Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Back to the Bay

It’s funny how perceptions can change over time. Could it really have been 20 plus years since we had visited Put-in-Bay, The Key West of the North as it’s nicknamed? Considering we've been married for 20 years, it had been at least that long.

View of the harbor from The Boardwalk.

As youngsters, we knew South Bass Island, aka Put-in-Bay, to be the place to escape the daily grind of work, get away with friends on a Saturday and, get a little crazy, or a lot crazy I should say. 

We opted to make the trip on a Thursday, the better weather choice, and hoped there would be less of a crowd.

The quickest way to the bay is the Jet Express in Port Clinton.

Getting there is half the fun
The quickest way to the bay is the Jet Express. Board at Port Clinton, sit on the top level for the best view, and enjoy the approximately 30-minute boat ride to the island. 

Sit on the top level for the best view.

If you plan on visiting on a day other than a Saturday, take advantage of the Jet and Cart for Two offer, which includes: two adult round-trip tickets and two-seater golf cart to zip around in when you get there for $100, which I highly recommend so you can explore the entire island. 

There are some exclusions to the offer though … it’s not valid the day of purchase so book in advance, on Saturdays or on blackout dates. For details, visit jet-express.com.

Heading out to Lake Erie.

A blast from the past
We arrived on the island around noon, picked up our golf cart, which was extremely easy and there were no lines. As we drove around, we were pleasantly surprised at how pretty the island looked with flowers blooming everywhere.

Pulling in to the harbor.

Next, we strolled around the downtown area and visited old haunts such as the historic Round House bar. The 1873 establishment is known for its mural-painted plaster walls, overhead canopy, live entertainment and buckets of beer. 

The last time we were there, it was wall to wall partygoers spilling drinks all over each other. However, this time and being a Thursday afternoon, there were a few dozen folks enjoying some beer and great live music.

The historic Round House bar.

A bite to eat
After our walk, it was time for lunch. There is no shortage of burgers and fries on the island; however, we were in the mood for something with more Florida flair. 

We chose The Keys, which not only afforded us gorgeous views of the lake and harbor but a Caribbean-style menu with dishes such as Blackened Mahi Tacos, Lobster Salad Sliders and Chicken Teriyaki and Veggies.

Teriyaki Chicken and Veggies at The Keys Restaurant.

Taking in the scenery
Following lunch, we hopped on our golf cart for two and set out to see what else there was on this 2 x 4-mile island. Our first stop was the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. Unfortunately, the observation deck, rotunda, and plazas are closed in 2017 for cleaning and repairs; however, the visitor’s center is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until October 1.

Heineman's Winery

From the monument, we headed northwest along the coast and enjoyed the ride while taking in the scenery of quaint cottages and beautiful homes situated just feet from the water. 

Also along our self-guided tour, we came across Heineman's Winery and South Bass Island State Park beach and campgrounds.

The garden at Heineman's Winery.

For the adventurous, we found a myriad of services on the island that offer activities such as charter fishing, parasailing, jet skiing, tubing and paddle boarding. 

Watercraft rentals.

A fond farewell
Prior to our departure, we wrapped up our island excursion with tropical cocktails from Rita's Cantina at The Boardwalk. 

Put-in-Bay was different this time around for us in a very good way, providing us with that relaxing, island getaway we were hoping for. 


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hot Picks for Cool Summer Nights

And just like that, it's summer in the Midwest, roaring in with hot and humid temperatures well into the 90s. To help you beat the heat, here are some of my favorite finds this week to help you stay as cool as a cucumber. 

Lighten up with blush wines. A favorite brand of mine to serve at my annual Kentucky Derby party, 14 Hands Winery from the state of Washington, has just released a Rose'. 

It's described on the label as opening with a "delicate aroma of rose petals and rhubarb." Next the "refreshing flavors of melon and strawberries are followed closely by a kick of citrus in the finish."

Ditch the heavy scents and give your home some tropical ambiance of this three-wick Palm Leaves & Mango candle by Bath & Body Works.

Also from Bath & Body Works is Wild Lavender Mint foaming hand soap. Fill your kitchen or bath with the scent of summer's herbs. 

And lastly, what Cowgirl could resist these adorable cactus napkins to freshen up their bar cart? Both patterns were found this week at HomeGoods.


Cocktails, anyone?


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Get Grilling!

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, bringing with it the unofficial beginning of summer. And that means it’s time to get serious about grilling. I am fortunate to work with a very talented local chef, Liz Donaldson, who creates menus for a food column I write. Liz and I make a great team – she preps and cooks the food, and I take the pictures 
and write about it.

Flat Iron Steak with Avocado Vinaigrette and Roasted Vegetables

Here is what Liz cooked up for the last article we worked on. It’s a perfect, three-course meal that will keep you out of the kitchen and grilling in the great outdoors. 

Red, White and Blue Salad
1 head romaine lettuce, trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, sliced thick
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
3 ounces crumbled blue cheese
Balsamic glaze

Brush the romaine thoroughly with olive oil. Oil the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, grill the romaine and the tomatoes until tender, turning frequently. 

Remove from the grill and slice the romaine down the middle. Garnish with blue cheese, tomatoes and mozzarella. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.

Red, White and Blue Salad

Flat Iron Steak with Roasted Vegetables

12-ounce flat iron steak
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Minced garlic
Baby potatoes and carrots
Balsamic glaze or Avocado Vinaigrette
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish

In a shallow pan, marinate the steak in oil, salt, pepper and garlic, overnight or at least 2 hours.

Give the vegetables a quick boil just to take the stiffness off. Coat the vegetables in olive oil.

Prepare the grill to roughly 375-400 degrees. Grill the steak for about 5 minutes on each side for medium rare. Remove the steak to a cutting board, cover with a towel and allow to rest. Meanwhile place the vegetables on the grill. Close the lid and grill for about 8-10 minutes, turning frequently. 

Slice the steak thinly and arrange with the vegetables. Drizzle with balsamic glaze or Avocado Vinaigrette. Sprinkle with parsley.

Avocado Vinaigrette 

2 avocados
1 tomatillo
2 cloves garlic
1 lime, squeezed 
½ bunch fresh cilantro 
⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup white balsamic vinegar 
Salt and ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Flat Iron Steak with Avocado Vinaigrette and Roasted Vegetables

Grilled Rhubarb Crisp

5 stalks rhubarb, peeled and cut in ½ inch pieces
½ cup white sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
1 cup flour
1 cup quick oats
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon 
½ teaspoon ginger 
¾ cup light brown sugar 
½ cup butter, softened, plus more for the pan
Vanilla ice cream for serving

In a bowl, toss the rhubarb with the white sugar and lemon juice. Set aside.

To prepare the crumble, in a bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Cut in half of the butter.

Rub the bottom of a metal cake pan with soft butter. Add the rhubarb. Top with the crumble.  Place on the grill at medium heat. Grill for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with ice cream.

Grilled Rhubarb Crisp

Sunday, April 30, 2017

In Mint Condition... Celebrating the Kentucky Derby

The most exciting two minutes in sports is just days away. On Saturday, May 6, horseracing’s finest thoroughbreds will take their post positions during the 143rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.

I had the pleasure of living in the Bluegrass State for 10 years, from middle school through college. This was when my love affair with the Derby began. 

As a horse-crazed tween, I soon learned that the Derby was about much more than just one, two-minute race. It’s an experience like no other with fancy hats and dresses, mouthwatering southern food, bouquets upon bouquets of red roses, and posh parties all playing an integral role.


Create a centerpiece by arranging red roses in a silver trophy bowl.

It was not until I was a freshman at Eastern Kentucky University when I was able to make my first visit to Louisville for Derby Day, which also happened to fall on my 19th birthday. 

Being my birthday, I was feeling very lucky, so I wagered all of my cash on a horse named Cousin Jen. Her performance yielded me $4.

Create wine stopper party favors by drilling holes in wine corks and then adding trophy toppers. Add a little epoxy to the holes before screwing in the toppers.

As it was a very warm day, it seemed only fitting to sample a refreshing Mint Julep. Having no prior experience in the bourbon department, I enthusiastically took a big gulp of my julep. Wrong move! 

I couldn’t seem to get the rest of it down the hatch, but I did take great comfort in knowing that I got to keep the cute souvenir glass it came in. Twenty some years later, my collection of Derby glasses has grown to 39, and my love for the Derby remains the same. Bourbon… not so much.

When planning your party menu, think southern. 

If you’re not able to make it to Louisville for the Derby, here are two essential recipes you will need to celebrate at home:

Woodford Reserve Classic Mint Julep
2 ounces Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
½ ounce simple syrup
3 fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice

Express the essential oils in the mint and rub them inside the glass. 

To the same glass, add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice. Stir. Garnish with more ice and fresh mint.
(Recipe from kentuckyderby.com)

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie is a decadent Derby Day dessert.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie
Nothing says southern like bourbon and pecans. Throw in some chocolate and you’ve got a decadent dessert to take your party across the finish line.

Makes 6-8 servings
½ (14.1 ounce) package refrigerated pie crusts
1 ½ cups chopped toasted pecans
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup dark corn syrup
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon or water
4 large eggs
¼ cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons plain white cornmeal
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon table salt

Heat oven to 325 F. Fit pie crust into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp. Sprinkle pecan and chocolate evenly onto bottom of pie crust.

Stir together corn syrup and next 3 ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk together eggs and next 4 ingredients. Gradually whisk one-fourth of hot corn syrup mixture into egg mixture; add to remaining hot corn syrup mixture, whisking constantly. Pour filling into prepared pie crust.

Bake for 55 minutes or until set; cool pie completely on a wire rack for 1 hour.

(Recipe from southernliving.com)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hop to It - Set the Table for Easter

Spring has sprung, and it’s time to adorn your buffet and dining table for Easter entertaining. For inspiration, look no further than the farmstead. A few colorful, garden-themed accessories will deliver a bright and festive backdrop with a touch of whimsy, perfect for children and adults alike, not to mention Peter Cottontail.

Farmers Market Basket

Try these ideas when designing your holiday table:

Farmers Market Basket
Skip the jelly beans and peeps, and fill a rustic Easter basket with moss-covered eggs; faux veggies such as cabbages, radishes, and lettuce leaves; and toss in a few burlap-wrapped carrots.

Create the base for the arrangement by stuffing crumpled newspapers into the bottom of the basket. Arrange veggies and eggs on the top, then tuck handfuls of Spanish moss between veggies to fill in holes and hide the newspapers.
Sources: moss eggs, Hobby Lobby; carrots, Pier 1 Imports; basket, Pottery Barn. 

Very Veggie Napkin Rings

Very Veggie Napkin Rings
Add a little “carroture” to your napkins. To create napkin rings from recycled paper towel tubes, make a vertical cut through the entire length of each tube, then cut the tubes into 1 ½ inch pieces.

Lay each tube piece on a 6-inch piece of burlap ribbon. Bring the sides of the ribbon up and around the tube and secure with hot glue. Overlap ends of tubes and glue together. 

To hide the seam, hot glue on silk flowers, mini cabbages, twine-wrapped carrots or other veggies.
Sources: burlap ribbon and mini carrots, Hobby Lobby.

Farm-Fresh Decorating Accents

Green Accents
Add some texture to your table by arranging a few potted plants, mosses or grasses between serving dishes. 

Whether you prefer fresh or faux greenery, it’s your choice. There’s no wrong way.   
Source: faux grass pots and ceramic pots, IKEA.

Garden Bunnies Centerpiece

Garden Bunnies Centerpiece
Fill a large box, bowl, tray or basket with crumpled up newspapers to give your display some height. Cover newspapers with Spanish moss. If you want to add candle holders into the arrangement, place them in before the newspapers. Just be sure to use battery-operated candles for safety.

Arrange Easter decorative items such as bunnies and chicks, carrots, and Easter eggs over the moss. 

An oversized twig birds nest was tucked in to the arrangement for additional texture. Fill in any empty spaces with additional moss.
Sources: wooden box, The Butter Barn; bunnies, Pier 1 Imports.

Farmers Market Basket

More Farm-Fresh Decorating Ideas

Serve water and juices from vintage milk bottles.

Line a galvanized bucket with a plastic insert and use as an ice bucket.

With garden twine, tie a new gardening spade onto the bucket handle to serve as the ice scoop.

Corral silverware in terracotta flower pots.

Use recycled grocery store berry containers to hold cut veggies, crackers or nuts.

White or neutral-colored serving dishes allow the food to take center stage.  

Drape a moss-covered runner over the buffet to brighten the background of your display.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Eat Your Spinach...Morning, Noon and Night

There seems to be a special day for everything these days. You know where I'm going with this... Sunday is National Spinach Day! That’s a good thing because it gives me the opportunity to share a few recipes for using this glorious green.

Spinach Breakfast Frittata

Spinach is not only versatile in cooking, it’s really good for you. One of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, spinach is low in calories and high in vitamins. 

It gets even better; according to the USDA, spinach is fat free, saturated fat free, cholesterol free and high in dietary fiber. In addition, those dark green leaves are high in vitamins A and C, high in iron, high in folate, and a good source of magnesium. What’s not to love?

Here are a few recipes to help you enjoy your spinach at breakfast, lunch and dinnertime.

Spinach Breakfast Frittata
Like a quiche without the crust, frittatas are a versatile dish that can be modified for all tastes. With lots of veggies, plus eggs and cheese, a frittata will give you the nutrients and protein you need to get your day off to a great start.

Servings: 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
2 medium carrots, shredded and chopped
8 large fresh mushrooms, chopped
5 ounces fresh spinach
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese blend
(or any combination of cheese you like)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

Heat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep-dish pie plate with olive oil spray. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion, bell pepper and carrot until they begin to soften. Add mushrooms and then spinach. Cook until spinach wilts. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add sautéed veggies and mix well. Pour mixture into pie plate. Bake for 35-40 or until frittata has set.
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple)

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
This bright and colorful salad is wonderful on its own, or give it an extra boost of protein by adding sliced grilled chicken or steak.

Servings: 4
½ cup walnuts
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup strawberries, thinly sliced
8 ounces baby spinach

1 shallot, peeled and quartered
¼ cup Champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a blender, add vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper. Pulse until mixture is smooth. Slowly stream oil into mixture and pulse until blended. Refrigerate leftover dressing.
(Vinaigrette recipe adapted from marthastewart.com)

Greek Spinach Pasta
This pasta dish is loaded with fresh spinach, and you can control the amount of feta that you use, making it healthier than lasagna or other cheesy pasta dishes. Don’t shy away from the cinnamon in it though. It gives the dish just enough sweetness to balance the tartness of the spinach and feta.

Servings 4 
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons minced garlic
15-ounce can tomato sauce
½ cup dry red wine (optional)
8 ounces penne pasta
A few handfuls of fresh spinach
Crumbled feta
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, brown ground beef and onion. Drain well. Add oregano, cinnamon, garlic, tomato sauce and wine to beef mixture. Simmer over low heat.
Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Stir pasta and fresh spinach into beef mixture. Simmer until spinach wilts. Add crumbled feta to taste. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple)