I Choose Joy: A Week of Joy

In early December, my children and I were driving home from a late night rehearsal in Littleton. When I say Littleton, I mean as-far-away-as-one-can-get-from-Parker-Littleton. We were all in horrid moods. Madeleine and Max were fighting, and I was tired of listening to whiny children after a day of teaching.
“Stop!” I yelled. Their voices quieted immediately. “Guys, we’re being ridiculous. We all need to stop. Let’s choose joy instead.”
Max, who was particularly tired from late night tech week rehearsals, continued to whine, so I asked Madeleine, “What did you do to choose joy today?”
She talked of playing her cello in orchestra and dancing in musical theatre. Immediately her stern face gave way to a bright, beaming smile.
“What about you, Max?” He paused. “Well, today…”
Frankly, I don’t remember what he said, but that’s not what is important. Every day since then, I have asked my children, “How did you choose joy today?”  The love telling me about what makes them truly happy, and it brings me so much pleasure to hear them share their joy.
This is a challenge for myself too. I tend to get wrapped up in what needs to be done and what hangs looming over my head. Instead, I need to stop and choose to do or focus on what gives me joy.  I’m tired of not living the joy-filled life that I want.
 
This is a really long introduction to say that every day this week, I will be posting what I have done to choose joy.
 
Joy Choice #1: Today I finished the first sock of a pretty pair.  Knitting brings me happiness.  I love the feel of fine sock yarn between my fingers.  I like the way the loops join row-by-row interlocking around each other like mini fingers. I love a finished project–when all those minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. of work finally come together into something that I hope will bring someone else happiness.  The same kind of happiness is brought me to make it.
 
How did you choose joy today?

Christmas Day without a Turkey

IMG_0898A month ago, we had turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and other traditional holiday foods.  I love those foods, but a month later, I’m not ready to eat them again.   A few years ago, we started a new tradition–one that includes beef, wine, and hearty vegetables.  Instead of turkey and dressing, etc., we have Boeuf Bourguignon.

Usually my holidays go off without a hitch. Not this year.  As I began to prepare our holiday feast, I realized no one had ever bought the meat.  There was yelling, tears, frustration, but finally, SAFEWAY came to the rescue.

I like this recipe on Christmas Day because it takes very little time away from my family.  I’m not spending hours in the kitchen basting a previously feathered beast.   I get to enjoy the excitement my children have as they run down the stairs to see what Santa brought them.

The recipe is simple enough.  I can throw everything in a pot in about 20  minutes and let the rest slow cook away….And the smell is amazing.

I have adapted my recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris with Julia Child’s famous recipe.  Truthfully, I’ve made this recipe so many times that I don’t really follow a recipe anymore.  I’ve found techniques I like and techniques I don’t like.  Now I get to  “eyeball” it.

I use my kitchen scissors to cut bacon into one-inch strips (called lardons).   I cook them on medium heat in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in my Le Creuset enameled cast-iron Dutch oven.  If you don’t have one of these, you should invest in one.  I bought a whole set of Le Creuset cookware with a commission check ten years ago, and I use it more than any other cookware in my kitchen.  It is completely worth the investment.  It also looks beautiful in the kitchen, which is an added bonus.

After about 10 minutes, I remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.  I keep my scissors close to me to ward off unwanted bacon thieves.

While I sautéed the bacon, I seasoned my cubed chuck roast with salt and pepper and then dredged the meat in flour.   Once I removed the bacon, I added the meat in small batches, searing on all sides.  I do not cook the meat through but remove it once it’s been browned.

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To the remaining fat in the pan, I add sliced yellow onions.  Then when the  onions are translucent I add the sliced carrots.   Once the onions begin to brown,  I add minced garlic and cook a minute or two more, make sure not to burn the garlic.  Then add the bacon and meat back to the pan.

At this point, you can become showy.  You can flambé your stew with brandy or Cognac.  We were out of both Christmas morning, so I skipped this step all together.  I didn’t notice a tremendous difference.  It’s a great trick, however, if you want to impress your in-laws. (If you choose to do so, add about 1/2 cup of brandy, light it with a match, and step back until the alcohol dissipates.)

I then add a whole bottle of dry wine.  We like Cabernet but a good Pinot Noir works as well.  I like Cabernet because it has a nice peppery flavor.   I add enough water to the pan to completely cover the meat and vegetables. You can add beef stock, but I have come to love Better the Bouillon beef paste.  I add 2 tablespoons of it to the pot with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.  I add more salt, pepper, and dried thyme.  Once the stew comes to a low boil, I cover it and  put it in a 250 degree oven for about 2 hours.  I check it after 90 minutes to see if the meat is fork tender.  If it’s not, I leave it in for another 30 minutes or so.

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When it’s finished, I put it back on the stove.  I add frozen pearl onions and some mushrooms that I sautéed in butter beforehand.  I cook it another 15 minutes until it thickens.

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I realize there should be a finished photo here, but my camera ran out of batteries.  Still, the pot looks pretty yummy. With a lovely salad and French country bread, it really is a warm winter meal.  I know that Christmas has come and gone, but it would be a perfect supper for New Year’s Eve or Day.

 

 

One Day Fireplace Makeover

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My living room is a difficult space.  It’s small and wall space is limited.  This means that our television has hang above the fire place because we don’t want the couch in front of the window, and the piano can’t go in front of the window either because it would be bad for the instrument. (Although now that I’m typing this out, I might not be opposed to the couch in front of the window.  I might have to try that one out.)  Those are arrangement issues, and honestly, that’s not what bothers me.  My mantle bothers me.

My mantle is a sad, ochroid pine. It  appears outdated and not in a charming, quirky way like my mustard-colored refrigerator. I’d be a fan of that.  It also has scratch marks.  Someone had etched the word “Hell” into the woodwork.  Madeleine discovered it the other day.  I have to do something about it. So I did.  I had some paint left over from recently painting my kitchen cabinets, so I decided to paint my mantle this afternoon.

I started with this:

20150723_125155I just hate it.  What a mess.

So I grabbed my paint kit.  Yes, I have a paint kit.  It contains:

Sample jars of various paint colors.  They’re cheap, and I never know when I’m going to want to paint a piece of furniture.  I like to go to Goodwill.  A lot.

-BB Frosch Chalk Paint Powder.  This is cheaper than Annie Sloan paint.  I love it.  I can mix it into any paint color I  like.

-Annie Sloan Soft Wax.  I prefer her wax to the BB Frosch wax.  I think it’s easier to get on my brush and deliver to the wood.

 -BB Frosch paint brush

-BB Frosch wax brush

-BB Frosch brush conditioning soap

-Magic Eraser

-220 Sandpaper Sponge for distressing

-Mini paint containers

-Lint-free cloths for waxing

-Frog tape in 2 sizes

-Reusable drop cloth

-Whisk

-Measuring spoon

-Giant purple cup from The Rockies game two years ago

I decided that I wanted to do the two-coat distressing.  I used Valspar gravel and Valspar Fresh Cotton in the Hydrochroma line.

I mixed my paint with the BB Frosch chalk paint according to the instructions.

I removed all the items from the mantle and cleaned it with a mixture of Dawn and 20150723_132519Vinegar.  Then I thoroughly dried it.

I started with the gravel color.  Chalk paint goes on pretty thick; it goes very far.  I liked the gray.  Part of me thinks I should have stopped there.  It’s kind of a nice touch against the rest of the room, but I had my heart set on white.  I cleaned my brushes and put away the gray paint.  I let it dry and watched an episode of Inside Amy Schumer while I waited.  When it was over, I mixed my Fresh Cotton paint.

I put on two coats of the Fresh Cotton to completely cover the gray waiting for each coat to dry before applying the next color.  After each coat was dry, I used the 220-grit sandpaper to mar the surface a bit.  The gray came through lightly and nicely.

I then sparingly applied wax and waxed it off with my lint-free cloths.

Overall I’m quite happy with the results.  Now if I could just paint the walls…
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