Monday, March 31, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Portabello Mushroom Lasagne

My mom's birthday is coming up this week. She has decided that she'd like lasagne at home with the family, rather than going out to a restaurant. It's funny; when I was little, I always wanted to "go out" for my birthday dinner, but now, I too would rather just stay home. Maybe it is the difficulty of taking kids out to restaurants or the often disappointing results at overpriced places with stuffy waiters and snooty menus. I don't know, but I'd rather just eat at home where I can help myself and tuck in to a plate of stuff I know I'll like.

Mom will likely be having a traditional lasagne - beef (maybe Italian sausage instead), red sauce, yadda yadda yadda. But for kicks, I thought I'd share a recipe from my gal, Ina. I love mushrooms - more than anyone else in my family I think - so this one would be up my alley for my birthday. But for a birthday or just for comfort-food lovin', here's one to try:

Ina Garten's Portabello Mushroom Lasagna.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Snow on the cherry blossoms

Yep, it is snowing here. Go figure. Wonderful warm weather one day and giant wet snowflakes the next. Quite contradictory, Ms. Nature. Mother or not, you've got your seasons mixed up, I fear. Oh well. Until the old gal gets herself straightened out, enjoy some Fire and Ice Relish. A bit of a blast from the past, as is this icy weather in my neck of the woods.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Soft pretzel, anyone?

Have you ever been to the mall, walking with your many bags of this and that, dragging your tired behind to your car, parked out somewhere in Row X or Y, wondering if you have the energy to make it out there, fingers aching from clutching non-ergonomic plastic handles, overheating from carrying a coat through the 85 degree climate controlled shopping experience - when suddenly, you smell...salt. Not just salt...butter...wait, oh yeah,, that was sugar...and cinnamon, no mustard and salt...

The smell pulls you by the nostrils and you find yourself in front of a pretzel stand/shop/kiosk, looking at those sodium encrusted baked goods like a deer at a salt lick. Ooh, they have lemonade. I could go for some lemonade, I'm parched from the BOGO sale at the shoe store, you think, as you wait in line behind other bedraggled consumers, each eyeing the last cinnamon pretzel.

Admit it, you've done it. But why pay three bucks for a pretzel you can make for pennies at home? Well, because you are at the mall, not at home, right? And the lemonade tastes really good, even if it is from concentrate or some noxious gaseous conconction. Who cares, it is cold and makes a great chaser to salt. Big hunks of buttery salty golden goodness, drenched in mustard.

Alright, snap out of it. Either get in the car and go to the mall, or make the following recipe. Either way, be sure to wipe the salt smear off your cheek when you are done.
Bread Pretzels or Sticks (Joy of Cooking 1978)

Combine in a mixer bowl:
1 cup lukewarm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 package active dry yeast

When dissolved, add and beat at least 3 minutes:
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons soft butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Stir in:
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
and knead until the dough loses its stickiness. Let rise in a covered greased bowl until doubled in bulk.

Punch down and divide into 12 pieces for pretzels or 36 smaller pieces for sticks. With your palms, roll the 12 pretzel pieces into 18-inch lengths about pencil thickness, tapering the ends slightly. Loop a twisted oval (the book shows a diagram). Place on a greased baking sheet and let rise until almost doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.

Have ready a boiling solution of:
4 cups water
5 tablespoons baking soda
Do not use an aluminum pan for this mixture.

With a slotted spoon, carefully lower the pretzels into the water about 1 minute, or until they float to the top. Return them to the greased sheet.

Sprinkle with:
Coarse salt

Bake until crispy and browned, about 12 minutes for the pretzels, less for the sticks.

They are best served at once, but will keep about one week in an airtight container. Cool before storing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Age of Aquarius (almost...)

Meez 3D avatar avatars games

Well, I was going to write a post of some significance but I thought I'd just play hippie chick for the day. Peace, everyone.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Weird fixes for common problems

Have you ever cleaned your bathroom mirror with shaving cream? What about wiping down your wallpaper with a dry slice of bread? Used a golf ball as a bathtub stopper? No? Well, neither have I. But the fine author of Weird household tips that actual work has (or at least lists them for our enjoyment).

I've never heard of rubbing plant leaves with mayo to clean them, or using dry spaghetti as a cake tester (I'll be trying that though because I never seem to have toothpicks around). Check out her other suggestions for handy fixes for things you have on hand.

For other quirky tips, check out these 23 weird uses for foods from AOL. I never knew that a 2 litre of soda could unclog a drain - wow, that's some healthy stuff - or veggie shortening could help with diaper rash. Hmmmm. Some things might be better left unsaid.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Randon Recipe Monday - Trail Mix

We had our first hike on Saturday. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the hiking wasn't hard (we headed out to the trails in the Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, for those who know the area). The highlight was seeing two large deer cross our path, not five feet from us. Right in the middle of civilization, as it were, there were these deer. Quite exciting, I must say. So much so that we have another, longer hike planned for this weekend, near Snoqualmie Falls (again for those who know this neck of the woods).

The hiking may lead us to geocaching, which is just a fancy treasure hunt/hide-and-go-seek game that uses a GPS device. We'll see if we decide to invest the money in the GPS receiver or not. The outdoorsy bug has bitten us enough that we're also planning a camping trip in July (just an overnighter) to see how we city slickers do in the great outdoors. Now, I was a girl scout but that's about the extent of my camping knowledge. I know enough to bring s'mores, hot dogs and bug spray. I'll also be bringing some of this trail mix. I don't always love Paula Deen's recipes, but I'll be giving this one a try. Salty and sweet is a good combo in my book.

For those with camping or hiking know-how, feel free to share your tips; I'm sure we could use 'em.

Oh - and no news on the house yet. Sigh....

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pins and needles

Today is the day. Or maybe Monday. Or maybe the next week. We've been waiting since January 19th for word on the house we are trying to buy. Every week we hear that we should hear "in about a week" if the seller's lender has accepted our offer and then we never do. The home is being offered on a short sale, which for those who have never dealt with one, is a last-ditch effort by the sellers to avoid foreclosure. The mortgage lender(s) agree to take a loss on the house to get the sellers out of the sticky situation in which they find themselves. Unfortunately, for both the sellers and the would-be buyers (us), the lenders are in no hurry whatsoever to approve the offer. The sellers are managing to make their house payments each month and the lender has our file on a desk somewhere waiting for review. With foreclosures a reality for so many now, I imagine that the stack on that anonymous desk is quite high.

And so we wait. The latest word is that we'll hear today. Or possibly Monday. I'd like to believe that, but we've been strung along for so long that it's hard to get our hopes up again. What has really been hard is that we've been in limbo all this time. Our current home is strewn with boxes, some of them packed up with non-essentials, but most of them empty yet. My grandmother is going to be living with us in the new home and she's very excited; she's picking out new housewares and waiting every day to get the word. NR will be changing schools and he too is excited to go to the new house, to get his "green and purple" design for his bedroom (we're still working on that idea) and to have a park right outside his backyard. We'll finally have some storage space and a garage so I am looking forward to that. I want to plant my new garden and make my herb boxes.

If for some reason we don't get the house, we'll have to start the searching all over again. I don't want to think about that. But whether we get it or whether we don't, at least this waiting will be over. Not being able to move forward with your life because the file is on someone's desk is truly difficult. I'm hoping that the hibernation of winter is truly over and spring is bringing something new.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Spring!! It's about time

I have been waiting for Spring for ages. Winter this year seemed so very long and I really wanted to see the cherry blossoms start their show. Finally, it has happened. Today is the first day of Spring. My own trees are bursting forth and all's right with the world. (Well, at least on the first day of Spring it is) To celebrate this lovely Spring Equinox, I thought I'd post a few links that might be of use to those looking for a fresh start.

If you are looking to do a major Spring cleaning, check out Real Simple's checklist.

Need a new look? Here are the links to all the couture and ready to wear shows in New York for Spring (and Fall) 2008. Don't forget to update your makeup too.

What about your garden? Get it growing with these Spring tips. Speaking of flowers (weren't we?), why not send some to someone you love to celebrate Spring? Here is a list of the traditional meanings of flowers - very big in Victorian circles - but still charming.

Spring is bringing a new hobby to our house. We're taking up hiking as a family, to get us out into nature and our behinds off the couch. Our first hike will be this Saturday, weather permitting. Learn the basics here and we'll share the blisters together.

Worked up an appetite just reading about all that hiking? Try a Spring frittata with fresh asparagus. Here's a handy produce guide so you can tell at a glance what fruits and veggies are in season. I'd love to try some fiddlehead ferns, just because I love saying it - but I've never had the opportunity. Artichokes are in season though, so that is almost as good.

And finally, I have to share one of my favorite songs, apropos of the day. Richie Havens' version of Here Comes the Sun. Hippie wannabe that I am, Spring makes me think of Woodstock, which makes me think of Richie.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dishing the dirt on laundry soap

I'd say most consumers are pretty true to their favorite brands. I base this on no objective data, but I've certainly tested the idea in my own family and reading what other buyers have to say about their favorite products. We only buy Best Foods mayo (Hellmans, for the folks back east) and Band-aid is the only first aid bandage product for me. When it comes to laundry detergent, I've typically been pretty loyal there too. For years, I've only used Tide Laundry detergent. I've lugged home the giant orange-red mega carton of the liquid stuff because I like liquid better than powder. I haven't seen any evidence that liquid cleans better than powder, but again, it is what I'm used to.

Well, as I've tried to be more conscious in my consumerism, I started thinking about my laundry soap. Truth be told, there hasn't been laundry soap on the US market since Ivory Snow changed their formula back in 1993. Soap and detergent aren't the same thing. Soap contains glycerin and is formed from mostly natural products; detergents are synthetic and began gracing shelves only since the early 1930s. Detergents wiped out their competitor soaps because soap can be problematic for people with hard water. Common complaints were soap scum in the washer and greyish whites. One by one, the laundry soap makers became laundry detergent makers.

Oh, but back to my conscious consumerism. So, wanting to reduce my ecological impact, I took a look at the laundry aisle to see what exists now. Slowly, my jumbo-size plastic tub of Tide has become a small, sleek, 2x concentrated version on the shelves. This is nice because who likes lugging home a giant heavy container anyway. But better than that, these newer concentrated detergents use less water, less chemicals and less plastic. They clean clothes just as well but use less polluting stuff to do it. That sounds good to me. I haven't quite made the switch to making my own detergent, and I doubt that I will, but I do look for phosphate-free detergents, concentrated formulas, less colorants and scents.

It's nice to also see that most of the big manufacturers are getting on board, so no matter what your brand loyalty, you can find a revamped version that creates less waste and is a little gentler on the environment (if still as tough on your stinky socks). With the popularity of green consumerism (heck, even Wal-Mart is only going to carry the concentrated laundry detergent now), I would say that this trend is here to stay. That's good for my laundry, my environment and my aching back.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Radio Homemakers - Neighboring over the air

From the 1920s through the 1970s, women in the mid-west could tune into AM broadcasts of fellow homemakers sharing their lives, their recipes and their plugs for certain products. These ladies were among the first female broadcasters. They had regular sponsors and loyal listeners. Isolated farm wives often compared these broadcasters to friends and came to count upon their folksy stories and advice. One of the famous personalities, Evelyn Birkby, considered it "neighboring over the air".

Radio homemakers reached their zenith in the 1950s, with regular newsletter subscribers and publicity photos. Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes, authored another book with Neighbor Dorothy, a radio homemaker, as the main character (Check out Standing in the Rainbow).

It's an obvious comparison to say that bloggers are the new radio homemakers. I think that there are similarities, but I don't totally agree with that comparison. In my mind, bloggers are more like traders on Wall Street - thousands of voices clamoring to be heard, a cacophony of sounds that readers need to sift through to find the blogs that are interesting to them. The radio homemakers operated in a time before FM radio, before television. Their audience were mostly isolated by geography and distance. Rather than Wall Street, these ladies and their fans were Main Street, neighbors chatting over the clothesline, after Sunday services, at the post office. It was more personal because of the voices, the sounds involved. Some of the radio homemakers did their broadcasting from their own kitchens, involving their families in the songs and stories. Listeners came to know them and their lives.

There couldn't be a true revival of radio homemakers because the world has gotten so much smaller. As connected as the Internet has made things, it has also made it far less personal and more anonymous. I still think that blogs have given a voice to every interest and they can serve as modern coffee klatches or homemaking clubs to those who yearn for connection, but the participants have to work to overcome the anonymity and impersonal nature of the Internet. I try to visit the blogs of every commenter and I check in daily with the blogs I consider part of my circle. I also venture forth and look for new blogs, new people that might want to join in for some cyber coffee and a virtual slice of pie. It might not be the same as neighboring over the air, but many bloggers are my friends just the same.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Apron Giveaway - we have a winner

I'm happy to announce that the randomly selected winner is Sarah. Congratulations! Please email me at with your contact information. Thank you to everyone who entered!

A poem for the Irish soul

Blessings by Irish poet, Katharine Tynan

God bless the little orchard brown
Where the sap stirs these quickening days.
Soon in a white and rosy gown
The trees will give great praise.

God knows I have it in my mind,
The white house with the golden eaves.
God knows since it is left behind
That something grieves and grieves.

God keep the small house in his care,
The garden bordered all in box,
Where primulas and wallflowers are
And crocuses in flocks.

God keep the little rooms that ope
One to another, swathed in green,
Where honeysuckle lifts her cup
With jessamine between.

God bless the quiet old grey head
That dreams beside the fire of me,
And makes home there for me indeed
Over the Irish Sea.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Salt & Pepper Shrimp

After a week of Irish recipes, here's something inspired by chinese food. I know, it's St. Paddy's day, but if you haven't picked up your corned beef or started your Irish Stew, you aren't going to now. So, here's something else you might enjoy - heck, even NR liked it (of course, he does like shrimp, so that helps).

There are several salt and pepper shrimp recipes* floating around the Internet (get it, floating? I know, bad....) but this one is about as easy as you can get. It literally takes a few minutes from fridge to plate, which is always nice. What I liked best about it was the simplicity, the freshness of the flavor. Nothing complicated but the flavors worked well together. Eat it up hot out of the pan or even refrigerate it and have it later cold on salad.

1 1/4 pounds of large, deveined, "easy peel" shrimp - leave the shells on
Canola oil
four cloves of peeled garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of peeled ginger, finely chopped
6 green onions, chopped
Fresh ground pepper (I use a pepper melange that has white, black, pink and green peppercorns)

Heat a large skillet or wok, adding enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pan (about 1/2 cup or so)
As the oil is heating, add the garlic. Keep stirring the oil and don't let the garlic burn. Once it starts bubbling, carefully add the shrimp.
Lightly stir the shrimp until the shells turn pink. Add the ginger. Keep stirring.

For the salt and pepper, it depends on your taste. I added about 1/2 tablespoon each of pepper and salt, which was good for me. You can always add more later so start off easy. Add your amounts of salt and pepper, add the green onions.

Keep stirring everything for another minute or two, just to incorporate the spices and warm up the onions. Make sure the shrimp are fully cooked before removing from the heat.

Serve with rice (I made jasmine rice with a bit of peanut oil) or your side dish of choice.

*For another take, check out Ming Tsai's recipe at Food His version calls for deep frying the shrimp, more garlic and more ginger.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Into the West with chocolate Guinness cupcakes

There were so many great Irish-themed movies to consider for this post. The Quiet Man, The Secret or Roan Inish, Waking Ned Devine, Circle of Friends, Widow's Peak. So many great films, but I chose a film that I'm not sure received much attention when it came out. Into the West came out in 1992 (not the 2005 Western with the same name). The film stars Gabriel Byrne as a Traveler (Ireland's term for gypsies) with two young sons. Papa has turned from the Traveler life since his wife died and things aren't going so well for the boys. All that changes when the children find a horse, a horse they believe is magical. Off they go on the horse's back as it leads them into the west. Papa has to join up with his traveler family and friends to follow the boys on their adventure, facing his fears and his history. I won't spoil the end for you, but you'll either think it is a bit sappy or lovely, depending upon your mood. I personally find the film charming and I love the two little boys. There is some great scenery of Ireland as well and you get to hear Ellen Barkin trying out an Irish brogue.

If the Guinness bread and Irish Stew weren't enough for you, here is a recipe that sounds delicious. Chocolate cupcakes made with Guinness, topped with chocolate ganache and finished with Bailey's buttercream. The recipe can be found at The Cupcakery. It's always nice to discovery a new blog about cupcakes. Go check it out!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Guinness Beer Bread - My goodness

Guinness always looks delicious. Dark and rich with a creamy head, it always looks like a refreshing and luxurious drink. Alas, I just don't care for beer. (I know, whiskey and beer - am I sure that my heritage is Irish?) I like beer in cooking though; stews, bread, sauces.

Guinness has been around for about 250 years, so there are definitely folks that like this stout. For those beer aficionados, Guinness is a dry stout, made with roasted barley. The roasting gives it that wonderful dark color. For the rest of us teetotalers in the crowd, here is a way to raise a glass and give a cheer. Bet this would go well with some Irish Stew.

Guinness Beer Bread (as found at Cooking Light's Forum)

"4 cups flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
12 oz Guinness draught beer
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 F. Sift together flour, powder, salt and sugar. (I combined well with wire whisk.) Add Guinness and eggs, and stir until batter is just blended.

Pour into greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan and bake for around 70 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Boxty - Ireland's answer to hashbrowns

In my family, when we have leftover mashed potatoes from dinner, we fry them up for breakfast. Turns out, we aren't the only ones who do that. Boxty is an Irish dish that uses mashed potatoes, raw potatoes and buttermilk, which is then mashed together and fried up to yumminess. This dish is part of a traditional Ulster fried breakfast (Lots of fried meats and such but I'd omit the fried blood sausage if I were you.). Boxty is so popular that a little poem has been written about it:

"Boxty on the griddle,

Boxty in the pan,

If you can't make boxty,

You'll never get a man."

You'd think the land of Yeats could do better than that, wouldn't you? Oh well, you can't win them all, I suppose.

Here's a recipe for Irish Boxty from FoodNetwork**:

8 ounces (225 grams) freshly cooked potatoes
8 ounces (225 grams) peeled raw potatoes
8 ounces (225 grams/ generous 1 1/2 cups) white flour
1/4 American teaspoon baking powder (1/2 Irish teaspoon bread soda), sifted *see note
8 to 12 fluid ounces (225 to 300 millileters/1 to 1 1/2 cups) buttermilk
Pinch salt (optional)
Butter, for frying

*Note: an Irish tablespoon is the same quantity as an American tablespoon plus a teaspoon

Peel the cooked potatoes while they are still hot, drop into a bowl and mash immediately. Grate the raw potatoes, add to the mashed potatoes with the flour and sifted bread soda. Mix well, and add enough buttermilk to make a stiff batter.

Heat a frying pan, grease with butter and cook large or small pancakes in the usual way. Eat them straight from the pan with butter, crispy rashers or pure Irish honey.

**If you want to see Boxty prepared, watch FoodNetwork on March 15th at 8pm ET/PT.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irish Coffee - a good use for whiskey

I gotta say that I really don't like whiskey. I know, there are some folks who enjoy the stuff, but I've never been one of them. My use for it has always been gargling when I'm sick or as an ingredient in recipes. It just isn't my cup of tea. But it could be my cup of coffee - Irish coffee.

This actually is an Irish creation, which surprised me - as many things labeled such are not. It was created in 1942 to warm up some passengers on a transatlantic flight to New York that had to turn around and come back to Ireland. The drink was so popular with them that the bartender eventually landed a job in San Francisco to share his beverage with the masses. Here is Mr. Joe Sheridan's original recipe for Irish coffee, as found at Irish Culture and Customs:

Cream - Rich as an Irish Brogue
Coffee - Strong as a Friendly Hand
Sugar - Sweet as the tongue of a Rogue
Whiskey - Smooth as the Wit of the Land.

Heat a stemmed whiskey goblet
Pour in one jigger of Irish whiskey
Add one spoon of brown sugar. Fill with strong black coffee to within one inch of the brim
Stir to dissolve the sugar. Top off with whipped cream, slightly aerated, by pouring it over the back of a spoon, so that it floats.
Do not stir after adding the cream as the true flavor is obtained by drinking the hot coffee and Irish whiskey through the cream.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The countdown for all things Irish - Soda Bread

My mom's side of the family came from Ireland and Wales. Supposedly, my grandfather's clan lived in County Sligo, though I'm still looking for evidence on So when St Paddy's day rolls around, we get our Irish on and celebrate our celtic past. Out come the shamrock decorations, the green clothing, the reminiscing about our package tour years ago around Ireland (DON'T take a package tour if you can ever help it - bleh). Sure, this stuff is corny, but fun nonetheless.

In honor of the upcoming celebration of the Emerald Isle, I'll be featuring some Irish links and stories this week. Today's fare is Irish Soda Bread. Not the stuff you find in the stores, with raisins or currants or other such fruit. Nope, there is actually a society for the preservation of traditional soda bread. Go figure. According to these folks, only flour, soda, salt and buttermilk belong in real Irish soda bread. If you are looking for some recipes or history, check out the society's webpage.

My experience with soda bread in Ireland was mixed. It was served with every meal, had a rough texture and generally lacked flavor as I think of it when it comes to bread. It also grew on me, so that I missed it when I came home. I'm going to make up a batch tomorrow and see how I feel about it now. Nice thing about this kind of bread is it doesn't require yeast, so it can be made up with stuff you have on hand (see the tips about substituting milk and lemon juice, if you don't have buttermilk).

If you make it, let me know how it goes.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Apron Giveaway!!! We have a Winner

Edit: The winner is Sarah. Congratulations. Please email me at with your contact information. Thank you to everyone who entered!

I'm asking my dear readers to help me with a few questions for my new business. What's in it for me, you ask (other than my eternal thanks, of course). A contest for a free handmade apron, that's what. Now even if you don't cook (or wear aprons) you probably know someone who does and heck, free is free. I might even slip in a goodie or two as a surprise, you never know.

So please click Here to take the survey and I'll enter you in the drawing.

If you refer someone else to my survey and they actually take the survey, you'll be entered twice - how's that for stacking the odds? (If you refer more than one person, I'll still love you but you'll only be entered twice in the drawing.) The drawing will be 5:00 PM on March 17th - lucky St. Paddy's Day.

Thank you for your help and good luck!!!

Random Recipe Monday - Uncle Russell's Spanish Rice

Today's recipe comes from my Scandinavian great uncle, Russell. I'm not quite sure how a Norwegian fellow came to make Spanish rice as his signature dish, but perhaps in Minnesota this reminds folks of Madrid. Anywho, here is the recipe for those looking for an easy casserole.

Uncle Russell’s Spanish Rice

6 slices bacon, chopped

1 onion chopped

1 ½ lbs ground beef

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup uncooked rice

3 cups tomato juice heated (approximately)

1 teaspoon paprika

Sauté bacon slowly and pour off part of fat. Brown chopped onion and beef in hot fat. Add salt.

Add the rice, the tomato juice and paprika to meat.

Pour into greased casserole and bake at 350 degrees F until rice is tender, approximately 40 minutes.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cleaning out my bookshelf I found myself

We're packing up our house, with the hope that we'll hear about our new house soon. Packing is only slightly better than unpackaging, so I've been taking it a box at a time. Yesterday, I decided to go through my bookshelf and donate the books that I no longer read. Sitting on the floor of my office, I found myself looking back at myself almost twenty years ago.

Never one to frequent libraries, I hang out in bookstores. I typically buy my books because I like to write in the margins, dogear the pages and generally re-read things a few times. My purchasing habit means that I end up with books about which I might have a fleeting interest. Hence, the handbook on making soap, the guide to collectible compacts, the menu and recipes from the Titanic - hey, everything was about the Titanic when the movie came out. Other books show a deeper interest, such as my many books on natural healing, herbal remedies, reflexology and massage. Twenty years ago, I really followed herbalism and found the idea of holistic healing to be important. Now, I hardly take a vitamin. What happened in twenty years to change my point of view? I'm not sure. These well-thumbed guides went into the donation pile for someone else to use.

Other books I found too interesting to part with - my books on medieval cooking and homemaking (yes, medieval); my many many books on learning French - I have yet to do so - my anthology of English poetry, my copy of Memoirs of a Geisha that I have read five times. Childhood books (The Ghost Next Door was a big favorite) hold space next to travel guides of places I've loved (New Orleans, Paris, London) and places I'd love to go (Buenos Aires, Italy).

I kept my guide to vintage clothing, my kitchen collectibles guide, my How-To on wiring and home repair, my books on Marie LaVeau and Ben Franklin. I let Cold Mountain go and a Michael Crichton anthology that I'll never read. My texts on women's history stayed, as did those about the 1920s and the F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories.

Most of the books I kept were just too nostalgic for me to part with yet. They'll get packed up and moved to the new house. Maybe I'll reread some of them and maybe I won't. I'll certainly add new volumes to the empty spaces - my book on Grace O'Malley the Irish pirate queen, my copy of Wicked and a biography of Marie Antoinette. My many cookbooks will be in the kitchen, but I cleaned some of those out too. A guide to winemaking and the Gilroy Garlic festival book are going to new homes. My new copy of Confetti Cakes will stay nearby so I can learn how to work with fondant.

I need to look into a library card.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Memoirs of a Geisha, with a sushi cupcake

Like most "books to movies" I liked the book better. But the film is gorgeous, especially the recreation of the hanamachi of Gion. The world of the geisha was so contradictory. Even though this is fiction, it is still interesting to watch the forces that shaped their lives play out.

My favorite character is Hatsumomo, beautifully portrayed by Li Gong. In the book, Hatsumomo literally chases Chiyo from teahouse to teahouse, working to ruin her as a geisha. The film does a good job of showing this tension but, just as in the book, when Hatsumomo is not stalking Chiyo, the storytelling suffers.

With cherry blossoms soon on the horizon, this seems like a great film to watch while enjoying sushi cupcakes. Yes, sushi cupcakes. Not with fish, mind you, but with coconut. Fabulously inventive, Clare Crespo is the author of The Secret Life of Food and Hey there, Cupcake. The following recipe is hers and was found at SeaCoastOnline. Thanks to Not Martha for turning me on to Clare Crespo's work.


Makes about 30 cupcakes.


3 cups all-purpose flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1¾ cups sugar

2 eggs

1¼ cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1½ cups sour cream

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

4½ cups shredded coconut

¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted


8 green fruit roll-up snacks

Assorted candies (jelly beans, Gummy Worms, Gummy Fish)

Dried papaya and mangoes

Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake tins.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a medium bowl.

In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, creaming until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat well after each addition.

In a small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla.

To the butter mixture, add about ¼ of flour mixture and mix well. Add about ¼ of the milk mixture and mix well. Continue alternating the flour mixture and milk mixture, beating after each addition until smooth.

Pour the batter into the cupcake tins. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched.

Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the cupcakes out of the tins and on a rack to finish cooling completely.

Frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sour cream, vanilla and coconut. Add the powdered sugar and mix thoroughly.

Using a butter knife, spread the frosting over the tops of cupcakes.

Decorations: Trim the fruit roll-ups to the height of the cupcakes. Wrap one fruit roll around the side of each cupcake.

Arrange the dried papaya and candies on the tops of the cupcakes.

Serve the dried mangoes on the side to resemble ginger.

Make your favorite type of sushi cupcakes by using different candy toppings. For a Japanese-theme party, create a whole sushi platter.

"Hey There, Cupcake!" by Clare Crespo (Melcher Media, $16.95, 80 pages)"

Friday, March 7, 2008

Daylight Savings Time

Don't forget to Spring your clock forward this weekend. Yeah! More daylight. Woohoo.

Getting more done - the power of five

I recently attended a conference where Anne-Marie Faiola, the owner of spoke on a panel. Ms. Faiola was quite interesting and her story of starting her soapmaking supply company out of her living room gives hope to this newbie entrepreneur.

But something she said caught my attention. She mentioned that each day she does five things to move her business forward. Now, I thought about that and a little lightbulb sparked above my head. If this idea is good for business, it would be good for the business of homemaking too.

If each day, you did five things to tackle a tough area of your home - say a really unorganized closet, a kitchen in need of deep cleaning, or a child's bedroom mess - how much progress would you make in getting that under control? Taking it to a lesser level, what about just doing five things around your house each day to help maintain it?

The point of this exercise is to keep your goals in the front of your mind and to keep acting on them. The goal really could be anything; its the action that counts. For me, I'm using this idea on a number of fronts - my new business, my daily chores around the house, finding five new blogs each day that I enjoy reading, and on and on.

There must be something to the number 5. When NR was a toddler, he used to carry around a blue plastic magnetic five where ever he went. Oh woe is me if we lost "Blue Five" (we even had to keep some emergency spares in a drawer). Sooner or later he gave up on blue five. Well, blue or not, I'm going to be adding fives to my day. Wonder if I can find that magnet for a little refrigerator reminder...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Darn you Hat

Meez 3D avatar avatars games

Yet another addiction...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ratatouille Pie - Also known as Eat Your Veggies

We don't eat enough veggies at my house. I lament that everytime I walk down the produce aisle and leave those greens languishing under the cool mist. Anything green is a hard sell to the boys in this house and unless it comes in the shape of pizza pie, it just "isn't my favorite" as NR says. Well, ratatouille pie was born to bring more greeny goodness into our digestive tracts.

As a fan of the movie and french food in general, I thought it might be fun to try making a traditional ratatouille. After reading several recipes and seeing the time that it takes to make one, I changed my mind. Someday maybe, but today I didn't have the chops to tackle an all-day meal.

I also knew that an all-veg meal would never fly. We just aren't the vegetarian kind here. What if there was meat added to the veg? What if it had pie crust to lure them in, sneaky like? What if I topped it with grated swiss cheese to hide the greens? You getting the vibe here? Yep, it looks more like a quiche than a salad, but there are some greens in here still. Plus, it made a ton - I mean a literal, wheelbarrow sky high ton of food, so we'll have some to freeze for another night and plenty for lunch (piled inside some crusty bread, I think - minus the pie crust). So I present for your veggie pleasure, Ratatouille Pie:

1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground turkey
1 eggplant, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
5 small zucchini, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 large red onion, chopped into (you guessed it)
4 cloves of peeled garlic, roughly chopped
1 large can of peeled whole tomatoes, drained and roughly sliced into 1 inch rounds
1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers (I used the ones in a jar)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt
Sea salt (if you have it)
Herbes de Provence (if you don't have this, some dried tarragon, rosemary and fennel will work)
Fresh cracked pepper
2 prebaked pie shells (I used Marie Callandar's frozen shells and prebaked them according to the package)
Shredded Swiss Cheese - approximately 1 cup per pie

Preheat your oven to 350. In a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons canola oil and then brown the pork. Add the turkey when the pork is still a bit pink. Season with a good sprinkle of kosher salt. Continue browning until both are no longer pink. Remove from pan, set aside.

Add olive oil and butter. When melted, add the red onions and cook until thoroughly soft. Add the garlic while the onions are cooking. Add the eggplant and zucchini to the skillet. Stir up the veggies and cover, cooking approximately 5 minutes on medium heat. Uncover and stir. Add the tomato and peppers, cooking briefly for a few minutes. Sprinkle with approximately 1 1/2 teaspoons of herbes de provence, adding sea salt and pepper to taste. Do taste the veggies to make sure you have them to your liking.

Remove the veggies from the heat. Combine with the pork/turkey mixture. Carefully spoon mixture into prepared pie shells. Top pies with shredded swiss cheese to taste. Bake the pies for about 30 minutes.

You will likely have filling left over. I recommend saving it for sandwiches, tossing it with pasta or freezing for use in another pie later. Vegetarian types could easily leave out the meat and still make this work.

Palmolive Detergent

Ever soak your hands in detergent for your manicure? If not, you didn't hang out with Madge the manicurist. Remember those ads? They started in the 1960s. Here's one from the 70s for a little vintage thrill:

Palmolive started in the 1890s as an olive oil and palm oil based soap. Folks liked it and a few years later, Colgate acquired it. Not sure when it changed to its trademark green liquid but its claim to fame is the mild formula that is gentle on hands.

Fans of Palmolive swear by its grease cutting ability. It has a loyal following even outside of the kitchen. A motorcycle website reviewed it as a good cleaner for motorcycle parts. Wonder if any salons are using it?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Girl Scout Cookies - Someone save me

Oh my goodness, it is that time of year again. The Girl Scouts are out and the grocery stores are no longer safe. Little folding tables covered in boxes of thin mints, shortbread and lemon chalet cookies beckon to me. "Would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?" Such cheerful voices, smiling faces and patient parents. Of course, I'd like to buy some cookies. Do I need them? Heck no. Should I devour them? Uh uh, but sure I'll take a box (or two).

I'm currently loving the new Lemon Chalet cookies. Wowza, they taste like a lemon square, which is always a good thing. Thin mints are good, but these lemon ones have them beat hands down, I think.

As a former Girl Scout, I can attest to the yumminess of the product, which still tastes great all these years later. My poor dad was always stuck carting my share of the troup cookie boxes to his office to sell because my folks didn't want me going door to door. I was only in the GS a few years but I remember big cartons of cookies stacked up in our garage, trudged there from the leader's home, just waiting for dad to haul them down to work. How many kids appreciate the stuff their parents do to help them with their own activities? Boy, I sure didn't.

Guess I'm doing my part now by buying up all those lovely lemon cookies so those patient parents don't have to stand up at the grocery store entrance all day.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Tossed Taco

Ok, this goes down as the laziest dinner ever - or close to it. Saturday night we had my darling baby nephew over to spend the night, so Sunday was about taking it E-Z. I spent the afternoon sewing, practicing my hems and my darts, and the boys (hubby and NR) watched Spider-Man 3 for the zillionth time. Lo and behold, 5:15 pm rolls around and someone says "what's for dinner?" It is at that time that I realize I have nothing planned, nothing thawed and nothing ready. So into the car I go for a quick jaunt to the store. Back home, browning ground turkey and assembling the "tacos", we are dining by 6:00 pm flat. Easy is its main virtue, but if you ever find yourself needing a quick dinner fix, you could do worse.

Tossed Taco (for four)

1 pound ground turkey
1 packet taco seasoning mix
Shredded lettuce
Shredded cheese
Guacamole and/or sour cream (Calvados prepackaged guacamole is actually pretty good)
Fritos (Scoops work well)

Fry up the turkey until brown, add the seasoning mix according to package directions. Place a layer of Fritos on your dinner plate, top with 1/2 cup of cooked turkey, a handful of shredded lettuce, a sprinkling of cheese, and your toppings of choice.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chocolat & Chocolate, Chili and Cinnamon Cupcakes

I really love the movie Chocolat, the one with Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche. It doesn't hurt that the film has great actors like Dame Judi Dench, Alfred Molina and Leslie Caron. The setting is a gorgeous little french village and gobs and gobs of chocolate. I usually make a huge mug of hot chocolate, sprinkled with chili powder and topped with whipped cream, then I snuggle up on the sofa and watch it with great delight.

If you are in the mood for a little something sweeter and cupcake shaped, why not try the recipe at Not Quite Nigella's blog. She's done an interesting twist on Mexican chocolate that sounds delightful.

What's your favorite chocolate?