March 19, 2015

Calm, Clean, and Just Right

I will never have a perfectly decorated home. I will (and do) have a home that feels right, that is put together with things that I enjoy. This includes a lot of color, handmade things, artwork and pictures of people that I love. I like my spaces to be uncluttered as much as possible and I love it when I can read or cook or work in a clean organized space. With a toddler at home, I relish the times when things are tidy even more. I know that my living space will never be perfectly put together or anything close to magazine worthy, but I try to make it as enjoyable as possible for us to spend time in.

Although I don't consider our living space to have specific decor or themes, I have always really loved blue and white in our bedroom. These colors are calm, clean, and just right for a room that should be both relaxed and cozy. Of course, much of the time our small bedroom is a space for laundry piles, rumpled blankets and socks that have made good friends with the dust bunnies. The blue and white fabric of our comforter cover, quilt, sheets and pillow cases are not perfect coordinated but I still like the soothing colors that bring them all together.

After years and years of use, our pillow cases are looking quite shabby so I decided to replace two of them. I picked out some fabrics that I like and wouldn't mind seeing every night and every morning right in front of my face. Pillow have to be the easiest thing you can sew, all straight lines and no need to worry about how to turn them right side out. A couple of years ago I wrote about the little things that make home sweeter (and how to keep your pillows and pillow cases fresh) and it is still true.

March 12, 2015

Thrift and Frivolity

Our compost bin is beginning to emerge from under four feet of gradually melting snow. We abandoned our daily trip with a bowl of peels, stems, shells, and grounds sometime in January when we could no longer trudge over the piles of snow that filled our tiny back yard. There are almost always opportunities to make better use of food scraps but I don't always take them. In a moment of thrift and frivolity, I began stashing orange peels in a jar in the fridge for several days until it was packed full. The thick flesh surrounding the juicy citrus piles up quickly and with a little time, some water, and sugar it can easily be transformed into sweet and tart bites.

You are turning trash into treasure when you make candy from compost. Candied orange peel isn't something completely essential to my kitchen but frugality doesn't have to be about eating stems and patching holes. In fact, I think saving scraps is a way to find greater abundance in what you already have.

The candied orange peel is tasty on its own or dipped in chocolate. Pop some in a little jar, tie on a ribbon and you've got a sweet unexpected gift. I've been thinking about chopping it up and tossing it into this olive oil cake instead of the chocolate or the rosemary. After boiling the peels to remove the bitterness, I had a pot of orange scented water. Once it cooled, I added some of it to my 50/50 vinegar water cleaning solution. Now that I know how to use up every bit of an orange, I'm looking for other ways to save and reuse.

Candied Orange Peel
Adapted from Put Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton
You can use any thick skinned citrus for this recipe, just make sure that when you cut the peels they are all about the same size.

Peels of 4-5 oranges (about 10 ounces)
3 1/2 cups of sugar plus 1 cup for rolling the candied peel in
1 cup water
1 vanilla bean (optional)

Cut the peels into 1/4 inch strips. Place the peels in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Strain the peels, cover with water again, bring to a boil and drain. Do this once more. This process softens the peels and removes the bitterness from the pith. After the third time, let the peels drain.

Put the 3 1/2 cups of sugar, one cup of water, and vanilla bean in a pot over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the peels and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook the peels until they are translucent, about one hour. 

Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet. When the peels are done simmering, remove them from the syrup and place them on the rack (you can save the syrup for flavoring seltzer or glazing cakes). Let them dry for several hours and then roll them in sugar to coat each peel. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. They will keep for several weeks.

March 6, 2015

Something that Won't Compute (or Make Something!)

The way that I spend much of my time is an ode to the joy of making. I hope this blog reflects that and I hope to send out sparks of inspiration whenever I can. If I'm not specifically focusing on why I like making things, then I am telling you about my most recent creation. Every so often I get an extra jolt of excitement from a projects and recently that has been from sewing clothes. I finally finished the second Esme top that I mentioned last week and I got to experience, again, the thrill of making something that is not only useful but also makes me feel great when I wear it.

In one of my favorite poems, Wendell Berry writes, "So, friends, every day do something that won't compute." Something that is more satisfying and fulfilling than making a purchase with the click of a button and waiting for it to show up on the front porch. Something that might not turn out perfectly, might be hard, and will take time. I've had way more disasters than successes whether I am cooking, sewing, or trying to build something but I still believe that using your hands and your mind to create is a way to bring your ideas and dreams into reality. It might taste, look, or feel better than anything you've done before. It might make you laugh and start over again.

I don't know how to express it perfectly, eloquently but the other night finishing the last seams and putting it on I wanted to shout to everyone who needs to hear, Make Something!

February 27, 2015

Works In Progress

I've been meaning to make new pillow covers for quite some time. I'm really happy that I got to use some of my favorite fabrics from my stash and I had fun reinforcing them with decorative lines of stitching. I still have two more pillows to cover. I'm not sure if I'll use the same style or colors. It might be fun to do a tutorial on how to make these striped covers. What do you think?

Another project that has been in progress for months. I am planning to hang this on an empty wall in our living room. I just have to figure out how I want to hang it.

I made my first Esme Top last fall and I really love it. I cut this fabric in December to make another one but it has been neglected since then. Hopefully I will finish it soon because I am excited to be expanding my clothes making skills beyond skirts.

Another neglected project. I started this sweater for Amos before Christmas. Then I lost the directions in my house! I have the directions again and I just have to finish the sleeves. Luckily it is a size that should fit him for a while and sweater weather won't be over any time soon.

I sometimes have projects that I am not sure I will ever finish, but I'm always glad to have many opportunities to create. What are you working on?

February 20, 2015

Pizza Night For Everyone + Gluten Free Pizza Dough Recipe

Homemade pizza is one of my favorite things to make, I've written about it several times. There are unlimited possibilities for topping the flat expanse of dough and it is always delicious. On Friday nights, we usually make two pizzas, enough to have some leftover for lunch the next day and an opportunity to have two (or sometimes three) different combinations of cheese, vegetables, and sauce or no sauce. A few years ago I learned that canned whole tomatoes make the absolute best sauce. I just crush them right on the dough with a sprinkle of salt and sometimes minced garlic or dried oregano. I love pizzas without sauce, too, topped with goat cheese, sweet vegetables (like beets, red peppers, or squash), and, sometimes, balsamic reduction. I adore caramelizing onions and I make them almost every time we have pizza.

I love sharing our pizza nights with friends whenever possible. When we have people over, I don't want anyone to feel left out and do my best to cook and bake things that people with dietary restrictions can enjoy, too. There are plenty of pizza doughs, with and without gluten, that you can buy ready to stretch or already shaped for baking. Obviously I prefer to make my own and it is one of the easiest things you can make with flour water and yeast.

Gluten free pizza dough is only slightly more difficult. I am not a gluten free pizza expert but I enjoy this crust. My brother is a gluten free pizza afficianado and both he and my friend Emily, who also does not eat gluten, gave this their seal of approval.

Gluten Free Pizza Dough
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
I definitely recommend pre-baking the crust before you top it. The original recipe suggests baking it until the crust is dark brown which will give you a really crispy crust but I don't think it is necessary to bake it quite that long. I prepare my pizza dough on a piece of parchment paper and then slide it onto a pizza stone, this works well for the gluten free crust too.

My flour/starch blend is based on this recipe and I use a mixture of what I have on hand such as brown rice flour, white rice flour, teff flour, sorghum flour, cornmeal or others. For the starches I have most frequently used potato starch, corn starch, or arrowroot.

Makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas. The dough freezes well and can be used the same way once thawed.

12 ounces of gluten free flours (see above)
5 ounces of gluten free starches (see above)
2 1/2 ounces almond flour
1 1/2 tablespoons ground flax seed
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups warm water

In the bowl of a stand mixed fitted with the dough hook attachment add the flours, starches, almond flour, flax seed, baking powder, salt, yeast, and olive oil. With the mixer running on low, pour in the water 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to come together into a ball. You may need to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides to make sure that the water reaches all of the flour. When the dough can be kneaded in a large soft ball, cover it and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours. It will not rise much.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the ball of dough in half and shape half of it on a sheet of parchment into a round thin disk. Olive oil on your hands will keep it from sticking. Place the parchment on a baking sheet or directly onto a pizza stone. Bake for 15  minutes or until the crust begins to turn golden brown. While the crust is baking, prepare your toppings. Remove the crust from the oven and top with sauce, cheese, and any other toppings you like. Return the pizza to the oven until the cheese is melted and baked to your liking, about 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

This is the dough recipe I use most often when my pizza is not gluten free.

February 12, 2015


The world around me is piled high with snow, the renewed vigor of the start of the year has given way to ordinary clutter. It is a good time to turn inward, find renewal, and make sure we have the basics under control. Sometimes you just need a pause. In our house, that means I am trying to keep things simple as I try to help Amos sleep better. We will all be much more rested once we work through it. I decided that for the next few weeks this needs to be a priority and there are other things I can let go.

A pause is a chance to focus on the things that are essential and that really need our attention. It is also a way to slow down and take care of yourself, the things around you, and the people you care about.

When you need to pause:

Make time. Use whatever time you can find, it doesn't have to be a whole week or a whole day. Maybe you choose an evening when everyone will be home to connect around the dinner table. You could take a walk or find some quiet during your lunch break. Or, try implementing a few minutes to pause at the beginning or the end of the day. The idea is to let go of the things that are not essential and focus on those that matter most.

Deliberately let go of distractions. Turning off or putting away your phone, computer, television and other distracting devices will give you at least a few extra minutes to focus on things that matter more. Ask yourself if something is essential, if it has to be done now, or if it will make life more wonderful. If not, let it go.

Choose what you want to focus on. Depending on how much time you have, maybe you will spend an evening focusing on an important person or relationship or spend a weekend getting the rest you need. Choose what you can outsource or do ahead of time so you can really benefit from taking this time to catch up with yourself.

Prioritize taking care of yourself. It can be tempting to just veg out when you are tired and need a break and sometimes this is okay. Instead of making it a habit, though, find healthy ways to nurture yourself. Finding small moments to pause to eat a healthy meal, drink water, write in your journal, stretch or meditate or do anything that makes you feel nurtured and cared for can make a big difference.

Figuring out how to take care of yourself in the midst of busy-ness of life is a challenge. Remembering that you can pause anytime anywhere (close your eyes right now and take a deep breath) is a start and it is something you can return to again and again.

January 30, 2015

Enjoy a Hot Mug

January is a good month for drinking tea. We've had many days trying to keep cozy inside when temperatures are below zero. Now that everything is covered in feet of snow we are venturing out more among the piles and flakes. Pulling Amos around the snowy streets in the sled is a good way to warm up but I also enjoy a hot mug to sip and wrap my hands around.

Chai Concentrate (Updated)
I posted this recipe a couple of summers ago. I have reworked it to taste more of the flavors I enjoy. I love a good does of cardamom and ginger but you can adjust the spices to your taste. I highly recommend ordering bulk spices (Penzeys or Mountain Rose Herbs are good sources) so you can try different combinations and it is more affordable to make your own Chai blend that way. I used dried ginger root but fresh ginger would also work, you may need to add more.

2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
16 cardamom pods
10 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried ginger root (not powdered)

1-3 teaspoons loose leaf tea (black or green)
2-4 teaspoons sweetener of your choice

Measure the spices into a pot and add 4 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, add the tea and let it steep for 5 minutes (or longer if you want a strong tea flavor). Stir in the sweetener and add more if needed. Store the concentrate in an air tight jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

To serve: Combine 3/4 cup of the concentrate with 1/4 cup milk or non-dairy milk of your choice. Serve hot or over ice. Makes about 6 cups.