Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Say To Do, I Say To Don't

Anyone who has ever had too much to do can appreciate the value of the “To Do” list. Personally, if I don’t have a “To Do” list, nothing gets done. Seriously. The first item on my “To Do” list is to “Make a To Do” list just so I have something to cross off the list – thank you, daughter for this tip! I have tried, many times, to manage the list electronically but, I found, I needed a paper “To Do” list item to prompt me to check my electronic device…this is nonsense. So, to avoid the nonsense, and to save what’s left of my sanity, I keep my list the old fashioned way, on paper.

Now, many companies have made a lot of money on fancy-schmancy methods of managing a simple list.... and again, I call, nonsense..all you really need is a piece of paper and a pen or pencil…if you want to get a little more sophisticated, I have seen paper that is compartmentalized by the type of thing you want to remember…. ”Tasks”, “Errands” etc… There is a cute version of this type of list at The site offers a lot of other funny, but useful, things as well. There is something so energizing about crossing an item off your to-do list, don’t you think?

Many recipes require a lot of ingredients (I have a cookbook – somewhere – called “5 Ingredients or Less” and I’ll have to put “Look for the 5 Ingredients or Less cookbook” on my To Do list) and making a list to bring to the grocery store is the only way to ensure that you won’t be caught ingredientless while making your desired dish. Additionally, if you are preparing for a dinner party, you will, do doubt, need a list of stuff to do/buy to prepare for the festivities…invite guests, plan menu, buy ingredients, clean the house, buy flowers, make ice, etc… and one very important item on my to-do when I host a dinner party…wine! Lists also come in handy when preparing for a trip because it really would be inconvenient to be away from home without your underwear…not that I have personally ever experienced this…I’m just saying. Like, next week, I will be in Boston, so I will have to prepare a list so I don't forget my underwear anything.

For those of you who don’t believe in the value of the “To Do” list or who are happier putting off until tomorrow what you could or should do today (in other words, a procrastinator and you know who you are) there is the “To Don’t” list, but, as you will most certainly note, if you record anything at all on your “To Don’t” list, you are, indeed, making a list…and so, the cycle continues.

Mis amigos están de you all are stuck reading about "To Do" lists this week...we go to see Buddy (the Cake Boss) on Saturday and will update you on the escapade! Back to our Tuesday night affair the week after next.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lily of the Valley

Last week, I talked about my Lilac tree and another just-as-pleasant spring reward for enduring the winter is Lily of the Valley. Equally as fragrant as the Lilac, I am always amazed that a tiny flower produces such a robust scent. If you have a bunch displayed, you can usually enjoy a whiff from a few feet away. My garden is happily filled with these little bells!

A great way to persuade the scent of this petite botanic beauty to permeate through the air is to arrange them in a door knob vase! To make, poke two holes in an aluminum can, run a pretty ribbon through the holes, half fill the container with water, add a bunch of Lily of the Valley and hang the re-purposed can off of a door knob…every time you open or close the door, the scent will waft through the air. Here, I reused a ribbon from a store shopping bag (thank you Ann Taylor!) before I recycled the bag. How lovely!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"The Best Ever Banana Cake....."

It was my turn to host our weekly rendezvous and I wanted to make a special dessert for my pals who will both be traveling out of the country next week (to a very special place…I am very jealous that I am not going but they promised to bring me back cigars!). Anyway I found a recipe for “The Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting” on Being a skeptic, I naturally had to “test” that self-proclaimed honor by baking the cake and tasting for myself. I solicited some other guinea pigs taste-testers – daughter, sister, mom and uncle – to corroborate with me to validate the title. So, I bought the required ingredients and spent the later part of Sunday morning (it was chilly outside, so I didn’t mind) baking “The Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.” There were as many steps as ingredients:

1. Preheat oven to 275° (not a typo...really 275°).
2. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan (I opted to make a layer version because I like frosting).
3. In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
5. In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy.
6. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in 2 tsp vanilla.
7. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
8. Stir in banana mixture.
9. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

10. Remove from oven and place directly into the freezer for 45 minutes. This will make the cake very moist. Note: I was very suspicious of this step but dutifully complied.
11. For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
12. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla.
13. Add icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth.
14. Spread on cooled cake (daughter frosted the cake for me and did an outstanding job, don't you think?).
15. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over top of the frosting, if desired (I did not add the nuts)


I am happy to report that the self-proclaimed title of “The Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting” is indeed well deserved. I used less sugar and more bananas than the recipe called for and the freezer trick really (amazingly) works…this cake is dense, but very moist. I will have to try it for other cakes and report my findings.

For dinner last night we had Chicken Marsala, Barley Risotto with Peas, Caesar Salad, wine, and, of course, for dessert, we had the “The Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.” My Tuesday evening companions LOVED the cake and I gave them each a piece to enjoy later at home. I will miss them next Tuesday, but will be anxious to hear about their trip…..maybe we’ll smoke some cigars!

I post the complete cake recipe on the “Recipes” page. Enjoy

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I have a beautiful Japanese Lilac tree in my yard. I planted it the year after moving into my house, and for the first three years, it did not produce any blooms. I read, somewhere, that brewed coffee grounds sprinkled around the base of the tree would encourage growth. Since there is no shortage of brewed coffee grounds in my house and knowing that coffee helps me to get going, I happily sprinkled my recycled grounds around the my amazement, there were blooms the next year, and more each year thereafter. I have a happy, albeit caffeinated, tree. To go with that coffee, a spray of 1/2 cup milk mixed with a gallon of water will help defend against disease and pests. Also, lilacs don't like wet roots, so plant your tree on a slightly elevated or slopey area.

As with any stick-stemmed blossom, such as a lilac or hydrangea, before arranging them in a bouquet, pulverize the tip of the stem, about two inches from the cut, so that the stem can absorb the water more efficiently, otherwise, you will have a quickly wilting bouquet. Fresh flowers from your garden make a beautiful centerpiece for a dinner table, either casual or formal. Here, I mixed a few of my lilac blooms with store-bought hyacinths and hydrangeas in a McCoy pretty, and fragrant!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kitchen Re-Do, Parts 1 & 2

I have not always been the most environmentally mindful person but(thankfully) I have come to appreciate the disastrous consequences, for this and future generations, if each person does not act responsibly to help protect the Earth and its resources. Also, I like Al Gore and don’t want to make him angry....he's endured enough disappointment!

I own a rental property that really, really, really needed a new kitchen…also I knew I eventually wanted to remodel the kitchen in my house, so…..I decided to re-use the perfectly serviceable and still attractive cabinets from my house in my rental property (this provoked the question from my tenant -- also known as daughter -- "why do you get the new cabinets?"....I don't think I even need to answer that). The rental property is in the charming and trendy neighborhood of Philadelphia called Manayunk. It is a small house with a galley-style kitchen, so I knew there would probably be enough cabinetry for the space but I was concerned that the layout could work properly. Well, I worried needlessly because as long as one has a cute talented Irish contractor who can consistently make construction magic happen, anything is possible….he finagled, shaved, filled, prodded, and nudged, and before I knew it, the reclaimed cupboards were (re)hung and ready to safeguard pots and pans, boxes and cans. They actually look much better in the rental property than in my house. I purchased new appliances and installed a very fun black and white checkered floor (my daughter's request and idea)…how retro is that! The “new” kitchen is not only functional, but very, very nice.

Meanwhile, back at the dismantled domicile, I was busy working with a kitchen planner and my architect friend to create my (almost) dream kitchen. Although my house is spacious, the kitchen is small and counter space is minimal, so I knew I could not fashion the Tuscan-inspired space I really craved, so I settled for a few classic details, including beautiful cherry cabinets, a farmhouse sink and a subway-tile backsplash (a last minute detail I was encouraged to add). I reused the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher, got a new Silestone countertop, and after a few days of construction and some paint touchups, I was back in business with a brand-new, beautiful kitchen (at a very budget price -- thank you, Home Depot).
As I said, the kitchen is small, so I am reorganizing the basement and building a storage pantry at the bottom of the steps to store my cookware, bakeware, cookbooks, and other treasures. More on this project later.

Last night we had dinner at the architect’s house (the very same who helped with the kitchen re-do!). She served a traditional Argentinian dish called "Milanesa." This dish originated in Milan, Italy and it is a thinly sliced "commom" meat dish prepared in such a way to serve make meat stretch further. This dish is typically made with beef, but we had a healthier chicken version last night.
To prepare this dish, slice each chicken breast very thin and then pound it even thinner and sprinkle each filet with salt and paprika. Dredge each filet in eggs, flour and bread crumbs with oregano. Fry each in canola oil and place the fried filets on a paper bag to absorb the excess oil.
Serve with a slice of lemom and mashed potatoes....yummo! I never had this dish before and it was a treat indeed. She gave me a leftover piece and I made my high school junior a sandwich with a bit of mayo and lettuce.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yearning yarns! Make something with me, please!

I now have both yarns to begin the sweater….a beautiful anny blatt “Fine Kid” Callisto Mohair blend (France) and an equally beautiful Louisa Harding Black
Merino and Cashmere blend (Italy). The pattern calls for knitting the two wools together using US size 13 needles. The instructions call for knitting in all garter stitch and classifies this as an “easy” pattern…we’ll see, they’ve never met me.

I began the sweater by casting on the requisite number of stitches and will need accomplished knitter to show me exactly how the pattern wants me to decrease as I work towards the top (knitting lingo can be confusing sometimes, at least to me). This is a cropped sweater, with ¾ length sleeves, so once I get started, it should go rather quickly. Quickly is a relative term in my knitting world.

I am getting better at figuring out how to correct mistakes and often refer to “Stitch ‘N Bitch, The Knitter’s Handbook” by Debbie Stoller. This is an informative and entertaining book with amusing pictures and handy step-by-step graphics that a knitter at any level would find useful for reference purposes. Stoller includes patterns and links to knitting sites as well. I don't seem to need a reference source for the bitching part.

For me, this is quite an ambitious project (a piece of cake for some other knitters) but I am determined to have a lovely, hand-knit sweater to wear this fall. Hopefully, I will be able to post an update with a picture in a few days.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


While searching for something else (what did we do before the Internet? There were libraries of course, with the Dewey Decimal System and all but the Internet makes looking for things so easy…hopefully kids still learn this classification and reference tool in school..that way, we can listen to our Millennial children knowledgeably jabber on on about the “old days”), I stumbled across a very functional and instructional cooking site called I really don’t mean to stream on this way…maybe I do.

Yesterday, the site posted a video tutorial on how to properly peel and eat an artichoke…very helpful. Although I am ashamed to admit this (being Italian and somewhat of a cook), the first time I encountered an artichoke, I ate the rough, spiny skin and the entire time I was enjoying consuming this alleged delicacy I recall saying to myself…”this is disgusting, I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” Of course it’s disgusting, you ding-dong, and would you like some motor oil to wash that down? I was not yet 30 when this occurred so I am gave myself a pass for being a relative food novice at the time.

There is also some advice on the site about what to do with hard boiled Easter eggs (I was always suspect about eating an egg that had not been refrigerated for several days…not to mention that it is kind of peculiar eating egg salad that is pink, green or purple; maybe the Easter Bunny will take the those hard-boiled eggs). Anyway, an egg-using idea from the site…”Eggs in Purgatory: Make a spicy tomato sauce with onions, garlic, a little bacon (if you like), tomatoes and some cayenne. Slice hard-boiled eggs about 1/2-inch thick, place in a shallow pasta bowl and spoon sauce over.” This recipe is particularly appealing to me since I’m sure to spend some time Purgatory because my Lenten sacrifice did not go as well as planned…nothing like Catholic guilt, maybe Italian guilt…same thing.

Back to the point of this post….

The site has this cool little interactive feature called “don’t know what to cook” where visitors are prompted to pick some items in your refrigerator and the site happily returns recipe ideas. I picked vegetables, eggs, and cheese, and the site gave me a few tasty recipes, among them…Spinach and Swiss Cheese Strata, Open-Faced Garden Frittata Sandwiches, and Leek and Gruyere Quiche…..very cool. The site also features tips from chefs and dishes out holiday and everyday menu suggestions. I visit many cooking sites, and I found this one to be particularly fun!

We have all returned from our Spring Break travels to Scottsdale, New York and DC, and resumed our Tuesday evening soirees. Tonight we had dinner at accomplished knitter's house and we enjoyed pasta with vegetables and beans tossed with a light lemon sauce (AC can make anything very tasty). We also had a fig salad and leftover lemon-coconut cake from Easter for dessert. We talked about some of our favorite websites and accomplished introduced us to It is a saucy little site filled with all kinds of stuff...check it out!

I am happy to report that since the spiny-skin episode (if I ever develop a rare scaly skin disease, please refer the doctor to this post for some hints as to the origin of the ailment), I have since learned to properly peel, eat and enjoy this armored indulgence! I have also discovered that artichoke hearts come frozen and in jars….I share one of my favorite easy and delicious recipes on the Recipes and Tips tab.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cherry Blossoms

I spent this past weekend in Washington DC with a few of my friends….the purpose of this little escapade was to see some of the many sites that our Capitol has to offer…it was, after all, the beginning of Spring Break and we thought it would be fun to torture our children with educational stuff. However, this weekend was also the kickoff of the Cherry Blossom Festival. The Cherry Blossom trees were a gift to the United States from Japan in 1912 and they surround the Tidal Basin. Each year, during the first few days of April the trees say goodbye to winter and welcome the warm spring air with their delicate little white and pale pink blooms. It is a beautiful site indeed. I post a link to the National Cherry Blossom “Bloom Watch” site. We saw only a few early risers.

While in Washington, we rode the carousel, saw The White House, and visited The Museum of Natural History and the National Portrait Gallery that had the most amazing collection of presidential portraits (did you know that there is not an admission charge to all National museums!!!). Considering there were two college-bound teenagers on the trip, we also decided to visit Georgetown University. The neighborhood surrounding the university is absolutely striking with crisply painted, meticulously maintained houses and quaint little gardens and shops. We rode the METRO (very exciting for the little kids), got off at the Foggy Bottom station and walked for (what seem to be) miles to the University. We purchased the requisite sweatshirts (because we are, of course, collecting sweatshirts from all the universities we visits….I wear my one HAWKS sweatshirt so much that it is almost falling apart) and snapped pictures like all silly little tourists…it was an enjoyable weekend.

The local Starbucks was a frequent benefactor of our visit and I naturally had to order the special drink of the weekend…a chocolate, cherry latte (decadent, but certainly not Flat-Belly Diet approved!). This inspired me to look for other chocolate-cherry recipes and I found a yummy one on that I will serve on Easter, along with the expected (and equally tasty) annual treat…white layer cake, with lemon curd filling and butter cream-coconut icing. The chocolate cake is made totally from scratch, but I use a box cake and homemade icing for the lemon cake so it's semi-homemade.

I also found a pattern for a knitted dish towel with a cherry pattern on that I whipped out in no time at all. I used a white cotton yarn and size 8 needles (I will use a smaller needle the next time because I think the pattern is too loose). There are many rows to this pattern and I found that having a notepad handy on which I made a tick at the beginning of each row was very helpful and kept me from getting confused about which row I was on (I need all the help I can get!)and with this pattern, it is actually important that you knit as instructed or the pattern will be distorted. I had to rip a few rows out, but finally got it down. The yarn arrived today from Australia....I can't wait to begin the sweater!

I hope you all have a joyous Easter! Be safe if traveling.