Tuesday, February 20, 2018


I've been staying busy since my last post with my editing and writing work as well as preparing for a spring garage sale. The highlight of last month was getting to see the classic ballet, "Giselle", at Stephens Auditorium in Ames. The Russian dancers did an amazing job and I so loved seeing the ballerinas' beautiful costumes. I didn't expect to let so much time elapse between this and my last post but here it is February already! In my last post, I shared a photo of a vintage skunk pincushion I recently found and I promised to post about another recent vintage pincushion find. It's this sweet sofa pincushion. At only $8, I couldn't resist buying it!

This pincushion is quite large as it doubles as storage for sewing supplies. I'm not very good when it comes to dating fabric, so I can't be sure of when it was made. If any of you have a clue, please feel free to email me at tkhook@msn.com. Perhaps some of you have a similar pincushion passed down from a family member? I'd love to hear from you. The little sofa looks so cozy, it makes you wish it was large enough to snuggle up on and read a book!

Speaking of feeling cozy, I love drinking a warm cup of chai tea to chase away the winter blues. This is my favorite time to year to make my chai tea. I simmer it on the stovetop for two hours, then add cashew milk and a small amount of honey. This is the batch I made this morning.

As I drank my cup of chai, I was wishing I had more of the delicious scones that my husband and I enjoyed at a tea shop last week. This herbs de provence scone was among the best I've tasted.

We saved a matcha one to share when we got home and it was equally delicious. And what a treat that it was adorned with equally tasty icing.

This winter I've been reading a lot of books on the healing properties of herbs and I recently had an experience that enlightened me to their healing powers. I've always enjoyed using them in cooking but rarely used them for other purposes—except for drinking elderberry syrup from November to April to ward off the flu, which I haven't gotten for 12 years now. In January, we inherited a fairly new car with seat warmers. Well, to make a long story short, I suffered first-degree burns from my seat warmer. I sought help from the usual place you would go to for a skin issue, my dermatologist. The cream they prescribed did not work and they told me the burn would likely cause as scar. I didn't much like that so I decided to go to my herbalist/naturopath. When western medicine fails to solve a medical issue, I have no problem seeking alternative solutions and wow, did my herbalist come through for me. She made this healing herbal comfrey salve for me. In just under two weeks, the burns were completely healed—with no scars! This experience left me disappointed in my doctor. I don't know why she didn't recommend an herbal solution that could have solved my problem in little more than a week?! I am starting to see why more and more people are advocating an integrative approach to treating patients, using the best of what BOTH western and herbal medicine have to offer. Have any of you had similar experiences when a simple herb solved a problem that your doctor couldn't? 

And one last question—this one is for those of you who have made your own yogurt. Have you ever made it in an Instant Pot? I've been wanting to learn how to make my own yogurt since the kind I get is quite expensive. Since I'm lactose intolerant, I have to eat coconut milk yogurt instead of the traditional dairy kind. Well, the hubby surprised me with an Instant Pot for Valentine's Day and I hope to learn how to make yogurt in it so I don't have to keep buying it. For Valentine's dinner, we decided to go to one of our favorite restaurants, Django's. I wore my favorite pair of cat shoes on our outing. Just looking down at them makes me smile and I hope it leaves you with a smile, too, as I close this post. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


What better way to warm the soul on this cold winter day than with a cup of Korean walnut almond yam tea poured from the most adorable vintage owl teapot! I found him yesterday at a local antiques shop for only $5. He's only 5 inches tall so he makes the perfect teapot for one. I had to find a smaller cup to use with him. Luckily, I found one on my shelf of Yixing clay teapots.

Here are my other finds from the antiques shop. Yes, I have rather odd taste! That's a vintage skunk pincushion and a vintage patchwork quilt. I collect vintage pincushions and will share another one I recently found in a future post. I was drawn to the green color in the quilt, which was in very good condition.

My kitty companions, Figgy and Winnie, are keeping me in good company today. I had to get up early for an early-morning phone interview for a magazine article I'm writing, and these two guys got up right with me and watched over me from their perches in the parlor. 

Wishing you a warm Wednesday from all of us at Ashton House!

Monday, December 18, 2017


Long time, no see! I had fully intended to post back in October but once again, time got away from me. Since then, much has happened. One of the highlights was making my own mochi. I've loved this Japanese rice cake treat for years. (I am not Japanese but I can see why they love making it.) It's traditionally made with a red bean filling so I made one version with that and another kind geared more toward American tastes with strawberry. Of course, I had to make both pink! It seems like it would be difficult to make but it was much easier than I anticipated. My husband was so excited that he snapped this photo of me with my sweet little mochi.

And now back to October when I had intended to post! It was the first hard frost of the season and I was very sad to say goodbye to my beautiful squash plants. We harvested all we could that night. This was our last pick of the crop—beautiful acorn squash, 'Eight Ball' zucchini, patty pan squash, Middle Eastern zucchini, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and my favorite, my delicata squash.

We have a root cellar so I'm able to still enjoy the fruits of my harvest. Today I'm roasting some of my delicata squash for lunch. It's so easy. The hardest part of cooking winter squash for me was always cutting it because its exterior is so hard, but I found a solution that has made all the difference. I pierce the skin with a fork and heat it in the microwave for two minutes. It's then tender enough to easily cut. For delicata, you simply cut the squash in half lengthwise then cut it into 1/2 inch slices. 

Speaking of yummy things to eat, I found a new healthy recipe in a calendar I was recently given. It's for spinach puffs! They're made primarily of potato flakes and you guessed it, spinach! I scoop them with my largest cookie scoop onto a baking sheet and bake them for 30 minutes. I loved them so much that I made them as a side dish for our Thanksgiving feast.

I must admit the highlight of this year's Thanksgiving feast was making my own turkey broth. Those of you who've done this for years probably think this is crazy but for novices like me who have never done this before, it was truly a thrilling experience. I suddenly realized what I'd been missing all these years. The broth was incredibly delicious. The only thing that threw me initially was that it gelled into a jello-like consistency. It looked like a big bowl of turkey jello! The following Monday I called my local home extension service to ask about this and found out this was a good thing, meaning that the simmering process had really drawn out the collagen from the bones, creating the jelly consistency. Here is a photo of the broth right after we took it out of the pot so it hadn't gelled yet.

Our broth adventure also yielded this wonderful bowl of turkey meat from the carcass and veggies. This meat was so much more flavorful and tender than the one we ate for dinner. I enjoyed many dinners of this delicious broth and turkey meat.

With our Thanksgiving dessert, I always serve tea. One of my favorite teas is blooming tea in which you place a tea bloom in a pot and let it steep. My favorites are jasmine and chrysanthemum tea. I buy a lot of my tea at Little Woods Herbal and Teas in Ames and I took this photo of one of their tea blooms steeping in a glass teapot. If you're going to bother with blooming tea, you want to serve it in a glass teapot to show off the beautiful bloom.

These are my glass teapots. I served my tea in the larger squatter pot on the right since it serves more people. I haven't used the little one at the left yet but I love its shape. It's better suited to serving two or so people. 

I didn't have much time to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving like I usually do. The pink Christmas tree is up, though. (You can see photos of it in last year's December posts.) I did find these wonderful paper accordion trees from West Elm. I was worried that they might be sort of flimsy but they're very stout little things so I was worried for naught. They make a delightful little winter forest on my table.

I don't know about you but when the weather turns chilly, I suddenly get more in the mood to curl up and read a good book but not just any good book—one that promises to enrich my life somehow. Here are my picks for December. I've read many books on the Danish concept of hyyge so why not this one on the Swedish art of balanced living?

This is totally unrelated to anything that I've talked about but it certainly made me smile when I saw it so I thought I'd end this post with a photo of sweet little sheep fob I recently found. Those who know me well know that I have a fondness for sheep. I don't know if it comes from my love of wool or the fact that sheep are just plain cute creatures. Who knew they made sheep fobs that you could hang from your purse?! 

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Last weekend we enjoyed a fun stay in the Twin Cities visiting friends and taking a tour of backyard chicken coops organized by one of our favorite area shops, Eggplant Urban Farm Supply. The hosts and their chickens were most welcoming, and their landscapes were equally charming. One homeowner invited us to hold her chickens. I was happy to oblige but hubby was a little more tentative.

There were so many beautiful coops and chickens on the tour. 

As I was taking photos at this location, I noticed a feline friend had taken great interest in all the activity around her. 

Many of the chickens at the following stop won awards at the state fair.

We also managed to check out some cute shops we hadn't been to before, including the sweetest candy shop (3rd photo below) and crafty shop (first two photos below). I like how the crafty shop reinvented those large wooden spools that once corralled power cables into colorful displays for fabric. 

When I'm in the Twin Cities (usually twice a year), one thing I like to do is buy my clothes for the upcoming season because they don't have any sales tax on clothing. I found the most comfy tunic and leggings at Lolë. I'm short enough that I can actually wear the tunic as a dress but I think I will wear it with the leggings. I like this shop because they have classic activewear in nice neutrals like gray, black and taupe. I don't like anything flashy when it comes to activewear, and comfort is always at the top of my list. 

The pants have the coolest mesh detail. I don't know if this photo captures it well enough but here it is.

I also love the shop's slogan! It's an inspiring message for us all. 

My other favorite find was this vintage wool pillow cover that I found at an occasional vintage shop right in the heart of the city. I thought it would go perfectly with my pink sofa (pictured below) and it sure did. It didn't come with a pillow form but luckily, I had the right size one in my sewing room. Tom always gets a laugh from the fact that I can find practically whatever I need in this house—and the pillow form was no exception!

We finished the weekend off by treating ourselves to some of our favorite local Des Moines treats once we returned—Jewish potato and spinach pies and Mexican sweet bread dressed in my favorite hue, pink. Yum!

When we returned, we were delighted to find our garden was still flourishing. The butternut, delicata and acorn squash have been producing well and more should be ready to harvest soon.

I have so much zucchini this year that I decided to freeze some so I can enjoy zucchini fritters in the middle of winter. I wasn't aware that you could preserve zucchini but I got instructions on how to preserve it from the Iowa Extension Service. My food processor sure got a workout that day!

Thursday, August 3, 2017


It's been five long months since I posted, so I'm doubtful anyone is still reading but I'll continue to write since I promised myself I'd keep this blog as an occasional diary of life's happenings. It's been a great help remembering when certain things took place and how things like my garden have evolved over the past seven years. To make a long story short, I had a rather rough spring and it's taken me longer than anticipated to get back on the blogging track. I had no less than five family members in the hospital for various things. We sadly lost one but the other four are okay now, thankfully. All the stress took a toll on my well being and I've been trying to practice self-care like yoga and making nutritious smoothies in my new Vitamix to get back on track. I've been taking yoga classes twice a week and a water exercise class once a week at my local Y. I'm hoping to eventually take a couple water classes a week if I can bring myself to get there early in the morning. Part of the healing process has also been getting back in the sewing room. The other afternoon I decided to try making a cute pincushion pattern I found in a Country Register a few years ago. It's the cutest cat head pincushion.

I've also been busy trying to keep up with the garden, which has been a challenge this year since we're practically in a drought here in central Iowa. I don't think we've even gotten a half of an inch of rain in the last three months. As a result, I've been watering the garden nearly ever other day and my edibles are still struggling. I was very disappointed to get only this much from the garden one day last week. I usually get more than twice that much on any given day. Everything started out so well at the beginning of the growing season. I started harvesting zucchini in late June, which people say is early. My cherry tomatoes started coming along in mid July. If you grow zucchini, I'd be curious to know if this is typical timing for zucchini. Feel free to email me by clicking the Email Me button located at the top right sidebar of my blog. 

This is my first year growing tomatoes and among the six varieties I chose is this fun grape tomato called 'Chocolate Sprinkles' and wow, does it taste good. I would highly recommend it. 

I grew this pattypan squash from seed and just started harvesting it last week.

When life does give me zucchini, I make zucchini fritters...

Or a zoodle (zucchini noodle) salad with my spiralizer. If you have a spiralizer, I would be curious to know which brand you have and if you like it (Again feel free to email me by clicking the Email Me button in the right sidebar of my blog). I am 75 percent satisfied with the kind I have but don't feel the suction cups that are supposed to keep the unit in place work as well as they could. 

Speaking of kitchen gadgets, I recently found the perfect solution to making rice and quinoa for my small household of two. It's this handy little mini rice cooker, which I found for $14. I could never bring myself to buy the larger ones since they were way oversized for what we need. This cooker makes up to two cups, which is plenty for us. Best of all, it's pink! I just thought I'd mention it for those of you with small households like us. We use the extra rice to make coconut milk rice pudding.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


My heart always sings when I see the first harbingers of spring—the crocus—in my garden. Here they are peeking through the layer of leaves we leave in the fall to protect the flowers through the winter.  I also noticed the leaves of my rhubarb plant are starting to redden.

Too bad it still feels like winter here in central Iowa. The colder months often find me baking something to satisfy our sweet toothes. My vintage owl cookie jar was crying out for more cookies. 

So I obliged by making a batch of ginger cookies with molasses. They are my favorite kind of cookie. Does anyone else out there like molasses cookies? I always hear about people raving about chocolate chip or peanut butter but I rarely hear people singing the praises of molasses. If you regularly read this blog, you know that my husband is prediabetic, so I have to find ways to reduce or eliminate the sugar in the treats we keep around the house. The only sugar these cookies have are the molasses and turbinado sugar I rolled them in. I also substituted half of the butter (it called for a whole stick!) with a healthier alternative and most of the flour with whole wheat flour. These cookies are NOT designed to crackle as much as regular molasses cookies. I tried three other molasses cookie recipes and we found this recipe tastes the best with no sacrifice in flavor for the healthier substitutions. 

Besides cookies, my husband has also been clamoring for homemade granola. He buys a couple brands every week at the store hoping to find something healthier but good-tasting. I don't know much about granola but he told me it's actually pretty bad for you because of the sugar and oil. So I made it my mission to find a healthier alternative for him. I found most of my ingredients at my local Trader Joes. I already had plenty of old-fashioned oats and unsalted walnuts in the pantry. All nuts we used were unsalted due to my kidney condition. 

I enjoyed baking up this sugar-free, oil-free granola. We like it as dark as possible without burning it. I'd like to eventually add dried fruit to the mix but I couldn't find any that hadn't been sweetened at the grocery stores, so I plan to dry some blueberries in my dehydrator for the next batch. Despite being oil-free, this recipe actually clumps because of the special syrup I use but I'm not one to have to have clumps in my granola. I prefer to break it all up but my husband likes small clumps.

Last but not least, I wish you all a Happy St. Paddy's Day. I just love the way my favorite kitty boutique dressed up their window for the festive occasion! How cute is that?!