Friday, September 27, 2013

A Bureau, Some Blankies

A few days ago, a neighbor of mine was having a yard sale. He was the caretaker for an older gentleman, an only child, whose hoarder parents had long since passed away. The older gentleman lived in this house since he was a boy. The caretaker was selling a few things the cousins didn't want. I bought this mid-century hardwood bureau for a friend who asked me to keep my eye out for an inexpensive one:

It reeks of Old House, Not Enough Fresh Air, and Hoarders Lived Here. It needs to be refinished or repainted, but it is a beautifully solid piece of furniture, made to last:

To get the thing into my car required a lot of muscle. The caretaker tossed in some filthy rags to help pad the bureau as I shoved it over the delicate gaskets around the rear hatch of my car.

I took a closer look at the "rags" when I got home, gasped, and soaked them in Oxy Clean for half a day, then washed them in Woolite. This is what emerged:

A mid-century chenille baby's bed spread, done in mint green, salmon pink, pale yellow, and white. In the center, a darling stork surrounded by roses:

A satin-edged baby's blanket with a momma duck washing her baby duck:

This one was hand-made, and the momma's and baby's wings are stitched and slightly padded so they are 3-D:

And this reversible, white, blue, and pink machine-made blanket with two floral stripes and a pensive-looking bunny in the middle:

I have no way of proving it, but I strongly suspect these blankies belong to the gentleman who just died. They certainly are the style of baby things from the 1940s.

It's a little bit sad, and a little bit sweet, that these blankies have outlasted the man. But then, can't we say that of a lot of things?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back-Alley Blues

One of my favorite neighborhood alleys is a short dog-walk away. It's a surprising, rich trove of different blues and textures:

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me to see beauty in the mundane.

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Shoes

Recently I bought new shoes for walking the canyon and walking my dogs. They're exactly the same as the last pair I bought at REI, the mecca for All Things Outdoorsy. That's my old shoe on the left; the new is on the right:

Looking down from the top, there's not too much noticeable wear, right? But the back view is another story. Here's both left shoes, and this time the old one is on the right:

(Why do I keep flipping the old/new shoes around? Sorry.) Now you can see the shocking difference: I've totally ground down the heel of the old shoe (on the left, below), compared with the new one on the right:

Apparently I've got a wicked left-foot heel strike. These shoes only last me a half a year or so, with the beating I give them. The nice folks at REI told me so, because they record all my purchases in their computer.

Before I could feel bad about being so beastly to my shoes, the nice young man said to me, "Half a year is about right, for really active folks like you."


I floated out of there with my new shoes under my arm.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lounging Around in Its New Home

The rattan-and-bamboo lounge chair that I found on the side of the road has completed its transformation. Cleaned, waxed, and spiffed up with some new cushions from Pier One, now the chair lives on the backyard deck at the home of Lovely Daughter #1:

It has some friendly lanterns to talk to and pass the time with:

Another successful roadside rescue. My work here is done.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Scraps-of-Summer Soup Stock

Are your tomato plants on their last legs? Is the pot of herbs on your window sill going south? Are your summer veggies almost all gone?

If so, gather up your tired, your wilted, your sunburned and your funny-looking, last-of summer produce. It's time to make soup stock.

 (The one on the left is too far gone, but the one with splits on the right is perfect.)

 (Wrinkled tomatoes will do just fine, thank you very much.)

Sure, it's too hot to contemplate soup for dinner. But you can use those final, yummy bits from the garden for a taste of summer, when the first cold winds blow.

Here's how:

Harvest your last, sad, odd-looking tomatoes, zucchini, and anything from the summer vegetable plot. (But not leafy green things like spinach and parsley: they are best when added right before serving.)

Wash all the bits and bobs, and toss everything into a large plastic container with a lid. It's okay to throw things in whole; you don't  have to cut anything up. (If you don't have a big plastic container, an extra-large, zip-style food storage bag will do.)

Carrot bits, onion scraps, and the pan juices from a roasted chicken = delicious.

Next, toss in the scraps from your last few al fresco summer dinners: think leftover corn cobs, scooped-out baked-potato skins, the tips and butts of carrots and onions, and any steak bones, nibbled-clean ribs, or chicken carcasses--skin and all--that you have accumulated. (Don't have any? There's still time: Invite some friends over for a final BBQ and voilĂ --there you go.)

If you are a vegetarian, throw in even more veggies--the flower and stem ends of bell peppers, zucchini, pattypan squash, eggplant, the butt end of celery, etc.

If you don't mind mixing meat and dairy, throw in the natural rinds (not wax ones!) from hard cheeses, like Parmeggiano-Reggiano. (If you haven't been saving those rinds, start now: Stick them in a small baggie in the freezer to keep them from getting moldy.) Cheese rinds are divine in soup stock or simmered in a tomato sauce. You'll never throw away a cheese rind again. 

Cheese rinds are pure gold in soups or tomato sauces.

When the box or bag is full-to-bursting, thaw it slightly in the fridge, then tip the contents into a large stock pot, cover with cold water, add some fresh herbs (store-bought, if you have none left from the garden), and a good grind or three of black pepper. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, and then drop the heat down to a low simmer:

Simmer for several hours or all day if you wish. (Of course, don't leave the pot unattended.) Keep the lid on so the stock intensifies without drying up.

(I strongly recommend adding corn cobs to your stock. Corn gives a silky texture and another layer of flavor to stock.)

When you think most of the flavor has been cooked out of the scraps and bones, carefully pour off the liquid into a large mixing bowl. Discard the solids. Put the bowl into an ice bath in your sink to drop the temperature a bit, then put it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, scrape off any fat that has congealed on the top, take note of the amount of liquid left, and pour it into a clean, zip-style freezer bag. Zip the bag shut. (Although you could add salt at this point, I don't advise it. You can always add salt later, right before you serve the soup.)

Label the bag with a felt pen (i.e., "chicken/veg stock; 1 qt."). Then place the stock flat on an emptied shelf in your freezer.

(If you're like me, you may have to temporarily shuffle things around to clear some horizontal space.)

After the bag's contents are frozen solid, stand the bag up, book-style, on a shelf in your freezer:

They may look ugly, but these bags are filled with the beginning of a delicious soup or stew.

When the cold winds blow, take a bag out, thaw it a bit in your fridge, then tip it into a large soup pot. Roughly dice up whatever veggies you have on hand--potatoes, onions, parsnips, carrots, celery, bell pepper, frozen peas, even canned mixed veggies will do--and bring to a boil. Drop down to a simmer, and in 20 or so minutes, give it a taste. Add salt if necessary.

If your soup seems sort of thin or "anemic," here's three quick fixes: 1)Add some leftover cooked grains such as rice, quinoa, barley, or even plain, unsweetened oatmeal. 2)Use a microplane to grate in some cheese. 3)Add a few slices of cubed soft bread, like challah, white bread without the crust, or brioche. The bread breaks down as it simmers and thickens the soup in a delightful way.

There's always leftover challah in our house. It's perfect for thickening up a vegetable soup.

Using not much more than the leftovers from your vegetable garden and your summer BBQs, you can create a fantastic, hearty, made-from-scratch vegetable soup that tastes of summer.

And from now on, promise me you'll save your corn cobs, cheese rinds, and funky-looking veggie scraps?

But you can save a few cherry tomatoes for my pugs.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Not Quite Summer, Not Quite Fall

 There are leaves on the ground, but it's not yet Fall here.

There are still flowers blooming, but it doesn't entirely feel like Summer, either.

It's still a little too early to break out the teapots for tea.

They make nice flower vases, however.

There's a sort of in-betweenness to these days. Still blazing hot midday, but stepping outside at 6 in the morning to get the paper, you can sense a crispness, a hint of things to come.

I'm ready.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sallie has Friends...Lots and Lots of Friends

So, I've learned a lot about my great-grandmother Sallie by reading the diary she kept for a handful of years during the Civil War:

Turns out, her diary is only a tiny bit of a huge amount of genealogical information my family has compiled over the years. This week I went up to Santa Barbara, where my parents lived before they died, and this is what my sister and I uncovered:

That's 75 pounds of family records in the back of my car. (I know; I stood on my scale and added up the weight of all the boxes.) There are birth records, love letters, photos, bills of sale, marriage certificates, grade-school reports. You name it; we kept it!:

Some of it is pretty well organized, because my grandmother and her brother were amateur genealogists, back in the day:

They probably could have told me in a second who this handsome gentleman is, and how he's related to them, and where he lived, and who his wife and kids were:

And the same for this sweet-faced lady. I'm going to spend the next several months trying to learn all I can about these people, and a whole lot more.

There are letters my father wrote his mother during World War II. There are letters my great-great-grandfather wrote my great-great-uncle back in the 1840s: 

And then there's this. I have never seen this before. It's a scrap of paper, in my father's handwriting, taped to the outside of one of the boxes filled with photo albums and papers from our ancestors. It's like a tiny little message to me, from The Great Beyond. The last line says, "For attention of Juli Kinrich."

It's like he knew some day I'd want to find out way more about Sallie and her huge family tree. Because they're his family. Mine, too.

Thank you, Daddy.

I think.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Roadside Rescue: Bamboo-and-Rattan Chair

A few days ago a neighbor put this lovely old bamboo-and-rattan lounge chair out by the trash. I thought it would be perfect for the back patio of Lovely Daughter #1 and her two housemates. But first, the chair needed some comfy cushions. I bought these on sale at Pier 1:

It's a little bit beat up, but as long as folks don't jump up and down in the chair, it should be fine:

I used a stiff brush to sweep away the cobwebs and a damp rag to wash off the dirt. Then I applied a coat of wax to hydrate the dry wood a little:

The cushion for the back wasn't quite tall enough, so I opened up a small bit of the top seam and inserted some durable cotton webbing, then stitched the seam shut:

The webbing is flexible and long enough to tie into bows at the top of the chair, thus raising the back cushion a few inches:

Because it created a gap between the back and seat cushions, I filled in the space with a toss pillow (also on sale at Pier 1):

Do you see Mu Shu lurking? I lured him out behind the photo with a few words in a squeaky voice:

I also bought this toss pillow, which is more of a contrast to the seat and back cushions. Won Ton kindly stepped in to model for me:

(Oh, those cute, crooked teeth!) So do you like the square pillow with the brick-and-cream lattice pattern, or the rectangular one with blue stripes?

Because I rewarded him for sitting nicely for the camera, Won Ton votes for whichever one gets him another treat.


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