Tuesday, October 30, 2012

the arnold arboretum






Hope you are enjoying the budding of yellows, oranges, and reds. If you are in Boston, the Arnold Arboretum is one of the best places to enjoy the colors of the season with some gentle exercise. (Just be sure to go to the visitor's center first to use the bathroom...trust me.)

As much as I love the colors of this season, I think I am even more in love with the movement...the sound of leaves raining onto the pavement...seeing them skipping along the ground on their way to some warm vacation destination...getting caught in a whirlwind of motion as a gust of wind rains leaves upon you.

One thing I do not love is the fear of walking down an oak-lined street with the sickening sound of acorns smacking the pavement all around me. I've not been hit yet (knock on oak wood).

Monday, October 29, 2012

plymouth

On my birthday, my lovely friend handed me a birthday card and said, "You've had a birthday month."

It is so true, and so lovely.

Birthday dinners, evenings out with friends, cards and gifts arriving (two words: bread machine), and the weekend before my birthday...a special day trip with the boy.

We don't have a car here in the city, so these outings are rare and cherished events.

Here are some shots from our day in Plymouth...



We were a little disappointed in Plymouth Rock itself. If you can imagine a big rock with "1620" engraved on it, you might as well skip it.

And of course, we couldn't commit to any of the many, many museums in town. We spent a big part of the day just walking along the water, enjoying the amazing views and salt air.




And of course, there were plenty of little shops and seafood restaurants. Plymouth is small and walkable and on an autumn Sunday, not at all touristy. It's worth a visit if you've never been.



We're considering a train trip up to Salem next...any recommendations for must-sees?

Friday, October 26, 2012

simplified life: week 2


Those are the bags of clothes and shoes that made it to the thrift store this week. And honestly, our collection wasn't even that big to begin with...except shoes maybe...I gave up 7 pairs and still have over 20! It feels good though. I can't say that cleaning out our closets or under the sinks has made much of a difference in my daily routine. But my drawers close a little easier, and I feel good knowing it's done.

Reducing my internet usage has been the biggest, most amazing thing I've done this week. I spent my mornings listening to the news and talking with J. I spent my evenings crocheting and watching tv. But most importantly, I became more aware of my internet use, and how meaningless a lot of it is. When I needed a midday break this week, I didn't hop over to facebook or pinterest. Instead, I made a cup of tea and drank it on the stairs outside our front door, listening to the rustle of leaves, watching a butterfly, and feeling the autumn sun on my cheeks.

I'm definitely holding on to my new internet habits, but the "list out things to do today" part doesn't work so well for me. Purging is incredibly liberating though, and I'm hoping to keep a cap on my material and digital stuff.

And now, we're on to week 2...

~~~

Week 2

Habits for the week:

-Make your bed every morning
     I recently heard that making your bed is the best way to start your day, because it puts something in your control and makes you feel accomplished. I know our bedroom also feels 10x nicer with a made bed.
-Turn off your phone after work
     I actually ignore my phone often, but I know that J's is always buzzing...not just with calls and texts, but  with updates and emails. Sometimes it's nice to just not be immediately accessible...especially during quiet evening times.
-Reduce your tv to an hour a night, 2 hours on weekends
     This one scares me. But it scares me more how much it scares me. I mean, this much tv should be plenty, and my ability to devour 4 episodes of a show in one sitting is a little disturbing. That's time that could be spent living my own life, not a character's.

Tasks for the week:

-Make your week's lunches on Sunday
     Find a great recipe and make a big batch that will last you through the week. Every evening, just throw some into a tupperware and add a piece of fruit on the side...planning for work will be a breeze all week...and you won't have to spend any money on impromptu lunches out!
-Purge/organize your pantries and fridge
     I am not advocating that you throw away good food here. Rather, find that old junk that is expired or will never get eaten and get rid of it. Reorganize everything so you can see what you have. And most importantly, make a pile of the stuff that has been around for a long time. Make it a point to cook and eat it as soon as possible.
-Purge your kitchen
     While you're at it, do a quick scan of your kitchen for things you don't really need or use. It's time to be brutal again. I'm expecting to face some hard realities about dishes and cookbooks.
-Invest in organization
     This is probably the only time I will tell you to bring something into your home during this simplification. Think of an area in your place that just drives you crazy with it's clutter. Think of what you could use to make it clean (bins, labels, twist ties...), buy what you need, and organize it!

~~~

How was your week 1? Jenn over at Simplistic Living added her own list of things to do, and I'm including them in my week as well!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

yarn along - the casual vacancy

I've skipped a week, but I'm back on board for Ginny's yarn alongs. (Check out her cute photos from last week.)

Every day that the air has just a little bite, I am reminded that I need to get down to business on my Harlequin Hoodie. I've made a lot of progress in the past couple of weeks, but there's plenty more to go...and the real cold will be here before we know it.


This is such a fantastic pattern for meditative crocheting. I've ridden the waves of the rows like blue, grey, and maroon ocean currents, easily memorizing one to the next.


But because it's such a bulky creature, the hoodie hasn't sped me along like my books.

I finished The House at Tyneford, sadly saying good bye to the characters I'd nestled into, and then said hello to the eagerly anticipated new Rowling book. This is no Harry Potter.

And that's ok. People have been hating pretty hard on this book, and I don't think it's because they were expecting Harry Potter. I think it's because they weren't expecting such a gritty, uncomfortable novel from the woman who took us all away to the places of dreams.

The Casual Vacancy is social commentary. It tells uncomfortable truths. There are swear words, and sex, and windows into the kinds of thoughts people don't usually talk about. Whether I'll close the cover and proclaim it a masterpiece, I'm not sure yet. But in the midst of this dark story, I am embracing the Rowling that delivers realism, knowing that I can always escape again back into her magical worlds of good and evil.


And I have to admit, I like the cover. Count me in the minority, I guess.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

26 things

I love those to-do lists that are made up of the things we want to do anyway. They let us feel like we are getting something done, when we are really just making a point to enjoy the things we love. They are new year's resolutions, birthday lists, summer bucket lists, advent calenders, how to's...

Today, I am 26. And I am in a good place. Of course there are many things I still want to do, but the question I usually have for myself is What's holding me back? It's a good place to be...there are things I want to do, and I just need to do them.

And that's what my list of 26 things is all about this year...


1. Watch the sun rise
3. Do yoga/exercise at least 5x/week
4. Don't buy store-made bread (with the exception of "special" bread, like pita bread or bagels)
5. Visit the twin cities with J
6. Buy flowers at least once per season
7. Go on a girl date once a month
8. Go on a romantic date (with J, duh) once a month
9. Do the splits
10. Go raw for a week
11. Make pancakes
12. Make the bed (almost) daily
13. Go to the beach
14. Make chex mix
16. Go. To. SOWA.
17. Try a new fruit
18. Have a weekly drink
19. Host a bloggers' crochet night
20. Enjoy a pastry
21. Learn to sew on a machine
22. Make homemade tofu
23. Finish reading Momo (auf Deutsch)
24. Re-watch While You Were Sleeping, Sleepless in Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally (basically the three best rom-coms of all time)
25. Volunteer during the summer
26. Make Christmas cookies (full.of.sugar.)

Honestly, this list makes me a little giddy...especially those ones that involve sweet treats, girl dates, and romance. =) Every year I wonder when getting older will start to be less fun. And somehow, I don't think this year is the year...

Friday, October 19, 2012

simplified life: week 1

Last night I had a little trouble sleeping. When I have trouble sleeping, I am rarely thinking about some particular thing that stresses me out. In fact, I'm often not stressed at all. My mind is just buzzing...unable to shut down.

And in the midst of that incessant buzzing last night, I envisioned a simpler life. I suddenly had this image of myself, waking slowly in the morning and enjoying a cup of coffee by the window. I saw myself walking to a local bakery, enjoying the weather. I imagined that the incessant buzzing would stop. And in wondering why I don't often enjoy that life, I realized it is because I am anchored to so many things.

In the morning, I am on my computer before my glasses are on. I spend all day balancing commitments to three classes, three professors, and all the other roles I play. In the evening, I am trying to fit the rest in...clean the apartment, visit a trillion blogs, squeeze in some reading. I have convinced myself that it is important for me to do all these things because I like them. And I do! But when life becomes too complex, everything is about multi-tasking...and there is no time to enjoy the moment.

And while I'm in no position to move to the country and live off the grid, there are definitely ways I can simplify.

So I've made myself a 4-week plan to simplify, cut down commitments, and be more present.


The 4-Week Simplified Life Plan

You are welcome to join along, or read along. Feel free to blog about it, or not. I'm sharing it here a) because I personally love reading and doing stuff like this, and b) because it will keep me accountable.

Every Friday I will post four tasks and three habits for the week. The goal is to accomplish all four tasks before the end of the week, and commit to each of the habits for the week, Sunday through Sunday. If these things become long-term habits, all the better...but there's no pressure to hang on to a habit after the week is up. It's a big experiment, and I can also imagine returning to this process again and again, in other months when I need to reset.

Whenever possible, get the people you live with to join in too! As of this morning, J is on board, so I'll also give an update on our previous week's progress every Friday.

Today I'm introducing week 1. But before I do, there is an important task that precedes all of this. If you are joining along, be sure to do this for yourself.

Write down how you envision your simplified life. What would your daily routine look like? When it's down, look at where you placed your priorities. We often commit to things because we feel like they should be important to us...but if the bakery is more important to you than scoring an A on that paper...you should probably be okay with that. And how you approach the next four weeks should reflect those priorities.

The priorities for me are all about relaxation and enjoying my surroundings. This means I have to find time to do some intentional things to make my surroundings lovely (candles, tidying), but also let some things go (my Internet habits, a perfectly clean home).

Shall we begin?

~~~

Week 1

Habits for the week:

-Internet from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. only
     Adjust these times as necessary for yourself. What these restrictions mean for me is that I can't get on the Internet before or after my work/schoolday.
-Make a morning list of things to accomplish at work/school
     As soon as you arrive at your daily destination (or when you start working from home), make a list of the most major things you need to accomplish that day and focus on getting them done.
-Love your commute
     Whenever you have to go from point A to point B, make that journey enjoyable somehow...music, books on tape, reading...and don't forget to notice the beautiful sky or funny people around you.

Tasks for the week:

-Purge your clothes and shoes
    Be brutal here. Ask yourself: when is the last time I wore this? do I feel good in it? do I need it in the foreseeable future? does it fit? By the end of the week, take whatever you're getting rid of to the thrift store or consignment shop.
-Purge/organize under your sinks
     These are the nether-areas that stress me out every time I have to go under there, and they are often storage places for junk. Toss the stuff you don't need, and then organize it so you can find what you do need easily.
-Close online accounts and unsubscribe to as much as possible
     At the bottom of all those spam emails, there is often a little unsubscribe link. Click it. If you are not using all the scads of information that is thrown at you every day, nix it. Read fewer blogs, close that old email account you never use, maybe take a break from facebook?!
-Clean your email, then stay on top of it
     Go through your inbox(es), delete or answer every email, and then make a pledge to yourself to deal with each one as soon as it comes in. For me, it's important to set aside time for email. If I have it open all day at work, things pop up, get read, and then ignored. If I keep my email closed and just open it during reserved email time, I can address all the issues in one sitting.

~~~

Let me know if you'll be playing along...I'll be starting this Sunday!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

good for the soul

There is a window in our living room that is perpendicular to one in the bedroom. From there, you can look out of one room and into the other.

If the windows are open, you can hear what's going on in the other room.

And if there is a kitty in the window, you can have a conversation.

And if you are very lucky, she will be an adorable kitty that will coo with curiosity, mingled with concern. She'll be a little confused, and she'll paw at the screen. And then she will grow desperate.


And so finally, you'll rush to the bedroom to scoop her up into your arms and remind her that you aren't forever separated by some impenetrable screens. And you will laugh at just how silly she is.

Cats. Good for the soul.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

mindful moments

In case you didn't know, Boston has a pretty amazing Holocaust memorial. It is understated, but powerful. And this is the part that is always the most moving for me...


No more words needed, I think.

I am lucky to have so much more than one raspberry...and I can only ever hope to be as generous as Ilse.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

girl's birthday dinner

Don't worry...you haven't missed it! (I know you were worried.) But since I was asked to participate in a gentle detox program that starts tomorrow, I got J to work on my birthday dinner a little early. So today we sat down to made by hand potato gnocchi, broccoli rabe in olive oil, marinated olives, and red wine.



I had no idea how much work the gnocchi would be...and I don't think J did either...especially when he decided to make a double batch. This girl is not complaining.

And I have to admit, even though I felt a little bad that he was trapped in the kitchen all day, I loved seeing those strong hands kneading dough and gently rolling little gnocchi along a fork.



And the taste? I have no words.

Strike that. I have a million words. Delicious, divine, yummy, heavenly...

I am going to go have a second third serving. And I will let J know he needs to start a food blog asap.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

yarn along - the house at tyneford

For the past few Wednesdays, I've loved taking the journey through my sister's yarn alongs. Books and cozy yarn projects...such a lovely way to begin this journey into long nights and chill air, don't you think?

So this week, I'm joining her and Ginny with my own little yarn along.


J and I both agree it's going to be a very cold winter this year. Until now, I've survived Boston winters with just my earmuffs. Occasionally I'll give in and wear a hat, but (horror of horrors) they mess up my hair, and I resist them as much as possible, despite how cute they are. So my current crochet project is the Harlequin Hoodie.

Hoods are really my favorite thing, and I stocked up on some wool yarn, so I can count on the warmth this season. I'm loving the faint sheep smell that stays even on this processed stuff. I also really loved the cheerful rainbow colors of the original pattern. Bright winter gear always makes me think of Scandinavia, where you have to find the happy in winter in order to make it through. But I wanted my hoodie to feel a little chillier, a little more like cold ocean air and cloudy horizons...


And that brings me to The House at Tyneford. It's set in Great Britain during the onset of the Second World War, and reading about winter on the British coast while I'm cozied up in my feather duvet with a hot water bottle at my feet...well, it's the best. It pairs perfectly with my cool colored wool.

The heroine is an Austrian Jewess (+1 point for the occasional German reference), who has to sacrifice a luxurious life in Vienna to secure her safety. Elise leaves her parents behind to work as a maid at the Tyneford House in England. I won't tell you too much, but so far it is sad and hopeful and romantic. It is full of dancing, adventures on the shore, and descriptions of indulgent food. (It had me at creamy custard and herbed potatoes.)

You will love it if you love any of the following: Great Britain, Jane Austen, Downton Abbey, the Brontë sisters, creamy custard, or herbed potatoes.

And if you're not looking forward to the winter, I'm sorry to share our chilly prediction with you. But I heard it's already snowing in Minnesota...

Monday, October 8, 2012

boy's birthday dinner

Tomorrow is J's birthday. For the next two weeks, we will be the same age. And then...I can look forward to another year of cougar jokes.

But I love the boy. So he got himself a birthday dinner this weekend.


Old school German Sauerbraten, marinated for four days...

Doughy, white potato Klöße...

Sweet pickled red cabbage...

Full glasses of pumpkin beer...


And one happy camper.

We know we're getting older, because we spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping off our individual glasses of beer.

The whole meal was not nearly as good as my mum makes it. My Klöße were a little underdone, I think. But I'm sharing the recipe anyway, as I translated it from German and I want to share the potato love.

German Klöße

Ingredients:
3-4 lbs of Russet potatoes*
2 slices white bread
3 tbsp (vegan) butter
white vinegar
salt

*Store potatoes at room temperature; the fridge will change the starch into sugar

1. Cut the bread into cubes and fry in the butter until browned. Set aside.
2. Peel potatoes. Heat salted water on the stove, cut 1/3 of the potatoes into 2-3 chunks each, and add to the water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are soft. When done (at any point during the next few steps), remove from the water.
3. While the potatoes are cooking, finely grate the other 2/3 of potatoes into a bowl, mixing with a splash of vinegar to keep them from browning. Transfer to a linen bag (I used a pillowcase) and strain over the bowl, squeezing as much liquid out as possible.
4. Allow the potato starch to settle in the liquid, then pour the excess liquid slowly off the top. If you lose some starch, you can add a little potato or corn starch from your pantry. Return the dried potatoes to the starch and mix.
5. Mash the cooked potatoes until very smooth. While they are still hot, add back to the dried potato and starch mixture. Mix together until starch is uniform throughout. (I used my hands, but be careful...it's hot!). You can test this by rinsing your hands under cold water, then pressing the mixture...it should not stick.
6. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While it's heating, form the dough into dumplings with a cube of bread stuck in the middle of each. They will be about 2-3 inches in diameter. When water is boiling, use a slotted spoon to put dumplings in water. Do not overcrowd; you can cook them in a couple of batches if necessary.
6. When dumplings are in the water, do not allow it to return to a boil. They will be done when they float to the top.

Friday, October 5, 2012

pumpkin cake

So last weekend I intended to make CCK's amazing-looking pumpkin bars. And instead, I sort of made this incredible, delicious pumpkin cake.

Sometimes accidents are just the best.


On day one, this cake was fluffy and warm and soft. But as it sat, it became more and more moist and dense, changing the experience entirely. It was like two cakes in one! (Can you see just how moist it looks in the above pic? Be sure to keep in the fridge after a day or two...if it lasts that long...)

It's really, really perfect for enjoying the onset of fall. Because it's here, you guys. I'm on pins and needles for temperatures in the 50's next weekend.

I strongly recommend enjoying this with a good cream cheese frosting. I improvised my own with vegan cream cheese and butter, stevia, and vanilla. But here's a great vegan option, or you could go with a classic.

Pumpkin Cake


Ingredients:
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp each: nutmeg, ground cloves, ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar, or 1-to-1 substitute*
1 can pumpkin purée
1/4 cup almond milk, room temperature
1/4 cup coconut oil, liquid
1 tsp vanilla extract

*I used 1/4 cup palm sugar, and 1/4 cup stevia baking blend

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease the bottom and sides of a cake pan. Combine the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
2. In a separate (larger) bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, milk, oil, and vanilla. Mix on medium with an electric mixer until well blended. Add the dry ingredients one-third at a time, mixing on a low setting. Scrape down the sides as needed.
3. When just smooth, pour the batter into the greased pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.