January 12, 2014

Soup's On! (and on... and on... and on...)

I don't remember having a ton of actual toys growing up, but living on three acres of forest land meant that I had an amazing backyard at my disposal. 

It also meant that I got a little creative with nature and the tools we had on hand. I remember using a giant five gallon plastic bucket and the garden hose to make soup. There were twigs, rocks, floating leaves and even some dirt thrown in the mix. Random berries growing around the property made the 'soup' look even tastier.

Thankfully, I knew better than to actually sample my soup, but I had fun throwing things together and imagining that I was a chef. 

When I first tried my hand at real cooking, some of my soups had that same dirt-like appearance. I had a number of soup disasters -- I suspect the dirt soup may have actually been more palatable. Borscht ended up all over my Pepto-Bismol pink walls in England when I tried to grate the beets. Broccoli soup turned into a gooey mess. In Ukraine, where I ate soup three times a day, every day, I added too much salt when it was my time to cook. WAAAAYYY too much salt. In South Africa, I didn't bother with any kind of soup because the Sailor wasn't really into it. 

By the time that I relocated back to America though, I was determined to eat healthy and shop frugally. I grew tired of finding half dead vegetables in my drawer and wasting leftovers. 

Soup found it's way back into my kitchen. Soup is AMAZING. Seriously. A small cup is a great compliment to a meal and a large bowl with some bread or crackers is enough to fill you right up all on its own. (And warm you up in the winter!)

Sauté a little onion, add some vegetables, some leftover rice and cooked chicken and some basic stock, and voilà, you have Chicken Rice Soup. Are those veggies getting mushy? Sauté those and add a little broth and milk and then puree, and you have soup. Thankfully, these days, the Sailor actually requests (and then eats!) soup, so I make it now on a regular basis. 

I used to try to plan my soup meals and then I'd shop for every ingredient that I didn't have. It wasn't the most frugal plan. I still ended up with food rotting. Then I started challenging myself to make something with what I already had in the cupboard and fridge. Obviously, I still shop. The other day, I had to buy onions, because I knew I needed those for soup, and my stash had run low. But it's amazing how long I can go between shopping endeavors when I think creatively about cooking.

The other night I had a bit of a soup marathon. Within an hour and a half, I'd made three different soups. I had half a bag of carrots that needed to be used, so I made carrot and coriander soup, but I just halved the recipe (if at all possible, I usually try to double soup recipes and freeze them... but for the sake of carrots that would go to waste, I whipped up half a batch!

I also found a frozen bag of roasted veggies from a dinner we hosted a while back. I always cook too much... and then I end up throwing it in the freezer, not always knowing what to do with it. This time, I saved the beef broth from the roast as well. I cooked both together, pureed the mix with my hand blender* and then added some milk (or cream if you prefer) and salt and pepper. While the result doesn't look much more appetizing than brown applesauce, it was DELICIOUS. And healthy! I know exactly what was in the veggies and broth because I cooked them all from scratch to start with. 

Besides, soup gives me a great excuse to store the leftovers in vintage Pyrex. Win win. 

Finally, I found a bag of parsnips in a pile in the fridge. I bought them for Christmas dinner and then totally forgot to cook them. (In my defense, they were hiding under the spinach and that half bag of carrots...) I found a recipe for Parsnip and Parmesan soup in my favorite soup book:  The New Covent Garden Soup Company's Book of Soups. (I've had my copy since the late 90s, and you can be assured it will continue to be a staple in my kitchen arsenal.

While I didn't have Parmesan, I at least had cheese. Substituting is not a crime. Throwing out a whole bag of parsnips would have been. 

Soup's on.  

 *Hand blenders are absolutely necessary in my book for soup making. I make a lot of pureed soups because I personally think the flavors blend together better than if you don't puree them. If you have a small kitchen, and don't even have space for a regular blender, then a hand or immersion blender is perfect! You can do the same things as with a regular blender (except maybe chop ice cubes...). I wouldn't recommend pureeing a soup in a regular blender unless it's completely cooled off. With an immersion blender, you can just whip the stuff right in the pot! I recently replaced my old hand blender with this one from Cuisinart.

January 9, 2014

Dreaming of the Beach

While much of America is still in a deep freeze, I'm dreaming of the beach. 

Oh, it won't happen until the Sailor returns home from sea... but in the meantime, I'm trying to transport myself somewhere warmer, mentally. 

We moved South in part to escape the arctic winter in the North. While the winter here has so far been much tamer, this week still ranked high up on the BRRRRR factor.

The Sailor is also dreaming of the beach. He's sailing near one now, but he says even the weather where he is isn't conducive to an afternoon swim.

Looks like we'll both have to wait a few more months until we can get to a warm enough ocean. How about you? Ski Bunny or Beach Bum?

January 6, 2014

Felting by Hand

As a kid, I loved being barefoot. I don't remember ever having slippers, even though I'm sure I put something on my feet during the cold winters -- socks, probably. In fact, I kind of remember thinking it was silly that slippers were always on sale around Christmas time -- nobody in my family wore slippers. Did other people really own indoor shoes? 

Clearly times have changed. I still love that barefoot feeling -- nothing beats walking on the grass or sand sans shoes. However, during cold weather months, the slippers come out in full force. I live in this pair most days. They were knit with the yarn held double and they are super sturdy, warm and somewhat indestructible it seems. 

Over my years of wearing slippers, I've come to realize that not only do they keep my feet warm, especially on non-carpeted floors, but they also keep my feet clean! I cook a lot... and I'm not always the neatest in the kitchen. Lots of stuff ends up on the floor in the process. (I yearn for the day when we have a dog who can hoover up the crumbs.) Of course I sweep and clean the floor clean, but if I'm in the cooking melee, I only get a chance to cleanup at the very end. 

In the meantime, when I wear my slippers, I don't feel a thing under my feet. 

Most girls have a thing for shoes (I've always had more of a thing for handbags, myself...) I do love a good pair of shoes, but honestly, there is something so lovely about having a nice pair of comfy slippers, even if you are the only one who sees them. 

For Christmas this year, I didn't buy myself a new pair of slippers. Instead, I bought myself The Knitted Slipper Book

Magazines aside, I usually try to buy one or two crafty and creative books a year. This one made the cut -- there are so many slippers I want to make. I already made the blue pair on the bottom right. They reminded me of my everyday pair, only instead of knitting them with the yarn held double, you knit two separate slippers for each foot, and then put one inside the other.

I finally got around to felting them today. Since we have a front loading washing machine, I decided to felt these by hand. (Top loaders are preferable for felting, since you can pull the pieces out mid-cycle to check on the progress.)  

Felting never ceases to amaze. You knit or crochet something that looks so gargantuan, and then somehow, with hot water, dish soap, agitation and time, that humungous object shrinks as the fibers mess together, ultimately creating a stiff fabric. (If you have ever accidentally thrown a 100% wool sweater in the wash on a hot cycle, then you will certainly understand the process!

Felting by hand takes some time and patience, but it's worth it once you start to see the fibers mess together and the piece shrink before your eyes. It also takes some muscle. I'm thinking my hands might cramp later tonight.
One I got them to my size, I stuffed them with paper and set them out to dry. 

I'm pretty sure that although I gave my hands a workout today, my feet will thank me tomorrow, when these slippers are dry.

January 3, 2014

Cold Weather = Bulky Knits

The temperatures dipped this week... and with the winter weather warning came a sudden urge to pull out giant bamboo knitting needles and bulky yarn. 

Sometimes, I just want to finish a project pronto, and nothing gives more urgency than the thought of going outside in below freezing temperatures with a half-finished sweater on. 

I'm making the Fisherman Shrug by Lion Brand. Lucky for me, Wool-Ease Thick and Quick yarn was on sale the other week and I nabbed enough for the shrug. If you need some wooly weather gear that's even faster, check out the hat and cowl I made from the same kind of chunky yarn last year. 

I'm thinking this project might be just the thing to finish over the weekend, while I stay inside and watch the wind blow the last of the leaves off my porch. 

January 1, 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

If you're anything like me, you may still have a bunch of Christmas cookies laying around. A pile of cookies laying around on January 1st does not often bode well with the whole diet and exercise mantra that New Year's usually brings about. 

I gave up on the 'lose a certain number of pounds in 12 months' and 'stick to a diet' resolutions a long time ago. Frankly, by January 2nd, the cookies are still being eaten, it's too cold to go for a run, and the whole point becomes moot.

I mentioned before that I wasn't a huge fan of New Year's Resolutions -- mainly because I often create lofty goals, then I feel like I put too much pressure on myself to keep them. Inevitably I fail. 

That doesn't mean I don't have goals. I have lots of ongoing things I am working towards. 

I like to create stuff everyday, so naturally I have a few new crafty things I want to try this year, like shuttle tatting. I also want to make better use of Pinterest. (Don't laugh... I signed up for Pinterest soon after it started and I loved it. Then I took issue with some of their copyright policies and I took down ALL of my pins. I'm pretty sure they have sorted out their issues; now it's my turn to start pinning again.) I also have a book project that is ongoing that I would love to make more headway on, and my Nook is full of other people's books that I can't wait to read. I have stacks of new recipes to try out and a closet that needs to be cleaned. Overall, I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and be healthy most days. 

But in general, I am not going to pressure myself to be superwoman in order to fulfill everything over the span of the next 12 months, starting on January 1st. I'm also not going to beat myself up if I eat a few extra cookies in between.

Last year I decided that 2013 was supposed to be the Chilled Out Year. Quite frankly it wasn't... but because I started the year wanting to be more chilled out about things, I gave myself more room to breathe when life did get stressful (or when I ate a few extra cookies...)

For 2014, I expect a few surprises. Life is certainly never dull in my world, and with the lifestyle that the Sailor and I have together, surprises are often around every corner. I hope I can still maintain a chilled-out attitude throughout. The Sailor joked that we really don't have 'themes' for the year... instead we just roll with whatever happens. That's his own way of saying, 'Let's just chill out no matter what comes our way...'

He's a clever guy, that Sailor. 

Who knows what 2014 will bring for any of us. Like the fresh pages of a new journal though, there is something wonderful about having a blank slate -- a New Year if you will, to let go of the past and to anticipate the future. Most of all, I want to live in the present and to be myself.

How about you? What do you want out of 2014? 
Happy New Year! 

PS: If you simply must have something to put on your New Year's Resolution checklist,
may I suggest the following simple things that can all be done in one day:

  • Clean out your spice cabinet and food cupboard and throw out stuff that is out of date.
  • Sort out your medicine cabinet and toss the pills that are expired or ones that aren't in their original packaging.
  • Buy new makeup. Most cosmetics aren't made to last for years. If you can't remember when you purchased that lipstick, chances are, it was pre-2013. Chuck that old mascara and buy some new stuff for 2014! Start the New Year with a fresh face.