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Dismantling the mantel

Maybe I am one of those people who just isn’t supposed to have a fireplace mantel. Goodness knows it throws me for a decorating loop more seasons than not.

However, even though I struggle to keep it updated, I *do* put stuff on it, and take it down, and put other stuff on it. Want proof?  Here was the 2013 Christmas mantel. Awwww….
IMG_5248-001
The miniature sled was something I snagged in an antique/thrift store down in Bell Buckle last year; I had planned to work it into an outdoor Christmas decoration, but at the last minute, I propped it on there, and it seemed to fit.

The mantel was one of the last things I put up and took down. (It was slow going this year.) Since it was dismantled late, I went straight for a wintry vignette with a little Valentine’s Day thrown in for good measure:
IMG_5348
Now let’s see if I can get myself in gear and update it before Easter. Hmmm. Maybe if I update the mantel and the dining room with a spring-y feel, this gray, cold winter will take the hint and take its leave? If only it were that easy, I’d dismantle the mantel today.

Happy Monday,
Terry

January’s issue of Southern Living had a recipe for homemade condensed cream of mushroom soup. I’m glad to know I am not the only cook that has a love/hate relationship with canned cream of mushroom soup. It’s a secret weapon in my pantry and recipe books: an ingredient I rarely talk about and certainly never brag about, even though it sure does hold a lot of food together.

But food snobbery aside, it is high in sodium and fat, and contains a few things I can’t pronounce, and would rather not eat. And it’s no longer a cheap ingredient. It was possible at one time to buy cream-of-anything soup at the low price of 4 for $1. Then the sales went to 3 for $1, then 2 for $1 and now you’re lucky if you find it for under a buck per can.

That’s where this recipe entered the scene. It is not an ultra frugal recipe (although if you find fresh mushrooms marked down, it could bring the cost down considerably.) My guesstimated cost was somewhere around $8 to make this batch. But it is significantly lower in sodium, and has no preservatives.

I modified homemade-cream-mushroom-soup-sl-lSouthern Living’s version…not on purpose. I dumped in the whole quart of heavy cream before I realized it only called for half that amount. But the final results were what I was looking for, and after using almost half the soup in a couple recipes, I was left with the equivalent of four cans concentrate. They are in my freezer, waiting for the next recipe that calls for condensed cream of mushroom soup.  Here’s Southern Living’s version and here’s my modified version.

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:
3 8-ounce cartons of button mushrooms (whole or sliced – you’re going to dice them. I substituted one can of mushrooms for one carton of fresh, because I had one in the pantry and I wanted to use it up.)
1/2 cup butter, divided
1/3 cup flour
4 cups heavy cream
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened (you can use light, fat-free or Neufatchel; the texture may vary slightly)
1/4 teaspoon Better-than-Bouillon chicken concentrate
2 ounces water

Directions:
Place 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet. Add the chopped mushrooms (I’d recommend dicing them fairly small unless your family likes chunks of mushrooms in their foods.)

Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until the mushrooms sweat out their juices and the juices evaporate – approximately 10-12 minutes. This step takes the longest and you really want to keep a close eye on them.

Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.  Add the remaining butter and flour; whisk into a roux and let bubble for a minute or two over medium heat; do not let it brown.  Gradually add the cream, whisking smooth. Add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Re-add the mushrooms. The mixture should be velvety and thick – much like the texture of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Cool and divide among 7 or 8 small (10 or 12 ounce) freezer containers or quart-size freezer bags. I portioned out 7 generous servings from this recipe but I’ll stretch it to 8 next time. Thaw before using.

For additional modifications, you can try substituting half-and-half for some of the heavy cream (it may make it “soup-ier”) and low-fat or no-fat cream cheese. Better-than-Bouillon also makes a reduced sodium concentrate that would reduce the sodium content even further.

Happy eating,
Terry

I know, that’s not quite how the song goes, but it’s close. This birthday was one of those birthdays that got overshadowed by EVERYTHING else. It always plays second fiddle to the groundhog thing.

This year it also fell on a Sunday – and not just any Sunday, but Super Bowl Sunday. Our church does a “Soup-R Sunday” on that day, with a hot soup & chili lunch following morning worship, then an afternoon devo, and dismissal in plenty of time to head home or to a watch party before the pregame starts.

By the time we left and swung by the grocery store for snacks and then headed home, it was 3:30 in the afternoon; a cold, gray 33 degrees and raining. All the signs pointed to hibernating more than celebrating. We quietly settled in and watched the Big Game – just Middle Son, Mr. Official and moi (and the dog and cat.) Swimmer Girl couldn’t come home this weekend, and Oldest Son had other plans too. The Big Game was a big dud – I’m sure Peyton is more disappointed than we are, but it was a hard game to watch. After the game ended, we watched The Greatest Game Ever Played, a Disney-fied treatment of the matchup between Harry Vardon and Francis Oiemet in the 1913 U.S. Open. Just before midnight, we turned out the lights and called it a day.

So that was it. End of story. No cake, no ice cream, no candles, no hoopla, no nuthin. Well, okay. Not exactly “nothing.” You see, I had been eyeballing some new (to me) vintage dishes on eBay, and the countdown clock was winding down on them. So my birthday present to me consisted of successfully snagging four new pieces of dishware.

1. A (fairly rare) individual French casserole with lid. I doubt I’ll find any others – at least not for $20.
HLOvenServeFrenchCasserole2
2. A larger casserole with lid in an unnamed pattern that goes well with my orange pieces:
casserole marigolds
3. A mixing bowl in the same pattern. Funny how you can be blissfully unaware something even exists. And then when you become aware of it, you see it everywhere. Such is the case here: the bowl and casserole will bring the total in my collection to four pieces.  If you spot any other pieces with this pattern, I’m now on the lookout.
marigolds bowl
4. A third vintage carafe in radioactive red, which will join the green and cobalt blue carafes in my collection. Coincidentally, this one was sold by someone from our old hometown in Oklahoma. Small world, after all.
red carafe
Here’s hoping all the pieces arrive intact (that’s the biggest concern with vintage – everybody loses when they don’t make the trip in one piece.)

So now you see, it was a pretty happy birthday after all.

Happy Wednesday,
Terry

I like to call it MPTDD

My Monday rant: I’m not merely swamped, I’m tsunami-ed. Overrun with the remnants of an at-home Super Bowl watch (no actual party but we made a mess like we had one.) At least the dishes are clean, but there’s a slew of them to put away, and bags of snack chips and crackers an cookies strewn across the island.

After my two-day stint on the couch loaded up on cold meds last week, the never-ending mound of laundry has mounded higher. The refrigerator is barely contained chaos and probably has a few science experiements growing in the dark recesses. My fount of of junk mail overrunneth. And – like that wasn’t bad enough – the contents of the attic are now stacked precariously in the bonus room. We started another project: installing new shelving. But by Saturday evening, we ran short on supplies and failed to finish. My closet floor is a land mine field of every pair of shoes I’ve worn in the past month. Empty shoeboxes yawn on the floor. Our garage is still cluttered with the remains of refinishing the kitchen table and chairs. (A project I DID finish, even if I left a mess out there.) Besides, that’s not the only mess out there I need to work on. Ugh.

Basically, my house looks like Richmond after Grant ran it through. (Actually, it would probably look BETTER in the aftermath of a battle.) I’d like to say this is a highly unusual occurrence, but since the holidays, we have been gradually sinking into this pit of despair.

Bottom line: I have too-many-to-count projects started and stalled. I pride myself on being fairly nimble and adept at multi-tasking but the current state of affairs hints that I might not be as adroit as I think. Certainly I need to get better at finishing what I start. Although new projects are always so beguiling, and I tell myself I can finish one AND start another one simultaneously.

Because every malady needs a name and an acronym, I dub mine MPTDD: Multiple Project Time Deficiency Disorder. I don’t lack attentiveness, I merely lack the necessary time to complete every project. And picking one project to focus all my efforts on just wouldn’t be fair to all the other projects, now would it?

And as wise folks have pointed out, the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. So there.  I did manage to make our bed up (with all nine million pillows and everything) while my last cup of morning coffee was brewing and my English muffin was toasting. So maybe I can multi-task – at least with the help of kitchen appliances.

Next on today’s to-do list is a quick cleaning of the downstairs bathrooms and running (literally) the vacuum. It’s embarrassing to see artificial pine needles and itty bitty fake snowflakes in little drifts in the corners. The refrigerator might get an overhaul while I fix dinner, although that will mean skipping weight lifting and running tonight. Sigh. The bonus room will have to be endured this week until we can carve out an evening to finish the shelving.  And just in case you get curious and want to come see this hot mess for yourself, be forewarned: if I answer the door and give you the tour of the crime scene, I will probably put you to work. My shame does not preclude me from asking for help.

Otherwise, I will console myself with the knowledge that it’s always darkest before the dawn. And there are still six-plus weeks until spring, and once the temperatures start to warm up a bit, I might be a bit more inclined to tidy the garage. And hey, six weeks is enough time to start at least a half-dozen more projects, right?

Happy Monday,
Terry

Around here, the past couple of winters have been really mild. Uncommonly mild, even. Last year, we watched and waited for winter to arrive, and it never did. Not really, anyway. We just kind of shivered our way into spring.

But apparently THIS winter has decided to settle in and give us a good run for our money, at least in terms of temperatures. If I could ask for anything, I would like a little snow to go with the cold. Please and thank you.

This is how our week is shaping up, weather-wise.
forecast
I know, I know. I shouldn’t whine. This is nothing compared with some parts of the country, where minus signs frequently appear in front of temperatures, and polar vortex is NOT a noteworthy weather phenomenon. But here in middle Tennessee, we live on the teetering transitional edge between north and south. And some years, our average lows hover in the mid-30s – not exactly tropical, but not exactly locked in the icy clutches of winter, either.

Part of me is glad I don’t have my greenhouse up and running this year and  part of me wishes I did. Even on a cold, blustery winter day, a little sunshine and a space heater can make it feel like spring. But there is a big price to pay – namely the cost of keeping the inside above freezing every night.

While we start the inevitable countdown to spring (I generally begin marking off the weeks to last frost as soon as Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone), I’m focusing my time and attention on indoor stuff: cleaning, organizing, crafting, cooking and exercising. Maybe not in that order.

Last week’s menu had several new items from January’s Southern Living recipes. This week’s menu has a few more recipes from that issue. I’ve finally embraced the no-knead bread recipe, and we’ve eaten two loaves in as many weeks. I don’t know why it took me so long to give it a shot, but I’m glad I did. I got February’s Southern Living in the mail over the weekend and there are several more good-sounding recipes in it, so my family can rest assured they will get a nice mix of old favorites and new foods over the next several weeks.

I’ve kept up with my daily Bible reading and the 52-week organizing challenge; this week is pantry and spice rack cleanout. Luckily for me, I had done a pantry re-org before Christmas, so I’m coasting for a few days. Next week’s challenge is to set up a home recycling center, which is unnecessary because we have curbside recycling, and they sort everything for us, so if the temperatures aren’t bitterly cold, I hope to use that week to clear out a lot of the clutter in the garage. No promises, though.

I like to think of it as part of the organization challenge, but whatever you call it, I’ve abandoned any pretense at limiting my Fiesta collection. And so I’ve begun the hunt for a new/second hutch for the kitchen…a two-piece style with a breakfront so I can eek out a little more counter space as well as have more display room for my vintage dishes, and lower cabinets and drawers to stow cookbooks and linens and a few less-used cooking and serving pieces. I found a Hoosier-style oak cabinet last weekend at an antique mall, and I loved everything about it except the width (too narrow) and the price (too high.)  I’m holding out hope that stalking Craigslist will eventually yield the piece with exact dimensions and price I’m looking for.

So how is your winter going? Are you like me, and ready for it to be over and done with already? Or are you settling in and enjoying the season?

Happy Monday,
Terry

I turned the big 5-0 last February.  To answer the inevitable responses to that statement,

No, I have no idea where five decades went. I just know they went really fast.
and
No, I really don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

But with certain milestone birthdays come certain “health screening” procedures, whether you feel all grown-up or not.

Yeah.

Monday and yesterday were consumed by one of those procedures. You know, the one where you devote considerable time to NOT eating, and ummmm, “prepping”…which is far worse than the procedure. The procedure itself is fairly unremarkable, because you get sedated, and then you sleep. And sleep and sleep. At least that’s how mine went, and yesterday afternoon involved eating, napping, eating, napping. (Side note, the results were good news – a clean bill of health.)

january-2014 SL magazineAnd now that THAT’s behind me (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), I’m going to make good on making some one-dish wonders highlighted in this month’s Southern Living magazine.

Rarely does one article have multiple dishes that appeal to me, but this one hit the jackpot with three. This week’s menu lineup includes:

1. Tomato-Basil-Spinach Pasta – I’m adding shrimp and some Italian sausage to mine;
2. Paella-style Orzo with Fish and Herbs which is a great use of orzo in my pantry and tilapia in the freezer; and
3. Hammed-up Macaroni and Cheese to use up some of the left-over spiral ham slices from earlier in the week.

I’m pretty hopeful the rest of the week will go better…although that napping was pretty awesome.

Happy cooking,
Terry

Where we gather together

Late last fall, I undertook the job of refinishing our nearly 30-year-old kitchen table and chairs. (Wow, that just sounds so…old.)

The table is a well-made classic oak clawfoot table – it goes from a 4-foot round to a 5- or 6-foot oval with the addition of one or two leaves.

The chairs are Windsor-style. The table was a hand-picked gift from my parents and four chairs were bought as unfinished from Builders Square (before they were bought out by The Home Depot.)

If you’re not a kid, you remember oak in the mid-80s. It came in one glowing hue, fondly termed “golden.” Mine was a tad darker than some, but it still gleamed brightly. When Swimmer Girl outgrew her high chair, baby made five, and I found a pair of chairs similar to the others. They were pre-finished and didn’t match the others, but at least we had seats for everyone and one to spare.

I overlooked the set’s dated and mismatched stains as long as possible, but the table’s top was starting to show its age in profound ways. In many places, the finish was finished. Gone. Finis. Drinking glasses left dark water rings that soaked into the wood and took forever to dry. This is the “before” picture.

IMG_4545And truth be told, I finished those four chairs in haste so we would have seating – they were never my proudest project.  Looking back, I was juggling a toddler, a full course load in college and trying to manage household duties. In those days, DIY was just coming into vogue – there were no blogs or cable shows to inspire us, and home improvement store selection was pretty bare bones. I had little time or money to spend on stain and sealers, so I did what I could with what I was readily available. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As I started stripping and sanding, I had to smile at the chair that was the designated toddler seat: it had bare spots rubbed where the booster seat slid back and forth. And it had a chewed spot on one of the rungs. My best guess is frequent toddler food spills led to enthusiastic dog licking…and occasional gnawing.

After a quick strip and light sanding, my pieces were ready to stain. I used General Finishes gel stains in nutmeg for the table and java for the chairs, and a waterproof sealer.  That sounds really fast, but the fact is I did it as the season was cooling down into damp, rainy weather, so there were several days’ drying time between coats, and I changed my mind on the finish coat, so instead of finishing in a week, it was more like a….month? (I’d like to say we ate in the dining room every night in the interim, but the truth is, we ate out more than we ate in that month.)

I admit my mind wandered while I researched stains and labored over the refinishing process. I thought of my friends who either have or covet a rustic farmhouse table: rectangular shape, plank top, and chunky legs. Bench seating mixed with old-style sturdy chairs.

I briefly contemplated changing out our table and chairs for something new – either a farmhouse table, or an old-fashioned school table with swing-out seats, like this one from World Marketschool cafeteria tableBut I couldn’t justify the expense OR the waste of discarding a perfectly good table and chairs that just needed a little TLC.

When I was I looking around at my options, I discovered that “farmhouse table” isn’t as narrowly defined as I thought. It seems the common tie that binds this style is rusticity. No sleek, glossy, polished glass, brass or chrome in sight. No lovely, delicate Queen Anne-style cherry legs. Those pretty tables are reserved for formal dinners and diners.

A farmhouse table is for leisurely, boisterous, talkative family suppers and hearty breakfasts. Claw-foot and other pedestal tables, be they square, round or rectangular, are now incorporated into the farmhouse family. And that suits me fine…now that its finish is updated, it will hopefully serve as our family’s favorite eating spot for many more years. No pretense, just a sturdy spot to gather us together for the holidays and the everydays.

Have you refinished any furniture lately? It’s not hard, just time-consuming. But I can vouch for the fact that the time you spend sanding and staining may give you time to reminisce…and that can be a pretty good use of your time.

Happy refinishing,
Terry

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