Friday, April 29, 2011

Celebrating May

May is one of our favorite months here at Circa. The life-giving rains of April have done their job famously, coaxing the trees and flowers to burst forth in a Broadway-worthy cabaret of multi-colored hues. 

It’s a grand time to celebrate! And if the warmer weather and eye-popping performance of Mother Nature itself isn’t excuse enough for you to throw off the comforter and kick up your heels, then mark your calendar with the following dates which are certain to inspire a bit of well-justified merrymaking.

We invite you to check in with us periodically as we’ll be taking a closer look at a number of these events as the merry month of May tap dances her way through our hearts.

May 1st is Mother Goose Day (how fun!) and, of course, May Day.
Every year at Circa we delight in gathering a bouquet of early posies from our garden and place May Baskets anonymously on doorknobs throughout our tiny village. It’s a simple gesture but we guarantee you’ll take as much pleasure in doing it as anyone who receives one does! (See our previous blog for suggestions on how to create your own May Day treasures to share.)

May 2nd is National Truffles Day (the mushroom variety, not the candy kind) and May 3rd is National Raspberry Popover Day. (Now that’s more like it!)

Cinco De Mayo, May 5th, is the ideal time to celebrate with a lively Mexican Fiesta. Bring on the Guacamole, Carne Asada Tacos, Rice and Beans and perhaps, if you’re feeling a tad naughty, even a Margarita (or two) might be in order. Feeling even more adventurous? Might we suggest inviting some of your favorite Senors and Senoritas over to the homestead, clear out the rugs, push back the furniture and have the local dance studio in to give Salsa dance lessons in your living room. Talk about kicking up your heels. Ole’! 

Artwork by the a-may-zing Geninne Zlatkis, from the whimsical website TheyDrawAndCook.com .
Be sure to visit Geninne's etsy store at www.etsy.com/shop/Geninne

May 6th is Nurse’s Day and May 8th is National Teacher’s Day, both worthy dates to keep in mind.

The second Sunday of every May is Mother’s Day. Whatever you do, mark this date! And remember~ candy, flowers and cards are nice, but nothing beats the gift of time spent together. 

May 11th is Eat What You Want Day (we’re serious~ whoopee!) and May 15th is National Chocolate Chip Day. (Can it get any better?)

May 13th is National Apple Pie Day, taken very seriously in our neighboring state of Vermont.  I.E ~ “No. 15, effective May 10, 1999, apple pie is designated the official State Pie. When serving apple pie in Vermont, a "good faith" effort shall be made to meet one or more of the following conditions: (a) with a glass of cold milk, (b) with a slice of cheddar cheese weighing a minimum of 1/2 ounce, (c) with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. ~ from the Office of the Secretary of State, Vermont Legislative Directory.”    Way to go, Vermont!

  Noel's makes the most delicious Apple Pie - hands down!

 May 18th is National Museum Day and a trip to your local museum with the kids or grandkids is surely in order. Let’s teach our young ones early on that learning can be fun.

 A fun day with our god-niece Elsa at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Boston.

May 23rd is National Taffy Day (it just got better!) and May 25th is National Escargot Day. (Umm~ to each his own.)

Memorial Day is May 26th in the United States, a time to reflect on the brave men and women who died in service to our great country. Perhaps a quiet picnic in the park today?



May is also Asparagus Month, National Book Month, National Better Hearing and Speech Month, National Nursing Home Month, Flower Month and, one of our favorites, National Barbecue Month. It’s been a long, cold winter here in Dresden and we’re more than ready to throw a few shrimp on the barbie to celebrate the month away. 



Lastly, but certainly not leastly (is that a word?), May is National Strawberry Month, and a fruit more worthy of such an honor would be difficult for us to name. After all, strawberries are known to be low in calories (excellent news!) and high in Vitamin C. They also contain antioxidants and may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Further, research indicates that these plump, little powerhouses may help improve our memory. (More strawberries~ please!) Besides all that, they’re delicious.

Here in Maine, as in much of New England, we can’t expect to pick our strawberries until June, but we find them so irresistible, we just can’t help but push the season a tad. After all, is there any better way to finish off a good, old, belt-loosening barbeque than with batch of home made Strawberry Shortcake crowned with oodles and oodles of whipped cream? 

 
In the Circa kitchen, tradition dictates that in lieu of cake, these crimson beauties rest their heads on a pillow of biscuits fresh out of the oven.  We’ll be posting a few of our favorite biscuit recipes (even one that’s gluten free!) in plenty of time for strawberry picking in your area.  

Yes, it’s clear to see that May is simply a-may-zing, so join us, if you will, as we find reason to celebrate this glorious month, week after week after week. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy May Day!



The tradition of the May Basket, or “Bringing in the May”, can be linked to the ancient Druid holiday of May Day, a celebration of spring and the forthcoming pleasures of summer.

Surprising a friend or neighbor on May 1st by anonymously hanging a flower filled May Basket on their doorknob is surely as much of a heart-tickling delight now as it was in days of yore.

Fashioning May Baskets can be as straightforward or as involved as one wishes the process to be. Here at Circa we rarely allow our imaginations to be bound by ritual, choosing, rather, to embrace simplicity instead. Thus, the traditional basket might be substituted by an old canning jar, a clay pot or perhaps, even, a porcelain tea cup~ whatever might be at hand that we deem suitable to hold our May Day offerings.


Gather containers, colorful Spring ribbons and fresh posies.


Select an appropriate ribbon, and then tie it around the container,
leaving enough on the ends to form a loop to hang over doorknob.


Arrange flowers in a pleasing manner.


Address a tag with the recipient's name or nice sentiment. We use simple shipping tags which can be found at most office supply stores. Tie sentiment tag on container.


Hang your May Basket on the recipient's doorknob, knock once,
and then vanish like mist in the morning sun.


With that said, spring flowers might be substituted for little trinkets, sweets for a child, or perhaps a pot of honey for a tea aficionado. If our offering proves too cumbersome for the doorknob, we place it before the threshold. We hold firm to the notion that it’s not the offering or the way in which it is presented that counts, but rather the thought.

We encourage you to enjoy the process, be creative, and elaborate at will.

Happy May Day, One and All!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dying Eggs the Circa way


Here at Circa, Easter marks a very special time of year. The moment we spot the first limey-yellow buds of the forsythia we know it’s time to rub the sleep from our eyes, throw the windows open wide, and breathe in the clean, crisp air of spring. It’s time once again to run outside, sweep off the steps, prune back the roses, drag out the hoses, and rake up the yard. Time to head to the potting shed and scrub out the old clay pots that have been waiting patiently to accept a whole new gathering of cooking herbs and annuals. Time for morning tea on the terrace, a walk in the woods, a long overdue visit to a neighbor.

But amid all the cheerful hustle and bustle of revival, we never loose sight of what the Easter holiday truly represents, and whether it be religious, as it is to certain of our friends, or chocolate bunny oriented, as it is to others, adorning our home with an array of festively colored eggs to celebrate is a yearly tradition we anticipate with relish.

Each year at about this same time we prepare a passel of eggs and stir up a whole new batch of our natural dyes. We adore the way these subtlety colored eggs (primitive, some might say) look tucked in amongst the leather bound novels in our library, placed in a pewter bowl in the parlor, and laid in an old woven basket in the foyer.

Inevitably, visitors ask for our recipe for the natural dyes we use and we’re always happy to share.

If you’d like to compose your own symphony of naturally dyed eggs to celebrate the season, here’s how we do it~

1) First and foremost put some music on. Every project is better with the soothing strains of Beethoven or Jack Johnson or Barbra Streisand in the background.

2) Next, hard boil as many eggs as you’d like. We've found that white eggs from White Leghorn chickens works best, but don't let that stop you from experimenting with brown eggs as well. The depth of color achieved with them can prove marvelous.

3) Allow the eggs to cool, then wash them in warm, soapy water to remove any oily residue and dry them.

4) Place a good handful of dye-stuff in a pan. (You’ll find a listing of some of the materials we’ve used in the past below.) The amount of organic material is up to you. Let trial and error be your guide and all will turn out fine. Remember~ this is not a perfect science. Nothing is a mistake. In point of fact, some of what we've initially believed to be 'mistakes' in the past have turned out to be the most enchanting in the end. Everything in life is a process, and patience is a virtue which we can all use a little more of.


5) Add water to about an inch above the dye-stuff. We figure roughly a cup of water to each handful of dye-stuff is adequate.

6) Bring water just to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low.

7) Allow the fusion to simmer for 15 minutes or more, even up to an hour, until you gain the depth of dye color desired. When the color is to your liking, remove the pan from the heat. The deeper the dye color, the richer the egg color will be. Keep in mind, however, that your eggs will rarely be as dark as your dye.

8) Pour the hot dye liquid into a glass measuring cup, or strain through cheesecloth if necessary.


9) Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of white vinegar for each cup of strained dye and stir, then pour your dye into a vessel deep enough to completely cover your eggs. Use whatever is at hand. We've used ceramic bowls if we're dying several eggs at a time, or even coffee mugs and wine glasses for individual eggs.

10) Carefully lower your hard boiled eggs into the warm dye and allow them sit until you’ve achieved a color pleasing to your eye. This may take awhile. Enjoy a cup of tea. Thumb thru a magazine.

(~ Side Note~ Ofttimes, instead of hard boiling the eggs, we'll blow out the insides which helps these little treasures last much longer, often for years. Or until our dear godchildren visit with over-inquisitive hands. Or Elphie, our cat, decides they're loads of fun to roll around the floor.
As eggs will float on top of the dye you must turn them regularly to realize consistent color all around. We've also found that the greatest portion of the color 'takes' when the dye is warm, so if your decorating tendencies lean toward consistency, be attentive at this stage. Us? Not so much. We take great joy in diversity.)


11) After a time, check your eggs. You may wish to remove them after only a few minutes, or you may want to wait. We like to vary the times to create a rainbow of soft colors. Indeed, we've even kept some of ours in dye overnight. The longer each egg soaks, the richer the final color usually is. Have fun. Let your creativity flow.

~ Important to note~ if you're working with hard boiled eggs and intend to eat them, accomplish any long term dying in the refrigerator.

12) When your eggs have achieved their desired richness, lift them out of the dye with a slotted spoon and allow them to dry on a rack or egg carton. Handle them carefully for the dye has not 'set' at this stage and may rub off. Then again, if you’d like a textured look on your finished creation, dab them with a sponge or paper towel before they thoroughly dry. You may even wish to scratch friends and family members names in them now and use them as place markers for your next spring dinner party!


As we mentioned earlier, naturally dyed eggs will boast a subtle, matt finish, which we like, but if you prefer a glossier sheen, rub them with mineral oil or cooking oil after they’ve dried.

And that’s all there is to it!

Happy Easter everyone!
Noel & Verge
The Boyz from Circa Home Living

Below is a list of the natural materials we’ve used to varying success.

Red~
Red Onion Skins (Boiled. We recommend using a good amount of these.)
Pomegranate Juice
Canned Cherries
Black Cherry Juice (If we're working with juice, we simply heat it and then add the vinegar. No need to dilute with water~ unless you want to, of course.

Pink~
Beets or the Juice from Pickled Beets
Cranberries or even Cranberry Juice
Raspberries
Red Grape Juice

Blue~
Blueberries (we've even used canned!)
Boiled Purple Cabbage leaves
Purple Grape Juice

Lavender or Violet
A diluted portion of Purple Grape Juice
Boiled Red Onion Skins (again, a goodly amount seems to work better.)
Red Zinger Tea
Red Wine

Gold~
Turmeric works well.

Green~
Boiled Spinach Leaves

Greenish Yellow~
Boiled Peels of Yellow Delicious Apples

Orange~
Boiled Yellow Onion Skins
Paprika

Yellow~
Boiled Orange Peels or Lemon Peels (use lots for these to produce a very subtle color.)
Chamomile Tea
Green Tea
Boiled Ground Cumin or Ground Turmeric

Monday, April 11, 2011

Three Cheers for Spring!

Hip-hip Hurrah!
Hip-hip Hurrah!
Hip-hip Hurrah!

If you’re at all like us, you’re surely bubbing over with delight about the promise of spring. Winter is wonderful~ for awhile~ but spring; spring is truly spectacular. It’s another magical renewal, causing us to rejoice and give thanks to our dearest love of all, Mother Earth.

Here at Circa, Winter’s blanket has receded (finally!) and all about, Spring is taking hold. The robins have returned from their seasonal retreat, bob-bob-bobbing through the orchard and across our lawn in search of tasty treats. Crocuses are starting to smile in yummy shades of purple and blue and sun-drenched yellow, the buds on the lilacs are beginning to swell and beneath their twiggy bower, the rich, green spires of daffodil leaves are pushing the oak leaves aside and bravely breaking through.

 Spring is here!
 Hip-hip Hurrah!