Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Making something from something

My mom gave up crocheting a few years ago and let me have a biiiiiggg box of yarn, including several granny squares. I put some of those together into a baby afghan for a friend http://morning-glory-garden.blogspot.com/search/label/afghan, and then forgot about the others, while chipping away at the rest of the yarn for various projects. Then one day I laid out 9 of them on top of a pretty disreputable-looking corduroy-covered ottoman, and it was nearly a perfect fit.

I joined them with green and gold yarns left over from something else and then crocheted round and round, in various shells and double and treble crochets, till the sides were long enough to reach the floor. That was a little tricky as I had to keep checking and often decreasing in subsequent rounds to make sure the sides fit snugly enough.

Apparently Cosmo thinks it was made for him. He didn't care much for the faded rust-colored corduroy but he obviously recognizes how well the new cover goes with his coat!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Use it up, wear it out

Use it up,
wear it out,
make it do,
do without.

Words to live by, that I saw on a cross-stitch sampler a long time ago. Since I was raised to be frugal and tend to love old things, those lines really speak to me. And sometimes the things I grow to love aren't all that old, like this shower curtain that I found 5 or 6 or more years ago at Wal-Mart, of all places. I never expect to find anything this interesting at Wal-Mart, and of course when I went back, thinking to buy another one since I knew this one wouldn't last, there were none left.

The individual squares are reproductions of lotería cards; that's a bingo-like game from Mexico and as you can see in the detail below, the names of the objects are given in both English and Spanish. Kind of a cool way to encourage kids to become bilingual! And when I babysat our little friend Rory, it helped keep her entertained while going potty (she especially liked the ladder, since we'd been shopping at REI and while Joe checked out boots or canoes or something, she kept me busy going up and down the "steppies." She was at a stage of loving "steppies" of any kind).

If you look closely at the shower curtain ring above El Gallo you'll see that the curtain there has been reinforced numerous times with clear packing tape - cheap plastic shower curtains aren't really designed to last and the holes, with no grommets, rip out easily. I've been looking, unsuccessfully, for a couple of years for a replacement - I really loved this shower curtain!
     But I know I won't find another one like this, and I also love things Japanese; the little framed print below also hangs in my bathroom. So I've been trying to find some Japanese or Japanese-inspired fabric that would pick up the turquoise on the walls and in this print to make a more permanent, non-plastic shower curtain. I've been unsuccessful so far, because I want something I can love, not just something that will do.

However, I gave up last week and - having determined that even I can't think of any way to repurpose the old lotería curtain - I threw it away (I did say a few appreciative words over it before I closed the lid on the dumpster).  This is its replacement.

I don't love it but it will do for now. I like it well enough and it goes with the fish on the mirror (they were supposed to stick to the bottom of a bathtub to keep bathers from slipping, but since they didn't stick they might have made things worse).

I can certainly live with it while I continue searching for my perfect dream shower curtain or fabric. Wish me luck! (The framed poster/drawing in the background is the work of Eli, our second grandson, who went to a wonderful preschool that encouraged creativity and cooperative work. A few of the kids worked together on these big pieces, and he was able to tell me who did which part; the princess in the pointed hat in the middle is his.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Privyet! Bonjour!

That's hello, in Russian and French. Yesterday's lunch reminded me of something I learned in a history class many years ago, that is, how Tsar Peter the Great became enamored of French culture, which led him to institute sweeping cultural changes that upset many Russians, like the traditionalists who refused to cut their beards when the Tsar ordered it and so had to pay large fines or taxes.
      Our lunch was both French and Russian, simple and delicious, and I doubt if it would have upset anyone. It was also my first try at borscht, something I've eaten and loved in restaurants but never quite got around to making myself. The recipe I used is from the Russian Cooking volume of the old Time-Life Foods of the World collection of books, with just a couple of adaptations. I served it in big cappuccino mugs with the traditional dollop of sour cream.

Making the borscht was actually easier than I expected, though I broke the process into two stages. On the first day I made the stock, which included cooking the meat, and then a couple of days later I put the soup together.

For the stock:
1 1/2 pounds brisket or other boneless beef (I used a chuck roast)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, thickly sliced
the leafy top few inches of a head of celery, thickly sliced
a handful of parsley, maybe 6 sprigs
1 bay leaf
salt to taste (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
soup bones if you have them (I didn't)

Put everything in a big pot with 4 quarts of water, bring to a boil, skim off any scum and foam that may rise to the top. Partially cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours till the beef is tender but not falling apart. Remove the meat and when it's cool enough cut into 1-inch cubes. Continue to simmer the stock a couple more hours, then strain it into a large bowl and discard the veggies and bones. You'll use 2 quarts of the stock for the borscht, and if you're not making it right away, put the meat into a container and pour enough stock in to cover the meat and refrigerate, along with the rest of the stock. If you have extra stock, there are always uses for it: as the liquid in cooking rice or other grains, in another soup, etc.

For the actual borscht:
1 T. butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds beets, peeled and julienned (I peeled them over the sink to avoid mess and stains)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts beef stock
1/2 pound white cabbage, quartered, cored, and coarsely shredded
1 1/2 pounds boiled beef from stock, cut into 1" cubes
4 sprigs of parsley
1 bay leaf
Sour cream

In a 6- to 8-quart pot, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook 3 to 5 minutes, till they are soft but not brown. Stir in the beets, then add the wine vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and a couple of cups of stock. Cover the pan and simmer 50 minutes.
    Pour in the remaining stock and the cabbage, bay leaf, and parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the parsley and bay leaf and serve accompanied by sour cream to be added at the diner's discretion.

There are various kinds of borscht. This is Borshch Moskovskii, i.e., Moscow style, but the cookbook also includes Borshch Ukraïnski, Ukrainian style, which is more complicated in terms of ingredients, as it includes potatoes, celery root, parsley root, and a parsnip. (If you like parsnips, check out my recipe for parsnip soup; it's easy and delicious! http://morning-glory-garden.blogspot.com/search/label/parsnips) There's cold borscht as well, which I'm sure will be wonderful in summer; I'm looking forward to trying it too.  And be sure to use the beet greens for another meal! They're tasty and so good for us.

The French part of lunch was much, much simpler. I'd seen pictures of the French way of serving radishes, thinly sliced and arranged on slices of good bread and butter - that image is why I always plant the D'Avignon or French breakfast radishes in my garden, though again, I'd never gotten around to actually trying it. But I had these gorgeous, big, but not too spicy-hot radishes from the farmer's market, too pretty, really, to just get lost in a salad,
and a nice crusty baguette that I sliced on the diagonal to get wider slices, and this is what accompanied the soup:
What looks like pepper on a couple of the slices is actually Hawaiian black salt; it really does have a taste all its own.
        Even if you don't have the time or inclination to tackle the borscht (though it spends most of its time simmering unattended and isn't really all that labor-intensive), do consider this simple little radish-and-bread-and-butter accompaniment to a meal. It's a lovely, fresh-tasting, crunchy combination.