Thursday, April 3, 2014

Come on Over to My Virtual Vineyard


I've made a move.  I'll still be posting my divine family adventures, but in a new location on the web.

Check it out:

http:/www.myvirtualvineyard.com or visit me on my Facebook page of the same name.

I am hoping to branch out - like grapevines do - and polish up my posts and my very own website.  I am most proud of the social media share buttons on my new blog, already a step up from this venue.

I want to graciously thank Allan Leeman at www.thepennypinchingdad.com for making the transfer of all my files from Blogger to Word Press at no cost to me.  Everything transferred beautifully; you can still find your favorite posts there.

When I walked through that metaphoric door to retirement I welcomed change and new opportunities.   Here I go!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Small Spring Makeover on A Shoestring Budget

Living in the Northeast can do a number on your psyche during the L-O-N-G winter.  Although Spring is officially here, the weather isn't cooperating.  I wanted to spruce up the house with a few Spring things - and trick myself, anyway.  


3 for $5 at Produce Junction in South Jersey.  Makes a nice live centerpiece.

I am new to sewing and for about $30 I added some new color to my old family room.  Fabric is expensive, so I am thrifty when it comes to shopping for it.  Walmart has some good deals and so does fabric.com.

I need to preface this with the fact that in some ways, our family room is stuck in the 80's when we built the house.  Due to lack of time and some economic constraints, it has remained flowery and hunter green.  Ignoring the wallpaper border, I changed out the valances over the windows with some summery fabric that reminds me of Boca Raton.  


Using the pattern of the valance on the top, I sewed up a new one that reminds me of tropical paradise.  Well, at least something lush and Springlike.

Next, I changed out the pillows on the couch by sewing some envelope style pillow covers which can easily be laundered and changed.  I used the pillow forms from the existing ones.


The hunter green couch remains the same, but the updated pillows give the look a Springish lift.  
I dug this forsythia vase of flowers out of the basement as an ode to Spring.



The color yellow always lifts my spirits.

Now, when I walk in the room, a feeling of hope pervades, DIVINELY chasing away the winter blues.  (Fake it, till you make it).







Thursday, March 20, 2014

Vegetarian Comfort Food

It's no secret that I like Meatless Mondays and vegetarian dishes.  They are colorful and healthy and delicious.  And the zen of chopping vegetables is relaxing.  Recently I made a vegetable stew, a play on ratatouille of the French Provence region.  A quicker version, for sure.  The original stews for hours.  I prepared and cooked this in under an hour.



The basic ingredients include the Japanese eggplant I got at Produce Junction in south Jersey, zucchini, onion and red pepper.  Garlic, salt and pepper, canned diced tomatoes and some water complete the recipe.


I chopped the eggplant and placed in a collander.  Salt it and let set for about 20 minutes.  This pulls some of the water out of the vegetable.  I rinsed it and patted it dry.

Meanwhile. . . . . 


I chopped the rest of the veggies and added some pre-diced organic garlic from a jar.  (I like easy short cuts that don't compromise taste).


Start sauteing in a large frying pan, turning often.  When the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes, add 1/2 cup water and continue cooking until they are cooked through.


I then added two cans of diced tomatoes, with the juice, salt and pepper and simmered for about 35 minutes until the liquid evaporated and  all the flavors melded together and the vegetables were very "stewish", stirring occasionally.


This is the completed dish.  It can be served cold as a condiment, but I like it warmed and over a grain. I used a prepackaged quinoa on this night.   
It can stay in the fridge for up to a week, and the flavor improves as time goes by.


Here's the completed plating.  I must say we both had a very good night's sleep.  So comforting and healthful.  The next day I heated the leftover ratatouille and had it with a vegan burger.  It was DIVINELY delicious.











Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Staying Gold

The Gold standard.  Gold medals.  Golden age.  The Golden years.  All connote the best.  Recently, Meredith and I visited a coffee house/cafe on Main Street in Belmar, NJ called Stay Gold.  I fell in love with this comfortable shop that sells healthful smoothies, coffee drinks, lunch and dinner.  I really liked the chalkboard sign that described the philosophy of the cafe (if cafes have philosophies).




On our first visit, we each enjoyed a hot latte - she likes cinnamon and I'm a mocha girl (skinny, of course).  Our gold standard of coffee is Starbucks, but Stay Gold prepared truly enjoyable drinks for us.


There was just the right amount of foam on this latte.  We enjoyed sitting by a warm fire on comfortable benches.




The comfy seating area has a two-sided fireplace dividing the coffee/smoothie bar and the restaurant portion of this space.

There is also a mini-stage in the front window of the cafe with seating as well. 


The old West style lettering is an interesting focus.  There is live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings.

On our second visit, we had lunch.  Sitting at a window table on the other side of the fireplace, we got the inside view of the artist's wall.  It features the art work of a local artist.


I just loved the ambiance of this place.  The lighting added to the relaxation factor.

We ordered a delicious lunch.  This is  the way they served water to us before the meal.


We use mason jars at home as glasses, just for fun.  The wait personnel kept it filled for me, aquaholic that I am.

We started off with an appetizer that we both enjoyed.



Easy, cheese artichoke brushetta.  Yum.

Our meals came out in a timely fashion.


I enjoyed their signature tuna salad plate with avocado and carrot curls.   I haven't seen a carrot curl since baby carrots became the staple.  I appreciated the effort it took to build the plate.  Meredith had a roasted vegetable panini which was equally delicious.

  I'd like to go back in the evening and BMOB.  Maybe listen to some music - mellow, most likely.   Such a nice venue.  Comfortable, relaxing and DIVINE!







Monday, March 3, 2014

Family Theme Night

We are at it again.  A family night of food and fun and celebration.  This night's celebration was for Nanny's 86th birthday.  It was Tim's turn to think of a theme.  While we had a tough time naming it; I will say that he loved to watch the Beverly Hillbillies when he was young, and always got a good laugh when Granny Clampett was stirring up a pot of victuals on the stove. We actually weren't interested in eating heaps of roasted squirrel or possum belly stew, that's for sure.  But we thought perhaps we could rename some of our dishes with the Clampetts in mind. We had a few starters.


In addition to chips and dips and salsa, and our traditional deviled eggs, Becky and Meredith offered some stuffed potato skins and hand rolled buffalo chicken wraps.  I sure did like dippin' those hot hawg mush sticks in blue cheese and the tater skins with pig bits on top.



Tim grilled up some burgers and dogs with a couple of sous chefs.  How about possum tails and cow pies for aliases?  Lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle toppers were the fixin's.


Timmy and Sabrina fried up some chicken sliders - extra spice and mild.  Nothing like sinking your teeth (what two you have left) into some fried fowl.


Then there's Aunt Tracy's roasted potatoes in a creamy sauce.  Too elegant for this venue?  Perhaps, but nothing goes better with a dinner like this than tater dumplin's dripping in white gravy.


Fruit is fruit is fruit is fruit.


Worms in dirt need no further clarification.


The birthday girl's favorite strawberry shortcake aka mini paw-paw pie.

Nanny even brought along an old recipe book picked up on a family vacation in the 60's.  The Ozarks, I'm guessing.


Filled with recipes as well as witticisms and advice.  Lots of inspiration for me.  Here are a few of my favorites:

"Blisters on yore tongue kin be caused by tellin' lies."
"If th' thumb itches, you'll have comp'ny."
"Don't sleep in th' moonlight.  This may cause yuh to go crazy."


Yes, it was a DIVINE family night even without the fiddle and the whiskey barrel. 

"Y'all come back now, heah?"












Monday, February 24, 2014

Meatless Mondays

For awhile now, we have been enjoying Meatless Mondays in an effort to be healthier and reduce the amount of animal protein in our diets.  One step at a time, one day at a time.  Not that we don't enjoy vegetarian fare other nights, but Meatless Monday is a new tradition in our house.

Tonight I served French onion soup and a side salad of arugula, goat cheese, strawberries, with a chocolate balsamic drizzle.  





I used to prepare French onion soup in the 80's, along with quiche and fondue.  It sort of fell by the wayside and was resurrected recently with the caramelized onions I put on the baked potatoes, and the fondue.  And I also got some oven-safe bowls and dishes.   So here goes:

Slice 4-6 yellow onions French style; that is in thin slices.  I first cut the onion in half and then slice on the cutting board so it doesn't roll around.  




 Saute the onions in a large soup pot in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Traditionally, butter is used, but I like the viscosity and the healthfulness of the oil.  Some people add a little flour to the onions to thicken the soup a bit.  I just caramelized and reduce them with a bit of red wine, before adding the broth.  I used a quart of store brand beef broth, and then added  two packets of low sodium bullion and 2 cups of water.  True vegetarians could use vegetable broth with the same results. Salt, pepper, a dash of Worcestershire.  That's it. Simmer for awhile on a low heat, about 60 minutes, or so all the flavors co-mingle.  




Meanwhile, I sliced some crusty bread, and lightly toasted it in the oven.  Again,  you can butter it first, but I opted for plain. 



I just popped this under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  I let it hang out getting crispy while soup simmered.     When the soup is done, spoon it into oven-safe crockery.  Place a bread slice, or two,  in each bowl. 



Top with grated Gruyere cheese and then a slice of Swiss over the top.  Place under the broiler until the cheese is melty and piping hot.

   

  Warm and satisfying and meatless.  DIVINE!





Friday, February 21, 2014

Baked Potato NIght

In my family, we are fond of naming the weeknights by dinner selections.  Tuesday (after two hours at the gym) has traditionally been called  Burger Night - be it beef, chicken or veggie;  we deem Saturday as Steak Night (Tim's choice after a hard week of work), and then lots in between.  Last night was Baked Potato Night.  We've enjoyed a mashed potato bar at theme nights, but I thought maybe this would be a bit of an easier, more healthy twist on that.


I brushed the three largest russets in the bag with canola oil and salt and peppered them.  I popped the baking dish in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  Crispy on the outside, piping hot on the inside.  



I caramelized some sliced onions with red wine reduction as a savory topping choice

There were several other condiment choices to top the Idahoan beauties.



Salsa, shredded cheddar and sour cream and chives are quintessential.

Then there are my two personal favorites -- 


crispy bacon and broccoli with cheese sauce.

Meredith chose to fix hers with salsa, cheddar and sour cream and Tim spooned on a medley of everything.  I halved mine.


One half held broccoli and cheese and 1/2 slice of bacon.  The other half caramelized onion, sour cream and the other half of the bacon.  

Easy, delicious, weeknight meal - I'm thinking Anything Goes Thursday.  

DIVINE!








Monday, February 17, 2014

A Winter's Tale of Howell

Winter is such a boring time.  It's hard to find inspiring things.  I frequently pass this sign as I am traveling the back roads of Howell and it somehow spoke to me of the past and bucolic times.  



Oak Glen Road runs parallel to the Route 9 Corridor.  Yet, you find yourself in a pastoral setting with lots of country road sightings.  This sign was so inspiring, I mentioned it on Facebook and asked friends if they had any "out of the way" inspiration around the town of Howell.  I got comments like:

"I'd really like to know."
"Your backyard."
"I'll keep my eyes open."

We all like the recreation and the beauty the Howell Reservior offers, but I was looking for something like the Brown Eggs sign to give me a respite from the dreariness of winter.  So of course, I got my camera and took a little driving tour of a few back roads in Howell and here are some of the things I found.


The cow looked right at the me while I was shooting this photo.  There are working farms, close off the beaten path in Howell.  Chickens, cows and many horse boarding farms, pepper the town reminding us that it was once very agricultural, before Howell became a popular place to raise your family and get away, but not too far away, from urban life.  


A wooden door recessed into stone veneer is actually a rehab on the end of a chicken coop.  


Ironically, I found a lone flag on Victory Road.  Stuck in the mossy roots of a rotted tree, I wondered if it had been there through the snows or left over from summer or Veteran's Day.   

And then there's my own backyard, which is an inspiring place in itself in every season.  I took my favorite shot while clomping about in my snow boots.


Here is what is left of my herb garden.  A few sprigs of rosemary.  This aromatic is a savory perfume for potatoes, chicken and roasted veggies.  And me.  I like to run my hands across the sprigs and breathe in the scent.  Finding inspiration in my own back yard - DIVINE!