Monday, December 27, 2010

Wok Wonderful Wok

A few years ago I ruined my wok. I am a stir-frying maniac, so I was sad to see it go. What did it in? My love for tofu with a nice, crispy sear on the outside. My previous wok was not non-stick, and the delicious, crispy outside layer of tofu would stick to the pan every time. I never bought one after I threw the last one out, and I've been eating soggy tofu since.

For Christmas my mother-in-law got me a Breville electric (plug-in) non-stick wok. I used it tonight for a healthy tofu, asparagus, and mushroom stir-fry, and I think I am in love with this tofu! Look how browned and crispy it is!

The recipe is from the New York Times' "Recipes For Health" series.

What I am no so happy about is the non-stick "quantanium" coating. Non-stick surfaces are made with PFOA, a chemical that has been labeled a "likely carcinogen" by the EPA and has polluted water sources near where it is manufactured. Purchasing non-stick products has always been a big "no-no" for me because of the amount of PFOA that is used (and eventually discarded) during production.

I really like the results this appliance has shown so far. The heat settings seemed really accurate, and it was quick to heat-up. I'm just feeling a bit guilty at the moment about this pan. Dinner, though? A+!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Starry Night, With Love

I drew and designed this star ornament using a cookie cutter pattern and a book of embriodery. The brown vines are a backstitch and a whipped backstitch. The berries are french knots. The two pieces of felt are held together with a blanket stitch.
I designed two other ornaments, but I haven't ventured to cut out and stitch those yet. My other designs are a bell and a dove. I hope to have those ready for gifts next year.

It has been a great experience learning all these new stitches and designing something on my own. I've given out handmade gifts to my family along with the store-bought gifts I've gotten for them.

I'm looking forward to a few days off! We are having friends over for an Iron Chef supper club tomorrow night. Secret ingredient? Cinnamon!
Christmas Eve is dinner at our house with lots of goodies: pear and arugula salad, beef wellington, rosemary roasted potatoes, roasted asaparagus with parmesan, and a caramel chess tart!
Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a safe and joyous holiday.

Finished Cross Stitch

I had this framed in a wide, rustic wooden frame. I think it turned out nice. My brother and sister-in-law have a baby on the way due in April. I really hope it is a girl so I can stitch some of the cute girl patterns I have!
I've been embriodering felt ornaments as gifts for my family this Christmas. I plan to finish another one tonight and three more by Christmas. Can't wait to show you all my finished star ornaments!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Preview

The decorating phase is over. We still have a bunch of presents to wrap, but I'll tell ya -- it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday, December 03, 2010

On A Cold December Night

Tonight we will have split-pea soup and bread and an apple crisp for dessert. Then, we will decorate the tree!

All of that sounds nice and all, but I really wish I was in Portland to get a signed copy of Alicia Paulson's Embriodery Companion. I have been embriodering like crazy lately. Photos to come soon!

Tonight I will make an O Fizz (Oprah's favorite holiday drink) to enjoy while I deck the halls. Lately I keep discovering that I like the same things Oprah likes. Or maybe Oprah likes the same things I like? Its weird. I can't remember ever watching an entire Oprah episode.

Tis the Season! Here's a little Graceland and Elvis... Our "Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas" record would skip at 1:17...

"Lights a glow...ow...ow...ow... "

Love those Christmastime memories!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Right Spirit

I began a cross stitch for my nephew last year before he was born. Growing up I had a verse in my bedroom that my mother stitched for me, "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance. ~ Proverbs 15:13"

I knew I wanted to do a verse for my nephew. I found a wonderful resource for cross stitch patterns and charts at Wyndham Needleworks. My favorite patterns are from La-D-Da. I bought about a dozen patterns and my first was A Right Spirit.

The pattern says that the model was stitched on 36 count "Nightingale" linen by Birds of a Feather using one strand of embriodery floss over two threads of fabric. I used 28 count evenweave fabric using one strand of floss over just one thread. Mine ended up being a little bit smaller than the model, but I think the finished work would have been too big if I had skipped over two threads on the 28 count fabric. I am happy with how it turned out.

I love the colors in this work. The gorgeous mix of greens in the leaves is so pretty. The rich browns, reds, and oranges are lovely. I improvised on the alphabet at the top. I stitched in my nephew's name and birth date.

There are a few mistakes in the finished work, but Daniel and Susan said they couldn't find them, so I'm not going to tell you what they are! Since this is only my second large work to finish (after many smaller works as a child), I am going to call this one a success!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Week Off

Yep - I took the week off! I can't believe it! Yesterday we did a little Christmas shopping in Vicksburg and Jackson. Today, I cook and bake! I am planning to bake Alicia's Oatmeal Bread. Then, I am making three batches of soup to freeze for winter suppers. A Tomato and Leek soup. A Split-Pea, Sweet Potato, and Kale soup. And a Chickpea and Kale soup. I picked out the kale recipes because I have mounds of mustard greens from my mother-in-law's garden that I am subbing for the kale. Yay! This is going to be a fun day!

An Autumn Walk in the Woods

When the weather turns cooler all I want to do is be outside. I want to take long, quiet afternoon walks where I listen to the trees and the wind and gaze at the blue sky. On Sunday, November 14, the weather was beautiful. With blue skies and cool temperatures, the just-turning leaves in central Mississippi were calling me to take a walk. I'd been wanting to head over to Roosevelt State Park - a short drive from Jackson - but I knew that Chip would not really be up for walking around aimlessly in the woods.

I lured him out to Roosevelt with the promise that the Moccasin Bend Disc Golf Course was one of the best courses in the state. The disc golf course made the perfect autumn walk. I'm not very good at disc golf. I think it is fun, but I can't throw a disc straight. I do like doing things with my husband, so disc golf is perfect for us. I got to gaze at the colors on the trees, and Chip got to play a game he enjoys.
The course winds around the lake in the beginning. My disc ended up inches from the water's edge more than once which made me ponder the meaning of the course's name. I was not in the mood to meet any moccasins that afternoon.

Golden leaves and rusty pine needles swirled together near the bank.

Holes 7, 8, and 9 took us through a deep forest. These were my favorite. I didn't get many photos because my disc kept finding its way into a ditch with banks taller than I am.
The course ends up back on the water where the shots are open and the sky is big, big, big.

Rich autumn colors were reflected on the water.

I am so happy that we decided to head out to Roosevelt. We did walk a few of the nature trails, but the terrain on the trails wasn't nearly as good as the walk on the disc golf course. I would suggest the disc golf walk to anyone heading out to the area as a short day hike.

This Thanksgiving after the turkey and pie, get out and take a walk! Soak in the colors of the season. Let's not rush into Christmas quite so fast. Slow it down and take some time to be thankful for this great, green Earth.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pay it Forward: Paid Back!!

It has been more than a year, but I've finally finished and delivered the Pay It Forward gifts! If you don't remember this little game I played with some friends, then check out the Pay It Forward post I did back in February 2009.

It wasn't difficult for me to decide what I wanted to make. I have an awesome botanical field press that I got for Christmas many years ago. Remember that store The Nature Company? Why I didn't choose a natural science career instead of a computer science career is beyond me. I would spend hours in that store reading about fossils and playing with the telescopes and studying the maps... oh, the maps. I am still a map junkie. But I digress... I remember picking out that botanical press at The Nature Company and thinking it was sooo cool.

Over the years I've pressed flowers, leaves , herbs, and ferns using that kit. Also, I've always wanted to try my hand at making decorative paper. So, I combined the pressed flower idea with the paper idea and handmade some pretty blank cards. I purchased plain, blank notecards made from 100% recycled paper from Greenfield Paper Company. Then, I jazzed them up with my own creations.

All of the pressed plants on my cards were grown in my garden. I pressed pansies, ferns, lavender, and daisies.

I didn't have a kit to make the paper, so I made my own deckle using an old wood photo frame, window screen, and a staple gun. By adding dried cilantro and dried onion skins to the paper pulp, I gave the paper some natural color. After the paper was dry, I ironed it flat and cut it to size. On some of the cards, I burned the edges for a natural look. On others, I used decorative scissors.

Pasting the flowers to the paper was the hardest part. It involved special glue, a paint brush, tweezers, and a very steady hand. Given that I grew and pressed all of the flowers and made the paper in the summer of 2009, you can imagine how time consuming it was to arrange the pressed plants perfectly on each card then glue them down just so.

In the end, I had ten cards, just enough for three cards for each of my three Pay It Forward friends.

I made a great new friend by playing this game. Fellow Mississippian and gardener Ginger signed up on my post, and I am so glad she did. She made me a super-cool birdhouse as her Pay It Forward gift to me. I love the birdhouse and even had a bird in it this spring! I hope that my homemade cards live up to that high standard!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pumpkin Parfait with Granola

Casey, a good friend of mine and fellow blogger on A Five-Leaf Clover, has a link to a food blog called Healthy Food for Living. I was browsing through those recipes back in October and decided I had to try to the Pumpkin Parfaits. Mmmmm... Chip and I are big fans of yogurt and granola. With the addition of lightly sweetened pumpkin, I thought these would be divine. And they were!
I took a few shortcuts with mine, and they were still delicious. I have a few cans of organic pumpkin pie filling that I bought on sale at the grocery store last year that have been waiting all year for the perfect recipe. I added maple syrup and a little extra cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice to the canned pumpkin mixture. For the yogurt, I didn't have any greek yogurt on hand - just regular plain yogurt - so I lined a seive with paper towels and poured in the plain yogurt to let some of the water drain out. After 30 minutes of draining in the refrigerator, the regular plain yogurt is thicker and creamier. Then, I made the yummy parfaits. Pumpkin-spiced granola was sprinkled between layers of pumpkin pudding and yogurt. I topped the parfaits with local honey. Yum!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Paddling on the Pearl

On my weekend off we ended up not going camping out at Roosevelt State Park. I really wanted to go, but it was in the 80s - crappy camping weather. I still want to check it out at some point.

Sunday, October 24, we headed to the Pearl River for some paddling. It was a beautiful day, about 11 AM when we finally got on the water. The temperature was already close to 80F, but with the breezes off the water, it felt good. The weather reports said a storm was rolling in that afternoon, so we decided that we'd stay on the water no more than two hours. Putting kayaks up on top of Chip's FJ Cruiser in the rain wasn't something we wanted to try.

We put in at LeFleur's Bluff State park and paddled about 1.5 miles up river. After about 1 mile, we were under the Lakeland Drive bridge. The sky was gorgeous that day. Clouds were rolling in. You can see how dry everything is in these photos. The river was really low and the banks were crisp from lack of rain.

We paddled another half a mile and saw this huge alligator. From head to tail, I would say he was about 8 feel long. My camera is way zoomed in. We weren't really this close to him.

After we saw this gator we were a little freaked out and decided to head back. We knew going in that we would probably see some gators on the river - it is the Pearl after all - but that really didn't prepare me for seeing a live 8-foot gator 30 yards from my little boat. He didn't seem to move an inch as we turned around and headed back to LeFleur's Bluff.

On the way back, we were paddling down river but the wind was at our faces, and it was really picking up. While paddling up river, we were both pretty relaxed, taking in the landscape. While we were returning, our two pairs of eyes were glued to the bank, scanning for more gators. And we did see one more. This guy was tiny compared to the other gator. Maybe 3 or 4 feet long.

In that last photo, my camera is fully zoomed out, so you can see how far away these alligators truly are. Isn't the tail on this one impressive?

We were excited to get out on the water in the middle of the city of Jackson! I'm really not sure if we would do this paddle again, though. The water was fairly gross (trash on the banks), the landscape is a bit monotonous, and the alligators were just too much. I'm not sure what we are going to try next!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Long Weekends

October is my very favorite month of the year. I love it when the weather turns cooler. I decided last month that I would take a couple of Mondays off in October to spend some time with Chip, work in the garden, and possibly go camping. We were planning to head out to Roosevelt State Park this weekend for camping, hiking, and kayaking, but the weather forecast is looking less than ideal. Rain is predicted with highs in the upper 80s and lows in the upper 60s. Not really the perfect camping weather I was hoping for. We've found that when the rain fly is required (like this weekend), anything above the mid-50s is too hot for camping. I am a hot sleeper, and I need it to be chilly to fall asleep. Unless I want a restless night of sleep, cool weather is a must.

I think we are going to revise our plans and take the kayaks either out on the Pearl River or over to the lake at Roosevelt. It will really depend on the water level on the Pearl. If we do the Pearl, we will put-in at LeFleur's Bluff in Jackson or at the Spillway and paddle between the two locations.

I have made good progress in the "ugly" spot in the backyard. It looks MUCH better already. I plan to get mulch this weekend and make everything look nice and neat. Photos coming soon!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dinner Recap

So, here is how everything turned out.

The rice was really good. I used this recipe from the PBS show America's Test Kitchen. This rice turned out perfectly - not at all sticky. Very fluffy and flavorful.

The naan was AWESOME. These naan were chewy and had a great balance of salty and slightly sweet. I made the dough on Tuesday night and refrigerated it after the first rise. Then, on Wednesday while I made the other dishes I let it come to room temperature and rise again. Right before our guests arrived I pulled off bits of dough, rolled out the rounds, and grilled it on the grill pan. I really wish I had more time to make homemade bread. It just tastes so good.

The chicken tikka masala turned out really good, too. The sauce is really flavorful. I took the advice of a lot of the recipe reviewers on AllRecipes and cut down on the amount of salt. Also, I had to add more cayenne (to taste) because it just wasn't spicy enough for our bunch.

And lastly, the saag paneer. This dish was probably my least favorite out of all of them. I was rushed while making it, and I think that showed in the final dish. It really needed more salt and flavor. Now that we are eating the leftovers I've added more salt and it is MUCH better.

I have the next two Mondays off, and I am so looking forward to it! This weekend I plan to do some work in the garden. The area that I worked on earlier this year really took the hot, dry summer weather hard. All of the azaleas that I moved and planted are dead. The juniper is dead. Even the ornamental grass is dead. Fall is a much better season for moving and transplanting plants, so I hope I can finally put some life into this ugly spot in my garden.

Next weekend we are going camping at a local state park. I am really looking forward to kayaking on the lake and roasting marshmellows by the fire. Fun times!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Birthday Dinner Photos

Things got pretty crazy at my house after work yesterday. Chip came back from Louisiana with lots of beer. He assembled the cheese plate, and I cooked rice, heated up the chicken tikka masala, made saag paneer, and rolled out naan dough. When the first guests showed up, I was very close to having dinner finished. Chip poured me a glass of Riesling, and the birthday celebration began. I grilled naan on the grill pan and placed the completed dishes in the oven to keep warm.

I don't have photos of the finished dishes, but we do have yummy leftovers, and I plan to take some photos tonight. I did take some photos of the dining room after I set the table yesterday. I am proud of the way everything came together.