Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Archive for the category “pretty things”

Bread-baking tip: winter edition

If your kitchen is way too cold for bread to rise, stick the dough in the oven with the light on — the light provides just enough heat to warm up the dough. Just be sure to take it out before turning the oven on!

bread rising in oven

(Honey-Wheat Bread recipe by Slate)

(Large Loaf Pan in Lapis by Le Creuset)

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Pretty things: tumbled opal

In keeping with the long and glorious academic tradition of putting off writing a paper, I present for your edification:

“Tumbled Opal: What to Do With It”

For my birthday last month, I decided to splurge on something I’d been drooling over for a long time: an opal specimen.

opal specimen in chest

This isn’t jewelry; it’s basically a display piece because it has some crazing… Which I am totally okay with because it puts a phenomenal stone within my reach.

In addition to the fabulous stone, I scored a little parcel of tumbled opal pieces:

tumbled opal mirror outside1

Aren’t they amazing?

tumbled opal mirror outside2

Seriously, these are almost better than the bigger stones. (Click on the pictures to see the awesomeness even bigger! And then imagine I have a real camera…)

These are available as 100-gram parcels at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy, and I created a variety of action shots to give a glimpse into the possibilities of owning your own little pile of gorgeousness. (For reference, the amount shown in my pictures is about 70 grams.*)

In addition to being scattered across a mirror, as shown above, I like pouring them into a tiny glass jar:

tumbled opal heart jar

Or piling them onto a clear glass candle holder:

tumbled opal glass dish2tumbled opal glass dish1

You can combine the two and put the candle holder on the mirror – best of both worlds!

tumbled opal glass dish on mirror

About the only thing you have to consider is that opals need plenty of direct light for the fire (or as my daughter calls it, the “rainbows”) to show up. I tried them in a clear glass votive holder, and I think it was a little too wide, and too much of the light was blocked:

tumbled opal votive jar

You can see the ones on top, but the ones underneath look dull. Plus, the texture on this particular candle holder distorts the visibility; I recommend something with plain, clear glass.

For example, a champagne flute:

tumbled opal champagne flute2

Or a martini glass:

tumbled opal martini glass1tumbled opal martini glass2

I love this display, but if you have cats or kids it’s probably not the most practical: champagne flute spilled onto a mirror:

tumbled opal flute spilled on mirror

Or, you can have the shop owner make you a chest for your treasure:

tumbled opal in chesttumbled opal chest opentumbled opal chest closed

My only caveat is this: if you have small children, they will have their fingers in these ALL THE TIME. So either put them behind glass, or up on a shelf, or get over it and start teaching your kids early to appreciate beautiful things. (I’m personally wavering between options 2 and 3.)

Other than that, I really don’t see how you can go wrong!

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Tumbled opal parcels, an assortment of both cut and rough gemstones, as well as custom settings, are all available at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy. This is the perfect time of year to consider investing in a beautiful stone for yourself or someone you love!

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* This is what 70 grams of tumbled opal looks like; I have medium-ish hands, I guess?

tumbled opal in hand

Quick caffeinated breakfast drink

This light breakfast is super quick and super simple. If I’m running out the door first thing in the morning, this is my first choice for getting something into my stomach. And if I use a canning jar and handy plastic lid, then there’s barely any clean-up!

What you need:

IMG_1726

I love these vintage-style blue canning jars. Not all of my jars have measurement markings on the the side, but these do, so they’re perfect for this. I use the pint size because that leaves plenty of room to mix the drink.

What you do:

1) Pour six ounces of milk into the jar:

IMG_1727

2) Then pour in 2 ounces of coffee concentrate:

IMG_1729

3) Pour in your breakfast drink packet:

IMG_1730

4) Top with a plastic jar lid:

IMG_1732

5a) Agitate vigorously:

IMG_1733

5b) Maybe even more vigorously:

IMG_1734

6) And it’s all frothy!

IMG_1735

7) You’re done! You’ve got your fat and protein from the milk, carbs and vitamins from the breakfast drink, and sweet, sweet caffeine of life from the coffee!

IMG_1736

I love the plastic canning jar lids; I use canning jars all the time, but I never actually can with them. So the plastic lids are more practical for me: they’re only one piece, they’re reusable, and they don’t rust. I use them for storing things at room temperature and in the fridge, and of course for using jars to mix drinks and salad dressing and stuff.

When I’m making this drink, depending on the flavor of coffee I have going, I usually use a chocolate or vanilla breakfast drink mix. Any of the chocolates would be good (milk, dark, malt), and the vanilla is good, but I’m not sure how the strawberry would go with coffee. I have yet to try it.

Sometimes in the winter I will heat the milk and coffee together on the stove, then stir the drink mix in at the end, but it’s not quite as good warm. The drink mix just doesn’t taste right hot; maybe because you’d expect it to taste like hot chocolate when it most certainly does not.

Once I start college next week, I fully expect this to become a daily routine.

Pretty things: futility

These are not exactly designed for autumn, but that wouldn’t make me hesitate a second about getting them…

lc minis des bois

…IF THEY EXISTED.

I love Le Creuset, but they are absolutely cruel with the discontinued stuff. They stop making it, and then it just disappears, except for the odd photo here and there on the internet, where people can stumble across it and then spend the rest of their lives ruing the fact that there is no way that they can acquire it.

Remember these?

winter twilight cocottes

Two years ago, these were readily available in the USA, and I didn’t get them to go with my other beauties because I thought I would have time… And it turns out I would have, IF I LIVED IN FREAKING AUSTRALIA. Now, the only place they’re available is from websites that “only ship to Australia and New Zealand,” thus depriving all the rest of us of the opportunity to improve our lives by owning these!

By the way, if anybody lives in Australia, I will pay you good money to order these and ship them to me.

And if anyone has a set of those Minis des Bois, I will also happily take them off of your hands. I have a bunch of green ones that are waiting to meet them for my autumn decorations…

Pretty things: rocks

Remember when you were engaged, and your fiancé insisted on shopping for engagement rings even when you said you didn’t want one, so you went to the jewelry store and told the salesman that you wanted to look at engagement rings? And he took you over to the “engagement ring” section, and you looked at it and said, “Do you have anything that isn’t boring and cliched?” Well, what you actually said was, “Is there anything that isn’t diamonds?” And the salesman looked completely lost for a moment, and then said, “Well, not in the engagement ring section,” and had to take you to the “normal” jewelry section, where you got to look at a bunch of lab-created, clone-like stones that could have been colored glass for all you could tell?

No? Must have just been me.

The good news is that, despite what Big Diamond wants to tell you, there are millions of beautiful, real stones in the world that are utterly unique and much, much more interesting that something that is just transparent. To wit:

black opal

Black opal from Australia. Isn’t that stunning? October babies, you can’t tell me you don’t want a piece of birthstone jewelry with that in it.

What about you September babies? Do you want a birthstone piece, but don’t like blue? Well, how about this

purple star sapphireor this

pink sapphire

or this?

maroon star sapphire

All of those are sapphires! Who knew, right?

Let’s see, what else is there? How about if you do like blue?

larimar

This is larimar, a rare stone that comes from the Dominican Republic. These are GORGEOUS; in real life it looks like a Disney-blue ocean just solidified. I recently saw a display of larimar at a local store, and I and another woman were pretty much just standing there with our mouths hanging open.

Or how about this? This one is really pretty:

azurite

Prefer purple?

druzy amethyst

Here’s a beautiful opal already set in a pendant (I love this one):
opal pendant

Here’s a piece of rose quartz with a star in it! How cool is that?
madagascar star rose quartz

I never used to like gemstone jewelry, because everything seemed so mass-produced. What’s the point of having a stone that looks like a million others? I figure, if you want to wear pretty stones, you should get ones that YOU like, not whatever a gemstone cartel has told you is the only appropriate thing to buy for [insert occasion].

So the next time you want to add to your jewelry collection, or you want to get someone a nice gift, I recommend looking into something truly unique.

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Every single one of these stones (along with tons of others) is for sale at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy. They offer custom settings, so if you like any of these stones but don’t have the means to set it yourself, you can just request it! I love it because it gives you the opportunity to get a stone AND a setting you like; you’re not locked into someone else’s design.

There’s a wide range of prices, too; you can get something super-expensive for a really special occasion, or you can get something just as pretty for everyday for a reasonable price.

I would consider you buying some of these stones as a personal favor to me; I’ve already got two (see? aren’t you jealous? 🙂 ), and I’m not sure how long I can continue to resist temptation. There’s something about opals

(All photos by 4th Dimension Gems)

Pretty vintage thing

Oh, my goodness. This is so pretty:

le creuset petite fruits dutch oven

It’s a limited edition pot, inspired by a vintage Le Creuset pattern. I’m such a sucker for vintage editions! Fortunately, it’s $400, so I can’t even consider buying it.

Libbey Vibe Jars: replacement parts

I recently had a commenter inquire about replacement gaskets for her Libbey Vibe glass jars. I contacted Libbey, and while they don’t sell the gaskets separately, they do sell replacement lids. Here’s the info!

Small: $0.99 each

Medium: $1.40 each

Large and Extra Large: $1.60 each

Order by calling 888-794-8469, Monday through Friday, 9:00-5:00 Eastern Time.

They accept credit cards and ship via UPS.

Ultimate classical music

I was going to try to make an impassioned argument as to why we should listen to classical music and expose our children to it. Instead, I’m going to show you this:

I was struck both by the wide range of ages enjoying the music, and by the obvious familiarity of the listeners with the piece being performed. I believe that pieces like this with such historic and artistic value are something that enriches us as people and as a culture, and that we should made the effort to improve our lives and our children’s by enjoying them.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t get surprise street performances of great classical music. And if you have toddlers, even going to the symphony is out of the question. (Just a few more years!) But there are many recordings, both audio and video, of great performances of great works that we can enjoy in our own homes. If you have a fancy sound system, why restrict it to just action movies and sports games? Hook up the CD player and enjoy some of the world’s great music.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided that I HAD to have a big library of classical music for her. (Pregnant women do funny things. I knew a girl who planned out all her daughter’s summer vacation trips for seven years before she was even born.)

I was lucky enough to find this on Amazon.

decca ultimate box set

Decca has produced a long series of boxed sets of classical music, and this gargantuan set included 25 of them. At four or five discs apiece, that’s… Well, it wasn’t cheap. And there have since been new ones released, so I need to fill in the gaps in my collection. But I highly recommend this series as an introduction to classical music. This particular set isn’t currently available, but that’s okay! For most people, it’s probably better (and cheaper) to build a collection slowly.

This set included: The Ultimate:

Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Dvorak, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Schubert, Strauss Family, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Vivaldi, Wagner,

AND

Cello Classics, Classical Guitar, Classical Piano, Piano Concertos, Violin Classics,

AND

Ballet, Baroque, Classical Chill Out, Classical Relaxation, Classics, and Opera.

As you can see, each set features either 1) a composer, 2) an instrument, or 3) a style or category of music.

Each one is far from comprehensive, especially for the more prolific composers whose work would encompass this many discs all by themselves. But each one has a large amount of some of the most well-known pieces in each genre, perfect for someone just starting to enjoy classical music.

For the most basic overview, I would recommend Ultimate Classics. It features major composers that most people have heard of, and pieces that a lot of us have been exposed to at least a little. Of course, if you already have a preference for a certain composer, instrument or style but aren’t overly familiar with the works, you can pick and choose which ones you want! Buying the whole set forced me to listen to things I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen myself, and I’ve discovered new favorites that way.

From a personal perspective, I also recommend Chopin, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. And I can’t wait to improve my collection with Berlioz, Brahms, Haydn, Puccini, Russian and French Classics, and Classical Dreams and Spectacular!

Perspective, loss of all

I vaguely remember being stunned at the prices of enameled cast iron when I first saw it. The fact that I am no longer stunned, and can justify buying $80 cooking pans, is probably a bad sign. Like this, for example:

le creuset mariner star pot

This is a limited edition Le Creuset round oven. It costs $350.

I want to be clear: I have not bought this pot. But the fact that I’m even TRYING to find reasons to purchase it is frightening to me.

Collecting Le Creuset: pieces

Le Creuset cast iron cookware is wonderful stuff. It’s pretty much the best in the world, and if you haven’t had the opportunity to use something of this quality, then you are missing out.

Unfortunately, many of us just can’t afford to buy the best. We buy what we can afford, and deal with lower quality items. Sometimes, however, we are able to save our pennies for a very special occasion, and the opportunity to acquire one piece of very high quality is within our grasp.

A lot of people find themselves in this situation when it comes to Le Creuset cookware, so the second most-asked question by first-time Le Creuset buyers (after ‘What color should I get? They’re all so beautiful, I can’t decide!’) is ‘Which piece should I purchase first?’

Versatility is the most important feature, since most of us can’t outfit our entire kitchen in this stuff. If we’re going to pay that kind of money, we want to be able to use it as often as possible. Fortunately, by it’s very nature, enameled cast iron is versatile: it is flameproof (i.e. safe for stovetop use) and ovenproof. It can handle high temperatures, and, once heated, will stay that way for a long time. Because the iron is covered in a coat of enamel, it is rust-proof, and food doesn’t pick up excess iron taste.

The best size to get depends on how many people we usually cook for. Everything from small saucepans to gigantic pots are available, so everyone should be able to find something that fits their needs.

A lot of people start out with a French oven. They come in a huge variety of sizes and colors, and they’ll do pretty much anything you could need in a kitchen. You can use them as saucepans and make soup or pasta or ramen noodles or frozen vegetables or anything. Anything you can do in a large saucepan, you can do in one of these. It can also be a skillet: a large one will give you enough room to fry bacon or even make pancakes in the bottom, in a pinch. You can throw them in the oven and roast chicken, pork loins, beef roasts, and even breads and desserts. I have an oval French Oven in the 6 3/4-quart size. This size will hold a whole chicken or a recipe of no-knead bread, and has the added benefit of being long enough to cook long spaghetti noodles all at once!  This was my first piece, and I loved that I could do pretty much everything with it.

My second piece was a 5-quart braiser. It seemed huge when I brought it home, but it turned out to be the perfect size. The braisers are very wide and short, so they’re less useful for liquid-heavy dishes like soups and pasta, but they’re better for things like sautéing, frying, baking biscuits and roasting potatoes and vegetables. One of my favorite dishes to do in the braiser is browned onions and slices of kielbasa with half a shredded cabbage. You cook them all together with butter, salt and pepper, then throw in some cooked egg noodles at the end. It barely fits in the braiser, and is SO GOOD with all the sausage drippings and butter cooked together. It’s also great for things like cobblers. The sloping sides make stirring everything very easy, and nothing gets stuck in the corners.

After those two pieces, I considered small saucepans, for everyday cooking of smaller amounts. There are also sauciers and soup pots, whose shape facilitate making sauces, stews and soups. Grill pans and griddles are great for searing meats and vegetables, and leave awesome grill marks on everything.

Once you have a couple pieces, you’ll have a better idea for what would be most useful to you in the future. For me, the best option was a soup pot for homemade pasta sauce, soups, and other sauces. I have a large one, and a smaller one is high on my list for cooking smaller amounts.

Right now most of my skillets and sauce pans are tri-ply stainless steel, which works very well for my needs. And when I need to sear something at very, very high heat, I use relatively inexpensive seasoned cast iron skillet and grills. As always, price is the most significant factor. But I have never regretted investing in the best, knowing that these cast iron pieces will long outlive me, and probably my children.

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