Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You're welcome for the earworm

This is a cross-stitch I made as a gift for my sister because (1) she likes the color orange; (2) she really does like big books; (3) the 90s are totally back.

Cross stitch chart generated via using the font "Amsterdam."

Inspired by.

And just you wait, I have another book-related cheeky cross stitch coming up. As soon as I can stop chuckling long enough to actually stitch it. It's gonna be awesome.

Also, on another note, I put away my shoes. So that's something, right?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

kale salad

A dish that has been served at three separate festive occasions (Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, friend's baby shower) really deserves a blog post of its own, don't you think?

This raw kale salad comes from the blog Little Red Fox, and it really is, as advertised, "the perfect winter salad." It's sweet, tart, piquant, and full of chlorophyll. Distinctly healthy, but it's not work to eat it, if you know what I mean.

A couple of notes:
*The recipe doesn't specify what kind of kale to use, but I always make it with Tuscan/dinosaur/lacinato kale, which I think is pretty much the best stuff on earth.
*I have always left out the goat cheese (I seem to use the salad to balance out a meal that is otherwise eggy/cheesy/rich) and have not noticed that this diminishes the perfection of the salad in any way.
*The dressing is also wonderful on other winter-type salads, such as a big bowl of shredded carrots with chopped walnuts:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

name guys


Perfect snow day activity. Kept the girl occupied while I sent a couple of emails. (Okay, and in the interests of full transparency, also kept me occupied while I should have been sending a couple more emails.) Well timed, Sandra Juto.

I think this would make a great Valentine project, incidentally--each child would receive his or her own unique creature. (I'd suggest that for our own school Valentines this year, but the girl is already deep into a project of her own devising, involving approximately 3 brillion heart-shaped foam stickers, which have now been separated from their itty bitty pieces of backing paper, natch.)

making an entrance

Since it's January, the entrance to the year, I thought I would spend some time this month trying to do something about the entrances to our house. I have struggled for a long time with these spaces, and by "struggled" I mean "felt a vague sense of dissatisfaction and frustration each time I entered the house." It's time to actually do something about it.

This post is about to get pretty chatty and over-analyze-y, and I don't even have any pretty "after" photos to reward you for slogging through it. But I'm hoping that documenting more process will yield better results. Also, my Mr. has promised to read this post so that we can talk about it and get on the same page with a plan (always a challenge for us, this decorating thing. Nothing has ever threatened our relationship so much as shopping for a rug.)

Anyway, "entryways" is a bit of a generous term when it comes to our house. As in, we don't have them. Here is the kitchen door:

See how tight it is? That's partly the fault of the shoe rack there, but even without that it's a tight space. I can't tell you how many times I have watched people squeeze into our house. I don't really believe in feng shui, but it can't be good for our social life that our house is literally, physically unwelcoming.

And here is the front door, which opens into the living room:

Not only is there no defined entry, but there's not even space to create a defined entry (in particular, because of the lack of wall space on either side of the door). And the coat closet is down the hall at the back of the house. Seriously, sometimes I think our house was designed by an architect who had never lived in a house.

But we are going to figure out how to improve things, at least a little bit. I've been gathering images of mostly tiny, efficient entryways over here on Pinterest. You can see that I'm not looking for anything formal and grand, or even anything expansively Martha Stewart-ish. I just want a place to hang my hat. Like this:

I've also been thinking about what I want in an entryway. This is not rocket science of course, but here is my list:
  • A durable rug or mat
  • And one that is large enough to enter the house, close the door, and take off one's shoes all while on the mat (I know! crazy!)
  • A place to sit down while you put on/take off your shoes
  • A place for shoes, but not too many of them
  • A distinct and easy to reach place to put down your keys
  • A place to hang up your coat and your bag
  • A place for reminders, both generally and for things you need to take with you when you leave the house
  • A place to stash sometimes-needed things (hats/gloves/umbrellas/sunglasses/sunscreen/etc.) so that they are easy to grab on the way out and easy to put away on the way in
  • A place to corral and control the mail
  • A little piece of artwork or something that makes you smile when you enter
  • Ideally, some kind of setup that encourages a result other than this:

(Well, a girl can dream anyway.)

So let's take another look at the kitchen entry:

  • The mat is too small (which is why, 5 minutes after sweeping the floor, it is littered again with hemlock needles from outside).
  • It's also not very durable (that mat is less than a year old and it already looks a worn-out mess)
  • That shoe rack is bulky and encourages us to leave a whole bunch of shoes in a jumbled mess. Or me, really--I am by far the biggest offender here. And so this will surely provoke skepticism in some quarters, but I think we actually need space for fewer pairs of shoes by the door. (Also, the shoes on the lower shelves just get filled with dirt and leaves/needles shed from the soles above. Dumb.)
  • And of course, no place to sit down. This might not be fixable in this space.
  • No hooks. Bags end up in front of the microwave or on the kitchen floor, and coats end up…well, you've seen where.
  • No place for the mail. So it just gets thrown on the counter and piles up. Again, I'm the offender here, but I can't help thinking that I should be able to find some physical setup that encourages better habits.
  • That drawer to the left of the shoe rack has space for sunglasses and other sometimes-needed stuff but is poorly organized.

And the front entry:

  • Too small mat.
  • No place for coats, bags, shoes, keys--anything. We rarely use this entry, actually, but I think it has the potential to be much more functional than the kitchen entry, just because there's a little more space to play with here. So I guess I'm arguing for an "if you build it, they will come" sort of approach here--create something functional and that will encourage us to use it.

So here's my plan for the kitchen entry:
  • A bigger mat (I'll cut it to size, and perhaps use the leftovers at the slider to the backyard--yeah, another non-functional entry that I haven't even touched in this post)
  • Lose the shoe rack
  • A pouch for the incoming mail
  • A hook on the wall (already owned)
  • Step stool (already owned) in the corner to sit on. Might be too big but worth trying.
  • Or if not, a boot tray?
  • Clean out/reorganize drawer
  • Switch-hook for keys?
  • Paint wall to left of door with magnetic and/or chalkboard paint?

And my plan for the front entry:
  • Another mat (4x6 is the right size for this space, I think)
  • Move or get rid of those way-too-enormous plants
  • Move cedar chest (to bedroom)
  • Sewing machine table goes back to Goodwill whence it came
  • Sofa table behind sofa
  • Tuck shoes underneath sofa table
  • Stool (already owned) next to sofa table for sitting to put on/take off shoes
  • Hook to left of door for coats
  • Another hook at kid height?
  • Bowl for keys and tray for mail on top of sofa table
  • Baskets (already owned) in small cubbies of sofa table for hats/gloves/sunscreen/etc.
  • Paint trim around door white
  • Paint door--white? or chalkboard paint? (too much?)

I just bought some art to get us started…

Monday, January 16, 2012

My favorite cafe

Cafe Presse, drawn from life. Note the row of big light fixtures, the X of steel beams that bolster the old building against earthquakes, the collection of framed soccer jerseys on the wall, and the girl and me sitting at that table in the right-hand corner.

The thing that really impresses me about that place is that even though it is right on the edge of the Seattle University campus and staffed almost entirely by early-twenty-something hipsters, they are unfailingly tolerant and thoughtful of wee ones. I would absolutely move in if only I could.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Snowed In

Winter's architecture:


A sheltered spot.

We made a snowman.

The girl decided she wasn't done. I turned around and she'd added arms and a hat. And he was winking at me!

(She made another, much bigger snowman with her dad a little later. Sigh. I guess I just lack ambition.)

I love how the tops of the trees look against the sky.

And how geranium leaves look against a snowy window.

Not able to be pictured: a hummingbird!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In which my love affair with half-square triangles is finally consummated

Half-square triangles: the Zen koans of the patchwork world. So deceptively simple-looking, yet they contain multitudes--stars, diamonds, chevrons, flying geese. See?

But for our first encounter I decided to keep it simple. This is the pillow cover I made for my mom for Christmas (she's into salmon, hence the fish print).

The chambray was inspired by this quilt, and came from a thrifted pillowcase I had on my fabric shelf. It was an envelope-back pillowcase, a fact I took advantage of when making my pillow cover: I didn't even have to hem! I felt so clever.

To make the triangles, I used this mind-blowing tutorial for making four half-square triangles at once from two larger squares of fabric.

Some commenters on that tutorial point out that what you get is actually four quarter-square triangles (quilters! such sticklers for detail, amiright?), so that when you then sew these smaller squares together you are actually sewing on the bias. I didn't find this to cause any problems though.

What did cause a few problems was the math. The link above includes an equation to calculate what size fabric squares to start out with based on your desired size of small squares, but I am sorry to say that I did not believe the equation and struck out on my own. My squares ended up bigger than I'd intended, which wasn't the end of the world, it just meant that the pillow's border was smaller and simpler than I'd planned. Still. The equation is right, so use it. I know that I will--often. Because I don't think there's anything half-square triangles can't do, and I love them.


Monday, January 9, 2012

brussels sprouts and sweet potato hash with smoked paprika and poached egg

Ah, the new year, inspiring all those resolutions to eat better, be healthier, make up for the excesses of the holidays.

The only trouble is, it's still the middle of winter. This is not the time to go about trying to exist on salads and consomme. We need something warming, something stick-to-the-proverbial-ribs.

Here is a recipe I came up with recently that I think strikes a nice balance: full of crucifers and beta-carotene, a little olive oil, a good egg or two for comfort. And you can't go wrong with smoked paprika. You really can't.

Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato Hash with Smoked Paprika and Poached Egg

12 oz. Brussels sprouts (or half of a big stalk)
1 large sweet potato
2 large cloves garlic
Sea salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (or to taste)
Olive oil

4 eggs
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp white vinegar

Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Wash the Brussels sprouts and trim off the outer leaves and the base of the stem. (Take care not to trim too much in order to minimize the number of loose leaves that will get browned and crispy in the oven. On the other hand, those browned and crispy leaves aren't really so bad, in the event that they do occur.) Cut the sprouts in quarters lengthwise.

Peel the sweet potato and cut it into half-inch cubes. Place the sweet potato and Brussels sprouts together in a large bowl. Peel the garlic and crush it through a garlic press into the bowl. Add a couple of pinches of sea salt, the smoked paprika, and some olive oil--about a tablespoon or so. Toss all the ingredients together so that the vegetables are coated with olive oil and the spices.

Place the vegetables on 2 baking sheets and bake for 25-30 minutes, switching the position the sheets halfway through, until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, crack each egg into a small bowl. Fill a large, shallow skillet almost full of water. Add 1/2 tsp salt and the white vinegar (the latter lowers the pH of the water and helps the egg whites hold together a little better). Cover the skillet and turn the heat on high to bring the water to a boil. You'll want to start cooking the eggs just as the vegetables are coming out of the oven.

When the water for the eggs starts boiling, quickly slip the eggs from the bowls into the boiling water, immediately cover the pan, and remove from the heat. The residual heat from the water will cook the eggs.

While the eggs cook, divide the vegetables between two plates. After 3 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove each egg from the water, let it drip-drain for a moment or two, and place it on top of the vegetables.  Serve with a shaving of Parmesan cheese and another sprinkle of smoked paprika, if you like.

Serves 2. Feel free to make more if you are feeding more people, but the vegetables are really best the same day they are made.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

gallery wall in the girl's room, part 1

I have to say I am underwhelmed. It needs more stuff and a greater variety of sizes. So there will be a part 2, at some point.

(Though for those wondering why I would hang a bunch of picture frames above the bed of a rambunctious four year old, and in earthquake country no less, I'll say that these are NYTTJA frames from IKEA, and they're basically chipboard with very thin plexiglass on the front, so I feel okay about that part.)

When I started this blog, I planned to post mostly about efforts to make my house a better, more comfortable, cozier space to be. I think that is an important goal. It is something that I want for myself--people differ on this, but my mood and my productivity are absolutely affected by the physical space around me--and for my family.

But it's been much easier to for me to post about recipes and craft or sewing projects. I feel much more confident in those realms, perhaps because I'm more experienced or just innately better at cooking and sewing (or maybe a little of both). I very rarely look at the results of some house decorating-related project and think I have really nailed it. (Oh come on, you know me, that pun was totally intended.)

But I would like to do better! So I'm forcing myself to post this. Maybe even if no one else can learn from my successes, I can still learn from my own mistakes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Writing Things Down

I can remember my mother, every New Year's Day, sitting down at the kitchen table with two calendars--the old dog-eared, scribbled-on one and the bright neat new one--and transferring family members' and friends' birthdays from the one to the other. Facebook and the like have made that ritual obsolete for me, but after talking with my husband about how we should have planted spinach in late summer so we'd have some to harvest over the winter (and before figuring out that actually, I think I did plant spinach and there should be some out there...yeah, the winter garden is a bit out of sight out of mind, I'm afraid) I spent some time yesterday making little notes in my calendar to remind me to do some of the things that I have a tendency to do too late, too late. When to start our tomato seeds, plant the peas, start the paperwhite bulbs, that kind of thing. This kind of arbitrary deadline that doesn't actually have to be met has never worked very well for me in the past, but hope springs eternal, right? And there's a certain pleasure, or comfort at least, in writing things down.

On Saturday night, driving home from my brother-in-law's house, there was a conversation with the girl that began with her announcing from the back seat, "Mom, I'm not going to die for a long time, like until I'm fifteen, because my body has a lot of growing up to do first." (I informed her that it would surely be more like a hundred and fifteen, and thankfully she seemed to accept that.) Then we moved on through her explanation of the concept of "a brillion: that's a number I just made up. It's how many stars there are in the sky" and wound up with her falling fast asleep three blocks from home.  The whole time we were talking I was holding my breath, trying to remember every bit of what she was saying, wishing I had a tape recorder so that I could transcribe it all exactly and correctly later. There's some comfort in writing even these small pieces down, of course, but what I didn't realize at the time is that what caught my breath was not only the need to hold on to the words of the conversation but also the wonder at the hundred years, the brillion things, that might come next.