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?"


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


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! 

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