Holiday Craft

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I wanted a better way to display our holiday cards. We’ve done the “sh*t, the tape on the back of the card peeled the paint” thing around the doorway, and the “floppy card on the mantle” display. I saw a little craft where string was strung between a doorway and from it, with clothespins, hung cards. When I rummaged through my ribbon box, I found this old roll of wintry themed ribbon – it’s super thick and vintage. I remember the yard sale I bought it at, along with a bevy of other ribbon, all for $1. It’s really almost too large to use to wrap a gift, that’s why it’s been tucked away for a few years, neglected. I pressed it, tacked it up above the mantle and swiped a few handfuls of clothespins from our drying line outside. I doubt the whole thing cost more than 10 cents, and it makes me smile to see the lovely cards we’ve been receiving (can you spot W’s grandma kissing “santa”?) every day.

Slowly, hints of the holidays are creeping into our house. In a highly uncharacteristic and timely fashion (!), I ordered cards online (made in the USA!) to send to family and friends. We’ve been listening to the perpetual loop of holiday songs on our local radio station when we cook dinner, we’ve brought out the cozy pajamas, and have been enjoying fires in the fireplace. W came home with a balled and burlaped (ie root ball intact) Blue Spruce, a few nights ago. We decided not to bring it into the house at all this year – it’s rather heavy (~300lbs) and an evergreen tree shouldn’t be brought in and then out of the house if you can help it, when it’s been cold outside. WV was napping when W strung it with twinkling colored lights – when he woke up, the grin on his face was priceless. That is our most meaningful, treasured gift – smiles on our babies’ faces. We’re looking forward to our annual post-Christmas tree planting.
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Ciambella Deliciousness

We got Marcella Hazan’s cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as a wedding gift over three years ago. Until recently, the only recipe we had tried from there was her pizza dough recipe. Yes, in three years, the only recipe we had even attempted from quite possibly THE Italian recipe woman was pizza dough… (but it’s damn good pizza dough)

Well, we were out all day, ate a late lunch, so by the time we finally got home it was after dinner time and we really weren’t all that hungry for a meal, but still needed something in our bellies. I knew I didn’t want to be up all night preparing something, and we didn’t really have a whole lot of stuff in our pantry, so I knew just who to turn to.

I dusted off our copy, found the desserts section, and started reading through the various recipes until I found one I felt like attempting. That one was her grandmother’s ciambella recipe. Pretty straightforward, not a lot of ingredients, and not a whole lot of time. Perfect. L got the boys bathed, and I got to cooking. An hour-ish later, the boys were in their PJs, the counter was covered with flour, and we were eating delicious cake. It is now going to become one of our regulars, and we’ve made a decision to actually open up her cookbook and try some new things. Recipe is below, permanent link lives here. I’ll post a photo when I make it again… we dug into before I could snap a quick pic.

Ingredients
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
4 c flour (preferably non-bleached, all-purpose)
Skin of 1 lemon, grated
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp cream of tartar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 c milk
2 eggs

Procedure
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients while melting the butter (but don’t let the butter get too hot – 10 second increments in the microwave and stirring until melted does the trick, or putting it in a pan over low heat works too).
3. Add the butter, milk, 1 egg, the white of the other egg, and all but about 1 tsp of the other yolk to the dry ingredients and mix together.
4. Transfer everything to the counter and knead, adding more flour/milk as necessary to get a good dough that is dry but still holds itself together.
5. Make the dough into a roll about 2″ in diameter, then try as best as you can to make it into a circle.
6. Smear a baking sheet with butter, sprinkle with flour, then put the dough ring in the middle and brush with the leftover 1 tsp of egg yolk (and maybe a little bit of water).
7. Stick it into the oven and let it bake for ~35 minutes.
8. Marcella says to let it cool, then wrap it up in foil or store it in a tin bin and enjoy the next day. Do what you want. It’s delicious.

A Month of China-free: A challenge.

I look around me and wonder about the provenance of the things we own. Partially, I’m interested in our “stuff” because one of my hobbies is garage-saleing and thrifting – I’d rather buy almost everything used (reasonable exceptions: underwear, cars). Where did it reside before we owned it? Was it well loved or neglected? How can it be repurposed? The thrill of the hunt is fun and you never know what you might find. But I’m also curious about where things come from for political, humanitarian, and sustainability reasons. And what I’ve become aware of over the last several years is alarming: it’s ALL made in China. Insidiously, we’ve stepped onto this train as consumers with a purchasing muscle memory, not bothering to check the destination…and it’s the wrong train. Many of the things I use, value, and decorate with are made in China. I’ve checked. My coffee maker? Yup. This computer. Yes. The outer shell of the cloth diapers I lovingly diaper my kids with? “Responsibly” made there. The Tom’s shoes I wear (yup, that Tom’s – the ones that aren’t just foot coverings but hipster humanitarian statements)? YES, Tom’s are made in China. Start checking the bottoms of or the labels of things – you are going to find something that surprises you, guaranteed.

I’m depressed by the mass quantities of *things* made in China. Cheap plastic crap begets the “more is more” consumerist mentality that pervades our culture, and even worse, this begets the blind eye that is turned on the ethics involved in sending production overseas. Have you read the recent article about a college professor who was jailed in China and forced to work in a labor camp, the products of which were for an unsuspecting American company? China’s judicial system is fraught with shortcomings, and one is that you are guilty until proven innocent. The SCOTUS decision this week is an excellent example of the consumer-fueled rampant corporate hypocrisy that “Made in China” represents. Not only does Hobby Lobby sell things – oodles of things – made there (clearly their Christian values are in deference to corporate profits), but they hold stock in the very companies that produce the contraceptives they object to covering on religious grounds. I feel compelled to depress you, too, with these injustices because knowledge is power. As Maya Angelou said, “Now that I know better, I do better.”

There’s a whole other level to my “Made in China” hyperventilation, who’s surface is hard to scratch. Many products with a USA/Canada/name another country COOL (Country Of Origin Labeling) are sent to China, packaged, and then shipped back to that COOL. Laws governing how to label the trans-Atlantic flights your stuff (and food! – many chickens take this route) takes are lenient or non-existent. You may never truly know how much jet fuel the meal on your plate or the plastic in your “Made in the USA” stuff actually used. Also, China doesn’t have the greatest food safety reputation.

I have little faith that “ethically produced/made” in China actually exists. There is no getting around the serious human rights violations pervasive in this country that are inextricably endorsed by us when we buy from companies that outsource to China. Perhaps a worker gets a living wage, laughable, but possible. But that does not retract from the ever present elephant in the room – China’s complicated and deeply flawed One-Child Policy. It has engendered infanticide, one of the highest rates of abortion in any country, forced abortions and sterilizations, and suicides. In my estimation, it stands in history as gravely horrific as the Holocaust. There is nothing more.

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So. Every now and then on Facebook, I see a friend or a farm running a 30-day challenge – decluttering, spending more time out-doors, budgeting and being thrifty. I thought long and hard about something I’d like to do more purposefully and here it is: I will make a great effort to not knowingly buy anything made in China this month and beyond (truly, I’ve been trying to do this for some time now). I don’t want to be part of the chain that ends in a place where human and animal rights are brutally marginalized. We celebrate 238 years of freedom this month…I’ll be doing it by only buying things made in the good ole’ U.S.A. I don’t mean this to be a plague of austerity in our lives, but rather a concerted effort to value where and by whom products are made – I’m aware that some things that we “need” are solely manufactured there, and often the things I buy used are as well. But, I’ll repurpose, reuse, recycle, all to reduce my family’s dependence on things made in China. I challenge you to join me this month.

Happy Birthday, United States.

Rad Radish Green Soup.

One of the nicest things about eating seasonally is that you are forced to get creative with what you harvest from the garden. This is how zucchini bread was born, I’m convinced. Boiled/sauteed squash, well, it can get tiring. Over the last week we went from a light chopping of radishes on our salad to all-out radish salad. Enough! W had an idea…soup? Why yes! And did you know, because surely this isn’t recondite only to me: you can eat radish greens! I promise! I did an exhaustive search to make sure I wouldn’t poison us all (and Lynne Rossetto Kasper says it’s ok), as I know you should never eat rhubarb greens, for one. And it seems the jury’s out on carrot greens. But radish greens are delectable.

Anywho, I browsed several recipes and came up with my own version, below (permanent link here)! It has one-pot simplicity, is rather quick to make, fills the kitchen with a scent of “deliciousness” according to husbands walking through the door, and was mighty tasty. I hope you enjoy it too!

20140609_182149 20140609_182735 20140609_193204Ingredients:

2 cups radish leaves
3 radishes
5 medium yellow potatoes
1 medium onion
3 Tbsp butter
1 cup water
6 cups milk
1 chicken Boullion cube
salt, to taste

Directions:

Begin by washing potatoes and radish leaves and bulbs thoroughly. Radish leaves wilt promptly after being cut from the root, so do this just before you want to make the soup, not hours or days before. Peel potatoes and radishes and slice them along with the onions. No need for perfect slicing…everything will be blended in the end! In a large soup pot on medium heat sautee radishes, radish greens, and onions in the butter until they are wilted/translucent. Add potatoes, water, and bullion (truth be told, this is what I use instead of bouillion…it’s organic and awesome), and cover for ~20 minutes, or until potatoes are easily forked. The water should be mostly evaporated. Add milk and stir, deglazing a bit. When it’s all hot again, use an immersion blender to puree all the ingredients (if you do not have this kitchen tool, transfer to a blender and blend). Salt to taste. Serve with crusty home made bread!

This recipe was shared on The Prairie Homestead’s Barn Hop.

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.

Alright, so these weren’t back-to-back in our household, but they could be. Walter and I have been cooking a lot more around here and really enjoying the results – I wanted to virtually share the tastiness!

BREAKFAST
Ah-Mazing Cranberry Banana Muffins and/or Traditional Banana Muffins.

P1070650 The first recipe is, by gosh, the best muffin recipe I’ve ever made. It is not banana heavy, in fact the banana is just for moisture, and doesn’t really come out in the flavor. It calls for half a banana, but I doubled the recipe to use a whole one. I found (and tweaked) it in a cookbook from my mom called “The Greyston Bakery Cookbook: Gourmet Specialties from the Zen Community of New York.” That made me smile, the zen part. My mom also noted on the page: “7/22/90, Excellent Muffins” with “Excellent” underlined twice. I have to agree. There is something about the tartness of a cranberry baked into a moist sweet cake that, well, there’s no English word for it I guess.

Then I was searching for a recipe that would enable me to unload THE REST of the dead bananas in this house. WV is a banana-lover, but I guess his mama overcompensates and buys too many bananas. Doubling this recipe took care of the 6 and a half mushy black bananas I had.

So yes, I made double both these recipes in one day. I feel I often undertake a little more than really needs to be accomplished at once…but the result was something like 50 muffins (a few may have “disappeared”), half in the freezer for when E is born, so that’s not so bad.

LUNCH.
Got-Some-Eggs?-Quiche with Olive Oil Crust

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Since we’ve been keeping chickens, my go-to recipe has been a quiche so easy that the recipe is now memorized, ready to whip up on a moment’s notice. The super-simple olive oil crust was the idea of my friend and past neighbor, K; I had never heard of such a crust! It’s so great, though – the olive oil makes it such that there is no need to grease the pan, the quiche cuts up and comes out cleanly. Our pullets from the fall are starting to lay and I’m either going to start a quiche factory or perhaps branch out…lemon meringue pie?

You can put anything in a quiche, by the way – it is so versatile – a veritable mulligan pie. My “usuals” are either sauteed swiss chard and onions (spring), broccoli and cheddar cheese (summer), or diced potatoes, tomatoes and feta or Gruyere (winter). You can pretty-it-up with sliced cherry tomatoes or basil leaves. And you can make them meaty, sweeter, or more savory…sky’s the limit!

DINNER
Curried Lentil-Stuffed Peppers

P1070616 This recipe just happened, and it turned out great. W got a Groupon for Sam’s Club that basically amounted to getting every dollar back that we spent (in coupons and free chicken), so we took the plunge (instead of opting to continue to borrow family members’ Costco cards). But we’ve been unimpressed with the selection, quality and customer service. The only thing good from there, so far, has been a 6-pack of giant green bell peppers (which makes me totally crave our garden to hurry up and get going). Two things to pass along, regardless of how you stuff ’em: 1) I highly endorse steaming or blanching your peppers pre-stuffing – they’ll bake faster and be very tender and yet, oxymoronically, still retain a resident crunch. And 2) Add raisins. Always, add raisins.

Bon Appetite!

First Craft.

I had this Pinterest-inspired hallucination that I would create one crafty item per day in 2014. AHAHAHAHA!!! Hillllarious, folks, hilarious. But, I did manage to create something rad with W on the first of the year – so here it is: a little tutorial on how to make an inverted fruit-basket hanging lamp. P1070537

Some background: The people we bought our home from not only vied to tie Kim Kardashian in swiftness of marriage disintegration, but the world record for number of ugly-butt chandeliers in one house. They are everywhere – in each bedroom (chandeliers in bedrooms?!?), in the dining room of course, the hallway, the kitchen, and they actually took the ones from the barn that were hanging there when we toured the house (the only ones we liked). Anywho, not only are they not “us,” but they cast what appear to be giant grey arachnid shadows (incidentally, W’s idea of a good heavy metal band name). Gotta go.

I’d been hemming and hawing over cool lighting for way too long. My cousin, who we lived with in DC over the summer, always had giant Restoration Hardware catalogs lying about, which were good for drooling, but amusingly not in our price range, and I really like the feel of the lighting at Barn Light Electric. But nothing got purchased. Then recently, in Carytown, I spotted several hanging lights made by a local artisan out of non-traditional sources like repurposed baskets. I knew I could recreate those $75-$200 lights myself! In fact, in purge-mode, I had tossed an old hanging fruit basket that I once bought for $1 at a garage sale into our scrap metal pile, which I immediately fished out when we got home.

A quick trip to Lowes (with a 10% off coupon) garnered a 12-ft lamp cord wire ($5.80, only a portion of which I ended up using…more DIY lamps to be made!) and a keyless socket adapter kit ($3.58) that I thought I could string together to make a hanging light (we’ve become trial and error electricians over the last 3 months). I also bought a canopy kit ($4.61), which is a face plate/finial that covers the ugly hole in the ceiling where all the important wiring resides.

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First, I debated whether or not to spray paint the basket, which had some rust spots, opting finally not to in the name of “rustic charm” and it being frigging freezing outside. Then I turned the basket upside down and reattached it’s four chains to the bottom, to make an umbrella-shaped hanging wire basket. I cut off the cord’s plug and wired it to the socket. The instructions that came with the cord didn’t actually match the cord, so W did a little sleuthing to find out which of the two wires was the live/hot (sometimes labeled as “black,” in this case it just had writing on it) and which was the neutral wire (sometimes labeled as “white”). I then attached the little brass finial that came with the socket to the underside of the basket after threading the wire through it. I used a piece of the chain to secure the wire to the basket too, at the top where the “X” is made) so that it didn’t swing around. Then we cut the wire slightly longer than the length of the chain so that we had room to make the connections in the ceiling.

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A few quick screw turns and the godawful hall chandelier (really the worst in tarantula-like shadow offenders) was thankfully removed. Then W attached the wires from our new chandelier to those in the ceiling and installed the canopy kit (thread the wire from the hanging lamp through it first, before connecting the wires to the ceiling). Oh yes, and we turned off the circuit prior to all fiddling in the ceiling, of course!
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Last step was to screw in the vintage-inspired lightbulb I had purchased ($6.28…the most expensive piece!). No degree required! I experimented with threading lace ribbon and strips of burlap through the basket weave, but finally removed them all b/c it looked too hodge-podgy. Plain basket for me!

Oh, I love this little home made chandelier so much – it casts an unobtrusive basket shadow and the low wattage bulb isn’t too bright to look at directly. Total cost of materials: about $20. Boo-ya!

Go make one!!!

This post was shared with Fluster Buster’s creative link-up party.

A New Week + Coffee Cake

What a busy week/weekend! We had the gas company come hook up our new stove, our counter tops came in, our dishwasher came in (although it was the wrong one, so really we got 2 dishwashers last week), and we moved our fridge back across the kitchen to its rightful spot. I also laid some brick to support a light post that had fallen over years before we bought the house (with free bricks) and upgraded the lanterns on top of the posts. The last time I did any masonry work was about 8 or 9 years ago when I was helping a coworker build his house out of autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) bricks. So, for a software developer who is extremely inexperienced at laying brick, I think the job is acceptable:

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We hadn’t used the oven to cook anything yet since the inside still smelled like the oils used in production, so after many vinegar/water wipes and running the oven for a couple hours at a time, then finally mixing up a throw-away batch of bread to cook and try to absorb the rest of the smells, the oven was finally ready! And the chickens (and kittens) got nice, warm, yeastless, probably flavorless, bread!

Saturday I whipped up a batch of chocolate white chocolate chip cookies, and by Sunday they were all but gone. So after dinner Sunday evening, we needed something to satisfy the sweet tooth. The choice was between oatmeal cookies and coffee cake. The coffee cake won. I took it out of the oven around 9:30 in the evening, then just let it cool overnight and when we woke up we had fresh and delicious coffee cake!

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The recipe is below, modified from this one. I fully intend to make further modifications, maybe sprinkling the pan with cinnamon sugar before adding the batter, or using brown sugar instead of white sugar for the filling, or adding a sweet orange glaze. You can also add nuts to it if you want, I’m not much of a nuts-in-baked-goods type of guy.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c white sugar
3/4 c butter, softened
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c yogurt
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 c white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Grease a 10-in bundt pan (I just use the reside left on the butter wrapper).

1. Beat the butter and sugar (keep the 1/4 c out) with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. Finally, add the yogurt.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, then add to the wet mix.

3. Combine the remaining sugar with the cinnamon in another separate bowl.

4. Pour about half the batter into the bundt pan. Then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the batter. Then cover the cinnamon sugar mixture with the rest of the batter.

5. Bake at 400° F for 8 minutes, then lower the temp to 350° F and bake for another 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

6. Let the cake cool completely, then slide a silicone spatula into the large grooves to loosen it up, flip the pan over and jiggle the cake onto a plate.

7. Enjoy!