Friday, January 30, 2015

In winter light


It won't look like this again for another year. The low light, the long shadows, the early evenings - all are already changing. I will welcome the new season because there is something to appreciate in every part of the year. But I will miss the darkening afternoons, the sense of drawing-in. I will miss the sun streaming into the south-facing living room windows, making it the warmest room in the house. I will miss hooking away in my big, sun-splashed chair. I will miss cooking dinner with a taper candle on the stove top while my children play and squabble around me. It won't be like this in a few months. They'll be outside and I won't be stirring pots of soup and stew, I'll be grilling on the patio. They'll prefer it. They'll run in and out through the kitchen door, their bikes and scooters and toys scattered over the backyard, their voices carrying across the arroyo. But that's later. For now, I'm savoring slippers and afghans, lamplight by five o'clock and small, restless people who stay right where I am.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Martha & Me - January

Last fall, I began a subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine. I received my first two issues, November and December/January, just before Christmas. I've been a closet reader of this magazine for years, thumbing through it every month in the store. I found a good subscription price and decided to treat myself. This magazine is so inspiring. I love the recipes and project ideas and I decided to set a challenge for myself now that I have it coming right to my home every month. I'm going to try at least one new thing - a recipe or a project - from each issue and blog about my experience. I'm calling my series "Martha & Me" and I'll post at the end of each month, sharing what I tried - whether a success or a failure. Please join me! You don't have to use this magazine and you don't have to sign up or get on a schedule or use my series' name, just share your adventure at the end of the month.

I opted to try a recipe from the December/January issue of the magazine. November's recipes and projects, and most of December/January's, were focused on holiday recipes and projects. I sort of dreaded the idea of a retrograde holiday-related project in January, to be honest. It seemed depressing. The pickings were relatively slim for non-holiday ideas, but I settled on a recipe that looked interesting and tasty, Spaghetti with Collard Greens and Lemon. This recipe is on Martha's website and is also found in her new book on clean eating, Clean Slate: A Cookbook and Guide. The above photo is from the magazine. The food styling in this magazine is incredible, by the way. I think it's my favorite thing about it so far.

I liked this recipe as soon as I saw it because it seemed easy and inexpensive, and it's healthy and meat-free. We're not vegetarians but we do limit the meat in our diet. We're staunch observers of Meatless Monday. This means I'm often on the lookout for new meatless recipes and tend to rely on pastas and soups when I get in a cooking rut. This recipe uses pasta but it's fresh and different and we like all the flavors, so I was excited to give it a whirl. I followed the recipe as written, except for one substitution: I used kaleidoscope chard instead of collard greens. To be frank, I don't like collard greens. Also, the chard is readily available in my preferred store, Trader Joe's. And it's so pretty. The colors are gorgeous and they stay when you cook the chard.

The rest of the ingredients are everyday staples in my kitchen: pasta (I used regular Barilla thin spaghetti), fresh lemon, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

Isn't it amazing to see how much greens shrink when you cook them? I always think of Rachael Ray, when she would say "Frozen spinach is the best value in the store!" She's right, of course. They pack a lot of spinach in those little boxes. The chard cooked right down too. Next time, I would probably chop the chard into smaller pieces, especially the stems.

I'm no food stylist but this was my plate. It was really delicious. There is a lot of lemon and garlic and plenty of sauce after the addition of pasta cooking water. It soaked nicely into the cooked pasta and became sort of silky. It was mildly spicy and the chard had a slightly sour flavor. I always enjoy pine nuts in any dish and they were a nice addition. It felt a little fancy to have them in there. We all added grated Parmesan at the table, which enhanced the flavors and the consistency of the sauce. Everyone liked it, even the kids. They aren't exactly fanatics for leafy greens but there's so much flavor from the other ingredients that the chard went down just fine. This recipe was fast and tasty and I would definitely make it again - I've added it to the Meatless Monday hall of fame.

Join me next month for something new - I've already chosen a project and a recipe to try in February!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Weekending: Snowbears

Last week's wild, windy storm brought us an inch or two of snow here in the city, which was pretty while it lasted. You can't do much with that little snow, though. The Bear and I have been hoping for several years to take the kids sledding. We both come from snowy places and grew up sledding but our kids hadn't tried it yet. Finally, a promising opportunity: the mountains east of the city received about a foot of snow in the same storm. Friends who live out there were unable to get into the city during the week. They said there was plenty of snow for sledding and recommended a place. We drove out early Sunday morning to have a look. We parked and hiked into an area of the Cibola National Forest called Tunnel Canyon.

There was still lots of snow on the north-facing slopes and we found a perfect place to sled. We only have one sled, so we all shared it. The hill was massive! We had the whole place to ourselves for a good hour. There had already been lots of sledding and there was a good, smooth track worn into the snow. I only made one run myself; it was crazy and I was worried about my back. It was fun, though! I got my sledding fix, for sure. The GB was hesitant; she lost her shoe on two runs and got a face full of snow on another run. But the LB really took to it! He quickly developed good techniques. He was covered in snow and he laughed until he had hiccups. The Bear flew down the hill, making rooster-tails in the snow. It was cold but brilliantly sunny and the snow began to soften by mid-morning. Another family came to play and some of them had a pretty spectacular wipe-out at the bottom of the hill. They were fine, but it was time to call it a day.

We drove home, made hot drinks and reheated leftover Chinese food for lunch. I washed and dried all the wet clothes, some of which were muddy. We spent the rest of the afternoon working on projects around the house, finishing homeschool tasks and cooking a tri-tip roast for dinner. In the evening, the Bear and I watched our current Sunday night shows: The Great British Baking Show, Downton Abbey and Grantchester. We were in bed by 10:30 and we slept like logs. It was a really good day.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

June roses in January

We're having a fairly snowy winter for my neck of the woods and I'm mostly enjoying it. We don't get a lot of snow, maybe an inch or two at a time, but we've had several storms so far. It's nice to have a little snow; everything looks pretty with a bit of snow on it. It's cold, though; I feel like I can only get warm enough when I'm in bed at night, under a sheet, a cotton waffle-weave blanket, a duvet and an afghan on top of all of that. I'm always looking for more things to pile onto myself as I go through my day. Socks, slippers, a sweater over my long-sleeved top, an afghan when I'm reading or watching TV at night. Ever try to crochet an afghan while wearing another afghan? It's awkward.

This week, we had a strong storm which included very high winds. The wind was so loud and so forceful that I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed listening to it howl across the roof, slamming into the steel walls of the swamp cooler and sending loose items crashing around the backyard. I worried about the chickens but they were fine and they even managed to lay an egg apiece overnight. They're tougher than they look. I, on the other hand, am a wimp. That wind was scary and I was so glad when it finally died down late in the morning. The storm left behind very cold weather but there was fresh snow and the crystalline skies that I love in wintertime.

While trying to will myself into bodily warmth this week, I've been thinking about the Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park, which the Bear and I visited on our trip to San Francisco last summer. The roses were in full bloom during our visit and we spent a couple of hours wandering. We ate a simple lunch on a fallen log under tall pines. There were many people around - tourists, dog-walkers, a preschool class on a field trip - but it was peaceful. And oh, those roses. There were so many kinds and they were hardy, prolific and stunning. I have a weakness for roses; my wedding bouquet was a densely-packed ball of pink and ivory ones. I took photo after photo that day in the rose garden - I just couldn't get enough of that beautiful space! My memories of that lovely June afternoon make me feel a little bit warmer now, in the heart of winter.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Color Collaborative: January: Home

During our hunt for our current home, our realtor asked me a very simple question: "Do you want a showy home or a homey home?" We had owned a home before, but I had never thought of home-buying in these terms. The whole process was easier after she asked me this question. I wanted a homey home. I wanted to feel at ease, comfortable, safe. I wanted a home where my children could really live - playing, moving, creating, resting and growing. I wanted a light, bright home, but I didn't want vaulted ceilings or a cavernous "great room." I wanted an open feel and multi-use rooms but I also wanted delineated spaces, places to go to be alone and quiet. When we found this house, we only needed a couple of hours to decide it was the right one for us. It wasn't perfect (could any house ever be? I'm not sure) but it was very, very good and we knew we'd be happy here.

I've always been a homebody. I would rather stay at home, alone or with some combination of my family members, than do anything else. I think I was born to homemaking; my favorite game was "house" when I was little. Even my Barbies were stay-at-home mothers (in evening gowns). In college, I often stayed in at night, crafting in my nightgown. My friends were bemused but I needed to feel a sense of hominess even in the dorm. Little in life makes me as happy as playing house, even now that I'm all grown up. Simply put, home makes me happy. I am especially enthusiastic about my home in wintertime, when I spend more time in the house. My winter home is simple, with a few basic but important elements. Wintertime is afghans and tea, weak sunshine, warm beds, baking scents, piles of books and magazines, candles in the evenings and a fire on the really cold days.

I don't know where I'd be without afghans. I made my first when I was sixteen. I ran out of yarn and it was barely long enough to cover my lap. I don't have it anymore but I have lots of new ones. I've been crocheting in earnest for several years now and there are blankets in almost every room of our house. One of the best things about an afghan is the color it can add to a room. I used very bright colors when I first became reattached to crochet and I felt bold and daring. I was especially unaccustomed to using red. I tend to play it safe with most of my decor, choosing neutral and soft colors for paint, furnishings and linens, but afghans allow me to experiment with color. I love to see my blankets in use. The colors and patterns brighten the room, a loved one's comfort warms my heart.

Art is important to me and I fill my home with artwork from many sources. Most of it comes from my children, though, and I am proud to display their work. We have our gallery wall, made with strips of wood embedded with slices cut from wine corks, where I hang the best examples of their artwork. In the winter, this work is always fresh and new because much of it comes home from school after the annual art-and-writing exhibition just before Christmas. There's lots of homegrown art too, things we make together during homeschool time or on the weekends. If you're looking for bold decoration, children's artwork will never disappoint. It's bright and cheerful: slashes of crayon, oil pastel and watercolor, fabric and glue dried lumpy and stiff, garish colors blending in fevered imagination. They make it, I hang it. I couldn't be happier to do so.

Saturday afternoons are for listening to A Prairie Home Companion on public radio. This is a tradition from my husband's family and one I eagerly adopted. I love radio and I almost always have a radio playing wherever I am in the house. The show is funny and entertaining and I enjoy the music. My children have listened since they were born; they know Garrison Keillor's voice with just a few words. The show is a way of life, really. Saturdays at four, we switch the radio to KANW 89.1 and settle in. In summer, we sit in shade on the back patio with a small portable radio. In wintertime, we sit in the living room together, listening on our tabletop radio. The kids play on the floor with their bins of K'nex and Legos, the Bear and I craft or read. We listen through the late afternoon. The sun moves across the front of the house, the room dimming and shadows creeping up the walls, light fading to dusty blue and violet as the sun sets. We keep listening together in golden lamplight.

This is the first house I've lived in with a fireplace and oh, how I love having a fireplace. As soon as it's cold enough we start having fires on the weekends and we continue as long as we can. The Bear, former Eagle Scout, builds a perfectly beautiful fire and we spend all afternoon and evening in front of it with our various diversions. Sometimes we eat dinner on the floor. We drink cocoa and eat popcorn. Some of the wood is from our own trees, apple and juniper. I love to sit with the lights off, or at least dimmed, and watch the flames and the shadows dancing on the walls. The golden glow of a good fire means coziness and warmth. It's one of the very best parts of winter.

In warm weather, I cut flowers from our yard to make bouquets for the house. In winter, I buy my flowers and they are almost always tulips, my favorite flower of all. I love having a fresh bunch in the house and they have to be bright - lipstick red, hot pink, fuschia, flame orange. A bright bunch of tulips in the kitchen, or on the buffet in the dining room, instantly lifts my spirits. It reminds me that spring is coming and that as much as I enjoy winter, the spring holds great promise and beauty and lovely traditions all its own, inside and outside our beloved home.


 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 
Sandra at Cherry Heart 
and January's guest poster, Bee at the linen cloud
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.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Potholder pursuance

Yesterday, I began working on a crocheted potholder to add to my kitchen wall. I have four vintage potholders, all from different places, and I plan to add more. I want to make a few myself. I've been pinning patterns and filling up my Ravelry library too. The potholders I already have are made with cotton thread. I decided to make mine with thread, as opposed to thicker yarn, for consistency. Last week, there was a sale - half off all crochet thread. But the selection was poor and I ended up with acrylic thread because there were so few choices left in the cotton. Thus began a really challenging project. Thread crochet is difficult! The thread is tiny. The stitches are tiny. My tension is too loose, in large part because my smallest hook is still too big. The crochet is curling and lumpy and I can't even block it. I don't like the shininess, or the crinkly feeling. I think it would look like an old rag hanging on my wall.

For all that, I'm enjoying myself. I'm using this pattern - a real vintage one from 1948. I think thread crochet is a lost art. The doilies, the clothing, the bedspreads! The potholder pattern is very similar to one of my vintage potholders. I like knowing that lots of people have made this pattern before me and that the same potholder has graced many, many kitchens. I've always loved to look at photos of forties and fifties kitchens. I try to bring a little of that style to my own kitchen. I like things old and kitschy. I want lots of potholders, going up the wall and over the doorway to the dining room. I'm going to stick with it. I ordered some cotton crochet thread online last night, reds and pinks and greens to match the kitchen and the vintage potholders. I'm going to keep working on the acrylic one, though. It's good practice. I can be patient - just think how long those potholders waited to find each other in my kitchen.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A happy week

We had cold, wet weather for a few days this week. We even had one school delay (I think there should have been two because the roads were slippery both mornings). There's a lot to be said for cold, wet weather when it's usually clear and dry and I try to make the most of it. I like a little winter in my winter. I like to make soup. I like to wear slipper-socks. I like to spend dark afternoons in the kitchen - teaching, cooking, puttering, talking. I hope we have another cold, wet spell before the winter is over. Maybe we'll have a few - the winter is still quite young.

We've been playing with the perler beads a lot lately. Some call them hama beads. I designed that mushroom myself. I like how it came out. I know all about using cross-stitch patterns to make them, and I do that sometimes too, but I really enjoy winging it. I need to buy more beads; we're running out of a few colors, especially red...hmm.

I'm feeling good so far this month, and this year. I made a conscious decision to let go of stress and anxiety about things I can't fix. And you know what? It's working. I feel freer and happier. This week, I went to a friend's sales party and had a really good time. On Friday the weather was nice again and I took my kids to the park after school, where I met up with some mom friends. I laughed a lot this week. I felt lighter. I'm crocheting a lot and am back to reading more after a spate of terrible books. I savored the last of my Christmas-stocking treats. I made really good lasagna. I had a good week. I hope you did too.
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