Archive | August, 2012

Our Bungalow – The Early Days…

28 Aug

When we bought our bungalow in 1989, it was quite different than it is today.  Built in 1920 it had only had 2 owners before us.  The elderly couple we bought it from had lived there about twenty years and I would guess had made some initial décor changes but clearly nothing had been done for a while.  Every wall was covered in wallpaper, the floors were covered in dark shag carpeting or (dingy vinyl tile) and most of the windows had heavy curtains blocking the sunshine.   To say our house was a diamond in the rough would be the understatement of the year.

We knew we wanted an older home with charm and character and its own stories to tell.  We weren’t interested in a cookie-cutter tract home, although there are times when we’d rather not have all the problems associated with a home that’s nearly 100 years old.  Here’s what we initially fell in love with.

The first thing we did was paint every wall surface white.  It was meant to be a short-term solution just to brighten the house up a bit and be a little more cheery.  We ordered mini-blinds from 3-Day Blinds to cover the majority of the 33 windows and 2 of the 4 doors.  Yes, 33 windows.  We pulled up the carpeting to expose the original hardwood floors that sadly hadn’t been very well taken care of.  Every surface of the house needed a lot of attention and we knew we had a gigantic chore ahead of us, but we took it one day at a time.

While both working full-time, we spent our evenings and weekends doing what needed to be done to make it a home.  We knew the initial decorative updates would be temporary but we needed to at least have a clean palette to start.

After two paint jobs, here’s what the house looks like today.

And yes, the water color “banner” on my blog really is my house.  It was painted for me by a friend’s mother many years ago.  The framed painting hangs proudly in our kitchen.

My plan is to post a blog about each room and show you before and after photos.  On occasion we had help, but for the most part we did all the work ourselves.

Stay tuned for the next Around the Bungalow update… The Dining and Living Rooms.  I hope you’ll stop by.

Phyllis Diller…

20 Aug

Odd the way some things are.  I have a few journals that I use to write down favorite quotes.  This morning I thumbed through one to see what I wanted to post.  I came really close to using the one below and for some reason chose the Churchill quote.  Needless to say I got chills when I read of her passing.  I’ve had the quote for years, not sure why it stood out this morning and I don’t even know why I chose against it.  Like I said, odd the way some things are.

I’ve always been a huge Phyllis Diller fan.  My husband and I were lucky enough to watch her perform live on a cruise some years ago.  Afterward, we sat next to her at the bar and listened as she told the group stories.  We all laughed and laughed.  Her stories were good, her laugh infectious.

She would appear on stage with out of control hair, and outfits that were louder than her signature laugh.  She was a self-deprecating comedianne who constantly joked about her age and appearance, her terrible cooking, and her husband “Fang”, all the while pretending to smoke from a long cigarette holder. 

One of my favorite memories was her riding a motorcyle in the movie “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number” with Bob Hope.  If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend this comedy classic.  I found the clip as I was writing this post and of course I laughed again. 

Here’s my second quote of the day… sad it has to come today.  

“My idea of exercise is a good brisk sit.”

  ~ Phyllis Diller (1917-2012)

Rest in Peace Ms. Diller and thanks for all laughs! 

There are two places…

20 Aug

“There are two places where socialism will work: In Heaven, where it is not needed, and in Hell, where they already have it.”

  ~ Winston Churchill

Insalata Caprese

18 Aug

The name means “salad in the style of Capri”.   It’s a simple but delicious dish from the Italian region of Campania, made of sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, seasoned with salt, and olive oil.  In Italy, unlike most salads, it is usually served as an antipasto (starter or appetizer) not a contorno (side dish).

While it’s unknown whether the salad actually originated on Capri, it became popular after being served there to Egypt’s King Farouk in the 1950s.

Some variations include adding chopped garlic, parsley, and various sauces, like Balsamic vinegar, Italian dressing, etc.  King Farouk reportedly enjoyed it as a sandwich filling.  Some people serve it atop pieces of baguette or other bread.  There’s a little Italian deli by my house that serves a Caprese sandwich and it’s nothing short of scrumptious.  There are countless ways to enjoy this simple little salad.

Last night I went out to my vegetable gardens to see if anything was ready for picking.  Little did I know my four cherry tomato plants were bursting with ripe little treats.

 

 

With the unusually hot weather we’ve been having the past month or so (upper 90s and low 100s) I’m not surprised I haven’t had this many to pick every day.  My plants are full of ripe and unripe little round balls and frankly I can’t keep up.  Tonight I thought I better get a head start and start eating.

I have a few basil plants in my herb garden.  I love basil.  The taste, the smell, everything about it.  Even if I never put a delicious leaf in my mouth, it would make me happy just to put the leaves up to my nose and inhale.  Easily one of my top favorite smells.  I put basil in everything.  In fact, this morning I made little muffin pan omelettes and used the tomatoes and fresh basil. Thank you Bonnie, from recipeshappen for the recipe inspiration.  If you’re not familiar with her blog, check it out, it’s fun.

 

 

Since my garden has been producing such a wealth of tomatoes, and I always have the fresh basil, Caprese salad is my go-to for a light, refreshing, homegrown treat.   One of the best things about Caprese is that there aren’t really specific ratios you have to follow.  Just cut up or slice any type of tomatoes, cut up or tear the leaves of the basil (some are small enough to just throw in as is), add the cheese and dress as you like.  For me personally, I like to add balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

If you’re like me, you don’t always have a block of fresh mozzarella in the fridge and I guess you could even use the shredded stuff for pizzas.  But what I do always have on hand is string cheese (it’s the perfect low-calorie snack for after a work-out).  Some of you may not be familiar with string cheese.   What is it you ask? Why mozzarella of course.  So named because you can peel it from one end or the other and it comes away in a “string”.  Anyway… I take out my handy dandy kitchen shears and cut little discs.  It’s perfect.

 

 

This is a great little salad and one that’s so simple to make (especially when most of the ingredients come from your garden).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s growing in your garden?

Eggplant Bhurtha

18 Aug

A friend of mine at work has an impressive vegetable garden.  I don’t know this because I’ve seen it; I’m convinced because of the variety and abundance of veggies she brings in several times each week.  I’m lucky enough to bring home things that I don’t personally grow and at times things I do, but hers are ripe and mine aren’t.  This week was no exception.

Two small purple eggplants found their way home with me and tonight I decided I would find a new recipe to use them.  I searched the internet and as is usually the case came up with a combination of several recipes I could manipulate to suit my family’s taste buds and also utilize ingredients I had on hand.

It’s no secret everyone in my household loves Indian food, so I searched for recipes using the basic ingredients found in that part of the world… cumin, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, onions.  Here’s what I came up with:

 

Ingredients

2 small purple eggplants

2 Tbl vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, grated

4-5 small campari tomatoes (or 1 medium tomato), diced up

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

¼ cup chopped cilantro

 

White rice

 

Directions

You’ll be doing 3 things at once here:  Broiling eggplant, cooking rice and preparing the remaining ingredients to be mixed with the eggplant.

Pre-heat broiler.  Rub a small amount of oil on outside of eggplant (or coat with cooking spray).  Cook until the flesh is soft and the skin is blistering off; about 30 minutes.

At the 15 minute mark, turn eggplant over for even cooking and begin cooking rice ~ I always use a rice cooker.  It’s a great way to multi-task.  The rice is perfect every time and it doesn’t take up any valuable stove top space.

Once rice is cooking, add remainder of oil, onions, ginger and garlic to large skillet or wok; cook and stir until onions are tender.  Stir in the tomato and season with spices.  Cook and stir a few minutes.

Once eggplant is done, remove from oven. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh.  Discard skin. Chop up flesh and add to skillet ingredients.  Let the mixture cook on low for about 5 minutes just so all the flavors mix with the eggplant.

Serve mixture over rice and garnish with fresh cilantro.

 

 

We all really enjoyed this new recipe.  Some dishes are just meant to be and this one didn’t disappoint.  It was bursting with flavors that were familiar and pleasing to our palette and it was filling.  It was prepared using only homegrown vegetables and is a great option for the vegetarians in your life.  I happen to have two in mine.  Oh, and it was super easy.  Does it get any better than that?

Thank you Diana for the beautiful eggplant that inspired me tonight!

 

 

One of the things…

16 Aug

“One of the things the government can’t do is run anything.  The only things our government runs are the post office and the railroads, and both of them are bankrupt.”

  ~ Lee Iacocca

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

15 Aug

This is not a book I would normally choose, and to be fair to my great taste in literature, I didn’t choose it.  It was a selection from one of my book club members.  I finished this book about a month ago and have read several others in the meantime but it’s taken me some time to really digest my thoughts and compose them in such a way that I write a review that’s not just a rant.  It should have some value, right?  The review, not necessarily the book.

 If you’re not familiar with this book (or the movie that followed), it’s about the events surrounding the 1947 torturous murder of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles.  What followed was the greatest manhunt in California history.  Sadly, even after reaching national attention and notoriety, 65 years later the murder remains unsolved.

 

The author took the basic facts of the investigation and wove in his own characters and details and ultimately solves the case.  In his young life, Mr. Ellroy experiences great trauma with his own personal and life-changing encounter with murder and clearly draws on that experience to paint a picture that’s dark and perverse.  It’s a book based on fact but rooted in fiction.  If after reading my review you decide to read the book, I would recommend you first do some research on the case itself.  It would be helpful to know where the lines of fact and fiction have been blurred.  Not blaming anyone for my own choice, but in hindsight, I wish I had researched a bit.  I was under the impression it was a book of actual events, not an author’s stab (no pun intended) at creative license.

The story is seen through the eyes of flawed Bucky Bleichert, ex-prize fighter and something of a boy wonder on the police force.  He and fellow cop (and boxing rival) Lee Blanchard are assigned the case together.  Collectively they delve into the short life and mutilation death of the young lady later dubbed The Black Dahlia.  Through the stress and obsession of the case, their friendship, work ethic and love for the same woman will be tested significantly. Both are fixated with the Dahlia, driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to indentify and capture her killer and to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of post-war Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl’s twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.

Each character is described in great detail.  Corrupt cops, city officials, pimps, GIs, Mexican bar owners, prostitutes, society matrons… they tend to get confusing.  I found it hard to follow at times and wasn’t sure which characters needed to remain in the forefront and which could be forgotten.  Another aspect I struggled with was the vernacular.  I understand cop-speak and have read many books set in the ‘40s.  What was confusing was that the author used so many words and expressions that frankly, I got tired of looking up to understand what they meant.  Many I didn’t find at all.  I don’t typically read sitting in front of a computer with the internet to rescue me.  I found that when I encountered one of these characters or expressions, I would just continue on and hope it wouldn’t be important later. 

Ultimately I found very little was important and I pushed myself simply to finish.  Needless to say this wasn’t a book I enjoyed at all.  It was crude, violent, gratuitous and gory at every turn.  I don’t have a prudish outlook and can handle most subject matter, but it just felt as though the author tried to push this to the limit.  Maybe he wanted us to experience the gruesome and unfathomable crime that was committed.  Maybe he wanted some exposure to the notorious murder that might light a fire under a detective’s chair and get the case re-opened.  Maybe he wanted to tell a little of his own personal story and used the Dahlia as his vehicle.  Whatever it was, I found it fell short in every way.

Easy Pickled Banana Peppers

14 Aug

So as most of you know, I expanded my vegetable garden this year from one planter to two.  In the past the only kind of peppers I have grown were bell peppers (of which I don’t even like).  I love them when they’re red, yellow or orange, but once they turn green, I’m out. 

This year I planted 4 other varieties, one of which was yellow banana peppers.  My taste buds tend to gravitate toward the spicy, pickled, vinegar, garlic… must be the Italian in me.  Anyway, I put yellow banana peppers on every sandwich I eat.  So it just made sense to try and grow them myself. 

 

 

 

 

They start out oblong and yellow on the plant, and eventually become funny looking fellows.  I had no idea they’d get all curly.  Once I picked them and brought them in the house, I found after several days they started to turn orange and then red.  Pretty cool.

 

 

Now what to do with them?  They didn’t really taste very good in this raw state.  At least it wasn’t the flavor I was looking for.  I went online and found several recipes to help me pickle them.  Quite a few called for celery seed and mustard seed, but of course I don’t have those in my spice cabinet, so I searched until I found a recipe that included only the ingredients I had.  I know I could have just gone and bought the other ingredients, but why not just try this one? 

The recipe called for 2 pounds of peppers.  My goodness, how many plants do they have?  My plant typically yields about 2 peppers at a time.  Because I didn’t have as many peppers, I adjusted all the other ingredients to suit my crop.  Like I always tell you, it’s your kitchen, your rules.

 

Ingredients

 7-8 peppers, varying in color (because they were varying in how long they’d been sitting in my kitchen)

4 cloves of garlic (sliced in half lengthwise)

¾ cup water

¾ cup white vinegar

2 tsp salt

 

Directions

  1. Wash the peppers, cut off the tops and remove the top section of seeds (it’s like a ball)
  2. Slice the peppers into rings of whatever thickness you prefer
  3. Put the rings and garlic pieces into a glass jar that has an airtight seal when closed (Mason jar, etc.) 
  4. In a small saucepan add the water, vinegar and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat
  5. Remove from heat and pour over the top of the rings and garlic
  6. Use a butter knife to move the peppers around to remove air bubbles and get the peppers and garlic submerged in the liquid
  7. Seal the jar and set aside on the counter overnight – the peppers will fade in color a bit
  8. After 24 hours, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks

 

 

After they had been in the refrigerator for a full day I thought I’d give them a try.  And I really loved the way they looked; red, yellow and orange all swimming in the delicious pickling juices.  Everyone getting along.  I wasn’t sure what to expect taste-wise though.  Would the flavor be just like the ones I buy at the store?  Would it be better?  Worse?  They were pretty darn good, I must say.  My daughter’s first thought was they could use more “bite”.  I already know what you’re thinking…  Maybe if I’d used the mustard or celery seeds it would have provided that extra spice.  Don’t misunderstand, my batch is good, they have a nice tangy flavor, they’re just not hot.  Do I need this batch to be hot?  Absolutely not.  Now bring on the sandwiches, I’ve got peppers to eat!

 

Personalized Individual Homemade Pizzas

12 Aug

I was watching The Dr. Oz Show the other day and he had a few celebrity chefs as guests who had come up with lower calorie recipes for our favorite take-out dishes… Hamburgers, pizza and tacos.  I thought I’d be most interested in the taco, but after watching Chef Todd English prepare his pizza, I was convinced I needed to try it.

 

Now, if you’ve read my recipe posts before you know I never follow a recipe exactly.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t have the exact ingredients on hand, don’t care for a particular ingredient or frankly, I just forget a step or two.  Let’s face it, if I were a master chef I’d have my own TV show and wouldn’t be writing this silly blog.  Having said that however, let me say that my pizza was Uh-may-zing!

 

Growing up, one of my favorite dinners was to make individual pizzas. Everyone got to make whatever they wanted, pepperoni, sausage, pineapple, green pepper; if you wanted it you could have it.  No rules, nothing was out of bounds.  But if you made it, it was dinner.  I’ve carried on the pizza tradition with my daughters as well and it’s always been a favorite for them too.  It’s so much fun to design the perfect pizza in your mind, create it in your kitchen and enjoy it in your belly.

 

The recipe I followed (for the most part) from Todd English called for whole wheat Naan, but of course I forgot that part and picked up a package of whole wheat pita bread instead.  I’ve listed my pizza ingredients below, but feel free to check out the original recipe and short video if you want to see the real deal.

 

 

Ingredients

1 cup quartered artichokes*

2 tsp Mezzetta chimichurri sandwich spread*

2 Tbl low fat ricotta

4 or 5 large basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

¼ cup shredded low fat mozzarella

4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

½ cup arugula

1 tsp EVOO

1 tsp lemon juice

Salt

 

*Chef English’s recipe called for grilled artichokes, but I just used the regular quartered ones out of a can.  He also used what he called artichoke spread, but I couldn’t find that at my grocery store, so when I found the Mezzetta sandwich spread on the shelf I chose the chimichurri flavor (cilantro, parsley and garlic).  It sounded like the perfect complement to the other flavors in the pizza.  Well, needless to say it smelled and tasted delicious.  I definitely see sandwiches in my future with the spread on the bread (can’t have the rest of the jar go to waste!).

 

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Spread the chimichurri across pita to create a thin layer.  Add quartered artichokes and tomatoes.  Mix the ricotta and basil to create a smoother creamier texture.  Drop a few dollops on pizza.  Top pizza with shredded mozzarella.  Bake for about 7 or 8 minutes.  Ricotta mixture should begin to spread out a little bit.  It won’t melt down completely, just settle in.

While pizza is cooking, put arugula in a small bowl, add EVOO, lemon juice and a little bit of salt. Toss by hand to coat completely.  When pizza is ready, top with fresh arugula salad… sounds unconventional I know, but trust me you won’t be disappointed.

I was able to use fresh basil and tomatoes from my yard (always a bonus) and maybe next year I’ll have more ingredients for this pizza growing in one of my gardens.  My pizza was so yummy, it was… is  yummilicious a word? If not, it should be.

Gathered around the dinner table tonight were my husband and one of my twin daughters. I made pizza sauce for their pizzas (my basic recipe: tomato sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, onion salt, and pepper).  My husband’s pizza was pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, pineapple and fresh basil.  He loved it.

 

 

My daughter made a pineapple and jalapeno pizza and as you can see I couldn’t get to her soon enough to take the picture before she started in on it.  She loved hers too.

 

 

Remember, it’s all about you.  What tickles your taste buds?  This isn’t a pizza you have to share; it’s yours, all yours.  Don’t be afraid to use this philosophy in other recipes too.  There are some rules you should stick to, like fish and cheese shouldn’t be served together, but for the most part, think outside the box.  If you like an ingredient, throw it in there.  If it doesn’t turn out, chalk it up to a learning experience, but imagine if it’s fantastic!  You could be the next big thing, if not on Food Network, at least in your very own kitchen. And which place is more important anyway?

 

Happy cooking.

Inspired by Hobbes…

11 Aug

My daughter just came in the room and said, “Mom, come look at Hobbes”.   Like most cats, he spends his time looking for something to sleep in or on and seldom has trouble finding it.  Today was no exception.

 

 

He’s the King of everything around here and doesn’t quite understand where he falls on the food chain.  4 adults, a dog, another cat. What does he care?  He’s Hobbes.  King.  He’s been ruling the roost for 12 years now.  He’s more dog than cat, he’s quite the snuggler and lovable to a fault. He doesn’t understand that “no means no” and can’t seem to leave our other cat Abby alone… Poor Abbygirl.

 

 

His antics make us laugh and his constant pleas for affection warm our hearts.  He needs to be close at all times.  Sometimes I think if he could fit in our pockets he’d climb in.  He only seems comfortable on our laps and sleeping on our heads at night.  Years ago my daughter started carrying him around her neck like a mink stole.  You’d think he’d protest, but I guess he just considers it another form of snuggling.  He’s also quite comfortable on his back stretched out.  She just flips him over, he stretches out and all is good in his world.

 

 

James Herriot said “Cats are connoisseurs of comfort.”  Do you think maybe he knew Hobbes?

 

 

Do you have a Hobbes in your life?

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