Monday, February 28, 2011

13. Make cushions for rocking chair--check

Sometime last fall or winter James bought a gliding rocker off Craigslist for our bedroom . The cushions were in sorry shape, and we didn't even bring those into the house. We shopped around for some, but didn't find quite what we wanted, so I decided to make some. I don't really know what I was thinking, because I'm an inexperienced sewer. I find it kind of daunting, so I really procrastinate projects that involve sewing. Case in point, we bought the materials for the cushions about a year ago. At some point I cut the foam into the appropriate shapes and put it on the chair. We have been using it that way ever since. Just imagine the foam seen above used as cushions--very comfortable and elegant.
But no longer! Last weekend we had no plans, and I finally decided to tackle those cushions. It's a good thing I chose to do it on a free weekend, because it probably took me about 12 hours total to get it done. Part of that includes having to fix one of the zippers, which I managed to break just when I was inserting the second cushion into its cover. But I did it! It's the most complicated sewing I've ever done. They both have covered zippers, thanks to Erin of House on Hill Road.  I could not have done it without her helpful tutorials. I watched the video and then used the written tutorial to guide me step by step both times.
Both cushions are made of two inch foam. For the seat I doubled it over and made a box cushion cover. The back is just one layer of the foam, so I just did a simple case with front and back for that one. I also made ties to attach both cushions to the chair.  Neither of the covers turned out perfectly, but I'm very satisfied with my novice efforts. It really was a good learning experience, too. I feel more confident with my sewing machine now. The chair certainly looks worlds better than it did with the raw foam. I still need to recover the ottoman, because I need more foam for that, and I'm excited to make some more progress on our master bedroom. We have big plans for it this year. We're hoping to say goodbye to the dingy wall color and carpeting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What I Cooked

We love cheese at our house, quite a bit, and we tend to eat lots of cheesy, "junky" food this time of year. I'm of a mind that it's good to go into Clean Monday feeling kind of sick of cheese.  So--plenty of cheese. That's what you'll be seeing for the next few weeks here.

Sunday: Panini. I make this on a George Foreman Grill. It works really well. The bread was homemade whole wheat. My sandwich had sauteed collard greens, mushrooms, and, of course, cheese. White Irish cheddar. Yum. I try not to eat a lot of processed foods, but I admit to loving these cheesy corn puff things.

Monday: Homemade pizza for my Valentine. Kalamata olive, onion, crimini mushroom. It also has this. More processed foods. Yep. Lots of junk around here right now. We both do quite like this "sausage." Also cake, of course.

Tuesday: Haluski--I love this meal. It's hard to tell, but there is a ton of cabbage and onion in with those noodles. No cheese in this, but plenty of butter. I like to make it with homemade egg noodles, and then it is really, really, insanely good. But even with these run-of-the-mill store bought (from when we were sick) this is very tasty.

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Snacky dinner
Not a whole lot of cooking here, but I did make spinach artichoke dip and hard boiled eggs. That's a pear in the middle of the bottom row.

Friday: Total indulgence dinner. Scrambled eggs with cheese, biscuits and gravy.  I love biscuits and gravy.  My grandmother always used to make this for me when I was a little girl. One of the main reasons I kind of like the "sausage" stuff.  I put some mushrooms in this gravy, too.

Vegetable fried rice with egg.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Library Cat

Yesterday we had an unusual visitor at the library where I work. It is in a residential neighborhood, so from time to time we have cats wander in or find them hanging out in the parking lot. Thankfully this cat was tagged, so the owner was contacted. Last year a cat stayed with us for several days while library staff tried to find out if it had an owner, and eventually one of the library volunteers adopted it.

I work in a very large room that is not open to the public, so this guy got to spend some time with us. He was very social and liked attention, but as you can imagine, he was not too keen on being trapped in an unfamiliar place. He spent a lot of time prowling around and giving his opinion about the situation. This made it a little tricky to take his picture. I had to catch him whenever he paused. He explored every part of the room and jumped on every desk, counter, table, and cart, but eventually he settled down. Librarians tend to be cat people, so he also spent time in some other offices. He was a welcome distraction, but I'm very glad he had a tag so he could go home where he belongs. I'm sure he was glad, too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Care and Keeping of Cast Iron

I mentioned that I seasoned some cast iron pieces during the recent ice storm. I found this great little heart pan at a thrift store a while back, and I had also been given this little fajita pan.  It appears that someone had used the heart pan without seasoning it, so they had trouble with their baked goods sticking. That didn't deter me a bit from buying it, since I love cast iron and I knew I could clean it up and season it easily. I had been meaning to season these pieces for a while, and there's nothing like being stuck in your house to spur you to get things done.

There's tons of information on the web about cast iron, but I think often it can sound really fussy. Actually, it's pretty easy to care for and almost indestructible. Seasoning cast iron is very simple. It involves coating the pan with a layer of fat, which bakes on (polymerizes) to create a non-stick surface. The first step is to remove any rust spots. Steel wool works great. Then wash it in soap and water, and dry it well.  Thoroughly coat the whole piece with shortening or lard. Coconut oil works well, too. Vegetable oil will do in a pinch, but it's not ideal for seasoning it the first time as it tends to get brown. Butter and margarine will not work. Once your cast iron is well coated on all sides, put it in a 300 degree oven for an hour. It's best to set the piece upside down, which helps to keep the fat from pooling. You might want to put a baking sheet or foil on a rack below to catch any that might drip off.

After I had baked these pieces for one hour, I let them cool a little, coated them again and baked them for one more hour. You don't have to do it twice, but if you have time, it certainly doesn't hurt.  The pieces won't seem much different, although they may have a few spots where you can see cooked on oil. That's fine. Also, water should bead on it. Here they are after being seasoned. A little darker and shinier perhaps (part of that may be due to this picture being taken after the sun went down), but I think the main difference you can see is that the heart pan is clean.

When caring for your seasoned cast iron, it's usually recommended that you don't use soap. Just scrape it out and rinse well with hot water. Definitely don't put it in the dishwasher. A bowl scraper is my main cleaning tool for my cast iron skillets. You can scrub burned on bits with salt or steel wool, if needed.  Also, I say go ahead and use soap if you feel it's called for.  It's really no big deal. I've washed old, well-seasoned pans with soap with no problems. I just give it a coat of oil afterward, and it's perfectly fine. I will try to avoid soap with these new pans for a while, though. You can see the difference in the color between the new pan and one of my old skillets here. Cast iron turns black with repeated use.

Do always make sure to dry cast iron very thoroughly before you put it away, because you don't want it to rust. For the same reason, don't store food in it, or leave it to soak. But if it does get rusty, it's not ruined. You can just clean the rust off and re-season it. Usually it's recommended that you lightly coat cast iron with fat before storing it, but for a well-seasoned piece that you use frequently, that's not really necessary. It is good to do that for pieces that haven't developed the black patina yet, or if it's something that you won't be using again for a while, though.

Naturally if it's St. Valentine's Day, and you have a freshly seasoned cast iron heart pan, the thing to do is bake a little heart-shaped something for your sweetheart. I hope your day was sweet as well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What I Cooked

We were out of town at the beginning of the week. We came home with either food poisoning or a stomach virus, so we subsisted on Gatorade, ginger ale, and canned soup for a few days. Not a lot of cooking going on. Things are back to normal now, thankfully!

Thursday: A favorite quick and easy dinner--quinoa with kale and tahini sauce. We love this, and I try to keep the ingredients for the sauce on hand. As long as I have some kind of fresh greens, I can have this on the table in about 20 minutes. Plus it's an oil-free Lenten dish.

Friday: Tempeh hash with potatoes and cabbage.

Saturday: Enchilada bake served with lettuce, tomato, sour cream.

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Books I Read in June

The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
This book is set in a future, dystopic, post-apocalyptic (in the literary sense) Thailand. I find this sort of fiction fascinating. It tends to reflect pretty accurately the fears in society at the time it is written. Naturally, the book is very grim. In this world, food is very limited, and calories are currency. Genetic engineering has run amuck, and the wind-up girl is person who is the result of it. She's considered sub-human. For me the setting was the most intriguing part about this book. I was very interested in learning about the world the author imagined, but the characters and plot didn't hold my interest as much.

Promises to Keep by Jane Green
This book is about a pair of sisters. One of the sisters has cancer. I don't recall too much about it, except that it was a tear-jerker, as you might expect. Also, one of the sisters is a vegan chef, and most of the chapters include recipes, which was an odd device for this particular book, I think. I didn't end up trying any of them, but several of them sounded delicious, so maybe I should get the book again to try some of them for Lent. 

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
The Children of the Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
I read both of these planning to write about them as part of the 100 Children's books series. I'm going to get back to that as soon as I catch up with the books I read posts, so I'll discuss these then.

I may have read more books in June, but I don't have a record of it. Then again, this may have been it. The Wind-Up Girl was a slow read, and June was a very busy month. At any rate, this concludes the second catch-up edition of Books I Read.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

18. Knit some more dishcloths--Check

Since I took a break from blogging, I had sort of forgotten my 33 before 33 list. I have accomplished a few of the things on the list, but several of the goals are definitely out of reach at this point. I only have 2 more months! I have knitted several new dishcloths, though, and I have another on the needles right now. This was definitely one of the simpler items on the list. I really enjoy knitting them, and James and I like using them, so I'm trying to build up a good supply. Since we favor them, they tend to wear out.

This is the pattern I've been using for the dishcloths.  I usually put the stripe off center. I've it made it in variegated yarn without the stripe, too. I've learned that I prefer darker colored yarn, like the one above, as the light colored ones show stains quickly. This is currently my favorite pattern and color combination.  I like knitting dishcloths because they're a very portable knitting project, and they're quick and satisfying.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Be There and Make a Square

A friend from college is getting married this summer. He is Jewish, and he and his bride will get married under a chuppah. Evidently it's currently popular to involve friends and relatives in the creation of the chuppah as a visible way to represent their love and support as a couple begins their married life.

They sent out these squares and requested that we decorate them and send them back.  The bride's mother will then turn them into a quilt. I'm really curious to see the results when it's all assembled.  I had fun designing the square and then embroidering it during travel and down time in December.

I chose to embroider the square with a comet because that is our college mascot. J + J are the initials of the happy couple, and that's their wedding date.  SFC are my initials.  The color scheme is a bit of a nod to our school as well.

I learned a fair amount about Judaism from this friend, who I dated for quite a while. That was actually an important part of my path to the Orthodox Church. It led me to realize how much ritual speaks to me, and to acknowledge the importance of having guidance on how to lead a Godly life, even for such simple things as choosing what we eat. I'm really grateful for that experience, and wish many years to the engaged couple.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Getting My House in Order: Refrigerator

So, as I mentioned, the ice storm last week gave me plenty of time to get some projects done around the house. The biggest accomplishment was cleaning out the refrigerator, which probably hadn't been done since some time in the summer. It was sorely in need of cleaning and organization, as you can see:

It was a pretty straight-forward project, but it took me a whole afternoon to get it done.  I pulled everything out of the refrigerator one shelf at a time, sorting things as I went.  Then I cleaned off each shelf in the sink before pulling out the next shelf.  Once I had cleaned all the shelves and drawers, I wiped out the interior, dried and reinstalled the shelves, and returned the keepers.  Then I repeated the whole process with the door. My dish washer was about 2/3rds full, and I filled it with the newly emptied containers and ran it immediately. That was handy for banishing odors from a few things which were spoiled.
As I was sorting, I paid a lot of attention to the things that I had let go to waste. I wanted to better organize things and establish a system to make sure we eat what we buy and don't let things turn into science experiments. The main trouble spots I identified were: leftover odds and ends, an insane number of lemon and lime slices, a surplus of homemade salad dressings, and fresh herbs.

The solutions I've come up with for these problem areas are:

1. I designated the top shelf for leftover odds and ends that need to be used up.  We don't usually have a problem with leftover meals going to waste. It's things like half a can of re-fried beans, leftover toppings and sauces, and way too many slices of lemons and limes in tiny containers that make their way to the back of the fridge to die. Hopefully having all these things corralled in one place will help us use things up, and will prevent us from slicing a new lemon when there's half of one already cut.  I'm trying to monitor the shelf and utilize the contents in meals or put things in the freezer before they've been hanging around too long.

2. I'm trying to make only enough dressing for the salad I've made that night. I realized that when I make too much, we just don't end up using it.

3.When I buy fresh herbs, I'm going to try freezing half the bunch in ice cube trays immediately after I've bought it. I almost never use a whole bunch of cilantro or parsley, so it turns to green goo in the produce drawer. Yuck.

So here is the after, almost one week later. The contents have rotated a fair amount. So far the new system is working well, although a week isn't really enough to know if it's standing the test of time.

I'm really pleased with the result. I haven't decided the best use for the top right hand section of the door, though. It has a really flimsy shelf, so I need to make sure I don't put anything heavy there. Right now it has essential oil and ginger for sushi. Also, I can't believe how soon I'll be finding a new use for the eggs/dairy section! Lent is quickly approaching. I'll probably put packed lunches there then. Right now I have that with the breads, just to distinguish it from other leftovers. 

What do methods do you find helpful for managing the refrigerator?

Monday, February 7, 2011

What I Cooked

We just ate our Cheesecake Factory leftovers.

I don't know what to call these, but I make these quiche or fritatta-like muffin things with rice, cheese, eggs, and veggies. These had spinach, and we ate them with roasted sweet potatoes. Basically the recipe for the fritatta muffins is: 2 eggs, 1 cup rice, 1/2 cup cheese, 1-2 cups fillings. Bake in a muffin tin at 400 for about 20 minutes until slightly browned on top and eggs are cooked. This makes six: obviously it can be scaled up easily.

Pot pie made with a "turkey" gluten loaf that I made and had in the freezer from Thanksgiving, salad, homemade rye bread.

Wild rice and mushroom soup, more salad and rye bread, plus a wacky cake with peanut butter frosting.

I made a different version of the frittata rice muffins with chiles, black beans, tomatoes, and cheddar to use up leftover odds and ends. We also had eggless (vegan/Lenten) banana french toast.

Red beans and rice, sauteed collard greens, cornbread. This is one of my favorite dinners. I love these collard greens, the recipe comes from Veganomicon.

Out of town. Out to dinner with family.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Icing--Or What to Do When You're Iced In

1. Clean your kitchen:
      a. scrub stovetop,
      b. scrub sink,
      c. clear clutter off your counters and clean them,
      d. clean the backsplash,
      e. wipe down your appliances,
      f. clear clutter off the top of your refrigerator and clean it,
      g. clean out your refrigerator.
      h. Get your husband to do the floor.
  2. Do four loads of laundry: wash, dry, put away.
  3. Count your blessings--in particular, thank God that the power has stayed on.
  4. Change the sheets.
  5. Clean the guest bathroom.
  6. Finish the book you're reading.
  7. Spend plenty of time reading blogs and playing on YouTube.
  8. And writing.
  9. Do a project you've been meaning to do for a long time, like seasoning cast iron.
10. Get a little stir crazy and go out in the back yard to take pictures
 11. Cook
      a. pot pie,
      b. a big pot of soup, and
      c. concoct a way to use up the leftover odds and ends you found when cleaning out the fridge.
12. Bake
      a. rye bread
      b. and cake--so you can do a little icing of your own.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Books I Read in May

I'm not sure if this is an exhaustive list. I may not have kept very good track, and well, it's been a little while, but here we go for the first catch-up edition of Books I Read.

Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan

Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan
Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan
Books 9, 10, and 11 of the Wheel of Time series, which I discussed here.

A New Spring by Robert Jordan
This is a prequel to the Wheel of Time series. I greatly resented it when it was published, because at that point the series was nowhere near its conclusion, and the books in the series were getting incredibly bogged down and drawn out. I just wanted the author to focus on finishing the series in an enjoyable and reasonably efficient manner. And that was typical of the feelings of fans of the series at the time. actually complained to my brother that if Jordan was going to waste time with prequels and didn't focus on completing the WOT, he would die before he finished it. This seemed like hyperbole, because Jordan was only about 55 then, so he should have had easily 20 years to write. But then he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease, and sadly he did depart this life before finishing the series. So of course I regret my words, and I have to admit I quite like the book. Apparently Jordan planned to write 2 more prequels, so I'll be curious to see if those will be written by Brandon Sanderson (the author now completing the series) once the main saga is published.

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove
by Cathy Erway

Food memoirs are a favorite genre of mine. In this one, the author stops eating out for two years. I really enjoyed the book. It's fascinating to me to read about life in New York City. It's completely foreign because it's so unlike any of the many places I have lived. Yet at the same time it's completely familiar because it's such a constant subject in our popular culture. Additionally the book is interesting because the author is a very adventurous cook, and she combines the food stories well with the memoir aspect of the book.

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
I discussed this book here as number 100 from the list of the top 100 Children's books.

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

I like Emily Giffin's writing quite a bit. Her characters are very real and for the most part likable. This the second novel in a row in which she deals with the topic of infidelity. In Love the One You're With she treats a wife's infidelity, and in this one it's the infidelity of the husband. This novel goes back and forth between the perspective of the wife and the other woman. As popular women's fiction, of course it's not presented as a book about sin and how it infects our lives, but in effect, that's what it is. By having the perspective of both the women, we see hw everyone is harmed by the relationship. The book deals with the relationship in a way where we can see how the couple are drawn into it. I like and could sympathize with them even when I didn't like or agree with the choices they made. It liked that to me it seemed it was written so that we root for redemption rather than retribution.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Meeting of Our Lord

Today we commemorate the Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem.  In the Gospel reading for the Feast, we hear the prayer prayed by St. Simeon upon receiving Him.

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.

We learn from Holy Tradition that St. Simeon was one of the translators of the Septuagint, and St. Luke tells us that he was waiting to see Our Lord in person before dying (Luke 2:25-32). This puts him at 360 years old when he received Christ in the Temple. He recognized Him who is our Salvation, and prayed to God to depart this life. This prayer is said or sung daily at the conclusion of Vespers in the Orthodox Church, where we usually call it the Prayer or Song of St. Simeon. It is generally sung during Compline in the West, where it is known as the Nunc Dimittis, the first words of the prayer in Latin. Orthodox Christians also sing this hymn at the Churching of a child, which I think is a rather beautiful thing to do, since by seeing each tiny baby being presented in the Church as an icon of Christ being presented in the Temple, we are reminded that we are all called to be icons of Christ.

Because this hymn is sung so frequently, and probably also because it's such a beautiful prayer, there are many musical settings for it, both Eastern and Western. One evening with my husband's family as we sat around talking, somehow we ended up singing as many different versions as we knew, and we came up with about four or five, just from singing in churches over the years. Here a few different ones. You can find hundreds more recordings by searching YouTube for St. Simeon and Nunc Dimittis.   These are all in English; you can also find it in many other languages. For instance, the Rachmaninoff version is quite haunting.

I hope you enjoy them. Blessed Feast day to you!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Getting My House in Order:Bathroom Drawer

We have lived in our house almost two and half years now, and so, of course, we're facing the classic American problem: too much stuff. Right now we're embarking on a mission to amp up the storage around here and to pare down on the over-abundance. I plan to go through every drawer and closet in the house, and leave it looking like something out of a Martha Stewart magazine. Okay, probably not nearly that prettified, but hopefully by the end of the year (or sooner) we will have a place for everything and everything in its place.  I'd like our home to be as pleasant as we can make it, and I want to make sure clutter and confusion are not wasting our time and draining our energy.

So, last week I attacked my bathroom drawer. There is only the one in the master bathroom, and I'm the one who uses it. (James gets the medicine cabinet.) Here's the scary before--I know how inspirational a good before and after is. This is what my drawer actually looked like. It really was organized at some point, but clearly that system had long since stopped working for me.


Hopefully, everyone knows what comes next. I pulled everything out of the drawer and sorted it.

Most of the empty containers were recycled. I saved a couple for re-use with a project I have planned. I put the things that don't belong in the bathroom in their proper places. I got rid of old make-up items. I stowed extra stuff that I don't use on a day-to-day basis under the sink. I'm going to overhaul that cabinet soon, too. Then I cleaned every single item that was going back in the drawer: removed the general make-up gunk, cleaned the lint out of the vents in the hair-dryer, washed the make-up brushes, and cleaned out the hairbrush. I also wiped out the drawer, though that may have been after I took the next picture.

When I told James about this project, he suggested I might like to use this extra utensil organizer we had from a former kitchen. I was skeptical, but he was right. It works great! I'm thrilled with how it turned out.


I put the make-up that I most frequently use in a small make-up bag that I also already had. I don't generally wear it, so I put it in the back of the drawer, but it's handy when I want it and conveniently corralled so I can grab it for trips. I put the soaps in the back of the drawer, since they fit neatly there, but they may not stay once I reorganize under the sink. I love how all my day-to-day stuff is neatly stowed in the utensil holder, with plenty of room for the hair-dryer. It's amazing what a joy it is to bring order to small areas of chaos in my life.  I feel a little giddy every time I open the drawer and see everything neatly arrayed.