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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Eggs Benedict

We were very lucky to have our eldest son and daughter-in-law (Pat & Melissa) fly in from the east coast for Christmas. Our youngest son, Chris, drove in from the Bay Area to join us, so we really had a fun family Christmas! We missed Chris's fiancee, Eleni, but she spent Christmas with her parents.

Some of the memorable moments from Christmas morning were Pat's 'Beanie with a Beard'...

Melissa's handpainted (by Chris) Florida State Seminole Football player Nutcracker...

Kevin's 'drone' for the home...

and Chris's crazy dress socks.

Melissa is a pretty fabulous cook, as are both Pat & Chris...hmmm, wonder where they get that from? They decided to make Eggs Benedict for breakfast...using Alton Brown's Hollandaise Sauce Recipe of course...whisking by hand, not using a blender...

Breakfast was DE-licious!

We had a lot of laughs playing board games, drinking some fantastic pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon wines and of course,  writing on a quote board some of the funny things we (mostly, I) said during the week...

"the presents are having rabbits"  (I meant that the presents were multiplying each day)
"Chris put your magnets on" (we had a magnetic block for the blowtorch heat vent in Chris's room)

The house is so quiet now that they are back in their respective homes.

We can't wait until the next visit!

Hope your Christmas was happy!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Fifteen..Gaudete Sunday

Today, in the Church, it is the Third Sunday of Advent...also known as Gaudete Sunday.

The reason it is called, "Gaudete Sunday", is because the Latin translation of the Introit (the scripture passage used when there is no music at Mass) is, " Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near."  (Phillipians 4:4-5) and in Latin it says, " Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum." 

It's all about REJOICE this week!

In the Catholic Church, the more somber violet-purple vestments of the,  "little penitential season of Advent"  give way to rose-pink colored vestments- to remember that we are getting closer to Christmas and it's time to rejoice! We are supposed to be encouraged in our spiritual preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ...and when He will come again.

Christmas is not about red and green, or presents, or parties, or the birthday of Jesus, or even family. Christmas is about the preparation for when Jesus Christ will come again; and to commemorate the mystery of when The Word of God became flesh- that is, a man, like us, in all things but sin.
It is far more than a birthday party.

It's one of the reasons that I get a little irritated by all the well-meaning folks who make such a big deal about store employees who don't say, "Merry Christmas" or the "War on Christmas" talked about ad nauseam on some TV stations. Other things drive me absolutely crazy too- like singing, "Happy Birthday, Jesus" at Mass on Christmas Eve at the 'Children's Mass." ARGH!!! It's not a birthday party!!

Look, it's perfectly fine to people to say, "Happy Holidays". It's a National Holiday. I don't care if a Nativity Scene is up or down or even allowed. I don't even care if people celebrate this National Holiday by exchanging gifts, singing secular songs and spending time with the ones they love- or not.

That's not what Christmas is about for is not about what other people,  "do or do not." (to quote Yoda)

For Christians, it has a different meaning.

So, celebrate Christmas any way you want...and don't get hung up on the fact that others don't celebrate it the way you THINK it should be celebrated-especially if you are a Christian.

If you are a Christian, and you celebrate the Advent season by fasting, prayer and alms-giving, and the Christmas Season by attending Church services, serving others, and remembering that we believe and look forward to when that He will come again- and that He took on the flesh of man and was born of the Virgin Mary and suffered like one of us- well, then, you have celebrated Christmas! And, you know, if you did it right, others will notice.

Really, what you DO says a lot more than what you say.

Happy Holidays.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Fourteen- A little Christmas Craft

I thought I'd write about a trendy craft item I made with a thrift store find. I'll use them for Christmas dinner this year!

These are chalkboard napkin rings. All things, 'Chalkboard' are very trendy right now, from Restoration Hardware to Crate and Barrel , from William-Sonoma to Etsy.

These are very easy to make! I collected a couple of sets of napkin rings from thrift stores in the area for 99 cents a set....bought some chalkboard paint at The Home Depot for $9.67  and  a set of 4 chalk markers at Michael's for around $9. I didn't really 'need' the chalkboard markers, but when you are a southpaw like me anything that helps to write straight is good! The chalkboard markers are much easier to handle and wipe away just like, they come in some fun colors!

I will also be using the chalkboard paint and chalk markers for several other projects.

First, I cleaned the napkin rings very well and dried them. Then, I sanded the plastic ones just a bit to help the paint stick.

Then, I applied three coats of chalkboard paint to each napkin ring, using a 1" wide foam paint brush. I let each coat dry for about an hour. The final coat I applied with a artist's brush to touch up spots.

I let them all dry for 24 hours, then, rubbed a piece of real chalk all over each napkin ring. This 'cures' the paint and makes it a great surface to write on with chalk or chalk markers.

I wiped them with a slightly damp cloth, and they were ready to go!

They should look good for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Eleven..."Out of Shape"

It creeps up on you silently, unknowingly...even as you feed it every day.
You decide to park your fanny on the couch after a long day of work and reward yourself with a couple of glasses of wine. Then, you eat half a bag of salty chips because you like the crunch. And you missed dinner.
You say, "I don't have time!" because you don't MAKE time.
You use the treadmill as a clothes hanger.
You take an extra portion at lunch and dinner because you skipped breakfast.
You stop by the Green Blade Bakery and devour a ham and cheddar croissant on your way to work because you didn't make the time to have breakfast...and then, pick up a box full of pastries 'for the office' and then, eat half of them.
Coffee and Donuts are your favorite part of the social time after Mass...especially those warm maple bars.
You taste a little (LOT) of everything at Church potlucks or parties.
Then, it happens.
You are, "Out of Shape" and FAT.
Today, the chickens came home to roost for me. Even though my actual chickens had to be coerced to go to the roost- well, you get the metaphor.
It's been a long time goal for both me and Kevin to live somewhere really close to a great ski area! We talked about chucking it all and moving to Mammoth for many years after we got married..."Someday, when we retire and the kids are grown up, we will sell everything and move to Mammy and be lifties and ski every day until we get free tickets when we are 70"...that kind of someday. (unless the state taxes are horrible- then we will move out of state- which we did)
We finally managed to at least move to a ski area this year- we are 30 minutes from the parking lot of Heavenly Mountain to the driveway of our house. We aren't working as lifties- um, yet- maybe next season?
And, we did manage to get season passes for Heavenly Resort and Kirkwood Resort and Northstar Resort
all of which are within an hour or less of our house in Carson City.
Today we hit the slopes.
I have not skiied for several years- between working days and nights and the crazy, dangerous road to Mt. Bachelor or to Mt. Shasta- I just had excuse after excuse to not ski. And truthfully, the past couple of years worth of medical issues with the dogs has kept me home.
Since we've moved to Carson City I was determined to get in shape for ski season.
I've gone for a walk and have been on the treadmill every single day. I've been lifting some light weights and doing sit ups and push ups. I've been watching what I shove in the pie hole, too.
Today, we got the show on the road and went to Heavenly to ski.
I thought I was gonna a good way. My legs just wouldn't cooperate in turning the way I wanted them to turn. I was wheezing and gasping walking up to the lift. I almost cried as I pushed with all my upper body strength to push myself to the lift. I had to stop frequently as I turned back and forth across the whole freakin' mountain to get down the hill...but in spite of nearly crying with pain, I loved every second of it.
And I realized just how 'Out of shape" I am.
But- we are heading back up the mountain tomorrow!
I love to ski and I will survive!
Maybe I'll even have some pictures tomorrow :)
I'm not gonna be fat and out of shape anymore! I'm gonna ski my ass, literally.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Ten....Heavenly Mountain!

Kevin and I made the run up to Heavenly Mountain to get our season passes today!

It was beautiful and sunny-about 38 degrees. There was still a lot of untouched snow on the way up, but the roads were clear and mostly dry.

We stopped for lunch at Sushi Pier and then, we decided to ride the Gondola.

It was amazing!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Nine and Chicken Tater Tot Pie

Sometimes, you just want comfort food for dinner when it's cold and snowy and -8 degrees outside!

I thought about chicken pot pie, but Kevin doesn't like pie crust very much on savory foods. Now, if I made a cherry pie for dinner, he's eat the entire thing!

I decided to make a chicken pot pie casserole...but I had the inspiration to use tater tots as a crust. It turned out REALLY good!

First, I diced up all the veggies I could find in the fridge- 1/2 jalapeno, 1/2 onion, 2 peeled carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 1 small red bell pepper, 1 small yellow bell pepper, 15 sugar snap peas, 6 spears of asparagus, and 1/2 can of water chestnuts. Sorry, the photo editor is not cooperating today- I had some beautiful photos!

Then, I diced 2 cloves of garlic and put a pan on the stove over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

While the pan heated up, I chopped up a couple of poached boneless skinless chicken breasts. (I always keep a couple already cooked or grilled in the fridge for last minute salads, wraps or dinner)
I mixed one can of cream of chicken soup with 1/2 can of half and half and blended it together in a separate bowl.

When the pan was hot, I added the vegetables and sauteed them for about 5 minutes. I added 1/2 cup of frozen peas and stirred them in to the veggie mixture along with the chopped chicken breasts. Then, I added the cream of chicken soup/half and half mixture and cooked for a few minutes, until it was nice and thick. I removed it from the stove to cool a bit.

I sprayed a casserole dish with non-stick spray, then poured the mixture into the casserole dish.

I topped the chicken and veggie mixture with frozen tater tots.

Some of the pictures are cooperating but not all of them!

Then, I sprinkled about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese on top and popped it into a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. This is a small Le Creuset casserole dish- 10" x 7". (Thanks, Eleni!!) It gets a lot of use in our house with just the two of us!

It smelled fabulous while it was cooking...and tasted even better!

A little green salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and some homemade blue cheese dressing, and we had a down-home country dinner on a chilly winter night!

Oh, and of course, a glass of wine :)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Eight- and Labneh!

A few days ago I posted a recipe using za'atar, which is a delicious spice blend typically used in middle-eastern dishes. One of my friends commented that her favorite way to use za'atar was to eat it with labne. Well, I had never heard of of course, I googled it..and found that it is a deliciously tangy type of yogurt cheese that is very easy to make.

That same day, I got an email from a cooking food site Food52 that featured...labneh. Wierd, right? Anyhow, as I read about it, I decided that it is the kind of flavor I would enjoy- a little salty, savory and tangy spreadable cheese goodness. It has several spellings but it's all basically the same...plain yogurt strained for several days until super thick. It can be used as a spread, or a dip, or if allowed to drain long enough, cheese balls. I am not a fan of yogurt unless it's in a dip or a salad dressing- I don't usually eat yogurt ...especially not the sweet kind or with fruit. *shudder* Bleah. But, I usually have a container in the fridge for homemade salad dressings or as an addition to a marinade or dip. I do, however, love cheese, and I always love salty, savory and sour-tangy flavors, so I made some.

I checked several recipes and decided to use the easiest one with the fewest ingredients. I figured I could add seasonings later.

I took a very clean white tea towel that I had rinsed very well and lined a strainer. Then, I placed it over a bowl to catch the whey. I used a 32 ounce container of Trader Joe's plain non-fat Greek yogurt and stirred in about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Then, I carefully spooned all of the yogurt into the tea towel and twisted the top. Lots of watery whey started to leak out from the tea towel right away! I placed it in the fridge and let it sit for 24 hours.

OK, yes, I forgot to take pictures.

I was really excited this afternoon when the labneh was ready...there was a lot of whey in the bottom of the bowl! I still don't quite know what to do with the whey, but it's in a jar in the fridge for the time being...until I figure out what to do with it.

I decided to make some cheese balls with the labneh since we are expecting company soon. I spooned the labneh out into a container, and then, I took a teaspoon to scoop out some of the cheese and rolled it into little balls. I placed the balls into a very clean, sterilized jar, covered them with extra virgin olive oil and placed them into the fridge. Supposedly they will actually last a month or so...unless I eat them all!

We had an afternoon football game appetizer while San Francisco beat Seattle (thank you, Colin Kaepernick for helping my fantasy team!) and I added some labneh.

As suggested by my friend Mayanne, I added some za'atar and a drizzle of olive oil.

I served it spread on a Trader Joe's Savory Thin rice & sesame cracker....heaven! It was tangy, creamy, very spreadable and delicious!
You have to make this!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Seven...Parmesan Creamed Spinach

Kevin and I used to love to go to a restaurant in Newport Beach called, Gulliver's. It looked like an old 18th century English tavern, with wenches as servers and amazing prime rib. The prime rib was always served with creamed corn, Yorkshire pudding, creamed horseradish, and the absolute best creamed spinach I've ever eaten.
Last night, for some reason, I was thinking about that delicious creamed spinach as I was planning dinner, so I decided to whip up a batch.
I didn't use a recipe, I just improvised.
First, I finely diced 1/2 of an onion and 2 garlic cloves. I sauteed them in 2 tablespoons of butter for about 5 minutes over medium heat, then added 2 tablespoons of flour. I blended the flour in well and cooked the mixture for a couple of minutes. I added about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and a couple of grinds of pepper.

In the meantime, I defrosted a 16 ounce bag of Trader Joe's Chopped Spinach in the microwave.
When the spinach was mostly defrosted, I dumped it into the pan of onion-butter-flour. I mixed it together well. The moisture in the spinach helped to thicken the sauce.

I added some half and half, stirring until well incorporated...probably about 1/2 cup.

Here's the real secret to cooking spinach perfectly- add a few dashes of grated nutmeg. It really adds something wonderful to the spinach!

I added a little more half and half when the mixture began to get really thick. When it was incorporated into the spinach I added about 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese and gave it a good stir.

I sprayed a casserole dish with non-stick spray, and poured the mixture into the casserole dish.

I topped it with some homemade bread crumbs and popped it into the pre-heated oven at 350 degrees.

20 minutes later, it was done perfectly!

I can't tell you how incredibly delicious this was! We had about 1 cup of the creamed spinach left over, so I reheated it this morning and used it as a tasty sauce over sunny side up eggs on toast. Still yummy!

We needed a nice and warm breakfast after getting 8" of snow overnight!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Six and....Transformed Vintage Glass

I mentioned yesterday that I was working on a project with vintage glass pieces I found at a local thrift/junk shop. Here are the pieces that I picked up...

One of the design/craft blogs that I enjoy reading is called Little Green Notebook. Jenny has some great ideas! I loved the one where she transformed thrift store glass into jewelry containers that look like Opaline Glass.

I did some copper colored pieces a few weeks ago to add some 'fall' color to my vanity...

my favorite one is the little candy dish with a couple of Yorkies.

This time, I thought I'd try to imitate mercury glass for Christmas decor. I used Krylon Chrome spray paint.

The technique is pretty easy. First, find a safe place to spray paint and make sure your paint can is warmed up! It's been in the single digits and teens this week during the day, so I left the spray paint in the house overnight and shook it up really well before spraying.  Then, I made a newspaper bed for the glass dishes. Make sure the dishes are really clean and dry. Flip the dishes over and spray a fine mist of water on the bottom of the dish. Spray with a light coat of spray paint. Gently blot the dish with paper towels.

Allow them to dry to the touch, and repeat. When they are completely dry (about 2 hours) spray with a clear coat of gloss to help protect the finish. (I used Rustoleum Clear Gloss) The clear coat will also help for the paint to adhere in the event you need to wash the dish. You don't need to spray paint the inside- the paint will be let a little light sparkle through! Let the dishes dry/harden overnight and they are ready to go!

I found another clear Mikasa Christmas Tree dish without gold trim at the same thrift store, without a label or box, so I went ahead and used that one :) It makes a perfect place to hold a nail brush in the guest bathroom! It also adds a little sparkle!

I placed the candy dishes in the guest room, on the dresser, with soap and shampoo for guests- as well as other things they might forget....

Isn't this a cute idea? I think I might be making more of these to match the decor every different season!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Five and Vintage Finds!

I really enjoy going to thrift shops, second hand stores and garage sales. I can often find exactly what I need for a great price.
A few years ago, when Kevin and I started to expand the plants we started in the house for spring planting, we didn't have a good way to drag 40 different pots from the heated garage to the driveway for hardening-off. Kevin mentioned that he wished we had one of those little red metal Radio Flyer wagons.  I checked the local stores and found brand new ones for about $70....well, I wasn't going to pay that kind of money to move plants around for a couple of weeks, so I found one at a garage sale for $5 and bought it! That was in 2008 and I still use it every spring.

Back when we lived in Rancho Santa Margarita, I used to garage sale a LOT. I sold a lot of stuff on ebay from garage sales! One time, I found an unusual piece of pottery that had a mark on I bought it for $1. I sold it on ebay for a couple hundred dollars...turned out it was vintage Hawai'ian pottery that the Hawai'ian people are trying to collect and bring back to Hawai'i...anyhow, I went out to a couple of thrift shops this week.

I have a couple of projects I want to work on and I needed some candy dishes to complete the projects. I found all of these at a place called, FISH in downtown Carson City. It's a junk shop, or thrift store, and it is jam-packed with all kinds of stuff. FISH stands for, "Friends in Service Helping" and it is a charitable organization dedicated to serving the needs of the homeless and hungry of Carson City and helping them towards self-sufficiency. It's a very admirable organization since they use the money raised from the donations to the store and the purchases to run a Food Bank, a medical clinic and two homeless shelters. I like the fact that they don't just hand stuff out- they actually refer people and assist with job training to help people help themselves.

Back to the project of the day- one of the design blogs that I read had a tutorial for turning thrift store glass into 'opalite' look alike to store jewelry. I thought it looked so pretty that I wanted to try the same thing, but with different colors. Hence, the collection of glass dishes. I paid between 10 cents and 50 cents for each on of the above pieces.

Tomorrow, I'll show you the results of the project- it's looking pretty good, if I might say so- but I had another reason to tell you about shopping at thrift stores today:

This beautiful clear glass dish with no chips or cracks has a beautiful raspberry design on the bowl. It also has a thin gold rim and is marked "France" on the bottom. I paid 49 cents for it....and I found the same one on ebay for....$18.00!

I think at one time or another, we have all had some Mikasa glass candy dishes at our homes! This little beauty has no chips or cracks and was packed in the original box (from the 1980s). I found it on ebay for $14.99! (I have the label for this- it fell off)

Needless to say, I'm hanging on to these beautiful vintage pieces! By the way, 'vintage' is defined as anything that is at least 20 years old...antiques are at least 50 years old. Sigh. I guess I'm an antique, now....

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Blogging Day Four...Seafood and Pomegranate Molasses

I braved Snowmageddon here in Carson City yesterday because I had a hankering for some halibut.

It's really funny how the newspapers and local TV stations have been building up the big storm we had yesterday, but apparently, no one in this area took them very seriously.  It started to snow very lightly yesterday around 9AM and built up to a pretty good snowfall by the end of the day. We received about 6-7" total at my house.

Although I am a native of Orange County CA I DO know how to drive in the snow...unlike a bunch of people in this area, apparently. I was amazed at the number of wrecks and spin-outs on Highway 395/Carson Street yesterday when I went to Costco...which is one mile from my house! 

Costco has been out of the frozen halibut portions for a couple of weeks, so I decided to take a chance and check them out yesterday. I reasoned that since it was snowing like crazy, there might not be such a crowd at the store. I was right...and halibut was in the freezer section! 

I picked up some Pomegranate molasses at the Persian Market in Mission Viejo CA during my last trip to visit the family. I try to go to that market every trip down south since they carry some of my favorite ingredients, such as harissa paste and za'atar. I know I can order them online, but it's much more fun to go to the market and discover other hidden gems for cooking that I can pack in my luggage. It's that 'instant gratification' thing, I suppose. 

I decided to use the Pomegranate molasses as a marinade for my fish. Kevin's not very fond of pomegranates or halibut, so I made some garlic butter shrimp for him. 

While the seafood defrosted, I made the marinade.

Pomegranate molasses is slightly sweet, a little savory and very tart. I mixed 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the Pomegranate molasses with 1 teaspoon of za'atar. Za'atar is an ancient 13th century middle eastern spice blend that contains sumac, thyme, toasted sesame seeds, oregano, majoram, and salt. The spices can vary, but it always contains sumac and toasted sesame seeds. It is absolutely delicious and also makes a great dip just mixed with a little olive oil. 

I slathered the marinade on the fish and let it marinate for a couple of hours.

Then, I added the fish to a hot cast iron pan with a little olive oil and a teaspoon of butter, and popped it into a 400 degree oven for about 6 minutes. 

I served it with some leftover potato casserole from Thanksgiving, steamed broccoli and a salad. YUM!