Posts filed in: October 2016

Almost Halloween

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Late-October glow. We go to pumpkin patches and ride hay wagons. I forget what the birds sound like over the fields in the early mornings until this, this one early morning per year that I'm here. Our house sits so squarely, so solidly within the grid of our neighborhood that I can't ever see the sunrise or the sunset for all the houses and trees. Especially in the fall, I long for the farm-fields and furrows. We drive north, to Sauvie Island: It's our annual pumpkin-patch morning with dear friends and their darling children. The fields are slick with mud. The pumpkins are past their prime, and threaten to collapse at any moment. The fog lingers, then lifts, and leaves: It's perfect. The kids squat and pull tiny worms from the ground, having a long, private toddler conversation we can't hear. We get kettle corn and carving kits and caramel apples and, afterward, we all go down to the brewpub for lunch, and I wish that every day could be this one.

Mimi requests a purple fairy princess costume. I flail my way around long pieces of polyester chiffon, wrap pipe-cleaner-crown braids with ribbon and roses, iron sheets of cellophane over soft wire wings with every type of joy I know. How long I've waited to love Halloween! She wears her costume to school on a Tuesday. I am delightedly shocked to pick her up at 1:00 to find that she is still wearing it. Wings crooked, flower crown low on her forehead, it's all held up well but for one small rip in the front of the gown, and her eyes are bright with excitement. With the school, on Wednesday, we go to another pumpkin patch. It's so muddy that I, with my reconstructed foot, can't walk on anything but the most-dry, mostly flat surfaces, trying with all my might not to face-plant in front of the entire preschool while carrying an enormous camera. I photograph them all bumping along on the hayride, Mimi waving and Andy smiling wildly. The teachers' and parents' faces are as joyous as the children's. How sweet it all is. The rain holds off and the preschoolers run around the play area. Mimi darts and races, shrieking with glee, her usual language of happiness. Riding the mini-carousel, she waves and rocks and wants to go around again. Later, four of them sit in the dried-corn sandbox, running their hands through bright-yellow kernels and I know they'd happily sit there for ages, if only it weren't almost time to go. How grateful I am to be here, listening to their voices in the corn maze and watching geese fly low overhead.

This weekend, we're hosting the neighborhood pumpkin-carving party. I've spent this afternoon making my dad's chili and chicken-with-wild-rice soup, listening to Pavement radio on Pandora with the back door flung open. It's sunny again. I remember a conversation I had with my dad the October before he passed away. He was telling me about a Halloween party he and my mom had gone to years before, before I was born. "What did you go as?" I asked him. "A secret agent," he said and we giggled, and I was filled with a sadness I could hardly bear to feel. Our neighbors are our friends, and they'll walk over with beers, bread, and salads on Sunday. Ten adults, nine kids, one baby. Along with the chili and soup, I'm making hot-dog mummies, spider-topped English-muffin pizzas, apple monsters, and pumpkin cupcakes for the kids. I need to figure out what I'm going to carve on my pumpkin. I hope I have enough bowls. I can't wait to have everyone here.

Stormy Soup

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Sparkle and blur, everything rushing by. The days spin past me and I only slow to cook or knit, and, even then, I knit like the wind, finishing entire sweaters that I haven't stopped long enough to put on Ravelry; I can't now remember what the patterns were called or what yarn I used or which needles, though they were finished just weeks, days, minutes ago. Should knitting be done so quickly? On Tuesday, Stacey kindly, kindly helped me reorganize my baking and dry-goods cabinet, emptying mason jars that had been filled with expired flours and grains; hand-washing everything in scalding, soapy water; wiping down shelves and lining up jars (again) like good little soldiers, waiting for me to cook. It worked: I was inspired. It was nice to move the enormous cast-iron Dutch oven three feet higher on the shelves so that I didn't feel like I was breaking my back every time I wanted to make soup but first needed to collect that monstrous beast from (practically) off the floor. Things like this — such practical, obvious things on their surfaces — don't get done because in reality they require not just moving that one pot but actually, like, emptying and reorganizing and entire standing wardrobe of fifty pots, pans, and jars first. Many things like this have fallen to the way, way, wayside over the past four years. That's been okay for a while, but it's time to improve. Slowly I'm reclaiming the domestic territories from their chaotic, swirling depths. Shelf by shelf. Cabinet by cabinet. I impose order in the smallest of ways, facing out labels and sweeping every grain of rice off the floor. I have missed doing these things. Every little stitch, every re-stacked pile of cake pans, every leaking, flour-covered bag of flour emptied into a jar of flour helps restore order to this little corner, when so much in the outside world feels whipped up and wild and wearying. I never seem to have time to do the things that make things feel better.

Cold-weather cooking is preferred over summertime stuff, at least. Fresh tomatoes, heads of lettuce, and mountains of glistening berries delight almost everyone but usually make me feel overwhelmed and vaguely anxious. Give me gigantic pots of things that bubble and thicken. Let me chop piles of onions and carrots and and sweet potatoes, roots that have been waiting, buried in deep, dark soils, to be sweated and roasted and caramelized. Let me preheat ovens and strain gravies and grate Gruyere. Last weekend here was soooo stormy that we scrapped all plans for leaving the house. Amelia wanted macaroni and cheese for her birthday dinner. It didn't even occur to me to make it from a box. Cheeses bubbled and breadcrumbs crisped in their cast-iron skillet under the broiler. Alas, she hated it, and I didn't love it either (er, I made us both some Kraft spirals the next day), but it was great to make. (Luckily, Andy loved it.) On Sunday afternoon, inspired (as with so much) by Amy of Second and Edgemont, I roasted a chicken (using this recipe). It sat on a little bed of potatoes and carrots, and I made a baked rice dish with mushrooms and shallots from The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet in my little casserole pot. The whole meal pleased me so much and filled me with such a strange sense of satisfaction that I went to bed thinking about it all, and woke up thinking about it, too. I'm just realizing now that that might have been because we made stock overnight in the crock pot and the house, all night long, was filled with the scent of simmering bones and broth and bay leaves. I don't know. It all just felt good and made me happy. My people were fed. The kitchen was clean. The chicken was easy. Its deliciousness far exceeded my expectations and far outweighed the effort involved, and something about all of those things just felt like such a relief, like an actual, existential relief.

Like . . . yeah.

It's been a long time since cooking has made me happy. 

Yesterday, Mimi and I stayed home almost all day. We lit every little lamp we could find. Our grocery-shopping trip was poorly timed, and we managed to venture out during the only fifteen minutes that rain was coming down in sheets. Back at home, she wound three skeins of yarn around every knob, drawer handle, chair leg, and table, making an living-and-dining-room-sized spiderweb of wool. I went into the kitchen and sliced up an entire kielbasa sausage — my first ever, how weird is that? For some reason I've just never had it before — and browned it in the (aforementioned) Dutch oven. I fished the (delicious!) kielbasa out to wait on a plate and threw in handful after handful of leeks, carrots, onions, and sweet potato cubes and let it all cook down until the house smelled like bliss. Lentils, tomatoes, Sunday's chicken stock, and a couple more hours of simmering turned into — I can still hardly even believe it — one of the best soups I've ever had. I can't even believe I just sort of made it up myself (after reading a few recipes and taking parts and pieces out of each of them) because I never cook without following a recipe quite literally. When Andy got home last night I was stepping on his heels like a corgi, so excited was I for him to try it. Still in scrubs, he ate two bowls. I went up to bed with a large smile on my face. He texted me: "It's so good!!!!! Sweet, smoky, even a touch tart." I wrote back immediately: "YES MY KITCHEN GAME IS STRONG LATELY!!!" I'm not sure I've thought, let alone said, much less written, anything even close to that in the last four years. Should you need to feel clever and capable one of these rainy evenings, try it.

October Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 lb. kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/8" rounds
4 large carrots, cut lengthwise and sliced
3 large leeks (white parts only), cut lengthwise and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 t. Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato or yam, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
2 c. red lentils
1 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes
6 c. chicken stock

In large Dutch oven, brown sausage in olive oil over medium heat until edges are crispy. Remove from pot and set aside, leaving drippings in pot. Add carrots, leeks, and onion and salt and sautee over medium heat for quite a while — 20 minutes or so — until all vegetables are golden and getting caramelized. Add garlic and sweet potato and cook another few minutes. Add lentils, tomatoes, and chicken stock and bring to a decent simmer. Cook for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender. Return kielbasa to the soup and heat through. Add more stock if soup gets too thick for you, but I like it thick. You could definitely add kale to this — I had a bunch and forgot to put it in!

Serve with garlic bread.

Also: Thank you ever so much for all of your very kind comments on Mimi's party and birthday. She had such a great birthday week and so did we. Thank you for being so sweet — I really appreciate it. You are just so kind. XOXO. And for those who have asked, her invitations were from Minted and a lot of her party supplies were from Sweet Lulu.

Fabulous Four

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Oh. My. Goodness. What a weekend it was. Amelia's fourth birthday party was a blast! I always love her birthday parties so much. We spent Friday getting ready, and I really love those party preparations. Saturday afternoon, when the doorbell started to ring, she got shy, but quickly rallied. She was serious about her cake and her presents. I literally could not get her to stop stabbing her cake with appetizer skewers and eating frosting off of them. (I had the food catered by Artemis Foods, and a better decision I doubt I have ever made, but I did make the cake myself.) She wanted a piece of that cake so bad. Once the cake was eaten she opened her presents (such lovely, lovely presents) and honestly, I have never seen her so focused. She's never really been particularly into stuff in general, so I'm guessing this age is when the fascination with specific toys really starts. It was pretty cute and quite fascinating to watch. Certain things she tossed over her shoulder before quickly moving on to the next present; certain things she was so captivated by that the world stopped, as far as she was concerned, and she sat off to the side and started playing while the party went on around her. (Musical birthday cards were, quite possibly, the sleeper hit of the day.) Grandma and Pops Paulson (Andy's parents) are in town from Chicago and their presence here, especially after getting to spend so much time together in Chicago and Wisconsin this summer, has always made Amelia's party weekend extra special. This time there are six whole days between her party and her actual birthday so it's gonna be one looooong celebration. I almost planned a friend birthday party in addition to her usual family party but it just didn't come together. With Halloween so close, and a neighborhood party scheduled, and a school thing, and a pumpkin-patch plan, and another pumpkin-patch plan, I think the partying will continue through the month, so it's cool with her.

Her birthday. Her birth day. I remember the evening she was born like it was yesterday. I remember the days in the hospital afterward, when it was just Amelia's birthparents and Amelia and Andy and me. Those were some of the most intense and incredible days of all of our lives, I expect. There were tears and laughter and courage and strength and honesty and beauty and intensity and just . . . total love. It was like we five were on our own mysterious, unnameable planet together, and it brings tears to my eyes to remember those days even now. How blessed we were to have them! How blessed we are, all of us, in all of this! I love the family that our open adoption has created. When everyone — birthparents, grandparents, birthgrandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings — is together, it is the best day of the year. And every year gets better and better. I find it almost impossible to talk about because I just cannot find the words to explain. Amelia is loved so thoroughly and by so many. She's only just beginning to understand exactly what that means. But when we are all together, the house is filled with joy and rings with laughter, and that she absolutely understands.

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After everyone left, and I was so tired that I laid down on the living room floor. She came over and we made a picnic with the Buckley deer family and some party napkins. Clover trip-trapped over to see what we were doing and Andy (superstar) worked on the kitchen. We talked in quiet voices for ourselves and for the deer. We talked about the picnic, the party, the cake, and the people, and all the very sweet things we love.

About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.