Thursday, November 9, 2017

herbs and leaves

The temps finally dipped enough two nights ago where we had a hard freeze. I was amazed to find yesterday that the parsley, sage, rosemary and not thyme, but chives, were still intact and actually looking vibrant.

I know these fresh herbs aren't going to last much longer, especially with tonight's temps going down to 16F, so I gathered what I could.

I froze the herbs using an easy method from Cathy at My 1929 Charmer. Click here for instructions. I know you can finely chop herbs and then put them in ice cube trays with water, but that limits what you can do with the herbs. Sure, it's easy to drop an ice cube into a pot of stew or soup, but what about when I want fresh rosemary for roasted potatoes? Now I can just reach into a freezer bag and pick off what I need, no water involved.

Even the parsley flower buds were put to use...I love the lacey look in an old milk bottle.

The hard freeze made all the difference for the trees. Just a couple of days ago, Brian and I were marveling at all the leaves still clinging to the trees, and yesterday the leaves were fluttering to the ground like raindrops. The huge maple tree across the street is now completely bare, but it sure left a colorful carpet on the ground.

I had put all my leftover baby pumpkins and gourds on a bench in my side yard for the squirrels and with the falling leaves, nature made this beautiful vignette. 

Brian had the day off work a couple of days ago and we took one of our little day trips. We took a walk in our favorite park along Lake Michigan. See how beautiful the trees still were?

And then there's last night's waning light through the now-bare trees, which has a haunting beauty all its own.

It always makes me a little sad to see the bare trees, but then I read somewhere that said we can now see more sky. I try to look for the positives.

It's a cloudy, windy day but I'm bundling up and heading out to the grocery store. I need fresh veggies to make a pot of vegetable soup this afternoon. There's nothing like the aroma of a pot of soup simmering on the stove on these blustery days. And now I'll be able to reach in my freezer and get fresh herbs to use in my soup, too. Doesn't get much better than that.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

so much autumn goodness

Sorry the long delay in my posts. I've missed you all.

It is just now starting to get cold here. We've been lucky. My coleus, herb garden and even some annuals are still going strong. We had our first frost warning last night, but it didn't happen. Will definitely happen this weekend though - it's going down to 28 degrees Saturday night. I'm going to bring those geraniums inside and hope for the best with over-wintering them.

I celebrated the fall equinox (belated) at my First Best Friend's house. She has dinners to celebrate the start of every season. It's always the same small (anywhere from 5-10) group of ladies, all of whom have become very dear to me over the years. I just wish I lived closer to these women. They all live in Chicago, which is over an hour's drive from my house. Most of them still have kids at home; some work outside the home; a couple of others are single moms. Everyone is busy! These dinner gatherings are the perfect time for all of us to put our busyness aside for a few hours and take deep breaths, relax, and truly enjoy each other's company. We talk, laugh and cry late into the night.

Another slice of fall joy...spending time with my mom and aunt at the Autumn Drive. An annual fest held out in the country, we walked around to different farms and explored antiques and crafts and tons of pumpkins and squash and petted sweet dogs that rescue groups were walking around. 

Library book sales are going on in full force around here this time of year. You might recall that I cleaned out hundreds of books this past April. So now if I even go to a library book sale, all I look for is certain cookbooks, particular decorating books, and authors whose work I'm looking for in fiction and non-fiction. I don't bring any books home just because they look like a good read. As soon as I'm done looking through the cookbooks, I will pass them on.

This past weekend, I took a class at a neighboring Buddhist Temple. The building is 150 years old and so beautiful. I loved the monument outside where on one side it said, "Let Peace Prevail on Earth" and on the other, "May Peace Be in Our Communities." Interestingly enough, the upstairs sanctuary has stained glass windows with Jesus, Mary and an angel depicted on them. I'm not sure if the windows were there when the building previously belonged to a Unitarian Church, but the monk has said (and I'm quoting from an article in The Northwest Herald dated July 24, 2015), "The windows make some of the temple visitors more comfortable with meditation." And, "In this building, we are not teaching religions. We are teaching meditation, how to be happy. How to calm down. And Jesus and Buddha they are both very spiritual teachers." What a beautiful, loving philosophy! 

Some last minute antique shopping today. Me, my mom and aunt were texting this morning and those bad women asked to meet up for lunch and a quick trip to one of our favorite shops. Even though I was going to run some errands today, had a ton of laundry to do, was in the middle of writing this blog post, and was planning on making a pot of homemade soup this afternoon, I was off and running. ;-)

Just like with books, I am pretty judicious about what I bring into the house nowadays. It has to be something I can truly use, or else be so pretty that I can't pass it up. I found this Rowe Pottery plant pot for only $8. Found completed listings on eBay for $30 - $35. And I did need this plant pot. I have a plant in my office/yoga room that is still sitting in its original crappy plastic pot. I've been wanting to repot this plant, but couldn't find a small plant pot that I liked. Until today.

(Image found here)

'Til next time...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

what happens when you go to target for jeans

Last weekend while at my cousin's house, she mentioned that she went shopping for jeans and found that Mom Jeans were coming back into style. All us women had the same reaction: Hellll no! Though we then lamented the perils of lower-cut jeans, which lead to muffin top. Another cousin said forget the muffin top; he had an entire Bundt cake! 

(My kind of muffin top) source

On Sunday when I was looking through the Chicago Tribune, I noticed the Target flyer was advertising that they were having a "buy one, get another one 50% off" jeans sale. The models on the front of the flyer were wearing different colored jeans - not Mom Jeans! -  and it looked like they had some nice colors for fall. I need a couple of pairs of new jeans, so I headed to Target.

This is what ended up in my cart.

Notice you don't see any jeans. More on that in a minute.

Ooh, hello pretty fall placemats and wooden bread bowl and pillar candle holder. And Target is no dummy with that cute little dollar section the minute you walk in the door. That's where I found the pumpkin string lights ($3) and the recipe box ($5).


When I got home from shopping and unloaded my wares onto the kitchen table, Clementine immediately claimed the bread bowl and Monkey, the Trader Joe's flyer.


I ended up using the placemats as a runner. My kitchen table is small, so store-bought standard sized runners are way too long. The bread bowl makes a nice centerpiece and I'm currently using it to hold cloth napkins and the hurricane lamp with a flameless candle. I might change it up later with a grouping of mini pumpkins and apples. Lots of possibilities with this bread bowl.

The recipe box on top of the fridge...

and the pumpkin lights strung across the fireplace mantle.

Notice anything else new on the mantle?

We love our new mirror! It's the IKEA Stockholm mirror.

I had been looking for a big mirror for the mantle and when I saw this photo on Instagram, it was my inspiration.

Back to the jeans at Target:

I could not find any colored jeans for women; only typical blue jeans. And the only styles they had were skinny jeans - which, to me, are only attractive on super skinny women...and I'm not one of them - or boot cut. Where these colored, "normal-fitting" jeans were that I saw in the ad was beyond me. I even asked a salesgirl in the women's section and she said all she knew of was the colored cotton chino-type pants.

Maybe I'll have better luck at Kohls. 

At least I'm not tempted by their housewares section. ;-)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

beautiful weather and a few delicious autumn meals

Yesterday we spent the day in central Illinois with extended relatives and we couldn't have asked for a more lovely day...sun, 70 degrees, hanging out on the patio talking, and playing cornhole/bags (whichever you want to call it) in my cousin's beautiful back yard. Pretty much the entire month of September was perfect, weather-wise. I don't remember a September where the skies were this blue and cloudless every day, though we now desperately need rain. We barely have a color change here yet. Most trees are still green, but the leaves that are falling are brown and crispy.

The sunsets have been amazing every night, too. This one was taken on our evening walk tonight.

Today was back to reality with lots of work around the house and laundry, but that's OK, because we got a lot accomplished. I made a hearty dinner: a sheet pan with apple gouda chicken sausages, potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions - which were roasted in the oven; a pot of quinoa; and fried apples (fried in coconut oil, sprinkled with cinnamon, and sweetened with a drizzle of pure maple syrup).

Speaking of delicious food, I have a few other fall dinner ideas for you.

We're all familiar with spaghetti with meat sauce, but when I came across this simple way of making it, I had to give it a try. (I can't remember what magazine I cut this recipe out of, but I think it was Real Simple.) I was dubious about cooking the noodles right in the sauce, but it turned out perfect! I used brown rice spaghetti noodles and organic, grass-fed beef. If you make this, be aware that it makes a lot. I think we got about 7-8 servings from this dish. And the leftovers thicken after being stored in the fridge, so when I heated up the leftovers in a pot on the stove, I added more water and a little bottled organic marinara sauce.

This is one of our favorite soups. It's simple but yet has deep flavor and is easy to make. I always double this recipe. We had the leftovers for lunch today.

Stuffed zucchini is another easy-to-make, yummy and healthy dish. Preheat oven to 350F. Trim ends from zucchini and cut in half lengthwise, then scoop out the pulp and seeds with a spoon. Spray the insides of the zucchini with olive oil cooking spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Bake zucchini shells for 15-20 minutes or until slightly tender. Remove from oven and stuff with filling of your choice. There are so many possibilities, depending on what flavors you're in the mood for. You can basically stuff with any kind of cooked meats (or not) and veggies, sprinkle with shredded cheese (or not), and bake another 20 minutes. This filling was diced cooked chicken with enchilada sauce, corn, and cheese. When it came out of the oven, I topped with chopped fresh tomato and cilantro.

Hope you all had a great weekend and were blessed to also have enough good food to eat and share with loved ones. Even if it was just yourself, you are a loved one, too. Treat yourself as such.

Monday, September 25, 2017

eight years ago today

Eight years ago today, our world as we knew it came to a stop. 
RIP, my precious son. We forever love and miss you.
Philip Thomas Riley 07.21.88 - 09.25.09

"I am not without hope, and I know I will see him again someday. But who knows when that day will come, so I've had to learn a lot about grief in these years - or at least learn a lot about how I grieve. I've learned that you don't get to practice how you'll handle something like this....
I've learned that life can be fun again, and I can laugh and enjoy it. At the same time, grief is like a giant block of granite: The sharp edges may have softened with the passing years, but it remains as hard and as heavy as it was the day it first crashed into my life. But I've discovered that sorrow has its own beauty. It brings depth and context to all the blessings in my life."
(Matthew Wahlberg, "What 9 Years Since my Son's Death Have Taught" Chicago Tribune, Sept 27, 2015)

(Phil on his 14th birthday, 2002)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

seasons changing

Last week, it was cool enough where I was thinking fall foods ~ chili, soup, squash. Have you ever had delicata squash? It looks like this:

It's simple to prepare, and so delicious. Brian and I ate this entire pan in one sitting. Scrub the squash, then poke holes all over it with a fork, put in the microwave on high for two minutes to soften up enough to slice, then let it cool down. Slice into rings and place on a baking sheet. Some of the rings will have some pulp and seeds, but they're easy to scrape out with a spoon. In a small bowl, combine extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper & fresh chopped rosemary. Use a pastry brush to brush the infused oil on top of the squash rings. Bake at 400 degrees F. for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Eat! Yes, you can eat the skin, too. This squash is high in fiber and iron, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and a host of other vitamins.

I know my time with fresh tomatoes is limited, so I've been running up to the local farm stand a couple of times a week and buying a ton of tomatoes. I cut them up and roast them with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, let them cool down, and then put them in food storage bags. Easy-peasy and will be so wonderful to have fresh tomatoes in my homemade soups, stew, chili, and spaghetti sauce this winter.

Now we're back to warm weather. It's been 80+ the past few days and will climb to 91 by Friday. That's how the weather goes here when seasons are changing. The color change has started and driving down the roads I've noticed the landscaping seems to be bathed in a soft golden glow. We desperately need rain though ~ it's so dry. My yard is littered with crunchy leaves.

Sunsets have been anywhere from gentle and soft...

to strong and fiery.

 I know fall doesn't truly start for a couple more days and I hate pushing seasons (except for winter 😛), but I brought the fall stuff out a few days ago and started playing around with decor. Just going for a transitioning look; nothing Autumn Overkill. This is just the emptying of the storage box to see what I had. I didn't use much and even donated some of it.

"By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer's best of weather and autumn's best of cheer." ~ Helen Hunt Jackson