Friday, October 28, 2016

Inspirations for the Weekend...

If you have been reading this blog then you know the motto is, "simple 'trimmings' for an elegant life... " The thought is that one can live an elegant and full life, yet in a simple and inexpensive way. 

This is a busy weekend for many, as we participate in Halloween and Fall celebrations, which many are family events. Take the time to celebrate the season around you. Glean the last of your garden and create a feast. Venture to the nearest apple orchard and gather a box of apples and pears. Enjoy the bounty of the orchards by celebrating with fresh baked apple pies, or dipping apples in caramel. Take a stroll in the park or country, and gather acorns, chestnuts, and colorful leaves. Visit a pumpkin patch and pick out the most perfect one. Rake the leaves in your yard into a big pile, jump into them, and enjoy the fresh crisp air of autumn. Make a bonfire, and toast hot dogs and marshmallows. Be a "big kid" and wear a costume. Laugh a lot this weekend, and especially on Halloween.

Take the time to check out the sky. It is truly the finest of entertainment - an amenity of life that we sometimes take for granted. Through this weekend there will be a waning crescent moon. Make a wish on the brightest star.  Have a wonderful weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Witch Finger Cookies

Come on in. Relax, and sit for a spell...

They really do taste delicious, like little "finger size" short bread cookies. 

These little morsels have been a standard at many of our Witches Tea Party. There are plenty of recipes for Witches Finger Cookies, but I've noticed that many of the food site photos are "perfect" fingers.  I happen to think the gnarlier the better. As an example, if one of the almond "nails" falls off during baking, it makes the finger look scarier. The witch lost her fingernail in the cauldron of food! Think opposite of the pretty food at an English High Tea. Think creepy!  

My recommendations after making hundreds of these little witchy fingers: It's easy to make the dough the night before baking. Just keep it well covered or wrapped so it won't dry out. Work in small batches to keep the dough chilled. Also, make them smaller than your actual finger or else they will look like big fat witchy toes. But then again, a plate of witchy toes would be quite tasty... 


1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional - of you don't have it, no worries)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sliced blanched almonds

In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg, and extracts. Beat in dry ingredients. Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.

Working with one-quarter of the dough at a time, while remaining dough is kept refrigerated, roll heaping teaspoons full of dough into finger shape for each cookie. Press an almond firmly into one end for nail. Squeeze in center to create a knuckle shape and use a paring knife or toothpick to make slashes in several places to form knuckle. Make cookies smaller than you think they need to be, as they spread when cooking. Remember, these are the "fingers of a witch" so they do not need to be perfect. In fact the homlier, the better. 

Place cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until pale golden. Let cool for three minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

Optional: You can leave the "nails" natural or "bloody" them up. Before you work with the dough, prepare almonds and paint them using red food coloring paste that has been diluted with water. Use a new clean artists paint brush to paint "nails."  Or paint half and leave the other natural to mix it up. 

Witch Finger cookies, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies,
and other scary treats! 
These cookies are a lot of fun to make, and especially a great family Halloween project for the youngsters in the household. Enjoy! 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Struggles and Serenity: Journaling

It doesn't have to be written with a quill fountain pen or in a hardbound antique leather book. 

Legal pads, spiral notebooks, 99-cent composition books, and even an online blog (private or public) are some perfect examples of tools to journal with. If it is perfect for you, then it is - - perfect. Sometimes I think we put too much emphasis in the actual tool and less on the pages. One can start a journal on loose pages, and eventually place the current thoughts in that hardbound monogrammed leather journal. For now - - get to writing. 

Just one of many around my home
What do we write about? Everything and anything: quotes, a word of the day, a two-lined poem, an instant thought, goals, creative ideas, to name a few; - -  and to name a few more...

Write about your feelings: Who are you? How are you today? What is going on around you that makes you happy or sad? Write a letter to yourself on your birthday. Introduce yourself to - - you! 

Your life story: We all have one. They may be funny or sad, as well as incidents that changed our lives. 

Opinions: Do you have a passion and a particular point of view about something as large as our world or something close and intimate as your family?

A Person: Journal a few pages or more of one very influential person who changed your life, made your life better, such as a grandparent or teacher. Perhaps it could be your children or grandchildren. You would be leaving a gift to your children long after you are gone. 

Struggles and Serenity: Putting them into words and onto paper, while allowing them to unfold in time; is an ideal way to stay balanced. 

A few words here, and a paragraph there. Let journaling, in your own words, influence your life. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: The Forgiving Fruit Galette

As the New York Times once said, "A pie is homey. A tart is fancy. And a galette splits the difference... "

Galette is a term used in French cuisine to designate various types of flat round or free form, and very rustic looking pastry. A basic pie dough is rolled out flat, then folded around the filling. In Italy the same free form pastry is often referred to as a crostata. Classic and beloved chefs, such as Julia Child, Jacque Pepin, and contemporary chefs like Ina Garten and Martha Stewart all have their own galette recipes - and essentially they are all the same. 

I have chosen not to even bother posting a recipe for a galette crust. Use your favorite single pie crust recipe, or even purchase the crust - yes, you heard me right. Just go buy the rounds of pastry crust and enjoy the free time. 

The recipe is very simple and so basic that you will never forget - - and almost fail proof. For a stone fruit or a berry galette, around four cups of fresh or thawed frozen fruit will work.  A mixture of fruits like peach and berry, as seen below, are pretty and colorful. 

If you have chosen to bake an apple galette, around four - five apples (peeled and sliced) will be sufficient. Granny Smith or JonaGold works the best - basically any cooking apple. You can also add a pop of color by sprinkling in a few raisins, nuts, or even fresh cranberries. When using apples be sure to add some lemon juice to keep the apples white, and even a sprinkling of lemon zest will add a nice accent of flavor. Preparing an apple galette, I generally top the filling with about a tablespoon of chilled butter, chopped and dabbed in small pieces. However, if you forget - no worries. 

A savory galette? For another time, but an assortment of vegetables, cheeses, bacon, ham, fresh herbs, or even a layer of sliced potatoes, caramelized onions, and cheese could be quite tasty as an appetizer or meal.  Maybe pears, brie, and walnuts? It's endless. 

Peach and Blueberry Galette
The ingredients for the filling, as per the photo: 

1 single pie crust, your favorite recipe or store bought. 
1 lb. peaches, fresh or thawed, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 2 cups) 
3/4 lb. blueberries, fresh or thawed, rinsed and sorted (about 2 cups) 
1/4 cup brown sugar, or more to taste 
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, may use another tablespoon if fruit is extra juicy 
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 
Pinch of table salt 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet of parchment paper on baking pan. You will be happy you added the parchment paper to the pan. Easy clean-up. Prepare a single crust pie dough into a flattened shape of about 12-13" round (or use store bought crust). Place pie crust dough on parchment paper on baking pan. 

Prepare the fruit filling. In a medium bowl, toss the peaches, blueberries, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Mound or arrange your fruit in a pattern, leaving about 1-1/2 inches of space around the perimeter of the dough. Fold the outside edge of the dough over the fruit, making occasional pleats. Sprinkle lightly white sugar evenly over the dough and fruit. 

Bake the galette until the crust turns a light brown and the filling bubbles, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven. While cooling, an option is to make the crust and fruit "shiny" by brushing with melted jam or jelly, especially apple jelly. Let cool for 10 minutes then cut into wedges and serve warm. An option is to serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream - always a welcomed addition. Easy! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: Pillow Cases

The point of this blog is to share "Simple trimmings for an elegant life™". Sometimes it is the simple things that add just the right touch, and then you wonder how you ever "lived" without it? 

An dear old friend of mine use to own an Inn for many years. It was exquisitely appointed, and attention to detail. In the summer time sheets and pillow cases would hang outdoors in an area hidden from the street and guests, and in the winter time the sheets and pillow cases would hang on racks in the basement to air dry. Especially in the summer time the guests would comment how "wonderful the sheets smelled" and they would ask if she used a special fabric softener on them. The sheets would stay crisp and fresh, and by drying them without the dryer heat, it added life to the sheets and kept their color longer. 

One of her other tricks was to iron the pillow cases. Yes, you heard that right, and in fact I started doing it for my own home. Yeah, sorry you are going to have to bring out the old iron and dust it off. Now let me add, one more thing you may wince over, as she ironed the pillow cases using spray starch. Housekeeping rules were if the same guest(s) was staying an extra night, three, or more; the sheets were changed on the third day of their stay (unless they requested clean sheets every day). 

In the mean time, the spray starch kept the pillow cases wrinkle free during the guest's stay, always giving a new and fresh appearance, and it just felt good at night to lay your head on something so crisp and wrinkle free. Spray starching vintage pillowcases is very important to enhance any needle work. For vintage, you may also want to consider a home-made starch of a tablespoon or two of corn starch and a few cups water in a spray bottle (adjust water accordingly). 

If you are really ambitious and love ironing, spray starching and ironing your top sheets is a nice touch, as well. Whether it is the top sheet or just the pillow cases, it is a nice touch for your own guests - - and most important, for yourself. Sweet dreams! 

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Touch of Halloween

October, November, and my birthday month of June, just happens to be my favorite months. I love the fall weather, and all of the changes it brings - especially after a busy summer. For me, it is a time to start "nesting" and do those inside projects like reading, cooking, and crafting. 

 A be-witching cookie cutter in the
old flour sifter by the vintage bread box
My favorite holidays are also in the fall, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving. Sure, who doesn't love Christmas spending time with family and friends, but Thanksgiving just seems a bit simpler, yet still quite bountiful. 

Jack hanging out by the cookbooks
As a youngster, I have wonderful memories of Halloween, from the planning of costumes, trick 'r treating at our friend's and grandparent's house - to even memories of looking out the back seat of our car window, after a busy evening of  trick 'r treating, hoping to find the shadow of a witch flying across the moon. 

Tuck in a friend by the usual decor
Today, I still love decorating for Halloween. I have boxes of Halloween decor I have collected through the years, but this year just a few subtle little touches. 

Who-who-who would ever find him up there? 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Asian-Inspired Wrappers

Small plates of Dim Sum make me happy, and I am just as happy making them as I am eating them. It's important to note that if you plan on making these little bites, it does take some thought and preparation. I have made bites as difficult as Cha Siu Bao (Steamed barbecue pork bun) where if you want these to make an appearance for dinner, you better get the yeast dough going first thing in the morning. And I have made bites as easy as these little wrappers, where you use ready-made wonton wrappers. 

My proof I made Cha Siu Bao.
Maybe some day I will share the recipe. 
So what exactly is Dim Sum?  It's really a style of Chinese cuisine (particularly Cantonese) prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Think Spanish Tapas or English High Tea, and especially English High Tea as you will want to get the tea kettle going for a pot of oolong to enjoy with Dim Sum. 

All of these ingredients can be found at your local supermarket, so you really don't have to seek out an Asian Market, but if there is one close by, then why not? Wonton wrappers can be found usually in the refrigerated section in the produce aisle. The filling I use is ground turkey - not ground turkey breast. I found turkey breast is a bit too light and doesn't quite have the texture needed as the mixture of ground dark and white meat turkey. If you insist, you can also use ground pork - - not sausage - - plain ground pork. The herbs in prepared sausage interferes with the Asian spices. I also think the ground pork can be a bit too greasy. Ground turkey is perfect. 

Now remember, I am somewhat a scratch cook, so you can add more or less of some of the spices, such as the garlic, red pepper flakes, and the Chinese Five Spice. Not sure? Take a tablespoon of the filling and steam or microwave until done. Cool, and sample. Add spices to taste. Also, I have made the filling the night or morning before I plan to assemble and steam the wrappers. Might I also recommend this filling to make little meat balls cooked in a spicy Asian-influenced broth for a steamy bowl of soup or pho. 


12 - 16 oz (pound) ground turkey
2 green onions, minced
2 Tbsp. of soy sauce
1/2 - 1 tsp minced garlic
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes to taste
Sprinkle of Chinese Five Spice to taste. 
1 pkg Wonton Wrappers (about 24)  

In a bowl, combine the ground turkey, green onions, soy sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes, and Five Spice. On a clean surface, place about 4-6 wonton wrappers and brush water around the edges. A cup of cold water comes in handy to keep the working fingers wet. Place in the center of each wonton 1 tablespoon of the filling. Bring two corners of the wonton together as if you are making a triangle. Bring in the other corners, gather, bunch, and lightly twist. This is the best way I know how to describe the technique. Seriously? They do not have to be perfect. If you find a better way to close, by all means - - do it.  Repeat with remaining wrappers until all of the filling has been used. 

Place these little purses of goodness in a pot on a collapsible metal steam rack. You know the kind of little metal steaming rack I am talking about. We use to buy them at import shops for 99 cents. I've had the same one since 1975, use it often, and it still looks shiny as can be - great investment. You may also use a multi-tray bamboo steamer so you can cook all the wrappers at one time. Fill the metal steamer pot with 1/2 - 1 inch of water (don't let water touch bottom of metal steamer) and bring water to boil, and then to simmer. Spray the metal steam rack with a non-stick spray (very important and spray with every batch). Working in batches, arrange 5-6 wrappers on rack about 1-inch apart. Cover pot with the appropriate lid, and steam wrappers until cooked - about 8 minutes per batch. Check the water level with each new batch. 

Transfer wrappers to a platter and serve with a variety of sauces for dipping. Keep it simple with soy sauce, or make or use your favorite jar of Asian-style sauces such as teriyaki, chili oil, hot mustard sauce, and even plum sauce. 

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