Posts filed in: May 2008

Birthday Bike-ride

comments: 67


Oh, the green, the green. It's practically fluorescent at this time of year. This is the fairy-tale forest of Tryon Creek State Park on Portland's west side. In the grayish light of an overcast day, the delicate ferns and flowers glow. It's so pretty. A nice place for a birthday.


The bike trail is fairly short, and hilly at the end, but it's nice to be alone in the woods. It's been so cold and cloudy lately. I had visions of picnics, but the ground was sopping wet, so that will have to wait.


Unless you're a snail. Snails are partying.


Oh, and speaking of green, I'm so psyched that people tried the spinach penne and liked it! Yay! I'm so pleased that you liked it. And thank you so much for all the good sewing machine advice, seriously. Now I want a new machine.

* I did that second photo with the "Crosshatch" filter (Filter > Brushstrokes > Crosshatch) in Photoshop :-)

Vanilla Pud and . . . Sewing Machines. Of Course.

comments: 59


Tomorrow is Andy's birthday! He has requested a Boston Cream Pie. Coincidentally, I had a quart of organic whole milk already in the fridge, due to expire today. I'd bought it to make some homemade vanilla pudding. When I was clipping all my magazine pages over the past couple of weeks, I had snipped a recipe from a recent issue of Country Living magazine for it. This is my version of theirs.

Homemade Vanilla Pudding

3 1/2 c organic whole milk
6 egg yolks
3 T cornstarch
3/4 c sugar
1/2 t salt
1 t vanilla bean paste
1 T butter

Heat the milk until just simmering in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Whisk the egg yoks, cornstarch, sugar, and salt together until thick and yellow. Stream the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking continuously (it helps to have someone else holding the bowl while you pour the hot milk and whisk). Return the mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat until pudding thickens and just begins to boil (this will only take a couple of minutes). Transfer to a clean bowl. Stir in vanilla bean paste and butter. Cool to set, about two hours. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

Turns out, when I Googled a Boston Cream Pie recipe, this one from Country Living came up — from the same article that I clipped the pudding from. Why didn't I clip the BCP? I should have a recipe for this — Andy has asked for it several times and I'm always scurrying around trying to put one together. I don't care for chocolate ganache or chocolate frostings, myself, but I will make it for him because I'm cool like that. And he's 37.

The sky this afternoon is literally the color of gauze. And it feels like gauze — there's mist in the air, and everything is damp and webby. I've been sewing all week, making more Tanglewood Bags, working out the various kinks in the pattern. It's not picturesque, the sewing, hence all the food pictures lately. The studio looks like I sprayed it with fabric scraps and nets of thread. In answer to several questions I've gotten, unfortunately no, the Tanglewood Bag is not really a beginner's project. Of course, I always think beginners should just dive in, and be inspired by things you really love, and then learn on the things you love — but this bag has a lot going on, and needs precision for it to look really sharp. That said, precision usually just means patience and practice and a willing attitude, so, you know. You can do that. Slow and steady.

Also, just a head's up if you are going to give making it a try (and I will be producing a pattern for this, as well as a kit, though the kit will take a while before it's available, as the binding needs to be special ordered from France, and they tell me this will take several weeks, and some of the fabric is coming from New Zealand, and that's on its way), you should make sure that your sewing machine has quite a bit of clearance under its free arm — when you remove the extension table (as if to sew around the cuff of a sleeve, for example), you want to make sure there are a couple of inches of clearance below this free arm. If not, it can be very difficult to sew the binding around the sides and handles of the bag, as this is all one continuous seam, and the bag (with all of its pins, and it is pinned to within an inch of its life) must rotate around the free arm at a few odd angles to accomodate those curves and points. All machines are different in how much space they allow. My old machine had a ton of clearance; the one I currently use seems like it has about an inch, as it is attached to an unremovable base. Anyway, I'll remind you about this again when the pattern/kits come out., so that you aren't swearing at me when you go to make this. I'm actually borrowing my friend's machine because I was swearing at myself, and I don't need that. The bags are looking so pretty, though. I'm hoping to have them available for sale in the next couple of weeks, the pattern for sale as a downloadable PDF shortly after that, and the kits ready sometime in July.

Also (I'm almost done, I promise), since I get a lot of questions from people wondering if I have sewing machine recommendations, my sad answer is, unfortunately, no. Major equipment purchases of almost any kind are not my specialty — my goal is usually to get it over with as soon as possible, and at that I would say I am awesome — so I would feel irresponsible advising anyone on something as important as sewing machines. I use a Pfaff Lifestyle 2022. I bought it several years ago and it was the best I could afford, but it's pretty low-end as far as fancy machines go, apparently. It works fine for what I need it to do, except for this free-arm-clearance issue, which is a major issue if you sew handbags. Or sleeves. If anyone knows of good sewing machine discussions, or comparisons, or reviews, will you comment here? I will then link to this post on my FAQ because I have zero doubt that anyone else's advice would be better than anything I could provide on this topic. Thank you!

Now, I gotta get to that cake. Pie. Cake. The thing with the chocolate on top.

The Bee and the Penne

comments: 69


Good morning, dear friends! Good morning. I am up early. I couldn't sleep past about 3ish. Outside our open bedroom windows, a cat comes yowling unhappily, almost every night, starting at 2 a.m. This cat is quite possibly our cat, who refuses to come in at 10 p.m., when it's actually time to go to bed. I swear she can hear me stirring at the sound of her yowling. It's like having your brain scratched with a piece of rusty aluminum. You sort of don't know what is going on; you only know that you are irritated. She's right under the window. She yowls like she'll never be happy again. It only lasts a few minutes — not long enough to force anyone to get up and do something about it — and then she stops, and apparently goes somewhere else. But then she comes back, just as you begin to fall asleep again. This is the Bee's new thing for 2008, I guess. What's so irritating is that if she is in the house when everyone goes to bed, inevitably she'll want to go out at some point during the night, and then she'll come into the bedroom, and walk all over your face, or knock everything off of your nightstand, or drink your water with her back feet on your hair, or run several times as fast as she can down the length of your body. Closing the door does no good — you might be amazed at the sound a six-pound cat can make throwing itself at an old door. Girl, you're driving me nuts. Let's talk about pasta.

Penne Rigate with Spinach and Garlic Cream Sauce
from the Oregonian, several years ago

2 T unsalted butter
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
14 oz trimmed (stems removed) fresh spinach
1¼ c heavy cream
Large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 t lemon juice
1 lb penne rigate pasta
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 1½ c grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter over medium heat in large saucepan; add garlic and, stirring frequently, cook until very soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spinach to pan, sprinkle with ½ t salt, cover, and increase heat to high. Cook, stirring once or twice, until spinach is fully wilted, 3 to 5 minutes.

Using tongs, firmly squeeze spinach to remove as much liquid as possible and transfer to a bowl. Pour out exuded liquid (but not any bits of garlic) and return spinach to saucepan. Return pan to burner, add cream, and reduce heat to medium-high. Simmer until cream is reduced by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer spinach mixture to food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, nutmeg and lemon juice to taste.

Meanwhile cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, return pasta to pot, and toss with sauce, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

This is really good. To be honest, I used a pound of frozen chopped spinach and it was just fine. Delicious, in fact. When the tomatoes are good, it would be nice with a small handful of really good diced Roma tomato sprinkled on top. A note on the recipe indicates that you should make sure to salt your pasta-cooking water liberally, and I would agree with this; also, be sure to use penne rigate — the penne with the ridges — so that the sauce really clings.

Oops, I just fell asleep for a sec.

Summertime Rolls

comments: 95


Peeeeeeeeeeople! I'm so pleased that you liked my bag, man! You rule. Thank you! I plan to carry it everywhere I go from now on. Even to the backyard. To the kitchen. Let alone around town. Everywhere. And how cool that so many of you would be interested in a pattern/kit. That's all I need to hear to set my little brain a-whirring . . . think . . . plan . . . think. So — okay, my loves, I will do it! Thank you for all your generous comments this week — sincerely. I really appreciate these kindnesses. Thank you.

Above are Tyler's Summer Rolls with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce. They got great reviews, but I can't say I loved them, sadly. It might have been the sauce — it was extremely vinegary, and apparently I forgot that I don't like vinegar, even rice-wine vinegar. I think I would like peanut sauce better, with these. If you have a summer roll recipe you like, let me know. I am determined to find one to love. I LOVE these at restaurants. Well, when they're good, I mean. Sometimes they just taste like bulbous rice noodles in a rubbery rice wrapper. But sometimes they are exquisite. I like mine with shrimp and tofu. I added shrimp to these. Anyway.


It's been such a nice week. Andy and I had lunch together on Wednesday. I asked him if he had read the post about the Over the Moon book. He said yeah. I said, "Do you know what I mean? Did you have a book like that?"

He: "Yeah . . . um . . . The Cave of Time."
Me: [Falling off bench laughing.]
He: [Eating salt-and-pepper squid, ignoring me.]
Me: "Oh, you were serious! I'm sorry!"
He: "It's a really good book" [munch munch].

Earlier, he had been searching for the Chicago Bears bike helmet he wanted to order in size large, which was apparently difficult to find. The Seattle Seahawks one was available in large, and the Cleveland Browns one, which was cool-looking but to which he had no particular loyalty. On the way home from lunch, we discussed this. I thought, adamantly, that it should be Bears or nobody (sorry Seattle). He, agitated, said, "Well, what kind of bike helmet are you going to get?"

Me: "Black velvet horseback-riding hat."
Me: [Falling out of the car laughing.]
Me: [Picturing myself getting weird looks from people on the bike trail while wearing this.]
Me: [Suddenly failing to see what is so funny, really.]
Me: [Wondering again why bike helmets have to be so hideously unattractive.]
He: "Well, fine. I'll just wear a regular Chicago Bears football helmet then."

So, this weekend when you see two total freaks on the bike trail wearing a hunt cap and a football helmet, give us wide berth 'cause we're nuts. Just sayin.

Update: Andy, having just clicked on the link above: "Why are you wearing your dad's glasses?" Me: [No response.] He: "Why are you wearing Phil Donahue's glasses?"

Tanglewood Bag

comments: 164



I do.

It's a little bit hippie. It's a little bit preppy. It's a little bit country, a little bit Liberty. It's a little bit picnic-blankets-spread-out, corner-to-corner, on the concert lawn. It's a little bit Martha Christina, and the square-patch quilts we learned to make at school. It's embroidered yokes and dangly earrings and piccolo solos. It made me happy when I was sad.

The inside is lined, with a lined pocket and a magnetic snap closure. The lining and the back is all the same fabric — clusters of William Morris–y briar-roses, pictured in the background yesterday. There's a little suede-y leather strap that loops over a wooden toggle button.

I had to fuss with the bias-tape handles, and wound up shortening them after they were on, so, a quick piecing of that together with a straight seam (no patience), but now I know how long they're supposed to be. Twenty-two inches. There's also a big slice in the lining I need to patch, from when I was trimming the Timtex seam with my giant brand-new very-sharp shears — whoops! I am not used to the tips of the scissors actually working, you know? Those work? Woooof, that was not a good moment, but at least the slice is on the inside. The Timtex and the darts give it this a great rounded sort-of capsule-like bottom. I'd been wanting to make a bag this shape for a long time.

It felt great to sew. I'm going to make twelve for the shop (she said ambitiously). I'm even thinking . . . pattern . . . and kit. Kit, with your very own variety of pre-cut squares of Liberty wonderfulness.

I know. It's enough just to have the squares to fondle, really. Trust me. The bag is just a bonus.

Tanglewood Word

comments: 49


On Monday, I was so inspired by all the fabric-y stuff of the weekend and my cleaned-up studio that I spent the afternoon fabric shopping myself. I had an idea. . . . Ooooo, it's the best moment.

I feel terrible that yesterday I forgot to mention that I also met Sandi Henderson of Portobellopixie at Quilt Market. Last winter, Sandi had created an adorable dress inspired by the photos of my studio. Isn't that the cutest thing??? When we met this weekend, we discovered we'd both lived in Missoula, Montana (though not at the same time). Her new line of fabric, Farmer's Market, was in part inspired by the absolutely enchanting farmer's market in downtown Missoula we both remembered so fondly. Dogs, hippies, flowers, honey, peeled onions, cinnamon rolls. Makes me want to go to Bernice's so bad. I really miss it.

But anyway, on Monday, in my mind the word "Tanglewood" kept popping up. I don't know why, all of a sudden, it was floating around me. Tanglewood. Summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a place I've never been. It always seems to conjure a certain color of sea-green; leather sandals; a summer night; a peasant dress; hair coiled into two braided danishes. It's funny how things stick in your head. I'd first heard the word in high school, or read it, actually, in one of my favorite young-adult novels, Over the Moon by Elissa Haden Guest. There are so many things about this book that have influenced me. I don't know that I've mentioned it, but I have been slowly-but-surely collecting my favorite childhood and teenage books, including this one, and when I reread it this past winter I was surprised at how many . . . images . . . phrases . . . from the book . . . had sort of become part of my little patchwork bag of influences, the ones I don't even really notice anymore, the ones that have been with you a long time, quietly directing you, as influences do. Over the Moon is the story of sixteen-year-old Kate, who lives in the Berkshires with her brother and her aunt, and goes on a journey to Nova Scotia to find her lost sister. I love the gentle descriptions of her best friend, Celia, wearing Kate's brother's blue gingham shirt; the store her Aunt Georgia owns that sells "handmade sweaters and rag dolls and bolts of calico and Liberty scarves . . . and smells of lavender and lilac and straw"; the floor of her sister's kitchen painted buttercup yellow; her black-haired baby niece with skin the color of a pale peach. There are too many things to list, phrases that were, somehow, just what I wanted to hear. Kate says to Celia, "Let's do something.":

     "There's a concert in Tanglewood," she said.
     "Let's go."
     We brought a picnic supper of cucumber sandwiches and lemon cake. Jay met us there. A country-and-western band I'd never heard of was playing, and they sang a lot of Willie Nelson songs. We ate the sandwiches and drank ice-cold milk with the cake, and later, as it grew dark, we lay back on the blanket and stared up into the sky. It was a balmy evening. The stars were scattered through the sky like points of light on a gigantic map. The music mingled with the sounds of a summer night, with the hushed voices of people whispering, with a baby crying in the distance. I lay on my back with my hands folded behind my head.
     "Now, this is the life," Celia said. She was lying on her side. Her long hair was loose down her back. The silver chain Jay had bought her glimmered in the dark."
     "I wish we could sleep here."
     "We can," Jay murmured.

So, below is the beginning of my Tanglewood Handbag. Wilco is playing at Tanglewood in August. Monday night I wrote to my friend Martha, my college roommate, a landscape architect in Boston, imploring her to go, wishing I could come. She called yesterday morning, and we talked about stuff. She told me her firm had done the garden plans at Tanglewood; she'd had to go there three times for work alone. Naturally. How I wish I could fly; see her apartment in Cambridge and then drive to the Berkshires; meet her partner, Mae; bring a picnic to share and hear her laugh again. I miss my friends.


Grate. Now I'm depressed

Lemony and Hot, with Quilts

comments: 37


I did not take many photos over the past week, alas, but that's good, really — it was nice not to have to think in that way for a while. But I couldn't resist taking this one of these lemons, ready to be popped in the oven for Sparkling Roasted Vanilla Lemonade from the current issue of Martha Stewart Living. I made it when Melissa & Co. came for dinner Saturday, and I think it went over well. It was puckery tart. But I guess that's what lemonade is about. I think I'll add two cups of sugar next time, to be honest.


On Sunday it was scorching hot outside for the second day in a row — mid 90s. I cajoled Andy Paulson into going with me to the International Quilt Market, the industry trade show that was here in Portland last weekend. It was wonderful to meet some of the people I have been corresponding with over the years. The talented Liesl Gibson was there with Oliver + S, her so-sweet and ever-lovely line of children's clothing patterns. (Beautiful Liesl, your final box finally arrived yesterday and it looks like a giant sat on it — !!! — oh honey I'm sorry! Who knows what journey it was on all week!) Fresh Cut's Heather Bailey is just darling and her new fabric lines are gorgeous, like everything she touches. Anna Maria Horner's incredible booth was worthy of a Broadway musical — it was amazing, and her new line of home decor fabric, Drawing Room, is stunning. Tanya Whelan of Grand Revival's luscious Ava Rose prints are so pretty. Walking into her booth, it was almost impossible for me not to want to curl up on that bloom-covered (display) bed and sit and chat (and by then my feet were killing me!). We got to meet Jennifer Paganelli of Sis Boom and oh! I love that lady. Warmest smile, huge heart. So happy to give her a big hug, as she has always been so kind to me. I was hoping to meet Joelle and Jennifer Hoverson, but was getting tired and on my way out when we literally crossed paths at an aisle intersection (I recognized them and nervously said hello), and they were so gracious and lovely. I was also so lucky to run into my friend Charlotte Barnard from Country Living magazine. I adore her. Her enthusiasm and sincere interest in everything just inspires me. The best editors are like that, don't you think? So full of interest in the world around them. She is just the coolest. I saw Amy Butler several times from afar, but she was always surrounded by fans and I was too shy to go over. And naturally, since I rarely leave my house past 6 p.m., I missed the meet-and-greet with Heather Ross and Denyse Schmidt at Bolt on Friday (but I was serving lemonade anyway). Still — all this talent for an entire weekend in the City of Roses. Psych.

That's a lot of links. Phew! I hope I got them right. I stand in bewildered awe of all of these folks, honestly. When you go to any kind of show, it's impossible not to appreciate everything that everybody puts into it — from all the work that got them there in the first place, to the incredible about of engineering and elbow grease that gets those booths to stand, to those sincere smiles that greet every potential customer. It's hard work. I've done a few in my time and I truly appreciate what goes into this stuff. You all are awesome. Thank you for everything you do! 

Clean House

comments: 136


Hi honeys, I'm home!

Well, I've actually been "home" the entire time I've been gone — I've been cleeeeeeeaning. Cleaning and cleaning. Really just cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. Occasionally I went outside and read books on a blanket under a tree (nice). Frequently I retyped recipes into the computer for the cookbook I'm trying to make for myself. Once or twice I had people over and fed them or went to their places and let them feed me. Very often I went through ginormous piles of saved magazines, clipping photos and sliding them into page protectors (and had an entire phone conversation with my friend Sarah about how much we love page protectors, and she actually was the one who brought it up, and the conversation was pretty much identical to the same conversation I had about three years ago with my friend Aimee, and she was the one who brought it up that time, and this is how you know that you and your friends are very well-matched indeed). But generally, I was buried under piles of dust-bunnies and Goodwill donations and stacks of books that needed to be taken to Powell's (hello, $210 credit [dances jig]!) and various detritus left over from last summer, when I pretty much starting piling things I couldn't deal with at the moment into the guest room, and leaving them there for a . . . year.

Anyway, I will tell you about all those things later, now that I'm getting my groove back on, and the house is clean. I just wanted to wave — Hi! [waving] — and tell you that I'm back. Did you miss me?

Tyler's Tomatillos, and a Time-Out

comments: 64


I TiVo a few cooking shows on my little upstairs television so I can watch one or two after I hop into bed, before Andy and Clover come up. I like this quiet time when I am cozy and my hands are still and I can watch Ina or Tyler or Alton make something. The three shows I like, Barefoot Contessa, Tyler's Ultimate, and occasionally Good Eats, have very different styles, their hosts very different energies. Ina is calming and competent; Tyler is full of whirling energy; Alton seems to make everything more complicated than it has to be (?), but I always learn something.

Lately, I have been choosing to watch the Tylers first. Such a nice guy — I saw his Chefography the other night. Good guy. Good food. Made his Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa on Saturday night and they were fantastic. I highly recommend them, especially for a party or something ('cause the recipe makes a lot).


It was my first time cooking with tomatillos and I really like them. Sort of tart but sweet, and still mellow. You roast this stuff first, then bang it about in the food processor, then add part of it to the chicken sauce, part of it to the top of the enchiladas (below the cheese). Good stuff!


I'm going to sign off here for a bit and try to get myself a little more organized. I'm having a hard time staying on top of it all lately, and my in-box is a big disaster. I truly regret that I am unable to respond to a lot of the questions that seem to pile up in there, and here — please check my FAQ pages for some answers if you don't hear back. I'm working on Book Idea #2 and it is happily though completely occupying me. But I am going to try and get off my computer a bit to get outside and write some recipe cards in the sun. I feel like a mushroom that has been under a duvet cover of moss, and the sun is supposed to come out soon.

Of course, Emily's suggestion of uploading recipes to and making your own cookbook is so tempting I can hardly stand it. It would require lots of time on the computer, but how awesome to wind up with a cool binder like that? They have great stock photos, and you can use your own, as well. I ordered the sample recipe cards and will let you know what the quality looks like when they come. This was not even on the list of things I need to do, but I can see that it could easily become one of those activities I could become quickly obsessed with as my in-box implodes, my pets go unwalked, my calls go unreturned, and my husband is forced to eat Combos and microwave popcorn for dinner.

Anyone know what this is?

comments: 29


Well I mean, does anyone know who makes this fabric, or what it's called, or, more importantly, where I can get another half yard? It's much prettier in real life than this yucky scan, and it's a gorgeous weight, like lawn. Wait — is this from Mill End Store? Ack. If you recognize this fabric, will you let me know? I need a bit more to finish something and am blanking.

Thank you for all the sweet bike ride comments, and the recipe card thanks, and the Cranford weigh-ins! I did love it. My favorite line was, "That cow is like a daughter to me!" I also loved "And now . . . anemones." That was wonderful. Can't wait 'til next week.

Eeeenywho, egads I have a lot of catching up to do. Lots of email to answer, so if you're waiting to hear from me, it might just happen this week. Might just happen!

About Alicia Paulson


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




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.