Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blood, Sweat and Years

The new year holds some exciting writing projects in store for me. I'll have a column in a debut quarterly magazine that is, for now, top secret. I can't even begin to tell you how pumped I am about it. Sorry to be so mysterious, but, trust me, it'll be worth the wait. Look for more details this spring...

I'm also penning a monthly column, titled "English Lessons" (trust me, I'm aware of just how cheeky it is; I didn't come up with it, but I'm not opposed to it either...) in Western N.C.-based Verve magazine. My first column is up today and details my very personal return to eating meat. Each column will discuss some hurdle, issue, or personal challenge I've faced, and how I dealt with it. I'm not suggesting everyone do as I do; I'm just putting out there what happened to me. I don't believe in one-size-fits-all solutions. I'm just chatting about mine.

I hope you enjoy this new writing venture!

Friday, December 30, 2011

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! I'm still battling my head cold, 'tho I think it's finally giving up the ghost. Thank you so very much for sharing all of your go-to cold-fighting tips!

Here's a smattering of things that got me jazzed up, amped up, and otherwise intrigued this past week: 
*This British documentary film about sustainable farming for the future is so captivating. 
*Stingless honeybees considered sacred in Mayan culture are in danger of extinction.
*Gastronomista is as beautiful to behold as it is enjoyable (and informative) to read.
*This honey harvest video from Kinfolk is just beautiful.
*Loving these "25 best songs of 2011 you might have missed."
*Crushing hard on Foodiecrush, an online food magazine and blog.
*Southern cuisine is more than just shrimp & grits and Cracker Barrel.
*Meg lists her top 10 reasons to become an urban beekeeper.
*Jenna's argument in favor of dogs both inspires and incites her readers (we're big dog lovers, chez English).
*My beloved friends Jael and Dan Rattigan had solar panels installed on the roof of their French Broad Chocolate Lounge yesterday!!!

Our dear friends Jen and Jon and their sweet little girl, Awynn, are visiting from Atlanta. They're staying in a cabin out at Lake Eden (the site of their wedding 10 years ago!) and we're planning some sort of rendezvous with them, and a host of other long-time buddies, out there on New Year's Day. Hoppin' John, collards and cornbread will undoubtedly make appearances, considering we're Southeners and all....

Wherever you go this weekend, however you celebrate, whomever you get festive with, may it be safe, healthy and grand. Happy New Year, small measure-ers!!! Thank you SO much for all of your love in 2011!!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Talkin' Trash

Out here in the country, we don't have regular curbside trash service. Well, let me clarify that. There is a trash service, but you have to pay for it. Since we live one mile down a dirt road, by the time we haul our garbage and recycleables into the back of the Outback and down to the curb we figured we might as well just keep driving, skip the removal fee,  and take them to what's known as the "transfer station", where debris of various sorts is taken, sorted, and then eventually hauled off to the landfill or recycling facilities.

Hubs created the recycling holding station pictured above for keeping our items out of the house (our pantry was getting some kind of crazy crowded with all manner of recyclables). Since almost every forest-dwelling predator imaginable shares the cove with us out here, he put a handled plank of wood on top to credit a barrier and deter easy access from marauding visitors of the four-footed persuasion. The gravel beneath each bin serves two purposes: it creates a weed barrier and it provides drainage to prevent water from pooling beneath the bins.

It's awesome. Over the course of a few days, I squirrel away recyclable this's and that's in a canvas tote in the pantry. When it's full, I schlep it outdoors and place items in separate bins for glass, metal, plastic, paper, and cardboard (which I jointly share with #5 recyclable items, accepted at our local Whole Foods).

As an order-seeking person, this appeals to me on so many levels. Things are tidy inside, and orderly outside, interluding in a sort of recycling purgatory until we fire up the Subaru and make our pilgrimage to the Transfer Station. I keep my sanity in check and my house orderly while our recyclables get a second lease on life. Win, win.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Check Your Head (Cold)

Hi friends! I hope your holiday weekend was filled with everyone and everything that you love. Ours certainly was. We stopped by our favorite children's consignment store on Friday and picked up a few things for Huxley, including a wooden stove (with cabinets! for squirreling things away in!), a wooden rocking horse, a wooden tool box, a wooden puzzle, and some great clothes on clearance. Along with some fabulous gifts from my mother and grandmother, he was in heaven come Christmas day. 

For Hubs, I picked out a pair of these boots, to use as muck boots for when he's in the chicken coop or working in the garden. I also bought him copies of these two books, good reads he'd been wanting to check out. Finally, I registered him for a beginning ceramic class, which runs 6 weeks and begins next Tuesday. Always a great gifter, he festooned me with a few pieces of jewelry from one of my favorite designers, a sturdy yet chic tote, a functional yet fashionable hoodie (with black toggle buttons, my favorite!) and a lamp I'd had my eye on. 

We had friends over for a feast of feasts, featuring all-natural N.C. ham, corn pudding, collards from our garden, double cheddar biscuits, our friend's incredible rosemary roasted root vegetable puree, and my healthy spin on the southern classic fruit salad dish "ambrosia" (fresh pineapple, fresh apples, fresh clementines, toasted pecans, all-natural maraschino cherries, and organic sour cream). Dessert was homemade coconut custard pie with vanilla bean whipped cream topping, washed down with proseco. Like I said, an epic feast. 

Today, though, I'm holed up on the couch, in my flannel p.j.'s (yes, I prefer the color palette of men's pajamas; no pink for this lady), nursing a head cold. Never one to take sickness easily, I've already been pounding pots of this tea, have gargled with warm salt water, taken several rounds of elderberry syrup, languished in a bath using my mustard powder blend, and rubbed this phenomenal vapor rub on my chest. I'm already feeling back in the saddle. 

What about you? What do you do when the yucks come 'a knocking? I'd love to hear of your healing tips and go-to solutions. Otherwise, here's wishing you and yours a week of wellness!

Friday, December 23, 2011

What I'm Digging

It's finally here, friends! Solstice was yesterday (we took a walk in our forest to celebrate) and Christmas is in two days! Baking has been full-throttle, packages have been wrapped and shipped, and plans for a holiday feast are in full swing.

Here's a smattering of things that grabbed my attention, piqued my interest, and tantalized my taste buds this week:

*Gorgeous and inspiring Brooklyn-based project profiling artisan goods and their makers.
*Kurt breaks down his "Golden Rules of Sustainability."
*Healing a cavity naturally, without the dentist? Sign me up!
*Thinking of making a runner for the dining room table using this method.
*Lynne made this bread the other night for our dinner. SO good, and easy to make!
*Richard Louv is amazing.
*Young farmers unite!
*We can all "dig" Roger's subversive "plot."
*Three words=maple walnut trifle.
*Thinking of growing my flock's food.

Wherever this weekend takes you, whatever you do, whomever you spend it with, may it be grand. Here's wishing a wonderful holiday filled with love, light, and laughter to you and yours from me and mine!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sweet Surrender

Oh, my. These past few days have been a flurry of dinner party-noshing, birthday party merry-making, cookie-baking, gift-packaging and baby-chasing. We're finally starting to wind down, looking forward to a quiet, slow solstice walk in our forest tomorrow (if the rain stays away) and then a hearty Christmas dinner with friends and family on Sunday.

We're doing things on a small scale, holiday-wise, around here. That's typically the route I take during the holidays. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with buying ipads and Kindles and chocolate diamonds, if that's what the season is about for you. For Hubs and I, though, it's about drawing inwards, to cook, to bake, to sip, and to savor the quiet days and nights of winter. It's about feeling so very thankful for the life we have been given, the almost staggering love we feel for each other and for Huxley, and for the phenomenal community of friends and family we get to share this journey with.

We packed up several boxes for loved ones today, all of which included a smattering of homemade items from our kitchen, gardens, and creatures we share the cove with. Hubs titled the honey-colored tan cubes above "Mishaps," as they were born out of a recipe for honey fudge gone awry. We discovered long ago that some of our best creations occur when we set about fixing a project that failed in its execution. In the case of the "Mishaps," the fudge was too thin and set in a strange way. To mend that issue, Hubs had the genius idea to sandwich peanut butter between two layers of fudge squares. The result is as good as it sounds-sweet, salty, toothsome. Delicious.

I wanted to share photos of some stollen I made last week. I pine for stollen all year, longing for it come Christmastime just like I clamor for pumpkin ale in autumn and drum my fingers waiting for the wineberries to ripen in summer. This year, I was determined to make my own loaf. First, I candied some orange peel, then baked it into the stollen the next day, using the recipe from this book. It's been pure heaven nibbling on a warm slice served alongside hot cardamom coffee this past week. I might just have to make another batch before the month is over. The recipe called for a mere 1/4 cup, so I had a good bit of candied peel left. Those strips were given the chocolate treatment, with a hearty dunk into melted chocolate for gift-giving.

My sweet tooth has been more than placated these past few weeks. From the cookie exchange onward, we've been sugarin' it up around here. Which suits me just fine. A bit of decadence every now and again only serves to make the sour times in life that much more manageable!

What about you? Got a sweet story to share? I'd love to know what sugary bliss you've been busy with, too!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! It's grey and overcast here, which suits this wet weather-loving lady just fine. Hubs and I are cuddled up with homemade stollen and cardamom coffee, with plans to make batches of spiced apple butter later. Tonight we're headed over to Lynne's for dinner, followed by a trip to Rene and Billy's tomorrow for their sweet daughter Trumie Rose's first birthday. Should be a great weekend! 

Here's what got me thinking, inspired my curiosity and tantalized my taste buds this week:
*Canadian Kevin Kossowan is my kind of food guy.
*This will be mine.
*Wouldn't it be wonderful to go visit Melanie here?
*This article on the "new domesticity" is captivating.
*Jen's biscotti are perfect for making and sharing.
*I love when animals and man make peace with each other.
*I couldn't agree any stronger with this article (homemade is better!).
*Great homemade gift ideas from the fine folks at Saveur.
*Lavender hot chocolate (via Anthology)!!!
*Stunning photography, styling, and recipes (and it's all grain- & sugar-free, for those on such diets finding themselves in need of a bit of inspiration).

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, may it be grand!

*What I'm Digging is always heralded by an image of Huxley because, along with his Papa, he's truly what I dig the most.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Glove Connection

A few posts back, I mentioned that I was sporting fashionable yet chilly fingerless alpaca gloves. Ever the sweet soul, Cat over at Neo-Homesteading tipped off her buddy John of DR Power about my glove plight. A stranger to me, John, in an act of extreme generosity, then shipped me a complementary pair of Elkskin gloves from his company, DR Power Equipment. Made by a small company in Oregon, the gloves are super soft, yet durable. They're also perfect for outdoor cold weather tasks, as the gloves are lined inside with Thinsulate.  

I wasn't familiar with DR Power. Now that I am, I wanted to tip you off to them, as well. Here's a description of his company that John sent me: 

At DR Power Equipment, we care deeply for the places and the properties we call home. When we leave our offices or the manufacturing floor, we head home to feed the chickens, mow the lawn, or split some firewood. Our connection to our community and the land here in Vermont is part of the reason we build machines the way American manufacturers used to. Quality is non-negotiable here. 

John sent along a catalogue with the gloves and there are some seriously nice offerings included in its pages (I've got my eye on their greenhouse!). While there are many bigger ticket items like mowers, trimmers and weeders, there's also a host of offerings in the lower price range. 

I'd also highly encourage you to check out this e-book on winterizing your property put out by DR Power. It's loaded with helpful tips for maximizing your energy usage during the colder months and for keeping your house and property as fortified against Jack Frost as possible. While you're reading up on winterizing, I invite you to check out this Design Sponge post I made on the subject two years ago, after a sudden, intense snowfall rendered us out of power and short on supplies (some serious lessons were learned then, I'm telling ya!). 

Thanks Cat and John for your kindness! Winter (and my fingers) will be all the better for it!!! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An (Almost) Winter's Day

Huxley and I took a walk down to the mailbox today. I gave the UPS guy permission when he dropped off a package last week to just give me a call with future deliveries and leave them on the mailbox. Our driveway is insanely bad right now (more of a 'challenge' than a driveway, really), so driving a big, brown parcel truck up this craggy canyon of a drive is no one's idea of a good time. When resources allow, it's the first thing we intend to repair. 

The walk was a splendid one. We live in what's called Hominy Valley, and our driveway begins on Hominy Creek. The Hominy Valley Wildlife Club greets all of our guests on the road to the house and boasts gun shots every Thursday night when the dudes of the valley (I've yet to seen any ladies there) get together for chatting and target practice. 

I love walking the property this time of year. There are all of these wild, magnificent berries and the dried flora of summer & autumn provide graphic landscapes of whites and greys. It's also the best time of year to view the creek crossed when you reach the "English 98" sign on our road, as well as the most ideal time to make out the mountain ridge line behind the house. 

Huxley dug it, and so did I. Small pleasures. 

*If you want to see more from our jaunt (including me looking innocently off camera in my new specs), go here.

Suzie's Sourdough Circus

I love all of the small world overlaps that occur when blogging. My editor was super close friends with Anna growing up, whose blog I just adore. Sara is friends with Grace, which I discovered on Twitter. And Katy, whose blog is gaining increasing renown, went to college with Hubs. Small world, indeed.

A few weeks back, Katy sent Huxley a package for his birthday. The package contained an adorable craft paper envelope (drawn by Katy) inside of which was an autographed copy of the equally darling Suzie's Sourdough Circus by Kathy Sager. The book depicts (via Eliska Liska's captivating illustrations) a day in the life of Suzie, a child who, after playing outdoors, comes inside to create a batch of sourdough bread.

Teeming with wild and wacky sourdough cultures, Suzie's Sourdough Circus tells in rhyming prose the life and times of these cultures. The book concludes with several recipes, including: Six Tips for Happy Sourdough, Suzie's Sourdough Bread, Sourdough Flapjacks, Sourdough Bannock (sort of like a pancake), and Chocolate-Vanilla Marble Sourdough Cake.
When I asked Katy what motivated her to send Huxley the book, here's what she had to say:
The book is written by the best friend of my little sister Sara (although she did name the character "Suzie" after her mother.) Our father started making the family bread using sourdough starting way back in the early 70's, and has never stopped. And although I sinfully buy store-bought bread, my sister makes hers using our father's recipe. 

I thought this book was a perfect fit for your family, as it depicts a cozy making-everything-from-scratch family, complete with sleeping dog (who, incidentally is based on my sister's dog Ramira!). Also, I think the publisher did a fantastic job with design, (as did Lark books [with mine]) And the illustrations could not be cuter. 

Agreed. This book is stellar. Thank you so much for your generosity, Katy, and to Kathy for signing Huxley's copy.  I can't wait for when Huxley is old enough to read it and make some sourdough together. If you've got wee ones of your own, or even just in your life, I can't recommend Suzie's Sourdough Circus enough. It would make a GREAT holiday gift!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Light Up the Night (+ Giveaway!!!)

For some, the months of winter are dreaded days. The trifecta of cold, wet weather, minimal daylight hours, and time spent indoors renders them cranky and dispirited. For me, though, this is a glorious time of year.

A perennial homebody, I can contentedly go for days at a stretch without leaving the property. In fact, I just did this very thing, sticking around chez English this past Tuesday through Sunday (although, admittedly, the stomach flu played a vital hand in that situation). As a stay-at-home writing living in the country, and now a full-time mom (Huxley has yet to be babysat, and we're in no great rush to change that), it's easy to pass the days around the house without feeling the need to make the trek into town. Writing, baking, cooking, playing, and exploring outdoors characterize our days, while the light from the wood stove, Christmas tree, and candles light up our nights.

I'm also a huge fan of well-placed lighting, and proper indoor lighting come winter is, I believe, essential to making it through the season with your sanity intact. We use CFL bulbs in every lamp in our home. The soft glow they produce is warm and inviting, perfect for nights sequestered indoors when the ground is covered in snow and the streets are slick with ice. Compared to incandescent light bulbs, CFL's use considerably less energy (up to 75%) and have a much longer lifespan (up to 10x's). They do, though, contain trace bits of mercury and must be disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner. That's become increasingly easier to do these days, with large retailers such as Home Depot and Lowes offering CFL recycling stations in their stores.

Which all brings me to today's giveaway. Hubs was picking up some homesteaderly provisions at Lowe's a few weeks ago (probably wood for the recycling station he just built-post forthcoming) and found an incredible deal being offered. The home building retailer recently partnered with Progress Energy for a home energy efficiency initiative and was selling packages of CFL bulbs for way, way less than they're regularly priced. He stocked up on boxes of them, with a few to present as a giveaway. And, so, today's small measure giveaway is for a whole mess of bulbs, so that you too can save energy while lighting up the darkest time of the year.

The CFL package I'll be giving away includes:
1) Two packages of six 18W (incandescent 75W) bulbs, for a total of 12
2) One package of six 23W (incandescent 100W) bulbs
3) One monster package of eighteen 13W (incandescent 60W) bulbs
This totals 36 bulbs. That's a lot of energy efficient lighting, folks! CFL bulbs will easily fit into any lamp or light socket that accepts standard incandescent bulbs, for those that might be less familiar with them.

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me any small steps you've made towards being more energy efficient. One we employ during the colder months is the use of heavy curtains at night over several older windows downstairs. We replaced a lot of windows prior to Huxley's birth, to maximize the heat potential of the wood stove during cold weather, but left 4 old, sash-style windows, as we hope to eventually do some remodeling in those rooms. Until that day comes, we use the heavy curtains, drawing them shut once the sun sets.

Please leave a means of reaching you in your comment, either via a link to your own blog or website or include your email address. I'll run the giveaway for one week, ending next Monday, December 19th at midnight EST. Canadians, feel free to give it a go.

Until then, please know that, cheesy though it may sound, YOU truly light up my life. I love the community blogging creates and I can't thank you enough for taking the time to stop by here and check out my ramblings, musings, and spiels. You're amazing.

Now, get to commenting and, again, may the odds be ever in your favor ;^)

UPDATE:  The winner of the giveaway, chosen by the Random Widget, is Martha, number #52. Thank you so very much to everyone that entered. Look for lots of great giveaways coming up in the next few weeks!

Friday, December 9, 2011

What I'm Digging

Happy Friday, friends! Hope your weekend is off to a great start. Ours began a bit roughly. We were up oh, somewhere between 15-20 times last night, placating a whiny, wiggly, generally miserable teething baby. Poor fella!

I've got all kinds of grand plans for us this weekend, though, including some new additions to our flock (including a rooster!) and a photo opportunity with a certain white-bearded, round-bellied, red-suited someone.

Here's what captivated my attention, tempted my taste buds and otherwise inspired my senses this week:
*This traveling restaurant project from a former roommate of mine looks AMAZING!!!
*I can't wait to get my hands on this book.
*An honest, candid essay on killing animals, and all of the emotions doing so entails.
*Fir tip shortbread? I'm intrigued!
*Come January, I'll have a monthly column here.
*Huxley and I couldn't stop smiling when we watched this (via Anna at Door 16).
*These would look great framed.
*My kind of cocktail.
*Becoming An Outdoorswoman is a national program.
*Once he's a bit older, maybe next year, Huxley and I are definitely making this.

Also, my "Eco Finds Under $100" Gift Guide is up on Design Sponge. 

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, may it be grand!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Getting Hot In Here

Oh. My. Since my last post, chez English turned, for two days, into a house of affliction. Hubs and I came down with some kind of nasty stomach flu. On a good day, contracting stomach flu is miserable. Add a baby, 2 dogs, 4 cats, and 7 hens to the mix, and you've got two extremely bone-weary parents.

We're all on the up-and-up, though, and, best of all, Huxley never picked up the nasties himself. He's been a major cranky pants, however, on account of four new teeth due to make their debut any day, but he never did succumb otherwise. As we groaned and moaned and sipped gingerale and timidly nibbled on saltines these past few days, we lounged couch-side in our p.j.'s all day or gathered around the wood stove in the kitchen while the temperature dropped.

I wanted to share with you some photos of several wood stove reinforcements Hubs put together. Huxley, curious monkey that he is, has been playing around the wood stove since he could crawl. I decided that scolding him every time he touched it really made no sense until it was actually in use, so I held off fighting that battle until we started to crank it up. Which we now are.

To keep him safe and out of harm's way, Hubs built an L-shaped, two-sided gate out of 2"x2"'s. He opted for those, over 2"x4"'s, to give the gate an upscale, sophisticated vibe and less of a cobbled together one. It's perfect. From the moment we ignited the stove, Huxley stands at the gate, watching the flames while squeezing his tiny hands together and saying "Hot! Ouchy!" (which I say whenever I strick a match and light our stove top). Success!

Hubs also fashioned the firewood stand to the left of the wood stove. Having firewood available indoors (in addition to that outside) helps it to ignite more quickly. To keep the wild child from pulling it down onto himself, Hubs used 3 pieces of heavy 4"x4"'s as a base. The strip running across the stand's top is to stabilize it and can also be used as a handle for easily moving it around. Lastly, he opted to paint and distress it, to make it look a bit more attractive but capable of being scratched and roughened up by the firewood.

I think he did a grand job. Huxley seems to like scurrying around it (and no longer on it), I think it looks lovely, and we didn't have to invest in purchasing a hearth gate, most of which are quite costly. Now, if only Hubs could keep build something to keep the stomach flu away, we'd be set! In the meantime, a warm, safe hearth and home more than suffice.

*For those curious, you can also view images of the firewood stand without wood in it here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Deck the Halls (+Giveaway!!!)

While the weather outside today may be frightful (well, truth be told, it's not all that bad, just grey, misty and a bit cold), indoors, chez English is just delightful (it's for the sake for the rhyme, folks, so humor me, if you will)! I've mentioned lately that the holiday spirit descended early this year and has held me in its sparkly, shiny, happy grasp for weeks now. Its effect can be witnessed all over the house (photos to come on a sunnier day), with touches of yuletide decor in every room.

I'd like to share some holiday spirit with you today, because sharing is really the best way to multiply good cheer exponentially. The Phillips solar powered color changing LED painted glass ball lawn stake pictured above will go home to festoon the yard of one small measure reader. The fickle finger of fate will randomly choose a winner one week from today to help light up these dark nights in your own neck of the woods.

All you need to do to enter the giveaway is tell me how you like to decorate for the holidays. If you truly gild the lily, tell me about it. If you're more the Charlie Brown Christmas tree type, lay it on me. Or, if you don't decorate, but enjoy viewing someone else's efforts come holiday season, I want to know. Give me what you've got.

The contest will run for one week, concluding at midnight EST December 12th. Canadians, I'm happy to spread holiday cheer across the border. Please be sure to leave a means of reaching you, should you be the winner. You can do that via either a link back to your own website or blog, or by leaving your email address in your comment.

May the odds be ever in your favor!!!

UPDATE: The random number widget has chosen #17, El Gaucho, as the winner of this giveaway! Thank you so much to all that entered!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

What I'm Digging

Hi friends! Happy Friday! December is fully upon us now and we're into the holiday spirit, big time, chez English. I'll be hosting my 4th annual Ladies Cookie Exchange tomorrow. It's always a good time, with lots of raucous laughter, hearty hooch swilling, and delectable sugary bliss.

Here's a sampling of what's caught my eye, tugged at my heartstrings, and intrigued my senses this week:
*These animal-themed display windows are exquisite (via Anthology)
*Been enjoying Nicole's tempting recipes.
*Think I'll decorate our mantle with one of these.
*This book seems right up my alley.
*Hubs swears Lucky Peach is the best food magazine ever.
*Julio is an inspiration to people everywhere.
*Even banks are getting into honeybee stewardship.
*Speaking of bees, I gave a talk at UNC-Asheville yesterday to a group of students about beekeeping and then made this lip balm with them. Good times!
*Been putting a bit of this in my morning glass of water to (hopefully!) keep the winter yucks at bay.
*Picked up two of these recycled plastic feeders and the birds of the cove are digging them just as much as we are (Huxley loves to stand at the window and watch "his" birdies).

I'm headed to the Big Crafty on Sunday to check out Asheville's wealth of local artisans and then stop by my friend Bailey's house to meet her new twin boys. I'm also not ashamed to admit I'll be viewing a certain sparkly vampire flick on Monday with a crew of lovely ladies. Fun is in the (frigid!) air and I'm glad to be a part of it!

Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, may it be grand!!!