Friday, August 31, 2012

My Favorite Knives

For my birthday this year, my husband gave me a Wusthof Classic Ikon kitchen knife to add to my collection. Being a non-meat eater, I had to laugh when I unwrapped the gift and saw the words "Sausage Knife" on the box. True, this model is described as a sausage knife, but it serves vegetarian purposes equally as well. It slices tomatoes like a dream and makes cutting through a crusty loaf of bread effortless. I have to say this is my favorite of my three Wusthof knives. And to think that I giggled when I received it. Poor hubby thought I didn't like it! To be honest, I thought I didn't need it, but soon I realized just how wonderful and useful this knife is.

To me, having good knives is essential when I'm working in the kitchen. I recall all those years when I'd drool over the fancy knives in the cases on the wall at Williams-Sonoma. But I couldn't imagine spending that much! I know there are more expensive brands out there, but just the thought of spending $100 on a knife seemed like such a luxury. 

However, since I do love to cook, I decided it was time to own a good-quality knife. So I asked my husband for one for my birthday. Instead of a fancy dinner out (which can easily run $100 for two), I wanted a knife that would last forever. My husband gave me a 6.5" Wusthof Santoku, which I fell in love with. The following year, I bought myself a 3" paring knife that was on sale. And this year I received the 5" "sausage" knife for my birthday.

Now I know what a great investment it is to buy the best knives you can afford. They are wonderful to work with. I like to take good care of them, sharpening them often (though not after every use as some recommend), drying them immediately after washing, and storing them in a knife block to keep them protected.

What is your favorite cooking tool? If you've splurged on something that makes cooking a more pleasurable experience, let me know what it is and why you love it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vivid Dahlias

These dahlias are such a beautiful pinkish-orange color, like a vivid sunset. For a few years, the plant wasn't producing any flowers, which on one part of the plant are more yellow-gold in color. But last spring my husband transplanted it, and it's obviously happy in its new location. What pretty flowers we're getting!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Whitening Whites

I love white bed linens, white dishtowels and white shirts, but over time they can begin to look dull, yellowed and stained. Chlorine bleach is an effective whitener -- I actually love the smell of sheets that have been washed with bleach -- but it's rather harsh, both on your fabrics and on your lungs. An alternative is borax. I find that it's good for overall whitening in the laundry cycle. 
Did you know that borax is a multi-purpose household cleaner? On the box it states that borax can be used for washing porcelain enamel and fiberglass surfaces in the bathroom, deodorizing trash cans, cleaning carpet spills and stains, treating pet urine and sour milk odors, and more. I've used it to clean the toilet bowl -- just pour 1/4 cup borax in the bowl, swish with a toilet brush and let stand for 30 minutes or overnight.

How do you keep your whites looking bright? Do you use borax as a cleaning tool in your home? Share your tips!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Chasing Butterflies

The zinnias in our flower garden have seen better days. Between the drought we've had and the goldfinches snacking on them, they look a bit ragged. But the butterflies don't seem to mind. Nearly every day I've noticed several species of butterflies feeding on their nectar.

Butterflies are tough to photograph! Every time I'd get close enough to snap a photo, they'd flit away, on to the next flower. You should have seen me chasing these butterflies around the garden, asking, "Please stay still, little butterfly." I'm glad no one (except my dog) saw me carrying on like this. 

According to information I found online, the pretty butterfly below is a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, a common species. See the chunk missing on her left wing? She might have had a run-in with a would-be predator, but she survived.

There are so many species of butterflies, making it difficult for the novice butterfly watcher to identify them. I found the website Butterflies and Moths of North America and tried to identify the one below, but no luck. Then my husband reminded me that our neighbor three doors down is an entomologist. I emailed her these photos and asked for assistance.  The one below, with the four "eyes" on the underside of its wing, is a Painted Lady. She sure did move around a lot more, plus it was a windy day, making it even more difficult to focus.

The little one below was very hard to photograph. It took off whenever I got close. I thought it might be a skipper so I looked at the butterfly website and thought it might be a Southern Broken-Dash Skipper. My friend asked if I had seen a silver band or spot on the underside of its wing, which would suggest it's a Silver-spotted Skipper, but I did not see a silver spot, so a Southern Broken-Dash Skipper seems more likely. 

Suddenly I am very interested in butterfly identification. My friend recommended the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies by Paul Opler. I think I'll make a trip to the bookstore for a copy of it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Happy Hour: Blue Hawaii

I enjoy mixing cocktails at home, especially in the summer. Here's a recipe for a Blue Hawaii (not to be confused with a Blue Hawaiian which has cream of coconut in it). In this photo, it looks more green than blue, but it gets its color from blue Curacao, which is an orange-flavored liqueur. 

Blue Hawaii
Makes 2 drinks

In a cocktail shaker, combine 6 ounces of pineapple juice, 1-1/2 ounces each of white rum and vodka, 1 ounce each of fresh lemon juice and blue Curacao, and 1/2 ounce of simple syrup. Shake and strain over ice.

Simple syrup: combine equal parts of sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved. Let cool before using, and store leftover syrup in a jar in the refrigerator.

What's your favorite mixed drink? Do you like to mix cocktails at home or do you prefer to go out and let a bartender do the work?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Vintage Advertisements

While browsing in an antiques shop several years ago, my husband and I came upon a number of vintage magazine advertisements. Priced from $4 to $6 apiece, we bought seven of them, intending to frame a few and hang them somewhere in our home (which we have yet to do). 

I enjoy reading ads from the 40's and 50's. The copy is quite humorous -- even silly -- by today's standards. Some of the ads are actually quite sexist, but times were different back then. For example ... this ad for Campbell's Bean with Bacon Soup sends the message that this is a hearty soup made for a MAN! It's also for his wife and his children, however the parentheses around the copy makes it seem like they are an afterthought. A call-out of the copy is below. Note the last two lines which speak to the homemaker: "Try it now, today! Your whole family will bless you!"
The next is part of a multiple-page General Mills ad from 1947. Designed to look like an article, it shares advice from Betty Crocker on how "mother" can create more leisure time for herself on Sundays. On the right side of this ad are some suggested breakfast options, the first three touting the benefit of cereal. Under the first photo, the caption reads, "New favorite with youngsters: chocolate milk poured on cereal." At the very bottom of the column, below the pastry, it reads, "Top off Sunday breakfast with a fragrant coffee ring from your local bake shop. Your baker and grocer offer a variety of coffee cakes and breakfast rolls made from finest home-type ingredients. Baked foods are low in cost, delicious, high in food value." What a hoot!

The next ad for Libby's deviled ham and Vienna sausage boasts "Flavor with a lift for he-man meals!" What does that mean? The copy starts with, "That hard worker of yours will bless you aloud for the extra taste thrill Libby's Deviled Ham lends to lunchbox sandwiches." Apparently there was a lot of blessing going on back then for choosing the right meals! Check out the recipe for Vienna Sausage Pie.

Here's an ad for Kellogg's Corn Flakes suggesting that cereal is an ideal heat-beater. "Mother knows best -- how to beat the heat! For that morning start, she serves cool yet nutritious cereals."
We also bought a couple of cigarette ads. This one for Kool menthol cigarettes has a P.S. that claims "Kools are so much easier on your throat, lots of folks smoke 'em all the time."

Lastly, here is an ad for medicated menthol cough drops which not only relieve a stuffy nose and raspy cough, they also stop bad breath thanks to "magic" chlorophyll.

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