Saturday, April 27, 2013

Watercolour Botanicals

Are watercolour botanicals made for springtime?  I'm beginning to think so. The soft colours and dainty flowers do my heart good. They remind me that nature is waking up and life is returning to the gardens and woodlands. 

We've been painting watercolour flowers in art class.  At the end of each class I add my new contributions to the mantel.  The collection is growing week-by-week which is fine by me as there is nothing better than a display in progress.

The weather has been lovely this weekend and it finally feels like spring here in Ontario.  Real flowers are actually appearing in gardens.  YAY for that!

Do you have a favourite way to bring some spring into your home?

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Peanut Soup

My brother sent me a recipe for African Peanut Soup about two weeks ago and I've already made it twice and am thinking about making it again.  It really is that good!


It is adapted from this recipe.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 can (28 ozs) crushed tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup uncooked rice
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 cup peanut butter

1. Heat oil in pan and cook onion and red peppers until softened.  Add the garlic for another minute of cooking.
2.  Stir in the tomatoes, vegetable broth, spices, rice, and sweet potato and cook for 30 minutes or until sweet potato is cooked through.  Mash with a potato masher, if desired.
3.  Add the peanut butter and stir until well blended.  Adjust seasoning and serve.

This soup has it all - vegetables, protein, creaminess, and a nice hit of spices (you can add more if you aren't a wimp like I am).  We had the soup with fresh bread which is great for wiping every last drop from your bowl.

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Linked to Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now,
Project Inspired Link Party at Dukes and Duchesses

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wabi-Sabi Living: the Ten-Item Wardrobe

All things wabi-sabi have been floating through my brain these days.  Ideas like - simplicity, serenity, understated elegance.  Lovely words!  Uplifting words!  Words that I want more of in my life.  One of the things I've been thinking about is how this applies to the clothes I wear. 

Wouldn't it be nice to have a well-organized closet containing just enough clothing so that you always feel well dressed for any occasion.  That is my definition of how wabi-sabi applies to our wardrobes.  A noble goal, but how to attain it?

When I read about the ten-item wardrobe I was intrigued.  According to Jennifer at The Daily Connoisseur, this is how chic French women dress.  They value quality over quantity and stock their wardrobes with just a few well-curated classic items that all work together. 

Of course, there are pros and cons of sticking to a ten-item wardrobe.  Some thoughts and observations from Jennifer are as follows:

1. Dressing in the morning is streamlined as everything mixes and matches.  
2. It is easy to take stock of clothes that are wearing out when you only have ten items
3. Since each item has to pull its weight, an item that is worn out will be replaced rather than just stored.  
4. You will be less likely to go on mindless shopping expeditions since you already have a stocked wardrobe.  
5.  And finally, with only ten items of clothing your closet will be a thing of beauty.

1.  If all your clothes get dirty at once, it could be a problem.
2.  Having such a limited variety of clothing items may mean you get tired of wearing the same pieces of clothes or the same colours all the time (okay, this last one is mine).  

While I'm not a clothes-horse I regularly wear more than ten items, but I'm always up for a personal challenge and this one sounded interesting. I decided I would challenge myself to see if I could survive wearing just ten pieces of clothing for a month. 

So are you ready to see the ten items I lovingly selected (it was agonizing! like choosing your ten favourite children). And just so you know my ten-item wardrobe doesn't include the following: shoes, outerwear, scarves, necklaces, undergarments, sleepwear, or exercise wear.  It is still quite cool here in Ontario although some days are warming up in the afternoon, so I had to include enough layers to keep me comfortable in a lot of different temperatures.

10 Item Wardrobe

I thought these ten items would work well together (with the exception of the red cardigan and the rust cords). I could have included another neutral cardigan in place of the red one, but I felt I needed some colour (I like to wear bright cardigans to add some colour to my outfits.)

  1. Cream/navy striped shirt (Banana Republic) 
  2. Flowered blouse (Eddie Bauer) 
  3. White V-neck shirt (Eddie Bauer) 
  4. Black V-neck shirt (Eddie Bauer) 
  5. Gray cardigan (Eddie Bauer) 
  6. Red cardigan (Eddie Bauer) 
  7. Jeans (Eddie Bauer) 
  8. Rust cords (Joe) 
  9. Black pants (Banana Republic) 
  10. Black skirt (I've had it for years)

I'll keep you posted as to how I'm doing and, if I remember, I'll take some photos too.

Do you think you could survive?

When I told my son what I'm doing, he just shrugged and said that that is what he wears all the time. The boy's a wabi-sabi master!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Indian Dinner

I really need to get serious and catch up on the recipes from our round-the-world-cooking adventure.  We just cooked a Cambodian dinner and I still haven't got our Indian dinner posted, so here goes.

It was difficult to decide what to cook for India as there are so many different dishes to choose from.  After some pondering, we selected chicken vindaloo (adapted from here) and served it with dhal and naan bread.  It was delicious! And was a feast for the eyes - beginning with the spices used to make the vindaloo.  Isn't that the prettiest combination of browns.

1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 or 2 tsp garam masala (see recipe below)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cm cube of peeled ginger, finely chopped
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
150 ml vegetable oil
4-8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 red onions, finely chopped

1 tsp pepper flakes (the original recipe calls for finely chopped red chilies, but I wanted a milder vindaloo)
4 skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
500 g tin diced tomatoes
1-2 tbsp of tomato purée to taste (I didn't include this)
Salt and pepper to taste


1.  Combine the ginger, cumin, cinnamon, mustard, coriander turmeric, garam masala, and cayenne pepper into a bowl and add the vinegar and sugar and mix thoroughly to make a paste.
2.  Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the garlic and the onion and cook over a medium heat until softened, for approx 5 mins.
3.  Once the onion and garlic have softened, add the chicken pieces and cook for approx 3 minutes until the chicken starts to colour.
4.  Now add the chilies, tomatoes, tomato purée, and the vindaloo spice paste.
5.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for approx 1 hour. It is important not to let the chicken vindaloo dry out, so add a 1/2 cup of water as necessary. Taste to adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve on rice with dhal and naan bread.

Garam Masala (from here):
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Naan bread made by William

DHAL (adapted from here)
1 cup red lentils (I didn't have red lentils so used brown, but they don't soften as well so I'd recommend ensuring you have red)
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Bring lentils and 3 cups water to a boil with turmeric.  Gently simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until falling apart, about 20 minutes.
2.  When lentils are cooked, heat oil in a small heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add mustard powder, cumin seeds, and red pepper flakes for about 1 minute. Stir spice mixture into lentils with coconut milk, lemon juice, and salt and bring to a simmer.
Serve with naan.

We loved the chicken vindaloo and I have a craving to make it again.  The dhal would have been better with the right kind of lentils (next time).

I need some suggestions for other Indian dishes to make. What's your favourite? There are so many different Indian recipes to choose from that I'm itching to try a few more, but in terms of our round-the-world cooking adventure India is done and we are on to Bangladesh.
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tea - From India with Love

Are you a tea drinker? I love a cup of tea, especially first thing in the morning. I used to drink coffee, but switched about ten years ago and I'm so glad I did. Tea is so calming and doesn't leave that bad taste in your mouth afterward.

I was looking through the photos I took when I was in India almost two years ago now (I can't believe it was that long ago) and wanted to share with you the glimpses of life on a tea plantation. Next time you have a cup of tea you can think of these scenes for the background story.

We visited the Glenburn Tea Estate near Darjeeling in north-eastern India. It is a lovely historic plantation set on top of a hill in the Himalayas.

I loved being shown all the stages of the tea process. We were able to hike through the tea gardens themselves and see the tea plants up close.

Did you know that tea bushes are pruned so they end up being like a bonsai. Some of them are 200 years old, but remain short with very thick trunks.  

We saw women picking tea leaves in one of the fields.  Since only the top two leaves at the end of each branch are picked and the tea is grown on steep mountain slopes, picking the tea leaves can only be done by hand.  I'm sure it was hard work carrying a large basket strapped to your forehead up and down the mountains all day so the smiles we got were impressive.

We toured the factory and were shown the many steps necessary to prepare the leaves so they are ready to be made into a wonderful cup of tea.

It is a very complex process and I have forgotten most of what I learned, but I haven't forgotten how much I loved the stenciled boxes that they use to ship tea around the world.  I would loved to have brought one home if I could have figured out how to do it.

We also sampled all the different types of tea produced at Glenburn and how the tea varied in each of the four seasons.  

Are you craving a nice cuppa right now too? I know, all that tea talk has that effect on me as well.

By the way, don't miss seeing the photos of the heavenly hotel at Glenburn - it was a complete highlight of the trip and was the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in.  There are also a few more photos of Glenburn in this post.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pakistani Dinner

I've got a backlog of recipes to post in our round-the-world cooking tour. I recently posted about our Persian and Israeli dinners (here and here) and today I bring you our Pakistani dinner. 

We cooked Sindhi biryani and Pakistani-style vegetables. I'm only including the Sindhi biryani recipe as that is the one that we liked best.  We liked it so well, in fact, we have already cooked it a second time. 

To find the recipes, we Googled Pakistani dishes and ended up merging several recipes together in order to create one that accommodated for the ingredients we were able to find and my pathetic inability to handle spicy food.

Sindhi biryani originates from the Sindhi province in southern Pakistan and is one of the most popular dishes in Pakistan.  A biryani is a rice-based dish (usually basmati rice) in which the rice is layered with a spicy curry mixture containing vegetables and often meat.  It was difficult to find on the internet what was unique about Sindhi biryani as there are many many biryani variations, but it may be that the yogurt and potatoes in the curry are the distinctive elements.

Here is the recipe we ended up cooking, although I know I added a bit more seasoning at the end (more tumeric and ginger I think it was) and forgot to write down the amounts.

Oil for cooking
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup basmati rice
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 796 ml tin whole tomatoes, with juice removed
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of cayenne
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
250 gm plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped prunes
small section of the mildest green chili you can buy, chopped (optional)
2 lemons (1 for garnishing)

1.  Boil the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain.
2.  Meanwhile cook rice in 2 cups of water with salt, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes until cooked.
3.  Heat oil in a pot and cook the onions and garlic until they are translucent.
4.  Add the chicken and yogurt and cook for several minutes.
5.  Add the tomatoes and the ginger, cayenne, and turmeric and cook for a few minutes.
6.  Add the prunes, green chilies, and juice from one lemon and cook until the chicken is cooked through. 
7.  Then add the boiled potatoes. Taste the chicken mixture and adjust seasonings to suit your taste.
8.  In another pot, heat oil in the bottom.  Then add a layer of rice, then the chicken mixture, then another layer of rice.
9.  Heat on low for about 5 minutes, and serve with lemon slices. 

Have you ever cooked South Asian food? I'm new to it myself, but love discovering new dishes to cook.  Although I am pathetic at handling spicy food, I love the spices in the South Asian recipes (I just modify them so we get the flavour and not so much of the heat).  Can you handle spicy food?  Please tell me I'm not the only one.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fancy Pants Egg Tart

My husband often says that the caliber of cooking has gone up around our house in the past few years. He would be right and it is largely thanks to the cooking-our-way-around-the-world project and the influence of blogs and magazines.  

I was reading my April 2013 Canadian House and Home magazine and saw this scrumptious looking recipe for a Mushroom, Leek, and Egg Tart. I loved how pretty it looked in the magazine and the recipe seemed doable so I decided to get the ingredients and give it a try. There always seems to be something that I switch up in a recipe and this one was no different.  I couldn't find any puff pastry at the grocery store so I used phyllo dough instead and thankfully it worked - because I really wasn't sure how similar they were.

This is the recipe for you if you want to impress the pants off your guests (and I guess that would depend on who your guest is, whether that is what you want to do).  It tastes so good and doesn't involve any tricky cooking, but makes you feel like you have just opened a bistro. 

olive oil for brushing and drizzling
salt and pepper to taste
2 portobello mushrooms (about 1/2 lb total)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme flakes
454 gm phyllo dough sheets
1 tablespoon butter
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), sliced
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
6 large eggs (the original recipe called for only 4 eggs, but I wanted to serve 3)
coarse sea salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 400F
2.  Brush the mushroom with oil.  Place on a parchment lined baking tray (I had to resort to foil), stem side up.  Drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper, and scatter garlic and thyme over top. Bake until tender (20-25 minutes). Remove from oven, discard garlic and thyme, and thickly slice.
3. Meanwhile, heat butter in a pan and add leeks.  Add a splash of water and cover the leeks.  Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, discard any liquid in pan, and then cool.
4. Cut phyllo dough to just slightly larger than the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  Place in the bottom of the pan bending the edges of the phyllo dough up slightly around the sides to form a lip.  Spread leeks over top, leaving 6 wells for eggs.  Arrange the mushrooms on top of the leeks. Brush edge of phyllo dough with egg yolk.  
5.  Bake 15 minutes.  Remove from oven. Crack 1 egg into each well (I had the eggs already cracked and waiting in 6 little dishes so the phyllo dough wouldn't cool down). Bake until egg whites are set , but yolks are runny (about 10 minutes).
6.  Sprinkle eggs with coarse sea salt.  Serve immediately.

Definitely a good recipe to file away for that moment when your heart is set on both cooking a yummy brunch and wanting to look like a top notch chef.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Wabi-Sabi: 5 Ideas for Your Home

Wabi-sabi is a wonderful new-to-me Japanese concept that embraces simplicity and beauty that comes with age (you can read more about it here). I've found this concept to be very inspiring and have been letting the ideas trickle through me this past week ever since I read about it.  

One of the things I've been pondering is what wabi-sabi means for our homes. I thought it would be interesting to find some examples of rooms that exemplified the principles of wabi-sabi. When I looked at these beautiful rooms, I was struck by five take-away ideas:

1.  Use real art.  Real art in our homes will reflect who we are and what our interests and tastes are better than a piece of art that was bought at a chain store (I actually worried when I was selecting the photos below that someone would recognize one of the rooms from a Potter Barn ad or something so I looked hard for something that seemed original).

Canadian House and Home

Mix and Chic

2.  Use handmade items.  Since handmade items are all unique, they help our homes be original and personal. The handmade items might be anything from a quilt, or some pottery, to a hand-forged stove venthood.  They might be something you have made yourself, or a family treasure, or something you purchased at a craft sale.

Country Living


3.  Use natural elements.  This has got to be one of my favourite ways to decorate.  Not only do natural items have the right price tag - free - but I love the organic feel they give a room.  I'm always collecting pine cones or rocks or twigs to decorate with.  Natural elements also mean decorating with natural wood furniture or floors or wood beams or even using live plants in your home.

Poetic Home


Style by Emily Henderson

4.  Use vintage items.  The signs of age and patina that often accompany vintage items add to the charm and sense of history. These items may be family heirlooms, or be treasures from thrift or antique stores, or they may even be worn parts of your home like exposed brick or beams.

Country Living

House Tweaking


5. Clear the clutter.  A room that is carefully edited helps you appreciate what you have. Space and light then become the most important elements in the room rather than the furniture and objects of daily living. Clearing the clutter creates a calm atmosphere and helps you focus on the people in the room rather than the objects in the room.

Jessica Helgerson Interior design

Country Living

Aren't they beautiful rooms?  Did you notice any other trends?  How did these ideas resonate with you?  

I am pretty faithful at #3 and #4, but need to work on #5 (in a big way!)  How about you?

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