Laundry Rooms, A Luxury Or A Necessity

Laundry Rooms, once considered a luxury, are now a necessity as far as most of us are concerned. People looking for a new home today, whether they are a first time home buyer or empty nesters downsizing to a smaller home, usually have a laundry room on their “wish list”, I know I certainly did. We all have laundry to do and whether or not we have a dedicated room for it, we’ve come a long way concerning where and how our dirty laundry gets cleaned.

I have a dedicated laundry room in our new home but that hasn’t always been the case. The washing machine in my first house was located in a cramped storage closet outside in the carport and I dried the wash on a clothesline in the backyard. Over the years, our other homes had small stacked washer/dryer units tucked into a hallway closet near the bedroom. I now have “state of the art” appliances but my laundry room certainly isn’t one of the luxury rooms you might have seen on Pinterest or Houzz. While mine may not be perfect and I think a larger room would truly be a luxury, I’ve maximized every inch and find it works well.

I thought I would share some of the ideas I used to make my basic, standard laundry room a little special.

Basic Laundry Room With Optional Tall Upper Cabinets And Deep Sink

Basic Laundry Room With Optional Tall Upper Cabinets And Deep Sink

My laundry room is small, it’s more like a wide hallway than a room. You either enter it through the garage or directly from the entrance foyer so I wanted it to look nice if the door was left open. After all, who wants to constantly open and close a door  every time you are carrying a load of laundry in or out of the room.

The Laundry Room Is Directly Off The Entrance Foyer As Well As Through The Garage

The Laundry Room Is Directly Off The Entrance Foyer As Well As The Garage

The Laundry Room Can Be Entered Either Through The Garage Or The Front Foyer

The Laundry Room Can Be Entered Either Through The Garage Or The Entrance Foyer

Washing, drying and ironing clothes are often dreaded chores and I believe a pretty, well organized space can make the time you spend doing them a more pleasant experience. I thought some of the laundry memorabilia that I’d collected over the years would make a nice focal point when entering the laundry room. I also have a large collection of pretty baskets that I only use occasionally displayed on the top of the upper cabinets.  I repurposed a beautiful wool carpet into a runner for the tile floor and hung a large painting that came from our summer cottage in Maine on the long wall opposite the cabinets. They both add a pop of color to the room, making it one of the most colorful areas in our home. If you have to spend time washing and ironing, yes…I still iron, then why not have the room be as nice as possible. The warm and vibrant colors throughout the room put a smile on my face every time I’m in there.

Vibrant Colors And Laundry Memorabilia

A Vibrant Colored Runner And Laundry Memorabilia Add Interest To The Laundry Room

I decided on white for the appliances and the cabinetry in the laundry room. All the white gives a fresh, clean look and adds brightness to the windowless room. The optional tall upper cabinets that we had added above the base cabinets when our home was being built provide ample storage in the narrow room with its tall ceilings. The formica countertop is not large but still provides a good place to sort and fold clean laundry. I also use it as a temporary landing spot when my hands are full of grocery bags when I’m coming in through the garage.

The Washer And Dryer On Pedestals With Drawers To Hold Washing Essentials

Front Loading Washer And Dryer On Pedestals Drawers That Hold Laundry Essentials

I decided on a front loading electric washer and gas dryer. Both had Energy Star labels, which mean they are very efficient. They use about half the water and less energy than standard units. They both have wonderful features including steam to sanitize and stop allergens. They also have lots of options regarding temperatures and speeds depending on the soil levels of the fabrics being washed. They even play a nice melody at the end of their cycle instead of a harsh buzzer. I chose pedestals for the machines that have pull out drawers. They are very convenient for holding large bottles of detergents, stain removers, bleach and fabric softeners and are easily wiped out if anything spills or leaks in them.

A Deep Soaking Sink Has Lots Of Uses

A Deep Soaking Sink Has Lots Of Uses

While the washer is a huge step up from rubbing clothes on a washboard, there are still times that I wash some items by hand in the deep, oversized utility sink that is part of the base cabinets. It is perfect when I need to soak a stubborn stain over night before the item gets washed. It is also handy for clean up jobs and arranging flowers. I have an antique drying rack next to the sink which is terrific for air drying delicates. I love its simple design and often wonder why similar ones aren’t available today.

Antique Drying Rack Is Perfect For Air Drying Delicates

Antique Drying Rack Is Perfect For Air Drying Delicates

You may have noticed one other antique piece hanging on the wall. It is a framed old “laundry rules” I found in an antique store in New Hampshire. If you look closely, you will see remedies for some stains that most of us don’t encounter anymore. While I may not use sour milk, kerosene, ether, chloroform, or turpentine as it suggests to remove stains, I sometimes use cornstarch on oily stains and white vinegar as a fabric softener.

An Antique List Of Laundry Rules

An Antique List Of “Laundry Rules”

If you are dreaming of the perfect laundry room, it’s probably a large, multipurpose room close to your kitchen or bedrooms. Besides having a washer and dryer, it would have plenty of room to sort and fold your clothes, a sink for doing hand washing and perhaps even a fold down drying rack. It might also have a place where you could hang your jackets and hats, a hobby or craft area, a gift wrapping station, a home office, and might even include wine or beverage refrigerator.

While I don’t have a dream laundry room, I am pleased with the decisions I’ve made to create a functional and pleasant place to do my laundry. If you are planning to redo your own laundry space or just freshen it up a little, something as simple as a new coat of paint, a couple of framed prints or an arrangement of silk or real flowers might make doing the laundry less of a chore.

Tell me my friends, are your dirty clothes flung across the floor of your bedroom or tossed in the corner of your closet? Perhaps you are organized and keep them in a hamper that is divided into darks, lights, and delicates sitting in your laundry room waiting to be washed. I’d love to know what you think, is a laundry room a luxury or do you think one is a necessity. Do you have any suggestions on what makes doing laundry less of a chore and do you actually have a dream laundry?

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Spaghetti Carbonara

How many times have you stood staring into your refrigerator wondering what to make for dinner? If you have, you certainly aren’t alone and Spaghetti Carbonara might be the answer as it only takes a few simple ingredients. If you’ve got fresh eggs, bacon or pancetta, pecorino Romano or other hard Italian grating cheese and spaghetti then you can prepare this delicious, creamy pasta dish and have it sitting on your dinner table in under thirty minutes.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

In Italy, Rome in particular, this dish is traditionally made with guanciale, which is a pork cheek cured with salt and pepper, or pancetta which is similar to our bacon but is unsmoked. If you have guanciale or pancetta, by all means use it but bacon is what most of us will have in our refrigerator and works well in this recipe. You can also use another kind of pasta other than spaghetti and if you are not worried about authenticity, you might like adding ingredients such as onions or peas to the dish. There are also versions that add cream to the recipe but I don’t believe it is necessary as the eggs create a rich and creamy tasting sauce on their own.

Spaghetti Carbonara 

Recipe serves 2 generously, adjust accordingly.

  • 3 slices of thick cut bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks*   While the heat of the pasta will cook the eggs, if you feel more comfortable, you can use pasteurized eggs in this recipe
  • salt, garlic powder and onion powder, about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. each and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 c. grated pecorino Romano cheese, more at the time of serving
  • 8 oz. spaghetti, more or less, depending on if this will be a first or main course

Place the chopped bacon in a large sauté pan and cook until browned and crisp, then set the pan aside.

While bacon is cooking, beat the eggs in a small bowl with a sprinkling of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and the cheese then set aside.

In the meantime, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water, according to package directions, until it is al dente. Reserve about a 1/2 cup of the cooking water then drain the pasta. Add the spaghetti to the sauté pan with the bacon and bacon fat then return to the heat. Toss well to coat everything then remove the pan from the heat.

Once the pan is off the heat and slightly cooled, add the egg mixture to the pasta and toss very quickly and continuously. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs and create a smooth and creamy sauce. Just remember to toss well as you don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs.  If the pasta looks a little dry, add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, to loosen the sauce. Taste for seasoning, you might need to add additional cheese or salt.

Place the spaghetti into individual warm serving bowls or plates. You can garnish the dish with a little chopped parsley for color and add an additional sprinkling of cheese and a grating of black pepper, if you wish. This is one dish that needs to be served immediately.

Note: This meal comes together very quickly, so make sure that your table is set and any sides that you might be serving with the pasta are ready and waiting to go to the table.

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Now as easy as this recipe is to prepare, I have to say that I don’t make it…my husband makes this for us. This pasta dish was originally introduced to his family when to his mother and father had dinner at a friend’s home and my husband’s father feel in love with spaghetti carbonara.

On one of those evenings when I was staring into the refrigerator wondering what to cook, my husband quickly stepped up and said no problem, “I’m cooking dinner tonight and it is a surprise”. And as they say, the rest is history. Sometimes the simplest of ingredients, the ones that are not only inexpensive for most of us but that we usually have in our kitchens, can be turned into a delicious and satisfying meal. I hope you will give one of my husband’s specialties a try, I believe you will enjoy spaghetti carbonara as much as I do. Buon Appetito!

 

 

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Eleven Countries, No Jet Lag…That’s Epcot

A travel adventure through Eleven Countries, no passport, customs and best of all, no jet lag involved…that’s Epcot. Instead of a long plane trip across the Atlantic, it was a two hour drive from our home in Vero Beach to the Walt Disney World Resort.

My husband and I joined friends for a short visit to the Orlando area and while there, spent one day visiting the Epcot theme park at Disney World. We stayed at the convenient Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, part of the Disney Springs resort area.

Our day at Disney began with a short, complimentary bus ride from our hotel to the main entrance of Epcot. It was a beautiful, crisp morning with a deep blue sky overhead.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show of photos in this post.

Just beyond the main entrance is Spaceship Earth, Epcot’s famous icon in Future World. The silver geosphere is covered with triangular panels that some people say resembles a golf ball. After a short wait, we rode inside the giant sphere enjoying a brief animated story about communications from the stone age to our present computer age.

You could spend hours or an entire day in Future World but we decided to save it for another visit. Instead, we headed to the World Showcase to visit the pavilions of Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Morocco, Japan, Italy, Germany, China, Norway and Mexico that surround Crescent Lake.

Having traveled to every featured country except mainland China (although I have been to Hong Kong), I instantly recognized small scale reproductions of historic buildings I’d seen during my travels. You’ll find some kind of entertainment, ride or film about each country’s culture and places to enjoy some of its unique cuisine. Every pavilion is staffed by people from that country who work in the shops and kiosks. They dress in traditional fashions that represent their country and sell imported goods and souvenirs. You’ll also find designated spots where children can meet and have a photo taken with Disney characters at specific times of the day.

We started our visit in Canada. The large building, Hotel du Canada, was inspired by a historic hotel found in Ottawa. Inside, Le Cellar is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the park. The surrounding area has a wonderful garden and high boulders with a cascading waterfall represents the Canadian Rockies.

Epcot's Canada Pavilion

Part Of The Canadian Pavilion In Epcot

Next, we walked down the streets of the United Kingdom. The largest building replicates Hampton Court Palace and there is a thatched roof cottage which is modeled after Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon. The Rose and Crown Pub, with a red telephone booth outside, is popular if you want a pint of beer or some fish and chips.

We crossed over a footbridge and were in France with the Eiffel Tower peering above the rooftops. Round kiosks, a sidewalk café and artists works lined up along the water brought back memories of my trips to Paris.

Les Chefs de France, a pretty brassiere with a distinctly French decor, is good for lunch. Try to make advanced reservations for a window table in the sunroom. While the food might not be as authentic as what I’ve had during my travels to France and it’s geared more towards American tastes, I enjoyed the meal. The food was well prepared, our waiter from Lyon was excellent and the surroundings couldn’t have been lovelier.

Morocco feels so authentic, with its colorful casbah, Moroccan music and little passages that take you into courtyards surrounded by olive trees and towering date palms. When it was being developed, King Hassan II sent native craftsmen to help with the building of its pavilion. This is evident throughout the entire area, from the reproduction of a 12th century prayer tower in Marrakech to a mosaic fountain and a tiled gate in Fez.

We walked through a large red Torii gate and entered Japan. It’s very picturesque with a five story blue roofed pagoda, sculptured gardens, footbridges and koi ponds.  A replica of the ceremonial halls of Japan’s Imperial Palace house a large gift store. Traditional Japanese drummers perform outside several times a day.

We quickly passed through the United States pavilion which was inspired by 18th century colonial architecture. Gardens are planted in red, white and blue flowers and there are rose varieties named after U.S. presidents.

U.S. Pavilion In Epcot

U.S. Pavilion In Epcot

We entered Italy and found ourselves in Venice with gondolas tied up to striped poles along the lagoon. St. Mark’s Square has a replica of the original campanile and the 14th century pink and white Doge’s Palace. In another area of the plaza, there is a fountain that was inspired by Bernini’s Neptune fountain in Rome.

Germany represents different regions of the country. There is a fountain in the center of the platz with a statue of St. George slaying a dragon and there’s a popular biergarten where you can enjoy a beer and sausages. We spotted Snow White greeting a little girl at a wishing well and there is a working outdoor miniature model railroad that will please boys of all ages.

Enter through the large Gate of the Golden Sun, a replica of one in Beijing’s summer palace and you’re in China. There is a large recreation of the Temple of Heaven and many smaller recreations of buildings found in the Forbidden City. A lotus pool surrounded by typical Chinese gardens with footbridges add to the character of this pavilion.

The main feature in Norway is a replica of the original Stave Church in Gol, Norway. The original church, which dates back to 1212, is one of very few surviving ancient wooden churches left in the world today.

Mexico is either the last country in the World Showcase or the first, depending on which direction you started your visit. Its main feature is a replica of a pre-Colombian pyramid almost hidden by lush tropical landscaping. Whereas other countries have lots of outdoor buildings and gardens, most everything is inside the pyramid including an excellent restaurant.

Over the course of one day, I wandered through eleven countries in the Epcot without experiencing any jet lag…I was tired but enjoyed every moment. The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival is held each spring and I’m hoping to return to not only enjoy the flower displays but to see more of Epcot, it was far more than I imagined.

 

 

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Lamb Shanks With Olives And Apricots

Braised Lamb Shanks With Olives And Apricots is one of the most flavorful and aromatic lamb dishes I’ve ever prepared thanks to the wonderful spice blend known as ras el hanout, which is Arabic for “top of the shop”. If you walked into the shop of a Moroccan or North African spice merchant and asked for a blend of his best spices, he would sell you ras el hanout. The blend has a pungent aroma and flavor from spices such as cardamom, cayenne, coriander, cumin, paprika, peppercorns and turmeric with a little sweetness from spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Each spice merchant’s version will be different from shop to shop and can be created with up to as many as one hundred spices, some perhaps being quite exotic.

In my recipe, lamb shanks are slowly braised with a mixture of vegetables, olives, apricots and spices until the meat is almost falling off the bone. Over the course of several hours, the succulent lamb becomes tender and a sweet, savory sauce is created from the olives, apricots, vegetables and spices in the pot.

Moroccan Braised Lamb Shank With Olives And Apricots

Moroccan Braised Lamb Shank 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 (figure 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 traditional North African spice mix available from ethnic stores 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

*If you would like to make your own blend you might want to try my friend Vicki from Flavors of the Sun, recipe for Ras El Hanout.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides then remove to a plate. Add the onions and carrots and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently,  until the 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. At this point, you may want to 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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Moroccan Style Braised Lamb Shanks Are Perfect For A Dinner Party

Moroccan Style Braised Lamb Shanks Make A Dramatic Presentation At A Dinner Party

You may have had a similar dish in a Moroccan restaurant where it might have been prepared and served in a tagine, which is a glazed clay pot with a conical shaped lid. The word tagine not only refers to the cooking vessel but also to the food cooked in this pot. A tagine of lamb, chicken or even vegetables can be cooked with a combination of dried prunes, apricots, figs, raisins, olives, salted lemons, sweet potatoes, chickpeas or nuts and herbs such as mint and cilantro. Traditional spices that are used in the cooking are ground cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cumin, turmeric, paprika, pepper, as well as the famous spice blend ras el hanout. While cooking a recipe such as this in a tagine makes for a great presentation is certainly isn’t necessary, a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven works perfectly.

I do hope you will try the braised lamb shanks with olives and apricots, perhaps at your next dinner party. I believe a Moroccan style recipe like this is perfect to serve since the lamb shanks look dramatic, the dish is flavorful and yet the meal is very simple and can be prepared a day in advance which makes for easy entertaining.

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Pasta With Beans And Greens

A steamy bowl of  Pasta With Beans And Greens is a comforting, delicious and yet healthy meal. Prepared in under 30 minutes from the simplest of ingredients, this Italian dish is also budget friendly, making it perfect to serve your family during the week.

Meals like this are often referred to as Italian peasant food or cucina povera. Fugal home cooks, not wanting to waste anything edible, used whatever ingredients they might have had in their kitchens or came from their farms to prepare simple but tasty family meals. Many times it was a one pot meal called minestra, zuppa or minestrone, a hearty soup or stew that usually contained vegetables, beans, pasta or grains.

Ditalini Pasta With Beans And Greens, Or Minestra As Italians Would Call It

Ditalini Pasta With Beans And Greens, Or Minestra As Italians Would Call It

Thankfully I’m not poor and my pantry and fridge are fully stocked but I also hate to be wasteful. I recently saved a large romaine lettuce and tomato salad which was dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice from a dinner the previous evening. Now anyone who has tried to save a salad dressed with a vinaigrette knows that it can start to wilt almost immediately but all was not lost. I know that tomatoes, greens, olive oil and lemon add great flavors to soups and created this meal using the leftover salad much the way a fugal Italian cook might have done with ingredients she had on hand in her kitchen. Of course, you can use all fresh ingredients to make this delicious dish.

Ditalini Pasta With Beans And Greens

Serves two generously, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 c. cooked cannelloni beans or 2 15 oz. cans, drained
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can low sodium broth, either beef, chicken or vegetable
  • 1 c. water, more if needed
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. ditalini or other small tube pasta
  • 4 c. tender greens, chopped (I used romaine)
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil to drizzle before serving (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, add onion and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute.  Add half of beans, broth, water, oregano, basil, bay leaf, salt and pepper and cook until some of the beans start to break and thicken the liquid, about ten minutes. You can use the back of a spoon to break up some of the beans, if necessary.

Increase the heat to a boil and add the tomatoes, the other half of the beans and the pasta. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the pasta is “al dente”, about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. The ditalini quickly absorbs the sauce so you may need to add more liquid. Add the greens, lower the heat and cook about three to five minutes, which will wilt the greens but keep  some of the stems crunchy texture. Remove the bay leaf before serving, add the lemon juice and taste for additional seasoning. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with some grated cheese and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, if you wish.

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I believe that you will enjoy this healthy meal of pasta with beans and greens. It can be modified to suit your taste and what you have available even if you are vegetarian or vegan. If you have the time to make homemade stock and beans…perfect, as you control each and every ingredient. If you’re a busy mother trying to get a healthy and filling meal on the table for your young family, you can use packaged broth and beans as I did to get dinner on my dinner table in a hurry.

I hate wasting food so my refrigerator always has containers with leftovers from a previous meal. My husband refers to me as the “goddess of garbage” because I can create a new and delicious meal out of leftovers that many people might have thrown in the garbage. I’d love to know, do you toss food that was left over at the end of a meal or do you get creative and us it for another meal.

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New Year, New Hope

Happy New Year… A New Year, New Hope. As 2015 comes to a close, let’s celebrate both the passing year and all that was good in it and welcome in 2016 with eager anticipation. No matter where you are in the world or how you celebrate the coming new year, I hope 2016 will bring renewed hope, peace and happiness in your life.

Toast To The New Year

Toast To The New Year

I appreciate every reader that stopped by during the past year and the comments that many of you have left on my posts. It is always nice to know that you enjoy following along on my travels, seeing our homes over the years and perhaps that you’ve wanted to try some of the recipes that I created.

Cheers to the new year, I hope it will be everything you want it to be. I look forward to sharing new adventures with you “along the back roads of life

 

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Joy To The World

IMG_3090 Joy To The WorldMay the warmth and joy of Christmas be with you and yours during this wonderful season and throughout the year.

May each of you have a holiday filled with peace and happiness shared among the company of family and good friends.

Merry Christmas,

Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten,

Buon Natale, and Feliz Navidad

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Our homes, families and friends are wonderful blessings and are very much appreciated during this special time of the year. I want to thank you for your friendship as I believe that it is the best gift we can share with others around the world.

With warmest wishes, Karen

 

 

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A Tale Of Two Christmas Trees

A Tale Of Two Christmas Trees began as I looked around our sunny Florida home with its open concept design and I realized it was going to be a challenge to decorate for Christmas. The warm December weather, windows looking out at towering oleanders and palm trees, tropical fabric on the throw pillows…no nothing made me want to sing “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas“.

Open Concept Home In Florida

Tropical Designed Open Concept Home In Florida

If you have followed my blog over the years, you know that Christmas is my favorite time of the year and that I decorated almost every room in our former 1730’s farm house in New Hampshire for this lovely season. Knowing we were downsizing, I sold all of my Christmas trees and decorations to a dealer the week before we moved to Florida. I only kept one special tree that has a real cedar tree trunk and is flocked with snow. I thought that it would remind us of our wonderful years in New England. You might remember that it was the tree we had in our kitchen that was featured in Country Woman magazine last year, you can read the article here if you haven’t seen it before.

Knowing that the tree would now take center stage in our great room, I took a good look around to figure out if I wanted the tree to have a Florida or beach theme. No, I totally rejected the thought of seashells, starfish and sea turtle ornaments which are very popular in our little beach town. I also felt we needed a different look from the reds and burgundies that I’ve used in the past but I didn’t want the tree covered in varying shades of sea foam blue that I’m seeing everywhere here in Vero Beach. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen gorgeous trees decorated that way but I believed the look wouldn’t have worked with our color scheme that uses green as an accent color.

Decorating An Open Concept Home For Christmas

Decorating An Open Concept Home In Florida For Christmas

Instead of the simply decorated traditional tree that I’ve done in the past, I decided on a more contemporary look. I wrapped the Christmas tree in chartreuse green ribbon and then draped it in bronze and gold beads. I used ornaments in various shades of green, gold and silver which picked up the colors in the carpets that lie on either side of the tree and the accessories throughout the room.

While the top of the tree had to be bent down to fit in our New Hampshire kitchen with its low ceiling, our eleven foot ceilings presented no such problem. I was able to use a star made of beautiful gold paper that I have had for years as a tree topper. To keep the tree from looking too dinky in our large room with its tall ceilings, we place the tree on a wooden box for additional height. I covered the box with a skirt made from a new round tablecloth that bends with our tile floors.

My husband and I found two wonderful light boxes wrapped as Christmas presents when we were out Christmas shopping recently. Their bows match the chartreuse ribbon I had used to wrap the tree….needless to say we had to have them. They look so pretty sitting under the tree, especially at night when the Christmas tree is lit.

This is the same tree that once stood in our New England country kitchen but it now has a very different look. By simply changing the ornaments, I believe that this year’s tree fits in well with our new Florida decor. Would a taller, fuller tree be better suited to our great room? Definitely but I’m very happy with it because the tree comes with memories of Christmases past that will always be with us no matter where we live.

Our Christmas Tree

Our Decorated Christmas Tree

Yes, you do see a palm tree in the corner of the room. I guess that is just part of living in Florida that I’m going to have to get used to…palm trees and Christmas trees together.

Tell me my dear friends, have you ever given your Christmas tree a totally new look, a makeover of sorts? Have you started from scratch like I did this year out of necessity? Perhaps you are like I was in the past, keeping your treasured ornaments for years. I do hope you enjoyed my tale of two Christmas trees, the same special little tree but with two totally different looks.

 

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Tortellini With Butternut Squash, Brown Butter And Sage

Tortellini With Butternut Squash, Brown Butter And Sage is a simple but savory pasta dish that you must try. The nuttiness of browned butter and the subtle flavor of fried sage leaves both complement the caramelized sweetness of oven roasted butternut squash that is tossed with cheese stuffed tortellini. It is so easy to prepare that you really don’t need a recipe but I’ll share how I like to make this delicious pasta.

Tortellini With Butternut Squash And Brown Butter Sauce

Tortellini With Butternut Squash, Brown Butter And Sage

One of the stand out flavors in this pasta dish is the sage. Sage can be pungent and even harsh when tasted fresh, so many people only use powdered sage in stuffing recipes. Italians have known that the fresh leaves change to a subtle crispy goodness when fried in butter or olive oil and use them in many of their famous food preparations.

Tortellini With Butternut Squash, Brown Butter And Sage

This recipe serves two, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 1  9 oz. package of fresh cheese tortellini
  •  1/2 of a peeled and cubed (1/2 in.) butternut squash, about 2 cups
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 – 6 Tbsp. butter, according to how much sauce you like
  • about a dozen small sage leaves, cut into pieces
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated to serve along with the pasta

Butternut Squash                                                                                                                             Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Peel and dice the butternut squash. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a lined baking sheet (I use nonstick foil but you can use parchment paper) and spread out evenly. Roast, turning about half way through until the squash is tender and caramelized at the edges, about 15 to 25 minutes depending on size of cubes. Remove from the oven and keep warm.

Tortellini                                                                                                                                    Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil over high heat. Once the squash is cooked and you’re ready to make the brown butter sauce, add the pasta to the water and cook, stirring occasionally, until they rise to the surface and are tender. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water to be used later if needed.

Brown Butter Sauce                                                                                                                    In a sauté pan large enough to hold the cooked pasta, melt the butter over low heat. Once butter has melted, add the sage and continue to cook until the butter stops foaming and is golden brown and the leaves are crispy. Remove the pan from the heat to stop the cooking and place the leaves in a small bowl.

Transfer the pasta with a slotted spoon to the brown butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the roasted butternut squash and return the pan to low heat and gently turn the ingredients in the butter sauce to coat. If the pasta looks dry, add a little of the reserved cooking water. Place the pasta in individual bowls and top with the fried sage leaves. Serve the pasta with grated Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.

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When butternut squash is available in your area, I believe that you would enjoy this sweet and savory pasta. If you have the time and inclination, delicate homemade pasta stuffed with either butternut squash or cheese would be a terrific choice but at this busy time of the year, I chose fresh three cheese tortellini from my local market. In the past, I have also used fresh ravioli stuffed with pumpkin which is equally good…actually there are numerous pastas and even potato gnocchi that could be substituted for the tortellini. While simple enough for a weeknight meal, it is also nice to serve to your friends over the upcoming holidays. If you want to impress your dinner guests, you can top the pasta with some pine nuts or chopped hazelnuts that have been sautéed in butter as a tasty garnish. Buon appetito!

 

 

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Farmer’s Market Fresh Salad

Early Saturday morning, people head over to Ocean Drive in Vero Beach, Florida to purchase Farmer’s Market Fresh produce and spend a day at the beach. Directly across the street from Humiston Park and the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, the little outdoor ocean side market was recognized by Clean Living Magazine as one of the top 50 true farmer’s markets in the country.

Atlantic Ocean At Humiston Park, Vero Beach, Florida

Atlantic Ocean At Humiston Park, Vero Beach, Florida

Vero Beach Farmers Market

Vero Beach Farmer’s Market

The farmer’s market has a small but good choice of local and seasonal produce, citrus, fresh seafood, grass-fed beef, farm fresh chicken and eggs, landscape plants, orchids and crafts. Vendors also sell baked goods, foods straight off the grill, freshly made guacamole and salsa, and beverages such as smoothies and kombucha. There is even live music by local musicians to enjoy while shopping.

Pleasant beachside shops and restaurants line this section of Ocean Drive so I keep a cooler in the back of my car for any perishable items that I purchase at the farmer’s market. After my shopping is complete, I enjoy having breakfast or lunch while sitting at an outdoor table at one of the nearby restaurants, listening to the crashing waves.

Enjoy Breakfast Or Lunch Watching The Waves Crash On Vero Beach

Enjoy Breakfast Or Lunch While Watching The Waves Crash On Vero Beach

Upon returning home later in the day, the fresh produce that I purchased was inspiration for a simple salad of green beans, tomatoes and gorgonzola cheese sprinkled with a few micro greens for garnish…all farmer’s market fresh.

Farmers' Market Fresh Green Bean, Tomato And Gorgonzola Salad

Farmer’s Market Fresh Green Bean, Tomato And Gorgonzola Salad

Green Bean, Tomato And Gorgonzola Salad

Wash and trim off the ends of 1 lb. of very small green beans. Cut into little pieces about 1/2 inch in size. Add to a pot of salted, boiling water and cook until just tender. Transfer the beans with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and water to stop the cooking and keep their bright green color. Drain and dry on paper towels, then place in a salad bowl.

Cut about a dozen grape or cherry tomatoes in half and place in a small bowl, add salt to taste, toss and let sit for about ten minutes to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes to the salad bowl and retain the accumulated tomato juice in the small bowl. Then add approximately a 1/2 tsp. of Dijon mustard, 1 Tbsp. sherry wine vinegar and 2 – 3  Tbsp. olive oil to the small bowl and whisk. Taste and season with pepper and additional salt, if necessary. Pour the vinaigrette over the green beans and tomatoes, toss gently and taste for seasonings. Add about a 1/4 c. of crumbled gorgonzola to the salad and very gently toss and serve. (I topped the individual servings of salad with a small amount of micro greens as a garnish but that is optional). If preparing the salad ahead of time, refrigerate the cooked green beans and tomatoes separately. When ready to serve, prepare the vinaigrette, add the cheese and toss. This way, you will keep the green color of the beans.

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Being a local in Vero Beach has its advantages such as weekly shopping for farmer’s market fresh produce needed to prepare your meals. If you happen to be a visitor, you too can enjoy a day of shopping and dining along Ocean Drive. You could start the morning at the market with a freshly baked pastry, buy a pretty seagrass container or wood carving to take back home with you, enjoy sitting under an umbrella on the beach or paddling a kayak in the ocean, then have lunch before you head back to your hotel.

Whether a local or a visitor, try to stop by the farmer’s market located on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach, Florida that’s held every Saturday from 8 A.M. to Noon at Humiston Plaza.

 

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