Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Our Week of Culinary Conquests

While we were on our vacation to Hilton Head Island, Diann and I enjoyed using our official Biltmore Estate cookbook. We are finding it's a lot of fun - and quite efficient - to share the kitchen and actually cook instead of dining out!! (Though we did this, too.)

With two of us working together, we tackled recipes that we'd probably not attempt on our own.
Like Beef Wellington. It was sooooo good!

We made individual
Wellingtons instead of a whole tenderloin as it wasn't available in the local grocery store.
On the side:  oven-baked corn on the cob and oven roasted asparagus spears.

Another meal, we brought back the Salad Pizza recipe from last year's trip to Myrtle Beach.

Scones?  Yes, please!  We made these to go with breakfast one day. Warm out of the oven!!

Pre-baked scones

Another recipe from last year, made by Diann, is the Amaretto-glazed Peach Slices.
As we had no amaretto, a few drops of almond flavoring worked just fine!

She also did most of the work on the Rustic Apple Tart.

The smell of this baking was heavenly!

There were a couple of times when we got online recipes, too, with Paula Dean as inspiration for the Key Lime Pie meringue and the Baked Brie with nuts and brown sugar and a puff pastry crust.

Ooey, gooey cheesy goodness!

Towards the end of our week, the reserved ingredients (we only grocery shopped once!) went into the delicious Vanderbilt Mountain Strata.

This was one of the easiest, tastiest stratas I've ever made!  In fact, it was made again for my family after we returned home. 

You can obviously tell we threw calories, low carb, no sugar out the window for our week of culinary conquests and I have absolutely no regrets about it - and as for my waistbands, they have learned to keep quiet!!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Downton Detour

Road trips are always an adventure!

Here in the Biltmore Estate garden, we met up with the most delightful floral belle!

My sister and I have just wrapped up a wonderful trip to Hilton Head Island...spending hours in the car together on the way through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and finally arriving at our destination in South Carolina.  Along the way, we witnessed/experienced traffic jams, detours, winding mountain passes and a terrible accident.  Hotel reservations for two overnights were made as we travelled:  Asheville, NC was the first night and we arrived there later than my usual bedtime.  What really piqued our interest as we approached Asheville were prominent billboards advertising Dressing Downton at the Biltmore Estate.  What??? We knew a detour in the morning was coming!
This picture appeared on the billboard and also in the commemorative book purchased on location.

Early rising was a snap!  With no advance tickets purchased, we knew we had to be there even before the Biltmore Estate gate opened.  Our plan worked and we made it in time before tickets were no longer available. How very jolly we were --- pip pip Cheerio!

Front entrance
No photography was allowed once inside the Estate.  (This really allowed full concentration for full observation.  The pictures below have been "lifted" from the web and the book I bought.)  There were about 45 wardrobe masterpieces in the collection worn by the cast of this beloved PBS show. In person, these outfits were stunningly beautiful with every attention to detail: hats and jewelry included. The outfits were placed on mannequins and parked in appropriate mansion rooms.

Lady Mary and Matthew (not shown: the soon deceased Turkish diplomat) in Season 1.

Earl of Grantham wore this to the Charity Concert  in Season 2.

Tom's Chauffeur uniform Season 1-2.

Mrs. Hughes - Season 1.

Some of my favorites:  Earl of Grantham, Cora and Dowager Countess in their Garden Party attire Season 1.

Lady Sybil, Earl of Grantham, Lady Mary Season 2.

Lady Rose on the right in Season 4.

Lady Edith in her "boyish" look in Season 3.   This dress was one of my faves!

Cora's Garden Party hat.

Did you know that this is a travelling show? After leaving the Biltmore Estate, these garments will make their way to Wisconsin, Virginia, Chicago, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee. You might need to take a road trip detour yourselves to see this
show if you are a Downtown Abbey fan!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Learning from Vera (My Mom)

This Mother's Day I cannot help but remember life lessons taught by my unsuspecting teacher - my Mom, Vera.  She wasn't especially sentimental or deliberate in the teaching of these lessons.  She was a small-town girl from Kansas, taking secretarial courses after high school graduation, writing to the handsome Elom as he was stationed overseas.  His proposal came in a letter and they were quickly married when he came stateside on furlough.  Four children later, she did the best she could keeping us clothed and fed with creative "budgeting" on a shoestring budget.  She sewed, she gardened and made it all work!  Now that I am older, I realize that I am more like her than I ever thought I would be!

In her honor, I would like to share some of these lessons. Here goes.
 #1: Using up

Yes, that's me, too!  I seem to save things that others would get rid of: like wool sweaters. Now I 
deliberately shrink them to stitch into flowers, hats, mittens and other woolly, functional items.

#2: Errand running

Mom would NEVER go out to run ONE errand like going to the grocery store.  She'd go to the post office, the grocery store, the repair shop, the nursing home to see a senior, etc.  It drove me crazy as a teenager!  She'd return home hours later so if  I wanted something I'd have to put up with being dropped off and picked up when she was finished.  Now I realize she was ahead of her time in saving fossil fuels and now I can't manage to leave the house with only one errand in mind - I'll wait until two or three things relate in proximity for an errand to get done.

#3: Satisfying scratching

She knew the value of a back scratcher!  I inherited hers after her passing and it is one of the best
accessories I possess.  Perfect relief.

#4: Stocking up

She kept a stocked refrigerator.  And freezer. And cupboards.  She could make meals with anything available and would entertain company at the drop off a hat.  (Though there was never any liquor in cupboards or chilling in icebox.) 

#5:  Maintaining a junk drawer

She was a fan of the junk drawer.  As am I. 

#6: Collecting

Mom had interesting collections such as these glass fruits. She also had a thing for collecting twist ties and rubber bands, but that's another story.  I leaned from her that collecting things is fun and my vintage hat collection and fabric collection reflects this love.

#7:  Sewing

Mom didn't really teach me to sew, but modeled how yardage could turn into useful wearables and  
household goods.

#8:  Laughing

One of the best lessons my Mom taught me, though, was that laughter was/is important.  She could laugh so hard - and many times at her own self - that we often joined her with tears coming from our eyes!  Laughter is often better than medicine and shared laughter acts as a balm for the soul.

Today, may all of you have happy memories of some of  your Mom's  life lessons.  Some memories may be on the quirky side; that's AOK. Thank her if you can for such memories and have a good  laugh.  Just for Vera's sake.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Field Field Trip

Living in Chicago gives one ample opportunities for exploring fabulous museums: the Art Institute, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Acquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry are certainly top contenders. But, what about the  Field Museum? Our family set out to have a fresh view last Saturday morning - nothing like a 21 mo. old, 2 1/2 year old and 5 year old weighing in on the experience!  

Here are our little Vikings posing on the impressive museum stars.  We were lucky to get them corralled for this shot. (The current Viking exhibit is very good, but these little ones got into mayhem there and we evicted them before they were thrown out by officials.)

They absolutely loved the animals - wondering why they didn't move like they do in the zoo had to be addressed eventually. Trying to explain "dead and stuffed" was tricky with the inquisitive mind of the oldest.  

Snack time break!!

And then on to the dinosaurs.

There was a character dinosaur in the main part of the museum that E and M enjoyed meeting BUT

K certainly wasn't going to come near to it -

unless they held him, and even that was quite uncomfortable for him!

We all (except for this exact Dino moment for K) had a great time on our Field trip to the Field Museum! 

Eighteen thumbs up!  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Our Thing With Paddington

It all started with taking our oldest grandchild to the movie theatre this winter to see 
Paddington starring Downtown Abbey's own Hugh Bonneville, scary Nicole Kidman and the
sweetest Sally Hawkins.
 It was a winner and even her Papa loved the shared experience comparing this flick to Mary Poppins.  That's supercalifragilistically good!

Weeks later I introduced her to the (stuffed) Bear from far away Peru.  He has taken up residence at our City Nest. And here the adventures began...baking cookies together, sleepovers, visiting the local theatre and restaurant, and then writing about it in a journal.

P Bear went to his first movie about a month later.

Last weekend was especially adventurous for these two and me.  We went to a 
Paddington Tea Party at the library.
  Two of my former colleagues, Patricia and Diane, were the presenters of this delightful program.

Here Miss E poses with Paddington and Patricia.  And the expectant parents. (This was before Princess Charlotte was born.)

Food and d├ęcor coordinator, Diane. Nailed it!

Story time kicks off the event with a couple of favorite titles:
A Bear Named Paddington by Michael Bond
                   illustrated by R.W. Alley
Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Next up: an adorable P Bear craft-making time.

This was all topped off with a true tea party with finger sandwiches, scones and tea cakes.

We ALL loved this special afternoon (many attendees, but I am choosing not to post the pictures publicly)  and send out a huge thank you
to Cook Public Library for offering such treats to young ones, their older guests and

especially to a Bear from far away Peru who just happens to have
a penchant for marmalade!