Friday, July 31, 2009

Puttanesca

Last weekend, my husband and I descended the long and boring road known as I-16 from the outskirts of Atlanta into the heart of Savannah, GA. There's a little shop there, tucked in the corner of the Publix shopping center (dangerously close to a Starbucks) called Kitchenware Outfitters. We could spend hours in there (and thousands of dollars) perusing the shelves of marvelous, culinary gadgets and inspirations. In my aimless ramblings, I stumbled across a packet of dehydrated veggies and herbs which claimed to make a puttanesca pasta sauce. I'd heard of puttanesca, but I had never tried it. As it was my birthday weekend, I plopped down my debit card and brought the little package home. It was rather cute; plastic bag, label printed in Italy, little ribbon in the colors of the Italian flag. Last night we decided to brave the puttanesca and discover for ourselves this strange combination of olives, capers, anchovies and herbs.

Per the instructions, the dehydrated veggies and herbs were put in a sauce pan with a cup of water and were allowed to simmer. When the water evaporated, we added several tablespoons of olive oil and sauteed the little guys for a few minutes more. It was then time to add a 24 oz. can of crushed tomatoes. Sure I would have loved to have picked the tomatoes fresh and crushed them myself, but I don't have a garden at the present moment so the can had to suffice. The sauce simmered merrily on the stove top and the smells were tantalizing. I'd never smelled a sauce quite like it before.

Though the recipe said puttanesca is traditionally served over linguine, we prepared a box of bow tie pasta. I like bow ties. They have the perfect nooks and crannies to hang on to sauce and cheese that would otherwise slide off a long, skinny noodle.

After a heavy application of Parmesan cheese (I'm kind of an addict), we settled down to enjoy our creation. O. My. Goodness. It was amazing! Way better than the sauce you buy in a bottle at the grocer's. I wanted to eat more, but my tummy was begging me to stop. To eat more would have been over kill. I'm very glad I didn't have seconds; I get it for lunch today :)

I found a recipe for fresh puttanesca (ours had some onions and green peppers which are not included in this recipe). I can't WAIT to try my hand at fresh veggies, herbs, and those strange little creatures called capers and anchovies. O, and when I do, I will most definitely crush my own tomatoes...

If you happen to try this recipe (or if you've had puttanesca before), let me know what you think! I'm such a foodie. I LOVE to try new foods and I adore hearing food stories.

Have a great weekend, and by all means, try a new dish! Try several. And don't forget to pop the cork of a favorite wine to go along with it. (Which, come to think of it, makes a grand idea for another post :)

Ciao!
Jen

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Keep In Touch

K. I. T
e n o
e u
p c
h

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who remembers receiving notes in school or letters from pals with that writing at the bottom of the page. My best friends, my cousins and I would exchange letters almost weekly, faithfully scrawling those most important letters at the bottom. We wanted them to know that we wanted to hear from them. We wanted them to know we were hip on the current letter writing lingo.

I'm not sure if kids in school write letters any more. They're too busy texting. At least our acronyms were just that, a funny little way of letting people know what we were trying to say. Texting, however, seems to have degraded the English language to a bunch of consonants desperately needing their vowels.

But I digress...

Letter writing is an ancient form of communication. Ever since man discovered they could carve symbols in stone or scratch ash into cave walls, they have been trying to communicate with each other through the written word. With the invention of paper (and the postal service), a while new avenue of keeping in touch was born.

Letters were the primary means of communication for centuries. No picking up the iPhone and calling a bishop in France. O no; the Pope had to issue a letter, signed and sealed, and taken across countries by a messenger. I admit, it wasn't a very timely manner with which to deliver important news. Especially during wars.

Thankfully, things calmed down a bit and people began sending letters of sentiment. "How are you?" "I hope your family is well." "Is your mother feeling better?" "Were the kittens born yet?" Day after day, year after year, people kept up with the goings on of friends and family through the written word. Pages upon pages of letters have been discovered and preserved either by family or in museums (imagine having your letters on display for touring school children to gawk at one day). It was a welcome sight, that envelope, painstakingly lettered with pen and ink. Every word was savored, a breath of fresh air from a loved one. A moment to stop what one was doing and relax into a world, perhaps, they'd left behind or had never before seen.

Now we email, text, phone. Post boxes seem to be reserved for bills and junk mail. But every now and then, yes, even today, I catch a glimpse of a hand addressed envelope. There's a stamp (you know, those sticky things with numbers and random artwork) on the top right corner. Who's it from? A friend? A relative? It's not my birthday or Christmas. I pick it up, out of the slush pile of credit card offers and smile. It doesn't matter if it came from down the street or out of state, a letter with my name on it has arrived.

One of my dearest friends and I have gotten into the habit of exchanging letters on a fairly regular basis. It sets my heart right to see that envelope sitting in the box. But I don't read it right away. O no. A letter requires the proper attention. I sit it on the coffee table until I can sit down and savor each and every letter. With a cup of tea brewing, a candle lit, and my feet tucked under me on the couch, I gently slip my finger underneath that sealed flap and pull out the pages as if they were made of onion skin.

I smile, I laugh, I may even cry. It all depends upon what is being said. It's like a movie, only far more personal and sacred. It's like a miniature book written for your eyes only. Someone took time from their busy, hectic, modern life to hearken back to simpler days in order to let me know what's going on in their day to day.

We are a busy people. I don't like it. In fact, I'd much rather get back to a time when we grew our own food and knew our neighbors by name and traded chicken eggs for fresh baked bread if the money was running a bit low. I do what I can, in my little garage based homestead. One of those contributions is to write letters, send cards, tuck a postcard in the mail on a random Tuesday to my dear sweet friend in South Georgia or my grandmother who's only forty five minutes away.

People say the art of letter writing is dead. I say "pish posh"! Have you been to a stationery store lately? Yes, they do exist, and they are chock full of gorgeous papers and envelopes and stickers and wax seals and.... Grab you a box of note cards. Go on. You know you eye them every time you run to the store for milk and bread. Heck, I've seen them in the dollar bin at Target. If that's the case, grab several. Go home and make a list of all those people you swore you'd keep in touch with and, so far, haven't. Jot them a line or three. Write them a five page dissertation on the goings on in corporate America. Send them your great grandmother's recipe for banana nut bread. Three simple words, a stamp and whoosh - you've just made someone's day!

It doesn't take much to let others know you care. Don't feel like you have to write an autobiography. Just let them know you're there, you're still breathing, and you want to make sure they are too.

You'll be glad you did. And who knows, you may just find a letter addressed to you a few days later. It could be the start of a beautiful thing!

Keep in touch!

~Jen

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Life: Take 32

I had the most lovely weekend, rambling about Savannah, GA with my husband for my birthday. For a more detailed account (and hopefully some pictures) check in with my other blog, The Gypsy Scribe, later on today.

I love birthdays. For me, they are the start of a fresh year. I know, the new year officially starts in January, but I like to think I get my own, personal New Year's party every year on 27 July. It's a time to celebrate, and a time to take stock. I like to spend some time on my birthday to reflect on things I accomplished in the past year and to up my goals from the one's I set in the past. This can be a sobering process as I feel I have very little to show for my time on earth so far.

But I'm feeling pretty good this year. I've got new goals, new dreams. I've got some self imposed deadlines which I'm excited about meeting. I'm going to be busier and more productive. It's a daunting task, this new year, but I'm ready and willing to meet the challenge head on and give it all I've got.

Here's hoping this year out shines the last!
Jen

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Victorian Ideal

How many times have we flipped through our history books and sighed, thinking how simpler things were "back then", wished we could go back in time, or wondered if we were born in the wrong era? I know I have been guilty of such musings many times. One of those time periods I find myself wandering back to is the Victorian Age. No, it was definitely not perfect (is there a perfect age?). Women were repressed, social status was suffocating, and people were forced to put on false personalities all in the name of "society". However, the romantic in me wonders what it would have been like to have been born to a middle to high class family, to parents who encouraged their children (sons and daughters alike) to pursue their passions and gifts. (Thankfully, my real upbringing did include parents who encouraged my sister and me to do just that.)

It was easier to become a writer back then. All I needed was a masculine pen name and an appointment with an editor. At least, that's how it's depicted in all those romantic films. Since we're idealizing here, I figured I'd run with the stereotypical image of the eager author sitting outside the editors office, manuscript clutched to her chest, hopeful look on her flawless features, ringlets of auburn hair peaking out from beneath her bonnet. Would I have traveled by boat and rail in those romantic days of travel? Across the pond to Europe? Perhaps I would have crossed paths with Oscar Wilde, seen one of his plays while the author was in the theatre house. Paris high society during this period seems lavish and garish and oh-so-delectable! I admit, I would have indulged, if only for a time.

Something in me, however, tells me that my true self would have eventually won out of countless dinner parties, play premieres and picnics in from of the Eiffel Tower. Even being born to a high society, Victorian Era family could not quell the urge I have to seek solitude, to work with my own hands, to get dirt under my fingernails and breathe fresh air. To feel the sun on my skin and my toes squelch through mud. It didn't for Beatrix Potter. I'm certain I would have been as enthralled with her "little books" during the hey-day of their publication as I am now. I am also certain that something inside me would have prompted me to take a leaf from her book and venture into the realm of making my own way in a time when women were expected to speak shyly, walk primly and hide behind the tux tails of their husbands.

Beatrix and I would have had much more in common than me and old Oscar. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed the lavish indulgence he heaped upon his friends (to a fault), but I would have tired from society life. Perhaps I could live in both worlds, the shining City of Lights could be home to my publishing dreams and hair-brained schemes. The lost in time villages of the Lake District, however, would have been the home of my heart, my soul, my need to disengage from the hoopla and hubbub of the everyday.

Will I get that life, in the here and now, jet setting in Europe and recharging at the farm? I sure hope so. Until then, I'll live vicariously through my Victorian counterparts (and perhaps create an alter ego who can gallivant and romp alongside them as I daydream the drearies away :) And in the meantime, I'll feed my love for all things Idealized Victorian with a few good books both in Oscar's world and in that of Beatrix.

Happy travels,
Jen

AN: Both Wilde and Potter were born in the Victorian Era yet lived most of their adult lives in the Edwardian Era. In my happy world, I consider them Victorian. However, the historian in me would not allow me to post this without a post script...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Old South: Savannah

What is it about Savannah that makes me sigh with longing? Longing for her maze of squares, her cobblestone river walk, her moss laden trees? Perhaps it's my love for all things old ( I am a history major after all). I love the character and the stories that lie in things from the past. The houses that line the oak draped streets all could tell a thousand tales if only we knew their language. The ghosts of former residents, of pirates and Revolutionary War soldiers still roam the halls and basements, attics and guest rooms of many of her formidable manors. Just fifteen minutes away is Tybee Island. Sure, it's built up over the years. There's a boardwalk and narrow streets filled with junky souvenirs. If you go to the North Beach, however, you'll find a quieter shore, a place to rest, wade, and collect shells.

I lived in Savannah for two years. It was the first place I'd ever lived on my own. I left the familiarity of the metro Atlanta area and happily settled 350 miles away. I rented my first apartment, supported myself, and went back to school to continue my history studies.

What better city to study history (OK, Cairo does NOT count!)? It seeps into the soil and bubbles up through the pavement. Everywhere you turn there's a landmark, a cemetery, a building with a patina that remembers the Civil War. My Art History professor taught us the difference between Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. She laughed, saying we'd curse her name the next time we drove through the historic district because from hence forth we would see a house and immediately think, "Corinthian. Doric. Corinthian. Ionic." I'll be dipped, she was right!

Savannah boasts a tradition of story telling, of art and culture that I hunger and thirst for in this po-dunk town I now inhabit. Everywhere you turn, there's a park, a festival, a farmer's market, a quirky shop selling honey or beaded necklaces from local artisans.

The people move at a slower pace. Never say no to an offer of food or drink from a Savannahan; it will fall on deaf ears and you'll find yourself eating banana pudding and enjoying it even though you hate the stuff. There's always a cookout or a party to go to. Docks abound and people are more than happy to share their low country boil with you.

Is Savannah perfect? Of course not. Nothing on earth is. But it's darn near close and I can't wait to go back, put down some roots, and drink in those historical juices until I burst with the memories of the Old South.

~Jen

*join me on my blog The Gypsy Scribe next week as I catch you guys up on my birthday weekend in that great southern lady, Savannah, GA.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Random Jottings of a Foggy Mind

I beat myself up mercilessly at times. Figuratively speaking of course. I sit at work (a job for which I am most thankful) thinking, "Oh, if only I wasn't here I could be doing ---". Then, I return home, only to be frustrated by the lack of creation room and my thoughts meander to "Oh, if only I wasn't here, I could be doing ---".

Am I crazy? (Family and close friends are forbidden from answering that one publicly;) No more than usual. And I think it all has to do with the mentality by which we are constantly surrounded by.

More, more, more. That's what our society preaches. Even when trying to slow down and simplify, it is so easy to be sucked into believing that because we aren't super productive all the time, we are squandering the hours given.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a nap. Counter productive to my rantings, or so it seemed at the time. However, my body was craving more rest. Harry Potter hangover still in full swing. So I relented and gave in, sleeping for at least an hour, possibly more. My husband, gentle soul, tried to wake me at the appointed time but he said I grunted angrily twice and rolled back over. He was wise to let me do so.

We went for dinner then returned, all in the name of "getting something done". In my mind, that means conquering the world before bed time. I looked at my craft corner (OK, my corner cluttered with craft supplies) and sighed. Then I did something most unusual. I took out some fabric, ironed it, and cut the squares for my current project. That's it. I did no more. I sat my stack of little plaid squares atop my current hardcover and sighed. This time, out of satisfaction. Did I conquer the world? Well, not yet. Did I accomplish something? Yes. As a matter of fact, I did.

I'm one step closer to completing a project. It wasn't life altering or earth shaking (in fact, one would not notice if they poked their head in our garage room and scoured the coffee table in search of said plaid squares). But I can smile a small smile knowing one more thing is crossed off my list.

Here's to a few more crossed off tasks this weekend, and not fretting if there aren't!

Happy Weekend,
Jen

Thursday, July 9, 2009

French Women and Wisdom

I'm reading the most marvelous book! Mireille Guiliano's "French Women for All Seasons" is fast approaching favorite book status. Her first book, "French Women Don't Get Fat", I have yet to read. I just haven't bought it yet! This past weekend, however, on my way to the check out counter at the local Barnes and Noble, I passed the discount table and saw this little gem. I grabbed it and have been savoring it ever since.

Most of us admire other cultures for one reason or another. Perhaps it's the fault of my ancestors, but I've always been drawn to Europe and the British Isles. No place is perfect, but their way of life seems slower, steeped in more traditions. Perhaps it is because they have thousands of years off which to glean.

This book is a fascinating look at French women and the subtle yet profound ways which make them elegant and enviable. Mrs. Guiliano in no way makes French women out to be better than any of us other ladies. She offers secrets and tips on how to bring more of a French way of life into our own.

For example, she's taught me how to look at food differently and how to enjoy the little things that I have, sadly, overlooked. Food was meant to be savored and not just stuffed into our mouths to fill a void. She has opened my eyes to eating seasonally, as well as I can, buying produce from local markets instead of just what's on the shelves at the supermarket.

I understand (as does she) that we don't all live in small villages with fresh markets within walking distance (a tragedy for sure). But we can make an effort to seek out and cook with the freshest ingredients we can find and afford. If nothing else, we can learn to be mindful of our food. Knowing what we're putting into our bodies is the first step to shifting gears in our eating habits. And I've discovered that most of the time, eating is just that for me: a habit.

She's teaching me to take better notice of how I dress, how I conduct myself. How it's not that important to have a closet full of clothes or shoes (not that I do, but I know I have far more than I need), but to spend money on quality pieces that can last for years, dressed up or down, for all manner of occasions. She also encourages the occasional splurge, be it in eating (why yes, I will take that third helping of chocolate!) or in shopping. Save up and buy that pair of really nice earrings. They'll last a lifetime and will go with everything! And you'll feel great when you wear them. We can't put a price tag on confidence.

I'm learning to eat slower, walk for pleasure and not just for exercise. I'm learning to enjoy the simple things, for example, washing my hands. It's such a mundane task, one we all do countless times a day. But have you ever stopped and really taken the time to consciously enjoy the feel of the water, the smell of the soap, the physical process of rubbing your hands together under a stream of warm liquid? Perhaps I'm crazy, but that one tiny shift in consciousness, that one small pause and reflect at the bathroom mirror has given me a series of small respites in an otherwise stressful or boring day. Try it; you may find yourself buying more fragrant liquid soaps :) As if we needed another excuse to visit Bath and Body Works!

And speaking of trying things out, take a wander over to www.mireilleguiliano.com and see for yourself how the French make life so grand. I can almost guarantee you'll be hooked!

Happy day,
Jen

P.S. you can also link over to her site French Women Don't Get Fat from her personal site. There, you can register for a newsletter and take a quiz to find out just how French you really are. Me? I might as well move to Provence and raise lavender :) Ahhh, now for the minor detail of buying property in a foreign country...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stress Relief and Fresh Cut Grass

My mom has one of those old fashioned, manual push mowers. By manual I mean there's no chord to pull, no key to turn; it work solely on man-power. More specifically, arm power.

This past week, my husband and I house-sat for my mom while she was soaking up some sun on Hilton Head Island, SC. Unfair, I know, but work took precedence over luxury. She was due back Saturday afternoon so I thought, being the good daughter that I am, I would cut the grass for her.

The front yard would be easy, I surmised. Most of it is pine trees so grass is limited to a small patch to the left of the drive. I lugged the old mower out of the storage shed, filled up my mason jar with ice water, and set to slicing. I should add here that slicing is a gross exaggeration. The blades haven't been sharpened in at least an eon or three. It was less mowing and more shoving the mower forward hard enough to rip the tall weeds from their roots.

Most of you are probably thinking: this woman's crazy! It's summer in Georgia and she's out there manually mowing the yard with dull blades?!? Well, perhaps I am a bit "touched". However, let me argue with this: by the time I finished the front and the back yards I was calmer than I'd been all week.

Maybe it was the brute force required to operate the contraption. Maybe it was the simple fact that being outside in the sunshine, exerting energy caused the stresses of the week to roll off my shoulders with the sweat.

I am one of those strange people who find relaxation in physical labor. I love to work outside, work with my hands, play in the dirt. If I'm on vacation (which has not happened in more years than I care to mention), I'm not one to lay in the sun on the sand. I'm the one swimming far enough out in the sea to warrant a friendly warning by the lifeguard. Riding bikes, body surfing, beach combing and, yes, swimming, do more for me than lounging ever could. Don't misunderstand. I love the opportunity to just sit and get lost in a good book as much as the next gal. But those instances are few and far between.

As of right now, I am unable to do regular yard work. Considering we don't have a yard, this isn't too much of an "ah ha" moment. The challenge has been finding ways to cut down on the stress of every day life without that luxury. My mom is more than happy to enlist in my services. Two weeks ago I spent my Saturday helping her build a chicken coop. She never asks me to mow the lawn; she's as addicted to outside work as I am! But she knows how much I enjoy it and until I am able to get my own dirt underneath my nails, I'll keep taking people up on offers of yard work. I get a great work out, a slight tan, and all my troubles melt away in the hot, southern sun.

Offering to cook dinner for me in return is a good incentive to boot ;)

Ciao!
~Jennifer

PS: if you're interested in more commentary on my house sitting adventures, look no further than http://thegypsyscribe.blogspot.com!