Archive for September, 2012

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) Butterfly

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly photo by Linnell Chang

Looking through a large kitchen window facing my backyard, I mindlessly wash dishes while my eyes take in the outdoor activities. Birds line up on a shepherd’s hook patiently awaiting their turn at a feeder. Butterflies busily flutter from blossom to blossom. Bees hover over the fountain and then stop to get a sip of water. I reach across the clutter on my kitchen counter for a basket containing gifts from my husband. He knows me too well – he knows I’m an information junkie. I pull out the binoculars he bought for me and zoom in on a feeder. Yes, just as I thought – there’s a new visitor to my yard. Carrying the basket of gifts outside, I thumb through the pages of the bird book he gave me and say in amazement, “How about that!” as I identify the little bird. Looking across the yard I see a black speck on a white chair. The speck is actually a butterfly – a Pipevine Swallowtail to be exact. And just how do I know that? My thoughtful hubby included a book on butterflies, too. He knew I would say, “I wonder what kind of butterfly that is?” So, tonight when my husband comes home from work and finds a pile of dishes in the sink, I’ll just have to say, “It’s all your fault!”

#1 – You Need to Know
Knowing that I post a lot of lists on ways to improve life, I hesitate to post yet another one. But when I remind myself that the premise of this blog is “sharing and encouraging joy in life,” I feel good about sharing another thought-provoking list. From Marc and Angel Hack Life is this list of 11 Things Everyone Needs You to Know. Below are the 11 “things” to tease your thoughts, but do give yourself a gift and read the entire article – it’s not very long at all:

1. You never really know how much the people around you are hurting.
2. The most important trip you will likely take in life is meeting others half way.
3. Relationships don’t create happiness, they reflect it.
4. Compassion comes back around.
5. Timing is everything.
6. Actions are the loudest form of communication.
7. A healthy relationship keeps doors and windows open.
8. People are more what they keep silent than what they say.
9. What others say and do is often based entirely on their own self-reflection.
10. Sincerity is giving without expectation.
11. Not every relationship is meant to last forever.

#2 – Short Stuff
Massage step Being short and only getting shorter, I have difficulty stirring tall stockpots for an extended amount of time. My arm gets so tired from being raised above shoulder height. Step stools never work, because they don’t allow me to work on adjacent burners without having to step up and down. Here’s a good idea and another thoughtful gift from my hubby. He bought me a massage step. Massage therapists use these when they work on larger clients. For me, a massage step provides a strong stable platform to stand on and to move about on when I’m cooking. No more dead-arm stirring and shoulder aches for me. If you’re short and need a lift, here’s the link to where my hubby purchased my massage step.

#3 – Uplifting
In certain areas around the small town of Águeda, Portugal, umbrellas decorate the skies. This colorful art installation is not only beautiful to look at, it also provides shade from the warm summer sun. Click here to see more photos.

#4 – The Power of Words
In its brief 1:47 minutes, this video depicts the power of words and how words can be a gift to others. “Change your words. Change the world.”

#5 – The Most Useful Gift
I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Have a fabulous weekend!

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Spinach-Shiitake Bread Pudding

The only thing keeping me from eating a whole delicious serving of this savory bread pudding is that tomorrow morning I get weighed and measured by my trainer, as I creep towards my fitness goal. Nothing too indulgent can pass through my lips today and this bread pudding, with sourdough bread soaked in a rich egg custard, interspersed with a sautéed leek-spinach-mushroom mixture, and tossed with two different kinds of cheese, definitely qualifies as indulgent. The few bites I tasted today had me wanting more and tempted me to not care about my training progress, until I remembered that breakfast is after weigh-in. Guess what I’m having for breakfast? As Scarlett O’Hara once said, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Spinach-Shiitake Bread Pudding
Recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for brushing
2 medium shallots, minced
1 leek, white and tender green, cut into 2-inch julienne strips
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 5-ounce bag baby spinach
One 1-pound round loaf of sourdough bread, crusts removed, bread cut into-1-inch cubes
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1½ cups milk
1½ cups heavy cream

1. In a medium skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallots and leek and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned, about 7 minutes; transfer to a large bowl.

2. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Add the spinach and cook, tossing, until wilted, about 1 minute. Add the spinach to the mushrooms with the bread, Swiss cheese and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and toss.

3. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. In a saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a boil, then gradually whisk into the eggs. Stir the custard into the bread and let stand, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, about 15 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and butter eight 3/4-cup ramekins and set them on a baking sheet. Spoon the pudding into the ramekins and bake for 20 minutes, or until browned. Let cool for 15 minutes.

5. Preheat the broiler. Turn the bread puddings out onto an ovenproof platter. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan and broil for about 30 seconds, or until golden brown. Serve hot. Spinach-Shiitake Bread Pudding

Serves 8

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Note that both the Parmesan cheese and butter have divided use.

2. It’s always easier to cut bread with a serrated knife. I cut the bread into 1-inch slices first and then removed the crust from each slice. Don’t throw away the bread crusts – throw them in the food processor and make bread crumbs!

3. Be sure to whisk in a tiny amount of the hot milk-cream mixture into the eggs to temper the eggs. If you don’t add small amounts of the hot liquid at a time, you run the chance of cooking the eggs – too much heat all at once. As the eggs gradually adjust to the temperature, you can add larger amounts of the hot liquid.

4. Although this is meant to be a side dish, for those who want to make it heartier and serve it as a brunch item, a little diced ham could be added.


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Red Bartlett Pears

Red Bartlett Pears by Linnell Chang

The first day of autumn tip-toes in this Saturday. Nowhere is the change of seasons more evident than at farmers’ markets. Displays of summer produce, such as musk melons and heirloom tomatoes, nestle up against fall standouts, such as pears, apples, and butternut squash. Are you ready to let go of summer and welcome in fall?

The changing of seasons creates a whole-body, sensory reminder of the passage of time: Our internal clocks try to adjust to the changing lengths of day; our sense of taste and smell reacquaint themselves with seasonal palates; our eyes feast on the shifting colors around us; our skin begs to be covered or uncovered; our ears pick up once familiar sounds – birds chirping, winds gusting, air conditioners or heaters humming, leaves rustling, fires crackling . . . . At the beginning of each season, I always say “This one’s my favorite!” And so it is.

#1 – Pears
Pears are good sources of phosphorous and Vitamin A. When selecting pears look for firm, well-colored, aromatic fruit with no blemishes or bruises. Ripe pears should be refrigerated and will last anywhere from 2 days to a week. If they are not ripe, put them, bottom-sides down, in a paper bag and store in a cool place. To hasten the ripening process, put a banana or an apple in the paper bag with the pears. Visit local farmers’ markets to find more varieties of delicious pears.

#2 – Nature and Art

Neil Dawson Sculpture in Gibbs Farm

Neil Dawson Sculpture in Gibbs Farm

On a beautiful piece of land, complete with rolling hills and adjacent harbor, exists a spectacular sculpture collection. Gibbs Farm in New Zealand is home to more than two dozen enormous pieces of artwork. This interesting juxtaposition of calming rural scenery and contemporary art can be seen by appointment only and is definitely on my bucket list of things to do! Check out some of the installations and their descriptions on Twisted Sifter or go to the Gibbs Farm link above.

#3 – Sugar, Sugar

This week I read an online article in a Harvard Medical School publication regarding computer games and brain fitness. The article states, So far, it looks like simply playing games that require concentration won’t help you remember important names, faces, and appointments. What can work are practical tools designed to address specific problems encountered in daily life . . . to stay sharp, your mind needs regular workouts in creative thinking, problem solving, and intellectual focus. To stretch and exercise your brain, choose an activity you enjoy—reading, playing cards, or doing crossword puzzles are some good examples. If you’re feeling ambitious, try learning to speak a new language or play a musical instrument.

Well, I just discovered this Sugar, Sugar game in which a player has to figure out ways to funnel sugar into coffee mugs. I believe this game, and the others I’ve linked to in the past, all require concentration AND problem-solving. And since the Harvard article says that learning a new language is good for the brain, why don’t we just play our favorite games in different languages?

#4 – Eyes: Windows Into You

Eyes are not just the windows to your soul. They are also windows into your health. According to this pictorial article, “Eyes can be very helpful when it comes to diagnosing an illness.” Reading this article keeps you more in tune with what your body’s telling you and that’s a good thing.

#5 – The Two Most Important Days

Have a great weekend!

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Mud puddles, computer tantrums, and an irritating left eye – because of these things, my day did not turn out as planned. My gardener found, not one, but five broken irrigation lines in my front yard. As soon as we repaired one and the water pressure returned, another bubbling puddle would form somewhere else. Little did my gardener know that under the soil in this particular flower bed lay a complicated network of irrigation tubing that only my husband, the “Mad Scientist” of irrigation, could create. While I was outside with the gardener, my left eye started to ache. “Aargh,” I moaned. Having an unusual eye condition, I went inside the house to put eye drops in to soothe my cranky eye. Leaving the gardener outside to play in the mud and with one eye shut, I decided to work on a computer project. Alerts and message windows popped up constantly – my computer did not want to cooperate with the printer. “What now?” I asked it. “Can’t we all just get along?”

To make a long story short, my day fell apart and by dinnertime I was in no mood to cook. I remembered this quick and easy recipe for black bean soup and whipped it up in about 15 minutes. Toppings of cilantro, green onions, cheese, and sour cream added fresh flavors to the soup. And a chunk of fresh artisan bread and a hearty green salad rounded out the meal. Although my day fell apart, the evening began with a great dinner.

Instant Black Bean Soup

Recipe from Cooking Light

2 (15-ounce) cans no-salt added black beans, undrained
1/2 cup bottled salsa
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 (16-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup (2-ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
5 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
5 tablespoons minced green onion
2½ tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

1. Place beans and liquid in a medium saucepan; partially mash beans with a potato masher.
2. Place over high heat; stir in salsa, chili powder, and broth. Bring to a boil.
3. Ladle soup into bowls; top with cheese, sour cream, onions, and cilantro.

Yields 5 servings

Linnell’s Notes:
1. I didn’t have any cans of no-salt-added black beans, so I used regular cans of black beans. Because of this, no added salt was needed.

2. The toppings really add to the flavor of the soup, so don’t omit them. I only had shredded Monterey Jack cheese at home, but it worked out well.


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Photo by Linnell Chang

As if on a trampoline, squirrels jump through the canopy of my Japanese Maple tree. Every year they bounce and weave their way around the delicate branches in search of winged-seeds also known as samaras. Literally going out on a limb to get to these seeds, the squirrels break branches as they go, leaving behind branches bent at 90-degree angles and piles of broken branches below. Trying to keep an open mind, I remind myself that squirrels also need to eat. But thanks to a new bird feeder and some messy-eating birds, enough bird seed manages to fall to the ground to feed the squirrels and some ground-feeding birds, too. So far, so good – no new broken branches in sight.

#1 – Be Open

Photo by Linnell Chang

How open to life are you? Is your nose so close to the trees that you can’t see the forest? Leo Babuta wrote a post for Zen Habits titled How to Become Open to Life. Even if you feel you already lead an open life, this article is a good reminder of some of the ways we close ourselves down.

#2 – It’s Not What You Think
Imagine pairs of gummi worm chromosomes or ocean waves constructed on a roll of painter’s tape. Artist and photographer Kevin Van Aelst creates fascinating images and brings new meanings to “mundane and relatable artifacts of our daily lives.” His images force your brain to be open, to ignore the expected, and to focus on the grander idea.

#3 – Dishwashers Aren’t Just For Washing Dishes!
Are you open-minded enough to steam fish fillets in your dishwasher? Check out the versatility of this appliance by reading 6 Unconventional Uses For Your Dishwasher.

#4 – A Meal With Imagination
Even with an open mind, you wouldn’t eat the spaghetti made in this video! The fun food comparisons highlight the creativity of this production and make it enjoyable to watch.

#5 – Do Everything
“Do everything. Love as much as you can. It may hurt, but it helps us grow. Give all you have . . . you may be poor but you will be content. Always forgive . . . your heart can not afford not to. Teach what you know and learn what you don’t. Stay open to all.”

Have a great weekend!

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Whatever the occasion – raucous football parties, kids just hanging out, fancy dinner parties, brunches and lunches  – you can’t go wrong with these tasty puffs! Flaky crescent rolls wrapped around bits of warm, creamy, garlicky chicken make easy and sophisticated appetizers or filling snacks. These were good, but after tasting just one, I immediately went into my “what about this?” mode. Just about anything can be wrapped in crescent roll dough. Ideas for fillings flooded my head. What about using crab meat or shrimp? And what about curry chicken, barbecued beef, Chinese barbecued pork, taco meat, sautéed mushrooms . . . you see what I mean? With this recipe you are only limited by your imagination!

Garlic Chicken Puffs
Recipe found on Tidy Mom

4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup cooked chicken, shredded
2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls

1. Mix cream cheese, garlic and chicken until well-blended.
2. Unroll crescent rolls and cut each triangle into two triangles (when you unroll the crescent rolls, 2 triangles are attached making a big square. I just cut from there following the perforation for one cut and made another cut from the other corners – giving you 4 little triangles).
3. Place 1 teaspoon of chicken mixture on the center of each triangle and fold the corners in over the mixture.
4. Place on cookie sheet, lined with aluminum foil and sprayed with no stick spray. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. For more evenly-sized triangles, I made a minor adjustment in the way I cut the dough. After unrolling the crescent rolls, notice that two triangles make up a rectangle. You will have four rectangles. I cut each rectangle apart from the other rectangles. I gently patted the diagonal perforations together before cutting each rectangle in half width-wise to create 2 squares. Each square was then cut diagonally – from corner to corner. You should end up with 16 triangles.

2. Using kitchen shears, I snipped about ten chive stems from my garden and stirred them into the chicken mixture. I also added 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce.
3. To prevent any of the filling from leaking out, I sealed each puff by pressing the edges of the dough together.
4. I covered a cookie sheet with parchment paper instead of using foil and cooking spray. Mine were done in about 12 minutes, but all ovens vary in temperature accuracy. You’ll want to check them at least 10 minutes into the baking process.
5. I transferred the puffs to a wire rack to cool – just so the bottoms wouldn’t have a chance to get soggy.
6. This recipe could be made even easier by using a rotisserie chicken or canned chicken instead of cooking chicken yourself.


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After a day filled with swimming in the pool and catching Frisbees at the park, Buster, my grand-dog, wasn’t busting any more moves. Although still a pup, his grandparents managed to wear him out. By the time his parents came home from their honeymoon, a few weeks later, he was one tired dog. Life’s tough when you’re a spoiled puppy!

#1 – Hallie Paints
I love animals and I’m a sucker for dogs. Knowing that about me, you’ll understand why I had to post about a blind dog who paints and raises money for an animal rescue program. Read Hallie’s story, watch her paint, and then take a look at some of her work. Perhaps, you have the perfect spot in your home for one of Hallie’s works of art?

#2 – Top Tips
Who doesn’t like a tip that either saves you money or makes your life easier? Here are a few sites to check out:

Food Tips That Will Change Your Life
“Freeze grapes to chill white wine without watering it down.”

Unique and Useful Tips!
“Place a dryer sheet in your pocket. It will keep the mosquitoes away.

Coupons and Sales
“The Body Shop is offering free shipping with your order of $30 or more for the rest of today, 9/7 only.”

#3 – Time for a Shuffle Break?
Sometimes my blog posts write themselves and sometimes they need a little more help. Whenever I feel creatively blocked, I seek out one of my block-busters. Besides twirling my Greek worry beads and turning the handle on a little music box that plays “If I only had a brain,” playing computer games also helps me to relax and channel my creativity, not to mention procrastinate. Here’s a game called Shuffle that I just discovered. Play it and see if it doesn’t help you unwind a bit.

#4 – A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

“Conversations are at the heart of what it means to be human.” Theodore Zeldin
Photo by Steve McCurry

To visit photographer Steve McCurry’s blog is to go on a journey – a journey around the world and into the lives of others. His photographs provoke emotion and the accompanying quotes inspire.

#5 – Internally and Eternally Young
“Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of every heart there is a recording chamber. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old.”
― Douglas MacArthur

Have a great weekend!

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Light, fluffy, buttermilk biscuits, hot out of the oven, sit on the kitchen counter waiting to be slathered with butter and honey. When gently pried apart, the crisp exteriors yield to delectable oh-so-tender interiors. Having eaten my share of convenient, store-bought, “canned” biscuits in the past, there’s still nothing better or as welcoming in the morning to me as a basket of warm homemade biscuits. This is breakfast, very simply, at it’s best!

Helen’s Buttermilk Skyscrapers
As featured in the As American as Apple Pie cookbook by Phillip Stephen Schulz

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup (1-1/3 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, plus 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a knife. Blend with a pastry blender until the texture of coarse crumbs.

3. Stir in the buttermilk with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough. Knead briefly on a lightly floured board. Roll dough out 1¼ inches thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds and arrange with sides touching in a buttered 9-inch square cake pan. Brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake until golden, about 25 minutes.

Makes 8 or 9 large biscuits

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Keep the butter in the refrigerator until it’s time to use it. The butter needs to be well-chilled, so that it forms small pockets of fat in the biscuit dough. The fat must melt during the baking process and not the dough-making process. As the butter pockets melt, CO2 from the leavening agents takes their place and makes the biscuits rise and become fluffy.

2. The less you handle the dough, the more tender your biscuits will be. Overworking the dough develops gluten and breaks down the butter pockets.

3. Biscuits are baked quickly, hence the super hot oven. Because of this and the butter coating on top, watch these biscuits carefully after about 15 minutes in the oven. The tops can turn very dark or burn if you’re not paying attention to them.

4. For best results, make sure your baking powder and baking soda are fresh and not close to their expiring date.


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