Close2myART

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For my boyfriend’s 26th birthday, I was acknowledged as the best girlfriend ever because I got him an awesome clock from Close2myART.  This Sail Away Clock is without a doubt the coolest thing decorating his room. However, they don’t just have fish…

I love shopping at Close2myART (even just window shopping) because really their stuff is just so original. What’s great about all of their products is that they have a real sense of personality without being over the top.

Now, what’s great about Close2myART at the moment, is that they are having a giveaway to celebrate their new blog.

Here’s the link for the giveaway: http://www.close2myart.com/blog/2012/04/close2myart-giveaway/

I highly recommend visiting their website to shop around at http://www.close2myart.com/shoppingcart/ .  The styles are amazingly quirky and unique!  Plus they have everything divided by themes…just in case you’re a dog lover for example.

I’m pretty sure my next purchase is going to be for my kitchen!

Raspberry Ramblings

When I was a child, I hated to take naps.  At least, that’s what my mom and dad tell me.  The story goes that every afternoon in the summertime I would disappear…nowhere to be seen.  Mom, however, knew where I was.  She would find me without fail sitting in the raspberry patch behind the house tenderly plucking the fruits from the brambles before popping them into my mouth.  The succulent little fruits were an excellent escape from naps, and it remained so until I outgrew childhood naps.  That, and the raspberry bushes slowly died off as a result of tree growth and lack of sunshine.

This isn't me in the picture, but I like the idea of it. I'm pretty sure my feet never looked this clean when I was in the patch!

While my opinions on naps since then have changed, my love of raspberries has not.  Unfortunately, the ruby-red fruits seem wildly expensive and excessive in the grocery store, no matter how much I sigh over them as I push my cart past.

Did you know raspberries are called aggregate fruits because they are made up of smaller seed holding fruits known as "drupelets?"

When I went to Latvia, a little old lady we visited instantly won my love.  She had a garden.   A HUGE GARDEN.  An awe-inspiring, color-explosion, fruit-filled garden.  What’s more, she had raspberries.  And not just the ruby red raspberries I had grown up with.  She had GOLDEN raspberries.  I’m pretty sure I pulled a “Blueberries for Sal” move right then and there and ate half of her crop!

So, when Benjamin and I were at Southern States Farmers Coop looking at fruit trees, I pounced on the opportunity to get a raspberry plant!  However I bought a red variety, and today, I am determined to return to pick up an “Anne Yellow Raspberry.”  I’m pretty sure the raspberry I picked up was either an Encore Red or a Heritage Red.  (I’ll go back and read the label and get back to you.)

Now, raspberries aren’t just beautiful to look at.  (Though they are very beautiful!)  They are also extremely good for you!  Like the more hyped-up Acai berry (said, a-sigh-ee), raspberries have a lot of antioxidant action going on for them because of the ellagic acid they contain.  Raspberries are also antimicrobial and are especially helpful in preventing a build-up of bacteria and fungi in the body.  (I’m thinking yeast and vaginal infections here ladies.)  Raspberries are also chock-full of Vitamin C: about 53% of your suggested daily values is in just one cup of raspberries. There’s also a tale going around that the ellagitannins in Raspberries have anti-carcinogenic (or anti-cancer) qualities.  I’m not a scientist, and I’m not about to set out to prove it, but hey…it’s certainly not a reason to eat less of these dainty, lady-like fruits!  If you’re wanting more information on the healthy Raspberry, here’s the site I got most of my information from:  Raspberries, one of the World’s Healthiest Foods.

All this is to say, that Raspberries are pretty fantastic.  Now, I mentioned earlier that they are just CRIMINALLY expensive at your local grocery.  So, what’s the solution?  In my opinion, grow your own.  As a rule, Raspberries need full sunshine and well drained soil.  Apart from that, Raspberry plants can be used any way you want in your landscape design.  You could turn them into a hedge because of their bramble qualities or you could let them edge up your house on one side.  The flowers themselves are beautiful, so no need to worry about eyesores. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure that you’ll find yourself cooking with the beautiful fruits in a variety of ways.

If you don’t love raspberries by the end of the summer, I will hold myself personally responsible!

A Week in New Hampshire

For Spring Break this year, I didn’t venture to the southern shores for glorious seventy-degree weather.  Instead I trekked north to New Hampshire to enjoy a crisp breeze and high-quality, warm, beautiful friendship and fellowship.  On Saturday, the 3rd of March, I flew into Boston Logan international airport to see the beautiful and fantastic Jane Martyn.

When I arrived in Boston around noon, the sky was clouded and misty so there wasn’t much of a skyline to witness. So… no Boston on Saturday.  I’m ok with that, it wouldn’t have been a real full day anyway.  Jane and I of course substituted the original plan with what we do best: eating Mexican food and shopping.  One thing you should know about our trips is that they are ALWAYS based around food, and somehow the most important meals for us are the “welcome meals” — the one right after one of us gets off the plane.  It’s usually Thai or Mexican.

Upon arriving at Jane’s house, I got to meet the four day old King Charles Spaniel puppies.  A wriggling mass of black, white and tan the puppies were at the stage of being so small, rat-like, blind, and ugly that they were cute.  Amazingly enough, by the time I left, the little creatures had already grown and one had even started to open its eyes!

While staying at Jane’s home in Southern New Hampshire, we did a lot of cooking, eating, and shopping…it’s what we do best together after all.  We also stepped outside of our boxes a little and when ice-skating.  At first neither of us could remember how, but by the end of an hour we were both gliding around semi-confidently with the company of two hockey players and a recovering figure skater.

While on the road to Connecticut to the coast there, Jane introduced me to the wonderful store: Charming Charlie.  It’s the most colorful, most organized, most creative store I have ever seen.  Simply put, it’s an accessory store organized by color shades and combinations.  They have all types of hats, scarves, wallets, rings, purses, EVERYTHING you could ever accessorize.  And it’s all grouped by color combo. Just imagine…not only is there a table for hot pink….there’s also a completely separate area for lighter pinks and tan.  I don’t usually like to talk too much about clothes but I highly recommend this store to everyone who likes to accessorize anything.

While at Niantic, we discovered that not only was there a severe lack of conch shells at the beach, but there was also an extraordinary number of social sea gulls.  Jane, however, kindly refused their company as they were rude and didn’t understand the concept of personal space.  We spent just enough time to appreciate the view before scampering back to the car.  The gulls and the wind had finally gotten to us.

We also took a trip to Northern New Hampshire to see my aunt and uncle, Steve and Brenda Jones.  Their property is a haven on earth of quietness, peace, and serenity.  Even with the goats, donkeys, miniature horses, chickens, sheep, two dogs, and three house birds, I am completely serious.  Brenda and Steve are two of the world’s sweetest and most welcoming people ever.  Their dogs are pretty welcoming too!  Brenda has Collie and a new Collie puppy at three months old.  The beautiful blue Merle puppy is much bigger than I thought she’d be, but she’s crazy energetic and playful.  She’s also incredibly soft and lovable.   Long story short: I want a collie someday.  Specifically Blue Merle.

While at Steve and Brenda’s we stopped by Hanover, NH to see Dartmouth.  It’s a beautiful campus with a lovely downtown, but let me tell you: the people are so snobbish, it’s ridiculous.  Yes, you’re at an ivy-league.  No, that doesn’t mean your sperries and your hair are made out of gold.  Get over yourself!  Lunch at Molly’s and an exploration of the Rauner Special Collections library were fantastic however.  The featured exhibit in the main reading room was about the Japanese student Nubo Mitsui at Dartmouth during WWII and the era of internment camps.  Backed up by the board, Mitsui was allowed to stay under surveillance.

We left Steve and Brenda’s to head to Boston.  While we didn’t leave as soon as we would have liked, we still got a pretty good deal on parking in the North End.  Jane took me through the North End where I saw zillions of genuine Italian restaurants and experienced the biggest little city on earth.  We visited the North Church were the lanterns were hung: one if by land, two if by sea.  First of all, let me say, that the pews in this church (and all the subsequent ones) were absolutely astounding.  They look like the inside of carriage with a plush, cushioned bench and a footstool or two in front if you want.  Seriously?  I don’t know how they fitted everyone in there!

We also visit Revere’s statue and tomb along with those of Sam Adams and Phyllis Wheatly.  On our way, we walked reverently through the Boston Holocaust Memorial.  A sobering walk, the memorial is made up of several tasteful stone markers at the entrance and exit of the walkway.  The path itself is comprise of four or five glass rectangular prisms rising into the sky with the internment numbers of victims inscribed.  Inside each pillar was a grate from which steam emitted as the passerby can read two quotes from survivors on either side.  The quotes are both moving and heart-wrenching.  We took the time to walk through and read all of the plaques, and thus entered our first annoyance of the day: a lady hurriedly walking, nay striding not on the sidewalk going around the memorial but straight through the memorial without glancing at what she was passing through.   Perhaps she didn’t have time and perhaps she’s seen it a million times, but I certainly believe the memorial deserves more respect than that.

In the same vein of historical investigation we also visited the cemetery at King’s Chapel and the church itself.  Another astounding work of art, the church had a pew box adorned with overhead hangings which was reserved for the royal governor.  George Washington later sat in the same pew at a fundraiser.  Let me tell you, there were LOTS of places that George Washington visited in Boston and they are all CLEARLY marked.  After stopping through Fanieul Hall and Quincy Market (the world’s worst tourist trap), we tripped over to the Irish Famine Memorial (especially important to my friend’s direct Irish roots) and the South Meeting Hall.  A museum worth paying to go into, it’s a tribute to revolution and free speech, no matter what end of the spectrum it falls on.

We intended to stop at an Irish restaurant to partake of traditional Irish fare and Boston atmosphere so that Jane wouldn’t have to cook for me if we didn’t have time.  The Purple Shamrock, however, was a waste of time apart from the time we had to sit down and relax.  First the boiled dinners that we had come for weren’t ready yet because the delivery man had JUST brought them.  Next, they didn’t have their soup of the day.  After that, we found a long, thick, black hair trailing out of the Boston Clam Chowder.  Disgusting!  Needless to say, we were NOT impressed.

After walking all across Boston, we took the T back to the North End and drove out to go get massages.  A day well spent, we drove exhausted back to New Hampshire where we promptly collapsed.

The next day was slow but wonderful.  We got up…and I really mean Jane got up and began preparing a traditional Irish meal: corned beef with cabbage, carrots and parsnips, mashed potatoes, and white sauce.  Incredibly delicious and filling!  I’ll be sure to try and imitate it, though I don’t know that anyone can make Irish food like the Irish!

The trip wasn’t over though until I’d actually made it on the plane.  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong when I went through security.  First my hairpins set off the metal detector so I had to get a pat-down.  Then my purse set off red-lights. Turns out, I had forgotten about removing not only my pepper spray but also my multitool.  Both were confiscated, but on account of the pepper spray, the state police were called in as it is an illegal item in Massachusetts.  Lucky me.  One pitiable and remorseful explanation later, I’d finally made it to my gate with fifteen minutes and a bathroom break to spare.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and even though I’m sure I haven’t done any of it justice, I had a truly wonderful time with wonderful people.  Pictures to come soon…maybe.

Sunshine in February, or Why I Love Mexican Food

While having a conversation with the lovely Heidi Beth of New York recently, we both reveled in our intense love of Mexican food.  More specifically, we both adore Mexican, South American, or Caribbean food.  I know it’s not all the same by a long shot, but for me it falls into one category: sunshine and happiness in the form of food.

This is the one food genre that I will NEVER get tired of.  There’s something so wonderful about food that is so freshly flavorful and spicy that I just cannot resist.  For me, there are four basic parts to the perfect meal in this category: good chips, lovingly seasoned black beans, tasty fish, and the PERFECT guacamole.

To me, guacamole is something of an art form.  How do you get the right combination of every ingredient to give your avocados the perfect spicy and smokey yet fresh authentic flavor?  There is for sure an element of trial and error on anyone’s part when they are making guacamole.  My bit of seasoning might be a pinch for you and a spoonful for me.  But I would like to throw out the winning combination that Ben and I discovered.  However, there IS always room for improvement with the guac.  It literally gets better every time we make it in my house!

Ben and Morgan’s Guac

Ingredients:

2 large avocados

1.5 tsp Cumin

10 sprigs cilantro

Texas Pete or Authentic Caribbean hot sauce (We prefer Bajan hot pepper sauce from Barbados)

Salt and Pepper

1 lime

1 tsp lemon juice

2 roma tomatoes

1 small section of an onion (preferably vidalia)

1 tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp Tajin seasoning

 

Healthy and yummy!

As you can imagine, making this is pretty easy and self explanatory.  Scoop your avocados into the bowl.  I do this by cutting them in half and then using a large spoon.  They should come out perfectly if they are ripe.

Doing it this way prevents your avocados from getting mashed too early.  I like to wait until everything is added to start mashing up the avocados so that I don’t over do it.  I like for there to still be a little chunk to the mix.  Before your next step, go ahead and add the lemon juice to the avocados.  This will keep them from turning brown while you chop if you haven’t already taken care of that step.  Next dice up your tomato and onion into the mix.

When adding your cilantro you have two options.  You can a) remove the leaves from the stems and chop those up to add to the guac and discard the stems.  This is probably the way most people do it, but it’s very frustrating because you have to pick the leaves off the stems and then attempt to finely chop them while they stick to the cutting board.

Interesting side note: Did you know that some people can't taste cilantro like others? All they get is the weird texture and not the awesome flavor. It's actually a genetic trait.

In my opinion, solution B is much easier and more flavorful: after washing your cilantro, hold the 10 stems tightly and cut finely with kitchen scissors directly into the guacamole.  See?  Much less time consuming.

Next, add your garlic powder, cumin, tajin, and salt and pepper.  For salt and pepper, try to use freshly ground; this part of the recipe is entirely up to the decisions of your taste buds but I’d start off with four grinds of each.

For us, the cumin is the secret ingredient that really kick starts the guac and interacts wonderfully with the fresh flavors of lime and cilantro.  You can of course add more than the amounts in this recipe.  The ones I have listed are just good starting points so that you can figure out the perfect amount for you and whoever you’re cooking for.

Shop Barbados! It's worth it!

Next, add a dash or two of hot sauce.  This is a good substitute for jalapenos, but I’ve actually found that since I like my guac to have subtle spice but no real bite, I prefer sauce over fresh jalapenos.  Not to mention ever since some friends from Barbados brought us some of this Bajan Red Hot Pepper Sauce, we haven’t stopped using it once.  It’s incredibly spicy but the flavor mixes so well with the other ingredients.  It’s phenomenal!

Mash your guac together making sure everything is fully incorporated: you want a mix of flavors, not a couple of individually good ones. Now cut your lime in half and squeeze the juice onto the guac. Stir and add the rest, then stir again.  Serve with a slice of lime and a couple cilantro leaves on top. Voila, guacamole, the nectar of the gods.

Presentation and taste make for time well spent!

 

¡Buen Provecho!

New Years Resolutions

This is the time of year when everyone is making those famed New Year’s Resolutions. Of course the most common is usually losing five pounds after the holiday binge.  And sure that’s going to be one of my resolutions, but overall I’m going to shoot for a healthier and more productive life style this year.  An improved lifestyle in my book means a little more than losing weight or working hard.  It’s also about doing something every day that makes you feel competent and in control.  It’s about challenging yourself every day to try something new or perhaps get better at the new thing you tried yesterday.  So I’m writing a list of my resolutions for 2012 (and beyond) on this blog.  Maybe writing it down will keep me in line this year!

  1. Yes, dear reader, I am going to make the dreaded resolution of losing pounds.  To be more precise, I’m aiming for losing the holiday binge pounds that I gained while the gym was closed.  More than just losing a couple pounds though, I’m resolving to go to the gym at least four days a week every week.  (Unless holidays interfere. I mean…come on!)

    What I'll be thinking about when I'm burning on the elliptical.

  2. Resolution number two: get outside!  I guess that’s a pretty broad resolution, so I’ll narrow this one down to doing work in the garden.  When the bf and I started the garden….oh who am I kidding.  Let me start over.  When my bf decided gardening was a good idea, I went along willingly until I figured out how much hard work was going to be involved. It was a rough couple of months until the garden was fully established filled with me sitting in a lawn chair complaining while he did the work.  Fortunately we made it past this stage (by which I mean he survived, and I got over myself) and now we’re both fully devoted to gardening and reaping the benefits.  Plus, I’m now much more willing to do the hard work.  So my resolution for the garden is to be more on schedule with seeds, weeding, pruning, and harvesting.  Also, I need to eat what we grow.  There was the incident last time where I had food rotting in the fridge because I didn’t really know what to do with it. That is called homegrown failure.  No more!  Every little thing that comes out of the garden this year will be devoured.  This is my take on eating local and healthy.

    The lovingly constructed garden of 2011. Pictures of a new and improved garden will be arriving later this year!

  3. Numero Tres: Improve my Español.  And I don’t mean learn just one thing.  I mean that I really plan on dedicating myself to Spanish this year.  Sure I’ll be in a class every day that will be improving my Spanish, but my goal is to take it more seriously than ever and actively try to get something out of it.  I plan on learning beyond the classroom as well.  My plan: go talk to the homeless man under the bridge, Jose.  While I’m not entirely sure Jose is his real name, the man’s a pretty colorful character all the same.  And even though I had trouble last time I talked to him, I think that conversing with him on a regular basis will be extremely beneficial.  Besides, maybe I can help the guy out.
  4. Perhaps this resolution falls in line with the first, but I think it’s still important to make a distinction.  I would like to see myself eating healthier foods on a regular basis in the coming year.  Healthy eating habits contribute to losing weight but there are other benefits as well.  For one, the type of foods we eat affect our moods, emotions, and mental states.  For example, if you are a woman with low iron, eating a healthy spinach salad will fill you up and leave you feeling boosted with energy.  Probably a more common example is that of carb loading.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love my carbs as much as the next person: pancakes, waffles, toast, bread, dumplings, bread, and did I mention bread?  Carbohydrates are a filling food that spike the blood sugar, but then lead to a much earlier crash.  I’ve found that when I base my daily meals around carbs, I get grumpy and draggy earlier on in the day and begin to feel listless around 4pm.  I’m also much more likely to feel depressed in that draggy, listless part of the day, so….NO BUENO!  Eating a healthy amount of carbs is natural and appropriate but it should be balanced with proteins that boost the body more steadily throughout the day so that I don’t crash at 2, 3, or 4pm.  I’ve learned this lesson the hard way this year (multiple times), so my resolution is to eat more vegetables and more regular proteins.  This should perfectly provide the energy I’m going to need for resolution 1!

    This part of the meal won't be all bad for me as long as it's only a PART of the meal.

  5. Finally, for my final resolution, I am resolved to take whatever steps necessary to be the happiest person I can be.  All of the above will contribute to this goal, but I also mean taking other necessary steps such as therapy or even the random day off.  I’m devoting myself to being a more confident and happier person this year.  But I think this year is looking pretty bright so far.  Happy New Years Everyone!

Gingerbread men

Gingerbread men are a very fine art.  First there’s the right amount of ginger.  Put in too little and you can’t tell what it is. Too much and you’re left politely munching away while trying to not gag.  The gingerbread men I ate last night made up in full for the babysitting I did. Their secret ingredient was butterscotch pudding mix.  Yum!!!  Though honestly I do prefer the bite of traditional gingerbread cookies. Next on the list is how chewy the cookie is: crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside = perfection.  This is a very hard balance to achieve  since if you get the cookies too thin…the game is over.

However, the holiday tradition I love even more than gingerbread men is the linzer torte.  It’s almond crust deliciousness plus raspberry preserves.  It’s even more perfection than the ultimate gingerbread man.  It’s a pain to make but it’s well worth it.  If you can find someone to make it for you…so much the better.  What really makes the torte though is the signature almond pastry and raspberry preserves.  Don’t let anyone tell you different!

http://www.joyofbaking.com/LinzerTorte.html

Apart from being delicious, the linzer torte packs a lot of good holiday memories for me.  I associate it with a bakery in New Paltz, NY.  I associate New Paltz with my dad’s parents who we would go to see every year at Christmas.  When Christmas morning came around, Dad would go to a bakery of some sort to retrieve goodies for a very unhealthy breakfast as we listened to music from the Nutcracker.  Afterwards, we would open gifts to the smells of Christmas dinner cooking and the sight of Christmas snow (sometimes).  This is all magical nostalgia of course.  One year in particular stands out in my mind however simply because that was the year Dad came home with a Linzer Torte.  I’d always had a love for raspberries; we used to have a patch behind the house.  But this new found pastry was the ultimate recipe for raspberry preserves.  It’s sweet, tangy, nutty, and perfectly flaky all at once.  How could I not fall in love?  I am after all a carbaholic.

Holiday traditions are all about memories.  Any tradition is really.  And food is the best way to go with memory!