Friday, June 27, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Swedish Blondies

The original recipe calls for sliced almonds, but the almonds
shown in this accompanying photo are slivered (I used sliced).

The moment I saw this recipe for Swedish Brownies, I knew I would love them (I changed the name because I call any bar cookie that is not chocolate a blondie).  Buttery and tender, with just the right amount of sweetness and lots of almond flavor, these bars are irresistible.  I halved the recipe to prevent myself from overindulging too much, but for larger families just double the ingredients and use a 13x9-inch baking pan.  And here's a useful tip -- whenever you use a whole stick of butter for baking, save the butter wrapper and use it to grease the pan.  These blondies are so good I may just have to make them for the Fourth of July, despite the Scandinavian name!

Swedish Blondies

1/2 C. butter, softened
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. almond extract
1 C. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/3 C. sliced almonds

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and almond extract.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until blended (do not overmix).  Spread the batter into a greased 8-inch square pan.  Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  Cut into squares.  Makes 16 bars.

Note: You can use a mixer as suggested in the original recipe, but when I bake I prefer to do things by hand whenever possible (hey, it helps burn off some calories to make room for the ones I am about to consume, right?).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Deconstructing Popular Myths

This is a vomitorium -- who knew?
(from The Red & Black)

I recently learned about the YouTube channel of CGP Grey on NPR's Krulwich Wonders series.  CGP Grey's short videos take a look at a number of widely held assumptions about history and science, and then proceed in a most entertaining way to explain just how wrong these beliefs are.  Check out this video deconstructing five popular historical misconceptions -- I can practically guarantee you will learn something new (I know I did!):

There is also a video featuring ten random misconceptions.  After watching this one, you will never look at tabletop fans or spiders in the same way again (I'm fervently hoping the segment about spiders is a joke):

I think my favorite is the 8 Animal Misconceptions Rundown (except for misconception #1 at the end, which is rather gruesome):

After seeing this video, I now know to buy only blue toys for my dogs.  Who says watching YouTube videos is a waste of time?  Thank you, CGP Grey!

Adorable with or without a blue toy!
(from Moosey's Country Garden)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Red Crab Pendulum Clock

The crab theme continues this week with the Red Crab Pendulum Clock ($49) from Catalog Favorites. Handcrafted of bright red metal, the simple and sturdy design gets a touch of whimsy from the little blue fish pendulum.  What a perfect accent for a coastal home, or the home of crustacean-obsessed individuals like my husband!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On the Homefront: Passage to India Table

Three Williamson Tea Elephant caddies make a colorful
centerpiece for my India-themed table; tea light candles are attached
to the tops with putty.

When we eat out, my cuisine of choice is usually Indian food.  I love the flavors of the spices, the variety of dishes available, and most of all the fact that I always feel so satisfied after eating.  There is something about Indian dishes that seems to please all of the senses while nourishing the body in a relatively healthy way.  I don't know if I will ever be able to replicate all of my favorite Indian dishes, but I have recently mastered a couple of recipes, so I thought I would celebrate by setting a table reminiscent of India.  I also purchased some table linens from Pier 1 Imports not long ago that were made in India and feature elephants, so I decided to emphasize these amazing creatures as well on my table.  Although the darker colors proved difficult to photograph, I was quite happy with the results.

Elephant Parade table runner and napkin from Pier 1; dark red velvet placemat; black dinner plate, appetizer plate, teacup, and saucer from MacFrugal's (now Big Lots); stainless steel flatware; clear water glass; elephant place card holder from Pier 1 a few years ago.

Another elephant tea tin (Darjeeling from My Cup of Tea)
with white ceramic elephant sugar bowl and
 cream pitcher; elephant salt and pepper shakers
are from Pier 1.

Two elephant tea pots that we have had for years.

A closer look at the Pier 1 elephant place card holder.

The menu for my table features the two previously mentioned India-inspired dishes.  Both taste very similar to authentic restaurant versions, with just the right spices and combinations of ingredients.  The easy Kachumber Salad is a staple at most Indian restaurants.  Since my husband is not fond of cilantro, I add it as a garnish, but if you like this herb then it can be combined with all of the other ingredients.  I am a big fan of any sort of rice pudding, so Kheer was the perfect dessert choice for me.  I leave out the raisins since my husband does not like them, but this is one of those recipes where you can add just about any fruits, nuts, and/or flavorings that suit your tastes, so feel free to experiment!  Of course the meal is served with tea, and my favorite is Darjeeling, which is an Indian variety.

Passage to India Menu:

Darjeeling Tea
Samosas or Samosa Pie/Mango or Peach Chutney
Basmati Rice
Kachumber Salad*
Kheer (Rice Pudding)**

*Kachumber Salad

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, diced (peeling is optional)
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced, or 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp. ground cumin
zest and juice of 1-2 lemons
sugar and salt to taste
cilantro sprigs

Combine all of the ingredients except the cilantro.  Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to meld.  Serve topped with cilantro sprigs.  Serves 4.

**Kheer (Rice Pudding)

4 C. whole milk (can replace up to 2 C. with coconut milk)
3 T. sugar
1/2 C. Basmati rice
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. rose water (optional)
1/4 C. raisins (optional)

Bring the milk and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the rice, reduce the heat to simmer, and cook until the mixture thickens and the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.  Stir in the cardamom and any other additions, and cook for a few more minutes.  This pudding will not be as thick as traditional rice pudding, although it will thicken a bit more as it cools.  Ladle the pudding into bowls and serve, topped with chopped nuts (such as almonds and/or pistachios) if desired.  Serves 4.

As usual, a bowl full of Lindt Lindor truffles, coconut-flavored this time, completes the tablescape:

But of course no table of mine is ever truly complete without a Dalmatian dog somewhere in the vicinity!

Dalmatian Yogi demonstrates the Downward-Facing Dog Pose.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Seasonal Style: Summer Garden

The summer solstice is finally here!  This is the time of year that makes me think of gardens in full bloom, so that is the inspiration for my Seasonal Style choices.  The outfit below is lush with large and colorful blooms on a black background:

This vibrant living room not only sports a similar bold floral pattern, its walls and ceiling of glass are reminiscent of a greenhouse, with unobstructed views of the gardens outside:

It's time to enjoy some garden views, in fashion and home décor as well as the great outdoors!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Samosa Pie

Inspired by my recent success with a recipe for chicken curry, I decided to try my hand at another Indian food favorite, the samosa.  My preferred type has a vegetarian pea-and-potato filling, and I began a search for recipes with this filling that were baked rather than fried, as I truly dislike deep-frying foods.  But then I came upon this recipe for Samosa Pie.  Lazy cook that I am, I decided that a samosa recipe in which all of the ingredients are baked in one dish, thereby avoiding the tedious step of shaping, stuffing, and sealing individual samosas in the traditional way, was a much better option!  Chicken has been added in the original recipe, but if you want the vegetarian option simply leave it out, as there is plenty of filling.  While the Samosa Pie is meant to be eaten as a main dish, you could also plate smaller portions as an appetizer, the way samosas are usually served.  If you like, offer some mango or peach chutney on the side.  I found this dish to have the same delicious flavor as traditional samosas, and I did not miss the fried pastry at all.  Perhaps in the fall I will feel motivated to make more authentic individual samosas, but for the summer months I will stick with this easy version.

Samosa Pie

3 T. butter (can use canola oil to replace up to half of the butter)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. garam masala and/or curry powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt
1 C. water
1 1/2 lbs. potatoes, cooked and diced*
8 oz. cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 1/2 C. frozen peas, thawed
1/2 C. chopped fresh cilantro
1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed and unfolded

Heat the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until soft, then add the garlic and cook one minute longer.  Stir in the spices and some of the water if the mixture seems dry.  Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients in the order listed, stirring well after each addition with more water as needed.  Add the rest of the water and stir to make sure all of the ingredients are coated with the spices. Taste to adjust the seasonings.

Pour the mixture into a lightly greased 2-quart casserole or baking dish.  Roll out the puff pastry if necessary to fit the dish and place over the top.  Cut some slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes until the crust is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving.  Serves 6 as a main dish, or 12 as an appetizer.

*If Russet potatoes are used, peel them; otherwise leave the skins on.

Note: The first time I made this pie I used leftover sweet potatoes and parsley instead of white potatoes and cilantro, and it was equally good (depending on the moistness of the sweet potatoes, you may need to reduce the amount of water added).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: The Panda Project

Hong Kong is in the midst of an amazing panda invasion!  A total of 1,600 papier mâché pandas created by French sculptor Paulo Grangeon will be on display at various locations in Hong Kong during the month of June.  The exhibit will raise awareness about convervation and sustainability by focusing on the declining wild panda population, which is estimated to number about 1,600 at this time.  Grangeon created this project in 2008 in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund in France.  The pandas are on a year-long world tour, and have already been on display in France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Taiwan.  The director of the project, SK Lam, was also the creative force behind the giant floating Rubber Duck in Hong Kong last year.  Take a look at some photos of these adorable ambassadors of conservation awareness:

The pandas aboard a flight to Hong Kong
(from Daily Mail)

Disembarking at the Hong Kong airport
(from Daily Mail)

Hong Kong Harbor provides a stunning background
for the newly arrived visitors (from Daily Mail).

Pandas on parade in a Hong Kong shopping district
(from Daily Mail).

Enjoying a Hong Kong beach (from CNN).

The pandas touring Taiwan in March 2014
(from CNN).

Charming the locals at a train station in Germany in
August 2013 (from Dayton Daily News).

Frolicking in the grass near Lake Geneva, Switzerland,
in September 2011 (from CNN).

Rivaling the Eiffel Tower for attention in Paris in October 2008
(from CNN).

I missed seeing the giant Rubber Duck when it was in the United States, and although it does not look like the pandas are scheduled to appear here at all, I am hoping that some enterprising organization will decide to rectify that situation.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a national panda invasion in the near future!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Red Crab Mug

When your husband is an aquatic ecologist who studies decapod crustaceans, you are always on the lookout for anything with a crab/lobster/shrimp theme.  JoAnn's Red Crab Mug ($38) from Uno Alla Volta is just the sort of item I look for.  Each 14-ounce hand-thrown stoneware mug is unique, and I love the raised pattern of bright red crab on vibrant blue background.  I know my husband would enjoy drinking his morning coffee from this mug, so it looks like I get to start my Christmas shopping early!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Ham and Macaroni Salad

It may not officially be summer yet, but we are certainly having summer weather here in Georgia, with high humidity and temperatures in the 90s.  This is the kind of weather that has me craving cool pasta salads for dinner, such as Ham and Macaroni Salad.  Quick and easy to put together, this salad is great as a main dish, but could also serve as a side dish at large gatherings for events such as the fast approaching Fourth of July.  The recipe is very forgiving, so add or subtract any favorite ingredients as you see fit (other vegetables, diced or crumbled cheese, chopped hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, olives, etc.) and/or substitute any meat for the ham, then dig in and enjoy!

Ham and Macaroni Salad

1 box (about 14 oz.) whole wheat macaroni
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. frozen peas
1 C. diced celery (about 3 stalks)
1 bunch slender scallions, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 C. shredded carrots
1/2 C. sweet relish
2 C. diced ham
1 3/4 C. mayonnaise
salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the macaroni and salt.  Cook for about 8 minutes, and then stir in the peas.  Cook for a few more minutes.  Drain, rinse with cold water, return to the pot, and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in the remaining ingredients in the order listed.  Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to allow the flavors to blend.  Serves 12 as a side dish, or 8 as a main dish.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Artful Home Catalog

I love looking at mail-order catalogs.  I am sure the person who delivers our mail would prefer it if I received a lot fewer catalogs, but unfortunately viewing items online just can't compare to looking at the tempting images in a real catalog.  I admit that some of the catalogs I receive and love are not likely to get many, if any, orders from me because they are just too darned pricey, but I always browse them anyway.  One such catalog is Artful Home, which is full of home décor lovingly designed and created by artists.  If I had limitless funds my home would be filled with beautiful pieces from this catalog, and I would be quite happy to support all of the talented artists.  Alas, this is not something I can afford to do, but who knows, maybe some day I will feel the urge to splurge on at least one of the unique items from Artful Home!  Here are some of my personal preferences:

Wouldn't this Red Sockeye Salmon Sink by Mark Ditzler
 add a whimsical surprise to a powder room?

The Bird Table by Emi Ozawa is so clever with its folding wings!

"All the Colors at Once" Wood Console Table by
Wendy Grossman - the name says it all.

I love the simple and unique design of the Stepped Console
by Todd Leback, and I also love the fact that the beautiful
wood is left in its natural color.

The vibrant colors of the Blue Norther Wool Rug
by Meg Little appeal to me.

Believe it or not, this scallion is actually a Coat Rack
by David N. Ebner!

The mesmerizing Koi Shimmer Fiber Wall Art by
Tim Harding had me fooled - I thought it was an
oil painting!

This one-of-a-kind design is the Wanda Pendulum Clock
by Leonie Lacouette.

I would love to have the Prism-Colored Garden Table Centerpiece
by art glass sculptor Scott Johnson gracing my dining room table.

Flamingos on Firefly Silk Pillow by Laura Goldstein
defies the traditional pink usually associated with this bird,
which I find refreshing!

I do own some lovely pottery available from Artful Home, although I did not purchase these items from them.  Decades ago I found the Dragon Red Tea Set and the Multicolored Sake Set by Judith Weber in Fort Collins, CO, when we lived near there, which is where I bought them (I have also seen the tea sets in Teavana stores):

In an ideal world I would live in an artful home, full of fun and colorful original art.  However, in the real world I will just continue to browse the Artful Home catalog and dream!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Hedgehog Candleholder

Brighten up your summer evenings with a cheerful yellow Hedgehog Candleholder from CB2!  These fun little tealight holders are handcrafted of powdercoated aluminum.  Best of all, they are on sale now for just $4.99.  I may just have to purchase several!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Fried Egg with Roasted Sweet Potato and Sautéed Kale/Cabbage Blend

In an effort to eat more vegetables, I came up with this egg dish that would be perfect for brunch, lunch, or even a light dinner.  I wanted layers of flavor, so I started with a bed of sautéed shredded kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.  I topped that with a layer of roasted sweet potatoes and onion, added a lightly fried egg, and ended with a few spoonfuls of a very flavorful tomato sauce.  This meal was easy to prepare, quick to put together, and very tasty.  Best of all, I managed to consume more vegetables in one meal than I often get for an entire day.  I should eat like this more often!

Fried Egg with Roasted Sweet Potato and Sautéed Kale/Cabbage Blend

1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
10 oz. (about 10 C.) shredded kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts blend*
1 clove garlic, minced
grated zest of one lemon plus juice of 1/2 lemon
2-4 eggs (depending upon your appetite)
salt and pepper to taste
Seasoned tomato sauce of your choice**

Combine the sweet potato, onion, 2 T. oil, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a rimmed baking sheet.  Toss to coat the vegetables with the oil.  Roast at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring once about halfway through the cooking time, until the vegetables are soft and just beginning to caramelize.  (I like to turn the oven off and leave the pan inside with the oven door slightly open to allow moisture to escape from the vegetables and let them brown a bit more).

Heat the remaining olive oil with the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the shredded kale blend and sauté until softened, about 7-8 minutes.  Season with 1/4 tsp. salt, add the garlic and cook one minute longer.  Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and juice.  Set aside.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat.  Spray with cooking spray and heat a little longer, then add the eggs.  Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook until the whites are set, with the yolk still runny if you like, either sunny side up or over easy.

To assemble, divide the kale blend between two dinner plates.  Divide the sweet potato mixture evenly over the kale blend.  Top each plate with 1-2 eggs.  Drizzle about 3 T. of the tomato sauce over the eggs.  Serves 2.

*I used Trader Joe's Cruciferous Crunch Collection from the fresh produce section.

**I used Old El Paso Roasted Tomato Mexican Cooking Sauce.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: HGTV's "Fixer Upper"

Joanna and Chip Gaines on HGTV's "Fixer Upper"
(from Plum Lovely)

I recently stumbled upon an episode of a new HGTV show called "Fixer Upper", and I am impressed!  In recent years I have not been especially interested in the direction the shows on this network were going.  With so much emphasis on the buying and selling of houses, it felt as if HGTV was becoming the real estate network.  This show, however, is a little different.  It follows the same basic concept of shows like "Property Brothers", where a realtor and a contractor sell potential homeowners on the idea of purchasing a less than perfect home and renovating it to suit their needs.  "Fixer Upper", however, has a less businesslike, more friendly feel.  The couple who host the show, Chip and Joanna Gaines, live on a lovely farm in Waco, Texas, with their young family and run their realty/renovation/interior design business, Magnolia Homes, from their property.  Clients meet them at their farm, which was renovated by Chip, and get to discuss their real estate needs and wants in a very relaxed, homey environment (I would love to visit the Gaines' farm even if I was not in the market for a house).  Apparently this show premiered last year, but I have been watching so little television lately that I am only just now finding out about it!

In the episode I watched, their clients were a couple who works with them (the husband has his own woodworking business called Harp Design Co.).  The Harps decide to have Chip and Joanna Gaines renovate a sadly dilapidated older home for them, with key pieces of woodwork contributed by their own company.  The result, after much hard work by many talented individuals, is impressive to behold:

Before and after exterior images
(from Magnolia)

Before and after kitchen images
(from Magnolia)

There is a new episode on tonight, and I plan to watch.  I can't wait to see what this engaging couple tackles next!