Friday, February 22, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Spice

You know what's really easy?  Making your own pumpkin pie spice.

When I went to bake a Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf on Saturday morning, I found that I was nearly out of pumpkin pie spice mix.  Having just gone to the grocery store the night before, I was not very happy with myself for missing an essential ingredient.  My plan was to bake the loaf to share with my Aunt Rita during her visit later that afternoon. Thanks to the wonderful powers of the internet, I quickly found a DIY version, scaled it down to 1/3 the recipe and still had plenty of time to get the loaf baked and ready for consumption alongside tea and a hefty dose of chatting. My only mistake was not sending some of the loaf home with her!  I am powerless in the face of baked goods and have ate a large portion of it by myself!

(Oops!  After I wrote this post, I realized that I actually needed the pumpkin spice mix for the pumpkin granola I was also making.  It was a busy weekend in the kitchen, full of pumpkin and spice!)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Two Birthdays

This weekend 6 of us gathered around our little dining table for a birthday lunch.  My mom and her husband Roger share the same birthday week.  They like to treat themselves to a trip in honor of their birthdays, but this year they took the trip in January.  An early vacation meant they were able to celebrate their birthdays with us in person this year.  January and February are both excellent months to travel to warm places, so I don't blame them one bit for getting out of dodge each year!

To feed the masses, Paul made 2 loaves of our go-to bread recipe, one of which had a generous amount of garlic cloves studding the top of the loaf. (Thanks for the reminder of this easy and tasty embellishment, Rita!)

I baked a Red Wine Velvet Cake and got a little fancy with the powdered sugar.

When we were cleaning out my Grandma Rose's apartment, I snagged a few dishes from a partial set she had.  I love them and think of her every time I use them.  The largest platter has become my favorite cheese platter plate.

The guests of honor!

My sister Jessy brought over a quilt my mom made long ago.  It is in a sad state of disrepair, but Jack isn't picky.  Jessy wrapped him up and he went to sleep immediately.  When you can't see or hear too well, you can sleep right through a party.

We got to see a scrapbook of their recent adventures.

Paul was busy stirring the soup, so he got to look through the pictures later on.  We served one of our favorites: African Peanut Soup.  I also set aside some of the Coconut Curry Squash Soup for the party, too. It is nice to have multiple options to satisfy everyone's tastes.  With a salad Jessy brought and all of our appetizers, it is safe to say everyone had plenty to eat. Although, that is usually not a problem around this crowd.

After the meal, we gave the birthday boy and girl their presents.  Jessy gave my mom a LOT of scarves.  Here she is modeling all of them at once.

And, after all of that, Jack was still sleeping! He is estimated to turn 15 this month (105 in people years, they say), so I guess we can consider this blanket his birthday gift.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Taming the Jewelry

This winter I am focusing on following through with a lot of small house projects.  The projects have included cleaning, sorting, purging, lighting changes, and oftentimes organization-based problem solving. I have vacillated between focusing on one room, trying to see it to the end and flitting from room to room tackling things willy nilly.  Recently, one project forced its way to the top of the list.

I have gone through many arrangements for keeping jewelry organized and accessible.  Most recently, I had a temporary (possibly enacted more than a year ago!) solution of a tree branch propped up in a wide and deep glass vase.  The vase was filled with black beans to counter balance the jewelry.  I hung a lot of necklaces from the branch, but was careful not to overload it.  I had generally found the balance between loading the branch as full as possible but still making sure the base outweighed the necklaces.  I frequently brought it RIGHT to the limit.

One night, as I was walking away from it after having just closed the door to the cabinet it sat on, I glanced back in time to see everything shift just enough that it got knocked off balance.  In sloooooow motion, the branch started to tip, taking with it all of the necklaces, the glass vase and the black beans.  At first just the branch and necklaces fell to the floor.  Then, the vase, which had spilled some of its content on top of the dresser started to roll.  It proceeded to spill the rest of its contents as it fell to the floor, coming to rest next to a floor heating vent.  Yep.  Black beans and necklaces were everywhere.  I was too far away to stop it, but close enough to watch it all happen.

Leading up to this moment, I had been having one of those nights where I was super productive and was feeling on top of it.  You know that feeling?  The feeling where you know you are going to get everything on your list done AND get to bed on time.  That was the place from which I was yanked as I saw what amounted to a mighty hefty cleanup job.

As I stood there looking at the enormous mess, I had a fraction of a second to decide if I would laugh or cry.  I laughed and then I summoned Paul to view the scene.  After he got over the shock and awe, we proceeded to clean it up together.  There were beans in the heating vent, beans under the bed, under the bookshelf, under the dresser (which is completely on the other side of the room) and even inside of the cabinet I had just closed.  A few of the necklaces were broken in the fall, but all things considered, the damage was minimal.  I had learned my lesson.  The branch was not the answer.

I decided to think long and hard about my next jewelry solution so that it would meet my needs, be super secure and not a total eyesore.  It is important to me to be able to see my jewelry.  If it was put away, I probably wouldn't wear it very often.  Inspired by this idea, I searched around a few stores and found what I needed at Ikea (Fintorp Series).

The hooks are secured on the rod, so they slide back and forth securely.  The hanging white thingie holds chunky bracelets and shawl pins. My bracelets are hanging above that.  I think it is about as organized as a massive amount of cluttery stuff can get.  I may weed out some more things that I don't wear anymore, but that project is for a different day.  Hopefully not prompted by this falling off of the wall!  (We hung it on studs, so I think I should be covered.)

The full arrangement looks like this!  The green box is the same one that is in the first photograph.  It was the color inspiration that largely drove my color choices in our bedroom.  It holds my rings.  The tins underneath it are watchmaker tins.  They used to hold spices, but now house my earrings.  Some of my earrings smell sweet and some smell savory, depending on which tin they come out of.  I've washed and washed and washed them., but it seems the smell will always be there.

When I was up there photographing the jewelry, I disturbed Fanny's bath time, hence the foot in the air.

This is one project I am really glad to have done.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


We have a new restaurant in our neighborhood! Parka is 3 weeks old, so it was about time Paul and I ventured over to check it out.  The menu is sparse when it comes to descriptions of the dishes, so it was a fun surprise to see the plates all gussied up when they came to us.  We sat at the counter by the cooks so we got a good view of the elaborate and quirky plating (MN shaped platters, soup presented in chicken pitchers).

Paul got the fish fry. His fish was plated with a ton of flavorful creams, sauces and garnishes.  We think the clear gel was grapefruit and we know for sure there were dehydrated jalapeno slices and charred cucumber spears. $12!

I got the kale salad.  The kale salad was a take on a waldorf salad, so it had a mayo based dressing.  Some of the kale had been seared, which made it a bit crispy and toasty tasting.  The other toppings included grapes, humboldt fog cheese and thinly sliced apples.  It was super satisfying and well priced at $8.

Parka is co-located with a fun home furnishings store called Forage Modern Workshop.  We headed over to peruse their goods but not before finishing the meal with a Gray Duck Chai and a ginger cookie. I was excited to see that they had birch hooks from The Vermont Branch Company in stock at Forage.  I nabbed one so that the towel by our back door (for dirty dog feet) finally has a proper place to hang!

Paul and I are happy to have a new restaurant in our neighborhood.  We will be adding it to our list of options when we want to treat ourselves and/or are too lazy to cook.  I hope they continue to devote menu space to at least 2 good vegetarian items.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Problems and Solutions

It seems all of my Monday posts start with a frozen, snowy picture from the previous weekend!  Our storms have been hitting on the weekends, for which I am grateful.  Weekend storms give us the luxury of shifting around plans in favor of being at home if that is what suits our fancy.  Paul and I had planned to go cross country skiing on Sunday morning.  When our ski date coincided with some pretty fierce freezing rain, we decided to postpone the ski day.

This left us with time and energy to tackle a few home projects, one of which has been in the works for months!

We have a room with very dark corners.  Over the last 3 years, we have shifted around various lamps and furniture arrangements to try to meet the needs of those who inhabit the room (the dogs, right now).  When I came across 2 candle holders in the garden section of Home Goods this past fall, I snatched them up.  I bought them with visions of turning them into hanging lamps.  Luckily when I brought them home, Paul liked them!  This is sometimes the problem with our home decor: I bring something home and it is met with the Paul veto.  Its ok, though, because we both want to like our space and the stuff in it.

It took a while for us to find the right parts to turn them into the lights we wanted.  We needed a socket, a plug, wiring, a switch and hooks.  After multiple trips to multiple stores, an internet order and weeks of scheming/procrastinating, we had what we needed to get the job done.

After a few nicks on Paul's fingers, much measuring and scheming of the positioning of the lights, they are up!   Thanks to Paul's tools and skills, we altered the cord to have an easy on/off switch for each light.  We still need to get some tacks to secure the cords against the corners, but they are functional! I've been researching changing out a lot of the lighting fixtures in our house and am astonished at the cost of lights.  We got these done for $35 each. Hopefully we can stumble across some more DIY options we like!

I think Tchazo says thanks for brightening up his crate-zone.

Partly motivated by a chocolate zucchini cake I've made for him numerous times, my dad shredded and froze a bunch of zucchini for me in the fall.  I've used frozen zucchini in soups before, but had tested how it behaves in baked goods.  I put it to the test this weekend.  After thawing and draining it, I think it still released too much moisture to trust it in baked goods.  As you can see from the "bites" above, the liquid caused a bit of a problem.

The solution?  Bake it in a pan instead!  I definitely want to try this recipe again with fresh zucchini.  The recipe is Zucchini Bread Bites from The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook. (I am loving this book!).  In addition to subbing in frozen zucchini for fresh, I also followed the option that suggested using 1c. cooked quinoa for the quinoa flakes.  The quinoa flakes were $6 for a tiny box at the coop, so used the mixed color quinoa I already had at home.  I love the crunchy texture it yields.  I also made my own oat flour for this recipe.  I put some rolled oats in my spice grinder and whirred it around until it was the texture of flour.  Nifty!  The grinder was a Christmas gift and it has already proven quite useful despite not yet having ground any spices.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pillows and Boxes: A Pet Update

Fanny is still finding her way into every vessel large enough to house her body.  It is very convenient that every delivery we receive comes packaged in a cat toy!

Tchazo and Jack are most often found conserving their body heat and resting their old bones on their shared bed.  Jack is showing his age these days with severe arthritis, hearing and vision impairments and inexplicable sores.  I am continually mindful of his quality of life and feel it soon may be his time to depart this world.  It makes me sad, but he has certainly lived a long life (at least 15 years so far; nearly 11 of which have been with me!).  For now, Tchazo is soaking up lots of the time with Jack serving as his pillow on the pillow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cold Times, but Good Times

It has continued to feel as it should in Minnesota in the winter: cold with a variety of frozen things falling from the sky.  On this particular day, it was freezing rain pellets.

It is ok, though.  We have been doing a great job of making the most of the season by getting a lot of inside house projects done (cleaning, purging, organizing, repairs, improvements etc).

We have been eating lots of soup, including this Coconut Curry Squash Soup.  I used buttercup squash, as I am still reaping the benefits of my dad's squash harvest and the buttercup is at its prime.

I've found a better place in our house to store squash this year.  Last year a lot of the harvest ended up rotting because the root cellar got too cold.  This year, they are living in what I now call the "squash closet".  The squash closet is an oddly shaped closet located under an angled (and uninsulated) part of our roof and above a flight of stairs. The closet is of very little use for hanging things due to the lack of lighting and the tiny entrance.  I had a strong suspicion that the range of temps in that space in the winter would be optimal for storing squash.  I stuck a thermometer in there that measures the range of temperatures and found that the range is perfect! Voila!  A squash closet!  Some friends got a kick out of this closet when I invited them up to pick out some squash.  My friend Jill thinks this is good fodder for a Portlandia episode and I can't really argue.

Tempeh Cutlets Provencal, Tangled Carrot Salad and Brussels Sprouts
We also hosted a little dinner party for friends Jason and Elise.  Excuse me, I mean Jason and Artist of the Year (page 6).  We had thought about only referring to Elise as Artist of the Year throughout the evening but decided to play it cool and just call her Elise.  Although, not officially deigned with the title, Jason is Director of the Year at our house.  In the past few months alone, we have seen 3 shows he has directed and/or performed in, including Back Home with Kevin Kling and Mason Jennings, The Cat in the Hat at the Children's Theater Company and Jason's own  Firsty Thursday show by Four Humors.

We also celebrated the wedding of our friends Tuyen and Sarah at the gorgeous Minnesota History Center.  The night was just the right combo of classy and fun.  Their first dance was set with a lovely backdrop of the capitol building and spazzy children :)

One more random tidbit, if you have a chance to see Charlie Parr perform live, you should!  I saw his show over the weekend and he is phenomenal.  When teamed up with Mikkel Beckmen and Dave Hundreiser, their energy is infectious.  I have never seen anyone rock out with a washboard like Mikkel did. Dave's harmonica playing was soulful and masterful.  Charlie's music and stage presence made for a memorable and authentic show.  Opening for Charlie was The Murder of Crows.  Their music includes haunting violin and engaging lyrics that held the audience's attention with ease.  Concert reviews are not my forte, so I will stop there.  If you are looking for new music and dig violin in a non-classical setting, check out The Murder of Crows.  If you love old school roots/folk/blues, you should certainly be listening to Charlie Parr.
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