Tuesday, December 28, 2010



I took a few shots this morning of Huxley in his spiffy threads gifted by my long-time high school buddy Shannon. The leg warmers, onesie, and plush toy were all made by Etsy artisans. How cool, right?

Ice, Ice Baby

It was 13 degrees in our forest cove this morning. With the windchill, according to NPR, it felt like it was a mere 3 degrees. This is weather not fit for man nor beast. Fortunately, we're gathered 'round the wood stove in the kitchen, all 5 cats, 2 dogs, Hubs, babe, and myself, staying snug and cozy, drinking hot coffee, nibbling on fennel/orange/nut biscotti, and click-clacking away on our laptops.

Hope you're toasty too, wherever you are. In fact, where are you? I'd love to know where in the world you folks come visit me from!

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Green Resolution

I've got a guest post up on Apartment Therapy's Re-Nest. Come find me over there as I discuss "My Green Resolution" for 2011.

*Image from the always fabulous Lynne Harty.

Mixing It Up

I have to admit, my honeymoon was just about as stellar as they come. Thanks to the incredible generosity of my in-laws, Hubs and I flew from Asheville to Paris on June 4th, 2007, where we stayed for 5 days in posh digs (with complimentary nougat-my favorite confection-and chocolate lollipops on our pillows every night!!!). After that, we jumped on a train to Monte Carlo, in the teensy principality of Monaco, where we set up shop in a hotel overlooking the harbor for four days (the yachts, folks, were completely off the hook!). Lastly, we set out for the third leg of our trip, traveling overnight by train to Rome, where we stayed for 3 days. It was glorious and romantic and indulgent in all the right ways that honeymoons should be.

One of the standouts of the trip for me, though, was something quite simple. While the Louvre was phenomenal, the casinos resplendent, and the Colosseum epic, one of my most abiding loves on the trip was of a cocktail had in our Paris hotel.

La Bar Chinois, found inside the Renaissance Paris Vendome, is a postage stamp-sized little thing of a bar, but a thing of beauty nonetheless. With exquisite chinoiserie-style wallpaper, handcrafted lacquered furniture, and the most intoxicating liquid incense (Pacifica's Mediterranean Fig comes close to mirroring the fragrance), the place was beyond charming, yet in an especially exotic manner. We took our seats at the diminutive bar, where the chic, urbane, oh-so-Parisian bartender directed our attention towards Bar Chinois' cocktail blends.Available in a remarkable number of permutations, the cocktail blends involve the drinker pulling three marked sticks from a tumbler of options. One stick selects an herb, one chooses a fruit juice, and the third designates the choice of liquor. The selections are all done randomly, so you don't know if you'll select basil, cranberry juice, and an herb-infused vodka, or mint, pineapple juice, and a spice-infused vodka.

While I can't remember the exact incarnation of what Hubs and I selected, I do remember that it tasted heavenly. We were so inspired by the drink (and its fun creation) that several months later, we threw a "Mad Scientist" -themed Halloween party where we set up a bar and allowed our guest to create their own signature cocktail. You can see our offerings pictured above. For herb choices, we used basil, mint, and tarragon (all fresh). Fruit juices included pineapple, pomegranate, and coconut. For the liquor, two weeks prior to the soiree we infused vodka three different ways: black pepper & jalapeno, vanilla & raspberry, and cranberry & juniper.

I used craft sticks of similar colors to group herbs (green), fruit juice (yellow), and liquor (red). Guests selected one of each color and, after chopping the fresh herb, I added all the components to a cocktail shaker, shook hard, and strained off the concoction. Amazingly, not one creation turned out poorly. Our guests loved the game and we loved bringing a bit out the magic of our honeymoon stateside.

If you're planning a New Year's Eve bash, I invite you to steal this idea. While you might not have enough time to infuse liquor yourself, you could simply purchase three different infused vodka flavors from the liquor store. I'm always a fan of mixing things up in life and this slice of Parisian fun, courtesy of La Bar Chinois, takes mixed drinks to a whole other level. Cheers (or, more so, Salut!)!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Room With A View

When I met Hubs, he already owned the home we now live in. And while it definitely had a "bachelor pad" vibe to it (i.e. it was nowhere near as tidy and homey as we've since made it), he'd had some gorgeous renovations done to the place. The first time I came over and toured the space, I saw the garden tub above. I instantly loved this man for being the sort of guy who felt the need for and appreciated the sensation of bathing in a big 'old soaking tub.

I also thought that it would make an ideal place to birth in, and that was the plan with Huxley, but we all know that that didn't quite materialize the way we'd thought it would...And while that plan fell through, the tub remains a place of absolute solace and refuge.

This past autumn, Hubs painted a colorful window scape echoing our mountain setting. The painting both offers privacy when using the bathroom (even though we're in a private location, a mile down a dirt road in a big forest, we have the occasional need for privacy in there, like when we've got folks doing repairs outdoors or during dinner parties when guests are walking around in the driveway), as well as enhances the entire bathing experience with its beauty. It also serves as a hefty enticement when searching for house-sitters!

This summer, when our friends Sara and Thor came to visit, their little guy Henry (just shy of 3 years at the time) was the first toddler to break in the tub. Based on his splashing and squeals of delight, I've no doubt that Huxley will similarly enjoy the space.

Whether offering vistas of brilliantly hued autumnal foliage, winter snow, emerging tiny green leaves in spring, or flowers and fragrance from the tree located just outside the window in summer (we still aren't sure what it is, but, boy, do the honeybees and butterflies LOVE it!), this room with a view never fails to lift my spirits.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I'm Dreaming

I must be, right? Because how else can I explain all of the tremendous blessings that have come my way this year? And to cap it all off with a white Christmas; it doesn't get much better.

Wherever you are, however you celebrate, may this holiday season bring you nothing short of a river of happiness, health, enchantment, and love. Thank you so very much for making my year an incomparably stellar one. It's comforting beyond words to know that somewhere out there, we're all connecting-exchanging information, comparing notes, and giving one another digital high fives.

From chez English to you all, big love, today and always.

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Ounce of Prevention

The recent spate of abnormally cold weather didn't just make your fingers and toes frosty, it undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of your flock too. Most breeds do just fine in wintery conditions (bantams might need a bit more t.l.c., given their diminutive size), permitted you've bolstered up their environs. I've listed below some low-fi suggestions for warming your flock when Old Man Winter comes knocking.

-Now's the time to offer your flock scratch grain or straight corn. The fattiness of the scratch will allow the birds to pack on an extra layer of body fat, which aids them in better combating colder weather. The scratch or corn should be offered as a treat, though, not as the sole source of their diet. Continue them on their feed, tossing a few handfuls of scratch during evening rounds.

-Yes, most waterers will freeze. If you're fortunate enough to have electricity in your hen house, then by all means purchase an electric waterer warming base (to be used with double-walled, metal waterers). If, however, like me, your coop isn't electrified, you'll need to stay on top of supplying your flock with fresh water. One idea is to fill the waterer with hot water and then drop a chunk of ice or a good amount of ice cubes into the water to slowly cool it down over the course of several hours. If you work away from home, see if a neighbor might be able to check on your flock's water during the day. While they will drink less during colder weather, the birds still need to be able to drink water, period.

-Your coop needs to be fortified against the ravages of cold winds (not to mention chilly predators on the prowl for a cozy bed and a 'hot meal'). While chickens are pretty tough, being able to survive any number of challenges, they are particularly susceptible to wetness and wind. Insulate your coop with spray foam insulation and weather-stripping to keep wind and moisture out and dryness in. Remember that in the warmer months, though, your coop will need proper ventilation to allow dampness inside the coop to leave. We have a ventilation window in our coop for this very purpose, located up near the ceiling and covered with thick-gauge metal screening to keep our predators.

Outdoor perches & roosts:
-You'll want to keep your flock off the ground if necessary. Too much repeated contact with snow and ice can damage their feet, as well as chill them. Consider positioning an extra perch or roost outdoors so that your birds can both get out of the direct cold and have some exercise in the process.

Heavy bedding:
-If, like me, you use the heavy bedding method for collecting coop droppings, now is the time to add an extra heavy layer. Placed over existing droppings, heat will be generated from the composting manure, as well as the birds own body heat at night. It might only be an incremental climb in heat, but, well, all heat is welcome heat when it's freezing outside!

Combs & Wattles:
-A series of days with below freezing temperatures could result in damaging, painful frostbite on your bird's combs and wattles. My gauge is 4 days-if the weather is super cold for over 4 days, I'll rub some balm on my birds tender bits. I use Un-Petroleum jelly, as I like using natural plant oils on my flock.

A Clear Path:
-You don't want an intrepid flock mate deciding to brave a wall of snow. The snow will win, every time. Instead, if you've got over 3-inches of the white stuff, use a flat shovel to clear your birds a path. That way they'll steer clear of any potential damage to their feet as well as have continued areas to roam and exercise.

Gather Eggs:
-If you don't already gather up your flock's eggs on a daily basis, now is the time to begin doing so (and it's really best to already have this as an established habit, as doing so discourages egg-eating). Eggs left out in freezing and below-freezing temperatures can freeze and crack.

So, an ounce of wintertime prevention for your feathered friends is worth a dozen eggs, I always say. Put on your snow boots, toss on your mittens, and get your coop ready for the dip in mercury ahead. Winter officially commences in 4 days, so there's no time like the present to get crackin'!

*To view more images of our wintertime bolstering, go here.

Hot Chocolate Gift Basket

Happy Friday, everyone! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over on Design Sponge. Today's topic suggests assembling a hot chocolate-themed gift basket for holiday giving. I've also offered a recipe for "Hedonistic Hot Chocolate", a version so good it's positively scandalous!

Well, we're finally losing the remaining snow from last Saturday's 3-inch showers. It's also warming up after insanely low temperatures this week (it was 9 degrees a few mornings ago-who wants to get out from under flannel sheets, a flannel blanket, and a down comforter with a tiny baby when it's 9 degrees outside???). Depending on temperatures this week, Hubs and I might venture into town to see if any of the area tailgate markets are still open for the year.

Otherwise, I've been pining for Martha Stewart's Fennel, Orange, & Nut Biscotti ever since coming across the recipe in her 2010 Holiday Cookie magazine, so I think it's high time I made them. Hopefully my Mom will get to make it down from her snowy town on Sunday, as they past two weeks have brought weather too treacherous for her to make the one hour drive. We've been planning on baking cookies together and that magic needs to finally happen.

Wherever you are, stay warm! And drink hot chocolate!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Furry Posterity

Sometimes I mean to post things and then just keep forgetting, for whatever reason, to get around to it. Such is the case with the artwork of Jessica Rhys. I'm remembering right now, so I'm posting-right now!!!

A friend of my online buddy Aaron Weintraub, Rhys is the force behind Animalia Art. Send her an image of your furry friends and she'll provide you with an original hand-painted image for posterity. The best part (aside from the art, and the idea, itself), in my opinion, is the fact that she donates 10% of profits to a selection of fantastic animal charities. You win and creatures great and small win with you! Score!

While this might be a bit late for a holiday gift, if you've got a serious pet lover in your family, keep Rhys in mind for birthday, anniversary, and "Because it's Tuesday and I love you" gifting!

Snowy Cove

We've been snowed in here in our forested cove now for four days. Fortunately, we were prepared, with plenty of food on hand for man and beast alike. Also, fortunately, we really like each other and don't mind being in such close quarters for days at a stretch. Our winters are often like that anyways, snow and ice or not.

Here's a few candid shots Hubs took today whilst visiting the chicken coop to give the Ladies a fresh supply of water. The first shot shows the stone cairn atop our well, followed by our puppy Dexter, our wood supply with a glimpse of the neighboring rhododendron forest in the background (one of the sole, and much welcome, offerings of wintertime greenery around these parts), old windows Hubs intends to make into a cold frame (thankfully, we had new windows installed in 4 rooms before this current arctic blast made its way down), and an animal skull unearthed on the property.

I'll be back soon with some tips for keeping your own flock warm and happy during cooler months.

Bundle up, friends!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kitchen Elf

This tiny elf has been assisting me in the kitchen all day.

It was all fun and games until I told him to ease up on the milk and cookies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Time Of the Season

A bit of seasonal decor 'round chez English.

So, why the fly agaric or "toadstool" mushroom on our juniper tree? Well, dear reader, read on.

Happy holidays!!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Homemade Lip Balm

Happy Friday, everyone! My "Small Measures with Ashley" post is up over at Design Sponge. This week's topic is on making your own lip balm-perfect for your own lips and for mixing up a batch for the puckers of your nearest and dearest!

Well, Huxley and I are making our social debut today! My dear friend Jenny is hosting my annual "Ladies Cookie Exchange" at her home on my behalf (there was NO way I could pull it off this year, what with a 7-week old, and all...). I've made Martha's Mexican Wedding Cookies (they seriously need to leave the house soon; I'm losing all sense of self control with them near) and look forward to mixing and mingling with some lovely lady friends, sampling their wares and coming home with a treasure trove of delectable nibbles for Hubs and I to indulge in.

Stay warm, wherever you are! Another big snow storm is headed our way tomorrow, so it looks like we'll be hunkering down chez English, keeping the home fires burning and cuddling with the "pea pod."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hakuna Frittata*

Grilled toast frittata
Potato and leek frittata with cheese
Collard, leek, and cheese frittata

We're rather intense egg fiends chez English. I honestly think Hubs and I could eat them everyday, and we often do! In order to keep things interesting and steer clear of the "scrambled/poached/omelet" rut, we try to jazz things up, looking for novel and delicious ways to incorporate eggs into our culinary repertoire.

Frittatas are the ideal solution. Infinitely customizable, frittatas are a perfect means of using up random bits of vegetable matter, nubs of cheese, herbs and more. Listed below are three recent frittatas that made cameos in our kitchen. I invite you to try them out. Any of them would be absolutely scrumptious for breakfast, brunch, lunch or even dinner this weekend. See if you don't just experience "Hakuna Frittata" for yourself!

Collard, Leek, and Cheese Frittata

The Goods:
-5-6 eggs
-1 cup whole milk or cream for the greens, plus a splash for the eggs.
-1 bunch collards, destemmed and chopped
-1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped leeks
-2 ounces cheese of your choice, sliced thin or shredded
-3 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
-3-4 Tablespoons butter
-Pinch of thyme
-Dash of hot sauce
-Pinch or two of salt and pepper
-Tablespoon of chopped roasted red peppers, if desired.

The Deal:
-In a 12 inch oven-safe pan, preferably cast iron, on medium-low heat, saute the collards and leeks in 2 tbs butter for 2 minutes.
-Add cup of milk, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.
-Stir frequently and cook for 15-20 min, till the cream is reduced enough to be fully -incorporated into the greens.
-Remove all of the veg mixture and set aside on a plant.
-Whisk the eggs with a splash of milk, a dash of hot sauce, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of thyme.
-Add 1-2 tbs butter to the empty pan, coat evenly, then add the egg mixture.
-After the eggs have set for about 1 minute, spoon the veg mixture evenly over the egg mixture.
-Top with cheese.
-After the eggs have been cooking for about 2.5 to 3 minutes, remove from burner and stick under the broiler.
-Broil till the cheese just starts to show hints of golden brown, then remove from oven.
-Let cool for 1 minute, then invert onto a platter.
-Invert that onto another platter, so that it is right-side up again.
-Cut into wedges with a pizza wheel.
-Sprinkle with diced roasted red peppers if desired, and serve.

Grilled Toast Frittata

The Goods:
-2 eggs
-2 pieces of sliced bread
-Splash of milk
-Dash of hot sauce
-Pinch of marjoram
-Pinch of thyme
-Pinch of salt and pepper
-1 ounce shredded or thinly sliced cheese of your choice.
-2 Tablespoons butter

The Deal:
-With a pizza wheel, cut one of the slices of bread in half, then cut it into a semi circle.
-Make sure the two pieces of bread fit into the bottom of the pan; adjust if necessary.
-Over medium-low heat in a 6 inch cast iron frying pan, add the butter, coat evenly, then add the bread.
-After about a minute, flip the bread, with flat edges in the middle.
-Whisk the eggs with the milk, hot sauce, marjoram, thyme, salt, and pepper.
-Pour the egg mixture into the pan, covering the bread.
-After about two minutes, top with cheese.
-Remove from burner and place under broiler till the cheese starts to show hints of golden brown.
-Let cool for 1 minute, then invert onto a platter.
-Invert that onto another platter, so that it is right-side up again.
-Cut into wedges with a pizza wheel.
-Top with chopped parsley if desired, and serve.

Potato and Leek Frittata with Cheese

The Goods:
-5-6 eggs
-1 large yukon gold or other medium starch potato, cut into 1/4" thick disks
-3 ounces sharp cheddar or cheese of your liking, sliced thin or shredded
-1/2 cup chopped leeks
-1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock (the use of stock here makes the potatoes perfectly flaky)
-A splash of milk
-2 tbs coconut oil
-2 Tablespoon butter
-1 Tablespoon course ground dijon or other prepared mustard
-1 teaspoon dried dill
-salt and pepper

The Deal:
-Add 1 Tablespoon coconut oil and 1 Tablespoon butter to 12" oven-safe pan over medium-low heat, coat well.
-Add potato slices.
-Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook for about 5-7 minutes till golden brown on the underside, then flip.
-Cook for another 5-7 minutes till golden brown on the other side, then add the chicken stock.
-Cook for three minutes, turn, then cook till the stock has almost entirely evaporated or been soaked up by the potatoes.
-Remove the potatoes from the pan, and add another tbs butter to the pan, coating it well.
-Add the chopped leeks and a pinch of salt, and cook them for a few minutes till they start to brown around the edges.
-Remove the leeks.
-Whisk the eggs with a splash of milk, the mustard, and a pinch of salt.
-Add another tbs coconut oil to the pan, and coat well.
-Add the egg mixture to the pan.
-Sprinkle the dill and some fresh ground pepper on the egg mixture.
-Evenly place the potato slices into the egg mixture.
-Evenly distribute the leeks over that.
-Evenly distribute the cheese over that.
-After the eggs have cooked for a couple minutes, take off the burner and place under broiler until cheese starts to show hints of golden brown.
-Remove from oven and let cool for a minute.
-Invert onto platter, then invert that onto another platter so that it is right-side-up again.
-Cut into wedges with pizza wheel.
-Top with diced tomatoes and chopped parsley if desired, and serve.

*Creative title crediting is fully due to Katy Wolk-Stanley over at The Non-Consumer Advocate.