Monday, November 30, 2009

Color on a Gray November Day

This morning I braved the cold to run some errands (or rather, walk some errands). I took my camera along looking for spots of color on this chilly gray day. Here are my findings:

Thanksgiving leftovers

A single rosebud growing tall

Blossoms and decay

I hope you're staying warm and finding little bits of beauty in your life!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Get Excited for Giveaway Day: Dec. 2nd

Mark your calendars for this Wednesday, December 2, 2009. I'll be participating in Sew Mama Sew's Giveaway Day. Stop by my blog that day for a chance to win a cool prize and be sure to check out Sew Mama Sew for a listing of all the other bloggers participating. It's a great chance for you to win some lovely handmade items for yourself or to give as gifts. Plus, you'll get to check out loads of interesting blogs.
I'm so excited! Hope you are, too!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pecan Tassies (recipe here)

The pecan tassies are ready to go and the corn pudding is in the oven. We've got lots of family to see this weekend and lots of good food to eat, so K and I are both pretty excited. I even heard him whistling around the house this morning.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and get to spend time with people you love!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holing up in the Kitchen

Gingerbread cookies (recipe here)

I spent yesterday evening in the kitchen, staying toasty warm and enjoying the pungent smells of spices. The place was clean for once because I spent the afternoon tidying and washing dishes. So of course all I could think of was messing it up again. I think I love a clean kitchen just for the opportunity to create chaos again.

Buttermilk biscuits on the way to the freezer

I may have picked out the very messiest recipes to make--the ones that require multiple bowls, lots of flour, and dipping my hands right into dough. I baked up 3 dozen gingerbread cookies, which made the house smell amazing. I also made a quadruple batch of buttermilk biscuits for freezing. I love having homemade biscuits in the freezer for an easy, warm winter breakfast.

Brie cheese, all for me

In other wonderful food news, my mom gave me one of my Christmas presents early! She had surgery last week and while she's recovering well, she's not allowed to be out and about for many weeks. She did some of her shopping early and since this present is perishable, I get to have it now. I asked for brie cheese--it's a splurge and K doesn't like it, so we never really buy it.

I fell in love with brie when I was living in Amsterdam. I used to stop in the grocery and buy a big wedge of brie and some bread. Then I'd bike down along the Amstel River until I was out of the city, surrounded by farms and the occasional windmill. There was a church in the middle of all of this low-lying, canal-strewn farmland. It had a high steeple and a bench in front facing the river. I'd sit there watching the river traffic and eat my picnic lunch. I know I couldn't have been too far outside of Amsterdam, but I felt like I was in a world away from everything. I loved that quiet place between the river and the church, surrounded by lilacs and strangers.
(Thanks ever so much for the present, Mom!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cleaning out the Garden

Sorrel. bunches of it

On Sunday I cleaned out the garden, harvested what I could and generally tidied it up. Our little patch of vegetables and herbs had grown quite feral. I didn't tend it as much as I would have liked once school started, but it was fun to see what plants will do when left to their own devices. The tomato plants sent off long vines--I kid you not, we had tomatoes growing 20 feet from where we originally planted them. I think we might have the most fertile soil ever (I know from digging around that our yard is rich in coal, marbles, and broken off heads from religious icons).

I am completely stunned that we are still getting vegetables and herbs from the garden in late November. I appreciate them all the more because we're no longer surrounded by summer abundance.

Here's a look at the last harvest of the season, with a little guessing game at the end.


Tomato, jalapenos, and green peppers

Lemon balm (for delicious tea)

Can you guess what this one is? 

It has such an interesting silhouette! 

* * * 
Updated: It's okra! I pulled it apart to pluck out the seeds and this is what I was left with.

Monday, November 23, 2009

First Snowfall Button Necklace

The first snowfall is predicted for this week. I'm nearly bursting with anticipation. I fully expect the forecasted snow to turn out to be a cold gray rain, but maybe, just maybe...

We'll have snow.

 I love the feel and smell of the air during the first snow--crisp and fresh with a bit of magic and woodsmoke mixed in. Catching snowflakes on my tongue, crunching through new powder, and spinning round til I tumble onto a quiet white ground. These are the activities I can't wait for!

Name: First Snowfall Button Necklace

Color: Crisp white with a hint of shimmer

Perfect to wear while:
drinking hot cocoa
       attending festive parties
               visiting friends and family, etc.

Have you already had the first snowfall of the season where you live?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cinnamon Ice Cream

This weekend has been lovely. I have enough school work finished that I could take a break and just relax.

I spent time meandering around an antique mall, shopping for a few Christmas presents (and craft supplies to make Christmas presents), crocheting like it's my job, baking chocolate chip cookies, lazing on the couch watching old movies with K, and making cinnamon ice cream.

Cinnamon ice cream is a confection that I became smitten with a few years ago when I tried it at a local ice cream shop. Before that I'd never even imagined cinnamon and ice cream in the same sentence. The flavor of cinnamon is so warm and reminiscent of cozy holiday gatherings, so it never dawned on me to use it in a frozen treat.

But once I get a taste of something that I love, I file it away with the thought of making it myself someday. I don't know why, but I like the challenge and achievement that comes with making things on my own. Plus, I love to eat.

Making cinnamon ice cream was a cinch--we steeped cinnamon stick in a mixture of warmed milk, cream, and sugar for an hour, removed the cinnamon sticks and added egg yolks and more cream. After a good chill in the fridge we whirred it around in our ice cream maker and ate hearty helpings of it. Mmm...I love this season!

The recipe comes from The Perfect Scoop (surprise, surprise!). You can also find the recipe here.

If you're looking for other ways to get some cinnamon into your life, you might like these cinnamon rolls, my grandma's apple delight, or this apple pie.

I hope you've been enjoying your weekend! What have you been up to?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stone + Leaf + Grass = Ephemeral Art

On Thursday I took a few minutes before class to mosey around campus. The weather was cool--a pleasant break from the warm-as-an-oven library. Before I knew it, I had found a beautiful stone, smooth and oval-shaped. It felt so comforting in my hand. Then I came across a bush full of deep crimson leaves, so I picked one to keep my  gray stone company. When pines needles wouldn't hold the stone and leaf together, I tied a long piece of grass around the two.

I plunked this little bit of nature art down on the corner of my desk to keep me calm and happy all throughout class.

Much to my surprise, it started some really cool conversations with the people sitting around me. One lady told me that she's a rock hound and showed me the jumble of stones in the pocket of her backpack. Her dream is to one day get a rock from Mount Everest.

Another girl told me a story about how my rock reminded her of the beach stones she use to collect as a child. Her dad lives on the North Carolina coast, and she used to spend her childhood summers with him. They'd walk the beach together, picking up smooth stones that they called "rubies."

I hope you are enjoying the change of seasons as much as I am and learning new things every day!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Just peeking in...

Shhh...I'm not really here. I just wanted to whisper a little hello to you all.


I've been squirreled away at my desk, tap-tapping away at the keyboard, putting one word after the next, miraculously churning out phrases then sentences, paragraphs then pages, and somehow, finally, full drafts of essays. I wish I had thought to take a picture because at one point I looked up to find myself completely surrounded by stacks of books, not to mention the books splayed open across my desk and the ones with pencils tucked inside them as place holders. Oh those poor books.

Since my life is all tied up with books right now, I thought I'd tell you about some fun books that have been on my mind lately.
(Click on the images for more information.)

Ok, I've already delved into this one. It's the book I've been reading in those 10 minutes before I fall asleep each night. Luckily, it's a collection of short fiction (some pieces are as short as a paragraph), so it is perfect for when I only have a few moments to read. The problem is that it's a library book and someone else has requested it. I usually don't mind sharing but I want to finish it!

I've also got this one checked out from the library, though I haven't made anything from it yet. I've got my eye on these projects: tote bag, pillowcases, elephants, and the not-so-crazy quilt. Lots of inspiration here. I have to say that I first discovered this book through Amy on her blog During Quiet Time. She made these adorable elephants!

I am such a big Alice Munro fan, and I'm ecstatic that she's got a new book coming out. Reading a book of hers always seems like hanging out with an old friend.

Wait, how did Calamity Jane get here? This is one of the dime novels I've been using for my research, Deadwood Dick on Deck, Or, Calamity Jane, The Heroine of Whoop-up. It's a pretty entertaining read and is available to read online. Just saying, if you're in need of some 19th century cheap fiction, this one's got lots of thrills and exciting adventures.

What have you been reading lately? Or what do you want to read?

Any books you've read recently that you'd recommend?

* * *

Images from:,,, and (what?)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Homemade Vanilla Extract

So we have a problem.

Recently while making a double batch of waffles, we used up the last of our homemade vanilla extract. Which means that holiday baking time is rapidly approaching and there's no vanilla extract around to make it wonderful. Egads! What's a girl to do?

Well if you're me you buy a bottle of vodka to console yourself. No, no, not to drink (my vodka-shooting days ended with college graduation, I'm pretty sure). The vodka is to brew up some tasty homemade vanilla extract.

I made vanilla extract last fall and parcelled it out as Christmas presents. Last year I followed a recipe, but really, the whole thing is simply vodka and vanilla beans, so this year I thought I'd just eye the proportions and hope for the best.

Here's what I used:

1 bottle of vodka
several super-clean jars, sterilized in boiling water
vanilla beans (I think I had 8)

If you want to play along at home, here are the steps to follow:

Slice each vanilla bean down the middle, leaving one end intact. I don't know why you leave that end intact, but that's what I remembered from last year so that's what I did. Oh, the logic.

Scrunch the beans down into your jars. (I ended up only using 3 jars.)
Pour vodka over top. I used about a half cup of vodka per vanilla bean.

 Put the lids on the jars (obviously) and place your concoctions in a cool dark place, like a pantry.

Every few days, take out the jars and give them a good shake.

Your vanilla extract should be ready in about 2 months. Mmm...delicious!

Ours has been brewing for a several of weeks now and should be ready (*fingers crossed*) to use in time for some Christmas baking. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Crochet Block Blanket

This blanket is finished. If only I could say the same thing about my school work.

Crochet Block Blanket for Julie

Well, right now I am smack dab in the middle of writing two paper drafts, preparing for a presentation, and trying not to freak out about the third paper I have to write, which I haven't even begun to think about. But I keep telling myself that I will get all of those things done in due time. The key is not to think about it all at once, but just to strategize and plan time for each task.

And you know what's keeping me sane? Crocheting. It's so portable and can be done in spare minutes that I find here and there. Plus, those little bits of crocheting time make my life feel more than just bearable, they make it feel luxurious, leisurely even. I have time to breathe.

I love those quiet moments, my body relaxed but my fingers moving quickly and deftly. It gives my mind time to roam. Sometimes I think about anything but school work, like food or perhaps other craft projects that I want to tackle when time allows. Other times I turn over ideas about my school work, organizing them and trying to figure out how to concisely get to the point. Oh yes, the point...

I finished weaving in the ends on the blanket last Thursday evening, and while there was no trumpet fanfare or celebratory shots, I was ecstatic about this accomplishment! It's been 8 months in progress, and is a very belated 20th birthday gift for my sister. She chose her favorite colors for it (browns, pink, and burgundy), and it matches her room at home. I used patterns from Jan Eaton's 200 Crochet Blocks, which is such a fun and creative book. I picked out 15 patterns and made two of each, mixing up the color combinations along the way. You can find more specific information about this blanket here. I'm really happy with how it turned out and even happier that it will keep my sister warm this winter.

Here is a closer look at some of the blocks I love:

Pink peony block (my favorite)

Willow block

Seville block

One last note: I often wonder if I'm the only one at school who brings crafts along for study breaks. Maybe, but I like to think that I'm not, that somewhere on campus there is at least one other person with a ball of yarn and a hook or needles stashed away. Someone with colored pencils or embroidery thread. Someone who is also a maker.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Late Fall Walk

K and I went on a mid-afternoon stroll yesterday to soak in the warm breezy fall weather. Here are some pictures of what we saw.

sunshine on golden leaves

red berries with blue sky

half a pumpkin amongst the leaves

imposing fence at the cemetery

the two of us

Hope you are having stunning weather wherever you are!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cake Photo

A lovely photo for you taken by my sister, Julie.
Do you recognize that cake?
I hope your week has been going well!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

CSA Day: The Last One

On our very last CSA day of the year, we got an abundance of vegetables. Nothing like going out with a bang!
This week we'll be eating broccoli, turnips, potatoes, kale, radishes, mixed salad greens, green peppers, and sweet potatoes, all from Finger Pickin' Farms.
The eggs are from Misty Meadows Farm.

It's hard to believe we've eaten our way through a whole growing season of CSA vegetables.
I recently heard someone describe their CSA as "like Christmas, but with vegetables," and yeah, it does feel exciting every week getting new and unexpected produce. I've loved seeing what we get each week, learning about vegetables I've never heard of before, and figuring out just what to make with what we have. Meal planning has definitely changed because instead of pulling meal ideas out of thin air, K and I survey what we've got already in the fridge to see what we can make. Our CSA subscription has also really made me appreciate eating fresh fruits and vegetables when they're ripe and in season. I don't mind waiting until spring for strawberries or mid-July for tomatoes because they taste so much better than what I can find in the grocery store when they're out of season.

We got so many sweet potatoes this week that I couldn't fit them all into the photo. (Ok, sometimes I'm just bad at taking pictures, but we did get a lot of sweet potatoes.) I've got lots of ideas for them swimming around in my head.
K and I really like Indonesian Sweet Potato and Cabbage soup, which has peanut butter in it. That's definitely in our near future. Since there are enough to play around with, I'm thinking of sweet potato biscuits from this fun cookbook.
How do you like to eat sweet potatoes?

This kale is gorgeous with its dusky greens and rich purple tones.

And these radishes! I can't get over their deep pink and white prettiness. They're such a welcome burst of brightness since the leaves outside have turned dull and brown.

Radishes in a jar, ready to be pickled.

Thanks to Nick and Luke and everybody else who worked behind the scenes at Finger Pickin' Farms to keep us fed this year. We've loved it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Handmade Holidays

I've always thought of the weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving as a kind of frigid wasteland. Life is pretty regular, just colder and with nothing much good happening. I thought November would feel the same this year, but I am so happy to be wrong.

I woke up very unsuspecting on Sunday morning, and when I suddenly realized that it was November 1st my whole world felt cheerier. The time had come to start making ingredient lists for holiday baking and to figure out what I'll be taking to family Thanksgiving parties.

Even better, I realized it was time to really get cracking on making Christmas presents. (Picture me smiling so big that my eyes squinch shut.) Imagine my delight when I saw that Sew, Mama, Sew! is filling November with 30 days of tutorials and creative ideas for hand-making holiday presents. It's only the 2nd of November and they've already blogged about lots of cool things I want to craft. They're also giving something away every day. Check out the amazing prizes here. And, if you're not into crafting, but still like to support individuals who make things by hand, Sew, Mama, Sew is including ideas for buying handmade as well.

I hope November is going splendidly for you!


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