Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful

Time is running past on swift feet. It seems I just sat down to write last week's Cheerful post, and here I am again, linking up with Planet Penny to spread a little sunshine.

1. Speaking of the sun, how glad we were to see it Monday after several days of damp grey gloom. And what a lovely rosy light it cast last night upon the clouds as it sank into the west, giving way to a young moon. Here's how it looked from our living room window:

Seeing the headlights on those cars somehow made me feel very warm and cozy and glad to be home. And cheerful!

2. More warm coziness: hot soup on a cold night. To up the cheerfulness ante, corn muffins with butter and honey.

3. And a very important reason to be cheerful: my sister, who celebrates a birthday this week. (She's older than I by nearly eight years.) She tells me that after being the only girl in the family for the first part of her life, she sat down and cried for joy when informed of the birth of a baby sister (me). When I was 3, she taught me to read - probably the most precious gift she could ever have given me. A handful of years later, she was teaching me to sew, to knit, to crochet. (She re-taught me knitting when as an adult I had forgotten how.) We shared a room until she married - her half was always much cleaner than mine. When Mr. M and I moved to Wisconsin, my sister opened her home to us and gave us a place to stay until we could find jobs and get settled. She taught me to quilt, and we taught each other to bead. We both fell in love with Baroque music and fed each other's addiction by gifts of carefully-chosen CDs. Now we work together (and we still get along). I'm so grateful for my big sister and the cheer she has brought into my life.


Need a little more cheerfulness, or have some of your own to share? Hop over to Penny's for some blogging Buck-U-Uppo. (Does anyone else read P.G. Wodehouse these days? Now there's a man who cultivated sunny writing, and raised cheerfulness to a fine art.)

A very happy Wednesday to you.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And the Winner Is...

It's time to reveal the lucky winner of the Micawber Thanksgiveaway!

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Several readers offered kind congratulations, but declined the giveaway. Those who entered were asked to name an Austen character they'd most like to dance with, or an actor who played the character, or to simply say they hadn't read the books or seen the movies. Here is a list of those lovely ladies and their chosen partners (where specified):

2. Shawn
3. Kimberley R.
4. Millefeuilles - Mr. Darcy
5. Ellen - couldn't choose, but agreed with my opinion of Henry Tilney
6. Sarah - Frank Churchill for dancing, Edward Ferrars for conversation
7. Charters - Mr. Darcy
8. Kirsten - Mr. Knightley
9. Annie - Captain Harville or Colonel Brandon
10. Nest Full of Eggs - Mr. Knightley
11. Sandiart - Mr. Darcy
12. Colleen - Mr. Wickham, Mr. Knightley or Captain Wentworth
13. Carine - Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth
14. Liz - Colonel Brandon or Captain Wentworth
15. Debbie - Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley
16. Deb
17. Penny - Mr. Bennett (!)
18. Gill - Colonel Brandon as played by Alan Rickman
19. Peeriemoot - Colonel Brandon
20. AJ - Mr. Darcy

(Here is where I demonstrate my computer ignorance. I used a random number generator to pick the winner, but can't figure out how to make it show up in this post, except by using a screen shot.)

And the the winner is:

# 4 - Millefeuilles! Congratulations Stephanie!

Thanks so much to all of you who entered. I've really enjoyed finding out which Austenian gentlemen are the most popular - Mr. Darcy is no surprise, nor is Mr. Knightley (especially if he looks anything like Jeremy Northam), but Colonel Brandon seems to have quite a few fans too (thanks to Alan Rickman's restrained yet smouldering portrayal, I have no doubt). I was glad to see that gentlemanly Captain Harville got a look-in, as well as the more dashing Captain Wentworth. The dark horses were Mr. Wickham, Frank Churchill and Mr. Bennett.

Thanks again to all of you who left comments.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Spreading Joy

To celebrate Advent, I'm starting a series about remembered joy - the Joy of Christmas Past. Each Sunday I'll write about a favourite Christmas memory or tradition, something that comes to my mind every year at this blessed time, something the remembrance of which brings me joy.

My grandfather lived on a mountain ranch in Northern California. To my siblings and me - denizens of pavemented, traffic-filled Southern California - his property was a Paradise on earth, with its views of mountains and forests, the rush of water from the stream that tumbled across his land, the exciting possibility of snow. Our visits Up North, as we called it, were all too few and far-between, anticipated for months and sometimes years.

But Grandpa never forgot us. Each year, in the first week of December, he would go out on his land and find a Christmas tree for us. He'd cut it down, swaddle it snugly in burlap and twine, and mail it to us through the U.S. Postal Service. (It took several days to reach us.)

Every December we waited eagerly for the postman's knock on the door. He would hand us the bulky bundle, then drive off in his Jeep. (He normally made his rounds on foot, so the Jeep lent an added importance to our special delivery.)

My dad would take the precious tree out to the back porch, cut the twine and remove the wrappings, and set it in a bucket of water. Within a day the branches would relax and we'd bring the tree inside for decorating.

The smell of those Christmas trees from Grandpa was almost as good as being in the mountains they came from. With one sniff, we could close our eyes and see the snow and the pines, hear the crick running over the rocks, and feel the freshness of the mountain air.

My grandpa has long since departed this earth, but every Christmas I remember the trees he sent us and the joy they brought into our home. I see again his house in the mountains, surrounded by beauty of woods and water. I remember his quiet demeanor, his shy spirit, his unsung generosity. Thank you, Grandpa T.


Do you have a favourite Christmas memory or tradition? If so, I'd love to hear about it. Leave a comment, or use the button from the sidebar and write a post of your own about a Joy of Christmas Past (or Christmas Present). Let's spread some Christmas happiness!

P.S. This isn't the post I set out to write. Feeling stressed by circumstance (extra hours coming up at work while a co-worker tends to her sick husband, Christmas looming, crochet projects piling up around me, all requiring such lofty levels of self-discipline as would befit an astronaut preparing for a trip to the moon), I fully intended to gripe a gentle gripe and ask you to gripe in return. But Fate, in the guise of Pomona at Little Cottage Comforts, took a hand and steered my thoughts in a happier direction. (Thank you, Pomona.)

P.P.S. Having just now re-read Pomona's post and followed the links contained therein, I see that Trocbroc is hosting a very similar event to this, called A Pause in Advent 2011. (Click on those words to read her lovely poem "Cooking in the Kitchen of My Ancestresses".)

P.P.P.S. Don't forget Mrs. Micawber's Thanksgiveaway. Entries close midnight Wisconsin time, Monday November 28. Click here to enter.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Travel Planning

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  Sparrows perch in a
leafless tree discussing their
  winter vacation.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful

Another week has flown by, and it's time for some cheerful thoughts in conjunction with Planet Penny's Reasons to be Cheerful.

1. Christmas music. Some of the loveliest music ever written was composed to celebrate the birth of Christ. As the weather gets colder and the days darker, nothing lifts my spirits more than listening to Christmas music. Centuries of beauteous harmony, available at the push of a button. A definite reason to be cheerful.

Some of my favourites

2. General healthiness. (This Reason to be Cheerful is a little more convoluted.) A dear co-worker's husband was hospitalized this past weekend for chest pains, and yesterday underwent multiple bypass surgery. I'm so glad he was able to get competent care, and I'm also reminded not to take my own healthiness for granted. Despite various ever-present medical problems, Mr. M and I are in pretty good shape. I'm grateful for our health.

3. Time with loving family. I'm writing from Michigan, where we're spending Thanksgiving with one of my brothers and his family. I hear the laughter of happy nieces and nephew, the voices of Mr. M and my brother talking theology. My sister-in-law is stirring cranberry sauce in the kitchen. We're getting ready to paint ceramics while the turkey roasts. It's a house full of blessings and cheerfulness, for which I am very thankful.

And speaking of Thanksgiving, don't forget the Thanksgiveaway. There's still time to enter your name for a chance to win a Jane Austen-themed knitting publication and other assorted goodies. Click here to enter.

A happy and cheerful Thursday to you all, and a very happy Thanksgiving Day to Americans everywhere. For even more cheerfulness, hop over to Planet Penny's.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Falafel from Scratch

A word from our blogger: Have you entered Mrs. Micawber's Thanksgiveaway yet? If not, click here for a chance to win a knitting pattern magazine from Interweave press, along with a few other goodies. And now, our feature presentation.

Of the several tomatoes still ripening on our kitchen counter, one was just right for eating. What could I make that would do justice to this precious fruit, relic of summer warmth and sunshine? Falafel seemed like the perfect choice.

Falafel, a popular street food in the Middle East, is a spicily delicious dish made from ground and seasoned chickpeas (garbanzos) or other beans. Usually formed into balls and deep-fried, falafel is often served with tomato and lettuce in pita bread. Various sauces, including tahini and hummus, may be added.

Loaded with protein, fiber, and flavour, falafel is easy on the dietary conscience and the waistline (if you skip the deep-frying, that is).

Many people prefer to make falafel from a boxed mix, which is definitely the quick-and-easy route - but boxed mixes too often contain MSG which I try very hard to avoid. That's why I like to make falafel from scratch.

Here's the recipe I use, adapted from Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook.

Yields 12-15 patties, 1/2" thick and 2" across.
Start several hours ahead. May also be started the day before serving.

1 cup dried chickpeas*
1 large onion, quartered
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne OR red pepper flakes

*I have tried using canned chickpeas but they're simply too mushy.

Soak chickpeas overnight in 3-4 cups water, OR do a quick soak: bring water to a boil, then drop in chickpeas. Let boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to sit for at least 1 hour before draining. (2 or 3 hours is even better. The beans will absorb more moisture and be easier to shape later on.)

Using a food processor, grind the heck out of the drained chickpeas, onion, and parsley. (How's that for precise culinary terminology?) You may also use a food grinder if you have one. The particles should be very small (about the size of dried bread crumbs) and should clump together easily. Add the garlic and spices, and mix well.

Allow mixture to sit for 1-4 hours so the flavours can mingle. (Mixture may also be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to a day.) Just before cooking, taste and adjust seasoning. Pretty yummy, isn't it? I could happily eat it just like this.

Now for the fun part: the cooking. I like to shape the falafel into patties rather than balls, as patties are easier to cook. I fry them in a very shallow layer of olive oil.

Line a plate or small baking pan with paper towels. Start heating some oil in a large heavy skillet. You may use as much or as little oil as you like (I use about 1/8").

While the oil is heating, shape your falafel into patties or balls. You can use spoons, a melon baller, or your hands. I like to use a 2" spring-loaded scoop. I pack the mixture firmly into the scoop, then invert it onto the cutting board and flatten it with my hand. Any pieces that fall off may be stuck right back on.

Bring on the boiling oil

When the oil is shimmering hot, use a spatula to transfer the patties or balls to the pan. Cook several at a time, but don't crowd the pan. If the ball or patty breaks, quickly and gently push the pieces together with the spatula. For falafel balls, slide the pan around to rotate them in the hot oil. Patties can be left for a minute or two until they've browned on the bottom. Then flip them and brown the other side. Falafel cooks quickly, so don't stray far from the stove.

Crisp and delicious

Remove the fried falafel to the paper towel-lined dish. When all the falafel has been cooked, serve with pita bread (for extra cooking points, you can bake your own - I will post a recipe in a few days) and the fillings of your choice (try lettuce, tomato, cucumber, or sliced peppers). Tahini sauce and hummus are the traditional sauces for this dish, but I think tzatziki would be delicious as well.

Falafel in a freshly-baked pita, with cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and an
impromptu sauce of soured heavy cream mixed with goat cheese.
Hot and spicy and cool and delicious, all at once.

P.S. Leftover falafel is tasty either hot or cold. Try it crumbled and served over salad.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

A Thanksgiveaway

11/29/11 - Entries for the Thanksgiveaway are now closed. Congratulations to the lucky winner - Stephanie at Millefeuilles. Thanks so much to all who participated in my first giveaway.

Blogland is such a generous place, with lovely gifts constantly flying from bloggers to readers around the globe, often in celebration of special occasions or blogging milestones.

Today I would like to celebrate both. The special occasion is Thanksgiving Day, which falls next Thursday here in the US. And the blogging milestone? Sometime during this last month, Mr. Micawber's Recipe for Happiness passed the hundred-follower mark, and pageviews topped 100,000! (Much as I would like to attribute this to my sparkling prose, honesty compels me to add that most of the traffic is for the free crochet patterns.)

I'm so grateful to all of you who read this blog and take the time to comment. And so, in a spirit of thanksgiving, I would like to offer something in return. First up, we have Jane Austen Knits, a lovely publication from Interweave Press:

Full of beautiful patterns and thoughtful articles, well written by fiber-loving Janeites, it's a treat for the eye and the mind. I know that many of you are talented knitters, and I'm so excited to have this to give you. Here are a few glimpses inside:

(For a further peek at this publication, click here.)

And to sweeten the deal:

(Somehow Hazelnut and Currant seem very appropriate flavours for Miss Austen's time.)

Also included will be a handmade Christmas tree ornament and a small mystery gift.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below which answers the following question: At your next ball, given your choice of partners, which of Miss Austen's gentlemen characters would you most like to dance or sit out with? (My choice would be Henry Tilney. I've always liked his rather tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.) If you've never read Miss Austen's work, you may choose an actor from one of the movie adaptations. (If you haven't read the books OR seen any of the movie adaptations, just come right out and say so. Honesty is the best policy and you'll still be entered for the giveaway.)

This giveaway is international - I will HAPPILY ship the prize anywhere in the world, so please don't be shy about entering. Entries will close at midnight (Wisconsin time), Monday, November 28th. A winner's name will be drawn and announced on Tuesday the 29th.

Good luck and thank you for entering!

What would Jane eat?

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful #2

Wow. Is it Wednesday already? That's a reason in itself to be cheerful. But not one of today's official reasons. Linking up again with Planet Penny's excellent cheerfulness party, I give you this week's dose of Micawber merriness.

1. Winter curtains. Several years ago I realized that our everyday muslin curtains, while letting in a lot of light, and providing an admirably neutral background for the riot of quilts on the walls, did not help to warm the frosty nights, nor did they add any cosiness to our drafty apartment when once the mercury dropped.

Summer curtains

So I made a set of red curtains for winter, and every November I put them up. The winter curtains are warm and bright and extremely cosy-looking by lamplight. Plus they make a great backdrop for Christmas decorations. They make me feel cheerful!

It's curtains for you, winter!

2. A woodworking husband. Looking at my living room photos makes me realize how much of his handiwork surrounds us. Mr. M designed and built all our bookshelves. He made the little wooden footstool (which, alas! is covered with magazines and yarn, leaving no room for feet), and the table top for the treadle machine (also covered with yarn, I'm afraid). He framed most of our pictures. He built the little bistro table we keep in the porch, and which provides the backdrop to many of my photos. He made this stunning cutting board 25 years ago:

As you can see, it still gets regular use. Look at those joints! (They're holding up better than mine.)

I'm so grateful for his talented craftiness.

3. The scent of those organic Gala apples sitting on the cutting board above. I opened a bag of them yesterday, and the golden-tinged, apple-cheeked, freckle-faced beauties smelled just like roses. Mmmmm.

Here's wishing you an upbeat end-of-week. To find more Reasons to be Cheerful, head on over to Planet Penny. And while you're there, if the blithe spirit so moves you, share some cheerfulness of your own.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hidden Sunshine

I felt unaccountably gloomy yesterday. A poor night's sleep may have been a contributing factor. Or frustration over a project that ought to have been quick and simple, but instead turned out to be slow and complicated.

Grey skies weren't helping much either. The sunshine disappeared on Saturday and had not been seen since.

I wanted nothing more than to hunker down at home and crochet. By myself. (I think hormones were affecting my mood as well.) But Monday is not a day for solitary snuggling up with yarn - there is work to be done, exercise to be taken, elbows to be rubbed on the job and at home.

So I started with the exercise and took a morning walk. And on my walk I found the missing sunshine. It wasn't far away - just around the corner, as a matter of fact. It had all fallen into this tree:

And from there to the foot of the retaining wall below.

Out of the wind, where it would feel safe.

Piles of golden sunshine, the last flicker of autumn's warmth, all tucked up and hidden - until now.

I'm glad I took that walk.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Melty Snowy Saturday Ride, with Pictures and the Three Great Things

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Apples like berries on a bare-branched tree
Willows weeping gold from an ashen sky
Stately slow migration of sandhill cranes

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Much of Wednesday's snow still remained on the ground today, although the roads were clear. Daytime temps were in the 40s - just warm enough to keep up a continual slow melt which would add an icy dampness to the wind. The sky was fairly clear as I set out, but clouds were slowly gathering.

The road is looking rather Christmassy here, with snow beneath the pines.

And the marsh is decidedly chilly and unwelcoming. All the froggies are probably tucked up in the mud at the bottom, dreaming of damp warm spring.

There's snow in them thar fields!

I pass an apple tree in someone's yard. The branches are completely bare of leaves, but loaded down with bright-red fruit. I'd love to take a picture, but I'm hesitant as it's so close to the house. So I file the image away in my mind, and it becomes the first of the three great things about today's ride.

All the streams look wider today - the tall grasses on their banks tamped down by snow, and the streams themselves swollen with snowmelt.

Green grass peeking out from the white stuff.

This private dam sits behind a local bed and breakfast. The water was flowing quickly today.

Grapevines garland a barbed-wire fence, draped with effortless elegance by nature's expert hand.

Strange tracks on the roadside...

Ah. That would explain them. (Observe the silhouetted driver's perfect posture.)

A few cornfields here and there have yet to be harvested.

The last time I rode this way, the birches on the right formed a glowing golden avenue. But the glory has departed, and only the bare beauty of the branches remains.

Detail of an old fence post. As I took this picture, a perfect fusillade of shots rang out in the woods nearby. The local Nimrods are out in force - it's wild turkey and gamebird season. They're gearing up for the big one: gun season on deer, which opens next weekend.

I never noticed until this year how long the weeping willows hold on to their leaves.

A cat's cradle of power lines, with insulators strung like blue beads on the wires.

Snow on the alfalfa field. It's nice to see such a bright green amidst the gray-and-white world of approaching winter.

The road goes ever on and on ... and I must follow, if I can.

All the red oaks have turned leathery brown, and their dry leaves rustle in the wind.

A few miles on, I hear more rustling - this time in the grass at the side of the road. Passing the spot, I see movement under the hedge. I slow down, get out my camera, and turn back, hoping against hope that for once I'll get a decent bird photo. A ring-necked pheasant comes slowly down the slope and pauses at the edge of the road. I stop the bike and zoom in the camera, catching one blurry shot before he rockets across the road and away. A handsome fellow - I wish I could have gotten a closer and clearer picture.

Down this road lie the clumps of red-twig dogwood, still shining as brightly as ever. (Thanks for the ID, Ginnie!)

Another mile down, I hear birds calling. I look up to see sandhill cranes. Flock ...

... after flock ...

... after flock.

I've never seen so many at once. At least 150 pass over in stately formation, crying their soft and eerie cry. They fly on towards the south and west, and disappear into the setting sun ...

... which seems a fitting ending for this Saturday ride. Only two miles more, and then home and a hot shower. A good ride, though damp and chilly.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful

In response to shortening days, darkening skies, and general doom and gloom in the news and elsewhere,  Penny over at Planet Penny has started what I think is a lovely tradition: a "Reasons to Be Cheerful" linky party. Readers are invited to contribute, via comment or blog post, three Reasons to Be Cheerful every week. (The party is open from Thursday to Sunday.)

I was planning to use this weekend's ride, with its 3 Great Things, as my contribution - but the riding season is nearly over, and I can't be sure I'll even get on the road this weekend, after Wednesday's heavy snow. (But I am keeping my fingers crossed and my tyres pumped. What, Blogger, you don't like the way I spelt "tyres"? Or even "spelt"? Haven't you ever heard of the Queen's English? Hmmm - future post idea there. But I digress.)

So in deference to the dodgy state of Wisconsin weather, I will make no assumptions about a possible bike ride tomorrow or Sunday, and instead will write a dedicated post of "Reasons to Be Cheerful" this week.

Reason #1: After sitting tepidly in the porch all summer, doing nothing more than drop leaves and drink water, my geranium, which I brought inside about 2 weeks ago, has rewarded me with a burst of cheerful bloom. (Perhaps if I fed it occasionally it would bloom even more.)

Look at the delicate shadows made by the pistils ...

... and the light shining through the petals, and the fuzzy stems.

So beautiful. So cheerful!

Reason #2: The perfect marriage of yarn and stitch. How rarely does it occur, yet it happened to me this week. I fell in love with this yarn:

A humble acrylic yarn, of modest price, but its colours cried out "Christmas!" and I simply had to buy it. I envisioned mini bunting, or perhaps a throw pillow cover. But variegated yarn can be awkward to work with - the tints that look so beautiful all swirled together in the skein so often look bizarre when knitted or crocheted.

So after a few hours of pleasurable but fruitless messing about with yarn and hook, a flash of crochet inspiration came: Tunisian simple stitch! And it was perfect.

In no time at all I had not only a stitch, but an entire slipper (the pattern for which I will share next month). This is really a double Reason to Be Cheerful, as Tunisian crochet was new for me - I've learned something.

Reason #3: You. A little over eight months ago, in fear and trepidation, I wrote my first blog post, not knowing if anyone would ever care to read what I had to say. And now I have friends all around the world. I can't tell you how precious that is to me, or how grateful I am for all of you who read this blog and leave kind and thoughtful and funny and helpful comments.

It seems that simply thinking of Reasons to Be Cheerful causes them to multiply. So hop on over to Penny's blog sometime between now and midnight Sunday (UK time), and add some cheerfulness to the list. Thanks Penny!

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