Monday, December 31, 2012

A DC Year in Review, 2012

Click to enlarge!

2012 was another fun year! Though I didn't go on a cool trip Italy this year, I still try to make every day special anyway—locally and in my own back yard. Readers popped in from all over the globe. Not surprisingly, the most visits came from the good old USA, and, like last year, second in rank was Russia. Visitors also came from the usual list of countries... China, the UK, Canada, Italy, Germany, France, and Australia, India, the Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Turkey, Mexico, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Ghana, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Latvia, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Iraq, Romania, Bulgaria, Egypt, Dubai, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Moldova. Thanks you all for stopping by, whether you have me bookmarked on your computers or find me via a web search.
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I got the most visits this year on my smokey tomato soup post, which was published on Guess I should give them a shout-out for all the traffic! Foodies also visited my Anna + Mary for Brunch post (our Bloody Mary and Pommes Anna brunch), and my Pesto tortellini appie post. That last one sort of surprised me because it was such a simple creation. Sometimes it's just the simple things though, right? The second most popular post this year was called Stealing from the peacock, where I shared several of my blue and green paintings. I'm glad that those the tomato soup post and this peacock painting post were the most popular this year because they were my creations. 

The rest are in no particular order: On my Sticks and stones post, I tipped my hat to the outdoor artist Andy Goldsworthy, which generated a lot of visitsOther artsy visitors clicked on my post about Vintage Envelope artist Mark Powell and paper artist Sabeena Karnik, on my ABCs post.

Louise Bourgeois and Veronica Lake from my Gorgeous portrait series generated large interest. People who visited my Split personality post were very curious about a rare black and orange lobster, and armchair travelers visited my Carnevale de Venezia post. Foo dogs from my own garden and Chinese dragons from my Happy Chinese New Year! were also popular posts. Cape Cod fans visited our Cape Light post, where Dan and I shared several of our photos from an autumn visit there. Still very popular from 2011 has been my Rhinoceros posting about the rhino in art through the ages and in various mediums (paintings, sculptures, etc.), especially Salvador Dali's rhino sculpture. Bernini's Apollo and Daphne post in September still gets lots and lots of visits. Who knew those two kids were so popular? And Shakespeare's Tempest post from 2011 still brings readers to my blog. I also have to mention my pink Hérmes scarf... always a favorite. And finally, seems lots of you visitors were interested A clean slate— starting the year out fresh. and new. Which brings us full circle to the end of 2012 and the start of 2013. 

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Thanks again for visiting the DC blog throughout the year, and be well!

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012


photo, Diane Carnevale

This cherub, with a winter crown of ivy and berries, stands by 
my side door and always welcomes me home.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A warm fire

photo, Diane Carnevale

It's a cold, dark, raw, rainy, and snowy day here...
Which means its an excellent day to curl up in a cozy chair by 
a roaring fire. This was the fire at my brother's house on Christmas day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A panoply of wonderment!

photos, Diane Carnevale

This Christmas, instead of our usual appetizers and formal sit down dinner, our family decided to do "just appetizers." Elegant appetizers. We still used the good plates, silverware, and linen napkins, but we really shook up the food style. Being in a family of creative cooks, we'd never just serve up a bowl of chips, so there was quite an amazing variety of homemade culinary delights! Pictured from top row, left to right, are:

Row 1: mac + cheese (ok, this was just for the kids— read on, it gets better), Italian-style pancetta-topped Clams Casino, chicken- and meat-filled Dominican-style empenadas (I forget the name of them), and a spectacular platter of lobster tails, king crab legs and shrimp, the latter of which was blanched in white wine and garlic. Warm butter was nearby!

Row 2: a platter of various fruits, cheeses and crackers, a baked brie, several magnums of prosecco, and endless platters of littleneck clams and  4 different kinds of oysters. Insane! The tradition is that we all do oyster "shooters," either straight up or with any combination of cocktail or hot sauce, and... vodka!

Row 3: dried apricot and pistachio white chocolate bark, crab-stuffed cucumber (lump crab, of course!), Greek baklava, and an old-school-retro-family tradition: asparagus rollups. A party isn't a party without them in our family.

Row 4: crab- and parmesan-stuffed mushrooms, prosciutto-wrapped mango and avocado, salad of baby greens, raspberries, pomegranate seeds, blue cheese and candied pecans, and Oysters Rockerfeller in phyllo cups.

Thing is, the above photos don't even show all of what was on the table! Not shown here were stuffed Greek grape leaves, the tenderest beef tenderloin sandwiches ever (with a blue cheese horseradish spread), mushroom ravioli, various spring rolls (including a southwest one), grilled lamb chops and mahi-mahi, meatballs in a San Marzano tomato sauce, and lots of other desserts, including mom's chocolate cake. Bravo everyone, well done. It truly was a panoply of wonderment. Maybe a little too much wonderment. So will we do "just appies" again next year? Hmm... time for a family vote. Harry doesn't care either way, as long as he gets some scraps.

Harry (my brother's dog), waiting patiently for handouts.

Monday, December 24, 2012

’Twas the Night before Christmas

I've got quite a collection of "the Night Before Christmas" books-- some are from when I was a little girl—many, many Christmases ago. The story, and some of the illustrators, never fail to make me smile. Here's the  full poem, in case you haven't read it in a while.

Twas the Night before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore 

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. 
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, 
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there. 

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, 
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads. 
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, 
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap. 

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, 
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. 
Away to the window I flew like a flash, 
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. 

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow 
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below. 
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, 
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer. 

With a little old driver, so lively and quick, 
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick. 
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, 
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name! 

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! 
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen! 
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! 
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!" 

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, 
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky. 
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, 
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too. 

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof 
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof. 
As I drew in my head, and was turning around, 
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound. 

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, 
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. 
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back, 
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack. 

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! 
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! 
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, 
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow. 

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, 
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath. 
He had a broad face and a little round belly, 
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly! 

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, 
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself! 
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, 
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread. 

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, 
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk. 
And laying his finger aside of his nose, 
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose! 

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, 
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. 
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, 
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fruits + sprigs

A bowl of citrus fruits and sprigs of pine combine to make an gorgeous Christmas decoration. This is the magic touch of my Sister-in-Law, Sheri.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Bob Goulet of botany

In Tru, the witty play about Truman Capote, Actor Robert Morse once quipped that "Poinsettias are the Bob Goulet of botany." Then he tossed the plant out the back door while singing Goulet’s signature song, “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Hilarious. I happen to not be a big fan of the ubiquitous Christmas poinsettia plant. They seem so forced and unnatural to me. Maybe because I usually only see them looking lonely in a corner by themselves... still in their shiny aluminum wrappers. When fresh from the greenhouse, a good specimen can actually be striking, especially en masse. And I do like the ivory colored ones, and I admit the peach ones are beautiful too. But the red ones... to me they're a little smaltzy, a little Bob Goulet. Sorry Bob.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter solstice cocktail

This is a nice way to welcome winter! 
It's a Winter Solstice cocktail, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mossy urns and cherubs

photo, Diane Carnevale

More winter interest in the garden... These abandoned looking mossy urns and cherub are peeking out of a bed of ivy in a shady corner of my back yard. It's a nice little surprise to stumble upon at any time of year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Deliciously sweet

Deliciously sweet and buttery, baklava is an annual Christmas tradition in our family. My mom used to make it, but this culinary labor of love has since been passed down to me. We both learned to make it from a neighbor, Manya (Manishka), who was Russian and Polish, but married to a gregarious Greek man. Oh the exotic, ethnic creations that came out of Manya's kitchen! Remember, this was back in the late 60s when Swanson's frozen dinners were all the rage. This stuff was utterly foreign to us kids in the 'hood. For this sweet treat, a sugary syrup, infused with a little honey and lemon, is poured over the piping hot baklava. Delicate layers of phyllo dough, ground walnuts and cinnamon soak up the sweetness and the result is sublime. Yes, it's obscenely sweet—but oh so scrumptious! 

Here's a slice of baklava, so you can see all the glorious layers, and here are the diamonds of baklava, all cradled in waxed purple, baking cups ready for the bring to parties. Here's how to make it:

Making the baklava syrup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1/2 lemon

I make the syrup a day or even a week ahead. In a saucepan, combine all of the syrup ingredients and bring to a boil. Careful, it will spill over if the pan is too small! Reduce heat to low and barely simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Spoon off any foam that develops, ad strain to remove cinnamon stick, lemon, and any lemon seeds. Chill until ready to use. 

Making the baklava
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2-3 sticks of melted butter
1 + 1/2 packages (16 ounces) phyllo dough

Combine walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in food processor, blend to fine. Put in bowl and set aside. Melt 2-3 sticks of melted butter over a double boiler and set aside. You will need a pastry brush so have that ready as well.

Unroll phyllo dough sheets, and cut your stack to exactly fit into your tall sided sheet pan. Keep the dough covered with a slightly damp cloth while assembling. Don't forget to do this because once the dough dries out it will shatter into a million pieces unless it's been covered with butter. 

With your production line all set up, you can start assembling the baklava! Place one sheet of phyllo dough in your pan, and brush every inch with butter. Top with a second sheet, and brush with butter. Repeat this for about 12 layers. Then start sprinkling in about 1 tbsp of the nut mixture on each layer. Repeat this around 18 times—layering with a sheet of dough, brushing with butter and sprinkling with the nut mixture. Keep pressing down each layer with your hands to compress it. For the final top 12 or so layers, stop putting the nuts on—it should just be butter and phyllo dough again, like the first 12 layers. When you're all done layering, cut into 2-inch diamonds with a very sharp knife. 

Bake uncovered in a 350° oven for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown. When baklava is done, remove from oven and pour on the cooled baklava syrup. Wait for several hours for all the syrup to absorb in each layer before cutting and putting into individual cups. 

Baklava will last for several weeks, so you can make it in advance of the holiday madness and it will keep just fine as long as it's properly covered. Write with questions if you have any!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Poms and pine cones

photo, Diane Carnevale

Bright, red balls of Christmas cheer...pomegranates paired with giant pine cones. I had these outside on the door step but a critter walked off with one of the poms. Nice knowing that whoever it was, probably a raccoon, got a nice dose of antioxidants.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The color alabaster!

Inspired by... the color alabaster.

To see more colors, click on the "color blocks" label below. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wild about Wilde, #4

The only thing worse than being 
talked about is not being talked about.
—Oscar Wilde

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This is another in my series of Oscar Wilde witticisms. In my humble opinion, O.W. was one of the cleverest men in literature. Loved him! Click on the red Wild about Wilde label below to read more Wilde witticisms.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saltimbocca alla Romana

photo, Dan Ryan

In Italian, saltimbocca literally translates to "jump in the mouth." Veal saltimbocca alla Romana is a classic combination of succulent veal, salty proscuitto, sage, butter and marsala wine. What's not to love? We have this with sides of sautéed spinach with garlic and grated nutmeg, and a twirl of angel hair pasta. It definitely jumps in your mouth!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Winter grass

This lovely mass planting of ornamental grass is at a park in Charlestown near where I work. Love that ornamental grass has four seasons of interest.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tree time

Time to get that Christmas tree! 
How will you decorate yours this year?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Colorful compost

Compost should be colorful, right? All those kitchen scraps and garden bits and bobs mixed with brown leaves are what do the magic. This pile of autumn decorations, destined for the compost heap, was so colorful I had to snap a picture. Stalks of majestic, (once burgundy colored) millet lie on top of orange gourds and pumpkins, purple ornamental cabbage, and lime green osage orange balls. In a year or so they should all be turned into black gold.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mini turkey meatballs

A stash of mini turkey meatballs in the freezer is a versatile thing... So many possibilities. The obvious way to enjoy them is with an Italian marinara sauce, either on their own or with a little pasta. But they could also be transformed into many kinds of ethnic meals. How about a Vietnamese glazed meatball to place in a lettuce cup along with sliced veggies? Or how about simmering them in a curry sauce for an Indian inspired meal? They could go into a Greek pita salad or wrap with feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, kalamata olives, cucumbers and a Greek salad dressing. And speaking of Greece, click here to see a Greek avgolemono soup with these mini meatballs. They'd make a muy bueño Tex-Mex appie when simmered in a smokey chipotle salsa and served with a chipotle crema dipping sauce. Get creative! Mini meatballs, maximum possibilities. 

1 pound lean ground turkey breast
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup non fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup Hellman's mayo
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 of a small onion, minced

Sauté the minced garlic and diced onion in the olive oil. Let cool a bit. Mix the mayo, yogurt and panko crumbs together. Combine all other ingredients in a big bowl. Mix, but be careful not to overwork the meat because it can make it tough. Shape the mixture into bite-size balls. Add to a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of aluminum foil and drizzled with olive oil so it won't stick. Bake meatballs in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes. I usually broil the meatballs for an extra five minutes to give them some color.

On top of spa-gheeeeeetti….

Shown below, these same meatballs have been super-sized up to make big meatballs, which after cooking got a nice hot bath in some zesty marinara sauce. After simmering for about 20 minutes, the sauce tasted meaty and the meatballs tasted saucy! We had the meatballs with their favorite pal, spaghetti..

Thursday, December 6, 2012


photo, Diane Carnevale

Mr. Cardinal enjoyed a snack of sunflower seeds 
this weekend, after a light dusting of snow.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The art of ironing

Like to iron? This artist does. 
This plain old white sheet has been skillfully ironed into a piece of 
iconic art. It's the result of a clever ad campaign for a Russian iron company. 
Click below to watch the master iron artist at work!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A rosy blush

The rosy blush of a cranberry cocktail gets me in the holiday spirit!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Country mouse, city mouse

When I was little, one of my favorite books was called Country Mouse, City Mouse, where the little mice visit each other's homes to see how the other one lives. It's adorable! They each have unexpected adventures around every corner. That sums up how I feel working in the city all day, then coming back home to the country. I never know what I might encounter in each environment.

illustration by Scott Gustafson

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Accipiter cooperii

photo by Mark Tries

This beautiful Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii ) photo was taken recently by my neighbor Mark, an avid bird water and nature lover. He took the photo from close distance of about 15 feet! I did a little photoshop work on the background to show the hawk's silhouette off more. The hawk is a handsome fellah, and looks well fed, doesn't he? 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Snail mail

photo, Diane Carnevale

Most folks have forgotten the long lost art of writing a letter the old fashioned, snail mail waywith paper and pen. To me, receiving something in the mail besides a bill is a joy. A note to say hi, words of encouragement, a sympathy card after a death, or a thank you note—are all treasures. One exception to this dying tradition is Christmas cards. I still send and receive lots, and opening up every one makes me smile. Yeah, we're all busy, and yeah, stamps have gotten more expensive, but this really is a nice way to tell someone you care. So go buy those cards and stamps, pour yourself a glass of spiked egg nog, and get writing!