Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Martha & Me - April

This month, I tried two new things from Martha Stewart Living magazine. I'm having a lot of fun with this challenge! I haven't loved everything I've tried so far, but this month I tried both a recipe and a crafty project and enjoyed them both a lot. I cheated a little, in that the ideas I tried were from different issues of the magazine (the recipe is in April's issue, the project is in March's issue; I started in March but it took me a little while to finish).

The recipe I tried is Asparagus and Watercress Pizza. It's in the April issue of the magazine, and can also be found at the link I've added here. This pizza was fantastic! It was easy to make, delicious and quite healthy. The children didn't enjoy it as much as the Bear and I did (we had a feeling they wouldn't, so we made an additional, plainer pizza for them), but oh, did we enjoy it!

There aren't many ingredients in the recipe. Prepared pizza dough is suggested, which is fine by me. To start, asparagus and onion are tossed with oil, salt and pepper and set aside while you work with the dough. (I loved the way the vegetables looked together. Purple with green is among my favorite combinations. Artichokes bear one of nature's best color palettes, I think.)

I substituted baby spinach for watercress, simply because I couldn't find watercress in the stores! That was disappointing, but we love spinach so it wasn't a big deal.

We make a lot of pizza around here. It's just so easy and good. You can put anything on a pizza. This is my first pizza with this particular combination of toppings, though. It's always nice to try something new. The Bear is our resident dough-roller-outer and I do the toppings. A rectangular shape was suggested, along with baking in an oil-coated pan. We really like our round pizza stone, so we did it our way instead, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with the doors open and Paul Simon on the stereo.

The cheeses browned beautifully in the oven and it all smelled wonderful! The greens are scattered on top of the pizza as soon as it comes out of the oven, so they can wilt in the residual heat. Coarse salt and red chili flakes are sprinkled over the greens. It looked so fresh and clean.

This pizza was absolutely delicious. I loved the way the spinach, onion and asparagus stayed a little crisp, so there was a bite to it. The ricotta was creamy and smooth and there was just enough mozzarella (I like very cheesy pizza sometimes, but I enjoy a fresher take too). This was a decidedly grown-up pizza and the Bear and I loved it.

I also finished a project inspired by Tactile Textiles, an article in the March issue of the magazine (click on the link to view the article online). This feature is full of creative ways to make ordinary fabrics more interesting by adding simple hand-embroidery. I especially loved the projects made with embroidery that traced or enhanced the designs already on the fabric. I've been interested in improving my embroidery skills and this seemed like a good way to practice. I used my embroidered fabric to make a pillow cover for my living room.

I chose the fabric to coordinate with colors already in the living room - gray, gold and other soft tones. The dining room and living room are an open L-shaped space; I have dark plum-colored covers on the dining room chairs. The fabric is cotton duck, purchased at Hobby Lobby. The colors work well with the room and the big, graphic design seemed easier for a beginner to stitch.

My embellishment is simple; I picked out part of the scrolled gray design with gray needlepoint yarn (the yarn is Trio by Brown Paper Packages, in a silk and merino blend, purchased from Purl Soho). I used one ply (consisting of two threads) for my embroidery. I enjoyed the stitching, for the most part, but it could get tedious. It seemed best to keep it interesting by doing just a little at a time. By the end of March there was still a lot left to do, so I gave myself more time with it and found myself enjoying it a little more in the process.

In the end, I stitched an area that formed sort of a corner around the large purple and brown medallion shape. I didn't want so much stitching that it looked fussy, just enough to dress up the fabric and create some textural interest. My stitching improved a lot from the beginning of the project, but it's not perfect. Mostly, I used stem stitch. It was interesting to stitch along all the different curves and curlicues; I found it required a little planning to be sure I could get around a curved area without making my stitches too long or short, or going off the outline too much. All in all, I think this was a great way to get more comfortable with an embroidery technique.

I made a basic pillow cover. The embroidered area forms the front of the pillow; I cut the fabric so that the embroidery would be near the center of the pillow's front and cut another square piece for the back (each about 15.5 inches square; I used a 14x14 pillow insert). Then I hemmed one side of each piece with 1/4-inch rolled hem and sewed the other three sides together with right sides facing, leaving the hemmed edges open. I clipped the corners and poked them out with a pencil to make them pointy after turning the pillow cover right-side out.

I considered putting in a zipper but in the end I went with buttons. I didn't have a zipper in the right color, and anyway, they're harder to do. I used my sewing machine's buttonhole feature and two large fake-shell buttons.

I really like my pillow. I think it looks modern and a little funky with the stitching. It was interesting to make, if not always relaxing. I do think my embroidery skills have grown, and I love machine-sewing so that was a wonderful plus for me. I'm really glad I stuck with it and finished my pillow. I think I would like to try some more embroidered embellishments on fabrics sometime, maybe as part of a wall-hanging or pillow for my little girl's room.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Shower and shelter

I was a hermit this weekend. I stayed home straight through, from Friday evening to Monday morning, and it was wonderful. I was feeling poorly and needed to rest while the Bear was home and I had the chance. I started with a sore throat on Wednesday, with a headache and general achiness, which progressed to congestion, with associated coughing and hacking. I think the stress of the past few weeks caught up with me. I've always been like this; I go and go and go until I hit a wall and get sick and feel like garbage. Luckily, I had a chance to hibernate for a couple of days and it helped immensely. 

The weather was perfect for hibernation, cold and wet for three days, which is perfect when you're not feeling well and have nowhere to be. So I stayed inside and did very little. I took a few naps, or just lay awake in bed under the duvet. I did some sewing, finishing a project that I'll show you soon. I drank a lot of tea. I read a new book, The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer, almost all of it in the space of the weekend, which I haven't been able to do in a long time. It was excellent, and I couldn't put it down. Her book, The Dive from Clauson's Pier, is one of my favorite books of recent years and I was excited to see a new novel from her. I haven't always liked her writing, which includes another novel and short stories, but this latest novel was riveting. I loved it.

I've been on a reading binge lately, trying to catch up with a lot of the really acclaimed books of the past year or so. I rarely buy books anymore, it's just too expensive (we do have an e-reader, by the way, but I can't stand reading on it), so I've been placing holds at the library. Sometimes my name comes up quickly, other times it takes months, but I love to read and I'm willing to wait for really awesome books. It seems worth it. How do you read these days?

I wandered in the backyard a bit on Friday and Sunday. I was checking out the plant progress, as well as enjoying the dark skies and socked-in mountain. I love, love, love my backyard. I'm proud of it too; I've figured things out back there, like keeping the roses healthy and pruning bushes so that they get enough sunlight down inside the branches. I never saw myself as a gardener before we bought this house in 2009, and now I kind of do. I think I like the garden best when it's rain washed, like it was this weekend. You know me, unabashed rain lover.


Thank you for your comments about our cooking lately, and for sharing what you've been up to in your kitchens. I love knowing what other people eat, don't you? It feels very intimate, somehow, to know things like that about other people's daily lives - where they shop, what they buy, how they cook, what they like and dislike. You can Instagram a photo of your plate at every meal, and that can be interesting, but discussing real kitchen life is fascinating to me.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

In our kitchen

Lately, our cooking has felt a little more inspired, which is a very welcome change. I love to cook, and so does the Bear, but you know how it is. Ruts happen. I've been noticing a general trend in myself in the past year or two, though, maybe since the children are getting older. Cooking doesn't feel as stressful as it did when they littler; I know they'll eat most things and even try something new every now and then. They can be more involved too, which helps a lot. They'll even do some of the grunt work; as I write, the LB is grinding wheat in our WonderMill, which is clamped to the kitchen counter. It's hard work but he's plenty strong enough, and very game. Go to it, kiddo.

Ready for a food post? Here it comes...

Every few weeks, I buy a new potted basil plant at Trader Joe's, determined to keep it alive for easy access to fresh basil in the kitchen. It usually lasts a week or so, then I forget to water it or move it around for better sunlight. I use as much as I can before it dies, though. I do love fresh basil. My current basil plant is doing better than they usually do; we're going on two weeks already and it's still healthy and green! Maybe I'm getting the hang of it. How hard can it be, really? I'm using it nearly every day in something while it lasts. Here are some of the highlights:

I've made tomato-basil sauce twice in the past two weeks. I love this easy recipe, which I found years ago in an early Rachael Ray "30-Minute Meals" cookbook. I blogged about it here in 2013 if you'd like to read the recipe (there's a cannellini bean salad in that post which also made use of some basil). This sauce is fast and very simple and is my go-to recipe when I'm in the mood for something a little nicer than Ragu from a jar (which is also good, I'm really not that picky).

I used lots of fresh basil (along with fresh spinach) in my slowcooker minestrone soup (that recipe is here). I make soups year-round, especially when they're full of vegetables like this one. I loved it with fresh basil; it tasted completely different from the times I've only used dried herbs. I will definitely make sure to plan a minestrone soup every time I have fresh basil around.

We used basil on a pizza, of course. We sure do love our pizza around here.

I concocted this pasta dish on a hurried Friday night before the LB's guitar lesson. It was delicious! I cooked a 12-ounce box of tri-color rotini pasta with about 8 ounces of fresh broccoli florets added in the last few minutes of cooking. Meanwhile, I halved about 15 grape tomatoes and put them in a large serving bowl with one cup of ricotta cheese. I added the pasta and broccoli once cooked, along with salt, pepper, a little olive oil and about ten torn-up basil leaves, stirring everything to combine. We all loved it. It was fresh-tasting. The ricotta got a little warm and spread creamily through the other ingredients. We had enough for lunch the next day too.

For the past few months, the Bear has been on a sort of self-improvement quest; he wants to become better at baking bread. We recorded a podcast on this subject, if you'd like to know more (way more) about this endeavor. Last week, he made crackers, which turned out amazingly well. He used a recipe from the Washington Post, Everona Market Crackers, which he liked a lot. He made a few batches, with different combinations of toppings: "everything" (like the bagel), with poppy, sesame and caraway seeds plus kosher salt; sesame seed and black pepper; poppy seed and salt. They came out great and they didn't last long!

Our two little hens produce at least a dozen eggs a week. I never expected such an output and while I know it may not last, I'm thrilled about it for now. It's great for baking, of course, but it also forces me to look for different ways to incorporate eggs into our daily meals. I really wanted to make better frittatas, for one thing. After lots of tries, I can make a pretty good one now! They aren't burned on top, they come out of the pan in a neat slice and they're set all the way through. This one was made with spinach, onion, mozzarella and parmesan, really simple, and it was my best one yet, I think. What a relief.

A delicious marinated pork loin, which I'm showing you just because it was soooo good.

The Bear and I still enjoy our "stove popcorn" every Friday night. It's a special treat that I truly look forward to each week. The company is wonderful too.

I love to cook from scratch but I'm not above taking shortcuts; we have meals like this one - Shake 'N Bake chicken and Rice-A-Roni - fairly often too.


Let's talk about food. What are you cooking lately? Have you tried a new recipe? Please share!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Color Collaborative: April: Red

Today, April 23rd, is St. George's Day, the National Day for England. Saint George is the patron saint of England and today is the anniversary of his death in 303 AD. According to legend, St. George was a soldier in the Roman army who killed a dragon and saved a princess. St. George's Day is a feast day in England. The day is also celebrated in many of the world's Christian and Orthodox churches. You can read more about St. George's Day here.

The color red is closely tied to Saint George and his feast day. In England, it is traditional to wear a red rose in one's lapel on Saint George's Day, and to fly a special flag, St. George's Cross, which features a bright red cross on a white field. Even though I am not celebrating St. George's Day with my English friends today, the holiday's association with the color red has given me lots to think about.

Red seems to be a color that divides people. They either love red, gravitating toward red clothing and cars, or they shy away from it, finding it too showy. My feelings about red have warmed (pardon the pun) in recent years. I think it began when I started crocheting in earnest and realized that red could be a nice, welcome addition to blanket color-schemes. I've always had red in my kitchen, with a kitschy strawberry theme.

Red is versatile. Red is a color of attraction: birds and bees, flowers and fruits. Red is a color of moods and personalities: flamboyant, volatile, warm, angry, sanguine, passionate. Red is also a color of warning and emergency: stoplights, stop signs and brake lights, firetrucks and ambulances. Red means boldness, bravery and courage. The Red Cross emblem is an international symbol of compassion and aid. Red has heralded political unrest. Red can be forbidding as well as welcoming, cautionary as well as cheerful.

How does red play into your life? Red is, for me: my first bicycle, painted dark cherry-red with mica sparkles; my high school's maroon home-game jerseys; the scarlet wool coat that I was wearing when I met my first boyfriend; the carved cherry-wood jewelry box my husband gave me before we were married; the auburn hair of the brother-in-law I never had a chance to meet; the strawberry-blond hair of my newborn son. And in between: Fisher-Price's Happy Apple, wild cherry Lifesavers, Etch-A-Sketch, Campbell's tomato soup, Coca-Cola, red-rose prom corsages, a favorite outfit on my baby daughter, a chile ristra near my front door, a blazing Sandia sunset. Red, more than most other colors, runs through my life in a connected thread of memories and moments.


 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 
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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A crocheted dress for Nellie

Recently, I mentioned that I had crocheted a dress for the GB's baby doll, Nellie. It was fun to make. I based it on several top-down yoke-style pieces I have crocheted for the GB and other small children and babies. It's not exactly my own invention, but it required some trial and error and (oh, Lord) math to make it work well for a tiny doll. I think it worked out pretty nicely, and the GB seems thrilled with it. I have to tell you that having a little girl who loves dolls is a dream come true for me. I love dolls and always have. I'm so glad she does too.

(I would be fine if she didn't love them, everyone is different, girls don't have to like dolls, my son liked dolls too. Now that we have that out of the way, I love that she loves dolls! Hee).

It was easy to make. There are only three stitches in the whole thing: chains, (US) double-crochet and slip stitch. The yoke is crocheted flat to start, then crocheted in joined rounds to create the skirt. If you can do these things in crochet, you can make this dress.

I've been working on writing out what I did when I made it. I tend to make a few notes before I crochet something, along with a few unintelligible jottings as I work, and then I go back and write it neatly and coherently in my project notebook. I'm happy to share my pattern but I won't make any guarantees; I'm a moderately experienced crocheter and my ideas make sense in my head and as I work, but I'm very much a fledgling "designer" of crochet patterns.

The yarn is Stylecraft Special DK. From the yoke down, the colors are: Cloud Blue, Pomegranate, Spring Green, Wisteria, Shrimp, Aspen, Fondant and Aster. (We think this gives Nellie's dress a beachy look).

I used a G/6 (4 mm) Clover aluminum hook. You'll also need a small button, sewing thread and needle, and a yarn needle.

Nellie's Dress (fits 12-13 inch baby doll)
ch: chain stitch
ch sp: chain space
dc: (US) double-crochet stitch
sl st: slip stitch
sk: skip

Chain 42 to begin.

Row 1: Starting in 3rd chain from hook, dc in next 4 ch, sk1, ch1, dc in next 5 ch, sk1, ch1, dc in next 18 ch, sk1, ch1, dc in next 5 ch, sk 1, ch1, dc in next 4 ch, ch2 and turn.

Row 2: dc in first 3 stitches, (1dc, ch1, 1dc - we'll use an asterisk to represent this sequence from now on) in ch space, 5dc, (*) in next ch sp, 17dc, (*) in next ch sp, 5dc, (*) in next ch sp, 4dc, ch2 and turn.

Row 3: 4dc, (*) in next ch sp, 7dc, (*) in next ch sp, 19dc, (*) in next ch sp, 7dc, (*) in next ch sp, 5dc, ch2 and turn.

Row 4: 5dc, (*) in next ch sp, 9 dc, (*) in next ch sp, 21dc, (*) in next ch sp, 9dc, (*) in next ch sp, 5dc, ch2 and turn.

Row 5 (now begin making the skirt (and connecting the yoke to make "sleeves"): 6dc, (*) in next ch sp, ch6, (*) in next ch sp, 23dc, (*) in next ch sp, ch6, (*) in next ch sp, 7dc, ch2 and turn.

Row 6: 7dc, (*) in next ch sp, 6dc, (*) in next ch sp, 25dc, (*) in next ch sp, 6dc, (*) in next ch sp, 8dc, ch2 and turn.

Row 7 and beyond will be worked in the round

Row 7: dc in each stitch from the previous row, finishing with sl st in the top of the ch2 from the previous row to join the sides, making a back seam. Continue this way, repeating Row 7 and joining ends of each round until dress reaches the desired length (try it on the doll as you work). 

Finishing: starting at one corner of the back opening, sl st down one side and up the other, making one or two stitches at the V where the joined rows begin (for reinforcement). Sew a small button onto on side of the back opening (I lined up my button with a place on the other side where there was a ch2 at the edge to use as a buttonhole). Weave in yarn ends.

PS - Nellie is made by Corolle and is from their Mon Premier Bebe Calin line. We've had her since the GB was about a year old. She is a perfect doll for toddlers because she's easy to dress. Mommies big and small love her. 


You guys are really wonderful, I hope you know that. Your comments on my last few posts have been so touching and they've lifted my spirits a lot. It's going to be okay. I'll be talking about it more in the coming months, no doubt, because there will be a surgery this summer and I will probably need some moral support. But I think we're in very good hands now (I couldn't say that with confidence before the practitioner change), and that makes a very big difference. I know I'm always thanking people, but again...just thanks.

We have a new podcast online if you want to listen! Just click the button near the top of my sidebar to go to the Bear's website, where we house them. This time we're talking about rituals and their importance in our lives. Coffee and tea figure heavily, along with the swamp cooler, if you can believe it.
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