Category Archives: Handmade

A Very Cranberry Christmas

Chutney in Bowl

Chutney in Bowl

(This article also appeared in the Waterboro Reporter newspaper, soon to be found online, but for now check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheWaterboroReporter)

Here we are, smack-dab in the middle of another holiday season, singing along with the carols playing non-stop on 94.9 WHOM (if you live in Maine), finishing up our shopping and wrapping of presents, and turning thoughts toward special holiday foods.

Yes, this is the season of Christmas cookies, nut bread, fruit cake, and eggnog. Peanut brittle, peppermint bark, snickerdoodles, and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Depending on our family traditions, we may enjoy turkey, ham, lasagna, baklava, corn-bread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, or those glorious Franco-American pork tourtieres.

And anything cranberry.

In my family, a traditional treat is cranberry bread. My mother serves it on a silver tray at her Christmas Eve dinner of fish chowder and crackers, jello fruit salad, and homemade sour pickles. Cranberries are fun to string together and hang as a garland on the fir tree. Frozen into an ice-ring, cranberries add a splash of color to a holiday punch bowl. Added to champagne cocktails, frozen cranberries not only keep the beverage chilled, but look very pretty rolling around in the glass. (A mint leaf provides good contrast, too!) There are cranberry sauces and jellies, cranberry pancakes, and don’t forget cranberry nut muffins with a little spread of butter to warm up chilly winter mornings.

There is something just so festive about those bright red berries that contrasts with the uber-whiteness of the snowy winter world outside!

As more and more people are coming to realize that eating locally with the seasons makes sense from a health and environmental perspective, here in New England we can feel confident about choosing cranberries in late fall and early winter. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries–along with blueberries and Concord grapes–are a native North American fruit. Native Americans used the cranberry in a sort of protein bar called pemmican which was made of crushed berries, deer meat, and melted fat. They also used the berry as a dye and as a medicine. Later, American sailors took cranberries with them on sea voyages to stave off scurvy as the cranberry has a high vitamin C content.

Cranberries are also grown commercially right here in Maine. According to the Maine Cooperative Extension, cranberry production is a new “old” industry since cranberries were grown here in the past, disappeared in the first half of the 1900’s, and then experienced a rebirth in the 1990’s when new commercial production began. Last year, I bought a ten-pound box of the ruby-red berries from a local food co-op organized by Ossipee Towns for Sustainability (check out their Facebook page). The group orders from Crown o’ Maine Organic Cooperative which markets products from Maine growers.

I had good intentions when I bought those berries, but somehow after sticking that box in my freezer I forgot about it…until last week. All of a sudden, as we rounded the corner to Christmas, it hit me. Cranberries! I decided I wanted to try making chutney to include in my Christmas dinner menu and also to give as handmade gifts. It doesn’t get much more local than your own kitchen, right?

I searched the internet for a recipe, found one I liked on the Ocean Spray website, gathered my ingredients, and set the pot to boiling. The first batch came out a little more runny than I wanted, but the flavor was tangy-sweet and spicy. Making a few modifications the following evening, I ended up with a firm, spreadable chutney with a glorious dark garnet-red color and just the right blend of spices. I can’t wait to serve this with my Christmas turkey, not to mention all the leftover turkey sandwiches!

If you would like to try it yourself, here is the recipe.

Shelley’s Second-Batch Christmas Cranberry Chutney

1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cup sugar
2 cups frozen Maine cranberries
1 cup vinegar
1 cup raisins
½ cup small dice apple
½ tsp each allspice, ginger, cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves

Put sugar and water together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often to avoid sticking. Pour into glass bowls and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Stir before serving to show off all that chunky deliciousness.

If you like your chutney more saucy, reduce cooking time. The longer you cook, the more “set” your chutney will become. Happy holidays!

Plain Jane to Pretty Parisienne

Notebook Facelift

Notebook Facelift

Dear Reader:

Since becoming a blogger, my journal-keeping (in an actual journal) activities have degenerated into difficult conceptions, failures to thrive, and sad rippings of pages from notebooks and crumplings of paper thrown into the waste-bin of my office.

Journaling was once a mainstay of my emotional life, an anchor, a place to throw difficulties from my mind onto paper and tuck them away where I never had to look at them again unless by choice. Mostly I want to vomit whenever I re-read my old journals. I recognize their former necessity, but I dislike the results. My journals are not pretty little recaps of my daily life. I call the writing in them emotional diarrhea. Not pretty. Sorry to offend.

I tried other kinds of journaling for different purposes. “I’m going to write for half and hour every day in a journal and use the notebooks for writing fodder,” I declared to myself ala Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Yeah, not so much. Once I started blogging (web-based journal fit for public consumption) and began this thing called Localista (once called Outside the Box) I never looked back.

Until now.

Recent upheaval in my personal life has me hauling down my old journals and searching through them for clues to help make sense of present problems. While reading them, I realize their old familiar raison d’etre might serve me again. I want to keep a personal journal. I want to start today. And I want something pretty on the cover.

may 8 2013 021

I had nothing appropriate, just a stack of plain black and white composition books I picked up for cheap a few years ago at The Store Which Shall Not Be Named while school supply shopping for the Teen. Okay, 33 cents. I caved. This morning I looked at them and shuddered. Ick. Ugly black and white. How did I ever think that would inspire me? I remember having some vision of these notebooks lined up on my shelf, filled with raw material for “real” writing.

Ughh, I thought. I cannot start out with this today. I will go to the store and buy a journal with a pretty cover.
Which will take an hour. And I’m enjoying the peaceful sunny morning with Vivaldi playing on Pandora web radio. And I want to write now. And I’m really not in the mood for delayed gratification. What can I do?

Inspiration struck. I remembered seeing some redecorated composition notebooks at a farmer’s market table last summer. Rummaging through the family art supplies, I found just what I needed. Voila! Parisian-themed craft paper and glue sticks. I love pretty paper in the same way I love pretty fabric and pretty art. I just don’t usually have much actual use for them. This morning, however, I had both the need and the means to create something unique and beautiful. A little gluing, a little folding, a little cutting and here is a pretty and pink Parisienne of a journal, ready for my journaling pleasure.

Inside Cover

Inside Cover

And the craft project was fun, too, appealing visually and physically while the classical music flowed from the computer and the sun shone through the windows and a very large bluejay landed on the window feeder. Ahhh, bliss.

If I ever find a bunch of ugly comp notebooks at a local store like Mardens, I will pick up another bunch. Even for an non-craft person like me, this was fun and a great way to use those pretty papers I’ve had tucked away for years. I’m not sure how the journaling will go. I’m not expected much on the inside. Emotional dysentery and all that. But the cover will be pretty.

Do you keep a journal? What inspires you to write in it?

Designing Woman

Eliza with bag and screen printing equipment

Eliza with bag and screen printing equipment

Studio = Art

Walk into Eliza Jane Curtis’s studio on the second floor of her Limington Village farmhouse, and you are immediately struck by two impressions: color and order.

Along one long, blue wall of the studio, shelves of paints, papers, and other artists supplies pop with bright colors neatly arranged and easily accessible. In front of a light-filled window, a silk-screen table is popped open to reveal a orderly floral pattern on a background of turquoise. Near the back wall, a rack of bright tee-shirts and scarves silk-screened with Curtis’s graphic motifs draws the visitor’s eye.

This is the home-base of Curtis’s business, Morris & Essex, which offers handmade stationery, letterpress cards and invitations, canvas bags, wallets, shirts, and scarves. Her products are sold in shops in Buenos Aires, Manhattan, Canada, and Australia as well as right here in her home state of Maine at places like the Portland Museum of Art, the Merchant Co., and Ferdinand in Portland and Archipelago at the Island Institute in Rockland.

The dual qualities of color and order in the studio are reflected in the designer’s art whose motifs lean toward the botanical, the natural, the vintage, and the geometric. “I’m inspired by nature and the floral and botanical,” said Curtis, sipping herbal tea at her farmhouse table. “I like traditional folk art designs.” A fan of early 20th-century packaging and ephemera, Curtis also draws on vintage design elements to inspire new ideas for her art. Her family, she said, tends to collect things of this sort, though, “nobody collected anything on purpose in my family,” she said, smiling. “I’ll see something in an attic or basement and think ‘this would be good’ and they’ll let me take it.”

Lino Block Stationery

Lino Block Stationery

Gorham to Gotham

Curtis grew up in Gorham where her parents renovated an old house and she and her two sisters attended the public schools. Attending Gorham High School, she took art classes and enjoyed them, but she wasn’t certain art was something she would pursue professionally. “I wasn’t totally aware what you could do with art,” she said. She believes that in high school you don’t necessarily need to know what you are going to do for a career. “I had no idea what I wanted to do. I worked that out later.”

Taking a few college classes after high school, Curtis realized that academia was not her cup of tea. “I was supposed to be reading classics, Ovid, that sort of thing. It was harder to focus and kind of boring, but it turned out that art classes were one area I could focus. Reading and writing are great, but not nearly as engaging as art.”

Finding a strong passion for hands-on work and enjoying the satisfaction of having finished an actual, physical product by the end of the day, Curtis eventually enrolled in the Parsons The New School For Design in New York City. Here she studied design and also graduated with a liberal arts degree in 2001. She then took an internship with a web design company that led to full-time work.

She enjoyed working on kids designs so much, she eventually landed a job working for Osh-Kosh B’gosh in New York doing children’s clothes, “That was really fun,” Curtis said, remembering those early days in the city. “There were few places in So-Ho, so we’d rent a whole house in Brooklyn and bike across the bridge to Manhattan to work every day. It was great.”

During her 11 years in New York, Curtis launched her own business creating tee-shirt prints on the side, working on her prints on nights and weekends and eventually opening a “shop” on Etsy.com. That is when she named her fledgling business Morris & Essex.

“People always ask me who Morris & Essex are,” she laughed. “I was driving on the New Jersey Transit and saw the Morris & Essex train line in New Jersey. I was making tags for my pieces and needed a name. I liked the image that popped into my head of two cranky old men.”

Eliza's Studio

Eliza’s Studio


Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina

Curtis then met her husband, Michael Topper, and he was offered a job in Argentina. In 2006, the couple moved to Buenos Aires, studying the language and learning to speak fluent Spanish while they were there. While in Argentina, Curtis continued to do design work for freelance clients in New York, but the experience of living in Buenos Aires was exciting for the artist.

“While New York is very art-centered, it tends to be more institutional,” Curtis explained. “In Buenos Aires there seems to be more empty space for productions, for artists. It is less institutionalized, with more creative freedom in general.” Curtis enjoyed the community of artists, the galleries that popped-up all the time, the spontaneity and the leeway that is given for creative endeavors, starting up things on a small budget and not worrying so much about the financial success of a project.

“People just can’t earn as much money there,” mused Curtis. “So maybe they become more inventive, they make do. It’s more than just making money.”

This quality of making-do is an area she finds similarity between Argentina and Maine, noting that here in Maine people often have more than one job, doing extra on the weekends or a side-business like cutting hair in the back room of their house.

As much as they enjoyed the vibe of Argentina, after four years, Topper and Curtis began missing their families and wanting to put down more permanent roots. They told their families of their intention to move to Maine, thinking maybe they would live in an apartment in Portland for a year while searching for an old farmhouse to fix up. Little did they expect to commit to a place in Limington even before leaving South America.

Clothing Options

Clothing Options


Back Home to Maine

“Mike kept looking at old house listings while we were still in Argentina, asking me ‘where is this place? where is that town?’ and I’d tell him where the were relative to Gorham.” One day the couple saw a listing for a farmhouse in Limington, and the location was perfect, halfway between Gorham and the family cabin in New Hampshire. They kept watching the listing as the price went lower and lower, and eventually they made an offer, moving back to Maine in 2010.

The house is in the historic Limington Village, and it is a work in progress for the couple. “We are gutting every room down to the studs.” Despite the heavy, time-consuming labor involved in renovating an old home, Topper and Curtis are enjoying putting down those roots they longed for. They have joined a local group committed encouraging to local, sustainable living practices, and have found the people in the area to be very welcoming.

“Another thing about moving back to Maine is that living in other places I always felt like a newcomer, or worse, a gentrifier. After being a foreigner for 18 years, there is an appeal to coming home and belonging,” Curtis explained. “I feel more free to get involved and to try and make changes and stay in one place.”

The relatively short distance to Portland and the art scene there is also a plus. Curtis has been able to connect with other artists at craft fairs and at the Merchant Co. in Portland, a retail emporium with over 100 vendors on block from the Portland Museum of Art. She has collaborated with fabric bag and accessory designer, Lillianka, and has created wholesale products for the Close Buy Catalog, a fundraising program for schools that sell Maine products rather than stuff made outside the country. Vendors must apply and be chosen to be in the Close Buy Catalog, and Curtis’s silk-screened canvas bags were featured in last year’s catalog.

Whether creating custom linocut (similar to woodcuts) wedding invitations or putting together a new collection of printed tees, Curtis strives to be as organic, ethical, and local-minded as possible. “I use organic cotton canvas for my tote bags, organic cotton for tee-shirts, non-toxic water-based printing inks, and in my general studio operations I try to reuse and recycle and minimize my environmental impact as much as possible, as well as using locally-available resources whenever I can,” she says.

Curtis’s designs and products can be found on the Morris & Essex website at http://www.morrisessex.com and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Morris.Essex. You can also read Eliza’s blog at http://blog.elizajanecurtis.com

A Localista Valentine’s Day

How do I love thee? Let me count the quotes.

How do I love thee? Let me count the quotes.

Dear Reader:

So, it is that day of the year again where we turn our thoughts to love and romance. And candy. And flowers. And candlelight. And jewelry.

Well, a few of us turn our thoughts to jewelry. Others bemoan the commercialism of a “made-up” holiday. Some vow to ignore the candy hearts and the smoochy pictures and the sappy sentiments popping up all over social media (“What photo of the pink lovebirds?” she asks with an innocent look on her face.) A few, like my friend, Amy, get really creative and do things like send heart-shaped egg salad sandwiches in their kid’s lunchbox…awesome idea, Amy!

This year I’m treading down the middle of the road. I like Valentine’s Day because it falls in February, which is a nice month. The bitter cold of January has eased into soft snow, stronger sunlight, longer days, and moderate winter temperatures. Christmas and New Year’s revelry has faded in memory. Spring, with St. Paddy’s Day and Easter, seem far away here in the north where the earth is still covered in white, and the bare branches of deciduous trees crisscross against the sky with no sign of swelling buds, let alone a hint of green.

Mostly I like the sentimentality of Valentine’s Day, the one day in the year where you can let yourself get as mushy and gushy as you like, the mushier and gushier the better, and hardly anyone will scoff at you. What about those people you know will scoff? Ignore them, smile, and plop another chocolate covered strawberry in your mouth.

A Library Card

A Library Card

You can celebrate love and romance without spending any money at all. For instance, I made handmade valentines at the local library, where one of our high school volunteers had organized a wondrous variety of craft materials and offered assistance. When I got up there, three children and three adults were happily cutting, pasting, stickering, and drawing–and this was ten minutes before the end of the event. The card above was crafted by one of our creative library patrons for her granddaughter. So imaginative and pretty!

What else could you do? Draw a sketch. Write a poem, even a sappy poem. Pen a love letter…how long has it been since you passed a note to the love of your life?

Don’t like paper tokens? Play “your song” on the stereo and take a long, slow dance. Read the “interesting” parts of a romance novel aloud to each other. Bake brownies together. Light some candles, pour some scented oil into the tub, and take a bath together. Your imagination is as good, probably better, than mine. Use it!

But what about flowers and chocolates and the rest? I told Hubby that he really and truly does not need to buy me an expensive bouquet of flowers this year, but if he absolutely feels he must go floral, then would he mind buying a little something from our local flower shop, Nature’s Way Greenery? Buying from a locally-owned shop means more of that money stays local, zipping up to town hall in the form of property taxes, that money goes to pay the guys who plowed the roads after the big winter blizzard last weekend, maybe they spend their paycheck at the locally-owned gas station and to buy bread and milk down to the small, locally-owned supermarket. Maybe the supermarket owner is ready to plant some rhododendrons this spring, so he goes down to Nature’s Way to get some. Loop closed (minus a few State of Maine sales taxes, but that is a story for another day.)

The moment that money is spent at a national or multinational retailer is the moment the cycle is broken. A portion of the local economy just got sucked into paying the bonus of a CEO in Belgium or India or Bentonville, Arizona.

So shop your town first, and then the towns next door. Today I moseyed over to Waterboro and popped into the Cornerstone Country Market, a locally-owned and operated shop. There, I picked up an avocado and greens for lunch and a tub of lard (really!) from a Pennsylvania producer of Amish meats and cheeses. I use the lard for popping my own corn, for pastries, and for frying up pancakes, but I would love to find a local producer this year.

Love in paper and sugar

Love in paper and sugar

Anyway, while checking out at the cash register, I spied old-fashioned stick candy in all these pretty colors, five for a dollar. Excellent, I thought! Perfect to go with my handmade valentines.

I’m not the only Localista in the family. The Teen, too, chose to present handmade gifts to her “crush” this year: a book of her original black and white sketches glued onto craft paper and bound with yarn, a love letter, a colored-pencil drawing mounted on thick paper stock, and one of her beloved stuffed animals (there is some story behind it, but I’m not privy to the details). All this was squirted with her signature perfume, of course, and stuck in a paper gift bag. Local, handmade, thoughtful, and an expenditure of time rather than cash.

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Drop in and share your wisdom, your wit, and your words.

Happy Love Day, Dear Reader!
XOXOXO

I Wear Double-Knit

Goodwill Fashion Dec 2012

Goodwill Fashion Dec 2012

Dear Reader:

So, I was sort of making fun on my mother a little while ago because back in the 1970’s she sewed a gown out of mint-green double-knit polyester. It was for a church choir concert.

“I thought that dress was pretty,” she said.

“I guess it was,” I said. “But double-knit polyester?”

If you were born after 1980, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Click HERE to see some examples.

As you, my dear readers know, I am trying to buy all my clothes locally this year. Since I am frugal (cheap), I don’t get to the specialty shops in downtown Portland or Falmouth too often, but I DO frequent the Biddeford and Gorham, Maine Goodwill stores. Amazing to me, I am finding a new willingness to go out on a limb, fashion-wise, since the clothes are so inexpensive, the stuff you find in there is eclectic to say the least, and I have fun shopping. I never used to have fun shopping. This is a revelation!

Today, for example, I bought vintage double-knit slacks. At least, I think they are vintage. They are constructed differently than today’s pants, the stitching seems different, too. They are stretchy, high-waisted, and comfortable with a “made in the USA” label on it. I’m guessing 70’s, but they are in good shape so who knows.

Not a bad fit, huh?

Not a bad fit, huh?

I think they make my butt look fabulous!

After deciding “yea” on the pants, I went over to the sweater rack and found the perfect Croft & Barrow sweater in burnt orange. If you are suspecting a mini-cable sweater trend here on Localista, you are correct. I seem drawn to these this year. I now have one in medium green, electric blue, and now the orange.

Burnt Orange Bonanza

Burnt Orange Bonanza

I am envious of some fashion bloggers out there who have access to photographers with really great cameras. I make-do with the Teen’s bathroom mirror and my ten-year-old camera. But you get the idea how the outfit looks on me.

Knit Hat by Sandi

Knit Hat by Sandi

I think this handmade knit hat by my friend, Sandi, is perfect with the outfit. I also added the Vera Bradley bag purchased at a nearby consignment store. See blog post Wedding Card, Ralph Lauren, and a Little Black Dress.

Tommy Hilfiger Clogs

Tommy Hilfiger Clogs

To bottom it all off, I pulled out the Tommy Hilfiger leather clogs I picked up at Goodwill a couple weeks ago. That makes this Burnt Orange Bonanza outfit 100% locally sourced. Except for the lingering scent of Goodwill on the clothes, I couldn’t be happier. Nothing a little wash in the machine and maybe a spray of Chanel No. 5 can’t remedy!

Off to write my newspaper column. Do you have some fab local shopping finds you’d like to share? Send me a link to your blog or a photo or simply write me a note. I’m especially interested to see if Dear Reader Mary Ann finds a dance bag! Happy shopping, everyone.

Shopping Local for the Holidays

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Dear Reader:

How are you doing on your holiday shopping so far? I’ve been taking advantage of lucky opportunities that pop up–like yesterday’s trip to Portland for a Jim Brickman performance at the Portland Museum of Art.

Heading toward the museum for the performance, I noticed a Reny’s department store across from the parking garage. Hello! I don’t get into Portland that often, so the chance to pop into one of the branches of a Maine-owned department store was like an early Christmas present to myself.

Reny's Department Store Logo

Reny’s Department Store Logo

I’m fairly pleased with my local shopping progress this holiday season. I’ve bought books by Maine authors at public readings, handcrafted jewelry from the funkiest little shop--Maine Jewelry and Art--in Bangor on Plaid Friday (local answer to the mall’s Black Friday horror story), c.d.’s directly from musicians at performances (ahem, did you catch that Jim Brickman reference up there?), makeup from a local Avon rep, clothes from that Reny’s excursion yesterday, and a few things at Goodwill.

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

I’ve also ordered Christmas cards from my good friend and fine artist, Sandra Waugh, who lives right here in my town. That is her “waughtercolor” at the top of this page, such a cute, little red boat skillfully rendered, floating between sea and sky. This and other select paintings are for sale right now, but Sandra also creates beautiful watercolor portraits of loved ones, children, and pets from photographs you mail to her, like this one of the fly fisherman.

I am in awe of that kind of talent! Please visit her website at http://www.waughtercolors.com/ and/or private message her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/messages/waughtercolors

With the shopping well-underway, I guess it is time to start looking toward decorating the tree and holiday recipes. Food shopping for holiday meals can be a bit challenging (I need an egg source!), and I will write about that in another post as we get closer to Christmas. In the meantime…

I challenge you to buy at least ONE item this year from a local merchant or small-business owner, knowing that when you do so, much more of that money gets sent back into the local economy than if you spent the same $$’s at a mega-corporation. Want more reasons? Visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website for the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses.

Happy Holiday Shopping, everyone!

Small Town on a Waterway

july 18 2012 084
Little Ossippee River flows to the Saco.

Dear Reader:
Once in awhile I feel the need to remind myself why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I click on James Howard Kunstler’s blog, Clusterf$#k Nation, and get a zap of possible-future angst.

From his blog post, Modernity Bites this week: Find a nice small town on a waterway surrounded by farmland and get ready to have a life.

For Kunstler, this is an optimistic piece of writing, with many sentences starting, “If you are young…”

In other words, his vision of the world is that we are devolving, slowing down, no matter what the yahoos on t.v. say about shale oil and how the U.S.A. is going to be the largest oil producer in the world. But there is good life to be lived even in a “World Made By Hand” (the title of one of Kunstler’s books), and those young enough and strong enough and clever enough to take advantage of opportunities can not only survive, but thrive.

In a post-oil world, we will be much more local–whether we like it or not. Wouldn’t it be wise to begin investing in our local communities now? That is why I encourage you, my dear readers, to shop locally, to get involved in community government and activities, to learn one or two “low-tech” skills. Even as we use technology to discuss these things (hello! blogging here!), we can inhabit, in part, that other world of handmade stuff–clothing, tools, food. Check out a craft fair or two this holiday season. Make something yourself to give to a family member or a friend.

This weekend in my town, we are celebrating our community with an annual event called Village Christmas. There will be two craft fairs, community breakfasts and lunches, hayrides (low-tech transportation!), a parade, raffles, tree lighting, carol-singing, cookie-eating. I’ll post some pictures next week.

How does your community celebrate the solstice season?

Days 24 & 25: Not So Happy Feet

Beside The Pool

Dear Reader:

A most important word about travel and sightseeing. Moderation.

Since I was in pretty good shape before embarking on this D.C. adventure, I really didn’t give my physical condition much thought. In the spring, I’d overdone it a bit with some running and had a bout of heel spur pain, but a few weeks of rest and bicycling took care of it. I also started wearing those special kind of sneakers with the curved bottoms. Very cushiony. Very good for the heels.

Shelley's Eye-View from Her Chaise

Apparently, not so good for the ankles. After three weeks of almost daily walking, the outer edge of my right foot began to ache whenever I stepped down. Just a little ache, but I’m not going to risk greater injury. So for the next few days I will be sitting beside the pool, reading Candace Bushnell novels, and working on my tan (I use an SPF 45 lotion which allows me to turn a nice golden color without burning.)

The day before my self-imposed house-arrest, Hubby and I biked over to the Museum of the American Indian. The Teen and I had explored the “Our Universes” exhibit thoroughly, but Hubby had yet to visit. We arrived in time to take one of the guided tours, led by a really nice young woman from the Lakota tribe. After the tour, we took our time in the “Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities” exhibit and also spent some more time in the “Our Universes” exhibit where I was able to revisit some of my favorite stories and philosophies and ponder how our country might have been shaped if we had embraced some of these native peoples’ teachings and interwoven them with our own instead of conquering and trying to eradicate these important, vibrant cultures.

(Contact with Europeans and disease led to an upwards of 90% fatality rate among the native peoples. That was BEFORE guns and Christianity came along! Sad.)

"Sacred Circle" by Susan Point, 2003-2004

Taking the time to look more closely at some of the exhibits on the first floor, I was thrilled to find these spindle whorls used by North Pacific Coast women to spin mountain goat wool into thread or yarn. Susan Point’s spindle represents “women’s power, creativity, and contributions to society.”

Moccasins

Here are some more shoes for my D.C. Shoe Scavenger Hunt. Embroidered and beaded moccasins were often designed to show the status or family group of the individual. Okay, I’m a little shoe and foot obsessed right now, but do you see how gorgeous these are? I’d love to see a return to handmade shoes made by skilled craftspeople. Wouldn’t it be great to go down to the local cobbler–or to be precise, cordwainer or cordonnier–for a pair of shoes rather than to the shopping mall? We don’t even manufacture shoes here in America anymore. I hope there are craftspeople from various backgrounds and communities holding onto and passing down the knowledge and skills as we move toward an uncertain future.

Gustoweh

In the Mohawk tradition, the leaders were men and wore headdresses like this one. Yes, the leaders were men, but guess who chose the leaders or got rid of them when they weren’t doing a good job of it? The women. Now that seems like a system that makes sense. Balance. Something our leaders should be looking at right now just over the river from where I’m sitting.

Diablada Mask, ca. 1975

The Bolivian “Diablada Mask” shown here represents the struggle between angels & demons, good & evil. As John McCain recently quipped, “It’s hard to do the Lord’s work in the Devil’s City.”

Oasis In The City

As for me, I’m going to try to stop worrying. After all, there is a chaise longue with my name on it downstairs beside the pool. Now, where did I leave my sunglasses . . .

A Day Late and A Sock Short

January's Striped Wool SockDear Reader:

For those of you who have been following this blog, you know that part of my “living locally” philosophy includes going back to some of the traditional skills, means, and ways that have been shoved into a dusty, hard-to-reach corner of our hot, flat, and crowded world. (See Thomas Friedman’s book HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED.)

I’d like to see the world get a little rounder again. I’d like us to live in our own communities, not simply sleep there. I’d like us to buy bacon from the farm just outside of town, to shop at a food co-op set up in an old convenience store that’s been shuttered for three or four years, and to browse the weekly craft/farmer’s market for locally produced veggies, fruits, bread, jam, cheese, and wine along with hand-knit sweaters, locally-made floral bags and sundresses, maybe even furniture. I’d like us to head down to the old town hall to see a community theater production of a play written by a local author rather than drive to the nearest cineplex to see the latest 3-D extravaganza offered to us by Hollywood. Or maybe someone could open a small movie theater right on Main Street.

Well, a girl can dream, right?

Because I don’t have the energy to make my own crafts, create a food co-op, open a farmer’s market, start a community theater, AND open a movie house, I will stick to what I can do right now. Buying locally when possible. Shopping at locally-owned stores here in town first and then widening out to the larger community. Experimenting with jams and pickles and traditional recipes. Knitting.

Which leads me to today’s topic: January’s Sock of the Month. I realize that today is February 1st. I am also sad to report that I managed to finish only one sock of the pair. The other cuff has been started on my teeny-tiny double-pointed needles and will go faster as I’ve already gone through the directions once.

For this pair of socks, I chose Patons “Kroy Socks” Jacquards yarn in blues, browns, green, and cream. www.patonsyarns.com. The yarn is a soft, washable wool/nylon blend. I’m hoping that the nylon will help prevent the socks from wearing out on the bottom, something that annoyed me when I made slippers out of pure wool.

I already had a sock pattern from the Plymouth Yarn Company called Happy Feet (#1311) for textured rib socks and fingerless gloves. I’d made the gloves in black for my daughter last year and found the directions clear and easy-to-follow. The cuffs are a basket-weave sort of design which paired with the self-striping sock yarn makes for pretty, patterned footwear.

For those of you who think, I could never make a sock; too complicated, let me reassure you a bit. I’m not an expert knitter by any means, but once I learned how to divide the stitches onto three needles and use the fourth needle to do work the stitches, knitting in the round on double-pointed needles required only the most basic skills: knit, purl, knitting two stitches together, and slip slip knit. That’s it! As in cooking, following the directions step by step will lead to success . . . and warm, toasty toes on a cold January (er, February) day.

February’s socks will have to be rosy-hued in honor of Valentine’s Day. If you have a fool-proof sock pattern that would look pretty in pink, drop me a note. Better yet, I challenge you to knit up your own pair of Valentine-inspired socks and send me a picture to post Outside the Box.

Red Hot Mama

Crabapple Hot-Pepper Jelly

Dear Reader:

As mentioned in last week’s post, one of the successes in my garden this year was growing chili peppers. These hot little items are small–two inches long–and turned from light green, to dark brown streaked, to fiery red on small, bushy plants at the front of my garden boxes. They are pretty, and while I enjoy plants for sheer beauty, I find it exciting when I can actually use plants for both decoration and food. I chopped a few into a tomato salsa and was rewarded with quite a kick of heat, but what else could I do with them?

A trip up to the local orchard provided an answer. While walking through the gift shop/payment shed, I noticed a sign listing the price of crabapples at $1.50/lb. This was a lower price than that of the Cortland and MacIntoshes, and I immediately thought of crabapple jelly. A second later, I thought of crabapple-hot pepper jelly. And when I mentioned this thought to the nice young man who runs the orchard, he told me about a cookbook they just happened to be selling which included recipes for both kinds of preserves. Score!

The crabapples were larger than the teeny-tiny ones I usually have on my flowering crab, a little larger than the big marbles we used to play with as kids . . . or the giant gumballs you could get for 10 cents from the machines in the supermarket lobby. Some had soft or brown rotting places, but I was able to quickly pick about six pounds of nice apples. The day was hot and sultry, and the fragrance beneath that tree was intoxicating. I could only hope my jelly would turn out to be as delicious as that scent!

I waited until after Labor Day weekend to attempt my first batch of jelly. I’ve made strawberry and blueberry jams in the past, but never jelly. The instructions in Theresa Millang’s THE JOY OF APPLES cookbook were clear and easy to follow. Basically, you put the apples into some water and cook them until they are soft and mushy. Then you pass them through a cheesecloth either in a strainer or hanging up like a bag over a bowl. You take the juice and mix it with sugar, add the chopped up chili peppers and some green peppers if you like a little extra color, boil it until it has reached jelling consistency (it runs off the spoon in two drips that meld together as they come off the spoon . . . or until you decide it MUST be done. This part was the hardest to calculate), and then put into your prepared jars which you process for five minutes or so in a boiling water “bath.”

Fagor Home Canning Kit

The jelly-making process is messy. You have towels and boiling water and boiling fruit juice and jars to keep hot and sterilized and lids to keep hot and sterilized and drips of jelly going all over the place. It is best to clear a few hours as well as your countertops before you start. Read through all the instructions and make a plan of action. For example, the big canning pot I have takes a long, long time to boil water on top of my flat-top stove as the pot is three times the diameter of the largest burner. The water should be boiling by the time you fill the jelly jars. It also helps to have a jar lifter to get the boiled jars out of the scalding water. You can buy canning sets from local hardware stores. Or you can order online from a site like PickYourOwn.org.

I was able to fill eight half-pint jelly jars and two smaller jars with my six pounds of crab-apples. The color of the jelly is an exquisite dark pink dotted with bits of red and green pepper. I put the smaller jars into the fridge rather than process them, and these jelled perfectly. The jars I processed with lids sealed well, but the jelly looks a little, well, un-jelled in there. Until I open one, it will be impossible to know if the preserve set correctly. I may pop them into the refrigerator a couple hours before I plan to serve.

I taste-tested the refrigerated jelly within a couple of hours. It proved to be a delicious sweet-hot combination, fiery at the back of the tongue. As for serving suggestions, hot-pepper jelly is fabulous as a snack dumped over a square of cream cheese and served with crackers. According to the cookbook, it also goes well with chicken and pork, but I’m not sure how you’d present it. Just plop some on each plate beside the meat? Or put the jar on the table so guests can dip in a spoonful and smear it on the meat? I may simply try glazing some pork chops or chicken breasts before baking on some cold winter evening when we could use a little heat in our food.

Jars All In A Row

Now that I’ve had some success with crab-apples, I’m rethinking my plan to plant dwarf apple trees on my property and may plant crab-apples instead. Their pretty blossoms in the spring and amazing fragrance in the fall, as well as the beautiful pink color of the jelly, have won me over. Now not only am I Flabbercrabby, I’m Flabbercrab-appley!

As we head into autumn, don’t forget to visit your local farm stand, farmer’s market, or orchard for the bounty of the season. If you’ve never tried preserving food, why not take a stab at it this year? And one more note of caution: when working with chili peppers, do not rub your eyes until you’ve thoroughly washed your hands. If not, you’ll be a red-EYED Mama instead of a red-hot one.