21 October, 2012

To do : Say no. Bake a cake.

Yesterday was the first day of rest I have had in quite some time.  I had to fight against myself in order to keep it that way, though.  It can be difficult to say "no" to the many good things going on in this area -- or to say "no" without feeling as though you must also provide a detailed, incontestable reason for your unavailability!  This week I forced myself to say "no," to protect this one day on the calendar, though it seemed a selfish thing to do.  I didn't have any conflicting plans last night; I simply knew that my body was exhausted, running on empty.  There is no shame in listening to your body; there is no shame in lying low now and then.  After all, what can I pour from an empty cup?

A quiet day offers a choice:  to fill it with distraction, or make a true cessation -- the restoring pause between labors.  I aspired toward the latter; "restful" activities can easily become passive amusement (I'm looking at you, Hulu), providing my mind a break but not enriching it in any way.  I had a short list of things to accomplish, catching up on household chores and taking my car to the repair shop, but there were also things on the list that would rebuild me.  Bake.  Read a book not related to work.  :)  Listen to good music.  Do some calligraphy.  Write a letter.  Don't check email so often.

Busy does not always equal effective.  The days with short to-do lists are sometimes the deepest, the best.

Upside-down Apple Cider Cake

Spiced Hard Apple Cider // Great Shoals Winery
Toward the end of the day I unleashed my baking urge upon our tiny kitchen!  I didn't have much of a plan, but I knew that I wanted to use apple cider.  About a month ago I went to the Maryland Wine Festival and came home with a bottle of delicious Spiced Apple Cider from Great Shoals Winery.  We opened it last week for my mom's birthday celebration, but didn't finish all of it.  It had since lost its fizz but still had a lovely spiced taste, so I didn't want it to go to waste.  After a bit of searching, I landed on this recipe and got to work!  I prepared the whole thing in my handy cast iron skillet, and was fairly liberal with some of my favorite spices since the recipe is a bit vague in that area! I used a generous teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg (possibly more cinnamon...Honestly, I wasn't measuring!).  The result is delicious.  The apples caramelized beautifully, and I can definitely pick up on the bright spiced cider (don't worry, all the alcohol cooks off).  A fine finish to a peaceful day.

14 October, 2012

Festive Fall. Festival. Festive, all!

Last night my family gathered to celebrate my beloved mother's birthday!  There never has been, is not, and never shall be a way to express to her how much we cherish her and appreciate her selfless love for us over the years.  Nonetheless, we tried in what way we could to make her feel special for the evening!  We pitched in to prepare a menu of her favorites:  salmon, jasmine rice, broccoli, fruit salad, and carrot cake.  I followed Mark Bittman's recipe for salmon roasted with olive oil and herbs, and I used Smitten Kitchen's carrot cake recipe (sans raisins -- ick!).  The cake turned out nicely, though I must admit I found myself thinking, "This would be even better with chocolate..."  The evening was capped off by s'mores around the firepit in the backyard.  I love family evenings at my parents' house!

Carrot cake! 

I wanted to decorate the table in some way that would tie in the colors and textures of fall.  Fall is my mom's favorite season, and I associate its beautiful colors and golden sunlight with her.  I created a little center piece with a few different elements:

I found these great candle holders at Michael's Arts & Crafts and filled the base of them with layers of different beans, peas, lentils, etc.  They naturally have an interesting variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  I then tied some twine around each one to add to the "rustic" feel. It was inexpensive, easy, and beautiful!

I also scattered up and down the table 12 of the paper balls you see in the photo, using cardstock in a range of fall colors.  These are really fun and easy to make, though they take a little bit of time between tracing, cutting, and locking together each of the sides.  My older sister taught me to make them, and I plan to make them for other occasions; they'd make really fun garlands and Christmas ornaments!  If you're interested in trying your hand at them, templates and instructions are here.

Happy birthday, mom!