At Home with John Newman

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Getting Ready for Spring

We have begun working outside at Crest Avenue.  It is time to clean up the deck or the patio, or both, and get ready for outdoor entertainment.  'Tis the season for cocktails and canapes alfresco.

The first thing we do every year at Crest Avenue is clean the deck.  Initially, a good rinse with the garden hose helps to remove all of the winter debris.  We will come back later with a good scrubbing with the scrub brush that attaches to the hose.  But for now it is presentable for company.  I gave these two chairs a good cleaning with soap and water and then went over them with a Mister Clean sponge to remove mold and mildew.  If you have not used the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponges, you must get some today.  They are wonderful!  And they will clean your outdoor furniture like you would never believe.  I bought new chair cushions which are very smart looking.  And the table is new also. All from Home Depot.

We needed to buy a new lawnmower this year.  The Toro somehow mysteriously disappeared from the garden shed.  But not to worry.  It gave me an opportunity to try one of these new battery powered lawnmowers from the WORX line.  I have several garden tools from WORX and I am quite pleased with them.  As I said, this lawnmower runs on a battery, so you are not dealing with power cords.  I have never used an electric mower.  I can tell you that this mower is much lighter than the Toro.  And it will be much quieter than the Toro.  It is worth it to me just for the noise factor.  No more pulling cords and hoping it starts and running to get gas and oil and all of that.  I do not see how this could be a worse experience.

It came very snugly packed.  All the parts were there.  Assembly was a complete and total breeze.  I did it on the deck using a phillips head screwdriver.

A few minutes later, it was all put together and waiting for a charged battery to begin grooming the yard.  That large space in the rear is where the battery sits.  It is fully charged in 6-7 hours.  This model has a bag attachment to catch the grass clippings.  I prefer to catch the grass clippings and dispose of them or use them as mulch.

So, check back in with us in the coming weeks and look for our review of the WORX battery powered mower.  I expect great things!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mac and Cheese Done Right!

I love macaroni and cheese.  Who doesn't.  I don't think I have ever had anyone tell me they do not like macaroni and cheese.  But if you are going to have macaroni and cheese, it needs to be done right.  None of this orange stuff in a bowl that it heated in a microwave.  That is not macaroni and cheese.  Follow me through my recipe for delicious macaroni and cheese and you will be delighted when you make it for your family.

Crest Avenue Macaroni and Cheese

1-1/2 - 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup real butter
1/4 cup copped onion, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-2/4 cups whole milk
8 ounces Gruyere

Cook macaroni as directed on package (usually 10 minutes in boiling water for elbow macaroni). Cook and stir butter, onion, salt and pepper over medium heat until onion is slightly tender.  Stir in flour.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in milk.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir 1 minute.  Remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted.
Place macaroni in ungreased 1-1/2 quart casserole dish.  Stir cheese sauce into macaroni.  Bake uncovered in 375℉ oven for 30 minutes.

So, let's get started.

We start with the milk at top, butter, onion, flour, gruyere, salt and pepper.  I neglected to take the price tag off the gruyere before I photographed this.  I just realized that as I was posting.  Yes, ... eight ounces of good gruyere will cost you $8.29.  But it is so worth it!

Let the gruyere sit on the counter until it is room temperature.  This is very important.  Then cut into 1/2" cubes.

The elbow macaroni was cooking while I was preparing the rest of the ingredients.  Cook for 10 minutes in salted water, then drain, but do not rinse.  Just let it sit in the colander while you prepare the rest of the dish.

I used the same pot I boiled the macaroni to cook the onions in butter and salt and white pepper. Watch this very closely.  You do not want the onions to brown at all.  You just want them tender. Stir continually.  This will take one minute or less.

Once the butter has fully melted and the salt and pepper are incorporated, this is what you should see.

Add the flour and stir.  Continue to stir until the flour is completely mixed in.

This is how it should look.  You are working fast during these steps.  A minute is about all you need for both steps.  Lift the pan from the heat by one side if you feel it is cooking too fast.  We are not browning anything.  Just incorporating.

Stir in the milk and increase temperature to high to bring the mixture to a boil.  Boil and stir one minute being careful not to burn the mixture.  Remove from heat.

After about one minute, this is your mixture.  This is perfectly done.

Drop in the cubed gruyere and stir until melted or at least until it is mostly melted.

Remove the macaroni from the colander to an ungreased casserole dish.

Give your cream and cheese sauce another stir.

Then add the cream and cheese sauce over top of the cooked macaroni.

Stir together using a rubber spatula.  The one I used in the cream and cheese sauce is perfect.  It has a nice sturdy wooden handle and the spatula is shaped like a large plastic spoon end but it is flexible.  It will not tear the macaroni.  Place the casserole dish in the lower half of the oven and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Turn at 15 minutes.

And thirty minutes later this is what will emerge.  The most beautiful macaroni and cheese casserole you have ever seen.  This is hot.  Hot, hot, hot!!!!  It will need to set for at least 30 minutes before it is suitable for table.

I served it, cubed, on white plates with sliced, baked chicken breasts, coleslaw and gravy.  I added some green and yellow squash noodles atop the chicken for presentation.  And a drizzle of the chicken gravy over the mac and cheese cubes.

I simply cannot tell you how delicious this is.  It is even better the next day.  It is delicious hot.  It is delicious cold.  It is delicious with chicken gravy.  It is delicious with marinara.  It is delicious, ... period.  I hope you will try it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Version of V8

I love V8.  Not everyone does, but I do.  If you do not like the tomato based V8, there are many different flavors of V8 these days.  There are fruit versions which I am sure are quite delicious. Unfortunately the fruit versions have way too many carbs and sugar for me.  I am already fighting the battle of Type II diabetes, so carbs and sugar are not my friend.  Actually, the tomato based V8 has a higher sugar content than you might expect, but it is manageable.  I quite enjoy the original version and the spicy hot.  But sometimes the spicy hot is a little too spicy hot.  So here is what I do.

Here we have a 64 ounce bottle original V8 and a 64 ounce bottle of spicy hot V8.  I like to mix them together.  It mellows out the spiciness of the spicy hot and adds a little umph to the original.

I use a large, clean, stainless steel bowl.

I pour both containers of juice into the bowl and then stir together with a large wooden spoon.

Then, into the pantry closet to retrieve a vessel into which I transfer the blended juice.

This handy little measuring bowl with a built in spout is perfect for this project.  Scoop by scoop from the stainless steel bowl until our carafe is filled to the brim.

Then into the bottom of the refrigerator door alongside the carafe with the organic cranberry juice. You can pick up these carafes at several different locations.  I have seen them in CVS, Wal-Mart and Target.  They are good for everyday use.

Of course, if you do not like V8 juice, maybe you like orange juice and pineapple juice.  You could mix those together.  I don't know how that would taste because I have never done that, but I imagine it would be pretty good.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Birthday Treats for Two Special Friends

I had two birthdays last week for two very dear friends.  These two women are very important in my life and have been for many years now.  Of course they have everything, so we do not make birthday celebrations a time to exchange gifts.  Rather it is just a time to say Happy Birthday, let's get started on another year in your life, here is a trinket or a goody to acknowledge your day, and I love you! Birthday recognition need not be elaborate.  It needs to be be heartfelt.  And I think I accomplished that.

Double Chocolate Vanilla for Yvonne and Sea Salt & Caramel Vanilla for Melinda
Both of these girls love cupcakes.  So, I thought a gift of a cupcake for each would be perfect.  They are both skinny, so I do not get the relationship between their love of cupcakes and their svelte figures, but hey, if you can eat cupcakes and stay a size 2, go for it.

I planned this just perfectly.  I picked up the cupcakes from Whole Foods.  There is a CVS right next door where I picked up the greeting cards.  And the Container Store was across the street.  I got two food grade boxes with clear cellophane tops, one for each cupcake from the Container Store.

Each cupcake in its own box.  We just needed to close the tops and get the cupcakes in the bags and ready to present.

I found the perfect sized gift bags in the Container Store for each boxed cupcake.  Very subtle. Understated.  Not at all garish.  I loved the grosgrain ribbon handles.  A nice touch.

Each box fit neatly inside the bags.  I was very pleased with this.

Next, to the cards.  For Yvonne, this elegant "Ooh La La" card.

A very appropriate greeting inside.  My little handwritten message in the lower right hand corner, "Friends Forever".

And to Melinda, my bestie with a shoe and purse collection any woman would be proud to show off, this was the only card that would do.

It was as if this greeting had been written especially for her.  Both of these cards were from the new Hallmark Signature collection.  These Signature collection cards are really wonderful.  Yes, they are a little more expensive, but so worth it.

Yvonne's cupcake and card left on her desk early in the morning before her arrival at the office.

And Melinda's on her desk early in the morning.

These were very favorably received.  Both ladies were quick to call and thank me for their delicious birthday treats.  A simple acknowledgement of a friends special day is the perfect way to say "Happy Birthday", "All the Best", "I love you".

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hello Spring!

Officially, ... as of 6:29 a.m. today, spring has sprung.  And not a day too soon for me.  I love spring, summer and especially fall.  But winter, even a mild winter, is not a favorite season for me.  I'm so glad to see you again spring!

Spring Tulips

It looks like we are going to have spring tulips at Crest Avenue after all.  For those of you who live in the Mid-Atlantic you are familiar with our very warm winter and then our arctic blast the past couple weeks which brought snow and ice to the region.  I was concerned that this shift to frigid temperatures would wreak havoc with the tulips bulbs.  But from what I am seeing, I may be wrong.

Here, a group of claudia tulips

A picture of claudia tulips in bloom

And here a grouping of parrot tulips.

A picture of parrot tulips in bloom.

I am very hopeful that the cold weather over the past few weeks is not going to affect the eventual blossoms we are expecting.  Beautiful, vibrant tulips in the spring garden are a welcome sight every year.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lint Traps for the Laundry Room

Who wants the drain in their laundry room to run clear and without interruption at all times?  We all do. Who wants the drain in their laundry room to be clogged and for the water to back up and flood the basement or your laundry area on the first floor?  Nobody.  So today, we are talking about steps we can take to prevent problems happening in the drain in the laundry area.

As our clothes and blankets and other house items are agitated in the tub of our washing machines, it is only natural that certain of the fabrics are loosed into the water and then expelled from the machine in the wastewater as lint.  Obviously, this can be problematic.

At Crest Avenue we have a laundry tub right next to the washing machine to catch the wash and rinse water.  The hose from the washing machine rests on the side of the sink and the water is drained from the washing machine into the sink.

As is the case with many, if not all of these style laundry tubs, there is this "X" design in the bottom of the drain which is helpful in catching a certain amount of lint.  If you use this as your main source of keeping lint from accumulating in the drain, you must remember to clean it out often.

For many years, I have used these Peerless lint traps.  They come two to a pack and they last for a good long time.  At least for me they do.  How long they last for you will depend on how often you do laundry and the size of the loads of laundry.

Here we have retrieved one of the lint traps from the package along with the adjustable plastic tie that will hold it in place on the drain hose.

I decided recently that I wanted to add an additional layer of lint capture by installing this laundry tub lint trapper to the laundry tub drain.

Very good design here.  It is designed to fit drains of two different diameters.

Installation is a breeze.  The Lint Trapper simply sits inside the drain.  You need only push down on the top until it stops.  It is a snug fit so you need not worry about it coming out of the drain when the rinse water enters the tub.

And here is our laundry tub fully outfitted and ready to begin wash day.

I wanted to share one final picture with you of the laundry tub with the rinse water from a load of laundry.  You see that the water comes very near the top of the Lint Trapper but not above.  We can now be assured that we have taken as many steps as possible to avoid a clogged drain in the laundry room.
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