December 4, 2016: Hola everyone! Winter has arrived in Milwaukee and there are snow flurries today. Despite several hard freezes remarkably my "spikes" in two of my patio planters have absolutely refused to die. The rosemary and thyme plants I nursed inside the house through last winter spent the summer in their pot outside next to the side stoop off the driveway, where they get plenty of sunshine all day long. I transplanted them into a cozy sheltered spot right next to the stoop in October and they are still green and growing, too! With the delay in getting the drywall patching done in the relatively minor "reconstruction" work I had done in my kitchen, I am way behind my time in getting the house decorated. But yesterday I got my wreath decked out with extra lights and dressed the front door of the house, and my battery-operated traditional candles were put up on the window sills all around the house Friday evening. It becomes a ritual to go around at dusk and turn the tops to the right to turn the candles "on" and at bedtime to go around and turn the tops to the left to turn the candles "off." Today I put some "glittery" throw pillow covers purchased new last month from H&M on three of my sofa pillows to glam things up a bit in the living room and add some sparkle. Later on, after I sufficiently fuel myself up with wine and snacks and probably to distract myself while I listen to the Packers game on the radio, I will huff and puff and pull my artificial tree up from storage in the basement. I will decorate it simply this year. Every year I say that, and every year I end up throwing just about everything except the kitchen sink on the tree. I am very proud of myself this year, though. I did not buy a single new ornament or Christmas doo-dad for the house (throw pillow covers don't count!!!) Happy Holidays to all, with hope and fervent prayers for 2017. I've a feeling we're all going to need a lot of help from Goddess in the coming year. Jan

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fly By the Seat of My Pants Italian Chicken

Friday night I had a taste for something tomato Italian, and I didn't want to make Ragu spaghetti.  I had a frozen chicken breast that I wanted to use, too, as it went into the freezer back in November.  I was a nice chunky breast, probably 8 ounces!  Enough for two meals, as I cook for myself and no one else.

While the chicken breast, tightly wrapped in tin foil, was defrosting using the cold water method, I rummaged through my cabinets.  Not much, hmmm!

No garlic!
No onions!
Hardly any extra virgin olive oil left!

I quickly scootched around the internet for some easy recipes, but didn't find anything EASY enough!

So, I gulped and decided to wing it on my own, with NO RECIPE!  I said to self, "Jan, how many cooking shows have you watched over the years?  How many Hell's Kitchens?  How many Master Chefs?  How many Cooking with Julias? How many Jacques Pepin?  You can do this, woman.  Just do it!"

What I had on hand was:

A half-empty jar of small pimento-filled green olives (store brand)
Three-quarters of a jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce with green peppers and onions (they are so small and so few you need a magnifying glass to see them)
Garlic powder
Italian seasoning
Dried oregano
Other spices, including salt, pepper and dried parsley

Chicken:

After the chicken breast was thawed, I rinsed it well under cold water and then dried it with paper towels; cut it lengthwise, being very careful as I was working with a large sharp knife that scares me half to death, and then trimmed away the fat and the small ends with a smaller knife.  I then cut both halves into roughly 1/2" thick "medallions." 

In a plastic grocery bag, as I did not have any "shake and bake" bags on hand, I mixed up some all purpose flower, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, and a wee bit of Italian seasoning mix, about 1/4 teaspoon.  I tightened up the bag opening and shook the ingredients to mix them, and then tossed in the chicken medallions and tossed away until they were well coated. 

Meanwhile, I added a couple of tablespoons (rough measure, as I was just pouring from the bottle) of vegetable oil into a skillet, and added about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Brought to about medium heat.  Then I shook off the excess flour mixture on the chicken medallions one by one and added them to the hot oil, being careful (1) not to burn myself, LOL! (2) to maintain the bubble of the oil around each piece as it was added by temporarily increasing heat (gas stove) as necessary, and (3) working quickly so that some medallions would not finish cooking well before the others!

I cooked then all for about a minute, then did a "slide-shake" of the pan to redistribute the medallions from around the hot spot in the center of the pan.  Cooking time on the first side was about 5 minutes, then turned them with tongs, checking to make sure the first side was browned.  Success!  Nicely browned, YES!

Second side was cooked a scant 3 minutes and I did the shake/slide thing with the pan a couple of times.  The last minute or so I added some chopped green olives and a little of the juice from the jar to add some brine, did a couple more shake/slide things with the pan and then turned off the heat as I  was removed the chicken and olive bits to a bowl; covered with tin foil to stay warm while I did the sauce.  This is what the chicken looked like after I removed it from the pan -- try to imagine it not blurred:



Sauce:

I have no idea where the thought to make a roux came from, but when it entered my brain I instantly went with it.  In a little bowl I mixed a bit of all purpose flour -- and yes, I did a major sin, I used some of the left-over in the plastic grocery bag from coating the chicken medallions!  Since I'm still here to write about it, I did not kill myself with ptomaine poisoning.  Added more salt and pepper.  Dumped a couple tablespoons of cold butter into the frying pan and turned on the heat.  When the oil that had been left in the pan and the newly-added butter was bubbling, I slowly added the flour mixture with one hand from the bowl and frantically stirred with a fork in the other.  Let's just say my technique leaves something to be desired.  But it worked because I REALLY whisked that fork around and was careful not to add too much flour mixture all at once.

Brought the roux to a foam, while stirring constantly:


I let it foam until it turned a rich golden brown color and started slightly smoking, added some dried parsley (I have no idea why):


I turned down the heat and added about a cup of the Ragu sauce, a wooden spoon-full at a time, stirring each in well before adding the next.  This is what it looked like after I finished putting in the spaghetti sauce:


You can see that using the roux made the sauce very thick!  And it added a layer and depth of flavor, not sure how to describe it, but remember when I said it was smoking just before I added the first of the Ragu spaghetti sauce, I was reaching for a certain subtle smoky flavor I've seen done on those t.v. cooking shows, but didn't want it to taste burned!  I thought it tasted really good and turned out well, but I am well aware I was treading on dangerous ground!

By the way, that is a genuine Grandma Newton wooden spoon.  She died in 1960.  Afterward, as the old family home was cleaned out and Grandpa went to live with my Aunt Laurel and Uncle Verne, the possessions were divied up amongst my dad and five aunts. This spoon and other things ended up in our family stash.  When I moved away to my first apartment in the summer of 1969 after graduating high school, I took with me an assortment of odds and ends, including a beat up (even then) old tin kettle that I'm pretty sure came from Grandma's house, a relish dish, a fancy glass bowl, some knick-knacks, and Grandma Newton's wooden spoon.  That wooden spoon, and the other much loved items, too, have been with me ever since.  I remember she had a set of wooden spoons that she kept in a glass jar on one side of the sink. They were worn and stained.  I loved those old spoons because Grandma Newton made magic happen with them!  Now my old, inherited wooden spoon is like Damascus steel, it's indestructible!

How well I remember sitting on a tall stool on one side of the butcher block island in her small kitchen, watching her cook.  My nose was never far away from the bowl, LOL!  She NEVER used a recipe!  So, this wooden spoon is, at a minimum (if I date it from the 1950s), about 70 years old now. Likely older.  Who knows?  Maybe Grandma Newton got those spoons as a gift from her mom (Mathilda Forsythe Belanger, 1861-1943) when she married Grandpa Newton.  Holy Hathor!

After I stirred the sauce into the roux for a few minutes, I put the chicken back in:


Then I let it all simmer on very low heat for about 5 more minutes, covered. 

Meanwhile, I prepared a single serving of fetticini for myself.  When the chicken was done, I spooned a good helping over my fetticini and added some shredded parmesan cheese. 



Popped it into the microwave for 30 seconds to slightly melt the parmesan and then had at it!

Very good!  The chicken was moist and tender, easily shredded with my fork. The sauce was thick (which I like) and stuck to everything,  very tomato-y, and had that little "extra" flavor (slightly smoky?)  As a last second garnish, I tossed on a few more chopped green olives, which added a bit of saltiness, because the dish otherwise was not salty (I have to watch it on the salt for health reasons).  I will make this for myself again.  It is probably an abbreviated version of chicken parmesan but without the black olives :)

I have left-overs for one more supper, just have to cook up some fresh pasta.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bathroom Blues, Part 5

Hola darlings!  

Developments on the powder/bathroom redo front.  I contacted Lowe's a couple days ago about the whereabouts of my faucet.  Turns out it is on back order until March 30th, and I was given the option to cancel the order.  So, I did.  Now I'll get my $71.88 back (which they should not have charged me to begin with since the product did not ship). 

The question now is do I want to order the same faucet and wait for it because it seems to be on back order everywhere, or start shopping again and find a different faucet.

Getting something less expensive would help the budget stay closer to $350.

Light fixture and mirror - decisions made and items purchased.

Here are the other two faucets I had picked out before buying the Pfister Avalon faucet (cancelled order from Lowe's):

This is by Glacier Bay, two handle in chrome.  Under $25.  I found it at Home Depot.  It looks a lot like the faucet I put in the upstairs bath a few years ago with those "wing" handles.  The lines are simple and elegant.  This is also a low profile faucet (the Pfister Avalon was not low profile).


The little two handle cutey above is a Pfister Pfirst in chrome, also found at Home Depot.  It is a "green" faucet with low water flow.  It has a somewhat chunky and yet rather mod, sleek design that surprisingly appeals to me (I'm not a "mod" person).  I had initially picked it out to go with the first light fixture option I had settled on and thought I would buy -- white glass shades and a sleek chrome design.  And with the Avalon mirror (Kirkland's), if I'd been able to have it delivered to the house -- well, it would have been a very different looking bathroom from the one that is coming together now.  I don't think this faucet would "go" with the curvy Emma mirror I ended up buying.  The price is great, though - under $19!!!

4.  Flooring.

Trying to decide on one - it's tough!  These are the options I'm looking at:


Above, from Lumber Liquidators, Tranquility 2mm New River Gorge Mahogany Resilient Vinyl.  I can cut it with strong scissors or score it with a box cutter and snap.  It has adhesive around the edges only, and can be laid over existing flooring as long as it is clean and level.  I watched several videos about how to install it and it is as easy as it sounds. Reviews said if any little thing is caught underneath this flooring it will show, so prep is all important.  Right now this flooring is on sale for $0.99 a square foot.  I only need 24 square feet.  One box contains 45 sq. ft. and would run about $45.  Very budget friendly and I'd have a lot left over.  I really like the color.  I think it would look good with my dark vanity and creamy-white painted woodwork.  Many of the inspiration photos I selected have dark flooring with white woodwork.

The next floors are from Home Depot:


Above is TrafficMaster Allure American Walnut Resilient Vinyl Plank Flooring.  It is $40.56 a case and covers 24 square feet.  I would have very little left over, I would have to be very careful laying the floor to not mess up!  I don't want to buy two boxes and spend $81 with a lot of flooring left over.  TrafficMaster Allure is applied in the same way as the Tranquility flooring (first image above).  There is a somewhat lighter cherry finish in this brand that I also like.  I decided not to go with it because I was worried the cherry would skew a bit too reddish against my dark vanity.

A more expensive option that is luring me in is light travertine look or marble look!  Although the bulk of my inspiration photos have, or appear to have, dark floors, a couple have light floors that are either marble or travertine, and they're gorgeous.  Check out this carrara marble look-alike in vinyl plank flooring:


This is TrafficMaster Allure Ultra in Carrara Oyster.  It has no adhesive at all, it is a click-lock floor and is waterproof (floors featured above are water-resistant but not waterproof).  The panels are 12" by 24" and give the look of real marble tile.  Isn't it beautiful!  A box covers 19.8 square feet and costs $72.67.  I would have to buy two boxes if I went with this option.  Thus, my floor would rise in cost from a modest $41 - $45 to $146.  Another issue is that this vinyl product is thicker and harder to cut -- heavy-duty scissors won't do the trick on this flooring. 

Here is the same flooring (same price), in Carrara White, and it doesn't look good at all in this photo:



If I go with a light flooring option, I want something that has greys in it. It's impossible to judge color on a computer screen!  Another concern is that many of the reviews mentioned that this click and lock flooring was very difficult to get the seams to click/lock properly and then stay that way. 

Soooo, I don't know what I want to do right now.  Next up - wallpaper.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bathroom Blues, Part 4

Hola Darlings!

We are in the middle of a snow storm (yes, another one).  Tomorrow is supposed to bring relief in the form of above freezing temperatures, but today there's already a foot of drifted snow in the abbreviated area of driveway that I have been able to keep "clear" this winter.  I shoveled for an hour when I got home from the office (we closed at 4 p.m., that's how bad the roads are) and barely made a dent.  Still snowing until 8 or 9 p.m. this evening, according to the latest forecast. 

Oh the weather outside is frightful --

But I've been keeping myself well entertained and driving myself crazy (what! You thought I was already insane???) online shopping for the components of my soon to be new downstairs powder room/bath!!!

I was soooo disappointed when nobody stepped forward to enter my design competition but, that's the way it goes.  I know my 12 readers are busy people and, after all, none of you knows me from Adam, so I don't blame anyone for being maybe just a wee bit suspicious that I wasn't on the up and up.

So, you saw some of my inspiration rooms here.  Aren't they beautiful!!!!!!

Decorating, of course, would never be an issue for Maison Newton if money was no object, LOL!  But, it is, and I am on a $350 budget.  Well, I'm going to top that budget, but by less than $100, and here's why:

1.  Light Fixture. 

I had originally picked out a nice three-light fixture with glass shades and chrome for under $30, WELL within the budget parameters, and I was quite pleased with myself:


This is from Home Depot, the Hampton Bay 3-Light Chrome Vanity Fixture, with a polish chrome finish and 3 frosted glass shades.  Priced at - get ready - $26.88!

I was very attracted by its clean lines, very different from my existing really inexpensive box light fixture.  Since I had decided upon a silvery color scheme, chrome or polished nickel fixtures were what I was focusing on.

I printed off the information for this fixture after looking at several others, all 3-light styles.  My size limit is no larger than 24 inches wide.  I felt this Hampton Bay light could go either very formal or more casual and look good in both. 

But still, I continued to look at light fixtures.  I was looking for THE light fixture that would sing to me with the voices of the Heavenly Choir when I laid eyes on it.  I really really wanted a light fixture with upright cloth shades and a little bling!  I wanted something that would echo some of those gorgeous light fixtures in my inspiration photos.

I looked and looked and looked.  This is what I finally pulled the trigger on:



I also found this light fixture at Home Depot.  It is the Hampton Bay Waterton Collection 3-Light Chrome Sconce, 20 1/2 inches wide (just perfect!) and $119.  Now darlings, I have to tell you, I have NEVER paid that much for a light fixture in my life!  It was a break-through moment for me.  I mean, to travel all the way from under $30 to $119 (not including shipping charges).  HOLY HATHOR!  The Heavenly Choir did, indeed, sing for me when I saw this fixture.

It's got cloth shades!  It's got clear glass finials with little silver ball endings!  It's got curved arms!  It was love at first sight.  And I decided that I was worth it, and was well on the way to blowing my budget when I purchased this light fixture.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine's Day Assortment

Some random thoughts on this cold, dark Friday evening.  Missing Mr. Don.  Valentines Day, 2013, I was still frozen in grief and disbelief that he was actually gone.  Well, I still feel the same way, but he has been gone more than a year now.  Maybe I will be semi-frozen for the rest of my life.

I am alone now.  It is the most difficult thing I have ever done.  Continuing on in the face of never-ending loneliness and emptiness.  I still come home every day from work expecting to see an email (or dozen) from Mr. Don.  Somehow, I continue to chug along.

I haven't lost the power to laugh, though. That's important.  And I haven't lost so much perspective that I don't appreciate that what Mr. D and I had together was very special.  A once in a lifetime kind of thing, like the song -- Mighty Love:



From "Funny Face."  I so love this movie.  I loved Audrey Hepburn from the day I first saw her in a movie -- I don't even remember when that was!  Perhaps it was "Breakfast at Tiffany's" I first remember seeing her in a rerun on t.v.  I have also always loved Fred Astaire, that homely/handsome man who couldn't sing his way out of a paper bag but somehow, he always made it work and could charm the birds out of the trees.  And his dancing! Oh, his DANCING!  "Funny Face" was made in 1957.  I was six years old.  This is a great episode from the film, and it was filmed on location, no faking some of this!  LOVE!  And the movie itself, well, it is a great love story!  If you haven't viewed it, I really think you should:



Mr. Don couldn't dance to save his life!  He had no rhythm at all.  Never could get him to loosen him up on the dance floor until he had at least three shots of Glenfiddich.  The closest we ever came to sexy on the dance floor was in the summer of 2004, out on the deck at my house way after midnight. It was steamy hot outside, still in the 90's and tropical humidity.  Earlier that day we'd attended the wedding of my nephew Jim, and Mr. Don had his three shots of Glenfiddich and got out on the dance floor with me and my sisters and brothers-in-law. It was a hoot!   He was still loosey goosey and I had smooth jazz playing on a radio on the deck.  We danced jn candlelight under the stars and I whispered sweet words into his ear.  I actually got his hips to move (a little).

To heat things up a bit, how about this clip from the "Phantom of the Opera" movie from 2004, featuring an incredibly smoking hot, sexy Gerard Butler singing his own stuff, too!  Who knew?  I don't care how old Gerard Butler gets, or what silly films he ever appears in.  To me, this movie will always epitomize Gerard Butler.  I like to pretend that I still look like "Christine:"



There Mr. Don is, in Madrid, in 2012. We went back in early January 2012.  I'd bought him that leather jacket for Christmas 2011 because he seriously needed a new winter coat, but he never paid attention to things like clothes. But he was worried about the fit, believe it or not.  LOL!

Yep, he took it out of the box the day he arrived here, and we unwrapped our presents before dinner (I made all of his favorites, of course!)  He said ooh and aah, and tried it on and said, do you think the sleeves are too short?  I've got very long arms you know. (Yes, I knew).  The jacket fit his arms - just barely.  He wore it from that moment on until we parted the day he left home to go back to his place in Montreal, sometime the third week or so in January, 2012.

That was the last time I saw him alive.

It was in the high 20's that day in Madrid this photo (above) was taken.  We went walking after settling into our rooms at our small hotel.  We were lucky!  It had a lift! 

Mr. Don and I were great walkers. We were warm that day, coming from sub-zero Milwaukee. Jet-lagged as we were, we still managed to wander all over the King's Park -- I forget the formal name of it at this moment.  Rentiro Park?  Something like that.  I didn't wear my wool beret the entire time we were in Madrid in January 2012.  When we had first visited in October 2002, cold wasn't an issue.  When we visited then, all of the fountains had water flowing.  In January 2012, no water.  But I could see it in my mind's-eye... 

Believe it or not, the picture (above) was not posed.  That WAS my Mr. Don.  Always looking upward and pondering what the goddesses and gods were doing rather than focusing on more mundane things down here on Planet Earth.  THAT was my job.  How on earth did a Pisces (him) and a Leo (me) ever hook up together?  Only the Goddess (of Love) knows. Water and Fire -- and yet we were still going strong after 13 plus years.  Until he up and died.  I always knew he was more up in Heaven than down here on Earth, but it was hard to accept, nonetheless. I still have not accepted it. 

Life is not life if we do not face loss at some point or other.  Painful, hurtful, excruciating will-kill-you-if-your-knees-buckle loss.  Is that why I have osteo-arthritis in my knees now?  Oh hell. Who knows? It could be genetic.  I, however, prefer the more romantic explanation. But then, I've always been a bit of a drama queen. 

Cherish your mighty love, always!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bathroom Blues, Part 3 -- Inspiration Looks

Hola everyone!

The cold refuses to relent.  I don't think it will ever be warm again.  My buddy Ellen is in Orlando and wants me to come down for a weekend, but I can't afford it with the powder/bath redo on the not too distant horizon.  So I'm stuck here in 20 below windchills.  It actually was a balmy 10 below zero F yesterday, the walk to the bus stop was a breeze.  The sun is out again today.  Not that it's helping, it's such a teeze!  The forecasters say it will get up to about 17 above zero F today, woo woo!  Snow is expected later on.  In fact, I should be getting my butt dressed and to the Pick 'n Save before the weather turns instead of sitting here in my robe doing this!

Inspiration photographs, the joy and bane of my (and yours?) existence.  Wonderful because they get the ideas flowing, most of the time.  Horrible because they create cravings for things that are ridiculously expensive and excessive dissatisfaction with my home as it currently looks.  Sigh.  Why wasn't I born a billionaire?  Why didn't I marry the millionaire when he asked?  Geesh.

One thing scootching around the internet looking at pics has taught me is that I want to live like European royalty.  RICH European royalty. Or someone on Fifth Avenue, across from Central Park.  Near the MET, in a penthouse, not in a cardboard box over a subway grate (just to clarify).

From la Dolce Vita, April 13, 2011 guest blog entry by the Decorista, on what her
dream house would look like. 
Nancy Corzine's powder room.  The mirror is probably worth more than my entire house.
Posted at New York Social Diary, along with lots of other photos of her spectacular
household with breathtaking views of New York city. 
This is from a home in Raleigh (NC) by Debbie Golmulka Designs.
I found this gorgeous room at The Lennoxx, near the end of the article. 
Have you been blinded by my preference for bling, glam and glitter?  Here are the final two photographs that fully encapsulate what it is I want in my powder room/bath redo:

From Digs Digs, near the end of the article on dramatic powder rooms. 
From Archimagz, May 2013
I found this entire process sooooo revealing.  I never thought I was a grey/silver tones gal.  That was a shock.

I am keeping my dark vanity cabinet.  I cannot afford to replace it and storage is an issue. My current vanity, besides being in excellent shape even after all these years, has traditional styling in a dark cherry finish, no dated hardware, and offers good storage for bathroom necessities and a place where guests (who use this bath when visiting) can stash their stuff too. 

I love the marble (?) tile floor in photograph 4, but a pattern kept repeating itself in photos of rooms I was drawn into -- dark wood (or wood look) floors. First choice would be going dark wood look.  I am not a tile fan.  A bathroom floor should be water-resistant at the least, and waterproof at best.  I discovered vinyl plank flooring a few weeks ago at Lumber Liquidators website and there are some amazing cost effective options available.  The technology has come a long way in the past few years and the higher-end products look and feel like wood, but are waterproof and can be scored and cut to fit without a saw.  Some don't even have a glue strip on them but are designed to entirely float across an existing surface and can be moved with you when you move.  I could totally do this flooring by myself, would not have to hire Kevin the Wonder Handy Man to do it for me. Wow!  Check out Centsational Girl's February 5, 2014 posting on the topic. 

White or cream woodwork.  My bathroom woodwork was stained a deep, dark red mahogany almost 24 years ago and I still love it.  I tried to get a color as close to matching as I could the vanity color.  But I think the bathroom woodwork would look great painted a creamy white and would balance out a dark floor.  Once committed, though, I would not be able to go back to stain unless I replaced the woodwork!  I have read over and over again that one can paint over stain, but one cannot stain over paint. 

A gorgeous mirror is a must.  I cannot afford a Venetian glass mirror, or even a faux Venetian glass mirror.  Well, you see what I was drawn to, and you know my budget ($350).  LOL!  I started pricing out mirrors while I was waiting for someone (anyone) to email me and say they would love to win $50 for designing a powder room/bath for me.  Sticker shock! 

I cannot afford to replace my over the mirror lighting with sconces, and the way the room is configured, sconces would not work, they would be off-kilter to each other as the toilet is next to the vanity and there is no room on the right side of the mirror for a wall sconce.  I want the look of glitter (crystal), glam, and cloth lamp shades!  Surely I can find something that will go above a new mirror centered over the vanity.  Current builder's grade mirror is 24" wide and 36" tall.  I'm aiming for approximately the same dimensions, but it depends on cost.

Oh, the wallpaper!  Holy Hathor!  A quick way to get an eye-popping design without the hassle of stenciling.  I've no patience for stenciling.  I've seen gorgeous stenciled walls done by very patient and persistent d-i-y'ers, that's not me :)

Okay, it's starting to snow, I've really got to get dressed and get to the Pick 'n Save!