Winter


Zen 

With the new year and a rough economy, what better time for a little bit of navel gazing? I like to do my cleaning seasonally as I’m taking out new candles, digging up appropriate clothes, changing sheets, and swapping home accessories. Since winter is a few weeks in and I’ve been on the prowl for some fresh design ideas, I’ve grown more and more frustrated with what I’m seeing.

We all know that mass consumption has got us overwhelmed with clutter and debt, but all sorts of “lifestyle” sites and blogs perpetuate the problem by advocating more, more, more. I don’t think I’m alone in this frustration. See, for example, Apartment Therapy’s Predictions for 2009 post, which seemed all in good fun but drew a lot of bitter comments. I guess the readers got a bit tired of being told that a $1000 table is a great! find! in November 2007, then being told it’s out a year later. Or being told that “obvious mid-century modern” (a phrase that if I never hear again, it’ll be too soon) is so last year, but we should all run out and redo our home Mad Men style because that’s what’s on the TeeVee. 

Ok, I’m giving AT a hard time, but there are good ways and bad ways to approach your home and lifestyle that don’t require a complete overhaul every twelve months. Read the full rant after the jump. (more…)

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Now that the holidays are over and life returns to normal, whatever that may be, we are entering an odd time of the year for flowers. The late fall chrysanthemums, pumpkins, and decorative gourds are all past their prime, but it feels like the early spring flowers are a lifetime away. With that in mind, I went hunting for a few ideas for bringing the outdoor greenery inside. The look that I like best is combining a bit of evergreen with a classic flower such as a carnation. Apartment Therapy had a cool example of this meant for the holidays back in December, but I see no reason that we can’t use this in the new year, too. Carnations make this cheap, too!2008_12_05-carnations061Or add cranberries for an extra splash of color2008_12_02-carnations-1Of course, Martha Stewart can be counted on for winter floral centerpieces, too. I love candles most during the dark January days, and a white pillar is perfect here:a98259_1200_pinedouble_xlThis one, however, is my favorite. I’d take away the pine cones and extra greenery around the base as it seems too Christmassy and fussy, but the birch tree vases remind me of winters up north. Love it!mla102728_1207_birch_vase_xl-1

 

Black-eyed Peas

Black-eyed Peas

My mother is a gen-u-wine Southerner, so every year on New Year’s Day we’d eat black-eyed peas to ensure a prosperous year. I never really thought much about it, but it occurred to me recently that I’ve never heard anyone else mention this tradition. Turns out it’s one of those regional things that really hasn’t spread outside The South, which I think makes it even cooler. This year I made the dish based on Emeril’s Food Network recipe, and it turned out fabulous! Black-eyed peas are traditionally cooked with a few spices and ham, sometimes called “Hoppin’ John,” but we never used that name.

Emeril’s recipe was not only super easy to prepare, it also has a great combination of spices that bring out the sometimes bland flavor of the peas. I thought two bay leaves would be excessive, but they were right on balance. The only thing I changed is the meat; I couldn’t find a good ham hock so I used turkey ham, which has a great smokey flavor and is even a bit better for you. Otherwise I followed the recipe exactly, and all the times were right on to end up with a perfect consistency. The tricky part of making black-eyed peas is getting them to be smooth, but not mushy. You have to remove them from heat at exactly the right moment when they are just starting burst, otherwise you end up with a huge mass of bean mush. This recipe worked well to prevent that.

I know you’re supposed to eat this on New Year’s Day, but I served it to friends a few weeks ago and it was a hit. Which says a lot, considering that these peas are not usually the star of the show.

 

Dinner on the Fly

Dinner on the Fly

I belong to a food co-op that provides a huge amount of produce every week, all organic and in-season, and mostly locally grown. Although this is a wonderful way to get lots of fresh food into the kitchen, sometimes it leaves me with an excessive amount of one thing or another that I don’t know what to do with. Right now, it’s winter squash. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I love squash, and it’s great that hearty winter veggies stay fresh for a looooong time. But after eating squash as a side dish, in stir-fry concoctions, making gratin, and trying to arrange the pile of squash on my table as a centerpiece, I was running out of ideas. But a girl’s gotta eat, so I opened the fridge and threw something together. In the end, I made a baked mac and cheese dish that was made a little more grown up with the addition of sweet dumpling squash, gruyere cheese (which was left over from the gratin), and cubed smoked turkey. Click through for the full recipe.

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From Sooooound's esty Shop

From Sooooound's esty Shop

In addition to decals, classic framed wall art works to spruce up a room for the season without the hassle of removing the vinyl. I like the idea of a basic wall color that works well year round, with a space set aside for your own personal rotating gallery. Start a collection now, and when the season changes your wall can change, too. Then next year you can reevaluate your winter art, keep what you like, and donate/sell/recycle the rest.

Just as with rotating throw pillows, this is an easy way to keep a room interesting and refreshing. It also cuts down on clutter and old items you no longer find attractive since you are reevaluating your choices every few months. After the jump, a few finds from etsy to get started.

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Vinyl wall stickers are popping up all over the place lately. They are great for renters who can’t paint  the whole room, and they are lifesavers for people like me who constantly get bored with room decor. While it may not be practical to choose new decals for every season, it isn’t really a stretch to change them every six months or so. In case anyone is looking for some good winter designs, I like ShaNicker’s bare branches il_430xn48088666and Gecko’s simple snowflakes (I especially like that Gecko lets you customize the colors of their decals).floco_de_neve_01

Over the weekend I decided to put all my extra winter squash to good use and make this Winter Squash Gratin recipe from the Times. I used Delicata Squash, which has a flavor described as a combination of sweet potato and corn. The recipe called for 1 1/2 pounds, so I used three smallish delicatas. I also swapped out the parsley and sage for thyme, since that’s what I had in the kitchen. I really liked the flavor mixed with Gruyère cheese, so I’d call the improvisation a success. 

delicataI’d give this recipe 3 out of 5 wooden spoons, since the time needed to prepare it isn’t necessarily worth the finished product. If I’m still left with a table overflowing with winter squash in a few weeks, I’d consider it again, though. Click through for the full rundown. (more…)

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