Monthly Archives: April 2015

kids clothes week – my attempt

Last week I participated in Kids Clothes Week where you are challenged to spend one hour a day sewing clothes for your children.  The idea is to find one hour in your day to do a little bit of sewing.  That might be cutting out a pattern, cutting fabric, ironing, or actually sewing a garment together.  And, if you stick with an hour a day for a week, you are likely to end up with at least one finished garment.  Last KCW challenge I did pretty well.  I won’t say I did not do well for this challenge, but I did only finish one garment.  I made Hythe a shirt.

He had been quietly longing for me to make something for him and I had him in a quilting store looking for some marking chalk about two weeks ago.  I found what I wanted and was at the checkout counter where a few bolts of a beautiful fabric with horses painted on it were leaning.  Hythe insisted I get some of the fabric for Anne and Evva.  Then, we turned around while they were cutting that fabric to find that just behind us was a bolt of the most fabulous fish print.  I knew right away this one was perfect for Hythe.  He has been asking to go fishing nearly everyday since spring has arrived (and fishing season has opened).  While we were looking at that fish fabric, Hythe said he would like me to make him something to wear from it because, “Then the fish won’t see me when I am fishing.  They will think I’m other fish and I can catch them.”

So, I made the Sketchbook Shirt from Oliver + S for him – a pattern I already had in my stash.  It turned our really well and he loves it.  He wore it as soon as I had finished it and was quite proud (just the reaction I hope for when I present a hand-made garment).  It also fit well and looked good (I was a little uncertain, thinking it might be too loud).

He has not gone fishing in it yet, but probably this weekend it will see some more use by a stream or a pond.

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I think brother wants one next!

 

 

what’s growing

The garden is growing.  Peas are starting to creep up the trellis, fava beans are almost 8 inches high.  We are picking lettuce and spinach to eat now which is such a treat.  We are also pulling up some of the walking onions to eat.  They are so pretty this time of year – and also delicious.  The regular onions (Parma) are growing quickly too. I planted potatoes two weeks ago tomorrow.  We got a good bit of rain since then and some warm weather.  I dug up one of the potatoes yesterday to see how they were growing and was disappointed to see the little buds only about a 1/2 inch long.  So, they are growing slowly right now and I have to keep up with those very fast growing weeds until they do pop out of the ground.  By the way, I planted my potatoes with a little compost and organic fertilizer.  Anybody have any good potato growing tips?  And, yes that is a basketball in the garden.  The garden is downhill from the house and basketball goal, so this is where balls end up sometimes.

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The trees are growing leaves!  This is my favorite part of spring.  Dogwoods are in full bloom and the trees on the mountain have a more subdued color autumnal cast.  Almost the reverse of fall, as a dull rust gives way to light greenish yellow then to spring green then to dark green – day by day marching up the mountain.  We have some black gum trees around the house, and this under-appreciated tree is one of my favorites.  In the spring, it puts out its tiny leaves, pointing them strait to the sky in little clumps so that they look like tiny green stars.  Unlike most trees, black gum branches set out from the trunk at 90 degree angles (for the most part), so those tiny stars are perfectly placed to look like celestial bodies held out over the earth.  This week, the black gum leaves have grown a bit more and little flowers are being set.

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And, the children are growing.  Anne is determined to ride horses as often as possible, loves playing soccer, and her excitable spirit is sometimes challenging.  Like the other Anne (of Green Gables) she has high highs and low lows, but she recovers quickly.  Her joys and sorrows and angers run hot and fast.  Evva, due to a small scare last week, seems a little more precious right now.  She is reveling in the spring flowers and growth, and is outside as much as she can be – making fairy houses, decorations, and soil/flower mandalas.  Hythe, like a stereotypical boy, wants to go fishing, dig for worms in the compost, and sled down piles of manure at the farm (he and his cousin call it “poop sledding”).  In other words, he likes getting as dirty and smelly as possible.  Steven wants to do anything his brother is doing, but also wants to go anywhere anyone else is going; “I go too” he is always saying as he runs for the door.  He is talking so much now and says cute things like “Sit a me, mom” (sit with me, mom) or “I go fishing now”.  He also says, “go way, mom, go way!” when he is thinking of doing something that might get him in trouble.  Spying a bag of chocolate chips on the counter, he glances at me, back at the chips, then looks at me and says “go way, mom!”  He is still making big messes in and out of the house while becoming more capable!  Yesterday he dumped William’s tackle box upside down and took all the tube worms out of their bags.  I came home last night to find he had dumped three entire jars of spices into a pan on the stove (garlic powder, dill weed, and cream of tarter – yuck!).  That meant he opened the spice drawer, picked out the jars, took them over to the stove, climbed on the stool, unscrewed the caps, and dumped them out.  Quite capable.  He got so tired the other day, that he fell asleep sitting up while we were watching  a video of Dado talking about WWII.  It was pretty funny and cute.  While they all have their challenging moments, they are fun, loving children, and it is a joy to see them grow.
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lately made

I have completed a few sewing and knitting projects in the last few weeks.  One was the lap blanket that I have been working on for quite a few months now.  A row or two whenever I got a chance was how it got done.  It is just what I wanted it to be.  Perfect size for pulling over your lap to read or watch a movie.  Perfect size to pull over little ones when they are sick and laying on the couch – and we had a lot of that this last week (luckily everyone is well or nearly well at this point).  This blanket has a great weight to it.  It is heavy, but made with a cotton linen blend that is warm, but not too warm.  I love the colors too: brown (from walnut shells), yellow (marigolds), natural, light green (goldenrod).  I just hope the colors have set well because this blanket will need to be washed fairly often, I predict – which means it is getting used and loved.  Just what I hoped.

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I also made Anne a quick Easter dress the day before Easter.  I had a simple pattern by Figgy and some printed cotton voile and pink cotton twill in my stash – perfect for this dress.  Anne loved it, but it was a little cool on Easter morn to be sleeveless.  This dress will last all summer, though, and I love the print.  Thinking of what to make myself with that fabric . . .

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And, I did make something for myself from the green linen I bought last year.  Watching spring emerge, and the indescribable green that the grass becomes this time of year, made me remember why I was attracted to that vibrant linen which I bought this time last year.  I am sure I bought it because it is the color of spring grass, which to me is a color of life.  Beautiful.

I envisioned a button up short sleeve shirt that I could wear all summer.  Linen would be perfect for this type of shirt and that green in a shirt will not overpower.   I went first to my grandmother’s patterns and found one that I thought would work.  I made a muslin, a few adjustments, and sewed up my first button up shirt.  I was easier than I thought it would be – even all those button holes, I found kind of fun to make.  I wore it on my birthday and am very happy with it.

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Next project is jeans!  I have the pattern pieces cut out, but have been too tired every night since I cut them out to do anything with them.  I am also planning to participate in Kids Clothes Week again – next week.  I am planning a few things.  Thinking about t-shirt dresses for the girls, something for Hythe (because I think he felt a little left out when he realized I made the girls new dresses for Easter, but nothing for him), and something for Steven from that lightning bolt fabric  (he keeps asking about it).  If anyone is interested in sewing for children, you should check out Kids Clothes Week.  They have a huge listing of patterns, tutorials, ideas, fabrics, etc. that are great resources and inspiration.

 

in the garden 4.9.15

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It is all about the flowers this time of year.  Our favorite tree on the property is a huge pear tree, leftover from someone’s homeplace many years ago.  It produces those huge, hard pears that are perfect for cider.  But, in the spring, she is majestic in full bloom, and we call her the Snow Queen.  The daffodils are fading, but my few tulips are blooming.  The apple trees are in the “pink”, as they say, but some are just starting to bloom.  They all make for perfect little arrangements to have on the table.

Dandelions are blooms plentifully – everywhere.  I was weeding my mother’s garden with a woman from Kosovo this week and she said that she used to make “dandelion honey”.  She described how she made it: 150 dandelion blossoms, some water (probably a quart), a sliced lemon or two, and sugar.  Boil this for 20-30 minutes and strain.  It sounded to me like what we might call dandelion cordial, but I think “honey” was the literal translation from Albanian.  So, I made some dandelion honey this week. It was quite good and would make a great lemonade.  I probably used too much water (2 quarts) because I thought it was a little weak.  I am putting a little in sparkling water and enjoying the sunshiny taste!

The fava beans, peas, garlic, and lettuces are growing well and quickly.  I finally put up a pea trellis, which I have not done in years, just letting the vines cover the ground.  But, I thought I would try to have a neater looking garden this year (we’ll see . . . ).  We’ve had plenty of rain and a bit of warm weather.  I need to replant radishes, beets, and lettuces – second sowing.  And, I can do that now because William tilled the whole garden this week.  We also have our seed potatoes, but have not planted yet.  Usually, I try to follow tradition of this area and plant potatoes on Good Friday (why?  because even if hit by a frost, they will “rise again”).  I plan to plant them that by this weekend, though.  I am excited to fill this garden up again.

What’s going on in your garden?  Is it still full of snow?  Do you see signs of spring?

 

spring break

The girls have two weeks off for spring break this year, and leading up to the break, other mothers would ask me, “What are you doing for spring break?”, or “Do you have plans for spring break?”.  My answer was, “No plans.  When is spring break?”.  “Umm, next week!”

So, we were slightly unprepared for spring break.  I let it sneak up on us, with vague notions of getting away without any hassle or spending any money when it arrived.  The week before spring break, William and I frantically talked about what to do in the spare minutes we get for conversation.  We decided to go to Tuckaseegee . . . then not to go to Tuckaseegee . . . then to go camping . .  then not to go camping . . . maybe we’d go out on a lake, or go fishing, or go bike riding.  Finally, we decided to not make any plans but to stay at home and do some area activities depending on weather conditions.  A friend called this a “staycation”.

William took off most days from work last week, and I did the same, though we both spent a few hours a day checking in and typing on computers.  I took the children to the WNC Nature Center one day – a visit they always love.  Another day, we went biking in Dupont State Forest, where we also met up with Aunt Elizabeth and a cousin and played on the shore of a small lake.  it was a gorgeous day, but I did not bring a camera.  We went hiking one day, looking for wild flowers, and the children had friends over to play quite often as well.  And, on Friday we rode bikes at Biltmore Estate.  We rode right up to the gardens and walked around looking at the flowers – one of Evva’s favorite things to do (again, no camera).

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There was also lots of playing at the house and in the yard.  I worked in the gardens a bit, and the children had free time to do what ever they wanted–read, build fairy houses, swing, look for salamanders, walk to the barn to help on the farm (they helped deliver a baby goat one day!).  I loved that they all had time to play together, which they do surprisingly well most of the time.  Steven has reveled in the attention he gets from his sisters when they are here.  They read to him, carry him around, get him dressed, build train tracks for him.  He is going to miss this when they go back to school.

We had a fun Easter, with egg hunts at church and at the Big House.  And, so much candy that I think it might have been Steven’s sole dietary intake of the day, despite my best efforts.

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Steven stuffed a powdered doughnut into his mouth right before the hunt at church (so maybe he did eat something other than candy this day).

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Instructions from Auntie Annie on where to hunt for eggs at the Big House.

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This has been my first “staycation”, and I really enjoyed it!  We have one more week of spring break, but William has gone back to work this week, and lessons and practices are back on this week as well.  We don’t have nearly as many plans this week, so we will slowly work back into a school schedule.  We will probably work on learning some life skills like doing your own laundry, making grocery lists, gardening.  But, playing and working at home will be fun with these guys around for the week.  I will say, however, that while everyone helps out with chores and cleaning, the house can quickly become a disaster with all these guys at home all day!

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bread: part 3

Another special bread, to me and countless others, has been my mother-in-law’s (Susie’s) homemade loaf bread.  The first time I ever came to her house, I was in high school and visiting the Asheville area.  Her daughter, Elizabeth, was my friend and I went to see her.  Elizabeth invited me into the kitchen, cut off a large slice off a fresh loaf of bread and spread it thickly with raspberry jam from a large pot sitting on the stove, before we headed out for a tour of their farm.  I was very impressed that there were four loaves of this home made bread on the counter (and impressed about all that jam!).  Elizabeth said her mother made 6 loaves of bread every other day – to feed, I found out soon, 5 of her own children, 2 high school exchange students, many of the 10+ cousins who came through the house, plus all their friends, and her husband.  This amount of bread – delicious, fresh, homemade bread at that – was almost magical.  And, as I came to know Susie and her bread, I never really changed my mind about it – there was definitely some magic.

Elizabeth and I tried to reproduce her bread when we were in college (even attempting to sell loaves to other home-deprived students).  But, ultimately, our bread lacked something.  Elizabeth would make new suggestions about how to make the bread, based on many observations and conversations with her mother about bread baking.  We finally gave up trying to make Susie’s bread – it just never turned out quite right – edible, yes, but not like hers.  We decided there really must be some magic in Susie’s kitchen that made her bread come out so well (and so much better than ours using the same recipe).  Was it the oven?  Her large, blackened, finicky thing filled with random objects from egg shells to pottery to cookies and bread?  Was it the general fermentation happening in her kitchen at all times?  All those fermenting (some might call it rotting) jars of jam, pickles, leftovers, and who knows what else, scattered over nearly every surface of the kitchen.  Was it her bread pans?  Old, blackened, thick – that she never washed, ever.  Was it the flour?  She claimed she thought it was important to use some pastry flour, but I’ve seen her use any kind of flour on hand and turn out great bread.   Susie was a conjurer – churning out great loaves of some of the best loaves of bread.  However she did it, her bread never lasted long at her house.  Which was good, because those homemade loaves did go stale more quickly than any store bought, less tasty, less textured bread.

Now, I incorporate some of all these bread traditions and some of my own into my cooking.  I make biscuits and cornbread.  I knead dough and form loaves.  I’ve now also made the no-knead bread – which is wonderful and easy but requires planning and time (and I tend to fall short on both).  I also enjoy making tortillas – corn and flour, and occasionally make batch of one or the other to keep the family fed with burritos, quesadillas, and tacos.  Even though we have no Latin roots, the influence is definitely felt and influence has become important (the food is so delicious!).  Will that get passed on to the next generations’ bread traditions?

Anyway, below is a simple recipe for the most basic bread I make a few times a month – a yeast-risen loaf bread.  Do you have any bread traditions or culture in your family?

Simple loaf bread (makes 2)

Mix 1 cup oats with 1 cup hot milk or water.  Let sit for 10 minutes

Add 1 Tablespoon (or 1 package of yeast) and 1 1/2 cups more of water or milk.  Mix and let yeast dissolve.

Add 1/4 cup honey or molasses (or brown sugar) and 3 cups of whole wheat flour.  Mix with a spoon for about a minute.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.

Then, add 1 T salt, 1/4 cup oil or melted butter (and an egg if you want).  Mix in well, then start adding white bread flour until the dough is too hard to mix with a spoon (about 2 more cups).

Turn dough out on counter and start to knead, adding flour as needed.  Knead for 5-10 minutes and shape into a ball.  Put the ball back into your original bowl after you sprinkle flour in the bowl to keep it from sticking.  Put a damp towel over the bread while it rises.

When it has doubled in size, take it out and cut in half and shape each half into a football shape.  Put each shape into greased (or buttered) loaf pans.  Let rise again, with a damp towel over the loaves.  After about 30-45 minutes you can bake the loaves (when they’ve doubled in size again).  I like to slice the tops a little with a serrated knife just before baking.  I bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.  There are a lot ideas about how to know when your bread is done.  I tap the loaves on the bottom to see if they sound hollow, but I also bake until they are golden or browned on the outside.  Susie says she can tell when they are done when she put a loaf to the tip of her nose and it does not burn.

Let cool out of the pan.

We eat lots of toast and sandwiches, so this bread does not last long.  I’m lucky if it lasts a week, but usually, it’s just a few days.

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bread: part 2

Being a good Southerner, cornbread and biscuits played predominate rolls in my culinary upbringing.  My mother made good cornbread and we absolutely loved it with butter and molasses.  So good . . . such a treat.  This is still a treasured supper dish in our house now.  Our children adore cornbread and molasses – finding it as big a treat as I did as a child.

Mom-mom, however, was not a born Southerner, coming from Oregon, but she endeavored to make a pan of cornbread nearly everyday for farm dinners (mid-day meal).  Her cornbread was very different from my mother’s.  Hers was flat and dense and quite sweet – everything my mother’s wasn’t.  You didn’t put molasses on that flat bread, just butter.  I don’t know where she learned how to make it like that, and I’ve never seen cornbread like it anywhere else.  But, it was good.  And, my grandfather liked it – and that was all that really mattered.

We were not a strong biscuit family.  Sure, we ate biscuits, made good ones and liked them, but I don’t recall anything special about them – no important techniques, recipes, or ingredient secrets that were passed on.  In fact, the first biscuits I remember making were with my great-grandmother, Grammy.  I thought it was amazing and I loved helping her.  First, you took a cardboard tube and peeled off the top, then you whacked it hard on the counter and pulled doughy biscuits out and set them on a pan.  We baked them for 10 minutes and you were done.  Grammy was a farm wife with four children, and many time-consuming tasks, who did not really enjoy cooking.  For her, sliced bread really was one of the best inventions . . . canned biscuits, a close second.

I make biscuits like my mother (and mother-in-law) did – from scratch and almost once a week.  They are easy to make, and often I make them because they are fast and filling for this small brood of mine.  This past fall, I checked out a book from the library called Biscuit – part of the Southern Foodways Alliance series.  It was a great little reference and had many rifts on biscuits I wanted to try.  I turned the book in after a few weeks but my mind kept coming back to it every time I made biscuits.  So, when I was in a book store in Raleigh last month, I bought this little gem.  I’ve made a few of the different biscuits and it has been fun.  One of the most popular in our house has been the fried pie recipe.  Basically, a biscuit dough, rolled thin, filled with spiced pumpkin or apple, deep fried, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  So good!

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mixing dough

 

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currant, gorgonzola, pecan biscuits
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fried apple pies