Friday, May 17, 2013

Life isn't always stylish...

by Ann
Me relaxing (??) with Jake, our cat who spent the same day in the animal hospital as I was getting my surgery done.

Life … There’s a lot more to it than our blog post topics – things that aren’t as “stylish” as those things  we write about.  We try to cover matters that we think are worth sharing with you, our readers, in hopes that you can take pieces of what we have to say and use it in your lives. 

With that said, today’s post is about “real life,” which I’ve had a strong dose of lately.  And with that said, I need to acknowledge how lucky I have been to have gotten a good education, live in a great place, and to enjoy good health, a stable job, and a wonderful husband and family.  Still, doesn't it seem that “there is always something” that isn't working or needs fixing in other ways? The past two weeks it has been health related, both of mine and one of our cats.

Years ago I can remember kidding with my friend Teri that my feet were my most perfect physical feature.  I still attest to the fact that my toes are pretty darned perfect, lining up in a lovely slant sporting flawlessly shaped toenails.  (Really??  Yes, I’m afraid I am terribly proud of my toes…)  The problem??  Bunions!  At one of our book club gatherings I was lamenting the ugly, somewhat painful bunions that were starting to form on my feet.  Coincidentally, out of the six or seven of us at the meeting, two (including Sheila) had the same podiatrist, who they highly recommended, which spurred me to make an appointment last November to explore options.  In a very no-pressure way he told me that I would need to have them dealt with now or later – the choice was mine.

Since I was about to retire (at least sort of), I didn’t want to deal with it until I had more flexibility in my schedule, which fast-forwards to now.  Although the procedure was explained well to me, I was very willing to accept the “best case scenario” version which didn’t sound so bad.  Unlike my mom and sisters, I refuse to look up medical issues and procedures on the Internet (my ostrich in the sand approach to these things…), so although I was told that bones needed to be broken and shaved with pins installed, it didn't sound so bad.  (Again, Really??)  Oh yeah, and since postoperatively the patient can put no weight on the afflicted foot, the doctor unwilling to do both at once.  (I get that now!)

I am fortunate to have a husband who is willing ready to adhere the electronic leg wraps on my calves to avoid the possibility of blood clots, swap out the hard plastic boot for the ice-pack boot when my foot became hot or swollen, chauffeur me around, and to do everything around the house.  Jake (the cat) is also lucky to have us as “parents” willing to fork out the bucks and to take care of him postoperatively. 
The gear that is involved once the surgery is over.
"Das Boot" (center) is a loaner from Edie - we've decided it can be the official book club boot.

If I weren't so lucky to have a great hubby, I would be counting on my friends to help get me through this.  Joyce, one of my dear friends stopped by a couple of days after the surgery with flowers, well-wishes and treats.  Little did she know that she’d end up helping me wash my hair.  That’s what friends do.  She was even the photographer for the pic at the top of this post.

Here’s to taking care of things that need to be done.
Here’s to getting back to normal.
Here’s to family and friends helping both of these things happen!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Flowers and Birds: Spring Table for Two

by Heather

The middle of the week sounds like a good time 
to make an easy meal of pasta and salad. 
One of my students several years ago introduced me to a 
combination of sauteed fresh tomatoes,
olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar 
(no recipe -- just keep adding ingredients to taste) over linguine 
and it has become a favorite in our household. 
While husband Tom is doing the grocery shopping on his way home, 
I have time to set the table.

This was going to be done outside, 
but the temps weren't cooperating by dipping quickly enough
so inside it is.  
I did move a few things inside that live outside: 
the large white birdhouse
(that I dragged back from a girls' trip to La Jolla years ago) 
and the window-paned mirror
(which I got from Sheila's mom at the last swap party). 
I thought the birdhouse was the perfect centerpiece
for these bird-and-floral plates and bowls from Home Goods.
 I've paired the fairly new green, white and black floral pieces
with old Banana Republic black chargers
and large white and small black square plates. 
I like mixing and matching china; it's a fun way to create more looks. 
I've used the green floral dinnerware
with a solid green runner and plain white napkins,
but I'm kind of liking the mix of the green striped runner and napkins
with the floral pattern of the dishes.
The black candle holders are also from our last swap party,
courtesy of Sheila.
Pewter flatware
 Pottery Barn birdcage napkin rings were found during a trip to Connecticut several years ago. 
 A spot of tea, anyone?
 Bowls are ready for our dessert of fresh berries
(and probably ice cream if he remembers to pick it up).

Hope your week is going beautifully!
Mine is "flying" by :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Entertaining Made Easy

by Sheila

I do as much ahead of time as possible, leaving minimal preparation for the last minute.

We enjoy having people over for dinner and throwing a party now and then.  I love creating a fun atmosphere that will complement the event from the perfect dinner music (my husband and I do not always agree on what this is) to the candles on the table.  I do family dinners frequently, and this can be dinner for six to dinner for 26.  In our family when you host a large group, everyone volunteers to bring something, and I take them up on it!  If I am preparing the main course and someone else brings the salad and another person the dessert, my preparations just got a whole lot easier.

Get organized; all serving dishes and utensils out, coffee service ready, ingredients measured, etc.
The other key to making entertaining easy is to have a few "go-to" menus.  I can tell you that almost anyone who has come to my house for dinner has had our "fail-safe" pork tenderloin on the grill with potatoes, green beans and a salad.  This is a tasty menu that spans all seasons and is easy to prepare.  My Aunt and Uncle were in town this week and we had them over for dinner and this is what I served.  It can be prepped ahead of time with only a few last-minute tasks so that you can enjoy your guests and not be frantic in the kitchen.
My son Tyler came for a visit and he made his specialty for me for Mother's Day; a yummy steak (he is a master of the grill).
Set the table ahead of time.
Another idea is to have a "participation" menu, where everyone gets in on the action.  We have taken a lesson from our son Alec, and have started to make pizzas on the grill outside.  This is great fun because everyone gets to help, stretching dough and topping pizzas.  Add a salad and dinner is served!  My brother has built a pizza oven in his back yard and he makes dough and sauce by the bucket-loads and has people bring a pizza topping of their choice.  He does large parties this way with people eating their own creations and having a great time.

Breaking bread with the people you care about is one of the joys of life.  Having a plan that makes this easy keeps it fun and manageable.  Now if I just could conjure up the cleaning fairies that easily...

I would love to know what you do to make entertaining easy.  Any special recipes or menus that are part of your fail safe plan?  We'd love to hear about it!  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Old Chocolate and a New Restaurant ...

by Ann

Wow!  What a week I had last week...  On Monday I had bunion surgery which was a bit more extreme than I had anticipated.   I am telling you this in case today's post seems a bit disjointed. (No pun intended ;-) My post Friday will give a few more details on the ordeal.)  I have not been up and around as much as usual, nor have I been in true cooking mode, so I am combining two seemingly unrelated topics, but the good news is that they are both dealing with food.

First, the Old Chocolate!  For those of you who are loyal readers, you may have read my Clean Out the Spice Cupboard post closely enough to have caught that I came across some unsweetened chocolate squares that expired in 2009.  Yesterday I whipped up a decadent batch of brownies using the chocolate, with the goal being to see if the chocolate still tasted good.  You'll have to take my word for it that it did not taste "off" at all.  

The recipe is one that my mom made often when we were growing up.  I can't remember a boxed brownie mix in our house. When you see how few ingredients there are in this recipe and the simplicity of putting it together, you'll understand that there isn't much more to putting them together from scratch than making a batch from a box would be. The only down side is that it makes a small batch, but it wouldn't be too tough to double it!  

For printable recipe click here.

Fudge Brownies
½ c butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 c sugar
2 eggs
½ c flour
pinch of salt
½ c chopped nuts (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Melt butter and chocolate over medium-low heat in saucepan.  Allow to cool a bit (to avoid scrambled egg pieces in the mixture when combined).
  • In a separate medium sized bowl beat eggs until very frothy with an electric mixer.
  • Add sugar to the pan with the melted chocolate and butter.  Stir well using a wooden spoon.
  • Gradually add sugar mixture to the bowl of beaten eggs stirring gently with a wooden spoon. 
  • Fold in flour and salt until thoroughly incorporated.  Add nuts if desired.
  • Spread into prepared 8 x 8” pan*.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Do not over bake.  When first taken from the oven brownies will still appear soft.
  • Cool completely before cutting.  These are decadently rich as is, or can be frosted or rolled in powdered sugar.

*I sprayed the bottom and sides of the pan with vegetable spray and then placed an 8” wide strip of heavy duty foil over the bottom and two sides of the pan leaving the overhang as “handles” to lift the brownies out of the pan.
Super-simple ingredients (including the offending box of old chocolate!)
The air whipped into the eggs is the only leavening agent, so this is an important step.  Add remaining ingredients gently to maintain as much volume as possible.
The foil lining makes the removal and cutting process much easier and more attractive.  Hey -- what happened to that lower left corner?  ;-)
Now to the "New Restaurant" part of this post...

Just because I couldn't drive didn't mean that I couldn't go out to dinner with some friends that I hadn't seen in many, many years!  On one of Sheila's sailing adventures in San Diego she ran into a former friend and colleague who shares her love of sailing.  The two of them reconnected, and decided that they'd pull together a night of reminiscing, eating, and of course, having a glass or two of wine.  (Thanks, Kathy, for making the plans and Sheila, for being my chauffeur!)

The Phoenix metropolitan area is relatively large, so we had to find a mid-way spot to meet. Gertrude's, a somewhat new restaurant at the amazingly beautiful Desert Botanical Gardens became our rendezvous spot.  The weather was perfect, and not surprisingly, the restaurant, has more outdoor seating than tables inside.

Our blog posts intentionally don't focus on local attractions since we have readers from all over the world, but for those of you who live in the Phoenix area, Gertrude's is worth checking out.  We ordered several appetizers and small plates to share, which is how we best enjoy eating out -- especially at new places.  The service was excellent.  We even got a visit from Chef Stephen Eldridge, who is being credited for overseeing a seasonal "modern Arizona" menu that uses as much produce as possible from what is grown at the gardens, and procured locally for what isn't available.

See below for the beautiful presentation of a couple of the dishes.  I should have taken more pics, but didn't plan to blog about this until we bragged to Chef Eldridge that we were food bloggers (was that the wine talking?).  You'll get the idea of the beautiful presentation of dishes from what I did snap.  Our order included Brussels and breakfast, a wonderful dish of brioche, egg, Brussels sprouts, bacon and onion jam that is suitable to eat any time of the day; house-made burrata (similar to mozarella cheese) served with thin strips of duck prosciutto and a fruit relish; focaccia bread with grapes; a beet salad; and the "crudo of the moment" which was raw tuna with ginger.  

You can see that this is not your burger and fries sort of place.  The wonderful thing about sharing is that if something doesn't hit your fancy, you aren't committed to a plate of it!  Life is more interesting when you're open to new experiences, and this was truly a great dining adventure!
Chef Eldridge, the man behind the creative dishes!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Black and White Stripes with Mustard

by Heather

I got sick with the 12-hour stomach flu exactly seven days ago. 
It's called the 12-hour flu but it makes you feel puny for seven days. 
The good news is that I lost almost five pounds;
the bad news is that just my feet look thinner. 
I missed several fun events this past week because of feeling lousy 
but it gave me a healthy respect for those people who are battling illness on an on-going basis. 
It drives home the point that if you have your health, you have everything.

Dressing for a quick shopping expedition today -- my first day of feeling myself again --
I wanted something easy and comfortable. 
 Black and white peplum top, mustard patent leather belt -- Nordstrom's; 
black denim crops -- Chico's; 
white and mustard sunglasses -- Izod
 Mustard patent leather sandals -- Michael Kors; 
black and mustard purse -- Kate Spade
 Love the striped lining of this purse!
 Mustard necklace -- Francesca's
Mustard crystal ring -- Swarovski store; 
black and gold watch -- Michael Kors; 
mustard and bling bracelet -- J Crew; 
black and gold bangles -- Chico's

Hope those of you who are moms had a wonderful Mother's Day!
Wishing all of you a happy, healthy week!