There’s just something about nut butter that sticks around.

Growing up, I was definitely a peanut butter gal. I vaguely recall peanut butter and honey sandwiches in preschool. And peanut butter and jelly was what Mom packed for me on field trips or whenever we ran out of ham and cheese (my other staple). But I even ate just plain bread with peanut butter slathered inside, unsticking my tongue from the roof of my mouth with the most un-obnoxious suction sound I could muster. Peanut butter between Ritz crackers. Or graham crackers. In college, I ate peanut butter by the spoonful with my Rice Krispies cereal. Always store-bought. And if you must know, I was loyal to the brand that begins with J and rhymes with cliff.

Before swim practice, I sometimes bought a pack of peanuts from a vending machine, and was delighted the day a friend showed me how to stuff a bunch of peanuts in my mouth at once and chew them without swallowing to make peanut butter.

And that’s pretty much how you make nut butter.

If you prefer the kind that hasn’t been regurgitated, a food processor is the way to go.

We’re out of peanuts, so today I made almond butter using Alana Chernila‘s recipe in her book, The Homemade Pantry. I roasted some almonds (1 pound) in the oven (350F for 15 minutes) to bring out their nuttiness. After they had cooled, I whizzed them up in the food processor with a little bit of honey (a spoonful) and salt (half teaspoon). When it looked like almond meal, I drizzled in a little oil (3.5 tablespoons). It looked like bread crumbs. and then play-doh. And then. THEN.

Roasted almonds

Almonds in food processor with honey and salt

Ground almonds

Almond paste

Almond butter

When did the transition happen – the transition when you discover that the foods of your childhood are suddenly overly sweet, annoyingly packaged, or disappointingly manipulated to call forth some nostalgic emotion because it just doesn’t taste quite the same? The transition when homemade, even the simplest homemade items, are suddenly far superior and satisfying?

It’s said that as we age, our taste buds die, which explains why kids often can’t tolerate the taste of extremely bitter foods – because they’re tasting it like listening to music with the volume at 100 when 30 would be plenty sufficient. Is there something about loss of taste buds or otherwise aging that makes the homemade more appealing?

It’s also said that children smile on average 400 times per day. Adults on average smile less than 20 times each day. Making your own nut butter and savoring it with your tastebuds (dying though they may be) will definitely make you smile. Maybe even more than 20 times in one day.

Homemade almond butter

Who knew making nut butter was so simple?? I knew. And yet I only just now got around to doing it. If you haven’t started making your own, don’t wait as long as I did. You’ll be done in less than half an hour. You can alter the basic recipe to include a mix of nuts and spices, chocolate, even fruit of your choosing. (Check out this local guy’s inspiring flavors). That’s what I’ll be doing for the next couple months while we continue to hibernate through the tail end of winter.

P.S. Alana recommends storing your homemade nut butters in the fridge for up to 1 month. If it hasn’t disappeared before then.

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I have two new routines.

In the past week, the words “love” and “washing” and “dishes” have appeared in the same sentence without the use of a negation qualifier. Despite my interest in home-keeping, there are still chores that I dislike. Maybe you love washing dishes. I did not. It was the least favorite chore of my adult life. (Note the use of the past tense in those last two sentences).

Throughout my life, my least-favorite chore has evolved. Originally, it was vacuuming. I found the blasted machine too heavy and awkward to maneuver. Loved the clean lines it made in the carpet–hated the means to achieving them. Today, thankfully, vacuum cleaner models are much lighter and agile. Next, I hated cleaning the bathroom. What a pain to clean up after my own hair, use that alien toilet brush, and wipe clean a counter that would possess splash marks not 20 minutes after I’d finished. After cleaning 6 church restrooms during a youth group lock-in–toilets whose exteriors surely had not been cleaned in at least a year, I vowed to never complain about cleaning my own bathroom again. Since owning our own home, the bane of my chore existence has been dish-washing. Seriously? Who wants to clean dishes after cooking a meal at the end of a long day? Note to self: The first chore I teach my future children to do will definitely be dish washing. Or at least putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

But I was going to tell you about my new routine. Would you like to know what has helped me to love washing dishes? Podcasts. Plug in my headphones, tap on the little purple icon on my phone, browse my new episodes, and suddenly some of my favorite personalities are telling me jokes while I scrub and rinse. I laugh out loud, appreciative of their company, even though no one else in my immediate vicinity (Alex, the dogs) can ascertain what entertains me so.

I don’t know why it took me so long to jump on the podcast bandwagon. I’ve known about them since before my teaching days. I owned the 2nd generation iPod – remember with the scrolling wheel and uni-color screen? That was back when you had to consciously alternate which arm you clipped your iPod arm band to, so you wouldn’t accidentally give yourself lopsided shoulders while working out at the gym.

So my new after-dinner routine involves putting in my ear buds (which serves the additional purpose of drowning out the sounds from Alex’s most recent GTA5 mission), loading a fun podcast, and sudsing up the dishes. I’m now convinced that so long as I have a podcast to listen to, dish washing shall be enjoyable. Tonight, I found myself lingering at the sink–wiping down even the crevices of the drain, looking for anything to clean so that I could finish the episode of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, in my queue.

So far, I’ve been following my favorite wordplay/trivia games from NPR like WWDTM and Ask Me Another. I also am trying out a couple food-related casts like Spilled MilkAmerica’s Test Kitchen, and The Alton Browncast. And I love watching TED videos, so I’m following TED audio. Finally, I follow Talk to Me in Korean, a supplement to the phenomenal website TTMIK that is coaxing Korean syllables from the depths of my long-term memory.

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Sink empty. Dishes drying on the rack.

My second routine is related. You see, I hate starting the day with a messy kitchen. When it happens, I either work myself into a tizzy, grumbling to myself (loudly, if Alex is home) about how dishes have to be washed at night so that I don’t waste time when I’m ready to prepare something else. OR, I become apathetic to anything else that might be going on. Whatever meticulously planned meal I have arranged goes out the window and I resort ourselves to dining out that evening. It’s like I can’t function. It’s not a metaphor for how I react to stressful situations – at least, I don’t think it is. It’s just that when I wake up and the kitchen sink is overflowing with messy dishes, half of which have some unknown substances caked, nay glued to the sides, it’s hard to feel anything but defeated.

To solve this problem, I have created a wormhole. You see, the dogs (usually Rogue) wake us up every morning, announcing their own breakfast time, usually between 530-6am. Rogue comes in, huffing and puffing like an annoyed, eye-rolling teenager, though she sounds as if she is trying to cough up a hairball. (Do dogs even do that?) At the first sign of movement on my part, she licks anything that might be exposed from beneath our disheveled blankets–hand, foot, pajama sleeve, hair, and what I can only assume is her favorite, the inside of my mouth mid-yawn. I know. It’s gross. Nero is less… assertive, but still, he persistently plods to my side of the bed, touches his nose to my hand or the side of the bed, paws the covers, nails-on-chalkboard style, and then walks toward the kitchen, repeating the whole routine until one of us gets out of bed.

In my sleepy state, I scoop their food and present their breakfasts. While they eat, I shuffle to the kitchen and examine the previous night’s damage. If we were dilligent about cleaning the dishes, a dish rack in varied states of organization (depending on who was head dish washer the night before) awaits me, and I begin putting them away. If we were lazy, I start washing. By this point, the dogs (usually Rogue) are ready to go outside to relieve themselves and investigate the trails of any critters that may have crossed through the yard in the wee hours of the night.

I used to get back in bed immediately after feeding, only to get out again to open the door. Returning to bed, I’d get out once more to let the dogs back inside, before we all returned to sleep. Now, I use the time efficiently, and when the dogs come back inside we all go back to sleep, sometimes for several more hours. Since beginning my morning tidy routine, I have found my kitchen organized and ready for the day’s concoctions, and I can’t tell you what a relief that is. I pretend the 20 minutes or so that I stumble about the kitchen never exist, and when I wake for real, the dogs have been fed and the kitchen cleaned. I have simultaneously turned myself into a magical clean kitchen fairy and the weirdo whose eyes get wide with excitement upon realizing that someone has cleaned my kitchen while I was sleeping.

Guess I need to find a new chore to hate on and experiment whether it might be made better with a podcast.

Hey. What podcasts do you subscribe to and when is your favorite time to listen to them? Were I to pursue producing my own podcast, what should it be about?

Foolproof Hostess Gift for the Holidays

Did you know that most etiquette books advise against bringing the host(ess) fresh flowers when you journey to their home for a dinner party? This is because your host is probably busy putting finishing touches on food, greeting guests, serving cocktails, cleaning up a wine spill, telling the kids to go back to bed, etc. Fresh flowers need to be trimmed to go in a vase with haste, provided the host can locate a vessel of a suitable size, and you can see how that might not be your friend’s top priority with the hustle and bustle of hosting. I maintain that flowers are an acceptable hostess gift, but spare yourself this party faux pas by bringing your fresh flowers already arranged and in water.

Now that you may be receiving invitations for Friendsgivings, Thanksgiving meals with inlaws, and holiday parties galore, here’s a simple, inexpensive way to bring fresh holiday cheer to a hostess near you.

Paperwhite Bulb

You’ll need:
– 0.5 gallon mason jar (or other tall vase – check thrift stores to purchase a few cheaply)
– couple handfuls of decorative stones (I get mine at the craft store with a coupon, but if you have a gravel driveway or live near a river bed, go to town!)
– a paperwhite bulb
– ribbons, twine, burlap, or other decor

Step 1. Make sure your jar is clean. Add a handful of stones to the bottom.

Step 2. Nestle the bulb in the stones. Add additional stones until the bulb is mostly (but not all the way) covered.

Step 3. Add water just until the bottom of the bulb is touching the water. See the water line in the photo below?

Paperwhite bulb

Step 4. Decorate the jar by adding a ribbon, burlap, twine, paint, etc.

Paperwhite in Mason Jar

You can purchase paperwhite bulbs at your local nursery, or order them online. You could also use amaryllis bulbs, another holiday favorite, but these are larger, and will require a container that can accommodate their size. You can start this project today and present the bulbs in various states of growth to your hosts throughout this holiday season – just be sure to keep the water level so the bottom of the bulb is just touching the water.

Paperwhites grow tall and (usually) straight, which is why I recommend a tall container, but really you can use any old container – if it’s less than 12″ tall, just be sure to tell your friend that the flower may need to have a stake to lean on once it reaches full height. It’ll take 4-8 weeks to blossom, so keep that in mind if you’re hoping to use bloomed paperwhites for a party of your own.

This gift was inspired by a woman with whom I worked in my former corporate life. She gave each of her team members a paperwhite bulb for Christmas each year. She was like my “work mom,” and so I always got one too, and loved watching the bulb grow and grow until it finally bloomed.

Whenever we are invited to dinner or an event at someone’s home, I like to take a little token to present to our hosts. Typically it’s something homemade like jam, relish, soap, Alex’s beer, or infused booze. And if I’m really short on time, a bottle of wine dressed up with some ribbons. This holiday, these simple paperwhite gifts will bring a little greenery and cheer for weeks to come, and they won’t stress out our hosts, even the most black-thumbed of them.

P.S. Don’t know what a paperwhite looks like in bloom? They’re kind of like tiny white daffodils. A quick google search can help you out.

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Here’s a little Friday funny for you. Alex likes to look through my WordPress stats – number of views I’ve had, popular posts, etc. It must be an engineer thing because I just am not that interested in the numbers, but my brainy husband finds it entertaining. Recently he gathered together 10 of the most popular/unusual search engine terms that have landed people at my humble blogging home, and I thought I’d share them with you for giggles, but also to point you to some useful information that may have been buried in the archives. (That, and you can chuckle at how my writing style has evolved. Or not).

1) “HOW TO HANG PELMETS”
Reference Post: In which I Best the Pelmet Box

New kitchen windowI’m pretty amused that this is the number one search term. First, because I don’t claim to be a home decorating genius. And second, because the method I used is sort of anti-climactic in its super low-tech-ness. But, as they say, sometimes genius is in the ordinary. (Actually, I think the quote goes “Genius is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one.” Admittedly, I did try a couple failed solutions before arriving at the winning technique.)

Super glue.

As I described in the original post, the pelmet I made was crafted around a foam core board that I covered with batting and fabric, using heavy duty staples. The wall space around my kitchen window is limited, so I bought some small, metal L-brackets from the decking section of Home Depot and screwed them into the wall. After several failed attempts, I slathered both the fabric and the bracket with superglue, and used clamps to hold everything in place for 24+ hours. It has never yet failed me. Knock on wood.

Which would be easy to do if my pelmet box were legitimately made of wood. But it’s not. It should go without saying that this technique probably won’t work on a wooden pelmet box. I am hopeful that you would use a sturdier bracket to secure your wooden pelmet.

2) “THINGS TO DO WITH PIE CRUST/DOUGH”
Reference post: A (P)interesting Thing to Do with Pie Crust
This search term leads me to a follow-up question: Are we making pie crust and then finding ourselves to lazy/impatient to bake a pie? I mean, because the obvious answer to this inquiry would be…make a pie…right?

In all likelihood, after creating a pie, we find ourselves with a bit of scrap dough that seems such a shame to throw away, especially when it could be made into something delicious. In my post, I described a method for making a sort of breakfast pizza with the scraps. You could fill it with lots of things, really.

Alternatively, you could make hand pies! Sort of like empanadas. When I make a big batch of meat in the slow cooker, and we’re on our third day of eating barbecue-flavored beef, you just have to mix it up a little. Roll out leftover pie dough fairly thin. Cut circles with a biscuit cutter or the top of a drinking glass turned upside down. Add a spoonful of (cooked) meat (or other filling) to the center of one circle. Lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Line the edges of the dough with a bit of egg wash to act as glue, then lay a second circle on top, using the tines of a fork to press the pieces together all the way around. Brush the tops with egg wash to help it brown nicely in the oven. Bake at the same temperature you would for your pie, but you’ll probably only need to bake about 20-30 minutes–until the tops are a nice golden color. This is a decadent way to make your leftovers seem new and exciting and my current favorite way to “create stuff with pie crust” (which was a close runner-up in search term frequency).

And one more thought, you can update your soup with a pie crust lid! Put your soup in an oven-proof bowl. Roll out pie crust dough. Run some egg wash around the outside edge of your bowl. Place the dough on top, pressing it to the outer lip of the bowl. Brush the top with more egg wash and bake until golden brown.

3) “HOW TO HIDE A DOG CRATE”
Reference post: (2013) January Cure Re-cap, Week 3
So. You’ve probably seen some of those photos on pinterest where people tuck their dog crates under end tables in their living room. These, of course, would be for smaller dogs. A great dane’s crate might fit under the dining room table, you know, if you didn’t want to eat dinner there anymore. You may also have seen photos where people seem to design their house around their furry friends, giving them cozy nooks under the stairs Harry Potter-style, or entire drawers in the kitchen that house food bowls that can be closed out of sight when finished.

Dog crates area in living room "before" shotWe do not have any of these things. Nero’s and Rogue’s crates are both size “large,” and they are decidedly not hidden. Whoever searched for this probably landed on my blog, thought “omg this is definitely how not to hide a dog crate,” and moved on. But it was too late and so my post just keeps getting bumped up in Google’s search algorithms while the rest of the world laughs maniacally at my definition of hidden.

But here’s the thing. Don’t force it. Yeah, it’d be nice if we had a finished basement (or any basement, at all) that could be the dogs’ domain. But we don’t. Their crates occupy a corner of our living room, near the back door. When they’re especially tired, they like to go in to lie down, and having easy access is comforting to them and to me.

Instead, I think of it as like the “kids’ corner.” Some houses may have brightly colored plastic furniture, and storage baskets for stray toys. Ours is dog crates. Of course, the black metal grating can seem kind of out-of-place with the rest of our decor, so I covered the top with a blanket, add some decorative baskets to store things like towels (for wiping muddy paws), leashes, gloves, flashlights, and poopie bags. I also added an inexpensive boot tray where Alex and I keep our outdoor shoes in easy reach without cluttering the floor. Wouldn’t want Rogue to trip when she rockets out the door to chase a squirrel…

4) “WHAT CAN I MAKE WITH MEAT TO MAKE IT LOOK FANCY?”
Reference Post: A Fancy for Fancy Meat and others…
This goes back to a really old post in which I made Jamie Oliver’s ground beef Wellington (which also contains a link to Matambre). I’ll have you know that I have yet to make either of these recipes again. Both are definitely something you should save for a weekend or holiday meal when you have more time to linger in the kitchen, maybe while listening to some Latin music.

If rolled meats aren’t what you had in mind, perhaps you’d like to try a Chicken Cordon Bleu or Chicken Florentine. If you’re too tired to pound out a chicken breast flat, use the America’s Test Kitchen tip of slicing horizontally into the thickest part of the meat to create a little pocket to stuff your ingredients inside.

And if what you had in mind was more about how to make the food on your plate look good (including the meat), consider browsing my mini-series in which I worked my way through Louis Eguaras’s ways to make a plate look better. (But don’t laugh too hard – these were written in my novice days of food plating. The tips are good, even if my own photos say otherwise).

DIY Christmas bunting flag5) “WHAT TO DO WITH OLD CHRISTMAS CARDS”
Reference Post: What to do with Your Old Christmas Cards
This is one craft project that I am particularly proud of, and one of my collaborations with my friend, Carrie, the decorating genius behind Dream Green DIY and Carrie Waller Creative. We cut up our old Christmas cards and glued them to twine to make a bunting flag banner! Speaking of, it’s almost time for me to pull mine out of storage to adorn our house with holiday memories! In the post, I also describe a simple way to use old cards to make ornaments using canning rings–something that I will be adding to a adorn a lot of gifts this year since I find myself in possession of a population of reproducing canning rings.

6) “I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I RECEIVED A CHRISTMAS CARD”
Reference Post: umm…?
I…I mean…I’m sorry? Maybe if you sent more Christmas cards, you’d receive more? I don’t know how to respond, really.

7) “WHAT IS THE FORMULA FOR SOUP?”
Reference Post: The Not-so-Secret Formula for Soup
Base flavors. Aromatics. Liquid. Garnish. Read through the post for more details.

93c7d42cd67611e19297123138203b9f_78) “HOW TO MAKE A TOMATO SOUND SEXY?”
Reference Post: The Sexiest Tomato Cream Sauce You’ll Likely Ever Make
If you want to make a tomato sound sexy, call it a love apple. If you want to make a tomato taste sexy, make this sauce.

9) “PIPE PLUMBING NEIGHBOR SUSPICIOUS WIRE”
Reference Post: ???
I couldn’t find anything I have ever written containing these five words in concert. Sounds like you may have bigger things to fry than fried chicken (one of my early video appearances!), or than the fried eggs I made on the grill after the 2012 derecho, or than arancini.

Maybe consider making a batch of these cookies, going to your  neighbor’s house, and starting with “hello.”

10) “MAGICAL PROPERTIES OF CARROTS”
Reference Post: Magical Tales of Carrots and Ginger
When I was young, my mom told me that if I ate a lot of carrots, I’d have excellent vision. I interpreted this to mean that eating lots of carrots, would allow me to see in the dark. Meaning, I’d be able to read a book under the covers of my bed without the aid of a flashlight. What a rebellious child I was!

As it turns out, the most magical property of carrots that I have discovered thus far is its uncanny ability to pair well with ginger. Whether it’s a soup or a cake, be sure to make this a flavor combination for your arsenal. (Not sure if that knowledge will help you in this game though).

And there you have it. Curious search terms that call forth some posts from the archives for your reviewing pleasure. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Weird Search Terms

On Installing a New Kitchen Faucet

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Check out this beautiful new faucet Alex installed at our kitchen sink! The faucet we replaced was a very, very basic builder-grade, chrome-finished number to which we had installed a little flow-control doo-hickey (like this)so that we could get a little sprinkler action going. You can kind of see it in the panorama picture). Thanks to the half hour or so that Alex spent on his back under the sink atop some creatively arranged pillows, I can now remove the end of the spigot, thus extending the telescoping hose, to spray down the sink or bulky items with ease. It’s brushed nickel, to match the hardware on our cabinets, and it totally upgrades the space. I may or may not be stoked to wash the dishes. I’m sure that feeling’ll wear off in time.

I don’t have a lot of kitchen sink stories.

Actually, maybe there’s one.

Once, I froze my finger, and I learned how to react in an emergency.

After I quit gymnastics (I was 10, and had competed for 3 years before a knee injury set me back), my parents encouraged me to choose another sport. I picked swimming and volleyball. I stuck with the swimming, but I proved a bit vertically challenged for the latter. Nevertheless, I played recreationally with some of my classmates for about 3 years in middle school. One day at practice I jammed my pinky finger on the ball.

For some reason, when I was younger and had a minor injury (such as a pulled muscle), I was afraid to tell my parents. I would sneak ice packs from the freezer up to my room and apply them to the affected area, preferrably under the covers of my bed while reading a book, to disguise the fact that I might be injured, and thereby preventing a barrage of questions and parental concern, however warranted it may have been.

So, true to form, as soon as we got home from volleyball practice that day, I snuck a re-useable ice pack from the freezer. This thing was way larger than I needed for just my lone pinky finger, mind you, but I was determined to ice that sucker for 20 minutes so no one would ever know I had been hurt at practice. Luckily, my dad was outside working on the front porch railing, so I was uninterrupted for what I perceived to be the necessary time to make this hurt magically disappear.

After twenty minutes of being entombed in the ice pack, my finger was frozen. I knew this because when I tapped my finger on the wooden kitchen table, it made the same sound that ice would make, if I were to tap ice on the wooden kitchen table. I nervously drummed my other fingers just to make sure there was indeed a difference. There was. Indeed. And so I went wailing out to my dad, trying to explain that actually I had withheld some information when he asked me how practice went. I had jammed my finger during volleyball practice, I iced it like I was supposed to, and now look!

Tap tap tap. On the wooden porch railing. Is this what a skeleton feels like?

While I cried at my foolish fears, Dad ushered me back inside and turned on the kitchen faucet. He ran the water lukewarm and stuck my finger under the running current. After a couple minutes, I could sense the feeling returning to my finger, and was so grateful that I wouldn’t have to have my finger amputated (I had an active imagination, you see).

Once it was back to normal, I’m sure my dad said something like “See? You’ll be fine,” and went back to work like nothing had happened.  And I was fine! More than my finger that was wiggling once again, it was his mannerism, void of judgment or criticism or fear, but full of kindness in a neutral sort of way, that set me at ease. While I don’t remember his exact words, I suppose his actions are how I learned how to react in an emergency (whether it’s an actual emergency or just a perceived one): Remain calm. Assess the situation. Do what you can. But above all, remain calm.

Recently, at one of his favorite dog parks, Nero and another dog crashed into a tree. Nero was happily chasing a pal around the park, weaving in and out of the trees–this is central Virginia, after all, it was a forested area. A third dog wanted to join in the fun, and intercepted them from the side, instead of falling in line behind. Her timing was such that this new dog crashed into a tree and blindsided Nero into doing the same.

I didn’t see the actual crash, but I heard it, and my head whipped around in time to see all the dogs wondering what just happened. It was like when a kid falls on the playground, and every other kid knows the one who took a tumble is about to cry but is trying hard to fight back the tears, and so they linger around, unsure whether to run away or try to help.

Nero stumbled a few steps, limped slightly on one of his front legs, and had one of his eyes half-shut. Alex reached Nero first and the other humans present checked on the other crash bandicoot pup. In retrospect, if this had been a cartoon, I realize that Nero would have had a bunch of yellow stars spinning above his head while he regained his wherewithall. Perhaps he did actually see stars, wondering what evil force had interrupted his delightful afternoon run. We’ll never know.

We quickly checked his vision, gently rubbed his head and his leg (which produced no signs of wincing), and did everything we could do to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, less than 45 seconds later, Nero was prancing around again, fetching his frisbee from the water, and greeting other dogs that entered the park. We nervous puppy parents breathed a sigh of relief. Dogs are admirably resilient creatures.

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Nero’s at home resting now, following Rogue around and making sure all is well in our backyard, and he shows no sign of unusual behavior, thank goodness.

Now I know why my parents were so concerned if I ever complained of any hurt – physical or emotional. Heaven help us when Alex and I have kids of our own.

Tonight as I stand at my new kitchen sink washing the dinner dishes, I will say a word of thanks, for the lesson from the kitchen sink of my youth that clearly helped me deal with what could have been a disastrous afternoon. Reacting calmly is pure instinct now; it’s after-the-fact that I let my imagination get the best of me, and I shiver at what could have been. And as I flip between the stream and the shower setting on the faucet, I will also say I’m sorry, for ever having taken our dogs’ presence and health for granted. They are truly the sunshineiest gifts in our lives right now. If you have furry creatures in your life, be sure to give them a big hug and rub their bellies for an extra long time tonight.

Nero’s out back soaking in the last of the evening sun. I can see him from my kitchen sink.

Awakened

Ordinarily, I despise cloudy days. I despise them for the oppressive way they make me feel sad, cold, and lethargic. I despise them for being so uninspiring that taking a shower feels like I have accomplished a monumental task for the day. I despise them for blanketing the sky in grayness, and for the way I suddenly sympathize with plants at the nursery whose ID tags picture a geometric sun, pleading for warmth and light.

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But today is different. Today’s clouds brought a crisp edge that tickles the lungs when inhaled deeply.  It is 10:30 in the morning, and I have already stepped outside four times just to feel the cold breeze snake its way between the button holes of my pajama set, surprising the bare skin of my chest to a kind of alert anticipation that melts into all kinds of comfort when I return indoors to warmth. I watch the dogs play in what were once neat piles of leaves, sniffing at the mold and decay, then lifting their noses to discern what news the breeze brings. I hear the windchimes clang irregularly, and the giant maple tree shudder farewells to its last leafy undergarments–an eerie soundtrack to the changing seasons.

Today I have hot chocolate and flannel sheets and brioche with apple butter. I have a sweet potato-chorizo soup simmering on the stove, waiting to be ladled into bowls at dinnertime to comfort our bellies with a fiery warmth. I have a stock pot of water coaxing every last ounce of flavor out of vegetable scraps, its vapors steaming up my kitchen window. I have clothes tumbling in the dryer with monotonous thuds.

Today I am thankful, as in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

Today I have found my voice once again.

Hello, friends. It’s been a while.

Yummy Links

Happy Mother’s Day to all those new and experienced moms out there!

Here’s my momma and me at my wedding.

Mom and Me

Copyright Adam Barnes 2011

Isn’t she stunning?

My momma

And here’s the groovy silk scarf I made for her for Mother’s Day! Surprise, Mom! Hope you like it!

Silk Scarf Painting

And here are a few links to things that caught my attention this week, including a couple mom-themed things:

- In honor of moms and grandmas cooking worldwide, this project is inspiring and yummy.

- Add some chicken, and this paleo creamy crockpot cashew curry looks promising.

- Some humbling thoughts about marriage. Especially fitting if you are a fan of The Office and have been tearing up as woefully as I every episode as the series finale approaches, especially along the Jim/Pam storyline. And, well, I suppose it’s also fitting if you are recently (or about-to-be) married.

- So you’ve heard of people talking to their plants. How about plants talking to other plants? Apparently basil is a plant plant whisperer.

- Here’s a nice tutorial for homemade bath salts. An easy way to pamper mom (or yourself).

- I had a blast at my town’s recent arts&crafts festival, and am feeling so inspired by this painter!

Cheers! Have a great week.

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