Monthly Archives: November 2011

simple cookery: squash and apple crockpot bake

I used to cook this in a covered crock in the oven, but more often then not now, I use the crockpot.  You can of course use either method!

Peel and cube whatever kind of squash you have around.  Slice the apples of your choice.  You can peel them as well, but I never bother.  You want about equal amounts squash and apple.  Layer them in your crockpot or baking dish.  As you can see from the picture above, I go right up to the top and then some.

Next add a couple of pats of butter, ghee or coconut oil, a spoonful of blackstrap molasses (about a tablespoon full for a whole crockpot), and a good glug or two of maple syrup (maybe a quarter cup?).  Top with a teaspoon or so of nutmeg and a pinch or two of allspice or clove.  Add half a cup or so of water, cover and cook.

I tend to cook it on low, overnight.  It wonderful at this time of year to wake up to the house smelling delicious and have something warm and spicy to serve along with breakfast.  Other days I might get it in early in the day, to go with dinner that night, especially if it’s going to be a busy afternoon.

The kids tend to eat it as it is, but I like to mash everything up on my plate with a fork so that all of the flavors get mixed together.  I think there is too much goodness that gets lost in the juices other wise.  But this may just be my own personal quirk.


These food prep photos are all from Wednesday, when I cooked in the kitchen for 12 hours straight, with various “helpers” in and out all the while, and an evening break to put everyone to bed.  I was perfectly content not to take a single picture all Thanksgiving day.

Going around the table at supper time,

Màiri  Rose (age 2) was thankful for Hunter Pence (current outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, who’s name she’s heard quite a bit with all the baseball talk of the older ones)….to eat.  And then she laughed heartily.

Galen (age 5) was thankful for “everything, except that”, this said while pointing to the pot roast I had made.

Elijah (age 9) was thankful that he wasn’t a turkey.

Iain (age 11) was thankful for, and I quote, “I don’t know, everything I guess”.

We’ve had years where this sharing around the table has been solemn and moving and deeply felt.  Clearly this year that mood wasn’t quite there, and that’s ok too.  That’s life and the way things go sometimes, especially when you are dealing with such unpredictable creatures as children!  It’s good for a laugh and I’m thankful for that too.  I am thinking that next year it might be prudent to go oldest to youngest, instead of vice versa to set the tone!

I, for one, am exceedingly grateful for the gift of being a part of this amazing family.

Today we are all nursing a bit of a cold.  I think we’ll all take it easy and spend the day resting and eating leftovers.  I foresee a lot of cuddling and book reading in my future.  And I’m thankful for that as well.


woolly pants

I’m not the only one in need of warm legs.  Baby Roo seems to have suddenly outgrown most of her woolly bottoms.  The other day, when I was searching about for something entirely different, I came across the sleeves and neck of this women’s cardigan (the body having been already sacrificed to a pair of slippers that I don’t believe I ever managed to post about).

I found myself wholly and entirely distracted by this discovery and my plans changed accordingly.  Actually the plan was to whip these up, quick as can be, then move on to my original project.  But after cutting them I discovered a number of small holes in need of darning, so it wasn’t a quick project after-all.  Quick enough though.  And now the girl has a super-thick pair of warm woolies, with elbow patches becoming knee pads and lots of room to grow.  To make them I simply laid a pair of her pants, folded in half, over the sleeve to see how far in to cut.  Easy.

I think most of today will be spent in the kitchen.  I’m making a turkey for the first time ever.  A couple people in the house aren’t turkey fans, but it seems there are enough now that are to warrant it.  I had several requests and the turkey roast of last year wasn’t enough to satisfy them.  I’m trying this recipe for a brined turkey, so work has to begin on it today.  It’s supposed to be very juicy.  I despise turkey that’s too dry.  There will be a couple of pies to bake today as well, and cranberry sauce.  I’ll also get up a marinade for the pot roast (for those who aren’t keen on turkey).  I might prepare the Brussels sprouts, but not cook them just yet.  And I’ll probably get the stuffing underway as well.  Yes, it will be a full day, with lots of time in the kitchen.  And lots of time to reflect on our many blessings.  Is it strange that I find cooking a large meal like this to be a somewhat meditative practice?  I tend to get lost in it and don’t find it a nuisance at all.

I don’t think I’ll be here tomorrow, so Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the US and I hope that everyone, everywhere, has some time this week to think of the things they are thankful for.


simple cookery: escarole soup

This “recipe” comes from the realms of family tradition.  This Italian soup was my grandfather’s specialty, and the way that we always started our Thanksgiving meal.

When I mention escarole, many people have no earthly clue what I’m talking about.  Some have thought that I meant escargot, but I assure you, this dish has nothing to do with snails!  Escarole is a bunchy green variety of endive.  Our CSA offers escarole for only one week.  And when they do, I make escarole soup.

I think there are fancier ways to prepare this soup and some day I might experiment with that, but this very simple version is how I’ve always had it.

I start with a pot of well salted, home-made chicken broth.  While the broth is heating, I make a tray full of mini-meatballs.  These are just beef, because that’s what I happened to have.  I know that my mother does half beef and half pork when she makes this.  You can make it with whatever variety of meatball pleases you.  Cook your meatballs.  You want them to be at least most of the way, if not all the way done.  When the meatballs are done and the broth is hot, transfer the balls into the broth.  Then add lots of washed and chopped escarole.  Cook it until the escarole wilts, then serve it with fresh grated Parmesan (though the Parmesan of my childhood generally came from a green can).  We don’t usually eat milk products at home, with the exception of home-made ghee.  Occasionally we have a bit as a treat when we are out.  But for this once a year passing on of a tradition, I make an exception and eat my soup and think of my grandfather and all of my extended family.  And I wonder if someday, maybe just once a year, my children will serve the same meal to their own children and grandchildren as well.


sew down

Ack!  Too much stuff in the house, too much stuff in my way, just stuff, stuff, stuff!  Where on earth does it all come from??  I’m honestly having a really hard time planning for the winter holidays because Christmas means gifts, and I have little to no desire to bring anything new into the house at the moment.  Maybe it’s just autumn and being indoors more?  I don’t know, but I’m in a mood.  A very minimalist mood.  This has carried over to the studio where I’ve been working my way through a big pile of things that need mending, darning, altering.  A big pile that I’m just sick and tired of looking at.

With our work in the studio lately, I found myself wondering how I could create more fabric storage.  At the moment I could slap myself for even considering such a thing.  Ridiculous!  Creating another thing to store all this stuff indefinitely?  I have storage.  And no, it’s not walls and walls worth of shelves or anything like that, but it’s enough for a tidy little stash.  Enough to keep me busy.  No, what I need is not more fabric storage.  It’s to turn the fabric I have into something of use so that everything fits in the storage I already have and quite possibly to chuck (well, give away) some of the stuff that I’m not really that interested in anyway.

Now that I actually have a set place to sew, it’s so, so, so much easier to get a bit of time in here and there.  I’m on a mission to reduce the amount of fabric I have kicking around here.  At the moment I’m going through some of my knits.  I have a dresser devoted to random crafty things, two drawers of which are full of jerseys and interlocks and the like.  It works quite well for storing them, but the drawers are getting a little hard to open and close.  So it’s time to reduce.  Maybe even to the point that I’ll be able to use one of those drawers for something else?

My first project was a pair of leggings for me.  I don’t know why, but I’ve been having a really hard time keeping warm this year.  Anyone remember way, way back when I bought a big box of someone else’s stashed fabrics?  We’re talking 2008 here folks!  Well, there was some wool jersey in there as well.  Several yards of red that went towards Christmas pajamas that year, purple that became a skirt for me and a dark brown that remained mostly untouched in the drawer (there were some little bits cut out of it, but I can’t for the life of me remember what I used them for!).

I used Amy Karol’s tutorial to make the pattern from a pair of leggings I already had.  I added some length because I wanted to make sure my ankles are always covered.  It took me about an hour, from fishing out the fabric to putting on the finished product.  Now that I have the pattern all made up, the next pair would come together much quicker.  I’m thinking a half hour or less.

Of them, you get to see approximately the knees, as everything else is covered up.  I told you, it’s cold out there!

I got the camera all set, exactly as it should be and handed it to Iain.  Just as he took the picture, the sun burst out from behind the clouds, hence the weird over-exposed photo above.

I absolutely love them.  They are unquestionably the best pair of leggings I’ve ever owned and I’m probably going to completely wear through them before the winter is out because I wear them all the time.  And despite my zeal about reducing my fabric stash, I will absolutely be buying more wool jersey the next time I come across a good deal on it and making another pair of these.  Or two.  Because they are just that fabulous.  My only regret is not giving them a high waist to keep my tummy warm as well.  Next time!


in the garden

This is where I’ve been the last week or so, while it’s been unseasonably warm.  The garden here is a neglected place.  A rental home garden.  We’ve worked and made and loved and left too many of those to be much bothered with it this time around.  But there was a garden here already, much ignored by previous tenants.  And we scrapped out a few little green spaces of our own, full of plants that I’ve been moving about with me for years on end.  I’ve had some of them for longer then I’ve had children!  My favorite of these spots is but the stone steps, just outside the door; two roses, a pale yellow columbine, several lady’s mantles, and a sizable patch of lavender, with violets, left to grow wild around the edges.  It’s a sweet smelling plot of the old-fashioned flowers that are dearest to my heart (with lilacs just beyond, to complete the vignette).  There are others as well, full of hydrangeas, foxgloves and peonies.  Cone flowers, delphiniums and sedums sprinkled here and there.  And three half-barrels full of herbs.  These are the things that we brought with us and the things that we will take away with us, when someday we leave.  Even these small gardens are a bit over-run, after our busy spring and my summer of not being able to spend much time outside, they’ve been mostly left to fend for themselves.  I’ve been out now though, very belatedly.  Puttering and thinking and shifting things around; digging and weeding and dividing.  Most of the snow is gone now, though I still sometimes come across a patch of it in shady and sheltered spots.  But the weather is shifting again and more will be coming soon.

I potted up a lot of the herbs from the half-barrel gardens, mostly in a set of terracotta strawberry planters that I got at a tag sale a little while back.  Usually I grow nasturtiums and calendula in them.  We had a large one, planted just that way this year, but the others came recently and were empty.  I’ve had a lot of luck in the past, bringing in herbs for the winter, but I’ve never brought in any that had already been under over a foot of snow!  I guess I’ll just have to see how it goes.


simple cookery: chicken dippers

This one sort of strays from the simple philosophy just a bit.  It’s still pretty basic and easy to make, but it’s a little more processed then most of the recipes I’ll be sharing here.  It’s a great family favorite.  I regularly get requests from extended family and friends to make it as well.  And I had a request to share it here, so here goes.

I’m going to start by saying that I never measure the ingredients for this.  Last time I made it, I tried to get general measurements to share with you here.  Also, I cook large.  Really large.  For one thing we have a decent sized family.  And you know that old adage about the way growing boys eat?  So not a joke.  Or an exaggeration.  In fact, in my experience, everyone has been down-playing it all this time.  And since this is a favored dish, they go at it with an extra will.  Secondly, I like leftovers.  They make for a quick, easy, and nourishing lunch during the busy home-schooling day.  The more days a week that I can just pop something in the oven or re-heat it on the stove, the better.

Generally this amount serves as dinner for the 6 of us one night and either breakfast or lunch for the children and I later in the week.

Chicken Dippers

I start with 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast and chop it into strips.

I dip each piece individually into a bowl of water, then dredge it in my flour mix.

For the flour mix, I use potato flour.  You can use any flour here and it will turn out delicious, but I’ve found potato flour to be particularly good.  The flavor combination is excellent and it makes a really nice, crisp coating.  To coat this much chicken, I use around 2 1/2 cups of flour, mixed with a tablespoon or so of sea salt and maybe 2 teaspoons of either chili powder or cayenne pepper (you’ll have to experiment with this depending on how spicy you like things.  This is just about right for my family and gives a nice color to the finished chicken as well).

I cook this in two cast iron skillets at once, to save time.  Start by heating the oil of your choice in the skillet.  It should be enough to completely cover the bottom of the pan.    Using tongs, arrange the flour coated chicken in a single layer in your preheated pan.  I keep the burner at about a medium heat for the entire cooking process.  Cook until nice and browned on one side and then flip and cook the same on the other side.  Remove the cooked pieces to a platter (you can drain them on something if you like) and repeat the process with the remaining chicken.

My kids call these chicken dippers because they like to dip them in mustard to eat.  They like them cold as leftovers too, so they make a good picnic food.  Enjoy!


vintage pattern love

You know how some people get a reputation for bringing in stray animals, and whenever a stray wonders into town it gets brought immediately to them?  Well, my house is kind of the equivalent for stray craft supplies.  A pretty sweet deal, I tell ya.

This little pretty came home with me over the summer, from my dear friend Heather…

It’s the Rock-a-Bye Baby Book by Columbia Minerva, Beehive, book number 738, circa 1971.  I did a quick search and there are issues available on both Amazon and Etsy, if people are interested.

Do you see the ducks?!?  Forget the patterns, I’m in it for the duck illustrations.


I’m in love with the Honeycomb Layette (above) and keep wondering if I could adjust the pattern to fit Little Rosebud.  I have such a strong desire to knit a little girl sweater lately!  And absolutely no excuse to do so, as the Wee Girl has, uhm, five?  Mama-made sweaters that currently fit her.  One, Two, Three (yes, that one still fits, just barely, but not for much longer), Four (this one is starting to get a bit small too), Five…, make that Six.  Maybe sometime over the winter when the others have been outgrown?

I think this Mock Cable Layette would be the perfect classic baby boy knit.

Oh, but if there is ever to be another baby in this house, the bonnet (!) and sweater from ‘A Smocking Story’ will be the very first thing I knit.

Question: how much would I like to make these for Màiri and Galen?

Answer: so very much!

Moving on to sewing patterns…

I have a box, gifted to me by a lovely blog reader, shortly after the Wee Girl was born, full of vintage patterns for girls.  They were all preschool age and up, so I’m really just starting to be able to make things from them.  Though I did make this using one of them a while back.  Màiri Rose’s Halloween costume was also made from a pattern in that box.  You know, a “vintage” 90′s pattern.

Am I the only one who gets a little freaked out when confronted with say an etsy listing advertising a “vintage 90′s…” whatever?  Vintage, really?  The 90′s?  We’re going there??  I mean come on, that was like recent history, right?  And then I make myself do the math.  On the bright side, turns out I have a decent collection of “cool” vintage clothing, without having to do anything, well, anything short of not updating my wardrobe for a couple of decades (for the record, the cool part is very debatable, in this decade as well as any one that has proceeded it).  At what point do things become “vintage”?  Who exactly gets to make that call?  And while we’re on the subject, when do “classic” songs become “oldies”?  I’d just like to know where the cut off is; might save me a few shocks down the line.

I’m just saying that as a relatively young women (I think I’m going to need a ruling on the cut-off date for that as well….), I like for my vintage to be such that I don’t remember wearing it a first time.  Like the 50′s, remember the 50′s???  I don’t! Therefore it’s perfect.

I guess it’s vintage.  There’s precedence.  People marketing things on Etsy say so.

This little collection is from the 70′s as well.  The one on the left is my favorite, but I think I missed my window for it.  It’s a size 2 and she no longer is.  I think it’s worth making some adjustments so that it will fit, come spring-time.

I find it amusing the Kwiksew never changes.  This one has a copy-write of 1971.  I’m pretty sure you can still buy this exact same pattern from them.  Only the artwork changes.  I’m not knocking it!  Classics are classics.

And oh, the 80′s… 

This one is only notable because I’m pretty sure that the little girl, top row center, was modeled after me in that time period.  Only the hair’s not big enough.  And it needs more neon.  Oo, and maybe a pair of those supper-shiny, slick looking leggings that I coveted so (what on earth were those things made out of anyway?) and a decent pair of jelly shoes.  Yup.  That ought to do it.

But at the moment, I think I have a date with this one: