Archive for May, 2009

Orleans Hurricane as vase 2Orleans Hurricane with pasts

Being economical or a judicious spender can mean more than not spending. It absolutely does not mean buying the cheapest solution for your particular need (the “get-by” product). The warning “you get what you pay for” is still very true. If you buy inferior quality products of any sort, you will in the long run incur greater expense.  I remember all of those “box store” non-stick frying pans I bought years ago. Always, within a short period of time, the nonstick surface began to flake off and I was back at the box store buying a replacement pan. The more economical action would have been to invest in a quality frying pan at, of course, a significantly higher cost. Once I did that, however, I didn’t incur the repeating expense of replacement pans. The quality pan was the better value.

The same situation can hold  true for home decor and serveware. One way to assess whether a piece you are considering purchasing is a good value is to consider how many different ways you can use the piece.  This thought process can also be entertaining, imagining how many different ways you can utilize a piece, or in how many rooms of your home you can imagine using the piece.

An analogy is to think of home decor and serving pieces as your home’s wardrobe. Buy classic, stylish pieces, like the “little black dress.”  These pieces become your home’s foundation wardrobe  that you can “accessorize” to bring a fresh look to a room from season to season.

As an example, let’s consider a glass hurricane lantern, with metal base and top. If you stop at using a piece like this as simply a candle holder, you’ve gotten good use out of it, but not great use. There are so many ways you could use a piece similar to this. Imagine filling it with small seashells for a seaside cottage motif.  In the spring (remove the lid) and fill it with long branches of pussy willow or forsythia. How tempting (and colorful) it would look filled with M&Ms or peppermints or any of a multitude of small candies! Fill it with pasta and beautify the kitchen counter. Put water in it and a betta fish! Use it as a holder of an artist’s paintbrushes. Using the scotch-tape frog idea from a previous post, turn it into a vase. It would be even more striking to group the hurricane-vase with two other glass vases of different heights and shapes, all with the same flowers. Remember that odd numbers are more visually satisfying.

So when you see something for your home entertaining or decorating that you are considering purchasing, ask the salesperson or consultant for suggestions for alternative uses for the product. If it’s use is too singular, it may be something you want to buy at that moment, but it may not be the best purchase you could make for your investment.


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avocadoPico de gallo, taco salad, tacos… all are more delicious made with perfectly ripe, firm cubes of avocado.

How to prepare the avocado:

De-pitting: I hope you don’t take a knife and try to “peel” an avocado. That would be dangerous and wasteful.  There is a much easier way. Cut the avocado in half from end to end (not through the “equator,” so to speak). Take a very sharp knife and deal a sharp blow with the sharp edge of the knife to the avocado pit. Please don’t be holding the avocado in your hand when you do this. It takes some practice to actually hit the pit. Trust me, you don’t want to hit the palm of your hand with the knife blade. Once the knife blade is wedged in the avocado pit, holding the avocado half in your hand, twist the knife blade to either side. The pit should dislodge, leaving all that delicious avocado flesh.

Peeling: If you have a recipe that calls for an intact half avocado, there is an easy way to remove the skin now. Take a teaspoon and slip it under the flesh of the avocado, right next to the skin and rotate around the flesh of the half avocado, staying as close to the skin as possible. You should be able to scoop out in one piece almost all of the avocado flesh, wasting hardly anything.

Cubing: Your recipe might, however, call for cubed or chopped avocado. A very simple way to uniformly cube the avocado without crushing or smashing it is to do the cubing in the skin before you remove the flesh from the skin. So instead of using a teaspoon to remove the flesh after the pit has been extracted, leave the flesh of the half avocado in the skin.  Holding the avocado in the palm of your hand, with a small, sharp knife, make parallel cuts lengthwise about every 1/4 inch completely across the width of the avocado. Be care to not pierce the skin of the avocado. Think of the avocado skin as a bowl you are slicing against. Now make parallel cuts crosswise about every 1/4 inch completely across the length of the avocado. Now when you take your teaspoon to scoop out the flesh, it will be pre-cubed and ready for your recipe.

And if you want my recommendation of the best guacamole in Texas, it is served at Boudros’ in San Antonio, on the Riverwalk. They bring the ingredients to your table and prepare in front of you. Their unique ingredient is orange juice.

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A flower arrangement turns any dinner table into a gracious gathering place for friends and family. With flowers being so economical at places like big box stores and grocery stores, there’s much more opportunity now to have fresh flowers more often in our homes. Arranging them is another matter. Sometimes you feel like you have to have a huge amount of flowers so that you can cram them in the vase so they won’t flop all over the place. That approach can make buying flowers more costly than necessary.  A frog is an insert into the vase which separates and holds steady individual stems. This allows you to use fewer flowers but still have a well-shaped, balanced display.

There are several versions of frogs. Some vases come with a frog insert as shown in the picture. If the vase doesn’t have a built in frog, you can make one byfrogmaking scotch tape frog criss-crossing scotch tape across the top of the vase. This works amazingly well and is practically no cost. Don’t let your lack of skill in flower arranging keep you from bringing the beauty of fresh flowers into your home. Let a frog help you.

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Did you watch the news story on TV or read the New York Times story about the dubbawallas in Mumbai India who deliver thousands of meals to business workers in tins called “tiffins.”  The dubbawallas pick up the lunches prepared by someone at home, transport the tiffins by train to downtown Mumbai, deliver the tiffins to the business person, and then pick up the tiffin and take the train again to return it to the person who prepared the food that morning. All without the Internet!dubbawallatiffin

The tin or tiffin carrier typically has 2 or 3 compartments with latches to keep everything closed and contained. It is made of steel. You can buy them online by searching for tiffin boxes or tiffin carriers. These would make a great substitute to the plastic containers people take their lunch to work in here.

Next time you are in the mood for some international cuisine, why not have a Tiffin Party. Have a tiffin ready for each guest to take home some of the leftovers and be prepared to have a sumptuous amount of food available. If you love to cook, then prepare it yourself, but if not, carryout will delight your guests just as well. Obviously Indian cuisine would be appropriate, as would Thai and Chinese. Your guests will remember the occasion every time they use their new eco-friendly lunch box, the tiffin!

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You know how expensive asparagus is. It’s delicious but pricey, even when on sale.  And you know the way to prepare asparagus is to “snap” it off toward the cut end wherever it will break off. That breaking point marks the borderline between tender and too tough to eat. So what happens is you wind up throwing away about a third of the asparagus you purchased.  That really doesn’t have to happen if you will take a little extra time and peel those ends that used to be discarded.

Peel off the outside skin using a good vegetable peeler. These pieces are so small that using a knife to peel them makes the job very difficult and a little dangerous.

Mario Batali vegetable peeler

Mario Batali vegetable peeler

Be sure to make a fresh cut at the end of the spear. What you have left after peeling is a nice tender piece of asparagus.

How to use this in your cooking? Julienne to add to stir-fried vegetables. Coarsely or finely chop to add to a fritatta or quiche. Want to get really sneaky? Add the finely chopped pieces to spaghetti sauce and sneak some vegetables in on the kids without them knowing it.

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How to peel a kiwi

Sliced kiwi is a delicious topping for a fruit pizza. However, it is difficult to peel,kiwi on fruit pizza and of course you don’t eat the peel.

Here is an easy way to peel the kiwi:

1) Slice off both ends of the kiwi;

2) Take a teaspoon and slip it just under the skin of the kiwi, as close to the skin as possible, with the cupped side of the spoon facing the curvature of the kiwi.

3) Insert the teaspoon only about half way through the kiwi.  Rotate the spoon completely around the kiwi.

4) Remove the teaspoon and insert it at the other end of the kiwi. Again, rotate the spoon completely around the kiwi.

You will now have separated the skin of the kiwi from the fruit and can slip it off the fruit.

The fruit is now ready to be sliced with a knife and placed on the fruit pizza or other uses.


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Nothing adds grace and beauty to your home more than fresh cut flowers. One way to expand the versatility of a glass vase  is  to camouflage the water reservoir with dry or organic materials, adding more color and texture to the display.   The two floral displays pictured here look very different and could be used with different motifs. Forsquare vase with beanssquare vase 003 example, the arrangement on the right, which adds  a sandy color to the vase, is actually filled with dried beans.  This look would coordinate well with a seashore motif, picking up the color of the sand, or a rock garden motif, with the beans taking on the look of pebbles. This look is also much lighter and more summery than the second arrangement where the fill material in the vase is fresh cranberries. The cranberries coordinate with the color of the flowers rather than contrast with it. This arrangement would obviously be very appropriate on a Thanksgiving dinner table, but would also work well any time your color scheme included pinks and purples.

Other filler ideas for the vase include:

1) jelly beans at Easter. Layer different colors of jelly beans inside the vase. (Thanks to Vi Quan for suggesting candy: how about M&Ms!)

2) colored sands, such as they use in sand art.

3) pebbles.

4) marbles.

5) buttons.

6) beads, sequins.

7) cornmeal, grits, rice.

The substances you could use are almost endless. They just have to be small enough to fill in the voids in the  vase. Please let me know of other ideas you have.

It may not be obvious from the photograph, but there is no water in the vase around the beans or the cranberries. Clearly there would be substances that you wouldn’t want to submerge in water, such as jellybeans. So how do we accomplish this look? Find a water tight cylinder that will fit within the vase. It’s diameter must be small enough to allow you to fill in around it with the fill material. It’s height should be tall enough to hold enough water for the flowers and tall enough that when the vase is full with the fill material, the fill material doesn’t spill over into the water receptacle. Look around your home for economical solutions for this, such as prescription bottles or spice jars. Larger vases can take larger water receptacles. Because the water receptacle will be small in comparison to the overall size of the vase, it will probably be necessary to refill the water more often.

Just a side note: notice the shape of this vase. The broad square base has a distinct advantage in that you can transport this arrangement on the floorboard of your car and not worry about it tipping over.   That’s a real plus if you like to take flower arrangements to meetings or friends’  homes.

This technique can also solve the problem of short flowers and a tall vase.  Fill the  bottom of the tall vase with the fill material. Set your water receptacle on top of the fill material. Fill in the rest of the way to the top of the vase. No one will be able to see that the stems of your flowers do not go all the way to the bottom of the base.

Finally, this technique can also be used to make individual place setting arrangements, using for example, canning jars as the vase, with pill bottles as the water receptacle.

Enjoy using novel fill materials to create floral arrangements that are sure to inspire and delight your guests.

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