Tuesday, June 30, 2020

HAPPY SUMMER! GARDENING,THE LITTLE ONES, & A QUICK RECIPE




Hello, friends!  So glad to be back (again, so soon!).  A little odd that when we were really sheltered in place for several months, I just never felt inclined to post.  Maybe I'm just feeling a little more energy now.  I'm not doing a whole lot more other than seeing family and grocery shopping, a few trips to the garden nurseries.  Going back and forth to the lake gives me a nice change of scenery.  Illinois is now open with a lot of restrictions and our numbers have gone down.  I pray everyone continues to practice the social distancing, masks, and hand washing.  How is everything in your area?

Anyway, you know I like to start with a pretty photo.  I'm working very hard on my garden beds here in the city because I've been here longer than usual.  We have a huge backyard as far as city norms; great for badminton, corn in the hole, kids running through the sprinkler, a little soccer, space for the dogs to play. 


This is the north side and that's crazy Poppy chewing on a stick or something.  The afternoon shadows make it hard to see the border left of my little woodland garden.  I have sedum, phlox, lilies, spiderwort, speedwell, milkweed, and tons of tulips and daffodils,  Once those spring bulbs are spent, I pull off the brown leaves and fold the rest over, securing loosely with a rubber band.  Never cut them to make room for the rest of your flowers, they need them for nutrient.  Doing what I do makes room for your summer plants.  The south side has a bed which is undergoing a lot of changes.  Whew, I'm worn out and sore every evening.  A long hot shower and scrubbing the dirt off is the best remedy.  Sometimes I wonder how I do all the bending, squatting, and lifting with all the metal and screws in my back.  Maybe it's a good surgeon or maybe it's just good stretching.  ðŸ˜




I bought a lot of plants at the nursery at the lake.  They have a super selection of perennials and the prices are very reasonable.  This was my haul.  I have this fancy dandy plastic wagon thing.  I place all my plants (and also groceries) in this and roll it wherever needed.  What a time saver and easy on the 'ol back.  With my plants, I can add some water from the hose into it so that they can bottom water until I get them planted.  



The other day Poppy was making a fuss near my day lilies.  The Husband went over and then called me to come quick.  Here was this magnificent moth.  I don't know how I knew it was a moth, perhaps the huge, fuzzy body.  



He carefully picked it up with this magazine cover and brought it around to our patio table.  It wasn't moving much at all.  Then we took pics and let it go in some greenery outside the backyard, safe from our dogs.  I managed to find it on Google, it's called a Polyphemus moth.  The photos I saw were incredible.  Our guy was actually a lot smaller than some.  We learned they only live about five
days so maybe it was near the end as it was so chill with us. 😥. They have no mouths, so they don't eat, and they are only here to mate and leave something behind.  How it landed here, I'm not sure.  We had several trees trimmed in April so maybe there were cocoons.  What an amazing experience!




Sausage, Vegetables & Kalamata Olives over Orzo.

I'm going to break things up here with a recipe.  This is actually my own picture- Ta-Da!  You all know how bad I feel about the poor quality of my photos of food.  I probably share 1/4 of the dishes I make because of the hideous pictures I take which I think turned out delicious.  

I keep my grocery list and cost to a minimum mostly because of my feelings about being in public places during this pandemic.  I also go back and forth to the lake so much that I either cart food to and fro in cooling bags, or I spend more money shopping there.  The verdict is: I often wind down to what I have in cabinets, and the freezer and fridge.  I love the challenge of cooking with just a few items, such inventiveness!  Without further ado, this meal worked really well one night and I've vowed to make it many more times.  

2 Italian sausage links, casings removed, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, sliced 
2 c fresh spinach, loosely chopped, or 5 oz of frozen, thawed and water squeezed out
1/4 c red onion, thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic (or more), minced
6-8 oz uncooked orzo
1 c whole Kalamata olives
I T olive oil + more as needed
Pinch of red pepper flakes 
S & P to taste

Start the orzo in a pot of boiling water according to package directions.  Once done, drain, reserving 1 cup of the starchy water.  Return the pasta to the pot with a splash of olive oil and keep covered. 

 Meanwhile, sauté the sausage over medium heat until almost cooked through.  Add  the tomatoes, spinach, onion, an d red pepper flakes.  Cook over low heat about 3 minutes until just softened.  Stir in the garlic for the last minute, adding a bit of the pasta water as needed to keep everything saucy.  Divide the orzo over 4 plates.  Top with the sausage mixture.  Scatter the Kalamato olives all around. Adjust seasonings to your taste.  Serves 4.

We had a few slices of Italian bread with this dish.  Absolutely wonderful for using just a little bits and pieces from the fridge just waiting to be used up. Let me know if you give this recipe a try. :)




Lucy June

I came home from the lake to celebrate Emily's 33rd birthday.  The memories of her birth always come back so vividly.  She was my firstborn, I was twenty-seven years old and so naive. We hadn't even considered names, and never thought to ask whether it was a boy or girl.  I'm so grateful for the experience.  Many haven't gone through this but I hope for many, that just being there for young family members, the children of friends, fostering or adopting fills your heart...and for those who continue to try, all my prayers.🙏 

We had Emily, Mike, and the two littles ones over for a steak dinner with crab cakes--surf and turf.  I need to brush up on the crab cakes,  I made them earlier and refrigerated them not wanting the kitchen to smell like grease and fish.  I reheated them in the oven before serving and they were limp and flavorless.  Bad mistake.  The chocolate cake made up for it!

And Lucy June was christened last Sunday.  Just grandparents, the godmother and father.  The church was empty, and the lunch celebration was limited to six people as mandated at the time, so The Husband I couldn't attend.  But the church was the best part.  I love the whole celebration, as in the past with all of our grands and our own children.

Lucy wore the same gown as Madelyn.  It was custom made from Emily's wedding dress, all satin and tulle ruffles along the bottom.  It's a beautiful keepsake.



I can't get enough of Madelyn.  She was a little out of sorts and confused by the celebration although she attends Sunday mass.  Look at that dress! I gifted Emily with some dresses and outfits from Boden USA,  If you are familiar with the British company, it's just the most precious patterns and fabric, and the best quality you can get for your money. and she's hooked.  Em washes all the baby clothes on gentle with a mild soap and hangs each and every piece to dry.   


Madelyn & Lucy


So--my little Poppy girl made it through the spaying and had her stitches removed at a veterinarian clinic near the cottage. Then she came down with painful infections in both ears.  The vet asked if she had been in the water and she hadn't yet, but she rolls in everything, including the marshy grass near the shore.  The doctor treated her with a med that lasts 30 days and in the meantime, she can't get wet.  So we haven't been able to get her used to swimming, although I doubt she has any qualms.  While hanging out along the water before the infection, she gifted me with a bunch of weeds, lily pads, and a dead snail.  And I can't bathe her!!



A snap from the front of the veterinarian hospital.  I talk a lot about the lake but there is so much more to love and be grateful for in just being surrounded by fields, farms, barns, and a wide open green paradise with fresh air.  

I'm off again tomorrow, the last day of June.  In past years I've settled in around May.  Everything is off due to the Covid, and sometimes I feel I've missed the summer.  But we haven't, it's only June.  I'll be back the week after the 4th of July for an appointment and (finally) a hair appointment!  I'm back to being brown, and just a bit of gray strands (thank you good genes!), and I haven't had a cut since January.  I like my hair long  but this is looking scraggly.

SO:

1) How are you coping with the pandemic right now?
2).  Anything good happening in your garden?  How's your weather?  Super humid and hot here in the Midwest.
3)  Cooking or trying new recipes?
4). Activities that keep you happy and moving?

Again,

Love and Lysol,

Jane




Friday, June 19, 2020

LOVING SUMMER, SOME GARDEN TIPS & A REFRESHING SALAD RECIPE





I'm currently not at the lake as I came back to Chicago for my daughter Emily's birthday and the christening of her baby girl, Lucy.  Big events that I wouldn't think of missing. I had Emily, Mike, Madelyn, and Lucy over for dinner to celebrate.  We had a little plate of apps...cheese, crackers, almonds, some veggies, and a simple cheese spread.  For dinner I made a salad, steaks, my first try at  crab cakes (which were so-so, I think), and prosciutto wrapped asparagus.  I did most of the prep work early in the afternoon so everything went smoothly and I could have a cocktail with everyone.  But in making the crab cakes earlier, refrigerating them, and reheating in the oven, made them a little soggy.  Next time I'll do everything but the frying them up which only took about 3 minutes per side.  All in all it was the perfect celebration of my firstborn just 33 years ago.  What a day back then of emotion, fear, pain, and then pure joy!  I'd do it over again in a heartbeat.  

So this is a serene little photo from the patio at the lakehouse I took before I left, the much used hanging swing and the old shed in the background.  So much more work to be done there and now I'm focused on the way I left things here in the city back in mid-May.   You know...the mindset is: It always gets done in the end.  





I love the nursery and small grocery near my house on the lake. I find plants I've never seen before, some of which I brought back to Chicago this week.  The grocery shop is all local produce and so darn fresh.  The people are friendly and helpful.  One of these days I'll take a few snaps.  This particular hanging basket of petunias had me floored.  The throats are a deep, deep purple that look almost black.  And they look almost like a pen and ink drawing.  I hope it doesn't die before I get back, we've been very hot and dry here in the Midwest for days.





I have birdbaths at both of my homes.  I have to admit I don't relish cleaning them but it really is important to do that once in a while instead of just adding water.  I always worry about gnats and mosquitos and those are really a danger for people and pets.  So I did some research and it really boils down to emptying the stagnant water in a bucket or whatever and disposing of it away from your yard or garden.  Then use the jet spray of your hose nozzle inside the basin and out.  Mix up 1 part white vinegar to 9 parts hot water, pour it in and let if soak for a bit.  Use a hard bristle brush to scour it clean and then rinse well.  Don't forget the pedestal.  To keep this work down to a minimum, remember to empty out the old water before refilling...something I'm really guilty of, and don't  have the birdbath in the hot sun which causes algae to grow and evaporation of the water.  Finally, keep it away from your feeders ,nothing like soggy seeds and squirrels hopping in and out!  I love to watch the birds flock around these baths, its always a treat to see them splashing around!!




photo credit:  Cooking For Keeps

This is such a refreshing salad and I'm always looking for something out of the ordinary for summer when we really get into our salads.  You can double or triple this if you are having guests for lunch or dinner.  It's easy to assemble and super fresh.  I love the sweetness of the melon with the saltiness of the prosciutto.  I found this on Pinterest and changed it up quite a bit.  As usual, I forgot to take a photo.  Enjoy!


Melon, Prosciutto, and Arugula salad

1 small cantaloupe melon
2 T lemon juice
1 t honey
1/4 t Dijon mustard
1 T olive oil
4 c arugula
4 oz fresh mozzarella pearls or pieces
3 oz prosciutto, roughly torn (I actually use about 6 oz as it is sooooo good!)

Use a melon baller to portion out melon or simply slice and cut out  1 inch pieces.  (Perfect for lazy and un-fancy people like me).


In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, honey and mustard.  Gently whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.  Gently mix with arugula. Add melon, cheese, and prosciutto, toss and serve.  Serves 4-6


I hope all of you are doing well.  Illinois has not opened up completely and we continue to go down in Covid cases and deaths.  Hallelujah!  We continue to wear masks, keep the social distancing of six feet, and use one way directions in aisles of stores and other essential places.  I don't feel this virus is going to go away and I'm going to be vigilant for a long time to come.  Just my feelings.  So all the best to you, my friends.  Be healthy.  

Love and Lysol,

Jane❤️

Thursday, June 11, 2020

THESE ARE THE DAYS (WE WILL REMEMBER)



Well, hello my blog, and all of you great friends!  I'm here to get some relief from all the world events, as important as they be. I keep well aware of all the happenings, clearly spending way too much on TV, social media, newspapers, and alerts I get on my cell phone regarding anything and everything in my area. I see protests which make me afraid and other times relieved.  I hope we all continue to be diligent in staying safe during this time of contracting or spreading Covid19.  Many of us have the okay to go ahead into the world, and I can't say much more than make it safer now than we did before we were sheltered in place.  It matters a lot and will help us stay in a more normal way of living.  My thoughts anyway.

And the death of George Floyd. I was sick to my stomach to watch the footage.  I am 100% for major change.  We had peaceful protests and violent. I don't think the people who were looting and destroying property were actually there to be part of the message. This happened recently a few blocks from my home in Chicago.  Stores and shops were evacuated and closed, some boarded up.  Businesses and gas stations were shut down.  I've been in Michigan but I was worried sick about my family.  The violence is uncalled for.  Peaceful protesting sends a better message.  I'm not here to preach-just my personal feelings and what I've experienced.   

Above is a picture of my little Poppy who was  recently spayed.  She did really well but was absolutely miserable and frozen with the cone on.  My niece saw this pic and thought we posed her with  little chef's cap on!  She survived and is a happy camper now.  She always delights us.  Now 8 months old, she's maturing but some of her puppy antics have us laughing, and some--not so much.



I was really happy to zoom in on this little family of three.  Swans are majestic and I like that they spend time on our little bay.  I've always had a little info on my blog,  based on personal experience that they can be very aggressive and people on the water need to steer clear.  Never mess with nature.  They guard their little babes like all get out.  With a wing span of 6 feet, you never want to get close to them on the water.  I have been able to touch their beaks---okay, I've offered them little bits of our meals or snacks when they swim close to our guest cottage near to the water.  Surprisingly, they are quite gentle in taking a bit of food.  But I'm sincerely not a fan of interfering with the ways of nature.  


French Yogurt Cake

I'm jumping in sooner than normal with a recipe.  I'm still cooking up a storm and I find it super comforting right now.  I'm also working on gardening here at the lake and getting some herbs and veggies going, albeit somewhat later than usual.  I've been here since mid-May and and I'm chipping away everyday at the indoors and out.  But--I keep telling myself, it always gets done.  And I carve out time to sit outside, read some of my current book, and just enjoy the beauty of the lake.





So this is a recipe I found on the blog, Rosie The Londoner.  I found it unique because it not only calls for yogurt, but all of the ingredients are measured in a yogurt container.  But beware, the ounces of said yogurt container was not included in the recipe, and I found our American size was a bit smaller,  so reduce the ingredients a bit in our American yogurt cups. But it was a wonderful cake and we all loved it.  Doesn't it look good?  I used blueberries but you can always do the berry of your choice.  I was so proud as I'm not much of a baker and my pics never really look this delicious! The cake was very dense and moist, and not very sweet...the powdered sugar made it a bit more so but I would have loved it without.  This is the link.





In the city house, I recently bought a new set of stainless steel pots and pans by Calphalon. My cookware was all mismatched and pretty beat up.  Some of the cheaper pots caused my food to stick and burn so I knew I needed to make the investment.  As much as I cook, I wonder why I waited.  I do have a few heavy duty ceramic pieces of Le Creuset and I treasure them.  When I arrived at the lakehouse a few weeks ago, I took a good look at what I have here and it was dismal.  I didn't want a whole lot, just essentials that I use most of the time.  

Above is the dutch oven from Target in the Chrissy Teigan brand.  I have one of her pieces and love it.  This dutch oven is ceramic and goes from stove to oven.  I love the color and pretty copper handle.  



I have two Calphalon skillets that can go from stove to oven, but I wanted non-stick skillets as well.  These are also from Chrissy Tiegan's line. They are so easy to clean up.  Just a note: always let your cookware cool before you add any water to soak or wash.  I also pay attention to the handle and the screws as they can get a buildup which is hard to remove.  These areas are often overlooked.  





I have been longing for a piece from Staub.  It's very high end and I really couldn't find a a need---until I came to the lakehouse. I actually only have one casserole dish and I used foil to cover food in the oven.  Then one of the handles chipped and it was dangerous to use.  I was beyond happy to find this piece at Target.  Who would have thought?  I had spent so much time pricing everything from this brand at Williams-Sonoma and Sur-la-table, and it was always way above my budget.  It's a thing of beauty and it still sits on my counter: I hate to put it away!  Does anybody out there get excited about cookware?  Would you like to share what you have and would recommend?




And finally, we pretty much knew we needed more for than just the kitchen refrigerator, especially when we have company who usually brings a lot of food which we later have to refrigerate the leftovers, and because I love fresh food and veggies that take up so much room.  I found this refrigerator/freezer at Home Depot.  It's from the Unique line and a retro style which  comes in several classic colors, mine is a light minty green.  It's smaller than your conventional fridge and takes up very little space. It fits just perfectly in our laundry/mud room.  Some of my neighbors and friends who stop by go gaga over it!

So...this is it for now.  If you read this before I go back over it tomorrow, forgive any typos.  I'm too tired to edit!  But I will.

Take care all,

Jane ❤️

Friday, May 29, 2020

BRIGHTER DAYS (A PRAYER FOR)

















Here I am like a sea blown wind

Under my thunder and rain
I'll ride the waves til a sunny day
Comes to me again
For I've seen brighter days
Seen lighter places to stay
Along my way
Oh, I've seen brighter days

Loggins and Messina

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

SPRING HAPPENINGS, GARDEN NEWS, & A GREAT ROUNDUP OF MY RECIPES






Hello friends!  Just me.  I can't believe it's almost June.  I've been waiting for months for summer to roll around, literally.  This has been a very hard time for all of us and I have no doubt that we will continue to struggle with this pandemic and all it involves for a very long time.  Be strong and hang in there.  My family, friends and I have been very fortunate in not catching the virus.  We've all hunkered down in our respective homes.  I'm right up there with everyone else feeling sorry for myself being stuck at home day after day, but it makes me also feel a little guilty that there are people who are suffering from COVID-19, or lost someone special due to it, or perhaps out of work and  living on their savings.  It's a lot of mixed emotions and I think that can make tensions high.  So maybe we can focus on the good things for a bit.  I recently read this:  Worrying makes you suffer twice.  It rings pretty true for me but I worry and stress probably more than the average person.  But it's something to think about.

So, this is my herb garden last summer just off the back porch.  The chives and oregano come back every year in abundance, and sometimes I dig a little up and mix it into flower beds just for the fragrance.  I love fresh basil, isn't it insane what you have to pay for a just a few stems at the grocery store?  I get a few small plants in the spring and I have enough for all my recipe needs throughout the summer.  I tried mint one year, I loved the smell but I'm not a fan of it in foods, or even tea.  But it's super easy to grow, smells delicious, and can really take off.  If I'm ever inclined to do it again I'd plant it in a pot.  I like a medium size rosemary plant, usually in a pot.  I've never been able to keep it going indoors after summer.




Besides all the pretty things I have popping up outside, I have a ton of invasive weeds and plants.  Creeping Charlie decided to wreak havoc in my back yard a few years ago.  I was told the only way to get rid of it was to dig it up.  Really?  It's everywhere!!  I know someone who had it and they used a spade to make a little trench around it.  They mixed grass seed with topsoil and sand, and over-seeded the area and the new grass crowded it out.  Anyone have any other suggestions?

A few years ago I had a problem with Chinese lanterns crowding out everything in a large border of flowers along a fence.  Everything I read said, "Too bad. Nothing you can do, it will always come back."  And then one spring, it was gone.  It has never come back.  That very same area is now lily of the valley, which I absolutely did not plant.  It's pretty but you have to be a tiny little fairy and hover over it to see the teeny tiny flowers.  And then I read how poisonous it is, that you shouldn't even touch it without gloves.  Who knew?  Maybe I should stop researching my plants.  And finally, I saw all this unfamiliar stuff popping up in my spring bulb bed in between the tulips, daffs, and crocus.  What the heck?  Well it's fleabane, a sort of herb that has tiny little daisy-like flowers.  I had seen it in my yard here and there, I thought it was a cute weed.  But— it can take off and it sure did. I will be on my hands an knees plucking these little babies out for a loooooong time.




I’ve missed filling bird feeders at the lake. I can only do that from spring to fall when I commit to keeping them filled. While I’m whining about how bad nature has been to me, does anyone else have a problem with chipmunks, squirrels, or mice wreaking havoc near your feeders?  They are scavengers and they burrow tunnels, many of them under our patio.  There are a lot of dirty little secrets behind these lovely pictures. :-D




 One of the best gardening experiences I ever had in my years working in my garden was discovering this big, fat, striped caterpillar climbing on a dill plant and nibbling away. I watched this guy, and then a few more, and although my plants were stripped of their feathery dill,  it was awesome. Whenever I see a monarch, I wave and nod proudly. So anyway- plant some dill and feed a critter!

 I have rambled on about food storage and expiration dates in past posts.  During these past few months of staying home as much as possible, when I do suit up and go to the grocery store, I buy an alarming amount of fresh foods.  And no- I'm not hoarding any one item, I just like fresh foods.  So I have been looking for was to stretch and extend the life of fresh fruits and veggies.  My refrigerator can get so packed that it becomes inefficient in maintaining the right temp.  Item are stacked precariously and bordering an avalanche when I'm reaching near the back of the shelf.  Well fear not,  you don't have to refrigerate everything, and some foods actually do better being left out.  But don't think that if it's not in the refrigerator section at the grocery store, that you can leave it out as well--some fresh foods need to be kept cool to last longer.  So I've have some prep and storage  tips broken down according to in-season fruits and veggies we are now buying.

Strawberries---The best thing you can do to keep strawberries fresh is soak them whole in a bowl of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts cold water.  10 minutes will do it.  This destroys the bacteria, or that fuzzy gray stuff on them.  Rinse the berries and let drain in a colander.  Place them on paper towels and let them dry a bit, then store in a tightly sealed container in your frige.  This works with other berries also.

Lemons---I've always stored my lemons in a bowl on my counter.  Not good, they don't make it much more than a week.  I buy quite a few of them at a time as I use them, the juice, and the peel quite a lot.  So, here's what the experts say:  Wash your lemons really well, dry them and then store whole in your refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag.  They will last almost 4 weeks.

Herbs---Hardy herbs like chives, rosemary, basil and oregano can be washed, trimmed, and placed on a damp paper towel.  Roll it up jelly roll style and store in a sealed plastic bag in your refrigerator.  Tender herbs like parsley, cilantro, and thyme can be trimmed and placed upright in a mason jar filled with water.  Cover the top with a damp paper towel securing with a rubber band around the jar.  Refresh the water every few days.

Tomatoes/Avocados---Tomatoes do not like cool temps so it's best to store them on your counter. If they start to soften or the skin bruises, it's time to transfer them to the fridge and use them up quickly. Avocados are quite the same.  Keep on your counter but once they start to over-ripen, move to the refrigerator and use them as soon as possible.

Onions---I've always kept my onions and shallots on the counter.  it is however recommended to keep them in a cool, dry, dark space, in the mesh bag they came in, or you can use regular old nylons.  And of course, a bowl works fine as well.  I'm not one to run all over the house to gather up what I need to prepare meals, so the solution for me was to hang a hook in the stairwell going to my basement, just off the kitchen.  I leave them in their netted bag and so far, so good. I think a pantry or closet can work as well.


Now, on to recipes!





I love a light and fresh seafood dish in the summer.  This works for both lunch and dinner.   I was curious about the shrimp and marinade and I just happened to have a pound of nice sized shrimp in the freezer.  I served it over thin Thai noodles (my new love) but it would be great along side rice or pasta tossed with your favorite sauce.  Keep it light to compliment the tanginess and spice of the shrimp.  I took the liberty of giving it my own name.

Spicy Marinated Shrimp

1/2 to 1 lb jumbo shrimp
1/3 c packed cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 c fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
1/4 c olive oil
1 T honey
1/2 t chili powder
canola oil for cooking
S & P

Blend all of the ingredients except the shrimp in a food processor.  Place the shrimp in a large zip lock bag and pour the marinade over.  Place in refrigerator for no longer than 10 minutes or the shrimp will actually 'cook' in the acidic ingredients.  

Heat 1 T canola oil in a skillet or grill pan.  You can also do this on an outdoor grill.  Place each piece on and grill 1 minute on each side until lightly charred.  

As I've said, you can serve this in so many ways.  I am looking forward to having this as an appetizer for company over a bed of lettuce, it's great at room temp.  Something cool to counteract the spiciness would be a yogurt dip with cucumber slices or tortillas and a salsa verde.

This comes together very fast if you peel and devein the shrimp ahead of time.  I do this unpleasant task because I save big $$$.  In any case~~~you will love it and get great rave reviews if you serve it to company.  :-D


Stacked Iceberg Lettuce Salad

I was scratching my head the other day thinking that I couldn’t remember the last time I had a salad with crisp iceberg lettuce and tomatoes along with some goopy dressing at least since we stopped going to restaurants awhile ago. And I always go for the salad rather than soup at restaurants as an exchange for the greasy, calorie loaded entree I plan to order. So anyway, I was pawing through the veggie bin in my fridge and all I had was baby arugula, baby spinach, and baby wilted something or other. The next time I did a shopping I grabbed a nice head of iceberg and then I tried to recreate the salad of my youth before all the “super greens “ came along with their fancy balsamic vinaigrette’s. Is anyone else sick and tired of balsamic vinegar?  So here you have my latest and greatest summer salad. 

1 head of iceberg lettuce
4 stalks of celery, washed and chopped in 1/2 pieces
8 radishes, thinly sliced
6 oz feta cheese crumbles
3 oz chopped pancetta  (or bacon)

1/2 c mayonnaise
1/2 c sour cream
1 t Worcestershire sauce 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 T fresh lemon juice
S&P to taste


Prepare salad dressing, cover and refrigerate. In  a small skillet, sauté pancetta. Drain and set aside. 

Assemble salad. Remove and loose outer leaves of lettuce. Slice the lettuce widthwise in 1/2 in pieces. Do this until you have 8 slices. You don’t have to be perfect, just try to keep the pieces together. 

To assemble, place one slice of lettuce on each of four plates. Top with a small amount of the radishes, celery, and pancetta. Drizzle a bit of the dressing over and a squeeze lemon.  Top with the last 4 slices and repeat with the veggies, meat and dressing.  Servers 4

*You may want to double the dressing.  It will stay fresh in your fridge for about 5 days and is perfect for sandwiches, burgers, or another salad if you are still craving that crisp, watery good stuff! And a final note, I was inspired by a recipe in The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I love everything Deb created but I made several modifications.  





I know, this looks like one full plate and it is,  but trust me, this is just one simple recipe that I wanted to pass on and it is for the Parsley Glazed Carrots. Serve it along with a big juicy steak off the grill and some rice flecked with carrots and peas--another favorite from my childhood.  I came across this recipe last year around Easter, we all loved it and then tonight I wanted to make it again and had to pull the ingredients out of my head.  

I cook fresh veggies every single night.  It sounds time consuming but you can easily do it while you are at the stove working on the other parts of your meal.  The only veggies I don't buy fresh are peas (I get them frozen) and canned tomatoes and paste.   I don't have the patience to mess with peas.  I think that jazzing up your veggies makes them more tasty and you tend to add more to your plate, a great trick to get those nutrients.    So, very simply:


Parsley Glazed Carrots

4 cups carrots (sliced in half and then cut lengthwise very thinly into long spears)
S & P to taste
1/2 t sugar
1/4 cup water
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T butter
2 T fresh parsley, chopped

*******

Add all ingredients except the butter and parsley to a sauce pan or skillet with a tightly fitted lid and cook over moderately high heat for approximately 7-10 minutes.  Toss frequently in the last 3 minutest prevent burning.  Remove from heat when they are lightly charred and tender.  Toss with the butter and sprinkle with parsley.  Serves 4-6.

The beauty of this recipe is that the small amount of sugar caramelizes the carrots, and the bit of charring makes for a crispness and earthiness that is softened by the butter.  I hope you try this as a side dish.  It really is delicious.


 I've also learned to love frozen peas and carrots.  I throw them in everything.  I made egg salad last week and thawed some to add to the mix.  It was a really nice difference and added some crunch.  I served it over a bed of iceberg lettuce.  For the record, my salad includes chopped, boiled eggs, mayonnaise, a small amount of chopped shallot, celery, garlic and onion powder to taste.  NO salt, you'd be surprised how much mayo has.  



Photo source unknown


It took me a long time to try a fish taco but once I did I was sold.  I order them at restaurants whenever I see them, and if it's an outdoor dining place, it doesn't get any better than that.  I am also loving making them, and I usually serve them buffet style, which takes away a lot of extra work.   I had something similar these in San Diego a few years ago and I hope you give my recipe a shot.  I took the best ingredients and methods from a few good experiences.  Don't let the list of ingredients daunt you, nor the procedures.  At the end I give some tips on how to prepare part of it ahead of time.  As always, I stress that you line up all of your ingredients before you start anything!  If anything needs to be chopped up, get that done next.  Then get creating!!!


Blackened Fish Tacos with Avocado-Cilantro Sauce


 This is a somewhat spicy dish, but the heat is mellowed out by the slaw and creamy avocado dressing.



1.5 lbs. tilapia or cod fillets

1 1/2 t smoked paprika
1 t garlic powder
1 t dried oregano
1 t onion powder
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t salt
1/2 t brown sugar
1/4 t cayenne pepper
2 T veggie oil
12 corn tortillas

***For the slaw:


1/2 red cabbage, sliced thin

1/4 green cabbage, sliced thin
1/2 medium sweet onion
1/2 c chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime

***For the avocado-cilantro sauce:


1/2 c sour cream

1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 c cilantro
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
Salt to taste

In a small bowl mix together all of the spices and gently pat into both sides of the fish


Combine all of the avocado-cilantro sauce in a food processor or blender until well combined.


Prepare the cabbage slaw.


Use the veggie oil to lightly coat your grill or grill pan.  Cook the fillets over high but not direct heat, 4 minute per side.  This can also be done in a heavy skillet on your stove.  Remove the fish from the heat and if desired, warm the tortillas for 30 minutes on each side.


Gently break up the fish into large chunks.  Stack the tortillas in twos.  Distribute the fish evenly between the 6 sets of  tortillas and top with the slaw and sauce.  Serves 4-6


This recipe is not as busy as it sounds.  I make my sauce and slaw the day before and keep it refrigerated.  The spice mix can be made ahead, in fact, you might want to double or triple the ingredients as it makes a tasty seasoning for all types of fish and meats.


I'm leaving for the lake in a few days.  Not sure when I'll be back.  We took a little hike with Poppy around a college campus a few blocks away.  There's a big pond with a waterfall and a good amount of geese and very social turtles.  They are used to people and absolutely unafraid, even around dogs.  Anyway, Poppy waded in the water (first time ever) to get closer to said geese, and Yay!!!  She's a water lover!!

I'll be back later when I'm more alone at the lake after this holiday weekend.  Lot's of time for sure!!  And I want to share some family pics...

Be safe.  Wash your hands.  Sending ❤️ & 🙏 



Monday, April 20, 2020

THOUGHTS ON LIFE IN THESE TROUBLING TIMES, PICK-ME-UP RECIPES, & A BATH REDO



Hello friends.  How are we all holding up?  I'll have some specific questions at the end of my post because I feel that was a very interesting way to share our experiences during this pandemic in my last blog post.  I certainly don't mean to trivialize anything, my heart is breaking for those who haven't made it, or who are in the battle.  And of course, the family and friends who have all of this weighing on them.  It's darn serious business, but I appreciate how we uplift one another, especially on social media and through blogging.  Just when I was wanting to really limit it all, I find it's a way to stay in touch with family and friends from afar, and I feel a little uplifted that I'm not alone in my feelings and isolation.  

I've always been a news addict but I have found in the recent weeks that I can only take so much.  My motto for the better part of my life has been:  The more you know, the less you need.  In early February I was reading about the virus in China and then it's moving to Spain.  My niece was studying abroad in Milan and it drove me to follow the news incessantly.  Thankfully she made it home in time before the flying suspensions from Europe to the US in mid-March. And that's when I began to stock up on canned and frozen foods.  Some thought I was overreacting.   I then doubled up on dog food and laundry detergent.  I sincerely thought that if my health and freaking breathing problems were going to be jeopardized, I needed to be prepared.  I was following what foreign countries were finding out and doing well before the US got moving.


 After a certain point, specifically about a week ago, I really began to have a bit of a mental breakdown.  I was watching the news one evening and I saw the current statistics, or deaths.  And then it really flooded my mind, they were not just statistics,  these were people.  Human beings.  Innocent people who would never imagine their lives ending this way.  Their families not able to see them, comfort them in the end...I felt my breath quicken and my heart pound.  My safe little bubble at home started to deflate in the reality of what is here all around us, not just in the words of a newscaster.  I limited my news drastically, said tremendous more prayers, and made a true effort in letting trivial trials and tribulations go.  No, I'm definitely not a wholly changed person, but I really fear panic, anxiety and depression entering my life as it has in the past, and I'm not letting that happen.  And that is a story for another day.



I do miss the lake.  This duck and it's mate were waddling up next to my house here in Chicago.  I took the pic through my window.  We live a few blocks from a gorgeous college campus which has a pond.  Sometimes little flocks lose their way.  I really felt a tug at my heart in knowing that this is such a familiar sight at the lake.

My oldest son called me just prior to the time we were told to stay at home as much as possible and said that he thought The Husband and I should shelter at the lake in a less populated area.  The problem is that I clear out the fridge, cabinets, and pantry at the lakehouse of all food and perishables in late fall.  And yes, some of you don't know, this is a year round home, we simply don't go as much in the winter---the holidays occupy our time in the city, then it just becomes a little more enjoyable to stay and have access to restaurants, theaters, events, and being with family.  Come April, I'm a busy bee at the lake getting all the cleaning, organizing, food shopping, yard and patio work done, so a good rest up before is fantastic.  

Of course I have tons of help.  We've learned to hire out people who get our beach ready, deliver our boat from storage, and launch our wave runners after their shore stations are set up on the beach.  Blah, blah...that's just how it rolls.  A small price for months of fun and relaxation.  But again, I had stocked up this house in the city with food and paper products, I wasn't going to venture out to do it again in Michigan.  The Husband is also working at home.  He's partially retired  so I've gotten a bit used to having him underfoot. ;-D.  Still, it's an adjustment for all of us in different ways I guess.  



Easter was low key.  This is a tablescape from a few years ago.  I paid so much attention to detail; the  little gold bunny napkins rings, the tea light candles with little eggs, my good silver.  I had started to feel I was a little frivolous the past few years in how much I fussed over decor and table settings.  This  isolation has been a wake up call, and making a beautiful table is really a luxury and celebration, and makes for a memorable time.  I miss this.  

The Husband and I spent Easter Sunday alone, the first time ever, but no complaints.  As for everyday meals, we are across from each other at the kitchen bar.  What I lack in a pretty table settings, I makeup for in creating new and innovative recipes.  My saving grace has been cooking... more on that later.    


I've been wanting to share pictures of the bathroom redo.  I actually finished it about four weeks ago, but I really wasn't crazy about my photos.  It's one of two full bathrooms we have.  This particular one is in part of the house near the bedrooms and not used very much by company.  

I had been loving this type of vintage looking black and white flooring.  It really does remind me of original tile in older homes. Truth be told, I hadn't expected this tile and the black and white color to make me feel 'locked' into a certain style.  I wanted the original apron sink from the 1940's going back to when the house was built, as well as the white paneling. So what do your do with major black and white?  To me it was go vintage or modern and I wasn't sold on either.  Maybe this was a lack of imagination. I finally reached a decision with more than one route.  Mix it up a bit (which I do very much so in my home decor), and just leave everything else up to luck.

First off, I brightened up the paneling with a brighter white paint, and the area above with a darker gray than I originally had. Let me know if you want the paint colors. We have a glass block window which is pretty much standard here in older homes but not very attractive with the steel gray metal.  I painted around it in matte black and then sealed it.  Hard to see at night when I photographed it but during the day-- it's just lovely.  




Again, I kept the original cabinets, also custom made like the paneling.  The lights above the sink (which you really can't see) have Edison bulbs that I may switch out, but darn, I look pretty good in this golden light when I look in the mirror. 😂  Speaking of the mirror, I had been eyeing a gold mirror at Target, but every time I went or looked online, it was sold out.  I finally decided it might have been a little plain, I wanted something to be the star of the show.  So this mirror, surrounded by a verde gras frame from Anthropologie, was my biggest expense.  My faucet, shower, lighting, and cabinet fixtures are from Home Depot.  The marble countertop was a remnant from a local tile shop. Various decor pieces, some in a gold finish, others sort of rustic, were found randomly at places like TJ Maxx, Target, and Hobby Lobby.  





Finally, the shower curtain is a black and white stripe from the Hand and Hearth collection at Target, UI don't know why this pic turned out so voodo-ish but believe me, its striped.  I added a little rustic bench to keep it a little cottage-like.  And that's pretty much sums up the whole bathroom.  


As I mentioned, I'm cooking like crazy every night.  I try to use the food I order weekly from our grocery store.  I've always used fresh foods and I didn't want that to end with the sheltering down recommendations.  Some of our stores deliver within two hours, and it's a preferred method of shopping for them as it keeps the number of shoppers down and minimizes the employee's risk of catching the virus.  It's also providing jobs for more people. 



So as I said,  I've been using fresh foods as always, maybe with the idea that they won't be available at some point--and I admit, it's sometimes slim pickings. I was thinking about salads that both of my sister-in-laws have shared in past summers with strawberries and almonds.  I had blueberries and walnuts on hand and a bit of feta cheese.  I saw this recipe on Pinterest and it looked very much like what I wanted.  I changed it  a lot of course, my dressing is made with what I had and to my liking as well as a few different ingredients. So finally, the bottom line is that the  basic proportions and photo come from this cooking blog.  I'm just not confident in taking food photos, so here is my recipe:


BLUEBERRY SPINACH SALAD WITH FETA CHEESE

I had blueberries on hand that I wanted to use up.  And I always have all sorts of fresh greens.  I went through some recipes and found this picture but modified the ingredients greatly.  No cucumbers here.  I think you will like this.



5 oz. fresh baby spinach
3 oz. fresh blueberries
3 oz. feta cheese crumbles
1/2 c red onion, thinly sliced.
1 c walnuts, roughly chopped

2 T olive oil
1 half to 1 T balsamic vinegar
1 t. honey
1 t Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
S&P to taste

Make the dressing first so the flavors meld.  Assemble the salad.  Just before serving toss the dressing with the salad and serve.




Photo Credit:  Jane

Finally I have this.  I made it the other night for The Husband and I to munch on when we watched a movie.  I found the recipe a few months ago in either Country Living or Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  Again, I substituted a lot of ingredients.  I added more spices, and instead of corn kernel snacks (what the heck are those?), I used pretzels.  So use what you want but keep the proportions the same so your butter mixture coats the dry ingredients.  



SMOKEY POPCORN MIX

1/2 c butter
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 t smoked paprika (I only had sweet but it was fine)
2 t chili powder
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t dried thyme

8 c popped popcorn, lightly salted (equivalent to 1/2 c kernels in 3 T vegetable oil in a large pot)

1 1/2 c corn chips (I used Fritos)
1 1/2 c cheese crackers (I used Pepperidge Farm goldfish)
1 c sesame sticks

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a small saucepan melt the butter and then whisk in the Worcestershire and dried spices (it's best to mix all the dried spices together first and then add to butter mix.  In a roasting pan mix together the popcorn, crackers, etc.  Pour the butter mixture over and stir well to coat.  Bake 30 minutes being sure to stir well every 10 minutes.  I found that the butter tends to settle to the bottom and can brown so you really need to flip this stiff around!  Enjoy!




Finally, just some questions to find out how we are all doing, what's new, and perhaps start a little convo.  Let's get it out!


~~What sort of mandates or recommendations does your state have right now to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

~~How are you getting groceries, meds, and staying in touch with family these days?

~~What sort of hobbies have been your go-to during this time of sheltering?

~~What has been the biggest change in your life in the past few weeks, good and/or bad?

~~Have you been blogging more or less?

~~What are the first few things you will do when it's safe to get back put into public?



Sending love...be safe and well!😘

Jane