Monday, April 14, 2014

Favorite Cleaning Products

What is it about spring that makes us want to give the house a thorough cleaning? This year, my urge for a spring cleaning binge arrived before spring did. Several weeks ago, I took everything out of the refrigerator, wiped down all shelves and surfaces (how does dog hair get to the back of the inside of the fridge anyway?), threw out anything old or out of date, and reorganized. I bought some clear plastic trays at Target, which are perfect for stashing large and small containers of yogurt and bags of nuts. All I have to do is pull out the tray to see what we have -- much easier than trying to remember what's behind the large container in the front! A third tray in the freezer stores bags of shredded cheeses and cubes of leftover tomato paste. I love having things organized.

Using the right cleaning products is a must when cleaning house. Above are some of our favorite cleaners: Caldrea liquid hand soap in a wonderful ginger pomelo scent; Oreck Glass & Mirror Cleaner (we discovered this years ago when we bought our vacuum and it works better than anything else I've tried); Stainless Steel Magic to keep the stove and dishwasher free of smudges and fingerprints; Bar Keepers Friend for making the stainless steel kitchen sink shiny and bright (it can also be used on tubs, sinks, toilets, tile, grout and more); Simple Green (my husband's personal favorite along with Charlie's Soap, not pictured); and Shaklee Basic-H concentrated organic cleanser (I've had this bottle so long, the packaging is old and it's now called Basic H2 Organic Super Cleaning Concentrate). Shaklee products are great and I've been using them for years. To learn more about Basic H2, go to this web page.

I also like Seventh Generation products. Their dish liquid in fresh citrus and ginger scent smells great, their dishwasher detergent works well, and their disinfecting multi-surfacce cleaner "kills over 99.99% of household germs, specifically Influenza A virus, H1N1, Rhinovirus (type 37, the common cold virus), Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli on hard, nonpourous surfaces," according to the product label. Wow, that's a lot of stuff for a botanically based product. It contains Thymol, present as a component of thyme oil -- so if you don't like the smell of thyme, you may not like this. I had to get used to the smell at first, but now I like it.

So tell me, what cleaning products are your favorites and why do you swear by them? 

Monday, April 7, 2014

A New Piece of Art

Hi there. Remember me? Sorry, I've been gone a while. In the month of March I only posted once to My Little Bungalow. Wow, where did the time go?

I hope your weekend was lovely. Ours was very enjoyable: good food, good art and a couple of good film festival movies. I love this time of year -- there's always so much going on. 

On Friday evening, we ate at our favorite pizza restaurant downtown. They make amazing Neapolitan-style pizzas in a special wood-fired oven -- they even use a particular flour from Naples. The pizzas have a thick, chewy crust that gets blackened in spots from the wood-burning oven. My husband had a pizza with garlic and clams (no tomato sauce -- LOTS of garlic) and I had the cremini mushroom with smoked mozzarella (also no tomato sauce). A bottle of chianti went perfectly with our meal. On previous visits, we've enjoyed a classic margherita pizza, a tomato and basil pizza without cheese, and a red onion, asiago cheese and pistachio pizza. All have been delicious! We're also hooked on the wonderful roasted cauliflower wedge with creamy goat cheese sauce.

After dinner, we walked two blocks to our town's monthly gallery hop, which brings folks downtown to enjoy the galleries and shops that stay open until 10 pm. The evening was beautiful: 75 degrees with a strong breeze that made it feel like we were at the beach. It was the perfect night for a stroll.

At one of the first galleries we entered, we both fell for a charcoal drawing and, after a little discussion, decided to purchase it. We don't buy art very often -- it feel like such a splurge -- but we knew it would be a great piece in our living room. We also love the idea of supporting local artists. The artist who drew this is also the gallery owner. She was quite attached to this piece, telling us that for a long time it wasn't for sale. As we left with the drawing, we told her it would have a good home ... I'm not sure if she was happy or sad, but I'm pretty sure she was choking up. It actually made me feel a little guilty, like we were taking away her baby.

As it turns out, the artist and I are both fans of the painter Franz Kline. I love bold black and white abstract art, and the emotion and energy in this drawing (titled A Way Out) really appeals to me. It's definitely the most modern piece of art we now own, which is a fun departure for us. We love how it looks on the mantel between the antique clock and vintage vase.

On the far right of the mantel is one of my favorite things: a battery-operated Luminara candle I purchased in December. I love this candle with its realistic flickering "flame." It even has a timer. We have it set to come on at 6 pm each evening and it runs for five hours before shutting off. Now that the days are staying lighter longer, I'll take it off timer mode, but in the winter it's so nice to come home to realistic candlelight, and you don't have to worry about blowing it out before going to bed. I'd like to buy one for the dining room, and next winter I may buy another one for the living room. They are a little expensive, but totally worth it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Meyer Lemon Tart with Gingersnap Crust

Tarts look hard to make, but they really aren't. And they always look fancy, don't you think? 

Over the weekend I received my March issue of Country Living magazine in the mail. When I saw this Meyer lemon tart in the recipe section, I knew I had to make it. Back in January, we received a number of Meyer lemons from a neighbor who brought them back from his parents' house in Florida. I still had three lemons in the refrigerator that needed to be used. They were big, juicy lemons, and this tart calls for only 1/3 cup of fresh juice. So I took the rest of the juice -- a full cup -- and froze it in a ziplock bag for use later on.

The crust is made from gingersnap cookie crumbs. I crushed most of the cookies into a fine crumb using a marble rolling pin, but some larger pieces remained in the mixture. Next time I might use a food processor. Those gingersnaps are really hard cookies and it took me forever to get them to the crumb stage! I'll also mention that I had to cook the egg/lemon mixture for almost 11 minutes before it began to thicken (the recipe says 6 to 8 minutes).

Not shown in the photos is an almost-flavored whipped cream I made later that evening and dolloped onto the slices. I really love the sweet/tart flavor of the lemon filling in contrast to the spiciness of the gingersnap crust. Yum! This recipe is a keeper. 

If you'd like to try making this tart, here is the link to the Country Living website. Enjoy!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Knitting Class

One of my goals for 2014 was to take a knitting class so I can advance beyond the basic garter stitch and scarf making. Since winter is my favorite time to knit, I decided to sign up for a 4-week class that met for two hours on Thursday nights starting in mid-January. I'm amazed at how much I learned in a total of only 8 hours! 

Below are my two practice swatches. The first photo shows four different patterns. At the bottom is the basic garter stitch (knit every row). The next one up is the stockinette stitch (knit one row, purl one row). Next is a 2x2 rib (knit two stitches, purl two stitches), and finally, at the top, is seed stitch, which looks prettier in person.

The next swatch shows the beginnings of a cable knit, which uses a special cable needle inserted every so often and creates the raised portion of the cable. I still cannot wrap my mind around how this actually works, and for someone who likes to understand how things work, this is frustrating. As I'm knitting, I find myself asking, "Who came up with this in the first place?" Do you ever wonder about things like that?

In addition to these great patterns, I also learned eyelet, which is how you create a hole or space in your work. Lacy knit garments are made using eyelet. On the practical side, I learned how to follow a pattern, how to increase and decrease (necessary when making a garment) and how to "unknit," or backtrack to a mistake in order to fix it. I also learned how to use a crochet hook to correct a dropped stitch -- very important. Now I'm ready to start a new project that will allow me to practice all that I've learned!

Do you knit, or do you want to learn how to knit? If so, I highly recommend it. Knitting is fun, challenging and good for you. How is it good for you? Well, I'm told that knitting requires one to use both sides of the brain, so it's a great way to keep one's mind active and healthy. And the results are so rewarding. What could be better than to give a handmade scarf to a friend for her birthday or a knitted baby blanket to an expectant mother. If you're thinking of learning to knit, do it now -- don't wait! Check out my Knitting board on Pinterest for some inspiration.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gold Medal Granola

Last night, as I was watching the winter Olympics, I decided I would call this post "Gold Medal Granola." Not because I've won any medals for it, but because in my book it gets the gold. 

Granola is one of my favorite things to make. It smells incredible while baking and the homemade variety is more delicious than anything you can buy commercially. 

This recipe features pecans and dried fruit. It's my husband's favorite snack. You can add chocolate chips if you like, but we prefer the cinnamon, pecans and fruit to stand out. Why not make a batch this week to snack on as you enjoy watching the Olympics!

Pecan and Dried Fruit Granola

1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use canola oil)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey (use the best quality honey you can buy, organic if possible)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3 cups rolled oats
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans (or almonds, if you prefer)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup mixed dried fruit

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or coat with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine vegetable oil, light brown sugar, honey, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Add the oats and pecans and stir to combine. Divide mixture between sheets. Bake 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the coconut, dividing evenly between the two sheets, and bake until mixture is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Let cool completely on sheets. Stir in the mixed dried fruit. Store in an airtight container up to 3 weeks.

Per 1/4 cup without chocolate chips: 158 cal; 9 g fat (2 g saturated); 2 g protein; 18 g carb; 2 g fiber.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Strawberry-Oat-Almond Smoothie

We make a lot of smoothies around here, and this strawberry-oat-almond smoothie is a new favorite of mine. It's thick and delicious and makes for a healthy start to the day. It's from Everyday Food; watch the video here and also see how to make a spinach-peach smoothie, which may be next on my list. 

To make this strawberry-oat-almond smoothie, simply combine:
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries (I use frozen from the bags and bags of berries we pick each spring)
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup fat-free or low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
Blend until smooth. 

There will be some small bits of almond in the smoothie, making it more substantial than most smoothies. My husband also noticed that if you let it sit a while, it thickens up, probably due to the oats, so I recommend drinking it right away. If you want a thinner consistency, I suppose you could add some milk or almond milk. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

8-Layer Dip for Game Day

Whether or not you plan to watch the Superbowl this weekend, this 8-layer dip is wonderful to make for any gathering, any time of the year. It's easy and delicious -- and fairly healthy with its fresh tomatoes, avocados and lettuce. I always use vegetarian refried beans made without lard. You could also try refried black beans to change it up a bit.

In a mixing bowl, combine a 16-ounce can of refried beans with 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice and 2 tablespoons water. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and spread evenly.

Top the beans with: 1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream; 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese; 4.5-ounces canned chopped green chiles; 1 or 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped; half an avocado, diced small; some shredded Romaine lettuce; and 2 thinly sliced scallions. Serve with tortilla chips, and enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meyer Lemon-Infused Vodka

Here's what I chose to do with some of the Meyer lemons I mentioned in my last post. I made infused vodka. Simply wash the lemons thoroughly, peel them and insert the peel into a bottle of vodka. Let steep for 1 to 2 weeks. The vodka turns a pale yellow. I had some the other evening with cranberry juice, which makes a tasty cocktail. Cheers!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Citrus Fruits

A neighbor friend of ours spent the holidays in Florida at his parents' house and brought home a ton of citrus fruit -- at least it seemed like a ton. He gave us a bunch of grapefruit, which I love to eat in the morning. Remember this post about my grandmother's old bamboo-handled grapefruit spoons? They're so handy.

He also brought us some Meyer lemons, below, which I'd never had before, and frankly wasn't sure what to do with. I researched Meyer lemons and learned from Wikipedia that they are native to China and thought to be a cross between a true lemon and either a mandarin or common orange. They were introduced to the U.S. in 1908 by Frank Meyer, an employee of the US Department of Agriculture, who collected a sample of the plant during a trip to China.

I squeezed the lemon juice and froze it for future use. I also used the peel to try something new, which I'll share in my next post. Stay tuned ...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Vanilla Cakelets

This recipe was on the packaging of my new mini fluted cakelet pan, which I bought at Williams-Sonoma during their after-Christmas sale (because I don't have enough bakeware already -- ha!). These little cakes are so pretty with powdered sugar dusted on top. A simple powdered sugar glaze drizzled over them would also be nice. 

Ingredients (all at room temperature):
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
Confectioners' sugar (for dusting)

1) Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour the wells of a mini fluted cakelet pan; tap out excess flour.
2) Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. 
3) In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla until just incorporated.
4) Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with milk, and beginning and ending with flour. Beat each addition until just incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Do not overmix.
5) Spoon batter into prepared wells, about 1/3 cup each. Spread batter so the centers aren't higher than the sides. Bake until cakelets are lightly golden, and a toothpick inserted between edge and center of a cakelet comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes.
6) Gently loosen cakelets from pan. Using a serrated knife, carefully saw off the rounded bottom of each cake to make a flat surface. Place cut side down on wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar or drizzle with icing just before serving.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A New Knitting Project

I started a new knitting project last month. I'm making yet another scarf, in a really pretty color. For me, a good deal of the fun is in daydreaming about what color and what type of yarn to use. Once I'm in the knitting shop though, the choices are overwhelming. 

On this particular visit, my goal was to buy an earth-toned yarn, maybe in a shade of brown or rust. I left with something very different: this rich raspberry-colored yarn in a merino-silk blend. I'm using size 5 needles. I enjoy working with smaller needles and a finer yarn. The final product has a tighter weave. One day I'd love to be able to knit a baby's sweater or pair of booties with these needles. I just adore hand-knitted baby's clothes, and have pinned several sweet photos to my Knitting board on Pinterest.

Our local knitting shop offers classes, and I've signed up for a course that starts next week. I hope the classes will help me advance my knitting skills so I can finally make something other than scarves, such as a pair of socks, some fingerless gloves or a cap for my husband. I know how to cast on and bind off and the knit stitch, but I need to master the purl stitch (I taught myself once using an online video, but quickly forgot), and learn how to follow a pattern.

So there it is. My first goal for 2014 is to advance my knitting skills and make something other than a scarf. What goals do you have for the New Year?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Faux Fur for Cold Nights

I'll start by saying this: I am an animal lover, and very opposed to the use of real fur in clothing or decorating. In fact, when I was in my early 20s, I gave my then-boyfriend's mother a lecture on why fur coats were cruel and unnecessary -- right after she had made a comment about her mink coat! Needless to say, that relationship didn't last. 

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of faux fur throws in decorating (like in Joan's beautiful and cozy barn room), and I've been drawn to them, but at the same time, conflicted. While I know they're not real fur, they do feel and look real. Part of me felt like it's wrong to desire even faux fur. On the other hand, I really love the look of a faux fur throw, and I could only imagine how warm one would be on a cold night in our drafty old house. 

After debating this in my head for several months, I ordered a Luxe Faux Fur Throw in "coyote" from Restoration Hardware, on sale.  (By the way, it bothers me that they use the name of an animal to describe the color. I'd much prefer "medium brown.")

I received the throw a few days before Christmas, and I'm very pleased with it. The size is substantial and perfect for snuggling and napping. It's very warm, with a nice velvety-soft fabric lining. It looks and feels so realistic that I have to keep telling myself it's fake, just so I won't feel bad about having it.

I'm very glad I didn't order the throw I was going to buy from Pottery Barn. It was backordered online, which is why I looked elsewhere. The other day I was in a PB store and saw the throw in person. It's not nearly as nice (doesn't feel or look as real) as the one I purchased from Restoration Hardware. 

So what's your opinion of man-made faux fur? Are you a fan? Or do you say "no" to anything resembling fur, even the faux variety?

Before I go, I want to wish everyone a very happy New Year. May 2014 bring you peace, good health and prosperity.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Lighter Rice Pudding with Cardamom

Rice pudding is one of my favorite comfort foods, and the winter months are all about comfort food, right? This rice pudding recipe is very satisfying and delicious, yet it's "lighter" because it uses skim milk instead of whole milk and cream. And it features one of my favorite spices: cardamom! The recipe calls for long-grain white rice, but I used basmati because I didn't have long-grain white rice on hand (we prefer basmati, jasmine and brown rices). I think rice pudding made with brown rice would be delicious, and with its higher fiber and mineral content, brown rice would be a healthier choice. Cooking times will vary according to which type of rice you use.

1 cup basmati or long-grain white rice
6 cups skim milk
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup golden raisins
Note: If you don't like raisins, you can substitute pistachios or almonds. If you don't care for cardamom, try cinnamon.

1. In a large saucepan, combine rice and 5 cups of the skim milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender, 15 to 17 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla, cardamom and remaining cup of milk. Slowly pour egg mixture into rice mixture and cook over medium-low, stirring constantly, until pudding coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Note: this step took me a lot longer, closer to 14 minutes, before the mixture was thickened.

3. Remove from heat and stir in raisins. Pour pudding into a casserole dish or large bowl. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days. Serve garnished with more raisins and a sprinkling of cardamom.
Recipe adapted from Everyday Food

I hope you had a very merry and peaceful holiday. Here's wishing you and your family a happy, healthy New Year! See you in 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Details

Welcome! I thought I'd show you some of the simple Christmas decorations from around our home. I'm not one for following trends or changing things up from year to year. Once I find a look I like, I usually stick with it. This year on our front door is a wreath I ordered online from L.L.Bean. It's made of real greenery and  pinecones, accented with faux berries. It has that simple, natural look we like so much.

Indoors, on the dining table, I used the same faux wood, pinecone and white tree candles as I have in years past, mixed with small, real pinecones and faux snow (from Pottery Barn). Everything is set upon a new table runner I purchased from Neiman Marcus. It is  burlap, and the only thing I don't care for is that it "sheds." There was also a mix-up in the shipment: I had ordered the 90" runner, which would have provided a 9" overhang on each end of the table, but they shipped the 72" runner by mistake. There's no overhang, but I like the look, so I kept it. Plus, it was too much trouble to return it. Too bad they don't ship this rolled up in a tube instead of folded a million times -- it's impossible to get out all the creases.

From the chandelier, I have hung silver and pearlescent ornaments, just like I have for years. No changes here.

We bought a very nice, healthy tree this year. It's a nice shape and size -- and we didn't have to move any furniture! We string our tree with colored lights. I think we're one of only two houses on the block with colored lights. I'm a convert. For years my preference had been white lights, but my husband has always preferred colored lights. The past couple of years we draped fresh garland along the porch railing and decorated it with white lights, but this year we skipped the garland. So no white lights for us this year. 

In fact, my husband secretly created a "tree" using a camera tripod that he strung with those large, round old-timey colored lights. He then balled up a string of blue lights and placed them on top. He told me not to peek as he installed his creation in the back yard. When it was dark outside, he had me go to the bedroom window while he plugged in his surprise. I loved it and squealed with delight! I told him we mustn't hide this festive "tree" in the back yard, so it's now in the front of our house below the dining room windows. I'm not sure what the neighbors think, but I love it -- so festive and fun and unique.

Here's a felt poinsettia ornament I made a couple of years ago. They're super easy to make and perfect for a non-crafter type like me!

So, that's a look at our little bungalow decorated for Christmas. Thanks for visiting. I hope you're enjoying a peaceful holiday season. Wishing you and your family a joyful Christmas,

Friday, December 13, 2013

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and a New Electric Kettle

In one of my first posts on this blog (3 years ago!), I shared a homemade hot cocoa mix recipe. Tired of buying commercial hot cocoa mix with its hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and other unwanted ingredients, I searched for a simple hot cocoa mix I could make at home. I found a good one, but not great. And I wanted a great hot cocoa recipe.

I searched the internet recently for a new recipe and found one on Mel's Kitchen Cafe. It's what I had been looking for. This recipe makes terrific hot cocoa! The ingredients are blended together in a food processor, so the mixture ends up powdery and dissolves well in hot water or milk. White chocolate chips add a richness and creaminess that's hard to beat. I don't usually buy white chocolate, but I found some at Whole Foods that doesn't contain hydrogenated oil and artificial flavor. 

The next time I make this recipe, I'll experiment with dark chocolate chips for an even deeper chocolate flavor. You could also add crushed peppermint candies for a fun twist. The down side to this recipe? It's so yummy, I want to make hot cocoa morning, noon and night! 

Make a batch and give some as a gift. Package it in an old vintage jar tied with a ribbon and attach a handmade tag with directions on how to prepare it.

The recipe:
In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups of dry powdered milk, 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, 1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in 1-1/2 cups white chocolate chips. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Store in an airtight container.
Note: I used Carnation instant nonfat dry milk, Ghirardelli 100% unsweetened cocoa, and Whole Foods' 365 brand white chocolate chunks.

To make a cup of cocoa: 
Combine 1/3 cup cocoa mix with 1 cup hot water or milk (I prefer it made with water; it was too rich for my taste when made with milk). Top with marshmallows if desired; I'm interested in trying these vegan marshmallows.

I have to tell you about something I bought recently. It's a small thing, but has made me very happy. It's this electric kettle, and I love it. It boils water super quickly and shuts off automatically. And because it's so fast, I'll now enjoy more cups of tea and hot cocoa (yippie!) this winter. 

I hadn't bought an electric kettle until now because of the lack of storage and counter space in our little bungalow kitchen. Our glass tea kettle, and the metal one before that, lived on the stovetop when not in use. Where would I keep an electric kettle? However, once I experienced the speed of the electric kettle we have in the kitchen at work, I knew it was something I had to have. So I carved out a little space in our "pantry" (two shelves above our washer and dryer) for this new kettle. I love it!
(Please note, this is not a paid endorsement for Hamilton Beach)

Finally, I wanted to show you one of the four handmade pottery mugs I bought at a crafts show last month for my husband's birthday. They are all slightly different in size and color; this one is my personal favorite. Christmas Eve herbal tea by Stash is a delicious peppermint tea that I enjoy year-round. I bought boxes and boxes of it online a couple of years ago when the holiday season ended and I could no longer buy it in our local grocery store. 

I hope your Christmas preparations are coming along nicely, and that your holiday season is merry and bright!

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