Thursday, November 21, 2013

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

It's been about forever since I've written a book review here (... maybe I've never written a book review here?  Perhaps that was a different blog, long, long ago?), but I've been making time to read again lately and therefore have been Thinking All Sorts of Thoughts about books and wanted to share some of them.

The book that's been on my mind lately is Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.  I meant to read it before Halloween to get myself into an appropriately spooky mindset, but as it turned out I didn't get to it until the first week of November.  Oh well.

Shirley Jackson and I have a bit of history because I'm a huge, huge fan of her short stories.  The funny thing is that I've been meaning to read Hill House for ages because I like haunted house stories, but somehow I never put together the fact that my short story hero also wrote what is arguably the most famous haunted house story ever.  But anyway....

The Haunting of Hill House is about a group of strangers who are called together because of their various experiences with the supernatural by Dr. John Montague to scientifically investigate a reportedly haunted mansion.  The mansion does not disappoint: there are plenty of unexplained noises and events to terrify the house's inhabitants, but the brilliance of this ghost story is that the ghosts don't even show up until halfway through the book.

Shirley Jackson's gift is writing characters.  It is clear that the people Dr. Montague invites to join him in his investigation are already haunted before they even arrive.  Eleanor, the character we get to know the best, experienced poltergeist activity in her home as a child and has grown bitter because she was responsible for caring for her invalid mother for many years until her mother's recent death.  Theodora, a devil-may-care free spirit, joined the team as a lark, although there are hints that she may be an outcast in her own way.  The final member of the group, Luke, is the heir to the house although no one has lived in it for many years.  The black sheep of his family, he hides his feelings under a smooth, dandyish exterior.

The house is a character in itself, built by the eccentric Hugh Crain eighty years before the story takes place.  None of the angles of the house are quite right, and the downstairs rooms are laid out in a spiral, with the inner rooms having no access to daylight or the outside whatsoever, leaving the inhabitants slightly queasy and disoriented.  The usual haunted house trappings are all there: musty Victorian decor, a creepy caretaker and cook duo, and a paranoid, spinster daughter who hanged herself in the library.

The first three-quarters of the book is wonderful.  The characters are getting to know each other, and the omniscient narrator gives us glimpses into Eleanor's thoughts as the characters settle into the house.  Eleanor's recurring theme is "Journeys end in lovers meeting", although she does not know whether Luke, Theo, or the house itself is the lover she would meet at the end of her journey.  The house is quiet the first two days the investigators are in it, and the tension the reader feels while waiting for the scary stuff to start is great.

I won't give away the ending because you really, really need to read this for yourself, but I've noticed with two of my favorite books: The Haunting of Hill House and Jack London's The Sea Wolf, the endings are totally unsatisfactory.  I've been thinking a lot about why that is since I finished Hill House, and I think that in both cases, the authors created unbeatable bad guys.  Hill House is too big, too creepy, to *haunted*, whether by the ghosts that were already there or by the baggage the characters bring with them, to be figured out and explained.  In The Sea Wolf, Wolf Larsen, the sadistic, larger-than-life captain of the seal-hunting schooner the Ghost, rescues the soft, city-bred progatonist Humphrey from a ferry wreck and subjects him to the brutality of the sea for the long seal-hunting season.  Aside from the character of Wolf Larsen, the plot of The Sea Wolf is actually rather weak, but Wolf Larsen is one of the great characters in American literature.  The trouble with him is that he's too strong, too invincible.  Jack London had to resort to a sort of deus ex machina to get rid of him because he was too powerful for Humphrey or any other character to beat him.  It is the same for Hill House.  Shirley Jackson brilliantly created a character that was too strong for anyone to best.  At the end of the novel, Hill House hasn't given up any of its secrets, and, somehow, even though it's painfully frustrating for the reader, it works.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


So really, honestly, someday I mean to write about the crafty stuff I've been doing; the stuff that has had me out of the kitchen and playing with Mod Podge and jewelry fittings and comic books and fabric scraps, but late summer and early fall in my world are about canning.  And canning, and canning, and more canning.

I finally got to make applesauce last week, but I am a bad blogger and forgot to take pictures, so I'll leave it to your imaginations for the moment.  Luckily for you, though, I'm picking up a bucket of apples from my aunt today to make more applesauce this weekend, so there's another chance for pictures.  Please try to contain you excitement.

Mostly, though, our kitchen has been covered in tomatoes.  When I say covered, I don't mean a little box of them sitting in the corner waiting patiently to be processed, I mean covered.  Bags sitting on every available surface, piles in the sink waiting to be washed and peeled, bowls holding the overflow that wouldn't fit in the pot simmering on the stove... covered.

I got a bit lazy this year and last with my tomato canning: some years I've gone all out and made pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce in addition to my usual salsa, but the past couple of years I've just canned lots of whole tomatoes (using this recipe with the addition of a couple of whole garlic cloves and some basil leaves stuffed in the jars with the tomatoes - I know, I know - never change a canning recipe.  But I've been adding garlic and basil for years and haven't died of botulism yet, for what that's worth.  You've been warned nonetheless).  My excuse for the whole tomatoes is that they're more versatile - if we want pizza sauce we can cook them down and puree the sauce; if we want spaghetti sauce we can do that, but if we just want some tomatoes to round out a recipe, they're good for that, too.   The real reason, though, is that it's about a million times faster to can whole tomatoes than it is to make sauce, cook it down to perfection and then can it.  It's the lazy person's guide to home preserves from me to you.

My one concession to ambition this year in the tomato department was in making V8 juice.  That was less work than making sauce because I did it at my aunt and uncle's house and used their juicer to crush all of the veggies after they cooked - much easier and less messy than doing it with a blender.  I used this recipe and it turned out really good - it's tasty cold, but it also makes a solid soup warmed up and it's definitely a killer Bloody Mary mix.  My only changes were to use swiss chard instead of celery (there was no celery at the market, so I used the white-ribbed swiss chard and it seemed like a good substitution - not bitter at all) and to add more horseradish than the recipe called for because I like it a bit spicy.

This was my super-lazy tomato preserving plan - I had a ton of cherry tomatoes, which I love, but which we would've never been able to eat before the went bad, so I rinsed them and spread them out on a jelly roll pan and threw them in the freezer.  When they were frozen solid, I dumped them in a ziplock baggie like a bunch of tiny cue balls and now we'll have them for omelettes, stews and what have you this winter.  Easy peasy.

I made two batches of tomato salsa this year, plus a batch of salsa verde.  I used this recipe for roasted tomato salsa (I think the recipe calls for just the chilis to be roasted, but I fired up the charcoal grill and I figured that as long as it was going I might as well roast everything in the world, so basically every ingredient called for by the recipe got a taste of the flames).  I highly recommend this recipe - I made one batch as a milder salsa with just a few jalapenos and another, hotter batch the next weekend with jalapenos and some Scotch bonnet  chilis, and both came out really well.  This will be my go-to recipe for salsa from now on - you can taste the nice, roasted flavor along with the usual salsa-y thing going on.  Yum.  I always make a ton of salsa because it's good for chili base as well - rather than add a ton of ingredients to my crock pot chili I just brown up whatever meat I'm using, add whatever veggies and spices I have on hand and then toss in a jar of salsa to round everything out.

And now I'm hungry for chili.

I used this recipe for the salsa verde - this was the first time I've tried making it before and it was awesome.  The only change I made was to roast all of the veggies on the grill (I made it the same day as one of the batches of tomato salsa and I was in the mood to GRILL EVERYTHING) and to add salt, pepper, cumin and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  We made chicken enchiladas for dinner the other night (I'm an overachiever and made homemade tortilla shells, too, which were easy after I figured out that when they say "flour" tortilla, they mean "coat every surface in your kitchen including yourself in flour so they won't stick when you're rolling  them out and then you're golden") and slathered them in salsa verde - it was kind of heavenly, really.

I think the final total was something like 110 lbs. of tomatoes plus five lbs. of tomatillos that I processed.  It was a little bit ridiculous, and there was a week or so there when I couldn't stand the thought of a tomato, let alone countenance one sitting brazenly in my kitchen mocking me, but I'll be happy for these jars come wintertime when the thought of a sun-ripened tomato seems a long way off.

So I promise the season of canning is winding down for me and I'll find something more interesting to write about soon.  In the meantime, though, my larder is stocked and now I can settle in and enjoy fall.  Current project: get the family to a pumpkin patch to get some super cute pictures of Jack among the pumpkins.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


My meditation for the day:

When everything is bothering me and I'm having trouble remembering why I wanted to do anything other than live alone in a cave far from humankind, it's possible that I'm the one who needs an attitude adjustment, not everyone else in the world.

In related news, Jack is having a really hard time teething and was up four times again last night and I'm not my usual sunshine-y self when I get very little sleep for weeks on end.

*goes to happy place*

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


To me, there's nothing like the first couple of crisp days when fall is definitely in the air and you need a sweater to leave the house in the morning.

The first nights when you can leave the window cracked and snuggle under the feather duvet are heaven.

(It's fairly dorky to admit, but our feather duvet might be my very favorite purchase I've ever made for the house.  When I was a kid my best friend's parents had one on the bed in their guest room and whenever I spent the night there the feather duvet just seemed like the most luxurious thing in the world to me.  I caught one on sale a few years back and I still feel like the queen of Sheba when it's cool enough to put it on the bed.  ... it's the little things in life?)

The neighborhood is quiet now during the day because the kids have gone back to school.  The onslaught of tomatoes from the garden has subsided somewhat (thank goodness), and our produce consumption is turning toward winter squash and potatoes.

The peaches at the market have given way to the apples, which means that I'll be hauling a couple big boxes of seconds home because it's almost applesauce time.  (Paul is super excited about applesauce time: his enthusiasm for my applesauce is second only to his enthusiasm for the bushels and bushels of corn I haul home every summer.)

At the coffee shop, lattes have replaced my summer fare of iced Americanos.  The very first trees are beginning to hint at reds and oranges instead of breezy greens.

And, the best sign of fall, my pumpkin, the one I didn't even mean to plant, is turning orange.  The very first pumpkin that I haven't killed, discouraged, or otherwise maimed, is ripening in our side yard.  Really, it should probably be considered Jack's pumpkin, since the only reason it grew there is because I had pumpkins out for decoration in the yard last fall that I never bothered to bring in (possibly because I was ridiculously pregnant and bending over to pick them up didn't suit, and after Jack was born I spent three months curled up on the daybed doing nothing but nursing him, so that may have had something to do with the fact that they were abandoned.)  But, hope springs eternal for the pumpkin, and when last year's decorations rotted, new life was born.  How poetic.  I just hope it finishes ripening in time for Halloween so that Jack's first jack o'lantern is one that grew because of him.  

Monday, September 9, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about intentions this week.

Admittedly my thoughts have been somewhat scattered on the subject because my darling son is teething like crazy right now and hasn't slept for more than 3 hours at a time in over a month, but here's what I've come up with so far.  

I want to live intentionally.  

By which I mean that I want to take the time to notice the little things in my life.

(I told you this wasn't going to be rocket science.)

As far as I can tell, intentions can go one of two ways.  You can intend to do something and actually do it, or you can have all the best intentions and keep going on the way things always have been.

The boy-o is 10 months old now, and watching how fast he is changing and growing up is what sparked these musings.  I want to be intentional about the time I spend with him.  I'm his primary caregiver while Paul is at work, and some days that's not so easy.  Staying home with an infant is isolating and lonely and there are days when you feel like you'll never be able to put your boobs back in your shirt and have an adult conversation ever again.  (I hear that strippers have a similar problem.)  Then, once the kiddo is bigger, you might feel like you'll never be able to get anything done again because he is into EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME.  If it's not the oven broiler drawer it's the dog's water bowl. (You don't realize how much water is actually in there until it's all on the floor.  Five dishtowels-worth, in case you were wondering, and then the floor is *still* wet because you've run out of dishtowels you're willing to mop the floor with.)   

But there are a lot of awesome moments, too.  He learned to clap his hands a few weeks ago, and now we get a round of applause when we walk into the same room he's in.  That feels pretty good.  He also learned to high-five from a friend of ours at the farmers' market, and that's charming, too.  He imitates our "HAH!" when we're playing with him, and he knows how the lizard goes (picture an adorable 10 month old boy poking his tongue in and out of his mouth as fast as he possibly can.  That's comedy gold.).  He delights in his new-found skills of putting objects into bowls and dumping them out again.  He loves the water.  He watches everything and tries to figure it all out.  He's learned to pet Penny gently, and the two of them share toys (... we're working on building good immune systems?) and genuinely seem to get a kick out of each other.

I want to remember all of that.  

And more than remembering it, I want to enjoy it while it's happening, too.  I intend to do that.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Public Service Announcement:

Refrain from taking your youngster to a wet beach unless you have all of the following:

A) A high tolerance for mess

B) The willingness to get wet and messy yourself while trying to hose him off afterward

C) A dry towel and a change of clothes for both of you

D) The desire to watch your little goober have the time of his life

Thursday, August 22, 2013


So before August turned crazy and then completely got away from me, I spent a lovely and fragrant morning in the kitchen making peach butter.

My recipe for peach butter is pretty much the same recipe I use for my applesauce.  (Side note: IT'S ALMOST APPLE-PICKING TIME!!!)  I highly recommend getting peaches from the farmers' market or from a local orchard for this.  There's really no comparison between the real thing and the poor things that get imported to the grocery store from California.  (... of course, if you're *in* California, by all means, buy the Cali peaches.  But if you're in the Midwest... not so much.)

Wash and cut up your fruit, leaving the skins on but removing pits and stems.  The skins will give your finished product a pretty color.  Put all of the fruit in a stockpot with about an inch of water at the bottom to keep them from burning before the fruit releases its juices.

Start to cook the fruit down over medium heat.  This will take a lot less time for peaches than for apples since peaches are pretty soft to begin with.  Seconds are great for this; you pay about half the price as for premium fruit and you don't need them to be pretty anyway.  Just check the box before you buy - seconds have a relatively short shelf life since they're already bruised to begin with.  I cut away the worst parts, but if you aren't careful when you buy them you'll end up cutting away most of what you bought.  If you're using seconds, you'll definitely want to plan on making your preserves within a day or two: see previous comment about the short shelf life.  Not to mention the fruit flies that are on day old peaches like white on rich.

If your household is like mine, you might have a rugrat plotting his escape while you're working on this.  That's ok - just try to keep him away from the stove so that the boiling syrup doesn't splash on him.  You might notice that he has the dog's water dish in his hands.  While you're waiting for the peaches to cook down, take the opportunity to mop the kitchen floor, since he's already started that process for you.

After about 10 minutes on medium-high head, your peaches should look something like this.  The fruit on the bottom is breaking down and the only whole pieces that are left are the ones that were on top to begin with.  At this point, you'll want to start stirring pretty regularly because the mix will get progressively thicker and you don't want the bottom to burn.

Just keep stirring, just keep stirring, just keep stirring, stirring, stirring...

42 Wallaby Way, Sydney; 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney

(Digression: When Jack was born, I spent basically his first two months sitting on the daybed watching movies and nursing him during every waking hour.  I had seen Finding Nemo before, but it was in the stack of movies my sister lent me, so I watched it again.  This time, though, I cried.  More than once.  Marlin realizing he's lost Nemo?  Cried.  Crush the sea turtle saying that the "little dudes" have to learn to fly on their own?  Cried.  Marlin, Nemo and Dory together as a family at the end?  Cried.  I blame the postpartum hormones.)

Ok, back to the peach butter before I get all weepy.  This is the part when some kind of food processor comes in handy.  I like my grandma's old school one that looks like the aliens from "War of the Worlds", but an electric one would be fine, too.  Once your peaches are cooked down so that even the ones that are still relatively whole are soft, it's time to make some buttah.  


First, I strain off whatever liquid hasn't boiled off in the stockpot.  If you're going to be a purist about this, you should really keep it boiling on the stove until almost all of the liquid is gone, but to do that requires constant stirring, which wasn't happening for me that day.  (See small boy trying to escape.)  If you aren't super impatient to eat your peach butter RIGHT NOW, you could also put it in a crock pot instead of on the stove top and let it slow cook all day with a splatter screen on top instead of the lid, but I was leaving to go camping an hour after these pictures were taken, so that wasn't happening either.

After you've strained off whatever liquid is left, run the remains through your food processor.  Mine has small holes that keep the skins from going into the final product, but if you don't want the skins in your final product you could either peel them from the beginning (that would've been useful information at the top of this post, I know) or run the whole mess through a strainer.  Actually, if you wanted to use a strainer, you could probably just mash everything through it with the back of a wooden spoon and forego the electric food processor entirely.  

There, I just gave you a way to save the planet.  You're welcome.

If the process has been exhausting up to this point and you need a hit of pure sugar, by all means, drink the liquid you strained off the peaches before you processed them.  I put mine in the fridge and sipped on it after it was chilled; it's delicious, but way more intense than hummingbird food.  (Yes, I've accidentally drank hummingbird food, so I can say this with some authority.)  It would be totally awesome as a mixer, though.  I'll leave that up to your imaginations. 

Ok, now that you're wired, we're in the home stretch.  Put the processed peaches back in your stockpot for a final boil.  You'll want to stir constantly at this point because it would be a bummer for them to burn after all this work.  You want the peach butter to get thick enough that you can dip a spoon in and have it come out coated.  This is also the point at which you'll want to taste your peach butter.  My peaches were sweet enough that I decided not to add any sugar, but you could add white or brown sugar or honey to taste at this point.  My original recipe called for about 1/2 a cup of white sugar.

Peach butter will keep in a closed container in the fridge for a good month or more because of all the antioxidants found in the skins and it also freezes well, but if you want to can it, you can process it in a boiling water bath with 1/2" of headspace for 12 minutes.  I have done that in the past, but I was running out of room, so I just threw it in jars in the fridge.  

Finally, toast some delicious bread (this calls for something more special than Wonderbread... not that you could get that anymore anyway) smear on some of the fruits of your labors and ENJOY!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Behind the scenes

Hi, friends!

Sorry about the radio silence.  I'm sans good internet connection at the moment, so posting will be light until early next week.

Back soon with pictures and updates on all the fun projects I've been into.  I know you'll be quivering with antici.......................................................pation until then.  :)

Friday, August 2, 2013

What my kitchen looks like

One of my sidelines is selling bread for a friend at a farmers' market one night a week.  This is my third summer doing it for him, and it's become one of the things I look forward to most about summer.  He pays us a little for selling, but we always end up spending almost all of that and more buying delicious goodies at the market.  Whatever bread is left over at the end we're able to trade with other vendors, so we come home with quite the bounty.

(Don't mind the taped off outlets - we just tiled our backsplash earlier this week and we need to seal the grout lines before we put the covers back on.  The exciting thing about this development, though, is that it means the kitchen is DONE!  More on that later.)

Last night's haul: watermelon, half a cantaloupe, peaches plus a basket of seconds that will become peach butter later this morning, blueberries (can you tell that I go a little nuts over fresh fruit in the summer?), a dozen and a half ears of corn, two cucumbers, a head of bibb lettuce, a couple eggplant, four heads of garlic, a package of bacon and another of pork sausage links, a couple of cookies and a slice of raspberry olive oil pound cake.  Not to mention the bread I didn't trade, which gets distributed to friends and family or ends up in our freezer. 

A bunch of the corn, a loaf of white bread for French toast and a couple jars of peach butter are going with me up north where the boy and I are camping with some of my college girlfriends this weekend.  This will be the first time we've all been together since a wedding last summer, and I can't wait to introduce the little man to those who haven't met him yet and to spend a couple days basking with my ladies.

It feels like this summer has been flying by, so I suppose in a way this post is an attempt to hold on to that summer-y feeling when you're eating fruit hand over fist so that the fruit flies don't get it first and you eat so much corn that you might turn yellow.  

(Paul is from colder climes than I, and he's used to corn season being a month at most.  The first time I came home with a 50 lbs. bag of corn to put up and freeze it was a novelty.  The second time (two weeks later), it was cause for slight concern.  The third time I think he may have contemplated divorce.  I heard a lot of "creamed corn... fried corn... corn pone... corn bread... corn on the cob..." in the style of Bubba from Forest Gump, and "Corn!  The other white meat!"  To his credit, though, *he* was the one who first suggested buying corn at the market this year.  I was going to give him a break for a while.  And yes, we did eat all that corn I froze last year, and we ran out of it before the markets started back up.)

I was noticing the other day that I need to update my "printed word" reading list sidebar.  I've been making a point to read more fun books (i.e. not-for-my-dissertation books) this summer, and I've got some great ones to recommend.  I just finished Farmacology by Daphne Miller, M.D., which is about a medical doctor's investigations into the way sustainable farming can teach lessons about our health.  It was a great read, and, although most of her recommendations are already in keeping with the way we live, it's always nice to be vindicated.  I highly recommend it.

After Farmacology I read The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.  It had been on my list for quite a while because I love books about the sea, and this one didn't disappoint.  Just a warning: it's incredibly depressing (hint: it's a bad storm.  A lot of people die), but Junger's research and the way he weaves the peoples' stories together was pretty gripping.  I stayed up half the night to finish it.

Now I'm on Michael Crichton's Next.  Crichton has been a favorite of mine since high school.  I wrote him a fan letter when I was in 10th grade and he wrote me back and sent an autographed headshot.  Call me a dork, but I still think that's pretty awesome.  

Ok, time to wrap this up for today.  That was the third time I've had to get up to chase after the recently-mobile kiddo, who is intent on playing in the dog's water dish.  It takes him about 20 seconds to get from the kitchen table (which is in the front room, not the kitchen, confusingly enough) out to the kitchen where the dog's dish is.  He's not crawling so much as scooting, but man is he getting quick.  

Happy weekending!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

As long as I'm posting about food...

Ok, I know I say this all the time, but I'm back again.  I made this casserole carrier *coughcoughtwoyearsagocough* for my friend's bridal shower, and I finally transferred the pictures off my phone and have evidence for it.  I'm feeling ambitious, so I'm even going to write a tutorial for it.  I don't have pictures of the construction because I was rushing to finish it minutes before leaving for the shower, but hopefully you'll get the idea.  This is the first tutorial I've written, so feedback is appreciated!

Caveat: I live in the Midwest, which is why I think every bride needs a casserole carrier.  It's quite possible that people outside the Midwest don't carry their casseroles as far afield as we do. (Do people outside the Midwest even make casseroles?)  We've raised the potluck to an art form.

I made the pattern up as I was going along, but my grandma had a carrier similar to this.  It's basically a quilted rectangle with ties at the corners to wrap it up around the casserole dish and handles that wrap around the underside of the casserole to support it.  The major benefit I see to this design is the corner ties, which allow the carrier to be folded flat in the napkin drawer on those rare occasions when people are bringing dinner to your house instead of you to theirs, and the continuous handles, which add some stability.

Materials needed:
Casserole dish
1/2 yard of fashion fabric
1/2 yard of lining fabric (I used quilting cottons for both)
Quilt batting
2 yards of double-fold bias tape in a coordinating color
2 yards of handle webbing
2-3 inches of velcro
Ribbon for corner ties
Coordinating thread

Safety pins
A walking foot for your sewing machine is really helpful, but not totally necessary
Masking tape or a quilting seam guide will make it easier to quilt straight lines

It's best to start with your favorite casserole dish (or the one you're giving your friend for her shower).  You want your carrier to be big enough to cover at least half an inch above the edges of the dish to minimize the chances that your 400 degree mac and cheese will slosh over the edges onto your lap, car upholstery or toddler.  Measure the bottom and sides of your casserole, then cut rectangles out of your fashion fabric and lining, adding 1/2" for overhang on each side and 1/2" for seam allowance/ good measure because quilted fabric shrinks a little bit.  (Note: I use 1/2" seam allowance instead of 5/8" for home sewing projects mostly out of laziness, but also because they generally need less fitting wiggle-room.  5/8" gives more room for fitting garments, but for something like this just add whatever seam allowance you like.)

After you cut your fabric, cut a rectangle of quilt batting 1/2" bigger on all sides than your fabric.  You want some overhang because some of the batting tends to get sucked up during the quilting process.

Make a "sandwich" with your lining, face down, then the batting, then your fashion fabric, face up.  Safety pin your sandwich together every 2" or so to keep it from shifting as you sew (this is called basting in quilting lingo.  You can also do "real" basting with a needle and thread if you want: sew large running stitches about an inch or two apart in a grid over your entire "sandwich".  You want these to be tight enough to hold the layers together, but loose enough to be able to pull out after you quilt the layers together with a minimum of hair-pulling.  You could also use spray adhesive to hold the layers together.  Here's a good YouTube video that explains basting: ).  You'll have to remove the pins as you stitch if you choose that route, but don't skip basting one way or another or you'll end up with ugly puckers in your fashion fabric or lining.

Now it's time to decide what quilting design you're going to use.  For this carrier, I just quilted diagonal lines about 2" apart because I ran out of time because I wanted a nice clean look, but you could do a checkered pattern (intersecting perpendicular lines), diamond pattern (intersecting diagonal lines) or, if you're feeling adventurous, stippling, or free-motion quilting, with lowered feed dogs and a darning foot.  I'm new to stippling, so I'm not even going to try to explain it to you, but here's another YouTube tutorial if you like:  If you're doing straight-line quilting, laying out your design with masking tape will help keep your lines nice and straight.  Stitch along the edge of the tape or use it to line up the edge of your presser foot.  A walking foot will help move the layers of fabric through your machine smoothly.

Ok, all quilted?  The hard part (such as it was) is over!

Now it's time to lay out our ribbons for the corners.  I used half inch grosgrain ribbon because it holds its shape better than satin ribbon, but whatever you want to use should be fine.  Cut eight lengths of ribbon about 10" long (you can trim it shorter if you want after you've finished the carrier), and lay them out about 2 1/2" in from each side of the corners.  You want them to meet up over the corners of the dish, so you could set your casserole dish on your quilted rectangle and fold the corners in to see exactly where the ribbons should be placed.  Pin or hand stitch the ribbon in place on the lining side, matching raw edges.

(Note that the diagrams aren't to scale at all - they're just meant to show placement.  I forgot to shade the rectangles in the diagrams to show lining versus fashion fabric, and I'm writing this as quickly as I can before my kiddo wakes up, so I'm not going back to fix the diagrams right now.  Read carefully to see which side is which and feel free to ask questions in the comments if you need clarification!)

After your ribbons are in the right place, it's time to finish the edges of your carrier.  First, using a ruler (I like the wide, clear plastic quilting rulers, but any straight-edge will work), square up your corners and trim off any extra batting that is sticking out and any threads still hanging from your quilting lines.  Unfold your bias tape and line up the raw (inside) edge right-sides together with the lining fabric, leaving a 2" tail hanging where you started pinning.  Continuing to unfold the bias as you go along, pin it around the entire rectangle, again leaving a 2" tail when you get all the way around.  Stitch just inside the fold of the bias tape starting with your first pin (leaving the tail hanging for now) and stop at your last pin.  Backstitch, then take your two tails and match them right sides together, marking where they meet.  Stitch them together at your mark, trimming the excess to a 1/4" seam and finger-pressing the seam open.  Then stitch the newly-attached bias trim the rest of the way to your quilted rectangle.

To finish the edge, fold the bias tape over itself, enclosing the raw edges of the rectangle between the halves of the tape.  You have a couple of options here.  You could top-stitch the bias tape, stitching through all layers about 1/8" inside the edge of the bias tape.  It would look like this:

The trick with that approach is to make sure you're catching both sides of your bias tape and stitching in a nice, clean straight line.  You can also fold over your bias a little farther on the backside so that you're "stitching in the ditch" on the inside (lining side) and catching the bias tape on the back (so the inside bias tape shows no stitching on it but the outside looks like the picture above).  Or you can fold the bias tape to the outside as described above and slipstitch it by hand so that no stitching shows on the outside of the bias tape at all.  (Here's a link to a very thorough description of hand stitches - the slip stitch is on page 7:  

Finally, you need to decide where to place your handle loops.  I made the handles with one continuous loop of webbing; the trick is just to make sure you place the straps across the bottom wide enough so that the casserole sits flat and is well-supported.  If you imagine the smaller rectangle where your casserole bottom sits divided into thirds that should give you some idea of where to place your webbing, but you can always pin it where you think it should go, tie your corner ribbons and set the casserole into it to see if the handles are in the right spot before you sew the webbing on.  It should look something like this:

After you decide how long you want the handles to be, stitch the ends of your webbing together.  I cut both ends off cleanly and used a lighter to (carefully!) melt the end of the webbing and seal it so that it wouldn't unravel, but you could also use a close zigzag stitch to finish the ends, cutting off any fraying past the stitching.  Next, stack the ends of the webbing and sew them so that you have a continuous circle.  The inside of the circle will go against the fashion fabric so the webbing creates a sling that the casserole will sit in.  Start with the ends of your webbing under where the casserole dish will sit and arrange the webbing as shown in the diagram above.   You'll stitch a square with an X connecting the corners at each of the yellow Xs above to connect the webbing to the rectangle.

Finally, if you want, you can make a cushy wrap for the handles.  Measure two rectangles of fashion fabric and one of batting about six inches wide and nine inches long. Sandwich them together, but this time put the fashion fabric right sides together with the batting on top.  Stitch around the outside, leaving about three inches open on one side to turn everything right-side out.  Once it's right-side out, tuck the remaining raw edges inside and edge-stitch around the rectangle.  Stitch the female (soft side) of the velcro about two inches in on one side of the rectangle, then wrap that side around one of the handles and edge stitch, enclosing the handle.  Your velcro should be flat against one side of your handle.  Wrap the other handle in the rest of your rectangle and mark where your male (sticky side) velcro needs to go to meet up with the female.  Stitch it on and you're done with your casserole carrier.  

Make some delicious mac and cheese (recipe for my famous "book club" mac and cheese to follow), cover it with aluminum foil and proudly take it to your next potluck in your very own casserole carrier. My friend's mom carried the one I made around for the rest of her shower - it was definitely a hit.  In fact, I'm not sure if my friend got to take it home or if her mom stole it.  If you wanted to get fancy, you could even make a zippered or tied lid for the carrier to keep things toasty on the way to your potluck.  If you make a carrier from this tutorial please send me a picture - I'd love to see what you come up with!

Happy sewing!

Monday, April 1, 2013


So this is a post out of desperation because my very favorite soup recipe, the one I've made about once a week for the past month or more, has been taken down from the website on which I found it and I have to try to recreate it here, where the link won't change, so that I won't lose it forever.  It's a slow-cooker Italian meatball soup recipe and it is WONDERFUL.  The best thing about it is that the meatballs don't have to be cooked ahead of time, so you can just roll them up and drop them in without dirtying a bunch of extra dishes.

The recipe went something like this:

For the meatballs:
1 lb. loose Italian sausage
1/2 c. (or 1 c.?) bread crumbs (I like panko)
A few pinches dried herbs: I like sage
A couple good squirts of ketchup to stick everything together (or sub an egg if you want)
A couple dashes of garlic salt and pepper

Form into meatballs and place in slow cooker.  I usually layer them all around the bottom rather than piling them up.  They won't stick together if you heat the broth as follows:

For the broth:
In a stock pot on the stove, heat together:
2 qts.(ish) chicken stock
2 T tomato paste
1-2 t red pepper flakes

Pour over meatballs.  Cook about 6-8 hours on low in the slow cooker or 3-4 hours on high (depending on how hot your cooker gets - mine usually takes about 6 hours on low.  When the broth is simmering you'll know the meatballs are cooked through.)

About 1/2 hour before serving, drop in 1/2 - 1 c. noodles (or 1/2 a box, if you're Paul.  The more noodles you put in, the less broth you'll have.  You've been warned.  This is a great time to use crazy-shaped noodles: we like gemelli.)

Immediately before serving, drop in 3-4 good handfuls of fresh spinach.  Allow to wilt before dishing out.

Die happy and go to heaven.  Eat leftovers for the rest of the week until it's time to make another pot.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What's new since, oh, this time last year

So about how this was supposed to be a shelter blog about my new house and all the fabulous things I was going to do to it.  And then about how I got married and hubs and I did all kinds of fabulous things to the house, but my camera was broken and I didn't really record any of them.  And then we were too cheap to pay for internet at home, and my laptop decided that it didn't want to get on home internet connections anyway.  All that happened in the past two years or so.  So, you know, there's some stuff to catch up on.

Two summers ago we renovated the bathroom, but in typical fashion when I was taking pictures of the house today I didn't feel like taking pictures of the bathroom (... possibly because it needed to be cleaned and I felt like taking pictures more than I felt like cleaning the bathroom.  Don't worry - it eventually did get cleaned).  So the big bathroom reveal will have to wait.  But yesterday the little guy was cooperative and happy to sit in his bouncy seat for a bit while I deep cleaned the kitchen, so I took pictures today of my fabulous renovated kitchen, which was this summer's home improvement project.  (Warning - this will probably turn into an epic, next-great-American-novel style post.  Unless the little man freaks out, in which case it may turn into a to-be-continued.)

A bit of back-story: when we started the kitchen (Labor Day weekend, appropriately enough), I was 31 weeks pregnant and we had just gotten back from two weeks in France and Spain with my little sister.  The old kitchen was pretty tiny - something like  47 square feet, with a teeny pantry off it that was mostly unusable because of a water meter sticking up out of the floor, a dinky hot water tank taking up the rest of the floor and the shelves way off to the side so they were almost unreachable.  So the plan was to bust out the old pantry and open that wall up for some fabulous counterspace (the old kitchen had about twelve inches of usable counterspace), remove the upper cabinets that were on the left wall and put in a fancy new sink and an all-in-one washer/dryer so that we could wash diapers in our own house instead of going next door to my cousin's house.  So fancy!

So to set the stage for the renovation, here I was:
August 29.  Already so preggers...

After moving the appliances into the front room, we spent a delightful weekend tearing apart the old kitchen. Mmm... asbestos.  

(Don't worry - I wore a mask and Paul did all the really iffy stuff.  Little man came out fine, so it couldn't have been that big of a deal, right?)

We made an epic trip to Ikea to pick out and buy our kitchen cabinets, sink, faucet, and countertop.  And while we were at it, we also got a daybed and two mattresses.  And a cowhide rug for good measure.  It all fit in my Element.  We were impressed.

Long story short on the installation {because little man is starting to fuss} - it took longer than we expected because the water lines all had to be moved, we installed a new hot water tank in the attic, we ended up replacing all the gas and hot water lines... it was a lot of work.  So fast forward to November 1st.  Approximately 38 weeks pregnant, kitchen gutted, floor reinstalled - time for tile.  Paul's view of me helping him with this step looked like this:
One month later, my belly had gone from little watermelon-sized to BIG watermelon-sized

You might also notice the fancy window above my belly.  We cut a pass-through in the wall where the fridge used to be for a breakfast bar.  I forgot to take pictures of it today, so it'll be the subject of another post one of these days.

So the floor was down and it was finally time to install the lovely Ikea cabinets that had been sitting patiently in our garage for the past two months.  I spent the next few days assembling cabinets while Paul was at work and we hung a few a night until they were all in.  (Spoiler alert: I spent all day assembling cabinet components and hanging doors the day I went into labor. You ready for that baby to come?  Build some cabinets.)

Once the cabinets were installed, we (and by "we" I mean Paul with me standing by for moral support) cut the gorgeous butcher block blanks for our countertops.  That was the evening I went into labor, and, by happy coincidence, Lexy text me demanding a picture, so here's the last picture of me pre-baby the night we cut the countertops:
T-15 hours until the easy part of being a parent would be over

So anyway, we fit the countertops and laid them in place before calling it a night.  Except that it was a short night because I went into labor around 11 and little man was born at 8:13 the next morning.  (Maybe someday I'll write out our birth story for public consumption. I have a paper mama-journal that I'm keeping, but I don't know yet how I feel about sharing the birth with a wider audience.  My thoughts on that are fodder for another post anyway.  Carrying on...). 

So when we came home from the hospital, the appliances were still in the front room and the countertops needed to be screwed down.  We hadn't installed the trim pieces on the cabinets yet, nor had we tiled the backsplash.  Paul quickly moved the appliances in that weekend and the kitchen was up and running!

So here are some pretty pictures of our new kitchen three months later (... still lacking the backsplash and trim pieces, but just squint a little and pretend they're there, ok?)

So there you have it.  The project started on Labor Day and ended (... well... sort of ended) with going into labor.  How's that for poetic?

Also, you thought you thought for a minute that I was actually going to publish a post without a gratuitous baby picture, didn't you?  Hah.

He's discovered wiggling, which I'm all for, but it makes it very hard to get a non-blurry picture.  Seriously, though, look at that face! Hee.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I'm still alive!

And I have the internet at home again thanks to my lovely, initiative-taking husband.

And a snazzy new laptop!

And I appropriated my mom's camera!  (... like that?  "Appropriated" instead of "stole"?  I should be a politician.)


Hopefully somewhat regular blogging will resume soon (... who I am kidding?  When has my blogging ever been what one could call "regular"?), but I wanted to check in, let anyone still lurking around here know that I'm not dead, and that my time has been taken up with one of these lately:

...well, ok, not "one of these" but that one up there specifically.  Isn't he cute?  Somehow I find myself already the mom of a three-month old.  Weird.

So, I started That Cardboard Box as a shelter blog about my new (then... I've already lived here three years.  Weird again) house, and, as the house has had some rather major renovations since I last had a proper camera and regular internet connection, I have some catching up to do.  I also have high aspirations for doing crafty and cook-y type things that I'd like to chronicle.  Oh, and I'd like to finish my dissertation one of these days and I'm hoping that writing here will make staring at blank pages and blinking cursors slightly less intimidating.  Sort of desensitization therapy or something.

So anyway (for the zillionth time tonight), I'm back.  And maybe this time I'm even back to stay.