Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Candle Care

First of all, you have to use your candles before you can care for them, so let's "shed some light" on the subject. 

Whether it is a gift or a purchase, the first impression of a new candle is exciting, especially for a candle enthusiast like myself. Then arrives the questions. Do I light or do I not light? When should I start enjoying my new candle? This is an important question especially since many new candles have such a vibrant presentation between the colors, fragrances, shapes, and even containers. 

Sometimes the packaging in itself is so attractive you don't want to rid of it, since it's the packaging that got you to buy the candle in the first place. However, we have to remember what Martha Stewart said about candles a few decades ago when it was cool to listen to Martha. "Always burn the wick of a new candle before staging it or placing it on the chosen holder as it makes the home more comfortable." 

What's the point of having a candle for show if you're not going to use it? It's like putting plastic covers on the couch; or those pretty little guest soaps and embroidered towels you put out for guests to use, but in your heart you prefer they wouldn't. It goes back to what I have always said, and especially the older I get, "If you don't use your pretty things now, some stranger is going to buy them at your estate sale and will use those things the way they were intended. Use your pretty things now!" 

Candles are more than just offering light during a power outage. They set the mood, enhance a special moment, and adds versatility in your decor. Candles are an affordable luxury that one can change out with the seasons. In the mean time, with all of their versatility from the useful to the aesthetics, do we think much about their maintenance? 

Tricky Wicks

Snip to a quarter of an inch before every burn to make sure the candle stays clean and presentable. No sooty residue. 

When the wick is first lit and if you see a little smoke - no worries. Just give it a bit of time for the wax to draw up. 

Allow  wax to melt and pool right to the edges of the candle, especially after the first time the candle is lit. Don't be too eager to blow it out, and with a bit of patience the uneven wax will be gone.  

Looking It's Best:

What's better than the glow of one candle? Two, three, or four candles! Experiment with different sizes and even different fragrances with coordinated scents such as spice (vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, maple) or floral (lavender, rose, jasmine, gardenia) as an example. 

When it comes to fragrant candles be cautious about burning them at the dinner table, as  the candle fragrance can conflict with the food  and especially any wines that are served with the meal. 
Dirt or scuff marks can be removed by rubbing the candle with a clean piece of nylon stocking. Need to use those old outdated panty hose for something.  

If a candle is too big to fit into a holder, use a knife to whittle the bottom to size. If a candle is too loose to be held in place; use a wide rubber band, aluminum foil, or some tacky wax. 

To prevent melted wax from adhering to the rim of the candlestick, spray a bit of non-stick pan spray on the holder.

Let's end this with a pun. "What did the boy candle say to the girl candle? Do you want to go out tonight?" 

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Tea Party for Three Special Guests

You may not recognize the name, but you have certainly seen her illustrations. 

Susan Branch is an author, watercolorist, and designer.  Her colorful illustrations gained popularity in the mid-1980s. Susan's whimsical blog is filled with her colorful designs and decorating ideas. I felt the need to share...

The art is by Susan and the quote was written by author and poet Jessica Nelson North (1891-1988).  I am going to take Susan and Jessica up on this - after all these are three of my favorite guests.

Oh, there's three more guests, four-pawed guests by the names of Chloe, Rose, and Nash, who always crash my tea parties whenever their little noses smell sandwiches, cake, and pie.

I had a little tea party
this afternoon at three.
Twas very small,
three guests in all,
I, Myself, and Me!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Brown the Butter

Brown butter sounds like the old tongue twister, right? 

Betty Botter bought some butter,
"But," she said, "If I brown this butter,
It would make my batter better... 

Last year was the awaking of "brown butter," as I read many recipes from various publications, from Bon Appetit to the New York Times. There were brown butter ideas and recipes: use it to fry eggs, a splash in pancake batter, on top of oatmeal or other morning grains, pour over popcorn, use it toast grilled cheese sandwiches, stir it in mashed potatoes, roast vegetables, and prepare tarts and cookies instead of regular butter. 

My first encounter with brown butter was back in the 1980's at a chain spaghetti joint. I was looking for something a little lighter than a cream sauce or a rich marinara and there it was - - brown butter over spaghetti and topped with shredded Myzithra cheese; a very salty hard sheep cheese with origins from Greece.  It's also easy to prepare.

1 pkg. (1 pound) dry spaghetti or linguine
2 cubes REAL butter
1/2 to 3/4 lb. Myzithra cheese, grated

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water as per package or until al dente. Drain. While pasta is cooking, start slowly melting butter over medium heat until brown. The butter will foam up and rise, but just keep stirring until it turns brown. 
   Remove pan of butter from heat and allow the sediment (milk solids) to settle at the bottom of the pan for a few minutes. Do not stir up the sediments in the pan, keep the clear butter separated from the sediment at the bottom of the pan. Pour the browned butter into a separate bowl. 
   Toss the pasta with the finished butter, and top with grated Mizithra cheese to taste. For a little color, sprinkle fresh chopped parsley on top of pasta. Serve immediately.

If you're a butter browner, let me know some of your favorites. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hygge: What is it?

It's a Danish concept that's been traveling about for a few years in American decor magazines. I know. Sometimes I am slow to catch up. Hey, I am still decorating in the Country Living/Victorian era. No, Mid-Century for me. I was raised with that stuff. 

Hygge, pronounced 'hue-gah' has no one word English translation other than perhaps "coziness" and a concept of peace, serenity, and enjoying simple pleasures.  January and February are the perfect months to start building your hygge space. 
Here are some easy ways to incorporate "hygge" into your life:

Surround yourself with friends and family
Enjoy the simple pleasures
Be present and thankful
Stay an extra hour in bed
Barbeque outside
Reuse and recycle
Take up a new hobby
Don’t stress
Appreciate your surroundings
Enjoy a good book

How to decorate "hygge?" It's mostly about attitude, but here are some ideas:

Create cozy areas with fluffy pillows and snugly blankets (especially important this time of the year). 

Treat yourself and your guests with special nibbles like nuts, fruit, bites of cheese, pretty imported cookies and crackers, and warm teas and cocoa. 

Decorate with candles. 

Light up areas in your house with twinkly lights. There are so many shapes and sizes available now to accent your home. 

Make a fire - or if you're like I am, "fake-a-fire" with the many pretty mantles on electric fire places - and they help keep the house warm. 

Create a spa-like bathroom with fluffy towels, candles, and pretty soaps.

Is my sanctuary hygge? Certainly some of it is as I have been decorating this way before I ever knew it was cool... I mean "hygge." My interpretation of hygge will always be a work in progress. 

Hygee Hugs! 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Another Year..

It's almost the end of the year. I know. I know. I haven't shown my face much, but I have a good excuse. Sometimes I have to write for a living. Sometimes I have to write around editor schedules, which I finished just in time giving me an opportunity to do a little holiday cooking - - and even put a hint of holiday touches in the house. 

Chocolate Crinkles are easy, and especially work well if you make the cookie dough the night before. There are several recipes, but the one with vegetable oil and cocoa powder is the easiest.

Candy isn't just for kids. This white chocolate bark is topped with healthy goodness like "craisins" (dried cranberries), chopped salted pistachios, and slices of dried apricots. I can't take credit for this one, as it is a Barefoot Contessa favorite. She uses white chocolate and I took the easy way with premade easy-to-melt white candy bark.

The camera and I don't understand each other so these aren't the best snaps, but here are a few holiday touches around the bungalow. Yup, I hand carved two of the snowmen, and the little houses are known as Putz, a decor from the Occupied Japan era. These are just a few in my collection. 

In the mean time, I wish you a Merry Christmas, many Happy Holidays, and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Thank you my friends for reading me. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Where Did My Year Go?

Rabbit, Rabbit... 

It's the first of the month and I am wondering where my year went? In my mind I am still in August - and no, I am not ignoring my blog so that's why I am checking in. I'm still writing, I'm just not writing in my blog at the moment. However, I will as soon as I get a manuscript sent off this month according to the publisher's deadline. My second local history book will hopefully arrive on the shelves after 2018. Will keep you posted. 

In the mean time with the holidays coming up, it's time to invest in butter. Let this article from Savuer inspire you - and don't let French recipes intimidate you. Tackle them and let them know you are the boss of the kitchen. Channel your inner Julia Child! 

Here we go - grab the butter and a few bottles of red wine as here are 65 classic French recipes to add to your recipe file - which by the way, I recently read the Millennial youngsters don't even use recipe books any longer, and especially have no use for  little tin or wooden recipe file boxes. Say it ain't so! 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My Version of Pissaladiere: A Funky French Pizza

So what is "pissaladiere?" 

It's a pizza-like dish that originated from Nice, located in the southern region of France. So yes, this is a French pizza. 

The dough is typically a bread dough thicker than the classic Italian Pizza Margherita, but there are really no rules. Why? Because it will be your pizza and you can choose whatever kind of crust you prefer.

What makes this "pissaladiere?" It's about the toppings. Now first off, you need to know that it gets its name from the Latin word piscis (fish), which became pissalat meaning "salted fish." Pissalat (or pissala) is a type of an anchovy paste,
 a condiment also originating from Nice. This condiment is made with anchovy puree and flavored with cloves, thyme, bay leaf and black pepper mixed with olive oil. Sometimes this French classic will even be covered with whole anchovies.

Wait! Come back! Don't let the anchovies turn you away! If you don't like anchovies, then don't use the anchovy paste or the whole bodied tiny fishies. Just concentrate on the rest of the toppings! 
The rest of the toppings? Caramelized onions, herbs, and black olives. Now do I have your attention? For me, this pizza is all about the caramelized onions. 

Where's the cheese, you ask? Pissaladiere doesn't have cheese. Typically, olive oil is the base instead of the Italian red sauce. However, add cheese if you want, but keep it somewhat old world traditional and thoughtful. Don't add mozzarella. That's too easy. Use Raclette, Comte, or even Fontina cheese - - semi-soft cheeses - - and don't smother the top of your pissaladiere with cheese. Add the cheese to your base. Let the onions, olives, and even the anchovies be your toppings.

Are you ready to start? Use your favorite pizza dough recipe, or buy a frozen pizza crust at the store. Okay, so if you want to do it quick and easy, use the Pillsbury pizza or even the crescent doughs. Another tip? Use a sheet of the Pepperidge Farms puff pastry. It will give you a nice light and airy crust, so the toppings will be the true star.  

There are no exact ingredients for this. Just get creative and enjoy the flavors of sauteed onions, herbs, olives, and even fishies... 

Ingredients (topping for one pissaladiere):

1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 pounds yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or dried Herbes de Provence
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 whole cloves garlic
12 French (Nicoise) pitted black olives, or even Kalmata pitted olives. Slice or leave whole.
12 to 18 anchovy fillets or brush anchovy paste lightly on the crust (optional).

Around 1 cup shredded semi-soft cheese, Raclette, Comte, or Fontina. 
1/8 cup or less of cornmeal for baking

For the topping, heat the olive oil in a very large saute pan and cook the onions, thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic over low heat for 45 minutes, until the onions are sweet and soft but not almost black. Toss the onions from time to time. After 30 minutes, take out the garlic, chop it roughly, and add it back to the onions. If you want to really caramelize the onions, sprinkle just a hint of sugar to them while they are cooking - no more than half of a teaspoon. 

Or if you want to caramelize your onions the day or even a couple of days before, use your crock pot. See this recipe I posted last month for Crock Pot Onions. You can always add the thyme, garlic, and salt and pepper if you didn't add these things previous to the crock pot onion mixture. 
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Have your dough and or pre-made crust ready. Add a tablespoon or so of dried cornmeal on the baking sheet before you lay the crust in the pan. The light addition of cornmeal gives the crust a nice little crunch. Traditionally the shape is not round, but rectangle - the size of a regular baking sheet. 
Brush the base of the dough lightly with olive oil, and start building your version of pissaladiere. If you have chosen to use cheese, sprinkle on your chosen shredded cheese - - or not. Spoon the sauteed onion mixture on top of the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border all around. Artfully arrange, or sprinkle evenly on top of the dough the anchovies and olives. Sprinkle a touch more of thyme or Herbes de Provence on top of the onions and olives. Brush the edge of the dough with olive oil, and bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is crisp. Serve hot on a cutting board. Eat! Eat! Eat! 

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