Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fab Feb Fun Highlights

Recent Thrifty Finds:

It was a pretty good week for thrifting.  I saw this beauty on the the shelves and just about ran to it and hugged it.  Isn't it the Cutest cookie jar?  I have a very small collection of cookie jars because I'm very discerning about the ones I choose.  It has too be over the top cute and I have to Love it.  This one would go perfect with my cupcake cookie jar, the one that has a tiny matching strawberry on top.  

Then I recalled it was my daughter, Sarah's, birthday coming up and she has red accessories in her kitchen and thought, wouldn't it make a super gift? 

A small sacrifice that would hopefully bring a small joy. 

My Gift Giving Rule Is - If I LOVE it and want it then it would make a great gift.    

Besides, I had found so many darling things lately.

Look at all that good stuff!  So many good used books, even one I snatched off the shelf purely because it had a pink cover.
It is rare to find any vintage Nancy Drew books at thrift store anymore so I was surprised and pleased when I spotted this one and even more thrilled when I discovered it was a volume I didn't own, yet.  Great cover, too!   I arranged my fun thrifty finds on my kitchen Cosco cart and thought looked cute with that vintage toy truck.  One a recent trip up to Mt. Airy, NC I discovered that adorable pink vintage ice cream box.  The graphics are pretty terrific AND it's pink ~ what a score!

What I've been baking:    

I decided to do some baking for another yummy little surprise bday prezzie.  These are baked chocolate mini donuts dipped in chocolate ganache frosting and coconut or sprinkles.  They were super easy and tasted pretty good.  I Love the way they look.  I thought they'd be a fun surprise, so I left them on the kitchen counter in my daughter's house for her to find when she got in from work.  That's not weird at all, right?  I have a key to use when I need to feed her kitties and I rarely ever use it for anything else.

Here's what the donuts look like after baking in the mini donut pan.  This is just before I make the ganache which couldn't be easier.  Just 1 c. of chocolate chips microwaved for 1 min. then use a 1/4 c. cream, warmed in the microwave for 20 seconds and poured over the chips, whisking until it becomes smooth.  There's a divine chocolatey aroma to enjoy while whisking.

Let me know if you want the recipe and I will email it to you.

Currently Listening To:

                                                          Can't get enough of this song.  
Obsessed With:

I recently discovered this show on PBS that has been airing for awhile called, Finding Your Roots.  Have you seen it?  It's fascinating!  Well, I mean, practically all the shows on PBS I find fascinating, but this one showcases well-known, interesting people and researches their family tree.  

Sounds kinda boring & dusty?  
But it's super thrilling and very well done.  The people are always deeply moved when they discover things about the people that gave them life.  My favorite part is the surprise at the end of the show when the host, Henry Lois Gates, Jr., tells them what their DNA test results disclosed about their genetic makeup and shows on a pie chart graph where in the world their blood reveals their ancestors are from,  Riveting stuff!

What I've been watching:  

Network TV has been good these past few weeks.  There's something interesting to watch almost every evening.  I made this collage of all my preferred shows that I look forward to watching.  I'll be so sad when there's no more Downton Abbey.  

What I've been eating:

 Almost every morning, lately, I make a cup of oatmeal for breakfast. After I enjoy my cup of coffee and subsequent cup of hot milk tea, I use that same mug again to make the oatmeal in.  

It's been really cold here in NC.  Too cold for my usual Greek yogurt.  So on a whim I decided to give oatmeal a try.

I measure a 1/4 c. of Old Fashioned Oats {not quick oats} + 1/2 c. of milk into my big mug and nuke it for minute, stir, then for 1 minute more.  But keep a close watch on it!  Towards the end it tends to bubble up and if you are not watching it will bubble right over.  
Next I plop in some fresh blueberries and generous sprinkling of cinnamon.  
Doesn't a generous sprinkling of cinnamon make just about everything better?  I have a little ritual when I take the cap off that Lovely stuff.  I take a deep sniff of the cinnamon, really breathe in the aroma of that spicy goodness.  

Then I add a splash more milk to cool it a bit and 1 tsp of Chia seeds.  One day I forgot to add any sweetener and found that I really didn't miss it.

I haven't been a fan of oatmeal for breakfast.  It's usually a gloopy, gluey mess.  
But this isn't.  It's just enough to fill me up with something warm.

Tea I've Been Drinking:

One chilly afternoon, when Em was in class, I popped into Starbucks and ordered 
a London Fog. 
It's an Earl Grey tea latte with vanilla syrup.  It was Sensational!  The vanilla is a perfect accompaniment to the fragrant Bergamot flavor reminiscent of the summer and the Bee Balm flowers I grow in my garden.  I want another right now!  
Even better was the fact that I had gotten an email promotion from Starbucks encouraging me to order a tea the next time I was in, so I could earn 3 extra Bonus Stars.  I like getting those incentives to earn extra stars.  As a Goldcard member, that would put me a quarter of the way to earning another free drink reward...until April when the new program, announced this week, goes into effect.

Later on, as I sipped my scrumptious beverage, while browsing my favorite thrift shops, I had the good fortune to find that cute mystery for .50 cents.  I enjoy the BBC/PBS series, Grantchester, so I scooped it right up.  It was a good day.

I hear Grantchester will air new episodes on Masterpiece, after the Downton Abbey series finale.  So that will be something to look forward to after that sad fact.

It's been frightfully cold.  Despite the chill and the fact that we are both Single Ladies, Emily and I decided we still deserved a bit of Valentine fun doing stuff we Love.  Thifting!

Flowers and candy are nice but pretty books are useful and last forever!

I found all of these classic gems at the Goodwill near the fairground.  Emily found a bunch of nice fashion pieces, a skirt, blouse, trousers, belt and a jacket.  What a productive trip!

This has got to be one of the weirdest things I've ever seen for sale at the goodwill, a CPR dummy.  And there wasn't just the one there were like 5-6 suitcases heaped in a pile, so of course I had to take a peek.  Definitely made me giggle!

The Perfect Date always includes something delicious. 
Isn't that a sweetheart of a cheeseburger?
Hamburger Heaven 
 PS ...I'm in Love with this photo!

Later, we found all these beautiful teas at Fresh Market.  I adore Jasmine tea!  Almost as much as I adore Paris Tea or Earl Grey or ginger.


What I See When I Walk:

There's this interesting building I walk by in my neighborhood that sits at the end of a street of houses.  I surmise it used to be a fire house.  I'm pretty sure it's apartments now.  Isn't it cool looking?  
I wonder what used to be above the garage door?

Window shopping at Godiva.  I need one of each!

Really, How cute is that?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sipping Cappucino

To kick off my daughter, Sarah's Birthday weekend we decided to explore a new bakery downtown, called Tart Sweets, located inside a perfectly restored historic home on Fifth Street's Millionaires' Row.

Isn't it posh?
Just wait 'til you see inside!

Absolutely breathtaking architectural details, inside & out - everywhere you look.

The opulent rooms were bathed in sensational bright sunlight, so it felt warm and toasty despite the bitter cold & winter wind outside.

We reveled in the luxurious surroundings.   It felt so relaxing to sit there sipping our perfect cappuccinos, chatting away, nibbling treats.

A feast for the eyes, as well as your tummy.  We decided to share a huge hunk of something called Cookie dough Cheesecake Chocolate Chip Bar.  O YUM!

Those cupcakes sure looked enticing.  I meant to order one of those pretty heart shaped macaron but it slipped my mind.

Whenever I go to interesting places I like to try to imagine what it would be like to work in there, especially lately, since I've been job hunting.  It seems like it would be amusing to bake treats and make espressos for people in a gorgeous setting like this.

Here's what I like:

Awe inspiring views! I have an appreciation for architecture.  
And whenever I'm fortunate enough to get to spend time relaxing with my daughters, it is The Best!

I especially like to admire a good column.  These gorgeous Greek Ionic specimens exude ambiance.

There are 3 large romantic rooms for guests.  I read in Winston-Salem Monthly that they are planning to serve sandwiches and open a tea room in the future.  Can't wait to go back!

Afterwards we traveled further downtown 
to Mooney's Mediterranean Cafe for lunch.  

Sarah ordered falafel, which are deep fried chick pea balls, and these were so good, nice and crunchy.  I decided to get something different on the menu, something I hadn't had here before.  I ordered the Mousaka, which I was told was different than Greek Moussaka.  Their menu describes it as
"Eggplant, whole chickpeas, and onion stewed in a rich spiced tomato sauce."  It was incredible!  I'm still thinking about how delicious it was.  I'm sure I detected the flavor of cinnamon.  I wonder if I could try to recreate it at home?

I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful afternoon with my girls.  
You know it's going to be a good day when you find a terrific parking spot on the street Downtown and you manage to parallel park with ease.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Comfort Foods

We've been indulging in delicious, hearty comfort foods, lately.

When I wake between 5-6 am it is dark and chilly in the house 
{I dial down to 58 at night!} 
I make my way to the coffee maker, jacking up the furnace & electric heater on my way.  There's nothing more comforting than that first leisurely cup of hot coffee.  After my java fix I usually lace up my sneakers & hit the pavement but, lately, it's still dark and far too cold out so I've been forgoing my morning walk and making a tea latte, instead and blogging.

I blame winter!

That fresh air is too fresh for me.  
I tell myself I will take my daily walk later when it warms up more and the sun comes out.  
And sometimes I do.

Sometimes, I just make another warm mug of something delicious.
What's more cozy than curling up on the couch with your fav blanky, a cat, and a cup of hot cocoa?  I Love to sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top of my whipped cream.  A sprinkling of cinnamon is so spicy good on just about anything, isn't it?  

Especially cinnamon toast!

Another favorite is grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup.  There's a fantastic symbiosis of those two flavors together and one without the other is not the same.  
Aldi has this incredible sourdough bread that is perfect for making grilled cheese.  I also get cheese slices there, Colby Jack & Havarti.  
As for the soup I prefer to make my own.  Homemade tomato soup is easy and rewarding.  I'm not a fan of commercially canned soups because of the taste and the ingredients.  
My own recipe is loaded with veg and Good for You!

1 c. chopped onion
about 1-2 c. chopped bell peppers, any colors you like
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 c. spinach or kale, fresh or frozen
1 c. of fresh or canned pumpkin puree or squash
1 large carrot, grated - no need to peel
3-4 cloves of garlic chopped
1 28oz can of tomatoes
1/4 tsp Italian Seasonings
1 carton of organic chicken broth or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
After all the chopping, I dump all that veg into my enameled cast iron pot on medium low heat with a splash of olive oil and let them cook up stirring every few minutes.  When they've all softened and start to stick a bit that's when you pour in the broth to deglaze, stirring and scraping up any brown bits.  Turn the heat up and keep stirring every few minutes until it just starts to boil then turn down the heat to simmer for 20-30.  Once everything is cooked up nicely, get out your handheld immersion blended and whir away until all the veg is pureed. Scoop into mugs or bowls and get ready to dip your grilled cheeses and enjoy.
If you like a creamier version you can stir in a dollop of Greek yogurt if you want to be healthy or sour cream if you don't.

I spied this sunny little gem of Pyrex dish while thrifting and I just knew it'd be ideal for lasagna, the noodles would nestle nicely being the perfect size.

Making veg lasagna is remarkably easy.
There's no time consuming browning of the meat needed.  Just layer the uncooked pasta in between heaping scoops of tomato sauce that's loaded with your fav veg.  Actually, this is a good place to hide lots of veg you, or your family, doesn't really like, you know, like kale.

Start by making the tomato sauce.  You can make it from scratch or add veggies to a nice organic delicious sauce, like Sockarooni, {my Fav} depending on how hungry you are.  If you decide to make your own tomato sauce it should simmer on the stove for at least an hour.

Here's what I like to put in my veggie tomato sauce:

1 c. chopped onion
1-2 c. chopped bell peppers, any colors you like
2 zucchini or summer squash, chopped
1 pkg button mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 c. spinach or kale, fresh or frozen
1 large carrot, grated - no need to peel

1 c. of fresh or canned pumpkin puree or squash

In a large pot on medium heat saute all your veg with a little olive oil until softened, 10-20.  Add pumpkin, sauce or tomatoes, depending on what you choose to do,

If making your own base sauce:
3-4 cloves of garlic chopped
1 28 oz can of tomatoes
1/4 tsp Italian Seasonings
salt and pepper to taste

Let simmer away for for 5-10 minutes OR if making your own sauce from scratch let simmer for at least an hour.


When you sauce is about ready, gather your other lasagna ingredients:

Box of lasagna noodles
carton of ricotta or I prefer cottage cheese, like my mom used to make.
shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
shredded Italian cheese mix
fresh mozzarella is nice too

I start by coating the bottom of the baking dish with olive oil .  I just use my hands or a napkin to spread the oil around and up the sides to keep anything from sticking so cleanup is a breeze.
Then ladle in a thin coating of the sauce, covering the whole bottom of the pan.
Put down a layer of dry pasta on top of the sauce.
Then ladle in a some more sauce, really heaping on those veggies,
followed by another layer of dry pasta.
Next is the cheese layer, so spoon the ricotta or cottage cheese all around on top of the noodles and spread it out.

Sprinkle fresh cracked black pepper, dried parsley and the Parmigiano Reggiano.
Followed by another layer of dry pasta.
Then ladle in a some more sauce,
followed by another layer of dry pasta.
Top with some more sauce and a generous amount of cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil, unless you are lucky enough to own a lid for your baking dish.
Bake at 350 for 1 hour, removing the lid/ foil for the last 20 minutes so it will brown up nicely.
      ~ enjoy!

I usually make a big batch of veg sauce, enough to make 2-3 lasagnas depending on the sizes.  Using smaller size baking dishes allows you to make extras for leftovers to enjoy later in the week
 or popping in the freezer.  And they make perfect surprise gifts for someone you might know that could use a nice homemade hot cooked meal.

I'm a big lover of soup.  
I can't think of any kind of soup I don't like or make.
Oh, wait ... my Grammy Poppy talked about Czarnina which is Polish for Duck blood soup.  I don't think I'm interested in that!  Sure do miss her pierogi though.

Next I'm sharing my version of onion soup that I've adapted using The Barefoot Contessa's recipe.  Years ago, I would always DVR her cooking show to learn her techniques.  I'm a big fan of Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa!  I love watching her shop for food and make food.  She makes everything she cooks look so easy and effortless.  Then she puts together a beautiful table and serves her guests all her wonderful gorgeous food.  I'm always enthralled.

French Onion Soup
4-6 large onions, halved, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2-3 Tablespoons butter + olive oil
1/4 c. cognac or brandy, vermouth
1 c. white wine
2 c. beef broth  & 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
8 slices from a loaf of French bread, toasted
Gruyere &/or Parmesan cheese

Slice and slowly saute onions in butter + bay leaf, thyme for 20 minutes, until softened in a large enameled cast iron pot, cover off.
Then stir in 1/2 tsp salt & sugar, pepper; saute 15-20 min more over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until rich golden brown. I omit sugar if using Vidalias, keep cover off and stir every 2-3 mins.

Deglaze the pan with the 1/4 c. sherry, vermouth, cognac or brandy and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle 2 TBLS flour over onions and cook slowly, stirring, for 2 mins.  Add the white wine and simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes.
Add the beef broth & optional Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the soup is simmering away it's a good time to slice up that french bread, butter it if you want, then toast in the oven.
Remove the bay leaf, taste for salt and pepper, and serve ladling soup into individual ovenproof bowls, like Fiestaware or Pyrex. Float toasted bread slices or cut croutons on top. Top with grated Gruyere &/or Parmesan cheese. Broil on low until cheese is melted and slightly brown.
                                                           ~ Enjoy!

These are some of my fav comfort food recipes that I enjoying making for people as well as eating.  If you are inspired to cook any of them you will Love them, too!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My Valentine Day Decorating

Happy Valentine's weekend, Lovelies!  
Hope you have some special plans to do fun things with your loved ones.  
It's a nice to celebrate LOVE.  

I like to commemorate each holiday decorating the house with my collection of vintage treasures and thrifty finds.  Over the years, we've amassed quite a collection of charming holiday decor.  Mr. Wonderful & I enjoyed spending some of our free time together roaming dusty flea markets & antique shops for cute bargains we could give each other as gifts.

After the arduous task of packing up most of the Christmas decorations the house looks dusty and bare.  I leave out the things that are more snow / winter related like my snowflake lights and keep a few darling snowmen dotted throughout the house.

 Since it gets dark so early in the winter, it's nice to have soft glow to light the way.  I use those clever mechanical timers so at 5pm when the shadows pop out and the sun starts it's decent my snowman blowmold and snowflake lights illuminate the dusky corners.

They are four fireplace mantles downstairs and I've got them all decked out with interesting doodads.  The dining room mantle has built in cupboards so I tuck away dishes and teacups in there.

I picked up that sparkly snowball garland at Target this Christmas and just added a strand of pastel lights, then clipped on some small vintage valentines my sweetheart gave to me.  
I love the graphics of the older valentines and the play on words.  
Aren't they darling?

A sparkly sequined gold arrow, new from Target, 
makes a snazzy display on the den mantle.  

Opposite the mantle in the dining room, sits the computer desk and shelf.  I've grown accustomed to using that soda pop crate to give height to the display with the tiny cubbies to tuck away little plastic candy containers and whatnots.  
Jadite mugs are a perfect fit.  So are those little birthday candle packages in red for the holiday. 

I do like the way a collection looks all gathered up together in one place but I must prefer to use a few pieces scattered here & there through the house.

Finally, in the kitchen, is this giant Hoosier cabinet.  It sits in a dark corner so I'm obligated to brighten it up with some holiday cheer.  This winter I've used it as my hot cocoa station and all the red goes well with the valentine theme.  I just swapped out the santas for heart shaped candy boxes, added a few vintage valentines and festooned with another sweet garland, new from Target.

Love is in the Air!

One of my favorite spots to decorate for the holidays is this darling white cupboard in the kitchen that my Mr. Wonderful thrifted for me and refinished.  
Over the years I've enjoyed displaying & rearranging my various collections on it.  Don't the tiny little vintage plastic snowmen look cute tucked in with the colorful Fiestaware dishes?

 All my oldest and dearest vintage valentines are displayed here.

This one might be my most cherished.  
It is called a mechanical valentine because a little paper lever moves the 
delicate fairy wings, mask & eyes.  
It's colors and graphics are so pretty.  
Isn't it precious?

Around the corner in the kitchen is this pink shelf that I've had since I was a little girl.  I use it to store some of my growing collection of Lovely books.  The top shelf holds any books I find by or about Jane Austen or Mr. Darcy.  I am not only a BiG Fan of the originals but of all the swell fan fiction as well.

So far I have -
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
Darcy & Elizabeth by Linda Berdoll
Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll
I was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison
Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Darcy's Story by Janet Aylmer
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Longbourn by Jo Baker

And just yesterday I found, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler at Goodwill.  It's the first book and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict is the sequel.

And several copies of Emma, Sense & Sensibility all by Ms. Jane Austen herself, including a volume of 4 of her stories.

I will read them all someday.

Over the kitchen sink is a very large window that lets in a lot of light.  I found these metallic paper star lanterns at Target this Christmas.  I was pretty surprised the copper colored one was so big!  At first I didn't like it and was going to take it down.  Life intervened and I never did get around to it and it kinda grew on me.  I swapped out the Fa La La banner for the XO XO & hearts, both from Target.

Doesn't it look grand?
I spend a lot of time at the sink washing dishes so I feel I must make it look as cute as possible.  It was a real challenge to photograph my window decorations with all the bright backlight streaming in all day long causing everything in the foreground to be in shadow in the photo.  Finally, I just gave up and decided to wait until dark and just use artificial light.  I wanted to capture how magical it looks with all the twinkling lights.
I Love the look so much I will be sad to take it down when I decorate for Easter.  But the days will be getting a little bit longer and that will have to be my consolation.

I've been dreaming of making a big collage with my collection of heart shaped candy boxes.  So this year, as I unpacked my Valentine treasures, I arranged them on the foyer rug.  I wasn't sure I had enough to look like anything interesting.  Some of them are vintage gifts given to me by my sweetheart, Mr. Wonderful.  Most of them are newer but I thought they were interesting and pretty, Some were purchased after the holiday on clearance, filled with tasty chocolates.  Next I think I'll do an arrangement that only has the Godiva hearts I've saved through the years.

Godiva makes exquisite chocolates that cost a fortune and taste like it.  They are my very favorite!  Here's a peek at this year's adorable collection.

Not only do the chocolates look spectacular, they taste amazing, rather fruity I think, richly decadent and to be savored.  And what is even better {to me!} is that the boxes are beautifully detailed and special.  I always save the box.  I'm a collector/hoarder like that.

Really, How Cute are these boxes?!!
What chocolate would you reach for first?
Cuz that sweet little Starfish is Mine!

~ Happy Valentine's Day!