September 30, 2009

Go Go Go Go....Crash

I'm having a do noting kind of day. As in, I really, REALLY want to do absolutely nothing today. I'm not very good at doing nothing, much as I might want to. I've never really learned to pace myself when it comes to all the sewing, crafting, house renovating that I find myself doing these days. Mondays I'm gung ho. I get a ton done. I clean, I cook, I make and work and write and play. Tuesdays I get almost as much accomplished, still working hard. By Wednesday or Thursday I'm paying for it. I'm tired and just DONE. But there are still things that need doing, so I chug on, slower, inefficiently, but still on. By Friday I've usually recovered enough to do a big end of the week house clean, but I never find myself a whirl of activity on Friday the way I do on Monday.

There is a long list of to-do's today. I need to unpack Will and Evie's suitcases, wash and dry and fold and put away the weeks laundry. Outside there is a big pile of mulch, a small pile of cardboard and a bag of chicken hay just waiting to be put to work as our future garden beds along the newly installed fence. There is a review to write for another blog, there is dinner to start, beds to make, chores to do. But here I am, sitting outside watching Evie swing in her red stripy tights, because it's finally cool enough to wear tights and sweaters and long sleeved shirts and boots. And there is a new book sitting on the arm of my chair next to my coffee. I'm sure I'll get to that other stuff in a little while. I'll start feeling guilty sitting out in the autumn sunshine reading and playing while the chores wait and I'll get up and do them.

But before I curl up in my favorite Adirondack Chair and get to my book I'll show you what it was that kept me dizzy busy this weekend. Will and Evie went to Dallas for four days, and as a surprise for him I thought I'd tackle the grotty, grungy, outdated bathroom upstairs that he hates but that we have not had time to work on yet.

On Saturday the bathroom looked like this

On Saturday night I pulled out all our junk, ripped out the sink and the mirror and painted the tile and tub =with some truly nasty epoxy paint.

Sunday Night I painted the walls and put in a new medicine cabinet and installed flooring

Monday night I put in the new sink and curtains and doo-dads so that now it looks like this.

It's not done. I ran into difficulties trying to install trim around the mirror and I haven't put the new outlets in, just the covers, but now instead of going in and thinking "yuck!" I think "ahhhh...."

It was a busy couple of days, what can I say. Maybe reading a book all day today would be excusable after all....

September 29, 2009

A TIny Eden

I'm not great with house plants. OK, I'm terrible with house plants. I kill them so quickly that I've pretty much given up altogether. The only success I've ever had is with a hardy little plant that my grandmother gave me, I forget the name at the moment, but I think it was the kind of thing that people work hard to kill in some places, so 'm not sure that I was keeping it alive so much as that I wasn't spraying it with pesticide, thus it did fine. I'm trying my hand at an orchid (I know, cause those aren't hard to keep going or anything) on the window of the kitchen and since the thing hasn't died yet, I've gone on a succulents. Which is probably where I should have started, but oh well. I bought several pots of succulents at Lowe's for another project I'm working on and had one left over that was sitting on my counter for a week looking lonesome. So I decided to give it a home.

A few weeks ago I stumbled onto a blog entry about pickle jar terrariums and decided to try it out, but on a much smaller scale. The idea is to fill the lid of a jar with moss and some little wild, grow in the cracks of sidewalk type plants, water it well and screw the jar on over the plants. The sealed environment keeps the moisture at a good level and the plants live happily in their little glass homes.

Since my plant was very small and I only had one, I used a baby food jar (it felt a little weird to be hanging out in the baby food section again!). I picked up some moss on a walk I took earlier this week and when I got home I put it all together. So now it's been sitting happily on my windowsill for a few days and I have to say, I think it's going to work. It's just enough green to perk up the white white windows and makes a good contrast to the grey sky that's been looming over Charlottesville for the past few days. I want to find something to do with the lid since an upside down Gerber logo isn't really my idea of pretty, but for now I'm enjoying my little tiny terrarium. Keep your fingers crossed that I don't kill what should be a happily self sustaining little world. Stranger things have happened.

September 25, 2009

The End of and Era

Our house is, it seems, officially a nap free zone. (Insert sighing smiley face here:)) I know I've been a little nap spoiled for the past three years. When we first moved to Charlottesville Evelyn was giving me two- two and a half hour naps every day. Sometimes two three and a half hour naps. There was so much napping that I thought, "hey, now would be a good time to get my PhD!" That whole plan went south when, right as I was turning in my application, she switched to one nap and I began to see the error of my ways. But for the past year and a half she has continued to sleep for three hours every day, down at noon, up in time to get the bus at 3:15. Time enough to clean up and do some writing and get the laundry folded or the bathrooms scrubbed or whatever chore was on my "today's To Do" list.

This summer her nap shifted, later and shorter, 2-4 maybe, more often 3-4, but it was still a nap. I was in denial that the end was near. Sure it would be nice to be able to run errands or have play dates past 12, but I NEEDED those precious naps. But ever since school started the naps have been infrequent and rough, and this week they disappeared altogether. S0 now instead of spending my afternoon writing in peace, I'm standing at the kitchen counter squeezing in a few minutes while she is playing with her brother, checking every few minutes to make sure she hasn't crashed out on the couch which would mean a horrible struggle at bedtime.

But I do admit that Ive been spoiled. By comparison, Briton had pretty much dropped any sense of a nap by the time he was two. TWO. Of course, back then I had a three hundred square foot apartment to clean, which took all of ten minutes to do, and no other child to deal with. So the lack of nap really just mean more time to be out in the city riding trains and buses and visiting museums and shops and popping in on friends.

So the big dinners that I start at nap have gone by the wayside. Tonight we are having tomato soup and grilled cheese which I can work on between sentences. There will probably be a lot of crock-potting in my future as well. And while I'll miss the "me" time, I'm actually looking forward to having some of the "we" time that I so cherished with Briton. The after the chores are done, go out and have some fun times. Because next year is preschool,and after that is Kindergarten, and then I wont have any stay at home kids to stay at home with. Which is another end of an era, but not one I'm anywhere near ready to deal with. Not quite yet anyway. We'll see how I feel after a few more weeks of no naps.

September 24, 2009

Once a Cook, Always a Cook

While unloading seventeen boxes (and counting) of books yesterday into our newly assembled build in bookshelves (pictures coming soon!) I ran across a cookbook that my mother had transcribed for me once upon a time. I'm guessing I was about four or five since teh drawings are almost intelligable but I wasn't writing yet. It's pretty freaking hilarious to read now. It features recipes for Roast Rabbit, Peanut Butter Cookies, Banana Sundae and Chocolate Strawberry sundae, Snowman Cookies, Turkey Chicken (you didnt know this but it was really ME who came up with the whoel TurDuckIn thing. What can I say, I was a child culinary genius!) Peanut Butter Sandwich and Fruit Salad with Tomatoes. They are all pretty silly but my favorites are for the Banana Sundae and the Roast Rabbit. I'm sure you'll all enjoy cooking these exactly as I wrote them.

Banana Sundae

Buy a Banana Sundae.
When you buy it, then you can eat it

(hey, I was nothing if or logical)

But this one is the best best

Roast Rabbit
(complete with a drawing of a rabbit pinned down with nails)

Cook the Rabbit and eat it.
Feed the bones to the dog.
But we dont.

September 23, 2009

The Lioness and the Lamb in Me

Part of being back to school mean back to dealing with childhood emotions. Not that my children, and mostly I'm talking about Briton here, didn't have emotions over the summer, but it's when school is in session that I see them most clearly. Will they like me, will they want to play, what do I do when I'm left out, what if I do something wrong, something stupid, something that people make fun of?

And the thing is, that never really changes, does it. People can be mean. Even when they dont mean to be. I'm not talking about anything that's happened recently, it's just something I've been bracing myself for as an inevitable part of having a child in school. But thinking about it in the context of my son got me thinking about how it happens to me even as an adult. Not as often, to be sure. Adults are, superficially, nicer. But it does happen. And the girl inside me, the one who had just a little too much imagination, a little too much wackyness, to be cool, still feels the sting every now and then. I say something or do something and that little zing comes flying back. Nothing big, nothing direct, just a little zing, like a bee's sting. you almost don't know it's happened until the throbbing pain hits a moment later.

There is nothing worse, though, than watching your child crumple with sadness when it happens to them. There is nothing that brings out the inner lioness in me quite so fiercely. That makes me want to scream and shake the offender and tell them "dont you know how GREAT my kids is??" Because he is. I know all parents think their kids are great. But mine really is. He might have an over abundence of energy at times, but he genuinley loves his sister, he always makes sure to include people, and he has a tender, sometimes easily broken heart. I want to yell this at the kid who makes him feel bad or sad or left out. But you can't do that. Can you? All you can do is offer the same words of comfort that your parents offered you. "If they don't know what they are missing being your friend, they arent worth being friends with."

It's not enough, though. It wasn't ever enough as a child to hear those words, it didnt solve things. And now as a parent I can see that it doesnt make me any less mad to say those words. But what more can we do. Just as we had to learn to fight those battles, so to must our children.But I suppose the only thing worse than having to watch your children fight battles they wish you could battle for them, is realizing that they no longer need you to fight, that they are old enough to handle it themselves. Old enough that they might not even tell you about it at all.

September 22, 2009

Isn't It Fall?

Last weekend, Briton made one of those, melt your heart, I love you so much kind of statements you get to hear when your a mom. "Mom, your the best cook EVER! Your even better than the television cooks! Can you make me some of your pumpkin bread because it's sooooo good."

Now before I go on I should clear two things up. First. I am NOT the best cook ever. And I am no where near those gurus of the cooking channel. Last night I screwed up a chicken. A chicken! I'm still mumbling over that one. All I can say is it sucks when your instant read thermometer go haywire on you.

And second, my son is the ultimate complimenter. Don't get me wrong, he's a genuinely sweet little man. We've worked hard to teach him to be kind and loving and to always try to say nice things to people. And he's taken to it like a duck to water. He compliments women's shoes, he tells people they are wonderful. He used to kiss babies and shake hand when we got on planes. For a while we feared that he was heading toward politics with his smooth attitude. He;s good. He's very good. And when he frames a request for something with "your are the best!", it's hard to refuse.

So, with my boy in mind I went to the grocery store to get myself a can of pumpkin yesterday and found...none. Now, I know it's still September and so we are not officially into pumpkin season but, seriously? No Pumpkin? It's FALL PEOPLE! My kid wants pumpkin bread!!

I looked everywhere, I asked and got shrugs, I even went to a second store. No luck. In the end I had to buy a boxed pumpkin bread kit. That is how much I love my son. I'm willing to make boxed bread.

Now along with his request for pumpkin bread came this little nugget of hilarity. "And mom, can you add your secret ingredient? Because it makes it the Best!" Well yes, yes I can. My secret ingredient being zucchini. Which he knows very well. What kid asks you to add zucchini to his food? I know, weird isn't it?

And they were pretty good, for a mix that was all powder (I thought for sure there would be one of those little cans inside the box, what do they do, freeze dry the pumpkin and bash it to a powder, ugg!) it worked out surprisingly well. The chocolate chips helped of course (another secret ingredient, hey, it can't all be healthy!)

But really, grocery stores of Charlottesville, bring out the pumpkin! I'm ready to get down to some serious autumn baking!

September 21, 2009

Plywood Free

Will and I made yet another slog up to IKEA yesterday to get the remaining piece needed to finish the counter top. You'll notice that the photos I posted before did not show the island, well, now you know why. The concrete was finished, the counter top wasn't really.

When we poured we calculated for a good bit more concrete than should have been necessary but somehow still came up short. But since we had split the island form into three chunks we decided to pour two for the island and fill in the missing space with butcher block. It has turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I've had two of my trusty cutting boards fall to pieces since we moved in. And since you aren't supposed to cut on concrete the block piece of the counter will be a savior when it comes to all the cutting, rolling, chopping and kneading I tend to do. So phew, good thing we screwed up!

While we were up at IKEA we also picked up bookshelves for the living room which looks like it will be the next indoor project round the house. And for the record, I think we shoudl have won a prize for most crap shoved into a station wagon with two kids in tow! While it's not strictly a "must do NOW" project, the books pining away in boxes in my basement will be much happier (as will I) up stairs and away from the spiders and sawdust. I've also got a big old pile of mulch just waiting outside for me to get to work. And I will...I hope.

In the mean time we are moving into a busy month (I know, like our lives haven't been busy up till now) with plans for the Halloween Party in the works, invitations to make and pass out, fall decorations to put up, a list as long as my arm of small crafts I'm working on for other writing gigs, costumes to make, and oh yeah, more renovations (hello bathroom! I'm coming for you!)

By the way, anyone have a dozen or so Osage Orange balls lying around their yard that they want to send to me? I need them for something and I don't know where to find any around here..... Here's hoping someone on Freecycle has some!

September 17, 2009

Accidental Goodness

Sometimes my favorite dinners happen by accident. I'm a menu planner. And by that I mean that I sit down every Tuesday and fill up my yellow pad with lunch and dinner plans for the next week. Yes, lunch too, not that I really cook lunch most of the time, it's more like Ham Sandwiches one day, Ravioli in butter, Chicken salad etc. I just like to have a plan. And I really hate it when plans go awry because most of the time when things don't go according to the menu, they go south, and dinner kinda sucks. But sometimes it works out for the better. Sometimes a screwed up, last minute, unplanned, whipped together meal can be fantastic. Like tonight.

I'm addicted to this new service we have in town. They go around to all the locally owned grocery stores, the health food stores, the mom and pop shops, the bakeries, in other words, all the shops I don't have time to drive to separately, and drop them off at your house for a mere $8, well, obviously, $8 on top of what the food costs. But if $8 can buy me a week without taking the kids to the grocery store with me, I'm in. The only problem (other than that I occasionally forget about things that I normally don't write down but walk by and remember to buy, like toilet roll) is that I have a hard time judging proportion. So I might buy two pounds of oatmeal thinking that it would fit in my nice little oatmeal canister only to find that, whoa, two pounds of oatmeal, kind of a lot. Good thing we like oatmeal. And granola. And oatmeal cookies.

A few weeks ago I ordered some Salmon, just enough, I thought, to feed Will and I with a little leftover for the kids to try it out. Somehow I ended up with a two foot long chunk of fish. OK, so this week I had plans to make the creme fraiche coated salmon that I found using the epicurious app on my iphone. But when my groceries were delivered today the piece of salmon was, well, teeny. What to do. Hummm.

If it had been a sunny day I probably would have done some kind of quiche. Which would have been good, but I'm glad it wasn't sunny. I'm glad it was rainy and gray and even kind of cold. Because after some "what the hell am I going to make for dinner?" minutes I hit on chowder. Salmon chowder.

I used to hate chowder, well, I used to hate clams. Insanity, right? Then one day I woke up and I liked clams. I even kind of loved clams. And I really loved clam chowder. Which opened up a whole world of chowders to me. Clam, corn, lobster (eaten on the piers of San Francisco, oh my God was that some good soup)salmon, really any creamy, potato-y chunky soup and I'm a goner. So you can see why salmon chowder seemed like a good plan.

Of course the problem is that I didn't' write anything down as I went. Because that would have been too clever of me. So bear in mind that the recipe below is more of a "guide" as they say of the cooking shows.

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan melt three tablespoons of butter and saute a quarter of an onion, diced, a small clove of garlic, minced and one stick of celery chopped finely.

When the onion is soft add two potatoes, peeled and diced in once inch cubes, one carrot peeled and the kernels off of an ear of corn, maybe 2/3 a cup. Stir in a cup of chicken stock and a cup of milk, more or less, enough to just cover everything in the pot. Grind in some pepper and let it simmer away until the veggies are almost falling apart.

Stir in half a pound (or as much as you get from the delivery lady) of cubed salmon, half a cup of cubed cheddar, a small container of sour cream and enough milk to bring the soup to the consistency you want. I like mine chunky, so for me that wasn't much.

And for the record, it was even good cold, which was how I ate my second helping. Because I couldn't wait long enough to heat it back up (ah, life without a microwave....)

September 15, 2009

Not for the weak of heart, but also, not THAT bad either

Well, I'd like to be able to say that the kitchen is finally done, but it isn't. But the counter tops are done, and that was the biggest hurdle and the biggest inconvenience. Now all we have to do is hang the other shelves,attach the handles to the doors and drawers, put up some upper cabinets, frame in and cover the back of the island, install a hood, put up new lights, switch a few more plugs, put in all the floor trim...just a few minor details:)

It does seem minor, well, sort of minor, in comparison to the project that was the counter tops.

So here's how it went down, just in case there are others out there who are crazy enough and patient enough, to try it for themselves.

There are two ways to pour concrete counter tops, in a reverse mold off site, or in a mold right on top of of the counter tops. At first I was convinced that we should do it in place. It sounded easier and quicker and I was so not looking forward to going who knows how long without counters. (and since we were moved in by August 5th and it is now September 15th, it was a month and ten days of counter free living) But as it turns out, pouring in place is much harder, and much messier and so we opted for the reverse mold technique.

We spent about a week building molds our of melamine, to which the concrete wouldn't stick and then waited for a nice sunny (but not hot) weekend when we could both spend a whole day doing just about nothing other than pouring, spreading smoothing and packing concrete.

For the mix we used a combination of half bagged concrete made specifically for counter tops and half our own recipe of white cement, white sand, gravel and a silvery colorant from a concrete specialty company. We mixed in six separate batches since a single cubic yard was all our mixer could handle, and the small mixer at the rental shop was all our car could handle.

Will measured and mixed and brought it up a bucket at a time to our porch where I was ready with the molds. I worked the concrete into the corners, smoothed out the tops and banged away at the sides with a rubber mallet to shake out the air pockets. It took literally all day. And thankfully we have kind neighbors who helped to keep an eye on the kids who were running amok in the yard.

It was hard work, but not the hardest we've done. And the worst part of the whole thing was waiting ten days while the concrete cured in the mold before cracking it open.

When the ten days were finally up we pulled them out of the molds, crossing fingers, toes and everything in between that there were no major cracks and not too too many bubbles. Luckily the surface was almost completely smooth. Other than one corner that was a little rough and a few minor bubbles the tops were perfect. The sides were a little rougher, but nothing terrible and nothing that wasn't fixed with a thin coat of concrete slurry (also from the counter top specialists, along with the sealer and the wax)

Surprisingly Will and I were able to lift all but two of the pieces by ourselves and we roped in a friend that help with those. So now they are in, and I love them. I'd probably love any kind of counter tops at this point but I really love these. And even if it meant waiting ten days (did I say ten days? It was supposed to take ten days, Ha!) it was worth it. Next up, well, I guess the cabinet handles, or maybe the back of the island, and we do need to put in the fence and get the garden beds started....I guess we'll have to see where inspiration strikes next.

September 14, 2009

Easy Bake

Will razzes me all the time about my cooking equipment. See, I never throw anything away. Not even the blackened warped loaf pans that were my parent's castoffs when I moved into my own place. Every few years he secretly tosses my cookie sheets and replaces them with versions that lie flat and aren't covered with black splotches. When we moved into this house and I was attempting to squeeze way too many pans into our cupboards, he put his foot down. "Throw them out, buy new ones, those are TOO OLD!" So out went a few of the worst offenders, including my set of cake pans which, to be honest, weren't even round anymore. "I wont be able to make any cakes!" I threatened him, but got no sympathy. So I've been cake panless for a month or so. Actually, that's not strictly true, I did break down and buy one to make Briton's birthday cake. Which needed three layers (pour, bake, cool, remove, wash, dry, repeat two more times, what a pain)

Over Labor Day weekend we visited Wills Grandparents in Kentucky. Amidst the showing off of the children and the trimming branches off the trees so Grandaddy wont try to do it himself, I was puttering in the garage while Briton pretended to drive the 1955 Chevy truck that's been there as long as I've been visiting their house. One side of the garage houses the truck and the other houses boxes and baskets full of stuff that was kept after a relative passed away several years ago. A glint of aluminium caught my eye and when I went to investigate I found three cake pans stacked together. Only they weren't ordinary cake pans. All three had a flat strip of metal that could be spun around the edge to pull the cake away from the pan. No butter, no flour, no trying to slip a fork or a knife or a spatula carefully in and under the side of an obstinate cake to ease it out. I'd never seen anything like them. Maybe they're common place, or were, who knows, maybe that's a chapter in culinary equipment that passed me by without my noticing, but hey, I thought they were cool.

When we left for the weekend Will's Grandmother gave me two of the pans which she had forgotten were even out there. So now I am the proud owner of two very cool cake pans. And since I had these nifty new pans and we were having a movie night Friday I decided to test them out with a Victoria Sponge for the kids to eat while the grownups feasted on Peach Cobbler.

In honor of our new family member I used Nigella's recipe which was good, buttery and not too sweet, but kind of heavy, although I think that's because I didn't whip the eggs enough. I think next time I make one I'll use a genoise batter and make it nice and light. But the pan, the pan was cool!

I have to admit I was a little nervous about not buttering or pam-ing or flouring in any way, but in the name of experimentation, I went cold turkey and poured the batter straight in. When it came out I let it cool and gave the little knob handle a spin and PRESTO! Out came the cake. I'm in love....

September 9, 2009

See How Much I Love Nigella?

I spent yesterday evening sewing a dog bed. WHAT! What? You say! Why were you sewing a dog bed Gillian, don't you have a cat? Well yes, yes I do. I have the greatest cat ever. And as of ten am today, we also have a dog.

The dog thing has been floating around for about six months. Mostly it has consisted of me suggesting it and Will nay-saying it. And then suddenly a few weeks ago he did a total turn around and just said "ok, I think we should." I'm not sure what changed his mind. Maybe the large yard we are now proud owners of, maybe it was our boy coming home from spending time at the grandparents house with full blown, seven year old boy dog fever, who knows. I'm not arguing.

We had planned to get a puppy in November. I had researched the breed, a Springer Spaniel, and spent a week and a half emailing every breeder withing three hundred miles. I talked to everyone I could find about getting the right dog (as opposed to the dog we had before, have you read Marley and Me? Well, that's pretty much what we had, no wonder it's been awhile since we were dog owners!) Late last week a breeder contacted me saying that one of his former dogs had had a litter in June and the mother was just the kind of dog we were looking for. Bingo. The only problem was that the puppy was ready now.

No time like the present, right?

So last night I made a dog bed, and this morning I drove a ridiculous distance (I wont even tell you how far, let's just say it was a loooong drive to get there and back in one day) to pick up our dog. But she was worth it. She sat quietly all the way home and has been (knock on wood) a very well behaved little girl.

As she is sweet and pretty and a little plump (in a good way!) and has long, gorgeous brown curls, we've named her Nigella, after my favorite cookbook author. When we told Evelyn her name she responded with "My Jelly" so now she is Jelly, our Jelly.

Now let's see if I can get anything at all done with a puppy running loose in the house!

September 8, 2009

Sneak Peek

What with a Labor Day (weekend) trip to see family in Kentucky, a couple of mini projects in the works (hair clip holder, coming my way soon, thank goodness!), prepping for our towns semi-annual children's used clothing sale and some crazy excitement coming to our house this week (more on that tomorrow), we haven't done much around the house. But I do have an eensy weensy sneak peek for you. Will came home at lunch and we unmolded a piece of the counter top. Actually,we also did one before we left but couldn't move it since it needed another three days to cure. But as of today they are unmold and move ready and just for kicks we put the two we cracked open on the island so we could get a feel for what we were in for. I LOVE it. It turned out much better (cross your fingers, touch wood that the others are equally smooth and crack free) than I thought it would and will need only some minor filling along the edges. Now this is not filled, sealed, waxed or even fastened down, but you get the idea.

September 2, 2009

Let there be Light!

I'm sort of the family electrician. Will is not a big fan of wiring. He can do it. (well, there was that incident earlier this summer when he blew the circuit connecting the wrong wires when he was changing out the plug...) but really he just hates it. So it falls to me.

It's not really my thing either. Better than plumbing for sure. But I'll do it when I have to. We've had two pendant lamps cluttering up the dining room for two weeks. I really shouldn't have even bought them to begin with. It's not like lamps are really a priority when we are still living with plywood counter tops (thank goodness that will be over soon!) but A friend had given me these cool shades and the pendents seemed like the perfect fit for them so I went ahead and got them. And now I've been itching to hang them ever since.

Last night I made a last ditch effort to get Will to do it. His reply was to hand me a list of "to-do's" a mile long. Lighting was somewhere near the bottom. Ok, Ok, I get the message.

Let me tell you something. Hanging ceiling lights is a pain. No, really, my arms are killing me. I can only hold a drill over my head for so long before my arms start to scream at me. To make things worse, I was trying to hang the two shades perfectly in line. Impossible. In the end I hung them, ahem, artfully askew before realizing that one of the lamps, although working ten minutes earlier, had stopped working.

What can I say, one will have to do for now. I think I'm hanging up my electricians tape for good.