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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Making Meals Pretty – The Food

It isn’t hard to make a meal look attractive, but sometimes it’s easy to forget if you don’t keep it in mind. My great-grandfather had no sense of taste, so to him the appeal of a meal was all visual. Consequently, if it didn’t look nice, he didn’t really enjoy it.

My mom and sister both took home economic courses that taught them to make food look attractive by using different color combinations. It isn’t really that hard to do most of the time. But, it does take a bit of thinking ahead, and I admit that my efforts are sometimes haphazard. Sometimes I think about what I have on hand or what sounds good, only to discover when I serve the meal that it’s very unappealing visually. Here are few examples and illustrations to show what I mean.

Here is a meal I made that is balanced, but not attractive. It is all brown, beige and white. Though some people think these are lovely colors because they are neutral, neutral colors are neutral because they don’t say anything! They are blah, or perhaps I should say mute.

This next meal, which I made on another occasion has two of the same components, but with a colorful vegetable mix and drink (grape juice), it makes a pretty picture.

Notice the difference in these next two pictures where a pan full of food is dressed up with a small addition of color. It is not particularly striking, yet it really does look better.

To both the pasta/herb mix and the zucchini was added a sprinkling of shredded cheese (maybe parmesan?), and to the zucchini was added just a few black olive halves and some bits of tomato. But, it looks so much tastier to me! :-) Of course, melted cheese has the tendency to make a lot of things look yummier by virtue of the anticipated taste, but its’ color can be useful as well.

Here are some items that will add color interest when added to various and sundry dishes:

Black or green olives
Carrots – slices, shaved or shredded
Green leafy vegetables, including lettuce
Sour Cream (for a bright white)
Cheese – especially orange cheeses
Green herbs
Frozen peas (I recommend adding them at the last minute so they keep their color and fresher taste)
Various fruits
Colorful peppers of all kinds

Even some flowers are edible and can perk up a salad. Just be sure not to use anything that has been treated with a systemic poison or something that isn’t safe for consumption.

Of course, try to match up the flavor of the things you add for color with the food you are serving. Chunks of watermelon hardly belong in potato soup. :-)

Anyway, this is just to encourage you (and myself) to try to dress things up just a bit with some color. It will make your meals more appealing visually, which is good for the artistic part of us. (Yes, we all have an artistic side – we are created in the image of God and He is the ultimate artist and master of color!) It doesn’t take much. If nothing else, serve some sliced tomatoes, carrots or apples along with the meal.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fast Method Baklava

Here is a recipe for baklava that does not require the tedious method of layering butter and fillo dough sheet by sheet.  This is the only kind I’ve ever made and it always turns out well.  It is a family favorite!

I recommend making the syrup ahead of time, but if you do not remember, be sure to let the baklava cool completely before pouring the warm syrup over it.  Either the syrup or the baklava should be warm, but never both according to what I read.  For large batches of baklava it is recommended to let it cool first and put the warm syrup on later.  I have done it both ways, and they both work.
Some recipes call for unsalted butter, but I’ve used salted most of the time and it tasted fine.  The recipe below is actually a combination of two different recipes.  This is approximately how I made it the last time.
1 pk. of fillo dough (about 20 – 30 sheets)
1 lb. butter, melted and with the solids skimmed off the top
3 - 4 C. ground walnuts (or pecans or unsalted pistachios)
1/2 C. sugar
2 Tbl. melted butter (I just take this out of the amount melted above.)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Honey Syrup
Preheat oven to 450F.  Brush 9 x 13 x 2-inch cake pan with butter.  Place half the fillo dough in the pan (about 10-15 sheets).  Spread all of filling mixture evenly over it.  Cover with remaining half of fillo sheets.  Cut into diamond shapes* using a good, sharp knife.  Spoon the melted (or clarified) butter over it making sure to  get it in all the cut lines and around the edges.  NOTE: Do not use the milky stuff in the bottom of the pan – only the clearer, golden colored part that looks like oil.
Bake in 450F oven for 8 minutes.  Turn off the oven and leave the baklava in the oven for 45 more minutes.  Do not open the oven during this time.
Remove from oven and spoon cooled syrup on the hot baklava making sure to cover all areas including around the edges, as with the butter.  It may be necessary to re-cut the baklava before removing it from the pan.
Honey Syrup
2/3 C. honey
1/3 C. sugar
3/4 C. water
Juice from 1 lemon
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, 3 inches long
Mix honey, sugar, water and spices in saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil.  Add lemon juice and cook for about 15 minutes over medium heat.  Remove from heat and cool completely.  Remove cloves and cinnamon before spooning over baklava.
You may increase or reduce the syrup based on your preferences.
*To cut baklava into diamond shapes, cut straight lines across the 9” width of the pan.  Then cut diagonal lines from the end of one horizontal cut to the end of another on the opposite side of the pan going in a straight line.  Here is a link to a page that shows a slightly different cutting pattern, but it’s the same idea, and hopefully it will help.  If you don’t feel confident of this, just cut it in smallish squares. 
The diamond pattern tends to make some rather large pieces, so recently I’ve cut mine into triangles and squares instead.  If you do triangles try not to cut them too small as it can make them hard to handle when you remove them from the pan.
Note: If you do not have whole cloves or cinnamon, you may put in ground.  The cloves would probably be about 1/4 tsp. and the cinnamon 2 tsp.  This is an estimate since I haven’t done this.  But, it will make your baklava darker.  The point in using it whole is to get the taste without the color.  It’s mostly an appearance thing, I think.
If you want to buy whole cloves or cinnamon but the price at your local grocery is prohibitive, I suggest checking out an Indian grocery store or food shop.  A lot of larger cities have them, and we have gotten whole cloves and cinnamon at such places for much better prices that can usually be found in regular grocery stores.  You may find other herbs and spices that you use cheaper there as well.  Also, if you have an electric coffee grinder, you can easily grind up the whole cloves or cinnamon into powder if you want to later.  Just be sure to clean the grinder well after using it for spices or herbs.  (My mom actually keeps two – one for coffee and one for herbs and such.  She watches for coffee grinders at second hand stores.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Modest Proposal – Rethinking Gift Giving for the New Year


Do you have a lot of stuff?  I don’t mean the things you use on a regular basis, or that are there to make your home look pretty.  I mean the stuff that is lurking in the garage, under the bed, in closets, perhaps in the attic or basement – the things that fall out on your head, keep you from finding the back of the closet, and make it impossible to park the car out of the weather.  I mean the things that you don’t use any more, that are not family heirlooms, and maybe you don’t even remember that you own!  That’s the stuff I mean…

A Modest Proposal

Go to my web page to read the rest of this article.  It got too long and I wanted to develop it too much to make it work well for the blog, so I moved it over there. :-)  I hope that it will interest you.  It should help us with our organizing efforts at the same time!  It’s always great to kill two birds with one stone.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Get Organized!

Here are some links to help us get organized.  There is some good advice here and some plain talking.  These ladies aren’t trying to sell us a product that will “help us organize”, they are just giving some good common sense.  If you’re like me, you probably don’t need more space, you just need to eliminate or store the non-essential and clutter items that are going nowhere and doing nothing to improve your life or home.  (And, by the way, if you have a reasonable size house to start with, you don’t need a storage unit to put this extra stuff in.  Get rid of it or give it to someone who will use it!  Why pay to store things you don’t truly need?  And, if you really, really can’t part with something, buy a small portable shed – used, if possible – and store it yourself.  It will save money in the long run.)

Stand Up and Move – Toss and Store – This isn’t the actual title of this article, but it’s the part I like best; maybe because it applies to me! :-)

Get Organized Part 1 – Who knew that getting organized could improve our quality of living so much?

Get Organized Part 2 – Where the rubber meets the road.  Telling us what we need to hear.  (The author has CFS, by the way, so she is not unsympathetic toward those who have genuine disabilities and encourages us to work in small increments.)


After reading some of these I got inspired to clean out under my bathroom sink and discard or give away anything that I wasn’t going to use or didn’t need, and to move at least one thing to a more logical location for storage. :-)  That area had been bugging me because it was too full and cluttered.  Since I want to move to more natural cleaning products it was a good time to eliminate things that I wasn’t likely to finish up.  Too bad I didn’t take some “before” and “after” pictures. ;-)  Later I may show some other projects I’ve been working on (the sewing room) or that I want to work on (the back bedroom).

And, lest ye think that my mess can’t be as bad as yours, here are a couple pictures for proof.  (Don’t look at these in the evening.  They might give you nightmares.) :-)

The back bedroom – dumping ground for various and sundry and sorting area for boxes not yet unloaded since we moved here.  Though the pile has somewhat improved, it is still difficult the move around in there…

The sewing room (before the desk and machine were set up in there).  This mess actually got somewhat organized and some of the things were put away or tended to; but, believe it or not, the mess in there is actually worse now than it was in this picture!  Ack!  (More later on that.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why We Don’t Celebrate Christmas

Some of my readers may wonder why it is that there has not been any Christmas stuff on here – no recipes, no references, etc.  We do not celebrate the holiday, and here is a page explaining why for those who might be interested in the reason (no, we are NOT Jehovah’s Witnesses):

Why We Don’t Celebrate Christmas

If you are interested in reading more information on this subject I have further information posted here:

Christmas – Holy or Profane?

If you are not interested in making a decision between righteousness and unrighteousness on this subject please don’t go to these pages.  It is not a matter to be treated lightly nor with the attitude that “it really doesn’t matter that much”, and “I have the liberty to do as I please”.  Once you are informed on this subject you will answer to God (not me or us) for your decision. 

I waited to post this article here till after the holidays were over so that readers could have some time to digest it before the next “holiday season” rolls around.  Some people become very sensitive and defensive if this subject is addressed just before the “Christmas season”, and thus refuse to think biblically and graciously.

I am not posting this to start a debate.  I don’t wish to argue with anyone about it.  Our convictions on this subject are not up for debate.  If you don’t agree, fine.  It’s your choice.  But, anyone who sends a comment that is intended to make me feel guilty or uncomfortable about this can be assured that it will not be posted. :-)  I don’t dislike people because they celebrate Christmas, nor do I disrespect them.  All I ask is some respect and Christian grace in return.  We used to celebrate Christmas ourselves.  I know that it is not easy to make the separation on this.  But, if you set out to destroy my conviction or to make me feel “ungodly” for this choice, I can’t answer for that.

Lamentations 3:35 To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High, 36 To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.

A lot of people will quote Romans 14:12 to justify their choice to continue celebrating,  “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”  They don’t seem to stop and think about the fact that this verse works two ways – if they have chosen wrongly to defend and maintain the Christmas tradition, they will answer for that as well as if they were doing the right thing; and they don’t seem to think about the implications of answering for such a large matter as celebrating Christ’s birth in a pagan context. 

On the other hand, they don’t seem to think much about the fact that those of us who have chosen *not* to celebrate this holiday also will give account of ourselves before God, and therefore, they have no right nor business to try to convince us to defile our consciences in returning to something that we know and are convinced is ungodly and even blasphemous.  I find it ironic that, for those of us who abstain, the consequences of being wrong seem much less fearful than for those who insist on continuing to celebrate.  If we are wrong, there is no scripture commanding us to celebrate Christ’s birth, and on the contrary there is much scripture instructing us not to mix idolatry with the truth.  If those who observe Christmas are wrong, though they are not forbidden to celebrate Christ’s birth, they are certainly commanded not to mix righteousness and unrighteousness.

2 Corinthians 6:14 …what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?…


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Recycle – Reuse : “That old thing?” – The Cookie Jar

Most of my “recycling” efforts really fall under the category of reusing.  I grew up in a “poor country preacher’s” home.  The churches my dad served were small and generally not able to offer a lot of financial support.  So, my dad worked on the side, and my mom made everything go as far as possible.  Both my parents did.  They were also both efficient at finding bargains and getting to them “before the hoarders got there”, as their little joke went.  You see we were the “hoarders” in those days.  Not because we were afraid of the future or just wanted stuff, but because when we found food we used, needed or especially liked at a rock bottom price we bought in quantity and froze, stored or canned it.  This is how my mom managed to feed a family of six on such a low income.  In fact, we ate quite well considering our “economic bracket”!  But, they couldn’t have managed at all if God hadn’t been so gracious to them.  He helped them in these endeavors over and over in so many ways!  It was truly amazing and we praise Him for it!

My parents and grandparents were all missionaries in Africa as well.  This made for an interesting life of making do with what they had.  Back when the first ones went out (before WW II) things were still quite primitive in some places they lived.  It was not “pioneering missions”, but they really roughed it sometimes.  They all learned the value of reusing things in a big way, believe me.  This was not always to the best advantage later as some things that were saved as really useful on the African mission field were not particularly useful things to save in the U.S. – such a tin cans, which in East Africa were at one time traded for eggs, but here were almost useless except for some very particular situations.  (Note: Large cans with sealing lids, though rare these days, can be useful for some purposes, but lets not save every single one! :-)  An important part of reusing is learning where to draw the line and not go overboard.)

I would like to share a few of the things I’ve been able to “reuse”. [Later development: I intended to start a series called "That Old Thing" but, as it turned out, I didn't.  So, if you are interested in repurposing and reusing things, please see the new series "Shop Your Own Stuff".]

First of all, I’d like you to see a cookie jar I have.

Some people might think it’s pretty nice, but in fact it has some cracks and is showing it’s age.  Even in this picture you can see a couple of the repairs on the lid (done by my dad or a former owner).  Also, I am pretty sure that someone used it for potting a plant at some point because there was dirt in the bottom of it when I first got it and it was quite dirty. 

My dad actually gave this to me.  He bought it somewhere second hand to resell since it is a 1950’s era “real McCoy”, but it was not in great condition.  The lid may be from another cookie jar even.  He knew I like strawberry stuff, so he offered it to me, very kindly. :-)

Anyway, what do you use a cookie jar for that has been used to pot plants? Ugh.

It took some work, but I finally got the years of caked on grime pretty much scrubbed off.  Since I had a newer, cleaner cookie jar in a similar shape, I didn’t really need it for cookies.  I ended up storing garlic in it.  It isn’t air tight, so the garlic can “breath”, and it’s former “life of grime” is not an issue.  :-)  Reused!

(Note: The other cookie jar actually serves as a cracker holder – packaged crackers that won’t be effected by the air leaks.  I don’t consider these kind of cookie jars to be that great for storing cookies, unless they have a rubber seal, since the cookies tend to go stale quicker.  I store mine in sealed containers.  Just for what it’s worth.)