Wednesday, December 31, 2014

goodbye and good riddance

Goodbye 2014! Except for a couple of lovely moments (mostly during our anniversary in July) I have not enjoyed you at all. Here, let me show you the door and give you a great big little shove to speed you on your way.

I do have to thank you, though, because you've shown me the things that really matter. You've opened my eyes to the true nature of friends and taught me that I can really only count on myself.

And I must admit that you have redeemed yourself the past couple of days by saving the best for last which allows me to look toward 2015 with hope and excitement.

So thanks...but get the h*## out now because it's time to party like a rockstar!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve at Tor House

I had to work today.

That kind of sucks.

Christmas Eve has always been my favorite day of the year and usually I like to spend it at home, baking treats, listening to Christmas music and watching the lights on the tree.

This year, not so much.

So maybe it wasn't so bad that I had to go into work.

I can't think of a more magical place to spend a blustery Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blue Plate Special - French Onion Soup

Live with a Frenchman long enough and you'll end up making French Onion Soup for him...and quaking in your boots about whether or not it lives up to his mother's (or in this case, father's) recipe.

So I found a recipe I wanted to try last week. It was pretty easy, not a lot of steps or ingredients but you have to set aside an afternoon to make it because it takes about 4 hours of prep time.

Yeah, you read that right - 4 hours. What was I thinking?

 Start with 3 tablespoons of butter in an oven-proof pot and then add in 6 yellow onions cut in 1/4 inch slices (pole to pole) along with a teaspoon of salt.

 Cover and cook in a 400 degree oven for an hour.

 Take out of oven and give everything a good stir, scraping the sides of the pot. Then put back in oven with the lid slightly ajar for another hour and a half. Your house smells amazing at this point.

The onions are soft and golden brown.

Put the pot on the stove with a medium-high heat and cook (stirring frequently) until the liquid has evaporated.

 At this point things go pretty quickly. Start de-glazing the pan with 1/4 cup of water and cook until it evaporates. Do this 2-3 times until the onions become very dark and mushy.

At this point you have a big pile of onion goo.

Add 1/2 cup of sherry or white wine and de-glaze one last time, scraping the bottom and sides of your pot.

Add in 6 cups of beef broth, 2 cups of water, a little thyme and a bay leaf and bring to just under a boil. Then reduce your heat and simmer for 30 minutes. You're almost finished at this point, I promise!

Finish it off with toasted french bread and a whole lot of cheese (I used Swiss) and put under the broiler for a few minutes until cheese melts and voila

The perfect French Onion Soup!

And the French guy that lives here - he loved it.


6 yellow onions
3 tablespoons butter 
1 teaspoon salt

water to de-glaze - 1/4 cup at a time

1/2 cup sherry or white wine

6 cups beef broth (I used 8 and skipped the next ingredient)
2 cups water
sprinkle of thyme
1 bay leaf (don't forget to fish it out at the end!)
salt and pepper to taste

sliced French bread - toasted
Swiss/gruyere cheese

Monday, December 8, 2014

in the mood

I have a confession to make - I am so not in the mood for Christmas this year. 

I don't usually feel this way, last year I had the house fully decorated by Thanksgiving afternoon and I hated taking it all down in January.

I've always loved decorating the house for Christmas. As a kid I would help Dad put up the Christmas tree in the living room every year.

Yes, our tree was artificial but don't judge because it was the awesomest tree in the whole world. It was made out of green and white loops of some metallic material that, although not the least bit realistic, looked amazing - especially at night. The tree was set in a motorized, rotating base and covered with round, red ornaments. I used to sneak in there at night, filled with awe, while I watched  the tree slowly go around and around in front of our bay window. I loved that tree.

And then there was Christmas Eve, opening presents with the whole family. Yeah, we opened on Christmas Eve except for the stuff Santa brought the next morning. I don't know why, it was a tradition handed down by my father's family and none of us kids had any complaint about that.

The tree is long gone and the kids have all grown up (and have kids and grandkids of their own...eek) but at least there are plenty of pictures and old home movies to keep alive the spirit of Christmas past.

Christmas present, however, is another matter.

 Meet Lance. He's my suit of armor and I love him. He was a Christmas present from the man of the place several years ago although it took almost a decade before Lance and I were living in the same place.

Lance loves Christmas and has graciously agreed to be my "tree" this year. I may not be in the mood to pull out the tree and all the decorations but I'm always in the mood to play dress up with a suit of armor. Who wouldn't want to do that? 

Although I have to admit he looks a bit more like a scary character out of Lord of the Rings than Santa.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

prairie style weddings

I kinda love weddings. No, that's not quite right. I'm pretty much obsessed with weddings especially ones with a rustic, vintage vibe.

In addition, I am in love with anything that Fifi O'Neill does. I love her style and her way of documenting the world. So it's with great excitement that I await the December 2nd release of her new book Prairie Style Weddings.

Until then I've got this great video that Fifi has put out along with some wonderful preview pictures on Pinterest to keep me going. I hope you enjoy it too!

Monday, November 17, 2014

MIA me

That's the view from my mother's back porch, isn't it lovely? I would love to look out at that lake every morning while sipping my cocoa.

Sorry I've gone MIA from the blog. I've been helping out my mother for a few days but I will be back soon.

Until then, enjoy the view!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

my favorite apron

I just love to bake so when the man of the place cleaned out the freezer the other day and mentioned that I had a "ton" of frozen bananas in there, I took the (very broad) hint and decided to spend today baking banana bread, which I promise to tell you about another day.

BUT, I can't even begin to talk about baking without first talking about aprons. Don't you just love aprons? I can't resist an apron made from vintage-style fabrics. If you ever lose me in a kitchen store, just look for the apron display. Aprons make me feel like Julia Child, June Cleaver, Donna Reed and Lucy Ricardo all rolled into one.

So a couple of years ago I was thrilled to find a great online apron designer, Cindy from Retro Revival. Actually, I guess I didn't find her online, I found her at the Great American Pie Festival because we were both living in Central Florida at the time. Anyway, I fell in love with her aprons and was determined to have her make something for me.

I knew just what I wanted. Don't laugh but I found the perfect vintage apron at the American Girl store. Unfortunately it wasn't quite my size because it was made for a doll. So I asked Cindy to make me an apron just like Kit Kittredge had.

 I really loved the mix of fabrics. It's hard to tell in this picture but those are cherries on the bodice.

Here's the finished product, isn't it great? I look forward to wearing it whenever I'm in the kitchen.  And so, the first thing I did today, before the first egg was cracked, was to put on my apron because that's what you do when you are about to begin a day of marathon baking.

 Of course, the second thing I did was take a selfie because...ha, there's really no good reason for that but I guess I was just feeling sassy in my apron and wanted to share. Lucky you!

Monday, November 3, 2014

birthday month

We have 5 birthdays in my family this month (with a new little one set to make an appearance) so November is clearly the best month of the year, commonly referred to as BIRTHDAY MONTH. And yes, we say it in all caps like that. We all start celebrating on November 1 and don't stop until the last midnight chime has rung on November 30.

Happy Birthday Month to all the November babies out there - quite a few of my friends were blessed to be born into this most lucky of months as well so the party never stops.

To the rest of you, feel free to celebrate us too! We are so clearly worth it.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Blue Plate Special - Pate Chaud

Thanks for joining me today as I explore more fun with puff pastry!

Seriously, you could wrap just about anything in puff pastry and I would be over the moon so it was no surprise that I fell hard for a great Vietnamese treat that my husband made for me a few years ago - pate chaud. It's basically a little savory meat pie that the man of the place remembered from his childhood. It's the perfect blend of Vietnamese cooking with French influence. 

And it's pretty darned easy to make too!

Just a few ingredients - chopped onion, shredded carrot, minced garlic and pork. We cheated a bit and used a breakfast sausage. The liquid is nuoc mam, Vietnamese fish sauce. There are easy recipes all over the Internet. The man of the place uses more garlic in his nuoc mam than you typically find at Vietnamese restaurants and let me tell you, it's amazing.

Mix all these together and fry them up till the sausage is no longer pink. 

Now comes the fun part

roll out the yummy puff pastry (have I mentioned how much I LOVE puff pastry?) and cut along the fold lines. The man wants me to mention that it's best to dust your cutting service with flour before you open up the pastry to keep it from sticking.

Pile up a clump of the meat mixture (I'm thinking that clump is not the correct term but I'm too tired right now to come up with a more appropriate one) on the bottom half of the pastry. Because it was pre-cooked, it was a bit crumbly this time. We might try not cooking the mixture next time and just trust that it'll get fully cooked during the baking process. If my next blog post is from the hospital, you'll know that didn't work.

Fold the pastry strip over the meat mixture and use a fork to seal the edges. You can beat up an egg and brush it along the edges before folding just to glue things together before you start forking. We actually forgot that step so the little bowl of egg wash in the background is mainly there for show at this point.

Really important step - take a knife and cut a couple of vents in the top so that you don't end up with exploded pie guts all over your oven.

I probably should have mentioned this at the beginning - pre-heat your oven to 400. Put the pretty pies on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes. Pull them out and brush that egg wash all over the top (see, it wasn't purely there for show in the earlier picture) and then put it all back in the oven for another 5-ish minutes until it's all golden brown and crunchy.

Seriously, these are amazing. They are the perfect winter evening comfort food.

Usually these pies are round and smaller than the ones we've made. All you do is use the biscuit cutter to make 2 round circles for the top and bottom crusts. We decided to make a quick and easy version that I prefer because there is more room for filling.

Voila, here's today's Blue Plate Special!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Drive - the Carmel birthday parade

Carmel is one of those places that enchants a lot of people and attracts busloads of visitors. I can see why, it's beautiful and charming and almost seems like a make-believe town. Perhaps it's all the fairytale cottages or the tree-lined main street, full of shops, that ends right at the edge of the sparkling blue ocean. Maybe it's the assortment of art galleries, high end jewelry shops and gourmet restaurants that leads people to believe that Carmel is a vacation paradise but not the type of place where real people live.

And yet, I assure you that real people live here, dodging in and out of the many visitors who sometimes forget that they can't just stop in the middle of the road to check the map they picked up at the visitor's center. We welcome the tourists and schedule wonderful events for them (Concours d'Elegance, Bach Festival, AT&T golf tournament) but sometimes we like to throw a little party just for us.

The Carmel Birthday Parade is an event for the locals. The town founders were brilliant enough to incorporate the town on October 31, 1916 so every year on the Saturday closest to Halloween, we throw ourselves a little birthday bash complete with a parade. This isn't your usual type of parade, there are no marching bands or floats. This is a real community parade where everyone is welcome to participate. All town organizations are invited to have a car in the parade or to walk behind a banner. The police and fire departments haul out their shiniest equipment to drive up and down Ocean Avenue with lights and sirens going off every few seconds.

The best part, however, is that anyone that would like to walk behind all the cars is welcome. So, many of us turn out every year in our best costumes (or not) and wave at all the bystanders on the sidewalks. There are lots of children in costume but, Carmel being Carmel, the kids are usually outnumbered by all the costume.

Here are a few photos from yesterday's parade to show you why it's my favorite event of the year.

Of course the most amazing dog in the parade was my darling Shifu. 

But there were many other cute dogs there too.

And look, we even had kids in the parade!

It wouldn't be a 2014 Halloween event without an Elsa. I heard that this year's Halloween drinking game will be to take a drink every time an Elsa shows up at your door on Friday. Good thing the next day is Saturday!

Marching down main street - Ocean Avenue.

Our police department has only the most modern of equipment, of course! Isn't that car a beauty. I wish they'd let me take a ride in it one day.

 When it's all over the whole town heads to the local community center for hot dogs and chips. At $5/person, it's the best deal in a long shot!

Oh no, Shifu is dismayed that we've reached the end and it's time to go home. 

We can't wait to do it all again next year!

Friday, October 24, 2014

beyond the garden gate

Have I ever told you about where I work? I don't think I have. 

If you follow me on Instagram you would know that I work in one of the most beautiful places on the face of the Earth - Tor House. I post way too many pictures of this enchanted spot but it's hard to stop because every corner brings inspiration and the views are fantabulous.

Normally you have to pay for a guided tour but follow along with me as we go beyond the garden gate for a little peek.

The courtyard is magical in any kind of weather. It's not always sunny at Tor House, frequently the fog rolls in and surrounds us.

Abalone shells line the pathways to the cottage. Usually they sit in an orderly fashion but this particular day they were all scattered but there were no animal tracks so I can only conclude that the ghosts were having a wild party before I got there. Oh, did I not mention that Tor House is haunted? I haven't run into anybody but the TV show Ghost Adventures thinks they did. I will say that I have heard  noises that defy explanation.

Told you it was a beautiful place!

The quail are frequent and very welcome visitors in our courtyard.

There are many benches where you can rest and reflect.

This is the far end of the courtyard, looking out to the sea. What lies beyond?

More beauty than you can even imagine. We've recently begun a project to bring back the natural wildflowers that would have been there in Jeffers' time.

Would you like to see inside the cottage? Let me go find the key (yes, this is the actual key that I have to use each time I go in there) and we can go inside the next time you visit.

See you soon!