To Amuse and Delight

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Soup's On!

 Chicken soup has always been a cure for the common cold. At this time of year I am making some sort of soup everyday. We all love soup and it's good medicine to keep the sniffles at bay. Soup can be a bit fancy, like my mulligatawny with crispy sweet potato on top or a super simple breakfast broth loaded with garlic.
We call this breakfast soup "Ponyo" soup, if you've seen that movie you know why! Good, no chemical natural meats are pricey. Instead of a big, fat, meaty sandwich you can garnish your meals with a little. I think it's a healthier way to eat meat and it stretches your food budget too. We like this soup with spicy tofu also. 
If I am rushing around and don't feel like dealing with cooking noodles and the kids are asking for soup for breakfast I'll go with a quick miso. Good old tried and true chicken soup is good, but I go for Asian soups not only for taste (which I prefer), but I can add so many healing herbs and spices to them. 

I have an especially heavy hand with fresh garlic and ginger.  Seaweed too! Sea vegetables are sooo good for you. Many people aren't getting enough iodine in their diets. Most of my soups start by boiling water with a piece of kombu or wakame in it. You can take it out, like with a bay leaf and all the nutritional benefits remain. If you like the taste, chop it up and put it back in your soup and get even healthier!
Vietnamese Pho is a fun soup for a company lunch. Everyone can add what they want to their own bowl of hot broth. It's perfect to make this on a snowed in day. Make a big pot of pho broth and eat all day long. Another benefit is that it makes the house smell great because of the star anise and ginger. 
This soup is on heavy my rotation right now, it's called Senegalese Peanut Soup. If you are interested in that recipe link I must say that I always lessen the peanut butter and up the garlic. (I add ginger too, which isn't called for.) 

 I am frequently asked to bring this soup to potlucks once people have tried it. It's the kind of thing that you keep craving long after you eat it.  It freezes well so I make a large pot and put some away for quick lunches. I usually have some bread dough stored up as well, so this yummy lunch was pulled out of the freezer as "fast food" when I needed it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Autumn: bringing it in

We bring bits of nature into the house during every season. Fall though seems to make the biggest  impact. I love it! Even on the short walk to my mailbox I come back with something pretty. Although we have a couple of designated "nature shelves" the rest of the house is being taken over by the great outdoors.
Did you ever do this as a kid? I did and now I do it with my girls. Collect leaves and iron them between waxed paper to hang in windows or use as place mats and table runners.
Of course I am crazy about things that represent the natural, like my pumpkin teapot. Yesterday I got the notion to make acorn shaped cakes for tea time. The baking pan I used is shaped kind of like an egg carton. I dipped the tops in chocolate and there you have it---acorns!
 I made these gluten free pumpkin bars even though I don't have a gluten problem. I am always looking for nice recipes that I can serve my GF friends. Use any pumpkin pie filling recipe that you love and bake it on this GF crust. I pre-baked the crust first for about 15 minutes before pouring on the filling. It's really good. 

Crust: 1 1/2 cups almond meal + 3 TBS fat (butter/coconut oil) + 1 TBS sugar (or packet of stevia)
Press crust into pan evenly, I used rectangular  tart pan with removable bottom.

See more of my Pumpkin Tasties here: 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Adventures of an Elf

Yes, I know it has been quite a long time since my last blog post. I have been rather preoccupied with "real" life. Life is interesting, life is unpredictable. Life gets in the way of  blogging, blogging will never get in the way of  my life. There is so much to do, to see, to try. Sometimes I admit...I just forget to blog. The longer I stay away, the harder it is to come back. Today I'd like to recap a little of the past month while the memories are fresh. It has been a very exciting and fun time.
My daughter has been writing a story about a dark elf/Drow who because of complicated circumstances is being raised by her wood elf grandfather. This week she finally gathered all the necessary pieces to dress up as her elf counterpart. The autumn colors made for a perfect elf walk and photoshoot. It seems like only yesterday that she was a tiny girl devising a way to attach hair to her Frodo feet. She insisted on going to church that way, barefoot in very cold weather. We compromised with flip flops. She was born with a wonderful, brave, adventurous spirit and many times I have had to look away and just let her do things that worried me rather than crush her spirit.

 A year ago she began earnestly asking if I would let her go on a mission trip to Cambodia.  My husband had been to Cambodia in 2011. He met some amazing people there whom we have become very close with. They run a church and orphanage in the city of Phnom Phen called Water of Life and they are doing miraculous things in their community. 

When my husband first went it was scary to think about the strange and dangerous things he was doing. Twenty-six hours of travel each way, oppressive weather, strange food, anything goes traffic, trips into the jungle and dangerous slums. Our friend Holly is a missionary who runs a home for vulnerable woman and girls called House of Refuge. Sometimes girls come to her for help, sometimes she goes out and finds them. Holly took my husband to a horrible building used for human trafficking where she and her girls frequently go to talk to girls and offer them a way out. The people are so poor that many of these girls have been sold by their own families.  My husband was horrified at the misery and filth of the place. One of the girls they spoke with that very day did come to live with Holly and her girls.

 Knowing these things and then hearing my 13 year old daughter tell me how much she wanted to go of course made me anxious!  My little girl! On the other side of the world!

 She started having dreams that she was going to Cambodia, that she was there with Holly.  In my gut I knew then that she would go.  If God was setting this up for her, then she would go. How could I keep her from something that meant so much to her? To hold her back might even kill the fire in her forever.
 My husband was eager to go back to Cambodia and reconnect with the friends he had made. When a group from church planned another trip he took my daughter with them.   The children there need money for food, medicine and vitamins. But they also need mentors, adults that they trust who can guide them and give them hope for a better life. We stay connected with them through the internet and are hoping to arrange more visits going both ways.
Our team ended up at three different orphanages. My daughter taught jewelry making to the older girls while another woman did a craft with the little ones.  They were long, hard, hot days but she did a great job. That's her in the purple shirt. Dara, the boy in blue translated for her.
Only after they came home did I hear about the crazy stuff.  How they had to stay at the Water of Life orphanage instead of the hotel one night because of terror threats against Americans. How their tuk-tuk got stuck in the mud and almost tipped over. How they were threatened with bodily harm and spiritual curses when they tried to help a young street hustler. How my adventuring elf went for a joy ride on the back of Holly's motor bike. She said it was like Indiana Jones. "We drove through a crazy market that had huge pieces of meat hanging from hooks and chickens were running out of our way!" On their way home they got caught in a flash flood. The water was up to their thighs so the moto's engine flooded. They had to push/carry the moto for two miles. When she came home I unpacked her boots, they were soaking wet and had mold growing over them.
When people ask my daughter what her favorite part of the trip was she always says,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grabbing at Summer

The last couple of weeks we have been running here and there grabbing at the last drops of summer. I am a follower of seasons and traditions, I don't want to miss out on anything that a season has to offer. Even though I'm just as crazy about whatever season is coming up next, I need to soak up everything, feast my eyes on what is here, RIGHT NOW. I had my last look at the water lilies at the Botanical Garden. They have some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, deep burgundy and apricot. My nine year old snapped this picture. I think it is pretty good,  it's funny how they go for the pink at this age.
That same daughter has a certain hamster toy (named Cream Puff) who has crossed over from inanimate object to vibrant member of our family. She goes everywhere we go. Which means I end up driving back to where we just came from because she somehow gets left behind. I can't tell you how many times I have asked God to lead me to Cream Puff when she has been lost in the woods, restaurant, library, church,  or store. Once I even had to go through a public garbage can to get her back. So far she has always come back to us.

 My daughters get in a tizzy when they think she may be gone for good. I guess it's because there are so many memories of every place they have gone and everything they have done over the last four years. I think she should be retired and made to be house bound. But she is a wild adventurer, always tempting fate, floating in the ocean, getting thrown into trees, being buried in snow. We celebrate Cream Puff's birthday each year, another of our summer rituals. This year she had a party with a blue layer cake, human friends and their hamster toys. 
As long as my family is able to visit a beach, we will. The ocean can take us away from the everyday sometimes petty thoughts that life can bring. It is so big, so deep. Every drop is teeming with life. Any bit you take home with you becomes a treasure. It is both calming and terrifying. There is nothing that compares to the wonder of the ocean. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to share these summer days with my girls.

My elder daughter has been looking forward to The Ren Fest and it has finally come. Another summer treat. She has developed a new character for herself, a gypsy-ish wood elf. She came up with a pretty convincing costume that included latex elf ears, crazy contact lenses and a dagger.

Now I can say that I am officially done with summer. I am ready and excited to welcome autumn. I will now start pulling my favorite fall books. The ones that inspire me to make, cook, and knit all things cozy!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tasha Tudor Day 2013

Honoring Tasha here today with one of my favorite of her quotes...

"I’m very fond of men. I think they are wonderful creatures. I love them dearly. But I don’t want to look like one. When women gave up their long skirts, they made a grave error…" ~Tasha Tudor

Monday, August 19, 2013

You never know.

 I sat in the dermotolagist's office waiting and fretting. I was there for a procedure that the doctor assured me would take all of 15 minutes. Such a short visit I could surely bring my girls and leave them in the waiting room. 

Well, it actually took two hours. That's were the fretting came in. I wondered how my 9 year old was holding up with nothing to occupy her. She's the type who just can't sit still. Thoughts of her bouncing off the walls and her sister getting really annoyed with her made me anxious.
 I had left a Molly Makes magazine with them. I brought it along for me to look at while waiting. When I finally emerged I found them o.k. (but hungry!) and that aforementioned 9 year old immediately started telling me about all the animals she was going to make. 

The next morning, all by herself  she made this adorable lion and a wolf. Today she made a Kangaroo with a baby in it's pocket. She's not done yet. She has a pile of felt ready to go. We will soon have an ark full of creatures.

There I was thinking the worst, worrying for no reason. It made me think how often this must happen. How our imaginations run wild, making a neutral situation into a bad one. We never think that good might come from an unplanned (maybe even unpleasant) situation. Most times we  fall into the habit of expecting the worst. 
But really you just never know.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What's for breakfast?

 I don't have a huge appetite in the morning. I like picking though. A cup of good tea is essential. After that we pretty much eat whatever our bodies want. That could mean anything from soup, salad, salmon, to the more traditional oatmeal. Our tastes are seasonal. Pancakes are definitely a fall thing. Fresh baked buns, winter. Tea is the only constant in my breakfast offering. My littlest one needs the most food in the morning. She can't sit still, always burning energy. She wants miso soup, my goat cheese, berries and olives. So she gets it. It keeps her busy and satisfied.
One of my summer day breakfasts. I wake up with a craving for very vinegary salad, so that's what I eat.
During the summer we enjoy pesto bread for breakfast, tea and bedtime snack. My daughter could live on this stuff and sometimes she does. Along with our daily salad dressings it's another way to get loads of fresh garlic into us.
Some days (quite often), this is all I want. I crave good butter. Every day. Some fat is needed in the diet. This is how I take mine, with no guilt. 
We do eat "real" breakfast foods too, like oatmeal or waffles. When the mood strikes I make my all time favorite Vitamix recipe whole wheat waffles. While my girls are having oatmeal with maple syrup I might be eating my oatmeal raw, with lots of seeds or nuts and a shredded apple. Food, like all of life is best lived when it is not monotonous. When I wake up I never know exactly what the day will hold, there are so many choices, so many possibilities. As the seasons and our moods change, why not what's on our plates?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Yarn Berry

My daughter was busy working on Photoshop. "Don't look!", "It's a surprise!" she said whenever I would walk by. She surprised me with this Yarn Berry that she based on my berry blog post.
Of course I had to share it here!
Then we went picking again...

I promise my next post will have nothing to do with berries.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Berry Knits

Why am I knitting during the hottest most humid week of the summer? I don't know! With all the other summer activities I thought I would put knitting off until September, but I just couldn't do it. I found a bag full of ends of some of my favorite yarns. Little red balls like berries, waiting to be turned into something tasty. So, I started knitting a tank top...yeah a wool tank top. Strange but true.
My other fixation these days is berry picking. These things are popping up everywhere and so abundantly. Even though it has been 100 degrees we are out there picking away. It gets to be a compulsion, once you start something primal kicks in and you are possessed to grab every red jewel you see. And that's a lot. 
Every time we decide we've had enough and start walking away we spy another cluster that just begs picking.
Of course we were eating berries the entire time we were picking, but as soon as we got our bounty home we ate more. This time with whipped cream. They lasted a few days for fresh eating and then I made jam tarts from what was left. Looking at these pictures is giving me that urge to go picking again very soon.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mad Tea Party!

 Today I join Vanessa from A Fanciful Twist blog for a
Mad Tea Party! 
 All text is from from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
I was inspired by the court scene from the"Who Stole The Tarts"chapter. With it's tea, tarts, guinea pigs, little sisters and general madness it was a perfect fit for us!
 I hope you all enjoy it as much as we did.
"The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, All on a summer day: The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts, And took them quite away!"
"Call the first witness, "said the King; and The White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and called out," First witness!"

The first witness was The Hatter. He came in with a teacup in one hand and a piece of bread and butter in the other. "I beg pardon, your Majesty," he began, "for bringing these in: but I hadn't quite finished my tea when I was sent for."
"Give your evidence," said the King; "and don't be nervous, or I'll have you executed on the spot."

This did not seem to encourage the witness at all: he kept shifting from one foot to the other, looking uneasily at the Queen, and in his confusion he bit a large piece out of his teacup instead of the bread and butter.
(You may observe a bread and butterfly. It's wings are thin slices of bread and butter, it's body is a crust, and it's head is a sugar cube)
"I wish you wouldn't squeeze so." said the Dormouse, who was sitting next to her. "I can hardly breath."

"I can't help it", said Alice very meekly: "I'm growing."

"You've no right to grow here," said the Dormouse.

"Don't talk nonsense," said Alice more boldly: "you know you're growing too."

"Yes, but I grow at a reasonable pace," said the Dormouse: "not in that ridiculous fashion."
"Collar that Dormouse," the Queen shrieked out. "Behead that Dormouse! Turn that Dormouse out of the court! Suppress him! Pinch him! Off with his whiskers!"
Here one of the guinea pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court.
Here the other guinea pig cheered, and was suppressed.
"Come, that finished off the guinea pigs! thought Alice. "Now we shall get on better."
All this time the Queen had never left off staring at the Hatter. "You may go," said the King, and he hurriedly left the court, without even waiting to put on his shoes.

"--and just take his head off outside," the Queen added to one of the officers: but the Hatter was out of sight before the officer could get to the door.
"Why, here they are!" said the King triumphantly, pointing to the tarts on the table. "Nothing can be clearer than that.

'Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!'
'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice, and she told her sister, all these strange Adventures of hers; and when she had finished, her sister kissed her, and said,

 'It was a curious dream, dear, certainly: but now run in to your tea; it's getting late.' 

But her sister sat still just as she left her, leaning her head on her hand, watching the setting sun, and thinking of little Alice and all her wonderful Adventures, till she too began dreaming...

She pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

4th of July dresses

 I finished my dress just in time to wear it for the 4th of July. My french vibe picnic was complete. We strolled through an amazing sunken garden, had our picnic (pan bagnat, pickled crudite, and dark chocolate truffles), saw a Duke Ellington tribute concert with fireworks to finish it off.
 The dress is so light and comfortable, it's like wearing your coziest cotton nighty. I wore it again today to church because it was so hot out. We don't have air conditioning yet so we had the service outside. The property is edged with woods and thickets of wild blackberries grow there. After church my little one and I picked berries to make Vitamix ice cream, a real treat after such a hot day.
This time last year I was on a gingham kick. I bought yards of gingham in all colors. My family and I went to the same place for the 4th that we went to this year. It has become a tradition. With gardens, concert and fireworks it's the perfect place to celebrate. Last year I made and wore this brown gingham dress and we had a classic Americana picnic. Who knows what will strike my fancy for the next Fourth of July. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

French picnic vibe

 Maybe it's because I'm reading 'Alice Waters and Chez Panisse' or maybe it's just because it is summer that I am in a french picnic mood these days. The Chez Panisse book is extremely inspiring. Alice has an infectious way about her that makes you excited for the things that she is excited about. Yesterday I served a bunch of friends baked cheese and fruit poached in spiced wine. Not something I would have come up with on my own. Today I pulled out one of my all time favorite books for food and garden inspiration, 'Monet's Table' and another little gem, 'Picnics of Provence'. It's small but packed with Van Gogh paintings and delicious recipes, food for the eyes as well as the stomach. I usually pull both of these books off the shelf right about this time every year, but reading the Alice Waters book pushed me a bit farther over the french edge.
Not only am I planning a series of french summer picnics, but I am fixating on the perfect summer dresses for them.  I picked up 20 yards of nice rose patterned fabrics to play around with in not so typical floral color combinations. This one is cream with dusty rose flowers and grey foliage. The one above is grey with brown, purple and blue, unusual and lovely. So, today I am working on a pattern from my last summer beach dress because it is the most comfortable dress there ever was. I'll keep you posted on the progress of my french picnic dream.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ready Veggies

I often eat vegetables at every meal. Breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and even snacks. I don't do this only to be healthy, but I actually like it! I crave them. 
Friends will often say to me that they wish they could eat more veggies. "What's stopping you?" I ask. The main answer in that it is just "easier" to eat other things. They say that it's a hassle to eat raw veg. for snacks and sides. "You don't have to cook!" I say. 
Yes, but as they are busy moms it's not easy to stop and prep vegetables. It is easier to whip out some cheese and crackers, a slice of bread smeared with peanut butter. Those things can be o.k., but why not put out some raw veggies alongside? 

My secret? Just have vegetables available all the time. It's fast food! Before I grocery shop I'll clean off the counter and lay a towel out. (Also clean out the sink.) When you get home fill the sink with water and whatever soap you use to wash your veg. I plop it all in the wash before it ever gets to the fridge.
Lay it all out to dry while you put everything else away. By the time it is dry expect some of it to be gone! Everyone who walks by grabs a bit here, a bit there. Which is exactly what I want. 
 I put everything away in towels or in suitable containers and everyone knows that it's up for grabs. Ready and available fast food. Putting a plate of veggies, fruits, even mushrooms or herbs is a guaranteed invitation to eat it. Let's face it, we humans are lazy and if we are hungry we will go for the easiest thing we can lay our hands on. That's how chips and candy get devoured instead of healthy food. When we are hungry we'll grab what will fill that need quickly, but our bodies are not being fed what they really need.