Something wicked this way comes…

It’s October, my favorite month of the year. I love the change of seasonal things in our lives, like weather temperatures, cooking habits and holidays. I’ve always felt like October brings the three month holiday season to a gentle start, especially when it comes to decorating for Halloween…

In my experience, when people set out to decorate their homes for Christmas or Thanksgiving, they fully commit it to their schedule. Shopping for the Thanksgiving groceries generally requires an organized trip to the grocery store before the big dinner event. Decorating a Christmas tree also requires some planning and serious time to get the tree up and sort out all of the related decorations. Halloween, though, can ease up on you.  It creeps toward you on the calendar, not really requiring anything in the way of decorations. You can choose decor slowly and add it as the month goes by.

You know in the back of your mind that Halloween is coming. Even if you are a very busy parent, sewing multiple costumes for your wiggling goblins, there is the sense of approaching this annual event that feels different.  Is it the way adults can feel naughty to be caught devouring children’s candy loot? Is it the freedom we get to be silly while designing our own Halloween costumes for work or parties? Who knows. I think this is part of the mysterious fun. Halloween sneaks up on us in a maleficent way with fun choices: How wicked do we want to be?

I’ve pulled together some devilishly fun Halloween decor on a Pinterest board for you to browse. You could use all of this decor to outfit a Halloween party of your own, or just sprinkle in a few pieces around your home to add some spirited flare. All of the items on the board are linked to their retailers online, and all of the pictures in this post come from my board. Like what you see? You check out my full Halloween Pinterest board by clicking on this link, the Pinterest button on the website sidebar, or on this picture:

What says Halloween to you? Is it pumpkins, costumes or candy corn? Leave a comment and share your opinion! I’m off to play today, because it’s my birthday. (Told you I love October!) I may be a little slower in comment moderation than normal as I eat my birthday cake, but keep those comments coming!

If you liked this post, you might want to read my earlier post full of recipes that use up leftover Halloween candy. Just click on this link:

Fighting Ghoulish Sugar Crashes

Savor: New England Shrimp Rolls

It’s been a few weeks since I shared a recipe on the blog, so I thought it was time again. This recipe is one of our summer favorites and when I made a round of these this past weekend, I seized the opportunity to load up the camera with the easy how-to steps to share with you. There are very few measurements in this recipe because the flavors are all based on your personal tastes and, as the cook, you taste and adjust as you go. You can double, triple or even cut this recipe in half and it always works.

Also, with the exception of prepping the shrimp (more on that below), this is a great recipe that kids can help with because so much of it is just organized pouring and stirring. Many scientific studies report that kids involved in home meal prep create children more enthusiastic to taste new things. I have to think parents would love some help in the kitchen sometimes, too. Or, as any serious New England fisherman would tell you, “Any port in a storm.”

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. shrimp,  peeled, de-veined, cooked, tail-off (can be frozen, thawed)
  • Mayonnaise (Miracle Whip doesn’t work in this recipe)
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Chives (fresh or dried)
  • Boston lettuce (or most other leafy, green lettuces)
  • Hot dog rolls
  • Your favorite plain-but-salty potato chips

Prepping The Shrimp

You can use frozen cooked shrimp for this recipe. I do all the time. In fact, I highly recommend it if you are making a large batch of these rolls for a larger group, because it can help keep your grocery budget in line. Just thaw your shrimp safely, under lots of cold water, when you are ready to make this recipe. These are the shrimp I use, from Trader Joe’s:

The package clearly says, “deveined” but I never trust that printing. Let’s talk about that for a second. If you are an experienced cook, you may already know what I’m about to say, so you can just sit back and nod in agreement as you read along. If cooking with shrimp is new or intimidating for you, I want to give you some real knowledge to make it approachable.

Shrimp must be “deveined” to eat it. Having a fishing factory machine cut the vein out of individual shrimp is next to impossible, because the shrimp are all different sizes, and slide around, etc. This is why you always have to check every shrimp yourself. Here is a “deveined” shrimp, from the bag for my recipe:

Yeah. See that dark line running down the middle of the shrimp? That’s the vein. So, not really “deveined”, as the bag said it was. To get rid of that vein, you need to slice open the shrimp with the tip of a sharp knife, I use a paring knife…

…and then scrape the vein out. That black stuff you see is the vein. This may seem like a lot of work, but I’m going to speak very frankly here, so put down your drink. The “vein” is technically a “vein” in the biological definition of the word. However, it is also the digestive tract of the shrimp…which carries everything along its body the same way ours does. Take a sec to think about what that involves. You with me? Get that vein out of your food!

If you are worried about using a knife to cut into the shrimp, you can use a pair of kitchen scissors (the type you use for food only) to cut open the shrimp and then use the knife to clean the vein out.

The vein runs the whole length of each shrimp, so be sure you get all of it out and then give the individual shrimp a good rinse in cold water. When you have all of the veins out, give the whole bowl of shrimp another good rinse of cold water and then drain the bowl well. Then, using your freshly re-washed kitchen scissors, cur every shrimp in half like this:

This just makes the shrimp easier to manage in the roll. We used to try to make these rolls with whole shrimp, but it gets much messier than it needs to that way. Cutting the shrimp now keeps the same flavor, but helps get more of the final dish into your mouth and less on your shirt. When you are all done, you should have a bowl of shrimp that looks similar to this…

…all ready to do your bidding in the recipe. Plus, you’ll enjoy it more knowing it’s clean shrimp because you prepped it yourself. See, that wasn’t so much to do! Now set that bowl aside and let’s get the recipe going.

Pouring, Mixing and Tasting

We start the recipe mixing by putting a couple of spoons of mayonnaise into a small bowl. I’m using an iced tea spoon to get mine out of the bottom of the jar and into the bowl, because I find it easier to reach the mayo and my hand doesn’t end up wearing mayo like it’s a lotion.

Next, we are going to add in a little bit of lemon juice…

…and whisk it into the mayo. The addition of the acidic juice is going to break down the mayo a bit and make it all lumpy.

Just keep whisking gently until the mayo is smooth again:

This is where we start the tasting. Grab a few extra spoons so you can taste as we go. First, taste the lemon-mayo mix. It should taste thinner in consistency than regular mayo, but also have a little lemon tang in the flavor. (FYI: This is why Miracle Whip does not work for this recipe at all. It already has too much acid in it to adjust to taste.) Go ahead, dip in with your spoon and taste:

If you can’t taste the lemon, add just a few more drops of juice to the mayo mix and whisk it in well. If the lemon flavor is very strong for you, add a tiny dollop of extra mayo to the bowl and whisk it in well. Taste the mixture again (with a clean spoon!). Keep adjusting as you need to, using only very small amounts of mayo or lemon juice as you go. Worst case scenario: you might have a little bit more sauce than you need when we add it to the shrimp. Not a budget breaker.

Now we add a little bit of salt to the sauce to keep that seaside flavor of fresh shrimp within our sauce. You don’t need a lot. Just whisk it in.

Be sure to taste the sauce again to see how you are doing. Hey, look! We are cooking like our great-grandmothers! Measuring by hand, tasting by instinct. This is the way to better cooking and more kitchen confidence. One step and one recipe at a time!

When you have your sauce tasting just right…creamy, with a little hint of lemon in the end of the bite and just a touch of seashore-like salt… we are going to add the sauce to the bowl of shrimp, slowly, not the other way around. We only want enough sauce to bind the shrimp well together. There should be a light sauce on your shrimp, not some shrimp in a bowl of sauce.

The shrimps are the stars of this dish, so pamper them by gently folding the sauce around them, not stirring the bowl up quickly.

See, I didn’t end up using all the sauce I made, just what the shrimp needed. No big deal. Now we add our chives. Measure out a small palmful…

…and fold it gently into the mix. (I think am getting better at taking these spice-bottle-in-one-hand, camera-in-the-other shots.) You can add more chives, as you need to, to get an even distribution in the shrimp.

The sauce will help the chives stick to your shrimp as you fold them in. When the chives are all folded in, it should look something like this:

I generally like to chill this recipe right here for a few hours before serving. I just toss some foil over the bowl and pop it in the fridge for a while. I like the flavors to bond a little together. But if you don’t have the time, you don’t have to. Whatever fits your schedule.

Serving It Up

There are only three ingredients left in our recipe and they all are involved in the serving. The first one we are going to use is the lettuce. This is a New England style seafood roll recipe, so it only makes sense to use:

You can use other leafy green lettuces (no iceberg lettuce is welcome here), but Boston lettuce, I think, works the best. Pictured below is our pretty lettuce after Mr. CARO has run it through his favorite kitchen toy tool, our salad spinner. (You can read more about that right here.)

Now we are ready for our rolls. We have tried all kinds of rolls for this recipe over the years and these are our Goldilocks-like conclusions:

  • Hoagie rolls: too big, filled with too much shrimp, gets messy quickly
  • Hamburger buns: easier to toast, but shrimp slides out of every side
  • Hot dog buns: easy to toast, shrimp stays put, just the right size

Open up your hot dog rolls and give them a light toast laid flat…

..then gently tear the lettuce leaves off the hard white lettuce ribs. Try to keep the green lettuce leaves in big pieces…

…and fit them down into the toasted hot dog buns, lining them completely:

I know, you can barely see the rolls now, but you want this leafy green balance to all the creamy shrimp while still keeping the crunch of the toasted roll. It all comes together in the end, trust me. You can now ladle your shrimp onto the roll and the lettuce holds it in place, without letting the sauce soak into the bread.

And now we need our last ingredient for this dish. It is really the very best thing to serve with these rolls…our potato chips. You really want a nice, simple, crisp-but-salty chip to go with these shrimp rolls. When in Rome New England…

…use the local chips. Time to eat!

Picnic Bonus

We are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner here in Baltimore. Mr. CARO and I packed a picnic dinner of these shrimp rolls and skipped off to one of our favorite picnic spots this weekend to watch the party at our Inner Harbor. I’d like to show you a picture of the delicious shrimp rolls we packed, but we had been looking forward to our picnic all day and they were gone before I remembered to take out the camera. Oops! This was the beautiful view from our picnic spot, so you can see how we were distracted:

I’m telling you all of this to share that these shrimp rolls wrap up beautifully for picnics in foil. Because the lettuce leaves keep the shrimp mix from getting the bread soggy, you can even prep this recipe completely the night before your party/picnic and just keep the rolls wrapped in your fridge until go time. Easy packing, easy clean-up!

And here is my very own PSA: Please try to use recycled foil in your home, and then be sure to recycle it again, so that the planet can stay enjoyable for all of us to share a picnic. Little steps like this in our daily lives can make a big difference!

Does this recipe sound good to you? What makes a great picnic sandwich? Do you make a great seafood salad in your home over the summer? Share your opinions and recipes in a comment!

If you liked this recipe, there are more to come this summer. You can also always explore the recipes I’ve shared in past posts by clicking on the Savoring Home Recipes link on the side bar.

Design Vocabulary: Greek Key

First, let me say that I’m a little biased about today’s Design Vocabulary term. I was lucky enough to work in Greece a few years ago and this design motif, although not new to me at the time, now reminds me of the lovely time I had in Athens and of the kind friends I made while I was there. (If you ever have the chance to visit Greece and make friends locally, I highly recommend it.)

Design Form

You may already know this design motif or have seen it around. It is just about as old as they come when you look at design and architecture history. Here is the basic Greek Key pattern, shown in gold, on this beautiful antique bowl:

Image courtesy of the Bristol Blue Glass SW Glass Museum

The Greek Key is defined as a continuous line that frequently doubles back on itself, then reverses course to move forward again. It is believed to come from a geological phenomenon that pops up all over our planet.  This phenomenon is called a “meander”. “Meander”, in modern English, generally means to wonder somewhat aimlessly, but geology defines the word as a river that carves a loop or bend in its path that almost, or sometimes completely, doubles back on itself. Here’s an example of a geological meander in Serbia:

Uvca canyon, Serbia Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Can you see how the Serbian river’s footprint is similar to the Greek Key pattern? There is also a river in modern-day Turkey named the Meander, which is, appropriately, full of meanders:

Meander river course satellite photo. Image courtesy of snailstales.blogspot.com & Google Earth

This river was well-known in ancient Greece as the “Maiandros”, or “Maeander” river, named after a Greek river god who was its supposed patron. Which came first: the river or the name? We may never know for sure, but there are great examples of river meanders to be found all over the world today, such as this one in England…

River Cuckmere, image courtesy of Wikipedia

… this important river delta in the Africa…

Okavango River Delta, Botswana. Image courtesy of travelsfy.com

…this river in Asia…

Songhua River in China. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

…and even our mighty Mississippi. It has meandered extensively over time, as you can see in this map created in a 1944 geological survey:

Alluvial Valley of Missouri and Louisiana, USA. Image courtesy of mouthtosource.org

You can see that this meandering is a worldwide, not-so-unusual river pattern, if you look for it. The “Greek” part of this motif’s term, I believe, comes into the symbolism of this pattern. In Greece, the Greek Key pattern is believed to be an expression of long life or eternity. This makes a lot of sense when you think about how long it might take a river to carve out a geological meander, but the Greek use of the word and pattern is more of a philosophical one.

There is something classical in the motif because it is used to mark eternity. Maybe there is a larger lesson, a “key”, if you will, from the ancient Greeks to be learned about life in this pattern. Go forward in life, look back a little if you have to, but keep moving forward. Greek civilization is still omnipresent in our everyday lives, so they clearly had some timeless ideas.

Design Examples

This historical origin goes a long way to explain why you can find the Greek Key repeated in so many forms and structures of home design over centuries. Like the river meander, the popularity of the motif doubles back on itself and moves forward. Pictured below are just few examples of the Greek Key at use in home design and architecture:

Cornice molding, image courtesy of jadenmouldings.com.au

Antique art glass lampshade and base, image courtesy of jamesdjulia.com

An inlay border of a parquet floor, image courtesy of merchantmart.com

Modern tile border, image courtesy of annsacks.com

Elegant upholstery trim, image courtesy of charlestonmag.com

A 1930′s fireplace mantle, image courtesy of c20fireplaces.co.uk

Decor Mood Board

Do you like the Greek Key pattern? Would you like to find some more? Well, I threw together a little decor mood board to help you find some great sources for you home. You can add a little or a lot of pattern to any room with the Greek Key. Take a look and do a little window shopping…

Where can I buy these items? Just click on the links below to jump right to the retail pages…

1. Handmade in America, this elegant throw pillow cover is only $16.95, on Etsy

2. Serve up something delicious from the Wedgwood Dynasty collection, with pieces starting at $20, from Wedgwood

3. Add some Art Deco glamour with this Glossy Black Greek Key Mirror, $249, from Shades of Light

4. One of these 50 x 70- inch knit throws would look great on the end of a bed or chair, $175, at Labrazel Home

5.  Sleek black lamp with a modern Greek Key shade, available in several color options, $99, at Lamps Plus

6. Use the Greek Key pattern as a frame from your bedding with this modern metal sofa daybed, available in two finishes for only $314, from Amazon

7. Add some subtle depth to your wall with this beautiful taupe wallpaper, $250, by style maker Jonathan Adler

So what do you think of the Greek Key motif? Have you noticed it around in stores or other decor sources? Is it fresh and modern, old and traditional, transitional? Do you love it, hate it or meh? Share your opinions in a comment. All opinions and conversation are welcome!

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy some of the other post in my Design Vocabulary series. You can browse around and read from the complete list by clicking right here.

Pinterest Mood Board: Asian sun room

It’s time for another free mood board on Pinterest! I pull these mood boards together from design finds I see when I am out working for clients. When I see something beautiful, it can inspire a whole feel, look or mood of a room. While every room in your home should reflect your life experiences and passions, everyone can use a little help every now and then finding that perfect item to make their room unique and personal. My free Pinterest mood boards are designed to inspire and make shopping a little less stressful.

This month’s mood board is designed to use in an inside/outside room, a sun room. Sun rooms are popular in every season because of their great connections to the outside world, without leaving the climate controlled peacefulness of an interior room. While the attraction of a sun room may be obvious, navigating a realistic design plan for such a room can be a little tricky. You don’t want it to feel like an outside space, like a porch or deck, filled with patio furnishings or picnic tables. But, you also don’t want a sun room to ignore the beauty of its star attraction: large, sunny windows.

On this mood board, I’ve used a design technique I use in sun rooms for clients all the time. Although this particular sun room is hypothetical, I am always careful in every sun room not to compete with Mother Nature’s work just outside the window. While I have chosen different textures and patterns for soft goods and hard surfaces, as every room requires, most of them are small in scale. The real focal point of any sun room should be the view.

I chose a transitional Asian style for this room to show that any room, regardless of its physical placement in a home, can be adapted to reflect the personal tastes of its owner. In this case, Asian motifs in a soft color palette of jade greens, cool blues and soft browns combine to compliment a similar natural palette beyond the room’s windows. This will also allow the room to feel connected to the outside view regardless of the season. The fact that the patterns and textures are pulled from many countries and periods of history combine to give the sun room a relaxed, yet artfully collected style.

As with any room, the decor may be fun, but the room has to work for the daily life of the home. I’ve included a great seating area for lounging, tv watching, and reading. I’ve also included a generous games table, perfect for card games and board games, as well as any seated or buffet dining that may be needed when entertaining guests. After all, what could is a gorgeous sun room if you can’t use it to host your friends and family?

Want to see more of this mood board? You can just click on the picture above, or right here to jump right to the board. You can also always check out all of the other mood boards and design finds I’ve collected on Pinterest by using the custom Pinterest button on the side bar of this blog, or you can click here right now.

Do you need some help with design or decor? Send your design dilemma to me in a comment and I might use it as inspiration for my next Pinterest mood board. I love a good challenge and I love to help people make their homes more happy. Share your story and let me help you find what you are looking for in your home. Free professional interior design advice. What have you got to lose?

The Cookbook Sagas, part 3

I’m at the next step in my process to clean out my recipe collection, so that no one turns me in as a guest on “Hoarders”. You can catch up and read about the first two steps of this process in these posts:

  • Part 1: Where I look at the whole problem and admit I must change
  • Part 2: How I clean out and re-format the bulk of my loose recipes

Today, I’m showing you how I’m going to store my re-prioritized recipes. I chose an upgraded 3-ring binder format because my husband and I like:

  • Keeping the recipe pages clean and splatter protected
  • Keeping the recipes printed large enough to be legible
  • Keeping the recipes tidy on one shelf in our kitchen
  • Keeping the recipes easy to find within their storage
Hmmm. Are you noticing a theme here?
Well, I also want my recipes to look happy. “Happy” might not be the first word you think of when you think of cookbooks, but I like to look forward to cooking. I figure if the recipes themselves are clean, organized and aesthetically pleasing, it makes it more inspirational to drag out those heavy pots on evenings you feel less inclined to fire up the stove. (You’ve been there. You know what I mean.)

So, I’m making some pretty, custom and oh-so-affordable binders to store my recipes nicely. This is an easy project and I took pictures as I worked on it this past weekend to show the steps. Just keeping it real for you, friends. This project can be done in very little time and is quite satisfying when you are done.

To start the process, I bought a set of clean, 3-ring binders. I chose binders with those clear pockets on the exterior so I can decorate the covers inexpensively, while still keeping them highly wipeable. I also chose binders that were all variations on the color blue, because I like blue and it looks nice in my kitchen. I already know these binders are all going to sit next to each other on a shelf, so why not make a personal choice of a happy color?

In full disclosure, I did grab these binders from several different stores. I noticed that most stores only carried one or two versions of any color. I wanted more variety, especially knowing each binder would have a different topic. So, as I ran my regular errands around town, I used Target, Staples and Wal-mart to find my colors and stay within my budget.

Next, I popped into several art supply stores to pick up some pretty scrapbook papers to use in the binder cover pocket. Again, I just built this into my errands and grabbed what I like. I am not a scrapbook creator, but I am happy to reap the rewards of the many cheerful and bright papers that are now available for scrapbooking fans. I chose kitchen-themed papers, to keep the binders looking united and fun. Of course, you can choose whatever you like for your home and personalize it for just a couple of bucks. I caught a sale and the papers I chose were under $5 total. Very budget friendly!

I’m matching my fancy-schmancy papers to each binder to make a collection of related-looking finished books. I may switch these papers around with the binders as I make each one. I’m not sure about that aqua binder on the far right in the picture below. A little too bright next to the others, I think.

As for subject titles, each binder will have its own general topic. For example, I’ll make a binder called “Appetizers and Beverages”. This binder will hold the few remaining cut-and-pasted recipes, so I know the look I’m going for with each finished dish. (I was discussing this dilemma in this post.) I’ll probably sort the recipes further, somewhat, inside the binder, but not too much. I really want the freedom to just put the recipes in and know that they are there without creating a time-consuming index or page number system.

Back to the work: To cut the papers to fit each binder cover, I measured the cover pockets individually. You may question why I would go to the effort to do this when I regular 8.5×11 sheet of paper fits easily. However, I want my binder covers to use as much of the pretty scrapbook paper that I can fit into each pocket, while also keeping it reasonable to get the paper down in those pockets with a snug fit.

You can see above that I didn’t measure the entire pocket width, I cheated in about 1/8th of an inch on each side to give myself some paper sliding room. Again, these are all different binders made by different companies, so each measurement was a little different. I also measured the binder spines for paper inserts, so I can have a nicely finished edge facing out of my kitchen cookbook shelf. But, first things first, cutting the paper to fit:

I used my trusty little Fiskars paper trimmer to make even cuts. I bought this paper trimmer years ago, for a wedding stationery project. It has been so handy over the years since, for such a myriad of projects, I can’t remember how I lived without it before. It’s not big or flashy, and every now and then I need to replace the little cutting blade slide (which is very affordable to do), but it gets the job done and it stores very easily. I’m not plugging this product for profit or perks, by the way, just sharing what I actually find useful in real life.

Now that my papers are all cut, I’m typing up little cover labels for each binder. I’m just using plain old Microsoft word to choose an interesting font and then adjust the ink color to go with the related scrapbook paper. Because I have my binder spine measurements, I’m also making a little spine label for each cookbook binder. These may seem small to fit down into the binder, but it is worth it when it’s all done. Cut and glue the labels to the cut scrapbook paper…

….then slide the paper covers into place.

I also like to put a little roll of tape behind the cover binder, just to keep the paper from shifting around as it get used.

To get those narrow binder spines down into the covers, I have two tips for you:

1. Lay your binder open flat, cover side up, before you try to put the spine paper. This allows the plastic spine pocket to have as much “give” as possible as you slide the paper further down.

2. Use a chopstick to act as a guide when you slide the spine paper in place. You’ll never get your finger down where you need it to be in that little pocket, so don’t kill yourself trying. Take a deep breath and just work slowly, little by little, to ease that paper down where you need it to be. It may get a little wrinkled as you go, mine did, but you can work it all out with patience.

Oh, and for those binders that do need some internal sorting, I’m just going to use an extra sheet of colored card stock in a sheet protector to provide a guide. Nothing fancy or expensive and still very practical to keep clean. Here’s an example:

Here’s how great the end result of a bunch of new binders can look:

Nice, huh? I said I was gonna seriously downsize those recipes and I meant it. There are now only four small binders, instead of eight very over-stuffed ones, and all of these new, clean binders are just reasonably full. This means I have plenty of recipes (no need to go looking for more), but that I have a small amount of room if we do find a few new favorites to add to our lives. Progress! These final topics for my binders and why I chose them:

  • Favorite Recipes: All of our favorites entrees and any not-so-common special side dishes we love, just tossed together in one place (at last!)
  • Vegetables: We love to try new ways to mix up our vegetable varieties at meals, we also strive to have a decent amount of vegetarian entree recipes to mix into our diet for better health
  • Sweets: Desserts in every form, including smoothies, cakes, pies, cookies, breads, candy and some interesting fruit recipes
  • Appetizers & Beverages: This is mainly party fare/special occasion food with great pictures and suggestions for serving

All in all, I like the way these binders turned out and it made the cleaning out, sorting and typing parts of this saga seem more attainable. I can see where the truly loved recipes will go and as I get there, the paper organization is in place for immediate use. I can’t say that all the typing will get done as fast as these binders were put together, but I’ll get there eventually. The typing is happening and I think I am now ready to address another aspect of this project….

…all of the loose recipes I still have stashed for “later”. But that is a part of this saga for another day.

Gift Idea

Can you see how this custom binder cover would make a great gift idea? You could use it to build a cookbook of favorite recipes for almost any occasion. You could also use it to build a custom recipe book as a group-sourced gift for an individual, such as a bride or new graduate. Each contributor simply completes a typed up recipe page and all of the pages are combined into the binder as a group gift. The customized cover would just make the cookbook all the more special. It’s an affordable gift, but very personal. Just a thought!

Now tell me what you think of this project. I really want to hear your opinions. Am I a little too obsessive in my organization? Do you like the way the binders turned out? What would you do differently? Any tips for the next part of this recipe saga (all those loose recipes)? Blogs are for conversation, so leave a comment!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the posts I have written about creating my All-Year Holiday Cookbook and my Magic Cookbook. Feel free to check them out!

Cooking With Fire

How was your weekend? Did you get outside to enjoy some nice weather? Have you fired up your grill this season? We are loving the fabulous warm weather and our taste buds are ready for some sizzling deliciousness. Time to get our grill on!

I pulled today’s mood board together when I was out and around looking at summer grilling supplies for our home. Whether you are a traditional griller or an adventurous chef, there are some great, affordable…as in “all-of-these-are-under-$20″…tools out there for some serious summer cooking! Here’s what I found…

Where can I buy these things? Just click on the links below to jump right to their retail pages online…

1. Make sure you eat your vegetables with this Fire Wire Flexible Grilling Skewer, $9.99 for a set of 2, at Bed Bath & Beyond

2. New to grilling or want to up your game? Take a lesson from a real pro, Steve Raichlen, with his great grill cookbooks, like this one, $13.14, at Amazon

3. This 12-inch skillet will keep all of those delicious little things, like shrimp or stir fry, from falling through your grill grate, $6.99, at Bed Bath & Beyond

4. Try your hand at smoking some meat with this Mini Smoker Box, only $7.96, at Williams Sonoma

5. Grilled Cheese…made on your grill. Do I really need to say any more? $12, at uncommongoods.com

6. You know what tastes great on the grill with garlic? Everything! Roast up a bulb in this Cast Iron Garlic Roaster, $16.95, from Crate & Barrel

7. Slather on the sauce with this 4-piece set of silicon basting brushes, $9.99, at Amazon

8. Time your steak, or any other food, perfectly with the Oxo Good Grips Instant Read Thermometer, $11.99, at Amazon

9. Clean that grill like you mean business with this 3-in-1 Grill Brush, $7.95, at Crate & Barrel

Are you thinking about lunch yet? Or dreaming of that great smokey grill smell? What is your favorite food to eat hot off of the grill? Are you a BBQ fan, a burger connoisseur or a kebabs aficionado? Share your favorites in a comment!

Pssst!  Did you remember that Father’s Day is also creeping up on us? Have you found a gift for your dad yet? If you want to use this mood board for some grilled-themed gift inspiration, I won’t tell!

The Cookbook Sagas, part 2

I’m back with a progress update on my efforts to downsize my recipe hoarding collection. I’m actually really good at organizing things. Events, closets, information, home design, travel plans…but recipes, as a subject, seem to be my Achilles heel. I see potential in way too many of them and it has gotten out of hand in my kitchen.

This series of posts is my attempt to document my progress as I clean out. When I last left off with part 1 of this organization problem, I had accomplished two things:

  1. Admitting I had a problem
  2. Trying to figure out how to clean out the mess I had made

Those might not seem like huge steps forwards, but these warm seasonable evenings are when I start to really scout out new recipes to play with over the summer. Something new in cuisine type, something different in ingredients and or something more experimental in technique for me. All of these concepts lead to more recipe clipping when I find something interesting.

So, I decided to empty all of the recipes out of the eight (yes, eight) binders of clippings I had created over the first couple of years of marriage, years ago. These are all of the pages I had left:

Well, not exactly. This is what was left after I cleaned out all the pages I didn’t  want. And, in fact, this does not include the “Chicken & Beef” binder that is stilled used so regularly. Let me back up.

First, I pulled all of the pages out of (almost) every binder. And as I did that, I tossed or cleaned and saved-for-later-recycling all of the salvageable sheet protectors. I would hate to spend more money on sheet protectors if I can just give them good cleaning and save my pennies. That’s just how I roll.

Next, I sorted out duplicates of recipes. This was a bigger problem than I expected. Apparently, there were periods of my life where I needed to own every variation of Potato & Leek Soup, Lemon Muffin, Ham Salad and Deviled Egg recipe. I know this because those recipes, among others, were noticeable themes spread across many pages within their sections of the binders. Clearly, I was thorough.

Too many potato salads.

After I had finished the duplicates purge, I started crossing off things I know we will never make. You can see that in the picture above. These might be perfectly lovely recipes, but if I already make something similar, I’m good. I also crossed off things that sounded delicious, but might require a Master Class with Martha Stewart to actually make in my home. Frankly, I think life is too short for that scenario. (On many levels.)

As I tossed things, I did keep recipes that I had made notes on, like this one:

My mother always makes a similar Buckeye bar for my husband because she knows he loves them. She likes to make them as her special treat for him and I have never actually gotten the recipe from her. (This is probably better for our waistlines anyway, really. Since we only enjoy them on special occasions, they disappear quite quickly.)  I had stumbled across this recipe that I had meant to ask Mom about and there it was, hiding 37 pages back in the binder. I kept this type of notated recipe, along with others we had made and liked, because that had been the original point of these binders.

The last step of the binder page tossing was having Mr. CARO help make a ruling on the remaining recipes, which you saw in that stacked photo above. He is always an enthusiastic co-chef in the kitchen, so I was worried he would actually enable me to keep more recipes than I need. However, he was really great at browsing the ingredients and thinking about when in the year we would most likely enjoy the recipes. It was great to get a second opinion.

Does this sound overcomplicated to do this kind of sorting for a bunch of recipe clippings? It may be. But Mr. CARO and I love to do the grocery shopping together, because when we do, we feel like we have a better connection to what we cook together. We also make our evening meals about conversation over the table, which helps us appreciate our food, eat slower and connect more at the end of our busy days. This may not work for everyone, but we love it.

While Mr.CARO was helping me pitch recipes, we got to the dessert and appetizers binder sections. Many of these recipes have very important visual references for how the food is served, like the trifle you see pictured above. (I love making trifles in the summer.) We may need to keep some of these pictures to show how the dishes come together, but I’m still trying to figure out how to show the pictures in a tidy, manageable fashion. (To be determined…)

The issue we did solve is how to store all the recipes we are keeping. We’re upgrading the binders concept. After much discussion, Mr. CARO made a great case for how easy it to use a sheet protected recipe both in the binder and clipped to the hood over our stove. He liked that he didn’t have to worry about spills and that we could add our own notes easily, as we need to.

I liked that I can flip through the binder pages quickly to find something specific. I have never been able to work with the tiny recipe cards our grandmothers and great grandmothers used. Case in point, pictured below is a family recipe given to by my Great Aunt Millie. (You can read more about one of her great life philosophies in this post.)

I had originally typed this recipe so I could read it without squinting while I was cooking. (Tiny, delicate handwriting from the ’1950′s + steamy kitchen = much re-reading.) However, as you can see, this one recipe takes up a whole sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 paper this way. Either we would need to tack on a separate kitchen library for our recipe binders or I would have to make these pages more manageable. This is the new version of this typed recipes format:

Doesn’t that look much more approachable? It feels that way to us, too. This does mean that I’ll have to type out all of my remaining recipes into this simple format. However, I don’t mind doing this, because it also make it easier to share my recipes. If you ask me for a recipe, I can just print or email you a copy. Plus, you’ll probably get a bonus recipe of whatever is printed on the page with it.

I’m not under any delusions about this method. All of this typing will definitely take some time, but I can work on it over the summer, little by little. It will be so worth it when I am done. So personalized and so functional. That’s kinda the feeling I want with all of these family and favorite recipes anyway. Better to savor what you love and respect it by taking care of it.

I also have plenty more to do on this project in the meantime, like make new binders. In fact, that is what is coming up next week: Making happy, handy, affordable binders to work in your kitchen. I’ll be taking pictures as I make mine this weekend and I will show you how to do it, too! Here’s a little preview:

Now I’d like to hear about your recipe experiences. Does this project make you think about your own recipe system? How do you store your absolute favorite recipes? How do you share your recipes with friends? Have you ever discovered you had a stockpile of similar recipe themes? Dish with me in a comment!

Rule Britannia

I have a fun little decor mood board for your Friday.

It’s rather topical, as well. This weekend will be the start of a major party in the UK to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. There are all sorts of national events planned as well of lots of local parties in communities all over the UK. You can read all about the events, learn more fun facts about the monarchy and even leave a message to Queen Elizabeth on this website.

Image courtesy of royal.gov.uk

Elizabeth II, a working mother of four, first took the throne 60 years ago at the young age of 25. She is now the second longest reigning monarch in her county’s history. The longest reign is held by Queen Victoria, at 63 years 7 months.  This is Queen Victoria at her Diamond Jubilee in 1897:

Working mom at rest, Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Victoria ruled the British Empire, while also giving birth to and raising 9 children, all of whom married other members of aristocracy across Europe. Leave it to the ladies to do a thorough job, I say.

Since there will be some great holidays in the UK over the next week, I thought I’d throw together a little decor love for all of the Anglophiles out there, like me.

Where can I buy these things? Just click the links in the descriptions below:

1. What is a “Diamond” Jubilee without some diamonds? Rectangular frame and Round frame, from ZGallerie

2. Raise the roof with Union Jack paper lantern garlands, from buzzybags.co.uk

3. Cuddle a corgi with no house training required, from Amazon

4. Celebrate the city with this London tea towel, from Amazon

5. Bring on the cakes with this set of London cake tins , from Amazon UK

6. Wall art with words to live by, from Allposters.com

7. Scalloped-edged Diamond Jubilee postage stamp area rug, available in several style, sizes and colors, from stamprugs.com

8. Raise a toast to “The Queen” with Beefeater Gin, available at all good liquor stores

9. Take in the view of modern London with this Cityscape vinyl wall decal, from Cost Plus World Market

10. Relax like royalty with these decorative pillows:  Victoria Crown pillow, from Bloomingdale’s; London Town pillow, from Etsy; London Underground Station pillow, from Etsy

11. Serve up a nice cuppa with this Diamond Jubilee teapot, from Harrods

Whether you are admiring the celebrations from afar or live in one of the 16 countries across the world that call Elizabeth II “Your Majesty”, join in on the party!

Hold It Right There!

Have you ever been in a museum and seen a beautiful, delicate piece of sculpture, or a statue, that you could walk right up to and examine closely? I always think museum curators and guards must hold their breath when people get rather close to priceless art, like this…

Image courtesy of the New York Times

Have you ever had a delicate item of art or a family heirloom in your home that you want to display, but that you worry may get knocked over, broken and/or destroyed? You want to enjoy the piece (otherwise, what is the point of keeping it around?), but you worry that the “enjoying” might put the piece in danger. Maybe you have pets, kids, slightly less responsible roommates, or you live in an earthquake zone?

Image courtesy of csmonitor.com

You and the museum curators have the same kind of problem. How do you secure your item of loveliness enough to leave it out to be enjoyed, without bolting it down to the point where it can’t be enjoyed?

Museum managers have a secret weapon. My clients use it, too. Now I’m going to share the secret with you. It looks like this:

Linked image courtesy of amazon.com

This is called “Museum Putty”. It is a neutral, cream-colored putty that comes in a simple envelope. It only costs $5. You can use it, re-use it, stick it to anything and it will hold that thing DOWN.

Here’s what it looks like coming out of the package:

It’s like the texture of Silly Putty, except, shinier. It also won’t pick up the texture of whatever item you stick it to the way Silly Putty does.

I’m going to apply the putty to a little ceramic box I keep out on a table at home. I’ll just tack a little Museum Putty to the underside of the box…

…then press the putty side down gently where I want the box to live.

If I ever need to move the frame, to dust or re-arrange things, the putty leaves no marks or residue on the hard surface or the art object. Here’s the clean surface:

You can even take the putty off of one item, re-form it, then use it on a completely different item and get the same strength. If you aren’t so sure about the putty color, there is another version of this putty in a clear gel form. This version is ideal for sticking down glass or crystal items without being noticeable. It looks like this…

Linked image courtesy of amazon.com

…and is only $10. $10 is a great bargain when you think about how irreplaceable sentimental items can be. Is this something you could use in your home?

As always, I am not paid or perked for mentioning a great item on this blog. I only recommend what I like, because I like the freedom to be honest about any product I choose to mention. I use this stuff in my home and several of my clients swear by it, too.  Who doesn’t like a real-life tip for avoiding household accidents? None of us want to have this kind of nightmare…

Image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Coming Tomorrow: Decor Items Fit For A Queen!

Collapsible Kitchen Tools

This is my salad spinner, at home, in my kitchen.

It is the inspiration for this post. I have been meaning to write about my salad spinner for a while because it is rather popular in my house. Mr. CARO looooves using it. As in “Honey, it’s not a lawn mower. You only need to pull the string once.” (I sometimes think he is trying to get it to take off like a helicopter.) Friends and family members have asked more about this salad spinner when they have seen it in action.

I have to admit, I have given several of these salad spinners away as gifts. Christmas, house-warming, weddings. It has fit as an appropriate gift for many occasions. I, myself, never wanted to own a salad spinner until I saw this one. But when I did see it. I WANTED it.

I never liked salad spinners before because they were all giant, lined bowls that took up a big footprint wherever I could have put them. And it’s not like you can store a lot in them when they are put away because the lid makes it cumbersome.

My salad spinner does this:

I love kitchen tools that work hard and store small. I have between a small and medium-sized kitchen, so I don’t have a ton of extra cabinet/pantry space in my kitchen. (Does anyone out there have “extra” kitchen cabinets?) When something can get the job done really well AND store nicely with other things, I am interested immediately.

Besides my friends and family, I’ve found many clients who also appreciate a great space saver in the kitchen. Sometimes because they don’t cook much and need more cabinet space for pantry items, sometimes because they like to cook a lot and need a way to fit more tools/gadgets together in an already packed area, and sometimes because they don’t have a huge amount space to begin with, so they have to make every inch of storage count. Do you fit in any of those categories?

One of my very own pots and pans drawers. Just keepin’ it real, friends.

Since I love my salad spinner, I’ve payed close attention to other items I’ve seen pop up recently that offer similar storing options. Who can’t use more storage space in their kitchens? So, today’s post is a fun list of fabulous kitchen tools that collapse down into smaller, more storage-friendly shapes. Whether you rent or own, these are practical items for real life.

Oh, and I’ve linked all the pictures below directly to their shopping sources to make purchasing easy. Just in case you need one for your kitchen, or a wedding present, or a hostess gift…you get the idea. Just click on the picture to link to the item. Here we go!

SALAD SPINNER

Image courtesy of amazon.com

You knew I was going to start with this one. You can use the outer bowl as a nice separate serving bowl, which makes it a double-duty tool. For $23, I love the reasonable price on this spinner, too. I don’t understand why some spinner models are close to $50 for what is really a couple of plastic bowls.

COLANDER

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Okay, technically, you can use the interior salad spinner bowl above as a colander for fruit and veg. However, if you are going to be draining something hot, like pasta or boiled potatoes, I always chose metal surfaces over plastic. The silicone in this bowl, (like most silicone tools) can withstand temps up to 500 degrees. This little baby also comes in a variety of fun colors to choose from, several different sizes and features a handy metal loop for those of you who like to hang your pots and pans.

BAKING / COOLING RACK

Image courtesy of amazon.com

This is the thing you stack lots of sheets of cookies on when you are prepping them to bake or taking them out of the oven to cool. This thing is perfect for kitchens with next to zero counter space. (Any NYC peeps reading this post? I got your back.) The rack folds so flat you can slid it into storage like a tray. 20 bucks. Genius.

BAKED GOODS STORAGE/CARRIERS

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Where are you going to put all those delicious baked goods after you have used your awesome, foldable cooling rack? Well, if you are taking them to an event, you have several handy choices based on the type of goodies you’ve made. There is a carrier for layer cakes and cupcakes, pictured above. There is another version of this carrier which can carry two 9-inch pies (or up to 24 deviled eggs)…

Image courtesy of amazon.com

…and even a third version of this product for sheet cakes. (That reminds me, I have to share my favorite sheet cake recipe with you this summer. Yummmmm.)

Image courtesy of amazon.com

FYI: If these storage carriers cause you to bake more sweets in your kitchen, I am NOT responsible. I have a similar disclaimer on my Brownie Pie recipe for a good reason. Don’t send me emails about needing to buy larger jeans. I’m probably already at the store trying on new pairs, myself.

DISH DRAINER

Image courtesy on amazon.com

Every kitchen has some items that won’t go in the dishwasher. If your kitchen doesn’t have a dishwasher, or at least a non-human one, you may love this item even more. At only $20, this dish drainer can even adjust to fit over different-sized sinks. I like that it includes a silverware divider and can be collapsed small enough to run it through your dishwasher when you need to…uh, again, the non-human kind of dishwasher.

CUTTING BOARD

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Like the over-the-sink drainer above, this cutting board adjusts to the perfect size you need. The bonus feature is that it includes a fancy-schmancy collapsible colander bowl, so you don’t lose any of those delicious strawberries into the sink or drain while you are hulling them. (Oh, the humanity.)

MIXING BOWL

Image courtesy of amazon.com

This 3 quart mixing bowl is by the same company that makes the salad spinner and the dish drainer above. Clearly, they have built upon a great product line. They also carry a large collapsible tub and a nice set of 3 prep bowls that include lids. Amazon has a deal where you can buy all three for items as a set for $40.

BOX GRATER

Image courtesy of amazon.com

I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge fan of box graters. I love eating cheese, but I am not fond of working so hard to shave a big block of it down. Mr. CARO is the cheese-grating czar at our house and he has the manly biceps to prove it. However, this foldable option looks much less intimidating to me. And I know it exactly where it would fit better in our cabinets, rather than the one we have now that always seems to be right in my way every time I’m looking for something else.

MEASURING CUPS & SPOONS

Image courtesy of Sur la table

No more trying to nest all those little spoons and cups in the right order in the drawer! Just toss them all in there and let the lay flat. Wish I had thought of this idea and gotten the patent. At this rate, if you go get all of the items on this list, you may actually end up with an “extra” kitchen cabinet.

BEATER/WHISK

Image courtesy of gretelhome.com

Finally, someone came up with a smaller version of a stirring tool that always gets tangled in every drawer. The colored ring on the handle of this beater slides down to close up the loose tongs so they don’t splay out or snag while being stored. Like so:

Image courtesy of gretelhome.com

As you can see, this tool is also available is in several fun colors. I like that is made of silicon, so it can work in both stainless and non-stick cookware. I can always use extra drawer space. Now if only someone would make a collapsible potato masher…

ROLLING PIN

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Okay, this item doesn’t collapse, per se, but it is worth mentioning for its savvy design. It would make a great wedding or bridal shower gift. It allows you to store an included set of cookie cutters within the pin itself. For more experienced bakers, you can fill the pin with ice cubes to keep your dough from getting to warm while you’re rolling it out. So smart.

DESSERT TIER

Image courtesy of gretelhome.com

I saw this little beauty advertised in Real Simple magazine last month and had to include it. It stands at 20 inches tall when assembled. All seven of these separate tiers stack down into the base for storage. How great is this for easy entertaining in your home? I may have to put this on my list for Santa this year, then I can serve him cookies on it next Christmas Eve.

So, that is my long-ish list of what I’ve found out there. Pardon me for being a tiny bit ramble-y in this post, but when I find a great organizational solution (or 15), I like to share it. Now I want to hear from you.

What kitchen tool still needs to be re-created in a collapsible form? Can you think of something? Is there an item that I missed out there on the market when I made up the list for this post? What is the most awkward kitchen tool you wrangle onto a shelf or into a drawer?

At least leave a comment so I know I’m not the only one out here with overflowing kitchen shelves. Dish with me!

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