18 October 2014

peach jam, two ways

After my last post, I did some more canning and even though it's no longer peach season and these definitely weren't grown locally, I tried out two incredible peach jam recipes that the world should know about. One is a sweet Salted Brown Sugar Peach Jam, best used on oven-warmed croissants or hearty slices of toast. Or, perhaps, just on a spoon. It's got a gooey caramel flavor, which should be enough information to tempt you into making a small batch of it right this moment.

The other tends towards the savory side and we've been using it in much the same way that we use our beloved tomato jam. Peach Jam with Sriracha. Can you wrap your mind around it? Peach jam with a healthy pour of sriracha cooked right in. As I was following the recipe, I got a little sweaty at how much sriracha it called for and how red the jam was turning. Was this going to melt my face off? The answer is no, your face is safe. It's so very unusual and delicious, and you absolutely must add it to your quirky home pantry. Which brings me to a recent revelation:

I'd rather make small batches of weird things all year round than spend a hot & humid weekend holed up in the kitchen putting up gallons of something boring. 

For example, I like tomato sauce. I loved getting together with a friend and making a few quarts. But that was my limit. I didn't need to do much more. I'd rather have a pantry full of strange concoctions that really spice up my cooking, things I can't readily buy at the store. Because here's the secret: sometimes other people or companies are better at making things than I am. Not always! (See Quiches, Homemade.) But sometimes. And I'd rather just buy those. Hopefully from a smaller, local producer but even then, not always. Make weird recipes and put them in jars! That's the new theme of my home canning and preservation strategy.

Both recipes from Marisa McClellan's new book Preserving by the Pint:  Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. You can download the cute canning labels over at From Scratch Club.

This year's preserving stockpile

Have you really not given tomato jam a try yet?

25 September 2014

my stockpile

I'm not a major food preserver. I don't spend full weekends preserving tomatoes or putting up the summer's harvest. But I do a little bit, when it's fun. We split a CSA share with friends this year- so manageable! I don't know how we ever made it through an entire full share before, and we eat a lot of veggies. Even with the split share, we had some extra produce laying around just waiting to be shoved in jars and preserved.

And that's what I did. We decided years ago that while unconventional, tomato jam is an absolute staple for us and thus a priority for canning. I slather it on breakfast sandwiches, lay it out with cheese boards and top our beet and brown rice burgers with it. It's so so good. Lifechanging. A little sweet, a little spicy. Get into it. Grab a bunch of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half and cook them up. One of our friends gave us a ton of grape tomatoes from his garden and they produced the absolute best batch of jam.

I also made a few jars of tomato sauce, splitting a 25 lb box of seconds from Denison Farm with Lesley and Joe, who are our CSA buddies. We spent a few hours chopping up and cooking tomatoes one night after work, and each came away with a few quarts. Splendid!

Of course, I made pickles. I'm not an enthusiast yet, but I sure do like sneaking them in sandwiches. I prefer a crispy pickle, obviously, so I stuck with fridge pickles that didn't have to withstand a 10 minute dip in the hot water bath to become shelf-stable. I gave lacto-fermentation a try too, but wasn't supremely successful. I generally stick with a recipe from Marisa's Food in Jars for Garlic Dill Pickles.

And then! More cucumbers! There are only so many Hendrick's cucumber martinis you can make, so I canned up a few jars of sweet relish. I doubted my judgment on this one, because I've never purchased a jar of relish before in my life. It's never crossed my mind. As it turns out, relish is great! Spread some on sandwiches, (veggie) sausage, crackers. Phew! I used a recipe from the book Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More. (Pictured above, a jar of pickled accouterments served with Al's martini a few weekends ago in Boston. I cringe at the thought, but consider this a reminder that you can put weird pickled things in your drinks.)

Finally, I canned up a jar of marinated roasted peppers for the fun of it. I have no idea how they will be when we open the jar. They look mushy in there, don't they? I'll report back. I used Marisa's recipe from her new book Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces.

By the by, both of those books are on sale on Amazon for an insane $9 in case you are interested in scoring a killer deal! (Here & here.) Next up, I'm making some peach jam variations using (gasp!) out-of-season peaches I scored for a killer deal at Trader Joe's. Judge away. I will be coating my face with peach puree to spite you.

Tomato jam, it will change your life
My tentative jump on the pickle bandwagon
Strawberry wrangling (I missed strawberry season this year)

12 September 2014

pixie cut & a look

Short on the sides, party on top. I'm working up courage for a funkier 'do. It's not quite an undercut, but the sides are definitely tight with a really floppy mop on top. Flop mop top, if you will.

My pixie cut is becoming an identifying feature. Although I had a short bob less than two years ago, most people have erased that from their memory and claim to have not seen longer hair on me in years. Decades. Lifetimes! Just as well; I feel so comfortable with short hair that sometimes even I can't remember life before the pixie. I like that it's distinctive, I like that it's a Look.

Do you crave a Look? I always have. I'm fascinated by people with strong Looks. Most people I know get a Look through fashion, by creating a uniform or stylebook of sorts. They are preppy and nautical; rockabilly and retro; punk and edgy. It works for them. They identify through clothes. Or maybe big glasses or red lipstick or whathaveyou. I'm sure we all do this, to an extent, and a quick glance at my Pinterest board will tell you that I'd love to create my own Fashion Look. But most days, I keep it pretty simple. I tend towards basics and have learned to dress my body, including making sure my clothes fit well. For work, you'll find me in tailored pants or dresses with a cardigan on hand. On the weekends, I'm in jeans or leggings. It's consistent, but I don't know that it's a Look.

The pixie cut, it saves me. It's a Look all on its own, even when I'm in my pajamas. (And in the morning, my hair puts on the best case of bedhead you've ever seen.) Add in big earrings, and BAM. Insta-Look. Plus, I've gained entry into the elusive and exclusive club of women with short hair. We check each other out, swiveling to catch the back of your own pixie cut to see how your stylist shaped it. We silently pass off pixie street cred to one another in line for groceries or on the sidewalk or at dinner. We make notes on texture and length and style. We know that we have a Look, and that we are rocking it.

Except... for when we aren't. When the pixie fails us. (In the mornings, after a run or more than a day after our last shower. It can get crazy.)

What's your look? What's your vibe? Hippy chic? Long beachy waves? Arm covered in tattooes? Or is this Look idea so overrated, superficial, irrelevant? 

Related Posts
Go on, chop it all off
Ok, go ever shorter now
Riffing on why I love short hair

02 September 2014

fsc book club, 5th round

In case you missed it, the fifth round of the FSC Book Club is up and running! We are reading Molly Wizenberg's new book Delancy: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage. You may know Molly from her blog Orangette or her first book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. It's a little bit memoir, a little bit cookbook and the perfect late summer/early fall read.

Learn more about the book club, our reading schedule & how to join here. Remember, it's a low-stress, laid back, online club and it's free. No excuse not to tag along!

28 August 2014

making flower crowns

Last week, my friend Katie and I went to a flower crown workshop at a local shop. It was one of the most blogger-y events I've been too. You know, beautiful flowers strewn about an impeccably-curated shop with pretty ladies sipping white wine out of small jam jars and nibbling on hibiscus shortbread cookies. Just perfection, and I mean that.

Fort Orange General Store is a small specialty shop here in Albany that sells all sorts of great gifts, home goods, jewelry, paperie and such. It's just adorable. When they announced that they were hosting a Flower Crown workshop under the direction of Flower Scout, Katie & I jumped at the chance.

We snipped flowers, twisted wire and fashioned ourselves some gorgeous crowns. Passersby must not have known what to think when they peered though the shop windows and saw a sea of women sipping wine and shopping in our lovely floral headwear.

The bottom line is that I need to find/create new opportunities to wear a flower crown because I felt like a damn princess and wore it until I went to bed, and then a little bit the next day on our way up to Quebec City. A princess, I tell you.

Such a blogger-y post, isn't it?! With all of the pretty crafting materials looking so beautiful up there. This is what I envision crafternoons looking like, but in my experience they are usually a bit messier. Regardless, who wants to come over for an overly styled crafternoon sometime? It will basically be a photo shoot set up to look like a crafternoon, but isn't that what blogs do anyway? :)

21 August 2014

where to stay in albany

Friends, I've been meaning to recommend this to everyone I know booking hotel rooms in Albany, but that occasion hasn't risen very often, so I'll tell all of you here. Stay at the Morgan State House Inn. It's a beautiful brownstone-turned-inn right in the middle of Albany's Center Square neighborhood. Charming, cozy and just a little funky. The building is gorgeous, the garden is an oasis and the rooms are just adorable. Their kitchen is stocked with coffee, pastry snacks and a simple continental breakfast each morning. Eat inside or out in the garden. Splendid!

Chris' parents have stayed here twice now, once in the main building and once in the annex a few doors down. I hadn't even known of the place before they found it, and what a good find it was. When they are in town we'll head to their room for pre-dinner gin and tonics and each time it feels like I'm on vacation. The inn itself is a treat, but the neighborhood is even better. You know how much I like the neighborhood. Stay here to get a glimpse of my Albany. You'll be in the middle of a great, walkable neighborhood, adjacent to a magnificent park, and a quick walk to great restaurants, a charming wine shop, craft beer retailer, the Empire State Plaza... you're in the middle of it. It's the next best thing to staying at your really hip, downtown-living friend's place. You'll feel like a local.

Just an other unsolicited, unsponsored recommendation from yours truly. There are lots of places to stay in Albany, but I think this one might take the cake. Maybe I'll put together a "72 Hours in Albany" list, a la the New York Times, in case anyone is interested in visiting our fair capital city.

Waxing poetic about our neighborhood here and here.

All photos from the Morgan State House Inn.

07 August 2014

waking up

When my alarm went off this morning, I was tired. I slept in for another ten minutes or so and then had my usual debate about whether or not to get out of bed or to just keep sleeping. It's frequently a tough call. I can make a really convincing case for needing more sleep. I'll think, "Well Christine, you have a tough day ahead and you'll feel more prepared if you sleep another 20 minutes." I'll use this excuse regardless of how much sleep I already got that night. Flimsy excuse, I'll admit.

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.”
— Lemony Snicket 

Here's the thing:  I like the morning time. I love being awake early, whether to get a start on my day or to just sit and stare out the window for a few minutes. Mornings are great! But, so is sleeping. I'd really rather wake up early and get going than toss and turn in bed until my snooze alarm goes off. Without seeking to add another element of stress to the day, here are some ways I'd like to spend my mornings.

Running. There's no better time to run. The air is crisp, the streets are quiet and you can get a few miles in before your brain even realizes what your body is doing. At the risk of sounding like a women's fitness magazine writer, squeezing in a run or walk or workout in the morning sets up your whole day for greatness. It helps me shake out, stretch, breathe deeper and get the blood flowing. I feel accomplished and badass when I run in the morning. After I run, I tend to choose healthier foods, because on those mornings I've convinced myself I am a mega wellness warrior so I smugly make my smoothie and put together my veggie-loaded lunch. And then when I get home from a long day? I've already ran. I can just relax! Maybe make a fancy cocktail! Endless non-running possibilities.

Newspaper-reading. We don't subscribe to a newspaper, so I mostly catch up on goings-ons on my computer at work. I would hate all of the paper waste if we had one delivered each morning, but I do like the romantic idea of settling down at the breakfast counter with my paper and mug of coffee. In lieu of flipping through a daily paper, maybe I should catch up on some magazine reading? (If you're a longtime reader, you may remember how The Economist magazine tried to kill me? Yes? Well I still haven't re-subscribed for fear of being buried alive by pile of unread mags, but maybe now is the time? Or maybe I'll just get the New Yorker and call it a day.)

Coffee-drinking. I don't drink coffee every day. Most days, I guess, but then there will be a week or two where I don't touch the stuff. In the winter, I suspect I drink more coffee because I like the ritual and the smell and the warmth. When I do have morning coffee, I usually take it with me to work, with the idea that it's a nice slice of comfort to bring to the office. But wouldn't it be nicer to actually focus on that mug of java at home, while it's still warm and not just an afterthought? I think so. Here's to drinking coffee out of beautiful clay mugs at home instead of out of a travel tumbler under fluorescent lights.

Meditating. So far, this hasn't seemed a compelling enough reason to get out of bed for me. I have the best intentions. I have my meditation pillow and altar set up, waiting for me to get with the program. But it's too close to sleeping. I want to be a morning meditator, I really do. But I always think, "Ok, I'll just lie here and meditate in bed. Under the covers. In the dark. With my eyes closed." And, well, you can imagine how well that goes. Any tips? Maybe if I combine this with something else... a cup of coffee then 10 minutes on the meditation cushion. Running meditation. Quick fridge pickling up my CSA cucumbers and meditation. Make it a combo deal.

Some mornings, I take care of business. Maybe I'll tinker around on our deck to see what harm the squirrels have done, or prep ingredients for that night's dinner, or bake something. These mornings usually start out wonderfully and end up with me being late to work. I'm not quite organized enough to be that productive in the mornings and I usually take on more than I should. So I'm looking for good uses of the early hours that don't add to the busy-ness of the day.

Are you a morning person? Is waking up easy for you? Do you even use an alarm? What do you do all morning? I'm lucky because I usually don't arrive to work until 8:30 and I have a six-minute commute! So I have plenty of time to wake up early, but I don't absolutely have to. Let's talk about morning routines, shall we?

Photo by Ali Harper via Once Wed. (Note: This looks nothing like our bedroom. Ours is a dark, dark dungeon that makes it an epic struggle of willpower to wake up at all.)

25 July 2014

squirrel siege

Squirrels are little jerks. In our last place, we had squirrels in the walls. We had squirrels on our window ledge and squirrels that would violently assault each other right outside our window. In our current apartment, we have a lovely back deck where we keep a few containers of potted plants- mostly decorative, shade-friendly ones. The network of backyards on our block is squirrel paradise. Huge tree branches cross over from yard to yard and it's basically a secret squirrel jungle gym behind these city rowhouses. So these little jerks dig around in our plants. We've tried cayenne pepper and other suggested remedies, but here's the insulting thing: I swear they deliberately mess with whatever is most important to us out there.

For instance, at our newlywed celebration, we gave out little Blue Spruce saplings as favors. Chris warned that if our guests let their trees die, they were letting our marriage die. Harsh, but motivational. So then, out of all the plants we had outside, these squirrels targeted our love tree and ripped it from the pot just to throw it on the ground. Rude. (Marriage is still fine, thanks for asking.)

Then, we decide the only edible we wanted to plant on our very shaded deck this year is mint. For mojitos, you see. The squirrels dug around at first, then left it alone. The other day I suspected our mint was a bit root bound, so I undertook the anxiety-producing task of root pruning to save them. Then what happened, you ask? Those nasty squirrels came back and messed with the mint. Have they no shame?! No respect for the summer mojito?

Discussion question:  Do you think the Albany squirrels are out to get me? Why or why not?

PS- Enjoy the weekend!

17 July 2014

float on

We've been trying to squeeze every ounce of awesome out of this summer and part of that means getting in the water. Any water. Lakes, oceans, pools. I lamented one recent summer how I had barely spent any time in my bathing suit and what a shame that is, because summers are for swimming.

Well for me, it's mostly floating. I think I got it from my mom, but if you put me in a body of water all I want to do is float on my back and gaze up at the sky. This summer I've paddleboarded, paddleboated, tiptoed, waded, bathed, swam, lounged, jumped, dove, boozed and floated in bodies of water all over the place. I've been in Adirondack lakes and off the shore of Jamaican beaches and at private villa pools... fancy! Everywhere I've been I've found myself lazily floating and staring up at the sky. Watching the supermoon and counting off all of the people that I love. Sending my trippy blessings to people in different states and on different continents. Squinting into the afternoon sun and grinning, with periodic breaks to reapply my SPF 30. Life is never free of all stress and commotion, but floating sure makes me forget about the stressful bits.

Are you guys all getting some good pool, lake or ocean time in this year? In the past I haven't always been into it, but I'm totally back in action. Don't worry about whether or not you have a "bikini body" or what your bum looks like in your bathing suit, just get in that water and splash around. Or float, your call.


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