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An easy way to express your love for someone is to bake for them. This year I'm holding off on the baking and trying to focus on healthier ways to spread the love. Fresh squeezed juice. 3 fruits and/or 3 veggies at every meal. Taking a walk while holding hands and the leash of our dog. Encouraging hobbies that make us both happier. Contradict less, laugh more. Say yes more often. It doesn't mean I won't eat the baked goods you make or enjoy your company any less. Acceptance of each other and who we actually are is one of the most loving acts of kindness we can actually give each other this Valentine's Day.

A few favorite quotes just in time for Valentine's Day from some hopeless romantics you may have hear of...


Sometimes love is baking the biscotti even though you don't want to eat it. Almonds and hazelnuts flavored with honey instead of sugar to make it less sweet when you know that is just what they would want. It's making it the way they would want it rather than how you want it. Or going where they want to whether or not you want to. Relationships are a balance of give and take; what often begins with a friendship built on common denominators can over time become a very delicate balance of compromises in order to not create resentments and frustrations. The constant need to clear the air and experience conflicts ways heavy on both sensitive and not so sensitive souls. What's it all about then? Often, I think we are finding a way to our true selves through others if only we can find the grace to allow it all to unfold.







A healthy dessert option - fresh layer of Cara Cara oranges topped with vanilla yogurt and fresh berries of your choice.



Another new favorite beverage is Strawberry Milk- add a tablespoon of honey to steamed milk of choice and the juice of 3-4 fresh squeezed strawberries. A nice alternative to coffee, tea and chai.

ROMANTIC FLOWERS TO GIVE FOR VALENTINE'S DAY

Michael and I have been longtime fans of roses- we spent lovely times visiting the utterly romantic Rose Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Last month's creative couple featured were Steve and Brook of Patina Farms and their Eden Roses really intrigued me to give them a try. I was looking for an old-fashioned fragrant climber for our new backyard wrought iron fence. The Eden will be a perfect live Valentine for Michael. I ordered one for every day of the week from White Flower Farm and they should arrive in mid-March just in time for planting. The variety I chose is a creamy white around the edges with a soft watermelon pink colored center. Many of our neighbors have the Knockout rose bushes that are popular in this area, and we will fill in the Edens with this deeper pink variety.

Imagine my delight to find this delicate and near perfect rose in our garden.

How often do you put a bouquet of fresh flowers on the table? Can't explain why they make my heart sing but can say they are a feast for the eyes as well.

Michael has had some spectacular orchids over the years - this was a treasure we had the pleasure of viewing at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Have you every grown Dahlia's the size of dinner plates? I haven't but am certainly game to try!

A potpourri of blooms and berries we've had in our gardens over the years. Poppies, roses, peonies, hydrangea, iris and many others have delighted my soul over the years. You can call it a passion and the reason I am finding a way to incorporate the arranging of flowers into my hobbies this year. Whether it is teaching a class on the topic, hosting an event inviting others to join in on the activity or preparing arrangements for special events I am exploring ways that I can get more flower arranging dates on the calendar this year.


ROSE COLORED CLARITY - this romantic buffet set up from a party we celebrated a few years back seemed like a lovely way to put a dessert on the Valentine's Day menu. I find that lighting enough candles has always helped to bring more clarity and calm to any occasion. Michael made us a lovely pillar candle and poured a couple in glass containers. For wax, he used the unburned portions of candles, milk and oatmeal containers we would normally have discarded and twine. One has flowers floating on top which found its way to my nightstand and the other is placed on his. The colors were so mellow and subtle creams and russets. Perfectly in time for the love fest. A very lovely Valentine's Day gift indeed.


TUSCAN STYLE - 6 TOWNS YOU MUST VISIT WHEN YOU GO TO TUSCANY

Here's our list of favorites but don't just take our word for it. We've gathered plenty of perspectives from others who have an opinion on this subject. So be sure to click on each picture to see what other seasoned travelers have to say about one of our favorite regions in all of Italy.

  1. Montefallonico


2. Siena

3. Montepulciano


4. Torrita di Siena


5. Cortona


HOW WE SAVED FOR OUR TRIP TO ITALY

6. Pienza

Since Michael and I take a great deal of care and attention to our meals; menu planning at our house is inspired by planning a menu at a restaurant. Some of our mainstays happen at breakfast- lately it is oatmeal or yogurt with fruit served with a fresh squeezed juice. Breakfast isn't for everyone, but we make it a habit in our home. It's a nice way to connect before everyone goes on their merry way for the day often times in different directions. For lunch I am really getting into the salads that have been dragged thru the garden and for workdays Michael prefers a simple sandwich with meat and cheese and a couple of pieces of fruit. One of the benefits of working from home or being at home is the leisurely way we can approach an enjoyable well-made lunch.

The homemade bread with eggs served over easy with ham and a tomato salad with fresh mozzarella and basil could be served at breakfast or lunch in our house. Our own version of a big country breakfast Mediterranean style. Although I enjoy eggs for breakfast, we have pulled back on how often we are eating them because we know there are some alternatives and nutrients that our over 50 bodies need more these days.

I can honestly say that I don't use the same method for meal planning every week and there are weeks where I go with no plan at all. Often times I do start by taking a look at what leftovers (if any) that we have on hand and how I might be able to transition those dishes into something new. I'll give you an example: sometimes what was served as a main dish becomes a side dish due to quantity. Or sometimes I will add a few compatible ingredients to stretch a dish for another meal. Sometimes I have an ingredient on hand that I'm excited to try or needs to be used so it doesn't go to waste or during the growing season I have a surplus of something that might be growing in the garden. Looking back this was the case with the Rosemary in the menu below while I likely had a surplus of potatoes on hand but wanted to make it more interesting that meat and potatoes every evening. Sometimes I plan several dishes for the week and then find that we have leftovers by week's end, and I will make a decision about whether we freeze what is on hand for another week or use it up completely.

Some of our favorite resources for food inspiration:

Mario Batali

Giada De Laurentiis

Bobby Flay

Bon Appetit

Food & Wine

Saveur

Eyeswoon

Lidia Bastianich

Chef's Table on Netflix

Martha Stewart


WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BREAKFAST IN BED?





ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FOLLOWING YOUR BLISS DURING THE PANDEMIC

VALENTINE'S DAY ROUND UP - Think of it as Valentine's Day Capsule from top left:

  1. Your favorite scented soap

  2. A pretty framed love note to the one you love

  3. Galangko blooming plant

  4. Travel magazines and books

  5. Love Affairs and Date Night books

  6. Altoids

  7. Pretty new sleepwear

  8. A new clip for your hair

  9. A framed picture of you and your Lovie




FOLLOW YOUR BLISS

I started making dream boards in my thirties. If you haven't every made one, I would encourage you to do so. These romantic capture boards can be created in a variety of ways- on Pinterest, on a smartphone, in bulletin boards, kept in file folders and in binders just to name a few. I've done them with friends and family in the past and pulling tear sheets out of magazines and pinning them to a board is one of the ways that I've seen the truest magic take shape." How is that?", you ask. I will keep the board somewhere that I can see it daily- my office, our kitchen, outside the laundry area, etc. What's amazing about the process to me is how the images seem to embed in your psyche and after a month or in a matter of weeks you will start to notice subtle things that have happened in your life that are reflected at you in your boards. Sometimes the exact image will hit you over the head with what was on your board and other times you will simply take notice of an image and recall something that has taken place in your life that brings this image to mind. Here's what I mean...after pinning a board in late Fall with images of a gorgeous well-dressed man in a canoe I realized while unpinning the board for a refresh of images for a new month that I had a conversation with a co-worker about Alda's Magnolia Hill the venue of her wedding where the groom can arrive to the ceremony via canoe. And then I looked at my board and realized the man in the photograph was rowing a very similar type of wooden canoe found at the wedding venue. Coincidence? I think not. Romantic? Most definitely. Here's a board I pinned for last February- the theme of the board was red and pink. Sometimes I will rip tear sheets out based on a theme; other times I will just sit and pull tears of anything that appeals to me in the moment. The trick is to do the process quickly, trusting your gut as you go and not overthinking what you choose too much. Remember you are not being judged by this process it's just awakening you to something that appeals to you in a way you may or may not have realized. It's a fun conversation starter with someone you think you know well to see what and why they pulled certain images. It's also a fun exercise to do with children because they are so capable of being in the moment. It's also a fun thing to do to clean out the cobwebs of been there done that before generating a new creative project. In fact, I think I'm overdue for one right now!



Looking to do something unique for the Valentine's Day holiday? How about a castle visit? The Castle on Stagecoach in Little Rock, Arkansas has an incredible history starting out as the private residence of a doctor, Dr. Clarence W. Koch and his wife, Marie and was completed around 1935. If you are looking for something across the pond perhaps you will find something extraordinary in Italy on this link



Like many of us I started toting candy and paper cut out valentines to school mates as a way to celebrate this holiday. This year I started thinking about the real origins of the holiday and the story is not as sweet as one might imagine. In fact, quite the contrary and you can read more in the link above in the title line.




HOME GROWN STYLE - EARLY START GARDEN

Lettuce gets started around here early and it's because it is a staple at dinner and lunch. It can take the crisp cool temps which makes it ideal for an early spring. I tend to grow several varieties of lettuce in the garden each year and mix and match in a salad at will. I start with seeds in egg containers and keep them moist just underneath the soil for about 10 days or until they sprout. I've had rapini which is an Italian brassica sprout from seed as early as 3 days' time. Once the sprouts get to be about 3-4 inches, I move them to a 4-6" pot and bury them so 1" is above soil and proceed with watering and keeping them in sunlight. 6-8 weeks before the last frost is a great time to start them so they will be strong and hearty enough to move outdoors once the last freeze has passed.




A FEW THINGS I WISH I WOULD HAVE KNOWN WHEN I STARTED GARDENING


  1. SOIL MATTERS

I always thought that testing PH/ Acid and other levels in the soil was a bunch of hooey and not worth my time. Little did I know then that the nutrients in the soil could be the single most important part of creating a successful garden. Fast forward 35 years and I have learned not only to start and if necessary, invest in compost but to make it at home as well.


2. SEED SAVING


I was fortunate to have a friend who shared the idea of seed saving with me after I had been purchasing plants and seeds for my gardens for a number of years. She taught me about the option to let the plants go to seed at the end of the season rather than pulling them out of the ground in the Fall. Leaving this messy display turned out to be one of the most inexpensive ways to create a garden and I became involved with organizations like Seed Savers, attended, Seed Swaps at local botanic gardens and get involved with free seed programs at local libraries.


3. BENEFITS OF RAISED BEDS


It's true that while they can save your back from all of that bending over; they also keep weeds down in the garden, can easily be adapted to make compost at the end of a growing season and can be placed in an ideal location. Ours currently sit sandwiched between 2 brick walls which retain and radiate heat into the garden area but since we are in such a warmer climate that we previously were the beds are not placed in full sun to give plants a fighting chance in the summer months.


4. A GARDEN NETWORK

I cannot stress enough the importance of having a garden network whether in real life, on-line, in books, blogs or on YouTube. There is just so much to learn from those who have experimented in the garden long before we started. It doesn't mean that you have to adapt to every process they used but it's definitely worth a listen to what, where, why, and how they grew what they did. Not only will you pick up tips and tricks that you can try but you may save yourself a ton of money over the long haul as I did when a friend kindly told me about seed saving.