Posts filed in: Baking and Cooking

Night of Magic

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The weather we had on Halloween was BONKERS perfect. I could not believe it. It was the most gorgeous night. We traipsed through the neighborhood with the neighborhood crew, minus a few who have either aged out of our raggedy bunch or have moved on to other neighborhoods. It's not an awesome trick-or-treating neighborhood. I don't know why. A lot of people just aren't home. We were home after about 6:00 and we literally had only one group come up. We don't make it very far, mostly just around the block. Amelia was highly motivated by candy. It's all about the candy. She wanted, for many months, to be a zombie. She couldn't describe a zombie. Then she switched to ghost. I knew, as she described it (sheet over her head with two holes cut out for eyes), that this was a costume she'd literally take off within five minutes. I tried to talk her out of it for practical reasons. We looked at "ghost" costumes on-line and ran into this pumpkin costume from Pottery Barn Kids. Then she wanted that. I was busy enough and she was flighty enough that I caved and bought it. On sale, but still. I'm selling it on eBay next year, for sure. It was cute. She was happy. They had a parade at school and she went to a birthday party at a bouncy house place the next day, then had a play date to bake cookies on Saturday, and in general it was party party party, candy cake cookies, and quite honestly, as much fun as she had and as lovely as that evening walk around the neighborhood was, I'm relieved it's now November.

At the house, Andy and I am in the homestretch of putting Dovegray Doll and pinafore dress kit contents together, and are still on track to ship at the end of next week. Thank you for being patient! After we finish shipping I will release the PDF patterns of each. Several doll sweater patterns are with the tech editor right now, along with the kid-version of the Little Flower Sweater. Lots of things going on. I'm spinning plates.

THANK YOU ever so much for the book recommendations and the cooking advice! Oh joy! I checked out four of the books from the library (I can't remember exactly which ones, I need to look) and have more on hold. I'm reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn right now and it is very good. I also made these oven-baked barbecue pork chops (except I used country ribs) and they are totally delicious. After about 45 minutes of baking, I poured the juices/sauce into a saucepan and reduced it until the sauce was thick and sticky and it was so good. I had potatoes on the side. Even Amelia ate an entire decent-sized rib.

Making Progress

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Autumn here in Portland has been cold and crisp and brilliant, but it's freezing in the house today and I am rather cranky. Mimi and I took a walk around Reed College over the weekend and I am missing her (at school) and Andy (at work) today. The wind is whipping about out there and the car thermometer said it was 35 degrees when we left for school. Gusty wind is unnerving to me and always has been. I feel like I'm clenching my jaw and trying to ward off a shiver. My heart is breaking for everyone affected by the wildfires in California. Having a cold wind here is nothing compared to a burning wind, and I truly hope they catch a break in the weather that can help with these fires soon.

Thank you ever so much for your thoughts about how (or not) you use the yarns suggested in patterns. That was so fascinating to me, and I seriously love reading about peoples' personal experiences around these things. I would say the vast majority of people do not use the suggested yarn but substitute something they already have, or buy something they know they already like. I guess yarn, like fabric, is just one of those things that is so personal, and there are so many different types of it available (generally speaking, especially if you're buying it on the computer) that choosing it is just a further part of the creative process. Some people did say that if they like the photo on the pattern they want to make it exactly as pictured, because that's why they liked it in the first place. I totally get that, too. I don't know, I just like reading all of these little quirky details about everyone. I've been knitting along on my little flower sweater pattern for kids. This little sample is the six-month size in Cascade 220. I finished all of the grading for sizes (from six months to twelve years) on Friday and have the pattern out with a couple of testers right now. I'm currently knitting the size 8, this time in Berocco Ultra Alpaca, for which I get the same gauge as 220 (20 sts x 27 rows over 4"). I'm enjoying everything about this process so much. This is my first attempt at writing knitting patterns that are graded and there is so much math involved. I have always liked math a lot, for an English major, and I am finding that everything about this is exciting to me, even if I do have so much to learn. :)

I made my mom's chicken paprika (which we call "chicken and dumplings") the other night. It is very rich but it is just delicious at this time of year. I have been in a cooking slump lately — about the only thing I can do consistently is make tacos on Tuesday. It's Tuesday. I'll be making tacos. I need a good book and some good recipes right now. I have nothing to read and no idea what to cook.

Summertime Starts!

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It's Andy Paulson's birthday today! Unfortunately he has to work! We went to Oaks Park on Saturday instead and had such a nice time. The weather was absolutely perfect — I think every other memory I have of Oaks Park is scorching hot, so this was so nice. It's an old-fashioned amusement park and it is a lot of fun, especially with little kids. It's one of Andy's favorite places. I love it, too. Happy birthday, my dearest love. I hope this year is filled with so much joy.

We've been busy doing I don't even know what, just cruising into the end of the year and doing all of the end-of-the-year things, carnivals and dance performances and final swimming lessons, etc. Andy and I were trying to make our favorite honey-chipotle chicken tacos in the slow cooker; it had been plugged in for about an hour when we realized it wasn't getting hot at all. It was a very old slow cooker and we didn't even try to diagnose it. Those things make me nervous to begin with. So on the way to pick up Meems from school we stopped at Target intending to get a new slow cooker. We came home with an Instant Pot instead. I honestly hadn't even considered getting one, but we saw that it had a slow cooker setting in addition to the pressure cooker feature and so we grabbed it. Late to the trend, as usual, but we're making up for it with a) a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm and b) five Instant Pot meals in about six days. We made the tacos, as well as this jambalaya, Indian butter shrimp, coconut curry chicken, and the lemon–poppy seed breakfast cake (which I turned into Andy's birthday cake) from this book. I was not a big fan of the cake as a birthday cake. It was kind of like a steamed bun. It would have been great for breakfast! Ha. It sure was cute when it came out though.

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We ate it just the same and had such a wonderful birthday weekend! XOXOXO

Blossom Days

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The lovely, tentative first blush of spring with its chilly mornings and brave daffodils has given way to very warm weather, and everything is suddenly exploding in a froth of greens. You know how that happens. It's sudden and irreversible. We've been going to parks as much as possible and it's glorious to be back, and back with a capable six year old who can now do the monkey bars like a pro, loves to play and shout and run as fast as she can, makes friends in about thirty seconds, and just generally is so cheerful and fun to be with that the days out have been pure pleasure. As much as I love winter and cold weather and rain, I must admit that life with kids is about a million times easier and more fun when they can go outside and not freeze their hands off on the metal stuff on the playground. I love it.

Sorry I've been so absent! I don't know where the time has one, I honestly don't. We finished shipping everything for Secret Garden just a bit ahead of schedule, and I've never been so relieved to be finished with a project. It was a pretty big, ambitious project for us, filled with so many new things. I enjoyed it, for the most part, though it's always kind of stressful to do anything for the first time, and many of the things we made and packaged we’d never done before. I was pretty tired when we finally finished, I won't lie! Mentally and physically. I also was, apparently, unable to count to four (seriously happened) so please do check your orders and make sure you got evvvvvvverything you ordered. Because literally every time I tried to count anything, I came up with a different number. It was nuts. So, please check your order and make sure I got everything right and if I didn't just let me know right away and I will fix it ASAP. It's been a week since everything went out and I haven't heard that anyone is missing anything, but I’m on high alert. Again, thank you all so much for your interest and orders, and I truly hope you enjoy everything we made! I will be releasing the patterns as PDFs next week, and we will also make any extra a la carte pieces from apothecary boxes available once we know that everyone who pre-ordered got what they actually ordered!

When we finished, my office and Andy's office both were utterly trashed. I collapsed on the sofa for a couple of days and then started reorganizing the space. This has been needing to happen for a long time. Andy and I tried to figure out how long it had been since we had painted the studio and wow, it's been almost NINE years since we did this. That was really shocking. Nine years. I took everything out of the big Expedit wall of shelves and am trying to reorganize it and eliminate all of the open shelving there by putting everything in baskets or behind doors. I decided, kind of surprisingly, that I want to paint it a creamy white. I ran into this article called "Searching for the Perfect Parisian Cream Paint" (sorry, you might need a subscription to a news service to read it) and I loved it. I, too wound up loving the color that the author chose (Farrow and Ball's Tallow) but I went with a color that I thought was exactly the same just slightly lighter than that (and cheaper than F&B!) called Vanilla Ice Cream by Benjamin Moore. We need to totally prime the whole room first, because I think it will be hard to cover that blue with white, so it might be a week or two before we're done.

I had kind of a funny moment yesterday. I have two ceiling skylights in the studio and I don't like them. The light from skylights is actually sometimes yucky. To me it looks light a florescent light fixture. People are really surprised to hear this. Skylights seem nice. But I honestly prefer just plain old window light. Even if you look up pictures of rooms with skylights, you can totally see this flourescent-effect in the pictures. The light in the room is very cool and white when you have a skylight. And I just prefer lower, warmer light. I almost never take pictures of stuff I'm working on in my studio, because unless I'm shooting right by a window it looks like I'm using a flash camera. I'm sure that might be just me, but it's not really my favorite.

But anyway, back to yesterday. So, after surfing Pinterest for I don't even know how long, looking at craft room and office and studio and even kitchen pictures for inspiration, I ran into a few pictures of rooms (I actually think they were of stores) that had weathered  ladders hung from the ceiling. And then from the ladder they had hung bouquets of dried flowers, or baskets, or lanterns, and I thought it looked so pretty. And I thought it would be a perfect thing to hang just slightly inside the skylight window-well. So, not having ever seen this before, I get super excited: "This is amazing! I've never seen this before! What a cool, inventive, unique, new idea!" And then I take Mimi with me to the antique mall to find a little ladder and we walk in and practically every other booth has, of course, ladders hanging from the ceiling displaying dried flowers, baskets, and lanterns. They were everywhere! It's a whole thing. I was laughing so hard. I never knew. I did, however, find a little driftwood ladder for $35 that will be perfect for this, though, so I'm pretty excited. I'll take some pictures next week and show you what we're doing. I found a really cute Laura Ashley–type lamp, too. I so so so love that she is coming back a little bit. I've been waiting. Anyone have any advice for getting giant stickers off of glass and MDF?

Mimi and I made a rhubarb pie using the sour cream apple pie recipe but increasing the sugar to 1 cup. It was good but the rhubarb is so acidic, I guess, that it kind of curdled the sour cream, so I'm not sure I would recommend it. . . . We also made this Shoemaker's Chicken and served it with buttery mashed potatoes and it was AMAZING. Highly recommend.  I need more of those chicken tray-bake things. Another trend I'm late to the party on. I'm slow!

The Work of Spring

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My baby girl is growing up. She frequently would like me to make her a cup of chamomile tea. She sets her little table with a tablecloth and the good china and wants to sit there by herself for dinner. She climbs trees higher than I feel comfortable with, and I try to remind her of the rules (you don't climb higher than you can get down from by yourself) without my voice going up in pitch just that very little bit that says I'm nervous. She tells me she's careful. She wants jeggings but she doesn't like how they have pockets in the back instead of the front. She brings me countless dandelion bouquets, and it is very hard for her to have the self-control needed to let all the tulips and daffodils now blooming in the yard stay in the ground, uncut. She is reading the very early reading books (but tells us she "already knows how to read"). Her baby teeth are falling out right and left. She's pounding nails and digging holes and knows all the words to songs I've never even heard. She is so thoughtful, so joyful, so quick to assist, so eager to play. She can take your toes off if you're not careful, dragging her footstool over as fast as she can to help you at the counter, to climb up to get a glass, to reach the water. She's busy. She's very, very busy, always drawing, always stapling, always cutting stuff up, always gluing, always arranging her nightstand or making a book. Today is the first day back to school after spring break, and it's my first time having a couple of hours all to myself in well over a week. It's been a whirlwind, and we didn't even really do much, or go much of anywhere. But it was so nice. The weather was gorgeous, the garden is starting to bloom, and we spent a lot of time cleaning up our spaces and uncovering the flourishing new growth of spring.

I spent some time at a bread-baking class with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in the Columbia Gorge. I drove out to the convent one morning by myself on the recently opened historic highway and wasn't prepared for the devastation. It is still very, very raw in our beloved gorge after the Eagle Creek forest fire, started by one teenager with illegal fireworks, burned 50,000 acres back in the fall of 2017. The fire, miles wide, went right across the historic highway. Everywhere the trees are still bare, brown, broken, the cliffsides denuded of green, now nothing but brown dirt and crumbling rock. Occasionally, you'll drive through a few dozen yards of road that the fire missed, and you'll see exactly what is missing: the green is gone, the layers and layers of moss, tiny filaments of green branches creating a haze overhead and through the woods, all the gauzy layers of greens, creating a complex web of new growth, small growth, old growth, so much green, depths of green, like green tulle tumbling upon itself in frothy layers of lichen and lace. It's all gone now. The spring sun blazes down there now. The slanted March light is harsh and unfiltered, and everything is brown. It's mostly just rock, and the blackened backsides of tree stumps, and the violent jumble of rock and log that comes right to the edge of the road, and starts up again right on the other side. It feels, as you're driving, that there should be many more guardrails; without the comfort and cushion of trees and leaves, the road feels like a hair's width, clinging to the side of the cliff without a spotter. It was startling. I wished I had not been there by myself. I was late, and the going was slow, winding and winding, rocks on the road, everything feeling like a landslide about to happen. I was disturbed, thought about calling Sister Rose and sending my regrets, and turning around. But there was nowhere to pull over, so I kept going. I couldn't not think about our many drives through the years, drives through what was once a cathedral of green, Wilco playing on the car stereo, sunlight dappling through the leaves, the air cool and clean, Amelia in her car seat on the way to her birthday lunch, or Andy's birthday lunch, at Multnomah Falls. It's different now. I wasn't prepared. It made my heart ache. Next time, whenever that is, we will go together, and I hope that spring and summer and time will start to have worked their magic once again on that aching and injured place.

Sister Rose taught us to make a lovely, homey white loaf, and that weekend I taught Amelia how to make cinnamon rolls. They were delicious. We used this recipe (and cut it in half). I don't like brown sugar so I did all cinnamon sugar. They took hours to make, which felt perfect for that rainy Saturday morning, and we at them for brunch. It felt good to knead the dough, and I had to knead it, because the Kitchen Aid is broken. The big screw that holds the mixer up came out somehow, and the whole thing is listing into the bowl. I need to take it to a repair place. Is there even such a thing?

Slowly but surely, all of our Secret Garden projects are coming together. We have candles to pour and wax sachets to make, and fifty more skeins of yarn to dye, and then just a whole lot of assembling and packaging. The soap is cured and wrapped, the patterns are printed and waiting, the floss is pulled, the duplicate stitch yarn is dyed. The lotion bars are half done. The bath salts need to be made. The labels are in my hands and the jars are on their way. The hoops — I almost forgot about the hoops. The hoops arrived from Denmark (after the embroidery kit patterns were printed) and they are a bit smaller than the hoop I used in the photo. There was some confusion about measurements, as I measured 6" from the inside of the hoop, and the manufacturer was measuring from the outside. Nevertheless, everyone here agreed that the smaller hoops actually look even better than the sample I'd photographed, so we are using them (and attaching a note about this to the kit). Things like this seem to happen. It's kind of the risk of taking pre-orders. I'm making peace with that. Very luckily, I really think this is actually a better option and one I would've chosen for it myself if I'd known. So hopefully that will be okay.

Our neighbors cut down a small birch tree on their property this morning. I asked them if I could have several of the limbs to use to make some edging for our raised beds, which we've cleaned up but haven't planted yet. So I have a pile of branches in the driveway and now need to teach myself how to make a simple woven border. I have an idea but I have no idea if it will work. I'll keep you posted.

Right now I'm listening to the purring of three baby squirrels that have taken up residence in a duct pipe above the exhaust fan in the crawl space about my studio. They are bustling around in there quite a bit today. We suspected they were there because I've been hearing something for a while, and Andy sent his phone (taped to a stick and recording video) up into the duct to see what was going on. Yup, three of them, all balled up together in a nest of fluff. Dang. They're so cute now but they can't stay there forever. I've been assured they can't fall through the exhaust fan into the studio, but I'm not sure I believe it. They literally sound like they're right there. Right above the fan duct. Time to make some calls.

***Amelia's new sweater is the Summer Rain Cardigan. I used leftover Purl Soho Cashmere Merino Bloom, which is baby soft, because I really wanted to make sure she would wear it. And she really does. It came out just how I wanted. For her new slippers I used this pattern and leftoever Lang Yarns Merino+ Superwash. Trying to hit that stash yarn hard these days. It feels good.

Keep It Together

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Hello! Guys!!! Thank you thank you for all of the Secret Garden orders! I'm so grateful — seriously, thank you. I've been here for the past week and a half, watching them roll in and now we are getting organized, placing orders for packaging and labels and materials. So things are happening here, and all the crazy parts and pieces of these projects are starting to come together, and I thank you, so, so much, for all of your kind comments and your orders! I'm really excited, and just so grateful for your support. You can't imagine. Thank you.

This week has been pretty discombobulated. We had two two-hour snow delays, and one totally cancelled snow day. The snow day was lame because there actually wasn't any snow. There was ice, and some wind, and a bunch of minuscule snowflakes that whirled but never really landed or stuck. Mimi and I had been in each other's pockets for days and days. By the time school got cancelled yesterday, I was pretty much wiped. I would've liked nothing better than to sit and watch twelve straight hours of Fixer Upper. Instead I just let her do whatever she wanted. It was too icy cold to play outside. I made breakfast, and then cleaned up. I made tomato soup, and slightly burned grilled-turkey-and-Swiss sandwiches, and then cleaned up. I made a snack, then cleaned up. I made fish sticks and broccoli for dinner and then cleaned up. When I wasn't cooking and cleaning up I read Missing, Presumed while lying diagonally on the sofa while Amelia tried to catch a fly with a handled strainer for forty-five minutes. She painted and drew. She dumped everything out, looking for some random thing. I don't remember what. She found fifty other things she needed. We've been reading eight books a night at bedtime. I put another comforter on her bed last night because it's been so cold and the kid was asleep like a bug in a rug the minute her head hit the pillow. Cabin fever, caught in only a matter of hours, is for reals. 

Only children. They can really wipe you out sometimes. When I come careening back downstairs in my nightgown after putting her to bed I swear I'm one almost-sob away from sobbing with relief. If any of the animals happen to be sitting on the sofa, they see me coming, hair streaming behind me and my eyes ablaze like a bird of prey, focused on my spot, and they get the hell out of the way stat. MAKE. WAY. MOTHER IS FIFTY.

Evening project: Using up my yarn stash. My stash is made up of a million partial balls yarn. Almost nothing has a label. Totally impractical stash. Good for making nothing but stuffed puffins, pears, and hot water bottles.

Sweater Weather!

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Good day! Hello! How are you? Hellooooooooo! It's me. I've been bonkers busy and I'm so happy I finally have time to sit and write. Hello! [I'm waving.]

* * * T H A N K   Y O U   S O o o o o o   M U C H * * *

lovely, lovely people for all of your orders over the past couple of weeks. I'm so excited about the new kits and lotion bars and it's always just so nice to get your feedback after scurrying away behind the scenes for so long. Things are coming together and it feels great! Kady (new assistant) is sitting across the room writing postcards to go into orders in the next weeks, and yesterday she packed up our little business card packages, and Andy is about halfway done pulling floss. Next he'll start cutting fabric. Kelsey has an infant so she's at home in her kitchen making hundreds of lotion bars for me. Amy's darling daughters are wrapping and date-stamping mini-skeins for the advent calendar at their house. Kady and I dyed thirty new skeins of yarn on Monday, and those will be mini-skeins for the advent calendars soon. It's truly like a hive of activity around here, and I like it. It feels as if we are squirrels ourselves, industriously preparing for first frost. School has been awesome. At home, there are new railings on the front stairs and new scents being tested in the kitchen. Yarn is being wound, and there is lots of knitting, and I'm teaching myself to make candles. Amelia has been drawing and writing and creating little books constantly. Andy's been cooking for us and there have been park visits and neighborhood adventures. We're getting ready for his parents to visit, and for Amelia's big family birthday party in a few weeks. Everyone is excited! I'm doing that embroidery (from this pattern from Florals and Floss) on a bodice for Amelia's birthday dress that I need to finish. It's go-time.

Pictured above is the Sorbet Mini sweater I'm knitting for Amelia. The kid's pattern is only in Danish, so I'm using the English version of the adult pattern (which I made for myself but apparently haven't photographed yet; I will do that) and plugging the kid's numbers in. She saw my sweater and wanted a mini version, so I had to cast on immediately, as you will when your child shows even the slightest interest in your knitting. I have so many things I need to get up on Ravelry that I haven't yet, so don't bother looking for this from me there. But I will do that soon. I have a basket full of WIPs, it's crazy. All I want to do is knit. I splurged on some yarn from Churchmouse Yarns (along with a candle and a bar of soap) and I'm planning to make Amelia a Volo sweater with that after seeing Kyrie's on Instagram the other day. (That picture just literally destroys me. It is so gorgeous.)

Amelia was home with the sniffles yesterday so we made applesauce muffins, which is one of my mom's recipes from my childhood. They are so delightful.

Applesauce Muffins

2 cups Bisquik*
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup applesauce
1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

*If you don't have Bisquik (I don't have it but my mother always did, and this is her recipe) you can use 2 cups of all-purpose flour plus 3 teaspoons baking powder and then add in 2 tablespoons of melted butter, as well.

Mix ingredients together until just combined. Fill 12 muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 12 minutes at 400 degrees F. Let cool a bit then dip top in melted butter and then in cinnamon sugar.

And here is the recipe for applesauce that Andy always makes for us and it is wonderful. I know it seems odd to use the microwave but this applesauce has a really fresh taste that is so much nicer than cooked applesauce on the stove top, in my opinion:

Applesauce
from the New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

2 McIntosh apples
2 Granny Smith or other tart apples
1 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Halve and core the apples: peel them if you like. Cut each one into 6 wedges or 1-inch chunks. Combine the apples, water, and lemon juice in a deep microwave-safe 2 1/2-quart casserole. Toss the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl and add to apple mixture. Cook, uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir, pressing apples into liquid and return to microwave. Cook for another 5 minutes. Using a hand blender, mix apples into applesauce.

Would you also like to make carnitas? We used this recipe from The New York Times and it was absolutely scrumptious.

Pictured above is the rainy afternoon bath I was taking last weekend. I was in the happiest spot — perfect water temperature, vanilla bubble bath, bath pillow that my dear mother-in-law gave me for my birthday, reading Little Women — right before Andy almost cut the tip of his thumb off (thank you for saving it, fingernail) and Amelia went outside to talk to some people (?!?!?) and the dog started barking her head off and running down the front steps to the sidewalk (never, ever does she do this, but naturally she picked that time to do it, and it turns out she was talking to/barking at a fellow neighborhood Cardigan corgi named Mulberry). Andy howling, then wandering out with a bloody dishtowel on his thumb and his face white as a sheet and not explaining anything, Clover losing her mind, Amelia talking to strangers. It was full-on Donnybrook. Naturally, by the time I had hauled myself out of the tub and dried off and put my clothes on the situation came back under Mr. Paulson's control (he's okay, and Clover came back up the stairs, nonchalant, as if nothing had ever happened). I should've gotten back in the water but I didn't. Nevertheless, that tub and that book and I are going to need to reschedule. I want to make my own soap and bubble bath, too. I got one of those things that covers the drain on the tub and lets the water get really, really high and it is literally life-changing.

Oh, and also thank you so much for all of the kind words and inquiries about Amelia's portrait from a few weeks ago. I painted it myself. It was a total fluke, I literally don't know how I did it, and I'm pretty convinced it was magic, so naturally I haven't tried to paint or even thought any more about it since.

***The cowl is an advent calendar sneak peek . . . :))) More on this soon!

A Happy Birthday

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The  most marvelous Andy Paulson had a birthday this week and we celebrated in style, picnicking at the creek and playing in the woods. A crow flew off with Amelia's entire sandwich — an untouched 6" turkey sub — right off the picnic table while we were down at the water's edge. It was actually kind of amazing to watch. He stalked it, then he took it. I was amazed that he was able to carry it. Amelia and I baked Andy a cake and decorated it when we got home. She picked everything, the colors and style and the decorations, and I just helped. We used my go-to birthday cake recipe (it's the best chocolate cake in the world, I think, if you need one) with plain buttercream frosting. Andy laid on the chaise lounge out back and read his book while we shouted hints out the back door toward him about what we were doing. "Oh, this looks good!" "Yeah! And we hope you like things that are green!" "We hope you like things that are pink!" "We hope you like things that are LURID!" He said he did, on all counts, so we carried out our plan fearlessly. Neon frosting, geranium flowers, rose petals, giant sprinkles, traffic-cone-orange powdered food coloring, and lots of blobs. I think it's one of our best ever, myself, and it was by far the most fun. Happy birthday to you, my darling, darling husband. I love you beyond words and am so thankful every day that you were born.

Thank you so much for all of your gentle and generous and thoughtful comments on my last post. I've been thinking about it all a lot and just kind of . . . absorbing, I guess. I was particularly touched by the people who said something like "well, of course you want to know these things — that's what we, as people, do." In reading those comments it struck me how, even in writing what I had written and sort of saying "oh, well, I'm not sure why this matters" in it, I was still on some level denying myself permission to be doing it. The looking. Or rather, I was trying to keep myself from feeling the need I felt to know, as if I wasn't really allowed to have feelings about it. But I think  I am. And I think that's something unexpected that I've gained from this experience: I'm just letting myself go there, and feel whatever it is I'm going to feel, or not feel, about it all. I'm encouraging myself just to be . . . human. Knowing names and dates and places doesn't necessarily answer the important questions. But maybe it is a start. It may also be the only part of the story I ever find. I don't know. I don't know yet.

Coincidentally, I started reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (which just won a Pulitzer for biography) several weeks ago and was struck by this:

Discovering how Charles Ingalls and his family came to find themselves a few miles from the shores of Lake Pepin, just a few years after Pepin County was first marked on a map, is a detective story tracking generations into the past. Pieces of the family portrait survive, but the whole remains elusive, obscured under the soot of time. It may never be complete.

That is always a problem, in writing about poor people. The powerful, the rich and influential, tend to have a healthy sense of their self-importance. They keep things: letters, portraits, and key documents. . . . 

But the Ingallses were not people of power or wealth. Generation after generation, they traveled light, leaving things behind. Looking for their ancestry is like looking through a glass darkly, images flickering in obscurity. As far as we can tell, from the moment they arrived on this continent they were poor, restless, struggling, constantly moving from one place to another in an attempt to find greater security from hunger and want. And as they moved, the traces of their existence were scattered and lost. Sometime their lives vanish from view, as if in a puff of smoke.

So as we look back across the ages, trying to find what made Laura's parents who they were, imagine that we're on a prairie in a storm. The wind is whipping past and everything is obscured. But there are the occasional bright, blinding moments that illuminate a face here and there. Sometimes we hear a voice, a song snatched out of the air.

That said, this book is so depressing, I must confess. A lot of it is about Rose, of whom I knew nothing, and now I sort of wish I knew less. (I haven't even read all of the Little House books themselves, but Mimi is super into the junior versions of them right now, so there has been a lot of prairie talk around here lately.) I'm on page 347 of 515 of Fires and although I don't like it very much I can't seem to actually stop reading it. But when I do finish it I plan to read something utterly trite, so please feel free to recommend all manner of beach-reads because I'm all over it.

Andy made bangers and mash with brats for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, and Mimi and I finally did wind up making the rhubarb pie. If I could pick my wedding dress over again I'm pretty sure I'd pick this one:

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Princess Caroline's in 1978 (I think). From the pictures it almost looks like it has a gathered — like, elastic! — waist. I would totally do my hair like that, too.

Some of my new labels for stitch markers, lotion bars, and yarn should be starting to be delivered this week. I'm ridiculously excited to see them, and to launch these new things I've been working on for what feels like forever now. Andy and I drove out to pick up my very first wholesale order of bare yarn a few weeks ago, and I've been dyeing it little by little when I have time. I will tell you more about it as soon as I get myself organized enough. I went to a really fascinating lecture the other night about the state of the wool industry and our place in it given by Clara Parkes. I learned so much and I have so many more questions. There is so much more I want to know. I feel like I'm at the very beginning of a whole new phase of my creative life, and it is quite thrilling. And a bit overwhelming, honestly.

I also have finished stitching my next cross-stitch design, the third in my little series of seasonal pieces this year. This one is called "Summer Storm" (at least, that's what I'm calling it so far) and if I can collect myself enough to take some pretty pictures of it in the next week or so, we'll open pre-orders sometime in June. If you're not finished with Time of Flowers, don't worry — it will be several weeks before the fabric arrives and we have time to pull floss, etc. But still, I want to mention it because yes, there are two more in this seasonal series, this summer one and then one I'll do for the fall. And because the Time of Flowers fabric has been discontinued, we will probably do around five hundred of these next two and then call it good, and I don't want you to miss out.

I'm almost done with my Flax Light sweater I'm making for Mimi, and I've started a knitted dress for her that kind of looks like Selekjolen by Hoppestrikk. I wasn't able to find the pattern for it, and then when I did find it it was in Danish. I bought it, hoping to figure it out, but instead I just kind of started winging it. When I tried it on Mimi she told me she liked it while at the same time ripping it off her body as if it was on fire so, might not be worth starting over. . . . This is how kid-knitting is lately. I knew this day would come.

Here We Are

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I want to redo my office soon, so I took some pictures of some of the pictures on my bulletin boards. Baby Mimi!!! So cute I can't even stand it. Aaaaaagh. And darling Audrey. XOXOXOXOXOX

Spring is heeeeeeere, and with it days in the 90s and nights in the 40s. Broiling and then freezing. Andy had a cold, then Mimi got the cold, now I have the cold, and Andy's poor mother has been visiting this week, right in the thick of the coughing, sneezing, and nose-blowing. And copious amounts of complaining. Boy, is she a good sport. She does not have the cold. Fingers crossed. We are having a lovely visit in spite of the gnarly sinuses and it's flown by. Everything in Portland is blooming right now. Tomorrow is our school's May Day dance and I'm hoping for warmer weather so that the children can dance outside instead of in the church basement due to cold and rain.

I've been sewing a lot, working on a pattern for a knitting project bag. That's it, above. I have to say, it's been really fun trying to make something with a very specific function in mind. I've made three so far and I think I've got it down. There is a pocket on the back side for you to keep a pattern in, and three skinny pockets next to that for DPNs or crochet hooks or pens. Inside there is another pocket with three grommets to thread your yarn through. I'd seen this on several project bags and it really was thrilling to find that it works. Cool! Right now I'm sourcing leather and hardware and zippers so that I can offer little packs of those things, along with a pattern for you to make your own. More info on this to come, as usual. But it's happening, and it feels good. I do love it when a plan I didn't even know I had comes together.

I made kind of a yummy pasta recipe, adapted from the New York Times cooking app. It's a classic you've probably had.

Pasta, Prosciutto, and Peas (adapted by me from the original by David Tanis)

1 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 heads of fresh broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 lb. rigatoni
4 slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
1 tablespoon finely cut chives
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Put crème fraîche, cream and butter in a wide, deep skillet over medium heat. Turn off heat as soon as mixture is hot, and stir to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg.

Plunge broccoli boiling water and let cook for 3 minutes. Remove with a mesh spider or slotted spoon and add to cream mixture.

Drop noodles in boiling water and cook until almost al dente. Add peas to water with pasta.

Drain pasta and peas and add to skillet. Sprinkle with prosciutto and chives, then toss gently to coat with sauce. Divide among warmed bowls and serve immediately. Pass grated Parmesan at table.

Do you remember the sideways sweater I had started for Amelia a few weeks ago? I frogged it. I had dyed the yarn myself and couldn't get the vinegar smell out of it and it was annoying me. I don't use vinegar anymore (I use citric acid). I let her dye some yarn and I dyed some yarn and I started this same sweater again, alternating stripes of each of our yarns (hers is the pink, mine is the green). It's such a great sweater for TV watching. It's hard to find sideways sweater patterns like this that aren't in French. (This one is from DROPS, but a lot of this style are French.) I might write one for sport-weight yarn, maybe without the peplum. In all my spare time. But I think it would be pretty easy. It's kinda funny because the very first sweater I ever "favorited" on Ravelry was this one. And I still love it.

I think I'm going to try to get Andy to do a video of how I dye my yarn now, which even works with kids, to show you how I do it and how you can, too. Our ten-year-old neighbor was over one afternoon last weekend and I helped both girls dye their own yarn. And WOW do they ever have different personalities and learning styles. It was really fascinating and mildly freaked me out. B was careful and a bit anxious, Amelia was like a runaway train. Keeping them both on task at the same time was a serious learning experience for me. They are five years apart but get along really well. Anyway, it was a lot of fun to do and would make a really cool project to do with a small group for sure. I'll put that on my list. We'll see if Andy can make a video without setting it to ear-shattering heavy metal. Or maybe it should be set to metal. It's not that rad, but he can probably find a way to rad it up.

How did it take me so long to try dyeing yarn???

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Well, helloooooo. How are you? I've been here, there, everywhere, and nowhere. I had a fit in my office and tried to clean it, and it feels better. Andy took the week off and is going to clean out the basement, which is long overdue. I finished gathering my tax data to send to my accountant. I checked in on our last two back-ordered cones of embroidery floss for Time of Flowers kits and found that although they'd been ordered by me four weeks ago, the sales rep hadn't actually put the order through. This, or something like it, literally happens every time. Every. Time. Luckily, the cones had already come in on their own, or something, and they are shipping them out to me today. :/ The printed patterns are due to arrive here on Friday. So if those look good and the cones arrive next week, we'll still be on schedule to ship out of here at the end of the month. The fabric is all cut and waiting. I'm planning to write my cross-stitch post next week now that I'm kind of caught up with my other stuff. And, yeah. The usual. Life.

I made Amelia some pretty legwarmers from the Rambler legwarmers pattern by Derya Davenport, and the yarn is Eden Cottage Yarns Tempo 4-ply in Antique Rose.

In the kitchen, I bubble wool on the stove and make pretty colors. This has cracked open a whole new world for me. Andy backs up and watches the whoosh of my enthusiasm take over the house. I read probably twenty online tutorials about how to dye yarn with food coloring. Here's how I wound up doing it: I soaked a few mini-skeins (about 25g each) of sport-weight natural wool (and some was white angora yarn I'd had hanging around for years) yarn in water with a a few glugs of vinegar thrown in. (Disclaimer: I'm not precise about any stuff like this — I just go for it and see how it goes, FYI.) I whisked some Wilton's gel food coloring into a little pot of water on the stove, with some more vinegar. I moved the yarn into the dye pot and heated it up until it was almost simmering. Then I let it stay that hot for a while, until the dye was "exhausted." Do you know what that means? It means that all of the color has moved into the yarn and the water has turned clear again. Completely clear. It's really cool. Then I took the yarn out of the pot with tongs and let it cool down. They say you're supposed to leave it in the pot to let the water cool down, but I didn't do that. I couldn't figure out why you would have to do that, but maybe I'm missing something. Then I washed the wool with a bit of Dr. Bronner's soap and rinsed it (gently) and hung it to dry. I felted some of it in my impatience. Basically you want to not shock the yarn with drastic temperature changes or a lot of agitation. It also kind of depends on what kind of wool you have. The wool I got at the Pendleton outlet store, which they use to bind the edges of their blankets, did not want to felt much (though they insisted that it wasn't superwash). The Brown Sheep Nature Spun sport wanted to felt like crazy and did, when I wasn't careful.

I also made some speckled yarn by flinging cake sprinkles and dry Kool-Aid and other drinks powder at the damp yarn and then microwaving it. You can lay down some Saran Wrap and then dot the yarn with dye on a toothpick, or shake on some cake sprinkles, or drop on some food-colored powder, and then wrap it all up and microwave it for 30 seconds at a time until it is steaming. A few minutes. People say that sometimes the yarn burns, but mine didn't. Take it out, let it cool, then wash the candy off. Some of the dye colors struck and some didn't. I think I might not have had enough vinegar for some of the sprinkles to strike, though when they did it was great (and the Kool-Aid has citric acid in it, so that acts as an acid to help bind the color to the yarn). It was a fun experiment. I have so many plans to do some more. The fun thing about it is that all of these dyes are food safe, so you can just play around with them in your kitchen. I have no interest in doing other kinds of more complicated dyeing in the house, but just this is so much fun. I have an entire box of cake decorating supplies, so it was really simple to just start trying things out.

The dollie ballet sweater, above, is the Pendleton wool and I love it. It's a bit sticky to knit with but I think it's making brilliant doll sweaters. They're quite sturdy. I was going to do it in angora, but for several reasons I think I'm going to stick with wool. At night I'm in the process of re-editing all of the Little Animal Family knitwear patterns and designing new items for the new dolls that I want to launch this fall. I will be carrying a new line of sport-weight wool (Maine Line from Jagger) in a gorgeous palate for these patterns, and I'm also going to offer up some of my own hand-dyed yarn in mini skeins wound just for these patterns I've got planned for the dolls. Anyway, stay ye tuned for more on this in the coming months.

This soup was literally the best soup I've ever had in my life. You wouldn't think so, but it really was. I served it with the Anadama bread from Little T bakery and, wow.

Roasted Carrot, Parsnip, and Potato Soup
Adapted slightly from original recipe by Martha Rose Shulman for The New York Times

1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and cut in 3/4 inch pieces
½ pound (2 large) parsnips, peeled, quartered, cored and cut in 3/4 inch pieces
1 medium or large red onion, cut in large dice 1 medium (about 6 ounces) Yukon gold potato, quartered
6 garlic cloves, in the skin
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or broth, enhanced with a couple of extra teaspoons of Better than Bouillon chicken stock concentrate
Chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, tarragon or chives, for garnish
Crème fraîche for garnish (DO NOT LEAVE THIS OUT — it is amazing with this soup)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan or a baking dish with parchment or foil. Toss vegetables, including garlic cloves, with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spread in baking dish or on sheet pan in an even layer and place in oven. Set timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir vegetables and turn heat down to 400 degrees. Roast for another 20 to 30 minutes or until very tender and caramelized on the edges, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. You should have about 4 cups roasted vegetables. Put them all in your big soup pot.

Hold garlic cloves with a towel so that you don’t burn your fingers. Squeeze out the pulp into the pot. Add the chicken stock and blend all with a stick blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and heat through. Serve each bowl with a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs and if you wish, a swirl of crème fraîche or yogurt.

 

***Time of Flowers is sold out right now, though  we will have 60 more kits to put on sale as soon as I count up all floss we have left and let you know if we can ship at the same times as the other kits, or if these will be shipping a bit later than the original 400. Thank you to everyone who has ordered!

***Oh — and the PDF Only option for the Time of Flowers pattern will also be available in a couple of weeks, as well. I'll let you know. Thank you!

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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Photography

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.