Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween from le Chat Noir

What goes with pumpkins, ghosts, and witches? Black Cats, of course! No Halloween is complete with at least one. In case your house doesn't have one, here are a few of my favorite black cats - just to get you in a spooky mood! And remember, if one crosses your path you must turn around 13 times to avoid bad luck . . .

This black cat is part of a balcony railing at Chinqua-Penn Plantation:

This black cat used to live on our porch - until a neighbor's cat developed a crush on it. It now lives elsewhere (think feline protection program . . .) and is exposed to the elements, hence the kind of mangy look. Its eyes are marble and when backlit it can be a bit frightening!

Finally, the famous French Cat: Le Chat Noir. I don't know what's scarier - the yellow eyes or the ruffled fur . . . either way I would not recommend getting too close.

Hope your Halloween is the perfect blend of scary, cute, and candy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Yes, today is our wedding anniversary and when I ended my blog post yesterday I said we'd be in Scotland today . . . what I meant was we'd be there in spirit, not (sadly) in person. Sorry for the confusion, but thanks to all of you who sent Bon-Voyage wishes!

But, the reason for the Scottish connection today is that we were married in Scotland and can heartily recommend it. Here are a few things that made our special day special:

This quaich which was used for our wedding toast.

Our piper Iain who not only provided stirring music, but was a charming Master of Ceremonies.

Borthwick Castle - the perfect location for us. It was not snowy when were were there, but I love this picture . . .

And finally these sweet flowers. They're made of sugar and were part of our cake decoration - the colors have faded a bit and a few of the leaves have fallen, but overall they are in remarkable condition considering their age. I suppose one could make a comparison to us after nine years of marriage, but I think not . . .

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Garden Ideas . . .

Are you already thinking about what you'll plant in your garden next year? Or, maybe you're bogged down trying to find a non-hoochy Halloween costume for your child or yourself? Either way, I hope you'll enjoy a few more pics from Reynolda Gardens. These are things I'm going to keep in mind when I choose plants next spring . . .

Thanks for stopping by . . . tomorrow we're off to Scotland!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Things for People Who Don't Like Things

A sad little tale of being 'Foiled Again' . . .

About a year ago I purchased a small roll of recycled aluminum foil at the grocery store. It was one of those special items at the end of the aisle that was a special price for shoppers with a store card (this particular store's card has the same name as my middle name - which always seems like a bit of a cheery inside joke . . . but that's beside the point). The point is, this foil was decidedly inferior - thin and papery and not really up to the task of wrapping corn or potatoes for grilling. We used it for less strenuous tasks (in other words, tasks that didn't really require foil) and I was happy to see the end of the roll.

What is the probability that I would purchase another roll of recycled foil? Twenty to one? Less? Well, the chance that I would buy that same brand from the same grocery store is slim to none. However, when I saw a different brand that was labeled 'heavy duty' at one of my favorite kitchenware/gourmet grocery stores I reconsidered. It was an extra-long roll and was in a big display beside the line that leads to the checkout area - and (here's what really suckered me in) it was at a greatly reduced price. Cooler heads would have realized that the greatly reduced price was a clue, like a little friend whispering in your ear, "this item isn't worth full price, no one is buying it at full price," etc. But, when the shopper in front of me put three boxes in her basket I was caught up in the frenzy of the moment - looking back I wonder if she was a plant . . .
After all, recycling aluminum foil is a good idea and, like recycling itself, not a new one either. Didn't your grandmother have a drawer of recycled aluminum foil - carefully washed, flattened out, and folded? Perhaps stored with the bits of string and paper bags? So the idea of recycled foil is a good one, but the two products I've tried are lousy. This new, improved foil is still papery and tears if you aren't careful when you fold it. It doesn't, however, tear at all when you're trying to get it out of the box - hence the frustration that led me to throw the box in the photo on the floor (I should state here that I am not normally a person who throw things in anger . . . well, throwing things at the deer when they're eating my hydrangea doesn't count!). And as for the box, it's flimsy so that when you grip it in your struggle to tear off a piece of foil, it collapses in your hand. So, I cannot recommend recycled foil to people who like foil or who like the environment - it can't be good to waste half a roll due to tears and flimsiness.
Last week I noticed that Reynolds Wrap now makes recycled foil . . . I wonder if the third time's the charm?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Has the Cutest Hat in the Garden Today?

In our garden this fall, we're going back to basics with head coverings in natural, subdued colors: Honey Yellow, Iron, Creme Brulee, Rust, Sand, and Coffee. These mushroom clusters that sprang up overnight are bucking the puffy, rounded trend with these flat, taupe caps. I detect a slight Asian influence.

On the other side of the yard, these Sawtooth Oak Acorns have opted for frilly caps rather than the boring smooth traditional ones worn by the hundreds of other acorns in the garden. While these definitely have more panache, they don't seem to fit as well as the older style. Will this trend catch on? Only time will tell . . . but, if UGG boots can become popular anything is possible.

If you'd like to see what colors are in for people this year, consult the Pantone Color Report. Yes, the people who know what color exactly matches your company's logo have now moved into the world of fashion and design. As for me, I'm eagerly awaiting April to see what fashions are on for Spring!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who's First in the Poets' Corner? Hint: It's Not the Wife of Bath!

While there may be other Poets' Corners, I'm referring to the one in Westminster Abbey - the final resting place of many of England's writers, poets, and playwrights. And who was the first person buried there? Geoffrey Chaucer - whose body had been originally buried elsewhere in the Abbey. Today is the anniversary of his death - October 25, 1400. Generally acknowledged as the Father of English Literature (or poetry), his most famous work 'The Canterbury Tales' continues to delight. Ask any alumae of my alma mater about The Tales and you will get a recitation of the prologue - at least the first few lines. For more than a century, all freshmen have learned those lines and for some inexplicable reason they stick with you long after you've forgotten the bawdy Miller and the oft-wed Wife of Bath. The middle English pronunciation may be a bit Southern, but the idea is still there: sweet April showers pierce the March drought to the root, or root-uh, as we say . . .

If you've never been forced to read Chaucer, you've probably not read Chaucer. After all, most of us do not reach for an 850 line Medieval poem when we want some light reading. However, you can find a modern translation and you'll see that The Canterbury Tales has something for everyone. It's about a group of pilgrims who set out to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury and along the way they have a contest to see who can tell the best tale. The narrator's descriptions and pilgrims' tales are like a modern soap opera - murder, sex, intrigue, revenge, forgiveness, comic relief. And here's the brilliant part - more than 600 years later, you'll recognize the characters and situations. People don't change . . . and I think that's why we still like to read Chaucer.
So, here's to Geoffrey Chaucer on the anniversary of his death! I'm off to cook a meal that would please the Summoner - full of garlic and onions . . . hmmm, what would Chaucer say about that?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tom Swift Discovers Radium - What?!

Do you know Tom Swift? How about Tom Swiftie? Tom Swift is a fictional character created by Edward L. Stratemeyer in 1910. If you were ever a fan of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or the Bobbsey Twins, you've read Stratemeyer's work - he was a very industrious writer and publisher who had the clever idea to create series of books for boys and girls. And not just any books - books where kids were the heroes and had exciting adventures - a really novel idea at the time (sorry for the pun, but it's leading us to our main topic!). He outlined the plots and ghost writers did most of the actual writing. Tom Swift was the hero of over 100 books spanning nine decades. I confess I haven't read any of Tom's adventures, but my brother had some of the books in the series, although I think his favorite Stratemeyer characters were the Hardy Boys. I, too liked the Hardy Boys for a few years when Shaun Cassidy played the younger brother in the television series . . . but, that's another story.

But the Tom Swift books contained more than adventure - they were noted for a style of adverbial puns that have come to be known as Tom Swifties. The Tom Swift writers replaced the word 'said' in dialog with adverbs that related to the statement. As in "I hate milking cows," Tom uttered. Or the writers added the modifier after the word 'said', as in "I shall not leave you a penny when I die," said Tom willfully. As someone who really likes a good pun, I am a fan of Tom Swifties. While Tom is the standard speaker, sometimes another person is substituted to complete the joke. One of the best-known Tom Swifties falls into this group:

"Who discovered radium?" asked Marie curiously.

So, here are a few Tom Swifties - warning, one is a bit risque, but too funny to omit:

  • "Look out! A golf ball!" Tom forewarned.

  • "I can't believe my car was towed!" Tom expounded.

  • “I have a BA in social work,” said Tom with a degree of concern.

  • "My grape juice has fermented," Tom whined.

  • "I'm impotent," Tom said softly.

  • "I dropped my toothpaste," Tom said crestfallen.

  • “Hallelujah,” Tom said handily.

  • “I’ve struck oil!” said Tom crudely.

  • “May I introduce the family Stone?” Tom asked slyly.

  • “This is mutiny!” said Tom bountifully.

  • "I was caught stealing in Iran", said Tom offhandedly.

  • "Y'all I'm leavin'", said Dolly, partin'.

  • "It's 9:59", said Tom pretentiously.
  • "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", said Clark Gable rhetorically.

"If you liked these Tom Swifties, try writing some of your own," said Leah authoritatively. (Must stop myself from more sentences like that - so, good-bye!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

There's Nothing Neutral About This Chard!

The Swiss are noted for their neutrality, but this Swiss Chard is anything but neutral. Its bright stems practically scream for attention. This is one of my favorite winter plants; here's a 'Ruby Red' that I just bought to use in a container by the front door.

And here's a lovely one from the Reynolda gardens that's ready to harvest:

Of course, Swiss Chard isn't just for show - it's yummy, too! It's great in winter soups and also prepared any way you would prepare spinach or kale. Here's a great recipe from Rachael Ray that is easy and delish:

Swiss Chard and Golden Raisins
Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 15 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 6 servings

2 1/2 pounds (the average weight of 2 bundles) red Swiss chard
1 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/2 turns around the pan in a slow stream) extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 pound, 2 slices, pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 small yellow skinned onion, chopped
1/4 cup (2 handfuls) golden raisins
14 ounces chicken stock or broth
Coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, a couple pinches ground or equivalent of freshly grated

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Coarsely chop the greens of clean red chard. Add oil, pancetta, and chopped onion to the pan and cook 2 or 3 minutes until onions begin to soften and pancetta is lightly browned. Add chopped chard to pan in large bunches, adding remaining chard as the greens wilt.
Sprinkle in raisins, pour in broth and season with salt and nutmeg. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer greens 10 to 15 minutes until greens are no longer bitter and you are ready to serve. Raisins will plump as the dish cooks through.

Leah's Note: I omit the salt as the pancetta/bacon and broth make it salty enough!

I'm off to pot my Swiss Chard! Stop by tomorrow for a message from Tom Swift . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sick People - Share the Love, Not the Germs!

According to the Center for Disease Control's FluView, 41 states have widespread influenza activity and the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) is above the epidemic threshold. While the 6 o'clock news may be wrong to hype this as a pandemic, it is serious. So, what can you do? No, this isn't a discussion about the merits of vaccination - I'm not your doctor or your mother so I'm not chiming in on that topic. But, as a member of the population at large I do have some advice: Stay Home When You're Sick!

It sounds so simple, but apparently it's not. Over the past few weeks I've been bombarded with questions about 'flu etiquette' and stories about the rude sick people who have been spreading their germs in pubic places. So here's the answer and it's really simple - put on your 'good citizen hat' and think about how many people you're exposing to your illness by going to public places, then decide to stay at home. That's it - it's not rocket science. It's third grade common sense. It isn't new advice, either. Check out this poster from the 1918 influenza epidemic (from the State Library of NC):

Most companies discourage employees coming to work while sick and yet there are always those people who think they have to drag themselves in coughing and sneezing . . . and for what? To show how dedicated you are? Because you blew all your sick time on 'mental health days'? You don't want to use your paid time off for sick days when you could save it for vacation? Or, you really think the company will fail if you're out for a few days? None of these reasons is valid for the H1N1 virus, so please do us (and yourself) a favor and stay away. And bosses - don't just say you want employees to miss work if they're sick, and then use some passive aggressive tactics to show your displeasure when they return. Plan ahead because it's inevitable that your company will be affected by this before the season is over and if you think your employees will take advantage, then consider hiring less devious people.

On a less rant-y note - I've had lots of questions about handshakes during flu season. Is it okay to have a No Handshake Policy? Yes, that's a great way to avoid germs and in fact is becoming quite the norm. Yesterday someone even asked what I thought about replacing the handshake with a fist bump . . . personally, I think the fist bump is about as adult as the pinky handshake or high five. So why not just omit the handshake and leave it at that.

If you want more details about H1N1, visit the CDC website (where you'll notice they recommend coughing and sneezing into a tissue and not your sleeve which is what one of our local news stations recommends - Yuck!). Stay well!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monet's Not the Only One With Water Lilies!

Who doesn't love water in the garden? And what's better than combining water with plants as in this simple water garden at Reynolda Gardens in Winston-Salem, NC.

Reynolda Gardens are open to the public with no admission fee - if you worked in the area you'd have a wonderful spot for lunch on sunny days! Originally designed in 1917 for the Reynolds family (of R. J. Reynold tobacco fame), the gardens were simplified in the 30s and donated to Wake Forest University in 1961.
I've visited Reynolda twice in recent weeks and here are my favorite pics of the water garden.

I'll have more snapshots of these lovely gardens over the next week. I'd love to hear about your favorite public gardens!

Monday, October 19, 2009

What's Cheery in the Garden Today?

Peppers! Our pepper plants are laden with peppers now, but this is our first two-tone.

You might remember the half-red, half-green apple from England, well, here's the pepper version. Sadly, this isn't a rarity like the apple. This pepper was partially hidden from the sun (and us) and the result is this great autumnal color combo. It's going to make the ultimate sacrifice and become part of a yummy pizza tonight, but not before it takes its place in history with another famous Pepper:

How appropriate for our psychedelic pepper to meet the original psychedelic pepper . . . I think he blends right in!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Who Doesn't Love a Ham & Cheese Sandwich?

There are so many great sandwiches, but Ham & Cheese may be the best-loved. After all, look at the classic variations: Croque-Monsieur and Croque-Madame (which are famous enough to have their own Wikipedia page!), Monte Cristo which makes me think of my college suitemate who ate one almost every Sunday at the restaurant where her boyfriend worked, and the Hot Brown which was featured on an episode of Throwdown! with Bobby Flay.

Croque-Monsieur and Croque-Madame are served in restaurants throughout Europe and are a safe bet when the menu is in a language you can't read! The Monte Cristo was apparently first served at Disney Land in 1967 at the Blue Bayou restaurant where it remains a favorite; it is now served at restaurants across the country. Hot Browns were created by the Brown Hotel in the 1920s and are sometimes made with turkey or turkey and ham. I originally had Hot Browns made only with ham and that's why I'm including them in my 'ham and cheese' list. You can find recipes for all these online from your favorite chefs.

If you're in the mood for a new sandwich, try our favorite ham and cheese:

These are appetizer-sized, but they're also good as a full-sized sandwich. These look a little wonky because they needed frilly picks to stabilize them . . . but, you get the general idea. Here's how they're made:

The Bread: pimento cheese rolls, split and toasted (any type of roll will do)

The Spread: a mixture of orange marmalade and pepper jelly, to taste (we like it a bit spicy)

The Fillings: shaved ham (Black Forest or pepper ham is a good choice), thin slices of white or yellow sharp cheddar, thin slices of apple with peel (something crisp and a little tart like Honeycrisp), and lettuce.

The Result: delish! A little smoky ham, a little sweet/peppery jam, some sharp cheese, and the crunchy apple . . . I'm getting hungry just typing this. Pair this with a cup of tomato soup and you have a great lunch or dinner. I'd love to hear about your favorite ham and cheese!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two Fun Things from the Web!

May I share two fun freebies from the internet? The first you've just seen - the beautiful 'M' Drop Cap. As you may know, drop caps are large, decorative letters used at the beginning of paragraphs (think of the illuminated letters created by Monks). This 'M' comes to you courtesy the Daily Drop Cap which is a project by designer Jessica Hische. Each day she gives us a new letter in drop cap form - that can be used on your blog or website. What a great thing! Check it out - you'll find at least one letter than you can't live without . . .

Next let's go over to ArtDaily. In addition to an overview of the news from the art world, ArtDaily has two great jigsaw puzzles, plus a word search, each day on their site (scroll to the bottom of the page - below the daily photos). Of course their puzzles have an art theme and are a fun way to spend a few minutes. These jigsaw puzzles are a step-up from the real kind because you don't have to take the pieces out of the box or turn them over! Also, each piece has the correct orientation, no turning pieces around to figure out which way is up. The best thing, though, is the link to the software that creates the puzzles. You can download a trial version of Jigsaw Puzzle which lets you create puzzles from your own photos. Once created, the puzzles can be used electronically just like the ones from ArtDaily. You'll enjoy seeing how tricky your own photographs can be when they're cut into small shapes and scattered over the page . . .

Thanks for stopping by - have a great Saturday!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday in the Garden: The Good, The Bad, & The Scary

The Good
A camellia purchased on a whim last November, kept in the original container all winter, planted in March, denuded in May (need I even name the culprits?!), and babied all summer has its first blooms! What a great surprise as I wasn't expecting blooms this early. The bush is full of buds, so hopefully there will be weeks of beautiful flowers. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of this variety . . . maybe I'll pay a visit to the nursery where it was purchased and see if they can help.

The Bad

Bunches of young lettuce planted way too close together. So, the bad thing here is the gardener! We've been planting lettuce seeds in two week intervals in hopes of a long harvest season. However, when I planted the last seeds a big gust of wind blew the seeds out of my hand and they landed in a pile which I was unable to disseminate. You guessed it, when they sprouted they were too close together - way too close together. I have been reluctant to thin them as the seeds were from a mixed packet so there are several different types of lettuce and thinning them will require throwing away several types. Now they're all jumbled up and it's probably too late to separate them . . . it's sad when bad gardeners happen to good plants.

The Scary (no photo included for reasons that will become obvious)

A squirrel's tail. No, not a tale about a cute squirrel who lives in a cozy hollowed out tree and wears a vest and hat. Rather, a tail that used to be attached to a squirrel. Left in our yard by someone's cat. Yuck! Why can't cats either: 1) stop hunting and stick to chasing yarn balls, or, 2) take their bounty back to their own yards? I know gardeners shouldn't be squeamish, after all there are some pretty disgusting things in the compost pile, but I am squeamish and I don't like finding these little 'gifts' in my flower beds. Luckily my husband doesn't mind removing the moles, mice, voles, etc. that mysteriously appear. We have an agreed-upon division of labor - I weed, he removes all dead and/or yucky things! What a great plan . . .

Here's hoping your garden brings only good thing this weekend!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Window Shopping

Did you ever dream about owning a little shop? Maybe an antique store that sells primitive furniture or Art Deco furnishings? Or wonderful stationery with custom-designed letterpress invitations and classic calling cards? Or maybe an old-fashioned dress shop with comfy fitting rooms that have flattering lighting? I would love to own a cute little shop - I'm not even picky, it can specialize in books, antiques, housewares . . . it doesn't matter, the idea is just appealing. But, it's like the appeal of owning a Bed & Breakfast - even in an unrealistic moment you know the fun parts are 10% and the drudge parts are 90%. So, you have to really love it for it to work and I don't think I would - so it wouldn't.

Having said that, it's still a fun daydream and I am always very impressed when I see a good window display. It makes me think "that's the kind of shop window I would have" - which is the great thing about daydreams, you can believe you would have enchanting displays when in reality they would be very pedestrian. Recently I saw two charming windows and I hope you will like them, too.

This one is a small shop in Reynolda Village in Winston-Salem, NC. Not only is the stone work stunning, but the Tiffany-blue boxes mixed with the white cake stands is amazing. Doesn't this look like a place where you could happily spend an afternoon?

This window with the teapots is in Old Salem - the shop with the pumpkins featured here a few days ago. I like the simplicity of this - and also the symmetry. As the holidays approach, there will be lots of opportunities for window shopping . . . I'm ready, are you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vintage Monograms for the Table

Yes, we're talking about monograms - again! Reese Witherspoon is famous for her love of monograms. This quote sums up her philosophy on them:

"My sheets are monogrammed, so is my silverware and pretty much everything else I own. My rule is, if it's not moving, monogram it."

We'll assume that was a tongue-in-cheek comment . . . but, it brings us to our topic of monograms for the table. While it is possible to buy new monogrammed china, flatware, acrylic serving pieces, linens, etc., vintage monogrammed items often have much more charm. Most new monograms are simply three letters side by side whereas in a true monogram the letters intertwine. For obvious reasons, it is rare to find someone who can create these intricate designs today - and the cost would be prohibitive. Enter vintage monograms!

Take a look at this beautiful salad plate. It's around 100 years old and has a hand-painted monogram. The letters are SAS, presumably with 'A' being the initial of the owner's surname. This is part of a set of 6 that I purchased at a local shop for less than $25 - all are in perfect condition. What a deal - of course, these are not my initials, not even one letter! But, that's the great thing about vintage monograms, they work regardless of the initials. And if these were a family heirloom there's a strong chance the initials would not match mine anyway. Here's a closer look at the initials - see how the letters loop around each other?

How about the monogram on the sterling salt spoon below?

I enlarged it a great deal so you can see the intricacy - it's impossible to decipher. There are four letters, maybe even three Ms and an N - perhaps the original owner's name was something like Mary Margaret Newcombe Mason? Keep in mind that the whole salt spoon is around four inches so these letters are very small. The point is, it's a lovely item with a hand-engraved monogram. New silver usually has machine monograms and they just don't have the warmth and creativity of the old hand-engraved pieces. And, monogrammed items like these plates and silver are much less expensive than their unmonogrammed counterparts. The same goes for table linens.

Often monograms on linen were created by the owner. This damask cloth is a perfect example; you can tell the embroiderer was an amateur, but it's still lovely. Monogram patterns were available for the home stitcher and a large number of monogrammed items were created by young brides and matrons alike. The result for us is a ready supply of antique monogrammed linens - with a little patience you can even find your own monogram on eBay. If we didn't have electronic diversions today, perhaps we'd all be monogramming napkins or sheets right now? Oh well . . . no need to unplug, you can create a beautiful table with vintage monograms and you don't need a thimble or needle.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Colonial Pumpkins

Pumpkins are the ultimate autumn decoration - they add a splash of color, come in all sizes and quite a few shapes, and work with any type of home. On a recent visit to Old Salem, we took these photos of the pumpkins that are decorating this 18th century village this October.

The simple Moravian architecture is a great backdrop for the bright pumpkins.

These pumpkins were possibly grown in one of the large gardens in town, and perhaps their seeds will be planted next year in the same garden . . .

To learn more about Old Salem or the fabulous MESDA, check out their website.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Three R's I Loved This Summer - Part Three, Rocket!

Yes, I said Rocket! Although 2009 was the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing (!), I'm talking about the edible rocket, not the Eagle or Apollo. Rocket is another name for arugula - that leafy almost-lettuce that is soooo yummy.

Arugula was a salad and sandwich staple at our house this summer - and we're having it tonight in one of our favorite salads. This salad is so easy because the greens are all arugula and the dressing is a warm lemongrass and pecan vinaigrette that comes together in about 5 minutes.

If you have not tried lemongrass, you're in for a treat. It is the long stalky thing below and you peel away the outer leaves until you reach the soft center. Then dice and use . . . it has a lovely lemon taste without being tart (no sweetener needed to offset it).

Rocket Salad with Lemongrass Pecans - adapted from Simply Ming


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/2 to 1 cup pecans halves or pieces
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I use the stoneground Dijon)
1/4 cup naturally brewed rice vinegar
1/4 pound arugula, washed and spun dry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


In a large saute pan over med-high heat, add EVOO and pecans. Saute to toast for 1 minute, add lemongrass, shallot, and mustard. Toss a few times. Deglaze with rice vinegar. Whisk together, add salt and pepper to taste. Pour hot vinaigrette over arugula in heat-proof salad bowl. Toss gently and serve.

This salad is so delish - and pretty. It's perfect for a first course when you're serving soup or stew as the main dish. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Three R's I Loved This Summer: Part Two - Re-reading

It is the best of things, it is the worst of things . . . with apologies to Dickens, I'm talking about re-reading favorite books. It can be the best when it's like seeing an old friend and the conversation picks up as if you spoke yesterday. But, it can also be the worst because a book once loved may now disappoint, leaving you to skim and skip your way to the end. For some reason, I found myself in a re-reading mood this summer. I usually read one Jane Austen novel again during the summer and perhaps one other fiction favorite, but this summer I read nothing new. I'm sure that says something about me, but perhaps I'd rather not know what . . .

As a child, I liked to re-read books and my mother and grandmother were always trying to point out other options at the library. My grandmother especially tried to lure me to Black Beauty or Robinson Crusoe, but they were no match for biographies of George Washington and Florence Nightingale or the adventures of the titian-haired girl sleuth, Nancy Drew. But, the book I read most often was An Illustrated Guide to Ghosts & Mysterious Occurrences in The Old North State. I can't begin to guess how many times I checked it out - I never got tired of the eerie black and white photos of Lydia the ghost girl who haunts lonely roadsides trying to get home or Dromgoogle Castle with its blood-stained rock or the ghost organ that plays strange tunes in an empty church. A few years ago I saw a copy of this book in a local antique store and purchased it. This was a case of an old favorite that now disappoints - as I'm sure anyone else would have guessed. The stories and photos no longer thrill, but it was fun to see the book one more time - and now I'm ready to let it go. Perhaps eBay?

But this summer I was happy to re-read lots of fiction, from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie to Tolstoy and David McCullough. Some books, like Vanity Fair and Tess of the d'Urbervilles I hadn't read since college and remembered only the bare outlines. Others, like Beverley Nichols' Merry Hill trilogy were very familiar, yet still made me laugh out loud as Our Rose and Miss Mint nosed their way into Nichols' garden and life. Now summer's over and I'm ready to make some new friends and am moving on to new books - first up is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I'll let you know if it's a keeper.

What are your favorite books to read again and again?

"If you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs." — Anne Fadiman

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Three R's I Loved This Summer: Part One - Rose-Colored Glasses

As you can see, I'm not talking about the rose-colored eyeglasses that make the world seem cheerier than it is - I'm talking about drinking glasses that are rose tinted. We inherited a large, if incomplete, set of these from a relative who was married in 1912. We assume these were a wedding gift, which makes them almost a century old. They are quite thin and a bit fragile which accounts for the 'flea bites' on several of the rims. Consequently, we have only used them a few times.

Early this summer, however, we decided to use these to serve a champagne punch for a get-together with some friends and we liked them so much we've used them all summer - almost daily, in fact. I'm definitely in the 'use your china, crystal, silver, etc. camp' rather than the 'save it so it stays pristine' camp. For me, having things displayed or packed away so they won't be damaged really misses the point - most of the joy comes from use. And, no, they won't look brand new, but you will have great memories of using them and the sterling items will actually take on a much prettier patina. So, I'm not sure why we haven't used these glasses more in the past - perhaps because they are so old - and because pink stemware doesn't 'go' with every table setting! Regardless, I'm pleased that we unpacked them and enjoyed them all summer.

Here's the champagne punch that started it all. It's really pretty and would be great for a shower or brunch, or a warm afternoon on the porch or patio - in your favorite glass, of course!

Champagne Punch (from April 2009 Southern Living)


1 cup lemon-lime soft drink, chilled
1 cup assorted berries (I use all raspberries)
1 (6-oz.) can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint or basil leaves, torn
1 (750-milliliter) bottle sparkling white wine or Champagne, chilled


Combine first 4 ingredients in a large pitcher. Gently stir in sparkling wine. Serve immediately.

For Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Fruit Refresher: Substitute 3 (12-oz.) cans orange-flavored sparkling water, chilled, for sparkling white wine. Proceed with recipe as directed.

Blogger's Note: No stemware was damaged during filming.

Friday, October 9, 2009

One Last Look at Chinqua-Penn - The Gardens!

Well, I'm back home after a really fun conference that included: lots of candy corn, a really sensitive wireless microphone, hours of standing and walking, a bustling trade show, lots of friendly faces, and tired feet from the aforementioned standing and walking.

To round out the week, here are a few more more snapshots from Chinqua-Penn. The gardens are not of the rare botanicals variety, but they are lovely and in keeping with the house (don't you love the massed containers in the photo above?). They make a wonderful backdrop for weddings and other special occasions. If you're interested in visiting, check their website for upcoming events, like the Great Gatsby weekend or outdoor concert series.

There are several large Osmanthus trees in the gardens. They were in full bloom and their wonderful scent wafted through the gardens and the open windows and doors of the house.

Interesting containers filled with ordinary plants, like this asparagus fern (which isn't a fern at all), add great color and interest to walls, steps, and patios.

The walkway leading to the house carries you through a wooded area complete with water features and unexpected plants and statuary.

One of the features for which Chinqua-Penn is noted is the pagoda. The Penns were inspired by pagodas they visited on trips to China and hired the New York architectural firm Harry C. Ingles to build one based on authentic designs. It served as a pool house and is located by the large swimming pool. Both the pool and pagoda are closed for refurbishment (and the pagoda has a large metal cover protecting it), but you can glimpse the lovely red roof and outline of the pagoda in this photo taken from the wooded area.

Once it's restored, this will be an even lovlier vantage point as the pagoda is filled with Rangoon temple bells that chime with the passing breeze. What a tranquil setting - the dappled light, lush plants, flowing water, and the tinkle of the bells . . . I'll leave you on this peaceful note.

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