Monday, January 26, 2015

A New Design Book

I bought a new interior design book called American Beauty: Renovating and Decorating a Beloved Retreat. It was a book I had seen online. What captured my interest is that it is about Thom Felicia's vacation home on Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. I have a special fondness for Skaneateles Lake because my parents and I had vacationed there one summer, renting a cabin on the water. I have such lovely memories of that vacation and other day trips we took to Skaneateles Lake, which was only an hour and a half from where we lived when I was a teenager.

I rarely buy design books, mainly because we have limited space for such things in our little bungalow, but also because design books tend to become dated as tastes change over time. But every now and then I'll treat myself to a new design book, a nice little splurge. Since I had recently sold and donated several books, I figured I had some extra space in the living room for one new book.

When I received American Beauty, I sat down with it that evening and read it cover to cover. It is not only full of beautiful photos, it is an interesting read. And it really makes me want to head north to spend some time on beautiful Skaneateles Lake!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kale, Strawberry and Pineapple Smoothie

I'm seeing a lot of green smoothie recipes lately on blogs. I guess it's that "post-holidays detox" trend, but since I didn't overindulge (thanks to a cold that left me without any sense of taste for over a week at the holidays), I'm not making green smoothies to "detoxify." My husband and I make smoothies for breakfast year-round. I love kale, and it's an easy addition to a fruit smoothie for some extra nutrition and fiber. When I make a smoothie, I don't follow a recipe or measure anything. I just throw in what looks good in amounts that seem reasonable and hit the power button. If you'd like to follow actual recipes, check out the site Hello Natural -- in particular this post or this post.

To make the smoothie above, I used fresh pineapple, frozen strawberries, some strawberry kefir, unsweetened almond milk, one large leaf of kale torn into small pieces, and honey. It's delicious, and all I can really taste is the fruit. Our blender does leave tiny pieces of kale, which doesn't bother me. I like that it isn't completely liquified. Sometimes I add almonds or walnuts to my smoothies, and the little pieces make the smoothie more satisfying.

Give smoothies a try for breakfast, and go ahead and throw in some kale or spinach. You probably won't even notice it's there -- other than the color!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Pretzel, Cranberry and Toasted Coconut Bark

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed ringing in 2015, whether you spent it at a festive party or a quiet night at home. I've never been a fan of New Year's eve, and prefer to spend it at home. When I was growing up, my parents always fixed a spread of exotic foods like pâté, salami, smoked mussels, smoked salmon, pickled herring, olives, cornichon, and an assortment of cheeses to enjoy with champagne in the hours leading up to midnight. I thought it was elegant and special, and developed quite an appreciation for a variety of foods and flavors at a young age. To this day, I like to follow that tradition (minus the pâté, which, quite honestly, I do miss).

During the holidays, I love trying new recipes, both savory and sweet. Shortly before Christmas I splurged and bought two boxes of Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate. I'd never purchased it before, mainly because of the price, but I understand the importance of using good quality chocolate when making candy and baked goods. I wanted to make a recipe for pretzel, cranberry and toasted coconut bark, which I found on a food blog called Inspired Taste, and thought it would be a good time to splurge on more expensive chocolate. I can honestly say it was worth it.

Before making the bark, I came across this video on how to temper chocolate like a professional.  Tempering is the process of heating, cooling and reheating chocolate to specific temperatures. The process prevents "bloom," which is the dull, whitish sheen that occurs when the cocoa fat rises to the surface of improperly melted chocolate. As I watched the video, I thought, "Boy, that looks tricky ... and time consuming." I had also recently visited a local chocolate factory where the owner explained to us the fussiness of the tempering process, which is why they have a fancy machine to do it for them.

Feeling slightly intimidated, and knowing my expensive chocolate bars were at risk, I reviewed the video carefully, at least twice. I wanted to give it a try, but the whole thing seemed like a bit of trouble. So I threw caution to the wind and simply melted the chocolate in a "double boiler" (a glass bowl set over, but not touching, a pot of barely simmering water), paying no attention to temperatures. I think my bark turned out okay without any bloom. I do know it looks pretty and tastes great!

A couple of notes about the recipe. I did not use unsweetened coconut flakes, as called for. Instead, I used sweetened shredded coconut and toasted it in the oven for at least 6 minutes, checking and tossing it every minute or two.

To make this treat gluten free, I used Snyder's of Hanover gluten-free mini pretzels, which are delicious (my husband and I like them even more than regular pretzels). 

Lastly, I did use the sweetened dried cranberries called for in the recipe, but I think dried cherries would also be delicious in this bark. So would candied orange peel and chopped almonds. The options are endless! 

So tell me, do you have a favorite brand of chocolate? Have you tried tempering chocolate or do you take the lazy way out, like I did?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)

These spicy toasted pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are one of my favorite snacks, and they are super easy to make. They are delicious sprinkled on top of a bowl of creamy soup or chili, or on top of a salad. Or they're perfect to snack on with cheese and wine. In fact, they'd make a nice addition to a New Year's Eve party spread. Just be sure to double, triple or even quadruple the recipe. Once your guests start snacking on these spicy treats, they won't want to stop.

Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, combine 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (do not use roasted pumpkin seeds) with 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice. Stir well until all seeds are coated with the spice mixture.

Spread seeds in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven until the seeds are browned and puffed, about 1o minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.


On a separate note, I bought this cute black and gold candle holder at a lovely little gift shop the week before last while I was doing some Christmas shopping. I bought one as a gift and one for myself (I couldn't resist). I love how the gold interior glows when the candle is lit. The outside is matte black and provides a nice contrast to the shiny interior. I may have to see if the shop has a couple more of these. Three of them in a row would look so pretty down the middle of the dining table!

Before I sign off for the year, I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year! Thank you for visiting My Little Bungalow. I can't  believe I've been blogging for four years now! I am so very appreciative to all of you who follow me regularly, and especially grateful to those who leave comments. Your feedback and interaction make it all worthwhile. To those of you who visit often but have never left a comment, please do! I'd love to hear from you and get to know a little bit about you. Have a safe, happy and healthy 2015!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Paper Snowflakes and Cinnamon-spiked Hot Cocoa


I'm sharing another great Etsy find! I purchased these handmade paper snowflakes from Paper Cuts Studios, and they look lovely and whimsical in our dining room hanging from the chandelier. Cut from pearlescent white card stock (they also come in silver and gold), the snowflakes would look pretty hanging in a window or on a tree. 

My dining table display hasn't changed much from previous years. I added glass candle holders and green tapers for a touch of color. Wax candle pine cones, real mini pine cones, white candle trees, and a silver faux bois candle are nestled in "snow" on a silver tray.

Wintry nights -- and mornings -- call for yummy hot beverages, and hot chocolate is one of my favorites. I found a delicious dairy-free hot cocoa recipe online, then tweaked it slightly by using dark cocoa powder and adding a pinch of cayenne. I enjoyed a mug of it the other morning with breakfast. Delicious!

Cinnamon-spiked Hot Cocoa

1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons plus 1 cup almond milk

In a mug, stir together cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, vanilla and 2 tablespoons almond milk to form a thick paste.

Warm 1 cup of almond milk in a small saucepan until steaming hot. Pour over chocolate mixture in mug, stir well and enjoy.

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