Black Bean Salad

When you really love a restaurant you come to know its best dishes. The things that make you want to come back and if you really like that menu item, every time you dine there its hard to think about ordering anything else but that signature dish. If there was a signature side dish from my kitchen it would be this salad.

I was making it when my mom was in town a couple of months ago and she asked where I originally got the idea for this black bean salad and I had to think. The truth is this salad has evolved over time but I have been making it for so long that I don’t use a recipe. I did some looking back in my files looking and I finally found an old recipe for Gazpacho Dip. The dip doesn’t have all the same ingredients but it must have been how this salad started, which is funny because my sister likes this salad and serves it as an appetizer with chips. If you have come to my my house for dinner or a party then chances are I have made this salad for you. Its easy to make and it goes well with any sort of mexican food. I like it on top of chicken enchiladas, with tacos or with king ranch chicken. It’s a lighter alternative to the standard rice and beans. However, I find it is also good as a side when we are grilling burgers or flank steak. So here is one of my very favorites:

Black Bean Salad

  • 1 (15 oz) can of black beans well rinsed and drained
  • 2 ears ( 2 cups) of fresh corn cut off the cob
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 pint (1 3/4 cup) of grape tomatoes chopped in half
  • 4 green onion tops (just the green part) sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 2 avocados chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 2 TBSP lime juice
  • 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

To make this salad start with rinsing and then letting the black beans drain in a strainer. You want the beans to be well drained because otherwise they will leave a black residue on everything else and although the salad will still taste good, it just isn’t as pretty. Next heat the butter in a skillet and add the corn sauté the corn on medium heat for about 4 minutes or until the corn turns a brighter yellow and is cooked through.

Then remove the corn from the heat and let it cool. Next get the tomatoes and green onions chopped.

Then in a large mixing bowl make the salad dressing. Whisk together the lime juice, apple cider vinegar, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Then slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking it into the other ingredients. Continue whisking until the dressing comes together and the oil is fully incorporated.

Then chop your avocados. You want to save this till the end because they can get brown quickly if you don’t get them in the dressing with the lime juice. I just love avocados but there are a few facts you should know about them that will help you pick the right ones and store them correctly. These are the kind of things that sometimes cookbooks don’t tell you but are good to know. Avocados don’t ripen on the tree. They only ripen once they have been picked so how you store an avocado once you buy it really matters.

When you are looking for avocados at the store you want to feel them to see how soft they are in order to determine ripeness. If it is too mushy or soft put it back. The same thing applies if it is as hard as a rock.  You want it to be somewhere in the middle. It should be have a little give without being too soft. You can buy firmer avocados and then let them ripen on your counter for a few days, but if they are ripe you can put the straight in the fridge. The key thing to know is once you place them in the refrigerator all ripening will stop. The other thing I do is to always buy an extra avocado. That way if one turns out to be not quite as good you thought then you don’t have to worry.

To chop my avocados I slice them in half lengthwise and then I remove the seed and cut them in the skin. Once they are sliced I peel off the skin. This makes them easier to handle and cut.

Then once your avocados are chopped place them in the dressing  and coat them in it so they don’t brown on you. Then I layer on the tomatoes, green onions, black beans and corn. If I am making this ahead of time for a party I leave the salad un-tossed until right before I put it out. Then when serving you can put it in your serving dish or just carefully mix the salad in the bowl. Avocados can get mushy if you mix it too much.

So if you are looking for an easy side to make and share this summer try this salad. Its a versatile crowd pleaser and the good news about having a recipe for a favorite dish is there is no debate because you can make it anytime.

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A Few of My Favorite Things: Blue and White

There is something about the classic combination of blue and white that I have always loved. This crisp combination pairs well with so many colors. A few blue and white accessories or linens can really pull a room together. I happen to love it mixed in with an apple green or a bright red. However, blue and white looks equally good with a chocolate brown, a sunny yellow, a preppy pink or a tangerine orange. Today I thought I would share a some blue and white accessories. I always love reading about sources and finding new shops, so here are a few of my favorites:

When I was working on my Chinoiserie bathroom project  I spent time searching for blue and white prints and I found a couple of Etsy shops that I really liked. Studio Lara has beautiful oil paintings. She features lots of floral vignettes and blue and white vases. She has a wide variety of sizes from small prints to much larger canvases. The other shop that I have ordered from is Paper Words 11.  They have lots of illustrations and print sets. I like there ginger jar collection, but they also have architectural, botanical, and coral prints which are all printed on high quality watercolor paper. I was impressed with the quality of the and how reasonable their prices were. If you are looking for a set of paintings this is a great source. Here are the links to these beautiful blue and white art pieces:

Studio Lara Green Apples

Paper Words 11 Ginger Jar Set

Studio Lara Pink English Rose

Ginger jars and blue and white pottery have long been classics but I am seeing a lot more of them these days. I have found some of my ginger jars locally at a store called The Yankee Peddler, which I love. However, some of my other ginger jars and vases have come from Wisteria, Frontgate and William Sonoma Home. Of the three Frontgate has the best prices, but if you are looking for a different and more detailed piece then Wisteria and Williams Sonoma have some unique items that other stores don’t carry. Here are the sources for these ginger jars:

Frontgate Ginger Jars

Wisteria Persian Flowers

Williams Sonoma Home Vases

Both my everyday dishes and my china are blue and white, so sometimes I like to mix in a fun set of salad or dessert plates to mix things up a bit. Here are some of my favorite blue and white plate sets. These plates have such great patterns that they would also look great hung on the wall as well. Here are the links to these blue and white dishes:

Les Indiennes Plates

Pottery Barn Sophia Plates

Vietri Costiera Plates

Linens can completely change the look of a bedroom. One of my favorite stores for  linens is Serena and Lily. I love their bold crisp patterns. I ordered a duvet cover from them and it was missing a button and their customer service was absolutely the best. They went out of their way to solve the issue and make sure that I was happy with my purchase. The feel of their cotton is excellent and it launders well. I was looking at blue and white bedding to makes some updates to our guest room in the future and their patterns are beautiful. Here are the links to some of my favorite blue and white patterns:

Serena and Lily Catalina Duvet

Serena and Lily Navy Gingham

Serena and Lily Cortina Quilt

Finally, I couldn’t talk about accessories and not mention throw pillows. I like the small scale french prints from Les Indiennes. They have gorgeous and unique patterns that I just love. Another designer whose work stands out to me is Caitlin Wilson. Wilson has some very pretty floral patterns and this indigo flower print has beautiful watercolor like details. Here are the links to the pillows you see above.

Les Indiennes Amelie Pillow

Caitlin Wilson Fiore in Indigo Pillow

Les Indiennes Fluer Deco Pillow

So if you are looking to give a room a fresh feel for summer think about adding a little blue and white. A ginger jar, new blue and white fabric or accessory could give your room an updated look. If you want to see an amazing blue and white makeover click on this link to designer, Artie Vanderpool’s blog, Color Outside the Lines. He just redid the kitchen in his apartment and Artie has lots a clever ideas. His kitchen is a great example of how a little blue and white can really make a room.

This is Artie’s kitchen. Its an great before and after so click on the link and check it out. Picture published with permission from Color Outside The Lines.

So I hope this leaves you inspired to try a little blue and white. Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

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Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am a better baker and cook because of my husband. He usually isn’t the one one creating new dishes in our kitchen, but he is the chief of of what he calls “quality assurance.” He is the one I cook for and hope to delight with all of my meals. Let’s face it cooking is more fun when you have someone who appreciates it as much as my husband does. My husband is my most trusted taste tester and critic when it come to creating new recipes. Over the years, I have come to really trust his taste buds and thoughts on food.

We had a family friend who made chocolate chip cookies using Bisquick, and I loved the texture of the cookies but my husband just wasn’t sold on them. There was something about the taste of the baking mix that he didn’t quite like. I have tried lots of scratch recipes over the years but there wasn’t one that stood out as my favorite. There was something about texture of those cookies that other recipes could not match.  Recently I decided to take a closer look at that old recipe and see if I could update it and I have to agree my husband was right the baking mix was not nearly as good as this new version I created. These cookies have a crispy outside with a soft, chewy center that make them absolutely decadent and delicious.

The McCauley’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 stick of butter at cool room temp (out on the counter for 1 hour prior to baking)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1  1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

I call for cool room temp butter because it makes for a better cookie texture. First, place the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl if you are using a hand-mixer.  Cream or beat the butter at medium speed for abut a minute. Scrape down the sides of your bowl and then add the cup of brown sugar. Continue mixing or creaming the butter and sugar together for another two minutes. Then scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla and egg. When incorporated add the baking soda, salt and flour and continue to mix at a low speed. The mixture will look crumbly at first but it will come together to make a thick dough. Then mix in the chocolate chips.

I use an ice cream or cookie scooper to ensure that my cookies are all the same size and bake evenly. My scoop holds 3 TBSPs of dough. I make an even scoop an then with the palm of my hand I slightly press down on the ball to make a thick even disc.

Here is my scooper and a rounded scoop and the one I flattened slightly

Make sure you leave some room for the cookies to spread a bit when baking. I like to bake cookies on my baking stone so I don’t need to grease my pan. I like using a baking stone for cookies because it provides very even heat but if using a metal cookie sheet make sure you either spray the pan with Pam or line it with parchment paper. Then bake  the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes. My experience has been that baking cookies on my baking stone takes 12 minutes, but it could take a slightly different time on a metal pan or if you make the cookie size smaller.

Keep an eye on the cookies. They are done when you begin to see them start to get some golden color and cracks on the surface. Leave them to cool on the baking sheet for  about five to seven minutes or until they are set and cool enough to handle.

This recipe makes approximately 14 cookies give or take a few tastes from my tiny taste testers in training. While helping me make the cookies for this post, my four year old  told me she thinks these cookies are “pretty good.” When my husband came home to taste the new recipe he kept taking bites of his cookie saying these are “perfect.” Needless to say these cookies were a hit. The recipe doubles easily if you want to make a larger batch. I hope you love these as much as we do.

This is my husband. He is the one who is always encouraging me to make new recipes and the reason I love to cook so much.
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Blue and White Chinoiserie Bathroom

Tiny rooms can be fun to decorate because they give you license to do something special and maybe more dramatic than you would in a larger room. Their smaller square footage means that there is less paint, paper or accessories needed to make an impact.  Our tiny half bath is tucked in a back corner by the staircase. It shares a wall with a hall closet so it has a narrow entry with a cut out in the wall where the closet sits. When we first moved in it was painted a light blue gray color. The older cabinets below the sink had recently been painted a dark gray which I liked, because the cabinet fronts are flat and lack any architectural details.

I don’t have any really good before pictures of this room. The room’s petite size and shape make it difficult to photograph, but I do have a photo of the paint color. It was a ok color but there was nothing really special about the bathroom. It just a blank canvas begging for some paint and accessories. The trickiest part about the room is the green slate floors. We have green slate floors in the front entry way of our home and down the hall to this bathroom and the entry from the garage door. The slate is good because it stands up well to the snow and ice on boots. So I like having stone there, but I certainly would not have chosen green slate as my first choice.  The slate was not something we were going to change so I needed to work with it.

Here is the original blue gray paint color.

I knew I wanted to do something a bit more dramatic with the walls, but finding the right color was a little tricky. The floors are fairly busy since there a lots of shades in the slate from an emerald green to a deep aubergine purple. At first I tried out a deep blue green from Sherwin Williams called Tempe Star. I liked the color but it just didn’t work with the floor. There was too much green in it. So I decided that I need to steer away from green and find a shade to complement the floors. I tried a few other colors to see what direction I wanted to take. In the end the Hale Navy Paint from Benjamin Moore on the left was the winner. It was dark, so it make the cut out in the wall fade away and it flatters the floor instead of competing with it.

Testing paint colors

Once I found the right paint color I began to focus on the details of the room. After thinking about the dark blue color, I knew I wanted a look inspired by the classic Chinoiserie wallpaper by Clarence House called The Vase. I would have loved to use this paper, but with young children and a limited budget wallpaper was not an option. Instead, I decided to take inspiration from the vases and incorporate the look with accessories.

Here is a swatch of the paper from Clarence House. See the link above. If you love this pattern too then here are some great rooms with David Hick’s Vase pattern at this link to the blog The Long And Short Of It.

I decided to add some blue and white prints to break up the deep inky blue. I found a wonderful shop on Etsy called Paperwords 11. They had these great ginger jar print sets. They are printed on watercolor paper so the details and colors are lovely up close.  I found the white frames and the white and blue matting at Hobby Lobby. The focal point of the room is the round window so I decided that I would treat the window like you might a round mirror so I hung the prints as a set on either side.

My favorite way to hang print sets like this is to use painters’ tape. You can see below that I placed two large strip of tape across the window at the height I wanted each pair. Then I took a yard stick and a level and drew a straight line across to ensure the pictures were level without marking up the wall.

When we moved in there wasn’t a towel rack. I found this Delta brushed nickel towel rod at Home Depot. I hung the rack under the window because I wanted to make a statement with the hand towels. Since the one small window didn’t need a drape, I wanted to incorporate the look of a pattered fabric with the hand towels. I found these towels designed by Dena Home. I liked them because the pattern reminded me of the painted details on a chinoiserie pottery. I decided to layer a third solid navy towel with a monogram on top from Pottery Barn to give the set a polished look.

I had two museum prints of from the MET in NewYork. My husband loved the Japanese woodblock prints so we purchased them on our honeymoon years ago. I framed them in some bamboo frames I spray painted with a sliver metallic finish.

Finally for a finishing touch I changed out the hardware on the cabinets. I found some pulls by Hickory Hardware which look like bamboo, so they fit the chinoiserie style. The pulls were not expensive, but they added a decorative finish to the cabinets.  I liked the antique silver finish and they were easy to install.

Here is a link to a company called Cabinet Parts who sells these Hickory Hardware pulls.

This little half-bath is our only bathroom on the first floor so I wanted it to have a polished look for guests. I needed it to be able to stand up to everyday use with use without it feeling too boring or ordinary. In the end, I am glad I went with the dramatic inky blue walls. They set the tone for the room and they make the green slate tiles standout as a feature instead of something I was trying to camouflage or ignore. All the blue and white details and Chinoiserie paintings keep this small room from feeling to dark and they give it the stylish and glamorous feel that I wanted.

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Chicken Chasseur from My Beverly Hills Kitchen by Alex Hitz

The 1990’s boneless, skinless chicken craze brought with it many recipes that I call “chicken with sauce” because the sauce usually felt like an afterthought. The sauce was usually something to rescue the chicken from being too dry and flavorless. After years of eating and cooking these dishes somewhere along the way my love for boneless, skinless chicken began to wane. That was until recently when I got a new cookbook by celebrity chef and entertainer extraordinaire Alex Hitz. I first learned about Hitz when he wrote a monthly column for House Beautiful. I clipped a few of his chicken recipes and when I tried them I was impressed and they were all made with boneless skinless chicken breasts. Who knew boneless, skinless chicken could be so good? So I got a copy of his cookbook My Beverly Hills Kitchen and dish after dish left me impressed and wanting to try more.

What I love about Hitz’s dishes is that they are straight forward and easy to make without lots of fussy and hard to find ingredients. His sauces are superb they have these deep nuanced of flavors that make it taste like you have been in the kitchen all day. I made his Chicken Chasseur and when the chicken was gone I found myself wanting more of his amazing sauce. Hitz is originally from Atlanta but he trained at the La Cordon Bleu in Paris and now works as an event planner and chef in Beverly Hills. His cooking definitely has deep southern roots, but you can see the french influence in his sauces and techniques. The only part of the book that I didn’t absolutely love was his desserts. I can’t believe I am saying this but his cookies and brownies were actually too rich for my taste. It was honestly just too much butter, but don’t let that stop you from getting a copy of this amazing book. It’s not everyday that I find a cookbook that I love as much as this one. So today I thought I would share a favorite from his book called Chicken Chasseur or Hunter’s Chicken.

Chicken Chausseur

  • 2 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon of Vegetable Oil
  • 4 Chicken Breasts (I like to use the thin sliced breasts when making this recipe because they cook quickly and are about the right portion size for our family but you could use the regular thickness if you prefer)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt Divided
  • 1/4 Teaspoon and then 1/8 Teaspoon Pepper
  • 1/4 cup Minced Shallot
  • 1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
  • 1 Cup Sliced Baby Bella Mushrooms
  • 3 Roma or Other Firm Tomatoes Chopped
  • 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 Cup White Wine
  • 1/2 Cup Beef Broth
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Basil

First prep your ingredients for the sauce. This dish comes together quickly in the end, so I like to have everything chopped and waiting for me. In his recipe Hitz recommends peeling the tomatoes. If you have done this before then you know how time consuming that can be so I make it with the tomato skins on and it still works well. One more tip is when chopping the fresh basil, stack the leaves on top of each other and roll the leaves lengthwise to form a chiffonade and then make thin slices. This will make even ribbons of basil and it goes fast because you cut it all at once.

In a large skillet over medium heat melt the butter and add the oil. Season the chicken on both sides with a pinch of salt and pepper (using a total of 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper).

When the pan is hot and the butter has stopped bubbling add the chicken and brown it on each side. If you are using the thinner breasts the chicken will be cooked through if you are using a thicker chicken breast then brown it 3 minutes a side and then you will finish cooking it through in the sauce at the end.

Remove the chicken from the pan and place it in a dish to the side. Then using the same pan add in the shallots and sauté for 2 minutes. Then add in the mushrooms, tomatoes and garlic and cook for 5 minutes until they are soft.

Return the chicken to the pan and immediately at the wine, beef broth, lemon juice and cream and the remaining 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.

Then if you are using the thin chicken breast add flour and whisk it in to thicken the sauce and you are ready to serve.  If using thicker chicken breast cook the chicken in the sauce for an additional 6 to 8 minutes until the chicken breast is cooked through and then add the flour to thicken the sauce and serve immediately.

I like to serve this dish with a side of wild rice or mashed potatoes because they are a good pairing with the delicious sauce.

If this dish leaves you wanting more then try another favorite of mine. Hitz had a column in House Beautiful where he made his version of Chicken Veronique. This recipe  is not in his cookbook but you can find a link to the recipe here. I used Prosecco instead of champagne, because it is still bubbly and delicious but less expensive. So if you are looking for some delicious chicken recipes then give these two dishes a try. They are easy enough for a weeknight but the flavors are so good that they would be perfect for entertaining family and friends.

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Gorgeous Grocery Store Blooms

Sometimes grocery store flowers can get a bad reputation. My experience has been that if I go to the store with an open mind, there is usually something that catches my eye. As Carolyne Roehm likes to say “there is no such thing as bad flowers just bad arrangements.” The real issue with shopping for flowers at the grocery store is that I can get so focused on the flowers that the vase and how I am arranging them becomes a bit of an after thought.

When it comes to arranging flowers, choosing the vase or bowl you plan to place the flowers in is important because even a simple arrangement can look good in the right vase. Vases don’t have to be expensive to work, but the shape of the vessel you use does matter. I attended a floral design class taught by Michael Skaff, the former vice president of floral design at FTD. As I watched him work and talk about the design process, it was clear that what really influenced the shape and flowers he used in any arrangement was his choice of a base. He made some very lovely and large centerpieces that I will have to share in a later post, but the key to all his designs was working with the pot or vase he was using.

Over the years I have found that flowers with long stocks and a thinner profile like tulips, irises and calla lilies tend to look better in a vase with a thinner neck. I also think that unless you are going to put something in the bottom of the vase, flowers look better in opaque or colored vases. If I am giving flowers as a gift then I want the vase to be special as well. This doesn’t mean that the vase has to be expensive. Some of my favorite places to get vases are Hobby Lobby, Pier One and Home Goods.

I thought that since Mother’s day is coming and I had made a couple of arrangements recently using tulips that I would share some basic tips on simple floral arrangements.  My local grocery store had some pretty fuchsia tulips for ten dollars.

Here are the tulips and a small ginger jar I got for six dollars from Hobby Lobby. I like the combination of the blues and bright pink. I think a simple arrangement can look good in a vase or jar that has a little pattern to it.

Here was the height of the flowers straight from the store. When I held them up I knew I needed to cut them and remove some of the outer leaves for it to fit my arrangement.

Here they are trimmed to the right length. I wanted to work with the shape and bend of the flowers, so I gathered the flowers together with the straighter tulips in the center and the ones that wanted to bend out I put on the outside. Then I used one of the elastic bands that came with the flowers to hold them in place and anchor them in the vase. If you are using a clear glass vase you can use one of those clear plastic hair ties or wrap a leaf around the elastic band so you cover it. Then place the tulips in your vase and for sixteen dollars you have a beautiful arrangement that would make a lovely gift.

 

The next arrangement is slightly larger. I put together some flowers for Administrative Assistant’s day, so I wanted a fuller arrangement.  I chose to use two bunches of tulips and one smaller bunch of hydrangeas. I went with a vase that had an hourglass shape because the narrower top will hold an arrangement in place without having to use floral foam or wire.

Since the vase was simpler and it was a gift, I decided to tie a bow around the neck of the vase with wired ribbon. Wired ribbon holds its shape well so I like to use it on floral arrangments.

Next I trimmed my flowers and began to arrange them. I cut just under half of the tulips longer and placed then in the center.  Then I added the hydrangeas on the outside and filled in the spots between the hydrangeas with the rest of the tulips that I cut just a little shorter. Once I had the arrangement how I liked it I placed it in the vase. My oldest daughter wanted to have some flowers too so I used a few of the flowers to make a small arrangement for her. Sometimes if I am entertaining I like to make a second smaller arrangement like this to place in the kitchen or in our guest bath.

This arrangement including the vase was thirty dollars, but purchasing an arrangement like this from a florist can cost at least twice as much. So the next time you are in the grocery store buying flowers make the vase your first thought and you will have a beautiful arrangement to give or enjoy.

 

 

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It Isn’t Easy Being Green

It’s not easy being green

Having to spend each day the color of the leaves…

It seems you blend in with so many ordinary things

And people tend to pass you over cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky …

[but] its beautiful and I think it’s what I want to be.

Kermit the Frog

So Kermit the Frog wasn’t singing about vegetables, but let’s face it certain vegetables can get a bad reputation at the dinner table because they are green. As a mom and cook I try to serve well-balanced meals for dinner and usually that means I am going to serve one green vegetable. I want my girls to grow up eating and developing a taste for vegetables, but some nights I am more successful than others. When it comes to vegetable sides one of my absolute all time favorites is roasted asparagus. Pair it with parmesan cheese and you have a delicious green vegetable that will keep your family from singing the blues.

Roasted Aspragus

  • 1 Bunch of Asparagus (for this recipe I use the asparagus with thinner stalks)
  • 2 Tablespoons of Chopped Shallot or If I Don’t Have a Shallot Then I Use 1/4 Teaspoon of Garlic Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Kosher Salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (Go with a better cheese here because it will make a big difference)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

First, rinse and dry your asparagus. Then cut it into thirds discarding the bottom third because it isn’t as tender and delicious to eat.

Next place the top two thirds of asparagus in a bowl and drizzle in the olive oil and mix in the shallots, salt and pepper.

Then place the asparagus on a baking sheet. I like to line my pan with aluminum foil to make clean up easier.

Roast the asparagus for 8 minutes then take the pan out and sprinkle on the Parmesan Cheese. Put the pan back in the oven for an additional two minutes till the cheese is melted and crispy.

I love this dish because its easy to make and asparagus’ light flavor pairs well with many dishes. Green asparagus is as Kermit would say a “beautiful thing.”

Years ago before we moved here, my husband and I went on a trip to Chicago. We saw an amazing exhibit at the Science and Industry Museum about Jim Henson and his Muppets. Here is one of the Kermit puppets up close. Being a kid from the eighties who grew up on Sesame Street and the Muppet movies I just loved getting to see Kermit in person.

 

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Pattern Play With Pillows From Etsy

I can spend hours mulling over fabrics. The colors and patterns can make a room. If there is one place in the budget for a room where I am likely to splurge, it is fabric. Sometimes it doesn’t take a much of a great pattern to completely change the feel of a room. Pillows are a great way to add a designer fabric because it doesn’t take many of them to make an impact. Etsy is a great resource for pillows and fabrics. I don’t have any deals with Etsy. I have just been impressed with the quality of some of the pillows I have ordered recently. You can get custom to the trade fabric pillows for often less than it costs to buy a yard of the fabric and sometimes they have fabric that you cannot get unless you are trade. I was researching some fabrics for another project and I decided to have a bit of fun putting together some looks that would transform any room.

The first pillow is a fabric called Bowood. It is a classic chintz pattern by Colfax and Fowler. The pattern was originally discovered by John Fowler when he was working  to restore the Bowood Estate in Wiltshire, England. If you want to read a bit more about this fabric and the beautiful English estate, Joni Webb of Cote de Texas has a great piece about the history of the Bowood. Chintz is definitely back and this classic pattern is a designer favorite. Its green and gray colors and the smaller three flower bouquets make this fabric something that can even work in a slightly more modern room. I have paired it with another classic pattern Les Touché by Brunschwig Et Fil. The finishing touch is a gray linen pillow by Suzanne Kasler which picks up the gray details in the roses. If you wanted a touch more color I could also see this working well with Kasler’s lavender linen. If you like the look then here links to the sources for these pillows:

  1. Bowood Pillow- Accent Marks
  2. Brunswick Et Fil Pillow- The Pillow Studio
  3. Gray Linen Pillow- Ballard Designs

Celerie Kemble has impeccable taste. There isn’t a project of hers that I haven’t loved. Her fabric line with Schumacher is amazing. This first pillow is a pattern called Hot House Flowers. The brilliant colors in this one fabric could inspire an entire room. The second pillow is the one that started this whole blog post. I was looking at this woven navy pattern also by Kimble called Betwixt and I just love it. This small scale graphic pattern comes in many other very pretty color ways. It’s a popular accent pillow that shows up in many designers’ homes. The final pillow for this mix is a larger graphic orange called Bleecker Spark which picks up the orange from the floral pattern and plays with the cross pattern on a slightly larger scale. You can find the links to these gorgeous pillows below.

  1. Hot House Flowers Pillow- Lily on the Blue
  2. Navy Betwixt Pillow- Sew Susie Design
  3. Bleecker Spark Pillow- Pop O Color

Blue and white is a classic color combination, but the mix of pattern and textures gives these pillows a well traveled look. The paisley block pattern and the stripes coordinate without feeling too forced or like a matched set. The striped lumbar pillow is a pattern called Tangiers by John Robshaw the Esty shop that carries it makes it in a variety of sizes. Sometimes I like to use a large lumbar pillow in the center of a sofa to break up the pillows sizes a bit. The paisley print is by designer Petter Dunham. This look makes me think of summer, but its classic enough to look good all year round. Here are the sources:

  1. Blue Grain Sack Pillow – Linen and Oak
  2. Tangiers Lumbar Pillow- Spark Modern
  3. Blue Paisley- The Pillow Studio

 

The pillow in the middle of this set is what inspired me with this look. The vine pattern is by John Robshaw. Robshaw is an artist who traveled to India to study indigodye for his painting. While traveling he fell in love with the tradition of Indian fabric and printing. This love of printed fabric and his travels inspired him to create a textile company. This vine pattern comes in several different color ways including a two toned blue and a yellow and gray. I like the rust color here so I decided to pick some coordinating pillows that would complement that color, but you could also go with blue and it would still look stunning.

  1. Terracotta Medallion Pillow- Indigo Bliss Boutique
  2. Prasana American Beauty Pillow- 3B Mod Living
  3.  Kashmir Red and Tea stained Linen-Accent Marks

This pillow collection takes its inspiration from the rich colors of a Persian Rug. The print in the center of this grouping is by Eric Cohler and his fabric line for Lee Jofa. The inky black background with the reds, golds and a touch of aqua make this an eye-catching and sophisticated pattern for a room. This is a bold pattern so I didn’t want it to compete with another fabric so I think it would work with a textured neutral accent pillow. Two options to pair it with might include this first pillow Celerie Kimble’s Betwixt in Biscuit Brown or a textured camel leopard print

  1. Betwixt in Biscuit Brown- Accent Marks
  2. Persian Tribal Print Pillow- Accent Marks
  3. Camel Animal Print-Accent Marks

At first glance you might think that three busy patterns would be too much in a room, but because the prints are all small scale and linked together by color and style they work. The Indian block pattern in the center has the colors of all three fabrics in it. This center pillow works by setting the theme and then the coordinating fabrics take a bit of the colors from this center pillow and have there own variation of that theme. Several small scale prints can work together to create a very coherent and layered look. One small pattern might get lost in a room but together they make a statement.

  1. Green Anya Paisley- 3B Mod Living
  2. Kashmir Green Moroccan Print Pillow- Shop Block Print
  3. Busun Aqua Green Pillow- Pillow Time Girls

Hopefully these pillows and patterns have inspired you. Whether you love to look at fabrics and discover new ones like me or whether you feel a bit lost trying to put together a custom look, either way the fabrics and sources here would be a great starting point for a new design or just a seasonal refresh for your sofa.

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Blueberry Waffles

One summer back in the early nineties my sister and I got into making Belgian waffles. After early morning swim practice we would come home a make ourselves a batch for breakfast. My mom had a collection of the Cooking Light cookbooks and one of those books had these waffles on the cover. I liked the basic recipe so much that it is still my favorite waffle. My girls love to make waffles like my sister and I, so sometimes as a treat when my husband is out of town we will have Belgian waffles for dinner. One night I had some blueberries in the fridge and I decided that I wanted to make a blueberry syrup. I have worked on the syrup recipe to get it where the flavor is bright with a little citrus and spice. I thought I would share this recipe because it would be a great dish for a mother’s day breakfast or if you are like us for a girls night in.

Blueberry Syrup

  • 1 rounded or generous cup of blueberries plus an additional 1/2 cup of blueberries to add to the syrup at the end
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp of lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • lemon slices for garnish

In a small sauce pan heat 1 cup of the blueberries and 1/4 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 Tsp cinnamon on medium heat. The berries will begin to break down and the sugar will melt. Keep an eye on the mixture and stir it to help break down the berries and keep it from burning the bottom.

You want to cook the mixture for about 12 minutes until it forms a thick jam that will allow you to draw a line in it using a spatula.

Then turn the heat down to low and stir in the lemon zest, maple syrup and the remaining 1/2 cup of blueberries. Keep the syrup warm until you are ready to serve it on your waffles.

Belgian Waffles

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tbsp Plus 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 2 Eggs Beaten
  • 1  1/2 Cup Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Butter Melted

Plug in your Belgian waffle maker and let it heat up while you are mixing up the waffle batter.

Then in a medium size mixing bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Next add the wet ingredients including the eggs, milk and melted butter. Mix well until most of the lumps are gone.

Then when the waffle iron is hot add the batter. My waffle iron takes 1/2 cup of batter per each individual waffle.

 

Since waffle irons can vary you may need to adjust the amount of batter. Then I close the lid and set my waffle iron to the number 5 setting which is about a 4 1/2 minute time setting. You will know the waffles are done when you see less steam coming out of the waffle iron and the top looks golden brown. This recipe makes 6 to 7 waffles depending on the size of your waffle maker.

Top the waffles you are serving with the blueberry syrup and a thin slice of twisted lemon.

A tip I learned from Alton Brown is that extra waffles can be saved and quickly reheated in your waffle iron. It works even better than the toaster.


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The Joy of Spring

“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein

Over the past two weeks the cold and brown landscape has begun to change here in Chicago and suddenly everywhere you look there is Spring. The bulbs and trees have awoken from their winter slumber and their gorgeous blooms are everywhere.  Their vibrant colors, their fragrance, their delicate petals: words fail to accurately describe their beauty. When I stop and really look and take it all in I feel the corners of my mouth begin to rise. I cannot help but smile. The blue sky and the crisp spring air wash over me and suddenly I have a peace and a deeper appreciation of God’s beauty and love. Einstein was right there is a new sense of clarity and in the moment thinking that happen when you stop and look deeply into the beauty of nature. Inspired by all of the blooms I have been out photographing all the flowers around me, so here are a few of my favorites snapshots of spring.

The daffodils in our yard this spring.

This year I was able to get daffodil bulbs from the Morton Arboretum bulb sale and I loved watching the bulbs bloom this spring. I look forward to adding a few more bulbs this fall.

The daffodils in bloom at the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

In her book At Home Sara Style, Designer Sara Richardson says she was so inspired by the daffodils at her country home that it influenced the design of her guest room. The previous owner’s late wife had loved the property and spent years planting all of these fields of daffodils. Richardson said that she hadn’t initially thought about using yellow, but the flowers inspired her choices for this light and bright guest room. Here is a link so you can see her home at Starlight Farm. Love homes inspired by nature here is another link to Richardson’s sunny yellow kitchen from her previous country home and orchard called Paisley Acres.

Pink bleeding heart flowers from our garden

The shape of these bleeding heart flowers is beautiful. I love how these blooms cascade down and hang like little pink garden lanterns.

Pink and yellow tulips and periwinkle muscari blooms at the Chicago Botanical Gardens

I love the blended colors with the fuchsia, yellow and periwinkle blooms.

A beautiful garden I saw while taking a walk in my neighborhood.

This home in my neighborhood as a very pretty English inspired garden. The boxwood lined flowerbed and the white tulips with the urn of blue hydrangeas is gorgeous.

Another lovely garden in my neighborhood with a boxwood border and bed of red tulips.

I like how this home had pansies mixed in with the tulips. If you love tulips like me you should see Serena and Lily’s new bedding inspired by a field of tulips. Here is a link to their Cortina Quilt.

Violas at Morton Arboretum

The vibrant purple violas against the bright chartreuse lettuce is pretty contrast.

Finally beautiful planter from a home in my area that looks like a spring basket overflowing with pink hydrangeas, purple pansies and ivy.

May nature and the beauty of spring inspire you to get outside, feel the sun, hear the birds and take time to ponder the glorious details. The great wisdom, perspective and joy that nature brings is such a gift.

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