Saturday, March 20, 2010

If you give a SAHM a vanilla bean...

My wonderful mother-in-law presented me with some whole vanilla beans as a present this past Christmas. I was delighted, as I had been having wistful thoughts already about what I would do with such an ingredient. The ones I received were from the lovely Penzey's spices company, from which we also received some fabulous cooking spice blends that we have to replenish as they are all used up!

My husband loves vanilla. I'm a fan, but am more of a chocolate person. Reading up on vanilla and ultimate recipes and true appreciation and what not, I came across a blog that posed what was deemed as the definitive question for those of us who are not sure where we stand on such an issue: "if confronted, decide whether you'd choose a bowl of best quality vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and "both" is not an acceptable answer."
I think this is a pretty good test, but I can see how some folks would disagree, vanilla ice cream is just so basic a representation of the flavor and ties in with a lot of nostalgia for most folks. It doesn't really play fair. I think I would still pick chocolate though. How about you?

At any rate, I wanted to make the most of my vanilla boon and proceeded to research what I thought would be some ultimate expressions of vanilla recipes.

I naturally went with vanilla ice cream first, thinking that if we really loved it, I could just make more with the rest of the beans, as the recipe only called for two and I had four.
I settled on Alton Brown's version, though the recipe as transcribed does not match the recipe if you watch the show segment. It makes a difference!
This ice cream was great, but not the ultimate expression of vanilla that I was looking for. The husk of the beans were leftover and I'd read in my research that you could make vanilla sugar with just the husk, so I set that aside for a few weeks (it doesn't take that long, but I figured it wouldn't hurt!).

The Vanilla Loaf that was so lauded in the aforementioned blog (I halved the recipe) called for vanilla sugar, so I figured this loaf's time had come this morning when I felt the need to cook. It tastes great and was easy enough to make, but the texture of the cake is not my favorite.

Now, you think to yourselves, well that's all the beans, what else could this have led to? The loaf called for a vanilla syrup to be made, and there was leftover - which I couldn't just throw out. I had thoughts of sweetening tea or some other beverage with it, like my sister does, but I also felt that the cake needed something to accompany it. (Ice cream!)

I didn't want to go out and buy any, and I didn't have the ingredients in house. But I did have the ingredients to make frozen yogurt! So the syrup was used quite successfully in a frozen yogurt (vanilla) and I still have half a bean left! My ultimate vanilla dreams have not been realized; whatever shall I do now? :D*

Thursday, March 18, 2010


When my daughter decided to wake up from her nap super early, my husband had the idea to go to a little old cemetery that is close to our house, Pond Springs Cemetery. I used to go when I was younger and feeling very sensitive and artsy with my friends and do rubbings and think soulfully and what not, but had not been since.

I had forgotten how many children's graves there are in this particular graveyard and it hit me especially hard now that I'm a mother of a 15 month old, imagining what life must have been like for mothers long ago who had to accept their childrens' mortality as a fact of life.
Most of the graves that drew my attention were from the 1870s-1920, partly because I was obviously attracted to the oldest stones for their aesthetic, but also because there were so many. It was really sad and made me want to do something to honor the women and children, which I know is silly, but as a mother, I felt oddly responsible for their memories, even though they are strangers to me.

I started to brainstorm about the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head. Am still not sure what will come of it, but, at the very least, I'm pursuing more information and finding inspiration.
Doing research about the time period organically led me to my long standing love of embroidery history. Having always been curious about the history of embroidery samplers, I was really interested to come upon samplers that served as memorials as well as a quote from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus: "Fair Philomel, she but lost her tongue And in a tedious Sampler sewed her mind."

Just imagining the lives of these women that I strive in vain to be more like with my bread-making and craftiness humbles me and makes me so grateful for the life I'm privileged to lead.

Anyway, I'm a little consumed right now with symbolism and sisterhood, thought I would share.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fashion Backward!

I think I’ve inadvertently started a collection of fashion/grooming/etiquette books from the 50s & 60s. I just love every one I see.

Even though it’s a lot of the same information and concepts, they’re all a little different and charming in their own ways. It reminds me of when I read every book in my elementary school library about Helen Keller and Harriet Tubman. I loved finding the small details unique to each version.

In these days when Home Economics classes are basically relics, I’m fascinated by a time (not that long ago) when our culture had such a regulated idea of attractiveness and hygiene. On one hand, as my readers will already know, I think we have paid a hefty price for taking these concepts out of curriculum and propriety. On the other hand, I’m not sure what I would have done in high school/college/now if I weren't able to dress/present myself the way I chose. In many ways, I wish that we retained more of the formality from days of yore, but I do enjoy the freedoms and individual expression/diversity we have now. At any rate, I love everything about these books.

My most recent acquisition: Dress: The Clothing Textbook (Third Edition).

Favorite quote so far: The joy of making something that expresses one’s own personality is radiated in this girl’s smile.”

Isn’t that just a mantra to live by?!

Every photo has a charming caption, some with pretty compelling questions!

Fun at the seashore! Which hats and dresses are fads? Which ones would you expect to be in style another year? Why?

Which of these blouse and skirt combinations would you select for a girl with prominent hips and a small bust? Which for a girl with a tiny waist, small hips and average bust? Which would be good for a large busted girl with small hips? Which would be suitable for most figures?

I love that there are obviously clearly correct answers to each of these questions in the mind of the authors.

This incarnation of vintage appearance laws has a great collection of vocabulary concerning garments of the day. With my education in costume history and design, I’m thrilled to find terms I’m unfamiliar with and thought I would share!

You just don’t hear anymore about necklines such as the “gumdrop” and the “ponderosa”, collars called the “middy” and “pointed club”, skirts called “pert”, as well as three different titles for pleated ones, not to mention shorts called “jam-kinis” (is that what “jams” is short for?!? I had no idea!). Also, there are pants styles and collar styles with the names “Jamaica” and “Bermuda”. We’ve presumably all heard of Bermuda shorts, but Jamaica? With coordinating collars? I think not, tater tot! (Note to readers: these oh-so-importantly differentiated collars and short pants are represented by virtually identical hand-drawn sketches. Love it!).

I’m just at the beginning of my exploration, but feel it’s noteworthy that page 66 has the question “Would you prefer sneakers, suede pumps, or satin sandals to wear with jeans to a picnic? Why?”

While page 67 has this one: Can You Explain These Terms?

Unity, balance, formal or symmetrical balance, informal or asymmetrical balance, proportion, emphasis, vertical line, horizontal line, diagonal line, form, texture, harmony, variety, structural design, decorative design, realistic design, stylized design, abstract design.

It doesn’t just ask for a definition for these terms, it asks for the student to explain them! With a college degree in a related field, I would balk at this task, yet it is given to high school students of the 50s in Chapter 2 of this textbook!

Ooooo! I just noticed a jumper pattern suggestion in the back of the book! Gotta go!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In the Pink!

Despite waking up with the headache that I went to bed with and grousing with my husband, today is definitely moving in the right direction.

My husband and I made up and decided to be nice to each other again after a few days of general crankiness.

I have a baby shower to go to this weekend, and had grand fun putting together a little gift basket for the occasion. Was able to find this lovely pristine basket at a thrift store and had hung on to the pink wired ribbon from a Christmas past, so felt downright resourceful as well as getting to be uber girly!

I have a spa day to look forward to on Friday, with a facial and massage giving me a glorious 2 full hours of me time at the lovely Avant Salon where I get my hair cut.

I just shipped off a pretty little package to Florida of one of my favorite Etsy items, which is going live on a handmade feather tree (squeeee!).

I also received a package from Bobo's Oat Bars this morning of three of their delicious and nutritious coconut oat bars to replace one that I found mold in prior to opening. You've got to love the smaller independent companies! These bars are great food for babies, organic and yummy and soft and oh so portable!
My headache is starting to get better and my baby is asleep, so I'm going to see what else I can do with my burst of positive energy!