"…Smell my feet … Gimme something good to eat!"
Come on by, kids! The candy is waiting for you!
Ben's room has always been the easiest one in my home to decorate …
Why? Because he cares only about baseball! So if baseball is the decorating theme, the kid is happy.
His interests have widened over the years (to include girls!), but in his world, BASEBALL ROCKS 'N RULES! In fact, the first piece of 'art' I bought for his room when he was about a year old was a vintage-style baseball print. I love vintage and am happy that it still hangs over his bed, three houses later. He also has signed photos of old baseball players, old postage stamp baseball figures, trophies, signed professional baseballs in cases, his own game balls in cases … We need to get a bat rack now because he has a couple of signed baseball bats that could be very well displayed that way. And I'm sure he will collect more.
Yeah, baseball is a way of life as far as our Ben is concerned. I know I've mentioned it before, but my sister-in-law gave me a plaque that says, "We interrupt this family for baseball season." I would only change it to say, "We interrupt this family for baseball. PERIOD. NO QUESTIONS ASKED. Get real."
Good! Because that's that way it is.
Ben's dreams for his future have baseball as the focal point, framing them, and pretty much consuming the whole of them. He spent this past weekend with the coaching staff of Arizona State University, training and skill refining. After the first day, he was thrilled to have been a part of it, but after the second day, came home totally motivated for hitting. He is a good hitter, knows how to read the ball out of the pitcher's hand, and yet, still learned MORE from the hitting coach from ASU. It's wonderful to know that there is more to learn!
You might not be able to see the title on this page, but it reads, "Arizona State University/Hitter's Creed/Trust the Plan". It then outlines 20 things that a good hitter must be cognizant and confident of every time he approaches the plate.
Furthermore, you might not be able to see that Ben used dirty, spent athletic tape to secure it crookedly to the wall. (It makes me giggle to think that this is the same tape that was on his wrist or ankle just earlier. He's a frugal kid, too!) AND you can't tell (because of the buttery, blurry, bokeh background that I'm so thankful for at the moment!) that Ben's bed is unmade! I love buttery, blurry backgrounds. They hide a multitude of sins. [It is a sin in our house to not make your bed in the morning! It could cost you a privilege. Ben has a 'multitude of sins' at the moment. He'll probably be losing a multitude of privileges. And now it's on the .www! … ("but love covers a multitude of sins" will be his argument! ;)]
What I love about the fact that he hung this 'Creed' just inside his bedroom door is that *I* didn't hang it. I had nothing to do with it. He didn't even ask me whether he could hang it or not. He came home from the ASU Camp and hung it in an extremely visible place because it is meaningful to him, it motivates him, and he wants to achieve goals.
Decorating aside, this is something adorning Ben's space that is all about him, about his passion, about what he wants to remember, about a weekend he spent with people from whom he learned a ton, about his dedication…
Having a 'Creed" means you are committing to something outside of yourself, and "trusting the plan" shows that there are steps to take to achieve a goal. Posting that "creed" and that "plan" means that you are passionate and committed to seeing results. Dedication is your modus operandi.
May God grant me the wisdom to respond to my child's dedication (and to not care about the soiled, crooked way he taped the Creed on his wall!)
… and may God further grant me the 'love to cover his multitude of *measly* sins'!
I don't know where I first heard about the French Laundry, an upscale restaurant in Napa Valley, California. But ever since I did, I've had a dream of going there. I'm sure it is possible that I could go since Napa Valley is on my list of places to visit, however, with the price of the meal being what it is, I'm not sure I could justify eating there! The experience itself would be amazing, to be sure.
So what makes it so special, you might wonder … Even a quick look around the website is inviting, especially since one of the first things you see is a photo of a gorgeous blue door that makes you want to walk right in. I love pretty doors! The website is clean, white, fresh, beautiful … just like the name of the restaurant. The photographs are spectacular, challenging me to be more creative in my own. The descriptions of the food vendors used show passion for one's work causing me to re-examine where my own passions truly lie. And the dedication on the part of the chef & owner, Thomas Keller, to provide top-quality food, prepared in a top-quality manner, in a top-quality location spurs me to excellence. Furthermore, the cookbook by the same name as the restaurant is nothing short of fabulous … it's huge, filled with photographs and careful instructions for beautiful recipes that most of us home cooks would never attempt, but has been on my Wish List for awhile.
[Photo from Jessica's Biscuit]
As of today, I've also added his book Ad Hoc at Home (I thought it was releasing next week, but apparently it is already available), a cookbook named after a more casual restaurant of his, but with more approachable recipes.
[Photo from Jessica's Biscuit]
I wouldn't even have gone to the French Laundry website had it not been for the little nudge from the Gluten-free Girl at the end of her blog post today to read an article written about the chef & owner and his relationship with his dad. The title of the article is "What the Last Meal Taught Him" and is about the journey that Thomas Keller has been on in his career and personal relationships, specifically the one with his father. He didn't grow up with his father and only got to know him later in life, and ended up being his primary caregiver in the last years. As he cooked simple meals for his father, and in the last year, hand-fed him each one because his father had become a quadriplegic, he learned that his life and career were not all about him. He learned to give unselfishly to his dad, but also to his career, writing more books to share his knowledge and leave a tangible legacy. He learned that striving for perfection is necessary, but shouldn't supersede relationships in his life.
This article was thought-provoking for me because I was a bit surprised to read that someone as ensconced in the food world as Thomas Keller didn't seem to embrace what seemed so natural to me: the connections between food and memories, food and relationships, food and living. Seeing those connections and being passionate about documenting our life is what prompted me to start writing this blog a couple of years ago. I love stories of family and love, kids' antics, holiday celebrations, a mother's devotion … and it seems that many of my childhood memories and subsequently my adult memories are connected in some way to food. Perhaps it was the traditional fondue dinner that Mom made each Christmas Eve, or often smelling her homemade Pound Cake as I fell asleep at night, or having super-strong coffee with the Mesdames in the back room of their clothing shop in a small village in Belgium, German Pancakes at Mom and Dad C's on Sunday evenings, or watching the fish fly in Pike Place Market, then bringing one home to grill. I could go on and on because I find a pleasure in eating, smelling, and sharing moments with people I love, foods, and fragrances. Food can bridge the gap in relationships, supporting them by creating experiences to remember. For Thomas Keller, it took living through certain situations to show him these connections and at that point, he fully embraced them.
That leads me to the conflict I feel between the phrases "live to eat" or "eat to live". For me, it is kind of like the question of the chicken or the egg coming first. It seems to go round and round. Does there really have to be a choice? It is a common misconception that those who "live to eat" don't eat healthfully, make poor food choices, and over-consume. I suggest, however, that those who "live to eat" enjoy a more balanced approach to food and experiences and consequently "eat to live … well". A twist on the phrase seems appropriate as it encapsulates food, relationships, and memory-making.
Things of beauty … French Laundry, cooking for others, eating together, creating memories, living well … agreed?
Pooh is famous for saying "It's the Wind's Day" and truly, brisk, windy days create an appetite for a warm soup, stew, or chili. There's no better time than late October for such days and food so a few days ago, I pulled out an old standard from the Notebook and got it simmering. This recipe is one that you get started, then go about your afternoon while smelling the most divine promise of a hearty dinner and salivating the entire time! It's great for a weekend, or after a cold Friday night football game, for Super Bowl Sunday or Halloween night … Or any night when you feel like having a bit of warming food. It's your choice!
I first found this recipe in a Sunset Magazine and give them all the credit for the many times that I've made it since then. I change it up a little, but pretty much stick to the perfection that was the original recipe. I'm sure that the original creator of this recipe intended it for ranchers or cowboys … or football players … or at least people who really like beef! If you don't like meat, you should probably not waste another second reading this post. It is nothing you would enjoy.
In fact, if you don't like LOTS of meat, it most certainly isn't for you.
As if four pounds of beef chuck isn't enough, we also add in ¾ pound of peppered bacon, of the best quality, of course.
This is not your mother's chili recipe … In fact, there's not even any chili powder in it. However, there are these fabulous dried chiles …
… that are reconstituted with warm beef broth and whirled in the food processor.
There's also garlic and onions …
… that help deglaze the pan after browning the meats.
… and only two spices: oregano and cumin. Two of my favorites!
A bit of dark beer and more beef broth round off the chili and everything cozies up together in the pot for awhile. You can choose to cozy up with a blanket and good book 'long about now because the chili will simmer for 2-2 ½ hours!
(If you don't want to use the beer, you will end up with a different flavor, but I'm sure it will still be tasty enough. You could try using some strong coffee instead! Just make sure you have enough liquid.)
Finish it off with broiled poblano chiles about 30 minutes before serving. Top each bowl with cilantro and offer choices of avocado, crumbled Mexican cheese, and sour cream. Toast up some flour tortillas to eat alongside and you'll enjoy the best chili you've ever eaten on a cold Autumn or Winter's Day.
Why don't you whip up a pot of this for Halloween this year? Just to spice things up a bit!
(PS—Disclosure: you might think this would be quite a spicy dish, but it really isn't. It has really great flavor and there is a hint of hot, but certainly nothing intolerable. You can always heat it up a bit more by adding extra chilis or peppers, perhaps topping your own serving with chopped jalapenos or something.)
A conversation with my sister-in-law last week about the horrors of keeping up with the housework triggered the memory of this 15-minute trick that I learned many years ago. I don't always practice it, but I should! Because when I DO, I am less frustrated with getting things done.
It's really very simple and truly only takes 15 minutes. Here's how it works …
You know the way that desk in the kitchen gets piled up with the mail, cookbooks, and papers the kids bring home from school?
[Now you know my deep and dirty secret! Yeah, the one that is really deep and dirty, but not so secret anymore …]
Set the timer for 15 minutes and go to town clearing it and putting things away. When 15 minutes are done, it should look like this!
In fact, it might just happen that it won't even take 15 minutes. I was done in E-I-G-H-T minutes! Really, I was! I have an extra seven minutes to put somewhere!
Or it might happen that it will take longer and you'll have to decide to just be done with it, or agree with yourself not to get upset because the task is taking longer than 15 minutes and go ahead and finish it up.
(And I'm drawing the line at showing you all the areas of my house that need 15 minutes worth of attention!)
You might be surprised at how much you can do in such a short period of time. Do you know that a load of clothes can be folded in 15 minutes? Or did you know that it usually takes LESS THAN 15 minutes to load the dishwasher after a meal, or dust the living room furniture, or sweep the kitchen? It's even possible to power clean a bathroom in 15 minutes! We tend to think that it takes longer than that because we get distracted with all the other things that also need to be done. Maintaining a focus on a single task will allow you to accomplish more than you thought possible.
Decide on a 15-minute task to do each day and you'll be pleased at the decline in clutter and dust in your home! Now, hand the broom to your husband, and set the timer for him!! Ha.
What areas besides housework could this trick be applied to? What about that book you want to read? What if you allowed yourself to read for 15 minutes a day? What about a 15-minute walk in the neighborhood? What about a handwritten note to a friend?
Can you spare 15 minutes a day to make a change in your life?
I'm off to power clean my bathroom! Ready? Set? GO!
It's a drizzly, gray morning in my little square of Planet Earth, but the Autumn colors are brightening it up quite a bit. My Japanese maple is still flaming and although the color is fading a bit on my American maple, it still casts a nice frame on the one side of my office window. I had hoped to take advantage of Ben's being out of school today and have him help me whip the yard into shape for the cold that will be here soon, but sadly, I think we would be two drowned rats if we attempted it today. He said, "Umm … Mom, I think you and I have very different ideas of what a day off of school looks like." I agreed with him and congratulated him for *finally* figuring it out!
So … we aren't doing yard work, we NEED to do house work, but we'll probably just hang together.
That's OK, right?
Because it's really hard for me to post without a photo, I thought I give you a photo tip of the day …
When you are taking photos in a hotel lobby (AKA 'the-absolute-worst-place-EVER-to-take-photos-because-of-the-silly-can-lights!), and when the Homecoming Theme is Moonlight Masquerade, you can use a really cool Mardi Gras style mask to eliminate the shadows under the eyes!
See? Great tip, huh?!
It's that time of year when the change of weather is fickle causing many people to get sick … colds, sniffles, flu. When you are sick, you don't usually think about eating because you don't *feel* like eating, much less do you feel like *thinking* about eating. And yet, there are some foods that are tolerable and even beneficial to these ailments. Isn't it comforting when someone who cares for you offers you something to eat or drink when you are sick and when you are eating it, it feels like they've wrapped their arms around you. I have a couple of go-to dishes and drinks that seem to help every time. One of those is this Lemon Grass Chicken Soup.
We've all heard that Chicken Noodle Soup has restorative value and when I came across this recipe about six years ago in a Sunset Magazine, I knew I had found not only a keeper, but an alternative to Chicken Noodle Soup. It doesn't have noodles, but it has chicken, chicken broth, veggies, and most importantly, fresh ginger, lemon, and garlic. It's a bit of a Thai take on Chicken Noodle Soup and hits the old proverbial spot.
Lemon grass is a fabulous ingredient, tastes like lemons without as much of the sour. It comes in long stalks and you must remove the tough outer leaves, cut the stalk in about 3-inch pieces, then smash it to release the flavor.
If you can't find lemon grass, you can certainly substitute lemons! They have healing properties as well.
You make this soup by bringing broth to a boil, adding the lemon grass, ginger slices, and jalapeno peppers and letting it simmer for about 30 minutes. You can do this ahead of time, certainly. The rest of the soup is very easy to make because you add the vegetables and cook only long enough to make them tender, then add the chicken and tomatoes, and cook just until it's done and tender.
You can serve it over rice, and garnish it with chopped jalapenos, green onions, cilantro, and lemon wedges. It is a very fresh tasting, light soup that restores mind and body.
Get Well … or Stay Well!!
I present the profusion of Japanese Maple that inhabits my front yard. Most of the year, she is quite the Plain Jane…
…but in Autumn, she becomes the Glamour Girl.
I love the contrast between her colorful, stylin' duds and the verdant boxwoods that consistently maintain the border, never changing from season to season.
Given that it is the middle of October …
…and given that every Autumn, you can find a Spiced Pumpkin Candle filling my home with its LOVELY fragrance … (excuse me while I go light it!)
[OK, I'm back.]
…and given that pumpkins are a fabulous ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes …
…given all that, you might just think that I was going to post a pumpkin recipe today, huh?
Well, I'm sorry to say that you would be wrong. Of course, you read the title, though, and I'm not fooling anyone, am I?
If you are one of my closest friends to whom I indulge all my secrets, you know that my favorite candle fragrance from Yankee Candle is Sage & Citrus. It really doesn't matter what time of year it is, that fragrance seems to fit all seasons and certainly is fresh and lovely. So when I came across this recipe titled "Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake", I was all about making it! And furthermore, all about shortening the title! ;)
The recipe calls for Candied Lemon Peel and even provided directions on how to make it and even though that was a bit of a process to go through before even starting to make the cake, I'm here to tell you that it was worth it. SO delicious and just as fresh and lovely as the candle. It is not a difficult procedure, or even a time-consuming one. I implore you to try this simple recipe as opposed to purchasing candied lemon peel. You and your palate will thank me all your days.
The cake itself is quite simple. There's no need to cream the butter and sugar … you don't even need a mixer. You can just mix it in a mixing bowl, like our grandmothers used to do. Layer sage leaves into your bundt pan before spooning the batter in …
…and you end up with a very lovely Sage & Citrus Teacake.
Absolutely perfect with a cup of afternoon tea on a blustery Autumn or Winter afternoon. Or a perfectly sunny Spring or Summer afternoon. Take your pick, but make the cake!
The recipe for Sage & Citrus Teacake (that I'm posting next) calls for Candied Lemon Peel and although you could always purchase candied lemon peel, making anything home-made will please you so much more! It is not a difficult procedure, or even a time-consuming one, at least in terms of hands-on time. I implore you to try this simple recipe as opposed to purchasing candied lemon peel. I just used the word "implore" and meant every letter of it! You will thank me all your days.
The original recipe suggested cutting ¼-inch strips of lemon peel from a lemon, then turning the strips over and removing as much pith as possible with a knife. I cut to the chase and used a vegetable peeler instead. Perhaps the edges of my strips aren't as straight as a result, but since I chop them to put them into the cake, it doesn't really matter to me. It's your choice, of course!
The recipe also suggests blanching the lemon peel before putting it into the syrup. What a genius idea! Blanching helps to soften the peel and takes some of the bitterness away as well. Blanching is simply putting the peel in water, simmering it for two minutes, then pouring the water off. Rinse and repeat twice! You do a series of three blanchings, pouring the water off each time and replacing it with fresh. I would suggest saving that water instead of letting it go down the drain. It's deliciously lemon flavored, full of antioxidants, and can be warmed and combined with a bit of honey, ginger, and whiskey to soothe sore throats and help the sickies sleep very well. ;) Just ask my mom … And the sweet Christian lady who gave me that recipe! (For the record, I have learned that all sweet Christian ladies use a bit of whiskey here and there … helps them maintain sweetness, apparently.)
After the blanching, it's time to put the peels in the syrup and let them simmer gently for about an hour, during which time you can do anything else that you want! Like read the next recipe posted here, or scrapbook, or fold clothes, paint your bedroom, or change the oil in your car. (Just be sure to wash your hands before you continue!)
After they are tender, remove them from the syrup with tongs, and let them dry on a rack for several hours, then if you want, coat them with sugar.
The beauty of this recipe is that you might not use all of it for the Sage & Citrus cake that you'll read about in the next post. (And after tasting what-you-think-will-be-super-bitter-but-isn't, you'll hope to have some left!) Your left-overs will keep for several days at room temperature or several weeks in the refrigerator and can be served alongside a cup of tea or used in other recipes, too. I purport that you'll be creating recipes for the sole purpose of using candied lemon peel! (Ooohh … and if you come up with one involving blueberries, let me know!)
The original recipe for the Candied Lemon Peel had about 14 steps and in my attempt to streamline my time, expenditure I was able to cut some of those steps out. If you want to do it EXACTLY like the original, follow the recipe here. If you want the same results with fewer steps, follow MY version here.