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.

Lighter Rice Pudding with Cardamom

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!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Jamaretti" Cookies

I may have found my new favorite cookie. In my inbox was an email from Everyday Food featuring a video on how to make these pretty "jamaretti" cookies. Described as "every bit as delightful as jam-filled thumbprints" but faster and easier to make, I was intrigued. I've never actually made jam-filled thumbprint cookies. Hard to believe, I know, but I have such a long baking "bucket list," it's not even funny. Anyway, I had a feeling these would be delicious. Like most Everyday Food recipes, they are fantastic. They're fun to make too. 
Go here to watch the video, or see the recipe below.

Jamaretti Cookies

2-1/4 cups flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 cup jam (I used apricot, but raspberry or blackberry would also be delicious)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 teaspoons milk

1) Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; set aside. In a food processor, pulse almond paste and sugar until combined. Add butter, cut into pieces, and eggs and process until smooth. Add flour mixture and pulse until dough forms. Divide into 4 equal pieces, wrap in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes. [Note: the dough can also be frozen for up to a week. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.]

2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a 10-inch log. Transfer logs to two parchment-lined baking sheets and flatten to about 2 inches across. Bake until just dry, 12 to 15 minutes.

3) Remove from oven and with the handle of a wooden spoon, make a trench down the middle of each log. Spread 2 tablespoons jam into each trench. Return sheets to oven and bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

4) When logs are cool, make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioner's sugar and milk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over logs (I used my mini whisk to do this). Let glaze harden, about 20 minutes. With a serrated knife, cut logs on the diagonal into 1-inch slices. Store up to one week in airtight containers.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ella's New Outfits

Ella has two new outfits: an outdoor coat for these cold, wintry days and a sweater she can wear indoors or out. We went to our local pet supply store the other night to buy a pack of yak milk chew sticks (the dogs love them!) and we brought Ella along. She enjoys going to the pet supply store and making new friends, both human and canine. She met a handsome Corgi named Bandit and received lots of attention from the salespeople. 

Ella is a great little dog. I've never had a dog I could put clothes on, and, to be honest, it's quite a lot of fun. Ella is very tolerant of being dressed (it makes me wonder if her former owner put clothes on her). Our other dogs would never put up with it, but they don't need coats or sweaters like Ella does. She shivers in the cold -- and we've been having some cold weather lately! We even had snow flurries the day before Thanksgiving (not typical for these parts). At night, especially if it's raining, Ella will run from us when we try to get her to go outdoors to use the potty. Fortunately she's small enough to pick up and carry outside. Now we put her coat on and I think it helps keep her a little warmer. When she curls up to go to sleep at night, we sometimes put a towel over her, which she seems to like.

Doesn't this sweater look smart on her! My husband picked it out, and it was 50% off (only $9 -- what a bargain!).


Over the holiday weekend we all went for a walk along the greenway. It was a cold, windy day, but sunny. Before long, we were toasty warm from our brisk walk. Above are Ella, Henry and Phoebe posing for a photo with their daddy (yes, he wears shorts year-round, even in 30-degree weather!). I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend. What fun things did you do?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pears Pastel: Before & After

First, let me thank those of you who responded to my last post. I appreciate your support, encouragement and compliments more than I can say. I am looking forward to continuing on with My Little Bungalow, and it is comforting to know you are reading and enjoying the simple things I have to share. Thank you.

A few weeks ago, I showed you some of the pastel drawings in our home, including some of my work. I mentioned I was going to take the drawing of the three pears to have a new frame put on it. Well, I wanted to share with you the "before" and "after" photos. I think they are quite amazing.

Before ...

And after ...

The drawing looks so much better in its new frame, don't you think? The whole piece looks richer. It even has a slight antique quality to it.

I love how the frame's color and wood grain bring out the shadows in the drawing. The frame also complements the antique chairs in the dining room. The drawing now hangs on the wall above this chair and I think they look lovely together.

Here's detail of the new frame. It has an old look, but it's modern at the same time. I can't believe we didn't think to reframe this piece years ago!  

Thanks for visiting My Little Bungalow! I hope everyone in the U.S. had a very happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

This week, as those of us in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, I'm reflecting on how grateful I am for so many things: my loving husband, my family and friends, my health, our sweet dogs, a warm home, employment. All this at a time when so many are without and struggling to make ends meet. My husband and I are blessed, and I thank God every day for all the good things in our life.

I am also thankful for this blog, which I have enjoyed working on for nearly three years now. And I am grateful to all of you who come here to read my posts and leave nice comments. Some of you are regular visitors and commenters, which I appreciate so much. I feel as though I know some of you personally, which is one of the nicest benefits of blogging.

During the past few months, however, I've been having mixed feelings about continuing my blog. In July I was transferred into a new position at work. Suddenly, things in my life had changed quite a bit. With a heavier workload, tighter deadlines and longer days at work, I had less energy at the end of the day. On weekends, I just didn't have it in me to work on the blog. In addition, I had also been going through a period of questioning whether anyone out there (other than my family, friends and regular followers) is really interested in my simple little blog. I don't have anything super exciting to share -- no exotic vacations or exciting home renovations -- just little bits and pieces of my life. I began wondering if it was time to say goodbye to blogging. 

Then one day I received a long, lovely email from Jane, a reader in upstate New York. Her words came at just the right time and touched me deeply. Just as I was considering hanging it up, along came someone thanking me for creating my blog and telling me how much she enjoys reading it at the end of the day. She even mentioned which recipes she has tried and how her teenage daughters liked them (or not). When I read that she looks forward to more posts in November, I knew I had to continue. Not just for myself and the enjoyment I get from it, but for readers like Jane, who follow but don't necessarily leave comments.

I replied to Jane, thanking her for taking the time to write such a thoughtful email. I told her it was just what I had needed to stay motivated. Jane, I'm sending you a special "thank you" at this holiday season, when gratitude is top of mind. I'm so glad to know that My Little Bungalow brings you enjoyment, and I hope it does to many others as well.

Before I sign off, I'd like to share one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes: Ina Garten's cranberry fruit conserve. It's amazingly delicious. After Thanksgiving, I like to use it on top vanilla yogurt for breakfast. I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving!

Ina Garten's Cranberry Fruit Conserve

In a medium saucepan, combine one 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries (cleaned), 1-3/4 cups sugar and 1 cup water; cook over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the skins pop (I usually have to double the time). Add 1 Granny Smith apple (peeled, cored and chopped), the grated zest and juice of one orange, and the grated zest and juice of one lemon; cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add 3/4 cup raisins and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans. Let cool and serve chilled.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Silver Earrings

Paul and I attended a crafts fair over the weekend. It's an annual high-end show with artisans from all over the state and the region. We've attended this event several times in the past and brought home some beautiful art. But it's been years since we've attended, so I was quite excited to go. 

There were many jewelers specializing in fine pieces -- lots of shiny gold and silver, semi-precious stones, and very intricate designs. But what caught my eye was the work of a jeweler whose pieces are more organic and slightly industrial in nature. 

When I saw these silver earrings and tried them on, I loved them. My husband -- who had a business making jewelry, years before we met -- bought them for me. We both believe in supporting artists and we're willing to pay a little more for their work. These earrings will go beautifully with other similar pieces I own, like the silver link necklace I splurged on a few years ago. It is my favorite piece of jewelry (not including family heirlooms).

I did some shopping too, buying four pottery mugs, which I'll feature in a future post. Paul and I love pottery, and when he admired the mugs, I thought I'd buy them for his birthday, which is this week. The mugs join many other pottery pieces in our collection, which I've featured here and here.

What we passed on were the wooden wall sculptures by an artist from Georgia. One piece we both liked very much featured a few thousand rusty nails. The way the light and shapes moved when you looked at it from different angles was very cool. The price tag is what kept us from buying it. However, we agreed later that his pieces were too contemporary for our home and decor. They really belong in a modern home or loft with more contemporary furnishings. 

So that's how we spent our Saturday. I hope you enjoyed your weekend too. What fun things did you do?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pastel Drawings

Back in September, my husband and I attended an outdoor art festival on a lovely, warm day. Many wonderful artists -- from painters and sculptors to wood workers and jewelers -- were selling their art. Our next-door neighbor, who is a metalsmith, had a booth there and my husband bought one of her necklaces for me as a gift. 

Another exhibitor at the show was one of our favorite pastel artists. Many years ago I took two of his drawing classes. Pastels are one of my favorite mediums. I love their soft texture and rich colors -- they're great to work with. 

When my husband and I saw this drawing of the Tuscan hills at the art festival, we immediately loved it. We knew its touches of terra-cotta would go perfectly with the wall color in our dining room, which is Pennywise by Sherwin-Williams.

The only thing we didn't care for was the frame. It was thin and too brassy and didn't complement the drawing well. We purchased the piece knowing we would have it reframed. We went to our favorite frame shop and chose this Italian-made frame (how appropriate for a drawing of Tuscany!). We love that it has a hint of gold without being brassy, and the lines pick up on the detail of the field rows in the drawing.

Below is another of this artist's drawings, which we purchased many years ago. I think I'll take this drawing to the frame shop next weekend and choose a new frame for it -- something that will enhance the subject matter. A frame can make or break a piece of art. 

Below are two drawings I made in classes 12 or 13 years ago. The instructor let each student choose a drawing, which he framed for us -- apparently this style of frame is one he uses most frequently. I don't think I'll invest in new frames for either of these drawings, both of which are currently hanging in our kitchen.

So that's a little peek at our pastel artwork. This kind of makes me want to break out my box of pastels and get started on a new drawing. It's been years since I've done this type of art, and honestly, I wish I found the process more enjoyable. I'm such a perfectionist and I actually find the creative process a bit stressful. Deep down, I'd love to get back into pastels, but I need to learn how to relax, enjoy the experience and not be so tough on myself. Any artists out there with tips on how to do this?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chocolate-Zucchini Bread

I made this delicious chocolate-zucchini bread the weekend before last on a day that I was having painful lower back issues. I really had to force myself to stand in the kitchen long enough to whip up this bread. Fortunately it came together quickly.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs, Two Tarts. If you'd like to make this yummy bread, and I suggest you do, go here to find the recipe. 

I have to admit I mistakenly used two cups of white flour instead of one cup white and one cup whole wheat flour. Next time, I will use the whole wheat, which might give it a slightly different taste, and a healthier twist. What's really nice about this bread is that it uses two cups of shredded zucchini and one cup of applesauce -- and no butter or oil! Give it a try!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Butternut Squash and Corn Chowder

I made this delicious butternut squash and corn chowder last spring, but saved the post for autumn -- soup season. This chowder is incredible. It's very easy to make. The trickiest part is peeling the squash. Enjoy it with some pumpernickel bread or a crusty roll. I'm a huge fan of pumpernickel -- how about you? I think it's a taste you either love or hate. Growing up, my mom used to make salami and cream cheese sandwiches on pumpernickel bread. Mmmm, sometimes I miss salami ...

A few notes about this chowder recipe: I slightly increased the amount of vegetable broth and bought a butternut squash that was about a pound more than the recipe called for. Since we love curry powder, I think I would add a little more curry next time, maybe another 1/2 teaspoon. The recipe calls for heavy cream, which I used, but I think half & half would be fine, making it lighter. It might even be good without any dairy, if you're vegan. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash and Corn Chowder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 to 2-1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1" chunks
1 medium onion, diced
1 (10 oz) box frozen yellow corn kernels, thawed
1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons curry powder
coarse salt and ground pepper
32 ounces vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add squash and onion and cook, stirring, until onion is soft, about 6 minutes. Add corn and curry powder; cook until curry is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add vegetable broth and simmer until squash is tender, about 25 minutes.

In a blender, blend half the soup until smooth. Or use an immersion hand blender and blend until about half the soup is smooth (this is the method I used -- less clean-up). Return soup to pot, if using a blender, and stir in cream; heat through over medium-low (do not boil).

adapted from Everyday Food

Monday, September 30, 2013

New Lamp for the Living Room

This corner of our living room needed a new reading lamp. The table lamp we had been using was tippy (one little bump sent it tumbling) and it wasn't the right height for reading by. Also, the scale of this club chair called for a more substantially sized lamp.

In looking for a new floor lamp, there were several criteria that had to be met. 
  • One: it had to have a fairly narrow footprint.
  • Two: it had to be adjustable in height.
  • Three: it had to have a finish that would go well in our room (no chrome or brass).
  • Four: it had to be good quality but also affordable. 
After buying -- and returning -- a lamp from Pottery Barn (poor quality, several scratches), I searched online and found this Denley floor lamp from Crate & Barrel. I ordered it in July but it was on backorder -- we just received it last week.

We're very pleased with the quality, the price (it went on sale while it was on backorder and they granted me the sale price), and the style. We love the combination of wood and metal, and the organic feel of the linen drum shade fits right in with our decorating style.


Here are some details about this little corner of the living room: 
  • the leather chair is one we purchased many years ago through a friend who worked in the furniture industry; we got it for about half the retail cost.
  • the pillow is from Room & Board
  • the Danish teak table is one of a set of three nesting tables that had belonged to my parents and dates to the early 1960s
  • the framed photo on the table is one I entered into an art contest at work (I didn't win)
  • the library book is The Perfume Collector. I just started it. Have you read it?
  • the painting on the wall belonged to my grandmother; I don't know anything about it, other than it is old.
  • the little green planter on the mantle is vintage, probably from the 60s
  • the stained glass hanging in the window was made by a regional artist
  • the vase is wooden; I have no idea where we purchased it, but I see a lot of similar pieces through Crate & Barrel and West Elm.
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