January 28, 2010

Like Paddington

Marmalade is one of those things that I can not believe I hated as a kid. Like Clams. And Mushrooms. And, well, many things that I either wouldn't taste at all or that my taste buds had not grown into yet. To be honest I'm not even sure when it was that marmalade went from "eww yuck!" to "yes please and seconds!" but at some time between 1977 and when I was, say..20, it did. And thank goodness.

I can't really say that I am a passionate jam eater. I like jam. I love to make jam. Really, any good jam is fine by me. But most jams are just, well, jam. Good in their place, fun to make, something I like with breakfast. Marmalade and Lemon curd are probably the two that stand out though as things I love in the jam world. I dislike crappy lemon curd and I hate bad marmalade.

Needless to say, I was a little bit excited when last weekends marmalade turned out delicious. Tart but not mouth squeezingly so. Sweet but not cloying. Just the right balance. Which was lucky because, although I've made lemon curd many many times (and plan to again later this week!) I've never done marmalade. And trying a new jam can be tricky. But like any good little scholar, I've been studying. And I've read a good two dozen marmalade recipes in the last few weeks, from the slightly spartan version in my old "Stocking Up" to some wild and interesting varieties in my cookbooks and online. In the end I used close to the proportions of the basic Seville Orange Marmalade in The River Cottage Handbook no. 2 but substituted the Seville oranges (which I couldn't find despite them being in season and the fact that I went to three different grocery stores!) with 2 navel oranges, 2 tangelos and 2 lemons. And then just for shits and giggles (hi Uncle Greg!) I threw in a chunk of ginger root for part of the boiling time. The result was a dark, slightly reddish and well balanced (for my tastes at least) marmalade. I'd like to try my hand at a lighter version so if I can refrain from eating all the clementines in the bowl on my counter (very hard though, they are so good!) I'll test out a clementine version too. But first I need to get to that lemon curd. Or maybe the marmalade should come first. I cant decide....

Three fruit ginger marmalade

2 tangelos
2 navel oranges
2 lemons
10 cups of water
1 inch ginger root, peeled
7 cups of sugar
1/4 cup of honey

Scrub fruit. Cut all but one lemon in half, remove pips and squeeze, reserving juice.

Slice peels (pith and all) into medium thin strips and add to juice along with water. Allow it to sit overnight.

The next day, bring to a boil an then reduce to a simmer until reduced by a third and until peel is tender. 2-3 hours. Add sugar and honey, place ginger in tea strainer and add it to the pot. Bring to a hard boil for 20 minutes then remove the ginger and squeeze the last lemons juice into the pot. Return to a hard boil for an additional 15 minutes or until at the setting stage. Turn off heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Stir slowly to check for pips, fishing out any you find. Pour into sterilized jars and process

January 25, 2010

Floods, Jams and the Best Playdoh Recipe

We had a busy weekend at our house, between Will working most of both days, drizzly weather that kept us in and some distinct hints of stir crazyness, things were not super calm. And all of this culminated in waking up this morning to find almost a foot and a half of rain water standing in our basement which, although it's now gone, has left a sludge of mud over anything close to the ground.

However, despite the rain and the over worked daddy and the mud and the stir crazy kids and mommy, there were good things too.

* I made marmalade. Really, really yummy marmalade. Recipe coming soon!

* I finally got my color scheme worked out for the mudroom (which was a whole drama on my part that I wont go into, I'm just glad I'm finally making real progress)

* I ordered all my vegetable seed, most of my sets and some of my flower seeds for spring planting, and I even came up with a place to start a bazillion baby plants

* I FINALLY found the BEST playdoh recipe ever. Seriously. It's survived being left out twice for extended periods of time by someone in our family who shall remain nameless (hint, the shortest human) and is still going strong, smells divine and is just all around great. So instead of photos of the mud or the marmalade or the mudroom (three m's...) I'll leave you with this. You'll never need to buy playdoh again!

Peppermint Playdoh
1 c. flour
2T cream of tarter
1T vegetable oil
2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup kosher salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl then add 1 cup of BOILING water. Stir until combined, turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth. Color can be added to the boiling water or at the kneading stage. Store in an airtight container. (Orange extract would be lovely too!) This makes about the equivalent of about two standard playdoh containers, a little more, so if you have old containers lying around, they make great storage for this.

January 21, 2010

6 Month Mark

I was flipping through last years calendar today (transferring dates, always a fun January task) and I realized that as of this week we have owned our house for 6 months. I was kind of shocked. I knew it hadn't been long but it felt, it still feels, like MUCH longer than 6 months.

I remember walking through the house on the day we closed thinking "what have we gotten ourselves into?" This is the third home we've owned and it wasn't really in any worse condition than the other two, both of which we renovated in a relatively brief time. But with those houses, both 1920's bungalows, the changes were mostly just paint and decor. Yes, we replaced the kitchen counters in one and we ripped out the whole bathroom of the other, but the bones of those houses were so beautiful that really all they needed was a little love. This house had much less character to begin with, and a truly truly terrible kitchen.

On that day I felt like we would never make a presentable home out of the mess we faced. With Will ripping the carpet off the stairs and telling contractors where to knock down walls and put in vents, I thought about the finished, not the way we would finish it but never the less finished house we were already living in and I felt totally overwhelmed.

This afternoon I went hunting through iphoto looking for photos of the before and realized that we've come much further than I ever thought we could. There is still plenty to do. The yard is practically untouched. The mudroom, the basement, and, of course, Will's long list of things to finish, but I can barely remember the house as it was. Which is a really good thing because, ugg, it was pretty ugly.

So now when I feel like we aren't moving fast enough to get that to-do list done or the mudroom in working order, I'll *try* to think back to those before photos or these or these and stop stressing. I can't guarantee that it will keep me sane, but I will try. So, to help me remember and just in case you'd like to see, here are some before and after of the kitchen, dining room and kids room (see links above for bathroom and living room)

January 20, 2010


Yesterday, with an extra day off of school for Briton and a sunny weather forecast for most of Virginia, I decided to whisk the kids up to DC for the day to go play at the museums. It's one of the things I have enjoyed most about living in this area, the ability to pop up to DC to see a museum instead of trying to squeeze them all into a whirl wind vacation. And after having a fabulous time with the kids in the almost empty Spark Lab of the Museum of American History and the equally quiet butterfly exhibit at the Natural History Museum I've just about decided that it would be worth playing hooky on a week day every now and then just to get the museums practically to ourselves

And since we were up there anyway we also made a detour before into Trader Joe's and after to IKEA. But that didn't affect my decision to take them up there to begin with, of course not, what kind of mom do you think I am!

I didn't really need anything specific at IKEA. I think we've pretty much gotten past the point where we load down our car, or even a Uhaul, with their huge boxes. But I did need a few more jars for the kitchen and boxes for my craft and sewing stuff (and very pretty and organized they look in their new crisp, white boxes!) and a few other odds and ends. And while I was puttering through the kitchen doo-dads (very cool cookie cutter set featuring forest animals - moose cookies anyone?) I also thumbed through the fabric section. I always forget about their fabric. And while when I do get a chance to browse the fabrics I generally love the funky prints, they are usually too wild for what I'm looking for. But not this time.

I've been looking for some interesting fabric to re-do some of the pillows in our living room for a while now. The problem is that we have two dark brown couches in an already dimly lit and darkly painted room. The effect is cozy, which is what we wanted, but also a little, well, dark. New, lighter (and warmer) curtains have helped but since the pillows that grace out couch have been with us since we were newlyweds with a strange fascination for monkeys, it was time for a little updating. I still need more. Where I used to have four pillows for our one small love seat I now have three for two couches, so even with the newly spruced up cases, it's still a little sparse, but it's better. And brighter. Which is just what we needed.

In the past I've cut even fronts and backs, stitched up the sides and hand sewn the opening where I stuffed the pillow in. After browsing all the pillows on this site (I love the shirred one but I'm not sure Will would go for it - or that it would last long being used as stepping stones over a river of lava) I decided to make an envelope style case this time around. I'm not sure which I prefer now that they are done. While I hate! hate! hate! trying to stuff a pillow into a very small hole and sometimes don't get around to closing up said hole for a while, I also like having two "fronts" to the cases. The envelope style is easier, but unless I decided to add some decorative buttons, there is definitely a front and a back to them. But for speed and ease, well, they sure cant be beat. I was able to knock out both while Evie, who ended up with a fever at 4 this morning and is currently lounging on the couch working her way through my aging VHS Disney collection, watched the second half of The Little Mermaid.

Find the place on your fabric where you want the front to be. Don't forget this or you might, as I did, end up one day with a pillow with only three-quarters of a monkey on it, not the look I was going for.

Cut a square that is about 1/2 inch bigger than your pillow. I like to cut two side and then fold it into a triangle to get a perfect and even square.

Cut two pieces for the back that are the same height as the front piece but only about 2/3 the width.

Fold over and hem one of the long ends on each of the back pieces then layer the pieces so that the back overlap and all front sides are facing.

Stitch around, trim the edges and corners,

Turn and stuff the pillow in.
Done. Now I just need about four more.

January 18, 2010

One of those teaching moments.....

First a little disclaimer. This project is one that comes from my teaching days. I'm not really sure where it originated but it was always one of my favorite activities to do with the kids. And I loved my pin so much that I actually wore mine on my winter coat every day until it fell apart, about two years later.

A holiday like MLK day is always a conundrum for me. On the surface, it's just an extra day off of school, for good or for bad. Which generally depends on the behavior of my children. But they are both at an age where they can, and should, have an understanding of what the day is for. At the same time, it's hard to imagine spending the entire day talking about something that, while infinitely important, is also a difficult thing to fully process, even as an adult.

So while we spent most of the day playing and enjoying the sun (Yay! Sun!) we did invite the neighbors girls over to make MLK puzzle pins.

If you've got an old puzzle lying around with missing pieces, grab a handful for this project, otherwise, there are lots of Christmas puzzles out there on the clearance shelves right about now.

It's much easier to paint the back side of the puzzle so you don't have to cover over whatever busy picture is going on on the front. For each pin, paint one cream colored piece and one brown piece.

Once they have dried, hot glue the two pieces together (having an "in" bit on each side makes the ribbon part easier down the road.Tie a thin ribbon around the two with a bow secured in the middle.Hot glue a bar pin on the back and allow the glue to dry completely before pinning them on.

Easy Peasy as my kids would say.

Have a Happy Martin Luther King Junior Day folks, and while your having a fun day off (or even if your stuck at work - boo hiss) don't forget to share the love with the next generation.

January 15, 2010

Mudroom Update

First I'd like to say I have finally stopped procrastinating and the basement is now clean. Well, the non-shop part of the basement is clean, I'm not messing with the tool area. Mostly because I'm not allowed to touch power tools. This is not, I should make clear, Will's rule. It's mine. I have an awful feeling that I am genetically predisposed to injure myself with power tools, so I stay away for the most part. Also I just don't want to clean that part of the basement. But the rest has been dragged out of it's post holiday, too many missed trash days chaos and into something remotely associated with cleanliness. Oh it's not bring the company down to see it clean. and there is that large pile of stuff to be taken to Goodwill, but that will have to wait until no one under the age of seven and a half is looking.

In theory, this should mean that I am now free to focus my energies on the mudroom. Sadly (and probably correctly, but don't tell him I admitted it) Will has declared that before we do much more with the mudroom there are a LOT of projects at the 90% done phase that should be finished before we get engrossed in a new one. Bah. That's no fun. But as I said, probably a good idea. Although since I had already made a good start on the room I feel that I'm totally justified in adding it to the "to be finished" priority list.

Like I said, I have made a start AND I scored two great finds for it this week as well. Yesterday I bought this chair at Salvation Army where I was hunting for interesting mugs for a waterslide decal project I'm messing around with (check back next week for photos). Will's not a big fan of the chair but I think it has good possibilities. What the possibilities are exactly I haven't really decided, but I definitely see it as an in-the-corner veg chair for the finished room.

The other score was this mantle which I've already give several coats of shiny black paint and which will be appearing (sooner rather than later I hope) as something other than just a plain mantle. But I wont tell you what just yet.

It's still a mess, but between the paint and the lack of junk (other than building supplies) it's looking better. Now if we could just push it to the top of that little (big) list, we could get the trim and the floor and the storage in and I would finally have a place to pack full of all my craft, sewing and writing junk.

Humm, did I just suggest that I should clean out junk so that I can fill it up with junk? Yes, yes I did. Well, what can I say, I'm a recovering pack rat!

January 13, 2010

Winter to Spring Wreath

I didn't used to be this interested in wreaths. I promise. I've had the same Halloween wreath for a good three years and before this years Christmas wreath making obsession (I never did get one made for each window...next year) I had had the same jingle bell, saw it on Martha, wreath for EONS. I mean, I think I made that thing in college. So why all this interest now in wreaths? Who knows. Maybe it's because I love our bright red front door. It's so cheerful and happy and it looks so pretty with a wreath on it. It also might be the fact that after not quite getting the function of the green wire curved wreath form, I found the flat Masonite forms I've been using this year. They've probably been around ages but hey, there new to me. And I love using them. Let's just say a combination of factors has contributed to this current wreath-making phenomenon. (Do I sound like CNN? Good, watch out Anderson!)

Anyway, now that Christmas has passed and the yarn and felt ball wreath is stored away in the basement (still uncleaned, I'm stalling, can you tell?) until next year, I have been pondering what kind of wreath would be suitable for winter and on into spring. Nothing too spring-ish, nothing too wintery. It had to walk a fine line.

After some etsy searches involving way too many veerings off into other fascinating items I came upon this wreath. Perfect. Except for two things. First, Will would kill me if I spent $50 on something to hang on our door and, second, it's paper anyway so would just get ruined. After a few more days of pondering and returning to that wreath and also to my memories of an old episode of Martha (back when they had the old theme song - remember that show? That, I liked) about a wedding with only paper flowers. What could I make flowers out of that wouldn't fall to mush in the weather in the wet weather? It had to be hearty and durable and water proof. It had to be plastic. But where was I going to find thin, white and translucent plastic? (and cheap?)

Ahhhh, light dawns. The recycling bin! Actually, I should admit that part of my revelation came after cub scouts last week when we were talking about earth conscious living and the kids started complaining about how we really should be doing more re-using because it's better anyway. Nothing like having a bunch of seven year olds shame you into being good to the planet. So, yes, this is made out of three plastic milk cartons, two paper ( I think it's coated with wax, if not, I don't want to know what makes it water proof) and two yogurt tubs.

I'm not going to lie and tell you this was fast. It wasn't. But it also wasn't hard. The key really seemed to be sharp scissors. I'm planning on writing a more in depth tutorial for ThinkCrafts.com but here's a quick rundown.

Cut the cartons apart, saving the flat parts and tossing ( I mean in the recycling bin of course!) the rest. Use your cups, mugs, jar tops, whatever, to trace lots (and lots) of circles onto the plastic. Make sure you have at least three if not four different sizes.

Once all your circles are cut out, start making flowers. The simplest shapes can be just circles with wobbly edges, but to get more complicated flowers slit the circles up close to the center,

and keep dividing until you have the number of petals you want.

curve the ends,

and layer them to make flowers.

I added some pretty buttons and leftover crystals to the centers as well. Once I had all the flowers cut out (I kept all the circles and a pair of scissors in a basket and cut while I watched TV in the evenings) I cut out some extra shapes and did not layer them to create a background. These I hot glued around the wreath before arranging the flowers on top. When I had the order I wanted, those too were glued in place. Add a ribbon and that's pretty much it. As I said, not hard, just time consuming (although it helps to have comfortable scissors as well as sharp ones to avoid achy hands!)

January 12, 2010

Buntings and Dustjackets

I know, the two really don't have much in common. But that's what's been occupying me today. While I am still plugging away at the mudroom/office (or as I'm thinking of calling it the studio) in the evenings, the other day I was making beds and realized that after 6 months of living here, I really haven't done anything in the kids room other than make roller shades (before we even moved so that doesn't count) and having the painters paint the trim lime green.

And it was about then that I picked up the empty dust jacket from The Ladybug Girl for the zillionth time and though, huh, maybe instead of tucking this away or worse, recycling it, something could be done. So over the weekend the idea percolated in the back of my mind until I came up with the idea of using it for art. Modge Podging it, in fact, with some fun paper and making that art.

So here's the thing. I'm kind of a sucky Modge Podger. I'm not sure if I'm just not patient enough or if I just don't have the best tools, but it often ends up a mess. Which meant that this project had to be done cheap, I didn't want to waste money on something that might not work.

Yesterday I dug around in the (still not cleaned! But I'm getting to it!) basement and found some empty frames tucked under the stairs. I spray painted them with the same red I used to make the night stand in the kids room (oh yeah, I did do that. OK, I haven't totally neglected them...) and today Evie and I picked up some foam core and scrapbooking paper at the craft store.

This afternoon, while Evie danced to the Anastasia soundtrack (it's officially seared into my head now, thanks Evie) I cut and pieced and glued - I mean Modge Podged - and ended up with something surprisingly decent for their walls.

And because I had a ton of paper left over and also because Will was razzing me about my habit of never straying form a color scheme, I cut out a bunch of triangles for a bunting. A few stitching on my sewing machine (ah... I love that thing) and the kids wall doesn't look so forlorn anymore.

Oh, and the boxes are clementine crates that got paint at the same time as the frames and paper backs during the Modge Podge extravaganza. Of course, the kids aren't terribly impressed, especially since they have taken to sleeping on the floor in the closet. Strange children!

January 11, 2010

Look! Look!

Ohhh! I feel so cool (I wish!) My favorite website has a post about our lockers!

P.S. More shelves up. Yay! Now our dishes aren't quite so crowded!

January 8, 2010

While I'm on the chair thing...

As it turns out, the chair seat recovering is slightly addictive. And while I still haven't gone back to Goodwill to see if those chairs are still available (unlikely, but there might be more) I did decide to go ahead with a project that I've had in mind for a couple of weeks that involve our dining room chairs.

We've had the same dining room set since the winter before Briton was born. At some point that year we decided to use the brief few months while we were both employed (Will was in his first paid internship and I was teaching) to buy ourselves some decent furniture. The idea being that it would be a long time before we could afford it again. And we tried to find things we really liked. For the most part we were successful. We've hung onto just about everything we picked out that year. Sure the big pub chair is in the basement for Will to lounge on between projects and the coffee table cubes were recently retired to the basement as well, but the big stuff, the couch, the dining room table the chairs, have hung on with us all this time.

Hanging on is kind of the key word here. Oh, nothing is in too shabby of condition, but the leather couch has some weird dents from where a crate sat on it during our time in Ireland when it lived in storage, the table has some ding marks that were not part of the original "distressed" style" and the chairs, well the chairs are probably the worst off.

It's not their fault, they have been hauled between four different cities, five houses, sat in storage for almost two years and been wiggled, shaken and plopped on daily by two energetic kids. It's a miracle that they've lasted so long. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that Briton and one of the chairs engaged in a major battle with Briton being the victorious (chair now in basement in possibly unrepairable condition).

Part of me would like to replace the chairs. I still love the table, but I'm not as into the matchy matchy thing that I once was. I'd like something funky and oddball to replace them but since I haven't come across anything that I really love that wouldn't also break the bank, I decided instead to give them a little make over.

If you've never recovered a dining room chair, here's the thing; it's dead easy. No seriously. The only reason mine have stayed the same so long is that we kept moving and just about the time I'd decide on a color to recover them in, we'd be off to a different house and a different decorating style and leaving them black just seemed smart. Until the seats started cracking, and until we moved into this house and decided we have no plans to move for at least 6 months (just kidding, longer than that! At least 8 months :)) But really, it is easy, and even if you choose an expensive habit, most chairs need so little fabric that it's pretty cheap project too. In fact, I only spent $7, but that's because I decided to use recycled sweaters and it was half price day when I bought them. ( I actually bought 4 different sweaters thinking the broken chair might just be fixable, sigh). To figure out how much fabric you need, measure across the widest part of the seat and around the edges, then add a good five or six inches for luck and overhang. Then measure the length of your seat, again, counting the edges and adding some extra. For most dining room style seats I would guess you could get two seats out of a yard of fabric. But that's just a guess. Once you have the fabric, you need a staple gun and staples and probably either a screwdriver or a wrench, depending on how the seat is attached.

First though, if you are a professional upholsterer or something like that, stop reading now, I'm sure I'm not doing it the "correct" way, but it's always worked for me, so I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing.

To begin, you need to take the seat off your chair. If the fabric is in decent condition, just cover over it. If it's pretty rough you can take it off and use it to cut a pattern for the new cover.

I like to put a staple or to in the center of each side.

And then pull the corners in, folding and smoothing as I go. And also flipping the seat over frequently to see how things are looking.

Once the corners are set, I put a line of staples along the sides, top and bottom, checking as I go that the fabric isn't pulling strangely.

Trim the edges - not too close - and reattach it to the chair. And if your chairs are anything like mine, give all the others screws, bolts, and nuts a tighten. The legs might need a good scrub down too, as long as you have the chair upside down anyway. :)

At some point we are either going to need to replace the chairs or add something new (we're on the hunt for a pew, so you know, if you have one laying around, send it my way) because we cant get away with just three chairs and Evie's Svan for very long. And whenever we do whatever we decide to do, we may change up the chair fabric again. But I'll be rooting for the sweater seats to carry over to the next phase in dining room seating. Makes for some cozy winter dinners! Who knew you could snuggle up in a straight backed chair?

January 7, 2010

Sweet boy

Re-entry into post holiday, back to normal life has not been easy for my boy. This week we have had a series of melt downs over everything from getting dressed to why the TV is unplugged in the morning to the harsh reality that, no matter how many times you yell or whine, mommy will still make you finish your homework.

Some days I feel like the entire time he is home is spent in a series of "Go have a think in your room" and "Briton! Inside voice!" I hate that. I hate that most of what he has heard from me this week has been consequences. Not that they weren't deserved, they were. But sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is having to be the bad guy and send your screaming son up to his room yet again to calm down so that homework can get finished.

But then, just when I'm almost at my breaking point, ready to wash my hands of the whole seven year old thing, he does something so redeeming that all the arguments and door slamming and instruction ignoring ceases to matter, and I remember what a great boy I have.

Last night Briton had Cub Scouts. It was a big deal to go last night because we were handing out pinewood derby cars and he didn't want to miss it. But he also did not want to pick up the heaps of toys he had dumped out in the playroom - just to dump something out- and it was touch and go up till the last moment over whether he would be allowed or if he would have to stay home and miss out on getting his car. He bent, I sighed, lectured and then let him follow me to the car.

When the cars were passed out, one of the boys younger brothers was hurt to find there wasn't one for him. I'd picked up the cars and had planned to try to get a few extras at the hobby shop before the meeting but between the homework battle and the playroom disaster, I didn't make it. I asked Briton to give his car to the boy, proposing that we get another, and one for his sister, tomorrow. Without a word of argument or self pity, he did it. He had been vibrating with excitement in the car over the prospect of getting his car and yet without a second thought, he gave it away.

He is a sweet boy. And I need to remember that, even when he is moaning in his room because I wont let him eat all the cookies or because I'm making him do his assigned work. Even then, even when he's yelling at the top of his lungs at me, he's still my sweet boy. And thank goodness for that.

And while we're talking fo Briton, this is what I found when I went to clean the playroom the other day.

I should probably be worried but instead, I just find it hilarious.