summer picnics

Picnics are one of my favorite parts about summer. 🙂 I love being outside, chatting with friends, and enjoying some of my favorite simple foods—bread, cheese, apples, and wine. Once I even brought a baguette and chèvre on a windsurfer! My friend and I lashed our boards together and enjoyed our little picnic in the middle of a lake.

But it can be fun to do fancier picnics too—especially in unexpected places! Recently my friend R. and I got new backpacking gear, and decided a cool way to test it out would be to pack a very fancy picnic, hike some nearby bluffs, and enjoy it right at the top. 😉

51873406430__48250A27-7093-47CD-914D-ACF7021E06D6Deciding on the food to make was a bit of a challenge. I knew we’d be hiking in the hot sun, so I didn’t want to pack anything too perishable, or too fragile. But once we got to the top, I wanted our picnic to look amazing! So I decided to do a few special baked goods, packed well. You can see them here—cheese & chive buttermilk scones, spiced pear hand pies, and lemon macarons. 🙂 I also made hibiscus and mint iced tea—super refreshing, and a beautiful deep red!

Once we got to the top of the bluffs, R. and I found a perfect picnic spot. We set up on a flat rock overlooking the lake, and quickly had all our food spread out. We quite enjoyed relaxing and eating our treats after our hike, especially as all the other hikers on the trail looked more than a little jealous. 😉

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R. and I especially liked the scones and tea, and the lemon macarons and pies made a sweet treat to finish our picnic with before we got ready to hike back down. I’ll definitely include them again on slightly less silly picnic endeavors. 😉 Anyone else have favorite picnic foods?

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distractions

You may have noticed I disappeared slightly! Unfortunately, I was very distracted by a series of final papers this spring, which, while fun, were not nearly as fun as posting crafting projects. 😉

However, now that finals are over and I’m at my parent’s house for the summer, I have a much cuter distraction to share with you. We got a new kitten!

His name is Lionel (after the hero of Mary Shelley’s novel, The Last Man, Lionel Verney), and he is my little purr buddy these days. Our older cat, Fey, is quite taken with him, and they spend half the day running around playing.

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The other half, Lionel spends bothering me. 😉 He’s a very social kitty, and loves to snuggle next me while I’m doing work and either play with my shirt cuffs or watch the scrolling on my computer screen. Unfortunately he’s also figured out how much fun knitting needles are!

Now that Lionel is free from the kitten “nursery” (ie, the room we kept him in to introduce him slowly to Fey), and a little less of a baby, I should be able to get more crafting done and post more. 🙂 Until then, enjoy the kitten photos!

garden re-do

I used to dream of having a beautiful vegetable garden, and going outside to pick herbs before dinner—but as a child, my parents were both way too busy to bother with our yard, so we mostly had grass, weeds, and daisies. A decade or so of total neglect later, and we usually don’t call it a yard anymore—it’s the jungle. 😉

Last summer I decided to do something about it. I had nothing to do except read before my PhD program started, and I though a nice way to thank my parents for having me home rent-free would be to re-do their yard. I’m not sure they thought it a very nice gift at the time, since it involved way too many trips to Home Depot and gardening centers, but now they’re actually quite happy to have a better looking front yard!

This is what I started with:

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Yeah, that was once a garden bed. You can see I meant “a decade of neglect” quite literally. 😉

I recruited my sister and we dug up both this bed and the other front one by hand, just to get rid of as much of the grass and weeds as we could (we did save those irises). One of the hard parts of re-building a garden for my parents is trying to make one that allows them to do the absolute minimum of work, while still appealing to their taste. Because of that, I decided to add a small retaining wall, which I thought would define the borders of the garden better and make it more obvious when grass encroached.

This is the finished (if very new) garden:

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Look, you can see our absurdly hardy azalea again! 😉 I found some rocks in the back garden-jungle (which I will be tackling this summer…) and used them to take up some space. I cut the bed a bit short and added a row of herb pots along the side, which my parents both loved. Most herbs don’t survive our WI winters anyway, and I thought this way they would be both more identifiable and more manageable—no mint going out of control. My mom is already looking forward to replacing them this spring. 🙂

The garden looks a bit sparse in this picture, but once I get back in town, I’ll see which of those perennials survived and plant some more to liven things up! I’m excited to finish the rest of it, hence sharing this post. 🙂 And if anyone has any tips for a beginning gardener, let me know!

patchwork chair cushions

I said I had more plans for my kitchen—here’s the next addition. 🙂 I decided to cut down on my fabric scrap collection by making some scrappy patchwork chair cushions. I’ve only finished the first one right now, but it turned out very cute.

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I apologize for the random plant in the background—I’m procrastinating studying for finals by redoing my whole gardening set up, so pots and plants are currently all over my kitchen.

Doesn’t the cushion look cute though? I’m not a big fan of those serious foam cushions, but I did want this to have a bit of padding, so I used 3 layers of 1/4″ loft batting and then tied it rather than quilting. All of it is pieced and sewn by hand, but it wasn’t so bad, as most of it is just squares.

Let me know what you think!

homemade lunch!

Ever since my undergraduate, when I had to schedule back-to-back rehearsals through what felt like every single lunch, I’ve had terrible habits when it comes to eating at normal times. But with finals coming up, I figured it was time to try yet another attempt at reform—and it’s actually somewhat working! This time around I’ve been making homemade lunches the days that I’m gone through the afternoon, and it’s been rather fun. I thought I’d share with you my two most recent ones. 🙂

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It’s too much work to put together a super fancy lunch, so both are rather simple. This one is just rice, egg, stewed beans, and grated vegetable pickles. I have a rice cooker, which I love, and I just set the timer so that my rice starts cooking in the morning and is ready when I wake up. Since everything else is made before, it means that I can put this together in 10 minutes!

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And here is basically the same lunch! I’m vegetarian, and I almost never buy vegan meat substitutes, so I took advantage of having fake hotdogs around to try out one of those cute hotdog octopi. 🙂 The main filler is roasted golden and red beets in cider vinegar, and I put vinegar vegetables again on the rice. I’m slightly paranoid about food going bad at room temperature, so I try to follow good food storage practices, which includes using seasonings like vinegar. Good thing I like it a lot, I guess?

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I’m working on an embroidered bag for my lunchbox, but until then I just tie it up in a napkin. These are plaid flannel ones I made for my first apartment, and they’ve held up well!

I’m really enjoying making these lunches though. It not only gives me something to look forward to during the day, but I’ve also found that I’m far more motivated to get up in the morning if I fear my rice might go to waste. 🙂

crochet coasters

I went home for Easter, and while at my parent’s house, my mom asked me if I could make her some replacement doilies for her bedside table—maybe in black, or a very dark blue. Uh, what? While I’m sure there are some very nice doilies in those colors, I knew they’d look terrible on her dark wooden table. It turns out she was trying to avoid the constant coffee stains that show up on lighter color doilies, so we compromised.

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Isn’t that teal much nicer than navy? It’s a bit more green in person than in the pictures, and though light enough to still stain, I’m hoping the mercerized cotton yarn  I used will hold up well to any requisite cleaning.

 

tea sandwiches

When I’m at my parents for the summer, one of my favorite social activities is throwing fancy tea parties with my sister for our friends. I am not the best baker, but out of the two of us, I usually end up in charge of the menu and cooking. This role has greatly endeared tea sandwiches to me—after a day spent cooking fancy desserts, throwing together two or three sandwich types is a very nice respite.

The first image is of a party I made where one of the guests was gluten-free, hence the large variety of meringue-based treats. That one was especially tricky to put together!

However, while I don’t often make desserts for myself—shortbread or berries with cream is usually the extent—I find tea sandwiches a nice way to make something quick and easy that still feels like a treat. This week I made them extra special by buying some pumpernickel bread (I usually bake all my own bread).

I think tea sandwiches feel special because you can put the focus on one or two nicer ingredients and really enjoy them. I frequently cut or substitute ingredients to save money or use up leftovers, so buying something “extra” is an easy way to treat myself. For these sandwiches, for instance, I actually bought green onions, a lemon, and some nice local radishes. For the radish sandwich, I diced green onions and added them with some lemon juice to butter. For the other, I made curried egg salad. You can’t see it in the picture, but I also used the lemon to make a vinaigrette for the radish greens—instant salad!

They may be simple, but they were delicious! 🙂 Anyone have any other simple meals they enjoy making as special treats?