Friday, April 19, 2013

Wind in Your Sails

by Sheila
Yup, that's me at the helm, acting like I know what I'm doing.  I am actually an expert Cooler Maiden and Deck Swabber...
My First Mate

 I mentioned awhile ago that we (along with partners) bought a sailboat in San Diego.  When we share this information with others we seem to get two reactions.  There are the people who say "the happiest days of boat ownership are the day you buy it and the day you sell it" types, who I suspect have never had the wind in their sails.  Then there are those that want to know all about it, saying it's something they have dreamed of doing too.

San Diego Harbor
photo.JPGLa Jolloa
Our boat partnership is ideal.  We enjoy each other's company, and we all have different skills to contribute to the maintenance and ownership of a 37' sailboat that is docked in a marina.  Not only is it great to share the financial costs, but there are regular maintenance details that need to be taken care of with a boat that is always in the water.  And of course, we bought a bit of a "fixer-upper" - as you might guess with my frugal nature.  Unless you live on your boat (and we have come to realize that many people do),  it isn't likely that you will use it more than 25% of the time.  Our four partners use a Google calendar to sign up for the times they want to use it, and it has worked out great.  Our biggest problem is that we would all like to sail together, and we have difficulty coordinating calendars to do that!

Larry & Janet (aka Mom & Dad); Boat Partners!

Alec & Cortney

On a recent trip, our son Alec and daughter-in-law Cortney came over to sail for a few days with us.  We had a glorious time.  Alec is a natural sailor and Cortney  took to the helm like a duck to water.  The boat has two cabins, so sleeps four plus two singles.  We are especially excited about our little "condo on the water" come summer time to escape the Arizona heat and  sail in the cool breezes in the San Diego harbor.  There are so many Arizonans that flock to the beaches in Southern California that the locals have a name for us - "Zonies".


Our favorite breakfast spot in San Diego...
...and Brockton Villa in La Jolla

On this trip we did our usual exploration of local restaurants, and discovered two new faves.   "Jimmy's Famous"  and "Pizza Nova".  Excellent food, views and service!  And of course our two favorite breakfast places ever in the San Diego area (which we return to time and time again) - "Kono's" in Pacific Beach and "Brockton Villa" in La Jolla.  The potatoes at Kono's are to die for, and you have to try the Coast Toast that BrocktonVilla is famous for.  It is a fluffy (almost souffle-like) french toast with a hint of orange - delicious!

A peaceful place to while away the day!

I hope you get a chance to get some wind in your sails (or whatever else floats your boat) sometime soon.  There is nothing like being outside, soaking up sunshine in the cool ocean breezes while skimming across the water.  Hoist those sails and Bon Voyage!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cooking is all about technique...

by Ann
A small sampling of my editions of Cook's Illustrated ranging from the late 90's to today.
The critical nature of knowing and following proper technique is the message that is most clearly and consistently communicated to the students in the culinary classes at the Sur la Table store where I am a "Kitchen Assistant" once or twice a week in those classes.  (See my "Fun category" post February 1, 2013)

The chefs who teach the store's classes say that recipes are secondary to understanding preparation techniques.  Most of the evening classes include the preparation of a protein, whether it's seafood, beef, or chicken.  Properly searing the meat is key to success, and seems like a simple concept, but I don't think I had been doing it properly prior to learning that oil needs to be heated in a pan on medium heat until it is shimmery, and then the seasoned (salt and pepper) protein is put in the pan and not touched for a full two and a half minutes.  In between watching a clock to make sure that the protein is not moved at all for that two and a half minutes, you have the opportunity to season the reverse side, which will also be seared for two and a half minutes.  We then put the protein (regardless of how thin or thick it is) in an oven at 425 degrees to finish the cooking process.  The remaining length of time that the food will need to cook will depend upon what it is, and how large the pieces are.

Cook for a full 2 1/2 minutes.  Once both sides have seared finish cooking in a 425 degree oven until done.  Chicken has never been this juicy and tender at my house before!!
With chicken, fish, or beef (as pictured above) the second 2 1/2 minutes is as important as the first -- whether it's in a pan on the stove or on the grill outdoorss
Using knives properly, tempering chocolate, whipping eggs, preparing vinaigrette, emulsifying, and just about anything else makes food exceptional requires that the cook knows what she's doing.  I have used the Cook's Illustrated magazines as a way to educate myself since the late 90's (yikes!).  I know when I started getting the magazine because it is such a good resources that I have not thrown a copy away in all those years.

Cooks Illustrated is like the "Consumer Reports of cooking."  It accepts no advertising, and provides unbiased information on products related to cooking as well as step-by-step illustrated directions for preparing recipes.  The magazine only comes out every other month, and is a bit pricey, because of no advertising revenue.  My 1997  editions list a shelf price of $4.00, as opposed to the $5.95 charged today.  Subscribers now get six issues for $26.95, which translates to $4.49 per issue.  If you are a regular reader of our blog, you have probably figured out that I am always looking for a bargain, and sixteen years later I still find this magazine to be a good value.  Whenever I am looking for cooking inspiration I pull down my file boxes with these magazines.

In preparation for this post I looked up the magazine's website and am not surprised that there is now an online component (click here).  For a starting price of $19.95 per month online subscribers can access over 100 classes a month.  If you want to be able to chat with an instructor the price goes up.  As long as I am working at Sur la Table, I won't be tempted to enroll, but do know that since I've been soaking in the expertise of the chefs at the store I have become less dependent upon recipes, and more willing to experiment with ingredients, knowing more of the fundamentals to insure recipe success!  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Packing for a European Vacation: Part One

 by Sheila

Not all those that wander are lost.
J.R.R. Tolkien

These are the shoes, carry-on and tote/purse I have taken recently for summer travel.

 Our friend Kathy, is heading off to Europe this summer for a sightseeing vacation.  We were discussing what she should pack, and that conversation led to writing this post.  My focus is to be appropriately and comfortably dressed to do a whirlwind tour where you are schlepping your own bags in and out of trains, planes, hotels, cabs, subways and even up and over the Rialto bridge in Venice.   This means that you need to have what you need, but not a lot of excess.  Summer trips are easier to pack for because the lighter weight clothing is less bulky, and you generally don't need as many warm layers or heavy footwear.  Layers, however are still key to having what you need and being comfortable.
I am coveting this perfect size Tumi bag - love it!  Photos taken at Travel Outfitters in Chandler Arizona; you can also check them out online at
Start your planning with what you are going to wear on the trip "over the pond".  Ideally with the time change, you will be able to get some shut-eye on the flight over.  Dress comfortably, but please no pajama  pants and slippers! Remember that airplanes are frequently cool.  I recommend a flattering pair of yoga-type black stretch pants or a long knit skirt with several layers on top.  I like a tank with a built-in bra (who wants to sleep in a bra?), a warm sweater and a large scarf that can be used as an extra layer of warmth and a flattering pop of color.  This outfit is also nice to wear relaxing in your hotel room at the end of a long day.  Be sure that whatever you choose, it will be something that you will be able to mix and match with your other garments on your trip. Besides your closet and your favorite stores, check out Eddie Bauer and REI for specialty travel clothing and bags.

Comfortable fleece sweater - great for the flight!
Another cool Baggalini bag I'd like...

The next most difficult decision is what shoes to bring.  If you are sightseeing, you are doing lots of walking, so comfortable shoes are a must!  For summer, I like a pair of walking sandals and fortunately, there are many great styles available.  Be prepared to spend some money, but the payoff will be happy feet at the end of the day.  Buy your shoes weeks in advance and wear them at home to break them in. You don't want to find out that they give you a blister on the first day of your trip.  Bring another comfortable pair of shoes that will coordinate with your clothes, so you can interchange them.  There are a variety of attractive, comfortable walking shoes available, such as a comfy clog or sleek, sporty walker or mule.  I like the Walking Company Store and brands like Naot, Dansko, Ecco, Mephisto and Josef Seibel. Depending on the weather and your wardrobe, this also might be a second pair of sandals in a fun color.  If it is very warm, I wear skirts more than pants, and sandals can go with either one.  If you want to be noticed right off the bat as an American tourist, wear white athletic shoes and Bermuda shorts with a T-shirt everywhere!


Some great options for comfortable footwear.  Photos taken at Nordstrom and The Walking Company. 

You will need to plan your carry-on bag carefully as well, especially if you are traveling  in coach, and let's face it, most of us are.  Check out my post on this at  Pack for Travel; Your Carry-On Bag.  In addition, I highly recommend a supportive neck pillow, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, hand cream, lip balm, and a hairbrush.  I like the blow-up neck pillows because they deflate and travel easily with you.  Some people like eye sleeping masks as well, but they irritate me.  I also like to have my guidebook(s) with me to peruse on the way.  I tried digital travel books, but found that I prefer a real book for this sort of reference.  Look at several to decide which covers the type of information you are most interested in.  I admit to liking guidebooks with lots of pictures, so that when I stumble onto Notre Dame, I recognize it.  You might also want to invest in a travel wallet that you keep your passport, ticket and hotel information in.  Many European hotels will ask you for your passport at check-in.  This is common practice and quite safe.  Don't wait for the last minute to apply for that passport!
Love this carry-on!
Next, you need to make sure your suitcase and carry-on tote will work for you.  My suitcase is a 23" x 14" Travelpro.  Costco's Kirkland case is a very good option also.  Both of these will fit in an overhead bin.  I caution you not to go too large.  This becomes unwieldy quickly!  Sometimes my carry-on is the same bag that I use for my sightseeing tote bag (guidebook, water, camera, etc.), but not usually.  I prefer a smaller tote/purse and will usually pack this in my suitcase for the trip over.  I think a cross-body style makes you less of a target for thieves, but I have never had a problem either way.  Baggallini makes great options and I love Hobo bags as well.  Think about what you want to take with you all day and make sure this fits in comfortably and doesn't cause you neck or shoulder strain!  Some people like a backpack, but I don't like the look, and I don't like all of my belongings where everyone except me can see them.  Frequent travelers also recommend a waist or neck wallet that you keep your extra money and ID in like the one pictured here:
A safe waist wallet.
My suitcase and carry-on with shoulder tote/purse packed inside; ready to roll!

Okay, you have your travel outfit together, you have your comfy shoes broken in, your carry-on packed and your suitcase out.  Check in next Wednesday for some suggestions for clothing to put in that bag.  In the meantime, start perusing those guidebooks and practicing your Italian!  Ciao!

*Special thanks to Janet Brown (Mom) for photos!

*Other travel-related posts that may interest you:
Pack Your Bags: Toiletries & TSA
Travel Tips for the Holidays

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Chicken Taco Cups

by Ann

Now that I am blogging about recipes I am always asking friends about food and wondering what I should try next.  When my friend Sue and I went on the road trip to Globe that I wrote about a couple weeks ago, she was telling me about a recipe she had made recently that sounded good.  Knowing that I had a happy hour the following week to attend, and I'd offered to bring an appetizer gave me the perfect opportunity to find and try the recipe.

It would seem that the easiest way to get Sue's recipe would be to ask her for it, but instead I went to the Internet, and am fairly certain that I found what she described on the Taste of Home site.  I added a couple of diced jalapeno chilies to give it some kick, but next time around might consider even upping the heat index with a hotter variety of salsa. I've told you already, but will say it again, we like our food hot in the southwest.

When positioning the wrappers try to make the well as big as possible to allow for lost of tasty filling!
Add filling, top with a spoon of salsa and sprinkle with cheese
I did not have a full pound of chicken, and the batch made 48 generous-sized appetizers

Chicken Taco Cups
¾ to 1 pound chicken breast*, cut into 1” pieces
1 envelope taco-seasoning
1 small onion, chopped
1-3 seeded, minced jalapeno peppers (not called for in the original recipe, but added some kick) 
2 cups jarred salsa (divided)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (divided)
48 wonton wrappers
sour cream and chopped green onions, cilantro and black olives (if desired for garnish)

Preheat oven to 375°. 
Spray mini-muffin tins with Pam and press one wonton wrapper in each, being careful to not tear the wrapper.  Bake unfilled shells for 5 minutes until lightly brown.  Set aside until filling is ready.

If chicken is not already cooked, sprinkle it with taco seasoning.  Heat a sprayed or lightly coat with oil frying pan to medium, and cook chicken pieces until no longer pink (10 minutes or so).

Transfer chicken to food processor; cover and process until chopped.

In a large bowl, combine chicken, onion, 1 cup cheese, and half of the salsa. 
Spoon a rounded tablespoon of mixture into each cup; top with a slight teaspoon of salsa and sprinkle with cheese.

Bake 15 minutes until heated through and cheese is melted.

Serve garnished with your choice of sour cream, green onions, cilantro and black olives.

The original recipe said that these can be frozen and reheated, but I did not try doing that.

*When I made these I used already-cooked shredded chicken breast from my freezer, so I added all filling ingredients to the food processor.  It looked sort of like meatloaf mixture, but cooked up and tasted great.  One online review also said that the cook had used canned chicken successfully.

And once again, it comes down to friendship.  I taught with these ladies more than ten years ago, and lucky for us, Kim (far left) hosted this get together to honor two birthday girls, Cindy (middle) and Denise (far right).  Oh yeah, and that's me between Kim and Cindy, and Pat on top of the "heap."  
Here's to girlfriends!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Right on Target with Sweaters and Scarves

by Heather

After a fun-filled, crazy week of motorcycling and partying at AZ Bike Week, it's time to get back to "regular" clothing and out of leather and bling. I went into my local Target store the other day to return some clothing that I had bought for the granddaughter -- really cute but too small. She grew another size while I wasn't looking. Anyway, I purposely did not get a cart because I wasn't going to shop, but while taking a quick trip through, I found a couple of cardigans that would be just right for a spring day, and, of course, several other items, too. Needless to say, I should have taken the cart.

Target polka dot cardi and WHBM jeans; scarf is from a Cyclefest vendor

Michael Kors sandals and bag both from last summer
Chico's gold and white seashore-inspired bracelet; orange and gold BCBG ring; Michael Kors watch
Target earrings last year
 New Target grey and yellow cardi that matches Target's yellow and grey sandals from last year; Chico's grey crop pants; print scarf from Cyclefest vendor
 Target grey and yellow sandals; Michael Kors purse; yellow and silver BCBG ring; Michael Kors gold and silver watch; Chico's silver bracelet on left; silver bracelet on right from Arabian Horse Show vendor
Chico's grey chandelier earrings

Here's the good news about the sweaters: Target has them on sale right now for $15 each with many different colors and styles available. Just perfect for spring shopping, isn't it?

Wishing you a wonderful week!