Thursday, January 31, 2008

I'll be sewing!

I've decided that I need to relearn how to sew. I don't think I've used a sewing machine in the past 2 decades, but I'm determined to start again! Owning a new home that needs window treatments is certainly an incentive, especially since Calico Corners and the Fabric Place both charge $80 plus fabric costs for the valances I like for my dining room.
My sister received a sewing machine for Christmas a few years ago and has used it to make Halloween costumes for her kids, baby gifts, etc. Since she's doesn't see herself using it anytime soon, she's let me borrow it. I'm hoping to spend some quality time with the sewing machine and some scrap fabric this weekend relearning how to sew. Once I've adequately learned how to stitch straight seams, I'm going to tackle a valance for the kitchen window. I've got my fabric all's this Amy Butler fabric which will look perfect in my light green kitchen and will add a splash of color too:
I also made a super fabric purchase last week at the Crate and Barrel Outlet going out of business sale. I bought approximately 5 yards of a large blue and white floral Marimekko fabric for $6.95 a yard...and if that wasn't enough of a bargain, the saleslady decided to only charge me for 3 yards because she couldn't remember (wink, wink) how much fabric it was when she measured it (I took what was left on the bolt). I can't find a picture of the fabric anywhere online, but the colors are similar to this Marimekko fabric, only with a light blue in the mix too.

It reminded me of the fabrics and colors that were in 2 of the hotels D and I stayed at in Greece. Here's the first one, Kastelli Reort in Santorini (our suite was similar to this one):
And the other was Petasos Beach Resort where our room looked almost exactly like this:

I'm going to make valances and a wall hanging out of the Marimekko for our blue bedroom and make it a Greek Island themed guest room. Here's what color the blue bedroom is (the color it was when we moved in...and we're keeping it at least until we have kids):
So wish me luck with my sewing--I've got Amy Karol's "Bend the Rules Sewing" checked out from the library which hopefully will help me!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie: Daring Bakers January Challenge

In my family, my sister is the pie baker. She’s amazing. We have a family friend who brings my sister big piles of rhubarb from his garden so she’ll make pies for him. If Beth’s making pies, she’ll always make multiples. My sister just has a knack for rolling dough—probably because she has the patience of a saint (which helps her a lot because she has 2 little boys). I, on the other hand, was born with very little patience which is one of the reasons I make crisps and cobblers instead of pies.

So, I was a little apprehensive about the January Daring Bakers challenge, but I was well prepared for it thanks to a little thing called the Williams-Sonoma Wedding Registry. I have a beautiful blue pie plate, and a fabulous birch pastry board.

One of the neatest things about Daring Bakers is that we have a blog (accessible to members only) where we can post about the problems we encounter making our recipes and can offer suggestions to others on how to avoid these problems. This helps tremendously. For this particular recipe many bakers seemed to have trouble keeping their filling firm—for many it became ”watery.” I read some of the suggestions people offered and without changing the original recipe, I was able to make a non-watery filling.

The first thing I did after reading the recipe, and the hints, was to reorganize the recipe so that the ingredients list and instructions for each of the 3 components of the pie were on the same page. I’ve re-ordered the recipe below in this same way. It’s not very helpful for making a shopping list, but it was a big help in the baking process.

Before I began, I also noted which ingredients needed to be cold and which at room temperature. I put the cold items in the fridge (all of the crust ingredients), and placed everything else on the counter to come to room temperature (hint: lemons will yield more juice at room temp). Another note about temperature is that I was under a deadline (bringing the pie to a dinner party that night), so I didn’t have time to cool the crust thoroughly before pouring in the lemon filling. Nor did I have time to thoroughly cool the filling before piling on the meringue. This didn’t seem to be a problem, and in fact, baking the meringue with the filling still very warm may have helped the filling stay firm instead of becoming watery.

Making the crust was much easier than I had expected. First of all, I married a man with his own food processor. Second, I had only ever made crust with shortening, not butter. Never again!

The dough came out quite well and I was able to form it into a nice disk for refrigerating.

After refrigerating, I really didn’t have any problems rolling the dough.
I may have rolled it a bit thick, but it fit nicely in my plate (and I was able to eat the scraps—tasted like sugar cookie dough!) Not having pie weights, I filled the crust with dried beans to bake, per the recipe.

I baked the crust as instructed until the edges of the crust were light brown. It probably could have used an extra couple of minutes because the bottom was so thick, but it turned out fine.

For the filling, I measured out my ingredients, separated my eggs, etc. For the lemons, I started by zesting with my microplane grater—I think I zested 2 lemons. Then, I used a zester to create lemon peel curls to use to garnish my pie.

Once my zesting was all finished, I rolled each lemon on the counter applying medium pressure. Lemons will provide more juice if rolled like this. I believe I used 4 lemons, maybe 4 ½.

I’m very glad that the filling instructions indicate that you need to bring the cornstarch/water mixture to a boil and stir until very thick. I was worried at first that my cornstarch was expired or something because it wasn’t thickening, but then it became very gloppy. I knew it was done! I added the other ingredients as stated in the recipe, with one exception. Before adding the butter I melted it in the microwave so that I would be adding hot liquid butter to the hot liquid mixture instead of adding solid room temperature butter. This may have also helped my filling stay firm, but I don’t really know. I think I got the idea from consulting “On Food and Cooking,” but I’m not sure whether it was in the section on egg-based sauces or custards or somewhere else.

I followed the instructions for the meringue to the letter.

Then I baked it for 15 minutes and it came out great!

Once the pie was out of the oven I sprinkled the top with the strips of lemon zest. The whole process took me 3 ½ hours, but it was worth it.
I brought my pie to one of my husband’s co-worker’s house that night. Everyone there loved it, and D said he liked it even better than the Bostini from October. He thought it was a nice flavor foil to the spicy Indian food we had for dinner.

In conclusion, I’ll definitely be baking this pie again, though probably only for special occasions since it is a little time intensive. I think I will also check out the cookbook “Wanda’s Pie in the Sky” for more recipes—this one was that good! To see the Lemon Meringue Pies made by the other Daring Bakers, visit our blogroll:

Lemon Meringue Pie
(From Wanda’s Pie in the Sky by Wanda Beaver)
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC).Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup (60 mL) butter, melted
¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Library and Peanuttiest Blondies

On Tuesday night I ventured over to my local library, for only the 2nd time. I'm a big fan of libraries, but I have to say I'm disappointed by the library in the town where I live. It's very, very small. I was spoiled by a nice sized library in the town where I grew up--in fact, when I was in elementary I was part of the human chain that moved books across the parking lot from the old library in the Town Hall to the new library which had previously been a junior high school. From there I went on to a wonderful college library where I worked at the circulation desk for 4 years. Then I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut where the library is just spectacular. After that, I was a patron of the Boston Public Library (Brighton Branch) and then the Sommerville, MA libraries, both of which served my needs.

I guess when I moved to the 'burbs I was expecting a nice big library, like I had growing up, where everything I wanted was there. In hindsight, I didn't really have very sophisticated needs at that time, so I don't know how well-stocked that library really was. And, I can't remember whether it uses Library of Congress Cataloging. In any case, going to the very small library in my town and trying to find what I was looking for was rather difficult and disappointing. Their online catalog isn't very intuitive (mostly because I'm so used to searching Amazon), and they don't use Library of Congress cataloging. Also, of the 15 books I searched for, only 1 was actually available in the stacks--the others were checked out, only available through ILL from other libraries in the network, or weren't owned by any of the libraries in the network.

So I just headed into the stacks to browse. The last time I was there I had stumbled upon the gardening section so that's where I started my browsing. Lucky for me, on the shelf above gardening was cooking. I perused the cookbooks and picked out 2 to take home--Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, and Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. I was also looking for some books on sewing and other than a few quilting books, they didn't have any (I requested Amy Karol's Bend the Rules Sewing via ILL). Disappointing...very disappointing.

But, I came home with the 2 cookbooks, a novel, and 3 books on decorating and window treatments (2 pre-1990 and 1 from 2005). My hope is that the Children's Room of the library is better than the rest since that's probably what I'll be using most in the future.

I don't know whether I've been living under a rock or what, but I had never heard of Dorie Greenspan until I started reading cooking blogs. I guess I never paid much attention to who actually authored articles in the magazines I read on a semi-regular basis, or who was being interviewed on All Things Considered. Being a cooking/foodie blog reader, I've now read all kinds of reviews and ravings of Dorie's recipes. So, I was excited to actually open up one of her cookbooks...and I wasn't disappointed at all! I love her introductions to each recipe and her little suggestions for modifications. And, the photographs are fabulous! I'm a real sucker for food photos (and someday will learn to take good ones myself).

Last night I was itching to make something from the book, but I didn't want to venture out to the grocery store, and I didn't want to be up until midnight baking. I chose the Peanutiest Blondies because I had all of the ingredients on hand, and it's a bar cookie so it wouldn't be very time consuming. I can't find the recipe online anywhere so I'll post a paraphrase of it on here later.

Due to my being impatient, my blondies didn't turn out so great. My faults were as follows: I used a 8x8 glass dish instead of a 9x9 pan, and baked for the minimum amount of time given. Too thick blondies, plus not enough cooking time = blondies that have a nice crust on the top, but are completely dough-like in the middle. The good news is that the dough tasted fantastic--so the finished product, though messy, tastes good. With peanut butter, chopped peanuts, and chopped chocolate, how can you go wrong?!

I'm going to copy the recipe out of the book and stick it in my file to make at a later date at which point I will follow the instructions! I think kids would really love these blondies!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Best Molasses Cookies

The Sunday before Christmas I was a baking madwoman. I made a double batch of Chex Mix (my grandma always made it for Christmas), a pan of Rice Krispie Treats (for my nephews), a pan of magic bars, and a batch of molasses cookies.

The molasses cookie recipe is from Epicurious, but I first learned of this recipe from Cookie Madness--if you love cookies and don't read this blog you've been missing out. Marye at Baking Delights has her version of this recipe too!

These cookies are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. I rolled my cookies in turbinado sugar before baking (a Cookie Madness suggestion) and the crunch of the large-grained sugar is so good! I think they taste like Pepperidge Farms Gingermen cookies (which my mom would send to me at summer camp), only better. I had D deliver a package of these cookies to each of our neighbors on Christmas morning.

Below is the recipe from Epicurious with my modifications:

Molasses Cookies
(Originally from Gourmet November 1995)

Servings: Makes about 25 very large cookies (or 50 normal-sized cookies)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 stick (1/2 cup) margarine
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 cup turbinado sugar, sugar in the raw, or regular white sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F and lightly grease 2 large baking sheets (or line with parchment paper).
In a large bowl whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon.

In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter, margarine, and 3 cups sugar until light and fluffy and beat in molasses. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture and combine well.

In a small shallow bowl put remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Form dough into 2-inch balls and roll in sugar. On baking sheets arrange balls about 4 inches apart and flatten slightly with bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. (1 inch balls yield regular sized cookies...just cook for a slightly shorter amount of time)

Bake cookies in batches in middle of the oven 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Cookies should be soft. Transfer cookies with a metal spatula to racks to cool.

Note: I don't typically use margarine in anything, but margarine tends to give cookies a chewier texture than all butter. I haven't tried these with all butter. Oh, and in the original recipe it lists in the ingredients 3 1/2 cups of sugar and it doesn't say "divided" so I put all 3 1/2 cups into the cookie dough and then used another 1/2 cup of sugar to roll the cookies in. The cookies came out fine, but it's yet another reminder to me to read the entire recipe before starting to cook!!! Oh, and next time I bake these I'll take a nice picture of the finished cookies. To see a close up picture from Cookie Madness, click here.

Product Plug: Kitchen Grips Oven Mitts

For Christmas D gave me a number of fabulous presents (including a gift card for a sock knitting class at The Woolpack), but so far this is the one I use most:

These are Kitchen Grips Oven Mitts. D gave me just one for Christmas. He bought it at Williams Sonoma, but they don't sell them on their site (Amazon does, however). I had him pick up a second one for me a couple of weeks ago.

These oven mitts are made of neoprene and what I like best about them is that the outside is grippy. I can take a covered handle-less Corningware casserole out of the oven with ease wearing these. I slide one on each hand and place my flat palms on either side of the dish and there's no sliding. They are also great for taking hot things out of the microwave--even if you do put your thumb in the food, you can easily wipe the mess off with a damp sponge. Unfortunately they are probably flamable or meltable if left on a stovetop burner, which means this could still happen to them.

That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it. For other reviews, check out the link on my sidebar--you can link to lists of books I've read or am reading, see my ratings, and read my reviews. I haven't done ratings on everything yet and probably never will on some of the books since I read them a long time ago and don't remember much about them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What do do with all of those hotel toiletries?!

I was thinking about that big pile of toiletries I brought back from Greece. I also have a box full of these sorts of things in the basement. I take them when they're good brands (e.g., I used to stay in a hotel in Chicago that had Aveda products) so I can have them for guests at my house. But I have way more than any guests could use.

Today I called a local homeless shelter that has 90 beds and they said they would be very happy to take these toiletries. I also asked my husband about putting a box at his work to collect more hotel toiletries (he works for a mid-sized company and a lot of people travel). I'll report back on how this goes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Before and After

I was lucky enough to have a day off from work today. Originally, my mom was going to come up to help me pick out fabric for valances for my family room and dining room, but she fell while on vacation and needed to spend the day with her feet up (she says her ankle is swollen to 3 times its natural size).

So, left in the house all alone (D is in Phoenix for work), I contemplated what I should do. Should I watch a movie like I did yesterday? Should I cook up something good to eat? Should I venture out to the fabric store on my own? Or, should I tackle something I've been putting off doing? I chose the latter.

Our house has 3 bedrooms. The blue room (where we sleep now), the yellow room (where D has his closet), and the pink room (which will be our mast bedroom someday). The grand plan for the pink room is that we're going to build a wall turning 1/3 of the room into a walk-in closet. Then we're going to lay down hardwood flooring. After that we'll put up crown molding and a chair rail and paint the room to coordinate with our bedding (which my mom gave me for our shower last year and we have yet to sleep on).

These are great plans. Unfortunately, the only part that has been done is that D has ripped up the pink carpet in the part of the room that will one day be the closet. Why haven't we gotten any further, you ask? This is why:

So today I tackled this room. I wasn't able to move everything out, or to find a permanent home for everything, but I did pare down enough so D can pull up the rest of the carpet. And, I emptied 3 plastic bins (which I'll move to the basement and fill with other things). Here's what the room looks like now:

I know it doesn't really look that much better (especially the 2nd picture), but really, it is. The pile of stuff by the door in the 2nd picture is stuff to donate and recycle, including:

That's 2 old cell phones, plus chargers, earbuds, and earbud covers. I need to add the car chargers to this pile--they're in my car. This whole lot will then be donated. There are a lot of places and organizations that will take donated cell phones, but to be honest, I'm just going with the one that's the most convenient. That would be Staples or Verizon. Based solely on the information on these 2 websites, I'll probably drop them off at Verizon.

Something else I recovered in cleaning out this room was my 2nd pair of glasses (my first pair, circa 1987, broke). This pair is Polo Ralph Lauren circa 1989. I wore these until 1996 (though I really didn't wear them that much). Below is the history of my glasses (minus the 1987 pair which were big peach colored plastic frames with glass lenses. Glass lenses were particularly bad for me because I had perfect vision in one eye and my vision in the other eye was really bad. Picture it, 12 year old girl with braces, bad bangs, and crooked glasses).

Top pair is the circa 1989 Polos. These will be donated to charity through the local Lion's Club (there's a donation box at my local library). The other 3 pairs (and the sunglasses clip) I'll keep. I actually wear the ones 2nd from the bottom the most. I got those in December 2000, and I love them. The pair above (with the sunglasses clip) is the only pair of prescription sunglasses I have, so I'll keep those too. The bottom pair is circa 2005 and I wear them occasionally.

I know you're all really curious about what other treasures I found when cleaning out this room. There were many. I mean real treasures, things that are priceless. Like, the contents of 5 purses:
This photo, the contents of 5 purses I don't use, contains:
6 hair elastics
1 barrette
2 Starburst (circa 2006)
8 band-aids
3 packages of tissues
2 boxes of matches
2 place cards from 2 different weddings
a ticket to an exhibit at the MFA
a stack of old business cards
a bracelet someone lost at my friend Darci's wedding
a sewing kit
a 1/2 piece of "Hollywood Tape"
15 cents (1 dime and 1 nickel)
2 boutonniere pins
1 lipstick
1 lip gloss
3 moist towlettes and a bottle of hand sanitizer
1 emery board
a pack of gum
a handful of candy-coated chocolate mints (circa 12/2007)
a cell phone cozy
a coat check ticket

This isn't nearly as bad as I would have thought. I must have cleaned out most of these purses fairly recently. Of course, these aren't the only treasures from the clean out. I also have souvenirs of my honeymoon in Greece. Look at this next picture and you'll want to be a guest at my house:

Yup, that's mostly toiletries and slippers from the resorts where D and I stayed on our honeymoon. Most of it is from the Blue Palace. They had the most amazing smelling shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion--all of it from Korres, a Greek company that just started selling its products in the US. In this picture is also a handful of beach glass and shells I picked up on the beach on Mykonos. I pick up beach glass and shells wherever I travel. People in Cuba thought I was nuts picking up broken glass at the beach!

So that's it in a nutshell. I found some other truly fascinating things in the room too, but I didn't photograph them. Oh, and for any of you who have noticed a trend between the "before" pictures of the pink room and the "before" pictures of the office (posted here), don't fret. These are the only 2 rooms in the house that look this bad. Honestly, I swear!

A Meme for Me

For those of you who don't already know, a meme, in terms of blogs at least, is a list of personal factoids about the blogger. Bloggers will "tag" other bloggers for a meme. Sad, but true, no one has tagged me. I know, I can't believe it either. I feel so unloved by the blog world. In any case, my friend Hayley, from high school, recently emailed me a Fwd with questions to answer about myself. So here goes:

1. What is your occupation? Financial Services Marketing Research

2. What color are your socks right now? pink and white striped

3. What are you listening to right now? Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise" when I began this, Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" when I finished this meme

4. What was the last thing that you ate? Candy coated mints that I found in a purse when I was organizing (they were only 1 month old)

5. Can you drive a stick shift? no (a guy tried to teach me in his truck in the high school parking lot, but you can guess how that turned out)

6. What color would you be, if you were a color? lavender

7. Last person you spoke to on the phone? my mom

8. Do you like the person who send this to you/tagged you? yes

9. How old are you today? 32

10. Favorite drink? Dark & Stormy

11. What is your favorite sport to watch? Red Sox baseball

12. Have you ever dyed your hair? Yes, red, twice (plus the sun-in summer)

13. Pets? a 5 year old tabby cat named Mercury (so named because her purr is so loud it sounds like an outboard motor and Evinrude, Honda, and Yamaha didn't seem like great cat names)

14. Favorite food? ice cream

15. Last movie you watched? On DVD, Something's Gotta Give, in the theater, Juno

16. What do you do to vent anger? deep breaths

17. What was your favorite toy as a child? tough to choose--probably crayons and coloring books

18. What is your favorite, fall or spring? fall

19. Do you want your friends/lurkers to email you back/comment on this meme? Yes

20. Living arrangements? House in the 'burbs

21. When was the last time you cried? watching Juno

22. Favorite smell? pine trees

23. Plain, cheese or spicy hamburgers? cheddar cheese

24. Favorite car? Toyota Prius (and hoping by the time I need one they have a great hybrid minivan)

25. Number of keys on your key ring? 3 keys, 1 clip, and 2 store tags and a library tag

26. How many years at your current job(s)? 2 as of the beginning of January

27. Favorite day of the week? Saturday I guess

28. How many states have you lived in? 5--if you include summer camp--all of them in New England (Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts)

Oh, and if you have never been tagged for a meme, consider yourself tagged!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

First Felting Project

Once upon a time I owned a striped Gap sweater. My mom gave it to me for Christmas in 2002. It was a good sweater, a fun sweater. It's the sweater I wore to the animal shelter on the day I adopted Mercury. Over time that sweater got a little stretched out and a little pilly, and generally wasn't looking so good. But then, through the magic of the internets, I found out about felting sweaters and this particular sweater was destined for a new life. A new life as a cover for the navigation system that D's parents gave us for Christmas.

My first idea was to make an envelope for the nav system. So I cut the sweater into a rectangle. My plan was to sew up the sides with orange yarn using a blanket stitch. After I stitched up one side, I decided it didn't look so great, so I came up with another plan.

This is a sleeve. Ans what better thing to make a sleeve for the nav system out of than a sweater sleeve! I stitched up the end and voila--a nav system sleeve.

Then I put a button on so that the cuff could fold over and button to fasten the cover. However, you'll notice that it's not exactly square. So I had to turn it inside out and fix it.

So here's what it looks like after I made it more square on the bottom. It's not exactly perfect, but I think it's pretty cute.

For some beautiful items made out of felted sweaters, check out and her blog,, where she even has some felted project tutorials.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Kitty Photo of the Month

Swedish Style Turkey Meatballs

When I was a pre-teenager, I went through a phase where I would not eat red meat. I'm not sure exactly how or why this started, though perhaps it was at summer camp. In any case, my mom was pretty supportive of this even though it meant that I often wouldn't eat what was being served for dinner. In many households a non-red meat eater might not be a big deal, but in my household we had beef or pork 5-6 times per week for dinner. You see, my father is allergic to poultry so chicken was a "treat" that we would have only when dad was away on business trips. But I digress. In any case, I went though a non red meat phase which meant that hamburgers became turkey burgers.

I haven't had ground turkey in a long time, but when I was at my new favorite grocery store on Saturday, I bought 2 packages of ground turkey since it was buy one get one free. I thought to myself, "turkey is healthy*" so I should use it instead of beef in meatloaf, chili, etc. Upon arriving home, I checked Epicurious for some ground turkey recipes. The first one I came upon that sounded good was Turkey Swedish Meatballs. Perfect--in fact, D is 1/4 Swedish.

I made the meatballs on Tuesday night. From beginning to end the recipe took about 1.5 hours, but would have been about 15 minutes less if I had put the water on to boil for the noodles earlier. The original recipe is here, but I modified it a little bit because of what I did and did not have on hand.

Swedish Style Turkey Meatballs with Egg Noodles
from Epicurious (originally from Gourmet, April 1998)

For Meatballs:
4 slices firm white sandwich bread (I used leftover Challah)
1 medium onion
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice (in the future I would use a little less)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 pounds lean ground turkey (I used 1 1/4 because that's what I had)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

3/4 pound cholesterol-free egg noodles such as No Yolks

For Sauce:
1 small onion
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups beef broth (24 fluid ounces)
3 tablespoons medium-dry Sherry
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon nonfat sour cream (I used regular Greek yogurt, a big heaping tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves (I left this out--I didn't have any on hand)

chopped fresh dill leaves (again, I left this out)

1/2 cup lingonberry preserves or cranberry sauce (I used canned cranberry sauce)

Make meatballs:
Into a blender/food processor tear 2 bread slices and grind into fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a large bowl. Make more bread crumbs in same manner and transfer to bowl. Finely chop enough onion to measure 3/4 cup (I used the food prpocessor to grate onion since I had it out for the bread crumbs) and add to bread crumbs. In a small bowl whisk together egg, nutmeg, allspice, salt, and pepper and add to bread crumb mixture. Add turkey and with your hands mix mixture until just combined (do not overmix).
Form turkey mixture into 1 1/4-inch balls (about 80--mine was about 30) and arrange on a tray. Meatballs may be prepared up to this point 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a 12-inch non-stick skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown meatballs in 2 batches, turning them occasionally, about 4 minutes for each batch. With a slotted spoon transfer meatballs as browned to a shallow baking pan and reserve any drippings in skillet. Bake meatballs, tightly covered with foil, in middle of oven until just cooked through, about 25 minutes. (I lined the bottom part of a broiler with foil and then cooked the meatballs on the top of the broiler pan, covering the meatballs with foil).

While meatballs are baking (better yet, before you put them in the oven), fill a 6-quart saucepan three fourths full with salted water and bring to a boil for noodles.

Make Sauce:
Finely chop enough onion to measure 1/2 cup. In a small bowl whisk together cornstarch and 1/2 cup broth (I heated my broth in the micro first). To reserved drippings in skillet add Sherry and onion and simmer mixture, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until most of liquid is evaporated. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups broth and bring to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture and whisk into broth mixture. Boil mixture, whisking, 1 minute (look at the clock)and remove skillet from heat. Whisk in Worcestershire sauce, sour cream, and dill and keep sauce warm, covered, over low heat (do not let boil). (Add salt to taste in the sauce, mine could have used a little).

When there's about 15 minutes left on the timer for the meatballs, cook noodles in boiling water until al dente. Drain noodles well in a colander and transfer to a large serving dish. Gently toss noodles with sauce and meatballs and garnish with dill. Put 1 tablespoon preserves or cranberry sauce on top of each serving.

I really liked this recipe. It produced a lot of dishes for D to wash, but I think it was worth it. Also, these were lots of leftovers which I froze.

*Incidentally, I checked the nutrition information for ground beef vs. ground turkey.

For 1/4 lb (raw) here's the info for 93% lean ground turkey (from the Jennie-O package):
Calories: 170
Fat: 8 grams
Saturated Fat: 2.5 grams
Cholesterol: 80 mg
Sodium: 80 mg
Protein: 23 grams
Iron: 6% daily value

And for 1/4lb ground beef 95% lean (from
Calories: 148
Fat: 6 grams
Saturated Fat: 2.25 grams
Cholesterol: 69 mg
Sodium: 65 mg
Protein: 22.5 grams
Iron: 14% daily value

Typically I buy 93% lean ground beef rather than 95%, but for most things I think I'm going to stick with ground beef instead of ground turkey. The iron is a good thing for me, plus, I like the taste of beef.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stunning roadside attraction

Lately I've started taking a new route to work that allows me to spend almost half of my commuting time on back roads instead of the highway. There are so many benefits to this, one of which is that I have observed lots of plants that look beautiful in winter. Some of these have berries, and others are just colorful bare branches. This morning, in a field, I saw a whole line of bushes that were covered in ice and looked like crystal chandeliers growing up out of the ground. I wish I had my camera with me. They were just so beautiful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thar She Blows!

Over the past week nearly all of our beautiful snow had melted. The yard was still more white than green, but the green was quickly encroaching. That is, until Monday. Sunday the weather men were predicting 11-14" of snow for us, and nearly every school district in the greater Boston area had already declared a snowday for Monday (but not our town...we're hardy folks).

Monday I awoke to beautiful snow. Light fluffy flurries with about four inches covering the railings on the deck. Despite the snow, there was a small flock of dark-eyed Juncos at the birdfeeders (I had remembered to fill them on Sunday) and under the rhodedendron out front. Our woodpecker also ventured out into the snow to peck at the suet.

Unfortunately I had to disturb this quiet wilderness with the loud and bright snow eating machine called our snowblower! D is going to start traveling for work, so I needed a lesson on how to use the snowblower. I'm a very liberated woman, but there are certain jobs that I'm more than happy to let the man of the house take on---mowing the lawn and removing snow among them. However, I don't want to be left begging the neighbors for help, so I learned to use the snowblower this Monday.

There are some things I'm really ignorant of...engines are one of these things. Throttle and choke are foreign words to me. And pull ropes are not my friend. Luckily, our snowblower has an elctric start (I did try the pull rope first, but I was too weak). Once the snowblower was running, I was off! It took a while to get the hang of, but I did the whole driveway--and didn't mangle the lawn, eat up the bushes, or throw the snow into the garage by accident.

One thing about snowblowing---it's important to be stylish. That's why I pulled on my old LLBean boots (gore-tex and thinsulate--from college), by snowboarding pants (I don't snowboard), my yellow sailing foul weather jacket (used more for outdoor concerts than sailing), and a red scarf and hat for some additional color. Add this to the bright orange snowblower and I was a vision of color in the whiteness of the snowy day! Of course, when snowblowing visibility to oncoming cars and plows is a good thing!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Opinions Please!

D and I have had our dining room furniture since September, but I've yet to decorate the dining room. The room needs window treatments, artwork, a new light fixture, and a rug. I want to start with the rug since that will inform the colors for everything else in the room. Today I went to HomeGoods at lunch to browse. One of their rugs struck me--it was the right size (approximately 8x10), was made of wool, had no fringe (a criteria of mine), and the colors really appealed to me. It's shades of cream and brown with some rust, sage, and gold mixed into the pattern. Also, the pattern isn't too intricate. I was drawn to a couple of rugs that were more contemporary looking, but I thought I should stick with something fairly traditional. I don't want to buy an expensive rug for this room since we eat at this table on a daily basis, but I want something that complements the furniture.

What do you think of this choice? Be honest...I have 30 days to return the rug!

Just Say No to Catalogs

When I was a kid, I loved catalogs. I would wait for the Sears "Wish Book" to come every fall and start planning what I wanted for Christmas. And, when I was 10, I got to pick a new bedspread from the Sears Catalog. I was so excited about my blue calico quilt-top ruffled skirt bedspread! It looked somewhat like this, but it was colonial blue and navy:

In high school, I really got in to catalogs. In fact, when I would babysit, one of my favorite things to do once the kids were in bed, was to look through catalogs. In this way I was intoduced to the Hanna Anderson and the Tiffany catalogs. I loved looking through all of the catalogs and imagining my future life. I also used to cut pictures out of catalogs--my favorite was a particular J.Crew model from the early 90s. He had brown hair and green eyes (coincidentally, so does D). I still like to cut pictures out of catalogs for decorating ideas (and recipes from Williams Sonoma).

I still love catalogs, but I'm now completely bombarded with them! I would love to receive a catalogs from selected merchants as often as once per season, but that's it! I could handle 4 LLBean catalogs a year, or 4 from Crate and Barrell, Garnet Hill, Ballard Designs, J. Crew, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Williams Sonoma, etc. But, I think I receive a catalog from LLBean and Land's End almost every week! And we often get 3-4 copies of the same catalog--one in my maiden name, one in my married name, one in D's name, and one in the name of the previous owners of our house.

Furthermore, I never order from catalogs. If I do order, it's online. Occasionally a catalog will point me towards something I must have (or a good buy), but this rarely happens. I think the only time this has happened in the past year is with Garnet Hill. I purchased a Hanro nightgown from them last week for $48.00--a major bargain. And, before my wedding I found the perfect sweater in their catalog (I ordered both of these items online).

So what's my point here? I discovered today, via the Apartment Therapy blog, an online service called Catalog Choice that allows you to choose which catalogs you no longer wish to receive. I registered today and started going through the process. I'll let you know how it turns out! You can check it out by clicking the link below:

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Decorating: Vintage Ugly

When D and I moved into our house in June, my mom and dad unloaded all sorts of stuff of mine from their house. In addition, my mom also gave me some other things that might be "helpful" including a collection of vintage decorating/sewing booklets. I can only assume that she got them when she moved into her first house in 1973, though they could be from the days of her first apartment. In any case, the booklets are definitely going to come in handy when I decorate my own house. Check them out:

Here's a peak inside-- I love the overlapped ruffled curtains (since they're light yellow, this picture doesn't do it justice--I may have to scan the page). Much of the book is devoted to how to make ruffles!

In fact, all 3 of these booklets have some fabulous curtains in them, all of which I'm considering for my house (if only I can find the right polyester fabric). I like this picture where they've entirely covered the windows in drapery, I mean really, why would you want to see the outdoors?

In these next pages, they've also entirely covered the windows. Did I miss the memo that said sunlight coming through windows is unhealthy? Maybe if I read the booklet about caring for my upholstered furniture, I would find that my furniture purchased in 1973 would look brand new in 2007 if only I had kept the windows completely covered. All I can say is, I hope that by 2027 I'll have the means to replace my (then faded) recently purchased upholstered furniture because I plan to let the light in!!!

Oh, and in case you can't read the fine print, that room with the hideous yellow curtains is a lilac and yellow BATHROOM! It says, "A complementary scheme can whisper its message as in this violet and yellow bathroom." I guess that's actually the shower curtain, as the booklet goes on to say, "A vinyl shower curtain was also dyed to match the nylon rug and terry-topped hassock." Wow! Don't even get me started on the red and green room!

In this next set of pictures, I actually kind of like the room on the right--what can I say, I dig the pink and green color scheme.

And I actually kind of like these 2 pictures too. The kitchen is shaped somewhat like mine. The red and yellow dining room looks almost as if it could be a sketch made recently with the globe over the table (and finally they're letting some light in!)

I'm feeling very inspired to decorate right now! Who needs Apartment Therapy or Design*Sponge when you have these booklets!