Saturday, February 28, 2009

I am all out of LOVE...NOT

Well, I think I have done a pretty good job of upholding my February "Love" theme. Here is one last hurrah, and a little challenge for you at the bottom to share the things you love! Years ago, I started a joy list. A Joy list is a list of all the things that make you happy and it serves as a great reference when you have had a really bad day.

Here is a list of 100 things I love (yes, some of them are repeats from other posts this month):

1) My husband
2) My son
3) My family
4) My friends
5) Warm Rain Showers
6) Summer afternoons
7) Food blogs
8) Cookies and Milk
9) Conversations with little children
10) Fran's Macadamia Nut Gold bars
11) The Herb Farm in Woodinville
12) Traveling to new places
13) Swimming
14) Evenings on the back deck with the chiminea, wine and appetizers with Simon
15) Date night
16) The Biggest Loser
17) Lost
18) Finishing something big
19) Puppies
20) Bunco with the girlfriends
21) Browsing antique shops and thrift shops and yard sales
22) Winning my bid on eBay
23) Shopping for foster kids at Christmas
24) Big family get-togethers
25) Sitting up late and reminiscing about the past
26) The Ocean
27) Wine tasting
28) Quilting -especially shopping for fabric
29) Cookbooks
30) Old recipe boxes filled with recipes
31) Growing fruit and vegetables
32) Fresh off the vine tomatos
33) Fresh off the stalk corn
34) Clean organized drawers and cupboards
35) Cooking and Baking
36) Sleeping in
37) The town of Langley on Whidbey Island
38) Facebook
39) Chuckanut Drive along the Puget Sound Coastline
40) Victoria, BC
41) Tea Parties
42) Bed & Breakfasts
43) Oysters
44) Brunch at Palisades
45) A night at the casino (including dinner at Tulalip Bay)
46) Stroopwaffles
47) Good quality chocolate
48) Trader Joes
49) Central Market
50) Farmer's markets
51) Arts and Craft shows
52) Babies
53) Garden shops
54) William Sonoma
55) Eminence Organic skincare products
56) John Masters organics Hair products
57) The "Have Your Cake and Eat it too" spa package at the Bee Hive in Snohomish
58) Hostessing
59) Creative Writing
60) Spaghetti and meatballs
61) Kathy Casey, Martha Stewart and Delia Smith
62) My laptop
63) My home office
64) Smoked salmon
65) New Belgian brews
66) Duran Duran
67) Shooting Star Hydrangea
68) Paris
69) Harod's Dept Store food courts
70) Salt Caramels
71) A good steak
72) Novels by Phillipa Gregory
73) Apple trees
74) Hammocks
75) SeaCliff Cottage on Whidbey
76) Ferry rides
77) Train rides
78) Camping and hiking
79) The first snowfall of the year
80) Kathy Casey's Hot Almond Buttered Rum
81) Martha's Chicken Pot Pie
82) Homemade mac and cheese
83) Hanging flower baskets
84) The sound of running water and rain chains
85) Birds at my bird feeders
86) Baseball games
87) Munro shoes
88) Almond soap
89) When my husband makes me coffee
90) Disney
91) Roald Dahl
92) Gift baskets
93) Leavenworth at Christmas
94) Good quality bedding - down comforters, feather bed, high thread count sheets
95) Denby pottery
96) Proper chips (Simon's homemade french fries)
97) Geocaching
98) Picnics
99) A nice, hot bubblebath
100) Putting together these lists!

Whew! Okay - for those of you who made it to the it is your turn.

I am challenging you to blog about 100 things you love. Leave me a comment with a link to your blog so I can check you out your list (100 should be your goal).

Friday, February 27, 2009

I Love Kid Food

Anyone who loves to cook knows that cooking for children can sometimes be frustrating. Kids can be very finicky and they go through phases- what they liked last week, they may turn thier nose up to today.
I think that cooking for kids can be a great opportunity to get a little creative in the kitchen; a chance to hone your culinary presentation skills. As many of you know, sometimes this can mean all the difference in whether or not a child will even try a dish.

My take on this has always been to deny our foremother's convention: Go with that food!

My son, Jake, gladly devoured just about anything I would put before him when he was little.
He is much more picky today. He doesn't like fish, but he loves clam chowder, salmon cakes and (amazingly) calimari. He isn't a fan of spaghetti, but he likes lasagna. He doesn't like corn or asparagus, but he will eat greenbeans, broccoli & zucchini. He is definately weary of new foods (breaks my heart) but we have always had a rule in our home that everything on our plates must have a bite out of it- try it before you deny it!

There was a span of time where a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich was a staple in our home and I will never forget the time that Simon introduced Jake to "Beans on Toast" (this is an English breakfast staple, using Heinz baked beans- these aren't at all as sweet as our American version) Jake (age 7) looked at me, incredulously, and when Simon's back was turned he mouthed the words "do I HAVE to eat this?" I nodded yes in reply. Heinz Baked Beans have been a favorite in our home ever since that fateful day.

There is a lot of fun to be had when it comes to creatively preparing kid food. But Jake is 18 now and his busy schedule means that he is not often home for dinner. No longer do I cut hot dogs into octopi and prop them on a sea of mac and cheese, and gone are the days of forming little pig shaped biscuits on top of a cup of soup. I could still make meatloaf with roasted veggie faces, but I am certain that both my husband and son would find that just a little odd.

There are some "kid friendly" foods that we still enjoy though.
Ebelskivers - swedish pancake balls- are a good example of this. I would make these for breakfast when my son had friends spend the night. Often a plate of ebelskivers was met with a look of confusion, but I would encourage them to pop a whole on in their mouth and then instructed them on the correct pronunciation "ebelskivers". When they repeated the word (mouth full of swedish pancake) I would tell them "exactly" often followed by "and don't talk with your mouth full!"

Jake's favorite prep for ebelskivers is a sprinkling (okay, a coating) of cinnamon and sugar. I always preferred real maple syrup. When we had these earlier this week we made them per the The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook which suggested a filling of marscapone cheese and berry jam. I don't think I will have them any other way now. They were pretty darn good that way!

You can prepare these with any condiments that you would consider using for a pancake- a dollup of fruit or chocolate can also be added to each ball as it cooks. I have not tried any savory types, but I would think that these also could be very good.

You will need a special ebelskiver pan to accomplish these - but feel free to share if you have a tip for making these without one.


1½ cups all-purpose flour
1tsp. baking powder
½tsp. baking soda
¼tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups sour cream (You may also use 1 cup of sour cream with good results)
½ cup milk or buttermilk
Butter or canola oil for greasing the pan
Jam, maple syrup, and powdered sugar for serving


Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and milk. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat by hand or with an electric mixer until smooth.

Heat a cast-iron ebelskiver pan over medium-low heat. Place a tiny bit of butter or canola in each mold and spread it evenly around the molds before filling each mold with a spoonful of batter. Cook until light brown, about 2 or 3 minutes. Turn gently with a fork or skewer and brown the other side. Transfer to a platter and serve hot.

**Adapted to the book The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Love Breakfast

...Sometimes we even have it for dinner!

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I know that it is also the easiest to skip. Lets face it- we have busy lives and sometimes just getting out the door in the morning is all we can muster! I can defiantely relate-but I have adopted a new motto:

The best time to take a break is when you don't think you have time for it. (and I think the same is true for break-fast)

I took another vacation day on Friday (all part of my evil plan to finish grad school with my sanity in check) At this rate I probably won't have any vacation left come June when school is done and I really need a vacation, but then I may not have a job then either since I keep taking these vacation days every week.

Balancing home, work, my health and school has been difficult. As I said before, Simon has been an absolute dream. Jake is a rock....he appears unphased by the chaos in our home-as long as the fridge is stocked and he has clean clothes, he tends to be pretty happy.

On Sunday I got up early and made breakfast for my men. For Simon, I made smoked salmon scramble- this is a quick and easy egg dish that I adapted from brunch at a Marriot hotel. For Jake, I made some ebleskivers (I will share a recipe for these in my next blog) It does my heart good to be able to do something domesticated and something nice for my guys.

Smoked Salmon Scramble

Melt butter in a small skillet, add onions. I prefer green onions, but only had a yellow one on hand.

Add a some chopped smoked salmon to the mix:

And a couple of beaten eggs...

Scramble it all together:

Add a bit of cream cheese. I cut these into little centimeter sized cubes. They combine better that way.

Sprinkle with a little bit of dill and salt and pepper. In the spring I use chives from my herb garden. Pretty easy, eh?

Bon Appetite!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Love Good Customer Service...(even if I have to pound it out of them!)

I need to share with you a little experience I had this evening at my local grocer, and I am going to do my best to not take a total departure from my February “Love” theme to make my point.

Over the last several months I have been very consistent in remembering my cloth grocery bags when I take my weekly shopping trip. My sis-in-law (who I absolutely LOVE) made me some awesome grocery bags (and I LOVE them). She made me two of each of these:

Like most grocery stores these days, my friendly neighborhood grocer provides a generous 5 cents per bag discount for customers who remember to bring their own bags. I do appreciate the incentive, but my reason for bringing the bags with me is truly an ecological one (and because I LOVE to show off my awesome grocery bags).

So, my Hubby (who I LOVE) and I are at check out tonight, unloading groceries onto the belt, and I hand the clerk a bundle of my lovely shopping bags. She pulls one from the stack and sets the others down behind her until needed. The clerk starts to fill one bag and when it is full, she places the bag in my cart (nothing unusual- so far).

She pulls another cloth bag from the stack behind her and sets it in front of her. We then watch her pull item after item off of the belt, scan in the price, and deposit these things into the already full bag in the shopping cart. To our amazement, she seems intent on seeing how much she can fit into that already ridiculously full bag. It was like watching a bunch of college students trying to fit one more person into a phone booth.…or a VW Bug...we were amazed.

When I think that the bag is going to burst its seams, she starts to fill the new bag with groceries, but stops when she reaches a loaf of bread and a bag of sandwich rolls. She places these right on top of the already full bag. (Note: she could not put them in the bag because it was full- she literally rested these on top of the bag! ) And she seemed a bit proud of herself at that point for being so economical in her bag useage.

(Photo Note: "The suspect bag"...this is a reinactment- but it is an actual representation. It includes of all items in the bag when we got home, plus all the items I had removed to a second bag from this bag while at the store)

I am watching as she starts filling bag number two and looking at this bag in my cart thinking:

  1. Why would she fill that so full?

  2. Has she not considered how heavy that is going to be? And finally...

  3. The second we lift that bag, the contents are going to spill out everywhere.

So I pulled off the two loaves of bread and requested that my husband hand to me another one of the cloth bags, and I begin shifting groceries, explaining “hmm, I am a little worried about getting this bag from the cart to the car without it spilling…let me just move a few of these to another bag”

“Okay, “she said, “but just so you know...I can only give you the discount on the minimum number of bags that I am able to fill”

I continued to shift groceries, “Well, I am more concerned about being able to lift the bags than I am about getting back 5 cents.” and I sort of winked at her (OMG, was she serious?)

She continued to lament about "some" customers that come in with a pile of bags and expect that you spread their groceries amongst ALL of them, so they get the full discount for all of their bags.

At this point I just stopped and stared at her in disbelief. I was thinking three things…(so I may have been staring at her with an evil eye for a minute or so!)

  1. I am one of “the customers” who brought in a “pile of bags” and I am also one of your customers who is willing to pay $7.99 a pound for shitake mushrooms….do you think I give a $#!+ about a 5cent refund?

  2. What brainiac in charge has decided that this would be good policy? (I could just envision the crew meeting where management told their cashiers to be a bit more liberal in filling customers cloth bags, "every nickel counts in these times, you know", and "the job you save may be your own") I am sorry but grocery stores are one business that are not going to be as impacted by this bad economy- people are still going to buy food- in fact they may even eat out less and shop for groceries more!

  3. I pay over $100 each week for groceries at this store and you are thinking that damaging that relationship is worth 5 cents. Where is your manager?

I realized that I was not dealing with someone who had any authority, so arguing with her would be useless. I wanted to find a manager to enlighten them with my opinion, but my kinder, gentler, more level-headed husband (who I married for all those loveable traits) persuaded me to choose my battles. I brushed the chip off of my shoulder and followed him out to the car.

(Okay, truthfully, though, I gave in this time only because I knew that when I got home I could blog about it.) all fairness, before posting this scathing blog with the store’s name in shameful bold print for the entire world to see (well at least the 12 people of the world who take the time to read my blog!)...I did call the store and I was able to speak to a manager.

I actually had a very nice conversation with her about this incident (even a few laughs, since I had taken some time to get simmered down before calling the store.)

The manager was emphatic that this is NOT store policy. She seemed very concerned that one of her clerks would do this and promised me that she would speak with her "associates" to ensure that their bag refund policy was correctly understood so that my negative experience would not be repeated. So it all ended well, and no companies were forced into bankruptcy, and no one was fired for being stupid. (And I will definately let you know if there are any lapses at this establishment in the future!)

(This is everything that came out of that bag...there is a bottle of OJ behind the milk, 1 loaf of bread, 1 pkg of sandwich rolls, 4 healthy choice entrees, 6 clif bars, 1 box of tea, 1 pkg of burritos, 1 lb of cheddar, 1 can of chili, 1 pgk hot dogs, 1 smoked salmon (Love it!), and 1 pint of heavy that I look at it, I realize that this really does not look like a healthy bag of groceries...the other bags were full of all of our vegetables and unprocessed stuff - honest!)

One final note on customer service that you might find as interesting as I do….

I may have been a bit oversensitive today with the whole bag thing (and maybe a bit empowered too), because the topic of customer service was discussed in my marketing class today (and I LOVE my marketing class!)

Like most of you, I have been amazed and frustrated over the years by the lack of customer service that many businesses provide. It seems that too many have forgotten that customers are pretty essential to their existence (they are the ones who give you money so you can stay in business…duh!). Accountability has been painfully absent.

My take away from class today is good news for consumers. As the web becomes more and more social with sites such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and personal blogs, people are using technologies to get the things they need from one another, rather than from companies. Yet, it is not just creating competition; the web has become a highly effective medium whereby consumers are defining their own perspective on companies and brands. Companies have no choice but to listen up and act wisely. Happily the balance of power is shifting from the business to the consumer. In my opinion- it should have been that way all along.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Love Good Things and Entertaining

Confession: I am a little obsessed with Martha Stewart.

I have almost every one of her Living magazines cataloged in magazine boxes at the top of my closet (I am missing about 15 issues) If you happen to have the premiere issue - I will be very happy to take that off of your hands for you. I also have a fair number of her cookbooks.

I know that not everyone is a fan, but I just love Martha. I love her for her chicken pot pie and her stuffed strawberries. Her home and garden hints and all those great ideas for entertaining. Mostly I love the fact that she is a very successful woman entreprenuer.

Martha helped me fix my dining room chairs and guided me through properly cleaning and storing my gardening tools. She is a major source of inspiration to me.

But I know her style is not for everyone and that is reason for this blog...

I have a friend who is an engineer and unfortunately she is not very domesticated. We had this great party a while back that I think illustrates very well that you do not have to be like Martha Stewart to pull off a memorable event.

My friend was hosting our themed Bunco night and had run out of ideas for an August theme (tough month) "Lets face it, " she told me "I am just not Martha Stewart."
And on that exasperated note...we planned a fabulous party.
How to throw a stellar "I am not Martha Stewart" party.

1) Do not clean your house or decorate - the lived in look is best for this party.

2) Send out an email and ask everyone to bring something to share.

3) All food must be storebought and not gourmet. (Oreos and twinkies are great options and so is frozen pizza)

4) Paper towels, paper plates and plastic forks should exhibit no fanciness-plain white will do.

5) Dress is ultra casual

If you are playing Bunco- as we were-you will need are a few ideas- these can also be used as party favors:

1) Dollar store, baby. Just about anything you want to get from a dollar store will work just fine.

2) Fake plants - no care required

3) Any processed food item... again stay away from the gourmet stuff.

4) Cheap Jean Nate or Baby Soft (do they still make those?)

5) Tabloid magazines.

Can you think of any more Good Things to add to this theme?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Love Getting a Bargain.

I learned recently in my MBA Marketing class that I am what marketeers affectionately refer to as a "laggard".

A "Laggard" is quite possibly the worst type of consumer for the following reasons:
  • We aren't easily parted with our money. I buy what I need and products I believe in - not what is in style, or new, or what everybody else has.

  • I am fairly brand specific- when I find something I like, I am not easily persuaded to switch brands.

  • New technology is interesting, but I cannot help but view it with a little skepticism: I certainly would not want to invest in something that isn't proven or that will soon be replaced by something more advanced.

  • I usually wear something out before I give in and replace it. (Cell phone, slippers, favorite sweater)

  • I love getting a bargain.

This is not to say that I never spend money. I rarely buy objects impulsively, though, unless I know that it is a deal that I cannot pass up. I am more apt to spend on experiences (trips, shows, fine dining). I am also more likely to spend a little extra on what I perceive to be quality.

I have two great "bargain" experiences to share with you and two frugal pointers.

The first great experience was my most recent. I was in William Sonoma on Sunday browsing through all that cooking stuff, (Lord knows I love browsing thru cooking stuff!). On my way out the door (empty- handed) I spied a 15 inch Le Creuset cast iron skillet in red - a perfect match to the small but growing Le Creuset collection I have at home.

I had just picked up the Cast Iron cookbook (using an instant recognition award from work), and so the need for a cast iron skillet was on my brain. I assumed that I would just find a well-seasoned one at a local thrift shop, but once the Le Creuset one caught my eye, well, I knew that I needed that one. William Sonoma Price tag: $179.00. Hmm, tempting, but I just could not justify that.

When I got home I decided to try eBay and found the same skillet at $20 with 2 hours left before closing. Simon and I talked and determined that $80 would be a reasonable top bid. I watched the price rise to $42 and at the last minute I put in my top bid. I ended up buying the pan for $62.00. (SCORE!) My other great experience was that I was out yard sale hopping a few years ago and I picked up a tattered old cookbook called "ice creams and cakes". My thought was that this would be an interesting addition to my cookbook collection- I had thumbed through the text and found a couple of enticing old cake

About a year later I was surfing and found copies of this cookbook on an antique book website for sale: $140-$450. My purchase price: 25 cents. (AMAZING!)

Two quick frugal tips for finding bargains:

  • Never pay full price for books. I always note the author and title when I find a book I like., eBay and are excellent on line sources for just about any book you could ever want. Don't be afraid to buy used from sellers that have high ratings. Check out your local thrift shop and yard sales too!

  • Shop purposefully. I usually have a few specific items that I am looking for at any given time. When I shop the local thrift shops I make it a point to look for these items. It took a few trips but I eventually found my salad spinner (25 cents) and a really cool metal collander (new, Le Creuset, red for $2.99).
Have you found any great bargains lately? Do you have any frugal shopping tips? Please share!

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Love these Smelly Things...

I think I may be a Pioneer Noseshaping Specialist in my own right. However, I care less about the appearance of the nose than I do about what shape it is in....specifically, can it smell stuff?

One of my favorite "noseshaping" exercises is wine sniffing. Pour some wine, swirl it about in the glass and then put your nose to it. What does it smell like? Vanilla? Cherry? Chocolate? Oak? I always like to guess, and then I check the bottle-usually it tells you right on the label what little delicacies have been added. Sometimes I hit it right on, and sometimes I have to take another sniff before I get it (and another taste) (or two). At any rate I look very sophisticated when I do this and everyone who sees me do this certainly must think I know a lot more about wine than I actually do.

In honor of the month of love I have decided to share the "top 10 smells I love"....(the first one is the only one that is in any particular order, really...)

1) Simon Cook

That would be my husband. He has several colognes (or "smellies" as they say in England-or at least this Englishman says that), but my favorite is Old Spice. I know, I know what you are thinking-not very sophisticated. But that smell really comforts me...I can't help it.

2) Fresh baked mincemeat

Apples, spice, nuts, citrus, brandy all simmering in a baking dish. This is the best Christmas time smell...I'll take mine with a dollop of brandy butter too!

3) Hot Fudge

Yes, this requires no explanation. I just love chocolate. I love chocolate fondue, hot chocolate, chocolate lava cakes, chocolate fountains, warm chocolate pudding....(**heavy sigh)

4) Vanilla & Almond

These are great cooking smells- from cookies to cake- vanilla or almond smell and taste great. I also prefer vanilla scented candles (Learned that from me mum.) and almond scented liquid soap. I have a (peculiar?) theory that you tell the quality of a particular establishment by the scent of the soap in the restroom - almond soap always gets an A++ rating from me. (L'Occitane used to carry a liquid almond soap, but I hear it has been discontinued...anyone know a good almond liquid soap I might like?)

5) Lilacs on a Hot day

Don't experience this much in Seattle, but on the other side of the mountains where I was raised it does get quite warm in the summer and the lilacs perfume the air.

6) Lavendar

When I was pregnant with my son (yikes- over 18 years ago!) this was my one luxury - lavendar bubble bath from crabtree & evelyn....the scent of lavendar is very relaxing. Jake was a mellow baby - I wonder if there is connection there.

7) Pumpkin Spice

Another very homey scent. I read an article a while back that touted pumpkin spice as a scent the triggered good feelings and attraction in men...might be something to dab on if you are single. The same article said that men find the smell of licorice a bit of a turn off. (that might be useful information too)

8) Roses

What woman doesn't find that smell lovely. I have some pretty yellow roses that smell like roses with a hint of vanilla. (The deer love them, too). I plan to try these soon in baking. I have never tried rose water, but I keep finding recipes that tempt me.

9) That Clean Baby Smell

Emphasize "clean"....I just love the smell of a freshly bathed baby.

10) The earthy smell after a rain shower

Basically, that wet dirt smell, but I believe that fresh, clean air is an important part of that particular scent as well!

Leave me a post and tell me...what is your #1 favorite smell?????

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Love to be Wined & Dined. (My Top 10 Local Restaurants)

We took a little trip to Palisades Restaurant earlier today for Brunch. This is my 3rd favorite restaurant for dinner and my number one choice for brunch.

Palisades is located on Elliot Bay in Seattle and the food is Northwest Polynesian. For Brunch they serve every entree with an all you can eat buffet. The buffet has fresh fruit, several salads, smoked salmon w/ bagels and cream cheese (capers, egg and red onion to top it off). They have an oyster bar and shrimp on ice and they serve pastries and hot fudge sauce with strawberries, macadamia nut pancakes with rum maple syrup...I could go on and on...but I think I have covered everything. The food is to die for.

We each ordered a rib eye and eggs for our entree and asked to have it boxed to go. This sounds incredibly uncultured, but we really wanted to enjoy the buffet and it is more cost effective to order an entree with buffet, than to order just the buffet. (It can't be completely tacky, since our waiter was the one who suggested it!)

My other favorite Seattle restaurants (or at least those that come immediately to mind):

1) The Herb Farm. (Woodinville, WA)

This is the restaurant in the history of restaurants. Expensive..expensive...expensive. But oh so worth every dime. 9 courses of a menu tailored to what is in season and paired brilliantly with libations. We went here for my 40th birthday and I fear I will never be wined and dined so well again. You can read about my experience here

2) Tulalip Bay (Tulalip, WA)
Little known gem. Fine Dining restaurant in the Tulalip Casino. Food is fabulous and atmosphere is very romantic.

3) Palisades (Seattle, WA)

Best Brunch. Great for dinner too.

4) Teatro Zinzanni (Seattle, WA)
Food is created by Tom Douglas. Menu and show are must do this at least once if you live in Seattle. A great evening out

5) Jak's Steakhouse (Issaquah, WA)

This place takes no reservations- so have to get there when they open. Best steaks ever.

6) The Triple Door (Seattle, WA)

Vegas show seating and food from Wild Ginger (restaurant is located upstairs). This is another dinner and a show venue. The Duck is wonderful and this restaurant serves more of it than anyone else in the northwest.

7) Morton's Steakhouse (Seattle, WA)

More great steak. Located downtown Seattle. They bring the ingredients to your table and provide an overview of their menu.

8) Crab Cracker (Kirkland, WA)

A little more casual setting. Great seafood.

9) Top Wok (Monroe, WA)

This is a local little family owned restaurant that serves the best chinese food we have ever had. Hot and sour soup is primo. The almond chicken is fabulous .

10) The Lobster Shop at Dash Point (Dash Point, WA)

Haven't been here for a while, but chowder is perfect here and the view is also quite nice.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Love to Cook for My Man

I love to cook.

I especially love to cook for Mr Cook. (Quickest way to a Man's heart, they say...)

Tonight I made a Valentine's dinner for us.

The menu:

  • Filet Mignon Roast
  • Artichoke & Crab Stuffed Potatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Sourdough bread.

Tonight's dinner was paired with a 2005 Indian Wells Cabernet Savignon. (We enjoyed this wine at the Herb Farm late last was just as fabulous as we recalled)

For dessert...

  • Chocolate Lava Cakes
  • Sliced Strawberries
  • A dusting of powdered sugar

Sounds like a lot of work, however I confess that I purchased the filet mignon (in marinade) and the lava cakes (ready made) at Trader Joes yesterday. With the exception of the Crab & Artichoke stuffed potatoes (recipe follows) , the rest was pretty much easily and quickly prepared. The Sourdough bread was purchased from Central Market in Mill Creek- one of our favorite grocers.

The lava cakes and strawberries were featured at the Trader Joe's can imagine my delight at stepping into the store (on a whim) and finding a little dixie cup waiting for me with chocolate cake and fresh strawberries....If you read my earlier post, you will recognize that this combines Simon's favorite (strawberries) with my favorite (chocolate) I felt it was very appropriate for our V-Day dessert.

The recipe for stuffed potatoes is from Kathy Casey of Dish D'Lish. To me, Kathy Casey is the Queen of Northwest cooking. I chose this recipe because it combines two of my hubby's favorites: baked potatoes, and crab and artichoke dip.

Kathy Casey's Crab & Artichoke Stuffed Potatoes
(This recipe serves 4)

4Lg Russet Potatoes - bake these in a 400 degree oven for 50-60 minutes, or until done. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes

Combine in bowl with mixer (use whisk attachement if available)
3oz cream cheese
1/4c milk
1/4c mayonnaise
1/3c thinly sliced green onion
1 T minced pickled jalapenos
2 t minced fresh garlic

Cut the top third of potato off length wise and schoop out the hot potato from both top and bottom with a spoon. Leave a 1/2 inch shell. Add the scooped out potato to the mixing bowl and combine well.

Stir in:

3/4c Parmesan cheese

1lb crab meat

1 can (13-14 oz) quartered artichoke hears, well-drained and coarsely chopped

Spoon mixture into potato shells, piling up and dividing evenly. Sprinkle top with a little extra parmesan cheese.

Place on baking sheet and bake until golden brown and heated through (20-25 minutes)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Love My Valentine!

Just made a batch of Cowboy cookies for my Valentine. These are Simon's favorite cookies.
I met my Valentine at work in 1997 the day after I had made a pact with another female coworker that we would NEVER date someone we worked with. (She actually ended up breaching that ill-conceived contract too!)

Just look at him though! Who could possibly resist such a gorgeous prince of a guy??? (Not me) and to top it off, Simon is such a gentleman and he has that fabulous English accent....(*swoooon). Most importantly, he loves me as much as I love him. He shows me in so many little and big ways. I am a very lucky girl!

The Cowboy Cookies were part of the Family Circle Magazine 1st lady cookie taste off in 2004. Laura Bush beat out Tipper Gore with these. Try them out and you will see why! They are just very GOOD.
Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies

In a mixing bowl, whisk together:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Set Aside.
In another bowl cream together:
  • 3 sticks butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
Add 3 eggs mixing after each addition until well combined.
Add 1 tablespoon vanilla
Add flour mixture.

Stir in the following:
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups sweetened flake coconut
  • 2 cups chopped pecans (8 ounces)
Preheat oven to 350 F.

For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet, spacing 3 inches apart. Bake 17 to 20 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Remove to rack to cool.
Makes 3 dozen large cookies.

I Love Snow Days...even in February!

You really can't do anything about it-sometimes it snows in February. Just when you were doing that little happy dance over your happy little spring daffodil sprouts....a few snowflakes decide to join in.... Your options are basically love it or just endure it- no amount of complaining about it is going to make it go away.

Call me crazy (or just really burnt out at work) but I have chosen to embrace it.

1) First step: Send email to boss. (you may use this template):

(Insert Boss' name here),

I am feeling a bit "under the weather" today and will be taking a sick day.

(Your name here)

It is best to keep these types of email short and sweet. People who are really sick do not spend lots of time writing emails to explain themselves - they just write the email and go back to bed. Keep those guilty feelings in check. Snow Days are self care days and if you take care of yourself you are bound to be a better employee in the future.

Also you don't want to let your email writing encroach on your snow day time!

2) Get yourself a hot cup of something. Coffee, tea, buttered rum. The best way to prepare for a snow day is to do a "warm-up". Start with the inside and work your way out.

3) Do something you love. If you actually love playing in the snow then I suggest that you get outside now and play in the snow...spring is inevitable! Otherwise, the sky is the limit- quilt, bake, craft, read, sleep, dance, visit your favorite shops, watch a movie...have a spa day.

These are some of the things I plan to do today...

  1. Bake some Valentine's Cowboy cookies for my man (his favorite)...he has been incredibly supportive- epitomizing the definition of "house husband extraordinaire". I have been working so many hours lately and he has been an absolute dream about taking over all of the household responsibilities...He cleans, he cooks, he hugs me when I get home...I want to show him that I appreciate it. (And no, he hasn't got a brother)

  2. Bake a Red Velvet cake for work on Thursday....yes- I know that I am just perpetuating an ugly superwoman standard by doing this- but I love to cook and it is my snow day!

  3. Read a pile of magazines that I haven't been able to get to.

I will post some recipes and pictures of my creations later. Until then, I need to get moving...I have a lot of "snow stuff" to do.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I Really Loved My Grandma Muriel (and her Cream Puffs!)

It is very possible that my Grandma Muriel was the best grandmother ever.

These are some pictures of her enjoying her can tell from these pictures that she was a very "hands on" grandma....

Almost every Sunday we would have dinner at my grandparent's ranch - their home was on a hilltop surrounded by apple orchards. We were a large family-when the aunts and uncles and cousins all came together-but grandma had a way of making each one of us feel special.

She always met us at the door-overjoyed to have us visit- and she held each of our faces as she kissed us hello. Having family together and doting on her grandchildren were important to her. She would buy us toys and treats when we were little and protect us from our parent's attempts to discipline. As we grew to teen agers she would stock her fridge with Pepsi and our favorite snacks and she would sit with us and enjoy Madonna, Duran Duran, Prince and Dire Straits on MTV.

My grandma was Italian and French Canadian and she used to cook and bake. She made apple pie and then constructed pie crust cinnamon rolls with the leftover dough, she made peanut butter candy and divinity at Christmas time and cream puffs and eclairs to die for. She is also the reason that I am so comforted by a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

At the end of each visit, grandma insisted on coming out to wave goodbye. She would pull my grandfather's worn denim Levi jacket around her shoulders and resist the suggestion that she should put something on her barefeet. When we were little she would line us up and conduct us in a "chugga chugga choo choo" train out the door and into the backseat of our warmed cars. It was her ritual. Without fail she came out with us and would wave goodbye until we were no longer in sight.

Below is the recipe for my grandma's cream puffs, and in time I will share with you other favorite recipes that my Grandma used to make. I can remember her lining several trays with large choux pastries and telling me to "never ever double or triple this recipe...if you need more than one batch makes, then make another batch."
You will be honoring my wonderful grandmother if you serve these to your loved ones with a little kiss on the cheek.

Cream Puffs

For the choux pastry:

1/2 cup butter
1c boiling water
1c flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs

In a saucepan, boil the water. Melt butter in the boiling water. Add flour and salt at once and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball that does not separate. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add egss one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition until the mixture is smooth. Drop by Tablespoon full 2 inches apart onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees and then in lower temperature to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 25 minutes. The puffs will be golden brown. Cool on a rack.

Grandma filled a few trays of these with whipped cream and sprinkled the tops with powdered sugar. I recall her using cool whip (she had a big family to serve!), but feel free to use homemade whipped cream too (I do). Her other tray was filled with jello chocolate pudding (follow recipe on the box) and the tops were drizzled with a chocolate glaze.
Chocolate Glaze:

(1 oz.) square unsweetened chocolate
1 tbl. butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 to 3 tbl. milk
Melt chocolate and butter over very low heat. Stir in powdered sugar and milk, blending till smooth and of drizzling consistency

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I Love Cheerful Little Spring Flower Sprouts

I walked about the garden this morning and found these little tell-tale signs of spring.
I just love little flower sprouts!

Happily, last fall, I planted this "host" of soon-to-be-smiling yellow daffodils under one of our big fir trees. I am particularly excited about enjoying those this spring. In the chaos of my current schedule of work and school - I had almost forgotten that I had taken the time to plant these. Now there are a multitude of little sprouts appearing and I have this urge to just stand over this patch and offer up nurturing words and encouragement..."grow, grow, little darlings!". I am so very pleased with myself!

Here they are -stretching their little green tips out of the soil...checking to see if it is time to fully show themselves yet....(I hear them saying "Almost! Just be patient- we are working on it!")

The snowdrops are a bolder lot-they clearly have decided that they have had enough of winter and have taken a stand!

It was nice to spend some time in the garden this morning!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I Love On Line Auctions and Harold's Planet

I love Harold's Planet. British wit conveyed in brilliantly simple artwork!
This is one of my favorites. Who cannot relate to the thrill of that closing auction countdown?
I haven't Ebayed for a while, but I must confess I think I really love the thrill of selling on eBay a bit more than buying stuff there..especially watching that last second bid come through and knowing that someone was as excited as Harold, there, about buying my wares.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I have always believed that the two most beautiful words in the English language are...Chocolate Cake

My apologies to the American -Englishman, Henry James, but I must argue that the two most beautiful words in the English language are not "summer afternoon". Most certainly they are "chocolate cake".

(Summer afternoons are nice second though)

I simply love good quality chocolate in any of its delectable forms; chocolate cake, chocolate eclair, chocolate truffle, chocolate bar...death by chocolate. If it has good quality chocolate in it...chances are I will like it. If it doesn't have good quality chocolate in it...well, chances are I will try it anyway.

My mother called me this evening with a fun recipe for 5 minute chocolate cake. This is a wonderful individual serving cake that bakes in a mug in your microwave (you can find the recipe on her blog: - we've coordinated!)

This cake is very good, and because its very quick and easy, it lent itself very well to a little cocoa experimentation.
I baked three of these little gems using three different brands of cocoa and served them blindly to my "English-American" husband and to my "all-American" son.

It is important to note, that by some freakishly weird (perhaps Henry James-American- English- type) defect, my good-humored husband, Simon, is not a big chocolate fan.

He will eat chocolate, (even though I am always willing to spare him the ordeal) but he is not passionate about it. In fact, I know for certain that he finds strawberries on summer afternoons much more favorable. (and that IS very Henry James-like if you ask me.)

My son, Jake, on the other hand, must have inherited his penchant for all things chocolate from his mother. (if it is on the dessert menu, you can bet he will order it).

Jake had arrived home this evening in a particularly depressed state - he had just witnessed the trauma of an unthinkable Steeler's Super Bowl win.

The opportunity to participate in this experiment - I like to think- brought a few moments of happiness, and much needed distraction to his shattered spirit.

(Something that we chocolate enthusiast know only chocolate can do....and not a summer afternoon, Henry....and Simon.)

In this taste test, I prepared the cakes in the same way, using the same ingredients, but substituted different cocoa. I chose three different cocoas:

  1. An organic, free trade Green & Black's Cocoa powder "made from the finest organic fair trade cocoa beans"
  2. An American staple: Hershey's Cocoa "Special Dark - dark cocoa with rich chocolate flavor"
  3. A not-so-well-known SaCo Premium Cocoa powder "a special blend of natural and Dutched cocoa..."(I do have three of the SaCo product in my baking cupboard, so I would surmise that this cocoa is: A) readily available in the supermarkets, and, B) probably cheap.

I served up a chunk of each cake to my men (with a glass of organic, hormone free milk to cleanse the pallet) and I asked the question: Which cake is more chocolatey?

Hands down the least favorite was the Hershy's special dark.

This is surprising, because you would think that dark chocolate cocoa would have a much more chocolatey flavor. The cake was visibly dark chocolate in color, but not nearly as chocolatey as the other two options. Also the term "special" dark implies to most consumers that they are purchasing a quality product. I disagree, and so did my two esteemed taste testers.

The difference between the other two cocoas was virtually undiscernable. Initially Jake chose the Green & Black's, while Simon selected the SaCo. Another round of tasting of just the two finalist brands and both judges switched their answers.

The verdict: If you want cheap and great, and don't care about using a free trade, organic product, then Sa Co Premium Cocoa both an economical and good quality option. If, on the other hand, you like your cocoa "socially conscious", then Green & Black's is for you.


*The beautiful chocolate cosmo picture above is just one example of the fabulous artwork of Gianna Marino, you can find more of her masterpieces at

Sunday, February 1, 2009


In June of 2001, I lost my very good and wise friend, Mary DeGraff, to ovarian cancer.
Toward the end of her battle-at the point when we were told that she might live only another week or two-Mary had her 49th birthday. I found myself wandering about Target, troubled that I could not find her a single birthday gift that would be useful or meaningful to her.

After having a near meltdown in the card aisle, I found her the perfect birthday card and wrote down my most treasured memories shared with her and all the things I love about her. It was Mary who summed it up best that day when she gave me a hug and said " in the end all that really matters is the people that you love and those that love you"

February's theme is "Love" and my only regret is that it is a short month and I have a lot of content available to support this theme! This month I will share with you what I love, and I hope that you will comment and share what is meaningful to you as well.