Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Secret Things

We're setting out on a road trip tomorrow to try to find a place to live in our new city. Half of me is thrilled and half of me is completely nervous! This feels different somehow than all of the other times I've house-hunted. I know that just the right home is waiting for us and it's only a matter of lining up all the pieces and allowing ourselves patience and trust. 

I have such high hopes for our new lives and the changes that are in store for us. This move is so much more than just a physical relocation. Some very fundamental things will change, affecting both the shape of our daily lives and the bigger story that my husband and I are writing together. So while it's terribly exciting, you may also sense some anxiety in my posts over the next few weeks. Big changes, even wonderful ones, can really fill up your mind and heart and overwhelm you at times. I'm taking lots of deep breaths these days. 

Secret things belong to the Lord, and future things are secret things. 

Really, we aren't supposed to have all the answers. God is the keeper of our futures, the keeper of life's secrets. I'm resting in that truth today.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Both Functional And Beautiful

I've been thinking so much about kitchens lately--specifically that, of all of the rooms in a home, it's the one that must be equal parts function and beauty. When you love to cook you begin to learn how to move around a kitchen, how to store things, what to keep within reach, what makes for a good design. A functional kitchen is such a big part of feeling comfortable cooking night in and night out. Interestingly, I ended up loving my dainty (a euphemism for minuscule) NYC kitchen because everything was so handy and close by. I could stand at the sink and take a tiny step right to reach the fridge, a tiny step left to get to the stove, reach straight up for spices and olive oil and all of my dishes. Having a shoebox of a kitchen was so much more efficient than you would think. It surprised me in the best possible way! 

My current kitchen isn't horribly un-functional but it isn't terrific. A lot of the material choices--white countertops, weird pinkish tile flooring, flat paint on the walls--are really hard to keep looking clean, which is a big part of function. Even if I scrub and scrub it's a difficult kitchen to make spotless. But I'm glad I've had this experience because it's taught me a lot about what I don't want my someday-kitchen to be like.

So, a functional kitchen is important. But beauty, at least for me, has just as big a role to play. A kitchen must feel good to be in. Pretty things should be displayed, and good natural light is a huge bonus. Art should hang in the kitchen, a soft, colorful rug should be on the floor. You should love your dishes and maybe have a few open shelves for showing off your favorite ones. 

I've slowly been growing my collection of what I think of as "beautiful kitchen things." A lot of them were wedding gifts, which we still don't have here with us but they're being moved out of storage very soon and we'll be reunited with everything when we relocate.* A lot of my own additions were found at thrift shops, or they were DIY projects, or hand-me-downs. (Examples: my vintage wire basket, DIY Cook's Illustrated art, these yellow and ivory dessert plates.) It makes me happy to fill my kitchen with eclectic, vintage, pretty things!

Anyway, at the estate sale I went to last week, I found a few more pieces to add to my "beautiful kitchen things" collection. 

This miniature copper and brass footed colander stole my heart the moment I saw it (in all of its grimy glory). I knew it just needed a good cleaning to look its best again, and I'm all about a nice aged patina anyway. I can imagine it sitting on a shelf next to bright white dishes and using it to rinse strawberries. It's adorable, right?

And I couldn't resist these pink glasses. I passed them by on my first round but came back because I kept thinking about them. I've been so attracted to colored glass lately. You better believe that come summertime, my first batch of iced tea will be served up in these beauties. I only wish I had four!

I'd love to hear from you--how do you keep your kitchen both functional and beautiful? What does your dream kitchen look like? What sorts of things fill your shelves?

*I hope to share more news on that soon! It's been killing me to keep such exciting news bottled up inside!

Friday, February 21, 2014

I'm Headed To An Estate Sale!

The first one I've ever been to! I know they can be hit or miss but I'm hopeful. I saw some photographs online of a few of the pieces that will be for sale and I have my eye on some brass dancing ladies. I'm also keeping a look out for ironstone and vintage dressers.

Here's to bargain hunting and secondhand beauties!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sharing Recipes

Do you keep your prized recipes and kitchen tricks a secret? Or are you a sharer?

I read this post last week on the Kitchn and it made me think about this question. I hadn't considered it much before but after reading the piece, realized I am definitely a recipe sharer. (After all, I co-wrote a cookbook with my family and it divulges many a secret!)

It honestly has never occurred to me to do it any other way. It makes me happy to describe how I made a particular dish or to hear that a recipe I passed on was a hit with a family member or a friend who tried it. Usually, the first few minutes of dinner with my husband consist of me telling him in great detail how I prepared it. And one of my favorite elements of Thanksgiving is swapping tips and tricks with family members as we mash potatoes together and combine two gravy-making methods.

Part of the reason I am this way is because I'm curious myself. I always want to know how a spectacularly browned pork chop got to be that way, or why the pie crust is so flaky, or what makes the potato salad so perfectly tangy. When it comes to my own cooking, I think I love to share because I'm proud of the food I make and like describing the process from raw ingredients to finished dish. It's a fun thing to do while you enjoy a yummy homemade meal.

But also because I still marvel that the simplest ingredients can produce the most heavenly flavors. I'm a fairly simple cook and my favorite ingredients to work with in the kitchen are things like onions, lemons, garlic, salted butter, basil, sharp cheddar, buttermilk, white wine, balsamic vinegar. I marvel that these basics can produce the most scrumptious results. Cooking well doesn't take much skill, in my opinion, and I've long believed that anyone can be a good cook. It takes good, fresh ingredients, heat, patience.

So I think that part of the reason I like to share is because cooking is amazing! It's amazing what a little shallot sautéed in olive oil tastes like (not to mention how it smells!). It's amazing what a squeeze of lemon on top of roasted kale can do to brighten the flavor. I share because I believe in the beauty of cooking, the magic and mystery of it, and because I believe that the power lies not in the cook but in the process. Keeping a recipe a secret gives the illusion that it's all about me whereas it's really about flour, sugar, butter, the right amount of heat, a careful eye, a steady touch, trial and error, willingness and lots of patience.

Monday, February 17, 2014

DIY Milk Paint Table Makeover

I completed this table makeover about a week ago and I love it a little more every day! My husband and I are both very pleased with it. It's amazing what a difference a little DIY work can do on furniture that has seen better days!

This table was a hand-me-down from my parents (and I think it was a hand-me-down for them too) so it has been through a lot of use over the years. I especially disliked all of the white discoloration and heat spots that had stubbornly imprinted themselves into the finish. But the table is sturdy and has a nice design, with three separate leaves (one of which is in storage so I'll have to paint it later) and the curved legs and the warm wood. 

Since the base of the table is in good condition and because the wood in that area is warm and pretty, I decided just to paint the top. I'm a big fan of contrast between wood and paint and I think the two-tone look I was able to achieve is unusual and unexpected, which I like.

So--the project itself. I used Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint for the first time and it blew me away. It's an amazing product. It comes as a powder so you add water until you get the consistency you're after. I also added the MMS Bonding Agent because I didn't want any chipping or flaking, and because by adding it I was able to skip the priming/sanding/striping that I so dislike. I simply cleaned the wood and began painting. 

I chose to use Ironstone, the pure white color in the MMS Milk Paint line. Because the wood was fairly dark and the paint was light, I did have to apply about 5 or 6 coats which I've read is typical for Ironstone. I didn't mind though because with each coat I came a little bit closer to the lovely opaque white I was after.

So the milk paint was a success and a pleasure to work with. But the real revelation in this project was the completely amazing, transforming power of Miss Mustard Seed's Antiquing Wax, which I applied on top of the paint. This is an incredible product. After I had applied 6 coats of the milk paint, the finish was nice but was lacking something. It was a little bit too uniform (I had heard that milk paint has a lot of color variation and for whatever reason I wasn't getting that) and a bit too flat and chalky. The white was also pretty bright and it didn't have the worn-in antique-y look I was going for. The Ironstone is beautiful but it was such a brilliant contrast to the wood and it was a little shocking.

Horrible lighting, but this is how the antiquing wax looks in contrast to the milk paint on its own

Right before applying the wax I gave the whole table a quick sand with a sanding sponge to smooth out the paint. I also lightly distressed the corners and edges to let the wood underneath show a little. I didn't want to overdo this step but it did help to make it table look aged.

Then I began to apply the antiquing wax. I rubbed it in slowly at first, nervous to be putting such a dark-colored wax on top of white paint, but as I began to see how beautiful and natural it looked I gained confidence. This wax gave me the most gorgeous finish! As I rubbed it in the wax seeped into the cracks and crevices and imperfections in the table, giving it a really authentically aged look. I applied it with a paint brush and then used a cotton cloth to lightly rub it in and wipe off the excess. I found that by using slightly different strokes and amounts of pressure as I wiped the wax away I could get beautiful color variations, from lighter cream to deeper mocha. And while the surface feels smooth and sealed and moisturized, visually, there are many different textures that appeared when I used the wax. It's really amazing stuff. In an hour, I had achieved the patina of one hundred years.

This crackly texture is amazing! It feels smooth, but looks scruffy and rough, and I love that.

Honestly, I'm not sure I'll ever go back to brushing regular latex paint on furniture again. I think I'll still use spray paint because it's just so useful and practical for certain projects, but already I'm feeling very loyal to milk paint and the furniture waxes that Miss Mustard Seed has created. I see a lot of milk paint projects in my future!

Friday, February 14, 2014

An Extra Sweet Day

Happy Valentine's Day, friends!

We don't really make much of a fuss on Valentine's Day--this year we're staying in with a great homemade meal and a romantic movie-- but I do see this day as a chance to dote on my favorite guy and make him feel really special and cared for. We try hard to love each other well every day of the year but it's fun to be a little mushy and silly and extra sweet to each other on Valentine's Day, don't you think?

Homemade coffee cake for breakfast

To love and be loved is one of life's greatest privileges, and not just in the romantic sense. Don't forget to send your mom and dad and siblings some X's and O's today, too! Have a beautiful weekend.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

DIY Valentine's Day Gift

I had to make my husband promise he wouldn't read my blog today because I'm sharing his Valentine's Day gift! This is a very simple DIY I put together yesterday and I'm so pleased with how it turned out. I thought it was worth sharing in case you also have a Game of Thrones-obsessed husband/boyfriend and need some last-minute inspiration! This could also work for a birthday or a just-because gift. If he loves the books/show as much as my husband does, it should be a hit no matter what.

(In case you haven't seen Game of Thrones, you can Google these words and get the back story on them.)

Here's how I did it. I typed up the words and found a font I really liked, sized it and printed it in light grey type on white cardstock. Using my gold leaf pen I carefully traced over the words. Then I framed the cardstock and that was it!

I think this would look pretty cute in a bathroom or resting on a nightstand. We'll have to see where my husband wants to put it. I think it's a fun pop culture reference while also acting as a little love note to my husband. Those Dothrakis are pretty poetic, I must say. (And that's the last time you'll see a word like "Dothraki" on my blog! The things we do for the men in our lives!)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


During my freshman year of college, I took a seminar class with a lovely, brilliant, soft-spoken older woman. She introduced us to people like Simone Weil and Thomas Merton and Rumi, and she was one of the best professors I've had.

Toward the end of the semester, she invited our class over to her home for homemade soup and salad and bread. Our class was small and we all participated a lot so we had gotten to know each other pretty well by this point. As we were about to fill our plates and bowls, my professor gathered us, looked right at me and said, "Kate, will you lead us in grace before we eat?"

And I completely froze. I'm fairly reserved and was a little caught off guard by the unexpected attention but it was more than that. I assumed she was asking me to say the traditional Catholic grace (after all, I went to a Catholic university and I believe everyone in that class but me was Catholic) and I didn't know the words. I sort of gave a little desperate glance to a friend of mine in the class and he took the hint and saved me by volunteering.

But what was beautiful and surprising and something I still remember to this day is that he didn't say the Catholic grace I was expecting. He closed his eyes and said, Dear Lord. He began to thank Him for the bountiful food and our classmates and the professor who guided us throughout the semester and the wisdom and knowledge we all absorbed. It was short and sweet but it was a profound moment, for me at least. Not that there would have been anything the matter with him choosing to lead us in Catholic grace, of course. I just loved that he decided to speak from his own heart in that moment with words he made up as he went. That he chose to pray in the most non-denominational way he possibly could, and that there was nothing about it that each one of us in the room wouldn't be able to connect with. It was simpler this way. A group of 18-year-olds, our wise, white-haired teacher who explained ancient poetry to us, a homemade meal, heads bowed in honest and open thanksgiving, faith in the very same God.

Some people might characterize my marriage as "interfaith" but we don't. My husband is Catholic and I am Protestant, although at this point, I consider myself sort of half Catholic, due to years of attending Mass and the fact that my husband, my spiritual other half, is Catholic. We both love Jesus and put God first in our hearts and pray every day for peace and perspective and guidance and trust. To me, an interfaith relationship means one between a Christian and a Jew, or a Jew and a Muslim. Not one between two Christians who are of two separate denominations.

There are differences in our faith but almost always, we have found that those differences have been beautiful things for our marriage. They push and pull us, they open up conversations and force us to dig deeper into our faith, to not take our beliefs for granted. My husband often has to explain a particular aspect of Catholicism to me and whenever you have to instruct someone else about anything, you must think a little harder and strive to find the right words to help them understand. I might say that in some ways, being married to a non-Catholic has made him a better Catholic!

We have all of the most important things in common between us and what is different, we choose to share with each other. Recently, my husband taught me to say the Hail Mary and I've found myself saying those serene words in moments when I need a feminine, motherly sort of peace and comfort. I've introduced my husband to the sermons of Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and he finds them to be incredibly stimulating. We listen to them every week and some of the sermons we reference regularly--"Remember that Tim Keller sermon we listened to about prayer?"

The nuances between my faith and my husband's faith--I'm so grateful for those. His faith has brought me so much joy. I truly love the Catholic Mass and so many of the traditions and the fact that the Catholic Church believes in guiding its members through the very real trials of modern life. I love that the Church fights for the rights of babies in the womb and takes a stance on why sex is sacred and should exist only in marriage. And I think my husband would say that he's very glad for my faith too. That I've taught him and stretched him and opened him in new ways. We have expanded each other's faith, really.

I know how to say the Catholic grace before meals, now. I've said it hundreds of times with my husband and with his family and with Catholic friends of ours. It's a lovely little prayer and I really enjoy saying it and being a part of that tradition. But I hope that someday I might have the strength to pipe up and make up a prayer before dinner, not just when I'm with my husband because that has become easy for me but when I'm with other people, just like my friend did that day with our class. Whether the group is Catholic, or Protestant, or a mixture of both, we're all Christians. We worship the same God, we are saved by the same Savior on the Cross, we are blessed by the presence of the same Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 10, 2014

To Marvel

I came across this adorable video of a young child experiencing rain for the first time and I was mesmerized. The way her chubby little hands are reaching out to feel the droplets, the way she licks her lips to get some of the rain water in her mouth, her little shouts of glee, that she doesn't mind but even seems to be thrilled to be getting drenched. It's a pretty magical little clip. As my husband said when he watched it, children might be the only ones who truly understand the majesty of God's gift to us, our Earth.

I have often thought that children, with their curiosity and sense of wonder, can teach us so much if we allow them to. Even the least jaded adults would be hard-pressed to match the amazement that fills the eyes of a child experiencing something for the first time. To revel in drops of water falling from the sky, to be overjoyed at the perfectly sweet taste of a cherry, to see a waterfall as if for the very first time. To see as children do would be to allow the natural world to stop us in our tracks. 

We listened to a Tim Keller sermon last night called The Song of Creation and he talked about the poetry of Genesis I. In this passage it says over and over, "And God saw that it was good," meaning that God was taking pleasure in His creation. He was enjoying it and smiling upon it and proclaiming its fundamental goodness. Later in the sermon, Keller so beautifully connects this to the sounds we hear in nature. The babbling brook and the birdsong in the forest and the whistle of trees in the wind--the music we find in nature is a reflection of its beauty and rightness and its createdness. I am good, our Maker loves us. It's also why many of us feel closest to God when we are in nature. It's why a stream of light coming in the window, the warmth of the morning sun on our face, can sometimes feel profound and bring us a moment of unexpected joy and peace. 

A young child's appreciation for God's natural world is spiritual, really. It's how we should all try to live, in awe of the place we call home and the sun that keeps us warm and the rain that makes our food grow and the view from the top of the mountain that leaves us breathless. Because it is so good. Let's enjoy it and marvel at it, just as young children do, just as our Creator does.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Few Friday Thoughts

An old picture, just for fun. We were riding horses in Oklahoma in this shot!


I don't know what's gotten into me but I woke up this morning with a smile on my face and had this brilliant idea to plead with my husband to play hooky with me today. He said no and that's ok but I'm sitting here sort of wishing he gave into my wily ways. I had grand plans for us to do some antique shopping together (we're looking for bedroom dressers) and to see a matinee and maybe go out to lunch. He promised we would do those things tomorrow but as anyone who has ever been bitten by the "let's play hooky" bug knows, it's more fun when you're supposed to be at work. Oh well. I might have to do something else today to satisfy the rebellious itch. Maybe I'll eat ice cream for lunch!


I'm planning to experiment with milk paint for the first time over the weekend and I'm completely excited about it. I learned about milk paint months ago and have been waiting for the right piece to try it on. I'm starting with Ironstone, the beautiful antique-y white color in Miss Mustard Seed's line.


This verse has been keeping me company lately: "The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts." I really love the dual image of God as both our strength and our shield. He guides us from within and showers us with the grace to move forward and to accept and be strong and patient. But he also shields and protects us from the cruelty of the outside world. This passage beautifully describes both the powerful side of our Father and the tender side.


There's something very nurturing about being a piano teacher and I love that. I really see myself not only as an instructor but as a mentor to my young students. Being a pianist is a discipline and requires intense concentration and attention, but also so much heart and creativity. So I see our lessons as character-building and my job as more than teaching them how to play the piano. I try to also teach them about discipline and beauty and hard work and the joy of expression.


I never did settle on a Julia Child recipe to make this weekend but I had a blast flipping through the cookbook and reading instructions and ingredients. This recipe for veal scallops makes a perfect main course for a chic little luncheon. If you are reasonably quick you can complete it in 30 minutes or less...Serve it with buttered rice or risotto, green beans, peas, or braised endive, and a chilled white Burgundy wine. I just love how much personality is in the writing!


Have a lovely weekend, friends!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Proud Sister Moment

I'm going to play the part of the proud sister today and first share an article that my younger brother recently wrote and had published. It's called "The Foreign Language Courses Colleges Should Be Teaching" and it's wise and thoughtful and funny and I think you'll really enjoy it. I won't give away the argument he's making--you'll have to click the link to find out!--but I think that most bloggers will be able to relate to it and appreciate the stance he's taken. It's a pretty hip and cutting edge piece and I can't help bragging about it!

Now for the second proud sister moment. My older brother works for Uber, the car service company/tech startup that has been fantastically successful, and he and his team in Dallas recently appeared in Modern Luxury Dallas magazine. He's the one on the far left. Doesn't he look like quite the suave gentleman? I think this is such a cool feature! Once again, I can't help but brag.

I always think that the most wonderful gift parents can give their children is siblings. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for my brothers. They're the best.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Today I'm Going To...

Take a long walk into the fogginess and mist and listen to The Staves playing in my ears.

Wear red lipstick just because.

Bring my computer to a new spot and write.

Read today's daily entry from The Business Of Heaven.

Break a wishbone that's been drying on the windowsill with my husband.

Have an open-faced avocado/mayo/spicy jalapeño sandwich (my favorite thing ever) for lunch.

Thumb through Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, my grandmother's splattered and loved copy that is now mine, and search for a recipe to make this weekend.

Revisit a few pages of Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie, which I played for my last Master's Recital.

Finish Bread & Wine.

Dream up a new DIY project to work on this week.

Make myself a cup of afternoon steamed milk.

Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Nourishing In More Ways Than One

One of my favorite things to make for dinner is a roast chicken. Every time I roast a chicken I sort of marvel at how delicious and incredible a perfectly roasted chicken is. The meat is tender, juicy, and shreddable, and I've finally mastered the key to super crispy skin (making sure the skin is really dry before rubbing in a good amount of melted butter). A roasted chicken looks beautiful on the table and it smells rich and heavenly as it spends an hour or so in the oven.

And it's so easy. I used to be intimidated by whole chickens but I can see now how misguided that fear was. All I have to do is clean the chicken, season it (butter, sea salt, and pepper), and then stick a few lemon wedges inside. Sometimes I'll roast the chicken on a bed of thinly sliced onions tossed in olive oil but that's about as complicated as it gets. The oven does all the work. It feels like magic.

I've learned that a roast chicken is perfect for a teaching night. One of my students comes at 5:30 so what I'll do is put the chicken in the oven about 15 minutes before he arrives and at 6:30, when the lesson is over, the chicken will be perfectly cooked. I'll let it rest for 10 minutes while I roast some kale or make a salad or slice bread and voilá--dinner is ready.

There's another reason for my deep love for roast chicken. I'm very thrifty in the kitchen and I've found that I can easily get 5 or 6 meals for the two of us from a single chicken. Amazing! The first night we eat the chicken right out of the oven. The next night, I'll often make a chicken fricassee with lots of vegetables and the juice that I saved from the night before and serve it over egg noodles. I save the carcass and make chicken stock by simmering it with onions, lots of celery, and a bay leaf in a dutch oven filled to the top with water. This can be turned into a mouth-watering soup by throwing in some leftover chicken, white beans, baby kale, shredded carrots, or really, whatever is in the fridge and sounds yummy. And sometimes, even after adding chicken to the soup, I'll still have leftovers for chicken sandwiches or my favorite chicken curry salad.

Also? Roast chicken just feels grown-up. There's something about it. When I roast a chicken I feel settled and happy and I feel like I'm taking good care of myself and my husband and putting something really lovely on our table. I'm just remembering this post my friend Tina wrote a few months ago about roast chickens and finding what you love to do and how they're linked, somehow. Roast chickens are beautiful and tasty and sophisticated and wholesome and they're nourishing in more ways than one, I think.

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