Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps

by Heather

To pull yourself up by your bootstraps means "to improve or become a success by one's own efforts." Here's the story of what I did to pull myself up by my bootstraps (the improvement part -- becoming a success is yet to happen):
Handlebar J's has a wonderful outdoor patio with fire pits ablaze on cold nights.

Several months ago I realized I had become more of a spectator in life than an active participant, and that I was living a little too vicariously through my husband. At least twice a week, time was spent watching the hubby jam with other musicians at a favorite club or play with his band at some local watering hole. I play two songs with the band, and I really enjoy watching them or dancing to them but when I found that I was wanting to make "band decisions" I realized I needed to have something more in my life. It was time to find a hobby -- something that was more active than reading or knitting and something I could share with friends.  I needed "to pull myself up by my bootstraps" as the saying goes and figure out something fun to do... boots...western wear...western dancing...line dancing!

That's me in the white hat concentrating hard on learning new steps.

The idea took root and I did some research. There are several local spots in Phoenix that teach the "how-to's" on a weekly basis. The great part is that you don't need a partner. Hubby likes to come and watch, but isn't keen on the dancing part. A margarita and fish tacos at Handlebar J's in Scottsdale on Tuesday nights keep him happily entertained while I'm dancing. Harold's in Cave Creek hosts dance lessons on Thursday evenings and if you want more practice, there's country dancing after the bull riding event on Fridays at the Buffalo Chip (across the parking lot from Harold's). There are several other places that offer country line dancing in the Valley as well, but these three are my favorites.
Cowboy hats are left behind with cards stating the name and date.

The crowd at Handlebar J's is a mix of young and old, tourists and locals, experienced and not-so-much, but everyone is there to have a good time and get a  great cardio workout. Notice how we're all doing something different than the instructor (blonde in crocheted vest). Nobody seems to care how good or bad you are at this :)

If you'd like to learn line dancing and aren't in a city that offers lessons, check out the videos in the gallery at our teacher's website:

  Couples' lessons at the Buffalo Chip in Cave Creek, Arizona 

When I retire, I'm looking forward to many more opportunities for fun and games so I'd sure like to get some ideas from our readers! Please leave a comment telling me what gives you bliss on a regular basis, okay?


Shurman on the Hill

By Sheila

Alec and Cortney's House on the Hill
What do you do when you are into music, love to share it with friends, and one of your faves has a gig cancelled in your town? Hire them to play at your house, of course, At least, that's what you do if you are my son Alec, his wife Cortney and their partner-in-crime, Steve.

Alec and Cortney trip the light fantastic while hosting a great party!

Alec read on Shurman's website that their gig was cancelled for last Friday and if anyone needed a band to contact them. He e-mailed them with "my wife and I will put you up at our house, cook for you, pay you (some) money, and my Dad will hook you up with some adult beverages". They wrote back instantly with "you had me at your Dad sells whiskey". An event was born.

A group photo; Alec and Steve front and center

They then invited 100 or so of their favorite people (we made the cut, along with Heather, Ann, and their hubbies). They wisely invited the neighbors. Alec built a stage on the level area of their very sloped driveway, hired a taco truck roach coach for the food, and rigged awesome outdoor lighting. They had some t-shirts made; they live on a hill, hence the "Shurman on the Hill" theme. The music was great, the tacos were spicy and as Pat said "life is good".

Heather, Sheila and Ann rock out to Shurman!

Life is good when your grown up kids include you and your friends in their fun and games and everyone has a good time. Thanks kids!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Phoenix Open (aka golf party in the desert)

By Sheila

The last day of the party, uh I mean golf tournament
Well , we've done it again. It's that time of year in Arizona where we start to strut our stuff. People who live in cold climates are starting to yearn for a little sunshine, and those of us that have it in spades, like to flaunt it. The kick-off for the season is the Barrett -Jackson Collector Car auction which you may have read about in Heather's recent post.

Next up is the Phoenix Open, which in my assessment is really a fashion show and crazy party which has golf going on in the background. Phil Mickelson and my Dad may not agree. I don't much like mob scenes and there are very few things in life that I am willing to stand in line for, but I do enjoy a day at the TPC in January/February to watch the freak show and see a little golf on the side.
Real life golfers - definitely in the minority at this event
There are the serious golf fans, the wannabes, the "boobs-on-a-stick" (it is in Scottsdale, after all), and the frat boys. There are snowbirds (white legs, black socks, shorts), families, and the beautiful people. The charitable organizations, families, the rich and famous, and the rest of us. All in all, it makes for a very entertaining crowd, with lots of fashion risks being flaunted. From excessive cleavage, crazy cotumes, and too-short skirts, there is a never-ending source of entertainment. Kinda sounds like Toby Keith's Bar.... Glamour magazine's editorial staff would have a field day with the "do's" and "don'ts". Lots of black bars across the eyes here, if you know what I mean.
A view of the stands at the 16th hole; gets a little rowdy in here!

My husband has an inside track as the local rep for a highly sought after beverage alcohol. This in itself opens a lot of doors, but as a sponsor for many premier events we have been spoiled over the years. It is kind of nice to get VIP passes to the places that have free food, drink, and even more important; the highly coveted VIP parking pass. He also gives out free cool stuff, like guitars, shirts, hats and the occasional cocktail. Let's just say he makes friends easily. All in all, it's not a bad way to while away an afternoon.

Welcome to the desert; Thanks to the Tournament Players Club for hosting this event yet again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

THE BEST Sugar Cookies

by Ann

I love sugar cookies.  I'm pretty sure they are my favorite type of cookie.  As a sugar-cookie-connoisseur I have requirements for them to fit the bill to be considered exceptional, which this recipe definitely is by my standards.  My sister prefers a crispy cookie, and my friend Nancie thinks her recipe trumps them all, but I'm sticking with this one, and think you will agree that it is amazing if you like your cookies soft, tender, and rich.    

I originally got this recipe from the book, A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg who credits these to her friend Jimmy who makes them for Valentine's day and calls them "Pink Cookies."  When I read the recipe I immediately thought of the delicious big round pink sugar cookies that the coffee shops at Nordstrom Department stores sell, and although that connection wasn't made in the book, the cookies are quite similar.  I have made a change to the frosting ingredient quantities.  I removed 2 ounces of cream cheese and added a bit more powdered sugar to make the frosting a bit stiffer.  Gradually add the last cup of sugar until you have the consistency you like.  You will probably have more frosting than you need, but is that a bad thing??

I agree that the perfect time to make these cookies is Valentine's Day.  If made at Christmas time they would not be fully appreciated with all of the holiday cookie competitors.  

When you read the recipe don't think I left ingredients out -- that's part of the secret to these cookies being different.  There are no eggs or leavening agents.  The cookies are wonderfully reminiscent of shortbread with the added bonus of cream cheese frosting.

In a way they are easier than other sugar cookies because all of the mixing is done by machine.  I have a Kitchen Aide stand mixer, which works perfectly using the paddle attachment, but my guess is that they could be done with a portable mixer as well.

When the dough is mixed it will be very sticky.  Divide it into two balls and flatten between layers of plastic wrap to about 1 inch thick.  Then stick the discs in the fridge until they harden (at least an hour).  They key to success when working with this dough is that it must be cold because there is so much butter in it.
Divide dough into two pieces between plastic wrap.
THE ONLY type of wrap I use is the Glad Press and Seal.
If you haven't tried it, do so -- it's worth the extra cost.

Press dough into disks about an inch thick and stick them in the fridge until they harden.
Once the dough is hardened, roll it between the wrap and a piece of waxed paper .

Place the cookies at least an inch apart.  If you do not use silicone liners I would strongly suggest that you invest in a  couple.  Even though they are expensive, in the long run I think using them is cheaper than parchment paper.

And the downside to sugar cookies -- the mess....

THE BEST Sugar Cookies

Cookie Ingredients:
3 sticks of butter, at room temperature (unsalted is recommended, but if you use salted, cut down on salt)
1 c powdered sugar, sifted
3 c flour
½ t salt
1 t pure vanilla extract
Frosting Ingredients:
6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 T butter, at room temperature
3 - 4 c powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/4 t kirsch or ½ - 1 t cherry extract (or vanilla, almond, or your favorite, strength dependent upon taste)

Cookie directions:
1.      Combine butter and sifted powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat, first at low speed slowly increasing to medium, until light and fluffy.
2.      In medium bowl combine flour, salt, and whisk well.  With mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating until the dry is just absorbed.
3.      Add vanilla and beat well to incorporate.
4.      Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a large clean surface, and turn the dough out on the wrap.  Gather the dough into a ball, press into a disk about 3” wide, wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour.
5.      Preheat oven to 325°.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
6.      Cut the disk of dough in half, keeping the unused portion in the refrigerator until needed. 
7.      Roll remaining dough between ¼ and 1/8 inch thick.  The key is to have all cookies approximately the same thickness. 
8.      Cut dough into desired shapes.  The simpler the shape, the happier you will be with the outcome. 
9.      Place cookies on lined baking sheets 1 ½ inches apart.
10.  Bake one sheet at a time, for 16-20 minutes, until the cookies start to turn golden brown on the edges. Do not allow cookies to get brown!  Keep the second sheet in the refrigerator until time to bake. 
11.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting Directions:
1.      Combine butter and cream cheese in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beating on low until smooth.
2  Add the powdered sugar gradually and beat on low speed to fully incorporate, then on medium to medium-high and beat until there are no lumps, scraping sides with a rubber spatula as needed.
3.      Add flavoring and a few drops of food coloring as desired.
4.      Generously spread frosting on fully cooled cookies.

Store in air-tight container for up to 5 days.

Note:   The key to success with these is working with the dough cold.  If you find that the shapes won't hold when rolling out, stick the dough back in the fridge.  It's a pain, but worth the extra trouble.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Western Wear in the West's Most Western Town

by Heather
Scottsdale bills itself as the "West's Most Western Town" and that holds true when it comes to western wear. I've read a couple of fashion articles recently saying that the western look is coming back in style, but here in the Southwest, cowboy hats and boots have always been okay whether or not you have the horse to go with them.
The entrance to WestWorld in Scottsdale, AZ -- not too far from where I live and the venue for such events as the Arabian Horse Show, the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction, AZ Motorcycle Week, and AZ Polo Club matches.

Two years ago I invested in custom-made black and white cowboy boots to match my black and white Harley Softail Deluxe motorcycle (see 11/16/12 post for bike pictures). Remember the Bon Jovi song lyrics, "I'm a cowboy,on a steel horse I ride"? Well, as an asphalt cowboy, I was pretty sure I needed these boots and even had rubber soles put on so I would have good traction. Big problem: the young man helping me with the order told me to go up a half size, rather than down a half size which is what their website says. Wore the boots once or twice but felt that I was walking around in clown feet so they were banished to storage and are finally, this week, making their way to a second-hand shop. I tried to give them away to my friends but nobody wanted them. Mmmm, that tells me something.
What's really funny about these boots is when I'm riding, the side flap flies up and they look a little like Dumbo, the flying elephant.

This past fall, I took up country line dancing (more on this on Friday's Fun post). The first time I went, I wore fabulous spike-y heels that looked good (even a cowboy admired them -- good taste or foot fetish??) but were horrible to dance in. What was I thinking?! Tried sequined deck shoes the next time - another cute look but having a non-skid sole was just downright ignorant on my part. So okay, I needed to invest in cowboy boots again. Any reason for shopping, right? I found a really great place online "Country Outfitters" and there were so many wonderful choices that I had to buy two of my favorites (I'm not getting paid by them; I'm just a big fan now). I stayed  with neutral colors this time, but they have some boots with orange, and then another with turquoise, and then desert get the picture. 
I think these are my favorite, grey with black inlay and glittering black seqins ; they're going out dancing this week!
I like the gold stitching on these and the black winged cross.
Then I found another two pair of cowboy boots at Boston Proper (online catalog). Both were on sale so I couldn't resist either one of them. Half the fun of a new hobby for me is getting the clothes to go with it. Hubby has always said that motorcycling is just an excuse to buy leather and bling so I guess the same holds true for this activity.

I already had the cowboy hats which are good to cover up motorcycle helmet hair and also to keep wildly curly hair under control (when my hair meets humidity, it's chaos). This is the perfect hat to go with my new gold and black boots.
Diva Amy makes most of my hats (check her out at Team Diva online). She's local (at least during the good months here) and lets me pick out colors and items for the hats. Usually, though, I can find something she's already made that I love.
A jacket (from local store, Harari at Kierland Commons)  that works for both asphalt cowboy riding and country western line dancing with a Chico's sequined tank underneath
Gold and silver mesh earrings above go with the gold and silver cross necklace (below) that I bought from one of the vendors at AZ Bike Week last year.
A dark silver and gold Michael Kors watch keeps the mixed metallic look continuing along with gold and silver link bracelets.

Another hat (below) from Diva Amy features feathers, my favorite color orange, and a guitar as homage to the hubby's band. 
Fringed suede jacket (Chico's); denim shirt (J.Crew)
Necklace from local shop, Kiss Me Kate, at the Gainey Village Shops
Chico's silver concho and leather belt
Tod's orange crocodile cuff; local designer-made sterling and orange spiny shell ring; and the Boston Proper tan scroll-stitched distressed leather boots (still available but no longer on sale)
 The final pair of new boots: metallic leather from Boston Proper
 Silver accessories; Gucci watch 
 And one of my favorite hats: silver metallic "Hell on Wheels" from Diva Amy, of course

Join us for dancing at Handlebar J's in Scottsdale this week, okay? Hats optional; boots a necessity.