pen rainbow

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Easy Summertime Suppers

I use double-fiber wheat bread
This month, I will be featuring my favorite meals for days that are long on sunshine and short on time in the kitchen!

Zucchini & Red Bell Pepper Strata (can be made a day ahead) — Makes 8 servings
227 cal, 8g fat, 3g sat fat, 0g trans fat, 115 mg chol, 407 mg sod, 24g carbs, 6g fiber, 17g protein, 383 mg calcium
Adapted from Weight Watchers Super-Foods Cookbook, ©2006

Preheat the oven to 350°F
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded & diced
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 medium Roma tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 tsp. jarred chopped garlic in water)
  • 8 oz. wheat bread torn into 1-inch pieces (about 7 slices of Oroweat Whole Wheat Double-Fiber) **
  • 1 c. Sargento's Artisan Shredded Swiss Cheese
  • 1/4 c. shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1 (12 oz.) can of evaporated nonfat milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. egg substitute (or 2 egg whites)
  • 2 T. classic Dijon mustard  
Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add the bell pepper, zucchini, onion & salt.  Sauté until the pepper is tender, about 7 minutes.

Sweat the veggies
Stir in the tomatoes & garlic; cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 3 minutes.

Spray a 9"x 13" baking dish with nonstick olive oil spray.  Spread the bread pieces evenly over the bottom; top with the zucchini mixture.  Evenly distribute the shredded Swiss cheese & shaved Parmesan cheese over the top of the veggies.  

Whisk together the evaporated milk, whole eggs, egg substitute & mustard.  Pour over the bread, veggies & cheese, making sure that all of the bread is soaked.  If desired, cover & refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before baking.  

Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper & paprika
before baking
**  It's okay to use day-old bread &/or artisan wheat bread in this recipe.  Let the bread soak longer if you use stale or denser bread.  The original recipe recommends letting it sit for at least 4 hours in the fridge to combine all of the flavors and to let the day-old bread soak up the eggs.  If you're using fresh bread like I do, it's just fine to put it right into the oven without refrigerating beforehand.

Bake until the casserole begins to bubble & cheese is browning on top, about 50 minutes.  Let sit for about 10 minutes to cool.  This is super-hot when it comes out of the oven!

Toasty, cheesy & delicious
Serve with a handful of fresh spring greens on the side.  That's right, just plain greens are a fine simple accompaniment to a flavorful casserole like this!

Monday—Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

May blizzard in the Sierras
What I did over Memorial Day this year...

Drove to Northstar in a blizzard

Bridge May Be Icy

Beautiful snowy Tahoe National Forest

Big Pines
30 mph for all vehicles
Martis Creek meadow (Northstar's mountains were obscured by the storm)

This bear and his friend camped out next to our deck

Live dot racing (the red dot won)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mini-Post Thursday—Today's Funny Trending Tweets

My twitter icon

drpaulmorgan:  Einsein's Theory of Relatives

crupicrupicrupi:  The Lord of the Ring Dings

Trendeh:  Harry Potter and the Forged Excuse Note for P.E.

JohnnySmitten:  The World According to AARP

yiyanagrulovic:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Kidney Stone

seamusenright:  The Call of the Mild

orbitingfrog:  The Time Traveler's Wipe

SalRuibal:  Gone With the Recycling

DontStealMyPen:  Chicken Soup For The Bowl

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday—Good For You, Good For The Home

Today's healthy lunch
Lose It!  A fun & free iPhone app that works

Two weeks ago, I finally killed off my beloved, old flippy phone.  We'd had a long history together, and I was as kind as I could be to my faithful friend.

We'd seen it all together...My son's gawd-awful Berkeley apartment that was so filthy that it defied description, so I took several pictures of it with my phone...The Volvo S60 turbo that I'd never wanted in the first place, but we bought anyway because it was a safe family car for our teen drivers...My darling puppy, Caraboo, whose sweet face greeted me every time I used my phone.  I'd used it to hunt down teenagers, photograph encroaching neighbors as they parked in my driveway, and stop the hillbillies on the other side of my backyard fence from trying to disfigure our stately elm tree.  Like Hera, I used my silver electronic device as a magic shield to turn my enemies to stone.

I did not mean to drop it in the parking lot and then run over it with my rental car.  Even so, my flippy phone forged on, a little more dented and scratched, but no less resolute.  So, when it slipped out of my shirt pocket onto the deck and burst into two parts and a dozen tiny shards, I figured it was all over for my friend, Flippa...and it was.

The next day I went down to the Apple Store in downtown Walnut Creek and bought my first iPhone.  When the super cool helper girl asked me, "Will you be using a lot of apps?" I said, "Oh, no!  Of course not."  I mean, I had just come out of the Stone Age with my old phone, before apps even existed, so I was not going to be loading up on apps that were designed to make people even more stupid than they already are.

By the way, the Apple Store was crawling with middle-aged women buying iEverythings for themselves.  Go on a Tuesday in the middle of the day, and you'll see what I mean.  It's not the same as it is on the weekends when men and teenagers run in and out of that place like shit through a goose.  It's Ladies' Day during the week.

Anyway, I got my iPhone, and I ❤ LOVE it.  It's taken me a couple of weeks to get around to installing my first app, and I found one that is great for weight loss and fitness called, Lose It!  First of all, it's free!  And, I know that it works because Steve used it last year to drop over 20 pounds.  What I did not know, however, is how much fun it is to use!  It is a nutritional database tracker based on calorie count and exercise.  It has a super-friendly user interface that is intuitive and a lot of fun to use.  It's simple and a lot more engaging than dragging yourself to Weight Watcher meetings and listening to old gals talk about how much they love the Indian casinos.

Get it.  It's fun, and it'll help you get into shape for ski season next January!

Tuesday's Cupboard—Something New, Fast, Filling & Easy!

Philly Cooking Creme also comes in Italian Cheese & Herb
Creamy Chicken Florentine
Prep Time:  20 minutes — Makes 4 Servings, 1-1/4 c. each


  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 red pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1  6 oz. pak baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tub (10 oz.) Philadelphia Savory Garlic Cooking Crème
  • 2 c. hot cooked penne pasta
  • 2 T. pine nuts (optional: toss a handful of these into the nonstick pan before you start & pan toast them for 1 minute; remove & save for later)

Sauté chicken & red peppers in a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat for 5-6 mins. until chicken is done.  (Hint:  Start the chicken first, then add the peppers a minute or two later so that the peppers don't get overdone.)

Add the spinach, cook & stir 4-5 minutes until spinach is wilted.  

Stir in cooking crème & simmer for 4-5 minutes on low until heated through.

Stir in pasta until thoroughly coated.

Plate & top each serving with a sprinkle of pine nuts.  

I got this recipe off of a Safeway $1 off Philadelphia Cooking Crème coupon.  I simplified it by adding a whole chopped red pepper instead of limiting the amount to 1/2 c. as the recipe calls for.  I also did not bother to drain any liquid from the spinach.  As far as I could tell, there wasn't enough to drain, and any vitamins in the liquid would be lost.  

I used whole-grain pasta and cooked the entire box.  I added almost all of the cooked pasta to the chicken mixture and had plenty of leftovers for a nice, cold chicken pasta salad over fresh baby spinach the next night.  Steve commented that it was even better the second night!  Two easy suppers from inexpensive ingredients, simple & fast—I like that!

Another reason that I'm adding this recipe to my blog this week is that the parent company, Kraft, is making a real effort toward sustainability.  The Philly plant in Lowville, NY, has lightened its carbon footprint by converting 1/4 of its total energy use to alternative sources.  They've replaced interior lighting and added a waste-water digester to save on water use.  Their volunteer green team formed in 2008 has implemented an aggressive recycling program and reduced their landfill contribution by 33 percent.  

This is real change that I love to see in large corporations!  

For more recipes from the Philly website, click here

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday—The Reading Corner: Big Girl, The Righteous & The Magna Carta

Big Girl by Danielle Steel — $7.99 on Kindle  ★★

I've read and enjoyed some of Danielle Steel's other books (i.e. Legacy, A Novel, and Family Ties), but this one fell flat for me.  The main character may not have been thin, but the writing sure was.  It seemed like a rush writing job, and I found myself skimming over the pages without missing anything important in the story.  

Victoria is overweight, and she is extremely attached to her sister...A few pages later, Victoria is still overweight, and she really, really, REALLY loves her sister.  Now, she wants to be a teacher, and her parents don't give a crap.  Next chapter, guess what?  She's a teacher, and her parents don't give a crap.  Victoria still loves her sister.      

My alternate ending:  The two sisters join forces and have it out with the idiot parents.  They finally tell them to lay off the fat comments, once and for all.  The dad gets killed in a freak golfing accident when his out-of-control golf cart slides down a rocky cliff at Pebble Beach, and he is eaten by a Great White shark.  The mother sells off the estate, splits it with the 2 daughters, and moves to Santa Barbara to sell surf boards with her new boyfriend.  Victoria and her sister use their inheritance to start a successful chain of clothing stores called, Big Girl, which sells trendy, eco-friendly clothing for women, sizes 14 and up.  They become rich, and their mom lives happily ever after.  The End.

The Righteous by Michael Wallace — 99¢ on Kindle  ★★★★

I started this book right after I finished, Big Girl by Danielle Steel, and was immediately impressed with the elevated, smart style of writing.  I was instantly engaged, and my first thought was that this was going to be a book that I would enjoy.  Now that I'm 49 percent of the way through, I am almost ready to put it down.  (Keep reading...the book gets better!)    

This story takes place in Southern Utah and Las Vegas, and it revolves around a fringe community of Mormon polygamists in a fictional town called, Blister Creek.  It starts out with the violent murder of a young wife who is caught as she is trying to flee from her family and expose criminal activities that are taking place within the community.  

The investigator, Jacob, is a young man who is a member of the church in good standing.  He is sent down to Blister Creek by his father, a polygamist community leader in Calgary, Canada, to find the murderer before the gentile authorities step in.  Jacob also has to find a husband for his 17-year old sister who has accompanied him on the trip.  And, he has to select a first wife for himself.   

Just when I start to think that these two characters are worthy protagonists, they fall back into being blindly devout followers of their polygamist beliefs.  It's annoying.  The story has just crossed over into ridiculousness for me, so I'm not sure that I'll finish it.  With a Kindle, it's a little harder to skip to the last chapter and see how everything turns out, but I may end up doing that.  

I'll let you know next week.

Update:  I finished it, and it's pretty good.  It's like an LDS version of the Da Vinci Code.  I gave it 4 stars, three for the story and one for technical accuracy.  He got the church details right, and the geographical descriptions are right on.    

The Magna Carta at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco — Through June 5, 2011  ★★★★★
Admission:  Adults ($10) Youth ($6) Children 12 & under (free)
2 forms of classic architecture at the Legion of Honor

I went to see the Magna Carta yesterday, and it is an awesome thing.  First of all, it is 794 years old.  Secondly, this document formed the basis of our Constitutional liberties, our civil rights, and the rule of law.  More than anything, it represents the ideals of freedom.

A document like this did not come along casually or without duress.  History tells us that King John was strong-armed into signing it during wartime with the French in 1215.  Widespread abuse of the English feudal system led to rebellion among the barons and knights who then threatened to leave the King without a defensive army unless he adopted a system of laws to govern the land.  The Magna Carta was drafted in order to address the common issues of the day and to prevent civil unrest among the freemen.

Big deal, you say?  It is a big deal because this document contains the ideals that led to the constitutional government that created the United States.  There are seventeen vintage originals remaining, including the 1217 manuscript on display at the Legion of Honor.  

Simply awesome.  If you have the opportunity, it is well worth seeing! 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mini-Post Thursday—Santa May Be Homeless

Get along little doggies
It's true, Denmark claims the North Pole  

...And, a funny response from The Mark Newsroom 

Wednesday—Good For You, Good For The Home

How to travel without being felt up by strangers

A penny for my dignity

  • Drive your car
  • Go on a Walk with your dog
  • Contact The Guardian of Forever & ask to use the time portal
  • Ride a horse (excellent horseback riding instructions here)
  • Build a go-kart & plot a course with lots of hills
  • Go back to 1970 & borrow a dune buggy from a rebellious neighborhood teenager
  • Go on a vision quest & ask your spirit guide to give you a lift
  • Mule train
  • Covered wagon
  • Canoe
  • Kayak
  • Move to New Zealand & become a whale rider
  • Join an all-girl band
  • Mush by dog sled
  • Take a slow boat to China
  • Skateboard
  • Batmobile
  • Flying Machine
  • Flying Carpet
  • Smuggle yourself aboard the Jupiter 2
  • Borrow a camel from a Bedouin
  • Get a piggyback ride
  • Use a spoon to dig a long tunnel
  • Construct a makeshift raft from 50 raincoats & use scrap plywood for paddles
  • Hot air balloon
  • Rickshaw
Avoid commercial air travel whenever possible.  

"Are you KIDDING ME!?"
This is what I said just before I got felt up yesterday at the Oakland airport by Atilla the female TSA agent...and, I'm none to happy about it.  Yep, I got the old karate-chop hands between the bazongas.  She could have at least offered me a cigarette afterwards.  I could have used one because, honestly folks, it is a seriously invasive and humiliating procedure.  Then, I had to move to another area and have my hands swiped.  That is the second time that's happened.  All the while, my purse with all of my ID and money, my camera, my cell phone with all of my personal phone numbers, my shoes, and my carry-on bag were sitting on the scanner belt while busy passengers snatched items from the bins and scurried away like scared mice.  

I surrendered like a good little submissive to the full-body scanner, put my hands in the air, produced the penny in my shirt pocket that triggered the pat-down, stood there patiently while Atilla groped me, and did everything that I was told.  Last Fall, a guy in the scanner line tried to steal my new Mac Air from the bin after it went through the scanner, so I was trying to keep an eye on my laptop.  For some inexplicable reason, Atilla noticed this, marched over, and positioned herself directly in my line of sight so that I could no longer see my laptop.  I guess, that crack security tactic was supposed to prevent me from using mental telepathy to detonate the lintballs in the bottom of my purse.  Remember, all of my stuff had already been scanned, and so had I.    

I am not the only one who feels violated.  Boldredrosie sums it up well in her blog post from last February, entitled, Now I'm going to touch your buttocks.  If it weren't such a dehumanizing experience for every man, woman, and three-year old who gets searched, the TSA's government-approved gropefest would be kind of funny!  Take my word for it, an atomic wedgie is preferable to being put on public display and pawed.  

Google "tsa gloves," and you'll find over a million hits that address the questionable hygiene of those crevice-seeking blue gloves.  Just so you know, I wipe down my seat, the handrails, my seatbelt, and the always sticky tray table whenever I get on the airplane, mostly because it's a good way to keep from getting the flu, but also because it tends to keep the seats around me empty.  Handiwipes and a bottle of saline spray have kept me from getting sick over the past two winters.  

Something is wrong.  It's not just about the need for tight security at the airports.  Everyone acknowledges that there are crazy bad dudes out there who want to hurt innocent people.  Thanks to President Obama and Navy Seal Team 6, there is one fewer walking the Earth.

Terrorism is a fact of life, and it is something that we all have to live with.  But, what is going on with the TSA is that their authority is still so undefined that it diminishes the personal dignity of every traveler  and nullifies the presumption of innocence.  Under these circumstances, the wrong facial expression might be enough to land a person in locked detention at the airport.  In case anyone's forgotten, that would be a violation of our 1st and 4th Amendment rights (freedom of speech and unreasonable search & seizure).  This blog post is an exercise of my 1st Amendment right, as well.  

Bullying passengers is not part of the TSA's job, period.  Find a better way, TSA.   Mission, Vision & Core Values of the TSA   

Tuesday's Cupboard—Vintage Cocktails

From the golden era of mixed drinks
Classic cocktails from my grandma Pearle's vintage cocktail mixer 

1/3 lemon juice
1/3 Cointreau
1/3 brandy

Shake well with ice.  Strain & serve.

1/2 Dubonnet
1/2 gin

Stir with cracked ice; strain.  Add twist of lemon peel.

1/2 dry gin
1/6 French vermouth
1/6 Italian vermouth
1/6 orange juice

Shake with ice.  Strain & serve.
Shake it with style

1/3 dry gin
1/3 Creme de Cacao
1/3 sweet cream

Shake well with ice.  Strain & serve.

1-1/2 jigger Cuban rum
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp. powdered sugar

Shake well with ice.  Strain & serve.

Whiskey Sour
2 oz. whiskey
1 tsp. powdered sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon & 1/2 lime

Shake with cracked ice.  Strain & serve.

1 jigger Cuban rum
Juice of 1 lime
2 dashes Grenadine

Shake well with ice.  Strain & serve.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday—The Reading Corner—The Lincoln Lawyer & The Good Fight

The Lincoln Lawyer is on Kindle!
I just finished these 2 books!

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly  ★★★★

I enjoy crime novels; the more complicated the plot, the better.  This was the first Michael Connelly novel I've read and the first one featuring the fictional character, defense attorney, Mickey Haller.  Before I go any further, I have to tell the lawyer joke that is in the book:

Q.  What's the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?  A.  One's a scum-sucking bottom dweller and the other's a fish.  (Yeah, it's funny until you need a good lawyer.)

The characters in this book have a sense of humor about their work in the legal system.  The story takes place in L.A., and Mick Haller is the kind of guy who will defend anybody as long as the defendant can afford his fee.

This book actually helped me understand why criminal defense lawyers defend people who are accused of heinous crimes.  The presumption of innocence is the foundation of a fair and just system of laws as defined by our founding fathers.  It is this system of laws based on the protection of the innocent and the wrongly accused that protects our individual freeedom.  The responsibility of a defense attorney is to the defendant, but in a broader sense, it is about protecting individuals against false imprisonment.  By forcing the prosecution to make its case with sound arguments, solid evidence, and reliable testimony, a defense attorney is ensuring that when the verdict is read, it is carefully considered and thoroughly justified.

It doesn't always work, but if the prosecution can't convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty (People v. Simpson comes to mind), then they have not done their job and the defense has.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a courtroom drama/crime novel about guilt and innocence, relationships, ethics, and justice.  It's a smart read, and you can look forward to a satisfying twist at the end.  I read the book after the movie was out of the theaters, but will catch it when it comes out on DVD. Fwiw, I heard that the movie (click here to watch a trailer), starring Mathew McConaughey as Mickey Haller and Ryan Phillippe as the wealthy client accused of murder, is really good.        

Harry Reid, Senate candidate—Boulder City—1974
The Good Fight, Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington by Harry Reid & Mark Warren  ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by my mom's cousin during a conversation we were having about family history and genealogy.

It's an interesting read in contrast to the family stories that I've heard all of my life as told by my grandmother (Harry's aunt), my mom, her cousins, and various aunts and uncles.  The chapters written by Esquire's political editor, Mark Warren, are detailed (and not surprisingly) partisan insider accounts of more recent Congressional battles.  Social Security, the Nuclear Option, Cheney and Rumsfeld, Abu Ghraib, the war in Iraq, the Global War on Terror, Yucca Mountain, and the interchangability of legislative allies was a lot to take in, but fascinating reading!

Me & my pickle—1974 campaigning for Harry
I am always surprised that Harry is so honest about his past.  I found that his personal stories were meaningful and often hard to imagine, like the chapter where Harry described where he was on 9-11 and how events unfolded for him on that day.  He would have been the Senate Majority Whip and one of the top leaders in the United States Senate. While I sat on my unmade bed that morning with my husband and kids watching the twin towers collapse, Harry and other government leaders were being moved to safe locations around Washington, D.C.  My mother's quiet and unassuming cousin from Searchlight  had more than likely been part of the Continuity of Government Plan.  One thing I know for sure about the Reids is that they are stone-cold and steely-eyed in the face of danger.  Harry would have been a real asset to those around him that day.

There were many parts of the book that I enjoyed.  It is well-written and interesting, particularly from the perspective of a native Nevadan.  Vegas is rich with stories, and many of the principal players are still hanging around.  It's a good read for anyone who follows national politics, as well.  Mark Warren's excellent writing combined with Harry's personal accounts of Searchlight and Vegas keep it moving and engaging.  I would have given it 5 stars, but Harry gets a little too religious at the end of the book for my taste.  I am the sole member of my own faith, the Church of Dogs Who Wear Bandanas...(real dogs, that is...).  ;o)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard—Healthy Homemade Hummus

Drizzle with olive oil & pine nuts or fresh cilantro
Hail to the Power Foods!  My favorite all-purpose hummus recipe

Speecy-Spicy Hummus  from Weight Watchers Super-Foods Cookbook, ©2006
Makes about 2 cups

  • 1  15-oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed & drained
  • 1/4 c. cold water, or more if needed for desired consistency
  • 1  4-oz. can mild diced chilies (undrained)
  • 1 tsp. minced jarred garlic in water or 1 large fresh garlic clove, quartered
  • 1 generous tablespoon of tahini
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon (about 1/4 c.)
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt (kosher salt has a less metallic taste than table salt)
  • 1/2 tsp. jarred horseradish 

Throw everything into a mini-food processor and grind until smooth (30 seconds, or less).  If you don't  have a mini-food processor, use a blender or a hand-held emulsion blender.  Suggested toppings:  paprika, cumin & fresh, snipped chives; olive oil & toasted (or raw) pine nuts or fresh cilantro; sun-dried tomatoes in oil & fresh parsley

A few capers on top make this extra tasty
For a light supper or lunch:  Preheat oven to 450°F.  On a non-stick cookie sheet, toast whole-wheat pitas that have been lightly sprayed on one side with olive oil or butter-flavored PAM for 8-10 mins.  Spread 1/4 c. hummus on top of each toasted pita & top with sliced, fresh cucumbers and Roma tomatoes.  A dollop of Fage nonfat Greek yogurt is also delicious on this!

Keeps well in the fridge for about a week.

Nutritional info:  (Per serving—1 toasted pita)
186 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg chol, 371 mg sodium, 33 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 8 g protein, 47 mg calcium