Monday, August 31, 2009

Day Two: Five Books Every House Needs

The big yellow Gourmet Cookbook is my second book choice. It's the best of 60 years of Gourmet magazine, as edited by Ruth Reichl. After years of devouring the magazine, I've become disenchanted with Gourmet in the past few years. To me, it seems dark and broody - not broody in the British biological-clock sense, but broody in the Edgar Allen Poe sense. The cookbook, however, is a masterpiece. Stumped for menus for the week? Flip through the pages of this big (1,000+ pages) book and you're sure to find something that's appealing.

It's filled with old classics like Chicken Kiev and new choices like Thai Sticky Rice with Toasted Coconut and Fried Shallots, plus cook's notes, tips and techniques, and interesting background details (for instance, did you know Tripe is bleached to make it more appealing?). You could cook for a lifetime with only this cookbook.

In my copy, one of the bookmarks is always in the salads section, vinaigrette pages. Here's one of our staples from page 171:

Lime Molasses Vinaigrette (great on mixed greens or chicken and/or rice)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco (we use Texas Pete instead)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 scallion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of ground allspice

Whisk together lime juice, molasses, Tabasco, and salt in a bowl. Combine oil, scallion, cumin, and allspice in a small skillet and heat over moderate heat, stirring until sizzling. Add to lime mixture in a slow stream, whisking until well blended. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yes, this dressing is a little more work than just whisking a basic vinaigrette, but it's worth it. And you'll likely have enough for a second meal. While we're on the topic of salad dressings, one of the most-used items in my kitchen is also in the photo - my Chef 'n Salad Dressing Emulsifier. It's less than $15 at Williams-Sonoma and is great for measuring, mixing, storing, and serving. Whenever you whisk up dressing, there's almost always extra (especially if you're cooking for one or two). This is the perfect way to store the leftover dressing and you can simply hold the jar until a warm tap for a minute to bring the refrigerated dressing to serving temperature, then use the built-in whisker to give it a quick blend.

That's it for Book Two - stay tuned for Book Three tomorrow. In the meantime, happy cooking!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Day One: Five Books Every House Needs

I am a self-confessed bibliophile; therefore, my list of books everyone should read, or own, is possibly longer than necessary. But there are a few books that I think everyone will be happy to spend a few hours, or perhaps years, reading. You can think of my list of five as sort of a 'minimal sufficiency' (if you're a statistician, apologies in advance for mis-using the term). If you have these books in your home library, you'll always be able to find an answer or inspiration.

Book One - Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson

What a wonderful book! Mendelson sets the tone in the preface:

"When you keep house, you use your head, your heart, and your hands together to create a home - the place where you live the most important part of your private life. Housekeeping is an art . . . It is also a science . . ."

Mendelson is an attorney and professor who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. She writes in an entertaining style and obviously loves her subject. The book combines insights, history, and step-by-step instructions for all aspects of housekeeping - it's a great read and reference for both novices and experts. It will become your go-to book when you have a pesky carpet stain or buy a new piano or wonder what laws apply to you at home. But, it's more than just a reference; it shows how every member of your household will benefit by certain routines (like sharing meals), why a few minutes tidying up before you go to work will greatly increase your sense of well-being when you come home, why your grandmothers may have been right to air the beds outside, and much more.

I've had my copy for almost 10 years and in addition to reading it cover-to-cover (it's that good, but then I also like to read cookbooks . . .) it's an invaluable reference and it makes an outstanding house warming or shower gift. One of the many things that caught my attention when I first read Home Comforts was Mendelson's discussions about dish towels. At the time I was a frequent business traveler and started buying lots of dish towels to bring home. As our 19th-century kitchen does not have a dish washer (we opted for storage instead!) we use lots of dish towels so I don't feel like it's a total splurge to add yet another to my stash.

If you've made it this far in my long post, I owe it to you not to drone on and on about the joys of dish towels, but honestly they are fun. Cotton and linen are the best - they absorb the most and don't leave lint and there are so many designs - for a while I was focusing on teapots, maps, and calendars. See the Spaghetti one in the bottom corner? A friend brought it to me from Italy recently and it's really nice for two reasons (besides the fact that someone took the trouble to buy it and bring it back): 1) it was purchased from the embroiderer and, 2) the design is on one side rather than the middle - so you don't have to fold it in thirds. The needlework is really amazing, here's a peep at the back:

So that's the story of the first book recommendation, plus some of the reasons that I am hooked on dish towels. If you want to add to your stash of towels, online auctions and tag sales are a great source. Look for vintage Ulster Linens that still have the tags on, or embroidered towels with your initials, or touristy ones from places you've visited . . . well, you get the idea!

Check back tomorrow for Book Two.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tea and Chocolate

Do you ever worry about things that will probably never happen? Like how to escape if you're chased by a pack of wild dogs? Or how to cut the seat belt with that little tool you keep in the glove compartment if your car starts to sink during a flash flood? Or if your butler can only bring you one thing on a silver salver, should you pick tea or chocolate? These are the things that keep us awake at night, but no need to fret over the last scenario. You can simply choose a tea-flavored chocolate like this Dark Chocolate with Earl Grey.

I'm not a fan of chocolate flavored teas, but foods made with chocolate are another story. This Belgian bar is a dreamy combination of Chocolate Noir and Earl Grey tea. Even if Earl Grey is on the bottom of your favorite tea list, you will love this chocolate. There are lots of chocolates flavored with tea - so check out the chocolate selection at your local gourmet shop or grocery store (or even Target) and give them a try. Then you can check one thing off your worry list.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Searching for a Pith Helmet

September is almost here - I can prove it because we are being bombarded with hickory nuts! It's dangerous to step outside our back door as they are falling onto the deck constantly - hence the need for a pith helmet. Maybe I'll get this one that's on sale at The J. Peterman Company.
J. Peterman says their helmet can protect you while birding or gardening - I think they should add stepping innocently out the back door. Despite their small size, hickory nuts are dangerous. Every afternoon I sweep off the day's nuts and while I'm sweeping, more are falling around me and sometimes, on me, and they're really, really hard. Not too hard for the squirrels (of course!) who manage to chew off small bits and drop those all over the deck, too. See the debris from today? Plus, over the weekend I wanted to quickly open the door to yell at some deer and a hickory nut wedged itself under the door so it wouldn't open or close. The deer ran away while I tugged and tugged on the door. On the bright side though - that particular hickory nut prevented me from yelling at the deer (again!) like a fish wife. It's so sad to realize you become Wile E. Coyote whenever you see the local deer grazing through your garden and yard - if I had the Acme Catalog rather than J. Peterman's, I would not be able to type this now because I'd either be anvil-shaped or totally blown up . . .
But wait . . . a plan is hatching. We could move the hickory tree so the nuts are above the tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers - then when the deer sneak in for dinner they'll be bombarded! Hmmm, I'll have to think about this. Meanwhile, don't walk under ladders or hickory trees.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's Tasty 'Round Here? Sweet Potato Fries

Why are sweet potatoes, and especially sweet potato fries, so popular now? Because they're packed with nutrients? Because here in North Carolina they're the State Vegetable? Because they're almost foolproof for busy cooks? No, the reason is probably because they're delicious.

And here's an easy way to serve them at home. This baked version will not have the crunch of deep-fried fries, but it's really yummy and healthy, too. If you've tried baking sweet potatoes cut into the normal french fry shape, you know they're a bit tricky to flip - and if you don't flip they only brown on one side. Here's a better shape - cut the potato into rounds (about 1/2" thick). Toss them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and some spices - last night I used cumin and cayenne pepper but fresh rosemary is also great. (It really only takes a small amount of oil - they don't have to be totally coated, in fact, they're better if not completed coated.)
Bake for 15-20 minutes at 425 - turning once as they brown. As is true with all baked items, the more you spread them out the crunchier/browner they will be. I usually bake them on a cookie sheet (i.e., flat, rimless). Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do You Zig-Zag When You Eat?

If you're American, the answer is likely 'yes'. Zig-zag refers to the American style of dining - when you shift the fork to your left hand while cutting with the knife in the right hand. Of course, then you place the knife back on the plate and shift the fork back to the right hand. This is the correct way in the US. The other often-seen method is called Continental, as in the Continent (Europe). There are slight differences in Continental dining in various countries, but, these nuances aside, the basic way is to hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. And when I say 'hold', I mean through the whole meal - none of the American-style hands in the lap between bites.

I'm often asked which way is correct and the answer is either way. Today I want to talk just a bit about the American/Zig-Zag style, as that's how most of us eat. What do we need to know when using this style? Based on the dining questions I'm asked most often, here are some guidelines:
  • Don't butter a whole piece of bread and bite it. Break one bite at a time and butter it - put the butter knife down and eat it. Repeat. I think biscuits are the exception, especially when they're hot. However, you are not likely to encounter biscuits in a formal dining situation.

  • Put your knife down when not cutting - it's not a pointer or (gasp!) a fork. Place it across the top of your plate when not in use - if you never use it, leave it on the table.

  • Once a piece of flatware is used, do not put it on the table. (Remember this when dining at someone's home - the person who launders the tablecloth will thank you. If dining in a casual restaurant you may have to break this rule - don't you hate it when the wait person says, "keep your fork"?)

  • It's correct to drink from a soup bowl. However, if you're on an interview and you think the recruiter doesn't know this rule - stick to the spoon!

  • If you need to leave the table simply say "please excuse me" and put your napkin in your chair. In many nice restaurants, the wait staff will refold your napkin and place it on the back of your chair. (People often ask what they should do if there is a big blob of food in their napkin - in this case you have a bigger problem . . . watch for future posts about inedible items.)

  • Do not talk while eating (your Mother was right!). Try eating in front of a mirror and you'll see how unappealing this is. As a side note: 'talking with your mouth full' is often at the top of the list of reasons not to have a second date/turn-offs on first dates on dating surveys.

  • It's okay to put your elbows on the table between courses (your Mother was wrong!?) While actively eating, however, it's still not a good idea.

  • Cut one bite of meat at a time. Only toddlers whose mommies are cutting their food should have a plateful of bite-sized meat.

Stay tuned for more dining etiquette discussions.

To close, now that our kitchen garden is totally surrounded by plastic poultry mesh (formerly not plastic and known as chicken wire), the peppers are taking off, last night we had them on pizza and in salads - yum! They taste great, but are all slightly wonky - perhaps from the early summer deer trauma? Hope your garden is thriving . . .

Monday, August 24, 2009

Starting the Week with Fresh Figs

A neighbor just shared some fresh figs and I'm so excited. They need a day to ripen so for tonight I'll just consider how to eat them. Of course, just plain is always good, but I think I'll try a recipe I saw a few months ago that pairs sliced figs with gingered marscapone - does that sound yummy or what? I'll report back on the exact yumminess factor.

And tomorrow we'll be chatting about dining etiquette - the topic people ask about most . . .

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Try These Wicked Pickles

If you like pickles and you like spicy food - these are for you! They're called Wickles and they are crunchy, garlicky, hot and sweet. Here in North Carolina, they're sold at most grocery stores - independents and chains.

Several years ago while on vacation, we bought some similar pickles from a small, local pickle & preserve shop - they were called 'Fire and Ice' and had jalapenos and pineapple added to the cucumber slices. They were so delish, but it wasn't practical to ship them from the pickle shop every time we wanted a jar so the search began for a readily available spicy & sweet pickle. You know the rest - Wickles are now a staple at our house. They're great alone (of course) and fabulous in potato salad, sandwiches, and on burgers.

If you're talented enough to make your own, look for a great Fire and Ice-type recipe. You'll never go back to Bread & Butter again. Otherwise, look for Wickles and spice up those boring sandwiches. As for me, I'm off to watch the pickle episode of 'The Andy Griffith Show' . . . isn't that your favorite?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Vintage Handbags! The Caro-Nan Baskets

Are you familiar with Caro-Nan bags? These handpainted basket bags were made in the 1960s and 70s and sold in dress shops throughout the South (and maybe beyond?). My mother had a few Caro-Nans in the mid-70s and I had totally forgotten about them until I stumbled upon one on eBay. It brought back so many memories - they way things from your childhood can when you see or hear them for the first time in several decades. But, the bags aren't just nostalgic - they are also cute and practical. You can guess where this is headed - I found myself bidding on one, then another one, on eBay.

The Caro-Nan signature bag has buildings painted around the bottom - these are labeled with the names of real places in the towns where they were sold. My large bag was sold at a shop called 'Lady Jane' in Savannah, hence the Savannah landmarks: The Herb House, Colonial Dames House, Independence Presbyterian Church, etc.). It also features one of the cornerstones of 1970s crafting - decoupage. (Remember Mod Podge?) Many of the Caro-Nan bags also had a penny, from the current year, decoupaged on the top. I'm keeping an eye on eBay for one that has a penny from my birth year.

The bags have gingham linings and are very sturdy and roomy and are signed on the inside lid. There are bags featuring lots of different cities and towns, plus many other charming motifs (turtles, golf, tennis, flowers) - I'm sure there's one that's perfect for you! (And, in these lean times, these bags can be a great deal - much cheaper now than when they were new! Watch eBay for a few weeks and you'll see several in great shape for less than $30 - if you're not worried about the condition you may find one for under $10.)

I've used the 'Savannah' bag the whole summer and am using the 'Turtle' bag to store stationery in my office. I'd love to find out more about Caro-Nan, but there is very little information online. Was she a mom who painted purses as a sideline? Did she visit all the cities represented on her bags, maybe for signings? Did she start out to paint a bag for herself and end up with a successful business? We may never know, but we can enjoy her work.
If you're hooked on other vintage bags, I'd love to hear about them!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stock Up on Limes & Charcoal

That's right - limes and charcoal, plus chicken, tortillas, and black beans equals one yummy meal! (Actually two, maybe three, yummy meals.) Here's what we grilled this week:

I don't know which side of the Gas vs. Charcoal debate you're on, but as the picture shows, I'm a charcoal girl. (Use a chimney starter and you'll have hot coals in 20 minutes, every time - no smelly lighter fluid or weird, coated charcoal needed!) If you're a fan of Hank Hill's 'Lady Propane', just use your gas grill . . .

Here's our favorite Tex-Mex Chicken Marinade:

1/2 cup lime juice
1/3 cup EVOO
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon HOT paprika
2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Mix all in a (as they say on tv) zip-top bag. Marinate boneless, skinless chicken pieces for 1 hour or overnight (if using the large, pre-packaged breasts, cut into two or three smaller pieces for more marinated flavor and faster grilling). Grill on medium heat 10-15 minutes total. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing/serving. Use this time to grill your tortillas:

We made a tostada-ish dish with the grilled tortillas, fresh salsa, black beans, and sour cream. Served with grilled corn on the cob - it was a truly fabulous meal. The following night, we tossed the leftover, cold chicken onto salads (dressed with lime juice, EVOO, honey, dash of cumin, and salt/pepper) with a side of black bean quesadillas. As our remaining tomatoes have rotted on the vine, we did not have fresh salsa. Here's a trick though, to make bottled salsa taste almost like fresh - just add some chopped cilantro (it's what lots of Mexican restaurants do).

This post is getting a bit long, but I have to include our favorite refried bean recipe - it's so good (and healthy!) that we never eat refried beans in restaurants now. Try it once and you'll be hooked:

Queen Street Refried Black Beans

In a medium saucepan, saute these on med-high for 30 seconds:

1 teaspoon EVOO (not a typo, only a teaspoon)
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Add to garlic mixture:

2 (16 oz.) cans black beans, drained & rinsed
14 oz. chicken broth or stock

Bring to a boil, mash some of the beans with fork or potato masher. Reduce heat to low simmer and cook until thickened - stir and/or mash occasionally. It will take 20-30 minutes to cook to typicaly refried consistency. Beans will thicken a bit more as they cool. Once beans are in serving dish, squeeze lime juice over and stir.

Whew! Now you know what's for dinner here when we crave fresh, spicy Tex-Mex. Hope you'll fire up those grills this weekend and give it a try.

Leah's Grill Notes: If in doubt, use a meat thermometer to check grilled meats. Always oil the grill before using - put the grate over the heated coals for a few minutes, give it a quick swipe with your cleaning brush, then wipe with a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel (obviously, use tongs to hold the towel). When you're finished cooking, use your grill brush to give it a quick clean - you'll never have to do a heavy-duty cleaning if you do these steps. Also, don't forget to close the top & bottom vents to cool off the grill much faster and, more importantly, save the remaining charcoal. Finally, if using hardwood charcoal, remember it burns much faster and hotter!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dust Off Those Mirrors, People!

While having lunch recently with some friends, we noticed an older lady leaving the table next to us wearing a blouse with cut-outs. You know, cut-outs - areas where the fabric has been cut out. In this case, the holes were crescent moon shapes about 5 inches across covered with a flesh-covered net - exactly like they use in dance costumes. It was really disconcerting, especially the cut-outs in the breast area. I think she did not notice when she purchased the top - it was one of those busy prints with lots of colors/shapes/things going on. She didn't seem the type of 80 year old to wear a garment full of holes, or would-be holes.

This led us to a conversation about the Things People Wear and whether said people own a full-length mirror. This is not to say I have never made a fashion faux pas, or that my lunch companions are regulars on the local best dressed list. However, as hot weather seems to have a direct correlation with wardrobe mishaps - here are a few summer clothing facts that will let us all end the season on a high note.

  • A straight skirt will rise several inches when you sit down - plan accordingly

  • Sleeveless garments are not the smart choice if you have UADD*

  • 'Whale Tails' may be more trendy than VPL, but they're not more appealing

  • Unless you're incredibly fit, exposing your midriff is not a good idea (if you're not sure if you're lean enough for that outfit, chances are you're not and what's less sexy than a muffin top?)

  • The whole foot should fit on/in the sandal - nothing overhanging, please

  • Sandals/flip-flops draw attention to your feet, so don't forget the heel cream, nail polish, etc.

So, that's it really, just a few thoughts on summer fashions and a look at one famous summer outfit from The Seven Year Itch. Hope you enjoy the rest of your summer, while showing off your perfect pedicure in your well-fitting sandals, of course!

*Under Arm Dingle Dangle - enough said!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Enjoying Fresh Summer Fruit? You Need These!

Take a peek at these fruit knives . . . Mother of Pearl handles, Sterling Silver Ferrules (the little bands between the handles & blades), and rather worn plated blades.
No wonder Edwardians included a fruit course with most meals. Who could pass up a chance to use a fruit set like this one? Originally these knives had matching forks and probably serving pieces as well. This early 20th century set caught my eye, but is one of those charming vintage items that's just not practical due to the poor condition of the blades. On the bright side, though, they're beautiful and sometimes that's enough!

Must run - I'm off to eat an orange the gauche, 21st century way - with my hands . . .

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Too Much Cheerwine During 'Julie & Julia'?

No, this isn't a review of 'Julie & Julia' - although I highly recommend it. Enough has been written about it without me adding my opinion here. It's also not a review of Cheerwine - that classic North Carolina soft drink - although I also highly recommend it, and I don't even like soda. No, this is about something more fundamental - the need to "go" during a movie. I know, not exactly the most polite topic, but a universal one. Who hasn't washed down handfuls of popcorn with overpriced soda during the painfully long previews? The result is inevitable - you want to go, but don't want to miss a key moment in the film.

Your worries are over - now there's a website that tells you the best time to leave the theater. It even tells you how long you have before the next big kiss, car chase, etc. Check it out:, print it out, e-mail a reminder, or read what happens while you're taking care of things.

As for 'Julie & Julia', 42 minutes into the movie is your potty break - just after the lobster scene!

To close, in case you were worried, the NY Times reports that no lobsters were harmed during the filming of the movie - that's cool mist you see rising from the lobster pot & American Humane Assoc. reps monitored the filming.

Summer's Coming to an End . . .

Even though it's officially still summer, there is a bit of fall in the air. Just a tiny hint of the changing season - I love autumn and by mid-July I'm ready for summer to end. I can't wait for the cool, crisp, sunny fall days. Whether fall for you means football, leaf peeping, or a return to school schedules, here's how the local farmers are getting ready.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Monet's 1890 'Stacks of Wheat, End of Summer' from the Chicago Institute of Art

Sunday, August 16, 2009

5 Etiquette Questions That Can Be Answered 'Yes'*

  1. Is it rude to ask a friend how much she paid for something?

  2. When dining in a restaurant, is it rude to make or take a phone call at the table?

  3. Is it rude to end a relationship with a text message?

  4. Should you excuse yourself from the dinner table to blow your nose?

  5. Is it okay to tip your soup plate (or soup bowl) to access the last bit of soup?

*There are exceptions to all rules and in a few isolated cases these questions may be answered with a 'No' or 'Maybe'. Generally, these exceptions involve emergencies, crazy people, close friends/relatives, or all of the above.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer Goodness in a Bowl - aka Corn Salad!

There are two favorite recipes that I typically make only once a season. The first is peach pie and the second is corn salad. I'm not sure why I don't make these more often - we eat fresh peaches and corn almost daily during their peak, but grilling corn on the cob or slicing a ripe peach takes minutes, while the pie and salad are longer commitments (in terms of cooking and eating). Plus, the pie is so delicious (and usually eaten with vanilla ice cream) that one per season is really our household limit! Yesterday I made the corn salad - and it was as yummy as we remembered. (Try to ignore the giant parsley garnish in the photo . . . I obviously don't need a disclaimer stating that I'm not a professional food stylist!)

Here's the recipe, hope you enjoy it!

Corn Salad (recipe originally from Southern Living magazine, about 6 years ago)


· 3 c corn (6 ears)
· 1 large onion, chopped
· 1 bunch green onions, sliced
· 2 medium zucchini, peeled and chopped
· 1 red pepper, chopped
· 1 green pepper, chopped
· ¼ c minced parsley
· 1 clove garlic, minced
· ¼ t. salt
· 1/8 t pepper
· 2 t sugar
· 1 t cumin
· 2 t Dijon mustard
· ½ t hot sauce
· 2/3 cup vegetable oil
· 1/3 c white vinegar


1. Boil corn, covered, 8-10 minutes. Drain and cool.

2. Combine corn and next 6. Set aside.

3. Combine garlic and remaining ingredients. Stir well. Toss gently with vegetables.

4. Chill 8 hours.

Note: Increase the Cumin and/or Dijon for a zippier taste.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Three M's I Love This Summer

  1. Molton Brown's Vitamin Lip Saver - your lips will be as soft as a baby's . . . well, lips. The Lip Saver may seem a bit pricey, but the tube lasts much longer than you would expect as a tiny dab is enough. Use it before bed and awake with fabulous-feeling lips!

  2. Magazines! I've been reading more than my share of mags (new & vintage) this summer and am very sad to hear that Southern Accents is being closed by its owner, Time Inc. The NY Times and Forbes reported last week that the Sept/Oct issue of Southern Accents will be its last. The website will remain open so perhaps the magazine will return when the economy improves. Until then we'll always have the old issues . . .

  3. Mad Men!! What's not to love about this addictive series? Do you love it for the glamorous 1960s fashions or byzantine plots? The ubiquitous cocktails or the ubiquitous cigarettes? Or simply for Jon Hamm? (I wonder if he knows about Lip Saver?) Regardless, mark your calendar for the Season Three opener on Sunday, August 16. If you haven't seen the DVDs for Seasons 1 & 2, consider renting them - there are some wonderful special features about the events, locations, and costumes featured in the episodes. Happy viewing!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a teatray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!

Remember this crazy poem from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? The next time you invite friends over for tea, there are two ways to ensure it doesn't devolve into a rowdy free-for-all where one guest tries to stuff another into a teapot:

  1. Carefully vet your guest list - omit the Mad Hatters and March Hares, for they will inevitably be disruptive

  2. Don't leave the brewing to chance - have a timer on hand so each pot of tea is perfectly steeped (after all, even the most polite guest may become unruly when presented with a weak, watery cup of tea!)

You're on your own with the guests, but I can offer a suggestion on the tea:

Timers similar to this 3-4-5 minute one are widely available in tea shops, kitchen ware stores, and tea websites. Each person at the table may be brewing a different type of tea, but one timer will work for all. Plus, sand timers are just fun (and for those over 40, it may remind you of the old opening for 'Days of Our Lives' - which I never watched, but as it was a lunch-time favorite in the dorm parlors during my college days I remember the theme well). Enjoy!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why Do We Love Monograms?

Perhaps because they're traditional yet modern - and, let's not forget, profoundly personal. Today I want to talk a bit about the Couple Monogram. A couple monogram is a single monogram, usually consisting of three letters, that combines the initials of a husband and wife. (Sorry, but the couple monogram is technically used only by those who are married.)

Last week someone asked me a very simple question: for a couple's monogram, whose initial goes first? The answer is not as simple as the question - the rules for monograms have gone out the window and basically whatever you want to do is okay. Traditionally the husband's first initial was on the left, the shared surname initial in the center, and the wife's first initial on the right. Today, however, the norm is to put the wife's initial first. If there is not a single, shared surname you can place all four or five initials in the order that you choose. (I have actually seen a monogram that included the husband's first and last initials plus the wife's first and hyphenated maiden surname last initials! Wow, it was busy and confusing; perhaps we need a rule about this . . .) The only real rule though is that a couple should not use their couple's monogram until they are married. So, the earliest you could use it would be . . . ? If you said at the wedding reception, you are correct!

The good news for anyone looking for a great item that features a couple's monogram is that there are loads of cute items available. Here are a few of my favorites:

How happy would a couple be to receive these melamine plates from Neiman Marcus?

Or any of the great monogrammed items from Williams Sonoma, like these colorful glasses or a set of steak knives or even a branding iron to mark your steaks as they sizzle on the grill!

Or this framed monogram (that can include names, date, and occasion) from American Stationery? They also have lovely monogrammed coasters and tumblers. A word of warning about the tumblers, though. Once you see them, you're sure to want some for your next party or picnic!

Now you're ready to purchase the perfect shower, wedding, housewarming, or anniversary gift. Or maybe something for you and the person who's the other half of your couple's monogram!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Three Magic Words

Most first graders can tell you the 'Magic Words': Please and Thank You. Adults sometimes need a reminder of the importance of the magic words. Use them early and often and you can't go wrong.

As for the third word, etaerio, it's magic only for Scrabble players. It's the most likely seven-letter word (and you thought lots of vowels were bad . . .). Not sure of the definition? It's an aggregate fruit - like a blackberry or raspberry.

Thank you for dropping by my blog today. Please come again. I'm off to pick some etaerios!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Some Etiquette Quotes for Today

Good manners are, first of all, free.
----- Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners)

The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.
----- Oscar Wilde

Let common sense be your guide and graciousness your goal.
----- Kate Spade

Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
----- George Washington

And finally, something refreshing during the August heat:

Courtyard Fountains at Calhoun Mansion, Charleston, SC
(Don't miss the converging water in the center fountain!)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lettuce . . . and aprons

Here in Zone 7 the days have been pretty hot and humid, but fall is just around the corner and it's time to plant lettuce. We're planting a mesclun mix as we did in the spring, but also butterhead and iceberg (for those yummy, quick wedges). The packet of lettuce mix has 800 seeds and the idea is to plant repeatedly throughout the growing season - which for us may go until Thanksgiving. The other packets have only 200 seeds each - that should be enough for the two of us and all the neighborhood bunnies!

Under the seed packets you'll see my garden apron - perhaps the most useful 'tool' I have. Purchased at the Philadelphia Garden Show several years ago, it has become as much a requirement when I garden as my gloves. I keep my favorite Felco secateurs, gloves, garden ties, cable ties, and exacto knife in the pockets at all times and often add a bottle of water, sunscreen, lipgloss, seed packets, and other hand tools. The best part though is that dirt and mulch do not adhere to it the way they do to my clothes - I can actually garden without having clothes as dirty as Scarlett O'Hara's in the carrot scene (which is not to say I'm not otherwise mistaken for Vivien Leigh . . .). Consider adding a garden apron to your wardrobe or, even better, plan to visit The Flower Show this year and purchase one there. You (and your clothes) will love it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Say It With Chocolate . . .

Writing with chocolate - what a great idea! Take a look at this yummy dessert from the Jasmine Porch restaurant at The Santuary on Kiawah Island - not only is the cake mouth-watering, but the presentation is fabulous. You can get this same effect by using Hershey's Syrup and a squeeze bottle. Simply write your message or design with the syrup and let it sit, uncovered, overnight (room temperature). In the morning the chocolate will be hard and ready to use with your favorite dessert. The chocolate will not soften and you can even store the dish in the refrigerator. The possibilities are endless: designs, names, dates, riddles, initials, proposals, and so on.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why Southerners Love Self-Rising Flour

What's the main reason we love self-rising flour? Biscuits!
Many Southern cooks agree that biscuits made with self-rising flour are better than those made with all-purpose, or, as we call it 'plain', flour. (When my husband went to the grocery store with a list that included 'plain flour', I learned that other people don't use that term. On the bright side, it's this type of situation that has allowed him to meet many of the people who work in our local grocery store. He's now on a first-name basis with the butcher and produce manager, who seems to start every sentence with 'tell your wife . . .).

But, back to the biscuits. It isn't just the fact that self-rising flour is easier that makes these biscuits more appealing - they are truly flakier and fluffier. Of course, all really great biscuits start with a soft flour - my favorites being Martha White and White Lily. The self-rising variety has the leavening agent and salt already incorporated so you only need to add shortening and milk (and a pinch of sugar, if desired).

My mother makes great biscuits and she does it the traditional way - no measuring and no pastry blender. She just knows how much of each ingredient is needed and she cuts the shortening into the flour with a fork. I do have to measure and I use a pastry blender. I also have a recent acquisition that I love - a square biscuit cutter.

I purchased my set of four square cutters locally at A Southern Season; they do not offer these through their mail order catalog, but you can find them in many online shops including Kitchen Kapers and Chef Tools. I bought these as a novelty - expecting to use them to cut shortbread, cookies, tea sandwiches, etc. But - once I tried them with biscuits we were hooked. The square shape lends itself to quick cut-outs with less waste and, therefore, less re-rolling (which toughens the dough). Also, squares bake faster than rounds . . . who knew? One other perk is that you can't wiggle or turn the cutter once it's into the dough. Even though I know that twisting the cutter makes biscuits rise less (it seals the edges so stay compressed during baking), I still tend to do it. Notice your next batch - are there some that are not level? One edge is much lower than the other? That's probably the result of turning the cutter. If you use a square cutter, you'll have fluffy results every time.

I've tried loads of biscuit recipes and this is my favorite:

Preheat oven to 475.

2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening (buy it in the 'sticks' for easy measuring)
6 to 7 ounces milk (1% is okay, 2% or whole is better - don't use skim)

Blend self-rising flour and sugar in medium mixing bowl (using a fork or pastry blender). Cut shortening into flour (using fork, fork & knife, or pastry blender) - mixture should be crumbly and every bit of flour should be combined with a bit of shortening. Be careful not to over work - this will make the dough tough.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour milk into well and stir with a fork until dough forms. The mixture will be a bit wet. Flour your hands and the counter or board - with floured hands form dough into a ball in the bowl. (Sprinkle with flour if mixture is too sticky - humidity can affect the amount of flour needed.) Knead dough on counter a few times, until smooth. Shape into rectangle that's approximately 3/4" thick. Cut into 2" circles or squares. Re-knead the scraps and cut again or roll them into shapes - my family likes to make letters from the scraps for the children (easier for letters like L and C - trickier for R and E). If you make other shapes, be sure they're similar in size to the cut-outs so they will bake at the same rate.

Bake on ungreased sheet for 8-10 minutes. Enjoy while hot! The best thing is - once you've made this recipe a few times, you can make a pan of biscuits in 5 minutes and you will not need to look at the recipe. You'll be amazed at how many meals can go from mediocre to marvelous just by adding some fresh, hot biscuits!

One final note about self-rising flour, it's also great for many other baked goods including muffins, cookies, and basic cakes (the 1-2-3-4 style recipes). If the recipe includes flour, baking powder, and salt you can usually use self-rising flour and omit the baking powder and salt. For baked goods like brownies, however, self-rising flour is not a good choice. It will give the brownies a cake-like texture rather the dense, chewy one you expect.

Related Posts with Thumbnails