Sunday, May 1, 2016

Retro Kitchen


Hello! I hope you've had a good weekend. Thank you for your comments recently; I'm mostly feeling better now. We are heading into the silly season now that the school year is almost finished and my head is already spinning just a little bit. There are three weeks left, and they are jam-packed with activities, performances and recitals, not to mention a few medical tests and appointments for the LB (he's on a thrice-yearly schedule and we've come back around again). I'm keeping calm, for the most part; I like to be busy, as you know, and most of this stuff is fun. It's hard to believe we're back here again, though; wasn't it just August, the start of a brand-new school year? Time is kicking my butt, apparently. I may be a little scarce in blogland for the next few weeks, but I'll do my best to keep up with reading yours and updating my own.

This weekend, in between finishing up school projects, attending the final guitar lessons before next week's recitals, and trying to get a little housework done, I managed to frame my latest cross-stitch project and I'm very happy with the way it turned out. The design is Retro Kitchen, from Stitchrovia on Etsy, and it's meant to look like retro kitchenware items in a sampler layout. I first saw this design a couple of years ago and fell in love with it; I knew it would be a nice addition to my own retro-flavored kitchen decor. I sure do love old kitchen things.


Do you ever frame your own stitching? I do it sometimes, mostly to save money. I won't pretend to be good enough to write a tutorial, but I think I do it well enough to work, if that makes sense. I figure that if I do some of them myself, then I will feel better about having the others done professionally. It's all about balance, for me. This project felt like one I could do myself; the fabric is basic 14-count Aida, not linen, and the design area fits nicely in a basic 8-by-10 wooden frame (which I ordered from Amazon). I started by ironing my piece (on a clean towel, with the back facing up), spritzing with plain water to help steam the wrinkles out.


The Bear was very helpful to me in the framing process. He likes doing this kind of thing, or maybe he's just being nice; either way, it was good to have him on hand. He used an X-Acto knife to trim a piece of cardboard to slightly smaller than the frame size, to leave room for the fabric thickness around the edges of the cardboard. Then I wrapped the fabric tightly around the cardboard and tucked it all in neatly at the back, taping the edges down to make it flat. I have done this a few different ways before, sometimes using pins all around the sides, or doing big basting stitches with a needle and doubled thread across the back in both directions, but wide packing tape worked well. Maybe not the most elegant framing job, but okay. My next linen piece will get more pampering.


He didn't seem to be trying to get away very quickly, so I had him help me hang it too. He is a victim of love.


We hung it on the end wall of the breakfast nook area of the kitchen. There isn't a lot of wall space in either the work area of our kitchen, or the eating area, but I've been looking for ways to add color and interest where I can. I like the way it looks here, especially because you can see it all the way from the family room, which is open to the kitchen. I love that there are big solid areas of color in the sampler; you can see the defined shapes from far away and it looks crisp and bold. I like the way it looks with our made-by-me kitchen curtains too - bright and cheerful.


I've mentioned in previous posts about my sampler that I changed a couple of colors, and I'm really glad I did, especially the red canister in the middle, which was supposed to be dark orange. I love it with a red item right in the center, since my kitchen has lots of red in it. I really enjoyed stitching this sampler; it was easy and fun, and I'm really happy with it. I have a couple of smaller items planned for the kitchen (also designs by Stitchrovia) and I think I'll hang them on the other side of the window. They're totally retro too - a cute little teapot and coffeepot pair.


While we're in the kitchen, I wanted to show you my vintage-potholder display, which is on the wall perpendicular to the one with the window where I hung the sampler (you're looking through to the dining room and living room here; the big window above is at the front of the house). I was given two more potholders for Christmas and I recently added them to the original four I had hanging here. Most of them came from Etsy, but I found the smallest round potholder (the one at about nine o'clock) in a local antiques mall. They're all old, from the 1940's or 50's, and all are hand-crocheted. They're all gently used, which I really love. I like to imagine the people who made them, and used them, long before they came to me.


There are so many beautiful vintage potholders out there, but I'm trying to limit my collection to ones made in red and white, to go along with the color scheme in my kitchen. I have a strawberry theme and lots of red. Green seems to come with the territory where the rosy potholders are concerned and I like that too. I was trying to crochet some of my own, you may recall, but I have so much trouble crocheting with thread. Gosh, it's just really hard for me and they look very messy. I will keep trying; it would be really nice to have a few of my own up there too. I think I'll feel very accomplished when I finally master thread-crochet. I'll certainly enjoy the pretty potholders.

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Thanks again for the thoughts you've shared lately. I'm glad you liked my seedling color palettes; if you haven't tried PicMonkey for photo editing or collage-making, I recommend it highly. I hope you have a good week. Hello and welcome, new readers and followers!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Color Collaborative: April: Seedling

When I think about seedlings, I think of brand-new life - tiny, tender and immature. I imagine little shoots, or small leaves, poking up through the ground in early spring. There is hope in a seedling - it could become food for animals or people, or it could become a beautiful flowering plant or a broad, shady tree. It could help reforest the planet. Or it could be a weed that will choke off the good growth. A seedling's life might take many different directions.

I'm often struck by the way seedlings look, like miniature versions of the mature plants they will later become. All the basic parts are there. You can see early leaf shapes. The stems are slender but the roots are already grabbing hold in the ground. Most interestingly, to me, a seedling often bears the colors of the mature plant, sometimes pale and faint, other times saturated, as if the color needs to spread out as the plant grows. A seedling may change a little or a lot, but it already has everything it needs to become the mature plant it will be.


Consider the bean. Most bean seedlings look about the same, though there are countless types. Bean seedlings' first leaves are sort of fleshy, and may seem large for their spindly stems. The colors of a bean shoot are pale and soft, a gradient of brown and green with a fresh pinkish undertone.


Some seedlings look mature, like asparagus. Purple asparagus is particularly interesting, I think. The color is only skin-deep - the inside is the same creamy white as the inside of green asparagus. But the outside is a pretty blend of purple running to green, the same colors I love in an artichoke.


This blue spruce seedling is a neat miniature of its mature form. You can see the colors that give this species its common name - a mixture of greens, blues and grays that gives it a smoky appearance, and you can also see the tree's form in the feathery needles radiating from the seedling's central stem.


The marigold has a lovely seedling, I think. As children, we planted marigolds in school for Mother's Day, taking home a little seedling in the bottom of a half-pint milk carton. I still enjoy the way a marigold seedling changes color on the way up, magenta to chartreuse to lime, from root to leaf.


Some seedlings are precocious, doing mature-plant things when very young. This is a sundew, a carnivorous plant. Right from the beginning, it starts catching insects to feed itself. The seedling looks like the mature plant, brightly colored and bristling with tentacles and nectar glands, only smaller; it will grow big on the bugs it catches.

These are just a few seedling types that interest me. I'm very much a novice gardener, and I know I've barely scratched the surface when it comes to interesting things that plants do; even the tiniest of seedlings has its own dramatic and fascinating life story. Which plants do you like to observe as they grow?

Sundew photo from growsundews.com; other collages contain stock photos of seedling plants.

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Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below: 

Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sarah at mitenska
 
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Coconut macaroons


I made coconut macaroons recently, having seen some in the grocery store and nearly fallen over upon checking their price. They were part of a display of Kosher foods for Passover (macaroons are traditionally served at Passover because they are unleavened; all bread products served at a Seder, or Passover dinner, must be unleavened, in accordance with Jewish beliefs). You may recall (though I've only mentioned it briefly now and then) that I grew up in a multi-faith family. We celebrated both Christian and Jewish holidays, Passover being one of my very favorites.

I loved most Passover foods as a child, including charoset and tzimmes, both of which I only make occasionally in adulthood, but still adore. I also loved coconut macaroon cookies at Passover; my grandmother bought the Manischewitz brand of macaroons in a cardboard canister and those are still my favorites. I like the plain ones as well as the chocolate-dipped, but I think I like the plains ones slightly more. They're very simple, sweet and chewy, and I looked forward to having them for dessert after the Seder every year. I'm also still a total sucker for Manischewitz blackberry wine, which we always had at Seder (I had my own little glass from the time I was about eight years old), but that's another story. That, I always keep on hand in my liquor cabinet; a little goes a very long way but I still think it's delicious.

I don't celebrate Passover now, really, but I do often include the foods in my Easter menu, as a nod to my own childhood traditions. I wanted to make macaroons this year, but didn't have a chance to make them (Easter really snuck up on me this year, being a bit earlier than usual). I still wanted them, though, and decided to make them earlier this month. I used a macaroon recipe from Jenn Segal's gorgeous food blog, Once Upon a Chef. The secret to this recipe is sweetened condensed milk. I had no idea, but it works really well. I used unsweetened coconut, however; it was what I had on hand and I think it tasted really good in the recipe.

Coconut Macaroons

5-1/3 cups (one 14-ounce bag) sweetened shredded coconut
7/8 cup (7 fl oz) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt 
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (optional; I used chocolate baking chips)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Set two oven racks near the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.


In a medium bowl, mix together the shredded coconut, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract. Set aside.


In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.


Using two spoons, form heaping tablespoons of the mixture into mounds on the prepared baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden and the bottoms and edges are deeply golden.


If dipping the macaroons in chocolate, melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl at medium power, stopping and stirring at 30 second intervals, until just smooth and creamy. (Alternatively, melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water.) Dip the bottoms of the macaroons in the chocolate, letting any excess drip back into the bowl, and return to the lined baking sheets. Place the macaroons in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to set. The cookies keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week.


I really loved these macaroons! They were so easy to make, and really delicious. They were not exactly like the ones in the cardboard canister (why do things taste so good when they come in paper packaging? I personally think milk from a carton tastes better then it does from a plastic jug), but I enjoyed them a lot and I will definitely make them again. I think the extra step of dipping them in melted semi-sweet chocolate is worth it, though they were very good plain too. There's still plenty of time left to try this recipe during the current Passover holiday, but it would be a lovely bake any time of year.

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You've heard me say many times how I become some sort of automaton of productivity when people in my household become ill. I cook, I clean, I do load after load of laundry. It helps me feel better about their not feeling well, I guess; if I work at getting the house in tip-top shape, maybe I'll drive the sickness out faster. Or something. But what happens when I'm the one who gets sick? What then? Nothing happens. Zilch. Nada. An entire week can pass in a haze, at least for me, just like this past week did. It was a flu-like thing, with a fever and aches and pains, unfortunate digestive events, etc. I'm still not feeling my best, but good enough to get going with the new week. I'm lucky that the Bear is able to move his schedule around to help me, which he did a bit of during the week, especially that one whole day when I was totally unable to get out of bed.

I don't know if I've ever gone a whole week without blogging since I started. It's weird; I feel like I have to do warm-up exercises to get back into it again. I went back and read your replies to my last post, concerning both eczema and children's costumes, and I appreciate everything you said. My eczema is dryness-related, for those inquiring about diet or other reasons. The main issue is that I'm not diligent enough about moisturizing, and by the end of a long season of cold wind, extremely low humidity and forced-air heating, my body is just plain parched. But the good news is that my recent flare-up has subsided and I'm resolved to do a better job with lotion.

As for the costumes, we have figured something out for both roles the LB will play. His teacher said that Redcoats should just wear red t-shirts and blue pants; another student helpfully had tri-corner hats for all three Redcoats to wear. We're still working out the details for his part as Leif Erikson, but I think we have a shirt that will work. As for weapons, as some suggested, those will be a no-go. His school would never allow it, even if they were cardboard or wood. Too contentious today. So we'll stick with basic clothing items and he'll rock it, I'm sure.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lately










We've had three gray days in a row and I'm quite enjoying it. There's a slow-moving storm over the southwest and south-central parts of the US, which has given us days of interesting weather. We've had rain, snow, sleet, thunder, lightning, wind and fog. It's like a whole year's worth of weather in one storm. It has also been unseasonably cool, which I'm enjoying too. Before long, it will be hot and undoubtedly very dry again, like it was all through February and March. We still have that long dry stretch of late spring and early summer to get through before the monsoon gets fired up in July. I love the monsoon, as I've said many times before. To me, it's a reward after hot, dry, kinda boring May and June. This current storm feels like a mini monsoon - hunkering, stay-at-home weather.

Aside from the storm, the week was mostly uneventful. Work, school, homeschool, running around for activities. I've been dealing with an outbreak of eczema on my hands. The swelling has been so bad I can't wear my rings. It's uncomfortable and embarrassing. I bought an eczema cream and have been using it with gloves, which seems to be helping. It's amazing how much something like this can bother you, though. I feel like all I thought about was my hands over the past few days; even in my sleep, I was scratching them bloody. TMI? This is real-life blogging, baby.

When my hands were feeling up to it, I sorted embroidery flosses for my next cross-stitch project (I'm taking a few liberties with the color chart to use up some flosses I already have. The design is a whimsical pirate ship; if you can't play a bit fast and loose with a design like that, then I don't know what). I did some crocheting too. I hadn't crocheted at all since finishing Hensfoot in mid-March. I really missed crocheting. I was starting to get a little twitchy without it, actually. It made me realize how very important crochet has become in my life over the past several years, as a hobby and pastime, yes, but also as a way to relieve stress and to focus energy.

I'm going back to basics now, working on a couple of different granny-square patterns. One of them is Squaring the Big Circle, from the blog Signed with an Owl. I've shared a couple of them on Instagram (do you follow me there? I'm thistlebear, if you're interested); they're big, about 8 inches across, and I'm thinking about making a pillow or a bag with some. I had considered using them for my next blanket, a big one for our bed, but I think I want something a little more intricate, more mosaic-like for that. I'm in the mood for a long-term project - at the moment, anyway.

To that end, I've also been making a pattern called Paeonia, from Filcolana, a Danish yarn company. I found the pattern on Ravelry and was instantly drawn to it. It's a little like the Ice Cream Flowers blanket I made for the GB in 2014, but the flower is different and the square around it is more solid. Instead of white, I will use gray. You know me, all about the gray. My other colors are mostly fairly soft - lots of greeny-blues and pinky-reds, with mustard, tomato and pistachio for a bit of acidity. In honor of the wild-weather weekend on which I started making these squares, I'm thinking about calling this blanket Stormflowers.

Yesterday, the Bear and I did our usual Saturday ships-in-the-night thing where we each take a child to the university for music lessons, one in the morning and one after lunch, and we each do errands and household tasks in between. We barely see each other until about four in the afternoon. He said he'd be doing some cooking. By the time I walked in, he'd made barbecue sauce and prepared ribs for the smoker (he's cooking them today for our dinner), as well as red chile sauce and Dutch oven breads! (He uses this recipe from Mother Earth News). He had even, ahem, washed the kitchen floor. What a homecoming.

I made a delicious recipe during the week, Blueberry Cheesecake Bars from Betty Crocker. It's the April recipe on my Betty Crocker calendar. There's a recipe for each month, along with tear-out versions of each recipe to keep when you're done with the calendar. I usually make about half the recipes in any given year. For this one, I couldn't find blueberry spreadable fruit so I used blackberry and substituted mixed frozen berries for blueberries, not a bad thing at all. I probably won't make them again very soon; the ingredients were expensive and they were difficult to serve. Very tasty, though, and simple to make. The cheesecake layer was my favorite part.

I'm trying to come up with costume ideas for the LB. His class is performing an end-of-year musical play about the 13 American colonies. He has two parts to play, a British soldier (aka "Redcoat"), and Leif Erikson, the Viking explorer. I'm at a loss. I'm thinking about trying to get a red jacket, even a cardigan, from the thrift store and having him wear a belt with it. I think the teacher has tri-cornered hats (I know she has Viking-style hats). For Leif, I'm thinking about making a poncho kind of thing from brown cloth, belted, to look like the tunic he wore. There may also be a cloak? I'm not sure. I actually used to sew theatrical costumes as a job when I was younger, but I worked for a real, live costume designer. I wasn't coming up with the designs myself, just sewing them on demand. Do you have any suggestions? I'd love to hear them. For reference, he's ten years old, about four-ten and eighty pounds.

Have a good week, my friends. I'm off to check on the laundry and think about what to have for lunch, then I'm going to sit down and play with yarn for a little while. I'm in that exciting stage where it all seems possible and I can't imagine being all set with a never-ending blanket project. Long may it last.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

El Malpais

Overlook at Sandstone Bluffs

Lava field







Ventana Arch

Pano view of overlook at Sandstone Bluffs, taken by the Bear

El Malpais National Monument is located in western New Mexico, not far from the city of Grants. The term El Malpais comes from the Spanish word malpais, meaning "badlands." El Malpais is named for the rough and rocky landscape that developed because of ancient volcanic lava flow. This barren plain is covered in black igneous rock, making it difficult to traverse. The nearby grassland areas are dotted with cattle and sheep, as well as diverse wildlife, but historically, this area was quite inhospitable to exploration or development. Horses were injured on the sharp lava rock; if you were to hike here today (and many people do), you would be wise to wear good boots.

Across the lava field, you can see ancient cinder cones standing tall above the wide, flat expanse of black rock and scrub. You can drive along State Highway 53 for miles and miles through the monument, winding around long sandstone bluffs. The pale, smooth bluffs rise from the vast plain like ships on the sea. Some bluffs have interesting natural formations like Ventana ("window") Arch, a natural bridge carved by erosion from a huge wall of stone. The bluffs cast long shadows over the surrounding plain and the roadway. Cows graze in the sunny patches. On the day we were there, in late March, light snow fell and the shaded sides of the bluffs were frosted white.

If you go, bring your boots, wind-proof clothing and sun protection; it's very high desert territory. For all its desolation, El Malpais's history bears testament to the adaptability of life. While the Spanish tended to avoid El Malpais, the "badlands" of New Spain, later pioneers sometimes eked out a living in mining or farming. Native Americans continue to live nearby today. Plants and animals are tough here; some of the oldest Douglas fir trees on the planet live in El Malpais, and wildlife - including birds and deer - abounds in the open grasslands. The land is toughest of all, such that it became part of the culture, woven into stories passed down for generations. Early settlers of El Malpais sometimes called it "the land of frozen fire," in honor of its lava-rock landscape and sleeping volcanoes - a picturesque name, I think, for a place that is both exacting and starkly beautiful.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday I'm in love

Oh, what am I saying? I'm in love every day. But that's such a great song. It reminds me of high school. Please enjoy the video on YouTube if you haven't heard it lately. I hope you've had a good week. Thanks for the lovely comments on my recent posts. I'd like to take you all to Pie Town for spooky old house-investigation and baked goods. Our week has been great - busy but fun too. I thought I'd share just a few things making me happy these past few days...




This week, our apple tree was at its blossoming peak, I think. Gosh, I love flowering trees. The apple blossoms smell much better than the plum blossoms do, and I can spend a long time standing under it listening to the bees.



In other backyard news, our Talavera birdbath and hummingbird feeders are back outside. We have had numerous hummingbirds already. I have seen a few bathing and/or drinking birds in the birdbath as well. Also, our irises and roses have buds!


My trusty orange tulips are blooming now too. I didn't plant them, some previous owner of the house did. Most of the tulips I've planted don't flower. They just send up leaves. Two of them did bloom this year, both yellow. They were pretty but I love these orange ones best of all.


The small Bears and I baked sugar cookies. I used a tried-and-true recipe, Betty Crocker's Best No-Roll Sugar Cookies. I started baking these when the LB was a toddler. They're so easy to make, especially with little hands helping. I make them fairly small, two-bite size like a gingersnap. Then it seems a little better when you've eaten six or seven with your tea. It was really like three or four normal-sized cookies, see.


I've strapped my clodhoppers into a new pair of sandals. Well, two pair, actually. I ordered these Clarks sandals for myself in black and I liked them so much I went back for another pair in brown. They're very comfortable. This photo makes me dizzy; I think I leaned over too far to snap my feet.


I bought a discounted bouquet of flowers at the grocery store this week. They had a shopping cart full of marked-down bunches, most of which still looked very nice. The floral clerk thanked me for buying a discounted bunch. I think they must have to throw them away if they don't sell. I was glad to make her job a little easier and I like my cheerful pink and red bouquet very much.


I was pretty bummed last weekend when our fourteen-year-old toaster suddenly stopped working. I'm an avid toaster-user, are you? I think I must toast something almost every day. The dead one was a wedding gift and it lasted much longer than I expected it to. It was just a cheap Kenmore one (we registered at Sears for our wedding gifts. Good old Sears!). We ordered a new toaster from Amazon. It was confusing; toasters have become so fancy. I ended up ordering the most basic Black & Decker model. I love it! I'm going toast-crazy. I'm going to buy some Pop-Tarts tomorrow. Shh...it's a surprise for the uninitiated of our household.


I'm playing with yarn again. I haven't crocheted since I finished Hensfoot almost a month ago and I'm starting to get a little twitchy. I really love to crochet, have you noticed? I don't know if I've ever mentioned it. Anyway, I finished my Retro Kitchen cross-stitch sampler this week (more on that soon) and now I'm starting to think about my next projects. I have lots more stitching planned, don't you worry, but I'm also thinking crochet again. I want to make a larger blanket for our bed, possibly something with granny squares. I've ordered some more Stylecraft Special DK from Wool Warehouse and it should be here soon. I don't know exactly which colors I'll be using, so I'm just laying out yarn all over the floor. Complaints about tripping hazards have been duly noted/ignored.



Finally, I had a wonderful package from the United Kingdom arrive in the mail for me. Jo, of the lovely blog A Whole Plot of Love sent me a copy of the April 2016 issue of Let's Knit magazine, along with the extras the magazine comes with, and a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs. A couple of weeks previously, Jo had emailed to let me know that she'd been flipping through the magazine when she noticed that me and my blog were mentioned on the magazine's Bookshelf page, a place where notable crafty books, blogs and websites are featured. Jo offered to send me a copy of the magazine when I had trouble finding it in the craft stores near me. This was such a kind gesture and I appreciate a lot, Jo. How lovely to be mentioned! They said such nice things, too. It feels good to be noticed for doing things I love. Thanks, Let's Knit!

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I hope you have a great weekend! We'll be doing the usual housework and yardwork, with homeschool and music lessons thrown in. I think there may be some sort of takeout dinner, maybe Chinese, planned for Saturday for the Bear and me, for our weekly at-home date. I'm still watching Midsomer Murders (let's face it, I may never stop, what with the hundreds of episodes on offer), still reading Simple Nigella and now Jamie's Comfort Food, trying to get new ideas because eventually I'm going to have to make something other than toast.
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