A Goal for 2017 and for Life

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Looking Ahead and Beyond

We are in the midst of the constant barrage of New Year’s resolutions — to be thinner, wealthier, more youthful appearing.  Everywhere you look or listen, you can be promised that 2017 is the year that you become a better self.  And while I think that self improvement is very important, I do not believe that we all have to strive for the aforementioned ideals.  I am all for bettering my health and boosting my savings account but I think that the New Year’s resolution as such sets many people up for not succeeding.  In my first yoga class of 2017, my teacher brought this up:  the difference between a resolution and a goal (or intention).  With a resolution, it is as if you feel that you must absolutely fulfill this one thing, without any room for being human.  With a goal, you set up for something that you work toward over time.  With this difference in mind, I have chosen to work toward a goal for not only 2017, but for the rest of my life.  It is simply to use what I have.

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A Creative Closet Door

This goal may sound simplistic but it is actually quite expansive.  For starters, as a creative person always striving to learn more and try more, I have decided that instead of taking on new hobbies I am going to use the skills that I have and build upon them.  This means learning more complicated knitting techniques including sweaters, socks and lace.  It means learning new quilting techniques and retaining them, especially all of the different things I’m learning in my art quilting group. (Side note:  the above picture is of our new “closet door” made from blocks I’ve had sitting around since a defunct block of the month club 3 years ago.  These were just sitting in a box until I decided to unearth them and use them.  Now every day we no longer have to look at our clothes, but instead this nice piece.)  This includes utilizing my newly remodeled sewing room as my own creative space, a luxury that not many people have.  I am going to keep on taking pictures and learning from experience and library books.  I know that in delving deeper into the skills I have instead of getting involved in another hobby that I only know and don’t excel at, I can still learn and experiment with the solid foundation I already possess.

Using what I have also extends to the kitchen.  Before I make a grocery list based upon we’re craving and what’s on sale, I will first visit our pantry and our freezer.  I will shop from home before I shop from the store.  Fortunately for me, this is pretty easy because we have a freezer full of Hatch green chiles and Olathe corn and a pantry full of basmati rice, Anasazi beans and home canned tomatoes and pickles.  We are fortunate to have food security and we can easily supplement what we have and make nourishing meals.  Chances are that some of our recipe experiments will be flops and that is okay.  It will allow us to use our creativity in the kitchen instead of simply relying upon the grocery store.

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The Household Library/Staircase/Rock Collection

My goal includes using all of the possessions I currently have.  I will wear that nicer dress to work more just because I can.  I will wear the jewelry that I have, wear the (old but functional) cashmere sweater on the weekends and read all of the books I own.  I have books on my shelf (well, stair landing) that I have been carting along for years.  It is time to grab those and curl up under a quilt!   I’ve also been listening to some of my old cds (remember those?) and it has been really fun.  It is amazing how many lyrics I remember from things I’ve had for 10 or 15 years.  I will burn the candles at a Wednesday night meal because what I have is meant to be used.  I will grind up the fancy coffee on a weekday morning.  It is easy to see our stuff as precious and forget about the original utility of our things.  As a continually striving minimalist, I don’t want to have things that just sit around, I want everything in my house and my life to have a purpose.  If I find something that no longer serves a need (I believe Marie Kondo calls this “sparks joy”), then it needs to go someplace else.  I want our home to be full of only the things that are used and that add to our lives, nothing that has long since served it purpose.

So, my seemingly simple goal to use what I have is actually a very large and overarching lifetime enhancer.  It will be something that I work towards in 2017 and probably for the rest of my life.  It is a goal that can be added on to and one that also allows for me to be the human that I am.

When Life Gives You a Bag of Limes

Ready for action!

Ready for action!

In our household, we are constantly trying to mitigate waste; waste not, want not could be our household mantra.  We do our best not to waste resources, food, time, energy and money.  Therefore in my continual quest to eat well on a limited budget, I am a huge proponent of the sale produce bins.  I am not afraid of a few bruises or misshapen pieces — I know what to do with the produce others do not want.  My favorite thing these days is the $2 bags of produce at the natural grocery chain.  These bags are gems full of produce that within a few days will be delegated to the compost bin.  I am a rescuer of these fruits and veggies, a produce rescue missionary.

I cherish the days when I can score one of these bags because whatever is inside dictates the menu for the next couple of days.  Soon, I will write an entire blog homage to the wonder that is the $2 (did I mention 100% Organic?) produce bag.  Today, my message is all about the limes.

My latest $2 score included approximately 3 pounds of limes and 2 bunches of fresh spinach.  The spinach was quickly turned into pesto and wilted further into a breakfast egg scramble.  The limes presented a tempting challenge; what could I do with this many limes?  An impromptu margarita cocktail party was my initial thought but that seemed like a bad idea on a work night.  I decided that what I could not use immediately, (i.e. margaritas or mojitos) could easily be saved for later occasions.

Holy pile of lime zest!

Holy pile of lime zest!

As a southwestern Colorado mountain dweller, I am appreciative of every lemon, lime, orange, avocado and banana I am able to get because none of these are grown within my time zone.  Often we only use the inside of the citrus fruit and forget about the incredible aromatics of the peel.  In our kitchen, I always save the zest for another recipe; a pinch of citrus zest can be an incredible addition to many dishes.  With the use of a zester or the finest setting on your cheese grater (careful to not scrape your knuckles!), you can extract the peel from the fruit.  You only want the outside of the peel and not the bitter pith which is the white coating protecting the interior.  I zested all of the lime peels to freeze for another time.  This zest will be great in Pad Thai or a stir-fry or in muffins when I need something to brighten up the flavor.  There is a good reason why the peel is called zest, it will add pep to any dish you choose.

Straight up lime juice.

Straight up lime juice.

After I zested, I juiced the remaining limes with a hand-held juicer.  A helpful tip here: it is probably a good idea to wear gloves if you have a lot of minor scrapes, cuts and overall dry hands.  What you extract is pure lime juice without any weird added coloring or sugar.  I chose to juice the limes into a Pyrex measuring cup because the next step in my lime preservation is lime juice ice cubes.  The rational being that because lime is such a strong flavor, the ice cube size is a perfect proportion for future margaritas, I mean recipes.

Voila! Lime cubes.

Voila! Lime cubes.

After all of this prep work, our house smelled enticingly of limes. Naturally I needed to see if my preservation plan worked.  I took the smallest lime cube and plopped it into a cocktail glass with tequila.  Blimey my drink is limey!  The lime cubes are quite intense, but on the positive side, in just a few sips I have prevented scurvy.

Vitamin C cocktail

Vitamin C cocktail

Don’t overlook the bins of bruised veggies and fruits. There are so, so many way to preserve produce.  If you are going to cook within a few days, save yourself a few dollars and save the produce from the slow decomposition back into soil.  Really ripe produce forces you to be creative in the kitchen and make the best with what you’ve got when you’ve got it.

What I Think About While I’m Making

Photo unrelated to post.  Just a nice photo of redwoods from the archive.

A nice archived photo of redwoods.

When you spend many hours, or even an hour, making something, your mind is a part of the process just as your hands.  Here are a few of the things that I think about while I’m making stuff.

1.  Nothing.

Amazingly, sometimes my mind just empties and all that runs through the typically muddled space is just serene.  When I get to this calm place it is a form of meditation.  My focus is simply on the task at hand and not distracted or worried about the past, the future or anything else .  On these blissful yet rare moments, my incessant multi-tasking mind is just employed with the one task.  When I am able to just make and not have a stream of consciousness flowing through my head, I am content and at peace.  These moments are not prolific as often I am simultaneously cooking and listening to music or I only have an allotted time to work so I am cognizant of the ticking clock. However, when I can get to this space, it is a beautiful thing.

2.  The person I’m making __________ for.

Whether I am stirring away or stitching away, when I am making something for someone I think about how much I care about them with every movement.  I think about how what I make will make someone I love smile, or fill their stomach or warm them up.  I contemplate how lucky I am to have so many amazing people in my life that I can reciprocate a token of my gratitude with something homemade.  I think about how happy I am when I receive anything made with attention and love.

3.  My problems / problems.

There are times where you just need to do something to manage the downs of life.  I suppose I could go for a run around town, but I’d rather pick up my knitting needles or start a batch of risotto.  I have long sworn by the power of stirring to really work things out.  I have solved many of my own problems simply by doing something else and channeling the troubles into construction, into something more constructive.  This is often why I pedal home at lunch to make something that will make me forget about whatever has me riled up.  Making is a great way to use my negative energy and turn it into something positive.  If even after my best attentions to divert my bad energy into something better fail, I can always fall back on either an hour-long bath followed by an early retreat to sleep or a stiff drink and some mind-numbing streaming tv on the computer.

4.  The art of making

When I am working away, I am aware of the fact that I am a member of the making class.  The making class is a group of people who enjoy the process as much as the result.  Often there are easier ways to do things these days than what makers choose to do.  We could shop, order in, or simply wonder about how something is made yet not attempt it.  Once you recognize that you are a maker you continue to try making more because the process is an enjoyable one and the results are the proverbial icing on the cake.

5.  That even if it’s not perfect, it’s still pretty awesome

I don’t agonize over what isn’t right in what I’ve made.  I see things that are not perfect and I realize that it really doesn’t matter.  It is easy to focus on the small imperfections instead of on how much of the project is right.  Rarely am I unable to fix something; even a bad loaf of bread can become croutons.  My philosophy is that if something is handmade, then it should look/taste as if handmade and not manufactured.

Here you have it, a snapshot of what fills up my headspace while my hands are busy.  I understand that making stuff is both my salve and my salvation.

Made by (Another) Hand

Craft brew and cart burrito

Craft brew and cart burrito

As much as I love to make stuff, there are (many) times when it is best for me to leave the handmade up to other hands.  Take Mexican food, one of my absolute favorites, and yet despite copious amounts of trial and authentic ingredients, mine never comes close to that of my favorite burrito stand.  Never.  This cart sits in a parking lot across the street from a busy truck stop and it is some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.  The owner makes everything from scratch and you can taste the difference.   Our idea of a big splurge is taking our growler for our a fill at our local brewery followed by a trip to the Mexican cart — both handmade with skill and care by another hand.  And, a note about food carts:  they are one of the easiest ways for a cook to open up a restaurant, being so much more affordable than a brick-and-mortar place.  Most of the best food I’ve ever eaten has come from a food truck.  Visit these and support local cooks.   You will be amazed at what crafty cooks are able to create in small spaces.

Middle Eastern handmade flatbread

Middle Eastern handmade flatbread

In addition to food carts, I love to shop at small ethnic markets.  You never know what kind of new-to-you ingredients you will find inside and I’ve found both the quality and price of food to be less than at conventional super stores.  Also, I really don’t like shopping at giant, fluorescent-lit stores with aisles of food all wrapped up in packages.  I prefer small, simple stores without hundreds of cereal varieties and chips overwhelming my senses.  Often you find fresh homemade food, too amongst the cans and bottles of ethnic markets.  Yesterday while venturing out in the nearby city,  I smelled something awesome and then I saw people walking out of a market with bags of baked goods.  I stopped in and got the last two pieces of flatbread made hours before.  I also got a couple pieces of baklava which I quickly ate on my way home, thus no photograph.  From the queso fresco and tortillas of our Mexican market, to the flash fried tofu we always cart back from the Asian supermarket in Portland, to this newly discovered pita palace, you will find people crafting incredible food by hand when you step away from the conventional supermarket.

 

Handwoven piece found at an antique store

Handwoven piece found at an antique store

And now from the fresh food of markets and carts to the old antique store,  what I love about perusing the piles of stuff in antique stores is again how much of what is there was made by hand.  As opposed to our current shops where everything is wrapped in plastic and cardboard and smells more toxic than new, antique shops are full of stuff that has already been used.  There is history and there is a lot of craft.  I love admiring the old handmade quilts, all of the carved furniture, the pottery and knowing that these things have and will continue to be useful.  Recently I found this amazing woven piece at an antique shop.  If you think that knitting or quilting is time consuming, try weaving!  This piece is obviously handmade and required hours of work.  Right now it is draped at the edge of the bed, but I think it would be great hung on a wall, that is as soon as I can create a means to hang it without the risk of creating a snag.  I am not a weaver, but I truly appreciate the time that some unknown person took to make this.  And I’m glad that I give this piece another life in another space.

Handmade crafts are not gone, there is no need to lament its disappearance in our age of mass production.  There are handmade things everywhere, you just need to look elsewhere and not the big box stores.  By choosing to support the handmade in life,  you’ll get more than just some thing, you’ll support craftspeople.

An Ode to Old Pots

My Great-Grandma Johnson's dutch oven with Hungarian Mushroom Soup

My Great-Grandma Johnson’s dutch oven with Hungarian Mushroom Soup

If there is something more comforting a home-cooked meal,  then surely it is preparing it in heirloom pots.  I’ve been converted to the cult of the cast iron cookware; the superiority is edible. So when given the opportunity to bring home my great-grandmother’s Belgian enameled cast iron pot and pan set, I jumped at the opportunity.  A full set of flame orange cookware that has lasted generations now resides in my home.  I cannot tell you how special it is for me to enjoy food prepared in the same pots my great-grandmother used.  When I see soup bubbling away on the stove in her dutch oven, my heart swells a little bit more.

In our disposable culture, food and items for food preparation are discarded thoughtlessly.  Pots and pans are made to last just a few years instead of a lifetime.  When you peruse antique stores, many of the items still remaining (and coveted) are useful food preparation items such as: cast iron pans, Mason jars, enameled coffee pots and non-mechanized implements (i.e. egg beaters).  Often these items are purchased for display and not re-used, although in all likelihood they still have a great deal of life left in them.  I’m grateful that I can continue the cooking traditions with my own family cookware, making memories and meals with the same equipment used to feed previous generations.  The new secret ingredient in all of my food is the love emanating from the family pot.