Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Orange Crush

I was innocently walking around TJ Maxx the other day, when a red mechanical citrus juicer jumped off of the shelf and into my hand; it was the strangest thing...Seriously though, I have to restrain myself from going in stores like Marshall's and TJ Maxx because they have all the fun-colored kitchen chotchkies everywhere.  And who doesn't need a lime-green colored tongs that tenderize meat as well (I don't know if such a thing exists, but it would be pretty cool, huh?)?  Anyway, I bought a juicer.  And I decided to make a mimosa.  Now I'd like to order a huge whole crate of juicing oranges from Florida because I am loving the fresh-squeezed orange juice.

A few years ago I visited some friends in New York City, and one of my favorite memories from the trip was drinking fresh squeezed O.J. from a Belgian breakfast joint in the Lower East Village.  The things we remember and why we remember them never ceases to amaze me.  Anyways, back to the O.J.  So good.  It makes me never want to buy orange juice from the store.  And the lever is so fun to operate; it makes me feel like I work at a 50's diner.  And I'm going to make hint-of-orange sweet tea-basically, you add a dab of orange juice and an orange wedge to a glass of ice and pour iced tea over it.  It blows my mind every time; the stuff is what killed Elvis! 

Knitting update.  Last night I started my first knitting class at The Needle Lady, which is conveniently located about three blocks from my office!  The owner Mimi taught the class and was a wonderful teacher, a very patient teacher, which I obviously needed.  Everybody in the class knew how to knit in some form or fashion, except for me.  I love to learn new things, but for about 20 minutes, I was seriously wondering if I could back out of the class; how could I take a 4-week class if I couldn't even knit?  Then, something in me just kind of "got it," it was a light bulb moment for me, and I began knitting away.  That's when Mimi got me started on my first knitting project:  I am making a scarf for myself.  One of my bosses saw my little 1.5 inch strip of knitted wool/nylon/cashmere and said that he thought it looked like a perfectly nice bookmark. Hopefully my creation will resemble a scarf the next time he sees it.  I'm going to be a knitting fool before you know it! 

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Last weekend I was in Lebanon visiting my famdamily.  Highlights included my mom's participation in a Russell County Community Yard Sale, her most profitable yard sale to date, and I also met the newest addition to the family:  Lucky.  My mom wrote a little story about Lucky, so I suppose she is my guest blogger today.  Read it below:

Lucky came into my life unexpectedly. After returning home from a trip to C-ville on Sunday, May 30, I retired for the evening. Very early Monday morning I was awakened by an animal sound outside. I first thought the sounds were made by a bird; then, I realized that I was hearing the cries of a kitten. I sprang from my bed and headed to the end of the deck where I spied a very small yellow kitten. Startled as it was, it quickly fled to safety under the deck out of my reach. I began to supply cat food immediately and went about my daily routine.

After going to bed, I was kept awake practically all night long by a motherless kitten’s cry. After arising to check on food supplies at approximately 4 AM, I began to hear what I thought was the bark of a fox outside my window. I went to the window to verify my suspicions, and there he was, just waiting to snatch the orphaned kitten.  I shooed the fox away but expected he might later return for his prey. So I began to pray.

For two days, I never saw or heard the kitten again. My heart sank at the thought of what had happened, but I continued to provide cat food thinking my dog Gracie was probably enjoying such a delicacy.

On Thursday afternoon, my husband F. suddenly exclaimed, “You won’t believe what I just saw!” You guessed it, that same little yellow kitten. Yes, “Lucky” had survived hunger, predators, rain, and loneliness. Lucky now resides on my front porch under the red geranium, but I have yet to catch him!

Here is the adorable Lucky, staring with envy into the kitchen at Mom and Dad's.  You'll have to excuse the poor quality of the photos, as I could only get pictures of him from inside.  He runs away if you get too close to the window...

Lucky plays on porch furniture.

Lucky boasts a pensive posture over Green Valley.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Make Me a Quilt

I have to be honest.  Scrapbookers and quilters have always intimidated me.  No rhyme or reason to it , really, but here are a couple of thoughts.  I have tried my hand at the scrapbooking thing, in a, I-want-to-make-a-cool-birthday-card kind of way but stopped shortly thereafter.  Scrapbook stores are also really awesome and they intrigued me.  When I walk into one, I am so joyously overwhelmed by all the beautiful colors calling my name (and saying, "Pick me!") and pulling me in all sorts of directions that I think for a split second that I should turn my whole apartment into a handmade invitation-crafting factory.  Scrapbooking to me is an all-or-nothing hobby.  It's totally wonderful and gorgeous; it's the interior decorating of photo albums, but I just can't handle it.  I've always thought that about quilting as well, you know, all those crazies out there collecting fabric scraps like fiends until they have just what they're looking for, yada yada yada. 

Here's the thing.  I love love love making jewelry and have been making it for years.  Lately though, I've been trying out several new things in order to find a new niche in the realm of super cool and exciting projects to overtake my crafternoons besides jewelry making.  I took a pottery class last fall, and while that was fun, it wasn't for me.  I'm better for taking the class and I appreciate flawless pottery now more than ever, but molding earthenware in an attempt to make it as thin as bone china doesn't really work (for me, at least).  I wanted to make utility items, not chotchkies that would take up room in my cluttered apartment, so I made a lot of dessert plate sets, most of which I gave away as Christmas gifts.  That was the end of my pottery stint.

The four cream plates in the middle are the ones I made for my friend J. for Christmas (and I made the napkins too).  As a side note, I'm pretty sure I sold her that table for $4 at a yard sale...Back to the plates, I think this is the only picture of the pottery that I made this past fall (photo taken by my friend J.):
Back to quilters.  I got The Brother for Christmas and started some really simple sewing.  The napkins above were my first sewing project besides trying out every single stitch that my machine could wow me with on fabric scraps.  I work with a lady who loves quilting and we're always chatting about fabric and local fabric stores.  I've also been finding some awesome bloggers out there who are whipping out quilts faster than McDonald's can get Big Macs out the door; it's totally amazing to me.  I feel like I could never do something that wonderful, but these blogs are scaring me into thinking things like, "I could probably do that," and the infamously naive (and sometimes rhetorical), "How hard could it be?"  So thank you to Film in the Fridge for some great inspiration:  the Kaleidoscope quilt. I think it's gorgeous, fun, super cool, and there's something about it that screams heirloom.  Like if I made one of those, my great-granddaughter would have it hanging on a wall one day and saying that I was born before the millennium (or maybe it would be collecting mold in a trunk in the far corner of the attic).  Scary.  Anyways.  I want to make one now.  As a side note, I'm starting a knitting class next week; I am excited about trying it out.  I will report how the endeavor fares.  Happy Thursday!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Mint Julep

One mint julep cupcake, that is.  I wanted to make a dessert using my fresh chocolate mint, so I scoured one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, and found the perfect recipe:  Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes with Mint Whipped Cream.  I had a legitimate excuse to make a dessert (do you really have to have one?); Javalady had a dinner party. 

Here is the lovely table she set for us.  Isn't summer wonderful?

Here are the souffle cupcakes.  After they've fallen, they have a perfect spot to put a big dollop of mint cream on top!

I followed the recipe pretty much to a T, except I infused the whipping cream with the mint.  I brought the cream to a simmer and let the mint steep in it for a few minutes.  Then, I strained the mint out of the whipping cream, added the white chocolate to that and refrigerated it overnight.  The next day, I decided to add a little swig of bourbon to the cream while I was whipping it.  I highly recommend this addition; it gives it a wonderful subtle flavor.

Mint Julep Whipped Cream:  Mmm, Mmm, Good!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sugar, Sugar

I got an email from my mom yesterday, and in that email were a handful of photos taken in late spring/early summer 2008 (the only reason I know that is because of my hair length and the tee shirt I was wearing in the photos). I was getting ready to go work in Boulder, CO for the summer and was just hanging out in Lebanon for a few weeks prior to my departure.
My mom taught me how to cook, and some of my favorite memories of all time involve baking yummilicious treats with her. I always wanted to pretend that we were a televised cooking show, so I was "Martha," and Mom was "Julia." We carried on like we were giving the audience instructions and addressed each other by our given names, etc., and it was wonderful. During my first year of college, Mom and Dad gave me an iPod for Christmas; it was the type of gift that makes you wonder what on earth you were doing before it was in your possession. I took that iPod (and still do, four and a half years later) everywhere, and Mom and I would play music on it while cooking and hanging out in the kitchen. On one such occasion, my Uncle Harv (notorious for his awesome sense of humor and Elvis impersonations) spontaneously waltzed through the door and into the kitchen when a certain Archies song was playing on the iPod. You guessed it, "Sugar, Sugar." Immediately, he grabbed a spatula and started a kitchen karaoke party; moments after, Uncle Harv, my mom and I were all harmonizing. The below photos document what followed. I don't know how my dad grabbed the camera so quickly, but I am so glad he captured this.  I'll let these photos speak for themselves today.  I'm always amazed by the memories that accompany pictures.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

That's Amore

H.'s dad T. came to visit Charlottesvegas this weekend, and he taught both of us the secret of making pizza dough that he had learned from a cool article in the New York Times. The crust was simultaneously crispy and chewy, a revelation as far as pizza goes, and after we had finished making it, I felt like we were eating pizza from a highly gourmet restaurant! Whenever I cook something for myself, it usually doesn't taste great to me (unless it's dessert), but if someone else makes the exact same thing, I tend to enjoy it much more. Since I helped on this pizza-making endeavor and I'm quite positive that it's what killed Elvis, I know without the shadow of a doubt that it was delicious!
This is T. holding an earth-shatteringly beautiful (and tasty) pizza. I was very impressed. It was so delicious that we made two pizzas on Friday night and two pizzas on Saturday night as well!
The secret to crispy-chewy pizza dough is to make it 24-48 hours ahead of time. and let it rise in the refrigerator (on the second rise). Here is the recipe that T. used to make the dough (he made it on Thursday before coming to Charlottesvegas). However, he used 4 cups of Gold's all-purpose flour instead of the flour-on-steroids that the NY Times recommends using, and it was still superb. He also brought fresh basil, thyme and oregano from his garden. H. and I made the tomato sauce for the pizza using an idea we saw on an Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations! episode. We used canned tomatoes and paste for the base, then we simmered garlic, fresh basil, thyme and oregano in olive oil for a few minutes, added it to the sauce and let it cook down, sooo yummy.
When I was much younger, I remember eating at Lebanon's favorite restaurant Pizza Town, and when we walked in, there was a guy named Bill who was always tossing pizza dough, you know, the real way. Throwing it up in the air to give it the round shape. I thought he was super fly and wondered if I could ever do something that wonderful. This is me conquering pizza-dough-tossing and trying to flat out BE the pizza dough. Success.
H. and I hard at work on the pizza Saturday night.
Our pizza baking got super dramatic for about 5 minutes on Saturday night, and our dinner guest Javalady was there to witness it all. I'll preface this little vignette by saying, if you're ever making pizza at home using a peel (that's what the pizza is sitting on in the photo above), use cornmeal instead of flour (because it's coarser) underneath it so you can slide it onto the pizza stone in a 550 F degree oven with great ease. This endeavor was not so successful for me. In short, I had part of the pizza slid onto the stone, got nervous, hesitated and said, "Oh no," tomatoes fell off of the pizza and made a mess on the stone, which started smoking, and then H. redeemed me by fixing it. The pizza had a funky shape, but even worse, T. had to take the pizza stone out of the oven to scrape the charred stuff off of it before prior to baking the next pizza, and because the stone was so hot and brittle, it literally split in half. My bad. All that to say, be confident in pizza making, not hesitant. Go big or go home.
Look how beautiful!
Also, as a remedy to my herb garden failure, Niknak and I gallivanted around town on Saturday afternoon to a couple of places for replacement herbs while slurping on smoothies. I bought a spearmint plant and a chocolate mint plant (a peppermint variety that actually smells like it's name; I was amazed). Look out for some homemade Andes mints in the future! Since mint is really a weed and is supposed to grow like wildfire, I'll feel totally defeated if these plants die, but they are looking good thus far!
I made cucumber-mint water on Saturday afternoon, the perfect refresher for hot, humid summer afternoons in central Virginia (and other places, too). Here's all you need:
1 pitcher 1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced handful of fresh spearmint cold water
Throw the cucumbers into the bottom of the pitcher, then the mint, run cold water into the pitcher and refrigerate about an hour before drinking. Garnish glasses with a sprig of mint and a cucumber. You can refill the pitcher several times before tossing the cucumbers, as they'll eventually turn to mush, that is, if you don't gobble them all up. This weekend was a crafting marathon; on top of all of the above, H. and T. made homemade cinnamon-raisin-swirled bread and built a cool wine cork trivet for H.'s kitchen while I was buying plants. It seems like a whirlwind now, but it was such a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Green and Blue

Mom and Dad visited me this past Memorial Day weekend! Highlights included going to the Farmer's Market, eating pizza at Christian's (the best pizza ever, can I get an amen?), meandering around the Downtown Mall, drinking smoothies and just plain beebopping around town together.
Here they are wandering around the Farmer's Market, Dad got some sheep's milk cheese while we were there.
One of my favorite new spots to meander through during my lunch break at work is an upholstery/decorating store called The Second Yard. I don't upholster anything (but I do sew!), but they have the most beautiful fabrics you've ever seen. And what I love about the store is that you can literally get lost in there (there are over 15 rooms!), and they organize their fabrics in rooms by color. I love color. And even more, I love the concept of organizing by color.
As a side note, I'm still up in the air on the new trend where loads of people are organizing books on shelves by color rather than author. It's aesthetically pleasing, I guess, but my thinking is that what if I want to read The Sun Also Rises or In Our Time? Instead of going to the Hemingway section of my shelf, I'd have to memorize that the spine of The Sun Also Rises is carnelian and that the spine of In Our Time is white. My point is this: while someone may be creating an aesthetic corner, what I see happening is the creation of even more chaos in the vortex of memorization. Not that I don't believe in memorization, hey, that's what they teach in high school, but don't we have enough email addresses, friends, passwords, account numbers, to do lists and logins to remember in the first place? Needless to say, the organizing-books-by-the-color-of-the-spine method is not for me. Watch me say that now and then think it's a wonderfully innovative idea in a couple of months... Back to color and my love of it. My favorite colors are green and blue, hands down. I think most people know that about me. I really do love all colors, though, and I usually go through phases where I delve into particulars here and there, but I always always always revert to those two. And the Green room at The Second Yard is my favorite, it just makes me smile when I walk into it.
Mom in the Green Room.
More green room! It is soooo luscious.
Like I said, I don't do any upholstery work myself, but I'm going to make some tote bags and things with some fabbies (aka fabrics) that I found on SALE at The Second Yard. Upholstery fabric is great to use for bags because it gives them a little more heft than 100% cotton fabrics. I bought 2 yards of 100% cotton dusty pink fabric with a maroon, green and blue-aqua floral print on it for $4/yard; I thought that was pretty cheap for a bolt of fabric measuring between 54-60 inches in width. Anyways, the plan is to make some 1940s-inspired pj pants with it and rev them up with some handmade aqua ruffles to trim the bottom of the legs. We'll see how that goes; I might look like a walking, talking "get your whole body upholstered" advertisement, but hey, I'm not opposed to starting a trend... Also, remember back in April when I planted herbs? Well, my little "garden" has turned into a big disaster. Literally. The spearmint never sprouted, and some creature has eaten the oregano, cilantro, parsley and thyme; I say some creature because someone's been digging their little paws into the cilantro pot. I should've posted a sign that read "Free Salad!" By the time somebody told me I could sprinkle cayenne pepper around the plants to keep critters away from the plants, there was only one sprig of parsley popping out of the soil. The ironic part about the whole endeavor is that H. planted sage in one of the pots and that's the one I was most apathetic about; well, I'm here to tell you that it's thriving. Apparently not even animals like sage. Hmph.