Sunday, January 31, 2010

... the winter garden

pho from above

today was cold, grey, foggy and rainy. a perfect northwest winter day, if you ask me. making it the kind of day where you might feel inclined to put on your wellies and head over to the arboretum to take a muddy stroll through the winter garden.

pho steam

but not before warming up the insides with a bowl of steaming veggie pho from ballet. my favorite.

fortune

dubious fortunes and all.

winter garden at the arboretum

hamamelis

right now is really the best time to enjoy the winter garden. most of all, for the witch hazel, which has a scent that i can't get enough of. some think it smells too soapy, but not me. we planted a small fragrant witch hazel near our front door in the hopes that it will grow and give off a lovely fragrance that we can enjoy as we come and go from the house in the winter months. until we have more than a few blossoms, though, i'm going to have to rely on the plentiful witch hazel at the arboretum to satisfy my need. there are some spots where you can stand amongst the trees where the most amazing scents waft through the air to hit you from all directions. i can't get enough of it.

hamamelis flowers

also, you can't beat those spidery petals.

hellebore

of course, the hellebore is coming up now. i have a thing for downturned flowers, too.

lonicera

and there is the most beautiful lonicera that caught the raindrops so nicely.

redtwig dogwood

dogwood and black mondo grass

and you can't have a winter garden without dogwood. red and green are both striking against grey skies or a blanket of back mondo grass.

rhodies

even some rhododendrons are starting to bloom. i've always found the bright, tropical look of the flowers so out of place here in the northwest. but it's our state flower, don'tcha know. go figure.

cyclamen

i'm also a fan of cyclamen. until this year i had no idea that, in addition to being quite lovely, also smells amazing... like a sweet, sweet rose.

snowdrops

and please forgive the blurriness, but i had to include some snowdrops, as they are c's favorite winter bulb. i agree, seeing the delicate white flowers come up in the middle of the coldest months is always so heartening. and, hello again, downturned petals!

the only thing missing from my afternoon was being able to warm up after our walk in front of a nice, warm fire. i had to settle for a cup of tea and some quilting, which fortunately isn't really settling at all.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

... imperfect cake

cake top

sometimes everything goes well when baking. sometimes everything does not. sometimes all three of your cake layers flop. and sometimes you don't have enough frosting to cover all the mistakes.

sloppy carrot cake

but my new motto is "imperfect cake is still cake." (i would like to also embroider that on a pillow.)

pineapple

macadamia nuts

this carrot cake--with fresh pineapple, toasted macadamia nuts, coconut, and coconut cream cheese frosting--was a complete kitchen disaster from top to bottom.

sunken carrot cake

but it still tasted delicious. the whole gloppy, floppy, sloppy mess.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

... unexpected (and expected) gifts

there's nothing better than a surprise gift. i love giving them, but getting them is pretty nice, too. over the last month or so i realize that i have been the recipient of quite a few little unexpected treasures, which has reminded me, yet again, how lucky i am to be surrounded by such sweet friends.

clementines

this little berry colander appeared on our doorstep a few weeks ago. our neighbor, jenn, knew both c and i had bad colds (and also knew that the colander matched our le creuset cookware) and filled it with some clementines to aid in our recovery. i honestly have the best neighbors in the world. thanks, jenn!

much depends on dinner

a package arrived for me in the mail sometime around christmas, containing a handmade card and this book. it's from a friend who i haven't seen in years, one who i always liked and wanted to get to know better but who moved away to the other coast too soon. this was completely unexpected, yet delightful in that she and i both share a love of food writing, and i always look forward to her book recommendations. kyla, i so hope you consider returning to our fair city sometime down the road. we miss you!

(also making an appearance up there is the marimekko mug c gave me for christmas. love love love.)

dinosaur jr

my cool and crazy friend francine (and i don't use either of those words lightly) showed up to a party bearing this t-shirt for me. we both have an affection for dinosaur jr, a band i might dare to call my most favorite band of all time, and she wanted me to have it just because she knew how much i would love it. and i do. (i just wish it wasn't so difficult to take a photo of one's self wearing a t-shirt!)

the best show on wfmu

and speaking of t-shirts, yesterday a package from wfmu came in the mail for c, who had donated during their recent 24-hour emergency pledge drive. c made sure the t-shirt came in my size, because he knows just how much i love the best show on wfmu. but wfmu, and the best show, probably need their own dedicated post so i can extol the wonders of this most wondrous of radio stations. thank you, c, for thinking of me when you donate money to good causes.

sheep on feet

not all gifts are completely unexpected, but the doesn't make them any less cherished. now, this isn't how we usually do christmas in my family, but this year my mom happened to ask if i wanted anything in particular, and without any hesitation i declared, "slippers!" for the past few years i've wanted some slippers, specifically some simple mules in either boiled wool or felt, nothing fancy. well, my mom found these beauties for me and--without putting down any of the other wonderful gifts i received--i must say that this is my most favorite christmas present of all. every day, as soon as i get home, i do my best mister rogers impression as i slip into these and put on my coziest cardigan. my perpetually cold feet stay toasty and i am always tickled when i look down and see that little sheep decorating my toes.

sheep!

thank you, everyone, for thinking of me with these sweet, sweet gifts. obviously, it's not about the things themselves, but about the pleasant reminders that there are some truly wonderful people in my life.

Monday, January 18, 2010

... baking and basting

healthy bread

what a beautiful day it was in seattle. over 50 degrees outside, a touch of rain in the morning and then the clouds cleared to reveal a sunny, clear, refreshing afternoon. and best of all? i'm back on my (mostly) regular diet. i admit i really enjoyed my two weeks of completely whole foods, but i'm also happy to welcome a bit of cheese back into my life. and tea with half and half. and olive oil. and butter. and bread.

healthy whole wheat bread sliced

but i'm not jumping on the pizza bandwagon just yet. there are quite a few things i learned from these last two weeks that i wholeheartedly want to continue. like making my own almond milk. and cooking my own beans instead of using ones from a can. and making a big pot of soup each week to have on hand for emergencies. and drinking black tea only the morning and switching to green tea in the afternoon. nice, simple things. and while i was excited to go back to eating bread again, i felt it might be a good thing to try to make more of my own.

enter healthy bread in five minutes a day. what a fabulous book. the simple premise is that you mix up a large batch of dough--literally, just mix all the ingredients together until it's a big gooey mess, no proofing, no kneading--keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks and just rip off a blob when you want a nice hot loaf of bread, let it rise for 90 minutes and then bake in the oven. i'm simplifying a lot, obviously. there are some intriguing tips and strategies for making your bread delicious, but the actual hands-on time is pretty minimal. it's a big adjustment for someone like me who loves to bake bread, who loves to actually knead bread. but i also like eating my own home-baked bread more frequently than every month or two. anyhow, it tastes great! the crust is nice and chewy and the crumb is moist and just slightly dense, but not as dense as you would expect from a mostly whole wheat bread.

tea and bread

and it was especially delicious with my first, hot mug of black tea. welcome back to my belly, welsh brew. oh, how i missed you!

basting

fueled by bread and tea, i felt motivated to finally baste my red letter day quilt. are you tired of looking at this quilt yet? i sure am!

kwik klip

when i stopped by the quilting loft to pick up some more basting pins, it was suggested that i try the kwik klip. wow! i hadn't thought i had too hard a time basting with pins in the past, but when i used the kwik klip i realized just how easy it could be. honestly, no one is paying me to say this. it just makes the process about twice as fast, and i like that!

quilting fail

and wow! look at that quilting! don't you love it?! yeah, i do, too. but guess what? that one plus sign took me about a half hour to quilt! and there is no way i am going to do that about 30 more times (you do the math). so, i am currently rethinking my plan, which will probably involve more straight lines and fewer pivots.

successes and failures... today still rounded out to be a pretty good day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

... simple salads

dressing

believe it or not, just the above ingredients blended together with some water produced a pretty delicious salad dressing. and it was all made with whole foods, nothing packaged or processed!

two more days of the whole foods plan, then it'll be back to the usual diet. however, i've felt pretty inspired by some of the foods i've been eating these last two weeks so i'm hoping to continue to incorporate much of it into our real life. and i have been pleasantly reminded how simple it can be to prepare all my own food. something that is easy to forget when you're reaching for the phone to order a pizza after a long day and you feel that you can't possibly be bothered to cook something for yourself.

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pizza does sounds pretty good right about now, though.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

... having time to sew

red letter day!

last weekend's portland getaway also saw a trip to a lovely fabric store, cool cottons. wow! such a pretty store filled with a wonderland of fabric. better yet, they had a whole bunch of red letter day, which i have a habit of desperately buying up when i can find it. i got quite a lot of the blue pearl bracelet and some more of those ducks. those ducks just melt my heart.

new to stash

and, of course, some more lovelies to add to the stash, including some alexander henry birds, another alexander henry yellow dot (which will soon be part of the back for my deep sea quilt), and the cutest kokka fabric with sheep. sheep!

and all this got me inspired to do some more sewing, something that has been horribly neglected in the busy holiday months. i also came to realize that i don't like sewing when it's dark out, making it that much more difficult to find time in these short winter days.

plus quilt back

so, i dove right in yesterday and pieced a back for the red letter day quilt, which was originally intended as a christmas present for my nephew (guess i need to make with the snap-snap and get this thing done). it's quite simple, and i think it will show off the quilting i plan on doing on this one really nicely.

plus quilt binding options

i had also originally intended for the orangey pearl bracelet fabric to be the binding for the quilt, but when i found a bunch of the same print in blue i started to waffle. i really like the way the blue brings everything together and worry that the orange makes the whole thing appear too busy. thoughts?

plus quilt front

see, isn't the blue a bit nicer? fortunately i still have some time to decide, seeing as how i still have to baste and quilt this.

it sure feels good to create things again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

... making almond milk

almonds

i'll be up front about this. for the next few weeks you won't be seeing any fancy baked goods here. or trips to the late-night belgian frite truck. or, for that matter, any french fries of any kind. because, in celebration of the new year i have pared down my diet to the bare essentials. c and i are only eating foods that are whole, that didn't come from a package or can, that don't have processed sugar, or that aren't processed in any way, really. and no extra sweeteners or salt. so that means a whole lot of very simple meals. we're talking quinoa with homemade black beans. steamed broccoli. roasted beets. cooked oats topped with apple. satsumas. green tea. water. period.

almonds close

the thing is, i usually enjoy oatmeal for breakfast most days. but i like it topped with some unsweetened almond milk, and since that comes packaged (with a few additives, i discovered) that was certainly out for the next two weeks. and so the first few days of this new diet i had a hard time with the oatmeal because it was so terribly dry. but then i remembered that one could make their own almond milk. i had always assumed it would be a difficult, complicated task, but it turns out i was very wrong.

almonds peeled

boy, is it easy to make!

i consulted a few cookbooks and online recipes (i found this one to be quite helpful), and discovered that there doesn't really need to be a set-in-stone recipe, just a few simple guidelines. the first is to either start by soaking your almonds overnight or blanching them by putting them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes. either of these things will loosen the skins so you can easily peel them off, which makes for a less bitter almond milk. i chose to soak mine overnight because i'm lazy like that.

next, once you've de-skinned them (a process which takes a few minutes, but don't we all need a few meditative minutes in the morning removing skins from almonds while we stare out the window and mull some things over?) you just put them in a blender with some warmish water and blend until creamy and smooth. it seems that the proportion of almonds to water is up to you, but it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/4 to 1/3 cup almonds to 2 cups water. i wanted a bigger batch of almond milk, so i used 1/2 cup almonds and roughly 3 1/2 cups water.

next, just strain the resulting puree through a fine-mesh sieve and you've got yourself a batch of delicious, natural, homemade almond milk!

almond milk!

now, you can take what i'm saying with a grain of salt since i've been eating nothing but the plainest of foods for the last couple of days, but it really was amazingly delicious. so creamy, slightly sweet, almondy without being cloying... yum! but i'm thinking that even after i'm done with this little whole foods kick i'm going to stick with making my own almond milk now that i know how easy it is. wouldn't it be tasty in a nice hot cocoa? or in a fresh fruit smoothie? or, as i had it this morning, over a bowl of hot oats and banana with a mug of organic green tea to wash it down?

oatmeal and green tea

Monday, January 4, 2010

... portland

stumptown

i love living in seattle. i honestly wouldn't want to live any where else. but one city i adore almost as much is portland. this weekend i took c there for his birthday. on the agenda was all the goodness that portland has to offer, of which there is an abundance

native bowl portland

native bowl

as soon as we pulled into town we headed straight for a food cart mecca at the mississippi marketplace and enjoyed two amazing vegan bowls at native bowl. i had the mississippi bowl and c got the gravy bowl. wow.

powell's aisle

then it was off to check in at our adorable b&b, the white house, before we took a turn about the pearl district and spent several hours at powell's.

nyrb

powell's knows how to rock the nyrb.

book stack

powell's also knows how to get me to buy more books than i need (but not nearly as many as i want). this is me exercising restraint.

cinemagic

we took in a movie at the quaint cinemagic on hawthorne, then enjoyed more food cart goodness with some belgian frite at potato champion.

late night picnic on the bed

... which we took back to the b&b and enjoyed on the cushy bed with some sparkling wine provided by our lovely hosts. frite + frite saus + sparkling wine = yum!

dutch bikes

sunday was the most lovely day of all, though, as we rented dutch bikes from clever cycles (i got to ride my dream bike!) and rode all over the city and along the river. i can't even begin to tell you how lovely it was to cycle all over portland, even on a chilly grey day, across the river and through the city, with nowhere special to be, watching as nearly everyone who passed by smiled widely and admired our bicycles. or maybe they were just smiling back in acknowledgment of my goofy grin.

bike portland

burgerville

and, of course, after working that hard (sort of) we felt we naturally deserved a trip to burgerville for veggie burgers, fries, and a chocolate hazelnut milkshake. oh yes, we definitely deserved it.

bed feet

thank you, portland, for the great weekend.

your neighbor up north,
ara jane