Sunday, July 1, 2018

Living with Lavender

There's an insidious resident in our house which seems to dwell in our drawers and linen closets.  It's not an unwelcomed guest.  In fact, it was invited into our home with open heart, or at least, open nostrils.

Lavender is that scent that makes me feel good, and  allows me to breathe freely.  It's not the only scent that I love, mind you, but this one reminds me of my paternal grandmother's armoire, from which lavender scent wafted, and where she kept a tin of cookies for her grandchildren hidden away so she could dole out the treats in secret.

It was during Spring cleaning this year, when I noticed for the first time the degree to which our house guest had made itself at home.  Well, it might be easier to show you . . .

Lavender is known for its ability to induce sleep and improve its quality.  I thought this would be a nice addition to the Guest Room for our guests who find themselves away from the comforts of their usual surroundings.  The cover is made of a really soft velour and it feels wonderful on the skin.

Have you tried ECOS laundry detergent yet?  It's earth-friendly and cleans beautifully.  There are other fragrances available, and even one without any fragrance at all, but naturally, I was drawn to the lavender scent.

There's lavender-scented soap and lotion in the Powder Room, although this changes throughout the year.  However, it seemed like a perfect scent for Spring - and Williams-Sonoma was having a sale.

Our drawers are full of sachets!  The ones above are a collection of the heart-shaped pink and red ones that I've accumulated over the years.  I wrote about them here.  But there are more . . .

Well, see for yourself . . . I've purchased the sachets here and there, as much for the looks as the scent.  These sweet sachets are proof that little luxuries don't have to cost a fortune.

Just keep an eye out and you'll spot them where you least expect them.  The poupettes (little chicks) are adorable, aren't they?  They make me smile.

Lavender candles have also found a way into the linen closet.  The Dyptique candle is exquisite.  I'm saving it for a special occasion.  The other one is HomeGoods swag.  It smells wonderful.  It's nice having a little candle inventory.

How does the saying go, “In for a penny, in for a pound?”  Why not try lavender tea?  I fixed myself a pretty tea tray using the Nantucket teapot and teacup.  The basketweave pattern puts me in mind of a country setting with buzzing bees and lavender growing wild.

Bees love lavender in bloom, and they make a delicious honey by pollinating the lavender flowers.  It seemed right to bring them out to hover over the lavender-embroidered napkins.

The napkins were an Etsy find and I adore them!  They're begging for a tea party . . .

So I baked a new tea bread:  Downton Abbey Lavender Tea Bread.  Yes, I'm still pining for Downton . . .

It wasn't bad, but I've decided I prefer my lavender as a scent throughout the house, rather than in my food.  I couldn't separate the taste from the scent in my linen closet.  Here is the recipe, if you'd like to try it.  It was . . . unusual.

There are many other scents that I love, like the smell of fresh oranges . . . cinnamon in the kitchen . . . . a fragrant Christmas tree.  We'll talk more about those another day.

What about you?  What scents run through your house?  Do you like lavender?  Do you do Spring cleaning?  Are you pining for Downton Abbey?  Tell me anything at all.  I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Raven: A Non-Fiction Story

Once upon a time, there was a lady that owned a Toyota RAV4, which she named the Raven, that was getting a little long in the tooth - the car, of course, the lady was in her prime.  So, right after Christmas, she took it to the dealer for some thorough maintenance, and spent a bit of money bringing it up to scratch.  The Raven got new tires, new breaks, and a new water pump.  Fluids were replaced, rather like a shot of cortisone on a pair of aging knees.  The car was purring by the time it left the garage.  The lady was very happy.

Then, in early January, the Raven was rear-ended by a young couple, who sober and insured, make it very difficult for the lady to work up a real mad at the accident.  She was frustrated and inconvenienced, but since the couple's insurance paid for the damage, and the car was repaired quickly, the lady was happy once more.

Alas! This saga quickly turned out to be as long as Odysseus' return to Penelope.  That odious little light on the dashboard went on again a few days later!  Oh, that light!  The lady cannot abide that light!  And the timing!  What, with the event that this lady was in the middle of organizing for work, which was already causing so much added stress!  So, off to the dealer she went again and threw herself (and her wallet) at the mechanic's feet, who took mercy on her and only charged her half an arm (she got to keep both legs).

And the lady was happy . . . for exactly 20 minutes.  That's when she discovered that the button for the rear hatch wasn't working.  The button would unlock the hatch, but wouldn't raise it.

Now here was a conundrum:  To whom should she take the car?  Should she take it to the center that repaired the car after the collision, or should she take it to the dealer that she'd left not twenty minutes earlier?  Why, oh, why was she having to deal with these loathsome car problems, she asked no one in particular?  She took good care of her car!  She also didn't have time for this, especially IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER! (This lady does not function well in the middle of winter).

And this is when her very own epic hero, her husband, Lee, whose mother held him by the toes at birth and dipped him in Lake Michigan, giving him everlasting technical abilities, but causing his feet to grow very long, came to the rescue.  Without any prompting whatsoever, when he saw his lady in distress, did what any modern hero would do:  He consulted the Google Oracle.  It turns out that the car has a button, heretofore unbeknownst to anyone who has not read the Owner's Manual, hidden in the glove compartment that had somehow been pressed, deactivating the hatch feature.  That is one piece of literature that the lady had failed to read.

Fearlessly, disregarding all personal safety, our hero pressed the button wit his own bare finger.  He then sauntered back in from the garage with a John Wayne swagger, wearing his most endearing smile.  The lady had no choice but to succumb to his charms.  She gave him a kiss, and looked at him with eyes that promised Galician White Bean Soup, made from scratch.

As for the Raven, at 87,000 he continues to plod along, rather like Rocinante, Don Quixote's faithful steed.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

One of my favorite St. Patrick's Day dinners, which took place in 2016, and I never posted the table!

I love this flower combination for St. Patrick's Day:  Bells of Ireland, Daisies, Carnations, and Chrysanthemums.

I found these cabbage rose napkin rings and the brown gingham napkins at Pier 1.  Those napkin rings make me think of vegetable gardens, like Mr. McGregor's, of Peter Rabbit fame, which then, lead me to ponder that they might work beautifully in a Spring or Easter table!  I can already tell I will be enjoying these rings for many years to come, in a variety of settings.

All set for a corned beef and cabbage dinner - a traditional American way to celebrate St. Patrick's!  What do you cook for St. Patrick's Day?

"If you lived on cabbage, you would not be obliged to flatter the powerful."  To which the courtier replied, "If you flattered the powerful, you would not be obliged to live upon cabbage."  
Diogenes, ancient Greek philosopher's advise to a young courtier

(But I do like cabbage!)

The perfect excuse to indulge in some Kerrygold Irish butter.  Everyone gets their own butter dish, to go with the Irish Soda Bread!  I'm so glad that sanity has returned and butter is once again back on our tables!

And here is the happy bunch, a gathering of English, German, Italian, Mexican and Cuban ancestry, to celebrate St. Pat's!  Erin go Bragh!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Patriotic Picnic: Cantigny Park

We recently discovered Cantigny Park, practically in our own backyard!  Where, oh where, have we been all these years!  It's located in Wheaton, Illinois and approximately 20 minutes from our house. 

Cantigny Park was the former home of Robert McCormick, who owned and ran the Chicago Tribune and made it into a formidable publication in the early part of the 20th century.  His biography is rather interesting and worthy of a read.  Upon his death in 1955 he bequeathed his estate to the McCormick Charitable Trust, now the McCormick Foundation, and at his request, the estate was opened to the public.

What a legacy!  The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful.

Filled with flowers, plants and trees of all sorts, the paths invite the visitor to walk and wander through its many gardens . . .

. . . and stop to admire the pools and statues that dot the landscape.

The marvelous Rose Garden contains more than 1,000 rose bushes, representing many, many varieties and classifications.  I could spend hours in this garden alone.  Now that we know this place is here, I must come back next year when the roses are at their peak.

Image result for chicago peace rose

This is the Chicago Peace Rose, described as a "glowing pink rose with a butter yellow heart."  This variety was hybridized in these very gardens.

Robert McCormick's second wife was very fond of oriental art, and brought back many curiosities from their many trips to Asia, especially China.  A pair of Foo Dog statues (also known as Imperial Guardian Lions) flank the front of the house.

The 500-acre property was originally called Red Oaks, but McCormick renamed it Cantigny, after the battle in France in which he saw action with the Army's 1st Battalion.

He also endowed the First Division Museum on the same premises, but it's currently closed for remodeling.  It contains all kinds of tanks from WWI, and from other wars that followed it.  It's now become a military museum.

Once the museum reopens, we'll have to go back.  Alas!  What sacrifice!

After wandering around all morning, and visiting his former home (no pictures allowed, unfortunately), it was time for lunch in one of their picnic groves.

And because military history enveloped us everywhere, it seemed logical to bring out the red, white and blue.

I prepared an easy and delicious picnic that could stay in the car for a few hours while we wandered around the park:  Sandwiches made with Egg and Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade on French Baguette. To drink we had lemonade.  We had also tucked a bottle of Sancerre in the picnic basket but it was so hot that we craved the lemonade above all else and never got around to opening the wine.

The sandwiches were messy and drippy, but utterly delicious.  The recipe was simplicity itself:  I sliced hard-boiled eggs, and added some Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade from a jar (that you should always keep in your pantry for emergencies, sometimes it's called Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta).  A dash of salt and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes enhanced the flavor, but were not really needed, so feel free to skip these, if you'd rather.

The sandwich was hard to photograph because it wanted to fall apart; I need to work on my sandwich building skills.  My husband, reluctantly held out what was left of his so I could snap a photo.  I should've made a couple more!

Then, for dessert, we had freshly cubed peaches marinated in Grand Marnier, and served with Madeleines to help soak up the boozy juice.  Light and so perfectly suited for the season!  The peaches have been marvelous this year here in the Midwest!

I love museum gift shops.  They always carry such intriguing merchandise!  And books, of course, wonderful books.  I found this small collection of poems from World War I, the most famous of which is "In Flanders' Fields."  It is very poignant and reminds us of how truly tragic war can be.  

I wish I had been able to find red poppies instead of red carnations, to honor our fallen soldiers.  After WW I, poppies have been adopted as a symbol of remembrance.  But my local florists didn't have any.  It would have required a special order.  Why don't I ever see poppies at the florist or grocery store?  Note to self:  Plant some poppies in the garden this fall. 

This afternoon, I was once again reminded to be grateful for our country, with all its flaws.  And to live in the moment, and have many, many picnics!

This adorable dragonfly that I also found at the gift shop says it best:  Enjoy today!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Getting back on the horse: Blogging again.

But the horse never bucked me!  The problem is life.  A demanding job.  A longer commute. Facebook.  Too many things happening!  I've missed blogging dreadfully, and I have so much to share that I'm making a promise to myself not to be gone so long in the future.

Since food is fun, comforting, and emotionally easy to address, I'll start with that:

Here was last night's dinner - Chicken Tortilla Soup.  It was truly delicious.  I followed The Pioneer Woman's recipe, more or less.  I've been turning up the heat in my kitchen a bit more for the last couple of years after reading of all the many health benefits chili peppers offer.  I know, I'm late to the party.  In addition to Vitamin C, carotenoids, and antioxidants, they are great to help regulate insulin in the body, and even helps break up gallstones!

Can you tell I'm getting older?  Now food not only has to taste delicious, but it has to have some redeeming healthy quality, if only to justify it to myself.  My heat tolerance is still low, compared to that of most of my friends, but it's definitely improving.  If you attempt to make this recipe, take it nice and slow with the hot spices, until you find the level of heat with which you are comfortable - and be sure to have some sour cream on hand to cool things down in a hurry!

Our interest in Mexican food was rekindled recently during a visit to Rick Bayless' "Topolobampo" restaurant here in Chicago.  We waited for our table next door at "Frontera Grill" sipping sangría (we are not into margaritas), admiring the dragon . . . 

. . . and enjoying the most unusual, but delicious Chef's Choice Guacamole, made with mashed avocado, infused with morita chile, grilled onions, oregano, chorizo and queso fresco.  It was fabulous!

And that was only the beginning because the 5-course meal that followed at Topolo's (as the name is frequently shortened) was inspired.  The courses were described elaborately and presented with flare, but when it came down to it, the food was of the utmost freshness and simplicity.  It took us three and a half hours to finish the meal.  I felt like I was in Europe, in one of those delightful suppers that never seem to end, and in which the conversation flows like good wine.  If you have the opportunity to visit one of Rick Bayless' restaurants, don't miss it!  It's definitely worth it!

Martha Stewart posted the beautiful picture above of  her Leftover Salade Niçoise, and it spoke to me because it reminded me a bit of my grandmother's salad  - Carmela's Salad, of which I have previously written.  I felt like Martha was challenging me to take it up a few notches, so, of course, I had to try making it . . .

. . . even down to making up a batch of my own Roasted Red Peppers.

Voilà!  I omitted the anchovies, because neither my husband nor I will eat them (although I don't mind them in a Caesar Salad Dressing, where their fuzzy texture is obliterated by the blender, another day, perhaps). Everything was Martha-worthy - organic, locally grown, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, pesticide-free, and wild-caught.  We feasted on it for two days.  Challenge met, Martha!

North Carolina Pulled Pork was another new entrée to feature at our table in a recent weekend dinner.  I convinced myself that because it was dressed with apple cider vinegar and honey, it had to be healthy. The pork came out very tender, but we decided we really missed the barbecue sauce, so I'm not sure if I'll be making this one again.

My attempts at healthier eating aren't always successful, but sometimes they are.  Dr. Hyman's Green Breakfast Smoothie, which he touts as probably "the healthiest smoothie in the whole world" has been part of my breakfast for the last few months, and I'm enjoying it! It is actually very tasty, and easy to make with the help of a good Vitamix blender, and my wonderful husband, who prepares the veggies for me.

Since our recent trip to Hawai’i we've welcomed papayas back into our lives.  I don't know why we've ignored this delicious fruit in the past.  My mother was very fond of it.  In Cuba it is generally known as "Fruta Bomba" - Bomb Fruit.  In Havana, especially, the sophisticated town mice would never utter the name "papaya" which in Cuban slang represents the female genitalia.  This article will help explain this Cuban idiosyncrasy.  I guess it's better that it look like a bomb than a part of the female anatomy.  We humans are so sexually repressed!  Ha!  In any case, they've been exceptionally good this year, and we have indulged.  Go buy a papaya before the season runs out!

Ah!  Food!  We can't avoid dealing with it daily.  And what joy it brings when we do it right!

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” —Virginia Woolf

I'm back!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcoming January

What better way is there to welcome January than with a riot of mini carnations, the January birth flower - my birth flower, in garnet (birthstone) red?

In the language of flowers dark red carnations signify deep love and affection.  I dedicate them to you, my friends and fellow bloggers, with sincerest regard.

May the new year bring you love.  In the end, isn't that all that matters?