Friday, November 27, 2009

Buy Nothing New Day

I'm not really much of shopper and when I heard our hostess' friends talking last night about plans to hit the mall before 6 am I was horrified. I avoid malls and large shopping centers the way I avoid smoky bars and McDonald's and can't quite imagine making the experience worse by getting up before the crack of dawn. There's nothing a big box store has to offer that justifies my engaging in that kind of nonsense.

However, if I am coming across a completely virtuous non-consumer, this is the time to set the record straight because while I loathe thumbing through the racks of pretty much any chain store, a good thrift store is a whole different story.
I think I have a sense of what gets folks out of bed at an ungodly hour to hit the mall for bargains because I love nothing more than a great thrift store find. I love to poke through piles of old dishes and fabrics, wondering about how things were used and why they were given up. I love looking at colors and patterns that haven't been made in decades, imagining how I might take that old curtain and refashion it into napkins or a new skirt. I like finding things that are unique and made well enough to have held up for many years, I like giving my money to local businesses and non-profits, and I really, really like giving old, discarded things a new home. An added bonus is that I have a husband who enjoys this process as much as I do and we have a grand time poking around together.

While the rest of my fellow Americans were loading up on the latest electronics and whatnottoday, we went out after a leisurely breakfast to peruse some east side thrift shops for a couple of hours. We always look for interesting fabrics (check!), unusual dishes (check!), good books (check!) and, my particular obsession, vintage Pyrex cookware.

Today we did well, with a few yards of vintage fabrics, lovely Japanese ceramics, and an almost complete set of old Pyrex restaurant ware. Another set of dishes? Seriously? We go through an alarming number of dishes. The combination of teen boys + tile floors is hard on the ceramics so these will be put to good use.

I'm quite taken with the large golden poppy plate which makes a fine challah tray, and a little flowered ....vase? Creamer? Double-spouted, no handle pitcher thing? I don't know its original purpose, but it's a far finer pistachio holder than anything I could pick up at the local Kmart.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

It's the last week of November and I had yet another chance to get all teary when we had our annual Thanksgiving lesson in my classroom. What I wrote last year remains true:

I find myself incredibly grateful for my own family. We've never had to send anyone away to earn money and we've never had to communicate with one another by long distance. I have parents, in-laws, and a grandmother who love me and are always there for me. A blessing, indeed.
Though they've both gotten more challenging, we've both managed to keep our jobs this year and we are keenly aware of how lucky we are in that area. Apart from the endless dental bills, my children are healthy, creative, and growing up well. Our parents and my 91 year old grandmother are still going strong . My health has improved bit by bit and most days I feel strong and capable. I don't miss being the fragile, frazzled wreck I was a few years ago, that's for sure.

My kitchen is full of good smells from the tasty dishes we'll be sharing with friends today. I hope those who are celebrating today have a joyful holiday.

Oh--and don't forget that well deserved Thanksgiving nap!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Recently Made

My brave daughter finished some truly epic dental work today. Over a few visits she had fillings, sealants, and crowns (oh my!). If you've been reading here for a while you know that I am not a huge fan of going to the dentist so I was miserable at the thought of my poor girl in the chair.

I try really hard not to pass my dental issues on to my kids but I was pretty nervous at the thought of all the work needing to be done. I wanted to give her something to honor what I considered her exceptional bravery and overall good cheer about having people mucking around in her mouth and sticking her with needles. Ideally this something would be small, soft, and smile worthy. Which explains a couple of secretive evenings spent in the basement making.....felt teeth. With faces.

I got the patterns from the book Softies by Therese Laskey which is full of charming little projects. Honestly, these are really pushing the cutesy boundary for me but they seemed to do the trick as Tovah made it thorough both long appointments without even a tear. Maybe it was just due to the skill of my truly wonderful dentist. But I'd like to think my goofy little handmade teeth helped just a bit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rough Count

I was just reading this post over at the Bitten Blog and it got me thinking that I never did tally up all the canning, freezing, and drying I did this year.

I've given quite a few jars away and we've run through a few as well, but I must have filled close to 100 jars with apricot jam, sour cherry jam, strawberry jam, blueberry marmalade, peach butter, apricot marmalade, stewed tomatoes, chili sauce, sweet tomato chutney, apricot-red pepper chutney, cranberry marmalade, satsuma plum jam, cranberry-orange preserves with cardamom, Asian plum sauce, and cranberry vinegar. I dried blueberries, peaches, cherries, and apricots. And I filled the freezer, too, with bags of blueberries, strawberries, apricots, peaches, cherries, elderberries, cranberries, and roasted tomatoes. And many quarts of slow cooked tomato sauce.

I've used my old copy of the Rodale book Stocking Up for years but this summer I got a couple of new additions to my bookshelf. The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp has a wonderful variety of recipes and the small batch aspect takes some of the stress and frenzy out of preserving. Not the book for a tomato avalanche, but nice for variety. Some of my favorites from this book were red pepper and apricot chutney, blueberry marmalade, Asian plum sauce, and a super fresh tasting, barely cooked strawberry jam.

I also got my hands on Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty. I can't tell you how many times I've come across references to this book over the years, but it went out of print long ago and the library doesn't even have it. Every time I looked it up I found copies for $50 and more so I figured I'd never see it. When I shared my despair over this with my friend Chris, she found me a battered but completely serviceable (and affordable) copy on that very day. I love this book. I think there's something about that classic 1980's page layout from Workman Publishing which really works for me, possibly because that's when I started looking at cookbooks seriously. It's a fun book, loaded with tasty things like candied cranberries, peach preserves with brown sugar and rum, and other delicacies. Like the best cookbooks, it's as much fun to read as to cook from. If you come across a copy of this while out and about, snap it up as it's a keeper!
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Thursday, November 12, 2009


I've been down with a cold the last few days which does strange things to my appetite. I know most people like bland, simple food when sick but for me, the spicier the better. All I wanted this time was spicy Asian noodle soups and blistering curries. I ended up with simple, bland chicken noodle soup because I didn't have the energy to make it more interesting and an egg curry which wasn't nearly hot enough despite what I thought was a generous use of Dundicut peppers.

I started feeling better this morning and a new craving arose, this time for the jam filled scones they sell at my favorite cafe. I was still feeling too lazy to actually go out so imagine my surprise when I found the very thing I was craving while scrolling through my Google Reader.

Lelo in NoPo is a wonderful blog full of color and life an so many good things: food and photos and gardens and more. After my busy summer of preserving, of course I had to follow a post entitled What the heck are you doing with all that jam? I was delighted to find that Lelo had a recipe for the very jam-filled scone I'd been craving. All I had to do was make a trip down to my basement shelves to choose a filling.

Have I written yet about how many jars are down there? There are quite a few. Maybe more than that. But they're all neatly labeled so that's something.

After looking over the possibilities I decided on an apricot filling and pulled out a particularly special jar. This jar came from a box of old canning jars found in the back of our garage when we moved in. It doesn't look like any of my other jars and is emblazoned with the words Drey's Perfect Mason. I suppose it's silly to be especially fond of a particular canning jar, but there you have it: one more oddity on my ever growing list!
I'm not much of a scone or biscuit maker--I don't think I have that light touch which everyone swears is necessary. So when I saw that this recipe was made using a countertop mixer I was a bit skeptical. But this came out light and crispy and extremely delicious. My only complaint? I only got six good sized scones from a batch of dough so next time I am definitely doubling the recipe.

Since I had an ideal jam-topped scone in mind, of course I had to fiddle with the recipe just slightly. I know my dream scones have some coconut and I think some oats, too. And nothing is ever harmed by the addition of a deep, strong, long-steeped vanilla extract so I added that as well. Lelo generously gave me permission to share her recipe with my changes. You'll find a printable recipe here. Enjoy!
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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Is Nothing Safe?

I recently (and with no small amount of reluctance) traded in my beloved old Sigg water bottle for a stainless steel version made by Earthlust. Why? Well it turns out that after denying their aluminum bottle liners contained BPA for years, Sigg finally revealed that, in fact, BPA was used in their older bottles. But it's OK, because it didn't leach into the contents. Really! They promised. Well, that wasn't good enough for me so I opted for food grade stainless, a non-toxic material that doesn't require a suspicious lining the way aluminum does.

Then I began worrying about the potential dangers in drinking hot coffee through a plastic lid. The waste generated by so called disposable cups is already appalling enough but who knows what leaches from those cheap plastic lids into my latte? So I made a deal with myself: no more to go coffee unless I have my snazzy BPA-free, leak proof, insulated stainless steel cup along with me. So far so good.

But no. I just read a disturbing report on the blog Civil Eats about BPA in the linings of virtually all food cans, organic or not.
Consumer Reports’ latest tests of canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, have found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA).
I'm not a huge user of canned food but there are few canned things which are staples in our home: organic tomatoes, coconut milk, beans, and tuna. I can't imagine cooking without some of these things in my pantry. I haven't been able to find much consistent information about which companies use cans containing BPA but someone at the Organic Grace blog has sone lots of research on the subject. Thanks, Organic Grace blog!

You'd think this would motivate me to do more canning next summer but even that's not safe as most commonly available home canning lids also contain BPA. What to do?

For years I really thought that my daily exposure to toxics wasn't really a big deal. But after recently reading a truly frightening book entitled The Autoimmune Epidemic , my Pollyanna tendencies are starting to wane. This stuff really does matter because we have no way of knowing which toxic chemical may be the one to tip us into any of over 100 autoimmune diseases. I already live with one which ups my likelihood of developing another. I've learned to live with Graves Disease in the last few years, but that's enough, thanks. I imagine it's only a matter of time until BPA goes the way of DDT and PCBs but how many people have to get sick before that happens?

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