Friday, March 8, 2013

Spring Training in Arizona

By Sheila

It is my favorite time of year in the Sonoran desert.  The short winter we have had is losing its edge and the sunshine and agreeable climate is the clear winner.  This is the picture perfect postcard time of year that seduces snowbirds (thanks to all of you that migrate here and leave some of your money – we appreciate it!), and reminds locals that we better keep our traps shut or everyone will move here.  Did I mention July, August and September?  We’ll revisit those temps in a future discussion…
Ann, Sheila, David and Pat in our free baseball shades - great if you love purple!

In the meanwhile, the valley is a-buzz with baseball.  What’s not to like about a sport that brings many of its teams together in one area to practice playing nice before the real deal starts.  To say nothing of sitting in the 70-85 degree sunshine, drinking your beverage of choice and eating your fill of peanuts and whatever other culinary delights that can be found in the park.  It always provides a good excuse to play hooky from work or school, and just enjoy the day. 
My camera is bigger than your camera.  No kidding!

On a recent outing, we went with our good friends Ann and Pat, and had a great time.  Lunch out at Humble Pie (a great local pizza joint) followed by an afternoon in the stands at the fairly new Diamondbacks and Rockies shared spring training facility “Salt River Fields”.  We were entertained by the vendors hawking their wares…

Direct quote from this guy “I’m fast, I’m pretty, and I can’t be beat”.  Obviously.

The fans out sampling the goods… That is a tower of fruit dipped in chocolate.  Yum!

Pat’s suggestion that I call this post “Studs in the Stands”almost won out. Almost.
A few days later, we went again with our Granddaughter, Camryn.  She thought the whole baseball thing could be improved immensely if they would let you ride horses on the field.  She is wholly in favor of continuing the practice of hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy, however.  The bat and ball thing is intriguing, but there seems to be way too much standing around doing nothing for her.  She likes non-stop action.  But she wore her D-Backs Spring Training hat proudly and can’t wait for her Papa to take her again, so maybe this baseball thing will grow on her. Oddly enough, although I’m not a major sports fan, it has grown on me over the years.  Of course, maybe it’s that whole playing hooky thing that appeals to me…

The cutest fan in attendance! Note the cotton candy face.
So take me out to the ball park, take me out to the game...
And come visit us in springtime in Arizona for a Spring Training game, a leisurely bicycle ride, or to just sit by the pool and smell the orange blossoms!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Please Pass the Salt...

by Ann

The salt-keeper gift I received and the finishing salt purchased to fill it.

I love salt.  When given the choice between a sweet or salty snack, I’d usually choose salty (although it certainly would be dependent upon the treats being offered!).  Fortunately my blood pressure has always been low, so I’ve never been advised to cut down on my salt intake.  If that happens in the future, I’ll be in trouble!

In the meantime, let’s “talk salt”!  The inspiration for this post came from a handcrafted olive wood “salt keeper” vessel;  a recent hostess gift from our friends Jan and Mike.  I share my passion for salt with my dear friend Teri, who is the best home-cook I know.  On many occasions over the years she and I have exchanged gifts of fancy salts, but upon the arrival of my new container, sea salt was the most interesting option in my cupboard, so it was time to go salt shopping!

The chefs teaching classes as Sur la Table (where I am a kitchen assistant) have mentioned using “finishing salt” prior to serving a variety of dishes.  So…. I went straight to the expert available to me, Chef Frank, the resident chef at the store.  To educate me, he grabbed five or six exotic salts from the shelves and explained the source and virtues of each.

The salt that we buy at grocery stores, table and kosher, are generally used as ingredients in recipes, while the fancy salts are used for flavoring just prior to serving (hence “finishing salts”).  The differences between table and kosher salt are that the table variety typically has iodine and anti-caking additives, while kosher salt, the option with a coarser grain was engineered to draw blood out of and cure meats in order to make them kosher.   I’m sure there are other requirements for meats to become kosher, but that’s the reason the coarse salt is so named.  Table salt is the best choice for baking in that it dissolves better than the larger kosher crystals; kosher being  the chef’s choice because the coarser grains are easier to “pinch” to add to recipes and yield a saltier flavor.

Back to fancy salt – There are lots of varieties, both those mined from deposits underground, but more commonly sea salts, as was the variety I purchased of Fleur de Sel de Camargue from France, which sells for $12.00 for a 4.4 ounce container.  Yikes!  That’s about $45.00 a pound.  For SALT?  It had better be good!  The way Frank explained it to me, finishing salt will retain the salty flavor because it won’t diffuse into the food.  It is the best choice for sweet/salty combos like a salted caramel or salted brownie (see photo below).

The variety of designer salts include grey, pink, black, flavored, and salts of different degrees of coarseness.  Some are processed in a way that smoke or another flavor is infused, which would make them great for some recipes, but definitely not appropriate for others.  That’s too complicated for me to keep track of!  Salt, the most commonly used seasoning is critical to many recipes – even those that don’t have a salty taste.  Cookies and other baked goods are flat with no salt added, salt brings out the flavor of proteins, and I hate to think of eating a French fry or bowl of popcorn with no salt!

To be “worth your salt” comes from the Latin word “salarium,” the name for salary; the pay that soldiers got for their work in ancient Rome.   Hmmm...  $45 a pound for salt... those ancient Roman’s would never have guessed...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Opportunities in Real Estate

This was a "flip house" I did with my friend Tami.  What a project - but it sure is cute now!

By Sheila
There are lots of ways to make money in this world.  You can put your nose to the grindstone and never let up.  You can pursue years of education and choose a professional career that provides higher than average compensation.  You can be brilliant and come up with the next best idea, and actually follow through with it.  Or, you can do what many people have done over the years, and buy investment real estate. 

Real estate provides an opportunity for the average person to build wealth and an income stream.  It can provide a positive cash flow, appreciation, some favorable tax advantages, and all this leveraged with Other People’s Money (a mortgage).  We bought our first investment property when our kids were going to college.  We finally had the money together, and decided that we had a chance of recovering some of our costs with our kids moving into a rental with a roommate or two that we owned, rather than a dorm situation which is definitely money you won’t see again.  So we bought a small house in Gilbert, Arizona. This home was a pilot crash-pad for our son and his buddies for a while, and was a great rental for years.

A small courtyard in the center of this Walled Villa - this is a great feature tenants and buyers love!
I know, you are all thinking, of course Arizona, their real estate economy is crazy – and it has been, but that’s kind of beside the point.  The opportunity to buy good investment property exists in many areas.  It takes some shopping around, knowing your area and being prepared to move quickly when a good option becomes available.  It is not for the faint of heart, but then investing all your eggs in the stock market isn’t either.  And we all know how much good that stockpile under your mattress is going to do you in the long run!

For me, buying investment real estate is like buying a part-time business.  Because I am usually looking for the best deal, it often requires an initial clean-up and fix-up before it is tenant ready.  I am the eternal optimist, and I am able to see past the filth that some people live in, or the dated design of a shabby, neglected home that needs some TLC (and okay, elbow grease and $5000 in repairs).  I also enjoy getting my hands dirty with the fix-up, and have assembled a group of handy people that I can call on to help when needed.  Not the least of which are my Parents, who have been buying real estate ever since I can remember. This allows me to positively impact the value of the property, something I am not able to do with the stock market. 
Pools are very high-maintenance in a rental - I'll only do this again in a vacation rental.... we'll see.
I also like to do the monthly management myself, and have set up a system that works for me with minimal time involved.  There are many good management companies out there that will do this for you (advertise, screen tenants, arrange for repairs, maintenance, etc.) for a fee, usually about 10% of the rental income.  Because I have a flexible work schedule – I am a flight attendant by day – I am able to manage this myself.  Making my own decisions about issues that arise keeps me in tune with the property, the neighborhood and my tenants, allowing me to nip problems in the bud and maintain the property to my higher standard.  This in turn keeps better tenants in place and everybody’s happy.  

I admit to having coerced my husband into most of the deals we have done, and in the end he reluctantly goes along.  Then he brings his buddies by the 4-plex on move-in day when I am still wearing my tool belt and stuffing it with money from our new tenants to show off.  Hmmm? Who is the smart one here?
What are your thoughts on rentals?  Anybody else as excited about them as I am?  Love that positve cash flow!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Brunch Egg Casserole

by Ann

Wow!  Wedding weekend has come to a close.  It has been a marathon of events, most of which I had no responsibility other than to show up and have a great time.  My sister, Susan, the mother of the bride may drop from exhaustion, but we all had a fabulous weekend to remember! Everything went like clockwork, the wedding was perfect. Thursday my sister, Linda and her family arrived in the late evening from Virginia.  From that point on things got crazy.  Here's the abridged version of the schedule:

Friday - 
  • Lunch in Old Town Scottsdale with Linda and her gang
  • Happy hour at my Mom's awaiting the arrival of my aunt and uncle
  • Off to the rehearsal dinner, which was absolutely fabulous at a lovely southwestern restaurant
Saturday - 
  • Get up to get casseroles started for the brunch the following day (the recipe included in this post)
  • Hubby squeezed a gallon of juice from the oranges from our trees
  • Make dessert for following day and for a treats for a night class I am teaching on Monday
  • Off to sit in the sun by the pool (don't tell our dermatologists) at the hotel where my sister was staying
  • Back home to get ready for the wedding
  • Pick up my mom, aunt and uncle to head off to the church for the wedding
  • On to the reception filled with celebration, dinner and dancing
Sunday -
  • Up early to finish the casseroles and get them baked -- make fruit salad as well
  • Go to brunch that my sister and her husband put on for at least 40 people after a crazy-fun-exhausting late night the evening before
  • Go home to scramble to clean up all of the messes at our house to host a somewhat impromptu one-last get together before out-of-towners go home and we get back to reality
  • Early dinner for 14 at our house -- Pizza, salad, and dessert  -- the pizza was from a pizza joint -- hey, the guests were lucky the house was clean! (well, sort of clean....)
Monday - (yesterday)
  • Back to work and the real world -- that's not a bad thing, but where's the wine??
The recipe I am sharing in this post is wonderful in many ways.  It is tasty, feeds a crowd, and can be pre-prepped to get everything together the day before to bake the following day, which is convenient, especially on busy weekends like the one we just had.

Yum  -- The great thing about this casserole is that it is tasty piping hot out of the oven, or only slightly warm if you take it to a potluck.

The ingredients are simple -- Don't let me confuse you with only 2 eggs -- There should be 8 -- I wasn't adding them until the next day, and there were only two left in the container that I grabbed for this photo opp.
If preparing a day ahead, add all ingredients except the egg and  milk on day one.

Omelet Hash Brown Casserole 

6 T salad oil
2 c chopped onions
1 package (about 6 cups) frozen hash browns (the cubes of potatoes)
¼ c butter
1 - 2 chopped bell peppers – any color
¼ c chopped fresh parsley
2 c milk
8 eggs, beaten
2 c grated Swiss cheese
12 oz – 1 # cooked crumbled sausage, chorizo, bacon, ham, etc.
2-3 teaspoons salt or seasoning salt, depending upon how salty to meat used is
ground pepper to taste


1.      Preheat oven to 375º
2.      With oil in the skillet sauté half of the onions.  Add potatoes and 1 t salt.  (I had to do this in two batches – you’ll need a large skillet to do all of the potatoes at once.)
3.      Cover and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
4.      Pat cooked potatoes into 9 ½ x 13” pan.  Bake for 20 minutes.
5.      Melt butter in frying pan.  Add bell pepper, remaining onion, and parsley and sauté until tender.  (you can add mushrooms if desired)
6.      Combine milk, eggs, 1 t salt, and pepper to taste.
7.      Sprinkle crust with bell pepper mixture, cheese, and meat.*
8.      Pour egg mixture over the casserole.
9.      Bake for 45 minutes to an hour.  It will be done when it starts to get golden brown around the edges and the middle is no longer runny.  (If made the night before it will take longer to cook starting out cold from the fridge.)

*  If making this up the night before, wait until the morning to pour the egg mixture on the casserole.

If using chorizo, cheddar cheese would work better than Swiss cheese.

This makes a huge batch which would serve 10-12 people.  You can easily cut it in half and use a 9-10” pie pan.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Springtime Stripes: Navy and Cream

by Heather

After a perfect spring weekend of outdoor dining, motorcycling, shopping, pedicure/massage, and wine (not necessarily in that order), it's time to get ready for the work week. I'm lucky in that I can wear jeans to work. It can't be too casual a look (no t-shirts and flip-flops), but it does make it easier to put together a look that will take me from work to more casual (and dare I say, fun) events. I'm stopping at the Scottsdale Quarter (open-air center of shops and restaurants -- Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Sephora, Calypso St. Barth, Eddie V's,  Brio, etc.) on the way home tomorrow and this outfit will work from morning to evening. The day will start out cool but by the afternoon temps will be in the high 70s or low 80s. Kind of perfect for shopping and dining outdoors! Stripes are in this season, but if you're like me, they've never gone out of style in your clothing choices.

Navy and cream jacket: Nordstrom;  cream tank: Chico's Black Label; navy and cream belt: The Limited; navy denim jeans: Chico's
Anchor necklace is from a small beach shop in San Diego
Easy zip up front with two zippered patch pockets 
Surprisingly comfortable navy and tan wedges: Target; my favorite style of Michael Kors' purses: the Hamilton in navy and oyster with silver hardware; creamy shell and sterling bracelet from local designer
One of my favorite bracelets from a small jeweler in Boston: sterling and titanium on cream cord; shell and sterling ring from local designer

If the weather here continues to be warm and sunny, I may need to move the spring and summer clothes out of the chests and downstairs closets and bring them upstairs. I was hoping to wait until next week for the move, but I may be pushed to do it sooner. Do any of you move clothes between closets for each season? In my next life, I will have one big walk-in closet! Perhaps in the meantime I should weed out the clothes until all seasons fit into the upstairs closet? As I move the clothes around, I'll take a look and see if any of them need to go into the donate pile. I haven't tried consignment shops yet, but I'm thinking about it. Have any of you done that with your clothes? Sheila's mom is going to have a swap party sometime later this month. We've done that once before and it was a very satisfying way to get rid of clothes and home accessories and also pick up some lovely new items. Any unwanted merchandise was then donated to a charity.  Everybody wins!

Have a wonderful week!