Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lily of the Valley... Bulbs

I am always on the prowl for different and creative ways to display my favorite flower, Lily of the Valley.

When I bought my house in Swarthmore, I had no idea that the front and back yards were filled with these little lovelies and when they bloomed the next spring, I was beyond ecstatic. For about a month each spring, I take pleasure in these sweetly scented, bell-shaped beauties and showcase them in my house every chance I get!

Some of my yearly clippings always embellish the bonnet of my cherished hat-lady vase, while others crave a glitzier, less customary destination.

Read on...

I first saw the idea for this year's Lily of the Valley display on Pinterest. There were several re-posts of the inspiration so I am unable to credit the original crafter….I apologize in advance. I bet it was Martha.

This was not my idea, but as with many things, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I am happy to flatter!

1. Gather your burned-out traditional light bulbs. Clear ones work best.
2. With some sharp wire cutters, poke a hole in the screw-in part of the bulb and then cut around the edge of the perimeter.
3. Using the tip of the wire cutters, carefully extract the bulb guts...this may take some maneuvering! Some extractions go more smoothly than others...I wear a garden glove on the hand holding the bulb just in case the bulb breaks.
4. Wrap some light-gauge wire around screw-in part of the bulb and then fashion a hook. I got my wire at Target.
5. Fill the "bulb vase" with water, add your flowers and display!

How totally awesome is that!? Hang from a chandelier or a candle-holder centerpiece.

Although environmentally more friendly, this idea won’t work as well with an energy smart bulb!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pots de Creme a l’Ginger

We had dinner at Singer’s house on Wednesday and she made a dish from Betty Rossbottom’s Cooking Schools Cookbook. Singer’s copy is well-loved, with lots of stains…just the way I like a cookbook. After tasting the dish she prepared, it’s easy to see why this is clearly one of her go-to books for fancy fare. Amazon says the book is “aimed at cooks who are in the kitchen for the fun of it."

I ordered a used copy. I hope it comes with margin notes.

She made Veal Ragout with Red Peppers and Olives, page 159…it’s a long recipe – so I took a photo of it. However lengthy, this dish was delicious and the house smelled heavenly! I did have to pause while devouring every now-and-then to share the story of the week…we’ll save that production for another post.

We heard all about Architect’s induction into the Carpenters Hall – quite an honor.
She also unveiled her most recent pottery creation. Foodie brought Pots de Crème a l’Ginger for dessert, a recipe inspired by the Pioneer Woman, one of her favorite foodies.

Pots de Crème a l’Ginger


12 ounces, weight Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
4 whole Eggs
1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier (or substitute Canton Ginger Liquor)
1 dash Salt
1 cup Very Hot Strong Coffee (or substitute Earl Grey tea)
Fresh Whipped Cream, For Serving
Thinly Sliced Orange Peel, For Garnish (or substitute crystallized ginger)

Preparation Instructions

Place the chocolate chips into a blender. Crack in the eggs, then add the liquor and salt. Blend for a few seconds, or until combined. Pour the coffee or tea in a thin stream through the blender lid until it's all added. Blend another few seconds, or until smooth. Pour mixture into small cups or jars, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until chilled and set. Top with plenty of sweetened whipped cream, then garnish with sliced orange peel or ginger.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Impound Lot

Have you ever spent a lovely morning at the vehicle impound lot. No!? Well then, let me offer you all a primer to survive the experience.

Impound Lot 101

Step 1
As you are happily driving along the streets of Brotherly Love, you see red lights flashing in your rear view mirror. As a good, law abiding citizen, you pull over, curious about what you have done wrong. You are greeted by a lovely gentleman, usually wearing a uniform, who, unbeknownst to you, informs you that your car registration sticker is not current and that a quick check of the vehicle on his on-board monitoring device indicates the registration has indeed expired.

Step 2
You will be asked to produce your proof of insurance. For this step, it is important to make sure that you have included the most recent copy among the records you carry in your vehicle. If not, you will get a calling card from the nice gentleman usually wearing a uniform. This calling card might also invite you to a gathering at a later date. An individual wearing a long robe and sporting a gavel will also attend.

Step 3
Please don’t panic when a tow truck pulls up along side of your vehicle. The nice gentleman, usually wearing a uniform, will inform you that your vehicle will be kept in a brightly lit, secure lot until you have the opportunity to sort through your administrative difficulties. As your car is being towed away, watch in complete stupefaction, unsure of what just happened.

Step 4
Hail a cab to take you home. Chances are in a city as big as Philadelphia, there is typically one available so you won’t be stranded on the streets of a major city late at night, where, sometimes, real crimes occur.

Step 5
Call a relation close to you, perhaps your mother, and explain the incident. This call will elicit an initial “are you ok?” response to which you should ALWAYS respond “yes.” Be prepared to answer a series of questions that will quickly follow. Make some quick, contemporaneous notes during the cab ride so you are prepared to answer these questions in a clear, coherent way.

Step 6
When you get home, log on to the appropriate Department of Transportation website and update your vehicle registration. Also, locate the correct insurance ID card because you will have to produce both when you appear in traffic court the next day to explain your clerical conundrum to a no-nonsense individual wearing a robe so she can order the release of your vehicle.

It is important to note that the brightly lit, secure lot where your car just spent a pleasant evening is located in a different section of the city five miles away and since someone else is driving, Miss Daisy can sit back and enjoy the riverside tour along the way.

Step 7
Before you proceed to the brightly lit, secure lot where your vehicle has spent a very pleasant evening, make sure that the registered owner of the vehicle is available to accompany you. And for heaven’s sake, don’t step onto the lot before you are invited to do so…that gaffe may delay the release process!

Step 8
After you pay the tow and storage fee of $235 – for your convenience, cash and all major credit cards are accepted –you will then be escorted to your car by a very nice person who has chided several individuals about stepping onto to the lot before invited to do so. You, of course, know the protocol and did not make such a blunder. The very nice person offers to scrape the impound evidence from your windshield with his handy-dandy scrapping tool. I wonder if it slices and dices as well.

Step 9
The very nice person at the gate of the brightly lit, secure lot where your car has just spent a lovely evening opens the barbed-wire clad gate and you are free to drive off. Oh, and don’t worry if you can’t pick your vehicle up within 15 days…the PPA will petition the Court for permission to sell it – problem solved and you won’t have to remember to renew your registration any more!

I hope you find this convenient 9-step reference guide helpful the next time you simply forget to renew your vehicle registration. Of course, you can always choose the easier route of renewing your registration when due but then there wouldn’t be an adventure to embellish with each telling…much more fun!

No photos of the actual process…we caused enough trouble and didn’t want to push our luck by appearing to be covert reporters. Quite an experience.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chicken Tetrazzini

Sometimes a girl just wants pasta.

It was my turn to cook this Wednesday and I decided to make something involving pasta. When I say I “decided,” please know that I’ve been fretting about the menu for days and once I decided what to make, I spent the next several days looking for just the right recipe.

Chicken Tetrazzini made the cut.

Tetrazzini is made with chicken or turkey, mushrooms, onions, and celery doused with a cheesy cream sauce flavored with sherry, mixed with pasta and baked. It is believed that this delicious dish – created by an American chef – is named in honor an Italian opera star, Luisa Tetrazzini, who was a long time resident of California.

Listen to the spirited soprano sing here.

This easy casserole is a fancy way to use leftover spaghetti, chicken or turkey.

Chicken Tetrazzini

1 Tablespoon butter
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of pepper
2 (8 ounce) packages of sliced mushrooms
¼ cup dry sherry or red wine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cans of chicken broth
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup of low-fat cream cheese
3 cups of cooked spaghetti
2 cups of cooked, chopped chicken
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
Chopped parsley
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Melt butter in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, salt, pepper and mushrooms. Sauté 4 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add sherry and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add flour and cook for three minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will be thick. Gradually add broth, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove the mixture from the heat and add 1 cup of Parmesan cheese and the cream cheese, stirring until the cheeses melt. Add the pasta and chicken and mix until blended. Add to a baking dish, sprinkle with bread crumbs and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 35 minutes or until lightly browned. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley.

We also had a field green, pistachio and goat cheese salad served in the lovely traveling salad bowl and a fantastic bottle of French red wine and vanilla ice cream with bananas and caramel sauce for dessert.

We had a nice evening chatting about our various trips, including my trip earlier in the week to the beautiful land of the Philadelphia impound lot with its rolling barbed wire and serene European surroundings (IKEA)...more on that later.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Asparagus Gruyere Tart

As I was browsing through the myriad of Easter recipes that appeared in my inbox this week, I stopped hitting the “delete’ button when a particular set of recipes caught my eye

Martha came through again.

I often look for different ways to prepare vegetables and I had to try the one offered by the big “M” herself.

Check the photo…you’ll understand.

I aspire to be Martha when I grow up….sans the stripes.

Asparagus Gruyere Tart

Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
5 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 pounds medium or thick asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Place pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Fold the pastry over to form edges. To keep the puff pastry from puffing up, use a fork to pierce the dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals.
Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Remove pastry shell from oven, and sprinkle with Gruyere.

Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyere, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
My tart.

Martha's tart.

Not too bad for an amateur, huh?

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone! What glorious weather to celebrate such a wonderful day!

Just because a little girl grows up to be a young lady doesn't mean she doesn't enjoy the thrill of seeing what the Easter Bunny popped into her basket! An Easter Basket for a grown up girl...

....a dark chocolate bunny.

....a hand-pinched ceramic mug filled with tie-tied eggs made using old, silk neckties! Younger daughter will post more on that process later.

...a bird's nest filled with Irish candy.

....a knit-felted change purse.

....handmade Milk & Honey soap.

....and a special message to my cherished daughters!

Enjoy the day all!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Our Emerald Isle Adventure

Sister, brother, sister-in-law and I are back from our Irish escapade and dazzlingly stunning does not even begin to describe the countryside, the animals, the people and the heritage of the Emerald Isle…we had a fantastic time!

Our journey began in Dublin -- home of Molly Malone -- where we enjoyed a bus tour of this city rich in Irish history. Dublin is the site of the 1916 Easter Rising, an insurrection by Irish republicans with the goal of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic. The fighting stopped after seven days when insurrection leaders surrendered.
We visited the center of the Rising, the Dublin Post Office – complete with bullet holes....
...and Kilmainham Jail where the insurgents were held and executed.
Dublin is famous for its Georgian houses with their painted doors. We learned the folklore as to why the doors are painted so brightly – in defiance to a mourning Queen’s request to paint all doors black – and why the doorways are so wide…to accommodate the large dresses the ladies of the time wore.
Our first evening in Dublin, we enjoyed traditional Irish music and were memorized by a very talented Irish step dancer, Bronwyn, who performed the Irish fertility “Brush Dance.” I am fascinated that feet can move so quickly!
From Dublin, we traveled to Galway and we happily walked the streets of this quaint city.

Then off to the town of Ardrahan, where we were charmed by an Irish farm complete with a fully-functional thatched-roof cottage!
While at Rathbaun Farm, we enjoyed homemade scones and jam...
...fed the baby lambs...
...watched the dogs herd the sheep and even witnessed one lose its warm winter coat! There are 139,000 farms in the tiny country of Ireland most of which raise cattle and sheep.

The next day, we visited the shrine of Our Lady of Knock and took away some blessed water.
Then, we toured Ashford Castle in Cong, the city where “The Quiet Man” was filmed and the site where John Wayne kissed Maureen O'Hara. A visit to the Connemara Marble factory completed our day.

It was in Galway that I had my first Guinness while listening to a visiting Philly band, Barleyjuice, cover “Galway Girl”…it’s a small world indeed! Listen to Steve Earle sing Galway Girl here.

The next day, we made our way to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. At some points, The Cliffs of Moher soar over 700 out of the Atlantic Ocean and from O'Brien's Tower visitors can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay.
Then on to Bunratty Castle where we ate at Durty Nelly’s...
...and eagerly searched the rafters vibrantly gilded with police and firefighter badges from all over the world hoping to find one from Philadelphia's Finest!
We strolled the delightful cottage-lined town of Adare and even saw a wedding at the Trinitarian Abbey. We stopped at the shrine of Saint Bridget and left some items of lost loved ones for her to watch over and protect. It was quite emotional.

Off to Killarney. We started the day with a delightful carriage ride through Killarney National Park, the grounds of which were once owned by a Philadelphia builder/developer, John McShain. We were thoroughly entertained by a sit-down comedian, Michael, our carriage driver (along with his horse, Lightning), who delivered more one-liners than Hal Roche.

We boarded our bus and drove along the majestic County Kerry countryside and stopped to have Fish & Chips at Harringtons, in Dingle.

We continued along the Dingle Peninsula and saw the incredible medieval “beehive huts” built over 1,400 years ago by monks who chose to live a life of isolation.

We strolled along Coumeenole Beach, wrote our names in the sand and I even dipped my toes in the water, which was quite warm, by the way!

Our Ring of Kerry jaunt began the next day. The Ring of Kerry is home to some of the most pure, magical, and natural beauty in Ireland and provides amazing insight into Irish history and heritage.
First, we visited the Bog Village, an attraction that recreates how Irish people worked and lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. What is a bog, you ask? A bog is a wetland that accumulates dead plant material that over time hardens, is harvested -- as peat -- and is used as a fuel source, much like coal.
Driving further along the countryside, we stopped at the ruins of an Irish community abandoned during the potato famine. Very sad.

On to the colorful little town of Sneem, an Ireland “Tidy Town” competition winner and where I purchased some Aran Tweed wool yarn.
Further still, our driver spotted some newly born lambs and we stopped to take photos…the mama sheep was not pleased and even nudged her baby along!

All during our trip, our bus driver would say, “see that tree over there all alone in the middle of the field?” We would all dutifully say “yes” and then he would say, “Good! Bear in mind that you saw it.”
Finally, he told us the story of the Fairy Tree. It is a Hawthorne tree and the Hawthorne tree’s scent is undesirable to critters so they leave it alone. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, if babies were stillborn, they could not be properly buried so the families would bury the babies under the naturally repellant Hawthorne tree. As with many things in Ireland, legend has it that the fairies would watch over the souls of the babies buried under the Hawthorne tree, hence the name “fairy tree.” The stones at the base of the tree serve as grave markers. These trees are scattered all about Ireland and even road construction is diverted to avoid disturbing the little lovelies and angering the fairies…a very unwise move! The superstition is more tradition today.

We learned about fairy forts, leprechauns, the road boulder law and the Irish Travelers. The Travelers are also called “Tinkers” because they would traditionally roam about the country and the locals would hire them to fashion tools, pots, pans and other things out of tin. All along the way, these are the kinds of little morsels our wonderful driver, Micky, would dish.

At the conclusion of our trip our affable, informative, witty, accommodating and ever patient bus driver, Micky Nolan, estimated we traveled a total of 1,600 miles on the bus. If you ever tour Ireland, ask for Micky…he appears to be infamous, at least in the counties we visited!

We had a splendid time with a group of fantastic travel mates… not a grouch among us! It just goes to prove that there are no strangers, just lovely people we haven’t met yet. Memories are created and we now have some emerald jewels to add to our collections!