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Sunday, February 4, 2018

At Home And Abroad

We spent some time abroad a few weeks ago which I'll write about shortly but since I've been home I've been hard at work on my scheduled projects.  And I have a delicious and easy breakfast recipe for you too - well, it's not mine, it's an old Barefoot Contessa one but it's a goody.  See that sign in the photo above?  The Rye Historical Society had that made for us at our request while we were gone and Dan's daughter found it resting on our front porch one day when she came by.  They do that for old houses that can provide documented age and ownership for the home's origin.  I spent many exciting hours on nhdeeds.org searching and tracing our home's deeds back as far as I could read the records which became more difficult the further back I went as they became hand written. The Philbrick family was a prominent founding family in this village and they built and owned dozens of houses around here including ours.  Around 1850 the house was christened Apple Tree Cottage and although I couldn't read the first name of the Philbrick who built it, I could ascertain that the house remained in that family from 1800 until the early 1900s.  Pretty soon we will hang the sign on the front of the house.
We spent a week in Belize recently and that picture above shows the only sunshine we really saw that week - it was very abnormal weather for that area and not just Belize but the whole Caribbean and the Yucatan area of Mexico as well - weeks of cloudiness and drizzle.  It didn't dawn on us to check the weather as we packed because historically, January is dry and sunny and 80s.  Not only did we fly into overcast skies, but our luggage did not arrive with us as we had a very tight connection.  We were informed after we landed that our luggage would not arrive until the next day and would be delivered to us the following evening.  We had only the clothes on our backs (jeans and sweaters) and technology in our backpacks.  We drove three hours south from the airport in Belize City thinking we would stop somewhere along the way and find a clothing shop to buy some shorts and tee shirts to get us by.  We soon discovered that Belize is a jungle country of small towns and villages spread far and wide (even Belize City, the capital city, is just around 35,000 people).  All we found were second hand shops in shabby villages so we hoped that perhaps when we arrived to our destination, Placencia, we would find some shops or boutiques.  We arrived around 5 pm to our hotel, a delightfully beautiful resort called Chabil Mar and were told to continue a quarter mile into the village to find clothes.  Placencia is an old Creole fishing village that has grown up a bit since tourists found the area but it is by no means sophisticated.  There too we found only second hand thrift shops so we each bought a pair of used shorts and tee shirts and its wasn't easy to find clothes that fit or matched.  We also bought toothbrushes, paste and a hair brush.  Knowing we would have a week of almost no sun we had to make up a schedule of daily non-beach activities and we ended up having a blast.  We filled our days with jungle river boat excursions looking for howler monkeys, boa constrictors, crocodiles (yes, yes, and yes) and exotic birds and mantees, ziplining in the jungle mountains, touring banana and chocolate plantations (fascinating!) and village touring.  We only had one plan fall through and that was our final day which should have been spent way out along the barrier reef snorkeling and fishing.  Our guide and boat never showed up at the 8 am meet up time and place and later when the hotel got a hold of him he told them he felt the water might be too choppy so he decided not to take us out (and no courtesy phone call to let us know as we sat out on the dock in the drizzle waiting for him).  We did get one afternoon of sunshine in that week and glued ourselves to beach loungers with our books and diet cokes and soaked up as much sun and heat as we could.  Here are a few takes from that week.

 A glimpse of Howler monkeys in the jungle - their screams are extremely loud and surreal.
 And a boa constrictor out in the very brief moments of sunshine, spotted by our guide.  I wouldn't have even noticed it as we walked right by it if he hadn't pointed it out.
 Three school kids on one bike riding home during the lunch break in the fishing town of Hopkins.
 Cocao pods on the tree - they grow along the trunk and branches away from leaves.
 What cocoa beans look like inside the pods.  We sucked on the white slimy part and it's mildly sweet.
 Dan grinding cocoa nibs on a 140 year old Mayan grinding stone.
 The ground chocolate getting ready to have the sugar added and ground in.
 My homemade chocolate bar.  We poured the ground nibs into small molds and chilled them 15 minutes and then they were firm enough to eat.  Yum!  70% dark chocolate, organic and as freshly made as they come.  The plantation is a Mayan and organic one - I learned so much!



 Our villa at Chabil Mar in Placencia
 Our one and only beach afternoon when the sun showed up.

 Heading into the banana plantation - this was so fascinating.  I can never look at bananas the same and I mean that in a good way - our tour of the farm was so complete from newly growing banana plants all the way to seeing them harvested and packed into the boxes you see at the grocery stores.  This plantation grows bananas for Fyffes and ships exclusively to Ireland and the UK.



Now back at home I got busy - Dan helped too - we installed stair runners purchased from Dash and Albert on both sets of painted stairs.  These back stairs are narrow in width so the runners covered the entire surface as if we carpeted them.  Installation was fun and easy!  I also painted the kitchen from a golden brown to a glowng and velvety off white.  Off white seemed the obvious choice (after dozens of color sample were painted on to try out - colors like amber orange, pale sage gray, and various light yellows or golds) because the cabinets are antiqued pale yellow and the island is sage blue gray.





 This blue and ivory herringbone runner covers the stairs going from the second to the third floor.
 Here is the original brown with some paint samples (just the beginning of them - I added about that many more).  The winner was Benjamin Moore's Elephant Tusk on the walls with Linen White trim.  I love it!  I turned all the lights off to let the color show up - it was a cloudy day when I took these and when the sun shines in it is glorious.




A couple days ago I went to a wonderful fabric store in Exeter NH called the Handkerchief Company.  It's a large three story former old house jam packed with bolts and displays of every type of decorating fabric.  I have bought all my house fabric there for the last 19 years and we have had several pieces of furniture upholstered or slip covered there as well.  More often than not I find just what I am looking for on the third attic floor where all the bolts are 9 bucks a yard; 6 bucks on Tuesdays.  I went looking for a fabric to make a master bathroom valance to replace the one I put up years ago.  I brought a few dried blue/purple hydrangea petals and the wall paint chip hoping to find a fabric to pull them together but thought it would be unlikely.  Hidden in piles and piles of bolts I found the perfect match - 6 bucks a yard.


This jam filled corn muffin from Barefoot Contessa's first cookbook is a winner.  I made these for a group of youth last week.  The corn meal makes them full bodied and the homemade jam (or use store bought) is a wonderful counter to the not too sweet muffin - here is the link  - via kniveswithwifes blog -  they are quick and easy to throw together.

 Above below - Sunday dress!

And to finish the post - my adorable grandie!!  Next on the agenda - sewing living room drapes, a master bath valance and some stairwell art.  And Costa Rica (hopefully with sunshine).  And the Patriots just lost the Super Bowl.  Sad face.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Red, Runners, Rodents and A Recipe!

Isn't he/she just the chubbiest?  I have a love/hate relationship with these creatures.  I find them very beautiful and I enjoy spying on them like this one right outside my den window (through a screenless window - you'll hear about that in a sec), watching them play like puppies with each other, their ears are adorable as are their bristly, curling tails - but man!  They are also driving me crazy!  I have tried every method I've read about on the internet to keep them out of bird feeders, bought so many "squirrel proof" bird feeders (yeah right), put hot pepper covered seed in feeders that they aren't supposed to be able to handle (they can and they do), given them their own feeders with corn cobs, moved most of my feeders up high on porches where they can't reach (which makes them climb the window screens poking holes in them with their sharp toenails in an attempt to find ways up whereby I have removed four screens and stored them for the winter), and yelled at them daily.  Nothing. Works.   My daughter called me yesterday to ask me how I keep squirrels out of her feeders - I. Don't. She even bought new feeders today and excitedly sent me pictures spewing optimism - I told her not to be too disappointed.   This post isn't even supposed to be about squirrels but rather cheerier subjects.  Like the paper whites and amaryllis that are blooming in the dining room and daisies that are over a month old and still looking fresh in vases.  And apple cider donut muffins.  And chocolate chip cookies.  And project results.  I am going to write out that cider donut recipe for you very shortly - it is a winner!!  It has also warmed up - like 60 degrees warmer than my last post from just a few days ago.  I went snow shoeing this week because much of the snow will be disappearing in the next few days (it's pretty much gone as I edit this post two days later).  And I finished a couple wee paintings and am pretty much done with the painted stair runner.   That we have now decided to cover with a pretty red/ivory cotton runner from Dash and Albert Co. for two reasons.  In spite of Frog Paint Tape's promise that paint won't bleed, it did and has every time I've used it for painting patterns and lines (so much for paint block technology!) and believe me, I pressed on that tape really hard and followed all instructions for success.  It was the black paint bleeding on to white that did me in. Second reason; yesterday I slipped down the last four stairs and slammed my arm.   Dan yelled out - "that's it, let's put a real stair runner on!"

 One more squirrel complaint before I go on, you see that open door?  Those are suet block feeders, squirrel proof of course and the squirrels chew off the wire that I use to keep those doors locked and hence eat all the suet.  Mad face emoji!

Yesterday while I painted stairs, Dan took on the assignment of trial-ling a new chocolate chip recipe we read about in the New York Times.  Sarah Kieffer, a baker, blogger and cookbook author has a CC cookie recipe that has gone viral whereby she preaches "pan banging" the cookie sheets a few times during the baking process so that the cookies pool and flatten, morphing into very large and thin cookies that are crisp for the outer third and chewy and meaty for the rest.  Here are the results of Dan's baking adventure.  If you are interested in trying them yourself, google Sarah Kieffer pan banging chocolate chip cookies - the NY Times and several bloggers have posted her recipe.  We love cookie adventures!



We moved that little hutch you see from the den in to the dining room to a spot it should have been in all along. My paper whites and amaryllis are very happy there.  That hutch is a piece I bought in an antique shop about 15 years ago that is made from one long piece of barn siding from a very old barn.
Those very bright mirroring abstract paintings I recently finished have been dubbed "Super Men" by my daughter Gabe because she thinks they resemble the superman logo.  I just like how they finish that wall with  colorful fun.  After the abstracts I've done lately, I'm ready to do some more "serious" and challenging works of art.
Those daisies in that vase you see are over a month old and still going strong.  That's value!  That desk is in the living room in a quiet corner where I go to drink my hot chocolate and read every morning.
I won't be doing this any time soon now that most of the snow is gone unless of course we get bombarded again - I certainly hope so!

Okay, now for the recipe many of you have asked for this week and it's a good one!  This recipe showed up in my email from Yankee.com.

CIDER DONUT MUFFINS

2 cups of sweet apple cider (not juice)
1 stick softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
optional - 1 large or two small peeled and cored chopped apples - I did add apples to mine but this was not in the original recipe and is not necessary for success but it sure made them even more delicious.  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease muffin tins - do not use paper muffin cups!

Put the apple cider in a large saucepan, turn on high heat and bring to a boil and keep it boiling until it is reduced by half.  It took mine about 8 minutes and I checked it a couple times by pouring the cider into a glass measuring cup to see how close it was.   When it's reduced, set aside and cool .  You cannot skip this step and just use 1 cup of unreduced cider and do not use apple juice.  The reduction results in an intense apple flavor that is a tad thicker as well.  While the reducing is going on, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add the eggs and blend and then the vanilla.   Mix the dry ingredients in another bowl and then add this in thirds with thirds of the apple cider reduction until it's just blended.  Fold in the apples if using.  Spoon into your greased muffin tins (the recipe said it makes 12, mine made 15 and I really filled those tins).  Bake 15-17 minutes (mine took 15).  Let cool for 10 minutes.  While they cool, make the topping for dipping.  

3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbl.  ground cinnamon 
Mix those two together in a good sized bowl.

Melt 1/2 stick salted butter in another bowl.

Brush each muffin over the butter bowl with the melted butter and then dip the tops and sides, dredging well in the sugar/cinn. mix.  That's it!  They taste like apple cider donuts without the frying mess.  Superb!

 That's a pic of the boiling apple cider.
 I used mini bundt tins instead of muffin just for fun.

 Brush muffins with plenty of butter - I held mine over the butter bowl while I did this.
 Dredge them well!


Now for a few pictures of the ill fated stair runner project.  Ill fated in that we will cover all the work I just did.  The stairs were a brownish color that came with the house when we bought it.  I had imagined a creamy white stair case with a black trimmed red painted runner like this:
I saw these stairs on the IG feed of fashion editor Marian McEvoy.   I did paint on the black stripes but that is where a lot of bleeding occurred and the touch up was a real pain so I decided on all red just to use the paint I had bought even as I knew we would cover it with a cotton runner.  We can enjoy this until the runner arrives and I install it.






I made a 6 inch red velvet cake for a birthday girl today and I thought I'd photo it with the fresh red stairs in the background!  And red fish bombs!


CHAO!