Category Archives: Food

How to Stay Cozy: Warm Chili Dinner

Every Halloween, my mom cooked chili. Steaming hot chili with oyster crackers floating on top. It was served in red, orange, ochre and brown ceramic bowls. Even the colors of the dishes were warm. We would eat the chili to warm up before dressing in our costumes to go trick or treating in the crisp autumn air. Now, for me, chili is forever linked with cool fall evenings. I crave this chili when the nights get cold and the leaves start turning color.

Today I’ll share the chili recipe, plus tips to make an autumn dinner feel warm and comfortable, in partnership with the “Keep It Cozy” campaign.

Autumn Chili Recipe


  • 1 pound ground beef (as a vegetarian household, we substitute with MorningStar Grillers Crumbles or Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles for vegetarian chili)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup (sometimes we use fire roasted diced tomatoes)
  • 2 16 oz. cans of red kidney beans
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

In a bit of oil in a deep skillet or big saucepan, brown the beef and cook the onion, garlic and chili powder until the onion is tender.

Add remaining ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Makes 4 servings.


Chili Ingredients

We like to add fire roasted corn to the recipe. And serve it with sharp aged cheddar cheese grated on the top. I also love chili powder from Penzey’s or a flavorful chipotle chili. It has rich savory flavor without tongue-burning heat. But mostly, I try to keep the chili close to mom’s original recipe. There are a bazillion chili recipes out there, but there’s nothing like the original favorite food that you enjoyed as a child.

Cozy Color

Color can go a long way to creating a cozy feeling. Darker warm colors like red, terra cotta and paprika, olive green, even navy, all work together to make meals feel like comfort food on chilly days.

Autumn-hued bowls look great with the chili, such as these from Wayfair:

Autumn Color Dinnerware

Top to bottom:  Fiesta Soup Bowl in Paprika | Brimson 4-Piece Pasta Bowl SetFiesta Pasta Bowl in Sage | Fiesta Chili Bowl in Cobalt

Bowls that are labeled for cereal, pasta and soup can work just as well for chili.

Copper Flatware

Copper, a warm color metal, is a great accent for cozy fall tablescapes. Use copper color in flatware, cups and chargers:

Copper Tableware

Top to bottom: David Shaw Silverware, Antique Flatware Set | Vintage Solid Copper Cocktail Mug | Copper Charger Plates

Autumn Color Table Runner

I love to decorate my dining table with unexpected, different things like a table runner made from kimono fabric. I find kimono fabrics on eBay. They’re about 14″ wide — perfect for table runners! Here’s a silk kimono fabric with autumn leaves and colors that I shared in a blog post several years ago:

Wouldn’t the bowls and copper pieces shown above look great with this fabric as a table runner? Add candles, pumpkins and acorns, and you have a cozy autumn table.

Hot Cocoa

Is there anything cozier than a big mug of hot cocoa? Okay a fireplace is pretty cozy. But a mug of hot cocoa, you can cuddle it in your hands. My favorite hot cocoa powder is from Droste and I love marshmallows from Williams-Sonoma. The hand-crafted marshmallows are expensive so they are a rare indulgence, but soooooooo good.

Be a little greedy and make cocoa in an oversized mug! There’s more space for more marshmallows, and more warm mug to cuddle with in your hands!

Hot Cocoa Combo

Top to bottom: Droste Cocoa PowderWilliams-Sonoma Handmade Marshmallows | Mint Pantry Drexel 20 oz. Mug

The Droste Cocoa Powder is a rich powder. You add sugar to the powder in a mug. Then, pour in just enough hot milk, a few tablespoons, to melt the powder and stir it into the consistency of paint. Then, pour in the remainder of the milk and stir. Add a few marshmallows if you’d like and sprinkle some cinnamon.

Dimmable Lighting

Dimmable lighting is perfect for the dining room. You can blast the light real bright when you need it, like when kids are doing homework or you’re doing a crafty DIY project on the dining table. When you want moody ambiance with lower light, you can have that just by dimming the light.

I really like the style of this dimmable chandelier at Wayfair. The quatrefoil design is flexible — it can go with my global nomadic style (quatrefoil pattern is common in Morocco and India), it can go well with modern farmhouse style, or even rustic mountain or “up north” cabin style.

Dimmable Chandelier at Wayfair

Bennington Candle-Style Chandelier 

Candle Wall Sconce

I like to light candles for ambiance and fragrance. With curious cats in the house, I have to be careful with candles. One of our cats will go and sniff the flame and then his whiskers start smoking! We don’t want things to get that cozy!

If you have pets and kids, you can still have candles. Put them high up, like on the wall as candle sconces, or on fireplace mantels. I really like this candle wall sconce for safety reasons because you can place the candle high up, and there’s also a glass hurricane:

Three Posts Glass Wall Sconce

It’s big enough to hold a substantial, tall 3″ diameter pillar candle, and should cast a nice cozy glow on the wall.

You can find candle wall sconces in many different styles. Here are a few more options:

Brayden Studio Metal Candle Sconce at Wayfair

Iron and Wood Candle Wall Sconce at Wayfair

Top to bottom: Brayden Studio Metal Sconce | Lark Manor Iron and Wood Candle Sconce

My cats don’t go on the dining table (at least not while I’m looking!) but you never know if they’ll get curious when they see a candle. So I feel better hanging candle wall sconces. Let’s keep fire where it belongs — in the fireplace and on candles only!

It All Adds Up To A Cozy Dining Room

My own dining room has many of these elements. I have a dimmable chandelier, candle wall sconces in a Moroccan style, and the walls are painted a warm cozy paprika color. We have some deep orange plates and olive green touches for the table. I can tell you, sitting in there feels like a warm embrace, perfect on colder fall and winter days!

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Food Memories from Travels: Homemade Muesli Recipe

Muesli is like cereal – you can eat it for breakfast (or at my house, any time!) but without the processed sugars, preservatives and other fake chemical stuff that’s often in cereals. It’s natural and it’s good for you. I got the muesli habit during a Tuscan vacation. I would eat muesli, yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfast at this table here, while soaking up the sunshine and looking at the olive groves and the villa’s gardens:

Tuscan Villa Outdoor Veranda Dining

Ahhhhh! Who wouldn’t want to keep remembering that view when they got home?!? Every time I eat muesli the way I prepared it in Tuscany, it brings back this vacation feeling, even when I’m standing in my Chicago area kitchen in the middle of winter.

During most overseas trips I discover a new food habit. In Italy years ago it was muesli. (I already had the wine drinking habit!) In South India, it was dosa, vada and idli. I came back from Morocco with a raging pomegranate addiction, and started sprinkling pomegranate seeds on muesli and yogurt and … well, everything, even creative pizzas.

Yummy Homemade Muesli Recipe

But muesli is not easy to find near my home, and whenever I do rarely find it, it has way too many raisins in it, and it’s expensive.

So … how to get affordable raisin-free muesli?

Why not make it yourself? It took nearly 7 years for me to get that bright idea, now obvious. I’m giving the idea to you, right away! You can get most of the ingredients for this muesli recipe in the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods:

Homemade Muesli Recipe


Get one or more items from each of the following five categories:

  • Grains – Get several different grains like rolled oats, flaked barley, flaked rye. Get 1 heaping bulk bin scoop of each grain.
  • Seeds – Add a handful of several different larger seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pepita seeds. Look for larger seeds. We’ve also added flax seeds into the mix.
  • Nuts – A scoop of nuts, like almond slivers or crumbled walnuts. Choose softer nuts that aren’t too hard on your teeth.
  • Dried fruits – Toss a handful of dehydrated fruits to your taste. You can mix several different fruits like dates, apples, raisins, pineapple, cranberries, apricots, cranberries.
  • Flavors – Be creative. Add a handful of dehydrated coconut flakes, a spoonful of savory “breakfast” spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice.

For about $8 at the Whole Foods bulk bins, we get enough ingredients for a few dozen breakfasts.

Homemade Muesli Recipe

Choosing for Texture and Good Looks

I choose a mix of textures so there’s not too much powdery flaky stuff. That wouldn’t feel pleasant to eat. That’s the main complaint people have about muesli – they say it’s dry and mealy. Not this recipe! I make sure I get full flakes and full grains from the bulk bins, not ground-down powder. Also, a mix of larger sizes and crunchy things will help prevent muesli from feeling mealy. For example, I found the cutest little crunchy nuts at Whole Foods – they are called hunza sweet apricot kernels and they say “Himalayan” on the label. Just slap the word “Himalayan” on the packaging and I’m a sucker, I’ll buy it!

I also choose different textures and colors so it looks interesting too. Like green pumpkin seeds and red dried cranberries to break up all the brown and beige.


You can leave the ingredients raw or lightly toast them. Toasting brings out some flavors, and great aromas too. Spread the ingredients about 1/2″ thick on a baking sheet, then pop the baking sheet in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes. I left mine in longer. Just keep a close eye – you want it to brown just a bit but not start burning. You can toss it mid-way through the oven time if needed.

Toasting Homemade Muesli Mix


I actually just found out while researching homemade muesli recipes that you can eat muesli hot or soaked. I’m sorry I can’t offer much advice about that. I’ve always had a weird thing (okay call it a quirk!) that I don’t like any liquid at all on my cereal. I don’t get how people can put milk in their cereal! It seems so gross to me because I don’t like milk, and the cereal gets mushy. I have to eat cereal dry. So there’s that.

Annnnnd … I loathe raisins. I will spend a lot of time picking them out of muesli so not a single raisin falls into the bowl. It’s really irrational. So the beauty of homemade muesli is you can make it the way you like it! Save yourself all the raisin-picking-outing time.

Homemade Muesli with Yogurt and Pomegranate Seeds

I always throw fresh fruit on my muesli/yogurt combo: diced apples, pomegranate seeds, blackberries, blueberries, sliced bananas, maybe diced honeydew. You can see I’m thinking of fruits that aren’t too juicy … because the muesli/cereal can’t get wet and mushy, right?!

So the muesli stays mush-free, I add yogurt on the side. You can use any yogurt you like. I’m partial to Stonyfield low fat or no fat “smooth and creamy” – either plain or french vanilla.

Homemade Muesli Recipe

I hope you try this muesli recipe! Enjoy!!


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A Place to Dine on Lotus Roots and See Swirls

I’d never eaten lotus roots before. But I did last Friday night. There wasn’t much to taste in the lotus roots themselves, but they were perfectly crisped and sauced with flavors. And I kind of liked the darkness and the strength of the place. I got a bit obsessed with the walls, there …

What a neat little touch, those gold jewels on the walls. There was just a single subtle row of them, maybe seven feet up.

I will be back again for more lotus roots. And swirls.

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