Friday, August 31, 2012

Labor Day: Are You Ready for the Weekend?

Image Apartment Therapy

I guess this the last "official " weekend of Summer, perhaps because next week the last of the kids are back to school.

 I went to Catholic schools from 1-12 grade and we had to wear tartan wool skirts, and white blouses with blue or burgundy sweaters.  So even though summer is over after Labor Day, when you are wearing a wool skirt and sweater on a 70-80 degree day, summer isn't over until you need a coat!

In any case, Fall officially starts this year on September 22, so we still  have a few more weeks to enjoy  weekends on the boat,


Image me

or at the beach


Image Pottery Barn


and a few barbeque's.

Image Martha Stewart

What are your plans for the weekend? Will you be traveling or staying close to home with family and friends?

I am staying home, I have been very busy these last few weeks with work, company and well just life.  I just want to be at home and catching up. My husband wants to clean the garage...that wasn't in my plans but if I am not there to supervise might purge my stuff and keeps all of his. 

Aside from that, we are going kayaking and probably doing a little work, reading and relaxing!


Image me.


I hope you have a fabulous and enjoyable three day weekend! 
Be safe!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Crazy Day


This has been a crazy week for me. On Monday I was already counting the days until Friday. Consequently, the week has gone slower and seems to just keep filling up with last minute "emergencies" for work. Today is going to be one of those days...the kind where at the end of the day you need a drink and you do not drink!



 I will leave you with this cartoon that I found on Pinterest to put a smile on your face, while I go off to work. 

Have a great day!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Changing Seasons

I don't know about you but I can already feel a change in the seasons here. Not so much in the weather, it is still in the high 80's and low 90's.




But it is getting dark a little earlier and the trees are starting to loose some of their beautiful summer flowers. 


The bounty of summer, the beautiful tomatoes, strawberries and peaches, are starting to dwindle at the market and in the garden. 


Slowly the hydrangeas are drying on the bushes. 



And everything is making way for the harvest of fall! 





Yesterday at the market I could not believe my eyes, a crate of pumpkins and a stand of mums! I love Fall but I do think August is too early to be selecting a pumpkin and replanting the front planters with mums! But then again I was at a shop recently that had some Christmas things! 



What about in your area, can you feel the crisp chill of Autumn setting in? I think it will be here before we know it. Let's just hope that Fall and Winter are not as erratic as Summer has been. 

I hope you have a great day!





If you are looking for something sweet and chocolaty than come over to my other blog Once Upon a Chocolate Life and check out my recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Cream Frosting. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Suburban Pen Pal Blog: A Fabulous Find

Do you like handwritten letters, or an unexpected card from a friend? Or perhaps a beautiful postcard from a friend wishing that you were walking along the Seine River with her in Paris?

Image Here

Letter writing seems to be a thing of the past, in fact cursive writing is not even taught in schools anymore. I cannot believe it, how do they sign their name? 

All images from here down, The Suburban Pen Pal



I love to write letters and post cards and I love to receive them even more. It is a wonderful treat to go to the mailbox and find a card from my sister or my mom, or sometime from a friend I normally only hear from by email. And most recently beautiful post cards from the world over written by my friend Jeanne at Collage of Life.





As I have said before, I grew up all over the place and in between new schools and friends the one constant in my life and my families were the beautifully written letters from my grandmother. She would write often and make sure that we knew how things were in the family, at the store (she was the proprietor of a men's clothing store), what adventures my grandfather was up too and to of course be sure that we were being good kids. And she always put money in the envelope so that we could have a treat because she wan't there to do something with us.




I try to do the same for my nieces and nephew. I want them to know that they are loved and missed and of course in my thoughts. And I often send letters to my parents and siblings just to let them know I miss them and am thinking of them. 




One of my most treasured possessions is the boxes of  letters from family. My parents would send me a letter a week when I lived in Washington D.C, or when I was away in France each summer. And my husband sent me the most beautiful love letters during our 4 year long distance relationship. My sister always knows when something is not right, even across the miles she can sense that I am lonely or just need a pick me up and there will be a funny card or just a handwritten note saying all the right things. 




Recently I discovered the most wonderful blog, it is written by San Francisco artist and art historian Laura Dunkin-Hubby. Laura is a mail artist, as well as a blog writer and member of  the International Union of Mail Artists.




The Suburban Pen Pal is the name of Laura's blog and on it she features her incredible letters. Each letter is carefully crafted of assorted  materials, anything from old photos, to library cards, to stunning art images and more. Each letter truly is a work of art. I would love to receive a beautiful letter like one of these in the mail!




In addition to her own beautiful work Laura also features the work of other artists that she finds on Etsy or through her blog roll. There are so many beautiful and creative things to see on The Suburban Pen Pal I hope you go over and visit Laura!

I would love to hear if you have discovered some fabulous new blogs, do let me know in the comments! I am sure that I have room for more if I only stay off Pinterest.

Have a great day!

ALL IMAGES FROM THE SUBURBAN PEN PAL.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Vanilla Peach Coffee Cake


Happy Monday! I hope you had a fabulous weekend. I did but I must admit that I am very excited that this coming weekend is a holiday, a nice long three day weekend. For now, it's off to work.


As I like to do on most weekends I did a little baking and experimented with a few recipes on my Pinterest "Recipes to Try" board. I also did a little work, a few things around the house and some reading. 



Did you know that the fruit this summer is supposed to be the best it has been in years? Apparently, fruit loves hot weather. I personally have eaten more peaches and cherries this summer than I have in about five years just for that reason. 





As I have been a little overzealous lately buying peaches and cherries I found myself with a few peaches that were going to be too ripe for me to eat on the same day. That is unless I wanted to have them for every meal plus a few snacks. So I decided to make this recipe for Vanilla Peach Coffee Cake. 

Vanilla Peach Coffee Cake

Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Batter:
2 eggs
1 C milk
1/2 C oil
1 tsp. Nielsen-Massey vanilla
1/2 C sour cream
3 C flour
1 C sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Topping:
5 or 6 large peaches, diced.
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
11/4 C brown sugar
1Tbsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. nutmeg
4 Tbsp. flour

Vanilla Icing:
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla or vanilla bean paste
3/4 C powdered sugar
2-3 tsp. heavy cream




Directions:

Prepare 9 inch spring form pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs on medium for 1 minute. Add oil, vanilla, milk and sour cream then beat for another two minutes. In separate bowl, mix flour baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add this dry mixture to the wet and mix for a few minutes until well incorporated. Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the spring form pan.

Peach filling: In separate bowl, mix the peaches, melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and the flour. Evenly distribute the mixture over the batter.

Icing: Mix vanilla, powdered sugar and vanilla in a bowl, it will be lumpy so don't worry. Slowly add heavy cream a little at a time until the frosting is the consistency you like.

Bake for 1 hour and 5- 10 minutes. I recommend checking this cake after about 55-60 minutes, the add additional time if not done. When a toothpick or skewer poked into the center comes out clean the cake is finished.  Let cake cook and then drizzle with icing. 




This cake is delicious! I loved it! I think that you will to, it is sweet, spicy, moist and taste like a combination of Summer and Fall.

CHANGES:  I did change a few things in the recipe, the main change for me was to add MORE of the spices and more of the peach layer. Consequently, I did have to bake my cake for about 15 minutes longer than called for. I also used a dark pan, and as you can see the bottom is a little dark.



I hope that you try this recipe, and as I always ask if you do please come back and let me know. I would love to hear how yours turned out. Please remember that I am not a professional, I am only writing about my experiences with these recipes. If your version of mine or any other recipe out there does not turn out there are MANY reasons why, such as high altitude, wrong size pan, use of different ingredients, your oven temperature is off or many other things. 
Have a great week! Enjoy the last week of Summer! For those of you who are in the path of the Hurricane, "batten down the hatches," make sure to watch the weather, get supplies and please do not risk your life for your personal property. Your are more valuable than it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

From Time to Time: A Great Movie by Julian Fellows

When I mentioned PBS the other day I was excited to hear all of the wonderful things you had to say about your love for Downton Abbey. I am anxiously awaiting the new season; I hate to say this but I might even resort to watching the BBC online when the season starts in England. 

Image from Wikipedia


I took a break last night from life. I don't know why but I just cannot get into the grove of things this week. I feel behind and knackered as they say, so I took the night off and watched a great movie. From Time to Time is directed by none other than Julian Fellows of Downton Abbey, and is based upon the best selling novel The Chimneys of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston. In addition it stars...Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville! 

This is a family ghost story about a thirteen year old boy, Tolly (Alex Atel) who is sent to spend Christmas 1944 with his grandmother(Maggie Smith) while his mother searches for news of his missing father. While there he begins to explore the estate ( Athelhampton House) and uncovers not only family secrets but ghosts. 

I really do not want to say more because I do not want to ruin it but I will say that the movie is well written, light and entertaining, and has a wonderful cast and setting.  A great movie for a wet, rainy day or a lazy winter afternoon. This is by the way, a movie that was written for family entertainment and young adults.

On a side note, all of the actors and actresses in this movie are fabulous and so many have played parts in other superior movies. A couple of  my favorite movies starting some of them are; Millions (directed by Danny Boyle of Opening Ceremony fame, staring Alex Atel)) and  Black Book (starring Carice Van Houten).

I would love to know if you have seen this movie? Did you like it? Let me know and of course I love suggestions, so let me know if you know some great movies (nothing scary or action please) that are funny, romantic, or period films.

Have a great day. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

P.O.V.: Point of View on PBS

I don't know about you but my free time is limited, what with work, family, blog, Pinterest, reading ,etc I find myself with very little time for anything else. As my husband is not an avid TV viewer so we really do not spend out time watching it, however I always make an exception for PBS.

ALL IMAGES PBS.ORG

I love Public Television, after all who doesn't like the British imports like Downton Abbey, or Masterpiece Theater or the acclaimed documentaries by Ken Burns( War is currently being shown)  or even  P.O.V .



P.O.V. (point of view) is a documentary film series on PBS. P.O.V has been running for over 20 years on PBS and showcases between 14-16 independent documentaries a year. Now, I will be honest some of them are depressing, after all they show real life, sometimes at its most raw and sometimes at its happiest. I have yet to see a documentary this year that did not leave me thinking and talking about it days or even weeks later. Frankly, it is "must see TV."

I have already mentioned The Light in Her Eyes, about the young girls in Syria learning the the Koran and in the process learning the importance of education and their rights as a woman and as a human being.

Another interesting film, The Steam of Life is a study of Finnish men as they come together in saunas all over the country to not only sweat but to talk about life. This hauntingly, interesting film shows men as you have never seen them; wracked with tears as they recount the death of their child, smiling and crying happy tears as one tells of the birth of his first child and yet another frustrated and sad about the beatings he took for many years from his stepfather. I cannot get enough of these films and look forward to them each week.

Aside from P.O.V, has anyone been watching The War by Ken Burns? It is eye opening to see the war, WWII,  from the point of view of four families in four different states around the country. To listen to the first hand accounts of the men that served, or the sisters and girlfriends left behind is fascinating.

I could go on and on but I will stop for now. Are you a PBS fan? Have you watched P.O.V? I would love to hear about your favorite shows!

Have a fabulous day! 

Disclaimer: I am not being paid, or compensated in any way for this post. I am simply a fan of quality TV and in particular PBS. I personally long for the days of TV before "reality" TV. All IMAGE FROM PBS

Monday, August 20, 2012

French Onion Soup and Chocolate Banana Bread




Did you enjoy your weekend? Are you rested and ready for a great week? I am well rested and ready for a busy week. 
I spent the weekend exactly as I envisioned, drinking cocoa and tea and reading a pile of magazines and a good book. Do you know the kind of book I am talking about? The book  you cannot put down, not to eat, answer the phone or to go to bed. I finished it Saturday and then spent Sunday cooking and baking. 

I should be honest here, I am an impatient cook and baker. I do not like long and complicated recipes but once and awhile I do make an exception. This French Onion Soup is my exception this week. The recipe is hands down the best onion soup you will ever make. The ingredient list is pretty basic, but the directions look pretty long, so before you decide to write this off please read through the entire thing and you will see it is pretty simple.  




The Best French Onion Soup EVER
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
6 large  onions (3 yellow and 3 red onions) sliced 
1 tsp salt 
2 cups water, plus 3/4 cup for deglazing 
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dry red wine
4 cups low sodium chicken broth 
1 cup beef broth
1 can organic beef consume  
6 sprigs fresh thyme 
1 bay leaf 
ground black pepper 

Cheese Crouton 

1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices 
4 1/2 ounces Swiss cheese, sliced 1/16-inch thick
1 1/2 ounces grated Gruyere cheese (about 3/4 cup) 





Directions: 

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400°. Generously spray inside of heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. 

2.  Place butter in pot and add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, 1 hour (onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). 

3. Remove pot from oven and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot. Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour. 

4. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat.

5.Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if onions are browning too quickly.

6.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. 

7. Stir in 1/4 cup water scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. 

8.Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. 

9. Add wine and balsamic vinegar, stirring frequently, until wine evaporates, about 5 minutes. 

10.Stir in chicken and beef broths, 2 cups water, the thyme, and bay leaf  (tied with twine or wrapped in cheese cloth for easy removal from pot) and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. 

11. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper to taste. 

 For the croutons:

Arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside. 

 To serve: Adjust oven rack 4 to 6 inches from broiler and heat broiler. Set heat-safe soup bowls or crocks on rimmed baking sheet and fill each with about 1 1/2 cups soup. Top each bowl with two toasted baguette slices (try not to overlap) and divide Swiss cheese slices, laying them in a single layer, if possible, on bread.  Sprinkle each serving with about 2 tablespoons grated Gruyere cheese and broil until well browned and bubbly, 7 to 10 minutes. 





Notes: The original recipe calls for using just yellow onions. I decided to use half red because in the reviews that I read it mentioned that adding red onions made the soup less sweet. Also, I added beef consume in place of 1 can of beef broth simply because I had it and did not have enough beef broth. 

This soup is fabulous! The soup is creamy, has great depth of onion flavor. Toasting the bread ahead of time allows the crouton to hold up in the soup and not become instantly mushy. And of course the crunchy, yet chewy cheese topping  put it over the top. It is the best French Onion Soup I have ever eaten. 





I also baked, I know that is a surprise! If you have a few bananas laying around than come over to my other blog, Once Upon a Chocolate Life and check out my recipe for Chocolate Chocolate Chip Banana Bread! It is yummy!


I also wanted to mention two great give aways going on this week! The first is from Dreamy Whites Blog, the give away is for $300.00 to her beautiful shop where you will find all sorts of  antique treasures from France!

The second give away is from the The Magical Christmas Wreath Company and it is for a fabulous set of Fortum & Mason picnic items! 



If you do not know these two blogs go over and check them out! I love them both and think you will too! And if you know a give away do let us know! 

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Golden Tulip, The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Much More




I am so excited it is the weekend! I just want to relax, and sleep in or at least sit in my bed later than normal and read. Then perhaps I will do a little baking and that is it! I am tired from this past week. 




 Although I have been busy these last few weeks, I did manage to read five great books and watch a few excellent movies.

Book List:




I have decided not to write a review of each book for two reasons, the first because I loved them all, otherwise I would not have recommended them. Second, according to my sister, I give too much away and I don't want to ruin these books for you. 




I will say this, if you wish to know about being a female painter in the time of Vermeer or Rembrandt than you would enjoy the Golden Tulip. If you like Mozart and the story of his life and that of his family, with a little mystery thrown in, than Night Music is for you. If you are a big fan or Virginia Woolf and the celebrated White Garden of Sissinghurst Castle than you would enjoy The White Garden. If perhaps you are interested in Paris, and the everyday life of the rich, with the secret life of an incredibly well read concierge thrown in the mix than you would love The Elegance of the Hedgehog. And last but not least, The Bird Sisters,  the story of two elderly sisters and the enduring power of sisterhood, hope, sacrifice and small town America. 



As for movies, if you have not already seen it, The Light in Her Eyes is documentary shot right before the uprising in Syria. It tells the story of Houda al-Habash, who became a Muslim preacher at the age of 17. Houda al-Habash founded a Qur'an school for girls in Damascus, 30 years ago. Her goal is to teach women about Islam by memorizing the Qur'an so that they are educated about their rights as women and within their culture and religion. Her thinking and teaching goes against conservative male clerics but she persists because she believes that women can be both educated, lead modern lives and have more rights while still following the traditional teachings of the Qur'an. 



 I found this documentary to be eye opening, no pun intended. I think that there are so many misconceptions about Islam and this documentary shows that the women of the Middle East would like to be educated, they would like to have more rights, and that they are not just following along behind their men like lemurs.



I also watched The Hedgehog a movie made based on the book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which I mentioned above. I loved this movie! It is interesting, amusing and thought provoking. There are mixed reviews but I do not really care about that, I think it was entertaining. Now, I will tell you that the book is definitely more in depth and complex, and frankly sophisticated.  But this is a movie sometimes some of those complexities are lost in translation. 



I hope that you enjoy a wonderful weekend and perhaps find a quite moment to sit with a cup of tea and a good book! Whatever you do, enjoy!

If you have read any of these books or do read them or would like to have a few of them too read, please leave me a comment and send me your address via email. I would be more than happy to continue the tradition of The Brown Paper Book Club started by Jeanne at Collage of Life.


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