tree trimming party 2014

The weekend before Xmas is busy with parties. We had our annual tree-trimming party on Saturday. Oona is home from college and she has a good eye for picking out a good Xmas tree. Saturday morning we set out on foot to our usual Xmas tree spot on Houston St. where the French Canadian guys will deliver the tree to your apartment for ten bucks. Oona was lamenting about how much fun it was when we used to carry the tree home ourselves on foot. We reminisced about the time we brought one of our Toy Fox Terriers with a tiny Santa hat on his head and he was so cute walking next to us while we carried the Xmas tree, that we were not only photographed multiple times but also filmed by a passing video crew.

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A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat - Millie

A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat – Millie

We carried the tree home this year. I’d forgotten how much fun it is. When people in New York see you schlepping a pine tree, they smile and wish you a Merry Xmas. Random men offer to help you carry it. People sitting in restaurants smile and wave to you from the windows. It’s a jolly trek home when you are carrying a Xmas tree in New York city.

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This year’s party featured cocktails made with drinking vinegars or shrubs. Shrubs were popular in colonial America as way to preserve fruit and make a refreshing drink. Oona had concocted some at school and so we decided to make wintery shrubs for our guests.

Beet Balsamic Shrub (recipe from Ashley Marti of Local Haven)
2 cups raw beets, peeled and sliced
½ cup maple syrup (I used sugar)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Put beets in a quart mason jar and cover with sugar or maple syrup and shake it up to coat the beets. Put into the refrigerator for 24 hours and shake occasionally. After 24 hours, add the two vinegars and shake it up. Put back into the fridge for another 24 hours, shaking occasionally. Then strain the liquid into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

This makes a syrupy drinking vinegar which we then added to seltzer. Make it as strong or as mild as you like. This was especially good with vodka and a slice of lemon.

Cranberry Sage Shrub (adapted from Jerry James Stone’s blog Cooking Stoned)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Champagne vinegar
2 fresh sage leaves

It is the same steps as the beet shrub, except you should roast the cranberries to soften them up first. Put them on a baking pan and roast them for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven till they are mushy. Then put them into a quart mason jar, shake with sugar, let sit, add vinegar, shake and sit in the fridge – then you’ve got the wonderful syrupy tart sweet shrub to add to your seltzer and cocktails.

The flavor combinations are endless. Now that we’ve got the hang of it, the experimentation will begin. Happy Holidays, dear readers.

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how to make peppermint bark

When you bite into a piece of peppermint bark and close your eyes, you might see multi-colored Xmas lights, the diamond like sparkle of snow crystals in the moonlight and maybe even smell pine needles. It is much nicer to make your own, but in a pinch, any peppermint bark will do and you should eat it all winter because it is definitely a winter only sweet. Its cold sweet bite illuminates dark nights.

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Here is my recipe for peppermint bark:

1 1/2 lb – good quality semisweet chocolate chopped into small pieces
1 1/2 lb – good quality white chocolate chopped into small pieces
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
5 or 6 candy canes

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Line a 9×12 baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Using a double boiler or put one pan on top of another pan with boiling water in the bottom pan, you slowly melt the semisweet chocolate in the top pan. Stir continuously and be careful that the chocolate does not burn. When the chocolate is melted, add 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract, mixing well. Spread the chocolate out onto the lined baking pan, smooth it out with a spatula and give it a little shake so that it is even. While this is cooling, it is a good time to crush the candy canes. I used an old ice crusher – one of my very good yard sale finds, but you can wrap the candy canes in a dish towel and simply pound them with a hammer or a heavy spoon.

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Once the dark chocolate is cool, you should put it in the fridge so that it hardens a bit more before you put the white chocolate layer on it. Now, melt the white chocolate the same way you did the dark. When the white chocolate is melted, add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract and stir. Then add the crushed candy canes and mix well. Spread the white chocolate on top of the dark and put it into the fridge. Once the top layer of white chocolate encrusted with peppermint candy is hardened, you can remove it from the pan and break it into pieces. Merry peppermint. Merry winter, dear readers.

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storefront gate murals of loisaida II

One of my first blogs posts was a collection of photos of the storefront gate murals in Loisaida. These murals come and go with the opening and closing of stores so I thought it was time to do a part 2. What I like most about these murals is that someone sees the gate and feels the need to embellish the grey metal. It becomes a canvas and an excuse to add a bit of color and swirl to the cityscape.

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hello winter

We spent the Thanksgiving weekend at our rural homestead arriving on the heels of the first snowstorm of the year. We had the foresight to leave two snow shovels propped against a pine tree at the top of the driveway on our last visit when it was still autumn. The mountain greeted us with twelve inches of heavy snow. Fat snow – the kind that is perfect for snowballs and snowmen and makes for a very good workout in shoveling. We cleared out a parking space for the car close to the road. Then we shoveled paths to the trailer, the pile of stacked firewood, the solar power shed and the well. The snow was as tall as her so little blind Millie finds her way on the paths by following the crunching sound of your boots on snow.

The back meadow in winter

The back meadow in winter. All photos were shot with my iPhone using the Hipstamatic App (one of my favorites) with the Lowy lens and the Blanko BL4 film

Millie on a snow path. Nothing stops her

Millie on a snow path. Nothing stops her

 

Our lipstick red plastic Adirondack Chairs buried. See you in the Spring!

Our red plastic Adirondack Chairs buried. See you in the Spring!

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I don’t cook on Thanksgiving, we are always lucky guests at other people’s elaborate and delicious dinners. This year, we decided to just drive upstate to the country and eat a regular meal. We ignored shopping and sales and just stayed holed up in the trailer feeding the fire in the wood stove. I curled up on the couch in wool socks with little dogs tucked all around for warmth and caught up on reading.

A French parlor wood stove from the early 1900's.

A French parlor wood stove from the early 1900’s.

 

A great read for the winter, with beautiful illustrations by the author

A great read for the winter, with beautiful illustrations by the author

At 4:30 in the afternoon it is already dusk on the mountain. The snow turns blue in the waning light. The sky is grey tinged with gold from the last rays of the setting sun. It is very cold now, the kind of cold that makes the edges of your nostrils numb. The air smells clean and it feels like you are inhaling snowflakes. Time to bring in more firewood.

View from the front porch at dusk

View from the front porch at dusk

canning pink

I tried my hand a a little bit more canning. I love radishes, especially because you get to put a lot of salt on them. I once heard someone say “the radishes are a vehicle for the salt”. I didn’t realize radishes were spicy until I tasted one from the farmer’s market. After that, I never bought another supermarket radish again. I discovered watermelon radishes at a Supper Club in Brooklyn hosted by Nan of Toast Home Cooking. The radish was beautiful and so I scoured the farmer’s market in Union Square till I found some for my first experiment in canning something that is not sweet.

Their beauty gave me pleasure when I sliced them

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I just had enough for a couple of half pints which I will use on salads and sandwiches in the dead of winter. This is how I did it.

I boiled half water and half vinegar with a little salt. The sliced radishes and a clove of garlic were put into the hot jars and the hot brine was added. Then I processed the jars in the hot water canner for 15 minutes. Everything turned pink.  Here are instructions for safe canning.

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dove love

I’ve been a little down and I haven’t written. Sometimes life gets in the way and becomes the excuse. But then writing makes me feel better so I decided to just write.

I’ve been busy nursing my pet dove. A beautiful ringneck dove named Ruki. She has a story and a bit of magic about her. She is a talisman.

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Ruki came to us in 2003. We don’t know how old she is because she was an escaped pet that we rescued. I believe she was meant to live with us. I think she was very young when she came to us, at least, I hope that she was. She is the color of a very light café con leche with a touch of peach. The feathers that form the delicate ring around her neck are a soft charcoal grey.

Late this summer I noticed that when Ruki flew free, she seemed out of breath when she landed. I thought it was because she wasn’t getting enough flight exercise or because she was getting older. But it became worse and so I took her to an avian vet in our neighborhood. I was told it could be many things – none of them good. I was told she was a flock animal and so she would hide any disability above all. The fact that she could not hide it anymore was a bad sign. I was given an antibiotic in the hope that it was only an infection.

I turned to the specialized Internet forums for help. I began using Internet forums in the 1990’s for things such as knitting questions and advice about parenting babies and young children. They are an early form of community interaction on the Internet. The forums are a beautiful expression of how people united only by a common interest, give selflessly and freely to support other people who they do not know and will never meet. I think the people on the forums tend to give more in depth advice than other Internet support groups. Following the advice of kind dove fanciers, I force fed Ruki thawed frozen peas to keep her strength up and so that the antibiotic would not upset her stomach. I draped her cage in blankets and added a hot water bottle for extra warmth. On the fifth day of treatment, she started to show signs of improvement. She started eating on her own and there was less open-mouthed breathing.

ringneckdoveruki Ruki continues to get better but she is not out of the woods yet. Yesterday I was heartened to see her up to her old mischief of sneaking up behind one of the dogs and pecking the back of his leg. The dove is dominant over the dogs. Right now she is perched on the couch next to me as I write,  softly breathing, relaxed and dosing. A late afternoon bird nap.

autumnal bike commute

The first days of autumn in New York City are still balmy even though you can spot a yellowish tinge on the leaves of the street trees and it is now dusk at 7 o’clock. When its not hot I like to ride my bike to work the long way, all the  way around the southern tip of the island instead of the quick way straight across from east to west. It’s easy to forget that Manhattan is an island because it is so dense with people and buildings from edge to edge. On the morning of 9/11 as I was shepherding the children home, through the shock and fear in the streets, we passed a cluster of people gathered around a parked car listening to the radio for news, when a woman shouted “they’ve closed all the bridges and tunnels to and from the island” and I thought “we are trapped”. After that, I’ve never forgotten that we live on an island.

East River Brooklyn Bridge

East River Brooklyn Bridge

My bike commute starts on the eastern edge of the island where the East River looks over to Brooklyn. In the old days, they say that the river froze so solid that people could walk over the ice from Brooklyn to Manhattan. They say that entrepreneurs  sold hot potatoes on the icy river to commuters. The workers carried the potatoes in their pockets to warm their hands on their trek across the iced over river and then have the roasted potatoes for breakfast.

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

As you ride on the paths of the East River Park you pass many sports fields. You can smell the salt in the air and the morning sunlight sparkles on the water. It is much cleaner now and you can catch glimpses of ducks and other water birds living there. As you hit the eastern edge of Chinatown by the river, you see clusters of Chinese seniors practicing Tai Chi and exercising in the park near the South Street Seaport. Fishermen in baseball caps line the railings with long poles in their hands.

The old Fulton Fish Market

The old Fulton Fish Market

You hit a wall of commuters getting off the Staten Island Ferry and subways as you round the southern most tip of the island and move from East River to the Hudson on the West Side.

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At this point, I ride on the sidewalk dodging the walkers and taking care not the scare them. They have enough stress. To ride in the street here is dicey because they are curvy and packed with speeding commuter buses bringing in Wall St. workers from the land of suburbia.

Westside bike lane heading north

Westside bike lane heading north

Once you cross the street at the tip of the island at Battery Park, you can get on the West Side bike lane north and now you ride along side a different river – the Hudson.

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River