Southwestern Chopped Chicken Salad

After these past two weeks I will not take a simple thing like going to the grocery store for granted. I have been shopping as little as possible and when I do go, I try and go earlier that I ever have. Six AM grocery store trips are generally not my style. My carefully planned lists are now a thing of the past as I look for what I can find that is fresh. I am in a good way more deliberate about not wasting anything.

Like so many of you I am cooking more than ever. As I do, am trying to cook simple things. Foods that bring us comfort burgers, tacos, waffles, potato soup, red beans and rice. I am someone who expresses myself through food. So, family dinners are a moment of graced goodness.

Being together at the table has taken on a new meaning. In our house dinner is about more than eating it has become a love story. It began sixteen years ago when my husband and I started dating. We were both graduate students at the time, so our first date was dinner at my husband’s apartment. He wasn’t a gourmet but, we had fun cooking together in the kitchen. Those early years were filled with lots of studying, but cooking dinner together became a part of who we were. Now years later, we are sharing the love of cooking with our daughters.

Cooking for me has always been about love. Love for my husband and my family. So, in this time of uncertainty and waiting. I thought I would share a simple one dish dinner that my family loves, a Southwestern chopped chicken salad.

Southwestern Chopped Chicken Salad– Serves 4

  • 4 thinly sliced boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 3 ears of fresh corn, sliced off the cob
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 large avocado, diced
  •  1/2 of a lime, juiced
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 6 cups romaine or your favorite artisan lettuce chopped
  • 1 package tortilla strips (you can find them on the croutons aisle)
  • Ranch dressing (if you are not a fan of ranch then it is also good with Catalina dressing)

First in a small cup mix together your kosher salt, garlic powder and pepper. Then pat your thinly sliced chicken breast dry with a paper towel and season both sides with your garlic salt mixture.

Over medium heat in a nonstick skillet add your oil then cook your chicken for about 4 minutes on each side until they are cooked through. As chicken breast cutlets can differ slightly in thickness you may need to adjust your cooking time.

Then slice your chicken breast on the diagonal into thin strips or pieces. Then in a small bowl mix together your chopped chicken and barbecue sauce.

Then wipe out your skillet and add 2 tablespoons of butter heat it over medium heat until the butter melts. Then add in your corn kernels and cook them until they turn bright yellow and tender about 5 minutes. Season with a small pinch of salt. Then set aside.

Chop your grape tomatoes in half and set aside. Rinse and drain your black beans. Then slice your avocado and squeeze half of a lime’s juice on top of it to keep it green.

Now time to assemble your salads evenly divide the chopped lettuce between 4 bowls or plates. Then assemble your chicken, corn, tomatoes, black beans, avocado, cheese and tortilla strips.

Finally drizzle a little ranch dressing on top.

A quick dinner that has so many flavors and textures. This salad is substantial enough for dinner and it’s something that can be pulled together easily. Sometimes recipes like this are what we all need. Because dinner in our house is all about spending time with the ones we love.

While I Am Waiting

Where are we going today? my two young daughters asked. I struggle to explain social distancing to my five year old. As the days stretch on, I yearn for a meaningful answer. One that they will understand. Can we at least go to school? The park? Can we play with the neighbors? My daughters wave through the window as neighbors walk by. So much about our lives has suddenly changed. It’s habit. We tend to define our days by what we have going on and where we are going. So, what happens when our nation and world must stay in place.

As we fight the battle against this pandemic and terrible disease, how do we define our days? Waiting even in the best of circumstances is difficult. As my husband heads out to work at the hospital the uncertainty rattles my nerves. I try to push those fears aside determined to find some meaning and purpose with our time at home. We take frequent walks to get out. The sunshine and crisp air give me hope. As I walk my thoughts drift to a trip I took years ago to Walden pond. I think of the small cabin and the waters shore.

Henry David Thoreau retreated to the woods to meditate and feel a greater closeness to nature. In Walden, Thoreau asks us to open our eyes to see the truths of life hidden by all of our daily business. He said “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Walden Pond
Walden Pond on my trip and time there in 1994.

Those seemingly urgent matters and appointments I once had, have now been postponed or canceled making room for my thoughts. All this waiting has caused me to think deeply about what really matters. Waiting for the unknown takes a deep faith. As I have grown older, I have come to know that faith is more of an attitude. It’s actively hoping and believing in the things we cannot see and control. As I look within, I am determined to seek the good. When I look, I see it in the faces of all those who are helping. I see it in the small things too, like text messages, phone calls and prayers.

 I want this time to be meaningful. What will I do and learn? What stories will I write with my life? Like Walden, my hope is that this time allows me to reflect on the things that really matter. So that when the waiting is over, I might live more fully with a renewed sense of gratitude, love and purpose.

Stay safe and take care of each other my friends!

Lemon Cupcakes With Blackberry Buttercream

Lemon Cakes Recipe and Blackberry Buttercream Recipe

It’s 100s day here at Maison McCauley and to celebrate the occasion of my 100th recipe. I am baking and sharing one of my best cakes, lemon cupcakes with a blackberry buttercream. I believe that one of the best measures of a baker is to taste their white sponge cake. Sponge cake although ubiquitous and available at every local grocery store has a texture that is tricky to get right.

Chocolate and flavored cakes lend themselves to being moister and more tender, while the standard butter based white cakes can sometimes be dry and heavy. So the challenge for me was was to create a lighter and moister cake. When baking sponge cakes I prefer oil based cakes because they generally have a superior texture and crumb. They also tend to be moister then butter based cakes. But even oil based white cakes can be heavy if make with all purpose or cake flour alone.

So after baking hundreds of cakes over the years and trying all sorts of methods, I have found that the way to create a better sponge cake is to use a little potato starch. This one ingredient makes an extraordinary game changing difference when it comes to texture. You you can find it with the specialty flours in the baking aisle or possibly in the kosher section of your grocery store. However, make sure it says starch and NOT potato flour because they are not the same.

This featherlight cake is not your ordinary sponge cake. When I was creating and testing this recipe the cake was so good that my daughters were trying to eat the cupcakes before I could even get them frosted. Usually cupcakes for them are just a vehicle for frosting, but these little cakes are different. One of the gifts of blogging is that it has pushed me to be an even better cook and baker. If I am going to put my name on something and share it with you, then I really want it to be delicious. I want to create and share recipes that are truly worth the time and effort it takes to make them. So thank you my dear friends for reading, cooking and eating with me. It’s been quite an adventure.

Maison McCauley’s Lemon Sponge Cupcakes– Makes 12 Cupcakes

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup potato starch
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  •  6 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

In a large bowl or the bowl to your standing mixer add your sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla. Mix about a minute on medium speed.

Then add in the potato starch, salt, baking powder and half of your flour with your milk and oil. Mix on low speed until just blended then add in the last part of your flour and mix until the flour is incorporated.

Then lined your muffin tins with the paper liner of your choice and very lightly spray with Pam or Baker’s Joy

Then evenly fill your muffin cups to about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake your cupcakes for 20 minutes until the tops are golden and the cake is cooked through. Let them cool completely before you frost them.

Blackberry Syrup- makes approximately 1/4 cup

  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar

In a small food processor, blender or using an immersion blender, mix and puree your blackberries, lemon juice and water. Then strain the berry mixture through a fine sieve into a small saucepan. You want to strain out all the seeds and fruit pulp. Then once you have pushed all the juice through add 1/4 cup of sugar and heat your berry mixture over medium high heat.

 

Stir the berry juice frequency as it reduces down to a thicker berry syrup. You want it to reduce down to about 1/4 cup.

A close up of the saucepan and spoon. The reduced berries add a richer purple color and deeper flavor to the buttercream.

You will know it’s ready when you can pull a line down the pan with your spoon or spatula and it will hold for a few seconds. This syrup will need to cool before you add it to your buttercream.

Blackberry Buttercream

This may seem like a lot of frosting for a dozen cupcakes, but I like to use a very generous swirl of icing which requires a little more buttercream.

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  •  1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of the cooled blackberry syrup
  • 1/3  cup plus 3 tablespoons of milk
  • 8 cups powdered sugar

Using a stand or hand mixer beat together the butter and salt.  Add in your vanilla, lemon juice, blackberry syrup, milk and then gradually add in your powdered sugar a few cups at a time. Beat your butter cream well over medium speed until the powdered sugar is well incorporated and your icing is light and fluffy.

Then to give your cupcakes a bakery styled finish use a pastry bag with a large star tip. Pipe a swirl starting around the outside edge of the cupcake and then finish your swirl with a second circular motion in the middle. Then add a sprig of mint and a blackberry or two on top.

A close up so you can see how light and tender this lemon sponge cake is. The potato starch and oil makes these cupcakes outrageously good.

So move over Betty Crocker, these cupcakes are so much better than any box cake mix. I love topping them with blackberry butter cream, but I also think it would be great topped with this lemon whipped cream or with your favorite vanilla frosting. Happy 100s Day!

Comforting Chicken Pot Pie

There are all sorts of difficult food fads these days. So, what is the modern cook to do?  When it comes to cooking for others I put all those trends out. Instead, I try to focus on making something comforting that my guests will love. Menus in our house usually aren’t filled with over the top recipes. Instead, there is something about serving simple crave worthy classic dishes. The kinds of recipes that have your taste buds singing.

One of my personal favorites is homemade chicken pot pie. This is a kind of retro dish these days. Something that not everybody makes anymore, but when done right this classic is so good. Roasted chicken and vegetables in a creamy sauce topped with an irresistible buttery crust.

What I like about this dish is that it’s versatile. You can make one family styled pie or if you are making it for friends you can make mini pies in individual dishes. You can even make an all-vegetable version by making a couple of easy substitutions.  This is also something that you can make ahead and have in your fridge. Then when your guests arrive pop it into the oven. I have learned that when you are sharing food with friends, the more you can make ahead the better. Add a large salad like this apple salad and you have a delicious dinner that can all be assemble ahead of time. As Ina Garten would say “how easy is that.”

Chicken Pot Pie– Serves 6 (makes one deep dish pie or 6 small pies)

  • 1 medium sized yellow onion
  • 3 carrots pealed and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded into bite sized pieces
  • If making an all vegetable pie then instead of adding the chicken you can include 1 large russet potato peeled and diced into small bite sized pieces

Melt your butter in your skillet over medium heat. Add your carrot, onions (if making the all vegetable version then add your potatoes to the pan too).

Sauce them until the onions are translucent and the carrots have begun to soften. Then add in your garlic and cook an additional minute. Finally add in your frozen peas and continue to cook it until the peas are warmed through and bright green.

Set your veggies aside in a bowl while you create the cream sauce.

Cream Sauce

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock, warm
  • 1/2 cup cream, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a medium sized deep sided skillet melt your butter over medium heat. Then sprinkle in your flour to make a thick paste.

Next add your warm chicken or vegetable stock in slowly, about 1/2 cup at a time whisking to make a smooth creamy sauce.  Having your stock warm will ensure that your sauce comes together easily and without any lumps.

Next add the cream and whisk it. Then season your sauce with salt and pepper.

Finally add in your cooked vegetables and shredded rotisserie chicken and remove your filling from the heat.

A spoonful of creamy chicken goodness.

Then spoon your pot pie filling into a large deep dish pie dish or 6 large ramekins (I used a 13 oz size). Then top with pie crust.

Pie Crust (This recipe makes enough for the 6 mini pies. There will be a little dough left over if you are making one large 10 inch pie with a single crust top)

  • 2  1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1  cup (2 sticks) butter cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup cold water

First cut your cold butter into small squares or cubes.

Then in a food processor mix together your flour, salt and sugar. If you don’t have a food processor you can use a pastry blender or your electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, but these methods will take longer and I definitely prefer the food processor. Next pulse your butter and dry ingredients together until your butter is cut into small peas sized pieces. If you are using a stand mixer then blend your butter in at a low speed.

Then add in your cold water and blend it until your crust starts to just starts to come together in a ball.

Now you are ready to roll out your dough. I have a large silicone mat that I absolutely love when it comes to pastry, but if you don’t have a non-stick mat then you can use a large piece of parchment paper. Lightly dust your mat or paper with flour as well as your rolling pin.

If making a single 10 inch pie then take a little over half of the dough and roll your crust out to make a large circle that is 14 inches in diameter. You want to roll your crust out larger than you pie plate so you have extra to make your crimped edges.

If making individual mini pies then cut circles out that are close to 2 inches wider than your ramekin. My ramekins from Sur La Table have a 4 inch diameter. I used a bread plate as a template.

To make the smaller sized pies I used a bread plate that was a little wider around as a template. Then take the excess dough and fold it under to create your edge. Then add a few slits with a knife to allow the steam to escape as it bakes. I like to add a festive touch with a leaf cut out. You could also easily add a star, a flower or a heart. The small details add a nice touch when entertaining.

Once you get your pies topped with the crust add some small air vents with a knife to allow the steam to escape as they bake. If making these ahead of time then you can place them in your fridge until you are ready to bake them.

Right before baking them, brush the pie crust with an egg wash which gives it a golden color when baked. To make the egg wash, in a small bowl beat together one egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Then lightly brush it on your pie dough.

I like to protect the edges of my pie crust for the first half of the baking so I use a pie shield or make my own by folding a long piece of foil in half and wrapping it around the edge of my pie or pies so it protects just the crimped edge. I also like to bake the pies on a baking pan just in case any filling bubbles over the side.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. If you are baking it from the fridge it will take 30 minutes for the individual mini pies.

Making a mini version is fun. Here they are all baked.

I believe that food is a gift something that should be shared and enjoyed. So here is one of my personal favorites. Chicken pot pie-the kind of dish that feeds the soul.

Maison McCauley’s 3rd Anniversary

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”

Julia Child

I began blogging here at Maison McCauley a little over three years ago. When I started writing I was overwhelmed by a sudden cross-country move and I was feeling a bit lost. What I didn’t know when I nervously hit publish on my first post was what a joy writing would become and how sharing my stories, recipes and photography would change me. All of these posts gave me the confidence to write even more and this year I began writing for a local newspaper and I have a monthly food and garden column in a neighborhood magazine.

I have to agree with Julia Child when she said “people who love to eat are always the best people.” I love talking and writing about food. So, as I celebrate three years of blogging my hope is that you enjoy reading and eating these recipes as much as I love sharing them with you. I have heard from some of you who are wonderful cooks and I always like your comments and ideas on how to make changes to fit your family and friends needs. I also love my friends who just read each week to savor the pictures and stories.

I named my blog Maison McCauley in honor of my grandfather who was a Frenchmen. He loved food and truly knew the importance of celebrating a meal. He wasn’t much of a cook, but he appreciated great food. When you dined with him, dinner was something to be anticipated, savored and talked about. I remember going out to a fancy hotel dinner with my family and before there was any ordering, he took the grandkids to see the desserts. Our eyes widened taking in the beautiful layered cakes, glistening fruit tarts and whip cream topped chocolate mousse. “Know what you are saving room for” he told us.

Like my grandfather, I love sharing a great food and fabulous desserts. This year as
I was looking back I decided to begin counting all those recipes and to my surprise I have now shared nearly 100 recipes, 98 to be exact. Blogging has been a gift because I have gotten the opportunity to write about food and share my own recipes.

There are 34 dinner recipes.

There are now 12 salads and 10 side dishes.

And my personal favorite 32 desserts with 15 cakes 13 cookies 7 breads 3 breakfast breads.

Are you hungry yet? In an effort to make it a bit easier to search for your favorites, I have made a few changes to my site and created a new side tab with readers’ favorites. I tried  to include my most popular food posts, but if I have missed a recipe you love then leave me a comment I will add it to the list.

This is my little red dinette set where most of the food and writing happens. Just me, my girls and my favorite cup of coffee. So, here’s to new beginnings, bravery and gift of being able to share all that I am saving room for.

I am already writing and photographing numbers 99 and 100 and they are especially delicious. So, I can’t wait to share them with you soon. Until then happy reading and eating my friends!

Hope Blooms Eternal

“Where flowers bloom so does hope.”

Lady Bird Johnson

Midwestern winters require more than just the recommended fur-trimmed puffy coat. Dressing in warm layers is helpful. But, sometimes it’s simply not enough. I have learned over the last few years that it takes a certain amount of outrageous optimistic thinking to face a particularly cold and gray forecast.

I used to think news reports of people wearing flip flops while Christmas shopping in the snow and nearly naked people running into Lake Michigan for the polar bear plunge were crazy. However, now that I have lived here for a few years, I have come to realize that it’s precisely that type of thinking that is necessary to fully appreciate the mid-winter season.

There is a festiveness when it snows. The Christmas season in Chicago is magical. I love the twinkling lights and watching the snowflakes swirl in the air. My daughters and I enjoy making snow angels and creating little snowmen. The icy trees that line our street look serene as they shimmer in the light. But my personal enthusiasm towards the cold’s fragile beauty tends to wane a bit after January.

Last year when temperatures started to plunge towards record breaking lows, my young daughters were determined to take matters into their own hands. After several days of feeling trapped indoors by negative temperatures, they decided that we needed a change. Inspired by their favorite Disney snowman, they dressed up in sunglasses, sandals and Hawaiian leis. My husband and I loved every zany minute of their “In Summer” concert. Our daughters thawed our winter blues by singing their hearts out around their tiny toy microphone. Looking back, their impromptu concert is still one of our favorite winter memories.

Each year when late February comes, I look out at my snow covered lawn and long for green flower filled days. Every fall I begin planning for spring. So, after this year’s early Halloween snow I was out in my yard. I shoveled the snow and leaves aside. I dug and measured deep trenches in my flower beds. Then my daughters and I planted hundreds of bulbs with hopes of creating a gorgeous spring garden.

Robins are always an early sign of spring. I haven’t seen one quite yet, but this little bird made a nest on my neighbors front porch light last spring.

In the last few weeks I have found myself engaging in some nonsensical, but highly necessary optimistic thinking. I dream of summer gardens in the snow. I look out my window and think about the beauty of our yard dressed in its full colorful glory.

Crabapple blooms in spring. Oh how I love their blossom covered branches.

Perhaps spring is even more spectacular when it’s been months since something green has sprouted. As much as I lament the cold, I know the frozen ground is necessary for a whole host of beautiful bulbs and flowers. These plants would never thrive in the subtropical climate that I was formerly accustomed to. So now I am dreaming of snowdrops, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, pansies and peonies.

Pretty in pink tulips. I have been buying tulips from the grocery store to tide me over until my garden looks a bit more like spring.

It may be February, but my mind is already planning and eagerly awaiting the garden to come. I am looking forward to planting again, savoring the sunshine and enjoying the blossom filled splendor of spring.

A star magnolia tree in bloom last May.

Italian “Eye Love You” Cookies

In Italian they have a saying “Anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte” which means the “eye needs to be well fed.” Have you ever looked at a pastry or bakery display case that looked so beautiful it was a feast for the eyes? While traveling in Italy, France and Austria I was taken with how beautiful the bakeries were. The pastries that looked like little works of art. I could feel my eyes widen and twinkle just taking in the rows of the small tarts, cream puffs and cookies.

I had a similar feeling when I went to Eataly in downtown Chicago. This Italian specialty market has a wonderful bakery. We went after friends of ours had raved about it. However, nothing they told us prepared me for just how astounding the selection was. They had a beautiful array of Italian cookies and cannolis.

Inspired by their round Occhi Di Bue or “bullseye” cookies I decided to make my own heart shaped Italian cookies. These cookies are different than you’re your ordinary sugar or sandwich cookies because they have a distinctive crisp and buttery texture with a hint of lemon. These cookies are exceptionally good when sandwiched between a layer of strawberry or your favorite berry jam.

Italian Valentine’s Day Cookies-Makes 16 to 18 three-inch cookies

  • 1 stick butter, cool room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 egg yolks,
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¾ cup good quality strawberry jam (I like Stonewall Kitchen Jams)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees

Let your butter sit out at room temperature for 45 minute to an hour. This cool room temperature butter is the trick that gives these cookies a flakiness without having to chill your dough.

Then using a stand or hand mixer cream or mix together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy about 3 minutes.

Then on a lower speed mix in your egg yolks, vanilla and salt. Gradually mix in your flour until your dough comes together.

Flour your counter or a silicon baking mat and then roll your cookie dough to a ¼ of an inch thickness. Then cut as many three-inch hearts out as you can. Since these are sandwich cookies you will want to make sure that you have an even number so each cookie has a top and bottom.  Then use a smaller heart shaped cookie cutter to create the window on the top cookies.

Since these cookies are delicate, I like to bake them on parchment paper lined cookie sheets so that nothing sticks to the pan.

Then bake your cookies for about 10 minutes until the edges just barely turn golden.

When they are cool enough to handle take a spoon full of jam and spread it evenly on the bottom part of the cookie. Then before you place the top on your cookie dust it with some powdered sugar. Keep assembling your cookies till you get them all filled and dusted with powdered sugar.

These cookies can keep at room temperature for a while, but If you have cookies left then I do recommend placing them in the fridge.

Since these traditionally circular cookies are called “bullseye” cookies I thought I would name my heart shaped cookies  “eye love you” cookies. Because these pretty little cookies are definitely a feast for the eyes and something delicious to share with the ones you love.

Snowflakes

The winter season runs long here in the midwest. We still have snow on the ground as I am writing, so while others are already talking about spring I am still thinking about snow. I know I am not the only Southerner who marvels at it beauty. The Wall Street Journal recently had an article about South Texans from the Rio Grande Valley who were still saving snow balls in their freezers. A few years ago when the area got its first snow in over 100 years people rushed to save a bit of its magic. One women they interviewed said she was saving her snowball to give to her grandchildren. It was so important to her that she had it listed in her will.

Growing up on the Texas coast snow is still quite a novelty to me. The handful of times it snowed growing up it melted so quickly that I never saw a real snowflake. Seasoned Chicagoans would no doubt get a good chuckle out of what us South Texans consider snow: any frozen precipitation no matter the amount counts, even if it melts in the air.

When our family moved to Chicago, I remember the wonder of watching the snow fall. It was November and we had been in our new home for just a week. We were just beginning to talk about our winter game plan. We needed boots, pants and a snow blower, but before we could sort it all out the snow arrived. I remember us rushing out to Home Depot to get our first snow shovel. The forecast was for more than just a dusting so my girls and I waited in the car and watched the snow begin to fall. Then when my husband came out with a new fur lined bomber hat and shovel, I had to laugh. Let the new Northern adventure begin! Our girls who were toddlers at the time had never seen snow so we all had fun making snow angels and playing together on our front lawn. We got advice from neighbors and friends who were kind to help me because I was definitely clueless when it came to serious winter apparel.

My younger daughter and I love building snowmen and sometimes even snow penguins together.

Then a few weeks later when it snowed again, I remember seeing a snowflake fall on my daughter’s dark hair. I looked down and for the first time, I saw an actual six-sided snowflake. The shape I had only seen in Christmas ornaments and school crafts. Real snowflakes are beautiful. I stopped and marveled at its fleeting beauty.

I have now lived here long enough to become more acquainted with the sometimes-bitter cold of January. Last year when record breaking temperatures plunged down to a negative twenty-two, I got a text message from a friend about how for that one day the wind chill temperature difference between Houston and Chicago was 100 degrees different. It seemed a bit surreal. I had never been in temperatures even close to that before, but as we hunkered by the fireplace as a family keeping warm, I was grateful. I looked out my front window to see the snow piled up high. The view was like a Hallmark Christmas card.

This was our house a year ago this week when the Polar Vortex had us covered in snow.

Admittedly, the snow can present some challenges when it comes with wind and ice. Last Christmas when we were returning home from spending time with our family, we got quite the shock. We were exiting the airport parking lot when our car window froze open. So, to keep warm as we made the drive home, we sang to the holiday music on the radio. Just then the snow began to fall fat flakes and my husband and I exchanged a knowing smile. What a beautiful sight as we drove home that night in this winter wonderland.

Here is Olaf  another one of our recent snow creations. We made him a week ago and he is  still looking fairly frozen. When I pull into my driveway and see him out on the lawn I can’t help but smile.

Classic Blue

Each year I look forward to hearing about the new “color of the year.” Design is always changing and that is one of the reasons I love reading about color projections. I am not one to change everything in my home to suddenly fit the latest trend, but I do like to think that my decor slowly evolves. I am one of those people who likes to every so often give a room a mini update or remix. One of my favorite ways to do that is to think about accessories and new ways to update the feel of a room using color.

This year grey the reigning neutral of choice for the last decade seems to be warming up a bit as I am seeing more shades of greige (grey-browns and taupes). Now shades of white and deeper tones of charcoal and indigo seem to be everywhere. Sherwin Williams paint color of the year is a deep blue called naval. There are also light light pinks and deep greens that you are seeing in new fabrics and designs.

Pantone, a color matching company used by graphic designers, fashion designers and, printing and manufacturing companies is another design influencer that also releases its own “color of the year.” I happen to like their projections because they tend to be looking at color across a whole range of industries. Often their color of the year is a good indicator of where you are going to see things like accessories going. You might not rush out to paint your whole house their color, but you will see things like lamps, fabrics, rugs and home goods headed that direction.

This year Pantone’s color is Classic Blue. I like this bright shade of blue because it pairs well with many of the other paint color trends. Pantone says that their choice of Classic Blue highlights their “desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.”

Every new year I think about what new projects I want to take on. So if you are like me and have a few New Years goals for making a few updates then here are some  small ways to add a little splash of this dependable and classic blue.

 

Sister Parish Pillow

This classic small pattern by Sister Parish is called Burmese. It comes in many other colors as well, but I like it because it’s small scale works well with other patterns. The modern leaf pattern adds just a touch of whimsy.

Rebecca Atwood Blue Pillow

This more modern crescent dot pattern is by Rebecca Atwood. Atwood is an artist, textile designer and author. She had a new book come out this past year called Living with Color. I like her philosophy toward choosing colors that speak to you and her book has lots of pictures and tips on how to strike the right balance.

Les Indiennes Pillow

This small scaled French floral pattern would be great in a more traditional styled room. I love the pleated ruffle edge. This company has other beautiful block printed bedding and table linens.

Aerin Lauder Plates

Style icon Aerin Lauder launched a gorgeous line of home accessories and dishes with William Sonoma. These plates are an inexpensive way to add a touch of blue to your wall or table.

 

Juliska Country Estate Plates

The china company Juliska has lots of beautiful plates, vases and glassware that come in the most gorgeous shades of one of my favorite flowers, delphiniums.

Vietri Santorini Plates

Want a more modern look, these bold graphic patterns by the Italian pottery company Vietri Santorini would be a fun way to add a little blue. This line of dishes was inspired by the deep blue mosaic tiles found on the Greek Isles. I found one of the serving pieces to this set at Marshals and I love it.

Caitlin Wilson Floral Tea Towel

Designer Caitlin Wilson’s home in Dallas was featured in the January issue of House Beautiful.  It is a delightfully sunny home filled with many shades of blues, lavender and pink. I especially love her kitchen and her amazing French blue stove. She has a line of pillows, fabrics and even some small items like these floral tea towels that would add a lovely touch of blue to any kitchen or bathroom.

Caitlin Wilson French Stripe Towel

I love the the scalloped edge and small scaled stripes. These decorative towels would be great in the kitchen or used as a napkin on a pretty table.

Serena and Lily Blue Checked Napkins

Always a classic blue checked napkins with a mini pom pom fringe from Serena and Lily.

Kate Spade Lamp

This Matisse inspired lamp would make a fun statement on a small table or desk.

Dana Gibson Lamp

Artist Dana Gibson has some gorgeous and unique hand painted lamps. I love this classic stripe, but she has other blue and white and green and white patterns as well.

Jonathan Y Lamp

Finally, Bunny Williams has a striking brushstroke lamp that she designed and I have long loved its design. However the price tag of  $750  for one lamp has always been too much for me. So this lamp is a seventh of the the cost and still has all the classic blue and white look that I love.

The director of the Pantone Color Institute, Latrice Eiseman says that to her classic blue “encourages us to look beyond… and think more deeply” So in this new year and decade, I am loving and thinking about adding a little more of this bright and optimistic blue to my life.

Celebrating the Everyday With Peach Pancakes

My husband’s best friend, Ben, is a mathematician and economist. As an economist he often sees life with a refreshingly different viewpoint. He has a way of valuing time that has inspired me to think a bit differently about the world. As he would explain time unlike money and other resources is something that you can never get back. So, it’s to be spent wisely and celebrated. Ben is the only person I know who counts and celebrates minutes and days. Years ago, he celebrated his 10,000th day of being alive, and so to mark the occasion I created and sent him the recipe for a 10,000 days’ chocolate cake. I am not quite as good a counting the days, but a little over a year ago, I got an email from Ben:

Amy-

I notice your 14,000th day is right around the corner. If you’re looking for a blog entry about your K-day chocolate cake recipe, it might be a nice excuse!

~BEN

I had taken a short break from writing and here was his encouraging email reminding me of the importance each day. Although I never managed to make a 14K day cake, the thought stayed with me. So when I was taking dinner and cake requests for my daughter’s birthday a few weeks ago I thought about his email.

Our family’s favorite way to celebrate is with pancakes. It’s what my daughters beg me to make and what my now 2,570-day old daughter wanted for her birthday dinner.

My girls on their first day of school this year. We celebrated the day and most of that week with their favorite pancakes for breakfast.

The McCauley’s Celebrating Every Minute Pancakes (no occasion too small)  

Makes 14 to 16 medium sized pancakes

  • 3 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 3 cups of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter

First preheat your nonstick skillet on medium heat or if using a griddle set it to 350 degrees.

Then in a medium to large sized mixing bowl combine the flour, salt sugar and baking powder. Whisk in your milk and eggs and then your melted butter. Take care to not over mix your batter. A few small lumps are fine, because you want your pancakes to be light and fluffy.

Then pour or ladle about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Then watch the middle of your pancake. You will know that it is time to flip your pancake when you see the center begin to bubble.

My favorite pancake pan is actually a large omelet pan. It doesn’t require greasing or butter and it cooks very evenly.

Flip your pancake and then cook it for an additional 3 to 4 minutes until you feel that the center is springy to touch and cooked through.

The key to cooking pancakes is to watch the center!

Then if you are wanting to add a more festive touch top your pancakes with a little peach syrup or substitute your own favorite fruit and jam combination.

Peach Syrup

  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup peach jam (my favorite is Stonewall Kitchen’s Peach Amaretto Jam, but it can sometimes be hard to find so I have also used Bonne Maman Peach Preserves)
  • 1/2 fresh or frozen peach slices, thawed

In a small sauce pan over medium low heat mix together the syrup and jam. Stir until the jam has melted and the syrup is heated thought. Then top each serving of pancakes with a few peaches and drizzle with the peach syrup.

So, here’s to counting and being grateful for each day, because sometimes a stack of peach pancakes is the most delicious way to celebrate .