Thursday, February 28, 2013

This 'n That Thursdays: Charleston Trip/HGTV Dream Home 2013 Visit

From TripAdvisor

My husband and I were in Charleston for Valentine's Day weekend.  Hmmm -- somehow that just doesn't seem enthusiastic enough.  I repeat -- MY HUSBAND AND I WERE IN CHARLESTON FOR VALENTINE'S DAY WEEKEND!!!  We had planned to go last fall, but then our beloved Diamond became seriously ill.  After we lost her in December I was in no mood for travelling. Finally, however, after hearing from my best friend that she was also having a rough time, I decided that getting away for a while would be a good idea for all of us.  We chose Valentine's Day weekend, not only for the holiday, but also because the HGTV Dream Home 2013 on nearby Kiawah Island opened for tours then (you can see photos of our tour experience on my other blog here).

We arrived at our hotel on the evening of Valentine's Day, and enjoyed a great dinner at the hotel restaurant, which had a fantastic view of the city's harbor lights.  The next day we went into the city's historic downtown district to shop the famous Charleston City Market, and managed to give the local economy a healthy boost that morning!  After a tasty lunch at TBonz (I had she-crab soup and flash-fried Brussels sprouts that really hit the spot), we spent the afternoon at the South Carolina Aquarium getting acquainted with Alabaster the Alligator and his friends -- we even got to pet a baby alligator!  Then it was back to the hotel to drop off our many purchases and get ready to go out to dinner.

South Carolina Aquarium

We chose Hank's Seafood Restaurant for dinner that night, and I can honestly say that I ate the best seafood I have ever had in my life!  We started with mussels in a white wine sauce, which have always been a favorite.  My husband also ordered the ceviche, which he said was excellent, but not being a fan of raw fish I did not try it.  I chose the special for my entrée, which was triggerfish in a light blood orange-basil sauce with a parsnip-caraway slaw.  I had never eaten triggerfish before, but I can guarantee I will have it again.  The dish was delicious -- the fish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce complemented it well without being overpowering.  Even the slaw was perfect (I had never had parsnips before either!), and I think I might even be able to make it myself if I can figure out all of the ingredients.  The other entrées were equally tasty, as were the desserts which we shared.  This restaurant definitely warrants a return trip!

Middleton Place

The next morning my best friend and I did the house tour of Middleton Place, one of several restored plantations in the area open to tourists.  Then we spent the afternoon touring the Kiawah Island Dream Home, which was bright and welcoming in spite of a nasty rain squall that hit as soon as we arrived.  It was an interesting contrast to view an elegant house from South Carolina's past and then a brand new home with all of the latest technology.  Not surprisingly, we were very glad that so many improvements and comforts for the home are now available, but nostalgic for the graciousness and simplicity of bygone days.  And the grounds of the plantation are breathtaking -- acres of lovely gardens, and a view of the Ashley River from the house that can only be described as spectacular.  Of course, Kiawah Island has its own charms and loveliness, and the fact that all of the homes in the Indigo Park development where it is built will be Platinum LEED-certified is a definite plus.

Kiawah Island HGTV Dream Home 2013

After our fun-filled day, we had dinner in Folly Beach, a nearby resort town that is probably packed in the summer but was pleasantly uncrowded in the middle of winter (we had mussels as an appetizer again at BLU Restaurant, which were if possible even better than the ones we had the night before!).  We left the next morning after Sunday brunch at Hominy Grill, yet another excellent eating establishment -- they are known for their shrimp and grits, and justifiable so.  We had no bad meals the whole time we were in Charleston, so if you love to eat then this is the city for you!  Of course we did not get to see or do even a fraction of the attractions and activities available in Charleston (such as the Charleston Tea Plantation, which I would love to visit), so we are already planning to go back.  I highly recommend a visit to Charleston if you have never been there, or a return trip if you have.  Do make as many reservations as possible before you go, as the tourist season starts Valentine's Day weekend and runs until Thanksgiving, and everything books up fast!  I hope you go -- I know you will enjoy it!

Charleston's Pineapple Fountain           

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wish List Wednesdays: Crab/Shrimp Ceramic Oval Platter

Technically, this Dana Whittmann platter is no longer on my wish list, as I bought it at the Charleston City Market when we visited for Valentine's Day weekend.  However, I am so in love with the design and the colors that I just had to comment about it here.  It is huge, over 20 inches long, and quite substantial -- I would not hesitate to use it for entertaining, unlike a few more fragile pieces I own.  And the bright colors make me smile, as do the crabs and shrimp!  Can't you just picture a huge seafood boil piled onto this platter, with hungry guests helping themselves to the feast?  I think the $70 price was quite reasonable for this work of art.  Right now it is sitting on our kitchen breakfast bar where I can admire it every morning, but I have to find it a more permanent home where it is still visible but out of the way!

I also bought a small trivet by the same artist with a shrimp design on it, which no longer seems to be available.  Next I simply must add this lobster canvas wall art to my collection, which I'm sure would make my decapod-studying ecologist husband happy!


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekend Wonders: World's Cutest Frog


This rather comical little frog has become an internet sensation thanks to its cute looks and even cuter call. The Desert Rain Frog (Breviceps macrops), which hails from South Africa and Namibia, is classified as "vulnerable" by the IUCN.  It inhabits a small strip of coastal dunes, where sea fog provides much of the moisture.  These nocturnal cuties spend their days in moist burrows and venture out at night to forage.  Eggs are laid and develop in the burrow.

But it is the tiny creature's distress call which is causing all of the sudden interest.  Just click on the YouTube video below to listen for yourself:

Hopefully the Desert Rain Frog's newfound fame will aid in the preservation of this adorable and unusual little amphibian!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Foodie Fridays: Hot Artichoke Dip

From What a Dish!

Hot Artichoke Dip is probably my very favorite dip of all time.  I first had it at a local brew pub in Colorado when we lived there, and it was love at first taste!  This is an excellent snack to serve with beer or, if you are like me and don't care for beer, a glass of wine.  In fact, I have been known to make a meal out of this dip (not the whole bowlful, thank goodness, although it is tempting!).  There are all sorts of recipe variations with added ingredients, but for me the basic three-ingredient version is absolutely perfect.  Heat up a batch of this quick and cheesy appetizer on a cold winter day and enjoy!

Hot Artichoke Dip

1 C. mayonnaise
1 C. grated Parmesan cheese
1 C. chopped canned or frozen artichoke hearts

Combine all ingredients.  Pour into a heat-proof serving dish.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until bubbly.  Serve hot with chips or crackers for dipping.

Note:  I like to serve this dip with big corn chip Scoops, but crackers, small toast rounds, or any favorite dipper would be good.  Also, you can microwave the dip for five minutes, stirring occasionally for even heating, as an even faster cooking method.  You could use bottled marinated artichoke hearts if that is what you have, but I prefer either the canned type packed in water or the frozen kind.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

This 'n That Thursday: Guilty Pleasures -- Processed Foods

From Simplovore

As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, I was raised on processed foods, which were thought to be the wave of the future at the time.  Canned or frozen produce was considered preferable to fresh, and frozen TV dinners were touted as fast, convenient replacements for homemade meals.  Overly sweetened cereals, white bread sandwiches, and canned soups were meal staples, as was margarine, or oleo as we called it (I did not taste real butter until I was a teenager).  The only fresh vegetable we ever had on a regular basis was iceberg lettuce, usually topped with bottled dressing.  My father was a meat and potatoes man who was not especially interested in food.  My mother, who did not grow up in the United States, valiantly attempted to make this unfamiliar fare, but with no useful feedback from my father was rarely able to achieve great success.

I could go on and on about the mediocre food of my youth, but suffice it to say that, like my father, I had little interest in food.  I liked to eat, but was not really concerned about the quality of what I was ingesting.  My attitude began to change in college, when I was finally able to taste so many new foods.  At about this time, vegetarianism and an interest in natural foods became popular, and I ventured in that direction for a while.  I stopped eating meat briefly, and did not really miss it, but unless you are a competent cook it is difficult to prepare enough interesting meatless meals, and I was not a competent cook.  I did start to prepare a lot more foods from scratch, however, which really did open up my culinary world to the flavors of unprocessed foods.  I baked breads, made soups and other slow-cooked meals, and most of all started using a lot more fresh vegetables.  I discovered how much better fresh produce tasted than canned or even frozen.  It was a revelation to find out that iceberg was not the only lettuce out there for salads, and that salad dressings could be homemade rather than poured out of a bottle.  My feeling toward food was changed forever.

Over the years I have streamlined my cooking.  I have learned which convenience foods can be used without losing too much flavor or nutrition, or adding too many unwanted ingredients to my diet.  I avoid most canned items, and pretty much all boxed processed foods.  I check ingredient labels and try to eliminate hydrogenated trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup from my life.  Low or no sodium and low or no fat has become my mantra.  I am allergic to red meats and rarely eat them any more.  The only good thing about my childhood diet is that fast food was never a part of it, and to this day I almost never eat at fast food establishments.  Overall, my diet has improved greatly with time.

But that does not mean my eating habits are perfect.  I still crave junk foods and do not eat enough fruits and vegetables.  While I seem to want them less these days, I still love sugary treats.  And every once in a while I have an uncontrollable desire to eat certain processed foods, which brings me to the point of this post.  Below is a list of my current top five favorite processed foods (although this is an ever-changing list, since food cravings can be fickle and ephemeral):

1) Tostito's Smooth and Cheesy Flavored Dip

From ShopWell

Normally something called a "flavored dip" would set off all sorts of nutrition warning bells in my head, but this concoction is so smooth and cheesy and I am addicted.  I love it with tortilla chips, over vegetables, or mixed with pasta for a quick mac and cheese.  And I have recently discovered Tostito's Zesty Bean & Cheese Dip, which is great for nachos.  These dips could become a serious problem.

2) Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

From Sweet with a Few Nuts

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups have been a favorite since childhood.  There is absolutely nothing healthy about them -- they are candy, after all.  Dark chocolate would be better nutritionally and it is available.  But the combination of peanut butter and milk chocolate is just so irresistible to me.  I try to avoid these as much as possible, I really do, but if a candy bar is what I want, then this confection is what I almost always choose.

3) Cheetos

From Frito-Lay

Oh, Chester Cheetah, how dare you contribute to my dietary downfalls!  How could you possibly know that cheesy, crunchy, salty goodness is what I crave in a junk food.  And to condemn me to tell-tale orange fingers when I indulge this craving only adds insult to injury.  I fervently wish that I could totally resist your savory seduction, but alas, on thankfully rare occasions I must succumb, oh cursed snack food!

4) Kentucky Fried Chicken Extra Crispy

From Caveman Circus

I have never been a big fan of deep-fried foods.  So why is it that, when I do crave fast food, maybe once or twice a year, it is always KFC's fried chicken with extra batter, which soaks up even more oil?  There is something about the rich crunchy coating over moist and juicy chicken that lures me in.  I always order the white meat, but not under any delusions that it is somehow healthier -- I happen to love the wing!  And of course if I get the chicken I must get a meal, and it must include mashed potatoes (with gravy, of course), sweet and creamy coleslaw, and most definitely a biscuit (but virtuously plain, no butter-flavored spread, thank you very much).  This is just a greasy, slippery downhill slope that I unfortunately feel the need to traverse, though only seldom, thank goodness!

5) H.K. Anderson Peanut Butter Filled Nuggets

From H.K. Anderson

This is a relatively new addiction, and one that I fight constantly.  My biggest problem is that I don't know when to stop -- once I eat one, the rest are not far behind.  I can finish off a small bag in one sitting.  One of my absolute favorite foods, peanut butter, inside a salty, crunchy pretzel bite -- I just don't always have enough will power to stay away.

In a perfect world, the four basic food groups would be sweet, salty, creamy, and crunchy.  And in my world, I would get to consume milk chocolate, Cheetos, cheese dip, peanut butter, and pretzels to my heart's content with absolutely no ill effects.  It will never happen, of course, but a gal can dream, can't she?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wish List Wednesdays: Shark Bite Staple Remover/Acrylic Desk Chair

From Papier Plume

Many moons ago, I posted a Wish List Wednesdays comment describing a pewter crocodile stapler and a glass desk.  I loved the sleek and simple look, as well as the rather cockeyed sense of humor these objects would bring to a home office.  Since February is often a frantic and rather cluttered month for me, with many family birthdays and Valentine's Day occurring too close together, my desire for a quiet and minimalist office retreat has returned.  All of the loving family feeling, sugary sweet treats, and cutesy Valentine's Day hearts and flowers can be overwhelming after a while.   The colorless clean lines of that desk and the cool predatory shimmer of the reptilian stapler are the perfect antidote to my overly colorful, saccharine sweet month.  Also, a couple more items ideal for this calm and pristine imaginary space have caught my eye.

To continue the cold-blooded theme of the crocodile stapler, how about a shiny Shark Bite Staple Remover like the one shown above?  These two desktop accessories would be the perfect predator pair!  And to complement that glass desk, what could be better than a streamlined clear Acrylic Desk Chair:

From Ruby Beets (oh, how I adore that name!)

I love the simple curved lines of this chair, plus it is adjustable and on wheels like a proper desk chair should be -- I want it!

The look of my hypothetical home office may not be for everyone, but just try spending your February overfilled with birthday cake, too many chocolates, excessive emotions, and just way too much of everything, and see if you don't end up longing for a retreat that is devoid of all except the barest, though quirkily attractive, necessities!  Now excuse me while I go mail off yet another humorously silly birthday card (aaagh!).

Friday, February 15, 2013

Foodie Fridays: Peanut Butter Kisses

From Cook Eat Delicious

Okay, so this recipe is a day late for Valentine's Day, but I think these cookies are appropriate any time of the year!  Peanut Butter Kisses, also known as Peanut Blossoms, were an entry in the 1957 Pillsbury Bake-Off.  Believe it or not, this original recipe was not the winner!  Another cookie called Accordion Treats won, but has anyone ever heard of them (I hadn't)?  Peanut Butter Kisses, on the other hand, are hugely popular, especially for Christmas and of course Valentine's Day.  Do your loved ones a favor and bake them up a batch of these peanut butter and chocolate delights soon!

Peanut Butter Kisses

1/2 C. butter, softened
1/2 C. creamy peanut butter
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 C. granulated sugar
48 Hershey Kisses (any flavor), unwrapped

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and peanut butter.  Gradually add the sugars, beating until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, milk, and vanilla and beat well.  Stir in the next three ingredients until well mixed.

If the dough seems soft, chill it for about an hour.  Roll the dough into 1-inch balls, then roll the balls in the 1/4 C. sugar.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and immediately press a Hershey Kiss into the center of each cookie.  Remove the cookies from the cookie sheet and cool on wire racks.  Makes 48 cookies.

Note:  An alternative baking method is to bake the cookies for 8 minutes, remove from the oven, press a Hershey Kiss into each cookie, and return to the oven for 2 minutes.  Remove from the oven and immediately remove the cookies from the cookie sheet to a wire rack to cool.

For an even easier version of Peanut Butter Kisses, check out this recipe.  Be sure to watch the video for more helpful hints and tips!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This 'n That Thursdays: Heartfelt Bathroom Design

From Timticks

Many years ago, I read an article about a family named Hart who loved to decorate their home with a heart theme.  Heart-shaped objects could be found in just about every room of their house.  I am sure they would have approved of the heart-shaped chair in the beautifully minimal bathroom pictured above.  It is truly a lovely chair:

From Casual Home Furnishings

But would just the chair have been enough?  Perhaps they would have been delighted with an all-out tribute to heart décor in their bathroom, as in the style board I created below:

Clockwise from top left: Bathroom accessories from Shanghai East; Red heart-shaped sink from eBay; Red six-piece towel set from; Red heart-shaped tub from Aquatica; Red heart-shaped bathroom rug from; Center: Valentine's Day Love Ducks from World Market; Background top: Muriva Retro Love Hearts Wallpaper from Inspire My Home; Background bottom: Colonnade Plain White Ceramic Mosaic Floor Tile from Wayfair.

This bathroom would be a great space to start the morning of Valentine's Day, but even if you can't begin your day in a room like this, I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wish List Wednesdays: Spotted Dog Pattern Placemats

From Zazzle

As I've mentioned many times before on this blog, I love all things Dalmatian.  Which is why I simply must have these Spotted Dog Pattern Placemats for Valentine's Day.  I mean, seriously, Dalmatian dogs and red hearts on one placemat?  How could I not love it?  They are a bit pricey at $22.45 each, but I don't need many, and they are so perfect for Valentine's Day at our house.  I promise that these spotted love puppies will have a wonderful forever home here!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Foodie Fridays: Chicken Divan Casserole

From Laura's Sweet Spot

I wish I could remember where I found this recipe, so I could give credit where credit is due, but for the life of me I just can't recall.  Chicken Divan Casserole is an ideal comfort food for a chilly and dreary day, which we seem to be seeing a lot of lately (oddly alternating with unusually warm days this year).  Unlike classic chicken divan, this casserole has a layer of bread cubes on the bottom, which I happen to like.  The recipe calls for ciabatta bread, but substitute any leftover crusty bread you have.  Use fresh broccoli if at all possible, as it just has a better texture.  My favorite short cut is to buy microwaveable pre-packaged broccoli florets, which saves on prep time and effort.  If you don't have buttermilk you can use all regular milk, although I love the tang that buttermilk adds to this dish.  And use any good melting cheese you like in the sauce.  This recipe is extremely flexible.  It is also quite easy, tasty, and satisfying, making it a worthy addition to any recipe collection!

Chicken Divan Casserole

4 T. butter
4 T. flour
1 1/2 C. each 2% milk and buttermilk
2 C. casserole cheese blend (Cheddar, American, Monterey Jack, and mozzerella)
8 oz. ciabatta bread, cubed
20 oz. broccoli florets, cooked
12 oz. cubed cooked chicken breast
4 T. butter, melted
1 C. panko bread crumbs

Melt 4 T. butter in a large saucepan.  Stir in the flour and cook about one minute.  Slowly add the milks, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until smooth.

Layer the bread cubes, broccoli, and chicken in a greased 13x9-inch baking dish.  Pour the cheese sauce over.  Combine the melted butter and panko and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Serves 6.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

This 'n That Thursdays: Oversized Animal Art in the Home

Lately I have been noticing a lot of interior design images showing very large paintings of animals as focal points in rooms.  If this is a trend then I'm all for it!  Here are a few examples of oversized animal art in the home:

From Houzz

From The Rustic Modernist

From Love Your Space

From Houzz

From Peppermint Bliss


From Modern Grace Designs

From modGIRL

From Desire to Inspire

I found it interesting that the same horse picture showed up in two different dining rooms:

From The Best of Interior Design


Large scale animal art is a great way to add interest to any room.  "Ginormous" pig print, anyone?

By TypePosters on Etsy

I happen to think he's adorable, and he is available in a range of custom colors -- what more could you ask of a giant pig?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wish List Wednesdays: Sanderson Omega Cats Wallpaper

While I tend to be more fond of dogs than cats, and I have never been a fan of papering walls, I find myself loving the Sanderson Bloomsbury Collection Omega Cats Wallpaper!  The pattern is fascinating, and it even comes in three color choices:




I never thought I would ever say this, but I may just become an ailurophilic wallpaper aficionado yet!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Foodie Fridays: Smashed Potatoes

From Askville

A few weeks ago I posted a recipe for Turkey Meat Loaf, and mentioned that I liked to serve it with Smashed Potatoes.  Today I am providing my favorite recipe for the latter.  I like to use small, thin-skinned yellow potatoes like Yukon Gold or Baby Dutch, but any boiling potato works just fine.  There is no need to peel the potatoes, and if they are tiny there is no need to dice them either.  Consider the measurements for the butter, milk, and seasonings to be suggestions rather than commandments -- vary the amounts according to personal taste (or, if you're like me and often forget to salt the potato water, adjust the salt accordingly).  I call these smashed rather than mashed potatoes because I like a chunky texture, but if you prefer smooth mashed potatoes then by all means mash away!  Add a bit more milk if the potatoes seem dry and difficult to smash, but don't overdo it or you will have potato soup (which is not necessarily a bad thing).  For a richer flavor add as much extra butter as you like, but try to add it before the milk so that it will melt quickly.  This recipe should probably serve six, but in our house we are lucky if it makes four servings.  I don't serve potatoes often, but when I do I like to enjoy them!

Smashed Potatoes

1 1/2 lbs. thin-skinned boiling potatoes, halved or quartered if large
4 T. butter (I use unsalted)
1/2 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
4 T. milk
2 T. minced fresh dill, or 2 tsp. dried dill (optional)
2 T. minced chives (optional)

Rinse the potatoes, place in a large pot, and fill the pot with water to just cover the potatoes.  Salt the water, then place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and boil for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.  Drain and return to the pot.  Add the butter and seasonings and either stir with a fork or mash with a potato masher to break up the potatoes to your desired consistency.  Add the milk and stir until the potatoes are creamy (add more milk as needed, a small amount at a time, if the potatoes still seem dry).  Add the herbs and mix in well.  Serves 4.