Saturday, May 31, 2014

On the Homefront: A Window Sill Full of African Violets

When we bought our current house over ten years ago, we remodeled the kitchen, and I insisted on having a greenhouse window installed.  I love it!  This is what the window looks like right now -- full of blooming African violets.  I grow African violets in memory of my mother.  She had the greenest thumb of anyone I ever knew, and growing these flowering houseplants was one of her specialties.  She could grow them up from a single leaf (and would upon occasion pinch a broken leaf from a plant in the now defunct dime store of our home town for just that purpose!).  I remember when I was in college, I bought a tiny African violet plant for a quarter from a yard sale.  It consisted of two tiny little leaves, and the whole year I had it in my college apartment it remained that way.  When I went home for the summer I left that pathetic little plant with my mom.  By the end of summer my African violet had burgeoned into a robust and leafy thing of beauty, covered with lovely pink flowers. My mother passed away years ago, but in her honor I learned how to care for African violets and now have them flowering on my own kitchen window sill, just like she did.  Thanks for the memories, Mom, and a window sill full of blooming beauties!


Friday, May 30, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Chia Seed Pudding

From Weelicious

I had been reading about Chia Seed Pudding on several blogs lately, and have been meaning to try it but never seemed to get around to buying the seeds.  Last week, on a rare major shopping excursion, fate intervened.  I stopped by the brand new Marshalls in nearby Athens, GA, and, believe it or not, found some organic black chia seeds there.  I tried out a recipe for a single serving of the pudding, and I am now an enthusiastic convert!  I think it tastes like tapioca (which I love) with some crunch added.  Many people eat this pudding for breakfast, but it also makes a great dessert.  In fact, I almost feel guilty about eating Chia Seed Pudding for breakfast because it seems so decadent!

While some may find the taste rather bland, I happen to like bland.  It is a bit like oatmeal in that you can add whatever flavorings you like.  Sweetened berries are a favorite topping, as are chopped toasted nuts or shredded coconut, and spices like cinnamon and/or nutmeg can be stirred in.  Try stirring in a pinch of salt when blending the seeds and liquid, just as you would do with oatmeal, if you need a flavor enhancer (salt can bring out the sweet flavor in foods).  I can't wait to start experimenting with more flavor variations!

Chia Seed Pudding

3 T. chia seeds
1 C. liquid of choice*
1/2 T. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients in a container that can hold about 2 cups (I used a 500-ml French jelly jar glass with a lid).  Let sit for a minute, and stir again.  Wait a few more minutes and then stir once more.  (The multiple stirrings ensure that the seeds stay evenly distributed in the liquid rather than clumping at the bottom of the container.)  Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or ideally overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.  Stir once more and serve, adding a spoonful or two of liquid if the pudding is too thick.  Makes one generous breakfast serving or two reasonable dessert servings.

*I used rice milk, but almond milk or coconut water are popular choices.  Regular milk is another option, of course, and yogurt can be substituted for half of the liquid.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Two "Oldies But Goodies" Movies You Should Watch

Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, and Alexander Scourby
in a scene from "Affair in Trinidad" (1952)

I have a rather extensive collection of DVDs and old video cassettes (which I try to replace with DVDs when I can find them).  I love to buy old movies I have never seen before if I find their descriptions intriguing.  Sometimes these films are mediocre, occasionally they are pretty bad, but every so often I find some real gems.  A couple of weeks ago, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I watched two recently purchased old movies that I really enjoyed.


The first movie I watched was "Affair in Trinidad" (1952) with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.  Any film buff is familiar with "Gilda" (1946), which also stars Hayworth and Ford, but did you know that these actors actually starred in five movies together?  "Affair in Trinidad" is very similar to "Gilda" in terms of plot, and it marked the return of Hayworth to film after a four-year hiatus during her unsuccessful marriage to Prince Aly Khan.  This film is not as effective as the more compelling "Gilda", but I think I like Rita Hayworth more in this movie, because her character is portrayed as more vulnerable and less brazen than the latter's title character.  Glenn Ford's character is also less harsh -- although still a fairly hot-headed and rashly judgmental guy, he does seem to recognize and feel some remorse for these qualities.  I also rather liked the almost buffoonish villains for bringing just a touch of comedy to this film noir.  I especially appreciated the head villain (and Ford's rival for Hayworth's affections) portrayed by Alexander Scourby.

One scene in this movie just tickled me -- Scourby's villain is shot in crossfire as he and his associates are about the flee the island, and he urges his partners in crime to leave without him.  When they hesitate, he snarls at them, "If you're waiting for my last words, you've heard them."  What a line!  In fact, Scourby has most of the best lines in the movie.  Rita Hayworth has two musical numbers in the film, and both exemplify her trademark alluring style (watch her performance to the song "Trinidad Lady" here).  And now for my rather heretical confession -- I am not a fan of Hayworth's dancing!  I find her moves vaguely similar to the infamous Elaine Bennis scene in "Seinfeld", rather awkward and slightly graceless. My sister vehemently disagrees with me, arguing that the woman was unparalleled in her ability to dance in high heels, and I have to say that even Fred Astaire was impressed (he considered her his favorite dance partner), but I don't see it.  That's just me, however, and for me this opinion does not detract from her acting.  In fact, I find her performance in the excellent movie "Separate Tables" (1958) to be quite compelling.  I believe that Hayworth's acting abilities were often overlooked due to her sex symbol status (not an unusual complaint for movie stars).  Anyway, if you get the chance to see this movie, I highly recommend it!

From Movie Poster Shop

An even more fascinating movie is the second one I watched called "Blind Alley" (1939) starring Chester Morris and Ralph Bellamy.  This film is a psychological thriller pitting psychiatrist Bellamy against vicious but troubled gangster Morris.  After Morris' character kills a student of the psychiatrist, the doctor decides to destroy the gangster in the only way he can, which is by analyzing the man and discovering the root cause of his dangerous personality.  Chester Morris, who is best known for his later film role of jewel thief-turned-detective Boston Blackie, does a frighteningly chilling job portraying the hardened criminal whose psychological armor is about to crack.  Ralph Bellamy, who starred as detective Ellery Queen in several movies in the early 1940s, often played reliable if rather stodgy characters, so his role as the pipe-smoking psychiatrist and university professor in this movie is rather typical for him, and he does it well.  What really makes this movie work for me is the relationship between the two characters these men portray, and the slow but sure unraveling of the gangster's troubling nightmare as well as his tough facade.  There are other actors in this movie, but they are incidental to the main characters, and really don't make much of an impression.  Read a more in-depth description of this movie here.  "Blind Alley" does not get much notice, for some reason (although you can watch a few clips from the movie here), which I think is a real shame.  Watch this one if you can find it, especially if you are a fan of film noir, as this movie is considered to be a forerunner to the genre.

Ralph Bellamy and Chester Morris face off in a scene from
"Blind Alley" (1939).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Pier 1 Elephant Parade Table Linens

I indulged in some serious shopping last week, and found quite a few items on my wish list.  My best find was a new summer purse from Steinmart in a dark tan leather with lots of zippered compartments.

I have been searching for the perfect purse for quite a while now, so I was delighted with this purchase.  I also found a couple of new outdoor pillows at Walmart that bring just the right touch of summer to our front porch chairs (I can finally put away the forest green knit pillows with the wintry pine tree pattern!).

But since I am so obsessed with tablescapes right now, for me my most exciting finds were from Pier 1 Imports.  I could not resist their Elephant Parade Table Runner (on sale now for $31.96) and Napkins (on sale for $3.16 each) shown at the top of the page.  Having recently found a recipe for the perfect chicken curry, I now can't wait to set an India-themed table which will feature this dish, and these new table linens are a great starting place.  Hopefully I will be posting this tablescape next month!

Monday, May 26, 2014

On the Homefront: Memorial Day Shrimp Extravaganza Table

Herring Bone by Taste Setter
(from Replacements, Ltd.)

My husband purchased a beautiful set of dinner plates and a serving platter with a huge shrimp design called Herring Bone (by Taste Setter) long before I even met him.  I have been wanting to set a table featuring these plates for a while, and Memorial Day seemed like a good time to finally bring them out.  My color scheme was inspired by a coastal-themed tablescape on the Between Naps on the Porch blog, which dared to break away from the traditional watery blues and greens and instead featured reds and corals.

Coral pink striped place mat and napkin; shrimp dinner plate (Herring Bone by Taste Setter); carved wood shrimp chopstick/knife rest; white-handled flatware from Target; pale green goblet; clear water glass (unfortunately I don't remember where most of these items came from -- we've had most of them a long time!).

Two pale pink candles in white scallop shell-shaped bowls
flank the large shrimp platter.

A closer look at the large shrimp platter, as well as a small shrimp
trivet we bought in Charleston a couple of years ago.

My husband brought this ceramic piece home from his travels
years ago; I don't remember where it came from, but the
design looks very Asian.

Two fish-shaped ceramic plates are set out to hold appetizers.

A tiny shrimp-shaped chopstick/knife rest
carved from wood (bamboo?).

Obviously shrimp is on the menu for this Memorial Day table!  I made a rare trip to Trader Joe's last week and was delighted to find some huge frozen shrimp labelled "colossal" which I just had to purchase for our holiday meal.  For an appetizer, I thought it only appropriate to go to the opposite extreme in terms of size and use some canned salad shrimp labelled "tiny" for this course.  Some asparagus (tossed with olive oil and salt, roasted at 450 degrees for 6-8 minutes, then topped with fresh lemon zest and juice) and a fruit-flavored dessert round out our simple dinner.

Memorial Day Shrimp Extravaganza Menu:

Shrimp Puffs*
Roasted Asparagus with Lemon

*Shrimp Puffs

1/4 C. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 C. mayonnaise
2 T. minced scallions
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 can (4 oz.) tiny shrimp, rinsed and drained (I used Bumble Bee)
10-12 Ritz or other buttery crackers (or small bread rounds)

Combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl.  Stir in the shrimp.  Mound a tablespoonful of the shrimp mixture onto each cracker.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes until heated through (keep an eye on the crackers to make sure they don't burn).  Serve immediately.  Serves 5-6.

Note:  You can eliminate the baking and serve the shrimp mixture as a dip (chill for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to meld).

Irish Cream-flavored Lindt Lindor truffles are offered in a pretty little bowl decorated with delicate pink shrimp:

Did you think I forgot about Dalmatians for this table?  Think again!

Coral the Dalmatian sits discreetly off to the side, wearing
her necklace of tiny shells to suit the coastal theme!

A heartfelt thank you to all of the brave men and women who risked their lives defending our great nation -- we owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be adequately repaid.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Yogurt Dark Chocolate Chunk Loaf

I don't like dark chocolate.  I prefer the sweetness of milk or even white chocolate to the bitter taste of the darker varieties.  And yet, for some reason, we receive a lot of dark chocolate as gifts at Christmas.  I now have a rather extensive stockpile of dark chocolate in my pantry (everyone should have such a problem, right?) and I am desperate to find a use for it all.  Fortunately, like many people, I do like dark chocolate pieces in baked goods, so I decided to hunt for some easy recipes that use a large amount of chopped chocolate.  I did not find exactly what I was looking for, but I did find several recipes for chocolate chip banana bread, which gave me an idea. I am not especially fond of banana bread, but I figured if I could find a good basic plain quick bread recipe I could add as much chopped chocolate as I liked.  A recipe for Cinnamon Swirl Quick Bread suited my needs.  I simply left out the cinnamon swirl and added chocolate instead.  I do intend to make the cinnamon version some time, as I love cinnamon, but until then I now have the perfect recipe for using up large quantities of dark chocolate.  Best of all, quick breads freeze well, so even if I get tired of eating this bread I can always freeze some for later!

Yogurt Dark Chocolate Chunk Loaf

2 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 C. chopped dark chocolate*
1/2 C. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 C. Greek yogurt, at room temperature (I used nonfat plain)
1/2 C. milk, at room temperature (I used nonfat)

In a large bowl, stir together the first seven ingredients.  Mix in the chocolate chunks.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined.  Pour the wet ingredients into the large bowl with the first mixture.  Stir until just combined (do not overmix).

Spread the batter into a greased, floured 9x5-inch loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove the bread from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Remove the bread from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.  Serves 10.

*Yes, you read that right -- 2 cups!  As I said, I have a surplus of dark chocolate, but if you are not suffering from an overabundance you can certainly reduce the amount to a mere one cup.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Trip to the Tropics Bedroom

I'm in a summery coastal mood right now, and the bright Calypso Fish Percale Bedding from The Company Store has me longing for tropical Caribbean islands.  Unfortunately, this bedding is on sale now and is disappearing fast.  However, Cuddledown has a similar, if slightly more muted Clown Fish Cotton Percale Bedding that is also lovely:

All of this tropical color inspired me to create a bedroom style board designed to whisk me away on a trip to the tropics via interior design, so why not join me on this fantasy excursion:

Clockwise from top left: Tropical Fish Art by Clair Wright; Pineapple Table from Zara Home; Pretzel Pineapple Lounge Chair from Eco Chic;  Octopus Rug from Cuddledown; "Blue Lobster" by Shelley Hesse; Parrots of the Caribbean Blue Sideboard by Lucy Turner; Andres Woven Night Stand in Honey from Target; Seahorse Table Lamp from Jonathan Adler; Clown Fish Cotton Percale Bedding from Cuddledown; Andres Seagrass Headboard in Honey from Target.

I can practically feel the ocean breezes, smell the plumeria, and hear the steel drums right now -- not to mention taste the rum punch!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Grandin Road Seaside Hook Rugs and Pillows

I've brought colorful and summery home décor to the outdoors in my last two Wish List Wednesdays posts, so this week I am turning my attention to the great indoors.  Grandin Road offers up some vibrant Seaside Hook Rugs and Pillows (above) in the always popular coastal theme, and I have to say that I'm hooked! Crustaceans are a theme in our house, and I am especially drawn to the crab design.  The lovely turquoise blue and orange color is my favorite,

Blue Crab Pillow $39; Blue Crab 2'x3' Rug $79
(Blue Crab 2.5'x8' Runner is also available for $169)

but it also comes in a very patriotic red, white, and blue:

Red Crab Rug

If you are looking to add some coastal color to your home, why not check out these rugs and pillows?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Easy Coconut Milk Curry Chicken

I have been looking for a good curry recipe for decades.  I love Indian food with all of its wonderful spice blends, but I have never been able to prepare a dish that I found as satisfying as those I have eaten in Indian restaurants -- until now!  The best part is that Easy Coconut Milk Curry Chicken is one of the simplest curry recipes I have ever tried, easy to make and using ingredients that are not hard to find.  I think the secret is the coconut milk.  For some reason I have never tried making a curry with this ingredient before, even though such recipes are quite abundant.  Anyway, now that I know how to make a basic sauce that I find pleasing, I will be experimenting with other ingredient combinations, adding more vegetables and using shrimp or even fish instead of chicken -- the possibilities are now endless!  I made a few changes to the original recipe, using cooked chicken instead of uncooked, boiling small waxy potatoes before adding them instead of cooking them in the curry, and modifying the seasonings a bit (every curry powder is different, and the one I have needed a bit of heat added as it is rather bland).  I served this dish over Lime Cilantro Rice and topped it with more chopped cilantro (I just recently discovered that I love this herb and now I cannot get enough of it).  It is heavenly, and I will be making this recipe often!

Easy Coconut Milk Curry Chicken

12 oz. halved tiny yellow waxy potatoes*
1 tsp. salt
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. butter
2 T. curry powder
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 C. cooked chicken, diced or shredded

Put the potatoes in a large pot and add enough water to fill the pot one inch above the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, add the salt, and cook for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.  Drain in a colander and set aside.  Rinse the pot and allow it to dry.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, then add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.  Set aside.

Put the butter in the pot used for the potatoes and melt it over medium heat.  Stir in the curry powder until well blended.  Add the coconut milk and heat through.

Add the potatoes and chicken to the pan with the onion mixture.  Stir in the coconut curry sauce and cook over medium heat until heated through, about 15 minutes.  Serve over rice.  Serves 4.

*I used Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes; cut potatoes into smaller dice if using larger ones.

Note: If you prefer to cook the chicken in the curry, add four diced chicken thighs (or 2-3 diced chicken breasts) to the cooked onion mixture and brown the chicken.  I recommend cooking the potatoes separately to avoid undercooked potatoes, but the original recipe calls for adding one diced raw potato to the skillet at this point if you prefer.  Add the coconut curry sauce and turn the heat up to high.  Once the mixture starts to simmer, reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes until the chicken and potatoes are completely cooked.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Pineapple-Themed Home Décor

Greg Kinsella Jute Wallpaper 'Large Kona in Green'

Last week a post on the HGTV Design Happens blog asked readers what they thought of the current popularity of pineapple-themed home décor.  Somehow I have been entirely oblivious to the recent fascination with pineapple motifs, so I decided to find out exactly what I have been missing.  It didn't take long for me to realize that I am totally on board with this trend!  Just take a look at some of the fascinating pineapple-themed items I discovered:

Disco Pineapple Sideboard

Pineapple sideboard

I am in love with both of the above sideboards by Lucy Turner (and check out the rest of her super trendy, gloriously whimsical furniture line!).  The bottom sideboard would look fantastic with this great pineapple-print chair:

Pretzel Pineapple Lounge Chair
(that name is making me hungry!)

These sunny pineapple lighting options would brighten any room:

Pineapple Table Lamp

Alfred Shaheen Hawaiian Pineapples Lamp

Pineapple artwork abounds -- here are just a few examples:

Crazy Pineapple Party Art Print

Pineapple No. 2 Watercolor Painting

Pineapple Wall Décor, Burlap Wall Art

I Love Pineapple Art Watercolor Painting

I love this paintable wallpaper, which you can color customize to your heart's desire!

Jenny Wilkinson Pineapple Paintable Wallpaper

This pineapple wall clock is just one of numerous fun designs available:

Pineapple Gold Wall Clock

Like the wall clocks, pineapple throw pillows come in many styles, like this neon pink and orange one:

Pineapple Fruit Throw Pillow Cover

Pineapple-themed rugs range from the chaotically colorful,

Pineapple CMYK Repeat Area Rug

to the vibrant and playful,

"Pineapple Parade" Rug

to the subtle but bold:

Coastal Living Pina Colada Rug

For the small pet, there are covered and open pineapple beds:

Pineapple Pet Dome

Pineapple Small Pet Bed

A colorful pineapple mirror would be charming in a foyer or powder room:

Pineapple Pandemonium Yellow Oval Mirror

And this vivid pineapple shower curtain is guaranteed to wake you up in the morning:

Mia Dunton Pineapple Shower Curtain

If pineapples are on the menu, why not serve them up in their own fruity style:

Gingko Pineapple Flatware

Pineapple Cork Pops Coasters

If you are at all crafty, there are even pineapple motif crafts to create.  How could anyone not be drawn to these modern interpretations of the traditionally hospitable pineapple?  I know I'm sold!

So while this may be pushing the trend a bit too far,

Pineapple car

I will happily toast the current design craze for the pineapple with one of these:

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Martini