Thursday, March 31, 2011

Signs of Spring?

I'm not sure. Some days it feels as though spring is here, others like it's just around the corner and more often, as though it will never arrive.

Signs of spring, though, are arriving in my world...


The return of the blackbirds.

Weather suitable (if chilled) for long walks in a nature spot.

A pussy willow tree...

...bursting into bloom!

Hydrangeas at the market.

Cheery outdoor displays at local shops.

Happy signs...

...and lovely wreaths!

And this -- a rainbow or a sundog?

(It was early morning, very sunny. This was shot in the car as I was driving -- about three blocks later it began to rain. I think it's a rainbow.)

Kicking and screaming, we will drag spring into Michigan, whether it likes it or not!

Don't forget t0 enter my contest at right HERE. It goes until April 1 and prizes are involved! And, if you're up for a look at Nicola Upson's second Josephine Tey mystery, visit Chopsticks and String.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Because at the moment I feel totally silly and bereft of deep thought, I decided we'd play a little game.

And yes -- there is a prize! To be determined, but something fun!

I love blog comment verification words. Well, no -- let me rephrase that. I hate typing them in, but I am always amused by some of them. So I started a collection. And for some, I started making up definitions.

For example "Booprep." This is now what I call all the tedious elements of getting a project going. Gluing on backgrounds, for example. Gessoing a canvas -- plain white, nothing creative. Just booprep.

The contest is my own blogger version of the Dictionary game! Below are some of my favorite words I've picked up over the past three months of visiting your blogs.

Come up with a definition of a word in a comment! If you want, use it in a sentence! One entry per comment, but you can come back and pick another word to increase your chances to win!

This contest will close on March 31. On April 1 (since this is a "foolish" contest), I will pick a winner from all entries.
























Have fun! Can't wait to see what you come up with!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cooking by the Book(s) - March

For those who have followed my cooking challenge to myself this year (which is to cook at least one thing a month that I've never done before from one of my cookbooks), well -- I'm finally posting my March effort!

This Sunday's dinner included Chicken Dijon from the book "Bach for More." This was published decades ago as a fundraiser for the Cleveland Orchestra. It was a gift to either my mom or to me (probably mom) from her sister, Grace.

It's very easy -- make a mixture of 1/4 c. Dijon, 2 T. minced onion, 1/4 t. tarragon, 1/8 t. hot sauce and 1 T (of 5T melted butter). Dip four skinless chicken breasts into this and then into bread crumbs (I used panko crumbs; I think they're better). Put in a baking dish and bake at 375 for 45 minutes to one hour.

I accompanied it with rice and spinach/mushrooms/pearl onions (cook down the mushrooms and pearl onions, then add a package of baby spinach leaves, cover and allow to wilt down. Add parmesan cheese and slivered almonds to serve).

I don't think I seasoned the spinach as well as I did last week, but it was good. I gave the chicken a "B" -- that might be my fault; I didn't taste the dijon as well as I would have expected, and it could have used a little more seasoning.

Rick liked it, and said to have it again, so I guess that says something!

It's early in the month, so I'll probably try another later this month. March is a good month for cooking!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Getting Creative

Don't let that smile fool you. I've needed a good dose of creativity lately to handle more than a little stress at work and elsewhere.

Fortunately, my friend Dusty has been organizing creative workshops here. This week the topic was making fabric flowers.

I loved doing this -- it was simple and no sewing was involved. Here's a pin I did with three felt flowers glued together. (Gotta love the hot glue gun.) In the two hour workshop, I did six flowers altogether. Never did master the larger flat roses or the fabric ones, but I was rather pleased with the bud-sized felt ones and will make some more!

Last weekend I finished a sample of the collaged recipe book I'll be teaching next month.

This one has several dividers and I did it as simply as possible so that it would be doable and easy to explain in a two hour session to people who may (or may not) have done collage.

These dividers were made with 4x6 recipe cards. That way they are the same size or a little larger than most of the standard cards one would put in them.

After I finished, I punched holes in some of my older recipes. I was rather pleased with the diner-floor background, images from Vintage Workshop and using red grosgrain ribbon adhered by running it through the Xyron stickermaker. I kept the theme of black and red but added to the vintage style with black buttons.

I'll offer participants the opportunity to make either the recipe-card size or the tag book size, which I've shown here before.

Really looking forward to it! Wonder what next weekend's project will be?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Springtime -- Clutching at Straws -- or Tulips

I'm writing this post on a cold, gloomy day. They threaten it will be warm, but it wasn't when I went to the gym and it's not any warmer now. Or brighter. Maybe it will be by the day this post actually hits. But right now, we are talking gray. Seriously gray.

So, I bring spring inside and play with the tulip photos I took a few days ago (when we actually did that tease called sunshine).

To me, daffodils and crocuses herald the start of spring, but tulips -- and by this, I mean the tulips growing outside, not at Trader Joe's -- tulips herald the fact that spring is here to stay.
So, when I need a dose of hope, I trundle off to whatever store is closest and pick up a bunch.

Perhaps its their showy blooms...

...or their beautiful colors.

Perhaps it is the way they look deep inside.

Is it their striping?

The way they unfold?

Or is it simply by the time tulips start to appear in the stores, I am starved for their beauty?

I'm not sure about that, but I am pretty sure I'm not alone! Recent posts I've discovered from too many of you to name have featured this showy bloom in various incarnations. And really, didn't you feel good to have these flowers in your space? I know I did!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cork Poppers Take on South American Wines!

It's been awhile since I've had a good wine post -- but there is much in here to delight the wine fan.

Our Cork Poppers met on Sunday and the focus of our wine journey was South American wines, specifically those of Chile and Argentina. We were all filled with anticipation, knowing all the wines were between $5 and $25, which makes them rather affordable. (Well, most of us were filled with anticipation -- not sure about Taxi!)

We started off with Lapostolle, Cuvee Alexandre, Chardonnay 2008. This Chilean vineyard is owned by a woman -- we found that over 40 percent of the winemakers in CHile are women -- from more than 100 wineries.

This was a crisp, unoaked chardonnay. Speaking as one who is not fond of oaked whites, that was reason enough to be excited. But it was also just delicious. This vintner makes Grand Marnier, so that should have been a clue that it would be a little pricier ($23.79).

The taste was just delicious -- bright, a little fruity but not sweet, with a long finish. It was quite dry. Imagine it on a summer night, sipping this one on the beach! Mouthwatering!

Well, after that, where could you go but down!

We rarely have a wine when uniformly everyone says "Yuck." We didn't anticipate that the Las Acequias, Torrontes 2009, Mendoza Argentina would be anything less than fabulous after the fragrant floral smell. The aroma had rose and violet -- it really smelled like a garden in peak blooming season.

Well, the comments ranged from "It smells and tastes like soap" to "Love the way it smells but not how it tastes. At $12.59, Roger said it was "$7 too much" and determined it was bad value.

So, when you're at the bottom, where can you go but up? I must confess, I've never been a fan of Rose. It seems like American Roses are very sweet.

But the Crios de Susana Balbo Rose of Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina would have been wonderful even without a poor lead in. It is made with the skins of Malbec, pulling off the liquid part way through the fermentation process.

"I like it when they pull the juice early," said Barb. And I had to agree, liking it even better than the first white. It would be great on a hot sunny day. Someone called it "an extremely loveable wine and fun to be around." That's a good way to describe it.

The label on the bottle represents the woman winemaker and her two children. At $11.89 it was well worth it for me, with a taste that was quite good -- not at all sweet, dry, and fruity.

From there it was on to the reds. The first was Montes Macbec 2009 (Chile). "Look at the legs on this one!" exclaimed Clayton. Rick had to agree. "I would be happy with this wine forever," he said. "It's a fine wine."

Cheryl, not known for liking reds added, "Even I like it!"

As for me, if I could lick the inside of the glass I would. Dick says to decant this for 30 minutes before serving and it can last in the cellar for up to five years. With a nice long finish and wonderful plum and blackberry overtones, this wine got a "Woo hoo!" -- especially after learning it was only $10 per bottle. (And a lovely bottle it was, too.)

The Montes was from Chile and so was our next selection, Cono Sur Carmenere, 2008. This is another that was aged in stainless steel and as Dick said, a real tooth-stainer.

Of course, Rick thought this one had the best bottle!

I've had Cono Sur Pinot Noir and while it was fine, I'm not big on Pinot Noir (now Pinot Grigio is another matter altogether!).

But I liked this a good deal and found it much better than the Cono Sur Pinot. And at $8.79 I would certainly get it again.

Rick said he really "loves the feel of" our next wine, Colonia Las Liebred Boarda, 2008 (Mendoza, Argentina). The Bonarda grape was brought from the Piedmont region of Italy 80 years ago. It's very dark with lots of tanins.

"Put it away and don't touch it and it will mellow well," Dick told us. It had lots of tanins and a cellaring potential of five to seven years.

It was Rick's favorite and one of mine, too. (And my favorite label -- but I can't resist a bunny!) Certainly the price brought another enthusiastic "Woo Hoo!" -- It was only $9.

Finally we had another Crios wine, Crios de Susana Balboa Syrah-Bonarda 1007, again from Mendoze, Argentina. It had a wonderful fragrance and a long finish.

Of the reds, this was my favorite, but the price -- $15.39 -- makes it less a house-wine and more of a special one.

Of course, there is no Cork Popper gathering where food is not a key part.

Cheryl had the theme in place from the moment she sent the invitations right down to the place cards...

But the food covered various cultures! Our wine guide and host Dick served up a delicious pork. It was accompanied by a roasted squash dish by Meredith and my potato dish, along with another one of Barb's remarkable "compost heaps" (as Mike calls her salads!).

We also enjoyed several nice table wines, again from South America.

This time we were celebrating Clayton's 60th birthday and Pat's (but a lady never tells!)
Lots of wishes and wonderful banana cake!

I also shared a wonderful bottle of Ice Wine from Canada that Suzanne had given me for Christmas.

The wine was wonderful with dessert and the bottle unbelievably beautiful and hand-painted.

And after -- well, Taxi says it all...

Here's my potato recipe -- it's easy, a crowd pleaser and can be prepared ahead of time and reheated for serving.

Party Potatoes

2 bags shredded hash browns
8 oz sour cream
8 oz sharp shredded Cheddar cheese
1 can cheese soup (I used Campbells' cheddar)
1 stick melted butter
salt / pepper

Mix this all together. Top with crushed potato chips. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

I used low-fat sour cream, reduced fat cheese and baked potato chilps to help cut the fat. Couldn't do much about the butter. No one seemed to complain!

Bon appetit!

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