Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Club Fun, Food, and Friendship

by Ann

There are few things I can think of that are more satisfying and fun than combining a great book with the company and conversation of good friends (and some wine, of course!).  A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison is a such a book, and was this month's selection for our book club.  Although the "rule" is that the month's hostess chooses the book, the one I had to suggest was Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer, and although good, would not have led to as rich a discussion as the one Kathy suggested.

Prior to establishing our book club Sheila, Heather, and I would pass books among one another when we came across one that we thought the others would enjoy.  In fact, our club started as a result of a book about a book club that Sheila first read and then shared.  The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler was the fun, quick read that inspired us several years ago to gather a group of friends to read, and every bit as importantly, gather monthly for one night a month that we all hold sacred.  Even though many evening commitments crop up in my job, everyone in my office is aware that book club will always trumps work, and Sheila plans her work scheduled flights around the second Monday night of each month.
There are eight women in our group, ranging in age, marital status, and occupation, although most of us have some connection to education-related jobs.  We take the summers off due to vacation schedules, but still get together a couple of times for informal floats in someone's pool.  We've said that we'll talk about whatever each of us is reading at the time, but most of the summer chat is not book related.  At the beginning of the "book year" a schedule is created so everyone can anticipate when it is her turn to choose a book and to host with dinner or snacks.

There is no obligation to prepare food related to the theme of the book, but when feasible it's fun to try to make the connection.  (Clutter Busting might have been difficult, but I could have gotten away with being a minimalist!)  One of the best theme-related meals was at Sheila's when each of us put salmon in foil pouches with veggies and seasonings to be placed in her outdoor fireplace which served as our campfire to go along with the conversation about A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson; a book about two hikers taking on the Appalachian Trail.  
Our Friendship, Life and Style blog originated as an inspiration from one of my other book picks over a year ago.  A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg was written as a result of her successful food blog.  It's her memoir of fond recollections of time spent with her father who was a physician, but also a great cook.  Each chapter includes several amazing recipes, so it was a no-brainer for me to find delicious recipes to prepare for dinner for that book club gathering!

So, back to this month's book...  A Walk in the Sun is set in multiple locations, and is about two young Indian girls who get kidnapped and forced to be part of the sex slave trade.  As I write this it sounds like it would be an depressing book, and although it definitely had those moments, it is also a story of redemption and love.  I highly recommend it.  And on a lighter note, it gave me a reason to seek out Indian food and exotic ingredients.  I did a library search for "Indian cook books," and came up with Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet by Padma Lakshmi.  It is a beautiful book with great recipes and pictures.  The problem is that although the author is Indian, her recipes were a collection from food inspirations she had gained throughout her world travels.  

I did prepare a appetizer she suggested (next Tuesday's food post), but ended up using a Indian chicken breast recipe that I had in my files from my sister years ago that I knew was good.  As any good blogger would do, my next step was to check out some authentic Indian food blogs, of which there are many.  The site I ended up spending some time with, and downloading recipes from including the salad I prepared was Sailu's Kitchen . 

The blogging process is still a learning experience for us.  We've had requests for our recipes to be downloadable through a link, so I am trying to figure out how to do that.  If the links below work for Monday night's recipes then I have figured it out.  If not, please continue to be patient with us as we continue to improve our blog!

click here for Mango Cucumber Salad recipe

Part of the book club gang having pre-dinner snacks outside prior to going inside for dinner.
A trip with my husband to the ethnic food market resulted in lots of interesting Indian snacks.
And the table is set for the gang -- you can see that my style is minimalistic compaered to Heather's!

After writing this post I see how much influence our book club selections have had on our actions.  Maybe choosing Clutter Busting would have been a good call...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Only in Scottsdale: Breakfast at the Gas Station

by Heather
I was looking through old pictures and found this one from 2010; isn't it just the prettiest centerpiece for an Easter table? I had the floral department of a local grocery store, AJ's, put it together for me. For pictures of this year's table, go back a few posts to my Spring Table and Decor on 3/11/13.
I felt I had to throw this picture in to hold your attention -- the next few pictures will have you wondering what the heck I'm doing.
I'm taking you to a gas station for breakfast. Just trust me, okay? And stay with me; it gets better!
Gas pumps; pallets of "gas station" stuff...
Mmm...fresh market?
Okay, still looking like a Circle K or Quik Stop...
but then you look to your right...
People are eating breakfast (and lunch and dinner later in the day)...
And there is a chandelier...
And a very cool light fixture of bulbs and rope...

Just the place to meet up with dear friend Susan and her sisters Sally and Cathryn
And friends Melissa and Jackie and all of our spouses.
Notice how we're sitting "snowbird" style: the women all together and the men at the other end of the table. At our ages, we know that we're really more interested in talking to the other women and it's easier if we're all sitting together.
Here are a couple of examples from the breakfast menu.
The food tasted as good as it looked!
If you want a cup of coffee or something to go, there's this delightful counter.
Just in case you need a little wine for later in the day...
Just in case you need to purchase a little gift for a friend or yourself...
There are other places to perch and eat while you're waiting for your car to be washed.
Or perhaps you want to play a game of chess...
The little display below reminds you that this is a gas station.

If you're ever in the neighborhood (Bell and 94th; north Scottsdale, east of the Ice Dean, north of Westworld), stop by for a little refreshment while you fill up your car or get it washed.

Have a wonderful rest of the week and a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pack for Travel: Toiletries & TSA

By Sheila

As a regular road warrior, I almost NEVER check bags when I fly. I like the ease of rolling out of the plane and being on my way. I like knowing that my bags are definitely going to get there. And I like to avoid standing in line to check them in the first place. The tricky part about this is condensing your toiletries and cosmetics into a manageable size that allows you to breeze through security. Here are some suggestions:
All "liquids" on the left; make-up tools and "dry" stuff on the right.

The basic limitations for TSA (US airport security) checkpoints can be found up to date on their website, but at the time of this writing you are limited to single liquid containers that do not exceed 3.4 ounces each, and all of your liquids should fit in a quart size baggie. This team of experts has absolutely no sense of humor regarding the 3.4 ounce limitation, but in my experience, they have been known to be a teensy bit flexible on the "baggie" size. I pack mine as shown below, and I don't have any problems.

All of my "liquid" goods, as described below, packed into my see-through bag.  You can see that is is close to quart size, and I always get a pass from TSA for this.
Cleanser, Eye Make-up Remover, Contact Case, Spare Contacts, and Solution, Moisturizer, Night Cream, Eye Cream, Toothpaste, & Carmex.  Note; cleanser and make-up remover could be replaced by the "towelettes", as shown.
Hair stuff; Hair Spray, Gel, Conditioner, and Shampoo (I love the container on the right! Buy at REI or travel stores)

The liquid Make-up; Primer, Foundation, Gloss, Lipsticks, Lip Pencil, Mascara.

In order to condense your liquids to carry-on size, consider streamlining your routine. I know, you're thinking "easy for you to say, I need blah, blah, blah", but do you really? Can any of your products do double duty? Could you use your day cream at night too, for just a few days? I'm thinking those wrinkles  won't appear (or disappear) in a weekend. Just think about it.

Next, when given a choice between liquid/gel and a solid, consider solid. For example; use powder blush instead of a gel or cream. There is no restriction on the cosmetics you tote that are not liquids or gels. However, TSA considers mascara a liquid, as well as lipsticks, etc. You get the picture. Put all non-liquid /gel products In a separate compartment so they don't complicate the security screening process.

They "Dry Goods"; these items do not need to be pulled out at security.
Finally, buy smaller containers for those products that don't already come in small packaging. I love the clear bottles and jars that come with sticky labels that you can customize to your needs, as you can see from several of the containers in the photos.  Also, save those samples you get for free with other cosmetic purchases.  If you are really tight for space, consider using the hotel shampoo (I hope my Hair Goddess will forgive me this occasional transgression). I always bring my own conditioner and gel. Some stuff, I just plan to buy when I get there, in travel sizes, and if it won't fit in to go home, I'll toss it (toothpaste, sunscreen, hand lotion, etc). When you consider the cost to check most bags, let alone the inconvenience, this is often worth it.

Here's all of it in one place...remember, the stuff in the lower left corner goes in the "red" tools/dry stuff bag.

One last tip; get organized BEFORE you get in line at the TSA checkpoint. Have your liquids together in an easily accessible location, ready to put on top of your stuff in the plastic bin. Oh, and if you have a laptop, put it in a bin by itself. IPads and tablets do not need to come out of your bag at all. Be ready to take off your shoes, belt, and take everything out of your pockets.

You are now ready to breeze through the security checkpoint, avoiding long lines at the ticket counter, and ready to roll as soon as you get off the plane. Go get your latte to enjoy on the flight! You've earned it! Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lemon Bars

by Ann

In grade school Social Studies class we learned about the 5 C’s that Arizona’s economy was dependent upon and known for:  cattle, copper, climate, cotton, and citrus.  Little did I know then that the neighborhood I would live in as an adult was a “retired” citrus grove.  Things have changed a lot in the state's economy since then (I hate to admit how many decades ago that was), but since I’m living in the former grove, we have lots of citrus to figure out what to do with this time of year.

We have two orange, a grapefruit, a lime and a lemon tree in our yard.  Our HOA (Home Owners Association) agreement requires a minimum number of citrus trees that need to be maintained in each yard, depending upon the size of the lot.  With that said, after fourteen years of living here, I have yet to see the citrus-counting-police in anyone’s yard making sure that as the old trees die they are replaced with new citrus.

It seems like every time I turn around I need to be bringing a snack or dessert to an event.  Don’t get me wrong – I love having events to go to – especially if they include homemade food!  Due to our abundance of citrus I have made these lemon bars four times in the last two or three weeks.  

The only “trick” to this recipe is in using the heavy duty foil to be able to lift the baked bars easily out of the pan.  Use plenty of spray and the foil with lift out of the pan with no worries.

Be sure to spray the pan and then again the foil to insure easy removal of the baked bars.
When done the filling will be set.  Don't be surprised if you see a couple of bubbles in it like pictured above.

Lemon Bars
1 c flour
1/8 t salt
½ c powdered sugar
1 stick butter, melted, but not hot

2 large eggs
¾ c granulated sugar
1 ½ T flour
6 T juice fresh lemon juice
2 t finely grated lemon zest

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat the oven to 320 degrees.
Spray an 8 x 8” pan with cooking spray.  Fit an 8 x 16” piece of heavy duty aluminum foil across the bottom and up two of the sides of the pan.  Spray the foil again with cooking spray.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, and powdered sugar.  Add the melted butter to form a dough.
Press the dough into the bottom of the pan with your fingers or the flat end of a glass.
Bake the crust until golden; about 20 minutes.

While the pastry bakes, whisk eggs, sugar, remaining flour, lemon juice, and zest in a bowl.
When pastry is done, remove pan from oven,  add lemon mixture, and continue to bake until just set, about 20 minutes longer.

Cook in pan for a few minutes, and then using foil handles, pull bars from pan and set on a wire rack.  Cool unit room temperature.  Cut into squares and serve. 

Although lemon bars in the pic above look nice with the dusting of powdered sugar, the sugar melts into the bars within minutes! Lesson learned, but it does look great for a short time!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring Tablescape and Decor

by Heather

Normally I do a Monday post about fashion but I've spent the weekend moving winter clothes out of the upstairs closet and spring/summer clothes in along with summer purses, scarves, and shoes. I have to admit that I'm tired of clothes right now and the last thing I want to do is get prettied up and pose for pictures. I don't even like doing that on a good day so I'm going with Spring Decor instead. Moving home accessories around is my passion and it's something I do on a pretty regular basis. Some people move furniture; I just move the little things. It's much easier and I don't need any help :)

I think my brother and his wife are having Easter dinner this year (hey, it's almost here; we better decide soon!) but I still like to play around with possibilities. If I don't have Easter, maybe I can convince Sheila and Ann and their hubbies to join us for a spring dinner. Rack of lamb sounds good, doesn't it?

 The pink flowered Limoges china was handed down from Tom's grandmother. I've already told our niece, Betta, that it will be hers someday and she seemed happy to hear that. I've used pink and white striped towels as extra-large napkins and they're being held in place by white china bunny napkin rings. The flatware is Lunt Eloquence; clear crystal goblets are Fostoria Navarre paired with inexpensive pink wine glasses.   
I found the ring of bunnies when I was a trainee working with the crystal and china buyer for Dayton's (now Macy's) back in the 70's. I fell in love with it and still drag it out of storage for Easter every year. They're sitting atop a grass-covered wooden table from Pottery Barn.
This is one of my favorites rabbits; it's kind of scruffy-looking and sweet. The glass domed stand is from Sur La Table several years ago.
Tea and dessert will be served from the side table.
I have a small collection of bird cages with the largest ones residing high up on plant shelves. This is one of the mid-sized ones, filled for the spring season with a Pottery Barn bird, grass, twigs, and eggs.

Just in case you can't tell what these are (my husband looked at the picture and couldn't figure it out), they're pewter rabbit spreaders.
Those are Pottery Barn eggs spelling out "Happy Easter." The jug is a fairly recent purchase from Home Goods and the glass dome with wicker tray just arrived from Decor Steals.

Two dozen roses are only about $16 at Costco so I like to buy them every week or so. There's nothing as lovely as fresh flowers in the house. I need to get some rose bushes in the garden so I can just walk outside and pick them! I have them on the small round table right next to my seat in the family room so I can smell them while I'm typing this.
Ever since I saw lambs gamboling in the English countryside and Scottish highlands as a child, I've had an affinity for them. Mmmm, I say that and at the same time, I just wrote about having lamb for Easter dinner.  There's something wrong here...maybe I'll become a vegetarian.

This little sheep is being held captive in the second, smaller glass domed wicker tray from Decor Steals.  I got introduced to Decor Steals from someone else's blog and it's become fairly addictive. The prices are great and shipping is very reasonable. Two birdcages showed up on the doorstep a couple of days ago and are waiting to be incorporated into the decor. Any ideas?

Have a lovely week, everyone! The weather is glorious here so if you're on Spring Break, head to Arizona!