October, a strange kingdom wherein I try to begin to care about the indoors–organizing, giving away, ordering shoes, check socks sizes. But the outdoors is still the most rewarding and wonderful. There has been weeks of drought here, so I took a chance and left the bedsheets on the line overnight. It rained for the first time in weeks!
a few things to share…
This week’s style advice column written by my sister Joanie. Most links are affiliate. Thank you Joanie!
Rachael has made a request for a denim post, which is coming, but before then we’re going to cover something that I would argue is even more basic than denim and that’s the t-shirt. They can be the workhorse of your closet and something that goes with everything from a pencil skirt to your favorite pair of sweats.
Remember the sizing discussion we had last time? That applies to this area as well. There is a time and place for the fitted tee and also for a gently oversized one. There is something very chic about a fitted skirt or pair of jeans with a loosely tucked in t-shirt that falls slightly open at the neck. It makes your whole outfit more comfortable which in turn makes you feel better in it which is really the most important part. The #1 key to anything looking good is that you feel good in it. We’ve all (or maybe it’s just me?!) worn those outfits that required constant pulling and tugging and making sure the hem isn’t flying up or the button isn’t gapping and even if it’s this seasons Gucci dress there is nothing stylish about an outfit that requires constant pulling, tucking or tugging. You have to want to be wearing what you’re wearing, that’s really the biggest part of style.
So if you find a t-shirt you love, buy two and start wearing them with everything. I think, as a foundation, you should have a white, black, grey and striped t-shirt in your closet. Those four will cover most of your needs. And then once you have those you can start adding in other options, like a graphic t-shirt or variations of a white tee. A short sleeve t-shirt is a year round item
One note on t-shirts that might be slightly see through, I recommend wearing them a white bra. I think it’s chicer than a nude bra but that’s just personal preference.
Also, I’m going to suggest a couple of t-shirts that will probably seem way over priced. Reason being, I have a couple of $50 tees that have lasted me years and that I truly wear several times a week which makes cost per wear pennies.
Here are my picks!
Foamed milk. I was reminded of the glory in a pan of warmed foamed milk with a touch of sugar when we stayed overnight with friends recently. There is something about the shared collective milk pan, tipped to top off each mug, a few extra moments of effort to make a cozy cup of coffee. Laura used a dansk butter warmer to do it on the on the stove, so cheery, and a basic $12 frother.
Getting better at toasting pumpkin seeds. Ideally making them taste like they’ve actually been toasted. Will defer to Heidi on this one.
I am forever texting my sister Joanie style questions. She understands fashion heritage and trends in a way I will never fathom. I was so excited when she agreed to do a regular column on here! All links are affiliate. You are welcome to suggest a focus for her next column, secretly I’m hoping: jeans. And now, Joanie:
I’m excited to be collaborating with my sister on this new style column. I can sum up our style relationship as me knowing almost everything that is in her wardrobe and being truly shocked when I see her in something I didn’t pick out or approve for her to buy. Sister honesty is nice when it comes to things like clothing. She can send me a text asking what I think of a sweater and I can simply respond with “no” without fearing that I’ve hurt her feelings!
The agenda of this column is less trend, more: personal style, share things I’ve found and loved, styling tips, and general clothing fun. I worked in fashion for several years and have dressed hundreds of women of every shape and size which has given me a deep appreciation for the female body and clothing it. I’m also sympathetic for the mass confusion that clothing brands have caused for women trying to dress for themselves. Fashion or style can be categorized into vanity but in reality, it’s something that impacts us everyday. I don’t think it should occupy too much of your brain-space, but I do know there is comfort, efficiency, and power in having some items in your closet that you really love and that make you feel good. And then building on those items over years so that you have a wardrobe that, for the most part, you love.
There are lots of tips to make shopping (in-person and online) easier and I’ll share some along the way. Feel free to leave a comment if you have a question! The first thing I want to touch on as a baseline for all posts going forward is size/sizing, since it impacts every part of shopping. We’ll call this tip, “letting go of your grip on size”. Fashion has become a numbers game with people constantly telling themselves, “I’m a 6”, or “I’m a 12” and living and dying by that number. Every brand (and within that brand every item) is going to run differently. Even if you ordered the same pair of pants year after year they would all fit slightly different. I can’t tell you how many great pieces I would have missed out if I only tried the item in “my size”. And beyond that, how many amazing sale rack pieces I’ve found because the sizing was clearly wrong and most people left the piece behind when their believed size didn’t fit. I have things that fit in my closet from a size 0-8 and that’s a realistic range, given that I’m generally a size 4. Plan on freely going up or down two sizes whenever you’re trying something on. We have such a strong relationship to our size equalling some part of our self-worth that a self-identified Size 6 fitting best in a 10 can throw some people off. Focus more on the fit than the number. I’ll make notes around items if I believe they run large or small. Some brands like H&M always runs small and others, like Everlane, run on the bigger size. And don’t be afraid to order multiple of the same item. We are fully in the online-shopping age and surrendering our access to the dressing room means creating options within your online order.
A note on items that I pick, I get feedback from both sides of people saying please don’t promote fast fashion and others who say please make things affordable. And I see both sides, the reality is not everyone can afford to spend $150 on a dress and as much as I promote ethical manufacturing and practices I also want to be inclusive so you’ll see a mix of all brands here. I also believe that vintage/second hand shopping is one of the best ways to shop for a number of reasons but that’s hard to include in a blog post. I would say that 50% of my wardrobe is second hand and I’ll include tips, when I can, for the best ways to shop secondhand.
And now for today’s topic, KNITS! to me, knits are year-round, but Fall is upon us which means they’re even more in focus. H&M and Mango happen to be one of my favorite places to buy them and I’ve included several in this round-up. My recommendation is if you see something you love, act quickly, things sell out fast. Knitwear is also easy to find secondhand, when people clean out their closets to make space they give away bulky items like sweaters and coats. The Men’s section of the thrift store generally yields better results.
As I drove to the grocery store to buy supplies for our camping trip, I asked Instagram for inspiration. I received a flood of Favorite Camping Meals ideas in response.
One of the groundbreaking moments came among the first messages: you can buy pancake mix in a bottle to which you just add water. This has been on the shelves of my grocery store all this time and I never noticed it. (Admittedly I don’t buy pancake mix because I make them from scratch with a near-obsessive ranking of recipes. But still!)
Back in February, I found out when a nearby church did their camping trip, and then booked a spot for our family. Once the date approached I shortened our trip dates and removed our younger children from the reservation. I did the grocery shopping and borrowed a cooler from a friend to store the food. But it was Joe who loaded up the bikes, found the sleeping bags, packed the cooler and took the two older girls camping for two nights. That’s how we sort these things through these days.
In addition to packing our kettle for making pour-over coffee in the morning, Joe brought our 12″ dual-handle cast iron pan that we use for almost everything on our stove at home. I really prefer the dual-handle style, less risk of random wrist burns on a crowded stovetop.
The girls’ favorite meal were the pancakes, made from the shake n’ pour, cooked in the grease from the breakfast sausage. Vermont maple syrup, of course.
The upper reaches of the United States are at fifteen and a quarter hours of daylight and counting. My day begins at 6am with the youngest child, and I typically kiss the oldest goodnight between ten and eleven pm. It’s not a period with much sleep, but the outdoors are stoked with brilliant green, the furious buzzing of bees and wasps, sneech kasnitches of the crickets, and the casual side-eye of the garter snakes that shyly circle the yard. Wild strawberries are just beginning to turn red, and if you walk very slowly, you will see their garnet teacups, the size of baby fingernails, peeking out.
The interior of the house slopes into neglect. Dishes gather around the sink, laundry quietly piles up, the floors seem gently rugged with grass clippings and chip crumbs. Walking in from the brilliant sunshine outside the kitchen looks dimly lit–sleepy hollow at noon. No matter how tidy, the sensation of the indoors is a damp envelope compared to the rolling plateau of the lawn and trees.
As a month June is generously supplied with biting insects of many kinds. They come out and disappear again at certain times of day, so the only way to be sure you’re not missing a wonderful hour outside, is to constantly wander out to check. You take the wonderful hours as much as you can get them.
Let’s think broadly for a moment about what homeschooling in Fall 2020 might look like. It will be pieced together like a very homemade pie crust. You might be working in the mornings, and homeschooling in the afternoon. Your neighbors might be homeschooling one day a week (twice on Thursdays, as Eeyore likes to say). Your mother-in-law might take on dictation with one child. Your dad might take on science with all of them. You agree to some sort of co-op lunch program with your neighbor where every other day the kids eat lunch at the other’s house and hear a story read aloud.
Or, perhaps you will be handling quite a lot. You are totally by yourself. You do two hours a day, whenever it fits.
The rest of the time the children are checking chores off a list, creatively playing/trashing the one room you conveniently never deign to look in, helping you prep lunch, staying up too late in their room telling stories to each other, and sleeping in. They wake up and tell you their dreams with enviable recall. They learn how to use wikipedia and tell you at dinner what they read. Likely, very likely, they take on projects of their own, like listing the personality traits of every character in their favorite book or designing bug traps that are eerily successful.
Would that be so bad?
The sky was moody yesterday and my mood matched. I did that thing where you just sit quietly in the center of the action and respond to the queries that come to you, but you don’t seek them out. Don’t try to intervene in an argument, don’t redirect energy, don’t suggest other activities to try beside arguing about who sat on the white pillow first.
You’re just there, present, but gazing softly at your notebook.
Much to my dismay, time in the warp of social distancing seems to be speeding up. Weeks are the new state of being. I feel that without the book markers of the calendar–the festival, the birthday party, the spring parade–the months are’t being perceived. Are we entering an alter-planet, like that of the space voyager in interstellar (film, 2014), where a few moments spent too long evaluating a dust-storm on a distant planet means his missed his daughter’s high school years back on earth?
As part of their homeschool curriculum the girls memorize a timeline of historic events. Indus River Valley Civilization. China’s Shang Dynasty. Roman Republic. India’s Gupta Dynasty. Black Death. Seven Years War. Mexican revolution. President Nixon resigns. Apartheid abolished in South Africa. (I’m just sharing a few examples, there are 161 total markers on the timeline.)
I’ve relied on this timeline concept in recent weeks when we’ve had to announce camp weeks that will not happen, and the cancellation of festivals they were looking forward to attending. “This will be on the timeline, girls. You’ll tell your children about this year. And your grandchilden!”
It seems to help lend a bit of the perspective that is easier to come by as an adult. This is unique, and it’s not forever.
I was chatting with my sister the other day when I shared this incredibly clever cocktail with her that I had just invented: half a lime squeezed into a white ale beer. “It is very evocative,” I said. “Of what?,” she asked. “A corona with lime?”
Critics notwithstanding, I recommend to you simple riffs like this. Take a moment or two or ten to make something nice for yourself. I’ve also returned to the erstwhile negroni, that Italian cocktail that seems to taste best when the sun is setting. Evaluating the bar cupboard, I made the simple riff decision to replace the vermouth with chilled box white wine. I didn’t notice the difference actually, I felt it tasted better than the traditional vermouth version!
Whenever I’m feeling dread or intimidation over an activity a child has asked for help with, I remind myself: I can do anything for 30 minutes. Reading aloud book I don’t like. A sewing project I don’t understand myself, much more understand enough to explain it out loud. Standing sentry behind the toddler while she practices climbing the stairs. Surely I have thirty minutes for this child, right? Right.
I’m all for boundaries and saying no, but there are those projects that your child will insist on, with patience and eager hope in their eyes: please, please do this with me. I settle in, privately deciding if, at thirty minutes it’s as awful as I suspected it might be, I can be done. If we’ve done nothing but muddle the cutting and sewing project, it can be done. If the book is barely readable, if the experiment seems a meaningless mess, either way, we can be done. I can even have the presence of mind to say as the end approaches, “Just ten more minutes and then I’d like to do something else.”
The result is almost always that the child is satisfied with my time spent and very nearly on the verge of moving on themselves. I am satisfied that I’ve finally done the thing, and only thirty minutes has elapsed. It works very well. Try it, anything for thirty minutes, but keep it a secret from your fellow participants.
As for the way I like to sometimes spend thirty minutes, these brownies take about that to whip together, and they are exactly what I always hope brownies will taste like. They are steady staples in our stay-home dessert rotation.
Thick & Chewy Brownies from Canal House Cook Something
- 12 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (I do this, but I feel its optional too)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup chopped walnuts (very optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack set in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with some butter, then dust it with some flour, tapping out any excess.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, stirring until it has the consistency of soft slush and just begins to bubble around the edges, 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add both chocolates, the espresso, and the salt to the pan, stirring until the chocolate melts and the mixture is well combined.
Put the eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed. Gradually add the warm chocolate mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating constantly until well combined. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour and walnuts, if using, stirring until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake the brownies until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. Let the brownies cool in the pan on a rack, then into squares.
Two homeschool master theorists came together for an hour long zoom chat this week. Susan Wise Bauer, author of the four volume Story of the World (a series that tells history in the most fascinating read-aloud-friendly way) and The Well Trained Mind: a Guide to Classical Education at Home. And Julie Bogart, writing coach and author of The Brave Learner, an energetic and creative go-get-em homeschool book.
This is something that may have happened at a conference in the pre-COVID days, but instead I was able to watch on my couch with a heated blanket and a mug of sweet black tea. I put it on my calendar, announced it to the family, and lo: I listened in at 4pm in attentive silence.
Both women homeschooled their 4+ children. Susan classically, and Julie in a free-form unschooling “magic,” yet intensive way. Their books are full of ideas for curriculum, method, and approach. I can become overwhelmed reading their work, saying to myself “I might do one of these twenty ideas.”
As intense as that sounds, in Thursday’s talk, they were commiserative about life these days. It was an excellent call. I definitely recommend watching it, no matter which stage of homeschool-acceptance you are in right now. Julie compared grocery shopping now to doing an errand in a foreign country: you go to the Italian post office and come back home, ready for a nap. That rang so true for me. I’ve been anxiously hyped before each grocery visit.
Susan said seven-year-old boys who don’t like writing were about as common as autumn leaves in the fall.
Julie said to pick one or two subjects every day, and plan for no more than two hours of academic work of any sort each day total. Susan said she wishes she hadn’t been so dismissive of video games and comic books when her boys were little.
“Take a super short view and say: what do I want to do over the next two months? For each child, what is my number one priority, over the next two months? Put it in your calendar, make a physical note for two months from now. Decide then–do I still want to focus on this, or do I want to focus on something else?”[…] “Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Eat a lot of good food. Spend some fun evenings watching movies, reading with, and doing music with your kids.”
I hope you have a chance to enjoy it as much as I did. Link to the video of the call, posted on facebook.
dreamy sheep farm image via Thankful Sage Farm School.
Even since Pamela Druckerman wrote about “le pause” in her hilarious memoir Bringing Up Baby, I’ve thought of it as her clever idea, though she attributes it to French parents one and all. Le Pause is a five-minute delay that French parents wait out (wine sip) when their baby begins crying. It’s an opportunity, given from the newborn stage on, to let the baby try to sort out what’s wrong on their own. It is a habit that ends up being intuitive for parents of multiple children (mostly because it takes you five minutes to respond). Both sets, the experienced and the inexperienced, often observe that babies will settle back in after a screech or two mid-nap.
A few years ago I met the curious culinary equivalent: the garlic pause.
Researchers into garlic’s immune-boosting strength discovered that if you leave garlic to sit for ten minutes before cooking with it, 70% of the allicin is preserved. If you use it immediately you destroy the heat-sensitive enzyme that triggers the reaction to create allicin. Allicin is a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal property and what researchers often attribute to garlic’s cancer fighting potential. (I am not a nutritionist, I learned all of this from the fascinating book Eating on the Wild Side. <–that’s a link to where she discusses allicin!)
To recapture all the antibacterial allicin being squandered in my kitchen, I had to switch up my cooking pattern a bit because garlic is typically the first ingredient in the hot pan. Now, I chop up the garlic first thing, then do a few dishes, wipe down the counters, and come back to cooking. Thus, the garlic pause came into being in my kitchen.
Below, my three very favorite pasta recipes lately (two out of three contain garlic). I’ve included my favorite pesto recipe. Controversial. There are so many pesto recipes out there! This one is from Simply in Season (shout-out to the humble Mennonites cooks) and the proportions are perfect. To save money I always use walnuts in pesto, instead of pine nuts.
- Julia Turshen’s sausage & caramelized onion one-pan dish from Small Victories (pictured above, thanks for the photo, Rachel!). I’ve made this delicious dish for countless dinner parties. It is packed with favorite things: sausage, greens, cream, lemon zest! It also seems to make one box of pasta go a long way. You can see the recipe as it is written in the cookbook right here.
A Pesto recipe, from Simply in Season
- 1 cup / 250 ml packed fresh basil leaves and tender stems
- 1-3 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup /75 ml pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts (toasted)
- 3-6 tablespoons parmesan grated
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 2 springs flat parsley (if you happen to have it!)
Finely chop all of the above together in a food processor.
- 1/3-1/2 cup / 75-125 ml olive oil
Add gradually while food processor runs to make a thick paste. Serve at room temperature with any kind of hot pasta. I like to retain 1/2 cup of pasta water in a mug, and dribble a bit of it in when I add the pesto to the pasta. It makes the pesto creamier. Add a bit at a time until it looks how you’d like.
- Jon & Vinny’s fusilli alla vodka. This is a new one for me, I learned of it from my west-coast sister Joanie (thanks for the photo, Joanie!). After she shared it, several members of my family all made the same dish in their homes! Is that happening in your extended household during quarantine? I love the minimal ingredients and honestly, fusilli is my favorite pasta shape. Recipe at bon appetit.