Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coffee + Chocolate + Pecans = Cookie Heaven

Can a person who doesn't like coffee like coffee-flavored things? Yes! I think coffee smells so yummy, but I don't like the taste. But, desserts flavored with coffee are another story . . . I love them. Perhaps because they're often also chocolate. Here's one of my favorite cookies that combines these two great tastes. They're easy to make and the batter can be refrigerated for several days and baked in batches. (Yes, that means cookies hot from the oven on multiple days!)

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
2 tablespoons instant coffee
2 teaspoons boiling water
1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1 cup self-rising and omit the salt & baking soda)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1/2 cup pecan pieces (they're much better if you toast them first - 350 for 3-5 minutes)


Preheat oven to 350. Melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips in microwave (or over a pot of simmering water). Stir until smooth; let cool to room temperature. In a small cup, mix boiling water and coffee until dissolved; set aside. If using all purpose flour, combine flour, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl; set aside.

In large bowl, combine butter, sugars, and coffee. Beat until creamy (a hand whisk will work). Add egg and melted chocolate. Mix well. Gradually add flour mixture. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips and pecans.

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet 2-3 minutes before removing. Cool on rack.


I hope you try these cookies because they're really easy and so delish. If you're a coffee drinker, you can substitute cold, strong, brewed coffee for the instant. It's nice to keep a small jar of instant coffee or espresso powder in the pantry, though, because it can add a depth of flavor to stews, baked goods, and gravies - just experiment with a small amount.

Did you expect vanilla in the list of ingredients? We usually have vanilla in chocolate baked goods, but in this recipe coffee takes its place. So, if you're out of vanilla and have a craving for chocolate, just whip up a batch of these! Finally, I think these are best a little chewy so when I store them in an airtight bag or container, I usually add a small piece of bread. It will keep the cookies soft (an apple slice also works, but imparts a fruity flavor . . .).


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Politics of Tea

Here's an etiquette topic that's rarely discussed (by me, anyway): Gift Giving Etiquette for Heads of State. Pretend you're the King or Queen of somewhere and you're visiting the President or Premier of somewhere else - what do you take as a gift? You can't just pop over to the mall and select something. No, you have to choose a gift that represents the best of your country and yet isn't in any way offensive to the recipient's country. Months of preparation go into these presents and over the past few centuries, many Heads of State have chosen tea related items. Many of these ceremonial gifts are displayed in museums around the world. What do you think of these two?

In 1939, the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway gave this sterling and enamel tea set to President and Mrs. Roosevelt. It was made by famed silversmith David Andersen; more details can be found in the National Archives. I love the modern, art deco style of this set - I wonder if it was ever used?

In 1973, General Secretary Brezhnev presented President Nixon with this 19th century Russian silver samovar (an urn used to heat and serve tea). Find out more at the Nixon Library. I'm guessing this samovar was used; if not by the Nixons, then by someone in pre-revolution Russia when it was new. Think of Dr. Zhivago - just imagine a Julie Christie-type bundled up on a cold night and sipping hot tea from this . . . perhaps it's one of the things she'll take when she escapes . . . well, it is a bit bulky, but how sad to leave something this lovely behind.

Thanks for joining me on this quick look at some famous tea items. Of course, another very popular 19th century gift from heads of state was animals native to the presenter's country, but somehow it's harder to translate that to a modern wedding or housewarming present . . .

Tomorrow we'll be in the kitchen so stop by for a tasty treat!

Monday, September 28, 2009

You Light Up My Life

No, this is not a tribute to Debbie Boone's 1977 hit, although I was a big fan of that song at the time. I had the 45 and the sheet music - wow, how old am I?? And, for the record, this is not a photo of my 45 - by the time I was a sophisticated high schooler, I had moved on and, therefore, have no idea where my record ended up.

What is lighting up my life currently is garden lighting. Now that the days are getting shorter and, despite my best efforts at Year Round Interest, my garden will soon be a bit blah, I'm very glad we installed low voltage lighting a few years ago. If you haven't tried it, you must! The low voltage system is a way for non-professionals to add lighting in the garden. Here's a peak at lights that line a walkway leading to the side of our house / basement:

This is a small light that gives off a subtle, cozy glow. (Don't you love the way it illuminates that weed?) Installing a low voltage system is an easy Saturday project - you'll need the lights plus a transformer. Details on figuring out the specifics can be found in this great article from Popular Mechanics. Basically a wire runs from the transformer into your garden and you clip each light into the wire - because it's low voltage you don't need an electrician. Experts seem to agree that you may not be happy long term with inexpensive lights, so check around before purchasing. We have good quality lights and an inexpensive transformer and have had no problems in 5 years - ours come on at dusk and remain on all night and we haven't even replaced any bulbs! We have replaced the transformer once ($35ish at Home Depot). When the transformed is replaced, you don't need to redo the wire/light connections, simply connect the existing wire to the new transformer.

I'm headed outside to look at the lights and try to get this song out of my head . . .

You light up my days,
And fill my nights with song
It can't be wrong . . .

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vintage Linens that Will Endure: Wilendur!

See the frayed little tag in the photo above? It means this tablecloth is a vintage cloth from the Weil and Durrse company. Their Wilendur line is very collectible (the 'e' was added to the name in late Fifties), yet not hard to find. I've purchased Wilendur items at antique shops, shows, and on eBay (where there are at least 50 for sale every week - search for 'wilendur').

Wilendur cloths were produced from the 1930s to the 1980s, with the earlier ones being more desirable today. Many of them are square - originally meant for kitchen tables (think of Lucy & Ricky's kitchen table) and there is a huge range of designs. Floral designs, like the 1950s dogwood above, are seen most often, but there are some really, really cute non-floral designs. Some of these from the 1940s and 50s are in high demand and sell for $70 and up. Would you prefer a lobster theme? Or colorful liquor labels? Or the one celebrating Caesar Salad?

Despite being 50 or 60 years old (or more!), these cloths are in amazing shape. Yes, some have holes or stains, but many are perfect. They are made of heavy cotton and, as the label says, they are colorfast. They launder well and do seem to resist stains - of course, if you're ironing them, use starch and almost any stain will wash out. The morning glory cloth above has two small holes, but I love it anyway. And I'm not the only one - can you spot the cricket? I could not get a photo without him, every time I shook him off and re-spread the cloth he hopped back on. Maybe it's good luck to have a cricket on your tablecloth? Many innovative crafters buy the most worn Wilendur cloths and turn them into tea towels, mitts, etc. I have several with holes that we use for picnics and dining outside.

If you're planning ahead for the holidays, you might find a cheery Wilendur poinsettia cloth. That's certainly on my Wilendur Wish List - along with five or six other designs! I'd love to hear about your favorite vintage linens . . .

And if you'd like to learn more about Wilendur, check out this WorthPoint site.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What's Fun About a Rainy Day in the Garden?

Cute Rain Boots!
Today was one of those great gardening days; it was drizzly and not too cool and the perfect day for fall weeding and cleanup. But, it was a bit too wet for garden clogs - unless you stayed on a hard surface. Not a problem because I was actually eager to go outside with my new-enough-to-still-be-fun rain boots. Of course rain boots must be waterproof and slip-resistant, but once you have that out of the way you're free to look for a great design. In the past few years the solemn black and green boots have been joined by lots of great colors and patterns - and at all price points. Now, will my discount fashion store boots last like a good pair of Wellies? I doubt it, but then I don't wear them everyday - and never in the summer because it's too hot - so we'll see. This is their second year and so far they're as good as new (well, except for those permanent stains from The Pumpkin-Compost Affair).

If you need a little motivation to turn the compost or muck through the vegetable garden on messy days, consider some fun boots - you'll be glad you did.

If you like the boots photo, check out Be Funky. You, too, can be 'cartoonized'.

Have a Boo-Boo? Fix It With Toast

Okay, I'm really not obsessed with Toast even though this is my second post about it this week. But, a friendly reader (who prefers to remain anonymous) told me about this product and I knew you'd want to know straight away:

I can't vouch for these myself, but they're from a company called Archie McPhee and are just one of the many intriguing items offered. It's never too early to think about stocking stuffers so check out them out. I'm considering the Pickle Bandages, Bacon Lip Balm, and perhaps the Shakespeare Action Figure . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Million to One Odds You Haven't Seen An Apple Like This

You've heard of the glass half-empty or half-full - well, what about the apple half-red or half-green?

That's what English gardener Ken Morrish found in his apple tree this week. As reported in the Telegraph, experts say chances of finding an apple with this perfect red-green split is more than a million to one. Which side is probably sweeter? The red - because it's been exposed to more sun.

Hope your weekend brings something unexpected!

Serial Showers: Stop the Wedding Madness

It's hard to know where to begin on the subject of wedding etiquette. There are so many choices for weddings these days and if the trend for bigger, more expensive, more elaborate weddings continues, the etiquette guidelines will continue to evolve. But, I won't get on my soapbox about how crazy weddings have become - that deserves a post all its own! A local wedding consultant recently told me the average cost of Save the Date announcements and Wedding Invitations in this area is now $40 - that's not a total, that's each!! You do the math - 200 guests x $40 = a whopping $8,000 - just for the invitations. How crazy is that?? Not that I believe this is really what most brides are spending, but it illustrates how out of control this industry is - which leads me to our main topic: Serial Showers.

One of my most-asked-about topics regarding weddings is the etiquette for multiple showers. It's not uncommon for bridal attendants and close family/friends of the bride and groom to be invited to five, six, seven, or eight showers. I've had so many discussions in the past year about this that I've started to think of these as 'Serial Showers'. The typical concerns are:

  • Are you obligated to attend every shower to which you're invited if you're a member of the wedding party?
    No, but make your best effort to attend. Your role as bridesmaid is to support the bride and she will appreciate your presence at the shower. Not to mention the fact that showers are usually lots of fun so it's a great time for you to relax with the bride and to meet some of the people who will attend the wedding.

  • Should you bring a gift to each shower?
    If you are invited to multiple showers, it is okay to bring a gift only to one. Here's where the bride can really shine - she should tell all the duplicate guests that she hopes they can attend the kitchen shower, Christmas shower, stock-the-bar shower, shower in her hometown, shower in his hometown, etc., but ask them not to bring a gift. (In the interest of being somewhat concise, I've stated this tersely, but as a gracious bride you'll know what to say . . . after all you want your wedding to fun for all involved, not stressful because it's costing your friends a months' salary to participate.)

  • As the bride, if someone wants to host a shower and you have several planned, is there a polite way to decline?
    Yes, in most cases there is - however, if it's your Mom's church friends, or the groom's aunts you should just accept and try to assist them in tweaking the guest list so there aren't duplicates. In most situations, though, you can explain that there are several showers already planned and broach the idea of a party instead. For the same amount of effort, the host(s) could have a party in honor of the lucky couple with the same guest list. An afternoon tea, a brunch, a cocktail party, a cook-out - these are all great ways to celebrate the upcoming nuptials without obligating attendees to purchase another gift. Again, this will require tact and graciousness on the part of the bride-to-be and on the part of the host (don't get huffy if the bride wants a party instead of a shower, she knows best . . . and your event may turn out to be the highlight of the pre-wedding season).

  • Is it rude not to invite all wedding party members to all showers?
    Another question with a yes and no answer . . . If the shower is out-of-town or involves a group of people not connected to the wedding party (such as a shower in the workplace), you do not need to include the bridesmaids (or groomsmen, if you live in an area where co-ed showers are de rigueur). Otherwise, you should include them and certainly if you invite one bridesmaid you should invite them all (again, following the aforementioned guidelines regarding gifts).

As everyone who's been involved with a wedding knows, weddings can be stressful and your goal as a bride-to-be or mother of a B-T-B is for the whole process to go smoothly and be fun (while we may enjoy bridal dramatics on reality shows, it's not what we want in real life). So, brides - put yourself in the shoes of your bridesmaids and invite them to join you in all the parties, but let them know you're not expecting eight gifts! And bridesmaids and others who love the bride - take a deep breath and remember the B-T-B may be a bit stressed - overlook the little things and concentrate on looking good in your lovely bridesmaid frock!

I'd love to hear your stories about showers and weddings. And, to close here's a look at one of the most famous brides of the last century (her wedding gown is part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art):

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Brave Little Toaster

Did you have toast for breakfast? 75 million Americans did enjoy toast this morning and many of them probably toasted their bread in a boring toaster. Did you? Not that I'm advocating discarding old appliances in favor of the latest trend (remember how sad The Brave Little Toaster and his friends were?), but there are some exciting new toasters on the way. Toasters were the first electric appliance to mass populate American homes - think about it, they came before before radio, blenders, television, and microwaves. Perhaps this is why designers often use toasters to show off their creativity.

From the 1920s toaster shown at the top of the page to the 1940s toaster shown below, toasters have led the way in design trends:

So, what's headed to your kitchen in the future? How about this Toast Writer from designer Sasha Tseng? Write your note on the top and it's toasted into the bread . . . too bad this is only a concept, it could be a great way to start the day!

Or maybe you'd like to watch your bread toast? Try this transparent toaster:

Or, if you like a little excitement in the morning, how about this Trebuchet Toaster from Dutch designer Ivo Vos? Just like a real, medieval Trebuchet, this toaster slings your bread across the room. Hopefully, it differs from the medieval trebuchet, though, in that it isn't hurled by an attacking army and it isn't on fire!

So, prepare for National Bread Month (were you the last to know? it's November) by giving your toast a little more thought. And, if you're an aspiring inventor or designer, perhaps you'll think of a hot new toaster design (sorry for the pun). As for me, I'm thinking that we should have breakfast for dinner tonight - crunchy bacon and lots of hot, buttery toast and a pot of Formosa Oolong!

And - a peep at tomorrow's topic: Wedding Etiquette

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

That Was Some Wild Turkey!

Can you spot the problem in this photo?

If you said, "cork in the bottle" - well spotted. I only wanted a few tablespoons of Wild Turkey to make bourbon butter and when I pulled the cork it snapped. Because this type of cork (which may not technically be called a cork?) doesn't fit tightly like a wine cork, my efforts to remove the broken part with a cork screw resulted in the cork falling. Luckily the bottle was almost empty and I quickly poured the remainder in a glass - there were tiny bits of cork in it, but there was enough without cork for my recipe. Our problem is that we don't drink Bourbon - we just use it for cooking and so the cork is removed many more times than normal - after all, you wouldn't just drink a tablespoonful. So, it's off to the liquor store and in future I'll be more careful. Or alternatively, we could either: 1) make more rum balls - that's when we use lots of bourbon, 2) develop a Bourbon sipping habit, or 3) make more Bourbon brownies. Hmmm, I'm thinking option 3 is the way to go . . .

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Butterfly Tuesday - or Emily Dickinson in Texas

The Butterfly upon the Sky by Emily Dickinson

The Butterfly upon the Sky,
That doesn't know its Name
And hasn't any tax to pay
And hasn't any Home

Is just as high as you and I,
And higher, I believe,
So soar away and never sigh
And that's the way to grieve --

Have you seen lots of butterflies in your garden this week? We have and despite my best efforts I have only gotten photographs of them sitting. Perhaps I should abandon the camera and just enjoy them "upon the sky" like Emily Dickinson. I like her little butterfly poem, although I must confess that it's almost impossible not to read it to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas". Ever since I found out that most of her poems can be sung to this tune, it's been a real struggle . . .

But, back to the butterflies. If you're interested in participating in a Citizen Science Project, check out this Monarch Butterfly site. You can help track the Monarchs during their fall migration from Canada to Mexico. It's very simple and a great project for kids - you basically just count the number of Monarchs per hour or minute. The news this week is that Monarchs are migrating through Kansas and breeding in the South. And guess who's migrating through Iowa? Dragonflies - they often migrate with Monarchs - who knew?

A friend sent this picture of migrating Monarchs - I'm not sure where it originated. How magical would it be to see this many butterflies? (And, how easy to get a photo?) So, check the migration charts and maybe you'll be able to spot these beauties as they travel south.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men . . .

We all know what Robert Burns - and even John Steinbeck - thought happened to the best laid plans. Well, it's not just the plans of mice and men that "gang aft a-gley". How many times have you been involved in a group or team project that starts out organized and controlled and ends up taking on a life of its own? When I work with corporate clients, there are always complaints about the Group Gift and, to a lesser extent, the Group Card. (You were probably expecting me to talk about the 'work' of the group, but it's the little things like gifts and cards that cause dissent and unrest . . .)

Nothing raises the hackles of people faster than the person who doesn't contribute money for the gift, but signs the card. We've all been there - haven't we? Whether the group consists of co-workers, neighbors, friends, parents - it doesn't matter, the dynamics are always the same - one beleaguered person ends up buying the gift/card, most people pay their share right away, one or two have to be reminded before they pay, and the non-payer's name mysteriously ends up on the card anyway. And there are variations on this theme - hogging the card with your giant signature or long message (as seen above in The Argyle Sweater*), disparities in the amounts contributed (maybe I can only afford $5, but those who paid $20 are a bit miffed at me), and so on.

So, what's a group to do? In the limited space of this blog, I can suggest one basic strategy: anticipate the problem. Begin Project Group Gift with a plan - two cards, one for those who participate in the gift and one for those who just want to voice their well wishes (this actually helps the recipient who may only send thank-yous to the gift givers). Also, discuss the gift the group wants to buy and use that as a guide for contributions - each person contributes the same amount. For Project Group Card - have everyone else sign before the 'John Hancock' of the group. In other words, you can't do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results (yes, I know Einstein said it first!) - if you want the focus to remain on the recipient, eliminate the problems up front. The flip side of this is to have realistic expectations - the new employee who has not met the expectant mother should not be pressured into contributing to a gift or shower.

For those of you lucky enough to live/work/play with generous-minded, easy-going people this may seem like a silly discussion, but I can't count the times I've been asked about this problem. And, in desperation, some people have wanted the 'etiquette okay' to address these issues with some fairly rude solutions (like noting the percentage of contributions on the card - no, not making that up!). There are no set answers for these sticky situations - just remember the bigger goal is to have a great relationship with others in the group going forward. Just be considerate and try to overlook the daily annoyances . . . I'd love to hear your tales or woe - or triumph - in similar situations.

* Many, many thanks to Scott Hilburn for allowing me to share his very funny comic with you. If your local paper doesn't carry The Argyle Sweater, check out the archives on his website. Once you see how clever and pithy these cartoons are, you'll want your local paper to carry them. And, for readers in the Chicago area, if you're missing your regular dose of TAS in the Tribune, join the campaign to reinstate it by e-mailing Geoff Brown, Features Editor at .

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pack Your (Tea) Bags . . . Tea Roadtrip!!

Do you prefer India or China tea? Those are the two usual categories - hence the two compartments in tea caddies. But, did you know there is tea grown in the US? The Charleston Tea Plantation grows and produces 'American Classic Tea'. For those whose immediate travel plans do not include India, China, Kenya, etc., a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation is a fun way to see how those fabulous tea leaves end up in your teapot. (These photos are post-harvest 2008 season.)

We're in the middle of harvest season right now - last year my husband and I visited the CTP in late October and they had just finished harvesting. I checked with the CTP yesterday and they estimate another 2-3 weeks of harvesting so if you have plans to be in the area, check it out.
Harvesting takes place Monday-Thursday, but call to verify beforehand. And, if you can't get there to see the actual 'picking', it's still worth a visit. You'll see how the leaves are dried and processed, find out the difference in green and black teas (they're from the same plant, you know!), and get a trolley tour of the fields. And, like all good company/factory tours - you'll enjoy samples and a great giftshop - it's where I bought my small Hues & Brews i-pot and some too cute teapot trivets!

And here was the most unexpected thing - Tea Mulch!!

I would die to have a garden full of tea mulch! It's very fine, a lovely dark tea color, and it has a subtle fragrance - very subtle, but just noticeable enough to bring to mind a nice cup of tea - yum!

This made me thirsty - I'm off to get a glass of iced tea . . . and to sip it while I look at my second-rate, odorless, chunky mulch.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dust Off Your Eye Patch, Matey!

That's right folks, it's that time again - Talk Like a Pirate Day! Granted, this isn't a major holiday, but it's popular enough to warrant articles in national papers like the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today. So, don't waste this chance to find your inner pirate.

And, if you're in the Raleigh area during the next few months, get your "booty" over to the Knights of the Black Flag exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History. Not only will you learn lots of cool things about pirates through the ages, but you'll see artifacts from Blackbeard's flagship Queen Anne's Revenge. The most ingruiging thing in the exhibit though is the (alleged) skull of Blackbeard himself - and if that doesn't make you say 'Aargh', nothing will . . .

Yo Ho HO, a Pirate's Life for Me!

Friday, September 18, 2009

What's Cheery in the Garden This Friday

After several days of temperatures in the upper 80s, we're in the midst of cooler, rainy days. Here are some Flowers About Town that were enjoying the wet weather this morning:

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Happy Birthday to Us! It's Constitution Day!

That's right, on this day in 1787 the US Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. To learn more about this event that changed the course of history and about the document itself, check out the National Constitution Center site. While you're there, you might like to take the Which Founding Father Are You? quiz. I was rather disappointed with my results - apparently I'm James Madison (snore). Of course, we are the same height (5'3") and both have spouses from Greensboro - so maybe there is a connection . . . still, I'd prefer to be the witty and urbane Ben Franklin or the inventive wordsmith Thomas Jefferson, or, well, enough about that . . .

To celebrate Constitution Day, enjoy this picture of a living flag taken last September 17 at Montpelier (Madison's home in Virginia).

And also this one from 1917 - it's much more professional and was one of a series of 'Living Flag' photographs taken by Arthur S. Mole and John S. Thomas. You can find postcards and photographs of these on eBay. (Also, there was a nice article about these photographs in Martha Stewart Living magazine a few years ago.) The precision is amazing - perhaps one of your ancestors participated in one of these events? How much fun to know your great-grandfather was the fourth red person in the third stripe from the top!

Finally, if you're a fan of P. J. O'Rourke, you must read his essay on Twittering the Constitution. In an effort to make the Consitution accessible to the those who only communicate through social media - he's translated it into 'Twitter-speak'. It's hilarious as you can see from his Preamble:

Pre-A: We the people R the man. Here's how it rolls. Art1: Congress do law. Got Senate/House-o-Reps.

Wishing you the "Blessings of Liberty" (in whichever country you call home).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Please Popover for a Pop-Up

Well . . . the last you heard from me I was going to make popovers. To be honest (and since I have photos, there's no point in lying . . .), they did not 'pop over' as much as 'pop up'. I only make popovers a few times a year and sometimes they are huge, billowy puffs that are cookbook perfect, and other times they just rise up and never get that great hollow center. Last night was a doughy center night.

The good news is that they were still quite delish! The outsides were crunchy and the insides were okay - in fact the inside part would have been great had we not expected that dough to be on the outside (I'm picturing it kind of like the soldiers in one of those black and white World War II movies - instead of staying safely in the trenches (i.e., the center of the popover) that dough should have taken a risk and gone "over the top"). Anyway, these were served with strawberry butter and were soon history.

Lots of cookbooks have popover recipes and they seem to be much the same so I won't include one here. If you don't have a cookbook that includes popovers, I can recommend the Neiman Marcus Cookbook. It has lots of wonderful recipes, including one for their famous popovers and strawberry butter. (Strawberry butter is simple - whip one half-cup butter until fluffy, beat in one-third cup strawberry preserves.)

You'll find all the favorites from the Neiman Marcus restaurants, but one word of caution, you'll never look at the menu in the same way once you've been behind the curtain! That chicken salad that tastes so light and yummy? It's made with mayo AND heavy cream (gasp). Not all the recipes are decadent and there are lots that your family will love, even on busy weeknights: summer tomato soup, chicken and white bean chili, grilled chicken club w/ brie and apple-onion compote, Northpark chopped salad w/ cilantro-lime dressing, pickled green tomatoes, and so on.

So, if you're looking for a fun bread to accompany an entree salad or soup, try your hand at popovers. And if you're looking for a new cookbook that's an interesting read and has great recipes, consider the Neiman Marcus cookbook - you'll love it even if you've never visited one of their stores.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Salad Fit for a Queen

What do you get if you add chicken and grapes to the items below?

Okay, that was a trick question because you could makes lots of yummy things with this mix of ingredients. And I omitted one of the key ingredients because it was a give-away. Did you guess? The missing item is curry powder and we're making Curried Chicken Salad - a staple of Ladies' Luncheons in the 1950s and 60s. This is a variation on Coronation Chicken, which was first served (according to chicken salad folklore) for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. I have eaten Coronation Chicken lots of times in the UK and it's a bit different from the typical American version. And, like many traditional dishes, it is often updated with modern techniques and trendier ingredients (substitute mango for raisins or creme fraiche for mayo). One of things we all like about chicken salad is that you don't have to be precise - a little more of this or a little less of that, and it's still fabulous, as seen here:

Here's the recipe - I've fiddled with it a bit over the years, but here are the basics:

Curried Chicken Salad (aka Coronation Chicken)

Poach 2-3 chicken breasts (bone in or boneless/skinless) in water or broth to cover. Add flavor to the poaching liquid by adding some or all of these: 1-2 carrots, cut into large chunks; 1-2 stalks celery, halved; 1/2 onion, cut into wedges; 2 thin slices ginger (your kitchen will smell heavenly!), 1/2 t. salt, 5-10 cracked peppercorns. Simmer until chicken is done - 30-40 minutes. Remove chicken and cool, then shred or dice.

Mix cooled chicken with:

  • 1 cup seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 cup water chestnuts, quartered (I omit these, but they were apparently a requirement for any salad or casserole in the 50s!)
  • 1 cup golden raisins (soak in pineapple juice for 30 minutes to plump - even raisin haters will like them this way)
  • 2 cups pineapple tidbits (of course the original recipe called for canned pineapple and although I usually prefer fresh I often use canned for this so I can soak the raisins in the juice as above)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery

(Substitute salad ingredients as you like - I sometime use apricots or dates instead of raisins and/or grapes.)

Whisk dressing together in medium bowl:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (light mayo works well)
  • 3 tablespoons chutney
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder

Toss dressing with salad and chill at least two hours. Serve chilled on mixed greens. Top with toasted slivered almonds (350 for 3 minutes - don't leave the kitchen because they burn easily).

Try this salad and give your family and friends (not to mention yourself) the royal treatment! It's what we're having for dinner tonight - with popovers, which we may chat about tomorrow.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Shady, Relaxing Porch

What's more inviting on a September afternoon than a shady porch? There are lots of great porches in most Southern towns - and, yes, farther afield as well. Here's one of my favorites from a neighboring town:

I drive past this house fairly often and always slow down for a quick drool. It's beautiful all spring and summer, but it may be at its best during the Christmas holidays. Every year there's a new theme - something unexpected and consistently stunning. I can't wait to see what the owners have up their decorating sleeves this year. Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Things for People Who Don't Like Things

Skim Milk?! Blaaagh! Obviously skim milk is for people who don't like milk - it's watery and has a bluish tint - who wants to drink that? Real milk is opaque and . . . white! And when served cold with a slice of chocolate cake or a peanut butter sandwich or warm chocolate chip cookies or over a bowl of crunchy cereal - there's nothing to compare. I'm not proposing we all revert to whole milk, but switch to 1%; it has the look and taste of real milk - because it is.

You can bet Cary Grant wasn't taking Joan Fontaine skim milk in Hitchcock's 1941 classic, Suspicion. After all, skim milk is too watery to hide poison - or, is there poison in the glass? If you haven't seen the movie, I won't spoil the ending here . . . but, if you're a fan of Cary Grant or Joan Fontaine you are in for a treat! As a side note, Fontaine won the best actress Oscar for this role - her sister Olivia de Havilland was also a nominee and this was possibly the beginning of their famous feud. Regardless, Suspicion is a wonderful movie - I haven't seen it in quite a few years, but am going to put it on our Netflix list. In fact, this fall might be a good time to watch all my favorite Hitchcock films again - while nibbling on a warm cookie and drinking a cold glass of milk!

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11 - A Day of Remembrance

As the official 9/11 memorials are still works in progress, here's a photo from another place of remembrance - the American Cemetery at Aisne-Marne, France. It contains the graves of 2,289 soldiers who died in the region during the summer of 1918.

Wishing you a peaceful weekend . . .

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Enjoy the last of the summer plants

Happy Thursday! I hope you're enjoying the last days of summer in the garden. On the porch, my container plants are all a bit leggy, but still pretty enough to be enjoyable. I especially like the way the late afternoon sun illuminates them:

I'd love to hear what's in the spotlight in your garden this week . . .

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Not-So-Gentle Etiquette Reminder - Yeah, You in the Next Car!

It's hard to believe this discussion is necessary, but, believe me, it is. From my own observations and the many comments I've heard regarding this, many drivers forget that they are in public when driving. You see people doing all sorts of things in their cars that: 1) shouldn't be done while driving (two first-hand examples pop into my head - texting and eating corn on the cob - no, I'm not kidding), or 2) shouldn't be done in public (flossing & picking your teeth, PDAs*, etc.), or 3) shouldn't be done at all (picking your nose - carry some tissues in your car, people!).

Do people think they're invisible because they're in a car? Do they think other motorists - not to mention the unfortunate passengers who are probably only pretending to sleep - don't notice? Or do they just not care? The rule is - if you would be embarrassed to do whatever it is in a group of people, then don't do it in your car, because [surprise] you are in a group of people. (Okay, so I made that rule up, but it's a good one and I wish more people would adopt it!)

While we're on the topic of cars, I wanted to share a few photos of The Glitter Car:

You have to enlarge the photos to get a better idea of how glittery this car is - in bright sunlight the sparkles seem to dance as you drive past. It belongs to a nice young man named Anthony who agreed to let us photograph it for my blog. He works at a cafe that we drive past several times per week and on sunny days it is spectacular - I've never seen a car so glittery. Normally I wouldn't say I'm a fan of sparkly cars or of cars in general, but this one always makes me smile. It's too bad the camera can't capture the glittery movement . . . but, it's like most art, you need to experience it in person to get the full effect.
So, remember, when you're out driving mind your manners! People are watching - and if you can't resist the bad behaviors get yourself a sparkly car that will distract from what's going on inside.

*PDA = Public Displays of Affection

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Look Who Stopped By For a Visit

A beautiful swallowtail!

I like the photo from this angle because you can see how the butterfly is perched on the flower as it's nectoring (no, really, that's a word). After working diligently for about 15 minutes, a hummingbird chased her away repeatedly and eventually she flew into our neighbor's tree then disappeared. Did you know the Eastern tiger swallowtail is the state butterfly for five states? They are: Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Delaware. So, if you're in one of the five, watch the flowering plants over the next few weeks and see if you can spot one (not all have this coloration - some are black and the males don't have the blue area). My state, (the great state of North Carolina as they say at the political conventions), does not have an official butterfly. I suppose that's a good thing - politicians have bigger issues than nominating a plethora of state 'things'. That being said, we do have an official 'Carnivorous Plant' (Venus Flytrap) . . . look out, butterflies!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Diagram This!

I received a letter from a college friend a few months ago – not an e-mail or other electronic communiqué, but a real, hand-written letter. As always when I am the lucky recipient of a letter, I am struck by the rarity of written correspondence between friends these days – and few things are more cheery than a letter in the mail – so I decide to turn over a new leaf and begin writing at least one letter per week. As could easily be guessed, this grand plan lasts about as long as most January 1st resolutions. Most often not even one letter is written. (As a side note, for those of you who have read David McCullough’s fabulous biography of John Adams, wasn’t that one of the most endearing things about Adams? His repeated vows to improve himself by rising early to read the Bible, for example, followed by a lament the next day that he slept late. How human. What a great skill McCullough has to bring Adams to life and reveal not just the passion and brilliance that made him integral to our country’s independence, but the frailties and vanities that make him just like the reader. But, I digress . . . the point being when you fail to live up to your own standards or carefully planned goals, remember John Adams – it’s as good as thinking of ‘girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes’.)

Back to the letter, my friend revealed the she is home schooling her son and consequently brushing up on her sentence diagramming skills. What a great method to use to teach her son grammar! He’ll definitely be a step ahead - and speaking of sentence diagramming, have your read this quirkly little book?

If you're a word buff, you'll probably read Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog in one sitting. The author, Kitty Burns Florey, takes an upbeat and funny look at that staple of grammar school English classes until the Seventies - diagramming sentences. I know some people found diagramming tedious or even unbearable, but I loved it - it was like a big puzzle. Thinking back, it was like Sudoku with words - every word has a place and it's up to you to figure out where it should go and if one word is misplaced it can adversely affect the placement of the remaining words. But, when you get them all correctly diagrammed, you can step back and breathe a happy sigh for a job well done! My small college (which was until a few years ago known as a girls school, but that's a topic for another day . . .) still required diagramming for all freshmen - I probably should not admit that because when blogging I just write whatever I'm thinking without much regard for the proper rules, but rest assured I could do better if I needed to (or should that be 'if I needed so to do'?!).

At any rate, if you love words, grammar, and books about words and grammar, you'll enjoy this book. And, if you've been out of touch with friends for a while, consider setting aside a few hours for letter writing . . . and once your letters are finished, you can have some fun diagramming them!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Who Wants to Come to the Post Office?

Let's face it, going to the post office can be a bit dreary - it's crowded, people are grumpy (patrons and employees - sometimes), and there's always that one person holding up the drive-up box line by sitting at the box putting stamps on their letters. Small town post offices are often more friendly, less crowded, and less grumpy, but still not tops on the 'fun things to do this weekend' list. The post office in our town of 6,000ish has something new to offer its patrons this summer, however, that makes a visit much more interesting. Someone has added a nice flower garden in front of the building. For years there was a bare, ugly space between the sidewalk\parking\and building, but some fabulous gardener has adopted it and it's quite an improvement.

My photo doesn't do it justice, as it's difficult to snap a good photo in a busy parking lot! You'll have to take my word for it - it's a gigantic improvement and turns a bleak public space into something really nice. So a big thank you to the mysterious public-spirited gardener!

And now for something completely different - here's what happened to the rest of the Soy-Sherry chicken grilled last night:

A yummy summer lunch - thinly sliced chicken on mini potato rolls (slider size) with ginger aioli and lots of pickles. Mmmmm . . .
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