Monday, February 28, 2011

A CSN gift certificate giveaway! (now closed)

There's nothing I love more than a giveaway. I love participating in them, and I absolutely love hosting them. Thanks to the great folks at CSN Stores, the Boston-based group of 200+ online stores, I'm able to give you a chance to win a $20 gift certificate to be used at any CSN store. Whether you're looking for a fun wood swing set as warmer weather approaches or new cookware for your kitchen or a cute new handbag, you'll be able to find it at a CSN store.

I wish I'd seen this very cool OKO Ergonomic Trike from Italtrike when my children were younger. Made in Italy, this trike merges modern design with comfort and safety. CSN's store Swingsets and More offers a wide range of products for outdoor fun, from bicycles for both children and adults to trampolines and lawn games.

Recently, I discovered the work of Eva Zeisel, the Budapest-born industrial designer known for her ceramics. (Late to the party, I know.) Her work is in museums throughout the world from the Victoria and Albert in London to New York's Museum of Modern Art. I found this lovely set of Chantal mugs by Eva Zeisel at CSN Stores. Wouldn't the garden green color suit my Cooking Apple kitchen perfectly?

How to enter:
- Browse through CSN's Swingsets and More store. Pick out something you'd like for your children (or grandchildren or niece/nephew) or something you would have loved as a child. Leave a comment here, telling me the item you've selected. This comment counts as one entry.

How to gain additional entries:
- Become my Google friend by clicking "follow" on the right-hand column under "Google friends." Post a separate comment. This will give you one additional entry.

- Tweet this giveaway. Please provide the link in a separate comment. This counts as one additional entry. You may do this only once during the giveaway period.

- Contest is open to the residents of the U.S. and Canada only. You must be 18 or older.
- This contest ends on Sunday, March 6, at 11:00 pm EST.
- Winner to be announced Tuesday, March 8.
- Any entries after the deadline will be deleted.
- Only one person per household may enter. By entering, you agree to forfeit your prize if it's determined that you entered under more than one name/email.
- Winner will be chosen at random via generator.
- Winner has 48 hours to respond by email or another winner will be chosen.
- Leave your email address in your entry.
- If you don't leave your email address in your entries, make sure your profile is public.

Good luck to all!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An arboretum in winter (and hints of things to come)

In any season, Arnold Arboretum is one of my favorite places in Boston. Each season offers a different perspective. In winter, the arboretum drowses. It's a season of silhouettes and silence. But even in the quiet, you can see hints of things to come. Spring lies wrapped in tightly furled buds, tipping the ends of branches.

Here's another hint of things to come. In conjunction with CSN Stores, I'm working on another favorite thing: a giveaway! You'll read more about it in a blog post soon. In the meantime, enjoy some more images from an arboretum in winter...

With no luxurious foliage to distract the eye, other aspects of the trees are accentuated. Their innate sculptural presence. Note this tree's muscular, contorted limbs...

...or the sense of whimsy in this crooked little tree. Its riotous black-and-white trunk and tangles of whip-thin branches tumbling to the ground look exactly like a tree that Dr. Seuss would draw.

Without the shrouding leaves, I could focus on the textures and colors of tree bark. What a spectacular camouflage trunk.

I have so many photographs to share, too many for this single post. I'll leave you for now with this. The second Sunday in May (or Mother's Day) is Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum. Hundreds of lilacs will be laden with blooms, perfuming the air with their heavy fragrance. Do you see something oddly alien or a hint of lilac yet to come?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lovely day for a cuppa chai

Beautiful snow today. A sprinkle of dancing, whisper-light flakes, straight out of a fairy tale. After a couple of days of spring-like temperatures, the cold felt like a surprise. It was a perfect day for chai. (For my southern readers who're enjoying almost summery temperatures today, try pouring the chai over ice for iced spiced chai instead.)

Spiced chai
Adapted from a variety of internet sources

2 cups milk
2 cups water
8 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
8 cardamom pods
1 slice fresh ginger root (approximately 1/8") diced
5 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tea bags (black tea...we used Twinings Irish Breakfast)

Crush cardamom pods to crack them open. Pour milk and water into a small saucepan. Add cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and peppercorns and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat a little, stir in sugar, and boil for 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat. Add tea bags, cover, and steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and pour through a strainer into a teapot. I like to squeeze the teabags against the side of the pot before I remove them.

The above teapot, by the way, is after we'd already drunk a few cups. We've been brewing up more time- and attention-intensive warm drinks lately. Perhaps it's just an outgrowth of my attempts to live more mindfully. I'm finding that the rewards of homemade chai or slow-poured coffee far outweigh the small amount of extra effort required.

And speaking of living mindfully, I recently realized that it's a sad fact that I don't have time to write two blogs. Not if I want to write them really well. My initial idea was that perhaps through learning to live more mindfully, I can find my most authentic self in the suburbs, amidst the laundry and the extracurriculars. I think I underestimated how much time laundry and extracurriculars require.

The idea of mindful living and exploring its many facets still intrigue me. Perhaps some day I'll have that precious resource of time to devote to it. So while 2011 will still be my year to live mindfully, I've decided to fold my Year of Living Mindfully blog into this one. All appropriate articles will be labeled as "year of living mindfully."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hello, sunbeam

Hello, sunbeam.

I was so surprised when I rounded the corner, and there you were! I've missed you this long, gray winter. I hope to see you again soon.

Much love,

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love is a slow pour

Or more accurately, love is a slow pour-over coffee. No bitter. No sour. Just a complex dance of flavors.

My husband is a self-professed coffee geek. He's also a thrifty coffee geek which is why we still have our cheapo grinder from our newlywed days and an inexpensive coffeemaker. Every once in a while, we'd eye something more splendid. After all, who wouldn't want this beauty, the Elektra Micro Casa in copper and brass, adorning their counter? 

Okay, maybe that's a bit steampunk for many. The point is that we'd always believed that one had to plunk down something in the four figures to purchase a professional-quality espresso machine.

Well. That may be true.

Or you could spend $100+ (much less if you already own a very good grinder) for the very best coffee of your life.

Welcome to pour-over or manual brewed coffee. This is not coffee for mass production or mass consumption. Not a hyperactive, multitasking brew. With hand-poured coffee, the coffee is brewed in very small batches. One cup at a time. Two to three small cups at most. The tools are simple and beautiful. Sculptural. Note the almost nautilus-like swirls on this Hario V60-02 ceramic cone. The beehive shape of the swan-necked pouring kettle.

Again, the technique is simple yet artful. One grinds a certain amount of coffee and places it in the filter in the ceramic (or glass) cone. One heats a precisely measured amount of water to the correct temperature and then slowly...very slowly...pours a thin stream over the coffee over a period of a few minutes. One must not rush this step. It is mindful living at its essence. To be in the moment, inhaling the aromas released from the beans. A small break from a frenzied, overscheduled day. Best of all, this break doesn't take hours. No. This is a small pleasure that takes only minutes.

Intrigued? Boston-area readers, head over to barismo to dip into the world of hand-poured coffee. This small-batch roaster and purveyor of manual brewing equipment in Arlington, MA, will pour you one of the best cups of coffee you have ever enjoyed. Warning. Barismo is a cash-only store (as I found out to my chagrin on my first trip there). Also, they rarely have decaf coffee ready to pour (though they had sealed bags of decaf whole beans available to purchase when I visited the store).

From obscurity in this country, pour-over coffee is beginning to reach a wider audience. The New York Times Magazine recently published an article, "Coffee's Slow Dance," on this subject. Williams-Sonoma has begun to sell the implements for brewing pour-over coffee.

And so to my husband, the coffee geek, happy Valentine's Day. May we have many years of savoring great coffees simply brewed at home. Happy Valentine's Day to all of you too. I hope that you all feel warm and loved today.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Broccoli stir-fry with chicken and mushrooms

A couple of months ago, Mark Bittman (yes, I'm still in the throes of Bittmania) wrote a piece in The New York Times about sustainable food. This recipe was one of the three basics (a stir-fry, a chopped salad, and a combination of rice and lentils) that he cited. "Nutritionally sound and environmentally friendly." Both good things. Best of all, this recipe was fast and surprisingly kid-friendly.

Broccoli stir-fry with chicken and mushrooms
Published in the January 2, 2011, edition of The New York Times

Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings.

2 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 scallions, chopped*
1 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces, the stems no more than 1/4-inch thick
8 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks or thin slices and blotted dry
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper.

Put a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add half the oil, swirl it around, and immediately add half the garlic and ginger. Cook for 15 seconds, stirring, then add the broccoli, mushrooms and all but a sprinkling of the scallions. Raise heat to high, and cook, stirring, until mushrooms release their water and broccoli is bright green and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with salt; add 1 cup water. Stir and cook until almost all liquid evaporates and broccoli is almost tender, another minute or two more, then transfer everything to a plate.

Turn heat to medium, add remaining oil, then remaining garlic and ginger. Stir, then add chicken and turn heat to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken has lost its pink color, three to five minutes.

Turn heat to medium. Return broccoli, mushrooms and juices to the pan, and stir. Add soy sauce, sprinkle with more salt and some pepper; add a little more water if mixture is dry. Raise heat to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced slightly and you’ve scraped up all the bits of chicken. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnish with remaining scallion and serve.

*I omitted this because I didn't have any at hand. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Orleans red beans and rice

"Down in New Orleans
Where the blues was born,
It takes a cool cat
To blow a horn.
On LaSalle and Rampart Street,
The combo's there with a mambo beat.

The Mardi Gras, mambo, mambo, mambo
Party Gras, pambo, mambo, mambo
Mardi Gras, mambo-ooh
Down in New Orleans"

It's that time of year, folks. In just a couple of weeks, parades will start rolling down the streets of New Orleans and its suburbs. Members of parade krewes will toss beads and doubloons to hordes of people screaming, "Throw me something, mister!" And people will eat, drink, and be merry until Fat Tuesday (for afterwards comes Lent).

I may be a bluebonnet from Austin, but the majority of my childhood was spent in New Orleans. I have vivid, fond memories of screaming for beads and triumphantly draping them around my neck. The long strands were the most prized. Of watching the muddy, sluggish Mississippi River crawl past. Of savoring snowballs (such tiny, perfect flakes of shaved ice...the coarse shaved ice found other places just can't compare) during hot summer nights. The shrimp and crawfish boils. The food with exotic names that roll off your tongue like étouffée and jambalaya and muffaletta.

This is what I love about food. Food reminds us of our past. And food—cooking food and sharing food and eating food—food brings people together. A while ago, I received a package from a dear high school friend. We'd lost touch after college, but found each other again on Facebook. She sent a packet of freshly picked organic bay leaves from her tree. Just opening the envelope released the most amazing scent, clean and woodsy. Now they've dried and are ready to use. Every time I cook with bay leaf, I think of her.

This recipe uses 6 bay leaves. Don't flinch. It will taste amazing. Authentically N'Awlins. You'll just hear that Storyville jazz playing in your head as you eat this dish.

New Orleans red beans and rice
Adapted from various sources

1 lb red kidney beans*
3/4 lb ham, diced fine
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Emeril Original Essence
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
6 bay leaves
2 cups rice

Soak the beans covered in cold water in a pot for at least six hours, but not more than twelve. Drain the beans, return to the pot. Add 7 cups of water. Place on high heat until it reaches a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Cook ham in butter until hot. Remove ham from the skillet and add to the pot of beans. Add a little more butter to the skillet and sauté the vegetables until tender, then add to the pot. Add seasonings to the beans.

Simmer the beans on medium-low heat for around 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender. Make sure the simmer doesn't become too gentle. You want the beans to cook in a fairly vigorous simmer. Add water a quarter cup at a time as the beans cook if they are becoming too dry. (I added 2 1/2 cups total of water). Once the beans become tender, you can gently mash some beans against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This can help the dish to achieve a creamier consistency.

Salt and pepper to taste. Cook the rice according to the package directions. Serve beans over rice.

*Really it's best to buy Camellia brand red kidney beans if you can. You can buy them online at such places like I didn't and used whatever brand I found at Whole Foods.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New Farrow & Ball colors for 2011

The new 2011 colors for Farrow & Ball have been officially announced, and suddenly, I wish I had more spaces in my house to paint. The new colors (I really want to type "colours," but I'm pretty sure that would be ridiculously affected. Then before you know it, I might start saying "lieutenant" with an "f" and "aluminum" with an extra "i.") span a range of neutrals. Neutrals, that is, with the exception of the definitively orange Charlotte's Locks, No. 268.

The most interesting new colors to me are their purple-neutrals. If you've considered dabbling in lilac or eggplant, but don't want to go particularly pastel or vivid, you may consider these colors. They have that elusive Farrow & Ball quality of being colorful (without being blinding) and neutral (without being muddy). This is what I love about Cooking Apple Green, and it's what made me plunk down the dollars for the paint.

Calluna, No. 270 is a gorgeous, subtle lilac, one that carries an air of quiet chic. I can particularly see this color in a modern, urban space. I can't wait to see this one in person.

Brassica, No. 271 is an aged, darker version of Calluna. Wouldn't this be spectacular in a jewel of a powder room? Or on your front door? I love this color. Purple without being purple. Perfect.

If I were still working on my kitchen cabinets, the colors I'd want to examine in detail are Mizzle, No. 266 and Manor House Gray, No. 265. Farrow & Ball states that Mizzle is a soft blue gray, but it reads like a stone-colored neutral on my monitor. Perhaps a chameleon of a neutral, which is always intriguing. Manor House Gray appears to be a really lovely gray. I wonder about using it for flooring.

Have fun browsing! Some day soon (if it ever stops snowing), I'll head out to the paint store to see these colors in person.