Monday, June 30, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Dinosaur Egg Meatloaf

NR's been loving dinosaurs lately (check out the details of our visit to the museum here) so I thought I'd give a shout out to the would-be palentologists in the crowd. Here's a meatloaf, shaped like an egg, with a surprise "yolk" inside (cheese, naturally). Nothing says dinosaur liked ground and pressed meat. Rawr.

Three tickets to Paradise...

Yesterday was hot here, what folks would call a scorcher. It was hot on Saturday too and we had already gone to a movie (Wall-E) and a swim then, so Sunday was a day without air-conditioning on the horizon. Our house, mid-century wonder that it is, gets hot and stays hot, so the family concocted a plan for keeping cool. We'd spend the day doing stuff somewhere else.

Now, that might sound like a basic plan, but when pressed to find places to go to stay cool, it isn't as easy as you'd think. Who wants to spend all day in a shopping mall? The library was an option but not a good one for a seven year old - too many Shhhhs. We decided to take a jaunt to the local Natural History Museum in Seattle to check out dinosaur bones. NR's been really grooving on them lately and I was fairly sure that the museum would be a cool place we could hang out and get into Triceratops. I was partially right. The museum had Triceratops and other interesting specimens (NR loved the mastadon skeleton) but it lacked AC. It was just slightly warmer in the building than the 90 degrees outside, so we wandered the marble halls and were mindful not to slip in our sweat.

An hour or so later and we were back outside, in the shank of the heat. What to do now, we wondered. We could go to Ikea, I suggested, half-heartedly. Nope, let's go to Mount Rainier, Hubby said. Sure, why not, said I.

Off we went, slurping Slurpees (all road trips require Slurpees) and rocking out to The Eagles, Don McClean, S&G (Simon and Garfunkel, to the uninitiated). We figured we dash on into the park and head up to the summit area called Paradise. Well, the dashing lasted as long as the highway to the US National Park entrance. Funny how both Hubby and I had forgotten that the road up to the summit winds through the forest. Gorgeous forest, with snow melt waterfalls, gushing rivers, pinky-purple flowers on the rocks, but curves nonetheless. Let's just say it took some time to get to the top. But once there, we left the heat and entered snow - melting snow with plenty of dirt streaks, but snow that folks were playing in and tossing about in their shorts and sandals. Once at the top it was well passed four o'clock so we had just enough time to stretch our legs, walk in the snow, toss some snowballs, hit the bathrooms in the lodge, and head on back down the mountain. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and started to go the very long way back, around the rear of Rainier, which would have added another hour or more to our drive home. Luckily, only twenty minutes into that faux pas we discovered our error and hurried back.

The curves at dusk, behind pokey cars, give plenty of time to examine the old growth trees and the green that is everywhere. It really is a gorgeous place, one that local folks should check out again if they haven't been in awhile. Once back out on the highway, we made the long trek home, listening to NR belt the chorus to Slow Ride (by Foghat, courtesy of Guitar Hero) for twenty minutes or so. [Click on my Podcast button on the right to hear a sample.]

We arrived home just in time for his bedtime and a nice 85 degrees inside. Such heat requires three things - a dish of ice cream, a circulating fan pointing inches away from you and back to back viewings of the West Wing. Yep, Paradise. Rainier View from Paradise

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rebel without a pin

I've been thinking about installing a retractable clothesline when we move to the new house. I know that I won't use it all the time; northwest weather is just too unpredictable and wet for that, but on sunny days, I thought I could save a little energy and get my towels and sheets dry in the sun. My idea has met with some skepticism.

The first thing mentioned was "crunchy towels". It's true that towels get stiffer and scratchier on the line than in the dryer, but for me, that doesn't seem like a big deal. I don't wear the towel, after all - it just sucks up water, so the stiffness doesn't seem like a big deal.

Lugging wet towels outside and making sure they don't get rained on was also a concern. I agree the rain might be an issue and lugging towels isn't anyone's idea of fun, but the new clothesline won't be that far from the dryer and Lord knows I could use some exercise.

The skeptics also mentioned how the clothesline will look like the Clampetts (a la The Beverly HillBillies). The line will be in the backyard, so I don't think the neighbors will care - but that argument has some legs. Apparently, there is a legal controversy over home associations that have banned clotheslines, presumably for lowering property values. Some courts have ruled that these restrictions are illegal. The humble clothesline appears to be a line drawn in the air for some folks. Project Laundry has a place where you can register if your community won't allow clotheslines, as well as advocacy information.

I pick my battles and taking on my HOA over a clothesline probably isn't one I would launch, especially since my use is something that would have to be seasonal. I just find it interesting that something as simple as drying clothing in the sun can be an issue that folks have to fight for and about.

Hmmmm...well, we'll see if I get the line or not (and if I use it or not). I'm still researching the crunchy towels angle. Anyone using a radical, rebellious clothesline?

*Another great photo from the Library of Congress collection on Flickr

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Homemade Carnival

Yesterday was good and bad. Mostly good, I'm glad to report. The bad came early though when my sister and I tried to take our kids to a place we had known in our childhood called Enchanted Village. Back in the day, it was a place with kiddie rides, storybook shaped buildings, cotton candy and mini golf, all tucked into a cute woodsy area. It was a year-round attraction and a fun place to spend a day. Many years ago, the park had added on a water slide park. Over time, the water slides became the big deal but the rides and kiddie stuff was still available when the water park was closed.

Fast forward to now. We pulled up to the park and noticed that only the "Wild Waves" sign remained. The roller coaster track was there but no cars were moving on it. The Hansel and Gretel shaped rooflines were still visible from the trees but that side of the area looked run down from our street side view. We paid our ten dollars to park (!) and stood in line for admission. The signs only mentioned Wild Waves and the prices were sky high (it would have been over $120 just for four of us). We made it to the counter and asked about Enchanted Village. Could we just go to the rides? We didn't want any of the water attractions. Nope. The parks had merged and it appeared that Wild Waves had pulled a Tsunami on the Enchanted Village. The kiddie rides and play areas of the past appeared to have been swallowed up by swimming pools and water slides.

Back into the car we went - two sad kids and two sadder parents. I was really disappointed at not being able to share those same rides with my son. My excitement at seeing the boys go down the big slide on a potato sack or ride the mini coaster was even stronger than their desire for cotton candy.

Not to be defeated, we hatched a plan to create our own carnival at home. Fueled mainly by cotton candy, kettle corn and sno-cones, our carnival would feature a world-class slip n' slide, a swing set and icy water from a garden hose. A few stops on the way home found us loaded with our carnival treats and our slip n' slide. We set it all up and let the kids eat their fill of the treats. Slipping, sliding, running and getting muddy were all on the menu, as were carnival hot dogs and chips for dinner. The carnival wound down when the sun set with two tired, happy, and sugar-fed kids wanting to know when the carnival would be up again for business.

Our next carnival will have some midway games - sack race, egg and spoon, wheelbarrow race - and will likely come to town again on the Fourth of July. We'll get some prizes, some tickets to redeem for treats and yet more cotton candy. My son will be tasked with drawing our carnival poster and perhaps a dip in a wading pool will be featured this time. At our carnival, the crowds are small and the service is personal.

So, like I said, it was a good and bad day. If Enchanted Village had been there, we would have had some great Kodak moments, but we wouldn't have figured out our own carnival and made our own fun. All in all, the homemade carnival had all the fun we wanted. We didn't recreate memories, we made new ones.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Paper Dolls

Photo from Liverpool museums

My husband sent me a nifty link to vintage Consumer Report photos. From the 1930s through the 1970s, you can see such forward thinking (or "what were they thinking) products as a record player for your car, motorized scouring pads, instant button on, and radio sunglasses. But the thing that caught my attention was the photo of a Paper Dress. Yep, a garment made of paper (more like the texture of a dried out baby wipe actually) by the Scott paper company (yes, the paper towel people).

Now, believe it or not, I've actually owned a paper bathing suit. That sounds ridiculous (and it was to some degree) but it was like a waxed tablecloth - something water resistant but meant for only one wearing. I bought it on a vacation when I had forgotten my suit for the pool (or rather, my mom bought it - I think I was about 12 or so). I remember that two piece; it was blue and white houndstooth pattern and I thought it was so funny (and somewhat novel) at the time.

Apparently, novel is another term for space age. At least that is what Paper Dress makers thought in the 1960s. Shift dresses were available for a dollar from Scott Paper. Designers actually were working in paper and large department stores like Sak's, Gimble's and Lord & Taylor had Paper departments. Paper hats, dresses, slippers, earrings, wedding dresses and pillow cases...nothing was off limits.

Now, wearing paper would certainly cut down on laundry and facing a big stack of washing makes that idea seem a bit appealing, but I can't really imagine how this fad ever took off. Paper costumes are noisy, drafty and can tear so easily - not to mention the risk of fire. In the end, according to a Collector's Guide to fashions from the 50s and 60s, it was the flammability that was the demise of the paper dress - not any of the other drawbacks.

Still - I wonder how long it will be before these disposable garments resurface as the latest and greatest. They'll be made from recycled materials, no doubt, and the inks will be made from soy or something else earth-friendly. They will be sturdy, reusable and cheap - the perfect outfit for the common (wo)man - or so the advertisers will say.

Actually, this probably already exists. I'm probably just behind the times.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Black Bean and Mango Dip

On Saturday, my sister hosted a party celebrating my brother-in-law's graduation from college. It was a nice affair, with family and friends, and tons of Caribbean-themed food. My sister made enough chicken and shrimp kabobs to feed all of Jamaica, I think.

I like dip so I offered to bring one. In my usual fashion, I try out a new recipe and take my chances on whether it will be any good or not. I know, kinda risky when it is for an occasion, but that's how I roll. Using Google, as always, I found a Caribbean Black Bean and Mango dip. The recipe called for layering it in a pie dish - I'm sure for a more picturesque presentation. I said phooey to that and mixed it all together. I'm glad I did because I liked the flavors melded together. I made it early on the day of the party and that worked out just fine.

The recipe called for some chopped tomatoes, which I omited so as to not freak out the guests (some people are still worried about the recent salmonella scare). Now that I've tried the dip, I wouldn't use them anyway. I think I'd use corn kernels instead. It was fine as is, but the corn might add a bit extra to the mix.

So, give the dip a try if you have a bit of sour cream, cream cheese, black beans, mango, jalapeno, cilantro and various spices on hand - and heck, who doesn't always have those handy, huh? (yeah, right)

Friday, June 20, 2008

All Around the Kitchen

I could resist. I found a video on Youtube for one of NR's favorite songs when he was a few years younger. Dan Zanes (of former Del Fuegos fame) has made a new career doing children's music. This song for some reason just stays in my brain and I find myself humming it in odd places - sometimes even in the kitchen.

Happy Friday!

If you find yourself strangely attached to this, check out House Party and his version of Waltzing Mathilda.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Some updates, as promised...yeah, really.

I promised to update you on my badge progress, so here 'tis:

I've received the first level badge in Aprons and Intermediate level badges for both Crochet and Embroidery. As soon as I find my camera in the midst of this packing, I'll be submitting my photos for Tatting (lace making, not tattoos). I'll have to find five people to teach crochet to if I want to go for Expert, so I'm not sure that's gonna happen. It will be a month before I can work on any new levels or badges. (Update: you gotta click on Speck's badges in the comments - they are amazing and she made them for me!)

In further updates, our veggie garden is alive, surprisingly, given the weather this June. Unfortunately, the yellow cucumbers didn't make it through the cold snap. The tomato plants are growing, if not sprouting tomatoes, and the pepper plants seem to be getting taller. The odd experiment, our four corn stalks in a planter, do seem to be growing taller and thicker, but once we get the planter at the new place and against a wall for support, I think it will do better. We still need to get the pumpkin seeds in - hope that we haven't missed the window of opportunity.

I'm still working up my recipes for the contests, so nothing to report on that front.

We now return you to your regular scheduled and interesting programming....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Talk about Nostalgic Homemaking

It was news to me that during the Works projects of the FDR administration, photographers were sent out to capture everyday American life. I suppose I knew those black and white photos of roadstands, farms, city streets had to come from somewhere, but I never bothered to think about it, I suppose. Well, even more surprising than an agency created for the purpose of collecting and preserving Americana during the dark days of the Depression and WWII, is the fact that some of these rare images are in color. Yep, Kodachrome color - brand new technology.

Most of us think in terms of black and white when we think of that time period. Dustbowl departees, desolate farmers, aprons in shades of gray. But a fraction of the photos taken were in color and those photos are accessible now from the Library of Congress. Even the government has gotten into Flickr, because you can find the images there for free. For those who want a more streamline, edited version, with commentary, the book Bound for Glory does a nice job explaining the projects and the photographers who did the work, as well as highliging some of the best images from the collection.

I've found several photos that I have really enjoyed and a few surprises. Bet you wouldn't have guessed how popular dusky peach nail polish was for women during the Depression, women who worked the fields with their barefoot kids along side them, chipped nail polish clearly visible in the photos. The photos of Pie Town are especially poignant and worth a look.

*Photo found here, taken in Pie Town, New Mexico no less.

Finally.....we are moving!

We've been trying to buy a house since January and it has finally happened. The first problem was making an offer on a house that was subject to a short sale (boy, never again!). That kept us wait for over four months. Then after giving up on that house and starting the search again, we had a serious of false starts (houses selling out from under us mainly) until we found our current place.

Maybe all that was for something because this house is in the same school district we wanted but bigger, newer and has a huge room that will be solely dedicated to my craftiness (at last, a place to sew, glue, crochet and store all my supplies - yippee!).

We close on July 8, so we'll be busy bees that week. Unfortunately, we already scheduled a camping trip for that weekend so the timing is a bit off, but who cares! I can stop searching every real estate website, burning gas driving around the would-be homes, and living in boxes (we're partially packed, since January - yeah, it has been awful).


Monday, June 16, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Darkness on the Delta

I have no idea how to classify this dessert, other than by calling it a somewhat frozen, very chocolatey and incredibly easy cake wedge. Most things can be categorized - pie, pudding, cake, what have you. This one has me stumped. Hubby thought maybe frozen fudge, but that doesn't seem right. You'll have to be the judge. All I know is it comes from a wonderful cookbook by Martha Hall Foose, titled Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook , and it was easy to make with things I had on hand. It made a nice treat for Father's Day and one piece was definitely rich enough.

The best way to check out "Darkness on the Delta" is to get the book, which I think you'll be pleased with. But, barring that, it is also available online in Delta Magazine. Fudgy, cool, bittersweet - yep, that's good enough for me on a summer evening.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Daddy Daughter Dances

Long ago, in High School, there were annual events that were advertised boldly on great sheets of colored paper and poster paint. Prom, Tolo, Homecoming, Mother/Daughter Tea and Daddy/Daughter Dances.

Each year, during the winter (if memory serves), the DDD would be held somewhere with a "chicken or beef" type dinner, a DJ and a room full of fathers with their teenage daughters. I'm probably remembering it through foggy eyes, but the girls were dressed up (likely in some kind of Laura Ashley knock-off dress, all floral and poofy in the sleeves, perhaps with a matching hair barrette; what can I say, it was the 80s) and the dads were sporting suits and looking a bit uncomfortable. The large dining tables required small talk, often with people we barely knew at school - let alone their dads. It was awkward, even for someone like my dad who is seasoned at small talk (years of practice in his business life, but still not something that he really digs - who does really love small talk?)

More awkward than the meal though was the dancing after. The little parquet floor was indeed little - hardly more than a postage stamp. The fathers would escort their daughters to the floor and an odd melange of 1960s and 1980s would emerge. Most of the girls didn't know the first thing about partner dancing; the closest I ever came to doing it well was during musical theatre performances and somehow the dances from "Hello Dolly" never seemed to come back into fashion. The fathers would stumble a bit, trying to look cool in an impossible situation. Forget those commercials of brides and dads waltzing lovingly and all dewy-eyed; most of these dads were trying not to step on their kids and the girls were trying not to look at their dads while they danced.

For me, as a shy kid who hid her shyness by singing, dancing at these events was really tough. For my dad, it was probably a little tougher. My dad and mom are cute together when they dance but my dad and I make a odd looking pair. Dad too is shy and I know going to this kind of thing was something he really wouldn't want on his own, but that was the point. He did it for me.

I remember getting a corsage for one of these dances. I think it was pink. I'm sure mom had ordered it for him but I remember feeling like it was something really special to be going out to dinner and dancing with my dad, a pink carnation and rose corsage pinned to my dress. I think he wore a gray suit that night, maybe even with a pink tie himself. Pretty sure we both had the chicken. We both shambled and stumbled on the parquet dance floor before making a hasty retreat, both probably relieve to be going home. But I won't forget that he brought me, taking the time to share an awkward dinner and dance with his daughter.

I appreciated it then, dad, and I remember it fondly now. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Baby steps into cheese making...queso fresco

One of my resolutions this year was to learn to make cheese. That might seem like a weird resolution, but my goal is to try something new each year and making cheese is it for 2008. I also happen to love cheese, so it seemed like a good match.

Some cheeses require equipment or unique reactants (sheep rennant, anyone?) and I'm not ready for that. I want a nice, simple, easy cheese that only takes a couple of ingredients. Queso Fresco fits the bill.

Queso Fresco is a cheese that you might have encountered on top of your favorite restaurant's enchiladas. It is a bit salty, a bit chewy and doesn't melt easily, which makes it a good topping for things. The recipe (see link above) uses milk and cider vinegar - that's it. I think I can manage that. I'm going to try it over the weekend; I'll post the results next week.

Queso Fresco is cheap to make and that's handy when fancy schmancy cheeses usually cost more than I want to spend. I've read that it substitutes well in lasagna for ricotta and that it can be made even tangier by adding lemon juice to the milk. I'll be looking for recipes that use it in casseroles, as well as dips and salads. Anyone with experience using (or making) queso fresco, please share your thoughts.

Visit for photos and information about your favorite cheeses.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Saving the world with a cookie

Did you see the film Stranger than Fiction (2006)? If not, I recommend it, particularly if you are having a no-good-very-bad-day. I won't get into the plot because this isn't a movie review, but there is a scene where Will Ferrell is being asked by an adversarial baker if his mother ever made him cookies as a child, when he was having a bad day. His reply is that his mother never really cooked.

The baker had made him those cookies as a peace offering. Through the conversation, we learn that the baker gave up law school at Harvard to save the world through baking. It makes sense in the context of the film and it makes sense to me (more sense than this post, I'm sure). There are things in this world that just make life a little more tolerable when the sun isn't shining on you. Warm from the oven cookies, hugs from people who care, somebody else making dinner, smilie faces in ink on your hand, a good nap, fresh and ice cold milk, a Judy Garland movie...

Cookies can save the world. I believe it. Some cookies are better than others but the best are made simply, with what you have on hand, when you need them most. The film ends with a good quote; "As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies..." Or Peanut Butter cookies as the case may be.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Book Review: Hello, Cupcake

By now, everybody knows my thing about cupcakes. It isn't just that they are tasty (or should be); it is the idea of them. They are so perky, so exuberant, unabashedly cute and unapologetically sweet. They appeal to kids and to grown-ups. They can be goofy, refined, at home at a six year old's party or a wedding reception.

But of all the wonderful things that cupcakes are, above all, it is the deocrating of them that takes the (cup)cake. What's on top is almost more important than below. For those who feel the same, check out an amazing book by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. Hello, Cupcake is chock full of amazing decorating plans. From circus animals, pups on leashes, werewolves, even Van Gogh's Starry Starry Night (you gotta check that out - wow). Best of all, you don't need to host a FoodNetwork show to be able to create these things. The techniques are well illustrated and the clever use of edible props (twinkies, jelly beans, etc.) make these creations possible.

Of all the fantastic and fantastical creations, I'd have to say the circus menagerie really impressed me. Personally, I loathe clowns, but for those who aren't freaked out by them, this would be an impressive birthday bash. NR has decided upon the bowling pins and bowling ball pattern for his birthday. I wondered at the choice, with all the great animal patterns available (sharks, horses, cats, to name a few) but this pint sized non-bowler really liked those pins, so that's what he's getting.

Weird as it may sound, this book is going to be a coffee table book (along with Confetti Cakes - you won't believe the Manolo Blahnik shoe cake in that book). The whimsy and whipped sugar of Hello, Cupcake just makes me smile and shouldn't be hidden in a kitchen cabinet. Check it out on Amazon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Mixed Berry Pavlova

Yesterday, I went to the Pacific Northwest Ballet with Mom and Sis (a belated Mother's Day gift to them). I hadn't been in a while and it reminded me how much I enjoy the ballet. Sure, the music is usually great and the costumes gorgeous, but what I really love about it is watching the dancers make something so impossible look like flowing water. Imagine standing on your toes, holding your body absolutely still, back arched, leg extended impossibly high and all the while you are smiling. We witnessed this last night with eight encores of the highlighted dances from the PNB season. I loved the gorgeous pas de deux from Midsummer's Night Dream and the spunky jazzy number from Dave Brubeck's Take Five...More or Less.

Ballet amazes me. I've never taken it (I took tap as a kid) but I've promised myself that in another life I will be a dancer. Goodness knows it won't be this one, ballet workout discs to the contrary. At one time in my early life, I was planning to be an opera singer and my dream part wasn't Aida, Carmen, or Butterfly; it was singing the tiny little solo that happens in the chorus of the Nutcracker. It lasts only a few moments - you probably don't even know it - but it was my dream.

Sadly, it didn't come to pass. But I still love the Nutcracker and I still love the ballet. So, that being said, here is a recipe from my favorite gal, Ina Garten, for mixed berry pavlova. Anna Pavlova was a famous Russian dancer for which this meringue dish was named. Feel free to piroutte around your kitchen while making this. I won't tell anyone.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Don't you judge me

Anybody remember Brett Butler? How about her sitcom (on ABC?) a few years back? Anyshow, she had a catch phrase from that show, said in a sassy, Southern way, that simply said "Don't you judge me." (Update: My hubby informs me that the catch phrase came from her appearances as Earl's mother on "My Name is Earl". Um, whatever.)

The show's long gone, but the phrase lives on - at least for me and hubby. Usually, it is said when one of us goes back for another piece of pie or one more cookie. We look the other dead in the (condescending) eye and say low and fiercely, "Don't you judge me." That ends all comments or ribbing.

Well, in truth, judging is something that I'm jumping into, albeit it doesn't involve overeating. I've been interested in the work of MaryJane Butters for awhile and I've enjoyed her writings on doing for yourself and making do. MaryJane runs a farm in Idaho and is the head hen of the "farmgirl movement". She stresses slowing down, going organic when you can and the importance of community.

One of the ways that the farmgirls learn long lost skills and teach others is through earning merit badges. Ok, now bear with me. It's been awhile since I was a girl scout, but I remember the pride when I received a badge for advanced chemistry, underwater basketweaving, or whatever else in which I demonstrated proficiency (sadly, I remember the pride but not the actual badges).

Now, being considerably older and less willing to wear all green as an ensemble, I am jumping back into merit badges for the kind of skills that I find important. I'm ready to demonstrate my work in crochet, embroidery, apron sewing and entrepreneurial spirt - four badges, baby! I'll be diving into the tatting, gardening, community service and public service badges next.

Is this corny? Corny as Kansas, as the song goes, but so what? In the end, I've learned new skills, brushed off old ones, met new friends and accomplished something that makes me happy. Not too shabby, if you ask me.

I guess, when you get down to it, "Judge me, please" sounds less guilt ridden and defensive than our previous catch phrase, if less tasty than that second piece of pie.

I'll update my progress, for those who care, but I do promise not to hit you up to buy any cookies. Promise.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Time in a, a pickle jar

Ok, what is it about pickles lately, huh? I guess I've had them on my mind. The big pickle in the sky must be trying to telling me something.

If you aren't familiar with pickle jar time management, imagine a big old pickle jar that is empty. Now go get as many virtual rocks (hand held size - no boulders) and put them in the jar. Stuff it to the gills with these rocks. Ok, now get some pebbles and add these to the jar as well. Find a handful or so of sand, add that in too. Finally, top the whole thing off with water. In your virtual pickle jar, you would see that a jar you thought was already stuffed with rocks had room for pebbles, sand and water as well. (Why this example uses rocks and not kosher dills, cucumber chips, relish, and pickle juice, I don't know - but you get rocks.)

So what the heck does that mean? Well, think of the rocks as your important, don't-want-to-forget to do items (cooking dinner, going to the store, doing laundry), the pebbles as the things you'd like to do (crafting, redecorating, "you" time), the sand as the stuff you must do (clean the toilet, take out the trash), and the water as small, daily, few-minutes-of-your-time kind of stuff (clean off the coffee table, wipe out the microwave). The pickle jar itself is the time you have in your day. If you filled it up first with sand or water, you would never have room for the rocks or pebbles.

Have I lost you yet? Typically, time management is applied to work outside the home but it matters just as much in the kitchen as in the boardroom. I've always been one of those people that thrives on last minute adrenaline to get me through. That can work when you have a presentation that has to be done by noon, but not so much when you are talking about laundry; that pile doesn't require a PowerPoint to your boss by 9 AM or else. Time management becomes more important when it is you who is managing your time without external forces.

I'm still figuring out the best way to stuff my pickle jar. My first task is working out exactly what needs doing and what kind of rock/pebble/sand/water category it falls into. Once I have everything identified, each day is going to be its own jar, with some days focused on laundry rocks, some focused on vacuuming rocks.

Whether your jar is a whole day or an hour after work, I think the principle is still the same. I may make a mini pickle jar literally, with NR so we can both use it as a reminder to manage our time wisely (something that is very challenging for him with Asperger's Syndrome and me because...well, just because). I don't know who was the creator of the Pickle Jar theory, but like all good things, it preserves well and it's salty (ok, no more, I promise).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A bishop's hat, a bird of paradise and a candle...

...all walk into a, wait that isn't it. What do these things have in common, you ask? Well, they are actually folds for napkins. Yes, those fancy schmancy folds for slippery napkins that are done up in restaurants the world over. Fleur de lys, the lily, the crown and the rose are all variations of folding up your napkin to impress your guests.

Why on earth am I mentioning this, you may be asking, and rightly so. Well, Father's Day is around the corner and we all know how impressed Dad is with, maybe not. But there is a particular cute folding method, aptly named The Shirt, that would be very impressive at your Father's Day breakfast. A good runner up would be The Necktie, found at the same link.

If you find yourself smitten with folding, the Internets have many resources for you. Martha shows you how to make a turkey, as well as a lotus flower.

If that's not enough, check out this book with 35 different folds for your origami inclinations.

In the end, the intricate folds are only temporary and hardly necessary, but there is something pretty nifty about seeing a table with linens folded just so.

*Visit for more illustrations from Mrs. Beeton's 1923 Family Cookery Book.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Soft pretzels

I know I've posted about pretzels before (at least I think I have) but I have to give a shout out to a pretzel recipe that I found to be incredibly easy and tasty. One day last week, I bribed my son (I'm not ashamed to admit it) and offered pretzels as the reward. He has a weakness for soft pretzels and I made him an offer he couldn't refuse; do as I say and warm-from-the-oven pretzels are yours. Ok, Mommy. (No, I don't feel guilty - is that wrong?)

Having used my bribery to good effect I then had to pony up with the goods. I tried a recipe from an amateur artisan bread baker site (try saying that a few times fast) and it was excellent. Ignore the heated debate over whether real bakers would use lye for dunking - yes, lye. Apparently, good German pretzels bakers use lye in some manner to get the crust right. A safe and successful substitute is a bit of baking soda in the boiling water bath (I used about 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in my gallon or so of boiling water.)

After that explanation I have to stress again that these are easy. Really. Of course, my sodium levels have only now returned to normal but heck, some things are worth it.