April 2011

truffles

Photo by David Leggett

The winner of the handmade Glarus Chocolatier truffles is… drum roll, please… “LL”! She shared the memory of mastering her mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe and using white M&Ms in her wedding favors.

Congratulations, LL! Contact me before Monday at noon or I’ll be forced to choose another winner —  or, ahem, eat them myself.

I enjoyed all the chocolate stories, but the one I can’t stop thinking about is Sarah D’s description of the hand-dipped ice cream bars in Salem, Oregon. Holy cats, those sound amazing!

It was a lot of fun to do this giveaway — and there will be more in the future. (For the record, I used random.org to select the winner today.)

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So here it is Friday again. Any exciting plans for the weekend? I’m headed out for a girls’ night with one of my closest friends. In the meantime, I’ve got a few things to share with you as the week draws to an end:

First, I’m sure you’re as sad as I am about the loss and devastation in the south from the tornadoes. The Red Cross is doing a lot to help, as well as many local church groups. If you can help, please do.

I’ll watch a documentary on just about anything. Here‘s a powerful-looking one that’s on my list.

Michael Pollan is adding these new food rules — submitted by readers  — to his illustrated edition of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

If you want to buy or build me this house, I will not complain.

My city of Baltimore is on track to becoming the first major city to adopt its own currency.

The beautiful Canadian magazine Dabble is out with its second issue. Check out my friend Beth’s colorful story about India (pp. 107-111) and her section in the Puerto Rico spread (p. 123).

By the way, I think Puerto Rico is one of the best getaway spots. It’s got a little of everything… the character and culture of Old San Juan, sandy white beaches, gorgeous rainforest, good food, and lots of local color — all just a short plane ride away, with no need to change your dwindling American dollars.

Off to dream about taking a vacation someday… See you back here on Monday!

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Teatime Fit for Royals

April 28, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

There are two things the Brits do really well (though there may be others): royal weddings and afternoon tea. It seems like every freedom-loving Yank is going potty over Wills and Kate, but teatime has never really caught on over here — and that’s just a travesty. What could be more civilized than a mid-afternoon break for a steaming mug of something restorative and a little plate of treats shared with friends and family?

As a coffee-drinker myself, I’ve always been more interested in the treats — and to me, nothing is more classic than scones and lemon curd. Of course, the scones you often find in stores are dry and uninspiring, and lemon curd, if you find it at all, is expensive and dull. (On second thought, maybe it’s no wonder teatime hasn’t caught on over here…)

But after extensive testing, I can definitively state that I have found the perfect recipe for both. Simple and delicious, you can easily whip up a batch for your next brunch, royal wedding viewing party, or anytime you want to make the everyday feel a little more civilized.

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Women working

Women at Work, Image via Wikimedia

First, let’s get a couple of housekeeping matters out of the way…

Do you see that big blue button on the right-hand side of this page — the one about my weekly SlowNote? You may have signed up and are wondering what the deal is with that.

Let me just say that the great thing about running a blog about Slow living is that you can justify being really slow about things. Oh… the SlowNote? I haven’t sent that out yet because I’m over here Slowing up the joint.

So, yes, the SlowNote is a little behind schedule, but I hope to get the first one out soon. It will consist of a short tip or personal note, with highlights from a few recent posts on the blog. Ideally it will appear in your inbox once a week. Do sign up if you’re interested — and I promise it will show up one day.

I’ll also keep you posted on my videos. I have a lot of ideas, but I’m cinematographically challenged. Eventually I’ll come up with something worth watching.

This afternoon, Mags has a fun post just in time for the royal wedding. In the meantime, I’ve got an Ask SlowMama question to address:

I do paid work from home and am also the mother of young children. Any tips for setting — and sticking to — work boundaries?  – Cassandra in VA

Oh yes, I know this challenge very well… without the kids part, of course. Working from home is terrific — no one can see you in your pajamas, there’s a lot of flexibility, and you often get more done. But setting boundaries is probably the biggest stumbling block.

What is a boundary? Simply put, it’s a limitation we impose and/or respect in order to ensure greater freedom and success.

Ideally, setting up a home office in a separate room with a door is best. But many of us don’t have that luxury. In this case, I recommend you still have a delineated work space somewhere. Even if you take your laptop or mobile device from room to room, it should still have a home, along with other work items you need like files, planners, etc.

Here are some other ways to set and stick to work boundaries in the home:

  • Set specific hours for working — and stick to them. Let others know those hours so there are appropriate expectations, which in turn gives you accountability. Even if those hours change regularly, set them each day as you can.
  • Use a timer to help you focus on specific tasks for a designated amount of time. I like a small kitchen timer that I can take from room to room, but you can use one on your computer or smart phone.
  • Reward yourself. It’s tempting to check email and favorite blogs constantly when you work from home. Instead, after working for some pre-appointed amount of time — use the timer — reward yourself for completing work tasks with time to surf and visit your peeps.
  • If your computer is in a common area, close it when not in use, or cover it with a cloth. There’s something about a screen… it beckons to us. By placing something as simple as a cloth over it, you’ll be less tempted to gravitate there when you’re supposed to be doing other things.
  • Create rituals that help you enter into work mode — and home mode. Music might be one way, or lighting a candle. Or a sequence of events, like: put kids down for their naps, make coffee, sit at your desk, check email for 10 minutes, check task list, and begin. Even small rituals can help you transition in and out of work mode more smoothly.

If you do paid work from home, I’d love to hear your suggestions for creating and sticking to boundaries. Hope this helps, Cassandra.

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First SM Giveaway

Because it’s still the Easter season, and because I love chocolate, and because I appreciate readers like you, I have a little something to give away:

A dainty box of homemade truffles from Glarus Chocolatier

Glarus didn’t ask me to do this; I just thought it would be a fun and celebratory idea, and what could be a better first giveaway here at SlowMama than locally made chocolate?

The Glarus shop is located just down the road from me. It exists because one day a boy named Ben saw a girl named Jennifer on an internet dating site and noticed that she liked chocolate. He was from a long line of Swiss chocolate makers, so he thought he better contact her. The rest is history.

Glarus is the name of Ben’s father’s hometown in Switzerland. Ben and Jennifer wanted to bring back traditional Swiss chocolate-making techniques without the use of auxiliary machinery, and they use original family recipes dating back to 1957. They focus on small-batch, handmade chocolates made from the finest ingredients, without high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, or anything artificial.

If that isn’t Slow chocolate, I don’t know what is.

There are four truffles in the box:

  • Almond Truffle: Flavorful, dark chocolate center with natural almond oil covered in Swiss milk chocolate and roasted almonds
  • Marc de Champagne: Distinct, champagne-based center accented by strong, Swiss dark chocolate and rolled in confectioner’s sugar
  • Lavender Truffle: Dark chocolate center infused with natural lavender essence, rolled in sugar crystals dyed with natural beet coloring
  • Rigi Spitz: Whipped chocolate ganache and Kirsch brandy dipped in dark chocolate and topped with a white chocolate snow peak

To win these delectable balls of yum, just leave a comment telling me something about your love affair with chocolate… your favorite kind, your happiest memory of eating too much, whatever. If you hate chocolate and still want to enter for someone else, that’s fine — I’m just really sorry that you have that flaw.

I’ll choose a winner at random and announce it here on Friday afternoon. Deadline for comments is Friday at noon (EST). One entry per person, please — or, if you follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, you can leave an extra comment for each telling me so, and increase your chances to win! If you’re shy about leaving a comment — and for some reason, many of my readers here are shy — make up a name. Just don’t use “Kitty,” or I’ll think you’re one of my sisters. (Actually, anyone can win unless you’re a writer for this site, or one of our spouses. Otherwise, it’s fair game.)

Also, because this is a perishable food item, I can only ship to addresses within North America. But if you’re reading from overseas, feel free to share something fun about chocolate with all of us anyway.

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An ‘Every Day’ Lotion

April 26, 2011

by Ann Waterman

I hope you had a wonderful Easter holiday. Here’s a picture of my youngest enjoying his first Easter. Maybe next year he’ll actually be able to enjoy some chocolate as well!

All right, enough baby cuteness.  Let’s get down to business…

For some time now, I’ve been trying to replace my not-so-green personal care products with more natural alternatives. One of the first items on my list was body lotion. Now, I fully expect to pay more for natural products, but with a growing family, I have a budget to mind as well. Enter Everyday Shea.

I happened upon this body lotion while browsing at M.O.M. during a rare, child-free shopping excursion (which explains why I was browsing and not racing through the store). The label claimed it was paraben-free, used no synthetic fragrances, and was certified fair trade. Not a bad start. Then I saw the price — 32 oz. for $10. What a steal! I was sold and it went straight into my basket.

Everyday Shea body lotion comes in two scents — lavender and vanilla (they also have an unscented option).  After much hemming and hawing, I settled on vanilla, but  both scents are pleasant and very subtle.

My standard for whether or not a lotion is good is pretty simple: Is it greasy? The less greasy, the better. Everyday Shea absorbed beautifully and left my skin nice and soft. I was pleasantly surprised, since natural products don’t always perform as well as their synthetic counterparts. It’s a trade-off I’m not always willing to make, but I didn’t have to with Everyday Shea. It’s an amazing lotion at an outstanding price. If I ever make it through that 32 oz. bottle, I’ll be going back for lavender.

What’s your favorite natural product bargain?

P.S. Parabens are synthetic preservatives used in many personal care products. Some studies studies suggest that they mimic estrogen and can disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system.

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Easter day in pictures

April 26, 2011

Easter table

Our Easter table was gorgeous. Well, it wasn’t our table… but we were happy to be invited to sit around it. You can see my quinoa, orange, and pistachio salad here, as well as Abby’s corn muffins and artichokes.

The ladies

These girls look like they walked out of a catalogue, with their colorful Easter dresses and beautiful smiles. Their mom isn’t bad, either — don’t you love her apron?

Easter montage

Our friend Noemi brought Spanish tapas for hors d’oeuvres… she knows the good stuff, since she’s from Spain. That plate of bright red sausages (upper left) is the chorizo — yum! Seeing all the children’s Easter baskets lined up brought back fond memories of my childhood. On the lower left, B and Kady look at the colorful eggs the kids dyed. And that black alien-looking thing? That’s squid in its own ink… also from Spain. It was a huge hit, and somehow we managed to walk away without black teeth.

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Easter artichokes

April 25, 2011

Delicious artichokes Our friends, Al and Abby, hosted Easter dinner at their house and Abby decided to try something she’d never done before — stuffed braised artichokes. They’re seasonal and reportedly delicious and, sure enough, ended up being a highlight of our meal.

Now, given that she is Abby, and Abby=Superwoman, they were bound to turn out fabulously. But even a Slow mama like her has to resort to the internet for guidance sometimes. She used these instructions to figure out how to prepare them.

I’ve always been intimidated by fresh artichokes, therefore it was a treat to watch Abby go to work. It’s helpful to see what it’s supposed to look like, step by step.

Artichokes ready for stuffing

After you stuff them — and believe me, we had a hard time not eating all the stuffing straight out of the bowl — you place them in a pressure cooker or braising pan with some water, white wine, and a few other ingredients. At the very end, you stick a piece of provolone cheese on the top of each one and let it melt. Like buttah.

Finished artichoke

Then you start ripping off the leaves. The artichoke hearts at the end were like buried treasure — to die for. Even Abby and Al’s kids got totally into them. Here’s the recipe — it’s a keeper.

Any highlights from your weekend meals?

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Good Friday

April 22, 2011

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Eggs Two Ways

April 21, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

I used to love dyeing Easter eggs as a kid — but somewhere along the way, it started losing its appeal. It might have had something to do with the fact that, after hours of careful dipping and dyeing, in the end you still had… well, a pile of hardboiled eggs. No matter how pretty they turn out, you can’t do much with them: They have to be refrigerated if you still want to eat them (which, after a week of choking down hardboiled eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you usually didn’t). All that work, and somehow you didn’t have much to show for it.

For a while I gave up on dyed eggs, choosing instead to focus on perfecting deviled eggs. But this year I decided I’d try my hand at a couple of projects that promised easy, gorgeous eggs — and ones that can be used for more than simply decorating the inside of your fridge.

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Spicing it up

April 20, 2011

Ethiopian cooking spices

Over the weekend I received a package from Jessica. I’ve never met Jessica, but she recently went to Ethiopia to pick up her son and brought these spices back for me — as a gift. Isn’t that lovely?

I now have no more excuses for avoiding Ethiopian recipes. That bright red bag up there is berbere, probably the most commonly used spice in Ethiopia. Apparently, you can get your Ethiopian children to eat anything if you stick this spice in it. Luckily, we love it, too.

The basil-like stuff on the left is called beso bella. Not sure what to do with it quite yet, but once I break open a cookbook or two, it should become obvious. On the right are two yellow spices — one is mit’in shiro powder, made from chick peas, fava beans, and other legumes, and the other is turmeric, we think. The small bag of pods, seeds, and bark is a tea that Jessica says is common over there.

There’s something about spices and teas… they’re fascinating. They tell stories. I’m intrigued by textiles in the same way. If I could time travel, you know I’d be headed down the Silk Road.

Jessica also sent me some extra baby bottles with liners and nipples, which I can’t make heads or nails of because bottles have gone high tech since I last took care of any babies. An engineer’s brain I have not. Not even a baby engineer’s brain. This could be a problem.

All these goodies came from someone I’ve never met. It’s just one example of the generosity and warmth I have found in the adoptive parent community. Every kind of person adopts, from every kind of background. But there’s a special bond between parents who build their families this way; an understanding. I suspect it’s the kind of thing you share with people you climb Mount Everest with. It’s a super supportive, helpful group of people, and thanks to the internet, I’ve now got  friends around the country — world, even — who I’ve never seen but feel like I know.

Or maybe I should just be talking about parents who adopt from Ethiopia because that’s been most of my experience. The parents who adopt from China or Russia? They’re probably awful. Actually, those China parents have it together. I’ve never seen a group with more meet-ups, support groups, seminars, play groups, online forums, etc. So, okay, I guess you guys rock, too.

Russia? Guatemala? Vietnam? Korea? All the rest? You’re all special, too. Group hug!

Jessica’s gift reminded me of  how amazing it is to be part of this segment of humanity. It would be so much harder without them. A big shout-out to my fellow adoptive parent (and parent-to-be) peeps. Especially those who send me spices. (Jessica!)

I’ll keep you posted on how the Ethiopian cooking goes.

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