Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Gift Ideas

Hi there. Welcome to my first-ever holiday gift idea blog post. Christmas is less than two weeks away! Here are a few things that would make nice gifts for family or friends. 

A match striker, honey pot or other handmade item from Farmhouse Pottery in Vermont.


This Black Hibiscus candle from India Hicks. A favorite blog of mine had a giveaway and I won this candle. It smells wonderful and burns very nicely. It is definitely one of my favorite candles.

A cute cork travel pouch like these from Bambu. I have the smaller sized one which is especially useful in my small purse to hold eye drops, lip balm and lip gloss, tissues and other necessities.

A cashmere-wool wrap. I have this J.Jill wrap in grey, but isn't this sugarplum color pretty! I wear mine as both a wrap and a scarf. It's perfect for staying toasty warm in a chilly office.

A decanter. This traditional-style Hatch cut glass decanter is from Crate & Barrel. What gifts are on your list this year?

This is not a sponsored post.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Poinsettias as Far as the Eye Can See

Last weekend we visited a nursery that specializes in poinsettias. My husband and I were in awe of the sheer number of varieties they had -- more than 80. There were so many varieties of red alone, and many of them were impossible for us to differentiate. I asked one of the owners what makes them different, and she explained that there are many variables, from leaf size and shape to the amount of veining in the leaves, to the overall size, when they change color, etc.

I found this University of Vermont web page with some fun facts about poinsettias. Did you know poinsettias aren't highly toxic as everyone believes? See number 10 in the list to learn more. I also learned that December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. So happy Poinsettia Day to you!

Here are some photos I took at the nursery. These are just a few of the 80+ varieties they offered for sale. It was very difficult to choose which ones to bring home with us. We ended up getting four gorgeous plants. Two are in our living room, one in our bedroom and one in our dining room.

The pretty plant below is Luv U Soft Pink, a variety I didn't purchase but wish I had. Isn't it lovely with its slender, pale pink bracts? Bracts are the leaves that turn colors. The flowers of a poinsettia is in the very center of the plant.

The next plant is Luv U Hot Pink. The color is amazing. We liked the lighter outline around the edges of the bracts, giving it a somewhat contemporary look.

The next plant is called Sparkling Punch. I love the two-toned pink bracts! We purchased a similar plant called Ice Punch, which is has brighter, deeper pink bracts and light pink centers. Very dramatic!

Cortez Burgundy features deeper red bracts than the more traditional red poinsettia.

The nursery had several speckled varieties which are very unique. This one is Sonora White Glitter, which was one of our favorites. At the bottom of the photo you can see a bract that is in the process of changing from green to the speckled red. This photo also gives you a good view of the clusters of round, bright green cyathia in the center of the plant, where the flowers come out of.

Next up: Orange Spice, a true orange poinsettia. We bought one of these and I placed it on our dining table, since our dining room walls are orangey (terra cotta). Orange Spice is a compact plant, so it's not too large for the table.

Here's a lovely two-toned plant: Christmas Beauty Marble. I was tempted to get one of these, but didn't. It was really hard to choose which ones to take home -- they were all so pretty!

The next one is called Tapestry. It's very elegant with its bright red bracts and marbled leaves.

Are you a fan of poinsettias? Of the plants shown here, do you have a favorite? If you do, please share by leaving a comment below, at the bottom of this post (click on the word "Comment"). 

If you like poinsettias, you might be interested in a little craft project I shared several years ago: felt poinsettia ornaments. The page has a link to instructions on how to make them. It's easy and requires no sewing!

For more Christmas inspiration, be sure to check out my Christmas Pinterest page!

I hope you're enjoying the holiday season. Thanks for stopping by My Little Bungalow!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Vegetarian Nachos

Last month I posted about a vegetarian meat substitute called Beyond Meat that we've been enjoying in tacos and chili. We also made nachos with it one Saturday for dinner, and they were delicious!

My husband cooked the Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles with Simply Organic's spicy taco seasoning mix (I make sure to buy taco mix labeled gluten-free). We topped corn chips with the beefy crumbles, some romaine lettuce, chopped tomato, salsa verde, black olives and cheddar cheese. Yum!

We also bought a jar of chile con queso made by Desert Pepper. I chose this brand over the others because it appeared not to contain junky ingredients and preservatives, like some other brands. However, it was not labeled as gluten-free, so I was nervous about trying it (sometimes "natural flavors" can contain hidden wheat). I sampled it (absolutely fantastic!) and had no negative side effects, so I enjoyed more the next day. I'd like to try making chile con queso dip at home so I can be sure it's safe for me to eat. Cheese dip is very dangerous to have around, though. It is so tasty that it's hard to eat it in moderation. I could probably eat half a jar of the stuff with half a bag of tortilla chips in one sitting!

I'm thinking about other ways to use the Beyond Meat crumbles, and I think I'm going to try it next in lasagna. I made vegetarian spinach lasagna for years, but when I went gluten-free, I could no longer make lasagna. Then I saw some GF lasagna noodles in the store. I could try making a vegetarian version with faux beef -- that would be different! 

What I love about making dishes like lasagna and big pots of soups and stews is that we have leftovers for at least the next two nights. I know some people can't stand leftovers, but they sure do come in handy on weeknights when you have to work late.

What tasty foods have you been cooking lately? What are your thoughts on leftovers -- love them or hate them?

Note: This is not a sponsored post.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

More Ikea Finds

In this post, I told you about a trip we made to Ikea to purchase a lamp for our studio. Another item I wanted to check out while we were there was the faux sheepskin rug. At only $14.99 each, we ended up buying three: one for a chair in the living room, one for my reading chair in the guest bedroom and one for on the floor in the living room. The real sheepskin rugs had a much nicer feel, of course, but I just couldn't bring myself to purchase them. While I don't live a vegan lifestyle (our living room chair is leather, and I buy leather shoes and handbags), it does bother me and my husband to think of the number of animals killed to be turned into inexpensive Ikea rugs. And that's just Ikea. There are so many other stores selling sheepskin rugs now that it has become so popular. So faux it is for us. As you can see, Ella isn't complaining.

In the lamp department at Ikea, my husband spied this Tertial work lamp for his drafting table. It looks black but is actually matte dark grey. The quality seems very good and the price can't be beat at $9.99. It's adjustable and stays put, unlike the much more expensive lamp we bought years ago that always slips and won't stay in the position you want it to, which really frustrates my husband. He's very happy with his new Ikea work lamp.

After a bit of shopping we worked up an appetite, so we ate lunch in the Ikea cafeteria, which was a new and interesting experience for us. We each had a salad, and my husband had the vegetable balls with rice and green beans. We had lattes from the coffee machine -- which is a pretty cool contraption -- and brought home a can of Swedish apple cider. We just tasted it yesterday. It's very refreshing. So that pretty much sums up our second visit to Ikea.

If you're a reader in the U.S., I hope you and your family and friends had a very happy Thanksgiving. Did you do any Black Friday shopping? We've always avoided the Thanksgiving shopping madness. I'm not that much of a shopper to brave the crowds. I did buy a second pair of New Balance running shoes. I purchased these Fresh Foam Boracay V3 shoes about a month ago at our local New Balance store, and have been loving them. I returned to the store yesterday to buy a second pair, but learned that this style has been discontinued, and my size was not in stock. So I went online and found them through Zappos at a great price.

These are the most comfortable sneakers I've ever worn -- lightweight, roomy and very comfy. I'm not a runner, but I wear them for walking, workouts at the gym and running errands. They look great with black leggings and yoga pants, as well as with jeans. New Balance has many other Fresh Foam styles, so if you like lightweight, comfy shoes, I suggest you give them a try.

Thanks for visiting My Little Bungalow. If you have any specific ideas or things you'd like to see featured here, please let me know. I've been running low on ideas for the blog, and need some inspiration. I hope to hear from you!

This is not a sponsored post.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Flourless Chocolate Torte

Hello and happy Thanksgiving! Are you ready for the holiday? I can't believe it's almost here! I'm off today through the rest of this week, and have a busy schedule in preparation of the big day. I have to go to the grocery store, there's cooking and cleaning to be done -- and I still need to fit in time for a swim each day. Having people over for a meal is a great pleasure for me, and my husband's family is so appreciative that it makes the preparation all the more enjoyable. 

Our menu this year is: 
  • Turkey breast. Since only three people will be eating turkey, we're not getting a whole one.
  • Stuffing. This year we're trying Trader Joe's cornbread stuffing mix, which is not gluten free so I won't be partaking.
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts
  • Mashed potatoes -- or possibly cauliflower "fluff," which a coworker made for our office potluck this week. It has Parmesan cheese in it and is delicious!
  • Carrots
  • Cranberry-orange relish
  • Pumpkin pie with a gluten-free Whole Foods crust
Nothing fancy, but it should all be yummy. My sister-in-law is going to bring something that works within her current diet plan. It will likely be vegetarian and gluten-free -- possibly quinoa based -- so I will enjoy a little of that too!
For the office potluck this year I made the flourless chocolate cake in the photo above. I've shared the recipe before (back in June 2013), but didn't include a photo. It's such a great recipe, and worth sharing again. Maybe you'd like to make this for Thanksgiving dessert to satisfy those chocolate lovers? It's also gluten-free which is a nice option to have for those guests who can't eat wheat. And it is simple to make! Here's the recipe:

Flourless Chocolate Torte

Cocoa powder for dusting the pan
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur
6 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
Confectioner's sugar for dusting, optional

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter the bottom and all the way up the sides of a 9" springform pan. Cut a 9" circle out of parchment paper, line the bottom of the pan with the paper and butter the paper. Dust the bottom and sides of the pan with cocoa powder and, holding the pan over the sink, tap out the excess powder. Set pan aside.

2. Set a medium-sized heatproof bowl on top of a medium pot of simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water (you need only an inch or two of water in the pan). Put the butter and the chocolate chips in the bowl. Stir occasionally until the butter and the chocolate are melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the Cointreau. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on high speed, beat the 6 egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar until pale yellow and doubled in volume. This will take about 6 minutes. Stir the melted chocolate mixture into the egg yolks. Set aside.

4. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the 6 egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the egg whites and continue to beat until medium-stiff peaks form. Whisk half of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Then, using a spatula, gently fold the remaining egg whites into the chocolate mixture until combined; do not over-mix.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes until center of cake is just set and sides begin to pull away from pan (*see note). Remove from oven and set pan on a wire rack to cool completely. Cover cake and refrigerate. Before serving, bring to room temperature and dust with powdered sugar if desired.

*Note: When I made this cake this week, the sides did not pull away from the pan until after I had removed it from the oven. I gauged when it was done by the center of the cake being set.

Cutting Tip: When the cake is cool, and before refrigerating, you can use plain, unwaxed dental floss (not the mint-flavored kind!) to cut the cake into 8 or 16 pieces. This technique is perfect for cutting a fudgy cake like this one. Simply cut a length of floss that is about 10" long. Holding both ends, run the floss straight down through the middle of the cake. Release one end and pull the other end out out (don't pull the floss up again through the cake). Turn the cake, and repeat, dividing the cake into quarters. Keep turning and repeating until you have the desired number of pieces. Replace the floss with a fresh piece if it gets too sticky and gooey.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Fall Update

Hello! Sorry I have neglecting the blog as of late. How can it possibly be November 13! Time is flying by so quickly. Christmas will be here before we know it (and I do have to admit, I've already started listening to Christmas music!). 

Paul and I made a trip to Ikea yesterday. It was only our second visit to Ikea. I have to be honest, it's not my favorite place to shop. I know, I know. I'm in the minority. But I find it hard to navigate and there's so much stuff! However, we went with a specific purpose: to purchase a Magnarp floor lamp (below) for our studio.
Unfortunately, the store's online stock status was incorrect, and all the boxes of Magnarps were gone from the shelves. So frustrating! And the store won't sell one of their 12 floor models either! So we ended up buying the Grono glass table lamp instead (below).
Its small size works well on the little dresser in our studio and it puts out a good amount of light. I'll plug it into a digital timer and program it to come on when it gets dark. The goal is to lessen the stress that our 15-year-old beagle, Ella, is experiencing. She is losing her eyesight and has become very stressed at night when it's dark outside and we're not home. It's becoming quite a problem. Whenever we are out at night, we come home only to find her barking continuously, to the point that she's getting hoarse. It's so sad, and makes us feel like we can't be away from home at night. I'm hoping that by lighting the studio, one of the two rooms where she and Henry tend to stay when we're not home, she may be a little less anxious.

On another note, our weather now feels like fall -- actually, more like winter! Morning temperatures the past few days have been in the upper 20s, which is shocking after having rather warm weather until recently. The cold snap has put me in the mood to break out the fall decorations. I updated the dining table using an assortment of real and faux objects: miniature pine cones and faux gourds, pumpkins and red pears.

For Thanksgiving, I will add my favorite amber-colored glass turkey mini taper holders to the table, as I do each year (see this post). I've also learned a new way to fold cloth napkins, thanks to an old issue of Martha Stewart Living. I will try to find the time to post a "how-to" on folding an envelope-style napkin prior to the holidays.

How are you getting your home ready for Thanksgiving? What's on your holiday menu this year? Do share! I love to hear from you. As always, thanks for visiting My Little Bungalow.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Vegetarian Chili with Fire-roasted Tomatoes

One of my favorite things to make and eat on an autumn day is a bowl of spicy chili. There are so many variations of chili. I usually make mine without following a recipe. I like to throw in what I have on hand, trying different combinations each time. Once upon a time, before I followed gave up meat (except fish), I made chili with ground beef or ground turkey as the base. Later I moved on to a beans-only chili. Then I spied in the freezer section of Whole Foods this product: Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles, a soy-free, gluten-free vegetarian meat substitute. Made from pea protein, Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles is high is protein and low in fat. It is very tasty and, in my opinion, quite similar to beef (my husband agrees, and he's an occasional meat eater). We also use this product to make delicious tacos; we season the crumbles with Simply Organic brand gluten-free taco seasoning.

In the chili recipe I'm sharing today, I tried a new ingredient: Fire-roasted tomatoes. Wow! Something about the fire-roasted/meat flavors combined together makes this quite possibly my favorite chili ever. Since I wanted to repeat this recipe again, as well as share it here on the blog, I wrote down the ingredients and approximate measurements (I don't usually measure my seasonings, except for chili powder) while they were fresh in my head.

Of course, if you're not into vegetarian chili, you can use ground beef or turkey in place of the meat substitute. Or, if you don't care for the taste of meat, you can certainly make it with beans only. If you give this original recipe of mine a try, please let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Vegetarian Chili with Fire-roasted Tomatoes
4 servings

2 to 3 tsp. oil (I use avocado oil, but olive or canola will also work)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14.25 to 15 oz.) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) crushed tomato
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz.) dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
8 to 12 drops hot sauce, such as Tobasco brand
Half a package of frozen vegetarian "beef" crumbles, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

1) In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, season with coarse salt and saute until onion is soft.

2) Add the fire-roasted diced tomatoes and the crushed tomato. Fill the can the crushed tomato came in with water, stir to loosen any remaining sauce, and add the water to the pot. Add the beans, chili powder, cumin and hot sauce. Season with freshly ground pepper and more salt, to taste. Let simmer about 15 minutes. Add the frozen veggie "beef," stir and bring back to a simmer. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese. We enjoyed our meal on the front porch on a warm, end-of-October evening with a delicious glass of Oak Ridge Ancient Vine Zinfandel (2015, Lodi).

This is not a sponsored post.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Fun Outing

I snapped a photo of this house while on a home tour a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful, warm day, and we took advantage of the free rental bikes the tour was offering. Since we were biking from house to house, instead of driving, it wasn't easy to take photos of cute houses in the neighborhood. We were having fun riding through the neighborhood, so I didn't want to keep stopping to take photos. And trying to do it while in motion is just plain hazardous. But when I saw this Tudor-style house at an intersection where we had to stop anyway, I pulled out my phone for a quick shot. It's kind of shadowy, but do you see the bench by the sidewalk, to the right of the steps? What a cute feature! While I don't usually gravitate toward Tudor-style homes (I'm more of a bungalow gal), I thought this one was really nice.

After the tour, we ate lunch at my favorite vegan restaurant; everything is organic and 100% plant based. I had mock tuna salad (walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, veggies, dulse and cashew mayo) on gluten-free bread with my favorite side, broccoli Waldorf salad (broccoli, apple, celery, walnuts, raisins and red onion tossed in a cashew mayo). Yum! My husband had a living burrito (sunflower seed "refried beans," cauliflower rice, sprouts, pico de gallo guacamole and cashew sour cream) wrapped in a collard leaf served with hot sauce, and a salad on the side. For dessert we shared a turtle pie made with chocolate, caramel, coconut and cashews in a nut crust. I can't get enough of this kind of food. It's delicious and much healthier than typical restaurant food. I wish we had this restaurant near us. Then again, maybe it's a good thing we don't -- it's pricey!


Friday, October 6, 2017

Gluten-free Pancakes

I made pancakes for breakfast last Sunday (before going on a 17.5-mile bike ride, which I think burned off some of the calories from breakfast!). I used a new-to-me brand of gluten-free pancake mix by King Arthur Flour. The pancakes were fantastic -- moist and delicious! My husband, who does not have to follow a GF diet like I do, really liked them too. I added a splash (probably a teaspoon's worth) of pure vanilla extract. Otherwise, I followed the directions on the box, using melted butter and 1% milk. You can make them vegan by using oil and non-dairy milk such as cashew or almond milk.

My husband is a fan of nuts, and loves for me to add pecan pieces to his pancakes. I sometimes add a few chocolate chips to mine (so decadent), but didn't this time. I wanted to see how the pancakes from this new mix tasted without anything else but maple syrup. I like Bushwick Kitchen's cinnamon maple syrup. 

King Arthur Flour gluten-free pancake mix will now be my go-to brand when I'm craving pancakes.

This is not a sponsored post.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Wool Mattress Pad

Last year, I purchased this wool mattress pad from The Company Store for our bed. I thought it would be a nice addition for the cold winter months, but as it turns out, this mattress pad has been great to have on the bed year-round. It adds warmth in the winter and keeps you cool in the summer, while providing a layer of softness. I love it, so I thought I'd share my experience with you.

The Imperial Wool Mattress Pad features:
  • Plush, 1.25" thick 100% American virgin Merino wool; virgin wool has never been processed, meaning it's supremely soft, but is not moth-proof.
  • Wicks moisture away from your body on hot nights while acting as a natural insulator on cold nights.
  • Hypoallergenic and repels allergens and dust mites.
  • Wide elastic straps stretch to firmly grip any mattress.
  • Machine wash/dry. 
This is not a sponsored post, but a product I am recommending after purchasing it and using it over the past year.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Early Autumn Farmers Market

The weather is turning just a bit cooler, with temperatures in the low 60s in the mornings and highs in the low 70s ... at least until the weather turns warm again! We visited our favorite farmers market this morning to revel in the gorgeous weather, and enjoyed taking in the sights and petting all the dogs (it's a very dog-friendly market). There were a few floral vendors with pretty dahlias. I didn't buy any because ours are prolific right now; I have vases of them all over the house!

We bought okra which we will broil (it's less "slimy" when prepared that way), some Italian purple beans, fresh organic eggs, aged goat cheese, poblano peppers, baby greens, butternut squash for making soup and some muscadine grapes, a variety native to the Southeast that my husband likes, but I don't. We drank coffee from a local roaster, and I savored a delicious, gluten-free chocolate cake doughnut with cinnamon-sugar coating, while Paul enjoyed a gluten-free spinach-cheese pastry. It's funny to me that he chooses the gluten-free stuff even though he doesn't have to (like I do). If I could, I'd be eating a pain au chocolate! But both our GF treats were really delicious. 

These Italian purple beans are called Trionfo violetto, which translates to purple triumph. The farmer gave us a sample to taste. They are delicious raw! We may cut up some and add them to a salad using the baby greens we bought. 

There was a vendor who sold only peppers -- lots and lots of them. The red and yellow ones below are the hottest of the hot, the grower told me. I bought several poblano peppers (not shown here) and will make stuffed poblanos with them. I posted the recipe here

Last night we enjoyed a free music concert at a park downtown. There were three bands, lots of food trucks, and many folks with dogs! The weather was perfect for it. Tomorrow I think I'll go for a bike ride along the Greenway. Biking has become my second favorite form of exercise, after swimming. Last year I didn't use my bike at all (such a shame), but I have gotten back into it this year, and am so glad! It's a nice way to get exercise while enjoying the outdoors.

How are you enjoying these early days of fall?
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