Easy Salmon Pinwheels

Remember office parties? It seems as if they are a relic from the past, but we had one this past weekend. I have been working on a recipe idea and I used this occasion to try them out. .

The office party is obviously quite different from having your friends over. It sits in that gray area between formality and familiarity. Our crowd this weekend was friendly and outgoing so that made it fun.

Smoked salmon served with capers and red onion, a little creme fraiche is one of my favorite appetizers. However, it can be messy to keep all of the ingredients contained so they don’t end up on your clothes or the floor. The answer? Put those ingredients in a tortilla! So I did and you can find the recipe here.

I usually offer vegetables and dip at a cocktail party. My go-to dip is curry dip which has so much flavor. I took this picture before adding the curry dip to the bowl.

At a party I hosted a few years ago, I found out by accident that water is something your guests will greatly appreciate. At that time I served water and lemonade in crocks because I was hosting our extended family with a lot of teenagers and I wanted to give them choices besides sodas. But the water crock was what I kept refilling. Every since I have put one of these containers out at parties and people always drink it up. I encourage everyone to make it easy for your guests to get some water.

Last week was a busy one. A party really gets me motivated to tackle and finish projects around the house. I put up a towel hook in the bathroom, washed my dining room chair slipcovers, planted pansies in the yard, cleared out a bunch of clutter from all over the house, and cleaned. Whew! It felt good.

Do parties get you motivated to take care of all those little chores you have been putting off?

Compost Saves

One of my resolutions this year is to be a better citizen of the planet. For me that means to use as little plastic as possible and to re-use and recycle whenever I can. My ultimate goal is to radically reduce the amount of trash we add to the landfill.

One of the primary ways I reduce trash output is to compost. For those who are not familiar with compost, it is a method of recycling food waste, such as peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, along with yard wastes and other matter. These materials decompose into a rich and nutritious soil conditioner for your plants. And I continually learn of items that can be added to the compost pile, further reducing my trash.

Another important reason to compost is that it helps the environment. Did you know that food waste in the landfill is one of the major causes of the methane gases that are contributors to climate change? By recycling our food waste we can help reduce those emissions at the same time we create rich fertilizer for our shrubs and plants. Talk about a win-win.

So, how do we do it? In our case, we set aside a corner of our side yard for this purpose. This corner already had two sides from our fence, and Mr. Bee was able to fashion two other sides out of fencing and a large piece of slate we inherited. Compost bins are available from garden websites as well. We started composting by throwing in yard clippings and kitchen scraps in this pile. I have added some links below this post for a more detailed method to compost.

For the compost to break down in a timely manner you need both green matter (like kitchen and yard waste) and brown matter.

Brown matter can be manure – which you can buy. But also paper is a good source of brown matter, and specifically shredded paper will break down very nicely. I love dumping out my shredder in the compost pile. And so you “layer” your kitchen waste and your paper. I admit that we do not carefully layer our materials. We dump and stir. I probably take out the vegetable matter every day but do not dump in the paper for months. But it works! We end up with a rich black soil for our gardens.

The first time I lifted up a shovel full of compost, I was dumbfounded that this rich soil came from my kitchen scraps! It almost seems like magic. As you handle the soil and feel its rich texture it is obvious this will be good for your garden. The difference in your flowers and vegetables will be recognizable and will multiply each year.

I recently bought this copper canister at TJ Maxx to hold my scraps until I am ready to take them out. No one would ever know that behind that sleek and shiny exterior rot is running riot. But it’s a good idea to take it out daily. Sometimes I use a plastic produce bag to line the container to make the clean up a little easier.

Recycling your food scraps into compost is such an easy way to create food for your plants, reduce methane gas emissions in the landfill and reduce the volume of trash as well. I hope I’ve encouraged you to give it a try!

To learn more about composting you may want to refer to these sites:

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/100-things-you-can-compost

De-cluttering

De-cluttering

How’s your New Year’s resolution to de-clutter your house going? I have actually tackled some closets and had a few thoughts in the process, which I wanted to share with you.

Obviously de-cluttering or cleaning out has different connotations for various stages of life. When Mr. Bee was on active duty and we moved a lot (over 15 times) I was constantly getting rid of items we did not use. Even though I did not have to pack our stuff, I had to unpack it and keep track of it, and that made me want to be as streamlined as possible. That attitude served me well then and has carried over into our non-moving life. So, yes to continual cleaning out. I always have a thrift bag in my closet that I constantly add to. This practice is good for disposing of unworn clothes, books or knick-knacks. As soon as I realize an item is not functional, into the bag it goes.

As we moved around and my children were growing up, I culled their toys and clothes with an eye toward the future. It may be because my mother-in-law saved everything and my mother saved nothing that I decided on a more intentional path. Before a move I would look at the toys and clothes and consider what should be passed down to my grandchildren? Honestly, the answer was very few clothes. What I did save was out of sentimentality rather than utility. I only saved one plastic tote of baby clothes and that was about right. Even of that, I only shared a few precious items with my children who are parents. I have a few classic toys and that has worked well for when my grandbabies visit. I saved almost all of their books which has been great.

I think we all find the most difficult items to purge are those that have sentimental value. The military culture is marked by pride and recognition in achievements, awards for exceptional service, plaques on every departure, just. endless.recognition. Of course Tom is proud of his service and we are so proud of him. He served 31 years as a Marine officer and every bit of the memorabilia is special to him. I am working on him to cull and pick the MOST special of the special. That’s going to be a process. He’s a sentimental guy and I love that about him.

And what about me? Trust me, I have my sentimental items too. My memorabilia involves crafts. I loved cross stitch, quilting, sewing. But what do you do with all of it? Hopefully I can talk my children into taking some of it. On top of that, I have crafts from relatives, such as unfinished quilts my grandmother made, samplers Tom’s mother made. They don’t fit my decor and so they are stored in closets and totes. Yet, I cannot toss it in the thrift store pile. Yet I am conscious that what I do not deal with now, my children will have to deal with later.

I observed our parents’ aging and how their ability and motivation to clean out dissipated the older they became and so it was left to the grown children to do. I would rather save my children from that if I can, recognizing that some clearing out is inevitable.

Perhaps the sequence is de-clutter, clean out, downsize as we progress through life. I know I need a certain amount of possessions around me to feel at home. Mr. Bee needs his memorabilia. I can see us continuing to pare down all of it on a continual basis. My goal is to have an empty attic, very spartan garage, almost empty closets. Will I get there? I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted.

Appetizers for Anytime

With the Superbowl coming up on Sunday, it seemed like a good time to talk about appetizers. I have a couple of favorites I make whenever I need to take a dish or when I’m the host.

I always make curry dip to go with some fresh vegetables. I know these days it’s customary to pick up a veggie tray at the grocery store. And yes, that is not a bad option. But the curry dip is easy to make and it’s different. When I serve this dip, the bowl is usually scraped clean by the end of the evening. Find the recipe here.

I also like to make deviled eggs. They are finger food, easy to pass around, and a good vegetarian option.

Another great dish is tortellini salad. You can make it more finger friendly by offering toothpicks to spear it with if you weren’t planning on needing utensils.

And then, there are always a few recipes that I would like to try, like this pigs in blankets by Martha Stewart. She uses puff pastry instead of the classic crescent rolls.

And I have been wanting to try this recipe for beer nuts by way of Smitten Kitchen.

The internet is full of appetizer and party recipes right now. It’s kind of fun looking at all the possibilities. I will abandon my goal of eating healthy for one evening and just enjoy myself. Then, on Monday morning, back on track.

Have fun!

Minestrone Soup

There’s something elemental about soup. The components are simple: vegetables, water, maybe some meat, possibly pasta or rice, some herbs or other seasonings. The ingredients are not costly, and it is fairly easy to make an ample amount of nourishing food for the family. It’s a meal that is better made early in the day so that it is ready when the family congregates. Soup appeals us today for all of these reasons. Not only does it nourish the body, but it warms and soothes the spirit as well.

As I have said before, having soup in the freezer is like saving for a rainy day. It’s there when you need it. I like to make it while listening to a podcast. Do you listen to the Bon Appetit podcast? It’s like having a very knowledgeable foodie friend.

This minestrone recipe is large, feeds about 10. When I make it, Mr. DB and I have it for dinner with some bread. Then I freeze the rest in small portions for lunch or dinner. It’s also a nice homemade lunch for my elderly mother-in-law or a friend who is feeling under the weather. And, it’s completely vegetarian too.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. It takes under an hour to make and yields so much in quantity. It’s well worth the effort. You can get the recipe here.

Grate a little (or a lot) of parmesan cheese on top for added creaminess and richness.

Let me know what you think!

Best Chicken Noodle Soup

Best Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken noodle soup is one of those meals that brings me back to my childhood. Yes, I was usually a little sick when it was served to me, but not too sick, perhaps on the mend from tonsillitis, something I seemed to get often. My mother heated it up from a can and I still recall the relief of the warm broth sliding down my sore throat. The simplicity of it must have been what appealed to me. As a picky eater I did not like a lot of different foods combined in one dish, such as casseroles or stews.

But chicken noodle soup was simple with mostly chicken in small cubes, broth and noodles. To my eight year old self nothing else was needed.

I still crave chicken noodle soup when I am a little under the weather. But the canned varieties don’t cut it anymore. At least I haven’t found one that I can finish. So I set out to make my own, and make enough that I can freeze and have some ready when I need it. Over the years I tried various recipes and by trial and error, came up with one that has so much flavor, in addition to being satisfying and restorative.

My broth is made from my turkey carcass from Thanksgiving. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I removed what meat was left on the bird. Then I placed the remains into a Dutch oven, filling it with water as high as I dared. I got the water boiling, then turned it down to a simmer and let it go for 30-45 minutes. Since the turkey had been thoroughly seasoned, including the breast cavity, I did not season the broth at all. I cooled the broth, put it in containers and froze it in quart size containers.

Turkey Broth

For the full recipe, click here.

I prefer to roast my own chicken breasts but you could certainly use a rotisserie chicken. I buy a package of two chicken breasts, with the bone in. Having the bone in increases the flavor immensely. Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, then add 2 cups of water to the pan, cover with aluminum foil and return to the oven. Turn the heat down to 325 and cook for another 1 1/2 hours. I remove the cooked breasts from the oven but let them cool in the covered pan for as long as possible. The chicken will be so tender when you let it cool in its juices. This may sound like a lot of effort but I do it while I am doing other things since the hands-on time is quite limited. I only used one of those chicken breasts in my chicken noodle soup recipe. I have another to make something else with or use in a salad. Chicken breasts are so huge nowadays.

This soup is so rich, yet simple you certainly don’t have to reserve it for sick days. It is also satisfying for those times after you have over indulged and you just want to return to a healthy routine.

The recipe makes 6 ample servings, enough to share some with a sick friend.

Enjoy!

Christmas Vignettes

I have noticed that if I wait until after Thanksgiving to decorate for Christmas I feel as if I am behind.  But if I start before Thanksgiving I feel that it is too early.  So I’m left with a 24 hour window the day after Thanksgiving (when I’m still doing dishes)that the timing feels right.  But first I have to look at all the blogs to get inspiration.  Oh well, I have managed to decorate a few areas since Thanksgiving and I thought I would share some of my vignettes.

I was outside clipping holly and doing a few other chores and this little scene just happened.

 

Today it is in the mid-50s here so it’s a good day to do some outside decorating.

 

These reindeer were brass when I found them at a thrift store.  I spray painted them silver but I would love them either way.  They are some of my favorite decorations to bring out.

 

Another of my vintage finds was this little caroling Santa.  I am sure he was part of a set but somehow he became separated.  I gave him a setting with the tree and snow (of kosher salt).

 

Something about these miniature trees is magical to me.  Every year I add a few more to my stash.

 

I’m still working on a few areas of the house.  But it’s starting to feel like Christmas around here.

Thanksgiving Preparations

As a military spouse I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners early on since we were often away from family for the holiday.  I love the idea of Friendsgiving – in fact military families may have invented the concept-because that is what our circumstances called us to do, create a feast with friends.  Those gatherings were pretty easy since everyone brought a dish or two and they were usually fairly casual, no fine china required.  But then the time came when we wanted to host a more traditional dinner when we were stationed near family or had family visiting us.

Even I, a relaxed kind of planner, knew I needed a real plan to pull off a big holiday event like Thanksgiving.  So every year I would write down my tasks on the days I would accomplish them.  I am a back planner.  I start with the event deadline and work backwards to see where I need to start.  This method has worked pretty well over the years.  This year I created a printable  which I am sharing with you.  Maybe it will give you some ideas or a jumping off point for your own planning.  Plans are kind of individual and personal I think, so look at it as a blueprint.

This printable will get you up to Thanksgiving Day.  Then you are on your own.  Again I back plan, starting with the time I plan for us to sit down at the table.  That time dictates when the turkey goes in the oven, the vegetables get cooked, etc.  It’s like a military operation. Ha!

I’ve added some links which might inspire you as you set up your holiday table.

Thanksgiving 2016

 Serving Pieces to look for at Thrift Stores,

What’s your planning process for Thanksgiving?  Are you methodical and steady, or do you blitzkrieg the day of?

 

Easy and Delicious Pumpkin Cake

There are so many pumpkin recipes all over the internet right now.  Do you really need another one?  Well, yes, actually, you do need this one.

I have been making this Pumpkin Cake for years, way before pumpkin spice was even a thing.  It’s so easy; I always have the ingredients on hand; and family and guests love it.  You can’t ask much more from a recipe than that.

I discovered the recipe over 20 years ago when I needed to make a cake to celebrate Mr. Bee’s homecoming from a deployment or birthday or another such occasion.  His favorite cake is Carrot Cake but I did not have the time to make one. I found this Pumpkin Cake recipe and decided it would be an acceptable substitute since it too had cream cheese frosting, just as the Carrot Cake does.    Hoping for the best I took the chance.

It turned out to be a winner and I haven’t made Carrot Cake for twenty years.  Being able to make it in a 9 x 12 cake pan stretches the servings too, which makes it a good option for potlucks or larger gatherings.

The canned pumpkin contributes to its moist texture.  As you can see I like my frosting a little on the gooey side so it can drip down the cake.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream sets off the flavors nicely.  We are a cake and ice cream family.  No one is scorned more than people who serve their cake without ice cream.

Since Mr. Bee’s birthday is in October, this cake is the official beginning of our holiday splurge.  Find the recipe here.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bachelor Apartment

A couple of months ago our son transitioned from living with roommates to living alone.  After searching for a few weeks, he found a small modified one bedroom apartment in a high rise.

Living with roommates, he did not own much furniture beyond a bed, a bookcase and an end table or two.  Luckily for him, his mother is a thrift store shopper and a wannabe interior decorator.  But first, I needed to know what he (my client) was picturing for the space.

 Below are some pictures of his new place on move in day.

The sofa had been in our family room for years.  We recently updated our basement family room and replaced the couch with a sectional.  I was glad to keep it in the family though.  It’s a Pottery Barn sleeper sofa and, still in pretty good shape.

A former balcony was enclosed to make another room, which he will use as a bedroom.

He was barely moved in when these bar stools popped up at my closest thrift store for $20 each.  I texted him to get his thumbs up on the purchase because I knew they would not last.

Here we are in process.

The two of us went on a shopping trip to our local Home Goods. We were hoping to find a rug and maybe a coffee table, some lamps.  There were several rugs that would work in here but we both liked this geometric blue-gray rug.  The table is just the right size for the space.  I enjoyed our shopping so much – we agreed on everything.  I was determined not to impose my aesthetic on him, but I loved what he chose.

But that slipcover is looking awfully old and faded.  It’s dragging the room down.

In the meanwhile we collaborated on the art and pictures.  I found some prints on Etsy and sent them to him to decide which he liked.   After downloading my purchases I went to Fedex Office for the print.  Then, son and I framed the print together using an Ikea frame.  The other photos are from pictures I took on previous beach vacations and framed using thrift store frames.   The large print was purchased from this shop on Etsy.   We were both glad to have an inexpensive project.

It was a shock to discover how expensive Pottery Barn slipcovers are!  The fabrics are beautiful and no doubt they are well made.  But you can buy a brand new sofa for what they cost.  I found this twill slipcover on Amazon for around $350.  That fit our budget.

It is not a perfect fit.  The sofa slipcover is quite snug.  The covers for the cushions are quite loose.  Later we might experiment by putting one of the cushion covers in the dryer to try and shrink it a little.  And yes, it’s white.   It’s what he wanted.

I kept in mind that this is a guy’s place.  He didn’t want a lot of knick-knacks around.

As you enter the apartment, this little niche is on your right.

The mirror is from Target – last one!  The table is from Home Goods.  Tray and vase are from Mom’s stash.

This cabinet used to be in our house and I used it as a bar too.  It’s a little narrow for this wall, but we are considering some options.

I think we will pause in our decorating for now.  He’s been here for three months.  As he goes forward he can notice how he uses the space and decide for himself what to add.  I do the same in my home.  I make a few changes and then live with it for awhile.

Of course I  loved being able to help.  I remember how daunting it was to set up my first place.  If only there had been blogs back then.