Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Saving a Pattern

I'm beginning to feel nervous about my girls' 4H projects. 4H offers kids the chance to learn new skills and follow rules and gain self-confidence. The deadline is mid-July, but experience tells me it is not to soon to begin teaching them the skill of wringing their hands in distress.

I'm a little extra amped up because Sophia has added one project to her list and Ava is a "real 4H-er" now (not just in Exploring 4H - and limited to one project) and has multiple projects of her own. True, no one is required to do more than one project, but this is the choice we've made. I'd like Sophia and Ava to be skilled in the home arts, and those are Sophia's interests, but they aren't Ava's first choices. When it came time to choose Ava's projects, I told her she must do foods and sewing and then she may choose a project or two on top of that.

Sophia - Foods (baked and preserved), Sewing, Floriculture, Child Development, Leadership

Ava - Foods (baked and preserved), Sewing, Photography, Crafts

So we're getting started now, hoping to avoid tears and shouts later. Twelve-year-old Sophia is a big girl now, and if she and I want the same style of dress, we likely would find our sizes in the same pattern envelope. But how does one save a pattern to use for multiple sizes?

The "experts" say to trace the size of the pattern you want to use, and never cut the pattern at all. I was five when my grown-up sister got married. My mother kept the aisle runner - a semi-sheer white fabric with a floral white-on-white print - and traced pattern pieces until I was a grown up bride myself.

But I don't know any brides with aisle runners to share. Besides. I don't want to go to that much effort.

I saw the solution on Margo's smart blog. I'll document my successful experience here:

After laying out my pattern pieces, and pinning them, I make little snips from the edge of the pattern piece to the line of the appropriate size. The snips are made intermittantly - less on a straight edge, more on a curve.

The snips make little flaps, which I then fold back along the line of the correct size of the pattern piece. Now, when I cut the piece, I'm cutting alongside the fold, rather than through the fabric AND the paper pattern piece.

See how nicely the middle size has been cut, while retaining the view of the other sizes to be made later?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chicken-Roasting 101

In my blushing bride days, I was friends with a group of women who all stayed at home with their babies and honed their housewifely skills. We were talking about feeling somewhat capable in the kitchen when my friend Leslie said, "Oh, not me. I've never even roasted a whole chicken!"

Is that the standard, I thought? Because I had never roasted a whole chicken, either. And I never remember my mother messing with a whole bird. Well, I take that back. I remember her cutting a raw bird apart. But mostly I remember her buying chicken pieces.

But I took Leslie's comment as a challenge. And now it is a favorite meal for my family and me. It feels Sunday dinner-ish, though I don't like for it to be in the oven for the whole length of time we tend to be away at church. I make it when I want to be celebratory about a family meal.

Here's the very simple method I've decided upon, and it can certainly be tweaked according to tastes:

Remove giblets, if included, from the raw bird's cavity. Save them for the gravy, or don't.

Stuff the cavity with the flavorful vegetables of your choice. I always, ALWAYS use onions and celery, at the very least. Sometimes I throw in a carrot or something that needs to be used,but if I find I don't have onions or celery on hand, I put the bird back in the fridge and save it to make when I am better supplied. Also, I seldom chop the vegetables this finely. Usually the celery sticks are sticking immodestly from all the crevices as I put it into the oven.

And I don't go to the trouble of lacing up the chicken with special kitchen string. Look, the purpose of roasting the vegetables with the chicken is to bump them right up together so that the flavors mix. This is adequately done without getting all tidy about it, so you better believe I don't do it if I don't have to.

Next I season it. Sometimes with salt and cracked pepper, sometimes with garlic salt.

I put the roaster in a preheated oven - about 350. I find a typically-sized bird takes between 1.5-2 hours until the breast juices run clear.

I cannot serve this meal without mashed potatoes. Last night, I barely had time to get the potatoes tender in order to get my family off to their evening activities, but it is a non-negotiable menu item when we roast a bird.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Making a Change?

The stars have aligned and I can ignore them no longer. Certain health problems persist in my home and too many sources are suggesting that a gluten-free diet might be helpful on all fronts. I really want everyone to feel better and I'm willing to try this approach.

The latest person who pointed me toward gluten-free I asked for shopping advice. I don't really know what I'm looking for as a read a label and the idea of reading every label before I put it in the shopping cart is overwhelming to me. She just said, "Oh, just ask the supermarket employees to point you to the gluten-free aisle. There are lots of nice choices."

So I went to the market and picked up these options.

I'm nervous, though. There are people in my family who are not adventurous eaters and resistant to change.

This is going to go over like a turd in a punch bowl.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Coconut Shrimp

I had a pretty stellar day today. There was nothing on the calendar so I was productive at home for much of the day, which is overdue and felt so welcome.

Then we took the family to the Recreation Center in my town and played some raquetball. I do find I need to step up the physical activity now that I've hit the 40-year mark, and I definitely prefer to be active by playing fun games rather than the gerbil activity of the treadmill.

My local supermarket had a special on some fancy seafood this weekend. I snapped some up and Sophia made a feast for dinner. Crabcakes! Pan-seared scallops! And today's recipe - Coconut Shrimp with an orange dipping sauce.

I never find seafood recipes to be too much trouble, and they always cook so quickly. I even deveined the shrimp myself, which I've never done before, and it was not a very squeamish job, thank the lord.

2 C. shredded coconut (sweetened)
2 c. bread crumbs
Kosher salt and ground pepper
2 c. flour
4 large eggs
24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Vegetable oil for frying

Dipping sauce:
1/2 c. orange marmalade
1-2 T dark rum

In a large bowl, combine coconut and bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper. Coat each shrimp in flour, dredge in eggs, and roll in the bread crumb mixture.

In a Dutch Oven, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil to about 350 degrees. Fry the shrimp in batches until golden brown and cooked through - about 3-4 minutes per batch. It is a quick process and not troublesome, but DO take care not to overcrowd the shrimp in the cooking process, nor to cook them too long.

Drain on paper towels.

For the dipping sauce, heat the marmalade in a small saucepan and thin with rum as desired. Serve immediately.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Peel a Potato

I came across this youtube video some time ago and I thought it would be fun to share here. It features Dawn Wells, Mary Ann of Gilligan's Island, with a tip on peeling potatoes without fuss.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


On my road trip with the kids in October, I got to turn a Blog World friend into a friend In Real Life. I had lunch with Margo, a frequent commenter on my blog and the writer of a fantastic blog of her own. Our mutual friend, Rebecca, introduced us to one another in the blogworld and now we feel quite informed about the other because we each faithfully read one another.

Margo is a homemaker whom I admire because she is no-nonsense, methodical, and has a Depression-era Granny's sensibility regarding make-do and thrift. While I congratulate myself for buying clothes off the sale rack, Margo makes friends with Women of a Certain Age, who retire from sewing and give her their fabric stashes. Then she makes adorable clothes for her children for Absolutely Free! I feel like an accomplished haus frau because I decide at 4:00 PM to cook dinner for my family and make a meal out of staples in the pantry, while she plans her menus a week at a time, journals it all faithfully, and markets for them with intention.

On the day of our meeting, Rebecca and I stopped at a simple Mom and Pop grocery for contributions for lunch, which Margo then hosted with aplomb. It was so comfortable to gather with all our children and Margo's husband around the dining room table in her city rowhouse. What hospitality! I never felt like the New Friend or Third Wheel. We talked easily and shared secret chocolate after we sent the children away to the neighborhood park. Rebecca had brought along new buttons for her fabulous vintage coat. When she sponged needle and thread from Margo's supplies, Margo whipped out the quilt she had in process and they did handwork while I watched cathartically.

As we chatted, I started thinking that it was fascinating how Margo has educated herself in the home arts. True, she was raised by a hardworking, Mennonite momma who kept a proper spic-and-span home and taught Margo how to be a hospitable joy to guests. And she did so while following her passion to earn a college degree and begin a career in a time and community where that Simply Was Not Done. But Margo's passion is, for sure, homemaking and much of it she taught herself. As much as I respect and try to emulate the way our foremothers did things, Margo is in a higher reading group than I.

Margo really is a wiz with finances and there probably should be a blog post on just that, but, frankly, it just doesn't interest me. Dear Margo, new friend though she may be, felt free to give me a mild scolding when I confessed I'd be lost financially if I happen to outlive Mike. No, what I found most interesting was her passion and determination to learn the art of homemaking. When I asked her about it, she said she'd always been a nester and that even as a child, she played house and made order from chaos.

In college, Margo felt a sort of primal urge to get out of the dorm and into an apartment with friends. Living in this setting, she could cook, clean, maintain some order and feel the sanctuary of Coming Home at the end of each day. When she told her then-fiance that she wanted to stay at home, he didn't question it. Together they bought a home with income-earning apartments within to help make her dream possible. So important is her job at home to her that the promise of a Sanctuary Home was a part of their wedding vows! I think Margo's following quote helps to define the picture of that type of home: "I love to send my family out into the world warm, fed, loved, and on time. And then I love to welcome them back with a good-smelling house, home-cooked meals, and a soothing presence (well, I'm not always nice - but that's what I aim for)."

As much as she thrived in the home, she found that having a husband challenged her to become 1) a better cook, 2) more skilled at organization as two entities merged their stuff and two souls merged their lifestyles, and, 3) a true manager of a the real finances of a real household on a budget. When Margo and her Mister added children to the household, new needs added new routines, such as increased order since children thrive when their enviroments are comfortable and reliable. She also desires to give her children nutritious food at every meal so again, she stepped up her game in the kitchen.

The Evolution of a Homemaker is a huge topic, one I'm not sure is served well in one measly blog post. I think Margo sets herself apart in her work ethic and can-do attitude. When she recognized the benefits of nesting in college, she found a nest in which to roost. When she had babies who needed her on their own schedule, she didn't shrug and resign herself to undone work, she figured out how thrive in the new normal. If you'd like to be inspired and learn a ton, check out her blog and, through it, get to know my friend, Margo.