Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Poem

Tennyson wrote this poem more than a century ago, and its words seem as timely as ever.  Wishing you joy and peace in the new year.

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Sunshine Recipes

Hello, hello from the cold but sunny North!  I hope everyone who celebrates the December holidays has been having beautiful ones.  Mr. Magpie and I have been busy visiting loved ones near and far, and now it is our turn to host some of our favorite folks as we welcome the New Year.  In the midst of all this revelry, I have been putting more salted nuts, heavy cream, and chocolate in my mouth than I care to think about.  All of it was and is scrumptious, but I'm in some serious need of light, healthy food.  For me at this time of year, the simplest, most delicious way to make this happen is to buy armfuls of citrus fruits and have them in every meal.

At breakfast, this usually means pink grapefruit.  My favorite way to serve it this time of year is to slice it and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of brown sugar--light brown, dark, demarara, whatever you've got--on each half.  If you like, you can also sprinkle on a little bit of sea salt.  This sends it over the top!  Then I pop the halves on a foil-lined baking pan and pop them under the broiler.

After a couple of minutes, the result is a lacquered grapefruit that's sweet, but not too sweet.  It's also wonderfully warm on top with a skim coat of bruleed sugar, while underneath it's still cool and tart.  I first ate grapefruit this way about 20 years ago at a bed and breakfast here in Maine, and I've preferred it this way ever since.

My go-to citrus recipe for the rest of the day is a jar of liquid sunshine that I pour on top of nearly everything . . . and use as a dipping sauce for nearly everything else.  This mojito sauce recipe comes from Daisy Martinez, and you can find it here.  I originally made this a few years ago as a dipping sauce for tostones (fried plantains), and I love it for that, but now I use it on rice, to marinate meat and vegetables, as a salsa for chips, stirred into spicy beans--you name it.  I tend to make a double batch and keep it in the fridge for a few days, using it as needed craved.  

Last, but definitely not least, I want to share a little salad I made the other night for just the two of us when we were in between holiday visits.  We needed something light--a palate cleanser of sorts between rich, heavy meals--so I combined two favorite winter flavors, pomegranate and citrus, with a third favorite, fennel, to make this salad:

The Magpie's Winter Salad
Serves 2 as meal, 4 as a side salad.

Juice of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1/4 grapefruit
Splash of red wine vinegar
Small dollop dijon mustard
Small dollop honey
Olive oil to taste
Tablespoon or so of fresh, chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar (So that's what all those Bonne Maman jars I saved were for!) and shake well.  This recipe makes extra dressing to use for a couple of days--YUM!

1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, washed and chopped
1 small head radicchio, washed and chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly shaved
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons pomegranate seeds
A few oil-cured black olives (optional, but they really add a wonderfully salty kick--I added mine at the last minute, after I'd taken the photo, and I was so glad I did!)

Toss lettuces together in a pretty bowl.
In a small bowl, marinate fennel and red onions in a little of the dressing for about 15 minutes, then toss in with lettuces.  
Top with the rest of the ingredients and drizzle on dressing.  
Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

Hope you enjoy these recipes, my friends!  Wishing you plenty of sunshine in the New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Merry Magpie

I am a magpie year round, collecting bits and pieces of vintage bling, flash, and sparkle, but at the holidays, my love of all that shines is at its peak.  There's no season I love more, especially because so many truly beautiful vintage ornaments can still be bought for a song at flea markets, yard sales, and even antiques shops.  In fact, I often find them for much better prices than their contemporary knock-offs, and their wonderful patina is for real rather than manufactured.

When they are broken or missing their little top inserts--or if they are too small to hang on the tree,  I simply sprinkle them liberally around the house in bowls, vases, under bell jars, or even in pretty tea cups and wine glasses in the china hutch.

Some of my favorites are ones my mother bought for me many years ago from the estate auction of writer May Sarton.  Sarton has long been among my favorite writers, and when she died, my mother gave me several boxes of ornaments that she'd bought at the sale of her estate.  Each year I have the joy of opening boxes of the very ornaments that Sarton herself hung on her tree each Christmas.

This isn't to say that I don't love new ornaments, for I adore them, too!  If it shines, I crave it, which is why I bought the beautiful red garland in the photo above a few years ago.  This year I combined it with some very old and rather "distressed" (which I LOVE) red and silver balls in a pretty pewter tray on the kitchen table.  In the center, I placed an old candle jar that I'd saved and washed out after I'd used up the scented candle that came in it.  I don't have the budget to buy tons of new candles this year, so I simply poured some sugar in the jar: first white, then a little red (think cookie sugar from the grocery store), then more white.  I nestled a votive into the top, and now I have a candle I can keep reusing all season--and into the winter.  I just keep replacing the votives for a a few pennies each time I burn one down to its end.

My favorite new ornament is one sent to my by my friend Vicki Archer of French Essence.  Like most girls I know, it has long been a dream of mine to visit Paris, so when Vicki's package arrived in the mail this week, I was over the moon.  An Eiffel Tower of my very own!  I don't think I'll put this one away when Christmas is over.  It may need to tide me over until I get to the real thing.

Wishing the Merriest of Holidays to everyone, especially my fellow magpies!  More seasonal sparkle soon . . .

Friday, December 9, 2011


It is easy to tally the challenges and disappointments of a day.  Much harder it is to simply exist among its blessings, recognize its gifts.  The best gifts of this season are as simple as the paperwhite's bloom, as ethereal as its scent.  Here, where winter can be much longer than any other season, a single blossom is a small wish granted.  May your small wishes come true today and every day (for they are often much sweeter than the big ones), and may you always have the time to savor them.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blossoms & Blessings

As the days grow shorter and we head closer to the longest night of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, I can think of no better way to bring a bit of warmth and cheer to the house than to force a few bulbs.  Above are some paper whites I started last week.  The photo is nearly a week old, so these little guys are now on the verge of blooming as I type this post.  I'll include a photo of their blooms in my next post.  

I try to plant a few bulbs each week, so I'll have several weeks of blooms during the bleakest part of winter.  I've also planted some amaryllis.  As I mentioned in my last post about budget-friendly wrapping ideas, I'm on a tight budget this year, so all my Christmas decorations must be beautiful while costing next to nothing.  At a buck a bulb, or less, paper whites fit the bill for me.  They last days and days, smell beautiful, and you only need a few to make a big splash.  In fact, nothing is lovelier than a single paper white sheltered by a glass hurricane chimney or an "upcycled" jam jar!  You don't even need soil to force paper whites--just a shallow bowl or lipped tray and some water.  Keep the roots (not the bulbs) well watered in indirect sunlight, and you'll have blooms in 2-3 weeks.

I'll be sharing several more ideas for celebrating the holidays on a budget, and I welcome you to share yours here, too!  I loved hearing about your gift wrap ideas in the last post.  Special thanks to my friend Sande, who featured my wrapping post at her exquisite blog, A Gift Wrapped Life.  Sande inspires me every week with her creativity and her eye for beauty, so I was honored that she shared my much more humble efforts on her beautiful site.  

Finally, I know that as special as the holidays are, they can also be a difficult time for many folks.  I've certainly had years when I just wanted to draw the curtains and sleep through Christmas.  If you are having a tough time this year, please know there are always people who care.  The expectations surrounding the winter holidays can just be too much to bear, especially during tough economic times.    This year, some of my friends have been counting their blessings each day on their blogs or on Facebook.  I think rather than expecting so much from myself (or others) this Christmas, I am just going to count my own blessings, and then share some of them with those who have too few to count.