Sunday, January 30, 2011

That time of the year again

I’m playing with vegan baking again. We’re low on eggs, blowing through butter, and as I’ve been hankering to bake -- it’s back to the vegan recipes I was developing last winter. I also don’t like super sweet treats and almost never use the entire sweetener called for in a recipe (cutting it by at least half sometimes).

 I love to bake and it can get expensive with the dairy after a while so I’m always looking for ways to tweak recipes. This goes for candies too although I haven’t yet explored some of my vegan ideas for caramels and truffles yet.

I’ve been grouchy lately, nursing a shoulder injury that makes it difficult for me to do much -- and most of what I like to do involves handwork of some sort. Fortunately, Marty gave me a Kitchen-aid one Christmas -- prompted by my baking love and the fact that that was the first time I had this shoulder problem -- aggravated by repetitive and persistent computer work.

I have no set recipe for the cookies…I start with a favorite basic recipe from my books, but substitute a tablespoon of ground flax-seed in 3 tablespoons of water for each egg. I cut the sugar by about a third to a half, sometimes using a little molasses or agave and I generally use dark brown sugar -- just because I like it’s sweetness and affect on the taste of baked goods in general.

For the butter, I’ll substitute a mixture that could include all or some of the following -- olive oil, earth balance buttery spread, a nut butter and tahini. I particularly love tahini in cookies -- all kinds -- oatmeal, chocolate chip, molasses and peanut butter all work well with it. And while I use unbleached flour for certain things (like the Sullivan Street bread I wrote about here, I prefer whole wheat pastry flour. It’s also fun to experiment by mixing it with brown rice flour, oat flour and other “different and new to me” flours.

Sometimes I have to play around with the “butter” to flour ratio, usually cutting back on the fat by a couple tablespoons or more. If you like to bake, you’ll figure out what tweaking works for you.

When I get restless for something creative to do and the pen or paint or fabric or yarn aren’t calling to me, the kitchen usually does. And then lo and behold, it’s jump-started the rest!

**photo credits me -- on my walk approaching the village of Union Hall, West Cork September 2010

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mankerchiefs

I call them Mankerchiefs. You can buy them in the UK, Ireland and Australia that I know of. They’re Kleenex man-size tissues and they’re another everyday item I pick up when I’m across the pond because apparently they aren’t available in the USA. 

When I met Marty, he (like one of my flower shop bosses), used paper towels. I brought them each a box while in Ireland. (Guinness-scented from the can that burst in my bag on the return flight).
Just because they’re Kleenex for Men though doesn’t mean us ladies can’t use them too -- my cousin does. They make so much more sense than the puny ones we get over here as they are handkerchief-size so I would think they last longer too.

When he’s not using paper, Marty uses the real deal -- my urging. I know some people who would be grossed out but personally, I use them too, and if you have enough of a collection, they work better -- much like cloth napkins. There are times when paper just doesn’t do the trick. I’d rather save paper for the letter writing, but oh yeah that’s another blast from the past, like cloth handkerchiefs. I'll leave letter writing for a future post. Because who knows, maybe there’s a revival afoot in the world.

**image from Viking Direct

Monday, January 24, 2011

Liffey

The first time I visited Ireland several years ago, I did not like Dublin. Too fast and intense.This time, it felt different and I enjoyed it more. It's still fast, crowded, intense, but I connected more -- with family, my daughter's childhood friend, the museums, libraries, the language, my heritage. I strolled more as the weather once again was beautiful for me while I was there. Crossed the River Liffey several times and on one of those times, caught this gent fishing. Even in the midst of a bustling city, if we look, we can find tranquil moments and pockets of nature to soothe our flustered souls.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

To the Manor Born

"Never pass a bar with your name on it."
-Pete McCarthy

In September, the week after my beloved dog of 17 years died, I went to Ireland with my father. It’s the second time I’ve been and while Dublin is as hectic and fast-paced as the Northeast USA, Glandore, the land of my grandfather, in West Cork is not.

I believe that like plants some of us have a biological need to be in our natural environment to thrive. The longer I stay here on Cape Cod,  it seems the more the damp and salt air corrode my spirit.

It’s not that I dislike the ocean. I just love green and hills, and woodlands and farmlands and a slower life so much more -- a gentler existence. How I felt in Ireland -- peaceful, content, at home -- is how I feel in the White Mountains of Haverhill, New Hampshire (where some of my maternal roots originate).

As Pete McCarthy in McCarthy’s Bar puts it, “So what I’m wondering is this. Is it possible to have some kind of genetic memory of a place where you’ve never lived, but your ancestors have? Or am I just a sentimental fool, my judgment befuddled by nostalgia, Guinness, and the romance of the diaspora?”

**photo of my dad walking the ruins of an abbey in Timoleague

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

'Tis the Season of Love

Yesterday I was back at the flower shop after a winter break and Michael was in full speed decorating mode  for Valentine’s Day, hanging sparkly hearts from the ceiling beams, going over the schedule (and the fact that we’ll be processing 100 or was it a couple? Dozens of roses).

I believe it’s usually one partner who gives the roses and the other is (hopefully) the grateful gift recipient. How grateful? Hmm, maybe some homemade chocolate truffles for your thoughtful beloved? Wine and griddled brie with cranberry marmalade and sourdough crisps? Served in your sweetest Valentine manner? Hmmm, what will you come up with? Better yet, what’s underneath?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brabarella Update

We started a new blog just for Brabarella and Little Pink Dress updates, but we will continue to do occasional lingerie reviews here as well. While we're at it here, we also want to update our Round the Clock Girdle at the Top Pantyhose customers.

The new girdle top version is still not available. We will carry them when they are finally being produced again. We won't give any more time lines at this point because past ones have turned out to be inaccurate.

The good news is that there are some great alternatives from Berkshire. Berkshire changed the name many years ago from "girdle" to "shaper," but they're the same thing and not to be confused with regular "control top" pantyhose. Here are four Berkshire "girdle-top" styles (just click on the name to go directly to the page):

Berkshire 4757: tummy, hip and thigh shaper, silky sheer leg, reinforced toe (most similar to the RTC 137 BEFORE they went to the sheer toe).

Berkshire 8767: same as above but with the invisible toe (most similar to the latest version of the RTC 137)

Berkshire 4810: same girdle section as above but with ultra-sheer (all-nylon) leg and reinforced toe (most similar to RTC 135)

Berkshire 8116: Similar to the 8767 but with a large sewn-on tummy panel for extra firm support.

These styles have been made for years in North Carolina so there is a lot of quality and consistency in these products. The sizing is a little different with Berkshire products, but once you figure out the right size and style, I think you'll be very pleased.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mukluks

We’re immersed in Mukluk season now (all 49 states at one point this past week) and my favorite manufacturer of genuine Moosehide Mukluks is right here in the USA, in the beautiful state of Minnesota. Steger Mukluk's is also woman-owned and has been going strong for about 25 years.

Plus the company celebrates a big winter festival with its small town in Ely, Minnesota. The boots are incredibly warm, comfortable (they mold to your feet pretty much) with plenty of support and cushioning, and they’ll last a good long while. Not to mention you can replace the inner soles if needed. They might be a little pricier than some but with Patti’s company I know I am supporting people in her community as well as her business (and the environment, a dear cause we share).

Something to think about as more and more manufacturing jobs continue to be shipped overseas. By supporting Patti and her company, I get to know names and faces of people who could be my neighbors. And, the fact that they make a superbly crafted product doesn’t hurt either.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day!

Snow Day! The flower shop was reopening today after a much-needed holiday break but the weather delayed the boys’ return home -- they didn’t arrive back from eagle watching on the upper Mississippi until yesterday! Between plane problems for them  and transport problems for flower vendors (the flowers come up from the south and as you know, things are a bit behind down there these days), shop opening is delayed at least another day. I’m looking forward to seeing the guys but snow days are still thrilling no matter what the age -- for me anyway. I love ‘em -- always have -- as long as I don’t have to travel in it.
 Funny how Mother Nature is always in charge whether we recognize her or not. Notice how the snow forces everyone to slow down in their mad, hot dashes through life? It is lovely and luscious and Natalie’s got the right idea in her part of the world. Yep.

And after reading this post this morning I realized I’d forgotten all about the box two boxes of Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe Joe’s I’d stashed in the pantry before the holidays. If you’re familiar with these, they’re a tasty spin on oreos but with a peppermint candy crunchy cream between the wafers. A seasonal treat, they sell out fast, so I scooped them up when I saw them, not once, but twice!

Perfect to dunk in hot chocolate made with milk, cream, Ghirardelli’s premium hot chocolate and TJ’s sipping chocolate. Molly was all for it when I offered her a cup, garnished with homemade marshmallows and heavy cream whipped by moi. Peppermint candy sticks for the swizzle sticks. Sometimes you just gotta go for  store-bought cookies. It’s a boomer sort of nostalgia thing. Like snow days (even if I am a grown-up now).

** Images courtesy Natalie Chanin (snow in Alabama always makes me think of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird -- lovin' it two years in a row now...)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sacred Good-byes



The summer Ted died my dad called me with the rumor that death was imminent as the local priest had been called to the compound for last rites. Turned out they were for Eunice. But it got me to thinking -- about our sacred rituals, and how they ground us, give us roots. Something to hang onto. And how the process of death is just as sacred and holy as the process of birth.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out. These sacred moments I mean. The transitions. Between the dark and the light. One way of being and another. Changes, shape shifting, metamorphoses throughout our lives. Sometimes the moments just happen the way they do.

There's a hello moment though, too. For balance. And sometimes that hello follows a recent good-bye. Seventeen years ago in February a male Capricorn who’s name begins with the letter J moved out of my life. In March, another male Capricorn who’s name also began with J, moved into it. He was the sweetest friend. When he wasn’t being a terror.

Still I loved him. And I mourn him. I had hoped his passing would not be as melodramatic as it was but such can be my family. I would have liked for it to have been more sacred, quieter, simpler. It’s not that I had to be in the room with him when he was given the strong medicine, I simply wanted to be near, even in the next room. But it was not to be. And now, several months later, on the eve of what would have been his 17th birthday, I think of him. Like I still do every day. Tell and retell stories about him. Because, that is how he continues to live. He just has a different shape.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Handwork = Soulwork for Me

Slowing down -- because my soul likes it better. Deconstructing t-shirts a la Alabama Chanin style and it hit me, just the simple act of cutting though the fabric, no fraying, work I can do sitting on my couch -- it’s very peaceful. I get up occasionally to check the caramels I’m simmering on the stove, and I contemplate how the ability to slow down and pay attention brings me joy. A quiet joy in the everyday ordinary. I think maybe sometimes this is what is missing from our lives -- and consequently we seek beyond ourselves, beyond where we’re at to find meaning and fulfillment.

Don’t get me wrong -- I’m a big daydreamer. But I sometimes get so far beyond where I’m actually at that I start feeling -- unhappy? Dissatisfied? Restless. Yes, that’s what it is -- restless. Looking for that place beyond the rainbow.

Dorothy learned before it was too late. Emily, who’s died in childbirth in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, didn’t, and tells us so well -- “I didn’t realize all that was going on and I never noticed…good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners, Mama and Papa…clocks ticking…Mama’s sunflowers. Food. Coffee. New-ironed dresses and hot baths…sleeping and waking up. Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

What brings joy to your everyday?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fear

Feel the fear and do it anyway. Catchy title. I’ve seen the book, probably even checked it out but I don’t think I’ve ever read it. But…I’m feeling it…the fear…and doing it anyway.

What, you might ask?

Filling out my registration for SAW, an arts retreat that has beckoned to me since its inception almost 4 years ago.

But, everything in its time. I have always balked at the expenditure and been intimidated by that feeling I'm back navigating high school and its inevitable cliques. But I’m ready to push beyond that. It’s the only way we grow, right? Good growth. I can’t handle static.

And Elizabeth, the director made it easier for me -- I finally took her up on her offer of a payment plan. Sooooo…the registration is completed, a check written out and the envelope addressed. It will be stamped on Tuesday, when it can be mailed (can’t be postmarked before then). So, while 9 months from now, some will be expecting a birth of a different sort, I’m looking forward to my own kind of birth.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kathleen's Bake Shop

One of my favorite baking cookbooks is a simple spiral bound volume about 20 years old now -- called Kathleen’s Bake Shop -- it’s simple, old-fashioned baking at its best. Kathleen King started Kathleen’s Bake Shop, a popular bakery in Southampton, Long Island before moving on to Tate‘s Bake Shop (her second book‘s title). While the bakery also does mail order and distributes to specialty food shops, I much prefer baking from Kathleen’s cookbook. My soft cover copy of her original book is homey, looking like a local community cookbook rather than a polished product from a wholesale/retail enterprise.

Pure ingredients, nothing fancy or hard to come by and some of the tastiest treats I’ve ever baked, and I’ve baked plenty. This past weekend, I made the sweet potato muffins with some leftover mashed sweets and they were some of the best we’ve had. Only ¼ cup of brown sugar for sweetening and instead of milk I used buttermilk. Like Kathleen’s blueberry muffins, they were a big hit with Marty. Her peanut butter bars are an easy holiday goodie that became a looked for treat from many on my Christmas gift list. Last month I contacted the bakery in the hopes of procuring a Swedish Cardamom Braid recipe (I’d remembered a Limpa bread recipe from Kathleen’s Swedish grandmother in the book), and while the bakery didn’t have one, I am now on Kathleen’s recipe of the month club list. If you love to bake as much as I do, you’ll love her recipes.

Of course, what I’m not telling you is how much butter her recipes call for, but if you go for a long walk with an energetic puppy, that should help with the extra calories.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year

Sigh of relief. Holidays are over. I do love the season but not the madness. It feels good to be the first Monday of January and for it to have no particular significance (although this Catholic schoolgirl could dig up some saint’s feast day for today if I had to -- but I’m not going to...yet).

It felt good having the house back to its usual self, walking in the cold, clear air this morning, doing errands, and slipping back into the non-routine of my routine. Drinking hot chocolate tonight with stale, but still delicious homemade marshmallows left over from the holidays. Easier than a batch of resolutions I'll never make and a whole lot tastier! Perfect for snowy and not so snowy days. Oh, and today's saint? St. Genevieve -- one of my favorite names. Happy 2011!

** photo of Carrigluskey, Glandore, Ireland during the holidays courtesy my cousin Patrick