Monday, December 24, 2012

(Yet Another) Hearty & Healthy Winter Stew: Chicken Meatball meets Tuscan Kale

I have a feeling I'll be making a lot of soup this season.

I don't think I touch soup half the year, but when the weather turns cold, there's nothing so comforting as a steaming, fragrant bowl of it for lunch or dinner.

(By the way, if anyone could explain the difference between soup and stew to me, please do!)

Anyway, another joy of soups and stews is that it's so easy to make them healthy without taking out any of the things that make them filling and satisfying...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

After the Solstice...

Get cozy folks, it's getting cold.

So, first my apologies for neglecting this blog for the last few weeks, but I've been preoccupied with this and that, and then when I was finally ready to write again, last week's tragedy in Connecticut hit and I just had no heart to write about recipes, decorating, or the trivia of parenting.

We actually were on vacation last weekend, and in a way that saved us from hearing the brunt  of the news reports, and I was spared from seeing the terrible events unfold on television.  We have this unspoken rule in our family that while on vacation that we try not to be on the internet or email, not to talk work or watch the news, but rather to be in the moment, isolated in our happiness.  We didn't find out about the shooting until later, and by then, discussions had already switched to coping, rather than coverage.

Anyway, nothing can be said that makes any of what happened ok.  My thoughts are with those people who are suffering.

Meanwhile, winter is unfolding itself here in Brooklyn.  The temperature is dropping, and my focus is switching to indoor-focused activities.  Last year we were very lucky that the winter was so warm, and we were able to be outside quite a bit.  Plus, the Little One was still napping in the stroller, so there was little time for indoor hobbies.  I have a feeling that that won't be the case this year.  So welcome back readers, get ready for toddler craft projects, winter recipes, and other random musings.

Grab a blanket and stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: Folding Chairs

Clockwise, starting from top left: vintage folding chair from MsMichiganRoux on Etsy; spindle back folding chair from Target; folding chair from World MarketBollo folding chair from IKEA.

I recently read an article on Apartment Therapy on how to entertain in a small space.  There were notes on decor (mix and match), style (relaxed) and attitude (be flexible).  But one thing the article didn't mention is something you can't avoid: eventually, people are going to want to sit down.

Now, unless you have the kind of crowd that likes to picnic on the floor, you're going to have to find a way to provide enough chairs for everyone.  Personally, our apartment consists of four chairs around a table, and a couch that seats three if necessary.  Not quite enough for your typical dinner party.

Enter the fabulous folding chair.

I always thought that folding chairs were limited to those ugly metal things you see in offices and school auditoriums.  Luckily they've evolved.  There are traditional, rustic or mid-century modern folding chairs to suit everyone's taste.  If you search hard enough, you can find a chair that suits your home's style and budget.  And, since they fold, you can stick a couple at the back of your closet (or, if you're lucky enough, in your basement storage area) and you won't be crowded day to day by an overabundance of chairs.

So relax, quit worrying, and let the dining begin!

What's your holiday entertaining look like?  Any tricks for having people over in your small space?  Let me know how you do it!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tomatoes + Parsley = Quickest Pasta Recipe Ever (p.s. your toddler will eat this!)

I don't think you can possibly find a quicker pasta recipe than the one I am about to lay before you.  Aside from opening up a jar of something, this has got to be it.  And, it's much more satisfying not to mention delicious.

It's a great way to use those beautiful tomatoes that are spilling off the stands at the farmers markets these days.  If the heirloom varieties weren't $4/lb at my local farmers market, I would totally have used them.  Instead, I got the cheaper plum tomatoes (a mere $1.50/lb).  They didn't disappoint.  The tomato flavor really sings in this dish, and you can appreciate the fresh taste since the tomatoes stay raw.

The secret, I think, is that by tossing the warm pasta with the sauce, the pasta drinks in all the flavors and what you end up with is something savory yet refreshing.

So here it is.  Make it while the pasta cooks.

Quickest Pasta Recipe Ever

Ok, so it's a little more than just tomatoes + parsley, but it takes minutes to make!  If you make this in the summer, use as much fresh basil as suits your taste.  Since we're well into fall here, I chose dried basil.  Adding fresh parsley, which I keep in a pot on a sunny windowsill, brightens up the dish and kind of fools you into thinking the basil is fresh too!

3-4 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp dried basil (or 1/4 c fresh chopped basil)
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
1/8 c olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 lb whole wheat penne

Start boiling the water for the pasta.

Chop tomatoes and parsley, toss in the bowl with the olive oil.  Take dried basil and, rubbing it between your palms to freshen the herb, add it to the tomatoes.  Mince the garlic, and add it to the tomatoes, along with the salt (optional: I like to mince the garlic with the kosher salt, it kind of mashes the garlic down even further, which is nice since you won't be cooking this sauce).  Toss well.

While you're making the sauce, add the pasta to salted boiling water and cook according to package directions.  While the water is boiling/pasta is cooking, your sauce will have a chance to set.  Drain cooked pasta and immediately toss with the sauce. If you like, top with shavings of parmesan or pecorino romano.  Enjoy!

Like this recipe? Let me know!  Have a quicker pasta idea?  Share it!

UPDATE: Toddler Alert!  My super picky eater / toddler extraordinaire ate this all up!  So for all of you out there trying to shove food into your toddlers or other picky eaters at your dinner table, try this!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bread (Crust!) Pudding Fit for a Toddler

You may not know me very well.  If you're reading this you may not know that I have the world's pickiest toddler, that she doesn't like to eat many things that normal toddlers adore, and that every day is a constant struggle to pack nutrition into her little body.

You may not know that about me.  But you may have a similar situation at home.  For instance, I've heard that my Little One's aversion to crusts on her sandwiches is not terribly unique.  Every morning when I make her breakfast (cream cheese sandwiches, it's pretty much the only thing I can get her to consistently eat) I diligently shave off all the awful crusts and... well, to be honest, at first I was throwing them out.  I know.  Terrible waste.  So, I decided to start collecting them in a bag in the freezer, and figured I'd find out what to do with them later.

I Googled like crazy: bread crust recipes...  toddler crust recipes...  what to do with leftover bread crusts...

Anyway, bread (crust) pudding was my favorite find.  A few people suggested it, and one person had a healthy twist on it that I decided to try.

It was good, but a little liquidy and sweet and didn't hold together like I envisioned a bread pudding would.  And, although my picky toddler did try it (hooray!) she did not eat it a second time.

So I tried again.  I used some ideas from the healthy recipe, cracked open the good ol' Joy of Cooking for a little more info and voila!  Pure toddler comfort food.

Bread (Crust!) Pudding Fit for a Toddler

As I shot the photos for this post, my little picky eater made a b-line for the plate of pudding and actually asked for some, even though she just ate a big breakfast!  Try this, trust me, you'll be happy you did.

4 cups lightly packed whole wheat bread crusts, diced into 1/2 inch pieces (or thereabouts)
2 cups whole milk
3 eggs
1/8 c agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 apple, peeled and grated
1/2 c raisins

Whisk eggs, agave, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together.  Add milk and whisk well.  In a 2 qt buttered/oiled baking dish, layer as follows: 1/3 of the bread crusts, 1/2 of the apples, 1/2 of the raisins, 1/3 of the egg mix.  Repeat.  End with last third of bread crusts, topped with last third of egg mix.

Let sit for 30 min (very important!!!), occasionally pressing down with a spatula to ensure the liquid gets absorbed.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Bake in water bath* (also very important) about 1 1/4 hr, until browned, puffed a bit, and firm in the center.

*Don't be scared, it's easy! Joy of Cooking says to lie a dish towel, or rack, inside a roasting pan, and place the baking dish on top.  When the whole contraption is in the oven, pour enough hot water in the roasting pan to reach up half way on the baking dish.  Apparently doing this prevents your pudding from getting grainy.  Works for me.

Let me know if your little ones eat it!

Friday, November 2, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: Decorative Knobs and Pulls*

It's funny how the smallest things can make you ridiculously happy.

When we moved in to our apartment a couple years ago, we redid a few things before settling in: the walls, ceilings and (black!) baseboards were all painted over, extra storage cubbies were built over each closet (more on that another time) and the old and decrepit closet doors were replaced.  When we replaced the closet doors, we got these plain cheapo knobs at the hardware store and just stuck them on... nothing decorative or remarkable, but serviceable.

They've been bothering me for two years.


So I replaced them.  And now I'm happy.

You don't have to have a big budget to get major impact in a room.  Something small like swapping out door knobs (or drawer pulls, or kitchen cabinet knobs) can really make a lot of difference, bringing color and texture and character to a room.

Since you're working on a small scale (how many knobs could you possibly need?) you can really go all out on this purchase (I'll admit, I went to Anthropologie for these*).  You can also find more thrifty deals by raiding flea markets for something unique and fun.  Even big box hardware stores have a decent collection of knobs and handles to choose from.  In any case, you don't need to settle on the bland and boring.

Have another small scale decorating idea that makes a big impression?  Share it, please!

*A Note on (Big) Small Finds: A reader recently asked me whether I get paid for sharing my finds, and the answer, for the time being, is no.  The (Big) Small Finds are simply things I come across in my daily life that I think are useful/noteworthy/wonderful.  If I should ever be so lucky that this fact changes, I will of course let everyone know with a clear disclaimer... here's hoping!  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Holiday after the Storm: Regrouping after Sandy

We left the house today, the first time since Sunday.  I hadn't realized how cooped up I felt until we stepped out, stroller draped in a plastic rain guard, umbrella in hand, and breathed that first gulp of fresh air.

A Tuesday morning rainbow in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn (Submitted by Christopher)
Photo from NY1 News, viewer photo of post-Sandy rainbow in Windsor Terrace
It's like a holiday outside.  I know this sounds awful in light of the fact that so many have been traumatized by Sandy.  The death toll in the tri-state area is rising by the hour, and countless people are without power.  Even in our neighborhood, trees have been downed and the wreckage is clear.  Though I have to say, the most powerful image for me of this storm has been this surreal picture of the partial collapse of a building in Chelsea.  The thing looks like a dollhouse.  Can you imagine being inside when the walls fell down?

But here in Brooklyn, rather, in Zone B and C Brooklyn (those of us who Sandy didn't kick out of house and home) people are out in droves, crowding every coffee shop, bar and restaurant that had the good sense/luck to be open today.  I was so surprised to see so many people out and about, although I guess I shouldn't have been.  Public transit is shutdown, so many people are "working" from home, or have taken forced personal days.  After being cooped up in a small apartment for so long, terrified of what Hurricane Sandy was going to do to you, with nary a window open, it's a relief to finally be out and about, celebrating the survival of you and your possessions.  Mr. Minimalist and I were grateful for the fresh air, and the Little One was happy enough to see something besides her two stir-crazy parents walking around.

Our thoughts do go out to those who are suffering.  Wishing everyone a speedy recovery from this terrible storm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: Shallow Shoe Cabinets

In small spaces, you are often crammed in from every angle.  Your rooms might be small squares, long bowling alleys, or odd shapes with strange nooks you wish you knew how to utilize.

Enter the shallow shoe cabinets selling (most likely like hotcakes) at IKEA.
Hemnes shoe cabinet from IKEA; photo from IKEA
They come in a few different styles and sizes (frankly I'm surprised they don't make even more) so you can suit your decor, somewhat, and pick one that's right for your space.  (Personally, I'm partial to the traditional styled Hemnes collection).

At under a foot in depth, these cabinets are genius.  You can slip them in your hallway, or entryway (if you're lucky enough to have one) and not worry about taking up precious floor space   And you can use them in those odd niches in your home, or in that really narrow bedroom with the minuscule closet.

You can probably even branch out from shoe storage and get creative.  I'm thinking the bottom "drawers" might be a nice place for kids' winter paraphernalia  or maybe even toys.  The drawers tilt open easily, so little ones can help themselves.

Anyway, the options are endless.  Some of the styles might even work for small kitchens and bathrooms. 

What would you store in there?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere...

But not for us, not yet.  We always procrastinate on the pumpkin buying, I don't know why.  Most years past we wait for our annual trip upstate to go apple picking.  The orchard we go to is on a small farm, and they have a pretty sizable pumpkin patch from which you can choose your favorite jack-o-lantern.

But the weekends have ticked by, and we haven't gone, and we are booked through the rest of the season, and don't have any weekends left.

With a baby, it's not so easy to make the 2 hour trip up north.  Although we've been going to the same place almost every year since Mr. Minimalist and I met, I'm not positive we'll make it this year.  The little one is just too mobile and aware of everything, and it might be too much of a drive.  I will miss the huge bag of apples and all the yummy baking that comes out of it if we don't go.  I'll also miss seeing that huge pumpkin display, drinking the hot apple cider and nibbling on freshly baked cider doughnuts.

Maybe we'll all play hooky and go during the week.

Friday, October 5, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: Kitchen Island Carts

You're standing in the kitchen, one mixing bowl tucked under your left arm, another one hanging out of your right hand, and you have NO WHERE TO PUT IT.  You scan your counters: bags of flour and sugar, spice jars and measuring cups cover every surface.

How often has this happened to you?  It happens to me on a regular basis, most recently while baking a plum cake as I describe below.

So, when you're working in a small kitchen and you feel that the counters are closing in on you, behold your saving grace: the portable kitchen island cart.

This is not a hard item to find-- you can find low and high cost versions of it at most big box stores.  Ikea has a nice budget friendly version:

Stenstorp Kitchen Cart; photo from

And Crate and Barrel has one for more than twice the price, although it's a bit larger and has the advantage of closed storage.

Belmont White Kitchen Cabinet; photo from

You can wheel these carts around the kitchen as you need them.  If you have one of those odd galley kitchen like I had in my old studio, you can "expand" your kitchen into the adjoining hallway/entrance hall/living room.  It's a place to rest an appliance, cut up your veges, or put down an extra mixing bowl.

Another advantage to these carts?  This is one kitchen upgrade you can take with you when you move, so it's great for renters and other folks who are planning their next move.  

Now, since I'm convinced my problem is organization and not space (I did, after all, recently upgrade from one kitchen counter to two when we moved out of the studio and into this apartment) I'm not going to cave quite yet.  But you may want to. 

What tricks have you developed to expand your kitchen?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pretty Plum Cake (and dairy-free!)

Today I baked.

I love baking-- I think I could probably drop 20 pounds, easy, if I could just bake more cakes.  I know this sounds crazy, but the joy I get from creating new delicious treats is so satisfying that my normal sweet cravings are kept in check while I feed others.

Baking in a small kitchen is an exercise in organization and planning ahead.  I'm not great at that.  My eyes roll when I see the prep list of a recipe-- combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl... mix the wet in a medium bowl... in a large bowl take the remaining liquid....

Where to put everything when your counter space is limited?  I usually have bags of flour perched on top of the stack of cookbooks, spice bottles tucked in the valleys between the mixing bowls, and measuring cups and spoons just tossed in random crevices.  It's a bit of a balancing act, but it works.

Anyway, so today I baked.

We were invited to a friend's place for a barbecue and it was just a total pleasure being there.  It was a sort of house warming, and the home was warm indeed.  Nice conversation, mostly happy children playing, and of course, great food.  In honor of a visit outside of the house, I felt inspired to bake one of the recipes I've been saving in a notebook for years.  It's a plum upside-down cake, and it's wonderful.

Pretty Plum Cake (Dairy-free) (adapted from Real Simple)

This is such a pretty cake, the photos don't do it justice.  And it's so good.  I made this cake dairy-free, but the original calls for butter and regular sour cream.  I bet the cake would also taste great with yogurt instead of sour cream-- give it a different kind of zing.  Next time.

Prep time: 20 min
Total time: 2 hrs 20 min

1/2 cup + 1 tbsp margarine
6 plums (2.5" diameter) peel on, cut into 8 wedges each
1/4 cup + 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
2/3 cup tofu sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest (about half a lemon's worth)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 dashes cloves

Prep.  Heat oven to 350 F.  Grease (with margarine or butter) an 8 inch cake pan (make sure it's deep, at least 4 inches).  Line the bottom with parchment paper.

Plums.  Melt 1 tbsp margarine in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add plums and 1/4 c sugar and a dash of cloves.  Cook, stirring around, until sugar dissolves and juices from plums become syrupy, about 4 min.  While warm, arrange plums in cake pan, in slightly overlapping concentric circles, starting from the outside.  Spoon pan juices over the plums.

Dry ingredients.  In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and remaining spices.

Wet ingredients.  In a large bowl, beat 1/2 c margarine, 2/3 c sugar until fluffy.  Beat in egg, sour cream, vanilla, lemon zest.   Slowly add dry ingredients, mix just until incorporated.

Bake.  Pour batter over plums and bake until toothpick in center comes out clean, about 55 min.  Let cool in pan 1 hr. Place large plate over cake pan and invert cake onto plate.

Marvel at the pretty thing you made, then eat it.

Do you bake in a small kitchen? Do you think your small space hampers your love of cooking? 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Save those Summer Herbs?

We got a late start on summer gardening this year.  Our backyard was an overgrown wasteland when the weather started warming up, and it took us quite a while to get it in shape.  It's a small yard, but we've managed to make the most of it.  There is grass to play on, patio to eat on, and a boxed herb garden that makes me happy every time I look at it.

Now that the summer is winding down (or, as the temperature is telling me, has wound down already) I am trying to figure out what to do with my overabundant supply of herbs.

To dry or freeze?
I think it really depends on the herb.  Rosemary and lavender, the more woody plants, do well with drying.  They keep their scent, and a lot of the essential oils are still there when the moisture is gone.  Thought not a woody plant, the dill will probably be dried as well... even though it tastes so different dried then fresh and the thought kind of bums me out.

For the rest? Freeze, definitely.  I think.  I'm still researching.  Parsley and cilantro will freeze well in ice cube trays and water.  As for basil, I'm not so sure... I read here, on Apartment Therapy, about a way to freeze the herb in olive oil, which sounds good in theory.  I'll have to experiment.

I have zero clue what to do with the profusion of lemon verbena.  I hope it freezes well.

How do you preserve your summer herbs?  Suggestions welcome!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: The Mason Jar Shelf

Photos from Etsy shops-- from top left moving clockwise: (1) Twigs2Whirligigs; (2) LuckyMargo; (3) OldAndNewShoppe; and (4) Woodandmorestore.

As summer starts to wind down, I'm even more obsessed with bringing some of those beautiful summer blooms indoors.  I stick blossoms in everything from empty salt shakers to sweet bud vases and tuck them on the bathroom vanity, my nightstand and even on the mantle.  And almost always there is some sort of happy arrangement in a vase on our kitchen/dining table.

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered these adorable vase-shelves?  Etsy has a whole assortment of them, using mason jars to charming effect, and it's only a matter of time before I choose my favorite and break down.

I've been trolling around Etsy for years now.  I call it crack for the virtual shopper.  It's amazing what Etsy has done to revitalize cottage industry crafts.  You can find anything there.  If you have some free time (and have already read all my blog posts of course!) you should really check it out.

The genius of these shelves is that they really maximize the use of your wall space-- which even we apartment dwellers have in some measure of abundance.  You can hang a scarf, store your keys, keep a book and display some flowers all at the same time... without taking up one square foot of your apartment!  Brilliant!

Do you have a (big) small find that you think small space dwellers would love to have?  Comment below and let me know!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Grapes for Autumn + Falling for Hugs

It's hard to believe it's September, that Labor Day has now come and gone.  Autumn will be creeping in soon.  The temperature will be dropping, the leaves will be changing, and the days will be smaller, shorter.  Everything seems to get smaller in the fall.  After the haziness of summer, when the sky is bright blue and endless and the oppressive humidity makes everything blurry, fall brings with it a clean crisp wind that clears the air and brings everything into focus.  I think it also has something to do with the angle of the light, the way the sun highlights the trees and the sides of buildings, always golden and poignant.

Fall is full of poignant moments.  Maybe it's that the days are getting shorter, and subconsciously we want to make every moment significant.  For me, the moments are often small: noticing a wall of morning glory covering what once was an ugly chain link fence; listening as the sounds of piano playing waft through the air shaft.  The most beautiful moment to date, however, was last night, just after I gave my daughter her good night bottle, put her over my shoulder to burp her, and received the sweetest hug, her head tucked into the crook of my neck and her arms thrown around me.

It's going to be fall soon.  I love the moments that season will bring. 

One thing that heralds the beginning of autumn-- grapes.  I'm not talking about the jumbo seedless red ones I buy year round in the supermarket, but the small, tender green and black grapes that I find now in the farmer's markets.  They're twice the price as the supermarket variety, so I can't justify buying any, and I had to satisfy myself with taking pictures... and tasting one.

So good.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: The Storage Ottoman

One trick to living comfortably in a small space is furnishing it correctly.  Everything we bring into this apartment has to (a) have great storage capacity and (b) not be so big/clunky/heavy looking that it makes our small space look smaller.  So, for all of you who are living in small spaces like we are, I thought that it would be nice to do a semi-regular spotlight on furniture and other related pieces that would fit well in a small room, apartment or even house. 

Today, I'd like to share the piece I've been lusting after my whole New York life.  It's this leather storage ottoman from Crate & Barrel.  

(photos from

I won't buy it because I just can't see spending that much on what is essentially a souped-up storage bin, but I absolutely love it and am searching for a cheaper and child friendly version of it.  It's leather, and I really don't need leather here in the land of sticky hands.  But it's oh so adorable, comes in a bunch of colors, and would seemingly hold a whole bunch of toys.  Plus, since it's on the smaller side, you can line up two of them so Mr. Minimalist and I could both put our feet up while zoning out to whatever garbage TV we're watching that evening.  And when we have people over, we could separate them and use them for extra seating.  It's just genius.  Now I will have to find it way cheaper without sacrificing the cuteness factor.  Will keep you posted.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Carmelized Fennel with Sausages

I have a strange relationship with fennel.  Although I'm not a big fan of the licorice/anise flavor, Mr. Minimalist is.  So, for his sake, since he puts up with so many of my food experiments and eats all the "girly" food I often put out, I decided to take up with fennel and see what I could do with it.  In years past, I have used it with success in only one dish (a fish dish by Martha Stewart, of course).  A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I would be trying out a fennel and sardine pasta dish.  It did not go so well.  It was fishy and murky and not yummy at all.  But this week, I tried another fennel recipe and with great success!

This dish is based on a recipe by Lidia Bastianich (of "Lidia's Italy" fame).  I varied it a bit to suit the ingredients I had at hand and it turned out great.  My version involves a little short cut of buying the sausage precooked, so the order of operations was a little different from Lidia's dish.  Plus, by using quinoa as the underlying "grain" (really it's a seed... how cool is that?) I upped the protein/nutrition power of this dish.  Mr. Minimalist loved the dish, as did I, and it's quite healthy and guilt free. 

Carmelized Fennel with Sausage, over Herbed Quinoa

This recipe makes a nice filling but light dinner for four.  If you are super-size me kind of eaters, you might want to double the recipe, that way you'll have more than enough for dinner and leftovers.

A trick I read somewhere to make cooking less stressful is to prepare everything ahead of time. So, before you turn on the saute pan, do the following: peel and crush the garlic, pit and crush the olives (I did these two steps using a meat mallet... very satisfying!), and chop the fennel. The best way is to remove the stalk and the hard base, then cut it in half and cut out the core. Then slice each half again, and slice into 1 inch pieces. In my case, I also used frozen cooked sausages, so I defrosted them in the microwave while I chopped, then sliced them on the diagonal.

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup olives, pitted and smashed (I used a mix of Sicilian and Kalamata)
1 large fennel bulb, chopped (reserve the fronds)
1/2 cup apple juice
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
5-6 precooked sausages, about 12 oz, sliced (I used Bilinski's Spinach and Garlic Chicken Sausage)
1 cup quinoa, dry
2 cup water
2 tbsp chopped fennel fronds
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
kosher salt to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp)

Start the quinoa.  Rinse it well in a fine sieve under cold water for at least 20 seconds to remove the bitterness.  Combine the rinsed quinoa and the water in a pot with a tight lid and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat, keep the lid on, and simmer the quinoa for 15-20 minutes until tender and translucent.  Toss the cooked quinoa with a tsp of olive oil and the fennel fronds and dill (reserving some for garnish).

Once the quinoa is cooking you can start on the rest.  Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saute or frying pan.  Saute the garlic for a minute over medium heat until it starts to brown.  Add the crushed pitted olives.  Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the chopped fennel.  Sprinkle with salt, cover, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Towards the end, add 1/4 cup of apple juice and the apple cider vinegar.  The fennel should be caramelizing, so you should see it change color a bit and soften a great deal.  If the fennel is still hard after 20 minutes, add the remaining apple juice and cook until soft.

Add the chopped sausage and continue to cook over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 3-5 minutes more, until the flavors have melded and the sausages are glazed.  Serve over the quinoa and garnish with fennel fronds and dill.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Cure for Big House Envy

We were at my parents' place again last weekend.  As I've mentioned before, they're trying to downsize, and plan on moving to a smaller place sometime soon.  Meanwhile, they're cleaning house, and even doing some updates to make the place more marketable. 

Now, I grew up in this house, and until I went to college and started my life as an apartment-dweller, I was very used to having space.  It's been some umpteen years since I've lived in a house, and I have to say, there are times I really miss having that room.  I miss it even more when Mr. Minimalist and I watch House Hunters on Saturday mornings when the little one is napping.  I see these people in random cities complaining that the walk-in closet is too small, or their California King bed won't fit in the enormous master suite, or that there's no place to put the pool table they just can't live without.  I want to (and often do) shout at the screen-- get over it!  These houses are HUGE!  Come to New York and see how you can fit an entire nursery in that "too small" closet! 

But, then I take a deep breath and realize that, at least for now, I like living in a smaller space.  I don't mind not having all that room because the things we surround ourselves here are very dear, carefully curated and lovingly placed.  To be honest, I might be scared to suddenly upgrade to a 4 bedroom house.  I don't think I could handle that much furniture shopping!

Hip Hip Hooray!  Three Reasons to Cheer for Small Spaces

Here are some of the things I realized are wonderful about small space living.  Be my guest and add to the list-- let's be our own small space cheerleaders!

  • Small space, big budget.   When Mr. Minimalist and I were redoing our one and only bathroom, we were able to find really beautiful things to put in it.  When you're only covering a small area, you can use more expensive materials without breaking the bank.  We still had to bargain hunt, but if we had had, let's say, 48 inches of counter top to fill, we would never be able to afford things like granite or marble. 
  • Small space, less stress.   I read somewhere that the average American spends 55 minutes a day looking for lost objects. Well, I bet you anything that the most pitiful of these folk are those that live in big houses. Living in a small home forces you to get organized.   This means not having that constant stress that nothing is at hand. Do you know what it's like trying to pack up a one year old and get her into a car while your husband searches room after room of your parents' house looking for his rimless (and therefore almost invisible) glasses?  This would never have happened in Brooklyn.  Assuming you're growing into your space and not out of it, after a few months of small space living you will have found a place for everything, and not waste precious time looking for often lost items like remotes, phone chargers and rimless glasses.
  • Small space, tight family. Although I grew up in a house, my favorite memories of that house occupied less than 100 square feet of it.  I was happiest when we all cuddled under blankets to watch a movie, or plopped onto the sofas around the coffee table, my sister drawing, my father reading, and my mother and I chit chatting about the day.  For me, one room living brought us closer together as a family.  And one room living you can do pretty much anywhere.

What advantages have you found to living in a small space?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lemon Verbena Summer Tea

I have been in love with lemon verbena since childhood.  You may remember me waxing poetic about my aunt and uncle's garden here.  In addition to a proliferation of citrus fruit, they always had a small bush of lemon verbena growing in the front yard.  My aunt referred to it by part of it's Latin name, Aloysia. As a child, I was sure she was calling it "Louisa." I didn't realize until embarrassingly later in life that this wondrous plant was in fact called lemon verbena, and not named after one of the Von Trapp daughters.

Some years the plant grew waist high, some years-- drier years-- it was scraggly and low, but there were always a few leaves for picking and steeping in tea.  Lemon verbena, in the proper climates, is a shrub.  The leaves are so fragrant that you can smell the lemony sweetness even by brushing past them as you walk. In tea, it gives a really smooth and subtle lemon flavor, with none of the sourness or acidity of actual lemons. It's warm and wonderful.

Now, since the garden is finally ready for planting (more on that later) I went out and got myself my very own Louisa plant.  I live in a much colder climate than lemon verbena should really have to thrive, but I'm hoping for the best.  Wish me luck.

Lemon Verbena Summer Tea

You can make lemon verbena tea on its own, or add it to hot or iced green or black tea for something a little more complex. It's very versatile.  Today, I made this tea hot.  You can follow the same directions, increasing the portion size, and with a little patience have a pitcher full of delicious iced tea.

6 oz boiling water
5 leaves lemon verbena
1 tsp honey

For one mug of tea, pick at about five good sized leaves.  Pour six ounces boiling water over the leaves and let steep about five minutes.  Add a scant teaspoon of honey.  Sip and enjoy.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Midsummer's Day's Musing

We went to the park today.  Today was one of the rare days when it was actually hotter in the park than outside.  Normally the park is a haven from the heat-- it's shady, breezy, and isolated from the heat that collects on the city streets.  Normally, we lay out, spread a blanket on the grass, and stare up at the blue blue sky while the little one watches all the bigger kids play ball on the field.  Normally our view is something like this:

But today it was muggy, buggy and overall just an unpleasant place to be.  I dragged my poor family to the park, however, because it was the farmer's market today, and we made a new resolution (call it a midsummer's resolution) to buy three different vegetables every week so that we could incorporate more fresh produce into our diets.  Last week it was beets.  Big mistake.  Beets, I believe, are not one of those vegetables that must be purchased fresh to enjoy.  To make most recipes, you have to roast or boil them, and to be honest, it was so labor intensive I lost all appreciation for the vegetable.  Maybe I just don't have the beet gene. 

But I digress. 

Anyway, this new resolution of ours has been working out well.  We got fennel and kale (we still have beets left over from last week, so we only got two more this week).  I found a recipe for fennel and sardine pasta sauce that I'll try out later and let you know about.  Kale is always good, and we throw it in everywhere. 

So today was productive, but hot.  No laying out for us today.  But we'll have vegetables for the week.  Recipes to come.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Which came first, the pack rat or the clutter? Three ways to clear clutter.

My parents are downsizing.  I spent the other weekend in a flurry of dust, with a kerchief tied around my face like a cowboy, sifting through college essays and grade school science projects, trying to make their house presentable for the upcoming open house.  It was exhausting.  And, in between sneezing fits, I kept yelling at myself for keeping all this useless stuff.

Do people gather clutter to grow into the spaces where they live or do people find places to live that will fit all the stuff they want?   It's a chicken and the egg kind of question.  My husband grew up in a city apartment, and-- consequently?-- he is a bit of a minimalist.  He's teaching me how to throw things out. 

Unfortunately, I did not know my husband back in the summer following my senior year of college when I carefully placed my history course pack and a stack of essays on WWII on a bookshelf in my parents' house because someday-- and this is the motto of all pack rats I believe-- I might need it.  And I did not know him back in 10th grade when I devoted an entire desk drawer to poetry drafts because someday I might want to finish them.

Now, in no small part thanks to my husband, I am less of a pack rat.  Mr. Minimalist lives by the rule that if at that moment in time it doesn't fit, make you feel good or help you out, then you need to just throw it out.  Integrating that into my psyche has really helped, and I find it easier to part with things now.  And it's so great knowing that everything I need is around me, accessible, and everything I don't need has been dumped, donated or re-purposed.

I find I have more room to breathe in my little apartment than I ever did in my parents' house.  And somehow, I don't think it's just the dust.

Getting Rid of the Clutter

Here are three reoccurring themes that come up in my reading on clutter clearing.  They say that knowing is half the battle... so hopefully coming to terms with how these themes affect your life will help you win your own battle with clutter.  


Should I keep this?
If you keep that collection of hotel shampoos, you'll never need to buy a bottle again.

Just throw it out.
By the time you get to using the whole collection, it'll have gone rancid, or you'll hate the smell, or you'll have forgotten where your "handy" spare bottles are.  Just chuck it and buy the shampoo you want when you need it.


Should I keep this? If you throw away your child's collection of tutus, you'll be throwing away memories of  their childhood.

Just throw it out. Will you really forget the first time you ever saw your child dancing on stage?  Keeping those tutus won't make you a new parent all over again, but seeing a little girl on her way to a recital will make you smile and think of days gone by... and the vision doesn't take up room in your closet.  (And if it's that sentimental, just keep one and store it neatly!)


Should I keep this?
That mess in the [junk drawer/closet/basement/office] will take too long to go through.

Just throw it out. 
If you think it takes too long to clear out your target messy space, just picture what life will be like after 30 years of telling yourself you just don't have the time to deal.  Spend less time thinking, and more time throwing, and you'll be amazed at how fast it can go.

What do you think of all this?  Stay tuned for future posts on clearing clutter.  Living in a small space, this is a big battle for me!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Greek Yogurt + Dill = Happiness

It's amazing what I've learned to do in five minutes.  I can load the dishwasher (or, since it's been broken for a week, I can hand wash a sink full of dishes), sort and start a load of laundry, or catch up on email.  Today, I realized, I could also make a super yummy dip that is actually pretty healthy too. 

I found a recipe for dill dip years ago, and the first time I made it I accidentally screwed up the proportions and it turned out wonderful!  It's a great way to use fresh dill which you can find all over the place right now.  The walnuts really add something I think.  The best thing about this recipe?  You can make it in five minutes.  Maybe less if you move fast.  I made it this morning while my daughter played with her toys.  If you've had a one year old, you know that five minutes is sometimes all you have.

Five-Minute Summer Dill Dip (adapted from Real Simple)

It really makes a difference what kind of yogurt you use for this recipe.  We go through vats of greek yogurt in this house, so it's always around.  If you don't keep it in stock, then you can probably pick up a single container just for this recipe (I like Chobani's 0% greek yogurt, a 6 or 8 oz container should be fine).  According to this recipe calculator 1/8 of this recipe (which would make up a hefty snack) has only 3.3 grams of fat and more protein than carbs.  Pretty good I'd say.

1 cup fat-free greek yogurt
1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Chop. Mince. Mix. Eat.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

But no oranges...

My aunt's house has orange trees in the backyard.  I remember that first season that they yielded fruit, and we all grabbed ladders and picked fresh oranges for breakfast.  I remember my little cousin scrambling up there in his cartoon briefs and t-shirt and me and the others all standing on the grass squinting up at him, collecting the nubby fruit in large baskets and lugging them into my aunt's kitchen.  I don't remember if the oranges were particularly sweet or not, but I was about 16 and it was the first time I had ever picked my own breakfast.  It made quite the impression.

To me, my aunt and uncle had the ultimate luxury-- a sprawling house in a quiet neighborhood with a prolific garden.  I dreamed, when I was younger, of having a place like that.  It is somewhat funny, then, that I live in a tiny apartment in a noisy borough of New York City and my garden is at the moment an overgrown postage-stamp-sized jungle.

The roadside grove near my aunt's house... as if the yard wasn't enough.

But, despite my lack of citrus trees, I am pretty happy with my lot.  I remember when we first saw the apartment (which incidentally I was not terribly crazy about, being on the ground floor it is not exactly flooded with light) it took only one look at the yard for me to decide instantly that I had to live here.  Land in this city is quite hard to come by, and the thought of having stewardship of even a few square feet thrilled me and threw me into a haze of daydreams.  I imagined a vegetable patch, flowers climbing up the fence, an herb garden in pots leading up the backdoor.  I imagined barbecues with friends and mornings spent with coffee just listening to the birds start their days.

None of this has happened yet.  It will soon I hope.  We are working towards the daydream.  There's no room for an orange tree, but where there's dirt there must be plants (the weeds sure seem to think so).  We're looking for inspiration. 

What is the one thing you would plant in a small space?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

At first...

Remember summer vacation?  That feeling of delicious freedom when your time was once again your own, and all the books you wanted to read and the lakes you've been dying to swim in are suddenly yours to explore.  The summer is stretched out in front of you and life feels full of possibilities.

That's how I feel right now.  I often feel this way at the start of a creative project.  And this place, this virtual, interactive journal is a project I'm excited about.  It's a creative time in my life-- I'm no longer in the corporate world (hallelujah!), I've started writing and cooking again, and I have a new little daughter who is teaching me to see our little bit of Brooklyn in a new light.

We're almost settled here.  The yard is almost ready, the apartment is almost baby-proofed, and now I'm back to creatively finding ways to live in relatively tight quarters.  That's something I'll be talking about a lot here.  I am, admittedly, a clutterholic and a sentimentalist-- I need my stuff.  But, as my fabulously understanding minimalist husband (let's just call him Mr. Minimalist) encourages me, it's all about editing.

I wouldn't trade our cozy apartment for a three story house.  It's home.  It's where we brought home our daughter.  It has exposed brick, and a working fireplace, and actual greenery outside our windows.  It even has a bit of earth outside that we're making into our own little Eden.  It's exciting, making this place a home, discovering the joy of small spaces and small moments.

Thank you, dear whoever you are, for spending a few minutes with me.  Leave me your thoughts.