Wednesday, April 22, 2015

soup and salads

A couple of my passions are healthy living and cooking, so I thought I'd share a few recipes that I've made lately. Last night for dinner, I made Italian Wedding Soup. This is more of a simplified recipe than the original. Traditionally, the meatballs are made with a mixture of beef, pork and veal. I don't eat veal and I don't have access to any organic pork right now (I try to only eat organic meat), so I made the meatballs with just beef. This is an easy-to-make soup that is comforting, hearty and healthy. Perfect for a chilly afternoon or evening meal.

1 lb organic, grass-fed ground beef
2 organic eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 c breadcrumbs (I keep homemade breadcrumbs in the freezer)
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
Dried basil, thyme, oregano, parsley & onion powder, to taste
8 c broth ~ you can use beef, chicken, vegetable ~ or a combination
(I use organic, low-sodium broth when I don't have any homemade on-hand)
3 medium-sized carrots, finely diced
1/2 c orzo
4 c thinly sliced organic escarole, baby spinach, or baby kale
(or a mixture of any of these greens is fine ~ use whatever you have!)

In a medium bowl, combine the beef - spices. Shape into 3/4" balls. In large soup pot, heat broth to boiling. Place meatballs and carrots into the broth. Simmer on med-low for 7 min. Add the orzo and simmer another 7 min or until pasta is al dente and the meatballs are cooked through. Stir frequently to prevent ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add greens and simmer another couple of minutes. Taste the this point, adjust your seasonings. You may want to add salt, pepper, and/or garlic, to taste. Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
(*Note: you don't have to cook the meatballs in the broth. I realize this adds the beef fat to the broth. You can always bake the meatballs in the oven and then add them to the broth.)


When I went to a barbeque this past weekend, I took along an Israeli couscous tabbouleh salad. This was a huge hit and quickly eaten up. It's so light, fresh and full of wonderful flavors with the fresh herbs. I can't take credit for this recipe ~ it can be found here.


And I can't take full credit for this recipe. This dish was brought to the barbeque by my cousin's friend and everyone demolished this salad, too. I asked how it was made and only made a variation on the veggies. This is an awesome vegan main dish (makes a great lunch) or you can use it as a side dish.

 1 pkg refrigerated ready-to-eat lentils
(I found these in the produce section of Trader Joes; you can always
make lentils ahead of time using the dried ones)
1 lb mixture of any kind of crunchy veggies, chopped
(I found a pkg of Healthy & Chopped Veggie Mix in the produce section of
Trader Joes ~ it's a mixture of broccoli, carrots, red & green cabbage, jicama,
green peppers, radishes & celery)
1 jar olive tapenade
1/2 lemon, juiced
Chopped fresh parsley

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Nom nom!

Monday, April 20, 2015

hello monday

I got the idea for "hello Monday" from Lisa Leonard's blog ~ not my original idea! I've always enjoyed reading her hello Monday posts, so thought I'd do one of my own today. It's just being aware of and being grateful for some of the little things in your life.

Hello dreary, raw, rainy Monday morning... 

Hello to a gathering of family and friends at a cousin's birthday party yesterday...

 Hello to a wonderful yoga practice this morning ~ and extra grateful that my hubby was able to come with me this morning and enjoy the practice as well...

 Hello to looking through a couple of cookbooks to gather some new recipe ideas...

Hello to a cup of herbal tea this afternoon and pink nail polish ~

Hello to getting a new-to-me book in the mail from paperbackswap ...

 What are you saying hello to on this first day of the week?


Saturday, April 18, 2015

working in the yard

 Another beautiful, sunny spring day in our neck-of-the-woods. We've been spoiled by this wonderful weather all week. Brian had the day off work today (he usually works weekends), so we went to Home Depot and picked up some pansies and a couple of herb plants. The place was packed! Rain is moving in tomorrow and the rest of the week looks cool and cloudy, so I think everyone wanted to get a start on yard work today. We saw a lot of customers buying big hanging baskets of ferns. Wonder what was up with that...why the popularity of those all of a sudden? It almost became a joke while we were walking around the store because everyone we passed was carrying at least two of those baskets of ferns. 

This is the first planter I put out on my porch every spring and pansies are always what I start with too, as they can withstand the cool weather. They always look kind of pitiful when I first plant them, but they'll perk up and fill out in a couple of weeks.

 Cilantro and dill are two herbs that can also handle cool weather, so I started with those in a planter instead of my herb garden. I figure if we still have a danger of frost at night (which is very possible until mid-May), I can move the planter into the garage.

 We were outside for several hours this afternoon, planting and dragging outdoor furniture out of the garage, pulling weeds, cutting back perennials, raking, and sweeping.

Just the other day, the hostas simply looked like purple asparagus coming out of the ground. Now those purple shoots have burst open and the leaves are slowly unfurling like little twirling ballerinas.

If you are looking for an easy, spreading groundcover that likes the shade, try pachysandra. This is about six years worth of growth but we started with only a handful of plants. We actually had no idea it would spread this much and it's now overtaking our stepping stone path that leads to the patio. And it's not fun to dig up ~ it has strong roots! So just a warning to be sure and plant it somewhere where you don't mind it really spreading. This plant is so hardy that it stays green all winter. We also never water it unless we have drought conditions.

Another plant that grows at least an inch a day in the spring ~ sedum.

 I could not believe the chives in my herb garden when I saw this plant today! It was just a tiny plant I stuck in the ground last year. This thing is already a monster. That's lemon balm in the background - a perennial in the mint family that loves to take over a garden, so I have to keep that under control, too.

 Clementine was watching me out the living room window. I don't know what she was looking at when I took this photo. Perhaps a bug. We've already seen bees (a good thing), box elder bugs, one of those small white butterflies (another good thing), and the most dreaded flying insect...mosquitoes. We were sitting on the patio yesterday evening and we were already swatting at a couple of those wretched things.

So, where's my hard-working man? Aha! Caught him red-handed. Guess his work in the yard is done for the day.

 Mine, too. 

Hope you're having a wonderful weekend! How's the weather where you live? Are you doing any yard work this weekend or are you up to something else?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

day trip ~ retro kitchen cart and suitcase

This past Saturday proved to be one of those beautiful spring days, plus Brian had a rare day off work. We took a little day trip to one of our favorite spots: the city of Evanston, right outside Chicago. We met up with my mom at Secret Treasures ~ our favorite Chicagoland antique shop. I don't think I've ever walked out of this place empty-handed. And that's not as "bad" as it sounds. The prices at this shop are way more than fair.

Secret Treasures carries a little bit of everything, kitchen items, cookbooks, ephemera, linens, McCoy pottery, artwork, cameras, flatware, jewelry, toys, knick knacks and tons of dishes.

Two things really caught my eye this time though: this yellow suitcase and the kitchen cart. Mom was crushing on both of these items too, but I arm wrestled her for them.
Just kidding.

The shop owner was putting out more items and when she put out this cart, Mom snagged this one up! It's a smaller dimension than mine, which made it the perfect size for where Mom wanted it in her kitchen.

 After shopping, we had lunch at the always cool and funky restaurant, The Lucky Platter

This place has the most fabulous, fresh homemade food. I had the black bean burger which was so filling, I could only eat half of it. Brian had the portabella mushroom burger, which you can see in the background.

Another must-stop place for us in Evanston is Bookends and Beginnings.

Just follow the footprints down the alley...

Yes, please.

My love (besides the books)...

 After shopping at the bookstore, we took a walk in the sunshine by Lake Michigan.

 So now back to the home front. Here's that kitchen cart in all its vintage glory.

 I think it fits in my kitchen perfectly and I like that it gives me storage space, too.

Just so you can see the difference, here's what my kitchen looked like before. That butlers table on the left is now in my office. And coincidentally enough, the butlers table was also from Secret Treasures!

As for the yellow suitcase, I'm still playing with it. For right now, I have it stacked on a chest in my living room as sort of a coffee table.

 At first, I had it in the center of the rug as a coffee table, but you couldn't put your feet up on it while sitting on the sofa. Brian and I both like a table or ottoman where we can put our feet up. So then I pushed the suitcases to the side and put an ottoman next to them. Not too keen on this look ~ though the cats rather add to the ambiance.

 I'm going to continue to play with different arrangements; perhaps moving the floor lamp and stacking suitcases in this corner.

To be continued!
 Enjoy this beautiful day.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

around here

I'm writing this post at 10:00 PM on Thursday night - thankfully, upstairs and safe -  after being in the basement family room for a couple of hours due to tornado warnings. We had thunderstorms all day with brief pauses where during one of them, I went outside to take some photos. I love spring and finding the promise of new growth after a long winter.

Sedum in the butterfly garden...

Chives in the herb garden ~ and, of course, the lemon balm is already popping up too, as you can see in the background...

The tiger lilies in the backyard around the composting bin are loving the rain. I swear they grow at least an inch a day!

Lilac buds...

Since I can't play in the dirt outside yet, I bought some succulents and planted them in teacups, two new mini vintage planters (the deer and the chick), and a milk glass container. How do you like that gorgeous teapot? I recently found it - plus matching teacups, saucers, little plates and a creamer - at Goodwill. The milk glass container was also a Goodwill find. More on all that in another post.

I did some painting today, too. My aunt had given me a painting last fall when she was packing her house to move out-of-state. I loved the painting itself, but not the frame. Auntie had painted the frame red, which - to me - clashed with the painting. I got a small jar of Americana Decor chalk paint (the color is Serene) at Hobby Lobby and gave it a whirl. I'm not much of a crafty person, nor am I a DIYer, so I was a little nervous at first.

Here's the painting after the first coat. Much better, don't you think? I just now noticed after uploading this picture to my blog that Clementine is photobombing this photo. I shouldn't be surprised - usually one of the cats is doing so. Anyway, I have to give a thumbs up for this paint. It went on very smoothly, gave great coverage without having to use a primer, dried quickly, and had no odor at all. Now I just have to wax the frame and then decide where to hang this painting. At first I thought it could go in the living room, but the light blue frame clashed with the aqua accents in the room. Blue overload! I think I'll wait and hang it in our bedroom after we paint and re-do that room. (And that's another huge, looming project.)

I'm turning the laptop off now and reading for awhile before I go to bed. I'm in the middle of "The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy" by Rachel Joyce. She's the author of, "The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." Are you familiar with that book? Brian and I read it last year and we both loved it. So when the author came out with this sequel, we couldn't wait to read it. I've had the book on my amazon wish list since it came out, but the price has been too high to buy the book. I kept checking my library's web site and was thrilled to see last week that they got the book! Brian read it first - in two days - and he said it was excellent. I'm halfway through and loving this book. One of those that's hard to put down and has you reading way past your bedtime.