Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vacation Project #2: Embroidery

See what I'm working on?

© 2011 Alicia Paulson
Used with permission

The pattern and kit (and photo) came from the amazing Alicia Paulson, who I adore. Her photos, writing, and crafts are all breathtaking. She lives in Portland. Maybe someday I'll get to meet her.

My sampler is half-way done; I've completed L - Z.

I've never done embroidery before (only counted cross stitch as a teenager). It's fun! I'm really pleased with it. Kudos to Ms. Paulson for making the instructions so easy to follow.

Check out my awesome pin cushion ring, purchased here
My fingers are all jammed up and sore, though. The combination of cutting fruits and vegetables for my juicer (new sharp knife = lots of bandaids) and working with needle and thread every night make for some tender finger tips. Lots of cuts and pokes. But I'm excited to share the finished product with you.

Please visit Posie Gets Cozy. In my opinion, it's a serious contender for Most Beautiful Site on the Internet.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Perfect Summer Day: A Tutorial

Pick berries from the backyard

Sun-warmed blackberries are best

You'll need at least 4 cups

Put on a cute apron

Coat the berries with sugar

Make a pie crust from scratch

Cut holes for the steam to vent

Bake until golden

 Bring the warm pie to a friend's house, with flowers from the garden

Serve a la mode

Eat it all!

New on Etsy!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August Book of the Month: Tender at the Bone

This month my reading recommendation is Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table.


This book has been in my "to read" pile for over two years. I put it off for so long in part because I was expecting it to make me hungry and crave comfort food. There are lots of appetizing recipes and descriptions of delicious meals, but the focus isn't eating.

Instead, author Ruth Reichl describes all the significant events in her life as they relate to cooking (that's her on the cover). What a great theme for a memoir. I didn't realize it before I started reading, but Reichl is the Editor in Chief of Gourmet Magazine (check out her bio on their website). Knowing that her career path led to the restaurant industry makes her stories even more interesting.

Landmarks in her development as food aficionado:
Her mom's nickname was "the Queen of Mold." As a little girl, Ruth warned dinner guests about which dishes to avoid, having seen her mother scoop mold off the top before serving it [gag].

Her family's maid and her grandmother's maid were both amazing cooks (recipes for Aunt Birdie's Potato Salad and Alice's Apple Dumplings with Hard Sauce are included).

She was sent to a girls' school in Montreal to learn French. There, she befriended a girl who brought her home on weekends. Her classmate's family introduced her to all kinds of fancy dishes, prepared by their kitchen staff.

After finishing high school at home in New York, she attended college in Michigan (to get as far away from her chaotic home life as possible) She and her roommate (from Detroit) discover the local farmer's market and get creative cooking for themselves.

She worked for a summer at a health camp on Île d'Oléron off the coast of France (she describes the "camp" as a place where poor French children are sent for a free month in the country). The purpose of the camp was for the kids to gain weight. While in the France, she met a local cheese maker and learned to make a fruit tart from scratch (recipe included).

Back in Michigan, she worked in a fancy French restaurant (and impressed her snooty co-workers by speaking flawless French and knowing more than her fair share about cooking).

She and her college roommate traveled to northern Africa on a whim, and spent time in Tunisia and Algeria. Their adventures were harrowing and exciting. They pushed the limits of personal safety while making friend there, even considering it was the late '60s.
The book reads like an anthology of world cuisine; I felt jealous of all the experiences Reichl described from her own far-flung and richly-appreciated life. 

My favorite chapter was about moving to Berkeley, California in 1972. As newly-weds, she and her husband formed a commune with several friends. They were all passionate about living simply and eating healthy. I think I liked it so much because I could picture the same scenario in my hippie-friendly town. I laughed out loud at several passages about one roommate in particular. He convinced the whole household they needed eight bags for household recycling.
"Nick would not be moved. The bags were ugly and recycling was annoyingly time consuming, but it was the right thing to do. We grumbled; we recycled. We could also agree that Nick was right when he asked us not to buy Nestlé’s product, although I no longer remember why. We agreed with the ban on Welch's (they supposedly supported the John Birch society) and Coors (fought with unions). Grapes, of course, were completely forbidden, but is was a moot point: the farm workers had such strong support in Berkeley that grapes were simply unavailable. But the day Nick came home saying that coffee was unhealthy and henceforth we should all drink tea we went into open revolt."
That same roommate packed their cupboard with chamomile. He discovered biorhythms and made charts for every body living at the house. He discovered grains, bee pollen, nutritional yeast, bean sprouts, homemade yogurt. Then they all decided it was cheaper to forage from garbage cans for discarded food, including steak from a dumpster. All their principals changed when they decided that wasted food was morally worse than eating from the top of the food chain.

I found it fascinating.

The book uses food as a basis, but Reichl seamlessly incorporates universal themes such as self-discovery and family loyalty by describing her most influential relationships, the era she grew up in, and her international travel. Her use of recipes is a nice bonus. I appreciated her wit and self-deprecating humor.

This book whet my appetite for reading, writing, and eating. I highly recommend it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vacation Project #1: Spare Room Redo

Look at what I did during my recent week off!

Our spare room is no longer a random-storage-catch-all, it's a guest room and reading oasis. I LOVE this room now. The afternoon sun through the new curtains makes me so happy.

The quilt on the day bed is one I made with a 94 year old woman I worked for in 2003. I'm so happy it's out of storage and on display now.

Please note the constant supervision from Rajah and Ivan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

July's book of the month: LIT by Mary Karr

Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up--as only Mary Karr can tell it.
(From the Amazon.com review)

I thought I might not be able to relate to this story. It's written by a middle-age woman about the impact of a miserable childhood, the struggles of parenting her young son, a languishing marriage, and the lure of alcoholism. But I was wrong. I was right there with her, every guarded and garish step of the way.

Mary Karr's anxious, unwilling exposure to prayer and her experience of faith is the best I've ever read. Not until she'd hit rock bottom did she allow herself to consider the possibility of a Higher Power. She made a slow progression toward belief, and fought tooth and nail along the way.

In Lit, I found a familiar topic examined from a completely foreign perspective. For someone like me, steeped in church life and Christian-y language, the book strikes a nerve. I grew up attending Sunday School, participating in church activities, and speaking comfortably in groups about prayer, faith, and salvation. For several years now, I've resisted all that "involvement," and tend to think of God as a familiar but distant relative prone to surprise visits, lavish gifts, and long periods of silence. So Mary Karr's new belief as an adult, accompanied by cynicism, resistance, and much eye-rolling really appealed to me.

My little sprout of faith often feels like a high-maintenance house plant, fading for lack of attention. But Mary Karr describes faith in a way that sounds more like a fallen tree. Her story doesn't conjure up images of grape leaves or stalks of wheat. A more appropriate symbol for her conversion is a horizontal tree trunk blocking the path, impossible to ignore. She reached a point of despair in her marriage, as a parent, and as an alcoholic where she couldn't avoid God anymore.

Another thing I love about this book is that you won't find it on the shelves of your local Family-Friendly-Christian-Bookstore-Full-of-Fish-Shaped-Jewelry. There's too many swear words in it for that. Plus, it doesn't end with a syrupy conclusion of prosperity, happiness, and a life of ease. The final chapter recaps all that she's learned about relationships and love.

Lit also convinces me that poets make the best memoirists. Not one wasted word.