Tuesday, October 14, 2014

comfort in a bowl ~ soup recipes for those chilly autumn nights

Day two of gloomy, gray skies and rain. Blech. I'm one of those people who's affected
by the weather both physically and mentally. Give me a sunshiny day and I'm cheerful and
motivated and full of energy. Gloomy days? Something usually hurts more than usual on
this middle-aged body and I feel lazy and blah. 

I find myself craving soup in this kind of weather. I love the process of making it, too.
There's something cathartic about mindfully chopping vegetables. Then there's the
fragrance filling the kitchen as the onions, garlic, and celery saute on the stovetop. And
finally, the whole house fills with the aroma of simmering soup. Ever walk into a house
where soup is simmering on the stove? It smells like comfort. It smells like home.

The first recipe I'm sharing with you is one of my family's favorite, tried-and-true classic
soups: Pasta E Fagioli. It's hearty and delicious, makes great leftovers, and is easy
to make. Recipe below.

  (Recipe from cookbook, Full Of Beans)

2 T. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta or bacon, minced (sub vegetarian Canadian 
bacon or omit entirely, if vegetarian)
1-1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T. crumbled dried leaf sage or 2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
5 c. chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 16-oz. can Italian-style chopped tomatoes with juice
(or use plain canned chopped tomatoes & add your own Italian seasonings)
3 c. drained cooked white beans such as cannellini or Great Northern
3/4 c. small dried pasta such as ditalini or tubetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large, heavy soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta
(or bacon) and cook until the fat is rendered but not browned, about 8 minutes.
Add the onion and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the
vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, and red pepper flakes
and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, tomatoes, and beans. Bring to a boil over high
heat, add the pasta, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook uncovered until the pasta
is al dente, about 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt, if necessary. (Leftovers
can be kept for a couple of days in the refrigerator and reheated, but if making the
soup ahead, don't cook the pasta until shortly before serving. It tends to absorb liquid
and become soggy as it stands.) Ladle into bowls and top with freshly grated cheese.


Another great thing about making soup is that it's so adaptable. I make up a lot of my
own recipes. Basically, if you have basic staples on-hand such as broth, vegetables
(fresh, canned, frozen), tomatoes (fresh or canned), any kind of pasta or grain, and if
you wish - some kind of protein such as beans or leftover chicken - you can make soup.

My yoga teacher mentioned last week that she made up a recipe for Mexican Chicken
Soup. I told her to tell me the basics of what she put in it - and here's what I came up
with. I love to make up my own recipes and with soup, it's easy to do so.


2 T. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 poblano peppers, coarsely chopped
1 cubanelle pepper, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1-2 tsp cumin (start out with 1 tsp, taste - add more to your liking)
1 T. chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
5 c. chicken broth
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1 c. frozen corn
Juice of 2 limes
Fresh cilantro

In a large, heavy soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion,
celery, poblano peppers, cubanelle pepper, and carrots. Cook over medium
heat for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add the garlic, cumin, chili
powder, and oregano and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, chicken, and frozen
corn and simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes or until all the flavors come together.
Right before serving, add the juice of two limes into the pot of soup and stir. Ladle into
bowls. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

 Nom nom ~ enjoy!

Sharing with Cozy Little House - Tweak it Tuesday.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

just a few treasures ~ and the reason why

Remember how I used to frequently show you all my latest thrifting treasures?
Notice I haven't done that lately?
There's a good reason: I've only purchased a few goodies in 2-1/2 months!

Here's the few things I've found at Goodwill since the beginning of August.
(I found a beautiful light blue Laura Ashley cardigan and olive corduroy jacket
from the Gap at the local Savers right before it went out of business, but I 
normally don't take photos of clothes.)
I'm a big fan of Lisa Lill Studio handbags. She's a local Chicago designer.
This small velvet handbag will be perfect for dressier fall occasions. 

 I've been carrying this heavy cotton Lisa Lill bag this fall and love how it's
casual, sturdy, and pretty. I've gotten lots of compliments on it. There's nothing
like pretty bags ~ especially when they only cost $5!

 These lovely plates were only 99 cents each. They'll be pretty on the kitchen
table in the summer.

 Many years ago, my aunt gave me this August teacup for my birthday.
I was thrilled to find the matching plate last month!

 Of course, I couldn't pass up this cute, colorful kitty print. It's hanging in the 
main bath.

 Love these pretty teacups and saucers made by Grand Duchess Taste Setter
 by Sigma (Japan). 

 So...there's a reason I haven't been thrifting much. When you've lived in the same house
for over 24 years and you've raised two kids in that house, you accumulate a lot of stuff.
When my friend moved this summer, I saw how much stuff she had to (and wanted to) get
rid of. She said it was very freeing, and I believe it. I know how good it feels to get certain
spaces cleaned out and to let some of that clutter go. I was determined to stop bringing
in so much "stuff" and to continue decluttering ~ especially my messy basement. I just
donated 14 bags of miscellaneous household items, books, and clothing yesterday.

Here's the neighbor's maple tree today. Such beauty.

 Happy almost-weekend!

Monday, October 6, 2014

autumn goodness ~ dinners, friends, decor, and trees

Hello, friends! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. I know some of you living
in southern California are still experiencing hot temperatures. I sure wish I could
usher some of our cool - okay, and downright cold a couple of nights this week -
air your way. It's now mainly in the 50's during the day with maybe a 60+ degree day
here and there. We're pulling up the down comforter at night and Zippo has started his
cold weather routine of sleeping under the covers all nestled between us for warmth.

This past Friday night, I traveled into Chicago to attend a friend's annual fall dinner
party. I didn't want to get stuck in rush hour traffic going down there, so I left early and
hung out in a little neighborhood by my friend's house. I took a nice walk and stopped 
in a couple of shops. My first stop was Gene's Sausage Shop. I didn't buy anything, but
it was fun to look around. It's two floors filled with a butcher shop, deli, bakery, and lots
of European gourmet specialty products.

They had a pretty impressive wine section, too.

I ended up spending the most time at The Book Cellar - a great little independent
book store where I explored some pretty cool cookbooks.

And then ~ an awesome fall candlelight dinner with seven amazing ladies.
The soup that my friend made was out of this world. It warmed me from my
heart to my toes. It tasted like a rich (but it's not - no cream! In fact, it's vegan
if you choose not to top with goat cheese) bowl of creamy, earthy veggies. I can't 
wait to make it at home. 

My friend shared the recipe with me and I am sharing with you:
Winter Vegetable Soup
Recipe created by Lulu Powers--Madonna’s caterer)
For 6 servings

3 T olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup peeled, cored and coarsely chopped Granny Smith apple
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped turnip
1 cup peeled and chopped butternut squash (seeds discarded)
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1 cup peeled, chopped sweet potato
** I also add 1 cup golden beets, peeled and chopped
5 cups vegetable stock
¼ cup maple syrup (I use half of that)
cayenne pepper (I use 1/4 teaspoon)

 optional: 1 small baguette, 3 oz. goat cheese
optional: ¼ cup fresh chives, chopped and sprinkled on top of soup

 Heat oil in large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent.
 Add apple, turnips, squash, carrot, beet, sweet potato and sauté 5-10 minutes. Add 
stock, bring to boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add syrup and
 cayenne peepper. Cool slightly. Puree with handheld mixer or blender.

If desired, toast slices of baguette and spread with goat cheese to float on soup.

I really do have the most awesome and talented friends. I've been adding touches
of fall decor around my house and when some of those things are handmade, they
add so much more to a home, don't they? This beautiful tea towel was made by Penny

She also gifted me with three autumn pillowcases. One was supposed to be for Tim, 
but I forgot to send it back to school with him while he was home this weekend. Oops!
As you can see, my master bedroom is done in light blue (and that is definitely going to
change in the near future - it's the next room to work on), so fall colors don't really "go"
in this room, but that's OK. I think the colors add a little warmth and "oomph" to the 
pale decor and besides, anything made by a friend deserves a very special place in
my home whether it matches or not!

I found some old Halloween lights when I was digging through my box of fall
decor, so hung those up around the fireplace...and I also added a very special
little something on my ladder bookcase. Do you see it? 

It's the cutest fall banner made by none other than Judy from 20 North Ora!

Talented and crafty Judy also makes burlap runners like this pretty bird themed one 
on my buffet. She also makes a lot of different pillows. Check out her etsy shop here.

Moving on to the kitchen...the shelves now carry a couple of cute ghosts and a
long ago thrifted autumn covered dish...

and the china cabinet got a makeover with owls and other assorted fall
goodies. The only thing "new" in this cabinet are the two little blue bird
salt and pepper shakers on the bottom shelf.

Aren't they darling? My mom was at my house one day last week and we went
to the new vintage shop in my town. This was all I bought ($4). Funds are tight and
I'm trying not to bring so much stuff into my house anymore. But these spoke to me.
Or chirped or tweeted or something like that.

Outdoor beauty...the maple tree across the street changes every single day.
I've been trying to remember to take a photo of it every day to document its progress.
From looking back at last year's photos, this tree should be at the height of its color
peek by mid-October. It turns a brilliant red, but it only lasts a few days. Next thing
you know, all the leaves are on the ground. So I'm savoring its beauty for a short while.
This is how it looks today.

And taking a walk around my neighborhood, this is a tree by a charming little house
on the next block. Not sure what kind of tree this is though. Oh - and this house is for
sale. Anyone want to move to northern Illinois and be my neighbor?

A few doors down from the house for sale - this mighty, brilliant oak.

As always, thank you for your visit and your lovely comments. They are always
appreciated and I reply on this blog to every one of them. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

the dreaded day ~ and other stuff on a monday

 Last Thursday - September 25th - was the five year anniversary of Phil's passing.
(That's Phil in the green and white striped shirt, between me and Brian.) This was
the last family photo taken of the four of us in July 2009. We were celebrating Phil's
21st birthday at one of his favorite restaurants - Maggianos. Anniversary dates are
never easy. I don't think it matters how many years it's been been. Brian and I drove
out to Tim's place after he got out of school and we went to the cemetery together, then
out to dinner. I'm thankful that Tim isn't going to school far away where we couldn't
just hop in the car and be at his place in 1-1/2 hours.

On to other news...I finally saved up enough money to buy a nice lens for the Canon Rebel
xsi camera that Tim gave me a couple of years ago. (He was given a much nicer camera
for shooting a wedding.) I got a great deal on this lens from a seller on eBay. This lens itself
retails for almost $500! I was able to get this lens for a little more than half the retail price.
And it's in perfect condition. Now for the even harder part: learning how to use this camera
and lens! I have never used a DSLR camera before - just a point-and-shoot. Just looking
at all the buttons and knobs and stuff on both the camera and lens have me overwhelmed.
I know there's tutorials online, so that's where I'll start. Tim told me to learn how to shoot in
manual, not automatic.

 Speaking of photographs, there's nine of Tim's photos that I want to mat and frame
and hang on a wall in his old room/the guest room. I laid them out on my bed today
and I think this is how I want to display them on the wall. Now I need to make a trip
to Hobby Lobby or Michaels and check out my framing options. I'll wait to purchase
all of the frames until one of the places has a 40% off sale.

The weather here in northern IL continues to be just about perfect every day: warm
temps, tons of sunshine during the day, and cool nights. My desk faces a west window
so that the late afternoon sun comes streaming in - which the cats love. I caught Miss
Clemmie rolling around in delight yesterday. 

Sir Zippo prefers to just nap. Smart boy.

 One last thing ~ did I tell you that I'm back in my regular yoga class now that my
shoulder is feeling much better? After almost a year in a gentle class, it feels so
good to be back in my regular class where I feel a bit challenged. Namaste!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

autumn eases in

Here it is, the first day of autumn. It slipped in with all its splendor, casting upon us the
clearest blue skies, a warm breeze, and maple trees tinged with red. 

Kitties sit in open windows and chitter at the squirrels who are teasing them
from the tree limbs.

 Touches of fall decor have been unearthed from a bin in the basement simply marked
"Fall" and placed around the house.


 Homemade soups are once again becoming a staple on our dinner table,
providing nourishment and warmth for the cooler, longer nights ahead.

Goodbye, summer. Hello, fall. You always bring a tinge of sadness laced
with all that beauty. 

Joining Cozy Little House - Tweak it Tuesday.

Friday, September 19, 2014

around my home ~ indoors and out

Hello, friends ~ how's your week been? I was actually sick most of the week; but 
nothing major. Just a raw, sore throat, headache and tiredness. Just enough to make
me feel yucky and not have a lot of energy. I doubled my vitamin D and took a
tried-and-true supplement, Allibiotic. I swear by this stuff. If you take it at the first sign 
of a cold or scratchy throat, you can pretty much avoid a full-blown cold. At least that's
how it's worked for me, Brian, and Tim. (My mom swears by it, too.)

Do you remember the round, wooden mirror I bought a couple of months ago
and couldn't decide where to put it in my living room? I had thought it would look good
on the fireplace wall ~ here's Brian holding it up for me. Nope, too small. And I wasn't 
keen on hanging sconces or anything else beside it to balance it out and fill in the
 white space. 

Turns out, I found a better spot for it: on the wall right inside our front entrance. I hung two
 San Francisco prints on the smaller wall to the side. The larger one is a vintage painting
that we picked up in an antique shop last year and the small print is just a page from
a calendar that I framed. The city of SF holds a special place in our hearts, as that's
where we spent our 25th anniversary five years ago.

I think the new mirror looks a lot better than the gold, oval mirror that was there before.
 I was getting tired of the plates, too. The gold mirror is now in the master bedroom.


The past two weekends, I've frequented a farm in our area to buy a ton of tomatoes
and some other veggies, as this is pretty much it until next summer. (Waah!) 

We enjoyed one last batch of fresh gazpacho ~ so easy to make in a food processor.

Topped with cucumber and avocado, it made a delicious and healthy lunch.

And then with the rest of the crop, I put tomatoes, garlic, and rosemary in a big
roasting pan and tossed all with olive oil and salt. I slow-roasted in the oven for a 
couple of hours until the tomatoes were saucy. The house smelled so good! Then I
packed the sauce into freezer bags. I have five bags in my freezer right now. It'll be
so awesome to use these summer tomatoes in spaghetti sauce, chili and soups 
this winter.

And then going on around my yard...Brian planted these fountain grasses in the little
ditch area in front of our house beside the driveway. We don't have sidewalks in our
neighborhood. The other side of our driveway has a larger ditch and that's filled with 
tiger lilies. I'm happy to see that these grasses are doing well and have grown a lot in 
the past month that they were planted. I can't wait until a few years down the  road when
 they're really tall and they sway in the breeze. Fountain grasses have always been one
 of my favorite plants, especially in the fall.

All my potted flowers are still going strong.

In my butterfly garden, the sedum is in full bloom. I never used it as a cutting flower until
I saw a few bouquets on blogs. I now have a bunch in a Mason jar on my kitchen table
and I'm happy to report that this is a great cutting flower ~ they still are colorful and sturdy
even after a week on my table.

Looks like my cherry tomatoes are pretty much done for. All the leaves are
drying up. Makes me sad. I love being able to step outside my door and pick 
fresh tomatoes off the vine. And cut flowers for the table and pick herbs to use
in my cooking. Can you tell I'm a warm weather person?

Farewell to the Black-Eyed Susans, too.

Have a wonderful weekend!