Friday, February 27, 2015

Become a Better Person: Weekend Reading List



T.G.I.F. Oof. I needed this one to end.

Here's your quick and dirty weekend reading list from around the web, guaranteed to make you a better human being.* Also, grab some tissues.

Become...

A cleaner person: I'm praying this could work for me because we all know cleaning's not at the top of my priority list.

A more informed person: You probably didn't know there was such a thing as an abortion doula.

A more compassionate person (with yourself): The drive to be endlessly, always, unrelentingly productive may lead to productivity, but it may take you down a difficult path on the way. Honor your asterisks. 

A more accepting person: Draw inspiration from this child and her parents as they bravely and lovingly navigate the transgendered world (aka, same world but as a transgendered person). 

A smarter person: Fake smart is the same as real smart. At least from the outside, right?

A more secure person (in your relationship)Everyone has sh*t in their relationship. You are not alone. 



*As I've said before, simply reading these articles probably won't make you a better person. But they're interesting, and anyway, I recommend seriously considering whether you're perfect already - just the way you are.



p.s. Remembering this experience, which helped me to be more compassionate with myself and with the world. 




Thursday, February 26, 2015

These Days: February



waking up early and writing in my pajamas almost every morning
watching Downton Abbey (will everyone just leave Mr. and Mrs. Bates alone?!)
listening to Amy Poehler read Yes Please
falling in love with Amy Poehler as she reads Yes Please
looking forward to a micro vacation (one night) in Montreal
relishing all the color changes as I knit my leftover yarn striped throw
following @emrgencykittens on Twitter, thanks to my wife
reading Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lammott
planning my meals, sort of
wishing there were just a few more hours in every day
trying to enjoy the outdoors at least a little even though it's absolutely freezing
eating clementines like it's my job
feeling immense (immense!) gratitude for Navah's ability to make me laugh


p.s. Montreal will be great, but boy, do I wish we were heading back to Hawaii...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Easiest Burlap Floor Pillow



During a trip to Costa Rica about five years ago, my wife and I visited a coffee farm, which was fascinating and delicious. While there, I bought a burlap coffee bag so that I could make a burlap floor pillow.

In my house growing up, we had two enormous floor pillows. I think my grandmother made them, or at least helped my mother make them, out of carpet remnants or something similarly thick and stiff. They were definitely the heaviest floor pillows anyone has ever owned. But I have the fondest memories of them - lounging on them, using them as the base for blanket forts, snuggling against them while I watched a movie. I've always been a floor person.

So I've carried this burlap coffee bag with me from apartment to apartment to house so that I could have my own floor pillow. Of course, I am a person who still hasn't finished the quilt I started 10 years ago, so I basically just forgot about the coffee bag while it languished in my fabric stash. In the meantime, we had acquired a large pillow because of a torn sofa cushion and a mix up with Ikea. We've carried it from apartment to apartment to house. I even picked out some fabric samples to cover it almost 3 years ago.

When I was cleaning out my studio a few weeks ago, I organized my fabric stash and Hey! There's that burlap coffee bag! 

So I pulled it out and tugged it onto the pillow, absolutely delighted that it fit perfectly, meaning that creating my burlap floor pillow was going to be the easiest project ever.



Steps:

1. Iron the burlap bag. Relying on a little advice from the internet, I ironed the burlap by pouring water directly onto the bag, rubbing it in, and then ironing that area. The steamer on my iron is broken, but I'm not sure that would have gotten it wet enough anyway. [I don't have a picture of this step, but you can see the wet spots on the burlap in that first picture.]

2. Shove the pillow into the burlap bag.

3. Fold the bottom (or actually, the top) of the bag around the pillow and pin in place. This took a little bit of maneuvering to get it all situated the way I wanted.

4. Using needle and thread, stitch the opening closed where you pinned it.

That's it! All together, it took me less than an hour. It's not the most refined edge, but this is a burlap floor pillow we're talking about. I'm not sure refined is the way to go.

I love that the pillow now goes with our room - it looks like it belongs there instead of just being a random off-white pillow we threw on the floor.


Jammer's not convinced, but he's a skeptical guy.


p.s. This reminded me of collecting hundreds of pillowcases for the pediatrics ward in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda. What an amazing experience that was. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Deciding Whether to Join a CSA



It's that time of year again. An email just popped up in my inbox from the farm where we've been members of summer CSA telling me that it's time to register for another several months of fresh, local fruits and veggies. Since it's -7 degrees while I write this, it's hard to imagine the day when I'll be tromping around a farm field in shorts and a t-shirt. But assuming that the weather pattern doesn't fall apart completely, I suppose that's exactly what I'll be doing on Thursday evenings in June, July, August, and September (though I'll probably add some layers by the end).

We've been members of several different CSAs, but how do you know if joining a CSA is right for you?

First off, what is a CSA?

CSA = Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA is essentially a symbiotic relationship between a farm and the members of its community. The farm gets a stable, predictable stream of income for its produce, and the members of the community get farm-fresh fruits and vegetables every week, usually at a somewhat discounted price. A CSA can work in any number of different ways, but generally each member pays a membership fee (sometimes monthly, sometimes in a chunk) and then picks up a bag of "groceries" once a week at a designated location - either somewhere convenient in the community or at the farm.

Sounds pretty good. But before you pull out your checkbook, asking yourself a few questions might help ensure that you're making a good investment and won't end up with a refrigerator full of rotten produce that you don't know what to do with.

So here are four questions that can help you decide whether joining a CSA is right for you:

1. Are you at home during the summer?

Being a member of a CSA means coming home with vegetables and fruits (and sometimes maybe even bread, eggs, etc) every week for a significant chunk of time. Our summer CSA is 17 weeks long. If you're out of town half the summer, your CSA will go to waste. If you travel a lot but are dead set on joining a CSA, you may be able to find another person or family who would be willing to split with you and take the weeks when you're away. There's a lot of sharing with CSAs, which brings me to question #2.

2. How big is your vegetable tooth?

Get it? Vegetable tooth? Anyway... Most CSAs have options for the size of the farm share you take home with you. For instance, ours has full shares and half shares, and they'll make recommendations about how many people a share will feed (half for 2 people; full for 4 people). But even a share that fits the size of your family can sometimes be overwhelming, and what about if you're a household of one? No matter the number of people you're feeding, if you don't like a fairly wide variety of vegetables, you might end up with a lot more than you can or want to eat. Sharing can be a great option here. Some people share with another individual or family and just split the week's offerings in half. This can require some negotiating - for instance, if the share includes a watermelon one week, you'll have to decide whether you cut it in half or one person walks away with the whole thing (lucky dog). You may also need to coordinate schedules so that you can split up the produce, conveniently bringing us to question #3.

3. How flexible is your schedule? 

Because a CSA is providing many people fresh produce direct from the farm (aka, no grocery store middle man), the farmers have to find a way to get all that produce to those people. Some larger farms deliver CSA shares to multiple drop-off locations with particular sign-up days for members. Our winter share this year dropped off in our town on Tuesday nights in the community room of a local church. I showed up between 3:00 and 6:00, crossed my name off a list, and picked up a bag with an assortment of veggies. And that farm - Pete's Greens - delivers to drop-off locations like ours in many surrounding towns.

Others, like Intervale Community Farm where we are summer CSA members, provide produce only by offering pick-up from the farm. During the summer, I go to the farm every Thursday evening and pick my produce from bins based on weight. When I arrive, message boards tell me what the options are for the week and how much I can get of each thing (2 lbs of root vegetables, any assortment; 4 zucchini and 2 peppers; etc). The benefit of picking up directly from the farm is that I get to choose exactly what I want from the bins as well as an assortment of pick-your-own fruits, vegetables, and flowers. I'll say right now that I'd sign up for our CSA just for the flowers. Well, that and the watermelon.

If your schedule allows you to be at a farm or at a drop-off location at a designated pick-up time once a week, then a CSA might be a great fit. But if you have a work schedule with long or unpredictable hours, making it to the weekly pick-up might be challenging. One helpful piece of information is that many farms can be flexible on their end about pick-up. At Intervale Community Farm, there are two pick-up days: Monday and Thursday. While all the members sign up for a particular day, if you need to change your day during any particular week, you can do that without a lot of difficulty. Finding out whether the farm you're interested in provides similar flexibility might help you decide whether you can manage a CSA.

4. Do you enjoy (and have time for) cooking?

This might be the most important of the four questions. Depending on the size of your CSA, you could come home each week with anywhere from 2 to 10 pounds of veggies (and perhaps eggs, bread, etc if your CSA offers those items). If you normally eat out at restaurants more than at home, you might find yourself trying to cram a new bag of vegetables into an already overcrowded refrigerator week after week. The same goes if your dinner is usually a bowl of cereal eaten while standing at the counter. A CSA share is a commitment to cooking or preparing a lot of vegetables during the week. Some are easy - you can simply cut and eat carrots and tomatoes. And some will store well for a while - hard squashes, for instance. But when you walk into your kitchen with a bag that includes 3 tomatoes, 4 zucchini, 4 cucumbers, a pound of green beans, a bunch of kale, a head of cabbage, one pound of carrots, one pound of onions, 2 green peppers, a bag of salad greens, and a watermelon, and you know that you'll come home with just as many veggies next week, then you're going to have to spend at least some time cooking or preparing vegetables. The good news is that a lot of the produce available in a summer CSA works perfectly in big salads or alongside something fresh off the grill.

If you've answered those four questions and you think joining a CSA would be a good fit for you, congratulations. I absolutely love being a member of ours. I look forward to Thursday afternoons down at the farm all week. I enjoy heading out into the fields to pick green beans or herbs or flowers (which are never picked by the farmers but are available to members), and my food preferences fall squarely in the summer fruits and veggies camp (+ cheese). I also generally like spending time in the kitchen coming up with delicious meals. So a CSA is great for us.

Of course, if you decide that you would like to join a CSA, there's the question of which one.

Local Harvest provides an on-line CSA directory where you can find farms near you that provide farm shares. As you decide which CSA to join, here are a few things to think about:

  • Location - how local is the farm? Convenience is helpful, but you also might be interested in supporting a farm that is part of your local community. 
  • Size - how big are the shares? If you're getting a share for just yourself, a farm that only offers full shares for a family of four might not be a good fit. 
  • Member services - what perks does your membership offer? These might be advance emails with the produce that week (so you can meal plan) or things like pick-your-own options at the farm. 
  • Reliability - how has the farm done in the past? A CSA membership involves some level of risk sharing. As a member, you agree to take what they produce. If they have a bad year or their tomato crop fails, that could be disappointing (though it's rare). 
  • Cost - how much will you be paying? Farm shares can range in price from a few hundred for a summer of veggies to more than $800 or $900 for a bit more bounty (fruits and vegetables + bread, eggs, meat, etc). 
  • Access - will you get to meet the farmer? Some people don't care about shaking hands with the person who grew their food, but for many, that's partly the appeal of a farm share. Some farms will provide local drop-off but are too far away for you to visit or don't provide on-farm pick-up. 
As an annual CSA member, I think it's a great way to get connected to your community and enjoy incredible fresh food. But it's a financial and time commitment, so making an informed decision is important. If you're a member of a CSA and have other suggestions for how to decide whether a CSA is right for you or which CSA is a good fit, please share those in the comments. 



p.s. One of my favorite ways to deal with veggie overload during the summer is to throw everything into a pot for a chunky vegetable spaghetti

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Chocolate Raspberry Chia Parfait




What is it about layered desserts that sets my mouth watering? I've always loved the process of dipping down into a parfait to get a little bit of each delicious element on a single spoonful. There's a bit of a challenge built into every layered dish - can you eat this is just the right ratio that every bite has a little bit of every thing until the very end?

Just me?

This chocolate raspberry chia parfait was the most delectable challenge.



If you're not familiar with chia seeds, they look like...well, like teeny tiny little seeds. But when they mix with liquid, they puff up and become a little gelatinous - a bit like a smaller version of tapioca. And I love tapioca. They're also crazy good for you with all their fiber and calcium.

So when you eat this parfait, you can pat yourself on the back for making excellent, healthy food choices.

Chocolate Raspberry Chia Parfait

Chocolate Chia Pudding Layer:
2 cups almond milk
3 tablespoons chia seeds
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Quickly blend all ingredients together in your blender and then pour into a bowl with a lid. (If you don't have a blender, you can stir them all together - the cocoa powder will be a little difficult to incorporate.)
2. Place in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 2 hours.
3. For the raspberry chia jam layer and the whipped coconut cream, follow this recipe (just the jam) and this recipe from Oh She Glows.
4. Once the chocolate pudding layer is set, place a few tablespoons of the pudding into a pretty glass, then a couple tablespoons of the raspberry chia jam, then a few more tablespoons of the pudding, and then top with a dollop of whipped coconut cream and a raspberry.
5. Serve and enjoy!

p.s. Want more chocolate? I've been thinking about these almond butter and jam chocolates a lot lately...


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Friday, February 20, 2015

Become a Better Person: Weekend Reading List



It's back! Your quick and dirty weekend reading list from around the web, guaranteed to make you a better human being.*

Become...

A more accepting person: Accept your own body. Accept other people's bodies. Move because it feels good.


*As I've said before, simply reading these articles probably won't make you a better person. But they're interesting, and anyway, I recommend seriously considering whether you're perfect already - just the way you are.

p.s. This weekend seems like the perfect time for making your own chocolate syrup, doesn't it?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

DIY Word Art



My gorgeous studio has one giant wall, and I'll admit to being overwhelmed by it when it came to figure out what to hang there. I thought about doing a gallery wall again, but it seemed like it would be too much in the space. I intentionally chose a lot of color for my studio, but I also need there to be some breathing room in there. And when I pictured a thousand frames on the wall, I felt claustrophobic.

Instead I wanted one large, simple piece that inspired me. And since I had already spent a bundle on paint, I decided I'd make it myself (after getting an inexpensive 50% off canvas at A.C. Moore).

Here's how I did it:

Supplies:
Metallic craft paint
Painers tape
Pencil with unused eraser
Something to pour paint onto (can be as simple as a paper plate)
Pencil to write with
Sharpie
Ruler
Canvas

1. Pick a bowl that has a rim the width of the circle that you'd like to use on your canvas. Using painters tape and a flat surface (like a floor or counter), tape out a large enough square that you can draw the outline of the bowl on the square.



2. Draw the outline and cut out the circle.




3. Using a tape measure diagonally across the canvas, mark the center with a pencil. (Sorry I didn't get a picture of this!)

4. Place your circle of tape onto the canvas so that the center is directly in the middle. This took a little maneuvering for me. I measured until my center dot was directly in the center of the circle.



5. Dip the unused eraser of a pencil into your metallic paint and press it onto the canvas to make a dot outside the circle marked by your painters tape.



6. Continue to make dots across the canvas in the pattern that you'd like. I made dots somewhat randomly across the whole canvas (minus the circle) and then went back in closer to the circle and added more, gradually decreasing as I got closer to the edges of the canvas. I also went in with a second color (gold glitter) to add more dots.



7. Place a piece of tape straight across the center of your circle. Use a level if necessary to make sure that it's straight. Then, using a pencil, write out whatever word you want to put inside the circle. Paint over your pencil lines with the metallic paint.



9. Wait for the paint to dry, pull off the painters tape, and hang your artwork.


I'm hoping that the single word there reminds me that my purpose in this studio is simply to create. It's not to create beauty or create magic or create perfection or create anything in particular at all. It's just to create - whatever that means at any given moment. 


p.s. I like words on canvas - I made this piece a couple years ago, and it's hanging in my bedroom now.

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