October 2011

All Hallow’s Eve

October 31, 2011

triple chocolate mousse cake

It’s Halloween! Here’s a pumpkin-colored knife cutting into the triple chocolate mousse cake I made for my friend Irene’s birthday Friday night. I can’t give you a piece, but I sure would if I could.

This Cooks Illustrated recipe may be my favorite cake ever — it has no flour and very little sugar, apart from what’s in the chocolate — and there’s a lot of that. I can’t seem to make the edges look perfect when it comes out of the springform fan, but I’m working on it.

I had a few things planned of late that just haven’t happened because of being sick — carving pumpkins, my annual apple-cider donut making day with Mags, taking a drive out to the country with B to see the leaves. Alas, none of it has come to pass.

I’m convinced that a big part of living “slower” is being able to let your best-laid plans go…and being okay with that. Life happens. You get sick, the kids get sick, the husband has an unexpected work assignment crop up, a friend calls in crisis, the roof starts leaking, your freelance work dries up, someone hacks into your bank account and takes all of your money, someone dies, you come down with food poisoning, you get storm-stayed in a cheap motel in Patterson, NJ, you get storm-stayed in a cheap motel in Buffalo, you have a flood in your apartment followed by an outbreak of ants, you have to cancel your trip to the Ecuadorian rainforest because a volcano just erupted.

Everything I’ve mentioned (but the kids getting sick part) has happened to me at one point or another, and I’m sure you can recount similar scenarios. (If not, please keep it to yourself.) When plans are thwarted, you have to go with it, readjust. Doing this gracefully is a skill we can develop — and when we do, life is much less stressful. It reminds me of  the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference… 

So tonight is All Hallow’s Eve, and I usually dress up and hand out treats on our doorstep with a glass of wine in hand. We teach at our church Monday evenings, however, so we’ll be throwing a little All Saints’ Day party with the group. Whatever your plans for the evening, I hope they work out just as you hoped — and if not, that you’ll lean into that whole serenity thing and smile anyway.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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fall colors against the sky Happy Friday! First, I want to announce the winner of The Good Neighbor Cookbook:

Bernadette

Congrats, Bernadette! Please contact me to claim your prize.

I must say I loved reading your fabulous stories of neighborliness…they warm the heart and are a good reminder of how gestures of thoughtfulness make such a difference.

In other news, I’ve now been unwell for a week. Yuck. I don’t get sick very often, but when I get one of these sinus things, it seems to go on and on. It always takes the wind completely out of my sails. I’m going to be a trooper, though, and make one of my favorite cakes for a friend’s birthday dinner tonight. I’m also making a big pot of homemade chili — we’re going casual and doing hearty soups, salads, and wine. It’s a good plan when you don’t know exactly how many people will show up and you want to keep it simple.

Here are a few interesting items I wanted to share with you as the weekend arrives:

  • Where fashion and literature meet: A beautifully designed exhibit now showing in Barcelona.
  • Everything has a good side — even rats!
  • How to bring high tech and craft together.

Have a slow weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image found here

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Homemade Halloween

October 27, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

Can I just say, I think I make a pretty adorable devil. Yes, that’s me up there, between my sisters the Rubik’s Cube and the Holly Hobbie doll. My younger sister sent me this shot the other day, along with a few others from Halloweens past, and we had a grand time reminiscing about our favorite costumes when we were kids.

Even though I haven’t been Trick-or-Treating in eons, I still love a good Halloween costume. But as far as the store-bought variety go these days, “good” very rarely enters into it (if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, anyway). For kids, the options don’t extend much past cheap, plasticky approximations of the latest cartoon or movie characters; for women, our choices seem to be “sexy health-care provider,” “sexy blue-collar laborer,” or “sexy sex worker.” Yay Halloween!

Crass commercialism (and gross sexism) aside, it’s the total lack of imagination here that really gets me. Little kids will wrap themselves in any old bed sheet and tell you they’re a knight, or a princess, or an evil wizard; part of the fun is in taking everyday items and turning them into something extraordinary — creating an entire alter ego from some cardboard, paint, and a few safety pins (like Miss Rubik’s Cube up there).

That doesn’t mean my mom hand-sewed us all our costumes every year, or that we never bought the cheap wigs and pointy hats; far from it. But the costumes I remember best from my own childhood — and the ones I was most proud of — also involved raiding the dress-up box, our parents’ closet, and the craft-supplies bin in the process.

Lately I’ve seen a ton of costumes around the web that reflect that same DIY spirit. For anyone looking for a little last-minute inspiration, these are a great place to start.

Gabrielle Blair at Design Mom has helped her kids put together some truly inspired costumes over the years. How awesome is this Mrs. Frankenstein?

(Her son Ralph was also a pretty sweet Rubik’s Cube; Gabrielle’s slightly more professional instructions are here.)

For sheer adorableness, nothing can top Mighty Girl’s little Nemo fish costume. For those not into lots of sewing, she simply hot-glued felt circles onto old sweats. (Her list of materials includes “two hours in front of the TV and a glass of wine,” making this costume a winner for everyone.)

Quick and simple costumes can still have a big impact when done in a group. I love this family of French burglars spotted on Oh Happy Day — particularly because everyone is wearing the same expression.

I would never have guessed that these Mary Poppins and Bert costumes were a last-minute creation, they are that fantastic:

And for anyone who simply wants to get into the Halloween spirit while handing out candy, this is an impressive Wicked Witch of the West costume that only requires a black trench coat, hat, and commitment to face paint.

So let’s hear it: What are your fondest homemade costume memories? What are your kids (or you) going as this year?

Images: 1. Design Mom, 2. Mighty Girl, 3. Oh Happy Day, 4. Keiko Lynn, 5. What I Wore

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A Slow Moment

October 27, 2011

cardinal in winter I know it’s not winter yet, but this photo caught my eye. It made me pause and marvel at the wonder of nature and the glory of color.

If you haven’t already, be sure to enter your comment here for a chance to win The Good Neighbor Cookbook. The winner will be announced tomorrow morning.

I’m still nursing a terrible sinus cold, but Mags has a fun post this afternoon that will help put you in the mood for trick-or-treating — be sure to check it out!

Image found here

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by Leah Moss

I love all things quintessentially fall — the pumpkin picking, the boots, the savory soups, and perhaps best of all, the apple crates.

Apple crates? Yes: Perhaps you didn’t know it, but fall brings not only an abundance of hearty veggies but also hearty storage. It didn’t take long for a scavenger like me to figure out that local farmers markets and orchards’ outposts are much more willing to part with their trusty crates at the end of the season.

I have always admired the simple, rustic appeal of the wooden crates but scoffed at the idea of spending a hundred-plus dollars on the farmhouse crates that many mainstream retailers market today. Thankfully, I decided to ask around at our local haunts, and I was happy to find that, come fall, many orchards will sell there carting crates for a few dollars. I scored ours for 5 bucks a piece.

However, before I put them to good use, I made sure to give them a good cleaning. Most organic orchards won’t use harsh chemicals to treat their crates, but its worth asking. Even the crates that haven’t been treated should be cleaned thoroughly before reusing. I used a solution of white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to scrub mine down. The hydrogen peroxide will bleach the wood somewhat, but I think it’s worth the health trade-off.

Now my crates serve a thousand and one functions. I lined one of the crates with canvas drop cloth and carpet tacks (picture d above), and now it holds our placemats and cloth napkins, which allows my daughters to access them easily when they set the table. We use another next to the hearth to corral kindling and fireplace supplies:

And we use another to stash diapering supplies out of sight in the living room:

Lest my home start to resemble a fruit stand, I stopped myself at three — but were I to acquire a few more, I might employ them as shelves, like the uber-talented photographer/stylist Kjerstis Lykke:

As with any good flexible storage item, the possibilities are endless. You can check out a few more creative re-uses in the post that I wrote for Apartment Therapy a couple of years ago.

Images: 1-3: Leah Moss, 4: Kjerstis Lykke

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NYC from The Palace towers

This is one of the only pictures I snapped on my brief trip to New York City. And there are a few reasons for that…but first I have to tell you how proud I am of this rather poor photo. It was taken from the 45th floor. Which means I was on the 45th floor. Which is an enormous feat for me, because I’ve never been able to get myself above 32 floors — and even that was pushing it.

I arrived in the Big Apple on Sunday morning at the invitation of my friend Emily, who was visiting the city with her teenage son — my godson. I haven’t seen them forever so I jumped at the chance. My brother John and his fiancée met me at Penn Station and we hopped a cab to Midtown, where we had a quick bite close to the hotel.

This is where I should pause and mention the highlights of my trip: the quick visit with John and Noemi, a Broadway show called Warhorse at the Lincoln Center (which I highly recommend), dinner at Candle Cafe (a superb vegan restaurant on the Upper West Side), girl talk until late, room service, shopping at Olive & Bette’s on the Upper East Side, and a fast cab ride back to Penn Station.

The trip was short and sweet, with one big bummer: I was sick. I came down with a terrible sinus cold and felt like crapola the entire time. Does that stink or what?

Anyway, back to the 45th floor. When I entered the lovely New York Palace hotel, I discovered Emily’s suite was in a place called The Towers, and it was 45 floors up. In order to get there, I had to step into a rather small elevator that zooms guests up to their sky-high rooms. Needless to say, I could feel the panic attack coming on as soon as I realized that not only would I have to ride that elevator numerous times, I was going to be spending the night up there.

Since my brother (who doesn’t have weird phobias) and his fiancee (who seems pretty much the same) were with me, I took a deep breath, went into “ignore reality” mode, starting chatting non-stop about nothing, got in that little elevator, said a silent prayer, and arrived on floor 45 intact. I kept telling myself things like, “Well, at least it’s not the 50th floor — now that would be terrible!” and, “Well, you’ve been to 32, and this is just 10 more with a few after that… So doable!”

Mind you, I couldn’t look out the windows, and later that night I played some mental tricks with myself in order to fall asleep. I kept thinking about the earthquake here in Maryland back in August and how they felt it in NYC, and that wasn’t helping me at all. The amazingly comfortable bed and the feeling that my head was in a giant vice-grip did help a bit, though.

Making things rather comical was the fact that, due to my sinus issues, my ears completely plugged up each time I went up the elevator. I could barely hear Emily, or really anything at all up there. Thankfully, I’m a decent lip reader.

Monday morning, before I took the elevator for the last time, I got all brave and snapped a couple shots out the window. The suite looked out over the East Side, and across that river and one neighborhood up is John’s apartment.

NYC east side from The Palace hotel

New York City isn’t exactly “slow,” but there are slow things about the city, and as a visitor it helps to commit to a reasonable pace and try not to do everything — which is hard, because there is so much you can do. I decided right off the bat that it was enough just to visit with my friends and anything else we did would be gravy.

Before I forget, let me say a word about the play we saw — Warhorse. It’s set during World War I and focuses on the relationship of a boy and his horse. Sounds like something for kids, but it’s actually quite a serious play, intense and dramatic. Over eight million horses died during WWI(!), and this play tells the fictional story of one of them.

The way the horses are depicted is amazing — they’re life-sized and powered by humans, like giant puppets but extremely realistic and beautifully constructed. They act like real horses, and we were all amazed at the talent and skill that went into these life-like creatures, and how much presence and personality they have. Although the cast is huge, the star of the show is Joey the horse. You can see some fantastic video clips here. Below is a shot my brother snapped of Emily and me outside the theatre.

Emily & Zoe at Warhorse

Despite my acrophobia and feeling so horrible, I’m very glad I made the trip. Catching up with a dear friend and seeing my godson was the best part. Emily’s invitation and generosity made it possible. Not only that, she unwittingly helped me reach a new milestone — 45 floors!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul (and Johnny G.)

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Pumpkin Eaters

October 25, 2011

by Ann Waterman

My son James came home from school last May with a little pumpkin seedling. Neat! I figured we’d water it a couple times and watch it die a slow death, since pumpkin plants weren’t meant to grow indoors in styrofoam cups. James had other plans: “Mommy, why don’t we plant it in the backyard?” Well, the thought never occurred to me, but why not? It certainly stood a better chance outside than it did indoors, so into the ground it went.

Not only did that pumpkin plant grow, it thrived — and before long, it was practically taking over the backyard. We hand-pollinated the flowers, and soon we had three little pumpkins. Exciting stuff.

The pumpkins continued to grow and changed from green to orange…and this is where my story comes to a tragic end. Due to the abnormally rainy September here on the East coast and a couple of grubs who were in need of a meal (breaking the skins of the pumpkins to feast), two of the three pumpkins became water-logged and moldy. It was a sad, sad day in the Waterman household, but James took it in stride, bravely vowing that we’d try again next year.

We did manage to salvage one of the pumpkins, and while it was too early to use it for a Halloween Jack-o’-lantern, it had lots of potential for other edible things. I’ve always roasted pumpkin seeds, but this time I decided to spice things up a bit roasting them with some garam masala — a flavorful Indian seasoning. You could also use other spices like cumin, chili powder, garlic salt, or cayenne, if you want some heat. These make a great snack and would be a nice addition to a fall gathering or football game.

What you need:

  • 2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tbsp light vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala or other seasoning

Prepare the pumpkin seeds by removing any attached pulp and then washing and drying them. Toss the seeds in a bowl with oil, seasoning, and salt, and spread evenly on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes, mixing occasionally to ensure even cooking. Remove from oven when they are lightly browned. (This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.)

Rather than using canned pumpkin for all of those great fall pumpkin recipes, why not repurpose your Jack-o’-lantern after it’s done its duty welcoming (or scaring) trick-or-treaters at the door? Simply cut your pumpkin into halves or quarters and place in a pan — flesh side down — filled with just enough water to cover the bottom. Bake in a 325-degree oven until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork, about an hour.

Let the pumpkin pieces cool, then remove skin with a knife, cut it into 1- to 2-inch cubes, and puree the flesh in a food processor.

You can use it immediately, store it in an airtight container for a couple of days, or — what I prefer — divide it into several Ziploc freezer bags and freeze it for a taste of fall later in the year. Some pumpkin varieties are better for certain recipes than others, so be sure you’re using the right one for the job.

What are your favorite ways to eat pumpkin?

Images: Ann Waterman

P.S. Don’t forget to enter yesterday’s SlowMama’s giveaway — one lucky winner will receive The Good Neighbor Cookbook!

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good neighbor cookbook

Guess where I am this morning? New York City! I made a quick trip to Manhattan and I’m on my way back today. Can’t wait to share some highlights with you.

I’m starting this week with a giveaway — a cookbook Ann wrote about this summer called The Good Neighbor Cookbook, by Sara Quessenberry and Suzanne Schlosberg. Andrew-McMeel Publishing was kind enough to donate a copy to one of our lucky readers.

I love the whole idea of this cookbook, which has recipes devoted to every possible neighborly need: a new mom, bereavement, a block party, a book club meeting. It contains ideas for healthy, nourishing, easy-to-make snacks, and the authors have excellent suggestions for organizing “meal trains” — meals for new moms over the course of several weeks. You can read more about the book and its authors here.

To enter, please leave a comment below and share one of your favorite memories of neighborliness. If you “like” SlowMama on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you can leave a second comment here for another chance to win. This giveaway is open to readers everywhere.

I’ll announce the winner on Friday morning. Good luck!

Image found here 

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holding hands

You may have read this story about an Iowa couple married for 72 years who recently died while holding hands. Gordon and Norma Yeager — 94 and 90 respectively — were brought to the hospital in critical condition after a car accident in their home town. Although the two weren’t very responsive, they held hands until they died, merely one hour apart.

According to loved ones, the Yeagers were happily married and hated being apart. Their lengthy love affair is remarkable, but what keeps coming back to me is how the staff knew not to separate Gordon and Norma — instead, they brought the couple into the same intensive care room and put them beside each other.

It’s a rare thing today to live in a place where you’re personally known and part of a caring community. That’s clearly what Gordon and Norma had when they arrived at that hospital, which resulted in a beautiful and peaceful death for them both — and was consoling for their family.

Here’s another neat part to the story, told by the Yeagers’ son, Dennis:

“It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going,” said Dennis Yeager. “But we were like, he isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands and it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.”

While I get all misty-eyed, I wanted to share some interesting items that I found this week around the web:

  • Scientists say we can feed everyone on the planet.
  • Heidi at 101 Cookbooks says this is perfect for taking food on plane trips.
  • punch for cool weather.

Have a slow weekend and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Image found here 

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Sewing for Dummies

October 20, 2011

by Margaret Cabaniss

Behold my nemesis.

I have this weird mental block when it comes to sewing. I don’t know why: My mom was always sewing something when I was growing up — dresses, curtains, you name it — and she was constantly offering to show her daughters the ropes, if we wanted to learn.

Usually we didn’t, though, because sewing wasn’t cool when I was a kid. I did take one sewing class in high school, and made a serviceable drawstring bag and wrap skirt, but after that I promptly forgot everything I learned and went back to being suspicious of the whole endeavor.

Now that I’m older, of course, I wish I had stuck with it. My mom, never one to lose hope, bought me this awesome machine a couple of years ago so I could start up again — but without her around to re-teach me, I’ve been slow to open it up. So on a recent visit, I finally broke down and asked for her advice: As someone who has been sewing for 50 years, and now teaching sewing classes of her own, how does she help people get over that mental hurdle and just start sewing?

So many settings! Time to panic!

For anyone who doesn’t have their own personal sewing guru to consult, her advice was definitely helpful:

Have the right attitude. Mom says that whenever she’s approached about teaching a beginner lesson, everyone — without fail — says they are the unteachable ones. They insist it’s impossible, they’ll never learn, etc. But sewing is like anything else: It takes time and practice — and, yes, making mistakes — to improve. And with that commitment, all her students do improve. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Invest in the right tools. The biggest mistake a beginner can make, according to my mom, is to buy a cheap machine off the shelf at WalMart. You may be saving money now, but it won’t be worth the hassle in the long run: Cheap tools don’t work well, and they break easily (at which point you’ll be paying more than they’re worth just to get them fixed). People get frustrated when their machines don’t work the way they should, which means their project doesn’t turn out right…and then they think they’re the problem, and the shame spiral above starts all over again.

Instead, take the time to do a little research. You don’t have to buy top-of-the-line anything, but invest in something that you’re actually going to enjoy using. Talk to a dealer at your local fabric store and see what they recommend, and take one of their machines for a test drive. Check out Craigslist or eBay for good secondhand options; that’s where my mom found the one I have now. She gives tons more machine-buying advice on her sewing blog here. (Oh yes, my mom has a sewing blog. I told you she was serious.)

Don’t expect perfection right away. This is a hard one for me. I want to be making elaborate bespoke outfits immediately, but attempting something like that right off the bat will only lead to heartache. Start with something simple — envelope cases for throw pillows are about as straightforward as you can get, while still being fun and actually useful around the house. Save the complicated stuff for later.

Get help. God bless the interwebs: Those of us without crafty moms (or with said moms in other states) can easily find sewing help online. YouTube channels, blog tutorials…it’s all out there. I like the tutorials section of Sew Mama Sew; my mom recommends Totally Stitchin’, eSewingWorkshop, and Sew4Home. And, of course, if you happen to live near Raleigh, North Carolina, I know a lady who teaches awesome classes

Handmade baby blankets are way more comfy.

After her pep talk, I’m feeling more inspired to take out my machine again. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my progress… Meanwhile, anyone else have sewing resources, tips, or stories to share? Let’s muddle through this together!

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