Thursday, December 29, 2011

Impromtu California Trip and Christmas!

Hello, hello everyone! I hope we all had a wonderful Holiday Season! This happens every year- I mean to blog real-time and the pics just don't make it to the blog until January. Oh well, better late than never!
I had to make an unexpected quick family trip to California before Christmas, but before I left, I got to make soap for the first time with a friend of mine.
Behold: my first homemade soap!

Here is the cold-processed lavender soap, stamped with the image of a thistle.

Here is the Oatmeal Honey Castile soap stamped with a dragon! I got the stamps off the internet (what can't you find on the internet) and had fun whacking each bar with the rubber mallet. Both these soaps need to cure for about six weeks, so they should be ready by January 27th. Next year, I plan on making soap around early November so it will be ready to use by Christmas.

Then, it was off to LA! The reason for the trip was, unfortunately, the sudden passing of my grandmother Dori (Delores). There was no memorial or funeral, instead we had a swinging Christmas party and a great White Elephant gift exchange. Nana was always up for a good party and we laughed as a family while flipping through picture books. It was a great way to honor her memory.
The bright side of the trip included getting to spend time with Mom on her birthday. Steven and I got her an asian-styled teapot and warmer, which she can use for herbal tea before bed and Dad bought her an incredible succulent wreath. After presents, we went to see Sherlock Holmes 2 with Pete and Val, then had a wonderful dinner at the Crab Pot in Long Beach. It definitely felt like I had stolen time with my family and it was great!
While there, Mom had me work on a project- starching some tatted ornaments. Mom had been at some crafts fair with Ms. Audrey and there was an ancient craftswoman there selling these for only $3 each!--and none of them were selling. Spinning, knitting, and weaving have enjoyed a re-emergence lately and have become quite in vogue thanks in part to the new green/ sustainable movement, but (heart-breakingly), fewer and fewer people have (re)learned to tat and the skill is quickly disappearing. Apparently, the woman who made these ornaments is practically blind and knots these patterns from memory. The fact that these tiny pieces of handmade art were going unappreciated was unacceptable to Mom and she bought them all. After some internet research, we bought some extra-strength spray starch, saturated them and pinned them to dry on wax paper-covered cardboard.

It really only took a couple of hours to pin them all and by the next morning, they were dry and ready to hang on the little rosemary tree Mom had bought.

Once I returned home, I added the ornaments to my own tree. They were SO worth the time and effort.

I got back home just in time for the Christmas Holiday. Matt and I filled the chicken feeder to bursting and headed up to Beavercreek for a few days. Matt was a true champion since he took the 3am lamb checks and let Jan have two nights of uninterrupted sleep. My a fluke of timing, nothing happened lamb-wise while we were there, but we enjoyed watching the lambs that had already arrived.

Matt and I were in charge of Christmas dessert and opted for a lemon-meringue pie. Lemon is a popular favorite (it's so rare to find a dessert that everyone likes) and I had brought back several huge pink lemons from my trip to LA. Combined with the fact that after five days of no collecting, I was also drowning in eggs, it was a no-brainer. Matt and I followed a recipe out of Cooking Illustrated and managed to make this beauty:

It. Was. Good.

Matt and I also took up "Farmopoly", which is a farm-inspired Monopoly game, and played with Jan and Neil on Christmas night.

Jan totally mopped the floor with all of us- check out her Pile-o-Money!

We also opened gifts that night and Jan made Matt a complete chef's outfit! Now he doesn't need to wear one of my "loin-cloth" aprons when he's grilling. :-)

Here's Chef Matt breaking in his new outfit- homemade hamburgers and champagne was our New Years Meal!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Christmas Once Again

This Christmas year, it's all about learning new skills. Nicole's cousin teaches wreath-making classes and we both signed up (for $5 including materials, how could I say no?) We got set up in her garage and after some brief tutoring, I went to town!
I chose fir and cedar branches for my wreath, then added some gold accents and ribbon I got at Michael's (on sale, of course). I never knew how easy it was to make wreaths! I'll never have to purchase another one again! I've got lots of ideas for a dried herb wreath or maybe on made with succulents! I shall start potting shoots off my succulents now that I know how easy it is...

Voila! Here it is hanging brightly from my back door. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. I'm also pleased about learning something new for only 5 bucks!

Last weekend, Matt and I went over to my friends' farm where they grow Christmas trees. We picked a Grand Fir out of this lot:

Matt and Richard loading it into the truck...

For me, the Christmas season really starts when I decorate the tree. I dig out all my Christmas movies, including some classics from my childhood and sing along while stringing lights and hanging ornaments. It's a yearly tradition that gets me in the Christmas spirit. Between the cold, frosty weather we've been having lately, making my own wreath, the Silverton Tree Lighting ceremony, everyone putting up their Christmas lights, and the manger-esque feeling of the chicken coop at night, I'm starting to get excited about the holiday season!

New Bathroom- sort of...

Ah, things keep progressing at my house, both intended and unintended. About a month ago, the toilet started leaking. At first, I was terrified that the dripping I heard was coming from behind the wall, but (THANKFULLY), it was just the old toilet telling me it was on it's last legs. So, over my vacation/ birthday/ Thanksgiving break, Steven and I went to Lowe's and picked out a fancy new throne! It's dual-flush, has an elongated bowl, and is about two inches taller than the old toilet. Matt always complained that the old toilet made him feel like he was waiting for a bus, so I made sure to get a toilet that would be comfortable for anyone who would visit.
Rob (my handyman), came over the day after Thanksgiving and replaced the old toilet with the new one. Apparently, the old toilet had been there so long that both the bolted gasket and the wax seal had long deteriorated- the only thing holding the toilet down was it's own weight. By the shock on Rob's face, I realized that I had narrowly avoided some kind of bathroom plumbing disaster, for which, I am still thankful.
Behold, the disaster:

I figured while I was at Lowe's, I might as well get some new hardware for the bathroom. I took much pleasure in ripping out the faux green marble and brass accessories and throwing them in the garbage! I picked simple brushed nickel replacements:

Since Rob was coming to install the new toilet, I had him put in the pedestal sink that's been sitting in the garage for over a year (I bought it off of Craigslist long ago). Two birds- one stone! We ripped out the old vanity and replaced it with a clean, classic sink.
Here is Matt installing the new brushed nickel faucet.

Ta Da! What a difference just a new toilet, sink, and hardware make! Next on the list is a new light fixture and, eventually, a new shower and floor.

A before and after-
This is what the bathroom looked like when I moved in over two years ago:

And here is what it looks like now! I'm totally loving it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

I hosted Thanksgiving again this year and it was a very quiet affair after all the excitement of my 30th Birthday celebration (which was awesome, by the way).
For dinner, I had Mom, Dad, Steve, Matt, Jan, and Neil over and we made all the usual dishes such as creamed onions, potatoes au gratin, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie (which Matt made with my eggs), and pan fried brussel sprouts. I did try two new recipes this year, one being chocolate mousse!
I was easier than I thought it would be. It turned out to be a little rich, so I think I'll reduce the amount of chocolate next time. I got the mousse dishes at the Red Bench for $6.95 for a set of four- score!

The other new recipe was for a stuffed, rolled pork loin wrapped in prosciutto roasted on apples. This was also easier than it looks, especially since I had the help of Mom and Dad in the kitchen. Mom made the stuffing and Dad layed out the prosciutto on wax paper for wrapping. We dressed it the night before, so all I had to do on Thanksgiving was pop it in the oven- Totally painless!

Here they are, ready to go into the oven.

Here's the picture of what the loin was supposed the look like off the cover of Bon Appetite magazine...

And here is what it looked like at my house! Not bad for trying out a new recipe, I must say.

It was juicy and delicious; the apples and prosciutto helped keep it moist. The only think I would change if I made it again is to only halve the apples instead of slicing them into wedges. I think they would have held their shape better.

Thanksgiving was wonderful and I'm looking forward to Christmas!

My Vacation

I took some time off starting on my Birthday and used the time to finish up some canning projects!
First- harvest my leeks! We've had a couple of freezes, which makes them sweeter, so they were ready to come out of the ground. I grew these from seed and was pleased with my modest harvest. They'll go in soups all winter long...

Next- pickle more Brussels sprouts! Because 13 jars aren't enough!

I also had a chance to break in the new Pressure cooker I got from Mom for my birthday! It cooked a 4lb. beef roast in an hour! I'm looking forward to trying out lamb in it next!

Finally- Can this year's cranberry sauce supply! I made 25 jars after getting two monster bags from Costco (I'm learning to love that place). There are several jars already on their way to California with Mom and Dad!

Matt's Birthday

For Matt's 26th birthday, he wanted to go to the Portland Japanese Garden. I had always wanted to go and never had, so I was really looking forward to seeing it in all its Autumn glory. It did not disappoint! After a wonderful lunch at Wildwood and a quick stop at City Market, we headed up into the hills to the Garden. It was crisp, but not raining and the maple foliage was absolutely dazzling!
We saw every fiery shade of red to orange and yellow as we walked along the paths.

Then, we sat and admired the quiet beauty of the "rock lake"

and admired the clean simplicity of the rock garden...

and enjoyed the sound of running water and watched the sluggish koi swimming to the surface.

It was spectacular- fall is such an amazing time to visit the Japanese garden. It was quiet and not very crowded. There was a feeling of stillness as if the garden was going to sleep...