Friday, February 22, 2013

Game Night punch recipes

by Ann
The food table filled with lots of great treats.  
Being in charge of big events is fun, but it is also a relief when they are over!  That's how I felt Tuesday evening at about 10:00 p.m. when the last counter was being wiped down in the kitchen of  the "women's clubhouse," a building in my city's historic district where the service organization I am in meets twice a month.

Generally the meetings consist of planning fundraising or community service events, and a lot of business that is necessary, but not what I'd consider fun.  Don't get me wrong -- we value the friendships made among club members, and we manage to find some fun in everything we do, but with the exception of one or two meetings a year, they are all about getting business done.

This year's president asked me to be in charge of one of the "fun meetings" with the only stipulations being that I don't spend much club money to pull it off and that everyone has a great time.  At this particular meeting members invite potential new members and make sure that they leave with an upbeat impression of our organization.
Each table had a different game or activity.
Assisted by six of my best pals in the club we pulled off a very fun game night with six rotations of different games at tables with color-coded balloons, lots of great food, a couple of punch recipes I am including in this post, and the grand finale of singing an upbeat version of a girlfriend sing-a-long to the tune of the Village People's "YMCA."

There is a rule at this clubhouse that very minimal alcohol is allowed; a provision made for champagne toasts at wedding receptions held in the building.  We occasionally take the concept behind that exception and make it fit our purposes -- as we did on Game Night with a white sangria punch.  (With that said, I made sure that the empty wine bottles went home with me rather than be placed in the trash where the owners might not be as liberal with their interpretation of stretching the rule....) 

Although I plan to share with you my dear friend Ginny's great white sangria recipe, what I am most enthusiastic about is the fruit punch recipe that I will list first.  

A couple of years ago I was in charge of punch for our club's scholarship recipient recognition event where the families of the kids who are awarded scholarships come for a lovely program that highlights the accomplishments of all of the recipients receiving money from our club.  As always, I searched the Internet for a recipe.  I don't like sweet punch.  If there is sherbet floating in punch I run the opposite direction.  The recipe described below is the BEST non-alcoholic fruit punch I have ever had.  In my humble :-) opinion, I have improved it by decreasing the sugar by a whole cup.  Believe me, the way I have it described is plenty sweet, but know that the original recipe called for 2 1/2 cups of sugar.
Hmm.... Should I have Sangria or fruit punch to drink??
Fruit Punch Extraordinaire

1 1/2 c granulated sugar
6 c water
1 3 oz packages of strawberry gelatin powder (or one 6 oz box)
1 46-oz can pineapple juice
2/3 c lemon juice
1 quart orange juice
2 2-liter bottles of lemon lime flavored soda

  1. Bring the sugar, water, and gelatin mix to a boil in a large pan and boil for 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in fruit juices.
  3. Divide punch into two gallon-sized ziplock bags and freeze them for at least 8 hours.
  4. Let each bag of frozen punch sit at room temperature for about an hour and then place it in a punch bowl with 1 2-liter bottle of soda.  With a spatula or potato masher break up the frozen punch into pieces.

The frozen bag of punch on the counter at the clubhouse -- retro tile, huh?
Yes, I use a potato masher to break up the frozen punch into the  soda.

Each frozen bag and bottle of soda will serve about 25.

The punch will stay slushy for at least two hours.  It is amazingly tasty -- especially my version with less sugar.

As for the white sangria -- that was a huge hit as well.  In fact, a quadruple batch of it was polished off by the end of the evening, while there was still punch left from my first frozen baggie batch of fruit punch.  I think that speaks more to the crowd that the tastiness of the beverages!  See below for that recipe:

Ginny's White Sangria Punch

8 oz Martinelli's sparkling cider
8 oz mango nectar
2 oz triple sec
2 oz apricot brandy
24 oz Savignon blanc
juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
juice of 1 orange, freshly squeezed
fruit for garnish - cherries, strawberries, oranges, pineapple, lime, etc.

Mix and chill all ingredients other than the sparkling cider which you will add immediately prior to serving.
Add ice* and fruit to serve.

*Since I had the freeze-punch-in-baggies concept going, I put some of the Sangria in regular sized baggies, froze it, and added the frozen product to the pitcher with the rest of the sangria prior to adding the Martinelli's.  No sense in watering it down with ice!!!

The event is over and was a huge success --
One more big project to check off the list!  Woo - hoo!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winter into Spring Decor

by Heather

At this time of the year I find it a little difficult to decorate seasonally here in the Valley of the Sun because even though the calendar says "winter" the temps might suggest "spring." My so-called "winter decor" always seems to be somewhere between the two seasons. I still have the woolie throws and furry pillows out, but verdant accents of apples, pears, and flowers have crept in.

Some of these pictures were taken right after Valentine's Day when I still had multiple vases of roses and tulips in bloom (see Valentine Table for Two post on 1/31/13).  I shared the living room pictures of "Winter Decor" back on January 24th, so let's start in the front dining room.
The little dropleaf table in the front dining room (someday this will be the baby grand piano room) gets loaded with books, mercury glass vases entwined with wire, and a large Pottery Barn jug filled with faux blossoms. 
The silver candelabra sitting on the small zebra print footstool was a gift from a colleague (thank you, Michelle). She found it for $10 at the local Goodwill store and knew that I would love it. I do! It's even been camping (or should I say "glamping") with me.

The roses lasted such a long time after Valentine's Day. Here are some against the lighted black cabinets from Ethan Allen. The three-bottle-holder was a find from Michael's.
The picture above was taken immediately after Valentine's Day; below is what it looks like today. 
The apples and tulips may be faux but the lemons and grapefruits are 100% real from the trees of one of my colleagues. Thanks, Joyce!

The rosemary topiaries below were moved in from outside after Christmas. The weather has been freezing overnight and I wanted them to live as long as possible.
I wanted to add a little more Spring to this tabletop vignette so I moved the topiaries out (okay, the truth is that I killed them). Anyway,  I thought since I love orange so much in fashion, I should add some into the home decor. The sweet orange flowering plants are from Fry's Grocery Store.

 The orange tray and candle are from Z Gallerie. I'm not sure yet about this -- it's so much color for a house awash in neutrals. We'll see how long this lasts...

I change the vignette atop the entertainment center seasonally although the three hurricanes seem to have found a permanent home there. Right now they're joined by a small collection of birds, some of which are contained under wire cloches.

The mantel for the family room fireplace is on the to-do list for hubby. It's too narrow to allow for vignettes with any depth so I'd like him to construct a wooden mantel. Maybe I can learn how to do this myself?? Hanging hurricanes on either side are changed out with Spring candles and faux green apples.

The next time it's my turn to do a post about furnishings will be several weeks before Easter -- plenty of time between now and then to get out the bunnies and other Easter paraphernalia, right? And for the weather to get back to normal here. This past weekend, the temps were in the high 70s and low 80s. Today, I drove home from work in near whiteout conditions. Yes, here in Scottsdale, Arizona, it was snowing/sleeting/hailing (graupel) with thunder, lightning, and fog! I haven't driven in weather like that since I lived in Minnesota.  Crazy times!!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Money and Lifestyle

Show me the Money!

By Sheila
February 20, 2013

Although we are primarily a “Lifestyle” blog, let’s face it money is a big factor in your lifestyle.  When Heather and Ann and I met this week to talk blogging (okay, have Happy Hour), they encouraged me to delve into this topic in the name of frugality.  I admit to being oddly fascinated by money management.  I read lots of books on the subject; from basic personal finance to more complex investing and retirement planning.  I am always scanning the library shelves and Amazon for what’s new.  This is not to say that I am an expert by any means, but I will offer up some resources that I have found useful, and you might too.

As many of you know, we are in the newly retired and soon to retire and even can’t freakin’ wait to retire stages of our lives.  And by us, I mean the three of us bloggers and our husbands and many of our friends.  I won’t say who is in which category, however, except that I am in the last.  Don’t misunderstand; we have enjoyed our careers and are appreciative of the opportunities and benefits we enjoy from work.  And we are likely to continue to do some things along the way that either give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning or bring in a little extra cash or both.  But while that is fine and good, it is important to know where you stand prior to making some of these decisions.  I occasionally drive my husband crazy with financial updates, progress on goals, etc.  One of the greatest tools for this that I have discovered is  (You’re welcome, dear).

Mint is a free website that allows you to gather all of your financial data in one place.  It will give you real-time numbers for balances in your bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and investment accounts.  It will connect with to give you an estimate on the property you own, if you want.  You can add the estimated value of other items you own such as vehicles (or sailboats?) or whatever.  All you need is the online access to your accounts and you can set this up.  And you don’t need to be close to retirement to have this work for you.  Good for you if you are in your 20’s and are thinking ahead.  Want to retire early?  Set your goals, get to work and watch it happen on Mint.

Some of you are thinking, “That can’t be safe, giving them all that information”.  Well the key is, you can view this information in Mint, but you can’t do anything else.  You can’t move money; you can’t pay a bill, no transactions whatsoever.  I appreciate this when I am traveling, because I can check on my bank accounts without really getting into my bank accounts.  I don’t trust hackers at public wifi spots, but I do trust Mint.  You can have Mint send you alerts for when bills are due, accounts are low, etc.  It will automatically send you a weekly summary of your spending and your net worth.  You can set up budgets and it will categorize your spending and keep track of where you are.   You can set financial goals such as paying down debt or saving for a vacation and it will track this for you.  All in one place, real-time in seconds.  On your phone, your computer  or iPad.  I love it!

I am not a highly technical person, but I found this easy enough to set up and well worth it.  It is very motivating to see the mortgage getting smaller and the investments getting bigger so we can achieve our goals of retiring and enjoying the lifestyle we want to have.  Check it out at and watch your money grow!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lemon Glazed Candied Ginger Cookies

by Ann

Here I go again talking about something sweet when I claim that I am not a dessert fanatic!  The bottom line is that most homemade treats require recipes, while preparing a great steak or perfectly done asparagus does not.  Are you buying my reasoning, or questioning my truthfulness about not constantly raiding the cookie jar?

Speaking of which...  These cookies are fabulous!  I have written about my love of ginger already, but when I refer to ginger it is more along the lines of crystallized ginger or fresh ginger root rather than the dry spice that is in often a key ingredient in holiday baking recipes.

My dear friend Teri first introduced me to this recipe, which originally came from  Teri made the dough up and portioned it into cookie-sized balls that she froze, being able to take out as many as she needed for freshly baked cookies.  With the Valentine sugar cookie making experience fresh in my mind, I handled the dough the same way I did with that recipe -- I rolled the sticky dough between plastic wrap and waxed paper to the 1/4" thickness and then put the rolled dough in the fridge to harden up enough to cut.  I was glad I was using a metal biscuit cutter instead of a plastic cookie cutter because the cutter had to go through some of the ginger chunks.

Pictured below are ingredients that most people might not have on hand.  The crystallized ginger can be bought at specialty or farmers markets and stores that sell a good variety of spices.  The jar is Nielsen Massey vanilla bean paste.  Working at Sur la Table exposed me to this wonderful product (they sell it at the store, you can order it on Amazon, or even find it in discount stores like Ross or TJ Max).  The pastry chef at Sur la Table uses it as a replacement for any recipe that calls for vanilla extract in the same amounts.  The head chef said to use half as much as extract when he used it, so I went with that recommendation since the 2 tablespoons that this recipe calls for seems like an large amount.

 The ginger can be found at specialty markets (it's pricey), and the jar is Nielsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste.

I used a heaping half cup of the crystallized ginger.
Be forewarned -- the ginger is difficult to cut , and it gets too gummy in the food processor.

The dough is sticky, so I divided it into three parts and rolled it into 1/4" thick disks to refrigerate prior to cutting.
Once hardened by refrigeration cookies can be cut and placed on  mat to bake.

Using a disposable pastry bag made glazing easy.   (It would have been easier if I'd used a spoon!)

Lemon Glazed Candied-Ginger Cookies

2 c all-purpose flour
½ t baking powder
½ t salt
¾ c unsalted butter,softened
1 c packed light-brown sugar
½ c candied ginger, chopped fine ( I used a heaping half cup)
1 large egg
2 T vanilla extract (I used 1 T vanilla bean paste)
2 c powdered sugar
2T finely grated lemon zest
2 t fresh lemon juice
1 T honey
2 T water
I add a dab of yellow food coloring paste to add color

1.       Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
2.       Cream butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3.       Add ginger, beat for an additional 2 minutes.
4.       Beat in egg and vanilla.
5.       Add flour mixture, and beat on medium-low speed until dough comes together.
6.       Divide dough into two sections and refrigerate 1 hour – 3 days.  Dough is very sticky. 
A good way to do this is to roll the dough to ¼ inch rounds between plastic wrap or waxed paper, and refrigerate the flat rounds prior to cutting and cooking.
7.       Cut cooled dough into 2” circles. Place on a silicone mat or parchment paper lined cookie sheets ½ inch apart. Refrigerate cut cookies 10 minutes prior to baking.  (I did not do this because of my system the dough was still cool)
8.       Bake at 350 degrees, rotating half way through until cookies are set and edges are light gold; 12-14 minutes.  Transfer parchment with cookies to wire racks.  Let cool completely.  (Cookies can be stored for up to 3 days).
9.       Whisk powdered sugar, lemon zest, juice, honey, water and a pinch of salt in bowl until smooth.  Drizzle over cooled cookies.
Makes 5-6 dozen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Neon and Stripes

by Heather

It's been 80 degrees and sunny here for the past couple of days which gets me thinking about Spring. Spring and the color yellow go together in my mind and I love stripes as well, especially in nautical blue and white, for the warm weather.

Prabal Gurung for Target sweater; Target scarf; Chico's boyfriend jeans

When I saw that the Prabal Gurung for Target line featured a neon yellow and white sweater, I knew I had to have it. Glad I didn't wait too long -- read later that the line pretty much sold out its first day. Also happy that I picked up both the small and the medium sized sweater. I didn't have time (or maybe it was energy) to try it on in the store, so I took both. The small is plenty big even though I usually wear a medium in Target tops. While shopping for the sweater, the scarf section was directly across the aisle and the blue and white striped scarf with the slash of neon yellow caught my eye.

With the scarf tied, the sweet little white V-shape of the sweater gets hidden so here's a picture with the scarf draped.
A close-up of the Target earrings and a BCBG neon yellow and silver ring

And, of course, the jewelry section is right next to the scarves and. of course, there were cute neon yellow earrings to coordinate with the other pieces.  I do like a matchy-matchy look so the three items had to come home with me.  I first tried the new pieces with white jeans, which is a nice look, but technically it's still winter so the old-fashioned part of me just couldn't do it. Pairing it with boyfriend jeans kept a little bit of a "winter in Scottsdale" look with the yellow and white being my nod to the Spring-like weather.
Ann Taylor yellow and bling bracelet; BCBG yellow and silver ring; white ceramic Michael Kors watch; (hard-to-see neon) yellow braided wrap bracelet 
Charles David heels
 I had the yellow shoes in the pile to go to our upcoming swap party. I love the style but they're not really comfortable to wear for extended periods. When summer rolls around, I'll pull out the white wedges or the pale grey with yellow sandals or the...well, who knows for sure, but I'm thinking that the yellow and white sweater will pair well with a lot of shoes!
 Here's another sweater (Urban Outfitters) with a little stripe of neon yellow. I've paired it with my J. Crew Edie purse, white jeans from White House Black Market, and a neon yellow necklace purchased last summer.

I've been working on expanding my repertoire of scarf-ties so stay tuned for next Monday's blog when I'll show you what I've learned.  Join us the rest of this week, too, for topics ranging from food to money to furnishings and fun!