Friday, January 31, 2014

On the Homefront: 2014 Chinese Year of the Horse Table

I got this Ming Horse Yixing Teapot when we lived in Colorado,
I think from The Cupboard in Fort Collins, which is one of my
all-time favorite stores.  Fishes, like the ones on the tray, are
very auspicious symbols for the New Year as they represent
abundance or surplus.  A pair of fishes also symbolizes harmony
and happiness in marriage!

All month long my Wish List Wednesday posts have been centered around equine items for the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year on January 31st, which is a Year of the Horse.  Well, the day has finally arrived and here is my horse-themed table to celebrate!  I have been collecting all sorts of horse décor for the table lately.  It all started last summer when I found a lovely vintage tablecloth at a local flea market.  The design features a pattern of gentleman and lady equestrians in shades of blue and white:

Gentleman and lady equestrians on my vintage tablecloth
(if you look really closely at the latter image you can make
out the pattern on my new Running Horses flatware)

Next I came across a set of four vintage Hadley "Blue Horse" dessert plates on the Eclectica Gallery website, and I just had to have them (these plates are still being made -- check out this site for the horse pattern and more):


The inevitable color scheme for my table was blue and white, of course!  I gathered together all sorts of horsey items from around the house to add to the setting, and here is the result:


Vintage blue and white equestrian tablecloth from a local flea market; dark blue placemat (can't remember where I got them, and I actually used the back side of these placemats instead of the shinier jacquard pattern front side, similar to these); white dinner plate (Tivoli by Studio Nova); vintage Hadley "Blue Horse" dessert plate from Eclectica Gallery; Running Horses Flatware from horse.com; white teacup and saucer (Tivoli by Studio Nova); blue water goblet I think from Target years ago.


Red is considered a lucky color in China, especially for the
New Year, so I had to include at least a touch of it on the table
(I just poured some red colored sugar around my candle
centerpiece); I have a collection of tiny horse figurines that I
placed around the candle as well.

A few of my horse collectibles (and a donkey!) are displayed
at one end of the table -- large horse head plate by Karen
Donleavy Designs; vintage white ceramic horse with teak
spreaders (mid-century Japan) bought decades ago in Ithaca, NY;
vintage Hoya crystal horse wine coaster (Japan) purchased a long
time ago I think in Puerto Rico; white ceramic donkey creamer
from the Peppercorn in Boulder, CO, years ago.

I just love this little guy!
(from Etsy)

A horse or zebra teapot (I'm not sure which animal it is!)
by Cordon Bleu (from TJMaxx/HomeGoods ages ago) joins a
bowl of lucky gold coins (actually foil-wrapped chocolate gelt
left over from Thanksgivvukah) on a blue and white cranes trivet
at the opposite end of the table.  According to Chinese tradition,
coins are symbols of prosperity while cranes symbolize longevity.
The word for teapot sounds similar to the words for "protect"
and "blessing" in Chinese.


There are quite a few food customs and taboos for the Chinese New Year celebration dinner.  A Tray of Togetherness is put out for guests before the meal.  This tray consists of eight snacks (eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers, as are most even numbers except four, which symbolizes death).  However, some of the traditional snacks served in China can be hard to find here, so I decided to improvise.  Since sweets are plentiful at Chinese New Year feasts because they represent a sweet life in the coming year, I added several sweet selections to my tray.  Red jelly beans stand in for red melon seeds, whose color signifies joy, happiness, and truth.  Traditional peanuts (representing long life) make an appearance as the chocolate-covered variety, and coconut-flavored M&Ms replace coconut (meaning togetherness).  I couldn't find candied melon, but dates are also considered lucky so I substituted them instead.  Though they probably have no significance at all in China, cashew nuts stand in for lychee nuts on my tray, and almonds for lotus seeds ( I just hope that they are not considered unlucky!).  I had no kumquats or longans (the latter are related to lychee nuts), so I used dried cherries and blueberries, and my tray was complete.

My version of the Tray of Togetherness.

A whole fish is considered a lucky meal, but I can't abide my food staring up at me, so I opted not to include this dish!  I could and did, however, include long greens (Sesame Green Beans) and long noodles (Shrimp Lo Mein).  Cutting whole or long foods into pieces is considered unlucky, as this implies decreasing one's longevity.  Steamed Dumplings (jiaozi), which are thought to resemble precious metal ingots, are eaten to ensure future prosperity.  A sweet New Year Cake (nian gao) is traditional and symbolizes the achievement of new heights in the coming year.  Tangerines and oranges are also thought to be propitious as the words for these fruits sound similar to the ones for luck and gold (wealth), respectively:

A beautiful bowl of lucky tangerines.

Rice grains symbolize abundance, but the Eggplant in Garlic Sauce is included simply because it is one of my favorite dishes!  Most of the food came from a local Chinese restaurant, except for the Sesame Green Beans and the Baked Chinese New Year Cake.

Chinese Year of the Horse Menu:

Green Tea
Tray of Togetherness
Steamed Dumplings
Sesame Green Beans*
Shrimp Lo Mein
Eggplant with Garlic Sauce/Steamed Rice
Baked Chinese New Year Cake**/Tangerines

*Sesame Green Beans

8 oz. slender green beans (haricots verts), steamed (I use the microwaveable prepackaged type)
1 T. soy sauce
1/2 T. sesame oil
1 T. sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients and allow to marinate for at least an hour before serving at room temperature.  Serves 4.

Note: The ingredient amounts are all approximate, so increase or decrease anything to suit your own tastes -- I never use the same amounts twice!

**Baked Chinese New Year Cake

2 T. shredded sweetened coconut
4 large eggs
1 lb. sweet rice flour (about 3 C.)
3 C. whole milk
2 1/2 C. sugar
3 T. butter
1 tsp. coconut extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter; set aside.  

Place the coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until toasted and golden brown in color, about 5 minutes; set aside.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Sprinkle with the toasted coconut, rotate the dish, and bake until the edges just start to brown and the top is just set (a bubble may form, but it will flatten as the cake cools), about 20 to 25 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 30 minutes before serving. Wrap leftovers tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Serves 12.

新年快乐 (Xin Nian Kuai Le), or Happy New Year!

                

Foodie Fridays: Chinese Dumpling Soup


The Chinese Lunar New Year starts today, and what better way to usher it in than with a bowl of steaming and delicious Chinese Dumpling Soup?  Dumplings (jiaozi) are traditionally served on this occasion because they are thought to resemble ancient gold or silver ingots (yuanbao) and thus eating them is believed to bring prosperity.  Long greens are another food eaten for the new year as a symbol of long life, so you may wish to minimize the chopping of the greens in the soup (there are so many healthy ingredients in this dish that it probably contributes to longevity anyway!).  2014 is the Year of the Green (Wood) Horse, so the color of this soup is a perfect fit.  Since the Chinese consider red to be an auspicious color for the new year, sprinkle some crushed red pepper flakes on your soup if you like it spicy, or perhaps some minced red bell pepper if you don't, and your luck for the year 2014 will be enhanced even more.  新年快乐 (Xin Nian Kuai Le), or Happy New Year!  

Chinese Dumpling Soup

8 C. chicken or vegetable stock or broth
8 medium shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
6 baby bok choy, outer leaves and base discarded, sliced lengthwise
8 oz. baby spinach
6 scallions, sliced on the diagonal
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 bag (16 oz.) frozen Asian dumplings, any flavor (I found mine at Trader Joe's)
Soy sauce, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds to taste for garnish

Bring the broth or stock to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the next seven ingredients, return to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and wilted.  Add the dumplings and cook according to the package directions.  Ladle soup into bowls and stir the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds into each serving to taste.  Serves 6.

Notes: The flavored broth can be made ahead without the vegetables, which can be added before the dumplings when the soup is reheated to serve.  It is best to only add the amount of dumplings that will be eaten at once, rather than saving leftover soup with dumplings already added, as the dumplings will break down in the soup.  Also, any of your favorite greens can be used in this soup.  I used unsalted stock, so I added 2 T. soy sauce at the beginning of the recipe, but this is not necessary if the stock or broth already has salt added.
             

Thursday, January 30, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Thinking Spring -- Turquoise and Lime Green Bedroom

From learner.org

This has been a winter of extremes for us.  Extremely frigid and windy days alternate all too frequently with milder but grey and rainy ones, and we are all getting very tired of it.  We just had our first snow storm of the season, and while we were not hit as badly as Atlanta, it is bitterly cold again.  To take my mind off of the weather, I really felt the need to think about more pleasant topics, such as the hopefully imminent arrival of spring (come on, Gus the Groundhog, work with me here!).  One way to anticipate spring would be to decorate a room in bright colors suitable for the season, which is why I created not one but two bedroom style boards based on the colors turquoise and lime green.  The inspiration piece for these designs was actually a garden table with a colorful ceramic base, and since I could not decide if I preferred the green or the blue base I decided to use both!

This style board features the turquoise garden table:

Clockwise from top left: Bright Turquoise Ceramic Based Table from Mecox; Company C Spring Duvet and Sham from Wayfair; Cape Cod White Four Poster Bed from Flamant; Turquoise Abstract Acrylic Painting by Ora Birenbaum on Etsy (no longer available); Aqua Base Table Lamp from Little Crown Interiors; Cape Cod White Night Table from Flamant; Aqua Damask Print Voile Curtains from World Market (no longer available); Napoli Lime Green Leather Chair from Hayneedle; Center background: Mohawk Becker Turquoise Area Rug from The Home Depot.

The lime green garden table was the basis for this style board:

Clockwise from top left: Lime Green Ceramic Based Table from Mecox; Company C Spring Duvet and Sham from Wayfair; Cape Cod White Four Poster Bed from Flamant; Impasto Bird of Paradise Flower Painting by Regina Art on Etsy; Aqua Base Table Lamp from Little Crown Interiors; Cape Cod White Night Table from Flamant; Anokhi Turquoise Curtain Panel with Gold Paisley print from Amazon.com; Rebecca Leather Swivel Chair in Textured Ivory from Grandin Road; Center background: nuLOOM Turquoise Overdyed Rug from Wayfair.

I really can't decide which look I like better, but what does it matter?  At least I was able to get my mind off of the miserable winter weather we have been having for at least a little while!

From Michael Dossett
             

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Daniel Lyons Horse Charm Bracelet


When I was a teen charm bracelets were all the rage, and I still adore them.  But while I appreciate the sentimental value of a bracelet chock full of keepsake charms, personally I prefer one a bit more restrained -- like this utterly gorgeous Daniel Lyons Horse Charm Bracelet from Uno Alla Volta.  All six of the charms are horses, but in three different styles and colors.  At $175 I think this charm bracelet really is something best received as a special gift rather than a self-indulgent purchase.  However, Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and if this beautiful bracelet is on your wish list, you may want to start dropping hints to that special someone now!
             

Friday, January 24, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Tomato, Chickpea, and Coconut Soup


I love tomato soup, especially with a grilled cheese sandwich, but I am almost always trying to find ways to liven it up.  Tomato, Chickpea, and Coconut Soup is a more exotic version -- the perfect solution!  It is also quite healthy, and this is the time of year, right after the holidays, when I am particularly in need of foods that are good for me.  If they also taste great and are quick and easy to prepare, then I am happy to eat them, and this soup fits all the criteria.  Now if only I could find low-calorie, low-fat, sugar-free, healthy recipes for my favorite desserts, eating right would be a breeze!

Tomato, Chickpea, and Coconut Soup

1 T. olive or coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic (no need to chop)
1-2 tsp. sweet smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1 T. sherry or balsamic vinegar
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp. sugar (optional)
2-3 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1 can (16 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 C. coconut milk (or heavy cream)
1 1/2 C. water or stock
1/4 C. grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a stock pot, sauté the onion in the oil over medium heat until soft.  Add the garlic, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook one minute longer.  Stir in the vinegar, then the tomatoes, sugar, and thyme leaves.  Add the chickpeas, coconut milk, and water.  Cover and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.  Purée the soup (if using a blender, allow the soup to cool slightly first).  Adjust the seasonings.  If using the cheese, stir it in now.  Add more water to thin the soup if necessary.  Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with thyme leaves, red chile flakes, and/or a drizzle of olive oil if desired.  Serve with your favorite grilled cheese sandwich.  Serves 4.

Note: This soup tastes best if made ahead, cooled, and then reheated, which allows time for the flavors to meld and develop.  Also, for something a little different, try cutting your grilled cheese sandwich into small pieces and floating the pieces on top of the soup as croutons!
             

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Budget Travel "America's Coolest Small Town" 2014 Contest


Budget Travel is currently conducting a contest to select one of fifteen small towns as America's coolest!  Check out this site to find out which towns are in the running, and then cast a vote once a day until February 25th for your favorite.  I happen to follow a blog called "Life in Mathews" on a regular basis, so I am casting my vote for Mathews, VA, but there is some stiff competition here, including towns in Hawaii and Colorado, two of my favorite states.  Currently in the lead is Berlin, MD, followed by Buckhannon, WV, but Mathews is in third place -- it will be exciting to see who wins the bragging rights for coolest small town in America!

Scenic Mathews, Virginia!


                        

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Pocket Ponies


I thought I would continue the horse theme this week with these adorable little Pocket Ponies from Back in the Saddle.  The set of five tiny (only 3/4-inch) fetish-style ponies is solid pewter, and costs $16.95 ($14.95 each for two or more sets).  Carry one around in your pocket, and give some away to loved ones as good luck charms.  And I think these little equids would make perfect party favors for dinner guests if you are hosting a celebration for the start of the Chinese Year of the Horse on January 31st!

Too bad these cute babies won't fit in a pocket!
(from Muness Shetland Ponies)
             

Friday, January 17, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Chicken Soup with Plantain Dumplings



My husband has been doing field work on the island of Puerto Rico for years.  While I have not been there in a while, I used to go with him fairly often.  There is so much to love about Puerto Rico -- the beautiful beaches, historic San Juan, and the amazing tropical rain forest to name a few, and of course the food.  My preference is not for expensive restaurant meals (although they are excellent) but for simple, well prepared, and tasty local dishes.  Freshly squeezed orange juice and a sweet, just-baked quesita from a corner store for breakfast, a loaf of warm Puerto Rican bread from the local panadería, a roasted chicken right off the spit from one of the many roadside vendors, fresh fish or seafood caught that day and prepared with local flavorings -- these are some of the most memorable foods I have had.

My idea of a perfect meal was one I had at a small restaurant just outside of the El Yunque National Forest where my husband does a lot of his research.  It consisted of a bowl of homemade black bean soup with a side of mofongo (a mash of fried plantains*, pork, oil, and lots of garlic) and a serving of cheese flan for dessert.  Certainly nothing fancy, but this is the sort of food I could live on!  I have only tried to make mofongo once.  It is hard work, because mofongo is traditionally made by hand in a Puerto Rican mortar and pestle called a pilón, and plantains are not easy to mash:

Puerto Rican pilón
(from Caribbean Trading Company)

Mofongo is often served in the mortar of the pilón
(from Trip Advisor)

Plantains are rarely served here on the mainland, probably because people tend to prefer the more familiar potato.  I haven't had them in a very long time, except for the occasional bag of plantain chips, so when I discovered this recipe for Chicken Soup with Plantain Dumplings I knew I had to give it a try.  The dumplings are similar to mofongo but easier to make, and the Chicken Soup reminds me of traditional Puerto Rican chicken asopao (although the dried cranberries are a new twist!).  While this dish may not be quite the same as a trip to Puerto Rico for black bean soup and mofongo, it does bring back fond memories of island flavors and fun times.  I think it may be time to plan a trip back to Puerto Rico soon!

Chicken Soup with Plantain Dumplings

2-3 T. olive oil
1 pound ground chicken
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. smoked sweet paprika
1 T. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) Muir Glen diced tomatoes
1 can (4 oz.) Old El Paso chopped green chiles
8 C. chicken stock
3 yellow plantains
1 cup dried cranberries
1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
1 egg
1 C. flour
Olive oil and salt as needed

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté the chicken, bell pepper, and onion in the olive oil for about 20 minutes until lightly browned.  Stir in the garlic and spices and cook 2 more minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, green chiles, and chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer.  Peel the plantains, cut them in half, and drop them into the simmering soup.  Cook 15-20 minutes, depending on how ripe they are, until tender.  Remove them from the soup and add to a mixing bowl.  Stir the dried cranberries and kale into the soup and continue to simmer.

Mash the plantains and add the egg and flour to the bowl.  Mix well and add as much oil as you need so that the mixture comes together and holds a dumpling shape.  Depending on how ripe the plaintains are and how much moisture they have this could take just a splash to more than a 1/4 cup.

Form the dumplings into meatball-sized balls.  Drop the balls into the simmering soup.  Simmer for about 20 more minutes until the flour in the dumplings is cooked.  Stir the soup gently to mix, then ladle the soup into bowls, making sure to give everyone a few of the dumplings.  Serves 6.

Note:  As usual, I modified the original recipe to suit my tastes and according to what I had on hand.  Instead of ground chicken, I used shredded rotisserie chicken and added it at the same time as the cranberries and kale.  The original recipe calls for paprika, but I substituted smoked sweet paprika which I absolutely love.  I had a microwaveable bag of chopped kale which I zapped to use in my soup.  I used fire-roasted, unsalted Muir Glen diced tomatoes and unsalted chicken stock because that is what was in my pantry.  Since almost none of my ingredients contained added salt, I stirred in 1/2 tsp. salt with the seasonings.  You might also want to add some salt to the dumplings.  The recipe does not call for it and I liked them without salt, but some may find them a bit bland.  I may add some garlic or garlic oil the next time I make the dumplings so that they are more like mofongo.  For an even more mofongo-like flavor, try adding some crushed pork cracklings or cooked crumbled bacon as well.

*Plantains, which are a type of banana, can be an interesting food to cook because their preparation depends on the degree of ripeness.  Green plantains, which are quite hard and starchy with no sweetness, are best sliced and fried (these very popular fried slices are known as tostones in Puerto Rico and are served like French fries, only without the catsup).  As the plantain ripens and the skin turns yellow, it softens a bit and gets a little sweeter.  Plantains at this stage are perfect for boiling and mashing, as in this recipe.  A very ripe plantain whose skin is almost completely black becomes even softer and much sweeter.  The ripest stage is best baked and can be used as a dessert.  I happen to think they are delicious at any stage of ripeness, and would love to see more restaurants offer plantain on the menu!

From Healthful Direction
                

Thursday, January 16, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Gingko Leaf-Inspired Dining Room

From Better Vitamin

When I was a child growing up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, I was selected by my grade school art teacher for the very special privilege of attending the Tam O'Shanter art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  Except for the summer, every Saturday morning for several years I would be driven downtown by my father and dropped off at the museum to be taught about art by the inimitable Mr. Kirkpatrick.  Quite honestly, I was not as talented as a lot of the other students, or even my sister, who was also selected to attend.  Also, I did not appreciate the privilege quite as much as I should have.  It was hard, after all, to give up the freedom of a Saturday morning for more schooling, and as my father was working and my mother did not drive, I was obliged after classes ended to sit in the lounge of the museum's overheated ladies' room for over an hour, then make my way to the bus stop to await the bus which would take me back home.  The bus ride itself lasted over an hour, and it was well past lunch time before I arrived back at our house.

Nonetheless, I do remember a number of enjoyable aspects about the classes.  We students were often taken into the museum to sketch, which was quite fun.  I eventually met another girl from a neighborhood near mine and we became good friends.  She and I shared the same slightly irreverent attitude toward our classes, and more often than not would spend our sketching time drawing silly cartoons rather than faithful renderings of precious art objects such as classical marble busts in the museum.  Mr. Kirkpatrick could be very entertaining during his lectures, but he would probably have been outraged if he had discovered our secret!  Once I was actually selected as part of the weekly group of students chosen to recreate our previous week's work on a large easel onstage with Mr. Kirkpatrick as he lectured.  I still remember two favorite pieces of artwork I created -- a scene of a horse kicking up fall leaves (the one I recreated onstage), and one of our beagle mix dog confronting an angry crayfish (which really did happen).  Even then I was a serious animal lover!

I have always loved to read, and got a library card for the adjacent Carnegie Library.  I checked out numerous books, mostly mystery novels and books about horses which were my overwhelming interests at the time (I became quite good at drawing horse anatomy thanks to those books).  And when the weather was nice I would walk through the park outside of the museum and admire the gardens.  The spring tulips were especially lovely.  I remember there was a man who always sold candy apples in the park.  I was too shy to buy one, but they too were quite pretty.  Most especially I can recall the gingko trees, whose leaves turned a beautiful golden yellow in the fall.  To this day I have a special fondness for gingkos, despite the fact that they are also known as "stinkbomb trees", and for good reason!

All of this leads me to today's post.  I mentioned the latest Grandin Road catalog last week.  In addition to all of the colorful home furnishings, I was also attracted to a gorgeous triptych of gingko leaves:


When I discovered that they also had a gingko leaf rug, I knew I had to create a style board based on this design theme.  I chose to do a dining room, and this is the result:

Clockwise from top left: Modern Stump Dining Table from Mecox; Rebecca Leather Swivel Chair in Textured Citrine from Grandin Road; Set of Three Gingko Artwork from Grandin Road; Gingko Round Tray from J. Fleet Designs; Robert Abbey Apple Glazed Ceramic Lamp from Amazon.com; Camber Sideboard in White from Dwell (no longer available); Gold Biloba Sculpture from Plantation; Center background: Monterey Indoor Area Rug in Lagoon from Grandin Road;  Background top: Mahandi Wallcovering in Darjeeling from Carolyn Ray Inc.; Background bottom: Earthly Elements Oak Flooring in Ebony from Mannington.

The chair is a rather unconventional choice for a dining room, but the Rebecca chair is a favorite of mine (I have always been a fan of swivel chairs), so I just had to go with it!  Metallics are very popular right now, and while I rarely use gold it does seem to be the ideal choice for this room.  The gingko leaf motif works quite well in the dining room, in my opinion, and would also be a great choice for just about any other room in the house.  Could this be the start of a new design trend?  Probably not, but I will always be fond of these uniquely shaped leaves and the memories they evoke!
             

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Running Horses Flatware


Two weeks ago I featured lovely horse-themed wine glasses in honor of the Chinese Year of the Horse which starts at the end of this month.  (I also mentioned some beautiful embossed horse design plates in December.)  This week I present to you a 20-piece set of Running Horses Flatware to continue the equine theme.  The flatware ranges in price from about $45 to $60.  It is available from several different sites (Horse.com and Crazy Horse West are two), but it is quickly becoming harder to find, so if you feel that you can't live without it you might want to order your set as soon as possible.  Hi Yo Silver(ware)!
             

Friday, January 10, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Italian Sausage Kale Soup


Good gracious, it has been a cold week here, as it has in so many parts of the nation!  The cold snap is finally moving off, but will be replaced by rain this weekend.  The only good thing I have to say about this weather is that it is perfect for soup, and the Italian Sausage Kale Soup I made this week is a hearty and fairly healthy choice for a quick supper, a satisfying lunch, or even a warming midday snack.  My husband does not consider soup to be a main dish, so I list it as a side dish here, but this particular recipe could easily be supplemented with a grilled cheese sandwich to qualify as dinner even for him.  As for me, I could live on soup in the colder months, and this one would regularly be on the menu!

Italian Sausage Kale Soup

1 T. olive oil
19 oz. Italian sausage (remove casings from links)
1 medium onion, diced
8 C. chopped fresh kale*
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 C. white wine or chicken stock
1 carton (26 oz.) chicken stock
1 can (14-15 oz.) cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14-15 oz.) diced tomatoes
4 oz. (1/2 jar) sun-dried tomatoes in oil, diced**
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Brown the sausage with the onion in the oil until the sausage is no longer pink.  Remove the sausage-onion mixture and set aside.  If necessary, drain off all but 1/4 cup of the drippings.  Sauté the kale in the drippings until wilted.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for one minute.  Stir in the wine or stock and cook two minutes longer.

Return the sausage-onion mixture to the pot.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the kale is tender.  Serves 8.

*I bought a bag of microwaveable kale, so I left out the step of wilting the kale.  Add the cooked kale with the beans, tomatoes, and remaining ingredients.  Also, my sausage was very lean and did not give off much fat, so I would probably have had to add more olive oil to the pot to wilt the kale.

**The original recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in oil, but I only had the oil-packed ones and they worked just fine.
             

Thursday, January 9, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Crazy for Color Grandin Road-Inspired Living Room


I recently received the latest Grandin Road catalog, and was enchanted with all of the color in this issue -- so much so that I was inspired to create a style board centered around colorful Grandin Road home furnishings.  Here is the result:

Set of Five Prisma Candleholders; Rebecca Leather Swivel Chair in Textured Baltic Blue; Large Hammered Drum Table; Nora Table Lamp; Madeira Chest in Lemon Yellow; Lauren Leather Storage Ottoman in Textured Thistle; Riley Sofa in Natural; Center background: Hand-tufted Pascal Indoor Area Rug.

The neutral sofa provides an oasis of calm in an otherwise chaotic riot of color pulled mostly from the exuberant area rug (although if Grandin Road offered a full-sized sofa in a bright color I might have been tempted to include it instead).  So much color brightens an otherwise dull and dreary winter day in January, and has me dreaming of sunnier times ahead!
             

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Charleston Gardens Signs

From Charleston Gardens ($50)

In a world where everyone seems to be clamoring over the latest technology, I sometimes feel as if I am being left behind.  I don't want to be on Twitter or Facebook or the like, I don't want to be available by phone 24/7, I don't feel the need to check my e-mails every day, and I don't want to read books or watch movies on a computer screen.  I know that this is a very old-fashioned attitude, but frankly, I don't care.  Now I've found a couple of wall signs from Charleston Gardens that accurately express my view of life.  You can keep your cell phones, iPads, apps, and social networking -- as long as I have a library, a garden, and some solitude my world is complete!

From Charleston Gardens ($50)
             

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On the Homefront: New Year's Day Table

Frost the Dalmatian, sans Santa hat, decided to stick around
for another winter-themed table!

We have had so little sunshine since Christmas that I had a hard time getting photos of our New Year's Day table.  Finally last Friday we had some sun, so I quickly snapped some pictures (we are now back to grey and gloomy, with record cold temperatures on the way).  I continued the wintry theme from Christmas, but I think my color choices must have been influenced by the weather -- lots of black, white, brown, and even some grey, which is not one of my favorites hues.  However, I do love the theme of animals from cooler climes, and I got the chance to feature my lovely Floating Puffin Cookie Jar, so the table was delightful to me despite the rather cool and somber color scheme!


Dark brown wooden bead placemat from Target; black round woven placemat from Bed Bath & Beyond; white dinner plate (Tivoli by Studio Nova); Winter Solstice Animal Dessert Plates from West Elm (no longer available); white flatware from Target; black napkin; black-stemmed wine glass; clear water glass.  The small white plate is a coaster for the wine bottle.

There are four different arctic animal designs on the dessert plates:

Playful penguin

Sweet seal pup

Omniscient owl

Prowling polar bear



I love this cookie jar -- Atlantic Puffins are my favorite bird!


Every Christmas one of my brothers, who lives in Maryland, sends us crab cakes.  We always have them either on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.  Like our Christmas dinner, the meal was quick and easy, as I went on a long trail ride that day, but everything was just as tasty as if I had made it all from scratch.  The crab cakes were baked for 20 minutes and then quickly sautéed.  The sweet potatoes came from Publix in a microwaveable bag -- they were ready in eight minutes!  The pickled beets were out of a jar, and the cake came from a relatively new supermarket in our area called The Fresh Market.  I also got one of my very favorite salad greens (the mâche rosettes) there, and was lucky to find them as they are not always available.  I dressed the salad with the absolute best bottled Lemon Vinaigrette and served the crab cakes on top with lemon and a blend of tartar and cocktail sauces.

New Year's Day Dinner:

Pinot Grigio/Unsweetened Iced Tea
Crab Cakes on a Bed of Mâche Rosettes
Lemon, Tartar-Cocktail Sauce, and Lemon Vinaigrette
Steamed Sweet Potatoes with Butter
Pickled Beets
Gingerbread Loaf Cake

Since our main dish was crab cakes, I chose a crab-shaped serving dish for the Extra Dark Lindt Lindor truffles:


Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!

"Here's a toast to the future,
A toast to the past,
And a toast to our friends far and near.
May the future be pleasant,
The past a bright dream,
May our friends remain faithful and dear!"