April 23, 2014

Creative Moments

eggs

bowl

batter

dishes

When I wrote, last week, about beginning something new I mentioned that creativity is always a process of learning and making. I want to remind all of us how important it is to enjoy the process because the final results are rarely guaranteed to be what you expect.

The above photographs came from enjoying a quieter moment in the kitchen, appreciating the light and the chance to focus only on mixing and stirring. It was a break from all of our time outside enjoying a truly perfect spring day and I worked with the window open. Maybe all that fresh air was too intoxicating because after I put the quiche in the oven all of the filling leaked out of the pie crust and the tart pan. Needless to say the process was much more gratifying than the unfilled quiche.

For last night's dinner, I burned the chickpeas when I thought they were just simmering away. It might be true that the more you make, the more mistakes you will make. It is also true that when you are comfortable making and not too attached to the results these mistakes are just little bumps in the road. Just get up and try again.




April 18, 2014

Begin It


Last week brought a hint of spring and along with the all the fresh air, open windows and warm sun, it also brought me inspiration to get going on some new projects. I made a pair of pants for Amos from Anna Maria Horner's book Handmade Beginnings. Most of my clothes making experience has been sewing skirts for myself and I rarely follow a pattern. I'd like to be able to make more clothes and starting with little pants that don't need to fit perfectly seemed like a good way to go.

How satisfying to make something useful and wearable for Amos! And to make something that turns out the way I had hoped on almost the first try (my actual first try turned out much too big, but he will be able to wear them eventually). The pattern is easy, makes one reversible pair of pants, and was a great excuse to combine fun fabrics. When I think about why I like to make things, so often I come back to the satisfaction of creating something, especially when that thing is also useful.

It has taken a long time for me to be able to take an idea and make it successfully in the first few attempts. I value the process and the learning experience that comes with so much making and I always have more to learn. Right now, though, I want to celebrate the importance of just starting somewhere. Surely there is something you have been wanting to try creating. There are always a hundred reasons to put it off or not do it at all. Sometimes these delays are unavoidable but the longer you wait, the less likely you are to take the time to use your hands and experience the satisfaction of creating.

So, in honor of spring, when nature starts fresh and begins creating everything anew, I urge you to listen to the birds, smell the sweet breezes and jump into whatever creative project you have been waiting to start.

P.S. I saw this video and love the idea of trying and working on something for 100 days. More inspiring projects here.

P.P.S. It is really hard to get a picture of Amos (and his pants) that isn't blurry because these days he is always on the move.

April 4, 2014

The Kitchen Sink


I wash a sink full of dishes at least once a day. We don't have a dish washing machine, just a double sink, a sponge and plenty of hot water.I enjoy my living space so much more when it feels clean and minimally cluttered so the pile of pans, bowls, spoons and glasses jumbled in the sink glares at me if my back is turned. And then there are the crumbs on the counter, the drips of sauce on the stove and the dust, dirt and bits of food and other debris that quickly collect on the floor. It feels never ending and probably is.

Dishes are the peels and stems of the fruits of my labor. They can't be eaten but they are an essential part of cooking from scratch. They don't make a beautiful image or a gorgeous blog post. But no matter the recipe, no matter the season, when you cook you make dishes. I like to think that we are all in this together: cooking and washing (or loading the dishwasher if you have one), sweeping up the flour on the floor. I don't intend to glorify the things that seem like menial tasks but, as I tell Ray, dishes are a fact of life. There are so many things we do that are perhaps not essential, perhaps often wished away, but it turns out that these tasks make up a lot of our days.

While there are plenty of times that I would rather not scrub the bathtub, vacuum the rug, do another load of laundry or deal with the pile in the sink, other times I appreciate it for the ritual that it can be. A way to connect with myself, my hands, my thoughts that float like bubbles out of soapy water. I appreciate that I can (for a few minutes) create order out of chaos and that these rituals of caring for the space I live in and wiping the slate clean are a constant when it seems like things are always changing.






March 28, 2014

Bread Day

sourdough

dough

rising dough bread day

breadday

bread day

I've been seriously dabbling in bread making for years. I've tried both sourdough and commercial yeast recipes. I've made free form loaves and loaves in pans. I was baking regularly a couple of years ago and turning out pretty good loaves of bread. But I had not yet found a recipe for bread I couldn't live without, one that I really wanted to bake and eat every week.

That all changed when Ray brought home Tartine Bread. Ray was on a fermentation kick, inspired by Michael Pollan's Cooked. I felt a bit betrayed, after years of trying to make us good homemade bread Ray came along and planned to do it himself, even though I thought I was the family baker. Of course I am always happy when he is interested in spending time in the kitchen but it turned out that he didn't get much farther than trying to create a starter.

So, I grabbed the book and dove in. The instructions are very detailed and designed for successful home bread baking. My first loaves were okay. But by the second try, I felt like I had already hit the jackpot. This was by far the best bread I had baked at home and it had all the characteristics of my ideal bread loaf. A crisp crust with a sturdy interior (moist and spongy in a good way), not too sour, full of the loveliest holes. Ray agreed that this bread was nearly ideal. I know there is room for improvement and experimentation (not to mention many other recipes to try) but I have been baking this bread almost every week for the past few months. The recipe makes two large loaves, more than we really need right now, so I often give one away or save some of the dough to make into really good pizza.

Looking back at my old sourdough posts, I see many of the same images. But, not only does this recipe fit well with my days at home with Amos, it also creates a simple and visually pleasing process that I couldn't resist sharing again. In fact, the process is a delight for all of the senses. Hands in the dough, the smell of the yeast transforming the flour and water, the crackle of the crust when it comes out of the oven and, of course, the taste. I am thrilled to bake bread that is as good as anything we might get at the store and to finally have a regular bread routine. 

March 25, 2014

Favorite Recipes

recipe notebook

A few years ago I started a recipe notebook. I occasionally jotted down recipes that I found online and wanted to try because it was much easier to follow the recipe on a piece of paper than a laptop screen. I also noted some recipes that I knew I would make again. Recently, I decided to start writing down some of the favorite recipes that I make all the time.

Having these old standbys in a small book on a page I can flip to in seconds is quite nice. Often cookbook pages don't lie flat and they take up too much of my limited counter space. I do love cookbooks, though. They are inspiration, beauty, and comfort. I often browse them looking for new ideas and many of my favorites are worn and a bit sticky from use. I have a modest cookbook collection with some that I use all the time, some I go to for just a couple of recipes and some that I haven't used but still want to try.

My recipe notebook is also a little treasure trove of favorite and most used recipes. I often try recipes from websites and blogs but those will never be dog eared or chocolate spattered or marked with adjustments and substitutions. Online we give recipes their character with great photos and stories but this notebook is informal, a little messy, and just as personal.  I love that recipes can be a jumping off point and that even when they have been posted online, written in ink, or printed and bound they are still alive and changing depending on the whims and wished of the cook, the kitchen, and the season.

Some of the favorites that I've added to my notebook:
Whole Grain Pancakes
Ginger Molasses Cookies
Lemon Curd
Chocolate Chip (and other stuff) Cookies
Whole Wheat Tortillas
Raspberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Coconut Chocolate Mousse
Tomato Tart
 
How to you store and keep your favorite recipes?


March 14, 2014

A Letter to the Future

 in the studio

Dear Future Me,

In a few weeks, months, or years you are going to look back on this time and remember such sweetness. You might remember how exhausted you were after more than nine months without a solid night's sleep. You might remember how hard it was figuring out how to be a mom, never really knowing if you were doing a good job or doing the right things. You will remember the wiggly little boy who was crawling with great proficiency and speed, moving all around and exploring every corner, every surface, every speck of dust. You will remember the way he followed you from room to room and the way you learned to have eyes in the back of your head, making sure that he wasn't getting into anything that could cause him harm. You'll remember the chubby ankles and wrists, the way he grabbed food by the handful and stuffed it into his mouth. I hope you won't forget trudging across snowy sidewalks with Amos snuggled up against you peering out at the world and the way he relaxed against you while listening to a bedtime story. I know you will look back and remember how wonderful it was.

I want to tell you that it was hard to find any sort of balance between Amos, household chores, and working three days a week, but you already know that. Every day for months I've thought about how to find more time for my creative work. How to be more disciplined, despite fatigue. How to push myself to do more sewing, to write every day, to be more focused and productive. Some days I just thought about it. Some days I wrote a bit while Amos was napping. Sometimes I cut fabric while he crawled around and I tried to make sure he didn't eat any fabric scraps. I wasn't going to let a little baby keep me from working toward my big dreams. Some days I read a lot of other people's blog posts. I was inspired but never as productive as I wanted to be. I baked bread and made cookies (and ate too many of them, always). I wanted to lean in to the life I wanted. I wanted to write a book proposal and make a living with my sewing and connect with the amazing creative people that I admire. I know that most parents grapple with this precarious balance (or lack there of) and the struggle to figure out how nurture their child and keep their own dreams alive. I know everyone says that raising children, even making them your full time job, is the hardest and most rewarding thing you can do but I didn't want to lose the creative work that I love and believe in. Do you remember this part, too?

But I don't want to spend every day worrying about so I'm putting my trust in you. Tonight I might just take a hot bath, or watch an episode of Parks and Recreation, or read a few pages of a book or turn the lights out by eight o'clock. I won't forget the work we both believe in but I'm going to try to let whatever I can do in a day be enough. Waking up a few times a night, running down to the basement to do laundry, preparing meals and getting the dishes done. Watching Amos explore the world. Sometimes out of the corner of my eye as I write a few sentences or stir something on the stove, sometimes with both eyes completely transfixed on this amazing being. I know we're in it for the long haul and we both have a lot of work to do to nurture and take care of this little guy as he grows and finds an even bigger world to explore.

Lately I've been reading the notes from the other side of dreams achieved: don't quit, don't be afraid, keep trying, believe in your dreams. We're not there yet, but here's the thing: I know (and you know) that we won't quit. I might not accomplish much on these big projects for a while. I might not live up to the expectations I have for myself or the accomplishments of other moms. But I know I won't give up. You won't give up. I'll find time, energy and motivation when I can. You will pick up where I left off on the work that really matters. You know I am self-motivated and hard-working but that I need lots of sleep and a good amount of down time. I know you are probably tired, too, but you won't forget what needs to be done. I hope we can both remember that we are so lucky to live this life and have these dreams.

Love lots,

Anna

March 4, 2014

Measuring the Months


orangeAs I began to write a letter yesterday, dating the top of the page, I paused. I knew, vaguely, that March had arrived on Saturday. Turning the calendar page was the only indication that this month might be any different from February, or January, even. But it wasn't until this moment of writing the date on a clean white page that I thought, wow it is already March. How did that happen?

I've been measuring the months not by the pages of the 2014 calendar but by the weeks and months of Amos' first year. A month ago he was barely crawling, now he wiggles, scoots and crawls around with speed, if not complete ease. As of this week, he will have been in our arms and our life for nine months. Often it seems like far longer and other times it seems like these months have passed so quickly. At first we observed the slow progression of his development skills added to skills, muscles learning control: a smile, a gurgle, a grasp. These celebrated milestones have given way to constant learning, exploration, and curiosity. Sometimes it's hard for all of us to keep up.

color!


bibs

March also has me craving color. The basket of oranges in the kitchen, slices of red pepper, the gorgeous ruby filled strawberry crostata that we've been making at the bakery where I work. I appreciate beautiful fabric any time of the year but I've been especially enjoying it this week. Amos crawls on the floor and finds the dusty corners that I wish he would stay out of while I iron the just washed fabric into crisp flat sheets. I'm making bibs for a couple of friends so I made some for him, too. It seems a little silly to spend time making something that it supposed to get dirty, but these bibs are more effective than the dishtowels I sometimes tie around Amos' neck. I like having pretty (food covered) fabrics in my kitchen and I love making things for my loved ones. I'm gearing up for another studio reorganization so that Amos and I can spend more time in there together me sewing, he exploring.