March 31, 2010

On Paint

I'm a big fan of paint. In fact, Will and I have painted some room or wall or something in just about every place we've lived, no matter if we rented or owned. You have no idea the self restraint it took me to live in our last house for TWO YEARS without painting a single thing. And I only resisted because they specifically asked us not to, which sucked. Normally I paint away and, if necessary, put it back before leaving. Sometimes landlords have been happier with my choice than with their own, most of the time they never knew anything even changed.

I'm also a believer in painting even if you know you will be changing it in the near future. I've always had a hard time understanding why people will live with a ugly or even just dissatisfying wall because they have plans for it to come down or be moved or refinished in 3 months, 6 months, two years... I guess I'd rather put the day of work in and the $20 for the paint than live with something I hate even for a short period of time.

Will doesn't totally agree with my paint issues, some of the time he'd rather get other things finished first and be ready to really make a change than waste time in painting something temporarily, but if I'm the one painting, or if it's really, really bad to begin with, he'll get on board with the idea.

Which is why, despite the fact that we are leaving in a few days for vacation and the fact that we are planting a vegetable patch and a flower garden and finishing up odds and ends in the kitchen and have no handrail in the living room, I spent yesterday painting the downstairs bathroom for the second time since we moved in.

I don't even have before pictures, it wasn't that it was ugly. Well, it was ugly, but not nearly as awful as the upstairs bathroom. It was just dingy. And so last fall I painted the walls the baby blue of the tile, and painted what I could of the sink cabinet black, and added a few black and white accessories, to make it livable. And it was livable, until we knocked the wall out to put the lockers in. Since then we have had a half finished drywall wall, roughly removed tiles and lots of dings and scratches (Flying plaster! Yikes!) in our formerly almost-ok powder room. I've been just dealing, apologizing for it when people come over, keeping the door shut so I don't have to look, but it bugged me. I know, I know, I'm nuts. But I can't help it. It gave me the willies every time I had to go in there.

Last weekend I was grabbing some paint to touch up the trim in the kitchen when I noticed that I still had the original blue paint form the fall, half a cans worth. And while Will pointed out that at some point in the next six months we will be ripping out the blue tile, the sink and the icky fake wood medicine cabinet, painting the walls Tiffany blue and putting in a new sink and mirror, I felt like we had lived with the ugly for long enough and got painting. I had never tackled the trim so worked on that first then spent yesterday working on and off (between pushing Evie on the swings, running around the yard, digging out day lillies for transplanting and spelling out our names over and over for some sidewalk chalk writing practice) I patched holes, sanded drywall and painted the walls and ceiling (and btw, I always forget what a drastic improvement painting the ceiling makes! Crazy!) I also pulled out an old, Hollywood style light that I only ever kept one bulb in (who needs eight light bulbs in a 3x5 foot room?) and replaced that with an extra IKEA lamp I had leftover from the other bathroom remodel.

Is it done? Not by any means. I still want to do the full blown tear out and have the bathroom I really want. But at least it's no longer cringe worthy. Which, silly as it sounds, just makes me happy.

March 30, 2010

The Haircut

Evelyn got her very first haircut last week. Well, not really her very first, I've trimmed her bangs before. But still her first all over hair cut which is kind of amazing for a girl who is going to be four in 3 months (eek! I'll pretend I didn't just figure that out! Four!) She's always had very fine hair that is even finer in the front. Until recently she looked like she had a mullet when it was down (so I guess it's good that she has always been partial to pig tails)

I hadn't planned to cut her hair fora while yet, I love long hair on little girls. But she and her daddy have been plotting over it and after the fourth or fifth time of her flicking her locks at me declaring "I need a haircut mommy" I caved.

In true Evelyn form she sat very still and loved the whole thing, which took all of five minutes. And then in the car on the way home she tried on two different head bands and a hat to see how it looked with her new 'do.

I'm not sure how I feel about her short hair. I loved her little bun pigtails which she called "loopies" and how her ponytail would curl up like a spring when it was humid. Both are short and cute now and I'll get used to them, but I miss the long locks. Oh well, as one of my favorite children's books says "In time birds grow, trees grow, little girls grow and hair grows too." and after all "Today even princesses don't wear long tresses."

Sigh, she's growing up.

March 29, 2010

Earth Hour

This weekend, thanks, I'm sad to say, to the technology of my iphone calender, our whole family spent 8:30-9:30 Saturday night with all the lights out, celebrating Earth Hour.

Last year I totally forgot which is terrible because it's exactly the kind of thing I want to experience with my kids. And of course, I could celebrate an "Earth Hour" any time I wanted, but I'm a writer, I like deadlines. Or maybe I should say I NEED deadlines. So last week when I came across an article about Earth Hour, I put it in my iphone, with an alert (ok, two) so that this year I would not forget. And whew, it actually worked.

When the beeper went off I started grabbing candles while trying to hurriedly tell Will (oops, forgot to do that before too!) what I wanted to do. Lights out, stove off, quiet in the house, at least as much quiet as is possible at the end of a busy, sunny Saturday with two bouncy kids.

So we started a fire, because it was a little chilly outside and the light and warmth from the fire was calming and peaceful. I popped candles into old jars and new votive holders made last week. Briton got out the cards and Will brought slices of the pizza he had just finished on a big plate to the coffee table. We spent an hour, a real, honest to goodness quiet hour, playing "Go Fish" and coloring and reading to ourselves by candlelight. And it was bliss. True bliss. Which makes me realize that, as simple as our lives generally are, there is room to grow. There should be more days with candlelit card games and quiet hours. More family coloring time, which we also tried out this weekend. More together-with-no-distractions moments. Because when the TV and the computer and the lights and the stove and the house as a whole turned off, our family turns on in the most wonderful way. So here's to more Earth Hours. May the come more often and without the need for an iphone alert!

And if you like the votive candle holders, they were ridiculously easy and inspired by these vases.

Evie and I picked out a bag full of old cut glass potluck cups and funky jars and I sat out at our picnic table one afternoon while the kids played, swirling various shades of leftover yellow house paint (adding more or less white to change the tone) around the sides of the cups then left them to dry.

I love the way they glow, like little pots of sunshine, even when it's dark.

March 26, 2010

Unexpected Places

One of my favorite things about Portland, and one of the things I miss most, was a little known event that occurred every spring. The only people who knew about it were those who stumbled upon it. And even those of us in the know could sometimes forget and miss it. It wasn't a party or a holiday or a sale, it was the blooming of a single bulb in an unexpected place.

The year before Briton was born we moved across town to an area known as Hollywood. It was, like much of Portland, packed with cute bungalows, cheery parks and funky shops. Hollywood runs into, or encompasses (depending on who you ask) the neighborhood where Mr. Holland's Opus was filmed and is also home to Klickitat Street where Ramona Quimby lived in Beverly Cleary's books. There are even statues of Ramona, Henry and Ribsy playing in the park. It's a beautiful neighborhood that I dare anyone not to fall in love with.

Not far from Hollywood, in fact, along the road that a lot of residents take to get into the neighborhood from the freeway, there is a giant old tree on a corner. There's nothing remarkable about the tree really, I can't even remember what kind it was, but every spring a daffodil would bloom where the trunk split about six feet off the ground.

It was one of those things that I wouldn't even think about until driving past on the way home. Just spotting it made me happy. Who, I always wondered, thought to plant a daffodil way up high in a tree? Every spring it was there, even after we moved away and then back again a few years later, there it was.

I've always meant to do that, plant a bulb in a tree. But we've moved too often, or maybe I just forget until it's long past time for bulbs to go in the ground. This year however, the stars were aligned. Last fall I sat with a few leftover bulbs after planting along our fence line. Where to put them. By the gate? Next to the door? Under a window? Or... light the cherry tree!

And this was how a friend noticed the other day that there were three daffodil plant sprouting from our tree. I'd totally forgotten, just like I always did in Portland. But there they are, starting to bloom away after a long winter under not a whole lot of soil. Hopefully making some passers by happy just to see them, the same way those Portland flowers did for me.

March 25, 2010

Trash Can Makover

Partly because we've been concentrating on the yard and partly because I'm fighting a nasty something that I thought was allergies but may actually be my annual bout with bronchitis (which is better than when I had an annual bout with pneumonia!) but not a lot has been happening around the house. Well, several things have been happening, but they are mostly small scale projects, forcing dogwood branches and organizing seeds. But yesterday I was able to pull myself out of the decongestant induced fog I had going on to tackle a project that I've been meaning to do fora while now.

Where to put the recycling has always been an issue with us. There's not enough room under the sink and I cant deal with it being out in an open bin. For a while we had the bins just outside the kitchen door which was great, until the dog started pulling things out to chew on and spread the contents of the bin across the yard every morning. Ugg. No thank you. So a couple of months ago I bought a garbage can that matched out current can with the idea that one would be trash and one would be recycling. When I bought it I fully intended to come home and make some kind of cool label so we could tell them apart. Alas, some other project distracted me. Or maybe it was the kids. Or just, you know, cooking dinner. So instead I wrote "Toss" and "Recycle" on cardboard and glued a magnet on the back, just until I could get around to it in a week or so. Ahem, ok, maybe three months or so.

While I was scrubbing down the cans yesterday (amazing how gross a garbage can can get! I'd like to blame it on the kids but probably really can't) I realized this labeling thing had been put off long enough, those cardboard labels were looking pretty tatty, plus, coincidentally, I had the stickers and the paint on hand for other projects. Maybe some part of my oh-so-foggy brain is actually functioning and I bought them on purpose without knowing it. But probably not.

So off I went.

The hardest thing here was getting the letters straight. If they were a little off I wouldn't notice but the architect certainly would. It took a few tries and some unladylike swearing when I realized the "O's" were taller than the other letter (Why?) but eventually I got it, masked off a square (using electrical tape, which-worked like a charm, who knew!) and started spraying with matte clear spray paint. I ended up with a tiny bit of unevenness when the wind came up and weirded out one of the coats of paint, but with the "two kids live in this house" scratches that were already on the can, you don't really notice. And the end result looks nice and clean and clear without saying "I made this in five minutes with some old cardboard."

*If you want to try this, it's pretty self explanatory but I will say that you want a razor to help lift the edges of the letters when you remove them AND, nail polish remover takes off any paint smudges it you happen to touch the can after getting paint on your thumbs and leave weird prints all over the place.


I know,I know. Who gets happy over a labeled trash can?

March 23, 2010

Why Didnt I Think of THAT Before?

Ever have one of those moments where a suggestion to someone else's problem pops out of your mouth and you think, "Uh, why didn't that come to me before?" Well, I don't have them very often, those moments of brilliance. And this probably doesn't quite qualify as brilliant, but it was fun.

Last week our school had it's first "Go Green Night."

Wait, I should back up and explain a little.

Last year, a group of moms (myself included) started an effort to green our school. We made up posters with simple things to do - reusable lunch containers, no idling at drop off and pick up..things like that, and we bought sandwich wraps from Wrap-N-Mat to sell at a school functions. This didn't go over well with some of the PTO who thought we were a bunch of eco-snobs and it led to some ridiculous drama that I wont go into. But it also led to a lot of people buying the Wrap-N-Mats which is great because if you really thought about how many plastic bags go into the trash in school cafeterias, I bet it would make you sick.

So fast forward a year and the PTO is now selling them at the school store and school events. And this spring the idea of a Go Green Night was proposed and approved. Now I can't tell you much about that because I didn't go to that PTO meeting, but when the night came around I volunteered to man the Wrap-N-Mat/no-waste lunch table with a friend.

The idea of the night was great. Reps from the power company came to answer questions about eco-power. Reusable shopping bags were given away. Farmers Market stall holders came and set up their stalls. Fantastic. Except it was a beautiful sunny day after a long dreary winter and there wasn't a lot of information out to the parents about it in general, so no one showed up. Which was good because then just about no one saw that they served pizza on Styrofoam plates.

At Go Green Night.

But it was also bad because now I'm sure the farmers will never come back. And like I said, the idea was great.

Anyway. As we were standing there at the Wrap-N-Mat table talking about how many wraps we would need to buy ourselves so the night wouldn't be a total bust, my friend Melanie noted that most of the good colors had been bought up over the year, leaving just plain white wraps to buy. And that's when my (somewhat) brilliant thought popped out.

"You could color them with fabric markers."

Oh my gosh, you COULD color them with fabric markers. Seriously, why didn't I think of that before. I've been making Briton's sandwich wraps since he started school three (yikes!) years ago but I bought one last year that he promptly lost because it looked like all the other wraps people had. Well duh.

So yesterday Evie and I decorated a (newly purchased at the failed Go Green Night) Wrap-N-Mat for Briton's lunch. And it totally worked!

Today I sent him off with his new wrap in a make shift lunch bag in a make shift book bag because someone walked off with his backpack when we were downtown after school yesterday. (Sucks, but he's been asking for a new backpack anyway and after three years of the same LLBean one, I guess it's time. Not that the backpack was ready to go, seriously, those things

So there you have it folks. Probably the easiest craft ever, which I should have though of before but, well, didn't. Have fun!

March 22, 2010

Handful of Blisters

Will and the kids and I spent just about the entire weekend outside. Almost too much time outside, if that's even possible after the winter we've had. Halfway through the day on Sunday Briton started asking if he could go in and just watch a movie. Too bad kid, the sun is shining so outside it is. Fortunately, about that time the neighbor kids popped their heads out the door and the wild rumpas began. As for the grownups, well, we dug, and dug, and dug some more. And then we hauled mulch, and more mulch and even more mulch. Although, if you were to catch a glimpse of mount mulch out on our curb, you would think we hadn't touched it. I think I went overboard on the mulch order.

We dug so much that I spent last night sprawled out on the couch, half asleep, with my hands coated in Bag Balm. Bag Balm, in my family, is like Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Remember the dad's obsession with Windex? Well when I was a kid the answer to any ache or pain was inevitably "put some bag balm on it!" Although, my dad has since tried the Windex thing and has added that to his arsenal as well.

The highlight of the weekend (well, for me, for the kids it was the big carousal that the city brought in for Festival of the Book and which they rode over and over and over before dinner yesterday) was the deal I scored on some laurel bushes at Home Depot. I had been dispatched to buy a sprinkler (yes it was THAT warm) for the kids to run through and while I was there thought I'd pick up some plants for the newly mulched beds. While I was wandering the aisles of the plant section I spotted a table of 3 foot tall shrubby type things with a big old "Now $12.98" sign under them. Perfect! We needed some shrubs and who could beat that? The three hosta plants in my cart cost the same. Talk about bang for your buck.

So I loaded two onto my flat bed cart and, along with the hostas and some dahlias and pinks, I pulled up to the till. When she told me the total I just about died. WAY more than I had though. I knew I'd gone a little crazy but not that crazy. Turns out the bushes were mislabeled and they were actually $40 a piece. Now here's the thing. I am a TERRIBLE negotiator. Will STILL tells the story of our first furniture purchase, a futon couch. We were not going to pay full price. We would bargain and hold firm and get a deal. And then I walked in and said "Great" to the first price the guy quoted. So As I sat there with my shrubs (which, by the way, turned out to be Cherry Laurels and not the Japanese Holly on the sign, hey, how was I supposed to know) I decided I was, for once, going to stand firm. I pointed out that the sign clearly said they were $12.98. With an ARROW POINTING AT THEM. And then I shut up. Because otherwise I would have caved and just returned them. Or worse, gone home with my summer plant budget blown. The guy stared at me. I stared back. ANd then he gave them to me at the $12 price. Ha! HA!

I was so excited I called will and told him I got a steal. Once I'd assured him that no, the cops weren't after me and that I had really meant I'd just gotten a good deal (kids screaming with glee in the background + overexcited mommy = confusion) I drove home and we unloaded all the plants into the yard for planing on Sunday.

Of course I woke up to find that Nigella had pulled every plant (other than the laurels and a mondo grass) out of its pot and then given it a shake for good measure. Karma, I guess, Got a good deal on one plant, lost a few of the others. We saved most of them and them spent the rest of the day planting. In the end it doesn't make that much difference to the yard. It still looks a little barren and sad. Lots of grass, lots of mulch, not a lot of plants. But between the bulbs and the seeds and the pinks and, of course, the laurels, well, it'll get there. It helps that our giant, and well loved cherry tree burst into flower yesterday, making everything seem a little brighter. But flower gardening, I'm quickly learning, has a much slower rate of return than vegetable gardening. But I can be patient. I know I can (grow quicker, grow quicker, grow quicker).

March 19, 2010


Ever had one of those days? You know, the kind where you have conversations like this...

"Hey Evie, want to run an errand with mommy before we eat lunch?"
"OK, well, I better go find you some panties then."


At least I did find some.

Happy Friday folks.

March 17, 2010

Oh, and also...

If your a green design person, or just love me ;) go check out the post I wrote today for Re-Nest.. One of my favs...

Sewing 101 - The Three Year Old Version

Well since I got my St. Patrick Days willies out yesterday, Evie and I spent most of the morning running around in the sun. But once she had run herself out we decided to come inside for a rest and a project.

A couple of weeks ago I was sewing one afternoon and Evelyn sat in my lap, fascinated by the machine and the result.

While she is still a few years away from using a machine and probably not quite ready for a real needle and thread, I thought she might like to try sewing cards.

You can buy sewing cards in every shape and color, but instead I decided to have her draw her own images for the cards which turned out to be just the thing for a little afternoon quiet time . Ok, so the truth is I probably would have bought some if the thought had struck me while I was out and about, but I was feeling lazy, and a little cheap (hey, I have a whole garden to plant in the next couple of months! I can't be wastin money on sewing cards :)) So, what is the phrase, necessity is the mother of invention? We'll so is penny pinching cheapness, right? Right.

Evelyn draws "Walking Monsters" no matter what you ask her to draw these days, so she did one monster on his own and also a family. I drew a house for the family, at her request :) All were on a good heavy cardstock.

I cut around the edges and punched holes ever inch or two then gave her some yarn that had one end wrapped tightly in tape. Easy and perfect.

And when she get's bored of them? Well, we'll make some more. Best kind of game in my book.

March 16, 2010

A St. Patricks Day Treat

Back when Will, Briton and I lived in Dublin, we were lucky enough to have an incredible bakery in the little village within the city where our flat was located. Well, lucky and unlucky. Because it was so good. And so handy, it was hard not to go every day for a fresh baguette, a gingerbread man, a hand sized Pavlova stuffed with dense cream and blueberries. It didn’t take us long to become regulars. The woman who ran the shop knew that Briton liked to choose his gingerbread man based on the color of his candy buttons and she always wrapped it in it’s own little waxed paper bag, bringing it around the counter to him, even on the busiest days. She good-naturedly explained what the different desserts were to me whenever I asked, and she introduced us to Banoffee Pie.

Will actually discovered them. He came home from work one day describing a pie they had had for a birthday. Sweet, carmely, with cream and a weird crust, good weird. It sounded wonderful, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what he had eaten. A few weeks later he spotted it at our bakery, miniature versions the size of a saucer. We brought one home and devoured it. In fact, I don’t think we even shared any with Briton.

When I quizzed my friends about this miraculous dessert one piped up and claimed it was a delicacy from the North, which didn’t really surprise me since she, a Belfast girl, generally claimed any treat as being a native of “The Narth”. But whether it’s a true Irish dessert, a product of Belfast or, as a recently read, a tradition of the American South, it’s good, and even better, it’s simple.

I will give you one word of warning (well two, you are going to get addicted, I’m just telling ya) DO NOT use the sweetened condensed milk that has a pop tab. I tried an old camping stick it in the coals trick and it exploded, fortunately not harming anyone (there were some singed sweater) but I still have nightmares about it. Use the old kind of can and make sure the water stays topped OVER the edge of the can. But don’t let this scare you, it’s worth the weird cooing method.

Banoffee Pie

2 cans of Sweetened condensed milk

1 large package of Digestive Biscuits (you could use graham crackers in a pinch, but I wouldn’t:

3/4 stick of butter, melted

Heavy cream

3-4 ripe bananas

You want to start this in the morning to give yourself plenty of time for the caramel to cook and cool. Put the cans of milk into a large pot and cover them with water. I don’t like the cans to touch, but that’s just me. Pop them into the oven and bake them at 300 degrees for four hours, keeping an eye on the water level to make sure it doesn’t boil off. Remove the cans from the water and allow them to cool for a bit. Open one can to check the doneness. If it’s too light ( you want it the color of a Kraft caramel candy) put the other can back in for another hour. Cool and set aside.

About two hours before serving, whiz 3/4 of the package of biscuits in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Spread some of the remaining biscuits with a teeny bit of butter and a slice of cheddar (trust me!) for a snack while you are whizzing away. Pour in the melted butter and mix until you have a somewhat moldable texture. Press this into a pie or tart pan using the bottom of a glass. You want it firmly packed with a nice thick wall on the sides.

Pour the caramel into the crust (mixing first if you had to cook it longer to get a consistent color and flavor) and shake slightly to achieve a smooth surface. Pop this in the fridge until just before you want to serve. If you want you can prepare up to this point several days in advance and freeze the crust until you are ready. Some bakeries in Dublin sell just the shell and caramel so you can add the amount of bananas and cream that you like.

When you are ready, slice the bananas in 1/4-inch slices and heap onto the top of the pie. Whip the cream, unsweetened, and mound on top of the bananas.

This is deadly sweet, although the unsweetened cream helps but I bet you will find yourself groaning that you can’t possibly eat one more bit while at the same time piling more onto your plate. I only make it once a year just for that reason. Plus calories from Banoffee Pie don’t count on St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sure of it.

Oh and PS - No photos of the pie with the banana and cream on top because, well, it was just too tempting to wait, even for a photo break :) Happy St. Pat's everyone!

March 15, 2010

Garden Tracking

Although my tendencies run, as we know, toward list making, I've never been much of a list or plan person in the garden. I might start out with a plan, but as soon as the plants start showing up in the nurseries and farmers markets, or the seedlings in the window are ready, the plans go out the door. I always admired the beautiful garden journals but knew I'd never use one.

So I'm not sure if it's age or practicality or just the desire to do something different, but this years garden has been the subject of a myriad of plans and lists. And not just the vegetable garden. I've gone through plan after plan for every outdoor space we own. Bed layout, plant selection, seating, dining, they've all figured in there here and there. Part of it is just winter dreaming. There's nothing better than flipping through garden books on a cold winter's night and imagining the yard, fully mature, at the height of summer. But part of it is a real desire to make this yard ours. When we moved in there wasn't much beyond a glorious cherry tree and three slightly worse for wear dogwoods. Last summer we spread mulch for the flowers beds but other than a few daffodils and some pansies and pinks, didn't really plant anything. But then again, last summer we were in full blown kitchen renovation, whole house painting and counter top pouring. We barely had time to breath much less plant flowers. This year will be the summer of the garden.

Over the weekend we finished adding soil to the vegetable beds, set out seeds for carrots, parsnips, beets and lettuce and put a fig tree, a few bags of spring bulbs and a flat of spurge out in the flower beds.

The chickens came over and rolled around in the mulch while Will planted more pansies along the fence and I plotted out what we had planted. I've always envied those gardeners that can tell you the name of every plant in their garden. Not just the plant but the variety. I've never been one. And there's no guarantee that I'll remember the names of what I've planted, but at least it's written down so I can go look.

The sun is supposed to be out most of the week with only a few chances of a drizzle so it seems like it is well and truly spring, no matter what the groundhog said. We've got morning glory seeds to plant at the gates and asters, cosmos, violas and flax seeds sprouting in the mudroom and the neighbor down the road has a box full of lily bulbs for me as soon as he can get them out from under his porch. Spring.

March 11, 2010


Yesterday, out of the blue, Evelyn told me "You're my best friend mommy." Which, as you may have already guessed, melted my heart right then and there.

We've been walking a lot more now that the weather is nicer (although it's nasty and raining out there at the moment, but that's ok, I got my onions in) Walking to the school to pick Briton up. Walking downtown, walking around the neighborhood, the yard.

I'm home with Evie almost all day everyday but while we are home we are often doing. She is coloring, I'm cleaning, or we're reading books, or she's playdohing and I'm writing..any number of things. We're always doing. But when we are walking we're just...together. We play I spy and talk about clouds and she tells me I'm her best friend.

Next year she will go to preschool three mornings a week, and things will be different. In many ways. So I'm trying to enjoying all the at home moments that I can. I'm still writing and cleaning and making and reading. But I'm also trying to do more coloring and day dreaming and I spying.

Today while she napped I made her a headband. Because I'm her best friend. And best friends do that kind of thing.

This was one easy head band.

I cut two long strips from standard pieces of felt. One was two inches wide, the other was one and a half inches wide. From some scraps I cut out two little bluebirds that would fit easily on the skinnier strap.

After gluing the birds with fabric glue I stitched the straps together with some bright green thread.

And then I used one of the cool stitches on my machine to secure pieces of ribbon (about 10 inches long for each) into the hole between the two layers. Oh, and I added legs and beaks. Because let's face it, they would look weird without legs and beaks.

That was about it. She thinks she looks like a princess in it and, as her best friend, I'd have to agree.

March 10, 2010

Brioche Cinnamon Rolls

While I'm still spending as much time as I can on the garden before the rain comes (please no, give me one more day...more compost needs to be spread, onions need to go in the ground. Please, please, pretty please!) I did have a chance (excuse) to do some baking this morning.

Actually, I started last night. Because it was a school morning, and I am not waking up at the crack of dawn to give a yeast dough enough time to rise for breakfast. But starting last night and letting it rise in the fridge, well that I can do. Once in a while.

I've actually made this before. The dough is based on the Brioche dough in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day with a few alterations (starting with making a lot less) and the technique is based on one I learned in one the the Avoca cookbooks. And by technique I mean that, unlike regular cinnamon rolls, I pressed 1/4 of the dough into the bottom of a spring form pan. This does two things. One - it keeps all the gooey stuff from getting stuck on the bottom of the pan and Two - all that gooey stuff caramelizes in the buttery dough on the bottom, which is a good thing.

Usually when I make these I go nuts on the filling, double what this calls for. And in that case you get a really gooey, sticky, wonderful cinnamon roll. Today I used a more conservative amount of filling because, well, really I was more in the mood for Brioche with some cinnamon roll filling than cinnamon rolls that taste a little of Brioche. So it's your call. Double the filling or leave it as is. I like it both ways. Evelyn seems to too as I caught her sneaking her second (and they were big) cinnamon roll when we came in from digging.

Brioche Cinnamon Rolls

3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 T yeast
1 T salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks melted butter(reserve wrappers for greasing pans)
3 cups unbleached flour

Mix the water with the yeast, salt, eggs sugar and butter then work the flour in with a wooden spoon. It will be lumpy and sticky and ugly. Let it rest for either 3 hours or one hour and then in the fridge (covered with a tea towel) overnight.

In the morning preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cut roughly 1/4 of the dough off and press into the bottom of an oiled pan (how much dough exactly really depends on the size of your pan, I like my 9 inch spring form or a 9 inch pie pan)

Roll the remaining dough out into a large rectangle and spread with a mixture of

1/2 stick melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 T Pumpkin Pie Spice

Roll it up and slice into eight rolls. Space these out evenly on the bottom layer of dough in the pan, they will puff up in the oven so don't worry if there seems to be a lot of space between them.

Bake 25 minutes.

Sometimes I make a glaze for this but it doesn't really need it. Like I said, if you want them to be really sweet, make more filling. It occurred to be while I was rolling out the dough that this dough would make a good monkey bread. Not that I've made monkey bread before, but it seems like it would be a good fit. I mean brioche, cinnamon, butter, sugar, basically cinnamon rolls but in little stuck together ball form. Humm....

March 9, 2010

And the Sun Returns After All

What was it..two..three weeks ago that I was whining about the thick layer of snow that still covered our yard? Well it's amazing what a couple of 60 degree days can do. There are still patches of snow, in the shadows and under bushes, but the soil thawed enough that we were able to borrow a roto-tiller this weekend and dig in our garden. It took us a while to agree on the bed placement (north-south or east-west, leave room for the possibly-some day we will want a drive way here or use all the land we've got and change things later if we need to, and there there was the "do straight lines really matter? question) but eventually we had two 3 foot by 24 foot beds and two 3 foot by 8 foot beds. It's a lot of garden space but we did say we wanted a huge garden.We also planted more seeds in some interesting looking, recycled toilet roll planters that I made.

And then yesterday we had a huge pile of mulch and a slightly smaller pile of compost delivered for spreading on the flower and vegetable beds, so today I've had a hard time coming inside to do much of anything while the sun beckons and the soil waits to be moved.

When Evelyn was a baby I spent pretty much the whole of her first summer and fall outside trying to create a garden in the backyard of our house in Portland. When we bought the house there was a glorious apple tree in the yard and not much else. While Briton dug in what was supposed to be a gravel filled fire pit but quickly became a gravel filled digging pit and Evelyn lay peacefully on a blanket in the shade with her toys and the leaves above to distract her, I double dug beds, put down mulch, fought back the encroaching blackberry vines and generally had a wonderful time. In fact, it's one of my favorite summers of all time. So getting out with the dirt today was just what I needed after this long long winter.

It's supposed to rain tomorrow, and all week, and into the weekend, so I'll probably get grumbly again. But for now.... ahhh blessed sunshine.

March 8, 2010

What's Better than Cake Balls? Oh yes I did!

That's right, Brownie Balls. And can I just say. Yuuuummm. And also the next day. Even Yummmier.

Last week I was writing an article about Cake Balls and had this thought that involved chocolate and chocolate ganache, and more chocolate and maybe some chocolate liquor and some more...uh, you get the picture. All of that wrapped up in cake ball form. So when some friends invited us over for dinner and a Ponyo viewing, I jumped at the chance (excuse) to try my idea out.

This is basically that brownie recipe from last week with the butter and chocolate reduced a bit to make it cakier, the chocolate chips removed from the batter and used instead in the drizzle and a little fun in the form of some Vanilla Rum (not chocolate liquor on hand, so sad, I'll just have to make it all again...)

The one thing I will say is that, while they were good-rich, moist and seriously chocolaty, the next day the rum had soaked into the cake and created an almost truffle like denseness. So if you can keep away from them, hide them if you must, let them mellow for a day before diving in. Trust's worth it (But I wont tell if you eat one or two before hand)

For the Brownies

4 T butter, diced
2.5 ounces chocolate 70% or better
1/2 c + 2 T flour (I used bread flour and liked the results, but AP flour would be fine I think)
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar

For the Ganache

4 ounces chocolate 70% or better
3 ounces half and half or cream (since these were going to be pretty rich, I went with half and half instead of cream, just to lighten it a bit)

For the Coating

12 ounces chocolate (I used a mix of chocolate chips, good chocolate and bittersweet bakers chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 325

Melt the chocolate (for the brownies) with the butter in a double boiler. remove from heat and allow to cool a little before adding the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time.

Mix the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and then pour in the chocolate mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour into a well greased cake pan and bake 30 minutes.

While the cake is cooling (all the way, don't crumble it too early!) melt the ganache chocolate in that double boiler and mix in the cream (warm it up a little first or it will seize the chocolate) Stir briskly until the chocolate is smooth and glossy.

Fold the ganache into the cake and add a shot of vanilla rum (that would be a bottle of rum with a vanilla bean soaking in it) Roll the sticky cake chocolate concoction into 2 inch diameter balls.

As with the cake balls, chill the brownie balls in the fridge for a bit while you melt (again, I know) the last batch of chocolate and roll the balls around one at a time until they are evenly coated, removing them to a wire rack or freezer paper to harden. Drizzle any excess chocolate (add a little milk if you need to thin it out) over the top to pretty them up if you like. I'm sure they would be tasty without but hey, you can never have too much chocolate