pen rainbow

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wedding Special—A Step-By-Step Guide To Celebrating the Royal Wedding

Prince William & Princess Catherine
How to Celebrate the Royal Wedding

1.  Wear a tiara with your jammies

2.   Watch the royal wedding online
3.  Watch the royal wedding on TV

4.  Track their schedule on the world clock time zones
  • The groom and Prince Harry leave Clarence House for the Abbey at 10:10am, to arrive five minutes later at 10:15.
  • At 10:20, members of foreign Royal Families will begin to arrive at the Abbey.
  • Also at 10:20, Kate Middleton's mother and brother depart the Goring Hotel.
  • At 10:25, members of the Royal Family begin to leave Buckingham Palace for the Abbey.
  • At 10:51, the bride and her father leave the Goring Hotel for the Abbey, preceded by three minutes by the bridesmaids.
  • At 11:00 the wedding service commences.
  • At 12:15pm, the newlywed Prince William and Princess Catherine will leave by horse-drawn carriage, with the Royal Family following close behind.
  • At 12:30, the newlyweds arrive at Buckingham Palace.
  • At 13:25 Prince William and Princess Catherine will appear on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to kiss. RAF colleagues will stage a fly-past. The reception finishes at 3:30pm
  • At 7pm, the Prince of Wales hosts a dinner and dance at Buckingham Palace for 250 friends and close relatives.
Our Royal Wedding High Tea
Wedding Day!

5.  Have a high tea 

6.  Listen to their music!  Music for the royal wedding service

    ♬  Procession of the Bride:  I Was Glad  ♫♪

7.  Check out the wedding procession route in 3D on google earth!  Here's the YouTube link in case you can't get google earth:  Royal Wedding Procession Route  

8.  Tweet about it!  Be sure to use the hashtag:  #rw2011

Authenticated twitter sites to follow:

Official royal news twitter:  @ClarenceHouse

Peter Hunt, Royal Correspondent for the BBC:  @BBCPeterHunt

Today Show:  @royalwedding

Katie Nicholl, Royal reporter:  @katienicholl

9.  Send them your best wishes on facebook!  The British Monarchy

10.  Check out their charitable gifts facebook page:  Prince William & Miss Catherine Middleton Charitable Gift Fund

Mini-Post Thursday—An Invitation to the Royal Wedding

E ‖ R

The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by
The Queen to invite

Don't Steal My Pen

to the Marriage of
His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales, K.G.
Miss Catherine Middleton

at Westminster Abbey
on Friday, 29th April, 2011 at 11.00 a.m.

Dress Uniform, Morning Coat
or Lounge Suit

A reply is requested to:
     State Invitations Secretary, Lord Chamberlain's Office,
          Buckingham Palace, London SW 1A  1AA

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home—Royal High Tea

My Moss Rose China
Tea anyone?

In the spirit of the royal wedding, let's celebrate with a fancy high tea!  I've experienced a bonafide British high tea twice in my lifetime.

The first time was at the Roman baths in Bath, England.  Go ahead and click on the virtual tour if you want to see what the ruins actually look like.  Here is the impressive menu for afternoon tea at The Pump Room restaurant on the grounds of the ruins:

Served from 2.30pm to close

Set Afternoon Teas
Traditional Pump Room tea
Selection of tea sandwiches, homemade scones with clotted cream and jam produced locally from Littledown farm, Bath, Pump Room pastries with a pot of tea or coffee

Special Hot Drinks Hot Chocolate
with whipped cream and marshmallows
Hot Chocolate and Hazelnut
with whipped cream and marshmallows
Mocha Chocolate
single shot of espresso with hot chocolate
Double Cappuccino
two shots of fair trade espresso topped with foamed hot milk and dusting of cocoa
£3.25 £3.65 £3.20
for one £17.50 / for two £34.00
Pump Room Champagne tea
Glass of Jacques Cartier NV Champagne, smoked salmon and cucumber blini with shallot crème fraîche, scones with clotted cream and fruit preserves, Pump Room pastries and a dessert shot,
with a pot of tea or coffee
for one £24.50 / for two £48.00

Tea Time Bakery
All served with a pot of tea or coffee and a free refill
Home-made scones
with clotted cream and fruit preserves
Pump Room home-made cakes
choose one from our daily selection
The traditional Bath bun
with butter
Selection of Pump Room pastries
choose from:
coffee or chocolate choux buns, coconut slice, fresh fruit tarts

Savoury Items Selection of tea sandwiches
(vegetarian sandwiches available)
Quickes Cheddar crumpets
with piccalilli
Potted smoked mackerel
with granary toast and butter
Quickes Cheddar and Abbey ale rarebits
with tomato chutney (v)
Honey roast ham sandwich
with gem lettuce, mustard mayonnaise on locally baked white bloomer
Smoked salmon and cucumber blini
with shallot crème fraîche
Warm mature Cheddar cheese and chive scones
with cream cheese and our own house chutney
Skinny Fries

Double Cappuccino with one of our flavour shots
£9.25 £6.10 £6.75
£4.95 £4.75 £5.95 £5.95
£5.95 £7.50
£4.50 £2.75
choose from the list below
Almond Amaretto Butterscotch Gingerbread Hazelnut

Local Mulled Apple Juice
infused with cinnamon, ginger and citrus fruit

Champagne & Traditional Method 125ml
£39.50 £47.50
£27.00 £66.00

Pommery Champagne Tasting Tray
Experience 4 taster size glasses (50ml) of Pommery’s seasonal champagnes showcasing four distinct styles, served on a Pommery tasting tray
Springtime Brut Rose Summertime Blanc de Blanc Falltime Extra Dry Wintertime Blanc de Noirs

The second time I had an afternoon high tea was at The Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada, for my 40th birthday.  We took the kids, and my sister, Heidi, who stayed in a fabulous upstairs tower room overlooking the beautiful hotel gardens.  We had high tea in the Empress Room, which was spectacular, to say the least.   
Brownies for our high tea
Afternoon Tea at The Empress

Fresh Seasonal Fruit Freshly Baked Raisin Scone, Strawberry Jam and Empress Cream

Smoked Salmon Pinwheel Mango and Curried Chicken Carrot and Ginger and Cream Cheese Free Range Egg Salad Croissant Mushroom Pate Crostini

Battenberg Cake (contains nuts) Lemon Curd and Berry Tart Rose Petal Shortbread Green Tea Cheesecake Chocolate Tulip with Wild Cherry


Exclusive to The Fairmont Empress, this delightful blend boasts a bright coppery colour and takes milk exceedingly well. The Assam component lends a rich malty character, while the Kenyan black tea provides subtle floral hints. Kenyan green tea infuses this blend with bright and lively aroma, complemented by fruity, sprightly and airy piquant flavors of Dimbula from Sri Lanka. Small amount of Kemum draw the elements together with burgundy depth and light oaky notes.

Margaret’s is harvested during the “second flush” (late May to late June), when the fragrance and taste are most complex. This tea offers delicate-ending astringent cup, with the distinctive character of Muscat grapes and hits of currant.

A traditional blend of Chinese and Indian teas, scented with the oil from the citrus bergamot. This blend is noted for its floral bouquet, lively flavor, a touch of mild astringency and bright, coppery colour.

Borengajuli originates from a wonderful tea estate in Mangaldi district of Assam. A flavorful, bright and full- bodied tea with superb malty highlights, drinkable at any time of day.

Jasmine tea is one of the most pleasant tasting green teas available, with a captivating floral bouquet that invigorates the senses. Surprisingly full bodied, the flavour is enhanced with Jasmine blossoms, providing a visual appeal to which few other teas can aspire.

This caffeine- free blend of herb and fruit tea was formulated specially for Fairmont Empress guests wishing to enjoy a healthy and refreshing beverage that is both bold and bright. Server hot or cold, this blend is slightly tart, combining the essence of orange and pineapple with hibiscus petals, rosehip chips, elderberries, dried currants and the natural flavours of strawberries, red currants and cream.

A unique caffeine-free blend made from all-natural dried fruits and herbs. Exotic orange notes with velvety sweet pineapple highlights create a memorable combination

This superb blend, inspired by our very own Willow Stream Spa, is produced at a small co-operative tea estate called Clearwater in Zimbabwe. Decaffeinated at the green leaf stage for the health minded guest, this blend retains a bright colour and full-bodied character, offering excellent depth and satisfying body, with delicious malty notes, reminiscent of caramel.

Now, if you want to have your own afternoon high tea, here's how!  Quartered cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches with the crust cut off are signature sandwiches for a proper high tea.  Include lots of jams and spreads, plus some delicious sweets, and a lovely pot of hot Earl Grey tea.  

...and a toast to the happy marriage of Kate & Will  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Dried Beans & Slow Cookers

Nothing like a little phytohaemagglutinin poisoning to spice up the weekend!

The moral of the story is this:  Vigorously boil dry beans for 10 minutes to remove the toxin that can make you sick.  Then, let it sit for 5 hours.  Discard the water, rinse the beans, and add fresh water for your soup.

The backstory of this sad tale is that I used some new heirloom cranberry beans to make Senate Bean Soup last week.  I've made this recipe a million times in my crockpot using dried small white beans, according to the recipe.  I made it exactly the way that I always make it, except that I let the beans cook all day on low, rather than for four or five hours on high, like I usually do.

Cranberry beans are native to Colombia
I soaked them overnight, rinsed them, and cooked them on high for 3 hours until hot and bubbling.  The ham looked done and the onion was translucent.  I refrigerated the soup overnight and put it back on the high temp for a couple of hours to bring it up to a boil.  Normally, I would have kept it on high for a few hours until dinner time, but I was running early that day, so I lowered the heat to LOW and let it simmer for 8 more hours before we sat down to eat.

Cases of food poisoning from dry beans have been associated with slow cookers, which cannot break down the toxin on the low setting.  Beans cooked at 176°F are reported to be up to five times as toxic as raw beans.

We were laid out on Friday, semi-functional on Saturday, and mostly over it on Easter Sunday (with just a couple of waves of blech).  Beans are high in purines, which metabolize into uric acid.  Uric acid is what makes your muscles ache the next day after strenuous exercise.  I could barely move on Thursday night, and my neck was killing me.  Steve's neck hurt, too, but he got more of the digestive effects than I did.  The hot flashes, intermittent sweating, and hunger pangs were fun, too.  ::::sheesh::::

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home— ❤ Marimekko

Bringing back a great design!
A nostalgic revival of the original 1977 Marimekko garden design by Maija Isola

Breezy, pocket-top, sheer-panel cotton curtains that can be machine washed & dried.  Line dry is recommended, but I dried them on low, and they came out perfectly.

I like a little natural wrinkle, but these could be ironed on low if you wanted them totally wrinkle-free.  These curtains are casual and informal, but comfortably elegant.

They come in 4 lengths to fit standard window & door sizes.  From Crate & Barrel  $34.95 to $64.95

Tuesday's Cupboard—World's Best Carrot Cake

Egg painting on my front porch
This has been a holiday favorite in my family for 3 generations.  

I also use this recipe to make Christmas cakes and birthday cakes.  Don't be tempted to thin out the frosting.  It will be the right consistency once it is whipped with a beater.   

This was the first cake that I learned to make when I was a girl (except for Easy Bake Oven cakes).  

It tastes even better on the second day!   

Mom's Carrot Cake

Preheat oven to 350°
Grease & flour 3, 8" cake pans

Dry ingredients:
  • 2 c. white flour
  • 2 c. baker's sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
Wet ingredients:
  • 1-1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 small can of crushed pineapple, drained
Heavy ingredients:
  • 2 c. shredded carrots
  • 1/2 c. chopped pecans

FROSTING - Mix thoroughly with an electric beater or in a Kitchenaid mixer; start on very slow to blend, then work your way up to high.  Mix until smooth & no lumps.
  • 1 - 8 oz. pkg. Philly cream cheese (regular, not whipped)
  • 1 small box of powdered sugar
  • 1 cube butter, semi-softened
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract


Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Add oil & eggs & beat with electric mixer to combine.  Add crushed pineapple & mix in thoroughly by hand.  The pineapple will stick to the mixer tongs if you try to mix this with a beater.  Better to mix it in by hand.  Then, stir in shredded carrots & pecans.  Divide batter equally among 3 greased and floured cake pans.  Be sure to gently drop the pans on the counter to release bubbles before you put them into the oven.  

Bake on 350°F for approx. 20 to 25 minutes.  Test for doneness with toothpick inserted into the middle of each pan.  Let cool.  

Assemble the layers, adding a medium layer of frosting between each cake layer.  This is a three-layer cake, so mentally divide the frosting so that you have about 1+1/2 c. left to give it a crumb coat, plus an outer coat of frosting.  If you make the frosting too thick between the layers, the layers will slide.  *Crumb coat *then chill *then frost.  How to crumb coat a cake  

This works well for cupcakes, too!  To frost the cupcakes, use green food coloring to tint enough white frosting to frost the top of each cupcake.  Reserve some of the white frosting to make the baby carrots.  Tint some shredded coconut with green, as well.  Frost each cupcake with a foundation of green frosting, then add tinted coconut & press it lightly into the green frosting.  This will be the grass.

Tint some white frosting with red & yellow to make a nice shade of orange.  Pipe 3 carrot tops into the center of each cupcake garden.  Finish the carrot tops with a small-tip applicator and dab on a leaf to each carrot.  You can also make baby blue bird cupcakes using toasted coconut, blue frosting for the birds, yellow frosting for the beaks, and black for the eyes.  

Get creative & have fun!

Monday—The Reading Corner—Easter Week

Lethal Experiment —Book of Genesis — The Lincoln Lawyer

Recently finished...
Over the weekend, I finished, Lethal Experiment, by John Locke.  It's a fun, fast read, and the plot is more compelling than its predecessor, Lethal People.

The problem with both books is the chauvinistic tone of the writing.  I'm not sure what the author was going for, but bellicose patriotism and the depreciation of the women in both books were unnecessary distractions from his otherwise fast-paced and entertaining narratives.  ★★ 1/2 out of 5

Pearl's bible
Just started...
Holy Bible Illustrated (King James Version), Old Testament; The First Book of Moses Called, Genesis.

New English Translation (NET) Bible, Old Testament, Kindle Version: Book of Genesis

The Jehovah's Witnesses came by on Sunday while I was standing out on my porch watering the vegetable garden.  I'm a human magnet when it comes to homeless guys and people handing out pamphlets, so I wasn't surprised when a little old lady with a cane and a nice looking gentleman in a light gray suit came chugging up my sidewalk with that look that they get when they've got somebody in their crosshairs.

I was wearing my totally awesome, "I got tubbed!" HOT TUB TIME MACHINE teeshirt, and if they'd seen the movie and known that I participated in the making of that cinematic jewel, I'm sure that they would have thrown some holy water on me.  

The old gal was pretty persistent and kept trying to hand me pamphlets.  Ixnay on the paper and adding to my household clutter.  No can do, Sugar Lips.  I'm always nice, though, and they left after I started moving the sprayer closer to the guy's pant leg.

Their visit reminded me of my annual viewing of The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the supercool badguy, Pharoah Ramses I.  Anne Baxter played Queen Nefretiri, and Yvonne De Carlo played Sephora, the wife of Moses.  The movie came out when I was minus-one year old (1956), but as soon as it was broadcast on TV, I was hooked on the grandiose special effects.

I'm reading The Book of Genesis this week because it's a pretty cool story, and I'm starting the run-up to Sunday's broadcast of The Ten Commandments.

The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly
I just started this, and I'm going to finish it before I go see the movie, which is now playing at the Century in downtown Walnut Creek.  Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Haller, the criminal defense lawyer who takes on small-time, two-bit clients and conducts business out of the back of his Lincoln Continental.

Here's Roger Ebert's review.  He gives it ★★★ and calls it "satisfactory."  Sounds like something fun to do over Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mini-Post Thursday—Monkeys Riding Dogs Herding Sheep

My mom's snoopie dog
Cool doggs + darling minkees + funny sheep + a corny soundtrack + a rad truck = 

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home—The Zen of Cleaning House

My cleaning assitant
The Zen of Cleaning House

I'm fairly certain that I was born cleaning up after myself.

:::SLAP:::  Waaaaaaa!  Doctor, would you mind handing me a sponge and a bottle of Lysol?

The Minimalist Woman gets it.  And the FlyLady's gentle and methodical way of guiding even the most hopelessly lost chaos-bot into the light is downright inspiring.  I'm more of a housecleaning warrior than  a hand-holder when it comes to cleaning.  I'm like Patton on cleaning day.  Dustbunnies are the enemy!  Just get out of my way and let me get the job done.

HRH, The Queen, probably doesn't clean her own palace, but I'll bet that she has a tidy desk and a really great staff who keeps the castle impeccably neat.  Kate Middleton is probably polishing her princess tiara as we speak.

It's a good thing to have a clean house.  It's a Zen thing.  Like Zen, there are methods used to attain enlightenment.  Shhhhh, be still and be wise, grasshopper...

Cleaning Schedule
Pick a day each week to clean and stick to it.  My cleaning days are Thursday & Friday, and I divide the house into 2 zones.  I strip the beds and launder the linens on Thursday because Friday is the harder of the 2 days.  Thurs/Fri works best for me because most holidays, social events, and travel plans happen over the weekends.  Plus, I like to take the weekends off for fun things.

Avoid Distractions
Don't clean with a spouse—Don't get on the computer—Don't answer the phone.  Instruct friends & family not to bug you on cleaning days.  It's okay to let them know your schedule and when you will be available.

Make fewer surfaces to clean.  Store things in accessible boxes & bins that can be easily cleaned.  Getting things organized can take a while, so pick one thing to fix each week and add it to your regular cleaning day routine.  Put photos away, sort magazines, organize a bookshelf, clean off a table...

Lightweight Furniture
Furnish with modern lightweight pieces that are easy to move.  Don't over-furnish a room.  Avoid antique finishes that require special care.

Buy Duplicate Sets of Washable Curtains that can be taken down and washed once a month.  I removed the catch on the end of one small curtain rod so that the pocket curtain can easily slide off of the end and be replaced by a clean curtain.

The Right Tools
Use what works best for you.  Here are some of my essentials:

•  A lightweight, inexpensive vacuum cleaner(s).  It's all hype when it comes to vacs, and the high-end $500 vacs do not work any better than the $100 versions.  I've tried them all, and these days, I use a Hoover Empower Widepath (originally purchased at Target, now $100 on Amazon) and a Eureka Optima Lightweight Upright ($60 at Target & Lowes).  I keep a vacuum on each side of the house.  If you have upstairs & downstairs or just a big house, you need two vacs.  When the kids were in dorms & apartments and moving all the time, I got a new vacuum cleaner every year and donated the used vacs to thrift stores.  These things work best when the cannister is emptied each week.

•  I use a portable Husky wet/dry shop vac (in addition to a Dustbuster) to suck up big stuff in hard-to-reach places (chunks of plaster, cat litter, dry catfood, giant mutant dust bunnies, sliding mirror door tracks, window frames, etc.).

•  Knee pads
•  Disposable surgical gloves (for changing the catbox & cleaning the oven)
•  Windex wipes, Murphy's Oil Soap Wipes, Steel Surface Wipes, and All-Surface Wipes—These really speed things up!
•  Inexpensive, store-brand disinfectant wipes (great for toilet surfaces)
•  A good supply of cleaning rags (old washcloths, hand towels, and a few bath towels) to keep from rinsing out rags while I'm cleaning.  I use a bucket of all-purpose cleaner and a rag as I go.  When the rag gets too grungy or hairy, I toss it onto the washing machine & get a clean one.

Locate supplies in cleaning areas
Keep duplicate supplies in different parts of the house so that you don't have to keep running back & forth trying to find the only bottle of Windex.

Spot Clean
Keep a roll of paper towel and a cannister of general-purpose counter wipes in the bathroom(s) to keep counters clean and sinks spic and span during the week.

Fold a square of paper towel and keep it on the kitchen counter to wipe down splashes that cause mildew & hard water stains around the faucet and the backsplash.

Sweep the kitchen floor daily.

Swiffer dry mop wood floors a couple of times a week, if you have pets.

Cleaning Day — Feed Yourself & Take a Lunch Break
Have a healthy breakfast and a good lunch.  Take a 30-40 minute lunch break, relax, and watch a fun afternoon show like Cash Cab.

Cleaning Day — Stay Hydrated
Keep a large cup of ice water going all day.

Cleaning Day — Watch the Clock & Pace Yourself
Allow a limited amount of time in each room.  I shoot for a reasonable quitting time, usually around 5 o'clock.  Cleaning on a weekly basis allows for some wiggle room when it comes to dealing with organizational issues.  There is always extra stuff to organize and put away (mail, sort magazines, filing, clean out a dresser drawer, etc.).

Cleaning Day — Plan An Easy Dinner
Keep a supply of your favorite frozen dinners on hand.  Frozen corn bread pizzas hit the spot!  I like to keep a cold six-pack of Coronitas around for aprés-cleaning.

Cleaning Day — Take a Nice Bath while the frozen dinner is cooking.  ❤

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home—New Ideas In Plastics

Replenish Smart Bottle
"A Better Cleaner in a Smarter Bottle."

It's a neat idea:  Reuse the container and purchase only the concentrated cleaning solution.  This idea appeals to me because I've basically been doing the same thing every week for about a million years (time flies when you're housecleaning).  Every week, I clean my corner of the Q-Continuum with a bucket of hot water and some Mr. Clean with Febreze.

The only problem is that I don't like all of the crappy toxins that I'm exposing myself to every week while I'm cleaning the house.  I shouldn't worry about inadvertently ingesting pollutants in my  seafood when I'm soaking my hands in kryptonite cleaner every Thursday.  So, I pay a little extra for products that don't harm the environment, my animals, or the humans with whom they live.  I've been experimenting with homemade cleaning solutions, but now my house smells like vinegar.

When Steve got a bottle of Replenish in his goodie bag from the conference-that-shall-not-be-named-because-we-fight-about-it-every-year, I thought it was worth a try.  Neat product—skin-safe PH neutral formula, no animal testing, and biodegradable.  Overall, a really great new cleaning product!  There are a few tweaks that would make it even better.

Tweak #1—The Wrapper
The plastic wrapper cannot easily be removed by hand unless you're Edward Scissorhands.  The packaging would be smarter if it had a perforated zipper or a pull-tab.  It would help if the wrapper didn't unspool from the bottle, like the peel of an apple.  It should come off quickly and easily.

Tweak #2—The Measuring Cup
The concentrate spills out of the measuring cup when you flip it back into an upright position.  Better instructions for first-time users would help.

Tweak #3—Measuring Line
The measuring line on the measuring cup should be bigger and more visible.  It is nearly invisible from some angles.  A bold, white line would suffice.
Fresh Lavender Replenish

Tweak #4—Tiny Bubbles
It's the beer foam effect, except with soap.  Even though the directions clearly say to add the water slowly, people who clean usually move at a relatively fast pace.  When I filled the bottle, it was half full of bubbles, and I didn't want to wait for them to dissipate.  I wouldn't say that I filled the bottle too quickly, either.  The formula needs to be tweaked so that there is less foam.

Tweak #5—Less Soapy Smell
I love the choice of scents—green tea, fresh lavender & sun lemon—but, it smelled a little too much like soap.  I used it on wood and on glass, and it did a great job, but I tend to avoid products that smell too much like detergent.

Tweak #6—Color & Scent Should Match  
Add an orange blossom scent to go with the orange-colored cleaner, and make the sun lemon cleaner a sunny yellow color.  When I'm grabbing for a refill on anything, I use color cues to identify the product.

Tweak #7—Info Poster  
Why was this in the package?  I am guessing that this was for promotional purposes.  It is printed on only one side, so it looks like it was intended for display.  Forget the poster altogether because it's one more piece of paper in the house.  The website already includes the info.

Tweak #8—Sturdier Packaging
Steve's initial shipment was damaged because of the frail padded shipping envelope.  He had to call for a replacement.  The replacement arrived intact, again in a frail padded envelope with some eco-friendly packing peanuts thrown in for good measure.  Better wrapping around the bottle would help.

Overall, it's a great product, and it was fun to try something new.  The prices are reasonable for the starter kit (the bottle and the concentrate, $7.99) and for the concentrate cartridge ($3.99).  Each cartridge provides 4 full bottles of cleaner, which is a great deal!  That's a dollar for a bottle of all-purpose, eco-friendly cleaner.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—The Beauty of Artisan Vinaigrettes

Imelda's artisan vinaigrettes
A fantastic flavorful feast for a foodie fifty-five year old!

Some people just know how to give good gifts.  Age-appropriate, personal, delicious gifts that others can enjoy.  Imelda Alejandrino—Steve's business collegue at AP42—is one of those people.

Yesterday afternoon, Steve walked in with a birthday gift bag containing three bottles of sumptuous, homemade, artisan vinaigrettes—Sesame Vinaigrette, Strawberry Vinaigrette, and Meyer Lemon.  Each bottle was labeled with a handwritten tag, and each tag contained food pairing suggestions.  Yes, yes, yes!  I can just picture a bed of garden fresh arugula with pine nuts, shaved parmesan, and meyer lemon vinaigrette drizzled on top.

A gift like this is even better when it comes with a little provenance.  As it so happened, Steve and I ran into Imelda and her husband, Paul, last weekend as they were walking away from The Container Store in downtown Walnut Creek.  Imelda had just purchased the sleek, swing-top, hermetic-seal bottles that she would be using for her vinaigrettes.

The Birthday Dinner
While the cedar-wrapped salmon rolls from Whole Foods were baking, I tossed a simple salad of fresh spring greens, cut-up strawberries, avocado, and walnuts in Imelda's strawberry vinaigrette and seasoned it with cracked black pepper and haleakala red finishing salt.  When the salmon rolls were done, I served them with the tossed green salad and a serving of classic potato salad from Diablo Foods in Lafayette.  The no-fuss combo of salads and salmon is one of my standard easy springtime dinners.

"WHAT ABOUT THE CAKE?" you ask.  We split a gigantic slice of chocolate avalanche cake from Whole Foods, with a little Ben & Jerry's Phish Food Froyo on the side (chocolate frozen yogurt with marshmallow cream, caramel, and tiny chocolate fish).   Yes, it was good.

Homemade Vinaigrettes
Fresh vinaigrette takes 10 minutes to whisk together and is so much better than anything that you can buy in the grocery store.  Here's one of my favorites!

TO PRINT THIS RECIPE:  Copy the url; go to printfriendly; paste the url, edit & print.

BASIC SAUCE VINAIGRETTE — Makes about 1/2 c.
Adapted from Bon Appétit, Basic Skills for the Good Cook, ©1981

•1 small medium-sized garlic clove, peeled, smashed & minced
•1 tsp. course salt

•1/2 tsp. ground pepper (white preferred, but black peppercorns work just fine)
•1/2 tsp. dry mustard
•1 tsp. Dijon mustard (classic Parisian-style)
•1 egg, beaten OR 2 T. cream
•2 T. olive oil

•2 T. tarragon vinegar or wine vinegar (either white or red wine vinegar will work; I have also used raspberry vinegar in this)
•1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

•1/4 c. vegetable oil (peanut, corn, avocado, safflower, grapeseed, etc.)

Smash the minced garlic & course salt together in a small glass or metal mixing bowl until they almost form a paste.  Add ground pepper, dry mustard, Dijon mustard, beaten egg OR cream, & olive oil; whisk together to combine.

Add vinegar & lemon juice and whisk together until combined.  Slowly add the vegatable oil until completely absorbed.

Speed Method
Throw everything except the vegetable oil into a mini-food processor & whip for a few seconds to combine.  Add the vegetable oil in batches and pulse to thoroughly emulsify.  Pour into a glass container and refrigerate for up to one week.  It will thicken into a creamier consistency after it is refrigerated.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday—The Design Corner—Personalized iPhoto Cards

Steve is Fabulous 55!
Happy Birthday, Steve!

Da Vinci had his frescoes, Warhol had his Campbell soup, and I have my mouse drawings.  Drawings that is, not droppings...

I started drawing with my mouse when I opened a twitter account (Don't Steal My Pen) about three years ago.  I needed a profile picture, and I wanted something that had to do with tweets.  So, I came up with a chick who tweets.

A chick who tweets about all things tweet-worthy

My twitter chick was inspired by my daughter's Girl Scout troop crest from many years ago.  Caralee created a little yellow chick with brightly-colored tail feathers for their troop emblem.

Next, came Clara The Cat.  This was a new twitter account that I created to publicize worthwhile animal welfare projects.  She was inspired by the diva of our feline family, Miss Clara.

Clara The Cat
One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was creating customized cards using iPhoto and the Apple Store.  Plus, I was spending less per card than I had when I bought generic greeting cards from a quality shop like Papyrus.  It costs around $4.66 including tax to create a single custom card through the Apple Store ($1.99 per card + tax + $2.95 for 1-week shipping).  For rush orders, you can get your card(s) in 2 days and pay $6.99 for shipping (or more, depending on how many cards you order).

Then, I discovered and started designing my own USPS postage stamps.  Every design must be approved by the Postal Service, and some images (anything remotely offensive) are not permissible.  A 1st-Class stamp (44¢ value) costs 95¢ to make; $18.99 for one sheet of 20 stamps.  I like to run a sheet for birthdays and holidays.

Have fun & create your own personalized cards using your own pix or illustrations!

My USPS birthday stamp

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mini-Post Thursday—A Week Ago in Tahoe


Donner Lake

Soda Springs

Hi Ho!

Emigrant Pass
Near Boreal & Sugar Bowl

Mt. Pluto ~ Northstar ~ Martis Meadow
A normal snow pack

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday—Good for You, Good for The Home

Crate & Barrel's Insect Trap—$9.95
Catching the Queen of the Yellow Jackets!

It is time to start thinking about how to wage war on those bastardic little flying torpedos of doom, the ground-nesting western yellow jackets.  According to recommendations from the University of California's state-wide Integrated Pest Management program, there is a 30-45 day period in the spring when the new queens emerge to scout out locations where they will build their nests.

A single reproductive female can produce a population of 1,500 to 15,000 individuals, depending on the species.  Yellow jackets will typically make nests in rodent burrows, but they are not picky.  Protected spaces like voids in walls and ceiling spaces work just as well.  If the space is not big enough for the colony, yellow jackets will increase the size by moistening the area and digging.  If the colony establishes itself inside of a house, worker drones will create a wet patch and dig through drywall to enlarge the area.

In my case, yellow jackets invaded the rafters of our roof through a space under the eave just outside of my son's bedroom.  When I got up onto a footstool to take a closer look at what sounded like a buzzing area in the ceiling, I saw tiny insect legs poking through a hairline crack in the paint.  At that moment, all that stood between me and potentially thousands of yellow jackets was the thin skin of the ceiling paint.

I closed the door and made a beeline (heh) to the hardware store to get an adhesive wire screen patch that was large enough to cover the area on the ceiling.  Then, I applied a layer of plaster and blended it into the ceiling texture to seal the area for good.  After that, we filled every nook and cranny that we could find around the outside of our house with steel wool.  That works as a deterrent for roof rats, as well.  To finish off the nest, I had to call a professional exterminator to shoot some abrasive powder into the roof to kill the yellow jackets.

Yellow jackets are scavenging wasps, not bees.  Yellow jackets will invade honey bee hives and kill the bees, if given the opportunity.  Paper wasps, on the other hand, are agriculturally beneficial insects and prey on all sorts of destructive caterpillers, including corn earworms and hornworms, which they catch and take back to their larvae.  Adult paper wasps feed primarily on nectar and honeydew.

Trapping yellow jackets is an ongoing effort that starts in the spring and continues on through the fall.  Trapping the queen in the spring has the potential to provide an overall reduction in the yellow jacket population for the season.  The IPM website recommends lure traps as the best way to capture queens.  Water traps, like this neat one sold by Crate & Barrel, also work well for capturing queens during late winter and early spring.

The more traps that are put out in the spring, the greater the liklihood of reducing nests later in the summer.  One trap per acre is adequate for depletion trapping of queens; more may be necessary during the summer and fall after the colonies have grown and are established.

Put out your traps now and start planning for a healthy & happy summer!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Heirlooms!

Heirloom legumes from Zürsun Idaho Heirloom Beans
Cranberry Beans, Lebanese Couscous & Purple Sticky Rice—by Zürsun Idaho Heirloom Beans

Available from Williams~Sonoma Heirloom Beans, Lentils & Grains Collection in stores & online.

I was in downtown Walnut Creek today shopping for Easter goodies, and I found some wonderful savory treats for your Springtime suppers.

First, let's start with this fantastic new collection of heirloom grains & beans from Williams~Sonoma.  I bought some Thai purple rice, some Lebanese couscous (these are tiny balls of ground semolina wheat dusted in wheat flour), and some cranberry beans (an ancient cranberry red & white legume domesticated in Mesoamerica and the Andes).

I asked about my favorite exotic dried bean, the Anasazi bean, and it can be ordered from the W~S catalog online!  It is a black & white paint bean, similar to the hide pattern of Indian paint ponies.  These beans were one of the crops grown by the ancient Pueblos who lived in the area of Four Corners as far back as the 12th Century.  These beans contain 75% LESS of the chemical that causes gas.  Yay! And, they are super good used in ham soup.

The Lebanese couscous is larger than the usual millet-sized couscous.  It's about the size of a small pearl.  Super-neat and a little more substantial than the smaller variety.

I made a lovely, light Lebanese Couscous Soup with a couple of alterations from the recipe that I got from the helpful clerk at Williams~Sonoma.  This soup has such a fine aromatic base that I couldn't resist adding a handful of carrots to create a classic combination of aromatic vegetables.  I used fresh Italian parsley and fresh cilantro cut from my Spring herbs and a lime from our tree in place of the lemon juice.

The recipe says to cook the couscous separately and then add it to the broth.  I was in a hurry, so I threw everything into the crockpot from scratch, starting with the onion.  Since I did not sauté the onion & garlic, I did not use any olive oil.

Lebanese Couscous Soup  (my crockpot version)

Add to the crockpot & set on high:

1 large sweet onion (Maui, Vidalia, etc.)
2 tsps. chopped garlic (I used jarred in water) or 2 fresh garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 bay leaf

2 c. Lebanese couscous (pearl-sized)
7 c. vegetable or chicken broth (I used nonfat, low-sodium chicken broth)
1/2 c. fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped
1/2 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 T. fresh lemon juice (or lime)
A handful of baby carrots
freshly ground black pepper (about a teaspoon)

Kosher salt (after the soup is done, season it with salt to taste)

Put everything into a crockpot and stew on high until vegetables are tender and couscous is done, about 3 hours.  If you want a clearer soup, cook the couscous separately and add it to the broth.  Cooking the couscous in the soup gives the broth a creamier appearance.

Organic heirloom potatoes from Whole Foods
 Organic Heirloom Baby Potatoes

I love these delightful little gems oven-roasted in a combination of olive, peanut and avocado oil!  I picked up this 2 lb. bag from Whole Foods in Walnut Creek.

Toss them under cold water to clean, then slice them in half OR throw them whole into a glass roasting dish.  Add 1 T. each of 3 kinds of oil, or use less oil depending on how many potatoes you are cooking.  Just use equal amounts of each kind of oil.  These are wonderful paired with sliced sweet onions, so if you have some, toss them with the potatoes.

Season with 1/2 tsp. each thyme, rosemary, and freshly ground black pepper.  Substitute fresh herbs if you have them and add roughly a teaspoon of each of the fresh herbs.

Toss everything with a little kosher salt & roast for 35-40 mins. on 425°F.

This dish will happily share the oven with Oven BBQ'd Citrus Marmalade Chicken Drumsticks.  Just put them both in the oven at the same time, with the potatoes on the upper rack, and the chicken on the rack just below it.