Sunday, November 30, 2008

"You are a good housekeeper, Mommy..."

"You keep the flies out of the house." High praise from my eight year old. I guess I should be glad that he notices anything that I do around the house.

Last night, we decked the halls (or started the process, anyway) and put up our tree. I'm still working on how to get the outdoor lights strung, but here are a few snaps from the living room:
NR's Candy Canes
Our kitty under the tree - love the green and gold eyes
Close up of the mantle
My Scandinavian heart garland

Friday, November 28, 2008

The girl's got it

I've been a long time fan of Rosalind Russell. Ever since I first saw her in His Girl Friday with Cary Grant. She was the only Auntie Mame for me (forget the Lucille Ball version) and I absolutely loved her in Gypsy, even if her singing was augmented by another.

Yep, I think Roz was one class act - beautiful, hilarious, strong and sassy, and above all she had a spirit to carry through, in all her roles. Even in the comedic ones, maybe especially in the comedic ones, that spirit is there.

My sister reminds me of Rosalind Russell. Not only is she also beautiful, hilarious, strong and sassy, but most especially she has that same spirit. Nothing can stop her, nothing can hold her back or get her down. She is absolutely the embodiment of Auntie Mame's adage to "Live, live, live" and no matter what, that spirit will see her through.

Bee, I thought you could use a little lift to defy gravity. Love you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sailing, pillaging and baking - it's a viking thing

Ok, so the Vikings weren't bakers; no room for a puffy hat on top of those horn helmets. But they did sail and pillage and generally roam the world, bringing back treasure to the Norse homeland. One of those treasures was cardamom. You know, the spice. You gotta hand it to those hearty seafarers that they managed to make it so far in their big dragon headed boats; depending on who tells the story, they picked up cardamom in India, Constantinople or somewhere in the middle east. And you thought they only discovered America.

So cardamom makes its way from Viking ships to Scandinavian bakeries. Quite an interesting tale, I'm sure, but we'll save that for another day. The point (and yes, I do have one) is that cardamom is a very popular spice in Scandinavia, particularly in baked goods. Myself, I really like cardamom. I'm not sure I could accurately describe the flavor to someone who hasn't tried it but think "sweet", "aromatic" and "pungent" (wikipedia's best description). Weirdly, it works in sweets as well as Swedish meatballs and even Indian curries (the land of its birth).

So, yesterday I baked up a coffee cake for breakfast, featuring cardamom. Inspired by my Scandinavian Christmas projects, I thought a wedge of this cake and some good coffee (thanks, Mom for the great "Royal Vinter") would start me off right. Sure enough, the cake was great from the oven but even better in the evening when hubby had it for dessert. I upped the salt in the recipe and I used ground cardamom, rather than pulverizing fresh cardamom pods, but otherwise I made it as is. If you need a nice coffee cake to take to the neighbors or when you go out pillaging on the seas, you might give this one a try.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ya sure you betcha, it's Christmas (almost)

I said this a few days ago but I'm excited to put up my Christmas tree. Some years, I really dread doing it and I put it off until the last moment. That's a stinky, Grinchy, Bah-Humbug kind of attitude, huh? Yeah, well, I have small streak of Grinch if I'm not careful.

But not this year. This year, I'm in the Spirit - spike the egg nog, Auntie Mame on roller skates, capital S kind of Spirit. I'm also inspired by those countries that know a thing or two about snow, the land of my forefathers/mothers - Norway. Yeah, the spirit hasn't completely made me crazy; I won't be sampling lutefisk or donning the St. Lucia crown of burning candles. But I will be adding some Scandinavian spirit to the festivities this year. What makes it Scandinavian, you ask? Plenty of red and white, heart motifs, snowy stuff and gnomes, of course. Well, that's my version anyway. I suppose someone in Stockholm might have a different perspective, but this is my interpretation.

I'll be conjuring up a few decorations and posting photos in December but I thought a little inspiration from Flickr was in order. There are some amazing (and mundane and weird) photos on Flickr, as well as some things that inspire me for Christmas. Here are some of my favorites:

The gnome knows...
Originally uploaded by DesignMinistry
The gnome knows....says DesignMinistry on Flickr.

Originally uploaded by Ravenhill Designs
Handknit Norwegian sweater transformed into a felted heart. Look for Ravenhill Designs stuff on Etsy.

Christmas in Sweden
Originally uploaded by Vif
"Christmas in Sweden" by Vif on Flickr.

Spotty heart
Originally uploaded by cowshedboutique
A Beautiful Norwegian Christmas Garland, Posted by cowshedboutique on Flickr.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And have you met my house?

Manderley, Pemberley, Twelve Oaks...Fictional houses (or more likely estates) have names. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." is one of the best opening lines from a novel (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier) in my opinion. Part of what makes that book so great is the personality of the home. Mr. Darcy has Pemberley and Ashley Wilkes has Twelve Oaks. People in fiction live in houses with character, full of characters, and I think some of it has to do with names.

Real people live in houses with names too, though they tend to be more of the Martha Stewart variety (her home, Cantitoe Corners, not only has a name (albeit less poetic than Manderley) but also a sycamore tree as her motif). I think it is safe to say that most houses don't have names, let alone motifs, and I think that is a shame. Why should only the rich, those living on estates and with multiple places to call home get the fun of naming their house? Why is a rambler or split level or condo any less worthy of a moniker? Probably because we the owners feel silly calling our home by a proper name. There seems to be something pretentious, something fictional in calling a house by a name, right? Maybe that is because the only houses we know of with names are either fictional or belong to people who might have a reputation of being a bit...well...pretentious. (Sorry, Martha, but you know it is true.)

And I say again that is too bad. For all that our homes do for us and mean to us, you'd think they'd rate something better than "the house" when we talk about them. Even cars often get names from their owners, but houses not so much. Well, why not buck the trend and find a name that really suits your place. You could go hog wild and pick out a motif and fix up some notepads in Print Shop - something goofy or silly or even serious.

Why on earth would I do that, I hear you saying, you curmudgeon you. And I respond with Why ever not? Lord knows the rich get to have enough fun as it is; we of the more modest incomes can have some freebie fun ourselves. Besides, with hard times showing us all just how important our homes are, making them just a bit more personal and a bit more welcoming is no bad thing. And just to help you out, here's a little list of names you can freely claim as your own (I'll tell you my choice at the end):

Miss Equity
Dorothy (there is no place like...)
Fawlty Towers
Hatfield (or McCoy)
Ramblin Rose
Bedlam (sometimes that's the only name that fits)
Cozy Hole
Bag End (or insert your favorite literary reference)
Falcon Crest (or whatever 80s TV show floats your boat)

Me, I'm leaning toward Fanny. My house has a great fan window over the front door, but beyond that the name just makes me think of baskets of yarn, a fat kitty, books everywhere and a few cookies tucked away, just in case. That about sums up the house perfectly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I knew there was a reason I voted for him....

Glad to know the next Prez and I share a fondness for cupcakes. I wonder what kind they were...

Oh and speaking of pie (weren't we?), don't miss this great essay about pie at the Huffington Post. I love the phrase Sentimental Americanism. Who knew pie is the salve that can heal our wounded nation. Well, duh, right?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Isn't it December yet?

I'm not sure what it is about this particular November but it feels like it has been exceptionally long. That's silly to say when today is only the 17th but it just feels like November has stretched out. Not that I'm bursting for December to come, I'm not. Don't get me wrong; I love December. Sort of. Preparing for Christmas is always a lot of work, especially when you are penny pinching. As much as I love enjoying Christmas day, the prep work leading up to it can be daunting. Especially when I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right.

I always have this list of things I want to do, things that seem important and if I don't get to them, I'm disappointed. I wanted to make advent wall calendars this year for the kids; don't know if that will happen or not. I am still finishing up homemade presents, though I'm in better shape this year than I was last year. I want to really deck the halls outside with lots of lights but that is easier said than done when 1) you are afraid of heights and 2) you live in a two story house.

This year has an added challenge (or opportunity, if you have a good attitude) because I'm spending half of each day homeschooling NR. We're going to looking at different holidays, learning about Hanukkah and more about Christmas. We're going to talk about the winter solstice and Kwanzaa and just generally be really cognizant of each day during December and what it means to different people. That means I have to have my act together. Not only do I have to have the information but the activities, stories and songs that go along with it. Yeah, that's going to be challenging.

I could reduce the celebrating - forgo the Victorian high tea that I'm looking forward to, skip the local Christmas craft fairs, steer clear of the twinkling lights tours. Sure, that would free up a lot of time. But isn't it the special stuff that makes December, well, special?

So I'm not rushing toward December but I am looking forward to it. November has always felt like a placeholder month for me anyway. Sure, Thanksgiving is there for we Americans but as soon as Halloween is done, I start looking toward the evergreen boughs and Santa hats. Anticipation is 9/10ths of Christmas anyway, in my book. No, I won't get those stuffed "Twelve Days of Christmas" ornaments done in time for this year but maybe they'll be ready for next time. I just need to keep reminding myself that Christmas doesn't have to be perfect; we just need to be present and living in the moment.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Snaps

A new tea cozy joins his owl brethren.

Meatloaf basics

The stock for French Onion soup to come

NR's "Lion and Camp Bufulo" reminds me of Picasso.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Everybody needs a hero....

We all have people we admire, right? Sometimes for big things (Barack Obama) or smaller things (that nice lady who let you cut into line with just those two items). And sometimes, well...there's admiration that goes a tad beyond. I'm not talking stalking or channeling Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs - nothing too nutball, you understand. But I admire just a tad beyond a wonderful blogger named Alicia Paulson. Alicia's blog, Posie Gets Cozy, has a zillion fans so I am just one in the crowd, but I really enjoy her point of view, her wonderful craft projects, her beautiful photography, and her way of making each moment seem special. I mostly lurk on her blog, but I visit often and I daydream about being able to sew like Alicia, take photos like Alicia and generally be like the Oh-So-Talented Ms. Paulson.

You can imagine my captured heart's delight when I saw months ago that she had her first book coming out in November (see my link in the widget below - it's been there since preordering). With much delight last night, I opened my copy of Stitched in Time, delivered from Amazon. You know how some things just take you away? Like good books, favorite movies or even a long soak in the tub? Well, reading through Alicia's book was a little mental holiday and I enjoyed every minute of it. It's packed with gorgeous photos, adorable projects and just the kind of domestic bliss that I crave. I've even completed one of the projects for a Christmas gift and I'm working on another.

She'll be in town in December for a book signing and I plan to go. I've never had (or wanted) a book signed before but I really would like her to sign this one. Yes, I know it is a bit weird to be so interested in a total stranger, but that is the great thing about blogging - you get to know people just by reading their posts and looking into their lives.

So Alicia, if you stumble upon this post, thanks for having such a great perspective and a fresh look at homemaking. Best wishes with the book.

Book Review: Martha Stewart's Cooking School

Whatever your opinions about Martha, the lady knows how to cook. No flash in the pan is she; her many years in the culinary spotlight have proven her skill. Still, when I am looking for recipes, I don't usually check her website. I guess I have the impression that her food is fussy, that it takes exotic ingredients and that it is expensive to make. Martha's new book is changing my opinion.

Martha Stewart's Cooking School was just published in October, yet my wonderful library already has a copy. I'm glad it does because it has given me a chance to dig into this huge book without paying the list price of $45 (though Amazon has it on sale right now, so that's a good thing).

Written with an eye toward mastering the basics, the text covers the differences in certain chopping techniques (like what a medium dice really means versus finely chopped - yeah these things do matter if you want consistent results), when to use certain knives or herbs or kitchen equipment. The book begins at soup and each recipe is geared to teach you a different skill or to serve as a basis for moving on.

I made her version of beef stew (albeit with a little tweaking for family dislikes) and it turned out very well. Ingredients were added in stages, rather than all at once - which makes sense. The potatoes don't need to cook as long as the beef or they will get mushy. And true with all stews, it was even better the next day.

So if your library has this new book, I would recommend giving it a look. You might not take everything to heart but you might just rethink your take on Martha Stewart and her cooking.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - WWII cake

Veterans' Day is tomorrow. Right now, the population of new veterans seems to be growing and the population of old veterans declining. No matter the war front, we are grateful for their service and I hope everyone can thank their veterans or remember the ones that are now gone.

In that spirit, I thought a recipe from the past might be interesting and for those who are lucky to still have WWII vets in their lives, perhaps a bit nostalgic. I found this recipe at recipecurio, which is a new site to me but one I'll be checking out frequently - she has done a great job preserving older recipes.

This particular recipe was written in the time of rationing so you'll notice the absence of butter or shortening. Not such a bad idea from a cholesterol standpoint anyway. I think the "milk" should be whole milk though. The cake recipe is called "spring beauty" but lemon flavor in November sounds fine by me.


1 cup sifted Swans Down Cake Flour
1 teaspoon Calumet Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons hot milk.

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, and sift together three times. Beat eggs with rotary egg beater until thick enough to stand up in soft peaks (5 to 7 minutes); add sugar gradually, beating constantly. Add lemon juice. Fold in flour, a small amount at a time. Add hot milk and stir quickly until thoroughly blended. Turn at once into ungreased tube pan and bake in moderate oven (350° F.) 35 minutes, or until done. Remove from oven and invert pan, 1 hour, or until cold. Remove from pan.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

CCR and Chicken Fried Steak

It is a rainy gray day here. Not the kind of oh-look-it-is-raining-let's-get-out-the-galoshes kind of day, but the man-is-it-pouring-where-is-my-teakettle kind of day. Days like this inspire the comfort food craving in me, but for some reason I'm also channeling a bit of southern drawl too today. I've had Creedence Clearwater Revival on the brain and a hankering (how's that for southern) for chicken fried steak, with gravy, thank you.

While looking for economical meals that aren't all casseroles (not that there is anything wrong with that, but sometimes a girl wants meat), I stumbled onto a country fried steak recipe in my favorite southern cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea (see widget below for the link if y'all are interested). The beauty of country fried steak is that cubed steak is cheap cheap cheap but tastes great. Throw on some mashed taters and white gravy - mmmmm, sounds like some fine eating to me.

So that's what's for dinner tonight. Unfortunately, I can't find a link to Martha Foose's great recipe (the benefits of buying the book, I guess) but I suspect that Paula Deen's version might just work as well. I'm using cubed steak in mine.

Here's a little CCR to enjoy while you fry up those Fogerty found pants that matched the leather sofa he is sitting on is beyond me...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Taking the day

I'm taking the day to just let last night's monumental results sink in. Amid the daily stuff of preparing math lessons, drying another load of clothes, putting away dishes and worrying about the thinness of my wallet, I find myself stopping to smile, to tear up, to remember some of the most amazing words I've heard from a politician.

I don't think there will be a more important election in my lifetime. I will not forget the images from last night and the pride on all the faces in the crowd. Whether you supported Barack Obama or not, last night was historic and has changed the history of America.

Oh look at me, getting all Olbermann on you here. So I'll hush up and get back to making my lentil soup. But really, let's all take the day to reflect on this. What a difference 24 hours can make.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - American Pie

Well, it is here. Finally. After the longest election cycle I can remember, election day is tomorrow and the choice will be made. I'm so nervous right now. Even back in the 2000 race I wasn't this engaged in the outcome, this worried about the future.

NR and I are having a civics lesson about it tomorrow. He will be coming with me to the polls, watching the process. We've been talking about voting already - he has filled out ballots for his dinner selection to see democracy in action - but he is still fuzzy as to what the heck the United States is all about. (So am I sometimes) I hope he'll get a better idea when he sees the big map for the election returns and we talk about which states voted for Obama and which for McCain.

So, rather than post a real recipe, I thought a little nostalgic pie would settle my stomach. A slice of Don McLean anyone?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Spooktacular Fun

Ok, I couldn't resist the pun. But it is true - we had a very fun Halloween indeed. NR hosted his second annual bash and it was just the kind of party that I love - the kind where the guests bring all the food! Other than some cheesy brains and severed fingers (mac n' cheese with kielbasa), everybody else brought the goods. We had sticky bat wings and legs, lady fingers and men's toes, pumpkin dip, devil eggs, shrimp salad, pumpkin cake, popcorn balls and caramel apples, loads of candy and three rambunctious children. As guests, not on the menu.

Trick or treating, classic Scooby Doo and a rousing game of Betrayal on the House on the Hill - many highlights. But none higher than a performance by the ghost of Ben Cartwright himself...err...herself. So adorable that it had to go straight to YouTube. See for yourself.