Friday, January 29, 2010

An ode to tea

Let's put aside the winter blahs for a second, shall we, and talk about tea. Tea is marvelous. This time of year, tea becomes my default activity, the ritual I create for myself in the midst of winter's quiet emptiness.

There's the post-shower, pre-commute cup. The just-arrived-at-work-and-getting-ready-to-blog cup. The pre-dinner, dinner, and post-dinner cups. This is what it takes to get through winter, for me. Faced with the constant, never-ending question of "What do I do now?", in winter, the answer can always be tea.

Eventually, the quiet emptiness will get tiresome, and my chronically underwhelmed mind will begin to clamor for springtime. I haven't reached that point yet this winter. Right now, I'm all about the easy simplicity of herbs soaked in hot water.

(That's all it is, really. Amazing. Maybe there's a drizzle of honey or a little milk mixed in, but really, this life blood of chilly weather, this elixir of winter survival, is really just wet dead plants in a cup.)

To this end, because I have a feeling others may also be slightly enamored of tea, I'm proposing a tea celebration. An homage. Everyone, chime in and list your favorite flavors, for the furtherment of tea-drinking, the betterment of humankind, and the easing of chilly bones everywhere.

My favorite five:

Good Earth Green tea with lemongrass
Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice
Twinings Earl Grey
Celestial Seasonings Peppermint
Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime

What are yours?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What it looks like in January

Lately, this pan has become my new best friend. Weekly, it seems, a melange of chopped vegetables is finding its way into it with a splash of oil, a drizzle of balsamic, and some salt and pepper. Roasted at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or so, they make the most surprisingly delicious winter side dish.

At our house, this is what January looks like: a humble and proud progression of root vegetables, a crusade to eat up our stored winter squashes, a happy reliance on our freezer. All summer and into fall, I can and blanch and freeze and store and label and plan. I wrap Macoun apples in newspaper and nestle them in boxes, carefully as Christmas ornaments, to be unwrapped for a midwinter apple cobbler.

This time of year, I feel smugly like a well-prepared squirrel, cozy in my hole with a surfeit of acorns. I love that feeling. I also love shopping farm stands all summer, and not buying jet-lagged grocery store produce in winter. It's cheaper, it's healthier, it's better-tasting. Pulling a pan full of local vegetables out of the oven in January feels like a magic trick--poof! Shazam, alacazam. Here we have defied winter, shaken a haughty fist at monolithic corporate farms, and sat down to a tasty meal. It rocks.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Weekend, in five pictures

Starting with boxes:

Covering up:

Making progress:

Sleeping here:
For the time being, our bedroom is populated by sawdust, slightly terrified cats, and the slow progression of copper-colored flooring across the room. It's been a long time coming, but oh, our new bedroom floor is on its way! More pictures to come when the project is finished. Hopefully, that'll be next weekend.

Incidentally, sleeping sandwiched between two sleeping bags on the foldout is pretty darn comfortable!
Where did the weekend take you?

Friday, January 22, 2010

You Will Like Them

It was MLK Day. I had the day off, Patrick didn't. I was maybe a little bit bored, and also, I had some tip money in my pocket. It was raining. I don't know if that fact is necessary to the story, but it seemed important at the time.

I've lived here long enough to know that when you have a little bit of money, and an afternoon to kill, you should waste no time getting yourself to Charlie Brown's Antiques.

And that's what I did.

I love this place. It's where I've found some of my favorite finds. (See here, here, here, and here.) By now, I've gained a comfortable familiarity: I know which booths are likely to have old hardware, for example, and where to find the vintage linens. I also know where to avoid: Garfield mugs and 1980's Barbie dolls.

The poster I found wedged in the back of one of my favorite spots: a two-booth suite overflowing with all manner of exuberant junk, most of it very old and a little rustic. And today, behold, for the entire lot was marked 50% off. I climbed to get the prize, oh, did I. Planting my feet carefully amid the boxes of old picture frames, and bracing one arm strategically against a fireplace mantel (for sale, $65), I made my way towards my quarry. I felt a little (just a little) like Indiana Jones being chased by that boulder as I emerged, a fathom-high stack of 8-track tapes collapsing behind me.

By that point, though, I was well into the giddiness brought on by the realization that I could take it home for a mere $9. I may have cackled a little as I walked to the cash register. Forgive me. For a lover of both square dances and old stuff, this poster is about as perfect a find as they come.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In which I make hummus that doesn't suck

Remember the juicer from here? It's finally getting some use.

A few months ago, I tried making hummus for the first time. You never heard about it here, because it was a disaster. With the consistency of wet concrete (I'm guessing) and nothing going on, flavor-wise, it was a disappointing experiment. A surprising one, too, because I'd followed a recipe from one of my most trustworthy cookbooks. Shrug. Maybe it was the stars.

Striking out anew, I chose a different recipe for my hummus adventure. And this one worked.

It was everything a good hummus is supposed to be: creamy, tangy, a little bit salty, and (considering it's basically mashed chickpeas) decadent-tasting. If I was vegan, (and I'm not) hummus would be my comfort food of choice. (With ice cream, macaroni and cheese, and milkshakes still in the running, however, I'm afraid hummus takes a back seat.)

Anyway. The recipe.
Hummus adapted slightly from 200 Best Vegetarian Recipes, by Martha Kates Shulman
2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 tbsp sesame tahini
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp leftover liquid from the beans, or plain yogurt, or sour cream
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1 food processor (not optional, though I suppose you could use a blender)

Put everything except the chickpeas and the parsley in your food processor, and blend until the garlic has gone from chunky to obliterated. Add the beans, and process until hummus-like in texture. Add the parsley, and pulse until evenly distributed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A block a day keeps the doctor away...

...or something like that.

The hour or so I spend crouched on the floor (which is where my cutting mat is), my fabric strips laid out like paints on a palette... it's the happiest, calmest hour of my day.

It's order from chaos. It's creative freedom. It's resourcefulness, taking all those little bits and stitching them together. Most of all, as always when I sew a gift, it's the thinking. Of course, I spend lots of time thinking about these people I make things for. But there's something particular about the process of slow creation--the planning and the pinning and the cutting and the sewing-- that gives me long happy hours of it. This person, future recipient of the quilt, is more present in my mind than at any other time, even though she's my second-favorite person in the world. (Second only to Patrick, which isn't even a fair fight.)

In May, Alexis, my former maid-of-honor and friend since Freshman year of college, will walk away with a shiny new master's degree. This time of planning-pinning-cutting-sewing is my time for her-- to remember all the challenges and happinesses of the past eight years, consider what this all means for her and for us, and hope she doesn't fly too far away. And think about her future house, and how nice this quilt will look on her bed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sunday baked beans

January is easy to love. After the holidays have galloped past, with all their attendant stress and bustle, you wake up one happy Sunday with nothing on the docket. There are no have-tos, no to-dos. The day is yours to fill as you please. It's a good feeling. Partly because I love to, and partly because it was too cold and wet to leave the house yesterday, I committed to a fuzzy-slippers-and-pajama-pants day. Patrick, clearly following my lead, chose wool socks and a fleece-lined hoodie. Thus outfitted, we ensconced ourselves on the couch, with quilt and tea and Netflix on demand. It was, in every way, the perfect January Sunday.

Of course, our dinner plans had to fit the cheerful slothness of the day. I dumped a pile of beans into the slow cooker, drowned them in maple syrup and tomatoes, threw in some other stuff, and pushed start. Slow cookers were brought into the world for exactly this type of day.

Here's the recipe I used.

Maple Baked Beans
1 lb navy or kidney beans, soaked overnight, cooked until nearly tender, and drained
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes
3 tbsp molasses
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf

Dump everything into your slow cooker and mix together well. Make sure the bay leaf is buried somewhere, and not on the surface, otherwise it won't impart its sweet goodness. On top of everything, add enough water to cover the beans. Cook 6-8 hours on the low temperature setting. It's that easy.

Notes: Sometimes I like to saute the onion and garlic before adding it to the pot. It adds another layer of sweetness, but is not necessary. We almost always eat these alongside veggie dogs and homemade three-bean salad. Building a campfire, roasting marshmallows, and falling asleep to the sound of owls/loons/bears afterwards is a nice, authentic touch. Strictly optional.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First block

Hello, pretty thing.
Before I get back to work, I'm just going to indulge a little. An afternoon photo shoot with my first completed quilt block, and the optimistic January sun in the window.

I didn't even think about the sun when I plunked the quilt block down on the table. As I clicked away, I reminded myself that winter, really, isn't so bad. The days are getting longer. The sunshine makes everything sparkle. And the progress of this quilt will make good company.

One down. Many, many to go.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The scrap archive

Yesterday I consulted my over-flowing scrap bin, and decided it was time to make a quilt. Scraps. A forever renewable resource. Out of sentimentality and resourcefulness, I'm a devout saver. It's the kind of thing that can really get you into trouble, if you don't pause periodically and do something with the scraps you've been holding onto.

Thus I began the careful (and pleasantly meditative) job of pressing each little piece, making neat little scrap-stacks. Each bit brought back some little memory: where I bought the fabric, what I made, how long it's been in the box. There were scraps from the first project I ever sewed, the summer after sophomore year of college, before I headed off to the Adirondacks for a naturalist internship.

Immediately I remembered sitting on my parents' couch, the feel of a needle in my hand so new to me, so novel. It was dusk. The colored glass bottles on the windowsill glowed dimly, a robin looped its song through the blue air. I had discovered the calm of hand-sewing for the first time in my life, and I was falling in love.

These scraps are my archive. These six full years of romance with fabric and a threaded needle... they're all there in that box.

Or rather, were there. Now, my sacred scraps are pressed and ready, prepared to serve a higher purpose than my own sentimentality.

Seamstresses out there, what do you do with your scraps?

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