Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Beginning of My Dream

I have been yammering for the past year about how unhappy I am with our yard or lack of yard at our new house.  From the moment I saw the house I loved it.  From the moment I saw the backyard in particular I new it had potential but was far from what I had in my mind.

The deck you see WAS about as big as a postage stamp.  As a matter of fact, our four chair table would not even fit on it.  In addition to being small, it just did not seem to be of the quality of the rest of the house.  It WAS the only way to get into our backyard so we just dealt with it until we could obtain a proper landscaping plan.  Also, in this photo, you can see we have an issue with grass that stemmed from a drainage issue.  Sparkling Dog does not even know she is getting photographed.

After speaking with four different landscaping companies, we finally decided on the fourth one.  From his plan, you could tell he had listened to me and even put my ultimate dream on paper.  This was a shock as I had never discussed this with Mr. Sparkling.  Thankfully it was now in black and white and Mr. Sparkling was actually in agreement with my dream.

Before we can get to the dream part of this deal, we will have 3 phases.  We are almost complete with Phase 1.  

This is how the front beds looked.  While not horrible, it just did not seem to be all that exciting. The Indian Hawthornes just did not seem to make me smile and worse were the Nandinas.   All the front beds received an overhaul.

In this area, I really wanted a gate.  It just seemed to be what the area was screaming for. 

As soon as everything in Phase 1 is complete, I will show you the finished project which should be within the next week.   In the meantime, I thought I would share my dream and what will be Phase 4 of our plan.  We have a portion of our yard that just seemed perfect for this.  Stay tuned.
 Love the wattle raised beds


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Best Before & Afters

Do you know this couple?  If not, you should!  They are the host of the HGTV show Fixer Upper, Joanna & Chip Gaines.  She is a designer and he can build anything.  Together they are super talented and beyond creative. Ok, so I don't really know them, but I feel like I do.  When the show is on, I simply can't pull myself away from the TV.  Seriously, addicted!

In the show, they find three houses that are in need of a transformation for their clients.  Then they place a dream of what each of the houses  could be if they renovated it on paper.  The ideas are amazing and the outcomes make you either want to start flipping houses or redo your own.  In the end of this stage, the client chooses one of the homes and the fun begins.

One of my favorite shows was the transformation of the home below.  

sanders before outside


Honestly, this house is a great house to begin with, but just a little tired.  It is amazing to see the vision they dream up.  Beyond the exterior, they transformed the inside to a beautiful, comfortable space for the owners.  The inside is as outstanding as the outside reno.  To see more of this home, go to Joanna Gaines, then Fixer Upper, then Episode 4.    You will be amazed!  Have fun!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


tv this week 

I am a huge Ina Garten, a.k.a Barefoot Contessa, fan. I own six of her cookbooks and actually use them all.  To me, she is a no nonsense cook with recipes that make the ingredients shine.  She has a fun personality and seems so real.  

This past week a friend made one of her recipes from Back to Basics; Company Pot Roast.  She said her whole family loved it.  She made a few changes to the recipe, as we all do.  As soon as I saw her post on Facebook about this recipe, I ran for my book and found the recipe.  It did indeed look good, but a little too involved for a weeknight.  As luck would have it, I could not get it off my mind and so I prepared it on a weeknight....I won't do that again!  My family loved it too!  The flavors are pop in your mouth wonderful!  The meat was tender and we have leftovers which I count as my reward and break from cooking tomorrow night. 

Now, here comes the "meat" of this post.  I do not profess to be in a league anywhere close to Ina Garten.  After all, she ran a very successful business for a million years, has her own cooking show, a bazillion cookbooks and I am sure much more.  What I do profess to is being an everyday cook that cooks a lot.  I am a Mom and I stay pretty busy.  When I try a recipe and I see a way to make it easier, I re-write the recipe.  I do this all the time, not as if I know better, but as if I just need to make it an easier recipe.  

So here is my version of Ina Garten's Company Pot Roast.  Without her genius recipe to begin with, this one would not exist and without my friend posting about it, I would not have tried it.  Kuddos to them!   Here goes.



1 - 4-5 pound beef chuck roast
All Purpose Flour
2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil

Dry meat with a paper towel.  Sprinkle on all sides with salt and pepper.  Dredge in flour, coating all sides.  Heat olive oil to medium in a large skillet and sear the roast for 4 minutes on all sides.  This took me 16 minutes total.  Place meat in deep baking pan or a Dutch oven, sprayed with non-stick spray.  Set aside.  Keep skillet available with oil remaining for next step.


2 cups finely chopped carrots
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
2 cups finely chopped celery
2 cups finely chopped leeks (white & green parts)
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Place all vegetables in skillet and sautee over medium heat about 10 minutes or until tender.  Keep vegetables in skillet for next step.


2 cups red wine
1 - 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes in puree, slightly chopped with liquid
1 - cup chicken stock

To the skillet with the vegetables, add the wine, tomatoes, juice from the tomatoes and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and then pour over meat in deep baking pan or Dutch oven.  


3 branches fresh thyme
3 brances fresh rosemary

Tie herbs using kitchen twine and place them on top of the meat.  


Place in oven and roast for 2 1/2 hours.  Turn the heat down to 250 and cook an additional hour.  


Here are a few notes from me about the original.  I kept reading the recipe and just could not get a handle on it until I had read it about 3 times.  In the original, you were to chop the vegetables and then after roasting, puree them.  Basically, by finely chopping them (I used the food processor) as I have indicated you can eliminate this step.  As you will see from the photos, the sauce is thick (there was no need to add flour) and just right for putting over the meat or rice as we did.  The other thing about this, and the hard thing for me, was to be at home for a full 3 1/2 hours without leaving!  So get all your errands completed before starting this. 

This has a wonderful flavor and I will make it again...and oh by the way, my house smelled amazing while this was cooking. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Let's Put The Brakes on a Little Shall We?

It seems everywhere you turn, you are blasted with FALL images.  Don't get me wrong FALL is my favorite season of all.  Somehow the sky changes in a day and it all just feels different.  That day has not come yet.  My mailbox is full of magazines with FALL food, flowers, and tablescapes and while this is a feast for the eyes and warmth to the soul, I must remind myself that it is indeed August. 

You know the saying, "too much of a good thing is not so good", that is how I feel about rushing the seasons.  Planning for them is one thing as I am a planner.  If you started putting FALL decorations up now, you could essentially have them displayed until Thanksgiving!  That is a long time.

Let's savor the last of the summer's bounty.  We actually have some of the hottest temps in August.  What's the rush?  

In the above door arrangement, I used flowers with a slightly darker tone than would be used for Spring.  I incorporated a few fillers that show the beginnings of Fall's arrival, but I chose not to use typical FALL colors and flowers.  I love the dahlias, ranuculus, hops and succulents.

We will have plenty of time to enjoy FALL!  Let's enjoy the rest of the summer.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I think I am in LOVE!

I am sure my grandmother has sent down a curse from heaven to me.  After all, she labored over "spaghetti gravy"(a.k.a sauce) with the freshest ingredients available for years and years.  If you drove up to her house on the day she was making gravy,  you could smell the onions, celery, peppers and garlic as soon as you opened your car door.  This was pretty much a day long process.  She made her gravy just like her mother made it.  Her mother was from Italy.  Enough said.  

Since Mr. Sparkling and I married a VERY long time ago, I have been trying to perfect my grandmother's gravy.  There was no recipe.  It was a little of this and a little of that and it changed from year to year.  Well, at least what my grandmother told me.  Her gravy always tasted the same.  While my sauce is good, it has never tasted like hers. 

Last week, a friend was talking to me and told me about the dish you see above, Ravioli Casserole.  She said it was really good and her boys loved it.  She also said it is her go to dish for friends that have had a baby or are in need of a meal for one reason or another.

I will admit that at first I turned my nose up to it.  Not visibly mind you, but in my thoughts.  After all, you are to use a jar sauce.  OH NEVER!  Then you are to use frozen ravioli....a travesty!!  She continued to talk to me and told me how easy it was to make and how it was like lasagna but easier to make.  

So, I decided to make this dish.  I thought my boys would like it.  I purchased a store bought sauce, but please don't tell anyone!  See the photo below.  It was actually pretty good, but I doctored it up a little.  Then I browned some ground beef.  Then I thawed the frozen ravioli.  And layered it up.  THAT'S IT!  And it was easy..and it was good and I think I am in LOVE!

So here is the recipe

Ravioli Casserole

1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 package frozen cheese ravioli
2 pounds ground beef, browned and drained
3 cups shredded mozzarella

Add the ground beef to the sauce.  Spoon a little of it onto a 9 x 13 pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Place a layer of ravioli, sauce and cheese.  Repeat.  Bake for about 30 minutes on 350.  

While I had some guilt over using the jar sauce, it brought a vivid memory to mind.  One day while at my grandmother's I saw an empty jar of RAGU in her trash can.  She denied that it was there and told me she had never used jar sauce.  HMMM.  Maybe she learned what I did the other day.  When you are short on time, jar sauce is a friend. 

I hope you enjoy this as much as my family did.  See more photos below.

 This sauce had a really good flavor and I will use it again. 

I am not sure why I can't get this photo right, but I wanted you to see what I used.  These were really pretty good!


Thursday, August 7, 2014


The other day, a friend of mine brought me these beautiful zinnias from her garden.  The colors are spectacular and I want these in my yard so that next "end of summer" I can pass these out to my friends.  

These just made my day.  A simple gesture really...but worth so much more.  I believe that when you receive flowers, it puts a smile on your face and in your home.  

I decided to cut a few sprigs of greenery from my yard and if you follow my blog you know that cutting "anything" in my yard is in short supply.  I used a little sweet bay magnolia leaves. (by the way, my tree actually has some beautiful blooms on it now).  I thought the dark leaves of the lorapetlum would be a nice contrast.  The luscious berries you see up front are from a nandina. I placed them in one of my Peter's Pottery pitchers. 

I thought I would leave you with a few wonderful quotes on flowers.  Enjoy your day!

We need this sign for the shop :)  How fitting! 

Feed The Soul

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Turkey Cheese Spud

Turkey Cheese Spud

This is what I had for lunch today and it was really yummy.  Simple but good.  Give this a try while tomatoes are still so good.

1 potato (I actually used a smaller Yukon Gold)
1/3 cup shredded cheddar
2 oz. deli turkey meat (I used smoked turkey), cut into cubes
2 tablespoons light sour cream

Tomatoes, green onions, salt and pepper to taste

I really like a true baked in the oven potato, but time was short today.  I pierced my potato with a fork about 10 times.  (This works great if you are mad at something!).  I then wrapped it in plastic warp and cooked it on high in the microwave for 4 minutes.  This time will vary depending on the size of your potato and the time you have to let it sit after it has cooked. 

I mixed the cheese in before my cold ingredients so it would have time to melt.  Then the meat, sour cream and veggies.

So easy....give it a try...you will be happy you did. 

I had mine along side a salad of arugula and tomatoes with a lemon vinaigrette.