Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gifting


It's been a crazy month trying to keep my head above water and my heart from turning "Bah Humbug".
While I love Christmas for many reasons, I also loathe it for many others. Mass consumerism is a major put off to me thanks to my lifelong career in retail. Of course I make sure my kids have a lovely holiday and I do buy gifts for my nieces and nephew, but beyond that it's simple and meaningful or homemade. No one I know needs another damn sweater or tchotchke. In fact, I told my husband and children this year that starting next year we have to each thrift 1 gift for each other. It will put some serious thought into what the other will like and I think we will all find the thrill of the hunt exhilirating.
This year I saved the pretty cardboard trays from the canning jars I purchased over the summer because I knew I would find something to do with them. And I did.
I packaged up 4 jars of preserves in the trays and filled them with red paper I salvaged from an office clean out earlier this year. I made sure our home shredder was empty then filled it back up again with the red paper. Tucked safely in the tray is a jar of preserved apple slices, apple butter, applie pie in a jar dessert topping and brandied cherries. There used to be jars of fresh garden salsa but my husband is fully capable of devouring an entire jar in one sitting. So the salsa was no more.
I wrapped each tray in a sheet of cellophane and I instantly have a great gift that I know my loved ones will truly enjoy.
Now I just have to figure out a good hiding place for those jars of salsa next year....

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Beef Barley Soup


When the mercury drops and the wool sweaters are finally pulled from storage, my belly knows it's time for comfort food. Suddenly, salads seem unsatisfying and the only thing that will do is something that will stick directly to my ribs and lull me into a food coma.
Soups and stews bubbling away for hours and hours on the stovetop seem the obvious choice when these cravings come calling. The soups are the easiest to master ~ a good quality broth and the right choices of herbs can elevate the most modest fillers almost always guaranteeing a fabulous outcome. Stews however, are not so easy.
There may be nothing worse than a stew chock full of delicious vegetables that have simmered away for hours soaking up the most heavenly flavors. You lift that spoon to your lips, inhaling the tempting aromas as you blow gently on that steaming spoonful in a futile attempt to cool it down. Your stomach begins to growl with anticipation as it is overcome by sense and smell. Then, as you take that first bite, your teeth find themselves stuck in a tough, grisly piece of meat. Ugh. For real???
It's happened to me and puts me off in such a way that I could forgo those recipes that call for red meat. I don't have the time to worry about whether or not I'm buying the right cut of meat and other than the 48 hours I get to myself each week (aka The Weekend) I don't have the time to cook a stew for 8 or more hours just to ensure a tender piece of meat.
A few years ago I found myself searching the internet trying to find a solution to this dilemma and stumbled upon this recipe for Beef Barley Soup from Cooking Light magazine back in 2009. The ingredient list is short, and the cooking directions are exactly one paragraph. The total cooking time? 2 hours. How could this be? Ingredient lists for dishes like this are usually a mile long with step after step after...well, you get the idea.
I made it that first time a couple of years ago and was sold. That piece of paper that printed the recipe has been faithfully clipped to the side of my refrigerator every since. It is wrinkled, stained and even a little smeared. It shows it's age and the fact that this is a winner of a recipe.

Beef Barley Soup
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine 2009

2 turns of extra virgin olive oil
3/4 lb boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces
*get your butcher to cut and trim for you if possible. Total time saver. I buy a full pound and just ask for stew meat. Because I add more meat mine is much less "brothy" and more stew like in consistency.
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots (sometimes I just use baby carrots ~ whatever I have on hand)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 (8-ounce) package of presliced mushrooms (sometimes I omit ~ my kids HATE mushrooms)
4 cups beef broth
1 bay leaf
2/3 cup uncooked pearl barley
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Pour two quick turns of extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Add beef to pan and cook until browned on all sides. Stir frequently. Remove beef from pan. Add carrot, celery, onion and mushrooms to pan; cook for 6 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Add beef, beef broth and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in pearl barley, cover, and simmer another 30 minutes or until barley is tender. Season with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Weekend In Newport





Escaping the humdrum rhythm of the daily grind is like chicken soup for the soul. Having the chance to flee from the usual obligations and chores and indulge the senses with new sights, sounds and smells for even the briefest moments is so rejuvenating. By 5:30 on Friday evening I was so ready to pack away my 9-5 weekday life, jump in the car and disappear from life as I know it for the next 36 hours. 



We were off in the car as early as I could convince Charlie to be, leaving behind the typical weekend errands, the dogs and the kids for only the fourth time in the past fourteen years. To say we were overdue could be the understatement of the year.
The ride started out with excitement and more than a bit of giddyness ~ mostly on my behalf ~ Charlie can maintain a much better poker face than I, who wears her emotions on her sleeve. After the first hour or so, we, I, settled down enough to just breathe it all in and simply be.


We arrived in Newport, Rhode Island just in time for lunch. Hungry from travel and for adventure, we dropped our bags off at the Adele Turner Inn and wandered off in search of way more than full bellies. The streets were lined with trees ablaze in their autumnal glory, the sidewalks strewn with the fallen bounty causing every footstep to bring forth a glorious crunch and crackle. No one does fall like New England.  

Then there's the homes. Dripping with history, even the most weathered of these historic places still commands a stately presence. You can feel it in your bones. Hundreds of years gone by, but still so evident that past and present collide in an unimitable fashion that makes this place so special. I simply cannot get enough.
This quick getaway was not without reason, Charlie wanted to take me somewhere to celebrate my upcoming milemarker birthday.  We searched and searched for a place to have dinner, somewhere special to mark the occasion. Just when we thought we had found perfection, and a venue steeped in the history that fascinates me, we ended up something terribly disappointed and unsatisfying.

Sunday morning brought grey and brisk weather that was absolute perfection for a stroll on the Cliff Walk. I reminded him that had we lived in the time of the Vanderbilt's or Astor's that an afternoon walk like this would have been considered courting. For a moment in time I could almost see the ladies in their finery, strolling behind Newport's great manses, parasols in hand. The history is rich and very much alive here. Not only rich for the eponymous names that shroud this town. Rich because it is still so evident. So real.
While the excesses of the Gilded Age will always fascinate me, these days I dream more of small cabins and wide open spaces than marble and luxe. 


Perhaps that is why the lunch we shared that afternoon in the small village of Jamestown, at a tiny seafood dive with tables covered in white craft paper was the best meal we had all weekend. It gave me pause for thought as to how much I have changed. All of these years working in the world of consumer excess has made me eschew the need to have more and more and instead be present, take notice of the richness that surrounds us all everyday. The richness that comes from those crunchy, golden leaves littering the sidewalk or a magnificent sunset over a small harbor. That kind of luxe requires no starched white table linens.  

It was ironic as we drove out of Jamestown through it's modest seaside homes that Charlie suddenly announced that this place was much more "us".
It also explains why the drive home was spent basking in the glow of each other's company. Uninterrupted time alone that, in itself, is more valuable than any earthly possession.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Life Lately











Life is busy and even a little crazy, but it's still oh, so good.
Last time I wrote we were on our way up to the Hudson River Valley of New York to go apple picking. We spent a beautiful morning in an orchard with the most breathtaking panoramic views. I just couldn't get enough. We picked almost a full bushel of apples and even tomatoes and peppers.
After that, it seemed like every free moment I had was spent in the kitchen putting up more fruit and veg for the winter. Apple slices preserved in syrup, apple pie in a jar (an incredible dessert filling or topping) and then I turned the bounty of tomatoes from our garden and the ones we picked into jars and jars of salsa.
The weekends in between I spend running from thrift store to thrift store endlessly in search of the next great treasure. Last weekend I came upon a fabulous French mustard crock. A few days later, a quick pop into a thrift store with evening hours turned up another one. I think I'm becoming obsessed and much to my husband's chagrin, they are not going into the shop!
Then in what seemed faster than the blink of an eye, it was Halloween and October was coming to an end. My best girl is obsessed with Japanese anime so she was Kiki  - an adorable witch with a big red bow in her hair and matching red ballerina flats. We trick or treated until her feet hurt too much to keep going so we headed home and sorted through her bounty. There is enough candy in this house to feed a small army.
Now it's November and it hardly seems possible. Every weekend sans one is completely booked with activities, starting tomorrow when we make a much needed trip to Newport, Rhode Island. There will be mansions to see, wine to taste and a quick dose of R&R. It's my consolation prize for the mile marker birthday I have coming in less than two weeks. That hardly seems possible either, but that in itself is a whole other story!

What has your life been filled with lately?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Apple Butter




We're off bright and early this morning up to the Hudson River Valley in New York for our second round of apple picking this season. Pumpkin picking and shopping in the quaint town of Warwick is also on the agenda. I can't think of a more perfect way to spend a Saturday.
I spent last Sunday night using the apples we picked on our first excursion to make apple butter. We didn't go crazy picking massive quantities because we knew we were doing this Upstate New York trip. The amount of apples I brought home lent itself perfectly for making a small batch of butter. My go to resource for home preserving is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It's like an encyclopedia of canning, only better because it has over 400 recipes in it. I'm still a novice at canning and preserving but the recipe for making homemade apple butter. seemed simple foolproof enough for this beginner.


 
It was.
The apples cooked on the stove top, made their way into the food mill and then off to thicken up in a saucepan for an hour or two. All the while filling our home with the most glorious scent. The recipe says it should turn out eight 8-ounce jars but I ended up with the eight 8-ounce as well as 2 pint jars.



I'm not going to lie, as I checked periodically for thickening there was some taste testing. Then some more. And then some more. And even more on top of that. This stuff is sooo good! Like the best apple pie filling you ever tasted. Imagine a gorgeous roast pork just slathered in apple butter? It's 6 am and I'm drooling at the thought of it.
Speaking of apple pie filling, that's what will be happening after today's haul. Some applesauce too. Suddenly January and February don't seem so cold and dreary anymore.

Traditional Apple Butter

6 lbs. apples, peeled, cored and quartered (I actually chopped them so they would soften faster)
3 cups of water
6 cups of granulated sugar (Don't panic - you're making 8-10 jars of the stuff, remember?)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine apples and water. Bring to a boil over medium - high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft. About 30 minutes.
Working in batches, transfer apple mixture to a food mill or a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree just until a uniform texture is achieved. Do not liquefy. Measure 12 cups of apple puree. (I did not measure it out)
In a clean, large stainless steel saucepan, combine apple puree, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and holds it's shape on a spoon. (You can also chill a small plate and drop a spoonful of puree onto it. If it creates a watery rim around it then it is not done.)
Meanwhile, prepare your canner, jars and lids.
Once thickened completely, ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4" of headspace. You can remove air bubbles and adjust the headspace if necessary. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down only until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.
Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes then remove jars, cool and store.

*remember, it takes 24 hours for jars to seal completely. leave them alone!
*any jars that do not create an airtight seal must be refrigerated and used right away

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wall Art


It started with the notion that I needed a bar cart. I have plenty of flat surface in my living room and dining room to store/display liquor, but when we entertain, we end up lugging it all into the kitchen. There we set up a makeshift drink station that generally impedes food serving and we wind up sitting and standing around the kitchen counter all night.
I realized we needed something like a bar cart where we could store liquor and prepare drinks in the same location. Having it set up like that would also make my guests feel more comfortable about making themselves that next cocktail instead of me playing bartender all night long. And so I began hunting for a vintage bar cart.
Looking for specific vintage items is a funny business. I have found in the many, many years I have been scouring flea markets and thrift shops that they always provide exactly what you want and need. It may take a while, but if you have your heart set on a specific item; you will eventually find it.
A few weeks ago I found myself roaming through my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (my absolute favorite place to haunt anymore) when I spied this odd looking console table. Heart racing, I dashed over to it to give it a closer look. I was just in the nick of time too - a couple just walking into the room spied it at about the same time I did - but I physically got to it first. There was no tag describing the table or listing a price. It appeared to be some sort of drop leaf console. Only the extension folded over the top instead of down the side making the top a double thickness. The legs reminded me of an upright piano. There were so many of them! I have never seen anything like it.
The couple was standing a few feet back watching me examine the piece and obviously waiting for me to lose interest and walk away. No chance buddy. They didn't realize they were dealing with an old pro. I started to unfold the top and he dashed over to help me. As it turned out, the top piece folds out to create a square table. The additional legs support the center and a piece slid out of the center portion to support the top when fully extended. It needed to be restained and cleaned up a little but it was an absolutely gorgeous piece.
The husband turned to his wife and said quite loudly, "Come on, She likes this way too much." They left. I took the opportunity to find a volunteer who promptly priced this little treasure at $39.00. I had found my bar.
When I got home, wiped it down and finally found a great spot for it in our living room under an already hanging set of black and white prints of Central Park.


A week or two went by. I started to feel restless. The wall behind it started looking so blah. So typical.
Other trips to Habitat started turning up pieces of artwork I couldn't resist. Beautiful pieces of Parisian street art from the 40's and 50's and some gorgeous dark landscape pieces. I began amassing a tiny collection. A dollar for one, three dollars for another, and I broke the bank with a signed piece of that Parisian street art that they charged me a whole $15.00 for. I mean, really.



These pieces inspired me and a whole vision began to unfold in my head. Over the weekend I went to my local craft store and purchased 2 unfinished wooden plaques and spent Saturday afternoon staining them out in the garage.



I pulled out all of the photos and oil paintings I have inherited from my father's side. My great grandmother, great grandfather and even great great grandfather! I am lucky to be entrusted with all of this rich family history.


By Monday night all the components were together and everything was ready to assemble.




Nineteen dollars worth of art, portraits of my great and great great grandfathers, two $2.00 wooden boards and a set of antlers I found at a flea market this summer created a wall gallery that is anything but typical. 
All said and done the project (with staining supplies) came in at under $75.00. Can you believe it? The satisfaction I have in it is priceless and explains why every weekend you can find me poking around thrift stores and flea markets. 

P.S. I'm not just lucky in finding artwork and antlers. There's a bunch of new stuff in the shop - some really fantastic pieces for your holiday table and entertaining. Link is in sidebar! 



Monday, October 7, 2013

The Weekend


Johnson's Corner Farm

sliding


 We like Fuji's best.

My girl.





Love that family of 3 in the back of that wagon. We are blessed to have people like the Sorensen's in our life.

Biking home some yard sale treasures

Chef and Sous Chef

Nigel Slater's Coq Au Riesling. Delish.


I should be packing right now for a quick work trip I leave for tomorrow morning but instead I am sitting here basking in the afterglow of another glorious weekend.
Saturday my best girl and I went apple picking with three of the greatest friends we have ever been blessed to have. After a few hours of farming we all went out for a delicious lunch and some antique store shopping. My kind of afternoon! 
Sunday had some mandatory housework on it's To-Do list (why is laundry neverending?) but my girl and I still found the time to take a 5 mile bike ride through some local neighborhoods. She discovered the magic of the yard sale and the thrill of the hunt was enough to keep her tired little legs pedaling for much longer than they normally would have.
We winded it down with Charlie and I in the kitchen together working on a proper Sunday dinner.
Coq au Riesling anyone?
The only upside to this week is that it will be so crazy for me with work obligations that in the wink of an eye it will be Friday night and we will be excitedly making plans for another weekend together.

What did you do this past weekend?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Finding My Zen







It's funny how things can change, how we can change. Our dreams, ideas and ideals all develop and grow and before we know it, we are becoming a whole different person entirely.

I have been going through a personal transformation for quite a few years now. My ideals have most certainly changed. Things that I thought I wanted, I no longer want; thus my dreams and visions are different. My priorities have altered so much that sometimes it spins my own head.
I want simple. Pared down. In every facet of my life.

The other day I read an interesting article on MSN about why people feel so "poor" even though the economy has improved slightly. The piece mentioned cell phone bills, cable bills and things I have thought about myself and pondered if they were truly necessities in life. Then it mentioned something that had never crossed my mind before.
Facebook.
The article said how the majority of people who have a Facebook page, when surveyed, reported negative feelings more than positive from their experiences on it. People feel bad when they see how wonderful someone else's life is. Pictures of fabulous vacations, new cars, new homes...the article said how people can't handle seeing someone having more or better than they think they have themselves. This saddened me. I realized how it rings true and how many people I have known that have to "keep up with the Joneses". 

In my real life apart from the internet and social media, I have minimized my contact and relationships with those people. But I'm still on Facebook and I really don't know why.

I have blocked so many people from my newsfeed it's ridiculous. Political rantings, anti religion mumbo jumbo and those negative Nellies...everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I just don't want to read it. When I consciously thought about how many people I am "friends" with on there that I was friends with 2 decades ago but wouldn't hang out with now, it was eye opening. 95% of them are not in my inner circle and most likely will never be. Then there's the friends of friends and the people I do know in my real life that I now know way too much about thanks to their posts. Over time in fact, Facebook had begun to make me dislike and disrespect people I would have otherwise never even thought about or known anything about.

So I deleted myself.
It was the best thing I could have done.
It was weird the first day or two to not pull it up on my phone. It felt a little bizarre not knowing if someone just had an encounter with a rude cashier or who has a headache and feels like crap today. Those people I haven't laid eyes on in 20 years will fade back into memories once again. And now I will remember most of them in the positive way I had when I clicked "Accept Friend Request". 
Another life lesson in the less is more concept.

What do you think of Facebook?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Long Weekend



afternoon reading
this boot is amazing ~ I need to write a post about it

an ice cream truck showed up unexpectedly at the end of our driveway ~ a very welcome surprise!

so we had ice cream for dinner. no big deal. and no mom of the year awards for me I suppose

outdoor dining at a local place where Charlie and I had one of our first dates over 13 years ago

New Jersey pizza. I dare you to find something more superior.

Simple Suppers
grilled halibut, lemon herb orzo and salad

Bike riding.
Tons of it.


French toast and all the fixin's

Forts were made during afternoon thunderstorms

Warm spinach, bacon and pecan salad with grilled tenderloin and mash



I'm in full support of 5 day weekends and 2 day work weeks.
Who's with me?

This past weekend was beyond amazing. It was exactly what my weary mind needed.
I am constantly reminded that if we keep our eyes open we see and experience the most beautiful things every day and everywhere.