Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Adventures in cooking: a surprise hit

It is no secret that my husband is not a big fan of some of my favorite foods - avocado might be at the top of the list.  I have converted him to appreciating broccoli, hummus, and a few others foods that he would not even consider when we were first married.  I am on a personal mission to expand his food horizons.

This Sunday was another beautiful day and we spent a lot of time in the yard, garden and alpaca pen working on projects.  At lunch time, we wanted something quick and light to enjoy before heading back outside to work.  I remembered I had picked up the ingredients for a new sandwich - the recipe was from Two Peas and Their Pod and it was the perfect option for lunch.  The only problem....my husband doesn't like avocados!

I told him I was going to make lunch and that he should keep an open mind.  He said he was scared.

When it was all said and done, the sandwich was a big hit!  Jeremy liked it and I did, too.  This is a definite keeper!

Smashed Chickpea & Avocado Salad Sandwich

Yield: Salad for 3-4 sandwiches    Prep Time: 10 minutes       Total Time: 10 minutes

1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
1 large ripe avocado
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
Juice from 1 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bread of your choice
Fresh spinach leaves or other sandwich toppings: lettuce, tomato slices, sprouts, etc.

  1. Rinse and drain the chickpeas. Place on a paper towel (optional: and remove the outer skins). 
  2. In a medium bowl, using a fork or potato masher smash the chickpeas and avocado together. Add in cilantro, green onion, and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Spread salad on bread and top with your favorite sandwich toppings. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cooking adventures: roast chicken

For several years, I have tried to successfully roast a chicken with little luck - the end result would be too dry or even underdone.  I was at the point of giving up trying to roast a chicken until I found the recipe titled "Prefect Roast Chicken."  The name alone gave me some hope.

The local grocery stores typically have great sales on whole chickens and it is easy to pick up several for the freezer.  The best thing about roasting a chicken for one meal is that there are usually leftovers for another meal - chicken noodle soup, chicken enchiladas, chicken tortilla soup, and on and on.

I have now tried the "Perfect Roast Chicken" recipe several times and it is fool-proof!

Perfect Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds, rinsed and patted dry
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Grind fresh pepper over all sides of the chicken. Next, salt the bird on all sides and in between the joints, where the wings and legs lie.
  3. If you have time, set the chicken aside for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.
  4. Fit the bird snugly in a deep-sided baking pan and put in the hot oven. Leave it untouched for 30 minutes and without opening the oven, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and cook for another 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cooking adventures: a new favorite cookie

Several weeks ago, I posted about Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.  I am really a big fan because they are super tasty and very easy.

While looking at some of my favorite food blogs, I found a very similar recipe with a twist - caramel!  These bar cookies have the same crispy top and chewy middle and they have a layer of salted caramel in the middle. We tried them today and they are delicious!  They are a little gooey, but very, very good.

Check out Two Peas and Their Pod to see this recipe and hundreds of others!

Chocolate Chip Salted Caramel Cookie Bars

Yield: 16 cookie bars
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
10 ounces caramel candy squares, unwrapped
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Sea salt, for sprinkling over caramel and bars

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F spray a 2-quart baking pan (which is an 11 x 7 pan-i used a glass pyrex dish) with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the melted butter and sugars together until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low, just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. Microwave caramels on high until caramels are melted, stirring every 20 seconds. This will take about 2 minutes, depending on your microwave.
5. Divide the cookie dough in half. Press half of the cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula. Pour hot caramel over the cookie dough. Sprinkle caramel with sea salt. Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough over the caramel and spread dough with a spatula until the caramel is covered. Sprinkle the bars with additional sea salt.
6. Bake cookie bars for 30 minutes or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool bars on a wire rack to room temperature. Cut bars into squares and serve.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Plant geek: what's blooming?

 Today was a gorgeous day in Kansas! We had mild temperatures, sunshine, and no wind.  Perfect.

We had a long list of yard and garden projects and had no other commitments today.  We have slowly chipped away at the flower beds over the past two weeks - cutting away dead plant material, raking up leaves, repositioning edging, and pulling early emerging weeds.

I was super excited to see that the bleeding hearts were blooming.  It's still pretty early, but most everything is several weeks ahead this spring.
The hyacinths are blooming, too.  And, I have to say this might be the first year that our crop looks anything better than spindly.

I have a special place in my heart for these flowers.  Years ago, my grandma was planning a baby shower  and she was telling me about the plans for the decorations and she wanted to use spring flowers.  The star of the centerpieces was going to be some hyacinths she had in her yard.  Her Depression-era sensibilities had her using something homegrown and beautiful.

I felt so special because she talked to me about the baby shower plans like I was a grown up, even though I might have been six or seven years old. We talked and talked.  Then, we went outside and picked the hyacinths and she told me to take in their fragrance.  Now, I can't smell a hyacinth without thinking about my grandma.  She taught me to love these spring flowers on that day and so many more lessons over the years. I am so thankful for her influence on my life.
Back to our yard...I am still loving these volunteer violas.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Garden and Gun magazine - a favorite!

Garden and Gun has moved into the top spot for my favorite magazines.  I have posted about my affinity for the photography, subject matter and writing.  I am just a little deeper in love.

Last night, I read the most recent issue (April/May 2012) and found myself reading some passages out loud to my husband and even laughing out loud at a couple of articles.  The photography still blows me away.

In every issue, I always learn so much.  For example, I didn't know that the actress Sissy Spacek was so beautiful and cool.  She was featured in an interview by Allison Glock and here are a couple of quotes.

"You become who you are and you realize, I'll never be a ballerina or a great chef.  We are, as my mother said, a product of our choices.  The world would be better if we taught our children those types of things.  Not how to wipe your mouth with a napkin so much as how to become someone worthwhile."

"My roots allow me to let go of the fear of failure."

Reading her interview makes me want to be her friend and go hang out at her Virginia farm.  The article presents her as wise and cool and inspiring.

I am also a huge fan of the music Garden and Gun profiles.  One of my new favorite groups, Alabama Shakes is featured in this awesome article by Matt Hendrickson.  I am really bad at describing music, so you can go to the Garden and Gun website and listen.

Band member Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes said this in the article about their recent success, "We're just normal folks doing something as fun as s___."  I love, love, love the spunk and passion and seeing people do something really well and having fun at the same time.

Matt Jones, ceramist from the Appalachian foothills, was the subject of an article by Charlie Geer.  Love the photography of Matt at work and also seeing the finished art - very cool stuff!  He had some great quotes, too.

"The onslaught of industry has put cheap, largely impersonal objects into our hands.  I want something ragged and soulful."

"I look at the objects people once surrounded themselves with.  All of it was handmade and useful, sometimes humble, but deeply beautiful and real.  I want my pots to honor that - the spirit of those who preceded us."

And, you can't help but feel a little emotional tug when you read about Bob Timberlake's collection of canoes.  He is a North Carolina artist and furniture designer with this amazing collection and he's profiled by T. Edward Nickens.  While I am not that into water or boats, I was really moved by his passion for collecting and the story.  Enjoy this quote about the "realness" of his boats.

"Let me tell you what I love about these old boats.  I look for character, and a sense of worn-ness and used-ness in an old canoe.  I don't like the one's that look perfect.  The flaking paint and yellowed varnish - all of that is just part of a canoe's story, and I guess I like the stories as much as I love the boats themselves."

Some of my reading on creativity has promoted the practice of buying magazines that are different that your usual tastes.  When I first subscribed to Garden and Gun  I really thought that it could go either way - hit or miss.  It would very likely be something that was just outside of my usually reading and might have an idea or two or a little piece of inspiration.  I am so pleasantly surprised to find that there is more that just a little that inspires me in every issue.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day of the Dead art

The last couple of trips out of state have introduced me to a new interest - Day of the Dead art.  At the Phoenix Public Market, we met an artist who worked with terracotta.  He told us that Day of the Dead items were very popular right now and he could hardly keep them stocked at his booth.

I wonder if some of the fascination is a complement to the interest in zombies and vampires in pop culture.  I am not sure how these trends might be related, and while I am aware of the zombie and vampire mania, it hasn't really appealed to me. So, where did this interest begin for me?

I developed a slight interest in the Day of the Dead when I was in high school and studied Spanish.  Sadly, my knowledge of the language is very low now, but my appreciation for the Hispanic culture is much higher.

I love the idea of celebrating the life of those who are gone.  My family has traditionally observed Memorial Day by decorating graves as a tribute to family and friends who have passed.  When I see the skulls or skeletons, I have a strange sense of peace and joy.  Secretly, I worry that people will see these items in my house and think that I have gone a bit morbid.  That is why I fell in love with the friendly Day of the Dead gardener.

The tile above was picked up in San Antonio and I adore the subject matter.  How can you be creeped out by a skeleton gardener?  The colors first attracted me and then I noticed that flowers and stars were incorporated and that the skeleton was celebrating life by gardening.  Loved it!

These two lovely terracotta pieces were acquired in Phoenix at the open air market.  They were destined to be holiday ornaments, but I took the red tinsel off the top and made them more holiday neutral.  Love the simplicity.  Love the traditional feel of the terracotta and twine/raffia ties.

If you are a guest in my house and wonder about all the skulls and skeletons...now you know.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Vintage feed sack totes

My friend and sewing goddess worked her magic again!  Check out the vintage seed sack totes that MandiMoo Designs made.  MandiMoo Designs has helped me with several projects this year...custom made camera straps, iPad cases, a custom camera bag, and now awesome totes out of some of those vintage sacks my dad gave me several years ago.

You might remember that my mom and I turned alfalfa seed and ballot sacks into pillows.  I set aside a set of Pioneer Seed sacks because the color and condition were really spectacular.  And, I had been researching projects (read wasting time) on Pinterest and saw a tote made out of a vintage sack and thought I needed one.

Since my friend is awesome at making bags of all shapes, sizes and purposes, I thought she would be someone to entrust with these vintage items.  She had full creative license to decide how to make the bags beautiful and functional and she did a fantastic job!

The lining is a ticking fabric.  She saved the instructions from long ago about how to open the bag and incorporated the printed instructions on the interior pocket.

My mom has the second bag.  She will put it to good use during softball season for my nieces this summer.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hammond's Candies

Hammond's Candies in Denver, Colorado has been on our list of places to visit for several years, especially for my dad.  He joined my husband and me for a trip to Denver to visit family and celebrate his birthday this weekend. We decided to adventure out for a factory tour on Saturday.

If you are looking for a free and fun thing to do when you visit Denver, this just might fit the bill.

We arrived in time for the first tour of the day at 10 a.m. and there was already a small crowd.  And, interestingly enough, someone else on the tour recognized me from my job.  He was a grad student on our campus a few years ago and one of the kids in his group wore a K-State shirt - small world!

The tour began with a short video that introduced us to the company and the many types of candies they make.  They are known for their candy canes, ribbon candy, and delicious chocolate.

The tour guide then took us to a viewing room where you can observe the production area.  It was amazing to watch the cooks hard at work making candy.  I discovered that the ingredients and processes are very much the same as when the company was founded in 1920.

The next stop is a viewing room that allows you to observe the packing area.  The guide also told us about the process to make the marshmallows that are the center of my favorite Hammond's candy - caramel covered marshmallows.

It was St. Patrick's Day and I thought this was a cute display by the register.

Who doesn't love purple and white lollipops the size of your hand?  My dad got a couple of these for my nieces and I think they will love them.

Check them out the next time you are in Denver - they even have a kiosk at DIA.

Old barn, a favorite thing

This old barn has been a landmark on the drive from Wamego to St. Marys for as long as I can remember. Several months ago, we noticed that the roof had caved in and the entire structure was leaning to the east.  I had been meaning to bring a camera each time we drove that way, but always forgot.  I finally remembered a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday that had me bound for Kansas City for work.  Imagine we standing in the ditch in my suit, camera in hand, with the spring Kansas wind whipping around me...quite a site, I'm sure!

These old barns are so special to me as I regard them with equal amounts of awe and regret.  The form and function of old barns is really amazing, especially when you think of when they were likely built and the necessity of the barn for any farming operation.  I feel sad that the structure wasn't preserved and that it will likely slowly fall to further ruin until it is either flattened by gravity (or gravity and a strong Kansas wind) or someone tears it/knocks it down.

Old barns, old farmsteads, old school houses and old churches...some of my favorite things.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Plant geek: surprise violas

 The weather in Kansas as been superb!  If we were to order spring days, we might just ask for the temperatures and sunshine we are experiencing now.

On Tuesday, I made it home from work with plenty of daylight left.  (Thank you, time change!)  My husband was already hard at work on yard clean up and farm chores.  We jumped in together on the list we had made over the weekend and began to clean up flowerbeds and the few small downed limbs in the yard.

When I came around the corner from the garage, next to our grill was a few clusters of violas that sprung up from seed.  We tend to get these little miniature surprise plants each year, but this year, they are earlier than usual and super vibrant colors.  They are volunteer and I never know where they will creep up, though they are usually on the southeast side of the house next to our large old fashioned lilac

Thought you would enjoy seeing the violas that add such pretty color and a nice surprise for spring.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring is springing

Spring is springing all around. These little beauties have been popping up around the campus and it is such a welcomed site.  It seems like there are more spring flowers on campus than ever before and I discovered last night that we had a good showing of crocuses on the north side of our house, too.

Crocuses and spring flowers in general are some of my favorites!  When these emerge, you know that spring has finally arrived.  The 80 degree temperatures in the forecast for this week make me think that spring is going a little too quickly, but no one is complaining!

Looking forward to tulips and irises to soon follow!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Baby gifts

Two dear friends are expecting.  Actually, a whole bunch of my dear friends are expecting and due this spring or summer.  Two of them just happen to work in the same place and we being honored with a baby shower today.

The food was delicious, the mothers-to-be radiant, and the gifts adorable.

My gift was two part - these really great art cards from Wee Gallery and a donation to honor each family with Heifer International.  The art cards were a discovery at Soho Interiors and I blogged about them last August.  Love, love, love these bold designs.  I also liked giving the animal themed cards to the moms-to-be and knowing that some other family around the world will get a gift of animals through Heifer International.

I also really loved this gift wrap combination.  It is a classic - the gold wrapping with an elegant pattern picked up at a garage sale, new and still in the packaging from the store.  The black and white ribbon is from Hallmark and has a great texture.

Truthfully, it looked a little stuffy next to all the bright and springy bags and wrapping at the shower.  Oh, well!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lovely tree pillows

One of my favorite home decor stores had these really cool pillows.  The store posted photos in an album on Facebook and I just had to make a trip to check them out in person.  And, then they came home with me.

I love them as a compliment for the pillows my mom and I made out of vintage seed and ballot sacks.  They also look pretty cool on the chairs we bought from the same store last fall.

If you have the chance, shop Humble Abode.