Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Great Christmas Make-over

Hello. Hope you had a lovely Christmas holiday if you celebrate it. Mine was a big success. Lots of happy guests, great food, and a pretty table-- but only after lots of hard work. I felt like I'd been hit by a truck the day after Christmas. Every muscle in my body ached from being on my feet all day and from moving furniture, painting, hanging the Christmas decorations, etc. It was definitely all worth it though!

Just for dramatic effect-- this is the before shot of my mom's living/dining area. Awful, no? Like mine, her house is in the middle of a slow do-most-of-it-yourself renovation. A while ago, we removed the wall between what used to be a bedroom (the peach walls) and the living room (white side). The circa 1950 asbestos tile drop ceilings were also removed, leaving lots of extra timbers and exposed wiring showing. The ultimate goal is to create a "great room" that will house her kitchen and living room, allowing for the room that is currently the kitchen to become the master bedroom.

Not only were the walls ugly, but the floors are covered in awful vintage linoleum. We can see that the original wood floors continue on that side, but haven't removed the linoleum because we know that the sub-floor has rot in several places, most notably along the outer wall, and we need to stabilize and reinforce it before probably replacing a lot of the wood floors and re-finishing them. It's a huge, structural task, and we don't want to start it until it warms up again.

Despite being used to living in houses that are always in a state of demolition, I can not fathom inviting a bunch of people over for a celebratory meal and serving them in a horribly ugly room. I had to implement a flash makeover immediately! Painting the peach walls white to unify the larger room, covering the floor with butcher paper to make it tonally match the wood floor in the living room (with its own horribly stain color). Re-arranging my mom's furniture so that the flow was better, and supplementing it with some of my own furniture made everything more comfortable. The end result? -- still obviously a (de)construction zone, but hopefully verging more toward rustic elegance than Grey Gardens squalor.

So much better, right? Well, I think so, and as the happy toasting picture below attests, everyone had a great time!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Prep

I don't go big into holiday decoration, but a little bit here and there is nice. Last weekend I made a wreath from yard clippings and a few leftover apples. Next year I'll definitely make two, because the gates would look better if they each had one. I meant to make two this year, but it took longer than I thought to make the one, so one it is. Those are the other two dogs of the Four Dog Fig Farm. Little cuties, wondering why I'm leaving them behind on my way off to work.

For a celebration of a different sort, last Monday I put together a pre-wedding package for one of my best friends who is getting married at the courthouse today! With the last minute planning there was no time for travel or a bridal shower, so I put together a little set of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence for her shoe. I wrapped it with a set of vintage Catalina Island postcards, because they might spend a night or two there as a honeymoon. It turned out super cute, especially because there were a few cards left over that I taped to the outside of the box as well.

And finally, last weekend, in an unprecedented two-weeks before Christmas timeframe, my Mom and I, and my friend Elise made the annual povitica. This is a Croatian strudel like bread that my grandmother and her mother before her always made. Its time consuming because you have to stretch the dough out parchment thin and as wide as a big dining room table before filling and rolling it back up to bake, but its fun and one of the few ethnic traditions that has made it down through the generations. (Extreme stubbornness and hot tempers don't count as traditions). We made two this year, one with a walnut and honey filling, which is what my grandmother usually made and therefore most of the family prefers, and one cheese and onion filling, the one I prefer and usually doesn't get made because I have no seniority in the family and I get out-voted. I like the walnut, but only in small doses as sweet breads are just not my thing.

Any holiday baking traditions in your family?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Wishlist

This afternoon is my last day teaching for the semester. All that's left now is getting together this afternoon to grade the final studio project and compile the semester grades. That means next week I can mostly just relax and focus on Christmas! I haven't been buying much this year for financial reasons, and over the last few years my family has segued into giving more charitable contributions at the holidays and fewer material presents, which suits us all fine. There aren't a lot of children in the family just now, and as adults I think we mostly just like to buy our own things, so Christmas as a gift giving engine has ceased to be important. Nonetheless, in the spirit of Christmas I've compiled a list of things that I'd love to own right now.

Banana Republic Morgan sunglasses, $98. I always love how aviators look on other people, but they generally don't look good on me. This pair however looked great when I tried them on at the store. Totally want these.

Anthropologie Spotted Scat scarf (worst marketing name ever?), $30, purple. I saw this scarf in person a couple of weeks ago while shopping for the "something new" portion of a wedding shower gift, and totally fell in love with it for myself. It's not expensive at all, but I put myself on a new clothing shopping ban a few months ago, and have been sticking to it, so even cheap(ish) items will not be bought!
Lucky Brand Deives boot, $187 from Zappos. I've had my eye on these for awhile. They seem pretty perfect-- tall boot shaft, low-ish wedge heel, very versatile. Love.

JCrew Crystal Thornbush earrings, in Chocolate (sold out) Warm Redwood on sale for $39.99. OMG, these are totally impractical for my completely glamour free existence right now, but I want them anyway. Fortunately, they are sold out in the color I wanted, which removes the temptation. I did find a pair on ebay, but Will. Not. Buy!

Andrew Marc leather jacket from Bluefly. $485. This is just flat out of my price range, but I've been looking for a versatile leather jacket, and this one is pretty nice. Transitioning from a job in a fairly lax, but still corporate environment to one in a University or working from home setting has really wreaked havoc with my wardrobe. These days I'm wearing jeans constantly at home, but still need to evoke some semblance of authority when I go in to teach, and the way I like to do so is to wear nice shoes, blouses or jackets with the jeans. Nice, meaning well made, quality materials, etc. That way the individual items might be something that the students would wear, but its just a bit more pulled together. This jacket would be perfect.

There are some tech-y things that I'd love this Christmas too, but I'll keep this post to clothing.

Hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Pisa's Camposanto Monumentale, destroyed by bombing and subsequent fire in 1944. The rubble in the middle photo are the frescos that crumbled and fell off the walls. Restoration is still in progress.

The Louvre galleries, emptied of all artworks in order to keep them from the Nazi invaders.

Lately I've been amazed at all of the little coincidences that I've noticed around me. For example, just last night I got around to watching the documentary "The Rape of Europa," from my Netflix instant queue. The film documents the massive art theft and looting that took place in Europe during WWII, much of it in the hands of Nazi's who were under orders to collect specific works of art for Hitler and Goering's personal collections and for Hitler's planned art museum that he dreamed of building in Linz, Austria. He envisioned the aggrandizing of Linz, his home town, to be one of his great legacies, and a key element was the monumental museum envisioned becoming the greatest in the world.

The movie had been in my queue for months, but last night it felt like exactly what I wanted to see. Then this morning, when I opened my iGoogle homepage, one of the NPR headlines that are right at the top announced, "Veteran's Souvenir Turns Out To Be Hitler's Art Book," one of many of the volumes that Hitler had made cataloging the art that he wanted to acquire for his museum. Just another little coincidence.

I highly recommend this film.

Friday, December 4, 2009

NaNoWriMo Finish

I only wrote 10,141 words in November, no where near the 50,000 word goal. There were several reasons such as the holiday and a really fractured schedule, but the main reason was a lack of daily inspiration. I like the novel idea that I've come up with, and I found the days that I wrote to be really satisfying. I think that part of my problem was the total last minute decision to participate, which meant that I just started writing that first week with literally no plot in mind. After a certain point I had developed some characters that interested me, but I still had no idea where I was taking them. So, despite my lack of productivity toward that final goal, I really loved NaNoWriMo and definitely plan to do it again next year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chicken and Bee Zoning

This is so cool. One of the things that drives me crazy about most cities and their planning departments is that they don't tailor zoning or trends in zoning to their specific community needs. Oh, they mean well, and they think that they are being place specific, but few have the courage to actually try implementing anything new. The reality of a lot of current city planning is that its designed to trigger economic growth and development. Many communities just try to lay down something that worked in Portland or Chicago on their own cities without acknowledging the key underlying factors that are missing, like a high level of urban density, that made it work elsewhere. I would be happy to see this zoning from Cleveland, OH copied around the country. In fact, I like the idea so much that it makes me want to send their planning department a fan letter. Yay, Cleveland!

Like other cities, notably Detroit, confronted with rampant home foreclosures and vacant parcels, Cleveland is not willing to let urban land lie fallow. In the 77-square-mile area within city limits, there are currently 18,000 vacant lots totaling 3,500 acres. While the primary goal is neighborhood redevelopment – including an emphasis on arts and entertainment and building on anchor institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic and universities - the city has also launched several initiatives to try to enhance urban form despite dwindling population and stalled private-sector activity. Among them: stabilizing vacant lots with urban gardens and native plantings, demolition of structures while maintaining foundations to allow the construction of greenhouses, allowing sideyard expansion, and using vacant lots for geo-thermal wells to heat neighboring structures. But perhaps the most interesting effort is "chicken and bee" zoning – dramatically reduced setback requirements for coops and hives on empty parcels. The city is considering going even further, relaxing rules for raising roosters, turkeys, geese, goats, pigs, and sheep, and possibly including new agricultural overlay districts for more intensive urban farming. Robert N. Brown, director of the Cleveland City Planning Commission, said that zoning would not be changed to accommodate processing or slaughtering, but that urban farming was seen as an appropriate use of the vacant land for now. He made a presentation on the efforts at the annual convening of city planning directors from the nation's 30 largest cities sponsored by the Lincoln Institute, the American Planning Association, and Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I've been watching "5 Films about Christo & Jeanne-Claude," over the last couple of months. Its a 3 disc documentary series made by the Maysles brothers, of Grey Gardens fame. I'm watching the fifth film, "Umbrellas," right now. I particularly recommend the films to anyone who has ever had to take part in a public meeting. The backlash against a public art project is pretty typical, but in these films almost without fail the biggest opponents are crying at the beauty of it once its installed. Which in itself is awesome. It really brings home the point that public art can touch people who may never voluntarily enter a museum. Also awesome are Jeanne-Claude's hair styles and colors. And her constant chain smoking, which she pretty much does at all times except during a Japanese typhoon.

Today was a fitting day to finish the series because I just learned that Jeanne-Claude died on Wednesday. Here's to you Jeanne-Claude.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Let's eat Weeds

It can't get much more local and sustainable than making a salad out of weeds from the yard. We have a huge number of wild mustard popping up across the yard right now. Picked small it tastes just like arugula. I gathered some this morning and made a salad for lunch, combining the spicy wild mustard with sweet apple slices, a few pine nuts, and a yogurt based dressing. (Yes, I slightly overdressed it. I didn't want to save the little bit of extra dressing and just threw it in there. How non-gourmet of me). On the side I finished up the last of the home made bread that I made last week with sliced black pepper cheddar melted on top. Yum.

Winter Garden

I'm calling it officially winter now that we've had multiple freezing nights all in a row. Yesterday I was home all day and ventured outside in the afternoon to complete a few chores and spend some time with my mom's dogs.

In the garden I saw that the frost has finally taken a toll on the cardoons. Wilting, although they look like they'd be fine if we'd just given them a little protection.

Even though these just look like barren stalks right now, its our first planting of raspberries, so I'm pretty excited. There are only a few canes so far, but I plan to extend the raspberry planting along the south side of the fence.

And just for the record, the garden looks super weedy because it is super weedy. We haven't cleaned it up yet because birds keep foraging in there, and we want to let them eat all they can. We've had a pheasant grazing back there most mornings. Beautiful, but I never remember to take my camera out that early to capture a photo.

I spent part of it restocking the wood pile for my wood stove. We have a huge pile of wood stockpiled from all of the trees that we've had to cut down, and try to have the tree company cut the wood down into manageable pieces, and/or shred it so we can reuse it as mulch. Anything that was cut small enough to fit in the wood stove, I burn. Its a mixture of woods, and not always the best for a fire, but it works. Alternately, when the remaining pre-cut wood is too big to fit into the wood stove, I split it or cut smaller pieces myself. I need to replace the chain on my chainsaw though, and so yesterday was just about sorting through the pile and taking what was there.

Two of the (four) namesake dogs. Happily hanging out by me as I sort through the woodpile.

The haul. This yellow garden cart has been our best "tool" investment. Love it.

Today I have some leaf raking on my list of things to do. With the size of this property I refuse to rake until all the leaves have fallen. Its an exhausting task as it is, and having to do it more than once a year is too depressing to contemplate. Maybe I'll take a photo of a giant pile of leaves later.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cardoon Pizza

In the Summer of 2008 I took a solo trip to Virginia to finally see Monticello. Of all of Thomas Jefferson's endeavors, my favorite was the vegetable garden. Well, and the figs. I never would have imagined that figs would grow so well there.

I love vegetable gardens anyway, and I especially love gardens that try to grow the same or similar varieties to what would have been there during their historic heyday. In the gift shop I chose culinary souvenirs, a cookbook of Monticello recipes and a few packets of seeds. One was cardoon. We started the cardoons this spring from seed, and transplanted them into the back garden interspersed with our artichokes. They grew like mad (see here), but I wasn't sure how to harvest them. Turns out you can eat both the stalks and the root, so this fall I've been judiciously pruning them so that I can try them out.

The problem is that cardoon is a difficult vegetable. It has extremely sharp needle like thorns along its stalk and is very fibrous. Its also really bitter if you don't blanch it before cooking. Most recipes I've found instruct you to blanch the cardoon, drain it and then boil it again for 3o to 45 minutes. One may have instructed braising, I can't remember. The boiling process destroys the bitter flavor and leaves a mild artichoke flavor behind, which is good. However it also makes for a really soft and somewhat watered down vegetable. I'm not sure its worth it.

In order to maximize the artichoke flavor I first tried to make soup. It was okay, but had a fairly weak flavor. The next time I decided to use cardoon as a topping on pizza. Much better. I still over-cooked the cardoons during the pre-boiling phase, and need to watch them more closely next time. However, so far I think this is the best use.

Pizza ingredients: mozzarella, pesto (from garden but frozen), rosemary, cardoon, yellow potato, caramelized onions.

Pizza just out of the oven. The crust was the same as last time, made from the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle recipe.

On the plate.

Monday, November 9, 2009

NaNoWriMo Update

I mistakenly thought I'd write enough over the weekend that I'd be caught up to the goal word count by now, but that just wasn't the case. And why did I think that anyway? I'm always running around on the weekend like a chicken with my head cut off. I'm at 7043 as of Sunday night. Not a huge word count, but still on track for my 1000 words a day goal.

I can't say for sure, but I think the endeavor has been great for my state of well-being. Whether it's the cathartic quality of pouring words out everyday, the sense of accomplishment, or that its just fun, I've found that I've been in better than average mood since I started. I've been having really nice dreams too, filled with all of my friends and family members. They've all centered around big events or holidays, so literally all my friends and family members in one dream. I'm starting to wonder if I'm going to get news that someone near me is planning a wedding... guess we'll have to wait and see.

DIY Project

This weekend I finished updating the bedside table that I bought at a neighbor's garage sale.

It's not as nice as the inspiration obviously, but it looks lot better than it did. I'm still planning on putting on a mirrored top to break up that blue a little. And honestly, I'm not sure that the blue will look good with my soon to be sewn curtains, so I may end up painting it again. For now though its great and has already improved the bedroom. Before this I was using a Lack side table from IKEA, and its so much better having a drawer.

Things that I've noticed about bedside tables now that I have a real one:

1) There is a lot of storage space in that drawer! What am I supposed to fill it with? I put in a scented drawer liner for a nice little olfactory surprise every time I open it, but otherwise its pretty empty. I guess I could have put all those unattractive paperbacks in there, especially since I'm not actually reading any of them right now.

2) My alarm clock is really ugly! I honestly never paid any attention to it before, but it looks like crap on that table. Need a new attractive alarm clock. Any recommendations?

3) I need fresh flowers! Or maybe some flowering plant like an orchid. There is a ton of space on here and flowers in the bedroom are always a welcome addition. My bedside lamp hangs from above, so I'm not going to fill the top with a lamp. Can you tell clutter is my usual state of existence? I'm freaked out by a clean and empty surface!

So in summary, not perfect, but much better than before and I feel good about turning this project around quickly.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I figured that at the very least it'll be a good thing to write every day, even if most of it turns out to be nonsense. My weekends are usually so crazy busy that by Sunday evening I can barely keep my eyes open, and yesterday was no exception. Fall is killer when it comes to house/yard chores, harvesting projects (still processing apples, yesterday it was apple butter). I wasn't able to sit down to write until 9:00 last night, but managed to get down 1055 words, before the time change yesterday made me too tired to keep going. In order to get the goal word count of 50,000 by the end of the month, I should have kept it up for another 600 words. Guess I'll just have to try to make up for it today. I have several characters mapped out in my head, and a basic organizing structure for the plot, so I feel okay with it all. Now it'll just be a matter of seeing whether or not my characters will cooperate with my plot. Should be fun. Or really frustrating? Too soon to tell.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This morning I was enjoying the leaves falling off the Mulberry trees and this afternoon I was watching snow fall. As I upload this the sun is out again and the sky is mostly blue. Crazy weather. I made this very bad mash up of the video that I shot on my little camera. Quality sucks. I'd like a little video camera, but for now this is all I've got! It gets the point across.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Decoration progress

I'm not sure I can call it progress, since the bones of the room still need so much work, but I got an email this morning that my curtain fabric shipped. I ordered a peach/grey dupioni silk from Denver Fabrics. I'm won't know for sure if I love it until it arrives, but I have a picture of what it should look like in my head. (I know, that's pretty dangerous with online fabric purchases). Oh well, it was on sale for $7.98 a yard. If it turns out to be too garish I can return it, or use it for pillows or something.

I went back and forth for awhile on the idea of pink toned silk curtains, wondering if I should go with grey or blue instead. Since I picked up paint samples though, I've leaned towards grey walls, and therefore grey curtains would be too much. Blue curtains would also be a little too cool for the room, as its only bright for a couple of hours in the afternoon. So peachy pink curtains should lend a bit of warmth and a lux factor. The overall idea is a mix of clean lined modern with a little bit of luxury. We'll see.

I'm working with this plan in mind, and favoring the color scheme on the right. Making those virtual decorating boards really helped me solidify what I want. I still need to figure out the bed, but I have the rugs, curtains (soon), hanging lights, paint color chosen (a little darker than what is shown), and access to the artwork if I use my own photo (such as the grafitti image on mom's board), and a bedside table. Obviously I don't have the gold leaf Eames chair, but hey-- its for inspiration.

This is a little backwards, but the inspiration for the table and curtains are the following:

(Source unknown, has been in my inspiration file for a long time. If you know please tell me).

via de Gournay (the wallpaper of course)

The last is the table that I picked up at my neighbor's garage sale. Its not quite as elegant or French as the tables above, but it is solid, has fairly elaborate brass hardware (partially removed here), tallish legs, and a drawer. All of which were desired. Painted blue and with a custom mirrored top, I think it'll do nicely. I'd still like a more modern/sculptural bedside table as well, but haven't found one that I like since the Urban Outfitters mushroom stool sold out. A couple are available via ebay, but for more than I want to pay.

So, progress of a sort.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


This morning was the perfect day to go to the Bosque School to see Patrick Dougherty's installation, which was done in conjunction with the Land/Art initiative that's going on this Fall. The weather was perfectly sunny, which popped the yellowing leaves of the cottonwood trees against the blue sky. We were meeting a friend who is always a little late, so we took time to stop at the Oxbow Overlook which is just down a neighboring street. The colors have changed so dramatically since I was last there in late August.

The oxbow this morning, all the reeds have gone dormant, but the cottonwoods are turning their brilliant yellow.

Back in August when everything down at river level was green and the mesa was as sandy and non-green as usual.

These pictures really don't do the Dougherty installation justice, because I can't capture the smell of the coyote willow (which is what he used to weave the structures), and because my camera just isn't good enough to deal with the contrasting light conditions of sun and shade. The photos from inside the structures came out particularly badly. However, I think you can get a sense of their scale and the playfulness of the big faces. Very cool.

The fall color along the irrigation ditch was gorgeous too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall Harvest: stragglers

Since our first, and only so far, frost on the first of the month killed most of the tender garden plants our harvest quantities nose-dived. However, in small amounts we've still been getting a little produce. It looks a lot different than it did a couple months ago.

All of the foliage on the tomato plants died, but the fruits were undamaged by the cold. They've continued to ripen on the vine, and every couple of days there have been one or two to pick. Last week I got our last zucchini, a tomato, and a couple dwarfed cukes.

The artichokes and cardoons weren't damaged by the frost at all. Now if only I could find a recipe for the cardoons that sounded inspiring. They were so bitter the last time I tried to cook them that I've kind of ignored them, but I know that I should try again.

This morning I decided that I'd better bring in the butternut squash or risk it getting soft from sitting in the soggy (and cold) mud for much longer. I picked all of it, even those that hadn't developed the best color. Hopefully they'll finish ripening in storage. (I have no idea if they can do that-- not a winter squash expert).

Meanwhile, the kitchen garden hasn't been hit with a frost, and we have more swiss chard than we could possibly eat. First up, tonight's enchiladas.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quick note

Last weekend I bought an old Southern cookbook, Treasured Southern Family Recipes by Geddings de M. Cushman and Ora Lou O'Hara Cushman (1966), at an estate sale, and it must have been stewing in my mind. Last night I thought that making chicken with biscuits and gravy was just the thing to battle the cold and the damp. It turned out wonderfully, but I didn't take any photos. The chicken was leftover from Sunday, when I roasted it slathered in a lemon juice/garlic/rosemary/tiny bit of lavender slurry. Since I used the drippings and fat from the roasting pan to make the gravy it infused it with a slightly different taste than normal cream gravy. (Which is good, because the kind of white gravy with pieces of sausage in it that you'd find at the average cafe, has always made me gag).

On the side we had warm homemade applesauce, and a simple sauteed cabbage dish that I LOVED. I just threw in some onions to brown, added the chopped cabbage and a tablespoon of dijon mustard, and let it cook down and start to brown a little. Had I not been cooking four dishes at once I probably would have added a little more spice, maybe some fennel seeds in addition to the salt and pepper.

Anyway, its still rainy and very gloomy.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rainy Day

Its raining. Seems to be letting up, but it came down with a vengeance, including hail! Brr, its giving me a chill just thinking about it. I've been drinking tea non-stop all afternoon, which really isn't much of a departure from a normal day, but it seems particularly appropriate today. A photo taken a few minutes ago once it let up a little. Looks a lot like this photo, but with more yellow leaves, particularly on the ground.

I've been photographing meals, cooking projects, garden updates and a home project here and there, but am way behind in posting them. In the spirit of the gloomy weather today I'll focus on the cooking projects. First up the result of all of those apples I showed a few weeks ago.

Applesauce! Our recipe is about as simple as possible, core and quarter the apples (and peel if you don't have a food mill). Fill a large heavy bottomed pan with apples. Add about a cup of water, cover and cook until apples are soft, stirring occasionally. Once soft, mill to remove skins and grind into sauce form. Return to large pan, sugar and spice to taste. We usually use very little sugar, because good ripe apples hardly need it, and a little cinnamon. Then process as your canning manual instructs. Leaving the skins on during the initial cooking makes for a slightly pink sauce, which is lovely. (Assuming you used red apples, ours were McIntosh). Yum!

Next up a meal from a week or so ago. I'm not a vegetarian, but this TLT Sandwich, from 101 Cookbooks, is so good that I make it every couple of months. I think it would be a great recipe to try when you are having friends over for a barbeque and want an option for your vegetarian friends. Wish I had one right now, the spicy tempeh would really help beat the chill.

The recipe calls for roasting cherry tomatoes, but while fresh garden tomatoes are on-hand, I never bother.

Assembled and served with a salad from the Fall garden-- lettuce, lots of herbs, carrots and tomatoes.
The kitchen garden wasn't affected by our frost a few weeks ago, so the herbs are all still going strong. For this salad it was a selection of tarragon, italian parsley, thai basil, and garlic chives.

As I wrote this I realized the perfect thing to listen to would be The Splendid Table podcasts, that I'm also way behind on. For anyone not already listening to it, but anticipating missing Gourmet Magazine, you'll love it. It even has Jane and Michael Stern, so you won't miss out on any of that super fattening food they recommend, as you travel around our lovely country.

Now I'm off to feed the dogs, and maybe feed myself some of that applesauce.