Thursday, January 31, 2008

owl shadows

I saw the owl today.
He was facing the other way—his back to me.
Silently he peered beyond where my eyes couldn't see.
Higher and higher,
I beckoned him this way, quietly.
I gave up too quickly, perhaps.
He wasn't looking at me,
But I knew he sensed my stare.
For as soon as I circled round
Just a few moments later,
He was gone from his high-in-the-sky perch—
That old gnarly tree in the swamp.
And I immediately felt—
Too little too late—
That I had wasted a perfectly good acquaintance.
My one chance to speak with the owl one on one,


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

finally, designer kitty!

Remember when I was whining about the lack of stylish litter boxes in the market? Well, I haven't yet found the box of my kitty cats' dreams, but I have found one company that brings us all a step closer. What's more, they're located right here in Burlington, Vermont!

Hepper Home is a pet products company that sells a line of stylish, modern furniture for cats and dogs. My favorite is a herringbone tweed nest bed, lined in fuzzy wuzzy sherpa fleece. Don't worry, I sent a request for litters and turns out they're already working on it. But for now, enjoy the fun offerings!


Monday, January 28, 2008

mushrooms come popping up

Every month, I receive a welcome missive from my good friend Madeleine Vedel. Together she and her husband Erick run a cooking school in Provence, France. It is there I stayed for several months after college, and the memories from that time run deep and vivid in my mind.

The most recent missive in my mailbox talked about mushrooms and reminded me of when we went mushroom hunting during a stay in the gorgeous lush hills of the Cévennes mountains in Southern France. I was very homesick at the time, and the green, rolling forests reminded me very much of my home in Vermont.

At the end of an adventurous treasure hunt, I had found a total of 3 large cèpes (also known as porcinis). A proud moment! We brought them by the local pharmacy (to check for poisonous varieties) and then whisked them home to cook up a fabulous supper.

And here is Madeleine's letter...

Photos: Penelope, Madeleine and friends mushroom hunting in the Cévennes in Southern France, 2002.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

hi ho london!

We've been itching to get ourselves to England for a while now. I wanted Colin to meet my grandmother and the Illingworth clan. We're too late for Granny Dot, but we're off to England to meet the rest come March. All 8 of us—Mummy & Papa, Hannah & Brian, Emma & Kev, Me & Colin. Yippee! Oh and we're spending a weekend in London too. We've already booked our hotel. Maybe we'll see the queen. How posh!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

bath time

There's nothing like a nice hot bath to revive the soul. All morning, I felt cold and achy and tight. I tried to sleep it off. Tried to lounge it off under the covers watching T.V. But it wasn't until I dipped my toes into the tub that I felt a warm swell ripple up my muscles and loosen all of the anxiety from the last few days. Now my headache is edging up and I'm ready to attack the night!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

mint chocolate chip ice cream

This recipe is a custard base, which means there are eggs and there's cooking involved. The best ice creams are made this way! For a richer ice cream, use more cream instead of milk. You can find peppermint oil in the beauty section of your natural food store. Just be sure it's food grade. Makes about 6 servings (or 4 if Kevin's over for dinner!).

3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup half & half or cream
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
8-10 drops pure food-grade peppermint oil
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, coarsely chopped

To make
In a stainless steal bowl or top of double boiler, whisk eggs and sugar together until creamy and light in color (about 2 minutes).

Combine the milk and cream. Then scald 1 cup of the milk mixture in a saucepan. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Pour over the egg mixture and mix well. Place over a saucepan of simmering water or double boiler and stir slowly and continually with a wooden spoon until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in remaining milk and peppermint oil. Cool completely, then cover and chill for a couple of hours. If you want to make the ice cream right away, place over an ice bath for 20-30 minutes till the mixture is chilled. Freeze in ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add the chocolate chips during the last 5 minutes of churning.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

good ol' '07

Aside from the Gershwin and the figgy pudding, I feel like I never gave December the full attention it deserved in my post-party holiday redux—partly because I was just too busy getting ready for the next thing. So finally here are some clips (in picture) and highlights from one of the best end-of-years to date. It's never too late to write thank you notes either, by the way. (I started mine today.)

It snowed a lot in December:

One Sunday night it snowed and snowed and snowed, so we walked into town and met up with Chip & Susan at the Daily Planet. It was so cozy and warm and so many people were out and about despite (or perhaps because of!) the weather.

We had a lovely holiday party at EatingWell. Here's my favorite picture from the night of Mike, our art director, wearing a snowman vest for the occasion:

After Christmas, Hannah flew into town from California. Emma, Hannah and I put on an extravagent fancy dinner for 6 (Kevin, Colin and Vanessa were the other guests). Hannah posed by the fire. This picture was a mishap, but I still like it:

The dinner theme was Italian. Em really outdid herself with this melon ball and goat cheese course:

After dinner, we girls had one of our notorious dance parties around the Christmas tree while the boys did the dishes.

Then we wound up back in Newport for New Year's. We spent the evening building a snowboard jump in the back yard. It was fierce. Hannah got some good pictures of it. Now the question remains: How will 2008 ever measure up?

Friday, January 18, 2008

where does the time go?

And so it goes, another week has passed. Last Monday seems so far away and yet I feel I've barely taken off my Sunday coat. Time is a funny thing, n'est ce pas? This week was spent experimenting with my ice cream maker (one mint chip ice cream and two frozen yogurts came out deliciously!), discussing books, and eating dinner together. That's one of my new goals--to eat dinner more often with Colin. This week we managed twice. And tonight we'll make it three times. That reminds me, gotta dash, we're headed downtown. Yay Friday!

Monday, January 14, 2008

a typical monday night

It's after 11. I'm sitting next to Colin on the sofa. I'm leaning against a four-inch stack of his work papers. Countless black and white drawings of jackets and snowboardings pants. The latest up-and-coming Burton styles red-lined with corrections and alterations. "Move the pocket two inches this way. Add a seam there. Change this zipper. Make that fit tighter." This hefty stack of styles is digging into my back.

I've just finished a book that literally knocked some breath of out me—I'm still reeling. And digesting. Staring off into nothing as it were. It's pretty quiet. And then...

The cats are scratching at the litter again. "Not it," Colin says as his eyes remain glued to the screen of his laptop. The computer keys click-clicking away. My mind immediately sweeps back to the here and now. This is the third time tonight—and we've been dutifully scooping the stink bombs away as they come.

I got home from work at 7. Au Lait scratched the walls, telling me in her own way to clean out the box (she positively won't do her chores until I do). She might as well have been scratching a black board; the sound made my neck crawl. I walked to the litter and Au Lait ran over to supervise and make sure I was doing it right. The second I finished, she stepped into the litter and soiled my work.

"I made you dinner," I countered (to Colin). "And I scooped the mother load."

Col finally looked up at me defeated. He got up and walked over to the box, scooped, and returned to the couch and his work. Then more scratching.

Suki this time—she won't go till Au Lait has gone. This is the not-so-complicated pecking order of the litter box, you see. We have it all figured out. We figured it out by watching their instinctual cat patterns surreptitiously, just as careful parents discreetly watch (and react to) the fragile interactions of their young. We juggle litter box duty. Feed the felines before destruction. Act quickly to avoid any kind of disturbance. We have it all figured out, we do. Yet we're slaves to their every whim.

"This circus ritual is far from banal," I think to myself. "Yet, perhaps slightly predictable. And tedious."

It's my turn now, I suppose, to go scoop the poop.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

a card from mama sonia

I got a card from my grandmother today. It was a holiday card from Mama Sonia. A Christmas card on January 12. I can't remember exactly when it was that things changed. Used to be, Mama Sonia never forgot a birthday or holiday; never sent a card out late. She was always on time. And it's sad to say, but at a certain point, her cards were just something we'd come to expect and take for granted.

The first time Mama Sonia forgot my birthday, I was devastated. Not so much that she'd forgotten mine, but that she remembered both my sisters that year. I thought that meant she loved them more. What a silly girl! Eventually, she would forget them all. Not just mine.

And yet, today I got a card. It was from Mama Sonia, but the hand-writing was my father's. He's down there visiting her right now. He must have helped her write the cards. Address the envelopes. I imagine it meant the world to her; she's probably been so bummed that she couldn't do it herself. But there he was in the nick of time--my dad--to help her get those cards out.

I opened the envelope just now, and I think I gasped out loud. Today's card meant way more to me than all of those on-time-cards that I've received in years past. It was a surprising reminder of how much she and he mean to me. It was a glimpse into their intimate relationship that I've never really known or understood. There weren't a lot of words, but it was enough to say, "Everything's okay, for now."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

did I mention the ice cream maker?

I got one for Christmas from Emi & Kevin. A bright red one with not one but TWO mixing bowls (which I am told made the sales lady at the kitchen shop green with envy). For those of you who know me, then you know: this just might revolutionize my life.

For those of you who don't know me that well, would you believe I used to work on a dairy farm and make ice cream for a living? Well, it was just a summer job after college, and it wasn't just ice cream, but it was WORK. I was living with Em & Kev down in Simsbury, Connecticut. We were all working and living at Town Farm Dairy—a small jersey farm where we bottled the milk in glass bottles and shipped it off with the milk man to be delivered to the neighborhood families before sunrise.

After we bottled the milk, there'd still be tons of it remaining in the holding tank. So we'd make yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, butter, cream fraiche—anything dairy to use up the leftover golden cream. (It really was golden too—those jersey gals make the best milk around, especially when they're eating all that fresh green grass in the summer months.)

On special occasions, we would make ice cream. The flavor would depend on what was growing in the garden patch (Rhubarb in spring, Strawberries in June) or on the fruit tree (Peaches in August). And in between we'd make chocolate, mint chip, and coffee chip. Making ice cream in large batches requires cracking A LOT of eggs and cutting up A LOT of strawberries. Then when the ice cream was finished churning, we would package it all by hand and race it one by one into the freezer. There was just Agnes and me, and when it was hot, we'd have to work FAST. Customers came from far and wide to get their hands on our limited edition flavors. Our cows produced a slightly higher fat milk, making the ice cream that much creamier, dense and smooth.

I learned a few things about ice cream making that summer. Then in the fall, I moved to Provence, France and learned even more. In France, it was less about the production and more about experimenting with flavor. We made a lavender vanilla ice cream that was out of this world. We also made some pretty unusual sorbets like ripe peach with lavender honey.

Ever since, I've been dying for the machine. You can always make it without the machine of course, with patience and a fork. But the machine makes you legit.

It's winter, so the first recipe I tried was this Cranberry Ice Cream (no milk at all mind you, just cream—a heart-attack waiting to happen). I wanted to follow the recipe to a T, but couldn't bear the thought of cranberry dessert without any kind of orange, or the idea of homemade ice cream without chocolate chips. So instead of cinnamon, I added Grand Marnier. And at the end I tossed in some chopped up dark chocolate bits. It came out pretty well for a first try.

Now I just gotta get my hands on David Lebowitz's ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop. That outta keep me busy.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

a quiet day to myself

It's Saturday. I didn't go riding today with Col, even though I really wanted to. As he was getting ready this morning, I lay in bed with the same feeling in my stomach that I used to get on Friday nights when I would stand at my window and hear groups of people laughing as they walked by on their way to a really fun night downtown. Meanwhile I'd be in my house by myself. Alone. I guess I got that feeling in my stomach this morning, because I was jealous. I really did want to go. I've been getting so much better at snowboarding, I kinda want to keep up the momentum. But then I took a couple of minutes to think about it and I realized that the real reason I had that feeling in my tummy was because I just didn't want to be left alone here.

That's when I knew I had to stay. Col and I spent so much time together over the holidays. And when we weren't together, then we were with family, or with friends. When you get in that kind of routine of always being around people, sometimes it's hard to realize the need to be alone. Then when you actually are alone, you notice the silence ten times more. It's easy to feel sad. But I need it. So I got up early, drove to Small Dog to get my power cord and now my computer is back in action and so am I! Suki really likes to sit on my belly while I type.

Next, I think I'll walk into town, get coffee. Then later, I think I'll finally take down the tree. It's time to cross some things off my list! There always tomorrow for the mountain...


Friday, January 04, 2008

national body challenge

I'm so excited to tell you about this. One of the massive projects I was working on back in October has finally come to fruition. EatingWell has partnered up with Discovery Health to provide over 1,000 healthy recipes for their National Body Challenge. The coolest thing about the project isn't so much the recipes. It's the meal plans that we came up with to help users through the 8-week challenge.

I worked with our nutrition editors to come up with heart healthy, vegetarian, and diabetic-friendly menus at three different calorie levels, according to individuals' needs and weight-loss goals.

The menus were a lot of work. Not just because of the quantity and the calorie and nutrient considerations, but we had to work with our tech producer to figure out how to import and store them in our database; relate the menus to different recipes, days and health considerations; incorporate information from the USDA database; and then deliver the whole shebang in one tidy XML package.

If you register (it's free!) you'll be able to see how cool it all is. Hey, you may even be inspired to eat a little healthier or exercise a little more. (Registrants get a free 8-week pass to Bally fitness clubs!)

If this sounds like a commercial, I guess it kind of is. Cause I'm really proud of what we pulled off. Thanks to Sylvia, Nicci, Paul, Rose and Paula at EatingWell for all your help. And to Joy, Jen and the team over at Discovery--what a fun partner to work with!


Thursday, January 03, 2008

it's soup weather

That's what my tummy was telling me today. When everything's diets, and weight loss, and new year's resolutions, I'm just craving something to fill me up and warm my hands while I hold the bowl. I watch the translucent tender tips of my fingers gradually turn from white to hot red then deep purply blue. Bruised like ice. That's what happens to my fingers when it's cold. They turn to crinkled golden raisins. Bloodless and empty.

That's what happens to my belly too. And the best remedy is hot, hearty soup. And fast. That's when I like to whip up this tortellini soup. The best part is that you can keep most of these ingredients on hand in your pantry for a rainy (or snowy day) and whip up the whole shebang in about 15 minutes. Boil about 4 cups of broth and add some cheese tortellini. Cook it till tender. Then add two chopped tomatoes (in mid-winter, I like to add a can of diced tomatoes, no salt added) and a can of drained, rinsed cannellini beans. Heat through. Remove the soup from the stove and add 1/2 coup of chopped basil. Tonight I added a bunch of chopped fresh spinach too. Chopped garlic. A couple splashes of balsamic vinegar (or any vinegar you have on hand). Serve up in a bowl and garnish with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. That's it!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

before I go to bed...

I really thought I'd get my rhythm back over vacation, but every time I went to open my computer, I got a funny feeling in my tummy. So I'd closed it right back up again. I think I just really needed a break from everything. I swear I have lots of pictures from Christmas and figgy pudding (the table cloth actually caught on fire this time!). From our fancy dinner the other night and other things, but for now they're locked up in my computer till I can get my power cord fixed.

In general though, we had a really great couple of weeks. Got LOTS of riding in. I think I'm actually way better than when the season started. We built another kicker in my parents backyard and welcomed in the New Year on our snowboards! Then yesterday, we went to Jay with Emi & Kevin and there was so much powder everywhere, I couldn't stop giggling and yelling yippee!!

Hannah's in town and she, Emi, Kevin and Elisa just came over for dinner. That was nice. Think I'll go to bed now.

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