Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Passivhaus Institut

Ooo, check out this article from the New York Times on furnace-less houses in Germany. Houses built with thick insulation and sealed windows and doors which allows inhabitants to use their own body heat and the heat given off by appliances to warm the house. Die Revolutionsleben!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Peerless Pierogies

M is fond of saying that every great culture has a dumpling. My maternal grandmother was Polish, and we have the pierogi. Every year for Wigilia my parents and I attempt to make these little dumplings, and we're getting better at it all the time. Here are the recipes we use to make these delicious Polish morsels.

(makes about 7 dozen)
  • 1 pint sour cream (16 oz)
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 ts salt
  • 2 ts olive oil
Mix all and let rest at least 30 minutes (can be refrigerated up to two days at this point).

Cheese Filling:
  • 1 cup farmer cheese (or strained ricotta or cottage cheese)
  • 1 T melted butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1/4 ts cinnamon
Cream cheese with melted butter. Add beaten egg, sugar and cinnamon. (*Ours came out a bit too soupy so be sure to strain the cheese well).

Sauerkraut Filling:
  • 1+ pint sauerkraut
  • 1 large onion, chopped
Drain sauerkraut, fry in oil with onion until most of the moisture is gone.

Roll out dough and cut out circles approx. 4 inches in diameter. Fill, fold and seal the edge with a little water (press the edge with a fork if needed).

Drop into boiling water. When they rise to the top they are done. Carmelize onion in a skillet and fry pierogies along with the onions for a few minutes.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Festivus

What lovely comments you guys left on my last post! I didn't expect that at all. I've always had it in the back of my head that I would like to write a children's book and your comments have stoked the flame again. I'm gonna go grab my notebook . . . . . . .

Happy holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Tracks


It begins with a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

A sparrow (Passer domesticus) flying above sees a dark spot on the ground. She lands on the ground to investigate and hops about distractedly, creating a weebly wobbly pattern in the snow (sparrows can be such silly birds).

Stopping quickly, a cottontail bunny (Sylvilagus floridanus) carefully sniffs the air. Is there a predator nearby?

Crouching low, the house cat (Felis catus) waits for the perfect moment to pounce. Her eyes narrow in anticipation but she is patient and sits very still. She can make herself appear as small and quiet as a stone.

A woman (Homo sapiens sapiens) ventures out of her warm living room to take a walk in the frozen morning air. She stoops low to see which animals have passed by her door that morning. The tracks she sees tell a story which she reads in the freshly fallen snow.

It began with a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I'm dreaming of a Jersey Christmas

It's been raining nonstop in Philly lately but I was greeted to a gorgeous blanket of snow when I got to my parents house in New Jersey yesterday. This weekend we started the holiday season off with a bang as 15 of my family members, M and I sat down to Wigilia at my cousins' house. My parents and I made the pierogies again (recipe to come) and my little cousin Alexa entertained us all night.

And here's my Wigilia skirt. My great-aunt Regina had a very similar one (a huge wool wrap skirt with appliqued camels) and I am carrying on the tradition with this one that I found at a thrift store a few years ago. I'm proud to take on the 80-year-old role now that there are so few of that generation left to attend Wigilia.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Woot Woot

After much research and obsessing, I finally purchased my new bike (my sole Christmas present for the year)! I'm suuuuuper excited about it and wishing that the sun would come out so I could take it on more test rides around the city. I haven't named it yet, any ideas? I sold Bonanza Jellybean and I still have Boomer Petway. I guess those bikes were used and came with personalities already attached. This one is like a newborn and I will have to wait to find out what it's like. Oh yeah.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brilliant beets and broth

The time has come for Wigilia, and for me that means making borscht. Though I'm not bringing the soup to the family dinner this year I decided to make some at home for myself and M. It's a Moosewood recipe that I got from my friend Sarah (I'm not sure which book it's from) and I thought I'd share it with you since borscht is so pink and delicious and hard to spell. I also love that it is an incredibly seasonal dish, all root veggies and potatoes and cabbage.

**Disclaimer: this will feed about 8 people, so maybe cut it in half for a weekday meal, unless you want to be eating it for a week like I will be.

3-4 large fresh beets
vegetable oil
12-15 small red skinned new potatoes, scrubbed and boiled until tender.
3-4 Tbs. butter
2 large onions, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 16oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp dried dill (or 1/2 cup fresh dill)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1/2 head cabbage
Sour cream

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Scrub beets. Slice off the leaves but leave a stub. Rub with vegetable oil and wrap individually in foil. Bake 1 hour until barely tender.
  • In a big soup pot, melt butter. Add onions and sautee until tender, 4 min. Add garlic and carrots. Lower heat. When vegetables are mostly cooked, 6 min more, add tomatoes with their juice, stock, herbs, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer gently, covered, about 40 minutes.
  • Remove beets from oven and poke with a fork to check if they are getting soft. Let them cool until you can handle them; rinse quickly in cold water, and then rub off the outer skins with your hands. It will dye your hands red (be careful with the countertops). Dice beets and add to soup. Slice cabbage and add it too. Simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes until they are tender.
  • Adjust seasonings. Serve very hot with 1 or 2 new potatoes in each bowl. If you use diced regular potatoes instead, just add them at the same time as the beets. Dollop each bowl with a little sour cream.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Phila Street Art: 45th and Walnut

I found these two figures in a small alley between two buildings on 45th street near Walnut Street. This technique is called "wheatpasting." The medium is pen on paper and the art is stuck to the wall with wheatpaste; equal parts flour and water, heated until thick. It's a basic adhesive akin to wallpaper paste, often used in paper mache. Loves it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Clothing Swap, Redux

My friend Zoey and I decided to do an alternative clothing swamp a while back (oh, about two years) where we would give each other articles of clothing we no longer wanted, and the other person would modify and return it. Sounded awesome, and we made the swap. She surprised me by actually following through on the idea a year later and sending me my old dress as a new shirt. It took me another year to catch up and finish my side of the bargain. So here it is, my contribution to our clothing swap.

She gave me an old windbreaker and two pairs of too-small underwear (unused as far as I know):

Now I ask you, what on earth could I have made with those things? I gave her an old stretchy cotton dress that she made into a shirt. The shirt was complex, but at least the materials weren't. So here's what I did.

I took some flax seed, lavender seed, and hop flowers:

and I sewed them into a small piece of the lining from the wind breaker, and used the rest of the windbreaker plus the elastic bands from the underwear to made an eye shade for sleeping:

And I made sure that no one would disturb her during her slumber:

Ah, two long-term projects finished in one month. That's progress! Now the best part will be the shock on her face when she finds out that I didn't forget about the clothing swap!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Phila Street Art: 47th and Chestnut

This is a gorgeous mural that was finished in early 2008 in association with a community project called B.R.I.D.G.E. (Bringing Race Into Dialogue for Greater Engagement), a series of workshops and community discussions on race. The mural is called "Dialogue on Race."

It has incredible colors, style, and imagery characteristic of other murals done by these artists (Parris Stancell and Davis McShane, with assistance from Josh Smith). It was sponsored by the Urban League of Philadelphia, Leadership Philadelphia, and the Mural Arts Program, and funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (newspaper people). So far this is one of my favorites, and it's only 5 blocks away from my house!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Seasons mobile

I finally finished a birthday present I've been working on for a while. It's a mobile for my friend Metthea to hang in her "apartment." She lives in the upstairs loft of a building that used to be a hog barn. It's absolutely adorable and it's out in the country. It took me almost a year from conception to completion of this project, but I think it will be perfect hanging over the stairs in her space.

I used a combination of patterns from the books "Woodlands: small toys to sew, vol. 2" by Teresa Levy, and "Softies: simple instructions for 25 plush pals" by Therese Laskey. The materials are felt, embroidery thread, wire, fishing line, and found natural objects.

**materials and prep**

**sticks, pine cones, redwood cones, douglas fir cones, magnolia seed cones, and feathers**

**summer tree**

**fall tree**

**winter tree**

**spring tree**

**oak leaves (I added a little gall on one of the leaves, neeeeeerd aleeeert)**


I'm so happy it's finished and she loves it!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Phila Street Art: 45th and Pine

I've been stumbling across some really amazing and unexpected street art here in Philadelphia, both on a large and small scale. There is an incredible Murals Arts Program here that is responsible for some of the large art, and I've discovered some of the smaller art during my walks around the neighborhood. Since I'm slightly obsessed with street art, I'm starting a series on this blog to showcase the art pieces I find. Enjoy!

I found this little guy in the doorway of an apartment building on the corner of 45th and Pine.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Day in the Life

It's winter here in Philadelphia, and that means that all the gardens are going to bed. And no one is hiring me to teach little ones about plants, which I thought might happen. But no matter, I can wait and network and plan, that's what the winter is for. In the meantime, I am babysitting for a wonderful family that I worked for when I lived here before, because a girl's got to eat.

Harry and Arnie, 5 and 3, are the sweetest, smartest, most polite, most creative little rascals you've ever met. I love them to pieces and I want to put those pieces in my pocket to keep forever. Even when they're bad they are loving and smart and reasonable, if you know what to say to them. Which I'm learning, slowly.

Here's a day in my life with these munchkins . . .

. . . the playroom, looking relatively pristine . . .

. . . creative chaos . . .

. . . drinking milk with two hands . . .

. . . "quiet reading time," aka trying to sneakily get a nap in, aka looking at the squirrels outside for an hour and jumping back to look at pictures when something interesting happens in the book . . .

. . . colorful container full of seeds from a "berry hunt" . . .

. . . collecting leaves to make a collage . . .

And there you have it, my life as a nanny. And I love it (for now :) ).