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 . . .
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