2017 Resolution Review

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Taken January 2, 2017

In January of 2017, I committed to the intention of using what I have.  Almost 2 months in, here is what I’ve accomplished so far with my commitment.

I resolved to use more of the food that I have before I go and procure more.  This has been relatively easy because I have a lot of good ingredients at my disposal in both my freezer and my pantry.  I think the stand out freezer concoction thus far was a wild turkey posole.  (Posole is a southwestern stew with hominy.) We had some leftover frozen turkey from Thanksgiving, a batch of hominy left over from previous soups and some frozen red chile paste.  I added some fresh onion and spices and let this simmer in the crock pot for a few hours.  It was a great meal and came entirely out of my freezer.  We strive to never waste food so my resolution hasn’t been too revolutionary, but it is a great way to challenge yourself.  We call these meals “Iron Chef”  challenges because you take the random ingredients you’ve got and you can come up with some pretty awesome things — often a one-time meal that can never again be replicated.

As much as I love and patronize my local library, I have really enjoyed grabbing books off of my shelves that I’ve collected over time.  The majority of the books are ones that I have picked up at the thrift store for less than a dollar and they have provided me with hours of enjoyment.  I now have these books in a read stack that I am either going to donate back or pass along to friends for reading.  It has been great, especially during this winter, to be able to peruse my own library, grab a book in my PJs and cuddle up on the couch under a quilt.  I used to keep all of my books carting all of them around proudly for years, but now I am happy to let many of them move on to another house and be used instead of just stagnant on an overcrowded shelf.  A couple of years back, I started a book journal where I write down every book I read.  I do some commentary, or I jot down poignant passages, but this journal has in a sense been able to replace my big stack of books.   I’ve also opened up my cd binder and pulled out some real gems to listen to instead of just defaulting to online radio.  It’s amazing how music can make one so nostalgic and also how it can create a certain mood.  I’ve been experimenting with quilting to different music to see if it impacts the way in which I quilt.  So far I do not have any definitive proof that music effects my stitching, but this has been a less than rigorous examination of this correlation.

 

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A back-up baby blanket

I have been very diligent with the use of materials I already have.  I found 4 skeins of yarn that were given to me as a gift that I am making into a very simple blocked baby blanket.  I made so many baby blankets last year that it seems pragmatic to have an extra one lying around for a future gift.  This hasn’t challenged my knitting skill set in the least, but it is a project that uses materials I already own.

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Free motion on ikat

I have been more successful with trying new skills and using up materials in my quilting.  Part of this education has been through my monthly art quilting group.  This group challenges me to think outside of the traditional and to try all sorts of new techniques.  (All of the skills I’m learning is an entirely different blog post/posts.)  One project I made is a baby quilt for my cousin out of ikat fabric in my stash wherein I quilted two identical yards together without any piecing or blocks.  This is the same idea as the quilt in a day, but this time, I free motioned around the ikat pattern in the blanket and it took me more than a day.  Because this fabric was so dynamic, it is hard to tell the level of detail that was involved from afar but it was a great practice project for me to get more comfortable with free motion quilting.  I have also made 2 very different log cabins out of scraps.  The smaller of the two is made entirely out of scraps that I had lying around and did not cut — I simply laid them out and let the design be very organic.  This quilt got sent to a friend living in the Baltics who longs to build her own tiny log cabin out of reclaimed materials when she gets back to the States.  Her dream was my inspiration for the quilt.  My second log cabin is very measured and based off of a pattern that uses 1-inch scrap pieces.  I’ve made several of these and always enjoy how the randomness of scraps creates an entirely different quilt each time.  This quilt will be heading north to Alaska where a couple of dear friends are moving for work (and adventure!).  I could easily make dozens more of these projects and still have remaining scraps of fabric.  Also, because of the size of these quilts, I’ve been able to use leftover batting scraps stitched together.  All three of these projects were made without spending any money.

We have been ever grateful for all of the time we are able to spend enjoying our nearby public lands.  Lately it has been mostly nordic skiing, but we have also enjoyed some crisp late winter hikes as well.  We are both stewards of our public lands and hope that the access to these precious resources never changes.  However, in this uncertain time, we have realized just how important and necessary this land is to us and we are taking full advantage of it while land still remains public.

So far, this intention/resolution/commitment has been a good challenge and a relatively easy mindset for me to adopt.  I am still buying fresh groceries, and I still spend money at the local quilt shop and thrift store, but it is very comforting to know that everything I need, I already have.  I do not feel limited by my intention in any way and the more I practice this habit, the more I have ingrained this practice into my everyday mindset.

Staying warm yurt style

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The yurt in warmer times

Aw, the picture above reminds that there will again be a time when the yurt bubble is open and there is not a 2 foot field of condensed snow surrounding our home.  In the meantime, we are dealing with an El Nino winter to topple records with a couple of months left to go.  How are we staying warm without all of the trappings of modern homes?  Through the very simple tricks listed below.

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The Yurtain – a yurt curtain

Back in the fall when the warnings of the severity of our winter seemed far off, I decided to make us curtains for the yurt.   The huge advantage of our home is that we have a ton of light and, due to our spectacular natural surroundings, also have gorgeous views.  But our windows are plastic so I knew that we would have to do some covering up for the winter.  So I invented (or think I did . . .) the yurtain, a perfect curtain for the yurt.  It is a very simple utilitarian design.  I bought fabric that was already quilted, fancied up the edges with some binding and then added the ties at the top.  Voila, the yurtain.  The ties are important because we don’t have the ability to hang a traditional curtain rod.  These stretch to cover up our windows pretty well.  In the mornings when we leave for work, we simply remove one tie to let the sun in for solar heat gain.  When we get home, we tie the curtains back up for warmth.  Although only a half inch thick, there is a definite difference when the curtains are up.

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Weatherizing the door

Like all homes, we lose a lot of heat through our front door.  To combat some of this loss, we installed weatherstripping around the perimeter.  Next, I made a curtain out of scraps with batting in between to stop the leakage from the glass window.  This curtain, like the others, has ties so that we can take it down to allow light in.  Last, I made a simple door snake.  In the weatherization workshops, we always taught people that stopping the small leaks all around the house has a large cumulative effect.  This is the same principle applied here.  I fashioned a quick door snake for the bottom out of leftover scrap fabric and stuffed with all of the small pieces of quilting batting I had lying around that were not good for anything else.  I knew there would be an occasion for all of these stashed scraps!

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Warming up the bed

Lastly, we decided to enhance the space by our bed since that is where we spend a lot of our home time.  As our walls are rounded, a headboard does not work.  This allowed us to get a little creative.  First I stuffed foam from our furniture projects between the crossbars of our wall creating a padding and barrier.  Second, I hung up the pea quilt to cover up the foam and create another layer.  (Right now I’m not worried about the quilt getting bleached because the sun is too low in the sky.)  Then we added a second set of pillows behind our pillows for yet another layer of protection.  With this set up, we have no draft in our bed.  We use flannel sheets, a down comforter and a wool blanket to stay toasty inside.  If it’s especially cold, we can always wear a hat to bed and add another quilt on top.

Our home is heated by a wood stove that is brand new and fairly efficient considering that a lot of the heat is lost to our high ceilings.  We stumble over in the middle of the night to add a couple of logs until we wake up.  Not once has the stove been so cold as to not keep coals when we are tending the fire.  We start the fire immediately when we get home and wait only a little while for the place to heat up.  During this time we are also busy moving and getting dinner ready that the cold is hardly noticeable.  It is really a pretty simple set up and works well for our home.

When we are home in the winter, we are not sitting around in T-shirts and burning logs with abandon.  We wear sweaters and slippers and we use the plethora of blankets we have around.  This is how we all used to live in the not so distant past.  What we are doing is what has always been done.  We are conscientious of little steps that we can take that have big impacts.  Collectively, if everyone turned down their thermostats even a few degrees and donned a sweater, plus plugged up the smaller leaks around the home, it could make a huge impact on our wallets and our planet.  We all can keep ourselves comfortable in the deepest darkest of winters with simple solutions.

Reflections on Resolutions

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Welcome 2016

This morning marks a new beginning and a new year.  We are encouraged to be reflective and motivated right now.  I haven’t spent too much energy looking into the past and projecting into the future for I am currently involved in the present working on projects and cooking a bunch.  And these activities are a good representation of my 2016 resolution which is simply to be more present.  I need to focus on what is here and now and enjoy what I’ve got.  The goal is to not ruminate on what may happen or what has happened but to just be.  So that is my resolution, my  one all encompassing goal for 2016.

In looking back at last year’s resolutions, I was able to complete the majority of them.  My most significant accomplish was downsizing and making a major life change in my household.  I did get in a few more baths and will continue to enjoy this simple luxury when able.  I did not knit a sweater but I have been busily crafting several baby blankets, so I feel satisfied.

I think it is important to look back and reflect upon what has been accomplished and lessons learned in the past year.  I believe that it is powerful to set a goal for the upcoming year.  However, I do not buy into all of the pressure to completely reinvent yourself in the new year.  I believe we should be happy and accepting with who we are and not feel that a diet or an organized closet must be achieved in order to have a good year.

Whatever 2016 may hold, I am hopeful for another year full of adventure and crafting.

Simple Green Chile Enchilada Sauce

Fresh from the oven.

Fresh from the oven.

I’m one of those people at the grocery store that is always reading the labels on food jars, standing there squinting under the fluorescent lights at the purposefully small print and clogging up the aisle traffic.  Sorry about that!  In my defense, once you start this habit, you just cannot stop; I have to know what is in those bags and boxes and cans.  The list of ingredients that freak me out are primarily added sugars of any kind to things that don’t need sugar (i.e. spaghetti sauce) and strange unpronounceable additives.  To this end, I wind up buying a lot of basics and making my own when I cannot can my own.  This strategy offers peace of mind and a smidge of savings in my bank account.

I used to rely heavily on mass produced enchilada sauces until my label reading habit turned me off with the high fructose corn syrups.  Since I declared my sauce independence, I have experimented to find a sauce that is delicious, quick and cheap to make on a regular basis.  I prefer green enchilada sauce to red, but you could easily swap out ingredients to make a red sauce if you prefer.

Simple Green Chile Enchilada Sauce

  • 1 -4 medium sized roasted green chiles (depending on spice level), stems removed and chopped
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can of tomatillos, chopped
  • tsp – Tbsp of ground cumin
  • sprinkling of salt
  • sprinkling of pepper
  • fresh lime juice (if available)
  • fresh cilantro (if available)

Slightly chop the chiles, garlic and tomatoes and place in blender.  Add the remaining spices and blend until a smooth and thick consistency sauce-like consistency.   This recipe is a simple platform for sauce and can be adapted to your own liking.  If tomatillos are too tart, try a can of regular tomatoes.  If roasted green chiles are unavailable, try canned chiles.  I guarantee you that whatever way you choose to make your enchilada sauce, it will be so much better than the canned stuff.  The above recipe makes one 9 x 11 inch pan worth of enchiladas with sauce on the bottom and top.

Let’s talk about enchilada structure now.  I used to be one of those people who meticulously rolled up my ingredients into the tortilla and hoped that it wouldn’t crack and break apart in the pan.  This method is why people do not make enchiladas on a work night.  Now, I simply layer the tortillas lasagna-style: 1 layer of tortillas (slightly overlapping), then the filling, a top layer of tortillas and sauce which is so much simpler!  Aesthetically, yes it is more of a casserole but the flavors are the same and the frustration level during prep is minimal.  Try it sometime, it is a better way to construct.

I love to make enchiladas.  My favorite combination is spinach, black beans, sauteed red onions, corn and queso fresco (soft crumbly Mexican cheese).  I often make the enchiladas vegetarian because I just love vegetables, but enchiladas are a bit like pizza and you can experiment to your hearts content.

It is a great feeling to realize that you can make the same thing that comes in a can healthier and better.

Blowin’ in the Wind

Alternative Dryer

Alternative Dryer

Laundry is just a part of life. Even with my very un-complicated laundry process, not to mention minimal amount of laundry, I would still rather do many other things besides actual laundry. However, I like clean clothes and bedsheets just like pretty much everyone else, so it always gets done. Letting the laundry languish until I am down to my most uncomfortable unmentionables is a practice I left behind shortly after college. Is there any way to make laundry more pleasant, less tedious?

Those who know me know that for many, many years I pined for the simplicity of both a clothesline and chickens of my own; two things that signified a backyard and a simpler lifestyle. And, lucky me, I got to have these for a couple of years. Having chickens of my own has forever made me elitist about grocery store eggs, although I am once again a consumer of those bland light yellow things. And having a clothesline made laundry a bit less tedious — it really did. I don’t exactly know why because logically it actually makes the process a bit more cumbersome, schlepping wet things outside instead of idly tossing them into a nearby machine. But something about stepping out, taking a few minutes to hang up things and then letting nature do the rest was more relaxing to me. The breeze did the majority of the work for me and watching the clean clothes gently sway outdoors was a calming sight.

Clotheslines were once the norm and now relics, favored by a select few. Even in dry climates, it is rare to see a clothesline even when more “progressive” green doodads (i.e. solar panels) are abundant. It is such a simple way to save energy (and money) and an easy way to just make laundry lighter, yet no longer common as a part of a household. I have heard of covenants across planned communities that actually ban clotheslines in their neighborhoods because they are unsightly. Seriously? We have gotten to a point where hanging our laundry outside is unattractive yet, culturally speaking, we air our proverbial “dirty laundry” out on the internet for all to see. Is it such a big deal in our culture of over-sharing to catch a glimpse of someone’s undergarments hanging in a backyard? Are we really that nosy to even notice? And, with some of the “fashions” displayed today, are we even shocked by underwear anymore? (I’m presuming that these laws are more about seeing underwear versus t-shirts or towels; I could be mistaken.) I think banning clotheslines in backyards is ridiculous, however I just read my lease, and we cannot have clothes hanging on our balconies either so apparently I too am one of the victims of the ban.

Now laundry is back to being just another chore, another task to cross off the to-do list. I have fond memories of the clothesline and its simple help. I know that one day, I will again embrace this “green” technology making laundry day a bit more pleasant.

Making Sauerkraut – A Smashing Good Time

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I like to get up close and personal with my food preparation.  I’m not afraid to don my apron and get my hands right in there for the sake of something yummy.   And, making sauerkraut is the perfect way to be both hands on and hands off.  Let me explain.

Sauerkraut is a form of controlled decomposition.  If you wonder why it smells so funky, that is because healthy bacteria are digesting the cabbage and breaking it down —  this is the process of fermentation.  If the idea of fermentation grosses you out, then you’d better abandon yogurt, beer, coffee, cheese, chocolate and even bread.  Fermentation is everywhere, propagating good bacteria and it is a natural way of preservation.   Now we are learning about how helpful these beneficial bacteria are to our bodies.  Instead of trying to eliminate all bacteria, we need to better understand how to cultivate the good microbes and add them to our diet.

But I digress, I became interested in making sauerkraut a few years ago because I actually enjoy the taste.  It is tangy and I enjoy it on a grilled cheese with sauteed mushrooms, almost like a reuben.  It’s also a great condiment with perogies.  Making sauerkraut is quite simple.  The process involves a lot of smashing and then a lot of letting it ferment without intervention.  To make, first take a cabbage and chop it roughly into small pieces, or you can use an antique kraut board, but this device looks to me like a surefire way to visit the local ER doc.  Place the chopped cabbage in a metal bowl, add some coarse kosher salt and then start smashing it.  For a smashing implement, you can use the flat end of a rolling pin (pins/handles removed), or make something out of scrap wood.  The main thing is that you need to speed up the breakdown of the sauerkraut by smashing it up.  Once you get to a point where your cabbage is covered in liquid, you can then loosely pack the cabbage into mason jars, leaving at least an inch from the top to allow for air.  I can’t emphasize this enough:  don’t pack your jars too tightly — it creates a pressure during fermentation and will rupture the glass.  I did this once, arriving home to a hissing sound from my cabinet and when I opened up a jar under pressure, it spewed partially rotted cabbage all over my ceiling.  Oh, and this was when I was experimenting with red cabbage and living under the roof of a supremely neurotic landlord.  Not awesome, but lesson learned: don’t pack the container!  Once in the jar, you can add a bit of spicing.  I prefer to add a couple of juniper berries and some caraway seeds.  Now, you just let nature do the rest.  Store in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks.  Check on the kraut often to make sure it’s not drying out; if dry, add a brine solution of salt and water to top.  Check on the actual fermentation and when it’s done and tastes like sauerkraut, transfer to the refrigerator to slow the fermentation and preserve.

Freshly smashed and into the jar.

Freshly smashed and into the jar.

 

Why make your own sauerkraut when you can buy it?  For one, with a single cabbage you can make at least two quarts of kraut for a fraction of the price.  Second, you can experiment with different types of cabbage, and still the best I’ve ever made was from an heirloom dark green Jersey cabbage varietal.  And, it can be a stress reducer for what is more therapeutic than smashing something to smithereens for the sake of good food?  Finally, because it is homemade, you are getting all of the beneficial probiotics out of the food that are lost in the commercial production of sauerkraut.  Fear not the fermented cabbage!  By making your own kraut, you are continuing a long tradition of food preservation.

 

Easy Peasy Ravioli

 

Spring inspired ravioli

Spring inspired ravioli

Wonton wrappers, wow!  I have always wanted to make my own raviolis, but the thought of crafting fresh pasta to the perfect pouch-like consistency was intimidating.  While perusing my daily round of food and design blogs, I stumbled upon this recipe for Minty Pea and Arugula raviolis on The Kitchn.  Since I love arugula (this blog could have been Arugula and Whales!), my interest was piqued.

I made a few adaptations to the original recipe.  As an abundance of fresh local produce is lacking in my neck of the sagebrush, I could not find the fresh mint for the recipe, so I supplemented with lemon juice and dried basil.  Amazingly, we do occasionally have arugula in our store and I lucked out getting a bag in the close-out  produce bin for 99 cents.  Also, I used frozen peas.

The assembly line

The assembly line

This recipe was super simple, light and very easy to create for a weeknight dinner.  Wonton wrappers are amazing and I love knowing about this shortcut to ravioli making.  Mid dinner, I was already plotting my next rounds of raviolis:  homemade ricotta and spinach arugula pesto, artichoke heart and red pepper pesto, spiced ground lamb, butternut squash, and of course, mushroom.  Although I am an avid creator, I am always grateful for reasonable shortcuts.   I cannot wait to expand my ravioli repertoire!