Some daffodils in bloom today -- can spring be far behind?
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Friday, January 29, 2016
I was looking for an easy crock pot recipe to make last weekend when the weather was so cold and nasty. It didn't take long to find one for 2-Ingredient Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken that is so simple it almost should not be called a recipe! Best of all, the chicken is so moist and flavorful that you just may have to help yourself to a second sandwich. I only changed the name because I call my slow cooker a crock pot (is there a difference?), I know this type of barbecue as pulled chicken, and I made my own sauce which was not exactly a barbecue sauce. Whatever you call it, this is a dish you will want to make all winter long.
Crock Pot Pulled Chicken
2 1/2-3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 C. (12 oz.) barbecue sauce (any type)
Spray the bottom of the crock pot with cooking spray. Pour a little of the barbecue sauce on the bottom. Place the chicken breasts in a single layer on top of the sauce. Pour the rest of the sauce on top of the chicken. Turn the chicken in the sauce to coat each piece completely. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours, until the chicken is cooked through and shreds easily.
Use two forks to shred the chicken in the crock pot. Toss it thoroughly in the juices. Cover and let sit with the crock pot turned off so that the shredded chicken can absorb the cooking juices.
Serve the chicken on buns, drizzled with a bit more barbecue sauce if desired. Serves 8.
Note: I made up my own sauce because I was trying to used up a very salty Toasted Sesame Marinade that has been sitting in our fridge for a while. To cut the saltiness I combined 4-5 T. of the sauce with 1 small can (8 oz.) unsalted tomato sauce, and then threw in the remains of a bottle of honey mustard (about 2-3 T.) for good measure. This made about 1 1/2 C. sauce, and turned out to be very tasty.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
|From The Barnes Foundation|
This week is a continuation of last week's garden picks of the year for 2016. Several organizations pick their favorite selections in multiple categories, so I will focus on their choices today. The National Garden Bureau has four categories, selecting one annual, one perennial, one bulb plant, and one edible every year.
The NGB 2016 Bulb of the Year is the Allium. Allium spp. are members of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), and include both edible (onions, chives, garlic, etc.) as well as ornamental species. All alliums have tall scapes topped with flowers in umbels, many in a distinctive globe shape, ranging in color from white to various shades of purple.
For their 2016 Annual of the Year, the NGB has chosen the Begonia. There is only one other genus in the family Begoniaceae besides the begonia (the genus Hillebrandia, which contains a single species and is endemic to Hawaii), but the Begonia genus is comprised of over 2000 species! Several of these species are popular as cultivated plants, and flower profusely in a variety of colors. In cooler climates, begonias are an annual frequently used as bedding plants, in outdoor pots, and even as houseplants.
Their impressive tall spikes of blue, purple, pink, or white flowers make the Delphinium an excellent choice for the NGB 2016 Perennial of the Year. Members of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), Delphinium spp. are toxic to humans and livestock, but their height and beauty make them a favorite background plant in perennial beds.
The final NGB category is Edible Plant of the Year, and for 2016 it is the carrot. A tasty and versatile root vegetable, the carrot (Daucus carota subs. sativus) is a member of the family Apiaceae, which is characterized by umbelliferous inflorescences. Although the orange color is most familiar, carrots also come in purple, red, white, and yellow varieties.
The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum also has four categories for plants of the year. These categories include a deciduous tree, a conifer, a shrub, and a grass.
|From Long Island Natives|
For 2016, they have selected the American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) as the Tree of the Year. A member of the birch family (Betulaceae), this native tree is small and shrubby with a wide-spreading crown. The bluish-green leaves turn a scarlet-orange in the fall.
|From Ohio Gardener Newsletters|
|From Longevity Architectural Products|
The NSA has chosen the Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) as its 2016 Conifer of the Year. The Ponderosa Pine is a very large evergreen tree in the family Pinaceae, and is the most widely distributed pine species in North America. Mature trees have distinctive yellow to orange-red bark in broad plates with black crevices. The tree is often used as an ornamental in parks and large gardens.
|From Natural Landscapes Nursery|
For its 2016 Shrub of the Year, the NSA picked the New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus). This shrub is a member of the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). It received its common name of New Jersey Tea during the American Revolution, when its leaves were used as a tea substitute. This drought-tolerant, nitrogen-fixing shrub has large panicles of white flowers that are attractive to pollinators.
|From Hoffman Nursery|
The last NSA category is Grass of the Year, and for 2016 the choice is 'Dallas Blues' Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues'). Switchgrass is one of the dominant native grass species in the North American Tallgrass Prairie. Like all true grasses, it is a member of the family Poaceae. The 'Dallas Blues' cultivar is an ornamental variety notable for its drought tolerance and tall spreading clumps with large billowing seed heads.
I was hoping to finish this series of posts today, but there is one more organization that selects a number of best garden plants each year, and this post would be way too long if I included all of them here, so I will complete this compilation of plant picks of the year next week. If you have a vegetable garden, next week's list will be especially interesting for you!
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
I can'r seem to stop finding lovely paisley décor and fashion pieces! Over the weekend I received several catalogs, each featuring a paisley item I would love to own. In the latest Pottery Barn catalog, I found this Paisley Printed Natural Fiber Rug (on sale for $186-$755 depending on size) that would be perfect for a warm weather change from wool rugs. It is made of 100% jute with recycled cotton backing, and comes in rectangular sizes from 3'x5' to 9'x12', plus a 2.5'x9' runner. The rugs are finished with a tea-and-stone wash to give the black pattern a soft antiqued look. I love this design so much I wish Pottery Barn would make curtains with a similar look (I could use some new curtains)!
Friday, January 22, 2016
A couple of weeks ago I watched Ree Drummond on The Pioneer Woman cooking show make a baked potato topped with broccoli in cheese sauce. The cheesy broccoli looked delicious, but I am not a big fan of baked potatoes. I did have some baby yellow potatoes in the house that I planned to roast, and I decided that roasted potatoes covered with cheesy broccoli would be a pretty good dinner on a cold and blustery January night. Even better, I thought, would be a casserole combining these ingredients, and that is how this recipe was born. It is obviously a very rich dish, but when the weather is as cold as it has been around here lately, this is the sort of meal that will really warm you up.
Roasted Potato and Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
4 T. butter
4 T. flour
2 C. milk, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. prepared mustard
3 C. shredded cheese
1 bag (12 oz.) broccoli florets, cooked
1 bag (28 oz.) baby yellow potatoes, quartered
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (I used 1/2 tsp. salt)
2/3 C. panko breadcrumbs
1 T. olive oil
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the flour thoroughly and cook for about one minute. Add the milk, a few tablespoonfuls at a time, whisking until well blended after each addition. When all the milk is incorporated, whisk in the mustard and continue to cook over medium heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and add the cheese, stirring continuously until the sauce is smooth. Stir in the broccoli. Cover the pot and set aside.
Toss together the potatoes, onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large baking pan until the vegetables are completely coated with the oil. Roast at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, tossing gently after 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and golden and the onions are just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and turn the temperature setting down to 350 degrees.
Put the roasted potatoes in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan. Gently reheat the broccoli and cheese sauce until smooth and warm, and pour over the potatoes. Spread the cheese sauce evenly over the top of the potatoes, completely covering them. Combine the panko and remaining olive oil in a small bowl and toss to coat the panko. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and the cheese sauce is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.
Notes: This is a good recipe for using up any leftover bits of cheese you have in the fridge. We had a couple of slices of horseradish cheddar which I added to the sauce, and it gave a nice but not overwhelming bite to the dish. I used a small packet of yellow mustard (the kind you get at fast food places) but any mustard will do. There were a couple of packets of salad croutons lying around that did not get used in their intended salads, so I crushed those and used them in place of panko. Get creative and throw in any leftovers you think might work!
Thursday, January 21, 2016
|From DIY Network|
This week I am focusing on some top 2016 garden selections. Gardeners seem to be dedicated to finding the best plants every year, and there are a lot from which to choose, so I have divided this post into Parts 2A (this week) and 2B (next week). First up, 2016 has been deemed the Year of the Cosmos by Thompson & Morgan, and Cosmos 'Xanthos' was picked as the Flower of the Year (even though Thompson & Morgan is a UK-based plant company, Cosmos species are actually native to the New World and thrive in gardens here):
Cosmos spp. are attractive and easy-to-grow annuals that produce abundant blooms throughout the summer. They come in a variety of colors, such as pink, white, yellow, and orange. Cosmos bipinnatus 'Xanthos' is a compact variety with pale yellow flowers, well suited for pots or garden borders.
|From Dirt Simple|
The Perennial Plant Association has selected Anemone 'Honorine Jobert' as its 2016 Perennial Plant of the Year. This garden favorite is a vigorous, white-flowered heirloom variety. Anemone spp., or windflowers, are in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and come in a wide range of colors. They grow well in full sun in cool climates, but need partial shade in warmer locations. They prefer rich, moist soil with some wind protection, and will quickly fill an area when planted in suitable conditions.
|From Herb Society of Central Indiana|
The International Herb Association's choice for 2016 Herb of the Year is the pepper (Capsicum spp.). The Capsicum spp. are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and are native to the Americas. The genus includes both spicy chile peppers and mild bell peppers. They are popular garden plants and are used extensively for cooking and even medicinal purposes.
|From Eco Terra Landscape Consultants|
The Herb Society of America's Notable Native 2016 is the Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum spp.). Like most herbs, the genus is drought-tolerant and prefers well-drained soil, and can do well in part shade as long as the soil is not too wet. This perennial plant is a favorite with pollinators such as bees, who need all the survival help they can get these days. Although Mountain Mint can be used for culinary purposes, it is important to select the right species, as some contain an essential oil called pulegone, which can be used as an insect repellent but is undesirable for cooking. The more fragrant types can be dried and used in potpourris and sachets.
|From County Line Landscape Nursery|
For its 2016 Urban Tree of the Year, the Society of Municipal Arborists have chosen Zelkova serrata 'Musashino', a relatively low maintenance tree with a columnar growth habit and beautiful coppery brown fall color.
|From JC Raulston Arboretum|
The WNLA Perennial Plant of the Year for 2016 is the 'Hot Lips' Turtlehead (Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips'), a deer-resistant mounding perennial with bronze green foliage and rosy pink hooded flowers which prefers moist partial shade and attracts pollinators such as butterflies and bees. A member of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), Chelone spp. are native to eastern North America:
January is a great month to put together a wish list of new plants for your garden. This week's post should help to get you started, and next week I will describe even more selections for 2016. It never hurts to start planning early!
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
I always look forward to receiving Bas Bleu, a literary catalog that offers not only books, but also items that are in some way associated with literature or that will enhance any reading experience. The winter 2016 catalog is full of items that will provide a warm and cozy read, and there are six in particular that I would love to own.
Dalmatian lover that I am, my first choice is a book entitled Bespotted: My Family's Love Affair with Thirty-Eight Dalmatians (2014). Author Linda Gray Sexton looks back on a life lived with many Dalmatians. She has owned far more than I will ever have, but I am just as besotted with the breed, and can't wait to read this book.
Winter is rarely thought of as gardening season, much to the chagrin of avid gardeners, so Emma Hardy's book The Winter Garden: Over 35 Step-by-Step Projects... (2015) will come as a welcome gardening treat. Suggestions for indoor gardening as well as winter outdoor projects will help any gardener while away the colder months until spring.
Winter is soup season, and Sunday Soup: A Year's Worth of Mouthwatering, Easy-to-Make Recipes (2008) by Charles Schiller will provide inspiring recipes for homemade versions. There is a section for each season, so you can continue making soup beyond winter.
I collect books about tea, so Tea Fit for a Queen (2014) deserves a place in my collection. Recipes for teatime treats include several that were served to British royalty. I am just so intrigued by the idea of Rose and Almond Cake with my tea, and would buy the book for this recipe alone!
A hot beverage, or soup, tastes even better served up in the perfect mug, and Bas Bleu offers several choices. My favorites include the Chickadees Mug (shown above) and the Winter Wildlife Mugs, offered in a choice of Fox, Goose, and Horses designs.
Cold weather makes me want to stay snuggled up in bed with a good book, and these Giraffe PJs are a cozy way to do just that. The soft fabric with soothing colors in a unique giraffe pattern looks so comfortable that I would stay in these pajamas all day if I could!
Any or all of these selections would be welcome during our current cold snap, when the only activity that appeals to me is curling up in a warm and cozy corner of the house with a good book!
|From Owl Canyon Hoots|
Friday, January 15, 2016
On a cold winter day, what could be more welcome than a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup? I like to make mine with frozen egg noodles, which are thicker and chewier than dried ones, almost more like a dumpling than pasta. If I am feeling industrious, I will boil up some chicken pieces to make a homemade broth, but usually I take the lazy way out and use prepared chicken stock and cooked chicken from the supermarket deli. I do always sauté my vegetables for added flavor in my soups. I had some leftover cooking juices from some chicken breasts I baked in sherry, so I added that to the soup as well (you can never add too much flavor to a soup!). This soup is almost thick enough to be a stew, especially when reheated, so I like to thin it out a bit with some water or stock to a more souplike consistency when necessary. January is National Soup Month, and for good reason, so try a bowl of this soup on one of this month's chilly days!
Chicken Noodle Soup
1 T. oil or butter
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
4 C. chicken stock (I use unsalted)
1 C. water
1/2-1 tsp. poultry seasoning (or to taste)
1/2-1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 package (12 oz.) frozen egg noodles
1 C. frozen peas
1 1/2 C. diced cooked chicken
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the vegetables in the oil until tender, about 5-7 minutes.
Combine the vegetables with the stock, water, poultry seasoning, and salt in a large saucepan or pot and bring to a boil. Add the egg noodles and return to a boil. Cook for 20 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Add the peas and cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the chicken and heat through. If the soup seems too thick, add up to one cup of water or stock. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if needed. Serves 6.
Note: I use very little salt when cooking. I always use unsalted stock or broth and add salt to taste. If you use a stock or broth that contains salt, taste your soup frequently and adjust the saltiness to your own taste preference.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
|From The Vivienne Files|
One of my new favorite blogs is a fashion blog called The Vivienne Files. Normally I have very little interest in fashion, but I like this blog because the style boards feature apparel that is more casual than formal. It also focuses on streamlining and organizing one's wardrobe, often for travel, so there are no fussy or frilly extraneous pieces. Accessories such as scarves and simple jewelry are used to add a bit more flare to an outfit. Even though I own a number of scarves, I rarely wear them, but I would love to learn how to accessorize with scarves and this blog is helpful in that regard.
I really like the way outfits are organized on The Vivienne Files style boards, and they have inspired me to try creating my own. Using the Acorn Favorite Cotton Sweater I described on yesterday's Wish List Wednesdays post, I put together style boards using the three sweater colors that I own (red, azure, and plum). In anticipation of Valentine's Day next month, I used the Uno Alla Volta Sterling Silver and Gold Intertwined Hearts Necklace as one of the elements common to all three outfits. The other accessory common to all three is a roomy and practical Calvin Klein Aster Leather Shoulder Bag (now on sale at 60% off for $99.99). I included two scarf options (one in paisley of course!) for each sweater to change up the looks slightly. Some of the accessories are a bit pricey, but I tried to keep all apparel pieces relatively inexpensive, as well as more casual and comfortable.
|Clockwise from top left: York Scarves Wholesale Striped Wool Scarf in Multi; Uno Alla Volta Intertwined Hearts Necklace; Gump's Anika Paisley Scarf ($98); Duluth Trading Co. Women's Longtail T Mock Turtleneck in Iron Ore ($29.50); Macy's Easy Spirit Margy Flats in Black Suede ($79); L.L. Bean Original Perfect Fit Pants in Black ($39.95); Calvin Klein Aster Leather Shoulder Bag; Acorn Favorite Cotton Sweater in Red.|
|Clockwise from top left: Appleseed's Echo Paisley Scarf ($38.95); Uno Alla Volta Intertwined Hearts Necklace; Smithsonian Celestial Blue Silk Scarf ($55); Duluth Trading Co. Women's Longtail T Mock Turtleneck in White; Shoes.com Walking Cradles Cone in Grey Waxy Soft Leather ($48.99); L.L. Bean Original Perfect Fit Pants in Taupe Brown; Calvin Klein Aster Leather Shoulder Bag; Acorn Favorite Cotton Sweater in Azure.|
|Clockwise from top left: L.L. Bean Casual Printed Scarf in Cranberry Paisley ($29.99); Uno Alla Volta Intertwined Hearts Necklace; Uno Alla Volta Black & White Hand-Marbled Silk Scarf with Clip ($50); Duluth Trading Co. Women's Longtail T Mock Turtleneck in Juneberry Heather (on clearance for $19.99); Planet Shoes Fly London Robi Women's Mary Jane Wedge in Purple Suede ($175); L.L. Bean Women's Original Perfect Fit Pants in Dark Gray Heather; Calvin Klein Aster Leather Shoulder Bag; Acorn Favorite Cotton Sweater in Plum.|
I had fun with these style boards and may try them again, but I will never be so skilled, dedicated, and prolific with them as the creator of The Vivienne Files. Please be sure to check out her site if you love sensible fashion, stylish scarves, and wonderful wardrobe organization tips!
(Next week I will deliver the next installment of Picks of the Year 2016 posts I promised last week.)
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
For Christmas, I asked my husband to give me the Acorn Favorite Cotton Sweater ($59.95) in three colors, and I couldn't be more pleased with them! The color shown above, called Azure, is still on backorder, but I have already received both the Red and Plum shades, and I think they are the most comfortable and practical sweaters I have ever owned. First of all, I prefer cotton to all other fabrics because I am allergic to wool and do not like the feel of synthetic fabrics. I also tend to wear lightweight and roomy sweaters for layering, especially when indoors as most rooms are warm enough for me to require the removal of layers over time. I only wear a heavyweight sweater when I will be outdoors and inactive for an extended period of time, and I rarely do that. The Favorite Cotton Sweater is just the right weight, and comes in one size that fits most, up to a size 18. I also appreciate the three-quarter length sleeves, which are wide to accommodate layers but do not hang down so far that they would interfere with any activities. I am so delighted with my new sweaters in their jewel-tone winter colors that I just may ask my husband to order me three more in spring colors for my upcoming birthday!
Friday, January 8, 2016
|A doorway to the New Bedford Whaling Museum|
Are you a fan of the Herman Melville classic Moby-Dick (1851)? If so, then you are in for a treat, because the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts is set to begin its 20th annual nonstop marathon reading of the novel tomorrow! Approximately 150 volunteers will participate, and award-winning author Nathanial Philbrick will read the first chapter to start the marathon. Portions of the novel will be read in other languages as well. This event is so popular that all reading spots were filled in less than an hour (unless you can read Portuguese, as apparently there are still openings for this language)!
|A first edition of Moby-Dick|
(from Lorne Bair)
The festivities for this four-day event started yesterday, January 7th, with an evening reception. Today there will be a series of lectures and events, as well as a pre-Marathon dinner. On the big day, a fun Moby-Dick trivia quiz and a child-friendly abridged reading of the novel will precede the Reading Marathon. The readings will commence at noon and finish about 25 hours later, with the event concluding at about 1:00 PM on January 10th. Hundreds are expected to attend the live event, but if you cannot make the trek to New Bedford, you can watch a Livestream broadcast.
For those who have neither the patience nor the fortitude to watch a 25-hour nonstop marathon reading, I think the John Huston movie version of "Moby Dick" (1956) starring Gregory Peck (one of my favorite actors) is an excellent way to become familiar with the story. Watch a few clips from this movie on TCM or YouTube:
"There she blows!"
|From At the Bookshelf|
With wintry weather finally here, I am now in the mood to make some of the heartier recipes I have been meaning to try. A simple recipe for Smoked Sausage Gnocchi from Hillshire Farm was at the top of my list, although I had to substitute another company's turkey sausage because of my allergies (our local store does not carry Hillshire Farm brand turkey sausage). This is definitely a dish to serve on a bleak and blustery day, as it is very rich and filling. It takes very little effort to prepare and is ready very quickly (it only took me about 15 minutes from start to finish), so if you have a cold and hungry family they will thank you for making this recipe!
Smoked Sausage Gnocchi
1 lb. gnocchi (I used whole wheat)
1 pkg. (14 oz.) smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 C. julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 C. baby spinach (I used a blend of baby greens)
1/2 C. shredded Parmesan (optional)
Prepare the gnocchi according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.
Cook and stir the sausage, tomatoes (with some of the oil from the jar), and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until the sausage is lightly browned. Add the spinach and stir gently until it wilts. Stir in the gnocchi and heat through.
Sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese if desired. Serves 6.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
|From Love This Pic|
I am always fascinated by the annual selections of various favorites, from colors to garden plants and beyond. This week I thought I would list some non-plant picks for 2016. Next week I will feature only the plants, as they are numerous.
|From Fashion Trendsetter|
Starting off the list is Pantone's Color of the Year, which is actually two colors for 2016 (I think this is the first time more than one color has been chosen). The colors are called Rose Quartz, a pastel pink, and Serenity, a pastel blue. Both colors seem to have a touch of grey to keep them from looking too babyish. I am not fond of pastels, and I find grey to be a depressing hue, so I don't think I will be rushing out to look for items in either of these colors right away, but I do think a lot of people will prefer these selections to the liver-colored Marsala of 2015! Below is Pantone's rather odd but artistic video depicting their 2016 color choices:
Next up is an annual selection that is new to me, and that is the Flavor of the Year from Firmenich, a Swiss company which produces fragrances and flavorings. Their flavor selections, which began for the year 2013, have been lime (2013), blackberry (2014) and honey (2015). The choice for 2016 is coconut, obviously a very popular food trend right now and one which even I can appreciate. In fact, I would happily raise a glass (or even a coconut shell) full of coco loco to salute their choice right now!
|From Punta Cana Adventure!|
|From Front Door Freak|
The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 8th this year, and according to one site, the 2016 feng shui lucky color of the year is blue. Since Pantone and feng shui experts are advocating shades of blue for 2016, it might not be a bad idea to add a little more of that color to your life this year!
|From Red Knot Exports|
Last but not least, the United Nations has declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses (for those who don't know, pulses are all of the dried legumes, such as peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.). Everyone is encouraged to include more of these protein-rich seeds in their diet, for both nutritional and environmental benefits. I think this is a great idea, and there are a lot of legume recipes on the internet to try. How about one for Chickpea and Lentil Coconut Curry, which has the added bonus of coconut, the flavor of the year?
So are you ready to add more blue, pink, coconut, and legumes to your life? I say let's give it a try -- it can't hurt, and it just may make life in the year 2016 a bit more fun!