Saturday, May 30, 2015

Martha & Me - May

This month, I tried two recipes from the May issue of Martha Stewart Living, Buttermilk Oat Waffles and Bruleed Grapefruit (you can click on both links to see the recipes on Martha's site). Both recipes were part of a really delicious-looking Mother's Day brunch spread, but I made them for dinner on a dark and rainy Friday night a couple of weeks ago (we're big fans of breakfast for dinner around here). There were numerous other foods in the spread but it was bit too much for me to take on for one meal. I did make some breakfast sausages to go with the waffles and grapefruit; breakfast sausages never go amiss at my house.

The dry ingredients include both flour and quick-cooking oats, which made the recipe seem like it would be quite hearty. I used powdered buttermilk, reconstituted with water, plus the whole stick of melted butter called for in the recipe. I'm sure this is the most decadent waffle recipe I've ever tried.

Maybe the most labor-intensive too. The recipe calls for egg whites beaten to stiff peaks. I could have done this in my stand mixer, but because this is a self-improvement project, I chose to beat the egg whites by hand with a whisk. Yikes. I beat and beat and beat, and only twenty minutes later, I had what I think were stiff-enough egg whites. I wasn't sure, and my arm was hurting, so I stopped. I was proud of myself, though; it was hard work but I'd never tried it before and I achieved the basic effect with them. Go me!

The egg whites get folded into the batter, making it very fluffy and almost marshmallow-like in consistency. I really liked the way it spooned up. It seemed especially light for a batter containing oatmeal. I filled the waffle iron for the first batch and noticed that the batter started cooking almost immediately, maybe because it was so light and air-filled. The waffles smelled sweet as they cooked (there's a fair amount of brown sugar and vanilla extract in the recipe). Everyone flocked to the kitchen at this point.

The waffles were so beautiful when they were finished cooking! They browned really nicely. These waffles were less crisp than the ones I make with my normal recipe; I wonder if this could be improved by making the buttermilk more concentrated.

The recipe suggested keeping finished waffles warm in the oven while subsequent batches cooked. I'd never tried this before, believe it or not. It's a great idea, and the waffles got a little more crisp in the very low (200 degree) oven. I'll definitely do that again.

While the waffles were cooking, I attended to the bruleed grapefruit portion of the meal. I used two big ruby red grapefruits, a half for each of us. I'd never tried broiling a grapefruit, or any fruit, before, so I was excited to try these. I put them into an old pan because I wasn't sure what would happen when cooking grapefruit, what with the acidity of it. I used regular light brown sugar instead of the turbinado sugar called for in the recipe; light brown is what I had on hand. The grapefruit were really fast and easy to do and they too smelled wonderful as they cooked.

The waffles were very good - light and tender and very tasty - but the grapefruit was fantastic! I loved it. We all did. We like ruby red grapefruit plain but this recipe took it to a whole new level. I wished I had a glass of that juice. Oh my goodness. I'm getting requests for the grapefruit on a daily basis. We loved this meal; it was delicious and I'll definitely make both recipes again soon!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Color Collaborative: May: Morning

When you live just west of a mountain, every morning is an experience in changing light. It's easy to miss because it starts early no matter the season. May is a particularly nice time to explore morning here, though; everything is blooming and the mornings are soft and sweet. Every place has its own morning look and feel, I think; I've lived in cloudier, darker places and can tell you exactly what morning was like there too. I like to think of morning in terms of inside and outside, much as I do evening. These times of day when things are getting started or finishing up are my favorite; I like the transitional times.

Outside, morning begins with a creeping light. As the sun rises from behind the peak, the sky transforms, pearly-pale to deepening blue, streaky pastel clouds fading to white. The sun makes it over the mountain, and over my garden wall. The shadows are long and low. Pink and red flowers glow in a muted way, greens brighten and berries shine. Leaf-shadows dapple the garden wall and the patio, the walls of the house, the chimney and the chicken coop. Sprinkler-spray sparkles in the grass and on the leaves and petals of our plants (natural dew is a special event). The mountain is somber and imposing in the morning, cloaked in dark gray instead of the watermelon-pink it wears at sunset. But then there is the moment when the sun picks out the tram cables draped across the mountain's face and suddenly they appear: fine, fleeting fairy strands.

Inside, my mornings begin with light too. I've yet to meet a window treatment that can keep a bedroom truly dark, especially as we approach the summer solstice. I wake to golden light bleeding around the edges of the blind, the window glass already warm to the touch. The bathroom is festooned with surprising rainbows as its small, high window bends the early sunshine. In the kitchen, light filters through the honeysuckle outside the east-facing window, shadowy squares shifting on the table. I make breakfast in a rapidly brightening kitchen, candy-colored plastic bowls glowing as I fill them with cereal. All of it - the bright tumblers of milk, the bananas on the counter and the flowers on the table - catches the changing light. The breakfast table gleams like a beacon of family nourishment, making morning at my house look like an advertisement for good, pure things.

When all is said and done, I sit at the table with my tea. The sun is higher now, past the breakfast-nook window and over the flat roof, the house warming under strengthening sun. My tea waits until I can sit down to drink it, steam dissipating as it cools. Morning is a good time for me; I am a morning person. It's simple - I like a fresh start and a clean slate and morning always provides both. Some people talk about the harsh light of morning, but I prefer to think of it as better illumination.


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 
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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Yarn Along

I'm joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along, sharing a current crochet project and read-in-progress, a bit early because I have other blogging commitments later in the week (I'll add my post to her link-up tomorrow). I'm glad I decided to join the Yarn Along; I feel more organized already.

Crochet-wise, I'm still working on the ripple throw I shared last week. I've finished my second color segment and have moved onto a third one. All the yarn is Stylecraft Special DK; the new color is Meadow. I'm really enjoying this project; it's not quite mindless, since you have to count stitches as you go, but it feels sort of mind-clearing to work on anyway. I think it's the rhythm of the pattern. I always enjoy a project that lets me be both present and far away while I work on it.

I finished last week's book, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, over the weekend. It was good, but not as great as I'd hoped from reading reviews. The story was suspenseful, with an interesting subplot about being different - and whether that means wanting to stand out or wanting to blend in, depending on the character and his or her surroundings. I think this is an important aspect of the human condition and something virtually everyone can relate to. One thing that irked me about this book was the way the author seemed kind of desperate to create the setting (1970's Ohio) through endless references to books, music, movies, hairstyles, fashion, cars, food, etc. I know some of that was to help advance the conflict (being Asian, and being from a mixed-race family, in a more racist time and place), but I've read plenty of period novels where the setting comes through vividly with fewer reminders.

I'm now reading a cookbook, which I often read as if they were novels; to me a good cookbook can be captivating. The Family Cooks by Laurie David is an excellent resource for cooking healthy family meals together. David offers lots of tips and suggestions for involving even young children in kitchen tasks. I borrowed this book from the library as part of my planning for the summer break; we keep our homeschool going through the summer even though our school is out for the summer. One of our goals this summer is to get both small Bears doing more in the kitchen. They're at different levels, being three years apart in age, but both enjoy helping with meal planning and prep. We've been sitting together and choosing recipes to try; from this book, first up will probably be granola.


Thank you so much for the anniversary wishes! We had a nice evening out by ourselves this weekend, including a relatively fancy child-free seafood dinner and, later, coffee and cheesecake at a diner. We stayed out until the dizzying hour of 9:30. The rest of the weekend was spent on household tasks and recovering from the past few weeks of craziness. I barely touched my computer and I'm hopelessly behind on my blog feed now; I'm just going to start over with new posts. I hope you're all doing well and that you enjoyed your long weekend (I know they were happening in a few corners of the world). 

I wanted to answer a couple of questions I've been asked recently. One was about our school calendar. Here in New Mexico, the schools are in session from about the second week of August until about the third week of May. Summer vacation is nearly three months long. There are two weeks off from school for the December holidays (with school back in session just after New Year's Day). There is a long weekend in October and another in February, and a week off around Easter. This is somewhat different from the school calendars I experienced when I was a child (and later a teacher) in the northeastern US. I will freely admit to having a raging case of UK-school-calendar envy. I think it makes a lot more sense.

I've also been asked to explain our own school situation. We're part-time homeschoolers, you could say. Our children attend an alternative public school in our city which is designed to help parents take a more active role in their children's education. The school provides 50% of their schooling hours and we do the rest at home. The truth is that we do a lot more than 50% at home - because we want to. We love teaching our own kids and we like having a traditional-school element as well. We think this plan gives us the best of both worlds.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Joining in with my friend Annie, who shared some happenings in her own life earlier this week (including the birth of her first grandchild!). Lately, I am...

Perfecting my quiche technique. I am seriously getting good at this. My last one had asparagus, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. It was delicious.

Sipping elderflower cordial for the first time ever. We bought a bottle of syrup concentrate at IKEA in Phoenix this winter. We're mixing it with mineral water.

Beaming with pride over my two children who have done a wonderful job in their recitals and class plays. As of yesterday at noon, we are on summer break!

Beginning to recover from the past month of endless commitments. I could sleep for a week.

Feeling more confident about the LB's medical stuff, especially a new medicine that required a huge hassle with the pharmacy and insurance coverage, but it's okay now. Phew.

Listening constantly to a new Pandora station I made just for a cappella music. Oh, it's awesome. The mash-ups are my favorite. This station reminds me of college; we had several a cappella groups and I never missed a performance. I used to try to get up the guts to try out for one of the female groups. I would make it as far as the music library to borrow sheet music for my audition before chickening out, like, six separate times. Wimp.

Celebrating our wedding anniversary this long holiday weekend. Our marriage is a teenager! How the heck did that happen?

Needing a haircut. You know Meatloaf, the singer? I think that I look like he did in the 70's when my hair gets too long and scraggly.

Picking tiny, super-sweet and flavorful strawberries from our small patch in the backyard. I noticed that one area of plants was covered over with dirt when the small Bears dug their giant hole last fall. I think I'll try to put in a few new plants next spring. I need more strawberries!

Marveling at my still-living potted basil plant. We're past a month already! I've never had basil survive this long.

Devouring books at an impressive rate. I'm not watching as much TV lately. I noticed that I was letting myself zone out too much at night. I feel a lot sharper with less TV and more books.

Wondering what kind of summer we're going to have; May has been remarkably cool and wet. I hope this is a good monsoon year. How I love my rain and thunderstorms.

Looking forward to an anniversary dinner out, sans children!

Finding myself unexpectedly entranced by hairstyle tutorial videos on YouTube. I went looking for donut-bun tutorials for the GB's ballet recital and got sucked in. They're fascinating.

Planning summer craft projects for myself and the small Bears. I have several crochet and sewing ideas for myself; we'll see how many I can get through.

Making a list of things we'd like to do in Denver next month on vacation. Would it surprise you to know that a trip to IKEA is one of my contributions?

Starting to make a Father's Day gift for the Bear; I fear I may have left it too late.

Rejoicing because I finally found some comfortable black semi-dressy summer sandals to wear with skirts, dresses and capri pants. I have so much trouble finding good shoes for myself and it doesn't help that I'm a skinflint, but the $5-flip-flops-with-everything look just wasn't working for me anymore.

Signing off...and hoping you're having a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yarn Along

I've decided to join in with Ginny's Yarn Along series as we head into the summer. I have sort of a love-hate relationship with summer vacation. I know, I know...hear me out, please. I'm not good at relaxed, unstructured time. It just doesn't work well for me; my nature is to seek out projects and to get them done relatively quickly. I'm the kind of person who loves to clean, make beds, organize paperwork and books. I just came home from the small Bears' school, where I was helping the GB's teacher clean the classroom. I was up on a chair, scrubbing the whiteboards with a rag for nearly an hour. I felt a little tingly, I have to tell you. So, knowing myself and my need for structure and predictability, I think having a built-in blogging prompt each week will be a very good thing for me indeed. I'll probably want to keep going after summer ends.

Ginny says:  ~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading and I love sharing my projects and current reads here.  I would love for you to join me every Wednesday to share a single photo of what you are knitting (or crocheting) and reading too!  Share your photo on your blog, on Instagram (#yarnalong), or on Flickr. Leave a link below to share your photo with the rest of us! ~

As of today, I'm reading Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. This is a novel about a young girl who goes missing from her suburban Ohio town in 1977. Familial tensions ensue. I'm only a few pages in, having just finished The Last Days of the Romanovs last night. I like the new novel so far, but we'll have to see where it goes. It seems like the plot will be thickening quite a bit.

I'm crocheting a small throw for our living room, using a ripple pattern from the blog Meet Me At Mike's. It's an easy design and I like the pointy peaks and valleys it creates. I'm using Stylecraft Special DK for my throw; I'm going with an easy color sequence that requires 16 rows of each color. I like the chunky, graphic look I'm getting this way. So far, the shades I've used are Cream and Camel. I don't really need another throw for the living room, and I don't normally start blankets in the late spring, but I was in the mood for soothing, repetitive crochet and this is perfect.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reading the Romanovs

Two weeks ago, I borrowed The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport from my local library. Within just a few pages of reading, I found myself completely absorbed, swept away by an old obsession I hadn't indulged in many years - my youthful fascination with the Romanov family, the last Tsar of Russia and his wife and children. Do you know their story? Nicholas II was considered a weak ruler and his wife, Alexandra, was roundly disliked by their subjects. To make a long story short, the whole family was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, after the Russian Revolution brought sweeping change to the political and social landscape, ending imperial rule.

That's my copy of Robert K. Massie's epic biography, Nicholas and Alexandra, up there in the photos, along with the library copy of The Romanov Sisters. I've had the Massie book since I was a teenager, and it was old then, an edition from the 1970's. The cover is torn, mended with scotch tape where it's separating from the spine. Oh, how I love this book. I read it over and over again when I was younger, carrying it with me on long car trips, on the buses and trains I used to take when I traveled between college and my parents' house. My (maiden) name is written inside the cover. I found the book just after I'd learned about the last Tsar in history class, in tenth grade. I was already intrigued by their story and I think the book just came along at the right time and I was transfixed. Has that ever happened to you? When it happens to me, I'm hooked for life, literally. I can't let a book go after that.

I hadn't read Nicholas and Alexandra in about fifteen years, but my interest in their story has continued on and off. I took it out to use as sort of a companion to The Romanov Sisters, helping me refresh my memory as to family trees, especially (both Nicholas and Alexandra were descended from the major European houses of royalty). I've read numerous other books about them, some much better than others. The Romanov Sisters is about their four daughters - the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. The girls have often been depicted in an idealized way, bordering on hagiography, even while they were alive. They were the first four children of the Tsar and his wife, born before the longed-for male heir, Alexey, who was a hemophiliac and very sickly.

The girls were killed, along with their parents and brother, when all four were between the ages of 17 and 22. Rappaport's book brings the girls to life in a way that no other book I've read has done. They were close and loving, but they had personality flaws like anyone else. They nursed inappropriate crushes and struggled with schoolwork at times. They squabbled like any other siblings and sometimes had disagreements with their parents and tutors. I enjoyed the way that Rappaport told their stories through personal letters and diaries, which offered a glimpse of their everyday language and senses of humor.

I was particularly impressed with the way Olga and Tatiana were depicted. As the eldest daughters, they had more responsibility and more visibility, having entered the marriage market in the years before their deaths. Both also served as nurses during World War I, in makeshift hospitals with seriously injured patients. Tatiana, in particular, blossomed in this environment and proved herself to be a very capable and compassionate young woman. I was surprised by some things I learned about the girls, such as their close relationships with their appointed sailor/bodyguards on the family yacht, and the intimate friendships they formed with soldiers as well as the "healer" Grigory Rasputin, whom their mother relied upon for spiritual advice and faith-healing for herself and the hemophiliac Alexey. I was not aware that the girls were so close to Rasputin but they wrote letters to him and often looked to him for advice in their personal lives.

The younger daughters, Maria and Anastasia, were not as fleshed-out in this book, which is my only disappointment. I think Maria gets the least discussion in most books on the Romanov family. She was considered the sweetest, most agreeable of the four, while Anastasia is usually depicted as more of a spitfire. Anastasia is famous posthumously, of course, because of doubts that she had died with the family and even imposters who claimed to be her. (All members of the family have been proven killed, by the way, through forensic analysis of their remains. All have also been canonized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox church).

As soon as I finished The Romanov Sisters, I went back to the library for Helen Rappaport's previous book, The Last Days of the Romanovs, which I've only just started in the last couple of days. It chronicles the last weeks and days of the family after they were imprisoned at Ekaterinburg, a city in western Siberia, where they were soon killed en masse by their Bolshevik captors. It's very good so far, and also does a good job of shedding more light on the personalities of all the family members. As a lover of biography, I think Rappaport has a real gift for bringing historical figures to life. I understand that she is also an expert on Victorian England, which I have also long enjoyed reading about (Alexandra was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria), so I will look for her books on that subject as well.

I know from having Instagrammed about The Romanov Sisters that some of you are interested in the last imperial family's story as well; I think you will love this book.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Three things

What a crazy week. We're in the home stretch with school now, just this week and next to go before summer vacation begins. In one way, I can't believe we're already here and in another, it seems like we can't get finished soon enough. Almost there, though. We've had more medical appointments for the LB and are making plans for a summer surgery, in addition to swimming lessons, summer homeschool curricula and a few days' vacation in Denver.

I've felt a bit absent from blogging lately, both my own and others', but I hope to be more immersed again soon. I have been reading and crocheting a lot in my spare time. I've started a small ripple blanket project and have been reading an excellent biography, The Romanov Sisters, about the daughters of the last tsar of Russia. I actually can't put this book down. It's the first book I've stayed up way too late reading in a while. I have more to say about both blanket and book, of course, and I'll do that soon. We have a new podcast online! We're talking about our experiences with chicken-keeping. Click on the "podcast" button in my sidebar if you'd like to listen.

Lately, life has been all about taking time to stop and smell the roses - sometimes literally - as we race through these last few hectic days before the summer break. Here are three things that I've enjoyed lately, because they made me slow down and savor the small stuff.

I stopped at an estate sale last Friday afternoon on the way home from school. I'd been at the park with the small Bears, who ran themselves ragged on the soccer field and the playground, and we were all ready to go home and chill out. I saw a sign in my neighborhood for a sale and decided to drive by just for a look. It turned out to be an amazing sale. I didn't have enough money on me (or elsewhere, let's be honest) for the beautiful antique furniture but I was able to pick up a tin tray with strawberries, perfect for my kitchen, and three old glass bottles.

The bottles are my favorite. I used to collect old glass bottles and jars, starting with a grab-bag of them I found at a flea market when I was fifteen. Eventually, I ended up with about thirty of them, moving them from house to house many times until with one move, I just gave up. It was becoming a chore and I wasn't even unpacking them anymore. I gave most of them away, keeping a few small ones for flowers. I wanted a few big ones again, though, and made room in case I ever found any. These will be great. They're all different (I have a small jar, as for jam, a large mason jar and a milk bottle). They're the old, thick kind of glass with a slight tint to it, and lots of nicks and pits and even a little crack in the big mason jar. Just the kind of old stuff I love!

Ever throw together a meal and have it turn out fabulously? I did that earlier this week. I was making a chicken stir-fry for dinner (I make lots of stir-fries; it's a great way to clean out the veggie drawer). I felt bored with the usual bottled sauce that I use (Trader Joe's Soyaki, which I doctor with a little sesame oil and thicken with a cornstarch slurry). I decided to try making a peanut sauce instead. I used a can of light coconut milk, about 1/3 cup of peanut butter, the juice of a lime, a teaspoon of fish sauce, a dash of red chili flakes and a couple of teaspoons of sugar. I brought it to a boil and let it simmer a few minutes to thicken, then poured it over my cooked chicken and veggies and let it all simmer together for a few more minutes before serving. It was so good! I will definitely do it again. It was a nice change of pace.

I'm really excited about the geraniums I planted on Mother's Day. Last summer, I planted numerous different kinds of annuals in this half-barrel on my back patio, and the geraniums seemed to do the best. This year I decided that I'd just plant geraniums. Why not? They're hardy, they don't require a lot of water and they're colorful. I bought three trailing ivy geraniums at Lowe's on Saturday. I knew one was a fuchsia color because there was a spent bloom on it, but the others were a mystery. The selection at Lowe's included white, pink, red, fuchsia and a white/fuchsia variegated type. As it turns, out, they all seem to be fuchsia and I really like it. The color is bright and crisp and I think it will look lovely in the barrel, which is right next to my red roses, dark pink Jupiter's beard and pale pink primroses. I like red and pink together. And green, lots of green! Let's keep that going.

Speaking of roses and Jupiter's beard...I really can't get enough of this combination right now. I'm bringing in a new bouquet every few days. My roses are a little shabby and the Jupiter's beard sheds all over the table, but I love my slightly untidy real-life flowers.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day

My Mother's Day began on Saturday, when my beautiful mother-in-law gave me this potted petite orchid, and thanked me for being a good mother to her grandchildren. I thanked her for being an excellent role model.

On Sunday morning, my three Bears gave me a ceramic teapot. I've wanted one for a long time. Isn't it so "me"? It looks perfect in my strawberry kitchen. I can't wait to crochet a cozy for it; I have the perfect idea!

The Bear baked banana-nut muffins for breakfast (it was very sunny in the kitchen).

I spent a very happy half-hour in the backyard, planting some geraniums that I bought on Saturday.

I took the duvet cover off to wash it, hung the duvet on the clothesline to air and put the cover back on again. I love to change the bed. It's a happy ritual and I'm glad to do it, even on Mother's Day.

I watched the Bear bake ciabatta bread (he's still working his way through Peter Rinehart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and baking better bread all the time). We took one loaf to his mother later in the day.

We ate hot dogs for lunch on the patio. The Bear grilled my hot dogs nice and dark, just the way I like them!

Then I wandered around and admired my flowers for a while. I love flowers, especially when they are my very own.

I went inside and started a new crochet project. I've been wanting to try a pointy ripple design, and this one from Meet Me at Mike's is really easy to do. I think this will become a small throw for the living room.

Then my Bears surprised me; they wanted to take me out for ice cream! We went to Baskin-Robbins. I had strawberry cheesecake, my favorite since I was a kid. Back at home, I made turkey meatloaf for dinner, the Bear and I watched Call the Midwife and I crocheted. I had a lovely Mother's Day full of things I love. I hope you did too!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...