Monday, February 28, 2011

You don't always get what you want

Well.  Today I had intended on getting some sewing projects done (or even just started), but it seems that I never even made it into the studio.  However, I've got a pot of White Bean Soup (with spinach and a rosemary ham-bone broth), 2 rosemary-butter baguettes in the oven, a big bowl of crunchy kale chips on the counter.


Kale tossed with a bit of olive oil and sea salt in the oven (please excuse the seasoned baking stone in the bottom of the shot)


Crispy Kale Chips, with a little smoked paprika.  It's yummy in a very green way (think oven-roasted-broccoli), and I'm not sure the children will eat it...unless I pulverize it and sprinkle it over some buttered popcorn...

And I went food shopping.  So that's something.  (Sometimes I've just got to write it all out to even see where the day went.  There were also a few moments spent with some Super Blue Eyeshadow...)

Right now the children are playing peacefully together....


Playing "cats", eating their pretzels out of bowls set on the floor

The studio will still be there tomorrow, and the next...and the next.  But for today, I am content.  It's been a great day.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bowtie Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Mozzerella

Recently, I was at the grocery store, and noticed some beautiful cherry tomatoes.  I bought some fresh mozzerella and a handful of basil, and threw it together into a super quick and bright tasting main dish.


This sort of a thing can certainly be riffed on, so don't feel like you have to follow my recipe to the letter.  Swap out some creamy brie or smoked mozzerella for the fresh mozzerella, add a handful of pine-nuts, saute some mushrooms in a little olive get the idea.  Make it your own!

Bowtie Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Mozzerella

1 lb bowtie pasta (or other short chunky pasta shape)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, each one cut in half
1 handful basil (approx 1/4 cup, cut into thin strips)
1 lb fresh mozzerella, cubed
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Red pepper flakes (small or large pinch, depending on your preference)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To serve (optional):
Fresh, finely shredded romano or parmesan cheese
Finely grated lemon zest (I used Meyer lemons because that's what I had)
Baby spinach
Slices of buttered french bread, run under the broiler until lightly golden

Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil (for my 5 quart pot, I put about 3 tablespoons of table salt in the water).  Add pasta, and immediately get started on cutting each of the cherry tomatoes in half.  Set tomatoes aside and thinly slice the basil and garlic.  Cube the pound of mozzerella. 

When the pasta is almost done, warm the olive oil in a small saucepan with the garlic, just until the garlic is ever so slightly golden.  Add a pinch of red pepper flakes to the warm oil. 

Drain the pasta, and add the garlic/oil, tomatoes, basil, and mozzerella cubes.  Toss well to combine.  Salt and pepper to taste, and serve with shredded cheese and a sprinkle of lemon zest.  Serve over a bed of baby spinach (not shown in my picture), if desired, with broiled/toasted bread alongside.



Friday, February 25, 2011

Link-tastic Friday

I know that everyone was worried, so LET ME ASSURE YOU: I am knitting again.


It's yet another (this is the 3rd) bolero.  These boleros are so flattering and wearable, with the additional bonus of being easily customized to fit any size with any weight of yarn.  I've just reached the beginning of the lace, and I am thrilled to have my needles clicking once again.


Making life easier:
  • Food On the Table provides a menu, recipes and grocery list depending on what's on sale in your area. It will provide information for 3 meals per week for free, or you can upgrade to a paid account for help planning every meal.
  • I am pretty flipping crazy about this chalkboard wall-art calendar from Etsy shop Simple Shapes.

Food (savory):
  • Cabot Cheddar Soda Bread looks savory, sweet, and pretty much perfect for eating alongside our dinner tonight. (My un-recipe for Black bean and cherry tomato "salad" with chunks of cucumber, avocado, sharp cheddar, minced red onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice)

Food (sweet):
  • Lemon Cornmeal Breakfast Cake with browned butter sounds like exactly the thing that I should bring to the next ladies brunch. In fact, I believe I will. Although, even if you don't like lemons and have never believed in cake, you should definitely click through just to read the story about the bee up the shirt. Priceless and hilarious. Thank you Joy for being such a candid baker.
  • I love pumpkin and chocolate together. This muffin sounds delicious! Chocolate Chip Pecan Pumpkin Muffins (via Food Blogga).
  • Oreos -- the only storebought cookie that can tempt me -- just got even better. Chocolate Cookies 'n Cream Cookies (via Culinary in the Country).

Just because it's funny:
  • I actually HAVE tried to wax myself at home, so I know how real the pain is! This made me laugh till I cried (Thanks to my friend Rachel for the link!):

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Battling the flu (and some handspun)

This past weekend, three out of the four children had intermittent fevers, coughs, and other related yuckiness. We stayed away from the public, and had a rather lovely time together as a family.

I made a big pot of brothy New Year Noodle Soup (via 101cookbooks), because it seemed like the sort of thing sick people (and people who are trying not to get sick) should be eating.

Between the earthiness of the beans in the spicy broth, the sweet buttery flavor of the caramelized onions on top along with a cool scoop of sour cream, it was both fortifying and delicious. I served it with rice noodles and extra Serrano peppers chopped on the side for those of us who need an extra spicy kick (that would be me).

By Monday, everyone was fine except for Elijah, who still had a high fever and seemed even sicker than before. I took him to the Dr., and he tested positive for the Flu. They wrote a note to the school, excusing him for the week.  Yes, the whole entire week.

It's been a little bit hectic for the past few days, because Elijah and Lavella generally do exactly the thing that will make the other stark raving mad, and can't seem to find much common ground for peaceful play. In fact, the better Elijah feels (thanks to prayers, meds, rest and cuddles), the worse the conflict between the two, and without the pragmatic and diplomatic Andrew around all day, things have been interesting around here, to say the least. They did, however, have at least 5 minutes of happiness cutting paper into tiny bits in the living room this morning.

So at least there's that.

Also, do you remember when I first started spinning that bump of hot pink and dark orange cormo a while back? Yeah, me neither. But this weekend, I finished the singles:

And got it plied and skeined and washed:

Strawberry Mango 2-ply, 420 yds fingering/sport weight handspun.

The yarn isn't perfect by any means, but it's not bad for such stop-start progress over the past few months. Mostly, I'm glad to have it off the wheel, because it had been there long enough to feel sort of like a weight on my shoulders of Unfinished-ness, and I really hate it when that happens.

I have no idea what I will do with it. In fact, I have absolutely nothing on the needles right now. I swatched for 2 more projects yesterday, and still, none of the yarn will make gauge with any pattern that I want to make. Problematic. Also, I am not interested in writing my own pattern, or just going for it.  It's almost enough to make me cast on for a garter stitch scarf just to have something to knit.  Almost.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When knitting turns it's back

I'm just about to write about knitting.  And sewing.  And then about dessert.  Brace yourselves.

In my knitting life, the past few weeks have been odd, at best.  Normally, it is no problem for me to pull some yarn out of my stash, a pattern that I'm excited about, and cast on.  Lately though, the yarn I'm interested in working with just has refused to work well with the patterns I have in the foreground of my mental queue.  I swatch, wash, and remeasure, and just can't get gauge.  I have watched about 3 movies, gone to 5 church services, and hung out with friends in the evening exactly 13 times without my knitting(Numbers fudged for the sake of inaccuracy.)

I haven't been sewing either, because the red linen skirt that I had started at least a week ago turned out to be rather fragile, and threatened to fray through the seams in a few places before I'd even finished it.  This was disheartening (I'd serged the edges, but I'm still learning to keep the edge inside the stitches at all times, so it was less than perfect), and meant that I needed to spend time tediously overcasting all of the weak spots by hand.  Not a fan.  I finally just buckled down and started overcasting today, because I was starting to feel a little edgy without some handwork going on.

All of that non-work and boring-work is just not all that fun to look at though, so instead...



I'd never made it before, but used the recipe from Cook's Illustrated The Best International Recipe, and it was rather stellar.


Not too soggy, not too sweet, rather boozy and bittersweet from the strong coffee and espresso mixed with dark rum.  OH YES.  In fact, I'd go as far to say that it was pretty much perfect.  Thankfully, I brought the entire pan to a party, and only managed to walk back out the door with one piece to bring home.  Because I would have wanted to eat it all.

That's it for today folks.  Tomorrow, some handspun (!!) and a bowl of soup.  Don't worry, it totally goes together.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Link-tastic Friday (Saturday)

On Thursday night, I put on a formal black velvet dress, and got myself ready for the Division West First Army Annual Trainer's Ball.


This would be the first time for me to meet some of the people Greg works with every day, and somehow that made me feel just a little panicky in the pit of my stomach. 


It didn't help that I had to go alone and meet Greg there, but I put on some dramatic make-up, gathered my courage, and set out. 


We had a formal shot taken of us as well, but that won't be here for a few weeks, so here's our "standing around waiting for dinner" pose.


It was fun to dress up (our first formal Army dinner in at least 5 or 6 years), even more fun to see Greg in his formal uniform, and even though the food was absurdly bad (almost comically bad), it was still good to put some faces with the names in Greg's office.

Now for this week's links.

  • I've been wanting to make one of these Duct Tape Dress Forms for a few years now, but with all of the sewing I've been doing lately, this project has moved to the front of my queue.
  • Greg and I are big fans of TXRD, and I've had my eye on these Sublime Stitching Roller Derby themed embroidery designs.  Now if I could just decide what to stitch them on...
  • There are some very cool skirt designs/tutorials on Weekend Designer that I would love to try out soon.

Food (savory):
  • I want a bowl of this Roasted Tomato Soup RIGHT NOW (via Steamy Kitchen)  
  • When I saw the recipe for Olives with Lemon Confit at Inspired Taste, I was suddenly craving just exactly that.  And I've never eaten it before.  Has that ever happened to you?
  • Joy The Baker posted the recipe for her Fancy Grilled Cheese the very morning I was going food shopping.  So of course I stocked up on the ingredients to make this tasty sandwich for lunch that day.  Delicious!  Next time I'll make it without the ham though.  All the better to focus on the goat cheese...
  • Another recipe for Pho, this time with a beef broth (via Inspired Taste).  Now if I could just find a good source for beef bones.

Food (sweet):
  • Speculaas Muffins sound like they're named after a medical instrument, but from the sound of it, this is an unusually delicious muffin/cookie hybrid.  I'm definitely going to give these a go (via Everybody Likes Sandwiches).
  • Berries with Sweet Cream is one of Greg's very favorite desserts (via Pioneer Woman Cooks).
  • Peanut Butter Banana Bread.  I had some super-ripe bananas sitting on my counter, so I had barely finished reading this recipe when I went straight into my kitchen to make it!  I put chocolate chips in mine, and OHSOTASTY (via Joy The Baker).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Day Class Party

On Monday, the boys had class parties, so Lavella, Jonah and I spent most of our afternoon at the school, "helping" with the different activities.  Of course, I forgot my camera so these were taken by my phone, but I know that for some of you, any pictures of the children are exciting, no matter the quality, so here you go!


Andrew, helping Lavella decorate her cupcake



The "face" cupcakes that Andrew made for himself and Lavella


Elijah, working on a heart-shaped tooth-pillow


Elijah, after opening -- and eating -- his Valentine treats

Jonah's nap was delayed, which made things a little rough, but the older three had a good time, so it was worth it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Be Mine

This past weekend, my boys and I worked together to make these Valentine cards for their classmates.

Their little friends found these to be rather funny -- success!


I have a history of choosing fussy, exhaustingly long projects for things at a short notice, so I was super proud of myself for actually picking something doable for this event and sticking with it. Fun!

In the past, Greg and I have often gone out for dinner on Valentine's Day, but the trouble is, those pre-fix menus just don't ever really work for us. The food tends to taste like it was rushed out of the kitchen without much care, no matter where we've done it, and getting a reservation at a decent hour is pretty much impossible to score. This year, I decided to cook something special at home instead.

I decided on mussels, which is quick and simple to cook, but for us is very special, because even though we both love seafood, I almost never cook it.

I didn't use a recipe -- instead, I sort of just threw things in the pan. Here's the basic idea, in case you'd like to do the same (this was with 2 lbs of mussels):
First, I sauteed some finely chopped shallots in a little butter. Next, I added a few cloves of thinly sliced garlic to warm in the pan for a moment. Then I turned up the heat, added a big bunch of oyster mushrooms, and browned them up. Just as they were gaining some color, I threw about a 1/2 cup of white wine into the pan, and dumped in the mussels with a shake of red pepper flakes. At the last minute, I sprinkled the dish with some freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, and served it atop some fresh angel hair pasta (storebought, not my own this time)

To serve alongside, I baked a baguette (from a batch of Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes A Day dough), and threw a head of garlic in to the oven next to the bread so that we could spread the warm bread with sweet roasted garlic. I also mixed up a shallot vinaigrette (thank you Julia Child), which I tossed together with an arugula/baby spinach salad mix.

For my own personal appetizer, I got some fresh oysters to eat on the half-shell (Greg doesn't especially like them, but I could eat them every day for the rest of my life, and have just learned to shuck them myself!)

For dessert I used David Lebovitz' recipe for Perfect Panna Cotta -- so easy it's almost criminal, yet very special, all at once.  I served it in brandy glasses with sliced, sugared strawberries, and drizzled my serving with some dark chocolate sauce I had left over from something else (Greg does not like chocolate, but I am often bored by vanilla, so this was the perfect way to customize our desserts).

Flowers that Greg brought me

I think that Valentine's Day at home just may become a tradition.  Because in my mind, it's pretty hard to top the idea of tucking the children into bed, and then opening a bottle of white wine for an At Home Date with my very own Valentine.

Happy Valentine's Day, friends!

Now that we're through with that holiday, it's on to Celebrate The Boy with Rae and Dana.  So excited to be inspired with ideas for my favorite little boys!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Link-tastic Friday

Some of you suggested that I might have "other" reasons for cutting out caffeine (haha), so before this leads to any sort of speculation: I am 100% sure that I am not pregnant.  I am just cutting out the caffeine because it was starting to make me feel more tired and irritable than not, and didn't seem worth the addiction.  Now that it's been 4 days, my head feels much clearer, and the headaches have mostly subsided.  It feels good to not have my head in a funk anymore!

Some sweet little faces (watching a Baby Einstein DVD in the afternoon...)




This week's links!

Newly in love with this Etsy shop:

Looking Fabulous:
  • Short Sexy Hold Out Medium Gel.  My very favorite hair gel -- it's not super hard like gels usually are, but isn't all wimpy and wilty like waxes or pomades.  It's great for shaping my hair just the way I want it.
  • TIGI Bed Head Hard Head Hair Spray. This is the most perfect hairspray I've ever found -- from extreme edgy styles to softer up-does, this is my favorite hairstyle finisher.

Geeky blog info:
  • I never knew how to share a PDF file until just now!  Thanks Blog Guidebook!  You make me look kind of smart. 

  • I plan on getting out my crochet hooks and making one of these Gumdrop Slouchy Hats for myself. 
  • I am so enamored with the design of this Free Amy Butler "Blossom Bag" pattern.
  • Stick Horses would be a well used item in this house.  If only I could be sure that they wouldn't be swung round wildly as swords...
  • Love the look of this comfy, gathered skirt by Anna Maria Horner (I would shir it with elastic thread though instead of the "channels).
  • Such a sweet, reusable pouch tutorial for class Valentine's gifts by Dana at Made!

Food (savory):

Food (sweet):

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Decaffeinated and a visit with Jonathan

This past Friday, I was intending on posting my usual collection of links, but my brother was here to visit on R&R, mid-deployment for the weekend, and we ended up having lots of busy fun.


My brother wrestling with the children


Jonathan and Greg, spelunking with friends





Waiting out in the cold for a table at Uchi (my favorite fabulous Austin restaurant/sushi bar)


The Uchi Shot: a quail egg yoke and sea urchin roe, topped up with sparkling white wine.  Amazing.


As per tradition, we always make pizza whenever Jonathan comes to visit




I picked up a few quarts of frozen custard for dessert on our last night with Jonathan.  I made hot fudge sauce, caramel sauce (both from Baking: From My Home to Yours), and Greg candied some bacon, which Jonathan put all together for an inspired take on the traditional hot fudge sundae. 

I figured I'd just catch up with the blogging on Monday, but I also decided that Monday would be The Day When I Quit Coffee.  Therefore, I have not been able to wrap my poor muddled head around writing a blog post, much less pretty much anything else.  Grr.

Side note: The decision to quit coffee is because I've realized that, once I am fully addicted to my morning cup, it no longer energizes me.  It merely makes me feel "normal".  Then, after drinking it for months or a year, it actually starts to make me feel more tired, giving me headaches, etc.  Therefore, enough!  No more for me.) Today is day 3 of the coffee withdrawal, and I'm doing OK.  Prescription strength Tylenol and daily afternoon naps have been my best allies, and I think I just might live.  This too shall pass.  Or so they say. ~end side note

So.  A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had completed yet another circle skirt.  I had intended to make a petticoat to go under and add fullness and fun, but then I decided that I should really get a ruffle foot for my sewing machine if I intend on doing that much ruffling...and I haven't gotten one yet.  Nonetheless, this circle skirt is my favorite so far, petticoat or not.


I've discovered that a silky polyester Satin Charmeuse is the easiest to work with, since the drape is the same all around, on the bias or not (which really matters with this sort of skirt).


Currently I'm working on a linen cherry-red paneled a-line skirt, but I don't seem to have the right color of hidden zipper, so I need to make a trip to the fabric store.  At the moment, however, it's just so blustery cold and icy outside that all I want to do is curl up with my little ones and take a long winter's nap.  Alas, a nap won't be possible today, so instead I'm making a big pot of Cincinnati Chili over spaghetti, and counting the hours till bedtime.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Smoky Spicy Crock Pot (or stovetop) Black Bean Soup

NOTE: Edited to add pictures and cooking notes on time and liquid used.

I love crock pot meals, but sometimes find it hard to find the right inspiration.  Often recipes made for the crock pot are bland and boring, but this morning I was inspired to come up with a soup that's got nice big flavors. This comes together simply, so it's easy to throw together first thing in the morning and then forget about for the rest of the day.  (If you are adding the sweet potato or other vegetables, for optimal texture you should plan to add those 2 or 3 hours before serving time, which is my ONLY fussy suggestion for this recipe)
Please feel free to adjust the seasoning to make the soup exactly the way you and your family will enjoy it best -- more or less spicy, more vegetables, etc.  As usual, I've made this soup using what I've got on hand -- that sweet potato has been hanging out in the crisper long enough and must be used TODAY.  I'll take a picture of the finished soup and add it to the blog tonight when I serve it, but in case you'd like to make some today too, here's the recipe:

Crockpot Black Bean Soup
 Inspired by the Weelicious recipe found here

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 lb dried black beans, soaked overnight
1 28-oz can crushed (or diced or whole) tomatoes
2 cups water or chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons of Better Than Bullion Chicken paste or Bullion (OPTIONAL if using water instead of broth)
1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon corriander
1 Chipotole chile in adobo sauce, minced
1 sweet potato – peeled and cut to 1/2” cubes
Salt to taste

To garnish (optional, but makes the soup really special):
Red onion, minced
Scallions/green onions, thinly sliced
Cilantro, chopped
Sour cream
fresh Jalapenos, minced
Shredded cheddar or crumbled goat cheese or feta

To serve with (also optional, but makes it more filling therefore making this soup stretch further):
One pot of cooked brown rice (I prefer short-grain, which is a bit sweeter and less starchy tasting than the long-grain sort, but any kind will work well) or white rice (we like Jasmine or Basmati).

NOTE: make sure to soak your beans overnight before you start, or this may increase the cooking time. Alternately you can use the quick-soak method (bring a pot of beans and water to a boil, turn it off and soak for 1 hour, continue with recipe as written).  From start to finish, it took me 10 hours to get the beans really tender.  Next time I will boil them for at least 30 minutes to get them a little bit soft before starting the recipe.

Sauté onion in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until light golden and translucent.  Add minced garlic and sauté for one minute more (until fragrant). Scrape onion and garlic into crock pot.  (If you are using garlic powder instead, do not sauté that – wait to add it with the other spices in the crock pot.)

Add soaked black beans, crushed tomatoes, water or broth, Better Than Bullion or Bullion (if using water instead of broth – don’t worry if you don’t have any – you can just add more salt and adjust seasonings later), Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Coriander, minced Chipotle, and garlic powder if using. 

Give everything a stir, cover, and set your crock pot to “low”.  After 5 or 6 hours, add cubed sweet potato.  Cook for approx 8-10 hours total, or until beans are tender.  (If you are doing this stovetop, bring up to a boil with top OFF so that it doesn't boil over, reduce heat to medum-low to simmer, cover and cook for approx. 1 to 1-1/2 hours till beans are tender)  Puree partially or completely (depending on your preference) with an immersion blender or transfer in batches to a blender or a food processor.  

Serve plain or over rice (to make it extra filling for big families) and have small bowls of suggested garnishes at the table for everyone to “decorate” their own bowl.