Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Did I Kill the Dog?

That was the thought churning through my head the other day, when our beasty a.k.a. Maddy was no where to be found. Our electronic dog fence was vandalized by either the transient bears that roam through our back yard in search of rotten apples or the delinquent raccoons that prowl the night and love nothing more than to rabble rouse.

It was a sunny day and Maddy loves nothing more than to soak up the rays on the back deck. I was working and didn’t think of her until hours later when she was no where to be found. I called for her, patrolled the neighborhood, enlisted the help of the local animal control officer, asked the trash man to keep an eye out, and set every kid with a bike on patrol. I went down to the river, to the dog park, even to the high school where kids play hacky sack and frisbee. She was nowhere to be found. Now the sun was setting and the temps were dropping. Where could she be? By this time the animal control officer had checked in to inform me that she had not spotted our runaway either. She braced me for the fact that if she was hit by a car, it would be the Streets and Parks department that would be calling me. At this point I am picturing a shovel and dump truck.

I felt the worst was imminent. Having done everything possible, I decided to sweep the neighborhood once more. Was that a flash of brown leg in my peripheral vision? Better go check. Across the street and two houses down I found my beasty. She was shaking and scared, buy why? It was then I noticed the back door to my neighbor’s house ajar. She has a lever door handle and a dog of her own that Maddy is friendly with. Speculation leads us to the conclusion that Maddy opened the door, let herself in, hung out with her pal Denton, and couldn’t figure out how to get out of the house (I never said she was the sharpest tool in the shed). I’m sure she heard me calling and was doing her best to get to me. Other than a loss of heat in my neighbor’s house, no harm was done. Home safe and sound, now it’s easy to joke about Maddy’s growing rap sheet which now includes breaking and entering, trespassing and hit and run (but that’s a story for another time). Needless to say, fixing the fence is a top priority, in the meantime I’ve turned up the heat in the entryway where the tiles get toasty warm and Maddy likes to curl up almost as much as in the sun.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Godfather

No, not Marlan Brando, I’m talking about the drink. Have you heard of it? I had not until I received a bottle of Amaretto di Saronno from my FIL for my birthday not long ago. I love many things about amaretto, especially the originale from Saronno – the shape and texture of the bottle, the color of the liquor, the creamy almond fragrance, the secret guarded recipe for making it, the fact that it has been around since 1525, and of course it doesn’t taste bad either, but as primarily a wine drinker, I don’t really know what to do with it or most liqueurs. I was explaining this to my mom who said “Oh, you have to make a Godfather.” She went on to tell me that I am not alone in my libational ignorance, everybody including most bartenders has forgotten about this drink. She said she always has to give barkeeps instructions when she orders it out. Having the two requisite ingredients on hand, I promptly mixed one for myself. Here’s how:

A Godfather
Mix 2 parts Scotch or bourbon whiskey with 1 part amaretto in an old fashioned glass with ice. Stir and enjoy. To make it fancy add a lime wedge.

I ended up adding a smidge more amaretto. The whiskey tempered the sweet of the amaretto and the amaretto smoothed the harshness of the whiskey. Happy weekend. Cheers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It’s Finally Snowing!

This is what I woke to up this morning. At long last, the snow has arrived, covering everything in sight with a fluffy blanket of white. I’ll let Ogden Nash take it from here:

Winter Morning
Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over the lakes.
Smooth and clean and frost white
The world looks good enough to bite.
That’s the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue
Snow is snowy when it’s snowing
I’m sorry it’s slushy when it’s going.

Simple Pleasure: An Old English (possibly French) Pub Game

Like most families, we are a busy bunch. Everyone is running in a different direction, making it hard to connect with one another especially during swimming and mock trial seasons. One of our family traditions that has gotten a lot of play over the years and continues to be a source of spontaneous fun for us is a game called Shut-the-Box. We keep it on the kitchen table so it’s easy to reach for anytime two or more of us are sitting down together. We’ve been playing this game since the girls were small, they’re teenagers now and it still has not lost its appeal.

According to the game, Shut-the-Box is a traditional English pub game of dice and numbers. The object is to roll the dice and lay down all the numbered tiles and “shut the box,” or be the player with the lowest score. Some say the game originated in 12th century France where it was popular with Norman sailors and fishermen as a gambling vice. Despite its salty past, it’s a great game for all ages. Yes, it teaches number sense, probability and strategy to youngsters, but more importantly it’s quick and engaging for all -- just the thing to regroup, even if all you have is five minutes with your kiddo before she’s off to the next thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Simple Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread is a holiday staple. Years ago, we used to make houses, an endeavor requiring mathematical calculations, vats of thick frosting and considerable structural engineering skills; challenging and rewarding, but not simple (for us anyway). Gingerbread houses gradually mutated to gingerbread men and women cut out one-by-one and wonkily decorated with blobs of icing with red hot eyeballs. Charming to be sure, but messy and time consuming; who needs that this time of year? As the demand for holiday gingerbread has not ceased in this household, my husband suggested we simply roll the dough into logs, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate like we do with butter cookies. When ready (the dough & us), slice the dough into discs and bake. Once out of the oven and cooled decorate to resemble snowflakes. Here’s how they turned out – we kept the rewarding and charming, omitted the challenging and time consuming.

And here’s the recipe. It’s from Rose’s Christmas Cookies, by Rose Levy Beranbaum (author of The Cake Bible)
Gingerbread People (Snowflakes)
3 cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg

-In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda and spices, them whisk together to mix evenly.
-In a food processor with a metal blade, process brown sugar until fine. Cut the butter into a few pieces and add it with the motor running. Process until smooth and creamy. Add the molasses and egg and process until incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and pulse in just until the dough begins to clump together.
-Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a ball. Divide dough into quarters and roll each into a log shape. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
-Preheat oven to 350. Slice dough into discs and bake 8-10 minutes. Decorate with royal icing.

Monday, December 12, 2011

No More Meat

I should probably qualify that. No more meat for 60 days from the grocery store. Hunting season is over for us and this year we have two bucks and a cow (elk) in the freezers thanks to my two daughters and my hubby. This may sound like a lot, but we share it with my husband’s parents and my BIL and his wife. We still have a little meat  from last year, so combined with that we’ve got plenty of burger, roasts, tenderloin and stew meat. My husband asked me if it would be possible to not buy meat for two months and use just what we have in the freezer. In addition to game, we’ve got chicken, sausages and pork chops and pork loin roasts, yellow fin tuna and a turkey. Yes, I think we can manage that and then some! In fact, I think it’s a great way to clear out the freezer a bit and try some new game recipes. This, being winter, is the perfect season to try this experiment. I never make roasts and stews when the mercury climbs, but this time of the year the smell of a roast, rich with carrots and onions is as comforting to the senses as a crackling fire after a day on the slopes.  Since we eat a fair amount of game anyway, I don’t think our grocery costs will go down significantly, but I expect them to decrease a bit; the challenge will be to keep the meals varied and interesting.  I’ll be cruising the web for good game recipes. If you have any to share, please let me know.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Attend a Holiday Concert

We recently attended this year’s annual Christmas concert featuring the Mountain Madrigals, a holidays-only choir that sings songs of the season to packed audiences on weekends leading up to Christmas. We didn’t make it last year and I regretted it, so I made sure we got to the first performance before the momentum of December whisked away our chance. Their opening song was Silent Night, my favorite, and long before the final note was sung, I was crying like a baby. What is it about live performances that cuts to the emotional core? My husband even got “choked up” as he put it and I spotted the elderly woman in the pew behind me dabbing her eyes after the Gloria finale. I’m not going to over analyze this phenomenon, I just feel blessed that I was able to attend and be present as 22 voices sang songs, modern and ancient, celebrating the love and hope that Christmas represents.

Concerts like this one happen in every big city and small town during the holidays; usually they are free, like this one, make a donation if you are moved to do so, but attend one if you can. The joy of the holiday season can dissolve in endless to-do lists and rampant commercialism; a hometown concert is a great antidote and a way to tap the spirit of the season.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simple Pleasure: Making Time to Read

One of my goals over the past few months has been to carve out more time to read books. I read blogs, the newspaper, Ravelry posts, magazines, but I noticed I didn’t have a lot of recently read books to my credit. I love reading. Growing up I always had my nose in a book; I loved the library. Bookish and bookworm were words that once described me. When we bought this house eleven years ago, I had bookshelves built in my hallway which is a nothing space that now houses a miniature library of fiction, suspense, history, travel, how-to, children’s and young adult books. So what happened? Honestly, I don’t know. Apparently I got busy with other things. Sure, I read a few books a year, but not enough to warrant calling myself “a reader.”

A few months ago, after a long hiatus, I found my way to the local library where I rediscovered a lost world. The book I checked out planted me in Sarah Addison Allen’s charming and slightly magical world, which in turn led me to Alice Hoffman, Audrey Niffenegger and Erin Morgenstern. A string of other books followed; I just finished Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, told from the point of view of a brilliant Harvard professor suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I’m still thinking about that one. I have a whole new insight into that wretched disease, but isn’t that the point of reading – to broaden understanding; to glimpse other points of view. I’d forgotten how wonderful it is to read books. I’ve been making time to read everyday and it doesn’t hurt that I’m on a deadline – three weeks and those books have to go back to the library. I have many goals for the upcoming year, but I think making time to read tops the list. I’m currently reading Juliet, by Anne Fortier and next up after that will be The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Ooh, I’m so excited! Have you rediscovered something you love to do but for some reason quit?

BTW – I’ve found it handy to keep track of my reading – books read and books to read at www.goodreads.com, as well as troll for new reading material.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Black Is Not Simple

My quest for a simpler life includes simplifying my wardrobe, purchasing only quality clothing items I love in a color palette that transcends trends. A lot of what I’ve read in the blogosphere, in books and magazines has suggested black be the color that grounds a simple, stylish wardrobe, and I can see the logic there. In the photos of stylish women in New York, Paris and other urban hubs there’s no denying the sleek women in head-to-toe black with a dash of color in a handbag or scarf do look oh-so-chic. I’ve tried this look, and well, it simply doesn’t work for me. I’ve often wondered why this is. This is what I’ve come up with:

  1. Black is moody. I live in Colorado, a state that boasts 360 days of sunshine. Black looks better against moody, rainy backdrops like Paris, San Francisco or that town in Oregon where all the vampires live. Exposed to the unfiltered atmosphere at 6,000 feet above sea level, black looks grumpy and in need of a nap.
  2. Black likes the City. I don’t live in the City, I live in the mountains; a place where people come to get away from the City (perhaps they come here to get out of their black clothes and experience something more colorful). Head-to toe black, to me, looks like a lost tourist.
  3. Black likes to party. Me? Not so much. I love a good wine-tasting party and a concert, but I’m glad my clubbing days are a faded memory. These days, my nightlife includes dinner or drinks with friends, the infrequent work-related function, a few low-key holiday get-togethers, events with extended family, going to the movies – all of which are cheerful occasions calling for attire to match.  
  4. Black likes winter. I once bought I linen dress in black, thinking I’d wear the heck out of it all summer long. It hung in my closet, hardly worn, until I consigned the thing. I haven’t bought a black summer dress since. But here in Colorado, with all the snow reflecting all the sunshine, it’s still too bright to wear black on most days, even in winter.
  5. Black likes to be alone. It’s no secret that black says back off. There are times when I want to send that message loud and clear, but honestly most of the time, I don’t. Like I said, I live in a small town. I know when I go for a walk, shopping for groceries or to a school function, I will see many familiar faces. Whether I’m wearing black or not, people will stop and chat, so why send mixed messages – “Hi, now get lost.”
Of course if you like black, wear it. It might be simple and chic for you. It is for many, but it’s not for me. The point is to find what works for you, your life, your aesthetic. I still wear black. I have black cardis, pants, skirts, shoes, a coat, handbag and hat, none of which I’m planning on consigning any time soon.  But these days black takes a backseat to other colors, especially the autumnal colors I adore and the jeans that ground my everyday look. Sounds simple, it’s not. One of my most favorite style blogs is The Vivienne Files. She explains with examples and great detail how to take a color palette you love and make it your own.  Black works, but so do a spectrum of other colors.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ascots for All

Newly knitted for Christmas gifts
Yes, I go on knitting “kicks” where I knit multiples of the same pattern, especially at Christmas time. One year it was hats, another knitted animals, last year it was a Knitty pattern called calorimetry; this year it’s ascots. I have made these before and this year two of my nieces and my SIL have requested them for Christmas; I am happy to oblige. I love this pattern because it’s fun to knit, quick, cost effective, quirky, warm and leans preppy on the style spectrum. Here’s the link if you want to knit the Anthropologie-Inspired Bobble Cable Ascot by Kayla Kramer.

The first group of ascots

Warm & colorful

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to Cut a Butternut Squash

This may seem obvious to some, but it was not to me. I can’t remember where I read about this, but it was a revelation to me. I used to buy the pre-cut squash from Costco; it always felt slick, bordering on slimy. I dealt with it by washing it, but it bugged me nonetheless. Butternut is my favorite winter squash and it has been on sale lately. My husband likes it in risotto, I love it in soup, my kids like it with tortellini which is how we had last night. It literally took me 5 minutes to peel, seed and cut up the squash – simple!

Here’s how: Use your vegetable peeler!! Yup, that’s the secret. I was always in danger of amputating my fingers when I used a knife and in the process threw away most of the squash. This is so much easer. Remember to cut the top and bottom off first, stand squash on its bottom and split it in half with a chopping knife, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then peel the squash with your carrot (vegetable) peeler. Now chop and use it how you like best.

Make Your Own Simple Chocolate Advent Calendar

My kids have always loved their chocolate advent calendars. It’s one of our most treasured holiday traditions, one that began when I was a kid and my parents bought the colorful, chocolate-filled calendars at the German butcher shop. Now you can get them at import stores like World Market, but since we don’t live anywhere near one of those and the chocolate inside those mass marketed ones isn’t too tasty, we started making our own. My sister came up with the idea a few years ago and the tradition stuck. We usually make ours the day after Thanksgiving and everyone from my four year-old nephew to my 16-year-old daughter loves making these. Here’s how you can make your own:

Simple Chocolate Advent Calendar Supplies:
- Cardboard (I use old cereal or gift boxes)
- Rectangle of craft felt (we found some at Michael’s that had sticky backing, otherwise you will need glue)
- Scissors
- Hot glue gun and glue sticks
- Permanent marker for writing numbers on your chocolate wrappers
- CHOCOLATE (we used silver kisses, but you could use anything you like)

Using your felt rectangle as a size guide, cut out a simple tree shape with a trunk at the bottom, cut out a matching piece of cardboard. Peel off adhesive back or glue felt to cardboard, number chocolates 1-24 with permanent marker, use hot glue to adhere to felt. If you arrange your chocolates randomly, you still have the fun of finding the numbers.

Voila! Simple.
Welcome to Blue Jeans & Black Coffee
As a forty-something work at home mom and wife, blue jeans are my uniform; taking my coffee black not only kicks starts my day, saves me money and calories, it allows me to savor the flavor of a quality brew. Both of these things, jeans and coffee, are basic, humble and filled with potential. Pair heels with jeans I’m ready for evening out, add Kahlua and cream to the coffee and I’m indulging in a delectable treat. Similarly, so many of the best and most enjoyable things and experiences in life are simple ones that with our own personal touch become special and meaningful. The dismal economy has certainly sped me along this path, though I’ve always believed quality is better than quantity, that good food nourishes the soul as much as the body, that simple is better than complicated. This blog is a place to catalogue, explore, and hopefully share ideas with others who have a similar viewpoint; I’ll put the coffee on…