Sunday, October 4, 2015

Going Dutch

It took me ages to make the investment. Then, I did it at a discount. Finally, I got a dutch oven. I feel almost like a grown-up.

While I couldn't afford my dream Le Creuset crockery, I opted for a cherry red, 5-quart dutch oven from Cost Plus World Market. It is pretty and heavy and takes up a lot of space in The Mint Tin. It's forced to live on the stove; the oven already houses my cast iron skillets and bakeware. {That's the thing about living in such a small space; one thing changes ev-er-y-thing.} But it makes me smile each time I see it, and think about what I might put in it.

I had been on the fence about getting a slow cooker or a dutch oven. Truly, my place is too small to have both, so it had to be one or the other. My goal is to be able to cook healthy food that will last longer than a meal. To be honest, with my schedule (and stress level), I've just been picking up dinner rather than cooking it for much, much too long. You see, I am spoiled by a natural foods market, an Indian and a Thai restaurant all within walking distance; that kind of makes it easy to decide what's for dinner on the way home. Besides, my teeny-tiny refrigerator cannot house a week's worth of groceries, especially a week's worth of veg. {If I buy a head of broccoli, there's room for little else.} So, I'm trying to find ways to allow for healthy eating in a small space without having to go to the store every other day, and constantly cooking to keep up. The dutch oven is (hopefully) solution.

If you "Like" our Facebook page, you will have seen the long list of dutch oven-friendly recipes I've posted over the years. They were a bit of a wish list, to be honest. But, now I was going to be able to make those delicious goodies. As soon as I got home with my new treasure, I bookmarked dozens of additional recipes that I can't wait to try when (if!) the weather in Los Angeles get a little colder. Stews really don't sound tantalizing when you are still wearing tank-tops.

A couple of weeks went by before I actually used the DO. Finally, I realized waiting for the temperature to fall in line with autumn, I would just have to get on with it myself. After all, it is October.

For my first dutch (oven) treat, I opted for le poulet dans une casserole. That's "chicken in a pot" to you and I. I was shocked -- shocked, I say! -- at the cost of an organic whole chicken. Yes, this is a hint as to how long it's been since I've properly cooked. But, I persevered and gathered up the rest of the ingredients (onion, garlic, bay leaf, carrots, celery...Mother Hubbard's cupboards were bare) and decided to add in some Yukon gold potatoes to the mix, because I am an American of Irish descent, and that's just what we do.

Because the temperature for the roasting is only 250 degrees, this is a dish even that can be done even in warmer weather, which is all we seem to have in Los Angeles (we are due to be back in the 90s by the end of the week). In a small kitchen, with next to no counter-space, one has to be resourceful and creative. With hair tied back, apron on and hand towel holstered, it was time to make the chicken (and, yes, you have to read that as the Swedish Chef would say it). First, a quick prep of the floor because (sadly) that's where what's already housed in the oven will need to reside. Next, clean, cut measure and mix the ingredients, and place into ramekins so I can get what I need when I need it with minimal effort (especially when handling raw chicken).   I used coconut oil because that's my go-to these days and followed the directions, browning the chicken breast down first. Get yourself a good, long wooden spoon to pick it up and turn it over (it's actually quite easy). I mention this because I actually broke a wooden spatula trying the required maneuver. Stick with the spoon. Then, another 8 minutes on the other side, browning the veg before putting it in the oven. I added two Yukon gold potatoes, cut in eighths, and seasoned the bird and spuds with the salt and pepper before covering with aluminum foil and the lid, set the timer for 110 minutes, cleaned up and walked away. Which is one of the lovely things about this dish. There is no monitoring or basting required. Just let it be and enjoy the next hour and a half.
Photo via House and Garden UK with alternate recipe.

The result? Amazing. My regret? I didn't add more carrots and celery because they were so delicious. The onions basically melted away into the jus. The potatoes were perfection and I think add the quintessential touch. Next time, I think I will add some golden beets as well. The jus was incredible and, because of its flavor, I did not add the lemon juice as per the recipe. I think coconut oil did it's part in making the jus so good. I can see how this dish would be not only an easy main course for a dinner party, but a certain crowd-pleaser, too.

Clean up was beyond simple. I put the DO on the stove, added water and baking soda, and turned on the heat. With a little "brushing" from a wooden spoon, it came clean with ease. In the time it took the chicken to rest, the dishes were done. Love!

I'm already making stock from the giblets and bones. I'm freezing the liver and, when I get enough of those, I'll make paté along with my long-anticipated bread recipe. I can't wait for that. There's an apple crisp on the menu, too, and I can't help but think a Guinness chocolate cake would be great in there to boot.

I'm hoping to have something new in my little red "pot" each week. Maybe it will be as simple as a soup. Maybe a lobster tail or two. If yours is somewhere collecting dust, now's the time to get it out and get inspired.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mixed Tapes

When it comes to your adhesive arsenal, what do you have handy?

The proper tape is something easily overlooked, but it can be an inexpensive problem solver/lifesaver. It's one of those things that you can go without for ages but, once you've been rescued by it, you will feel lost without it.

"Scotch" Tape
First, we all should have that ubiquitous transparent, inch-wide tape we call by the brand name Scotch. However, the key to Scotch tape is to use it with a weighted dispenser rather than choose the single-use clear plastic type it comes with.

The great thing about the typical desk dispenser is that is solves a couple of problems: 1.) You can use it with one hand, which is very useful when wrapping gifts; and, 2.) It can be used as a weight hold down that wrapping paper while you get organized, or adjust the perfect line. The dispenser is basically a third hand when you need it. Desk dispensers are inexpensive and even the "cheap" ones last a lifetime. Oh, and when you're at the office and find a hem had dropped, Scotch tape to the rescue.

Clear Packing Tape
This is an often overlooked must-have for the simple reasons that it will seal your shipment as well as serve as a shipping envelope for those print-out "labels" for shopping returns or gifts to loved ones. Simply cover the entire label with the clear tape (as opposed to just the sides) to ensure safe delivery. {I'm always amazed when I see just the sides taped, and that it actually made it to its destination. Miracles to happen.}

Kraft Paper Packing Tape
Oh, how I love that brown paper tape (not to be confused the glossy plastic version). I also love kraft paper as an all-purpose wrapping paper, and that brown tape seals it perfectly. The paper tape  is also handy for disguising cables along a wood floor (if you live in a charming old home with a short supply of electrical outlets, you will know what I mean). It has a strong grip, so be sure to moisten it before removal on the wood, and have a "gunk" remover handy, too.

White Duct Tape
While the silver version is very disco, white duct tape seems a bit more versatile around the house. For instance, I used it to "patch" a section of a door jamb. The Mint Tin had a very awkward door separating the living area from the kitchen, which truly served no purpose. I decided to remove it and house it in my storage unit. Unfortunately, due to years of poorly done paint jobs, one of the hinges would not come off the door, and the hinge plate had to be removed from the jamb, exposing plain wood along the white trim. Fortunately, it was the bottom hinge. Because the door will eventually be returned, there was no need to patch and paint it when a piece of white duct tape could disguise it. The fastest fix imaginable.

Clear Duct Tape
Not quite invisible, but it does a great job of holding things together without standing out. Perfect for colorful yard sale signage. Your announcement will stand out rather than the tape.

It also saved the day when I accidentally dropped the ceramic lid of my water crock. Thank heavens, only an interior edge was damaged. I was able to cover the "wound" with the clear duct tape and wrap the edge. The repair is hardly noticeable. And I am very happy about that.

Black Electrical Tape
This unassuming tape is magic. It stretches. It holds. It's gentle, yet bold. It will come in handy in ways you might not imagine. Example: After getting a new coffee table for the Mint Tin (which also semi-serves as a night stand), I wanted to add some pizazz to it with, of all things, a tissue box. With a coupon and a gift card, I headed over to BBB and got this. Feeling the roughness of the "grout" at the bottom of the box, I thought I would have to return it because it was surely going to scratch the glass. Then it dawned on me. Electrical tape! I cut thin strips to cover the bottom, and it is practically invisible. See?

Blue Painters Tape
Of course this is perfect for protecting edges whilst painting, but it's also the kinder, gentler tape to use every day. It will hold without leaving adhesive (perfect for when you need to tape something to glass). It can be used as labels for containers, corralling your cables, holding a hem and marking a spot for a nail or a measuring line.

While you might not think you need all these tapes, they are nice to have handy when in a pinch.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Classics never go out of style. And what could be more classic than a mason jar?

Today, they are everywhere. And, if you don't own any, I'm sure you've considered getting one or two. Finally, I did just that.

Because the Mint Tin is so tiny, and cupboard space so limited, I have to be deliberate about my purchases. While I am trying to weed out my plastic containers and move to glass, I also have to consider cost. And nothing gives you more bang for the buck than a mason jar.

A simple Google search or visit to Pinterest will give you ample ideas of how to be creative with these versatile vessels. For me, they are most practical in the kitchen.

I brought home two quart-size jars to start my collection, knowing that, eventually, there will be more in different sizes. The important thing was to determine how I would actually use them rather than how I hoped to.

Admittedly, they did sit on a shelf for a while. I haven't been cooking much from home. Then came my puréed soup phase hit, and they were quickly employed.

The wonderful thing about mason jars is that they make whatever they hold pretty. My broccoli soup fail still looked delicious inside that glass (the texture was the issue there). And, because you will like looking at them, you will be less likely to forget what's in them.

With a little painters tape on the lid, you can note the date made and specify the contents or reheating instructions for those a bit less "culinary" than you.

I like to put my "milks" in them. Since I don't do dairy, I waffle between almond and coconut milks. More often than not, the flimsy flip-top lid will leak as I'm shaking the box. Because said milk is going into my coffee, it's not the kind of shower I want to start my day with. Mason jar to the rescue.

Grains and flours. Soups and smoothies. Sassy water and even salads. Oh, and did you know you can fit your blender blades to it and create your own "bullet"? There's not a whole lot mason jars can't do. And they look lovely doing it.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Water Maker

I make my own water.

That's a strange sentence to write. It's true, though, in a peculiar way. I make my own water.

I had set goals for this year to do more for the environment and find additional ways to save money. Pouring the contents of yet another plastic jug into my ceramic water crock made for an obvious choice: It was time to change my water system.

Years ago, I switched over to Camelbak BPA-free "Eddy" bottles and stopped grabbing a plastic bottle at the store. I have them in 2 sizes and use them every day, be it at the gym or at work. I even took one to a box at The Hollywood Bowl. {Tchaikovsky and fireworks on a July evening requires hydration, and a generous friend -- thank you so much, AT.} Back then, I had a water delivery service to bring me purer water than what I got from the tap. Being one who can indeed taste the difference between Evian, Fiji, Smartwater, Arrowhead, Sparkletts and City Municipal, and did not enjoy the deplorable taste of Brita, I knew this wasn't going to be the easiest of transitions. So, I did some research on the subject.

As a renter, getting a water filtration system for my home wasn't going to be an option; though, I did find some affordable solutions. I read reviews of the various filtration pitchers. Brita was already out, so that left Soma, Zero Water and Mavea (yes, there are many others, but I wanted to keep away from the very expensive and the obscure).

Soma was beautiful, but I wasn't sure it was the most thorough. From some of the reviews I read, Zero Water was probably too thorough. That left Mavea. I ordered it in white and at a discount, then gleefully waited for its arrival.

It is a pretty pitcher, and the filtering process is rather quick. However, the one thing I don't particularly like is that you had to waste about a half-gallon of water "priming" the filter. It wasn't fully wasted; I watered the potted jasmine that lines my walkway. Still, sort of not the point.

Because I drink a lot of water and used bottled water for cooking as well, I kept my water crock and filled it from the Mavea. That way, I'm never out of filtered water or have to wait for more to brew.

While the Mavea flavor is better than Brita, it's still nowhere near the sweet, minerally flavor of spring water that I so enjoy. So, I embarked on finding a solution.

First, I tried adding trace minerals. While they are good for you, you need to drink the water right away, otherwise the minerals will begin to oxidize and the flavor will become off.

Back to the internet for more research. That's where I stumbled upon this recipe for Magical Alpine Fairy Water. How could I pass that up?

Feeling something like an alchemist, I gathered my supplies from Amazon. Measuring fractions of grams, I added the powder to a liter glass bottle and poured filtered water to it. While the recipe calls for Zero Water filtration, I stuck with the Mavea. I added 10ml of the elixir to a 1L Eddy bottle of filtered water

While it isn't exactly like spring water, it's pretty darn close. I add the elixir potion only to a water bottle or a liter pitcher rather than my crock, because one of the ingredients settles at the bottom of the elixir bottle. I suspect it's the calcium. While this process is a bit more work -- and a slight additional investment -- to me, it's been worth it.

Before, I was spending about $6 per week on two 2.5 gallon jugs of spring water. That's $320 annually. My investment in the pitcher, a year's worth of replacement filters, and magical alpine fairy water supplies was $104.98. In the 8 weeks I've had my new "water system", I have saved approximately $48. In 9 1/2 weeks, I will have broken even on my investment and begin to save. At that time, there will be 13 weeks left in the year and that will put $78 back into the kitty.

A set of 3 replacement filters is about $22. I will save about $300 by using this water system. I'll have to check what the expiry dates are for the mineral powders. Even if I have to replace them, that will cost under $30, and that still gives me a savings of about $270. Not to mention at least 104 plastic jugs not going out for recycling.

So, yes, I make my own water. And I think it's smart, and delicious.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Home Second Home

via The Iguanas
It's become my annual pilgrimage to Sugartown in July. Leaving on a Thursday night after work to battle traffic (just to get to the freeway). I scramble that morning to finish packing, scramble to pack the car, scramble to get to work early so I can leave early -- sadly, I have yet to find the elegant way to prepare for an after-work departure. This year, my morning coffee was sacrificed.

Then, I spend the day running the inventory through my head. I have that. Drat, I forgot this. I grab a sandwich at lunch to serve for dinner, because the only stop I make is to refuel. (The only downside to my Fiat is that the smaller tank leaves me about two gallons short of getting there non-stop.)

I will admit, I don't look forward to the drive. Would you like to spend six hours in a car after sitting at a desk for eight? Of course not, because you are a sane human being. But I have a secret weapon to make it almost enjoyable: The World's Greatest 10-Hour Playlist. A long forgotten digital mixtape I created years ago and re-discovered on last year's drive. I've been adding for the past few weeks anticipation. A great song after great song plays, each one still a surprise, because I only listen to it on long drives. With it, my car becomes a karaoke booth until I arrive on that sweet cul de sac.

Before pulling out of the driveway, I set Waze to "go" and pressed play to start the soundtrack. Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" is the opener and perfect to listen to as I meandered my way up Sunset Boulevard to the 405 North to more traffic. But, once I got to the 5, it was the easiest drive I can recall. As I came up the 580, the lights of Livermore danced on the black sky backdrop, rain fell and "My Ever Changing Moods" by The Style Council played. It couldn't have been more perfectly timed.

Sugartown is something of a second home. Debbie and Ted are such wonderful hosts, and have "my room" ready for my late arrival. It's a nice place to wake up in on a street with so many memories. And, for the first time in three years, it didn't hurt to be there.

The Novato Relay for Life came two weeks early this year. That seemed to throw me off my game a bit, especially with it occurring the weekend after the July 4th holiday. There was a last minute hustle to raise funds, buy supplies and get everything done before that Thursday departure. But, as usual, everything magically fell into place.

There is magic to the Relay. We have so many wonderful people on our team, we actually have to register as two. I think our tent village actually has its own ZIP code. While there is a sombre note to the occasion, we find a way celebrate our loved ones, and have fun. We succeed at both.

People, both North and South, have commented on my commitment to drive up each year, but I'm not the only one who makes the pilgrimage. Carolyn flew in from Portland, Mari drove over from San Fran, all to leave the comfort of their own homes and busy schedules to sleep in a tent and forego porcelain that flushes. It's very hot during the day (though, we did get a reprieve from intense heat this year), and freezing cold at night -- this is not a luxury weekend. But, it's also not a chore. We do this for Jennifer. And for Dennis and James. We do this for other loved ones we have lost or who have battled cancer. I think we also do it for each other.

When else are we going to have a reason to spend 24 hours together? When else would we see the humor in crawling out of tents, not to lounge lakeside, but to walk more? When else would I see James and his friends being such boys? When else would I get the chance to talk with Sphinxie and Switzerland, and dangle Trouble? This is a precious weekend. The Relay means something different to each of us, but there are many common threads pulling us in close. And that's the most beautiful part of it.

This year, laughter trumped tears. The long running punchlines still make us double over. "Where the cow went through the window," belongs on a t-shirt. And, when you ask Carolyn about the "big ol' dump", it's not at all what you might be thinking. But it will turn a smile into an out-loud laugh. Mari even got her home "work" done. The Sugartown team is sweet. And I look forward to returning next year.

Thank you to my Sugartown family, who provides the best bed and breakfast in town, who gives me a tent, who loans me a sleeping bag, who gets me vegan meals, who knows the importance of a strong cup of coffee, who listens to me gripe, who forgives my four-letter slips in front of their children and still says I'm a good influence, who welcomes me in with a cold beer after a long drive, and an even longer walk, and who, so kindly, asks me back again. I love you dearly and I miss you the minute my car heads south.

Thank you to my generous friends, who tolerated my cajoling and donated over $1,500 to me. Your unbelievable support warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. You helped our team come in first place as fundraisers, earning over $13,000 for the American Cancer Society. Thank you so much.

These are the only tan lines I'll have this summer. I walk the track in flip-flops. I find that to be a more elegant stroll than having to keep pulling over to get a rock out of my sock. Also: No blisters. {Got to love those Reefs.} Each time I look at those lines, I smile.

I didn't get in as much walking this year as I'd have liked. People think that ten miles is a good stride but it should be double that. That's the goal for next year.

And, yes, there are others I walk for, too. Each served to me as a great inspiration and really changed my life.


If you would be interested to giving to Sugartown, we would appreciate it. Giving closes on August 31st. Thank you. And, if you'd ever like to join the team, we'd happily welcome you aboard. xo