July 2011

olive oil products Products from Oliviers & Co, given to us by our Spanish friend Noemi, who knows her olive oil

Many wonderful things in life are the seemingly ordinary things. Today I want to celebrate something I stare at every day in my kitchen: olive oil. I consider it a nectar of the gods. Apart from a brief stint in California, it’s never been local to me, but it’s one of the foods in my pantry I could never give up.

Olive oil has many nutrients and can be stored for long periods of time, as long as it’s not exposed to bright light or heat. Consumed around the world, especially in Mediterranean countries, olive oil isn’t just used in food, but also bath and body products, fuel, rituals, and medicines.

As a northeastern Canadian, I grew up with butter… which I still love. Adore, in fact. But something happened nine years ago: I married a man with a butter phobia. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t know how it happened that a butter fanatic married the king of I-can’t-even-smell better-or-it-makes-me-sick. But it did.

Are you crying for me? You really should be.

Since I happen to love my husband, and love sometimes involves sacrifice, I’ve learned to minimize butter and maximize other fats. I frequently use lard in baking, and coconut, sesame, and safflower oils for sauteeing. I’ve used walnut and grapeseed oils for various recipes. But what I use most is olive oil. It’s versatile, it’s healthy, it’s incredible. Especially if you get the good stuff.

Olive oils range in taste, and I’ve had them from all over — Greece, Spain, Italy, California. Ideally, I go first for cold-pressed, unrefined, extra virgin, unfiltered, organic olive oil. (Say that ten times fast.) I can’t always get all that in a bottle, but I usually keep a few different olive oils on hand for different things. I prefer cooking or baking with the unrefined, unfiltered kind, since it has a slightly higher smoke point, and I save the very best stuff for salads, fish, and dipping.

It’s important not to heat olive oil beyond about 250 degrees; it should only be used at low-medium temperatures. Otherwise, the nutrients burn out and the oil becomes toxic. For maximum benefit, use it primarily for drizzling on foods after they’re cooked.

As I dream of a million ways to eat the delectable fruity oil of the olive tree, here are a few links to get your weekend started…

  • I think I want to ride down California’s Pacific Coast Highway in one of these.
  • We are so going to this when our kids are home and ready.
  • How to care for your introvert.
  • Speaking of taking care of my introvert, I’d like to kidnap B and do this.
  • Why Americans can’t afford to eat healthy.
  • I made this recently, and it’s fantastic with fish or chicken.

See you back here on Monday!

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by Margaret Cabaniss

Image via Pinterest

Well, it may not be hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I am heading off on a little adventure this weekend: I’ll be road-tripping with my sister from Washington, D.C. — her home for the last five years — to her future home in South Bend, Indiana… where she’ll be getting married a week from Sunday!

I love a good road trip, and Jen and I have taken plenty of them together over the years. It isn’t always the Slowest way to travel, but some of my most favorite vacation memories include long drives with family and good friends. Almost as important as the company on a road trip is the music, and it’s something I take seriously; so while the bride-to-be has a million and one wedding details on her mind, I’ve mostly been preoccupied with the playlist for our eight-hour trek.

So what makes for good road-tripping music? For me, it’s anything you can crank with the windows down while driving along twisty back roads. In the summer, my preferences run heavily to the alt-country/folk-rock end of the spectrum; it makes me think of barbecues, outdoor concerts, drinking beer on warm summer nights — all hallmarks of a good summer vacation.

The selections below are a few old and new favorites of mine that fit the criteria. They’re all (relatively) small indie bands that came up through sheer force of talent, so you can feel good about supporting their variety of locally grown, hormone-free music.

Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues

At the ripe old age of 25, Fleet Foxes front man Robin Pecknold can sing about mid-life (or, in his case, quarter-life) crises with the best of them. This track makes me want to quit my desk job and go work on a farm.

Bonus track: Mykonos. A great video about a great Slow vacation destination. Win win.

The Civil Wars — Barton Hollow

This Nashville duo got their big break when one of their songs was featured on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, of all things; they were recently featured on an NPR “Tiny Desk Concert,” so I expect we’ll be hearing more from them in the future.

Bonus track: The best cover of Billie Jean you will ever hear, full stop. Seriously, how cute is Joy Williams?

The Avett Brothers — Once and Future Carpenter

North Carolina boys Scott and Seth Avett (and friends) have been blowing up lately; I’m still kicking myself for missing their show in Baltimore last fall. They tend to be “energetic” performers, to put it mildly; their latest track is downright sleepy in comparison… but it picks up as it goes along.

Bonus track: Head Full of Doubt/Heart Full of Promise. Extra points for an artistic video about land-use concerns, which should be right up Zoe’s alley.

M. Ward — Rave On

A great cover of a Buddy Holly song, by a man who is an absolute beast on the guitar. Definitely one to catch in concert, if you ever get the chance. You could make an excellent road trip soundtrack from his albums alone.

Bonus track: Chinese Translation

I’m running out of room here, but a few more honorable mentions:

Your turn: What goes on your road trip playlist? What music are you listening to this summer?

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Slow Travel

July 28, 2011

bicycling

Image via Pinterest

About seven years ago I took a train from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. I slept in a tiny bunk room in a sleeping car, and meals were in the dining car — white linens on the table, cutlery, waiters. I sat with someone new at almost every meal… a young tattooed musician, a business man in a great suit, an elderly woman with the longest nails and the best stories. I discovered an entire sub-culture of people who love — and prefer — traveling by train.

Rail is definitely a Slow way to travel. For regional trips, it often takes just as long — or longer — to fly somewhere these days because of all the airport hassles and regulations. While circumstances and distances usually dictate the best way to get somewhere, it’s always worth thinking about how you can make your journey a little Slower.

The quintessential Slow way to get around is, of course, by bicycle. Doesn’t quite work for taking trips across the country or o’er the pond, of course, but certainly good for close-to-home treks. You get to connect more with the sites and sounds around you; not to mention it’s “green,” inexpensive, and good exercise to boot. American cities are becoming more bike friendly, and in places like Amsterdam or Toronto, bicycles are a way of life — even for families.

When it comes to travel and vacations, rather than simply rushing to a destination, people are thinking more about the journey itself and how to make traveling a richer experience. Instead of bopping around from one spot to another, hitting every tourist attraction, they’re choosing to spend more time in fewer places to experience local life and culture.

Two of my sisters spent ten days in Paris this past spring. It was Erica’s first time, but Clara had been to Paris once before during a European trip that took her through a few countries. She loved that visit, but said it was even better to go to Paris and be there for a longer period of time. She and Erica stayed in a small apartment, sat in neighborhood cafes, lived like locals, and really experienced the city.

Paying more attention to how you get somewhere, and spending more time in one place doing fewer things when you arrive, are the two major components of Slow travel. It tends to provide a more restful, memorable experience.

What’s the “Slowest” trip you’ve ever taken? (And… do you have a bicycle?)

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Fixed Branch Mobile

July 27, 2011

In the design world, there’s always a lot of talk about “bringing the outdoors in,” and for good reason. We like to feel connected to our environment, and we like to feel a cohesion between our indoor and outdoor worlds. Fresh flowers and potted plants instantly — and literally — add life to a room. They are at the tippity top of my “necessary luxury” list, and on more than one occasion I’ve been known to forgo the steak at the grocery store in order to get my potted orchid. Silly and impractical? Maybe… but the orchid is still blooming a month later, while the steak would have been digested and forgotten long ago.

But for you crafty (and not-so-crafty) people who want to add a natural element that requires absolutely no maintenance, this project is for you. Originally, I came up with the idea for my daughters’ school auction, which had a Washington Cherry Blossoms theme; but after making approximately 2 million blossoms, the thought occurred to me that the branches could easily spruce up a child’s room, too — sort of a natural, ever-so-slightly more grown-up version of an infant’s mobile.

My girls have a great bedroom with a large Kwanzan cherry tree outside. With the beautiful branches tapping against their window, the sunny room feels almost like a tree house. So, when I thought about what I wanted to do with their room, the branches were a natural choice. I wanted the space to feel connected to the outdoor environment — but I also wanted it to have the whimsical vibe of a little girls’ room. A year and a half later, the little blooms in their room still look fresh, so no complaints here.

This easy project is also suited to small hands, so round up your children, gather some branches, grab some tissue paper, and get started.

Supplies:

  • Branches (you decided on the size, but I wanted mine to be at least 3 feet long to make more of a statement)
  • Tissue paper (a few sheets goes a long way; we used around 50 for a huge room full of blossoms)
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape (floral wire or glue can also be used, but tape is probably the least labor intensive)
  • Fishing line (optional, depending on how you’d like to display the branches. We suspended ours from the ceiling with a ceiling hook, so it has more of a fixed look.)

Process:

  • Cut the tissue paper into squares (mine were about 3 inches on each side), and overlap them in a Star of David type shape:

  • Pinch them in the middle to form a light crease, then pinch in the other direction:

  • Twist the pinched parts to form a “stem”:

  • Attach a small piece of tape to the edge of the stem. (You can also use floral wire, though I got poked one too many times and wanted something easier. Once all the blossoms are attached, you can’t even tell it’s tape.)

  • Wrap the tape around an offshoot of the branch to secure the blossom, and repeat… and repeat… and repeat!

  • Attach to the ceiling. In my daughters’ room, I simply screwed in a ceiling hook and rested the branch in the nook:

I love reading books in bed with my girls and looking up at the branches and the shadows that they make!

Images: Leah Moss

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The Landing Pad

July 26, 2011

by Ann Waterman

Early in our marriage when my husband and I were getting acquainted with each other’s living habits, I noticed he always placed his keys, wallet, and other junk paraphernalia in the same spot on the bookshelf in a cardboard box by the door. Feeling the need to pretty things up, I replaced the box with a much more décor-friendly basket. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but one day, when I was turning the house upside down searching for my keys, he pointed out that I was always losing them because I didn’t have a permanent home for them — like he did. Then it clicked: He was right. I needed a landing pad — a  dedicated space to unload and put away things I would need when I left the house next: keys, purse, coats, shoes, and umbrellas.

Since my a-ha moment, I’ve created a landing pad in every place we’ve lived. It changes a bit based on every home’s layout, but each accomplishes the same thing — making arrivals and departures quick and easy. Our current set-up — which just may be the best landing pad I’ve created yet — may give you some ideas to consider for organizing your own foyer.

My keys are the first thing I have in hand when I walk through the door, and they’re the first thing I put away, otherwise there’s no telling where they’ll end up. I installed a set of hooks to hang them, in addition to my purse, my son’s school bag, hats — anything I’ll need when I run out the door. The hooks keep things in view and off the floor, neat and tidy.

Above the hooks, I hung a chalkboard and mail holder for incoming and outgoing mail. It’s great for leaving messages and reminders to myself, and since it’s magnetic, I can also affix paper notes. It’s proven to be a very handy.

Our current home has a large foyer but little storage space, particularly for shoes. We spent the first few weeks in our home tripping over shoes that were strewn across the floor.  The solution came in the form of one of my favorite pieces of furniture in the house — a shoe cabinet. I love it. It fits 12 pairs of shoes, so each family member can store a couple pairs of shoes each — with Mom being allotted a few extra pairs, naturally. It also has a regular drawer where my husband likes to keep his catch-all basket that stores his wallet, keys, and other things. Added bonus: My five-year-old thinks it’s pretty neat, too, and loves putting his shoes away.

Beside it, we keep our umbrellas in a repurposed canon shell. Yep, you read right—a 5-inch canon shell. We’ve dragged this piece of heavy artillery around for the entire duration of our marriage (my husband hails from sea-faring military folk), and I finally decided to embrace it and incorporate it into our decor. My husband loves me more for this.

It’s always nice to have a mirror in the foyer to give yourself the once-over before facing the world. It’s usually the place where I put on some lipstick or catch baby spit-up stains that have gone unnoticed.

We do have a tiny closet, which houses our coats. To maximize the shelf space above the hanging bar, I found some nice decorative boxes to store things like hats, scarves, and gloves.

When we move, or when our family expands, I’ll need to rethink how we organize our foyer space; but for now, our landing pad suits our needs and keeps things perfectly organized for our arrival and departures.

Do you have a landing pad? What are your favorite tips for organizing your entrance area?

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The Time Machine

July 25, 2011

As promised, here’s a wonderful documentary short that’s worth 12 minutes of your time. It’s called The Time Machine and it was filmed at Grand Central Station in New York City by Mark D. Chou. Thanks to my friend, Peter, who thought it was perfect for SlowMama readers and sent it to me.

If you’re too busy to watch it, then you really need to!

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canvas print

Image found here

I hope you had a happy weekend! It was sweltering here in Maryland; in keeping with our (mostly) northern European constitutions, B and I stop functioning once the temperatures break 100 degrees with high humidity. I blow up like a puffer fish and get red in the face. Very attractive. B looses all energy, as well as about 50 pounds of water in perspiration. Which means I can barely locate him, because he’s not exactly a fatty to begin with.

I can definitely understand why Southerners are known for a Slower lifestyle… the heat prevents you from moving quickly. All you can do is sit back with a tall, cold glass of lemonade and fan yourself with a Garden & Gun magazine while wearing a comfortable cotton slip with your hair pulled off your neck. You need a screened-in porch to pull this off right, though. Since all we have is a mosquito-infested courtyard, this is not how we made it through the weekend, but I did manage to serve Ann’s famous basil lemonade.

Anyway, we have a winner of the customized canvas print giveaway, courtesy of EasyCanvasPrints! Can I get a drumroll, please?

The lucky winner (randomly drawn this morning) is……

Jen!

(This is the Jen that shared the memory of falling head-over-heels for her fiance and is now getting married in two weeks!)

Double congratulations, Jen! Please contact me before Thursday to find out how to claim your prize.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading all your happy memories. So many of them involve weddings and children and amazing travel experiences. Don’t forget that if you “liked” EasyCanvasPrints on Facebook, you can still get 50 percent off your first order. So if you’ve got some memories you want preserved in canvas, go take advantage of the deal. And a big thanks to the folks at EasyCanvasPrints for offering this giveaway to SlowMama readers!

This afternoon I have a short film to share with you, so come back a bit later to check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

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galette

I love to make galettes, especially in the summer. All those seasonal fruits and berries call to me, and on busy days I can throw together a galette and feel like I’ve prepared a real dessert. Serving them also makes my husband love me more, because he’s a huge pie fan and a galette is like a pie on vacation: laid back, casual, relaxed.

Galettes, in case you didn’t know, are basically free-form fruit tarts. But the word can be used for any type of flat, round, or freeform crusty cake. They usually consist of a thin layer of fruit baked on top of a flaky crust with its edges folded over. You’ll find them in bistros and cafés all over France, and they’re so simple — which is one of the reasons they’re great.

Last week I had some fabulous fresh peaches and cherries that were starting to lose their mojo. So I threw them together with a sprinkling of raw sugar  and made a small batch of my go-to pie pastry dough. Next time, I’ll take measurements for you, because I never do… I use an old Nova Scotia recipe and it turns out fabulously every time, but I do it by sight and feel so I can’t share it with you. I know — cruel.

Anyway, use your own favorite pastry recipe, roll it out, stick the fruit in the center, fold the sides of the pastry dough over it, and slide it into a 350 degree oven until it browns. I like mine with a dollop of homemade ice cream or whipped cream, but B likes it plain.

I think it’s time to make another one this weekend, so we’ll see what kind of fruit is calling my name at the farmers’ market. In the meantime, here are some links I want to share with you…

  • How to crack a coconut.
  • Just heard that this natural, non-toxic mineral sunscreen doesn’t leave a white film.
  • Then again, here’s how the rise in a bacon-loving middle-class China is destroying the Amazon. Boo.
  • And speaking of galettes, here‘s a savory one from SmittenKitchen using another abundant seasonal vegetable, zucchini.

Don’t forget to enter this week’s giveaway… the winner will be drawn on Monday morning.  See you then!

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Summer Adventures

July 21, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

Something about this time of year always gives me a serious case of wanderlust. I suppose we never quite shake our childhood memories of long, idle summer vacations, where each day we could head off on a new adventure of our own making, or hit the road with family to destinations far and wide.

These days, vacations don’t come quite so easily. Jobs, kids, money… life in general intervenes (I’m sure Zoe could say a thing or two about that), and summer adventures are fewer and farther between. Most of us content ourselves with the consolation that, some day, we’ll take that dream trip…

That is, of course, unless you’re Dougie*.

I met Dougie last month (he’s my brother-in-law’s cousin) when he was stopping off at the halfway point of his hike along the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hiking the AT is no joke: Stretching 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine, it takes a solid six months to complete the trip — not something to be undertaken lightly. Hikers face extreme weather, steep climbs, sore feet, bad food… many who start with plans to go the distance end up dropping out inside of a week.

It can be a punishing hike — and I’ve never seen anyone happier than Dougie to be doing it.

Dougie quit his job to take this trip of a lifetime, moving all his belongings to his parents’ house before hitting the trail in March. To hear him tell it, it’s the best decision he ever made — and the ear-to-ear grin he wore our entire visit seemed to confirm it. As he regaled us with stories from the trail, I think we were all a little envious: He had no obligations, taking each day at his own pace; nothing to do but enjoy the trail and the adventures it offered. All his earthly belongings fit in a small pack on his back — which made me think, sheepishly, of all the random junk I currently had in my purse alone…

I know, not all of us have the luxury to up and quit our jobs to pursue something like this — but it was exciting to see someone pursuing it, to be reminded that it can be done. Dougie inspired me to take those daydreams a little more seriously; he definitely inspired a couple of future hikers, too:

What about you? What summer adventures would you like to set off on?

* Names changed to protect the innocent, and those still on the trail who can’t object. But he looks like a Dougie, doesn’t he?

Image 1: National Geographic, 2-4: Margaret Cabaniss

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canvas prints

I’ve noticed more and more people decorating their homes and offices with canvas prints lately. They’re a great way to preserve and display beautiful images; in fact, my photographer friend Renata Grzan uses them a lot in her work and told me that many clients now order prints on canvas — especially favorite shots of weddings, children, and travels.

So when a representative from a new online business called Easy Canvas Prints contacted me recently to ask if I’d be interested in a giveaway for my readers, I said yes. The company uses latex-based non-toxic inks and tries to keep their process as green as possible. Their site is also simple to navigate… which I like, because I’m easily confused.

The winner of this giveaway will receive a customized 8″x10″ canvas print, made from your own photograph — or you can choose any image you like at Easy Canvas Print’s website. Some examples of their art prints can be seen here.

To enter, please leave a comment below telling me one of your favorite memories… you know, the kind that makes your day whenever you think about it.

Also, if you “like” Easy Canvas Prints on Facebook, you can come back here and leave a second comment (for another chance to win) — and by “liking” them, you’ll receive a 50 percent discount on any order you place, which is a great deal.

The winner will be drawn randomly on Monday morning, so be sure to enter before the weekend’s over.

(Sorry, but this giveaway is only open to U.S. residents, excluding Hawaii and Alaska, due to shipping costs. If you live outside the continental U.S. and want to enter as a gift for someone who does, feel free to do that.)

Good luck, and can’t wait to read your favorite memories!

(Image of canvas prints found here.)

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