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Posts Tagged ‘cozy’

birch bark reindeer

On Monday morning, I dropped off a thick stack of Christmas cards at the post office.

The hubs and I sat at the kitchen table the night before, listening to Christmas music, surrounded by sticky labels and the ever-changing list I print off and then mark up every year. We both reached for our phones several times to text friends for new addresses. As I said to Jaclyn, the act of virtually asking for a physical address seems to capture December in the modern world. (That might go double for Jaclyn herself: we met online, have exchanged many snail-mail letters and even met in person a few times, and are mostly keeping up via text and blogs these days.)

I only write down many of these addresses once or twice a year: my aunt and grandparents near San Antonio, my housemates from grad school in England. A cluster of houses in southwest Missouri, where my dad grew up and his family (by blood and by choice) still lives.

Some of these folks I don’t talk to all that often, and haven’t seen for years. But their addresses, and the physical act of writing them by hand, are in there. And sending Christmas cards – choosing a photo, scrambling to update the list, finding an hour to scribble notes on the back of each card to our loved ones – is one of the small but important rituals of the season.

Christmas tree snoopy

Last week, on a rare weeknight at home together, we watched The Muppet Christmas Carol over bowls of spicy carrot-ginger soup, delighting in the songs and silliness and cracking up at the asides by Rizzo and Gonzo. This weekend, we ordered takeout from our favorite Indian place and watched White Christmas. I giggled at Danny Kaye’s facial expressions, marveled at Vera-Ellen’s footwork, and welled up when the General walked down the stairs in his uniform. (Every year.)

So much (I keep saying) has changed in the last few years: my job(s), our address(es), the way we navigate so much of our daily lives. This year, Advent has felt hard and different; I’ve missed some of my usual traditions, like the church Christmas pageant and the a cappella notes of O Come O Come Emmanuel.

But some of the season’s tiny rituals remain the same. J has hung the felt mistletoe ball in the doorway between the dining and living room. The words in my Advent book are still there, sustaining and comforting and sometimes shaking me awake, as I page through them before bed. The cyclamen and poinsettias at my florist are vivid and glorious. The shop windows all over town are sparkly and festive. I’m fighting (hopefully defeating) my annual December cold, and laughing at my sister’s photos of her Elf on the Shelf, Oliver, and his antics.

poinsettias brattle square florist red flowers Cambridge

We are making travel plans, packing, doing laundry, finishing up the Christmas shopping. I am humming the familiar carols, and singing them with others, when I can. (We spent Sunday morning at a lessons and carols service that fed my soul and made my heart sing.) We bought (more) wrapping paper and Scotch tape this weekend, and the tiny coat-hanger tree I’ve had for twenty years is sparkling away on top of the microwave.

Some of our neighbors have set electric candles in their windows, and the sight warms me when I glance outside after dark. Before I go to bed, I pause in the kitchen to glance out the window at the quiet street, then in the living room to take in the glow of the Christmas tree before unplugging it for the night. So much of each day feels hurried and hectic, but just for a moment each night, there is peace.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing, the gaps between what ought to be and what has not yet come. We are waiting, we are hurting, we are tiptoeing toward Christmas. And while we wait, I am savoring every bit of joy.

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daisy dalrymple books mystery

As I noted recently, I’m always reading something gentle these days. I especially love a good series, since it allows me to dip into the same fictional world over and over. I also love a mystery, and the latest series I’ve fallen for – which fits into both categories – is the Daisy Dalrymple mystery series by Carola Dunn.

The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple is a young aristocratic Englishwoman, trying to make her way in the world after World War I has wreaked its havoc on her nation and her loved ones. (Her brother and her sweetheart were both killed in action.) Daisy is cheerful, spunky and determined to earn her own way, which she does as a writer for Town & Country and other magazines. Lots of people – including her mother, the fretful Dowager Duchess – are horrified at the thought of a noblewoman working for a living, but Daisy keeps pounding away at her typewriter.

The series begins when Daisy travels to stately Wentwater Court write an article about it, and stumbles into a murder. Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, assigned to the case, realizes that Daisy has a nose for clues – and that people of all stripes tend to confide in her. Irritated though he is at Daisy’s meddling, he accepts her help on the case. (I’m sure you can tell where this relationship is going – but it’s a lot of fun to watch it develop.)

Like Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, which I also love, these books are Maisie Dobbs lite. They’re set in the same era – between the wars in England – and some of the plots explore the aftereffects of war and the social changes sweeping the nation, but always with a light touch.

The series boasts an entertaining cast of supporting characters, including Alec’s sergeant, Tom Tring (he of the walrus moustache and witty asides) and Constable Ernie Piper (a math whiz who always has a pencil to hand). Daisy’s flatmate Lucy and her old friend Phillip, as well as Alec’s daughter Belinda, make regular appearances. And, of course, the mystery always wraps up neatly by the end of the book.

I’ve already read seven of Daisy’s adventures, but fortunately there are 21 books in the series so far – enough to last me a while. Perfect comfort reading.

Are you acquainted with Daisy and Alec? (Or do you have any other mystery recs for me?)

Mystery Monday is an occasional blog series about my favorite mysteries. Read past Mystery Monday posts here.

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parnassus books nashville

It’s no secret that I am a serious bookworm. I have a dedicated table for my to-be-read pile, a library holds list as long as my arm, and at least one stack of review copies waiting to be perused at all times. (Currently it’s two stacks.)

I read widely, and I like to think I read broadly. I love many different kinds of books, including (but not limited to) memoirs, mysteries, young adult and middle-grade novels, adult fiction (both general and literary), poetry, and popular nonfiction. My shelves on Goodreads are almost as full as my real-life bookshelves (which are bulging). I am always reading several books at once.

I have two English lit degrees, a constantly shifting calendar of review deadlines and a pretty good sense (I like to think) of what constitutes “quality” literature. So sometimes I think I “should” be reading only the high-quality stuff: shiny new literary fiction, classics that have stood the test of time, nonfiction books dealing with Important Ideas. And I do read all those things. But in the past couple of years – even before I chose it as my word for 2015 – I’ve noticed that I’ve always got at least one “gentle” book in progress.

What do I mean by “gentle” in this case? Sometimes “gentle reading” means a quiet, bucolic story, like Miss Read’s tales of village life, or the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Sometimes it’s a beloved book from childhood (I reach for The Long Winter every February). Sometimes it’s the next book in a favorite series, comforting because it deals with known characters or familiar territory. And sometimes it’s a totally silly “fluff” book – chick lit or a cozy mystery – that I choose not for its great writing, but for its fun and predictable plot. (I also can’t read anything too creepy before I go to bed – or I won’t be able to fall asleep!)

I still occasionally beat myself up about this tendency. Those reading hours are precious, and I do dedicate many of them to high-quality, often more demanding books. But sometimes I simply need to curl up with a good story whose main value lies in escape and entertainment. This week, for example, you can find me digging into Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series (light mysteries set in 1920s England), and savoring Elizabeth Bard’s gorgeous second memoir, Picnic in Provence. (That one is gentle, but it’s so well written that it’s hardly a guilty pleasure.)

Do you read several books at once, too? Is there a “gentle” (or “fluffy,” or “guilty pleasure”) category in your rotation?

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Since the weather turned chilly in, oh, November or so, I’ve been obsessed with knitwear. Mostly hats and snuggly cardigans and big, cozy cowls and scarves. I find myself staring at people on the T because of what they’re wearing on their heads or wrapped around their necks. If it’s an unusual stitch pattern or a lovely cabled beret, I try to figure out how it’s constructed. I’ve even recognized a couple of Ravelry patterns, knitting nerd that I am, and my wish list for accessories has grown and grown.

As much as I’ve complained about winter, it is a knitter’s dream – the perfect season to knit and wear tons of cozy accessories. (As Abi points out, we actually have time to wear all our cold-weather clothes up here.) And since I now commute on the T (along with half of Boston), my favorite knitted hats are getting even more play.

Slouchy (though not too slouchy) berets are my style of choice, and I have several favorites. So I thought I’d model them for you today.

First up is the Snapdragon Tam – complicated, but oh-so-lovely in Madelinetosh DK (colorway Cedar):

I fell in love last year with a Malabrigo colorway called Paris Night – smoky and velvety and rich. Here’s my Star Crossed Slouchy Beret (Rav link), which works just as well for Boston nights:

And finally, my third-time’s-a-charm attempt to knit myself a black beret. This pattern is called Double Crossed (Rav link), designed by another Katie (an English Katie). A triumph, and so warm.

It’s still chilly/wet/nasty here (Mother Nature is playing an April Fool’s joke on us poor Northeasterners today). I may end up with another hat or two before the winter’s truly out. Any favorite patterns to share?

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I didn’t do a whole lot of Christmas knitting this year – just a pair of mitts for Abi, a matching cowl-and-hat set for my J (finished after Christmas), and a pink cowl for my Lizzie (also finished after Christmas, due to deadlines and projects beyond my control).

However, I still love the idea of January as Selfish Knitting Month, and I’d been eyeing a couple of me-projects for a while now. So here they are:

I’d knitted a pink Thermis cowl in a waffle stitch for Lizzie, and I decided I wanted one too – so here it is, made of yummy soft Malabrigo worsted:

(Buttons and yarn from the fabulous Windsor Button, my main source for yarn and sewing notions these days. Ravelled here.)

Next up: a new pair of fingerless mitts, since I needed a backup for my beloved black Princess Mitts. These Snapdragons (Rav link), knit in lovely madelinetosh dk, fit the bill. (The color is Composition Book Grey – perfect for a writer!)

I also squeezed in a baby gift set for a friend, and a black lacy beret for my sister. Still working on another cowl for me – I’m going to need warm handknits for a while yet. I think selfish knitting is definitely allowed when it’s this cold.

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I’ve never seen winter like this, y’all. Even my native Northeasterner friends are astonished at the snow we’re seeing – and we poor new Texas transplants have been knocked winding by it. I’m sick of snow shoveling, frigid temps and way too many layers. But I’m trying to be a good sport. So here, in the spirit of Sarah’s list from last year, is what I love ( or am trying to love) about winter:

1. Twinkle lights.
2. Blue-and-gold sunsets.
3. Christmas (now a distant memory).
4. The quiet of snowy mornings, while the flakes fall.
5. The poetry of bare tree branches against the sky.
6. Snow on the beach.
7. Tea. Lots and lots and lots of tea.
8. Soup, soup and more soup.
9. Blankets, particularly wrapping up in them while I write.
10. Handknitted anything.
11. The smell of woodsmoke.
12. Crisp blue-skied days.
13. The promise of spring.
14. Cuddling.
15. Mulled cider, simmered on the stove.
16. Frequent texts from my uncle, who used to live in Philly and is truly worried about J and me surviving our first Northeastern winter.
17. Flannel pajama bottoms.
18. The lights of the Boston skyline when we drive back from Waltham on Sunday nights.
19. Apple crumble.
20. Wool skirts.
21. Knee socks.
22. Textured tights.
23. Cute boots.
24. Fresh flowers reminding me that spring will come.
25. Wintry-scented candles – pumpkin, peppermint, burning leaves.
26. Holiday episodes of Friends. (“Monica, Monica, have a happy Hanukkah…”)
27. Hot chocolate, with a dash of peppermint.
28. Birthdays (my mom, my sis, my friend Abi).
29. Valentine’s Day. Yes, I am a sap.
30. Slowly lengthening days. (It’s light until 5:00 now!)
31. Books to sink into, like the Maisie Dobbs series.
32. Soft moody music.
33. Downton Abbey (via the PBS website).

Got any more to add to the list? Anyone? Help me out here…we’ve got a long way to go till spring.

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Last week, I praised the glories of soup for lunch, and asked if anyone would be interested in a week of soups on this blog. The answer came in a resounding chorus of YES.

So, dear readers, this frigid week (the latest in a series of frigid weeks) will be devoted entirely to soups – spicy, creamy, meaty, veggie, and various combinations of the above. All extensively tested in my little non-fancy kitchen, with no super-special gadgets or hard-to-find ingredients. I make these soups all the time because they’re delicious and also because they’re easy. And I want you to be able to make them, too.

First up: a simple, delightfully creamy-spicy concoction, which came to me from my mom, who got it from a friend who served it at her daughter’s bridal shower. Although it’s called Renda’s Cream of Jalapeno Soup, I have no idea who Renda is. However, I’m eternally grateful to her for this recipe.

Renda’s Cream of Jalapeno Soup
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1 T butter
1 T flour
24-32 oz chicken or veggie broth
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cups half & half (I often use 2% milk)

Saute jalapenos in butter until soft. While sauteing the peppers, bring broth to a boil in a large pot. Add flour to the cooked peppers and blend, then add pepper mixture to the broth and return to a boil.

Add the cream cheese, whisking until smooth. Turn down heat slightly; add milk or half & half and stir until heated through. (Don’t let it boil after adding the milk.) Serve with bread or tortilla chips.

So easy. And SO YUMMY.

Back with more soup tomorrow! (And as always, send your recipes. We’re having weekly snowstorms over here and I’m dying for new ones.)

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I’m always sad when the Christmas tree has to come down. But usually, sometime after New Year’s, Jeremiah coaxes me to wrap up the ornaments and nestle them in their boxes, and stow away the holiday magic for another eleven months. I love our tall, proud tree, covered with ornaments I love and glowing with white lights.

This year, however, my practical husband was the one begging me not to take the tree down yet. And begging. And begging. I let it go for a while, because neither of us wanted to lose that precious twinkly glow – not when it’s still dark here before 5:00. We have no overhead lighting in our living room; in the summer, with four windows, that’s not a problem, but in the winter, taking the tree down would leave the room dim and gloomy.

However. We are halfway through January, and so we finally took the tree down on Saturday. And came up with a brilliant solution to take its place.

Welcome to the Gibson Italian Bistro – or just the twinklier-than-usual version of our home:

(the dining room, where I write, eat lunch, drink tea, blog and generally hang out during the day)

(Jeremiah in our glowing living room)

Already these lights are making me feel so much better about the long, dark, cold evenings. As a bonus, they go beautifully with candlelight, and are plenty bright enough to read and knit by. And of course, they always make me think of the scene in You’ve Got Mail when poor Christina is wrapped in strands of lights, and they’re talking about how Fox Books is stealing all their business, but Kathleen Kelly says bravely, “It will all shake out. Meanwhile, I am putting up more twinkle lights.”

I have to agree with Birdie: “That’s a fine idea.”

 

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Tara had a beautiful post recently on surviving the dark, cold winter in Seattle, with the help (in her case) of fresh local milk to put in her morning tea. It made me think about my morning tea – a beloved year-round ritual, but more vital now than ever.

These days, I hop out of bed and straight into the shower, because nothing wakes me up or warms me up faster than a quick, steamy shower. Then I slather on the lotion and moisturizer, dry my hair, etc., and brew up a cuppa – either flavored black tea, brewed strong and drunk plain, or a breakfast blend (such as Yorkshire or PG Tips) with milk. I open all the blinds in our dining-room bay window, whether it’s sunny or not, and start a load of laundry, if it needs to be done. (Nothing like crossing a task off the to-do list before breakfast.) Then I drink tea and eat breakfast while writing my morning pages, reading blogs and getting ready for the day.

What do people do who don’t drink hot drinks, who don’t have this cup of warmth and comfort to ease them into the day? When I lived in “the dungeon” in Oxford, sharing a basement kitchen with five boys, we all flocked to the kettle and the French press every morning, brewing up cups of Yorkshire or strong coffee or even peppermint tea, to help us wake up and warm up. Even in Abilene, where most mornings year-round are sunny, I needed my morning tea time, and here amid the cold and snow, I need it more than ever.

I’m lucky to have a whole cupboard full of mugs, though I most often reach for the simple, cobalt-blue mug that came from the Ground Floor. Before closing up shop, Barb gave us each a goody bag that included one of the crayon-colored mugs we’d used in the shop for nine years, and mine is still my favorite on these winter mornings. It’s sturdy and simple, and it feels good in my hands.

Anyone else have a morning winter ritual? Or a favorite tea you’d recommend?

(Taken last month, as evidenced by the Christmas candy dish.)

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list #1: the soups

I loved doing a list a week so much last year that I’ve decided to give it another try this year. We’ll see if I run out of ideas – but here’s the first list of 2011. Appropriate for a cold, cold week.

My Favorite Soup Recipes
1. Cream of jalapeno soup. So easy, and a great mix of creamy/spicy. Good for colds, too (it’ll clear out your sinuses).
2. My grandfather’s chili. Ground beef, tomatoes, beans and spices. YUM.
3. Rachel’s tomato soup, which I made for the umpteenth time this week. So savory and delicious.
4. Butternut squash-apple soup, courtesy of Julie. The nutmeg adds the perfect touch.
5. Chicken-cheese soup, an old family favorite. Hearty and warming, and it lasts for days.
6. Speedy Gonzales – a cross between chili and Frito pie, courtesy of Abi.
7. Chicken Chipotle soup – courtesy of Katie, this is deliciously spicy.

Anyone else? Favorite soup recipes to share?

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