May 15, 2015

Capturing the Sea

We walk to the beach almost every day. Some mornings the clock doesn't yet read 6 am and Amos is already asking to go, but it is usually mid-morning before I start pushing the stroller down the driveway. This morning we arrived after dog beach hours and before any other parents and young kids showed up to climb on the playground and dig in the sand. For a while we were the only people on the beach. There was hardly a breeze which made 60 degrees feel comfortably warm. The tide was just beginning to slink out as we walked all the way to where the stretch of sand is cut off by rocks.

Although I have seen the lighthouse, the islands, the water, and the cute toddler in the sand so many times, I can rarely resist snapping a few pictures. Each day is different and places change, subtly, from moment to moment. The tide goes out, expands the size of the beach, and reveals thousands of pebbles and shells and clumps of seaweed. A windy day stirs up the water giving it texture and energy. It can be freeing to just be and observe without needing to take a picture but I think the urge to take a photograph is, in a way, an acknowledgement of the beauty and wonder of a place. Spring brings color and blossoms to every patch of grass and tree branch and being able to spend time at the beach without layers of coats and wind whipped faces is wondrous in itself. Amos and I spend most of our days in areas that we can walk to and sometimes I feel unmotivated to repeat the same routes and views over and over. Once we are on our way, though, there is always something new to observe and I am delighted that we can so easily reach such special places.

May 8, 2015

Not Essential

I've been trying to stay focused this week, to work on some writing projects and other must-dos but spring has been very distracting. Amos and I have been spending most of the day outside, at the beach, the playground, on walks and bike rides. When I am inside I have been diving into some fun but not totally essential sewing projects.

I have come to really love making things that I can wear. It's the same satisfaction of cooking from scratch, when you make something in your own home with your own hands that you thought had to be bought from the store. The nice thing about sewing is that the results last longer than one meal. Inspired by Me Made May, I have been wearing something handmade almost every day. I found this fabric a few weeks ago and knew that I had to make myself a skirt. I wanted to get out of my A-line skirt rut so I was excited to find this gathered skirt pattern. The pocket panels completely stumped me for a while but once I figured it out it was not a difficult project.

It has been a long time since I made something for Amos. Now that we have had some warm weather I thought he might like to wear shorts. I made a pair that is reversible (orange on the other side) and I plan to make a few more pairs as soon as I can.

I am grateful that I can find the time and ambition to make these things and although they are not essential I love being able to make things that are beautiful, useful, and fun.

April 23, 2015

Tint Project #4: Make Envelopes

On one of those elusive spring days when the air has no chill, I started thinking about sunscreen, popsicles, and sand toys. We've been walking to the beach most days to watch dogs run with joyful intensity, to play on the playground and dig in the sand. Tools and toys for digging certainly are not a requirement but I realized that the beat up sieve, big red spoon, and empty ice cube tray that Amos often uses in the kitchen would also be perfect for the beach. We found a stainless steel bucket at Goodwill, just right for a two year old to collect water and make sand cakes. I love being able to come up with creative ideas for reusing what we already have and making better use of things that might go to waste.

When we're not at the beach (or the playground, or the library) we sometimes paint. Amos mostly likes dipping the brush in water and brushing the water onto the paper. I like to saturate the brush in a bright color to and swirl it into random abstract designs. Since we go through paper fairly quickly, I wanted to find a way to use it again. Cutting and gluing the paper into envelopes is a way to give another life to a piece of paper that might not have much use otherwise. Sending it to someone with an in depth letter or a quick note tucked inside gives it a third chance to be useful and meaningful.

I have made envelopes from all kinds of paper including paper bags, magazine or catalog pages, and art work. I have used tape and a variety of glues to stick them together. This time I wanted to put them together with something non-toxic that could biodegrade along with the paper when the envelope was no longer necessary. Instructions for the envelopes and glue are below.

I used large sheets of paper and cut each in half. One half became the envelope, the other half I cut and folded into two cards. I cut the envelope paper into the shape shown above. You can make an equally simple envelope without cutting the paper but I like this basic shape which leaves plenty of room inside.

 After cutting, I folded the side flaps in, the bottom up, and the top down.

Brush some glue on the side flaps and fold up the bottom. Press the bottom to the side flaps to make sure the glue has sealed. You can use glue to seal the envelope once you have tucked your letter inside.

Envelope Glue
This glue seems to work really well and it uses ingredients you probably have in your pantry. I wish I had thought to cut the recipe in half because I have way too much glue now but it is easy and cheap. I store it in the fridge. Just shake it before using if it has been sitting for a while, it may separate. Recipe adapted from this one.

1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon vinegar

Combine the flour and sugar in a saucepan. Add about half of the water and whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the water and the vinegar. Bring to a simmer and whisk until it has thickened slightly. Use when cooled. Store in an airtight container.

April 13, 2015

We Make Messes

We make messes around here. Lots of them.

Our messes often start in the kitchen where flour flies or gets mixed into clumps with water that spatters and sticks. Many of our messes turn into the meals that we enjoy together. Many turn into sticky hands, wet floors, or seeds stirred, sprinkled and spilled.

Some messes start small, a few crumbs on the table, a drop of soup on the tiled floor. The smudges on chairs, counters, and faucets slowly grow as they are touched by little hands covered with exuberant eating.

I love freshly vacuumed floors, counters wiped clean, blankets folded for later use or spread evenly across the bed. I feel calm and refreshed when our home is clean. Without a mess, the clean wouldn't feel so clean.

Messes are alive and we make them when we are creating, sharing, enjoying, playing. It's not a mess it is part of the process, a way of learning, so much of life itself.

April 3, 2015

If April Were a Cake

I wasn't thinking about cake while I was still cocooned in our down comforter watching the light gradually brighten the widows from black to a glowing blue. But when I got up on the first day of April and saw the clear skies and let the sun stream in as I pulled up the blinds, the idea crossed my mind. April seems like it will surely bring spring but spring in Maine is mostly a nice story until sometime in May. So far April has arrived with full on mud season complete with lingering piles of dirt covered snow and air that only feels warm because you are still wearing your winter coat. In a few weeks, maybe, we will get a balmy day that entices me to open windows and go outside without a jacket but for now we dwell in the hope of spring, not the reality.

Anyway, back to cake. I was thinking of the kind of every day cake that I might throw together on a sunny afternoon alone in the kitchen. Most of my afternoon time alone these days is spent sewing or writing and sometimes I miss the days when used to be able to head into the kitchen and whip something up without a second though. I enjoy being in the kitchen with Amos, too, though. It is unpredictable, usually messy with a tablespoon of chaos and lots of flour everywhere.

A quick mental inventory reminded me that we were out of oranges and chocolate and low on olive oil. I wished I had raspberries and ricotta. I considered making a buttermilk cake. Then I came across this recipe for a yeasted sugar cake. I had to make it. This is a cake that Amos certainly could have helped with, but it was nice to work quietly in the kitchen.

If April in Maine were a cake, it just might be this one. Take brown and white ingredients, nothing fresh or colorful, mix them together and then wait for them to rise. My cake batter didn't seem to turn out the way the recipe suggested but fortunately it still baked into a light, toothsome cake. Slightly chewy and pleasantly yeasty, I wished I had berries to put on top, though it was delicious all by itself. Just like spring, it will turn into a lovely treat.

Yeasted Sugar Cake
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
When I made this cake it turned into more of a batter than a dough. I will make it again soon and update the instructions if it turns out more like the recipe that I followed. I think this would be ideal with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, I can't wait until June!

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm milk
2 eggs at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar

Stir the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Let stand until foamy, 5-10 minutes. Combine the flours, remaining sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, milk and eggs and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the butter and beat on medium high until the batter is smooth. Scrape down the sides, cover and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how warm it is. 

Butter a 9-inch round pan (I always use a springform pan because it is the only 9-inch pan I have and it makes it easy to get out). Pour or gently pat the risen dough into the pan and spread it so that it fills the pan. Mix the butter and brown sugar and sprinkle it on top of the dough. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the cake for 25 minutes until the dough baked through and the sugar melted and begun to brown. Serve while still warm, although it is also very good once cooled and will keep for a few days. 

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.