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Archive for December, 2009

Around Thanksgiving, on one of my first Christmas shopping trips (this one on Portland’s fashionable NW 23rd Avenue), I found a cool scarf that I thought I would get for my niece.  The scarf was made of many long thin strips of a jersey material, tied together at a couple of places.  It came with a booklet of suggestions for different ways it could be worn: draped loosely around your neck, braided as a belt, twisted around your head.

The one drawback was the hefty pricetag:  $70 for the one I liked.

As soon as I got home I started looking online for a similar scarf.  I couldn’t find one like the one I had seen.  I did find the site of another blogger who had made her own from a recycled T-shirt.

As soon as I arrived in St. Louis, my sister-in-law and I headed for the nearest Target where we picked out 4 X-Large T-shirts.  We couldn’t find the seamless ones recommended on the website, but decided to give it a try with the ones we could get.

Once home I reviewed the instructions and got started.  The first step was to cut off the hem and the top part of the shirt, including the sleeves.  Then I started cutting strips from the tube of material that remained.

I cut each of the resulting loops along one of the seams to create thirteen long strips of fabric,

and tugged on each strip causing them to lengthen and curl.

I then took 12 of the 13 strips I had made and divided them into three bunches, braiding them together to form the center of the scarf.  I used the thirteenth strip (which I first cut into two shorter strips) to tightly wrap the ends of the braid to hold them in place.

In the end, I made a total of four scarves, one for each of the women in my family.  They are already in frequent use and get noticed wherever we go.

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Christmas dinner

Yesterday, instead of cooking the dinner myself, I had the pleasure of watching (and photographing) as others prepared a wonderful seafood feast.

Venetian black rice served as the elegant foundation for a rich, savory risotto.

Other ingredients included fish (cod and drum),

octopus,

squid, clams and shrimp.

Lots of hands helped with the preparation;

there was a lot of chopping to be done.

In the end it all came together with the help of some champagne

and the use of many pans

into an amazing dish.

The perfect end to a wonderful day.

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And all through the house….I was baking cookies.  I don’t always bake when I am not at home, but we got invited to a cookie sharing party and I decided to go for it.  After flipping through a number of cookbooks, I ended up with my favorite, dependable and delicious Baking from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan.

I have NEVER baked something from this book that did not turn out perfectly.  Today was no exception. Because this was an after dinner party that included a lot of adults, I decided to look for some more grown-up cookies. The first recipe I chose was Salt and Pepper Chocolate Shortbread cookies; an R-rated cookie flavored with unsweetened cocoa,

fleur de sel and ground black pepper.

These are the kind of cookies that you mix, roll, chill, slice

and bake.

They were a big hit.

I also wanted to make something equally elegant that the gluten- and dairy-intolerant members of my family could enjoy.  I chose Dorie’s Cocoa Almond Meringues.

They were also a hit, with kids and grown-ups alike.

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Swim meet

Sunday afternoon (after I had my first (great!) experience with a spinning class) my brother and I took my niece to her swim club swim meet at the local community college pool.

Not having been a swimmer growing up, this was a new experience for me.  My niece, however, is already an old hand (as is her father).

The afternoon started with a vigorous warm-up.  Since there were several clubs competing there were a lot of kids in each lane of the pool.  Luckily I saw very few collisions.

After about thirty minutes of practice the meet started.

My niece, A, competed in five events:  the 100 yard individual medley, the 50 yard freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke, and the monstrous 200 yard freestyle.

I was incredibly impressed with A’s stamina, poise and good spirits as the meet progressed.  Even though she had been up (too) late the night before, she finished every event and came in a very close second in the breaststroke for her age group.

The final event was the 200 yard freestyle; a truly grueling race that I knew A was not looking forward to swimming.  In the end, she decided to go for it

and swam every lap.

Bursting with pride is too mild a description for how I felt at the end of the day.

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Trimming the tree

The children have been eager to decorate the tree ever since we picked it out at the Boy Scout lot down the street the other day.  We put them off until tonight.

After a hearty vegetarian chili dinner, we pull the boxes of decorations from the basement and set to work.

There are the usual challenges: untangling the lights, finding the hooks,

unpacking the glass balls

and other ornaments.

Remarkably, only one ball is broken.

There are also stockings to unfold

and a star to be placed on the top of the tree.  Twice.

By the end, the tree is practically dripping with ornaments

and we are all remembering other trees, in this house and others, with these people and with others, as we climb the stairs to sleep.

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Walking to school

One of the things I most look forward to when I am visiting my family is walking my nephew to school in the morning.

It’s not a long walk, but there is something peaceful about being out with all of the other parents and kids and dogs converging on the neighborhood school in the frosty morning air.

The other thing that I like about this particular walk is how familiar it feels.  Not only because I have done it many times before, but because of the uniquely St. Louis flavor of the sights along the way.

The limestone wall outside my nephew’s school is just like the one that surrounded the playground of my own elementary school

and the sweetgum balls that we kick aside remind me of the neighborhood where I grew up, just a few miles from here.

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Food memories

I am not sure why, but recently I have been craving stuffed cabbage.  It’s one of the dishes my mother used to make and I remember it as hearty and filling and flavorful; a wonderful one-dish Sunday supper.

If I cooked with meat it would be easier to recreate my mother’s recipe (which used ground beef and rice in the stuffing), but since I don’t I had to find a meatless alternative.   The recipe I finally settled on used Middle Eastern spices instead of the Eastern European flavors that I remember growing up.

Like my mother’s version, this recipe begins with rice; in this case, flavored with turmeric.

Instead of meat, I used lentils,

cooked on top of the stove and then mixed with the turmeric-scented rice, sauteed onions and garlic, toasted almonds and golden raisins.

I carefully unfurled the cabbage leaves and stuffed them with the rice and lentil mixture

(a little surprised that the recipe did not suggest that I steam the cabbage first) and laid the rolls gently in a baking dish.  I drizzled them with the simple, cinnamon-spiked tomato sauce and baked the casserole for about 40 minutes.

The result?  A hearty, spicy and filling winter meal.

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