Twenty Days of Thankful #8

Day #8: A Humble Abode

This is not the first post expressing a backwards sort of gratitude for downsizing to an apartment. A couple years ago I bought a house, and a year later I moved out. Circumstances aside, “the house and the yard and the dog” are things that almost every person wants, and I most certainly was one of those people. But I was drowning in an unmanageable schedule, with an unmanageable commute, and an impossible financial situation. Taking a step backward (according to the writers of The American Dream), was actually a huge step forward for me personally. In downsizing to an apartment, I’ve managed to pay off two credit cards in the course of a year and get all my expenses under control. My bank account is black all of the time. My responsibilities have returned to a reasonable load. Everything is just – better.

I do hope that there will be a time when the house and the yard and the dog make sense for me, but right now is not that time. I’ve learned to value things that matter over, just, things. I love the courtyard view out our living room window. I love the sunshine pouring into our dining room each morning. I love my little kitchen and how I have everything I need. I LOVE that this is a space that can realistically be clean and organized *most* of the time.

It’s not fancy, and I don’t own it, but this is my home. And that, as they say, is where the heart is.

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Mussels are Delicious! and Easy!

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Why mussels? Because we felt like having a fancy dinner and they were $5 per pound cheaper than shrimp. I’ve had mussels, like, twice, and enjoyed them, but preparing them was a pretty frightening thought.

Good thing it’s Halloween.

When you bring mussels home from the store (and I fully admit that these were not sourced anywhere even remotely close to the Midwest), they’re given to you in a bag of ice and it’s important to leave the bag open. No ice and a twistie tie = no bueno. Another admission: this recipe was picked up at the deli counter at Jewel and I had very little to do with the preparation of the mussels. I was on sides, where were also delicious and easy. So here’s the whole meal:

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The Perfect Mussel Meal

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb mussels
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB butter
  • Dash salt
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 TB fresh minced garlic
  • 1/4 C. cheap white wine
  • 1/4 C. each finely chopped basil and parsley

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil, butter, salt, red pepper, and garlic to a large sauté pan or wok and bring to a simmer
  2. Add mussels, herbs, and wine. Cover and bring to a boil (5 min)
  3. Make sure all the mussels have opened, and pour them with the sauce into a large bowl to serve

photo 2 (1)The Sides!

I chose small potatoes, brussel sprouts, fennel and pearl onions for roasting as a side with the mussels. Par boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes, the sprouts for about six, until they are all just beginning to get soft. Drain and pat dry, then spread the potatoes, fennel bulb and pearl onions on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle olive oil and salt over everything and roast for about 10 minutes in a 350-deg oven. After 10 minutes, add the brussel sprouts to the baking sheet (pre-drizzled and salted), and roast  everything for another 10 minutes.

Serve all of this with a crock of melted butter and lemon wedges (or, just add a splash of lemon juice to the butter), a hunk of crusty bread, an empty bowl for the shells, a glass of wine, and extra napkins. I realize that chilled white wine probably would have been better than red, but the bottle was already open. For fun, we also grilled some small chicken thighs for the meal.

Who would have thought such an extravagant meal was so easy to make?

…and so beautifully delicious.

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The aftermath

Learning to Live With, and Eventually Love, my Tiny Kitchen

tumblr_mtwv2xKZ7W1qmywbko1_500It’s been nearly 18 months since I downsized from house to apartment. Downsizing can be difficult, and at first I felt like the biggest sacrifice was in the kitchen.  I love to cook (duh), and in the 12 years since dorm life I’ve accumulated, and accumulated, and accumulated some more. Each kitchen I’ve cooked in was bursting at the seams (literally… I’ve spilled over into dining rooms, coat closets, you name it).  So you can bet I was concerned when faced with the approximately 7 x 15 foot space that was to be my kitchen.  Where do I put the canning supplies? The stand mixer?!? The worms?!?!?

Apparently, I was being dramatic. 18 months later, what once felt crowded is now cozy, organized, and remarkably easy to keep clean.

As it turns out, I don’t need 2 blenders, 3 crockpots, a juicer, 2 coffee grinders, or 18 feet of counter space. As I moved in, settled in, and hunkered down in the apartment I realized that there were a lot of things I could part with – things that I hadn’t used in months to a year – things I sometimes didn’t want or need to begin with – things I would have rather done without anyway.

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As it turns out, all that stuff didn’t matter, and it didn’t make me a better cook. In evaluating what I wanted to keep, I discovered the things that were most precious to me, and most useful.

As it turns out, the food that comes out of my little kitchen tastes better, because this is a kitchen that only contains things that I love.

This is a kitchen that’s processed a hundred pounds of tomatoes (not all at the same time), pumpkin purees, and salsas galore. It’s frozen enough fresh vegetables to last for the winter, canned cranberry juice, and made pot after pot after pot of morning coffee. It’s churned out pies, frittatas, and an 18-pound turkey.  Everything has a place – even the worms

I can do anything in my kitchen you can do in yours – mine just takes less time to clean.

Canapolooza 2013

My friend Ann can can.

She might be able to can can too, but trust me, Ann can definitely can.

When I picked up my 40 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun last Sunday for her Labor Day canning party (thinking, “wow, this is a s*#$ ton of tomatoes“), Ann said, “I think we may have different expectations about canning day.”

When two crafty ladies get together with cocktails and 100 pounds of tomatoes, it’s kind of amazing. Aside from the 19 jars of marinara sauce now sit in my pantry ready for the pizza I might make next February, here are some photographic highlights of the day:

Salsa!
Salsa! and, Ann’s extremely enormous pot.
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Tomatoes without their skins, waiting to be squished for sauce
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste
Ann makes a brontosaurus out of tomato paste

A Lovely Evening

tumblr_mscltxcwxV1rqh5gio1_500It’s taken me a long time to learn how to spend time by myself.

I guess I’m still learning, really.

After a year of working 60-80 hours a week, followed by a surprisingly hectic summer, followed by the hit to the face that comes with the first week of school, I was surprised to find myself with three days on my calendar that were actually…. blank.

Huh? What is this strange feeling of time off? The GF is traveling, which means football is off my radar, and I can’t figure out what people do with themselves when this phenomenon called days off occur for every 5 days.  Um, well, I guess I’ll, well, polish up seven weeks of upcoming lectures and watch an equivalent 7 hours of Law and Order: SVU on Hulu.

And that’s exactly what happened yesterday.

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wine, jazz, and freezing string beans

I wanted today to be different.  I wanted Sunday to be this productive day where I do this that I claim to be doing on my blog and Pinterest while I’m really sitting on the couch with Detective Tutuola.  After a somewhat thorough cleaning of the kitchen and laundry-doing earlier today, I put on some jazz music, opened the windows and a bottle of wine, and got a bit crafty. It’s about time I lived up to my name.

So, I repurposed my mother’s old kitchen curtains into a sassy new apron, baked a pan of chicken for my lunches this week, and froze most of the vegetables that arrived in my CSA this morning – while wearing the new apron (naturally).

I’m sure you find this all very interesting, but now as I sit at my desk, listening to the sounds of the city out the window and rumbles of thunder as a storm approaches, Ella Fitzgerald humming softly on the stereo, sipping my glass of wine, feeling accomplished, I couldn’t ask for a more perfect evening.  With all due respect, Detectives, you’ve been replaced (for now).

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A new apron, fashioned from Mother’s drapes.

Tomatillo Overload!

tumblr_mrsalwwBTk1qmywbko1_500The canning begins…

Just as I’m preparing to go back to school for another semester we are reaching a critical point in the season in which Lauren buys a ridiculous amount of produce in an effort to overstock her pantry with Ball jars full of food for the winter.

It’s about to get crazy in that little kitchen in the city.

On a whim, I bought six quarts of tomatillos at the Andersonville Farmers Market from my friends at Midnight Sun and decided it would be a good idea to have enough salsa verde around to withstand the apocalypse…. this is how I did it:

Tomatillo Salsa

(recipe courtesy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

Ingredients:

  • 5-1/2 cups chopped, cored, husked tomatillos
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped seeded green peppers (your choice of heat… I used a bunch of banana peppers and one jalapeno with a few of the seeds for the whole batch, because I’m not a “burn your face off salsa” kind of  girl.
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 4 tsp lime juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 TB finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes

tumblr_mrsg0rifqb1qmywbko1_500Prepare your canner, jars and lids.*

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium-low and boil gently, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until semi-smooth.

Ladle or pour hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace in the jars. Gently remove air bubbles by poking into the jar with a knife and adding salsa as needed. Wipe rim, center seal on jar, and screw band down until fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid, wait 5 min, then remove jars, cool, and store.

*You’ll need a big soup pot that’s deep enough to submerge your jars in water. Place empty jars in pot and fill with water until jars are covered. Heat over med-high heat while you prepare salsa. This will sterilize the jars and heat them (hot salsa into hot jars to process).  Bands and seals should be gently heated in a small saucepan until ready to use.

Makes about two pint jars.  I, of course, quadrupled the recipe to get the haul you see here…

You Can Can Cranberry Juice!

CranberriesOn the road toward self-sufficiency in the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, I’ve managed to can and preserve tomatoes, beets, and cucumbers, but I imagine no apocalypse is complete without a Vodka cocktail.

This is one of three reasons I decided to try my hand at making cranberry juice on the 4th or July.

The other two reasons? I had three bags of cranberries in the freezer leftover from a 10 for $10 sale at the grocery store about 10 years ago, and, they’re red.  You know… 4th of July.  I can be patriotic sometimes too.

This recipe comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which has become a dog-earred crusty staple in my household.  The description even mentions the inevitability of adding this juice to cocktails, and after this I may never see another bottle of Ocean Spray.

Cranberry Juice

  • tumblr_mpgss81P2L1qmywbko1_500Cranberries (fresh of frozen)
  • Water
  • Granulated Sugar (to taste*, optional)

Directions:

In a large, deep saucepan, combine equal parts cranberries and water.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to boil gently for about 5 minutes (the berries will burst open… don’t be alarmed).

Transfer to a strainer lined with a few layers of damp cheesecloth.  Let drip, undisturbed, for about two hours.**

In a clean pan, combine juice with sugar, if desired.* Heat to 190-F and hold at 190 for 5 minutes, without letting it boil.

Ladle hot juice into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ headspace (2.5 bags of cranberries made about 2 quarts of juice). Center the lid and screw band down fingertip-tight. Place in canner completely covered by water and bring to a boil.  Process for 15 minutes. Remove lid and turn heat off, and wait 5 minutes before removing from the canner.  Cool on the counter and store.

* To put your portions into perspective, I used about 1 C. of sugar for my 2.5 bags of cranberries, and it’s a little too sweet for my taste. 

** This is Ball talking and I didn’t have 2 hours to let the juice drain naturally. Though it’s probably the best practice and I’d never dispute the canning Bible, let’s face it, I let it sit about 30 minutes, squeezed a bunch out manually, and everything seemed to turn out fine.