29 September 2011
When we received this gift, I could not possibly let the honeycomb tray go into the garbage. Although intended to reside in a hive, the piece was handcrafted and served as a wonderful manifestation of a concept that is a part of daily life in the Republic of Georgia. The acknowledgement that handcrafted should not only be valued, but expected.
Using one's hands to create is highly prized here. From the felt crafter selling her wares on a cobble stoned street to a produce vendor wrapping his herb bundles with handmade vine bands. In fact, the recognition extends to trades that are highly specialized. In this ancient part of the world, a carpenter or a plumber or a mechanic, regardless of their actual work, is called a "master." A title befitting the truly specialized service that a person provides.
So, seeing the beauty in the roughly chopped pieces of wood and tightly wound wire strings on my gifted honeycomb tray, I began to clean it of the golden nectar and beautifully formed wax. After much scrubbing, I mounted it on a wall above my vanity table. I now have a small, personalized art gallery. A perfect place to rotate the numerous pieces of artwork gifted by my children and a few treasured pieces I've collected over the years. And, each day, the small gallery serves as a tiny reminder that wonderful things can be made with the humblest of objects.
27 September 2011
There is purple basil everywhere in Tbilisi's produce stands right now. And, walnuts are used in many local dishes. Here's my favorite use for both right now.
3 large bunches of purple basil (use another variety if you can't find purple easily)
1/2 cup of shelled walnuts
2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
Using a food processor and working in batches, puree the basil, walnuts and garlic. Slowly add olive oil and process to create a thin consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Toss with cooked pasta noodles, use as a salad dressing, spread on toasted bread, toss with sauteed vegetables... enjoy.
To save for later use, spoon into ice cube trays and freeze. Remove from the trays and place into an airtight container in the freezer. When ready to use, remove a few cubes and defrost.
25 September 2011
After four complete redesigns of my children's room (in the last three weeks), I believe we've settled on a winner! (Yes, that sentence completely deserves the exclamation point. In fact, it deserves several.) My seven and five year old have always wanted to share a bedroom and, even though they could have each had their own rooms, I'm rather happy with the new set up. BUT, after hours of play and giggling and sibling mischief during bedtime, I needed to figure out a bit of separation within the shared room situation. So, beds moved a bit further apart. Long bouts of giggling continued. Beds moved further apart and I began brainstorming a few visual barriers to get everyone some peace during the post bedtime tuck in. Then, came the (inevitable) request for canopies. My kids like canopies. We had two play tents taking up inordinate amounts of floor space. So, I reworked those a bit and now each twin bed has a play tent canopy, complete with camping lanterns hanging overhead. Fun. Perfect. And, cue the camp-out style late night sibling giggling...
23 September 2011
It's feeling a lot like autumn and I'm counting down the hours until my sister-in-law (our first visitor since moving to Tbilisi) arrives on our doorstep. I'm running a few last minute errands and needed a play list for my ipod that just feels like today... happy, peaceful, crisp. Right now, I'm about to buy some fresh flowers from the guy who stands outside the metro, pick up some warm baguette from the bakery a few doors down and treat myself to a cappuccino. Then, this will be floating through the house as I set out the flowers, finish the guest room and settle the house into the evening hours. Turn your speakers up and dance along with me by clicking on the iPod above.
playlist: a brilliant day.
- Don't Carry It All. The Decemberists
- The Dreamer. The Tallest Man on Earth
- Send Me on My Way. Rusted Root
- My Guru. Kalyanji Anandji
- Oh My Heart (Live in the Studio). R.E.M.
- Diamonds on the Inside. Ben Harper
- Yours (If I Was in the Sun). Window View
- I'll Fly Away. Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch
22 September 2011
1991. I was in high school. A band called R.E.M. was singing on MTV Unplugged and I got my first fix. The music was moody, even when optimistic, and had a raw, pure sound that resonated with the person I would later become. As a teenager, R.E.M. was 'different'. They seemed like my version of the ultimate cool kids-- artistic, interesting and deeply passionate about what they were communicating. They were the elusive group of anti-rock stars.
A couple of years later, thanks to BMG mail order music club*, I had amassed a generous collection of R.E.M.'s work. And, by the time I completed my freshman year of college, I had worn through two copies of Automatic for the People.
Fast forward to my sophomore year and I was skipping university to drive 232 miles with my sister and my boyfriend. We were headed for an outdoor amphitheatre, nestled into the hills of the Columbia River, to hear the band play live. We danced to Shiny Happy People as the spring evening sky gave way to night. We sang out loud with the rest of the crowd as Michael Stipe belted out Star 69 with a near hysterical energy. I collected Monster guitar picks and small buttons with the studio album's artwork on them. The concert ended at 11 p.m. and we drove through the night, me wearing a deeply faded jean jacket plastered with the collected concert buttons. We made it back to campus after driving through the dark and approaching the university just after sunrise. With practical intentions to make it back for classes, I proceeded to fall deep asleep almost immediately and ended up with another day missed... but more importantly, was buzzing with electric energy provided by the experience under the stars.
As a few years passed, my boyfriend became my fiance. And, since music was key to us as individuals, we discussed at length what song would start off our wedding ceremony. My husband suggested we walk down the aisle to R.E.M.'s It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine). I laughed and not wanting people in attendance to get the wrong idea, I said no and we moved on with the discussion. (To this day, I regret not walking down the aisle to it, though.)
I spent my young professional years listening to the band on my favorite alt-rock morning radio show as I drove down the 101 in San Francisco. And, while my move to Paris signaled an intense jazz period, R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi accompanied me (in the pre ipod days where you actually had to think about what music to pack on a plane flight).
And, on our ten year wedding anniversary, two children later, my husband booked us a weekend away at a penthouse suite in San Francisco. Knowing I was eagerly awaiting a copy of the band's 14th studio album, Accelerate, he scored a just released copy and had it waiting for us. We sat on our rooftop terrace, watching the fog roll in over the Bay, drinking wine and listening to Supernatural Superserious for the first time.
Just this last year, friends on Facebook heard my freakish cries as I discovered the release date of Collapse Into Now. Without a moment's pause, I clicked 'buy' on itunes and was running off into Bangkok's humid heat to pick up my daughter from school. By the time I had returned home, my kids knew most of the words to Oh My Heart (which is still being played with high frequency in our home).
My life, throughout various cities and personal milestones, is punctuated with a soundtrack. R.E.M. is the only band that is included in the soundtrack of every year of my adult life to date. Tonight I discovered that, after 31 years together as a band, R.E.M. is no longer. Yes... my heart will forever be a little bit squished from here on out.
*Remember the 'pay for one disc and we'll send you twelve but you'll be seriously annoyed by us if you don't cancel your membership immediately' deal that built every college student's music collection?
19 September 2011
Dumplings are a classic staple in Georgian cuisine. After eating them at little outdoor restaurants this summer, buying them in the freezer section of our local grocery and listening to my kids plead for "More dumplings!" I decided to attempt making them at home.
The kids helped and together we made several trays of the treats-- half filled with local farmer's cheese and half filled with jonjoli. Yup, that's the big green weedy looking thing at the forefront of the picture and man, oh, man is it a treat. I haven't been able to find an English translation for jonjoli. It is the result of a local plant going to seed. The flowers and stems are picked, lightly brined and preserved for use in dumplings and as a condiment to potato dishes. My daughter loves it so much that while grocery shopping she asked if we could get a new jar, having run out at home. Once home, I unpacked the groceries and found two jars of jonjoli. She smiled and said, "well, I didn't want to run out!"
Our dumplings should have been rolled a bit thinner and we should have tried a combo of cheese and jonjoli, but all in all, straight out of the steaming hot water, they were delicious little bundles of joy.
adapted from The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein
3 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
Cheese of choice, depending on what your taste preference is (any cheese will work)
Mix the flour, salt and water together to form a dough. Add a bit more flour if too sticky. The dough should hold into a smooth ball. Choose a golf-ball size piece of dough, flatten and roll out until the thickness of a pie crust. Add a generous tablespoon of cheese to the center and close the dough around the filling, pinching to create a top knot. Set aside. Repeat with another piece of dough and continue until all of the dough is finished.
Add the dumplings, working in batches, to rapidly boiling water and cook until the dough is firm (about 15-20 minutes). Serve hot with freshly cracked pepper and lightly drizzled with olive oil, if desired.
Note: You can freeze the dumplings for later use. Take the formed, not yet boiled, dumplings and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Place into the freezer and allow to freeze overnight. The next day, remove the dumplings from the tray, place into an airtight container and freeze again. The dumplings can be taken from the freezer directly and placed into a boiling pot of water. Double the cooking time to be approximately 30 minutes.
17 September 2011
The Les Paul Google Doodle
This rendition of the Google logo was created to celebrate the 96th anniversary of the birth of Les Paul, one of the greatest names in guitar history. I can't get enough of it. The virtual guitar lets you strum away, record and play back. And, the sound is relaxing-- perfect for a late night chill out session when you're avoiding a to do list.
Marcel the Shell
Who doesn't love a talking shell that likes to hang glide on a Dorito?! Seriously, you OWE it to yourself to watch this little guy.
Yes, this has been around forever, but there is something oddly relaxing about popping virtual bubbles.
Waste time and make a difference! You play a simple trivia game and every time you get an answer right, the site donates 10 grains of rice to global hunger programs. (Don't laugh... the rice adds up quickly!). FreeRice is run by the United Nations World Food Program and uses revenue from ads to pay for the food.
Still really hopelessly loving this virtual pin board. Currently, I'm taking notes on all things holiday--related in preparation for the upcoming season. But honestly, pinterest isn't a time suck... or maybe that's the addict talking...
Off to pin I go (after I write another song on the Les Paul Google Doodle, pop some more bubble wrap, gather a bit more rice and say hi to Marcel one more time).
The baby doesn't seem to want to stay asleep (actually, the baby doesn't yet have a steady nap time or a regular bed time!), my oldest child has a doozy of a cold, the city shut off water to our neighborhood making it a bit rough to 'get things' (i.e. dishes/laundry/etc) done and our power crashed too (we, fortunately, have a generator allowing us to keep some basic electricity running).
15 September 2011
The grocery had these gorgeous olives available today. They are locally produced, extra large and glossy deep purple. And the taste is salty brine mixed with an almost floral quality. So, of course, I scooped up a bunch and, inspired, made a fresh pasta salad at home. This version is made in my favorite way-- heavy on the veggies and light on the noodles.
Olive Pasta Salad.
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
zest of 1 lemon
2 cups of whole extra large olives
1 jar of artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
5 green onions, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 cup of purple-leafed basil, torn
3 cups of cooked pasta, shape of your choice, cooked al dente*
Pit and roughly chop the olives. In a large bowl, add the lemon zest, olives, artichoke hearts, green onions and pasta. In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and pepper and start with about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Mix well and pour half over the pasta/veggie mix. Stir to coat and continue to add the remaining dressing to your taste preferences. Season again with salt and pepper as needed. Add basil and toss. Chill before serving.
* Cook the pasta while assembling the rest of the salad so that you may pour the dressing over the warm pasta. The flavors will combine better, soaking into the noodles, using this method.
13 September 2011
My youngest celebrated being alive for nine months by becoming mobile. He spied a toy across the room and decided it was time to move. The fire of fierce determination was lit. After some failed attempts, he was hesitantly creeping forward and laughing in disbelief at his new found skill. Over the course of the last week, he's picked up speed at an alarming rate. Combine that with a lack of understanding of spacial relation (note to baby: you must keep your head down when crawling under the coffee table) and it's a tad bit* exhausting around here.
As a reward for mobility (and to save my sanity), I pulled out the set of baby ankle bells I purchased on one of my last trips to Bangkok's Chatuchak Market. I fell in love with the bells long before I made the purchase. I mean, look at them. They are all sorts of bronze, dangling, gentle ringing like chimes blowing in the breeze cuteness. Throughout southeast Asia, ankle bells are used to alert caregivers to the location of their child. Soft jangling accompanies their crawls and early walking stages so that those around them have a gentle reminder that a little one is approaching. And, with two active older children in the house, the bells are a nice reminder to look around you and make sure the baby hasn't crept closer than you expected. Without the bells, I swear he can silently appear at your feet (or the dishwasher or the stairs or the door hinges or...) at a speed of mach 10.
After hours of crawling and attempting to scale everything in sight, this is how his day ends...
*tad bit = extremely
Categorized: little bohemians.
12 September 2011
In the meantime, I'm off to add a spoon full of honey to my cup of tea...
10 September 2011
08 September 2011
For dinner a few nights back, I found some beautiful salmon steaks at our grocery. I like fresh bright flavors with salmon and immediately thought of the touch that roasted figs might add to the fish. You've already heard about my love of fresh figs. Our backyard harvest continues and I've (still) been devouring the wonderful little fruits right off of the trees. In this recipe, the figs add just a slightly sweet and floral touch. Enjoy.
Roasted salmon steaks with figs
Sprinkle a roasting pan with a bit of olive oil. Lay down, one big bunch of green onions (washed, left whole), one handful of basil and sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Place your salmon steaks on top of the bed of greens, Surround the steaks with several figs, sliced in half and quartered lemons. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper. Roast at 325 degrees until the salmon is opaque.
06 September 2011
We woke up early on Sunday morning (totally and completely normal in our house for all five of us to be up at dawn, unfortunately). The day looked grey and drizzly, in a way that reminded us of our home in Seattle. But, after a summer in the Republic of Georgia, the grey Sunday somehow felt refreshing and new. The perfect day to hop in our car, hit the open road and explore. And, so we did.
With the kids fully stocked with traveling toys and a full load of road trip music, we jumped on the crazy city streets and were soon surrounded by sprawling fields of green as we headed to the ancient town of Sighnaghi in the Kakheti region of the Republic of Georgia.
First up, passing the donkey carts...
Then, after a couple hours of driving up twisty mountain roads, we caught our first glimpse of the tiled rooftop mountain village of Sighnaghi. We rounded another corner. I became giddy with excitement, the kids oohed and we approached the cobblestone streets with the feeling that we'd discovered something amazing.
We were right. What an amazing little mountain village--truly perched in the middle of nowhere (okay, within the Caucasus Mountains, but really remote by most people's standards). We ditched the car and continued on foot. The air was crisp and my daughter, who is still used to our former Bangkok's home temperatures, got a bit chilled and begged to wear her papa's coat to stay warm. He, of course, handed it over, zipped her up and took her by the hand. This dog followed us around a small park that we stopped at in the city's square. The kids named him 'follow'. We thought it was an entirely appropriate name until he took the lead and literally led us to our lunch time destination.
And, then we ate.... and ate... and ate. At one point during the meal, I found myself quietly sitting in a corner of our restaurant's table devouring Ajarian. My husband was dancing to the Georgian music playing, while holding the baby. My daughter was twirling, completely out of rhythm to the sounds around her, but smiling and laughing and owning the corner of the restaurant that she turned into a dance floor. My son was swaying along with my husband. And, I was loudly making embarrassing 'yumming' sounds and in pure bliss over the discovery of this piece of pure Georgian bliss:
And, then, the khinkali (Georgian dumplings stuffed with a ground meat mixture) arrived and my husband sat down and took over the yumming.
On the mantle behind our table, sat a display of wine bowls awaiting their next drinking customer. We stuck to lemonade. (Incidentally, every soda is referred to as lemonade regardless of the presence of lemons! We enjoyed a pear sparkling beverage.)
After our meal, we thanked the restaurant owners and walked down the cobblestones a bit. When we spied this low sitting powder blue double door, we HAD to go in. An artist colony of sorts sat behind it. Inside an old home, a restaurant conducting wine tastings, a room full of oil paintings and a room full of carpets local to Georgia were up for sale. The kids climbed the stairs through an organic garden featuring tomatoes, basil and tomatillos. Soon after they begged me to explore the wine cave (my answer: Of course!). My husband picked out a couple bottles of wine for us and our 9-month-old nestled deeply into the sling while I browsed the oil paintings.
After that, we browsed the local market and got a quick lesson on needle felting from a local woman selling her wares. Then, we found our car, hopped in and began the drive home. Once home, we got the kids to sleep and popped the cork on one of the two bottles of wine we purchased during our day-- living black wine from the oldest wine producing region in the world. Completely unlike anything I've ever tasted. To be completely honest, the first sip... kind of disappointing after the build up in my mind. But, after the wine caught some air and opened up a bit... wow. Rich syrupy pomegranates and hints of almond. Let's just say, it wasn't too long before the bottle was empty.
And, that, was the little village of Sighnaghi, located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Europe's Georgia, in a day. 3 kids, 2 adults, a bunch of high and twisty hills, loads of cobblestones, rich, warm, welcoming home cooking, a friendly dog and so many memories.
05 September 2011
1. After months of searching, I have located yeast at the market. Let's just say it was a hard earned prize (pantomiming 'yeast' to a group of non-English speakers stretched my communication skills into the ridiculous). This means that the baby will get some bread sticks, my older kids will get their homemade pizza back and I'll be kneading bread in the very near future.
2. I'm down to three small boxes left to unpack. Triumph.
3. My son starts his school tomorrow. His nerves are low, the mood is happy. So far, so good. He requested that a 'Green Lantern' symbol be written on a piece of paper and tucked inside his pocket "just in case I miss mama."*
4. After living in Thailand, red and yellow will most likely remain forever in my brain as political colors. But, I can now wear them freely without considering if I'll be making an inappropriate statement. I bought a red shirt today and it felt good.
5. I have located all of my blank canvases and the artwork that has been rolling around in my brain can possibly begin to see the light of day.
6. Sweet, juicy, beautiful cherry tomatoes have made their way (finally) to our neighborhood produce market. My daughter is taking bag fulls for her school snacks, my son is popping them with reckless abandon, the baby is devouring them while squirting their juicy insides in every which direction...
*In case you're wondering, I'm not exactly sure what the specific connection between me and the Green Lantern is. When I asked, I got a "Maaamaaaa, you knooooowwww." So I didn't press the question.
02 September 2011
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking's basic scone recipe)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick of cold butter, cut into cubes
2/3 cup milk
lemon zest, from 1 lemon
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the cold butter and use your hands to cut it into the dry ingredients. You are done when the mixture resembles a coarse sandy texture. Add the eggs and milk and lemon zest. Mix gently until a dough is formed. Do not overwork (the dough does not need to be smooth, just merely holding it's shape). Form into two balls. Working with one ball at a time on a floured surface, gently pat it into a thick circle about the diameter of the length of your hand. Cut into four equal wedges and place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit just until the bottom is very golden in color, about 15 minutes (but watch closely as all ovens vary a bit in temperature). Serve hot, with jam and a cup of tea.
Glass tea cups: bodum, 8 ounce Pavina model
Glass tea pots: bodum, older versions of their current The de Chine model
Kids' tea set: Schylling
This entry is linked at Today's Creative Blog.
01 September 2011
I was looking through a shoe box that I labeled 'treasure' and had nestled inside one of our packing boxes. Inside, I found all of the things that I had saved, loved and ultimately just didn't know what to do with. I dug out a small muslin drawstring bag and after looking at its contents I smiled broader and then... laughed. Inside were 10 treasures from my childhood: three Annie dolls (Ms. Hannigan, Molly and Annie), a change of outfits for Annie (apparently, Molly is forever subjected to her orphan ensemble and Ms. Hannigan will live on in her purple peplum dress), a Blueberry Muffin figurine*, a bread bag tag, a dime and three Lego pieces. Things that I, at roughly eight years of age, for some reason, felt compelled to save. Things that I have dragged around the globe with me from my childhood home. Things that at one point in my life I deemed important enough to cluster together, pack away and mark as 'treasure'. Watching my own kids collect odd little bits and bobs, I was reminded that I was once there too. And, truth be told, I think I rather like these little bags of odd bits and bobs. They still make me happy.
*Fake blueberry scent (scarily) still fully intact.