Monday, January 31, 2011

Horseshoe Decor

While I was cleaning out some old things for Goodwill this past month, I found an old horseshoe a family friend had bought me when I was in the midst of my young girl horse crazy days.

I almost threw it out when I realized I could probably make something pretty out of it instead. I also had a bouquet of silk flowers I'd bought at Michael's that I hadn't yet found a clever use for. 

I pulled several flowers apart from their stems and used floral wire to wire the two roses and ranunculus together, and left a tail to anchor the mini-bouquet to the horseshoe. 

There were more than enough flowers to make a second mini-bouquet so I paired another purple ranunculus with cluster of light purple flowers that evoke hydrangea, but I don't really think are hydrangea.

I couldn't decide which bouquet I like better, so I'll keep both handy for when I want a little change. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Family Recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

My dad and I have been on a cookie binge this month, and so far we've been eating through our stash of ready to bake cookies. This week I decided that instead of baking another just okay batch of cookies, I would make some homemade goodies.

I pulled this recipe out of my grandparents' recipe box and after a little tweaking, I suddenly had five dozen super-moist cookies flavored with spices and chock full of plump, sweet raisins. Yum!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Catching Up on My Reading

Happy Friday! I'm a little behind in my reading, so I'm going to take off this week and return next week with a lovely reading suggestion.

Have a great weekend and check back in Sunday for a delicious cookie recipe.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wishful Wednesday: Poppy Chair

While helping my mom search for a new couch, we stumbled across this oh-so-cute chair at Macy's. The pattern is so bright and cheerful and I love the dark pink-reddish color of the flowers. It's much comfier than it looks and looking at it even now gives me the urge to grab a book and curl up for the afternoon. Alas, it costs as much as the couch my mom would like to purchase.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Handmade Birthday Card

Today is one of my very dearest friend's birthday, and instead of purchasing a card from the store, I decided to make one for her.

I've been very inspired by the current trend of using birds on cards and stationery. I also thought it would be cute to forgo the usual "Happy Birthday" and use another image to convey that sentiment.

I have lots of craft paper and card stock around from other projects, and I knew that would be a great place to start. 

To make things easier on myself, I traced patterns for the speech bubble and bird, traced them onto the paper, and then cut out the shapes.

On the back, I cut out white card stock with paper edger scissors with a scalloped pattern.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Family Recipe: Italian Sausage Soup

For those that cook regularly, soup is the perfect easy meal. With one pot and about an hour, you can create a satisfying and (usually) healthy meal. This recipe is very popular in my house because it has really great flavor without being high in fat, salt, or carbs.

It's been adapted from a very good Cooking Light recipe. To try and manage the carbs and sodium we eat, I've taken out the pasta and canned Italian-seasoned tomatoes from the original recipe and substituted fresh tomatoes and white beans.

Italian sausage provides plenty of flavor and if you use the hot style, a nice hit of spiciness. As a result, the only other seasoning we add is Italian seasoning blend.

Italian Sausage Soup Revised  (6-8 servings)
16 ounces hot or sweet turkey Italian sausage*
1 teaspoon minced garlic, fresh or jarred
2 pints grape tomatoes, cut into eighths
1 can Great Northern beans, drained
1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 bag of baby spinach leaves (you can add the whole bag if you like)
1 cup loosley packed fresh basil (you can put in whole or roughly chop the basil)
Olive oil
Garnish: shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
*You can also do half sweet sausage and half hot sausage. For the batch I photographed, I used Publix brand hot Italian sausage and Johnsonville brand Sweet Italian Sausage with Sweet Basil.

1. Heat a soup pot over med-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot. Using a small knife, open the casing on the sausage links and remove the filling. Brown sausage in the soup pot, breaking it into crumbles as it cooks.

2. Drain fat from the meat. Tip: I find that a lot of fat still remains on the sausage even when you let it drain for a while. Rinse the meat with cold water and you will remove even more.

3. Saute the garlic for one minute in the soup pot. Add the tomatoes. Let them cook down for about 6 minutes until they start to soften.

4. Add the meat, chicken broth, beans, and Italian Seasoning. Stir to blend.

5. Bring soup to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes to let tomatoes break down a little more and let the flavors blend.

6. A few minutes before serving, add the spinach and basil. Mix into the soup and let the greens wilt for a minute or two and serve with Parmesan or Romano cheese, if desired.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bookshelf Bookstore: The Final Solution

Today's review is of the short novel The Final Solution by Michael Chabon.
According to Chabon's page on HarperCollins, this novel is an homage to 19th century detective novels, particularly the Holmes stories. You'll soon see why even if, like myself, you've never read such a story.

The story opens in southern England, 1944. A boy is walking along a set of train tracks and upon his shoulder sits an African gray parrot. This amazing sight catches the attention of an elderly man of 89, who is known in the village as an eccentric beekeeper and a formerly world-famous detective.

The boy is Linus Steinman, a Jewish refugee recently arrived from Germany. He doesn't speak and he seems afflicted by both a physical and emotional illness. The old man notes upon their first meeting that he has "a face as wan and empty as the bottom of a beggar's tin cup." 

But even more amazing is that his parrot, Bruno, almost constantly recites a string of jumbled numbers in German, among other bits of poetry and mimicry. There is no clue as to what these numbers mean -- are they a secret Nazi code? Bank account numbers? Or, considering Linus's situation, something more horrifying?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

W is for...Wire Wrapping

In learning about jewelry, you realize that sometimes the best way to create a piece is to use a technique called wire wrapping. It's exactly what it sounds like -- instead of using pre-made findings like jump rings, you make your own loops with wire and wrap it to finish it off. It can be used simply, like with these abalone feather earrings, or in intricate designs like these.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Family Recipe: Stuffed Cabbage

I came across this recipe in my Haverly Family Recipes cookbook (my paternal grandma's family) and immediately my stomach growled! What a perfect meal for a cold winter day -- seasoned meat rolled in cabbage, baked and covered in a cream sauce.

Okay, I skipped the cream sauce for tomato basil, but I kept the rest of the recipe close to the original. 

Thinking about this recipe also brought back memories of my time in Romania. When we stayed with some families in a small village, my first meal with my host family was Hungarian-style stuffed cabbage in a pink sauce. 

I can't help but remember how satisfying and delicious that meal was, so I had high hopes for my own version of the dish. Since there were only four rolls left out of fourteen, I would call this one a success. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bookshelf Bookstore: The Tenderness of Wolves

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney is a novel that I originally read last fall, but I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share with you here.  

In 1867, Canada is a sparsely populated wilderness. Immigrants from the United Kingdom and France fight the elements to survive, and the Hudson Bay Company (know as "the Company") controls all trade in region.

In Dove River, a small town on the northern edge of Georgian Bay, Laurent Jammet, an independent trapper and Frenchman, lies dead in his cabin, his throat cut. Mrs. Ross, his neighbor, discovers him while looking for her son Francis and is the one who alerts the town elders of the horrible act.

She will soon regret this because she realizes that her son, Francis, has disappeared around the time of Jammet's murder. This suspicious timing convinces some in the town that Francis must in fact be the murderer.

Determined to bring Francis home and learn whether he did kill Jammet, Mrs. Ross sets out with William Parker, a trapper and another suspect in Jammet's murder, to find him and learn the truth. Talk about gutsy!

Meanwhile, news of  Jammet's death spreads and attracts all types of folks like Thomas Sturrock, a con man with ties to another Dove River tragedy, and representatives of the Hudson Bay Company. Whether they are interested in solving Jammet's murder is uncertain.

As Mrs. Ross and Parker march further into the wilderness, their discoveries reveal that Jammet's death was just one tiny piece in very large puzzle. It's as this point I do feel that the plot could have used a little more editing -- at my last count there are four major mysteries introduced during the course of the book. Thankfully I didn't find it that hard to follow and amazingly, they do all intersect and finally emerge as one crazy truth in the last twenty pages of the novel.

Though the plot could use some edits, the language Penney uses to shape the people and places is lovely. When Mrs. Ross arrives at Jammet's cabin just before the fateful discovery, she sees "walls [that] have faded over the years until the whole thing looks gray and woolly, more like a living growth than a building." 

Despite some plot issues, this is a beautifully detailed story I couldn't wait to finish. 

Keep it

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Crafty When I Want to Be

Around and after the holidays I finally found the time to create and finish some jewelry projects.

First on my list was to salvage one of my favorite pieces, an opera-length string of coral-colored beads. I bought the string at Macy's a year or so ago, but this past spring the silk knotting untied. At first I used some craft wire to connect the two ends, but it looked really ugly and bit into my skin.

 I was in Michael's a while ago and bought some coral colored ribbon for another project, but I realized I could use some of it and a few jump rings to fashion a really pretty "clasp" for my beads.

 After some experimentation, I placed two jump rings on each end of the string and then threaded a 12-inch piece of ribbon through them to create a small bow. The rings have held up well to the weight of the strand and I really like having the bow detail in the back.

I almost lost two of the beads when the silk snapped, but I managed to hold onto them and create them into matching earrings.

The next two pieces I've finished are very winter appropriate. I struggled with my stag pieces because I couldn't decide how many strands to make for the necklace. I really wanted to showcase the white and red beads, but they were getting lost when I tried to pair them with a solid strand of the red coral beads and some red plastic beads.

 I finally gave in and went with a one-strand necklace, and I like how it turned out. If I could ever find more of the red and white beads I might redo the whole thing with more strands.

 My second winter piece is this pair of simple metal snowflakes. I wrapped them up with a bright winter blue crystal to add just a bit of color without overpowering the little flakes.

And, last, but certainly not least, I finally finished my little owl necklace! After spending several months trying unsuccessfully to track down some more of those plastic apple green beads, I went ahead and strung the necklace. I gave it some length using 6/0 seed beads. I really love this piece and I can't wait for the weather to warm up so I can show it off.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Family Recipe: Chicken Fajitas

Latin and Latin-inspired foods are probably the most popular in our family dinner rotation because they are flavorful, filling, and with a little planning, healthy. 

One of our quick dinners is to make tortilla-less chicken fajitas and veggies. We have a Foreman Grill that we like to cook the chicken on but you could easily cook the breasts in a non-stick skillet (six minutes each side). Cook the veggies first, cover to keep warm, and then cook the chicken.

Chicken Fajitas with Chili-Lime Marinade 
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons and 3/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Juice from 1 1/2 limes
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
cayenne pepper to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon and taste if you're unsure)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 large green bell pepper, cut into strips
1 teaspoon 365 brand Southwestern Grille Seasoning (from Whole Foods)
OR for lower sodium:
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (add more if you like heat)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and lime juice. Add seasonings through salt and pepper and mix.

Place the chicken breasts in a large plastic zip top bag. Pour marinade* over the chicken. Make sure all of the air is out of the bag and seal up. Move the chicken around to ensure the marinade is covering all parts of the chicken. Let marinade one hour to overnight.

Toss the veggies in either the Southwestern Grille Seasoning or ground red pepper and cumin mixture.  

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. While you get the onions going, preheat the Foreman grill. Cook the onions until soft, but crisp.  Remove from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm. 

Place chicken onto the grill. Discard the marinade. Cook for 6 minutes.

While chicken is cooking, throw the peppers in the same pan you used to cook the onions. Cook until crisp-tender (chicken and peppers will be done about the same time.)

Place on a plate and let the chicken rest for a minute or two before slicing into strips and serving with the veggies.

 *This marinade is from a recipe posted and adapted for this recipe.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bookshelf Bookstore: Annie's Ghosts

This is the first post in a series I’m dubbing Bookshelf Bookstore. I’m a bibliophile with a book buying problem, and as the new year starts, I’ve decided that instead of heading to my local Borders or even the library, I’m going to look first at my own bookshelf for a "new" tome to read. The Bookshelf Bookstore posts will include a short review, sans spoilers, for those also interested in finding a "new" read and rating of one of the following:

Keep: A book that I’ll re-read regularly

Pass it On: good enough to recommend to friends, but not to keep

Donate: This is for the books I can’t finish and/or don’t find worthy to pass on

The company that I spent the last year at, by virtue of being a media company, is always receiving books from an assortment of folks hoping that we would feature their titles in one of our publications or on one of our websites.

Since the majority of these books are unsolicited, they usually get put away in office corners and eventually moved to our giveaway bookshelves. I loved browsing the latter, because we did get an interesting range of titles.

The most recent find is titled, Annie’s Ghosts, written by Steven Luxenberg, a Washington Post associate editor. Luxenberg uses secondary and tertiary sources as well as historical documents to weave the history of his family.

Luxenberg’s family knew that Beth, Luxenberg’s mom, had a sister, but she had never been a topic of conversation because Beth had told them her sister had been institutionalized at a very young age. In fact, Beth introduced herself as an only child to all she met. But as Beth’s health declined in the late 90’s, several pieces of information came to light that her lifelong stories were fabrications. This previously unknown sister had been institutionalized as an adult, that she’d died in 1972, and their mother had known everything.

It’s hard to imagine how I would personally take this kind of news, especially in a family where deceased siblings, parents, and grandparents are still talked about today. I probably would have reacted the same was as Steve Luxenberg -- with lots of questions rolling around in my head and the need to know why.

Why did his mother create this secret, let alone allow it to take on the proportions it did? What societal and cultural mores were in place to affect both his mother’s subterfuge and his aunt’s life? And what about this mysterious aunt -- what was her condition for being institutionalized? What was her life like?

It can be difficult at times to follow the story because Luxenberg doesn’t arrange this history using a novelistic form. He tells his story chronologically, and any dialogue he uses is pulled directly from recorded conversations and historical documents. Many of his sources are old friends of his mother, and he has to comb through 60-year-old memories to find the truth.

There are also chapters interspersed within that delve even further into Luxenberg’s family history that can be distracting from the main story line of Annie and Beth. However, these chapters are important because they give insight into the older Luxenberg’s actions and context to the external forces that affected the family.

In finding these answers, Luxenberg maintains an interesting degree of objectivity and doesn’t share too many details about how he and the members of his family felt about his mother’s deception. I think that even if his family had been willing to share their full opinions, this story is about Steve's journey.

Luxenberg eventually comes to terms with his mother’s deception, but one question haunts him: how would his mother and aunt’s lives have been different if they’d been born at the end of the 20th century instead of the beginning? Throughout the book Luxenberg alludes to the answer, and I think that is the real tragedy of this family history.

Pass it On

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

W is for...

Winter...or at least as it shows up in Georgia. Taken 12/25/10 in the early afternoon.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Family Recipe: Ham and Bean Soup

For me, there's little better in life than sitting down with loved ones and eating a home-cooked meal; or, if that's not possible, cooking and eating the dishes that evoke memories of family and the time spent with them. Every Sunday I'll publish a post of one of these dishes. The Family Recipe posts will include a variety of classic family favorites and also some others that we have in our regular rotation. I'll share some recipes in their original form, and tweak some for taste or health reasons.

According to rumors I hear each Christmas, some brave people eat turkey or goose for Christmas Day dinner. I really can't imagine dealing with another fowl during the holiday season. Pass!

At my house, we serve ham. This means that one of us (in the past few years, it's been myself or my brother Ben) makes a treacherous journey to our local HoneyBaked Ham. Laugh all you want, but this location is in the heart of one of the major shopping centers in eastern Cobb County, which is rife with incompetent drivers and bloodthirsty shoppers.

Ready to eat and sugary-spicy delicious, HoneyBaked is a perfect solution for our family on Christmas Day. And, of course, there are plenty of leftovers. After we've tired of eating it with other Christmas feast leftovers or in sandwiches, I know it's time to bring out the soup pot for Ham and Bean Soup.

Connoisseurs of this dish know that there are as many recipes for this soup as there are for stuffing. Ours is very simple and was perfected by my grandfather, Russ Britzius. The star of this soup is the broth, and the majority of its flavor comes from the ham bone. If there's ham left, we throw that in too, and Great Northern beans round out the dish. I like to serve this with cornbread muffins and citrus for a fruit.

Ham and Bean Soup

1 ham bone (leave any leftover ham on the bone. We usually end up with 2 cups leftover ham, but you can add more or less)
2 ham hocks
2 cups cubed cooked whole ham (not deli ham)
10 cups water
1 chopped onion
4 cans great Northern beans (or really any similar sized white bean)

Clean the meat and bone of fat.

Place ham bone or hocks in a large soup pot.

Add water. Turn burner to high heat to get the water boiling; once it boils, lower heat until the water is simmering.

Simmer for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, until majority of the ham falls off the bone and is tender. Follow the same cooking time for the hocks.

Take pot off the heat. Take out the bone or hocks. Pull any remaining meat from the bone; place in a bowl and then discard the bone/hocks.

Strain the liquid to discard any remaining pieces of fat.

Place the liquid and meat back into the soup pot. Add the chopped onion, beans. If you've used hocks, go ahead and place your cubed ham in the pot.

Bring the soup to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and let it go for another hour.

This soup is wonderful served immediately. You can also let it cool, place in air-tight plastic containers, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, any remaining fat will form on the top of the soup; skim off. Note that this broth will turn gelatinous when refrigerated.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Honoring Veterans

Yesterday I was driving towards the Marietta Square to donate some clothes and home items to the Salvation Army. I decided to take the back way on Washington Street, and when I looked left down Cole Street, this is what I saw.

The sight of these beautiful evergreen wreaths laid out at each headstone really moved me. This is a military cemetery with graves dating back to the Civil War, and it is a kind of relief to know that someone is still around that cares enough about these servicemen to decorate their graves at Christmas.

For more information on the Marietta National Cemetery, take a look at these sites: