Easy Spring Supper

Well, of course, we can't be celebrating a birthday dinner with ribs and macaroni and cheese every night. Most suppers need to have some semblance of nutrition with healthful, fresh, colorful ingredients. Here's a super easy springtime supper, all made in my trusty Lodge cast iron skillet. You could also make it in a sheet pan, which seems to be the going thing, or a 9 x 12 oven-safe casserole dish.

fresh spinach

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to your skillet and tip the skillet to coat it well. Next, layer about two cups of fresh spinach, a cup of grape tomatoes, and a half cup of chopped red onion.

skillet supper

Top the vegetables with your favorite filet of mild fish. I used flounder because I happened to have some in the freezer. Snapper or even tilapia would work well, too. Salt and pepper the fish. Add a teaspoon of real butter to each filet and generously squeeze lemon juice over the whole pan. I also added a sprinkling of Herbs de Provence, mostly just for color.

baked fish

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

skillet dinner

The spinach will wilt, of course, and the tomatoes will shrivel, and the whole meal tastes fresh, light and good. You might want to add another sprinkling of salt to taste. I served this with whole green beans sautéed in a tiny bit of butter.

The Mister and Little gave this two thumbs up, and cleaning up was easy-peasy. I'm looking forward to trying similar recipes from Molly Gilbert's cookbook Sheet Pan Suppers. My copy is on its way.

I'll probably still use my cast iron skillet when I can, though. It's like getting an upper body workout while making supper.

Do you have a go-to weeknight supper? Do you ever cook in a cast iron skillet?

Birthday Supper for Family and Friends

We finally got around to celebrating Little's birthday with a supper for family and friends this past weekend. I made one of her favorite meals--barbecue ribs, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, mixed green salad, and for dessert, a chocolate-mint pie. Little doesn't care for cake!

white and green bouquets

Although I'd just spruced up the house with spring and Easter decorations, I wanted her birthday dinner to have a fresh, springtime look that would be different from what I'm planning for our Easter brunch.

white flowers

So, I decided to go with one of my favorite floral combinations of white and green. I think making flower arrangements and setting the table are the best part of hosting a party or celebration. And, it's easy to set a festive mood without spending a lot of money. I bought two bouquets of white hydrangea and one of white mums for $12 total at Publix. My splurge was a $7 bouquet of white tulips, so I still spent less than $20. I already had the birch bark containers, the burlap ribbon and the white linen table runner. And I thought the combination of woodsy and refined perfectly suited Little's tomboy chic style.

white hydrangea

I divided the flowers, trimmed the stems and got them in fresh water as soon as I got home from the grocery. Then I headed out into the yard to see what I could find to fill out the bouquets. Boxwood, of course. And I always add a couple of plain wooden twigs to arrangements for structure and height and movement. Happily, I found some white camellia blossoms that had survived the day's rainfall, so I clipped those along with some sort of blooming cherry tree branches. 

blue and white pitcher

When everything was combined, I had enough flowers left over to do a little arrangement for the family room coffee table.

table set

Then, I set the table, but in my haste to try to get a photo in the fading light, I forgot the glasses. Oh well, I remembered before the guests arrived!  

birthday supper

After dinner, the Mister cued up the 1958 classic tune "Sixteen Candles" by the Crests for our teenage queen.

Her brothers came through with a big Lilly surprise, and our dear friends treated her to sweets, jewelry, and--every teenager's favorite--cash!

with love printed ribbon

And, yep, time to get sappy--it was all wrapped up with love! Happy Birthday, Little! We are so thankful to God for you and the joy you bring to our lives. xoxo

Springing to Life

I think Charles Dickens said it best in Great Expectations when Pip described the day this way: 
“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
Despite the chill in the shade, I'm loving the warm, sunny moments this weekend. The forsythia, Bartlett pear and cherry trees are blooming, and the daffodils and hyacinths are putting on a good show, too. I haven't seen any tulips yet, but they can't be far behind. It's only two weeks until Easter, so I decided to spruce up the house with a few spring touches.

 Let's start in the front hall. This room has been painted Ralph Lauren's Dressage Red since shortly after we moved here. I want to paint it a more persimmon-y color, but I haven't found the right one yet. Suggestions are welcomed!

topiary bunny

I kept the spring decor pretty low key here, with a few moss rabbits nestled close to a concrete bunny and some blue and white decoupage eggs along with a bowl filled with blue, green, and lavender eggs.

topiary bunnies

Directions to make the decoupage eggs can be found here.

old keys

These speckled eggs fill this old blue and white bowl nicely.

stick leg sheep

 My flock of Putz or stick leg sheep hang out in the living room.

daffodils in blue and white pitcher

In the family room, I started off "styling" the coffee table with a blue and white pitcher filled with daffodils from Trader Joe's. I'd love to grow daffodils in our yard, but sadly we don't have enough sun.

glass honey dish

I filled this glass honey dish with speckled robin's egg candies. The honey pot was my grandmother's, so I'm especially fond of using it.

forsythia in blue and white containers

Some forsythia and a few sticks fill the blue and white ginger jars on the mantel, and a garland of eggs and a metal bunny wreath decorate below.

chocolate bunny display

Collected over the past few years, these "chocolate and candy" bunnies gather on an old tole tray to make a whimsical display.

chocolate bunny display

Whenever I set this up, I always imagine that someday I'll have grandchildren who will be enthralled by these little bunnies.

moss rabbits

An old wooden tray lined with moss and filled with bunnies and eggs welcomes guests in the kitchen.

eggs in hurricanes

So far, things are pretty simple in the dining room, with speckled eggs filling two hurricanes. I've been scheming on how I'll set the table for Easter brunch. A lot depends on what's blooming in two weeks.

white tulip poplar blooms

Simple tulip poplar blooms and a few magnolia stems decorate the sideboard. I really like how these look in front of the screen.

glass baskets

One Saturday afternoon, the Mister and I stopped into our neighborhood pharmacy, which still has a soda fountain, for a quick lunch. Next door to the drugstore, in a space that was for rent, there was a little sign on the door that said, Sale Today, and I could see that there were some lamps and other odds and ends set up on card tables inside. So we wandered in and talked to two older ladies, who were downsizing and had talked the landlord into letting them set up shop for the weekend. I bought the two skinny glass baskets for five dollars each and later bought the more shallow basket at an antiques fair to kind of round out the trio. I plan to fill them with flowers later, but for now, it's eggs in shades of blue and pink.

Do you decorate for springtime and Easter? Sometimes I think it's more trouble than it's worth, pulling things out and putting other things away, but I'm always glad once I start making the changes. For one thing, the house gets an extra good cleaning and feels a bit refreshed. And, for another, it gives me time to reflect on the season just ending and the new one beginning. Lastly, even though none of these things have any real value, they're sentimental to me, catalysts that release fond and funny memories of past Easters and springtime birthdays in our family's history.

St. Patrick's Day Dinner for Family and Friends

When I was in third grade, our teacher assigned the class a "country of origin" project. I went home and began asking questions about my ancestors. My mom replied that our family was, as far as she knew, English with maybe a little Scottish in the mix. My dad said the same. To my eight-year-old ears, it was as if they said, "boringboringboringblahblahblah." So, I decided to make up some ancestors. And because the most glamorous girl in my class was Lydia with flowing auburn hair and sparkling green eyes, I decided that my ancestors would be, like hers, from Ireland, the land of rainbows and leprechauns, a place I believed to be truly magical. I did say that I was eight, right?

The good news is that on Saint Patrick's Day, everyone is Irish. And so, to add a little magic to this not-quite-Spring time of year, I've planned an Irish dinner.

St Patrick's Day table

St Patrick's Day table

Despite my once yearning to be Irish, turns out I don't have a lot of green in the tableware department. I made do with these cabbage plates, green bottle tumblers, and my favorite Belgian linen napkins with a faded green, blue, and red plaid. For a weeknight centerpiece, I added a few preserved boxwood topiaries.

Shepherd's Pie
Soda Bread & Irish Butter
Mint Chocolate Brownies

When both boys were living at home, Shepherd's Pie was a favorite dinner during cold weather months. To make it an even faster, easier recipe I substituted a couple of convenience products in order to get a hearty dinner on the table really quickly after a long work day.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie

1 pound lean ground beef
1 can Campbell's French onion soup
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (this is optional for thickening)
1 16 oz package of mixed frozen vegetables
2 packages Simply Potatoes mashed potatoes (prepared according to directions on package) or 4 cups leftover mashed potatoes (reheated) 
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray a 9 x 9 baking dish. 

Brown the ground beef and drain off the fat. Return beef to the skillet, and to thicken, sprinkle with flour, then pour over soup and stir gently. Let meat simmer for two or three minutes before layering in the baking dish. Next add the frozen vegetables, and top with mashed potatoes. Bake covered for 30 minutes, then remove lid (or foil) and top with cheddar cheese, if desired. Return to oven for another five minutes.  This dish yields 6 to 8 servings.

Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread or Irish Brown Soda Bread

I am not a bread baker. Most of my efforts, except for biscuits and rolls, have not ended well. On more than one occasion I have had to throw out the bread and the pan it was baked in. I wish I was kidding. My hopes weren't all that high for this bread, but since it didn't require yeast to rise, I figured I might have a shot. It turned out great. It's a nice, peasant bread--the texture was even, and the bread is slightly sweet. I found the recipe on epicurious, and I made only the slightest modifications.

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick cold butter (1/4 cup), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix together the dry ingredients on the lowest speed of your mixer. Add the cubes of butter and continue mixing at a low speed.

bread dough with butter

Pour the buttermilk in a very slow, thin, steady stream. When the milk is all added, turn off the mixer. The dough will be shaggy.

soda bread dough

Remove half the dough from the mixing bowl and turn out onto a floured surface. (I used the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.) Gently knead the dough about four or five turns and shape the dough into a round.

soda bread before baking

Do the same with the second half of the dough. Cut a deep X or cross into the top of the rounds. This is known as "blessing the bread." Bake for 40 minutes or until the round sounds hollow when tapped. Serve warm with butter or room temperature.

baked bread with butter

Mint Chocolate Brownies

These are Little's absolute favorite. You'll need the ingredients for your go-to brownie recipe or boxed mix and a four-ounce package of Andes Mints, unwrapped and chopped coarsely. Simply prepare your favorite brownie recipe or boxed mix according to directions. (I think the Baker's One Bowl Brownie recipe is the best, although I cut the sugar by a half cup.) Then add the mints and stir in gently. Bake as usual. Allow brownies to cool completely before cutting and serving.

Although it's not exactly healthful enough to be in our "regular supper rotation," this simple St. Patrick's Day dinner is great for a fun, family supper or a casual dinner party. I hope you enjoy it!

Are you doing anything special to celebrate St. Patrick's Day?

Collecting 101: Putz or Stick-leg Sheep for Easter Decorations

Although I had been interested in interiors from about six years old, I didn't start collecting antiques until I was 25, when I was hired to work in the public relations department of the Greenville County Museum of Art, known today for housing the world's largest public collection of watercolors by iconic American artist Andrew Wyeth.

In addition to its permanent collections, traveling exhibitions, and educational programming, the museum is known for its signature antiques show, which was in its infancy when I started there. Working on the publicity for the show, I had the privilege of getting to know several museum volunteers, including two women about 15 years my senior who not only loved the museum and the idea of raising funds to bring more art to Greenville, but also had a passion for collecting.

museum antiques show

They must have sensed the dormant collector in me because each invited me to her house so that I could have a look at her antiques.  And one of them, who has been my mentor in several ways, even invited me to spend a day antiquing with her. Over the years, I have learned so much from her, but the best advice she gave me was: If you add one good piece of antique furniture each year, you'll have a great collection by the time you're 40. Of course, when I was 25, the age of 40 seemed so far away. And today, it still does--only in the opposite direction! I followed her advice and it turns out, my mentor was absolutely right--our house is pretty full of good "old stuff," as collectors often refer to antiques. I still have a few items on my wish list, but for the most part these days I'm collecting smalls.

plate rack
This plate rack in our kitchen is one of my latest additions. Many thanks to my sisters-in-law for
finding it, remembering it was on my list, texting me photos, and working out the transport for me.
One of my more recent passions was lit by one of my favorite bloggers, who sadly hasn't posted in a long time. When the imitable Reggie Darling wrote about his collection of vintage sheep and how he displayed them at Easter, I was inspired and started reading about them and collecting them right away.
Putz sheep

Known variously as Putz sheep or stick-leg sheep, these wooly lambs were made in Germany during the first part of the 20th century. They were typically sold in sets to be used in decorative nativity scenes.

vintage sheep flock

Moravian villagers, who settled near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Salem, North Carolina, first brought the custom of nativity scenes and decorative Christmas villages to the United States. Putz is not, as I first thought, the name of a manufacturer, but rather derived from the German putzen, which translates "to decorate."

stick leg sheep flock

It's easy to see that these fragile little lambs have suffered some wear and tear over the years. I like to attribute that to chubby toddler hands moving them around nativity scenes. If you look carefully, you'll see that not all the sheep in the flock are stick-leg sheep.

vintage sheep

That's because when I pop into an antiques shop or stop at a booth, and the dealer asks if I'm looking for anything in particular, I usually ask if he or she has any stick-leg sheep among other things. Often, fragile items like these are kept in cases or even not on view at all. Frequently dealers know exactly what I'm talking about. Sometimes, though, a dealer will pull out a little lamb from an old nativity scene or even a child's farm set. The price is usually very low, and so I buy it. The Mister calls this a "pity purchase," and I guess he's right, but I like these sheep, too.

reclining vintage sheep

Even the reclining ones are okay, although I don't display them with the standing flock.

vintage sheep

Here's the flock in its entirety. I'm hoping to add a couple of lambs this spring.

Decorating with lambs and sheep seems appropriate at this season of the year. Of course, along with the chicks and ducks and bunnies, lambs remind us of springtime and new life. Lambs and sheep, in particular, though, remind me during Lent that "All we like sheep have gone astray."  

I like collecting these forgotten little sheep and remembering with thanksgiving the parable found in the book of Luke, chapter 15. 
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Do you add any special decorations this time of year?

Celebrating a Birthday at Walt Disney World

It started out simply enough about this time last year.

"Dad, can we go to Disney World for my 16th birthday?"

American Tourister ad

The Mister stopped his mulch-spreading and pulled an earbud out. "What's that, honey?"

"Can we go to Disney World for my next birthday?"

"Um, sure. I don't see why not," he said and resumed raking. And she, mission accomplished, sashayed back inside, and said, "Dad said we can go to Disney for my birthday." With that, she was off to her room, her earbuds firmly in place, her Daddy's Girl charm retracted for the time being.

handprints at Hollywood Studios

Later that evening, I asked the Mister, "Did you tell L we'd take her to Disney for her next birthday?" The Mister, who retired from WDW after 20 years, replied, "Oh well, I thought it'd be just the two of us, you know, kind of a father-daughter road trip; we can stay at my parents' and save some money. Besides, that's a year away; she'll want to do something else by then." Right-o.

Disney Magic Bands

About six months later,  she asked, "Dad, can I bring a friend to Disney World when we go for my birthday?" The Mister stopped raking leaves to consider. "Sure, I guess so." Again, she popped her head in the kitchen to announce, "Dad says I can bring a friend to Disney" and disappeared upstairs.

Captain's Grille Yacht Club Disney World

That night, I mentioned that I'd heard the latest development with regards to the Disney trip. The Mister's only comment was, "I hope she's not asking someone annoying." My reply was, "Darling, you cannot take two 16-year-old girls to Florida by yourself. For one thing, most parents wouldn't permit it. And even though, I know you would be completely appropriate, it's just not appropriate."

"I guess you're right. Can you go?"

"Yes, but I don't want to take time to make that drive both ways. We'll need to fly."


"And honey? We can't all stay with your parents."

Heavy sigh. "So, we'll need a room on property."

"Darling? We'll need two rooms."

And, that is how I came to be at Disney World this past weekend, celebrating fun, smart, creative, and beautiful Little and her 16th birthday with her fun, smart, and beautiful friend.

Hollywood Studios

We had a wonderful time! Although I've been to WDW many, many, many times with our children when they were little, with my in-laws, with out-of-town guests, and for a few private special events, I've never really visited the parks with teenagers, specifically with teens who are not siblings.

Liberty Square

It was pretty delightful. The girls stayed with us part of the time, and kept in touch via text the rest. The Mister and I walked around and took in some attractions, but mostly he remembered funny stories, mused about things that have changed over the years, and recounted bits of Disney trivia. We ate great food. We walked and walked and walked and ate more good food. We spent a lot of time people watching. Absolutely fascinating.

All in all, I have to agree with Mickey!

Happy Birthday, Little!

(For a fun look at one of my favorite Disney resorts, hop on over to Talk of the House this week!)

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