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. 




Monday, April 24, 2017

About My Recipes and Dieting

Last week I did a "survey" about this blog. I have to say all of the responses gave me excellent feed back - - all of them. This blog isn't just a foodie blog, but a "lifestyle" blog - my lifestyle. It's about things that I enjoy that I want to share. It's about things that I have enjoyed, but been so busy in life that I forgot to enjoy these simple things. 

In the survey one of the suggestions brought up that the older recipes could be updated in healthier ways. I love that idea! Regarding my recipes, many are old school and some I have updated to the 21st century and some I have left as is. Some of the recipes can be adjusted and modified to each individual diets. Sure, and some are decadent. For those recipes may I suggest smaller servings? 



Through the years I have added touches of "healthier" ingredients in my own cooking, such as I often use skim milk instead of whole, and often turkey burger instead of beef. Sometimes I even use olive oil in place of butter or regular vegetable oil. I will also swap out sugar when it comes to baking, and use apple sauce instead. It all varies depending on the needs and of course making a recipe with success.  

Believe it or not, but I use to follow a strict vegan diet before it was "cool." That was in the old days of my "hippie" years, so I am familiar with many of the alternatives for vegan cooking. In fact I even took a series of cooking classes designed for the vegan. We didn't even cook with processed sugar. We only used natural fruits. It was harder to be a vegan 40-years ago, as we had limited resources and not a lot of commercial products designed for the vegan cook and consumer. Forty-years ago whole wheat or vegetable based pasta was awful! Today, whole wheat pasta is delicious! 



There are some things I do not use, such as soy products as I personally have a severe intolerance and the majority of the vegan egg substitutes leave an after-taste that I do not care for, especially in baking. And speaking of after-taste, why would anyone want to substitute fake margarine instead of butter - the real thing? Most of the "alternative butter" is made from chemicals or over processed. However, if you are keeping kosher or a vegan, I understand you use what you can.  In the example of Marcella's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter - - well, I don't know how to grasp that one. Without the butter it wouldn't be Marcella's sauce. If you cannot use butter, then don't make the recipe. How can you screw with perfection? Heh. 



Today there are so many diets such as gluten-fee, nut-free, vegan, vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, fruitarian, flexitarian (my diet), pescetarian, shell fish allergies, and even religious food restrictions... I can no longer keep track - nor should I. I am not a dietitian, and I am not in food service. I am just sharing my favorite home recipes. 

Here is an example of some of the more health conscious recipes: Korean-style Beef Bowl- use brown rice, and instead of beef use chicken, turkey, or just add more vegetables and no meat. Eliminate the sugar in the sauce and use agave or honey, instead. Minestrone Soup is an easy fix to make it with less calories. Eliminate the meat and make it all vegetarian. If you are gluten-free, then use gluten-free pasta or rice in the tomato-based soup. Only you know what you can eat and what you can tolerate. Here is an example what we face if we are just sharing recipes - - again, I am not a dietitian. There is a low-cal "meat-less" ball, but it is made with pecan meal, so those with a nut allergy... see where I am going? I cannot keep everyone happy when it comes to the choice of recipes I post.

My Tabbouleh recipe is about as healthy as one can get -- but not if you are gluten-free. So leave out the bulgur wheat and add quinoa, but you already knew that - - right? Again, there is no recipe that will meet the needs of everyone. 



As far as desserts go, there are a few suggestions - - again, depending on what diet you are keeping. Affogato is an easy dessert and can be swapped out for light ice cream, non-dairy tofu or rice-based "ice cream." Let's say you don't want to use caffeine after dinner, then look at decaffeinated coffee for your cup of affogato - duh. The Forgiving Fruit Galette should be no surprise to anyone who is on a gluten-free diet. Make your favorite version of a gluten-free crust. Use agave, honey, or a fruit puree (or apple sauce) as a substitute if you want to eliminate sugar. The recipe will still be "forgiving" and easy. 

This rant is inspired from a few stories from professional cooks that I know. Thinking about healthier cooking also got me to thinking about some of the frustrations that professional cooks often run into. One of the recent stories was how a consumer went to management to complain about a salad she ate at a work-related buffet. The salad wasn't marked gluten free, but a pasta-based salad should have been the gluten intolerant person's first clue. Since the majority of the population is NOT gluten-free, typically foods that are gluten-free friendly are the ones that are marked and designated - not the other way around.  If we are going to attach our selves to a diet, then we have to be accountable, educated, and even find alternatives regarding what we put in our mouths.

If you have taken any of these recipes and modified them to your individual diet and the results have been met with great success - - do let me know so we can share them. As I have said with the majority of my recipes - they are often just a springboard towards another recipe - your own recipe. 



Friday, April 21, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, April 21, 2017

This week I have not had a lot on my mind. Perhaps it is the clouds and rain that bring on somewhat of a malaise. I had great hopes to get a lot of things done, and here I am - feeling very unaccomplished. But there is hope! There is always hope. There is always a new Monday. 

One of the things that just tickled my fancy this week, I discovered something that was a lovely part of my childhood. I discovered on YouTube all of the old episodes of a Mickey Mouse Club series called "Annette."  

Annette: was a 10 minute 19-episode black and white series featuring "America's Sweetheart" Annette Funicello. The series was the story of a young girl who goes to live with her aunt and uncle. She attends a new high school, makes new friends, goes to formal dances, drinks malts at the soda shop, and has a crush on the neighborhood boy. I was about 10-years old when I first saw the series. In fact the Mickey Mouse Club were reruns by the time I got to see them, and Annette was no longer a child. She was in her early twenties making teen-age "Beach Party" movies.


My love for Annette has never left. 
During that era, we didn't have such things as DVR's, DVD's, and Demand. We were on the mercy of three major television stations and their affiliates. When we missed our favorite shows, we hoped for reruns. 

The "Annette" series may have been the start of my writing. I kept a stenographer's notebook that I would write stories and draw pictures in. After the "Annette" series ended and there was no hope for reruns, I continued with my own "series" by writing my own version. In my version, Annette spent more time in the soda shop enjoying hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes; and less time in school. What do you expect from a 10-year old?

Noodles: You know those thick toothy egg noodles that you buy in the freezer section at your favorite market? I have been pondering them. Okay, the truth is I have been craving them. There is so much you can do: chicken noodle, soups, beef stroganoff, vegetable Alfredo, beef noodle... Are there freezer noodles in my future for this weekend?

Home Decor: I love to look at it. It's one of my favorite things to do. However, I rarely buy it anymore, but I keep looking at it. Sometimes I want to change things up and buy new pillows, new lamps, chairs, wall art, and tables - - but I don't. I don't need to. I will forever be the old lady with the old and outdated Victorian "grandma funeral parlor" furniture. 

The other day I opened the drawer to my dining room buffet and noticed all of my doilies that I stopped decorating my tables with. Talk about "old" grandma stuff - - but in defiance, I may just bring back the doilies! They are lovely - every single stitch of them. 
My doily drawer
But hey - - I may not buy new decor, but at least I buy new jar candles - - and often! 

Here's to a productive, but fun weekend! 





Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Are You a Francophile?

Fran·co·phile (ˈfraNGkəˌfīl/) noun - a person who is fond of or greatly admires France or the French.

This weekend I read an article in the New York Times about how in Harlem New York there is a new French renaissance exploding with French restaurants, along with many French expats making Harlem their home. In fact, while I was writing this I received my daily email from Food & Wine magazine, and it just happened to be solely about French hors d'oeuvres, French main courses, French "fast food," and French desserts. 


So what is this obsession we have with the French? I think the romantic side of France has always been with us since the prolific writing days of authors Hemingway and Fitzgerald. 

We are now bringing it into our homes "French-style artisanal" breads and croissants, besides pastry sweets from eclairs to macarons. These delicious items are from local markets selling their own version of French-style baked goods. We perk up when a plate of imported French cheeses, from Brie to Raclette, is brought to our attention. 

Fleur de sel, Herbs de Provence, and Le Creuset cookware is a big part of our kitchen. Boeuf bourguignon, Coq au Vin, pommes frites, and the simple Croque Monsieur (aka grilled ham and cheese) is no longer a mystery to cook - or to eat. Cook and lover of all things French, Julia Child kept telling us how easy it was to cook like the French, and thirty years later we are just now believing her. 



Many large wine regions in America are celebrating grapes with origins from France. The French-style of wine making is often shown in many local wines from California, Washington, and Oregon. I will not hide my love of pretty pink wines from Provence, and in an effort to support my local wine industry, I seek out American produced rosés that resemble the style from southern France.  They have taken over my wine collection. 



Deep "French" roast coffee beans that produce French-style café au lait, and mochas are often made with a French Press - - make that a Le Creuset French Press. 

A few years back we became enamored with home decor that featured pillows and baubles adorned with the Eiffel Tower. "Shabby Chic," a style reminiscent of old French furniture, linens, and decor that was worn and weathered, is now purposely and willfully produced.

And who doesn't get all starry-eyed over the thought of old buildings with the shutters and doors the color of the nearby lavender fields?



Nothing better on a Sunday than to cozy up to a French-themed movie: Midnight in Paris, Chocolat, Amelie, A Good Year, The Sisters of Belleville, GiGi, and Julie and Julia. And speaking of Sundays... 



The difference between our American habits and the French, is that the French take the time to have coffee or a glass of wine in the middle of the day while we are still working to make the corporate boss happy so he can afford a plane ticket to France. In France they actually enjoy their Sundays off from work - or so I keep reading. 



So where am I going with this? Why the Francophiles? I believe it is a quest to a much simpler time in life and enjoying the simple, but finer things. Finer things do not have to be expensive. When we look at the French life-style, it is not as grand as we prop it up to be. Boeuf bourguignon may sound "fancy," but after all it is a simple aromatic beef stew. It is not canned beef stew, but a stew that is slowly and methodically made with fresh ingredients. 

Let's just not copy the French in their cooking and decor, but let's learn from the French and not super-size our drinks and dine on fast food. Let's take the time to stop and "drink" the rosés. This rant is just as much of a reminder for me, as it is for you. I am slowly learning... 


With apologies to Omar Khayyam, "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou beside me singing in the wilderness... "  

Make that a jug of French wine, and a loaf of French bread... 






Friday, April 14, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, April 14, 2017

This week has brought me many memories: from learning some of the basics about Kosher cooking and how to make the perfect matzo ball, to being a youngster and the thrill of receiving the pastel-laden colored (mostly pink) Easter baskets waiting on the dining room table on many early Easter mornings. 

This morning of Good Friday got me to thinking about Easter bonnets, white patent leather shoes, and white gloves. It was the outfit many of us wore to church on Easter Sundays. 

It's time to bring out the Easter bonnets. 


Carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts, especially when it is home made. My grandmother had one of the best recipes, as it called for crushed pineapple. I get very excited about a carrot cake when I see little miniature orange "carrots" made from extra frosting adorning the top of the cake. It just means extra frosting! 


The internet was out for about six hours the other day. It turns out road construction inadvertently cut a fiber-optic cable in a nearby community. The internet is something that many of us take for granted. It certainly cut my day short. It was my day to send a few invoices, to pay a few invoices, do my banking, as well as some research. I use the internet for many things from playing music and downloading and streaming my favorite television programs.  And speaking of internet... 

Pinterest. Follow me there. You will find I have many recipe boards,  and also designs, decor, vintage, favorite faces, and some boards with no reason at all other than "I just liked the photos."  


Have a wonderful Passover and Easter holiday weekend. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Matzo Ball Soup

You may be thinking, "Earlier this week you published photos of Easter eggs and bunnies, and today you have photos of Passover Matzo Ball Soup. What gives?" 

Monday was the first day of Passover. Think of me as an equal opportunity religious holiday celebrator. A few moons ago I was the guest at a large Seder in Bondi Junction, a suburb of Sydney, Australia; and it was a wonderful experience I will never forget. I also spent a couple of weeks learning about Kosher cooking. I have been cooking some of my favorite Passover recipes ever since. And yes - - there is a small cut of brisket in my refrigerator waiting for the oven. 

Matzo isn't just for Passover anymore. About 20 years ago I didn't see a lot of matzo on our local grocery store shelves, and today it is a staple in my house. I use it for wine tasting when I want to cleanse the palate, as well as it serves as a great neutral vehicle to hold appetizing spreads like olive tapenade, hummus, or baba ghanoush (eggplant dip). My sister makes a wonderful Matzo Toffee Crunch during Passover, and especially for the December holidays. 


This is one of my favorite soups that I make all year round. I can make it as easy or as extensive as I want. Extensive means boiling a whole chicken to make my own stock or as easy as using pre-made stock. If you are not a kosher-keeper, you can use can or boxed stock or "cheat" by poaching boneless chicken breasts in liquid made of water, aromatic veggies (onions, celery stalks and leaves, and carrots) and herbs such as sage and thyme. You can even add packaged stock, chicken bouillon for richness and white wine to the poaching liquid. If you are going to enjoy this soup with a glass of white wine, I would recommend to use the same wine to poach with. 

Floaters! 
Matzo Ball Soup

½ cup Matzo Meal (Streits or Manischewitz brand), or make your own fine meal in the food processor from sheets of matzo.
2 Tbsp vegetable oil or if you want to keep authentic, use “schmaltz” (chicken fat)
2 eggs
1 tsp kosher salt or to taste
(Optional: sprinkle of onion powder, garlic powder, and/or ground black pepper to taste)

1½ - 2 quarts of chicken broth/stock (home made or packaged)
2-3 carrots (sliced)
½ cup onion or shallots - finely chopped
1 finely chopped clove of garlic
1 sage leaf and/or thyme
cooked chicken meat (optional)

Lightly saute chopped onion and garlic (don't let it brown) with a bit of oil in a 2-3 quart soup pot. Add chicken broth, sliced carrots, and herbs. Bring to boil and let simmer. This is the broth that you will be cooking the matzo balls in. You may make it just before you are ready to drop the matzos into the soup or make it ahead of time. Some recipes call for to cook their matzo balls in water and add to broth before serving, but it all depends on what your Yiddish Bubbe did.

Make matzo balls: in a mixing bowl, blend vegetable oil and eggs together. Add salt (or adjust to taste or add above spices) to matzo meal. Add matzo meal and salt mixture to egg and vegetable oil mixture and blend well. If too thick, add a few drops or 1-2 teaspoons of water or stock to mixture. 


Cover mixing bowl and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Sometimes I make the matzo ball mixture the night before or in the morning before I plan on serving for dinner. Form the chilled matzo dough into 8-12 walnut size balls. Oil hands before rolling the dough and also the less you handle it the lighter the matzo balls will be. 

Heat chicken broth if needed. Reduce heat and into the slightly boiling broth drop the matzo balls. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. While cooking matzo balls should have floated to the top (unless you prefer "sinkers", but I like the light and fluffy "floaters"). When serving - about 2-3 matzo balls per person. 


Matzo meal can be used for breading fish and poultry. Also makes a good filler for meatloaf and meat balls. It won't go to waste. Enjoy these yummy Jewish dumplings! 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Touches of the Season

It's been a few years since I put out any Easter-type decor. So why now? It's not that I have more time since I quit working outside of the home. It's just that I am working in my home, and a few hints of seasonal decor are nice to be around. 

Of course spring decor reminds me of some of the whimsical Easter decor with bunnies and eggs. 

Here are a few small touches of seasonal decor tucked among my "organized chaos of collections." 


In the late 1970's, my grandmother gave me several of these canning jars. I spray painted the lids, and have been using them ever since to hold dry products like rice, beans, and even pastel chocolate Easter eggs. Depression-era bunny toothpick holder.


On a book shelf is an angel-bunny among my collection of amethyst crystals. Angel Bun is a miniature made with mohair fabric - and she is holding a mini mohair bear. 



A crocheted egg. Tucked inside is a miniature mohair teddy sharing space with a few ceramic birds and "Made in Occupied Japan" ceramic children.


Intricate hand beaded fabric egg that opens to hide your spring secrets. 



Friday, April 7, 2017

Wander and Ponder on Friday, April 7, 2017

Sometimes it's a good thing to be so busy you have no time to "wander and ponder," but then again it gives you limited things to write about. 

My Yard: It looks like hell - - not that I know what hell looks like, but let's use this term for its creativity - figuratively. It was a tough winter. So in the wee-early morning hours at sunlight, I have been trimming a rose bush here and there while the dogs are out doing their morning thing. 2.5 rose bushes down with 15.5 more to go. 

This photo is from the past during my better days of gardening. 



Puff Pastry: Yes, I am obsessed. This is my latest. The recipe is from one of my favorite's, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. It's filled with salami and cheese. I prepared it yesterday to take to a friend's house. We meet almost quarterly with two or three other like-minded friends - we share an alma mater. We catch up on local gossip, the world's current events, and "philosophize."  We eat good food and drink great wines. We may not solve any problems, but we sure feel better. 

Note: Regarding Ina's recipe. She is so perfect in her skills that she even brings out the rolling pin and measures the top and bottom dough to match up. Don't bother. Stretch the bottom a tad, and when it is time to layer the top dough, do the same - - stretch it out a bit by hand to meet the ends of the bottom dough. Also, Ina used grated cheese. I had some slices of Munster cheese and layered the slices on top of salami. Seriously, can anyone taste the difference? No. Ina didn't score marks for slicing. I did. It was easier to cut when ready to serve. 


Adding the layer of salami
Looks good enough to eat
I also brought something "green" and paired it with a curry-mayo dipping sauce. The prep on the asparagus is simple. A quick blanch, a quick ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain well. Sprinkle with a bit of fleur de sel, fresh ground black pepper, and Herbs de Provence. 


Shopping: If you check out my index of pages, you will see I have one marked, "Shop." Believe it or not, I have implemented a shopping program on this blog. As soon as possible, I will be adding one of a kind "pretties" on it for your shopping pleasure. As always, stay tuned. 



Over or UnderIt's over, not under. How else are you going to fold that perfect point? Every child should know this before they graduate high school and leave for college.



Have a wonderful weekend. 





Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We Had A Fairy Tea

After a very long and unusual winter, we finally celebrated the arrival of spring. We had a fairy tea. We are known for having an annual "Witches Tea," but this season the fairies came out to play.  

Photo by Passementaries

There were magical accents of fairies. 




Photos by Brianna Kirschner

The weather wasn't perfect, but it didn't stop the fairy bubbles from making an appearance.






What do you do at a Fairy Tea? You laugh.


Photo by Jennifer Gregory
You drink. 


Photo by Brianna Kirschner


OOPS! Someone forgot to bring the tea! 


Photo by Brianna Kirschner

You eat. 




Photos by Brianna Kirschner
You eat and drink some more. 



You receive tea party favors. 

Photo by Brianna Kirshner

And then you laugh some more. 


Photo by Jennifer Gregory
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