Monday, January 23, 2012

Matching a Mismatch

Finally, the push plates I ordered from Van Dyke's Restorers were delivered. I like them. They are good at giving customers update for out-of-stock items. In general, they have a good customer service.

It took a long time to find right size push panels for the butler's door between the kitchen and the dining room. I wish a butler came with the house, too... Anyway, the size was a big issue. We wanted something simple, and proportionally looks good on the door. I learned simple design ones tend to be small. It's been over one year to find something I feel comfortable to put on the door. The push plates themselves are beautiful. Their style is Victorian. Yes, Victorian, and my house is Craftsman..., the opposite side of Victorian.

It used to have clear rectangle glass push panels. I thought metal ones would suit more to the era the house was built. The proportion looks good. The plates don't look too small or big against the door. They added the door a dignity. The little plates made a big difference.

Their color matches the hinges'. This is another important criteria to pass... nothing shiny like brass, but not too dark like oil rubbed bronze. The plate looks shiner than the hinge. You cannot expect a perfect match. The hinge's aged look cannot be recreated so easily. Nothing can defiet the time.

A little mismatch could add an interest to the house. Just like a fashion, a perfect match might not create a perfect look, which I learned form Jean Paul Gaultier, my favorite designer. He uses unbalance to balance the style. Hopefully, this matching becomes a charm of the house.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Taste of Home

I always love my mom's dishes. No matter how late I got home even after going out for dinner, I had to have dinner at home when I lived with my parents. That was a moment I felt I came home. A cold day like today reminds me my favorite soup dish she always made for the first three days of a new year. The dish is a traditional New Year's Day food in Japan. This dish called ozohni varies in regions and families. The common thing is all have mochi, which is rice cake made from sweet rice, in soup. Mochi could be toasted. In addition to mochi, they put vegetables, meat, seafood or a combination of them in soup. Soup could be clear or miso base.

My family's recipe is clear soup with chicken and mizuna which looks like dandelion greens, and tastes a little bit tansy. The soup is not chicken broth. It's dashi which is broth made from seaweed and shaved smoked fish chips. The soup was incredibly flavorful. I could just go for the soup easily a couple of bowls. My mother put a lot of mizuna in the soup. When it was served, I couldn't see anything but the vegetable. I always ate all mizuna first, saved the best for the last, then enjoyed chicken and mochi. I've missed my family recipe ozohni so much, and decided to make one today.

Making dashi is easy. Soak a piece of kelp in fresh tap water for 15 minute, then put the pot on medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove the kelp from the pot and let the water boil. Add some water to lower its temperature and add shaved smoked fish chips. Turn of the heat. Add some more water to lower the temperature. Remove the fish chips from the liquid. Dashi is ready to use.

I usually give Marilyn the fish chips-the by-product of dashi for snack. It doesn't contain any seasonings. It contains protein and calcium, plus all natural. The most importantly, she enjoys it a lot.

Here is my family recipe. First, boil the base of the soup, dashi.

Add bite size chicken. It is important the dashi is boiling when you add chicken to cook its surface quickly. If not, all flavor in the chicken comes out into the dashi, and the chicken tastes dull. You want some flavor to the base soup keeping some for chicken itself. Then, both taste good.

I didn't have mizuna. Nappa cabbage took its place. Nappa cabbage goes well with the soup, too. Let the soup boil again and cook it until the vegetable gets soft. Then, Season the soup with mirin, salt and soy sauce.

It's time to add mochi. Lately, you can find ones wrapped individually. They are air dried after shaped round to preserve. You cannot eat as they are at this point. They are tough. Put them into the soup on medium low heat until they get softness you like. If you cook them too long, they melt in the soup. They also tend to stick at the bottom of the pot. You need to keep eyes on them.

We use a wooden bowl for soup. Not like ceramic, it doesn't get hot so much when it has a hot thing in it. We hold a bowl to eat food inside of it as our custom. It is important that we are able to hold the bowl without burning our hand. This one is also made with wood. It is coated with lacquer called urushi, which is made from certain trees' sap. The black and red are traditional colors of lacquer.

Here is the taste of my home. The hot soup warmed up my stomach and heart. Yum, yum.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Soupy Day

It had been a mid winter. Not anymore! It's windy, freezing and hurting. That's New England winter. The fire has been on in the fire place. On a freezing day like today, we need soup to keep us warm from the inside. Tonight's dinner was seafood soup. I love when a dinner menu comes up so easily.

Well, I looked through some recipes, but nothing inspired me so much. I went on my own. This is how I usually cook. I check what's in the fridge, put them together in a pot, and serve. Don't ask me what I cooked. They don't have names. Here goes my wanna-be seafood soup. You don't know it would make it to actual seafood soup or not yet. So, it's wanna-be. Let's see what happened.

First step was checking what was in the fridge for soup. Today's finds were celery, carrots and mushrooms. They are basic ingredients for stews and soup. I grabbed two onions from the basket. That was a good start. The pot began to warm up with butter and olive oil in it. At this point, it could be creamy chowder or clear soup. Apparently, I hadn't decided it yet. Having options is not a bad thing.

Added some crushed garlic to the pot. I love my mortar and pestle. They are handy. I never mince garlic since I found crushed one is more flavorful than minced. And, it's quick and easy!

They are made of marble, nice and sturdy. The rough surface inside has a nice grip. I've seen some porcelain and stoneware ones. I'm afraid I would break them, interested to see how sturdy they are. Mine is exactly same as one my Indian friend has. When I visited her, she made chai for me. She put some cardamons and crushed them in it and added to the milk in the pot. I cannot forget the intense fresh spicy smell of the cardamon spread in the kitchen. It was a sensational moment to me.

Tossed sliced onion, celery and carrots into the pot, and cooked until they got soft. I picked soup over chowder. Chowder was very tempting, in fact I was thinking to add some corns in it. But I wanted something lighter.

Added seafood stock. I'm not a big fan of using store bought stock, but seafood stock is not cheap to make from scratch, especially if you want flavorful one. This is my compromise. I want something made from all sort of fish, shellfish and shrimps. Seafood stock is not easy to find. I've never seen any companies make seafood stock other than Kitchen Basics who makes what I usually get. Maybe some more options at fancy grocery stores? Anyway, seafood stock is stinky. To cover the smell, put white wine generously. I don't measure things when I cook. I just add whatever the amount I feel comfortable with.

Added mushrooms and sprinkled some herb de provence.

Covered the pot and made the soup boil.

It was looking good, but I wanted to add something else to add more flavor. I looked into the fridge again.

I found cooked whole tomatos which was a leftover from the lentil soup made the other day. I made more room in the fridge, yay!

It was getting like a New York style clam chowder. Made it boil again.

It was time to add seafood. I didn't go to a store to make the soup. All seafood used here are frozen ones. I usually keep each bag of clams with juice and shrimps in the freezer for quick dinner. They are handy to make pasta sauces. To me, shrimps have to be uncooked ones. Even they are frozen, their texture and flavor are different from precooked ones. Anyway, I added some haddock, clams, mussels and shrimps thawed and marinated with white wine in advance.

Added some salt, pepper and a little bit of soy sauce. It might sound strange, but soy sauce helps enhancing flavor in various dishes. If you feel something missing in a dish, add a little bit of soy sauce. It does a trick in many cases. Quickly made it boil and turned off the heat. It's better to cook fast otherwise the seafood, especially shrimps get tough.

Scooped into the bowl, added chopped parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano on the top. Served with rustic bread. It was light and flavorful. Adding tomatoes was a good call. Their sweet and sour flavor added some depth to the soup. I think it came out good. Chad had two bowls. So, I think I did ok. Our stomachs are nice and warm now. If I make the same soup again, I would brown onion first, then add carrots and celery, also add a bayleaf or two when seafood stock is added.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Passing on from the Past

The wall looked lonely. So, I framed old crochets. Here my flea market finds come in handy. Now, the room got a life. It has a feel of living. It looks more inviting.

This one was found at a flea market. It was only a couple of dollars. That was a bargain. Crochets are usually not cheap even at a flea market. Not sure if it's vintage or not, but I like the pattern.

This is more delicate than the other one. I found it at an antique shop in Concord where we stop by whenever we visit the town. It has some damages, but it's ok. I still like it.

Whenever I get antiques, I don't care how valuable the item is. Of course I care how much damage it causes me. What I mean is it's not necessarily something expensive to make you please. I make sure I like the item, I would enjoy it for a long time, and I appreciate its existence today. There is a great chance I would never meet the item by burring in the past. For some people, collecting antiques is a part of their investment. To me, they are something lighting up my life. It's a sense of sharing something with people I never know beyond time. I like things you can feel somebody who owned the item used it in his/her life. It could be some worn-out, dents, or scratches. They tell you that it was used over and over by its owner, and stimulate my imagination to picture how their lives were like.

The crochets are pinned down with T-pins. Ready for mounting. They are going to be sewn down to the mats. Crochets are easy to mount. The great thing is it's hard to find the mounted points at a glance. The background colors set different moods. It is very interesting how colors play their role.

Then, they are framed. Some damages shown before are fixed. Thanks to Kristen for training me for framing. Their frames and mats are in similar shades. That helps the details of the crochets standing out. They used to be put under vases or on tables with something on the top of them. Now, they are in the center of the attention. The work somebody did in the past is showing off. They are now story tellers of somebody's beautiful hand work.

I'll talk a little more about the guest room. There are two doors on the other side of the wall from the bed. They are both closet doors. One is a closet for this room. The other one is a closet for the next room over the wall. When you open this door, there is another door. The door takes you the next room. But, what's the point? The room is not big. It's not a big deal to go to the next room through the hallway.

The family of the first owner of this house had a sick family member. This guest room was originally for the nurse stayed in the house for that person. The owner made a shortcut for her to get to the person quickly whenever the person needed her. A little piece of the history of the house and the family lived in, which Virginia, the previous owner, told us. I don't know what happened to the family member, but I hope the person recovered by their loving and thoughtful support.

Discovering stories like this is great about living in an old house. It's not pleasing to hear about a sick person considering his/her suffering, but you see how his/her family cared about the person, and hoped his/her recovery from the story. The house is not just a house. Histories of the families make the house a home, a place they had their lives. I look forward to finding more stories.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Taste of Japan

Tonight's dinner turned out very Japanese. A lot of vegetables and fish—just the way I like. My mom would be proud of me. Mom, I cook! Nowadays, you can get various Asian groceries around here. More variety of exotic vegetables have been seen at grocery stores especially last five years or so. Some shimeji and maitake mushrooms are grown in Canada. I find them at the local grocery store next to crimini mushrooms. Plus, I have learned what can substitute for certain groceries and ingredients to make Japanese dishes in America. Adaptability is one of the great features of animals. We find a way to make ourselves comfortable and happy. This time, I found some burdock roots and nice thick shiitake mushrooms. I made Onishime shown in the middle with them adding carrot and daikon radish. It's a simmered vegetable dish.

American food is one of the things I have never been able to adapt though I love eating and trying different foods. I like Italian, Chinese, Thai and Greek. Naturally I love Japanese food the best. That is the food comforts me anytime. This won't change in my life. Adaptability hits a wall here. I have adjusted my diet with what's available in America to meet my needs and wants. Now, I add: Adjustability is one of the great features of animals.

The fish looked so fresh at the store. Their eyes were so clear, which is an indicator of freshness of fish. I couldn't pass them out. I need to emphasize it is very rare to find fresh fish in this quality regularly at least in my area. The poor fish got their tails and a part of the heads chopped off. They are popular in Japan, especially in fall which is their in-season. I don't know their English name. They are called samma in Japanese. They are good for you as a source of omega-3 like a sardine. These fish taste best when they are cooked very simple. Just sprinkle some salt over them, grill them, squeeze fresh lemon juice on the top and serve hot. This is a typical taste of home in Japan. It goes well with white rice. Chad tried it before, but he didn't like it because it has small bones. This time, these are all mine. Lucky me! Their bones are soft. They are easily digested. It's safe to give them to your pooch. Marilyn gets the head and bone for her strong bone. She loves them. Marilyn is also lucky one.

To make up for the fish, I made Oyako-don for Chad. It's a rice bowl dish. Onion, chicken, green onion and egg are cooked in stock called "dashi" with sugar, soy sauce and mirin, then poured on hot white rice. It tastes a little bit like teriyaki, but much lighter and more flavorful. It's a quick one pot dish, perfect for weeknights' dinner. It's filling as well. You can try it at a Japanese restaurant.

It sounds like we always eat Japanese food. That's not true. Italian and Chinese dishes often appear on our table. I like them and I enjoy them. But, when I eat Japanese dishes, my body reacts differently. I can feel my body is happy. Is this something to do with my gene? My body might be missing Japan.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bye Bye Christmas

After the New Years Day, it's time to say good bye to the Christmas tree. It's just because the town corrects Christmas tree between the second and third weeks in January. This is the most depressing event in the whole winter... the last moment of the holidays.

I love Christmas decoration. It's warm, bright and happy. After Thanksgiving, we go to a tree farm to cut down a tree by ourselves. We look from a tree to a tree to find perfect one, go back and forth between ones we think good, then pick the best tree losing the feel of the toes though we still felt our toes last year. Finally, we cut it down and carry it to the track. That's how we start a holiday season every year. I can live with the Christmas decoration until Easter comes. What's wrong with having hot chocolate looking at the decoration and throwing woods to the fire place while waiting spring comes? Isn't that a winter supposed to be? How can we entertain ourselves in the long New England winter otherwise? Please don't take our Christmas tree away from us. It's been only a month. It's too soon to say good bye. The tree still looks good. It's still beautiful.

Chad started taking down the ornaments from the tree after breakfast. I put Christmas music on. The ornaments went back to their boxes. The candle lights at the windows are gone. The mantle got cleared out. No more silly stockings. The house looks so sad after all Christmas stuff went back to the closet. It lost its shimmery accessories. It's like the end of a summer vacation - all fun is gone. There is no Christmas feel in the house anymore.

I used the same things to decorate for last two years, but they didn't line up as the same decoration a year before. The same spot and the same things. It's interesting how many patterns can be created with them. Only the stockings stay on the sames spots as if their spots are reserved for them.

I looked stockings at so many places years ago, but I couldn't find what I wanted. I saw a lot of nice ones. They looked beautiful, but didn't feel homey so much. They were too fancy. A feel of home is very important to me. I want something relaxing and comfortable at home to feel that home is the best place to be. One day, I found a perfect one on a catalog, but its price was outrageous. "I don't think I would pay for this much even though I really like it. Hum, it's just cable knitting. I can make one!" This is how I ended up knitting them all.

They were made in different years. They look slightly different in details. The middle one is Marilyn's. Hers is the last one I made. I didn't intend to make it the biggest. I was just checking the height of each border without thinking the total length. Once it was done, I noticed hers was huge, but didn't feel like redoing it at that point. I wanted hers something like in the Dr. Seuss books. The size added the feel to it. Its silly look is just like Marilyn. So, overall it worked out ok with one fallback. It's a big stocking. It takes a lot to fill it up! In fact, I got the biggest bone at Petco two years ago, which she proudly carried around in her mouth when she got it.

I don't want next Christmas to come right now, but I am certainly looking forward to it. I guess I'm ready to say good bye to Christmas for now.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Be Prepared

This morning, I attended the class for first aid for dogs at the Red Cross in Cambridge. It covers just enough to do before taking your Fido to a vet, which could significantly impact his recovery. Generally, a dog doesn't get an ambulance at his/her medical emergency. It's the best we don't get into such a situation. But, dog owners would better know what to do and how to comfort them in bad situations. Now, I know how to give dogs CPR, and I can do it! There is always a big difference between knowing something and able to do it.

Marilyn and I took a dog training course at MSPCA two years ago. I would suggest it to any dog owners who are interested in training. It is a good foundation course of training in general. The old dog leaned a new trick. It is possible! Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Oh, I got it. It's plural. I'll come back to this topic when she masters another new trick.

MSPCA and Red Cross offer various interesting classes. I think ASPCA in other areas offer some classes, too. I like they understand the importance of educating dog owners and offer us opportunities to learn how to provide our four legs companions well being.

I'd love to get involved to some volunteer activities with therapy dogs in the future, hopefully not too far away. Dogs' optimistic nature brings people smiles and a peace in their mind. They don't intend to do anything, but they can turn a light in your heart. This is their gift. And, dogs get happy spending time with people. Dogs and people can make each other happy. Anyway, learning how to good take care of dogs is a part of preparation for my dream. Happy dogs make people happier. A dog needs a training to be a certified therapy dog. Marilyn is snoring next to me. She has no idea about my little ambition.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Handy Dandy Masking Tape

Masking tape is not just for covering trims. You can use it for stenciling.

This is the breakfast room. It was originally a kitchen. The kitchen was moved to the pantry by the previous owner. We thought putting the kitchen back here, but the modern kitchen doesn't fit in this room without covering any windows, which are the biggest feature of the room. In 1920s, most of kitchens had just a small sink, a stove and some counter space. There was no big appliances at home like today - I guess we don't really need a big kitchen. You can still cook in a small kitchen like our grandmas or great grandmas used to do when they were young. Anyway, we concluded that was not a good idea.

The breakfast room should be something cheerful and lively. Opposite from the formal dining room, it has a casual setting. I also wanted something European. More specifically, something was flashing in my head, "French", "French", "French." Then, came up with diamond pattern. I don't think this is considered an argyle pattern. Or, is it? Don't ask me how this pattern connects to French. Anyway, here comes masking tape, the super hero of this project.

The process is pretty simple. It requires a little bit of patience and a lot of masking tape. You need to make sure a right width for the masking tape. Also, I recommend to use good masking tape, not cheap one. Cheap one cannot create a sharp line. You would see bleeding. All your hard work could be ruined by that. So, don't go cheap.

  1. Put a base color on the wall.
  2. After the base color dries completely, you pick a point on the wall and start taping on the wall with 45 degrees angle. It's easier to start from the middle or a part you can tape from the top to the bottom. This way, you can check the angle of the pattern and make any necessary adjustment. When you put tape on the wall, don't stretch the tape. If one side of the tape gets more stretched than the other side, it screws up the pattern.
  3. When the first strip is done, put the second strip right next to the first one. No gap, no overwrap. All strips have the same width. Repeat this process one more time.
  4. When you finish the third strip, remove the second one from the wall and put it where the fourth one goes. Basically, you create 45 degrees angle stripe pattern with the base color and the masking tape. Repeat the steps toward the edges of the wall.
  5. Once the stripe wall is done, you start taping with 135 degrees angle. When you remove the second strip with the 135 degrees side, you see your first diamonds. This is quite exciting! Keep going before you lose the excitement.

  1. Now, it's ready to paint the pattern with the second color on the wall. I used a brush and painted diamonds one by one. You can use a roller if you like.
  2. When the paint dries 50%, remove all masking tape. Don't wait till it's completely dry. You see a lattice pattern at this point. It's half done. You need to wait the paint gets dry completely to start the rest of the work.
  3. To start the second half part, pick one row with the diamonds you painted. Of course, the row runs with 45 degrees. Put tape on it.
  4. This is a key, put a mark on one of the diamond on the tape. You are going to tape on all diamonds. Once you finish 45 degree strips, you don't see any diamonds anymore. Then, how do you decide where to start 135 degrees strips to avoid paint a right next row to diamonds you painted? This is the only tricky part in the whole process. The little mark on the tape on the first strip guides you to the right direction.
  5. Start 135 degree side right on the marked diamond. When you starts right, you finish right. You see a lattice pattern with masking tape showing the base color in each hole.
  6. It's time to paint diamonds.
  7. Once the paint dries 50%, remove all tape from the wall. You got a beautiful diamond pattern wall!

Oh well, I forgot to take pictures of the room before painting. The walls used to be all one color, the creamy color of the upper walls. The Kermit green was a drastic change. That scared Chad first. The second color toned down the intensity of the green well. I like the contrast between the black furniture and the bright wall. They complement each other. The room needs a little more help, but this is a good start.

I hope this room will be a place for hang-out. My picture is friends and family stop by and chat over tea or coffee in the afternoon.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Nana's Pumpkin Bread

Nana gave us a loaf of home made pumpkin bread. It's very moist and just right sweetness. When you put a piece in the mouse, it's filled up with happiness. You realize you have a big smile on your face. You don't even realize you keep putting more pieces into your mouth. Mmmmm, yum.

Nana is a ninety eight years old neighbor. She is not my nana, but she makes me feel like she is. She lives with her daughter, Shirley. She very good takes care of Nana. When a weather is nice, we see them walking in the evening together or reading on their porch. Whenever she sees us over the yard, she waves us lifting her arm half up. She is pretty witty. She doesn't say a lot, but a few words from her mouth always crack us up. We love to chat with her. She is so petite. You cannot imagine she raised three sons and one daughter. Nana is the cutest grandma I've ever seen besides my own grandma.

According to Shirley, Nana's apple pie is very popular in her family. They visit Nana and Shirley for that. Of course, they don't forget putting their request before their visits. I guess that keeps Nana going. I can picture she is making pies with her little hands thinking of them. Chad is looking forward to trying her apple pie someday. He's been hinting to her. That hasn't happened yet. It seems he needs to earn his piece. She also made some zucchini cookies for us before. They were very homey flavor as well. A homey flavor makes people happy. I hope my baking make people happy, too. I should learn Nana's secret.

New Start Like a Japanese

In Japan, the New Year's day is a big deal. It is important to us to start a new year right. So, you and things around you can keep going right. We wish prosperity of the family at the beginning of a year. That takes us to shrines to get blessings from gods for the year. The first three days of a year, we eat certain significant dishes. It's a feast to celebrate a new year, a new start.

As my respect to my root as a Japanese, I put together simple appetizer plate with traditional Japanese New Year's day dishes. Thanks to my parents in Japan. They sent us some food for the New Year's Day. After the Christmas feast, it is hard to keep eating more food. There are four weeks even between Thanksgiving and Christmas. One week is too short to recover the stomach. I had to simplify the new year. I know, that's a shame.

Left is black beans. It's sweet. It has a wish to work hard. The center is dried anchovies seasoned sweet and salty. Its sprinkled sesames add a nice roasty and nutty flavor. It has a wish for good harvest. You think it's fish, what does it have to do with farming? Each dish has some cultural background story though I don't bring them up here. Right is herring fish roe which has a wish for a big family. Well, how are they connected? Japan started as a farming country. A big family means more workforce. If they all work hard everyday, the family could get more harvest. That would bring them prosperity. Make sense? I made it extremely simplified, but the point is to wish the family's health and their happy life.

My husband and I had the appetizers sipping sake. I asked him if he wants to go to Japan again. He said, "Yes, why are you asking this?" He said he enjoyed the stay before, but I just wanted to make sure that was what he really thought or not. So, now we can start planning another trip!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My First Creation of the Year

Happy new year! Here, we had a beautiful day - clear blue sky, bird songs and warm air. It felt like spring. The morning walk was so refreshing.

The dining room got a warm soft light all day. I put my sewing machine on the dining table, and made a bed skirt for the bed in the guest room. We got a bed, but no mattress. Since the height of the bed was not clear without a box spring, this project had been on hold though I got fabric for it last year. The mattress came in a little before Christmas. It was a nice productive start of the year. Even better, it's done. I just finished making bed.

the guest room bed with the new bed skirt

bed skirt detail. closed up image
I wanted some vintage feel to the guest room. So, I picked scalloped edge embroiled cotton fabric. It's actually for baby stuff, but I think it worked out good. It goes well with the iron bed. The pillows need a little more help. I'm looking for fabric for two more small squire pillows.

It's a big piece, but actually pretty easy to sew. Make-your-own gives you more options of fabric and design. You could get exactly what you want. I love having options. I want what I want. I don't want to compromise to something I don't want if I could reach what I really want with some effort.

You can get a good deal with nice fabric on line. I used to wait Joann Fabric's sale, but not any more. I found Fabric.com. I cannot sew without it. They have great selections in various fabric. They offer free shipping for orders over $35. Their customer service is good. I made all sheers and drapes in this house with fabric from them. It is fun to browse tons of fabric imaging what you can do with them. It stimulates your creativity. You can find a lot of resources for sewing on line, too. How to make a roman shade, how to make a bed skirt, how to make a pillow case, and so on.

Anyway, the walls on the room look sad. I have a couple of vintage crochets I found at an antique shop and a flea market. They are going to be framed to go on the walls. I need to start mount them. This can be a project for next weekend.