Monday, January 21, 2013

Grateful for Home

Whooeeee!  It is cold here in Minnesota.  I took this vase that was full of pine branches in from the enclosed porch today because the water in it had frozen solid!  Granted the porch isn't heated, but it is usually much, much warmer than outside.  Although, I guess when it is below zero outside, freezing is still warmer than outside.  All of this to say, isn't that ice effect on the vase pretty and aren't I lucky to have had a holiday today where I could stay home the whole day?  Yes and yes.

With a whole day at home, I most definitely spent a significant part of it in the kitchen.  I started out by opening the first jar of plums in vanilla syrup.  We added them to steel cut oats, which is one of my favorite winter breakfasts.  I've had a few interesting bowls of oatmeal at restaurants lately that have made me want to experiment with my home versions.  Some options I am eager to try include adding wild rice, polenta or quinoa to the oats and/or replacing some of the cooking liquid with apple juice.  I am also a recent convert to pouring milk or cream over the top.  In fact, last week, I had peaches and cream oatmeal using the jar of peach jam from Beth.

I also started a fresh batch of salt preserved lemons.  I don't ever want to be without a batch of those hanging out in the fridge.  Especially since I recently came upon Marisa's suggestion for pureeing them and turning them into a salad dressing. And with that, I add yet another idea to my long list of ways to spiff up dishes with the addition of preserved lemons.  I like making a simple version with just salt and lemons so that they are as versatile as possible.  Although, I may eventually be tempted by versions that include spices.

I also made a batch of yogurt, which has become a weekly practice.  I think I have worked out a pretty good system and am getting consistent results.  The yogurt-maker has earned its keep!  It makes me feel prepared to take on the week when I have my jars all lined up and ready to go!  I very much like that I no longer recycle tons of empty yogurt containers as a result of my yogurt consumption.  My current method involves using my own yogurt as starter, Cedar Summit Farms whole milk and a 5 hour incubation period.  The results are firm with a tiny cream top and a nice level of tartness.

In addition to a refresh on some staples, I also cooked up some recipes from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook for lunches this week.  I checked the book out from the library last week (after a long time on the waiting list) and have already made 3 recipes.  It has passed the test, so this copy is going back to the library and my very own copy is shipping as I type this post.

The recipes I made so far are:
Smoky Red Lentil Soup
Roasted Cauliflower Capellini
Quinoa Collard Wraps

I also received Super Natural Cooking, Food in Jars and Smitten Kitchen books for Christmas presents. My cookbook library is overflowing with inspiring, gorgeous books!  I have started to delve into recipes from those books as well.  This weekend I also made the Warm Wheat Berry Salad from Super Natural Cooking.  Between books, blogs and friends, I will never run short on food inspiration!  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Friends and Food Hodgepodge

Just as soon as Thanksgiving past, I got a huge craving for everything cranberry!  I satisfied the urge by making 2 batches of jam and using the leftover cranberries in salads and oatmeal bakes.

The 2 batches of jam were:
Cranberry Pear Jam to which I added minced crystallized ginger right before jarring it.
Cranberry Marmalade for which I substituted sugar for the honey.  This batch taught me that I much prefer unsulfured apricots. I don't think I used to be so sensitive to the sulfur flavor, but I definitely notice it now.

Nearly all of these batches were given away during the holidays.  I have a bag of cranberries tucked away in the freezer, which I am intending to use in a batch of Cranberry Gingerbread.

Way back in October, Jame and I spent an evening together celebrating her birthday.  We cooked a meal and ended it with this honeyed figs and mascarpone dessert from the Splendid Table.  We added a few fresh figs to it, too! This dessert is seriously sweet and can only be consumed in small quantities before it becomes too cloying.  We balanced it off with a bottle of Surly Darkness, which was a great pairing (this was Paul's contribution).

I made a lentil soup and tried to freeze some of the leftovers.  This was the first time I have had a mason jar crack in the freezer! A note to remember about the soup is way more delicious with a scoop of sauerkraut cooked into it and probably could also use a jar of tomato chunks to give the flavor more depth.

I also discovered a recipe for the best chai I have ever tasted. I altered the recipe by using a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract, added twice the amount of cinnamon and reduced the brown sugar.  I think the orange zest is what elevates this chai to swoon worthy status.  I mix this concentrate with nearly equal parts whole milk.

Long-distance swapping has commenced!  Beth and I arranged a little cross-country food swap last month.  We offered up some recently canned items, made our selection from each other's options and shipped them (carefully wrapped, of course!).  I added in a little bit of dehydrated food samples as Beth is on the fence about getting a dehydrator. I received a jar of corn salsa and a jar of peach jam in exchange for my plums in vanilla syrup and tomato jam.  Yum!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wash/Wear Travel Lingerie Bag

I've been sewing! After some drama with my sewing machine (partly my fault, party the feed dogs' fault), a trip to the repair shop and a downloadable copy of my machine's manual, I feel equipped to sew!

I've been sewing a few things, including a travel lingerie bag for my sister's Christmas present.  I was given a travel lingerie bag many years ago (Thanks, Jill G.) and I use it every time I travel, whether it is for 2 nights or 3 weeks away.  For the unacquainted, you put your clean undies in one side and the dirty ones on the other!  No need for plastic bags or whatever other wonky strategy you might employ to separate the clean from the dirty while jetsetting (or camping or riding the rails).

I followed these instructions, except for the lettering. I wanted to spell it out a bit more, so I found a font that I liked.  I sized it up to the proportions I wanted and printed them out.  I then pinned the printout to felt and cut out the words.  From there, I measured to find the right placement and then v.e.r.y. c.a.r.e.f.u.l.l.y sewed the letters on with a little zig-zag action and some matching thread. I was stressed about messing it up, so I did this part slowly.

I added a little personalized touch with one of TrinKnitty labels.  (Thanks for those, Becky! They are lasting a long time!)

I lined it with some fun and bright fabric that I know Jessy likes.

She knew exactly what it was when she opened it and said she had been looking at getting one.  Yay!  It makes me so happy to think of things people will like and even happier when I can make those things for them.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Stripes and Spots Cardigan

You know that sweater I was wearing on my birthday?  I made it! And, I didn't just knit this one, I made it up, too!  The Sweater Wizard software helped me with the math and the stitch pattern came from one of Barbara Walker's stitch dictionaries. Coincidentally, I tried to find a link to the software I used and found that the company closed today (I am writing this on 1/10/13).  Apparently my copy of the software just became more valuable than Twinkies.

The stitch pattern is called Stripes and Spots.  The buttons were purchased from Borealis Yarns right before THEY closed.  Geeze.  Maybe there is a theme to this sweater.

Although, I am not officially making it a goal to knit down my stash, it feels quite rewarding when a sweater is created out of my stash.  The brown Smooshy yarn from Dream in Color is from deep, deep stash.  I got it as part of a barter with Sally in 2007! The green was from about the same time, maybe even slightly before the barter.  I had a skein of the blue, but I ended up buying 2 more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that it didn't come together as easily as I may be making  it sound.  Case in point:

  • For one, the sweater is VERY fitted.  It actually feels more comfortable with a sleeveless shirt/camisole under it than a long sleeved shirt.  That isn't very ideal for my climate.  Perhaps it will loosen up as it gets worn more.
  • Secondly, I had to knit the torso twice. The first time I knit it, I blocked it and it was too long.  I ripped it back and knit it again.  I had to rip back quite a bit because of the stitch pattern on the bottom.  In the end, I think the perfect length would have been between the two lengths.  I wasn't about to knit it a third time.
  • Lastly, in buying extra skeins of the blue, I had to get a different dye lot than the skein from my stash.  I may have mixed up which ones were which in the process of ripping and re-knitting.  I suspect I used a different dye lot near one of the cuffs.  I can spot the difference, but others have told me it is fine.  Perhaps you'd like to weigh in?  It is the cuff that is visible in the photo above.

I enjoyed making this sweater and have once again learned that I need to take better notes when I am "designing", aka "trial and error with a little bit of math."  I wrote up the pattern using the software but then changed a lot of it as I knit it.  I originally planned for this to be a standard cardigan with buttons all of the way down.  So, I obviously altered my original pattern/plan quite a bit.  I wish I would have written it down!

Ravelry link
Thanks to Paul for being willing to pull the car over to get out and take pictures of his crazy wife in the freezing cold.  He is getting to be really efficient with these knitting shoots! He took the Ramona hat pictures, too!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spoiled Trinity Part 2

If it wasn't already apparent, I am extremely fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by people who value celebrating birthdays.  They really are the best holiday, in my opinion.  They celebrate the existence of a person in an individual and personal way.  For the record, I like other people's birthdays as much as I like mine.

This here is the lady who gave birth to me, so of course we celebrate the occasion.  This year we shared a delicious lunch at Gardens of Salonica.  If you love olive oil, this is the place for you!  I had a hard time choosing what to order since there were so many vegetarian-friendly options.  I am glad my mom insisted we get the mushroom saganaki as part of our meal.  It was superb!  And now I have had the maitake mushrooms that I was intrigued by at the market in San Francisco.

And....drumroll, I was gifted my first all-clad pan by my mom!  Yahoo!  There will be a learning curve, for sure, but I am ecstatic to be able to slowly swap out my non-stick pans for a mixture of all-clad and cast iron pans.

To round off my birthday weekend, I shared a sunny lunch with my friends-since-elementary-school pal Jamie.

We met up at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro to share a meal and catch up on each others' lives.  Jamie is mother to two little ones, so I definitely appreciate and cherish that she makes it a priority to set time aside for our relationship.  We also made plans for doing more things together that involve her daughters.  I am looking forward to that, too!

In addition to being a lifelong friend, Jamie has been my lifelong crafting buddy.  We started with friendship bracelets, moved to jewelry making for a decade-plus, lingered in knitting and are now on to sewing and canning together.  She sewed a few birthday presents for me, including this perfectly hued jersey scarf.  Apologies for the dramatically lit photo. I am sure the scarf will appear again in future photos since it has already been worn a good amount.

Gratuitous macro shot:

And, with that, my 34th birthday is a wrap!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Spoiled Trinity Day

Continuing on the theme of celebrating, family, gifts, is about darned time I document what occured on my birthday!  Per the usual format, Paul reserved the day of my birthday, planned a day full of surprises and made me feel completely spoiled.  I will say, I think I have finally come to terms with the extent to which we celebrate birthdays, namely mine.  It took me 10 years to be able to accept the insane generosity with which Paul approaches this day! 

As this blog has come to serve as a back-up disk for my brain, I will proceed to recap the day's events.  Please forgive me for what might come across as pretty braggy :)  I want to remember the details of these days when I've had so many birthdays that the ones from my 30s have become foggy.

The day started off with a gourmet Paul-made breakfast (veggies, potatoes, portabella mushroom, duck eggs and crispy beets), a bouquet of flowers and a lovely letter/card.  Bonus: he cleaned the kitchen before AND after he made breakfast.

Next, we made fancy hot chocolate from scratch by grating up the chocolate and whisking it into whole milk and gently heating it up.  That divine concoction went into our thermoses.

After I doddled around a little, we bundled up and Paul drove us to a "mystery location" for a "mystery outdoor activity."  My birthday includes a lot of "reveals" throughout the day.  Unfortunately, this reveal didn't work out as planned.  The man had a well-researched plan, but the plan was thwarted by bad info on the Minneapolis parks website.  As it turns out, weekday birthdays and cross country ski rentals from Theodore Wirth Park are not a good combo.  We now know that they only rent ski equipment on the weekend, so Paul gave me a ski raincheck for later this winter and we drank the hot chocolate anyway.

It was probably for the better that skiing didn't work out because my morning doddling had put us behind schedule.  There were many more things to do!  Next we went to The Bakken Museum.  The museum is tucked into a fancy residential neighborhood, so I was totally surprised when we pulled into a museum.  The building is gorgeous and it is full of fun electrical and magnetic exhibits.

We got to play a theramin.

And we played a game where we tried to out-relax each other to get a ball to move. The headband was supposed to measure my brain waves.  It didn't work, but it succeeded in making us look goofy.

Paul willingly gave himself a shock.

In addition the regular exhibits on the main floor, there was also a neat (and empty) photo exhibit on the upper floor of the mansion.  We took the opportunity (and the well-placed ledge) to get a shot of both of us.

Since I took my time soaking in the entire museum, we had to adjust our lunch plans.  Paul's chosen lunch restaurant closes for a few hours between lunch and dinner and our timing was off.  Since we were still pretty full from the large breakfast and hadn't expended the energy we had expected with the skiing, we opted for a small lunch at Birchwood Cafe.

After lunch I was given the option to choose "a yarn store, a kitchen store or a pottery store" where we were to go and pick out a present for me.  I opted for pottery!  I was hoping to find a mug that I could use and have tied to my memories of the day. We explored the gallery at The Northern Clay Center.  I didn't find a mug that screamed "YOU MUST HAVE ME" so I now possess a pottery raincheck from Paul. 

At that point in the day, the dogs needed our attention so we headed home.  This was also a good time for us to relax, open gifts and get ready for dinner.

Prepare yourselves for an onslaught of close-up pictures in future blog posts, because Paul got me a macro lens for my birthday!  I, of course, immediately put it on my camera and started scouting for things to photograph up close.  Like these tea leaves:

Turns out macro lenses aren't good for arms' length pictures :)

As much as I wanted to hold myself back from doing it, I couldn't help but take macro shots of the flowers.  It is like a magnetic force that macro lens owners cannot resist: "Must. Document. Flower. Details."

With that, I needed to put my new toy away and get ready for dinner.  Paul has come up with a pretty clever idea for choosing the restaurant for my birthday.  A few weeks in advance, he sends me a message with a multiple choice question.  This year's message was:
Please select your birthday dinner from the following choices:
1.    Caramelized cauliflower with golden raisin caper sauce and crisp parsley
Heirloom greens and winter vegetables in a lentil vinaigrette
Sweet yams with lemongrass coconut sauce and stir fried veggies

2.    Garlic, spinach, and parmesan artichoke tartlets, provencal
olives, cornichons and a shot of white verjus

Butternut squash ravioli with black olives provencal, roasted walnuts
and harissa sauce

3.    Sautéed Early Winter Greens with aleppo chili, lemon, olive oil
and cow’s milk feta

Sautéed Parisian Gnocchi with autumn vegetables, soft herbs and black
truffle-taleggio cheese fondue

4.    Rutabaga and apple soup, crème fraîche, dill
Braised scarlet turnips, Sweet Tango apple, toasted almonds
Poached eggs, braised celery root, broccoli, porcini whey

I choose from his list and that is where we go!  The actual restaurant is a surprise until we get there, but at least I am assured they will have one thing on the menu that appeals to me.  Food is mighty important to me, as you might have guessed, so I think this idea is genius.  It gives me something to look forward to while still maintaining the element of surprise that Paul enjoys.

This year, I choose what was behind door #1 and it was Heidi's!  Funny enough, I didn't end up ordering the entree that sold me on the place because there was a truffle pasta dish that hit just the right spot for me that night.

The restuarant is really dark, so our photo ops were pretty minimal.  I can assure you the food and the company were both wonderful.

I braved the flash once to take this picture of our vegetable terrine.  Art on a plate!  The powder on the left side of the photo is brown butter powder and the dark drizzle was an apple cider reduction. Delicious!

The bartender was scared of my camera, but we goaded her into taking a picture for us anyway. 

There were other gifts and thoughtful touches interspersed throughout the day that I cherished as well.  Paul has mad skills for remembering little things that matter to me and show he is listening/noticing/caring about me.  He is a fabulous partner.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Paul for a really wonderful day. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Christmas with Family

Christmas with our families = presents galore! I feel spoiled times a million this time of year, especially with my double whammy of birthday and Christmas in the same week.

I think everybody is getting used to me pointing my camera at them, so I was able to capture pictures of nearly everybody we spent time with at Paul's parents' house and my Mom and Roger's house.  I don't think Paul's side of the family has made the blog before, so I hope they don't mind my sharing! (Nichol, I only ended up with one blurry picture of you so your blog debut will have to wait.)

Nephew Sam.  He was very excited about the presents and waited super patiently through lunch and clean up before the present portion of the day happened.

Nieces Sarah and Danielle.  Wonderful actresses, the both of them.

Niece Mary helping Clarence open his gift.  Clarence, Paul's dad, was diagnosed with ALS about 3 years ago.  So far he has been able to continue living at home, so he has been able to be there for holidays.

Joanne, Paul's mom, also known as the Maestro of Christmas.  I know where Paul gets his urges to spoil me on my birthday...from watching his mom spoil all of us on Christmas!

Brother in law, Tim assembling a tiny lego train for Sam.  So. Many. Tiny. Pieces.

Portrait taken by Mary.  She is pretty excellent with the camera for a 1st grader!

Next up: my side of the family.

A Kindle to help my mom travel lighter.

Roger opening a package with underwater cameras.  He and my mom are in Tahiti at this very moment, putting those cameras to use!

Paul was happy to receive a gift that will teach him about growing ingredients for homebrewing.
This little urban lot we have is going to be mighty full!

Jessy "making it rain" with her stack of ones.

Cinco wears the bow well.
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