the best-laid plans

We had such glorious schemes for October.  OH, we had such plans.

 

While we do our level best not to go falling off the Cliff of Seasonal Crazy into the Bottomless Pit of Holiday Madness, we do write ourselves one giant free pass with respect to fall.  Fall, generally, and October, specifically.   I don’t know what Jenn’s excuse for it is, honestly, but I maintain my right to revel is grounded in the fact that I spent the first decade-plus of my life in a Land Without Seasons, and the next decade or so in a place where autumn was that one week where everything got yellow and then boom, naked trees.  The novelty of deciduous trees suddenly putting on a show of slow emergence of a riotous rainbow of colors while the air gradually tempers your transition from warm-weather tank tops to warm and wooly toques – well, let’s just say it’s still a good long ways from wearing off.

 

So the game plan was this:  instead of toning down our enthusiasm for the season, we were going to embrace it with wild abandon.  A veritable orgy of all things Autumn, wallowing in the novelty of trading garden clogs for fall boots (all the better for crunching leaves underfoot in!) and abandoning sun-soaked tomatoes and outdoor living for all things cinnamon-pumpkin-apple-cider-cake-and-carbs and indoor comforts.

 

Wanna see how far I got?

cakeyah

One. Naked. Cake.

 

In my defense, it’s at least a pumpkin spice cake. And it had potential.  Needed a few more repetitions to perfect before posting, but you could see the promise.  (Side note:  yes, you do indeed want to know me in the real world.  I will feed you cake prototypes until you resent my very existence, and you will love every minute of it.)

 

And then.  THE OVEN.

 

Two weeks ago, my oven went rogue.  I don’t mean it just stopped heating evenly, or the timer went weird, or a stove element burned out.  I mean that my stove and oven, that faithful center of my hearth and home, WENT ON THE ATTACK.  In a nutshell, one quiet Monday night mid-casserole, my oven decided to super-heat itself, cranking out all the power it possibly could, frying its own circuits and overriding its own ability to be turned on or off.  After some truly high-quality slapstick action, including standing on my own kitchen counter trying to decide if I should call 911 before or after I use a broomstick to unplug the burning beast, I developed enough sense to investigate my fuse box.

 

Eureka!  911 call averted.

 

The stove and oven, however, remain dead.  And, things being what they are, it’s gonna be a little while before they get replaced.

 

On the bright side, I’m off the hook for hosting Thanksgiving.  And hey, bonus, now I have a place to store all those doornails.

 

For right now, instead of cooking and crafting, I’m cobbling together a pretty effective model for survival, including borrowing indulgent family members’ kitchens, extensive use of slow cookers, and suddenly being super glad I opted to buy the waffle iron with the reversible griddle plates.  I don’t mind admitting that while I’m pretty good in a kitchen, I am a total incompetent with things like effective batch cooking and appropriate use of convenience foods.  Once I figure out how this all works, I hope to come out of it with a lot more spare time and maybe even a few new recipes in hand.

 

But for the moment, a whole lot of things are on hold.  Including leaf-crunching, apple-picking, cider-swilling, and finessing that stupid pumpkin cake up there.

 

Oh, and as for my partner in crime  blog?  Well.  She still has a working kitchen, and keeps taunting me with pins and pictures of things she’s working on or that we should totally consider making.  Don’t think I didn’t consider throwing myself and this blog at her mercy and begging her to just take it all over for a few weeks while I get my feet back under me.  But, at the risk of being vague and secretive-yet-smugly-in-the-loop, I happen to know that she’s currently working on one HELL of a DIY project, and it’s even more time consuming and profoundly-preoccupying than my own kitchen sitch.

 

So, best-laid plans have done what best-laid plans usually do, and  we’re both taking a minute to recalibrate, catch our respective breaths, and get those pesky ducks back in a row.  It won’t be long –  real-world considerations be damned, we won’t be able to resist fall for long.

I’d Rather Be Here

I'll be here.. in my dreams

I’ll be here.. in my dreams

Seattle doesn’t transition well.

When that sports-ball team won the Superbowl, there was celebratory chaos! Roads were shut down and I stayed-home like the chicken little I am. One drop of rain and people divide into two driver categories: Miss Daisy or Bat out of Hell. It is hilarious. Not. Sunshine? Oh, Lord – where did I put those sunglasses from the time it was sunny three weeks ago? Guess I’ll just squint and drive erratically.

Weather-wise, however, Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest is beginning it’s awkward transition to fall. Schools are opening their doors and stretching the halls to welcome the masses of young and old learners alike. Trees are debating if they want to change colors or just ditch those pesky leaves without much fuss. And the clouds cannot make up their minds: do we stay or do we go.

The weather’s transition to fall in Seattle is like a teenage girl trying on an outfit in the morning. It starts out with one idea… holds for a few moments and then pulls a complete 180 and tries something entirely different. It’s why we are the Masters of Layering. Not because we are cool, but because we are smart. No one wants to be that idiot still in a hoodie and jeans when it suddenly is 75 at 3pm. No, sir.

I would love to live in a place someday where Fall just happens. Not this month-long saga of will it/won’t it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still loving the final harvest in my garden and sunny evenings with Ellie in the backyard. But… the colors boasted by other regions just seem magical! To wake up one day and go “woah! when did that happen!?”.

My only consolation to this finicky weather pattern, the clothes.

I am a sucker for a scarf paired with a comfy sweater and boots. Pinterest doesn’t disappoint in fueling this love of mine and I swear my board is full of that combination in every color and season possible. I am on the hunt for a few good Seattle-worthy sweaters and a few more scarves. But first, I think I will day-dream a bit more of a perfect Fall day.

I also love any excuse for anything apple cider (adult or otherwise) and the smell of stews and bread coming from the kitchen. Thankfully, Mr. Plaid is the chef he is and can whip up an amazing stew and fresh bread to rival a restaurant.

What is your favorite part of the transition to Fall? The colors? The foods? The excuse to wear chunky clothes and cover up those extra cookies?? I’d love to know!

-Jenn

 

(photo credit to Scenes of Vermont)

Beet it

Before we get down to the dirt, I want to come clean about something: I hate beets. I mean, I hate them. HATE. I once made a flow chart for my mom to keep on her fridge, demonstrating how beets aren’t food and should stop lying to the masses. I harbor grave doubts about Australia en masse because of the national fondness for sneaking beets onto every damn food they can. There was a Sesame Street song about sugar beets that has, to this day, an unparalleled ability to cause instantaneous rage.

I hate beets. And yet, I bought a pound of golden beets at the grocery store last weekend. I can’t explain it, except maybe I thought taking them home to wither from neglect in my refrigerator might be a good way of expressing my contempt directly.

But this post isn’t about beets. It’s about potatoes. And I love potatoes. Not so much the eating of them – I mean, I eat them, without complaint and often with great enthusiasm. But what I love about potatoes, really, is growing them.

If you’ve never done it, it’s not too late – in most areas – to throw down a tiny fall crop for practice. Just chuck a chitted tuber in some out-of-the-way dirt, let it sprout and vine and take over everything until the plant dies back, and then dig up your bitty baby harvest of awesomeness. Boom! you’re a farmer.

For the real magic, though, you start these puppies in the spring:

chittin' on the window sill

chittin’ on the window sill

Seed potatoes are cheap and, at least around here, pretty easily available. I like to grow a variety – this year, I started Royal Purples, Russian Bananas, and Rose Apple Finns. I admit without reservation that I picked the Finns because of my dog’s name, and the Russian Bananas because it sounds just very slightly dirty if your sense of humor hasn’t matured since age 12. (Pro tip: mine has not.)

I leave the seed potatoes out in the sun for a few days until they’re nicely sprouty, and then I toss them down into about 6″ of straight compost…in a trash can. Just a standard-issue cheap plastic trash can, that’s had holes drilled into the bottom and about 6-10″ up the sides.

Cover the seed potatoes with more compost, and wait for the magic to start.

see?  magic!

see? magic!

Once the sprouts have all got at least 2 sets of leaves on them, add another layer of something dirt-like. It can be more compost, or it can be garden soil; I’ve even heard just using wood shavings is fine. Anything, really. Just bury all but the top set of leaves.

middling

And repeat. Repeat and repeat again, until the bin is full, or until you go away for a long weekend and now there’s so many leaves that you start to worry things will go weird if you bury them again. They won’t, but it’s fine to panic and stop whenever you want. They’ll keep growing, right up and out of the trash can.

Three little taters, all in a row

Three little taters, all in a row

Water when the dirt looks dry, and otherwise, ignore the heck out of them. Once the leaves start to yellow, stop watering, and once the leaves and stalks look damn near dead, it’s potato time!

You should have potatoes pretty much top-to-bottom in the can, of all manner of sizes. Getting them out is dirty work, but not terribly arduous – dig in with bare hands to start with, and when that stops being satisfyingly result-oriented, just tip the thing over and marvel at your bounty.

harvest

Today was the day my stalks finally looked dead enough, and my patience finally wore thin enough, that I decided to upend my entire potato crop, and let me tell you, it was an awesome one. From 6 seed potatoes, and with very little real effort, I got a good 15+ pounds of potatoes.

Like I said: BOOM. FARMER.

But meanwhile, back at those beets.

There I was, with time on my hands, dirt under my nails, nothing planned for dinner, 15 pounds of potatoes in various shapes and colors…and one bunch of beets in the fridge.

Ugh. Fine. Challenge accepted. Enter: the potato salad. With secret beets.

dawg

Step one: peel beets and cut them into bite-sized chunks. Give a roughly-equal quantity of potatoes the same treatment. You could probably not peel the potatoes, but I found it very comforting to do so, having just dug them out of the DIRT.

Heat the oven to 375. Toss the potatoes and beets with a liberal sousing of olive oil, and then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. For 3 large beets and about 5 potatoes, I used about 3T of olive oil and 2t of salt.

Cook in the top half of the oven for 45 minutes, stirring once at about the halfway point.

As soon as they come out of the oven, toss with about 2t of plain white vinegar.

Step two: saucy!

essentials

In a large bowl, I mixed 1/2c mayonnaise, 2T of mustard, and 2T of vinegar together with a whisk. Crucial points here: I really like vinegar. I also really like mustard. If you don’t like either, replace with an equivalent quantity of buttermilk, or, 1/2 the quantity of plain old milk. Add 1/2 t of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.

Step three: Toss the still-warm potatoes into the sauce, and stir til coated. Scissor-snip 2 green onions – smugly plucked from the garden, naturally, or store bought if needed – into the bowl and toss again. Let the whole mess sit at least 30 minutes, then eat or refrigerate.

It’s not pretty, but…

ugly

…it turns out: beets, when roasted together with fresh-from-dirt potatoes, tossed together with a little salty, fatty magic, and liberally vinegared…they’re kind of edible. They’re kind of good, even.

WHO AM I KIDDING. THEY WERE AWESOME. I AM STILL EATING WHILE I TYPE, AND IT JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER.

I still hate beets, though.


…..

…….
………

Secret bonus prize for reading all the way to the bottom? I found some funny shaped potatoes today. Like super funny. Like…FUNNY. That thing I said up there? About being 12? That’s a generous estimation.

yep.

yep.

YEP. THAT HAPPENED. IT’S COOL. IT’S NATURAL. YOU GET USED TO THESE THINGS WHEN YOU’RE A FARMER.

Last Hoorah

The last week in Seattle has seen some of the most bipolar weather of the summer. We went from record-setting heat Monday to cloudy, thunder storms and downpours by Friday.

Holy Hot Car, Batman

Holy Hot Car, Batman

It was a good reminder that summer is nearing a close. As if the Back to School commercials weren’t enough!! While Summer puts on its final show of heat, warmth and garden harvest, I have been reminded of the end of summer campout I would go with my friend and we had a diet of cereal and S’mores for the entire weekend.

Yes Please

Yes Please

S’more Muddie Buddies

S’mores are, to me, the quintessential definition of a summer evening and over the last few weeks my Pinterest has been nothing but recipes and ideas. The great thing? S’mores is no longer just for campfires. There are so many versions and varieties to this perfect flavor combo the possibilities are endless.

S'more Krispie Bars

S’more Krispie Bars

S’more Krispie Bars

Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Plaid even got in the spirit and I came home to the Kitchen Aid whirring and he was making s’more cookies. For real!! As far as I can tell, he substituted some of the flour in a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with crushed graham crackers and then added those cute tiny marshmallows along with chocolate chips. I wish I took pictures, but I ate the cookies too fast.

One Slice for you... the rest for me

One Slice for you… the rest for me

Cheesecake? No… S’more cheesecake!

I am now determined to do a progressive bake-through of all the s’more-based ideas. Care to join me?

Happy Birthday, to me!

Happy Birthday, to me!

S’more Birthday Cake

 

Please excuse me while I go into a diabetic coma! YUM!!!!

-Jenn

Et tu, Ikea??

I got the email Wednesday. I didn’t even read it – the title told me everything I needed to know, everything I had been waiting to hear since this time in 2013. Magic and hope and promise and excitement were coming soon to a mailbox near me:

The new Ikea catalog was on its way.

I want to be clear: I don’t live in an Ikea showroom, but oh, there were times in my post-college but pre-career days that I sure wanted to, and it’s still set as my mental place to check first when I suddenly find I need – oh, I don’t know, anything really. A table, a lamp, an occasional chair, meatballs, plant pots, reindeer-shaped cake pans – all the life-or-death essentials, I guess.

Realistically, my eccentric old house, and oftentimes my eccentric old tastes, demand that I have little to do with stark lines, bold graphics, and slick plastic-and-pressboard accoutrement. Still…maybe it’s a visit from the Ghosts of Apartments past, but when the Big Book from the Mecha of Melamine arrives, it’s my version of Christmas.

It arrived on Thursday, and because I am an absolute masochist, I decided it was going to stay firmly shut until Saturday – a reward, I thought, for surviving a heck of a week. I cleared the coffee table of all lesser materials – begone, remotes! be banished, magazine! away, snobby art book that no one will ever use except as a coaster! – and put the catalog dead center, so that I couldn’t possibly not see it, couldn’t possibly forget that it was here! In my house! Just waiting!

Let’s gloss over how I found it the next morning in the kitchen, because despite a near-15-year acquaintance, my roommate did not automatically understand that this was not mere mail, it was Major Ceremony.

Let’s also gloss over how I love the new style-centered room designs they’ve used in the catalog, how they’ve nailed the perfectly yellow-embued green hues and green-rich turquoises AGAIN this year, and how seeing the catalog items I already own gives me a warm little thrill – hello, little Leirvik bed! Lovely to see you again, Ribba frames!

Let’s instead cut directly to the moment when Ikea, those glorious Swedish bastards, RIPPED MY HEART OUT AND SPAT ON IT.

You saw it, right? I mean…right there on page 229, bold as brass, like it just was no big deal at all.

A Hemnes linen cabinet…full of shoes.

FULL OF SHOES.

Maybe you don’t understand the problem here.

It’s a linen cabinet. It’s meant to hold linens. Towels, sheets, maybe the odd seagrass basket that takes up too much room to be of any use but looks decorative as hell.

as. it. is. meant. to. be.

I love this cabinet. I loved it in yellow, I love it in the current red, I’ll probably love it if it comes in puce, and I am still not sure what color that is. I have ogled analogs to this cabinet in competitor’s stores, antique malls, and garage sales for years now. This cabinet, in some form – even homage – has always been destined for my home.

But not for linens. Oh no. I don’t need a linen cabinet. I need a shoe-and-purse hutch. With glass doors. To display shoes and purses. Obviously.

How clever it was going to be! How novel! How unique! What a charming repurposing of a pretty-but-ultimately-utilitarian piece of furniture!

Damn those Swedes*. They really do think of everything.

* = it’s ok. my mom’s half Swedish. I’m allowed.

Take and Bake

Sometimes I just feel like getting crafty. I want to go to Michael’s with an idea in my mind and see what happens.

Enter the Sharpie Mug. Again the interwebs are full of ideas and suggestions and How Tos and Not Tos. So much so it became a bit overwhelming. So I took the most common suggestions and just went for it.

I collected stencils and stickers and Oil-Paint Sharpie Pens all from Michael’s and then a dozen or so mugs from the dollar store. The most common suggestion found was to use cheap mugs. The cheaper the mug, the weaker the glaze. The weaker the glaze, the more easily the paint can bond to the mug and prevent wearing when you wash the mug. Same goes for Oil-based paints. This was suggested over regular sharpies or sharpie paint pens.

Supplies and Prep

Supplies and Prep

This was such an easy project, once I got over the creative-freeze that came with a blank mug. The options are endless. I found that looking at too many photos of what others had done only limited me because I just wanted to copy all these great mugs. But I found the best results when I just let go and made what I wanted to make.

Monograms - they are my weakness

Monograms – they are my weakness

This is also a great project to do with kids, for family, or for mass gifting. The pens aren’t entirely cheap, but they will last for a long time. I bought reusable stencils and materials, so those will have a permanent home in my craft-belt. And the mugs? $1, people. Can you even by a soda for that price anymore?

The possibilities are endless...

The possibilities are endless…

So here’s what I did:

Gather the supplies, troops and a creative playlist.
Paint, stencil and freehand to your heart’s desire.
Let dry for at least 12 hours, but I waited until the next day before baking.
Bake in a heated oven to 350 for 25 minutes and then let completely cool in the oven after you’ve turned it off.

So close....

So close….

Enjoy the fruits of your labor. Or in some cases, give them away because you made 12 and don’t need quite that many…

if you try this, please let us know how it went for you. My cups are being hand-washed for the time being, but all my research leads me to test out their top-shelf dishwasher safe status. Report back!

-Jenn

Humble Harvest Brag

Jenn may have sacrificed all of her carrot seedlings on the altar of Wily Damn Dogs. Clearly, I suffered from no such catastrophe:

so. many. carrots.

so. many. carrots.

Because we are educated, classy, and lady-like, we exalted in my homegrown success in the most dignified way possible, and thought we should share the genteel joy:

txt

It’s ok, I can’t hear the sounds of PG-13-language-disapproval over all the awesome fresh-carrot crunching.

Cottage. Pie. Cottage pie.

Apparently all my tomatoes were waiting for was a little public shaming:

matoes

YEAH! So naturally, now that I’ve got the tomatoes I’ve been waiting for, and what with the days hot and sunny and the nights warm and balmy, dinner around these parts this week has been slow-cooked, piping-hot tomato-devoid cottage pie.

What? It TOTALLLY makes sense.

Cottage pie, for the uninitiated, is shepherds pie made with not-lamb. Shepherds pie, if you’ve lived under the saddest culinary rock in the quarry, is basically lamb-based meat pie filling poured sans-crust into a pan, and then topped with mashed potatoes before baking. It’s warm, comforting, cozy goodness, and, admittedly, probably much more appropriate to nippy early spring weather or the first brisk days of fall.

Except, every summer, I get dragged to local Highland games with my mom. This is a decades-long tradition, something we’ve been doing since the distant dark ages when she danced competitively at these events. Now, we mostly go out of habit and nostalgia, and to have one guaranteed day out of the year where I am not the pastiest person in the room.

Oh, and for the food. And the beer. And ALL the food. It’s the perfect meeting place of fair foods and UK staples, including heavenly meat pies that we sometimes buy an extra case of, frozen, before we leave, and have for dinners the rest of the week.

Net result, cottage pies are a summer staple for me, common sense and contrary weather be damned. And really, when one batch makes 6 hearty servings, a little slaving over the stove goes a long way. What’s one night’s cooking for three night’s dinners, right? Assuming, that is, you don’t have little fridge elves that eat pie for breakfast and lunch while your back is turned:

just one day later!

just one day later!

The recipe here is my own, and because it’s made to suit my preferences, heavy on the vegetable and light on the meat. If you want a denser, meatier pie, definitely use more meat – all the rest of the quantities can stay about the same.

Start with:

4 ribs of celery, chopped
1/2 lb pearl onions
1/2 lb carrots – Parisian globes if you can find them (Trader Joe’s obligingly has them in the freezer section!)

Sautee vegetables in a large pan in 2 T butter, ghee, or olive oil, cooking until everything is just starting to get tender.

aromatic

Add:

1.5 lbs ground turkey
2 t Penzey’s Lamb seasoning (you can sub in an equivalent amount of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram, and savory, but if you have access to Penzey’s, just get the blend. It’s got a little kick of spearmint that makes it magical)
1/2 t garlic powder

Stir together with the vegetables, and keep it moving occasionally until the meat is thoroughly browned and things are starting to want to stick to your pan. Pour in:

1 12oz can beef or chicken broth

Simmer about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced about 50%. Stir in:

1 6oz can tomato paste

Transfer the whole mess to a 4 quart baking dish with high sides if you have one, or a 9×13″ baking dish if not. Top generously with mashed potatoes. Like really generously. Like two or three inches deep, if you have the space.

fluff

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden and little bits of filling start to bubble up at the edges.

With regards to potatoes: at the moment, my favorite mash starts with a 3lb bag of Yukon Golds. I peel half of them and let the other half donate their peels in the name of rustic goodness. Quarter the potatoes, boil til fork tender (about 25 minutes) in salted water, drain, and then mash together with one 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and revel in the fact that you’ve now made twice the potato you actually need for this recipe, and are now blessed with a bounty of mashed happiness you can shovel right into your face. And yes, I understand coconut milk sounds odd, but it brings all the buttery goodness of butter, and doesn’t loose its texture or taste with subsequent reheating.

Garden Weather

grow up!

grow up!

The weather in Seattle has been A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Also read: hot, sticky, hot, sweaty, sunny and otherwise meant for shorts and mai tai drinks. Certainly not working.

Garden Paradise

Garden Paradise

The sunshine has done wonders for my garden and it is growing like gangbusters! Everyday I am able to harvest a few little special somethings.

Lemon & Cute Cucumbers!

Since Gunnar Rabbit ate most of all the lettuce, I haven’t tried to replant any of that and have just let my little piece of dirt do its own thing.

Which means I have six foot tall tomato plants and ever creeping lemon cucumbers.

So special!

So special!

I’m working on something special for Shannon, at her request, and I hope to have it available to you soon. Hint: it’s for nerd gardeners like us!! But I think it will be a great tool for our future plans and plantings.

So Pretty!!

So Pretty!!

In the meantime, while trying to stay cool and out of the sun, I’ve been working on  few loose end Pin-jects (pinterest projects?? No?) and hope to have a few up and ready in a few days.

A REAL ROMA!!

A REAL ROMA!!

Something about summer weather just makes me want to drink and chill out… and watch my garden grow.

-jenn