Monday, February 4th, 2013


How to Throw a Valentine’s Day Tea Party for Grown-Up Little Girls

It’s easy to have mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. For a holiday that is purportedly all about love, it sure puts a lot of pressure on you: pressure to feel bad if you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, pressure to come up with some great gift or date idea if you do, pressure to eat sugar.

But despite it all, I am unashamed to say that I love Valentine’s Day. I have found my forever Valentine (plus a Valentine doggy for good measure), but truth be told romance is not even what I love about Valentine’s Day. What I love about it is exactly what I’ve loved about it since I was a little girl, and it can pretty much be summed up in three words: Pink, White, & Red.

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And you thought loving Christmas for shopping was shallow… I love Valentine’s Day for it’s decor! But it’s true. I can’t help it. Something about the heart-shaped cookies, paper cutouts, and gorgeous tone-on-tone color scheme speaks to me every single year. What other holiday is so singular in its aesthetic focus?

Last year, I decided that I wanted to revisit the Valentine’s Day get-togethers I loved as a child, and I decided to host a grown-up girls’ Valentine’s tea party at my home. Because we lived, then, in a teeny-tiny house and were (okay, still are) operating on a teeny-tiny budget, I had to get creative with my space-planning, decor, and menu.

Decor

I set up the main gathering space in our little living room (also our library, as you can see). A white tablecloth instantly elevated our round coffee table, and inexpensive fabric and paper decorations helped fill the space with that pink, white, and red I love so much. (It didn’t hurt that we had a red couch, either.)

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I followed this YouTube tutorial to make the tissue paper flowers that hung above the mantle and dangled from the ceiling around the coffee table.

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The most expensive part of the decor was probably fresh flowers; but they make such a difference. These tulips in Ball-jars on the windowsill and the bunch of roses in a white pitcher on the table were some of my favorite decorations.

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A friend lent me the pink damask fabric that I used on the couch cushions and the gorgeous pink square serving plates (pictured above, with sugar cookies on them). Having generous friends is a great way to help your budget, too!

Menu

  • Tea, of course, both black and Rooibos.
  • Sparkling Pomegranate Juice and Sparkling Blood Orange Juice.
  • Frosted Heart Sugar Cookies. I used this gluten-free recipe, and they were AMAZING. Honestly, non gluten-free friends were telling me that they were some of the best sugar cookies they had ever had.
  • Chocolate-covered Strawberries. (Out of season, I know, but for some reason I always want to make chocolate-covered strawberries this time of year.)
  • Brie & Pomegranate Bites. The same friend who lent me the serving dishes suggested this hors d’oeuvre to me, and they were so delicious–the perfect proteinous/salty counterpoint to all the sweets. (Need help with that pomegranate? I’ll tell you a secret, though; for this occasion, I bought the seeds pre-extracted.)

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After tea and refreshments, we cleared the table and broke out paper, scissors, glue, and stickers and made Valentine’s cards. How fun is that? It took me straight back to being nine years old.

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon, it was incredibly fun to plan and execute. But… it was also a lot of work! So I’m not hosting a tea this year, but I’m sure I’ll find some way to bring the pink, white, and red into my life.

Oh, and quality time with my Valentine(s). I guess that would be good too. ;)

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Thursday, January 31st, 2013


Tuscan Kale & Sausage Soup — A Perfect Lazy Winter Afternoon Meal

This is the perfect meal to make on a lazy winter afternoon. It is also the perfect meal to make when you have told your husband that you will make him lunch, you really do not want to go grocery shopping, and you discover that what you have in your fridge is: ground pork, chicken broth, celery, and half a jar of home-canned tomatoes from a friend.

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Okay, so you don’t have to be in that exact situation, but it does help. Especially if your husband has low expectations for what lunch will be, so when you serve him this he is amazed that you created something seemingly so complicated. Except: it isn’t. Our little secret.

Ingredients

These are the approximate amounts that I used for each of these ingredients. I was winging it a bit, and I recommend you do the same. Bring all these flavors to the party and I guarantee it won’t go awry if you change the ratios a little bit.

  • 1 lb. Ground Pork
  • Spices: A generous shake each Parsley and Salt, 1-2 tsp. Oregano, Basil, Garlic Powder, and Paprika, and a pinch of Red Pepper Flakes. (You could also throw in some Fennel seeds for true Italian sausage flavors, but personally I hate them so I abstained.)
  • 15 oz. Whole, Canned Tomatoes
  • 4 cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 bunch Celery
  • 1 bunch Tuscan Kale
  • 1/2 cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk (If dairy is not an issue you could just as easily use milk or cream.)

Recipe

1. Clean and chop your kale. Grab the bunch together and slice it into broad strips. Set aside.

A note on kale: there are several different kinds of kale, but my favorite, and the one I’ve selected for this soup, is Tuscan kale. It is also sometimes known as Italian kale, Lacinato kale, and Dinosaur kale. (I am not making this up.)

It looks like this:

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Keep in mind that you will receive bonus points if you harvest this kale from your own garden.

Unfortunately, you will receive negative bonus points if, while harvesting the kale, you discover that your dog has learned how to jump over the fences you placed around your garden boxes EXPRESSLY TO KEEP HIM OUT.

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*Sigh*

2. Wash your celery, snap off the little leafy bits, and chop into narrow half-rounds. Set aside.

(Regain your bonus points when you throw extra bits of celery down on the ground and your dog sneaks away with them like they’re a treat. Clearly you must be doing something right.)

3. Place your ground pork in a large skillet, and throw all the spices (listed above) on top of it. Over medium-high heat, use a wooden spoon or thick spatula to stir and chop the pork for about five minutes until the spices are thoroughly combined and the pork is somewhat browned on all sides. (It’s okay if it’s still pretty pink at this point.)

4. Add the canned tomatoes to the skillet, stir to combine, then cover, lower the heat to medium, and let steam for another five minutes.

5. While the pork is steaming, combine your chicken broth, celery, and kale, in a large soup pot and bring to a boil over high heat.

A note on chicken broth: homemade is best, not only because it is awesome for you but because, c’mon. Delicious.

6. Turn the broth down to medium heat, add the sausage/tomato mixture and the milk or coconut milk, and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (You may stir occasionally if you wish.)

You are looking for the liquid to reduce significantly and for the celery to be very soft; if you do it the same way I did, you’ll end up with a very large meat-and-veggies to liquid ratio.

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Ta-da! Yummy. This soup should serve two people if one of them is Gil, and three to four people if none of them are. That’s just how it is.

Disclaimer: I don’t know anything about making soup. All I know is that I made this one and it was awesome. If you read this and think to yourself, “I know a way better way of making something this awesome with the same ingredients,” have at it. And by all means, let me know!

In the mean time, all I have to say is: Enjoy.

(Oh, and any advice on dog-proofing garden beds?)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013


Attempting Organization: Visual Strategizing for Our Home Office

When I decided to take on this project, “Attempting Organization,” I pictured that every week I would tackle a whole room in my home, and every week I would be able to put up a “Before and After” post allowing you to revel with me in the glory of pure, sweet, organization.

Guess what? Life had other ideas.

I’ve watched week after week, and “weekend” (or at least my days off from work) after weekend slide by without the scale seeming to tip one iota towards the side of organization. I took this photo a few weeks ago, but this is, by and large, what our home office still looks like today:

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Ouch. It pains me a little to share this with you, but I’m hoping that public shaming will help me get my rear in gear on this project.

Part of the problem is that even after reading Ms. Morgenstern’s sage advice, I insist on trying to jump right into the MIDDLE of an organizing project without giving the PREPARATORY work the attention it deserves.

So instead of getting discouraged with the fact that I seem to not be making any progress on this beast of an office mess, I’ve decided to step back and re-envision how I’d like the space to function.

As you can see, there are at least three distinct areas (or should be) of the office (and this is just the side of the room you can see in this picture): My desk, the computer table, and Gil’s desk (he gets the small one because he doesn’t actually want a desk to sit at, just a landing spot for his incoming items).

In the spirit of putting an oxygen mask on yourself before putting one on those beside you, I’m starting with my own desk.

Here, after weeks and weeks of thinking about what items I’m always looking for or needing by my side when I work, is my VISION for my finished desk:

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Intrigued? Me too. I’m not going to go into detail about any aspects of this yet, but stay tuned. I plan to look carefully at each aspect of this project as I go along, but for the time being I’m just happy that I have come up with a plan for where I’m headed–I’m confident it will help me get there.

Monday, January 28th, 2013


Un-Related, Related Notes On How To Begin (and Begin Again)

A few thoughts that have been kicking around my head lately.

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One: The Yoga Mat

Textured rubber, coiled in the corner; a simple mat, waiting patiently—ready, at the shortest notice, to drop to the floor and help me regain balance.

I am reminded—on this earth we are not just minds but also bodies, and tending to one without the other is to deny our humanity.

Toes dig in, fingertips brush the floor, the others reach to the sky—feel the movement and stillness peel away layer after layer of sitting down, slouching over, stressing out, and giving up.

Breathe.

Two: Pen & Paper

That sound–a tiny, divine sound. The littlest skritch-scratch as tip of pen meets paper. And suddenly black, or blue, or red, or green warbles, loops, dodges and turns across the page.

The invisible made visible–magic.

Three: Courage

Courage is:

Mundane.
Washing the dishes.
Finding purpose.
Being honest.
Seeing beauty in end-of-day makeup and greasy hair.
Realizing that a wall is only built brick by brick.
Finally laying a damn brick on that wall you keep wishing were built.

Four: Beginning

The title promises a secret–a trick. How to begin. But you and I both already know the answer, don’t we?

The only way to begin is… to begin.

We fall off on one side and then the other. We find our way back to the middle only to see it briefly; but it draws us back to itself again and again. By the grace of God, we begin to rest in it more often than we fall. We find balance.

There will be bad days: days when you fight your way out of a web, an entangling, choking maze–days when excuse begets excuse begets… utter nothingness.

But there will also be good days–days of clarity, stillness, excitement, progress. Embrace those days, and remember to thank Him when your pen meets paper and your arms reach for the sky.

And that’s why we begin… and begin again.

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Friday, January 25th, 2013


Little Loves: Vintage Bird Playing Cards

Little Loves: A series highlighting in images the little things in my life that are beautiful, useful, or otherwise bring me joy.

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My friend Elizabeth found these cards at an estate sale years ago and recently gave them to me. There are two decks: one yellow, one green, that come together in one little gold box.

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Can’t wait to put them to good use in some friendly card-playing.

Happy Friday!