Might I Recommend…


I don’t often share links here on Vignettes, but recently I’ve read a couple great posts that I couldn’t not pass along. I hope you enjoy them!

On friendship: 4 Ways to Be a Better Friend by Ann VosKamp

On creating a spa-like atmosphere in your own bathroom: Spa Up Your Bathroom by Darlene of Fieldstone Hill

On living a grateful life: Attitude of Gratitude by Karla of Classy and Fabulous

Have a fabulous Leap Day! Go out and do something memorable!

 

Good Old Fashioned Beans and Cornbread

Are beans and cornbread a southern thing? For most of my life I equated cooking dry beans with end-of-the-month-and-there’s-nothing-in-the-cupboard fare. I also had the unpleasant memory from childhood of waking up to the smell of beans cooking first thing in the morning (yuk). So you can imagine, cooking dry beans was not on the top of my to-do list as head cook here at Windy Poplars. But that all changed when we went to a fall festival last year and they had free beans and cornbread for all the attendees, and (since I was starving) I tried it. And (wonder of wonders), I loved it! Then I came home and tried to reproduce the taste. My simple recipe is below. Now, although this is an incredibly economical meal for the end of the month, I love to cook beans and cornbread any old chilly winter day! Bonus: I developed my recipe for the crockpot. Hope ya like it!

Beans and Cornbread

1 pkg dry pinto beans (2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
1 habenero pepper in adobo sauce
freshly milled black pepper
chunk of smoked ham (optional)
chicken broth (if needed)
salt (if needed)

Sort and groom the dry beans to weed out any stones or shriveled beans. Rinse well. Place in a crockpot and cover with about 8 cups of water (enough to cover the beans by about 2 inches). Add in the onion, habenero, and black pepper. If you choose to add in a chunk of ham* do so now as well.

Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6 hours. If the beans soak up the water too soon and you need to add more liquid, you can heat up some chicken broth and add it to the crockpot. Do NOT add cold liquid!- When  the beans are done, fish out the habenero pepper to discard, shred the ham, and season if necessary.

Serve with or over warm cornbread.

*When we get a spiral ham, I save the “butt” end that is not pre-sliced, and cut it into chunks to freeze for soup use.

Downton Abbey Discussed

 

Downton Abbey. I can hear the theme song in my head – and see the servants bell ringing in the opening…can you?
This series has taken the world by storm. Seems like every other Tweet and FB feed were about the latest observations of the show on Sunday nights these past few months.- Whether furious cries of verble rotten tomatoes or swells of rapturous praise, the casual replays peppered our lives come Monday morning.
So now that the show is on hiatus, I thought I’d take us all back to turn-of-the-century England and try to solve the riddle of just why this show seems to have captured the rapt attention of the western hemisphere. Don’t hate me by the end – just leave your own opinion. I’d love to hear it!
Ok. So I first heard about the show from some friends (several actually) who knew my tastes and thought I’d like it. Well they were right about the BBC part, and my love of period English pieces – at first I was smitten. But when the first season was riddled with two love affairs and  a scandalous death right off the bat – my enchantment was snuffed out quite abruptly.

Now let me stop and talk about my taste in entertainment a little more here: I am probably in the minority (as I am in most of life), but when I sit down to watch something, I want to get up from it feeling better than I did before I watched it. I want inspiration, sweetness, kindness, love. I like mysteries, fantasies, and adventures. I don’t want to watch injustice, degradation, slanderous offenses, affairs, or tragedies. Yes, life is hard, and reality can be dark, but I just don’t like depressing movies/shows. There is enough of that around me in everyday life thankyouverymuch. When I want to be entertained, I want to escape that. I’m also a terrible snob for good acting, good music, and a well-written script.

Do you hate me yet?

Ok, so back to Downton. There is much I love about the show: I love the setting – the beautiful estate in old-world England. The clothes (well, except for a few of Lady Mary’s hideous frocks), the decor, the overall feel of the set…it’s everything rich, and lush, and delicious!

I love Anna and Bates, I love Lady Sybil for breaking free of the social mold to become who she was created to be. I love cousin Isobel for challenging everyone out of their comfort zone. I love Carson – we all need a Carson in our lives. But most of all, I love the Dowager Countess for delighting us with her abundant one liners every week. Maggie Smith is truly the gem of the show!

Now let’s take a turn around the corner and examine the flip side, shall we?

As far as moral taste goes, my biggest qualm is with the way people treat each other at Downton. Ranging from petty cattishness to evil underhanded attempts to ruin each others lives, hopes, and dreams. The everyday interaction between the three sisters is so nauseating to me – mostly in Season 1. Perhaps because I too have two sisters, I don’t know. But it just eats me up inside to watch.  – Not to mention the insufferable O’Brien and Thomas. They make my teeth hurt just seeing them onscreen. How can two people be so conniving and never be found out, and for heaven’s sake, why didn’t they just LEAVE if they were so unhappy instead of being out to get everyone in their world? Granted: O’Brien does seem to have a bit of a change of heart in the second season, but only a bit – and I think it was entirely guilt driven… – I’ll stop there with my two biggest beefs…

Ok. Moving onto the actual writing of the show: some of the story lines were brilliant and moving – I love how Lady Mary seems to genuinely treat Lavinia in a very difficult love-triangle (I love him, but he loves her). I love how Lady Edith blossoms in Season 2. I love how the Dowager Countess is so old fashioned, yet more open minded to new ideas than much of the cast. I love how they portray the helpless feeling of Lord Grantham during the war – and I can see there being much truth in the way that he felt.

BUT, oh dear goodness, BUT: There are story lines that seem so dreadfully out of place, and so dreadfully underdeveloped they don’t have a place on a show the apparent caliber of DA at all. For example: All second season we know that Daisy regrets marrying poor William. And that story lines goes NOWHERE until the very last episode. Every week we see her wringing her hands, and Mrs. Padmore encouraging her that she did the right thing. Beating a dead horse through six installments until they figure out what-in-the-world to do with her. – Another example is Thomas: who in my opinion, they could’ve kicked off the show with no great loss, but instead they keep him around all season and during 85% of the show all we ever see him doing is sitting (or standing) around smoking. We never once see what his big job as “manager” of the house is. Seems like all he does is laze about and make my teeth hurt. Why keep a character around that you won’t give a story line to? Then there’s Ethel – the wayward servant: she’s another they just drug along so we could see a glimpse of her in her little shack with the baby, being brought food by Mrs. Hughes every episode, but her story never develops – until the very end. – What about the elusive Patrick? He waltzes into the story, stirs us all up, and then leaves before the credits roll. We never hear another word about him again. – Strange. Or in the first season, the maid that Lady Sibyl helps get a secretarial job…that seems like such a disjointed storyline – we never hear from her again after investing much time in rooting for her success. – Although I love the Anna/Bates love story, am I the only one who is rolling my eyes at how dreadfully long it’s taking to come to any kind of conclusive settlement? That dear former Mrs. Bates who nobody can seem to take care of. Too much drama in one story line – they should’ve dispersed it among some of the others to make them more fascinating! – Then there’s Cora. Who in the world is Cora? We never really know, because they don’t seem to care to tell us.

Alright – that’s enough jabber from me. I know this is a long post, but if I know your fascination with Downton, you’ll have read all the way to the very end! And now I want your opinions:

Do you agree with me on any point? What are your likes/dislikes about the show? What would you change if you could? Why is it so darn addictive? What are its redeeming qualities? The floor is yours!

 

Master Suite Updates

What did you girls get for Valentine’s Day? When my hubby asked what I wanted, I said, “To move back into our Master Suite”. Well, my wish didn’t quite come true on Valentine’s Day, but the weekend after was pretty close! That’s right, after 5 months, we’ve moved back into our bedroom!

Huzzah!

We’re still busy working in there, and once we dive into the closet reno, we’ll probably be moving back to the guest room temporarily, but hopefully that will only be a couple-day ordeal. Hopefully.

So wanna know what’s been going on in the Master lately? Ok, here’s the 411:

Perhaps most importantly (to me) the Sistine Chapel project is finally complete! I can die in peace. Wow, that was a doozy, but it feels so good to have it done, and done so cheaply, and know that when I get tired of it I will (take a couple of tranquilizers and) be able to paint over it! Happy day! – With the advent of my completion came the hanging of the mantel and the deciding on some reading lamps (thanks to all of you who came over and weighed in with your opinions). – I’ll write more about installing the mantel another day, for now: a picture:

K, then we had some guys come over and cut a hole in my beautifully painted and trimmed wall. What the what? Actually, it was just a stroke of eleventh hour inspiration on my part, and we have such kind and talented friends, 3 hours later my walk-in closet is now truly a walk-in (think alcove). Here is the before – just a regular old closet door, and the after will come when we’ve finished painting and organizing the closet:


What else? Oh yes, once upon a time there was no chair rail:


And then a fairy waved her magic wand (or air gun – same difference) aaaannnd voila! Chair rail appeared:


We’ve also been working in the Master Bath lately. We painted it long ago…remember it used to be chocolate brown, then we painted it this color:


Well, I initially liked this color, until somebody came in and called it Carolina Blue (I really don’t like Carolina Blue) – the hubs didn’t like it from the get-go – I admit it did look very different from the swatch to the wall, and once we lived it for awhile we decided that we wanted to LOVE our renovations…not just tolerate them for another 10 years.

So back to the paint store we went. Chose another color after weeks of deliberation – brought it home, painted one coat, and YUK! Hated it. But it was getting closer to our vision than the Carolina Blue. So I decided to take matters into my own can at this point. We had some small sample cans lying around with shades of gray from the Sistine project, and one with a khaki tint to it. We knew we wanted the color smokey-er and warmer so I did a little mix-y mix action and came up with my very own custom color. I had enough left from the original color + my mixing for one coat.

Put it on.

Loved it.

Trotted off to Lowes, they color matched my color, and I bought enough for a quick second coat. Now, at very long last (and enough paint layers later to make even Tammy Faye Baker nervous), we have our perfect spa-esque bathroom color:


Every time I walk in, I’m thankful we re-painted!

So there’s your progress report for today. Thanks for joining us on our renovation journey! Have you been getting the springtime itch to renovate lately?

 

A Travel Review: The Craddock-Terry Hotel

We recently enjoyed a lovely get-away to the Craddock Terry Hotel in Lynchburg, VA.


A boutique hotel featuring 44 rooms, the Craddock-Terry is a perfect home base for exploring around the historic and cultural town of Lynchburg.


Located in an old shoe factory, much of the original industrial feel has been kept intact with homage to its heritage evident in charming little touches around every corner. – The rooms are spacious (we had a Deluxe King) and modern – yet very warm and comfortable at the same time. Exposed bricks and soaring ceiling with raw beams speak of its former life.

Our room had a mini fridge and Keurig machine, bottled water, and robes, along with the regular bath amenities you would expect from any well appointed hotel.

One of our favorite features was an old shoeshine box that was waiting on the bed with a menu card inside. You simply fill out your breakfast wishes (bagels, muffins, yogurt, juice, fruit, eggs, etc.) and place your box outside your door at night. – First thing in the morning it will be replaced with a lovely continental breakfast that will keep you fueled for hours. Breakfast is FREE!

Speaking of food, there are two on-site restaurants: fine dining at Shoemakers for special occasions, and amazingly delicious pizza at Waterstone Pizza. – We also enjoyed a meal at The Ploughcroft Tea Room, an authentic English establishment within walking distance.


The hotel is pet-friendly, which we love. They also have a resident hotel pooch, Buster Brown, should you leave your furry babies at home and need a petting and snuggling fix, he will gladly oblige!

The only drawback to this hotel, could also be its strength: it’s truly a downtown hotel. Located on the riverfront and conveniently within walking distance to many shops, restaurants, and attractions, you will hear traffic and train activity throughout the night. If you are a very light sleeper, we suggest you bring earplugs.

The front desk staff was very friendly and helpful – we especially appreciate Todd, the hotel manager, who went out of his way to reschedule our visit due to a death in the family.

If you’re looking for a unique experience close to a town worth exploring…why not consider the Craddock Terry!

 

Curried Lentil Soup

Do you enjoy getting menu ideas for the whole week? I’ve posted my menu over on our Facebook page,  go join in the conversation! What are you having for dinner this week? We’d all love it if you shared recipe links ;-)!

We love this mix of exotic (Thai and Indian) flavors and  hearty essence of comfort food. Hope you do too! This recipe is modified from one that originally appeared in MSL.

 

Curried Lentil Soup

2 t evoo
3 T finely chopped peeled ginger (or 3 t dried, ground)
6 cloves minced fresh garlic (or 6 t garlic powder)
1/4 c onion, chopped
2 carrots finely sliced (about 1 c)
2 t curry powder
coarse sea salt
3/4 c unsweetened light coconut milk
1 cup dried lentils
1/3 c dried cherries
3 T finely chopped cilantro leaves (plus garnish if desired)

Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add ginger, garlic, onion, and carrots. Cook until softened (about 7 min.), stirring often. Add curry powder and stir until fragrant – about a minute longer.

Add 1 t salt, 1/2 c coconut milk, 4 c water, and the lentils. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until lentils and carrots are tender – between 10 and 15 minutes.

If desired, strain out about a cup of solids and reserve. Puree’ the remaining soup with an immersion blender or transfer to blender and puree in batches. Add solids back into pureed soup along with dried cherries and cilantro. Ladle into bowls. Divide remaining coconut milk among bowls and lightly swirl.

Garnish with a few cherries and sprigs of cilantro.

You can find a printable version of this recipe by clicking HERE.

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