September 2011

Zucchini Fries

I can’t keep delicious things to myself, so I have to tell you about two tasty food items from this week…

Remember when I wrote about using extra zucchini to make muffins? Well, I’ve got another idea — and believe me, you’ll want to write me into your will for this one: zucchini fries.

I’ve been craving them ever since I saw this recipe. I had to try them. There was half of a giant zucchini left in my fridge, so I knew what I had to make for lunch yesterday. While they were baking in the oven, I minced up a clove of garlic, added it to some mayo, and mixed in a little berbere spice for a dipping sauce. (I would have used chile powder but didn’t have any. Curry powder would be great, too.)

I pretty much followed the entire recipe verbatim but cut it in half, which easily makes enough for two. (I’m selfish and ate them all by myself.)

homemade zucchini fries

Seriously, you want to do this with zucchini.

The second thing I want to share is Heidi Swanson’s Magic Sauce:

Magic Sauce

A lot of Heidi’s recipes catch my attention, and this was no exception. I’m not sure why it’s called Magic Sauce. I suspect because it makes everything better but is hard to define. Basically, it’s an unstrained flavored olive oil that functions more like a sauce. It’s a simple way to add flavor to things like scrambled eggs and sauteed veggies, or to spread on a baguette or use for dipping. I did it all. Since you only need to use a bit at a time, it’s best to keep it in a jar in the fridge to use as you feel inspired.

Jar of magic sauce

It’s the last Friday in September. (Sniff, sniff.) Here are some interesting items I wanted to share with you as you head into your weekend:

  • This chalk paint by Annie Sloan looks really neat.
  • Got some emotional baggage you want to check?
  • One company’s innovative idea for helping sub-Saharan Africa.

See you back here on Monday!

Images 2 & 4: Zoe Saint-Paul, 1: A Cozy Kitchen, 3: 101 Cookbooks

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Warming Up to Fall

September 29, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

Well, after passing through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression about the end of summer, I think I’ve finally made my way around to the final stage of grief: acceptance. Slow living is all about being present in the moment, after all, so now that the calendar has rolled over to autumn, I’ve decided to throw myself into embracing fall and all its trappings. Bring on the cozy sweaters, the pumpkin carving, and the piping-hot drinks!

…of course, the temperature around here is still a balmy mid-70s, which doesn’t require cozy sweaters, and pumpkin carving might be a little premature, too. But I can definitely start in on those drinks.

I love all the flavors of fall — apples, cinnamon, pumpkin, etc. — but the “seasonal drinks” the coffee shops concoct this time of year get a little out of hand. I’ll pass on the pumpkin spice caramel mocha, thanks, and go for something a little more classic.

A good chai latte is one of my favorites for fall — spicy, sweet, and creamy — but finding one that doesn’t skimp on the spice and choke you with the sweet isn’t easy. (Chai, if you’re not familiar, is our Americanized version of masala chai — Indian black tea steeped with herbs and spices. The latte comes in just adding a bit of warm milk.) So, just as I like keeping some iced coffee concentrate on hand in the summer, I’ll do the same with some chai concentrate for the fall.

The steps involved in making the stuff are no more complicated than brewing a regular cup of tea — with just a few extra ingredients thrown in. And while some of the spices might not be hanging out in your cabinet already, you can buy them cheaply in bulk and have chai lattes all season long, for less than a cup of the prepackaged stuff at Starbucks.

If you still miss the extra bit of foam they add on top of your drink at the coffee shop, though, never fear: You can make that at home, too. Just grab a small mason jar (yes! More fun with mason jars!), fill it no more than halfway full with milk, pop on the lid, and shake the dickens out of it for 30 seconds. Put it in the microwave (sans lid) for another 30 seconds, and you’ll have pillows of frothy foam ready to add along with your warm milk.

And because I was getting into the fall-time spirit, I couldn’t resist whipping up a batch of pumpkin muffins to serve along with our afternoon tea. I didn’t hear this kid complaining:

Hello there, fall. It’s so nice to see you again.

*  *  *

Chai Concentrate
Adapted from the Tasty Kitchen

  • 4 ½ cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 one-inch piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 7 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 10 teaspoons black tea, or 10 black tea bags
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan; remove from heat and add the spices and tea. Give it a stir and let steep for 15-20 minutes (depending on how strong you like your tea). Strain the tea through a coffee filter or fine mesh strainer and add the brown sugar, honey, and vanilla. Stir to combine.

Serve in a one-to-one ratio with warm milk — or however you like your tea. Store the rest in the fridge for later; there should be enough for around 8 cups.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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Slow in Venice

September 29, 2011

Venice cityscape I’ve been to Italy, but not to Venice…and I really want to go. This Venetian cityscape captured me; it’s like a painting, and makes me feel the peace of an old city on a brilliant night. Perhaps when you need a slow moment today, looking at this image will help you breathe a little easier and remember the lovely places you’ve been — or where you want to go.

Image: andrew@cubagallery

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Last week when we talked about devoting a space to artistic creativity in the home, I avoided forgot to broach the topic of what to do with the finished products that result from having such a space. Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls and I love their artwork, but open access to art supplies all day long translates to mountains of art. Literally. I mean, I seriously just had to dig my keyboard out from under an unwieldy tower of love notes.

Sweet as the sentiments behind them are, these beautiful little (and not-so-little) expressions of love and creativity bring their fair share of dilemmas. First, there’s the issue of stewardship. I’ve started to wonder about the scads of paper we go through in the name of creativity…but that’s a topic for another post. Today, I want to focus on what we keep and how we keep it.

While I’m a ruthless purger in some areas of my home (plastic toys and knickknacks don’t stand a chance), I’m a total packrat when it comes to artwork. I feel guilty about tossing things my girls spent effort creating. However, in my constant fight against hoarder status, I’ve been seeking out the best ways to enjoy art and not have it take over my life. After interviewing some friends, visiting a few creative homes, and scouring the interwebs, I have a few favorite ideas to share:

  • Create a file of favorite pieces. A good friend of mine allows each child one regular school folder per year.
  • Turn art into wrapping paper and greeting cards/stationery.
  • Take pictures of your children with favorite pieces of art before sending it to the recycling bin. I like the organizational appeal of this tip, but I don’t think it would work for me personally, since I love the tactile aspect of children artwork.
  • Create a rotating gallery. Anything that fits in the gallery can stay, but new pieces can only be added if others are taken down. This is my favorite method. We’ve used it in various forms over the last few years to great effect. However, due to lack of wallspace, I’m currently rethinking how I’m going to work my display.

If you decide to employ the idea of a rotating gallery, there are approximately 1.2 zillion ways to do so. My favorites…

Clothespins. Create a little display station, like my fabulous friend Meredith did with chicken wire over dry-erase board paint (above). The area functions as a family message station, and favorite artwork of the week is displayed with clothes pins clipped to the chicken wire above the weekly schedule. Or you can pin up a laundry-line style display using string and clothespins, like Meredith did in her office:

Clipboards. Nail boards to the wall and then use the heavy duty clips to keep artwork looking tidy, like Kate from Little Green Designs:

Temporary “frames.” There are so many cool ways to use the idea of a temporary frame, and all of them keep kids’ artwork looking tidy. Por ejemplo, my sister tacked a few ready-made mats to the wall and slips favorite pieces of art in at the top:

And Real Simple came up with the genius idea of creating frames out of painter’s tape, which comes in a variety of colors and won’t leave residue on the wall like other types of tape:

Okay, now it’s your turn! How do you decide what creations to keep, and how do you store and display them?

Images 1, 2, 4: Leah Moss, 3: Little Green Designs, 5: Real Simple

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Earlier this week I almost tripped over Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the grocery store. (If you don’t recognize her name, she was Elaine on Seinfeld and starred in the show The New Adventures of Old Christine).

I knew immediately that it was her — or, if it wasn’t, she had an identical twin in Baltimore who didn’t know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. And really, does anyone know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? The guy working in the produce department certainly didn’t. (I’ve since learned all about it here!)

When I got home, I went straight to my computer and typed Louis-Dreyfus’s name into Google, and it turns out she’s in Baltimore filming a new HBO show called VEEP. For someone who doesn’t watch TV, I sure seem to know my celebrities.

Actually, if you are a celebrity, Baltimore is a great place to visit, because no one expects anyone important to show up here, so they just assume you’re a look-alike — if you register at all. One of the Bush twins used to live in our neighborhood, and I’d see her in the grocery store with her husband. No one ever seemed to recognize them, which for her sake was probably a good thing.

The Palm Restaurant

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I used to run into celebrities pretty frequently. Sometimes they were Hollywood types, but more often they were media personalties, pundits, and politicians. Whenever I went to the Palm for lunch, there were power people chowing down. One day I saw Larry King having lunch with Robert Redford. (Or was it Redford? I don’t remember now. I guess if I were really impressed by such things, they might stick in my brain a bit longer.)

The late Tim Russert used to live on our street, and Dustin Hoffman’s sister lived four houses down. A Cuban spy lived in my apartment building — actually three doors down. Remind me to tell you that story some day.

At my bank, I used to run into ABC’s George Stephanopoulis every now and then. One time we almost had one of those awkward hugs. I stepped to the right to pass him, and he stepped to his left…and then we both went in the opposite directions again…and so on and so forth until it became ridiculous and we almost hugged. I always thought he looked at me a little strangely, which I ignored, until one day my friend Lisa (who knew nothing about my George encounters) called and said: “I’m watching Oprah and there’s a woman on here who reminds me a little bit of you — if you were just 10 years older and acted on national TV like you do in my living room.” (Meaning, a total goofball.)

That woman was George’s wife, and having now seen her in the media a few times, I can’t say that we’re much alike. However, at the time, it did explain why George may have been looking at me a bit oddly… Then again, maybe it was my outfits.

Since moving to Baltimore, I kind of miss those awkward almost-hugs, pundits spinning their tales over lunch, and spies just down the hall. But now I have Elaine/Christine having adventures in my grocery store, so I guess that counts for something.

Images: here and here

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by Ann Waterman

Life is about trade-offs. When we moved into our townhouse, I was thrilled with the newly renovated, spacious kitchen. I wasn’t thrilled with the lack of cupboard space. Thankfully, what the kitchen lacked in cupboard space, it made up for in wall space — a vast expanse of pure storage potential just waiting to be tapped.

It’s easy to forget that vertical space can provide a lot of valuable storage — something my husband (master squirreler and storer of stuff) first brought to my attention when he tried to convince me that we really did have room for the Jagermeister tap machine, if we only organized more efficiently. It’s just a matter of finding smart ways to maximize the potential.

Initially, I thought a pegboard à la Julia Child might work nicely on our large, bare kitchen wall, but being 8 months pregnant and not particularly talented in the DIY department, I wasn’t up for making one (although there are some great tutorials out there on how to do it). I really loved these pre-made pegboards and all the pretty colors they came in, but it would have been a bit spendy for the area I needed to cover.

Instead, I turned to one of my favorite places for inexpensive storage solutions, Ikea, where I fell in love with their Grundtal storage system. It uses bars and hooks to hang kitchen paraphernalia and even spice racks. This was the perfect solution for us — so while I directed installation, my husband drilled.

Since I planned to hang some pretty heavy items —  like my trusty 12-inch cast-iron pan — my husband used 50 lb butterfly screws to secure the bars to the wall. Now everything is in plain view and easy to access, I’m an open-storage convert. Of all the rooms in the house, the kitchen is the place where function is most critical and I’m willing to adopt a more utilitarian style — and have even come to like it.

There was still plenty of wall space left, so in those areas we erected wire shelving units. Again, open storage really shines here: Accessing heavy kitchen equipment is so easy, and they provide great storage for large serving pieces. Beneath one of the shelving units, I have  two plastic bins that contain my baking supplies.

Pot lids have always posed a problem for me.  While their pot counterparts play nice and nest, lids tend to hide away in the recesses of the cupboard and launch themselves at you when you go in to retrieve them. My solution? A pot lid rack that attaches to the wall (or, if you prefer, the inside of a cabinet door). Why didn’t I find this solution earlier? It’s made organizing my lids such a breeze.

My final favorite use of wall space is a magnetic knife strip for storing knives. My knife block took up a lot of counter space, but this sleek, unobtrusive magnetic strip is a real winner. My knives are always at my fingertips, and getting them off the counter has freed up a lot of room.

Do you have any great kitchen storage tips to share?

Images: Ann Waterman

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Mtn Rose Herbs

I’m pleased to announce the winner of the Mountain Rose Herbs spice kit. Can I get a drum roll, please?

Emily Diaz

Congratulations, Emily! Please contact me to claim your prize.

A big thank you to the good people at Mountain Rose Herbs. I probably don’t need to say it again, but I love their company and wholeheartedly endorse their products.

Thanks to all who entered the giveaway. Clearly, SlowMama readers are spice lovers! I loved reading your favorite ethnic foods — Mexican, Thai, Indian, and Chinese all ranked very high, with Japanese (sushi) not far behind. (Our winner, Emily, loves the Vietnamese soup, Pho.) I concur, and would add Ethiopian and Malaysian to the list. I love Ethiopian not just for it’s warm spicy stews and spongy injera bread, but the fact that you get to eat it all with your hands…that’s right up my alley.

If you’re wondering what Malaysian food is like, the best way to describe it is a mixture of Indian, Malay, and peasant Chinese. It’s probably this fusion that makes it so darn good. Authentic Malaysian restaurants are hard to find, but if you’re ever in Washington, D.C., there’s a great place called Malaysia Kopitiam on M and 19th Streets NW where you’ll find diplomats, journalists, world travelers, and food lovers hovered over amazing dishes at all hours of the day. It’s my husband’s all-time favorite cuisine. In fact, the day after our wedding, we took a group of family and friends there for dinner before leaving for our honeymoon.

Come on back this afternoon… Ann will be sharing some ideas about what to do when you’re challenged with a lack of storage space in your kitchen. I, for one, need to read it — this row house is definitely spatially challenged.

Image found here

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Weekend Baby Shower

September 26, 2011

baby shower cupcakes

How was your weekend? Mine was lovely, but I have a big “L” on my forehead.

Saturday I co-hosted a baby shower for one of my dearest friends…and arrived without my camera. I had the strong sense I was forgetting something while rushing out the door but couldn’t figure out what it was. I was completely bummed. Not only did I want photos to remember such a special event; I wanted to show you my cupcakes. Thankfully, SlowMama contributor Mags was at the same shower with her trusty iPhone and managed a couple of shots for me.

These are my first cupcakes ever, which is odd considering how much I like to bake. I always love the idea of cupcakes, but somehow never choose to make them. Maybe because I’m not throwing birthday parties for children yet? Anyway, a baby shower luncheon seemed like just the right occasion to test my cupcake-baking chops. (I have a terrible habit of making things I’ve never made before when I have an important event where many people will be eating my food. Why is that?)

Since Lisa (the mama-in-waiting) and her husband are decorating the nursery in a jungle/safari theme, I decided to carry the concept into the shower. I made Ina Garten’s coconut cupcakes recipe, figuring I couldn’t go wrong. But given that I find most frostings too sweet, I made up my own, using Garten’s recipe as a guidepost. I added 8 oz of marscapone to the cream cheese, cut way back on the sugar, and added some heavy cream. A little unsweetened shredded coconut was thrown in at the end. I was really happy with the result, as were many of the shower guests. Success!

I found the darling cupcake toppers at an etsy shop called Adore By Nat. After the shower, I collected the ones that weren’t dirty (or thrown away) and will turn them into a simple cake bunting as a gift to Lisa. Hopefully she’s too busy decorating her baby’s nursery to read this post.

I also found some fun balloons online that helped highlight the theme.

safari balloons

It was the quintessential girls-only baby shower — we ate, we chit-chatted, we played a few games, we opened gifts. Well, Lisa opened gifts — and lots of them. She’s almost all ready for baby boy to show his sweet face. It will be an exciting day!

Been to any fun showers lately? And are you a fan of cupcakes?

P.S. If you haven’t entered the giveaway for the Mountain Rose Herbs’ spice kit, be sure to do so today! I’ll be announcing the winner tomorrow morning.

Images: M.C. Cabaniss 

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Made by Hand / No 1 The Distiller from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

This is a lovely short film — the first in a series called Made by Hand, which celebrates “the people who makes things by hand — sustainably, locally, and with a love for their craft.” The series was started by Keef, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker who was inspired by the handmade movement happening all around him.

This first film, The Distiller, looks at Brooklyn’s first gin distiller since Prohibition — the Breuckelen Distilling Company. The second film will focus on a writer-turned-knife-maker.

Among other things, today I’m preparing for a close friend’s shower. There are cupcakes to bake and decisions to make about shower games. I hope to share highlights if I can multi-task enough to both co-host the shower and take photos tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve got some items I want to share with you as the weekend arrives:

  • Have you entered yesterday’s giveaway from Mountain Rose Herbs?
  • I’m digging these linen napkins, hand-sewn and block-printed.
  • One of my obsessions — Pinterest — is undergoing a face-lift.

Have a restful weekend, and see you back here on Monday!

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spice box

I’m really excited about today’s giveaway. But first I want to say welcome, kirtsy readers! I’m so glad you stopped by; please make yourself at home.

Today, Mountain Rose Herbs is generously donating an organic spice sampler kit to one lucky SlowMama reader. The winner will receive:

  • 2oz Bottled Grilling Herbs Blend
  • 2.6oz Bottled Lemon Pepper
  • 2.2oz Bottled Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1.3oz Bottled Mexican Seasoning
  • 2.8oz Bottled West Indies Rub

I’ve been ordering from Mountain Rose Herbs for a few years now, and I’m always so impressed with the quality and freshness of their products — not to mention the prices. I’ll never forget the first time I received their vanilla beans; they were incredibly fragrant and about half the cost of what you pay at a grocery or gourmet store. There’s a reason for this: Mountain Rose Herbs has a full-time quality control department and, unlike other herb suppliers, never sells or stocks products that are more than a few months from harvest.

What I also love about them is their uncompromising commitment to organic agriculture, sustainable practices, and fair trade. They’re a green company with a holistic way of doing business and contributing to the community. They place a high priority on health and well-being, which is why they remove all conventionally grown materials from their products. You really need to check out their (vast) catalogue to see what I mean.

Oh, and if you happen to live near Salem, Oregon, don’t miss their Rootstalk Festival this weekend. I can barely resist this description:

Join us for a unique experience in the majestic old growth forests of Salem, Oregon. Wander the emerald woods by day to learn wilderness skills, plant identification, home herbalism, urban farming, DIY sustainability, and more from the country’s most dynamic teachers and experts. Then as the moon glows, enjoy herbal brew under the towering trees or stomp your feet to strumming banjos, singing fiddles, and ecstatic rhythms drumming into the starry night sky.

Ack! It sounds so cool! If you go, please send a report.

But back to the giveaway…

To enter for a chance to win the spice sampler kit from Mountain Rose Herbs, leave a comment telling me your favorite ethnic food. And, if you “like” SlowMama on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you can leave a second comment here for another chance to win.

Needless to say, you’re definitely going to need to take Mags’ advice and clear out some space in your spice cabinet to house your prize!

I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday, September 27. Good luck!

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