Monday, October 31, 2011

Culitvate Chicago

A month ago, Chipotle hosted its first Cultivate Festival in Chicago's Lincoln Park. We Downings piled in the truck and headed for the big city to catch this awesome event.

It's important to us we give our kids as many great experiences as we are able. This event was perfect since it was based upon the importance of sustainability and allowed us to put it into practice by eating tacos. Also, it was cheap.

They had terrific activities for kids including stenciling an organic cotton t-shirt with chili peppers and pigs.

Beverages were free including all the faves - Organic Valley Milk boxes, Vitamin Water and Honest Tea. For those so inclined there were many local beers and wine to choose from. My date bought me cool beers.

This interactive piece of educational art was designed by the artist in the picture.  So fun to look with all the great illustrations and farming facts, too.

In the specialty food tent were local veggies, sauces, coffee and hand husked coconuts. Though certainly not local, the coconuts where a cool experience for the kids. They had to have one. Okay, I thought it was cooler than anyone and I think I drank most of it, too. (Have you had Zico?)

There were viewings of Fresh and a textile tent. Did you know they are working on all Chipotle uniforms being made of organic cotton? All day long, bands played and local chefs working with local farmers did cooking demonstrations.

We all had a terrific day...together.

Did I mention the tacos?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thrift Shop + Wool Sweaters = Inspired Gift Wrap

I love to haunt thrift stores. They are so inspiring for projects and finding that kitchy little something you didn't know you needed. One of the things I love to search for are wool sweaters. I love wool - its feel, its smell and the way it looks after being washed in really hot water. The process of felting wool is unusually gratifying. It's as easy as a load of laundry and creates material with endless possibilities.

I am not one to sew. For years my mother told me someday I would wish I had let her teach me how. Of course, she was right. Someday I will learn but for now felted wool fulfills my desire to create with textiles bug. It also appeals to my desire for a math-less world. (sewing seems like a lot of math)

While preparing for the annual Nourish kitchen gifts class, I was in a quandary for a fresh way to doll-up a mason jar. What would make this jar of deliciousness look as good as it tastes? An epiphany. Why not slide on a felted wool wrap in the style of the coffee cup cozies I've made?

For the non-sewing set, this is perfect. I dug out a red cable knit sweater found amongst the beautiful argyle, pale yellow, red-orange and funky striped sweaters I had bought and felted for....I don't know what. Using my super sharp sewing scissors (a gift from my mother) I cut off the cuff just less than half the height (sort of math) of my 1/2 pint canning jar of goodness.

Because I hadn't the forethought (or patience) to cut the sweater apart prior to washing, the seam was a bit bulky. Buttons were the answer. (I love buttons) But sadly, I suck at sewing them on (Doug has to do his own) so I had to rely on Gorilla Glue. Okay, a bit tacky but it worked. I love immediate crafting gratification.

Super cute and potentially even cuter when the buttons are sewn on in a criss-cross fashion with brightly colored, unmatched thread.

Damn. I wish I could sew.

To find amazing inspiration for your felting projects (before you start to accumulate sweaters) read the blog Resweater. For a detailed how-to check out this tutorial.

Happy Thrifting!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Boo Blog

In need of a last minute Halloween treat to keep little hands busy this weekend? Henry's scout group recently came over for a meeting and spooky fun. In need of easy crafts and projects, I was inspired by an overwhelming collection of white chocolate. A quick trip to Michael's for sucker sticks and I was ready for 7 little boys to wreak havoc.

Melt the white chocolate in the microwave with a one tablespoon of vegetable oil per 12 ounces of chocolate. The oil allows for smoother melting and give the finished project softer bite.

A blob of white chocolate was placed on each boys sheet of parchment paper and they set about creating their ghost with the back of a small spoon. Of course, an off-set spatula makes this a bit easier but everyone has lots of spoons, right?

Once the shape is just right, a stick is spun in the chocolate to affix it and a nice, big brother goes back and adds a bit more to glue it in place.

Two chocolate chip eyes (or several) and a (or many) red hots for gaping mouth (or more eyes) and it's very spooky. Allow it to cool at room temperature or to speed the process, put it in the fridge or freezer.

BOO! It's a chocolate ghost sucker!

Have a happy and safe Halloween with your little goblins.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Hippest of Yellow House Parties

We in the yellow house were super excited to announce Kate Payne, author of, The Hip Girls' Guide to Homemaking would be visiting. On October 8th the big day finally arrived. We hosted the consummately cool Kate and her wonderful friend Wana for a house party and book signing.

Very book signing-ish looking, right? When it came time for signing, Kate didn't sit behind the table, she sat with each of our guests and made friends - then she signed their books. Told you she was cool.

We were blessed with an absolutely gorgeous week in Chicago so her fermented green tomato pickle demonstration took place in the yard near the garden.

Many hip homemakers came out for this event including...

...Wana's lovely dog, Lucy and...

....the ladies of the yellow hen house.

Afterward, treats made from my home-canned stash, mini fritattas, truffle popcorn and a fave sangria were served. There was mingling, conversation and lots of laughter. It never ceases to amaze me how people come together as strangers and depart as friends. How exciting to find those with similar beliefs, desires and passions though times and places are vastly different. That was the best part. It was a really special evening enjoyed by no one as much as I.

Did I take enough pictures to document this day? No, of course not.
Was I inspired? Tremendously!
Will I always remember the warm fuzzy feeling of connection? Forever.
Am I counting the days 'til Kate's next book is released and Chicago makes the book tour? Absolutely!

I am hip as Kate?

Okay. I'll stop there.

Thanks so much for coming Kate!


ALL of us in The Yellow House

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Piles of Plums for Cordial

I know, I know. Plum season lasts about 5 more days. (if you will) Though time is limited, if you can still find them, this delicious sip is worth it on a cold night and the perfect Christmas gift. I bought a ton of plums this season - my fruit compulsion raises it's ugly head....again.

Before their delicious transformation, they were stunning in a vintage orange bowl on the dining table. Lovely.

I decided to make a wine cordial with part of the booty. The appeal of this recipe is allowing the crushed fruit to macerate with the sugar in the fridge for a day. I think I may have taken two with no ill results. As I've said before the multi-step/day processes suit my life perfectly and allow me to attempt things I might other wise pass up.

A bottle of red wine poured into the sweetened fruit and a cup of brandy rounds out the mixture. Back into the pickle jar (Uh, I mean aging container) Thank goodness Grandpa buys the "jumbo" jars of dills for the kids.

Let the fruit infuse the liquid for a few weeks. Once it's done, strain the solids through a sieve gently pressing so you don't lose a drop. An extra straining through butter muslin ensures no bits of pulp in the finished product.


The amethyst color is divine. Sweet and smooth. It warms you to your toes. Before too long we'll really want our toes warm.

Hurry! Go! Buy plums!

Plume Wine Cordial

2 1/2#  plums, pitted and coarsely chopped
2¼ cup sugar
1 bottle of fruity red wine
1 cup brandy

Mash plums and sugar together dissolved. Add plums and all other ingredients to a large jar (pickle size is good) and allow to age for 3 weeks. Shake the jar several times during the resting time. Strain the liquid through a sieve, gently pressing on the solids to extra as much liquid as possible. Pour cordial through a funnel lined with butter muslin in to a clamp top bottle. Let it rest another several weeks. The longer you wait the better it is. An early nip is okay, too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brilliant Vintage Save by Jono

My brilliant brother had the foresight to save the two unbroken glass shades of his 3-bulb vintage lamp. I like to think the reason he brought them to me was because he knew I could find a way to brilliantly re-purpose them.

Though sometimes I can all but taste the potential in a found item, it doesn't reveal itself immediately. Happily, this was not the case.

Flanked on a flea market find bench ( remember Anna?) they are fabulous candle shades. Next to my Grandma's Maytag turned beverage cooler and between the garbage picked lawn chairs, they are perfect. I know, I too, am brilliant. They throw beautiful light because of their wonky shape, provide safety outdoors on a breezy night and have integrated chimneys.

Did I mention they were free?

Thank you little brother for thinking of me.

Your Favorite Big Sister

Friday, October 21, 2011

Break's Over

Who knew the butterfly bath would be pressed into service as a water cooler?

Quit your clucking ladies and get back to work....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Now Is the Time

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

Remember? From typing? Perhaps not and now it's called keyboarding.

This is my own spin...

Now is the time for all good cooks to hoard as much local garlic as possible.
Now is the time for all good cooks to hoard as much local garlic as possible.

Regular market season is winding down and whenever I see garlic from my local farmers I buy as much as I can.  There is nothing like it. Fresh, fragrant, crisp, unadulterated. Not made in China.

High school typing may change. Good garlic is timeless.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Basil Chronicles - Part 4 - The End of the Road

As sad as it is to say, this is the end of the basil chronicles for 2011. Though I am so far behind in sharing lots of summer food projects, this one timed as such, coincides with reluctantly pulling out what is left in the garden before Old Man Winter claims it.

I've heard people talk for years about the virtues of basil cubes and was sort of never smitten with the idea. This summer with 6 monster plants in the garden, I decided to revisit the idea. It's a super easy, fast way to process a bunch of basil. It's inexpensive, too!

Pick the leaves from the stems and throw them in the food processor.

Add a bit of oil or water (I did it both ways) and quickly process to a chunky consistency.

Portion the slurry into ice cube trays and freeze. Viola!

Use them to finish soups, pasta or sauce. Toss a few into a quick vegetable saute.

No pun intended - they make the passing of summer a bit more palatable.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Perfect Cup

Isn't it nice to start a blustery fall Saturday morning with a steaming cup of coffee? Even better when brewed with beans from your favorite local coffee house. Can it get any better?

Yes, when it's sipped from a beautiful mug given by a thoughtful friend.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Little Skywalker's Eggs

Henry is a hard core Star Wars fan. He knows the characters and the plots. He knows which one is number one and which one used to be number one but is now number six. Amazing.

It's fairly typical for there to be many very large Star Wars books around that he's hauled home from the library. This last time, he brought a cookbook. Finally, Star Wars on a level I can understand - or so I thought.

After reading through the book Hen decided he would make Twin Sun Toast for breakfast one morning before school.

He read through the recipe and gathered the ingredients. He decided we should use Lily's eggs since they are smaller. I glanced at the recipe - not really paying too much attention. It's a kid's book, right?

My fancy $5 circle cutter set was pressed into service. These are the sun holes. Junie got the insides.

He pre-heated.

He carefully broke the eggs.

He seasoned.

Despite his care and my cooking experience it didn't work for a few reasons. The eggs - any eggs, (even Lily's) are way to big for the holes - if you want it to look like the picture. The instructions don't include toasting one side of bread in the pan before flipping it over to add the eggs. In the picture the top of the bread is very toasty.

After realizing the flaws I overlooked, I told my very sad little Skywalker, I would make it with a few modifications.

Bottom line - it can't be made without copious changes to the recipe for it look remotely like the picture. Kids want expect it to look like the picture. And it should. No cook book should be this way.

When attempting a recipe or selecting a cookbook any cook, should read carefully and thoughtfully, sometimes they aren't right. Sometimes it takes more than once to figure that out. He was so very disappointed. Sad eyes over Twin Sun Eggs are a horrible way to start the day.

We won't make this mistake when we make our R2D2 treats.

Now, is he the gold one or the one that looks like a garbage can?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It Must Be True

Have you heard the wives tale about apple peelings and the man you'll marry? It's said after the apples are peeled young girls should toss long peelings in the air and when they land, the initial of their future husband will be seen.


Super fancy "D", too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Honey Pickled Carrots

I am not a good carrot grower and here is why: I don't like to thin the seedlings. I know. It's the most integral part of big, beautiful carrots. I feel like it's wasting food and so every spring I dream they won't need so much room to grow and the teeny, tiny seedling will yield a full-sized carrots without full-sized space. Needless to say, my carrot crops are never huge but I do enjoy the modest results. The last of my harvest - orange, red and white and wonky all over - became pickles.

A cider vinegar brine brought just to a boil with a bit of honey.

I then poured over blanched wonky carrots with a few whole spices. For this jar I didn't add any heat (a dry pepper or sprinkle of cayenne) since I knew I'd serve them with spicy beans.

Lid on....

Job done.

Into the fridge to let them work their magic.

I served them Saturday and repeatedly refilled the dish. They were crisply tender, slightly sweet and tart.

My only regret is not thinning the carrots.

Honey-Pickled Carrots

1# small carrots, scrubbed and cut into spears if necessary (I didn't peel them)
1 1/2 c. cider vinegar
1/3 c. honey, preferably local
3/4 t. mustard seeds
3/4 t. fennel seeds
1 t. black peppercorns
3/4 t. coriander seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 dried, hot chili pepper, your choice (optional)

Bring 1 cup of water, vinegar, honey and salt and pepper to a boil.

Pack a sterilized quart jar with carrots and dry spices. Pour hot brine into jar until carrots are just covered. Cap with a fresh lid and ring.

Allow to come to room temperature on the counter, then refrigerate one to three days before tasting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Memories of Beets

I pickled a big bunch of beets last week. Over the years, I've tried many recipes and have only found one which was exactly what I wanted. I hoarded those jars for 2 years, I think. I don't know where the recipe came from - or anything about it other than it was delicious. I try every year to find it and 2011 was no different. This year's are a bit too cinnamon-y/clove-y so I am going to try another recipe before the local ones are gone.

My sad search for a recipe isn't the point of this post. Rather it's my Grandparents. Grandpa had a big garden and though I don't remember beet upon the table, as I do the tomatoes and onions, I am sure they were there. A grainy snap shot exists only in my mind of my brother and I scrubbing while squatting on the aged concrete stoop outside the kitchen door. It was shaded by the most beautiful maple tree. I took the job seriously then and it's still my favorite part today.

The rest of my story, well, there really isn't one. Simply the memory of scrubbing beets for Grandma.

Ultimately, I think it's a comment on what one remembers. The random and pedestrian locked in frozen moments.  As I grow older, I wonder why they've stuck.

The moral of my un-story? Memories aren't always of Disney Land, electronics and extravagant vacations.

Some times they are just in a pot of beets.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup for Baby

In September I hosted a terrific group of women to shower our friend and mommy-to-be with good wishes. Since we've come together over food it was important this simple luncheon be tasty and look lovely.

Many years ago, I purchased a dozen 1950's vintage snack trays for $12. Yep, $12 - that's $1 each including the mug. Deal of the century.  I decided to serve squash soup - the (then) mommy-to-be loves squash. A little bunch of dark purple grapes set perfectly in the space previously provided for ashing your cigarette (that never ceases to crack me up-a lady needs to look classy while ashing her cigarette next to her food) Along side were crusty baguette slices to accompany a bite of blue, Gruyere and brie atop a leaf of garden sage. The big empty space? That's where the red apple slices went - I am so annoyed I missed them in the photo. Visualize.

The soup was an amalgamation of several sources. I couldn't have been more pleased with the results and I think you will be, too.

Caramelized Butternut Squash Soup
Smooth and flavorful without being overly sweet as squash soups can sometimes be.

¼ cup unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 cups best-quality chicken or veal stock
4 cups roasted butternut squash, pureed (other smooth flesh squash may be substituted)
1 generous teaspoon fresh thyme
1 generous teaspoon fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons sugar

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion sauté until they begin to slightly caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook while stirring constantly until fragrant. Add broth, all squash and herbs; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, allowing flavors to meld about 20 minutes. 
Working in batches, puree soup until very smooth in a blender. Return soup to the pot. Stir in cream and sugar; bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
This soup may be served with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, a swirl of cream or a toasty gruyere crouton. 

The texture and consistency is perfect served from a petite mug as an appetizer or passed hors d’oeurvre.

This soup may be made a day ahead. Chill. Gently warm over medium heat before serving.

Serves: 4 to 6

Friday, October 7, 2011

A First Sleep Over

When That-Boy-in-the-Back-Yard needed a sitter because his parents were away we were happy to roll out the sleeping bag.

TBITBY and Junie B. played all day. They chased and wrestled and rendered one another sticky with spit.

He's quite handsome isn't he?

At the end of the day they were very tired and they cashed out on the leather sofa together.

June says it's strictly platonic.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Syrup Saves The Day!

I like to serve a special cocktail to special people at special events.

In September, I needed a cocktail/mocktail to celebrate the impending arrival of an itty-bitty someone. (itty- bitties are super special) I had requirements: sparkles, seasonality and herbaceous but where to go?

I decide my flavors would include apple, fresh ginger and some of my Little-Shop-of-Horrors-esque  rosemary.  So, what's a girl to do with said ingredients? Duh. Make syrup. Isn't that what I always do?

Heat, steep, strain, chill.

Add 2-3 tablespoons per serving, top sparkling wine or water. What the hell - maybe a good splash of Cognac if you aren't delivering.

Welcome Fall.

Welcome Lilly Sophia!

Apple-Rosemary Syrup

2 cups apple juice
1 cup sugar
5 or 6 nice sprigs of fresh rosemary

Over medium to medium-high bring the apple juice, sugar and rosemary sprigs just to boiling.

Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep 15-20 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a jar and chill.

Delicious for a cocktail but also try it as a finishing glaze on a still-warm pound cake or drizzled on baked apples.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CRAVE - Chicago

It's all done. My question and answer portion submitted. The photo shoots finished.

How thrilled am I to be included in the 2nd edition of CRAVE-Chicago?

Let me count the ways....

1. It's a book. I love books.

2. I am considered an entrepreneur. Really?

3. It's full of cool woman doing cool things. It makes me feel like a cool woman doing cool things.

4. I had my picture taken (or made as my friend Kelli says) by a real photographer while doing things I love. The picture part was painful but it was really wonderful to work with the incredibly talented people of Bum Bul Bee Photography. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. They made me look pretty.

5. It's introduced me to a terrific network of people I am honored to join and look forward to knowing.

6. Sometimes when I look at soon-to-be cover I allow myself to gloat. (only sometimes)

7. It's solidified the thought that what I do is needed and important.

8. The support of dear friends (during the painful parts) has made me realize they are the best of what I've gained from my pursuits.

9. The release party will be a reason to get dressed like a sophisticated adult. Or at least like I used to in the pre-child professional days. (wonder if I can still pull it off?)

10. My family is so very proud. That's the best part.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The First Day of School

Where does the time go? I am so far behind I am just sharing the first day of school which was a month six weeks ago. This was a big back-to-school-year so I couldn't not document.

Jake started high school (at my alma mater no less). Can you tell he crammed as much as possible into the last week of summer? Those tired eyes are not an indicator of how excited this social butterfly was to start freshman year.

 This is the first morning in the history of the last 11 years and 2 months Ella has been so bright-eyed in the morning. Our girl's not a morning person. Jake appears to be a bit annoyed by her morning exuberance.

Max escorted his super excited 6th-grade sister to the bus - a big deal for grade school walkers. Max looks more excited, interested in, less pained about starting 8th grade than I expected. I know this is going to be a great year for him.

And then there was one...

...quasi-enthusiastic 2nd-grader being forced into smiles by a mother most likely expounding potty humor.

Where does the time go?

Why does it have to go so fast?