Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My Favorite Spring Sandwich: Grilled Cheese and Asparagus

Who doesn't love grilled cheese sandwiches? If you don't, then I don't think we can be friends - - kidding! Of course we can still be friends if you are a hater of grilled cheese. After all, that just means all the more for me!

It's my favorite time of the year when our local farmer's market and several farm stands are selling these fresh picked spears. This is just your basic grilled cheese sandwich, but add leftover grilled, roasted, blanched, or microwaved-cooked asparagus. These spears of green goodness are best in a sandwich if there is still a nice crunch - not soggy or overcooked.

Okay, so you know the routine. Here is what you need. Bread, cheese, butter, and of course the asparagus. 



When it comes to what type of cheese, do what I do - rummage through your cheese drawer and choose whatever cheese you have on hand. Select those cheeses that are best for melting, like I used Muenster. I also added shreds of cheddar, as shredded cheese will melt faster and more consistent, than just a slice of cheddar. 



Preheat skillet over medium heat. Generously spread softened REAL butter on one side of both slices of bread.  I chose a Brioche bread - an eggy butter-rich bread with a light yellow color and a sweeter taste than plain white. No softened butter handy and you don't wait around for the butter to soften? No problem. Spread the slices with a thin spread of mayonnaise. Yes. Mayonnaise. Don't question it. Just read this. Bon Appetit magazine says so, and so do I. 



Place bread butter-side-down onto skillet bottom and add slices of cheese. When building the sandwich, alternate the ends of the asparagus so you won't just get bites of ends in one half of the sandwich. Top with more cheese. Add second slice of buttered bread and place butter-side up. Grill until lightly browned and flip over. Sometimes the aid of a toothpick helps to anchor the spears. Continue grilling until all the cheese is melted. 



Ooey, gooey, melty, and cooked to pure golden toasty bliss with a nice semi-crunch of asparagus

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pretty Posy Smudge Sticks

It's the perfect time of year to make these pretties since everything is in bloom. All you need are some posies, twine, a little patience and you have, not only a smudge stick, but something pretty to lay on a old vintage platter or tray. A collection of these would be quite calming and pleasing to the eye to keep around, and they smell good, too.

Make several for gifts, especially for the hostess or open house.

So what is a smudge stick? It is generally a bundle of dried herbs, usually bound with string. The herbs are later burned as part of a ritual or ceremony to rid of the "un-welcomed." Plants that are often used include sage, lavender, and cedar. Many people are now "smudging" their new homes to rid of any negativity; or for just a calming presence - like a spa. Smudging has been a tradition for centuries among indigenous people, especially our Native Americans.

As you notice in the video, each flower or herb used has its own special meaning. You may not believe in spirits, but hey... what can it hurt? And they look and smell so pretty.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Wander and Ponder: Elegance, Jelly Jars, and Cozies

This is the week where I have been drawn to politics like a moth to a flame. I-must-stop-and start writing about pleasant things... 

The other day I wrote about "An Elegant Life."  I pointed out ideas to add a touch of elegance to your life. A reader gave me some good things to ponder about "elegance." She suggested that "elegance is more than a collection of objects, but a state of mind, confidence, and a sense of peace... and how you interact with the world around you."

She is correct. I had thought earlier around the same lines while I was writing the original post. I had thought about "elegance" being a gentle spirit and always acting in kindness, and mindful of others and our surroundings.  What stopped me from continuing that chain of thought is I am an imperfect person. I have a lot of work to do with my own "spirit," before I start suggesting to others to get their "spirit" in check. Giving myself a break, I do think the older I get, I think I improve. To sum it up, as I wrote in the article, I think "elegance" is a state of mind. Be aware. Be conscious. Treat your own self with kindness, and I think it becomes easier to treat others the same. Also, don't forget to reach into the china cabinet that never gets open and take that beautiful French crystal wine glass Aunt Bessie gave you from its perch and use that beautiful glass to drink your morning juice from instead of that old Ninja Turtle jelly jar. And speaking of jelly jars...

Jelly Jars: Am I the only one who saves the jelly jars from Bonne Maman fruit preserves and jellies? I even save the caps just in case I want to seal the contents such as: whole spices, bouquets of posies, refrigerator pickles, candle holders, string or button storage, hard candies, and even use them for picnics to store food or use as glasses. Also the perfect wine glass for that Italian themed spaghetti dinner party. 





If David Lebovitz, author of dessert cookbooks and Parisian life can save his jelly and mustard jars, then so can I. 

Cozy Mysteries: So I have been reading this genre of books, downloading numerous on my Kindle, and even dabbled a few words to write my own; but it wasn't until this week at a writer's support group did I learn that what I have been reading has a name. 

Just in case you are behind like I am, what is a "Cozy Mystery?" It is also referred to as "cozies." They are a sub-genre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. Typically the heroine of the crime fiction is not a detective nor any type of a law authoritative figure, but often an owner of a bakery, bed and breakfast, cupcake shop, antique shop, flower shop... any shop owned by a woman and especially in a small intimate community. Many cozies will also come in series. 



Why am I reading "cozies" of all things? They are fun, mindless, and quick. They are also affordable to download on Kindle, especially through book clubs like BookBub and Bargain Booksey. They are sweet forms of entertainment during a time when the news is depressing. It's a nice way to escape. 

Hope you escape somewhere this weekend, if only inside a book. 






Wednesday, May 10, 2017

An Elegant Life

The tag line to my blog is "The simple trimmings for an elegant life™... "

First of all, it is important to note I do not live an elegant life, especially if you are thinking as in the rich and famous. I have never lived an elegant life. I do tend to use the dictionary - a lot. I always have, and use words literally - - in this case it lists a variety of synonyms under the word "elegance" such as: stylish, graceful, tasteful, classic, smart, simple, clever... 

I like to keep in touch with the trends in home and personal decor, whether I use the trends or not. Mostly, I do not. I seem to stick with the old classics. In my personal dress, I go basics and spend my money on good shoes, purses, sweaters, and accessories. My basic wear of pants and shirts is often neutral and black. I rarely spend much on the basics, especially now that I work from home - - and often basics in black. Why black? I always have. When they make a darker color other than black, I will buy it. 


How to practice "elegance?" 
  • It's the difference between going out grocery shopping with a timeless leather handbag that you will have forever,  instead of a soiled trendy canvas bag with spilled coffee and baby poop on it. 
  • Knowing it is okay to wear a pair of basic black pants and tee from Target, but accessorizing with a fabulous pair of Tiffany or Gucci sunglasses.
  • Instead of a beat-up wooden coffee table in the living room, spray paint it a flat-black or do a quick sanding and brush it with an off-white chalk paint and "shabby-chic" it up a bit. 
  • Want a BMW or a Mercedes but can't afford one?  Buy a "well loved" one - - a classic. They cost less. Just drive it "in season." You and the car will be memorable. 
  • Can't afford diamonds, emeralds, and rubies? Get your Boho-chic on and enjoy the colors of semi-precious stones such as amethysts, rose-colored crystals, and marcasites. 
  • The beautiful old crystal and china that Aunt Polly gave you? Don't dust it. Don't keep it in storage. Use it. Use it for your morning cup of tea and toast. If you don't, many years later someone else will. So what if you break a piece here or there? If you don't, many years later someone else will. 
  • Lit candles in the evening can make a difference in a room - even around the bathtub. 
  • French soaps are very affordable and bring an "elegant" frame of mind instead of the old commercial deodorant soap. 
  • Cooking with butter and wine. Well, actually cooking from scratch can be "elegant" instead of ripping open a box and tossing it in the microwave. 
Elegance is a state of mind. It is often the little things in life that makes a difference. It doesn't have to cost a lot to have that state of mind. 




Friday, May 5, 2017

Wander and Ponder: May, Lilacs, Cheese, and Flying

Happy May! 

I cannot explain it, but there is always something exciting about the first week of May. Perhaps it goes back to my childhood and how much I looked forward to the ritual of May Day. In grade school we would dance around the Maypole winding colorful streamers of crepe paper around the pole. 

Our teachers would encourage us to make paper doily cones or woven heart-shaped "baskets" out of colored construction paper to hold the bundle of flowers for a lucky recipient to find on their door. 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. 

Let's not let May Day be a forgotten tradition. 




An Ode to Lilacs: They are in bloom! I miss my old lilac trees I use to have growing at a former house. They bloomed in colors of white, a rare pink, and of course many shades of lavender and purple. I think I took those old trees for granted - that they would always be there for me that first week of May. The fragrance is one of the best smells on earth. 



Cheese: If you ever see a wedge or a round of White Stilton with Mango and Ginger, buy it. You won't be sorry. The sharp tang from the White Stilton, a protected designation of origin English cheese, and the sweetness of the fruit and spice is a pleasure on the tongue. It makes a fine cheese to enjoy after dinner and especially in the morning on a croissant. 



Take a Chance: Whether it is a change of career, retirement, a new home, a smaller home, a new and bold paint color for your front door, or even the possibility of finding love. Go ahead. Pluck one. Pluck a chance. They are yours for the offering. Sometimes it's okay to fly through parts of your life by the seat of your pants. 




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Do Millennials Eat White Sauce?

Yes! Yes they do eat white sauce and sometimes even make it, but possibly they do not know they are eating "white sauce." It's just that it's not often referred to as "white sauce." Now days it is much cooler to refer to white sauce as "bechamel."

No, I am not picking on the Millennials, so save the cards and letters... as Oprah use to say. The facts are it was discovered that Millennials, or members of Generation Y, are less likely to strongly identify with the generational terms when compared to Generation X or to the Baby Boomers. 


For the most part Baby Boomers were of the "white sauce" era due to the convenient cookbooks such as the popular Betty Crocker’s 1956 Picture Cook Book. While Julia Child tried her best to sway our parents, and even the Baby Boomers with her two-volume French cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1961 (Volume 1) and 1970 (Volume 2). It took Julia at least 30 good years to get us to pay attention that French cooking could be just as simple as most recipes in our American cookbooks. 



The basic recipe: 

  1. 2 tablespoons butter
  2. 2 tablespoons flour
  3. 1 1/4 cups milk, heated
  4. Salt
  5. Freshly ground pepper
  6. And sometimes a hint of nutmeg. 

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don't let it brown — about 2 minutes. This step is basically making what is referred to as a "roux." (Often in Cajun cooking, the roux is cooked longer until it is the desired brown color)

Add the warm milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat. You can also add more milk to thin the sauce, if needed. 


There you go! You have your basic bechamel which now can be used or other ingredients can be added to it - - such as cheese! 

In fact, speaking of white sauce and Betty Crocker, the 1950's housewife often made white sauce. My mother made white sauce to "enhance" the top of salmon patties. These little fish patties were made exactly the same as crab cakes, but with canned or leftover salmon. Like who had leftover salmon hanging around? Fresh salmon wasn't all that available at the time, especially if you lived in the middle of a farming town. My folks had many friends and co-workers who would visit Alaska for salmon fishing. They often brought back their catch canned at the local fish canneries. They would drop by a can or two. Sometimes peas were put into the sauce. And speaking of white sauce and peas, who remembers in the spring eating "new potatoes and peas in white sauce?"



My dad made white sauce for the beloved SOS in our household. SOS was a white sauce with chipped beef in it and served on a piece of toast or biscuit. Dad would shake his head at us kids with every bite we put into our mouths. He would always say, "If that is all you had to eat for days, you probably wouldn't enjoy it like you do now." Oh, and the meaning of SOS? "Shit on a Shingle" was the term used in the armed forces. 



One of the more "elegant" uses for white sauce was a favorite among my mother and her "young housewives" club luncheons - - Eggs ala Goldenrod over fresh asparagus. Think of it as a vegetarian version of Eggs Benedict, but with asparagus and bechamel sauce instead of hollandaise. Mom often cut the crust off of the toast to make it look "fancier." Eggs ala Goldenrod was the perfect way to use up those hard-boiled eggs during Easter brunch, especially if asparagus was in season. Frankly, I would crumble bacon on top. 






Giving bechamel (aka white sauce) a lot of thought, it is the tasty base for many popular and even international foods that we enjoy today. It's the base for gourmet mac and cheese, and if it isn't topped over croque monsieur or croque madame, then you would have ordinary ham and cheese sandwiches.  Bechamel is  the glue that holds potato and vegetable gratins together, and between the layers of Greek moussaka or Italian baked rigatoni. Chicken pot pie isn't a good pot pie without bechamel. It's the base of all good creamy or cheesy soups like broccoli, or even clam chowder. Chile con queso gets some added creaminess for dipping with the start of a good white sauce - - aka bechamel. 

It's also a regional thing when you consider good ol' biscuits and sausage gravy. That specialty gravy starts with a flour and butter roux. Would it be referred to as a white sauce since it originated in the south? Whether you refer to it as bechamel or white sauce, it is just as delicious. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, April 28, 2017

What! It's Friday already? It's been a busy week, but I am feeling rather accomplished. And speaking of accomplished... 

The Graphics Fairy: is on my list as one of my favorite blogs and websites. The Graphics Fairy is a great resource for DIY, craft projects, and ideas. There are tutorials on painting techniques, transfers, and other "bling" additions from photos to furniture. Sign up for the weekly email that you will receive every Friday. Artist and owner, Karen posts vintage images almost every day and the page is filled with thousands of stock images, and even typography that you can use for your craft projects. 




Pickled Red Onions: I am going to make these next week. A local brasserie serves pickled red onions on the side with their croque monsieur and croque madames. I will often just eat pickled onion as is without even putting them on top of my sandwich. The ingredients are simple - - and only five ingredients that you have around the house - - other than maybe the red onions. Find the recipe here at Fox Valley Foodie. You try it. I'll try it. Then let's compare notes. 


Baking Half Pans: They are tough to keep looking shiny and new, and unless you are a professional baker or someone who bakes cookies several times a week, do you really need expensive baking pans and cookie sheets? I keep reading all of these handy hints on how to make your baking pans look like new with non-toxic cleaners, such as vinegar, blah, blah, and blah. After using too much elbow grease, I threw all of those ugly old stained pans away. And then... 

I went to the Dollar Store and bought a couple of new baking half pans - - you guessed it for $1.00 each. And when those start looking ugly, I will toss or recycle for another use such as: place tools or paint buckets on old pans instead of potentially ruining a surface. Also, use them as part of your potting shed or work table - again to keep surfaces clean. 

Talk about good timing, just yesterday Bon Appetit sent an email listing the three most important kitchen tools that Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa cannot do without. She cannot do without sharp knives, a zester - - and you guessed it - - plenty of baking half pans. I use mine for more than baking, but for roasting vegetables and making my own "baked" French fries from fresh cut potatoes. 



Life is too short to be scrubbing pans. So, go out this weekend and have a wonderful time. 




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