Monday, January 31, 2011

Blogs To Brag About

So we did make it to Florida, temporarily escaping New York's snow and ice, and I'm sitting poolside, diet coke in hand, taking the opportunity to check out other blogs.

Daily Suze
One day I mistakenly typed my blog address using The Daily Suze and was directed to a website with a name strikingly similar to mine. I loved the look of the blog and the eclectic posts direct readers to great art, photos and so many other fun things. Love it!
http://www.dailysuze.com


Kara's Party Ideas
Another site I've been looking at for a while is Kara's Party Ideas....this is a party throwers dream, the Holy Grail of party ideas, if you will. Check it out. It makes my 30th birthday party look embarassingly amateurish!
http://karaspartyideas.blogspot.com


Schmaltzy Craftsy
For an upcoming project, I was searching for some inspired handmade pincushions. I found them at a website called Schmaltzy Crafty and liked it immediately. It's set up to sell the items she makes but it has DIY projects as well. Check it out.
http://schmaltzycraftsy.com


Material Girls
5 girls, 5 cities, hundreds of home decorating ideas. This is such a fun blog especially if you're interested in home decor like I am. These ladies write from different cities in the united States highlighting stores, fabrics, art etc. Great look as well.
http://materialgirlsblog.com/


Hostess With The Mostess
Two women started this hip and exciting site featuring creative party ideas and decorating. If you're looking for inspiration and some great tips take a look.
http://www.hostessblog.com/


The Party Dress
Another great party site featuring lots of kids parties and some great invitations by the well-heeled hostess.
http://www.thepartydress.net/


Isabella & Max Rooms
Great decor advice, lots of DIY projects and a fabulous portfolio that inspires.
http://isabellaandmaxrooms.blogspot.com/


The Nester
If you love a bargain and are willing to do some DIY stuff, check this out. Totally up my alley!
http://www.thenester.com/


The Nepotism Section

Heavenly Bites
My daughter has been baking cakes and cookies For a couple of years and has a blog site as well. Her business called Heavenly Bites is doing great and her blog is fun to read as she manages work, her baking business and two year old twins.
http://www.heavenlybitescakes.com/

She's Just That Cool
My niece just started a blog (I'm Just That Cool) and it's also a great read if you want to make some changes in your lifestyle. She's doing a great job.
http://rocking-it-old-school.blogspot.com/

Friday, January 28, 2011

What Do You Snow? 20 Fun Facts About the White Stuff; Impress Your Family and Friends At Dinner This Weekend

I was supposed to be in Florida today. I had imagined myself sitting poolside, sipping something cold with an umbrella in it (ok, it probably would have been a diet coke with a speared lemon) but that vision kept me going yesterday as we shoveled our 19 inches of 'mashed potato' snow (for explanation of the term see yesterday's quiz). We're now leaving tomorrow so here is one more blog post about snow, hopefully the last. It's on to the Everglades, Seminole Indians and other Floridian flora and fauna for a couple of days at least. These facts and photos are from a variety of sources.

20 Things To Know About Snow

1. Biggest Snowflake
The largest snowflake ever recorded was 15 inches wide.


2. 'Greatest Snow on earth'
Phrase on Utah’s car license plates.

3. Why the British Really Left England For the New World
In England in 1695, it snowed every day in London for 5 weeks and the River Thames froze. The snow stayed until mid-April.

4. Snow is Outta This World"
Very light snow has occurred at high latitudes on Mars.

5. 24/7
About twelve per cent of the Earth's land surface is covered in snow and ice.

6. Water, Water Everywhere....
A typical snowflake is made up of 180 billion molecules of water.

7. Fakin' It
The first artificial snowflake was made by a Japanese physicist.

8. Is the Doctor In?
People who are terrified of snow suffer from Chionophobia.

9. Snowbunny, Snowbird: Animals of Winter?
I think not. A snowbunny, usually young and female, winters in a drinking establishment near a ski slope, rarely venturing outside. Snowbird: Can be male or female, usually of a 'certain age', winters in a warm place (think Florida) Drinking may also be involved.

10. Neither Rain, Nor Hail, Nor Sleet...Which One is Which?    
Hail is a chunk or stone of ice dropped from a thunderstorm. Sleet is frozen rain. Freezing rain is liquid rain that freezes to a surface such as the road or a tree.

11. Warming Up To Snow
It does not have to be 32°F or colder for it to snow. Snow forms in the clouds where the temps dip below freezing.

12. Measuring Up
On the average, 10 inches of snow melts down to about an inch of water.

13. Snow Fatalities
About 70 percent of winter storm related deaths occur in automobiles. Heart attacks from shoveling heavy snow or from hypothermia account for the rest. About 50% of deaths caused by hypothermia, are to people over 60 years of age. Over 75% of these deaths are to men.

14. Snow By Any Other Name......
‘Champagne powder’, ‘corduroy’ and ‘mashed potatoes’ are used to refer to snow.





15. Winter in the Sierras? Just Say Snow!
A group of American pioneers called the Donner Party set out for California in a wagon train. Delayed by a series of unfortunate occurrences, they spent the winter of 1846–47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. Some of the emigrants resorted to cannibalism to survive, eating those who had died due to starvation and sickness. In what historians have called one of the most spectacular tragedies in the west,  only 48 of the original 87 members of the group survived to reach their destination.





16. Snow White Newbie
Rumor has it that Kristen Stewart may play Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman, a classic retelling of the Snow White story in which the Huntsman is an assassin sent to kill Snow White.

17. And You Think It's Bad in New York?
Mount Baker, Washington holds the record for most snow in one storm cycle in the 1998/99 season with 1140 inches recorded.

18. Movies With Great Snow Scenes
  • Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
  • The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
  • Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis)
  • White Christmas (Michael Curtiz)
  • The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
  • Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996) photo, left
  • The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969)
  • Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)
  • Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
  • Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990)
  • Dr Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)
  • The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin)
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005)
19. Hang On. Winter Will Almost Be Over When You See This
The hardy but delicate looking snow drop plant (a bulb) usually appears in early spring but sometimes as winter is waning.

20. My Favorite Song About Snow
The train scene from 'White Christmas' which has Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye on a train heading for Pine Tree, Vermont is a favorite in our family. Here are the words to "Snow"and a link to the scene on YouTube.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMt0IdeWowk

Snow
It won't be long before we'll all be there with snow
Snow
I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow

Snow
I long to clear a path and lift a spade of snow
Snow
Oh, to see a great big man entirely made of snow

Where it's snowing
All winter through
That's where I want to be
Snowball throwing
That's what I'll do
How I'm longing to ski
Through the snow-oh-oh-oh-oh

Those glist'ning houses that seem to be built of snow
Snow
Oh, to see a mountain covered with a quilt of snow

What is Christmas with no snow
No white Christmas with no snow
Snow

I'll soon be there with snow
I'll wash my hair with snow
And with a spade of snow
I'll build a man that's made of snow
I'd love to stay up with you but I recommend a little shuteye
Go to sleep
And dream
Of snow

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow-cabulary

Over the last month there has been quite a bit of snow here in New York so I thought I'd throw out a few snow-cabulary words associated with the white stuff. This morning as my husband and I were contemplating shoveling the latest icy deposit, we were watching a few minutes of 'Live With Regis and Kelly'. Kelly used a 'snow' word I hadn't heard before and that gave me the idea for today's post. See how you do.

Snirt: (heard on 'Live' this morning)
A. Women's skirt suitable for a snowy outing.
B. Snow that is dirty, often seen by the side of roads and parking lots that have been plowed. 
C. A suppressed laugh; a sharp intake of breath.  

Thundersnow:
A. American-made sports car that's good in the snow.
B. James Bond movie filmed in the Alps
C. Winter thunderstorm with snow falling as the primary precipitation instead of rain.

Death Cookies:
A. Ice chips frozen to the snow left by grooming machines.
B. Dangerous icy spots near picnic areas.
C. Overeating sweet stuff due to being snowbound.

Mashed Potato Snow:
A. Pure white snow great for eating.
B. Wet, heavy snow you can stand a shovel in.
C. Snow that's been tramped down by walking.

Dis Snowlusionment
A. When the thrill of snow wears off
B. Depression brought on by snowy season
C. When schools close due to forecasts for snow, but no snow falls.

Snow Job
A. A job shoveling snow
B. A cover up
C. Biblical parable about when snow fell in Bethlehem

Yooper Scooper
A. Device to pick up dog poop in snow
B. Extremely happy snow shoveler
C. A wide snow shovel with sides

Foreign language section:
Annui:
A. A year of snowy weather.
B. Annual amount of recorded snowfall.
C. Falling snow.

Qali
A. Snow that sticks to the branches.
B. Quality snowfall.
C. A dog that lives in clod climes.

Igluksak
A. Bag used to collect snow.
B. Snow house.
C. Super sticky snow.

Answers
Snirt: B and C (Scottish word)
Thundersnow: C
Death cookies: A
Mashed potato snow: B
Dis snowlusionment: C
Snowjob: B
Yooper scooper: C
Annui (Inuit word): C
Qali (Inuit): A
Igluksac (Eskimo word): B

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Robert Frost: A Poet For All Seasons (Especially This One); We Happen Upon His Home in Vermont

The frozen Frog Pond on Lighthouse Hill, Staten Island. 
Somewhere along the way I decided that I had a favorite poet. It was Robert Frost and my admiration was based solely on one poem: Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening


Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California in 1874 but moved to New England as a young child where he received his education. He attended Harvard and Dartmouth but graduated from neither. He married, had six children and worked as teacher all while growing an international reputation as a poet. Asked by fellow New Englander, President John Kennedy, to recite two of his poems at Kennedy's 1961 Inaugration, Robert Frost, then an old man, ran into trouble when the sun and the wind prevented him from reading his new poem, 'The Preface'.  Frost recited his old poem, 'The Gift Outright', from memory! Frost was a kind of unofficial poet laureate of the United States and died two years after the Inauguration in January of 1963.

There is much more to his biography of course and I refer you to the web address listed at the end of this post.

Last summer, my husband and I were traveling back to new York after a stay at the Equinox Resort and Spa in Manchester, Vermont (would recommend this hotel and town). www.equinoxresort.com/.html
Driving off-highway on historic Route 7a, we happened upon the Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftsbury, Vermont. It was a rainy day and I didn't want to stop. I later discovered that it was the locale where he wrote my favorite poem and I regret my reluctance to leave the car. www.frostfriends.org/stonehouse.html

But in these days of never ending snow here in New York, I thought you might like to read this gem of a poem, very American...a timeless treasure. Illustrating my blog tonight is a photo taken by me in the first of my, er, two, Winter Walks. Seriously, I'm really trying!

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Written in 1923

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/robert_frost

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All-in-One Hanging Wrapping Center; Can Organization Be Far Behind? Bring On The Birthdays!

A couple of months ago, when I was creating my wrapping center from an old piece of baby furniture (see August 1st post), my son-in-law suggested that I make an all-in-one hanging wrapping center that he saw in the Container Store for readers who didn't have a spare piece of furniture hanging around. I'm just getting around to it.

It's a pretty simple design, perfect for an apartment or small home and I had wanted to create something that wouldn't be too difficult or expensive.

While shopping in Target, I came across a king-sized brown quilted coverlet and I thought of using the fabric for a couple of projects: the long-awaited hanging wrapping center being one. When I opened the package today, I discovered two quilted sham covers in exactly the size I needed. Since the shams were two sided, my work was cut in half. Easy, yes! And the king sized coverlet was still intact for my future projects.

The wrapping paper holder took about one hour to make and requires the use of a sewing machine but the final product holds 8 rolls of paper. well-protected to prevent tears, and three roomy pockets to hold scissors, tape, cards or ribbons.

Here's what you'll need to get started: 

  • Two quilted king-sized shams with opening on end, not center). (if you don't want to buy the whole bed set like I did, check stores like Home Goods for individual shams.)
  • Thread
  • Pins
  • Scissor
  • 3 large buttons
  • 3 elastic pony tail bands
  • 2 yards grosgrain ribbon (optional)
  • One heavyweight hanger
Directions:
The final product
  • Remove binding on open end of sham using a seam ripper or nail scissor, reserve to place around hanger opening.
  • Cut second sham in half and cut a 2 inch x 4 inch hole in the center of one piece.
  • Use reserved binding to trim opening.
  • Sew one end of the cut sham to the larger uncut sham leaving opening on lining.  
  • Sew three seams on the main sham top to bottom creating pockets for the rolls of paper (each should hold 2 rolls of large wrapping paper.)
  • At bottom, sew the remaining half of second sham to main piece folding to lining side. Finish cut edge with seam or ribbon and sew two seams to create smaller pockets sewing side seams as well.
  • At top, flap over the hanger section. Sew three ponytail holders to sides and center adjusting for length.
  • Sew three large buttons on main piece corresponding to the elastic. 
  • Insert hanger and fasten elastic to buttons to close.
Pony tail holder attached to 
buttons creates top flap
Bottom flap holds miscellaneous 
wrapping supplies













I trimmed my buttons and hanger opening with grosgrain ribbon. It actually holds quite a bit and in the end cost very little to make. 


Monday, January 24, 2011

Beading: You've Come A Long Way Baby!

My friends and I received a rather lush wedding invitation this summer from the son and fiancee of another mutual friend.  The pearl and rhinestone jewel at right (measuring about 1.5 " x 1") was at the center of the invitation and we all marveled at the uniqueness of the design. One friend, schooled in the art of beading and jewelry making, surprised all of us (including the delighted bride) by crafting the jewel from the invitation into a bracelet and wearing it to the wedding.

So I asked my friend to show me some of the pieces she's made over the past few years and I'd like to share them with you on my blog. These are only a small sampling but they are quite lovely as I'm sure you will agree.

When I was growing up on Long Island, the town where my family lived had a summer youth program run through the public school system. My siblings and I attended Catholic school and as such, never had access to the extra art, music and theater programs that public school afforded its students, except in the summer. We delighted in the chance to be creative and learned so much that to this day I credit that program (over the years) in sparking my interest in art.

One of the things we learned was stringing beads. Back then they were called indian beads, tiny colorful circles that were made into rings, bracelets and daisy chain necklaces. Beading has come a long way!

There are thousands of different kinds of beads ranging in price from tiny seed beads to semi-precious, expensive confections. Natural beads include bone, coral, horn, ivory, seeds, animal shell and wood. Pearls are the ultimate natural bead because of their rarity but now pearl-culturing has made them more common. Natural inorganics include gemstones and metals.

Beading has been around since he beginning of mankind and has enjoyed several reniassances, especially the one occurring in the last couple of years. European, Asian and Native American beadwork are most familiar to us and today designers of every stature have bead collections.








Enjoy the jewelry. If you're interested in contacting my friend, send me a message at suse3q@aol.com and I'll make the connection. There is a slideshow at the bottom of this post, scroll down a bit and you would be able to see all of the photos.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dinner at the Movies, Pasta and Peas: Wrapping Up The Weekend

An image from AMCs website.
Last evening we went to dinner with some friends. The only thing unusual is that we had dinner at the theater, in our seats, while watching a movie. AMC Theaters instituted this concept a couple of years ago and we just got around to giving it a try. Back in the 70s, there was a restaurant in New York City called the Auto Pub. Located in the General Motors building on 5th Avenue (now the home of a giant Apple store) it had more of a 'drive-in' look and you actually sat in car seats. This is similiar and I have to admit it was quite a pleasant experience. I mean who doesn't like waitress service, unlimited soda and pretty decent food for the same amount of money it costs to get a medium popcorn and soda in a regular theater. The ticket costs $25. which includes your admission, a reserved seat (in a chair much like business class on an airline) and a $15. food credit to be used on a menu that includes pizza (actually quite good), quesadillas, burgers, desserts and wine if you'd like.

The waitress or waiter is summoned by a beeper next to your seat...not a bad deal! There aren't any of these theaters on Staten Island yet but there are some not too far away in New Jersey. I attached the link to the AMC site to check for one in your area. Look under 'programs' and give it a try.

www.amctheaters.com/dinein/

Pasta and Peas

Today I made a quick and easy pasta. The recipe is a variation of a friend's recipe. She sliced a large onion and sauteed in olive oil with minced garlic. She added two cans of LeSueur early peas with the juice. When pasta is cooked and drained, add the sauce and top with freshly grated cheese.

Mine is slightly different. I sauteed minced garlic in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. I added 3 heaping tablespoons of Costco's pesto (or homemade if you have some handy) I added a box of frozen baby peas and sliced 5 cherry tomatoes into the mix. Boil one box of pasta (penne or ziti). After placing drained pasta in a large bowl, top with the pesto mix, add freshly grated cheese and you're done. A salad, fresh Italian bread....seriously takes about 15 minutes to make for a great weekend meal.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Winter Walking: It's About Time; My Niece Inspires Me; Lighthouse Hill, Here I Come!

The Staten Island Lighthouse, Lighthouse  Hill
I didn't make any New Year resolutions this year with good reason: I rarely keep them.

Recently I learned that my niece started a blog. It's a personal, daily journal as she makes some career and life changes. But what impressed me tremendously is her commitment to walking during these cold winter days.

I live in a lovely area of Staten Island called Lighthouse Hill. It's a haven for walkers young and old yet I've never joined their ranks. My niece who lives on Long Island, is walking on a boardwalk alongside the Atlantic Ocean...it's got to be cold! Kudos to her but why am I such a walking wimp?

I've always loved the expression (of Chinese origin I believe) that the longest journey begins with one step. I've used that thought over and over again in my life and it's always been a motivator but using it to make a commitment to exercise has always been elusive. I do love to walk but excuses usually trump the best of intentions. I'm vowing to do something about it.

I decided to call my pedestrian pilgrimage 'winter walks' and as usual when I'm doing something new I google it. There are 17,000 plus entries called 'winter walks'. Apparently it's not a very unique idea! But in all cases, walkers engaging in cold weather outings find that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

So here I go, starting tomorrow morning, armed with my trusty Canon and a lots of layered clothing (did the weatherman really say a 10 degree wind chill?).  I'm going to engage my legs in a journey of my own, photographing my beautiful snow-filled neighborhood along the way. This won't be a modern day Walden's Pond but if I lose a few inches I'll consider it a success.

Thanks Miss J.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Hearty Winter Soup And A Sideorder of Popovers

Continuing my winter soup obsession, today I tried a recipe from Martha Stewart Living magazine from January of last year. Of course I changed it up a bit and I must say it made a delicious, satisfying meal which we just finished.

It was an easy soup to make, many of the ingredients are in most pantries but I did substitute a couple of things mostly because I didn't have time for a trip to the grocery store.

The soup is accompanied by popovers. Popovers are light rolls, hollow if made correctly and are, by most accounts,  an Americanized version of Yorkshire Pudding a 17th century English offering. The recipes are quite similar but in Yorkshire Pudding, the fat from beef is added to the mixture resulting in a truly decadent muffin. In both, the muffin pops over the pan, hence the name.

Williams-Sonoma popover pan @ 21.00
I used ordinary muffin tins (worked just fine)  though the recipe called for a popovers tin...i checked on the Williams Sonoma website and of course there really is an actual popover pan, much deeper than an ordinary muffin pan. It  costs about $20. and makes 6 popovers at a time. 

Here are the recipes. Tomorrow we're in for another day of snow here in New York. This weekend might be a good time to give this soup a try. 



Hearty Winter Soup
Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
7 finely chopped chives
3 celery stalks cut thin on the diagonal
3 carrots also cut on the diagonal
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
Salt and pepper contest
1 box vegetable stock
I large can of chicken broth
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes cubed
One small onion finely chopped
I can chick peas, drained and washed
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill

Directions

  • Heat olive oil enlarge pot adding garlic, celery, chives, onion and carrots plus one tablespoon of salt.
  • Add beef and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  • Add potatoes and cook on low until vegetables are tender.
  • Stir in chickpeas, lemon juice and dill.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Note: I had some leftover beef and chicken which I added to the soup.
Popovers
2 and a half cups of whole milk
2 and a half cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large eggs whisked.
Unsalted butter for pans

Directions

  • Preheat over to 425 degrees
  • Mix flour, milk and salt.
  • Whisk in eggs for a lumpy textured batter
  • Heat popovers pan (or ordinary muffin pan) in the oven for 5 minutes.
  • Brush cups generously with melted butter
  • Fill three-quarters full and bake for 20 minutes until slightly golden.
  • Let stand for 5 minutes and serve warm with butter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Homemade Pizza: Can An Irish Girl Get It Right? Revealing My Secret Ingredient

My pizza with bacon topping.
Living in Staten Island where there's a great pizzeria on practically every corner can be intimidating for those of us who like to make their own, and, er, that'd be me. I am am American first of course, but of Irish extraction and along with husband whom is half Irish, half Italian we've eaten enough pizza in our lifetime to know good from bad.

I started making my own pizza as a quick, easy and inexpensive dinner and also to keep a vow I made a couple of years ago to order less take-out.

Pizza dough is a pretty common item in Italian delis and most supermarkets but I think pizzerias also will sell their raw dough if you ask. The dough costs about $2-2.50, a real bargain. All you'll need after that is some olive oil, mozzarella cheese, miscellaneous toppings and my secret ingredient: Costco's Pesto in a jar. This product is exceptional (in my opinion) and the next best thing to making your own pesto. I use in in many of my recipes.


Here's how to make pizza:
  • Let pizza dough rise until doubled in size.
  • Using a floured surface, roll dough to a circle of rectangle, depending on the pan you'll use.
  • Spread a light coating of olive oil on the pan while preheating the over to 400 degrees.
  • Place rolled dough onto the pan, stretching to fit. Spread a thin layer of pesto on the surface.
  • Add shaved mozzarella cheese
  • Here's where you can get creative: 
  • Add your choice of meat (meatballs, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, cooked chicken) on top or if you prefer vegetarian add tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, onions....whatever you prefer (or all for a true 'garbage pizza)
  • Top with some fresh Grated Parmesan cheese, drizzling a small amount of olive oil over that.
  • Pop in the oven for about 15-20 minutes (keep your eye on the pizza, it cooks fast!).
  • Serve warm and cut with a regular pizza cutter.

That's about it. your home will have a delicious scent and the pizza will be fresh and fantastic!
Mangia!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes and Broccoli au Gratin: Comfort Food For A Cold January Day

If you read yesterday's post, you'll know I gave a birthday party this past weekend. On the menu was mashed potatoes, a favorite of the birthday girl and I made several toppings having a mashed potato bar for our guests.

I hate stereotypes but being Irish must have increased our family's love of the savory spud because it was, and is, a popular menu item for dinner in our home. However, I had never made 'make-ahead' mashed potatoes being a bit of a potato purist but since I had to make a lot, I didn't want the last minute mess. I'm always ready to give anything a try.

The potatoes were enormously successful and so I'd like to share the recipe with you today. These can be frozen or stored in the fridge for at least a week, a great side dish for a cold January weekend.

Broccoli au gratin makes a scrumptious topping for potatoes especially if you don't have gravy. I'm adding an easy recipe for you to try. It might not be low in calories but at least it's green! By the way, both of these take less than 15 minutes to prepare.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients
5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup cream cheese
8 ounces sour cream
1/2 cup half and half
2 teaspoons kosher salt
black pepper to taste

Directions
  • Bring potatoes to a boil, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, mash potatoes adding cream cheese, sour cream, milk, salt, and pepper. 
  • Transfer to a casserole dish.
  • Cover, and bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven.
Broccoli au Gratin

Ingredients
1 1/2 lb. fresh broccoli
3/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
1 1/2 c. milk
3/4 c. grated Cheddar cheese
Toasted bread crumbs

Directions
  • Cook washed fresh broccoli until tender.
  • Place in greased casserole dish. 
  • Combine butter and flour thoroughly to magke a roux adding milk gradually, stirring to make a paste. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. 
  • Add cheese, salt and cook until melted. 
  • Pour over casserole. 
  • Top with toasted bread crumbs. 
  • Bake 25-30 minutes until bubbly.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A 30th Birthday Party: Barbecue and Mashed Potato Bar and A Surprise Football Victory

Red  Velvet cupcakes with cake toppers.
My daughter celebrated her 30th birthday this past weekend. I planned a family party and because it was so soon after Christmas, I hadn't completely taken down all of the holiday decorations. The tree was gone of course and the obvious Santa and Nativity items but my chandelier was still intact and I had already planned on adding pink items to it so it could remain at least through Valentines Day. I was transisting holidays as my daughter was transisting from her 20s to her 30s. Having the birthday party helped me get started.

We have a tradition in our family of decorating the kitchen island and overhead lights for birthdays and this special birthday would be no different. I visited Michael's, the craft store, and wandered aimlessly until I came across some packages of fabric daisies in bright spring-like colors. I thought they would be perfect hanging from the chandelier and kitchen fixtures using clear fishing line as the cording. I also found a package of foam stickers from a company called Creatology. The sticker style was 'Magic Garden' and I knew it would enhance the decor in several ways.

My older daughter has a thriving cake business (http://www.heavenlybitescakes.com/) and was assigned cupcakes. She made red velvet and chocolate cake with tiny puffs of white icing on top. Delicious! I made toppers using a pink flower stickers from the foam set and pasted round half-inch photos of my daughter onto the sticky side. Instead of toothpicks, I found some colorful mini clothespins that I clipped the photo onto before inserting into the white icing.

The kitchen lights get daisified.'
My dining room chandelier renovated for the party. 
Two weeks ago, I wrote about using silver house numbers as cake toppers. I bought a set of all the numbers (at $1. each) and used them for this party on my three tiered plate holder. The handy box of stickers adorned the numbers and blended well with the other decorations.



House numbers make great decorations. 
The menu was simple: grilled steak and chicken kabobs, a mashed potato bar and Cesar salad. I had lots of toppings for the potatoes: broccoli Au gratin, bacon bits, cauliflower Au gratin, assorted cheeses and nuts, caramelized onions, gravy, sauteed mushrooms and chili. The barbecue (my husband braved the cold) mixed with the comfort food made a perfect menu for a transition party!

The book on display was from Kodak Gallery.















Our gift to our daughter, book celebrating her first 30 years, was made through Kodak Gallery. Friends and family members were invited to share a memory of her which was printed in the book. This is my third book using Kodak's photo book program and I recommend it highly. The photos reproduce very well and the final product is returned quickly. If you want to make a personal and unique gift for a friend or family member, it's a great way to do it.

Though I'm not a football fan, the party ended with the New York Jets beating the New England Patriots...an unexpected bonus for Jets fans in attendance! It's nice when everyone goes home happy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Vaseline: Singing the Praises of an American Icon; A Cure for 'Winter Feet'; Seriously, Brooklyn?

If it's January, it must be 'Winter Feet'. Yes, I am among the afflicted and decided to do something about it. I turned to my medicine cabinet and spied my dusty but trusty jar of an old American icon: Vaseline.

I probably don't need to describe winter feet and there certainly won't be any photos of mine to illustrate here but you know you have it when your feet are so bad you're embarrassed to even get a pedicure! Truly, I have very sad feet.

Vaseline has been curing any number of maladies in my family for as long as I can remember and I wondered how this miracle product came about. You can read all about it on the Vaseline website ( a pretty slick-looking site) but I'll summarize a bit here.

Historic photo from Vaseline archives.
In 1887, a struggling chemist named Robert Augustus Chesebrough went to the oil fields in Titisville, Pennsylvania where he discovered a jelly-like residue collecting on drilling rods used in the process. This residue was actually hindering production but was being used by the oil men to heal sores and chapped hands. Chesborough took the residue back to Brooklyn, New York (yes, that Brooklyn!!) where he developed and purified it to a smooth product that he called petroleum jelly. He made so much of the product that he was using up all of the containers in is lab. He began using his wife's vases to hold the jelly and then adding the word 'line' which was a medical term back then, he named his product Vaseline, though this story is probably more 'folklore' than fact. Another source suggests the name was a combination of a German and Greek name. But the product was invented and the rest is medicine cabinet history!

American ingenuity....there's nothing like it!

But back to my feet. I decided to try coating my feet day and night with Vaseline using socks to seal it in. I'm happy to report that after just two days, my feet are back to normal: calluses have softened considerably and my toenails and cuticles are less brittle and sore. I've used and recommended Vaseline for chapped lips, hands and diaper rash but i decided to look up some other used for this amazing product. There are many but here are just a few from a couple of different sources.

USES FOR VASELINE
  • Wipe petroleum jelly over your shoe to treat the leather, then remove any excess with a soft cloth.
  • If your ring gets stuck on your finger, try rubbing the finger with Vaseline to get it off.
  • Try putting a little Vaseline petroleum jelly above your baby's eyebrows, and the shampoo suds won't run into the eyes, but to the side.
  • Rub a little petroleum jelly on the light bulb threads and you won't have to worry about it sticking in the socket.
  • If you don't want candle wax sticking to the inside of your candle holders, just rub some Vaseline inside them.
  • Vaseline removes even the most stubborn mascara and soothes the eye area.
  • Mix with sea salt to make your own scrub.
  • Put a very thin layer on the area that needs shaving and shave. Don’t use water and don’t apply too much Vaseline or it will jam your razor.
  • Apply it on cheeks and under eye area for that dewy look.
  • Apply some Vaseline to elbows daily. It will soften them.
  • Apply some lipliner all over your lips and top it off with Vaseline for instant shine.
  • Vaseline on your wrist before spraying perfume will make the scent last longer.
  • Apply petroleum jelly to your lips and wait a few minutes. Then, use an old toothbrush and scrub your lips. This will exfoliate lips.
  • Apply some Vaseline around the hairline before coloring your hair to protect your skin from the harsh chemicals contained in the dye.
  • Put some Vaseline on your split ends, it will seal them in and make it look like they aren’t there. But don’t do this too often as it will take a couple of shampoos to remove Vaseline from your hair.
  • Mix some Vaseline with your lipstick to make your own cream blusher.
  • Vaseline removes makeup stains from clothes.
And there are probably many more than these...if you have any, send hem in to share with my readers.

Chesebrough Manufacturing Company distributed its product throughout the United States and England during the early and mid-20th Century and was productive even during the Depression years.  Chesebrough and Pond's Creams merged in June 1955. In 1987, Chesebrough-Ponds was acquired by Anglo-Dutch company Unilever though the jar says it is manufactured in the United States. 

We hear so much lately about American ingenuity. This is just one story of a man with an idea and the spirit and courage to risk failure in pursuit of success. It gives us much to be thankful for and much to aspire to.

Here's to happy feet!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Matterhorn: A Book About Vietnam That You Should Read

I'm halfway through a book called "Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War" by Karl Marlantes. This book was published in March of 2010 and it was on my 'to read' list until I finally picked it up this week.

Vietnam had always been a source of conflict for me not because I knew anyone who lost their life but because I really didn't support the war or the soldiers serving in it and I've felt guilty about it ever since. I fell all to easily into the category of being a war protester without really considering that contemporaries of mine were off in a far, unfamiliar country fighting an unknown enemy while I was comfortably attending college and spending summer days on a beach in the Hamptons.

On December 1, 1969, when the war was at it's peak, the Selective Service Agency held a lottery to determine the order of the draft for those eligible to serve. My husband (boyfriend at the time) was number 55, not a good number. The very next day, he signed up for the National Guard and was able to complete his duty stateside. His cousin, also with a low number, decided to join the army and consequently went to Vietnam where he was shot in the leg while walking point for his unit.

That pretty much summarizes my awareness of the war other than hearing daily news reports of battles in exotic sounding places and being aware of a rising death toll that I didn't connect to actual people until I went to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. in the late 1980s. There, after viewing wall segment after wall segment, name after name, did the sheer number of casualties hit me, 58,267 to be exact. The long, solemn, black wall, simple in its design yet so powerful in it's scope is fitting testimony to soldiers who gave their lives in a war in which their fellow countrymen did not have their backs.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.
Matterhorn, the novel, fills in the blanks for the clueless like myself. The author served in Vietnam and no doubt drew from his experiences to weave a story so abhorrent in its detail and shockingly horrific in its account of how much man can endure. In fact, it took him over 30  years to write 'Matterhorn' happily resulting in glowing reviews and gratifying kudos perhaps from reviewers who like me ignored the sacrifices of this generation of men and women for too long. The book isn't pleasant, in fact it is most uncomfortable to read but I find I can't put it down.

I thank Mr. Marlantes for the courage and time it took to write this story and his persistence in getting it published. I thank him and countless other men and woman of my generation for their service to our country in fighting a war destined to be lost but not be be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Decorating Your Chandelier: Creating Holiday 'Masterpieces'

Dining room light detail
This Christmas (you know, the month I wasn't actually blogging) I was busy decorating my house for my favorite holiday.

When we moved into our house 25 years ago it was new and I chose all of the lighting fixtures along with most everything else as the house was being built. But as usually happens, our tastes change with time and when we redid our kitchen a couple of years ago, the dining room chandelier and kitchen lighting fixture badly needed updating.

Back in the late 90s my husband and I took a trip to Italy with some friends. On the trip we scheduled a visit to Murano, a tiny island near Venice noted for crystal and glass. Ornate chandeliers were everywhere and I remember turning my nose up (as if I could afford one anyway) at them thinking they were terribly ornate and hopelessly old-fashioned.

In the kitchen..
a more modern look.
Back to the kitchen redo. Three years ago crystal lighting was enjoying a reniassance and I jumped on board. I chose a 'shabby chic' two tier clear crystal light with blue accents for my dining room. A decorator who helped with the kitchen chose a modern looking fixture to be used in a peaked ceiling area of our kitchen.

These fixtures have become centerpieces of my holiday decor and I'd like to share some tips and photos with you today.
















WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
  • A couple of branches of white birch sold in most garden stores around the holidays. 
  • Inexpensive silver and bright green (or any color to match your room) ornament sets available in stores like Michael's, Target or even your local supermarket.
  • Low-cost crystal and mirrored garland from Pottery Barn. 
  • Ordinary silver ornament hanging hooks


HOW TO GET THE LOOK:
  • Start by inserting the branches in the chandelier. You might have to cut them down a bit depending on the size of the fixture. 
  • Drape the mirrored or crystal (or both) garland around the light creating scallops. 
  • Hook the ornaments onto the branches catching spots where they can hang without sliding back and forth.

Really, that's about it. It's probably important to step back a bit now and then to see how it looks but randomness is good and probably essential to creating an artistic 'masterpiece'!

OTHER HOLIDAYS
  • Now that Christmas is over I purchased some hot pink ornaments on the reduced table in Target and will remove a few silver and green balls and fill in with the pink to celebrate Valentine's Day.
  • For Easter:  I created a similar arrangement using pussy willow and cherry tree branches. I hung pastel Easter eggs instead of Christmas balls and covered the center with green moss. I didn't photograph it back then but will do so this year and share it with you.

Happy decorating.
I'm already looking forward to spring!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Being A Grownup

King George VI

Full disclosure: I used to work for the Wall Street Journal for ten years (leaving 6 months ago) and I am still a big fan of the paper. One of my favorite columnists is Peggy Noonan and it is her column from this weekend that I wanted to give mention.

The column titled "The Captain and the King" was referring the Captain Owen Honors, recently removed from his command of a United States aircraft carrier for making and showing raunchy, homemade films in which he was featured. The 'king' pertains to King George VI (Queen Elizabeth's father) who was afflicted with a debilitating stammer and is the subject of a very fine movie called "The King's Speech" which I was lucky enough to see this past weekend.

But what I love about Ms. Noonan's columns (and what I usually relate to) is the 'calling out' or 'common sense' approach to tackling societal ills be they political or personal.

In this week's column she draws an analogy between the recent inappropriate behavior of the American ship's captain and the Englishman who didn't really want to be king back in the 1930s just as Hitler was coming to power.

Regarding the captain:
"A captain has to be a captain. He can't make videos referencing masturbation or oral sex. He has to uphold values even though he finds them antique, has to represent virtues that he may not in fact possess, he has to be, in his person, someone sailors aspire to be."
....a bit further on:
"when no one wants to be "the establishment", when no one accepts the role of authority figure, everything gets damaged, lowered."

An again further on, regarding the afflicted king:
"He will stutter, but this is England and England can't stutter. It can't falter, it can't sound or seem unsure at a time like this.....he sacrifices his desire not to be king, not to lead, not to make that damn speech. He does it with commitment, courage, effort. He does it for his country."

Both men had an opportunity to lead, the inspire, to make a difference. Both had so much promise. One succeeded, one did not.

There are many lessons to be learned from these two stories, these two men. As parents, the greatest job we have is to make our children accountable for their actions and to make sure that they know their actions have consequences. This is how leaders are formed and 'grownup' parents should also be held accountable.

I urge you to read the entire column if you can gain access to it. I also urge you to see "The King's Speech". It's a great movie full of unknown details about a man in crisis in a time before news became 24/7. 

Refreshing to say the least.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Creative and Cheap Cake Topper: It's All In The Numbers

A friend of mine arrived at a recent New Year's gathering with a homemade cheese ball. It looked as delicious as it tasted because of two shiny silver number '1's' embedded in the cheese ball and tied together at the top by a decorative wire with holiday trimmings. I asked where she purchased the 2011 decoration and was laughingly informed that the numbers were ordinary house numbers she purchased in a dollar store. Unfortunately I didn't photograph the original presentation so I placed them atop a cake server to illustrate here.

Inspired by a well-known decorator giving holiday decorating tips on television, she crafted this clever topper and impressed all of us at the event. Of course I was intrigued and thought about it for a bit to come up with some other applications just as clever.

Birthday parties immediately came to mind. How many of us purchase those wax numbers year after year and save them never to reuse again? I know I'm guilty and even with my best intentions, used, waxy digits always look a bit forlorn to place on someone else's special cake. So today I went to the dollar store and purchased the rest of the numbers for a lifetime collection.

Using some ribbon and some stick on rhinestones, I made a set suitable for a sweet sixteen party. One of the things I like about these silver numbers (they also come in gold and probably black in some stores) is their reflective nature. I don't think my photo does it justice...it real is quite pretty! Best thing is that you can easily remove the paint or decorations for another event customizing as you go.

This is a real money-saver and a great way to add creativity to any occasion.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Nifty and Easy Ribbon Holder

Readers might remember my recycled baby furniture that became a gift wrap center. It took me a couple of days to complete the project and to be perfectly honest I never actually attached the rods that were to hold my many spools of ribbon. Procrastination is oftentimes my middle name!

Imagine my surprise then when I spotted a nifty looking ribbon holder hanging from my daughter's kitchen curtain rod yesterday. It was a very simple device crafted using a 2-inch piece of plastic piping, a 2-foot length of cording, a small metal ring and a small length of ribbon to finish off the bottom.

Attach a length of cord to the ring. Add ribbon spools and hold in place with a 2 inch hollow tube laced through with the cording at bottom. Cover the tubing with a decorative ribbon.

Instead of the tubing an empty wooden thread spool (if anyone is lucky to still have one of these gems around) or a plastic one could also be used. But other than that suggestion I wouldn't change a thing. It's handy and attractive and can be made in about fifteen minutes.

I vow to get back to my wrapping center but this simple ribbon holder could do the job just as well.














HERE ARE SOME OTHER CLEVER RIBBON HOLDERS
(a bit more involved but inspirational to look at)    
 
http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2007/02/sugar_jar_cord_or_ribbon_organ.html
http://allendesigns.typepad.com/blog/2010/05/ribbon-holder-tutorial.html
http://shakinstyle.com/2010/01/diy-ribbon-holder.html
http://www.pollywantacrafter.com/2010/11/making-ribbon-holder-for-your-craft.html



    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    A Brand New Child's Room: Painting An Undersea Mural

    My blank 'canvas'.
    Back in November, a friend of my daughter asked me to paint a mural for her 20-month-old son's bedroom. The house, located in Brooklyn, was in the process of being totally refurbished by the family of the young boy and thusly, the walls were new, smooth and freshly painted a bright blue that would serve as the backdrop for the marine life I would be painting. The carpet wasn't installed yet and even though I masked the bare floor anyway, it was nice to know that a small slippage of paint wouldn't hurt anything new.

    The client asked specifically for an octopus, a crab, a turtle and a starfish, the rest would be up to me and the challenge was finding enough friendly, colorful looking fish to fill out two walls of the room.

    Being an optimist, I originally estimated the job as taking two, possibly three days. I was so wrong! The extra days (seven in all) were mostly due to the intensity of the blue wall color. While it was nice to have the background in place, I had to paint the fish two and three times over to cover the color even after using 'kill' paint.

    An early sketch.
    I bordered the lower edge of the walls with a sandy bottom that had exotic (and very imaginary) plant life growing there. I placed the starfish in the sand and planted a large clam shell with a bright and happy crab hiding inside. Later some shells and sea horses were stenciled on top to give it a rich and lush finish.

    On the main wall, the octopus became the mural's focal point and would be centered over the little boy's bed so I had to make him really friendly looking! I added a dolphin straddling the two walls in the corner of the room and lots of schools of fish to fill it out.

    In the end I added spatter paint to give the mural movement and depth. I suppose I got a bit carried away, the client was a bit taken aback by the amount of 'bubbles'. I had to make another trip back to de-bubble the mural a bit.

    A not so crabby crab.
    It was great fun and I admit I had new found respect for Michelangelo who painted the Sistine Chapel while on his back over several years. It was hard enough to paint standing up and my job certainly took a lot less time that his masterpiece.

    Check out the results...would love to hear your comments!

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Hearty Bean Soup, Sour Cream Biscuits: Recycling Holiday Leftovers

    White Bean Soup With Spinach
    Like most everyone I know, I am always guilty of over-ordering or overcooking for a party. I'm not sure why...would any of my guests really go hungry if I didn't have a backup pasta dish or an extra chocolate layer cake? These 'extra's' rarely get served and most times, I'm embarrassed to admit, they get tossed a day or two later because I just can't look at them anymore.

    This year, minimalism is my mantra and wastefulness an fading shadow of my former self.

    Over New Year's weekend, I ordered two 3 foot heroes for company. In addition, there were two different pasta dishes, a green salad and a large order of eggplant parmigiana. Let's not mention the desserts! The main meal was preceded by an array of delicious hors d'oeuvres provided by my guests. Yikes! You'd think we hadn't eaten for weeks!

    Leftover bread from a 3 foot hero....
    Needless to say we had a lot of leftovers that even an impromptu 'lefttover' party the next day didn't take care of. But with all of my resolutions still intact, I decided to do something about it. First up: dissecting the hero sandwiches. One of them was 'Italian' style, the other grilled chicken. I had luckily asked for dressings on the side so the bread and meats weren't soggy.

    I removed all of the meats and threw away the cheeses. I placed the bread on cookie sheets and baked them in the oven for about an hour to dry them out. After they cooled, I grated them with my hand grater to make fresh breadcrumbs. Placed in plastic bags or in airtight containers, these will keep for weeks and add a freshness to anything fried or requiring breadcrumb toppings.

    ...is  toasted and repurposed into fresh breadcrumbs.
    I diced the grilled chicken and made chicken salad using some chopped celery leftover from a cold vegetable platter. The Italian cold cuts were separated and bagged for freezing. Some of the ham was used in the soup I made today when I realized that I was out of pancetta which the recipe called for.

    It was a little work but I felt better about my former wastefulness. I'm not sure I will be cured of over- ordering but I'll be more recycle-friendly in the future as I was today.

    The soup I made for dinner tonight is basic white bean soup. I substituted the leftover Italian ham for pancetta and used fresh spinach instead of escarole which was unavailable in my supermarket today. I recommend this soup as a lighter variation of a 'fagioli' type soup that's every bit as tasty even with the substitutions.

    I made biscuits to accompany the soup using another leftover: a sour cream dip infused with leek soup. It gave the biscuits a richer taste and were still as light and fluffy as you might expect!

    White Bean and Spinach (or Escarole) Soup
    Ingredients
    2 cans of a navy beans
    1 box of beef broth
    1 can chicken stock
    1 large stalk of celery diced (another leftover)
    1 cup fresh spinach (or escarole if available)
    1/2 cup chopped pancetta or other Italian ham
    1/2 onion finely chopped
    4 cloves garlic finely chopped
    2 bay leaves
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    Directions
    • In a large pot, place beans, broth, chopped celery, garlic and onion and simmer for about an hour.
    • Blanch pancetta (or substitute meat) in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and add to soup.
    • Wash and dry the spinach or escarole and set aside. Add to the soup about 5 minutes before serving.
    • Salt and pepper to taste. 
    • Remove bay leaves before serving.
    • Serve hot with warm biscuits
    Sour Cream Biscuits
    Ingredients
    2 cups all purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    3 teaspoons baking powder
    1 cup sour cream (mine was flavored but plain is fine too)
    1 tablespoon water if needed

    Directions

    • Mix all ingredients to form a soft pastry. Add water if needed to moisten.
    • Roll out to 3/4 inch thick and cut biscuits with a round biscuit cutter (or a beverage glass as my mother used to do)
    • Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes. Serve warm.