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Tortellini soup with sausage, beans and kale

The chill is in the air here in Anchorage. After picking lowbush cranberries I just couldn’t get warm enough. My boys went off to the state fair for the monster truck rally and came home with big appetites. I wanted to make something to warm us up and fill our bellies.

This Italian-style sausage and bean soup has all the ingredients I love – porcini, sausage, pasta and even some healthy stuff such as carrots and kale. This was a quick soup that came together in about an hour.

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

You can omit the cream of chicken soup – it thickens the soup nicely and boosts the flavor a little.

Italian sausage soup with beans, kale and tortellini

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 4 packed cups chopped kale, stems removed
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 6 oz. dried tortellini
  • 4 oz. cream cheese

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

Directions:

Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with hot water and place a plate on top. Let sit for 20 minutes.

In a large dutch oven, brown the sausage over medium-high flame, breaking it up into chunks as it cooks.

Add olive oil, onion, celery and carrot and sauté until onions are soft, about 7 minutes.

Pour in the stock and cream of chicken soup and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, drain the mushrooms – reserving the liquid – and chop. Add the mushrooms and their water to the pot.

Add the basil, granulated garlic, oregano, thyme and parsley. Turn heat to low, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

While soup is bubbling, bring a pot of water to boil. Cook tortellini according to package. When there are 5 minutes left on the pasta, add the kale to the soup pot. Drain the tortellini and add to the pot. Turn off heat and stir in the cream cheese. Once the cream cheese is melted you’re ready to go!

Serve with pecorino romano cheese and sourdough bread.

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

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How hobbies help our brains

A guest post by Maria Cannon

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Between working, keeping a tidy house, making meals and allotting time for family activities, our schedules certainly seem full; however, nearly everyone finds time for leisure activities. In fact, 96 percent of people age 15 and older engage in a leisure activity, which is defined as watching TV, socializing, exercising, reading, using computers for leisure or playing games.

The Stats

The amount a person spends on activities varies by age, sex, employment and whether the individual has children. Even the busiest group – employed adults living in households with a child under age six – reported engaging in leisure activities for 3.4 hours per day. People over the age of 75 spend almost eight hours every day, while adults between the ages of 35 and 44 devote four hours. With nearly everyone participating in leisure activities, how are they spending their time?

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Watching television is the most popular leisure activity, capturing nearly three hours a day overall. Socializing is the second most common activity but accounts for only 41 minutes. The amount of time spent reading varies greatly by age; people over the age of 75 read for an hour and spend 20 minutes on games or computer time, while those between the ages of 15 and 19 only read for eight minutes and spent 1.3 hours on games and computers.

While making time for leisure activities is important, the quality of the activity is equally as important. Sitting back and turning off our brains for a little bit is okay, but we should switch around the ratio of time spent reading versus watching television. Some hobbies are scientifically proven to help improve our health, and we should opt for those over mind-numbing activities such as binge watching a show.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Creating Music

Creating music can benefit our brains. The more years someone makes music, the more he or she benefits, and beginning musical training before the age of nine provides the greatest long-term benefits. However, even older people profit from taking up an interest in music.

An assistant professor of music education studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85. After six months, she found that those who had received piano lessons showed more improvements in memory, verbal fluency, planning ability, speed of information processing, and other cognitive functions than those who had not received lessons.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafting activities induce a calm, happy, and focused state, which is called flow. Flow occurs when we are so engaged in a complex task that our brains are forced to forget other stresses. When you are involved in creativity, sense of time disappears, and you lose yourself in the moment. The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation.

Creating art and engaging in crafting activities involves distinct brain areas, including those involved in memory and attention span, visuospatial processing, creativity, and problem solving. Using these areas can improve cognitive function. Crafting and creating art also reduce stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or addiction also notice improvements through these creative outlets.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Reading

Reading fiction material positively affects brain health and function. Reading is a highly complex task that requires several brain regions to work together. Neuroscientists discovered that reading a novel appeared to help enhance connectivity in the brain, and the enhancement continued for five days after an individual had completed the novel.

Other hobbies have benefits too, including cooking, completing puzzles and playing sports. Playing hours of video games or consuming hours of television after a long day is tempting, but you’ll reap more benefits from pursuing a hobby that’s shown to provide health benefits. You’ll enjoy yourself while you also reduce stress, improve brain functioning, and even make new friends.

Maria Cannon has suffered from depression and anxiety for years. Her hobbies–quilting, sewing, knitting, and more recently, gardening–play a major role in maintaining her mental health.

Poblanos with corn and cream

Every year my family takes a trip down to Nayarit, Mexico to my parents’ vacation home, Casa Colibrí. Their housekeeper, Moña, is an expert cook and I look forward to her authentic Mexican dishes every time we visit.

I have tried to replicate several of her recipes in the past, including fried cauliflower and guacamole. I’ve attempted other dishes but there’s something about the fresh ingredients of Mexico that I am unable to replicate many of her recipes.

Here is one more attempt at one of her classic dishes, chiles rajados con elote y crema, or in English, sliced chiles with corn and cream. In Mexico, crema is a thick consistency, almost like yogurt or sour cream, but with a sweet cream taste. I’d say crème fraîche is the closest thing here in the states, but I have a hard time finding that in Anchorage, so I’m trying it with heavy cream.

Moña serves this for breakfast or lunch. It can accompany fried eggs or rice. It’s a versatile dish that’s got a slight amount of heat, which is mellowed out by the sweetness of the corn and cream.

Poblanos with corn and cream | An authentic Mexican dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner | recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 poblano chiles
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon chicken or vegetable bullion
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Poblanos with corn and cream | An authentic Mexican dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner | recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Slice the peppers into strips and remove the seeds and pith. Add oil to a pan and heat over medium-high flame. Sauté the peppers and onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the corn and cream and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle in the bullion. Turn heat down and simmer for a few minutes until sauce has thickened slightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle cheese on top and serve. 

Poblanos with corn and cream | An authentic Mexican dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner | recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Oliver baby blanket

I’ve said it before – I’m a short-attention-span crafter. If I can’t finish something in a few hours, I probably never will unless I’m really determined.

When my friend Kasandra had her first son, she asked me to knit him a blanket. It took me months to make and although it’s been much loved I vowed I would never knit another blanket. It’s just too monotonous.

So when Kasandra told me no one had yet made her second boy, Oliver, a special blanket, I decided to keep my vow and crochet him a blanket.

The Oliver Blanket | an easy crocheted baby blanket with vertical stripes | free crochet pattern from Alaskaknitnat.com

This pattern was simple and quick. I made the whole thing in a couple of weeks. The vertical stripes are unusual and the gaps between the crocheted spaces aren’t too big so it’s a nice piece of fabric.

Continue reading Oliver baby blanket

Wild porcini, bacon and spinach quiche

It’s been a helluva good mushroom season so far. This week I found three primo porcini in my yard. I wanted to try something different from my typical porcini and pasta recipes. Quiche sounded about right.

I’m not familiar with making quiches. I know it’s a crust, some egg, cream, cheese and filling, but beyond that I have to follow a recipe. When I asked my coworker, Allison, today if she has ever made quiche she gave me a resounding “yes.” She had a few quiche tricks up her sleeve and was happy to share them.

Instead of following a recipe, I winged it using Allison’s advice. What came out of the oven was smoky, mushroomy, fluffy and not overly eggy.

Wild porcini quiche with bacon and spinach | a recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Continue reading Wild porcini, bacon and spinach quiche

Alaska Weddings: a winter reception

In Alaska, winter solstice is kind of a big deal. It’s the shortest day of the year. In Anchorage we had a little under five and a half hours. It becomes part of the daily winter grind. The sun doesn’t rise until well after you arrive at work and it’s already set when you drive home for the day.

After December 21 we will gradually gain more daylight. It’s a celebratory time for Alaskans.

Recently a friend of mine got married and decided to have her reception around solstice time. When I was hired to make some centerpieces for her I was thrilled to create more wintery pieces.

Purple and lavender carnations, white chrysanthemums, eucalyptus and spruce sprigs were all I needed to bring some winter cheer to her reception.

Winter Weddings: Purple carnations, white chrysanthemums, spruce sprigs and eucalyptus create a soft, festive look for any winter celebration | designed by Natasha Price of Alaskaknitnat.com

The couple loves Italy so it was fitting that many of the bud vases were little limoncello glasses.

Winter Weddings: Purple carnations, white chrysanthemums, spruce sprigs and eucalyptus create a soft, festive look for any winter celebration | designed by Natasha Price of Alaskaknitnat.com

Continue reading Alaska Weddings: a winter reception

The truth about Garland, Alaska

Welcome, Hallmark Channel fans! If you’re looking for answers about Garland, Alaska feel free to read my post about it below. I do hope you’ll find it informative and I encourage you to poke around my site for fun recipes, crafts, tutorials and more.

I don’t pay much attention to what people search for to find my blog, but for the past year something has consistently caught my eye.

At least twice a week someone finds my site by searching “Garland Alaska.”

In fact, it was the most searched term on my site in 2016. More than 10,000 people found my site in 2016 because of Garland, Alaska.

The truth about Garland, Alaska

Sometimes people look up “Is there a Garland, Alaska?”

The truth about Garland, Alaska

I was mystified, so I finally did some Facebook crowd sourcing.

About three minutes later I had my answer. Turns out there was a Hallmark Channel made-for-TV-movie in 2014 called “Christmas Under Wraps,” which takes place in a fictional remote town of Garland, Alaska and stars Candace Cameron Bure (most famous for her role of D.J. Tanner on “Full House”).

Fictional, folks, fictional. There is no town in Alaska with that many brick buildings or with leaves on the deciduous trees in the middle of winter. But if there’s one thing the film got right (and I finally did watch it), it’s that shipping things to Alaska is often a huge hassle!

And for the record, Santa lives in North Pole, Alaska. You can send him your wish list here.

Here’s a photo I took last time I visited North Pole:

The truth about Garland, Alaska

Happy holidays!

The truth about Garland, Alaska | Alaskaknitnat.com
Due to copyright infringement, I am unable to display a photo of the cover of this Hallmark movie, so here is a far cuter public domain photo.