January 30, 2015

Enjoy a Hot Mug

January is a good month for drinking tea. We've had many days trying to keep cozy inside when temperatures are below zero. Now that everything is covered in feet of snow we are venturing out more among the piles and flakes. Pulling Amos around the snowy streets in the sled is a good way to warm up but I also enjoy a hot mug to sip and wrap my hands around.

Chai Concentrate (Updated)
I posted this recipe a couple of summers ago. I have reworked it to taste more of the flavors I enjoy. I love a good does of cardamom and ginger but you can adjust the spices to your taste. I highly recommend ordering bulk spices (Penzeys or Mountain Rose Herbs are good sources) so you can try different combinations and it is more affordable to make your own Chai blend that way. I used dried ginger root but fresh ginger would also work, you may need to add more.

2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
16 cardamom pods
10 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried ginger root (not powdered)

1-3 teaspoons loose leaf tea (black or green)
2-4 teaspoons sweetener of your choice

Measure the spices into a pot and add 4 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, add the tea and let it steep for 5 minutes (or longer if you want a strong tea flavor). Stir in the sweetener and add more if needed. Store the concentrate in an air tight jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

To serve: Combine 3/4 cup of the concentrate with 1/4 cup milk or non-dairy milk of your choice. Serve hot or over ice. Makes about 6 cups.

January 21, 2015

Thoughts at the Kitchen Sink

I've been thinking about work and the way that it is often so tempting to get a job done quickly without too much effort. When there are endless jobs to be done and the promise of some time to not do anything, it seems to make sense to choose ease and convenience. They are, after all, what everyone wants most, along with instant gratification. As someone who tries to make instead of buy as much as possible I shouldn't be drawn to doing the bare minimum and calling it good. But when someone comments on the food I have prepared or something I've knitted or sewn, my first response is, It's really easy. I say this because I want you consider trying to make something yourself, too. I say it because I don't want you to think I've gone to a lot of trouble or that I am insane to take all that time to make something when I buying it would be easier. I wonder what would happen if I said, I put a lot of time and effort into it and that's why I like it so much.

There are daily and weekly tasks that I don't want to linger on and there are meals that I rush to prepare and sometimes rush to eat. But I find that when I gloss over things quickly it encourages me to keep doing less instead of engaging in a task. When I go deeper into cleaning, making, listening, I feel more connected, grounded, and appreciative. It is certainly not always possible to do this but I remind myself that these moments are all we have and I'd like to enjoy experiencing as many as possible. I don't plan to take more time and care with scrubbing the shower but I do want to remember the satisfaction of a job carefully and thoroughly done.

P.S. This article is not entirely related, but I really loved it.

January 8, 2015

A Fresh Start In The Kitchen

We've lived in our new apartment for a few months now, but I still don't feel a connection to our kitchen the way I did to the off white formica counters, brown stained linoleum, and simple gas stove in the kitchen that was my home for the previous four years. I miss the light that would filter in on sunny afternoons, spreading itself across the table and lighting up the walls. I miss the high ceilings that made the small room feel more open and less cluttered than our new kitchen. I think what I really miss is all the time I spent in there chopping, sauteeing, kneading, mixing, washing dishes, and sitting at the the wooden table eating, writing, or staring out the window, uninterrupted.

It will take more time to feel at home in the better kept and better equipped kitchen in our new place but it will be a completely different feeling of home. I stand at the maroon counters in this space and feel a tug on my leg as Amos says "Mommy Peease" and hands me the broom so I can sweep up the black beans that have fallen out of the bowl and muffin tin and cups he has been sorting them into. I can barely cut an onion in half and start peeling off the skin before I hear him dragging the heavy wooden chair behind me so he can see what I'm doing at the counter. The oven beeps when it is done pre-heating and Amos immediately lets me know that it is hot. It's hard to find room to do dishes when he always wants to play with water in the sink.

My kitchen experiences in this apartment are almost entirely different than they were before I had a little one who wants to explore and be part of everything. As December ended and we began a new month and new year I realized how much I wanted a fresh start and renewed motivation in the kitchen. For the past few months I have been making lentil soup, beans and rice, fritattas and a few other pretty easy, pretty tasty recipes. Even though it is more challenging to find time to cook and to enjoy cooking now, I am trying to come up with ways to do this and to fill our plates with more variety, more nutrition, and better tasting food. I would love to hear your strategies for getting out of a cooking rut I want to offer some of mine:

Go to the books. Or Pinterest. Or wherever you store recipes that you haven't tried but want to. I pulled some cookbooks off the shelf in the corner of the kitchen and sat on the floor with Amos and we both flipped through pages while I searched for recipes that sounded good and would work well for our meals. I wrote the name of the recipe, page number, and cookbook on a piece of paper. I also looked back at the many pins I have on my recipes to try board and jotted down some that I haven't tried or had forgotten about.

Add new things slowly. I plan to choose a recipe from my list each week. If I enjoy making it and we enjoy eating it then I will try to make this recipe more often. I find it is easiest to incorporate new recipes gradually and it is ideal if they call for ingredients that I can use for other meals in the same week. Usually after I've made a new recipe once or twice, I go off book and make it more or less from memory.

Dig deeper. I often feel more motivated when I can spend more time on something and get involved rather than just trying to pull together a quick meal. This is definitely not always possible or desirable, but when I can take a couple of hours to carefully prepare a meal or make several things for the week in one sitting, I feel excited about cooking and more satisfied. Sometimes this happens when Amos is asleep, when Ray can hang out with him, or when I can find things that keep him occupied for longer stretches.

Start fresh. Its always nice to have a clean slate, or clean cupboards and fridge. Starting fresh can also mean stocking up on ingredients you need or adding a few new ingredients that you haven't used as often. I realized recently that I wasn't doing very well with eating breakfast since I don't always want to eat as soon as Amos does so I made a batch of granola bars to have something nutritious and easy to start the day. Starting fresh means setting yourself up for success with cooking and eating well.

I'd love to hear your tips for feeling motivated to make good food, enjoying the process and any must make recipes that you want to share. Here's to a fresh start and a chance to find renewal in the kitchen and throughout your days this year!

December 17, 2014

Make Magic Happen

I don't enjoy coffee or any other caffeinated drinks but I love a nice hot cup of cocoa. At first I thought of drinking hot chocolate as something of a guilty pleasure but then I decided to embrace it and drink it often, especially in the long cold winter. I usually make it at home on the stove using an easy favorite recipe. A good cup of cocoa needs no embellishment though a dollop of whipped cream is always welcome and this time of year I often think of marshmallows. Once a year, usually around the holidays, I get an irresistible urge to make them.

Marshmallows require ingredients that I almost never use in anything else. Though they are probably harmless, I avoid recipes that call for gelatin or corn syrup. Homemade marshmallows are actually very tasty but I think the real reason I like making them is that these odd ingredients come together to make magic happen in a bowl. It always seems impossible that this sticky syrup and gelatin can be transformed into little puffs that bob around and melt slowly into a cup of cocoa. I always feel a bit nervous about whether it will work, but the recipe is actually quite foolproof. When it comes down to it, its just really fun to make marshmallows.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila.
It turns out that you can use light or dark corn syrup to make these (I used dark since I forgot to specify when Ray went to the store, it worked fine). The marshmallows will be off-white not white if you use dark corn syrup and have a hint of molasses. You can also add other flavors besides vanilla if you like that sort of thing. 

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon of other flavoring such as peppermint, almond, orange

Grease a 9 inch square pan with a neutral oil or butter.

In a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, pour 2/3 cup of water and sprinkle in the gelatin. Let that sit while you combine 1/2 cup water in a sauce pan with the sugar, corn syrup, salt and vanilla bean seeds, if using (if you are using extract you will add it later). Cook over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes until a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees F. Remove from heat. Begin beating the gelatin on low speed and pour in the hot sugar and syrup. Add the vanilla or other extract if you are using it. Increase the speed to high and beat for 10 to 15 minutes until the mixture becomes thick, white, and shiny.  

Pour the liquid marshmallow into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Let cool at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Cut into squares or rectangles of your desired size. Store in an airtight container for up to three weeks. 

December 8, 2014

Canning for This Year

Most years I have posted a list of the things I have canned for the year. I have never posted it this late before, but I finished my canning right before Thanksgiving. I wasn't very ambitious this year, but I can't do without my salsa and I had a chance to do a few other small canning projects, too.

22 pints salsa, 6 quarts apple sauce, 3 pints pickled beets, 4 half pints blueberry jam, 6 half pints apple, thyme and black pepper jam, 6 half pints cranberry aigre-doux (a sweet and sour preserve with vanilla and star anise from this book).

Previous years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

December 4, 2014

Things to Make and Share


This year, we are planning to focus more on spending time with the people we love and care about rather then spending money on things to give them. But, for me, it hardly feels like Christmas if I don't have things to make and share. I've compromised on a scaled back, short list of things I will share with people that I see, rather than sending lots of packages. For me, making things is a huge part of the joy that goes along with the music, twinkley lights, and sharing good cheer.

I avoid most of the busy and stressful parts of the holidays but I often think that making some things yourself could be a good antidote to all of that. Of course if adding one more to-do will make you feel like the Grinch, then you should make yourself a cup of cocoa and take some time to relax. But, if you're like me, a small project and some good podcasts (or Christmas music, if you prefer) is the perfect way to feel the truly joyful and generous spirit of this time of year. Here of some my favorites from the archives and elsewhere.

Edible Gifts:
Hot Cocoa Mix
Chai Concentrate
Chocolate Peppermint BonBons 
Lemon Curd
Homemade Mustard

Favorite Amazing Body Products You Can Make (and people will love!):
Thanks to Ashley English/Small Measure for these recipes which I make and use all the time.
Homemade Lip Balm
Homemade Body Scrub
Homemade Body Butter

Gifts You Can Sew:
Potholder Tutorial (this would go perfectly with some edible gifts or ingredients)
Reusable Fabric Bag (excellent for wrapping)
Relaxing Eye Pillow (goes well with some homemade body products)

I just put up my festive garland which I am always tempted to leave up year round, but I like the surprise of seeing it each December.

Happy making and making merry!

November 30, 2014

Shop Update


I printed postcards of some of my recent stitched collages which were inspired by a few of my favorite recipes. They are for sale in my shop as sets of six different postcards. I am also offering a free postcard set with any purchase from my shop through December 8. I'm excited to share some of this two dimensional work and to do more as time goes on (hopefully the calendar will be back next year!).

The shop will be open until December 21 and then I will close it for the foreseeable future. Thanks for supporting my creative work!

To go right to the shop, click here.