Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the Day of the Night Before Christmas

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing;
It makes no noise at all,
But softly gives itself away;
While quite unselfish, it grows small.
~ Eva K. Logue

I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season, and embracing this time of peace ... hopefully we can bring it with us into the approaching year, and into all of our relationships.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Soft Words Butter No Parsnips ...

Or is it turnips ... wait that's blood from a turnip, and then there's something about cabbage too, but that wasn't in my stew so it really doesn't matter anyway!

Yesterday I was in full winter mode.  The air was still and cold, the sky was a watercolor wash of silver, and my faux logs were "crackling" behind the glass front of my gas fireplace, and these little guys peeking out at me.

We'll discuss these rascals first.  The more I browse the web, the more I see people re purposing their belongings into practical creations, or whimsical little gifts, and one of the themes that's really striking me lately is little woodland creatures, which has been in fad now for a handful of years and can be seen anywhere from t-shirts to fridge magnets to graphic design to probably the most obvious of all - stuffed animals.  Whenever I see a new person cropping up out there with their take on stylized critters I get a little - jealous isn't the right word - I just feel this pull to try it for myself.  And here's where I struggle, see I'm not exactly "creative" in this way, at least it's very difficult for me yet I save all sorts of old clothes, and bits of fabric because I'm a sentimental like that.  It's not at all unusual to find a sweater from high school days in my closet, or trinkets from childhood tucked here and there.  I always think I'm going to wear them again, or maybe just for the beach, or hey I could make something out of that some day!  Ten years later I'm asking myself when exactly was "some day" going to get here?  With that thought out came the scissors and rotary cutter, some scraps of felt, buttons, and embroidery thread, not to forget the stuffing, and this is what we end up with!

Both of these little guys were made out of one sweater sleeve, just sew across, stuff, and pull some thread through the knitted ribs about 1/2" from the opening, cinch, and tie off the drawstring and you've got yourself a little body.  For the heads I just sort of eye-balled it, and made a sort of "hood" that with a little stuffing tucked in there slips right down over the gathered end of the body, and just stitch it in place by hand.  I didn't follow a pattern, and I didn't create a pattern for these either because there was something almost zen about just going for it, and doing something in "fresh brain" mode - that's what I call it when I've never done something before.  Doing something in this way puts you 100% in the moment, and requires you to be completely aware, and present, you know otherwise it would be just another mindless go-through-the-motions sort of activity that can leave you with lotsa neat stuff, but nothing you're really connected with.  This, I think, is where the difference between homemade, and handmade lies. 

I really want to encourage anyone out there who hasn't tried this and wants to, to go ahead and just start snipping, and laying things out, and jump in already.  And if sewing isn't your thing, or woodland creatures aren't your cup, then do that thing you've been putting off trying, I assure you once you've finished it will not have been as difficult as you made it out to be in your mind.  By not following another pattern, or mimicking a picture from Google I ran the risk of making something terribly ugly, but I went for it, and ended up with something completely mine, and made out of something I loved enough to hang onto for many years, and if I say so myself, I think they turned out pretty cute!

Now for the stew!

Something else I created in "fresh brain" and had no idea how it would turn out - incidentally it's amazing!  So here's what I did:

2 lbs. Stew beef
4 parsnips
2 turnips
4 carrots
2 celery stalks
3 potatoes
1 large yellow onion
14 oz corn
14 oz black beans
14 oz pinto beans
4 cups of water
4-ish tablespoons of olive oil split up
1 pint of beer
2-3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Salt and Pepper to taste
heavy pinch of Basil, and Oregano each
4 good shakes of Cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of Cumin

Pull out your slow cooker, and get your peeled, and chopped parsnips, turnips, and potatoes in there with 2 Tbs olive oil, and your garlic, and crank it to "high" while your stew meat is browning over medium heat - now here I used a few more drizzles of olive oil because I cut the fat off my stew meat (I don't care what it does to the broth I really can't bite down on squishy fat in my stew).  I also salt and pepper my meat while it's cooking to bring out the flavor.

Grab your carrots, celery, and onion and chop into nice little bite size bits you don't want to have to unhinge your jaw just to get a good bite!  Toss into slow cooker, and add all 4 cups of water.

Time for beans!  The awesome thing about slow cookers is that you can use canned beans or dried beans whichever you prefer, just get 'em all rinsed and in the pot - in a couple of hours it's all the same anyway!

Add beef, butter (again because I cut the fat off and still want that savory yum-factor), Worcestershire sauce, and beer of your choice, and all of your spices - get out your trusty wooden spoon, give it a swirl, plunk the lid down, and go relax (Add your corn to the pot about 30 minutes before eating, mushy corn is such a downer)!  Your stew will be ready in a couple of hours when your root veggies have turned from crisp white-ish colors to a soft translucent.

If you have a favorite dinner roll or biscuit, have a batch baking at the same time, it smells amazing, and who doesn't love having something to dunk in excellent broth?!  Once it's all finished, grab your biscuit, stew, and sink into a big comfy chair with a glass of something delicious (my "delicious" was red, and plentiful!) perfect for a frosty winter day, in my opinion!