Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to My Readers. 

Wishing You Peace, Love, and Latkes. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Nostalgia: Putz Houses

You're probably giggling about the name. No, I am not referring to the Yiddish name for a fool or an idiot. I am making reference to a name of a decor - a German Christmas decor of little houses. The name, Putz (pronounced "puts") is a Pennsylvania-German term for: ornament, decoration, and finery.

Our parents or grandparents saw them at the "five and dime" department stores. In fact, on one that I own still has the original 19-cent price tag. At this time I have about a couple dozen, along with an assortment of the miniature "bottle brush" trees. Sometimes I scatter them around the house, and other times I clump an assortment together to create a "village." So, what is the history of these charming little cardboard houses and churches with the cellophane windows? 

A splash of pink on my mantle
America first started seeing these little pasteboard (cardboard) houses in the late 1920's in dime stores and in Sears and Roebuck, and Montgomery Ward catalogs. They would often come in little boxed sets with a mixture of various styles of these miniature houses, and even churches. In the late 1920's and early 1930's, they became very popular as the Japanese started creating them, and especially before the Occupied Japan era, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. It was after the attack the importing of the Putz houses from Japan were put to a halt. 

Tucked among my collection of bears ready for Christmas 
The creators of these miniature cardboard houses earned very little, but the detail they would put into these houses were colorful and whimsical using mercury glass beads, cellophane, mica flakes, and glass glitter.  These little houses would adorn mantles, Christmas trees, and even placed around electric toy trains. 

Today, these vintage little charmers are still available on places like eBay (be sure they are tagged as "vintage" and not "vintage-like" if you are wanting the originals), but you won't be paying the original "five and dime" prices for them. Prices have gone up, but considering their history and scarcity (due to being made of fragile materials), it makes sense. The good news is today they have been reproduced, and even patterns, kits, supplies, and even tutorials are available so you can make a collection for yourself to pass down for years to come.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Sweet Life: Parisian Hot Chocolate

It's snowing. I know. I know. It's snowing where a lot of you live, but in my home town, the snow usually stays in the nearby mountains. It's rare to see it in the valley - - and so much of it - - and for it to stick on the ground. We typically see around a foot of snow about every seven years, and if it snows in-between those years, it is often a skiff of snow that melts within 24 hours. 

Snow days seem to insulate my world, and my world becomes quiet. I find myself reading more - cooking more - - crafting more - - and even dreaming more. This month, as I am reading various holiday articles, there seems to be many articles about the "Best Hot Chocolate." They all sound delicious. I mean, how can you go wrong?  The hot chocolate articles reminded me of David Lebovitz and his view on hot chocolate, especially "Parisian Hot Chocolate."

If you haven't been introduced to David Lebovitz, let me introduce you. David is a former pastry chef, and was voted one of the "Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area" by the San Francisco Chronicle. He has been featured in many popular food magazines, and newspapers; and author of seven food-related books. I currently own "The Sweet Life in Paris" and his latest book, "My Paris Kitchen."  

The Sweet Life in Paris
If you've noticed there seems to be a Parisian theme going on with David's books, you're correct. He left his pastry chef world behind in 1999, and moved to Paris.  If you want to read more about David, I recommend visiting his blog

The Sweet Life in Paris is a fun read about David living and adjusting to the Parisian life: from the decorative socks of Frenchmen to cheese etiquette - - and recipes scattered about. One of the chapters is dedicated to hot chocolate. David seems to have an aversion to many of the hot chocolate offerings in Paris's cafes, while referring to them as "sludge."  So, David has come up with his own recipe of "Le Chocolat Chaud." Simple. 

2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (use the best you can find)

Optional: 2 tablespoons light brown sugar to taste. 

Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Once the milk is warm, whisk in the chocolate. Stir until melted and steaming hot. 

For a thick hot chocolate, cook at a very low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Keep a close watch on the mixture, as it may boil or scorch. Sample a sip, and add brown sugar to taste - - or not. 

Serve warm in small demitasse or ample latte bowls. Sprinkle a few flecks of fleur de sel (sea salt) to change it up. David suggests that this recipe improves if allowed to sit for a few hours before serving  - and of course you will need to rewarm. Recipe makes an average four servings. Marshmallows need not apply. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Poor Man's Silver: Mercury Glass

They provoke childhood memories. The mirrored-silver always captivated my youthful eyes. Today I still have a few of the beautiful old mercury glass ornaments that were popular over 50 years ago. 

Mercury glass was first discovered in Germany during the 19th-century. It was known as the "poor man's silver" in England, as it provided an inexpensive alternative to the silver that only furnished the houses of the wealthy. While the glass was named after the silvery fluid element, mercury glass contains no mercury. The original procedure using actual mercury was short lived due to the toxic nature, and the expense.

Today mercury glass has been replicated, and I have seen prices on the replicated pieces from the $1.00 votive candle holder to $500 vase. Of course, the original pieces of mercury glass fetch a much higher price. Mercury glass just doesn't come in the traditional silver, as mercury glass ornaments, vintage and new, come in a variety of colors including gold. 

My miraculous roses I picked this morning in 38 degree weather
How to tell the difference between vintage and reproductions?  Look for the "double wall."  Vintage mercury glass was originally blown with a double wall, and then "silvered" between the layers with a liquid "silvering" solution as used in mirrors. Although mercury was originally used to provide the reflective coating for mirrors, elemental mercury was never used to create tableware. Today? Not so much. Today mercury glass is often sprayed with a relatively safe silver nitrate finish. 

Can you tell that I love mercury glass, especially candle holders? I love how the flame in a piece of mercury glass seems just that much brighter and warmer. Mercury glass is elegant and many pieces are affordable. It's about the simple "trimmings" for an elegant life - Passementaries. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Just a Touch of the Holiday: Romance Movies

This is my list of holiday movies. It's not the traditional that you think. My list of holiday movies are those with a bigger story line than the holidays, and even those movies where Christmas is the story, it's not the overall theme. Sure, my favorite holidays movies are also somewhat schmaltzy and often bitter-sweet, but isn't that just life -  it's foibles, faith, and good fortune of love and friendships?

These are the type of movies that you want to snuggle in with - and of course you will need a cozy fire, your favorite warm beverage, and frosted sugar cookies.  It's simple "trimmings," but brings us moments of a sweet escape. 

Sleepless in Seattle: A sweet romance that starts at Christmas and ends on Valentine's Day. 

You've Got Mail: If you loved Sleepless in Seattle, chances are you are going to love this movie that starts in September and continues through the holidays, until spring. 

Steel Magnolias: A bitter-sweet tale of family and close friends. It starts with a wedding, and brings us Christmas, Halloween, and ends with Easter. 

The Family Stone: The premise is Christmas, but the family dysfunction is quite endearing. 

The Holiday: It's Christmas through New Year's Eve with three stories about finding love, unrequited love, and love from long ago.

Love Actually: It follows the lives of eight couples dealing with love in loosely interrelated tales around the Christmas season.  

Serendipity: A couple meet during the Christmas season, and several years later they meet up again. Their meetings are quite "serendipitous." 

Once Around: It starts in the warm Caribbean with an odd couple, continues with family turmoil, and finally brings us through Christmas, the winter weather, and ends rather sweet with a few tears. 

What are some of your favorite "holiday" movies? 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Black Friday and Red Berries

After a busy day of preparing food, eating food, visiting with friends and family, putting food away and cleaning the kitchen on Thanksgiving; the last thing I want to do is make plans to get up early the next morning to wait in line at 5:00 in very cold temperatures, just to get into a department store and fight the crowds to buy mass-produced stuff made in China. 

Uh-uh, nope, no way, I ain't going to do it. I don't care if I can buy three toasters for $1.00 before 6:30 am, and the store is serving complimentary doughnuts and weak luke-warm coffee, I ain't going to get in line, let alone walk into those stores during that Friday. I will wait for a week or two and still find some values on items I really want, and save some dollars somewhere else. Besides, my motto is to let the small shop owner sleep in and open his/her regular hours on Black Friday and let's support them instead. 

Now that you know how I feel about Black Friday, onto the Red Berries: Here's another "recipe," like my The Infallible Brownie Mix, where I make no bones that I have "cheated." 

Picture this: you forgot to buy a bag of fresh cranberries. At first you decided just to scrap it, and then found out that Cousin Betty is joining you for Thanksgiving, and you remembered how much she loves cranberries - - and the fact that Betty is a vegetarian. You must give her something to eat. 

Don't be "bogged" down (get it, cranberry bogs ...) with making cranberry sauce at the last minute. Instead of rinsing fresh cranberries, cooking fresh cranberries over heat, adding sugar to the fresh cranberries, waiting for the fresh cranberries to pop, and for the sugar to melt - - or if you forgot to make cranberry relish at the last moment... 

Remember that can of cranberry sauce you have in the back of the cupboard? The expiration date says it expires November 26, 2016; so you still have a few good days before it "expires" (this is me rolling my eyes). Open it up! Open up a can or two of whole berry cranberry sauce (not the jellied sauce that poops out the shape of the can ...), add a few squeezes of orange juice and a few scrapes of orange zest to "freshen" it up. If you like nuts, sprinkle in some chopped pecans or walnuts. 

And wait - - there's more - - if there is an apple or a pear around, grate a half an apple or pear and add to the cranberries. Add a bit of ginger if you are using pear. 

Hey, get really crazy and creative by adding a tablespoon of a finely chopped fresh jalapeno pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. Any and all will freshen it up, so it won't taste so "canned." 

Now here comes the best part - - add a couple of teaspoons or more of Grand Marnier (orange-flavored brandy liqueur) or Calvados (apple brandy) - one or the other brandy - not both. You can leave the brandy uncooked, or warm the cranberry sauce with the brandy in it to cook out the alcohol. But no matter what you mix in the sauce, and if you really do not want anybody to suspect that you didn't make your cranberry sauce from scratch, just add more Grand Marnier and nobody will know the difference - - let alone care... 

Stay tuned for my blog this Friday to find out what I will be doing, while the rest of you are standing out in the cold waiting to be the first in line to buy a George Forman Toasted Tuna Sandwich Maker. It has to do with a large espresso, movies, and pajamas.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Turkey Tetrazzini

It's the weekend after a busy Thanksgiving, and you've had your fill of turkey sandwiches. Looking for something easy, yet different? Tetrazzini could be the answer. What is "Tetrazzini," you ask? 

Tetrazzini is an American dish created around the early 1900's.  The chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA named this dish after their long time resident, Italian opera star, Luisa Tetrazzini. The ingredients are easy to assemble as it is basically turkey in a cream sauce, with spaghetti, cheese, and mushrooms. The turkey can be exchanged for chicken, or even canned tuna. Many of us Baby Boomers may remember this creation from our mother's kitchen - it was considered rather "fancy." However, this recipe is not your mama's Turkey Tetrazzini, so put away that can of Cream of Mushroom soup. 

No Cream of Mushroom soup here. We're using the real thing! 
There is a bit of prep time, but once it is all gathered, the dish goes together really quick. Be aware, this casserole makes around 10-12 servings, so I found it perfect for freezing. Not only did I get three 5x7" casseroles for freezing, but the extra was dinner for the evening. 

The recipe asks for four cups of broth. I made my own with parts of the turkey that I usually do not serve, but store bought is fine. Chicken broth will also work if that is what's in your pantry. Note: the recipe asks for a cup of dry white wine. Any Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio/Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, or Semillion will do, just stay away from the sweet white wines - - and whatever dry white wine you choose, the open bottle won't go to waste. Serve and pour the remaining that evening with the Turkey Tetrazzini. The crisp dry white wine will balance out the creaminess and cheesiness of the casserole. This is a great example of "if the wine isn't fit to drink, then don't cook with it." Now, start cooking. 


1.5 lbs Dry Spaghetti, broken in half
4 Tablespoons Butter (or 2 Tablespoons of Butter and 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil)
4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 pound White Button Mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup White Wine
1/3 cup Flour
4 cups (or more) Turkey (or Chicken) Broth
8 oz block of Cream Cheese, softened
3 cups Cooked Turkey, shredded or diced
1 cup Black Olives, sliced
1-1/2 cup Frozen Green Peas
4 slices Bacon, fried and chopped
1 cup grated Monterey Jack Cheese (or Asiago, Swiss or any white semi-soft will work)
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese (or Romano or mixture of both)

Salt and cracked ground pepper to taste

Optional: one small jar of pimentos (adds color, but also a classic in the old Tetrazinni recipes of the 1950-60's). Bread crumbs to top the casserole before baking. If you are freezing the casseroles, I would wait and add fresh bread crumbs before baking. 

Break spaghetti in half and cook according to package instructions, but important to cook just to al dente.  This will make a difference when freezing or baking in the oven. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

In a separate large pot, heat butter or butter and oil mixture over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute until done, add salt, then saute for a few more minutes. While the mushrooms are hot, pour in the wine. Allow it to simmer with the mushrooms for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced to at least half. 

Gradually sprinkle in flour, then gently stir the mushrooms around for another minute. Slowly pour the broth in the mushroom mixture and continue stirring until the roux (flour and butter) thickens. The mixture doesn't have to be too thick. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cut the softened cream cheese into pieces and add to the same pot. Slowly stir to melt. There may be a few bits of the cream cheese lingering, but it will eventually melt. Add the turkey, olives, peas, chopped bacon, and cheeses. Stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste.  

Add the cooked spaghetti to the sauce mixture. Add more broth as needed. If the mixture seems a bit "soupy," not a problem. A little extra moisture will cook off in the oven. Add up to 2 more cups of broth as necessary. 

Pour the finished pasta and sauce mixture into a large baking pan, or casserole dish, or several meal size baking dishes. Freeze or bake immediately. Before baking, sprinkle the top with grated cheese and/or bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbly and the top is golden brown.

Ready for the Freezer

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thanksgiving Wine: No Rules

This week my email box is flooded with articles about the "Perfect Wine Pairing for Thanksgiving." As always, these articles suggest Pinot Noir.  I cannot help myself, but I need to jump in here as I think back to the "old days" when I wrote about wine

Pinot Noir is absolutely a great choice for pairing with the Thanksgiving turkey, and even with ham. I certainly have my favorite Pinot Noirs from Oregon, as well those from Burgundy. There is no denying the safe direction of Pinot Noir, but hold on here - - it's Thanksgiving! We grace our table with lots of food, and a variety - from Aunt Alice's Jello salad to Grandpa's favorite chestnut stuffing to the Duck Pâté En Croûte brought by jet-setter Cosette, Uncle Tony's new girlfriend. So, why are we limiting our table of abundance to one kind of wine?  
One of my favorite Pinot Noirs from Oregon
Bring it all to the table! No matter the wine, bring it to the table! Place several bottles on the table and plenty of varietals. Start the dinner with a toast using a favorite bubbly: from high-end priced Champagne or the more affordable French Cremants, Spanish Cavas, Italian Proseccos, and domestics. The crisp acidic bubbly pairs well with everything, including the southern-fried turkey, and even cuts the richness of the gravies and sauces. 
Spanish Cava; tasty and affordable bubbly. 
Bring out the dry crisp pretty pink French or French-inspired rosés! (It's my contribution to the Thanksgiving table) They also pair nicely with the turkey, and even ham (remember the Rosés for Easter ham). Also, bring out the Riesling and Gewurztraminer, dry and off-dry. They pair with the stuffing, the sweet potatoes, cranberries, bacon-laden Brussels sprout, and even Aunt Alice's famous Jello strawberry salad. 
Miraval Rose: soft flavors, yet dry and the bottle is a plus. 
While I am not a fan of sweet fruit "country" wines, I have to admit I've tasted cranberry wine, and it wasn't too bad. The acid from the cranberries rather equaled out the sweetness of the wine. This is a good example of a wine to bring to the table for Great-Grandma who is only use to drinking communion wine. It will stay in tradition of the Thanksgiving feast, and keep the sweet wine palates happy, too. Also consider a Lambrusco for those who desire a sweet wine. Lambrusco isn't too sweet or cloying, but the little bit of natural bubbles adds to the character of the wine. 
Lambrusco di Modena
Yes, even put a bottle of Chardonnay on the table for Cousin Buffy who still talks about the 1980's when she was a rock band groupie, and continues to wear lots of hairspray and very high shoulder pads.  Can't stand the thought of a bottle of Chard on the table? You wine snob, you.  Go Old World French with the Chardonnay, and place a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé or Chablis on the table. Also, don't be offended if Cousin Kit brings her box of White-Zinfandel. Just be prepared to drain the box into a pretty carafe or decanter and place it in front of her. 
 Chardonnay, but from France with a fancier name.
Now, about that big dark Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that stains the teeth and actually doesn't pair well with the delicate breast of turkey, but Grandpa Albert and Uncle Leonard really likes these big bold tannic monsters... Put it on the table. It's Grandpa Albert's and Uncle Leonard's Thanksgiving, too. At least place a bottle of Merlot or a red blend on the table for those red wine lovers. 
Chateau Ste Michelle: Always easy to find on the shelves
Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé! You might be caught up on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, which officially starts today. In France on the third Thursday in November (which "conveniently" just happens around the American Thanksgiving) wine lovers celebrate the first wine of the season - a Gamay that is harvested this year, and meant to drink very young - the same year. Under French law, the wine is released at 12:01 a.m., however it is basically aging in the bottle by the time it reaches America, as we receive it the week of or a few days before the "official" release date. The wine isn't bad for what it is, and really pairs well with the turkey. Note, there are various labels of Beaujolais Nouveau. George Duboeuf is the most popular and easier to access, but not necessarily the "finest." My rule of thumb when it comes to indulging in this brilliant marketing scheme is to drink this wine through the holidays, and at the very least finish your stash by New Year's Day. 
Drouhin label (France & Oregon USA) always a good choice.
Wines for the Thanksgiving table do not have to be expensive, either. During this time of the year there are many good holiday buys. Also, you may discover that the imports are often a good value. Just remember when it comes to Thanksgiving wines, bring everything and all to the table. There are no rules. Thanksgiving is about enjoying the feast of abundance, and enjoying each other's company.  Cheers! 

*The above suggested wines are some of my personal favorites, and in no way receiving any compensation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Power: Find Your Stone

We're told that "Diamonds are a girl's best friend," but sometimes those "best friends" can be a bit elusive. Many of us cannot walk into the jewelry store and buy a few karats whenever we want. Our budgets are more suited for carrots than karats.  So, what is the alternative when your heart is set on a pretty bauble? Semi-precious stones can be a girl's new best friend. 

What is the difference between "precious" and "semi-precious" stones? They are mostly a commercial term. Precious stones are typically diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires with a higher price tag. Everything else is semi-precious such as agate, amber, amethyst, jade, topaz, turquoise, and others. (See list from ELLE Magazine

There are many reasons to seek out the semi-precious stones. Not only are they pretty, easy to acquire,  and more affordable (Check online sources such as eBay and Etsy); but stones have been an integral part of human history. Through the centuries they have represented wealth and power, and even hold superstitions. 

There are some superstitions and metaphysical properties to these stones, and of course a very rich history of ancient civilizations using stones for healing such as the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans; and Medicine Men and Midwives. Many of these practices have been handed down through our 21st Century and now are popular in holistic health.  The belief and attraction of these stones isn't much different than the commercially accepted "birth stones" that many of us wear. 

Speaking for myself, I have always been attracted to stones ever since I was a little girl. My father was a rock hound/lapidarist. It was his hobby. He had a workshop attached to our garage where he would often spend evenings after work, or a cold weekend afternoon shining and cutting rocks. Dad had several sizes of saws and tumblers. He sold some of his jewelry, but joyously gifted more than he sold. To this day, whether I am walking in the forest, desert, or beach; I still find myself focused on the ground seeking some kind of "treasure." Old habits from our days of family picnics and rock hounding adventures with Dad.    

My choice of power stone is amethyst. The legend behind it is: Peace, clairvoyance, emotional protection, and sobriety. I do not leave home without at least a bracelet of amethyst beads - and especially if I am out wine tasting - for that sobriety element. Not only do I wear amethysts, I keep many of the amethyst crystals on book shelves and tables because they are so pretty, yet natural. 

As Elle Magazine points out, "Think it's all crap? That's fine—but in the end, could it really hurt to surround yourself with more sparkly, pretty things?

So true. Whatever your spiritual or religious belief is, these stones are a gift from the earth. A gift that is made to enjoy, and a gift that will last forever. Remember, it's about the simple "trimmings" for an elegant life - Passementaries.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Baked Onion Cheese Dip and Cry Baby Football Players

This is one of those recipes that I refer to as a "spring board," as it is almost fail-proof, and you can add various ingredients to change it up.  I first made this recipe last year for Superbowl Sunday XLIX. Everything was going well for the Seattle Seahawks until the fourth quarter. To keep from wincing in pain and to stop day-dreaming that Tom Brady of the New England Patriots would fall, twist his ankle, cry and howl for his mommy until he was removed from the game... Well, to keep my thoughts from being that of a "mean girl," I started thinking about this recipe and how to change it up for future, but of course for more victorious games. 

It's creamy, rich, fattening, and pure comfort, but something Tom Brady would never eat. You can even use a light cream cheese and mayonnaise. But why? Tom Brady still isn't going to eat it, no matter if you do use a light cream cheese and mayo. Again, if you are going to use a  light mayo, do not use mayo that has removed the eggs, oil, and all that's left is water and chemicals. Use light, but keep it the BEST. Go through your cheese drawer and use a mixture of the hard or semi-hard cheeses: Cheddar, Jack, Gouda, Swiss, Raclette, Parmesan, and even Mozzarella to name a few. Make it according to the recipe below, and give it a test drive. 

For the future, add other items that you enjoy, from: fried crispy bacon, chopped jalapenos or chilies, artichoke hearts, a cup of thawed frozen spinach (squeeze out the water really well), chopped green onions, sliced black olives, chopped pepperoni, or pre-cooked sausage. 


8 ounces cream cheese, let softened 
  • 1 cup mayonnaise 
  • 6 to 8 ounces grated cheese, hard or semi-hard
  • 1 medium to large Walla Walla Sweet Onion (or any sweet onion), diced 
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking dish (I used glass pie plate) with cooking spray. Set aside. 

In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients (except save about a 1/2 cup cheese to be sprinkled on top). Stir well to combine. Scoop finished mixture into prepared pie dish and spread evenly. Add the remaining 1/2 cup cheese (or more) on top of dip. Try to keep from dipping your fingers or crackers into the dip before it is baked. You can also make it the night before you are ready to bake. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes until the top is golden brown and bubbly. Let set and cool for a few minutes before serving. Serve with your favorite sturdy chips, crackers, and vegetables.  

If you are fortunate to have any left, it keeps for a few days in the refrigerator and can be reheated in microwave. But why would you have any left? 

Photo from Pinterest
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