Friday, December 31, 2010

A Letter from Benjamin

Today, simply giving thanks for another year that was granted, and having a grateful heart for another year to follow. Sharing a few words of hope and inspiration to close out the year from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a motion picture based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald tale about a man who ages in reverse.

"It's never too be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit. Stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that stop you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

My toast, to hope, change, spiritual evolution, exploration, pride, dignity and making the world a better place. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And So This Was Christmas (Swiss-German Style)

My parents were both born and raised in Switzerland (not far from Germany), and our Christmas Eve celebration has a traditional Swiss twist: cheese fondue. While not vegan, this vegetarian meal fed 6 people, with no leftovers. I skipped fondue one year because it wasn't vegan, but in communal situations like this, it became harder to pass on it each year, so my own personal rule applies: eat vegetarian when it's something I'll really savor and love.

The ingredients, simple: a mix of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses, garlic (to rub the pan, then soak in a bit of white wine) and cornstarch. Serve with white wine. We also have kirsch at the table for dipping, but I pass on it. My sweetheart chef prepared the meal.

The napkins and the daisy plates were thrifted. I liked the vintage feel of the plates. I almost always prefer retro looking things over modern.

A stollen, a traditional German loaf-shaped cake with dried fruit, spices and covered with powdered sugar. My father picked this up on his recent travels to Switzerland.

Swiss chocolate. Remembering my travels to Switzerland.

Back at my parents' house on Christmas Day, part of their cheerful collection of miniature Swiss chalets picked up at the markets in Germany. Wouldn't it be cozy to stay inside one?

Beef Bourguignon for everyone else, for me: my favorite vegan Field Roast Grain Meat Co.'s Celebration Roast with sauteed mushrooms, along with red cabbage, string beans, and my mom's homemade spaetzle.

Not feeling deprived at all over not doing gifts (aside from charitable ones). One of the highlights of the season: going to church on Christmas Eve, where I took in the quiet beauty of the sanctuary. Hearing the soloist sing "O Holy Night."

Hope you enjoyed the simple pleasures and beauty of the season!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Welcoming the Winter Solstice at Alice's Tea Cup

December 21st marked the winter solstice, and I welcomed it with a happy heart. "A forest greets a snowy evening. Year after year, the holly king passes the torch as it was intended," Tori Amos signs in Winter's Carol on Midwinter Graces, a sonic love letter to the season. The summer queen surrenders, as fate and the stars has written she must, but will make her return.

Cold, snowy days await, begging you to stay indoors, linger over a pot of tea or cup of cocoa, make a pot of soup, put on your flannel pajamas and your comfiest socks, read, watch a film, play a board game, go back to bed, dream. Snow play awaits: sled down a hill, make a snow angel or a snowman, or just marvel at the beauty of it all. The heat of summer demands the body rest and soul slow down, as does the brisk cold of winter. Keith Donohue, in his poetic Angels of Destruction (a great winter read), talked about the "endless nirvana of doing nothing at all" that summer offers. The same can be said of winter days and nights. For this, I celebrate.

I gave a proper welcome to winter at New York City's Alice's Tea Cup. Whimsical costumes for the youngest of tea drinkers to get in touch with her inner princess or fairy.

A miniature version of their Alice in Wonderland set for playful tea times at home. A potential guest list: any mix of children, adults, teddy bears and dolls.

For the adult party: a pot of herbal chai (roobis, or red, tea with cinnamon, ginger and anise), with soy milk, $6.

Half a soup and half a salad is $13. Warm pear and belgian endive salad, with watercress, caramelized onions, and port vinaigrette, hold the stilton cheese.

I was told there's always one vegan soup of the day. Today's: carrot, served with a roll with basil.

Blackberry Cabernet sorbet, $6, to end the enchanting meal. No vegan scones or cookies were available that day - they were sold out.

Flashback to the winter solstice tea party at Alice's Tea cup last year, and my Valentine's party there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Colonial Christmas

Back at the Bergen County Historical Society for both their history open house and colonial concert. Was a colonial ghost making an appearance in the far bottom right corner? These mysterious lights showed up in all the photos I took in this room.

Right above the room, the temporary headquarters of George Washington, who stayed in the Steuben House while the army was encamped between Soldier Hill Road in Oradell and Van Saun Park in Paramus.

Back at the Black Horse tavern, soul-nourishing butternut squash soup with an herbed biscuit, $8, and hot mulled cider, $1.

Whimsical Dutch Santas in the gift shop.

A visit to the Dutch out kitchen is a must. Would it be wrong to want to live by candlelight alone?

Roasted brussels sprouts is quickly becoming one of my favorite vegetables of the season.

Notice the kitchen tools. Consider the labor that went into food harvesting and preparation. With no labor required on our own part in growing it, I think sometimes we take for granted the easy accessibility we have to food today, contributing in part, to food waste.

Not milk and cookies, but hay and apples. Why?

To attract the horses of Sinterklaas.

Mistletoe by the fireplace.

In the hustle and bustle that is inevitable this time of year, take time to savor your favorite traditions this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Out to Dry

I recently watched the film Winter's Bone, about an impoverished family in the Ozarks. Laundry hang drying was a common back-drop in this dark film, and too often, it is portrayed in media images and popular culture that give it an association with poverty.

My view on hang drying laundry: it is an act of environmentalism, economic empowerment, exercise, meditation, and beauty.

Living in a garden apartment complex in New Jersey that does not allow residents to dry laundry outside, I hang dry year round on a drying rack in my apartment, clothes on hangers on my shower curtain rod, and towels on the racks. Even sheets and blankets air dry.

When I travel abroad, I adore the sight of laundry hanging out to dry. I think of our ignorance on the matter. What is so offensive about the sight of our neighbors trying to save money and energy? If a small act can help provide cleaner air and more money in wallets, I support it. I also ponder how detrimental it would be if everyone consumed resources at the rate Americans do.

Fondly recalling laundry out to dry, on the balconies of Barcelona.

In romantic Tangier.

In a Lisbon courtyard, with bicycles at the ready for a trip to the market.

I spied a laundry rainbow.

Floating over a quaint cafe in Rome.

Above the canals of Venice.

In colorful Burano.

Check out Project Laundry List's Top 10 Reasons to Line Dry.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Frugal? Don't Apologize

How often I hear an apologetic or guilty tone invoked when uttering the words, "I'm frugal." Do people who live beyond their means and spend lavishly do this? Say it boldly, world, "I'm frugal." That doesn't mean don't travel, don't dine out, don't shop ever. I may dine out, but I'll bring my reusable takeout containers for leftovers (to cut down on packaging waste, but also food waste, which is essentially financial waste), and I may order water with lemon as a beverage to cut down the bill. I will travel, but will look for inexpensive accommodations that offer breakfast to take care of one of my daily meals.

Frugality to me is about not wasting, using what you have as much as possible, and being respectful of your hard earned money. It is an undervalued virtue. Save for winning the lottery or discovering a long lost Great Uncle Hans in Switzerland has bequeathed me a fortune, I don't think I'll ever have a large bank account. Having known what it's like to be unemployed, I take money matters very seriously. Even if I had a lot of money, I'd still enjoy frugal living.

Here are some frugal delights I've been savoring as of late:

Holiday entertainment from the library: books, magazines, CD's, films. Favorite films to watch each year: Elf, Home Alone, White Christmas, and though not technically a holiday film, The Sound of Music. Like Julie Andrews, one of "My Favorite Things" too is "silver white winters that melt into springs."

Writing Christmas cards while listening to holiday music. I picked up an assortment of cards from the C.A.T.S Resale Shop, for just 10 cents each.

Candles, 20 cents each, also from C.A.T.S. Resale. I adore candles, especially in fall and winter, and acquire most of them through thrift shops.

Cozy dinners at home - this one mushroom gnocchi. The pretty blue plate? Thrifted, of course.

Home baked goodies from the church bake sale: brownies to share, 25 cents each, raspberry jam, $4, I passed on to someone who will love it, and granola, $3. Check out Cate's Homemade Gifts on Liberal Simplicities.

Taking in holiday lights. We haven't had a good snow in northern New Jersey yet for a real snowman, but this cheerful lit up version greeted me on a brisk night's walk.

Our new freecycle shelf at work, which I started next to the book swap my co-worker started. Someone left this EO rose and chamomile scented lotion (a $9 value), which I immediately scooped up.

In January, I'll be co-hosting a winter clothing swap at work (I'm a proud frugalista), and we'll be including unwanted holiday gifts to give them a happy, grateful home, and for some frugal fun when everyone's credit card bills will be arriving.

Don't feel deprived - feel emboldened by frugal living.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gifts Not For Sale

Not fancy jewelry, nor expensive gadget, nor new winter coat. It is time and a rekindled magic with her loved one that Tori Amos hopes for in "A Silent Night with You." Anyone in a long-term relationship, married or not, can't help at some point but look at new couples and be a bit envious of a phase that is seemingly impossible to recapture. "Young lovers pass me by with their glow, that used to be us not so long ago."

My sweetheart and I will not be exchanging Christmas gifts again this year. We've long agreed we have everything we need, and if we want something, we'll buy it ourselves. I don't feel deprived because I have no pricey bauble or item to unwrap - quite the opposite, my life feels very rich. Much like Tori does, I will be hoping for precious time, which so slips through our hands quicker and quicker. You can't unwrap it, but it's more valuable than anything you'll find in a department store.

Also on her Midwinter Graces, in "Pink and Glitter," Tori declares "our joy isn't about a present or a grown up motor toy" - it's the celebration of a daughter, present enough for so many.

Here's to appreciating all the love in our lives this holiday season - of family, of romantic partners, of friends, of a pet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Time, New York City

No matter how many times I've seen it in my life, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center never fails to fill me with childlike awe and wonder. With warm chestnuts in hand, I marveled at it all.

Skaters at Rockefeller Center.

Magical angels line the pathway to the tree.

A pop-up book in a window at Rockefeller Center.

The holiday windows at Bergdoff Goodman pay tribute to travel and adventure.

Even the buildings (this one Cartier) are wrapped in bows.

The UNICEF Snowflake.

I dreamt I had an Eloise adventure at The Plaza, but alas, it's back to New Jersey I go, grateful, still, to be part of the excitement of it all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Out with the girls

Sometimes, you just need some time out with the girls. Over the past few weeks, I've been enjoying some much needed catch-up time with cherished friends and co-workers.

After all day in our cubicles glaring at a computer or in meetings, this was looking pretty good! Sangria, $28, (split five ways) at Empanada Mama.

Guacamole with plantain chips, $6.95, a refreshing change to tortilla chips. The cost of this was also shared.

My corn flour empanada with steamed potatoes, carrots and lima beans, $2.40, and a spinach arepas, $5.40, a traditional South American corn patty.

Frugal: bringing your lunch to work, which I do most days. But I also like to partake in the many dining options in New York City. Said it before, will say it again: if you're going to spend money eating out - eat it there, not in front of your cubicle checking e-mail. Note to self: follow your own advice, stop eating lunch (even brown-bagged) checking e-mail!

Better idea: at Hummus Kitchen, enjoying a pomegranate lemonade with fresh mint leaves, $2.50.

The mezze trio: $9:50. I chose for my three choices hummus, curried cauliflower and couscous tabule (good, little less parsley, please!) Served with warm pita bread.

Cheers! A raspberry margarita, $4, at Blockheads.

My single friend and I had a laugh over Jane in Britcom Coupling wincing over that they make you check off a box for single on the census form, but leave no room for an explanation. True!

No laughing matter: the great vegan options at Blockheads. The no-dairy burrito (with black beans and organic brown rice) in a a whole wheat tortilla with side salad, $8. Check out the tofu sour cream!

Not laughing, but simply smiling and grateful, for the many strong, independent and intelligent women I know. Women need positive spirits in their life - and I have them. Sharing good food and drink along with conversation - all the better.