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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Smoothies | Taking a real break

Summer Break

It may be very obvious around here, but I'm taking a little hiatus the Summer.  For me that means making a strong effort to focus on home and family vs. work.  I love sharing here and building my store, but every now and again, I need to regroup.  I need to simplify our routine, simplify our obligations and take it down to basics.  Summer is the perfect time for that.  I feel like this whole idea of beautifying by simplifying is the root of my brand and it really helps me get back to it when I make an effort to truly live it.

Busyness is a problem in this world.  Most of us have to/feel like we should be busy all of the time.  Such the rebel as I am (eh?) I try to reject this as much as possible.  I would like my family's life to be less busy, less obligated, less committed and consequently, more full.  I want Emma's summer to be full of downtime and "her" time so she can be comfortable not running at a full tilt her entire life.  I'm hoping that teaching her to be content with simplicity and content making due with just being (instead of being entertained) that she will spend less of her days chasing what's next, depending on others for her content-ness and more time just enjoying and being responsible for her own joy.

So, this is the first summer (since middle school...?) that I have taken off from work.  Emma is going to camp one morning a week so I can come here and make sure the boat is still afloat.  Thanks to Laurie and my pack/ship team, the store can run without my daily help - yay!  

I've always believed that "work" didn't have to look or even feel like work.  However, with the growth of the store, I've spent way too much time at my desk over the last year and I'm ready to stretch my legs.  I'm also excited to mentally remove myself for a while to re-commit to this dream and lifestyle of simplicity and enjoying.

(I have been taking photos of our dinners, projects and such along the way and will share periodically.  The photos will be a little more casual than usual, as most will just be snapshots before dinner or mid-project.)  

I'm spending free time immersing myself in magazines (the kind you hold in your hands) and cookbooks.  I'm making a real attempt to garden and work in the yard.  I'm doing housework, working on a couple of home projects and trying to pretend just for a couple of months that I don't have a job.

Emma is working on her cartwheels.

She is playing, discovering and being 4.
We cook together, walk to the grocery store together, do chores together and take naps together, but she is in charge of her day - her playing, her boredom, her happiness.

I'm enjoying watching her become more independent, stronger and resilient.

Her last day of school in May.

I know it is not realistic for everyone to quit their job for the summer.  During my busier times that still include work (the rest of the year!), we make an effort to say no to too much, to have some time that is just for being at home.  Even a lazy Saturday morning walk to get donuts can make a week of work melt away.

I hope you are all taking a break of sorts this summer to simplify and redirect.  The sacrifice of whatever you need to give up is worth it.

Summer Smoothies

Each day we take a walk and have a smoothie.  I'm much better at exercising when food is involved.  There is no kale or protein powder in here, just yummy fruit - so yummy and smooth.  When we were in Seaside this spring, I was spending $8 each morning on one of these at a food truck - yikes!  These cost about $0.75/each at home : )

This has become my favorite formula to make :

- Orange Juice with Mango
- Frozen Organic Berries (cheaper that fresh!) : I keep them in my kitchen containers in the freezer for easy access.  I buy mine at Target, about $10 for a giant bag of blueberries and strawberries.
- Banana
- Chia Seeds (recent addition, not pictured) : Bought a huge bag of organic at Costco for $7.  They add iron, omega-3s, etc.  Taste like tiny strawberry seeds.

Plastic Kitchen Containers are restocked.

When we lived with Mike's parents during our reno, I was convinced that I needed a fancy ($$$) blender after using his mom's.  But, when we moved back in, I was more interested in furniture than smoothies so I settled for this $20 one from target.  I have to say - works so good!  I'm glad I didn't spend $500 on a blender just for smoothies.

At the beginning of the week, I fill the large container with strawberries and medium one with blueberries.  My goal is to use up the entire container of each by the end of the week.  Then, I at least know that I had a substantial amount of fruits mixed in my diet.

So far, our summer diet consists of Tomatoes and Mozz salads, BATs (avocado instead of lettuce), waffles or muffins for breakfast and cheeseburgers on the grill for dinner.  And these healthy smoothies... all about balance ; )

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summertime Fun Collection | Pink, Blue & Aqua

Summertime Fun Collection
Throughout the year I tend to gravitate towards neutrals and classics. Something happens with the sun comes out - all of a sudden I'm buying fun print dresses and swimsuits, selecting bright bunches of flowers and going wild with pink, blue and aqua.
I've put together a little collection with a couple of linens, pot holders, aprons, candles and ribbons that feature this combination of feel good summertime colors. The are the perfect backdrop for your casual (and fun!) summer get togethers.
Shop the Summertime Fun Collection >

Shop the Summertime Fun Collection >

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Summer Favorites are Back! Willow Serving Baskets (3), Hanging Basket, Willow Vase, Flower Buckets

I've just restocked a couple of items that went too quickly and some (like these serving baskets) that weren't available until now!

These baskets have been a favorite of many of you for the last couple of years.  The baskets make nothing look like something special, when grouped together.  Suddenly, plates and napkins look charming when put in a basket, and nuts and pickles become an appetizer : )
For me, Summer Entertaining is all about ease and bounty.  These serving baskets are exactly what I envision when I think about a breezy, easy summer party.  They make anything from appetizers to stacks of plates and linen napkins look inviting and lovely.
I love lining the basket with a nice linen tea towel.  
Set of 3 :  15" Round, 11.5" Round, 10" Round.

Hanging Willow Basket, $38.50

Another favorite is back!   You might remember last year when it was filled with hydrangeas for a Shower we hosted.  I love it with flags added for the 4th of July!
The secret to using fresh branches and blooms in the basket is using floral tubes to keep them fresh.  I've included 10 large clear tubes with each basket. 

This vase gives such an earthy and casual look to anything it contains.  I will use it for flowers and also to put candles in, mixed with the Large Willow Vase with Handle (also available). 
4.5" T x 5.5" W

Garden Bucket Set of 2, $28

I've already found so many uses for these buckets - besides flowers.  Last weekend, I used the large to chill a bottle of rose and the small to hold roll-ups of silverware.  Of course, they look great with flowers, too.  

Large : 8.75" x 8" x 7.75"
Medium : 8" x 7.75" x 7"

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Penne with Grilled Chicken, Spinach & Cherry Tomatoes in a Lemon Parmesan Sauce

While everyone else is posting about burgers and brats, I'm sharing a pasta recipe - aren't you so glad?!  Yes, I love love love classic summer food, but sometimes I need a big bowl of comforting pasta in the summer, too.  I just can't help it.  This recipe is the sort of summer comfort food that I love on days when we're worn and torn, and hot, and sometimes I just want to sit in the air conditioning and have a giant bowl of pasta : )   I can't imagine I'm the only one.

At least once a week I come up with some sort of chicken (or shrimp) pasta - usually with a mixture of similar ingredients.  Every once in a while, I land on one that is the perfect mix of everything and is really worth sharing... like I did last night.   

The grilled chicken gives it an automatic fresher taste (there's your summer plug!) and you can load it up with more tomatoes and spinach if you're going for a lighter feel.  Maybe this is actually a great summer recipe.

Penne Pasta with
Grilled Chicken

1 pound of Chicken
1 tablespoon of olive oil
sea salt & cracked pepper
1 box (pound) of penne pasta
1/2 stick of butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
4 cups of fresh spinach
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1/2 cup of cream
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese

For chicken, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill on a medium-hot grill for 5-6 minutes on each side until cooked through.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil.  Season with salt.  Cook penne according to directions.  Give a quick rinse with cold water... I know, I will get some resistance from this, but I think the sauce gets just a little too goopy if the pasta is not rinsed.  You can use your personal preference!

For the sauce, melt butter in a large saute pan.  Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes and spinach and cook for 1 minutes.  Add lemon juice and cream.  Cook for 3 minutes until it begins to simmer.  

Lower heat and add cooked pasta.  

Slice chicken and add to the pasta. 

Add parmesan cheese and toss together.  Serve with more parmesan cheese on top.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The BEST Brisket Recipe | Sweet & Tender Soda Pop Brisket

Brisket can be somewhat of a daunting piece of meat.  It is very large, very fatty and notoriously hard to cook.  I've always been confused by it with the multitude of different recipes and recommendations that exist.   Should you cook it low and slow?  For 2 hours or 12?  The recommendations are all over the board.  To make matters worse, it is one of Mike's favorite comfort meals, which equals high expectations.  

I recently saw a brisket recipe that featured Coca-Cola and ketchup as the two main ingredients.  Sound like an old, yucky recipe from the 80s?  Maybe, but it came highly recommended...

Cook's Country (on PBS, my favorite channel) is filmed in an old Vermont farm house - which I love.  They feature unpretentious food with recipes that have been tested and retested.  Chris Kimball, the host, is a very poindexter looking fellow that seems to have a sophisticated (a bit snobby?) palette.   He knows everything about food, New England life and culture.  On the last episode, he said that this recipe was his favorite recipe of all time.  A recipe with sauteed onions, ketchup and Coca-Cola as the main ingredients.  Now that is something to try.  

I have to tell you, that I loved, loved loved this recipe.  I don't know what happens to sauteed onions, mixed with ketchup and Coke in an oven when it cooks with a brisket, but let me tell you - this sauce was incredible.   The entire thing only baked in the oven for 3.5 hours, then rested for 45 minutes.  

There are a couple of things that are crucial to this recipe.  The resting is a very important, apparently, as Chris described it, the many tendons of the brisket get tight during the hot cooking, but the resting period allows them to soak up the moisture of the sauce and soften, leaving the brisket fork tender.  And it was.  The original recipe called for rubbing the meat with salt 6-24 hours before cooking, but I skipped this part due to time.  If you have the time, I'd love to hear how salting it improved the tenderness, too. 

I served our Soda Pop Brisket with Ina's French Potato Salad.  It is basically steamed potatoes, dressed with herbs and a dijon vinaigrette, served warm - was a great side dish for this sweet and rich brisket.  I also served it with some really easy homemade refrigerator pickles.  I'm so excited for these simple, rustic Summer dinners.

Enamelware : You may have noticed the beautiful robins egg blue enamelware pieces I used for this very summery dinner  (Oval Platter, $18, Large Basin Bowl, $16).  They are part of my Summer Collection, here.  They are incredibly fun and lightweight - perfect for casual, outdoor entertaining. 

I made a couple of changes to their original recipe - mainly the seasonings. 

sweet & tender
Soda Pop Brisket

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3 1/2 lbs beef brisket
sea salt*
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb onion, large dice
2 cups coke-cola
1 1/2 cups ketchup
4 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

*This is the part I skipped due to time, but if you plan ahead, it would be great to try.
With a fork, poke holes in the brisket all over.  Rub the brisket with salt.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Pat brisket dry with paper towel.  In a large heavy bottomed pan (I used my dutch oven), heat 2 tablespoons of oil.  Sear brisket for 4 minutes on each side.  Remove from pan. 

Add the other 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan along with the onions.  Cook on medium until onions are tender and browned.  About 5-6 minutes.  Add ketchup, coke, onion powder and garlic powder.  Stir together, then put brisket back in, turning it to coat in the sauce.

Cover pan and put it in the oven to bake for 3.5 hours.  Remove from the oven, leaving covered, and let rest for 30 minutes.  Remove lid, then let rest for 15-30 more minutes.  Remove from pan, and slice in thick slices.  Spoon warm sauce over to serve. 

Here is the brisket before slicing. 

See how tender and juicy?  It is the resting that does it.

You really have to try it.  A very special recipe from very humble ingredients.

And for the potato salad...
I used the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for French Potato Salad, recipe, here.

It is a very simple - steamed potatoes tossed in a dijon and champagne vinaigrette with parsley, dill and scallions.  It was tart and tangy with the dressing and herbs - a perfect compliment to the sweet brisket sauce. 

Instead of cubes, I did the potatoes in slices - made it look/seem more like a dinner side dish than a potato salad.

Simple and pretty - perfect "real" food for summer.

I'm excited to snack on this all week for lunch.  I'm trying to upgrade my lunches during the week from a peanut butter sandwich... any ideas?


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Petite Berry Tarts with Easy Vanilla Custard and Graham Cracker Crust

Petite Berry Tarts with Easy Vanilla Custard and Graham Cracker Crust

For a couple of years now, I've been donating dessert for a dinner that our church sponsors at Sheffield Place, an organization and facility that serves homeless women and their children.  The program houses Up to 75 people (fourteen homeless mothers and their children at any one time).  The average length of stay is nearly four months.

Nearly all of the mothers have a mental health diagnosis, most commonly depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and bi-polar disorder.  Most of the mothers have a dual diagnosis of addiction.  Most are survivors of domestic violence, and many grew up in foster care and/or were runaways, lack a high school diploma or GED, and have felony convictions.

A typical family at Sheffield Place is headed by a mother in her 20's and the average mother has two children under five years of age. 

To prepare families for self-sufficiency and the challenges of managing a home, families practice life skills.  The mothers care for their own living unit and take responsibility for cleaning shared living spaces. With guidance, they learn to prepare healthy food on a tight budget and to resolve conflict in a positive manner. Financial education helps each woman resolve debt and place money in a savings account to begin preparing for the time when she leaves Sheffield Place.

The mission of Sheffield Place is “To empower homeless mothers and their children to heal from their trauma and help them become self-sufficient.”

The dinner that a group from our Church sponsors is to honor the mentors of the women.  The women invite someone to this dinner that has helped support them through their journey.  Sometimes it is a friend, foster care mother helping care for her children, mother, or in one instance her twelve-year-old very sweet daughter that the Mom is working hard to impress.  They get up and speak about their mentor as a way to thank them.  Hearing the stories is always heartbreaking and joyous, as they are growing in their personal strength.  These women are fighters and working so hard to overcome their circumstances.  It is amazing to witness.

To be honest, I always feel a little un-worthy to hear the stories and get to partake in the celebration.  All of the women there deserve so much respect, and here I am basking in the glow of their journey, enjoying the stories they are telling and cheering them on... and all I do is bring dessert.  But then I remember, I can share it here.  I can share with you this reminder of constant struggle that happens on the outskirts of our communities, and right under our noses.  

Celebrating with them is important.  When we celebrate with them, they feel our support and respect.  Just as with any other party we may attend or host, we are celebrating life with our friends and family.  Getting together with loved ones, giving each other hospitality and love in the form of dinner (or bringing dessert), is what I love so much about entertaining.  

As they went through the buffet, and we serve them, we here things like, "Oh I love lasagna - my Mom made the best lasagna.  My favorite meal."  Hearing things like that makes me think, these women are just like us.  She remembers the great lasagna her mom made for family dinners when she was little and now she is here.  And here I am with a group of women, serving these needing, struggling women, and caring for them.  It is a privilege to be a stand in for a family, though it is the tiniest small gesture.

Don't discount and the opportunity to share, support and celebrate... or the power of dessert.

Last year, I made big Cherry Cupcakes piled with frosting.  They were so pretty!  However, many of the women were following the programs nutritional guidelines and learning to make healthy choices.  My cupcakes were like a giant temptation for them in front of their mentors and counselors!  Oops -ugh!  So, this year, I wanted to make something more nutritious for them that they would be able to enjoy a little more guilt free : )   I also thought it would be great for them to see something that is so simple to make, that might be a good option for them to make for their family.

Of course, this would be a great dessert for a Bridal/Baby Shower since it is light and fresh or even a 4th of July party... and it is Red, White and Blue ; )  They are made ahead of time (a couple of days, even!), which always makes everything easier.

I used the Small Tart Pans from my store.     Here, you can see the Small Tart Pans ($5 for 10) compared to the Petite size ($6 for 10).  The Small are a bit smaller, making a nice individual portion of a dessert.

I put a Graham Cracker crust in each, and packed it with a measuring cup.

And then I made homemade Vanilla Pudding (pastry cream, custard.... whatever).  So yummy hot from the stove!!

This was a huge batch!  I think I had to do 8 of the original recipes.

I filled each pan about half way up with the pudding.  This is a great starting point for any tart/pie.  

Here are a few I plan to try...
Banana Cream Tart : Banana slices in before the pudding, then top with whipped cream.
Chocolate Cream Tart : Chocolate pudding, whipped cream and topped with chocolate shavings.

Here are 6, that fit on a Small Sheet Pan, $7.  Twelve-Fourteen fit on a Large Sheet Pan, $8.

Classic French Blue Linen Tea Towel, $18 for 2

Petite Berry Tarts with Vanilla Custard

recipe makes 8

10 graham crackers
1/4 cup of sugar
6 tablespoons of butter, melted
1/3 cup of cornstarch
1 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
4 eggs
4 cups of milk
1 tablespoon of vanilla
4 tablespoons of butter
fresh berries

Preheat oven to 350.

Graham Cracker Crusts :

Make crust by pulverizing graham crackers and sugar in a food processor (or in a plastic bag) until fine crumbs.  Add melted butter and pulse until it comes together.  

Portion into tart pans on a baking sheet and press with measuring cups to pack crust. 

Bake on baking sheet for 10 minutes.  Cool.

Vanilla Custard : 

In a medium sauce pan, combine cornstarch, sugar and salt with a whisk.  In a separate bowl, whisk together milk and eggs.  Add milk/egg mixture to the cornstarch and combine.  Bring to bubbling over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened.  It should cook for about 2-4 minutes.  Remove from heat, add vanilla and butter.  Whisk in until smooth.

Scoop portions of warm custard into the crusts.  Let cool.

Top with fruit.  Refrigerate until serving.

I would love to hear what ideas you have for this Mini Tart & Vanilla Custard concept!  I use the Tart Pans all of the time.  Here are my favorite recipes : 

Products Used : 

Small Tart Pans ($5 for 10)

For more information about the Sheffield Place, visit here.  You can see photos of some of the children and mothers that are benefitting from the amazing programs.

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