Sunday, October 24, 2010

AMY & REE: Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy and Creamy Mashed Potatoes

I got all antsy to make these two dishes from PW's cookbook once the weather started cooling off. And, trust me, I know they are a heart attack waiting to happen. But a delicious one, if I do say so. We just happen to have some cubed elk steak in the freezer, a gift from last hunting season, which worked perfectly for her Chicken Fried Steak. The roux gravy was easy and yummy as well. Her Creamy Mashed Potatoes, though, are really time consuming, as you basically make traditional mashed potatoes then mix in a lot of butter, cream cheese, and cream and bake them again. All extra steps which take too much time and don't really enliven the flavor all that much, in my opinion. And I'm back on a roll with baking and cooking, my friends, since we just celebrated the 2nd Annual Food Network Cookoff, where I spent the last several months all about the Barefoot Contessa. And, as the weather makes my bones ache for comfort food and indoors, you can be expecting more PW cookbook posts soon. Also, I'd better get my ass in gear if I'm to make my December 31st deadline!

Friday, October 15, 2010

CRAFTY: Making Old Stuff New Again

It's finally fall in Idaho, as it seems the 90 degree days are now gone for good. It was a little disconcerting, even as a sun worshipper, to be spreading our cotton spider webs around the rose bush and putting out our 'TRICK OR TREAT' doormat in shorts and tanks. And I couldn't be more happy to welcome the 60 degree overcast mornings, pull our sweaters out of storage, and cuddle up in my Snuggie with morning coffee. It's time.

Along with the change in seasons and weather comes the inside time after a long summer spent under the blue skies. I like that shift indoors, even though with it comes bigger messes and the occasional bouts of cabin fever. Luckily, we've got things we love to keep us busy this time of year - our overflowing bookshelves and my trusty Singer sewing machine. As always, I'm really big on recycling old things into new and love the challenge an overlooked object presents. Over the past few months I've discovered a really great way to use the girls tattered, torn, or stained clothes and make them into something new and usable.

I've been cutting out patterns or appliques from undamaged parts of their old t-shirts and making them into 'patches' to cover up small stains or tears on perfectly good wear. You can see here I covered the bum in a pair of Alice's blue shorts with a pink ballerina and cut some hearts from another tee for her little turtleneck. I've been using whatever fun color of thread is currently in my machine to add to the funkability factor of these patchwork items and I love the way cotton jersey rolls a little when you stitch it on.

Another great idea (which I stole from this blog) was to cut off the girls' pants into shorts when they still fit everywhere but the length. We did this all summer with jeans and 'jama pants and it's a great way to prolong the life of clothes, especially with wee ones that grow so fast. (We did the same with Alice's onesies, making them into little t-shirts.) I discovered that Alice's tiny pant legs, when cut off and turned upside down, looked like the perfect doll skirts, with the elastic waists already in place.

So one night Lucy cut out patches and picked cute stitches on my machine and we whipped up four skirts in no time flat! We could've cut some shorter for baby dolls like this one (or even added straps!) but thought it looked cute as a strapless dress, even though it's a wee bit inappropriate for a baby her age.

We also could've easily hemmed the skirts, but thought the ragged denim look was hip. It would be fun to pick up some infant pants at thrift shops and add other iron on patches and the like for little girls' birthday or Christmas gifts as well.

My friend Kristyn gave me this cute idea the other day for the month of October: gather all your Halloween books into a basket for a special seasonal reading nook. This is especially great for those parents, like me, who are a little too unorganized to put away holiday books and only pull them out once a year.

Alice and I had fun rummaging through our numerous bookshelves in search of books, and came up with more than I even knew we had. We took liberties with the theme and included books on fall, monsters, and spiders, too, and put them all in one of our apple buckets. We are avid readers here and my kids (like yours, I'm sure) get hooked on one book and want us to read it TEN THOUSAND TIMES IN A ROW. So this is a fun way to rethink about books you already own and celebrate the season. I love this idea so much that I'm continuing it into the winter. So, what about you? Any hobbies you reintroduce in the fall? What are your favorite ways to make old stuff new again to your kids?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Mighty Life List: 75 at 35

I just celebrated my 35th birthday. It was a pretty mellow day, really, as all I wanted was some alone time with my hubby, a breakfast with an adult beverage in a smoky bar, uninterrupted by food being thrown or screaming, and a quiet day exploring downtown Nampa. Now I know some might cringe that this idea appeals to anyone, but when you've been with your kids 24/7 going on 18 months straight now, it's the littlest most mundane things that you sometimes miss about being an adult. Like the fact that I can actually casually explore a fruit stand at a farmers market without chucking some peaches in my bag before losing a child in the madness, or liberally covering my scrambled eggs with Tabasco without worrying about having to share them with my 2-year-old. Even though I love my girls so much that my heart explodes every night as I kiss them goodnight, I need a break. I needed to do something for myself on my birthday.

All this self-centered talk makes me feel guilty, though. Especially since I'm trying to balance four jobs on top of being a radical homemaker and a stay-at-home-mom. And I feel like I'm not on the top of my game with any of them. There's dried up cat puke next to my bed that's been there for days and Alice has watched too much Sid the Science Kid this past week. Not to mention that I've missed several of those bedtime kisses because I've been out conducting interviews for stories or meeting with artists or at historic preservation hearings lately. I'm trying desperately to work on balance, on what my family needs and what I need and be able to do it all with a little less grouchiness and a little more fun. It's hard.

As my birthday gift to myself, though, I decided to write and publish my Mighty Life List. I've been reading Maggie Mason's blog, Mighty Girl, for several years now. The Mighty Life List is an idea she came up with, writing down a 'bucket list' of sorts, laying out things she'd like to do in her lifetime. The idea is that by publishing them, she's utilizing her online community of friends to help, support, and encourage her to cross items off. Recently, she was lucky (and famous) enough to have Intel and Verizon financially sponsor some items on her list, like take tap dancing lessons and swim with bioluminescent plankton in Puerto Rico. She also hosted a weekend in northern California wine country recently for some of her friends to get together and offer each other guidance and assistance with their life lists. She's invited others in the blogosphere to join the challenge and I've been working on my list for several months now with Lucy, who's been compiling her own. So, here it is:

1. Hand churn ice cream.
2. Go to the Oscars.
3. Walk a marathon.
4. Stomp on grapes to make wine.
5. Host a dressy, adults only dinner party.
6. Sew myself a garment that I would wear in public.
7. Take a train ride.
8. Milk a cow.
9. Learn to make pasta from scratch.
10. Raise backyard pet chickens.
11. Have my hands painted in henna.
12. Get another tattoo.
13. Visit Paris.
14. Eat
poutine in Quebec.
15. Take my daughters shopping for a prom dress.
16. Take Eric to a Broadway show in New York City.
17. Visit Ellis Island.
18. Own a small cabin in the mountains.
19. Take ballroom dance lessons.
20. Be in a movie.
21. Own a convertible.
22. Complete a paint-by-numbers painting.
23. Be a contestant on
Wheel of Fortune.
24. Take piano lessons (again).
25. Learn Spanish.
26. Snorkel in Hawaii.
27. Rent a house in Mexico.
28. Take a painting class.
29. Have a girls-only spa day.
30. Host an under the stars movie night in my backyard.
31. Learn astronomy.
32. Have a birthday party for my house.
33. Restore a vintage travel trailer.
34. Grill salmon on a cedar plank.
35. Build a tipi.
36. Wallpaper a room.
37. Stay at the
Horizon Hotel in Palm Springs.
38. Visit Bisbee, AZ just to stay at
The Shady Dell.
39. Take a roadtrip along
historic route 66.
40. Teach a
Jazzercise class.
41. Obtain literary recognition for something I wrote.
42. Go clamming.
43. Stand inside the Taj Mahal.
44. Throw a block party.
45. Catch up on our family scrapbooks.
46. Deep fry doughnuts.
47. Try 100 cheeses.
48. Host an Oscars cocktail party.
49. Create a Halloween haunted house.
50. Own a
three-wheeled bicycle.
51. Help deliver a baby.
52. Drive a bus.
53. Own a hearse.
54. Make corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.
55. See the
Watts Towers.
56. Take a class from Richard Simmons at
SLIMMONS Studio in LA.
57. Visit Graceland during
Elvis Week in August.
58. Watch a twilight film at
Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
59. Take a week and shop the
World’s Longest Garage Sale.
60. Make a parade float.
Go kayaking.
62. Take a hot air balloon ride.
63. Enter something to be judged in the fair.
Own a pearl necklace.
65. Mosaic a piece of furniture.
66. Attend a
Broncos football game at Taco Bell Arena.
67. Have sleepovers with my grandbabies.
68. Cook through an entire cookbook.
69. Visit the
American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
70. Rent a house for a week in Vermont at Christmastime.
71. Learn to make really good jalapeno poppers from scratch.
72. Brew my own beer with my husband.
73. Take a dip in a new Idaho hot spring each year.
74. Re-learn how to be silly.
75. Start a ladies golf league.

The ones in red were completed this summer. It gives me confidence that I'm already well on my way to making these happen. Some are more ordinary things and some are grand. And what I need from you, dear readers, is support, both moral and real. If you have any experience with anything on my life list and would like to offer me help in crossing it off, I'd love it. Have a fantastic jalapeno popper recipe? Send it my way, or, better yet, let's make them together! Have some old beer brewing equipment you no longer use? I'd love to inherit it! Own a farm? Teach me to milk your cow! I plan to write blog posts each time I complete something. I'd also love to see your Life Lists, and they don't necessarily have to contain mighty things, as you can see from mine. Nor do they have to be long. It would be great to aid one another in living to the fullest.

61. Go kayaking. I went kayaking twice this summer by myself. The first time was on Redfish Lake outside Stanley and the second was on the Payette River in McCall. It was less scary than I thought (I'm afraid of water) and was kind of peaceful. I'd surely do it again!

64. Own a pearl necklace. I've been wanting a real one for several years now and my stepsister, Angie, caught wind of it. She gave me a long, natural, cream-colored strand hand-strung by an Oregon jeweler as a thank you gift for officiating her wedding in July. I wore it to the ceremony. It's lovely and precious.