Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hiatus Over!

I took an extended leave of absence from the blogosphere over here a few years ago. Shortly after I posted the last entry, my precious father-in-law died. That rocked our family to the core and we took some time to reassess our priorities. As we grieved, we also sold our home in Maryland and relocated to Florida to rebuild our lives.

Life is very different here, but we were fortunate to build a custom home. In my extended blog absence, I posted many things on Pinterest in order to keep some design ideas organized for our build.

Over the next few weeks, I'll share how that all went down with some exclusive photo peeks. We love the space we now have, and I'm about to begin the slow process of finishing the interiors, room by room.

I've updated the blog to include some of the curating I've done on Pinterest and Instagram. Please follow along and let me know! I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to Find Design Inspiration

Shape, texture, pattern, functionality, color, and so many other things inform design inspiration. For me, almost everything has potential to transform into a cohesive design plan. Keep your eyes open. Look up. Look down. Look for patterns. Look for texture. Look for variation. It won't take you long to see something that interests you.

The pattern from worn cement combined with a shock of green moss gives me ideas to transform a garden space, paint a wall, and think of life perspective.

I will post additional photos of a room inspired by the sidewalk as soon as I am able.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Personal Post

Life has been busy in a good way. I make no apology for my absence, but life demanded a certain amount of attention that I could not divide with a blog and do both well. Coming very soon, there will be a great number more posts on a more frequent basis. Here are some of the reasons I've been away:

Reason 1. Just after the new year, my husband's amazing grandfather passed away. When I was a girl growing up, people didn't pass away or die, they just went to be with the Lord. That was the terminology my family and church culture taught me. We minimized our loss to recognize Heaven's gain. We miss him, but we believe that he is enjoying himself much more than he ever did while he occupied his body on this planet.

Reason 2. My daughter asked me at Thanksgiving {while making my very first dining chair slip covers} to *MAKE* her a dress for Christmas. Um. I haven't made a dress in thirty years. The last time I actually sewed a garment was about 16 years ago. It took a great deal of time to re acclimate and do the dress well. Instead of merely making her one, I made her two, just in case one was horrible. Guess what? One wasn't so great. Here's the one that took so much time. It was red velvet. It was worth every minute.
Well, shut my mouth. I did it! I prayed to my sewing wizard Grandma Jones {not that I think she could talk back or be channeled through my hands or anything} and held my breath for LONG periods of time as I stitched and pinned and fretted. One should really not hold one's breath for such things. Passing out is a dangerous thing to do with electric needles a flyin'. Surprisingly, the project was pulled off without wounds to myself or others. I call that success.

Reason 3. I've been sickly. A lot. We'll leave it at that.

Reason 4. My last child is entering kindergarten in August and time with him is irreplaceable. I have no doubt that spending the last month playing Harry Potter with him on the Playstation has absolutely been the right thing to do with my "spare" time.

Reason 5. I'm a genealogy addict. I've spent a HUGE amount of time putting together a hand transcribed family pedigree tree for my mom and sister. With the help of some diligent aunts, grandmothers and cousins, I was able to get a decent start, but from my father's line, I only knew my grandparents and aunt and uncle's names. Over the last five years, I've done enough work on that line to be able to trace our lineage back to some really remarkable people, some remarkably brutal, some remarkably smart, some remarkably royal. I've been toying with adding a page to this blog just for genealogy stories and photos I stumble upon as I research. It's a great hobby. It's liberating to know from whence one has originated.

I'm looking forward to a family visit very soon. I wish you all peace and much joy until the next time. {If you're not in a peaceful and joyful place, know that you are not alone and you are loved, but mostly, know that it's a season that will pass. Keep persevering!}

Sunday, January 1, 2012

For My Farmboy...

There are several things that I only cook for my husband, and the following recipe is one of them. His mother is one of the coolest people I've ever known and gave me a fantastic family cookbook for our wedding (among many other things) with short stories about who the recipe came from, complete with photos. It has turned into the gift I will give each of my kids as they marry. It's pretty special and I use it all of the time. This particular recipe is heavily influenced by a recipe of hers.  Thanks, Mom! You're a genius.
I realize that some people shudder to use butter or cream or pork. I normally don't cook pork or heavy foods, but for a weekend with manual labor involved, the calories burn much faster. Be brave. Every once in a while, indulge. Perhaps eat salad plate portions instead. This recipe is a keeper.

2 large shallots
1 pint button mushrooms
2 boxes Uncle Ben's original wild rice
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 cans milk or half & half
3-6 pork chops (I used bone in, medium thickness chops this time.)
1 stick unsalted butter (You won't go to hell for it. I promise.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper

First, I chop the shallots very small and try not to cry. Next, I dice the mushrooms. I use actual, real butter and organic ingredients. The flavor is most robust this way. I saute the shallots on medium heat in 2 tbspn. butter until they are almost carmelized, just past the translucent phase when they begin to brown. I saute the mushrooms in 3 tbspns. butter until they are softened, but not until they are golden, as I don't want them to be mushy in the rice, but firm and flavorful.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Next, mix one can of cream of mushroom soup in a medium mixing bowl with one can of half & half until it is well blended. Dump seasoning packets and wild rice into the creamy soup mix. Spoon shallots and mushrooms into the rice/soup mix. Stir until it incorporates well.
Pour into a 9X13 inch baking pan. Cook your pork chops on medium to medium high heat. Season your chops with salt and pepper {optional: rub with minced garlic, then salt & pepper} generously on both sides. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into your pan. For this meal, I use cast iron. Cook the chops for 3-4 minutes per side, depending on thickness. They should be slightly seared and golden when you flip them.
Once they are seared, move them over to the baking dish. Mix the remaining soup can with a can of milk and pour it into the skillet on low heat, scraping the bits of mushroom, shallot and pork chop off the bottom. {This is called deglazing the pan.} Once the pan is deglazed and the sauce is mixed well, pour the mixture over the pork chops in the baking dish and cover it with foil.
before baking
Pop it in the oven for 45 minutes and prepare yourself for an old fashioned hearty meal. When you have about 15 minutes left on the timer, make a salad or some green beans or asparagus. You'll want something green to eat as a side with this meal. It will make you feel slightly less guilty for the stick of butter we used. Really, it will.
after baking

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Zucchini Boats

Are you looking for a different recipe for side items for your holiday season?  Years ago, I stumbled upon a stuffed zucchini recipe in Cooking Light magazine that was absolutely a wonderful substitute for turkey stuffing for the holidays. It was a low carb, meatless way to have dressing. I am determined to find the recipe, but have not been able to locate that magazine. As soon as I find it, I will share. When I was craving the stuffed zucchini not long ago, I went a little rogue and made a simplified version without several of the ingredients. What I got was a REALLY nice vegetable side dish, and I'm not a huge squash fan. {Mainly because I'm not a fan of mushy food, but this is not mushy. I promise.}

6 zucchini squash
salt & pepper
real parmesan
olive oil
*optional 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Here's how you prepare these simple zucchini boats:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and get a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan ready. Wash 6 zucchini squash. Cut off the end. Slice them length-wise. Score the edges with a paring knife to begin hollowing out the skin of the squash. Carefully score through the center of the vegetable. Carefully, without going through the skin, score horizontal cube-sized blocks with your knife. Using a teaspoon, scoop out as much of the flesh of the zucchini as possible. {My apologies. The dicing of the vegetable inside the skin is not a simple thing to do.} Put the veggie in a small bowl and salt and pepper it generously. Spoon the vegetable back into the boats. Using a vegetable peeler, shave parmesan slices in a pile on your cutting board or any clean surface. Drizzle tiny bits of olive oil across the zucchini boats. Sprinkle the shaved parmesan over the vegetable. If you like, top each boat with a sprinkle of panko bread crumbs for extra crunch.  Bake this for 25-35 minutes, until golden.

Meatloaf Perfection

Once upon a time, I watched a television cooking contest. In it, contestants had to use frozen Pilsbury products in unusual and innovative ways. The top recipe took home several thousand dollars. Watching the show, gave me a bit of inspiration. How many things did I have in my pantry that were more versatile than I gave them opportunity to be?

Investigating those items gave me a brilliant idea that turned into one of our favorite meals. I'm not a huge fan of meatloaf in restaurants because the textures are almost ALWAYS funky, mushy, too ketchupy, or brick-like.  My favorite way to create a moist, but crunchy crusted meatloaf is so easy, you'll be stunned. I typically use a combination of 1 part beef to 1 part deer meat. Our family loves to economize and we love the rich flavor of ground venison.
Here's my recipe:
2 pounds meat {turkey, beef, deer, elk, chicken}
1 package Stove Top dressing
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan/Reggiano {Not the stuff in the green can.}
2 large eggs

Mix these ingredients with your hands until they are incorporated evenly. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees before you start mixing. Once your loaf is mixed well, put it on a stone cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Half of the reason textures are off in many meatloaves is that they swim in grease in a standard loaf pan. Avoid that and use a shallow edged pan. The edges will crisp up nicely this way.

Here's what it should look like {this is all organic, hormone free, beef} before you pop it into the oven.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Classic Fall Menu Favorite: Beef Stew

My husband grew up on a farm. I grew up a military kid. He adores meat and potatoes. So do I. He's not an international cuisine fanatic. {He tolerates it for my benefit. I think that's really sweet of him...} I am a semi-adventurous eater. To blend and compromise our flavor palettes, I get to sneak in some of my favorite things into some of his favorites from time to time and it makes me chuckle when he LOVES the outcome.

We've switched to eating as much organic food as possible into our diets. I'm pretty certain we will never go all the way back. Today's menu choice is a classic favorite all over the world (with the exception of a few places like, say, India): beef stew. I have always --since I began cooking in earnest-- made it in the Fall, and have always been swept away with delight at the outcome. Here's how I did it this time. {I tweak my recipes almost every time I cook something from scratch.} This particular recipe will fill a very large {more than 10 quarts} pot if you keep adding volume for the ingredients. This recipe is enough to feed a family of 7 with varied appetites. You might even have leftovers. That depends entirely on how many hungry children are at the table.

The first step is to pour 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of the hot pot and throw in a 1/4 teaspoon of paprika along with about 5-6 medium chopped celery stalks. {Don't forget to wash your veggies first.} Gently salt your celery. {A literal pinch.}

I had two crowns of broccoli that I wanted to use just florets on their own as a side for another dish, but I hate wasting food, so I sliced the stems very thinly along with 7 medium (or 4 large) carrots.  Broccoli stems are packed with so many vitamins, it's kind of a sin to throw them away.
Once the carrots and broccoli stems are in the pot, sprinkle them with salt. Let them simmer for several minutes {5-10 depending on how finely they've been chopped} before adding 32 ounces of beef broth. I really enjoy hearty vegetable stews with decent sized chunks, no need to be overly precise about how small you chop. Broccoli stems add a depth of flavor in this dish without screaming to your angst ridden children, "You're eating broccoli!! Pbpbpbpbpbt!"

Season 2 pounds of beef tips with salt and pepper generously. Oh my stars. If you want to cut the stew beef into bite sized chunks, I won't stop ya', but I just used them the way I got them from the butcher. Holy. Moses. The great thing? I got two pounds of fantastic quality meat for less than $9. Have I mentioned that stew is a great way to stretch a buck?

Once seasoned, put that delicious meat in your pot. You'll want this to simmer on medium while you chop some parsley and add other spices.

I chopped about a cup for the stew.
Can you use dried parsley? Certainly. Will it taste the same? Not really. Close, but no cigar. There is no substitute for fresh ingredients. Ever. {hopping off of my soap box now}

Doesn't this already look promising?

You'll hear me say, "Sprinkle [insert ingredient here] over the entire layer of the pot," a lot. This is what I mean. {This is a good way to season regardless of the size of your pot. You will always have just the right ratio if you learn this technique.} I used garlic powder (not salt) and sprinkled just a touch over the surface of the broth/meat/veggies. If I'd wanted the garlic to be more of a pronounced flavor, I would have used minced garlic along with the other vegetables as they saute. Since, I was going for subtlety, I used garlic powder. Next... the flavor explodes. If you are a lover of spicy {warm to hot} food, this is where you'll add cayenne pepper. I sprinkled just a dash in at this point. Feel free to add a teaspoon or more if you like. Also, if you are so inclined, this would be the ideal place to add scotch bonnets or jalapeno. I am not prone to that particular proclivity, but I won't judge y'all who are. ;)
Hello, smoked paprika. I have loved getting to know the grown up organic version of you so very much lately. Come join the party in my pot. {Use about a teaspoon. Maybe a smidge more.}
Stir it all up. Oh, my heavens. It already smells good.
Quarter 8 medium red potatoes after you wash them well. Soup is not a place to eat dirt, y'all. Trust me on that. I won't tell you how I know this. Just. Trust. Me.
Can you stand it? I'm losing my mind from the delicious smell. It's only about to get better, my friends. Okay, now...

THIS particular wine is a truly delicious one to drink with steak or hearty stew. It's also not the cheapest wine out there. However, I love this vineyard for cooking purposes. The vines truly are old and produce a SPECTACULAR product for cooking or drinking {if you like a glass of wine}. Zinfandel is usually a spicier wine, more robust and stout than the fruitier tasting wines. These vines were transferred to California "from the old country" and have seriously old roots. I'm a fan of vintage anything, so if you've never tried this one and you're a big, bold red fan, you should give it a shot. I won't judge you either way. I used about 1 1/2 cups and then set the soup to medium for 2 hours, put the lid on and walked away. You can certainly leave out the wine if you are opposed to it. I used to be, but began cooking with it to see what the hype was about. It truly does deepen the flavor of food as it cooks.
After 2 hours of simmering, I came back {turn off the burner} and stirred in 1 cup of frozen {organic} green beans and 2 cups of frozen {organic} corn. After about 5 minutes of sitting, the textures are perfect, not overly cooked, not mushy. Just full of vitamins and wonderfully warm flavor. This is how the end product looks. I promise, even if you're not a huge soup fan, this one will make you happy. It's SO MUCH BETTER than canned food. You'll never want to eat from a can again!

You'll notice, there's very little fat in this recipe. You CAN add 2-4 tablespoons of butter as you saute the veggies, and it's DIVINE when you do, but I am keeping myself to a lower fat version of everything these days. Serve this with french or sourdough bread if you like and get ready for your power nap.