Friday, February 1, 2013

Jobs and Passions...

by Ann
Me in front of the store.  Great stuff inside!

I have a new part time job.  I certainly did not need to add one more thing to my already busy schedule to make myself crazy, so there had to be other reasons for taking it, and it's not about making money or getting the nice discount -- I am following my passion...

Is it realistic to aspire to Oprah’s advice to find your life’s passion and make that your career pursuit????  I am a sucker for any article or advice that resonates with advice that if you “love what you will do you will never work a day in your life.”  Really?  Who wouldn't think that wasn't a good idea??  But is it attainable?
My conclusion is “that it depends.”  It depends upon the answers to a few key questions about the passion or dream:
  • How wild is your idea of a dream job?
  • How many other people have that same dream?
  • Do you have to pay your monthly bills with the income generated from chasing the dream?
  • How flexible are you with extending the parameters of the dream?

I am a lucky person when it comes to career satisfaction.  I have always liked (some days more than others) my job in education throughout its many transformations.  As corny as it will sound, I became a high school teacher because I had such good experiences in high school, and even at the time I knew that they were largely due to good teachers.  By choosing to go into education I didn't have to compete with those wanting to be rock stars to get into my college; nor was the goal of being a teacher in the ballpark of being as exotic as those who aspired to become professional athletes or actors.

Did I think I was “living the dream” on the nights that I had a stack of papers that would take hours to grade, or the day that a kid referred to me using a word that I would personally get called on the carpet for if I ever used in class?  

No…  “The dream” requires perspective, which is when it comes down to it, the key to happiness in life in my opinion.  After hearing a celebrity or advice-giver sing the praises of following one's passion I look at the cashier at my local grocery store.  What is her passion?  Certainly not scanning groceries, but hopefully there is something she can find satisfying in her delivery of quality customer service which would provide personal fulfillment.

So – about my new fun “following my dream” part time job...

One thing tends to lead to another, and as a result of knowing that I’d be blogging about food I figured that I would need inspiration for my posts, so I became a “Kitchen Assistant” (K.A.) at Sur la Table, an amazing kitchen furnishings store in the most upscale mall in our area that provides between 7 – 10 culinary classes per week for which the public can enroll for a course fee.

As Kitchen Assistant, along with one or two other K.A.s for each culinary I class help the chef set up for the class, clear equipment as participants are done with it, do finishing work on recipes as they come together, plate the food for the students to eat, and clean A LOT of dishes and equipment.  
Dishes, dishes, and more dishes!  Anyone's dream??

This will most likely be the first of many posts that I do that relate to this endeavor.
I have worked at Sur la Table for about three months now, and have learned lots about culinary techniques, new products, great recipes, punching a time clock, working for an hourly wage, and working with a variety of people that I would have never otherwise met.

Crazy or passionate?  The jury is still out...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Valentine's Tablescape for Two

by Heather
How do you decorate a table for a romantic dinner on Valentine's Day when you don't love pink...or red...or hearts? Can it even be done? Let me elaborate on my dislikes -- I enjoy seeing pink and red on other people or in their home decor; it just isn't for me anymore. Perhaps it's because I was the sister who had to wear pink as a child while my slightly younger sister got dressed in blue -- funny, I don't love blue either. I think the true issue is that I love so many things that I had to find a way to limit my wants so I've put a ban on all things pink or red (unless I really, really want them). Anyway, back to the problem at hand..
The upstairs office is the receptacle of all things red that I don't want to part with just yet. I dug out the cranberry crystal glassware that I hand-carried back from the Czech Republic when I was on a teacher exchange to Regensburg, Germany (this was before my personal ban on red). I found some Spode salad plates at Tuesday Morning (so much for not buying red, eh?) that match a vintage Spode tureen (purchased years ago when I was a buyer trainee in the China and Crystal departments at Dayton's, now Macy's) to layer on top of the everyday Martha Stewart white plates. Small silver heart-shaped dishes are from one of my favorite local stores, Holland Boone. Underneath it all are gold pottery chargers bought at Target years ago.
Only red roses were used initially but proved to be just a little too red so I went on the hunt for something else and ended up with white roses, white tulips, and English ivy to add a little green as well as make the tureen serve a purpose. I tried an all-white color scheme for the flowers but that was a little too drab so the red roses were back in the mix.
The little standing gold X and O are a new purchase from Edie's Lab at
I still love the etched crystal Fostoria Navarre water goblets that were my mother's. The cranberry votives have been around for so long that I can't remember where I bought them -- possibly Pottery Barn?
The flute-playing cherub found his way from upstairs where he was serving as a necklace holder. The faux white flowers in the urn are from On the Veranda and live in my back yard most of the time. It's the only kind of flower I can "grow" in the hot summer months here.
The XOXO lying flat on the table shows the extent of my crafting abilities: spray painting. What isn't visible is the coating of glitter paint that gives them a little sparkle in the light. Oooh, Martha Stewart better watch out!
The hubby polished off one marbled chocolate heart cup with fresh raspberries as soon as I stopped taking pictures. Granddaughter Peighton put in a request for the other one. I have two more to be used on Valentine's Day. The four came packaged together with white and milk chocolate curls from Cost Plus World Market.
This is another example of my fine "crafting" abilities (the other two writers of this blog are very crafty people; I'm not if you haven't guessed that already). I tied gold hearts onto the red and gold napkin rings using fine gold wire. The hearts were part of a Christmas give-away by best friend, Susan J, who no longer wants to decorate a tree at Christmas time. Instead, she collects hand painted Navajo ornaments that she puts on a beautiful gold ornament stand. I was the lucky recipient of her largesse and am finding many uses for the items she gave me.
The faux white tulips in the glass vases (one on either side of the urn and cherub) are from Fry's Grocery Store (Kroger's). I bought them at the same time as the real ones and I couldn't tell the difference even close up. In a few days, when the real ones are drooping, these will still be perky. I might have to go back and buy the faux yellow tulips while they're still 20% off.
A trio of white pitchers contains the white tulips and roses, with one lone red rose mixed with rosemary from the garden in a glass bottle.
T hearts H...aaah, isn't that sweet?
And Heather loves Tom. Happy Valentine's Day, honey!
Now take me out to eat :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A New Look - Slipcovered Ottoman

The thrift store ottoman with new legs, the fabric and trim for a new look.
I bought an ottoman at a thrift store that was the perfect size for my very comfy reading chair.  Why, you ask, did I not buy the ottoman that went with the chair in the first place?  Good question.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is that I like to get a good deal.  I shopped quite a bit looking for this chair.  My criteria was comfort, style, and a neutral color.  I wanted something I could live with for a long time, yet I could easily change the look according to the season or my whim.  After searching "everywhere", I stumbled upon this chair that was a floor model at Pottery Barn.  They had it marked to 50% off, and that day an additional 25% off.  I loved it, it fit all my criteria, and I brought it home!

Now, I could have ordered the matching ottoman (still can), but this brings me to the second reason I didn't buy it.  I prefer things not to be too "matched".  I already have a matching sofa and loveseat, and that pushed my boundaries a little bit.  So for the ottoman I wanted something a little different.  A different color.  Something to bring some life into my great room that can lean toward blah if I don't branch out with a little color now and then.  So I began my next hunt - for the perfect ottoman.  I always have a tape measure in my car (usually in my purse - a trick I picked up from my Mom).  I keep the measurements of what I am looking for with me also, because you just never know when you are going to run across the perfect piece.  That is how I knew this ottoman would be perfect when I found it, and so I bought it too, for a mere $20. 
Me, hard at work...
The ottoman was in perfect condition.  It had "fancy" legs, which I switched out.  you can buy these at home improvement stores, upholstery/fabric shops, etc.  At $2.50 each, that adds an additional $10 to my cost.  I also decided to make a slipcover for it.  I like the blue (it goes well with the fabulous painting my sister-in-law painted for me), but I didn't like it with my holiday decorations.  JoAnn's fabrics had their usual 50% off coupons, and I used these to buy my fabric and the trim. 
The finished product!
Now anyone who has sat in this chair with the ottoman can tell you that it is a very comfy, cozy spot.  It really can't be beat, although my husband is pretty sure a recliner would run a close competition. But with a good book or my iPad and a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, I can lose some serious time in my new ultra comfy chair.  Matter of fact, that's where I have been writing this post...the hard part was that I had to get myself up to take the photo! 

Cheers to saving money, tapping into your creativity, and having a really comfy place to curl up and call your own!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Champagne Cupcakes

by Ann

I've been sick with the awful cold that is being passed around all week.  So sick that I didn't feel like cooking or eating.  The don't-feel-like-cooking happens often, but me not wanting to eat is almost unheard of!  In the early hours of the mornings I found myself running through all sorts of random things in my mind due to my cold-induced inability to sleep. One of the random thoughts was related to what this food-post would be about if I had no pictures nor had made anything worth posting about all week. 

In my sleepless haze I tried to remember what I may have made in the past that was really good, and of which I might pictures in my files.  Prior to blogging I wasn't in the habit of taking pictures of everything that I might need to use later, so the picture part of the equation was the tough part.  Then I thought about my niece Amanda's shower two years ago, which I mentioned last week when referencing the same chicken salad recipe that was served at her sister Megan's shower a week ago.  I had made some simply amazing (could they be sublime?) cupcakes that are definitely a lot of work, but worth it for special occasions.  As with most recipes I found this on the Internet.  I just hunted down the original printout to find the website, and researched it to see if the site exists since my printout was from 2008.  It is live, and the recipe originally came from , a fabulous blog by a talented woman in St. Louis.  I honestly don't think in 2008 I even understood what blogs were, so now will follow this one with a much greater appreciation!

Champagne Cupcakes

Cake Ingredients:
3 c cake flour
½ t salt
1 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
1 c sugar
1 c butter, softened
½ c + 2 T frozen orange juice concentrate
3 eggs
¾ c plain yogurt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together dry ingredients, and set aside.
  3. In medium bowl, cream butter until smooth; beat in the sugar until smooth; add the orange juice concentrate.
  4. Mix in eggs one at a time.
  5. Add flour mixture 1/3 at a time; add yogurt.  Batter will be slightly lumpy, but should be smooth like pancake batter.
  6. Divide into tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Champagne Syrup:
2 c champagne
1 c powdered sugar

  1. Bring champagne and powdered sugar to boil in a saucepan, and simmer until it has reduced by half.  It will still be quite liquidy when done.
  2. Poke holes in the cupcakes and drizzle the syrup into them.  (Yes, this makes a mess, but it makes these treats unbelievable!)

* I’ve made this recipe with and without the champagne flavoring.  There is not that much difference.  The flavoring is hard to find.  I ordered in online.  You don’t really need it.
1 c chilled whipping cream
8 oz mascarpone cheese
2-3 c confectioners’ sugar
8 drops champagne flavoring*
1 T finely grated orange zest

  1. Whip the cream in mixer until soft peaks form.
  2. Fold in mascarpone. 
  3. While whipping over a low speed, add confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time, being careful not to over whip.
  4. Add champagne flavoring and orange zest. 
    Cupcakes are best served slightly chilled.
It's hard to say what the "best part" of these cupcakes would be, but if pressed to do so, I'd have to say it's the frosting.  It is unlike any I have ever had.  The mascarpone cheese is the key ingredient.  Looking at this recipe makes me hope for an event worth making these for again to come up soon!
Thanks to my sister's friend Shelley, an amazing photographer
who took these pictures along with dozens more at both of my nieces' showers!

Monday, January 28, 2013

It's a Grey Look for a Grey Day

by Heather

It's been grey and overcast for the past three days here in the "Valley of the Sun" with rain falling intermittently, very unlike our normal sunny weather. It is a nice change of pace, though, keeping us inside and curled up by the fireplace reading a good book. Our current weather is a reminder of the vacations I spent in England as a child, sometimes attending my cousin's private girls' school if I happened to be there when school was still in session. My outfit below reminds me of those times:
Nordstrom sweater; Brooks Brothers shirt; tie stolen from my husband's closet (maybe not "stolen" since he doesn't even remember owning it); Chico's slacks
Sorry about the flash reflecting in the mirrored surface of the tray behind me. That just shows what a grey day it was inside, too! Not even enough light to take a picture without the flash.
That's my little bagpiper I'm using as a tie pin. Growing up, it was always a treat when Uncle Bill would play his bagpipes for us in Nana's and Baba's garden. I'm not sure their neighbors felt the same way, though.
I'm keeping the grey going with a grey Michael Kors Hamilton purse; sterling silver ring and cuff
Top cuff: Ann Taylor; bottom cuff: new eel skin and silver bracelet from Roberto Mantellassi
Michael Kors watch
Grey flannel Gianni Binni heels

I know that other places in the country (and around the world) are much colder than here so stay warm, everybody! Hope to see you Thursday for my take on a Valentine's tablescape and more winter decor. Check in with Ann and Sheila this week on Tuesday and Wednesday for champagne cupcakes and more!