The Grandfather | Friday night cocktails

21 Feb


For those who like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. Delish.

1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. apple jack
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Braised and glazed Brussels sprouts | Recipe of the week

28 Jan

I’m so glad I rediscovered Bittman’s braised and glazed Brussels sprouts recipe (I forget if it’s in How to Cook Everything or in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but it’s on the app). Just made it tonight, and I swear I could eat the whole batch. And, not only is it a three-ingredient recipe, but two ingredients are the most staple of pantry staples: water and butter or oil.

Here’s the down-and-dirty version of the recipe:

1. Combine 1 lb. trimmed Brussels sprouts, 3 TBSP unsalted butter or olive oil, and 12 cup water, stock, or white wine* in a deep skillet. Cover tightly. Boil on medium until Brussels sprouts are coked and nice and green.

2. Remove cover and turn up heat to boil off the liquid. Keep cooking so that the Brussels sprouts brown. RESIST THE URGE TO STIR. Let them brown. Have faith in the process. After about 10 minutes, shake the pan to brown the other sides. A little while later, do that again. It’s OK if they’re unevenly browned.

I made them before I put the Bug to bed and just covered them in the pan, and they were buttery and delicious when I ate them a half hour or so later.

* I used salted butter, 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 cup white wine.

Things you can do while nursing your baby OR how to stay mentally challenged while your baby chows

13 Jan

The Bug is a really good baby–super smiley, generally happy, sleeps pretty well. But for the first seven or eight months of her life, she would take FOREVER to eat. She’d often eat for 1 hour, every 2.5 to 3 hours. When you spend several months feeding your baby for about 1/3 of every day, you quickly discover how limited your multitasking options are. Specifically, you can only do things that you can do

  • while sitting down
  • with one hand/arm
  • that don’t involve anything hot, sharp, or otherwise potentially dangerous

My hobbies are:

  • running
  • sewing
  • playing mandolin
  • knitting
  • cooking/baking

Totally incompatible.

So, if you’re like me and are wondering how to put that time to good use, here are some suggestions.

1. Catch up on social media, shopping, email, etc. You already knew about this one. My recommendation is to limit it to once or twice a day. The internets can be an enormous time suck under normal circumstances, but when your brain is trying to function on very little sleep, it can be all too easy to go for the lowest-hanging fruit and check Facebook  or Zulily (again). RESIST THE URGE.

2. Plan your day/week. Nursing is when I go over my to-do list. I’ll often make phone calls I need to make, do simple online tasks I can do from my phone (like pay bills), and even figure out what I’ll make for dinner that week, researching recipes online, and then make a shopping list.  It’s not easy to do one-handed, but it is easy to do that stuff when the baby is occupied.

3. Read. You knew this one, too. But you may not know that now is the perfect time to switch to a digital reader–Nook, Kindle, even the iBooks app if you have an iPad or iPhone. Not only can you read ereaders one-handed, but if you download the book reading app to all your devices (e.g., tablet, computer, and phone), you have your book(s) everywhere you go–and already synced to the last page you read–so you are almost never without reading material. For example, I have a Paperwhite, but I have the Kindle app on my iPhone, iPad, and computer. Also, if your ereader is backlit, you can read with minimal light during those late-night feedings, keeping you occupied but keeping it nice and dark for your little one. I even converted some of my print subscriptions to digital so I could read the NY Times and Martha Stewart Living on my iPad.

4. Take a class. There are lots and lots of companies offering online classes these days–everything from college courses (available through iTunes UCoursera, and Open Courseware), to guided programming classes through Codecademy, to crafting and cooking classes through Craftsy. Many of the college courses are free, although you only get the lectures and you have to track down the materials on your own. I am going through a literature class, but I downloaded almost all the books and stories to my Kindle. Craftsy’s classes are paid, but the one I took (Sewing with Knits) was incredibly comprehensive and, considering that, extremely fairly priced. Also, if you “like” them on Facebook, you can get discount codes. Craftsy’s platform is also really handy — you can watch the classes on your phone, tablet, or computer, and take notes right in the app. Also, for the sewing classes, the patterns for all the items you sew are included. Craftsy recently began offering photography classes, if you want to take better baby pictures. Obviously, you can’t sew or take photos one-handed while nursing, but you can watch the videos and then spring into action when the baby is done feeding.

5. Pick up a new skill. You don’t need to go through a formal class to learn something new. You can pretty much learn anything from YouTube, such as how to refinish furniture, cover the back of a bookcase with wallpaper, attach a binding to a quilt, make marshmallows. In fact, I learned those things from YouTube. Watch the videos while you nurse, and then you can do the actual work during precious nap time. If you want to learn a language, the Pimsleur series is all audio-based, and although it is expensive, most well-stocked libraries have several languages available for borrowing.

6. Teach your dog to play fetch — politely. This is a random one, but your dog, like my dog, may be feeling a bit ignored since the baby came around. If you’ve ever played fetch with him, leave a ball out. We keep all his toys in a doggy toy box in our living room. He’ll often bring me the ball while I’m feeding the Bug, but I can only throw it for him if he basically places it in my hand. I toss it gently to the other side of the room, it bounces off the walls and furniture, which makes the game more challenging for him, he brings it back, and we repeat the whole thing. If your dog isn’t ball-oriented, but likes to play tug (and isn’t too aggressive about it), you might be able to play tug when he brings you a toy, too. Whether this is a wise thing to do depends on you and your dog. I was always taught that you shouldn’t let your dog win at tug, and it’s harder to keep a grip on the stuffed hedgehog when you only have one arm free.

7. Learn songs. I play bluegrass, and there’s a lot of singing involved: you need to learn lyrics, lead parts, harmony parts, etc. I use some of my nursing time to learn new songs and polish up old ones. But I also use it to learn songs to sing to my baby. Since I started doing this the first week, we have an ever-growing repertoire of songs that, when I start singing them, immediately calm her down. It’s really amazing, especially when she gets fussy when we’re in the car or someplace else where I can’t immediately take care of her. If the song isn’t on your phone, play it through an app like Spotify and look up the lyrics online.

8. Listen to podcasts. I admit, I’m not a huge podcast listener. Sometimes, after having a baby cry and fuss at me during the day, I really treasure any moment of quiet I can find. But there are a few podcasts that I listen to semi-regularly. Download an app like Downcast, Doggcatcher or Stitcher to search for and play podcasts.

There are other kind of boring things I do (such as knee exercises — zzzzz), but those are the main things that have kept me sane and helped prevent my brain from turning to mush.

Make your own yogurt

13 Jan

Homemade yogurtLast year, I started making my own yogurt, but I quickly got kind of lazy with it. I justified my laziness by wanting to support Straus Family Creamery, which not only makes amazing, though expensive, yogurt (OMG it’s so good) but is a local business.

Making yogurt is actually pretty easy, but you have to stay by the stove and pay at least a modicum of attention to what’s going on there. With a baby, that can be a challenging thing to do. But if you’re, say, making your own baby food and at the stove already, it’s easy to fit in. All you need is another saucepan. So since I was making apples for the Bug and almost out of yogurt and didn’t feel like going to the store, I decided to make some last night.

I use this recipe from Martha Stewart Living because it’s really, really, really, really easy. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

  1. Heat a quart of milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it reaches 180 degrees, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding. (When it gets to about 150 degrees, keep a close eye on it. The temperature rises quickly.)
  2. Take it off the heat and let it cool to 115 degrees.
  3. Pour 1 cup of the warm milk into a measuring cup and whisk in 3 tbsp of your favorite yogurt, then whisk this mixture back into the rest of the milk.
  4. Pour the whole thing into a mason jar without the lid. Wrap it all up in kitchen towels, covering the top, and put it in a warm spot for 5 hours (or longer, if you like thicker yogurt). I usually let it sit overnight.
  5. Put the lid on, and stick it in the fridge.
  6. Pat yourself on the back because YOU JUST MADE YOGURT!

Our wedding quilt

12 Jan

Wedding quilt with V

When Dave and I were planning our wedding, I came up with the brilliant idea of making all our napkins for the reception dinner. Since we had white tablecloths, the reception was in a dark barn, and we didn’t want a lot of stuff hanging up in the space, I thought it would be a good way to add some bright, fun color, especially since each table would get a different print.

This project put the intense in labor-intensive. My trooper of a now-husband said, “Show me how to sew!” and we spent many evenings and weekends working on our napkin assembly line. One of us would cut fabric, I would press and pin the napkins, and he would sew them. They came out looking great, and the different fabrics were a fun way to tie in the favors (spice rubs in mason jars with the fabric on the top), escort cards (name tag stickers on the favors), and the tables themselves (match the favor fabric to the napkins! easy!). Dave even made his own tie(!) and I made an apron to protect my dress while we tended bar for our guests as they arrived.

Photos by Mary McHenry.

Photos by the super-awesome Mary McHenry.

Because of a late change in how we were doing the tables and my overestimation on how much fabric we needed, we ended up with A LOT of leftover fabric (and a table with Batman napkins). So, inspired by Jen Hoverson’s blog post about her wedding quilt (made of leftover handmade napkins from her wedding), I decided to make a wedding quilt. Not that I had ever made a quilt before. As much as I loved the one Jen made, I decided it was too ambitious for my first quilt, so I used the Just Sweet Enough pattern from Joelle Hoverson’s Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts.

Wedding quilt

I started it on New Year’s Eve 2012 and finished it last week. Even though it took me more than a year, it was a pretty simple first quilt to make, and the white background was very forgiving of my sometimes crooked seam lines and slightly mismatched corners. The part I was most nervous about was making the quilt sandwich, but Hoverson has good instructions in her book. (Although, I tried to do it from memory and taped it down twice before I finally re-read the instructions and did it correctly.) I used packaged binding to save time, and it looks…OK. Next time, I think I’ll make my own.

I made this one to go in our teardrop trailer, to match the gingham curtains I made. But it kind of looks nice on our guest room bed, don’t you think?

How to decorate a nursery. Also, how NOT to decorate a nursery.

28 Jun

The biggest test of my marriage so far might have been deciding how to decorate the nursery. When we started planning it last fall, Dave wisely remembered how hard it was to find rugs we liked and suggested that we start literally from the ground up. I wanted to start with the color scheme — specifically, I wanted to use the color scheme from our wedding (robin’s egg blue and red) because I have a ridiculous amount of fabric left over. Dave was never a big fan of the blue.

We started with the rugs. I probably looked at 500 rugs online, and although I am prone to exaggerating numbers, this particular number might be an understatement. Why did it take us so long?

This is what I wanted in a nursery:

need to add credits

Sources (clockwise from top left): Chic Cheap Nursery, Lay Baby Lay, Brooklyn Limestone, Project Nursery, HGTV, Laure Joliet, Lay Baby Lay (both images)

So I’d suggest rugs like this one:

Patterned rug

He hated all of them.

Dave would suggest rugs like this one:

Girly baby rug

I hated all of them. I began to wonder who I’d married. (The answer? Someone selfless enough to sacrifice his mini man cave/videogaming space to an onslaught of pink. He’s pretty awesome. BTW, the combo nursery/computer room  has worked out really well so far.)

Finally, miraculously, we found a rug we could agree on! And the purple would match my purple dresser! COLOR SCHEME PARTIALLY IN PLACE! YAY! I started looking at sheets and coordinating fabrics.

Purple dresser orchid rug

This dresser does not match this rug.

Only, when it arrived, the purple rug I thought I was getting was actually raspberry/orchid. It looked awful with the dresser and didn’t match the fabrics and sheets I had been looking at. Time to start over. I looked at hundreds of pictures online, went to a bunch of fabric stores, searched through kids stores, and ultimately discovered that fun baby stuff comes in pink, blue, green, purple, and gray. It does not come in raspberry or orchid.  I had spent so many hours planning this nursery and still all I had was a rug. I began to loathe the rug. I fantasized about burning it. That was a little extreme.

So, I reframed the whole thing. I began to think of the rug as pink and the dresser as paintable. Not long after that, I found these fabrics from Michael Miller:

Out to Sea by Michael Miller fabrics

NAVY BLUE AND PINK! Girly but not too girly! Appropriate for a baby yet not dripping in pink princess butterfly-ness! The nautical theme was a fun reference to my family’s seafaring heritage (grandfather was a ship’s captain, we had a boat, and Dave’s family has always had a house near a lake)! AND, there was a pattern with girl pirates! FUN!

So, we painted the walls a pale blue gray.

Our purple dresser became navy blue.

And I’m making everything else (sheets, changing pad cover, curtains) out of the Michael Miller fabric. The baby is 3 months old and we’re still not finished, but after several big delays (baby being born, cross-country trip, etc.), we’re finally making progress. It is going to be done by the end of July. I swear.

But here’s a little preview. So much better with the blue, right?
Veronica's bue dresser

And the moral of the story? It’s OK to start with a rug when decorating a nursery, but make sure it’s in a baby-friendly color (or coordinates with a baby-friendly color).


Kale salad with butternut squash and almonds | Recipe of the week

8 Feb

I realized this week that’s it’s February and I haven’t been taking enough advantage of some of the two best things about winter: winter greens and winter squashes. I found this recipe for a salad with butternut squash, cranberry beans, and broccoli raab (a veggie I discovered through Happy Boy Farms at the Noe Valley Farmers Market — and LOVED). Unfortunately, after going to two different supermarkets, I couldn’t find either cranberry beans or broccoli raab, and I had already bought squash and kale (as a backup to the raab). So, plan B: Google search for “butternut squash kale salad.”

Kale, butternut squash, and almond salad

I turned up this tasty-looking recipe for kale salad with butternut squash and almonds, from Bon Appetit, and last night, Dave and I made it with some thick-cut, bone-in pork chops and homemade improvised apple sauce (Dave intended for them to be cooked apples, but then he decided to mush them up).

The recipe was really easy and really, really tasty. By far, the most labor-intensive part was cubing the squash, which is something that I’ve never learned how to do efficiently. Google, again, to the rescue. I followed Simplyrecipes’ great instructions on how to peel and cut a butternut squash, and got semi-uniform (I’m still working on my knife skills) cubes to roast. This recipe would probably also be good with yams or sweet potatoes, if you’re in more of a hurry and don’t want to hassle with the squash (there’s always the TJ’s pre-cut squash, too).

Kale and butternut squash salad with pork chop and homemade applesauce

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