Sunday, August 24, 2014

Contentment...A Year in the Making

Most blogs take me a couple of hours to write, re-write and edit. This one took a year. It's been almost 365 days since I had to close the door of the house where my family made a life for 19 years. Fifty two weeks since I locked the door, handed the keys to a new family, climbed into a rental truck and not look back. There were probably tears, but I most remember how hard my heart was pounding in my chest as I pulled onto the road. And it's a busy street. A road so heavily traveled that for the past 19 years, it was usually hard to get out of the driveway...but strangely, not that day. The life I knew was gone and there was no traffic to stop me from pulling onto the highway. Solo.

Tiger lamps! And a window covered with furniture!
A year later, the why's, the who's, the how's, and the fact that there are still more questions than answers, don't hold the relevance they once did. I've moved on. I moved up, I've moved mountains. I once read "You'll never know how strong you are, until strong is your only choice." I held onto that thought for so many anxious days and sleepless nights. When the thought of living on my own for the first time ever was too overwhelming, I would whisper to myself "stay strong."
NEVER cover a window!

Months before the old house sold, I had planned and paid for a trip to Maine with my friends. As it happened, the trip ended up being less than 14 hours after I made settlement on my new home. As my sons and friends were unpacking the truck, I was literally rifling through boxes for clothes to pack into a suitcase. In practicality, the timing couldn't have been worse. In reality, the timing couldn't have been better. Climbing into a car full of friends for seven days of laughter, lobster and wine was apparently just what I needed. Like an astronaut looking back on an earth getting smaller, distance gave me the perspective I needed to let go of the pain, the worry, the anger...and to exhale.

My home, my colors!
...And I've been breathing it all in ever since. First up? Making this new place, a place to call home. It was so important to me to create a home base for my sons. Both of them out of the house, with lives of their owns, I wanted them to walk in and feel the warmth of the many holidays and Sunday dinners that they knew in the house that they were raised. Breaking up a home was not my choice. But creating one was now my responsibility. I also wanted to make an investment that would one day be passed onto them. And this may have been even more important to me then them, but it gave me purpose. And that was all I needed to get started!

Wallpaper, linoleum floor, old appliances...all had to go! 
In short, the place I was trying to create this haven in was ugly. There is no other word. Jungle green walls stained with the outline of spears that they had removed. The carpet was nasty. Black and pink wallpapered kitchen with outdated appliances, and a poster of a Native American Indian glued to the wall over the sink.

Now, I'm an earth tone kind of girl. Always have been, always will be. So, first order of business was to get busy with the warm hues of creams and taupe, hardwood floors, and oriental carpeting. I'm not a designer, but I knew what would be me happy. And more importantly, make me content.

And with all that needed to be done, what surprised me the most was my ability to do things that I never thought I could do. I think there is an undiscovered ability in all of us that lies dormant until necessity calls for it. And trust me, it was called for! First off, to get rid of the house-wide jungle motif, every room had to be painted, and I hate painting. I tend to do it fast so I'll finish quickly. The end result is never good, and I end up looking like I had painted the Sistine Chapel. But, I learned to take my time and just get through it. My sister Betty, who has a very steady hand, painstakingly did all the trim work while instructing me to slow down on the walls. (Keeping her quiet was my other motivation to do it right!)

Wall down, granite countertops, tiled backsplash!  Home!
As many readers who followed the transformation know, I created a basement workshop and supplied it with tools and such. I watched YouTube instructional videos for everything from hanging blinds to taking down a wall.

The cost of renovation was quickly eroding my portion of the equity from the house we sold, and I had to learn the "how-to''s of home ownership best I could. I took a few carpentry classes at Home Depot and hired contractors only when I absolutely needed to (such as anything to do with electric). There is still work to be done, but it is mostly limited to bathrooms that not many see, and I need to replenish my funds before I continue.

Looking back, my need, my almost obsessiveness, with working day and night to get this place to reflect my taste, probably had more to do with me, then making it appealing for my family and friends. I'm sure of it now. I had to leave a home I loved, and I just couldn't live in one that I didn't. And now I do. Actually, I may be too comfortable here. Sometimes, I find myself making excuses to stay in. With so much help from family and friends, several gallons of paint, the warmth of wood flooring, and a kitchen I can really cook in, I'm home. I am grateful for this in every way possible.

Now, this next year will be all about breaking out! I have always told my boys to trust their instincts. That 99% of the time, that special inner being is right. Well, my instincts are telling me that there is something on the horizon. Something just outside of my comfort zone! Something that will force me to inhale, catch my breath, and whisper the two words that got me here.

 "Stay strong."

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Sunday Mixture of Olives and Sawdust?

If you don't like olives (and there are a strange few who don't) I encourage you to move on. Because this recipe celebrates olives in all of their splendor. It also helped make my Sunday a little more exciting.

As I have wrapped up phase one of home renovations projects, (phase two being bathrooms when budget allows), I found myself both so restless and clueless on what to do on a cooler than normal August Sunday afternoon, that I actually cleaned the basement. This was sorely needed since sanding down a chest I bought at a yard sale... three times. Once, because it was 50 years old, and then twice, because I didn't like the first two finishes I applied. All I can say is that it is a good thing I purchased a small Shop-Vac because wood dust was everywhere! But, it's clean now and my work table sits waiting for the next project.

That being said, with most of the day still ahead of me, I went back upstairs, into my almost new kitchen and realized "it's time to cook again." I routinely go through newspapers (remember them?) and magazines for recipes that look like they are both easily prepared and packed with flavor. I often put my own spin on them before passing them on, but a recipe I found in a Philadelphia newspaper last week needed little tweaking!  It was perfect and delicious.

Linguine with Green Olive Tapenade and Sausage

3/4 cup of pitted green olives
1 glove garlic
1 anchovy fillet (rinse)
1 tablespoon capers (drained)
1 tsp of lemon zest
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (good quality Parmesan cheese does not come in a green container)
2 cups of baby arugula leaves


  1. Put the olives, garlic, anchovy, capers and lemon zest in food processor to form a paste. Add a little olive oil if needed for consistency. (I will admit, you can buy olive tapenade already prepared in a jar. But it was a Sunday, and I had all afternoon). Also, I added a pinch of red pepper flakes into my mixture because as I get older, my palate requires a kick start now and then!
  2. Cook the linguine in a large boiling pot of salted water along with a drop of oil to prevent the strands from sticking. The pasta is usually al dente in around 9 or 10 minutes. Taste.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, simmer the sausages over medium heat until golden brown and cooked through. I have come to like Italian chicken sausage more than the pork variety. But please use whatever your preference is. Slice cooked sausage into bite-sized portions.
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta in a bowl and mix in the tapenade so the strands are coated, here is where you may need to add a little of the pasta water to moisten the sauce. Now, toss in the sliced sausage and cheese, and mix again. Serve with a topping of arugula! 

Now, I will admit that it was the olives that attracted me to this dish. My entire family (with the exceptions of my sons - I don't know what their problem is), loves
olives. We even make something that we call "olive salad" which is made entirely of olives, celery, garlic and spices. We'll get back to this in the fall. But for now, take a look at this amazing recipe! It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen (and to keep me out of the basement)!

Photos courtesy of GoogleImage & Jo Ann Phelps

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Summer Soups...Why We Need Them!

Great between meals snack! Or have it for dinner!
Not having a functional kitchen for several weeks stifled my ability to cook.  But with kitchen renovation compete, it's now time to get back to doing my thing (which most times includes) making some soup. Yes, I know it is still summer, but I am trying hard to treat my body as well as I did my kitchen...upgrade, update and renovate my own eating habits. And my research has shown that a cup of lean soup between meals is a perfect way to stay on track. My life is all about protein right now. And I have two recipes that will help me stay to the "six small meals a day" recommended to keep energy levels up and blood sugar spikes down! Spiking is what causes the body to store fat while increasing the need to take a nap. Since they frown on napping at work, I'm making an effort to be productive all day!

Since company comes first, I will introduce to my new FAVORITE recipe created in the Williams Sonoma kitchens, Pastina & Kale Soup with Andouille Sausage! It has everything, flavor, protein, garlic (yes, I added a touch of white wine), and the new super food, Kale! So easy to make. It clicks all the boxes on what's good, and what's good for you!

Pastina and Kale Soup with Andouille
1 cup small soup pasta,such as acini di peppe, orzo or dittalini
3 links Andouille sausage, about 10 oz.
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch kale, (in spite of its new popularity , if you're not into kale, spinach would work as well) ribs removed, leaves chopped
4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l) chicken broth
1 Tbs. tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain and set aside. 
In a large, heavy pot, cook the sausage over medium heat until no longer pink in the center, about 15 minutes. Remove from the pot and cut into slices 1⁄4 inch. 
Add the oil to the pot and warm over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the kale, stir to coat and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the pasta, sausage and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve, topped with the Parmesan. Serves 4.

Ham, Bean and Cabbage Soup
My personal favorite soup!
This next recipe is all mine. I love ham and bean soup (which use to include a crusty baguette and ton of butter!) But I've changed my diet and menu, and some of the ingredients to accommodate my goal to ingest less starch, such as switching from navy beans to baby Lima beans. (So good!) I also included cabbage in this soup because it is a great um...cleansing source, especially along side of the beans. You could easily leave it out, still a great soup, I just added it as a tribute to an old Weight Watchers "Cabbage Soup" recipe because of all the benefits. Also, something I just excitedly learned recently, I don't always have the need to cook a large ham, but if you have a Honey Bake Ham Company retail store near you, they sell large ham bones for like $3.99 a bag. They store well in the freezer too!  

1 lb of dried baby lima beans
6-8 cups of water
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 small sweet yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
½ head of cabbage, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 ham bone or (if not available) 2 ham hock, extra fat remove from the outside of the hock
6 cups of chicken stock
1 large can chopped tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Overnight Soak: Rinse and sort the beans. Add 6-8 cups of cold water to 1 pound of dried baby lima beans. Let stand overnight or at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse the beans. Side Note: If you don't have time to do an overnight soak, try the quick soak method: Rinse and sort the beans. Add 6-8 cups of water to 1 pound of dried beans. Bring water to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat; cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans.
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, & celery. Cook for 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds before adding stock, can of tomatoes. drained beans, ham or ham hock, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Cover and cook over low heat for at least 3 1/2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. Slowly break up the ham from the bone a little every time you stir the soup then remove any fat or bone from the ham bone or ham hock along the way.
Remove the lid from the pan for 30 minutes prior to serving, making sure all fat and bone have been removed from the soup. Re-season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste.
And there you have it! Two great soups that, with a little tweaking, will become a healthy addition to your daily menus, regardless of what time of year it is! 

Photo's by GoggleImage and JoAnn Phelps