I linked up to Tutorial Tuesdays over at Hope Studios.  Come on over for lots of fun ideas!

Easter Menu: Side Dishes

Simple ideas for your Easter side dishes!
Maple Roasted Butternut Squash
Crispy Red Potatoes
Mark's Green Beans

Maple Roasted Butternut Squash
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics Cookbook, pg. 158
**Ina's recipes never disappoint me! She is the queen of delicious, simple food.**
This recipe has been doubled from the original - serves 12.
2 large butternut squash
2 heads garlic, separated but not peeled
1/4 c olive oil
5 T pure maple syrup
2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
a bunch of sage leaves

Preheat oven to 400.
Peel & seed the squash and cut into 1" cubes (I use the peeled and cubed squash available at my grocery store. The squash is more expensive this way, but if you've ever peeled butternut squash, you will probably agree that it's worth paying the store to do this!) Place squash and whole unpeeled garlic cloves onto a sheet pan in one layer. Toss with the olive oil. maple syrup, s&p and bake for 20-30 minutes, until squash begins to brown, turning once while baking (using a spatula makes flipping the cubes a snap).
Sprinkle the pancetta and sage leaves evenly over the squash and continue to bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the squash and garlic are tender and carmelized. Season to taste before serving.

Crispy Red Potatoes

Real Simple, 11.09
Serves 12
4 lbs. small red potatoes, sliced 1/4" thick
6 T olive oil
1 t Kosher salt
1 t black pepper

Heat oven to 425.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the potatoes, olive oil, s&p.  Roast until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. 

Mark's Green Beans
Serves 12
Simple, no frills.  Great to serve with other dishes that have a lot of flavors going on.
2 lb. green beans, ends trimmed
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper

Blanch green beans in boiling salted water until crisp-tender (about 3 minutes on my induction stovetop; check to make sure they are more tender than crisp before draining!)
After draining, pat dry with paper towel so the water won't spatter when you add to your skillet.
Heat oil over medium heat in skillet; add green beans, minced garlic, s&p to taste and saute for 1-2 minutes.  (Don't let the garlic burn.)  Serve hot.


Easter Menu: Ham Sauce & Salad

I don't know about you, but Easter is just sneaking right up on me this year!  While I have yet to even decorate for this lovely time of year, it's a holiday I love to host. 

As I mentioned last week, I always strive to make only a few dishes that require effort, and simplify the rest of the meal.  (And then I get preoccupied with the table, the flowers, the candles....and when my guests arrive I'm in my bathrobe with a towel on my head.)  The goal is to make this day enjoyable for you as well as your guests.  Make some of the food the day before, set your table or buffet up a day or two before your event, and on the day of the event take a deep breath and enjoy being with your family and friends!

I'll be back tomorrow with some inspiration for sides that don't require an enormous effort.  Here are a few ideas to whet your whistle today!
We'll be serving the all-time-easiest main dish:  a Spiral Ham (order ahead!  I'm getting mine from the Honey Baked Ham Co.) - as well as:

Apricot Sauce for Ham and
Waldorf Salad with Savory Blue Cheesecakes* and Warm Bacon Dressing

Apricot Sauce for Ham
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
8 oz. apricot preserves
1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepan, saute garlic in olive oil for one minute (don't let it brown).  Add apricot preserves and balsamic vinegar; heat over medium for a few minutes to combine flavors. Keep warm until ready to serve, or make this ahead of time and warm up in the microwave before serving.

Waldorf Salad
serves 12-16
adapted from Southern Living, 11.08
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1 large Gala apple, diced
1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c raisins
2 5-oz. packages spring lettuce mix

Preheat oven to 350.  Bake walnuts in single layer in a shallow pan 5-7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant.
Toss diced apple with lemon juice in a medium bowl; add walnuts and raisins. Right before serving, toss with 1/2 c salad dressing (see below); serve with remaining dressing.

Warm Salad Dressing
1/2 medium onion
1/3 c white vinegar
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 c olive oil
8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

In a blender, finely dice onion.  Add vinegar, sugar, s&p and Worcestershire; combine.  Slowly add olive oil.  Taste and add more s&p as needed.  Transfer to cruet or jar.  Right before serving , add bacon and heat dressing on stovetop or in microwave until warm (30 second intervals in mike - you want it warm but not piping hot!)

Savory Blue Cheesecakes
adapted from Southern Living, 11.08
makes 24 mini cheesecakes
24 mini muffin baking cups
Vegetable cooking spray
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 c sour cream
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
1 T flour
1/2 t dried parsley
1/2 t dried marjoram
1/4 t garlic powder
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325.  Place paper baking cups in mini muffin pans and coat with cooking spray. 
Beat cream cheese, sour cream, blue cheese, flour, parsley, marjoram and garlic powder until well blended.  Add eggs one at a time until combined.  Spoon into baking cups; fill completely.
Bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes or until set.  Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool completely (about 15 minutes).  Cover and chill at least 4 hours.  To remove from paper baking cups, freeze for 15-30 minutes until paper easily peels off.  Serve alongside the salad.

(*If you are serving a plated salad consider placing these cheesecakes on the side. Some of my family members don't enjoy blue cheese and would rather it not even TOUCH the other foods on their plate!
You know who you are!)



Handmade Frames

Happy Sunday friends!  The sun is shining, the birds are singing and while it's still in the 30s in lovely New England, SPRING is finally here! 

I talked a bit last week about arranging your family photos in a grouping that looks cohesive, makes an impact, and delights you every day.  More on this topic in the coming week.  Today I want to show you my newest find in the wonderful and amazing world of etsy.  (If you  haven't heard of etsy before, let me introduce you to a fabulous shopping site for all things handmade and unique.  Beware - you might become addicted to this site!  It is a great place to find unusual gifts for every budget.)

I am coveting these beautiful frames by Jennifer at Hope Studios.  They are handmade and can be customized!  Aren't they so original and different?

I love the idea of one of these right smack dab in the middle of a photo wall arrangement. Imagine one of these babies in the center and your other framed pics around it - symmetrically or asymmetrically - or place the focal point frame to the side and arrange the other pictures on the top, bottom and one side of it. oooooo the possibilities!

Some of Jennifer's Memory Frames are 16x16 and 20x20, and could easily make an impact on their own.  I can think of at least three pathetic and unloved spots in my house for one of these: 
Wouldn't this one be so precious in a baby's room?

I think these would make great gifts for a baby, an engagement or wedding, or, say, Mother's Day (hint, hint.)

In addition to creating these beauties and being a mom, Jennifer also has a fab blog full of great tutorials and inspiration!  You can check out Jennifer's blog here.  Now go get some coffee....between etsy and Jennifer's blog you might be here for a while!  Enjoy the day.


Easter Menu

Now for a break from our regularly scheduled photo arranging series to talk about feeding the masses on Easter!  I love to entertain, and Easter is one of my favorite holidays to host.  Most years the weather is fairly nice here in the Northeast.  The crocuses are finally pushing their way through the earth and even though there's still a nip in the air, the kids are excited to be outside after so many months of being cooped up.  I love that even my pre-pubescent eldest is still interested in having an Easter egg hunt, although I know he's just hoping to find the eggs that have money hidden inside!  We mix up the candy-filled eggs with spare change and there's always one golden egg with $5 inside. Cash is king.

One of my lovely readers asked for some ideas for an Easter menu.  This year I am having a brunch after mass.  My philosophy on cooking for a crowd is to make a couple of things that require some effort, and keep the rest of the dishes simple.  Your guests do not want you to watch you stressing about the meal on Easter Sunday, or worse, not see you at all because you're too busy cooking! 

I want everyone to be hungry for the main meal, so I won't put out too many heavy appetizers, but we have several men in our family with hearty appetites.  If I don't have something to feed them while I'm getting the main meal together it's possible they will whittle away right before my very eyes.  This is what's on the menu for starters, along with some yummy mimosas of course!

Goat Cheese, Mozzarella and Craisin Cups
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
1 log of good quality goat cheese (Chevre)
1/4 c mozzarella cheese
1/3 c Craisins (or apricot preserves, if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 400.
Spray mini-muffin tin with cooking spray.
Cut puff pastry with pizza cutter into squares 1 1/2" x 1 1/2".
Press squares of puff pastry in muffin tin.
Top each square with a scant teaspoon of goat cheese, a pinch of mozzarella and a few Craisins.
Bake 18-20 minutes. Let cool 2 minutes in pan. Pop out and serve warm.

Roast Beef Crostini with Rosemary Mayonnaise
Adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2001
2 t finely chopped rosemary
2 t distilled white vinegar
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 c mayonnaise
Make at least 4 hours ahead and chill to enhance flavor.  Place chopped rosemary and vinegar in a medium bowl.  Let stand 15 minutes.  Whisk in garlic and mayo.  Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate.
1 French baguette
Romaine lettuce
1 lb. thinly sliced roast beef
1 red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
Heat broiler.  Slice baguette into thin slices and broil for 2 minutes just until they are starting to toast.  Spread a little mayo on each toast.  Wash and dry lettuce; tear into pieces to fit neatly on top of crostini.  Fold slices of roast beef and arrange on top of lettuce.  Place mayo into ziploc bag; snip corner and make a decorate squiggle (?) on top of the roast beef.  If you have any lettuce leftover, spread it out on your platter and place the crostini on top.  Garnish with a small ring of red onion or use sprigs of fresh rosemary.
I make these a few hours ahead and refrigerate until serving.  Make the crostini the day before for one less thing to do on Easter Sunday morning!
I'll also set out a big crudite platter with dip.  This doesn't kill anyone's appetite for the big event and gives everyone a little something to gnaw on instead of the kid's Easter candy!
I'll share with you what's on the menu for the main meal and desserts this weekend.  Enjoy the day!


Part II: Photo Arrangements

When planning how to layout your photo arrangement on a wall, take these ideas into consideration.

Figure out what wall you would like to use and what style appeals to you. Using one cohesive element to unify your arrangement can pull together the look you're going for.

• A basic rule of thumb is to use all black & white or all color photos for your arrangement.

• Would you like your arrangement to be eclectic? If so, select different colored frames that complement each other,

                                                                                                      Source:  Exposures

or use the same frame moulding for all your photos, but vary the sizes of the pictures.  

• For a symmetric arrangement, use the same frame moulding and mat color, and all the same size pictures.

Photo:  Pottery Barn

• Use mouldings that have a similar profile (shape) but different colors, or vice versa - the same color but varying profiles.  Hang the frames in a loosely circular grouping to create an eclectic, yet pulled-together arrangement as in this picture I posted yesterday:

Source:  Exposures

The great thing about grouping your photos is that you can have fun with it.  These ideas I've provided are guidelines, but enjoy creating your arrangement.  Experiment with different styles of frames.  If you are purchasing new frames, lay them on the floor of the store and see how they look together.  You can mix kid's artwork into your casual arrangements also.  Break the rules!  One of my favorite framing customers hung black & whites with colored photos and guess what? The wall looks pretty darn amazing AND the earth is still turning on its axis. Imagine.

  Thanks for checking in today!


Beautiful Spirit

Spread love everywhere you go:
first of all in your own house.
Give love to your children,
to your wife or husband,
to a next door neighbor.…
Let no one ever come to you
without leaving better and happier.
Be the living expression of God’s kindness;
kindness in your face,
kindness in your eyes,
kindness in your smile,
kindness in your warm greeting.

-Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa
was born in Albania in 1910.
She entered holy life at the age of 18 when she joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Loveto.
She taught school in Calcutta, India
and at age 36, she received a"calling within a calling".
Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity
to provide food, hospitals, schools, youth centers and shelters
for the poor of Calcutta.
Today the Missionaries of Charity is a worldwide humanitarian organization.
Among other awards,
Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

Mother Teresa led a humble life serving the poor, and yet she found joy in every day.
She delighted in the poor children of India.
She shared her message of love everywhere she went.

May you count your blessings today and find joy in simple pleasures!
Who inspires you?  Share a comment by clicking on the time stamp below this post.   


A Lenten Friday Meal

We go right from St. Paddy's Day to a nice Italian meal!  That's right, it's all about balance in this house.  This post is a little unfair because I have 7 official viewers of this blog (thank you wonderful friends and husband!) and out of that 7, 4 of you know this recipe.  Yes, it's the Penne Alla Vodka recipe from Janine & Debbie's Gourmet Cooking Club dinner back when I attempted to have a life AND a husband that travels for work.  (I've given up on weeknight activities such as Gourmet Cooking Club and Book Club, and love the occasional spontaneous evening out as our family schedule allows.  As much as I enjoyed being in those clubs, it's so much less stressful to enjoy a night out with friends when the stars align, instead of having a commitment that almost always met with a conflict!)

The ladies who introduced this recipe to me are my wonderful friends Debbie, who is my realtor, and Janine, who is a personal trainer who has a great blog about healthy living.  Check out Janine's blog here

I am lucky to married to a man who loves to cook, and who frequently makes homemade sauce ("gravy" for you Italians) from his family's secret Sicilian recipe (and it's the best!).  However, between work and the kids' activities, sometimes we run out of time for a decent meal.  This delicious and satisfying recipe is from Lidia's Italy, and is super quick and calls for no meat - perfect for a Friday during Lent!  Enjoy!

Penne Alla Vodka Alla Lidia's Italy

35 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) with their liquid
1 lb. penne
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
crushed hot red pepper
1/4 c vodka
1/2 c heavy cream (I use half-and-half)
2 T extra virgin olive oil, for finishing the sauce
2-3 T chopped fresh Italian parsley
3/4 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring 6 qts. of salted water to a boil.

Pour tomatoes & their liquid into the workbowl of food processor.  Process tomatoes until finely chopped.

Cook penne in boiling water until al dente, 8-10 minutes.  Do not drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Whack the garlic cloves with the side of a knife. 

the whacked garlic
(how much do I love a husband that brings me a glass of wine while I am whacking cloves of garlic??)

Add whacked garlic to the hot oil.  Cook, shaking the skillet, until the garlic is lightly browned. 

Lower the work bowl with the tomatoes close to the skillet and carefully slide the pureed tomatoes into the skillet (careful!  they will splatter!)  Bring to boil and season lightly with salt and generously with crushed red pepper (start with 1/2 t. and adjust later!)  Boil 2 minutes.  Add the vodka, lower heat and simmer until pasta is ready.

When pasta is done, remove garlic from sauce; add cream.  Add 2 T oil; swirl in skillet to incorporate into sauce.

Using wire skimmer, fish pasta out of boiling water and add to sauce.  Bring sauce & pasta to a boil.  Season as needed.  Sprinkle parsley over pasta and simmer for a few minutes.  Remove from heat; add cheese and toss to mix.  Serve immediately with a big salad and crusty bread (which, by the way, I gave up for Lent.  Oy.)

Let's pretend that baby spinach is fresh parsley (didn't have any tonight!) and just dig in!  MMMMM!


Top of the morning to ya!

There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet
Oh, the last rays of feeling and life must depart,
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.
The Meeting of the Waters
Thomas Moore


Get Your Irish Up

All I can say is - it's too good to be left alone with when it comes out of the oven.
A cup of tea is a must!

Killagoola Irish Bread

2 c flour

2 t baking powder

2/3 sugar

1 c raisins

1/4 c sour cream

3/4 c milk

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Mix and aerate flour, baking powder and sugar. Add raisins to dry mix until thoroughly covered. Add oil and mix until moistened. Add the sour cream, milk and egg and blend only until combined.  Do not overmix or your bread will be tough.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until golden brown and tester inserted into middle of loaf comes out clean.


Beautiful Spirit

Hi friends, while I work out the kinks of getting my little baby here off the ground (for example, enabling a comments section!), I thought I'd share one of my favorite quotes.  Is there any other American icon as lovely as Audrey Hepburn? 
For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.  -Audrey Hepburn

On my reading list for 2010 is How to be Lovely by Melissa Hellstern (Published by Dutton Adult, 2004).  Amazon's review:  "A breezy but sometimes insightful read, this hybrid mini-biography/female empowerment manual goes down like a soothing tonic for the 21st-century woman attempting to juggle life, career, family and, if there’s time, fashion. The waifish star and muse of Givenchy, Audrey could be quite the sage as well, turning out insightful phrases about working hard, living well and aging gracefully." 

Add "favorite reads" to the ever-growing lists to publish on Shine Your Light! 
Look for St. Paddy's Day fun and some thoughts on arranging family photos next week.  See if you can spot any signs of spring outdoors this weekend and enjoy the sunshine!


Chocolate Cheesecake with Thin Mint Crust

If you're trying to use up of the all those boxes of Girl Scout cookies you bought this year, try this chocolate cheesecake - it's so yummy Peter has asked for it for his birthday for the past three years! If you don't have Girl Scout cookies on hand, use the alternate crust - it's just as delish.

Print Recipe

2 packages (1 box) Girl Scouts Thin Mints Cookies
5 T. butter, melted

9 oz. package Famous Chocolate Wafers
2 T. sugar
5 T. butter, melted

2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
3/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs
6 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted, cooled slightly

Preheat oven to 325F. Break up cookies into food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Add butter (and sugar, if you're using the Famous Chocolate Wafers instead of Thin Mints) and combine. Press firmly onto bottom and sides of 9" pie plate. Bake 10 min.

Beat cream cheese, brown sugar and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time. Blend in chocolate; pour into crust.

Bake for 35 minutes or until all but center is set. Chill before serving. Garnish with real whipped cream. Serve and enjoy a moment of silence in your house while your family devours it!

Welcome! Come on in for a chat!

Hello blogging world! I'm so excited to join this community. I absolutely love creating comfortable, welcoming spaces that work for my family of five and large furry creature. I have always had a design file of inspiration for the next project. The house we currently live in has been on the market for over a year while we dream of finding a house that needs a little TLC and making it ours. When the time comes, I can't wait to refresh our next home and blog about the journey.

Embracing Your Space
I find that so many of us do not love the space we're in for one reason or another, and are waiting for "someday" to make it what we want. Perhaps you live in a rental and there's only so much change you can make to the space. Perhaps you have small kids and feel like there's no point in having nice things because they're just going to get destroyed anyway (speaking from experience here!) Maybe you just don't have the money to spend on what you'd like to do to make your house your HOME (we all have experience with this one!). Maybe you just don't have the time, energy, know-how or inspiration to tackle this daunting task. Or maybe, like my family, you are in a holding pattern between your current home and your future home.

The problem with waiting for "someday" to arrive is that in the meantime, your life is being lived in the here and now. You and your family need to eat. You need to play. You need to live in your space and make the most of the time there.

Embrace where you are in your life and find little ways to love the space you occupy right now. It's a wonderful thing to have dreams of what you want to do with your home in the future, but in the meantime, make whatever space you're in right now work for you in practical and beautiful ways.

Bear with me as I "get my blog on" and fill up THIS space with home design inspiration, simple ways to refresh your home, and yummy things to fortify you along the way!