Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Colorful Outdoor Wicker Collection from Plow & Hearth

Wicker Stacking Chairs in Orange;
Talavera Tile Indoor/Outdoor Rug;
Outdoor Throw Pillow in Leaf Green

My latest Plow & Hearth catalog just arrived, and it is filled with all sorts of colorful items for outdoor living.  My favorite is the weather-resistant resin wicker collection.  A dining table and four chairs are available for $599.95 in your choice of blue, lime, orange, red, or yellow:


Or purchase each piece separately ($299.95 for the dining table or $129.95 for a bistro table, and $99.95 each for the chairs) and mix and match the colors!


There are even outdoor wicker ottoman poufs in two sizes (small $79.95, large $119.95) to scatter about the yard for more casual seating:

(also available in blue or white)

For the final touch, put up some wicker hanging baskets in blue, orange, and/or lime ($39.95, or $34.95 for two or more) filled with an abundance of vibrant flowering plants:


Best of all, this wicker is stackable or foldable for easy storage, and is durable and easy to clean, so it should last a long time.  A yard full of this fun and colorful collection would be a great way to kick off the fast approaching summer season!
             

Friday, April 25, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Avocado Toast


While I am probably a bit behind the times, I recently found out that one of the latest food fads is Avocado Toast.  Everyone with a food blog (or at least those of the younger generation) seems to be raving about this breakfast treat, so I decided I had to try it.  Well, now I am hooked as well!  I think the original idea was that the avocado replaced butter as a healthier spread, but now there are so many variations, including those with added butter, and this is my preference.  I like to use a good quality whole wheat sandwich bread, but use whatever bread you prefer.  For protein, I add a sliced hard-boiled egg.  My secret ingredient, which makes this meal extra special, is a sprinkling of smoked paprika.  Avocado toast hardly needs a recipe, but I am posting one for my favorite variation.  If you haven't already, give this toast a try!

Avocado Toast

2 slices bread
1/2 T. butter, softened
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
salt to taste
1 ripe avocado
smoked paprika to taste

Toast the bread.  Spread each slice with butter, then divide the egg slices between the two pieces of bread.  Sprinkle the egg with salt to taste.  Halve the avocado and remove the seed.  Using a spoon, slice out thin slivers of avocado from each half and pile them onto the toast.  Sprinkle the tops of each with smoked paprika to taste.  Serves 1-2 (depending on how hungry you are!).
             

Thursday, April 24, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: The Perfect Body?

The perfect man and the perfect woman?
(from Arts-Stew.com)

Last week I read an article about a survey done by the UK lingerie company Bluebella.  500 men and 500 women were asked to create composite images of the perfect male and female body based on celebrities' body parts (I have to admit I don't recognize the names of many of the celebrities chosen).  Not surprisingly, men and women had some distinct differences in what consitutes the ideal body.  The perfect woman would look like these images:


Men definitely prefer a more shapely female body, while women seem to believe a very slender and boyish figure is ideal.  The only other major differences I can see are the fluffier hair and sweeter, more open face on the men's perfect woman.

When it comes to the perfect man, once again women seem to gravitate to a more slender (though equally muscular) form:


I do think it is rather amusing that, in this case, it is the women who prefer fluffier hair and a sweeter facial expression!

All of this leads me to ponder just what shapes our opinions of what the perfect human body would look like.  I was born in the mid-1950s, and back then both men and women tended to admire a more curvaceous figure for women and a more rugged look for men (think Ava Gardner and Clark Gable in "Mogambo" (1953), for example).

I have always thought that Ava Gardner had the ideal
female figure -- she looks stunning even in a casual
outfit like this one.

Clark Gable looking manly with his leading ladies,
Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, from the movie
Mogambo (1953).

Then some time in the 1960s this changed, and I think the fashion industry had a lot to do with shifting our preferences.  Anyone my age probably remembers the 1960s model Twiggy, whose waif-like look captivated first the fashion world and then the rest of us.

The ultra-slim Twiggy
(from Living a Balanced Life)

Delicately built actress Audrey Hepburn also became extremely popular after the spectacular successes of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) and "My Fair Lady" (1964).

An adorably gamine Audrey Hepburn
(from Mail Online)

But while both of these women came by their slender frames naturally, suddenly there was an insatiable desire on the part of women to become slim at all costs.  "You can never be too rich or too thin" became our mantra, and we have been trying to live up to this ideal ever since.

Barbie dolls (from Scenic Reflections);
 the one on the right is an original from
1959, while the one on the left is from 2009;
Barbie's proportions were actually
changed in 2000 by Mattel in response to
criticism of the doll's implausible body shape.

Another icon of my generation is the Barbie doll.  Even today, the impossible proportions of this little plastic figure remain controversial.  On the one hand, there is a Ukrainian model who has undergone plastic surgery, a rigid diet and exercise regimen, and heavy application of makeup to turn herself into a human Barbie doll:

Valeria Lukyanova as Barbie
(from HuffPost Style)

On the other hand, a young man from Pennsylvania named Nickolay Lamm has developed a doll similar to Barbie but with more realistic proportions, which he calls "Lammily" (his last name combined with the word "family").  Lamm digitally designed a doll based on the proportions of the average 19-year-old woman in the USA as reported by the CDC.  He then created a series of images comparing his doll with a Barbie, photoshopping his ceation so that its physical characteristics mimicked those of the Barbie doll:

I never noticed before how huge Barbie's
head is, and how small her feet are!
(from Nickolay Lamm)

Lamm did this to make the point that a doll based on average female proportions was just as attractive as Barbie, and a more sensible choice to help promote realistic expectations for young girls.  According to an article on Rehabs.com, even the now reconfigured Barbie's proportions are so grotesquely offscale that, at normal human size, her neck would not support her head and her feet and ankles could not support her body weight.


The Lammily doll has gone into production thanks to enthusiastic public support, and should be available by November 2014:

"Lammily - Average Is Beautiful"
(from Lammily.com)

It will be interesting to see if this rethinking of a classic child's toy will become popular, or if Barbie will continue to hold on to her reign (although in recent news it was reported that Barbie sales seem to be slipping).  Of course, even if Barbie loses out as a favorite toy, it seems she now has a second career opportunity as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model:


While the decision to use Barbie this way has sparked protests and controversy, I suppose it is only fitting that a doll proportioned after a German sex toy would eventually find its way to being ogled on the cover of a men's magazine.

Call me old-fashioned, but even after decades of conflicting notions about the perfect body, I guess I still prefer the good old days when our only expectations were that men look like men and women like women:

Even though Robert Mitchum is doing the ironing while
Jane Russell pours the champagne in this scene from
"His Kind of Woman" (1951), there is no gender confusion here!
(from Lasso the Movies)
             

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Girls' Night In Debauchery Wine Glasses


Now that Easter has come and Lent is over, the period of penitence has passed and everyone is free to "laissez les bon temps rouler" once again.  If your good times tend to include wine, this amusing set of eight Girls' Night In Debauchery Wine Glasses ($49.99) from the Victorian Trading Co. will add a bit of humor to any gathering.  The colorful stems and individual descriptions of overindulgence will also help your guests remember which glass is theirs.  These wine glasses are sure to become your stemware of choice for any celebration -- just remember to pack them away after Mardi Gras with all due solemnity when the Lenten season returns!
                           

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On the Homefront: Yellow and White Easter Table

Two Easter Dalmatians, Happy and Bunny, join a white ceramic
rabbit (from Tuesday Morning last year), two Lindt Gold Bunnies,
and my Pier 1 white bird salt and pepper shakers at one end of
the table.  White tulips in a yellow vase and lemon yellow candies
in a white bowl complete the look.

My Easter table this year was inspired by a table runner and napkins I picked up at HomeGoods last month, as well as some bunny plates I purchased recently from Crate and Barrel.  The linens inspired the yellow and white color scheme as well as the bunny theme which was enhanced by the plates.  I discovered that I had a lot more yellow and white tableware than I thought, so this table came together easily.  Even the menu features a lot of yellow!


White fabric placemat from Tuesday Morning this year; yellow dinner plate (Block Basics by Cerind of Portugal); white Bunny Plate by Elvis Swift from Crate and Barrel; stainless flatware (Tripoli Sand by Cambridge) from HomeGoods a couple of years ago; bunny napkin and table runner by Colordrift from HomeGoods; stainless egg cup; yellow plastic egg filled with M&Ms as a napkin topper; yellow ceramic mug I think from The Cupboard in Fort Collins, CO, years ago; clear water glass.



The yellow platter will be used as a trivet for the ham and egg
casserole dish; the small bowl on the right is filled with
lemon creme almonds; the white sugar bowl, bunny
cream pitcher, and clear butter dish will be filled later.

A big round yellow ceramic platter filled with cloth-wrapped
croissants makes a tasty centerpiece.


My Easter menu is pretty simple to make.  The Ham and Egg Casserole can be assembled the night before, then brought to room temperature the next morning and baked.  Make the Lemon Curd Muffins the day before as well.  The green beans are quick to prepare and can also be done the night before or just before eating.  Steaming green beans in the microwave is a cinch, especially if you use prepackaged microwaveable beans.  Just combine the cooked beans with olive oil, lemon juice, and sliced almonds to taste and they are done!

My fruit salads always start with canned pineapple tidbits in juice plus a can of mandarin oranges with the syrup drained off.  Then I add strawberries and any other fruits that look good (I had some leftover blueberries so I added them).  Slice in some bananas just before serving, if desired (you can add them earlier if you don't mind mushy bananas, but most people prefer them firm).  When I was young, canned pineapple-grapefruit juice was available in stores and was my favorite.  Nowadays you have to mix it up yourself, but to me it is worth the tiny bit of effort required.  Add store-bought croissants and a butter lamb if you can find one, and the menu is complete!

Butter lamb!

Easter Brunch Menu:

Fruit Salad
Green Beans with Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, and Sliced Almonds
Croissants
Butter Lamb
Lemon Curd Muffins*
Coffee or Tea
Pineapple-Grapefruit Juice


*Lemon Curd Muffins

1 1/2 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 C. sugar
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 C. plain yogurt
1/2 C. whole milk
5 T. butter, melted (or 1/3 C. vegetable oil)
1 egg
1/2 C. lemon curd (approximate)

Line 12 muffin cups with paper or foil liners.  Sift together the first five ingredients in a large bowl.  Whisk together the next four ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined (do not overmix).  Divide half of the batter among the 12 muffin cups.  Top each with about 1/2 tsp. of lemon curd, then divide the rest of the batter evenly over the tops of the muffins.  (Try not to use up too much batter for the bottom layer, so that you have enough left over to completely cover the lemon curd.)  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  Serve warm with additional lemon curd.  Makes 12 muffins.

I rarely get the chance to take pictures of the food I serve, but for once I had a little time to snap some photos:

Ham and egg casserole (this was so good!)

Green beans with olive oil, lemon juice, and sliced almonds

Fruit salad (pineapple tidbits, mandarin oranges, strawberries,
blueberries, and bananas); the small bowl on the left holds
very tart little candies called Lemonheads.

In addition to the lemon creme almonds and Lemonheads candies, I found a box of packaged Jelly Belly Lemon Cake Bites made by Swiss Colony at our local Kroger supermarket that fit my table theme perfectly:


I hope you all had a wonderful Easter day with beautiful weather like we did!  And, just like last year, I leave you with my favorite Easter Peeps YouTube video:

                

Holiday Hits: Happy Easter!

Easter basket (from Access Atlanta)

After a weekend of rain and grey skies, Easter Sunday dawned clear and breezy.  The colors of the spring landscape are so sharp and bright this morning that I thought I would feature a picture parade of intensely colored Easter home décor and treats.  Be prepared to be dazzled!

Easter bouquet (from Babyocio)


Easter eggs (from Do It and How)

Easter Peeps (from Martha Stewart)

Easter bread (from Bennison's Bakery)

Easter wreath (from Family First Magazine)

Easter table (from The Pink Flour)

Easter cookies (from LilaLoa)

Easter mantel (from imSAID)

Easter deviled eggs (from Life's A Tomato)

The only colorful Easter items to avoid would be dyed chicks, ducks and bunnies.  The dyeing process can be stressful, but more importantly these poor animals are often abandoned once the cuteness wears off.  Never give small animals to children as novelty gifts -- unless, of course, we are talking about these types of Easter creatures:

Easter bunnies (from Travel Around the World -
Vacation Reviews)

Happy Easter, everyone!
             

Friday, April 18, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Ham and Egg Casserole

From Pocket Change Gourmet

For me, ham and eggs are the ultimate Easter foods (along with chocolate, of course!).  Since I always do a brunch as the main Easter meal, it makes perfect sense to feature these two foods in the main course.  The beauty of this Ham and Egg Casserole is that you can customize it however you wish.  I had some leftover sliced scallions, so I added those to my casserole.  Feel free to throw in whatever you like -- asparagus, bell peppers (roasted or not), sliced black olives, artichoke hearts, onion, broccoli, peas, your favorite herbs, etc.  And if you prefer bacon or sausage, by all means use them instead of the ham.  Best of all, this dish is so easy that you will have more time to spend with your guests, or working on a fancy dessert for your meal, or even sleeping in a little longer before you start cooking.  Have a Happy Easter!

Ham and Egg Casserole

1 C. diced ham
2 C. shredded cheese (use your favorite)
1/4 C. grated Parmesan cheese
1 T. flour
1/4 tsp. Greek Seasoning or salt
1/4 tsp. pepper, divided
1/4 C. butter, melted
12 eggs
1 C. milk or cream
1/2 T. Dijon mustard

Combine the first five ingredients with 1/8 tsp. pepper and spread evenly in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish.  Pour the melted butter over the ham mixture.  Whisk together the remaining three ingredients with the rest of the pepper and pour into the baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  If desired, top the casserole with more cheese and return to the oven for a few more minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Cool the casserole slightly, then cut into squares.  Serves 6-8.

Note: This dish can be made ahead, then refrigerated or even frozen to serve later.  If refrigerated, allow to come to room temperature before baking.  If frozen, thaw the casserole for 30 minutes first.  Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes, then uncover and bake 15-20 minutes longer.
             

Thursday, April 17, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Beautiful Computer Games

Questionaut from Amanita Design

The weather this past winter was so unusually cold and wet that I found myself spending way too much time indoors.  One of the ways I kept myself occupied was by playing free online computer games.  I try not to spend too much time on them, and since my schedule throughout the day is so varied I only play games that can be finished quickly, but there were times when I still ran out of new games.  I decided to check out some older versions of the escape and adventure games which are my favorites, and I was delighted to find quite a few that are fun, just challenging enough without being frustrating, and even quite beautiful in terms of graphics.  If you are a fan of this genre and relatively new to them like me, you might want to check these older games out as well, whenever you have a little spare time.


Kveendolnitza and Kveendolnitza 2 by Jacek Szleszynski

Kveendolnitza 2 is relatively recent, and was the game that inspired me to search for older games that were similar.  In both episodes, a small creature named Triton is on a quest through amusing and fantastical scenes which are fun to navigate.  Kveendolnitza 3 is also out, but it is not yet online for free.


Samorost/Questionaut/The Quest for the Rest by Amanita Design

Samorost is the game that seems to have set the standard for beautiful computer games, with lovely and surrealistic backgrounds through which a small character must navigate to reach a goal.  Questionaut and The Quest for the Rest are also available in full online.  The former, which was designed for the BBC, is delightfully educational, while the latter has breathtakingly gorgeous settings.  Other games by the same designer are offered free as partial demos only.


Memohuntress by SpikeVallentine

In this game, a young girl named Sellar Dore leaves her troubled home to become the Memohuntress, finder of lost items -- for a price.  When she learns that disaster has struck her home town, Sellar Dore must earn enough money to return home.  The game follows her through several hunts, with superb graphics, great music, and an absorbing interactive quest that is a joy to play.  The designer of this game has created others slightly similar to this one, which I have not yet checked out.


Aurora 1 and Aurora 2 by Pastel Games

An Old West prospector literally finds himself drawn into a strange town and must figure out a way to escape -- before it is too late.   There is a dreamlike quality and stark beauty to this game, with a vaguely sinister theme.  The story continues in Aurora 2.


The Trader of Stories by Pastel Games

A young girl with a mysterious past she cannot remember searches for stories from others that could help her discover her own tale.  Her wagon breaks down in the midst of the journey, and she must use her abilities to solve the secret of a small village so that she can get the wagon repaired and continue on.  The graphics are hauntingly beautiful and the storyline intriguing.  If you like this game and the Aurora series, check out the others created by Pastel Games.


Haluz 1 and Haluz 2 by Tomas K.

The Haluz games were developed by a young Slovak man named Tomas as a tribute to Samorost.  The  name Haluz means "dream-like", and these games truly do have that quality.  The unique and rather comical creatures inhabiting the games add to the fun.


Wogger by Bernd Mattiebe

Wogger is an odd little extraterrestrial game which moves from outer space to inner space in a most unusual way.  Some of the hot spots in the twelve levels can be very tricky to find, but the game is fascinating nonetheless.  If you enjoy this game, there is a Woggerworld website with many Wogger mini game spinoffs to play for free.

(BTW, a good site for descriptions of these games and others is Jay Is Games.  If you get stuck in a game, look for walkthroughs on the websites or on YouTube.)

Personally, I find the worlds in which these lovely, slightly quirky games are set to be so enticing I almost hate to reach the end.  Fortunately for real life, the games are not too difficult to navigate and solve, so I can get on with the rest of my day in a timely manner.  I am sure there are more games similar to these available online, and the next time bad weather forces me to stay indoors I may just search out a few of them!