Sunday, October 31, 2010

When life hands you unbaked cake, make a truffle!

First, HAPPY HALLOWEEN everyone!  To treat Jake and I, I decided to make a most delicious looking cake that I saw in the October issue of Better Homes and Garden, a "Walnut Cake with Caramel Whipped Cream."
Right?  Doesn't it just make your mouth water?!!?

But I should have followed one of my most basic life principles: if you go into something with low expectations, you'll always be pleasantly surprised!  Now, on first glance, this defeatist tenet seems absolutely at odds with my generally positive optimism.  However, I look at it the other way around: I always want my outcomes to be better than I would have thought.  Hence, no or low expectations = happiness!

Yet I did not follow this rule this time.  From the recipe, it was going to be one of the most involved cake making efforts of my life.  And I was psyched.  I wanted my cake to look just like the picture.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My work at Prime Stage Theatre

As most of you know, I'm a theatre arts educator.  I'm a freelancer and work at many different organizations, but the main gig I have going right now is as Education Director for Prime Stage Theatre here in Pittsburgh.

Check out our website here!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting my creativity ON!

I've been holed up in my house recently working on getting my props and displays reading for my early childhood story-times and mini residencies with Gateway to the Arts.  I had my first story-time today on Fletcher The Fox and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke.

Here's what I made for it:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

P.J. Day

Today was another P.J. Day.  Which seems to be happening more frequently lately...I'll chalk it up to the luxury of working from home :-) 

Yet why oh why do I feel so guilty about it?  I was in fact quite productive today.  I made honey bran muffins; finished laundry; made granola; worked all day on my Fletcher and the Falling Leaves story panels (they look pretty cool--pics to follow) that I need for my first storytime on Tuesday; and made a robust traditional Sunday dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh green beans, and homemade European peasant bread.  Yet it doesn't feel like I've done anything because I am still in my P.J.'s.  And I feel like I should have put on real clothes at some point, but my snowflake lounge pants and fuzzy slippers just felt so nice.  If I'm in my own home and clearly not going anywhere, why am I finding it so hard to be at peace with my choice of remaining in my P.J.'s all day?

I need to remember that it's okay.  If, despite my productivity, I remain in my P.J.'s, so be it.  Because if I am still productive but feel more comfortable and relaxed because I'm in my P.J.'s, it's okay.  There are worse wearing a corset, for instance, or sleeping all day.

I'm really just trying to justify myself right now...any other reasons would be greatly appreciated  :-)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Facial Toner and Clay Mask

It's been a while since I've posted anything on homemade face care products, so since I was nearly out of toner, I thought--why not?  And let's be adventurous and throw in a mask for fun!

First thing's first--toner.  What is it?  What is its purpose?  Typically, toner is used to clarify the skin, remove any residue left after cleansing the face, restore the skin's pH balance, and "tone" the face by shrinking pores.  Astringent is the strongest form of toner (over 20% alcohol), and although this toner has a small amount of alcohol in it from a bit of witch hazel I added, it's rather gentle overall.

pH balancer toner:
1 cup distilled water
3 Tbls. raw apple cider vinegar (AC)
1 Tbls. witch hazel
5 drops of essential oil (lavender, rose geranium, and tea tree are good for most types of skins)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gal Pals

I have amazing gal pals.  This past week, my husband was out of town for a conference.  Before he had even left, two friends contact me and invite me to various things, including dinner so I wouldn't have to eat alone.  How sweet and thoughtful is that?? 

Tuesday night I went over to Angie's new apartment for dinner--delicious chicken with cheese tortellini smothered in alfredo sauce, garlic bread, and amazing chocolate cake for dessert.  And wine!

Wednesday night I went over to Courtney's, hung with the kids, and was treated to very flavorful and scrumptious stuffed zucchini and bread.  And wine!

Thursday night I invited my new friend Meredith over to enjoy some homemade ham and lentil soup with bread.  And wine!

See a running theme at all? ;-) But seriously, over a meal and a glass of wine, I found myself conversing and catching up with three women who are all at different stages in their life, taking it day by day.  We talked and talked and laughed and laughed.  And the honest enjoyment of being in each other's company was unmistakable.  I've never been very "popular" with other women, probably due in large part to my extremely Type-A, extroverted personality.  But the friends I do have are priceless and I value them and our relationships more than they will every know, from those friends I've had since elementary school to the new friends I continue to make here in Pittsburgh.  Because there is something special about gal pals that no relationship with a man will ever come close to.  I pretend we're all part of this secret society, that only we "get" how life is, and how sometimes this secret knowledge is shared only through knowing glances, implicit innuendos, and large laughs because frankly--it really feels that way sometimes!

So really, how lucky am I?  Incredibly so!  Thanks, ladies--you're the best!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gonna brag...

I'm gonna brag.  Unabashedly.  Get over it.

I have the best husband.  So much so that even other husbands are jealous of him and his mad skills.  Our mutual friend, who shall remain nameless, joked with me one afternoon as I was over visiting with his wife, "So, what's Jake up to?  Building you another back deck this fine day?"  Turns out, he wasn't too far off.  He was building a bench in our back garden using a slab of stone and the chopped up parts of a tree that he ripped out of the ground the day before from our front garden (envision him standing on top of a 5 foot lopped off tree, rocking it back and forth to break the roots, making monkey noises, and you get the picture).  He's just that good.

So the big case in point: the aforementioned "back deck," which is apparently also an object of envy.  I've been promising pictures of the hard work he did all summer, so here they are!

What was a drab looking concrete area...

is now a gorgeously warm, wooded oasis, including a tressle picnic table he built one week from plans he downloaded off the internet...

replete with an outdoor bar/gardening station that we refurbished from Construction Junction.  The large tile on the left side pops out to create a potting station--the dirt goes through the grates underneath to the drawer, pop the drawer out, dump out the dirt, and easy breezy clean up!.  He even picked out the curtain AND hemmed it...

outdoor speakers with an ipod hookup, also installed by dear husband...

and a corner shelf to put our clothes pins and Beau's leash on, never to get soaking wet again because we left it on the ledge.  Genius.

Not to sell myself too short, I did help--a bit.  I spaced out the boards, did some staining, but really nothing compared to the wonders my husband did.

I'm incredibly lucky.  I now it.  Even if I don't always show it (like today--my PMS says sorry, honey!).

I love you, Jake!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A guilty indulgence

I like to consider myself an eco-conscious person.  Most of the blogs I follow have something to do with "wasting not, wanting not" and respecting our planet's finite resources.  I'm trying like many other people to make positive changes in the green direction: recycling (how obvious is that!?), composting, buying as many used clothes and shoes as possible (undergarments excluded), remaking/repurposing/reusing things in the house, buying local and organic food, collecting rain from our gutters for the garden, and making our own "green" ingredient household cleaners (have I ranted on the wonders of vinegar?  If not, there's a post coming, you can be sure of it!).

Yet I have a confession: I LOVE long, hot showers. Not just in the wintertime--all year round.  I often times stand underneath the shower head for eternities relishing the near burning sensation, feeling the relaxation take over. I remind myself nearly every time of the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer decides to live in his shower.  Trust me--if I could, I would.  Sounds great to me!!

I try to assuage the guilt that inevitably returns after my skin is bright red and as I begin contemplating whether to leave the shower or stay for just one more minute.  I try to tell myself that it hasn't really been that long.  I try to tell myself that it's cold outside--you don't want to open the curtain.  I try to tell myself that hey--you only wash your hair every 5-6 days, and then you don't always bathe every day, so you're just making time up from that.  I try to tell myself that I won't do it the next time--but I always do.  I try to tell myself that you'll pay the extra money on your gas and water bill--it's just too good to give up.

But none of these excuses ever fully works.  I still stay in, and I still feel guilty because this is my guilty indulgence.  And I'm sure it's not my only one, as I fully realize that compared to many around the world, I live a privileged existence where I don't ever have to worry about having hot water or even water at all.  And perhaps an indulgence every once in a while is a good thing, but I really do want to try and cut back on this guilty pleasure of mine  As my mother-in-law would say, moderation!  I know we wasted more water than I would care to admit doing all of our gardening and preserving this year, and water is not in everlasting supply.  So I'm hoping by writing about it that you, o faithful blog and readers, will keep me honest and on track--and out of the shower in a reasonable amount of time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Hotdish

Where I come from, we don't have casseroles.  We don't have goulash.  We have hotdish.  Hotdish is exactly as its name suggests--a hot dish full of goodness and comfort.  The ubiquitous "Tator Tot Hotdish" remains perhaps the most well known of all hotdishes, but any variety of hotdish can exist because--and here's the best part--there's really no recipe for hotdish.  You can make it out of anything you have on hand, although typically one of the following is needed:
  • large baking dish
  • grain or substantive vegetable (potato, rice, wild rice, zucchini, eggplant, bread)
  • meat or beans
  • "sauce", most typically one or more cans of condensed soup (cream of mushroom and tomato being the old standards)
 Now sure, there are plenty of church cookbooks with hotdish recipes in them, and certainly I have used these recipes before.  But these "recipes" are nothing more than "guidelines" as its pretty hard to mess up hotdish, as evidenced by my improvisation of hotdish for last night's dinner.  I'll call it (ready for my stunning originality) "South of the Border Hotdish."  It was my attempt to use up end-of-season peppers and tomatoes from our garden, potatoes that were starting to get soft, the bottom-of-the-bag tortilla chips, and dehydrated black bean dip that has been sitting in our pantry for years.

I started out by slicing 5 potatoes very thinly and layering on the bottom of a greased baking dish.

Then I spread one can of Campbell's cheddar cheese soup mixed with a tablespoon of milk (to thin it out--it could have used a bit more) over the potatoes.  I popped this in a 350 degree oven while I prepared the rest.

Chopped lots of onion and pepper and tomato.  Fried that up with two links of chorizo.  Set aside.

Made the black bean dip by mixing it with some water and popping it in the microwave for a minute or so.  Then I mixed in a can of drained black beans.   I took out the potatoes from the oven, then spread the black bean mixture over the potatoes.

Then I put the chorizo/pepper mixture over that and topped it all with shredded cheddar cheese and the crushed up bits of tortilla chips left at the bottom of our near empty bag in the pantry.  Popped it in for another 20 minutes, and success!

Another hotdish proudly made for consumption by hearty Midwesterners everywhere.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I love fall...

I love fall because
  • the leaves on the ground have this deliciously sweet-smelling rotting fragrance that Yankee Candle will never be able to match
  • the cloudy days that make the colors on the trees "pop" against the sky are just as great as the days filled with streaming sunlight and cloud shadows that pass over the wooded hillsides
  • thick, sugary apple cider is local, homemade, and fresh
  • candles can be burnt again because they provide that little bit of extra warmth to the room that the crisp air necessitates
  • pumpkin and squash are acceptable main/side/appetizer/soup/dessert dishes 
  • soup becomes hearty with grains and root vegetables and actually fills up my husband
  • the sun on my back is just enough to keep me toasty while sitting on my front porch knitting in mid-afternoon
  • the weight of the blanket(s) at night provides the same comfort as a mother tucking in her child--all warm and cozy
  • my senses are on overload...but in all the best possible ways!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Domestic Goddess

I am proud to say that over the last few weeks, I've been a bit of a Domestic Goddess.  I had the loftiest of intentions back in August, looking forward fondly to the days when I could work at home--both for my "jobs" and for general homemaking--and then frankly failing miserably at my goals in September (see previous post for why the failure happened--too much going on!). 

But now, I feel like I can breathe.  I'm starting to get into a groove, and while I know there will be hectic times in the (unfortunately all too near) future, I've at least begun somewhere.

So what does it mean to be a Domestic Goddess (DG),  you wonder?  I suspect that DG's are homebodies.  DG's take pride in doing things around the house, as menial as they sometimes are.  DG's probably have a to do list that they relish ticking off items from as the day progresses.  DG's find ways to save money, to maximum time, and to take a deep breath all in the matter of a moment.  They prioritize.  They create.  They feel joy.

And thus, given that I fit this description to a T (surprise surprise--I created it!), I really love my life right now.  My real jobs are going great, but being a DG is enlightening.  Here's a few things of what I've been up to:

1. Making homemade yogurt (next time when my camera doesn't decide to die on me I promise to document the whole process and post about it).  I used the directions on this page,  They have a wonderful pdf with pictures that explain how to make yogurt with a HEATING PAD!  How cool is that?  And it works!

Heat milk to 185 degrees, preferably in a double boiler to prevent scorching.  Stir often!

Put the pot of milk into an ice bath, cooling to 110 degrees.  At this temperature, "pitch" your yogurt by adding your starter--2-3 Tbls. of PLAIN yogurt.

Plug in your heating pad on medium, cover it with a towel, and set on a cutting board.

Place your pot of milk on the heating pad, cover with towels, and wait 7 hours. At that time, spoon into containers (it will be runnier than store bought yogurt) and put in the refrigerator to cool and set up.  

2. Baking pumpkin and roasting pumpkin seeds
Baked pumpkin for a Pumpkin, Barley, and Sage Soup (it was DELICIOUS!). You can find the recipe in the October edition of Better Home and Gardens magazine, or on their website at
But I couldn't let those seeds go to waste!  I found a new recipe at Simply Recipes, and it was the best recipe I've ever used for pumpkin seeds!  Definitely recommend it.
3. Made a reusable grocery bag out of recycled jeans and the leather backing from a belt that came off recently.  I love having scrap fabric and a sewing machine :-)

Sorry for the pictures being sideways, but you get the idea.

4. Baking bread--and failing.  Not quite sure why.  I'm following the directions in the book.  I'm "cloaking the loaf" for a good minute (and no, it's not nearly as dirty as it sounds).  But then it always blows out the bottom (seriously, get your mind out of the gutter).  I think I *gasp* need my husband's help on this one.  He really is the baker in this household.  Perhaps someday my bread won't look like this...