Friday, December 31, 2010

Warm New Year Wishes

It's been a wildly creative and heart-expanding year.

I wish for next year to be just as warm and wonderful, so yesterday I made an excursion to our local quilting shop to pick out fabrics for a quilt. I choose fifteen different patterns, all in red, many of which remind me of friendships that have grown this year. I'll cut hearts from the fabrics and scatter-stitch them on a cover, to be lined with fleece from the farm's alpacas. The quilt will serve as insurance against the cold for me and my friends for years to come.

A Warm and Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wandering Muse Charms

Frosty Owl Fairy Charm
Last night as I was lying in Corpse Pose, at the end of my bedtime yoga routine, I was struck with Creative Inspiration. I've learned to act on such inspiration, so I climbed into bed with my jewelry box and pliers. Less than an hour later, I was enchanted with my new creation--this Frosty Owl Fairy Charm. Having happily tinkered with charms and chains all year, I've decided to open my own little Wandering Muse shop on Etsy, the online handmade marketplace. Starting in January, I'll be selling some of my favorite magical tinkerings: Fairy Charms, Chakra Charms, and Karma Charms.

In the meantime, watch for a Jewelry Salon sometime soon...

Frosty Owl in the warm sun

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice Luminaries

To celebrate the solstice today, a group of us Island Folk showed up at K-Jo Farm this morning with the aim of lining miles of road with glowing luminaries by nightfall.

The mastermind behind this Magical Plan: Karen Biondo, Diva of Feast and Farm, who has been illuminating our island for over a decade now. And while this year's glow may have been a little damper than in years past, it was definitely a day well spent.

We got off to a rollicking start...

...and by noon we had hundreds of bags of sand loaded onto the trucks. 

We made quick work of folding down the tops of the bags... 

...and dropping them into place. 

Nearly finished!

Long before dark we began lighting candles...

...but at dusk, just as the bags were beginning to glow, it started to rain.

We spent a few dark, wet hours relighting candle after candle...

then gave in and gathered around the one light the rain couldn't dampen--

the solstice bonfire!

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm Spawning Blogs!

Today I gave birth to Parla! No, she's not a kitten; she's a monthly blog for Multilingual Books, the online language bookstore created by my friend the Beautiful Genius.

Check it out here and take the 100-word language-learning challenge.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Chai Diary

I’ve always thought that caffeine doesn’t affect me. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life. I don’t drink colas. And I prefer green tea to black. But chai--ahhh, sweet, fragrant chai—who can resist?

Not I. Not yesterday. I had chai with lunch; I had chai with second lunch; I had chai with dinner. Driving home last night, I made a scientific discovery: ten cups of chai is exactly enough to make your heart race so fast that you can actually hear it.

At bedtime, it was still dancing to a techno beat. I did some Work work, chopped firewood, conjugated Italian verbs, baked granola--even a heavy dose of Dickens couldn't slow me down. It was 3 a.m., and I was still wide awake.

So I dug in to my fresh stack of library books to learn about the demon that was keeping me from my dreams—specifically, how to have my chai and sleep too. Here’s what I learned.

First, a useful aside. Each tea has its own recommended brewing temperature. Black teas should brew in very hot water (200 degrees), and green teas in cooler water (160 degrees). Despite what your English friends will tell you, you’ll have the perfect water for black tea if you bring the water to a boil and then allow it to sit for a minute or two before adding it to the tea. Let the water rest a few more minutes for green teas. Then steep the tea as long as you please.

Now for the (un)kicker. Caffeine is highly soluble in hot water, most of it being released within the first minute of brewing. So, to make a naturally decaffeinated tea from my favorite dark leaves, all I have to do is let the tea steep for thirty to sixty seconds, pour off the caffeinated water, and then steep the tea in fresh water.

With that happy piece of information tucked under my pillow, I settled in for a short (but sweet) winter’s night, and this morning I tamed my favorite chai recipe. I hope you like it.

A calm cuppa and a bowl of chai-powered granola

Sweet Dreams Chai

Bring six cups of water to a boil. Pour off three cups of the water and steep 2 bags of orange pekoe tea for one minute. Discard the steeped water and add the tea bags to the fresh water.

Add 10 cardamom pods, 7-8 cloves, and ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds. Cook on low heat, uncovered, for about ten minutes, or until liquid is reduced by one cup. Discard the tea bags.

Add 4 cups of milk and ¼ cup of sugar or honey and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain before serving. Serves 4.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Viva Vanilla!

On the way back from Vancouver last week, having spent a weekend under the spell of poet David Whyte, enjoyed a fabulous three-hour French Dinner (at the tapas parlour Bin 941) with my French Boyfriend (a fabulously gorgeous Canadian woman), and frozen my fingers and toes from walking miles and miles through a city blanketed in fresh snow, I found myself in a car with two brave new friends--who had consented to let me share the three-hour ride home with them after knowing me for all of two minutes, one of those minutes having been spent crying (we were in the presence of a poet, for heaven's sake!)--taking a shortcut through customs via the duty-free shop. (A sentence worthy of Henry James!) Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I picked up a $20 liter of vodka with one thought in mind: vanilla extract.

The first time I made vanilla extract, I used the only vanilla beans I could find locally: the Madagascar beans at Whole Foods. Having since read that using a variety of beans makes a richer extract, this time I splurged and ordered eight different kinds of beans from Beanilla, and this afternoon they arrived: vanilla beans from Mexico, India, Tonga, Indonesia, and Tahiti, as well as the standard bourbon beans (made from the Madagascar vanilla orchid).

Once I'd torn open the package and sniffed all of the varieties, the next step was deciding how to mix and match them. Taking cues from Beanilla's descriptions, but mostly just following my nose, I concocted the following three blends:

Floral and Fruity: Tahitian, Madagascar, Beanilla Blend

Rich and Spicy: Indian, Mexican, and Bourbon

Strong and Woody: Tongan, Indonesian, Bourbon has a great extract tutorial, as well as a spice gallery. I follow their advice and use eight beans (one ounce) per cup of alcohol. 

After a little snipping and scraping, I now have three bottles of vanilla extract. The last part is my favorite--shaking and sniffing the bottles each day as the contents become darker and richer.

Want to join me for the next vanilla extract fest? Let me know.