A Christmas Star Story

My husband and I shared our first married Christmas 36 years ago and of that first happy experience came a special star story to share with you.

Now these were the early days when Mike would still shop with me and try really hard to act like he enjoyed it. We were both working full time in downtown Cincinnati and of course we worked very long hours, trying to build careers. And as amazing as this sounds now, Mike handled all the money even though we were both working. I put my salary in the bank every Friday (no direct deposit then) and Mike would “give” me money as I needed, but of course I had to ask. This was 1973 and this was how the world was.

We both had grown up in families that always had real Christmas trees. Artificial trees were not so readily available and the only person I knew that actually had one was my Tete Menka. She had a magical silver tree (which I am sure was made of some weird metallic polyester fiber) that was on a revolving stand, and had colored lights. As the stand moved, the tree rotated and the lights changed color. Wow, this was stupendous. Anyway, one night after work Mike and I went to Natorp’s, a nice nursery in Cincinnati, to choose a tree. I was so excited but of course he was “the man” and had to approve my choices and the cost. We chose a tree and on the way to the car, I passed a display of tree toppers. One was a gold star that lit up and it cost the absolutely amazing price of $7.99. This was a big deal, considering a 7’ tree cost 10 bucks.

I so wanted this star – it put stars in my eyes. So Mike smiled at me and said, yes, we could afford it. He placed it at the top of the tree in 1973 and it has been our tree topper every year since. The lights of course burned out long ago, but I wired tree lights into it and it still shines brightly. We have been blessed with so much in our lives, and every year when I see this star I am reminded of how fortunate we are to still have each other and our beautiful star. I am sure you all have a similar story and I hope you share it this year. Merry Christmas and special blessings to all of you from BECKY KNOWS EVERYTHING!!


Share Your Holiday Photos

Sometimes it is easy to get stuck in the rut with your holiday decor. If you have some fresh ideas to share with other Becky Knows Everything readers, send them to me at beckybarras@hotmail.com. I will post them along with some photos of my own holiday decor. Happy Holidays!


Your Holiday Home

So first off, I apologize for not posting the last week or so, but I took a trip to NYC to enjoy the holiday magic and to help a friend with some design work. I will write more about my NYC adventures soon. As Christmas nears, I know most of you probably have already finished your holiday decorating but I thought you might enjoy a few last minute tips to make your décor even more special. Remember, bigger is almost always better (except in a weight loss program) and statements of design are the key to making your home a little different than the neighbors.

Candles: Having a nice candle centerpiece on your dining room table is fine but having multiple votives all around the centerpiece, all through your bookshelves and lined up in a row on your sofa table will make your room beautiful. Use cream or white votives please, that way any color or style of votive holder will work.

Flowers or Greenery: I once worked for a fabulous designer and she had us to her home at Christmas. She purchased about 30 small pots of white cyclamen from the florist and placed them on every flat surface she could find. She scattered votives amongst them and I cannot emphasize enough how magical the space was. She lined them up on the fireplace and the candles reflected in the mirror above. Cyclamen are now available at your grocery store florist, greenhouses or retail florists.

On my own entry table I have a huge clear vase my sister bought for me. Every year for the holidays I fill it with pine and cedar branches and large sprays of silvery, glittery faux stems. One year the tape unwound from the faux branches and colored the water a not so pretty brown color. I changed the water and added a teaspoon of red food coloring and what a pretty change that made!!

Glass Bowls: Enough cannot be said about how pretty a glass bowl can be for the holidays when filled with floating flowers, silver or gold ornaments or pinecones with a red plaid ribbon. You can even spray paint the pinecones. We all have those glass salad bowls people gave us years ago and they really do a nice job at Christmas. You can put a candle in them with silver marbles or even fill them with candy. I personally prefer Lindor truffles.

Lights: You can never have enough lights. I even put lights up the sides and across my dining room window treatment. Mix them with greenery and swag the mantle, the staircase, your mirrors (I love it when people even decorate the powder room mirror). Light up your doorways too. The simple mini clear lights are so inexpensive and available everywhere, so buy a few more 100 strands and get going.

There you go, now take what you have already done and add to it to make it even more special!!

Photos from Pottery Barn


Cookie Magic

JBM writes: "Do you happen to have any crowd pleasing cookie recipes that package beautifully? I'm planning on having one of those cookie parties and want to knock the socks off the old chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin."

Well JBM….OF COURSE, I have a few recipes that are unusual – one from my sister (a wonderful baker) and one from me. Here you go:

Coconut Chews

¾ c. shortening (you can use Crisco or half butter and half Crisco)
¾ c. powdered sugar
1 ½ c. flour
2 eggs
2 tbs. flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1c. brown sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
½ c. chopped walnuts
½ c. coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream shortening (or shortening and butter mix) and powdered sugar. Blend in flour. Press into bottom of ungreased 9x13 pan and bake 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Mix remaining ingredients and spread over hot baked crust. Bake 20 minutes longer.

For the icing you will need to mix 1 ½ c. powdered sugar, 2 tbs. butter (melted), 3 tsp. orange juice and 1 tsp. lemon juice until smooth. Spread on cookies while they are still warm. These can also be made without the icing but I think it adds a festive touch. Cool and cut in squares.

Cheesecake Cookies

My mom discovered this recipe years ago and it is a family/friend favorite. I actually have a friend that wants me to make him a whole recipe of these instead of gifting him with my cookie assortment each year. They are yummy but they do need to be refrigerated since it is a cheesecake.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crust mix together 1/3 c. brown sugar, 1 c. flour, and 1/3 c. butter, melted. Save 1 c. of the mixture for a crumb topping. Put the rest of the mixture into an 8x8 pan and pat down. Bake the crust for 12-15 minutes.

For the filling, mix together 8 oz. cream cheese, softened, ¼ c. sugar, 1 egg, 1 tbs. fresh lemon juice, 2 tbs. milk, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Pour mixture over baked crust and top with reserved crumbs. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Cool and cut into squares. These are very rich so you can cut small squares.

*Becky Knows Everything: Since an 8x8 pan pretty much makes as many as I can eat myself, go for doubling the recipe and use a 13x9 pan.


The Four Angels

Well it’s that holiday time of year once again so I thought I would share a short story with you. Many years ago (like 30) my mother-in-law gave me a wonderful Christmas gift. She had always been involved in craft fairs, quilt making, etc. and she had attended a local fair in Milwaukee and bought me, her daughter, and her other daughter-in-law the same gift.

It was a set of four handmade angels, small to large that were made of folded paper and were beautifully detailed with hair made from moss with a crown of baby’s breath. Ivy was painted on the skirt of the dress and each angel held an ivy bouquet. Golden ribbon was tied at the waist and in a bow in the back. The moment I opened the box I knew they were something to treasure and even hand down to my own daughter some day. They were exceptionally handcrafted and so pretty. I promptly added them to my vast Christmas decoration collection.

About 10 years later, I became very close friends with a wonderful woman who had lost one of her grandchildren in a tragic accident. We were planning our annual holiday lunch and gift exchange and I couldn’t think of anything to buy her. She had shared with me so many personal stories about her family and how they honored the little boy they had lost each year by releasing balloons and sharing memories. My friend loved angels and felt they reminded her of her very special grandchild. As I looked around my house I spotted my own precious angels and thought to myself-“what a fitting gift for Ann.” So, I chose one and wrapped it up and presented it to her as a special gift. She was so appreciative and each year when I unpack my three remaining angels, I notice the one missing and I think of Ann and her loss and the hope that I make her smile when the holidays come around. She has my beautiful angel in her home honoring her beautiful baby, Kyle.

As you all prepare for the holidays I hope there is a special angel in your life too.


Mom and the Monitor

Last week my 84 year old mom went for a regular checkup and while her blood pressure was fine, the doctor felt her heart was beating a bit too fast. He recommended she wear a heart monitor for a day so he could figure out whether or not she needed a pacemaker. I know this is not typically a funny subject, but with Mom there is always some humor somewhere.

So Mom had the monitor put on today. I called to see how she was doing and she was so funny. First she complained she had wires coming out everywhere and then she complained that a nurse practitioner had taken care of her, not the “REAL” doctor. Anyway, she said she was given a report she was to fill in, documenting her day and whatever she was doing. She said she even had to record bathroom trips which she found very intrusive.

I asked her what she had written down and it was all the normal stuff – washing dishes, making dinner etc. So, I told her to spice things up. I figured she could entertain the doctor and his staff. Here’s what we came up with:

9:00a.m. While taking out the garbage, decided to wash the car, wax it and put the snow tires on.

10:00a.m. Mailman comes to door with package – invited him in for sex and cookies.

12:00p.m. Climbed up on roof to fix a stray shingle. While up there, decided to clean gutters, too.

1:00p.m. Took a jog downtown (4miles), had 3 donuts and jogged home.

3:00p.m. Plumber comes to fix the faucet – he is really cute (looks like Dean Martin which to Mom is FAB), had sex with him too.

5:00p.m. Quick trip to Victoria’s Secret at the mall – no secret here. Bought some new lingerie since the guy that shovels my snow (Vern) will be coming soon.

8:00p.m. Watched finale of “Dancing With The Stars”-very happy Donny Osmond won.

Well you get the idea. Hopefully Mom will be OK and will keep on being the wonderful Mom she has always been. Who knew she was so racy???


Mini Magic

I did my holiday baking a little early this year since we took a fun Thanksgiving trip to LA (land of sunshine and shopping and family too). The other night, as I was baking my sister Bonnie’s miniature pecan tarts, it occurred to me how many delicious recipes I have for all things miniature.

I make mini quiches, mini grilled reubens, mini cocktail wieners, mini meatballs and mini sausage stuffed wontons. The miniature pecan tart and mini reuben recipes follow below. Both are delicious and you should add them to your party recipes.

Bonnie's Miniature Pecan Tarts

This recipe makes 24 tarts, so I always double it since my husband and son can eat 24 tarts in about 2 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Blend together 3 oz. softened cream cheese, 1 stick of butter, and 1 cup flour. Shape the mixture into 24 balls about 1” each.

Spray your mini muffin tins with cooking spray. One by one, take each dough ball and flatten it in your hand and place in the muffin tin.

Now you are ready to make the filling. Combine 1 egg, 3/4 c. brown sugar, 1 tbs. soft butter, 1 tsp. vanilla and a dash of salt. Mix all together until smooth.

Finely chop about ½ c. pecans and place a small amount in each pastry. Top with about a tsp. of filling. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes until pastry begins to get golden brown. Only let cool a few minutes and then carefully remove from pans.

*Becky Knows Everything (or in this case Bonnie Knows Everything): Getting these out of the pan is a monumental task. Every Christmas, Bonnie and I call each other to brag about how many we got out without breaking. She always wins. Use a dinner knife around the edges to loosen and gently lift the tarts from the pan. Also, Bonnie lived in Breckenridge, CO for a few years (ski country) and she says these simply will not turn out properly in the high altitude.

Mini Grilled Reubens

If you love regular sized reubens, you will love these too. They are a hearty appetizer so I would not make them before a dinner party, just for a cocktail party. Here's what you need:

One loaf party rye bread
One can drained sauerkraut (do not rinse)
Thousand Island dressing (I use Kraft)
Swiss cheese, cut into small squares to fit bread
½ lb. thinly sliced deli corned beef or two packages Carl Buddig corned beef (but the real corned beef is better)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter each bread slice. Use about ½ the loaf - you can always butter more if you need to. Place one slice of bread (buttered side down) on a cookie sheet. Place one slice of corned beef on the bread, folded to fit. Top with about 1 tbs. of sauerkraut, then 1 tsp. of dressing. Place a piece of Swiss cheese that has been cut to fit on top. Top with another buttered bread. Repeat until you fill your cookie sheet.

Bake until bottom bread is toasted - about 5 minutes. Flip each sandwich and toast the other side until cheese is melted and they are heated through.

This is one of my most popular hors d’oeuvres and it fills a large cookie sheet.

*Becky Knows Everything: You can make these early in the day - just run a paper towel under water and squeeze dry. Place towel over assembled sandwiches and cover with foil. Remove covering when ready to eat.


Thanksgiving Memories

Now, this isn’t one of those traditional Thanksgiving memories stories. You know, giving thanks for all we have, eating turkey, sharing potatoes and pie - blah, blah, blah.

No, these are tales of funny things I can remember from years past. When I was in college, my boyfriend Mike (yes, the same Mike) once took me to his home in Appleton, Wisconsin to visit his family. It was the first time he had ever invited me to his house and I was extremely nervous. I wanted so much to make a good first impression so I had washed my hair and set it with those old-fashioned pink plastic rollers, then put a red plaid handkerchief on to hide them. (Pudgie used to set her hair on orange juice cans but she had a lot more hair than me). Mike and I and one of his hometown friends climbed into Mike’s ’69 Mustang (we thought we were so cool) and started off on the trip from Cincinnati to Appleton, about a 9 hour drive. We had driven about an hour when I rolled down my window to get some air, stuck my head a little too close to the window and off blew my head scarf. I was horrified! We still had to stop for lunch and my hair was wet and in rollers and I had nothing to cover my head. Our friend was laughing hysterically in the backseat. I sure wasn’t giving thanks at that point. When I was growing up, wearing rollers out of your house simply wasn’t done. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

Anyway, we finally get near Appleton and I begged Mike to stop at a gas station so I could use the restroom to fix my hair and makeup. There wasn’t much begging involved since Mike didn’t want me to meet his parents and family looking the way I did either. I pulled myself together and pretty soon we were pulling into his driveway. The visit went well, except for the actual Thanksgiving dinner which was chicken NOT turkey and there was no cranberry sauce either. Not everyone has the same traditions!

The next tale is shorter and happened about 20 years later. We were living in Seattle at the time and shared holiday dinners with two other families we were quite close with. This particular year it was Marilyn’s turn to host Thanksgiving and even though she had been married a long time she had never made a turkey. Her childhood memories of growing up in New Orleans included her mom rising at 5am on Thanksgiving morning to put the turkey in the oven. Marilyn did the same thing – she went out and bought a big bird and got up at 5am to put the turkey in. We were scheduled to arrive at 4pm for pre-dinner festivities. Well, of course you know what happened – the pop-up timer on the turkey popped at 8:30am, about 8 hours before we were dining and Marilyn was hysterical. We did reschedule dinner for noon, but it was the driest bird I ever ate.

The next time it was Marilyn’s turn to host Thanksgiving she decided on a Mexican menu with tortillas and fajitas and a bunch of stuff I didn’t recognize. Of course Carol and I knew nothing of this plan so we arrived with our sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie to share. Really crazy.

To all of you, have a blessed and peaceful Thanksgiving. I hope you get to spend the day with people you love and eat all the delicious food you desire – and then sit down while the men clean up the kitchen. Well, a girl can dream.

Photo from Country Living


Mike Loves Potatoes

Sounds like a dippy idea for a blog, right? But the truth is my husband loves potatoes of any kind as long as they meet a few of his conditions. They must be in some type of sauce or have gravy or have some sort of topper like cheese or cream. Something simple like a plain baked potato with butter just won't do. Sour cream is a necessity and creamy mashed potatoes are his favorite. I think mashed potatoes topped with cheese and bacon would thrill him. I recently came across a new recipe for scalloped potatoes and I am sharing it with you. He loved it, but if you are hoping for something healthy you need to check a different blog!

Sensational Scalloped Potatoes

4-5 large baking potatoes or russets, peeled and thinly sliced
3 green onions, sliced
4 oz. Colby Jack cheese, shredded
2 c. whipping cream
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ c. parmesan cheese, grated

Slice potatoes thinly and rinse in cold water. Pat dry.

In a casserole dish (I use my large quiche dish but a glass pie pan will work too) layer the potatoes, Colby Jack and onions. Sprinkle each layer with the salt and pepper. Pour on the cream and top with the parmesan cheese. Put the dish on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the top is brown, bubbly and beautiful. YUM!

*Becky Knows Everything: I know, I know - everything is good when it has whipping cream and cheese on it, but did you notice there is no BUTTER? I just lost the respect of Paula Dean, the Butter Queen.


Thanksgiving Centerpieces

Today in my local newspaper there were photos and an article about Thanksgiving table centerpieces and I just had to start writing. The table styling was done by a local designer and it was the kind of design that makes me nuts. Of course anyone can lay a walloping big horn of plenty cornucopia thing spilling fruit in the middle of a table or line the table with a ton of pumpkins and a giant floral piece, but come on! We all know the practicality is this - you need a place to put all of your wonderful food AND you need to see the person sitting across from you (even if you aren’t wild about them). Ultimately, these huge centerpieces have to leave the table when you sit down to eat, so what is the point of having them? As a young bride I purchased a large pumpkin tureen and filled it with flowers for the center of my table. Not only was it hugely expensive to fill, but the minute the food was ready I had to take it off the table. Now it sits on my table in the fall everyday BUT Thanksgiving!

You can make your Thanksgiving table look beautiful and festive without going overboard. The photo below from Country Living is a great example. Individualize each place setting instead of doing a large central piece. I like to place a votive in an autumn styled votive holder (I have tiny wrought iron ones with leaves) at each place setting so there is pretty candlelight but not a gigantic candle. Please use unscented candles at dinner so they don't compete with the food. Give each guest a favor next to “their” candle, like a colorfully wrapped chocolate turkey or personalized pumpkin cookie. At each end of the table you can have a small, SHORT floral arrangement in a clever container like a wineglass or pitcher or vase – use orange tulips cropped short, any type of fall mum or my favorite natural look, bittersweet. Just make sure they are small and you can see over them. Don’t even try that trick of hollowing out small pumpkins. I did that one year and every variety of squash I tried was SO HARD that I needed a knife and saw to make a holder. Go to Michael's or Tuesday Morning or HomeGoods and buy a cute fall holiday votive holder. They can look colorful and interesting and you can spend your time perfecting that pumpkin pie!!

I will be writing more about Thanksgiving dinner soon since it is coming up so quickly. Creamed onions, anyone?

Photos from Better Homes & Garden and Country Living


Window Treatments and Beyond

Recently my wonderful sister-in-law Shelly, (also known as Sherry) asked me for some design advice. She wants to update the window treatments in a few areas of her home, specifically in the kitchen over the sink, in the dining room (which features a window seat) and above some French doors that open to a patio.

Since Shelly and my brother live in Arizona, I asked them to take some photos of the windows and provide accurate measurements so that I could get a feel for each space. I asked for not only length and width but depth, the distance from the floor to the ceiling and the distance to adjacent walls or cabinets. This gave me a much more complete picture in my head to start working.

Let’s concentrate on the kitchen today. Currently they have a gathered valance that has seen better days. The window is centered between two rows of cabinets and does not have room above for either a fabric treatment or an alternative. Since Shelly does not sew and doesn’t want a custom treatment, the options are to go with ready-made or come up with something else. Unfortunately so many of the ready-made treatments look alike and have very little originality. They are gathered or poofed or swagged or whatever. So, lucky for us, I always have an idea. Here is what I suggested:

1. Don’t use fabric. Hang a shelf there instead. There are very nice wooden shelves out there that are reasonably priced from stores like Pottery Barn
. They can also be ordered online from places like Exposures or Ballard Designs. The shelves come in lengths from 2feet and up. They are made to look like wooden crown molding – some are very decorative, some are very sleek. I recommend a white painted version, with a lot of depth so you can actually use it for display. The shelf is a great place for some plants or some treasures you like to look at every day, like Grandma’s teacups or even something one of your grown children made long ago. You get the idea. Even a mini collection of brass teapots will work.

2. No more cleaning. By losing the fabric you won’t have to constantly take down the treatment, wash and re-hang it – but you will still have to dust the treasures once in a awhile. All of my friends know how much I LOVE to dust and clean. Stop laughing all of you.

Photos above from Pottery Barn

3. Hang a row of plates in this space. The plates can be individually mounted on plate hangers and hung in a row, or buy a cool horizontal plate hanger from a place like HomeGoods (talk about treasures galore). You can even buy the plates there too. If you have any heirloom plates or a special theme you enjoy, let that be your guide. My personal favorite is the French toile look – I have a few plates and platters hanging in that pattern in my own home. The plate hanger shown below is from Fine Home Displays.

4. Go natural. Again, by losing the "everyone-has-it" fabric idea you can be creative. Buy a natural swag made of curly willow or twigs and put a small loop on either end and just hang it on two nails or hooks in the wall. “Decorate” it with silk greenery like trailing ivy or grape ivy and then add some faux fruit (wires in very easily) or even faux flowers, although that would be my second choice. If you don’t feel you have the creative chops to do this yourself, you can always go to a local florist and have them make one up for you – yes they all will work with dried flowers too. Or, go to a silk plant shop or even to Michael's where they have custom designers to work with you. Just be sure to take your measurements or a photo of an idea.

5. If you go with a natural treatment or even with the shelving at the holidays you can customize it to make you smile. String lights on the swag or display your Santas on the shelf. Remember to buy a shelf with a lot of depth – some are very narrow and only meant for plates.

OK, there are a few ideas for all of you. I personally can’t wait to get to Arizona and see some finished results!!


Vermont Vacation

My neighbor Carol grew up in a large Victorian home in Montpelier, Vermont. This is the state capitol in case you are geographically challenged like me. Did you know Concord is the capitol of New Hampshire? My husband likes to quiz servers at restaurants to see if they know their state capitols.

Anyway, years ago the mansion was sold and eventually a developer came along and wanted to turn the remainder of the estate into condos. So Carol and her siblings purchased the land and the caretaker’s cottage to use as a getaway home. Carol generously offered it to Mike and me and we invited Adrienne and Jimmy to come along for a weekend adventure.

So, a few weeks ago Mike and I took off for Montpelier. It is about a 7 hour drive, the first 3 of which are on the interstate. It is the last 4 hours that get you. All narrow, windy 2 lane roads, double yellow no passing lines everywhere and you are not on any one road more than 20 miles. Even MapQuest had a time with this one, shooting out 2 full pages of directions. Jim and Adie were coming from Boston, a more doable 3 hour drive.

Anyway, we stopped in the famous Saratoga Springs for lunch and it was such a beautiful day – all the leaves were shimmering in the sun and it was mild in temperature. And all along the highway there were tons of colorful pumpkin patches. We got to Montpelier late in the afternoon and explored the town and had dinner. I also found a large grocery store and was able to stock up.

Let me tell you about the house. It is 220 years old and has been updated – I mean it has plumbing, heat, a stove, hot water and all the essentials. It is really a charming cottage, very near the village. The only real problem was there was only one TV and it was in the bedroom Adie and Jim were using. I actually went without TV for THREE DAYS. I know, boo-hoo.

Adie and Jim arrived very late on Friday and on Saturday morning we all took off for Burlington, a beautiful ski area and the location of Vermont College. Burlington has a really nice downtown shopping area with a great farmers market. Jim and Mike explored Lake Champlain while Adie and I shopped and then we all met for lunch.

Saturday night Adie and I cooked dinner, and then we all played Taboo. It was a lot of fun. It is so nice to be a parent with grown children you really like that are married to people you also really like. Mike and I were sure lucky to get Stephanie and Jimmy.

Sunday, we went to a brunch Carol recommended. The New England Culinary Institute is located in Montpelier and the students put on a brunch each weekend. It was fantastic – a pasta station, carved meats, specialty omelets, salads and fruit, wonderful breads and desserts to die for. The rest of the trip was spent enjoying the local shops and the beautiful scenery. “Leaf peeping” really is an art!


Rosemary Roasted Chicken

Everyone needs a good, basic roast chicken recipe. I have perfected this one over many years and it always turns out great. You will need a roasting pan with a rack and nice basting brush to get started.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine the ingredients below and then set mixture aside.
One lemon, both the zest and the juice
Rosemary (fresh if possible, just remove the leaves from 3 stalks and chop) or 1 tsp. dried
One clove garlic, chopped
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
3 tbs. olive oil

You will need a 5-7lb. chicken. I know there are special roasting chickens out there (which are great), but a whole, uncut broiler/fryer works just as well and is usually less $$. Remove the bag inside the chicken and discard. Before you all write to me and complain that the innards can be used for stock or soup, I already know that – but they are too gross for me.

Wash and dry the chicken and pull out any stray feathers. You need to rinse inside and out and then dry the chicken well or it will not brown properly.

Now, pull up the breast skin and rub about 1 tbs. of the rosemary mix on the breast. Do both sides, reaching as far down the breast as possible to coat thoroughly. Next, try to pull up as much skin as you can on the thighs and do the same thing. Pour remaining mix over the top of the chicken and massage it in.

Tie the legs of the chicken together, I use twine or fishing line. Turn wings under the chicken to create a “perch.” WASH YOUR HANDS!!

Place bird in the oven and bake about 20-25 minutes per pound. Baste often with the juices. The chicken is done when you can pull the leg away from the thigh and the juices are clear. Ignore that annoying pop-up timer thing. It always pops up long before the meat is done.

When the chicken is done, remove from pan, pour interior liquid from the cavity into the sink and rest on a carving board about 10 minutes. Be sure to cover with foil. Carve when ready.

*Becky Knows Everything: After I make the chicken, I often cool and refrigerate the meat for sandwiches. The breast meat is so tender and flavorful from the rosemary mixture. Or, serve warm and make gravy, potatoes, and dressing and pretend it’s Thanksgiving!


Office at Home Part II

My previous blog on home offices covered the salient, functional points. I ran my interior design business for 18 years from a great office in my lower level – so here is my real-life take on working from my home:

1. If you do not have any scheduled appointments you can stay in your pajamas ALL DAY – or at least until the kids and their friends come home from school or your spouse comes home looking for dinner. And you can return calls and do your paperwork in comfort. Many a day I didn’t get myself together until 3:00 p.m.

2. You will have an outstanding Boss – YOU!

3. On Secretaries Day I always took myself out to lunch or bought myself something special since after all, I was my own secretary.

4. You can surround yourself with beautiful things that are special to you since you aren’t sharing the space. As a designer, I always had beautiful textile samples hanging in my office that I rotated for sheer enjoyment.

5. Make your space welcoming to you. You will spend a lot of time there. One big drawback about a home office is that the work never goes away. It is always waiting for you, unlike an office in a different location that you can leave at night. The advantage is that if you can’t sleep for whatever reason you can just go in and work. I put together many a design board at 2:00 a.m.

6. If you have a small TV on your desk you can always watch what you want to and never share the remote. It’s not a democracy, it’s YOUR space.

7. You can keep candy in your drawer and eat it whenever you want. I guess you can do this in any office but at home you won't run the risk of your co-workers catching you.

8. The best thing about working from home is that you can almost always set your own schedule and you never have to miss an important family event – you know like your daughter’s basketball games!

Photos from
Photographer: Tria Giovan
Designer: Jed Johnson


Office at Home

This blog originally began as a lengthy informative piece about what you need for a home office. After I wrote it, I realized all you really need to know are a few good basics and here's what they are:

1. A space in your home with a door that closes.

2. A good desk or table to work on.

3. A separate phone line from your home phone or a cell phone that gets good reception. Talking to a client while a child cries or the smoke alarm is going off is really not professional.

4. Storage. A bookcase, baskets, cabinetry – anything you prefer to keep your things organized and the clutter away.

5. A comfortable chair and ottoman for when you need to get away from your desk to read or relax.

6. Good lighting, both task and overhead.

7. Inspiration as in artwork, items you cherish and personal photos.

The trick is to pull all this together in a space that you have painted a color that suits you. Some people like vibrancy, some people like soothing tones. Explore the color palette and choose the color that is right for you. Remember, it’s YOUR office and not a cubicle in a big building where you have no decorating choices.

Photo From PointClickHome
Designer: Candice Olson
Photographer: Brandon Barre


The Burke Banana Bread

On Wednesday I promised to share my banana bread recipe with you - so here you go.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a large loaf pan with cooking spray or line it with foil.

Sift together in a large bowl:
2c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

Add ½ c. sugar and 1c. chopped walnuts to the flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, mash 3 ripe bananas (I am talking the more rotten the better – this is one time when brown spots are a good thing). Add 1 tbs. fresh lemon juice, 1 slightly beaten egg, and ¼ c. vegetable oil. Mix well and add to the dry ingredients.

This is the difficult part since this is NOT a liquidy dough – getting all the dry ingredients incorporated takes patience but you can do it. I use a big spoon and keep mixing it all together. Spoon into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Invert on baking rack and let cool, if you can. I usually have a piece in my mouth within minutes!!


Breads, Breads, Breads

I know there are a lot of different specialty breads out there to make. My cookbooks are full of them, not to mention the internet. Zucchini bread, carrot bread, date nut bread or pumpkin bread are all available. But I only love one and that is BANANA BREAD.

We have a recipe that has been in our family forever and I will share it with you in an upcoming blog. Banana bread is very special to me. When I visit my mom or sister they always bake me a loaf because they know how much I like it -
warm with butter.

Now, a silly side story – my sister and I have an ugly troll doll we have passed back and forth for years. She once wrapped the troll in foil and baked it in the center of a loaf of banana bread and mailed it to me from Colorado to Cincinnati. Very, very funny. We have quite a few “troll” stories. Bonnie now lives in California and in the photo of the banana bread below you will see the troll – after a visit to Disneyland.
Banana bread means love and comfort to me and I hope it will do the same for you.


Mr. B is 53! Happy Birthday!!

Ok, my husband Mike (Mr. B) really turned 58 today, but 53 rhymed so I thought it sounded better!

To celebrate his birthday, we hosted a small birthday dinner. I used my fall decorations to make the table look pretty and had a lot of fun with it.

Here’s the menu – for appetizers, blue cheese toasts (such a simple recipe every one can make). Mix together 1/3 c. softened butter and 1/4 c. blue cheese. Spread it on baguettes you have already toasted on both sides and run under the broiler. Watch these – they cook soooo fast. Top with a pecan half. YUM! I don’t make too many appetizers if I am serving dinner - you want your guests to be able to enjoy the dinner too.

To throw some greens into the mix, I made an interesting romaine salad. Cut a romaine stalk in half, discard the outer dark green leaves (I know, I know they are good for you but this is about appearances too) then brush on a Caesar dressing and shaved parmesan cheese and run under the broiler exactly one minute and serve. FAB!

The main course was marinated flank steak, grilled asparagus and mashed potato casserole – a really good one with cream cheese you make the day before.

Our birthday dessert was a magnificent Pumpkin Praline Torte – a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine I found a few years ago. Just so you know, Mike likes this nasty strawberry pudding pie for his birthday but I talked him out of it since we had guests. So I don’t hear from all of you, I promised to make him that nasty pie soon.

A really fun, delicious party. Wish you had all been there!!


Debbie B's Marvelous Meatballs

This is such a great, easy to make appetizer recipe that I just had to share it. I am not really a meatball eater – I never understand those crazy sauces that all start with grape jelly (which no one I know eats unless they are in grade school), BUT this has a sweet-sour layer of flavor and it is terrific. Perfect for a crowd since it makes a lot.

Get out your crockpot! In the pot, layer one large package of plain frozen meatballs (NOT in sauce and NOT those Swedish ones), alternating with a 16 0z. can of sauerkraut, drained.

Now, in a bowl, mix together one bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce, one bottle of water (use the empty sauce bottle), ¾ c. brown sugar, and one can of whole berry cranberry sauce. Mix until the jellied part of the sauce is smooth.

Pour onto the meatballs, and mix it all around a bit so the sauce coats it all. Put the lid on your crockpot and cook this mixture all day on low. Really, about 8-9 hours. If you don’t do it long enough the meatballs taste rubbery.

When ready to serve, they will stay hot in a bowl or chafing dish, or at some gatherings people serve them directly from the pot.

*Becky Knows Everything: When you start to eat these, be sure to stand next to your husband or a friend and put all your used toothpicks on their plate so you don’t look like you devoured the whole thing. (This is also a good tip for those tiny smoky wieners my sister makes).


Autumn Pleasures

Autumn is my favorite time of year. The elements that infuse autumn are multiple, layering upon one another to create a spectacular season. From food to scents to colors to sports to decorations, the layers culminate in an appeal to the senses that is overwhelmingly special.

Let’s start with food: I will say it straight out – I LOVE PUMPKIN! I enjoy pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin praline torte, even pumpkin fudge. The fact that I only eat pumpkin at this time of the year makes me crave it even more. Among other fall culinary treats are apple crisp, apple cake and pretty much warm apple anything – but frankly apples take a back seat to pumpkin hands down.

Scents: Not only do the special aromas of baking accompany fall, but there are also those delicious smelling spicy candles, nutmeg scented with a hint of cloves and cinnamon. These wonderful candle scents fill your home and make you feel so warm and cozy. Put some apple cider in the crockpot with some cinnamon sticks and orange peels and you will not only get a tasty drink, but your home will smell great. And don’t forget the wonderful smell of the outdoors on a crisp day.

Colors: Oh the colors! Orange, a color not ordinarily a decorating front runner, suddenly seems to work with everything in your home at this time of year. When orange mingles with brown, cinnamon, gold and green the results are amazing. When the interior of your home reflects the natural beauty outside your window, you know you are onto something.

Sports: I would leave it at “Go Bucks” since that is what is important in my house, but I do have a few great memories of fall high school sports. Football in our area was paramount and the parents enjoyed it as much as the kids. Each Friday of a home game, the football parents were allowed in the stadium early to save our seats for the evening contest. By saving, I mean we brought masking tape and blankets and taped the blankets to the bleachers early in the a.m. (I’m talking 7:00). Then, of course we would go to breakfast. When the gates opened in the evening we were all set. Fall sports also meant Saturday mornings at cross country meets cheering on my daughter and her team. Cool, crisp autumn days – how glorious it all was!

Decorations: Do it up big! Drape your doorway with leaf garlands. Take down that spring wreath that has been up for 7 months and replace it with a fall decoration. Buy some new cocktail napkins with an autumn theme and get out your leaf plates and placemats too. Put a decorative pumpkin basket in your powder room filled with spicy potpourri! Fall decorations are timeless and will lead us right into Thanksgiving.

*Becky Knows Everything: One other special memory – each year my Uncle George would remove his dentures and replace them with caramel corn. How we kids all loved that!

Photos from Pottery Barn


Home Reflection

Currently, living where I do in upstate New York and not knowing too many people, I am doing design consulting work only. There are a few things I have learned along the way - no matter what state I lived in or what the economic times were, the things I've listed below always seem to resonate.

1. Some things never change. Your home will always be a reflection of you and your style, whether you think it is "finished" or not.

2. The things you hold dear will not change - your family photos, special holiday decorations, etc. will always renew your spirit.

3. The colors you liked in your 20's will be the colors you like in your 50's (at least a version of them, maybe combined with something else).

4. Your current accessories do have a special meaning and they will stay on your bookshelves, if you are smart. Of course we all buy an occasional "turkey" but that is only a temporary setback. The best stuff stays.

5. When you hear people say your house looks just like you, that is a huge compliment and should be taken as such. Try not to think of the dresser in your bedroom that is so messy you can hardly open the drawers - no one has seen it but you.

6. When you are decorating your home, remember that each space can tell a story and your foyer is really the most interesting place. It can say "Welcome" or it can say "Wow, a boring person lives here." It can also say, "This homeowner needs a designer." If that's the case, hire one.

7. Details are what it is all about. I admit I am a nut for details. I try not to be too obsessive - like if the fringe on the pillow is 1/2" too long, I can deal with it. Just remember, it's the details that will make your space special.

8. Hang your artwork - I have had guests come into my house and say to each other, "Why don't WE have anything hanging?" Your artwork and its placement tells the story of "you" and it is really OK (no matter what the man of house says), to pound more than one nail to get the picture exactly where you want it. Do these projects when your partner is out of town.

9. You will continually go back to the same look. Most people are not all that trendy. They want furnishings that are functional and comfortable and make them feel good. This applies to all ages. If you like a classic look, but with an updated finish (i.e. a faux paint look), you will always be drawn to the same type of item. That is good - you know what you want. I have found most clients might not know exactly what they want, but they do know what they don't want and that is fine.

10. Trust your own instincts and stick with them. It may be difficult to mesh everything with a new roommate or husband or whatever, but if you can find a way to compromise, you will do great.

Your home is your base, your foundation. It doesn't matter if it is an apartment or a mansion, your space IS you and you can create the perfect, reflective home if you give yourself the time to make mistakes and figure it all out. Building your home and gathering your accessories can take a lifetime - but oh, how much fun you will have!

Photos by Elle Decor.

Annie Rebecca

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about my niece going off to college. Look how cute she is in her new dorm room! I bought her those flags a few years ago and I was so happy to see them hanging in her room.


Becky's Best Breaded Chops

This is one of those delicious family recipes that I have been making for 35 years. I first enjoyed these chops as a newlywed visiting my in-laws in Appleton, Wisconsin. This is a special dish from my mother-in-law, Jeannine.

6 center cut pork chops (not thin sliced), trimmed of any wide, nasty fat – I just take my scissors and cut it off
1 c. or more of plain breadcrumbs, I prefer Progresso
2-3 eggs
½ c. or more flour
½ c. chicken broth
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
Oil, I prefer canola

Here’s what you do:
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Pour canola oil into a large frying pan so it covers the bottom and comes up on the sides about ¼ inch and turn on med to hi heat.

Take 3 pasta type, large deep bowls from your cupboard – in one pour the flour, one the crumbs and one the eggs. Beat the eggs slightly with a fork. Salt and pepper the chops.

The breading is simple - like breading chicken or mushrooms or whatever. Place a chop in the flour, covering it completely, shake off, dip it into the egg (be sure to turn so both sides are coated) and drop it in the crumbs. Pat the crumbs on both sides and all around the chop. Drop into the heated oil. I don’t use a thermometer or anything fancy. I know the oil is hot when I sprinkle a few droplets of water in it and it crackles – be careful, please.

Repeat until all chops are coated and in the pan. Even in a large pan you can usually only get 4-5 chops, so take your time. Let the chops cook on one side in the oil and when the bottom gets golden brown and a little crispy, flip them once. The goal is to get a pretty chop with cooked crumbs. We are not trying to cook the chops all the way through – that’s why we have the oven pre-heating. As each chop is finished browning, put into a 13x9 pan. If your frying pan is oven proof with a tight lid, it can be used in the oven, but you need to wipe out any excess oil after the chops are browned – so that’s why I just use a 13x9 type cake pan. Pour the chicken broth over the chops and cover tightly with foil. Place in the oven for 2 ½ -3 hours, removing the foil about 30 minutes before you are ready to serve, so they absorb the moisture and the steam subsides.

*Becky Knows Everything: These are soooo good – warm, room temperature and even cold. Make sure you make an extra for lunch tomorrow!


The Bountiful Bizarre Bazaar

I just returned from a quick trip to Cincinnati where I stopped in at my favorite specialty store, the Bizarre Bazaar. Even the name is great, right? It is a fabulous, eclectic shop filled with all manner of home furnishings, gifts and just plain fun stuff.

The store is owned by the parents of a close friend of Adrienne’s (Sara) and we have been patrons for many years – not only because we know the owners, but because it is just the greatest, friendliest place. The inventory is huge – I cannot imagine how Maureen, Sara’s mom, knows where everything is and all the prices, but she just does.

Upon entering the store, your senses are aroused with the wonderful music playing, the aroma of spices and the visual elements that surround and embrace you. Every type of gift item is available, in quantity, style and price range. There are candles and cards and jewelry (I am wearing a new necklace I just purchased and I look fabulous – sorry you can’t see me), ornaments, baby gifts, wreaths, collectibles, home accessories, furniture, mirrors, paintings, flower arrangements, themed areas, etc., etc. I took some photos when I was there so you could experience it all too. When I had my design business in Cincinnati, the Bizarre Bazaar was one of my top places to search for accessories for clients. The store and merchandise have a unique “look” that certainly isn’t duplicated anywhere in Cincinnati. SO, if you ever get to the East Side of Cincinnati, stop in at the Bizarre Bazaar – it will surely charm you.

The Bizarre Bazaar is located at 7767 Five Mile Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45230. You can call the shop at 513-231-6861 and tell them you read this and can’t wait to get there!


Two Shirts and a Dip

This is a goofy story, but if you read to the end there will be a delicious dip recipe for you.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Boston to visit my daughter. After driving through heavy rain on a 7 ½ hour trip (that usually takes 6 hours), I was thrilled to arrive.

Adrienne was working so I had a few hours to myself. Hmmm…what to do, what to do? Here were my two top choices – stop in at Abe and Louie's, a terrific Boston steakhouse and one of my go-to places for a snack and a drink, OR go shopping at the nearby Lord and Taylor, where the SALE signs were everywhere. Shopping won. I headed to the clearance racks and quickly found several tops that I thought were pretty and now affordable.

In the dressing room, I rejected 3 tops but liked 2. One was a Calvin Klein blue top with pleated detailing at the front and sort of puffy sleeves. The other was a white eyelet number with a V neck, short sleeves and gathering under the boob line. Frankly, as I type this description I am thinking, “WHAT was I thinking?” – I mean what 58 year old should be wearing a white eyelet shirt that looks like a maternity top? Must have been the lighting and mirrors because I thought I looked good and I hadn’t even had any wine yet. I returned to Adrienne’s apartment to make a new dip recipe to serve when she and Jimmy (her cute husband) came home from work.

After assembling the dip, I thought I would change into my new blue top so I would look spiffy when they got home. I was feeling good and was so excited to see them. I am sure you know where this is going. The dip is out of the oven, the wine is poured and the baguettes piled high on a pretty decorative platter. As a newlywed Adrienne has some really cool new stuff. We were all sharing the dip when I did what I always do, I “schlopped” it on myself. (This is a family word that means you have once again spilled food on yourself). The dip fell off the baguette and landed right on the front of my new shirt. I tried to clean it up, but no go. One top down and I had only owned it for 2 hours.

I would tell you the story about what happened to the white top, but it’s too long – let’s just say it is no longer with us. All that is left of the two tops is the Lord and Taylor bill which came yesterday!

Now, as promised, here is your reward – a new dip recipe.

Kathy's Deluxe Dip

Another great dip that features our favorite thing, BACON!!

8 oz. cream cheese
One pkg. shredded swiss cheese (6 oz.)
3 oz. pkg. Oscar Mayer Real Bacon Bits
1/4 c. mayonnaise (and use the real Hellman's please)
3 green onions, chopped, including the green tops

Mix all ingredients together, put in a pretty casserole dish (that can go into the oven) and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. The original recipe uses “Frito Scoops,” but I think they are too thick and heavy. I would use regular Frito chips or even better, toasted baguette slices. This is a truly yummy dip and the next time I get invited somewhere it is going with me.

*Becky Knows Everything: I had a few extra slices of bacon I fried up and added to the mix. It made the dip even more delicious!!


Annie Rebecca Goes Off To College

My very special niece Annie (Bonnie’s oldest child) is going off to college next week.

As I talk to my sister dealing with the idea of not having Annie home every day, it brings back so many memories of when my own children left to go away to school and my own college days. So many things you want to tell them, and most you already have. These are in no particular order of importance, believe me.

1. Try not to get too bored or lonely at that awful freshman orientation week. Everyone hates it and everyone survives.

2. How many times is it OK for a freshman to call home? Answer: as many times as she wants.

3. Smile at the cute boys. They are as nervous as you are.

4. Be open to new people and new ideas. Find a volunteer opportunity - dorm, charitable, or environmental.

5. Try not to pour beer in your Coke can and take it to class like I did.

6. Always be aware of what is happening around you on campus – even if you are texting or on the phone be aware of your surroundings.

7. Be patient with what could be a strange new roommate. I once had a temporary roommate we nicknamed “Far Out Barb” since she was high all the time.

8. In 1969 when I was in college, I actually filled in my schedule from 12-1 each day with “All My Children.” No classes for me in that time slot. I mean, come on, Erica was 16 and Tara and Phil were on.

9. When you call home tell your mom a story about how you wanted to buy something but didn’t have the money. Trust me – it will appear in a few days. This only works freshman year.

10. Enjoy yourself. You will have some lonely moments but if you keep in touch with your friends who are also in the same boat you will feel better. They will definitely have a nuttier roommate than you.

11. If you plan on cutting class to lay out in the sun, make a good choice – like cut that Friday afternoon class so the weekend starts earlier.

12. And finally, if your friends get drunk and pass out in the elevator, help them up, put them to bed and don’t do what we used to do – hit “1” again and send them back to the main floor where they might get into trouble. Just be sure to put the wastebasket next to their bed.

Annie, college can be the most amazing time in your life. You will learn in later years, as hard as you worked and as much as you studied, it still will be the most fun and easiest thing you will ever do in your life.

To Paul and Bonnie, you have raised a smart, beautiful and thoughtful daughter. Enjoy her new adventure.

P.S. Annie, Tete Becky couldn’t be prouder!


Perfect Pimiento Spread

I know you are thinking I misspelled this, because I always thought is was p-i-m-e-n-t-o but according to the little jar there is another “i” in there. So there you go.

Here is my favorite pimiento spread recipe. You can make a sandwich with it, serve it in an omelet with some fluffy eggs or serve it the best way – as an appetizer with toasted baguette slices or crackers.

4 oz. extra sharp white cheddar cheese, finely grated
4 oz. extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese, finely grated
½ c. mayonnaise
Half of a 4 oz. jar of pimientos, drained and chopped
2 heaping tbs. hot picante sauce (a hot salsa that is not too chunky will also work)
½ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. pepper
1/3 c. chopped green olives
1 tbs. olive juice
3 tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Very simple: Mix it all together. Chill at least 30 minutes so the flavors can “speak” to each other. Serve with toasted baguette slices or crackers.


Welcome From The Outside In

Eight ideas to brighten the door into your life:

  1. Paint that front door a fresh, bright color. Make a striking note with red, cinnamon or green. Please stay away from beige if possible. The idea is to POP, not yawn.

  2. Hang a welcoming wreath of natural, seasonal materials on that freshly painted door. If birds continually build nests, purchase an artificial bird at the craft store and perch it in your wreath. You won’t see a nest again. At Halloween, try some festive decorations.

  3. Come into the foyer! If you live in an apartment and space is limited, hang the largest mirror you can find on the largest wall. Be sure to hang something interesting on the opposite wall for a good reflection. A mirror actually works in any size space to enlarge and brighten. And, for an added bonus, you can check out how good you look as you leave every morning. (Try not to look at night when you get home).

  4. Buy a slim sofa table or recruit a piece from another area of your home like a chest or a plant stand to put in the foyer. On the piece, place the largest vase you have and fill it with natural blooms – flowering forsythia in spring or dogwood branches, in the fall use those orange berries that I can never remember the name of and at the holidays use cedar or evergreen branches for that heavenly scent. Drama is what we are looking for.

  5. Not a floral person? Use a pretty lamp for ambiance to offer a soft “hello” in the evening.

  6. You need a rug! A good quality rug will stand up to a lot of wear and will be easier to clean than an inexpensive one. Try something wild like a leopard or jungle print or a brightly colored wool rug.

  7. Do you have a place for a chandelier? Nothing beats a beautiful chandelier with a dimmer attached. This will make your space more inviting and make your guests feel pretty.

  8. Remember, your entry is the passageway into your home. When you walk in, it should “speak” to you in a welcoming, pleasing manner. And a little drama thrown will make it special.

Photo by House Beautiful.


Goodie Bag for a Goodie Friend

Teri F. writes, “My dear friend just had hip replacement surgery and I want to visit her at home and surprise her with a fun gift. Do you have any ideas?”

Of course I have some ideas! Here are a few things to try:

Reading materials that suit your friend – when I had back surgery my good friend brought me “The National Enquirer” and a few other trashy magazines AND a big bag of M&M’s. Of course, stick to more mainstream publications, or even a new cookbook – you know cooks read them like regular books. Also, pretty much every popular star on the
Food Network now has a magazine, so that is a good choice.

How about a pretty scented candle, like the aromatherapy ones? There are also some special “friendship” votives out there now with verses on the side with blessings.

You could also give her a new pretty nightgown – she may want a change from all her regular ones.

Try the new indoor “wind-chimes.” You don’t need the wind, as they operate on batteries or as plug-ins. They will chime at intervals and it is a very peaceful sound.

Speaking of peaceful sounds, what about a CD with instrumentals or nature sounds? Or a new movie just out on DVD?

Does your friend have grandchildren or youngsters in her life? Buy Connect Four, a fun game she can play with a child or an adult while still lying in bed. Or buy a fun card game.

Nail polish and polish remover strips are another great option. If your friend gets her nails done, she may not be able to get to the salon and want to do them at home.

I know…she may want to get into beading like me! Buy her the tray, tools and a few packets of beads. She may thank you with a new pair of earrings.

My best advice is to think of your friend and her hobbies – let what she truly enjoys be your guide.


Let's Talk Toile

Toile de Jouy is a style of cotton chintz fabric with origins in France (think 18th-19th century). It is characterized with a color scheme of either red, blue or green scenic patterns on a cream background. There are other colors out there now, like black and brown or red/yellow combinations, but they are not the original toile colors.

Pictorial scenes of people, flowers or animals are featured. Toile is still so prominently used today in elegant and casual traditional design because the limited palette allows a designer to easily combine it with other patterns - large checks, plaids or ticking stripes in the same color/cream palette are the most common.

While the patterns can be very busy, the eye sees a simpler look because of the monochromatic color, not a bold vibrancy of too many patterns and colors. Toile de Jouy is utilized everywhere in today’s design, from fabrics for draperies, pillows, bedding, and upholstery to dinnerware, wall-coverings, lamps and shades, table linens and even accent pieces like clocks or frames.

Personally, I love toile – it makes me happy to see it and I often study the pattern to see the layers of interesting details. It is the epitome of French Country Style which opts for a harmonious blend of multiple patterns, rustic yet refined.

If your home is decorated in a traditional style or you want to add a French touch, try a toile. It will work with almost anything and perhaps jump-start your new décor direction.

Let Toile de Jouy bring you JOY today!

*Becky Knows Everything: There are even toile fabrics found in clothing –try to resist, unless it is a cute baby dress or an apron. We don’t really want to dress like our window treatments, do we?


Slo Joe BBQ

I know summertime is perfect for making a beef barbeque with brisket on the grill or pulled pork sandwiches, but with all the rain in my part of the country sometimes you need to stay inside to cook.

Our family has a great recipe for BBQ made in the oven. It is made with ground beef and a number of simple ingredients which you mix all together and then bake for a few hours. It is really more of a Sloppy Joe mix then real BBQ. It is so delicious and I have made it for many gatherings and have been asked for the recipe often. I have never made it in a crockpot, but I do have friends that have warmed it up in a crockpot. It is great no matter what the season or weather and it freezes so well!

I serve this yummy sandwich with "
Sue's Sweet and Sour Slaw" and dill pickles. And, of course a handful of potato chips!

Slo Joe BBQ

2 lbs. ground beef (I use one lb. of the 80%-20% fat content and one lb. of the 90%-10% content – you need some fat or there is no flavor)

In a dutch oven, brown the meat until no pink remains and break into small pieces. Drain off the fat by pouring the meat into a colander, then return to pan.

One large green pepper, diced
One large yellow onion, diced
Two stalks celery, diced
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper

Cook this all together on low until vegetables get a tiny bit soft. I only do this for about 5 minutes and then I add the rest of the ingredients:

One 16oz can tomato sauce
1/8 c. sugar
¼ c. apple cider vinegar (do not use red wine or balsamic vinegar)
½ c. catsup
1 tsp. dry mustard

Mix all together, let it get bubbly, then put the lid on and bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 2 ½ hours. If you let it cook longer, it is not a problem.

Serve on a sturdy bun (I like Pepperidge Farm sandwich rolls) brushed with butter and broiled until toasty. This keeps the BBQ from saturating the bun too quickly and making it all smushy and soggy.

*Becky Knows Everything: So easy to make and can be done the day before or even weeks before since it freezes so well. I usually make this in advance of a trip and freeze it in small containers, so when we return home we have something delicious and easy to prepare for dinner.


My Beading Career

After much consideration (well...ok, not really) I have decided to resume my beading career. OK, I never actually HAD a beading career but I always knew I could’ve had one.

Here’s how I got into beading. About 8 years ago my Baseball Mom’s group (corny name but we have been friends for a very long time) spent an evening at a new bead shop sort of as a “field trip” before we went out for drinks and dinner. We all paid a fee and a patient instructor tried her best to teach us, amidst our laughter and mockery, to make a bracelet and earrings.

Boy, did we think we were creative. Some of us actually used TWO bead colors and different shapes. We all managed to produce something. I wore my earrings until they broke but I still have my bracelet. For my birthday that summer, my friend Sue surprised me with my own beading tools, tray and instruction booklet. I was 50 when this happened and I still haven’t produced a thing and believe me, 50 is SO in my past.

When Pudgie and Vicki visited recently we went to quite a few specialty stores and whenever I see the beaded jewelry I always know I could make it. I mean I’m creative, I’m smart, and I know color and design, right?

So, I pulled out my beading tools and went to Michael’s, the craft store. When did Martha Stewart explode in there? Where did all those beads come from? Every color, shape and size, and every style imaginable. And pricey, too. I saw photos of ideas, like beaded candles and pillows and fruit, Styrofoam shapes, ornaments, hair jewelry and even glassware. And the “findings” (the parts you need to put it all together) – so many, many choices. Did you know you could even make your own beads from polymer clay that you bake in a TOASTER OVEN? Sounds like Girl Scouts to me.

Well, I am starting with a simple necklace. When I get it finished and win an award for it (I have confidence), I will take a photo and show it to you. Keep reading, you can always say you knew me when.

*Becky Knows Everything: OK, all of you watch out – one year I learned to knit and everyone I know got a scarf for Christmas. This year – beaded bracelets for all!! (Or maybe a pair of flip flops for my really loyal readers).


Pillow Talk

Have you seen the beautiful new silk pillows out there? Fabulous dyes of deep, rich colors like burgundy and chocolate brown and a range of greens. I love the embroidered ones!

Need to make a small update in your family room or living room? Try purchasing a few new pillows. Add some colors that you don’t always use and enjoy the punch! Your current pillows probably need to be replaced – they begin to look worn a bit if people nap on them or the dog accidentally drools on them. Do it! There is some good pricing out there and what a change they can make.


Bonnie's Luscious Lemon Bars

If you are in the mood for a sweet and tangy treat try my sister's recipe for "Bonnie's Luscious Lemon Bars". They are simply wonderful. A great summer treat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil, then spray PAM on the foil. (This sucker is NOT going to stick!)

Crust ingredients:
2 ½ c. flour
½ c. sugar
2 sticks cold butter

Mix ingredients either with a fork (or pulse in the food processor) until crumbly but sticks together. Pour into pan and pat down on bottom and up the edges a little. (The crust is my favorite part. Buttery and yummy!)

Bake for about 30 minutes, until crust is golden. While the crust is baking, mix together filling (I use the same processor bowl).

Filling ingredients:
4 eggs
1 ½ c. sugar
1 tbs. lemon zest
6 tbs. lemon juice (fresh is best, but bottled works too)
¼ c. flour
½ tsp. baking powder

When crust is done, take out of oven and pour the filling over hot crust. Return to oven for 20 minutes until set. When cool, you can just lift the foil out of the pan for easy cutting and serving. Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

*Becky Knows Everything: This is my sister's recipe. She is a fantastic baker, so these are sure to be delicious.


Vicki and Pudgie Come to Town Part II

Another quick note on the Pudgie and Vicki visit. One morning I slept later than Pudge and Vick and they decided to empty my dishwasher. When they visit, I cook every night so the dishwasher is constantly running. Well, it has been 2 weeks and I still cannot find my strainer, my garlic press or my favorite chopping knife. AND yesterday, I found my toaster in the cabinet where I keep cleaning supplies - shows you how often I look in that cabinet! I know those two are trying to be funny or make me crazy or both. I found my best spatula not in the utensil jar but in the FREEZER! They do manage to give me a chuckle each day, and that is a good thing!


Vicki and Pudgie Come to Town

Pudgie and Vicki are two of my dearest long-time friends. We all met as college freshman 40 years ago attending a private, female only religious school – we sure were happy to meet those cute boys at neighboring Xavier U. Pudgie and Vicki were assigned roommates that first year and very quickly became good friends. A lot of people wanted to be friends with Pudge since she had a very cute brother at XU and we figured she could be of great benefit to us. This is way before the phrase “hooking up” ever existed.

I happened to room with a high school friend of Vicki’s and was lucky enough to be included in their group. I lived on a different, and frankly way cooler floor, (yes, there was only one dorm) but spent a lot of time hiding in their closet when the floor supervisor (a tightly wound nun) did her “bed checks.” I wonder what they would call “bed checks” now?

We drank too much beer, laughed way too hard, watched “All My Children” each day (Susan Lucci was 16!!) and had a ton of fun – which we are still having. Pudgie even pierced my ears one night after I was asked to leave French class for laughing too much.

Since I left Cincinnati 4 years ago, Pudgie and Vicki have come to visit me each summer. The first year they came to N. Washington, visited Pike’s Place Market and enjoyed the beauty of the Northwest. For the past 3 summers they have come to Rochester.

Each year, as a good hostess, I try to make a “plan.” Each year I am determined to show them the local highlights. Each year they decline. Once again this year I offered to take them to Niagara Falls. The Canadian side is very cool and there is this great boat tour that goes under the Falls. My sister and I did it last summer, we got soaked but it was fun. Vicki said “do you get wet?” and when the response was “yes” she said “no.”

Next I proposed a tour of the
Corning Museum of Glass and they said it was too far (it’s only 1 ½ hours away).

Then I had another great idea - the
Mackenzie-Childs Factory and Showroom are not far. No thanks again. They are very polite.

Next, I offered the George Eastman House (the founder of Eastman-Kodak) — remember when Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman and everyone said she was the daughter of the founder of Kodak—ok, not true. In case you were wondering, that idea received a big no too.

My last idea was a walking tour of the Erie Canal given by my husband. I made the mistake of telling them he likes to sing “15 Miles on the Erie Canal” as he gives the tour. Boy, they declined that one in a hurry, even though I threw in ice cream at the end!

So, we did what we always do – sat on my porch and laughed and shared memories in between trips to the local casino, the mall and the discount stores. It was great!

*Becky Knows Everything: We made Becky’s Perfect Pizza one night for dinner and Vicki’s looked so good it was photographed for the blog.