Monday, November 30, 2009

Food Gifts, Part 1

It's that time of year again. Yesterday, I spent part of the afternoon compiling my various gift wish and gifts given lists on my computer from last year's and from the random notes in the blank book I carry in my purse. I really try to keep everything simple and handmade (by me or someone else), but I do like to give a little something to neighbors, friends, and of course the many teachers in my children's lives.

This is when I turn to food gifts, and my absolute favorite treat to make and give are spiced pecans. Everyone always raves about them, and I've given out the recipe at least a hundred times. They aren't a dessert, so you don't have to worry about the guilt associated with cookies or fudge, and they will keep for a while in a sealed container (though not in my house, as Will wrecks havoc on the spiced pecan stash). They are good to eat by themselves, and I always have a bowl of them at any party I throw. One of my favorite salads is spinach with apples or pears, thinly sliced red onions, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette topped with spiced pecans.

Ely's school has their Winter fundraiser on Saturday and we are having our business's 3rd anniversary party that evening. This morning I made 6 lbs (24 cups) of spiced pecans for the two events, and it only took me 45 minutes. For the baked goods area or for friends, I package one cup amounts in labeled cellophane bags tied with ribbon.

If you buy big bags of pecans (like at Costco) or nuts in bulk, you can easily double or quadruple the recipe below. I've found that 8 cups of nuts (a 2 lb bag) will fit on one half sheet pan.

Spiced Pecans
Adapted from Southern Table by Frank Stitt; makes 4 cups

-4 c. pecan halves
-1.5 tsp kosher salt
-pinch of freshly ground pepper
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
-1 Tbsp dark brown sugar (if you only have light like I seem to, add a tiny bit of molasses)
-1 Tbsp freshly chopped rosemary leaves (do not substitute dried or leave out)
-1 Tbsp melted butter (if you need these to be vegan, you can just add extra olive oil)
-2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Place pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. When pecans are done, add to bowl and toss together until thoroughly coated. Return pecans to baking sheet and bake for 2-3 more minutes until toasted and fragrant. Watch carefully, because the pecans can burn in a matter of seconds.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Ah, symmetry. I normally have a problem with remembering how old I am, but I think this year will be different with such an easy number. As it's almost the end of the year, I just happened to be reviewing January's list. Not much got accomplished, but I can cross off at least one thing in every category, so I'm happy and it's time to move on.

So here is my new list. These are things just for me, things to do before I turn 34 and can no longer remember my age again:

1. plant bulbs for Spring

2. make a rain barrel

3. dig out the tent (or more likely borrow a larger one) and go camping with the family and dog

4. really practice practice practice free motion quilting on my machine

5. quilt a quilt using free motion

6. make spring rolls

7. learn a cook a few other tasty ethnic dishes

8. spend the weekend away with Will - I'm thinking either Birmingham or Louisville

9. sew a skirt and a dress for me

10. wear more skirts

11. find the (almost) perfect pair of boots and ballet flats so #9 will happen

12. learn to use my gocco

13. make an Alabama Chanin bloomers skirt

14. write more, especially my children's birth stories before I forget all the details

15. work on finishing off all the film in my refrigerator

16. find a photo lab that still prints contact sheets, not just scans negatives for a digital print

17. build a stone/gravel patio in our backyard for a firepit

18. invite friends over to enjoy #17

19. find a local organic/no spray place for u-pick berries or fruit

20. buy an sx-70

21. weed out my closet and repair, dye or recontruct anything that is still good but not quite right

22. move my blog to wordpress

23. zumba every week

24. bake more bread

25. institute homemade pizza night on Fridays for real

26. paint a magnetic chalkboard in the kitchen

27. get fancy drinks at Patterson House

28. rescue my old files off of the 2.25 discs

29. get a jade plant and an orchid and keep them alive

30. eat hot chicken at Prince's 'cause it's been way too long

31. find or have made the perfect menorah

32. sew the family Christmas stockings

33. and finally... I will paint the hallway

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Kitchen is Yellow

After three days of painting, the kitchen is done and the gray is g o n e. No more feeling depressed and blah during the Winter, while I'm stirring something on the stove. Luckily, I started this repainting project about 7 weeks ago, because it took me that long to paint swatches, prime over those swatches, paint more swatches, then finally decide on a color. I originally thought blue because I love blue, but that didn't look right. Green wasn't the right choice either, and though I was briefly tempted by white, I knew I wanted color. It finally dawned on me to use yellow, specifically the shade of the interior of our old house. That house had more windows and better facing ones, but that color yellow was definitely part of the reason there was so much pretty light.

I've been devoted to zero/low VOC paints for almost 5 years now, when we moved into this house, and needed to repaint some rooms immediately (can you say Pepto Bismal pink bathroom?). I was 7 months pregnant, so paint was a big worry for me but the low VOC paint made it a breeze. There are so many more options now in a variety of price ranges than 5 years ago, when stores often had to special order the zero VOC bases. I decided to use Benjamin Moore's Aura, because it is known for its super durability and easy-to-wipe-clean surfaces, all important for a kitchen. I'm not sure I would use this paint again, as it was very thick and dries almost immediately, forcing you to paint as fast as you can while simultaneously preventing you from blending your old strokes with your new ones. The second coat was easier than the first and the final surface does look great, but I'll probably stick to what I've used in the past like Ben or Sherwin Williams' Harmony or maybe I'll finally try out the Mythic paint a local nursery/brewing supply store carries. But first, I got to decide on a shade of red for the dining room.

I hope it isn't too early to force paperwhites for the holidays. We're hosting our third anniversary party in a couple of weeks, so besides painting I'm planning menus and trying to get the house looking nice and pretty. My reward for finishing the kitchen was going to Target to buy a big glass vase, so I could start my paperwhite bulbs. Unfortunately, I ran out of stones. Maybe I can raid my mother-in-law's house tomorrow? - she loves to collect rocks and a handful wouldn't even put a dent in her collection.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Booklog: November 2009

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
It's not Bel Canto, and the story and characters are somewhat implausible, but I enjoyed this Ann Patchett book just the same. I like seeing how her writing progresses from her earlier books to her later ones.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
My first Vowell book, and definitely not my last. Funny and educational is a winning combination.

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch
This is what a great biography is all about - a collection of small details you shouldn't care about or find interesting, but you do because Fitch was able to put them all in one place and create a marvelous tale about a woman named Julia. Though I could hardly stand to read about all the years after Paul got sick, because he and Julia were wonderful together, and it was just too sad to read about him leaving her life mentally then physically.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee
McNamee can't quite pull off for Alice what Fitch did for Julia, but I loved reading about the early years of Alice Water's life and the beginnings of Chez Panisse. I dined there 5 years ago, and the actual experience and food surpassed everything I had heard about the restaurant. It was fun to find out more about how that night of olives, local salad, quail, and raspberry souffle came to be.

Julia Child by Laura Shapiro
The Rachael Ray version of Julia's life.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
Half a fascinating and horrifying account of a young Hmong girl with epilepsy living in California, and half a history and description of the Hmong people. I could not put the odd chapters down, but found the even ones a little boring and drawn out.

As a Friend by Forrest Gander
A lovely, lovely, small book. Beautiful writing that only a poet could achieve.

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I had to take a break with this after I got 1/3 of the way through. I read his Shadow of the Wind for my bookclub a couple of years ago and we all loved it. This new book was supposed to be better, but it wasn't. Not even close.

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
I read Lost in the Forest by Miller 3 years ago and I'm not sure why it took me so long to get back to her. Not quite as good as that one, but still an entertaining, late Summer read.

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman
Waldman has gotten a lot of criticism in the past for some of her essays (one in particular about loving her husband more than her children), but I found myself saying, "oh yes," many many more times than I said, "oh no." While this book is filled with funny and sweet moments, there is one profoundly heartbreaking moment. I closed this book feeling thankful Waldman wrote with such honesty about her motherhood.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The (Very Late) End of the Garden Notes

It's now mid-November, and I originally started this post at the beginning of October when I remembered I never wrote my garden notes for September. I'm trying to catch up with everything unfinished, so here it is:

By mid-September, we were mentally done with the garden. There was still okra and some tomatoes, but the blight finally got to my vines and everything started to look crispy. I figured the squirrels and birds can get what is left.

Originally I thought I would have planted some winter vegetables for the Fall like brussels sprouts and chard. I didn't realize that my little plot would be completely full, and nothing would be done early enough to plant for the Fall/Winter. Next year, I'm going to make sure there is some empty space for all those delicious green things that come up after it gets cold.

Our goal for next year is to till a much larger plot, and have more room and rows to reach our vegetables. Nothing was more frustrating that being unable to reach half of the stuff, because it was so dense and just plain inaccessible from the outside. I can't decide what I should do with the little plot we made this year - I'm thinking of either planting garlic or asparagus, or maybe rhubarb. I need to refer to some of books to see how asparagus and garlic do together, because maybe I'll just plant both. Though I might be too late for any of those now.

The other thing I am going to do soon is start covering the ground to make some more beds the easy way and plant bulbs. I'm not letting another Spring go by wishing for more flowers than the few tulips I get that grow inside a bush. My mother-in-law is gathering seeds from all her dead flowers right now, and she is saving some of everything for me! There is a wonderful book I discovered a few years ago called The Way We Garden Now by Katherine Whiteside. It is full of easy projects to improve your yard no matter if your yard is an acre (or more) of lawn, less than a quarter acre, a brick patio behind a condo, or a balcony in the city. The instructions are simple to follow and the whole book is filled with whimsical watercolors by Peter Gergely. If I even get to a handful of Katherine's projects in the coming year, my outside life will lovelier, yummier, and more colorful than this year.

Monday, November 9, 2009


My sewing area has been a disaster for far too long (as in months and months and months). It's not much fun to sew wedged in a tiny corner of your sewing table by a mountain of fabric and other sewing accoutrements. With holiday sewing fast approaching and a bunch of unlistened-to This American Life podcasts, I decided to tackle the big project I'd been avoiding.

While I haven't bought much fabric in the past year, I have accumulated more and more small pieces of fabric. I think is is because I've begun quite a few quilt tops on a whim, all of which are still in progress. What used to be mostly fat quarters or half yards, is now a huge pile of pieces too big for the scrap box but too small to be folded neatly on a shelf. I decided I need to scrap (ha!) my current scrap system - one plastic bin for warm colors and one for cool colors stored on the shelf next to my sewing machine - and expand my definition of scrap. I cleared out most of the plastic filing drawers I use to store materials and current projects, which gave me three small drawers and one large drawer to work with. The large drawer is now for large scraps, and the three smaller drawers are for small warm scraps, small cool scraps, and tiny and irregular scraps. Most of the tiny scraps are just about useless, but I hate to throw them away and I know there are some nifty ideas like this one for using up tiny scraps which I'll probably attempt in the future. Even though I am usually not this way, I decided to label the drawers with the label maker we use at the office. Now that my scraps are reorganized and labeled, and the filing drawers are under my sewing table away from the little hands which like to open them up and dump them onto the floor, I feel like I have gotten somewhere with this reorganization project.

The last thing I don't really know what to do with is my paper bag filled with thread waste, and selvedges, and any kind of scrap that is just two narrow to sew into patchwork. It seems like I could stuff something with all this waste, but I'm afraid a pillow or softie or whatever I made would end up really lumpy. So tell me, do you hold on to this stuff? What do you do with it? Am I a crazy, frugal woman for holding onto it? Should I just chuck it into the nearest trash can?