Friday, July 26, 2013

Curried Chicken Salad

by Ann
Dinner is ready!  The salad is accompanied by spiced beef empanadas.  Yum!  
My experience is that people either like the flavor of curry or they don’t; there is little territory between the two.  Fortunately both my husband and I are on the “like it side of the fence.”  So is my dear friend, Teri, who is a most amazing cook.  Years ago when she was an administrator at a school where I was a teacher she would spearhead pot-luck lunches, and bring the most amazing dishes, including her chicken curry, the inspiration for this post.  It can be eaten on a bed of lettuce for a salad or in a sandwich if the fruit is cut small enough.

When I saw a curry lover’s gift box at our local PenzeysSpice store I knew immediately that I should pick one up for Teri.  As I am writing this, I am looking at the catalog which has a whole page devoted to the descriptions of their curry powder options.  Who knew you could get nine different varieties from one source?

I don’t watch much TV, but did catch Rachel Ray making a curry blend of spices, so knew that curry powder is actually a blend of many different spices, most containing turmeric, cumin, ginger, coriander, and a dried hot chili.  In refreshing my memory of ingredients for this post I came across an interesting site that explained that the spice blend Garam Masala is also a curry blend, originating from Northern India.  The author of the post suggests making the blend fresh for optimal flavors, but I’m happy with using the Spice Hunter powdered curry blend that I can pick up at the grocery store.

As you have heard Sheila, Heather, and I say in many of our posts, it is just plain hot here in Arizona, which often means it’s too hot to cook, making salads a perfect dinner option.  I grilled the chicken for this dish when I made my firecracker shrimp last week. 
When I consulted my recipe files I found two different chicken curry salad recipes and combined the two based upon what I had remembered to pick up at the store, and what sounded best.  This is pretty darned easy – just mix up and enjoy!
The ingredients are simple, fresh, and delicious.

Chicken Curry Salad

3 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts cooked and cubed
1 c seedless green grapes, halved for salad, quartered if using on sandwiches
¾ c chopped celery
¼ c diced red onion
¼ c raisins
¼ c chopped cashews

½ c mayonnaise (regular or light)
3 T chutney, preferably Major Grey’s
1 ½ t curry powder
1 T fresh lime juice
½ t grated lime zest
¼ t salt

Whisk together all dressing ingredients until smooth, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large bowl, combine chicken, grapes, celery, and raisins.
Toss ingredients with enough dressing to coat.
Sprinkle with cashew pieces.

Note:  The recipe also calls for a cored, diced unpeeled Granny Smith apple, which is a nice addition if you have one.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

DIY Cement Countertops Part II

by Sheila 

Last week I documented the process of creating cement countertops up to the point of pouring them into the forms.  To see the beginning of this project, check out Part I here.   Here are the final steps of the process. A beautiful finished project if I do say so myself! 

This is the slab after the forms are pulled (allow several days for cement to set).  Note the dark caulk which will peel right off, but has provided a rounded edge on the top.  Remember, in this process, the top of the counter is on the bottom of this form.
And then the grinding begins.  You need a wet grinder and starting with a turbo cup attachment, progress through 100. 200, and 400 grit.   You work in a circular motion to polish the cement and expose the aggregate.
Once you have used the turbo cup and the 50 grit polish pad on the grinder, you may need to add a "slurry" to the slab to fill in any small holes you may have.  These holes will be from the small aggregate stones flying out as it is polished and/or from air pockets that were present as it cured.  A slurry is the cement mix you used for the counter with the small stones sifted out.  We used old window screen to sift the dry mix.  Then the cement is mixed with water and rubbed onto the surface of the slab.  It looks like you have just destroyed all your hard work grinding, but this grinds off quickly once it has set (24 hours). 
Here is a close-up of the slab once the grinder has done its job.  You can see the black glass, a little of the clear reflective glass, and the aggregate stones exposed.  The surface is smooth as glass!  Beautiful!
And now for the other three slabs!  Alec uses a squeegee to clean the water off to see how the surface is coming along.
Once the slab is polished it is time to move it in place.  This is when you call in the extra muscle.  We estimate this slab to weigh 300+ pounds.  So I got my Dad and my Granddaughter, Camryn. to help.  She is obviously supervising.

She loves to help!  I think this is where she said "go faster, faster!".
The slabs are in place, and here you can see the seam.  We used a non-sanded grout, as this seam is less than 1/4 inch.  I chose a contrasting darker color that I also plan to use on the backsplash tile.
The sink is epoxied in place and clamped to 2 2x4's to hold it in place.

We taped off the cabinets to protect them from the sealant.  Also clean off all grit or dust prior to sealing with a damp  microfiber towel.
The cooktop side as well.  Protect everything that you don't want "sealed".
The sealer is a product that is specifically designed to seal concrete, sold at the same place as the countertop cement mix.  Follow the instructions carefully to avoid "bubbling" and open your doors and windows for ventilation.
I had a few spots that "bubbled from the sealer, but I sanded them lightly with steel wool.  You can see the shine of the smooth, sealed surface.
Looking good, huh?
Once that is dry (24 hours), a high quality carnaubacar wax is applied.  Wax on, wax off in a circular motion, just like you would do a car.
You can see the glass here in this edge detail.

The new countertops in with the sink and faucet.  You can see the 2" exposed polished edge with this under mount sink.  Looks great!

Here are some of the backsplash tiles I am considering.  I might also just do a simple subway tile, but any of these would work.

This is Alec's bar top prior to install.  Note the sink cut out and the plumbing ready to go.

This is the bar top installed.  The earthy brown is pretty, and I love the glass backsplash with it.  Nice job!
Alec's bathroom vanity - his first cement countertop.   It's a light color with cobalt blue glass.  He also built the vanity cabinet base, framed the mirror and made the light fixture as well. Also installed all the tile. Pretty impressive, huh? 
In summary, this project cost a total of $940, or $21 per square foot.  However, I have left-over materials that I will likely use on other projects; enough cement to do an outdoor bar top and more, grout for my backsplash project, enough glass for another project and left-over lumber.  Cheap granite in this area is about $40 per square foot, but those quotes go higher quickly when you add in the linear feet of finished edges and finished sink cut outs.  I love granite, but as a creative alternative, cement is awesome!   

I really appreciate the help of my Dad (who is always available when the going gets rough), Alec's buddies (who were called in to move slabs around) and David for the faucet install (Thanks Honey - I hate plumbing). 

You can see why I was so glad for Alec's help.  He is an artist!  I could not have done this without his expertise and the time he devoted to this project.  We have worked on many projects together over the years, and we always have fun! I owe him big for this one.  When are we going to demo your kitchen, Son?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Packing for a Weekend in the Pines

by Heather
Two of  three pieces of  luggage I purchased from Walmart. I first saw the suitcases on another blogger's site and thought they were so so cute. I use the pieces as storage for out-of-season scarves when not in use for travel.

Thursday, July 18th

We're going on a short road trip this weekend up north to pine country. With highs in the mid 70s, lows in the mid 50s, and thunderstorms forecast, you know it's going to be very different weather than here in the Valley and that means a totally different wardrobe. My winter clothes are packed away for the season (I know, for some of you those temps don't spell "winter" but they do for desert dwellers) so let's see what I can do with what's available in my closet. I'll need to include clothes for leaving the hot climate as well as returning to it, so layering will be key. Because of the impending stormy weather, I'm going to start with my one all-weather jacket in black and cream and go from there.
The last time I wore this coat was on an Alaskan cruise with my two blogger buddies and our spouses. If it rains in the Valley, it's either too hot to wear a raincoat or I go with a trench coat as seen here:

Also, we're taking the puppy (she still acts like one at 18 months) to see how she'll do when traveling. It's been amazing to me how much a dog changes one's wardrobe needs, especially one as rambunctious as Liberty. No really high wedges when I'm with her -- she'd pull me right off them -- and no dry clean-only items as muddy paws usually find their way to my clothes. We've had two dog training classes with her (she can sit on command now) but we still haven't mastered the meet and greet without going bonkers. Oh, I take that back. A neighbor just dropped by and Libby actually listened to my command to stop the jumping. Amazing! And speaking of Libby, she'll need a little something for the foul weather, too, so I picked up the cutest red and white polka dot raincoat complete with hood for her. I couldn't get her to sit still for a photo so you'll just have to believe me that she is darling in her rainwear.

We'll be doing very casual activities so I'm bringing three pair of black jeans: one crop, one straight, and one bootleg.  I could throw in a pair of tan crops, but hey, that would require ironing.
For the drive up from the Valley: black sleeveless no-iron blouse from Chico's; Antrhopologie belt; L.A.M.B. purse; Nordstrom hat 
One of three pair of shoes -- Juicy Couture flip-flops (well, four pair if I count the black and cream Pumas for walking the dog)
When it cools down in the evening, adding a J Crew Factory sweater and Chico's scarf over the blouse will keep me warm.
Black and gold accessosries:  my new braided leather and gold anchor bracelet from Kiel James Patrick; Michael Kors watch; Chico's gold/black bangle and earrings; Alexis Bittar gold and tan bangles
Born boots (the most comfortable boots ever)
Loft sequined striped tank; Talbots lightweight cardigan
Local designer sterling and shell bracelet and ring; one of my favorite pair of earrings from Seattle-based jeweler
Target flats
An extra  top just in case...J Crew cardigan, Chico's white tank, Target scarf

Saturday, July 21st

On the way to Flagstaff, Arizona...
Tom and Libby at Sunset Point rest area -- good news, Libby is a great traveler! She's also quite the draw -- people fall in love her and want to pet her soft fluffy coat.
Our first stop in Flagstaff was a quaint wine bar, Vino Loco Wine Bar and Shop, where Libby was invited inside and given a nice bowl of water while we drank great wine and enjoyed a lovely cheese board. We learned that Flagstaff is truly a dog-loving town and is sometimes referred to as "Wagstaff."
The small college town of Flagstaff (Norther Arizona University is located here) has a lively downtown area.
Just one of the birds available for strolling tourists to play with...
A fairly new addition to the downtown area, SeƱor Pickles Cafe, pulled me in by offering batter-fried pickles. Had to try them!
Really good, but too many for one person to consume.
Tom ordered mini tacos -- very tasty with cilantro, guacamole, salsa, sour cream -- and a beer to wash them down. The owner brought out a bowl of water  for Libby along with a couple of dog treats. See what I mean about a dog-loving town!
Can't go to Flagstaff without stopping in Sedona either on the way up or the way down. If you've never been there, put it on your list of places to see. The red rocks are stunning!
And as long as you're passing through Sedona, make sure you stop at Tlaquepaque (extra credit points if you pronounce it correctly), a quaint village of art galleries, fine restaurants, and shops. 
Our favorite restaurant in Tlaquepaque: Rene's
Of course, Libby was brought a bowl of water while we drank Prosecco (for me) and Pinot Grigio (for Tom) .
Pepper steak and bleu cheese crostini

Sweet creamy corn chowder

The night before we left, the heavens opened and we received almost two inches of rain in our desert neighborhood but the skies were blue when we left in the morning. The weather held all day until late evening when Flagstaff was treated to a lightning and thunder storm of epic proportions. We were safely ensconced in our hotel room by then and the next day, the sun was shining. On our way home, after leaving Sedona and getting back onto the freeway, the rain caught up with us once again and stayed with us. I had packed two umbrellas but neither one was put to use. Now that's a good weekend getaway!

How are your summer travels going?