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simple pleasures

Bag Ladies

purse-1

A couple of years ago I got the idea to thank my friends for being my friends by giving them something personal — beyond the cheer, kindness, and thoughtfulness (and occasional baked goods) that I make sure to bring to those relationships.

Because I like making things, bags came to mind. For each woman, I look for a fabric that reflects her personality. Forgive the immodesty, but on the whole I have pretty good taste and a rare gift-choosing ability, so trusting my judgement puts me on solid ground.

This is my latest bag. It went to a woman I met through work. She’s artsy. I’d like to be artsy. Although we have a lot in common, our friendship didn’t really solidify until we weren’t working together. The pattern is Glenda from Swoon. (The credit is included only if someone feels inclined to find out more; I have no personal link with the company.)  I do love the interwebs to find new and different things.

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Of course for this level of effort, passing friends and acquaintances won’t be receiving bags any time soon. But I still have a dozen good women on the top-line list. That will keep me busy this year.

Lentil It Be

lentils

Lentils and greens, two more New Year’s foods. This choice was as much to return to better eating as for any illusion of influencing the cosmos in my favor. With typical American gusto, I’ve noshed my way through the holidays. Enjoyable, but time to return to reality.

Lentils with pasta, canned tomatoes, and arugula was a long-time lunch favorite. The arugula held its rewarding crunch for several days. Amazing. But for reasons unknown, this dish fell off the radar. Perhaps I simply ate it one too many times, dispelling the charm. So I reworked the recipe for the new year.

Two shallots cooked with the lentils. Added kale both cooked and fresh; ditto the tomato. Pasta seemed superfluous. Lunch perfection. Having forgotten the expansion factor of soaking lentils, I’ll be enjoying this for several days.

Almost good enough to forget Saturday’s fail: I attempted to make kransekake on December 31. Is that the last fail of last year or the first fail of the new year? The recipe in the fairly recently produced seminal work on Nordic cooking looked amazingly simple and straightforward. A little egg white, some sugar — grating the marzipan appeared to be the hardest part. Ha! Looking back, it’s almost as though the author included the recipe with an air of dismissive disdain, an embarrassing must.

When the goal is a fairly dry dough, add wet to dry ingredients until the desired consistency is achieved. Again, something I realized in retrospect after following the lauded author’s recipe. Recipes later culled from the interwebs indicated either heat or cold to get the right consistency. (The recipe on Nordic Food & Living seems worth a go.) And clearly a boatload of elbow grease is needed to get the marzipan thoroughly incorporated. Previously, the closest I’ve come to marzipan is the character on Homestar Runner.

Since there was no way to firm up the soggy dough, I decided to bake some cookie-ish rounds in hopes of salvaging the experiment and getting something I could taste for reference. Watching the rounds expand, I upped the oven temp for a quicker set — which did nothing for the set and gave the round blobs a Florida-grade tan. I can only bear to share a tiny pic of the result.

sugar-fail

The taste is quite nice — kind of an almond-flavored toasted marshmallow. And I was smart enough to make only a small batch on a silicon mat, reducing waste and clean up.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll watch a few episodes of the Great British Baking Show while eating a bowl of lentils and kale to ready myself for the next challenge.

 

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Woodland Worry Walks

winter-trail

On a recent flight I read the airline magazine. A pleasant read, well-suited to the audience and timeframe. The article on forest bathing stuck with me. Forest bathing is a health activity of Japanese origin that is, in brief, a slow, mindful walk in the deep woods. Look around, take in the details, and breathe deeply because apparently there’s some very good stuff in forest air. While I’d heard the term, I hadn’t paid it much attention, but on this short flight there wasn’t much else clamoring for my attention.

Our daily dog walks are not slow, and since we walk the same trails frequently there isn’t much gawking at the minutia. The story brought to the fore how I actually walk in these familiar woods — in cold weather head down to be sure I’m not stepping on ice, (as noted) always quickly, usually discussing daily woes with the hubs. At least twice a week either or both of us gets worked into a froth about something.

Occasionally I snap out of it and snap a pic of something interesting — at least I’m somewhat aware of my surroundings. So while I may be getting the aerobic benefit, I am clearly missing any additional benefits. Plus, these walks don’t take us into anything that could be labeled a forest, just some well-wooded acreage.

On the New Year’s Resolution list: Enjoy the great outdoors. With the crazy pup’s high energy, a key reason for the activity, that won’t happen on the dog walk. But I’m pretty sure nature is available to experience at almost any other time. . .

 

 

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Stock Up!

Have you noticed? Lately I’m compelled to add exclamation points to my headlines. Maybe I’m just that excited about the holidays. In this case, the reason was to make it ‘sound’ like a short-order cook calling out from the kitchen.

broth

Big batch of stock from turkey and chicken bones – Chickey? Turken? Whatever the name, it is yummy and we’ve got a lot of it. I’m thinking butternut squash risotto, because wait until you see the size of the butternut squash I bought at — surprise, not! — Costco!

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The Eagle Has Landed! or More Bad Nature Photography

“Look – out on the ice. Is those hawks or eagles?”

Another matching bird flies low overhead and lands near the others.

“Eagles, they’re eagles.”

“Let me borrow your phone to take a pic.”

“We’re too far away, you won’t get much.”

“But I’ll get something.”

 

eagles-1

“Let’s walk a little farther down the bridge. We’ll be a bit closer so you can get a better shot.”

eagles-2

“Now you can see them better. Slightly.”

One bird flies away, another takes to the air swooping over the open water closer to the bridge.

“Take a video.”

“By the time I get the phone out again, the eagle will be gone.”

After almost a minute of watching the bird, reach for phone.

Bird immediately flies back to the resting spot on the ice.

Some things are meant to be enjoyed in the moment.

Time for a Cool Change

Frighteningly unseasonable weather well into November meant the green pepper plants kept producing until just a few days ago. Experience warns the appearance of great bounty precedes a painful-down-to-the-soul crash; it’s a false joy.

green-peppers

But waste is pointless, so stuffed green peppers for several days it is. With a side of impending doom.

And then on to new and other things.

Recently I came across the website of a fabulously named restaurant in Land, Oregon: Viking Soul Food. As a midlander, the Northwestern United States does not come to mind when thinking Nordic. But it is, and there you are.

My thoughts were already pointed due north. A year of Nordic cooking, perhaps. Yes, a year of Scandinavian cooking has a better ring to it. However my half-Swedish cousin rarely fails to remind that Finland, from whence my side of the family comes, is not technically part of Scandinavia, ergo it’s erroneous to claim the heritage. That’s why I hang with the German cousins.

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Nature Stinks

The trail we most often use for dog walking runs along a river. Several times a year sections are closed due to flooding, and frequently after a good rain we’re dodging puddles and commenting on which areas have gone boggy. Last year the mosquitoes were almost unbearable. I’m particularly appealing to the little buggers and the hubs would have to wave them off my back as we walked — even after applying a healthy (unhealthy??) coating of OFF!

mushroom

For all the dampness this year, the mosquitoes are thankfully few. Recently what’s almost unbearable is the smell. Not, mind you, at the height of heat and humidity. Rather now, when tempuratures are moderate but the humidity still hangs thick.

mushroom-2

Even the mushrooms keeled over in a day or two.

No Need to Adjust Your Screen or What’s Old is New Again

living-room-2

We’ve been busy around here: The only way to indulge our good taste in design is to DIY so the living room is getting a fresh coat of paint and new flooring. For the last dozen years the walls were a pale blue and the inset areas next to the fireplace were a light-medium, warm brown. I’ve to a got a thing for accent colors whether the look is in or out. The carpet was the original bland neutral beigey tone, hence my instance on blue walls.

living-room-5

Unsurprisingly, the carpet was showing its age; time to replace. And we had painted the walls white when we built the house. It was a trade: Back then, furnaces and air conditioners were not required to be very efficient, so to get the most efficient furnace and AC we were going to have to pay and pay dearly. Instead, we agreed to paint the interior of the house. Since we were both working more-than-full-time jobs in publishing, we opted for white everything and figured we’d add color later.

Uff da! That was a challenge, and not just in time and effort. Although the builder agreed to the deal he didn’t like it, and he made us pay in ‘accidentally’ messed up freshly painted walls. Oops, crashed into a newly painted wall (happened a dozen times or more). Oh so sorry — not! Then again, he wasn’t a careful builder (fortunately we stopped by the site every day), so perhaps he and his subs were just that clumsy.

Back to today, and back to white. The hubs likes the white, and I’m going for a look I call ‘Midwest Scandinavian.’ The new flooring is carpet tile (FLOR) in a pale blue — just enough color. (Pic to come.) The living room opens to the lately remodeled kitchen, and the rooms blend splendidly. All those years of editing home decorating books paid off nicely, if I do say so myself.

There’s a lot of disruption involved, however, and we’re both surprised at how much stuff has accumulated in the living room. I’ve made a concerted effort to edit; that, too, has made a big difference.

cat-help

So back to white walls and less stuff, somewhat as when we moved in, and looking good. One of our site supervisors agrees.

 

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Fruits and Labors or I Paid WHAT for Apples or Soggy Bottom

Apple pie

Pie making is a skill I neither possess or wish to develop into a strength. Passable is my goal. It is, however, my neighbor’s unfailing strength. So we work to stay in good standing with her and hope fruit-and-crust goodness continues to regularly cross the property line.

As for consuming pie, it is a dessert category I enjoy occasionally. Whereas the hubs could eat apple pie every day, and that’s only a minor exaggeration. So when I say a small something about possibly, maybe, I might consider making an apple pie, the look in his eyes first of surprise, then of hope and longing means it’s best to follow through.

Apple whole

Also of note: I don’t like to reward Facebook’s generally crappy algorithms. So when I saw a suggested post about a unique variety of cooking apples being carried for a short time at a local small grocer, I was torn – to click or not to click. When I got there, as expected there was no mention of price. . . Obviously, I caved completely. Sucker.

But here in the Land of the Frugal, part of the point of scrimping is to allow the occasional indulgence. Hmmm. Let me indulge myself in spending more than $10 (yes! more than ten bucks!) on apples to spend an afternoon making pie. Oh joy, oh rapture! Oh sign me up for that! Ahem.

Apple cut

Pink Pearl delivered first on color. As promised, the color is lovely. And after I spent all. that. time. cutting and peeling, peeling and cutting, (tiny violin time)

Apple sliced

the bowl of fruit was pretty and inviting. As with cooking apples, the flavor and texture is OK in the fresh state.

But the proof is in the pie. And it is delicious, with one minor flaw. Since I don’t bake pie often, I underestimate the amount of liquid that cooks out of the fruit. Failing to address the issue ahead of baking leads to inadequate liquid retention in the filling resulting in, all together now, a soggy bottom. This shortcoming has not deterred continued consumption of the final product.

For the future, a memory test: Next year at this time will I recall the price of these apples before heading to the store? And will I recall and prepare for the cooking liquid issue? Because chances are slim that I will make another pie before then.

 

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