Friday, November 30, 2007

Waiter, there's a carrot in my soup

I made a batch of carrot soup last night. Why would I do that, you ask? Well, long ago, I visited Ireland on a really horrible package vacation. One of the few highlights of that trip was dinner in a medieval castle where they served carrot soup. I'd never had it before and it was delicious - although maybe I was just starving from all the blood sausage and dry brown bread we were served, bleh. Anywho, I've thought about that soup now and then through the years and occasionally tried to recreate it.

Alas and alack, last night's soup wasn't a recreation, because it had a goodly portion of curry. But I thought it was tasty. Unfortunately, I was the only one that thought so. NR and Hubby said Uh uh. Oh well. For those interested in getting in some veggies without cream or cheese, here's what I made. It makes a ton of soup, so if you like it, you can always freeze the leftovers and save it for knights when you are busy storming the castle. Get it? Knights? Ah, I just slay myself. TeeHee...

Ye Olde Curried Carrot Soup

1/2 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons curry
2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp pepper
2 qts chicken stock
2 cups water
2 pounds carrots, peeled, rough chopped

Melt the butter in a stock pot. Add onion, saute for 2 or 3 minutes. Add spices, cook another minute. Add stock, water and carrots. Simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Serve with crackers. Note: If you use a regular blender, whirl it in small batches and never fill your blender to the top - hot liquids expand. Be careful!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gingerbread - gum drops optional

"And I had but one penny in the world
Thou should'st have it to buy gingerbread"
--William Shakespeare
Love's Labours Lost

Wow, that's some sweet tooth that Will had on him. I like gingerbread as well as the next gal but I usually don't think about it until December. For those who care about such things, there is much history of this little sweet out there waiting for the googling. One thing I didn't know was that in Germany long ago, only Gingerbread guilds could bake the precious Lebkuchen. Oh, those zany, organized Germans. The story of Hansel and Gretel also inspired the gingerbread houses that pop up this time of year.

So, what are we waiting for? Get those oven warmed up and make up a batch of your favorite Gingerbread recipe. Don't have a favorite recipe? Never fear, Martha is here with hers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Goodbye, Gayle

My mother-in-law passed away over the weekend. We found out on Monday and things have been topsy-turvy since then. She was 73 and a long time smoker, so we think that was the cause but we'll know more in a few days.

I debated whether to post anything about this. I've only met her a few times and though she seemed to be a lovely woman, I really didn't know her that well. She gave me an art nouveau style necklace once worn by her mother, which I dearly love. She was funny, with a quirky sense of humor. Her relationship with my husband was certainly different from the one I share with my mom, but it appeared to suit them both.

In my life, it seems that people pass in the winter. I'm not sure why that should be; I haven't done any research on statistics to bear this out, but it just seems to be the case. The holidays are always tempered in our household because of it - we celebrate the season but we mourn those who are gone from the table.

I hope I can help my husband through this, though I certainly have no expertise in grief counseling. But I'd like to keep her memory alive and help him to remember the times in their lives that were special to them.

Goodbye, Gayle. Your family misses you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Flannel - not just for sheets anymore

My bedroom gets cold in the winter. I'm talking "Is a window open?" cold. The room has lots of windows and the house is old, so heat just moseys on up and out of the room. Consequently, I have a thing about being cold when I go to sleep. Now granted, the chattering teeth make a nice white noise, but icicle toes just are no fun. So, on come the flannel sheets. Flannel is great, at least for those who don't have allergy issues due to lint. Perusing Wikipedia, as I often do, for information on the origins of flannel (yes, I am that weird), I found a curious little list of famous flannel wearers. Taken straight from the source, here are some famous folks who dig flannel as a garment:
Filmmaker George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga.
Neil Young, guitar player, singer and songwriter
Lead singer and guitarist from Nirvana, Kurt Cobain
Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam
Grunge/Metal band Alice in Chains
Mick Foley in the persona of Cactus Jack, a WWF/WWE hardcore wrestler who wears red flannel as part as ring attire
Rory Gallagher, the Irish-born blues guitarist.
Duane Allman, guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band.
Mike Watt, bassist for The Minutemen, Firehose, The Stooges, and various other bands.
Phil Anselmo, in a handful of early-to-mid 90's promo photos with Pantera, Anselmo was photographed wearing flannel shirts.
John Linnell, lead singer of They Might Be Giants
Larry The Cable Guy, American stand up comedian and actor
Matt Corby, contestent of 2007 Australian Idol
Dr. Steve Hoeltzel, American Philosopher

Personally, I really only dig flannel in its bedsheet form, but who am I to question such luminaries as Larry the Cable Guy and Eddie Vedder when it comes to warm and fuzzy fashion. So, maybe I need to look around for some flannel socks to complement my sheet set.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Household: 50s magazine fun

I was so excited to go to the mailbox today and find my eBay acquisition, a magazine from 1957 titled "Household". I love old magazines - the ads are often hilarious and the articles and photos provide some interesting looks into another age. I was especially excited to find this period magazine on eBay (I have a couple other issues on their way, yippee!). Ok, so it doesn't take much to excite me. But so you don't feel left out, I will be sharing some gems of wisdom from these magazines. Talk about Nostalgic Homemaking:
From Household (August 1957) - Freezer news
* Custard pies do not freeze well either before or after baking, but pumpkin pies are satisfactory if frozen before they are baked.
* Frozen layer cake batter may be put in the oven directly from the freezer or it may be thawed for about 30 minutes at room temperature.
* Seven-minute frostings become frothy and spongy when frozen.
* Mrs. Lewis Young of New Carlisle Ohio recommends frying frozen corn on the cob in her deep fryer. She defrosts them 3 to 4 hours and frys 2 or 3 ears at one time at 375 degrees for 4 minutes. (I wouldn't try this; I fear exploding corn.)

The Bombe Alaska on the cover just screams Fifties to me. It is so technicolor. I may just have to plan a 50s party and serve this as the big finish.

Random Recipe Monday - Burnt Sugar Cake

Here's another 1940s cake for you to check out. I haven't made it yet, but I am going to this week. I love creme brulee, so I hope this has a bit of that flavor:

2 cups sugar
1 cup boiling water
3 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup shortening
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla

Place 1 cup of the sugar in a skillet and heat, stirring constantly until sugar melts and becomes brown; remove from heat, add boiling water and stir until sugar is entirely dissolved. Cool. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Cream shortening with remaining sugar until fluffy. Add unbeaten egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each is added. Add vanilla. Add sifted dry ingredients and caramel sirup alternately in small amounts beating thoroughly after each addition. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into greased pan and bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) 30 to 35 minutes. Makes 3 9-inch layers.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recipe, Shmecipe...

Recipes are for sissies. Ok, not really. But there are plenty of folks who cook just wonderfully without a written recipe. These folks know exactly how much flour for perfect pancakes, how many eggs for that birthday cake, how much salt is in a pinch, and so on. Diametrically opposed to the precision of those who follow the letter of the culinary law, these folks wing it. Willy-nilly, they add their spices, never getting a recipe exactly the same twice. Yet somehow, it all works out. "It's a mystery" comes to mind (cue Shakespeare in Love theme song)but it isn't a fluke. People who cook without recipes have innate senses, seasoned through time and practice, about what makes a dish "right". My grandmother (when she still cooked) was one of these folks. Recipes weren't something she really utilized much. Maybe if she saw something on a cooking program, she'd jot down the ingredients, but probably not the amounts. She cooked by taste, by sight and by memory. Now granted, she wasn't making really complicated, Martha Stewart-style dishes; just good old comfort food like roast, gravy, cakes, and the like.

So I wonder, does abandoning recipes give more or less freedom to the cook? For me, I tend to use recipes as guidelines, rather than rules (cue Pirates of the Carribbean music), unless the dish is something complicated or precise, like baking. But I tend to swap out items at will, add more salt or change the cooking time, if I disagree with the recipe. Generally, this works out ok, occasional flops aside. I find for me that distance between the dish and the recipe does give me freedom but I like having the safety net there, just in case. For people who never use recipes, I have to wonder if they are limiting their repetoire to those dishes that they know well or that are family favorites. How much improvising do non-recipe cooks do on their own? Are recipes the equivalent of a sewing pattern - making the cook either a manufacturer if they use one and a designer if they don't? Not being a designer, I would only guess that all design is based on some basic principles, that once mastered can be bent or tweaked (or even broken). I think cooking is the same (cue Project Runway video).

Ok, so once again, I fail to pick a side on the issue of Recipe - Yes or No. I guess I'm too much of an Aquarian. But since my cooking style is quasi-free form, I guess my opinion on this is too. Who knows, who cares - pass me some cake.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Thanksgiving Time - by Langston Hughes

When the night winds whistle through the trees and blow the crisp brown leaves a-crackling down,
When the autumn moon is big and yellow-orange and round,
When old Jack Frost is sparkling on the ground,
It's Thanksgiving Time!

When the pantry jars are full of mince-meat and the shelves are laden with sweet spices for a cake
When the butcher man sends up a turkey nice and fat to bake,
When the stores are crammed with everything ingenious cooks can make,
It's Thanksgiving Time!

When the gales of coming winter outside your window howl,
When the Air is sharp and cheery so it drives away your scowl,
When one's appetite craves turkey and will have no other fowl,
It's Thanksgiving Time!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And like a good neighbor....

I wonder if folks have good relationships with their neighbors nowadays. Do people still have block parties and potlucks with those that share their streets? I know that we don't. In fact, we've recently sued our neighbor over a property line dispute. But that aside, we've never had a relationship with people near our home. No "can I borrow a cup of sugar" or "may I use your lawn mower" kinda thing. It's too bad, really. I'm sure we aren't the only family that doesn't talk to their neighbors. I wonder when the concept of Neighborliness went out the window for some of us? I don't go out of my way to ignore them, well some of them I do, but we've never had words. There was no welcome basket when we moved in four years ago, and I've never done one for the people that moved in several months ago. I suppose it's time to change that. It would be nice to have people close by to call on if something happens or just to share a cuppa with some afternoon. Maybe it isn't too late to make up that basket and take the plunge.

On a funny related note, I did run into one of the neighbors near the mailboxes and we briefly talked about the lawsuit. When I explained the situation to her, she responded with "Oh, I guess you aren't the devil worshippers we thought you were." Nice, huh?
*The Kravitz's from Bewitched

Monday, November 19, 2007

Random Recipe Monday - Corned Beef

Ok, this recipe isn't that random because we had it for dinner last night. But I have to wax poetic on corned beef for a second. Yes, I said corned beef. The phrase conjures up images of boiled meat and stinky cabbage, I know. But I assure you that we had neither last night. First, a spot of trivia about the name. The dish contains no corn, contrary to its name. The term "corned" means that it has been cured in a seasoned brine. If you don't believe me, check wikipedia, which of course means it must be true. This dish is old - 1600s old - so folks have been enjoying this far beyond the obligatory St. Paddy's day meal. Something else you might not know, if you care about food trivia, is that if corned beef is smoked, it becomes pastrami.

Anywho, here is a recipe for actually enjoying corned beef. It couldn't be easier because it uses the crockpot:

1 packaged corned beef brisket
5 russet potatoes
1 onion
1.5 cups water
1 crockpot

Slice potatoes into thick wedges and add to the bottom of your crockpot. Quarter the onion and add it to the pot. Add the brisket on top. Pour water along the side of the pot. Cover and cook for 8 hours. (You can add baby carrots with the veggies, they make a nice addition.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Starting from Scratch

My hubby and I have a herculean task ahead of us. Our office/junk room has been out of control for quite some time but I have reached critical mass and have to do something about it. The problem, other than being kind of lazy, is that we have opposite ideas about how to deal with the problem. We both agree we should clear the decks, start from scratch, haul everything out and only bring back what we actually use. I am ruthless with garbage sacks and probably toss stuff that shouldn't be tossed, but I get in a frenzy. I attack the clutter and just want it GONE. Hubby, not so much. He likes to post things on and have people come get those ancient monitors, those out of date books and such. I'd just box it up and drop it off at Goodwill. He likes to sort through each box of stuff methodically, deciding if each item will be kept. I like to toss the whole thing out if I haven't used it in a year. He hangs on to his things, "just in case". I collect stuff until I get tired of it and then I want it outta here.

See? This is a problem. We've read a zillion posts on decluttering. I want to just nuke the room and start from the beginning. Somewhere in the middle (I smell a compromise coming up) we'll get it done, but I would write into one of those DIY/HGTV clean up shows in a minute if I wouldn't be mortified to have TVLand see the state of this room.

When - notice I said When and not If - we get this done, I'll post a photo, the blogger equivalent of an animal pelt, as proof of our victory.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What tabs do you have open?

Ok, this is as random and ridiculous as you are going to find on a Friday, but what the hey. At any given time, I keep six to ten Internet Explorer tabs open on my computer (Yes, I should be using Firefox, but I like IE, go figure). And yes, I have heard of Favorites, so there is no actual need to keep the tabs open, but I like to. I like keeping thoughts that are at the front and back of my mind on the tabs, simmering soups of thought, if you will. So on today's menu, I have the following tabs:
Fark - because where else do I get my news?
Fruit from Washington - Heirloom Recipes: I'm going to make a little ditty called Bird's Nests from some apples.
Culture of Spain - Doing a little global homemaking reading
Gmail - That is always open, for the few important emails that I get and all the rest of the junk.
Google - with my last search "fpdc crochet". Cannot live without google.
Auld Hat's blog - I usually have at least one blog cued up.
Etsy - Looking for a good, local supplier of interesting yarns.
Burlesque Daily blog - Ok, don't be shocked. I like to check in with the nouveau BurlyQ crowd because I find Burlesque fascinating. (Bloggers are like onions, we have layers...)

So that's my line up for today. What's on your tabs? Inquiring minds want to know...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scent of a Memory

It's weird how scents can really bring up the memories associated with them. Certain scents trigger visceral reactions for me and they are more powerful than looking at photographs or listening to songs. Some scents remind me of specific people - like the smell of sawdust always makes me think of my grandpa, who was a carpenter. Familiar places can be brought to mind by a special scent; eastern Washington, around a little town called Leavenworth, has the most amazing smell of pine needles, smoke, mountain runoff, and apples that always reminds me of family trips there. Food scents trigger feelings especially, like the smell of my mom's curried chicken or the molasses from an old family recipe for cookies. Childhood scents, like Play-doh and the scent of new vinyl from Halloween costumes, Princess Leia dolls and Cabbage Patch kids sends me back to those years. (Sure wish I had held on to my Leia doll - big money now.)

Advertisers have tried to capitalize on this idea for years - think about all the perfume ads (I can't seem to forget you, your Windsong stays on my mind...) and scented candles. And generally, I am a sucker for this kind of advertising. I'm always bringing home scented stuff, which of course drives my scent-sensitive husband crazy. But that is only a fringe benefit (Ah, I kid, I kid...); the reason I buy the blackberry fern candles, and the apple martini body wash, and the lemonade shampoo is that I like the places that scents take me. I like to remember fun times, people I have loved, and places that are special to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A cobbler by any other name...

Probably second only to pie, I love cobbler. I'm a sucker for warm cobbler with melting ice cream; it doesn't even matter what it is filled with - ok, maybe not mince meat. But cobblers and their ilk have many different names, depending on the part of the country, the ingredients and the cooking method. Check out the interesting info at What's Cooking America to find out the exciting differences between cobblers, buckles, slumps, pandowdy, crumbles, crisps, brown betty and croustades. Me, I'm a crisp and cobbler fan. (For those who won't click links, a crisp has a crumb topping on the baked fruit and a cobbler has a biscuit type topping.)Here's the crisp recipe I made up the other night to go with our Chicken and Dumplings.

Easy Apple Crisp

3 apples - granny smith are nice, but whatever you have on hand, peeled and sliced
1/2 stick of butter, 1 tablespoon for buttering pan
1 c sugar
1/2 lemon for juice and zest
2 tsps cinnamon
pinch of Allspice
1/4 cup flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
two pinches of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice your apples, squeeze the lemon over the slices and grate some zest into the mix. Add 1 cup sugar, pinch of salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon and pinch of allspice; toss. Butter your baking dish (a shallow gratin dish works well) and place apple mix inside. In a separate bowl, mix oats, flour, sugar, one pinch of salt, 1 tsp of cinnamon. Pour topping on apples. Cut your butter into small chunks and dot the top of the crumb mix. Place your dish in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A chicken in every pot - and dumplings too

Quick bit of trivia for you; which president promised "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage"? Give up? Before you google, it was Herbert Hoover. Old Herbie was on to something because a chicken in a pot is a mighty good thing. On a day when you are going to be around the house, think about making chicken stock and then chicken and dumplings. Homemade stock is so much better than its canned cousin and the chicken used to flavor it up is perfect for C & D. Plan on being around your home for at least half a day, but actual cooking time for you is pretty small; the pot does the work on the stove largely unattended. I made up a batch yesterday and here is my recipe - feel free to tweak it*:

1 young chicken - about 3.5 pounds
Six carrots - unpeeled
2 onions - peeled and quartered
6 cloves of garlic - peeled and halved
1 bulb of fennel - sliced
Handful of chopped fennel tops
Water to cover - approximately 1 1/2 gallons
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons course cracked pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 potatoes
1 onion
Olive oil

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 c cream
1/4 c milk
2 tbs butter, cold
Herbs de Provence, optional

In a large stockpot, bring first 10 ingredients to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for four hours, skimming the top as necessary.

Remove the solids and reserve. Pour three quarts of stock for use in other recipes into containers suitable for chilling and freezing. (Chill your stock in the fridge overnight. Skim the fat and then freeze the stock for later use.) Place remaining stock (approximately 2 quarts) back in the stock pot (or dutch oven), place on low heat. When solids are cool enough to handle, remove chicken meat and shred it. Place chicken back in the remaining stock. Carrots may be added back in if desired. Discard rest of solids.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a non-stick saute pan. Chop onion and add to oil when hot. Sprinkle with kosher salt and cook for 4 minutes or until onions are transluscent. Add to stock pot. Slice potatoes thinly. Add to stock pot. Simmer on low for at least 45 minutes prior to serving (I let mine go for 1 1/2 hours).

Dumplings: Dumplings should be added right before dining. Allow eight minutes of covered cooking after the following:

Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Add butter, coursely chopped, to the flour. Using your hands, work the butter into the flour, leaving it no larger than a pea. Add cream and milk, stir in 1 tsp of herbs (if desired). Dough will be sticky. Using a large spoon, spoon out some dough and shape it into a ball in your palm. Add the dumplings to your simmering pot, cook for eight minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 6 - 8.
* I used a stock recipe from Ina Garten with some changes - I don't like celery but you can add in some chopped celery ribs if you like it. I also modified a C&D recipe by Cathy Lowe, found at Food

Monday, November 12, 2007

Knit Your Bit - Knitting (or Crocheting) for Vets

Did you know that the Red Cross organized US citizens into knitting brigades during WWI and WWII? Nope, me either. Apparently, the Red Cross gave knitters yarn and instructions for socks, gloves, scarves, sweaters, anything that service personnel could use during the war (in blue or olive drab only). Children were asked to knit to help the war effort and a famous poster from 1917 asked people to Knit Your Bit.

Cool, huh? There is a way that we can honor those past Veterans today with a renewed Knit Your Bit Campaign. The WWII museum in New Orleans began this drive in 2006 and is continuing the work in 2007. Get more information here as well as the pattern for knitting or crocheting the V-for Victory scarf. Scarfs donated will be delivered to Veterans in need of warmth this winter. I'm going to Hook my Bit and make a crochet scarf to send off.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans' Day

To all the veterans who have served our nation, I give my thanks and my respect for your service.

My grandfather, Wayne, (top photo, far left) served in WWII in the Pacific theater and my great-grandfather, Les, (bottom photo) served in France during WWI. My younger cousin just returned from a tour in Iraq, for which we are all extremely grateful.

My grandmother shared a story of Les tromping through French fields, gathering blueberries in his doughboy helmet to add to the pancakes he made for the men in his platoon. I've been privileged to read the letters sent home by both Wayne and Les. That is as close to battle as I have ever been and I cannot imagine what such a sacrifice would be like. But for them and for all those who have served, I give my thanks.

Clams Casino

Being born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I do like me some seafood (as evidenced by the above photo of the Dancing Clams from Ivar's Restaurants - a local fav). I draw the line at raw oysters or anything overly slimy looking, but I love clams (except geoducks). Clam Chowder is my top soup and steamed clams with drawn butter are pretty darn good. Razor clams, for those in my neck of the woods, can be harvested in November and December (at least at my local beach, on specific days) so clams are an in-season treat. Not that I'm going to do the digging, mind you - I'll leave that to the local fishmonger shop. But wherever they come from, clams are good eating.

I heard recently that placing live clams in cool water with a handful of flour will force them to disgorge all sand prior to cooking. That's a trick that I am going to try when I make Clams Casino. This dish combines bacon and clams for a tasty treat. See Food Timeline for the lowdown, but it orginated around 1917. (As an aside, this dish also shares its name with a Burlesque dancer, Miss Clams Casino. That alone makes it worth checking out.) There are many recipe versions of this oldie but goodie, but check out the traditional version provided by Food Network. It calls for cherrystone clams but I think I'll try it with the local Razors, just for the heck of it. And if you are feeling really adventurous, give Tyler Florence's Clams Casino Pizza a gander. I like unusual pizza pie, but this might be going a bit too far even for me.

But however you enjoy them, give three cheers for a delicious bi-valve. If anyone tries the pizza, let me know how it goes.

Rationing in the time of Plenty

Most folks know that during WWII there was rationing of certain household staples, like sugar. During the War, people understood the necessity to reduce, to reserve things for special uses, to plant a Victory Garden as a means of self-sufficiency, to do without because they had to and it was the right thing to do.

That certainly isn't the case anymore. Nobody of any means, or even those folks without means but with credit, does without. Candy isn't just on Halloween or holidays anymore, cakes aren't just for birthdays or celebrations, roast isn't just on Sundays. If you want it, you can get it, whenever you want.

So is this a good thing? On the one hand, people have access to comforts that make life more pleasant, more enriching, which arguably is a benefit. On the other hand, we don't respect the specialness of anything because we have it all the time. I realize that this train of thought leads into my previous thoughts on Patience, but it is more about observing the landscape within than the changes outside.

I've always been Instant-Gratification girl, because I do believe life to be "brutish and short". You gotta take your happiness where you can get it, eat dessert first, get those great shoes before they are sold out, yadda yadda yadda. I'm all about Seize the Day. But I'm beginning to think that the philosophy of the Dead Poets Society really only works if you are on the short term track. Life is a long-haul, at least theoretically, so perhaps burning through all the fuel early on isn't the best idea (how's that for some mixed metaphors).

Ok, so what does all this rambling mean exactly? Well, I'm not totally sure. I'm wrestling with some gators right now - gators that keep me up at night, that make me wonder if I am doing what is Easy, or doing what is Right, gators that question my Live for Today kind of thinking. I think that I've made some choices along Life's road that were the equivalent of bingeing on candy because it tasted so good; now I have the sugar hang-over and the tummy ache. Things that taste sweet now can leave a bad taste in your mouth later. Rationing the sugar of our lives rather than bingeing on whatever tastes sweet in the moment, seems a bit more wise to me. What is the Sugar? I think it is different for everyone. For some people, it is materialistic crap. For others, it is hanging onto things, people, places that just aren't good for them.

Part of my journey into making a Home is about cutting back on this Sugar. Like all cravings, it makes it difficult to do without it - at first. But time will help with that, I'm sure. If I ration the Sugar and leave room for other, truly sweet things to take its place, I think my home will be a more satisfying place for everyone. All this sweetness ruins my appetite for what is real.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Stormy Weather

Today it is drizzly and dreary and boy do I feel it. I have a case of the Friday blahs (if such a thing exists outside of Mondays). I have a ton of cleaning to do because my house is under renovation and my 2 year old nephew is coming to spend the night. I've really let things slide this week so now I have to play catch-up.

And because I am avoiding doing my cleaning, I thought I'd share a little you-tube love with you (I'm so inspired by Lorraine's Friday music idea). I am a big fan of the 1920s, particular some of the silent screen actors. Louise Brooks is one of my favorites, so here is a lovely little montage of photos of this lady, set to an instrumental of Stormy Weather. Perfect for such a gloomy day. Click Here (For more about Louise Brooks, check out the Louise Brooks Society.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The 1950s home - another perspective

It isn't hard to find writers who claim that the 1950s were the pinnacle of American homemaking. Just run a search on google for "1950s homemaking" or "daily life 1950s" and you'll see what I mean. The results are the familiar stereotype; subservient wife, spotless home, happy nuclear family, wholesomeness. I find this amusing because so many eras in history are looked at with a modern eye and the "history" of the time reviewed more critically. Not everyone in 1920 was a flapper - far from it. Life before the civil war wasn't anything like at Tara, and on and on. But perhaps the proximity of the 1950s makes it less appealing to deconstruct. We like the images that the decade epitomizes; Elvis and Marilyn, the diner and the malt shop, the hot rods and the poodle skirts. The 1950s represent Americana at its best for many people.

So what was it really like? Like most times, it depends entirely on who you were. For white men, the 1950s were very different than for African-American women. But speaking in a generalized, societal way, was 1950s homelife really as we imagine it? There are clues to that answer left in the writings of the period. Period magazine articles, books and letters give some glimpses into daily life. Television, like movies, tends to show the stereotype, not the reality, so not much fact can be taken from the fiction.

It is true that many middle-class women stayed home to care for the house and children. It is also true that the end of WWII brought more disposable income into the economy and luxuries became part of the post-war boom. There were more kids, more cars, more homeownership than before. The development of kitchen tools, such as the can opener, four slice toaster, double ovens and such, certainly changed the landscape of the kitchen. But the 1950s home was more than just Ranch houses with jello molds and matching appliances. In a fascinating article, Caroline Hellman discusses the 1950s kitchen in terms of political and social upheaval. Nixon took American domesticity to Moscow as a cold war weapon; writers used the kitchen as a setting for upheaval - think about Peyton Place and Catcher in the Rye - and architects like Frank Lloyd Wright were designing homes and developing Utopia at the same time.

Why is this relevant, you may ask? Well, I think it is relevant because we are currently in a revival of the "domestic arts" and homemaking is once again fashionable. With the 1950s held up as a model of sorts - if a somewhat benign and Stepford kind of model - I think we ought to know a little bit about the decade before we proclaim it the high point of the American homemaker. Yes, I still like "Leave it to Beaver" reruns and I wish crinolines and bullet bras would make a comeback but I like a side of perspective with my gelatin-molded spam, thank you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thanksgiving - then and now

No, this isn't one of those "pilgrims never ate cranberry sauce" posts. We've all heard before that our current thanksgiving menus bear little resemblance to those foods shared by the hardy folks of yesteryear. But, I do think it is interesting to see how little our current menu resembles "traditional Thanksgiving" meals from the last hundred years or so. Here's what folks in 1878 would have been enjoying:

"Oyster soup, cod, with egg sauce, lobster salad, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, mixed pickles, mangoes, pickled peaches, cold slaw, and celery; boiled ham, chicken pie ornamented, jelly, mashed potatoes browned, tomatoes, boiled onions, canned corn, sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli. Mince, and pumpkin pie, apple tarts, Indian pudding. Apples, nuts, and raisins." (As relayed at

Maybe it is because I'm from the northwest or just an omission on the part of my family, but we don't have oysters with thanksgiving. And yet, most of the historical menus found at FoodTimeline include oysters in some way or form.

Check out this menu from 1961, nearly one hundred years later:

"Celery Hearts, Olives, Radishes, Small Cheese Canapes, Roast Turkey with Favorite Stuffing, Sweetbread and Oyster Pie, Hashed-Browned Potaotes, Broccoli, Hoolandiase, Hot Ross, Cranberry Jelly, Tipsy Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, Ice Cream, Coffee." I can't figure out what "hot ross" might have been, except a typo relating to Hot Cross buns. Definitely a different menu than the first one; more streamlined and less about over-abundance.

Even thirty years later, my how things change. Check out this suggested menu from Sunset magazine in 1991:

"Red or White Belgian Endive with Smoked Salmon and Mustard Sauce, Buttered Toast Triangles, Roast Turkey, Giblet Gravy, Cranberry Chipotle Relish, Steamed Mini-pumpkins with Fresh Raisin Chutney, Red Bell Peppers and Caper Rice, Green Beans and Butter-browned Onions, Wild Rice with Aromatics, Fila-wrapped Rum Cake Bundles, Chardonnay, Sparkling Apple Juice."

Not exactly the menu one might think of for a traditional Thanksgiving but I guess that's the point. Holidays, like everything else, evolve over time. Recipes come in and out of fashion, global economy brings unusual foods to our table and "seasonal" is optional not required. I think this fits with the spirit of Thanksgiving. Not the cardboard idea of pilgrims and native americans feasting, but the coming together of families and friends, sharing old favorites and new experiences on their plates. I wonder what the next hundred years will bring to the table, this unknown favorite placed right next to the nutcups of candy corn or the slabs of pumpkin pie.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Random Recipe Monday - Grapefruit cake

Ok, this one really is random. It is from my 1940s cake recipe book and I've never tried it or even thought about using grapefruit in a cake. But, I must adhere to the laws of fate that give me a random recipe, so here 'tis:

3 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 c shortening
3 tbsps grated grapefruit rind
2 1/2 c sugar
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
3/4 c grapefruit juice

Sift flour, salt, soda and baking powder together. Cream shortening with grapefruit rind and sugar until fluffy. Add whole eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each is added. Add sifted dry ingredients and juice alternately in small amounts, beating well after each addition. Pour into greased pans and bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) 30 to 35 minutes. Make 3 (9 inch) layers.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

You say you want a revolution...

I missed out on the Haight-Ashbury experience. Alas, I wasn't yet a gleam in my mother's eye in the summer of love, 1968, but I've always been interested in the counter-culture movement and the art that it spawned (or vice versa). I'm a fan of Janis, The Doors, hell, even bell-bottoms to a point, and flower power rocks. But I didn't know that crochet - especially my grandma's penchant for loud, proud, acrylic afghans and lap throws - was also subversive back in the day.

In the latest issue of Interweave Crochet magazine, there is an interesting article discussing the history of crochet in the late 60s and early 70s and the kind of statement that making (and wearing) crochet had on the public. This idea of changing the world, one stitch at a time, intrigues me. Can the simple act of drawing loops together really be influential - then or now?

I'm thinking it can. Even now, how we choose to spend our leisure time (and money) has a big impact on our families, our community, even the economy. What of the grannies who crank out afghans and donate them to the shelters or the church groups that sew hats for the homeless? Are these people changing the world, one stitch at a time? Yep, I think they are. And it isn't just the crafty that can do this. What about the people who buy the homemade soaps, the handmade aprons, the quilted coverlets? Isn't the money spent on these things going to local crafters rather than Wal-Mart? Not only that, but those items can be given as gifts, spreading the revolutionary spirit, so to speak; a (quilting) Bee-In, if you will.

Handmade, whatever it might be, seems to me to be a powerful way to make a statement. For me, the statement is about independence, community, values and ingenuity. It says that I'm resourceful, thrifty, useful, connected and that I support my local artisans and neighbors. It says a heck of a lot more to me than things made in sweatshops and sold at rock-bottom prices at a box store that drove away the local merchants.

That's a lot of revolution in one little stitch.

Friday, November 2, 2007

In the age of Youtube

It's hard to remember the good old days of several years ago when Google and Youtube didn't exist. Back then, if I wanted to know how to do something, I would have to trot down to the library or the bookstore. Now, a few keystrokes and the answer is there. Stuck on how to double crochet? Watch a Youtube video. Want to know the best way to make challah bread? Google, of course. Need a halloween music mix for your party? Download from iTunes and you are set.

Nothing takes much time anymore, when it comes to quick answers to average problems. And because of this, we expect all answers to be just as quick - whether the problems are simple or difficult. It's amazing how quickly my own threshold for patience has devolved; It's hard to imagine how kids born now, with no memories of times before wikipedia, iPhones and constant Internet access, will view the world with patience. Not unless parents find ways to bring patience and the value of time back into perspective, at least a little bit.

So I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I'm looking for opportunities to build more patience into our lives. I love the technological advances that allow me to blog, to learn crochet from Youtube, to search for recipes on the Web from my phone in the grocery store, all of it. But something is lost when time isn't part of the equation anymore. The more we can recognize and acknowledge time and the role it plays in our lives, I think the better. Celebrating the seasons, marking the holidays, planting seeds to watch them grow - slowly. Creating projects and memories that last longer than a sitcom or a google search or a Youtube video.

So as Daylight Savings time switches this weekend, I'm taking a moment to think about Autumn and what changes it brings to my home. Nights are getting cold here and frost is on the lawn every morning. Squirrels are plundering around my plum tree for pits and spiders are creeping into the house for warmth. With the holidays on the horizon it is so easy to plow into pine boughs and holly, poinsettias and snowflakes, but I'm holding out as long as I can. I want to watch this Autumn as it changes to Winter. I want to see the transition and notice the daylight slipping away.