SIMPLY ELEVATED

Oven Roasted Veggie filled Portobellos

How do you take a humble portobello mushroom cap and turn it into a main course? The portobello mushroom when roasted or grilled has a meaty texture that is filling and a great vehicle for topping with a variety of ingredients.

Several years ago I found this recipe in a cookbook of small plates for entertaining and it was so tasty, that I’ve returned to it many times. While this recipe includes bacon, for a totally meatless version a vegan bacon or sausage could be substituted or left out all together.

I didn’t take step by step photos as I prepared the dish, but remembered to snap a photo of the prepared dish. The instructions are simple and the end result simply yummy!

What you’ll need:

2 large portobello mushrooms

Butter -flavored spray

2 slices of bacon, diced

2 cups chopped fresh spinach leaves

3 tablespoons basil pesto

2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs

3/4 cup grated parmesan or Italian cheese blend

2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts (hazel nuts or walnuts is another option)

1/4 cup prepared marinara sauce (fresh or jarred)

Preheat the oven 375 degrees F (190 C)

Start with the 2 large portobello mushroom caps. Remove the stems, chop into 1/2 inch chunks and set aside. Scrape the gills out with the edge of a spoon and discard (the gills sometimes give a bitter flavor).

Spray each cap with the butter-flavored spray and place stem side down on a baking dish. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes.

While the mushrooms are roasting, in a 10 inch or larger skillet cook the bacon until crispy. Add the chopped mushroom stems and cook about 5 minutes. If the bacon fat is more than about 2 tablespoons you may want to drain some of it from the pan.

Add and stir in the chopped spinach leaves and pesto, cooking until the spinach is softened. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the bread crumbs and 1/2 of the cheese until well mixed. Spoon stuffing into the mushroom caps. Top each with the rest of the cheese and nuts. Return to the oven and bake 10 to 15 minutes until heated through and golden.

Warm the marinara sauce and swirl a couple of tablespoons on a serving dish (I used a wide bowl). Place the mushroom on top of the sauce and top with the remaining sauce.

As I prepared the mushrooms I considered other ingredients that could be swapped out; sun dried tomato pesto; roasted tomatoes; roasted peppers, caramelized onions; jalapeños or other peppers for a little heat; Swiss chard or kale in place of the spinach; they could also be a vehicle for a pizza – topping with sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni or crumbled sausage. The options as always are endless and open to your own available ingredients and creativity and enjoy!

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Pasta Verde X Dos

Looking for ways to use items that are wilting away in the refrigerator? I found asparagus that I wanted to use in a different way. So I cut them into thirds and blanched them in boiling water for a few minutes until tender, then moved the pieces to a bowl of ice water with a slotted spoon or spider. This stops the cooking and “shocks” the vegetable, saving that pretty verde (green) color. With the heat turned off I then tossed a cup of frozen peas into the same hot water for just a minute to take the chill out before scooping them out and placing them into the bowl of ice water.

Back to the fridge I found a small amount of spinach left in a bag, grabbed a lemon and a bottle of white wine. Light extra virgin olive oil, and a trip outside to the herb garden I cut some spring onions, chives, and mint that all went into my blender. (Cilantro would have been good to brighten the flavor). I whizzed it up adding oil and wine until it resembled a sauce and then added the zest and juice of a lemon (tip: always zest the lemon before cutting it). I then added 1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese (which is salty so taste before seasoning). Add salt and ground black pepper to taste. If you like heat you could add garlic or jalapeños, but I thought asparagus and peas were such fresh and gentle veggies, I didn’t want to over power them. Be creative and use what you have (celery may have added a nice flavor, parsley might be the only herb you have so use that). Just think green. I bet some green grapes would have added a little sweetness.

I then cooked a half box of tiny shell pasta, imagining the sauce gathering inside their little cups. When the shells were al dente I warmed my verde mixture and using a little pasta water tossed the pasta and sauce together. This wasn’t a formal recipe, just playing around with what I had. All I could think of is all of the great green vegetables I was getting in one bite. I then drizzled the top with a little olive oil and to finish it off, I would have shaved some parmesan over the top if I had a block, but I only had some pre-shredded – so I topped it with that.

Ravioli with Pesto Cream Sauce

What to do with a 10 oz bag of store bought ravioli? Well you need a sauce, but don’t have any in the pantry and don’t have time to make one from scratch. To make this Pesto cream sauce you will need:

A jar of homemade or store bought pesto

1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half

2 tablespoons butter

Garlic and onion powder

salt and pepper to taste

fresh basil (optional)

shaved or grated parmesan (optional)

This dinner took literally less than 15 minutes to prepare. I spotted a jar of pesto I made with basil from my garden in the refrigerator and a carton of heavy cream. I did not measure the amounts I used, so I just had to guess based the pictures what the approximate amounts were.

Begin with preparing the ravioli according to the package instructions. My chicken and roasted garlic version only took 4 minutes to cook once the salted boiling water was rolling so you can either make the sauce first and then prepare the pasta or cook both at the same time. Having all of the ingredients on the counter ready to go will help you work faster.

While the ravioli was cooking, I placed a 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and added about 1/4 cup of pesto followed by about 1/2 cup of heavy cream. (I actually just poured until the cream created a layer the width of the skillet.) I sprinkled a little onion and garlic powder (probably about 1/2 teaspoon of each), added salt and black pepper as I stirred and tasted. Pesto has a lot of flavor so you get a big bang from the one ingredient. I then added the butter and stirred everything together. It’s very yellow at first, and as you stir you can see the creamy white color.

The pasta now ready, scoop the ravioli from the boiling pot of water with a slotted spoon and put directly into the sauce. When all of the pasta is transferred to the sauce, gently toss until the pasta is coated. It’s ready to serve with the options of sprinkling with chopped fresh basil (or other herbs), a little shaved or grated parmesan and a toasted crusty bread like a baguette or garlic bread sticks.

Another option would be to use a store bought jar of sun dried tomato pesto in place of the basil pesto, to create something similar to a vodka sauce. You can make your own homemade pesto with a variety of herbs, any kind of nuts that you have, grated parmesan and olive oil. There are an abundance of recipes available on Pinterest or any cooking magazine website. When you’re low on ingredients and short on time, grab what you’ve got and make it work!

SIMPLY ELEVATED

White Velvet Soup

Many years ago a family member introduced me to a creamy potato soup made from simple ingredients. It was a delicious soup that different family members made their own special version of. My version was a favorite of my daughter’s (making it kid friendly) filled with a variety of vegetables masquerading as soupy mashed potatoes. A comfort food made with very little, inexpensive, satisfying, filling and tasty.

4 to 6 potatoes (I used golden but any potato will do) peeled

2 medium to large carrots (peeled)

2 to 3 stalks of celery

1 small to medium onion (peeled and cut into chunks)

2 cloves of garlic (peeled)

1 15 oz. can of evaporated milk (or 2% or full fat milk)

4 to 6 tablespoons of butter (have a stick available)

Salt

pepper

1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

parmesan or cheddar cheese

3 strips of bacon (or Hormel real bacon bits)

Scallions, Spring onions or chives

Peel and cut the potatoes and carrots. Cut into similar sized chunks. Wash and chop the celery and onion also into similar sized chunks as the potato and carrot. Peel the garlic and leave whole. Place all into a pot and cover with water (as you would to boil for mashed potatoes). Bring water to a boil and cook until the potatoes and carrots are tender in the center. Be careful not to over cook or the final result will be gooey.

While the potatoes are boiling (about 15 minutes), if you’d like to garnish the soup with fresh bacon, use a microwave safe dish and place a double layer of paper towels on top. Line with 3 slices of bacon (I cut mine in half to shorten their length), top with double layer of paper towels, bacon and finish with a double layer of paper towel. Place in the microwave. Start with 2 minutes and check the crispiness of the bacon. Add 30 second intervals until the bacon is crispy and can be easy crumbled. Set aside.

Remove the vegetables from the boiling water with a slotted spoon (or spider if you have one like the one in the picture) and place the mixture of vegetables into a food processor or blender. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may have to make the sour in batches and pour into a pot or bowl to rewarm with finished. Do not overfill and be very careful when working with hot items in appliances. Add some of the evaporated (or other) milk and a couple of tablespoons butter. Pulse to puree the vegetables. I personally prefer a consistency similar to soupy mashed potatoes and use more milk to loosen the mixture; but some of the other family members add some of the boiling liquid from the pot to thin the soup further. Sour cream may be added to the mixture at this point if desired (optional).

Serve in a soup bowl and top with desired garnishes, a dollop of sour cream, sliced or grated cheese of your choice, crumbled bacon and chopped green onions or chives. When my daughter was little, she just wanted cheese.

OPTIONAL : POTATO SOUP WITH SWEET POTATO

Several years ago I found a marbled potato recipe for Thanksgiving where mashed potatoes flavored with sour was swirled with a whipped, buttered cardamon sweet potato. I often tell a story about how my Mom told me she didn’t think she was going to like them. Then the week after having eaten the marbled potatoes, she ran out and bought cardamon to put in everything!

I had one large sweet potato and decided to experiment, creating the whipped sweet potato to either place into the center of the golden potato soup or make the sweet potato the star,

1 large or two small/medium sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed)

1/2 teaspoon cardamon

4 to 6 tablespoons of butter

I recently watched a demonstration on a Martha Stewart site where potatoes were actually “steamed” instead of boiled. The result was a less soggy potato (for mashed potatoes). I decided to use this method for the sweet potato.

To prepare, fill the bottom of deep sauce pan with about an inch of water; the put a steamer basket over the water and layer the chunks of potato evenly into the basket. Bring the water to a slight simmer and cover the pot. Depending on the size of your potato pieces it may take 5 to 15 minutes. Steam until a fork goes into the potato center easily.

With a pot holder or dish cloth lift the streamer with potatoes and place on a plate or bowl on the side. Pour out the water from the pot. Return potatoes to the pot, add cardamon and butter. Whip with a hand mixer until smooth. (As an option, milk can be added to make this mixture smooth like the golden potato soup if you want to swirl some of the sweet potato with that soup).

Above left: I used a small scoop to create of ball of the sweet potato and placed it in the middle of the golden potato soup. Right: I placed three scoops of the whipped sweet potato and poured a small amount of the golden potato soup around the outside. I topped each sweet potato round with a crispy piece of bacon, garnished with chopped green onion and shaved parmesan.

I was a single Mom for most of my daughter’s life and didn’t make a lot o money back then. I know what it’s like to try to stretch a buck, and still present something comforting, filling and satisfying for dinner. I hope this idea will work in your home.

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Veggie Salad and Fruity Breakfast

My own version of the German salad.

Here are two healthy, quick, no cooking required, meals. Last September I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to a small town in southern Germany that was less than an hour away from both France and Switzerland. During my time there I learned about this lovely salad that I call “the German salad”.

This salad is a perfect example of how to “Simply Elevate” items that are a combination of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables. The technique is to chop or slice everything that creates the bottom layer to a similar size. Basically any combination of ingredients you have will work. The first salad I had at a restaurant in a Castle we toured in Germany, contained smashed boiled and butter potato, shredded carrot, finely julienned zucchini, diced beets and radishes; while the version in Switzerland had corn, shredded cheese, red pepper, shredded carrots and cucumbers.

Each version was then topped with mixed greens tossed in a light vinaigrette. When the first salad arrived, it looked like a simple mixed green salad, but as the top layer was pushed away you found all of the lovely colorful surprises just beneath.

When I returned home, I planned a wine club meeting for my friends and recreated some of the cuisine influences I experienced in this little corner of Europe, which included this German salad.

A fun way to serve this would be to create a large platter of prepared vegetables and let everyone choose which items they want for their bottom layer. Then prepare a separate bowl with the tossed greens. to serve on top. My platter above included radishes sliced on a mandolin, diced fresh sugar snap peas, diced red (orange or yellow) bell peppers, shredded carrots (can be purchased in the produce section), diced fresh zucchini, diced English cucumbers (Persian or a regular cucumber are fine), and canned corn that was drained.

Other options: frozen corn, frozen peas, canned diced beets, boiled and buttered smashed potatoes, diced fresh mushrooms, drained jarred artichoke hearts, hearts of palm – whatever you have can work. The more color the prettier it will be.

For the vinaigrette I simply drizzled a little of good olive oil and a little white balsamic vinegar over the greens and toss. You can use rice wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar – just use whatever you have. This salad is very refreshing and very filling due to all of the raw vegetables.

FRUITY NO COOK BREAKFAST

An easy, healthy and “Simply elevated” bowl of yogurt is as simple as using a wide single serving bowl, placing 1/4 cup of yogurt, sprinkle the top with cinnamon to add flavor (said to lower blood sugar) ; or swirl in a tablespoon of your favorite jam or preserves; sprinkle with a store bought or homemade granola, chopped nuts or toasted coconut; then slice up fruit (banana, a mandarin oranges, cherries, peach, pear, apple; add some berries and if you have it, snip some fresh mint into little strips to sprinkle over the top. I even prepared a version of this while I was in Germany using local fruits.

My France yogurt bowl -homemade berry preserves, museli, figs, mirabelles, banana & fresh mint.
Home: Greek yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon, toasted oat granola, strawberry,
blueberry, banana & fresh mint.

Be creative, have fun and enjoy! Until next time….Bon Appétit !

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Springtime Soup: “Simply Elevated”

Carrot and fresh pea soup with chive blossom.

Basic every day ingredients elevated – its the genesis of my new category “Simply Elevated“. I hope to inspire and encourage methods for using ingredients that may not appear to be much in their original form, but can be elevated into a delicious and beautiful meal. Let’s dig into to our refrigerators, freezers, pantries and herb gardens to present something everyone will look forward to eating.

I created this soup last year for my annual Mothers Tea and realized it would be the perfect example during this difficult time, of how a few ordinary ingredients can be transformed into something tasty, filling and nutritious.

Let me begin with the herb garden. If you don’t have one you can easily purchase fresh herbs at the grocery in those little plastic packs, but consider planting some in a large planter or in a small area of your back yard. The benefit of growing your own yields fresh flavors to add to your dishes nearly every day, and eventually if you gently fertilize ,you will see lovely flowers bloom from their stems that are edible and add a lovely touch to your dishes. I’ve had the most luck with an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Herbs are inexpensive to grow (I start mine from small plants purchased at the grocery or hardware store) and give them a dose of Miracle Grow right after putting them in the grown. Spring (April and May) are the months they thrive the most. Some will last year round while others can’t make it through the very hot (parsley and cilantro) or very cold (basil) seasons.

The herbs I use most frequently are thyme, basil, chives (that make beautiful lavender flowers) and parsley, but I also have dill, oregano, rosemary, sage and cilantro. Cilantro and parsley require frequent trimming to avoid seeding, and they don’t like the heat. I use sweet mint with fruit, drinks and some savory dishes, but I would recommend planting mint in a completely separate container. It tends to take over in the garden. This year I’ve added some edible flowers (violas, pansies, marigolds) and Spring onions that also bloom a white version of the chive blossom.

🍃Carrot, Pea and Mint Soup🍃

6 to 8 servings
FOR THE CARROT PORTION:
2 pounds orange carrots (farm fresh for the best flavor if available )
1 or 2 small to medium purple carrots (if unable to find an orange will do)
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of vegetable stock or water *
1/2 teaspoon of salt
pinch of white pepper
FOR THE MINT-PEA PORTION:
2 – 12 oz packages of frozen sweet peas (reserve 1/2 of whole peas on the side for garnish
6 mint leaves (additional mint for garnish)
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable stock or water*
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon zest & juice
Note: * If chicken stock is used the pure flavor of the vegetables will be altered.

Peel all carrots with a vegetable peeler and then slice into 1/4 inch disks. Place in a medium to large skillet with butter and liquid (*vegetable stock or water), salt and pepper. (If you do not have white pepper -black pepper is acceptable.) Simmer on medium heat covered until carrots are tender when pierced with a fork. Carefully transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. (Note that hot liquid in a blender can splash and burn you. Make sure to cover the top with a dish towel or allow mixture to slightly cool prior to blending). Add small quantifies of liquid until desired consistency is achieved. In order to create the two side by side or swirl affect, it will have to be the consistency of loose mashed potatoes or the line will not hold. It cannot be watery.

Frozen peas (remove 1/2 cup of whole peas and set aside to thaw to room temperature). Cook frozen peas in microwave according to package instructions. Transfer to a clean blender and add 1/2 cup of liquid (*vegetable stock or water)and mint leaves. Puree, again to desired consistency adding small quantities of liquid – with same note indicated above. Salt and pepper to taste, lemon zest and juice. I then put the pureed soup in a squeeze bottle to control the pour into the other side of the bowl when serving to create the separations of carrot and pea.

Both can be made one to two days in advance, refrigerated in an air tight container. Gently reheat prior to serving.

Garnish: Create thin slices of purple carrot with a vegetable peeler, from stem to end tip. Gently curl and place in ice water until ready to serve. Garnish soup with raw carrot slice, several whole peas, a mint leaf, and chive blossom or other edible flower if available.

Bon Appétit! Let me know what you think if you give it a try.

EASTER, HOLIDAY

Springtime Sunday Brunch Tarts

This is the first Easter Sunday that I didn’t have my family gathered around my table due to the “social distancing” world we are currently living in, but that didn’t stop me from preparing a meal and doing a little curbside delivery to my brother and a couple of my neighbors. I purchased a small two pound ham, made a pot of smothered corn from fresh cobs, and decided to do a little refrigerator and freezer dive to make something with items I already had on hand.

Crab 🦀 Pie

I remembered I had a pound of lump blue crabmeat in the freezer and found some mini pie shells I had purchased and forgotten to use. I started a small roux (from equal parts flour and olive oil) in a non-stick skillet and allowed it to become a mahogany brown before adding chopped onion, celery, red peppers and garlic. After those ingredients cooked, I added about 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper and small sprinkling of red pepper flakes – stirring to combine before adding about 1 cup of boxed seafood stock. The consistency should be saucy, but not watery before folding in 1/2 lb. of crabmeat and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese until evenly incorporated. The end result should be similar to the consistency of mashed potatoes. Place the tin lined pie shells (or a full size pie crust prepared in a pie plate) onto a Silpat lined sheet pan (this will prevent the mini or single pie plate from sliding around). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill each shell with the crabmeat mixture, level each off and then bake for 30 to 40 minutes when the pie crust edges (including the bottom of the crust -take a peek) are also golden. SO that was quick and easy and delicious!

Spring Veggie🥕🌶 Tart

As I returned to my refrigerator to survey it’s contents, a container of pencil thin asparagus that I originally planned to oven roast caught my attention. I remembered seeing different versions of tarts made with asparagus on Pinterest and searched the freezer for some puffed pastry. Spring also calls from carrots, and the many versions of ways to cook carrots that I’ve seen on various cooking shows passed through my mind. So I decided to put both ideas together. Here’s what you’ll need.

  • 9″ x 13″ sheet pan (half sheet)
  • parchment paper
  • 1 Sheet puffed pastry (place in refrigerator overnight)
  • flour for dusting counter
  • 4 to 5 slender carrots (peeled, ends cut off and sliced down the middle).
  • 2 tbsp each olive oil and butter (in to a skillet)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp chili oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 8-12 pencil thin fresh asparagus
  • 5 oz. container of shaved parmesan cheese (or shave a block with a vegetable peeler) – or shredded Italian blend cheese or other melty cheese like or Gruyère or white cheddar
  • fresh chives, fresh thyme
  • two eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

The photos above show the steps for preparing the carrot side of the tart. Select the thinner shaped carrots, peel, cut ends off and slice lengthwise. Add olive oil and butter to a non-stick skillet and when melted add carrots (sliced side down). Place another skillet on top of the carrots to prevent curling. They need to be straight for the tart. Cook for about 5 minutes until slightly blistered or browned on medium heat. (Carefully remove the top skillet using a dish cloth (it will be hot with steamy condensation on the bottom) then turn each carrot over. Add honey, chili oil, salt and pepper. Cover (I don’t have a lid that fits the skillet that I used, so I improvised using a piece of foil and splatter screen to hold it down) and cook until centers of carrots are fork tender- about 5-7 minutes. Drain the liquids from the carrots on a rack and set aside.

Sprinkle flour on surface of counter and roll out puffed pastry sheet 2 inches wider and longer than sheet pan about 11″ x 15″.

On to the puffed pastry. Line the half sheet pan with parchment paper. Dust the countertop with flour and roll out the puffed pastry one inch wider than all sides of the pan sheet half sheet pan (about 11″ x 15″) so that when placed inside the sheet pan the pastry goes up the sides (needed to hold egg mixture in). Dock (pierce) the surface of the pastry with a fork. This stops the pastry from puffing in the center. Place the tray of pastry in the freezer for 5 minutes to re-chill and pre-heat the oven to 400-425 degrees (depends on your oven. )

Meanwhile, measure 3/4 cup heavy cream, add two eggs, chopped chives and thyme.

Sprinkle the pastry with a handful of cheese; line the asparagus on one side and the carrots on the other; pour the milk and egg mixture evenly over the vegetables and then sprinkle another handful of cheese over the top. Bake from 30 to 40 minutes (depends on oven) until edges and bottom crust is golden brown for a crispy – not soggy crust.

When the tart first comes out of the oven it will puffed up, but it will sink as it cools. The tart is delicious warm, but also works at room temperature. Whether for brunch, lunch with a salad or a side dish, both of these tarts are simply delicious and easily to please.

SMALL TALK

Home Time Opportunities…

For the most part, I’m a bit of a homebody and love to piddle around my house with little projects, but the recent restrictions imposed that involve closings (school) or limited access to many places we often visit on a regular basis can be unsettling to our routine and begin to affect the moods of everyone. We don’t like our freedoms to be taken away from us, even when it’s for our own good. In difficult times, we are challenged to find new ways to be productive and continue to develop and occupy our minds with healthy thoughts and processes. I like to think that as these old routines are suspended, an opportunity has opened to form new and improved routines.

Our world is going through a uniquely challenging and uncertain time, where less socializing is encouraged for the safety of ourselves, our loved ones and all of our communities, Spring is coaxing us to shed our sweaters and hibernation period to venture out into the warmer sunny days as relief from the many cold, gray, gloomy days we have already invested “indoors”.

While this time may seem unreasonable, stressful and unpredictable – and it is all of those things, I’d rather be safe than sorry. So I choose to see this period of time as an opportunity.

Let’s think about some of the things we often say we never have time for….

The weekdays now have longer daylight hours. Are the kids’ after school activities being suspended for several weeks? – Sounds like a great opportunity to invest in quality time as a family or couple, strengthen our relationships and ease the stresses associated with the ongoing reports of this coronavirus. Below are some ideas to inspire you….

1.) Prepare a home cooked meal together as a couple or family giving each child a job and gather “together” around the dinner table with discussion activities; Say grace and pray together – teach your children to care and pray for the safety and well being of their loved ones and others in the world. Help them engage in a positive way with what is happening and help them feel there is something they can contribute to making things better.

Take advantage of the warm sunny weather and get some fresh air by cooking on the grill and enjoying meals on the back patio or a blanket for a back yard picnic. Afterwards, play a game of crochet, badminton or take turns jumping on the trampoline as a family. Look around the house and see what you have to create activities as a family to free the minds of worry and relieve boredom as so often is the challenges with children.

2.) Create flash cards with questions or topics of conversation that expand knowledge and discussion; (turn off the TV, phones and Ipads and limit the time spent on these items); couples can learn more about each other with topic questions and you can easily create topics for children that make the discussion fun, such as – If you could be an animal, what kind of animal would you be and why?; What skill would you like to learn that you haven’t yet? (Skating, bowling, painting, play the guitar, etc) – you may learn something about your child that you didn’t know; questions that teach about the solar system, or other countries on the globe and so on. Just one each evening will do – and keeps everyones’ minds on positive thoughts and creative thinking. Some of the questions may be to test your kids on what they know about each of their parents with a game of two truths and a lie. The topics of discussion are endless.

3.) Is your child usually signing up to play on a softball and baseball team this time of year? Pick an evening to practice batting and catching the ball so they are ready to go when they can get back to the park to play.

4.) Other after dinner activities- play a round of UNO or a board game together; go for a family walk or bike ride in your neighborhood; plant a garden together, and together weed and water it in the evenings – watching it grow; find a Zumba class on YouTube and Zumba together for exercise; have one child each week read a book or a couple of chapters of a book to the rest of the family. Find creative healthy ways to spend time together laughing and playing to keep everyone’s spirits up.

Self care: Whether you are single and live alone….or notan opportunity to take better care of yourself.

As you know from my blog, I have a bookclub and love to read. I have a mentally stressful job that sometimes follows me to bed and the best way I have found to clear my mind and get a good night’s sleep, is to take a hot lavender scented bath and then settle into bed somewhere between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., nestled against a few fluffy pillows to sit me up and a pool of soft sheets and blankets surrounding me, while I read a few chapters of a good book. My mind shifts to the lives of the characters in the story and I’m freed of the worries of my work day until morning and enjoy a restful sleep.

When that alone doesn’t work, I play the Meditation Radio or Spa Radio stations on Pandora at a low volume on my phone on the bedside table and within minutes, I’m out. Lavender essential oils in defusers, roll on perfume bottles and linen sprays are also calming and help for soothing and sleep.

In mid-February I learned about this 30 day yoga series on YouTube – “Home – 30 day yoga with Adriene” and began starting my weekday mornings with an episode that is usually less than 30 minutes. It’s free and helps melt away stress and anxiety. Adriene is a gentle instructor with an unexpected new experience each day. It’s quite lovely, and if you are having trouble sleeping, this is also a great thing to do at the end of your day.

Lastly, another wonderful way to relax and decompress is to meditate. Deepak Chopra and Oprah have several 21 day meditations the are offered for free every couple of months. I have no doubt that they will be offering another one soon during this difficult time. You can sample some of the past meditations on Youtube. My favorite has always been the one focused on gratitude. https://chopracentermeditation.com/

Weekends at home….

What to do to fill your weekend? Well, Spring cleaning comes to mind! Here’s an opportunity to “tidy up”. Watch Marie Kondo’s series on Netflix for motivation and tackle one closet and bureau at a time. As each area is “tidied” up with items no longer loved removed and her special folding methods applied to beautifully organize the items in your bureau, you just feel so much better!

Then you can move on to your pantry – check out my “Lagniappe” category for other Weekend Projects. Other organization inspiration can be found on instagram @thehomeedit.

While the weather is beautifully mild, you will need time outdoors. Whether you have a patio or balcony for a few potted plants or a yard for a small flower bed, herb or vegetable garden, this is a great time to get planting before the heat is on. It’s time for pulling weeds (that are always the first to grow); and weed and feed turf builder time.

Then there’s always the garage and detailing the car…..ah how the list goes on, but just think how great it will feel for everything to be clean, organized and cleared of clutter!

It’s also an opportunity to try a new skill, such as becoming a better baker or cook, sewing, knitting, crocheting, painting, drawing, building something out of wood or learning a foreign language. There are multiple videos on YouTube that will teach you almost anything,

This is also an opportunity to go back to having actual phone conversations instead of text messages to visit with family and friends that we can’t spend as much time in person with. This is an opportunity to strengthen relationships, invest in self care and refresh our homes. Don’t miss the opportunity to press the restart button. As we all know, things happen for a reason. While I don’t want in any way to dismiss or ignore the hardships that are going on out there, with job uncertainty or loss, illness and death – when life is difficult I personally always try to see the opportunity that these changes may offer or bring. I hope you will too.

Let’s all pray for each other, be kind and compassionate; reach out to and check on those who live alone and the one thing we can be certain of, is that one day this experience will all be behind us and we can express gratitude for the opportunity to slow our roll and invest time and attention into the most important parts of our lives. God Bless Everyone! I appreciate you and I pray for all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

SMALL TALK

A Family Built From Love…

Today I attended a bridal shower of the soon to be daughter-in-law of my friend of almost four decades. Her youngest is soon to be married, and while visiting with her daughter Alyson I told her about this journal entry I had written about her wedding in 2017. I searched for it not realizing I had never published it.

We are fast approaching the 2020 wedding season, and I decided now was the time to share this story of a growing family and love.

May 20th, 2017

Last night I attended the wedding ceremony and reception for the youngest daughter of my friend of nearly 35 years, who over time has become my sister from another mother.  She and her very loving husband have and always will be family.

The ceremony was brief, but lovely and surprisingly entertaining, since the minister continually called the bride “Ashley” throughout the service instead of her name -Alyson.  The guests shared restrained giggles and smiles in the warm humid breeze while keeping a protective eye on the bright but cloudy sky, threatening to rain at any moment as the bride and groom stood before an organic arch of green foliage and flowers along the edge of lush green golf course.

Alyson wore a nervous smile from ear to ear; simply beautiful in her knee length dress and netted veil cap reminiscent of the 1940’s, jittering with nervous energy that she relieved with multiple deep breaths and a little wiggle dance of her hips as the vows were being read. When the groom proclaimed his “I do” her expression changed suddenly to “surprise” and the nervousness reappeared as she realized it was her turn; but she quickly regained her composure. When the minister said, “Ashley” she immediately corrected him- stating that her name is Alyson. After all, if she was to make a vow, it was going to be in her true name! Safe to say they made it through, free of rain, and shared a kiss that always signifies the ceremony’s end.  The small intimate ceremony was free of stuffiness or pretentiousness, simply focused on the couple that couldn’t keep their eyes off of one another and filled with love.

As a long time friend of her parents, I’ve known that “family “ above anything else, has always been the most important thing to both of them.  So much so that they have woven a unique tapestry of members they call “family”.  To most their family network may seem odd or unconventional, but to them it’s just the people they love and I’m grateful at times that I am considered one of their members. Their generous hearts extend a hand out to help just about anyone that needs it. I’ve never witnessed their saying “I can’t”, or “no” to anyone. A passion or calling that they have wholeheartedly committed their time and attention to.

Over the years and most recently, some of their treasured family members are now deceased, slowly chipping away at the number of living members. It was comforting to witness a night devoted to commitment that would now further extend the size of their family.

My sister friend walked over and sat beside me for a while, to have a small bite of food and something to drink, when just minutes afterward, the song “Lady in Red” began to play.  I watched as her oldest daughter was being escorted to the dance floor by her husband and suddenly my sister friend quickly excused herself to dash into the crowd of guests.  Shortly afterwards, the dance floor was filled with dancers, and among them I spotted her dancing with husband. 

Throughout the night I observed her family, especially her two daughters and grown son with is girlfriend, and wondered if they (she and her husband) realized that their children had all found the one thing a parent can never give them. 

Later when she returned to sit next to me I told her, “Your son-in-law (to her oldest daughter) really loves your daughter.”  She looked out into the crowd and looked around like she didn’t understand, so I told her again. While sometimes as parents or simply human beings we may see flaws in one another, as an outsider looking in, I could see without a doubt by the way her son-in-law treats her oldest daughter and looks at her –having two small children running around beside them – that he truly loves and respects her. I’m not sure if my friend ever stopped and really looked at them in that way.

The same was obvious between her son and his girlfriend and as I said before during the ceremony of her youngest daughter and her groom.

While the group she calls family may currently be slightly smaller than what they are used to, I see the beginnings of a new generation forming. Those of us who were once “the young” will become “the old” and this new pairing of lives will weave and create the new tapestry of my sister friend and her husband’s ever changing evolved family, whose foundation is formed purely from the love they all share.

NOTE: THE PHOTOS IN THIS POST WERE TAKEN AT A DIFFERENT WEDDING OF A FAMILY FRIEND.

WINE CLUB

The Welcoming Member of My Wine Club…

The original Wine Club Wreath with corks from one of the couples in the original club.

When I first started my wine club, I wanted to create a welcoming wine wreath to hang on my front entrance door each night of our meetings. I was inspired by a wreath I saw on Pinterest, but I didn’t have corks, so I reached out to my friends and one couple gifted me a bag full, that I pared with artificial grapes and a grapevine wreath – some purple ribbon and our club wreath was formed.

My wreath was in need of something more. A small ceramic dish with a painting of a vineyard that I loved, inspired the small image that hangs in the center which was hand painted by one of my friends who is a very talented artist. I asked her to re-create the image on the little piece of balsa wood (very light weight) to hang inside the wreath. [She later painted a plaque with the year our club was established, that I display on the food table.]

The wreath has been just as much a member of our club as the actual “Sippers” . Over time as my themes were formed, I decided to add accents to the wreath that matched the night’s theme. Over time I’ve added winning corks from our parties – so the wreath now has an abundance of corks and looks full and lush.

MURDER MYSTERY NIGHT

MAGNIFYING GLASS AND INSPECTOR NOTEPAD

RIO DE JANEIRO CARNIVAL

****CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH **** SUPERBOWL WEEKEND ****HONORING OUR SAINTS WHO WERE ROBBED !!!!

POM POM, PENDANT, FOOTBALL, & REFEREE WHISTLE & PENALTY FLAG.

A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT WINE PARTY

SPANISH MOSS, BLACK GLITTERED BRANCHES AND A CHAMPAGNE CORK SPIDER. [Halloween}

DERBY THEMED WINE PARTY

BOW TIE, SMALL HAT, GOLD HORSE AND RED ROSES.

ALPINE – ALSACE FONDUE FRIENDSGIVING

SUNFLOWERS AND COW BELLS.

As the themes form in the future, if there is something I can add to represent it, my little wreath will continue to be dressed up for the evening!

HOLIDAY, VALENTINES DAY

Romantic Gestures for the Day of Hearts

February is the month to celebrate love. When was the last time you swept your loved one off of their feet with a simple romantic gesture? I recently rewatched the cute romantic comedy “Hitch” where Will Smith’s character as “The Love Doctor” inspires his clients with uniquely designed romantic gestures, suited specifically to capture the attention of a woman they want so much to win the heart of.

In that same spirit, here are some ideas to inspire you where the currency starts with nothing but time and thought if that’s all you have. Have someone help you beautifully wrap a box of chocolates with a luxurious silk or velvet ribbon. If available select a special vintage brooch from your mother or grandmother’s jewelry box (or find one in a local antique shop) and pin it to the ribbon’s center for a bit of Victorian romance.

Place a delicate bracelet, pearl or heart shaped earrings into a satin or velvet draw string bag and then tuck the bag into a Victorian Hinged Heart Shape Christmas ornament. Another Victorian style romantic presentation- more unique and thoughtful than the typical jewelry box. To wrap, lay the ornament inside a red velvet or specially wrapped box on a fluffy cloud of delicate tissue wrapping paper and it looks just as elegant as a faberge egg. (Pretty boxes often with bows can be found at Homegoods stores, charm bracelets and the individual charms can be found at affordable prices at craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s.)

You still have time to order a Victorian ornament – here’s a source online that I found https://www.putti.ca/products/hinged-heart-treasure-box-ornament-pink

A bracelet filled with charms representing memories you share.

How do I love thee…. let me count the ways….. A priceless gesture of love is something that comes straight from the heart. Rather than stopping at the drug store on Valentine’s Day to sift through the last of the cards remaining, filled with someone else’s words, why not sit alone and write your own thoughts into a poem for the one you love; words you don’t say often enough or not at all, long over due. Whether hand written or printed out from a computer, sign your name at the end and find a beautiful frame to present it in. 

Okay, if you think you can’t possibly write a poem – stop at a library and search online for love poems. Find one that says what you feel and want to express to your loved one and again personalize it by signing and framing it. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/145134/love-poems-5a2f223201f49?gclid=Cj0KCQiA4NTxBRDxARIsAHyp6gCINhlH1fc7PG9I2q8TmwoKIrIVfvzUKSfJsiKOXIWBXTjr7mmhx-saAmYNEALw_wcB

Some of the greatest love stories are based on hand written love letters discovered in the attic long after their authors are gone. Letter writing has become a dying art form and is totally unexpected. Never underestimate the power of what one can do for your relationship. Regardless of what your handwriting looks like, a hand written letter is personal, intimate and romantic. Whether mailed to the recipient or tucked inside a special place for the recipient to find, your words of love are recorded directly from your heart and hand to remember for years to come. A proclamation of love in one’s own handwriting to be read over and over again, is a truly romantic gesture.

Those of you who are fans of “Sex in the City” may recall the episode when Carrie discovers the numerous emails that her assistant moved to a folder containing the historic love letters of great men that her beloved “Big” had sent her everyday for weeks (captured from a book she had been reading long before their planned wedding) and then finally his own love letter that begged her forgiveness for his mistake. The truth is that there was no book of love letters in publication in reality and following the episode a small book was published when one could not be found. So there is at least one out there. What if you left a different love letter from the book each day for a week for your beloved and then ended on Valentine’s Day with one of your own?

How about a romantic concert at home while you sip on your favorite beverage with only candlelight and cozy blankets to cuddle up with on the couch? One very romantic concert that occurred years ago and was captured on DVD is Andrea Bocelli – Under the Desert Sky. He sings romantic love songs beneath the stars in Las Vegas. Diana Krall’s sultry cadence is another great candidate- Live from Paris. Either may inspire a little slow dancing around the living room. A variety of concerts can be found for streaming on Amazon.

Valentine’s Day is on a Friday night this year. The restaurants will be packed with couples, stressed out waiters, and long waits. Why not plan a romantic evening at home? Begin with a trip to the grocery store to pick up a couple of steaks, chicken or other protein that you can cook on the grill, a salad package with dressing and everything you need; and most grocery stores have chocolate dipped strawberries that can be served for dessert. Choose one of the favorite wines you both enjoy or that holds a memory of another romantic time you shared. An inexpensive bottle of bubble bath and votive candles. A bouquet of roses also would be nice, but if there are roses in your garden, snipping a bundle would work just as well.

So here’s the plan- try to get home before your partner. Surround a clean bathtub with lit candles, a small vase of roses and a poured glass of wine. Minutes before your partner’s arrival, fill the tub with warm water and lots of bubbles (if you hold your finger on the end of the faucet as the water flows it will froth the bubbles and they will rise and multiply). Once the tub is filled, drop a few rose petals on top of the bubbles. Lay a towel and your favorite nightie that she wears on a chair or bench. Hang a robe from the top of the door. Close the bathroom door and create a path of rose petals from where your partner enters the house to the bathroom door where the candlelit bubble bath awaits her. (By the way no one says you can’t join her – but since this is a surprise for her, wait to be invited.)

Invite your partner to take a hot bath to relax and unwind from the week, while you grill the steaks, prepare the salad and set the table. Either prepare a playlist of love songs you both enjoy or Pandora has a love songs station from Pop, to Country, or Jazz that can take care of the background music while you dine. (You may even play music from the artist that you will then watch in concert from the couch afterward in the previous section.)

The language of flowers can be considered floral poetry: “Floriography is the ‘language of flowers‘. Dating back to the Victorian times floriography was used as a means of coded communication through various flowers and floral arrangements, allowing people to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. For centuries, this cryptic language has inspired the giving of flowers to convey emotion. Floriography originated in the courts of Constantinople in early 18th-century Turkey, spreading throughout Europe and Asia, eventually making its way to America in the mid-19th century.” (source: Traditional Home Magazine & All Florists in the UK)

The rose is a classic symbol of grace and elegance, and while most associated with Valentine’s day because the red rose stands for love and passion and the pink rose is often given as a token of admiration and appreciation, the rose may not be your partner’s favorite flower. My mother, my daughter and I are all partial to hydrangeas of all kinds regardless of what meaning Floriography has assigned the luscious ball of beauty – but if you want to make an appropriate choice according to the philosophy -Pink hydrangeas symbolize heartfelt emotion. Blue hydrangeas symbolize frigidity and apology. White hydrangeas symbolize boasting or bragging. Purple hydrangeas symbolize a desire to deeply understand someone.

The tulip is also readily available this time of year. A Turkish legend may be responsible for the red tulip’s symbolism. The story goes that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin. When Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself – riding his horse over the edge of a cliff. It’s said that a scarlet tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning “perfect love.” Different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, purple symbolizes royalty, white tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Yellow tulips symbolizing cheerful thoughts, pink tulips – a symbol of caring, attachment (not as strong as love, like the red) and good wishes. They would be appropriate for a friend or family member or someone you’ve just met and have grown to care about, but it may be too soon to express love for.  The colors typically have similar meaning with each variety, red – love; yellow-friendship; pink-admiration; white purity, forgiveness.

If you choose to consider the language of flowers in a mixed bouquet you present, make a little note about your selections on the card to explain the choices you made so that your partner realizes that your bouquet was personally designed with thought from the heart.

Maybe your partner has always wanted to go to Paris or Bora Bora or Africa , but it’s simply not in your budget. Create a night at home bringing that dream place to her. Let’s go with Paris for this example. Search images of Paris where she most wants to go, i.e. Paris cafe’s, Giverny Gardens. Engage the help of a friend or family member to help you transform a small corner in your home into an evening in Paris. A small round table, and two chairs with a white tablecloth – cafe’ style. Candlelight, white twinkle lights strung from above. Pandora has a French Cafe’ station to help you with the music. If you’re a cook, make a French bistro favorite or order from a French restaurant and bring it home. Buy a decadent chocolate dessert (Le Madeline’s Sacher torte is perfect or some other decadent chocolate favorite from a local bakery). You don’t have to do all of the work, let the resources out there help you with your plan.

If your partner loves chocolate – don’t forget the chocolates! Just know that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good chocolate. When I was a little girl, my Dad bought a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates every year for my Mom. I’d patiently wait for her to pull the plastic wrap away and lift the lid. She the chocolates with nuts were her favorite, so she always let me have the solid milk chocolate messenger man in the middle of both layers of chocolate. All these years later – the box still has two layers and costs about $15 – I’ve seen it for $7.99 on sale this time of year – you can wrap it beautifully as indicated at the beginning.

While Valentine’s Day has become filled with expectations of flowers and heart shaped boxes of candy – an unexpected well thought out romantic gesture goes much further than a last minute stop at the store to grab the last of what’s left on Valentine’s Day. I hope these ideas will inspire you to form your own expression of love with a thoughtful, heartfelt gesture that you know will please your Valentine. As for those of you who receive these special gestures, you are very fortunate and very loved – make sure to express your appreciation for the effort that has been made in your honor. Your encouragement made lead to more romantic gestures.

  • A candlelight picnic by the fireplace on a cold winter’s night.
  • A drive to an open area for star gazing with a thermos of hot chocolate, bring warm cuddly blankets and spend some time in the quiet to just talk and be together.
  • A chocolate and wine pairing to do together or with friends (google search for ideas).https://explore.lindtusa.com/perfect_pairings/
  • An Alpine fondue for two – see my Alpine Alsace Friendsgiving post – a cheese fondue can be made from scratch or there are boxed versions in the cheese departments that simple require heating. (Whole Foods and other wine stores that also sell cheese)
  • If there is a favorite restaurant that you frequent, ask to speak to the chef or manager. Ask if the menu for Valentine’s day has been decided. Negotiate to have the special prepared for you and your partner the weekend before the holiday – with your chosen table. This avoids the crowds and while you may not be a celebrity that can pay to close down a restaurant for the night for just the two of you, making this special private arrangement will make someone feel very loved and appreciated.

However you plan to spend your Day of Hearts – here’s wishing everyone love!