Tuesday, December 29, 2009

If you build it, they will come... and laze about for a really long time

Maybe you're thinking, "that is so sweet, they built a winter wonderland for their daughter."
But the reality is that the kid is just an excuse for us to continue a tradition that was started long before she was a twinkle... well you know how the saying goes.

Every year we get out the white lanterns and gauze from our wedding, my embarrassingly large collection of white lace table clothes (thrift store finds) and drape them across the ceiling with whatever lights happen to be working. Next year I plan to do this project (I live in Seattle after all) to add another dimension to the fantasy. The piece de resistance is "the weekender". What is this you might ask? Well, we take the guest bedroom mattress and plunk it on the floor of the playroom (this usually only occurs for a night or two on an occasional weekend, but during Christmas it gets an extension). This way we can gaze up at the snowy sky, go to sleep with the light of the Christmas tree shining through the french doors and can, gasp... watch movies while horizontal. While we would never do anything as horrible as having the boob tube in the bedroom we are completely comfortable moving the bedroom to the boob tube.

Don't mind the naked bee, she is just buzzing about making herself known.


So today I am just lazing about on the weekender saying goodbye to our winter wonderland and storing my favorite memories of the season.  The tree is so brittle it is about to go up in flames, I have become a little to dependent on my afternoon naps, and reality is sinking in that if I want this to continue to be a novelty we will have to eventually say goodbye, until next year.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Family Traditions: Christmas Tamales

While I don't think that I would label myself as traditional, there are some traditions that I cling to with joy!  Oh Tamale Night how I love thee!  My father in-law is from New Mexico and once a year we get together and celebrate the flavors of the southwest.


Here is the recipe for Christmas tamales:

18 dried corn husks
1 cup masa Harina
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup shoe peg corn, cooked and drained (um...we use frozen corn)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup monterey jack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup green chile chopped (we use the canned kind)
1/4 cup chopped pimentos
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

Soak dried corn husks in warm water for an hour before using: drain and trim square.  Mix rest of ingredients together and blend well.  The dough will be sticky.  Divide dough equally and place in the center of each corn husk.  Fold the two sides of the husk into the middle, then fold in the top and bottom.

Stand tamales, on end, on a rack in a steamer, over approximately an inch of hot water. Cover and steam over medium heat for 1 hour, adding more water if neccessary.  For steaming without a steamer check out this link.

Yield: 18 tamales

He looks indifferent but he was having a great time, I promise!

Que rico!

Please believe me when I tell you that nothing finishes off a meal like this Two-Layer Key Lime Pie.  It is the type of recipe that makes you want to throw your arms around the person who gave it to you every time you make it.  It is truly the best key lime pie you will ever eat.

Yes, this pie is a little time consuming; make and bake the crust, whisk and bake the first layer, then mix and chill the second layer.  However, when you finally get to cut into this stunning desert it will have been well worth the wait.

In the end, no matter what your faith, the Holidays are about being with the ones you love and remembering what life is truly about.  Say it with tamales or a really great pie but ultimately it is all about LOVE.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Food for Thought

Kids can be picky when it comes to food and while it often seems easiest to appease their palates, we can do some hard work now that will reap a big reward later.  Am I talking about strictly following the food pyramid? No,  I am talking about exposing our children to diverse cultures through food.  Here is what I have seen in kids whose parents have done this; they have a sense of adventure, what's new isn't scary but exciting, they don't just except diversity but are intrigued by it and they want to learn more about people who are different than themselves.  I have two little friends who are six and while they love macaroni and cheese they gobble up Korean BBQ and relish in using chopsticks.  More importantly these meals lead to lots of questions, and what better way for a family to connect than sitting around a table and exploring something new together!

 Waiting for a table can be fun as long as the bench doubles as a stage.

 This was the first time we took Pearl to Blue C Sushi. We have a local place that we like to support but we thought that it would be fun for her to experience the Kaiten (conveyor belt) style of dining.  Kids love watching the food go around and the atmosphere is very laid back.  For now we get her, edamame, rice, salad,  karaage (fried chicken bites) and agedashi tofu.  My nephew has been going to sushi since he was a baby and now at 9 orders for himself!

My little one's mind is like a sponge and I want her to soak up new experiences that will enrich her life and create memories that will help her grow and learn.

 Supplement your child's learning!  I love these chopsticks from AJ Panda because they make learning to use them a lot more fun and a lot less frustrating for the kiddos!  Melissa and Doug make a great sushi set that has velcro so the pieces can be put together and "chopped up".  A friend gave First Book of Sushi to Pearl and it is her all-time favorite... I KNOW THIS BOOK BY HEART!  It has beautiful illustrations and rhymes, what could be better?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fancy brunch fare from leftover mashed potatoes

Growing up in my family, food never went to waste, my father always ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.  And heaven forbid if my mom went to throw something out that had a green tinge to it.  He would simply cut off the offensive part and consume with smug pleasure.  I should also mention that I have inherited my mother's propensity for making too much food. You Norwegians know what I am talking about.  While you won't find me eating yesterday's wilted salad I am, at heart, a lover of leftovers.  So, there I was with copious amounts of garlic mashed potatoes from the night before and a rumbling tummy.  I decided to do breakfast because I love anything with a fried egg on top and because I have been wanting to find something that will satisfy me like eggs Benedict does, without all the work.  Here is what I came up with.

I decided to top my potato cake with lox but you could use avocado, bacon, ham, tomatoes...ok I will stop fantasizing about all the possibilities, you get the picture!

 Because I find hollandaise sauce to be a little time consuming I came up with a quick alternative that adds brightness to this rich dish.  You can substitute sour cream for the creme fraiche, I just happen to love its flavor.  I used the juice of half a lemon for an 8oz container of creme fraiche and added the rest of the ingredients to taste.

 Let me just say that when my fork broke into the yoke of the egg it was love as first bite.  Now I will probably make too many mashed potatoes on purpose and have double the amount I needed here.  Ah, the vicious cycle repeats!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I love me some trees!

I have told my husband on more than one occasion that the most important element of my dream home is a really gorgeous tree in the yard.  I am talking about the kind of tree that has branches that you can lay on reading a book, the kind of tree that transports you into a Jane Austin novel as you sit beneath its branches having a picnic.  But until then I will have to settle for some tree love inside the house.

This is my silver tree that I purchased at Pier 1 several years ago.  I love it so much that I keep it up all year round.  For Christmas I add silver balls but the birds stay, I love birds too...the fake kind...the real kind scare me.  I blame you Alfred Hitchcock.

Images Left to Right. Top Row: Domesticali, Blooms and Branches, Urban Outfitters. 
Bottom Row: Uncommonaccents, Dollar Store Crafts, PopWall.

The are so many great ways to brings tree indoors these days.  Decals are great way to make a big statement especially if you are renting and not allowed to paint.  The Etsy stores Uncommonaccents and PopWall have some really beautiful tree decals.  I also found a great site called Blooms and Branches where you can purchase branches to make your own indoor tree like mine.  If you are looking for a more understated homage to trees Urban Outfitters has branch curtain tie backs that I love.  In that is the Holiday season, I would be remiss not to show these two great examples of driftwood Christmas trees from Domesticali and Dollar Store Crafts.  Kind of makes me want to don a hat and mittens and go beach-combing.

Image by Lincoln Barbour

 I found a truly inspiring series of photographs of trees and branches as decor at Remodalista. I think that when we are able to bring nature indoors as art it helps us to take time to appreciate its beauty outdoors.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

La-tee-da King crab and artichoke melts

Last night we feasted like kings and queens.  My brother and his fiance came over and brought dinner with them.  Honestly, I don't think that I have had king crab since I was a kid and that was at the Red Lobster.  Does that even count? The best part was that there were two big juicy legs left over and I knew just what I was going to do with them. Crab melts!

This is what I used based on what was in my fridge and pantry.  Some fresh flat leaf parsley would have been nice to add as well.

It all gets mixed up with the mayo and goes into the oven so it is already hot when you put the sandwich under the broiler to melt the cheese.

 At this point you would be a happy camper eating this with crackers.  It would make a great appetizer served in this dish or you could jazz it up by spooning it onto baguette toasts, broiling on the tomatoes and cheese and topping it with chopped parsley.

Yes, this is an indulgence, but oh to live like a queen for a day!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Decking the halls with boughs full of baubles

Most of my Christmas ornaments and decorations are hand-me-downs from various family members, but I am not complaining because I love most everything vintage.  My ever growing collection of vintage silver baubles became a problem when I brought home a garland of glittery snowflakes (on sale for $10 at Joann Fabrics) and my husband asked me, "what are you going to do with all this stuff?" You see the Christmas decoration budget was supposed to me $0 this year so I was in a bit of a bind.  My solution is a cedar garland festooned with all my treasures.  Yes, this project would have cost me nothing had I not given into the temptation of %50 off but at only $10 for the whole shebang I am feeling like a frugalista!

 These are the tools I used for this project, is it important that the wire is rusty you might ask? Um, no. I will often use what is less then ideal in order to save a buck and I suggest you do the same.  So, if I was buying materials especially for this project I might go with floral wire and kitchen string or twine.

I like to bring elements of nature into my house and when I saw that the silver dollar plants in my backyard had dried I harvested them.  I first sprayed them bronze and then silver; I think that this gives them an antiqued look and adds depth of color.


Cut the string to your desired length for your garland, making sure to leave some extra on each end.  Next, you want to trim your cedar so that the boughs are about a foot long.  Gather the boughs in a small bundle and wire the bundle to your string.  Once your bundles reach the length of your string go back and wire a section of the overlapping boughs to the exposed branches.  This way when you hang it up some of the boughs will drape down but the wire will still be concealed.

I believe that the next step is crucial: hang your garland before you decorate it.  Failure to comply will result in a disaster of Griswold proportions.   I cut my wire into small pieces and formed hooks to attach my treasures to the garland.  The silver dollar plants are so light that I just stuck them into the garland and they easily stayed.

 There is nothing more rewarding then using what you already have so I challenge you to look around your home and yard to create a garland that is reflective of your personal style!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A kitchen island rediscovered as a changing table.

We live in such a consumer oriented society that it is easy to fall into the vicious cycle of always needing "new".  However we can do our planet and our pocketbook a great service when we re-purpose what we already have.  This project is a reminder to look beyond what something is to what it could be!

We bought this kitchen island when we first got married four years ago for around $75 in the "As Is" section of Ikea.  Brand new it retails for $99.99.  Our kitchen was literally in the corner of the room and it added some much needed counter space.  When we moved from our apartment into a house we painted it white and used it in the dining room as a buffet table.  And then comes the baby in the baby carriage... so we once again re-purposed this piece, this time as a changing table, because who wants to pay 300 bones for a place to change dirty diapers!

Here is what I did to complete this transformation. I used a standard changing table pad which was the perfect width to fit on the island. There were no supports to hold it in place, so to solve this problem my husband nailed on 4 1x4 pieces of wood around the top creating a box for the pad to fit in.  Finally, he added a divider at one end of the pad to create a place for diapers and wipes.  To tie the table in to the rest of the furniture in the room I painted the box yellow and the drawers orange.  You could also use an old dresser or buffet table in this project; what's important is using what you have. Where will this faithful piece end up next?  I am thinking that with a little more paint and a few modifications it could make the perfect potting table for my backyard!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A light lunch to offset all the cookies I ate.

While this meal might seem more appropriate for a hot day my body is going into hibernation early due to inclement weather and Christmas cookie consumption and I am craving something that will revive my palate.  Fresh spring rolls are a fixture in many Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and it occurred to me recently that they would be easy and inexpensive to make at home.  The great thing is that fresh rolls are more of a method rather than a recipe, so if you have left-over chicken, or other vegetables not mentioned feel free to experiment!

Theses are the components that I used in my spring roll today but I should mention that I usually add lettuce as well.  When using rice noodles just follow the directions on the package and rinse with cool water.  Shrimp is also a common ingredient in fresh rolls.  To make it easier on yourself you can buy frozen precooked shrimp.  Just thaw what you need, pat dry and you're good to go.

Next fill a bowl with warm water from your faucet.  Soak the wrappers one at a time, it only takes a few seconds. Carefully remove from the bowl and onto a dish towel to drain for a second then spread it out on your work space.  If your wrapper gets crumpled put it back into the water for a second and it will release.

So now the fun begins.  Layer on your fillings just the way you like them.  I have done this as an appetizer where I prep all the elements and guests make their own.  It is fun and interactive.

I like to dip my rolls in sweet chili sauce which is sold everywhere, even Trader Joes has a brand.  A meal like this reminds me that the process can be just as rewarding as the result!

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