my week in objects (mostly).

11.21.2014

five little things that made my week.

1. this basket.
basket
{useful anew now that we've got a very wriggly little bug. good for sneaking a shower and other things.}

2. freshly laundered blankets.
blanket
{because it'd been an embarrassingly long time.}

3. this new hat.
hat
{because i needed something wool. and these guys delivered, again.}

4. this cookie.
cookie
{and the "grammy" who made it. psst: last chance.}

5. this crate.
crate
{because sometimes turning something on its side makes all the difference. please disregard the radiator situation.}

other things:
wintry things (had to).
pants with feet.
more jewlery box alternatives.
more edible gifts.
office-safety tips.
a jar of magical thinking.

me in other places:
cribs.
living in style—with kids (a cameo).
thanksgiving in a small space.

brown sugar & spice syrup.

11.20.2014

brown sugar & spice simple syrup
Sometimes all you need is the taste of something to get you in the spirit of things. And sometimes that taste comes in the form of a syrup. This is not a recent discovery. A certain coffee chain has been capitalizing on this idea for more than ten years running and from late August straight on through to the New Year, eager customers can line up and get red paper cups filled up with a taste of fall (and a jolt of espresso).

But just in case you'd like to cook up a little fall flavor in your own kitchen, here's a super simple recipe to make a spiced syrup, artificial flavors not included.
brown sugar & spice simple syrup
The trick is really just to make a simple syrup—equal parts water and sugar— infused with warming spices. In this iteration I used brown sugar instead of white, along with cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, cloves, and star anise. If you want something a little spicier, add in a few black peppercorns. If you're not a fan of the licorice-flavored anise, omit that and add a few rounds of fresh ginger instead. If you're hoping for a touch of citrus, add a bit of orange peel. Anyway you tweak it, the result will be a syrup good for drizzling on ice cream, dribbling into coffee, shaking into cocktails, and pouring into hot toddies.
brown sugar & spice simple syrup
I used a small seive to strain the syrup over a measuring cup with a pour spout so that I would be able to transfer it more easily to a clean glass bottle.
brown sugar & spice simple syrup
Kept in the refrigerator, the syrup will last for weeks and weeks. and certainly through the holiday season, unless you finish it all first. If that's the case, lucky for you it only takes a few minutes to make a new batch.
brown sugar & spice simple syrup
Bottled up, the syrup might just become a little gift to bring to your next dinner party. You know, the one you very well might be going to next Thursday.

Brown Sugar & Spice Syrup
1 cup brown sugar
3-5 cardamom pods
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 allspice berries
3-5 cloves
1 cup water

In a small saucepan, combine ingredients and heat over a medium flame until the syrup has melted, stirring occassionally (this part should only take a few minutes). Remove the star anise so that it doesn't overwhelm the syrup, and then allow the other ingredients to sit for a bit, until the syrup is cool and the spices have sufficiently steeped. Strain the syrup and pour into a clean glass jar for storage. Will keep refrigerated for several weeks. Makes about 1 cup of spice syrup.

For something spicy, minus the sweet, try fire cider. For something even sweeter, try boiled apple cider syrup.

life in a tiny apartment.

11.19.2014

Tip #114.

When there aren't enough chairs, put your plate on your lap. 

This is a photo of my mom on her wedding day, eating from her lap. Extreme cuteness of my mom aside, let's focus on the task at hand, which is eating off a plate with nary a table in sight.

Thanksgiving is next week, and if you have a small apartment, or a small table, or a perfectly average-sized apartment but an above-average number of friends or family, you might be worrying about where everyone is going to eat.

And the answer is on the floor. Or on a cushion. Or squeezed four to a couch that comfortably fits three. Or, anywhere.

You probably don't need instructions on this. If your family is anything like mine, you might've been doing this since childhood, plate loaded up with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and a larger-than-wise portion of stuffing. You, too, might have sat cross-legged on the floor, plate balanced between your thighs and elbows poised and ready to direct a firm shove to any lurking dogs who might be ready to steal a dinner roll. While we often set up extra tables and dragged in extra chairs, the "kids table" at our largest family gatherings was sometimes not a table at all, but a room full of cousins and neighbor kids. We perched on cushions, hunched over coffee tables, squeezed two into an armchair, scarfed our meals, sneaked sodas, and abandoned the leftovers to be snatched by those patient pups.

But just in case you didn't grow up eating from your lap, here are a few tips, Thanksgiving in mind:

1. Drinks first. No, I'm not telling you need to be drunk in order to enjoy a meal on your lap (though that might be your tactic). Pour yourself a drink (of whatever variety) and find a place to put it down before hitting up the buffet. Return to it later, your dinner plate loaded, drink and dignity still in tact.

2. Don't forget the napkin. In case the lack of a table wasn't indication enough, when you're eating from your lap trust that some lack of traditional table manners can be forgiven, but putting a napkin on your lap is not one of them. Before you dig in, get yourself ready for errant bits of turkey and roly poly stuffed mushrooms by covering your lap with a large napkin.

3. Embrace one-handed utensiling. When balancing a plate on your lap, it's sometimes easiest to go the fork-only route. If you don't get every last pea off the plate, you'll be forgiven.

And if you're the one hosting?

1. Set the example and be the first one to plop down on the floor.

2. Consider one-pot meals that might not require too much fancy utensil work. Thanksgiving is generally the antithesis of a one-pot meal, but one-pot meals tend to be ones that are also relatively easy to eat one-handed. Veggie pot pie, anyone?

3. Remember that even if they mean a few more dishes for you, guests asked to eat from their laps will have an easier time of it eating from a proper plate than a flimsy paper alternative. Not a deal breaker if you only have paper, but something to keep in mind if you're weighing options.

4. Focus on the buffet. Push your regular dining table against a wall so that people won't be tempted to perch there, add a decorative gourd or two, and borrow serving dishes from friends if you don't have enough yourself.

Above all else: embrace tiny apartments joyfully, and the rest will follow.

More about hosting dinners in a small apartment, HERE, and HERE.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1-113, right HERE.

giving: edible gifts

11.18.2014

Whether you make them yourself, or rely on the experts to make them for you, giving gifts that can be gobbled is a sure-fire way to win over a minimalist's heart. Heck, it's a good way to win over just about anyone's heart.

In a season when there's a lot of talk about the guilt of indulging in sweets, I think it's nice to think outside of the usual players and to offer something edible that won't be greeted with a sigh. Fancified versions of pantry staples like cooking oils and vinegars, flavored salts, dried herb blends, cocktail syrups, and teas can be a little unexpected break from the sugar cookies and quick breads. Not that I personally would say no to a plate of cookies or a quick bread.

In case you're lacking the time or energy to slave over a hot stove whip something up yourself, here are a few ideas for edible gifts to give this year. (And if you've already got your ingredients list drawn up, there are a few ideas for ways to package up what you make yourself, too.)
an edibles gift guide | reading my tea leaves
1. Organic maple syrup in a half-gallon jug should be enough to last even your most gourmand friends through the winter.
2. Killer granola recipe? Pack it up in a Le Parfait canning jars from Kaufmann Mercantile. {PS. I put together a little KM gift guide last week, you can see it right here.}
3. If you go the make-you-own route, scribble the contents of your gift and any directions on a pretty luggage tag and tie it up with twine from Knot & Bow.
4. Designed to hold produce, these organic cotton bags would be a sweet way to pack up a dozen cookies or a loaf of bread. (At your own risk.)
5. Fancy olive oil? The only downside is that the recipient might never be able to go back to the regular stuff.
6. & 7. There's a long winter ahead, but a mug of tea every day will help cozy things up. Bellocq's Majorelle Mint or Société-Originale's Café de Fleurs are two beautiful options.
8. No time to make your own caramel lollies? Consider keeping a bagful on hand for present toppers.
9. Sea salt in any form is one of my go-to housewarming gifts, but black sea salt with a beautiful letterpressed tag? Even better.
10. Warm the cockles of someone's heart with a bottle of fancy spirits like Sage from Art in the Age of Mechanical Production.
11. Budding home cook on your list? A bag of two of special flour will help them perfect their pizza dough.
12. What to give someone who already has everything? I bet they don't have dried rose geranium in their spice cabinet.

If you'd rather make something yourself, consider mulling spices, or apple cider syrup and stay tuned for a new recipe later this week.

PS. Share your go-to host(ess) gift for a chance to win a few new treats of your own.

{All product photos were sourced from the shops linked to above!}

windward made: a giveaway.

11.17.2014

winward made giveaway
I've never been to Inge's workshop in the Netherlands, but if the world headquarters of Windward Made is not the coziest spot on the planet, I'd be surprised. Inge is the "designer, maker, and everything-elser" at the small online shop which she keeps stocked with hand-printed tea towels, pillow covers, tea and plant cozies, among other things. If you're on the hunt for a simple and sweet gift to bring to someone's home this winter—or a little treat for yourself—Winward Made is the place to look.

Inge screenprints her own designs onto hemp and organic cotton fabric using non-toxic inks and sews her goods on a vintage sewing machine with organic thread. This week, she'll be prepping to mail off a package to a Reading My Tea Leaves reader.
winward made giveaway
One lucky reader will receive a brown paper parcel wrapped in string and tied up with a feather for good measure.
winward made giveaway
Inside, the winner will find a pillow cover, tea towel set, and plant cozy of his or her choosing.winward made giveaway
^^^A wintry pine green plant cozy for keeping plants warm—and hiding less-than-beautiful pots. (If you ask me, they'd make the perfect "tree skirt" for an apartment-sized Christmas tree.)
winward made giveaway
^^^Not for plants, only, the plant cozy makes a fabric bowl for stashing fruit or other odds and ends. It's also fully reversible. The simple tea towels come in four different designs that are festive for the wintertime, without being kitschy. They're sold individually and in sets of two and they're made with a hang tag in the corner for easy drying. This one's the pine tree towel.
winward made giveaway
^^^Inge's organic cotton and hemp pillow covers come in five subtle graphic designs and are beautifully designed with an envelope closure. This one is the black stripes cover. Perfect for wintry snuggling.

To enter the giveaway, subscribe to the Windward Made Newsletter and leave a comment below complete with a way to contact you and a note about your go-to holiday host or hostess gift. 

The giveaway will close at 5:00 pm EST on Friday, November 21 and a randomly selected winner will be announced on Monday, November 24. Open to all readers.


This post and giveaway was sponsored by Windward Made. Opinions and enthusiasm are my own. Thanks so much for supporting the brands that keep Reading My Tea Leaves afloat.

my week in objects (mostly).

11.14.2014

five little things that made my week.

1. this light.
chairs
{because it's the first time we're seeing november in this apartment. it's kind of lovely. and very orange.}

2. this new-to-us mattress.
mattress
{because my mom found it used and brought it to Brooklyn to swap for the used and not-quite-perfect one we'd been using.}

3. these crinkly leaves.
leaves
{because trees do grow in brooklyn. and they turn colors here, too.}

4. these ratty sweatshirts.
growing a minimalist wardrobe: loungewear | reading my tea leaves
{because it sounds like you guys needed proof that they actually exist.}

5. these elastics.
elastics
{because sometimes it is nice to have more than exactly one of what you need.}

other things:
formats and formulas.
boots (my sisters!).
half hitch.
baby knot.
38,000.
modern field guides.

me in other places:
gift guiding.

PS. With any luck, a certain newsletter will be wending its way to inboxes this weekend. Sign up, HERE.

growing a minimalist wardrobe: loungewear.

11.12.2014

growing a minimalist wardrobe: loungewear | reading my tea leaves
Loungewear. There's a word I say absolutely never. You know what I do say? Cozy clothes. I have a cozy clothes drawer. It lives in James's dresser. That makes it sound like I'm impinging on his wardrobe space, but my dresser only has three drawers, and his has five, so really it comes down to fairness. Negotiation in a tiny apartment.

In that drawer you'll find the usual suspects: hoodies, yoga pants, leggings, pajamas (er, sleepwear), nightgowns, and a very small, rotating assortment of t-shirts.

I've mentioned before that this isn't always what the drawer looked like. It used to be devoid of things that were actually designed for lounging in and was overflowing instead with all of the rejects from my regular wardrobe that I had decided might still be useful. My problem wasn't so much the clothes I was saving for good as much as the clothes I was saving for ruin. I would hold onto a shirt to use for painting, or gardening, or changing the oil in the car even if I had no intention (or ability) to do any of those things. But when I finally got rid of everything that was more rag than apparel, I opened up space for thoughtful new additions.

Which brings me to matching pajama sets. Which is really the point of this post.

Matching pajama sets are a thing that might remind you of childhood, but for me they're something that I've really only embraced as an adult. I think that a dedicated, matching, comfortable set of pajamas is one of the most luxurious things you can own. But even better than the fact that they make you feel like you've been cast as the perky, bright-eyed leading woman in a romantic comedy, they can actually help you to pare down your pajama drawer.

Think of it this way: once you've committed to investing in proper pajamas, you'll likely soon realize that most of the clothes you've been calling pajamas have been taking up precious real estate in your cozy clothes drawer instead of making their way to their true home: the rag pile. That's space that could be filled with a neat stack or two of clothes that you wouldn't be mortified to have your in-laws see you wearing.

Building my collection of 'jams has been a slow one, grown mostly through heavy hints and hopefulness that someone might be listening. My absolute favorites are a set of flannel pajamas from J. Crew. They were my gift from James a few Christmases ago and I slip into them most nights of the winter (my navy set doesn't appear to be available any more, but this year's set is heather grey and awfully tempting). The best part about these guys is that they actually fit. This dreamy cotton pajama set (their words, not mine, but they do look dreamy) would make a perfect second set. (And not to rush anyone or anything, but I did just see that they're 25% off today with the code SHOPNOW. Subtle?)
growing a minimalist wardrobe: loungewear | reading my tea leaves
PS. I generally reserve the pajama sets for lounging. If you came to my apartment after, say, 6 pm on most winter nights, you'd likely see me in them. For actually sleeping in, I typically choose something a bit lighter than a flannel pajama set. I have two cotton Only Hearts nightgowns that I rotate. They're super soft. And talk about luxurious.

PPS. I'm not a total monster. There are a few t-shirts and a sweatshirt (fine, two) that I hold on to for purely sentimental reasons. But when we made our move last winter, I was ruthless. And most everything else went.

Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe, STEP 1STEP 2STEP 3STEP 4, and STEP 5. Not to mention, SHOES, and JEWELRY.

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