Blog :: 01-2016

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Spend time in your Kitchen!

My nesting instincts have started kicking in again, like clockwork, this month. I can count on this happening every year around January. As the real estate season in the Northampton area winds down (generally this happens before Thanksgiving, and picks up again in late winter/early spring), I find myself getting around to household projects I've been meaning to accomplish. Whether it be learning something new to cook (a couple of weeks ago, I tried my hand at baguettes for the first time!), or picking up the knitting I started last year (and put aside once the snow melted) - finally having that piece of artwork framed (or trying my hand at DIY-ing it), and/or organizing the basement storage area.... This time of year is perfect for back burner projects and goals. 

Since I am someone who loves to cook, and cherishes my time puttering around the kitchen, preparing meals while listening to music and enjoying a glass of wine - the following article I found on the Apartment Therapy blog piqued my interest... This comes on the heels of a recent mini-shopping spree my husband and I just went on to a local kitchen store. We purchased two "perfect" spatulas, baguette baking pans (see aformentioned note of my first attempt at homemade baguettes), a bench scraper (came in quite handy for baguettes), and just-the-right-sized saucepan to help make our time in the kitchen more enjoyable. It's amazing how helpful it is to have the proper tools!  

 

5 Things You Should Buy for Your Kitchen in February
WINTER RESET

 

by Cambria Bold

Megan and Leif's Scandinavian-Inspired Oakland Charmer


If the months of the year are guests at a dinner party, January is the friend who can't stop talking about how great she feels now that she doesn't do [insert most enjoyable things here] anymore. It's admirable, but also kind of annoying. Of course you'd like to be your best self (her words, not yours), but do you have to give up so much in the process? Can't the whole thing be a little more enjoyable?

Thankfully your down-to-earth buddy February is around to keep things real. When January makes you feel like a failure, February steps in to say it's okay to take smaller steps towards your personal betterment, and it's also okay to buy a little something to help you along the way. (He's such a good guy to shop with!) With that in mind, here are five small things to buy for your kitchen next month to keep you moving positively and pleasantly through the new year.

 

1. Something to help you clean better.
Cleaning the kitchen is a daily necessity when you're a cook. You might not love it, but you know how much better you feel after it's done (especially if you do it before you go to bed).

Did you resolve in January to clean your kitchen every day? Then you need proper cleaning tools and pleasant scents. Are your scrub brushes old and crusty? Get a new, better one. Tired of running out of dish cloths all the time? Stock up. Looking for the best-smelling dish soap? This comes pretty close. Anything that makes cleaning more enjoyable is a worthwhile purchase and a win in our book.


2. Something to help you cook better.
Many of us change our eating or cooking habits in January — we go vegan, or Paleo, or gluten-free; we cut out alcohol and add in a daily smoothie. Sometimes those habits stick, but other times they fall away. If it's the latter, you may find you need some new inspiration come February to reorient you and get you back cooking how you want to cook.

This is the time to buy something that'll help make that happen. Restock your spices. Get a nice bottle of olive oil. Pick up a new kitchen tool or upgrade a small appliance, if you can. Think about what would improve your kitchen routines or enhance your cooking, and start there. It doesn't have to be expensive; even something as small as a the best peeler ever can do the trick.

3. Something to help you explore a new cooking interest or master a cooking skill.
Maybe your January resolution had nothing to do with restriction of any kind (good for you!), and instead you chose to explore a new cooking interest. Or maybe you're still digging yourself out from last week's blizzard (along with any good will you had, because apparently that got snowed in when you did), and desperately need a pick-me-up to get you out of the winter doldrums. If any of those are the case, it's time to treat yourself.

Buy a a sourdough starter and see where it takes you. Get a ceramic coffee cone so you can finally try pourover coffee. Buy a wok so you can master stir-frying at home. Spend the day shopping for ingredients so you can cook from Pok Pok, or any special cookbook you've been dying to get into. The world's your oyster!


4. Something to help you maintain a new habit.
It's easy to rag on January for setting the standards too high and setting you up for disappointment when you fail to meet them, but in truth, you appreciate that she challenges you to try new things. Hopefully it's not all over in February, and you've found a healthy new habit you want to keep going.

Are you finally planning out your meals and prepping ingredients for the week on Sunday, just like you've always wanted? Are you actually doing all your shopping for the week on Friday afternoon? Is your pantry still neat and organized, and it's been almost a month? Are you drinking plenty of water every day? Have you eaten dinner at the table every night (and not once on the sofa) this month?

If you're really into this new habit, don't let the momentum go! How can you keep it up? Make sure you have enough containers for your lunch prep. Upgrade your water bottle. Get your knives professionally sharpened. Get a label-maker for your pantry, and take that organization to the next level. Buy flowers for yourself as a little reward every week you keep it up!


5. Something to make you excited about winter cooking.
We are about to hit February, which can be a bleak month, leftover resolutions notwithstanding. But it is also a cozy month — a month where it's okay to cook in flannel PJs and make big pots of soup and drink tea all day long. It's good to embrace the season, and a little purchase next month can help with that.

Buy some high-quality chocolate for hot cocoa, or a thick, heavy mug you can wrap your hands around. Get a nice bottle of red wine to have with dinner (and sip on while you're cooking). Buy another bottle so you can make this rich, heavenly lamb ragu. Get that loaf pan you've been eying so you can bake bread. You're going to make it through, and you're going to be great.

How do you treat yourself in February? Are there any little things you like to buy for yourself this time of year to keep your spirits up or resolutions intact?

(Image credits: Celeste Noche)

Time to make sure you are prepared for winter!

Many of us Northampton area residents are wondering whether this winter will come close, in snow accumulation, to last winter. So far, it's not looking that way - though you can't seem to go anywhere in town today without hearing conversations about the upcoming Nor'easter (the Emperor's New Nor'Easter?). But, impending storm or no, it certainly makes sense to stock up on the types of materials and gadgets that you will be thankful to have on hand once the snow really does start falling. Our local Northampton paper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, had this article to share, with great ideas about how to be ready for the snowfall when it finally comes. I imagine these items are flying off the shelves at local hardware stores, so put them on your shopping list if you don't already own them!

 

Stock up on the right tools to beat back Old Man Winter

 

R

Photo credit: Kevin Gutting

 

By ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER
For the Gazette

Rock salt mixed with sand is the first thing that comes to mind for many people when the task is melting the ice beneath their feet.

This is a perfectly acceptable solution for a limited number of applications, according to David Chaisson, co-owner of Stadler Ace Hardware in Belchertown. Maybe the bottom of a sloped driveway could use a sprinkling of this gritty concoction that provides the benefit of added traction along with its melting properties. It will give you the grip you need to build momentum as you ascend.

But in most cases you'll want something a little less harsh.

Rock salt is not only hard on metal, accelerating rust, but it also does no favors for concrete. In fact, "it will eat your concrete," said Chaisson. It may not seem like much at first, but the salt, which is perfectly fine on asphalt or blacktop, will start pitting a concrete walkway. Small cracks can develop and when water gets into those and freezes, the expansion will lead to a cascading cycle that will eventually destroy the concrete.

Salt is also not great for shoes, it will burn your pet's feet, and if you track it into the house the carpets will suffer.

The alternative is a product that comes under a variety of names but is usually referred to as Ice Melt. Chaisson carries a brand called Mr. Magic, which he prefers because it goes on orange, allowing for easy even distribution.

"When you are putting it on the white snow you can see where you are putting it to get a nice even mix," Chaisson said, "so you are not putting it on too light or missing some spots."

The active ingredient is calcium chloride. It keeps melting ice even when the overall temperature drops to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. That is considerably colder than rock salt, which only keeps melting down to minus 10 degrees.

Chaisson recommends getting your Ice Melt early because it often sells out. Last year it was very hard to find by midwinter.

Depending on your needs, the cheapest way of buying Ice Melt is in a 50-pound bag, though Chaisson recommends buying it in a drum the first time, and then buying refills.

"It's always a good idea to have a drum or some kind of sealable container so you can do your job and then fill it back up," he said. "You have to cover it up and keep the moisture out because if the moisture gets in, it will make it hard as a rock and you have to break it up and it becomes a pain in the neck."

Chaisson said you can apply Ice Melt on the ground before the snow falls or you can put it on ice that has already formed. "Let's say you have a thin layer of ice, you can put it down and it will stay there until the next storm," he said. "It keeps melting until it's melted out." How long that might be depends in part on how well the melted water drains off, or whether it puddles and refreezes.

Roof care

Driveways, walkways and paths to the wood pile are not the only places you want to think of in terms of keeping the snow and ice from piling up, Chaisson said.

A little bit of early intervention when snow starts piling up on the roof can go a long way toward preventing bigger problems.


Most importantly, he said, is to get the right kind of rake (with a long handle) so that you can clear snow off the first few feet of your roof. If you do that, the rest of the roof will take care of itself, as normal sunshine will heat up the shingles just enough to let the snow dissipate in an orderly way.

Ice dams were an issue that people in our area used to deal with once in a decade, said Chaisson, but in recent years they have become an annual phenomenon. That is when ice builds up toward the bottom of the roof and stays there, preventing the melting snow from dripping off. In fact, it can build up and start pooling on the roof and then as it repeatedly melts and freezes it can seep under the shingles and over time cause major damage.

"If it's looking like it's going to stay cold for a while, you should get a bit of your roof opened up even if there is not a lot of snow," said Chaisson.

There is also a relatively new product that has come to the market in the last five years that looks something like a hockey puck that you can put on your roof to help keep the ice from building up.

These are a little pricey, Chaisson said, but they work very well.

"If your roof is frozen solid, especially your gutters, you can throw them up onto your roof a couple of feet," he said. "You don't have to be very accurate and you don't have to send them way up."

The effect may seem to be almost imperceptible at first, but as the pucks (or discs) slowly melt the ice around them the chemical (just like the Ice Melt, it is calcium chloride) drips down with the water, clearing built-up ice along the way. "It may not look like it's doing a lot, but it is doing all the work under the top surface," said Chaisson.

One of the reasons it is so important to clear the lower portion of the roof is that starting in the late afternoon the chilled air coming up can quickly freeze any moisture that gathers there during the day, Chaisson said.

"The wind is what starts the thing because you are melting every day," he said. "Around 4 o'clock you get the uplifting cold."

Throwing snow

Back on the ground, ice is one thing, but snow measured in inches and sometimes feet can be another. Shovels come in at least 30 varieties and brands, ranging from less than $10 to up to $40.

"You truly get what you pay for," Chaisson said. The major differences are between the "pushers" and the "lifters." There are also the so-called "back savers" which have angled posts that allow you to stay in a more upright position as you heave the snow to where you want it to go. The advantage is that you get to let your legs take some of the weight that your back would otherwise handle.

Another variable to look for in shovels is whether the blade is made of metal or plastic. As you might expect, the metal blade is more durable but it might not be the right solution for a deck, for instance, where scratching could be an issue.

And then there are snowblowers. Tom Perron, the owner of Boyden & Perron in Amherst, prefers to call them "snow throwers" but, he said, the terms are interchangeable and are usually dependent on who the manufacturer is.

There is a lot of variety there.

The simplest power tool for clearing your front steps and maybe a walkway or small driveway is a power shovel, which is electric and plugs into the wall. An obvious advantage is that you don't have to deal with smelly gas and oil. There are also no spark plugs or carburetors that need to be serviced. Besides being clean, they are also light, so you can easily take them out to a deck you want to clear. The obvious down side is that you have to be within reach of a power source and you have to manage the cord while you are doing your work.

Perron sells three sizes of power shovels.

When it comes to gasoline-powered snow throwers, there is a major distinction between single-stage machines and double-stage machines.

For the first, the auger (think spiral blade) touches the ground directly. As it spins it throws the snow off to the side. This is good when you are working on smooth surfaces and the snow is not too deep or tightly packed.


The motion of the blade helps propel the machine forward as you go. Depending on use, the blade needs to be replaced every few years. It can throw the snow 25 to 30 feet, according to Perron. He sells these in seven different models.

For bigger jobs you will want a two-stage snow thrower. In this case the auger does not touch the ground, which means you can use it on a wider variety of surfaces, including rougher terrain like a lawn or a gravel driveway. The rotating blade in this case cuts into the snow and feeds it to a secondary mechanism, called the impeller, which is what throws the white stuff up to 40 feet.

Unlike the single-stage snow thrower, this machine has a transmission, which means that you can adjust the power depending on the job. The wheels are also connected to the transmission so you get a power assist in moving the machine forward.

"Some of the larger snow throwers are easier to use than the smaller ones," Perron said.

He sells seven models of the two-stage snow throwers. Those at the higher end include features like heated handles and headlights as well as, of course, more power and a wider intake so you can move more volume more quickly.

Finally, if you want to go really large, there are riding snow throwers. These are for people who have large surfaces they need to clear quickly.

The added benefit of these is that they have a dual use as lawn mowers in the summer.

That is something nice to think about as you head out into the frigid environs of a heavy blanket of snow left behind by a winter storm.

Eric Goldscheider can be reached at eric.goldscheider@gmail.com

 

Keeping Houseplants in Good Shape During the Winter

We moved to Northampton, MA, from NYC 10 years ago. Our first house was in the Smith College neighborhood, with lovely perennial gardens of which we had no business being the caretakers. Despite our best efforts, the gardens became overgrown and we had to break down and hire a professional landscaper to maintain them. Since that time, we have been trying to improve our green thumbs. Our new house has much simpler landscaping, and I have actually taken the time recently, to research how each plant we own needs to be cared for. Nothing has died yet (knock wood), and I was even able to coax a few roses from our rose bush

While things seem to be going well enough outside - our houseplants did not survive the first year in our new home. I decided it was time to take the same tactic with the few new houseplants we have acquired in that time, and read up about how to care for them! Brilliant you say? Well, we shall see. But I came across this article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about caring for houseplants in winter and decided that I should share it here.

 

Get Growing: Houseplants need TLC in Winter

by Mickey Rathbun

 

Winter is a hard time for house plants. Dry heat robs them of needed humidity, and there’s less natural light. A basic understanding of what plants do in winter makes it easier to keep them healthy throughout the winter months. Think hibernation.

The leading cause of house plant death — especially in winter — is over-watering! As summer wanes, plants receive less sunlight and naturally slow their growth. Plants that are not actively producing new growth need less water. Keep in mind that plants that live outdoors in summer need less water when they come inside because they’re not exposed to wind.

Test your potted plants for dryness by sticking your finger into the soil. They only need water when the soil is dry an inch below the surface. When you water, water well, and then leave them alone till the soil is dry again.

Over-watering creates root rot. If your plant is wilting, but the pot feels heavy, it may be suffering from root rot. Cut back on watering. If the plant doesn’t improve, gently take it out of the pot and check the roots for mushiness or dark patches. Cut these off, let the root ball dry out over night and then repot, making sure you put plenty of small stones or broken pot shards in the bottom to facilitate drainage.

If you have plants that came in festive holiday wrappings, make sure the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot aren’t blocked. Poke around with your fingers till you can feel the holes and cut away the wrap with a sharp pair of scissors so the holes can drain. Put the plant on a plastic or other watertight tray to catch drainage.


Fertilizer in winter is another no-no. In fact, fertilizer may harm plants. Unless you’re growing plants under lights to stimulate new growth, hold off on fertilizer until springtime growth begins.

While plants suffer from too much watering in winter, they need ambient humidity for transpiration. Indoor heating systems create parched conditions for plants.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to create a moister environment. Run a humidifier if you can. This will not only keep your plants happier, it will create a more pleasant atmosphere for people. You can also place your plants on a watertight tray covered with small pebbles and water. Just make sure the water does not touch the pots. Alternatively you can place glasses or small jars filled with water amongst your plants.

Keep in mind that the kitchen and bathroom tend to have the highest humidity in your house, so plants that enjoy high humidity, including tropical plants, should be placed in these areas if possible. Plants generate humidity, so it helps to group those plants together. And keep their foliage away from frosted windows.

Most plants enjoy an occasional misting, but don’t mist plants with hairy leaves like African violets and gloxinias. They take a long time to dry and can develop moisture-related diseases.

Indoor dust creates another hazard for houseplants, blocking light and moisture needed for photosynthesis transpiration. An occasional bath — once a month or so — helps plants thrive in winter. If possible, put plants in a bathtub or shower and use a spray bottle to wet the leaves. A kitchen sink sprayer is an option for smaller plants. The bathroom shower is generally too strong for most plants. You can add a few drops of dish washing liquid to a quart of water if your plants are really grimy. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.

Plants grow toward light. You may notice your plants getting tipsy. Rotate them once a week or so to keep their growth straight and balanced.

One more thing on the subject of indoor plants: If you have plants in a commercial business space, make sure they look good. I mean, would you buy a used car from someone whose showroom is filled with dying plants? Distressed plants are a serious turn-off to customers and passersby. Get rid of these and replace them with new ones, perhaps ones better suited to their environment.

FARMERS MARKETS: Farmers markets in Amherst and Northampton are wonderful places to savor the season’s pleasures and find some fresh local produce. Maple syrup and candies, apples, baked goods, and jams and jellies add some sweetness to take the chill off. Fresh greens and storage vegetables such as potatoes and squash are available, as well as local meat, fresh fish, eggs and herbal and natural skin care products to salve chapped, dry skin. There are also local artisans and crafts people every week. Amherst also features live music.

The Amherst market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through April 2. (There is no market on Jan. 16 or March 5) at the Amherst Regional Middle School, 170 Chestnut St.


The Northampton market is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through April 30 at the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, 80 Locust St.

Garden Center Clinics: Hadley Garden Center has been an invaluable resource for Valley gardeners since it opened in 1963. It will be hosting an informative series of winter gardening clinics on Saturdays at 1 p.m. beginning Jan. 16. The first, Great Shrubs for Valley Gardens, promises to be a fun reminder that spring is not so far away. It’s easy to get lost among the hundreds of varieties of shrubs to choose from at local nurseries and garden centers. Tom Clark, curator of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard and a former garden center employee, will make your selection a little easier this season as he discusses the shrubs that grow best in our area.

Hadley Garden Center is located at 285 Russell St. (Route 9) in Hadley. Call 584-1423 for more information.

SEED TALK: It’s not too early to start thinking about seeds for next season’s gardens. On Jan. 16, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Ken Greene, founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library in Accord, New York, will give a lecture on regionally appropriate vegetable, flower, and herb varieties that have been saved by the library. He’ll also discuss techniques for saving seeds and demonstrate a simple way to test old packages of seeds to see if they’re still viable for planting in the coming year. The fee for members is $10; $15 for nonmembers. For more information, go to: www.berkshirebotanical.org

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.