Ironing Monograms

While perhaps viewed as remnants of a bygone era, few household items are more elegant and luxurious than monogrammed linens. If you are lucky enough to have inherited some heirloom monogrammed pieces, I encourage you to use them! But if, like me, you didn’t inherit such works of art, take heart. They can be easily found at estate sales, antique shops, and of course, online. They can also be purchased new. Knowing how to iron these beautiful pieces is key to making them look their best.

There are only a few essential supplies: a spray bottle filled with water, spray starch (if desired), a clean fluffy towel, and a hot iron.

Using a spray bottle filled with water, dampen your fabric evenly and thoroughly. You definitely don’t want it dripping wet, but it should be damp enough to produce some steam when ironed.

Fold your items loosely and let sit for at least 15 minutes. This step is crucial to getting a nice smooth finish. Letting the fabric rest allows the fibers of the fabric to absorb the moisture and relax before ironing. This also applies to cotton and linen clothing, so don’t forget this step if you want a crisp finish.

Then set your iron on a high setting. (Usually the settings for cotton or linen work well, but know your iron. Some irons run significantly hotter than others and you don’t want to scorch the material.) Lay your monogram face down on a clean terry cloth towel. I like to use a bit of spray starch at this point, but it is not necessary, just a personal preference. Begin ironing on the backside of the monogram.

Sometimes the fabric shrinks up around the monogram after washing, so you may need to pull the fabric taut to help it lie flat. Pressing the monogram into the plush terry cloth allows the monogram to gain dimension and “pop up” from the background fabric.

Once it is smooth, flip the fabric over and iron the other side, being careful to avoid ironing on top of the monogram.Take the pointed part of the iron and get as close to the monogram as possible without actually touching the monogram.

I used the same technique on this delicate embroidered runner. Ironing the floral design face down on a thick towel makes the needlework “pop up” and creates dimension.

This also works for dimensional embroidered items where you want the design to stand out.  I used this technique on this beautiful embroidered runner and the flowers nearly leapt off the background!

Heirloom linens are sturdy and can be used regularly. Knowing how to iron them properly is essential to bringing out their beauty. This technique will enhance the appearance of your linens and keep them looking sharp for years to come.

Indian Cooking Class – Part 2

Last week I told you about an Indian cooking class I took at our local community college. That post on legumes and Indian bread is available here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/07/24/indian-cooking-class-part-1/   Today’s post will cover the last two classes in the series on yogurt, cheese making and eggplant dishes.

We were introduced to a wide variety of fragrant spices and herbs in the class.

Yogurt and Cheese

I remember my mother making yogurt and cheese when I was a child, but I wasn’t directly involved in the making of either so the process remained a mystery to me. I was surprised to see how easy both were to make. The flavor of these homemade dairy products was so much better than commercial versions. You can also be assured that there are no artificial ingredients or additives involved when you make it yourself.

Not only is our instructor, Raka Mehra, a great home cook, she is also extremely knowledgeable about nutrition. Throughout the course she enlightened us regarding the nutritional benefits of the dishes we were preparing, yogurt being no exception. It is a fermented food that is nutrient-dense and rich in high-quality protein, important probiotics and linoleic acid. Raka reminded us that yogurt is alive with beneficial cultures and bacteria that are crucial to the health of our gut.


Making Yogurt

There are only two ingredients in homemade yogurt: milk and a starter culture. We used fresh plain yogurt as the starter culture, which is easily obtainable at any grocery store.

Bring whole milk to almost boiling and allow to cool before adding your yogurt starter. The milk is heated to kill the milk’s bacteria so as not to complete with the bacteria we introduce (Lactobacillus & Streptococcus) with the starter culture.

Slowly heat a quart of milk to almost boiling. Then allow to cool to approximately 110 – 115 degrees. Add 1 teaspoon of plain fresh yogurt and stir until incorporated. Incubate in a warm place for 5 – 7 hours. Raka recommended an Instant Pot ( http://instantpot.com/ ) for this process because it has a yogurt setting which simplifies the entire process. However this device is not necessary. The most important thing is to keep the yogurt consistently warm, so putting it inside a warm oven or even wrapping it in a blanket will work just fine. Once yogurt is ready, a layer of water will form on top.  It can then be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Plain yogurt with a little honey and raspberries makes a delicious and nutritious breakfast.

Paneer (Indian Cheese)

Paneer  is a yogurt cheese with a very clean light texture and taste. It is used extensively in Indian cuisine and also makes a healthy snack.

Paneer Recipe (Indian Yogurt Cheese)

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 quart buttermilk or 3 cups homemade yogurt

Heat milk to near boiling. Add warmed buttermilk or yogurt to avoid a dramatic temperature change. Reduce heat to low and stir to avoid burning on the bottom. Large clumps called “curds” will begin to form. Turn off heat when whey and curds separate. (The whey is the yellowish liquid that will form.) Let sit for 5 – 10 minutes. Strain liquid from cheese using a cheesecloth, pressing out as much whey as possible. Then shape the cheese into a flat disc. Place a weight on top to press out more liquid. After about 15 minutes, most of the water will have released and your cheese is ready. Cheese should be stored in the refrigerator in cold water.

You can see the curds forming and separating from the whey.
Strain the whey from the cheese curds using a large cheesecloth. The whey is the yellowish liquid in the bowl to the right. It is loaded with protein and is highly nutritious. Don’t throw it away! It can be added to smoothies, soup stock, used to soak grains before cooking, etc. Some people even recommend bathing in it for smooth soft skin!
Once most of the water has been drained, press out the cheese with your hands, shaping it into a flat disc. Keeping the cheese wrapped in the cheese cloth, place a weight on top of the disc which will help the cheese solidify and continue to strain out even more whey.
Raka sandwiched the cheese between two cutting boards and placed the heavy pot of whey on top to squeeze out any remaining moisture. It was allowed to drain into the sink for about 20 minutes.
Once the cheese has drained and firmed up, it can be cut into pieces for serving.

Eggplants

The final class focused on eggplant dishes from northern India. Emphasizing the importance of freshness, Raka said she chose to present eggplant dishes to us because that was what looked best at the market that day. We made three different eggplant dishes, but in this post I will discuss only one, bharva baingan or stuffed eggplants. This is a dish I had never seen before but I found it to be the most delicious of all the eggplant dishes we made.

Bharva Baingan (Stuffed Eggplants)

  • 6 small round eggplants
  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
  • 3 T. grated coconut
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp. tamarind paste in 2 T. water
  • salt to taste
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 6 -8 curry leaves (found in Indian market)
  • 2 dry red whole chilies
  • Cilantro and grated coconut to garnish

Make two perpendicular slits in eggplants without cutting all the way through. This opening will hold the filling.

Dry roast coriander and cumin seeds and grind in coffee grinder. Mix together coriander, cumin, turmeric, red chili powder, coconut, garlic, and salt. Fill the slits in the eggplants with the filling.

Heat oil in heavy pan. Add mustard seeds, dry red chilies and curry leaves and cover until popping stops. Add filled eggplants to pan and cover with lid. Cook until browned on all sides, gently turning them so that the filling stays inside the eggplants. Eggplants will soften and release their juices as they cook.

Add tamarind and water mixture and cook for another 2- 3 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and a little grated coconut.

Gently spread the eggplants apart and fill with the spice mixture.
Saute mustard seeds, dry red chilies, and curry leaves and add stuffed eggplants to pan. Cover pot to hold in moisture. Turn eggplants frequently to brown on all sides.
Once eggplants are cooked through, they will soften. Add tamarind paste and cook another 2-3 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and fresh grated coconut.

After my four Indian cooking classes, I know I still have a lot to learn. However, I can say that I no longer find this cuisine quite as mysterious or intimidating as I once did. I now have the confidence to continue experimenting and look forward to challenging myself by making even more complex Indian dishes. Are you ready to give Indian cooking a try?

Cooking together inspired a lot of camaraderie. I enjoyed getting to know the other students in the class.
We celebrated in our final class with a meal which included the dishes we made that day and other dishes brought to class by students.

Note:  Many thanks to Raka and my classmates who were so gracious in allowing me to share their images in my blog.

 

Indian Cooking Class – Part 1

As much as I enjoy Indian cuisine, I’ve hesitated to attempt making it at home. The exotic spices, complex flavor combinations, and mysterious ingredients have always intimidated me! So when our local community college offered an Indian cooking class, I jumped at the opportunity to have this extraordinary cuisine demystified.

This is the first of a two-part series. Today’s post will cover the classes on legumes and bread. Next week’s blog will cover the classes on yogurt making, cheese, and eggplant dishes.

A staple in every Indian kitchen is the spice tin or masala dabba. The most commonly used spices are kept organized and ready for use in a handy sealed container.

Our instructor was Raka Mehra, a home cook from northern India with many years of experience preparing her native dishes. Having garnered much acclaim by those lucky enough to be invited to her home for a meal,  she decided to develop this class to teach others the secrets of her delicious north Indian dishes.

Raka emphasized that everyday dishes in India are generally much lighter and healthier than those served at most Indian restaurants. Importantly, she assured us that with basic cooking skills, one can prepare a truly authentic Indian meal.

This is a small sampling of the numerous legumes used in Indian cuisine.

Legumes

In our first class, Raka gave us a brief overview of the numerous legumes used in Indian cooking. Economical and high in protein, legumes are extremely nutritious and contain a range of essential nutrients including vitamin B (especially folate), iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. They are also abundant in dietary fiber.

Of all the legume options available, we focused on lentils which are among the quickest to prepare. We made two lentil dishes but my favorite was coconut daal made from red (or washed) lentils. The dish contains coconut milk which makes it rich and creamy with a somewhat delicate flavor.


Raka’s Coconut Daal

1 cup washed red lentils (masoor)
1 can coconut milk (full fat)
1 ¼ cup water
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 -2 green chilies, sliced
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. turmeric
2 T. oil
2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or cumin seeds)
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped

Place lentils, coconut milk, water, chopped onion, tomatoes, chilies, salt and turmeric in a pan.  Simmer 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

While lentils are cooking, heat oil in frying pan. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds and cover until popping stops. Add sliced onions and fry until crisp.

Mix sautéed onions and mustard seeds with cooked lentils and garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice.


The finished product, Raka’s Coconut Daal.

Bread Making: Roti and Paratha

In our second session we learned about the classic Indian bread commonly known as roti or chapati. This is an unleavened whole wheat tortilla-like bread that is hearty and versatile. While most of us think of naan as the quintessential Indian bread, we learned that roti is more typically consumed on a daily basis in India, while naan is usually reserved for special occasions.

The basic dough for roti contains only two ingredients: flour and water. It is kneaded by hand, formed into balls and rolled into flat discs. It is then cooked on a  lightly greased griddle on top of the stove.

Basic Recipe for Roti

1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Mix all ingredients until stiff dough forms.  Knead until dough no longer sticks to your hands. Let rest for about 20 minutes.

Divide dough into 8 equal parts and roll into balls. Roll balls into 6 – 8″ discs. Lightly grease pan and heat to medium high. Cook until brown blisters begin to appear and flip. Roti will puff up when done.


When done, the roti puffs up and then quickly deflates.

 

While roti is delicious simply spread with a little butter, we also made paratha which is roti filled with vegetables, or cheese and spices. My favorite was paneer paratha, which is roti filled with cheese (paneer).


Paneer Paratha

2 cups shredded paneer (Indian yogurt cheese)
1 T. finely chopped ginger
2 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 t. cumin powder
1/4 t. red chili flakes
Salt to taste
2 T. yogurt

Mix all ingredients except yogurt together.  Then add yogurt until crumbly paste forms.

Place filling in the middle of the rolled out roti and then gently gather edges together, forming a purse-like packet. Roll flat again and fry in lightly oiled pan until brown on both sides.


Place the cheese filling in the middle of the roti.
Pinch the edges of the roti together. Once the filling is fully encapsulated in the bread, roll it out flat again and cook it in a lightly greased pan on top of the stove.  The bread will begin to blister and may puff up a bit.  Flip and cook the other side.

With a little spiced yogurt, paratha make a delicious accompaniment to a meal or a filling snack. Both roti and paratha are well-suited to freezing, so a batch can be made ahead of time and taken out as needed.

Paneer  paratha with spiced yogurt.

Perhaps the most important tip I gleaned from this class was how important it is to purchase whole spices and dry roast them in a frying pan before grinding. Dry roasting changes the chemistry of proteins, releases the oils in spices, changes their flavor, and enhances the scent and taste of spices.  If you want maximum flavor in your Indian dishes, don’t skip this step!

Raka, our knowledgeable instructor.

I did not find any of these dishes to be difficult to make and was delighted to learn how nutritious they are. I am excited about adding these dishes to my repertoire and hope you will give them a try as well.

Stay tuned next week for part two of my foray into Indian cooking!

 

Flowers and Scotch Tape

What do flowers and Scotch tape have to do with one another? Well, they go together perfectly when you want to make a flower arrangement in a wide-mouthed container and don’t have any floral foam or a flower frog to secure the stems!

Floral foam (or Oasis) is probably the most widely-used material for flower arranging today. It is similar to styrofoam but is more delicate and holds a considerable amount of water. Easy to use, this medium allows the arranger to simply push stems into it. Floral foam must be soaked in water before it can be used. Otherwise it will be buoyant and will not secure your arrangement properly.

Floral foam can be found at any craft store. It is quite malleable and is easy to cut to fit the shape of your container.

Popular in the 1920s and 30s, vintage flower frogs are another great way to anchor stems. Placed in the bottom of your vessel, stems are inserted into the holes, indentations or needles of the frogs. If the frog is much smaller than your container, it may need to be secured to the bottom with a little floral putty to keep it from moving around.

Here are some nice examples of vintage metal flower frogs. Picture courtesy of Ellie Campbell of http://froggoestomarket.blogspot.com
Frogs were also made from glass and ceramics and came in different colors, shapes and sizes.  Picture courtesy of Peter Tholl of Crow Ridge Studios.

My collection of vintage frogs is currently packed away and I had no floral foam on hand. I wanted to use a wide-mouth bowl for my arrangement and lacked a way to keep the flowers upright. I remembered seeing my mother use this easy tape technique and thought I’d give it a try.

Simply place tape in a grid pattern across the top of your vessel, making sure the ends are pressed down and secure. Then fill your bowl with water. Try not to get the tape too wet. However if some water gets on the tape, don’t worry. As long as the ends are firmly secured, the grid should stay in place.

Now insert the stems in the grid openings. You don’t have to fill every opening in your grid. Just distribute the flowers evenly and in a pattern that is pleasing to you. This technique is particularly effective for loose, informal arrangements.

My stems were a little short and I had to move them around a bit to get them to stay where I wanted them.
After adjusting my arrangement, the tape ended up getting rather wet. Still the structure held up nicely and the tape didn’t come off until I removed it.

This technique works for most containers with a wide opening. Next time you find yourself without the usual flower arranging tools, remember Scotch tape and flowers go together beautifully!

 

Fizzy Honey Lemonade

Many Fourth of July gatherings include a pitcher of ice cold lemonade. While it’s easy to make lemonade from powdered mixes or frozen concentrates, I don’t think there is any substitute for the real thing. It doesn’t require a tremendous amount of additional work to make lemonade from scratch. If you’re planning to serve up this summertime thirst quencher, here’s an easy way to dress up the standard recipe.

For the past month, our lemon tree has been producing beautiful juicy lemons in abundance. It is a joy to pick them right off the tree in my backyard.

For this recipe, I’ve switched out the sugar for honey and replaced regular water with sparkling water.  The honey pairs beautifully with lemon (think hot tea with lemon and honey) and adds a depth of flavor sugar doesn’t have. The fizz of sparkling water is refreshing and gives the lemonade a little extra pizzazz!

The honey will make this lemonade a little darker than sugar-sweetened lemonade.

 

Fizzy Honey Lemonade (serves 4)

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup honey (light or dark)
  • 1 liter bottle of sparkling water
  • ice and lemon slices

Mix lemon juice and honey together. Pour in sparkling water, add ice, lemon slices and serve.

Give the mixture a good stir to fully dissolve the honey.

Happy Fourth of July!

What could be more refreshing than a tall glass of ice cold lemonade on a summer day?

Coffee Roaster Tour in Hawaii

To the left of the entrance to the cafe, they are experimenting growing coffee plants.

I recently spent a week in beautiful Hawaii. While my husband was cooped up in a conference, I was seeking out some of the wonderful food-related experiences available on the lush island of Oahu!

Because Hawaii is known for its Kona coffee, I wanted to pay a visit to one of the sources of this liquid gold. I discovered Lion Coffee, the nation’s first coffee roaster and distributor.  I was able to see how they roast and package their coffee, and I learned a lot about coffee history in the U.S.

Lion Coffee was founded in Ohio in 1864 by Alvin Woolson as part of The Woolson Spice Company. Mr. Woolson noticed that green coffee beans, shipped over long distances in questionable conditions, wound up being pan roasted in households, often resulting in burnt bitter tasting coffee. His experience in the spice industry gave way to “fancy roasting,” a more reliable and consistent way of roasting coffee beans.  He then ground the roasted beans and began selling the ground coffee in prepackaged one pound bags.

Woolson launched the first great advertising campaign in history by offering customers “promotions” with purchases–picture cards, pins, holiday items, and other trinkets. His promos created buzz about the product and encouraged customer loyalty. Demand became so great that Lion Coffee began distributing coffee through a mail order company. The mail order business was incredibly successful–so much so that the U.S. Post Office had to come up with a new shipping category for “bulk” shipments!

In their cafe, a display of antique roasting and brewing apparatuses dating between the late 1800’s to the 1920’s shows the evolution of roasting, grinding and brewing techniques.

Lion Coffee was purchased by Jim Delano in 1979 and relocated to Honolulu. They launched a website in 1999 and have been delivering coffee to loyal fans all over the world since then.

The master roasters start every day in the cupping room where they taste the previous day’s roast.

My tour started in the cupping room. In this laboratory-like room, Lion’s master roasters perform a cupping ritual every day.  Samples of the previous day’s roast are ground and tasted according to strict protocol for quality control. This daily step ensures that every bag that leaves their facility meets the high standards for which Lion Coffee is known.

My next stop was the warehouse where massive stacks of burlap bags of raw coffee beans were stacked nearly to the ceiling. Much of the coffee is the prized Kona coffee which is grown only in Hawaii. The favorable weather conditions, combined with Hawaii’s mineral-rich, well-drained volcanic soils, create the ideal growing conditions for Kona coffee. Lion Coffee is the largest roaster of Kona coffee in the world.

This is the parchment, or outer hull of the coffee bean. The hulls are very lightweight and look a little like peanuts.

The first step after receiving the coffee beans is to put them through a machine that removes the parchment, a lightweight hull that surrounds the coffee beans. The green beans are then placed in a roasting machine for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees to achieve the perfect roast.

The roasting machine looks a little like a flying saucer and works hard throughout each day roasting the beans that will make their way to stores, hotels and restaurants throughout the country. The smell is glorious!
The beans are constantly swirled during the roasting process to ensure uniformity in color and roast.
The bags are formed from a roll of flat foil lined film.

Once roasted (and sometimes ground), the coffee is sent to a bagging machine. The machine forms the bag from a roll of film, applies the label and a one-way valve. The valve releases the natural gases the coffee produces and keeps air from entering the bag. Any remaining oxygen is forced out of the bag by injecting nitrogen. This ensures that the beans stay fresh. Once bagged and tagged with their golden insignia clip, the coffee is boxed and shipped to various distributors, restaurants, and mail order customers all over the world.

This machine forms the bag from the flat roll and sends it off to be filled with coffee.
These bags await receiving their golden clip, a Lion Coffee signature feature, which helps preserve freshness after opening.

Lion has a complete espresso bar/cafe and a gift shop at the end of the tour. You can sample their various products, enjoy a beverage and a freshly baked pastry, as well as purchase bagged coffee (and tea) to take home.

I ordered my first “nitro-brew,” an iced coffee concoction infused with nitrogen gas to create small bubbles and a foamy head on top of the coffee. This technique makes the coffee richer and creamier than standard coffee brewing techniques and I found it quite delicious.

For a coffee lover like me, touring the roasting facility was educational and gave me a greater appreciation of how my morning cup of java is created. I purchased several bags of this delicious coffee and am now brewing my own Lion coffee at home.

If you would like to purchase Lion coffee yourself, you can buy it at their online store. https://www.hawaiicoffeecompany.com/lioncoffee

The last stop on the tour is their cafe and gift shop where you can sample all their coffees. Lion’s baristas brew up a plethora of delicious coffee drinks. And of course, you can also purchase bagged coffee and tea here.

Note: I have received no compensation from Lion Coffee for this blog. All opinions expressed are my own.

The 2017 Pasadena Showcase House of Design

This rotating garden greeted visitors upon entering the property. The circular disk spun slowly giving movement and life to the walkway. Design by Haynes Landscape Design.
The loggia overlooks the pool and is a relaxing spot off the living room. Design by Ederra Design Studio.

After many years of reading about and ogling photos of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design in national design magazines, I finally was able to see it in person. Founded in 1948 as a fund raiser for the arts, this project has become a major annual event that draws people from all over the United States, and indeed the world. It features the area’s best designers, landscapers, architects, and artists at their best. It is an “over the top” experience for those of us passionate about design.

The blue and white living room is a beautifully proportioned room with a fresh coastal feel. Design by Robert Frank Interiors.

The featured home for 2017 was a stunning 8,000 square foot English Tudor style mansion built in 1916 designed for actor Samuel Hinds, best known for playing Peter Bailey in the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The house has been featured in numerous movies and television programs such as “Beaches,” “Mad Men”, “Parks and Recreation” and more recently, “La La Land.”

The master bedroom suite features a drop-down flat-screen television hidden in the ceiling! Design by Home Front Build, Inc.
The level of detail continued outside of the main house and is shown in the brass bumblebee door knobs and honeycomb leaded glass doors to the Bee’s Bliss Cottage. Design and photo by Rose Thicket Botanical Design House.

This is a large scale event that includes so much more than just a house. The outdoor areas included a lagoon style swimming pool, loggia, bee keeper’s cottage, numerous patios, waterfalls, and stunning gardens. The organizers enhanced the experience by including a cadre of carefully selected vendors in an outdoor market called “The Shops.” Vendors sold home decor items, clothing, designer jewelry, linens, natural bath and skin care products, and local gourmet foods. And in case all that design inspiration and shopping stirred your appetite, the organizers also set up a full service restaurant, bar and bistro on the grounds!

The vaulted ceiling in the grand staircase was designed and printed on fabric to resemble Trompe-l’oeil, while the tree landscape on walls at the base of the stairs was hand painted to give the illusion of looking through a window. Design by L’Esperance Design.
Design by Jessica Today Designs.

Built at an original cost of $25,000, the house is believed to have last been renovated sometime in the 1950’s. Fortunately the designers and contractors saved and restored many of the original bones of the house including the leaded and stained glass windows, carved newel posts and balustrades, elaborate wood paneling throughout the first floor, a jaw-dropping arched stairwell ceiling with corner grotesques (reminiscent of a European cathedral!) and an amazing ironwork entry door.

But it was the level of detail added by the designers that most impressed me. I loved the hand painted ceiling in the lady’s office, the pull out ironing board cabinet in the laundry room, the bee motif door knobs and honeycomb leaded glass motif on the doors to the beekeeper’s cottage. I loved the emphasis on original art which added so much personality to every room. While each designer clearly expressed their own aesthetics, the house maintained flow and felt cohesive.

 

The laundry room is large, light-filled, and features a small powder room. It also houses my favorite practical feature in the entire showcase house–a pullout ironing board and broom storage cabinet. Design by Dana Triano Designs.

 

Photos courtesy of Dana Triano Designs.

Design by D. Christjan Fine Cabinetry Design and Manufacturing.

If your city has a major design showcase house or if you can make it out to Pasadena next year, I encourage you to go. You will leave feeling inspired and with the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a contribution towards furthering a good cause in your community.

Note:  Photographs courtesy of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design except as noted. Photographer Peter Christiansen Valli.

In the Shakespeare Garden, a mosaic was created using succulents, drought tolerant plants ideally suited to the climate of Pasadena. Design by GreenLink Landscaping and John’s Tree and Landscaping.

Creating a Gallery Wall

Do you have a hallway or stairwell wall that is currently empty because you can’t figure out what type of artwork would work there? Do you have family photos that you’d like to display but can’t figure out how to do it in a tasteful way? Or perhaps you have a mishmash of disparate pieces of art and photographs that don’t seem to go together and need a way to display them?  A gallery wall just might be the solution!

We recently purchased two sofas for our family room which necessitated a room makeover. Suddenly the wall that formerly was taken up by our television was now blank. Because this wall faces the living room and is immediately visible upon entering the family room, I wanted the wall to make a statement.

Here is the room before the new sofas arrived. The modern sofas were from our previous home and didn’t go well in our 1927 Spanish style house.
With the new sofas and the television moved to the wall with the window, you can see how empty the wall now looks.

I did a quick inventory of my home to see what artwork I had on hand that might be useful. I had a few larger pieces in neutral black, white and sepia tones, all framed in black  I knew I had a few smaller black frames in storage and that I could easily put together a gallery wall which would make a statement in the space.

Here are the steps to creating a gallery wall.

  1.  Curate your art.  While gallery walls can be a mixture of frame styles, colors, and different types of artwork, I decided to put together a mostly black, white and sepia toned color scheme to create a calm effect. Adding in dimensional pieces, such as the coral in the shadowbox and the square shelf box shown in the picture below, creates interest and adds texture.
  2. Lay out the artwork on the floor.  Play around with the layout until you find an arrangement that looks balanced. You don’t want things to line up too perfectly in this style arrangement so don’t worry about making the spaces between frames exactly the same. Mix up your frame orientation with some hanging horizontally and others vertically. You can also mix in different shapes, e.g., a round or oval frame. Adding in a mirror or small shelf can add interest.
  3. Take a photograph. Once you are happy with your layout on the floor, take a picture as a reference to transfer the layout to the wall. While your original layout doesn’t have to be set in stone, you will refer to it often as a guide.
  4. Make templates.  It takes a little extra time to do this but it is well worth it.  I cut out templates from newspaper for each frame and marked where the nails would go in red marker so that it would be easy for me to hang the artwork once in place.

    If you mark where the nail should go on your templates before attaching them to the wall, you will find it makes hanging the pictures a breeze.
  5.  Transfer the layout to your wall using painter’s tape.  Attach the templates to the wall following the layout from your photograph. You will probably need to adjust the spacing a few times before you get it right, but the painter’s tape makes it easy to move the templates around. Better to play with the layout using tape than with nails in the wall!

    I used a combination of photography, pencil drawings, fabric, and natural objects that all had meaning to me. The black frames and color scheme unify what could have been a random looking assortment.
  6. Nail it down. Once you are pleased with the layout of your templates, go ahead and put nails in the spots you have marked in red.
  7. Peel the templates off the wall and hang your pictures.  Use a level to make sure each item hangs level as even one picture out of square can make the whole display look disheveled.

    Notice that open spaces remain where new pieces can be added at a later time if desired.

This is project that is especially effective in stairwells, hallways, or other areas that can be difficult for which to select artwork. Family photographs can look especially artistic on a gallery wall if they are printed in black and white (or sepia tones) and framed in a similar manner. A gallery wall provides limitless options for displaying your artwork in a unique and interesting manner.

It’s a difficult job keeping the cat out of the photo shoot!

Do you have a spot in your home that would look great with a gallery wall?

Two 2 Ingredient Desserts

No, that’s not a typo. Today I’m going to share with you two desserts that literally have two ingredients each. They are both healthy, delicious and super easy!

Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding

I realize chia seed pudding has been around for a little while, but I was recently introduced to it by a vegan friend. It immediately became a go-to dessert and occasional breakfast for me.

Here’s the recipe (serves one):

  • 1 cup of vanilla coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds

Just stir these two ingredients together until the seeds are incorporated throughout the coconut milk and refrigerate. It will take a minimum of 2 hours for the seeds to swell up, absorb the milk and become gelatinous. I find it’s best to put the mixture in a covered container and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The vanilla coconut milk contains some sugar but if you want a sugar free version, use plain unsweetened coconut milk. You can always add a little stevia, maple syrup, honey or agave if you prefer it sweeter.

I added some toasted coconut chips and a sprig of mint as a garnish.

To make a more decadent version of this pudding, try adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder, a pinch of instant coffee, and a tablespoon of coconut or nuts. For a fruity version, add a sliced banana or a handful of berries. Or switch out the coconut milk with almond, soy or regular milk. The options are endless and can be tailored to your tastes and dietary needs.

Two Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

The bananas should be very ripe with lots of brown spots. This makes the ice cream sweet without the need for added sugar.

I stumbled upon this recipe when I was making banana bread. I had frozen some bananas (skins removed) that were very ripe in order to preserve them for use at a later time. I needed to puree the bananas for my banana bread and had let them thaw slightly. I put them in my food processor to puree and realized they needed a little liquid so I added a small amount of half and half. I gave it a whirl and noticed that the mixture immediately became fluffy and custard-like, very similar to soft serve ice cream. And when I went to lick the bowl, I found it tasted just like banana ice cream. It was sweet, creamy and oh so good!

Here’s the recipe.

  • 3 very ripe frozen bananas
  • 1/4 cup half and half

Put the slightly thawed bananas and half and half in a food processor and blend until creamy and smooth. No sugar is needed if your bananas are very ripe. This recipe makes two generous servings.

If you want to make a dairy free version of this recipe, try using coconut cream instead of half and half. For extra deliciousness, toss in a handful of cocoa nibs, chocolate chips, or nuts. Add a drizzle of caramel sauce to take it to another level!

Since there are no stablizers (guar gum) in this ice cream, it does tend to melt rather quickly. If you put your serving dish in the freezer for 10 minutes prior to serving, it will help delay melting.

The best part is that you can enjoy both of these yummy desserts without guilt. They are gluten free, sugar free, and can be made dairy free and vegan with simple substitutions. I urge you to give them a try. They just might become your “go two” desserts too.

 

 

Mother’s Day Memories

As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect upon and pay tribute to my own mother. My mom passed away at the age of 80, nearly six years ago. While her impact on my life is felt constantly, I feel her influence most when I’m in the kitchen.

My mother didn’t consider herself a “good cook.” She always said she felt embarrassed to take dishes to church picnics and family gatherings because she thought other people’s food tasted better than hers. (I’ve since come to realize all good cooks think this way!)  While she would, of course, have an occasional failure, I loved her food and thought she was a wonderful cook.

How I wish I had a picture of me as a child in the kitchen with my mother! But there were no cell phone cameras back then and we never thought to take pictures of such mundane activities.

For everyday meals my mother rarely used a recipe, and mostly prepared the native North Carolina dishes she had learned from her grandmother. Her southern cooking wasn’t particularly “healthy” by today’s standards. She used lard and seasoned with fatback; she made fried chicken for supper almost every Sunday, and we had bacon or sausage and eggs for breakfast every single day. She knew how to use all the stray parts of an animal.  Ever heard of souse, also known as head cheese? Yep, she made that! By no means could she be considered a ‘gourmet,’ but my mother cooked three nourishing meals a day every single day when I was growing up.  Fortunately for me, she was always patient and generous in sharing her knowledge.

At 14 months, I wasn’t big enough to help in the kitchen yet.

Here are just a few cooking basics that I learned from my mom:

  • The big “T” stands for tablespoon
  • The small “t” stands for teaspoon
  • How to separate an egg yolk from the white
  • It is important to sift flour and cocoa powder when baking
  • How to whip egg whites and cream
  • How to test a cake for doneness
  • Not to over-mix pancake or muffin batter
  • Browned food equals flavorful food
  • Rinse out cans to get every last bit of goodness
  • It’s okay to take risks and make substitutions, improvising with what you have on hand. (This is a lesson for life as well!)

Over the years I’ve certainly added to this knowledge base and have challenged myself with far more complex recipes and techniques than she ever attempted, but those new skills could only be acquired after knowing the basics. She gave me a solid base on which to build.

In memory of my mother, Vada McLamb Dawson, June 15, 1930 – May 28, 2011.

Yes, one can certainly Google the answers to any cooking-related question nowadays. Cooking programs on television and cookbooks are abundant and are terrific sources of information. But Google can never replace the beautiful memories I have of learning how to cook at my mother’s side. And no cooking program or book can ever replicate the bond that grew from the time we spent together in the kitchen.