little paths so startled

living, decorating, and eating in hattiesburg, mississippi

farewell to the walthall

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We’ve lived here in the Walthall for three years, and we’ve absolutely loved it.  The time has come, though, to say goodbye to this most wonderful place, and at the end of this month, we’ll make the first of two (!) moves this summer.  Our first move will be to a smaller place just a block away from where we are now – a duplex in a charming little bungalow.  That’s where Daniel and the greyhounds will live for the next two years or so as he finishes his graduate work in biology.  At the end of the summer, I will move to Seattle to start a PhD program in language and rhetoric at the University of Washington.

As sorry as we are to leave our condo, we’re excited about what’s ahead.  And even though moving is hard, tedious work, I actually do enjoy the cathartic cleansing and purging that (for us) only happens when we move.  And I LOVE an opportunity to arrange furniture and decorate in a new place.  (Someone please remind me of all this when I’m hauling the 500th box in 90+ degree heat and humidity!)  Here’s a last look at our condo:

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ocean springs

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This weekend, Daniel and I made a day trip to Ocean Springs with three items on our agenda: 1) a remarkable pitcher plant bog in the Desoto National Forest, 2) good food, and 3) pelican watching.  I’m happy to report it was a success – and just the getaway we needed.

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Locals call this extensive pitcher plant bog “Buttercup Flats,” and I can see why.

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The vegetarian samosas at Mosaic Tapas were delicious, and it was perfect weather for an al fresco lunch.

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The pelicans who live around this pier (near the Shearwater Bridge) have a delightful habit of roosting and preening on these posts.  And their preening moves had us laughing out loud.

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(The photo of the pitcher plants and the close-up photos of the pelicans were taken by Daniel.)

Written by Ann

April 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Posted in eating, living

vegan mattar paneer

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As much as I love to eat Indian food, I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of cooking it.  Living in a town with no Indian restaurants, however, leaves me little choice.  After I heard Anupy Singla interviewed on NPR (back in the fall, on Diwali) about her cookbook, Vegan Indian Cooking, I decided it was time I learned.  I ordered the cookbook, rounded up some cardamom and coriander, and – finally – got started.  What better dish to start with, I thought, than the ultimate comfort food: mattar paneer (except here, the paneer is not cheese, but baked tofu).  Sure, we’ll happily drive to Ocean Springs or Gulfport for lunch at Good Karma Café, and we often eat at Taj Mahal when we’re in New Orleans, but now I can have it at home, too.

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Baking the tofu beforehand gives it a paneer-like consistency, Singla says, and she’s right.  I followed her directions to place the sliced extra firm tofu on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with olive oil, sprinkle the top sides with a teaspoon of garam masala (I cheated and bought a spice blend, rather than make my own), and bake at 350 on the top rack for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, I took out the pan, flipped the slices, sprinkled on more garam masala, sprayed a bit more olive oil, and put it back in for another 15 minutes.  When it came out, I cooled it for a few minutes, then sliced it into cubes.

Singla’s recipe for Vegan Mattar “Paneer” follows:

Ingredients:

2 T oil

1 heaping tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick

1 black cardamom pod

1 large yellow or red onion, peeled and minced (2 cups)

1 (2-inch) piece ginger root, peeled and grated or minced

6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or minced

2 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced (3 cups)

3 T tomato paste

2-4 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed, chopped

3 cups water, divided

1 heaping tsp garam masala

1 heaping tsp coriander

1 tsp red chile powder or cayenne

2 tsp coarse sea salt

1 pound fresh or 1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peas

1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, baked and cubed (see above)

2 T chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Instructions:

1. In a large, heavy pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

2. Add the cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom and cook until the seeds sizzle, about 30 seconds.

3. Add the onion and cook until browned, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the ginger root and garlic.  Cook for another minute, stirring to avoid sticking.

5. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chiles, 1 cup of the water, garam masala, coriander, red chile powder, and salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

6. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and cardamom.  Blend the mixture, either by using an immersion blender or by transferring it to a blender or food processor.  (This step is not necessary, but it adds smoothness to your final dish.)

7. Add the peas, baked tofu cubes, and remaining 2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes uncovered.

8.  Garnish with the cilantro.  Serve with brown or white basmati rice, roti, or naan.

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We were delighted with this dish and have made it several times.  And while we happen to love it with tofu, we’re sure the real “paneer” would be delicious, too.

Written by Ann

April 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Posted in eating

pro packing*

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I’ve been traveling quite a bit these past couple of months, and I have two more trips (this week and next) before my schedule settles down.  That means I’ve been doing quite a bit of packing, and as someone who actually enjoys packing (!), I thought I’d share my strategies for packing efficiently.

First of all, this: I always carry on: whether it’s a two-week business trip, a week and a half in Europe, or a weekend island get-away.  (Yes, I packed a carry-on for a two-week business trip, and I never repeated an outfit.  True story.)  I haven’t checked a bag in six years; the last time was when an airline lost my bag on a weekend trip to Chicago.  I realize my fear of lost luggage is a bit disproportionate to the reality, and I certainly don’t judge people who check bags.  It’s just that carrying on – no matter what – has become something of a game for me, a challenge I enjoy.

The Gear:

Good luggage is worth the investment.  I invested in two pieces by Longchamps: an expandable duffel (pictured above) and a tote (pictured below, last photo).  I do own a roller-style carry-on, and I did use it for the two-week business trip, but here’s my rationale for the duffel: because I live in Mississippi, I fly on lots of tiny commuter planes to get to larger hubs.  No matter how tiny the plane (and I mean you, little prop plane that seats, like, 10 people!), that duffel fits in the overhead bin.  I never get pink-tagged.  It’s part of my game.  The expandable portion is my safety net: if, during my trip, I happen to acquire more than will fit in the standard size, I can un-zip and check a substantially larger version.  The tote is delightfully roomy, and it has a zipper top – so I don’t have to worry about spilling my stuff across the floor of the airplane when I tuck the bag under the seat.  In fact, that tote is also my work bag, so it gets A LOT of use.  The canvas fabric is tough and washable.  (If I had it to do over again, though, I’d get black; as much as I love my color, it does show marks.)

The Theory:

My theory of packing has four main components:

  1. I am a firm believer in the wrinkle-preventing powers of tissue paper.
  2. I roll my clothes, rather than fold them.  I have found that rolling clothes is both space saving and wrinkle preventing – thus completely worth the extra effort.
  3. I choose outfits that mix and match basics, and, especially on longer trips, I work within a complementary color palette.   My closet organization app, Stylebook (also seen here), is immensely helpful in the planning process.
  4. I save space by packing fewer shoes than I’d like.  I love all my shoes, but only the most versatile ones make the packing cut: I make sure there no duplicates (i.e., one pair of dressy heels, one pair of flats, one pair of sandals).

This means packing takes time to plan and time to execute, but I’m always glad I did it.  These photos, including the first one, are from my most recent trip to a conference.

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As the collage above suggests, efficient packing means a place for everything and everything in its place.  I like to layer shoes (in shoe bags, of course) on the bottom to create a flexible structure for my otherwise-soft bag.  Because heels especially create little gaps, I stuff them with workout clothes or other items that aren’t a wrinkle concern.  Then I layer on clothing items, lining the sides with thicker (and less wrinkle-prone) items like a pencil skirt in heavy cotton.  Super-wrinkle-prone items, like a silk-ish blouse, go in the middle.

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I am meticulous in my rolling, especially with wrinkle-prone items.  (Tissue paper to the rescue!)  Hasty rolling means wrinkled clothes.  Trust me.

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This is the blazer trick – part of the mix-and-match component of my theory.  I pack just one blazer (even for that two-week business trip, which, fortunately, was mostly business casual), and I usually wear it on the plane, at least on the flight there.  It has to be versatile enough to go with several outfits and dress up or down.  This lightweight, drapey one from Anthropologie (a hand-me-down from my sister!) fits the bill.

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The Personal Item:

Because my carry-on is working hard, my “personal item” has to work hard, too, as the photo above illustrates.  (Not pictured: the 15″ hunk of aluminum [my MacBook Pro] that also ended up in the tote.)  I have two criteria for this bag: 1) stuff I need quick access to on the plane and in the airport and 2) stuff I have to get out for the security checkpoint.  My essential are as follows (clockwise from top right):

  1. The quart-sized bag for liquids (which also doubles as my toiletry bag).  Spring for a sturdier, reusable version.  It’s worth the few dollars.  (N.b., I keep my makeup in a separate bag that usually gets carefully stowed in the middle of my carry-on, but sometimes that bag also ends up in the tote.)
  2. Snacks and gum.  ‘Nuff said.
  3. A bag with all my jewelry – even the watch that’s a permanent fixture on my wrist.  It’s not worth shedding layers of bling in the security line; just wait until you’re through the checkpoint to put on the essentials.
  4. An über-paired-down wallet/wristlet.  Again, just the essentials – and in a handy container that also holds my iPhone and doubles as a clutch.
  5. A pouch that functions as an organizer in my otherwise pocket-less tote and doubles as a clutch.
  6. Sunglasses and a sleep mask – in their own clever pouch, of course.
  7. Another pouch for the miserable tangle neatly stowed charger cords, dongles, and earbuds.  (That pouch goes to work with me every day, in fact.)
  8. The emergency kit: the meds this asthma and allergy sufferer can’t travel without, as well as a tiny Tide-to-Go pen and a tiny lint roller for wardrobe exigencies.
  9. Cozy things: a pashmina and socks.  Because you never know when it will be freezing on the plane.
  10. iPad.  I love this case for several reasons, not least of which is the set of interior pockets that are perfect for stowing boarding passes and other travel documents.  And I usually have a fun book loaded in my iBooks library because, you know, it feels luxurious to read for fun on a plane.  I’d love to be one of those people you see pounding out spreadsheets, blazing through files, poring over dense theory, and looking generally important every moment they’re allowed to have their laptops out.  But I’m not.
  11. A print version of something fun to read.  (See above.)  As much as I love having my books and magazines (including InStyle magazine, in fact) in digital form on my iPad, print magazines don’t have to be stowed from the close of the boarding door until 10,000 feet.  That, in my opinion, is a crucial time during which I need to be occupied (distracted).
  12. (Not pictured) My laptop: only when I have to.  It feels a little ridiculous carrying my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Pro – but sometimes it just has to be done.  Usually, though, the iPad will suffice.

So there you have it.  What are your packing tricks and essentials?

*I mean the title in both possible senses: I am definitely pro-packing, but I also aspire to packing like a pro.

Written by Ann

March 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

new year’s resolution: edited, organized closet

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I knew I was stressed last semester when simply getting dressed – putting together outfits and trying to remember what I’d worn the week (or day) before – was hive-inducing.  It’s not that my options were limited.  And my closet was certainly organized (thanks to a previous year’s organizing blitz).  I just couldn’t see how the pieces were working together, and the result was unwelcome added stress.

Enter Stylebook, an iPhone app I’d read about and been too lazy to try.  (Taking pictures of every piece of clothing I owned seemed exhausting.)  But when a nasty cold had me stuck at home for several days after the holidays, I decided to take it on.  And as I began the painstaking process of photographing my clothing, I realized that I’d been hoarding clothes like crazy.  I still had clothes from college and my first year of working – when I had no definable style whatsoever and tended to err on the frumpy side too keep from looking too young (!).  So I made a decision: if I couldn’t motivate myself to photograph and catalog the item, it went in the donation pile.

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It was a little scary for this hoarder to get rid of so much at once, but when I started using the app’s “Look” function to put together outfits, I realized I still have plenty of options.  Suddenly, my closet could breathe.  (And that’s no small feat in such a tiny space.)  As I took out each piece of clothing, I checked for holes, tears, stains, and pills, and I invested in a multipurpose sweater comb and fabric spray to keep my clothes looking (and smelling) like new.

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I’m also determined to eliminate (or at least reduce the frequency of) the work-week wardrobe crises.  I’ve found the calendar function in the app to be a useful planning tool; plus, I can see what I’ve worn recently.  There’s also a handy packing list function that will, I hope, preempt my packing panics.  Was this editing and organizing process tedious?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  For me, absolutely.  Here’s to a year of dressing and living well.

Written by Ann

January 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

cusheri

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We rang in the new year with one of our favorite meals: cusheri.  (Think spaghetti, but WAY better.)  Also spelled kushari, this is a popular Egyptian dish sold by street vendors, and I often wish, as I pull out nearly every pot I own to make this dish, that we had street vendors selling it here.  (Not pictured above: rice cooker, colander, stainless steel bowl.)  My friend and colleague, who is a masterful chef and particularly good at Mediterranean fare, kindly shared this recipe with me.

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Danielle’s Cusheri
1/2 cup vegetable oil
 1 monstrous onion, sliced into paper thin rings
 2 cups Basmati rice
 1/2 cup lentils
 1 cup macaroni elbows
 1 can chickpeas
 1/4 c. broken vermicelli
 2 Tbs. butter*
 Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
Cook onions very slowly in vegetable oil until they are brown and delicious–should take at least 45 minutes.  Cook rice in salted water until tender.  Cook lentils in salted water until they are tender but not mushy.  Cook elbows in salted water until al dente.  Sauté vermicelli in butter until lightly browned and nutty, then add hot water and boil until tender.  Combine rice, lentil, macaroni, vermicelli and chickepeas (you can heat the chickpeas just by putting them in a colander and pouring the boiling macaroni over them when you strain it).  Pour the onions and oil on top and mix well.
Danielle also notes, “When it’s just us at home, I serve it with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, which tastes just like the sauce I used to get it with in the Middle East, but when I make it for company (or for Egyptians), I make the sauces, too.”
*This could easily be vegan-ized by substituting Earth Balance for the butter.
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Danielle’s Red Cusheri Sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 ½ Tbs. chopped garlic
½ c. water
2 Tbs. vegetable bouillon*
2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 ½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
½ tsp. black pepper
Sauté onion for 15 minutes until it turns yellow. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.
*The original recipe calls for chicken base here.
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The result is the ultimate comfort food.  Thanks to Danielle Sypher-Haley for sharing!

Written by Ann

January 1, 2013 at 11:57 am

winter wonderland

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I absolutely love decorating for the holidays. (I may or may not have been listening to Christmas music – earbuds in – for weeks already.) Last year, we decided to go eco-friendly and created an indoor bottle tree to replace a cut Christmas tree, and I made several arrangements from discarded Christmas tree branches. This year, Daniel inspired me to be even more eco-friendly and botantically-correct by decorating with plants native to Mississippi (and sourced from nearby woods). I recycled my burlap and metallic votives from last year and added long leaf pine cones, southern magnolia leaves, yaupon holly berries, and eastern red cedar branches to create simple arrangements around the condo. I rather love the sculptural-yet-unfussy effect. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, chez nous.

For the dining table, I wanted something dramatic but low enough to see over during meals:

And I made a smaller version for our coffee table:

I filled a large vase with cedar and holly for the foot of the bottle tree (think Christmas tree, deconstructed):

And I used extra cedar and holly for smaller arrangements on the entryway console and the dining buffet:

In the bedroom/study nook, I added holly berries to my vase of sweetgum sticks, and since we DO love bottles and lights (seen here and here), we made a little bottle lamp with battery-operated LED string lights:

I also made simple holly arrangements for my desk and the dresser:

And to make sure it smells like Christmas, too, I’m burning this heavenly balsam cedar-scented candle on our kitchen island:

Happy holidays!