Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Food: Mint Brownie Bites

I love the taste of mint and chocolate and find myself clipping lots of recipes with that combination. This recipe came from a Christmas issue of Good Housekeeping magazine several years ago and is simple and yummy! If you want to use the leftover egg yolk for something, make a double batch of Mint Brownie Bites and use the 2 leftover egg yolks for Melting Moment Cookies!

Mint Brownie Bites

Brownie Bites
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp butter (melted and cooled)
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg white

1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp butter (softened)
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
2 oz white chocolate (melted and cooled)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, melt butter in microwave. Add sugar, honey, vanilla, and egg white and mix until blended. Stir in flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt and mix until blended. You may need to use your hands if it gets too stiff to mix.
With greased hands, shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on greased cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Press to flatten slightly. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until brownies have cracked slightly. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
In medium bowl, melt butter and white chocolate in microwave. Stir until smooth. Mix in sugar, milk, and peppermint extract until smooth.
Shape 1 tsp topping into disk and place on each cookie.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies. Shape into smaller balls to make more cookies.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Food: Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

The cookies I bake at Christmas often become gifts for friends. One of my friends has begun a gluten-free diet since last Christmas and I wasn't sure what to make for her this year. Fortunately, this recipe for gluten-free cookies appeared in Parade Magazine this month, just in time for Cookie Baking Season! These are yummy!

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup crushed peanuts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar, peanut butter, egg, and vanilla until well blended.
Form cookies using a teaspoon; place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Make a criss-cross pattern with a fork, flattening cookies. Sprinkle with peanuts.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: If you do need to make these gluten-free, be sure to use peanut butter that doesn't have additives that might include gluten and use plain peanuts, not dry-roasted.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Food: Orange Drop Cookies

It's Christmas Cookie season so I'm afraid I'll have to bore you with cookie recipes for the next month or so. I have a confession to make about Christmas cookies though: I am not a roller, cutter, or fancy froster. I enjoy making a lot of cookies at Christmas time, but I generally make drop cookies, bars, or the type you roll into balls. A dab of frosting is fine, but no fancy flourishes for me. Those cookies might be prettier, but they don't taste enough better to me to merit the extra work. Besides, I always feel guilty biting the head off of a gingerbread man. Who needs that stress during the holidays?

This recipe came from a Quick Cooking magazine and is one I hadn't tried before. Just the cookie didn't taste festive enough for me, so I added the frosting by adjusting another cookie's frosting to have orange extract instead of peppermint. I think the frosting brings them to that festive holiday level. Enjoy!

Orange Drop Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp grated orange peel
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

2 Tbsp butter
4 oz white chocolate
4 Tbsp milk
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp orange extract

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, orange juice, and orange peel. Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda and mix well.
Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

In a non-metal mixing bowl, melt butter and white chocolate in microwave. Add milk, confectioner's sugar, and orange extract. Mix until smooth.
Drizzle frosting onto cooled cookies.

Yield: About 8 dozen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Food: Peanut Butter Brownies

Funny story about these brownies. This is my mom's recipe, I've made these many times before, but I saw another recipe for Peanut Butter Blondies and thought I'd try it to see how they compared. Despite the fact that the recipes were very similar, the blondies weren't very good. They weren't peanut buttery enough for my taste. So I went back and made these brownies. I took them out of the oven thinking they were done and let them cool. When I cut them a while later, they clearly weren't done so I turned the oven back on, put them in to cook a while longer, and overcooked them. Sigh. Third pan of brownies later (my husband hasn't complained by the way), I finally got them right and photogenic enough for Friday Food!

Peanut Butter Brownies

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 oz chocolate chips

Beat peanut butter and butter until blended. Gradually add sugars and beat until fluffy.
Add eggs and beat well. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla and spread in a butter 9" square pan.
Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center tests done.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My First NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo? Sounds decadent doesn't it? Well, it is in some ways. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the November just past was what NaNoWriMo is all about. It gives budding authors the chance to write 50,000 words in 30 days, hopefully culminating in a completed novel. The decadence about it? It gives you permission to spend time with your imagination, creating a story. It gives you the opportunity to say, "Sorry, you'll have to make your own dinner, I'm busy writing my novel." It lets you pursue that novel writing fantasy you've had for years.

Now, I actually am a published author, and received the People's Choice Award for Non-Fiction from the Library of Virginia this year, but I've only written non-fiction. And frankly, writing things that require all that research are a bit torturous for me. You have to be careful to not mislead people. Words have to be carefully chosen. It's a slow process and, for me, there wasn't a lot of imagination involved.

While we were at the awards ceremony in October, I turned to my husband and said, "I want to come back here one day, but as a finalist in the fiction category." I took a novel writing class at the local YMCA several years ago and enjoyed learning more about the process. I hadn't gotten far with the novel, but I did have an idea, a partial plot, and characters. Though I hadn't worked on it since the class, in the back of my mind, I thought I'd pull it together one day.

Somewhere around October 29th, award ceremony fresh in my mind, my friend Sarah Beth Jones at Nary Ordinary posted about NaNoWriMo. We had talked about this event in the class I took, but it just seemed like a crazy idea then. Crazy or not, I headed over to the NaNoWriMo website and signed up. Just like that. And then furiously went looking for my notes from that novel writing class.

I'll say right now, I didn't finish the 50,000 words. I didn't really expect to, though I actually thought about trying to write 10,000 words a day that last week so I could say I finished. What I did do was write 12,047 words. I got to know my character better. I wrote without an outline, so even I don't know what's going to happen next, but I've gotten to a critical point. It's not an impasse; I found that I didn't have any difficulty writing when I sat down to do it. I enjoyed spending time with my imagination. I had fun. And now that I've started, I plan to continue writing and finish this novel. In fact, I'm going to use Sara Beth's FloCoIMo as motivation come January 1st.

Did any of you participate in NaNoWriMo? If so, how did it go?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Food: Pumpkin Cornbread

It's after Thanksgiving, so it's time for all of the holiday festivals, celebrations, open houses, markets, parties, and other hoopla to begin. One of those celebrations is the Holidays at Historic Smithfield Plantation in Blacksburg, VA. My husband was once their Administrative Director and I still volunteer here and there. Since I love to bake, I often help with the sweets for Susanna's Tea Room at the Holidays event. Smithfield provides the recipes and the volunteers bake.

I chose the Pumpkin Cornbread and made two yummy smelling pans of it this morning. I adjusted the recipe below because, for my taste, I'd add more spices. I think it should be served with softened butter too. Or maybe cinnamon butter. Mmm...Try it yourself for a taste of history!

Pumpkin Cornbread

1 1/3 cups cornmeal
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
5 eggs
1 8oz container sour cream
1 can (15oz) 100% pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup butter, melted + 2 Tbsp

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 9" x 9" pan.
Sift all dry ingredients together into a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until the yolks and whites are well mixed. Stir in the sour cream, then the pumpkin. Stir in the 1/2 cup melted butter.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the liquid all at once. Stir only until the dry ingredients are moistened.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center can be withdrawn clean. (Approximately 35 minutes for light colored or glass pans, 30 min for dark pans.)
Remove from oven, brush top with the remaining 2 Tbsp melted butter and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into 36 squares.
Freezes well.

(Note that I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 10" x 15" pan which seemed to work fine, but it also seemed to bake faster than I expected. So you may want to bake for a shorter amount of time and check it.)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Food: Luella's Pecan Pie

My grandmother Luella used to make some really wonderful pies for Thanksgiving. Several years ago, I asked her to write out some of those recipes for me so that I could make them myself. I tried the Pecan Pie yesterday to rave reviews. The maple syrup adds a different flavor than the usual pies. And I was able to use real Georgia pecans from my aunt- and uncle-in-law to give this pie elements of the north and south!

Luella's Pecan Pie

3 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup pecan pieces
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup maple syrup

Mix flour and sugar. Beat eggs slightly. Add remaining ingredients.
Mix well and pour into unbaked pie shell.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
Lower temperature to 350 degrees and cook 45-50 minutes more.
It will be puffed up across top.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Inspiration Monday: The End.

I have a confession. I haven't been very inspired to write Inspiration Monday for several months.

I've been busy doing other things and it has become one more reason to not look forward to Monday. I started this feature as a way to be sure I blogged at least once a week. It worked for that, but frankly, it often takes a lot of time that could better be spent elsewhere. It also was stopping me from making postings about other things more interesting to me (and hopefully to you also). I was going to try to hold out until the end of the year so I could say I did it, but, frankly, I just need to let it go. Friday Food will continue (I enjoy cooking and helps me to try new recipes), but for Inspiration Monday, this is The End.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Food: Baked Spaghetti

This is a good, hearty spaghetti meal. You can make it without the ground beef if you prefer the vegetarian option and change up the veggies for variety or to serve picky tastes (which I did this time, but I have made it as written in the past). It's a nice warm meal for these cold nights! It comes from an old Taste of Home magazine.

Baked Spaghetti

1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 Tbsp butter
1 can (28 oz) tomatoes with liquid, cut up
1 can (4 oz) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1 can (2-1/4 oz) sliced ripe olives (the black ones), drained
2 tsp dried oregano
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained (optional)
12 oz spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese
1 can (10-3/4 oz) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, saute onion and green pepper in butter until tender. Add tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, and oregano. Add ground beef if desired. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Place half of the spaghetti in a greased 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish. Top with half of the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with 1 cup cheddar cheese. Repeat layers.
Mix the soup and water until smooth; pour over casserole. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until heated through.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Zentangles

I've come a little late to the Zentangle craze. And, frankly, if it weren't for Pinterest, I probably wouldn't even know what it was. I've long been inspired by good doodlers and great graffiti. There's something about the free form nature of those drawings and how quickly and easily they are created that appeals to me. I had seen Zentangles and admired them as well, I just didn't have a name for them until recently. I didn't really know where to begin, but decided to purchase the One Zentangle A Day book by Beckah Krahula to learn more.

The book teaches several patterns each day that are then used with other learned patterns to create that day's Zentangle tile. The process gets you quickly into "the zone" because the patterns are repetitive and require a careful hand to keep lines spaced evenly. The idea is that you take the patterns and let them dictate your final 3.5" x 3.5" tiles. The tiles are small enough that they can be easily finished in one sitting so you also get a sense of completion upon finishing them.

There's a whole regimen to this that I am not following. I haven't orded official Zentangle paper. I'm not using the exact pens they recommend. I'm not following the 11-Step Zentangle Process. What I am doing is enjoying learning each of the patterns and using them to create my own pieces of art line by line. It does help me to slow down and think about each line I am drawing which will, in turn, improve my drawing skills. The more detailed tiles are inspiring and the patterns are likely to show up elsewhere in my work.

Starry Night Zentangle by Carol TenBrook

(The works featured on Inspiration Monday are those that I enjoy and I have not been compensated in any way to include them on my blog.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Food: Maple Pudding

I may have mentioned in previous Friday Food installments that we were given a gallon of maple syrup. Unless you have pancakes daily, it's hard to get through a gallon of maple syrup so I've taken to finding recipes to use it in as well. I found this sweet and tasty Maple Pudding recipe in a local newspaper.

Make sure you use whole milk or cream for the recipe - I had 1% milk and made a thick maple soup. Still good, just a bit looser than your usual pudding. And, this goes without saying, use REAL maple syrup, not that sticky stuff that masquerades as pancake syrup in most grocery stores!

Maple Pudding

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup (real!) maple syrup
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup whole milk and cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
In a 3-quart saucepan, heat remaining ingredients to boiling on high, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to simmer. Whisk in cornstarch mixture; cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
Transfer to 6 parfait glasses. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
Top with whipped cream, of course!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Adriana Willsie

I connected with Adriana Willsie via Twitter some time ago. Many of her paintings are pet portraits - dogs, cats, the occasional bird - that she often posts on her blog when complete. I like the bright colors and paint textures she uses to give the feeling of fur and feathers.

Spanky by Adriana Willsie

On occasion, Adriana expands her color pallet beyond fur and feathers to paint beautiful landscapes and still-lifes.

Autumn: Pumpkin, acrylic on canvas by Adriana Willsie

I'm inspired by Adriana's simple subjects that are made quite complex by the depth of color and texture of the paint.

Lemons and Cake, acrylic on canvas by Adriana Willsie
(All images are the works of Adriana Willsie. Visit Adrianas website to see more of  her work or click on the links above. The works featured on Inspiration Monday are those that I enjoy and I have not been compensated in any way to include them on my blog.)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday Food: Olive Nut Sandwich Spread

What to do? I had leftover cream cheese from last Friday's Ginger Cream Cake recipe, so I made myself a guilty pleasure. If you like green olives, then Olive Nut Sandwich spread is tasty, though not so good for you with all the fat and salt. This is one of my grandmother's recipes. It's good on crackers or as a sandwich, just ignore those little voices in your head telling you it's bad for you.

Olive Nut Sandwich Spread

6 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonaisse
1/2 cup walnuts (or pecans)
1 cup salad olives (the green ones with pimentos)
2 Tbsp olive liquid from jar
dash pepper

Blend all ingredients together well. Will stay fresh in refrigerator for weeks. Put in glass jar.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Inspiration Monday: David Knowlton

It's cold. Snow is blowing horizontally. The view from my window is definitely wintery. We're waiting for more snow and wind tonight as Hurricane Sandy hits the coast. So I looked within for inspiration today - within my house that is - and was struck by a cold wintery scene of David Knowlton's that I purchased about 10 years ago.

Silent Sunset, acrylic
by David Knowlton

I enjoy David's work because of his attention to detail and because many of his paintings are of places and landscapes that are familiar to me: the Shenandoah Valley, New England, Pennsylvania...

Dawn's Early Light
(Nubble Light House)
acrylic  by David Knowlton

I also love the way his choice of colors really makes you feel the temperature of the painting: a cold winter
sunset, a chilly blue morning, or a cool fall day.  His use of color adds a sensory dimension to his paintings.

Cool Hollow, acrylic
by David Knowlton

(All images are the works of David Knowlton. Visit David's website to see more of  his work or click on the links above. The works featured on Inspiration Monday are those that I enjoy and I have not been compensated in any way to include them on my blog.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Food: Ginger Cream Cake

I love spicy ginger and molasses cookies and gingerbread, but I really only have a taste for these flavors during the cooler months, maybe because I associate the flavors with the holidays. It's gotten cooler out now, so it's time to bring out the spices! This Ginger Cream Cake has a nice zippy flavor with a smooth creamy frosting. I've had this recipe for quite a while - it's been a long time since I glued recipes to index cards - so I don't know what magazine it came from now. My guess is that it's an early 1990s Good Housekeeping recipe. Don't worry about the coffee - it adds body to the cake, but there's enough spice going on that it doesn't have a coffee flavor. It's yummy!

Ginger Cream Cake

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup boiling coffee

1/2 cup butter
3 oz reduced fat cream cheese
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Cream together sugar and butter in a large bowl. Add flour, salt, baking soda, and spices and blend. Add eggs and molasses, mix. Blend in coffee.
Pour into a 13"x9"x2" baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Cool.
For frosting, cream butter and cream cheese together; add sugar and vanilla. Spread over bars.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Inspiration Wednesday: Library of Virginia Literary Awards

Sorry to move Inspiration Monday to Inspiration Wednesday this week, but I've been a bit busy in all areas of life this month. It seems like everything came due at once. I'm hoping to have a chance to breathe a bit next week. Until then, I'll keep on at a breakneck pace and see how much I can get done! Enough about that though and on to the inspiration....

I usually focus on art as inspiration, but this week I was inspired by writers: novelists, non-fiction writers, and poets. As you may remember from an earlier blog post, I am a writer myself and my book, Lost Communities of Virginia, was up for a Library of Virginia People's Choice Award. Saturday was the big day when all of the Literary Award finalists were honored at a luncheon and the winners were announced at a dinner.

First the big news: I won! My book won the People's Choice Award for Non-Fiction! Woo hoo! While that was certainly inspirational, it's not my inspiration for today. It was meeting the other fiction, non-fiction, and poetry finalists. It was meeting writers hoping for their first big break at the luncheon that we shared with the James River Writer's Conference. It was meeting big name authors like David Baldacci, Adriana Trigiani, and Tom Robbins. It was hearing the other winner's acceptance speeches.

Mostly though, it was hearing Tom Robbins talk about writing. He talked about how a sentence should sound good as well as read well. He talked about his writing process: he spends hours on a single sentence and doesn't go on to the next until he is happy with the words he has chosen. Rather than puzzling over many drafts of a book, he writes a single draft, but that draft takes 3 or 4 years to write. He said that if you don't enjoy what you are writing and the story you are telling, you shouldn't be writing. He said to write for yourself and not for the money. His spoken sentences were colorful. He was inspirational. He made me want to write the novel I started in a class a few years ago!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Food: Steak Marinade

I don't often plan ahead enough to marinate anything, but we found a good steak the other day and it was the weekend so the steaks got marinated. We don't have a grill at the moment so we broiled the steaks. They were actually much rarer than the photo shows - this was the microwaved leftovers. I was hungry and forgot to take a photo when the steaks were done. I think this would work on chicken too. Enjoy!

Steak Marinade

1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine ingredients, add steaks. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 2-4 hours. Drain and discard marinade before grilling steaks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Donna Estabrooks

We came upon Donna Estabrooks' work at the Art and Soul Gallery in Ogunquit, Maine while we were on vacation recently. I enjoyed the bright colors, whimsical subjects, and words of inspiration.

"Listen to your inner kitten",
acrylic and spray paint on canvas
by Donna Estabrooks

Donna uses unexpected items as stencils for patterns that are spray painted on the canvas to add interest. You can see it on the chest of the larger cat and the dots in the background. Look for the same pattern in the painting below.

"Juicy", acrylic and spray paint on canvas
by Donna Estabrooks

Inspiration to try new things, broad strokes are wonderful, don't be afraid of color, and get back to my Daring Adventures in Paint book!

"My Love",
acrylic, collage, spray paint, silver leaf, and glitter on canvas
by Donna Estabrooks
(All images are the works of Donna Estabrooks. Visit Donna's website to see more of her work or click on the links above. The works featured on Inspiration Monday are those that I enjoy and I have not been compensated in any way to include them on my blog.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Food: Chocolate Mousse

It's been one of those weeks. A lot to do has blossomed exponentially into too much to do. I tripped and fell earlier in the week and have been nursing 2 jammed fingers that make it hard to type. Despite the fingers, I did manage to finish 27 origami stars for consignment, but I've still got prints to frame, cards to package, and jewelry to resin. I happened to have some heavy cream in the fridge leftover from another recipe, so it was a perfect week to indulge in some Chocolate Mousse. Mmmmm....chocolate....

Chocolate Mousse

6 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
Sweetened whipped cream

Combine chocolate and milk in a glass bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir until well combined. Mix in vanilla. Let the chocolate mixture stand until cool to the touch, but still smooth and liquid.
Beat the heavy cream and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer just until stiff peaks form. Fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the whipped cream. Don't worry about differing streaks of color.
Spoon mousse into 6 wine goblets or dessert dishes and chill, covered with plastic wrap. Can be made one day ahead.
Serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Inspiration Monday: The Ocean (Part II)

I live in the mountains and I love the unpredictableness of the landscape. It is forever changing with the light, season, weather, time of day...the scene is never the same. But as much as I love the mountains, I love the ocean even more. The smells, the sounds, the salt air, the large expanses of beach, the opportunity to just sit and watch the ever-changing surf. We went to North Myrtle Beach this spring and it was my inspiration that week - I even painted the scene for the Get Your Paint On class I was taking at the time. And while Myrtle Beach is fine, it meets all the criteria for a wonderful visit, it's well, a little boring.

I grew up going to the beach in Maine where there are rocks for the waves to crash over and the ocean seems to be a bit rougher. We spent the last weekend of September in Maine. It rained most of the time while we were there so we didn't to see the full moon on the water or a sunrise, but the power of the high tide enhanced by the storm and the moon's phase was beautiful, as was the stormy gray color pallet.

The power of the ocean and nature draws you to the shore. The salt air is filled with spray. The sound of the waves crashing is louder. The danger and beauty of the sea is much more apparent.

Rather than just sand and shells, there are boulders, stones, seaweed, and creatures in the tidal pools. The sound of stones ebbing and flowing with the tide is peaceful, yet powerful.

The Maine ocean is most always accessible and not hidden behind a row of high-rise hotels. There are plenty of opportunities to be inspired and scenes to paint. I can't wait to go back.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Food: Maple Walnut Chicken & Cheddar Apple Rice

I come from the land of sweet maple syrup, orchard fresh apples, and sharp white cheddar cheese. We happened to visit that land last week (it's called New Hampshire), so this recipe is a perfect reminder of those culinary bounties. Unfortunately, where I live now, it's harder to find good cheddar and I'm a bit mortified to have had to use bland yellow cheddar for this recipe. Don't do that. Find sharp white cheddar. And use real maple syrup, not the sticky stuff that passes for pancake syrup in some circles. It costs more and may be harder to find, but you'll be glad you made the extra effort.

This recipe came from a magazine, but I'm not sure which one. Maybe Yankee? You'll notice the photo is missing the walnuts, only because I didn't have any on hand. The recipe is yummy with or without the walnuts and the rice would be great comfort food on it's own or as a side dish to a different meal.

Maple Walnut Chicken & Cheddar Apple Rice

1 cup walnut halves
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups long-grain wild rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 apple - peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 tsp dill
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
6 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 lbs chicken breasts
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 325. Spread walnuts on baking sheet and roast until well toasted and fragrant, 10-12 minutes.
In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the rice and toast for several minutes. Add 2 cups chicken broth and bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apple and simmer for 8 minutes. Stir 1/4 cup chicken stock, dill, and 1/4 tsp salt into the rice during the last minute of cooking. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand for 1-2 minutes before fluffing with a fork. Transfer to a serving dish and stir in the cheese.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook, turning once, until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter.
Add vinegar to the skillet. Cook, scraping the pan drippings, then add the remaining 1/4 cup chicken stock, the maple syrup, and black pepper to taste. Cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the chicken and walnuts and spoon with the sauce. Loosely cover the pan with foil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Serve the chicken, sauce, and nuts with the rice alongside.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Fall in the Mountains

Today's inspiration is the colors, reflections, smells, and peace of fall. Enough said.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Food: Skillet Tomatoes

Still coping with an excess of produce from the garden. Try this Skillet Tomato recipe for a side dish, light lunch, or appetizer. Be creative with it and you can use all kinds of produce, different cheeses and herbs, and create a taste sensation all your own!

Skillet Tomatoes

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2/3 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
Garden produce equivalent to 4 large plum tomatoes (I used smaller tomatoes, cut in half; chopped red peppers; and a small onion, chopped)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan, add the oregano, salt, garlic, onion, and pepper. Cook until garlic begins to brown and onion becomes translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook, over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes or until they just begin to soften and shrink. Turn the tomatoes cut side up.
Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the vegetables. Cover the pan and allow the cheese to melt.
Sprinkle the Ritz crackers over the top of each half.
Serve immediately as is or on top of toasted bread slices.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Cathy Horvath-Buchanan

As much as I hate to see summer go, I'm enjoying the fall colors and simple subjects of Cathy Horvath-Buchanan's paintings today.

"Abstract Mountains & Tree Colors"
acrylic painting by Cathy Horvath-Buchanan

 I love the reflections in the water. Cathy's folk art paintings have a precise simplicity that attract me to them.

"Abstract Red Shirt Line"
acrylic painting by Cathy Horvath-Buchanan

There is motion to Cathy's paintings - I can feel the crisp wind blowing the clothes on the line. But there is also peace and familiarity to the paintings. I've been to the places and I want to go back. Fall inspiration for a late September Monday.

"Abstract Town Welcome",
acrylic painting by Cathy Horvath-Buchanan
(All images are the works of Cathy Horvath-Buchanan.. Click on the images above or visit Cathy's Etsy shop, Solo Work Studio, to see more of her work.. The works featured on Inspiration Monday are those that I enjoy and I have not been compensated in any way to include them on my blog.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Food: Choco-Nut Chews

I think I've mentioned before the many sweet delights that one of my grandmothers had in her freezer that she'd offer me when I visited after school. Choco-Nut Chews was one of those. This recipe is labeled "Terri's special" so apparently I was quite enamored of them at one time. They ARE good, but unfortunately, I just don't remember them! My grandmother was on a bake-it-in-the-microwave craze at that time and this is a microwave recipe that I've adapted to my world where I absolutely refuse to bake in the microwave (it just seems weird), so maybe they taste different if they're microwaved instead of baked?

Choco-Nut Chews

1 1/2 cups quick oatmeal
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chunky style peanut butter

1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup chopped salted peanuts

Combine first 6 ingredients in a bowl and spread evenly into a greased 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Let cool.
Combine chocolate chips, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Stir until melted. Spread on bars and sprinkle with peanuts.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi

I enjoy pottery and have wanted to try a wheel ever since I first played with clay in elementary school. I haven't done that yet, but will one day. It seems like craft shows have their share of blue, green, and brown mugs and plates. Those are fine, but I've seen so many of those pieces now that I'm far more attracted to bright colors and less traditional shapes. What attracted me most to Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi's work was one of her "Vases with Attitude" that I first saw on the Arts Business Institute blog.

A Vase with Attitude
by Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi

I love the posture of this vase and that Laurie was imagining a utilitarian vessel as a being with style and attitude. The vase seems to be saying, "Hey! You! Put some flowers in me already, will ya?" The application of color on the vase would be beautiful as a flat painting, as would the colors and motifs of her bowls and dishes.

Flowers Bowl by Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi

I am inspired by Laurie's work to remember that anything, no matter how utilitarian, is an opportunity for creating beauty and art that can be used every day. Or maybe, I should think of it this way, just as I wouldn't wear sweats to go out in public, the every-day, utilitarian items in my life should look their best too!

Vase by
Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi

(All images are the works of Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi. Click on the images above or visit Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi's website or her Artful Home shop to see more of her work.. The works featured on Inspiration Monday are those that I enjoy and I have not been compensated in any way to include them on my blog.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Food: Chicken Divan

I really like the combination of chicken, broccoli, and a little cheese flavor. Throw in a little wine and it makes the recipe all the heartier. So when I saw this recipe in a recent Parade magazine, I had to try it. I made a couple of changes from the original recipe based on what I had on hand, which you'll see below. The recipe was quite tasty and you could make the presentation fancy enough for friends. Enjoy!

Chicken Divan
1 bag frozen broccoli
1/4 cup butter
5 Tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream
3 Tbsp red wine
lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 pound boneless chicken breasts, cooked and sliced thin.

Cook broccoli as directed on package. Drain and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add broth and bring mixture to a boil. Cook on low, stirring, for 10 minutes, or until thick.
In a mixing bowl, beat cream with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, then add to flour mixture along with red wine and lemon juice to taste. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange broccoli in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan. Top with half of sauce. Stir 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese into the other half of the sauce. Arrange cooked chicken on broccoli, pour remaining sauce over top and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.
Cook at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until sauce is golden and bubbling.
Yield: 6 servings, 370 calories.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Architectural Salvage

In our spare time, my husband and I are working on renovating our early 1900s house. We try to use period hardware, doors, windows, fixtures, trim, and whatever else we can in our renovation. Fortunately, most of the pieces are still in our house and just require stripping or sandblasting to get them back in shape to be reinstalled. Sometimes, though, we need to go to an architectural salvage store to get pieces or just look around and get ideas. This weekend, we had the pleasure of visiting Caravati's in Richmond, Virginia to search for a piece to attach one of the feet to our newly reclaimed claw foot tub. It's lots of fun looking through the store and being inspired by the craftsmanship of times past.

I'm inspired by the color and pattern of an old stained glass window and the intricacies of the cast iron swirls and curlicues in the porch below.

I loved the color of this Italian crystal chandelier, though we don't have a room for it. Architectural salvage is a reminder to take the time to craft things well and to give old, well-made things a good home rather than consign them to the trash and buy new.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Food: Rich Raspberry Swirl Brownies

It was birthday baking time last weekend. I made these amazing brownies for my grandmother's 92nd birthday. All reports are that they were a perfect gift. Since the original recipe was for a 9x9" pan and I wanted to keep some for myself, I doubled the recipe. You can halve it to get the original recipe, but do cut the cooking time by 5 minutes or so if you do. I also used dark baking cocoa so they are extra yummy chocolatey. If you don't think you can handle that much chocolate, use regular baking cocoa. The original recipe came from an old Taste of Home magazine. Enjoy!

Rich Raspberry Swirl Brownies

1 1/2 cups dark baking cocoa
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup seedless red raspberry jam
3 cups chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, melt butter in microwave. Add sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla and mix until creamy. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add cocoa, flour, and salt.
Spread 2 cups batter into a greased 13"x9"x2" baking pan. Sprinkle pecans over batter. Stir jam until smooth and drizzle over pecans.
Beat remaining batter and egg in same large bowl until light in color. Stir in 2 cups chocolate chips. Spread evenly over raspberry jam. Top with remaining chocolate chips.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares.
Yield: 32 brownies.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Completion

Or maybe, since it's now Tuesday, I should title this "Inspirationless Monday." I've been having difficulty being inspired lately and I think it's due to the number of incomplete projects I have cluttering my head and my life. I see my incomplete house in the midst of renovation, that half-carved printing block, the unfinished baskets, the still packed boxes, the partially read business book. I think about that half-forgotten thesis, the almost-complete certificate program, the never-ending work projects. All of that clutter inhibits inspiration.

 The clutter of incompletions caused by a lack of motivation (sometimes it's just hard to get started on those things again, particularly if they are out of sight out of mind or if you've looked at them so many times they just become part of the landscape), boredom (sometimes I just get tired of the process or the next step in the process or decide it's just not worth the effort, but some part of me doesn't totally give up on the project), or fear (what if I mess up the entire project with the next step? what if it doesn't turn out as well as I hope it will? what if the project fails completely?)

I can be inhibited by the incompletions or I can celebrate and be inspired by the many projects I have completed. For all of our house that's unfinished, there's a lot that's finished too. I've made 23 roman shades. We've unpacked most of the boxes. I've got great new cabinets in my office organizing all my art supplies. I've published 4 books. I've finished lots of linocuts and baskets that I'm quite happy with. I learned to paint this spring and finished 5 paintings. I've completed a thesis. For all the never-ending work projects, I've completed many more.

In honor of the unofficial beginning of Fall, I am working to clear the clutter from my desk and my head. I finished the novel I'd been reading for too long. I am finishing the baskets that are sitting around. I am finishing a work project that's been hanging around too long. I'm going to complete that half-carved printing block. I'm celebrating the many things I have completed. I am inspired by completion and the promise and excitement that brings of new projects, new creativity.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Food: Orange Sponge Cake

I'm a cookie baker and I seldom bake cakes. I usually have a craving for something sweet and make something without consulting my husband. This time, though, I asked him what he would like and he said, "cake!" "What kind?" I said. "Pound cake!" he said. Well, I looked at several recipes that required over a pound of butter. I just couldn't make a pound cake for the 2 of us in good conscience. I found this recipe for a sponge cake instead. It was a good compromise: my husband liked it and I know just from the ingredients that it didn't do as much damage to our figures as the pound cake would have.

This recipe is from an old Taste of Home magazine and with all the egg beating required, it's the only time I've ever really needed a stand up mixer, but alas, I don't have one and managed just fine with the electric hand mixer. The cake is light and tasty and well worth the effort!

Orange Sponge Cake

6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup orange juice
3 tsp grated orange peel
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cream of tartar

1/3 cup butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 to 5 tsp water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Let eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks on high speed for 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in 2/3 cup sugar. Add orange juice and orange peel; beat 3 minutes longer. Gradually add flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt and mix well.
In a large mixing bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time until stiff peaks form. Gradually fold into batter.
Gently spoon into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan (I used a bundt pan). Cut through batter with a knife to remove air pockets. Bake on lowest oven rack at 325 for 45-55 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert pan; cool completely, about 1 hour.
Run a knife around side and center tube of pan. Removed cake to a serving plate.
For glaze, melt butter in a medium bowl in microwave. Add confectioner's sugar, water and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Pour over cake, allowing it to drizzle down sides.
Yield: 12 servings, approx. 310 calories.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Inspiration Monday: Frank Lloyd Wright

My inspiration today is not all of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture and design work, but his art glass window patterns in particular. I have always loved geometric patterns and enjoyed his window patterns, but hadn't really looked that closely at them until the other day. I decide to try to sketch one to give me some additional ideas for my own work beyond basic simple geometry. Since I wasn't real successful at finding the kind of photos of his work I was looking for on the Internet, my sketch will have to suffice today.

This is a window from the May House in Grand Rapids, Michigan that I found in an old Frank Lloyd Wright calendar we had kept for the wonderful photographs. This is a simpler window than many that he created, but it's still not as straightforward as it might seem. It took me several tries before I got the gist of his geometry, thought the proportions are still not quite right (the window is taller and skinnier).

What's interesting and inspirational are the different divisions of the window's rectangle at work here. If you look above the bottom row of alternating squares, the window seems to be divided into fourths with the right and left panels divided again in half. Simple enough. The quarters are divided into fifths in the center and thirds farther up on the right and left. Then 2/3rds is split into thirds and there's 1/3rd + 1/5th and 3/5ths and then there's the squares at the top and bottom of the window....And wow!

So what's the inspiration here? Don't limit yourself! If you've got a rectangle, maybe just a piece of paper or a canvas, and you decide to limit yourself to straight lines, you still have all sorts of beautiful options. If you divide the rectangle into quarters, don't stop there! Don't make those divisions hard and fast. Think of them as guidelines for part of your canvas and let your imagination run wild. Divide and conquer. And make beauty!