Writing A Blog, A Lifetime Adventure

Little treasures discovered while exploring the back roads of life” is the tag line that I created when I started my blog Back Road Journal nine years ago. The journal is where I share my passion for food, travel and the good things in life that I encounter with readers like youself. Much has changed in my life, as well as in the world, as I start my 10th year of blogging so I thought I might go back and reminisce.

narrow street in bruges, belgium

Bruges, Belgium Where You Can Touch Buildings On Both Sides Of A Narrow Street

I’ve written my posts from three homes, a farm in New Hampshire, a summer cottage in Maine and now from our home in a small resort town on the east coast of Florida. Each different location has influenced what I have shared over the years in my journal.

summer cottage in Maine

Our Summer Lakeside Cottage In Maine

My first post was composed while sitting on a weathered Adirondack chair on the back deck of our summer lakeside cottage in Naples, Maine. I had read every book I could find about blogging but the tech talk seemed like a foreign language to me. I finally wrote a short article but hesitated to push the publish button. My husband looked over and said “just do it”. As they say, the rest is history.

The big events in Naples were the 4th of July Parade and the annual classic wooden boat show. I had only been blogging for two months when my post about the Antique and Classic Wooden Boat and Car Show was Freshly Pressed by WordPress…I was thrilled!

Most of our summers were spent outdoors on the lake or on back roads as we discovered what makes New England such a special part of our country. Camden, Rockport, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park were all just a few hours away from our cottage which made for easy exploring. The region is delightful with quaint villages, light houses along its rugged coastline and offshore islands just waiting to be discovered.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show. 

Summers always included simple, good foods such as lobster rolls, BLT sandwiches with tomatoes fresh from our garden and blueberry pie eaten on the deck or enjoyed at one of the restaurants in town just a few minutes walk from the cottage.

Three years into blogging, I wrote a post on Growing Tomatoes Successfully that was also Freshly Pressed by WordPress. The different varieties of heirloom tomatoes were started in my potting shed in New Hampshire and then taken, along with a variety of herbs to Maine to be planted in our small garden on Memorial Day. I have to say that they were the best tomatoes we have ever eaten…oh how I miss their fantastic homegrown flavor.

Come September, the dock was pulled, the boat and jet ski stored and the cottage winterized as it was time to head back to our historic 1730’s home in New Hampshire. Fall had arrived, the leaves were turning gold and crimson, the weather was cool and it was time to start harvesting the apples in our orchard.

I felt like Martha Stewart each fall when we returned to the farm. Time was spent picking apples and pears and pies, cakes and cookies were baked. Cider was pressed, apple wine was made and apple sauce  simmered on the stove in our keeping room kitchen.

Fall quickly turned into winter, beautiful but harsh. Christmas was especially wonderful living in New England as it felt like you were a part of an old Currier and Ives print that many of you might be familiar with.

Three years into my blog, I received an email from the editor of Country Woman magazine. She had come across Back Road Journal and a post about my kitchen. She asked if I would like to write an article for their 2014 Christmas issue. Be still my heart! The magazine gave me permission to write a blog post about the experience of having the magazine photograph the kitchen after the Christmas issue was published.

kitchen featured in country woman magazine

Our Kitchen Featured In The Christmas Edition Of Country Woman Magazine

Seven of the nine years blogging have featured trips to Europe, six being road trips featuring the countries of France, Italy, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic and one cruise from London to Barcelona.

You might wonder what happened in 2014 and 2015 that kept us from traveling. We sold our sweet cottage in Maine and then our wonderful historic New Hampshire farm because we were having a house built for us in Vero Beach, Florida. We sold most of our belongings and moved back to Florida where we had lived years before.

During that time, I wrote about how to have a barn sale, how to get ready to move and even how to cope with crutches…yes, I broke my foot just as the farm was put on the market.

No matter where we have lived or where we have traveled, one thing has remained a constant and that is good food. Whether a burger cooked on the grill or a multi course meal in a three star Michelin restaurant, the appreciation of good food has always played a big part on Back Road Journal.

 

I haven’t written much about Florida other than to let you see how different life is when you change latitudes. Since we’ve moved south, there is no snow and no climbing a ladder to prune and pick apples trees. It’s been replaced with sun, palm trees and tropical flowers.

Perhaps you might think my life isn’t as interesting as it used to be and maybe so. What it has become is more simple and that is the reason we moved. I enjoy our new life in Florida and all the wonderful friends that my husband and I have made but I’m thankful for all the years spent in lovely New England…they are memories that will last a lifetime.

Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve used three cameras, three computers and worked with numerous operating systems. Now as I start my 10th year, WordPress is dropping the editing system I’ve always used. I’ve adjusted to changes over the years but if you don’t see me around for a little while, you will know that my technical abilities are making life a little challenging but I won’t stop blogging. If you are a new reader…welcome and I hope you return. If you have been following me for all these years, thank you for your friendship and comments, they are always appreciated.

Wherever I am in the world, you can be sure that I’ll have a camera and a computer by my side so that I can continue to share my passion for food, travel and the good things…the little treasures that make life enjoyable.

 

 

 

Posted in food, Garden, Home, lifestyle, photography, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 49 Comments

International Travel Plans

As the long weeks of lockdown and social distancing restrictions start to slowly ease, you might start thinking once again about international travel plans to a destination that you have been dreaming about for months if not years.

planning a European holiday

Planning A European Holiday

Before you book your international travel plans, make sure you check the current travel restrictions for the countries you wish to visit as they are constantly evolving. Even though you can buy an airline ticket, custom officials at your arrival point might not let you enter their country to start your holiday.

Each year my husband and I travel to Europe but it is essentially closed to Americans and citizens of other countries. However, plans are underway to let their citizens begin cross border visits to certain of their neighbors. All people are being strongly advised to avoid non essential travel as they might not be allowed to enter a country unless they can provide acceptable proof of an urgent reason for entry. That alone leaves most of us, including my husband and I, not being able to travel to Europe and beyond any time soon. We will have to wait until each country opens their borders to everyone.

If you do decide to go and are admitted, you may encounter strict entry requirements and quarantine measures (up to 14 days) and then may have to follow reentry rules (another 14 days) once you travel back home. These rules keep changing but some countries have stated that upon arrival, travelers will need to provide officials with an address where they will self quarantine and there will be spot checks to make sure people do not break the rules. They also state that accommodations might be arranged by government officials.

I could do another 14 day self quarantine at home without a problem but would I really want to spend 14 days in one spot in the city I flew into before I could start my planned holiday. More than likely, I would probably not be able to pick the hotel of my choice in the arrival city either. No matter how nice the hotel room might be, I would still be wanting to go out each day and explore the city I was visiting.

Bristol Suite In Vienna

Bristol Hotel Suite, Vienna, Austria With A Wonderful  View Of The Opera House Next Door

Spending a considerable amount of my holiday locked in a hotel room, even if beautiful, without receiving standard services such room cleaning, dining privileges or being able to use the hotel’s facilities isn’t the way I want to start a vacation. I doubt there will be a hotel advertising its “fabulous fourteen day quarantine service” that would make me want to stay two weeks before continuing on with my travel plans.

BMW rental car

Rented BMW Parked At Entrance Of The Wald And Schlosshotel Friedrichsruhe, Germany

I’m also pretty sure that tourists wouldn’t be allowed to rent a car and then travel on their own for several hours to a wonderful resort to start 14 days of quarantine. Even if we were, there would still be no room cleaning, etc. and what would we do…look out the window or stand on a balcony admiring the scenery off in the distance or look down at guests relaxing around the pool that we couldn’t use. No, quarantining in place for 14 days doesn’t sound appealing even if it happened to be in a country I love visiting.

view from outdoor pool hotel lermoos

View FromThe Outdoor Pool At Post Hotel  In Lermoos, Austria

With that in mind, I think most of us will probably wait until all restrictions are lifted before we start to travel. It will happen…European countries are already talking of easing restrictions with neighboring countries. It will take time but if all goes well Europe and other countries will slowly open their borders, with certain conditions, to the rest of the world.

With most airlines, cruise ships and hotels having change fee waivers in place for both new ticket purchases and otherwise nonrefundable hotel bookings, it does seems reasonable that we could start planning a vacation then decide later on whether or not to take the trip based on circumstances as they develop.

While I do feel that there is no harm in starting to plan for a future holiday, the most important thing we need to remember is to not make bookings that require big deposits or that aren’t cancellable or refundable. Also important, investigate travel insurance and see if it would cover what you book if circumstances make your trip impossible.

Until there is a Covid-19 vaccine or more information on antibodies, each of us is going to have to think long and hard about our own personal risk before we travel. It is not just about getting on a plane, ship, train or bus…it is also about where we will stay, where we will eat, where we visit and the people we will encounter. Only you will be able to make the final decision on whether to take that international trip that you have been dreaming about for so long.

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Tuscan White Beans And Tuna / Fagioli e Tonno

Tuscan White Beans And Tuna or Fagioli e Tonno in Italian is a classic dish that is usually served as a starter in Italy but it also makes a nice lunch. It is beyond simple to prepare and you probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen pantry. You can turn this into an Italian insalata by adding lots of fresh veggies to the serving platter or serve it with some sliced prosciutto, a chunk of cheese and crusty bread for a quick warm weather dinner.

White Beans And Tuna, A Classic Italian Starter

When preparing for the Coronavirus lockdown, I made sure that I had plenty of canned goods including tuna and lots of different types of beans in my pantry. For this recipe, I used canned chunk tuna in olive oil and canned cannellini beans but if you have dried beans by all means cook up a large pot and use some for this recipe.

Tuscan White Beans and Tuna

Serves 4 – 6 as an appetizer, adjust the recipe accordingly

  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 – 2  Tbsp. lemon juice or red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • 2 15.5 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2  4.5 oz. cans solid tuna packed in extra virgin olive oil (drain tuna if not in oil)
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 small sweet red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings together. Add the beans, mashing a few gently with a spoon. Add the tuna and break up into bite size pieces. Add the garlic, onion and parsley and mix until everything is coated. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. The flavor improves the longer it sits so this can be prepared early in the day then refrigerated. It can be served chilled or at room temperature…I prefer it not too cold. Right before serving, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and add some freshly ground pepper. Slices of bread (crostini) drizzled with olive oil and then toasted are the perfect accompaniment.

Tips:

  • If the red onion you are using has a strong taste, you can soak the slices in ice water, then drain and pat dry.
  • If you are planning to serve the beans and tuna as an appetizer spread on crostini as I often do, mix until well blended (think of it like an Italian hummus) as it will be easier to eat as finger food.
  • If you would like to serve it as a salad, do not mash any of the beans and gently toss the ingredients until everything is just coated.
  • For a summer salad, you can add sliced cherry tomatoes, celery, olives or veggies of your choice on top of arugula.

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This dish doesn’t really require a true recipe because it is so easy to prepare. It is just simple ingredients, simply prepared as so many Italian dishes are. The secret to remember when preparing a dish like this is to use top quality ingredients. Tuscan white beans and tuna is one of those dishes that can be prepared at the last minute making it the perfect quick nibble to serve with a glass of wine when friends drop by unexpectedly.

 

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Olives, A Simple Ingredient With Great Taste

Delicious food doesn’t need to be fancy, it doesn’t even have to be a complete meal. Great taste can come from a simple ingredient such as olives, standing alone or when mixed with other ingredients. Of course, each of us has a different idea of a simple ingredient, a dish or even a meal that we would characterize as tasting great.

olives, cheese, fruit and wine

Olives, A Succulent Pear, Aged Parmesan, Crackers And Wine

A dish of briny olives combined with a chunk of aged Parmesan cheese, bread or crackers, a succulent ripe pear along with a glass of crisp white wine, all ingredients that figure prominently in the Mediterranean diet, can create a simple and tasty light meal that has been enjoyed by people for centuries.

I would say that olives and the oil pressed from them, are ingredients that play a prominent role in the foods I prepare to make them taste great. If you are an olive lover like myself, they are probably often used in your kitchen as well. Olives unique flavors, whether black or green, go well with salty foods such cured meats, anchovies, capers, feta and Parmesan cheese. They also go surprisingly well with the sweet fruity flavors of dates and oranges as well as tomatoes, fennel and caramelized onions. I would say olives contribute a lot to making a meal taste great.

Warm olives and almonds are perfect for a tapas party served with a glass of wine.

warm olives and almonds

Warm Olives And Almonds With Greek Meatballs (Keftedes)

 Warm Marinated Olives and Almonds

  • 2 c. mixed olives such as Gaeta, Nicois, Kalamata or Picholine
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove peeled and flattened
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. fennel seedes
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. rosemary
  • zest of a lemon
  • 1 c. shelled whole almonds

Rinse the olives and drain well. Warm the oil in a small pan and add the garlic, red pepper, herbs and lemon zest. Bring the oil to a simmer over medium low heat. Add the olives and almonds, toss well and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes until warm and fragrant.

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An orange and olive salad is a refreshing combination of sweet and salty flavors that makes a nice side to serve with chicken, pork or fresh seafood.

Mediterranean Olive And Orange Salad

Mediterranean Olive And Orange Salad

Mediterranean Olive And Orange Salad

  • 1 pkg. of baby arugula
  • 1 large navel or blood orange, peeled and sectioned, juice retained
  • 1/4 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 c. sliced green olives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Warm the minced garlic in the olive oil to infuse the flavor and set aside. Peel the orange, making sure to remove all the pith. Section the orange between the membranes over a bowl, saving the juice. Cut the orange segments into bit size pieces.  Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to the saved orange juice in the bowl and whisk to emulsify. In a large bowl, gently toss the arugula, olives, orange sections, onions, and dressing to combine then serve.

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There is nothing better than a preserved lemon tapenade to brighten simple grilled meats such as lamb, pork or chicken.

preserved lemon tapenade

Preserved Lemon Tapenade

Preserved Lemon Tapenade

  • 1/2 c. chopped pitted black and green olives
  • 1/4 of a preserved lemon, rind only, washed and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp.lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients and let sit for a few minutes for the flavor to meld. Optional ingredients such as anchovies, capers, mustard and other herbs can be added to suit your taste. (Any leftover can be refrigerated for a week or two.)

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Moroccan lamb shanks are a perfect example of how olives pair with the sweetness of apricots in this extremely flavorful dish served on a bed of couscous.

lamb shanks with olives and apricots

Tender Lamb Shanks With Olives And Apricots

Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks With Olives And Apricots

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 lamb shanks (1 shank a person unless they are very large)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 piece of ginger (about 2 inches), peeled and grated
  • 3 Tbsp. ras el hanout*, a North African spice mix available from ethnic and some grocery stores
  • 2 tsp. harissa, sriracha or other hot pepper sauce
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1  15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 c. chicken stock
  • 8 or more dried apricots, sliced
  • a handful of pitted green olives
  • minced fresh mint or cilantro for garnish
  • cooked couscous as an accompaniment

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides then remove to a plate. Add onions and carrots and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic, ginger, the ras el hanout, harissa, cumin, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for a minute. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and stir. Add the shanks back in the pot. (The shanks should be submerged in the liquid halfway, if not add some water.) Cover the pot and simmer on the cooktop, turning the lamb about halfway through the cooking, for about 2 to 3 hours (depending on the size of the shanks) or until the meat is tender and sauce is thickened. Skim off any accumulated fat that has risen to the top. Add the apricots and olives and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the apricots are soft. To serve, place some couscous in a bowl, top with a shank, spoon some sauce on top and garnish with some chopped mint.

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As you can see, olives as well as olive oil contribute significantly to the flavors of many dishes. From a snack served with cocktails, a refreshing salad, a topping to bring out the flavor of simply grilled meats or to create a sweet and savory sauce for Moroccan lamb, the simple olive and its flavorful, healthy oil can have you thinking “that meal was great”.

 

 

 

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Will You Cruise Again

I know that many of you booked a cruise this year…some for a long weekend to the Caribbean and others to Alaska, Europe and Asia. When the no sail order is lifted, will you rebook as soon as possible or will you give pause to cruising for the foreseeable future?

regent seven seas explorer

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer

My husband and I loved sailing on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer because of its relative small size with 750 guests and a crew of 550. The ship was elegant, our cabin was beautiful, the service couldn’t have been better and the food and wine which was all included in our fare was excellent. The whole ship was kept immaculate and crew members were always sanitizing all the surfaces. Hand sanitizing stations were in each public restroom as well as outside every dining area. With all that in mind, I’m still uncertain about taking another cruise anytime soon because of Covid 19 and no vaccine available in the near future.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

I would hope that future passengers boarding any cruise ship would have followed health authority guidelines during the pandemic and would not be a health risk to other passengers. What I wonder about are the ports of call that passengers would be visiting. Knowing that tens of thousands of tourists disembark cruise ships everyday to explore a new port of call, I wonder what health issues might still arise and  would unknowingly be carried back on board.

Symphony of the Seas

Mega Ship Symphony of the Seas Can Carry Over 6,000 Passengers

Mega ships such as the Symphony of the Seas can hold up to 6,680 passengers. That is the population of some small towns and not what I think of for a relaxing cruise. Because of the perceptions of health risks whether real or otherwise, a ship such as that doesn’t interest me, no matter how exotic the ports of call might be. Will future passengers try to practice social distancing, will they even have the slightest concern about thousands of passengers being in close quarters aboard a ship that size?

Have you wondered what has happened to the cruise ships since they have returned to their home ports? Actually some ships haven’t returned as ports like Miami have become crowded and have a shortage of berths. Some of the largest cruise lines own private cruise ports and islands where they have anchored their mega ships just offshore. That allows their crew members to disembark the ships and use the island’s facilities.

All the companies are now working to try and repatriate their crews to get down to a skeleton crew on each of their cruise ships no matter the size. They are working with the CDC as some of the ships had passengers or crew that tested positive or experienced symptoms and some still have known or suspected cases among their crew. As of April, the CDC extended the no sail order through July 24 or whenever the COVID-19 pandemic is declared over. Unfortunately some cruise lines have not informed the public of this.

I look at Regent’s catalog at least every couple of weeks and it is tempting when I remember the wonderful ports of call that we visited on our twelve day cruise.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

I’m still not certain though that I would book another cruise on Regent or even on another cruise line for the foreseeable future. It has nothing to do with the ship or crew as our experience on the Explorer was wonderful. It is the images we have all seen on the news of ships stranded at sea with passengers desperate to get home. I really can’t imagine my husband and I having to go through something like that ourselves. Travel restrictions that would affect the trip, not having the ability to disembark or being subjected to quarantine is still a real possibility once the cruise ships start sailing again.

I’m curious, would you feel safe booking a cruise or have your feelings on cruising changed. Instead of planning a cruise, have you given thought to how you might spend your next holiday?

 

Posted in lifestyle, photography, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 45 Comments

Sweet And Spicy Asian Pork Meatballs

Sweet and Spicy Asian Pork Meatballs are a savory combination of pork, herbs and Asian spices browned until crispy then simmered in a delicious sauce until sticky and caramelized.

sweet spicy asian pork meatballs

Sweet And Spicy Asian Pork Meatballs With Rice And Pickled Slaw

The meatballs can be  served on a bed of steamy white rice or noodles alongside pickled vegetables for a delicious meal with familiar flavors reminiscent of Thailand, Vietnam and China. They would also make a great party appetizer served on skewers.

Sweet And Spicy Asian Pork Meatballs

Makes about a dozen golf ball size meatballs, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Sweet and Spicy Sauce*

  • 1 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 clove of garlic minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 5 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp.sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2  Tbsp., more or less, water

Heat the peanut oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer for about 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Remove from the heat and keep warm. If the sauce becomes too thick, thin with a little water.

*If you are planning to serve the meatballs as a party appetizer, I would suggest doubling the recipe for the sauce so that you will have extra to use as a dipping sauce.

Pork Meatballs

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 4 – 5 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger (about a 1 inch knob of ginger root)
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. peanut oil

Mix all the ingredients except peanut oil together. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for flavors to meld and the meat to firm up. At this point, you can cook a small piece of the mixture to taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Form the mixture into golfball size meatballs. Heat the peanut oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the meatballs. Cook, turning gently, on all sides until cooked through. (The meatballs can also be quickly browned and finished in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes). Add the sauce to the meatballs and simmer for a few minutes, turning until well coated.

sweet and spicy asian pork meatballs

Sweet And Spicy Asian Pork Meatballs

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I served the meatballs, their crispy exterior coated in the sticky sweet and spicy sauce, on top of a bed of  steaming white rice. I also made a quick pickled broccoli slaw which was inspired by the pickled carrot and daikon radish that are used in a Banh Mi sandwich. The pickled vegetables soften slightly but retain their crunchy texture and color that goes great with the Asian pork meatballs.

To make it: Whisk 1/4 c. rice wine vinegar, 2 tsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp. of salt in a small pan on medium heat until dissolved then cool. It is mildly acidic but you can add a tablespoon or two of water to make it milder to suit your taste. Place a package of broccoli slaw in a bowl, add the vinegar mixture, toss and let sit for at least 10 minutes before using.

Whether you decide to prepare the Asian inspired sweet and spicy meatballs to your family as part of a meal or as an appetizer when entertaining friends, I hope enjoy them as much as my husband and I did.

Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

A Pop Of Color

Today’s decorating trends lean towards rooms or even entire buildings being done in an understated palette of whites, taupes, or grays but even in the starkest of rooms, most decorators will add a pop of color to lend personality to an otherwise neutral space. It doesn’t matter if the overall design is conservative, traditional, contemporary or eclectic, color is often used to highlight architectural details that might go unnoticed otherwise. It can also to add a feeling of warmth or whimsy to a sterile environment.

Whether it is done through paint, upholstery, window treatments or artwork, color can liven up even the most formal of rooms and brighten your spirits even on a cold and rainy day. I think we can all use a bit of color, especially now that we are confined to our homes and may be tired of looking at the same interior day in and day out. Let me share with you how color has been used in rooms that I have seen during my travels both near and far.

One of the most colorful towns my husband and I ever visited was Kaysersberg, France last year. The Michelin rated hotel and restaurant Le Chambard added to the color of the village not only on the outside but the inside as well. You would not expect such an eye popping, colorfully designed hotel in such a historic and traditional village.

le chambard hotel

The Colorful Le Chambard Hotel In Kaysersburg, France

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

With its minimalist modern style, Hotel Riva on the banks of Lake Constance in Konstanz, Germany, will certainly please fans of interior design with its pale muted interior adorned with splashes of bright color.

lounge area at hotel Riva

The Lounge And Bar Area At The Riva Hotel

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Closer to home, Zota Beach Resort in Longboat Key, Florida, is a contemporary yet casual beachfront hotel located on the Gulf of Mexico. The hotel is decorated with a fun and colorful mix of furniture and art work.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

zota beach resort

Zota Beach Resort, Longboat Key, Florida

We can all use a bit of color in our life, whether it is just a small decorative pillow, a one of a kind painting or perhaps adding one wall of vibrant color to your home. So tell me my friends, does color brighten you mood and make you smile.

decorative pillow

Color Can Add A Bit Of Enjoyment To Life

 

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Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin With Toasted Pepitas

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin topped with a sprinkling of toasted pepita seeds is a mouthwatering, healthy meal that can be on your kitchen table in less than an hour. There is no fancy cooking, just rub the pork with the spice mixture, pan sear quickly and finish in the oven. The lean and tender pork cooks quickly and can stand up to the bold flavors of the sweet and slightly spicy rub.

Crunchy toasted pepitas add texture, flavor and nutritional goodness to the meal. Pepitas, which are shell less small green seeds, come from a specific pumpkin variety, known as Styrian (Austrian) or Oil Seed thin skin pumpkins and are loaded with health benefits. If your local grocer doesn’t carry the green pumpkin seeds, look for them at health food or Mexican markets.

Of course, you can use a pre made spice rub for this recipe but they can be expensive and loaded with salt and preservatives. It only takes a few minutes to make your own homemade blend that has a mixture of sweet, spicy, hot and salty tastes as I did, using ingredients found in your own spice cabinet.

I served the succulent pork tenderloin with simple mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed tart Granny Smith apples. The pork tenderloin would also be great served with rice and a cool, refreshing tomato and cucumber salad in the summer.

sweet and spicy pork tenderloin

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin With Toasted Pepitas, Sweet Potatoes And Sautéed Tart Apples

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin With Toasted Pepitas 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 – 1 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of all silverskin
  • 2 Tbsp. peanut or canola oil, divided
  • spice rub (recipe below)
  • toasted pepita seeds, for garnish*

Rub the pork tenderloin with 1 Tbsp. oil then cover with the spice rub and pat so the coating adheres. Let the meat marinate for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate for several hours.

Heat the remaining oil in an ovenproof sauté pan over medium high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the pork and sear on all sides (about 1 to 2 minutes each side). Transfer to the preheated oven and roast until the pork registers 145 degrees (about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on the size of the meat). Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes (the temperature will continue to rise) so the juices redistribute into the meat before slicing. Garnish with toasted pepita seeds, if using, and serve.

Dry Rub For Pork

  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together, taste a pinch of the mix and adjust spices, if necessary, then set aside. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled and stored in an airtight container to use at another time.

Toasted Pepita Seeds – Green Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1/4 c. green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • a pinch of cayenne (optional)

Heat the oil in a small sauté pan then add the pepitas. Cook, tossing until they turn golden. (Watch carefully so that they don’t burn). Remove from the heat and sprinkle with salt, cumin and cayenne, if using. Let cool on a plate until needed.

*If you would like to make a cup or more of toasted pepitas, you can roast them in the oven. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Toss the green pumpkin seeds with a little olive oil on a large baking sheet large. Spread out in an even layer and roast the seeds on the middle rack of the oven, stirring occasionally, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and immediately toss the seeds with salt, cumin, and cayenne, if using. Let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container.

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This recipe is very flexible so if you can’t find a pork tenderloin, a pork loin roast or chops would also be delicious prepared with the spice rub, just adjust the cooking times appropriately. If you decide to prepare this recipe, you will be creating a healthy meal as it is very low in fat…as we all know, pork is the other white meat. Sides such as the sweet potatoes and apples add to the meal’s overall nutritional value.

 

 

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Do You Cook With Leftovers Or Create Nextovers

I have friends, you know who you are, that say they never eat leftovers. Well at this present time in our lives, I bet my friends aren’t throwing out their leftovers. Of course, you can just reheat what you have left and eat the exact same meal the next day for lunch or dinner but that can get boring. Instead of reheating leftovers, why not create nextovers.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

What…you’ve never heard the term nextovers before? The idea is to prepare a larger amount of something you would normally make when cooking a meal for your family and repurpose a portion of it for an additional meal. Instead of baking one meatloaf, buy a little more meat and then divide the meatloaf mixture in half. Season each one with different seasonings then bake both meatloaves at the same time. For the first night’s dinner, top the traditionally seasoned meatloaf with a brown gravy and serve it with mashed potatoes for a classic comfort meal. Take that second meatloaf seasoned with Mexican spices and previously baked, reheat it topped with a warm salsa and serve it with corn for a delicious Mexican inspired meal. Another thought would be to turn that second meatloaf into gourmet meatloaf sandwiches that are topped with caramelized onions and homemade truffled ketchup served on herbed focaccia with a simple green salad on the side.

If you are still able to go to your local markets to buy meat, produce, etc., then try to think about how many different meals you can make for your family when you buy a package of ground meat, a box of pasta, a bag of rice or dried beans.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Make a big pot of cannellini beans and serve part as a warm bean salad topped with sautéed chicken. On another night use the remainder of the beans to make an Italian comfort meal of pasta, beans and greens for a healthy and hearty meal.

In this challenging time in our lives, when most of us are preparing our meals from what we have in our pantry, our refrigerator and freezer we need to be creative. Instead of going to our local markets on a whim to see if we can get inspired for what we are going to serve our family that evening, many of us are working from what we have been lucky enough to find in previous weeks. Some of us, need to make every single item in our kitchen go as far as it can to feed our families a nutritious meal.

By planning ahead on how you can create two or more meals each time you cook, it will help make life a little less stressful. So…to my friends that don’t like the idea of eating leftovers, just plan differently and start preparing nextovers.

 

 

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Pantry Essentials

Having lived through both hurricanes and blizzards in my lifetime, I’ve learned that my home should always have a good supply of food, home cleaning products, medicines and personal hygiene products. While my pantry usually has a good assortment of items for preparing several unplanned meals, COVID-19 has suddenly changed how I stock my pantry, refrigerator and freezer for the foreseeable future.

When I started writing this article, there were no cases of the coronavirus in our area of Florida (we now have 8) and yet shoppers reacted in a way that I was not prepared for when I visited our local supermarket. Areas of empty shelves in the store and very little meat and fresh seafood has become the new norm. Instead of buying mostly fresh foods for our meals, I’ve had to alter the way I shop. My pantry is now well stocked with long lasting, shelf stable products I can use to prepare meals for the weeks ahead and I thought I would share what my pantry includes.

I have a good supply of canned and packaged foods to use as a base for meals as they have a long shelf life and are usually easy to prepare. A big portion is made up of dried items like pasta of many shapes and sizes, rice (different varieties like basmati, brown, and arborio), couscous, farro, a variety of beans, split peas and lentils, grits and polenta, different kinds of crackers, and a variety of nuts and seeds. Items like flour, salt, sugar and breadcrumbs are essentials for the meals I will be creating.

The shelves of my pantry hold a variety of soups, canned tuna, chicken and minced clams, shelf stable milk and cheese that can be used as fresh meat alternatives for nutritious meals. Canned vegetables like tomatoes, beets, potatoes, beans, chickpeas  and corn will add to the variety of meals I can prepare.

Stocks and broths can be used as the base for homemade soups and will also add flavor to almost any savory dish I prepare. I’ve also got a good supply of olive oil that can be used for sautéing and also for creating sauces with the addition of herbs (either dried or fresh) that will top pasta. I also have several different types of vinegars for salads, vegetables and to bring out flavors in stews and other dishes.

Different mustards, barbecue and hot sauces, salsas, olives, pickles and capers as well as spices from various countries can be added to meats, pasta, grains and beans. Jarred peanut butter, jams, jellies and honey as well as canned and dried fruits will add sweetness to some of our meals. And of course, there are multiple boxes of tea and coffee for us to enjoy at the beginning of each day.

I’ve bought fresh vegetables that have a long storage life like potatoes, carrots, cabbage, hard squash and broccoli. Unpeeled onions, shallots and garlic cloves will last for several weeks sitting out on my counter. I have several tubes of herb pastes such a ginger, lemongrass and cilantro to replace hard to find items in the produce section at our market. Herbs I normally buy such as oregano, thyme and rosemary, are now growing in pots located in the garden just outside our front door.

Instead of buying sliced cheese from our deli, I’ve bought hard cheeses that are vacuum sealed and will last several months in my refrigerator as well as some processed cheeses that have a long shelf life and don’t need refrigeration. I also have a couple cartons of eggs that can last several months stored in my refrigerator.

I am using my freezer to extend the shelf life of fresh items like butter, bacon, meat, poultry, vegetables and a few bakery items. Chicken breasts, lean pork chops, ground beef, sausage, pasta sauces, homemade stock and nuts fills the majority of the freezer. I’ve repackaged some items so that they don’t take up too much room in my limited freezer space.

Since restaurants and bars are closed, our drinks cabinet has been topped off with wine and ingredients for our favorite cocktail. While maybe not considered an essential, sharing a cocktail before dinner helps ease the stress when listening to the news of the day.

As far as keeping ourselves and our home sanitary, I have common household disinfectants and bleach as well as alcohol wipes and solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol in my laundry room cabinet.

I’ve made sure to have necessary toiletries such as toothpaste and brushes, soap, hair products, skin care and personal hygiene products and a small amount of the all important hand sanitizer in my linen closet. By the way, if you don’t have any hand sanitizer but are able to buy aloe vera gel and 70% alcohol, you can make your own using 2 parts gel to 1 part alcohol.

I hope you have made preparations to have enough food to sustain yourselves for the weeks ahead. Pantry items that we would normally have in our kitchens can run out quickly when we have to rely on them for more than a few days. If you have room, I believe a two to four week supply of nonperishables as well as fresh produce that can be successfully frozen is what you and I need to keep in our kitchens for the foreseeable future.

To my friends and readers around the world, you are all in my thoughts during these unprecedented and worrisome times. Please do everything to stay safe and healthy.

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