November 2014

Let the season begin!

Crafts Around the Year, by Thomas and Petra Berger

Crafts Through the Year, by Thomas and Petra Berger

Ok here it is. Black Friday, 2014. A day which evidently, according to an insert in Thursday’s paper, began around 6 pm yesterday with MIND! BLOWING! SALES! at places like K-Mart and Target.

I am usually one for sitting out this shopping frenzy entirely. I’ve worked hard to ignore the tempting emails that are flooding my inbox promising once in a lifetime sales the likes of which I will never see again. And yet, I am here, on this blog, about to suggest that you guys do some online shopping.

It doesn’t have to be today, but you will want to have Crafts Through The Year with you sooner rather than later, as you begin to navigate the holiday season with the little ones. And as this treasure trove of crafting activities encourages making rather than buying, I don’t feel at all disingenuous in pointing you people towards it now.

Plus, while you’re busy making paper stars, festive garlands and holiday wreaths (not to mention little toys to give as gifts) maybe the post-Thanksgiving roar of BUY! BUY! BUY! will fade to a dull whisper. Which sounds like heaven right about now, even if it only lasts a few moments…

Time out

Late fall harvest

Late fall harvest, 2014.

A heartfelt thank you to my most excellent posse for being with me so ferociously every step of the way.

I am the luckiest person in the world.

How to fold a napkin

Ummm…I know it looks like I am turning into some kind of Thanksgiving obsessed Martha Stewart-style preacher, but I swear this is the last post of this kind for at least a few more weeks (when the next slew of holidays will be upon us and we’ll need more drink recipes and gift wrapping ideas to get us through).

My husband showed my daughter and me this video the other night, and not only did we actually find it charming and funny, but we then spent the next 20 minutes or so on the One Kings Lane blog, learning how to actually fold these various napkin styles and figuring out which one we’re going to use for our dinner table tomorrow. And by “our” table, I mean the table at my parent’s house, which is where we’re all eating our Thanksgiving meal. My mother is all about decorating a table, but luckily she seems more than willing to give up the folding of the napkins and the making of the place cards to the next generations.

Lets hope we do her proud.

Monday, Monday, or, It’s almost too late to be thinking about this but here’s some more Thanksgving related stuff

pine cone place cards

Imagine how cute these would look with little kid writing and decorations on them… photo courtesy of

Here’s a great idea for placecards. And if you have kids, make them do the writing and decorating– it’ll keep them busy for at least a couple of minutes!

If you’re still looking for some kind of inspiration for your table, start with this Pinterest board to get the juices flowing!

No Turkey Day prep time is complete without a visit to Martha… Here’s a lovely idea she has for making leaf shaped trivets out of cork.

Worried that you and the family won’t have enough to talk about? Just watch movies instead. The Huffington Post serves up 13 ideas for great family(ish) films on Netflix.

I know we’re all non-commercial here and the idea of shopping with the masses on Black Friday turns our stomachs, but maybe just one teeny tiny trip to Taproot Magazine’s online shop to pick up some incredibly cute paper dolls or handmade recipe cards is fine, right?

Have you only just realized that Thanksgiving is THIS THURSDAY??? Run don’t walk over to Barnes and Noble and pick up Sam Sifton’s comprehensive Thanksgiving survival guide and cookbook. It’ll give you something to read whilst on line at Whole Foods.

Or, just relax, and start the holidays off right with a lovely hot mug of wassail. Nothing like a little spiked apple cider to help Thanksgiving (seem to) run a bit more smoothly.

Another thing I really don’t need but totally want, regardless

A truly elegant wine carafe by Sagaform.

A beautiful wine carafe by Sagaform. Photo courtesy of

I already have a carafe that is almost exactly like the example above. But this one has a beautiful oak ball as a stopper. And, in the photograph at least, the top looks like an orb floating magically over a miniature lake of red wine.

My carafe doesn’t have any of that, but it was a wedding gift, and I have used it regularly and loved it… until this one popped into my field of vision, tempting me with it’s organic addition.

But I will remain strong and walk away. One must remain faithful to one’s first love, if at all possible.

You, however, should go buy it right now. And then invite me over for a drink so I can live vicariously…

Three apps worth sharing with your kids

Drum roll please:

I am finally loading up a few kid’s apps onto the family iPad. We are a screen-wary family. Not 100% against all things electronic, by any means, but just very mindful of what kind of media we expose both ourselves and our daughter to. I am not against TV per se, I’m just not into bad TV, if you know what I mean, and this policy runs through all media… books, film, music and video.

My rule of thumb? If I don’t want to watch/play it, we don’t download it. And luckily, there are some real gems out there amidst the Barbie movies and the violent soldier-of-fortune style video games. Here are three of them:

Blek is a beautiful combination of elegant simplicity and a game that is really really challenging. Even for grown ups. In fact, I had to put on my pre-school teacher hat and remind my husband about the importance of sharing and letting everyone have their turn. There is no loud annoying music, no gun shots, no explosions. Just draw a little black line with your finger and try to hit all of the colored dots without touching the black ones. It’s about doodling, making patterns and spacial problem solving, but it’s hard to describe, so just watch the trailer. Or if you really want to go deep, read this review, which does a nice job of explaining everything.

Bloom is a generative music app created by Brian Eno. Which is all you need to know. But here’s a bit more. Created with the clearly brilliant software designer Peter Chilvers, this app turns your phone (or tablet) into it’s own unique musical instrument rather than trying to pretend that it’s a piano or a guitar. You make a pattern and it repeats. You add on to it and the pattern becomes more complex. You can also just turn it on and let it do its thing. An informative review, for the curious, is on gizmodo.

A screenshot of Hopscotch, a programming app for kids. There are videos of Hopscotch in action on YouTube, but the music was so horrible I couldn't bear to have them up here. Sorry...

A screenshot of Hopscotch, a programming app for kids.

Hopscotch is a coding app for young kids, or really anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals of computer science, which they define as “the study of computational thinking, or how to use logical thinking and abstraction to develop generalized solutions to complex problems.” And who doesn’t want their kids to master that?

Basically this app allows you to make games, stories, animations, etc by dragging blocks of code into specific arrangements. The code is translated into English, so that even the youngest programmers can make things happen on their own without having to struggle with difficult computer syntax. But the commands are the same, which makes moving into the more advanced stages of programing a snap for all interested parties.

Waaaay back in the 1970′s, when I was a kid, we learned how to make simple computer games using BASIC (this dates me…) and I still remember the thrill of getting the terminal to go through my predetermined motions and print out whatever I wanted. It was a profound and intelligent introduction to technology as a tool that I will never forget.

Now we have animals jumping through hoops and standing on their heads, but the basic intent is the same. If we can help the next generation to understand that these digital objects are tools with which we can help to create a better universe, our future begins to look very bright.

Monday, Monday– or a ride down today’s stream of consciousness

maria cornejo pea coat

If I were going to be buying a new coat this winter, it would most likely be this little peacoat by Maria Cornejo. I’m probably not going to (hell, I haven’t even gotten around to replacing my tea kettle yet) but a girl can dream…

As if I didn’t need any more fodder for my conspiracy theory dossier, here’s a piece about the letter that the FBI wrote (while pretending to be a rabid ex-fan) to Martin Luther King, Jr suggesting he kill himself.

Reading that piece got me all riled up, so I decided to check my e mail. My husband sent me this link to Opening Ceremony’s new collab with Intel: a glamorous wristwatch/smartphone. “Why not just get an implant and call it a day?” I wonder out loud to myself.

So in a desperate attempt to turn my attention away from the fact that we are all just drones-in-waiting and towards something more wholesome, I go to Etsy. Etsy UK, actually. I figure it’ll be less commercial. There I find this super cute idea for holiday spice biscuits that hang out on the rim of your mug.

Which of course gets me all freaked out about the holidays. Suddenly I feel horribly behind, and we’re over a month away from the big day. In order to help ease myself off of that ledge, I go for more practical concerns (aka Thanksgiving) and decide to get lost in the NY Times Cooking’s exhaustive guide to the holiday. We’ve got vegans joining this year, so the tried and true ain’t gonna hold.

A person could meander around for hours on that site. Maybe I should just get practical and prepare some of Julia Moskin’s cranberry sauce, as it’s one of the few things you can make way ahead that will still be delicious next Thursday.

Or maybe I should get even more practical and make a quick brine for the pork chops I have in the fridge waiting to be transformed into dinner.

Or I could just wander on over to the Zero Maria Cornejo webstore and fantasize about this peacoat which really should be in my closet even though I have no pressing need for more outerwear…

Last night’s dinner: Craig Claiborne’s beef stew

craig claiborne beef stew

To be honest, this is not a picture of the dinner version of this dish, which was served on a bed of lovely brown organic rice and had parsley garnishes for a bit of color. Nope, you guys get the quick leftover before-school-pick-up lunch version. But let me tell you, it was even more delicious today than it was before…

Why I find it necessary to mention the fact that this beef stew comes to us via the late great Craig Claiborne, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because, as a kid growing up in a household that read the New York Times religiously, he was the first real food writer that I was aware of. (Well, besides Julia Child who came into our hearts via Dan Akroyd’s brilliant Saturday Night Live impersonations). Or maybe it’s just because “beef stew” sounds kind of pedestrian and lame, but “Craig Claiborne’s beef stew” suddenly feels more debonair.

Whatever the reason, this dish is stupendous. And the perfect thing to serve these days, now that the weather has suddenly switched from Indian Summer to Arctic Vortex overnight.

I started preparing it early in the am, left the stew to simmer for a nice long time and then actually left the entire pot just to sit for a few hours before it was time to reheat and eat. As with all stews, this one improves with age, and I am really looking forward to the late lunch of leftovers that I’m about to sink into now.

Details are below, or you can go to the ever-awesome NY Times Cooking site, for the full monty with photos, links to similar recipes, etc…

Craig Claibporne’s Beef Stew


4 pounds lean, boneless chuck steak
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups dry red wine
2 cups water
4 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon thyme
6 sprigs parsley, tied in a bundle
6 large carrots, about 1 1/2 pounds, trimmed and scraped


Cut the meat into two-inch cubes.
Using a large skillet, heat the oil and add the beef cubes in one layer. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring and turning the pieces often, for about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat the meat evenly.
Add the wine and stir until the mixture boils and thickens. Stir in the water. Add the cloves, bay leaf, thyme and parsley. Cover closely and simmer for one hour.
Meanwhile, cut the carrots into one-inch lengths. If the pieces are very large, cut them in half lengthwise. Add them to the beef. Cover and continue cooking for 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Serve the stew sprinkled with chopped parsley.