SMALL VICTORIES

Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.

When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.

Dinner, anyone?

Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.

We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.

The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.

We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.

My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.

Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.

I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.

I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate —  a small miracle in its own right.

Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.

It has been a long month and it’s not over. This was a little victory, but a victory. One dinner where each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.

It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.

POTS, PANS, AND OTHER COOKERY – CEE’S FUN PHOTO CHALLENGE

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Dishes, Pots, Pans, Silverware

Famille Rose plate, mid 19th century

The Cuisinart and other stainless collection

Modern plates from Maine and Mexico

Pots and pans, easy to get to

The rice cooker (couldn’t live without it!), slow cooker (a small one, good for two people). Microwave, some spices and more pots

DECORATING TRICKS FOR YOUR KITCHEN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve been obsessing over the news for what feels like forever. I needed a break. So I decided to step away from my iPhone and do something that made me feel happy and safe. I walked around my house. I took in all the little things about it and in it that I love.

72-morning-sunroom-curley-interior-09222016_015

I particularly love my kitchen. I redecorated it from top to bottom two years ago, along with the adjoining sun porch. It came out exactly as I had hoped – bright, cheerful, fun and totally me.

72-kitchen-morning-sun-curley09222016_02

My first goal was to create a colorful environment. All of the walls in my house had been shades of white or beige for the past twenty years. So I went a little crazy. I love color. Happy colors make me happy. I dress in them and wanted to live in them as well, particularly shades of aqua and turquoise. So the walls in the kitchen and eating area are a pale mint green and the walls in the sunroom are light turquoise. Most of the accessories in both rooms are shades of blue and green.

300-curley-house-hall-light-nk-0016

For some colorful drama, I trimmed the moulding around the numerous windows in the sun room in turquoise darker than the walls. The effect is stunning!

I also added an aqua Corian counter to the kitchen island. And a colorful mosaic tile pattern on the back-splash behind the stove.

My second goal was to create warmth and personality by using accessories. Everywhere you look there is something pretty and interesting to look at. Because it’s a kitchen, and because I wanted to save money, I used everyday items as a major part of the decor. Items like plates and bowls, glasses and cups, trays, etc. So in my glass cabinets, I displayed these decorative touches to add pops of color in and amongst my everyday dishes and glasses.

I have two small bookcases in the kitchen as well. I used these shelves to create artistic ‘vignettes’ using similar items plus some vases and paperweights.

I love to use colorful, patterned plates, trays and bowls as decor on the walls and on other flat surfaces in the kitchen as well. I have a charming set of ceramic plates in different sizes, shaped like fish and glazed in beautiful tones of blue. They are dispersed throughout the sunroom and kitchen, on walls, in cabinets and standing on the shelf above the kitchen cabinets.Sun room curley house

I get a lot of pleasure looking at the pretty things in my home. I also remember how and where I got them and what they mean to me. Hopefully you can take some of these ideas and use them to give your kitchen a little extra pizzazz, or at least something new to look at.

KITCHEN OLYMPICS by ELLIN CURLEY

The 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro ended yesterday. I’ve watched a lot of events over the past couple of weeks. I’ve learned the meaning of athletic maneuvers I didn’t know existed. Or maybe I knew but forgot four years ago. And, now I understand how important 1/100th  of a second can be.

Olympics-Rio-2016-3

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if everyday activities were scrutinized and graded the way dives and gymnastics are. There would be names for the different techniques for folding sheets – and folding the fitted sheet would rate a higher level of difficulty.

Dish-washing would be my favorite event. There is so much technique involved and so many options for equipment and strategy. You can use a dishrag or a sponge (don’t get me started on the varieties in sponge technology). You can use one of those things on a stick, but some of those have a built-in soap dispenser, which I think should be banned as cheating. The choice of dish soap is a whole other category. Maybe if you use the Consumer Reports favorites, your difficulty level should be reduced.

72-Morning-Kitchen-Oddballs-042816_41

Now for the actual washing of the dishes. Do you pre-rinse? Do you use hot water or just warm? The different wrist movements should have fancy names as well as the circular arm movements (clockwise or counter-clockwise?) How do you try to scrub or scrape off baked on or age hardened food? That is the test of a real champion. Do you resort to additional equipment or rely solely on elbow grease? And then there’s the decision as to whether you rinse with the spray setting, which is faster but which causes splashing – a serious deduction.

72-drying-dishes-081616_008.jpg August 16, 2016

Sticking the landing would be quickly and accurately securing the dish in one of those annoying plastic dish drying racks. This would be my personal Waterloo.

I think that putting dishes in the dishwasher is more of an art form than a sporting event. You have to be creative and have a really good sense of spatial relations as well as patience and perseverance. But you could make this a timed event; the most plates, bowls and cups you can fit in the dishwasher in the least amount of time wins. You can challenge your spouse or roommate and make it a family affair.

75-KitchenHPCR-3

And then there’s parking a car. This is another fun event in the Olympics of life. Maybe if I give myself running commentary the next time I’m parking in a parking lot or trying to back my car into the garage, it’ll make it a less frustrating and more enjoyable experience. One can always hope.

MUNDANE MONDAY CHALLENGE (ON WEDNESDAY)

MUNDANE MONDAY CHALLENGE #71 : LEARN PHOTOGRAPHY


Mundane, yet somehow, artistic. This is my sink. And the stainless steel faucets and spigot. With reflections.

72-kitchen-sun-080916_03

You said mundane, right? And here’s a macro – black and white – of the husk of the Indian corn that hangs over the sink.

72-bw-corn-macros-080416_18

And finally, here’s the entire bunch of corn. For comparison’s sake.

72-indian-corn-kitchen-sun-080916_06

And so goes another week … time is just flying by.

MUNDAY MONDAY CHALLENGE 58 – KITCHEN STILLS

Mundane Monday Challenge #58


I have been trying to keep up with all the challenges and totally failing. Miserably failing.

72-Kitchen-Stills-031716_21

It hasn’t been a prolific period for me, photographically speaking. I have not felt inspired and I haven’t felt good for much or this so-called spring. But you know? This is one challenge I can do because I can do it right here. No problem.

72-Kitchen-Stills-031716_11

So thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate without having to find someplace with a beautiful view.

72-kitchen-sun-morning-033016_004

My kitchen. The heart of the house … if you don’t count the living room with the dogs and the television and the computer. And the comfy furniture.

MY FAMILY COOKBOOK – ELLIN CURLEY

I have a home-made family cookbook that spans three generations and two continents. It is as much a family album as it is a cookbook. It contains recipes from my teens through today. It contains recipes from many people, including my grandmother, mother, and others who played a big part in my life.

72--cook books_07

The cookbook started when I was getting ready to leave home for the first time to go to law school. While I was growing up, my mother had many cooks, none of whom had the patience to teach an eager little girl. So at the age of 22, I could barely boil water.

But I loved food. I was dying to finally learn how to cook. My mother, though she rarely chopped or seared anything herself, was obsessed with food. She went to bed reading cookbooks and magazine recipes and when she died I found boxes of clipped out recipes that had never made it into her personal cookbooks. The recipes that had made it had been lovingly pasted into large three-ring binders, divided into categories like a regular cookbook.

96-Kitchen-HPCR-1

I realized that getting my apartment gave me the opportunity to learn how to cook while I was also learning how to be a lawyer. Before I left home, Mom and I went through all of her cookbooks and we picked out the recipes that were the best, simplest and hopefully the most fool-proof for me to take with me. I photocopied or typed these recipes at a time when the new, revolutionary feature on my electric typewriter was white-out! The advantage of the photocopied recipes (other than not having to type them) was that they have my mother’s handwritten notes all over them. “More garlic” and “more seasoning” were common comments. Suggestions to “try” this or that were also scattered throughout.

These days, when I look through MY giant cookbook, I see her handwriting and hear her words and share the recipes with her again and again.

I learned to be a decent cook during my 1970’s law school years, though many of my best desserts involved jello products. Since then I have collected recipes from various sources, including from loved ones.

kitchen in hadley

My kids’ other grandmother and their Aunt are well represented in my book, as are friends and restaurants whose dishes we loved so much we had to make them at home.

“Christine’s Beef with Horseradish Sauce” brings back memories of a family picnic with four young children in the idyllic English countryside. “Meryl’s Passover Cookies” evoke memories of shared holidays over the years.

Now I have a separate dessert cookbook, with no jello in it at all. Most of my newer recipes are printed out from the internet. Looking through my cookbook is not only a way to decide what to have for dinner. It’s also a way for me to reconnect with my past and with the people who made me the person — and cook — I am today.