Friday, July 31, 2009

Snapshot: Growing Boys

Check out how big these boys are getting.

Zack has had a growth spurt and I'm going to have to buy him new clothes (new summer clothes, since it's apparently going to be 103 degrees every day until the end of time, which will of course be followed by new fall clothes). He's plowing through books like a little madman. Lately when you interrupt him and he looks up from his book, he has the startled, disoriented look of having been suddenly picked up by the collar and pulled from the scene in which he had been immersed. Feels familiar to me- I spent half my childhood buried in a book and the other half with that look on my face. There's also a reappearance of the temper tantrum. Seems a little old to me, but I guess it fits with learning to deal with strong emotions.

Sammy has learned to communicate his wishes by nodding or shaking his head. His nod makes me so happy: it is a single, emphatic nod after which his chin stays down and only his eyes come back up, looking at you to see that you've seen the excellent nod he's just completed. I love love love being able to figure out what he wants (although he does get himself mixed up sometimes when he's answering, just to keep it interesting). He will even say yes, he wants to go Night Night. Handy when he's acting sleepy but I'm wondering it's too early to put him to bed. He'll nod yes, then start blowing kisses (which is just bringing his hand to and away from his mouth). He also thrills himself when he masters a new word - today it was "ice". He feels so clever, you can just see it. Well I won't argue!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Choices Dinner at Whole Foods

Zack and James had a long discussion that started with Zack saying that he likes sweet treats because he get to choose them himself (in actuality, he will gladly have any sweet item dictated to him. I think it's pretty clear that he likes treats because they are sweet). But, the conversation turned to how he likes food best when he gets to choose it himself. Makes sense, right? I like to choose things myself.

Zack does a good job of eating a wide variety of foods, but even so the path isn't always smooth. James saw it as a fun opportunity, so we planned a dinner of choosing and headed to Whole Foods. We got a cart and circled the produce section, the meat and fish counters with their little set-in eating areas, the bakery, the cheese counter, and the whole extended deli/food bars. We circled the whole place before trying to decide anything. At that point, the one flaw in our plan became apparent: Sammy was in agony seeing the food and not eating any yet! But, we made it through the challenge of actually selecting and purchasing some food and had a really fun dinner.

We sat outside in the failing light, overlooking the little playscape. James got an entree and two sides at the hot counter. Sammy and I split a mixed selection from the by-the-pound food bars. Zack choose a rice pilaf all his own and shared some of Daddy's food. There was a beautiful sunset. We let Sammy loose on the playscape. Zack spotted a green parrot in a mesquite tree (!). And then we went back and chose some treats to top it all off - giant gormet gumdrops for Zack and Daddy and a Chinese Five Spice Chocolate Truffle for me. I've been dreaming of that truffle ever since.

And, I have to show you this sign: Could they have been thinking of me?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sink or Float?

I realized I really haven't been doing many crafts and such with Zack this summer. We've done some running around and some organized activities, but at home we've mostly been doing chores; so, this week we picked out some projects. At the top of our list was an experiment: what sinks and what floats?

We wrote a list of things we wanted to try the night before, along with a hypothesis about whether it would sink or float. Then we gathered up a bunch of items and gave them a try. It was a little messy and pretty fun. My ideas of stuff to try were things like a metal washer, a leaf, a piece of cork, cottonballs; Zack's ideas were more like "a chunk of peanut butter".

It was fun to talk about what makes us decide something will sink or float. Well, what was fun was my thinking I was doing some science instructing. No, no, I kept my inner science lecturer under wraps and we just played around. Well, played around and discussed the meaning of "density".

[After seeing these photos at molly irwin, I was inspired to try the photo format. Aren't I such a big copy-catter? Hey, it's an accepted scrapbooking practice, really.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tasting: Watermelon Rind Pickles

Zack has been asking me every couple of days if it's time to try our Watermelon Rind Pickles. Actually my mom, who told me two let them pickle two weeks, has been asking too - she says she just just made that "two weeks" up. But couldn't bring myself to open them early for fear they wouldn't be as good as my memory of them.

I don't know if the two weeks made any difference, but they didn't disappoint! I didn't think Zack would like them - they are a bit spicy (about the level of red hots). I certainly didn't intend to feed Sammy any. But then Zack made such a show oooh-ing about how "good-y" they were that Sammy went a little nuts insisting on having some too. They both loved them!

And so do I.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kiddo Book Club

My friend Jennifer recently invited me to be a guest at the Summer Book Club for her Moms of Preschoolers Club. It was so cute and so clever, I couldn't get over what a great idea it was. The moms read a chapter-book aloud to their four year olds during the month, then a few of the moms hosted a little party with book-themed crafts, activities and snacks.

They have done several books; this one was on Fantastic Mr. Fox* by Roald Dahl. The comprehension level was just right, and Zack really enjoyed the book. The themed "feast" (there is a feast at the end of the book) of donuts and apple juice fit perfectly with the book and the crafts were easy and very cute. The kids made puppets with colors and glue, then were given other little puppets as party favors and everyone who wanted to got a turn to put on a puppet show in a little playhouse puppet theatre. Zack still hasn't quit playing with his party favor puppets.

One of the things I'm really interested in is fostering a love of learning in my kids. Wanting them to help them really love learning is one of the things that keeps me on the fence about considering homeschooling. I think Zack will enjoy the traditional school environment, but I worry about loosing that sense of curiosity and exploration with which children approach the world. So, something focused on books and reading, but with other kids and made really fun, seems like a fabulous activity. I tend to think (grain of salt here, since I don't actually know what I'm talking about) that if we wait until kids (especially boys) are "old enough" to do activities like book clubs, they will already have decided they aren't interested. This was a super way to learn but also make it really fun.

I will note that Zack was puzzled at the lack of reading at the book club - I guess he thought it would be more like storytime. Afterwards he didn't really seem to think there was enough book discussion, though he didn't participate when the hosts asked the kids about the book! The hostesses kept it light and fun so that everyone, even the younger siblings who hadn't read the book, had a great time.

* [Just so you know, there was some ugly language from the antagonists to each other (I'm talking ugly language for a four year old - "stupid" and "shut up") but we talked about how these were the mean characters in the book and we're not mean so we don't talk that way. So far it hasn't come back to haunt me. Also, guns figure prominently in the book. Some of the little girls found that really foreign but Zack has already started fixating on guns (boys!) so it wasn't something I felt we needed to avoid. It was a fun story, but you might pre-read it and make sure you are ok with the content.]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Taste Test: Choffy

I really really like my Choffy!

Choffy is roasted cacao beans - the beans used to make chocolate - which are ground and brewed like coffee. There is nothing added to it and it's Fair Trade. On it's own, it doesn't have calories. It also doesn't have caffeine (or at least very much) but rather theobromine. You can read all about the benefits on the Choffy website, but I can vouch for it being yummy!

Choffy sells through independent distributors, so when C.Beth recommended the product through her interaction with Amy Norton, I was excited to email her. She sent me the samples you see - three different kinds - all free! She didn't even charge postage.

I decided to fix it just like I do my coffee for my first trial. I usually make strong coffee and normally brew a good quality, rather bold, French Roast, ground a little finer than the standard drip grind, though I use a drip coffee maker. I used two level scoops (1/8 cup each) of Choffy grounds for about 3.5 cups of water and my usual amount of cream and sugar (don't ask a lady how much sugar she uses! It's... not polite, yeah, that's it).

The smell of the grounds is very rich and chocolaty. It brewed up nicely, though it's a little more "medium roast-y" than my taste. I think that's to be expected given my bold coffee preferences and the fact that it is labeled "Medium Roast". I did drink a little plain - I like coffee plain, I just prefer it doctored and I would say the same is true of Choffy. The rest I fixed up for a steamy delicious, bowl-sized cup! The chocolate aspect is more subdued than I expected, but the entire flavor is rich and highly enjoyable.

I expect to be purchasing some when my samples are gone, though it's more expensive than the coffee I buy now. I pay $7.20 - 9.60 per pound (40 ounces at at time!) and Choffy works out to $20/lb. But, I may mix it with my coffee, or have it as an occasional treat.

p.s. The link to Amy Loves It is working now! If you look down at the bottom of the post, the offer to send out free sample seems to be still good (score!). Amy emailed me back when I had had trouble with the link - she had been having site problems which are resolved. Try it - it's sooo good!

p.p.s. Today I tried a scoop of Chof

Friday, July 24, 2009

San Antonio Mini-Book

After our long weekend to San Antonio, I wanted to get the pictures into some format where we could flip through them. I wanted it to be fun and casual and something different than a traditional album.

I had the idea to make the photos themselves the pages from this video by Jennifer McGuire, but I wanted it to have a certain look with a lot of black background.

I started with two pieces of 4x6" plain, inexpensive chipboard. I covered the outsides of the covers with patterned paper (velvet dots on metallic gold for the back!) I wanted something different for the insides of the covers. Inspired by another video by Jennifer McGuire (this one is the first in a series of 27!), I used my regular black ink pad to pounce all over the inside of my covers and came up with this mottled black surface. I really like how it turned out!

I made the major divisions and the all-journaling pages from cardstock or paper backed with cardstock. The letters are fuzzy velvet Thickers which feel really fun since these pages aren't under page protectors. Then I used some hardware that came on a wall decoration to make a ribbon tab for each section (see close-up photo).

I printed my pictures 4x6" with a matte finish and a black border. {I always love to hear what photo shops my friends use, so I'll tell you that I use Costco Photo Center because it is speedy, has good color (I really hate the color quality at Walmart) and is $.13/picture. They have the free option for black border.} For most pages, I glued two photos back to back to make a page, though I did have a couple of pages that have a cropped photo on them. Then I did the majority of my journaling directly on the photos. It was quick, easy, and has a fun, casual look!

I really like how this little project turned out. There are several pages that have problems - rub-ons that didn't rub on correctly, some (very) crooked journaling... but in the spirit of fun and storytelling, I am going to leave them (for now at least - I'm telling myself I can always reprint the photos and fix it later!). Plus, I'm happy to have finished a craft project. Even something mini is an accomplishment!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

By Color

I took the plunge and reorganized all my scrapbooking stuff by color. It was intimidating until I accidentally dumped my previous organization bin upside down on the floor. After holding Sammy back while picking up each teeny tiny brad and button, I figured it was just as easy to put them back by color anyway and got started.

This is a set of small stacking bins that were inexplicably cheap at Target. They were right next to the standard sets but with a different color lid, a "College" label and a half price sticker (but wait, the dorm-supply season is just starting, right? I never understand the mysteries of Target pricing). I bought three, which seemed like a lot when I had no real plan for them, but now I love them so much I'm wishing for more.

If you are looking for some good links about scrapbooking organization, I listed some I've been enjoying at the end of this post. My reorganization made it fun to finish (gasp!) my latest small project. Stay tuned for pics!

(Thanks to Keri at Forever Folding Laundry for her tips on using larger photos. With this very cropped photo, Blogger tried to size it extremely small and that's just no fun.
p.s. Now I'm having trouble with my big picture getting cut off. I think I have it looking right now, but if it looks cut off to you - meaning you don't see a black border all around it - please leave me a comment so I can fix it?)

Another postscript - You can see in the far right bin that I have one section not organized by color - in that one, I have all my tabs and tags in one side, and all my words embellishments in the other (although there are lots of words stickers that are on sheets so they aren't in there). The logic is that for most embellishments, I tend to look for them by color; but if I'm looking for a tab, tag or word, I am probably looking for those items specifically. I'll let you know how it works for me!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I'm so excited - my free Choffy samples came today! Coffy is brewed like coffee but it's made of cacao beans (those that chocolate are made from). These packets have enough beans to make four six-ounce cups each (or more if it's mixed with coffee, like C.Beth mentions) so I'm going to get to brewing and let you know how it is.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Soup's On Ice

I'm back at the summer soups.

This one is a Minted Strawberry Watermelon Soup. It's sweet and chilly and oh-so-good! As you can imagine, the boys of the household approved.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

A Little Storage

Have you noticed that crafters (and maybe all hobbyists) are always working on storage solutions? We have an idea, we reorganize, we sort things by use, then we sort them by color, we sort them by size, then we do it all again. It's a road that never really ends.
This box was the packaging from a set of cards from Costco. I didn't have any ideas for it, but it just seemed too handy to toss when the cards were gone. Meanwhile, I've been struggling with my stamp storage. I like to use clear acrylic stamps. They are easier to position than traditional rubber stamps and take up much less storage room. But, I've wanted a good way to keep them and be able to see them.

Last year at school-supply stock-up time, I copied what my sister's new storage plan and bought a big stack of clear binder pouches. They are made to hold your pencils in a three ring binder but are perfectly size to hold a sheet of stamps. It works well because I can keep from loosing any little pieces and see what I have when I flip through them. I put the pouches in a three ring binder, but they were way too fat for the spine, and that made them unwieldy.

This box became the impromptu solution. I used an X-acto knife to remove the center partition (and stuck the point of the knife directly into my index finger - ooouch!). It left an unfinished seam, but if I like the use of the box, I can recover the inside someday.

Now I have my stamps, my acrylic mounting blocks and my stamp cleaner here. It fits in the hutch of my hobby desk, isn't too cumbersome to take along to crops, and has been easy to use so far. It may turn out to be just a stop along the storage road - we'll see!

I've been inspired by these posts on scrap organization:
Celeste, last week's host of Write.Click.Scrapbook. talking about sorting by color
Noell of Paperclipping gives a video tour of her scrap room
And Melissa writing at Write.Click.Scrapbook starts with carving out a space and continues with a series of several great posts with pictures, links and ideas.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Family Visit Part 5 (Final!) - Under Sink Project

Never seen anyone this happy with their under-sink cabinet? Well, you didn't see this cabinet before! And I didn't take a picture, but that's just as well. Yuck.

When the dishwasher leaked, water wicked along the underside of the cabinet to the next cabinet bottom, causing it to swell and bow. The center of the left side was about five inches lower than the cabinet facing, while the center of the right side was about three inches higher than the cabinet facing. The whole thing was grody from having been wet. So very yucky.

My dad used a little jigsaw to cut out the cabinet bottom and the moldy, deteriorated supports, then he and James built a new support and installed a new cabinet bottom (both out of actual wood and very sturdy). The cabinet bottom is painted a clean white (which I hope to do to all my cabinets eventually) and covered with a spare piece of vinyl, courtesy of a scrap James' parents had on hand (Thanks!). I'm really pleased with the result and relieved to have the mess gone. That's the last of the kitchen problems caused by the dishwasher, although we do still have some damaged laminate flooring. It's visible but not completely terrible and I'm just not up to tackling that project yet, so it's on hold for now.

My Dad had a little helper for his work too - see Trouble on the job?
Actually, this was a more common scene:

It was really fun to have not only my parents but my granny visiting. Even with the kids sick, we had some really enjoyable times together and I'm really thankful that they were willing to make the trip!

Friday, July 17, 2009


As I've been steadily working through the piecing for this project this week, I've been thinking about the best and worst parts of the process. For me the best part is the ironing.

Wait, wait, stay with me!

It's not that I like ironing. I certainly don't like to iron shirts. But when I've sewn a set of sections or blocks and I take them all to the ironing board and they open up to a stack of perfect points, crisp and flat and smelling of the hot iron, I feel like progress is blossoming right before my eyes. It's the big payoff for the time spent marking, cutting, pinning and sewing.

Except sometimes what appears is not-so-perfect points. Which brings me to the worst part of this sewing business: taking out mistakes. It's a terrible drag, both on progress and on motivation, to take out and redo. And so this time, I didn't. I know that in quilting, precision really does pay off in the end. If things are wrongly sized or crooked, I'm going to have to deal with them sooner or later. When I put them in the larger section, they won't fit if they are off-of-square or wrong in some other way. But on the other hand, getting better at this stuff is as much about practice as precision, and it's not much fun to practice if I'm taking out every less-than-perfect triangle.

I was remembering the machine quilting class I took and one of the other students. She was doing good work - it certainly looked better than mine. It looked better than anyone else's in the class but as the teacher complimented her, she declared that is wasn't good enough and that she was very unhappy with it. Over protests from the class members she insisted, "It has to be absolutely perfect. If it isn't, I can't be happy with it. That's just how I am." I found myself thinking (in possibly too much of a mommy-vernacular), "What a sad choice." Because it is a choice, and if you aren't willing be happy with less than absolute perfection, you'll never be happy.

I decided that I've got plenty of projects on which to insist on precision. This one is going to be about trying and doing and not stressing over the perfect points. I've got 21 blocks done (except for four small stars that need to be appliqued on) and three blocks left to go. They sure aren't perfect, but I like them. After a few more minutes left to sew today, I have to clean up the dining room table to make room for social activities this weekend so I don't know if the last three will happen or not. But hey, I already knew I wasn't so perfect at finishing things.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Family Visit Part 4 - Piecing

I took a little heat while my guests were here for all my unfinished sewing projects. Turns out I'm a lot better at starting quilts than finishing them. Well, that's not really news. We all knew it already. This pattern has worked out just fine on the items I've designed for my mom to make. I like designing, I love picking fabrics, and she's good at finishing. But on most of my own items-in-progress, I'm stalled at the quilting.

I tried hand-quilting - I just don't like it. So, I took a machine quilting class. I really enjoyed the class and despite having just a simple sewing machine, I feel like I could get the hang of it. Unfortunately, it comes down to practicing more than just knowing how to do it. Now I need to practice. The pieces I have ready to quilt have seen many hours of meticulous piecing and I'm not willing to quilt on them until I practice. But practicing is not the fun part of making and I haven't done it yet.

In the meantime, I got out a piecing project that had no reason to be stalled and Mom and I worked on it for a while during her visit. It's one of these strange projects that doesn't have much of a purpose - I found a bunch of leftover block-of-the-month club kits at a fabric store for ridiculously cheap. There were only five designs left, but lots of those. So, I got multiples of each with the idea of either inventing alternate blocks or just making multiples of the ones I had. I liked the colors, but other than that I didn't have much of a plan. I still don't, but I decided that's ok.

I've done quite a bit more since she left, and am making good progress. I guess I'll get it to the point of being stalled and decide then what to do next.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Family Visit Part 3 - Watermelon Rind Pickles

One recipe my mom made when I was a kid was Watermelon Rind Pickles. It seems a particularly old-timey thing to make, taking the rinds that would be thrown away (or into the compost!) and making them into something edible.

I loooooved those pickles and had begged Mom to make them again for years. They are a bit of a hassle, taking some unusual ingredients and several days of draining/boiling even after the initial cleaning and chopping is done. A while ago she relented and made a batch and sure enough, they were every bit as good as I remembered: sweet, sour and cinnamon-spicy, tasting of times gone by. That batch is long gone and I had gathered the supplies to make a batch of my own. As so often happens to my grand plans, I never quite got to it, but when Mom was here she made some up!

I had a large watermelon, but the rinds have been bred thinner than when we were kids. It still made a nice sized recipe. Even after the cooking down that happens, I ended up with three pints and five half-pints, or 11 half-pints total. The smaller half-pint jars are preferable, as these are a strong, different flavor - kind of like pickles combined with red hot candies!

I was really excited to try them, only to find out that they have to pickle in the jars for two weeks as well. I'm counting the days. Want to count them with me? Better get started then!

Watermelon Rind Pickles
7 lb. watermelon rinds (dark green peels and pink flesh removed)
7 c. sugar
2 c. white vinegar
1/2 t oil of cloves
1/2 t oil of cinnamon

Day 1: Chop rinds. Soak in a strong saltwater solution overnight.
Day 2: Pour off saltwater and boil rinds in fresh water until tender but not soft. Drain. Mix sugar and vinegar. Boil rinds ten minutes in this syrup. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature overnight.
Day 3: Drain syrup into a saucepan and bring syrup to a boil. Pour back over rinds. Let stand overnight.
Day 4: Drain syrup into a saucepan and bring syrup to a boil. Pour back over rinds. Let stand overnight.
Day 5: Drain syrup into a saucepan and bring syrup to a boil. Add rinds, oil of cloves and oil of cinnamon and boil 10 minutes. Pack in sterile jars and seal.
Allow to pickle two weeks before opening.

Read the tasting results here!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Family Visit Part 2 - Range Project

During my family visit this past week, we also worked on some projects. The first was an installation improvement for my new range. The gas connection I had before stuck out from the wall. On my old range, the connection fit into the space in the back of the range, but my new range has a back panel that was in the way of the connection, causing the range to sit three inches out from the wall. I was so pleased with my new appliance, but not how it stuck farther out into the room than it should have or had a space between it and the backsplash. So, my dad and mom and James! worked on reworking the fitting so that it exited the wall at a lower point and the stove could be pushed back.
It was supposed to be a fairly easy project, but is anything ever easy? There was an electric box on the other side of the wall that was in the way of moving the gas line. We thought about replacing more of the gas line, but the tricky thing about natural gas is needing to be able to brace the fitting that is not supposed to move with a wrench when you move the one you want to change. The result is that we would have had to tear through a lot more of the wall to get to the previous piece. So, instead we changed the electrical box for the opposite outlet to a slimmer profile box, out of which we still had to cut a corner.
Then my mom patched both walls and painted. So, it took longer than we expected, but I'm really pleased with the results!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Family Vist Part 1 - Running

First, thanks very much to those who have complained about my absence in the blogosphere - it's rather nice to be missed!

It has been a good week and a busy week around here, with some not so good moments sprinkled in. The not-so-good were all related to both boys being sick with fever for five days each. It was a long time for both of them (but not the same time, we had to spread it out some) and we had to resort to breathing treatments and antibiotics for Sammy. The boys were in sad shape for a couple of days, but for sick children, they were extremely easy and even pleasant most of the time. Which was good, because the great thing about this past week was that my mom, dad and granny were visiting.

We had a great time together! We did some neat activities and projects that I'm anxious to write about, but I suspect my boys will be awake soon and I'll have to quit for today. So look for the continued reports over the next few days.

My dad has been a runner for much longer than I (and is a marathon finisher!), so I've always wanted to take him down to the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail. This time we got in three good runs there, despite the heat. That space is such a treasure here in Austin, so it was fun to get to share it. Our first run was on Saturday, which was also July 4th, so the trail was abuzz with runners and walkers taking advantage of the long weekend. When we first pulled up to the parking area, Daddy asked if there was a race going on because of how many people were out, which made me happy and proud of this space in our city. We both like people-watching, and there is no better place to run AND watch people! We talked about how one thing we love about running is that you can just do it with minimal equipment to mess with and without having to drive anywhere... but the trail was worth driving to.

We were both inspired to more running by getting to run together.

(Image by Larry D. Moore, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License)

p.s. Daddy also brought me a copy of a book he's been really excited about - I'll let you know how it is!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Taste Test: Austin vs. California

I recently made a batch of glazed carrots with some carrots that came from a local Austin farm (JBG). Since there weren't enough to serve eight, I added some organic carrots purchased from the grocery store and grown in California. The color difference in them was striking, so we all did a taste test on them as well. They were cooked together with the same glaze, but we could easily pick out the variation in the finished dish. I'll tell you that both had been in the fridge quite a while - they weren't spoiled but my point is that I don't believe you could attibute the difference to one being fresh from the field since both had been forgotten in the bottom drawer. Are you as interested in the results as we were?
The California carrots were dark orange, tasty, sweet and smooth.

The local Austin carrots were lighter yellow orange, tasty and sweet but rather than tasting smooth, they were more complex, with much more essential carrot flavor.

All of us could see and taste the difference, but only those who like carrot flavor preferred the local version!

p.s. I learned something else - You know how fancy restaurants serve you the carrots (and sometimes other vegetables) with a bit of the green still attached, giving you that farm-fresh feeling? Well, I tried it, with dubious results. I just threw the ones with the tops still on in with everything else, so by the time I stirred and cooked and stirred and cooked, the greens were just too soft to stay on. Guess I'll have to work on that!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Garnish: Make a pretty platter

I realized that for a blog titled "Garnish...", I don't have much about garnishing! So, here are some how-to thoughts about making a pretty platter.

Here are two examples - a mixed fruit platter and a relish dish.
  • Start with color planning. So for a veggie platter, I plan on getting lots of colors on the platter, not just green.
  • Get some pretty green stuff. If you have an herb garden, this is really easy - just go pick some sprigs! If not, get a little extra of something you are using in your recipes - parsley, cilantro, dill, lettuce leaves, or even the greens off of your celery or carrots. Put any big leaves like lettuce or chard down first, before you start arranging.
  • Split each item into multiple groups. So, instead of putting all the grapes together, plan on three groups of grapes on one platter. This tends to create that abundant look (and avoids the generic purchased platter look).
  • Place your groups around the platter in a balanced, but not even, fashion. So if you can do three groups of olives, you will put the largest at one corner of a triangle, then a medium at the far corner, then a small group at the third point. Alternate the colors, putting orange next to green, next to white, next to red.
  • Add the rest of your garnishes, aiming for pops of color and a lush look, even if you don't stick to all the same time of item as your tray. For example, a few black grapes accenting a vegetable platter along with herbs will provide that splash. Try a few capers or cocktail onions on top of a dip orsome olives in your veggie tray.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Putting Her to Work

I put my new range to work tonight! We had some friends over for a dinner before they are off for their month-long summer trip and I wanted to put my oven and stove through the paces. We had chicken sauteing, pasta boiling, carrots cooking, brownies baking and bread warming. I tried out the convection option on the stove and my 45-50 minute brownies were done in 28 minutes of baking plus some sitting in the turned-off oven.

I'm still getting used to it, but I like it!

And now, I have so much to do before my out of town company arrives on Friday. And when I say "so much" I don't mean cutesy little extras. I mean I've got a layer of grime to chisel off the bathroom floor (eww). If I'm scarce around here, that's why.