Stuff and Nonsense: 2019


11.13.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Bittersweet

Bittersweet. When I was in kindergarten, I went as a witch for Halloween & my mother decorated the brim of my hat with bittersweet.

11.08.2019

43 things to do in my 43rd year


I just celebrated a birthday and have made a list of things I would like to do in this my 43rd year. This list has been randomized using RANDOM.ORG's list randomizer, because ordering the list by importance or alphabet made me anxious. Also, I didn't come up with any of these ideas specifically for this list. They are all things I've thought about doing, but put off for one reason or another. Most are local and small, because that's where my happiness lies.

  1. Take a crochet class at Hartford Stitch or the like.
  2. Attend a poetry reading.
  3. Sew something.
  4. Complete a Creativebug project.
  5. Create a living will.
  6. Cook more of Mom's recipes.
  7. Experience a float tank.
  8. Foster/adopt a cat or cats.
  9. Minimize Amazon purchases.
  10. Participate in a program at the Kellogg Environmental Center.
  11. Engage in regular yoga practice.
  12. Set up two more monthly charitable donations.
  13. Listen to more classical music.
  14. Figure out eyeliner.
  15. Read more.
  16. Attend a Promisek concert at Three Rivers Farm.
  17. Meditate more daily.
  18. Eat more vegetables.
  19. Drop the Dunkin' tea habit.
  20. Attend an Adult Space Night at Van Vleck Observatory.
  21. Dine at one of the Culinary Institute of America's Hyde Park restaurants.
  22. Plant another tree.
  23. Have Dad up for bimonthly dinners.
  24. Visit Wave Hill.
  25. Attend Connecticut's Historic Gardens Day.
  26. Attend a poetry performance at Hill-Stead Museum.
  27. Watch more roller derby.
  28. Make Grandma Chapman's pierogis.
  29. Get a garden certified as a Monarch Waystation.
  30. Bake bread in my French oven.
  31. Donate blood 6 times.
  32. Build a gingerbread house.
  33. Master pie crust.
  34. Create a dedicated home meditation space.
  35. Participate in Connecticut Trails Day.
  36. Enroll in a King Arthur Flour Baking School class.
  37. Book more massages.
  38. Attend a hearth cooking demonstration at the Stanley-Whitman House.
  39. Visit Chanticleer.
  40. Visit Weir Farm National Historic Site.
  41. Carry a reusable water bottle at all times.
  42. Attend new kinds of cultural performances.
  43. Subscribe to a meat CSA.

10.27.2019

Roasted Delicata Squash & Brussels Sprouts

While I've long been Team Butternut when it comes to winter squashes, delicata is becoming quite a favorite. Its sweet, smooth flesh is reminiscent of a sweet potato and it is, I feel, one of the easiest winter squashes to cook since the skin is completely, deliciously edible. I like to roast mine with Brussels sprouts and onions, but they are also excellent stuffed or in a gratin.


My recipe for roasting delicata squash and Brussels sprouts is pretty basic:

  • Halve a few delicata squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.
  • Slice into ¼ inch pieces.
  • Put in a big bowl.
  • Halve a bunch of Brussels sprouts and add to the bowl.
  • Drizzle in some olive oil and toss everything around.
  • Spread the vegetables out on your biggest sheet pan.
  • Season liberally with salt, pepper, and whatever herbs or spices you like (rosemary is always a go-to)
  • Roast at 425°F; for 25 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are a bit charred and crispy.

Since you're going to eat the skin, make sure you give the squash an extra good scrubbing before you prepare it.

Just before going in the oven. No after photo, because I was too greedy.

10.23.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Purple & Yellow Cauliflower

Beautiful purple and yellow cauliflower for sale at the farmers market.

10.16.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Monarch Butterfly

Monarch butterfly enjoying the last of the summer zinnias.

10.14.2019

Read & Create: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen


I launched a new library book club this month, called Book Scents. The intention is to read a feel-good fluffy-ish book every two months, meet and discuss, and then do a craft at the end of each discussion based on scents from the book. In October, we read Sarah Addison Allen's First Frost (a novel guaranteed to sooth a heart bruised by the world's nonsense) and crafted small mason jar candles inspired by the Claire's magical candies.

This post is basically a walk through of how I led the meeting and made the candles, should anyone want to copy me.

We started with the candles as I knew from my practice candle it would take about 30-45 minutes for the candles to set.

Prior to the club members' arrival, I had set up two folding tables and at the far end of each table arranged a portable cast iron hot plate, aluminum saucepan, wax melting pitcher, and bottle of water.

At the near end of each table I arranged 5 fat Popsicle sticks, 5 4 oz quilted glass canning jars with their lids and bands, 5 sturdy paper bowls, 5 hot mats, 5 4-inch candlewicks, a strip of tiny glue dots, 5 metal wick centering bands, and 4 bottles of fragrance oils and their droppers.

The oil blends came from Nurture Soap as the Teen librarian swears by them and uses them in her crafts. I purchased:

  • Autumn Equinox
  • Awaken (2)
  • Fairy Garden
  • Lavender & Chamomile (2)
  • Maiden Rose
  • Rose Petal Preserves

When everyone had arrived, I split them into two groups of five and sent them to the candle-making tables. They added water to the saucepans, the each person put two jars worth of soy wax flakes into their group's wax melting pitcher and let the water come to a gentle simmer.

While the wax melted, they affixed their wicks to the bottoms of the canning jars using the tiny glue dots, and then slipped the wicks through the metal wick centering bands. That done, they set about sniffing the oil blends, trying to decide what they each wanted their candle to be scented with.

Once the wax was melted, the wax was divided evenly among the paper bowls, oil blends where added and stirred around with the Popsicle sticks, and then the bowls were gently cupped and the contents poured into the canning jars.


While the candles solidified, we watched a Goodreads video interview with the author and ate lavender and lemon sugar cookies (that's another post). We had actually discussed First Frost quite a lot while making the candles, but refreshed by coffee and cookies, we found new things to add. I had scheduled ninety minutes for the program and we used up every minute of it. Everyone who attended really enjoyed First Frost, the cookies, and the craft.

In December we will read and discuss Jenny Colgan's heart-warming holiday novel, Christmas on the Island, and then create a seasonal stove-top potpourri kit inspired by the book. I actually listened to the audio book last Christmas and found it both deeply, sweetly moving. I cried, I laughed, I hungered. Hopefully, the group will as well.

10.12.2019

Roasted Butternut Squash With Apples & Cranberries

Unsurprisingly, now that it is fall, my CSA share includes many winter squash. Ordinarily, this would be fine. Lovely, even. Who wouldn't want a kitchen full of winter squash? A person who is trying to empty her freezer and cupboards while also winnowing down all her other possessions to get to only the things that have meaning (or, like the toilet brush, are useful), that's who.

As we all know, roasting is my go-to method for reducing the surplus vegetable population. Today, I chose to roast a butternut squash with a bunch of mealy apples and half a bag of (slightly freezer-burnt) frozen cranberries with a generous sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice. The end results were delicious -- very reminiscent of apple-cranberry pie filling -- and made for a delicious breakfast with a bit of granola sprinkled over.


It is only now I realize I created what is, essentially, a deconstructed crumble.

Roasted Butternut Squash With Apples & Cranberries

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 4 apples
  • ½ lb frozen cranberries
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp butter cut into pea-sized cubes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F;. Oil or butter a 13x9 baker.
  2. Peel, seed, and chop the butternut squash into similarly sized pieces.
  3. Peel, core, and chop the apples.
  4. Put the squash, apples, and frozen cranberries in your greased baker. Sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice and brown sugar. Dot with butter.
  5. Roast at 425°F for 30 minutes, stirring halfway, or until squash is at the desired level of tenderness.
  6. Season with salt and pepper. Eat with a sprinkling of granola.

Right. That just leaves one acorn, three delicata, and three mashed potato.

10.02.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys a thistle somewhere in Eastern North Carolina

9.27.2019

Road Trip: Cape Fear Botanical Garden

I'd scheduled a stop at Cape Fear Botanical Garden during our drive down to South Carolina mostly because we needed a stop around that point and who doesn't want to visit another botanical garden? Other than The Husband, covered in insect bites as he is?



If you prefer large formal gardens Cape Fear might not be for you. Cape Fear is young for a botanical garden, having only come into existence in 1989, and much of its acreage remains undeveloped. The gardens that have been created are, aside from those nearest the visitors center, very natural-looking. However, if you're looking for hiking trails and spots to engage in quiet contemplation, Cape Fear has those in spades.



We had a very pleasant walk around the gardens, particularly enjoying the swing benches by the banana tree garden and all the butterflies and dragonflies on the butterfly stroll. Overall, a lovely stop on a long road trip.

9.25.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Hesperia comma

Hesperia comma, the common branded skipper, enjoying a thistle.

9.23.2019

Road Trip: Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

In downtown Wilson, North Carolina lies Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, a whimsical two-acre park bursting with color and creativity. The park is named for a North Carolinian artist who repurposed salvaged metal -- everything from roadwork signs to mirrors and bicycles -- to create extravagant wind-driven kinetic sculptures he called windmills. The thirty windmills/whirligigs displayed are all massive, complicated and colorful pieces that move with the lightest puff of air. We were lucky enough to visit on a day with intermittent breezes so we could admire the construction of each piece as well as its function.


In addition to the windmills/whirligigs, the park also contains an amphitheater and shelter. There are plenty of benches to sit at and the lawn would make a great picnic spot. The restrooms, in an air-conditioned portable trailer that is completely handicapped accessible and ostomate-friendly, are probably the nicest public restrooms I have ever used.



While Wilson is in the early steps of downtown revitalization, there are many boarded-up storefronts surrounding the park and, initially, it doesn't look like there's much else to do. However, there is a brewery, 217 Brew Works, next door as well as bakeries and restaurants within walking distance. Also, if you time your visit right, you can attend the Wilson Farmers and Artisan Market and pick up some tasty treats to eat on the lawn.




Even the fire hydrants are fun

9.21.2019

Road Trip: Longwood Gardens

On our drive down to South Carolina we stopped for a few hours at Longwood Gardens, long on my list of botanical gardens to visit. While it is autumn now and many of the summer blooms have passed, the Gardens are so large and varied that our eyes did not lack for beauty. We spent a good three hours at Longwood, giving us just enough time to explore the Italian Water Garden, Conservatory, Main Fountain Garden, and Meadow Garden as well as take in a fountain performance.

A small part of the Italian Water Garden

In the Conservatory

Also in the Conservatory

In the Meadow Garden

In the grotto behind the Loggia in the Main Fountain Garden

I would love to go back and see more of the gardens. Really, I would be happy to visit every season if I could as the Christmas lights, orchid extravaganza, and amazing tulip display in the spring all sound delightful.

9.11.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Lichens & Old Wood

There's beauty in lichen colonies on an old fence rail.

9.04.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Sea Holly (Eryngium)

Love the toothed leaves and long-lasting, teasel-like blossoms of the sea holly.

9.03.2019

Mom's Zucchini Bread


It is that special time of year, when an overwhelmed gardener's thoughts turn toward zucchini bread. I am not even growing zucchini this year and I still have too much. Thankfully, there's always Mom's zucchini bread recipe to fall back on. My mother baked this spicy zucchini and walnut bread for as long as I can remember. Dad and I love it for breakfast, but it also makes a great mid-afternoon snack. The bread bakes up light and fluffy on the inside while the outside is delightfully crunchy. Below is an image of the recipe she wrote down for me a few years ago and I've followed that with the tweaked version I made this weekend.



I was careful not to fiddle with the original recipe too much, because I still needed it to be Mom's bread. If I don't want to bake Mom's bread, well, there are eleventy million zucchini bread recipes on the internet -- I don't need to go inventing my own. Basically, I:

  • Didn't peel the zucchini
  • Toasted the nuts
  • Added more ginger
  • "Fancied up" the flour
  • Baked it in a bundt pan
  • Glazed it

While I don't usually glaze my quick breads, I was taking this bundt to work and felt like going the extra mile. The glaze is dairy-free, consisting of powdered sugar, water, Mexican vanilla extract, and ground cinnamon. Then I threw some organic flowers on, because I'm a show-off.


Mom's Zucchini Bread

Yield: 1 6-cup bundt

Ingredients

  • 1 cup apple flour blend [Nature's Earthly Choice]
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Mexican vanilla
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F°. Grease and flour a 6-cup bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla until foamy then stir into the large bowl until just moistened.
  4. Gently fold in the zucchini and walnuts.
  5. Bake in the 350F° for an hour or until done.
  6. Cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

I came across the apple flour blend in the clearance bin at Shoprite and it really intrigued me, so I had to buy it. It bakes well, doesn't taste like apples, and has quite a lot of iron -- something I am low on -- but, honestly, it's just not wow enough that I feel a need to pay full price for it. Tl;dr: feel free to use all white wheat or all-purpose.

8.28.2019

8.21.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Cosmos bipinnatus

White cosmos blooming in the dill and fennel bed.
Like those two herbs, cosmos also attract pollinators.

8.19.2019

Hooked on You


While Anna's life is a busy one, she feels a bit bored with it. On her daughter's advice she decides to take up a new hobby and begins attending a group crochet class at a local craft shop. There she finds herself feeling all sorts of confusing things about the shop owner, Ollie. Ollie is aware of Anna's feelings, but not looking for a relationship, tries to be her friend. This works, for a time, but their unrequited mutual attraction is always quietly simmering in the background and ... well, you can guess.

Hooked On You is a sweet, slow burning romance as much about friendship and family as it is about love. While the chemistry is great and the sex scenes have a tender honesty about them that made me a bit swoony, it's the little kisses, glances, and touches shared between Anna and Ollie that made my heart grow two sizes. Matthews has written her protagonists as real, ordinary people who care deeply about each other and show it, not in grand gestures, but with small, every day intimacies that in the end mean so much more.

I love that Anna and Ollie are in their 50s with ex-husbands and adult children. I don't see a lot of that in romance and it felt refreshing to see older women with full, established lives falling in love. Anna and Ollie's relationship does not exist in a bubble, but touches the lives of everyone around them, reinforcing existing family bonds and forging new connections with others.

Imho, if you are looking for a tender feel-good romance, give Hooked On You a read.

Hooked on You by Jenn Matthews. Ylva Publishing, 2019. Kindle edition.

8.18.2019

I ♥ Cooking Clubs: Mexican


Made "Taco Pizzas" from Ellie Krieger's Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less this weekend for I ♥ Cooking Clubs' Monthly Cuisine Spotlight: Mexican. I've been following IHCC over the summer, always meaning to participate, but never quite organized enough when it came down to it.

As promised, these messy and delicious taco pizzas were both quick and easy. The recipe seems very versatile, too, and it would be easy to fancy the tacos up with additional toppings like cilantro, chopped fresh tomatoes, avocado, and the like.

My only disappointment was that the beans were a bit bland -- next time, I would increase the amount of seasonings or just use some of Amy's low-sodium refried black beans (Krieger does say you can use tinned beans and/or pre-shredded cheese to save even more time).

These tacos would be easy to prep ahead, by making the beans and meat ahead of time, so you only need assemble the tacos and bake them whenever you are ready for supper. Maybe a fun way to do a family taco bar?

I borrowed the print edition of Ellie Krieger's Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less from my library, but the ebook is also available via Hoopla. Either way, the book is worth checking out. Fast, healthy, and flavorful recipes ready in 30 minutes or less? You can't go wrong with Weeknight Wonders.]

Taco Pizzas, pages 166-168.

8.15.2019

Last Year We Were In Maine #TBT

Throwback to this time last year when we were in Maine, eating ice cream twice a day and repeatedly forgetting to apply sunscreen.



8.07.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Doggo

Wee fluffy doggo I met at the farmers market.

7.31.2019

7.25.2019

My Brother's Husband, Volume 1


My Brother's Husband is a sweet, tender manga about family, parenthood, love, and loss. Brothers Yaichi and Ryoji had grown apart as adults, with Ryoji eventually emigrating to Canada and marrying Mike. Some time later, Ryoji dies and big, burly, bearish Mike travels to Japan to visit Yaichi and his daughter.

Initially Yaichi's homophobia causes him to struggle with fulfilling his host and familial obligations to Mike, but gradually -- as he sees how warmly and kindly everyone else responds to Mike, how much his daughter Kana loves her new Canadian uncle, and how much Mike is clearly grieving for his husband -- Yaichi's heart opens and he becomes less prejudiced. His transformation is not flawless, but deeply human.

So there's all that heavy-sounding plot going on and yet it is lightly and gently told. There's a great deal to empathize with, as well as some amusing light-hearted moments, cross-cultural teasing, and a sweet domesticity to the whole thing. I greatly enjoyed My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 and I look forward to reading the Volume 2. I only wish there was a Volume 3 ...

My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 written by Gengorah Tagame w/ trans. by Anne Ishii. Pantheon Books, 2017.

7.19.2019

Gresczyk Farms' 2019 CSA


Every Friday in the summer I stop at the Southington Farmers Market and pick up my CSA partial share from Gresczyk Farms. Sometimes I take a leisurely stroll around the market, stopping for empanadas or roasted garlic three-grain bread or even more vegetables, but usually I'm tired out and just grab my share and run. It's a pity, because the Southington Farmers Market is really a nice little market with a good variety of eats and other products. There's usually music of some kind and everyone is just so friendly.


And you're thinking "That's all well and good, but what the heck is a CSA?" CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and the idea is that a farm can sell shares of its anticipated crops to people within the local community. Those people, in turn, receive a weekly box of what the farm grows in exchange for advance payment (and, in some cases, a set amount of volunteer hours on the farm). Some farms include items like jam, pickles, bread, meat, cheese, eggs, wine, etc in their shares. Gresczyk Farms offers eggs -- my partial share provides me with a half dozen most weeks and I don't expect to buy any eggs for the rest of the summer.


Most CSAs offer early bird subscriber discounts and I subscribed to Gresczyk Farms CSA program back in January at a 5% discount. This is my second year with Gresczyk Farms and I imagine I'll stick with them next year. The farm offers a flexible pick-up schedule, allows me to skip weeks or reschedule my pickup day without penalty, and (this is important) allows me to swap parts of my share if there's something I don't want that week. Last week, for example, I was offered cilantro, but as I didn't have any immediate plans for cilantro that weekend, I swapped it for the price equivalent in beets. I also receive an email from the farm every Thursday night with a detailed list of what my partial share will contain and suggestions for using those items which certainly helps when it comes to menu planning.


If you want to try find a CSA near you, LocalHarvest maintains a great index!