From Mildred’s Kitchen

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The Lester family in 1942 – my dad is in the middle with the dark hat
Little recipe bundle from Aunt Kay

I’ve always been fascinated by my grandmother Mildred Lester and her vintage farm house kitchen. How can I ever forget that two-inch thick dining table, her china teacup collection and Grandma serving little milk cakes with hot semi-dark chocolate sauce for dessert, each baked in individual tins?

Imagine my delight one Christmas when each household in our family received a small bundle of white index recipe cards tied with a fat red ribbon of yarn. How exciting to receive a personal culinary collection that would take us back in time to our grandmother’s kitchen!  What fun to recreate what she loved to cook for her family, menu items to be savored for a lifetime!IMG_0586

The gift was from our Aunt Katherine, our dad’s sister and Mildred’s daughter.  ‘From The Kitchen of Mildred Lester’ the top card said, decorated with an artfully drawn teapot.  The remaining cards were recipes penned in black ink with Mildred’s distinctive handwriting. I assume the recipes that made it into the collection were her favorites and many of them we knew well. The known contributors included Mildred herself, June Lester (our aunt, mother to our cousins Dean and Darrin Lester), friends Jennie Monroe and Belle Tuttle and the Boston Globe. 

The other day I pulled out the little bundle from the cupboard again. It seemed a shame to keep such a treasure hidden away. Like it always has, my grandmother’s unique cursive spoke to me of its own art form. Her n’s and u’s and m’s and w’s all look the same, like the little waves of a simple lace trim that would go well around a Peter Pan collar.

All of a sudden the creative urge to make wall paper out of her recipes hit me! But of course that would be over-the-top labor intensive. Then it occurred to me to frame a few of the cards for my kitchen wall. So I picked out a few to hang in 2 frames I already had, one black and one white.  I spray painted the white one to go with the other because black would make the handwriting really pop. I printed the cards on an off-white paper for a subtle vintage look and then created the illusion of a mat by adhering the prints to an oatmeal colored construction paper.

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The finished product
The back side of the Baked Beans recipe
The back side of the Baked Beans recipe

Before framing I cut out a wooden spoon and a whisk from a culinary themed sticker made by The Rifle Paper Co. and added them to the bottom of the recipes.FTVC4155I hung my new framed prints by the kitchen window next to the cupboard where the little recipe bundle lives. IMG_2448 (2)I like the new look as well as the constant reminder of Grandmother’s recipes waiting for me in the cupboard. What’s more, I will think of her more often as I see her handwriting every day out in the open. APZO9568Now with my constant reminder, I hope to make that milk cake with warm chocolate sauce more often and then tackle her Never Fail Meringue.  (I plan to enlist my mother’s help for that one because I remember her meringue has always been perfect!) Grandma’s card promises “This meringue acts beautifully and never gets sticky. Enjoy.”

What special family keepsake do you have tucked away in your cupboard or attic?  My friend Sharon framed a delicate lace square hand-sewn by her mother and hung it on her wall which made a sweet impression on me. Hope my little creative project inspires you in the same way. Just think of the possibilities!

This Spring my friend Sharon gave me 2 spice racks she was no longer using just about the time I was ready to organize my spice cupboard!  I love how clean and neat they look.  They can stand on a counter top but I decided they’d be perfect on the inside of the cupboard door.  Removing all the spice jars and spice tins from the shelves would make room for other things and less crowded cupboards are easier to maintain.

First I tried my old spice bottles and tins in the rack.

I originally had these spice jars in my cupboard
I originally had these spice jars in my cupboard

Wire spice rack
Wire spice rack

Even though the jars fit they were hard to get out.  I had a few simple jars from Cost Plus that fit perfectly so decided to go get 10 more at only .99 a piece.

I wanted to change to this type jar instead
I wanted to change to this type jar instead

Then made some labels for the jars.

Made labels with a label maker
Made labels with a label maker
Tools
Hammer and drill

Next got out the hammer and drill and made some holes and fastened the racks to the inside of the cupboard.  Thankfully I didn’t have to redo any in which I’m not always so lucky. 😮 (By the way, I recommend buying your own in-house hammer and drill so you don’t have to wait for your husband or a handyman to do simple the jobs – no waiting for them to have time or no arguing over which way to do it!)

Love the new clean look
Love the new clean look

Took awhile to get used to opening the cupboard with the racks on the other side.  But love the new clean look!  Thank you Sharon! :-)

Marjoram
Marjoram from planting to harvest

The journey of an herb – something I’ve been watching and learning over the last few years – I guess that would be decade.  I’ve decided the best bet for the Kelly house is outdoor herb pots – or big wooden barrels – since they keep the herbs contained and manageable.  I’ve tried planting herbs in raised beds, but certain ones, like Marjoram and Mint, tend to be invasive so better to take over a pot rather than a whole bed!

Since pictures tell the story best, I will let them to tell most of the story but being the wordy one that I am, I’ll add a few paragraphs too.

So, here’s what’s been happening so far with my herbs in 2015:

Pots Restained
Re-stained and ready to go

First, Stan re-stained the barrels and raised beds to look warm and fresh. Went to the local garden store for new herbs and flowers, although as you can see the Chives have wintered over again. Since they don’t stray from their corner in the raised bed, they get to stay there!

For pots this year I chose Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, Cilantro, Parsley and Marjoram since that’s what I use the most.  Last year I grew Lemon Thyme which ended up too lemony for me.  This year when looking for Thyme I didn’t see any that wasn’t Lemon so opted out.  In fact, I still have dried Thyme from last year which is still amazingly potent, and lemony, for cooking anyway.  I’m sure if there was once anything medicinal within, that has faded by now.  I’ve also experimented with Mint which is lovely and fragrant, but takes over the whole pot so also opted out with that one this year.  However, when I decide to explore tea and lemonade drinking a bit more, I will definitely return to mint because of its many benefits.  I envision a row of barrels.  But one step at a time.

Growing
Marjoram, Rosemary and Cilantro (by itself in the shallow pot on the right) – and Snapdragons for color!
June Herbs
Oregano, Parsley and Basil
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Growing, growing – looks like the Cilantro is getting too leggy
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Rosemary is off to a slow start but it’s always the one that lasts till winter!
Bringing the outside in - by the stove
Bringing the outside in – by the stove

Speaking of steps, once the herbs grow a bit, I like to cut some to bring into the kitchen so it’s handy for cooking.  My pots are on the patio and by the raised bed, so out of site out of mind.  I can see where small pots for the kitchen year round would be a good idea and may give that a go this year. We novices tend to use what it is at our fingertips.  But till then my little cuttings will do.  As Summer progresses with an abundance from the herb pots I cut a huge bunches for my mini-prep processor (mine is a Cuisinart), then let them dry a bit before I fill my spice jars.  This weekend I cut back my notoriously overgrown potted Marjoram and have filled an entire jar.  I wish I could share the fragrance that filled my kitchen with you but the internet hasn’t figured that one out yet.  It actually tastes and smells a lot like Oregano, coming from the same family and all, but a bit sweeter yet definitely stronger.  It’s great with egg dishes and soups!

Anyway, Lately in the morning I’ve been dicing up colorful peppers – red, green and yellow, sometimes, orange, throwing them into a skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil, adding freshly dried oregano or marjoram and my dried parsley.  You can use fresh too, of course, but the flavors are even stronger so it depends on how much you like; then add 2 large eggs, preferably organic cage-free, freshly ground salt and pepper, cover and cook a bit; and then sprinkle feta cheese, diced garden tomato and fresh basil, cook a bit more while toasting one half of an English muffin. (You can scramble too, but I’ve been loving the sunny side up version these days.) Plate and serve with hot coffee and enjoy on the back patio.

I’d love to hear about what you like to grow and what you are learning along the way!

Wire spice rack - world market
My friend Sharon gave me 2 of these spice racks!

Next post – my new spice racks and spice jar organization project!

Strange Things are Happening…Inside Too!

This post is part 2 of Strange Things are Happening

Inside Venue Music
Inside Venue Music

 Inside venues have their share of distractions too. Coffee shops with espresso machines whipping up frothy drinks when you are in the middle of a song or a drumming circle performing outside the door of the furniture store I played at for First Thursday in downtown Boise (That store is gone now.)

Of course, the strangest happenings aren’t usually caused by the venue itself but the people who come in.  There are those who want to help musically whether they are gifted or not.  Drumming on the table is a good thing as long as the person can keep time, lol.  Or if MY timing is off, what a cluster.  And how about the guy who walks in and asks to play along with you and has the instrument waiting in the car?  That would be fine if he had practiced with me before hand.  I guess he hadn’t thought it through that I’m hired to provide music background, aka entertainment as the heading ‘live music’ implies, so a jam session isn’t necessarily part of the deal.  Maybe it’s just a need for enlightenment, or a matter of not picking up on social cues.  If I knew without a doubt he could back me up with minimal pitchiness or wrong notes, then I could say, yes come sit in with me.  Not that I play flawlessly by all means, but I do need to run through the songs with someone first. :-)

On another note, I was completely flummoxed when I showed up to a venue one evening and one of the wait staff was acting frosty towards me. Usually the venue is happy to see me because I’m pretty friendly and, after all, they are the ones who invited me to come. But this time my cheery hello did nothing to quell the vibe I could feel as I proceeded to set up. “This is not good”, I mused, as I wracked my brain to figure out what I could I have done to cause bad feelings. Lest you wonder if I’m overly sensitive – no, in this case it was not the case; the hostility was palatable and certainly not conducive for merry music making. About a half an hour into my set, I finally decided to approach the server privately and ask him if anything was wrong. After all, I’d rather know what I did and try to fix it rather than suffer the entire night.  Turns out the waiter and the cook thought I was someone else who had called the venue repeatedly that week with questions about the house sound system which to them felt like harassment. Once realizing I was not that person, they laughed out loud and the waiter and I even hugged in relief! He filled me in on all they had endured and we agreed that the person had called too many times for what’s appropriate (another case in not understanding acceptable social norms).  After that, the whole night changed – hallelujah – and a nice time was had by all!  Good thing, because family and friends had turned out to hear me and to try out their wonderful menu!  What a bummer it would have been if there was something lingering in the air to make them uncomfortable and not want to return to the venue. :-(

Like I mentioned in Strange Things Part 1 precious children of a young age often want to come up and either dance or sing in front of me during the song or want to come help play the keyboard. This happens wherever children are.  I’m always grateful for parents who assess the situation and intervene.  The dancing and singing I don’t mind as much just because they are so cute! But touching the keys is off limits which most parents know.  On the other hand, there is the parent who plunks a really shy child down in front of the keyboard, and me, and tries to get them to sing or dance.  Or gives a slightly older child money to put into my tip jar from afar and instructs the shy child to walk the plank to where I am.  Sometimes a little drama ensues while I pretend not to notice 😮

Speaking of parents, you’ve gotta love the proud mother who sees a live musician as an opportunity for her child to perform.  Last month one such mother approached me in between songs and asked “If I put a few dollars in your tip jar would you accompany my daughter on What A Wonderful World?”  I told her I didn’t have that songs prepared on the piano but that did not detour her.  She said “Oh she can sing lots of songs – she’s really good!”  I said with friendly voice and face, “Wow! I bet she is!  But you know what? I’ve been hired to provide live music for today so I better get back to it.  If you are interested in talking to the gal who books the music here, I’d be glad to introduce you.” For some reason she didn’t take me up on that.  Hmmm, I wonder why?  But I do declare, some people have boundary issues!

Aside from all the weird stuff that occurs while playing music out and about, it’s really fun and I consider it a privilege to play for others.  The alternative is to keep my gifts to myself and stay home.  I guess these types of strange happenings add color to the experience and make me realize humanity is quirky and lovely at the same time.   And that’s why I even feel to sing my songs out in public – aside from the compelling desire to get out of my living room and be heard – it’s because I love the hilariously quirky us and you have to admit, it is anything but boring!

Strange Things are Happening…

Art & Roses June 2014
Playing music at Julia Davis Park

When I play my music in public, strange and funny things happen to me that either put me “on tilt” or to throw me for a loop. Since there are so many I’ll divide this blog between outdoor and indoor happenings, so let this be Part 1.

Funny things can occur when playing music outside in a park or farmers market. Nice people walk over to me to start a conversation, which would be great if I wasn’t in the middle of a song! So I usually just smile and nod – and keep the song going – hoping they will realize – “oh ya, she can’t talk yet”. Last week when playing at Julia Davis Park by the Rose Garden, the nicest gentleman came up to give me a large bag of popcorn while trying to tell me something, but I was singing. I did the smile and nod thing so he kindly set the popcorn down in my CD tote. So generous and sweet of him to give so openly and freely! Later I absent-mindedly ate a little of it between songs remembering too late that dry stuff gets stuck in a dry throat. Thankfully I had some water bottles on hand! When the Stuart Family came by on their bikes, I shared the popcorn with the 3 teenagers! Yay, a chance to pay it forward – a gift that keeps on giving!

When I first started playing out I’d get cotton mouth and my lips would invariably stick to my teeth before the song was over. After time I became more comfortable and now so it’s not so bad. However, I’ve learned to hydrate more than usual the day of the gig and try to avoid too much coffee. Also vitamin B12 helps AND I am now never without my trusty chapstick!

The same park day of Nice Popcorn Man, while singing my song Dark Night of the Soul, I kept hearing little bursts of whistling behind me – little staccato notes. At the songs end, I turned around to a beautiful little sprite that looked like what Joni Mitchell must have looked like when she was a girl. I told her “Wow, you are a really good whistler; I wondered who was doing that! If you had been off key I would have had to ask you to stop but you were actually pretty spot on!” She smiled sprite-ly and whistled again for me but her parents may have talked with her because after that she only danced through my songs – even the slow ones :) I should have taken her picture!

Speaking of children, I’ve had some burst into my space to help me play the keyboard which doesn’t work out too well. Scanning the crowd for the parent, I explain to the child that it’s MY turn to play right now. For the most part, parents are great about retrieving the child once they see what’s happening!

Kids are great though. Depending on their personality, they will either stare at me with big round eyes without blinking, or will clap and sachet through a song. It’s really cute to watch, but can be a challenge to stay on beat when the clapping is off. This is when I could use a percussionist by my side, lol.

Another incident at the gig by the Julia Davis Rose Garden was when tiny white worms were falling from the canopy of trees above me into my space, which was just a little creepy. The duo who played before me warned me about this upon my arrival. I asked if the worms bite and they said “no biting, but they are annoying.” Thankfully I had worn a hat that day, but I did worry about the creatures damaging my keyboard which led me to think seriously once again about learning to play guitar. Guitars aren’t as heavy as pianos either. Anyway, as I set up, I watched the little critters plop onto my keyboard and amps. They were so small that no one but me noticed, but a distraction nevertheless; when one would land between the piano keys, I felt compelled to try to fish it out without making mistakes in the song. Finally I just ignored it and hoped for the best. When loading my gear back into the car, I noticed the ones on my amp had died and dried up so I was thankful our home wouldn’t be inundated with unwanted house guests. Since then I haven’t noticed any piano keys sticking or anything so no lasting effect I guess.

Flies, during the season of the little black fly, can be an annoying distraction while trying to keep a song going. I was playing for 3 hours at a farmers market last year and the flies were landing on my arms and legs – yes I did shower that morning – even landing on my mic windscreen (the cover for the mic that helps with noise etc). I was a little worried I’d inhale one accidentally, but fortunately I didn’t. Bees – yellow jackets – also can be a nuisance. I’m glad I finally outgrew the crazed fear I had of them when I was a child. Still, if I ever randomly scream into the microphone just know I’m not venturing into hardcore punk, but something terrible has happened.

That’s all that’s coming to mind today, but stay tuned for Strange Things Happening Part 2 – more wacky details of my music life – indoor happenings. Next time you enjoy a musical offering whether it be inside or outside, just think, more can be going on than what you see and hear!

By the way, if anyone else has a peculiar incident to share whilst playing live music, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you so I can be encouraged that I am not the only one who goes through this stuff!

Chestnuts!

Not too big for squiirrels
Stan brought home a handful of chestnuts after a cruiser bike ride one evening and told me the location of the tree so I could get some more. Since I already had a vintage mason jar full of acorns I thought it would be fun to have a jar full of chestnuts to go with it since I had a larger jar waiting. Stan’s stepdad, Gordon, had given me the jars a few years ago and I love them even when they are empty!Small Mason Jar from Gordon (Giving credit to whom it’s due, I got the idea and the acorns from Pottery Barn – called acorn vase fillers – but didn’t really want to buy more vase fillers, thus my thought to go on a nature walk instead.

I must say, even though it can be therapeutic to shop, free therapy is always better. I had no idea the discovery that was waiting for me that morning. Here’s what I found!Chestnut Tree!It took me awhile to figure out which trees were the chestnuts but Stan said I’d know by the lumpy nuts under the fallen leaves. I didn’t realize the trees were the ones with such magnificent size and glorious fall color. Standing underneath the tree I felt like I was under a giant umbrella giving me a temporary sense of security which was nice. Tree Umbrella
I wondered how long this particular tree had been standing and what year it was planted.Chestnut Leaves
I could’ve stayed all morning but thought I’d better start collecting but not before I took a photo of these twin leaves laying on the ground. Later I learned this shape leaf makes the tree a horsechestnut, a species which originated in Europe. Fan leaves!
Back to my task at hand, as I began to gather, I didn’t notice any squirrels bustling about and wondered if the nuts are too big for them. But not to worry, later in the week I saw a squirrel carrying an apple so I guess a chestnut would be no problem! Anyhoo, I decided to take only what I thought I’d need for the big mason jar and believe me, there was plenty leftover for an entire congregation of squirrels! Most of the nuts were out of their burrs (prickly casing) but a few remained.

Chestnuts!
I took my basket of nuts home feeling a little like a big squirrel myself. The rich deep color of the nuts gave me a visual to the phrase “chestnut colored hair”. Basket of nuts It’s like coffee…Chestnut Coffee and chocolate like PhoebeChocolate Labrador sniffing my new haulPhoebe’s eyes are like Chestnuts too! Little Brown Girl

Here’s my complete collection in Gordon’s fabulous vintage jars. The only thing is, if I keep them as decorations we won’t be able to eat them later. When I looked up how to store chestnuts it is suggested to keep them in the frig. We may want to try to roast them in December – yes over an open fire – hmmm – better look up how to do that.Mason Jars from Gordon

UPDATE: oK, it’s a few months later and I discovered that chestnuts get moldy if you leave them in a jar with no fresh air coming in so best container would be a bowl. I threw them away and put the mason jar in the dishwasher!

One Song at a Time

singing bird

The journey to understanding what I want to accomplish with my music has been an evolving revelation.  My goal to  “brighten the world one song at a time” releases me to be who I am, an individual who processes life through creative expression and finds joy in sharing what I see, but in bite-sized pieces.  Sometimes what emerges is a collection of pieces as in record production or live performances, but it all starts with one song.

When I decided to establish a web presence in 2003, I just wanted a place to post my music where it could be heard by whoever happened by.  Peter, the IT guy where I worked created my first website for me, the theme of a happy flower where each petal presented a different page.  It was fresh and sweet, representing my essence well.  However, Peter was the only one with access so when I wanted to input or change content I had to wait till he had a moment.

A change came when I produced my Vessel CD in 2004.  A musician friend, Georgette Dashiel, let me know I could sell my CDs on CD Baby (an online music store specializing in independent music) which led me to also sign up with HostBaby (webhosting for independent musicians, authors and artists) where I have happily thrived since.  Hostbaby outfits you with tools that are fun, easily learned, and affordable for anyone on a budget! 

My next steps were MySpace, FaceBook and Twitter, Instagram/Webstagram – in that order – where I began networking with other musicians, artists and people of all types.  The web is certainly a learn-as-you-go experience and you can’t help but wonder how we ever navigated without it.  It’s definitely connecting us to one another globally.  (Another blog entry for later lest I digress …)

All this to say, my web presence, with all its honing qualities, is helping me discover who I really am and what I’d like my purpose to be.  I’ve heeded some advice posted by social network bloggers along the way, and though I’ve used what works for me, I’ve noticed some of it doesn’t apply to my goals.  To determine my goals, I’ve learned to live with an honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses which has come through trial and error, not just on the web, but in the real dimensional world as well. 

This journey to my true purpose has revealed to me there’s a fine line between believing all things are possible and discerning who I am and what I am meant to do.  And for now, I believe it’s to brighten the world, one song at a time. 

And with that, feel free to chime in what you have learned in your journey along the way.  I’d love to hear from you!

Little Birds and Old Friends

New songs seem to light themselves like little birds in my musical space – I’m fortunate to usually have some kind of flow going.  But with all the new visitation, I’ve found it important to keep my older songs alive, too, so they don’t disappear into the lonely void.  Lately I’ve been revisiting some of those forgotten pieces that gathered dust over the years, crowded out by the spiffy younger ones.  It’s been  satisfying to tweak them and bring them to the front again; to make them a bit more current by adding a riff of piano to the arrangment or removing some cluttery notes that could now make it annoying (sometimes less is more); or rephrasing the lyric so it’s less of an eye-roller.  I must say, I find myself shaking my head in wonder at some of what I’ve written in years past. 

It’s a bit like cleaning house and remembering a picture that once graced the wall.  You dig it out of  storage, shine it up a bit and rehang it just to see if it still reflects who you are and what you’d like to say.  Then you find a new home for the artwork you just replaced, whether it be on another wall or leaning in repose behind the closet door waiting for another turn in the spotlight.

ambientkeys.jpg

NKM New Website Design!

 NKM_New_Web_Design.png

I am in the process of redesigning my website which is great fun.  Stay tuned and hopefully I will post it at the beginning of the new year.  The reason I do this is to keep things fresh and new – plus, because I’m a creative, I can’t help myself – I’m always in Creative Mode.  Since my website is through Hostbaby I have access to the templates they provide.  The newest development available is that within the templates I have more liberty to customize the template I choose to my liking.  It gives me more options without having to get a degree in graphics design or pay hundreds of dollars to a web designer.  Website on a budget, so there you go!  In essense I can put as much time or as little time as I want into the design with the functionality remaining pretty simple.

Just thought I’d share that.  Click HERE if you are interested in a musician or author website of your own!  Thank you HostBaby! 

NancyKelly-Marketplace

I had a blast playing at the Farmer’s Markets this year! The more I play at Farmers Markets the more I hope to in years to come. Just like coffee houses, this type of venue seems to be my niche where my songs fit in and lend a little atmosphere without overpowering. People attend coffeeshops and markets to talk amongst themselves and browse – conversation is flowing – so it’s not just about the music yet the music adds a layer of color and warmth. And if people are hanging out solo the music can then add a bit of companionship without requiring interaction. Win – win for everyone! So, you will be seeing more farmers market gigs on my calendar. Be sure to drop by a market near you to check out all the lovely local flavor!

Market Music Sign