Urbanite Treasure

One of the gems found in most cities is the Asian market. Here in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city, we are fortunate enough to have eight. What an adventure it is to explore the aisles and look at the array of ingredients, that to many of us, seem quite exotic! Everything from bean sprouts to Quail eggs. Buy something interesting and don’t worry about what to do with it. Look up a recipe on-line that uses it and let the adventure begin.

Shrimp chips are awesome. What appears to be slices of translucent hard plastic, pop into a delicious treat as soon as they hit hot cooking oil. Many brands come in pretty colors so they make a wonderful display amid the dips and sauces, but are flavorful enough to stand on their own.

The prices are as much a treat for the wallet as the produce is for the eyes. Mini bok choy, a fraction of what it costs in trendy grocery stores. Even utensils are a bargain. This is the place to go when you’re shopping for a sturdy hand hammered wok or bamboo steamer. And if you’re hosting one of the ‘tasting’ parties so popular right now with its multi mini servings, check out the ceramic spoons, individual dipping sauce dishes and sake cups.

Another wonderful find is the huge bundles of stick incense. If you burn a lot of it, as I do, you will really appreciate the price. The scent is delightful and I have found that the flame extinguishes itself once the stick is lit and ready to smolder nicely.

When I was seventeen years old, I received my first wok and a Chinese cookbook as a gift. Soon, I was a regular in what became my favorite Asian grocery store in my native city of Milwaukee. I’d host parties and delight guests with things they had never experienced. The addition of lily buds or lotus root turned a dish into something memorable. Many items come in a dried form and just need a quick soaking in hot water to bring them back to life.

Asian cuisine is far too exquisite to be categorized by the term ‘stir fry’. That is a method of cooking, not a dish. It would be like saying, “I made ‘baked’ last night. In many kitchens, this is becoming a lost art. Care should be taken when preparing the ingredients. Fresh vegetables are often cut diagonally to expose more of the cooking surface and meats are cut paper thin to allow it to be equally dispersed throughout the dish in a country where meat is costly and hard to come by except for special occasions. Items are added to the wok in the order of the time it takes to cook and each ingredient should be the same size to assure the proper state of doneness.

Make this a ‘cooking meditation’ and not a means to clear out the fridge. Prepare the ingredients mindfully and with gratitude for its source. Thank the Earth, Water and Air when preparing vegetables, seafood and fowl. Finally, thank Fire as you set flame to your wok. And don’t forget the garnishes. It can take an Asian chef hours to carve vegetables into birds and flowers, but the addition of scallion brushes or a quick toss of fresh herbs is all it takes to create something beautiful for guests or yourself.

So, when you want a worldly adventure without having to find your passport, take a trip to an Asian market. Explore and enjoy the beauty of getting to know another culture through the intimacy of one of Earth’s greatest comforts and pleasures. Food, glorious food!

40 Shades of Greenman

Greenman Pub Entrance

Greenman Pub Entrance

The Greenman or Jack O’ The Green pops up a lot around here, so long before the lower level’s construction in my home began, the idea of having The Greenman Pub as the focal point of the area was a certainty. I like the idea of having a room evoke a feeling as soon as it is entered and hold it. The Pub has an old world gentlemen’s domain aura about it, which sets it apart from the eclectic-rustic feel of the rest of the house. The theme is Irish/Scottish to honor the ancestry of my husband and I, so in addition to the Guinness and Scotch touches, there are black and white photographs of generations past lifting a pint, sporting kilts, and posed before castles, hanging on the walls.

This is where friends and family gather when we entertain. Whether at the pub table or at the bar or seated comfortably on the sofa or lounge chair, the atmosphere soon takes on the appearance and feel of being in another time and place. Yes, there is a large screen TV, but it is frequently tuned to a Celtic music channel so, drink in hand, a wee bit o’ dancin’ or a rowdy sing-a-long may occur.

Fists dive into bowls of snacks and the jars of candy scattered about, a book might be selected from the library area or one may sit near the tank of Koi, who lazily watch through the glass. The food table offers the whim of the cooks of the house and is served buffet style. In the Summer, the action spills over onto the patio outside via an open window that allows the conversation to flow back and forth.

The photo above is at the entrance to the pub as you leave the second level of the house where the foyer and great room are located, and go to the lower level. Yes, the tall need to duck a bit due to the stairs, but I pass under with ease. In case you are wondering, all the canopy is, is a domed plastic window well covering that can be purchased from any hardware store for about 6 bucks. I roughed it up a bit and applied a copper finish paint and patina from a kit. Then I added the Greenman face, constructed from a plastic mask overlayed with a print. Moss and other finds from the craft store were applied with a hot glue gun and a string of green battery operated lights was added to make the Lord of the Forest feel at home.

This canopy can be done in any theme and hung over a doorway by just screwing the lip of the cover to the wall. Turn the entrance of a child’s room into something special or your closet into a trendy boutique by adding paint and a few touches of glitz. Fringe can be applied to the edge for added glamour. Don’t forget the guys. This can also be used over the door to the ‘man cave’.

Have fun and get creative with your Magickal space. Your home is a reflection of you. Make it personal.