Friday, January 30

Before & After: My Living Room...

I love rearranging furniture. And who doesn't love "before & after" pictures? (Million thanks, Suz, for opening my eyes; a piano CAN be moved!!!)

Before -- nice seating area, faced the windows. But see that tiny opening between the chair and the "end table"? It was the only way in...
After: aaaah...

Here's another perspective, which shows the convoluted path from front door to tiny entry point! Before:

After: Yay, now you can walk right in... sit right down...

I forgot to take a real "before" shot, but this is essentially what you saw as you climbed the stairs. Nothing but drawers. And whatever small toy was currently lost under that big piece o' wood -- there was always at least one! "Before":

After: nice and open! (just disregard the carpet wrinkle...)

And the whole experience was made even more fun for me because just a few days earlier, I'd come across the room grids I'd made when we moved in. So Suz and I batted ideas around on paper a little before we started hefting the actual furniture.

Suz gave me a bit of a hard time about these little slips of blue on a sea of squared white. Tell me I'm not the only one who does this. (Well, other than you, Mom.) It's not like I took aerial pictures of each piece furniture and then cut those wee pictures out. Or made small scale models of all the furniture so I could move them around in 3D. Oh wait, I did do that... Got a little carried away planning the nursery 6 years ago...

What can I say... it was pre-kids? And I like cardboard? And wee stuff? And the lights don't actually work? : ) Really, it all started because, for once, I painted a test piece on posterboard to see the actual wall color. And then things just kept going from there... (Yes, I realize I'm slightly insane. But at least I can admit it...)

Wednesday, January 28

Oma's German Goulasch...

Pictures of the furniture in its new spots will have to wait another day -- I got into a decluttering project and it threw up all over the sofa. Plus all the cushions are once again on the floor from this morning's "safari" and the "lions" did not put away their "caves" before the biggest one went off to Kindergarten...

But in her comment today, my cousin asked for the goulasch recipe so I figured I'd post it here. Side note: I have been told that this is not goulasch because goulasch is red and has paprika and loads of other spices in it. Well, this is what my German grandma always made and always called "goulasch;" you can call it whatever you want. I call it good and easy, though it does require time...

1 lb. beef, cut into chunks (0,5 kg)
1 lb. pork, cut into chunks (0,5 kg)
1 med. onion, finely chopped
1/2 pint cream (250 ml)
2 c. (or so) water (500 ml)
1 beef bouillon cube, optional
1/4 c. cold water (50 ml)
2 Tbsp. flour
1 lb. rotini noodles, cooked (0,5 kg)

Barebones directions:
Season meat with salt and pepper, then brown it and the onions in a large pot with a bit of oil over high heat, adding a bit water and scraping up the brown stuff from the bottom of the pan as needed. Add rest of water (at least enough to cover meat) and bouillon cube (only if you think you need more flavor). Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until meat is tender. In a separate continer, mix cold water and flour. Add to meat mixture and bring to a boil. Add cream. Serve over noodles.

Additional comments:
  • The key to this dish tasting good (even without the addition of the bouillon cube) is to get lots of brown stuff to develop on the bottom of the pot; I think the technical term is fond. My mom usually throws in all the meat at once; I find it easier to do it in batches. Otherwise the meat releases so much juice that I can't get any good brown stuff, er, I mean, fond to develop on the bottom. And remember, that's what you're aiming for in this step, lots of fond. I throw the meat in, don't stir it, and let it go til it's just shy of burning. I quick stir it, sometimes addng a little water so I can scrape away some of the fond, and then let the meat almost burn again, etc., til it looks like it's all nice and browned. I dump that all out and then do the next batch. And whenver there's too much brown stuff forming, I dump in a bit more water and scrape; the water evaporates pretty quickly and the brown stuff kinda sticks to the meat.
  • At some point, you should also dump in the onions -- before you brown the meat, added all at once, or with the batches of meat, whatever. It's all good.
  • And if you want to dump in some of the cream while you're at it, that's fine too. Sometimes I add maybe a quarter or so during the browning process; the rest isn't added til the end. Or if you add it ALL at the end, that's fine too.
  • OK, where were we... once all the meat is browned, pour in just enough water so you can scrape off any remaining fond. Add back any meat/onions that you set aside. Then add in the rest of the water, making sure it's enough to cover the meat. If you got lots of fond, then you can skip the bouillon cube. Or if you're my brother Al, then you add two of them, regardless 'cause you can never have enough beefy flavor.
  • I think the rest of it can be done just fine with just the "barebones directions." Oh, one final note: if you really want it to be like my Oma's Goulasch, then you have to also toss the cooked noodles with some breadcrumbs right after you drain off their cooking water.
  • I usually make a double or triple batch and freeze the extra, though the sauce is never as nice after it's been frozen...
Guten Appetit! Now I better go round up my "lions" and get them to clean up my cushions!

Tuesday, January 27

Mental Fragments...

Made Beef Stroganoff, first time ever last night. I do like to take pictures of my food, but the photo below came from Cook's Illustrated, same as the recipe. Tasted fine, but Ken and I both like my Oma's Goulasch better, maybe just 'cause that's what we're used to...
Photobucket- - -
Made the recipe in part so I'd have something nice to bring to my friend Suzanne yesterday. I'd rather cook, she'd rather clean (see end of post). So, in exchange for dinner once a week, she cleans my house once a week. This is our third week, and I'm lovin' this deal!
- - -
Before she left, she also helped me rearrange the living room, but I keep forgetting to take "after" pictures when it's light outside, so will post those soon...
- - -
So Friday morning, my housed was cleaned by one friend. Then Friday evening, my plate was dropped off by another. We were at Color Me Mine together last week. She wrote a great post where she described our night there in the form of a personality quiz. Everyone's pottery turned out so beautifully (including yours, Kristi!!!). Click the link above to see them all; here's mine (photo swiped from Kristi's site):
PhotobucketUsed my favorite colors and a stencil that reminded me of my hibiscus. Now I need to get a plate hanger so I can hang it by my sink, to be my "sunshine" during this frigid spell we're in.
- - -
Need to get a dowel too. We started making a closet for the doll clothes, inspired by LiEr's cardboard creation. (LiEr is a whiz with cardboard and tape.)

Sunday, January 25

Daily Bread...

Mmmmm, a friend was over last week and showed me how to bake bread... with whole wheat so freshly ground, it was still warm. (She brought her grinder over.) Mmmmm. We weren't sure exactly how much dough to make for my loaf pan. But too much rise is better than not enough, right?

And unlike the last time I tried making whole wheat bread (more than two years ago), this loaf actually had some springy elasticity to it.

Still a bit more crumbly than store-bought, but way better than last time, where I ended up with an unappetizingly heavy hunk of big crumbs! It was warm fresh bread -- slathered with butter -- for the whole family. Yummmm!

I didn't think it could taste any better, but then remembered what's up in my cupboard, next to the peanut butter... (Same place, by the way, that you find it in the grocery store. If you've never tried nutella, you absolutely must! We love to dip pretzel sticks in it too.)

In case you're not sick of "Germany last year" pictures yet, here's one that I love: Sophie eating her breakfast. (Germans eat nutella on stuff like we eat peanut butter. And sometimes, the crusts on the breakfast rolls are a little too crunchy for 2-and-a-bit-year-olds to bite through so the whole thing flips up unexpectedly!)

Found some more fun memories in that day's folder. I loved the short little drive I took every day to bring the girls to and from their kindergarten. On this day, I decided to stop and take pictures of some of the houses that I always passed along the way, with their clay tile shingles, stucco siding, "balconies" instead of "decks", etc. So different than what I see in my neighborhood here...

I thought the one, below left, was interesting too since you could see the construction process -- big orange bricks instead of wood framing...

The house, below right, was not "on the way" -- it's the house my grandpa built. He and my Oma lived in the first floor and rented out the second floor. I guess you'd call it a duplex? : )

These ones below weren't on the way either; rather they were in the same town as the church (mentioned at the end of this post). The grey slate tiles on the walls are really common in this area too.

And here is that church. I love the entrance...

P.S. Don't even bother asking me for the bread recipe. I made another loaf the next day; it didn't turn out nearly as nice as when my "teacher" was looking over my shoulder. More like my lumpy one from two years ago... -sigh- Will have to practice some more...

Wednesday, January 21

"Pirensess" Purse

12/8/09: Pattern pieces with basic instructions are here (US Letter) and here (A4).

Heidi had a birthday party to go to this weekend so it was time to sew up another reversible purse. She picked out the fabrics again -- solid pink for one side and a vibrant pink design for the other. (Picking out fabrics is much easier to do since the cleanup since everything is visible--and guess what? it's been a week and I've used stuff from it and yet it still looks the same! but so does the other side of the room, the messy side!) Loved the unexpected orange she picked out for the flap and straps! Here's Sophie modeling it with the monogram side out.

I drew the 'm'; probably should've asked Heidi to do that -- amazingly, she's been drawing "bubble letters" since age 4 -- but I'm not quite there yet in the giving-up-control department. It was hard enough for me to let her cut it out, once we'd fused it to some felt (for stiffness and thickness). But she did a great job. I need to remember that for all the next times... Then we fused it to the flap and I zigzagged around the edges to make sure it stays put.

When I asked Heidi what we should put on the "other" side, she said it should be a princess purse. So I ask her to design the crown, and let her cut that out too. (I added the diamond and topstitching though -- it needed just a little more than the bobbles on top, I thought.)

Not sure why the fabric looks so purple in the pictures above. Below is a better representation of the colors. And I love the card Heidi made to go with it...

And what I see the birthday girl clutching tightly in her arms when I picked Heidi up from the party? ...a Webkinz kitty. :)

Speaking of crowns, here are a few more pictures from a year ago... The girls and I made some simple cardstock crowns to help celebrate Fasching (also called Karneval, a big celebration right before the Lenten season begins. Germans don't really celebrate Halloween, but the kids do get to dress up in costumes for Fasching.)

The girls wore them everywhere for a few days, including to the grocery store (where they hardly attracted any stares since it was Fasching after all) and also on our trip to the train station to pick up Daddy, who we hadn't seen in 3 weeks! They also kept adding to them -- coloring them, gluing on "jewels," and more. They soon became too heavy and cumbersome to actually wear! : )

Tuesday, January 13

Put Away and Give-Away

Remember the picture from last week of (one of) my crafty area(s)?

I actually took that mid-December but it hasn't looked any better since then. Til today.

Check. It. Out. Did it in bits and pieces over the last three days.

I'm so proud. Because for a change, I didn't just shove things from one pile into a nicer-looking pile--or into a box somewhere else. There's actually a plan. Not that said plan won't easily be buried beneath layers of future projects. But hopefully, I can cycle back to this plan--and its calm-inducing orderliness--on a regular basis. Ask me in a month or two. But here's the plan...

Other fun news. Recently, I won my first ever "bloggy giveaway" and my winnings arrived in the mail yesterday. In honor of the approaching Chinese New Year, a pair of scrumptious desserts (of the truly no-calorie variety), from a hugely talented crafter, Lorraine! (Yes, I took the picture with my laptop screen showing my winning number that was picked. Yes, I'm a dork.)
The delicacy on the left is a "pineapple tart," a traditional Asian dessert around CNY. I can't believe how perfectly Lorraine replicated them in felt and fleece. Here's what they look like in edible form (image found at KitchenSnippets blog, full of scrumptious-sounding recipes!).

And I assume the delicacy above on the right needs no introduction, though I do love that she called it a "Prosperity Donut", again in honor of CNY. Here's some more of the donuts she made last year. (If you want to feel amazingly inferior be amazingly impressed, check out the Donut-Shop-On-The-Go she made for her girls, complete with hats, bags, tongs, trays and more. And she makes cardboard... stuff. My kinda' gal!)

Hmm, I think I'm hungry...

P.S. Maybe I should have a give-away one of these days. Just have to find/pick/make something to give away...

Saturday, January 10

Quilt-y, WILTI, Naming Fun

OK, I think this is going to be the last post about Al's Quilt til it's done. I started some of the quilting on it and, oh, it's amazing what that step does. But before we go to pictures of that -- or find out what WILTI is -- first wanted to also show what Al got for me:

So cute! Have to show some pictures from inside...

Here's the author/designer, clearly enjoying his little critters...

It tickles me, the way he posed them all and made up little stories...

Am going to love digging into this book...

But will try to wait til The Quilt is done...

Speaking of which, here it is with one almost-completely-quilted row, done in concentric squares. Finally settled on using red thread on this side -- to emphasize the red centers of each block...

...and orange thread on the other side, for some fun pep. And 'cause Al likes orange. And 'cause it's close enough to red that if (er, when) my tension is a little off (meaning thread from one side peeks through to the other) it won't be as noticeable. I'm SOOOO glad I was able to borrow my friend's machine for this part. Came with a walking foot (no ugly puckers yet -- joy!!!) plus there's a setting so when I stop sewing, the machine automatically stops with the needle in the down position. Which helps out a lot when pivoting at a corner. And considering I have ... 10 x 10 blocks x 6 squares per block x 4 corners per square... 100... carry the 2... TWO THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED CORNERS at which I must pivot, I'm happy for any help I can get.

So then, what's WILTI? Stands for Why I Love The Internet. I probably should call it HWOTTISPAAAC (Huge Waste Of Time That I Should Probably Avoid At All Costs) but WILTI is shorter and easier to type. See, I loved your name suggestions (great list, Jenny) and was all set to use "Mary Bobbins" (of course I get it, J! That's my kind o' humor! And it didn't help that I'd been singing "Supercalifragilistic" all day long -- thanks a lot, Delilah!).

Al's girlfriend's name is Mary so don't think I want to do that after all. Had also thrown out Bob because it was a boys name, but I've always loved the name Bob, sounds so friendly to me. And who's to say a sewing machine has to be a girl anyway?!?

But then saw Dee's note. Bertha was more in line with Edna (the first name that I thought of but don't quite like). Almost perfect, except its "bigness" seems too big for my little friend.

Sooooo off to the Internet, to a site that almost convinces me to have more babies, just so I can browse all the possible names. There are a ton of "baby name" websites out there, but this one, this one is one-of-a-kind. You can type in some names you like,
e.g. Mary, Bob, Bertha & Edna,
and it'll give you similar ones, based on style, popularity, and a host of other characteristics. Try it yourself at; see what "matches" your family members (or be a responsible time manager and just email the link to a pregnant friend...).

Really, I didn't spend too long there before finding my winner:

Beatrice Bobbins.
Or Aunt Bea, to me.

And since my friend's machine is a "Brother" brand, I figure this one can be
Bea's "brother," Bob.
(I wonder how my friend will like her machine's new name. Ha ha.)

Wednesday, January 7

Chugging along on Al's Quilt

Been sewing. And making progress. Thought I wouldn't be at the point I'm at right now til at least May or so. But here it is, still the beginning of January and I've actually gotten a lot accomplished. So I'm pretty excited. And hoping this momentum will keep me going strong these next few days? weeks?

Wanna see? It's a bit of a mess. And the lighting down in my basement family room at 10pm (when I should be in bed) is atrocious. But here goes...

Here are 8 rows of 10 blocks each, waiting to have their seams ironed flat. Just gotta figure out which direction to iron them...

Here are the "triangle squares" waiting to be sewed into rows, then seams ironed flat. Five "sets" in this stack (which will become 5 rows)...

...and another set started, see? Four pairs --- which will become two quartets --- which will become one row of eight. So far, I haven't screwed up the order of any of the pieces. I think. I hope... Anyway, two more sets are already sewed into rows and ironed and then the two rows also sewed together into a wider row. You'll see that in a minute...
Here's a bunch of orange fabric that still needs to be cut into squares and strips for the border, but I'm not sure on the sizes, so I'm just ignoring this pile for a while. But hey, where are the rest of the border pieces?!? The 36 green rectangles that I sewed onto 36 beige rectangles to make 36 squares?!? (If I know my middle kid, they're probably in the playroom now, covering 36 little stuffed animals in 36 miniature "beds." Aaargh. Cute, but still, aaargh!)
And here's the thing that's giving me hope... Doesn't look like much but it's one-fifth of the quilt, already stuffed with batting and pinned together, just waiting to be quilted!!!!! ("Quilting" is when you sandwich the batting between the front and back layers and then sew lines to keep it all together. Before that happens, when you sew all the pieces into blocks, rows, etc, that's called "piecing." I didn't know that for a long time. Perhaps you didn't either? Now you do.)
Just a minute, let me spread it out for you. First, the "triangles" side. The pairs of squares on either end will be covered by those elusive green-beige border squares ... which I still can't find, grrr... so I'll approximate the border with some scraps I can find. See bottom right corner of photo...
And then here's the "squares" side... Wow, this is going to be BIG quilt. I did the math. I checked the internet. King quilts should be around 110"x110". But dude, that looks really big. And this doesn't even include the 5" brown border around the whole thing!

So let's see it with a small section of border. This is NOT a cotton "quilter's" fabric. It's more like a thick upholstery brocade. But I think it'll make a nice border. By the way, this is NOT the way quilts are usually put together. Not any of it -- the "wrong fabric" border, the double-sidedness, the quilt as you go approach. But I'm just following where desire and necessity take me, trying something different, and so far so good. (Or is it "sew far, sew good"? Late-night puns -- folks, I'm really sorry!)
Ooh ooh! Found the green-beige squares! So let's flip it over again and get a better approximation of what the finished border on the "triangles" side will look like. And you may think I'm taking all these pictures/doing all this layout for you, dear readers, but really it's for me. To give me a vision of where I'm going, a vision to cling to when I'm sewing ("piecing" and "quilting") with no end in sight and all hope seems lost. Because, as my dad is always quoting, from Prov. 29:18, "Without vision, quilters perish," er, I mean "people"...

And this, this is my trusty little machine, originally my grandma Marmee's, faithfully chugging along, especially ever since this past August when the sewing bug bit me again in earnest and sunk its teeth in deep this time. I heard some squeaking coming from her innards somewhere today, so figured I better give her a little TLC 'cause she's still has a lot of work ahead of her. "TLC" means randomly oiling stuff in the hopes of fixing the squeak. I think I managed to do that. Now, after all we've already been through, I think the poor girl needs a name...


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