Monthly Archives: February 2010

Seasonal Cooking: Spinach with Walnuts and Feta

Deep dark spinach is seasonal to the cold weather months. It’s vitamin-rich leaves are like a promise of spring to me. Slightly bitter, heartier than lettuce, and a good compliment to the rich, strong flavors of hearty food.

When I was a kid, I hated spinach. Until adulthood the only way I ever ate spinach was nose-plugged little bites of frozen spinach out of a box. It was so squishy and bitter, we used to squeeze all the icky green water out of it to make it as small as possible before swallowing our requisite three bites without even chewing.

Then one day, when I was maybe 20, a friend made me a spinach salad. I know. I know that it’s silly that a girl from California never really enjoyed spinach salads until then. But it had bacon, and egg, and a lovely homemade dressing, and it changed my mind about spinach.

If I’d been served spinach the way I make it for my kids when I was a child, I don’t think I’d have wasted 20 years hating it. This spinach is melt-in-your mouth tender, and not at all bitter. The cheese and nuts make it special. I almost always add dried cranberries as well, but I didn’t have any when I made it this week. This is another great base recipe that you can change up to suit your tastes. Pecans would be good, instead of walnuts. Blue cheese instead of feta. Raisins instead of cranberries. Or go wild. I’ve made it with mandarin oranges and almonds. I think the key is to add something with crunch, and something chewy. And cheese.

Spinach with Walnuts and Feta

  • 1 bag of spinach
  • 1 cup of walnuts (or whatever nuts strike your fancy)
  • 1 cup of crumbled feta (or…well you know…choose your cheese)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper (I use lemon pepper sometimes. Yum.)
  • (I didn’t use them in the dish I took pictures of, but some kind of dried fruit is really, really good in this recipe. I love cranberries especially.)

When you get started on this recipe, you need to have everything all set up and ready to go. Because once it gets going, it gets going fast. So measure out the cheese and walnuts while a couple of tablespoons of olive oil are heating up over medium-high heat in your biggest frying pan.

When the oil is hot, add about half the spinach. The whole bag won’t fit in your pan. Toss it around in the oil and wait a minute or two until the spinach is wilted. Add the rest of the spinach and toss around again until all the spinach is wilted. It always shocks me how much the spinach reduces. And how quickly.

See that? That’s an entire big bag of spinach about 2 minutes after I started cooking it. See all that steam? That’s because spinach is almost all water. Don’t let it over cook. When it looks about like this, tender and wilted, then it’s time to add the walnuts. Just dump them in and toss, let them heat up while you season the dish with salt and pepper. I love to use lemon pepper. If you’re using cranberries or other dried fruit, add it with the nuts.

Take the pot off the heat and add the feta.  Mix it up and let the cheese start to melt a little.

I usually serve this with chicken or fish. Mmm…or steak. But it can also stand alone as a light vegetarian meal.

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Thrifting Good Stuff: Aprons

I love, love, love when I go to a thrift store and there is something–something just sitting there waiting for me. Something that makes my heart beat faster. That makes me gasp a little, and then almost (almost) consider licking whatever it is like that guy in that car commercial.

It’s especially gratifying when that happens here, in this teensy town. Because I make the rounds every week of our three little thrift stores (one benefits disabled adults, one benefits kids, and one benefits stray animals.) And often I leave with nothing.

But today?

Today I found a box filled–filled!–with 1950s aprons.

Twenty-seven of them.

There they are hanging on my laundry room lines in the late afternoon sun after a careful wash. You can’t really tell in this picture, but I have 4 lines in my laundry room, and all of them are filled with apron loveliness.

They are glorious. Delicately beautiful. Not perfect, because they are obviously well loved. They’ve seen 50 years of dishes washed and meals served. I love each and every one of them. Ruby keeps going to the laundry room and playing under them, laughing at their bright colors in the sunshine coming through the window.

I’ll be selling some of them in my Etsy store.

If I can bring myself to part with them that is.

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Ouch

At the thrift store last week, I found a pair of size 13 knitting needles for fifty cents.

I bought them on a whim. Since, you know, I don’t know how to knit.

I had this gorgeous ball of yarn that I’d recycled from a wool sweater. The colors, forest green, ice blue, and turquoise, might be my new favorite combination. They’re so rich and lovely.

So last night I searched Google and found this set of directions for casting on, and for knit stitch. I love the directions because the pictures are clear, and the directions don’t assume I know anything I don’t. I’ve been crocheting since I was 8, when my Nana taught me, but I have never knitted. I’ve tried to learn before and just couldn’t get a rhythm down.

Last night I was determined to figure it out.

And I did!

It took a minute to get the hang of putting the right hand needle into the stitch right. Sometimes in the beginning I would somehow end up with the stitch on the left being too tight to fit the needle into. And the more I tried, the tighter it got. After a few rows though, I figured out how to hold the needles so that the stitches didn’t tighten up.

Knitting is fun! It takes more concentration, of course, than something I’ve been doing for thirty years. But there is a real satisfaction in seeing that knitted fabric grow from the bottom of the needles. And knitting is so different from crochet. The fabric it makes is stretchier, softer. (I did know this already…but it was fun to learn it first hand.)

So why ouch?

Because I got carried away.  And I think I got Knitter’s Wrist? Knitter’s Thumb? I don’t know if it has a name. But my right hand, from my thumb to my wrist HURTS. A lot. I also rubbed a raw spot on my right pinkie.

My left hand is fine. But my right hand is in full rebellion.

Has this ever happened to you knitters?

I’m so excited to bring this cute skinny scarf with me to Vermont in April.

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Book Review: Charley Harper by Todd Oldham

Charley Harper was an American illustrator whose style is so evocative  of Mid-century Modern goodness that when this book came in the mail and I opened it to start reading and browsing through it’s many, many amazing pictures I couldn’t help but feel good.

Charley Harper is a feel good artist.

Yes. That says it all I think.

One of the first pictures in Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life is one of Charley Harper with his wife and son. He’s an old man, with a walker cane. His wife is glorious in pink, and one thing stands out. This man looks happy. He looks like a man who spent his life doing something that was pleasing to himself and the world. Yes, I know that is reading a lot into a picture in a book, but I can’t help thinking when I look at that picture that at the end of my life I want there to be a picture of me and my family where I look that happy.

It’s that sense of joy that beams from his portrait that also shines like a beacon through his illustrations. He’s famous for his birds, and other nature-inspired illustrations.

But he also illustrated books, such as the The Giant Golden Book of Biology and Betty Crocker’s Dinner For Two. In that cookbook, he was commissioned to illustrate the 1950s version of a happy housewife. Each of those happy housewife pictures tickles me right to my toes.

If you can tear your eyes from the stunning pictures, there is lots of great information in this book as well. The story of how designer Todd Oldham first found and fell in love with Charley Harper’s work, and how he ended up putting this book together (it’s obviously a labor of love.) An interview with the artist that feels like two friends talking.

But mostly? This is a catalog of a man’s life’s work. Charley Harper’s love for his art is tangible on every page. It completely lacks pretension, which means (to me anyway) that rather than removing the viewer from the art it draws her in. It makes her see his clean lines and minimalist style with inspiration rather than awe once removed.

Really, there isn’t much more I can say. Except that I’m so happy that someone took the time to catalog Charley Harper’s work–and let it stand on it’s own in this book. After the first few pages, the illustrations are allowed to sing from the pages without words.

I’ll admit to being in love with Charley Harper’s art. The publisher sent me this book to review for you, and I’m so grateful. My opinion of the book was not colored by how it came to me. The full-size coffee table version of this book is pricey, but the link above is to a version that is a little smaller (but still good-sized at 12X8.5) that is considerably less expensive and worth every penny.

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Thursday Afternoon at the Internal Homestead

Ahhh Thursday.

I really love Thursdays. Have I mentioned that?

Unfortunately the non-homestead world is going to intrude on my internal homestead this weekend. But it’s okay. Because it means that hopefully in the next few weeks I get to add a day to my long weekends.

Yee Haw!

I found out that they’ve hired someone else to work part time with me. So we’ll both work part time, and we’ll both go to school. I don’t know who he is. And I don’t care. I’m so excited I’ve been doing internal backflips all week long!

Here’s my ideal: I work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and he works Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  See how nicely that fits? Yep.

But. I am going to work this weekend to get caught up on things I haven’t had time to do since my last office mate left. Like filing. And writing progress notes and evaluations. But then…then…someone, anyone, in my office with me.

I can’t even tell you how happy that makes me.

I am going to find time for some internal homesteading this weekend though.

  • I found a big pair of knitting needles at a thrift store this week. I’m going to use a yummy ball of wool and figure out how to knit….something.
  • I have about 20 items all photographed and ready to list in my shop. I’ll be doing that this weekend.
  • If I have time, I’ll take some more pictures this weekend. My brother (also Kevin) has the most adorable girlfriend named Judit. I have hatched a little plan to load up my mini-van with my vintage goodies and head down to visit my dad, and somehow lure the pretty Judit and perhaps a friend or two into modeling for me. I’m very excited about the prospect. So I’m not too worried about taking pictures this weekend, while I figure out if this is going to work out.
  • My one small change for March is going to be wearing cloth pads, so this weekend I’m going to stitch some up. My fabulous mother-in-law sent me some flannel, so I’m all set.
  • I’m about 1/3 done with Ruby’s adorable pajamas-from-a-vintage-pattern. The pattern I had is for a size 12, and Ruby measures more like a size 8, so I’m going to have to do some tucking in, but I’m glad that they’re a little bigger. They’ll last longer. I need to remember to buy some binding tape this weekend.
  • I’m making spinach with walnuts, feta, and dried cranberries tonight, so expect that recipe tomorrow. Yum.
  • I am going to find some time to continue to work on What My Nana Knew. Besides wanting to share it with you all, I think I’m going to use it as my writing sample for my residency. I’m really, really excited about getting your feedback before I leave.
  • I plan on also finding some time to write articles for Demand Studios. Mama wants those ruffle-y gray shoes!

What is on your internal homestead agenda this week?

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Strangeness–and Sewing

How weird is this? I turned on the TV last night when I went to bed and a show named High School Reunion was on. Apparently this is a show where they stick a dozen or so people from a high school graduating class together in a mansion in Hawaii and chaos ensues.

That’s not the weird part.

The weird part is that as I’m watching this show for a few minutes, I realize that they are talking about my high school. And then it becomes clear that they are talking not only about my high school, but my graduating class.

I told you. Weird, right?

And a little sad. I didn’t recognize any of the people. Apparently, according to the show, these were the popular people. And one nerd. Cheerleaders, football players. And some women who were in some group called the Summer Girls who were apparently the it girls back in 1989. Not only have I never heard of them, I’ve never heard of the Summer Girls either.

I was either incredibly clueless in high school, or this show has blown the Chaparral High School cliques all out of proportion.

I’m happy to report though, that there wasn’t one Summer Girl or cheerleader or popular whatever that I would want to trade lives with. They all came across in the show as more than a little pathetic. I’m hoping that it’s just the nature of this program, and that they aren’t really as sad as they were portrayed.

I’m also hoping that I’m not as sad as they were portrayed. Because that would be very sad.

No. I’m happy with my life. I wouldn’t go back to high school on a bet. I was so busy working full-time, taking care of my brothers while my step-mother was working or drunk and my father was in prison, and falling in love with a boy I’d eventually marry but who didn’t go to my school that there wasn’t a spare moment for Summer Girls or cheerleaders.

In other news:

I’ve been sewing a lot this month. I’ll try to get pictures this weekend to show you.

But I’m really excited by how comfortable I’m getting behind the machine. Super excited!

I’ve made those shorts that turned out to be underwear.

I’ve made a dress for myself out of some vintage double knit that I found at the thrift store. I’m pretty sure that I’ll never wear it because once it was sewn up the fabric felt awful on. But it fits like a glove, and I might have to wear it anyway. It’s a really cute red and white plaid.

I’m in the middle of making Ruby a pair of pajamas out of flannel from a vintage 60s pattern. They are so freaking adorable. Wait until you see her in them. I should finish this weekend. I have to do button holes for the first time and I’m nervous.

I’ve been sewing up shipping bags from kraft paper. They look really good, and I’m still going to get pictures up for you. I promise.

And my one small change for March is going to be…drum roll please…

Washable pads.

Scary. Exciting. Scary. I have some doozy periods, and I’m nervous that the washable pads aren’t going to do it. But I’ve read that women who have the kind of periods I do (very heavy for a three or four days) actually have easier periods when they start using cloth. I have all the materials to make up the pads, so I’m going to get on that this weekend.

What have you been up to?

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WFMW: Getting a Style

When I go to Vermont in April, I’ll be traveling by plane, train, and automobile. Oh, my.

That means I do not want to lug more luggage than I need to.

The dorms have laundry facilities. But really, I should be able to put together a little wardrobe that I can carry in my rolling suitcase, and then a carry on bag for a computer, book, notepad and pen…whatever I need for all those travel hours.

Right?

Right.

So I decided I need a style. A uniform. Something that is easy to put together, mix and match, and not too bulky. (No prom dresses then. HAHAHA.)

I think I’m going to go with jeans, t-shirts, and cardigans. Easy. Breezy.

Okay, I never claimed to be a cover girl.

I saw this at the Anthropologie website:

$118 for a cardi is definitely not my style. But how hard would it be to find a striped cardigan on eBay and sew some lace to it? I think it’s adorable.

I also love these shoes:

$13 at Payless is way more my style. And they’ll go with a lot.

So my plan is to buy a couple of cute cardigans. I have my eye on one or two on eBay. And let them be the basis of my school uniform. I have some jeans I really love. I do believe new shoes are in order. (But that might just be me talking myself into things.)

But guess what I really, really, really want. More than anything.

I want to get my nose pierced.

I did last spring, and it didn’t work out like I wanted it to. The girl went in at a weird angle and the post kept falling out. I went to the local guy here to have it re-done, and he messed it up, too. So I am nose-ring-less. I miss it. But I’m not going back to the local guy. And I’m not going anywhere out of town before I travel.

So pfft.

Maybe just tossing it out there to the universe will make some way to get it done magically appear?

That would so work for me.

More Works for Me Wednesday here.

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