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Sunday, June 25, 2017

When the Walls Come Tumbling Down!

If you are my Facebook friend then you no doubt know that I moved back to the city…an adorable brick row home in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia.  

I am so happy.

But, I’ve had my share of move-related hiccups with this house, including unknown knob and tube wiring in the entire front half of the house.  Regardless, I am working through the issues to make the house my own.

That could go on for years.

The one thing I absolutely, positively could not live with was the cattle-chute of a stair case, shrouded in seriously awful, 20-year old rugs.  In fact, the entire upstairs was covered in those rugs, so my girls, their beaus and I spent a weekend ripping them up.  

That was fun. 

Underneath was sub-flooring in pretty rough shape and refinishing was not an option so I installed a budget-friendly, engineered hardwood flooring in a beautiful, wide plank oak. It looks so much better! 

Back to the staircase.....here is a before photo.  

Not very inviting, right?  And, unfortunately, it was the first thing you saw as you walked in the front door.

Opening it up was not as easy as simply demolishing the wall and installing a newel post, railing and some spindles.  First, there was the knob and tube that had to be replaced along with relocating the thermostat and various switches.  Then, we had to install a header to reinforce some of the load even though most of the load spans from fire wall to fire wall.  Oh, and let’s not forget the glued-down flooring at the base of the stairs.  Thankfully, there was only a 12” square section to rip up and replace.

Once my contractor identified and planned for the foibles, the wall came tumbling down! Even in the state you see, the difference was immediately, 100% better, entirely transforming the first floor….more light, open and airy.  




I chose simple staircase accouterments because the 100 year-old post and railing at the top of the stairs are a bit fancy and not easily or affordably replicated.   I decided to paint the newel cap, railing and the runs, black and the post, spindles and risers white, totally pilfering an idea from Pinterest!

In retrospect, and another idea I saw on Pinterest, I could have installed a bunch of mismatched posts, but that’s the quirky me talking.  The sensible me knows that others would think that was crazy.


The old thermostat was not worthy of my fancy-schmancy new wiring so the electrician installed a Nest system.  This system is awesome and allows the homeowner to control heating and cooling from their cell phone…how cool!  Also, the devil is in the details so I installed a custom switch plate purchased from etsy.com and lovely yellow and gray wallpaper from Cary Lind Design on the stair wall gives the room a subtle but charming pop of color.  



I am so happy with the results. It's all coming together, slowly but surely! 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pumpkin Oat Dog Biscuits


So, my little Faye was pretty sick recently.  As uncomfortable as it must have been for her to wait for me to get up each morning so she could "go" outside, she did, sitting patiently by the door. She is such a good dog.

The problem is basically her ultra sensitive system - common in Bostons - acting up whenever something slightly unusual is introduced.  The vet suggested an all natural food regime so we can finally try to hone in on what triggers her discomfort and itchiness.  

Wanting to help her as much as possible, I decided to make all-natural dog biscuits. Researching the subject, I found that pumpkin is good for for diarrhea.  

Natural pumpkin (not filling) is loaded with fiber and beta-carotene, which her little body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A, in doggie appropriate amounts, promotes healthy skin and coat and supports liver, lung, and kidney health for dogs.  Wonderful!  Maybe she will get some relief from the itching too!

I searched "pumpkin dog biscuits" and found this little jewel of a recipe and after two days of not eating, Faye gobbled her first homemade treat right up!  And who could blame her... just look at the cross section of oat and pumpkin goodness!  Hell, I wanted one with a cup of tea!
I'm relieved and happy to say Faye is feeling better!  She is back to good digestive health and the itching seems to have subsided.

Now time to break the table-begging habit.  

Pumpkin Oat Dog Biscuits
Modified recipe found at bakeatmidnight.com

INGREDIENTS

3 cups whole wheat flour (or whole-grain flour of choice)
1 cup whole oats (not quick oats!)
1½ cups pumpkin puree 
A nice squeeze of honey (I didn't measure)
1/4 cup of natural, unsweetened apple sauce
2-4 tablespoons water

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 1 or 2 baking sheets (depends on size of biscuit cut) with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients, except water. Add only enough water to make a workable and rollable dough. Roll out to ⅛-1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes - I made traditional biscuits!  Bake for 30-35 minutes. Turn off oven and let biscuits sit in oven until oven is completely cool. This is an important step because it helps to dehydrate the biscuits for better storage.  Also, your dog will have that oh-so-satisfying chomp...kind of like a hard cookie vs. a soft cookie. 

This recipe makes about 3 dozen “medium” (about 3-inch long) dog biscuits.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Pistachio Muffins

I worked in Delaware for 15 years and, as you may remember reading, I started working in Center City Philadelphia again last year.

I couldn’t be happier.  

Except for one thing.

When I worked in Delaware, I could walk to a place that had the best (BEST) pistachio muffins. So every so often, I would take a stroll and buy a few to satisfy my inevitable craving.  Despite the  plethora of bakeries and eateries in Center City, I have not been able to find pistachio muffins.  

Giant, bless their hearts, carries them every now and then.  More then than now.

So, considering this distance and dearth dilemma, the only thing a girl could do is to bake her own. 

So I did.

Pistachio Muffins
Adapted from a few recipes

1 box of instant pistachio pudding (3.4 ounce package)
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup wheat flour
¾ cups granulated sugar
½ cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Dash of sea salt
1/4 cup pistachios, ground pretty finely
2 eggs
1 cup of milk
½ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and add liners to the muffin pan. In a large mixing bowl mix all dry ingredients – pudding, flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and most of the ground pistachios (save a little for topping).  In a separate bowl mix wet ingredients, medium mix eggs, almond extract, milk, oil and lemon zest.  Combine wet and dry ingredients and hand mix until incorporated. Sprinkle on the reserved ground pistachios and some coarse sugar, which adds a nice, subtly sweet crunch.

Fill muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick done.


These muffins are so good.  The ground pistachios add a little munch, the zest brightens things up, and the almond extract contributes a natural nutty note.  Bonus, they freeze beautifully!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Grilled Tuna with Nectarine Red-Onion Relish

It’s grilling season.

Although for some, especially those with easy-to-fire-up gas grills, grilling never stops and continues through all seasons.

I grill on a Weber charcoal number and I prepare the charcoal in one of those chimney things.  I’ve had a few gas grills but, we don’t get along.  I singed my hair once standing too close investigating why the goofy thing would not fire up.  

It eventually did, as my hair discovered.  

I don’t have much luck with lawn mowers or weed-wackers either.  I've resorted to a manual push mower and a crew of very nice people with heavy equipment.

Younger daughter did fix my weed-wacker, so beware.

These disclosures bring me to the point of this story.  We had dinner at M.'s house this past week and she made grilled tuna. Grilled tuna itself is a treat but top it with a fruity relish and, my friends, you have a genuine taste-bud dance party! Serving fresh fruits with meat not only makes for a pretty presentation but the bright notes of the fruit accentuate and complement the smokiness of grilled meats and fish.  I suspect you could use this combination of ingredients with any seasonal fruit you have on hand.  Substitute cilantro for the basil and add some jalapeƱo for a more spicy and savory relish.

Nectarine Red-Onion Relish
From:  The Thrill of the Grill

Ingredients
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
6 ripe but firm rectories or peaches, peeled and cut into 8 slices each
1 medium red onion (for the color as much as the flavor) sliced into long, thin pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice (one lime)
1/4 cup olive oil
Sand and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Directions
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.  The larger bowl allows you to toss the ingredients together nicely without sending some precious bits over the sides.  Chill until ready to serve.  This is a slightly runny relish and will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Pea Sauce

Before I write about our latest Dinner Club gathering, I have to say I skipped a week.  Oh, I was present alright but I forgot to take a photo of the absolutely delicious Butternut Squash Lasagna that C.’s daughter’s made.    

C.’s daughter, a farmer who grows the most wonderful vegetables and herbs, has been cooking at Pendle Hill, a local Quaker Retreat House, honing her farm-to-table brilliance.  Anyway, for reasons I can’t fully recollect, I forgot to take a photo as we sat down for dinner, which is so not like me because I am usually annoying everyone, delaying dinner, attempting to get the best shot in the best light.  However, we did have a guest that evening, a wonderfully talented creator of magical things who stayed with C. while she built spectacular Rammed Earth Walls as part of the Central Park Swarthmore project.  

Maybe the talk of the gorgeous walls and the fascinating construction process threw me off. 

Maybe it was this damn rain because it has rained the entire month of May, except for maybe two days, Mother's Day being one of them and I took advantage of the sunshine to sand a badly damaged farmhouse table.

I am not exaggerating.

So, the week after the photo fail, it was my turn to cook and to lift our dreary and drenched spirits, I decided to make the ultimate comfort food, pasta. Apparently, I was not the only one because when A. arrived and asked what we were having she said she was hoping for pasta. That’s the wonderful thing about Dinner Club…we wait all week to have a delicious meal prepared for us and we really do anticipate whatever delight is served.  

It’s a lovely thing we have going.

I made Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Pea Sauce from eatingwell.com, a site packed with recipes, menu plans, wine and spirits guides, cooking tips and techniques, nutrition news and much, much more. I made this recipe several times and it’s always a big hit.  

This recipes calls for prosciutto and I mistakenly got it sliced.  Just ask for 2 ounces of prosciutto at the deli counter and dice it up, it will hold up much better.  Bacon will work well too but the Italian stuff is much fancier.  Also, I’ve made this recipe with different kinds of mushrooms and all work well but the chanterelles and creminis give the dish an earthy and deep flavor.  I like this recipe a little creamier so I added a bit more cream.  Oh, and don’t be tempted to use Half & Half instead of heavy cream….you’ll be disappointed because there is something so satisfying, velvety and luscious when proper cream mingles with white wine.

This recipe is quick, delicious and a little fancy.  Perfect topped with some Parmesan cheese and served with a crisp Pinot Grigio or Rose.

Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Pea Sauce
From EatingWell:  May/June 2007

Ingredients
8 ounces whole-wheat pasta, such as fusilli or rotini
3 cups shelled English peas, (4 1/2 pounds unshelled) or frozen peas
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces sliced prosciutto, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups quartered cremini, or sliced chanterelle mushrooms (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
Lots of freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and peas; cook until the pasta is tender and the peas are cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook prosciutto, stirring, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they release their juices and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the mushrooms; stir to coat. Add wine and let simmer for 1 minute. Add broth, return to a simmer and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in cream and pepper.


Drain the peas and pasta; return to the pan, add the mushroom sauce and toss to coat.