November 20, 2016

Sharing some Autumn scenes and a Creamy Garlic Gratin Potatoes recipe

I could hear the wind blowing outside and the rain hitting up against my bedroom windows. The rain later turned into snow, a light steady snow... It was about 5:30am, and I got up.
It is still Fall, well technically but not actually, because it is cold outside today!

Today is the antithesis of the week we had. Yesterday, specially, the weather was gorgeous, sunny, blue sky, warm, so warm I opened some windows to let the fresh air in.

I had planned to make creamy garlic gratin potatoes for dinner. Also a shrimp salad. Everything delicious, simple and easy to make. Just the way I like to cook.

So I went out to buy a few of the ingredients, but I could not resist, I took my camera with me and before hitting the market I went for a stroll in the neighborhood. What a glorious day!

Some of these photos were not taken yesterday but throughout Autumn.

Back home I felt reinvigorate and more than happy to make this flavorful and mouthwatering recipe.

Creamy Garlic Gratin Potatoes

♥ 2 1/2 pounds white potatoes, thinly sliced
♥ 1 1/2 cup whole milk
♥ 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
♥ 4 cloves garlic, minced
♥ 3 1/2 cups of parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
♥ Fresh thyme springs, to taste
♥ Salt & pepper, to taste
♥ Soft butter to rub the baking dish

Preheat oven to 350F. Rub the butter all over the inside of a baking dish, set aside.

Add water and salt to a cook pan, bring water to boiling. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and slice them thinly; I use a mandolin to achive the same thickness.

Place the potatoes in the boiling water and cook them until almost tender, do not cook them all the way through, this process is to speed up the baking time.

Heat together the milk, heavy cream, garlic, thyme and salt in a pot until it starts to boil and slightly thicken.

Place a layer of the (semi-cooked) potato slices in even rows on the bottom of a baking dish. Pour some of the cream mixture, and sprinkle some of the grated cheese. Repeat the same steps two more times.

Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes until potatoes are tender and the top is browned. Since potatoes cook at different rates depending on size and type, use a fork or a skewer to check them for doneness.

This vivid Autum sky took my breathaway.

November 5, 2016

Sweet (Coconut) Butternut Squash Compote - Doce de Abóbora

Have you ever tried pumpkin compote? Doce de Abóbora is a classic Brazilian sweet, it can be crystallized, preserved, molded in heart-shaped tins, and jam. From all the pumpkins sold around here, I find that butternut squash is the one most similar to the one used in Brazil for this recipe.

I do believe in handmade gifts, particularly when they are edible. Who can resist them, especially when they are delicious and cutely packaged?

This sweet pumpkin compote is easy to make and fun to give away - you can share them with your co-workers, thank the hostess at your next party, or simply offering them to friends as a sweet small gesture.

It's pumpkin time so why not try a new recipe? This is a nourishing, comforting and delicious sweet with a touch of fragrant spices.

Sweet Pumpkin Compote - Doce de Abóbora

 1 lb butternut squash
 1 cup of sugar
 2 cinnamon sticks
♥ 4-5 cloves
♥ 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut (optional)

Peel and cut the pumpkin into small cubes. The smaller the pieces the faster it will cook.

Place the the pumpkin and sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan and mix well. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves to the mixture and turn the heat to low. Keep stirring occasionally so the mixture won't stick to the pan and to prevent the crystallization of the sugar.
The cooking time depends on the pumpkin, but is hardly ever less than 40 minutes.

Mash the pumpkin with a potato masher or fork over halfway through cooking time.

Once cooked remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and cloves.
Add the coconut, and set aside to cool. Keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Serve it on its own, or with soft flavored cheeses.

October 14, 2016

DIY Halloween Party Favors

A friend of mine is planning a Halloween party for her 14 year old daughter and her friends, about 20 kids, and she asked me to come up with some crafts to scare up fun at the party. Here is one of my ideas to delight young Halloween partygoers - a wonderfully ghoulish party favor everyone will want to take home - Spooktacular DIY Halloween Party Favors!

This is a totally affordable and easy do-it-yourself.  Most of the supplies I had on hand, I only had to buy the halloween self-adhesive stickers. The dimensional stickers were on sale at Michaels, the regular ones I bought at a local dolar store.

Tin cans are great for crafts and diy projects, and are virtually free! Always have some stored for future projects, just wash and clean out your food tins when you are finished with them, making sure there is no sharp edges on them.

DIY Halloween Party Favors

You'll need:
  • tin cans
  • spray paint (if it's too cold outside to spray paint, use a foam brush to paint the cans)
  • scrap papers - use two different patterns
  • halloween self-adhesive stickers
  • paper trimmer, or scissors
  • washi tape, or any other decorative tape
  • double-sided tape
  • pencil

How to:

1. Spray paint a can, inside and outside, according to manufacture's instructions, and let it dry completely. The reason to paint it inside and out is not only to have a nice finishing, but to make the bottom and top of the can part of the design, and to get that, the paper colors should contrast with the paint color. 

2. Roll a strip of scrap paper on the tin can, use a pencil to mark the height you want, and cut it to fit; then roll it again around the can to mark the diameter. The paper should be cut about 1/2 inch longer than the can diameter so one end will overlap the other.

3. Place paper wrong side up; adhere double-sided tape along each short end. Align and stick one end to can; carefully, wrap paper around can, then secure the other end. Repeat the same process with the other paper.

4. Add a piece of washi tape, or any other decorative tape, to cover the seam in the back. The last step is to decorate the can using self-adhesive stickers.

And you are done! So simple, so fast!

I hope this quick and stress-free diy helps get you into the spooky and fun spirit of Halloween.

"Trick or Treat!
Give me something sweet to eat,
give me candy, give me cake,
give me something sweet to take!"

October 7, 2016

Like brushstrokes of watercolor

I had planned for this week to post one of the delicious recipes we've been making using our homegrown tomatoes, yes we picked the last ones last weekend, but it did not happened as I planned, and you know why? Because on my free time I like to follow my heart, I like to do what makes me the most happy, and this morning I just wanted to take pictures of the last summer flowers I picked from my flower garden.

This is a spontaneous flower arrangement, it's not planned at all, some flowers are roadside flowers I picked on my morning walk, the hydrangea, phlox and black-eyed suan I planted myself, and each year it's a joy to see them blooming until late summer, sometimes, like this year, beginning of fall.

I think the result of mixing & matching these flowers in a natural, loose way is unexpectedly pretty. The color palette reminds me of the suble, layered brushstrokes of a watercolor painting, creating a lovely perfect bouquet. Don't you agree?

September 28, 2016

And the day started like that...

I guess, sometimes, we don't realize how badly we need to escape from the boring mundane situations of everyday life, and how enjoyable it is to travel, to visit new places, to learn about its history, experience its culture, meet new people, eat different foods, and most of all, spend quality time with the people we love.

A few weeks ago, we drove to Virginia. Brady and I are kind of history buffs on American civil war and colonial history, and for this reason only Virginia seemed the right place to visit, plus it has beaches and gorgeous mountains.

But this story is not a narrative of all the places we visited in Virginia, this is  a photography essay about one morning, the last morning I woke up in Virginia Beach. It was still dark when I got up, grab my camera and head to the beach, alone.

I was photographing every step of the sun rising, but then I stopped, something was happening at that beach. I looked to my right, and saw birds gathering at the pier, in silence.

When the sun rose they all started singing and dancing in the sky, graciously greeting the new day. I was mesmerized. I stopped taking pictures, and became intensely aware of that moment.

It's impossible to put my experience into words, but suffice it to say it was profound. At that moment, my whole reality shifted. I felt whole, complete, blissful, loving, free... part of something larger... at peace.

I had experienced it before, and believe many of you have too, it's when you forget yourself and become what you are aware of, it's when a strong sense of connection among all things on this precious planet takes over us. It's pure bliss.

I know it's up to me to keep that blissful feeling present on my life daily, but while I have not mastered it yet, I am becoming more conscious, calmer, seeking to let go of my fears and negativities

And whenever I fall back and desperately start looking for fulfillment in meaningless things, I can always look back at these pictures to remind me that inner peace is possible despite the outward chaos.

"When you arise in the morning,
think of what a precious privilege
it is to be alive - to breathe, 
to think, to enjoy, to love."
                                           Marcus Aurelius

September 16, 2016

Urban Jungle Bloggers: Plantselfie

At the end of July, I invited some girl friends over for a garden-to-table backyard gathering featuring our home grown vegetables. We had such a lovely and fun day, plenty of seasonal and fresh foods, great wine and beer, and lots of laughs. 

One of my friends fell in love with my succulents and asked me if I could plant some in a vase for her. That request was quite unexpected, after all she is a master gardener and knows much more about plants than I do. Then she explained she has never had luck with succulents and looking at mine so healthy and happy she believed I might have a thing with succulents. I thought that was such a cute and nice compliment. 

So, gladly, I planted a few succulents in a vase she gave me, an old vase that belonged to her late mother.

Below is the succulents ready to go to my friend's home. I made a design with six different types of succulents, planting them apart so they have room to grow and live happily and healthy for a long time.
In stores, usually, I see vases with multiple succulents planted so close to each other that I don't know how they can breath, obviously they won't grow much, or be healthy for long.

By no means I am a plant expert, I'm just a plant lover. I do have many plants and they are healthy, so I told my friend the three factors I consider when I care for my succulents:

sunlight +  temperature + water

But this is not a DIY post, this is a post inspired by this month's Urban Jungle Bloggers topic - we are sharing our plantselfie!

I thought it would be fun to take photos of myself with some of my plants, but it turned out to be nonsense. I styled the scene, set my camera on a tripod, set the timer, then ran back to the scene... and everytime I tried, something was out of place. My hand, my foot, or my face, most of the time was cut off, and as I didn't want to be known as the woman with no face, I waited for Brady to help me.

That's why my #plantselfie post is a bit late since this topic was launched by Urban Jungle Bloggers on September 12th.

I don't understand why so many people like to take so many selfies and show them off to the world, but here I am, shy, and shameless, in a picture taken by Brady, showing off my face surrounded by some of my plants - everything for the love of them 🌿🌱🙈🌵.

September 7, 2016

Those little things... chasing the light

And so enters September... starting to feel like autumn around here...

The light has already changed... a low, softer, slanting light feels the rooms now...

The morning silence is broken only by the chirping and singing of birds, a shy sunlight cast a warm mellow glow through the window and kitchen door, and I can't resist to chase it with my camera...

Enjoying every moment as it passes, enjoying the beauty of everyday things that surrounding me, their shapes, lines, colors as the sunlight shines on them...

Every morning, before breakfast, I wander into my garden... the scent of freshness, the birds singing... 

Every day there is something new unfolding in the garden... new flowers, new weeds (!!!), surprise encounters with the so many creatures that share my garden space... Perks of living away from the city...

This morning, the sun did not shine, it's raining, a slow pace rain... I love the sunshine and I love the grey moodiness of a rainy day, I appreciate what I have...

Time to sit down for breakfast listening to the rhythm of the falling rain... perfect beginning to a new day, I would say.

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