Monday, September 25, 2017


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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Hello friends!  I hope all of you are doing well.  I know so many bloggers in Texas, Florida and Georgia, and my heart goes out to all of you.  In this house we have been following CNN and MSNBC relentlessly.  We are on edge.  I awake in the middle of the night and check news alerts on my cell phone, which I keep under my pillow.  I normally want to be available for family, but in this case, I felt the erratic path of Irma bothering me 24/7. 

 In my own small way I try to help.  As I do in December with the Salvation Army volunteers-who stand in the freezing cold- I keep a few dollars tucked in my wallet to give to these goodhearted souls.  In the last few days as I went from the grocery store, to the drugstore, to the gas station...any place with a check out, I saw donation buckets provided by the Red Cross.  I started to save up those dollar bills again in my wallet and pockets.  Not much, but if you shop like I do, it does make a little dent.  

I'm home from the lake for a week or so.  I was on Facebook recently and found a page for my lake with some really spectacular pictures.  I shared this one on Instagram.  See the island in the middle?  100 homes on that little paradise.  A ferry shuttles islanders and their cars back and forth.  It gives you a sense of scope as to how this is one of the very largest lakes in Southwest Michigan.  Our home is situated on a bay that would be in the upper left side of this photo going way into that narrow inlet.  We face north so I can stand on the balcony off of our bedroom and see this gorgeous sunset most summer evenings.  

We had a great group at the lake for Labor Day weekend.  Family.  Can't say enough.  We really missed those who couldn't make it.  That's always going to happen, but it leaves a little sense of longing that time passes so quickly and we need to grab these moments together.  Believe it or not, all of the family here were able to stay at the house-sometimes we've had to enlist accommodations from the nearest motel!  

We did the traditional burgers on the grill, a lot of boat rides, sitting on the beach, snacking on yummy apps on the patio, adventure rides on the wave runners, and serene paddling on the kayaks.   We recently scored paddle boards on sale.  They look like surf boards but you stand or kneel on them and use one paddle to maneuver your way about.  It's a totally intense balancing act with a lot of falls in the water (for the young and lithe), and a great core workout.  I've yet to find out, of course.  

The University of Notre Dame is about a half hour southwest of us (we are just over the Indiana/Michigan border, or Michiana).  It makes the home games a bit more exciting.  For some reason we watch the games in the Summerhouse (guest house) most times.  The open windows and ceiling fan make for a perfect spot.  Some cold brews and comfy chairs, and we are happy campers.  Miss Madelyn and her daddy Mike are true fans as you can see.  And we won this game!  Go Irish!

And speaking of family and grandchildren, here is Elsie today on her first day of school.  Doesn't she look all grown up?  And that precious little baby next to her is Patricia Mae, or Patsy, who arrived at the end of May in a whirlwind of pre-summer chaos.  As we get less busy, I'll try to get more pictures in whenever I can.  They are cuties! 

I have a guy fixing and tuck pointing our huge stone chimney(at the lake) on the roof.  I was waking up every morning at 7:00 a.m. to thuds and banging on the roof just over my bedroom.  I'd stagger outside in my PJ's, hair all over, eyes squinting in the morning sun, and grouchy as ever as I took the dogs out to do their thing.  Even with working in the hot sun on the roof for eight hours a day, he'd always called down, "Good morning!"  Ouch.  And he would bring tomatoes. My enthusiastic, "Thank-you", seemed to encourage more tomato offerings.  At one point I had twenty-one in all shapes and sizes.   

I couldn't bear to waste them.  Gardening, and I know from experience, is a matter of hard work, love and hope, and finally, gratefulness.  Knowing people enjoy the fruits of your labor is so, so gratifying.  

Some days my activities at the lake run the gamut of A to B.  I went to the grocery one day and bought onions, peppers, cilantro, and limes.  Chop, chop, chop.  I don't usually puree my salsa, I like it chunky and fresh.  You can definitely puree it in a blender or food processor but I'd check out a recipe for it.  Here's mine:

10 tomatoes, any type or size, chopped small
1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped small
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped very small
1 red onion, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch green onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 bunch of cilantro, stems removed and chopped
1 T ground cumin
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice each tomato in half, scoop out the seeds, and let drain, cut side down on a paper towel while you prepare the other ingredients. Chop the tomatoes and combine all in a large bowl and taste for seasoning.  If you want the mixture more spicy, use the seeds of the jalapeño or add a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Let the salsa chill in your refrigerator for at least 4 hours.  Stir and strain off excess  liquid.  Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in jars or plastic containers for up to a week.  Once open, use within 3 days. 

You can add or delete a lot of things to this salsa.  My daughter likes corn kernels.  I like to add black beans.  And...some like it hot!  Salsa is very good but I also like to top my scrambled eggs with a few spoonfuls.  You can add some to a tossed salad, or make Bruschetta on thick bread.  Sauté it with fresh shrimp, or top your grilled fish with a scoop.  Maybe you just can't have enough tomatoes.  

We went to a party yesterday and I always try to volunteer an appetizer.  I stared into my fridge at the nine jars of salsa, and then I spied 2 large balls of fresh mozzarella, this was all going to go to waste.  I checked my best friend Google and I was inspired to use won ton wrappers to make cute little cups to hold the salsa (or anything else desired...chicken salad, chili topped with cheese, French onion dip topped with crushed potato chips.  Okay, the last one was my invention.  But really, the ideas are endless.  The best thing about the baked won ton wrappers is that they don't get soggy.  So...

Using a regular size muffin pan, press won ton wrappers in each to make a cup sort of shape.  Spray with vegetable oil and bake at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes until lightly browned. Remove and let cool completely.  Add your salsa and a slice of fresh mozzarella.  I got fancy and sliced the cheese very thin.  I then used a teeny little cookie cutter to make little flowers shapes (or clouds as I envision), and placed them on top.  Voila, you have turned tomatoes into salsa; totally overdone, overused and hopefully not boring anymore.  

I specifically came home from the lake to see my dermatologist, Dr. Lio.  He had been treating me for over a year for an auto immune disease that has caused me to have severe atopic dermatitis, or eczema.  It's such a long story and I know most of you may have  forgotten the long road I've been on.  I'll abbreviate my recent treatment:  I started a new medication in June, which was just approved by the FDA in March.  I give myself injections every other week.  If you hate getting shots, try giving yourself one.  You can't close your eyes.  For some, the results and relief is immediate.  I'm plugging along, hoping my skin will heal or start to heal soon.  The side effects however, are something I always manage to experience; dry itchy eyes, rash-like hives around my mouth, and hair falling out like crazy.  When I saw my doctor on Friday, he was pretty shocked that I still had open sores on my arms and legs.  The worst area is below my knees on each leg.  He wrapped them up in gauze and then bandages after applying three topical medications.  I wore these for three days and I was feeling and looking a lot better Monday night.  I also started a two day per week dose of the  medication that caused me to be so physically ill last winter.  I have to be vigilant in staying away from anyone sick and contagious.  I'm really hoping taking it less will keep me from feeling so sick to my stomach as it did in the past.   

I usually go to my doctor appointments by myself, but The Husband was free and went with.  The best part was finding this restaurant right around the corner.  It had a great Northside vibe, bustling and loud, and the diner style menu had eclectic versions of our typical morning fare.  The Husband had the Donut French Toast, and I had the Morning After Tacos.  I now have a place to go after my appointments to cheer me up.  Do you ever eat in restaurants alone?  I don't have a problem.  I don't even hide behind a book or newspaper.  But maybe I'll bring my laptop-I can always use the time to catch up on writing.  

I wanted to share these pillows I just received from my favorite new Etsy shop, With Lavender And Grace.  I simply love the natural fabric, how well made they are, and the quotes.  You might remember me sharing ones that I bought for the lakehouse, Beach Shack and Simplify.  This is turning into an obsession!  But I wanted to share the link with all of you.


And here I am.  We celebrated my nephew's birthday at a family party yesterday, and today I did mindless chores that could be done now or later; a car wash, trip to Petco for Milo's arthritis meds, some grocery shopping, pharmacy pickup, and some backyard clean up. 

No-I'm not a whirling dervish.  Tomorrow I may be totally unmotivated and sit in front of my laptop trying to find ideas for my columns.  I may take a looooong nap.  But sharing with you, my friends, makes me take a good look at my crazy but full life.  I endlessly try to come up with ways to better organize my time, set goals, get projects done, maybe go off on little vacation with The Husband.  Dividing my time between houses is so gratifying but I often feel like I'm stretched thin.  I think fall is going to be much more easy.  I think I'm going to have more moments to be in that moment.  If not, well, you'll know. ;-D

Jane x