Sunday, September 13, 2020

09.14.20 It's Been Six Months...

Brunch with the family
My, how things have changed...

my last pre-Covid post was March 6...we had just returned from a weekend trip to DC full of family celebrations and a quick trip to the museums.

A week later, my husband was working from home, events - including SXSW, here in Austin - were cancelled and we were headed into an unknown future for an indeterminate time...

I suspended the blog for a while, because I wasn't going to be in the jewelry studio, and frankly, I wasn't sure what to say.

More recently, I've accepted that it is the "new normal" for the foreseeable future.  I'm still not back in the studio...

but I keep hoping that people will wear masks and the transmission rate will come down to a level where I feel safe returning.  

Source: Austin Public Health

After peaking at more than 70 new hospital admissions per day in mid-July, the curve is trending down again...but last Monday was Labor Day, some schools have started and not only have University of Texas students returned to campus, there were roughly 18,000 fans in the stadium at a football game over the weekend...so we watch and wait.


My collection of masks continues to grow, along with my vintage earrings...

I keep picking up shiny things on Etsy and eBay, even though I really have no place to go...so I've been coordinating them...vintage opals, for example, with my Irene Neuwirth mask...

I'm not posting them on Instagram with #todaysearrings every day, but I love earrings, and missed wearing them...


even if I'm only going to pick up curbside groceries or drop things at the post office...so they are popping up again on a more regular basis.

It may sound silly, but putting on earrings makes me feel better...so does polish on my fingers and toes.

Through the wonders of Zoom, I'm able to take regular yoga classes with some of my favorite instructors (even though one lives in Los Angeles, and another in Manhattan)...

the first couple of time I got back on the mat, I noticed that it really bothered me to look down at my unpainted toes.

So, I plunked down $80 for an Olive & June Everything Box (there are less expensive sets, too) because I knew that it was going to be a looong time before I visited the nail salon again...ever?













For what it's worth - the hype is true...their polish is great, it lasts, and their "Poppy" attachment for painting with your non-dominant hand really makes works! Definitely worth it, as I am no longer vexed by my naked nails...on my hands or feet. 

What I'm really saying here is...this is what life is going to be like for a while...maybe a long while, and we are all going to have to adapt.

I would love to be in the jewelry studio, or the yoga studio.
I would love to get a mani-pedi, or a facial or massage.
I would love to have dinner with friends at a favorite restaurant...

but right now, we can't.  

What we can do is try our best to take care of ourselves and each other...

We can stay home.
We can wear a mask when we go out.
We can shop small and local.
We can Zoom with our friends and family to stay connected.

If everyone will do these things, then we just might be able to go back to doing the things we all miss...but we have to be in this together.

Until next time.




Monday, August 31, 2020

08.31.20 The Older, the Better

My Mom (L), Dad (R) and my Grandmother - 1957
My parents would have been married 62 this month
Last time, I wrote about all the new stuff in my kitchen...this time, I want to write about some things that are very old, very special and only get better with age: my maternal Grandmother's cast iron skillets. (I also have her wedding ring, which I've written about before...you can go back and read that story here.)

She had three - a 7", an 8" and a 10" - I have them all. 

My grandparents were married in 1935, so I imagine (because I don't know for sure) that she acquired these skillets around that time...which makes them about 85 years old. I treasure them, because they represent some of my earliest, and fondest memories of time spent with my grandmother in her kitchen.




My grandmother learned to cook, both from her own mother, and from the woman who cooked and kept house for her family when she was growing up in Alabama.

She made wonderful chicken soup and matzo balls, but she also made incredible fried chicken.

She used her cast iron every day - she cooked my grandfather's breakfast, toast, coffee and  - three eggs, sunny side up in one of her skillets...but my favorite use for them was baking cornbread.  

She would make it often, and if there were leftovers from the day before, she would dip it into buttermilk as a bedtime snack.  

I wanted mine warm, with lots of butter...and there weren't many leftovers when we were visiting.

When my brother and I were young, we would regularly spend the night with my grandparents. I didn't appreciate then (as I did later when I had my own children), that it wasn't just a treat for us...it was a huge break for my parents.

I loved staying with my grandparents, and I especially enjoyed cooking with my grandmother.  I always asked if we could make cornbread to have with breakfast.  She always said yes.

We would measure and sift the dry ingredients the night before, then add the egg, buttermilk and melted butter in the morning.  I have the recipe written on a card in her handwriting, and I still bake it in her  skillet.

The cornbread is in regular rotation as part of my pandemic menus, usually served alongside quick tenderloin beer stew from Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way cookbook.  I've shared both recipies at the end of this post.

I'm using the skillets for a lot of other meals, too...

One of our favorite local restaurants, Dai Due, makes the only fried chicken I've ever had that's as good as my grandmother's.  They only serve it on Sunday, and we get an order of it every week.  They've also started selling their hamburger patties and wonderful sausages to cook at home.





There's really nothing like a good burger, and honestly - they don't travel well - so it's been wonderful to be able to get them ground that day, along with fabulous brioche buns...and cook them at home.

Another great recipe - for lamb chops (which I am buying at the farmers market) - came from one of my jeweler friends. You sear the marinated chops on top of the stove, then finish them in the oven.

Not only are these well worn, deeply seasoned pans fabulous for cooking...they bring back wonderful memories of my Grandmother everytime I use them.

The world is a pretty dark place right now, and I'm working to find hope and light where I can...pulling out these skillets, that fed my family for generations before me, and cooking with them regularly brings me joy.  That probably wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been forced to change what and where we eat - among other things.

Until next time.

Jacques Pepin's Instant Tenderloin Beef Stew
From “Fast Food My Way”

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced (1/2-inch) potato, rinsed under cold running water
1 cup baby carrots (about 4 ounces)
1 cup small white button mushrooms
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup baby peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided use
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound beef tenderloin (filet mignon), trimmed of all fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, carrots and mushrooms. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and lightly browned.

Add the onion and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Add the garlic, peas, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook for 1 minute. Set aside, covered, while you cook the steak.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in another skillet over medium-high heat until it is very hot but not smoking. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the pepper on the filet pieces and add the meat to the skillet in one layer. Saute, turning, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the meat is browned on all sides. Transfer to a platter.

Add the wine and stock to the skillet and boil for about 10 seconds.  Pour over the meat and vegetables, and serve.

Gertrude's White Meal Cornbread

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

Place 2 tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet and put the skillet in the oven while it heats. Remove when the butter is melted.

Sift together dry ingredients:
1.5 cups white corn meal
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Add to the dry mixture and whisk until there are no lumps
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk

Remove the skillet from the oven, pour the melted butter into the batter and whisk in.

Pour the batter into the hot skillet, return to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick or knife comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool briefly - 5 or 10 minutes - before cutting.

P.S.

Last week I put up a couple of posts on Instagram and Facebook about tea towels...and that I often pick them up as souvenirs...well, turns out my grandmother did that, too.

My mother's first cousin (who was really more like a sister, as they were both only children) responded to my post, writing:

This is so amazing because both my mother & your grandmother always sent tea towels as gifts & souvenirs of their travels!! 

It's not just jewelry that tells stories...cast iron and tea towels do, too.

A few of my souvenirs, clockwise from the top:
Berkeley, Napa, Madison, Boston and Hawaii

Monday, August 17, 2020

08.17.20 The Right Stuff


Everything is better - and easier - when you have the right tools.

I've written about this before in the context of jewelry - and the same is true in the kitchen...where I am spending a whole lotta time right now!

I've had a well equipped kitchen for most of my adult life, but until a few months ago I had pretty much stopped cooking on a regular basis.  Since I've started up again, I've added a few things that have made me really happy.

I always start my day with coffee, and last fall we bought an espresso machine (to replace the tiny, manual one we got as a wedding gift going on 30 years ago)...and boy, are we glad to have it.

Part of the thinking, when we bought it (well in advance of the pandemic) is that it would pay for itself over time as I stopped getting my coffee on the go everyday.  At one cup a day for me, it was going to take a while...my husband's office had big, fancy machines, so he was making his espressos there (several times a day) during the week, and at home on the weekends...but now that we're both home 24/7 we feel like geniuses!

Since he has been working from home (for going on 5 months)...and we are going through a pound of beans a week!  Fortunately, our favorite local coffee roaster started shipping at the start of the lockdown. Now we get a big box once a month so we can stay caffeinated.

While I love my cup of hot coffee in the morning, during the summer I want cold brew in the afternoon.  Like so many grocery items, my favorite cold brew was hard to get curbside in the beginning, so I decided to investigate options to make it at home.
Photo credit: County Line Kitchen

I settled on a mason jar filter system from County Line Kitchen - and it works like a champ!  I had been drinking a pecan flavored cold brew, and discovered that HEB (the world's best grocery store - don't believe me, just ask Business Insider or Food and Wine) has a Texas Pecan coffee! I buy it ground, follow the instructions and it makes a delicious cold brew.

Unlike the espresso machine, the mason jar and filter were only $25, so the return on investment was big and fast!

Next up was a new toaster oven.  Seems like a small thing...but the previous one was clearly at the end of its life. Sometimes it would come on when you pushed the start button, other times you had to toggle the start and stop ones - and maybe it would stay on until the bagel was toasted, maybe not.

I use it a lot for baking, too.  My muffin and banana bread recipes all call for toasted nuts (I like pecans in my coffee and my baked goods - so that's what I use), and with the old toaster I had to stand watch...otherwise I would end up not with enhanced flavor - but with charred bits that needed to go straight to the compost.

After the last burned batch of pecans, it was time.




Through the wonders of the internet, I was able to read reviews, comparison shop, and have a brand new one delivered to my doorstep.  

I looked at some really expensive ones - but the previous one had been a Black and Decker...and given how long it lasted, that's what we bought again.

We are now happily toasting bagels, reheating pizza, and prepping pecans for baking once again.

Even older than the toaster, was the muffin tin I had...it dated back to college.  Over the years it made a lot of muffins and birthday cupcakes to take to school and scout events...but when I pulled it out a recently I noticed it was in really bad shape; a little dented and rusted on the underside...so I decided to look for a new one of those, too.

In my search, I landed on the Williams-Sonoma page and discovered (ON SALE) the most wonderful measuring cups and spoons - they are odd sized!  This may not seem like a big deal to you - but I was smitten and had to have them!

The cups come in 2/3, 3/4 and 1.5 cup sizes; the spoons are 2 teaspoons, 1.5 Tablespoons and 2 Tablespoons...and I use them every time I make blueberry muffins (pretty much every other week).

...and finally (just a few days before this post - so I've added it) a new hand mixer. The one I've had since college stopped turning halfway through mixing a pound cake (baked it anyway...it was a little, uh, dense).

As with the pound cake, it seems wrong to write about the muffins, and not share the recipe...as you can see, the measurements for the first 3 ingredients all utilize my new odd sized cups and spoons.

Until next time.







Blueberry Pecan Muffins 
(adapted from Allrecipes.com)

1½ cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk, or more as needed
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 cup fresh blueberries
3/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/4 cup Turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.

Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.

Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and add enough milk to reach the 1-cup mark.

Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries and pecans.

Fill muffin cups add top each muffin with a sprinkle of Turbinado sugar (about a teaspoon per muffin)

Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.


Monday, August 3, 2020

08.03.20 Cluck, Cluck, Goose

There is nothing good about the Covid pandemic - absolutely nothing - but fortunately I am still able to connect with people I care about and find new ways to do things that bring me joy and satisfaction.

I've shifted my creative energy from the jewelry bench to the kitchen counter...I am cooking almost every day, and baking - something I haven't done much of before - a lot.  As a result, I'm going through vast amounts of produce, and eggs!

Back in March, eggs were one of the things that turned out to be difficult to get curbside from the grocery store, and my friend Dorsey, who owns HausBar farm, had an abundant supply (because the farm to table restaurants she sold to pre-pandemic weren't buying as many anymore).

You might remember her, and her fabulous goose, Gustavo, from a previous post...Dorsey and I have been friends since college.  She and her mom wrote a book about her urban farm in Austin - narrated by Gustavo - which I highly recommend.  I went to the book launch party, and wore my speckled hen pendant, and then made a goose pendant for Dorsey...







but I digress...back to the eggs...I signed up for her "farm to neighbor" website - where I am able to get farm fresh eggs, veggies and flowers, with a bonus (socially distanced, masked) visit with my friend every week or so.

Having eggs is critical right now, because I'm doing so much baking.



I haven't hopped on the sourdough train, but I'm baking muffins to eat in the morning and pound cake (to have with fresh peaches, berries, whatever is in season) for dessert in the evening...so I'm going through eggs at the rate of about a dozen a week.

It doesn't seem fair to write this without sharing the recipe, so here it is - from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

Until next time.

Sour Cream Pound Cake

INGREDIENTS

½ cup butter
3 eggs
½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla

DIRECTIONS

Allow butter, eggs, and sour cream to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and lightly flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating on medium speed about 10 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low to medium speed for 1 minute after each addition and scraping side of bowl frequently. Alternately add flour mixture and sour cream to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near center of cake comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Remove from pan; cool completely on rack.



Monday, July 20, 2020

07.20.20 It's not about you...

...or me, it has to be about us - ALL of us.

The American myth has always been just that - our reality has never been that all [people] are treated as though we are created equal, or that there is opportunity, liberty and justice for all - even though that's what we've been taught, and want to believe.

The past few months have brought the problems of inequity and social injustice to the forefront of our national consciousness. Yes, it is going to be a painful conversation - but it also long overdue.

Mask from Resistance by Design
The list of challenges we face - poverty, racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia - is long and daunting...but not insurmountable.  There are things each of us can do (and that I see so many around me already doing) that can and will result in positive change, if we are willing to persevere.

There are simple things - like wearing a mask. Wearing a mask is about ensuring the safety of our community, just like obeying traffic laws when you drive a car.

You have to wear a seat belt when you get in your car. You have to drive on the right side of the road, and stop at intersections and for traffic signals.  When people fail to to drive safely, they put lives at risk - and no sane person goes on a tirade about traffic laws violating civil liberties. It's even easier to put on a mask (no behind the wheel training required) and it protects everyone.

(As I've written before, I work on my posts a week or two ahead and fortunately, since I started this one the Governor of Texas has made masks mostly mandatory in public places).

Mask from Irene Neuwirth
Covid plushie from Giant Microbes
Because it's not about you, or me - it's about everyone.

I'm actually starting to "amask" quite a collection - including one from jeweler Irene Neuwirth that was part of a fundraising effort for Campaign Zero - made from Liberty of London cottons -  it came with a lovely handwritten note from Irene!

But, high profile jewelers and designers are not the only folks working to raise funds and awareness for social justice causes. 



I used to tell my graduate students when I was teaching about civil rights and social justice - ordinary people often do extraordinary things - and that is how progress happens.

My donated fabric.
My friend Jennifer's sewing table
Here are a couple of examples:

When the CDC recommended everyone should wear a mask, several of my sewing friends began working hard to ensure that anyone who wanted a mask could have one.  

Knowing that these friends were making and donating masks motivated me to go through bins of fabric I had sitting in my laundry room (because at one time I thought I might go back to sewing when my nest emptied - but then I found metalsmithing) and donate it...

for years I'd been telling myself to take care of that chore, but I'm glad I waited.  It's been fun to see posts with my fabric being turned into masks for folks who need them.

Little things - like doing something I needed to do - turned into a bigger thing for other people (honestly, you would have thought I'd left bags of spun gold on my friend's doorstep). That's what it means to be part of a community.

In late May, as the Black Lives Matter protests started across the country, one of the members of the Ladysmiths of ATX was approached by a fellow artist about selling an item and donating the proceeds to a social justice non profit organization.  That exchange led to a huge online fundraiser that raised over $11,000.

In just a couple of weeks - by reaching out to their community of women and non-binary makers - they brought together over 90 artists who donated more than 200 items, and the proceeds were donated to several social justice organizations supporting Black lives.

When we come together, we can make change happen, and the actions we take are not necessarily overtly political...wearing a mask certainly shouldn't be...neither is shopping at the farmers' market, or getting take out from a local restaurant rather than a chain.  These are things that we can all do to keep our communities safe and strong - because this is about us (not you or me).

So, at least in these first two attempts, I've managed to touch on jewelry in my return to blogging - and it feels good to be writing - which is really why I started in the first place.

Until next time.




Monday, July 6, 2020

07.06.20 MoJo sez...

MoJo sez...
he's doing just fine in this time of Covid-19, in fact, he rather likes that someone is home all the time to let him in or out, and make sure his bowls are full of kibble and fresh water.

I don't know if he realizes - or cares - that the humans have not adjusted quite so well to this "new normal" (which frankly, doesn't feel normal at all)...

It's been almost four months since I was in the studio - and I miss it.  I am glad to report that Creative Side continues to be a going concern - they have reopened on a limited basis, and are taking extensive safety precautions. There is now an online shop, and the sales support keeping the studio open for members and for small group classes.

I was really hoping to go back this week, but because our [lack of] leadership in Texas decided to reopen pretty much everything in May, and new Covid cases have spiked - I've put my return on hold.

It's also been months since I wrote a blog post - and I'm trying to figure out how to ease back in.  It seems a bit frivilous to write about jewelry, but while that was usually the "hook", it never limited my range of topics or subject matter...and there is certainly a lot in the world to think and write about now.

Because I'm not in the studio, I'm filling my time with other things, and I think I'm finally finding some rhythm and routine...
Famers Market bounty

Sunday has become my favorite day of the week...

I get up and go to the farmers' market near our house. I head out early, before it gets too hot, and I'm home before lunch. I'd been occassionally in the years before - but it has definitely become my big outing - and the only place where I'm really around other people.

It's run by the Texas Farmers Market organization (a non-profit) and they are all about safety - face masks, social distancing, they even greet you at the entrance with a squirt of hand sanitizer, and a smile.   

I really look forward to seeing the vendors and brining home beautiful produce to eat all week. 

Winner, winner chicken dinner

Then in the evenings, we get carry out fried chicken from Dai Due - one of our favorite restaurants (where we have been weekend regulars since they opened in our neighborhood).  

Not only it is delicious, it gives me a break from cooking (which I am enjoying, and will probably write about), but I get to say hello to the staff, who are became our friends over the years of dining in.



I'm slowly starting to fill my week days with new policy work (pro bono, because I officially closed my consulting corporation last December), and with this post, a return to blogging.  

...and I certainly haven't given up on jewelry...

the last piece I finished in the studio was one for me, a carnelian pendant with MoJo's likeness on the back.

Last week, while I was scrolling through Instragram, these orange shell earrings from Me & Ro popped up - and I thought they would be perfect with the pendant (I was right), so I bought them as my souvenir for this year's missed vacation.
Photo credit: Me&Ro

As I said, I'm easing back into this - nothing profound or thought provoking today - but I'm working on that for future posts.

Until next time.

Monday, March 23, 2020

03.23.20 March Madness 2020

Photo credit: Washington Post
I usually write my blog posts a couple of weeks before I actually put them up...that gives me time to try to be thoughtful, edit, and avoid putting up something that feels - and reads - like it was rushed.

When I first started this post - before all hell broke loose mid-month - I was going to write about participating in #MarchMeetTheMaker on Instagram.  I still want to give British designer Joanne Hawker, a shout out.



Photo credit: Joanne Hawker


She started the hashtag - and the challenge - with the goal of getting makers share things about themselves - and learn about others - through a month long series of prompts and posts.

Participating has been a great distraction - and a way for me to think about what I want to do differently, and better - when I return to the studio.

For now, though, like pretty much everyone else I know, I am going to #stayhome.  Except for those folks who are now in their 80s and 90s (and at extreme risk if they contract Covid-19) who lived through the Great Depression or World War II, none of us have ever experienced anything quite like this.

It's scary and it's stressful...and we really don't know how long it's going to go on.  I've also been reminded of how many things I take for granted...

Being able to go to the grocery store...

here in Texas we have fabulous home grown grocer in HEB. They had been preparing for the possibility that folks would be told to stock up on non-perishable items, but even the laid plans were no match for the panic buying that took place last week.   To their great credit, not only did HEB get things mostly back on the shelves and under control in a matter of days, they continue to be at the forefront of supporting communities in Texas in times of distress.

Being able to spend time with other people...

thank goodness for modern technology and social media.  My husband is able to work from home, we are able to stay in touch with our friends and family, and although it is somewhat isolating, it would be so much worse if we could not communicate.

Being able to travel freely...

we were just starting to plan our summer vacation as the directives to close business and work from home began.  I am still hopeful that we will be able to get together with all our kids for a week this summer, but for now - all that is on hold.

Being able to pay bills...

we are so fortunate.  No one in our immediate family works in a job in the retail or service industry that has been shut down by this pandemic.  But we have many, many friends who have scaled back their businesses, or had to close them completely for the time being.  We are doing what we can to be supportive - but this is bigger than anyone can handle on their own.

I can't tell you yet whether or not I'll continue to post every two weeks...it honestly depends on how I'm feeling and if I think I have anything useful to say.

I am confident this won't go on indefinitely - but it could certainly be a while.  As communities around the world work through this - together - I am grateful for the support of each person who reads my blog.

Until next time - be well.