Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blogger Retreat

Well, where have I been for the past week? Certainly not in the blogosphere - and this trend is likely to continue for a week or two. So this isn't a retreat in the sense of lots of bloggers gathering in a touristy locale for a long weekend - or a blogger retreating in defeat in the 'Grande Armee Leaving Russia' tradition. It's just me taking a short break during a particularly hectic period.
When I return I'll be blogging about these: a pie crust breakthrough (!), a mysterious sterling silver item (!!), peaches, and more . . .

Hope you're enjoying the last week of July and I look forward to catching up soon! And now, I'm going to skink away . . .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I expect less from my paper towels

Have you given much thought to your paper towels today? Probably not, as paper towels fall into the same category as bath tubs and scissors - the Uncomplicated Things That Always Work category. The beauty of these things is that we don't have to think about them and there are no decisions to make while using them.

And that's why I don't like these:

My husband purchased these recently because our normal 'select-a-size' white paper towels were out of stock. These have a retro-ish design and the ubiquitous 'Live-Love-Laugh' motto sprinkled over each sheet.

Are they supposed to be inspirational? To provide you with a subliminal wake-up call whenever you wipe up a spill? You know, you're thinking about whether that red wine will stain the floor and suddenly you see the word 'Live' and think, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life . . . and, gosh-darnit, I'm gonna make the most of it!" Or maybe other people find these cheery without taking the message to heart?

If you're a fan of these, I'd love to hear from you! As for me, I just want plain, white PTs with no message! I'm off to spill something in hopes of using the last of this roll . . .

Monday, July 19, 2010

Things For People Who Don't Like Things

Canned food with pop-top lids! Whose idea was this? If I manufactured canned food, I would realize that my product is not the favorite of most cooks these days - it's hard to compete with fresh-from-the-garden and flash-frozen produce. Knowing this, I would not antagonize my customers with these pull tabs that are guaranteed to break nails and create spills when they're finally tugged open!

My pantry isn't stocked with lots of canned items and I bet yours isn't either, but sometimes even the best cook needs a can of beans or crushed tomatoes or (as was the case recently when I made Russian Salad) canned pineapple. And canned fish may also be in your larder - either tuna, or some smaller, smellier fish like the ones being canned below in 1915.

As a side note - I'm going to think of this woman the next time I have a tedious job to do. Imagine having to arrange little fish in little cans all day! When you think of the pop-top can in this light, it seems a small thing, but the point is, until recently most cans were can opener ready. And while some, like the pineapple, can be opened with a can opener on the other end, many cannot. Take tuna - the opposite end is rounded so you're forced to use the pull-tab which (for me, anyway) guarantees a little blob of tuna flying across the counter. It's not like there's a shortage of can openers - they're widely available and cheap. And, as the ad below (from 1902) says, a sure method to avoid blood poisoning!

This is my message to you people who make canned food - stop putting pull-tabs on your cans! Go back to the standard can and let us use our trusty openers. After all, that's what Napoleon had in mind when he prepared for the Russian campaign by stocking up on canned food! And we all know how well things ended for him . . .

I'm off to open some cans while daydreaming of a vacation on Elba!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cookies, and Ice Cream, and Toffee, Oh My!

Are you looking for a fun, cool summer dessert? Try these Toffee Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. This is truly a case where the whole is yummier than the sum of its parts. The cookies are delish as is the ice cream, but together they are fabulous. The ones in the photo are a bit wonky - it's not easy to photograph ice cream in July, but you can work a bit harder to make yours more symmetrical and they'll be picture-perfect!

Toffee Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

The Cookies

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup finely chopped chocolate (bitter or semi-sweet)

Preheat oven to 350.

In small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, mix well. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the oats and chocolate. Drop by tablespoon-size balls onto ungreased baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between cookies. (You'll have approximately 24.) Bake 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely.

The Ice Cream

Soften one pint of vanilla ice cream (homemade, if you're feeling ambitious!) until it can be stirred. Make sure it does not entirely melt. Add one cup crushed toffee bits (found in the chocolate chip section).

The Sandwiches

Scoop a bit onto a cooled cookie, top with another cookie; repeat. Freeze until the ice cream is solid. Store in an airtight container.

Leah's notes: I used self-rising flour in place of the flour/salt/baking soda and the cookies were perfect. I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks and roughly chopped them. Next time I will reduce the amount of toffee bits - maybe 3/4 cup to one pint ice cream. The ice cream was very soft with a full cup of toffee and consequently melts very quickly once it's removed from the freezer.

Bon appetit!

Recipe credit: A friend cut this recipe from a local paper - I believe the article was a cookbook review, but the clipping I have doesn't name the book or author. If you know the source, please pass it on. There are probably other recipes I need in this cookbook . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Here's what the stylish women will be packing this fall . . .

Have you seen the latest issue of Town and Country? It boldly states: Think Fall. In this spirit, here's a vintage fashion to consider:

Isn't this a great advertisement for the Ford Zephyr? I'm not sure which is more fascinating - the undergarments that give her that Fifties shape or the shotgun. I wonder if readers at the time paid any attention to the car? So, as you sweat through another July week (or maybe that's just me . . . you may be a 'glistener'), think ahead to cool, crisp October days . . . and keep this ad in mind when you're planning your fall wardrobe!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

This Potato Salad: Sweet!

Nothing says picnic like a big bowl of potato salad and here's a salad that's perfect for picnicking - it's even best served at room temperature! It's a Sweet Potato and Black Bean salad that's based on this recipe from the fabulous Mark Bittman. Although it does have an autumnal feel, we like it in summer, too.

Here's my version for summer. Chop 4 medium sweet potatoes and one large purple onion in 1-inch chunks. Toss with EVOO, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper (~2 T. EVOO). And remember Julia's advice: don't crowd the pan!

Roast at 400 for 30-40 minutes. Let potatoes and onions cool on the pan. Prepare the dressing: EVOO, lime juice, one clove minced garlic, several dashes of hot sauce or cayenne pepper or chopped chili/pepper. (Use your own judgment for amounts - roughly the juice of two limes and twice that much oil. Refer to the original recipe for detailed instructions on the dressing.)

Toss roasted vegetables with 2 cups cooked black beans (or 1 can rinsed/drained black beans) and other vegetables of your choice. I always use red and/or yellow pepper and sometimes fresh corn (cooked, of course). Toss with dressing and lots of chopped cilantro. Season as needed.

This is an easy salad that is perfect with Tex-Mex meals or grilled chicken - or as a meal by itself. And it's perfect if you have a surplus of cilantro . . .


Friday, July 9, 2010

Oh! How I Could Potter . . . if I only had a shed!

Are you a lucky gardener? By lucky I don't mean a gardener with a green thumb or a moderate climate - I mean one with a proper Potting Shed! My dream garden has a cozy, shady nook where an adorable potting shed awaits with a brick floor, a big farm sink, shelves laden with pots and lovely garden tools, and maybe a tiny area for making tea. Here are some sheds I'd be happy to call my gardening home:

Okay, even in my dream garden, the potting shed isn't as nice as the one above. But, wouldn't it be great to relax on the little porch after completing some grueling garden tasks? Or would you prefer the more rustic setting below? I love the heart-shaped details on the chimney.

And think of all the seedlings you could start in this lovely shed:

I love the pavers surrounding this one. Isn't it just like a doll house?

The next one is a hybrid of the previous two - lots of adjustable glass panels with a cottage-y appeal. And the pink bike is a must!

And what about the interior? Would you opt for a traditional potting bench like this?

Shelves and crates?

A rustic sink and shelf?

Or, would you create a real room like this homeowner featured in Southern Living?

Of course, not every guest would be happy spending the night in the shed, but it might be the perfect spot for a post-weeding nap! And the great thing about not (yet!) having a potting shed is that I can spend lots of time thinking about the perfect one - where to put it, what style, etc. . . . and that's a great thing when you're doing those summer garden tasks. It even makes deadheading more fun!

Happy weekend!

Photo credits: Southern Living, Country Living, Fine Homebuilding, Remodeling Center

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mararoon Madness!

As you might guess from reading this blog, I like desserts. I bet you do, too! So, I'm asking - do you like macaroons? Not the macaroons of your childhood - those mounds of crunchy-chewy coconut:

I can't remember the last time I had a coconut macaroon, maybe it's time to whip up a batch. I've never made them, but they're very simple. Martha Stewart has a yummy recipe (seen in the photo above), as does Ina Garten. But, coconut macaroons are not our topic; these are:

The French macaroon - much more delicate and very, very popular. I like the idea of these macaroons - beautiful colors, creamy fillings, the just-right size, a name that's fun-to-say (you're trying it now, aren't you? ma-ca-roooooon). But, that's where the love ends . . . I don't really like the taste. I don't dislike it; they just seem more pretty than yummy. Am I the only one who doesn't 'get' macaroons?

If I did like them and I found myself in New Orleans, I would purchase a selection like the one seen above at sucre - aren't they lovely? As it is, though, I'll opt for some of sucre's other delicious offerings.

Another day we can chat about other desserts that baffle me - like bread pudding! Until, I'd love to know if you like macaroons . . .

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Red, White, Blue, and Yellow

Wow - where did the last four days go? Hope your July 4th holiday was fun and festive. Here's a peek at ours. First, a true summer combination of Red, White, and Blue:

A visit to the Saturday morning FM (where I was feeling quite superior because I usually don't get out and about before 8am on Saturday!) followed by an unexpected gift of produce from a gardening friend brought lots of blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and snap beans. And the white in this case is heavy cream from a local dairy . . . I mean, what's a holiday without real whipped cream? So our menu over the past few days has been heavy on the red, green, and blue with a dollop of white.

And we were so excited to see this yellow pair enjoying a tasty hot meats dinner:

Yes, the very-cheery goldfinches! This is the first year we've seen them at our feeders and they are stopping by each day . . . and, don't miss their drab friend hiding below. It's a comical dove who walks the whole length of the wall to reach the feeder - he lands on the opposite end of the wall and promenades to the feeder, sort of like an Italian stroll before a nice meal. For some reason he reminds me of the pigeon in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Not to worry, though, we don't have a bus so his wheedling can't get us into trouble . . .

So that's our weekend story - back to the usual routine now, and that includes blogging so I'll see you tomorrow!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Days of Wine and Droppings

I listened to him snore for a long time and then I stopped listening to him snore and listened to the silk-worms eating. They ate steadily, making a dropping in the leaves.
~Ernest Hemingway, "Now I Lay Me"

And that sums up what's going on in our little world this week (well, unlike Nick Adams we're not sleeping on straw on the floor, but otherwise . . .). The worms are back and they're munching away audibly - it's mostly the droppings you hear, or feel - if you're forgetful and walk beneath the trees!

And what are they eating? The leaves on our catalpa trees.

Catalpas are beautiful and strange. They have broad, heart-shaped leaves, lots of white blooms in spring, and in early summer these long beans (9"+) begin to grow. They're a bit like giant green bean trees at this stage.

And around July 1 each year, the catalpa sphinx caterpillar invades and begins defoliating. Within a week or two the leaves will be totally gone - leaving the bean and bare leaf 'skeletons'. Then the leaves begin to grow back and the whole process repeats.

The caterpillars are prized as fishing worms, and, consequently, catalpas have been planted since the 1870s just for the "worms" - click here if you're the kind of person who likes details about creepy crawlies or here if you'd like to start your own worm farm. Despite the worms, catalpas are wonderful trees and you might like one in your own garden - one word of caution though, the bean pods turn brown and drop so be prepared for a bit of raking!

And that's my worm-tale for this Thursday! Hope you're getting ready for a great July 4th weekend - just don't walk under the catalpas . . .

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Birthday Emily & Henry!

Today, June 30, is the birthday of two famous people - of course, many famous people were born on this day, but I'm think of only two. They're an unlikely pair - an English writer who died young after catching a cold at her brother's funeral and an American inventor who revolutionized the workforce and made reliable automobiles affordable to the masses. Can you guess? The latter, of course, is Henry Ford. The former may be a bit trickier, so here's a hint: Heathcliff. Just the name is swoonsome, isn't it? And he sprang from the creative mind of Emily Bronte.

Bronte was born in 1918, the middle of the three Bronte sisters. She is best remembered for her brilliant novel, Wuthering Heights. It's been quite a few years since I've read WH or watched the classic film version with the unforgettable Laurence Olivier, but I think it's time to revisit one or both! If you've seen the movie, but not read the novel - or vice versa - be warned, the endings are quite different. And what would Emily think of the Hollywood ending? Possibly not much!

Fifteen years after Emily's death, Henry Ford was born just outside Detroit, Michigan. He became a household name with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. Just ten years later, half of all cars in America were Model T's. My husband and I spotted this antique Ford last winter. It's not a Model T, but it's certainly from Henry's era.

And, if these colors are authentic (well, the chartreuse is doubtful) this was made after Ford's famous directive that customers could have any color they liked, as long as it was black. Ford's innovations didn't stop at the drawing board, he initiated a 40 hour workweek and minimum wages, and was quite the visionary. His interests included plastics, engineered wood, airplanes, and ethanol (Ford's first ethanol-powered car was produced in 1942!). And like most famous creative-types, he had his quirks as well. I mean, who else would want a test tube containing Thomas Edison's last breath?

So happy birthday to Emily & Henry - and thanks for the entertainment and transportation. And you can celebrate in your own way by driving your hybrid Fusion to your local bookshop and purchasing Wuthering Heights - it will make a great read for the upcoming holiday weekend!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And the CSN Giveaway Goes to . . .

Thanks to the great folks at CSN for sponsoring this fun giveaway! And thanks to all who entered. I enjoyed reading the many ways you would use the Le Creuset bakers! And for those who didn't win - remember you can still purchase these at CSN's

And now the moment we've all been waiting for: the winner, chosen by, is Jennifer M - you can check out her blog Mommy 2 Monkeys here. Congratulations Jennifer! Maybe we'll see your baked ziti in the new dishes on your blog!

Thanks again and stop by over the next few days for a chat about napkins and table settings!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Whites

Today, with triple digit heat, these white blooms were like a cool oasis (especially when viewed from indoors!).

I'm thinking about planting more 'whites' next year!

Hope you had a great weekend!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Picture yourself in Philadelphia in 1787

You're a delegate to the Federalist Convention and you're debating the content of what will become our Constitution. You've been there over a month already; it's hot, crowded, expensive. It seems that the convention will certainly last through the summer and perhaps well into autumn. Indeed, creating a new government is not for the faint of heart.

Fast forward to today . . . we know the result of the Constitutional Convention and much has been written about the convention itself. Additionally, many details are available online. Wikipedia has an excellent timeline, for those who like to see history in an organized way. And we can also access a day-by-day record of the convention. Madison's notes on the debates are available online at the Yale Law Library. Click here to see what happened on a particular date.

I was interested to read the notes from today (June 26) - among other topics, the delegates discussed term lengths for congress (aka the 2nd branch) and salary options. What if they had agreed to two year terms instead of six? Or if Dr. Franklin had persuaded the group to pay congress no salary? If you'd like to know what happens next - check out Madison's notes. I'm going to skip ahead . . .

The painting is Independence Hall by Ferdinand Richardt, 1858-1863, White House Collection.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guess Who's Killing My Fern?

The Finches, that's who! Yes, Mr. & Mrs. House Finch, of the Long Island Finches, have set up housekeeping in one of our hanging ferns and are starting a family. Last season, they summered in a different location on our property and had a sad encounter with a King snake. The resulting death of their little ones has made them a bit wary, and consequently, we don't have the heart to interfere with their little home this season . . . and as the mother-to-be gets very upset if we touch the fern that houses her nest we've been neglecting it as evidenced by its lackluster appearance!

It looks like all will end well this year, however, as the happy couple now have five eggs and are eagerly awaiting the arrivals.

And by the way, if you live in the eastern half of the US and have house finches in your neighborhood, they are also part of the Long Island clan. Did you know that seventy years ago there were no house finches in the eastern part of the country? In 1940, some from California were released on Long Island and within fifty years they had spread across the eastern US and southern Canada - with their numbers in the millions. If you'd like to read more about the House Finch and how its spread affected other birds, check out this article.

So, stay tuned for progress updates over the next few weeks. And since we'll be watching these little birds, you might like this poem about bird watching from Robert Service:

The Bird Watcher

In Wall Street once a potent power,
And now a multi-millionaire
Alone within a shady bower
In clothes his valet would not wear,
He watches bird wings bright the air.

The man who mighty mergers planned,
And oil and coal kinglike controlled,
With field-glasses in failing hand
Spies downy nestlings five days old,
With joy he could not buy for gold.

Aye, even childlike is his glee;
But how he crisps with hate and dread
And shakes a clawlike fist to see
A kestrel hover overhead:
Though he would never shoot it dead.

Although his cook afar doth forage
For food to woo his appetite,
The old man lives on milk and porridge
And now it is his last delight
At eve if one lone linnet lingers.
To pick crushed almonds from his fingers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mandy's House is Pink and Green

Okay, so it's not really Mandy's house that's pink and green - it's my fabulous Mandevilla! Ever since I grew hyacinth beans a few years ago, I've been hooked on vines. They're easy, showy, and fun to watch because they grow so quickly.

And it's not too late to add one to your summer garden . . . so check them out the next time you're at your local garden shop! I'd love to know your favorite plant this summer . . . perhaps it's a mandevilla of another color?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

If Only Our Neighborhood Had One of These . . .

No, it's not the Drive-in Liquor store that interests me - it's the customers. Today I had to shoo away three deer who had nudged through my kitchen garden barriers and were leisurely munching. Actually shoo away is not exactly accurate; I spotted them while brushing my teeth and ran onto the upstairs porch - toothbrush in hand - to throw a pair of flip-flops at them. Not my most graceful, dignified moment!

If only we had a drive-in liquor store to occupy them . . . I'm sure they'd choose a little Southern Comfort over my cucumbers! And I could be a little more Grace Kelly and a little less fish wife . . .

AP Photo, taken in Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Monday, June 21, 2010

What?! Another Giveaway! Le Creuset, you say?

Today is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year (as in the most hours of sunlight . . . not as in the day when everything goes wrong and you can't wait for it to be over, or as in the epic WWII movie The Longest Day!). And what better way to celebrate Midsummer than with Giveaways!

The Caro-Nan giveaway ended last night and the lucky winner (chosen by is Paula Michele! Congratulations!

And the good news is that I'm hosting another giveaway that starts right now! It's from the nice people at CSN. CSN's 200+ stores have everything you need, so whether you're in the market for indoor or outdoor lights, small appliances, or baby items, check them out. Our giveaway this week is from their cookware site and it's something I know you'll love:
A set of Le Creuset stoneware baking dishes! The larger dish is 10.5" x 7" and the smaller is 7" x 5" - perfect for summer meals. I'm imagining the larger one piled high with grilled corn on the cob!

These are available in many of Le Creuset's yummy colors: Caribbean, Dijon, Cobalt, White, Cherry, Kiwi . . . etc. Check out their site to find your perfect color!

The Giveaway Nitty-Gritty - The Giveaway ends at midnight June 28 and is open to readers in the US and Canada. To enter, simply leave a comment telling me how you would use these fabulous bakers.

For additional entries, do one or both of the following and leave a comment accordingly (the comments will serve as your entries).
  • Blog about this giveaway, with a link to this post
  • Follow this blog (if you're already following, leave a comment to let me know you want to enter)
The winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 29. Good luck!

Disclosure: I have received no compensation or merchandise from CSN.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pass the Salad, Comrade

Look what's in our fridge this weekend! It's a truly nostalgic food - one that Jane and Michael Stern call "preeminently modern" in their classic cookbook of bygone foods, Square Meals. It's jiggly, almost foolproof, and comes in fabulous colors that are not-found-in-nature. Have you guessed? It's Jell-O! Actually it's not plain Jell-O . . . it's a congealed salad. Yes, that staple of '60s suburbia. This particular salad was prepared by my mom for years and I still love it - and I think you will, too.

I'm adding this to my list of foods that are really tricky to photograph; Jell-O has nudged soup from the top of the list! But, you can get an idea of how colorful this salad is - and also don't miss my grandmother's Fire King bowl - what better dish for a congealed salad?

The really funny thing about this salad is its name: Russian Salad. Of course, calling this a salad is a stretch - it's not a salad in the fresh, crispy, lightly prepared sense. But, it is a salad in the 'wouldn't be perfect as a main course' sense. Actually, we like it as a cool, summer dessert. And why is it called Russian Salad? Who knows? The Cold War apparently held a fascination with cooks - just look at the recipes from the '50s and '60s that have nothing to do with real Russian food: Russian Dressing, Russian Tea (of course this is made with space-age Tang!), and this salad.

If you'd to try this sweet, fruity, retro salad - here's the recipe:

Russian Salad

1 small pkg. lime Jell-O
3/4 cup boiling water
1 pkg. (3 oz. ) cream cheese
14 marshmallows, cut into small pieces
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, with juice
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup mayonnaise (light mayo is fine)
3/4 to 1 cup diced bananas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

Combine Jell-O, boiling water, cream cheese, and marshmallows over low heat and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. In a small bowl, toss bananas with lemon juice, set aside. Add pineapple, milk, and mayonnaise to Jell-O mixture, mix well. Fold in bananas and nuts. Chill.


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Ice Cube Cometh!

And ice doesn't just come in cubes these days - look at these fun shapes!

How cute are these Gin & Titonic ice cubes? The tray makes one iceberg for each ship, so no guest will feel left out . . . or, as bartender, you can mix them up any way you like. Would you prefer three icebergs or two ships in your White Russian?

And how about these ice kabobs? I'd love to find one of these in a tall glass of lemonade or iced tea!

And finally, the ice jewels! Serve these with carrot juice if you're feeling punny. You can find these clever ice trays, and more, here. I think the ice kabobs are my favorite! And if you're going for a Mad Men feel for your summer parties, you'll need a retro ice tray, like this one from Vermont Country Store:
And an ice bucket! How about this lovely monogrammed one from Williams-Sonoma?
So don't underestimate the importance of ice in your summer drinks! And remember, Aristotle and Sir Francis Bacon believed warm water freezes faster than cold. Were they right? Click here to find out before you fill that ice tray!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'd like to introduce Sharon

I know you'll like her - she's a real rose. She's also the perfect guest - knows just when to appear and always leaves long before you're tired of her.

Sharon has a long and interesting history, too; she's the inspiration for poems and novels and songs. She's rather modest though, so if you want to know more, check out her Wikipedia page. And finally, she's quite photogenic as you can see. I snapped this photo of her this morning and think it captures her loveliness. What do you think?
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