Friday, January 28, 2011

Salted Caramel Covered Strawberries

I found these today over at The Steamy Kitchen.  My fascination with salted confections continues!


Oh how I wish it was strawberry season.  Of course you can still get strawberries...I am sure they were grown in a far away land like Chile or Mexico but sometimes you have to go against the principals of eating locally and in season and just go for it.   I think pistachios would be a better choice over the peanuts don’t you?  I don’t think they grow pistachios here in NC either.  I am really pushing it today!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Burlap Wine Bag

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I made this burlap wine bag today and had a little fun with my stencils in time for Valentine’s Day. 

Remember that song “Love Potion #9” ???  You will probably want to thank me later when that song gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day.  :)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Simply Charming Artwork


I found an absolutely charming website today called Janet Hill and was delighted with the artwork found there.  She is an extremely talented artist from Canada with original paintings available at her website.   She writes a blog where you can see some of her work with explanations of how the pieces were inspired and she has a shop called   Janet Hill Studio on Etsy where you can find some of these prints.  And at Janet Hill Ink which is another shop on Etsy where you can find small prints and cards.   I absolutely love them!

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Blacksticks Blue Cheese

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In my travels today I came across a new cheese.  It’s called Blacksticks Blue and it's a handmade cheese made by the Butler family in Lancashire, England.   Imagine how fun it was for me to find it today here in not so sunny Greensboro, NC!    It’s a relatively new cheese that was created in 2003 and since its creation it has won its fair share of awards.  It’s a soft blue cheese that has a beautiful amber color that is hand made in small batches.

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It melts in your mouth.  I enjoyed my first taste with a slice of pear.  Later in day I served it on a piece of Ciabatta bread that I sliced into bite size pieces with some thinly slice roast beef deli meat and Dijon mustard.  I would imagine that horseradish sauce would be even better.  I topped that with a thin piece of cucumber and some  crumbled Blacksticks Blue Cheese.  Delicious

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And here is a tip about the best way to store your cheese.  Cheese needs to “breathe” so as soon as I get a piece of cheese that I have purchased home, I unwrap it from the cellophane wrap from the store and then I like to re-wrap it in parchment paper.  This way the cheese still gets a fair amount of air.  I then sometimes slip it into a zip-loc sandwich baggie but I don’t seal the bag because again you want some air to circulate around your cheese.  I am by no means an expert but this method works best for me and my cheese seems to taste better and last longer. 

Keep your eyes peeled for Blacksticks Blue.  It’s delicious!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

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Have you heard of this book yet?  If you haven’t yet,  I predict you will.  Let’s  just say it is garnering its fair share of attention and controversy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a true story by Amy Chua and it describes how she parented her two daughters in “The Chinese Way” and the extraordinary results she achieved.    The book is her attempt to answer the question she was always being asked about how Chinese parents are able to raise such stereo-typically successful kids.   She is  highly accomplished herself and is a Professor of Law at Yale.   Her parenting in “The Chinese Way” is an extreme contrast to the way most Westerners raise their children and as a Westerner myself, I was cringing my way through most of the book.  However, having said that, I have to say that a lot of what she did is admirable .  I never questioned her love for her daughters LuLu and Sophia.  The intensity of her love, and her high expectations is what propelled her girls to unbelievably high success.    One daughter mastered the piano and played at Carnegie  Hall at the age of 14 and the other was considered a prodigy and mastered the violin.

Here is a short list of some of the things her girls were not allowed to do:

Attend a sleepover

Have a play date

Be in a school play

Complain about not being in a school play

Watch TV or play computer games

Choose their won extracurricular activities

Get any grade less than an A

Not be the #1 student in every subject gym and drama

Play any instrument other than the piano or violin (because they were believed to be the most difficult and therefore the most worthwhile),  not play the piano or violin

My very Western kids are guilty of all the above.  :)

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences”  ~ Amy Chua

This is one point where I agreed with the author.  I think there is a lot of truth in the statement quoted above.

“Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.” ~ Amy Chua

I used to say to my husband when our kids were in Elementary School that if a kid blew his nose and used a tissue, they would give him an award.  I have lost count on how many certificates my kids have been given over the years.   Most of them meant nothing to my kids.  They were a dime a dozen.  Here in America, blue ribbons and trophies just for participating are passed out to everyone.   We have gone overboard in recognizing everyone for everything and the real world doesn’t work that way.  And because of this, I think we are doing a disservice to our kids.   I think it dilutes the sense of pride a child can experience from real achievement and takes away from the joy of success that comes with true hard work.  The trophies and ribbons that mean the most are the ones my kids worked hard to get.  They are the ones they worked their fannies off to achieve.     

Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.” ~ Amy Chua

Her girls practiced for hours every day.  Hotels when they were traveling were booked based on whether there was a piano in the lobby, restaurant, or bar available for her daughter to practice on.   Tell me that’s not extreme?

And where was her husband Jed during all of this?  He is present in the book but not very well defined.  I would have like to have read more about their relationship.  Her extreme points of view and actions made me think there had to have been some major blow outs between the two of them.    But, reading her story we really never get a good sense about him.  He’s there.  He doesn’t always agree with her methods but he seems content to let her be the dominant and driving force in the family. 

“Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.” ~ Amy Chua


So while I disagreed with most of her methods, the prime example was when she called her daughter “garbage” because she couldn’t master a piece of music she was working on (along with several other cringe worthy episodes),  reading the book I felt like I understood her motivations. It wasn’t a lack of love by any means that drives her to verbally “abuse” her daughters it was quite the opposite. It was the intense love and the belief that they could and would do better.   And although I was able to understand her point of view and motivations, they were very hard for me to relate to.  She does, however, a remarkable job of explaining the stereotype. 

Practice makes perfect!

My thanks to TLC Book Tours who provided me with a copy of this book to read and who have linked to my review and other blogger’s reviews of this book on their website.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter Pumpkin Contest

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I win!  I am declaring the Winter Pumpkin Contest with my neighbor officially over.   And to be fair I have to admit that my neighbor  really never even knew she was a contestant.   It seems that neither one of us got around to getting rid of our pumpkins right after the Halloween Trick or Treat.  Actually, I try to keep mine until Thanksgiving .  But when Thanksgiving came and went they were still in perfect shape so I hated to throw them out so I just left them be.  I felt it was okay because when I looked over at my neighbors yard she still had hers sitting out too.   I figured is she could do it, so could I!  Then it got to be a joke.  Especially around Christmas time.  My pumpkins weathered the holidays just fine.

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So today I declared myself the winner. When I looked over at my neighbor’s pumpkins this morning I noticed that they are flat as pancakes. 

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Mine still have some roundness and girth to them.  A few wrinkles maybe  and they are looking a bit warty, and I am sure that if I tried to pick one up it would instantly liquefy,  but you can still tell they are pumpkins!    

Victory is so sweet.  :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

1000 Awesome Things

I just discovered this today.   It’s a refreshing and happy blog called 1000 Awesome Things.  It’s written by Neil Pasricha and he won the Webbie Award for Best Blog of 2010.  Did you even know that there was such thing as a “Webbie”??    The success of his blog led to a book called The Book of Awesome.


I love his gentle and optimistic view of the world.  It’s a look at the sunny side of life.  There is awesomeness all around us and Neil posts a daily bit of awesomeness on his blog.  I am his newest follower and fan. 

Some of my favorites from his blog:

Clean baby smell

Wearing underwear just out of the dryer

Your pillow

Bakery air

Popping bubble wrap

The Smell of fresh cut grass

Finally peeing after holding it forever

When the thing you were going to buy is already on sale

Placing the last piece of a puzzle

Laughing so hard you start crying

Listening to couples tell you how they met

And with that, allow me to leave you today with  some wisdom from the ever awesome Ferris Bueller:  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It’s Honey Bell Time

Honey Bell Oranges 003 My Cushman’s Honey Bells are here!  Have you ever had one of these?    So delicious and unbelievably juicy.  They are a cross between a Duncan Grapefruit and and a Dancy Tangerine and oh baby are they good!  They are only available this time of year.  I order mine each year from QVC.  

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I am probably going to have to juice the ones I want to eat.   I just got two new wires on my braces today and my teeth are more than a little bit tender.  Smoothies  and juiced Honey Bells for me for the next few days.  Could be worse.  :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Big Fat Mah Jong Party Flop

It was my turn to host Mah Jong.  A snow storm hit.  Nobody came to my party.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  Two people out of ten came from the group.  We didn’t play.  We tried to make a dent in all the food and drinks I prepared.  I have lots of leftovers.  Lots.

On the bright side, I have some new and wonderful recipes to show for it.  Here they are.     

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Limes.  I just really liked my photo and wanted to post it.  :) 

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The limes made a great garnish for the Cherry Cosmopolitans.

Here is the recipe:  Cherry Cosmopolitans

2 parts Cherry Vodka

1 part Triple Sec

3 parts Cranberry Juice


I made these up in advance in a pitcher.  For the pitcher, my “parts” were “cups”.  For an individual drink, my “parts” would have been “shots”.    Mix these up and keep in the refrigerator.  When the party starts, pour into a shaker filled with ice.  Shake, pour into Martini Glasses,  add a splash of sparkling water like Pellegrino or some lemon lime soda and garnish with a slice of lime.  Cheers!

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My new Mah Jong set was set up and ready to play but alas, it saw no action on this night.  :(

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Mmm, these were very good.  Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. You can never go wrong with a Barefoot Contessa recipe.  These were very easy.  Click on the link for the recipe. 

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Feta Dip.  OMG this is good.  I am so grateful to Sarah over at Clover Lane for sharing this recipe.

Here is how I made mine. 

Fabulous Feta Dip with French Bread

8 oz. container of Feta Cheese

Olive Oil

1 bunch of green onions, diced

1 glove garlic, pressed

Dried Oregano and Basil

Salt and Pepper

3 large Roma Tomatoes, diced

Pour approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of olive oil on a platter.   Stir in the pressed garlic, Oregano and Basil, salt and pepper.  Add the tomatoes and onions.  Add the Feta cheese and mix well.  Serve with sliced French Bread.  I added a couple of spoons to the platter to help make serving it easier.  I LOVE THIS!

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And of course you always want to have a little something on the sweet side.   : )   Were three choices too many?

I served Orange Creamsicle Cookies (I made these in advance and they keep really well in the freezer). 

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And Salted Carmel Brownie Bites!  These are unbelievably good too!  Big Thanks go to Inside Brucrew Life for this fantastic recipe. 

You only need 4 ingredients:

Your favorite Brownie mix

A bag of Rolo chocolate covered caramel candies

Chocolate coating

Sea Salt

Bake your favorite Brownie Mix.    Let cool.  Smush a small scoop of the Brownie around a Rolo candy and roll into a ball.  Dip the balls in melted chocolate.  Set on a cookie tray line with Parchment Paper and sprinkle with Sea Salt.  Let cool.  I store mine in refrigerator.  Soooo delicious!

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And finally, I made another batch of  Chocolate Clementines with Sea Salt and Red Pepper Flakes.   I’ll be making these for as long a Clementine season lasts.    So there you have it.  My Big Fat Maj Jong Flop Party.    At least I am off the hook until July. :)

And one nice thing did happen to me today.   TRIAD MOMS ON MAIN is featuring a blog post that I wrote on their site today!!!  It’s called The 8 Things That I Am Glad I Did And The 8 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently.    Click on the link and browse around their site.  It’s chock full of great ideas and geared to family life.  And Rachel Hoeing, one of the editors there is one of the nicest people you will ever meet!  Thanks Rachel and Triad Moms on Main!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chocolate Clementines with Sea Salt and Red Pepper Flakes

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I found a new blog today.  It’s called Verses from My Kitchen and it’s got some amazing recipes on it.  This is the one that had me in the market today buying Clementines and sea salt.  These are incredible! 

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Click on either link for Michael’s recipe from his blog Verses From My Kitchen and you can find his recipe for Dark Chocolate-Covered  Clementines with Chili Salt.  I am not sure if you can buy chili sea salt already prepared or not.   I didn’t have any so instead I used red pepper flakes and semi-sweet chocolate instead of the dark.   These are very easy to make.  Peel and separate the segments of  your Clementines and dip them in melted chocolate.  Michael used a double boiler and I used the microwave.  Then after dipping one end of the Clemetines in the chocolate,  set them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle with sea salt and your chili pepper flakes.  That’s it!  Let them cool and set in the refrigerator for approximately 15 minutes.  Michael is right when he suggests that you wait until they are fully set before enjoying them.  It makes a big difference in how they taste and feel when you eat them.  Chocolate Clementines with Sea Salt 011

These are delicious and beautiful to look at.    I dare say they are even on the healthy side.  :)  I’ll be making these for my party on Monday too. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Splendid Market

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I won a Giveaway!   When you get a minute, stop by for a visit at SPLENDID MARKET.  Emily has a wonderful blog that touches on all the things I like.  You will find a little bit of everything there like hosting fantastic parties, recipes,  flowers, gardening,  and traveling the world. 

So what did I win?  I am now the happy owner of my very own set of Restaurant Reader Glasses.  Have  you seen them on TV yet?  They have lights built into them to illuminate the menu.  I can’t wait to test them out in the presence of my teen/young adult children.  :)  I can hear it now, “Mom!  You are not really going to wear those in public are you?!” 

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Oh, yes I am!   :)  Thank You Splendid Market!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Party Menu

A menu for my party is starting to emerge.  Here is the plan so far.


Cherry Cosmopolitans, Red and White Wine,  Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Ice Cold Mini Water Bottles


Feta Cheese Dip from Sarah over at one of my favorite blogs Clover Lane.  Click here to see how she made it.  Her recipe post has lots of great photos to help make this one a cinch.  I can’t wait to try this one.

Cheese, fruit and crackers.  Still mulling over my cheese choices.

Avocado Salsa with Scoops.  This is soooo good, relatively healthy, and I haven’t made it since my tennis days.  It’s time .

Ham and Cheese Puff.  This one is from The Barefoot Contessa.  Looks delicious and I am rarely disappointed with any of her recipes.


Orange Creamsicle Cookies.   These are tried and true.  (I already baked these and they are waiting patiently in the freezer.)  Look at me!  I did something in advance.  :)

Salted Caramel Brownie Bites!!!  Yes that’s what I said!!  I can’t wait to share this one with you after we inhale these at the party.  I did not invent these.  Wish I could say I did.  I was one excited girl when I came across them on another blog.  I need some time to find the link and I’ll post it for you next week.

In fact, I will be posting all the  recipes, links, and photos for all of this deliciousness  next week after we officially taste test it all at the party :)  Stayed tuned. 

The menu is set.  My house is still a wreck.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Towels Pour La Salle de Bain

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Picked up these little French cuties at TJ Maxx today for my powder room.  I love them!  My powder room has been a major work in progress.  This past August I decided that the wallpaper had to go. That was fun.  Especially getting all the glue off the wall after all the scraping.   It needed a major dry wall repair because the toilet paper holder that the builder had attached to the wall fell off that same wall the first year we lived here.  Whoever attached it gouged out a big hole by mistake and then tried to disguise it with the actual toilet roll holder…that is until the day it decided to fall off.  Thank goodness for Google, the internet, and Youtube where I found a fantastic tutorial on how to make the repair myself.  It required a  thin metal mesh that I found at Lowe’s Hardware, spackle, and lots of sanding.  But I have to say the wall looks good as new.

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Three months later, I finally made a decision on color and I  painted the walls a shade called “Paris Green” by Valspar.  Of course I had to paint it that color.  I mean how often do you come across a color called “Paris Green”?  And so of course when I saw these towels today I had to pick them up.  

I am in bit of a panic.  Next Monday night is my turn to host Mah Jongg.  Yep, I am still playing.  Not much better than when I started but I do enjoy it and have decided to stick with it.  And besides, Santa Claus brought me a beautiful set of Mah Jongg tiles of my own.  I have 10 women coming to my house.  I still haven’t decide what I am serving to eat or drink yet.  My house is a wreck.  Christmas stuff is still everywhere and my boss has decided that this would be a good week to put in some power hours.  Doesn’t really leave me as much time as I would like to get myself organized.  But somehow I’ll get it all done.  It’s only Wednesday and I am already fretting.  :) Wish me luck. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


It’s a shiny new year and I am wanting to feel the fresh new start-ness of 2011 but it’s kind of hard when I still have the remnants of Christmas 2010 hanging around.  One Christmas tree is now naked but the other one is still full of ornaments.  I really need to just set aside the couple of hours needed to finish the job but I’m just not in the mood!   I am feeling a bit un-inspired lately.  After the go, go, go of the holidays I guess that’s natural. 

I still haven’t put any resolutions down on paper quite yet….still thinking.  Of course there are the usual resolutions of eating healthy, getting more organized, loosing weight, reading more, having more fun etc….but I want to identify more concretely what exactly I can do to make it all happen.  I am also thinking about what direction to take my blog.  I have met the nicest people through blogging and hope to continue to meet new people, and find new projects to make,  and try new recipes.   I want to take better and more beautiful photos. I want to experiment more, try new things, and do good things in the world.  Now it’s time for me to figure out the details of how to make that all happen. 

It’s a shiny and new year. 

I did get a raise at work.  I think that qualifies as a good start don’t you? :)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Crock Pot Chinese Chicken and Broccoli


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Need something quick, easy and delicious for dinner this evening?   Here is the lost recipe for Chinese Chicken that I used to make years ago .  I did a happy dance today when I found it in one of my many stacks of cut out recipes that I have been collecting for years.  Everyone likes this and we have missed it.  Today it saved me from a last minute dinner scramble.  This came together so easily with 3 rotisserie chicken breasts that I picked up from the market.  I was going to make Chicken Enchiladas with them but then I thought this might be a nice change of pace.   The  recipe can also be made with frozen chicken breasts which is how I used to make this but it would need to cook for most of the day in your slow cooker.  You can use cut up pieces of fresh chicken if you like  and then cook them for most of the day as well.   With the cooked rotisserie chicken, I was able to put it together in the slow cooker at 2:00 in the afternoon and we were eating it at 5:00pm.   

Crock Pot Chinese Chicken and Broccoli

Serves 4

4 chicken breasts (I pulled the meat off of 3 very large, fully cooked rotisserie chicken breasts )

1/2 cup of soy sauce

4 Tbsp. brown sugar

4 Tbsp. water

1 clove garlic, pressed or minced

2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 cup slivered almonds (optional)

1 bunch of broccoli, steamed

Place chicken breasts in slow cooker.  Mix together the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, garlic and ground ginger.  Pour mixture over the chicken.  Cook on High for 2 1/2  to 3 hours.  Serve with steamed broccoli and rice.  We especially like this with Jasmine rice.  Enjoy!

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

French Onion Soup


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I made a pot of French Onion Soup yesterday to keep us warm while we watching the very sad Michigan football teams get spanked on New Year’s Day. :(    At least the soup was good.  I saw a post earlier in the week over at My Carolina Kitchen and Sam made a delicious looking French Onion Soup but her twist on it was to dice the onions into very small pieces instead of the traditional slices.  I liked this idea and decided to give it a try.  And it gave me an excuse to use one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, the Vidalia Chop Wizard. I got mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and I am not sure if I have seen them at Target or not.  It comes with two sized inserts.  I used the smallest.  I use it all the time to get uniformly small onions and green and red peppers.  

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I only wanted a small pot of soup so this recipe will make 4 to 6 bowls of soup.  It can easily doubled.   It’s hard to believe that such simple ingredients can make something so delicious.  The onion broth was rich and flavorful and the broiled Gruyere cheese on a piece of chewy Ciabatta bread that I had leftover from some Bruschetta that I had made the night before finished it off.  The soup tasted like it came from a good restaurant.  DELICIOUS!

French Onion Soup

1 1/2 pounds of onions (approximately 6 medium sized onions), diced (approximately 4 cups diced)

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. butter

1 carton (32 oz.) of Beef Stock.

1 Cup Red or White wine  (I used some leftover red wine)

Bay leaf

Pinch of Thyme

Kosher salt


Gruyere cheese

French bread or Ciabatta bread slices

Place the olive oil and melt the butter in a soup stockpot over medium high heat.  Add the onions and stir.  Saute the onions until they turn a deep, golden brown color.  Reduce the heat a little bit at a time to be careful not to burn the onions (approximately 20 minutes).  Once the onions are done caramelizing and are a rich brown in color, deglaze your stock pot by adding the wine and stirring to get all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add the beef broth and stir.  Add the salt, pepper, bay leaf, and thyme and let simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour. 

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I ladled the hot soup into some oven proof bowls, cut a large piece of bread in half so the it would fit and placed it on top of the soup.  Then I sprinkled Gruyere cheese on top.  (Swiss cheese world work here too and I threw in some grated Jarlsburg that I had in the refrigerator.)  Broil between 2 and 3 minutes.  Watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn.  Next time I might add some Parmesan Reggiano to the cheese topping for extra deliciousness.  :)

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This was so good and so much easier than I expected.  Next time you get a craving for some French Onion Soup, try and make it yourself.  It’s delicious and so easy.

Saturday, January 1, 2011



Wow, what a year 2010 has been!  We wrapped up the year quite nicely with our kids who I have to keep reminding myself are not so little anymore.  We watched movies, made lots of delicious food, and played lots of Nintendo Wii together.   I have had the Wii since October and nobody else seemed all that interested in it but me until now.  With everybody home at the same time we have had lots of fun with it.  The 11th grade son had his Wisdom Teeth out a few days before Christmas and has  had a rough week healing but is now finally feeling better and looks so much better.   His sister created a Mii which is a Wii character for playing the games and gave him a big round face and named him “Chip” for Chipmunk.  Sounds like a mean thing to do but he laughed and we all got a kick out of it. 

The 2nd year college student daughter had a ball at the Debutante Ball she attended a few nights ago.   I have yet to see any photos from that night but she said it was a very fun evening.  She said it was kind of like going to a Wedding and The Prom at the same time. I’ll bet there will be photos in the Sunday newspaper tomorrow.  She left yesterday to ring in the New Year with her friends in Chapel Hill.

We haven’t quite yet adopted the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas and collard greens to bring good luck in the new year although I am a fan of both.  How about you?  Do you have any traditions that you follow for ringing in the New Year?  Actually, we have no tradition in this area at all.  Today we will celebrate by going out to breakfast and I am planning to make a pot of French Onion Soup and watch some football.  That’s it.  Calm and relaxing.  Just the way we like it! 

I am looking forward to a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year and I wish the very same for you!

Happy New Year!