Healing Energizing Eucalyptus

I recently purchased a bunch of seeded eucalyptus as filler for a flower arrangement and noticed that the eucalyptus long outlasted the rest of the arrangement. I didn’t want to toss out this fragrant plant material and considered how I might reuse it. Knowing that the lovely fragrance would intensify with steam, I decided to tie it up with some kitchen string and hang it from the handle of my shower.

Eucalyptus has a clean, menthol-like fragrance. When exposed to steam, it releases beneficial oils that are thought to have numerous health benefits.

It is antiseptic and soothing to wounds. It is also antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and decongestant in nature, which makes it a useful ingredient in many medicines that treat respiratory problems, including allergies, sinusitis, and bronchitis. Using it in the shower is a perfect way to open up stuffy sinuses.

The moisture from the shower extends the life of the eucalyptus and makes the entire house smell wonderful.

Eucalyptus oil also has a cooling, refreshing effect that is thought to remove exhaustion and mental sluggishness. Who wouldn’t benefit from that when getting ready in the morning?! It can also be used as a bug repellent and in homemade cleaning solutions. Added to a carrier oil and massaged into the skin, it is great for sore muscles and arthritis.

I think it looks pretty hanging in the shower and it makes me happy just walking by.

Could you benefit from hanging a bunch of eucalyptus in your shower?

Watercolor Menu Cards

For my end of summer dinner party a few weeks ago, I decided to go with a beach theme. I love the anticipation a menu provides and enjoy preparing menu cards for my guests. Because the beach theme lent itself to a watery, free-flowing design, I thought a little watercolor art would be well-suited. This project requires little to no artistic talent and it was fun to do. Here’s how.

  1. I used 4″ X 6″ heavy card stock for my menus but you could also use watercolor paper which is more textural and durable. You want your paper thick enough to be absorbent and hold up to the water, but not so thick it won’t go through your printer.
  2. I used an inexpensive palette of watercolor paints from the craft store and a paint brush I had in my art supplies. Fill a small container with water. Dip your brush into the water and then into the paint.
  3. Experiment a bit on inexpensive paper before working on your card stock to get a feel for how the paint will look. I used mostly blue, light green, purple and tan colors for this project. If the color is too dark, just add more water to your brush and it will become more translucent. If you want more saturated color, use less water and load up more paint on the brush.
  4. Once you are confident with your technique, start applying the paint to the cards.
  5. Swirl, blend and mix the paint colors together until you are pleased with the results.
  6. After I was finished with the background art, I loaded up my brush with paint and tapped it across my finger spraying each card with paint to mimic the look of splashes and bubbles.
  7. The paper will likely be damp after you are finished. To keep it from curling, press it flat under a few books for a few hours or until dry. This will also help it to go through your printer. (Note: be sure to change your printer setting to thick or photo paper before printing.) 
  8. Design your menu layout. I used a sea shell motif from a free clip art website and the “Fortunates December” font which has a breezy casual feel. Click here for the free download.
  9. Once your design is ready and your cards are dry,  print out your menus.

This technique is really easy and the results are surprisingly professional. Plus, I like that each guest can take home an original piece of “art” as a memento of the evening.

The same watercolor art was used to make tags for the parting gift I gave my guests. I placed small containers of sea salt in cellophane bags and added nautical wooden medallions from the craft store. Blue and turquoise markers were used to paint the wood medallions. Tied up with a piece of raffia, these favors complimented the theme of the party and let our guests know we appreciated them coming.

This is a fun and easy project that can be used for many things, e.g., place cards, gift tags, craft projects. It can also be adapted to the seasons or holidays. Can you picture it in golds, oranges, greens and browns for fall? Or how about vibrant floral colors for spring? I can.

End of Summer Table Setting

It’s September already and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to usher in fall. But as a last hurrah for summer, I invited a few friends over for an end of summer dinner party.  Today’s post will focus on the table setting for that dinner.

A relaxed beachy vibe seemed an appropriate way to bid summer adieu. After searching around my house, I realized I had most of the items I needed on hand. Here’s how I put it together.

Layers are key to setting an interesting table. I initially decided to forego a formal tablecloth because I wanted to allow the wood dining table to be exposed. The table has a rustic rough-hewn quality that I thought was fitting for a beach theme. But after a trial run, it looked a little too stark, so I added a striped cotton Turkish towel diagonally across the table. The diagonal placement allowed some of the wood to show and kept the table casual, while the additional fabric warmed up the table and added subtle pattern.

I used a gauzy piece of wide sisal ribbon as a runner and placed it down the length of the table. Its color and texture reminded me of sand. Instead of flowers, I placed a few conch shells and a piece of driftwood in the center of the table as my centerpiece. Tea lights in wavy glass votive holders were placed around the centerpiece and a few sprigs of gray-green foliage from my yard were tucked in here and there to add additional color and life.

A round woven sea grass placemat gave each place setting its foundation. I decided to use a set of handmade white plates for the main course. Their organic, uneven texture reflected the relaxed vibe. Set on top of the sea grass placemats, they became the base upon which the other dishes were placed.

Vintage majolica plates were placed on top of the white plates for the second course. Their leafy veining resembles the look of seaweed and the blue-gray color reminds me of the sea on a cloudy day. The undulating edge is reminiscent of the waves of the ocean and further reinforces the theme.

I needed small bowls for my first course, a chilled cantaloupe gazpacho. I found a boxed set in various shades of watery blues and greens at a discount store and thought they were perfect. At only $12.99 for a set of eight, how could I resist?

The linen napkins were a lucky find at a thrift store. I thought the sand color and metallic stitching on the border recalled sea shells on a sandy beach. I gathered them up simply with turquoise sea glass napkin rings.

Hand painted menu cards announcing the coming meal were placed to the sides of the soup bowls. I used watercolor paints to create streaks, swirls, and splashes on each card. These unique hand painted menus became mementos each guest could take home. Stay tuned next week for a tutorial on how to make these menu cards.

 

Once the cutlery and glassware were added and the candles were lit, the table really began to sparkle and glow.

That sparkle and glow only intensified when our guests were seated around the table enjoying the meal. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to summer.

 

 

Recipe Hacks

Did you ever eat something at a restaurant and wish you could duplicate it at home? Did you know that there are websites dedicated to developing recipes that closely mimic restaurant recipes? Lucky for us, there are some very creative cooks out there with superior palates who have been able decipher the ingredients and cooking techniques for many popular restaurant dishes. Their websites “hack” some of the most popular restaurant dishes around so that you can make them at home!

My re-creation of the lettuce wraps “special sauce” at P. F. Chang’s.

Here are a few sites to get you started:

https://www.brit.co/famous-restaurant-recipes-dupes-hacks/

https://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicamisener/copycat-recipes-for-your-favorite-chain-restaurant-foods?utm_term=.wxDQaNLjja#.fnXmw2BRRw

http://www.food.com/ideas/copycat-recipes-6576?c=514595

If you don’t find the recipe for your favorite restaurant dish on any of these websites, try typing in the name of the restaurant and the dish you’d like to duplicate. Then add the words “hack” or “copy cat” to the search. As long as it’s a well-known restaurant, you should get several results.


For example, I adore the chicken lettuce wraps at P. F. Chang’s and wanted to see if I could recreate them at home. I did a search for the recipe for P. F. Chang’s chicken lettuce wraps. Lots of results came up, but the one I decided to make can be found here.

I was able to find all the ingredients I needed for my P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps at a regular grocery store.
Having made this dish a few times before, I deviated from the recipe slightly. I have found that chopping the chicken into small pieces is much easier if you do it when the chicken is half frozen. The firmer texture makes it easy to slice thinly and then chop into small pieces. (The recipe recommends pan frying the breasts whole first and then chopping.)
I cooked small batches of the chicken in my wok. As each batch cooked, I moved the cooked pieces higher up on the edge of the wok. The heat in a wok is most concentrated at the bottom and this technique keeps the cooked pieces from overcooking.

The verdict? My chicken lettuce wraps were salty, crunchy, fresh and sweet with the same hint of smokiness that the restaurant version has. The special sauce had the same taste and texture as the restaurant version. In fact, if tasted side by side with P. F. Chang’s version, I’m not sure I would be able to tell the difference!

Deep frying the mai fun rice noodles in oil is the messiest part of the recipe–but it is also the most fun. Once the oil is the right temperature, the noodles almost immediately will puff up and rise to the top of the oil. Test by placing a single noodle in the oil before adding a larger quantity.
It takes only a few seconds to cook the rice noodles. Scoop them out of the oil with a spider immediately after they puff up and place on a paper towel to drain.

I will say that I don’t think P. F. Chang’s has anything to worry about. This was not a simple dish to make. The amount of time, specialized ingredients, number of steps, and the overall mess involved in making this particular dish prevents me from making it often. I will continue to visit the restaurant for it most of the time, but it is nice to know that if I want to make it at home, I can reproduce the restaurant version pretty well.

What’s your favorite restaurant dish? Can you hack it?