, we also don't tend to visit our market daily, which is something many French homemakers do to acquire the freshest ingredients. I can see the benefits of both French and American styles but my interest in seasonal food and saving some money leans toward adopting some French cooking habits.

Part deux of this little journey will explore a bit more of French home life before I depart for my next destination.

Random Recipe Monday

Mondays often need a little jolt; for me, I have a larger than usual mountain of laundry to conquer today (it is "wash day" after all). So, I thought I would introduce a little randomness into the day and pick a recipe to share. I grabbed "The Figs Table" by Todd English and Sally Sampson from the bookshelf and opened a page at random. If you aren't familiar with Todd English, his claim to fame is his restaurant, Olives, and his amazing pizzas. The fig jam and prosciutto pizza is amazing - I know, jam on pizza is heretic, but really, it is too good. Unfortunately, random recipe day did not produce that recipe for me to share, so here is what fate offers to you:

Semolina Gnocchi a la Romano*

4 cups milk
1 1/4 cups semolina
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced virgina baked ham
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 spanish onion, chopped
1/2 head savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup Chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
4 ounced Italian Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Light grease a 9 x 12 pan. To make the semolina gnocchi: place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and slowly whisk in the semolina, continuing to whisk until it has thickened, about 2 minutes. Add the cream, Parmesan, salt and pepper and mix well. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth out with a knife or spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerated at least 1 hour or overnight. Cut out 12 circles with a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass and set aside.
To prepare the cabbage: place a large skillet over medium heat and when it is hot add the butter. Add the ham, garlic, onion, and cabbage, stirring well after each addition, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the broth and cook until the cabbage is wilted, about 20 minutes. Add the rosemary and cook for 2 minutes.
Transfer to the prepared pan. Place the semolina circles on top of the cabbage in a circular pattern. Top with Gorgonzola and Parmesan, drizzle with cream, and sprink with the salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake until bubbly and browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately (6-8 servings)

*For the copyright police - I am encouraging the purchase of said Author's work by highlighting a wonderful recipe. So there.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

By the power of Grayskull...

It was sunny here in beautiful Seattle and yard work called. Given that our backyard hasn't seen a lawn mower in close to two years, I'd say it is a bit overgrown. It's not that we are that lazy, mind you (well, a little lazy, to be sure) but our house remodel plans include a bulldozer in the backyard, so there seemed little point in doing a lot of work back there. As it turns out, that plan is a bit farther down the line than we thought so now we are paying the price of months of neglect. I kid you not that the thistles were near five feet high in places and the blackberry brambles have started to consumer a cedar tree.

Being the resourceful gal I am, I fired up the old weed whacker and started hacking my way into the brush. There was something incredibly empowering about slicing and dicing my way through the soggy mat of grass, dead leaves, moss and vines. I felt like He-Man, wielding my sword and cutting a path of destruction as I went. In the afternoon that I spent out there, I finished whacking the small area that I set out to recivilize from wild nature, raking the grass carcasses into soggy piles. The remaining half acre will have to just survive as it is. No doubt the voracious Japanese knot weed that has infested that back area will consume it next year. But at least my little plot by my back deck is reclaimed.

Now I need to layer it with newspaper and get a whole lot of manure so I can smother out the weeds and prep it for next spring. My hope is to put in a small vegetable patch. But that is for other sunny days.

Tired, scratched from battle with the brambles, hands shaking uncontrollably from the jarring of the weed whacker, I came back into the house smiling. One hot shower later and I was ready to put the chocolate bundt cake in the oven. A well earned reward, if I do say so. Wonder if a Dolph Lundgren movie is on tonight...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Baby it's cold outside...

Yesterday was the first day I really felt cold this autumn. Even though the sun came out in the afternoon, the wind felt wintry and my coat wasn't warm enough. Our single pane, 1950s windows frosted up right away and the house felt drafty and chilly. Even the puppy wanted to stay hunkered down in the house, so I wasn't the only one feeling the chill. My list of things to do before it gets cold is still on my fridge, unfinished of course. I have to get those gutters cleaned out and the lawn furniture put away. Maybe this weekend, since we're taking a pause in our demolition work inside the house.

To drive out the cold, I made baked applesauce and made a big pot of soup for dinner. The soup was Italian sausage, potato and kale in cream. It hit the spot and I was feeling cozier by nightfall. I tucked into bed early with a book (Grace O'Malley, Ireland's Pirate Queen) and let the dog sleep on my feet for once.

This morning, the house is cold again and it looks sunny but frosty outside. I'll warm up the applesauce for breakfast and drink another mug of tea. After some needed cleaning, I'm going to sew some bed warmers. A pillow made of ticking, filled with flax seed and lavender that I can warm up in my oven before bed. With any luck, it will warm my toes at night and won't burn down the house while warming in the oven. (if you try this, don't sue me if your house burns - who says I know anything?)

Winter is coming, time to bundle up, inside and out.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Halloween Homefront

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. The year my son was born, he had three halloween costumes because I couldn't decide if the pumpkin, Tigger or Pooh-Bee was cutest. I start decorating in mid-September and I'm always on the look out for retro decorations from the 1920s and 1930s.

This year is no exception. NR is throwing a Halloween party for our family, which is to say that I am doing the party but he is getting the credit. I'm working up the menu now and so far we will be having: Vlad's Ghoulash, Old dead bat legs, Ogre Eyeballs, Witches Brew, Wormy Applesauce and Coffin Cupcakes. I'm still planning a couple of appetizers - either Moldy Guacamole or Rancid Cheese log.

We're also stealing the goody bag idea from Martha Stewart and I've made up some thank you cards in Adobe with NR's Zombie face. So this weekend, we'll be carving the pumpkin (must be a Zombie, per NR) and slashing black trash bags for spooky hangings.

My costume? I'm a Goth cheerleader this year. NR will be Wolverine and Hubby is undecided.

Anyone else having a Halloween shindig this year?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Someone's in the kitchen with Ina...

I like Ina Garten. If you aren't familiar with Ina, aka The Barefoot Contessa, she hosts a show on Food Network. Yes, some of us watch TV about food. A surprisingly large number of folks actually. Check out Ina's baked applesauce recipe here for an introduction to her recipes.

But her food isn't why I like her. In this age of chef-turned-celebrity, Ina isn't slick, she isn't cozy, she isn't down-home or prone to shouting "Bam". No, she is a plump woman who uses liberal amounts of cream, butter and vodka in her cooking, and unashamedly so. She adores her husband and her life - and why wouldn't she? She lives in a gorgeous town in a gorgeous house and she has tons of cash. What's not to love? But even with all that, her style is comfortable and easy-going. If I could somehow arrange a visit to her house, I imagine that she'd serve some coffee and scones, with maybe a nip of something stronger. If I tried the same thing at Martha Stewart's place, at best I would have to slip on protective booties on my shoes and at worst I'd be hauled off to the clink.

I like chefs that are approachable and real. Not skinny Italian babes that serve their breasts up like jello molds or Southern belles so heavy on the hunny that I could wind up in a diabetic coma. I don't dig guys that yell at the TV or measure each ingredient out with tweezers. I don't like pseudo-chefs that sell their merchandising with their yum-o faces plastered on cracker boxes rather than make good food. I don't like "food porn" as it has been labeled; food that is good to watch but not something that people really make.

So I guess that leaves Ina. Frumpy, fabulous Ina. Ina with the gorgeous house and the loving husband. Ina with the amazing recipes and rich friends. Ina who never shows a recipe for a single drink, but for the whole pitcher. She's the kind of chef that turns me on. She's got a great laugh and her food is real, so keep on rocking it, Ina. And pass me another cheddar dill scone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The stuff that dreams are made of...

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, in theory anyway. Most of us are sleep-deprived from late hours, uncomfortable beds and snoring partners, among other things. Yet obtaining good sleep is one of the most restorative things you can do for your body. So how can we get better sleep? No, this isn't an ad for temperpedic mattresses. Here are some thoughts from an eminent home economist, Martha Van Rensselaer, of the 1920s:

"The ideal sleeping-room is the outdoor porch with only curtains for protection. An indoor sleeping-room should have simple furnishings. Unnecessary draperies collect dust and exclude air and sunshine. The floor should be bare save for a few small, easily cleaned rugs. The wall paper should be of a soft restful color,either plain or with small inconspicuous figures.
An iron bed is better than a wooden one because it can be more easily cleaned. A mattress is more healthful than a feather bed, because the body is not so enveloped as to hinder the escape of waste matter from the skin. The bed covering should be warm but light. Several light-weight blankets or comforts are better than fewer heavy ones." A Manual of Home-making, Martha Van Rensselaer et al

Except for the sleeping outside and the disgusting reference to "waste matter from the skin" I agree with Martha. My bedroom carpet always has issues with pet hair, dryer lint, baby powder, etc. We're switching it out to laminate flooring later this year. I also agree that bedrooms tend to collect dust and that the air gets stale. I don't tend to dust in the bedroom as often as the living room, which I should. My plan is to have a few hours with the windows open to "air it out" on the days that I change the sheets.

And speaking of sheets, here's a recipe for linen water that you can spritz on your sheets for some aromatherapy goodness. Make some extra and you have holiday gifts a plenty. Pleasant dreams.

"Linen Water
by Natasha Palewandrem

Glass or plastic bottles with caps (or spray bottle)

Essential oil (try lavender or rose for traditional scents, jasmine or
plumeria blossom for exotic scents)
90 ml non-flavoured, high proof vodka (approx. 3oz)
750 ml distilled water (approx. 25 oz)


If you are using a glass bottle, sterilize it with boiling water. If
you are using a plastic bottle, pour a little very hot water into your
container to rinse it. Let it dry before mixing your linen water.

In the cooled bottle, mix the vodka and 1 teaspoon (5ml) of essential
oil together. Close the bottle and shake it well to mix the oil with
the alcohol. (The alcohol emulsifies the oil so you will have an
evenly mixed solution.)

Add the 750 ml of distilled water to the bottle. Close the container
and shake again to mix the scent and the water.

Use your linen water when making the bed, pressing your linens or
simply by misting the air to freshen a room. You can also try misting
linen water while you are ironing or try adding a little into your
dryer while your table linens are drying. You can store your linen
water for 6 to 8 months. Cap your bottles tightly and store them in a
cool corner to make them last."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gadgets, gimmicks

We all have them - those kitchen gadgets that take up valuable real estate in cupboards, collecting dust. Some of them were gifts from clueless wedding guests or well-meaning grandmas and some of them we are guilty of purchasing, spending hard earned cash on for who knows what reason. What merchandise from Spencers Gifts, Carol Wright or Bed, Bath and Beyond lurks in the dark recesses of your kitchen? For me, I just discovered some gems while we work on a kitchen demolition project. Here are some of the beauties I found amid the rubble:

Rival Sno-Cone Maker: I really can't remember buying this but I know that I did sometime a few years ago. To my knowledge, we've never used it because, guess what, we don't care for sno-cones.

Popcorn maker: In the day of microwave popcorn, which is really all I ever make, this is as obsolete as you can get. This was a wedding present and we've never opened the box. I think this one will be donated.

Creme Brulee Kit: Ok, this one was also a wedding present but the reason we never used it was we couldn't find the fuel for this particular machine. That, and we just don't make creme brulee. I have the cookbook that goes with this one too. Saddest thing is that I recently gave someone a Creme Brulee kit for a wedding gift. Now before you cry "hypocrite" the wedding theme was France, so I get a little credit for that.

Tiny Food Processor: The only thing this thing is good for is making salsa - a small amount of salsa. Otherwise, it is too underpowered and too small for anything of value. Plus, I never remember I have it or don't want to put it together just to chop a quarter of an onion. Wasted space.

Along the way, I've purchased and tossed specialized garlic peelers, ginger graters, corn cob prongs, cheese spreading knives, turkey injector kits, popsicle makers and sushi kits. Why have I accumulated all this junk, other than being more than a touch OCD? Because gadgets promise a new, Better way to do things and shortcuts sound good. Why take the time to cook bacon in pan or in the oven when the Wavy Baconater can zap it in your micro and do it in half the time. Why hardboil eggs on the stove when the Eggomatic 5000 can make a dozen eggs in a flash for that once a year bowl of egg salad that you make for the company picnic. Gadgets make us think we are saving time and doing things in a new-fangled, fancy way. More often than not, they are globs of plastic and metal that take up space and do little to save time or money. Sure, there are a few gadgets I love but my journey down kitchen junkyard lane has reminded me to stick to the basics and just make do. Making do is highly underrated.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Home in Brigadoon?

I like nostalgia, as a concept. Not the kind of nostalgia that ignores past injustice and pretends things were "the good old days". No, that's not the nostalgia I mean. My kind of nostalgia is about finding elements of the past that brought contentment or support for those living then but for some reason don't tend to happen anymore. My nostalgia is romanticized, surely, but not blindly so. Perhaps examples might illustrate what I mean more clearly. I'm thinking of the kind of town that had a coffee shop with really good pie and coffee. A time when the butcher would take the time to find the right cut of meat for the dish you were making. A place where block parties, ice cream socials, kids' lemonade stands and fourth of July parades wouldn't cause law suits or cynical eyebrow raises. A time when community mattered alongside of family. The kind of place that lives in Rockwell's paintings, grandmothers' stories and old Hollywood musicals. That is my idea of nostalgia; not quite reality but bits and bobs of the past sprinkled throughout.

Bearing that in mind, I've often wondered if I could find such an idealized place in my neck of the woods. I've driven through towns - big and small - and looked at the Main street, the parks and schools, wondering if this town was Brigadoon (or more likely Peyton Place). I'm not looking for "Pleasantville"; don't get me wrong on that front. Freedom to think, to question, to search is far more important than any creature comforts or community goals. But, in my heart, I wonder if such a place exists and would I be happy there. Would I be able to make my home in Brigadoon?

Ultimately, even though I strive to retrieve bits of nostalgic life - warm pies on the windowsill, gingham aprons on the clothesline, good coffee and close friends - I don't think Brigadoon is the place for me. It's the elusiveness of such a place that makes it interesting and inviting. Everyday can't be a holiday, or holidays cease to be special. Warm pie can't be on the windowsill everytime or there won't be room for other more risky treats. The lure, and ultimately the failing, of Brigadoon is the perpetual sunshine that smiles on those folks sleeping through each hundred years. That's a lot of life to miss just to stay cozy in your cottage, untouched by the evils of the world.

No, I'll always want to visit my daydream town and sit a spell at the coffee counter with a big piece of peach pie, but sooner or later, I'll want to drive off down the highway and check out the next town and the next. But I'll take plenty of pictures while I'm there so I'll remember it all when it's gone.

Far afield? Why distance matters

Is there really such a thing as "in season" when it comes to our food? I mean, can't we get tomatoes and grapes and just about any produce all year long? What difference does it make if those tomatoes come from Mexico or the grapes from Chile, we still have our favorites in the dead of winter, right? Ok, you know where I am going with this, so I'll drop the pretense. Yeah, it matters, I think. Food that is in-season and grown locally tastes better plus it doesn't have to travel half way around the world to get to you. Save the carrot, save the world - that's my new motto. Hey, that's catchy, but it seems like I've heard that somewhere before (adjusting horn-rimmed glasses)...

I'm trying to get at least 50% of my food from local sources, which for my house is a lofty goal. I'm starting with getting milk from my local dairy and short trip to the neighborhood farm for some eggs (hubby won't let me put some hens in our backyard).

I'm not giving up tomatoes, mind you, but I am trying to be more conscious about my choices at the market. I'm working to incorporate more in-season foods and more local options whenever I can. To that end, I'm going to post recipes, as I find them, that celebrate what is happening in season. I hope others will pass along their recipes that incorporate seasonal bounty, because some foods aren't as frequent to my menus as others (quinces and hubbard squash come to mind).

So, here's an oldie and I hope a goodie (I'll find out this afternoon, when I make it for the first time): from 1940, "250 Classic Cake Recipes," a Sweet Potato Cake.

1 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups hot mashed sweet potatoes
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Sift flour and baking powder together. Add shortening and beaten eggs to potatoes while still hot; add sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat thoroughly. Add flour and milk alternately in small amounts, beating well after each addition. Add lemon juice. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake in slow oven (325 degrees) for 1 hour. Makes one (8x4 inch) cake.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Onions, anyone? Oui, oui

Ok, I heart France, let me just say that. If it weren't for the French, it would be a swell place to hang out. (ah, I kid, I kid...) And one of the things j'adore is onion soup. I pretty much love onions in any way I can get them; sometimes I just order onions and pineapple on my pizza - Mmmmm - but I digress. Onion soup has the best aroma and is perfect for post-windstorm weather. So, I made up a batch and thought I'd share the recipe that I adapted from Mark Bittman's Best Recipes in the World. (Aside: if his recipe is the best in the world, what in the heck am I doing adapting it?)

4 medium onions, sliced thin (I use a mandolin)
1/2 stick of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cups good beef broth
2 tablespoons sherry, cognac or other alcohol of your choice
Thyme (or Herbes de Provence)
Salt and Pepper
4 slices Swiss cheese (or parmesan if you prefer, but I do like my soup a little more cheesy)
4 slices (1 inch thick) hearty bread, preferably a little stale
Olive oil, kosher salt

Put the butter and olive oil in a stockpot, melt the butter then slowly cook the onions in the pot for 40 minutes or so. Add the broth, sherry, 1 tsp of dried thyme or herbes de provence, salt and pepper to taste. Bring the broth up to a slow boil then reduce the heat to low and let the soup simmer at least 15 minutes (I let it go for a few hours). Drizzle the bread with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Toast the bread in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Take four ramekins or other oven proof containers and place a slice of toast in each. Divide the soup among the cups and lay the cheese on top. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese melts and it is bubbly, probably five minutes. C'est bien.

And as always, try to get your ingredients from local sources. The onion farmer you save may be your own, or something like that...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stuff I love

There are things that make things easier for me at home. I like easier, as a general rule, so I thought I'd share the stuff that I find groovy - how's that for slang, Lorraine - and maybe other people could share some stuff they like. Here goes, in no particular order:
1)Parchment paper - it is soMartha but it really does work great for cookies. I have a silcone baking mat but I never use it. Parchment seems to do the job really well.
2)Magic sponge - those weird white sponges that you get wet and they get rid of impossible stains in the sink or walls - yeah, they really are magic. Love them.
3)Crock pot liners - yes, it is one more piece of landfill plastic, I know, but I don't use my crock pot as often if I have to scrub the gunk off the bottom of the pot after cooking stuff for ten hours.
4)Disposable toilet brush heads - speaking of non-eco friendly, I can't give these up either. Nothing says gross like an old school toilet brush. I love these things.
5)Waxed paper - this stuff is da bomb for rolling out pie crusts. Thank you mom for this invaluable tip.
6)Reusable grocery bags - have you seen those bags at your market that are biodegradable faux canvas? Well, I stocked up on four or so and use them for my grocery shopping. They are nice and deep, so perfect for lugging stuff home, and you aren't stuck with five thousand plastic grocery sacks under the kitchen sink. Plus, you save a nickel for each one you use (at least at my market), so why not.
7)Kitchen Rasp - One of my husband's kitchen gadgets that I actually use. It is perfect for grating ginger, parmesan, lemon zest, anything hard.
8)Stick blender - This one is really for my husband, the king of protein shakes for breakfast. But these blenders do a great job on smoothies, salad dressing, sauces, anything that needs a good whirl to go down smooothhh.
9)Salt and pepper grinders - No more canned pepper for me, no sir. Can't beat the flavor of fresh ground. And I even like grinding my salt, since I use sea salt for a lot of cooking. Plus, I just dig the ratchety ratchet sound.
10)Play-Doh - ok, this one is weird but nothing says wonderful to me like the smell of fresh play-doh. Mmmmm, best smell ever. Of course, that new vinyl, halloween costume smell is pretty darn good, but play-doh is still my top fav. Just don't eat it (or lick it), no matter how good it smells.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Crafty Tuesday called on account of dog

My would-be entry for crafty tuesday is sitting in a heap after meeting up with my Lab puppy. Nevermind that I had spent three hours working on it or that it was utilizing a souvenir from a trip to Ireland. Five minutes later, Shiloh reduced it to trash. Do I sound bitter? Oh, just a little. So, I'm taking the rest of the day off from crafting and doing some minor moping while watching TCM and slurping earl gray. Oh yeah, I have cold pumpkin pie in the fridge too...See ya...

Green Cleaning - or get some vinegar

If you are like me, you haven't given much thought to what you use to clean your house. My thoughts about cleaning were about getting it done, not the latest, greatest product with scrubbing bubbles or teflon or whatever that would help me do it. But the latest and greatest isn't always the greatest for the environment or for us, for that matter. I thought about this as I was washing NR's hair in a bathtub that had recently been coated in cleaning solution. That stuff stays there, even after scrubbing or rinsing. Is that something I want on his skin? No, not really.

But I'm not willing to give up the good fight for clean bathrooms or kitchens in the name of greener cleaning. And I'm not willing to pay six dollars for toilet cleaner (see my rant on Organic prices). But I am willing to put some old favorites to good uses.

I found recipes for natural cleaners on the Discovery Home site. Take a few minutes to exploreSarah Snow's tips on living a greener life. Living Fresh is a good show - I'll be setting my PVR to catch all the episodes - and I like that she isn't hitting viewers over the head with environmentalism. One change at a time is a lot easier to accomplish and more practical too.

So stock up on white vinegar, baking soda, Borax*, and the other familiar ingredients in Sarah's recipes. Our grandmothers would certainly recognize the cleaning power of these simple products and our homes can be a little kinder to environment too. That's my kind of clean.

*Keep Borax away from food, pets, kids.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Yo Yos - bet you can't make just one

I love quilts but I don't quilt. Well, not yet anyway. But recently, I've discovered the joy of yo-yos, those wonderful little puffs of scrap fabric that can be stitched together to make coverlets, tablerunners, you name it. The history of yo-yos seems to have started in the late nineteenth century, but the popularity of the coverlets didn't really take off until the 1920s and 30s. The fact that yo-yos take scraps of fabric makes sense as a way to quilt during the Depression. See the lovely example of a vintage quilt at A Piece of My Soul. I'm currently working on a pillow case, with aspirations of a coverlet at some point.

Yo-yos are easy to make, even for those sewing challenged crafters like me. I watched a favorite movie (The Usual Suspects) and cranked out a bunch over the weekend. Check out the instructions for making yo yos here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

France vs. US - scrambled eggs

Perhaps you are reading this while dousing your freedom fries in ketchup or savoring some freedom toast with syrup, but believe it or not, there is yet another thing that the French and the US disagree upon; scrambled eggs. I know that it is hard to believe, but there are actually different schools of thought as to how to make a proper scrambled egg. Within my own household, I found disagreement as to what constituted "perfect" eggs, so why should it be any different between two love/hate countries like ours.

The methods of scrambling eggs are varied but the distinct difference between US and French scrambles is the cooking technique. The French method requires cooking the eggs over a double boiler with a pat of butter, stirring the eggs continuously for close to thirty minutes. The end result is more creamy and less curdy then the American cousin. The USA version (or versions, depending on where you look)uses a skillet and the end result has fluffy curds of varying sizes. There are those who add cream, like Martha Stewart and purists (like moi) who only add a tablespoon of water to our eggs before they hit the pan. Some like their eggs with bits of brown but the consensus in the egg-eating community is that eggs shouldn't be browned, but only just set.

So, who cares, right? Ah, but think on this, my ovumphile friends (Yes, I just made that word up): something as basic as a scrambled egg can be very different to Frank and Francoise. My husband and I, just this morning, had a surprisingly heated discussion on our preferred methods. I guess my point on this is that it's easy to assume that the meaning of basic things is universal. We've known since childhood what "scrambled egg" or "love" or "family" or "freedom" means, so we assume that when others talk about them, we know what they mean. People do this, families do this, countries do this. The more we can step outside of our own shell (yes, pun intended) and check out different ways of doing familiar things, the better I think.

So, vive le difference, and maybe try your scramble (or poached or shirred or fried or...)eggs from a different perspective.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Domestic Porn?

I had no idea that my aspirations for hearth and home were on par with Ron Jeremy's work. Really, I'm very surprised that cupcakes and embroidery are another version of the old bump and grind. Don't believe me? Check out Liz Hunt's article in the UK paper, The Telegraph. Ms. Hunt's ire is in the form of a review of a new book by Jane Brockett, titled The Gentle Art of Domesticity. Ms. Hunt takes offense at the beautiful photography and advice on homemaking. I have yet to read Ms. Brockett's book (though I will be ordering it shortly) but it sounds in keeping with Martha Stewart and other domestic divas. For those of us interested in homemaking, it serves as advice, inspiration and daydreaming. Do I think that I can be like these women, all crisply ironed and tidy while gardening? No, not even close. Do I love reading their work, incorporating the things that I can and admiring the things that I can't? Yes, absolutely.

What is really interesting in this firestorm is that apparently, in the UK, the "domestic goddess" idea brings about fury and loathing. Here in the US, women either love or hate Martha, but I've never seen general disdain for the average women who enjoy trying their hand at knitting or canning. It's remarkable how easily buttons are pushed for some people. I guess showcasing the best of something, be that homemaking, acting, writing, or physics, is something that shouldn't be done because it might make someone feel bad. God forbid that anyone feel bad that they aren't as good as someone else at a task. Nevermind enjoying their accomplishments or striving to improve your own skills, no it is better to ridicule and diminish rather than respect. I would guess that Ms. Hunt hasn't watched the film The Incredibles. Even the little boy, Dash, knew that the phrase "everyone is special" is another way of saying that nobody is special.

Well, rather than be offended by the label, Domestic Porn, I'm going to aspire to achieving it. I'm not going to be branded by some guilt-ridden chick who hated Home-Ec. Pass the cupcakes, I'm ready for my close up.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ok, I gotta rant - organic food prices

Alright, I try to be a good shopper. I try to do the right thing and buy organic foods that are better for the earth and for the table. I'm trying to go green; I bought those reusable grocery bags, I'm hoping Al Gore runs for prez, working on setting up a compost heap. Ok, so my priorities are somewhat in the right place. But holy health food, Batman, how in the world can people afford to purchase organic products on a regular basis? Unless the cash floweth around the house, these babies cost money that I can't afford to spend. I was looking at some eco-friendly toilet cleaner - I know, not exactly a fun way to spend an afternoon - but I nearly dropped its recycled bottle on the floor when I read the price tag of six dollars. Six bucks, for a little tiny bottle. Right up there with the five dollar jar of organic spaghetti sauce, the seven dollar bag of organic wheat flour and the four dollar loaf of whole wheat bread.

I used to say that it was easy to have principles when you were broke. Never had to worry about those pesky diamond mines or the brutality of fur farming. But really, it is harder when you are living simply. It's easier to make ends meet with Kraft Mac and Cheese than organic cheddar and semolina curls. It's easier to keep your family fed on high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated palm oil, yadda yadda yadda, than fresh butter, hormone free milk, unwaxed apples, genetically unaltered corn.

How long do we have to wait for the supposed "supply and demand" theory to help bring the prices down? It's enough to make me plan my own garden to at least get some veggies in the summer. Doesn't help the other ten months of the year in Washington, but it is a start I guess.

Damn it, pass me a twinkie.

Following in the path...

UPenn Library
Originally uploaded by nostalgichomemaking
I've been thinking a bit about journaling as it pertains to homemaking. An unsourced quote on a few websites indicated that Victorian women were keen on preparing Homemaking Journals that they passed on to their daughters or in-laws. The author claimed that recipes, pet care, advice on laundry, etc. were all topics for these books. I started wondering if these journals really were common place and where we could cull through them for information.

I'm still in the search mode but I've found an online exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania that is a step in the right direction. Titled Household Words: Women write from and for the kitchen, the Introduction sums it up best: "The Esther B. Aresty Rare Book Collection on the Culinary Arts comprises cookery manuscripts and published books of recipes, etiquette and household advice. Spanning an historical period from the earliest printed folios of the fifteenth century to the more recent and familiar volumes of the twentieth century, the books represent cultural and geographical diversity ranging from Europe and the New World to the Far East."

I think that this blog, and many others, are attempting to do the same thing as these writers from the past. We're sharing our thoughts, our inspirations and our questions, our personal journey through life on a subject that matters greatly to us - our home. I love not only the historical nature of this collection but what it represents; women writing, women sharing ideas, women passing down knowledge. I also love that some of these women were writing in opposition to the customs of the day. Literacy in women wasn't always considered a good thing.

It surprises me when I read modern women writers who think feminism rescued women from the unenlightened bonds of household servitude. They are missing the point on a large scale, I think. Women of the past, as evidenced by this exhibit, had unfortunately a more limited role in society, but they found their work worthy and the knowledge they possessed important enough to write down and share with others.

There should be plenty of interesting sights along this path, worthy enough to write down and share.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Paying the price for mommy guilt

This is a difficult post to write. It forces me to reckon with a problem that I have really become aware of the last few weeks and the fault is all mine. My son, NR, is a great kid. I love him to pieces and I wouldn't change one thing about him, even his autism, which at times can be challenging. Back when I was working full time, I felt guilty about NR. Real, true guilt. I was battling depression and anxiety and I felt awful about how much time I was spending away from him. But in the evenings, I was too exhausted and too troubled with my own baggage to be really interactive with him. Playing with NR takes full concentration and effort and sometimes I just wasn't up to it. So, out of guilt and wanting to make him happy, I gave into his every demand for toys. One part of NR's autism is that he gets engrossed in whatever is his fancy that week - a trait he has no doubt inherited from me. So when he is into Batman or Spiderman or Ben 10, he is really into them. Every trip to the grocery store required a journey down the toy aisle. He has a massive toy collection. These purchases kept him happy and assuaged some of my guilt. Unfortunately, this has brought about some troubling habits.

NR is never satisfied. He is never ok with what he has; he is always on the lookout for the next great thing. And I made him that way. My overindulgence and compensation with material crap has made him a consumer, in every ugly sense of that word. I see this now, fully and clearly, when he is crying before bedtime because he doesn't have a Green Goblin toy to go with the hundred other action figures he has. But now, that the materialistic bell has already been rung, now what do I do? How do I pull him back from this abyss and get him back to a kid who is content with what he has and who he is.

I don't have the answer to this. I'm going to try some things and report on how they work. I'm hoping to get some wisdom from blogland too. I hope that my shifting our family priorities away from TV and commercialism will help. I hope that getting him involved in a group, like the Boy Scouts, will give him some new purpose. And I hope that I can be strong enough to hold firm and not give in to his pleas for new stuff. I really hope there is a way to unring is bell.

Balnamoon Skink - an Irish Chicken Soup

I collect old recipes. I don't always make them - sometimes the charm of the recipe has been lost to history - but they are usually interesting to read if nothing else. My recent acquisition of "The Questing Cook" by Ruth A. Jeremiah Gottfried (1927) is a good read. Ms. Gottfried uses humor in her subtitles ("A noble end to a fat fowl")and if you can get passed some of the inappropriate comments about other cultures, it makes for an entertaining slice of Americanized ethnic recipes from the 1920s. Balnamoon Skink is an example that I thought I would share - mainly because I am going to actually make this one. I have copied the recipe as written by Ms. Gottfried below. If you make this one - and I'm going to if only to tell my family we are having Skink for dinner - let me know what you think of it.

Balnamoon Skink: Better than Cockie-Leekie

Balnamoon skink is a way that the Irish have with chicken soup. Its fundamental is two quarts of chicken broth. The recipe does not dictate how you come by the broth; an honest way is to boil it out of the carcass of a chicken; or, better, you can dedicate a whole fowl cut in joints to its making, and afterwards serve the flesh stripped from the bones afloat in the skink. Having the broth, you will need ten minutes for preparation and three-quarters of an hour for boiling. Ingredients:

2 quarts of chicken broth.
8 young onions.
10 celery branches.
1 head of lettuce.
1 tablespoonful of minced chives
2 sprigs of parsley.
1 bay leaf.
1 sprig of thyme.
2 eggs.
1 cup of shelled green peas (if in season); 1 pound unshelled.
1 cup of cream
Salt and Pepper.

1. Chop to small bits a head of lettuce, eight young onions and ten celery branches, and pile them into the chicken stock. Add one cup of shelled green peas if they are available.
2. Season the pot with one tablespoonful of minced chives, one tablespoonful of salt, and a bunch of sweet herbs (2 sprigs of parsley, a bay leaf, and a sprig of thyme - securely tied with thread to ensure easy removal).
3. Put a tight lid on the pot and let it simmer until the vegetables are transparently tender. This will require three-quarters of an hour.
4. With a light touch jumble up two eggs with a cupful of cream and stir this mixture into the skink just before serving it, being careful not to let it boil after the introduction of the egg mixture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Perhaps the World Ends Here

I was inspired by Joy Harjo's words, as found in Homemaking:Women Writers and the Politics and Poetics of Home:

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instruction on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

When it rains...

It is raining here in the beautiful Puget Sound area and it is pouring as well, at least on my little corner of the world. Wednesday has certainly earned the title of "Wild and Wooly".

Our pound rescue Lab mix puppy, Shiloh, decided this morning would be a good time to make mischief. I was running late taking my boy to school when I noticed Shiloh's dislike of rain had manifest as a puddle of pee on the hallway carpet. I quickly took him outside and managed to finish getting the boy's shoes on, calling out to my hubby that Shiloh would need to go out again in a few minutes to do his daily number two. My own shoe dilemma has me sporting flip flops in the rain because the dog has eaten my last pair of casual shoes. I race to get Son to school on time, barely making it before the bell. Ready to resume my morning in a more calm fashion, I open the front door at home, only to be greeted by the lovely aroma of...well, you can guess. Hubby apologetically shrugs during his conference call and Shiloh looks up at me with his one white-blue eye, wagging his tail in greeting. Out comes the gallon jug of "Nature's Miracle" and the kettle for another cup of black coffee. It's only 9:30 AM...

Are good school lunches only "nostalgic" too?

If you believe that kids should have nutrious lunches at school, please visit Doralong's excellent post and sign a worthwhile petition. Thanks to Lorraine for passing along the information. Help bring back a good old fashion value like nutrition.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Repurposed, reimagined (Crafty Tuesday)

It is too easy when you have discretionary income to run out and buy whatever you need to complete a craft or decorating project. But what do you do when you are strapped for cash? Take a hard look at the that is collecting dust. Reimagine it and it becomes something wonderful (at least to you, anyway). The collage pictured here came from remnants in my far-too-cluttered office space. I wanted to make my sister a wall hanging with Halloween flavor. I had some ideas, all requiring purchases at the craft stores, but my wallet said no. So, I dug deep into my cupboards and cardboard boxes and found the parts to make this piece. I think it is pretty darn nifty and I hope she will too. The how-to information is listed below.

The text and photos were all generated using Adobe and Microsoft Publisher (Quotes from MacBeth, Practical Magic and a guide to teareading). I crumpled, burned, tore and tea-stained the paper to give it character. I added silk leaves and sprigs of thyme from my garden for some depth. One of my vintage Halloween cards adds some nostalgia and I finished it off with little glue puddles covered in tea leaves and Kosher salt. Some leftover gift ribbon makes a nice hanger and the frame was rescued from a box destined for Goodwill.This gift cost me nada and was fun to put together on the cheap. Give repurposing a try, you might find it a good way to clean out your closets.

Monday, October 8, 2007

"Monday is wash day..."

Most people that I know handle household chores in a "catch as catch can" manner. That means, if they get home from work really late one evening, the tasks for that evening get shifted to another day. Laundry gets done when underwear starts getting scarce and ironing -well, ironing just plain doesn't happen.

But it wasn't always this way. The time intensity of tasks (just read Never Done by Susan Strasser if you don't believe me) required a schedule. Whole communities functioned on a daily schedule, perhaps unwritten but certainly discussed over clotheslines and bridge tables, with chores completed on specific days. Mondays were typically laundry day, with ironing (in the days before Black & Decker steam irons) following on Tuesday. Mending might be on Wednesday and so on down the days. Each week followed the same pattern. You might remember your own childhood homes having a similar rhythm of sorts, if not the same tasks. In our house, my mom had set laundry days, vacuuming days and bathroom days. I wasn't necessarily aware of the schedule but the order of our house flowed around us.

Once I had my own home, I failed to implement Mom's system. It seemed easier to handle things in a Triage manner - laundry when I ran out of clean clothes to wear, toilets when company was coming to visit, and so on. The more hours I worked outside the home, the less my "catch as catch can" system worked. We had whole rooms that would be off limits to visitors because the disorder was beyond belief.

Years later, I'm finally learning the wisdom of "Monday is wash day..." It makes a difference having a schedule. And it makes a difference in what order things are accomplished. For our home, it is easier if I do laundry every other day to keep on top of it. It also helps me when it comes time to put that clean laundry away because I am notorious for leaving items in the "clean basket". Similarly, cleaning the kitchen is now a daily task, not a Saturday morning marathon like before. Bathrooms get cleaned thoroughly Tuesdays and Fridays and baking happens on Saturdays. The week is starting to take shape for me and I'm even looking for a time to slip in some ironing (gulp).

Sure, it is hard to muster up the energy to do that load of laundry after a long day outside the home. But it is even harder giving up a whole Saturday afternoon with your family or taking a Febreze bottle to your kid's school clothes. The threadbare phrase "never put off what you can do today" really does still mean something - at least as far as homemaking is concerned. So does "every little bit helps" because sometimes even just scrubbing the toilet bowl on the way out the door in the morning puts you that much farther ahead.

Afterschool cookies

Maybe this is a bit too precious but my son and I baked sugar cookies after school today. I've never been a fan of rolled cookies, but with Halloween on its way, I thought I would try out a recipe so we could make some ghost cookies. They worked out great, with my son mixing most of the ingredients and doing the decorating. I know this blog is all about the "good old days" in homemaking, but modern bakers have it made with parchment paper on their cookie sheets. I wouldn't bake cookies any other way. Another great implement is the off-set spatula. Perfect for getting rolled cookies off the countertop and onto the parchment. If you are looking for a good recipe, check out Alton Brown's sugar cookies at They could do with a bit more salt, but otherwise, they are easy and tasty. (Couldn't resist putting my retro Red Skelton-inspired Halloween honeycomb into the shot.)

In defense of June

Surfing through google results for "June Cleaver" I found almost unanimous resentment or ridicule. The very name of this sitcom mom has come to be a derogatory statement, shorthand for a cardboard woman that does nothing but clean, wear pearls and say "Oh, Ward..." But for me, June Cleaver isn't that woman. She was a college educated woman who made her family home admirable and warm for her kids. She had a loving relationship and took pride in her life. She was good at what she did and treated her home as her job - finding excellence in her tasks. If I get branded a June Cleaver, I'd consider myself lucky.

So why do we ridicule this character? Do we find it hard to believe she could have an inner life, a fulfilling life, taking care of her home? Do we mock her because her home exemplifies the unattainable - clean, organized, homey - that we see as the source of our irrational guilt over our own homes? I'd be the first to say that the Cleaver home was a bit too homogenized for me. I'd like to think that Ward had a stash of Playboys in the den and that June kept a drawer of leather corsets. The Cleavers could have used some Bridge partners of different ethnicity, social status, political persuasion or sexual preference. But be that as it may, I hope the day comes when we can stop villifying the woman and recognize that we wouldn't even be talking about a 50 year old television mom if she wasn't on to something.

Is my house picture perfect? Far from it. Do I vacuum in pearls? Rarely. Do my husband and son have a home waiting for them at the end of the day, with all that Home means to us? Yes. And really, I think that's all June wanted for Wally, Ward and the Beaver in the first place.

Keep on wearing those pearls with pride.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

As promised, the perfect pie dough

Here 'tis. I adapted a recipe found in Retro Pies by Linda Everett. So far, it has been the best I've tried for taste. Working with it, you'll find it a little difficult to place in the pie pan without tearing, but it easily patches. See hint below:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsps sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled
4 tbsps Crisco, chilled
4 to 5 tbsps ice water

Mix flour, sugar and salt together. Work in the butter with your fingers until the flour mixture becomes crumbly. Then mix in the shortening, continuing to work it until the butter/shortening pieces are no bigger than peas. Sprinkle on the ice water one tablespoon at a time until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead it only two or three times. Handle the dough as little as possible to prevent toughening the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to the thickness you need. Makes two 8 inch crusts. Hint: It is easier to handle the dough during rolling and placing in the pie tin if you roll it out between two pieces of waxed paper.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Saturday morning cupcakes

I don't subscribe to the old philosophy that dessert is only for after dinner. There are times when something sweet can get your day started off right. Think about waffles - all that maple syrup and carb loaded goodness has as much sugar as a brownie, I think.

So I kicked off a new tradition in our house today with Saturday morning cupcakes. The purpose to baking cupcakes early on a Saturday morning (there is no such thing as sleeping in anymore with a kid and a dog) is really about the time spent in the kitchen with my son. I'm working hard to include him in things I prepare. It is helping his math skills, his ability to follow directions, and best of all, our time together is doing something that we both enjoy. He is my expert at cracking eggs and he is learning how to juice lemons with an old lemon press. So, Saturday morning baking is about fun. And nothing says fun like cupcakes - especially if you get to eat one while snuggled on the couch under an old madras blanket watching cartoons with your mom. I don't know how many more years I'll get until he decides he is too cool to watch Scooby Doo with me, licking frosting off a cupcake at 10:30 in the morning, but I'm treasuring every single Saturday until then.

We're still looking for a "perfect" cupcake recipe - today's batch were a little too heavy for my liking - so I'll be cruising the blogs looking for a good candidate for next week. We went with vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting this time around. Next week, I'll load up on food dye and we'll make colored frosting and apple flavored cupcakes. But even if our cupcakes aren't ready for Martha Stewart, Saturday morning makes them the best treat of the week.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Vintage Photo - before and after

I'm pretty fond of the results from tinkering with this vintage photo scan. I will show you the before and after to see what you think. The method was fairly straightforward. I took an old family photo and scanned it. I then cleaned it up on Adobe Elements and applied the Watercolor filter. I added some color accents and printed it out on Post-It print paper. The frame actually belonged to a mirror, so I placed the main image on the mirror and filled in the gaps with strips of the enlarged leaf pattern from the photo.

Voila - from trash to treasure (I think).

Mmmm, pie...

Pie. What more perfect food could you conjure up? I just love pie - sweet or savory. Nothing says home like pie to me. Well, make that good pie. There are so many bad pies out there that they can put someone off of pie if they haven't had good pie. Most restaurant pies fall in that category (Marie Callendar's is an exception) and a lot of homemade pies too. Good pies start and end with a great crust. If the filling is good but the crust is tough or flat or just uninspired - forget about it. A good crust is really all that matters in a great pie. Don't get me wrong, fillings matter certainly. But I can forgive many a sin in a filling if the crust is wonderful. And it just so happens, I have found a wonderful crust recipe. It even passed the test with the best pie makers I know - my sister, mom and grandmother. These three have made some of the best pies on the planet (no, I don't exaggerate!) but they loved this pie crust. So what is the secret? Hmmm...should I share it? Should I divulge the holy grail of pastry, the Lost Ark of baked goods? I'll think about it...but in the meanwhile, bake a pie and get into a little slice of heaven. Mmmm, pie. [Update: See "Perfect Pie" post for recipe.]

Aprons - why we love them

Nothing says homemaking like an apron. Some cheery pattern, a bit of flounce or even strictly utilitarian, the apron tells the world you are in the business of working in your home. The true purpose is to keep your clothing tidy, especially in the days when laundry was truly the hardest chore in the house, but for me, the apron has taken on newer significance. Putting on an apron feels like joining the ranks of the women who took pride in the homes they made for their families. It is a physical reminder for me of why I do the things I do and why those things are important. Plus, it also keeps flour off my clothes! So, three cheers for the apron. Vintage or reproduction aprons are all around. Check eBay or your local thrift stores. For those who sew, check out for some cute 1940s inspired aprons. McCall's also has a nice pattern with several variations. And check out this great blog:

Some final thoughts - not mine, though - about Aprons. An anonymous work called Grandma's Apron:

The principle use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath, but along with that, it served as a holder for removing hot pans from the oven; it was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.
From the chicken-coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
When company came, those old aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids; and when the weather was cold, grandma wrapped it around her arms.
Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove. Chips and kindling-wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the fall, it was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees. When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.
When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out on the porch and waved her apron, and the men knew it was time to come in from the fields for dinner.
It will be a long time before anyone invents something that will replace that old-time apron that served so many purposes.
...Author Unknown

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Embroidering the edges...

I've never considered myself crafty. I have aspirations of craft, certainly, but crafting is not something that I have previously taken to naturally. Computer crafts notwithstanding (iMovie is almost as wonderful as Adobe Photoshop), I have never been successful at pursuing a craft. But in my quest to rediscover the arts and crafts of Nostalgic Homekeeping, I returned to the skill my grandma taught me many years back - embroidery. With a bit of colored floss, a sharp needle and some smooth fabric, anyone can embroider. I do mean anyone. It is a remarkably forgiving craft - easier in its free form than cross-stitch (that precise cousin that shows up in holiday kits at the craft store). Free form embroidery lets you do your own thing and I like that. I like choosing a pattern - if any pattern at all - and finding colors that make it pop. What I don't like are the typically stuffy or silly patterns you often find a local craft shops. I'm not into a lot of ducks or daisy flowers. So I was thrilled to find Jennie Hart's website She has some really cool patterns (I just picked up the Sushi and Monkey Love transfers) and she makes embroidery accessible to everyone with some great descriptions. Jennie's not the only game in town though so search around until you find something you like.

For those who decide to try their hand at this bit of nostalgic homemaking - we could all use a personalized teatowel, right? - I'd like to hear how it goes for you. Embroidering the edges of everyday things and making them your own has strong appeal to me and I hope for you too.

Salt Rising Bread

If anyone has tried baking Salt Rising Bread (SRB), I'm curious to hear about your experiences. I've found a good recipe for this wonderful, if tempermental, non-yeast bread. If you haven't tasted it, the flavor is hard to describe but worth seeking out. It is almost cheesy but really that isn't accurate. It is the perfect bread for toast - actually, it isn't all that great for anything that isn't toasted - and I remember the scent and texture from childhood. My first foray into baking this unusual bread gave a mixed result, which considering how difficult it can be to create, didn't bother me at all. I was able to get it to rise and there was a faint smell and flavor of SRB when it finished baking, but I think I can do better. Tomorrow, I try again with a new way to keep the starter warm (it requires 100 degree temperature for 24 hours straight), so if I am successful, I will post the details. For those who have stories to tell about SRB, please post.

What is Nostalgic Homemaking?

Everyone thinks they know what homemaking is all about. And to some extent, we do. But before we go too far into exploring Nostalgic Homemaking, here is my definition of these words. To be a “homemaker” isn’t the same thing as “housekeeper” or “housewife” or any other variations that start with “house”. I’m convinced there is a big difference between a house and a home. Lots of people have houses – whether they are houses, apartments, condos or cabins. Houses are places where we store our stuff, where we sleep, where we bathe and sometimes eat. Houses keep us dry. Homes, on the other hand, do all that but much more. A home is a refuge from the world. Homes shelter us, nurture us, feed us and warm us. Homes entertain us and our friends, celebrating holidays and sleepy Sundays. Homes are “sweet” and there is “no place like” them. Home “is where the heart is” and be they “ever so humble” there truly is no place like them. But homes don’t happen by themselves. Someone has to make a house into a home.

Now for the “nostalgic” part of the definition. Nostalgia is a fond view of a past time. That doesn’t mean that the past actually was as we imagine it. Usually, it wasn’t nearly as picturesque or as simple. But to view something nostalgically is to look on it with fondness (if not accuracy) and a wish to return to whatever it is that we appreciate about it. For me, I look with fondness on the years when homemaking was an established part of life. Don’t get me wrong, I am feminist through and through and I’m fully aware that women bore the brunt of making the home and were often denied opportunities to work outside of it. But as with any nostalgia, I am fond of the idea that a home is a sanctuary for the family. I wax poetic about women who baked their own bread, knew how to make cakes from scratch, put up jars of jelly and preserves, embroider tablecloths and knit baby booties. I am nostalgic for an era that is gone and is only recalled through the fuzzy memory of history.

So then, “nostalgic homemaking” as I define it, means creating a home through the tried and true methods of the past. Recognizing that baking bread isn’t the easiest way to get your carbs but the act of doing so helps to make your house more homey (what smells better than baking bread?). Cooking a meal from scratch for your family is more than just the sum of its food parts. It shows that you love your family and take pleasure in preparing a meal for everyone to enjoy together. The energy you spend in preparing that apple pie is returned to you as you all enjoy a slice together and talk about things that matter to you. Slowing down, even if only one day a week, helps to give meaning to your days and your environment. Your home will take on a new ambience and will feel warmer, cozier to you and your family, even if nothing is said about the cookies in the jar or the new tablerunner. The work really is its own reward, which is a good thing because as we all know it is never ending.