Monday, December 31, 2007

Raise a glass, give a cheer, 2008 is here...almost

I don't know about you guys but I'm pleased as punch that 2008 is here. I hate to speak ill of the almost dead, but 2007 really stunk for me and mine. My grandmother's house burned to the ground this year, my husband had surgery, our property line dispute turned into a court battle, and so on and so on and so on. Whew. What a relief that in a few scant hours, a brand spanky new year awaits us all.

I'm sending out good wishes to all my new blog friends for the coming year. I can't wait to read your posts in the coming days and learn what 08 has in store for you. So come on, big old shiny ball, start dropping. We'll take a cup of kindness yet in the days of auld lang syne....

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Butter, Schmutter

Contrary to what the lipidly-challenged might say, butter isn't the greatest thing you can eat for your health. I know this. But, butter is the greatest thing to eat for your tastebuds. What tastes better than butter? Butter in baked goods. We ate our way one step closer to a triple bypass yesterday. Hubby had the craving for homemade chicken pot pie, so his accomodating wife (that would be me, for those folks who know me and are snickering) spent two hours making it up from scratch. The crust had 2 1/2 sticks of butter and 4 tablespoons of Crisco. The sauce had 6 tablespoons of butter and 1 cup of heavy cream. If that doesn't sound deadly enough, we rounded out the eating with a heavenly chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. Another couple of sticks of the good stuff went into making that confection, so all told, our butter intake yesterday was somewhere close to the national average for Bulgaria.

Did I mention that I love butter? Oh yeah. On the bright side, I think our fridge is empty of all solid fat products, so things shouldn't be quite so deadly from now on.

But it was good while it lasted.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Grumble, grumble...

You may have noticed a new template here at Nostalgic Homemaking. What you might not have noticed is that my nifty new template wiped out my nifty blog links, site links and book links. So, I'll be searching my memory-challenged brain to remember all the links that I love so I can add them back in. Pardon the mess while it is under construction.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Back to life, back to reality...

Well, the holiday hoopla is over and I'm sitting in my living room, surrounded by the debris of merriment. Scraps of wrapping paper, candy cane plastic wraps, foil from miniture chocolates left by Santa in the stockings. And that's not even talking about dismantling the tree, taking down the garland...and so on and so on and so on.

Whew. I'm tired thinking about it. As it turns out, my family has a (convenient) tradition that states the tree cannot be removed before New Year's Day or it is Bad Luck (with a capital B and L). So I don't have to deal with the tree just yet.

This week is about cleaning up my house, since I neglected many chores these last few craft-filled weeks. This week is also about getting back my cleaning mojo and keeping to the Schedule (Monday is wash day...etc.). It's like exercise, I know it is good for me, I know it really works, but for some reason lately, I've avoided it like the plague.

So January will find me back on schedule, back at the gym, and working on my book. Yeah, yeah, I know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but don't burst my bubble just yet.

I'm off to research knitting pirates. Yes, the seafaring kind. I've heard a crazy rumor that there was much knitting on those boats, so I'm gonna find out if it is true. I should be vacuuming something but....

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What a wonderful Christmas!

We had an amazing Christmas. Santa outdid himself, that's for sure. NR received the toys he had most wanted, so he was pleased as punch. I finished my homemade gifts (well, with one notable exception) and the recipients really liked them. We spent the day in matching pjs that my dear Sis had sewn for us all; eating some great roast beast (ham, actually) and savoring some of Mom's out-of-this-world potatoes au gratin.

The gifts we received were wonderful, especially the oil painting of the black swan my mother made for me and the gorgeous quilt from Sis, but more importantly - so much more importantly - we had a fun time together. We even had a Christmas miracle here in Seattle; it snowed on Christmas. Yes, for a few brief minutes, we had a white Christmas.

So, I'm gushing about this Christmas. I'm positively giddy, like the Grinch after his heart grew two sizes. What can I say? It really was a wonderful day. Did I mention my fantabulous new sewing machine? /kiss to my hubby.

Oh, here are a few bragging photos of my handmade creations, just to top off the gushiness of this post. I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas had just as wonderful a day, and for those who don't partake, I hope your Tuesday was equally as magical:

Sis, Bro-in-law & their portrait

Amigurumi Strawberry Shortcake

Yo Yo pillow

Monday, December 24, 2007

Not So Random Recipe Monday - Chocolate Egg Nog

This recipe isn't all that random because I went looking for an egg nog recipe to share. I have never had chocolate egg nog, but I just might give it a try tonight. If you are interested in making up a batch yourself, check out for this and other versions of the classic Christmas drink.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mea culpa, mea culpa....

I'm a rotten, no good sister. No, really. Ask anyone. Well, rather, ask my sister. Almost one week ago, we celebrated my baby sister's birthday and I did not post a congratulatory "Happy Birthday". I had a lame reason; I didn't want to encroach on her private life. Yeah, blah blah blah. Stinky reason.

So, without further ado....ahem...."Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dearest Sister. Happy Birthday to you!!!!!!"

I love you.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

And speaking of Yule....Daring Bakers' Challenge

This is my first month participating in the Daring Bakers' Challenge. The super secret project was.....wait for it.....a Yule Log (buche de noel for our French friends). I've never made one before so it was quite a challenge indeed, and loads of fun. Here are photos of my little darling.

Note the lovely bump on my log. The marizpan mushrooms, holly and little mouse. The mousey prints through the powdered sugar/marshmallow cream snow. cute I'm almost sick from the sugar. I kept the challenge genoise the same, except I added vanilla extract. The coffee (and rum) buttercream is straight from the challenge as well.

My only concern now is how the heck to transport this baby to the party at Mom's house today. Hmmmm...let's hope my log doesn't turn into kindling on the ride there.

For info on the Daring Baker's check my Blog links to the right.

Happy Solstice - Winter 'tis here

Old man Winter has arrived. The shortest day/longest night has come and now each day will bring more sun. Yippee. It's funny how Winter is always associated with darkening days, but that really belongs to Autumn. Many thanks to Lorraine for the great link to the streaming video of the sunrise at Newgrange (neolithic passage tomb in Ireland, aligned to the Winter Solstice, for those not into Celty things).

I visited Newgrange on my previously mentioned package tour from hell and found the site breathtaking. I'm sad to say that I was too clausterphobic to brave the passage with the throng of tour members crushing on all sides, so I missed out on seeing it from the inside. But the carvings and the size of the structure are impressive, certainly.

I've always had an affinity for Yuletime. Sure, Christmas gets the hoopla, but there is something wonderful about the idea of the sun coming back, bringing warmth and light, a little more each day. Conversely, I'm always a bit saddened in June when the Summer Solstice reminds me that the luxury of light and warmth is ebbing away. I'm not as tuned into the turning of the seasons as I ought to be, but Winter Solstice always perks me up.

Looking out my window, on this wintry day, I see rain falling. Typical for Seattle winters. I think I'll watch the video of the sunlight illuminating Newgrange again. I could use a little ray of light on this dark, cold morning.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jack Frost? Try Suzy Snowflake

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I...well, we don't get them here in Seattle. But I'm dreaming anyway. So I thought maybe paying a little attention to Suzy Snowflake might coax her into twirling down here and waving her wand. Not familiar with our gal, Sue? Well, check out the niftiness of her 1951 television appearance at Youtube. I don't know if Jack Frost is her brother, her rival or what, but the girl has it going on.

*Image courtesy of

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Born in the USA?

I am always surprised when I find seemingly mundane and innocuous ideas are now seemingly political and devisive ideas. Take, for example, the idea of products created in the US. My Dad and I were having a "chicken and the egg" conversation the other day about the demise of small businesses and the rise of big box stores with low low prices. Dad feels that the increased taxes on business owners have driven them offshore. I feel that the middle class pays a disproportionate amount of the taxes and that is why we are forced to shop at these retailers, instead of the local (and more expensive) mom and pop stores, thereby driving them out of business. The issue is more complicated than either one of us thinks, no doubt. But the conversation got me thinking about products made in the US. Where are the US products now? Do I even own anything that originated in the US, other than handicrafts and things like that?

Ok, so with this in mind, I did a little surfing to find out what is available, which leads me to me point of politics. I was amazed to find such "anti-everyone else" instead of "pro US products" language in their content. One site had a list of things made in France, so good Americans could boycott - are people still refusing to give up on that? I thought Freedom Fries had died long ago. The sites seemed to be enticing shoppers with negativity, darn near Hate speech, rather than talking about why US made products are the way to go. I find that unsettling. We hate it when our politicians "go negative" and fail to talk about what she or he can do for us. Why in the world would we want to make our consumer purchases under that same practice of mudslinging?

So, once I again, I sit at my computer, scratching my head and thinking "huh?". I must really be out of sync with things. I like to support local folks, US jobs, quality products. But I don't want to be in the company of the people who wrap themselves in the flag and damn everyone else in the world. I still like French fashion, English tea, Swiss chocolates and Japanese tech. Does that make me a traitor to my country? I want to buy US made clothing, toys and household goods but I won't frequent websites that traffic in hate speech.

Damn, why does something that seems so simple have to be so bloody political? Bah humbug.

If I manage to find sites that sell US products without the strings of political extremeists, I'll list them at the bottom of this post.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A little something for grandma...

Feel better soon, Nana.

Everybody Eats When They Come To My House
as performed by Cab Calloway

Have a banana, Hannah,
Try the salami, Tommy,
Give with the gravy, Davy,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Try a tomato, Plato,
Here's cacciatore, Dorie,
Taste the baloney, Tony,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

I fix your favorite dishes,
Hopin' this good food fills ya!
Work my hands to the bone in the kitchen alone,
You better eat if it kills ya!

Pass me a pancake, Mandrake,
Have an hors-d'oeuvre-y, Irvy,
Look in the fendel, Mendel,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Hannah! Davy! Tommy! Dora! Mandrake!
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Pastafazoola, Talullah!
Oh, do have a bagel, Fagel,
Now, don't be so bashful, Nashville,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Hey, this is a party, Marty,
Here, you get the cherry, Jerry,
Now, look, don't be so picky, Micky,
'Cause everybody eats when they come to my house!

All of my friends are welcome,
Don't make me coax you, moax you,
Eat the tables, the chairs, the napkins, who cares?
You gotta eat if it chokes you!

Oh, do have a knish, Nishia,
Pass me the latke, Macky,
Chile con carne for Barney,
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Face! Buster! Chair! Chops! Fump!
Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Everybody eats when they come to my house!

Transcription of lyrics originally posted here

Song available on iTunes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yep, he's real alright

NR ran into the home office this morning and the first words out of his mouth were "You know that Santa is real." I hugged him and said "Yes, I know." He looked at me earnestly, saying "Yep, he's real alright." Satisfied that he had convinced me, he was ready for his orange juice and cream of wheat.

Kids accept Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other fantastical beings without skepticism. It's natural for them to put a tooth under a pillow and find money there the next morning.

But somewhere along the line they start to question, to doubt, to wonder if the things they know to be true are really false. What causes the change? Friends that poke holes in the story? Parents who stop supporting the reality of Santa? The questioning nature that comes with puberty? I don't know.

For me, Santa is real. I went through an adolescent phase when I didn't believe, but ever since NR was born, I've known the truth. He's as real as any other idea that we believe in, like good will, helping out those in need, the goodness in giving. Just because we've adopted an image from advertising as his icon doesn't make him any less real. I didn't lie to NR when I agreed with his statement. Santa is real in our home.

Yep, he's real alright.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Who killed the electric car?

Ok, I gotta give a quick shoutout to the film "Who killed the electric car". If you haven't seen it, rent it quick. It sounds boring as hell but trust me it isn't. I'm mourning the loss of the EV1 even as we speak.

Random Recipe Monday - Saucy Hamburger Crumble

I hope I don't ruin anyone's day when I say that Betty Crocker wasn't a real person. I know, hard to believe, but she didn't exist. Be that as it may, Betty liked to cook. In 1958, she published a book about cooking for boys and girls. Unlike Mrs. Seinfeld today, Betty didn't try to hide good veggies in her brownies. She tried to impress upon the little children the importance of purchasing her products to make some swell cakes.

Although there is advertising aplenty in this book, there are some recipes too. One of the recipes is the Saucy Hamburger Crumble. Betty calls for this to be served over mashed potatoes. I'm not sure why this is something that kids should be cooking, since it calls for frying hamburger and adding liquid to hot grease, but hey, who am I to question Betty.

Melt in frying pan 1 tablespoon fat. Add and brown lightly 1 small onion chopped. Then add and brown 1 pound ground beef, 1 teaspoon salt. Break the meat into small pieces. Stir in 1/4 cup Gold Medal Flour. Then stir in 2 cups water or milk. Heat until gravy bubbles. Serve over mashed potatoes. Serves four.

Friday, December 14, 2007

We now return you to your...

I'll be enjoying the soggy breezes at the ocean for the next couple of days, roughing it without any Internet. See you on Sunday.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

One big melting pot

Some foods are identified with specific regions of the world and it's hard to think of them in any other light. For me, gratins fall into that category. I really think of them as a French food, though they probably exist in other cuisines. Perhaps because I'm not adept with French cuisine, I feel less able to mix and match ingredients to suit my taste, so I tend not to stray too far from the recipe.

Lately though, I've been in an experimental mood and my cooking has reflected my willingness to wing it - just ask my husband about the lasagna we had last night. So today, as I was browsing through some French-style recipes, I thought about the gratin and whether I wanted to tinker with it too. The fact that my fridge lacked swiss cheese of any kind led to me to throw caution to the wind. So a new gratin (to me) was born. I used baby red potatoes (unpeeled no less) and cheddar cheese, milk and sour cream. It's in the oven right now, so I'll have to update this post after dinner.

Right next to it on parchment sheets are ground pork meatballs. These too went through a transformation. I really steered far afield from the Italian recipe and added fish sauce, sweet red chili sauce and worcester sauce, plus a healthy dose of minced onion. These were inspired by some really great dim sum I had the other day.

So quasi-French-meets-West-coast-cheddar gratin and started-as-Italian-but-ended-up-Thai pork meatballs are on the menu. Finished off with an old-school apple crisp. Sounds like a recipe for a split personality, doesn't it. Not to me. I like my food in the melting pot tradition. Sometimes it is nice to have a unified menu but more often than not, it is exciting to try tastes that don't seem to suit each other, but miraculously do. Sometimes it is a bad call and sometimes it is a success. We'll see what happens tonight.

Update: Meatballs were good but the gratin was just meh. Win some, lose some.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You say Lasagne, I say Lasagna

Mmmm, lasagna. All ooey, gooey, cheesy, tomatoey (yes, that is a word) and full of Italian goodness. What's better than lasagna? Well, some would say lasagne. It depends on what spelling you are used to. Me, I've known it both ways, but I tend to type "lasagne" but I'm thinking "lasagna". Capisco? Probably not. Oh well. Doesn't matter because they both taste good.

Growing up, my mom made it with small curd cottage cheese. I've never been a fan of the curd, so when I had it with ricotta, I made the switch. I think my aunt might even make it with tomato soup. I'm not going that far, but I do use canned sauce most of the time, along with "no bake" noodles and turkey instead of hamburger. Hardly authentic, I know. But it still comes out ok.

The thing about lasagna is that it doesn't have to be about tomatoes, meat and cheese. Heck, cheese doesn't have to figure into the equation at all - although, why would you want to leave it out is anyone's guess. The Internets are full of folks who put pumpkin, squash, eggplant, and other various veggies instead of meat. Many folks are partial to the bechamel style sauce, instead of ragu. Me, I'm cool with whatever shows up on the plate because I just find the beauty of those stacked sheets of pasta to be soul satisfying. A lovely blogger named Maryann shares many wonderful recipes at Finding La Dolce Vita. Check out her "ricotta and besciamella" lasagna for something far more interesting than cottage cheese and tomato soup. If anyone must know the secret behind the tomato soup version, let me know and I'll get it to you.

Ooh, gotta go check my dish in the oven right now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The working world...

I haven't blogged about my "former life", working as a paralegal. Mainly because who the heck cares about that, other than those in the field. What I also haven't mentioned is that I quit my job (a job I really truly liked, with folks I really truly cared about) because of a stressful dynamic with my supervisor (that's the polite way of saying that we were like Tom and Jerry in the office). So, one day, I just had it. I quit. With no other job prospects, with no plan, with nothing but several boxes of my office frou frou (my bobble-head Heat Miser, Snow Miser dolls; neon color sticky notes, and iPod dock, to name a few).

So why am I mentioning it now, you may rightly be wondering. Well, six months later, I just went back and had a little lunch with some of my former co-workers. I have been dreading this, because I left in such a huff and frankly, I've been feeling uneasy about my new life, sans-gainful employment. But I wanted to see my friends, so I bit the bullet and walked through those glass doors again.

Boy, it was awkward. I felt odd, almost like the ghost of Jacob Marley come back to haunt. What surprised me most of all was how I quickly belittled the work I am doing now. I made pithy little comments about my homemaking, my blogging, my need to find some direction soon. They smiled, nodded, but didn't look me in the eye. I think they were embarrassed for me. I think they feel sorry for me that I let a dispute end my career with them.

And until the day I had lunch with them, I felt sorry for me too. I felt foolish for throwing away the job, the good contacts, the case work that I loved. I felt stupid for letting someone else push my buttons. Driving home on the same freeway I've taken hundreds of times from work, I realized that working there wasn't who I was, it wasn't how I describe myself or what I value. Now is the time for me to do the work that is important to me and my family. Tapping into my strengths, learning from my weaknesses, developing what I can do. That's my New Year's resolution this year. Normally, my resolutions are kicked to the curb before February even hits, but this year, it's about more than losing weight or being a better person. It's time for me to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. If there is one thing that December always reminds me of, it is that time gets away from us all. Time for me to enter a new working world, one of my own making.

Whee, this is gonna be fun. Hope I like me as a boss.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oh Fudge (Random Recipe Monday)

Three cheers for the folks that put together What a great resource for those of us crazy for food history trivia. Ever wondered how candies came into our holiday lives? Well, maybe not. But fudge is one of those treats that I'm glad to see grace the plastic tree-shaped dishes so prevalent right now. It's one of those things that I don't keep around because I'd eat the whole thing. But with get-togethers on the horizon, I have an excuse to make some up and a reason not to eat it all.

There are many fudge recipes, and I'm no expert candymaker, that's for sure. But I'm going to be trying out Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower's Miracle Fudge this week. According to wikipedia, this was a favorite treat of Ike's and was served at dinners at the White House. I can't quite imagine such a straightforward little treat surving in today's White House.
Here's wiki's version of Mamie's fudge:
4-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 pinch of salt
1 tall can evaporated milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate bits
12 ounces German sweet chocolate
1 pint marshmallow cream
2 cups chopped nutmeats
Heat the sugar, butter, salt, and evaporated milk over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil for 6 minutes. Put chocolate bits, German chocolate, marshmallow cream, and nutmeats in a bowl. Pour the boiling syrup over the ingredients. Beat until the chocolate is all melted, then pour in a pan. Let stand for a few hours before cutting. Remember it is better the second day.

Oh, and the origin of fudge? says that college girls in the late 19th century cooked it up as a way to stay up past their bedtimes. My, how times have changed.

Photo courtesy of Click
here for advice on fudgemaking.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lost in the kitchen...

I didn't blog yesterday, I didn't craft yesterday, heck I didn't even check my email yesterday. I spent most of my day in my kitchen. What kind of a Saturday is that, you may ask. A really enjoyable, relaxing Saturday, I'll answer. I like being in my kitchen (when the dishes are done). I like having pots on the stove, something in the oven, hands dusted in flour, apron strings around my hips. I really like it when I am trying new recipes. Yesterday was experimental. As you may recall, I've been on a From-Russia-With-Love kick lately, so I made a Russian-style dinner. Beef stew with horseradish and sour cream, vareniki (like pierogies) filled with cheese and panfried. The stew was really good, and I don't like stew as a general rule, so thumbs-up on that recipe. The vareniki were just meh. I substituted ricotta instead of cottage cheese in the filling and that was a mistake. The filling leeched out and all we were left with were fried vareniki wrappers. Still, fried in butter is kinda tasty, but I'd try them again with the potato filling.

I made a big ole batch of curried egg salad because I had some eggs that were less than fresh and I wanted to use them up. NR chose some cupcakes for our Saturday cupcake baking (which we haven't done in a few weekends, so it was nice to do it again). "Neapolitan" cupcakes, with the batter divided into three colors and swirled together for baking. It was fun watching him dollop the chocolate one into the baking cups. He kept touching the spoon onto the edge of the paper, which pulled it from the baking tin. Kinda like the cooking version of Operation.

Several dishwasher loads later, the kitchen is more or less clean. Still some splattered butter lurking in corners from the fried vareniki. We have enough stew left over for dinner tonight, which is nice. Today, I don't have time to hang out in the kitchen, and I'm sad for it. I wanted to make up some bread. Salt-rising bread, challah bread, french bread. All kinds. Guess that will have to wait for another Saturday.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Toys of Yesterday....

Visit Memomuseum

Do you ever wax nostalgic for your toys? I do. I think about the stuff I had growing up, the toys that made Christmas really fun and something I looked forward to all year. I had the Wizard of Oz's Witch's Castle, the Princess Leia doll with the "real" hair in those donuts, the Atari game system with Pong, Frogger and PacMac. There were lots and lots of Barbies, her dream house, her car, and her boyfriend, Ken. Did Sis and I have too much? Oh probably, but we appreciated it nonetheless. I wasn't blase about my stuff the way NR is about his toys. I don't know why it all seemed to mean more to me or maybe that is just revisionist history talking. I'll have to ask my mom if my memory is accurate.

I wish I had those toys still. My Shaun Cassidy locket, my ballerina jewelry box, my collection of weird, anime-style dolls in antebellum style satin dresses and severely-parted bun hairstyles. I still have the old Cabbage Patch doll and my sister has her Care Bear somewhere. I picked up a few Strawberry Shortcake dolls for Sis a few years ago on eBay but they just didn't smell as good as I remembered. No, you can't go back, no matter what all the toy collectors think, but it is nice to hold a bit of plastic in your hands and remember how it felt to open the package and see it for the first time. Even as wonderful as seeing Christmas through NR's eyes is for me, nothing will ever be like waking up at 4 o'clock on Christmas, waiting anxiously until 6:30 until I could wake up my folks (reading Charlotte's Web to pass the time), staying in my bedroom until Mom had the Christmas tree lights turned on, and then walking into the living room, all lit up with wonder. Our Christmas mornings were magical. Not because of the pile of gifts, well that didn't hurt, but because everything was transformed for those moments while we opened our gifts. Those are the memories that my toys bring back to me.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The extended family...

Every year, somewhere between my sister's birthday and Christmas, we get together with the extended family. By "we", I mean my immediate fam (mom, dad, sis, grandma, hubbies and kids) and by "extended family", I mean my dad's clan. Generally, it's a fairly sober event - no alcohol and no merriment. My dad's clan is reserved. They don't like garlic, or spices, or loud things. They like lefse, and crocheted afghans, and Rice-a-Roni "Spanish" rice. They are all really good at Trivial Pursuit and take it seriously. I used to think they were so different from my immediate family because they were so Scandinavian and we were so Irish. I pictured them as frosty, stoic, bland, like some nordic ice village, but without the cool ice hotels or castles. Lutefisk, that gelatinous wobble of fish soaked in lye (no, I'm not kidding) really epitomized them in my mind. While my Irish bunch, though not into whiskey, were loud and boisterous. Everyone talks over everyone else. Everyone eats and plays pinochle. We know how to have Fun - capital F kinda fun.

Ok, so do I still see this as an US versus THEM kinda thing? Well, sort of. I've come to appreciate my grandmother's silent strength (heck, she scrubbed her kitchen floor right before giving birth to twins so the house would be clean when she got back from the hospital) and the way they all seem quite content with their lives. They aren't looking for spice, for excitement, for novelty. Bland potato lefse is just fine with them, thank you very much. There's something to be admired in not seeking beyond the comforts of your own home - something very Dorothy-after-she-comes-back-from-Oz-ish about that. Me - I'm always searching. I'm always looking for the next thing, the next new recipe, new spice, new interest. Some of these things stick around with me (I couldn't live without garlic) and some of them pass along (like those fancy ice hotels that melt each spring). So I guess I'm a weird amalgamation of the stoic Scandinavian and the hot-blooded Irish.

My Norwegian grandmother used to hate The Golden Girls when it was on TV. She felt the portrayal of Rose Nylund was undignified, that it made Scandinavians look stupid, simple. She didn't like it. I've never though she was stupid but I have thought her approach to life was too simple for me. I just couldn't get around the fact that she was happy crocheting the same afghans year and year after year. She didn't vary them, she didn't change them up, she just held fast to her way of doing things. Looking back though, that isn't simple. Holding fast is very hard to do.

So We will meet up with Them and I'm offering to make the food this time. No hidden spices, or disguised garlic. Nope. I'm making a 1950s menu straight out of Betty Crocker.
Chex mix
Onion dip
Pigs in a blanket
Deviled eggs
Hot cheese puffs
I hope they like it. My wish is that I can learn to see them as a little more like family and a little less like strangers we see a few times a year. Maybe grandma will even be excited to see I've taken up a crochet hook. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I smell a theme coming on....

I like themes for parties. Cliche, you say? True. Unoriginal, you think? Sometimes. But honestly I find theme parties to be fun. That of course depends on the theme. I wouldn't do a Cinco de Mayo party on May 5 because it is overdone, but perhaps a Dia de los Muertos on November 1, a family get-together to honor those we've lost, or a St. Lucia party for my Scandinavian family (wonder if Uncle Calvin will don the lighted candle crown if I ask...)

I like unusual theme parties. So much so that I'm working on a little vanity press book on the subject, which would be easier if I could take decent photos. But that aside, the theme of this post is about themes in general (yes, that was corny).

Themes are everywhere. From musical scores to menus, fashion collections to hardware stores, themes abound. Don't believe me? Think about the literal meaning of theme: a unifying idea that is a recurring element. I like the sound of idea that brings things together and happens over and over. Kinda like the holidays, dontcha think?

Should adherence to a theme be rigorous? No way. I think the best themes in our homes, our kitchens, our families, our fun times are not rules. They are markers on a map, the lattice that supports the climbing rose of our lives (wow, that was overly poetical). Once I started thinking about themes, I saw them everywhere. My preference for 1920s art, architecture and household items; my interest in handmade, rustic, artisan materials; my ever-present love of vintage fashion. All these recurring elements sprout from the same unifying idea: for me, keeping the past close makes me feel grounded, connected to those that have gone before. It gives continuity to life.

Ok, that's heavy for a post that started as a discussion of party themes. Whew. But nonetheless, I'm interested in hearing what other people think about this. Are themed events an homage to the setting/time period/holiday or a cheap imitation? Does it depend on the spirit and intent of those attending? Is corny in the eye of the beholder? I'm curious....

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Only four movies...

I watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies. Lately, TCM has been asking celebrities to guest host and select four movies they want to share with viewers. I can't imagine narrowing down my favorite movies to just four. How could I pick four? It depends entirely on my mood, the season, whether I'm alone or with friends, and on and on. Could you pick just four? I'm curious what folks would select for their top four films to share with an audience. And since I can't restrict myself to four (my post, my rules) here are some of my favs:

Chocolat: Ok, it isn't because of Monsieur Depp that I love this movie. But he doesn't hurt it, that's for sure. This is a gorgeous film that makes me warm up a mug of hot chocolate with chili powder every time. Love, love, love it. Same deal with Enchanted April, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. All good chicky-flicks.

His Girl Friday
: Rosalind Russell was one of the all-time great comedic actresses. This film is a great showcase for her talent and Cary Grant wasn't half bad either. Goofy plot but who cares. Ditto for Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series.

All About Eve
: Bette Davis, George Sanders, heck even Marilyn Monroe. This movie is really perfection. Great casting, and some of the best lines ever. Hang on for the bumpy ride. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is another doozy. Davis and Joan Crawford.

The Illusionist: This movie really stayed with me, mainly from the strong performances of Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton. That, and I'm a sucker for Houdini-style magic.

Family Plot: Greatest runaway car scene ever. Bruce Dern was hilarious. My favorite of Hitchcock's movies, except for Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Notorious..Oh dear....

Films I loved but will never watch again: Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Silence of the Lambs.

Musicals I'm not ashamed to say that I love: Singing in the Rain, Gypsy, Mame (with Rosalind Russell, not Lucille Ball), Anastasia (love the music, story is whacked).

Oh, there are just too many. Oh well. As long as TCM keeps playing 'em, my list will keep growing. Funny how my favorites never seem to be anything currently playing. Hmmmm, wonder why that is...

Is there an Elves' Union?

I decided back in October that I would make as many of my Christmas presents as possible this year. You'd think that starting in October would have given me plenty o'time to get them all done, but not so. I still have several projects that are in various stages of construction. I've basically given up any other daytime activity during the week, so you can imagine the state of my house. The pressure is really on to finish all these up before the big day. According to my scheduling calendar, (yes, I had to plan it out with a calendar) I should be done in time. My wonderful family reads this blog so I can't divulge what's on my craft table (yes, we had to install a craft table in our office so I'd have somewhere to work) but as soon as the gifts are given, I'll post photos of all the work. Hint: most of the items are embroidered and crocheted.

So, if this is so much work, why am I doing it? Because even though it is time-consuming, it is great knowing that these things from my tired, carpal-tunnel prone hands are going to those that I love. The fact that these are all unique and individual makes me happy and I really like that I didn't run to a box store and grab something labeled "stocking stuffer". That's not to say that folks who buy their gifts are taking short cuts (backpedals slowly), quite the contrary. Finding a good special gift out at the mall takes time and patience to handle the insane crowds. But for me, this year, I wanted to give my lumpy, bumpy, slightly off-center gifts, made with lots o' love (Ah....ain't that special....)

If you want to give some homemade lovin' but don't have the time or skill to make gifts, check out Tons o'crafters have amazing items up for sale - jewelry, leather items, T-shirts, you name it. Plus the money goes to artisans not chain stores. (Steps down from soap box).

Ok, back to work. Santa gets really nasty if we elves take too long on our smoke/pee breaks.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Testing, testing, 123

I just downloaded Windows Live Writer and I am testing this out here. My anti-Windows husband recommended I give it a whirl, so that alone made it worthy of downloading. It lets me write my blogposts in my blog's format, so things look as they will look in the blog. I'm hoping it has other bells and whistles that make it worthwhile, but since it was free, meh.

Anywho, Elvis has left the building...

Random Recipe Monday - Russian Tea

Matryoshka from wikipedia
For some reason, I am way into Russian images and iconography right now. St. Basil's Cathedral? Check. Matryoskas? Check. Big tall Cossack hats? Check. No idea why. My heritage isn't Russian but I've been fascinated by tsar-era Russia for sometime (I did a 25-page report on the entire Romanov dynasty in 10th grade; I should have apologized to my teacher).

Russian tea always seems like a good winter beverage. You can go whole По-русски and make your tea in a samovar, or just drink it out of the saucer, as those in the know do. You can make a Mad Russian by adding brandy to it, if that's your thang. Go Rasputin on it, if you like.

You'd be amazed how many recipes for Russian Tea include Tang. I had no idea that not only the astronauts but the cosmonauts were into that stuff. Oh, and fyi - the famous Russian Tea Room in NYC started in 1927. See? All good stuff began in the 20s.

Russian Tea (courtesy of
8 tb Black Ceylon tea leaves
2 tb Whole cloves
3 tb Fresh orange peel or
- Tangerine peel
4 ea Cinnamon sticks whole
1/2 c Honey
1/4 c Lemon juice frshly squeezed

Place the tea leaves, the cloves, the orange peel, and the cinnamon sticks into a cheese cloth or muslin bag and tie the top tightly. Bring 2 quarts of water to a brisk boil, add the the bag, remove from the heat, and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Add the honey & lemon juice and serve. This tea may be made in advance and kept for 2-3 days if it is covered and refrigerated.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Childhood is calling...

Ok, that's a trademark phrase, so Kellogg's lawyers: don't sue me. I'm making a batch of Rice Krispie Treats today. Puffed rice, marshmallow and butter somehow transforms when it is all together into a really delicious treat. As with all wonderful things, Rice Krispies had their start in the 1920s - 1928 to be precise. But the treats didn't come on the scene until the early 1940s.

The whole "snap, crackle, pop" thing has been around along time but when I found this list of translated slogans at wikipedia, I had to giggle:
Canadian French: "Cric! Crac! Croc!"
Spanish: "Pim! Pum! Pam!"
German: "Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!"
Swedish: "Piff! Paff! Puff!"
Finnish: “Riks! Raks! Poks!”
Dutch: Pif! Paf! Pof!

I have a hard time imagining the French eating Rice Krispies, but maybe they like a batch of ooey-gooey treats just as well as the next kid. The recipe for these little yummies is right on the box, so I won't even post it here. I'm fixing up a double batch, turning on Dean Martin Christmas songs and pulling my fake tree out of its box. Childhood is calling.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Holy Ice Crystal, Batman, I woke up to snow today. Here in the PNW, that is something unusual. Sure, it wasn't much - just a dusting. But opening my eyes and seeing snow out my bedroom window, I was instantly giddy. And let me tell you, this girl doesn't get giddy that easy. I'm not sure why snow makes me feel all goofy inside. Maybe because snow used to mean "no school", so it was hooky all day. Maybe because there is something so beautiful about snow all over the grass, the leaves, the fence railings - well, beautiful until my labrador gets outside.

I have a thing for snowflakes. The microscopic images of them. I'm fascinated by how they look. I'm also amazed that there are people out there that collect them and photograph them. The closest I've ever come to seeing the individual shape of a snowflake was when I found one on a scarf that was all by its lonesome and I could make out the tiny fronds and points of part of it, before it melted away.

The thing I like best about snow around here is that it doesn't last. It comes, gives me a cheap thrill and then goes away. I wouldn't want to live in places where snow hangs around, where snow plows pile it up on sidewalks, where it turns nasty black from exhaust and sanding. I like snow when it first falls, but a day or so is all I want. Kinda like really good chocolate or some other confection; just a taste of it to savor, then no more. If snow came all the time, I wouldn't be giddy at the sight of it, and I like feeling giddy now and then.