Friday, April 26, 2013

Fun for half price!

by Ann

Has it been a while since you've been to a zoo?  You don't need to have kids to enjoy attractions that boast of wild animals, rides that get you wet, or the entertainment of a circus or festival.   However, the entry fees to get into parks and events can make me think twice about how much I want to go.  When a "two for one" offer is available, it's a much more tempting option.

In the Phoenix area there are two zoos; one supported by tax dollars and the other a private enterprise.  Both are great places, but the independently owned World Wildlife Zoo offers a coupon granting two admissions for the price of one, which made the decision for our animal-seeking outing last weekend.  The adventure became greater when our good friends, Kim and Mark wanted to join us.
One of the things we like best about this zoo is that you can see most animals close-up.
(The white tiger does have a nice large habitat,
but he was also being very hospitable giving everyone a good look at him!)

If you like getting a deal, and aren't reluctant to use coupons, the Entertainment Book is a must-have!  There are literally hundreds of versions of the book available, regionally specific to different parts of the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.  

When I was a high school club sponsor my students would sell the books in the fall for $35, and the club would earn about $10-$20 off of each book, depending upon the total number sold.  They were a relatively easy thing for the teenagers to sell. People who had experience with the books knew that they could easily make their money back by using just a couple of the coupons, which include many attractions, but also two for one coupons for fast food to nice restaurants; car washes to dry cleaners.

The books come out in the early fall and the coupons are good through the end of the following November.  In Arizona they can be purchased at our local drug stores, so are most likely available at yours as well.  However, the BEST deal is to get the books after the first of the year when the price drops from $35 to $15 if you buy them online, and that includes the shipping charge!

Part of the goal for the day was to figure out how to operate our new camera. (By the next time I use it I will have determined how to eliminate the date and time stamp).  My hubby was the photographer this time around, but one of my blog-related goals is to learn to take better pics.  Stay tuned to see when/if I become successful!
If you're willing to risk getting dirty there is an appointed time that  zoo guests can feed the birds.
(Good news -- no bird poop!)
Our fun day ended with a meal on the patio next to the flamingos.  Life is good...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dinner with Friends

by Heather

Our close friends, Susan and Rol, were saying goodbye to Susan's sister, Sally and her husband, Jim, who were heading back to Omaha, Nebraska, after their winter stay in Scottsdale. Over the years, we've gotten to know Sally and Jim and count them as dear friends, too.
Tom and I wanted to send them off in style with a small dinner party; their only request was "no meat." Seafood would be fine, however. Generally, my go-to seafood for entertaining is crab legs which require no prep time -- important for a working woman. However, Susan isn't a meat or fish eater but really loves all types of salads.
What to do?
Salad Nicoise was the perfect answer.
When served in France, it's generally made with canned tuna but that didn't seem special enough so I found a recipe (at the end of this post) using fresh tuna instead.

I wanted the table to reflect the ocean and feeling of the impending summer season (remember, this is Arizona so we rush through Spring pretty quickly).

Pottery Barn place mats; Martha Stewart white dinner plates; seashell salad plates from Home Goods; small seashell plates from Wests Elm; Pottery Barn napkin rings

Glasses from Ballard Designs
I painted seashells gold to match the gold rims of the glasses; Pottery Barn name card bottle
In a past post, I told the story behind the piece of driftwood that husband Tom made into a candle holder.
Sally, Tom, and Susan.
Rol and Jim were outside taking advantage of the beautiful evening (and having a cigar) 

Salad Nicoise with Fresh Tuna 

Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence
Serves: 8



  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil


  • 1 pound small red new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/2 pound haricots verts or French green beans, stems trimmed
  • 2 pounds fresh sushi-quality tuna (I used ahi tuna)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pint teardrop or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup nicoise olives
  • 16 anchovy fillets
  • 16 caper berries with stems
  • 1/2 bunch fresh chives, snipped in 1/2
  • fresh mixed salad greens (I added these to act as a bed under the tuna and then used the nicoise salad around the edge of the platter.  The additional greens really aren't visible in my pictures so you'll have to trust me that they're there!)


  • To make the vinaigrette: combine all ingredients in a mason jar. Screw the cap on the jar and shake the vinaigrette vigorously to emulsify. Set the dressing aside while preparing the salad so the flavors can marry.
  • Cooking the potatoes, eggs, and green beans in the same pot cuts down on prep time and clean up. To do this, put the potatoes in a large saucepan, add water to cover and a nice pinch of salt; bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer the potatoes for 12 minutes to give them a head start, and then add the eggs. Place a steamer basket or colander on top of the simmering water. Put the green beans in the steamer and cover with a lid. Steam the beans for 5 minutes until crisp-tender while continuing to cook the potatoes until fork tender. Drain out the water and put the potatoes, eggs, and green beans in a colander; rinse briefly under cold water. Peel the shells off the eggs and cut them in 1/2 lengthwise. (To be honest, I didn't do it this way. Seemed easier to use more pots and cook things individually. As I was doing this a day ahead, time and clean-up wasn't an issue.)
  • Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Rub the tuna on all sides with olive oil, and a bit of the vinaigrette; season with a fair amount of salt and pepper. Lay the tuna in the hot pan and sear for approximately two (2) minutes on each side; as the tuna cooks, the red meat will become whiter. Transfer the tuna to a cutting board and slice.(NOTE: I did my tuna longer than two minutes since I wasn't sure all guests were fans of seared tuna. It was still really tasty!
    I did it on the grill instead of searing it in a pan. Cuts down on the "fish smell" inside the house. I cooked it the night before to cut down on prep time the day of the meal. We had leftovers for lunch the day after the dinner party that were still great so the entire salad could be prepared the day before.  The salad is served at room temperature which makes this an easy dish to prepare in advance. )
  • To assemble the salad: combine the potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, olives, anchovies, capers, and chives in a large mixing bowl. Take the vinaigrette and give it another good shake to recombine. Drizzle the salad with enough vinaigrette to fully moisten (save some of the vinaigrette to drizzle over the fish before serving) and toss gently to coat; season with salt and pepper. Take care not to mush up the ingredients - the important thing about salad nicoise is that it is arranged nicely on a platter with all the elements keeping their individual integrity. Put the tossed salad down the center of a serving platter (I used salad greens for this part) and lay the seared tuna attractively across the top and the eggs around the rim. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and serve. (note: because I used salad greens as the bed for the tuna, I arranged the tossed salad of potatoes, green beans, etc., around the edge of the platter)
    Easy dessert: fresh berries over vanilla bean ice cream
  • To let you know just how good this was, my husband asked ever so nicely if this was a lot of work, and if it wasn't, could we have it again please.
    The answer: Not too much work and we definitely need to make this again!
    So nice to have something this healthy and this tasty be this easy.
    The perfect meal for a warm summer evening
    (or a spring evening if you happen to live in Arizona).
    Happy entertaining!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Packing for a European Vacation: Part Two

by Sheila

This is the second post related to packing for a two week sightseeing vacation.  Remember the goal; be comfortably and appropriately dressed.  The travel packing mantra is:

Less is more. Rarely wear dressy clothes on vacation.  Fewer shoes are better.  Mix, match and layer.  Comfort and versatility are key.

Hmm...are these colors going to work with my black, white and beige - you betcha!

Don't bring anything so new that you've never worn it before.  You want to know it isn't going to pinch, or ride up needing constant adjustment all day at the Louvre. You don't want Mona Lisa staring at you!  Be sure that when visiting churches and cathedrals, you cover your knees and shoulders.  In some holy places this is mandatory, in all of them it is respectful.  This is where that indispensable wrap comes in very handy.  It can be wrapped around your shoulders while inside, and tied around your tote if it is hot outside trekking around. If you can't find the exact color combinations you like, look for a print silk or cotton gauze fabric and have a large square hemmed.  

The colors in this large scarf provide a great pallet to mix with my neutrals. 

In your wardrobe selection, I recommend focusing  on neutrals that can be mixed and matched with each other and a few brighter accent colors.  I like black, white, khaki and denim, with a few fun accent colors.  I definitely wear my travel garments more than once.  I bring a small container of liquid detergent with me to spot clean items, or wash out in the sink and hang to dry. If this creeps you out, you need to find a laundromat along the way, hire a porter, or stay at the Ritz where there are laundry services, because you can't pack light for 2 weeks if you don't repeat garments.

Wear on plane:
  • black yoga pants, black tank with built-in bra,  large print scarf/wrap, and a cozy sweater in a coordinating color, comfy walking shoes - I like a metallic or a tan leather - goes with everything
Suggested wardrobe to pack:
  • jeans (make sure length works with your shoes)
  • long black skirt (can be dressed up as needed)
  • beige casual  skirt (below your knee so it works in cathedrals)
  • khaki capris
  • white capris
  • khaki skort (looks like a skirt, but makes for comfortable bike riding or hiking)
  • sundress (or top and skirt coordinates for even more versatility)
  • white tank
  • bright colored tank with matching cardigan sweater
  • long sleeved lightweight black pullover sweater 
  • t-shirts in black and two additional accent colors
  • black off-shoulder knit top (can be very dressy with skirt, more casual with jeans)
  • white button down shirt
  • beige 3/4 sleeve loose sweater
  • turquoise gauze scarf
  • large print wrap/scarf in coordinating colors
  • very lightweight nylon rain jacket (optional - check your weather ahead)
  • swimsuit
  • pajamas 
  • undies (5-7 pr)
  • bras (nude and black)
  • another pair of comfy shoes (to switch out so your feet don't get tired)
  • if desired, a pair of dressy flat sandals (blinged out) for evening
  • accessories:  a few neclaces, scarves and/or bracelets for variety and to change the look of your outfits
There are lots of great options for scarves/wraps out now in a rainbow of colors!
I recommend laying out your entire travel wardrobe on the bed.  Begin mixing and matching "outfits" and try things on to make sure you have enough variety and your items are working well together. Do you like what you have?  Is there a piece that would really pull this wardrobe together that you are missing?  Make note of it and put it on your shopping list.  You can see that this is not something that you want to do the night before your trip.  I have traveled with lots of stuff and I have traveled light, and I can tell you that I am much happier when I have less stuff to lug around and paw through.  It is worth the extra effort to pare down to the "less is more" approach and travel lightly on your trip!  Have a great time!

Check out  Packing for a European Vacation Part One if you missed it last week. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chinese Chicken Salad

by Ann

I know that my recipe is old when I have it in my loose-leaf notebook of printouts but do not have an electronic file of it.  If my memory is correct, my sister first found this recipe years and years ago before Chinese Chicken Salads were on most restaurant menus.  When my culinary students ran a cafe for the teachers, this was always our top seller.  I can't remember the last time I made it, but needed to bring a dish to a potluck this week, and thought it would be well received.

Chinese Chicken Salad
Salad Ingredients:
1 # chicken breast, cooked and diced into 1” cubes or slices
½ c chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 head of iceberg lettuce, shredded, or the equivalent of iceberg and mixed greens
4 sliced green onions, green part included
1/2 - 1 small can chilled drained mandarin oranges
½ finely slivered red bell pepper
½ c toasted almond slivers
2 t toasted sesame seeds
*2 pkgs. Chicken flavored raamen noodles, cooked according to directions below

Toss with this dressing:
½ c salad oil
6 T wine vinegar
2 t sesame oil
¼ c granulated sugar
1 t ground black pepper
1 t salt
1 t Accent flavor enhancer (if MSG intolerant, leave this out)

*In a saucepan heat about a quart of water to boiling.  Crunch the noodles in their package slightly before opening.  Take out the flavor packets and dump the somewhat crunched (not pulverized) noodles into the boiling water for two minutes. 
After 2 minutes, drain noodles in colander.  Add most of one package of flavoring to the drained noodles.  Throw the second package away, or keep for another use.  Cool in refrigerator before use.

Lightly crunch the noodles in the package before dumping in the boiling water for 2 minutes.
If making a whole batch (2 packages of noodles) add one of the flavor packets to the drained, cooked noodles for a bit of extra flavor
My beautifully seared chicken from last week's post cut into 1 inch cubes for the salad.
And ready for the party -- my salad was one of many...
A note about Accent, the commercial name for monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the U.S., is a flavor enhancing ingredient in the dressing for his recipe.  Concern about the consumption of MSG  is controversial.  Some say that it causes dizziness, headaches, flushing or burning sensations, in spite of the fact that multiple scientific studies show no direct link between MSG consumption and these reactions.  As a result of the controversy, the FDA classified it as an ingredients that is "generally recognized as safe."  It contains 1/3 the sodium content of regular salt, so can be effectively used in place of salt for those on sodium restricted diets, reducing the content by up to 30%.  In the past when I have left it out of the dressing the taste has been flat.  Bottom line -- I'm using it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Minty Fresh

by Heather

Mint is a color I've admired from afar for several months but hadn't purchased anything in that hue until a mint-and-silver bracelet called my name...
Loft bracelet

and then a necklace...

Loft necklace

and then a mint lace top...
and then I found a mint scarf at the AZ Bike Week Cyclefest vendors... 
and then mint nail polish at Target... 
Not brave enough to try it out yet!

Isn't it amazing how that happens? 

Once you've opened up your mind to a new idea (or color, in this case), you find examples of it everywhere.
Mmm, do I need a mint purse and perhaps mint shoes? I think a shopping trip is in order, don't you? Coach has a marvelous selection of mint bags and accessories online and there's a Coach store on my way home from work.
Oh, and I'll need some mint earrings, and maybe a ring in that color...
and if I'm getting all those accessories, shouldn't I have more than one piece of clothing that they match?
T-shirt from Bike Week vendor; orange leather jacket from Nordstrom's 
And with what other colors can I wear mint? 
I know it looks great with orange,

Coach mint crossbody bag; Chico's earrings; Alexis Bittar bangle; leather wrap bracelet from Maui

and black, and probably white and tan....grey will work, too...

Loft grey jacket; Target grey striped cami; scarf from Bike Week vendor 
Michael Kors silver sandals with Coach bag and new scarf

Does your brain work like mine when it comes to fashion? I think it's like looking at a Mind Map (for all you teachers and students out there) with the color mint in the middle.
 Loft lace top; WHBM black cami underneath; Fendi sunglasses
Ooh, let's tuck it in just a little bit in the front...
Marc Fisher platform sandals; new Coach crossbody bag 

 No mint shoes yet. The shoe people say that they're just beginning to get in their summer shoes so maybe there will be a pair out there for me sometime soon.
The Loft bracelet that started it all; new Coach leather wrap bracelet; silver bracelets and rings from various places

Right now, my affair with mint can only be classified as an infatuation. Will it become true love? Time will tell...

Have a wonderful, fun-filled week!
(and if you see any mint sandals, give me a ring, okay?)