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Gray is one of Mini’s sons and one of my very favorite people on earth. I can’t tell you how much I adore her kids. This one in particular always seems to make me laugh. Today, he says that if you have an extra second, you should check out Mozi Esme’s site. She published one of my essays on Mozambique.


In the Kitchen

Best cookbook yet!

I’m making my 2009 resolution list, crossing off ideas, writing others in permanent marker and dreaming about the future. While my dream home varies from beach-front to mountain-top, the one constant is a nice kitchen with a giant garden to keep it well-fed. I never expected to love cooking and entertaining as much as I do, but if there were ever a chance to become a professional baker, I’d jump. You can imagine how thrilled I was to receive Alice Water’s “The Art of Simple Food” for Christmas.

Learning new things. Thanks Alice!

My mama, she is a smart cookie. I was on Twitter the other day raving about how much I loved this book when another person commented that if I liked Alice, I should check out her right-hand man, David Tunis. He recently wrote a cookbook called “A Platter of Figs.” Without a moment of guilt for spending yet another $30 on myself during the holidays, I scooped this book up this weekend and have been reading it ever since.

Did you know you can steam fish?

Tunis’ story is funny, honest and simple — like his cooking. He makes mouth-watering meals from basic foods and sticks to seasonal and local eating. He and his partner split their time — 6 months in the Bay area working with Alice Waters at Chez Pannise and 6 months in their European home, where they prepare fabulous meals for friends. Sounds like a dream!

Extras for the halibut dinner

I’ve only cooked one thing so far from either — steamed halibut. I didn’t know how to cook halibut (fish is new to my kitchen), so I pulled out the cookbook and took Alice’s advice. Ten minutes steamed and I had a piece of fish so flaky and tender, it melted. It was wonderful.

Dinner for one

I am looking forward to fewer giant community dinners in 2009 and more intimate meals with a few friends at a time. “A Platter of Figs” is catered to feeding 8 people a three-course meal. This sounds just about right. Tunis is also a fan of using meats not typical in American kitchens, namely rabbit and duck. It is going to take the right group of friends to want to come over for this sort of menu, but I think I’ll be able to round up a few. I intend also to make Ms. Waters and Mr. Tunis great friends of mine in the new year.

And that resolution list will be posted by the end of the week. I’m still editing and dreaming.


Stretchy Pants Means Christmas!

Christmas dinner

We ate so much food during our Christmas break, by the time the official meal rolled around, we weren’t that hungry. The main culprit? Carmines on Penn. So, so good. Like it makes me wish I lived in Denver so I could have dates take me there regularly kind of good. I think we would have stayed to continue eating there if we could have. We extended our one meal there to left-overs for two days. Four star recommendation for you Denver folk.

Christmas dinner: Honeybaked Ham

So when we sat down for a last meal before I flew home, our plates were less teaming than the usual fair. Also, because we were celebrating at my brother’s house — none of the traditional Christmas dinner foods made an appearance: sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, green beans, butter rolls, pie, etc.

But there was ham. Ew.

Christmas dinner: my plate.

Thankfully I talked Cody into grilling me a steak instead. Elk steak, to be precise, with a sweet potato on the side. The one benefit of having an outdoorsy brother is an endless supply of game. These steaks were so incredibly good. He marinated them and then stood in the snow to grill. I was pretty fond of the antelope spicy sausage too.

Christmas dinner: Fruit salad

And in lieu of pie, there was a nice fruit salad. It was a great meal. I like that we put tradition on hold for a year, although I tried cooking up a new family routine. After we finished our stockings Christmas morning, I put in my dad’s new copy of Nacho Libre.

While Cody did in fact like the stretchy pants I made him for Christmas (Amy Butler wide leg lounge pants):

Showing Raja his new pants

Camo fleece, no less

New jammies

Raja seems entranced. “Where did my dad’s legs go?”

Pretty much sums up how happy he is with me

Alas, he was not a fan of the movie. He watched the first five minutes before storming off alone.

My sweet dad

My sweet Mama

My parents, however, have good taste and thought it was hilarious.

“I am worried about your salvation and stuff…”

“Don’t judge me because I believe in the science!”

We said these lines about a dozen times, laughing our butts off. A new Christmas tradition is formed, stretchy pants and all!


Que Viva La Sticky Bun!

Christmas Morning Tradition

While I foolishly poured myself a “healthy” bowl of granola and yogurt, the family prepared to dig into a Christmas morning tradition…

Christmas Morning Tradition

Christmas Morning Tradition

Christmas Morning Tradition

Christmas Morning Tradition

Christmas Morning Tradition

Christmas Morning Tradition

I only ended up eating half a pan…And I wish I could do it again this morning. If there is one thing that signals the holidays in our family, it’s the scent of brown sugar, pecans and doughy white bread baking in the oven. Sweet heaven, these were good.


And a Partridge in a Pear Tree…

If I'm good...

Wrapped and ready


Well, it isn’t necessarily a “pear” tree — my brother is calling it an atheist tree per his “custom” — but it is pretty and we are together to celebrate. Plus, my grandma shipped us a giant box of Harry & David pears, so we’ll eat them by the tree and call it good enough.

Hope you are having a lovely Christmas week, with time to also enjoy family, good food and great weather. I bundled up today and took an hour walk on icy sidewalks for a change of pace. It was lovely to have time to think, be exceptionally cold and enjoy a new view. I adore Colorado. Tonight my dad arrives and the four of us will fall into full-family vacation mode: movies, lots of good food, movies, presents, endless teasing and eventually tears as the planes part later in the week.

For now, time to enjoy what I’ve got. Much love to you and your family!


Two Turtle Doves

Christmas goodies

The culmination of Jars of Renewal — four Christmas baskets filled with homemade goodies being delivered today.

I was reading scripture I’ll be teaching at church this morning and it specifically mentions two turtle doves. Coincidence? Nah. Amazing is more like it.

So, Joseph and Mary had to pay God two turtle doves when Jesus turned 30 days old to officially buy him back from the Lord — per Jewish tradition. Isn’t that fascinating? I didn’t know anything about this until I was researching Simeon and Anna and how to present, once again, a daunting topic to children. Today’s I’m to speak of Anna’s grace.

Christmas goodies

This got me thinking — grace. It’s a concept I’ve only recently begun to understand. How should I explain this to a gaggle of noisy, Christmas-hyped children? I started thinking about ways I experienced grace as a kid, even though I didn’t recognize it then.

  • That immediate sense of relief and joy diving into a cold pool on a scorching day
  • The first time I held my baby brother
  • That breath-taking moment between jumps on a giant trampoline
  • The smell of wet desert
  • The sneaky joy of catching your parents in a private look and witnessing their love
  • The ocean or Grand Canyon for the first time and that moment when you think, “No! It can’t be!”

Grace is easier to understand as an adult — I find myself feeling that spiritual presence when instead of being characteristically impatient, I take a deep breath and keep listening, don’t flip the person off in traffic, stop to speak to a homeless person in need of conversation as much as change.

Here goes nothing!


Three French Hens

I couldn’t let Grace down by not keeping up with the title theme…

Look at her go!

Katie asked me a while back if I’d help her learn how to cook. I couldn’t wait! Visions of aprons and journals and gourmet meals danced through my head. Then I remembered my audience. Katie is a sweet girl with simple tastes and gourmet would bore her. (Not that she’d tell me. Her manners are fabulous.)

Mac & cheese that didn’t come out of a box? Well… that was a fascinating concept.

Cooking with Katie

And chicken that didn’t come in a nugget form? Amazing.

Cooking with Katie

We spent the afternoon Christmas and then grocery shopping. And because the stars aligned, four other friends showed up for lunch so Katie had her very own audience. Everyone was quite impressed.

Table set -- cooking with Katie

(Look! My new folding chairs! Thanks again Santa!)

Katie is the daughter of a former coworker. We’ve been hanging out for a couple of years. I invited her to Nicaragua with me last summer. During our work trip, we really got to know each other and not just because we ended up as roommates. I was able to see her out of her environment — able to admire her grace, her patience, her incredible work ethic and true kindness. She impressed me a thousand ways.

She was the youngest member of our team and she worked tirelessly without ever complaining. It was back breaking work, but she did it with wide eyes — excited to be in a new country. She reminded me how fun it was to be 15 with a passport, youth and a passion for the world.

She’s recently decided to go to a new high school. She’ll start all over, with a new opportunity to create who is she, in just a few weeks. I think she’s almost as excited to not have to wear a school uniform for the first time in 15 years as she is to have new classes, including fashion design. We spent a lot of our cooking time talking about who she will be at this school. For the first time — after more than a year of telling her myself — she said she’d be the smart girl. I truly had to hold back jumping up and down, I was so thrilled. She’s in a couple honors classes for the first time and I think her new-found sense of self-esteem couldn’t come soon enough.

Something tells me we’ll always be friends. And I’m going to have a lot of fun watching the amazing things she’ll do.


Tutorial: Stickerbook


Stickerbook tutorial

  • Two pieces of cotton fabric cut 13″ x 12″
  • One pocket piece of cotton fabric cut 8″ x 5″
  • Two pieces of ribbon, 6″ long, width of your preference
  • Wax paper
  • Stickers!

Stickerbook tutorial

Stickerbook tutorial


1. Cut your book front fabric and inside fabric to 13″ x 12″. Iron these pieces in half width-wise, creating a stiff center crease.

2. Cut your inside pocket piece to 8″ x 5″

3. Turn the top edge of your pocket under, iron. Run a zigzag stitch along this edge.

Stickerbook tutorial

4. Place the pocket in the center of your inside lining. You can sew the pocket on either side of the lining. I sewed mine on the front lining.

Stickerbook tutorial

Stickerbook tutorialSe

Stickerbook tutorial

5. With the pocket attached, now you can select to add any embellishments (such as a bias-tape stenciled name). Or, you can keep it simple, as I am doing on this example. Place the front panel right side up. Place either piece of ribbon — cut 6″ long — with 1/2 an inch over the edge. These pieces of ribbon will serve as your ties for the book. Center these and then place the lining (with the pocket attached) right side down, sandwiching the ribbons.

Stickerbook tutorial

Stickerbook tutorial

6. Pin these pieces right side together, with just 1/2 inch of ribbon visible. Leave a 4″ gap between your beginning and stop points. You’ll later use this gap to turn the book right side out. Sew a 1/2 inch seam around each of the edges, make sure to leave the gap. Backstitch over your ribbon to make sure the are secured.

Stickerbook tutorial

Stickerbook tutorial

7. Trim your corners and any extra fabric. Turn right side out.

Stickerbook tutorial

8. Iron and make sure to turn under the gap hems. Sew the gap closed with a 1/4 inch seam and continue around the edge of all four sides, adding a nice top stitch.

Stickerbook Tutorial

Stickerbook tutorial

9. Trim your wax paper to fit the book; the easiest way to do this is to cut your wax pages the same length of the book (13″). I use 5 of these wax sheets.

Stickerbook Tutorial

Stickerbook tutorial

10. Pin the wax sheets in place. Run a tight zigzag stitch from the top to the bottom of the book, down the center of the wax sheet. This is making your book’s crease. Backstitch several times at both the beginning and the end.

Stickerbook tutorial

11. Fold in half, fill with stickers. Voila! A fabulous and inexpensive gift for any child.

Finished stickerbook!

One more thing you might want to consider: I just gave this book to a 3-year-old who was VERY excited to play with the stickers. In the process, the wax pages were pretty beaten up. It might make sense for younger children to attach your wax paper to a piece of card stock first and then sew them into the book to make the pages a bit more sturdy.

My favorite stickers, for the record, were the ones you got after seeing the dentist. Not only were they huge, but they also symbolized not having to go back to the dentist for quite a while.


Four Calling Birds

Latest Nudu completed

Latest Nudu completed

So, in the last two days I’ve learned some very interesting things from you…

1. We all have baking failures and some of you are so hungry for homemade goodies, you’d consider eating burnt chocolate chips off a pan with a spoon. Wowie. Let’s work on this. I see lots of improved baking in our futures.

2. You are sticker freaks. Who knew? Scratch & sniff, puffy, googly eyed, etc. I love it. The sticker book tutorial did not happen last night. Instead, I went caroling again. I will get it done this weekend, in time for anyone who wants to make a quick Christmas gift. I promise you the entire project will take less than 1hour. If you want to prep, get about 1/2 a yard of two types of cotton fabric, some ribbon and a box of wax paper. We’ll meet back here for sticker book class on Saturday.

Latest Nudu Completed

In the meantime, I’m so, so happy to have this nudu complete. I love working on these, and I swear I learn a little something every time. For example, this one? A bit greener than I thought. But the nubbies are getting closer to the actual size I’m looking for. You may also notice that fabulous scarf I’m wearing?


That’s a Finny original. She sent it to me several years ago for Christmas and I’ve worn the tar out of it. Got to love handknits that hold up.

Latest Nudu Completed

This baby has been shipped and received. Plus, the recipient even said he was happy and sending the other part of payment. These are huge improvements from the last one. Yet another perk of getting an official Etsy account next year — payment received before service.

One final point of humor I have to share. Out caroling last night with Rebecca, we were having a conversation about yarn. I told her I am currently working on one last scarf that is being knit out of baby alpaca yarn. It is so soft and gorgeous. (The guys at the bagel shop yesterday morning — where I was frantically knitting between bites — were commenting how sad and cold those baby alpaca must be running around the Andes, shaved slim.) In the middle of my alpaca story, Bec looks at me and says, “Isn’t that what they use to run up Everest for climbing teams?” To which I respond, “Um. No. Those are sherpa. And by the way, those are people.”

For whatever reason, this made us giggle like nut house escapees for about an hour. Got to love the end-of-the-season stress reliever.

Latest Nudu completed

Happy Friday!


P.S. Inquiries for Nudu caps: Email: africankelli at gmail dot com. I’ll be happy to create one of these for you. You pick the color and size. They cost $250 and take two months. They are entirely handmade. Thanks!