Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Italian Bruschetta

This is a very easy recipe and is perfect with any Italian style meal or one that needs a colorful and flavorful start. It would also be quite delicious served over fish, shrimp, or chicken. I will give you two versions, one for 4-6 people, and one for a much larger crowd that you can take to a pot luck or bbq. Here is the smaller version:

Bruschetta with Tomato and Arugula

 Makes about 24                    Bake 7 minutes            Oven 425 degrees

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped into small dice (1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup chopped arugula leaves

1/4 small onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup snipped fresh basil or equal amounts freeze dried basil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1  8 oz. loaf baquette-style french bread

2-3 tbsp olive oil

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the tomatoes, arugula, onion, basil, garlic, the 1 tbsp olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Slice bread diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices. Lightly brush both sides with the 2-3 tbsp olive oil. Place on baking sheet. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 5-7 minutes or until crisp and light brown, turning once. Cool on wire rack.

To serve, top toasted bread slices with the tomato mixture. Makes about 24.

If you prefer, you can skip toasting the bread and serve it simply on sliced, fresh French Baquettes.

I recommend investing in a garlic press, it is much quicker and saves your hands from smelling like garlic. I love mine. Look for a nice heavy, sturdy one.

An easy way to dice onion is to cut it into quarters, slice, and using a large chef's knife, hold the tip down on the board and just lift the back of the blade and chop rapidly, keeping the tip down. I keep a separate cutting board just for chopping onion and garlic as the board tends to absorb the flavors and transfers them no matter how clean it is.

Here is the larger recipe:

Bruschetta for a Crowd

12 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped into small dice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 lg sweet mild onion, finely minced

1 cup chopped fresh basil, or freeze dried basil

1 cup chopped fresh arugula

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp sea salt (or more, if you like)

1/4 tsp black pepper ( or more, to taste)

2 or 3 long loaves thin French Baquettes,( sliced diagonally, 1/2 inch thick and toasted, brushed with olive oil, for 3 to 4 minutes each side in 425 degree oven on baking sheet. Let cool on rack.)

Mix tomatoes and all ingredients together (except bread) and let stand at room temperature for one hour.

To serve, put tomato Bruschetta in a low medium size bowl with a dipping spoon and a platter or separate bowl of sliced bread. Let guests help themselves.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Afternoon in the City

Today Hubby and I decided to take the day off and go to the Art Museum to see the Norman Rockwell Exhibit. It was the last weekend of the exhibit and I simply had to go. Of course they wouldn't let me take any pictures inside the exhibit, but I can tell you, it was worth the time. We had so much fun looking at all the original paintings and then a whole room devoted to all the magazine covers he illustrated from 1914 through the 70's. I have one of his framed prints that I just found in a thrift store for $15, and there it was among the magazine covers, from 1930. Just getting close to the large original paintings was a joy and an amazing sight. He captures every detail, from the scuff on a shoe, to the perfect expression on a face, so lifelike. Some of the paintings bring out raw emotions and tears to your eyes. I was so happy to experience it!

Afterwards we decided to walk around downtown. The Art Museum is right next to the Union Station in the revitalized down town.

 We went inside and I took some amazing pictures of the beautiful architecture and the Chihully Glass in the large crescent window. The building is now used as a courthouse, but we were admitted to the lobby, by the guard, as long as we showed ID and didn't take pictures of the security guards. It was pouring down rain outside, so we stayed inside the beautiful lobby until the showers subsided.

From there we took the Chihully Glass Tunnel that leads to the Glass Museum. Looking up was like being under water in a sea of jelly fish. All the glass was encased in the ceiling with the daylight shining through the beautiful colors. We decided to leave the Glass Museum for another day, as we were starving and needed a bite to eat.

We found a little cafe' nearby and ducked in just as it started to pour out once more. We each ordered our favorite Latte' and a delicious little red pepper quiche' with a salad. There were newspapers available, so we leisurely read the paper while we ate.

With our hunger satisfied and the rain subsiding, we set off once more to enjoy the sights. There were lovely stairways leading up and down the hilly terrain, and we found this pretty one that led right down to our parking area.

A wonderful day in a beautiful little city with my best friend. I hope you enjoy this little tour as much as I did!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Recycled Candles

I saw this idea in a catalog, and the candles were so pretty, but spendy, so I decided to try and make them myself and I know you can too. I always end up with lots of candles that are half burned down, but can't be lit anymore because they have either lost their wicks in the wax, or the rims melt and the wax pours out all over the place. So I started saving them to re-melt. Some candles have wonderful scents, too.

I started gathering up pretty goblets to use. Anything that is made of thick glass will work fine. Just don't use anything with thin glass or you might end up with hot wax all over the place after the glass breaks. You might have some on hand, or you could start checking out the garage sales and thrift shops.

Then I made a trip to the local craft store and picked up some wicks. There are basically two kinds, a string type that comes in different thicknesses and you have to buy the base and put them together, or a wired kind that comes on a base. The wired kind is easiest. But I used both kinds to demonstrate how it is done. You can also buy some essential oil or fragrance oil if you want to add scent.

You will also need a double boiler, or a heavy saucepan and a Pyrex (heatproof) 2 cup measuring cup. (Make sure the pan is large enough to accommodate the measuring cup with it's handle.) Again, these can be found at thrift stores or garage sales. You don't want to use your nice pans and measuring cups because the wax never really comes off. But you can use them again and again to make more candles! As you can see, mine are well used!

If you are using the string type of wick without the wire, cut off a length long enough to fit from the bottom of the glass with a little extra on top, thread the end into the metal base and clamp it shut with a pair of pliers. I used a few melted drips of a birthday candle to hold the wick to a toothpick suspended over the glass and some ear plug wax to hold the metal base to the bottom. They also sell wax with the candle supplies just for that purpose. But I recommend buying the wired wicks so you don't have to deal with all of that. Just use two chopsticks or kabob sticks on either side of the wick to hold it in the center of the glass while you pour the wax.

All you have to do to melt the wax is put the old candle in the measuring cup or top of the double boiler (remove any sooty parts to the wick), place in pan and add an inch or two of water to the pan. You want to be able to simmer this gently without it boiling over, so don't add too much. You can always add more once it starts to simmer, and in fact you should keep some hot water in a kettle to add to the pan if it boils down too low. Place on burner and heat the water to simmer using medium low heat. Never, never turn the burner up higher than medium, as you could start a fire with the wax. (Also, don't use a microwave for the same reason.) All you want is a gentle simmer and you will see the wax slowly start to melt. Depending on how large your candle is (make sure it is no higher than the edge of the measuring cup, you don't want it to overflow once it melts), this might take upwards of 45 minutes. So be patient and keep a good eye on it. Add more hot water if it needs it. This might be a good time to putter around the kitchen dusting or cleaning out a couple of drawers while you wait.

Once the candle is melted (fish out the old wick) and your wicks are in place in your glasses, take the pan off the stove. At this point you can add some essential oil or fragrance oil for scent (1/4 tsp or so), stir it in and pour the melted wax slowly into the glasses, leaving about 3/4 inch head room and making sure the wick stays centered. Once the wax has hardened, trim the wicks if necessary to about 1/2 inch. To clean up your equipment, use a copper scrub pad and very hot water. Do not pour extra wax down the drain! Use an old can or something heatproof to dispose of the wax.

These make lovely gifts and also look very pretty grouped together in all sizes to use at a dinner party for a centerpiece.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Strawberry Pots

Yesterday we had a semi-sunny day and feeling the need for some fresh air, I decided to plant the flat of strawberries I just bought at my local department store. This store sells groceries, clothing, home goods, tools, furniture, electronics, you name it. It also has a beautiful covered nursery. Naturally it is my favorite store! So when I spotted these little pots of strawberries, three for a dollar, I snapped them up. They have the prettiest rose colored flowers and small red berries already forming.

Last fall I bought two strawberry pots. I had my eye on them all summer, wanting to buy, but the price tag was too steep at almost $40 each, so I waited to see if they would go on clearance at the end of the season. Sure enough, there were two left, one a little larger than the other and one with a chip in the rim, but the $10 price tag for each was right up my alley. I don't dare plant strawberries in the ground, as I know they will be gobbled up, so I thought if I kept them up on my deck, which is regularly patrolled by my three cats and Whitey the dog, I might have a chance of harvesting.

The little pots of strawberries were 2 inches, so just the right size to fit into the little planting pockets. With a little bit of nudging, they popped right in. I used a nice light fluffy potting mix and after each layer, packed it down at that level. Then I watered it all thoroughly and admired my work. Now if we could just get some sun......

I am so excited to think that I might have a few fresh strawberries. The berries in the supermarkets are so tasteless and bitter these days. Maybe if the birds don't eat them first........... I am hoping for success, and if so, will look for more pots for next year. Mmmmm, strawberry shortcake anyone? 

'Ling-Ling', my Mother's Siamese that I adopted, is doing her job already!
Now, as soon as I have a nice stretch of sunny weather I have to stain my deck; a yearly chore........sigh......

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I have been thinking of what the word 'Home' means in light of the recent disasters happening around the Globe. So many people are losing their homes, my heart just breaks for them. According to the Websters Dictionary, 'Home' means; 1. residence  or 2. native place or country. Then there is homeland, homeward, homeless, homemade. A little further down the page is the word 'homestead', meaning; dwelling with its land and buildings.

But these definitions can only describe in words a place of the heart. For that there are no words. That feeling of comfort in knowing there is one little place in the whole wide world that is your own. The place you hang your hat so to speak. And that could be a mansion, or a hut made of sticks in the African Savannah. It is all the same.

The place where you can relax, escape, enjoy a homemade meal, have some peace, share with the ones you love, even if that is your beloved pet. A place to keep your belongings, photographs, favorite books and music, your special things.

A place to entertain friends and family.

As humans our whole way of life is centered around home. Even if we are nomads, we still have a homeland. It is our identity, our anchor in a sea of change.

 Books are written about home; the longing for home, the shared experiences of home, the quest to go home. Among these are some of my favorites of all time, 'Gone With The Wind', about Scarletts' love of Tara, her beloved plantation; 'Green Mansions' about a girl whose home was in the South American Jungle; 'Anne of Green Gables', the orphan with a desire for a home of her own; 'Lassie Come Home', my childhood favorite about a beloved lost pet searching for home.

Wars are fought over homelands, people die for their home. We even call street people, 'homeless'. That is how important our homes are to us.

We have a need to find that one special place on Earth to make all our own. But what we need to realize is that this Earth is our home. Our very special home in all the vastness of the Universe. We need to give her the care and the love that we give our own little homes upon her.

And we need to have compassion for those who have lost their homes, who are homeless, who are far from their homeland and living in a strange land. For they have lost the most important thing, their place in this world.

We share this world with not only humans, but many other creatures who also deserve homes and have been displaced and had their homes polluted and destroyed by us.

And so, when we wake up in the comfort of our homes, or come home at the end of the day, let's remember how precious having a home is. Let's think of all those who have lost their homes and have compassion. Let's try to take better care of our shared home, Mother Earth, and all of Earths creatures like us, who depend on her. Do what you can, every little bit counts. But most of all let's remember how fortunate we are and never take it for granted that we are the lucky ones and all it takes is a turn of fate to have it all taken away in an instant.

So be generous with what you can give, even if it is pocket change to a homeless person, food for a food drive, clothes for the local charity, $10 to disaster relief. Clean up after yourself, do not litter, dispose of hazardous materials properly, re-examine our use of toxic products and pesticides. We are all in this together, sharing our one little world, a place we call Home.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sweet and Sour Chicken

This is a very easy recipe and the sauce can be used in a variety of ways. It lends itself to chicken and shrimp quite nicely, and of course any asian type dish that would use a sweet and sour sauce. I also use it with kabobs on the grill and as a dipping sauce.  My sister in Oregon gave me this recipe which was given to her by a friend. So it has been passed around because it is so easy and delicious. Use a heavy saucepan and a medium heat to cook this, stirring frequently, as the sugar will burn and stick on a higher heat if not melted properly. Enjoy!

Sweet and Sour Sauce

1/4 cup water
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 lg can (15-20 oz) pineapple chunks (use just a small portion in sauce, and save the rest for another use)
reserved juice from pineapple (approx. 1 cup)

Add all ingredients to small saucepan and cook, stirring frequently over medium heat until bubbly and thickened, stirring constantly at the bubbly stage. Sauce will thicken quickly at that point. Immediately remove from heat.
If making sauce ahead of time, keep at room temperature if serving within an hour or so. If you wish to keep sauce longer, store in refrigerator. Sauce will solidify somewhat, but will liquify once heated in microwave or slowly in saucepan.
This makes approximately 1 1/2 cups of sauce, enough to serve 4-6. This recipe can easily be doubled
To make Sweet and Sour Chicken, just place frozen chicken tenders or boneless breasts in a covered baking dish, along with a few frozen vegetables, (use only enough to pretty up the sauce, don't smother the chicken or the sauce will separate) such as a stir fry blend, pepper strips, cocktail onions, etc. and pour sauce over all. (You can also use fresh chicken and fresh vegetables, but reduce baking time to 35 minutes.) At this point you can add more pineapple reserved from sauce. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
I like to serve this with rice and steamed broccoli.

To bake the rice, use a covered baking dish, add the same amount of rice and water as the directions call for, but boil the water first in a teakettle. Add a tbsp of cooking oil, or butter, cover and bake along with chicken. Bake brown rice the full 45 minutes, but only bake white rice 35 minutes. I have even baked the type of rice with the seasoning mix in a box. But Rice a Roni does not work, unless you brown the rice with the little vermicelli first in a frying pan.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I am in love with Pansies. I love their sweet little faces, their bright cheerful colors, their deliciously sweet scent.

 Every year I try and find as many different types of pansies to plant in pots for my deck.

 The last few years I have been able to find what is called, 'Glacier Pansies' or 'Icicle Pansies'. These are sold in the fall and will bravely bloom their little hearts out all winter long and then put on a spectacular show come Spring.

 Pansy is derived from the wildflower called 'Hearts-ease', 'Johnny Jump up' (and kiss me), or 'Viola Tricolor'. The name 'Hearts-ease' came from the woman St. Euphrasia, whose name in Greek signifies 'cheerfulness of mind'. The Specific colors of the original flower 'Viola Tricolor'- purple, yellow, or white- are meant to symbolize 'memories, loving thoughts, and souvenirs', respectively, as these traits are all helpful in easing lover's hearts. The nickname 'Hearts-ease" is quite fitting.

 Pansy gets it's name from the French word Pensee', meaning 'Thought' and was so named because the flower resembles a human face; in August it nods forward as if deep in thought. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, the Pansy was given to lovers or friends as a symbol of how often they were thought of.

This brings to mind Ophelia's oft-quoted line, "There's Pansies, that's for thoughts." There are two varieties- clear faced and the 'Monkey faced', that has a dark blotch in the middle of the face.

 Pansies are biennials with greenery the first year and flowers the second year.

 But once the hot sun starts to appear, around June, the pansies all die off or go dormant and I have to wait until the cool fall weather to see my beloved little Pansy Faces once more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Beautiful Day

I woke up early this morning to the sun shining in my windows. But that is not what really woke me up. See, we have this little bird (early bird?) that wakes us every morning by flinging himself at the window right behind my headboard. He is so cute, black and white with a patch of reddish feathers and speckles on his breast. I think he is a Towhee, according to my bird manual. Anyway, he gets up on the unplanted pots on my window box and scratches away, and then flings himself at the window, tap, tap tap, tap tap tap. Over and over. I can't be sure if he is just digging up bugs in the dirt and catching them against the window, or if he is attacking his reflection (although I can't see how, the window needs a good cleaning).

At first this was really quite charming. But after a couple weeks of this, I am a little annoyed at being awakened so early every day. And I want to plant my pots, but am afraid he will dig up all my flowers.

But really, how can I complain? How else could I ever get so close to this sweet little bird, and see his tiny little feet, the speckles on his tummy, the bright shiny eyes. And so, I will try and enjoy my little interlude with my sweet morning alarm clock. And besides, if he didn't wake me up quite so early, I would never see the gorgeous sunrise these last few gloriously sunny days. I hope you enjoy them, too.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Potting up

We are having a good stretch of warm and sunny weather and of course I am way behind on all of my gardening chores. I had bought several flats of flowers at a bargain price and some bags of potting soil and they were sitting there on my picnic table/ potting bench waiting for me through the cold and the rain. Finally, the sun came out and I went to work. I save all of my old hanging pots from year to year, (the 'kids' and Hubby replenish me every Mother's Day), and I have a good supply. So I washed them all out and lined them up and worked all day.

 Well, most of the day. I did take a few breaks to wander around aimlessly, go inside and rummage for some snacks, make some tea, throw a load of laundry in....... Anyway, I ended up with quite a good start on potting up, and filled all the hanging baskets. Mmmmm, I think Hubby will have to put up  more hanging hooks someplace.

My faithful companion, Whitey Boy supervised all day.
The baskets don't look like much right now, but I have high hopes. I planted red, blue and white petunias, along with trailing blue lobelia around the edges.
 Now it is on to filling up any and all remaining random pots I can round up. I will keep you posted on how that comes along.

My Mother's commemorative garden is in full bloom now, with it's blue Forget Me Nots, Columbine, and sweet scented white Candytuft. I thought that the Forget Me Nots were particularly appropriate for the garden.

 The Apple Trees are just now starting to bloom and I took this picture of the very first blossom.

You can see just how wet our Spring has been by the little clump of moss growing along the branch!
The pink 'Herb Robert' or what is commonly called 'Stinky Bob' around here for it's pungent scent, is also starting to bloom. It is a delicate wildflower that looks especially nice mixed up with the Forget Me Nots.

Most gardeners here consider it an invasive weed, but I love it and encourage it. Anything that wants to grow and bloom here is welcome, and I don't even have to take care of it!

I will leave you with this picture of another common beauty we all know, the Dandelion! I hope this makes you smile!
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