Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eye Level

This probably makes me a bad mother, but this is driving me crazy:

To her, it's decoration. To me, it's visual chaos.

Seriously, that red and green striped piece of plastic got dug out of the garbage and re-hung with a fresh piece of blue painter's tape. It must be very important to her.

But then I realized, looking around at this pattern repeated all. over. the house, that all the pictures hung officially in frames on the walls probably don't do much for her. They're way too high for her to see and enjoy. I think she's telling me that she wants more visual interest at her own eye level.

Now, how to accomplish that in a way that doesn't make my eyes sore?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lentil, Barley, & Fennel Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

I created this salad for a potluck about a year ago, and hadn't made it again until last week. A good test of my recipe writing skills! I'm happy to say my skills passed with flying colors so here is the recipe for you.

This is a great potluck or make-ahead recipe, as a matter of fact. It's good slightly warm, room temperature, or cold, and the sturdy, chewy barley stands up well to a couple of days in the refrigerator.

The walnut oil is a key ingredient here, I think. The flavor really comes through in the dressing, and you'll lose that if you substitute a different oil. I know walnut oil is expensive, but I think it's worth it. It keeps well in the refrigerator (it can go rancid if you keep it at room temperature) and it really adds a nice touch to a lot of wintertime salads.

Lentil, Barley, and Fennel Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

1/2 C French green lentils
1/2 C pearl barley
1 very large fennel bulb, about 10 oz.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped

For the walnut vinaigrette:
2 Tbsp light vinegar (I use Trader Joe's orange muscat champagne vinegar; sherry vinegar would be another good choice)
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1/2-1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
3 Tbsp walnut oil

Cook the lentils in 2 C water in a saucepan until they are tender but still hold their shape, about 25-30 minutes.

In another saucepan, cook the barley in 2 1/2 C water until tender, about 40-45 minutes.

When the lentils and barley are done, drain thoroughly, then transfer to a serving bowl.

Meanwhile, trim the fennel and chop it into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet, add fennel, and saute a bit. Then cover, turn heat to low, and braise until fennel is tender but retains some texture, about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking.

In a small bowl, mix together the dressing ingredients except for the oil. Then whisk in the oil.

Pour the dressing over the warm grains and toss together. Then fold in the fennel and chopped walnuts. Serve now or later.

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Neon Valentine

As usual, I managed to decorate for a holiday roughly 24 hours ahead of time. Ah well--things are brightened up now, with a styrofoam heart shape and the brightest yarn, felt, and embroidery floss I could find.

I'm embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to figure out that the solution to covering the pointy parts of the heart with the yarn was a bit of strategically placed Elmer's glue. Now you know.

The centers of the "flowers" are straight pins--just stick them through the felt layers and into the styrofoam.

You can make a bouquet in the same way. Put the straight pin through the center of your petals, then put the end of a pipe cleaner alongside the shaft of the pin. Wrap the whole thing in floral tape left over from your wedding seven and a half years ago. The resulting flower is a little bit delicate--it cannot, for example, be waved about as a magic wand. But it will do for a bouquet in a vase.

Got the idea for a super-bright yarn-wrapped wreath from here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


After all, who among us has not wished to trade places with a cat for a day?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In the thick of it

I am in the thick of malaria vaccines. Also eco-friendly seawalls and autism diagnosis. And non-insulin treatments for diabetes. Yes, all of those things, in various states of un-done-ness.

I may have overbooked myself just slightly.

Here is a recipe for the sort of week(s) I'm having. An alchemy of pantry staples that requires almost no attention from you to become a satisfying dinner. Yes, it does have a cup of heavy cream in it, and yes, that's probably why it's so good despite being so simple. Hey, I said it was alchemy, not a total overthrow of the laws of physics.

Anyway, I'm just saying that the next time you're in the thick of things, this recipe might come in handy, is all.

Pasta with Herbed Pumpkin-Cream Sauce

1 cup heavy cream
2 shallots
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp herb rub (I made a big jar of this stuff last summer and it's great. If you don't have any, you can just use a mixture of dried rosemary and dried sage, and increase the garlic and salt a bit if you like)
1 15-oz can pumpkin
8 oz. whole wheat pasta
Parmesan cheese

Pour the cream into a large, shallow saute pan or skillet (preferably nonstick). Peel and slice the shallots and garlic thinly, and add to the cream along with the herbs. Turn the heat on low, cover, and steep for 20 to 30 minutes.

Then put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add the pumpkin to the cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir thoroughly to combine. Keep it covered over low heat, stirring occasionally, while you cook the pasta.

When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the skillet, and fold it into the sauce. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese on top.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just what the Internet needs--


...another chalkboard paint makeover. I know, I know.

But listen, I had to do something. This was the state in which I originally found this piece:

That's right, this is that table I didn't want to talk about, finally fixed up and in my house lo these I-don't-want-to-count-how-many-months later.

I used some wood filler to take care of those holes in the top, and the tips in this post to prime and paint it.

Most of this was actually done last summer, while my parents were visiting. When I first picked up the piece, I had thought I might use it as a bedside table. But watching my dad labor over the table--he would come along behind me after I'd sanded down the wood filler, put another layer on (this was after I'd mentally deemed it good enough, mind you), rinse and repeat--it was clear that he was doing this for his granddaughter. So a desk for her it became.

I guess the obvious place to put a child's desk is in her bedroom, but I decided to put it in the dining room. Before we brought the desk in, the girl would often work on art projects at the dining room table while I cooked dinner in the evenings, and I wanted to keep her out there nearby me. I like that we decided where to put the desk not based on an arbitrary rule (a child's desk belongs in a bedroom!) or even a counterintuitive rule (a child's desk belongs in the common area!) but based on how we actually use, and want to use, our space. Note to self: more of this type of thinking, please.

My initial instinct was to try to tuck all of the kid's art supplies into the desk, but I'm glad I restrained myself. Instead I just stored a few essentials there: some of the drawing tools that she uses most in the cups on the desktop, plain drawing paper in the little horizontal slot to the side, and supplies for an ongoing "project" in the cubby underneath. I think the smaller amount of stuff for her to manage works a lot better, and the things she uses most are still right at hand.

The rest of the art supplies are still in the sideboard--at least for now; it's a terrible place for them. Too dark and hard to access, an instant mess. I'm hoping to move them to a bin in one of the cubbies of our new sofa table.

Anyway, I was pretty chuffed to see this scene about 15 minutes after I'd set things up:

Of course, this was the view 24 hours later. Genetics in action, my friends:

And since then, I have to admit, things have gotten a lot more...entropic. Stuff all over the top of the desk, stuff taking over the dining room table, little cut-up bits of paper in between.

One thing we still need is a place for her finished artwork. I think that will help move it off the desk so she can continue using the desk. Also that will make it easier for me--and eventually, her--to pick up the scraps left behind if the precious things are already sorted out.

And I know she still needs a chair, too. I haven't been able to find one--or rather, I haven't been able to stomach paying more for shipping than for the chair itself--but I couldn't wait any longer! And I'm glad I didn't. For now she's happy to stand at the desk, or perch on a stepstool--she is really enjoying her new spot.