Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A LITTLE THANKSGIVING, A LITTLE CHRISTMAS, & MANY BLESSINGS


I'm sneaking in here as quick as I can before Thanksgiving, hoping you'll have a read either before, or if not, after the long weekend.  And for that weekend, I'm hoping to escape to the lake.  Playing it by ear.  

How quickly time is flying.  I'm up to speed on my work/writing, I even have short pause with the lake newspaper, publication goes on hiatus until March.   Once I know that area of my life is in check, I have time to try to get ahead on other things.  

Aren't these the most gorgeous cream colored roses?  I found the box on the porch this morning, wrapped just perfectly to keep them fresh and moist.   I thought maybe I had ordered something 'live' for the holidays and forgot.  Well, these were from Overstock.  And I mean they were a gift, a thank you from Overstock.  I guess I've been a pretty good customer over the years.  I recently rated my purchases on their website, maybe that made me worthy of a dozen roses.  Great company.



Lest you think I'm some sort of whirling dervish, I start every holiday season out like this.  I want to get ahead.  I want to feel like I can enjoy all of December without distraction and stress, you know-just really embrace the season.  If I have a lazy afternoon--make some sugar cookies, or work on a cross stitch ornament project that I started fifteen years ago.  

I've made great headway, both out and about, and online shopping as well.  It's keeping up with the wrapping that's hard.  Here I have a small start, I just have little Post It notes on each gift for now.  I need a trip to Michael's for some ribbon, jute and embellishments.  That's my favorite part of wrapping gifts.  I always find really cute gift tags in the $1 bins at Target, or should I say $3 bins?   Anyway, as long as I stay up to par wrapping, I'll be good.  It always seems UPS arrives just when I think I've wrapped the last present.

I'm excited about decorating the house as well.  I may do a little Christmas tour.  Two of my nieces, Maggie and Tricia, are coming next week to help.  I think it's a great bonding time, I sincerely miss the days so long ago that Emily and Abby worked a little magic around the house, and with our tree.  And I really love fresh ideas.  It will be fun, I'm giving them full creative license!



I've been doing a little winter clothing shopping as well.  I'm just starting to really clear all the summer stuff out of my dressers and closet, and as it always goes, I find myself lacking in decent winter clothes.  I've never really cared much for digging through the racks at Marshall's, but I'm liking that lately.  Shopping online can be a little disconcerting when it comes to clothing.  Sometimes you need to feel the fabric or see the quality.  These boots are a perfect example.  I wanted a nice pair of black boots to wear with anything from leggings to skinny jeans, to a dress with tights.  These Calvin Klein's are really cool.  Velvet in the front, leather in the back, gold details, and a small chunky heel.  However---I am embarrassingly short.  These go well over my knee in the front and pinch in the back when I sit down.  Grrrrr... I still love them.  What's a little pain if you feel marvelous?  By the way, I found these at 6pm.  If you've never been to the website, go.  Now.  Maybe measure yourself a bit first.  



I've really been in a cooking mood.  I'm still making a list of recipes to try before I grocery shop, but right now, with lists swirling in my head, I'm mostly operating on the mode of using what I have.  I happened to see a package of super thin pre-made pizza crusts at one of the stores I shop at.  I wish I could remember the brand, but you can probably find it where you see the Boboli crusts.  Despite what you think about Chicago pizza, we love both a thick and thin crust.  I personally think a thin crust just needs a little topping.  Just as I make a soup or stew with all those extra veggies in the fridge begging to be used, I did the same with the pizzas I made.  This one had a little red sauce I threw together, fresh zucchini, sliced red onion, small heirloom tomatoes, a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese and a little Italian seasoning.  No meat, no grease, and really quick.  The Husband gave it a thumbs up.  



I wanted to share a picture of my grandson, Brooks.  I can't believe he's going on 10 months old.  Isn't he going to be a lady killer?  He is son Jeff and Deirdre's little boy.  Busy schedules aside, we will be making up for lost time over the holidays.  If you look on my sidebar, you'll see a recent pic of him.  Oh, those blue eyes.  And now I have to have another daddy and mama give me a picture of Patsy, who is now 6 months old.  And yes, another blue eyed angel.  



Emily sent this picture of little Mad.  Look at that joyous face and sweet outfit.  Sadly, this was taken when she was on the exam table at the pediatrician just before her flu shot.  Ouch!  Not smiling too much after that, I'm sure.  I remember when my babies had their shots, I'm not sure who cried more.  I will say, they never looked this happy in the exam room before the shot either, this baby is the happiest little squirt you've ever seen.  Furthermore, who else would dare go to the doctor without wearing their tulle skirt and gold shoes?



So, I bet all of you have your Thanksgiving plans down; the turkey thawing and the bread slices drying out on the kitchen table.  I never went that route with my stuffing, as much of a traditionalist I might sound.  My late sister, Leslie, worked at Pepperidge Farm for twenty-five years, and I fear I'd be disloyal if I didn't use their mix.  In fact, I didn't see it when I was shopping the other day, and came thisclose to buying Brownberry.  Then I found it, and sighed as I looked toward the heavens.  I mean, she kept me well stocked with their cherry turnovers for years.  

I really wish I had the huge harvest table I have at the lake for holidays here.  Our table seats 4, we have an open floor plan and no dining room.  I have miraculously, or uncomfortably,  fit 8 people around this table for 4.  We have 11 for dinner this year, and I've lost count on how many for dessert.  I'll set the table and the counter peninsula and we're good to go.  I'm having the traditional turkey, stuffing (I may add a little pork sausage to it this year, shhhhh...the kids hate change) gravy, mashed potato casserole, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, rolls and a new side dish I'm trying.  

Awhile ago I Pinned a recipe for roasted broccolini.  It's like a baby version of broccoli, a skinny version.  I was surprised to read in the description of the roasting procedure, that it's important to leave ample space around the veggies, or they will steam and not crisp up right.  Wow...I think I discovered why I've always failed with roasting vegetables.  I made Brussels sprouts tonight and spread them out really well.  Very good.  Using parchment paper is perfect to keep the vegetables from burning or sticking.  So here is the link to  Roasted Broccolini with Lemon and Parmesan Cheese.

A few last tried and true tips that I want to share about making Thanksgiving dinner a hit.  Getting all of your dinnerware, bowls, platters, and serving pieces together the day before is essential.  Check your wine glasses for spots, etc.  Make sure your napkins are presentable.  Prepare and refrigerate as many dishes as you can ahead of time.  Don't have any last minute house cleaning left except a bathroom touch up.  Put the turkey in, and then spend time getting yourself ready.  Shower, makeup, hair, clothes.  Wear an apron so you don't spill all over.  I was always the last one to join my guests as I saved myself for last.  

I want to thank all of you for your prayers for Milo, as well as comforting words, here and on Instagram as well.  This is my account.   He's doing really well.  He had the usual bloodwork today and I was also concerned that he had had a ton of diarrhea since Sunday night, the last bit today with a little blood in it.  My vet had me come over right away.  That in itself had me shaking and tearing up.  I'm not being very brave about any of this.  Well, the diarrhea could be a result of anything, he needed a few meals of rice and hamburger to bulk him up--boy, he loved that--, a remedy that's been around forever.  The blood was from his straining.  The really good news is that the swelling of his lymph nodes is almost down completely.  He's a trooper though, he takes good care of me.

I hope you had time to read all of this.  With no writing ahead of me for a week, I'll get back soon.  I want to hear all about your festivities, and see some of your family pictures.  I'll share the same.

Love and blessings,

Jane x 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

UP TO MY NECK



Hello, my friends!  And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.  Your words of support, and promises of prayers for my furry love, Milo, had me in awe every morning when I would open up my blog to read comments. I could never ask for more at this time in my life.  In my last long and rambling post, as per usual, you guys weighed in and supported me on my eye issue, as well as my devastation in getting the diagnosis for Milo.  And you also were so thoughtful in giving Miss Madelyn birthday wishes.  Who could ask for more?  I'm so grateful. 

My spirits have been lifted as I see Milo making progress--well, not progress, but not getting ill since his first chemotherapy.  He's been acting like an old man a bit more, he frequently stares at walls, lies down to sleep in odd places, and sits and stares at me for minutes on end.  Nothing to be troubled about, just not his normal self.   Still, I'm so happy to have him.

He takes Prednisone, and I was told this could make him more thirsty and needing to urinate more.  He had a few accidents, which seemed totally uncontrollable.  His legs would go weak and he would pretty much lose it, thankfully on the wood floor and not an area rug.  And so much...a huge puddle.  He looks ashamed and I try to soothe him.  He also frequently gives me his 'look', almost hourly in the evening, which means he has to go.  As you know, we spotted a coyote a few yards from our house not long ago (yep, here in the city), so I go out in the backyard with him with the floodlights on.  That fear of a wild animal, and being out late at night is not so great.  But I do it, I'm not letting him out alone, nor suffer with a full bladder.  Please know, I do have a broom on the back porch for defense.    

Well, I've rambled on long enough here.  I think things are going well.  As well as can be.  As well as I can ask for.  



When I feel like my life is spiraling out of control, I tend to cry, sulk, and sleep a lot.  Last week I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and decided I needed to start living and working on my own life.  I have been unorganized, undisciplined, and fretting over my writing deadlines. My fridge never seems to be stocked up, the laundry piles up until I'm out of my favorite, stretched out yoga pants, and the house can use a good cleaning.  

If you've been around awhile, you might often hear me say, "I'm going back to the gym."  Well, it's been 2 years and I haven't been back.  And this isn't a fairy tale ending, I haven't signed back up yet...but I'm determined.  




If you've been around awhile, you might have heard me often say, "I'm going back to the gym."  Well, it's been 2 years and I haven't been back.  And this isn't a fairy tale ending, I haven't signed back up.  But I'm determined to do it when I can fully commit.  

One thing I was really failing at was eating well.  Eating too much bread, pasta, even rice and grains, and while the latter 2 are healthy, the carbs are a no no for me.  I was wallowing in a lot of self pity, and also being lazy about preparing and cooking the right foods.  

I really enjoy Pinterest, and my favorite Pins are recipes.  My boards are mostly those, yet I rarely follow through on making anything from these boards.  

I buckled down, chose a few healthy recipes, wrote down the items I didn't have, and did my grocery shopping.  Hooray, I followed through on everything!  Some meals didn't turn out quite as good as I thought, but you learn.  I hope I can encourage some of you to do this as well.  I loved the challenge and loved accomplishing my goal.  Unlike the gym, I'm not investing money only to feel guilty and worthless if I fail.  But I will continue to push myself on that end.


I happened to be at Target last week looking for a 2018 planner.  I couldn't live without one, and I'm already scribbling things into the notes section of the December one I have.  Target always has some cool journals, notebooks, tablets, calendars, and planners.  I came across this and thought it was so pretty.  I thought it was just a food journal.  I had a little one a few years ago that I found at Barnes & Noble.  I checked there, and even on Amazon, and I hadn't found one.  It really helped me keep track of my meals, how far apart they were, when it seemed I snacked the most in a day...it was SO helpful.  

This is a really great journal.  It's not just a food diary, it's an uplifting guide to help you with your feelings about food, i.e., are you an emotional eater?  Do you snack out of boredom?  There are chapters that focus on how you feel good about yourself, lists of 'good for you foods', and at the end, a great diary for your daily meals to help you understand your eating patterns.

I will not hold back here, I make a regular attempt to post only pictures of myself that flatter.  I have a huge weight loss goal of about forty pounds.  That's a hefty amount my body doesn't need, and a real sign of neglect, lack of discipline, and unwillingness to commit to a healthy way of life.  I've only made half hearted attempts.  

I don't know if any of this menu planning or using a food journal will help.  I have to approach going to the gym as a goal to feel better, be healthy, and maybe one day, wear clothes that I can look good in.  Whoa- confession time!


  

As if I'm not challenging myself enough, or setting the bar too high, I decided to take on the endeavor of making tamales.  They look simple, but man, I was wrong.  The Husband is always raving about the ones he gets from a little Mexican place on his way home from work.  I really enjoy them, too, and I've wanted to take on some different types of regional cooking.  Okay, maybe I was jealous he was so loving something I didn't make myself.  ;-D

Oh, wow. I had no idea what I was getting into.  In the Latino culture, making tamales is very much a way to celebrate Christmas; a tradition that involves the women in the family working together; making dozens of tamales, chatting, enjoying the company, and later, sharing their hard work in gift giving.  

I obviously didn't get the part about doing this with others.  So far I have probably spent about fifteen hours shopping, cooking the meats (I'm making chicken and pork tamales), and making the sauces.  As of yet, I have not made the masa, which will hold everything together in the corn husks.  And then I have to steam them.  My recipes, and I combined a few to get what I felt was just right, will make about eighty tamales.  That's not unusual, as you want to gift your family and friends with about 2-3 per person.  I know, that's a lot, and I wish I had a hub of women to help me.  So far my girls, and The Husband, think I'm crazy.  I'm sorry-I like a challenge.  It keeps me busy and my mind off not so good things.



The Addams Family home, circa 2017

I promised you pics of the before and after of the landscaping, and improvements on our house.  Please don't cringe-I'm almost embarrassed to show you this.  These are permits in the window, not evacuation notices.  Also, the sidewalk had already been torn up.  The lawn was just terrible, and covered with the dust of the concrete work, as were the old, overgrown bushes, some had already been removed to make room for the porch.  Still, the ivy hadn't been trimmed all summer, and everything was just sad.  Remember, I was at the lake a good part of the summer and really turned my back on this house, I didn't even plant flowers or pots.  

I saw a porch as I was walking Madelyn in our neighborhood, I fell in love.  Two levels, and no ugly railings.  I found a mason who did a tremendous job on a porch for my friend, Snow.  He came, loved the design I chose and expanded the idea of using a replication of the limestone which you can see under the bay window to the right of the porch.  He did the driveway as well, which was in sad shape from the roots of the old maple we had cut down (see my last post).  And finally we had a new sidewalk done with pavers by another company, and new bushes and plants by a garden/landscape company.



The after.  Voila!  I think the biggest difference (and a decision I didn't want to face), was removing all of the ivy that wrapped around the house.  Even when trimmed, it looked unkempt, hid the pretty brick, and was causing damage by actually creeping inside the windows and damaging our gutters.  Lesson learned.

I had the shutters and trim painted a mossy green/gray, it's called Incognito by Behr from Home Depot.  I'm in love with it.  

Finally, the planting of the bushes and plants, as well as a good reseeding of the lawn, was done by a local company by the name of Garden Keepers.  It's owned by a terrific woman named Paula (Yay for women entrepreneurs!).  She came and took an educated look, talked to me about plant options; spacing, size, color, sunlight requirements, and answered just about any question I had.  

She was spot on.  My biggest request was that she didn't use very young bushes that would take a long time to grow and mature-I didn't want to look like a new construction landscape.  




We couldn't be happier.  In these pics we hadn't yet gotten new lights for the porch and garage.  The Husband picked copper lanterns with glass that exposes the old fashioned light bulbs.  We will also have the border in front of the bushes lined with 2 layers of flagstone, it just wasn't available in quantity so late in the season.

 My house is small, but it does extend back twice as far as it is wide.  Pretty much a typical small city lot.  Can you see the limestone on the sides of the porch?  That mason was able to match it to the stone under the bay window going back seventy years when the house was built.  What a professional.

So that's it, another post chock full of ramblings.  I have some writing to do for the papers, but I hope to get back soon.  And those tamales...what did I get into????

Jane x

Thursday, October 26, 2017

CELEBRATE




I have finally sat down to get a post out to you, and I've also promised myself I will be in bed by 11:00 p.m. tonight.  We'll see.

This has been a few weeks of ups and downs and beyond.  The personal challenges, and the fickle weather have me feeling there is nothing we can be sure of anymore.  I'm happy to say the landscaping project on the front side of our city house is finally finished.  I'm going to share pics and explain what we did in my next post.  Everything turned out beyond beautiful and what I had expected.  Removing the ivy that covered all of the brick (and some windows, partially!), as well as some overgrown bushes that were past their prime, made all the difference in the world.   

Sadly, we had to have a majestic maple tree cut down this week.  We were able to get financial help on the public walkway (which we are responsible for maintaining), if we agreed to have it removed, as it's roots were the cause of the walkway buckling.  We were a lawsuit waiting to happen.  The work on the tree went on yesterday and today.  When a large limb would come down on the street, my house would shake.  The workers said they believed it was the biggest tree they had ever seen in our area.  




***Stump of maple.  Note my wee feet**


This makes me beyond upset.  Our house is surrounded by trees, and we have had our share of damage after heavy storms.  We have all of them trimmed up every few years., and this guy was definitely as healthy as could be.  I'm going to miss seeing that maple when I look out the living room window, or feel that dappled sun in the morning.  My hands were tied.  

The sidewalk will be repaired in the spring and the stump removed.  We will choose another tree (or two).   I want something that grows quickly.  I like the shade and I don't like looking across the street at other houses.  I have heard that the non-fruit-bearing pear tree is a fast grower and very pretty.  If anyone is from the Midwest and wants to chime in, please do.  


*****

Sometime after I wrote my last post I had a little 'incident'.  I've been suffering from extreme dry eye disease for years and it has worsened with the new meds I've been taking since July for the eczema.  One morning I was feeling my way to my dresser for my eye drops, trying not to open my dry, scratchy eyes, when I blinked and felt the most excruciating pain in my left eye.  I actually bent over and rocked back and forth.  When I could manage to get the drops near the eye, I couldn't bear to open it.  I called my eye doctor, and then Abby, who by the grace of God was off work that week, and she took me to the doctor.  She did remark, first thing after walking through my door, "You really need to learn to call Uber."  Uumm...what happened to family?!



The diagnosis was a large flap tear of the cornea.  My eye doctor is normally a really neat, slap happy sort of guy, and he was not acting very slap happy at all.  He said the tear was not pretty, when I blinked, the flap tissue was moving up and down.  I was started on antibiotics and pain meds for the first 12 hours and then I was back to see him.  The piece had fallen off and became an abrasion.  His biggest worry was that the scarring could cause me to lose the sight in that eye.  I can now say that all went well, and I have a tiny scar that didn't cause any permanent damage.  He is trying to get my insurance to cover the daily eye drops, they are over $300 per month.  If I don't get on these drops, I will continue to erode my eye surface.  Still waiting to hear, and using my little Refresh over-the-counter drops every few hours.  I keep the tubes on my night stand.  




So, I couldn't write a post if I wanted to.  Luckily I had a few newspaper columns in my files so I didn't miss any work obligations.  I managed to comment on a few blogs here and there when I could, without overdoing it.  




Emily and Mike had the most fantastic 1st Birthday Party for Madelyn last Saturday.  I had been on pins and needles for the weeks after she asked me if she could have the party in our backyard, since it's large.  Late October in Chicago is not pretty, and I had no room in my house for the amount of family and friends (and little ones) she had invited.  Thankfully, it was in the mid-seventies and not a cloud in the sky.  

Emily should be a party planner.  Her ideas are so unique and she spent many hours working on a lot of sweet and clever ideas to make it a party to remember.  Here are a few shots:



A pretty table with pics of Madelyn and a self serve popcorn station.  The sun is making my photo wonky, but see the cute pink boxes?



For guests coming through the gate, a table was set up with cute cards to fill out and put in a basket as a sort of 'time capsule'.   Beautiful words were written about Madelyn, at age 1, to be opened when she is 18 in 2034.   I'm not even going to do the math on how old I'll be.  As long as I'm there, I'm happy.  :) 



The food was provided by a local Mexican restaurant.  And they are excellent.  How cool is this?  Made to order and hot off the grill.  I think the neighbors were envious, the smell of grilled steak, chicken and pork filled the air.



All of the condiments were set out by the cooks to help ourselves to.  When they were ready to leave, and they stayed a few hours, all of the extra food was wrapped up as leftovers, and off they went, as if they had never been there.  No clean up, nothing.  This was genius!





And finally, the Birthday Girl!   Well her actual birthday is a little over a week from now-I bet there will be another celebration.  Hopefully not here!  That's Abby's old highchair.  Emily painted it at the lake a few weeks ago.  Pretty.  Back it goes for all the little beebies!




I have something I want to share even though it makes my throat ache to put it in words.  I took Milo to the vet this past Saturday after Abby had noticed he had a few more fatty tumors around his neck.  They weren't though, they were swollen lymph nodes and he was diagnosed with cancer.  Our veterinarian is great.  He was straightforward, but also stressed that I wait for the blood work.  Lymphoma in canines does not have a good prognosis.  Even though Milo looks healthy for his age, he had 4 to 6 weeks to live.  

I could dig not very deep at all into my heart, and write triple what you really don't need to hear.  I don't want to make this a drama, you all know Milo pretty well; we have a very special relationship.  He's my buddy.  My companion.  Every. Single. Day.

So the lab work came back absolutely positive.  Since Abby had found the lumps weeks ago, he seriously didn't have much time.  Canines succumb very quickly to the disease.  Of course I read everything I could get my hands on*, and my vet spoke at length with me.  It was decided we would start chemotherapy.  I know it's very debatable to do this with an older pet, I can't say I know anyone who has a dog or cat who has ever gone this route.  But it might buy Milo as much as 6-9 more months.  

He had his first treatment yesterday.  I brought him in the morning, he was slightly sedated, and received the meds through a catheter.  He was sent home with Prednisone and a medication to be given if he had diarrhea, vomiting, wasn't eating, or became dehydrated.  I think just the commotion  of being at the clinic made him tired, and I was definitely stressed out after 3 days of crying and grappling with decision.  We took a looooong afternoon nap--this is him in the photo after his first chemo treatment.  Today he is eating, following me around, and even chased a squirrel across the backyard.  

I've spent days feeling every emotion an animal lover can feel.  Part of me wanted to just let things follow their own course, how could I go through this pain twice?  I was about to do that when I asked the doctor, "If this was your dog, what would you do?"  He didn't hesitate.  "I'd want more time."  And then I made up my mind. 

 Sigh.  This was so hard to put into words.  

I'll keep you posted (of course), but I intend on being as upbeat as possible as we live out this time together.  And I'm going to make it the best time ever!  Please say a prayer for my Mister.

Jane x

*If you are interested in one of the many websites I searched related to lymphoma in dogs, here is a link.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

FREE FALLIN


Dining Table, Fall 2017

Simple, simple, I brought up a few fall pieces from downstairs.  These cute faux fruit went into an old bowl, and a Pier 1 sale candle went into the lantern that's been there all summer with various candles.  I also couldn't pass up these wool and straw place mats sold in a pack at HomeGoods for pennies.  I'm good until Christmas, ladies.  

I packed up a small box for daughter, Abby and Tom, and their apartment.  She said she was going to Marshall's, and I said, "Please, I am Marshall's, just a smaller version."  Name your season or holiday.  I really have to purge through some of this stuff.  I was glad to see some pics she texted me of some of the candle holders, and faux pumpkins I sent off with Tom.  The pumpkin has gold dots on it - I'm thinking that's a hip sort of thing she'd like.



My Beloved Island, Fall 2017

My island is always a great sense of joy for me.  It has a marble top, perfect for keeping dough chilled as you roll it out for pies or cookies, or not.  I just like to decorate it.  I've never rolled out a darn thing.  That's what stone counters are for.  Sometimes when we've had holidays or a party, I've been forced to move things off so we can put actual food on it.  It truly saddens me.


Kitchen Island, 2011 (sort of)

For those of you who didn't know me 6 years ago,  I crossed my fingers, whined, begged and coerced the hubby into buying the island.  It was definitely one for Blondie's Journals - Strange But True Tales.

I came upon this gem while perusing my Pottery Barn catalog and it was instant love.  Our kitchen in the city isn't large by any means, but we did knock out walls to open it up and we had a lot of space in the middle.  Maybe a chopping block or something would have been a bit more practical, but I wanted this reclaimed wood baby.  After I tried all of my wild and woolly female wiles,  I tore out the page from the catalog, and in my own version of copy and paste, I inserted moi!  It's a wee bit out of perspective -  I'm seriously not that tiny, nor is the island that humongous. You can enlarge to see my desperate note.  The rest is history.  

Getting back to my vignette, I won these gorgeous velvet pumpkins in a giveaway hosted by Debra at  Common Ground, 2 years ago.   I adore them.



On a side table in the living room, I had to keep it small and sweet.  These sweater pumpkins were made by the lovely Jody, at Rooted In Thyme.  All of these pumpkins come out every year without fail.  

I had some pics of the fireplace hearth and mantel, but decided it needed to be tweaked.  Funny how you see things differently through the camera lens.  I'll get to that in my next post...unless it's already Christmas.


Jane's Chili 

I shared this on Instagram.  Click HERE to follow me for more frequent posts than I do blogging, lol!  Anyway, I made this Chili the other night, my basic recipe, but sometimes you mess around and come up with something better than your best.  The Husband and I really loved it, and I thought I'd share.  Please ignore the garish photos, you all know I can't take a good food picture.  Also, everyone has their own favorite chili recipe,  but keep your mind open; you might just want to try some of my twists.  Please read the recipe through before you even shop or start.  I've noted changes you might not have in your arsenal of ingredients for Chili.

Jane's Chili

1 1/2 lb. ground beef, or 4 freshly prepared beef Pub Burgers*
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can of black or kidney beans (or your choice)
1 c beef broth
2 T chili powder
1 t red pepper flakes
1 T sugar
2 t ground cumin
2 t ground cinnamon
S & P to taste

Sour cream, cheddar cheese, radish slices, or whatever you like for garnish.

***

Notes:  Rather than an ordinary package of ground beef, I had a package of pre-made 'Pub Burgers' from my grocery store.  The are what they sound like; fresh, firm, and ready to throw on the grill.  Except it was not grilling weather and I felt the frozen meat was going to start going downhill soon.  But---the clouds parted as I stubbornly jabbed at these rounds of beef with my wooden spoon to break them up as they cooked in the skillet.  I was left with some larger chunks, as opposed to little morsels of ground beef.  And that was the beauty of it all.  The chunks, much like steak, soaked up the liquid and spices and held firm, and it was like quite different.  I highly recommend doing your next Chili this way if you do have access to pre-made burgers.  I haven't quite figured out the 'binder' in Pub Burgers, but they certainly held their own in sautéing and cooking in the broth.  

Brown beef in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat, breaking it up until cooked through.  Remove to a bowl or plate.  Sauté the onion, peppers, and garlic over low heat until just tender.  Add the tomatoes, beans, broth, beef, and remaining spices, stirring well to incorporate.  Place in oven, covered for 1 hour.  You can then go off and do laundry or take a bubble bath if you so desire.  I hate to watch things cook slowly on the stove.  So many better things to do.

*And now, the addition of cinnamon.  Just do it for crying out loud.  I am not telling you to add a cup of horseradish or a can of beets.  Just do it and thank me later.   :)))



A couple of photos of Miss Madelyn.  I love this outfit.  I think she borrowed it from Princess Charlotte.  So cute.  Already reading books about pumpkin vignettes.  


I can't figure out her secret for always looking just perfect for the camera, especially when she has no clue what's going on.  

She turns 1 year old on November 11, but her party will be here at my house, outdoors, in two weeks.  Keep your fingers crossed the weather isn't like it normally is in October, or better yet, a simple miracle. ;-D

*****

In other news, our landscaping project is almost done.  The grass seedlings are popping up everywhere, the bushes and plants that my favorite lady gardener chose are beyond gorgeous.  I have a sweet Japanese maple that won't tower over our house in 2 years, arborvitae that will stay green all winter long, conical boxwood (who knew?), and  a few smaller 'fill in' plants.  I picked up a few mums, not many, to have next to the steps, and I'm off tomorrow for some pansies for my urn on the porch.  And then I might post some pics.  Unless it snows.  Stranger things have happened in Chicago.

The tables have been turned and I've been home alone in the city while The Husband piddles around at the lakehouse.  I was supposed to meet up with him the day after he left but I have that old virus rearing it's ugly head.  You guys already know, the virus is much like mononucleosis, but not related. Still, with both, all you want to do is sleep, get up to use the bathroom, shove some potato chips in your mouth and go back to bed.  I even bought a pretty new bathrobe to cover up the PJ's I rarely change.  If someone comes to the house I just look beautiful and contagious and they quickly leave.

So it's funny having The Husband at the lake alone.  He texts/calls me about every hour.  Last night he was trying to make a pizza in the oven and he was all messed up because there didn't seem to be an 'Off' button and he was afraid the oven would stay on until eternity.  Well, to Whirlpool, 'Off' and 'Cancel' are interchangeable, and The Husband needed a Valium with his pizza.  He's also very lonely.    And bored.  

Sadly, my input involves things like clean the garage, shed, attic.  Hang my shelves, pictures, hooks.  Wash the windows, inside and out and wipe down the trim.  Sadly, this just makes him lonely, bored and downright angry.  

A storm came through here in southeast Chicago about 4:00 p.m. today, and as usual, it blows over Lake Michigan to the East and hits the area where our cottage is.  I forewarned The Husband via a text and he was happy.  He wanted to know where the candles, flashlights and phone chargers were.  I told him I was more concerned with him bringing in the beach chair cushions and covering his truck bed up.  When I suggested that he leave the balcony doors off the bedroom open tonight to see and feel the curtains blow dramatically, this was the last text I received.  

*****Seriously, I'm slow with my writing and awake hours...ha!  But really serious, I am so heartbroken about what happened in Las Vegas.  How many of us have been there?  There is a happy go lucky vibe 24/7.  It's a fun time with family and/or friends.  To be caught in an attack by an insane person is beyond comprehension.  I can't add to anything you've read or heard.  I just feel a deep feeling of loss for what our world has become, the one we are leaving behind to our children and grandchildren.  40+ years ago it was war, country against country.  Now it is a battlefield anywhere in the US where a violent person/persons can delight in bloodshed.  

*****Love and prayers to all affected by the multiple hurricanes.  It has been entirely too much ocean fury.  We are countries  united and wanting to aid, help and pray for the survival and rebuilding of these countries, even our own island, Puerto Rico.  Did I pronounce that correctly? (!)

The coverage on TV may seem too much, my friends, and I respect that.  Still, I will never turn away from anything that is happening in our world.  No, I don't stay glued to my TV, nor do I immerse myself in newspapers or news websites, too much is too much.  I pray that our country continues to hear people speak, shout, write, and rant for what is so obvious...global warming issues, gun control, freedom of speech, and voices everywhere, everyday, every minute, making it known that our leader is not leading.  I've gone out on a limb which I have never, ever done on my blog.  I am smart.  I am informed.  I have a political voice.  I am a humanitarian, a mother who worries about the next generation, a very frustrated woman who wants peace worldwide.  Please, let's all raise our voices. 

Jane x 

*****The title of my post is dedicated to the late Tom Petty.  Rest in peace you talented and much loved musician.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

AN EARLY AUTUMN, GARDEN HAPPENINGS & AND CREATIVENESS IN THE KITCHEN


Hey guys - its fall!!!!  It had been really feeling like it big time, and then we had a heat wave come through.  From visiting blogs, it seems to have happened in a lot of regions.  We hit 96 degrees today, and the leaves were falling at the same time.  Incredible.  Fall always seems to come a little earlier in Southwest Michigan, and you can see we have an abundance of leaves to be raked up, by whom, I don't know.  ;-D



I had thought that I lost my climbing rose over the past two summers of neglect.  It had a weedy sort of vine strangling it, so one day The Husband went crazy after the weed and gave it a good snip.  Myself, I have an aversion to thorns.  Funny, the rose started to shoot up and bloomed.  As you can see, some of it is growing outward, so once again I have to start the training and attach it to the trellis.  Aren't these the most beautiful blooms?  I can't remember the name of the rose, but if I can find all of my gardening journals, we may find out.  The surrounding daises are doing well with a little deadheading.  Little pleasures.  



I usually plant lettuce and spinach in a huge pot in the backyard of the city house.  Sadly, the first bunch went to seed.  In mid July it was about two feet high and resembled nothing I can put my finger on.  I planted more in mid-August, and this is just ready to pluck to have the most fresh salads as you can get.  

My gardens and yard in the city look terrible.  It used to be that I'd be at the lake for 2-3 days per week.  That left ample time to take care of both homes (outside).  As I walked around outside the house the other day, I felt my heart breaking over the pots filled with browned, scorched skeletons of flowers I planted back in May.  My herb garden is a mess, weeds everywhere...well, you get it.  

There is a lesson learned here.  I can't have two gorgeous homes unless I simplify things.  I need to look for more maintenance free plants, and I can't overdo the amount of plants I pot or put in the garden.  Less is more.  I don't think we had one barbecue or guest over in the city house all summer.  All those potted flowers, just a shame.  For myself, when I was home, I spent time lounging on the patio while the dogs enjoyed their little haven.  So it was good enough for me.  I just have to downsize.  



We had some good friends up at the lake last weekend.  We just love Craig and Snow.  The Husband and Craig went to high school together.  Unbelievably, they went on to college and then law school together.  Now that make makes for a great friendship.  Snow and I go back a long time as well.   She is vibrant, so fun, smart, and the real deal.  We had many serious talks; sitting on the patio, or in the Summer House, and so much to catch up on.  Here in the city they live just up the street by 4 blocks.  I wish we saw each other more, but we are more likely to meet up for dinner as couples.  At the lake,   we always catch up where we've left  off - its like a fabulous pajama party.  It was one of my most favorite weekends this summer.  

  

I'm always so happy to cook when I'm home.  I don't know if I'd really experiment at the lake for just myself (although I did go on that salsa marathon recently), but I enjoy doing so for The Husband and I, he's like my lab rat.  He is always forthright in saying what he likes, and I can't seem to go wrong.  It's wonderful to sit and break bread with someone you love.  Having dinner alone is one thing I dislike about being at the lake, although it's not so bad, and I do make a point of good, clean, and tasty dishes.  

Last week when I got home I made a veal stew  It was truly delicious.  I've seen how Bouquet Garni is used in many European dishes, and I was wanting to try this technique for a long time.  For this recipe I used thyme and rosemary.  I took sprigs from my plants and tied them together with baker's twine.  It flavors the broth and you then remove it at the end.  I was so proud of myself in spite of how easily it is done.  You can find the recipe here.  The only changes I made were increasing the flour, the dish was a bit too watery.  

I don't have any recipes for you in this post, but I do have some things to share.  I had a ton of fresh vegetables that I brought home from the lake.  I wanted to use them up. I always love a good stir fry, and this is one great way to utilize those veggies that are still lingering before your next shopping day.  Don't get me wrong-never use vegetables past their prime, you simply won't do the recipe justice.  I simply tote food back and forth from the lake so nothing goes bad.  And then I use it in omelets, soups, stews, salads...anything I can come up with. 

Long story short:  I had a market tote filled with gorgeous carrots, broccoli, zucchini and onions.  I knew a stir fry was a must.  Most times I have a package of seasonings from the grocery store, or a bottled sauce from the Asian aisle.  Panda Express makes a Kung Pao sauce that is outstanding.  You do have to factor in the preservatives in these store bought items as well as heavy duty sodium, so it was a good thing I had to do a little extra work.  I had nothing, so I went to Pinterest.  I'm so sorry I didn't get a photo of the finished dish, but I swear, it was the BEST stir fry I've ever made.  Of course, I switched everything all around.  The recipe didn't have quite enough of that saltiness that you usually get from the soy sauce.  I also thought it needed fresh ginger, rather than dried and ground - I always have a big knob in the freezer and it keeps forever.  So here is my revised recipe for a stir fry sauce, and a bit about how I made mine.   

Sauce for Stir Fry Veggies and Meat

3 T brown sugar 
3 T soy sauce
1 1/2 T Balsamic vinegar (or white)
1 T vegetable oil
1 T and 1 t sesame oil, divided
1 T fresh ground ginger or 1/4 dried
Pinch of red pepper flakes.

Combine all ingredients, but for the teaspoon of sesame oil and the vegetable oil.  Use these oils to stir fry your meat and veggies in.  

When I stir fry and use meat, I cut it uniformly, and sauté it over high heat.  Use veggie or canola oil, olive oil does not heat to the degree you need to get your meat and vegetables seared and still juicy.  I then remove the meat and start the veggies.  Some vegetables are more dense than others.  When I cut carrots matchstick style, they are still pretty tough, so I start those first, then move on to the softer peppers and onions, and then if you have squash or anything leafy (I love Bok Choy), add that the last minute or so.  Add your meat back into the hot pan and pour your sauce over.  Toss constantly until incorporated and heated through.  Serve with your favorite rice.  

My second dilemma came when I bought fresh pork chops on sale and just wanted to do something nice with them  They were so thick and I really wanted to enhance the flavor but not overwhelm.  One of the things I really love to play around with is making meat rubs from dried herbs and spices.  Sometimes I think I might as well just triple the ingredients and store it for other uses, but actually, you can do this so quickly and you can switch or omit anything you want, anytime you want.  What I put together for these chops brought out the best in them, and made a nice crisp coating which kept the meat juicy.  Here is my little concoction:

1 1/2 t salt
1 t pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t onion powder
1 t oregano
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t paprika

Mix together well.  Do NOT be afraid of the cinnamon, trust me, it is superb.  This was sufficient for 2 large chops.  Use it on meats or veggies.  I dry the meat thoroughly with a paper towel - never try to put anything in oil even slightly damp.  Press the spices in with your fingertips or the side of your tongs.  I sear the chops on both sides and then finish them off in a 350 degree oven until they register 145 degrees inside.  

For veggies,  I use this mixed spiced rub to toss with olive oil, a tablespoon (or whatever fits the bill).  You can add the spices to oil and vinegar for a tasty vinaigrette, and then use the vinaigrette on any type of meat or seafood.  Mixed with olive oil it makes for a great dipping mix for good crusty bread.  Use it on your submarine sandwiches.  If you've made rubs before and want to contribute ideas, let me know!


*******

Oh, goodness.  This post was started two days ago!  I don't know if I'm coming or going.  I was patting myself on the back for getting down to business earlier than I normally do on my blog.  I seem to have so much going on during the day that I leave my work for evening.  And then I'm tired and can't bear to look at this screen one more second.  

Now that our new porch, sidewalk and driveway are in, I began to get quotes on landscaping.  I was getting really frustrated for a number of reasons; the high cost, and the lack of experience ("You pick out your plants and we'll pop them in.") for example.  Grrrrrrrr...

I finally found a company operated by a woman, and she really knows her stuff.  She has a great eye for design, and knows just how large bushes and such grow, and just how many of each one we'd need to fill my space along the exterior of my home.  We decided to try to save the existing lawn.  I had thought sod would be the best choice, but I learned from several sources that an established lawn, albeit sad looking, is a winner over brand new sod that undoubtedly goes into transplant shock.  

So...tomorrow I have a painter coming to do my shutters and a peak over the front door.  I chose a deep olive-like green.  I'll sneak out early and get a 'before' shot, but hang on to your hats, things are looking bad out there!  And then the planting starts Thursday.  I was ready to go to the lake, and I totally trust The Husband to take care of the watering, but this has been my baby, so I'm going to stay here as long as I can before I go cray cray.  

I hope I've got you all caught up to date.  At least in my life.  Take care and have a good week, I hope you stay cool.

Jane x