Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What we do for tomatoes

The things we do for tomato plants...

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First, we suffer through getting up early on Saturday morning to drive to Tomatomania in Ojai.
Due to being rushed, we EVEN have to eat breakfast in the car.
(Yogurt parfaits made with greek yogurt, homemade granola and fresh berries)

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We have to labor over decisions about which ones to buy
(and wait for friends to pick out their choices)

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We have to pose on scooters we are too afraid smart enough not to ride

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But we have to take LOTS of pictures of our husbands before they DID ride...

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We have to go olive oil tasting and bring these home

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Later, we have to eat at Boccali's with dear friends we've had for over 30 years...and on a day that they had their famous strawberry shortcakes (such suffering!)


(we did share these with our hubbies)



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Oh, the things we go through just to get a few tomato plants!!
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Birthday joy

Growing up, birthdays in my family were always special and well celebrated.   Maybe I'm still kind of a kid, but I get excited when it's my birthday and love to make it a special day.  It's a day to do something fun and out of the ordinary, and share good times with those I love the most.

My sister and I have a fun tradition of spending our birthdays together.   We start early in the day and finish late in the afternoon!   The day always includes lots of yummy food, coffee, shopping, and often even a pedicure.  We chat all day -- such a fun sister time. 

Yesterday was my birthday and not only was I excited about the summer like weather, but I was greeted & treated by Suzanne in the morning with a coffee and croissant from my favorite bakery!  Then off we went!  We spent the morning leisurely strolling through clothes racks at multiple stores, then had dumplings for lunch at the famed Din Tai Fung, shopped some more and finished the day with some ice cream water-side at the Americana and a visit to Emma's apartment.   

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My fave girls

 

Juicy Pork Dumplings -- works of art.

 

Our favorite -- Haagen Dazs.  We even pick the same flavor - coffee chip.  :-)

My wish for the evening was to have my fab four over and eat one of my faves -- Zankou Chicken.   Stephanie picked up some Princess Cake from Berolina, and other goodies for dessert.  It was a great time.

Here's a few pics we got.   We always have to take about 10 pictures before Drew will act normal.

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It starts simply with him doing this weird expression he always makes.  
We all smile normal then realize he's goofing off... again.
 


Then he gets us all laughing.  I look like an alien here (and I'm not sure about Emma's hand)
Notice Drew is still doing the weird expression thing.  He's committed.


 Then FINALLY, after many failed attempts, and us threatening him that we will keep trying UNTIL we get a decent shot, he gives in and smiles normally.  By then we are all exhausted! 


I'm also remembering my mom today, on HER birthday, April 9th.  She would have been 72 today but she left us way too soon at age 63.   I love you and miss you Mom!

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

WDW -- A healthy treat

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When I saw this coconut almond fudge recipe recently on a blog, I knew I needed to try it.

I'm a HUGE coconut fan & almond butter fan -- so I knew this would be a winner in my book.

The recipe called for an ingredient I had never used -- coconut butter.  So I tracked some down and made these right away (I have since discovered that coconut butter is delicious in my oatmeal and is pretty delicious just by the spoonful!).

I modified the recipe by melting some chocolate chips (I like the soy-free, dairy free kind) and pouring a little on the bottom of the mold (I just used my non-stick mini muffin pan).  I froze them for about 10 minutes.

Then I mixed the fudge together and poured that on top.  I chilled the fudge for a couple of hours, then popped them out of the pan.  
 

These are such good little morsels -- very satisfying when you want to eat healthier but crave a little something sweet.  I venture to think that these could be made with peanut butter too, they might taste like a Reese's!  Yummy!

Coconut Almond Fudge

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup unsalted almond butter (I use raw, smooth)
  • 1/2 cup coconut butter
  • 2 T real maple syrup
  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
Instructions
  • In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients.
  • Stir on medium-low heat until everything is combined.
  • Pour into molds (or mini muffin pan) and store in the fridge to set. 
  • Makes about a dozen pieces.  Keep refrigerated.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

A Sweet Baby Shower


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My adorable niece is expecting her 1st in April- a sweet little boy!  Emma, Stephanie and I had the joy and privilege of showering her and her soon-to-arrive baby last Saturday at our home.   It was special to have BOTH grandmas and TWO great-grandmas present!  We were blessed with a beautiful day weather-wise, and a lovely group of about 25 guests.

We served lunch.  The mom-to-be loves to eat healthy, so I had fun planning the menu with lots of fresh ingredients.  I do usually put a lot of thought to the balance of my menu, and try to do something that may be a little different.  And I always want the food to be colorful and pretty.  Nowadays, it's always good to be sure to have at least one vegetarian, vegan, gluten- free and dairy-free option (and check for nut allergies).  

Here's what we served on this lovely spring day:

Kale, Brussels Sprouts, and Quinoa salad.   Super food that's super colorful!  Chopped kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, quinoa, shaved fennel, grated carrot, chopped purple cabbage, pecans, dried cranberries, and a lightly sweet vinaigrette.   What is great about this salad is you can toss it a bit ahead of time.  It was even good leftover the next day.

Sisley Salad.  I LOVE this salad from Sisley restaurant.   I used my own garden fresh greens (I had red and green romaine lettuces -- you can add radicchio if you don't have red greens), chopped tomato, toasted pine nuts, sliced hearts of palm, fresh shaved parmesan cheese and a creamy basil vinaigrette.

Wild Rice & Chicken Salad.   A super yummy salad recipe from Stephanie's mom.   Wild rice, chopped chicken, green onion, toasted slivered almonds, chopped celery, and chopped snap peas, with a curry vinaigrette.
 
Roasted Beet, Orange & Avocado Salad.    Beets are roasted then cut into wedges, and tossed with a dressing made of fresh orange juice, zest, and shallots.   I lined the platter with arugula and put the beets in the middle, flanked by bright orange and avocado slices.   Gorgeous bursts of color!

Mixed Berry Salad.   Super easy to throw together, I sliced strawberries and spread them on a white tray, then layered on blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.   Berries are just so beautiful, they don't need much attention!

Potato-herb Waffles with Pesto Cream.   I got this recipe from a bed and breakfast inn we stayed at.   These savory whole grain waffles contain mashed potatoes, cheese, and herbs.   I actually made them and froze them in advance, and just warmed them right before we served lunch.  So easy.  The pesto cream is simply plain greek yogurt mixed with purchased pesto sauce.

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Kale salad & Beet Salad



 

Desserts: 
 I usually use this sideboard in my dining room for desserts.  It's not very big so we put the dessert plates in the drawers.  We had flour-less chocolate cupcakes with ganache frosting (GF), vanilla cake balls dipped in blue & white chocolate, dipped pretzel rods, lemon bars topped with raspberries, lavender shortbread cookies, and even a healthy choice -- coconut almond fudge (GF, DF).

 

{I had a sweet helper come a few weeks ahead of time
and teach me the art of cake balls. 
She also taught me that they can successfully be made
in advance and frozen- a big help!
Thank you, Bri!}

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Easy {healthy} dessert - Coconut almond fudge!  Coming to a WDW soon!
I added a little chocolate to the bottom of my mold before pouring the fudge in.
My niece loved these.



Beverages:   
Water bottles were wrapped in white fabric and a safety pin (to resemble diapers).
In decanters, we had fresh lavender lemonade and iced tea,
and I made a big urn of coffee.
I couldn't resist using these pretty blue Ball jars! 

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I also made soy candles in the blue jars for favors.  They turned out cute!

I leaned heavily on the girls for decorating since it's definitely not my forte!  They made everything super cute!  They stretched a clothes line over the food table and hung cute baby boy clothes (and that also cleverly doubled as their gifts to the mom-to-be).  We set up a ladder with baby pictures of the mom-and-dad-to-be, and a few baby items like shoes, books, etc.  I made a baby diaper "cake" as a centerpiece.  Simple and easy.  We got some balloons and cut flowers from the garden to make it a bit more festive.  Our colors were turqoise blue, gold and silver.

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The table wasn't quite set up yet -- but you get the idea.


We are really in full swing shower season now.  There are so many weddings, and the babies are starting to come, too!  It's really fun.  Here are some things I like to do to make showers easy.

1.  Tableware 

It's nice to use "real" dishes and silverware and saves money in the long run to invest in pieces you will use.   Buying nice paper goods can be pricey.   If you choose things that are neutral (white or glass) you can use them for pretty much any type of event.

I have an extra set of silverware, plus some real silver that my mother in law left me.  I just mix and match it.   I particularly like the old silver and would love to buy more of that.  I also have LOTS of metal serving tongs.  When people go through a line of food they need to be able to serve themselves one-handed!

For years I have been collecting vintage small glass luncheon trays -- you know, the kind from the 60's that come with a cute little glass punch cup.  They can be found at thrift shops quite easily for very little money.  I have a couple different patterns of those as well.  They are great for dessert or for a tea.  You can even use the cup to put a little dessert in (tiramisu, trifle, etc.). 

Recently, I purchased 48 ceramic white square dinner plates at the Dollar Store.  They are quite nice - you would never know they were only $1!   You can see them in the photos above.  They even go in the dishwasher! 

For cups I often use Mason jars.  I have a good sized collection of clear and blue.  I also have some inexpensive IKEA goblets and small glass juice cups.  I have about 20 white coffee cups that I saved from my first set of dishes 27 years ago (Mikasa) that I use for coffee.  If it's a larger group, sometimes I buy white disposable coffee cups.  I have a big coffee urn as well, and some large beverage decanters.

I usually buy paper napkins to highlight whatever color theme I'm using.  I collect cute ones when I see them.  IKEA has great napkins!

I also have a collection of large white bowls and platters.  I also have several clear pedestal servers that are great for desserts.  I love pewter serving pieces.  I recently found a big square one at a thrift store for $5 and I jumped on it!  White or pewter go well with any theme.  I'm always on the lookout for something new (I LOVE Homegoods!).

I also use white tablecloths for everything, it keeps things simple.


2. Preparations

To avoid party stress, I try to do EVERYTHING I can in advance.  The favors, decor, signs for food, party game, water bottles, etc. were all done a couple weeks ahead of time.  I also baked and froze all the desserts, and even the waffles.  It really is so much easier this way.  My schedule for getting ready for Saturday was:

Saturday before: Yard work/clean patio furniture & cushions

Wednesday:  Deep clean the house 

Thursday:  Shop for food (at a couple different stores), make lemonade and iced tea

Friday:  Prep all food that I can (pick and wash greens, chop veggies, toast nuts, roast beets, frost cupcakes, cook grains for salads, grind coffee, make salad dressings, etc)

Friday night:  Girls come over and help set up decor, thaw and set up desserts, set up table with platters and serving pieces, set up beverage table

Saturday morning:  Wash and plate berries, finish cutting oranges/avocados for beet salad, toss salads together, warm frozen waffles, stir together the pesto cream (Rich cleaned the patio table tops and got balloons and ice for me  - bless him!) 

With so much done in advance, it only took a couple hours to get ready that morning.  It's SO much more enjoyable this way because it's stress free.  You can enjoy and focus on your guests!


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

What's up?

A dear friend pointed out that it's been a little quiet on the blog front.  

Life has been busy and fun!  

Here's a little bit of life in pictures for the past couple months.

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In February, we were treated to an incredible Chinese feast by our friend Albert's mom, Theresa.  And nothing better than watching this little one savor every bite of her Ah-ma's cooking!


Homemade dumplings were to die for!!  "Can I eat now?"  I could eat HER- so cute!!!

 

A group of gals managed to surprise our friend Roxane on her 50th! (Wendy & Rox at Marston's, Feb. 12th)

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Tiffany earrings from friends help make 50 GREAT!!!
Our mantra is "50 is the new 40"  -- Agreed?

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Then it wasn't much longer after that, that we surprised Wendy on her 50th!

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Daughter Whitney pulled off a fun-filled evening

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All the lovely Bates women:
Brooke, Cheryl, Delphine, Sierra, Whitney, Andee, Wendy, McKinley, & Olive

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Longtime friends getting a bit crazy -- me, Cheryl, Susan, Wendy, Kari, Rox, Patty

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We had a great week of Shepherds' Conference.
What a blast hosting the Schroeder's and their 3 adorable boys!

 

Loved spending time with this sweet friend and awesome mom!

 

Is this not the SQUISHIEST baby ever??  I fell hard in love with this little punkin!

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So happy to work a shift at the concierge with one of my favorite people-- Meredith!
Nice shades, friend!  :-)

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And of course, I had to get a photo with my "twin" Wendy  :-)
We confused everyone all week.



It was a joy to go to our dear friends' daughter's wedding.  Ali and Brady were born 10 days apart and spent much of their childhoods together.   She was a beautiful and happy bride!  Awesome venue at the Oviatt building downtown, and a great time fellowshiping with longtime friends.



 Though the circumstances weren't the happiest (their dad's memorial), it was a special joy to be reunited in San Diego with our childhood friends, the Blooms.   Our families were very close and these guys were like siblings to us growing up.   Don't we even look related?  :-)  Lots of stories and memories contained in this group!   I don't think the five of us have taken a photo together as adults.  What a sweet family and a precious memorial to a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather.

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