Winter Food: Slow Cooker Indian

Cold weather and crock pots just seem to go together! I am a fairly terrible cook. Luckily, I had the great good sense to marry a man who is an awesome one. ūüėä With all of the cold lately, he was excited to try some recipes from this cookbook:

New Indian Slow Cooker  by Neela Paniz

New Indian Slow Cooker by Neela Paniz

It is a lovely book, with plenty of pictures and easy to follow recipes. For his first effort, he made curried chickpeas and butter chicken. It turned out very well! The book came from our local library, but he liked it so much that we plan to buy a copy. He’s very interested to try the recipe to make paneer (Indian fresh cheese) himself, saag paneer being one of his absolute favorites. I can’t wait to taste test his efforts!

Curried chickpeas and butter chicken, yum!

Curried chickpeas and butter chicken, yum!

Brain Food: Books!

Reading is a great huge love of mine. I read. A lot. Anywhere from 2-9 or more titles a week a lot. Some books I devour, others I graze on, some are confectionary treats, but all of them are food for my brain. It’s kind of odd to me that I haven’t discussed books on here before. It’s high time I corrected that! Here are a few recent reads:

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“Home Style By City: Ideas and Inspiration from Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, and Copenhagen” by Ida Magntorn, “Blood of My Blood” by Barry Lyga, and “Lost in Translation: an Illustrated ¬†Compendium of Untranslatable¬†¬†Words from Around the World” by Ella Frances Sanders.

For grazing? Decorating books! I love them. Luckily, ¬†between my local library and the nearby Half Price Books, there’s no shortage of decorating books for me to browse and dream over. I was a bit surprised by how much I liked “Home Style by City”. At 160 pages, it’s fairly slender, but it is focused and packs a lot into those pages.

The idea behind it is that the stuff to be had in local flea markets, thrift stores, and junk shops varies a bit regionally, and that one can learn a bit about the soul of a place based on what’s moving at its fleas. Then it highlights some residences that beautifully demonstrate some of these regional idiosyncracies as a way of exploring the cultures of the cities featured. Like the author, I try to always include stops at local fleas and thrifts when I travel, and I knew exactly what she meant. I thought this conceit worked well.

I look at a fair amount of decorating books…yes, look. Not all of them are particularly well-written! This one proves the old adage that brevity can be the soul of wit. Concise, with easily scanned lists and some fun things like playlists for each city, this was the rare decorating book that I actually read as well as looked at. And the looking was lovely, I enjoyed the eye-candy inside very much. Oh! and there was a craft for each city. They actually managed to be cute and doable looking and not crappy-crafty looking. I was especially intrigued by the lace doily hanging light shade DIY in the Paris section.

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Another take-away? Houseplants! I felt like there were quite a few homes featured in the book with some very inspiring plants.   They looked fresh and lovely. As much as I enjoy gardening, I find houseplants challenging. This book is inspiring me to try again. When they work, as in the pictures in this book, they really add something.

To devour? “Blood of my Blood” by Barry Lyga. The final book in the “I Hunt Killers” trilogy, I have been looking forward to reading this title ever since I finished the last page of the second book, “Game”. The series is about a high school boy, Jasper ‘Jazz’ Dent, who is trying to move beyond a difficult past while keeping his secrets so he can create a future for himself. The difficult past? His jailed father is one of the most notorious and prolific serial killers of all time. His secret? His father believed in the whole take-your-child-to-work idea–and the authorities are unaware of both the full extent of his father’s crimes and the depth of Jasper’s knowledge about them. Then a copy-cat killer starts reenacting a series of his father’s crimes and his past and present collide.

This is a DARK series. Jasper’s father was trying to turn him into a perfect killer, and his methodology was very harrowing and upsetting. There are a few scenes I sort of wish I could unread. Lyga isn’t afraid to go to some pretty terrifying places. Jasper’s struggles to deprogram himself, to remember that people have feelings and that people matter, are compelling and heartbreaking.

“Blood of my Blood” was a very satisfying conclusion to this trilogy. It maintained momentum, had a few believable but from out-of-nowhere twists, kept the same darkness that made the first two books so good, and doesn’t cheese-up the ending. Although this is technically a ‘teen’ series, you absolutely don’t need to be a teen to enjoy it. Lyga doesn’t pander or dumb things down, and he credits his audience with being able to handle some challenging content. If you start to read this series, I suspect you’ll either hate it or end up devouring it like I did.

The confectionary treat? “Lost in Translation”. Sanders takes some fascinating words from around the globe, words that have no direct equivalent in English, and defines and illustrates them.

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Pretty, charming, and light, I enjoyed the drawings and the chance to learn some great new words.

So there you go, a taste of a few of the books I’ve read recently. What are you reading?

Moments of Grace

308Kind of a goofy story: I happened to spot this Cyripedium pubescens or Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid while I was having a bad moment during our trip to the Smoky Mountains this spring. The sight of it changed my day for the better.

As we were driving out to bike at Cades Cove, I suddenly had to GO. Funny thing about being in the mountains: there were no restrooms anywhere nearby or even any good stopping points. Too bad. I made my husband pull over and I just bounded out of the car before it had even come fully to a halt and bolted off into the woods like a startled and slightly frantic deer. (Which basically sounds like the setup to a not-so-creative horror movie and is not a course of action I would generally recommend! It’s easier than you might think to get turned around or lost in the woods when you aren’t on a trail.) I was¬† feeling frantic, embarrassed, and worried that I was ruining our planned schedule for the day,

At any rate, seeing this flower stopped me momentarily in my tracks and changed my whole mood/mindset. I noted where it was, bounded much deeper into the woods to take care of business, made it back to the car, we did the bike ride, it was great, and then afterwards, I somehow navigated us back to this flower so my husband could see it and we could take some pictures.

You see, this variety of lady’s slipper is fairly rare. I’ve been to the Smoky Mountains about a dozen times, have hiked miles and miles of trails, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen one. They are fussy about the elevation they grow at, they need exactly the right amount of moisture (not much), and they like acidic soil. They aren’t found in gardens because they don’t like to be disturbed and they are nearly impossible to propagate. They also don’t tend to grow in big masses or clumps, aren’t very large,¬† and have a fairly short bloom time.

273Seeing one so unexpectedly was a quiet moment of grace. I can be prone to running around in the hamster wheel of my mind. The sight of this pulled me out of my head and put me right back into the moment. It made me stop and appreciate the simple wonder of a flower blooming in the forest. I felt very fortunate to have the life that I do, and realized how lucky I was to be there at that moment.

271May your upcoming year be filled with such moments. Remember to slow down enough to take them in when they come to you!

Twinkling

imageOkay, so I suspect Christmas lights are probably about as hard to photograph well as fireworks are. How could I resist trying, though?

Driving around and looking at everyone’s lighting displays has been a treasured Christmas Eve tradition for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed a twist on the tradition this year: this pic is from the town square in my husband’s hometown. After a yummy dinner with his side of the family, my husband drove his parents and me around to gawk at the lights. So good!

The only problem with Christmas lights? They come down much too early! How much better would, say, the average February 2nd be if there were still twinkly lights strung about all over the place?

I also love the tacit social contract wherein all normal definitions of good taste are just pretty much chucked out the window when it comes to holiday lights. (I hate to break this to any folks sitting there thinking that their white-light lawn reindeer things are somehow exempt from the preceding statement. Erm, no. Sorry. It’s all tacky, and that’s great!)¬†Anything goes. Maximalism? ¬†Even better!

The lights add that bit of magic to the mundane. Plus I just love seeing whimsy on this kind of scale. Gawking at the lights will always be one of my favorite parts of the holidays. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Holiday Spirit

005I don’t know about you, but I’m finally feeling the holiday spirit. I’ve been a bit slow to get there this year! Cards have been mailed, a bunch of presents have been wrapped, and I’m looking forward to seeing family. For various reasons, we didn’t end up decorating our house in a big way this year. One decoration I made sure to get? A live wreath hanging from the china cupboard in the dining room. (I added the bow and the straw ornament myself.)

Alas, live Christmas trees don’t really appeal to me…the amount of effort to keep one looking nice combined with the constant risk it would be under from our 5 small dogs are factors that just don’t win me over to the real tree side. Plus, I don’t know. Killing a whole tree just so I can gawk at it for a few weeks in my house? Ehh.

But a real wreath? It smells divine, adds some holiday pep, is easy to customize, and I can at least hope that an entire tree didn’t die to make it all happen. (Right?)

Anywho, wishing all a peaceful, happy, and healthy holiday season! :)

Cades Cove

Bucket lists. Creepy and unattainable, or optimistic reminder to live life to its fullest? I don’t personally have a formal one, but I certainly have ideas about things I’d like to do. This spring, I did one:SmokyMts2014 001My husband and I biked the loop at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! During the spring and summer, the park shuts down the 11 mile auto loop that winds through the cove to all motorized traffic twice a week for about 3 hours in the mornings. For those precious hours, only pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed. We got up very early, rented bikes, and biked it on the first day it was closed to cars during the 2014 season. It was awesome.

SmokyMts2014 101With views like this, it’s easy to see why the auto loop is very popular. During high season, the one-way road through the cove often resembles a parking lot with cars inching along it, lined up bumper-to-bumper. Which sounds miserable, but even with all of that, I’ve always managed to see a stunning variety of wildlife the times I’ve been viewing the cove from a car. There are old homes, churches, and barns from back when folks lived in the cove that can be toured, and there are plenty of places to park so you can access the several trail heads found along the loop at various points.

But from a bike? What a difference! It was so peaceful and beautiful. We saw several black bears, lots of deer, wild turkeys, and heard so many song birds. It was just magical, biking along as the fog that gives the mountains their name began to clear.

SmokyMts2014 104 SmokyMts2014 123And look at all of these empty parking spaces!SmokyMts2014 112I’m ready to do it again. :)

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Perfect Company

005So this may be a bit of a surprise, but I love cats. So does my husband. Yes, we adore our ridiculous pack of dogs, but cats are equally great. The idea of needing to pick sides on the whole dog/cat thing seems pretty nonsensical. There is room for both! (I will admit, though, to finding dogs easier to photograph…or at least our dogs will sort of hold still for a second when I come at them with a camera. The cats? Not so much.)

When my husband and I first met, we each had two cats. One of mine was a black cat named Ellie. One of my husband’s was a black cat named Elenore. Great minds and all. :)

Rescued as a feral kitten, his Elenore didn’t do the whole hissing-scratching-biting thing so common with feral cats. Instead she was very shy, elusive, and reclusive. So reclusive, in fact, that my husband actually spent weeks after he got her thinking that she had somehow escaped from his apartment. After bringing her in, he didn’t lay eyes on her for the next 3 months! Luckily, he had another cat, so there was always food and a liter box available. Apparently, she hid behind the stove a lot, assessing things, and would come out only when there was no one to see her. Just when he had given up, she came and sat in the kitchen doorway, looking at him.

She became a constant companion to his other cat. She would also come sit with my husband, just usually not if anyone else was in his apartment. He had friends who never saw her even though they were at his place frequently. After a while, they sort of thought that his second cat might just be fiction. Imagine his surprise the first time I visited his apartment: he mentioned that he had a second cat, said I probably wouldn’t see her, and then when he returned to the living room after using the restroom, it was to find Elenore sitting calmly in my lap.

Things only got better after that auspicious beginning together. Although she never much cared for my cat Ellie, Elenore took to me– and I to her. She was a small, delicate, graceful little thing. She was like smoke, or maybe like the cat that inspired the whole fog-on-cat’s-feet metaphor. The Ur-quiet cat. She was also the perfect companion. She was undemanding. She didn’t need attention all of the time and wasn’t prone to much meowing. She never once did that whole weird cat thing where you’re only allowed to stroke them a certain unspecified number of times and the moment you exceed that unspecified amount, the cat claws or bites you, you know that thing? Never.

She would simply come find me and sit quietly on my lap when she needed some company. (Or maybe it was the other way around?) Sitting with her was always peaceful and soothing. Almost all of my blog posts were written with her purring softly in my lap. At night, she would come curl up  and doze on my sternum while I read a book before going to sleep. Once I would turn off the light, she would hop down and curl up on her favorite pillow by the window. Perfect.

The day after the lovely cabin weekend earlier this month, we had to put our sweet little friend down. She was 15 and her systems were failing. Part of being a responsible pet owner is knowing when it is time to say goodbye. Our vet was very kind. My husband held Elenore on his lap and I stroked her head while the vet administered the shots to euthanize her.

I’m glad we were able to give her a painless, peaceful end. Frankly, we should all be so lucky. A peaceful moment to die in, while surrounded by those who love us? That’s a luxury in this world. I know that. But still, it sucks. I miss her.