Archive for January, 2012

January 30, 2012

garden happies

happiness is stepping outside to water the pansies….

….and discovering the helleborus in bloom!

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January 25, 2012

mrs. beeton’s words of wisdom

on making calls:

“…it is not advisable at any time to take favorite dogs into another lady’s drawing room, for many persons have an absolute dislike to such animals; and besides this, there is always a chance of a breakage of some article occurring, through their leaping and bounding here and there, sometimes very much to the fear and annoyance of the hostess.   her children, also, unless they are particularly well trained and orderly, and she is in exceedingly friendly terms with the hostess, should not accompany a lady in making morning calls.  where a lady, however, pays her visits in a carriage, the children can be taken in the vehicle, and remain in it until the visit is over. ”    got that ladies?  dogs and kidlets stay in the carriage.  unless of course you are visiting me, in which case bring them all in and lemonade and doggie biscuits will be provided accordingly.

January 23, 2012

tea scones

my grandfather immigrated to the united states from england when he was four.  i grew up hearing the stories of how his mother lay in the cabin, uncomfortable with motion sickness, while my grandfather played marbles on the floor – watching them roll back and forth with the rocking of the ship.  growing up in the u.s., he eventually lost his accent, but one thing his family kept were their english traditions.  a pot of tea and scones were one of them.  i have eaten these since i was a child, long before the scone became a food fad.  these are in my opinion, closer to the original intent, a far cry from the enormous sugar laden product now offered at a coffee shop.  they are most likely what would have been served for tea at downton abbey (if you are still watching) whether you were dining upstairs, or down, and would have been served with clotted cream and a jam or curd of some sort.   my wedding reception featured a high tea and a friend and i made these by the hundreds one afternoon before the wedding: they are that simple to put together.

scone by the way is pronounced to rhyme with “lawn” not “stone”.

tea scones

2 cups of flour

2 tablespoons of sugar

1 tablespoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/3 cup of dried currants (optional, i rarely use them as it competes too much with the jam i like to serve on the side)

6 tablespoons of butter

1 beaten egg

1/2 cup of milk

1 slightly beaten egg

in a bowl thoroughly stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  stir in the currants, if desired.  cut in butter til the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. add 1 beaten egg and milk, stirring just till the dough clings together.  knead dough gently on lightly floured surface (12-15 strokes).  cut the ough in half.  shape each half into a ball and pat or roll to a 6-inch circle, about 1/2 inch thick.  with a sharp knife, cut each circle into 6 wedges.  place wedges on ungreased baking sheet or baking stone.  do not allow the sides to touch.  brush tops with lightly beaten egg, and bake at 425 until a deep golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.  makes one dozen scones.

note: the key to having them raise nice and high is fresh baking powder and handling the dough as little as possible.

~ from better homes and gardens heritage cookbook

January 20, 2012

four and twenty blackbirds

this little vignette keeps me company while i do the dishes:

the little scene as a whole, is comprised of three components that were collected over time.

it all started with the pie bird, who, having been through at least four moves, is a little worse for wear.

rather than get him repaired, i’ve decided to just leave him be.  each chip tells a story and adds to his overall character.

i don’t recall which came next, the little book, or the birds baked in a pie; nor do i recall where either of them came from.

there are not quite twenty-four black birds in this little pie, but when the pie is opened….

it’s the little things that make the nitty gritty stuff (like washing the dishes) worthwhile.

January 18, 2012

random thoughts about downton abbey

we do not own a tv so i happened upon downton abbey a year ago,  quite by accident, while browsing the masterpiece theater website.  being an avid fan of period flicks from any time period i eagerly devoured all four episodes.  i wouldn’t call myself a huge fan as there are some things i really don’t care for as you will see in the following list,  but i do enjoy watching and plan to add the series to my library.

i recently saw a piece on the news speculating as to why we americans are so taken with a british series and what it is that makes us want to watch:  supposedly the riveting drama and romance of the time period. from my perspective,  i couldn’t disagree more; but then i watch for very different reasons.

~ i have to check in with my favorite character.

it is not lady mary.

it is not cora, or anna, or even mr. bates.

it is the house.

the opening credits with the dog on the lawn and the maids opening the raised panel shutters give me goosebumps.  i lose a lot of important dialogue because i am busy looking at the interiors: linen fold panels in the library, the open shelves and copper pans in the kitchen.

~ i love the lifestyle that goes along with the house.  ring a bell for a tea tray to be brought to your room first thing in the morning.  a walk in the garden, change for lunch. change for tea in the afternoon, change again for a formal dinner in the evening.  while the director’s slant (in my opinion) is to make such a life seem dull and meaningless, don’t tell me you haven’t watched and for just one second thought how lovely it would be to have a day whose primary duties were nothing more than growing roses and pouring tea from a pot worth millions.

that being said:

~ the life of a domestic looks very gratifiying to me as well.  yes, it was hard work, no, they weren’t well paid but everyone (thomas excluded) seemed to be somewhat contented  in their position and there is something appealing about the role and skill  of the housekeeper  meticulously running the household like a very well oiled machine.  i also think it would be great fun to wear a uniform.  a black dress with a lace apron is much more pretty for housework  than yoga pants and a hoodie.

i do not care for:

~ isobel.  ::ducks to avoid flying objects::  i’m sorry.  i think she is a goody two shoes.  i think she has far too lofty an opinion of herself and her ideas and since they are (in her opinion) right, it gives her license to traipse all over other people’s boundaries like  clumsy goat in a rose bed.   i guess i have known far too many people like her.  i *do* however, love the work of penelope wilton, and i think it cool that she took the role of isobel  to fulfill a  long time dream of working with maggie smith.

~ i don’t like all the cliches and cheesy catch phrases.  by the end of season 2 episode 1 i was ready to propose a drinking game.  bottoms up every time one hears the words “the times are changing…”

~the writer and director have in my opinion taken too many liberties and the piece has lost a certain amount of authenticity.  i’m too much of a stickler for realism.  try as i might, i just can’t visualize a lady’s maid and her mistress confiding in each other about their respective romantic issues, or for that matter,  a lady ducking into the butler’s personal quarters for a bit of a friendly chat.

~it has become very predictable.  we all know what will happen.  anna and mr. bates will find a way, and the butler will pass on.   the earl of grantham will pitch a fit when sybil marries the chauffer (until he remembers  that “the times are changing “), edith will be hurt enough times to soften her nastiness, and mary and matthew crawley will get together in the end possibly producing an heir so we can have a season 4 (season 3 is being filmed as we speak…).

what do you want to bet?

January 16, 2012

it’s about that time…

if you are planning to start a garden in the spring and haven’t already purchased your seeds now would be the time!

in just a few weeks it will be time to sow the cool weather crops, and in a few more weeks, it will be time to start the warm weather crops indoors to be set out after the last hard frost.

this year to keep things simple i purchased all of my seeds from one source: the seed savers exchange.  founded in 1975, the sse is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds.  i have ordered from them for the past four years and have always been very satisfied.  i placed my order just before christmas and am chomping at the bit to get started.

i will be sticking with a lot of our old favorites that we look forward to year after year such as the amish deer tongue lettuce; but i did add a few new things to try.  among other things: romanesco broccoli.

this is a very new venture for me.  i tried rapini once (not exactly broccoli, but close enough) with no success.  i want to try again before moving on, and i loved the look of this italian heirloom variety.

if you are going seed shopping for the first time here are a few things to remember:

~ grow what you like to eat.

~ learn what varieties grow well in your area and start with those.  if you are unsure about what to choose, contact your county extension office.

~ lettuces are very simple to grow and do well in containers if you don’t have a lot of space in your yard.

~ keep it simple and keep it small.

you can read more about beginning gardening here.

next week: how to read a seed packet.

January 11, 2012

happy housekeeping

for your viewing pleasure today we have my high tech home management system:

i cut my house cleaning teeth on this system and have used it to attempt to stay organized for the past twenty years or so.

my mother discovered the book sidetracked home executives: from pigpen to paradise when she was raising us children and implemented the system in her own home, training us as she went.   shortly after i was home from my honeymoon and the dust settled from all the wedding planning, mom came over to my  house and the two of us sat down together to create my own card system for my home.

every single household chore, inside and out is carefully recorded on a single 3×5 card.  the cards are then categorized according to frequency: daily (yellow), weekly (blue), monthly (pink), seasonally (also pink), etc.   using numbered and monthly dividers, the cards are scheduled throughout the week, month, and year.   ideally, this system enables the housekeeper to easily maintain the household, keeping track of every task that needs to be done.

for example: decluttering is one of my daily chores.

i have this listed on a single card marked “daily”.  once the card is completed it is filed to the next day’s date to be done again.  cleaning the bathrooms is a weekly chore, typically done on tuesdays.  once this card is completed it is filed away to be done again the following tuesday.

one friendly rule offered in the book is that one should not allow uncompleted tasks to accumulate.  should tuesday arise and, for whatever the reason, i cannot complete the bathroom, it is filed to the following week as if i had.

having proudly displayed my wonderful system, i now humbly offer the following confessions:

~ i have housekeeping lapses.  long ones.  i frequently go for a few weeks where it is all hit and miss.

~sometimes i will decide to catch up at the most unusual and often inconvenient times.  at 11pm on a wednesday evening, instead of going to bed, i will suddenly decide to wash down my dining room table with murphy’s oil soap.

~ i love to declutter.  i hate to deep clean.   i shuffle a lot of deep cleaning monthly chores and file them as though they had been done, when in reality it has been months since they have even been considered.  as a result i have a very tidy house, but my baseboards are often dusty.

confessions aside: the wonderful thing about this system is that it is always easy to jump right back into it and get back on track.  after twenty years of repeatedly “getting back on track”  i refuse to consider anything else.

January 9, 2012

how to spend a delightful evening at home alone

i am a road warrior’s wife.

most monday mornings (like this one), i roll out of bed at the crack of dawn and drop my sweetheart off at the airport where he travels to one place and another servicing clients in need of his consultation.  we do get to spend the weekends together but he is gone at least two weeks out of the month, very often three, and this month: all four.

as a result, i spend many evenings at home alone.  being the classic introvert, this can be wonderful but there are times where it can also be lonely.  following are some ways i have learned to spend a very enjoyable evening at home by myself:

~ make dinner special.  order take-out, or purchase fancy ingredients and make something i have been wanting to try.  i also use nights alone to fix something i particularly like, but my husband doesn’t care for.

~ watch a tv series.  i love the bbc period flicks.  i’m currently working my way through “lillie” on the life of lillie langtry.  some others i’ve enjoyed: north and south, wives and daughters, the forsyte saga, and middlemarch.  it is also fun to have a jane austen marathon.

~ while watching tv, i serve the special dinner on a tv tray, or brew a lovely pot of tea and watch while working on needlework.

~ soak in the bubble bath, light a candle (or candles), and listen to my sarah brightman pandora station.

~ read a book for hours.  when i’m home alone, i choose an easy read, something very engaging where i can sit up in bed propped up with pillows, crank up the electric blanket, snuggle with the doggies, and just read.  if i can manage to keep curious doggies at bay, i’ll add a pot of tea to the mix.

~ sew.  sometimes after dropping my husband off at the airport i’ll head to the fabric store and choose a project that can be completed that week.  in the evenings, i’ll pull out my sewing machine and ironing board, queue up my current bbc series and sew the evening away.

how do you like to spend your time alone?

January 6, 2012

french onion soup with brie

it being the first of the year and all, this was to have been a recipe for hoppin’ john.

i was going to cook it for our january 2nd dinner and feature it here, but we had so many leftovers from saturday night that needed to be eaten instead.

hoppin’ john then has been moved out to next week where we hope eating it  will still bring us a certain amount of luck and prosperity.  in it’s place we have french onion soup.

a few years ago, my husband and i started the tradition of ringing in the new year by cooking together at home.  this year, to go along with our prime rib dinner for two we fixed french onion soup sporting a brie crouton.  i got the idea of using brie instead of the traditional gruyere cheese from a french restaurant here in town that features this soup regularly on their menu.

this recipe, adapted from the ultimate southern living cookbook is really quite simple and can come together within an hour, but the longer you caramelize the onions, and the longer you simmer the broth, the better it will taste in the end.

some other keys to success would be a really good brie (of course) and a nice dry white wine.  the baguette is not necessarily a key to success, any will do, it is just there because it looks pretty in the picture.

first off, slice about five medium sized yellow onions.   i’ve been told that a very sharp knife will help reduce the amount of fumes from the onions, and thereby the amount of tears.  while i did have to step away once, i can verify that yes, the sharper the knife, the easier the task.

onions sliced, melt 1/4 cup of butter in a stock pot and add your onions along with about one tablespoon of garlic.  keep the heat of the pan somewhere between medium and low and be patient.

don’t stir too often, keep the onions in contact with the bottom of the pan, and let them slowly caramelize.  starting with something like this,

going to this,

this,

and finally ending up with this:

i allowed my onions to caramelize for one hour.   if, however, you are pressed for time it could be done in forty minutes, the flavor just may not be as deep.

now add your stock.  this recipe calls for both chicken, and beef.  i’m cheating here and using a carton but if you have the time to make your own stock from chicken and beef bones so much the better.

add the wine.  start with 1/2 cup and add more to taste if necessary.  we like a nice full bodied broth so we increased the amount in the end to about 1 cup total. we’ve used an albarino, but vermouth, or any dry white will do.

now add three sprigs of thyme (can you see them in there?), and let the whole thing simmer together for a minimum of 20 minutes but, as with the onions,  the longer the better.

while that is simmering prepare your croutons.

now, i have a very small kitchen so my space has to be very carefully organized and for that reason i don’t have room for french onion soup crocks.  i make my croutons in the broiler and drop them into the soup.  it works fine for us and that is the method i’m showing here.

slice your baguette and arrange on a broiler tray.  place under the broiler and watch it close.  you want it dry and crispy but not burnt.

remove from the broiler, spread with the brie, and return to the heat until the brie is browned and bubbly. they look much prettier in real life than they do in this picture.

to serve, remove the thyme sprigs from the soup, ladle into bowls, and top with the croutons.

if you have a nice big kitchen and can afford space for onion soup bowls, prepare your croutons to the point of spreading the brie onto the baguette but don’t return to the broiler.  instead, ladle your soup into the crocks, top with the croutons, and toast under the broiler until browned and bubbly.

this recipe will serve six.

french onion soup

1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 lbs. yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced

1 T minced garlic

32 oz. chicken broth

20 oz. beef stock

1/4 c of dry white wine, plus more to taste

3 fresh thyme sprigs

salt and pepper to taste

1 baguette cut into six 1″ thick slices

6 oz brie cheese

melt butter in a large stock pot over medium high heat.  add onion and garlic.  cook slowly, stirring often until a deep golden brown.

add chicken broth, beef stock, white wine, and thyme sprigs.  bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer stirring occasionally for twenty minutes (at least).  remove thyme sprigs and adjust seasoning to taste.

spread baguette with the brie and set aside.  ladle soup into 6 oven proof bowls.  top with the baguette.  set broiler to hi, and broil 5 inches from heat until cheese is browned and bubbly.

~adapted from the all new ultimate southern living cookbook

January 3, 2012

reflections

i suppose this is the sort of post one publishes on january 1 but i consider this first week of the year still early enough to reflect upon the last year and set goals for the year to come.   as i said before, i’m not much of a resolutions sort of person, i like to set goals: reasonable goals that i can actually accomplish.  it isn’t very often that i reach every goal on the list so it is frequently added to the list again :sigh: in hopes that someday i will actually make it.  this past year was one of those years where a few on the list will be added again in hopes of possibly being able to cross them off this time next year.  2011 knocked me off my feet and not really in a good way.  we experienced some major set backs and major disappointments that we are still working through – many of my goals  simply had to be set aside for one reason or another.  so, looking back at 2011:

1. complete our dossier in a reasonable amount of time.  at the time of writing this goal we haven’t yet talked with the family coordinator from our agency so i don’t know what constitutes “reasonable amount of time”.  i would though like to have it done by spring.  if you have no earthly idea what i am talking about see the link to my other blog on the sidebar of this page and read the “our news” post.

the link on the sidebar is no longer there as our plans to adopt fell through.  i followed up with this on a post entitled “the other blog” which is tacked up on my home page.

2. by the end of ’11 i would like a place for everything and everything in its place.  this will require better time management on my part.

wayall….we’re still working on this one but i can say that my kitchen is pretty well organized.

3. continue working to establish our potager (a potager is a fancy word for kitchen garden.  i used to throw it out there periodically to show off and then discovered i wasn’t pronouncing it correctly).  i would love it if we could purchase less and less produce from the store and use more and more from our garden.

yes!  this we did accomplish and were even able to grow veggies year ’round.  i have cabbage, lettuce, and brussels sprouts happily growing along out there.

4. run the john 3:16 10k with a better finish time than last year.

5. complete the st. paddy’s day 5k in less than 32 min and 27 sec.

6. depending on whether or not we travel abroad to meet little one and when we could potentially travel, run the 15k tulsa run in october.

due to some ongoing health issues i’m still dealing with my running was very sporadic this year so the 5k, 10k, and 15k were out of the question.  this was a big disappointment for me.

7. show some things on etsy and hopefully sell them.  this is another repeat from last year which was a repeat from the year before.  we’re getting there.  at least now i know what i want to show, it is just a matter of executing it.

…aaaand this is another that had to be set aside in order to deal with set backs.  sooooo…..

goals for 2012 (in no particular order of importance)

1. show somethings on etsy and hopefully sell them.

2. start making a quilt for our queen size bed.  someone gave me a series of quilt patterns as a wedding gift and i have never made one.  my grandmother made lots of quilts, and i always wanted to follow in her footsteps but i’ve just never done it.  a quilt seems ridiculously ambitious in light of this potentially being a very busy year for us (more on that later on) but i’m afraid if i don’t just jump in and do it, it will never get done.  we need a new bedspread, this is a great opportunity to start.

3.  i want to be more punctual.   i always seem to be running 5-15 minutes behind and have no excuse for it other than i spent too much time on facebook or was having a bad hair day.

4. begin to increase our garden space to about 4,750 square feet (including paths).  are you shocked?  yes, this can be done. i’m stoked.

5. purchase three chickens.

6. while i would absolutely love to run that 15k in october, proceeded by a series of 5 and 10k’s; i’m just not sure that this will be the year so i’m not going to mark it as a goal.  i would however like to commit to regular exercise whether that be yoga, walking, or light jogging.

….and once again

7. have a place for everything and everything in its place.  that actually may happen this year, as i may not have much of a choice.

i like having seven goals.  seven is a perfect number.

what are your goals for the upcoming year?