Hello, Dolly: Part 2

The baby obliged with another good nap in her crib when the others were at school, so I had a chunk of time to work on my rag doll. I stuffed her legs firmly  with small pieces of wool stuffing(I’ve learned my lesson before, rushing and ending up with a lumpy or floppy doll). Then I sewed the legs to the unstuffed body per the book’s instructions 

 Then I continued to patiently stuff the doll body with small tufts of stuffing, packing them into the corners with my chopstick until the doll felt nice and sturdy. I whip stitched up the stuffing hole in the back and marked the placement of eyes and mouth with pins, then stitched away! 

 I must say I’m pretty happy with her face. Those star stitches are just dreamy as eyes. I decided to give her soft pink hair cut from a cashmere maternity sweater that was hole-y and felted from the wash. The hair is one area where the book could give more guidance in the way of pictures of the back of the dolls’ heads. I went with vertical strips around the back of the doll’s head, and one horizontal one along the top to cover the overlapping strips. 

    
 The baby woke up at this point, so here I am 

 All ready to stitch down the rest of her hair and start working on clothes and accessories.

Hello, Dolly: Part 1

  
I love rag dolls. I’ve taken several workshops and made numerous Waldorf-style dolls since I had children. Of course none of my children has shown the slightest bit of interest in them, and I’m constantly rescuing them from the floor and lovingly re-dressing and tucking them into a basket or on a shelf. Here’s hoping my 5 month-old turns out to be a doll-lover. 

I became an admirer of Jess Brown’s whimsical handmade dolls in their gorgeous Liberty and Erica Tanov-print clothes, with their starry eyes and heart-shaped lips, the moment I first encountered one in my favorite San Francisco shop, Nest, at least 10 years ago. Over the years, I was always happy to run into one in other lovely, quirky shops in the Bay Area. If a Jess Brown doll held court in a store, chances are it was my kind of place. Imagine my delight to find that she has published a book with Chronicle, complete with a pattern for a pint-sized version of her iconic doll! I had the book in hand and got started as soon as I could. 

I traced the pieces for the doll from the pattern sheet included with the book

 Pinned them to pressed, undyed muslin

 
And started sewing  
It is a pattern without too many pieces or fiddly bits, but it does require paying attention to the directions and being “careful and patient” especially when turning those long, slim arms right side out!

I was able to get this far before the baby woke up from her nap: 

 I’ll pop in with another installment as soon as I sneak some time in the sewing room!

Chicken to the Rescue 3.5: Simple Chicken Salad

Last post about chicken, I promise(well, for this week anyway). While chicken with dumplings is delicious comfort food, when the weather gets warmer sometimes I want something different. My dad was the master of chicken salad- after we had roast chicken, I could always find him in the kitchen, picking every last bit of good meat off the bones and then dicing them extra small with tiny cubes of celery for the next day’s lunch of chicken salad. It seems like something anyone who has had leftover chicken probably knows how to make, but I bet everyone does it a little different, so I’ll share my favorite(and maybe if you have favorite additions, you can share them in the comments).

Simple Chicken Salad

  1. Leftover chicken, cut into 1″ ish chunks- I prefer to use just the white meat but do what you like.
  2. 3 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped into small pieces
  3. 1 tart green apple or a handful of grapes, apple cored and diced small, grapes halved or quartered if extremely large.
  4. 3T mayonnaise (use yogurt if you MUST, but don’t serve it to me if you do)
  5. Generous salt&pepper

Place chicken, celery, and apples and/or grapes in a bowl. Sprinkle salt and generous grinds of pepper.  

 Plop in your mayonnaise and stir it all together. Taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper or mayo. I like to make a big bed of greens, put on a nice scoop of this and drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette. It is also yummy on toasted raisin bread! 

 

Chicken To The Rescue 3: Chicken With Dumplings

Remember the leftover meat from that chicken you roasted? Here’s where you get another delicious, healthy, from-scratch meal out of it that is easy but different enough to please anyone in your house who doesn’t like to eat the same thing twice in a row. I started with Martha’s recipe, but adapted to use roasted chicken instead of raw chicken.  

 Follow Martha’s recipe until she adds the chicken to the sauce. Just simmer 5 minutes until the chill is off your chicken, as it is already fully cooked. You can head straight to the dumplings and make yourself a quicker dinner.

 Drop your blobs of dumpling dough on the simmering chicken and vegetables and cover: 
Cook for 20 minutes covered until your dumplings are plump and cooked through 

  Yum! Serve in bowls with a salad or some steamed green vegetables on the side. Comforting and warm, plus any leftovers heat nicely in the microwave for lunch tomorrow.

Chicken to the Rescue 2: Rich Stock

Remember your carrot peelings and fennel fronds and cores? Those celery leaves and chicken bones? You get to use them to make something that is truly more than the sum of its parts and will make you feel good about yourself for using every last scrap of your food!  

  Rich Chicken Stock

  1. Chicken carcass & bones, plus any veggies inside cavity
  2. Raw onion roughly chopped
  3. 2 ribs celery, celery leaves etc chopped
  4. 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  5. Fennel fronds, cores, any other veggie tops or clean peelings or leftover bits 
  6. 3 bay leaves
  7. 3 quarts water

Chuck it all into your slow cooker and set to low for 20 hours. If you think of it, you can cruise by after 8-10 hours and use a potato masher to smush the bones and release extra gelatinous goodness, then cover and keep cooking. When you are done it will be all gorgeous and a golden caramel color 

 Strain through a fine mesh sieve to get out bones and veggie bits, store in jars in the fridge. You can skim off the fat when it cools if you like(I don’t mind it). It is truly a cut above any broth I’ve had. I’ll drink it plain when feeling under the weather, and it is a fabulous base for vegetable, chicken or any other soup you can name! 

    Chicken to the Rescue Part 1:Roast

      
    I love to cook and eat healthy, homemade food. But with four kids and lots of other interests, I often fall back on frozen Trader Joe’s options or way-too-easy and less balanced choices (baguette with butter and salami for dinner, anyone?). Lately I’ve been working on strategies to make eating nourishing, delicious, from-scratch food a little easier and less time consuming. 

    The first step is our weekly roasted chicken dinner. I buy a good sized free range organic chicken (they really do have a better flavor, not to mention being healthier and more humane), plus whatever root vegetables look good- I like fennel, turnips, parsnips etc. and of course carrots! 

    Roasted Chicken & Veg

    1. A good whole chicken(4-6 lbs)
    2. Root vegetables
    3. Two onions
    4. Celery
    5. Olive oil
    6. Salt & pepper

    Heat oven to 425. Line a small roasting pan with heavy weight aluminum foil. Chop one onion and root veggies into similar sized chunks, reserving any tops, fronds etc(you’ll see why later). Place chopped veg in lined pan, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove chicken from wrapping and discard any giblets(you can cook them later if you like, but I don’t care for them!). Pat very dry(skin won’t crisp up if it is damp). Salt and pepper chicken cavity, halve your second onion and place inside cavity with a few chopped stalks of celery. Nestle chicken among veg in roasting pan and salt and pepper generously.  

     Leave in oven for 2 hours. 

    After 2 hours, remove from oven and place chicken on a cutting board with a well, or a rimmed platter(to catch juices), and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, reserve accumulated juices in roasting pan and put veggies back in oven to brown further while your chicken rests(if they look brown enough you can just cover with foil to keep warm).

    Carve up your chicken, and serve with veggies, and a green salad or rice. Pick the carcass clean of meat and set meat aside for a future meal(part 3 of this chicken series!). Separately save all the bones, and cleaned carcass with vegetables inside- tune in to part 2 for what’s next with those!

    For The Birds

    With spring comes a renewed interest in the creatures that populate our garden. I finally got my act together to set up two bird-friendly projects I’ve been wanting to do for years. First, making nectar and hanging the beautiful hummingbird feeder my mother-in-law bought us years ago. 

     I followed the directions here. It is very important to be a responsible feeder, as any sort of contamination in the feeder can be fatal for the birds, and the nectar must be changed frequently. My animal-loving middle daughter has taken on the task of reminding me to check it daily. Hope someone finds it soon…

     

    Next, a window-mounted nest box! I would love to join the children watching a pair of birds safely build their nest, lay eggs, and care for their hatchlings. The kids helped set it up 

     And we chose a quiet, warm window to mount it on upstairs 

    Hopefully a house-hunting bird couple will find it a good fit and we’ll have bird family updates for you!

     

    Mom’s Asparagus Soup

      
    My mother is an excellent, healthy cook. She also doesn’t like to eat the same thing too often, so sometimes she shares a recipe with me, and by the time I cook it for her she’s forgotten it even came from her recipe box! This asparagus soup is one of those- a springtime favorite in our house. It has very few ingredients so I always wait until asparagus is really in season and doesn’t travel too far to get to us, to let the rich, juicy green flavor the soup.

    Mom’s Asparagus Soup

    1. 2 bunches asparagus
    2. 1 small onion, diced
    3. 2 cloves garlic, sliced
    4. 4T butter, divided
    5. 2T olive oil
    6. 2-4 cups chicken stock(depending on how thick you like your soup)
    7. Salt & pepper

    Snap the woody ends off your asparagus, then cut off and reserve tips. Chop stalks into 1″ ish pieces. Heat olive oil with 2T butter in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté onions until soft, then add asparagus stems and garlic.  

     Season with salt and pepper and sauté until asparagus are al dente(test one). Add 2 cups stock, bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. 

      Allow to cool, then blend until smooth-add extra stock while blending if it is too thick for your tastes- it is equally good a bit chunky or thin like a bisque! When ready to serve, melt remaining 2T butter in a small skillet and sauté asparagus tips until browned, salting as you go. 

     Ladle soup into bowls and scatter a few buttery tips on top. 

     Enjoy!

      Mindful Meals Veggie Prep

        
      The first step of eating mindfully for me is preparing elements of meals in advance so they can just be thrown together easily(I had a hard boiled egg over microwaved broccolini for breakfast today). This week I cooked a gigantic spaghetti squash, as it is a great non-grain base for bowls of protein, sautéed greens, and healthy sauces. 

      Spaghetti Squash

      1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise

       Place on a rimmed baking sheet, cut side down, in 1/2″ water. Place in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes depending on how big your squash is. Over-cooked spaghetti squash is icky, so test your squash after 20-25 minutes. If it shreds easily into spaghetti, it is ready! I shred it all and put it into containers in the fridge.

       I roasted a pan of turnips, and steamed and sautéed a few bunches of broccolini with oil and garlic. In addition, I used the tops of radishes from the farmer’s market to make radish & pistachio pesto, which makes a great dip, sauce, or spread.  

          
       Because I try to avoid excessive grains when doing a reset, I also make a loaf of this bread.   

         
          
       It is dense, chewy, and tasty, a great side for soup or base for avocado toast. I still limit myself to 1-2 pieces of this a day to keep with my commitment to variety, so it lasts a nice long time, sliced in the freezer and ready to toast.

      I also hard boiled a few eggs for quick protein, and cold-brewed a pitcher of hibiscus herbal tea for sweet-drink cravings. So far my first day is going to plan- time to drink some water!

      A Week of Mindful Meals

        
      I understand why ideas like “detoxing” and “eating clean” have gotten a bad rap. I’m not a big fan of vilifying any particular food, even processed or fast food- moderation in all things works best for me, personally. That said, after the holidays, vacation, or birthday indulgence(I’m looking at you, cheese cake and fudge!) I feel and look a lot better when I practice a week or two of concentrated, mindful eating. For me that means taking it easy on grains, dairy, coffee(my best friend!), and sweets. But I prefer to think about what I can eat more of rather than what is “forbidden,” so I also challenge myself to get as many vegetables in each meal as I can, and make a special effort to drink enough water. That way it is a fun challenge to come up with delicious, satisfying menus that put an emphasis on nutrient dense, fresh foods. This week, as I work on hitting the reset button for myself,  I’ll share a few of my favorite mindful eating meals and strategies for making good food easy when you have lots of other stuff that needs doing!

      For me, success eating mindfully comes from focusing on a few things

      1. Protein at every meal- helps me feel full and happy. Beans and soy don’t agree with me, so in my world that means lean animal protein and nuts/protein rich veggies
      2. Healthy fats at each meal- olive oil, nuts, and avocados are a go.
      3. Real food only- no artificial sweeteners, shakes, protein powders etc, just stuff that is made of actual food.
      4. Variety- no eating the same thing more than one meal a day, eggs once, nuts once, animal protein once. My gut and brain are both happier without too much repetition.
      5. Eat every 2-3 hours to keep level blood sugar and avoid craving quick, sugary food.
      6. Planned water breaks before and between meals.
      7. Preparation- lots of seasonal vegetables cooked and ready to eat or warm up in the microwave, so even when my kids are distracting me or I’m in a rush, I have no excuse to down buttery toast crusts and leftover brown sugar oatmeal for breakfast.
      8. Eat with the sun- breakfast first thing and last meal before sunset to let my digestive system rest overnight and avoid sleepy-time snacking.

      This is not the advice of a health expert or registered dietician, just a busy mother’s way of eating mindfully for increased health and energy (not to mention glowier skin and less jiggle around the middle, though those aren’t the main objectives). Let’s go!