Thursday, June 24, 2010


Those who know me are aware of my container love. Some are tins. But most are old boxes. Wooden ones especially. But shell encrusted, fabric covered, and painted ones find their way into the collection as well. Perhaps it’s a sense of mystery surrounding any enclosed object that draws me to them. Like stumbling upon a secret room or an overgrown path in the woods. What does it contain? What was it’s purpose? Who used it?

Boxes have histories. They tell stories. Some are muffled, some clear.

A collar box covered in swirly apricot mohair sits on my dresser. Uncle Lou picked it up at an antique store. A natty dresser once kept it on his bureau. He’d open it in the mornings as he prepared for his workday, looking at himself in the mirror as he knotted his tie and fished around for cufflinks and arm garters. He’d give a final glance to make sure his hair was perfectly parted and slicked down before he left.

On the living room mantle a thumb length oxblood colored hinged box sits. It looks a bit like a mouse sized violin case, but it’s velvet lined interior once housed a pipe’s mouth piece. I don’t know who owned it, but it was in my dad’s things after he died. Why did he keep it? I wonder if it belonged to his father. Who could even venture a guess at this point? But it was empty. No mouth piece with bite marks or pristine one without. A mute vacant box.

Several shell encrusted souvenir boxes grace my grandmom’s old vanity. “Nassau” and “Bahamas” are their names. Thrift store purchases. Places I doubt I’ll ever see. Who gathered all the makings from sandy beaches? What agile hands carefully glued each shell in place? Who sold them to tourists as they poured out of busses blinking in bright sunlight? What vendors pressed them upon reluctant buyers in makeshift markets? How did the seller’s meager earnings cover household expenses? Or did it? And when tourist season ended what did the sellers do? Go into their small homes to craft more boxes.

Each piece carries a bit of the persons who touched them. Like the thumb print of God on what He made. Listen, listen hard, to the stories told.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In the Society of Bottom Feeders

One is apt to keep company with creative types as one stretches the boundaries of frugality. It’s no wonder we hang with trash pickers, recyclable metal scavengers, and artists. Lately I’ve been having a wonderful email back and forth with a friend who is familiar with the more rural joys of creek fishing, brewing sassafras tea, chomping on red clover flowers, and making what she calls “weed jam”.

I smile when I think of her. In a non sequitur sort of way she reminds me of some favorite things. On our mantle, sitting atop Mr. Man’s head is a primitively painted red wooden toy bird. When rolled on the floor it’s wings flap. As far as I can figure it’s cut from fruit crate wood and thick wire. On the mantle next to it is an acrobatic clown. He’s suspended from two strings through the hands between two sticks. When the sticks are squeezed or released the clown tumbles and dances. He’s made from popsicle sticks and tongue depressors. What binds these things together? It’s the concept of taking what you have and creating something from it. We consider the final products folk art and pay good money for them. But most people would toss these original bits and pieces with little thought to their pleasure giving possibilities.

A while back Buck Weber of The Buck List blog, mentioned a colleague from another country who took all manner of discarded things home with him to repair or re-purpose. Some even Buck scratched his head over. But you never know what kind of vision can be brought to something.

Perhaps it’s because we have too much. We lose sight of beauty potential in the things around us. We play video games instead of waking for a meteor shower. Pity.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cooking With Purslane

A little song to sing while stirring the pot.
“O humble plant in sidewalk cracks, what treasures do your leaves contain?
Who knows? Perhaps you're a Cinderella in disguise.”

About a year ago, Pat Veretto, moderator for the Dollar Stretcher Community, mentioned this spreading-red-stemmed-succulent in passing as a good foraging plant. Yikes! I had been pulling it up as a weed for years. Being a bit of a bohemian, I tried it out. It tasted like lemony spinach. We ate it twice in a salad that spring with cut grape tomatoes, a bit of chopped sweet onion, in a vinaigrette. Quite pretty and good. The only downside, the leaves are the size of a pinky nail or smaller and a bit hard to pick up with a fork.

So this year I’m experimenting. Last week I cooked whole tender plants in a pasta dish with crushed tomato, a bit of extra garlic, some leftover spinach, mozzarella and ricotta. Good. The second experiment was inspired by an online mention of purslane casserole using corn meal and egg. “Why not bake it in corn bread?” So I added a cup of leaves and a cup of grated cheddar to this terrific cornbread recipe. It was a hit. Today I made purslane pesto. The guys will have it tonight. During preliminary tests John thought it tasted a bit too “green”. It seems quite similar to a spinach pesto I make during winter months, so we’ll see how it flies over a mound of hot angel hair pasta. With boys, pasta helps.

Here’s the recipe. Without a net.
Wash whole plants in a salad spinner, spin away, then pick the leaves off.
1 cup purslane leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
Blend until smooth.
Add and blend until fairly smooth..
1/3 cup Parmesan
1/3 cup English Walnuts
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste
2 Tablespoons dried basil leaves

You may need to add a tad of pasta water to it before mixing with the pasta as it’s thick. Should be enough for about a pound’s worth.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I’m Dreaming of an Almost Free Christmas

The race is on. 204 days to go. Actually, I followed my sister’s example by starting Christmas shopping right after the holiday. (When wrapping paper and ribbons are half price.) In addition to her discount strategy, a new idea popped up last year on a personal finance blog. This particular couple were on a mission to put their financial house in order, so they axed their discretionary budget. They challenged themselves to use accumulated “points” from credit cards, cash backs, rebates and the like to get gifts for each other. Even with these restraints, the presents were quite wonderful. It was sort of a financial epiphany for them. And for me.

I’ve always been one to make homemade items as part of the gifts. Special foods for the diabetics, or hand crafted things for the kids are my way of expressing love. Besides, it stretches a tight budget to accommodate eight siblings and spouses, eight nieces and nephews, three other relations, a grandmom, and the four of us.

This year in my quest for the perfect outlay, we’re pulling all the methods together. Survey points should cover several gift cards (for a couple of cash strapped relatives), a Cross pen, and an artist’s sketchbook. Not too shabby.

I’m skimming from the grocery cash each paycheck to stock up on food supplies and collecting recipes for terrific homemade treats. Plus, I’m setting aside the occasional very crispy dollar bill. Ah you ask, what are they for? Following online instructions, they’re transforming into a bit of money origami. Regular cash is so boring. This is spendable, with a twist.

Our local bump and dent grocer, Sharp Shopper, offered Cracker Barrel cheese in wonderful sliding top dovetailed wooden boxes this past week. Since the cheeses are coated in wax, and come to $2 a pound, I bought four. Ah the ideas are flowing on that one. Boxes have so many possibilities.

A couple things just plopped into my lap. They were cool gifts, free with postage, on the back of bread bags and cereal boxes, perfect for kids.

This spring’s batch of homemade dandelion wine ages even as you read. It should be really mellow by the holidays. Something special for the older folks.

To be totally honest, a few items were purchased on sale. The standard is, are they things with a “wow” factor, and do they suit the giftee? (Without saying, they have to be amazing bargains.) So at a going out of business sale I found a detailed book on knights, for a nephew, and a couple of gorgeous, (no exaggeration), journals for my sisters. Online, at a one day only promotion, I snagged a handmade Christmas stocking. Using a special code it even had free shipping.

With half the year over and twelve people to go, the quest continues. Keeping my eyes peeled, I never know what will show up. Should be fun.

(By the way. Feel free to use these secrets, just don’t tell anyone what they got.)