Friday, May 25, 2018

Poof! Like New! Pillows!

Do you ever get bored with your home decor and furniture? I certainly have my moments... Well, at this stage of my life, I am not going to go out and buy a new couch - I just bought new furniture about three years ago, besides not wanting to rid of some treasured old heirloom furniture. So what to do... what to do?

Pillows! For cryin' out loud, I put out an assortment of holiday pillows in the winter, so why not switch it up in the summer? Considering my furniture is dark, it's such a nice touch to brighten it up with pretty light florals. 

Instead of purchasing a lot of decorative throw pillows and having to store the clumsy object after the appropriate season, decorative pillow covers is the answer. When it's time for a seasonal change, just remove the pillow covers, fold and store. Buy several 18" x 18" pillow inserts at your favorite discount department or fabric/craft store and keep changing the covers as often as you like. 

Shopping for just the pillow tops can be overwhelming, there are so many pretty ones, but the good news is that there's a majority online that are also affordable. If you have several fabric scraps laying around, you have a new pillow with just a few stitches or even fabric glue and an iron.
I know... I know... this is nothing new. You've already read about this idea a few times, but perhaps this will be the article that will inspire you or remind you to do it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Are You a Procrastibaker?

Hello. My name is... and I am a procrastibaker. Baking is my excuse when I have a writing deadline and struggling with "writer's block."



Now I am going to confess something shocking. It dawned on me a few years ago that I actually hate baking. One couldn't tell it by looking at my photos of the last couple of years with all of the baking I have done for Christmas, but I really do-not-like baking - - but I do it. 


There can be a million things on my plate (cake plate, of course) and I will find a reason to bake. However, there are a few shortcuts I have taken in the years. Like brownies  - - 



I swear by brownie mixes. (See the Infallible Brownie Mix) It doesn't matter the brand. I buy whatever is on sale. I always keep one or two boxes of brownie mixes in my cupboard. When I feel like procrastibaking - - and a little chocolate, I can grab a brownie mix. 

Now it's what I do with the brownie mix that's important. I often add an extra egg. I always add leftover coffee instead of water, and sometimes add a little spice - like Mexican vanilla, cinnamon, or even a little chili or cayenne pepper. I have also added a few chocolate chips to the batter. And the pan I use to bake the brownies is always lined with parchment paper. The brownies lift right out of the pan and I cut them right on the parchment paper - and I don't have a extra dirty pan to scrub. I love parchment paper as much as I love a brownie mix. 


I think the reason why I am not a fan of baking is I get bored measuring out the little stuff: salt, sugar, baking powder, baking soda... And then there's the moisture part of it - do we use butter, shortening, oil - - and what kind of oil? Olive, corn, canola, vegetable... snooze. 

Recently, I discovered another secret when it comes to procrastibaking - cake mixes. I typically don't buy cake mixes because I don't bake cakes. However, if I do make a cake, I make them from scratch - and I use my grandmother's carrot cake recipe or the Waldorf Astoria red velvet cake - another family recipe. And that's my limit when it comes to baking cakes... I guess I have always been a fruit pie baker and less a cake baker. 

So what do I do with cake mixes? When life hands you lem... bananas, you bake bread - banana bread! I freeze a lot of bananas because once they start getting ripe, I won't eat them. Baking banana bread is boring, but I recently came across a recipe for banana bread using cake mixes. My first try was a couple of loaves of chocolate banana bread for gifting - and the reviews were excellent.

For the next banana bread science project, I bought a yellow cake mix... Also, I am going to 
experiment with less oil and/or none at all and rely on the bananas for the moisture. We'll see how that works. 
Chocolate Banana Bread

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. (Also I used parchment. The breads lifted right out) 
  • Combine the cake mix, oil, mashed bananas, eggs and about 1/4 to 1/2 cup water in a large bowl and mix with a hand mixer or whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Use the water for a lighter consistency just in case the bananas are not "gooey." 
Now stop what you're doing and go procrastibake! 





Thursday, May 3, 2018

Pickle Juice: Don't toss it!

Use it.  There are several ways to reuse this "magical" elixir. 

 1. Re-pickle. Make refrigerator pickles. Stuff in the jar one of the following like hard boiled eggs, onions, garlic, or sliced cucumbers. Make your own pickled beets with a can of sliced or whole beets.  Plain canned artichokes work, too. Add some beet juice to the pickle juice and add thinly sliced onions. They're a wonderful addition to a sandwich - and pretty in pink, too.

 2. Pickle juice is the perfect meat marinade for hearty meats like beef or pork. Toss a tablespoon in your meat loaf mix to add an interesting kick. 

 3. Liven up your favorite BBQ sauce recipe. No doubt it will call for vinegar, so substitute pickle juice instead.

 4. Salad dressings. Again, most salad dressings call for vinegar - use pickle juice. I use it for my coleslaw dressing. Pretty simple. Mayonnaise and add pickle juice and stir for desired consistency. And take advantage of the small garlic chips often found in the bottom of the jar. 

 5. Put some pucker into your Michelada or Bloody Mary with a dash to a tablespoon of pickle juice.

 6. Instead of water, steam vegetables or poach fish in pickle juice. 

 7. I keep reading about pickle juice sno-cones. I will probably avoid it, but if you are a fan - go for it. 

 8. Want to kill weeds the natural way? Yup, spray those pesky weeds with a dose of pickle juice. The vinegar and the salt will send them away - and keep your animals safe.

 9. Clean your copper pots and pans. Don't forget to add some elbow grease. 

10.  And last but not least - when making potato salad, while the potatoes are still hot (and peeled), pour pickle juice over them - just enough for the potatoes to soak up the juice. And while I am thinking of it... 

This "Dill Pickle Pasta Salad" from "Spend with Pennies" is a must. I have made it several times since I discovered it last year. It's so easy considering I usually have all of the ingredients at hand - perfect when I need a fast and easy salad. I have also switched it up and changed the pasta, the cheese, and even the onions. And if I don't have any fresh dill, I use a dash of dry - or none at all. But don't leave out the cayenne pepper. It adds such a great kick with guests asking "what's that nice hint of spice?"




Ingredients:

1/2 lb dry shell pasta (about 3 cups - sometimes I have mixed up the shapes like farfalle aka bowtie and casarecce)
3/4 cup sliced pickles
2/3 cup cheddar cheese, diced (also Gouda or Colby works)
3 tablespoons finely diced white onion (or use green onions or red onion)
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1/2 cup pickle juice


Dressing:

2/3 cup mayonnaise (or a skoosh more)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons pickle juice
salt & pepper to taste

Boil pasta al dente according to package directions. Run under cold water to stop cooking. Drain. Toss cold drained pasta with 1/2 cup of pickle juice and set aside for about 5 minutes. Drain & discard pickle juice (if there is any left). 
Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
Toss all ingredients in a large bowl. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Enjoy. This salad is almost addictive!


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day: A Forgotten Spring Tradition

"Such a twanging of bells and rapping of knockers; such a scampering of feet in the dark; such droll collisions as boys came racing round corners, or girls ran into one another's arms as they crept up and down steps on the sly; such laughing, whistling, flying about of flowers and friendly feeling—it was almost a pity that May-day did not come oftener." - Louisa May Alcott, Author 1880. 


It's a holiday that's not practiced as much as we use to - or at least not as much as when I was a little girl. In grade school on May 1 we would make woven baskets out of colorful construction paper or cones out of paper doilies. We would fill the sweet little containers with flowers.  I would often "surprise" my mother with a knock on the front door, hang the flowers on the door knob, and then run away. Bless her. She would play along and when I would nonchalantly walk in the back door from school, she would act all surprised showing me what she found at the front door. 


May Day flower containers can be elaborate or as simple as a paper cup, a tin can, or an old jar wrapped in colored tissue. It's the sentiment and surprise that counts. 


Our grade school music teacher would fashion up a Maypole for us using a tether ball pole and decorate it with colorful streamers of crepe paper. We would dance weaving the colorful streamers around the pole. 


The traditions of May Day started drooping like the tulips left in a basket five days later. The simple and rather spontaneous act of kindness leaving of May baskets on the door waned... Could it have been there were no expensive presents exchanged to motivate the giver/receiver? People are too busy? Or is it due to May Day has the undercurrents of a "pagan holiday" which may have slowed down this time old tradition? However if that's the reason, then we need some history lessons on the Easter egg, yule log, wreath and evergreen boughs and how these items that represent nature are now used in modern society and often religious celebrations. 


Happy May Day! Let's reawaken this old tradition! 



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

No Changing My Decor

My home decor hasn't changed in over 20 years, and at this stage of the game I doubt that it ever will. What is my decor? A blend of Victorian and Country antique, along with a touch of Shabby Chic here and there. And let me tell you the Shabby Chic has been in my home long before I knew Rachel Ashwell gave it a name.  Why? Because it was affordable - at the time. 


Although I won't be changing my home decor, it still doesn't mean I'm not curious about the trends. And let's remember the word "trends." Trends are meant to come and go, but classic styles are here to stay. 

So once in awhile an article will peak my interest about what is "coming and going" in home decor  - such as this article that pointed out brass and over sized furniture is "back" in 2018. Well goody-goody. I am already set - - like 40 years ago. But the designers aren't going to talk me into a color palette of Harvest Gold and Avocado Green. 


The other day my curiosity got the best of me when I wondered, "Is the Paris-Shabby-Chic-French-Country theme still popular this year?" Then I realized - - duh. Of course it is. Anything from France or with a Parisian accent will always be in style. We have seen so many degrees of it through the centuries such as Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI style furniture, and let's not forget French Provincial. 

Not to mention that Pottery Barn entered the year with their new line of faux botanicals named the "Paris Flower Shop." And speaking of which - I read last week that Fixer-Upper Magnolia Market maven, Joanna Gaines recently shared that in the homes she decorates, she uses faux flowers and plants. Yup, I was shocked! Why would Joanna betray us like that? Her answer was for the new homeowner, the last thing they need is to worry about taking care of plants. Okay. Makes sense. 

From the Pottery Barn's "Paris Flower Shop"
And as we think about "is the French Country/Shabby Chic" still in style? Well of course it is in the country side of France. In the mean time, the trend for the hipsters who reside in Paris is "Tres Brooklyn."  Brooklyn? 



Friday, March 16, 2018

And Then This Happened...

It decided not to be a Thanksgiving amaryllis. 
It decided not to be a Christmas amaryllis. 
It decided not to be a Valentine's Day amaryllis...

It decided to be a Saint Patrick's Day amaryllis. 


It surprised me with four buds, and yesterday I found two more smaller buds.




It's a gorgeous thing.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Let's Revisit Boeuf Bourguignon

The wine cooking makes the house smell so good... 

I should make this dish more often than I do. For sure I usually make it in February and in the past if Valentine's Day was on a weekend, I invited friends over and made it a feast with mashed potatoes, a good loaf of bread, French salted butter, and of course - - a chocolate dessert. 

Choose a dry red wine you also enjoy drinking. 

Last week, I prepared it and ate a couple of meals with it, and stored the rest in the freezer. It freezes well. 


As I mentioned last year in New Year Resolutions, Part III: Cook Like Julia, I follow Julia's recipe when it comes to the ingredients, but with the procedure I have found several shortcuts. Let's put it this way, Julia had an assistant to scrub pots. I have eliminated the many pots and have it down to one pot - my favorite old LeCreuset Dutch oven. Here's some tips to make Julia's recipe easier. 

All ingredients finally combined. 

1.) I do not simmer the lardon (fatty bacon) in water - first. I skip the simmering in water and just fry the bacon as per the recipe. Keeping the fat in pan, set bacon aside on a plate. In fact, I just keep one large bowl to toss all of the finished ingredients in. This again is one of the "pot saver" suggestions. 
2.) Instead of tossing in the flour while the meat is cooking, I lightly coat each piece of stew meat in  flour before frying. It gives the meat a nice crust, while the excess flour still gives the stew the body it needs. I also season the meat before I flour it with the salt and pepper amount as per the recipe. 
3.) I do not cook the meat in the oven, but cook it on the stove top in the Dutch oven. When the meat is browned (not necessary for the meat to be done inside), I set it aside with the bacon. Then add the sliced carrots and onions to the same pot. Cook until just slightly tender - not soft. Also set the carrots and sliced onions aside in the same bowl with the bacon and meat. 
4.) In that same pot, add the butter and saute the mushrooms. Set mushrooms aside with the meat, bacon, and vegetables.
5.) One can peel a bunch of little onions, or used thawed frozen pearl onions. In the same pot, I saute them with a bit of butter, a sprinkling of salt and pepper until lightly caramelized. Yes, I even saute them when they are still a bit frozen. 
6.) Julia suggests to crumble the bay leaf. I don't. I leave it whole and remove it before serving. 
7.) Julia wants you to take the pot and clean it before combining all of the ingredients. Don't! Your pot is now seasoned. Just combine well all of the prepared ingredients, along with the remaining ingredients (Wine, tomato paste, stock, and herbs) and here you can do one of two things: complete the cooking by placing pot in oven and let it cook for a couple of hours in about a 225 degree oven; or let the pot and the ingredients cool down and refrigerate the day before serving, and finish cooking the day of serving in the slow oven. 


Ready for a long slow "stew" in the oven. 

Usually I serve the lovely aromatic stewed beef over mashed or boiled potatoes, buttered egg noodles, or even rice. However, I found a new side, thanks to my friend, blog enthusiast, decorator, and former high school classmate Diane Clements Wicks. Check out her lifestyle blog Tumbleweed Tidings. She takes the best photos... 

Diane divulged to me she serves her Beef Burgundy with cheesy grits! It was the perfect suggestion as I had just bought a bag of Bob's Red Mill White Grits, so I gave it a try - - it was so delicious, and a keeper that in the future I may forgo the potatoes and noodles.  


Let it be known, you can call this recipe either Beef Burgundy or in French, Boeuf Bourguignon. However, if you refer to it in the French version, then it's a must you say it in your best and highest Julia Child's voice. Bon appetit! 



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