Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Inspirations . . . serendipity . . . synergy

I just thought I'd share what's been going on this morning . . . it's hot here in Naples, so if you want to turn on the oven, you better do it early.  I've been smelling wafts of ripe banana and ripe peach in the kitchen since Sunday when we loaded up on fruit at the market.  The peaches were a mix of ripe and ripening, but the bananas had been around for a week and were on the cusp.  So before 7 a.m., I got a banana bread in the oven, using my current favorite recipe from the Apples for Jam cookbook.
I love the two Tessa Kiros cookbooks that I have -- they are full of great recipes presented in the most charming and visually appealing manner.  The other one I have is Falling Cloudberries.  She doesn't order her recipes in a conventional manner -- Apples for Jam is divided by color and Falling Cloudberries has a section devoted to the countries of her family's heritage and those she has lived in, ranging from Finland to South Africa.  The format of both books make them fun to peruse and find inspiration . . . inverting the usual order for me when deciding what to cook.  It's usually ingredients first -- what can I make with them?  In the case of Kiros' cookbooks, it's engaging recipe first, let me get what I need for that. I've had such success and been so intrigued by her recipes that they are worth a special trip to the store.
A few weeks back, I had come upon her banana bread recipe when thumbing through to the oil spattered page with her fabulous vegetable risotto recipe. At the time, more fragrant bananas were importuning upon me, and the resulting loaf was a hit.  One great thing about the recipe is that it calls for a 12-inch bread pan . . . so you get a nice long loaf that lasts through many between-meal slicings by family members.  This particular loaf made its welcome appearance by 8 a.m. for Quinn and Lily's breakfast, tweaking little noses awake with a marvelous cinnamon fragrance.  One of the best alarm clocks around.

After breakfast, I enlisted Lily in helping me make a peach pie with this very easy recipe.  I do use Pillsbury pie dough rather frequently.  It's great to have in the freezer for just such exigencies as peaches in danger of succumbing to severe brown spots.  We sorted through the crate of 24, placing the still unblemished ones in a bowl, and then got to work.  Lily was especially keen because I've been reading James and the Giant Peach to her at night.  So conversation rattled on about singing centipedes, kind spiders and ladybugs, and seagulls.  We made a lattice top for the pie with my little pinking cutter -- Lily loves to cut and weave the dough. Once the pie was in the oven, we had to carry on with James' adventures.  A few more chapters and -- voila!  Two home-baked goodies and the oven turned off before 10 a.m.  That's a successful start to the day!
Yesterday, I was reading one of my favorite blogs: Soulemama.  Amanda, the author of two books on family creativity, wrote about transforming cast-off skirts into new attire for her young daughter.  And this is just exactly what I do!

Amanda had repurposed her own skirts for this, but this spring I used two stockpiled vintage finds to make new skirts for Lil.
Notice the 25-cent sticker still on the gored skirt made from a lovely vintage floral linen! I picked it up at a garage sale in Wisconsin (so about 10 years ago!).  The Indian border print (complete with beading and sequins) was sent by my MIL for Emily, but was a tad too tight.  I use the same method Amanda uses . . . so check out her blog if you have a little girl in need of new duds for school (or for twirling as Amanda notes).  These recycled skirts have been in frequent "rotation" on Lily this summer as she loves pull-on clothes (who doesn't!)  As you can see, they are perfect for splashing and spinning around in unexpected downpours in the summer heat!

Next entry -- how a 12-year-old boy customizes some thrift store shirts for his back-to-school wardrobe, using outgrown t-shirts and spray paint!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Market Bounty and a Bag

Sunday morning usually means off to the flea market, but even the flea market vendors celebrate Ferragosto -- or the month-long, languorous holiday Italians celebrate in August.  But the fish and produce market at the port is open everyday but Monday -- even in August.  There is no dolce vita without the bounty of the garden. So off we went this morning to stock up veggies, bread, and lots of fruit.

I took my new "market bag" I just finished with leavings from my latest spate of pillow sewing.  I didn't use a pattern, just eyeballed the shape, cut a matching lining in lavender-colored oxford cloth.  I put some elastic in the side edges to make it more secure.  It's roomy enough to be a pool/beach bag.  The drawback on its size is that I need to dig for stuff, but I did add two interior pockets so I can keep cellphone and wallet at beck and call.
The shoulder straps are recycled from an old parachute harness Jon gave me years ago -- I think before we had kids (!) and the buckle is vintage bakelite (probably an eBay purchase, can't remember).  The fabric was given to me by my mother-in-law when she was clearing out her stash many moons ago, and I immediately loved how tropical yet modern it is.  I think she picked it up when she lived in Greenwich Village in the 1960s.  It came in two half-yard pieces that were plenty for creating two pillows and my "market" bag.  Here are those little numbers and their fellows:

At the market (sorry no pictures, left the camera home), I picked up squash blossoms (along with peaches, plums, tomatoes, parsley, bread, cookies, and cheese).  I had been meaning to give fiori di zucchini a try since last summer.  Since these were already a bit wilted when I bought them, I didn't want to wait for dinner.  So squash blossoms for lunch it was (made with this recipe). I don't think using Heineken in the batter is traditional, but nobody commented.  

I made some bruschetta and cut up a pineapple to round out the meal and we had pranzo al fresco on our patio.  I love having a proper lunch with the whole family at the table.  It makes the day feel so much more like a  vacation.  
Buona giornata!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Drink Coffee * Eat * Love

I saw Eat Pray Love last night in a theater full of women from the Naples Overseas Spouses Club. Now, I confess, I couldn't wade farther than thirty pages into this book, but I'll let it go at that.  The movie was a sensuous travel feast much like an old issue of Gourmet magazine (oh Lillian Langseth-Christensen, how you beguiled me with distant places in my teens).  As to chick-flick requirements, I'm not really susceptible to Javier Bardem's charms, but James Franco certainly compensated.
There were many moments of hilarity during the Italian episode that might almost qualify as insider jokes for this particular audience.  Perhaps the greatest outburst of laughter occurred at the opening of the Napoli sequence when a little girl on a fire escape accurately portrayed a certain less-than-welcoming attitude one comes across in this town.
I thought I'd give a little promo, though, to the Roman coffee bar where Julia meets her Swedish sidekick for her Italian adventures.  The Neapolitan pizza place, Antica Pizzeria da Michele (I'm going off recall), gets full credit in the movie with long camera sweep of its front awning, but the coffee bar is only recognizable to those who discern the telltale sunflower yellow packages.  They reveal that it must be Sant 'Eustachio's.  My friend Lea Giovanniello brought me there twice, and I thank her heartily.  I've just gotten down to my last grind from the bag I bought on my last visit to Rome -- which, looking on the bright side, means I have to go to Rome again soon. The coffee is so rich and lacking bitterness that even a froth devotee like me will take a few restorative sips before I pour in my milk.
Here's my morning cup in the polka-dot mug that's stood me well each morning for 15 years . . .

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer sewing and brief Roman holiday

Taking a little break from beads and jewelry to go back to my first love -- sewing.  I've never really stopped , but it got crowded out for about a decade with, oh, parenting, work, and a hobby that didn't require machine maintenance.  Home dec sewing always stayed in the mix, but now I'm back to making clothes.  Though not for me (yet).  I've got a few things piled up to tackle, but first were two projects for the girls -- a dress for Lil and an Anna Sui top for Em.  The Lily dress turned out well -- the Anna Sui top less so, though Emily likes it.  Let's focus on Lily's dress for this small entry.  It's McCalls 2880 -- which may be out of print -- it's a surplice bodice and gathered skirt.  I used a combination of Heather Ross prints -- a mermaid one on top and an aquatic octopus one on the bottom in apricot tones with a little orange rickrack to snazz up the top.  Lily wore it the day after it was finished to go pick up Quinn from his visit with friends in Rome -- so we'll have a little Roman holiday sewing expo here with some brother shots included.
This was taken on the train ride up to Rome.  We took the local which is a bit longer but much more to see (and cheaper) than the Eurostar.

We met Quinn with our friends the Giovaniellos who were preparing to return to Virginia after 20 months at the embassy -- it was a bittersweet day since their departure was imminent.
We walked through much of central Rome, eating gelato, people watching, seeing a few churches, and making a stop in Piazza Navona -- mostly killing time until the "Bone Church" reopened.  Both my kids wanted to see the Cappuchin monks' meditation on mortality --  which paradoxically is called the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
It is seven ghastly rooms festooned with human bones -- trust me, it gets redundant. It has become quite popular on the German Christian youth group circuit . . . long lines of them both morning and afternoon in matching hats, scarves, or t-shirts (one group singing what sounded like "My knapsack on my back" -- seriously!).  When I first visited in my early twenties, there was only me, my trusty travel companion, and a cantankerous monk in cassock glaring at us.  But I have to admit these monks were quite creative with spinal columns.  No photography is allowed, so you'll have to trust me on that  . . . or wait, I found a Bone Church posting by someone who ignored all the signs.

Then we had a little time in Villa Borghese park where the kids enjoyed a little amusement ride.

A posed shot with bougainvillea in the park.
(Quinn's has an almost-teen's reluctance to pose for photos)
Lily, on the other hand, loves to strike a pose!
Tomorrow, okay, soon, some posts on the 7 pillows, Anna Sui top, and shoulder bag (oh yeah, I did  sew something for myself), and my limoncello recipe and our grilled pizza adventures.  
Ciao-ciao amici!