Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gratitude: Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Recently, while reorganizing some stuff in the house, I came across a journal my mom gave me in 1998. It is one of those notebooks I was afraid to start using because it was so beautiful. The cover has a deep green background and a beautiful fairy with a flute who sings to the woodland creatures. 

Looking at the picture always makes me happy, partly because it reminds me of my mom and partly because it portrays a scene of love and festivity. I finally put words into it on January 14, 1998. The first entry was a quote my mom had written in my 21st birthday card:

    “Optimism, like the happiness habit, can be learned. Start today with a little experiment. Smile at everyone you meet. Today, expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday. Realize the past no longer holds you captive. It can only continue to hurt you if you hold onto it. Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits.”  -- Sarah Ban Breathnach from the book Simple Abundance

I began to fill the book with lists of things that I was grateful for. Looking through the list that is now 12 years old, I realized two things: 1.) that none of the things I had written were material possessions, they were all irreplaceable people, places or moments and 2.) that 12 years later, not many of them had changed. I’m still grateful for each and every one of them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spicing It Up: Curry Puffs & Stuffed Peppers

My husband is a Green Bay Packer fan. Wait, let me rephrase that. My husband bleeds green and gold. We have a neighbor that is in the middle of repainting their house from yellow to green. They’ve run into some setbacks and the project is temporarily on hold, so now the house is half green/half gold. Ryan stares longingly across the yard and asks if he can do that to our house. At first I laughed, and then I had the sickening feeling that he wasn’t kidding. Every time he needs to make a “quick run to the hardware store” I check to make sure no cans of Packer-colored exterior house paint found their way into his cart. So far, so good.

His brother is just as big of a fan as my husband, but instead of painting the outside of his house the team colors, he dedicated an entire room inside to the players instead. The “Man Room,” as they call it, is quite an impressive display, even if you don’t care for the sport. The walls are painted in the official Packer green, official Packer carpet covers the floor, and historic team and player photos cover the walls. Every Sunday, I lose Ryan to the Man Room where he follows the moves of his favorite team (and all the players throughout the league who he recruited for his fantasy team). He sits on plush leather chairs, drinking beer ceremoniously from his leather mug (which he swears brings the team luck), and rarely moves his eyes from the 60” flat screen TV for hours on end.

I choose not to partake in these events. Well, let’s be serious, girls aren’t really “allowed” in the Man Room anyway so I don’t need much of an excuse to spend the day doing other activities. But a couple of weeks ago, Ryan made a request for some appetizers from The Found Recipe Box that he could bring over for the festivities. I gave him the list of recipes and he picked out curry puffs and stuffed peppers. I was excited to explore a new category in the box and to try two recipes I’ve never made before.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Found Recipe Box Turns One!: Fluffy Yellow Cake & Chocolate Butter Icing (For Elinor)

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my first post to the blog. It’s amazing to look back and see how far I’ve come in this journey. A lot has happened this year and I never imagined that a recipe box would be such an integral part of that experience. I’ve learned a lot, not only in the kitchen, but about myself as well. And I’ve tried so many things I may not have taken a chance on had I not challenged myself with this project.

In one of the first few posts, I listed all the categories and how many recipes are contained on the cards in the box. Of the 479 recipes, I’ve posted 102 (including today’s post). On one hand, I can’t believe how many new recipes I’ve made in the past year. On the other, I realize I have a long way to go! But as I stated in the beginning, this project wasn’t something that I wanted to complete in a certain time frame. Also, due to budget restraints and amount of people willing to eat the large number of cakes and desserts, I need to spread out the recipes and allow a few calories to be burned before I fill friends’ and family’s plates with more food. So I hope you’re all willing to hang in there for a while, because there is a lot left to accomplish in the kitchen!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Finding Inspiration in Cookies: Springerle

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been in a creative rut for quite some time. I stare at my art supplies and all I can do is organize them and put them away. I open a journal and words can’t find their way to the page. I know that the cause of this stress stems from unemployment, but breaking through it is hard to do.

At the beginning of my unemployment, the situation gave me a reason to write. There was so much going on in my head, I had to get it all down to make sense of it. But this coming February will mark my 2-year anniversary of losing my job. I never thought it would last this long. The constant frustration of never hearing back from employers or interviewing and getting excited about the position only to find out I didn’t get an offer has taken its toll. Add to that the negative stigma surrounding the phrase “long-term unemployed” and harsh comments I’ve received about falling into that category have left me feeling scared, discouraged, ashamed and alone. I can’t even find respite in sleep.  Instead of crashing into the pillow and retreating into the crazy dream world behind my eyelids, I lie awake pondering what possessions I can sell to pay the bills, wonder when things will turn around, and try to remember a time when I wasn’t so stressed out.

Writing down my thoughts used to help, but I’ve gotten sick of writing the same worries over and over. I’ve tried filling pages with nothing but words of encouragement, but then a setback will occur and doubt will lodge its destructive-self deep into my head, destroying all the hard work of those positive words. So I pulled out all of my art books for inspiration and turned to the work of my favorite artists to get my mind focused on creativity and hopefulness instead of stress and worry.

In my very first blog post, I mentioned the work of Dan Eldon, who is one of my greatest inspirations. I also spoke of him in my presentation to the Visual Journaling Collective in June. So I began to sift through his journal pages. Then I turned to the work of Keri Smith, another of my favorite artists. She has a book called “How to be an Explorer of the World” that I absolutely love. It is filled with ways to discover the world around you, interact with your surroundings, and truly pay attention to everything you see. She uses a lot of found objects in her work and since acquiring her book a few years ago, I am constantly looking for things, especially when I take walks with Murphy. I have quite a collection of random objects that I’ve discovered throughout our journeys. I also highly recommend her books “Wreck This Journal,” “This is Not a Book,” and “Mess.” Each is a journal with prompts on how to let your creativity go wild. For example, one page instructed me to fill it with dirt. I took one look at my dog who had just dug a hole in my yard and thought, “Perfect!” I ran over, grabbed his foot, wiped it all over the page and presto – art was made! For someone like me who is constantly struggling to “let go of perfect,” this was a big breakthrough. 

The "artist" with his work