Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Other people's domesticities"

If we read books to know we're not alone, how much more blogging?

It's been such a blessing over these past several months to participate in the blogging community. What a delight meeting so many interesting people, sharing ideas, books, recipes and what-not. It's exciting discovering a rapport with someone quite different from you, from another walk of life or another country. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it seems to make the world sweeter, and though we may never meet face to face, I value these "brotherhood of man" moments. They really add a spark to my day. So, fellow bloggers, anonymous readers, and commenters, thank you.

"It was early evening when my journey began. The train was full, but not yet uncomfortably so, of people going home....I could not help it - the clicking of all those garden gates, the opening of all those front doors....came over my imagination with all the caress of a half-remembered bit of music. There is an extraordinary charm in other people's domesticities....The pleasure is, once more, the mirror pleasure - the pleasure of seeing as an outsider what is to others an inside, and realizing that your are doing so...." C.S. Lewis Hedonics

holy experience

70 - your slice of life

Friday, January 29, 2010

Color, pleeeaase, I neeeed COLOR

There's a scene from the movie Shadowlands that captures my mood this time of year. C.S. Lewis and a colleague are sitting together in a library on a gray day in late winter.

"I've always found this a trying time of the year."
"Trying? To do what, Jack?"
"The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go,
Frosty mornings gone, sunny mornings not yet come.
Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world."

Yes, Jack, my sentiments exactly. These damp, gray days are getting to me, and the Philadelphia Flower Show is still two months away. The next best thing is to find something colorful and stare at it for a long time, like this glowing basket of plant-dyed wool roving which I placed on the sofa in a patch of sunlight that I knew wasn't going to last. But while it did I was going to make the most of it.

Ahhhhh, starting to feel better already. What other colorful thing can we do?

I know, let's make a yarn of sorts from pot holder loops. Remember those?

Loop them together into long chains.

Roll them into balls so they don't get tangled.

Next, using a large crochet hook, make a simple chain stitch. Chain the whole ball of "yarn".

You'll wind up with these thick cords...

...which could possibly eventually become a cheerful rag rug once I learn how to sew the strips together.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Potage parmentier...

...or potato and leek soup, was the first "from scratch" soup I ever made. It was also when I fell in love with cooking. I was about twelve years old. I found the recipe in The Bulletin, a now defunct Philadelphia city newspaper. The soup seemed so fancy, yet easy to make, and I couldn't wait to try it. On my first attempt it came out beautifully--very encouraging to a novice cook--and I've been making it ever since. It's very versatile. I remember that the recipe said you can serve it cold and call it Vicyssoise (ooh la la). I've also used it as a base for New England clam chowder.

To make it you'll need:

2 leeks
6 small or 4 large potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
8 cups water
1/2 pint half and half or light cream
salt and pepper

Anyone who has used leeks knows that they hold a lot of grit and sand. I slit them with a knife lengthwise and rinse them in a bowl of cold water.

When they are clean, slice them up like this. Sautee them in a 5 quart pot with butter until soft, but don't let them brown. Add your peeled and sliced potatoes (sorry, no picture - you know what a sliced and peeled potato looks like, right?). Salt and pepper to taste, and add just enough water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low until the potatoes are fork tender.

At this point you need to puree the contents of the pot. I used to pour it all into a blender, then back into the pot--until my thoughtful son Alex, who's an awesome cook, gifted me with this handheld mixer. When it's completely pureed, add your half pint of cream. Done.

I like to serve it with cornbread. Any recipe will do - even a mix. But here's the key to delicious corn bread: bake it in a cast iron skillet. Most recipes call for a 400 degree oven. Add at least two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the skillet. Pop the skillet in while the oven is preheating. When the oven is fully preheated, open it and pour your batter into the skillet without removing it. The hot skillet causes the cornbread to be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and out of this world delicious.

The photo is not very good, but trust me, the soup is.

Taking a stab at making preserved lemons. The how-to came from Quotidian Life, a most interesting blog. Thank you, Melissa.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Counting Blessings #13

holy experience

65 - "You keep no record of my sin...You don't remember all my shame..."

66 - "I will not forget, I won't forget Your promises..."

67 - Parlor entertainment on Thursday nights

68 - Purrs and patterns

69 - sister love

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guest artist: Joan's German folk art

This guest artist is my beautiful and dear friend Joan. I'll never forget the day we met. It was at a church luncheon about twenty-two years ago. Joan introduced herself to me and said, "I really like your lipstick. Would you like a cup of coffee?" Back in the day, I was a fan of black turtlenecks and blood red lipstick--O the drama. Joan remembers that day and that she offered me a cup of coffee. I remembered the lipstick comment (because I'm vain like that; it sealed the deal on our friendship). Our families have shared many wonderful years together, and I'm blessed to have met this most talented artist. Here's a description of her work in her own words:

"I’ve always been drawn to the simple designs, color, and history of folk art. I remember gasping when I saw for the first time the beautiful painted PA German trunks and Fraktur at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA.

I enjoy interpreting PA German folk designs and painting them on wooden pieces with casein tempera. Commonly known as milk paint, casein is the protein part of milk (buttermilk) which is used as a binder for dry pigments very much like the yolk in egg tempera. Tempera is Latin for “to mix.”

I love executing historic designs with a historic medium. I feel wonderfully connected to the past and happy to be keeping part of our American heritage alive, yet I feel able to express myself personally in the designs.

A college freshman that we’ve known through home schooling recently voiced the mystery of folk art to me beautifully: 'Though folk art is simple enough to be rendered by the untrained and often the uneducated, it represents a synthesis of the skills and heart of a whole people, and therefore it is elegant and refined in a unique way.' ”

Joan's studio - if you enlarge the picture, you will see some beautifully painted pencil boxes at the lower right

gorgeous - my photography doesn't do her work justice

This striking matchbox holder( pun intended )sits proudly on our fireplace mantle

a Joan original - since this is what we've always called our home

Thank you Joan for letting me share a few of the amazing things you have created

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why would you want to make walnut ink?

A. Because I was always curious about how it was made
B. I do things like this when I get cabin fever
C. To appear productive while avoiding housework
D. All of the above

Black walnuts grow in abundance in this area. How foolish it would be to just let them fall to the ground and lay there (or is it LIE there, I can never remember).

I collected this windfall in the fall (heh, heh). They look like fuzzy green tennis balls.

Stuck them in an iron pot and forgot about them for a few months. They dry out and look like dark brown leather balls.

There are several recipes out there for making walnut ink. I used the method Making Walnut Ink by Madame Elizabeth de Nevell, CW via Google. Simmer and soak the walnuts. The process takes about a day.

Straining the solids

Pouring the finished product to an antique ink bottle that you just happen to have lying around (with homage to Martha Stewart)

And there you have it! I'm planning a future post on making quill pens from goose feathers - natural companions of walnut ink....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Counting Blessings #12

holy experience

61 - Hearing the call of this fellow outside our bedroom window in the wee hours...thrilling

62 - foxproof chicken coops

63 - Seven dollar score from the library basement

64 - learning to make preserved lemons

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remembering Haiti

We have a map of the world in our home office. It's a reminder to us as a family to love all God's people and lift up the nations in prayer.

Today we are remembering the nation of Haiti. We pray for mercy, help, and comfort for the injured and grieving. We pray for more survivors to be found, for aid to get through to where it is needed, and for order and peace to triumph over confusion and fear. We pray for those in our country who have loved ones in Haiti and who are waiting for news. Lord, give them strength.

"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by." Psalm 57:1

Monday, January 11, 2010

Friends, fellowship, and fufu

One of the joyous adventures of life is meeting new people and forging friendships. I can't think of a better place to start than in the kitchen. Food is "people glue", because no matter how different we are, everybody eats. This weekend we hosted some friends from West Africa, and together we had a blast learning how to make a meal from their homeland, Liberia. Many thanks, M- and Z-. We learned so much and we appreciate your friendship. Thanks also to D- and K- for taking the pictures.

If you've read along this far, push the start button, and welcome to my kitchen...

In the pot: smoked fish, eggplant, beef, onion, HOT peppers, toasted sesame seed ground into paste, peanut butter, and did I mention HOT peppers (whew!)

Sharing stories while cooking

You need muscles to stir fufu - this is a starch made from plantains. It reminded me somewhat of polenta, or a giant gnocchi!

M- showing us how to form the fufu "pattie".

Let's eat!

Absolutely delicious

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Counting Blessings #11

holy experience

56 - libraries

57 - the smell of libraries

58 - new hot water heaters

59 - hot baths

60 - beeswax candles


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