Fine Dining

I was going to pour myself a cup of coffee in a regular mug this morning, but decided to make it a treat — by using one of my nicest teacups and saucers. It feels like I’m having an elegant mini-vacation when I drink from so civilized a vessel. I can even crook my pinkie if I like.
I was feeling as if I needed a little boost because I’m doing the June Food Stamp Challenge, and I didn’t want to waste money on cream for my coffee. I had some left from a previous week, but it’s not in the JFSC budget. Even though this budget is not “real,” because I can go back to my own budget whenever I want, I know that someone on food stamps doesn’t have the luxury of that escape clause.
Life on food stamps, or a limited budget, believe you me, is very real. Relentlessly so.

So how to pep up the morning cup of coffee without the luxury of cream? A graceful teacup. Most of mine were gifts to me on special occasions of as legacy pieces from relatives. I have a beautiful English bone china teacup with red and yellow roses that I received from my grandmother as a high school graduation gift. I have another, delicately painted with violets and forget-me-nots as a gift from the bride, my daughter’s godmother, from decades ago when she first married and I was a lector in her wedding Mass. And I have a solid stoneware cup and saucer with purple and blue violas, bought at Harrods shop at Heathrow Airport in London when I was delayed getting home one trip, because Queen Elizabeth II was arriving and all traffic was shut down. Other cups and saucers in my collection have come from thrift stores, flea markets, junk shops and yard sales. All are beautifully made and treasured, no matter what they cost or where they were found.

Lesson for today, my children, is that your budget need not dictate your standard of living (just think of the many wealthy people whose tawdry behavior, attire and attitudes grace our televisions and tabloids). You can live as elegantly without money as you can with lots of it. The cup and saucer changed my morning beverage from slightly depressing to a treat. It’s the same cup of coffee, whether drunk with beggars or kings. Alone, with a mug, sorry that it lacks the cream. Or in solitude, with my delicate teacup, enjoying the perfect cup of morning java, in elegance and dignity.

Just a sip of coffee for thought.

Friday Menu
Breakfast: Fresh strawberries, toast with butter and homemade plum jam (gift from my mom). Coffee.
Snack: Plain yogurt (pantry) with fresh fruit.
Lunch: Leftover eggplant parm and garlic bread, iced tea (homemade sun tea).
Snack: Hot tea. Celery and peanut butter (pantry).
Dinner: Chard and beet greens*, sauteed with garlic, oil (pantry). Potato** and egg frittata. Iced tea or water.

*More for your money

The beet greens were a bonus at the farmers’ market. I bought a bunch of beets for $1 and the greens were attached. Always save the greens — they are delicious sauteed, or steamed along with the beets. I chop them and add to soup or pasta sauce for extra vitamins (see link for nutritional info), same as I would use spinach or chard. I used half the chard in the eggplant Parmesan dish the other night, so combined the beet greens with the remaining chard for a vegetable side dish in tonight’s dinner. Light seasoning of chopped garlic, salt and pepper and a quick saute keeps the vitamins intact and the flavor is very fresh. (Chop the stems and saute those, or save them to use in place of/in addition to celery in soup or a salad.) And the bonus is that the greens were “free” with the purchase of beets — two veggies for the price of one. Use this same plan when you buy whole turnips, too.

Trivia: Swiss chard is a modified beet, with a small root and much larger leaves. Same family, same great nutrition. As Mr. Husband says, “You can’t beat beets.” Yes, he really says that, every time we have beets.

**One Potato, Two
Good stuff, potatoes. Cheap by the pound (got this 10. lb bag for $4). It’s easy to bake one in the microwave in just 5 minutes, but I am growing reluctant to use the microwave with each passing month. I prefer actual heat to zippy molecules. For tonight’s dinner, I boiled several potatoes (with the peel on) to layer with beaten eggs, salt and pepper and herbs from the garden (thyme, oregano, parsley, green onion).
I didn’t use all the boiled potatoes tonight, though. The rest can be made into potato salad, fried for breakfast, mashed and fried as potato pancakes, or added to soup, depending on our needs in the next few days. The potato water left from cooking is useful to add to baked goods (homemade bread with potato water, as the liquid has extra nutrition and good flavor). The water left from cooking potatoes or any vegetable (except cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or other strongly flavored veggies) makes an excellent base for soup. And the weekend is always a good time to make soup.

February dreaming

These blossoms have not yet bloomed, but we’re getting to that point. These are mock-pear, but it’s something in February when the cherry and plum trees bloom. Petals falling like snowflakes on the sidewalk. So pretty.

It’s been sunny, with pretend-threats of rain, but no such rain for a week or so. The big storms (such as they are in California) were wonderful, loud and very wet. More, please! However, the sliding glass door leaks, and I had to stuff the cracks with plastic bags to keep the rain out. Now, a week or so later, guess what I find? Little green sprouts in the carpet, and shiny, sluggy-snail tracks near the sliding door. The door-repair-guy is coming Friday. If all goes according to my Evil Plan, I will end up with a French door and windows instead of the hopelessly misaligned and leaky sliding door. G*d willing and the creek don’t rise.

I know you’re dying to know what’s going on with my Iron and Mend Challenge. Well, I’ve extended it another week-ish, since I didn’t finish. Health and time were factors in completing the challenge. I did do quite a lot of ironing, and some mending. But there’s more to do. I have not yet given up. Nor given those items away.

Crafty Poo
Still working on the scrappy sweater, and returned to a cotton ring scarf I was knitting before Xmas and forgot about. It’s close to done, depending how long I want it. I would really like to finish up the yarn, no leftovers. So that’s how long it will be. Maybe with a fringe, too. Hmmm. I had also started a pretty granny square afghan up at Lake Tahoe, in mountain colors (shades of blue, green, brown and white). It is about 4 ft square, but not quite big enough yet. Coincidentally, it’s the same colors as our bedroom. I had in mind to crochet this at Tahoe, and keep the spirit of Tahoe alive with us all year. Whilst watching that silly show American Idol, I picked up the crochet hook and off I went. This could be a good match — watching mindnumbing TV and crocheting a simple pattern. I sense progress.

I added some sewing to my list, because of yesterday’s living room re-do. This is the cheapest living room re-do ever. All we did was rearrange a very few things, and bring in some quilts and plants from another room. We went from a very black and tan room to a creamy/pink/floral room in no time. The black and leopard sofa is still here, but with tan and dusty pink pillows (new covers, from stash fabric, to be sewn soon). A large beige afghan over the black lightens the color scheme. No surprise here, but Simone (daughter #2) and I picked colors out of the wall quilt, designed by me but pieced and sewn by my mom, and we played up the floral and salmony-pink tones. It works with the tans and even with the black. Go figure.

I know, boring without photos. But I don’t want to run upstairs yet again for my camera. Photos when it’s sunny tomorrow, promise.

Mish-Mash Potato Hash
Wrote a few little letters to friends, made a few calls, did a few chores, and now I’m thinking it’s time for tea. Prissy Pants McGee here, huh? I already wrote my poem for today (I’m in a month-long writing challenge, not writing a novel, but a poem per day, which is just as hard. If not harder. Seriously.). I cleaned up. I thought deep thoughts.

Kids are out in the world — Mia on her last few days of her Deep South tour. Austin at school. Simone at school and around town. Ana at work in SF. Patrick, my Mr. Husband, with his nose to the grindstone. And here I am. Trying to make the words flow, the juices run, and keep it all moving.

Advice to Aspiring Writers: Somedays there is only try. Today there is do.

weekend rain, and sun

What I learned this weekend: that clothes on a clothesline do not dry in the rain. That clothes left overnight on the clothesline, dry or wet, end up as playthings for raccoons. That wet clothes that get wetter in the rain will break the clothesline.

Now I have just one clothesline. Quite annoying.

Because it rained on Saturday, I saved a lot of energy by not doing much laundry, and attempting to hang out what I did wash…when it wasn’t raining. That didn’t work so well. Hey, live and learn.We did not use the heater at all this weekend, though it was chilly and damp (relative to the rest of all y’all in colder places). Socks, sweaters and blankies…lots of snuggling with library books and recyled cats and cups of organic loose leaf tea. (Mr Husband’s version was hot tea and a cat and the ongoing football games. Go, Bears.)

I got our local CSA (local farmer produce) box on Friday — which I’m starting to order again now that our garden has finished, and by getting it Friday, we no longer have that weekend-with-no-food problem that quickly leads to telephone-for-takeout syndrome. So instead, we ate well this weekend, with fresh strawberries, black grapes, apples, bok choy, celery, and more vegies than I can remember. All of that was local and organic. Yum…

The teenagers were out riding their fixies (fixed gear bikes) in the rain, which must be fun, since they have no brakes and have to skid to stop. They came in, a horde of them at about 6:30 p.m. I happened to have a jar of pesto in the cupboard, so made a vat of green spaghetti, a big salad and pulled a Safari’d foccaccia out of the freezer. As soon as they were eating dinner, I whipped up a quick coffee cake for dessert, with cocoa and walnuts on top, since we had nothing else to offer. Coffee cakes bake quickly, like 35 minutes, so before long the kids were eating warm cake with melting chocolate and chopped nuts. Mr Husband and I had our pasta with the last of the homemade garden tomato sauce from earlier in the week = no waste!

We had to feed all these kids again in the morning, so out came the wafflemaker and I made a fruit salad with seasonal fruits — persimmons, black grapes, apples, oranges. Yum. Plus a boatload of eggs. One of the teens actually got up and made coffee so it was hot when I came down. A miracle!

I made another pass at my living room, eliminating all the rest of the crap piles — ALL of them, and had my LR in order for a writers’ meeting Sunday at noon.

We had another clean-out-the-fridge soup on Sunday with a couple of packets of udon (thick Japanese noodles), our fresh bok choy, some mushrooms and onion from the fridge, and leftover chicken breast. I left the chicken in a dish next to the pot so that the vegetarians among us could eat soup without meat, and the omnivores could have it or not. We finished the weekend by sorting a big pile of laundry and *Putting It Away* (in our room, another miracle!) and watching a movie from our DVD collection. Free fun!

So there you go. Happy Monday, all.

me me me and tea

I have this thing about loose leaf tea lately. Like, it never occurred to me to drink it because it’s just a pain in the patoot to measure the leaves and they get all wet and stick to everything and then you have to scrape them out of the strainer and blah blah blah.

But, for some reason, lately I’ve been drinking loose leaf tea and using my tea strainer (I have a couple of cute ones — shaped like a house or a tea cup, but I like the round one best). And it feels rather nice to be enjoying a beverage that does not produce much waste and is good for you. Not even a tea bag. Loose tea comes in a tin, which is reusable or recyclable, and there’s no paper waste. I like that. So, although on occasion I will gladly use a tea bag if that’s what is available, these days I’m paring it down to essentials. Just the tea and the strainer, and a cup of hot water.