Friday, February 27, 2009

Spinach Bread

Submitted by Michelle

Remember the sausage bread? As fabulous as it tastes, and as hard as it is to believe, there are people who actually prefer a vegetarian option when I am serving sausage bread and my mother is one of them. Last week I had an abundance of spinach from my big box of produce and I was making sausage bread for my family, so I decided to give spinach bread a try too.

I've eaten spinach bread in Utica, New York, home of my Aunt Rosemarie and Uncle Dave, and attempted to make it years ago, only to end up with a soggy mess. Now that I am an older and wiser home chef, I've learned some techniques that helped make my spinach bread a success.

I started with spinach, onion, garlic and thyme.
In a large frying pan, I sauteed the garlic and onion in olive oil until it was soft. I also added red pepper flakes for some heat.
I then tossed in the thyme and all the spinach and cooked it until it the spinach was wilted.
The next step is crucial and of course, I forgot to photograph it! I put the spinach, garlic, thyme and onion in cheesecloth and wrung out as much of the liquid as I could. (You could also use a kitchen towel if you don't have cheesecloth.) Spinach is loaded with liquid and it is important to get rid of as much as possible to avoid having soggy spinach bread.

Next, I put the wrung out spinach in a bowl and added ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and 1 egg (to bind everything together).
Once everything was combined, I spread the spinach mixture over my bread crust (the same one from the sausage bread entry) and baked it.

My end result was a crusty bread with a moist (not soggy!) inside. It was really tasty and my mom took the leftovers home.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

When Life Gives You Lemons...Make Lemon Bars!

Submitted by Michelle

When David and I bought our home in La Quinta I knew one thing for sure: I wanted to plant a lemon tree in the backyard. Not any old lemon mind you, a Meyer lemon tree. Meyer lemons can, at times, be mistaken for oranges because they are so juicy and fragrant. The skin is thinner than a regular lemon and the flavor is amazing. So, said tree was purchased and is now flourishing in our backyard. Right now we have a bumper crop of lemons on the tree so I decided to make one of my favorite recipes --lemon bars! I've tested many a lemon bar recipe and the best I've ever found comes from Susan Branch in her Sweets to the Sweet cookbook.

The process is very simple. First, I made a shortbread-like crust using flour, butter, powdered sugar and a teeny bit of lemon extract (from Penzey's, of course!) I pressed it into an 8 X 8 baking dish and.....
baked it until it was golden brown.
Whilst* the crust baked, I whisked the filling in my mixer. The filling consists of eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, lemon extract, baking powder and flour.
*I love using the word whilst. It sounds so Anne of Green Gables.

Then, I poured the filling over the pre-baked crust and...
baked it again!
When the lemon bars came out of the oven I immediately ran a sharp knife around the edges to avoid a mess when I later cut them and took them out of the baking dish.

With a few sprinkles of powdered sugar, I had a fabulous treat!

Lemon Squares

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter an 8" square pan. With an electric mixer, cream all the ingredients till soft and smooth. (Or, in a food processor, till it forms a ball.) Press dough evenly into pan and bake 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the topping.

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

With electric mixer, beat eggs well and gradually add sugar, until mixture is thick. Gradually add remaining ingredients. Continue beating until crust comes out of oven. Pour lemon mixture over hot crust, return to oven and reduce heat to 325 degress. Bake 30 - 35 minutes till top is golden. Remove from oven and run a sharp knife around the edge. Cool 20 minutes. Cut into squares, remove from pan and sift powdered sugar over the top.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Never Too Late For Chocolate!

Submitted by Linda
Because I so appreciate my boys' teachers, I always try to do little treats periodically throughout the year for them. Keep in mind that my boys are in high school - so I'm guessing those teachers don't get wonderful goodies from kids too often. As a kindergarten teacher, I am blessed by my students on every holiday - so what else can I do but 'pay it forward'? This can get expensive when both boys have 6 teachers, so I usually try to do something inexpensive, but thoughtful and cute.

Well, I had a plan for Valentine's Day which included using a Hershey Bar, Stampin' Up's new heart punch, and candy lane paper. Then Valentine's Day came and went- and I had not decorated my Hershey Bars!

I decided that I still loved my plan, so this weekend I made labels that read:
It may be too late for Valentines-
But it's never too late for chocolate!

This is how it turned out with the Candy Lane paper. Some of the hearts are elevated with dimensionals, and some have glitter on them. I used a deckle scissors to 'upgrade' my boring Avery label.

I also decided to use up some of last year's SU valentine's paper. So here it is in the brown, pink, turquoise color combo.

My boys are too embarrassed to deliver these cuties to each teacher, so tomorrow I will drop them off in the office. I know the ladies will enjoy them....I always wonder what their guy teachers think?!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thinking Ahead For St. Patty's Day

Submitted by Linda
Here is a picture of me with my front row friend Amy at her daughter's wedding last month. I would probably embarrass her if I listed all of her strengths, but let me mention a few. I have become a better teacher because of her leadership and educational expertise, and I count it a privilege to work with her every day. Amy also is a quilter (in the hierarchy of crafts, sometimes I think that quilting is a real art form, whereas stamping is just cutting and pasting). Amy is quite a cook (homemade noodles anyone?) and, can carry a 60 pound bag of cement under one arm and talk on the phone with her other hand.

I have been nagging her to stamp with me, and the occasion arose when she needed place cards for the above-mentioned wedding (they turned out beautiful - and I think she may be hooked!!!).

Amy and her husband Hank are famous for a St. Patrick's Day Party they throw every March. This year, Amy decided to upgrade her usual purchased invitations to make her own. So last weekend we got to work:

Amy colored these leprechauns with markers, so that she could add in the detail of his beard, smile, etc.
Here is the final invitation! I like the detail of the round "pinch proof" stamp on the envelope!
Amy will type up details for the party and attach it on the inside.
Anyone who gets invited to this party will be feeling LUCKY!!

Here are the Stampin' Up supplies we used:
Glorious Green Cardstock and Ink
Only Orange Cardstock
Many Marvelous Markers
Contraband (Non SU) Printed Paper

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

U Rock!

Submitted by Michelle

On Valentine's Day I received a wonderful care package in the mail from Val-Pal. She visited a week ago and thanked me with a box of heart shaped chocolate chip cookies and other goodies. My favorite item from the box is a mix CD that Valarie put together for me. I've listened to it every day since I received it and am enjoying artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Beyonce and Fergie.

To thank Valarie, I created a card for her. And since I'm enjoying the music so much, I thought "You Rock!" was an appropriate sentiment for the front. I actually designed this card myself - I usually copy an idea from something I've seen or even better, have Linda design cards for me.

In other Valentine's Day news, Courtney (Linda's niece) was the lucky recipient of the Valentine's Gift bag I wrote about here. She is new to stamping and I am so glad her husband gifted her with lots of basics to get her started.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nothing Says Love Like.......Pancakes!

Submitted by Linda
This Valentine's I reaped the benefits of having generous friends. My dear front row friend Heidi (my Chicago pal) sent me a darling box of goodies which included her HOMEMADE product pictured above: Batter Up Brand Grand Slam Pancake Mix! Well, the next morning Craig was "up and at 'em" to try out the mix. I pulled out these two silicone heart molds which were given to me by my kindergarten friend Richard (whose gift tag read "You're one red hot teacher!"). Richard's mom, Lorie, is a great mom who has a family blog. Click here to read her blog (Be sure to find the entry about the baby swallowing a lego - you will laugh out loud).

Here are the pancakes cooking in the pan:
Here is the finished product:
My kids agreed that the Batter Up mix was a homerun- very yummy. And I think the heart shape is too cute!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

Submitted by Linda

I have an older brother who thinks outside the box. He is a self-proclaimed 'techno-nerd' (Silicon Valley), proudly wears a mullet and signs his birthday cards to my boys "Wierd Uncle Larry". Despite all the harassment he caused me as his little sister, he ended up marrying a wonderful girl and turned out to be one of the smartest, most generous and thoughtful guys in the world. His birthday is coming, and he hinted to me that he'd like a copy of this cartoon blown up and framed. I apologize for the poor quality of this photo.
The story behind the cartoon is a long one, but let me just say that when visiting our grandparents in Nebraska, time seemed to stop. We joked about time in Nebraska being like 'dog years' (being there one day felt like a week). I'm certain that the bigger cities are more metropolitan, but the small towns we visited felt like 'time warp': nothing ever changed!

My plan was to simply do what he asked (blow up the cartoon and frame it), and then last night I had a revelation: Why not try my water-color crayons to upgrade and add a bit of color!! (You know how I LOVE to upgrade things!) So after I enlarged it (on cardstock) to fit a 5x7 frame, I got out my SU water-color crayons and aqua painters, and in a few minutes, this is what I had!
Here it is, in the frame! I think he will love it!

All that to say, we can all "think outside the box" and use our craft supplies for unusual purposes. As usual, you can check out these products at Michelle's SU website.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Treat Jars

Submitted by Michelle
It all started with the refrigerator.

I was staring into it looking for something to eat, even though I wasn't the slightest bit hungry, and I thought, "I need to clean this bad boy out!" 30 minutes later I had disposed of moldy roasted red peppers, crusty apricot preserves and variety of other suspicious looking condiments. I was left with lots of cute jars that I immediately soaked the labels off of and ran through the dishwasher. I planned to give them to Linda so she and Craig could fill them with their sweet hot mustard. Linda, however, had a much different plan for the jars.

She visited me last weekend and upon seeing the jars insisted we make Valentine treat jars for family and friends. We (and by "we" I mean Linda) made 6 jars for me to give away. That's the great thing about Linda. She can take nothing and make it into something spectacular. Today I will deliver several of the jars to the secretaries at my workplace, and the others I will give to various members of my family.

Other than the candy inside, I think the lids are the best part.
Maybe it's time you cleaned your refrigerator out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mmmmmm, Good!

Submitted by: Michelle

Cupcakes. Just typing the word puts a smile on my face. I have a particular devotion to the cupcake over a slice of cake. I think the frosting to cake ratio is much better when eating a cupcake and really, frosting is the reason we love cake to begin with, right? I also like that I can decorate them to spell out words or with festive sprinkles or candies to coincide with a holiday. And in Kindergarten, the cupcake is King because it doesn't involve slicing, forks or plates, like a regular cake does. Simply hand a kid a napkin with the cupcake and your job is done.

This past Saturday I had a huge cupcake craving that turned into a crisis when I found I did not have enough eggs to make cupcakes. Thankfully, the Sunday Farmer's Market came and I was able to purchase more farm fresh eggs and make my beloved Devil's Food cupcakes. I topped them with cream cheese frosting (recipe from Ina Garten) and all was right with the world.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I've Got Crush On You, Sweetie Pie

Submitted by: Michelle

One of my stampers is going to feel the love on Valentine's Day when she gets a handmade bag of Stampin' Up! goodies from her husband. He, who shall remain nameless in order to keep the surprise until Saturday, arranged for me to pick out some Stampin' Up! items for his wife. And then, because I try to be the demonstrator that gives and gives, I offered to do the primo wrapping job for him.
I had to use the Raspberry Tart DSP (Designer Series Paper for you non-stampers)to make the bag cuz I love, love, love it and can't get enough of it.

I know you're crossing your fingers and toes hoping it's YOUR husband who went to great lengths to get you the perfect Valentine's Day gift. And, if you don't get this bag on Saturday, be sure to show you're husband the blog so he knows exactly what to do when the next holiday rolls around.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What I'm Working On

Submitted by Michelle

Valarie is here this weekend. (If you don't know who Valarie is click here to read more.) We've been crafting and stamping and getting in lots of girl time. It is a treat to have here her for so many reasons. First of all, I love having friends around, especially my front row center friends. Secondly, she is a Stampin' Up! demonstrator too and she brings new ideas and perspective to card making. Yesterday, when I was teaching Valarie the ins and outs of chipboarding she pointed out a card in the Stampin' Up! Fall/Winter Idea Book that she'd been wanting to make. I'd looked at it many times but never wanted to attempt making it. It seemed too time consuming. But, as the saying goes, many hands make light work. Val and I made the card in a matter of minutes. OK, maybe not mere minutes, but in less than a half hour. Cute, right?

All Materials from Stampin' Up!
cardstock: Bashful Blue, Whisper White
craft inks: Only Orange, Bashful Blue, Certainly Celery, Old Olive, Brilliant Blue, White
ribbon: Tangerine Tango striped grossgrain
chipboard: On Board Essentials
stamp sets: Crazy for Cupcakes, Polka Dot Background
plus: Black Staz-On ink and Stampin' Write markers

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cute "Token" Gift

Submitted by Linda
Sometimes for a friend's or colleague's birthday, I want to give someone a "token" gift. For me, that means it's cute and thoughtful, but not costly, and doesn't put pressure on them to reciprocate when my birthday comes around. Well, my friend and co-worker Lori is the queen of cute and clever. She impresses me with her wonderful ideas and creativity. In 2007, she gave me this sweet 'upgraded' candle with a simple tag that read, "Make a Wish!" I liked it so much, I still have it! Lori's is the one who turned me onto the amazing super fine iridescent shred (available at the Container Store).Michelle and I decided to copy her, but have never found those long candles. We found some others that are about 6 inches long, and they've been floating around my craftroom for over a year. Wednesday is Pam's (one of our amazing kindergarten aides) birthday. We've all gone together to get her a nice Starbuck's card, but I decided it was time to upgrade the presentation with one of these cute candles. Pictured above is the shred and candles. I also used curling ribbon. Here's my version!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Valentine Treat Bags

Submitted by LindaYes, this is a Longaberger valentine basket from 2005. My awesome husband surprised me with it in Christmas '05.
So I've been under the weather with my usual January/February allergy attack, which then evolved into a bad cold. There is a giant tree just outside my kindergarten classroom that does it's budding thing with a bunch a green and yellow fuzzy pollen beginning in mid-January. After a week of coughing, sneezing, wheezing, itching, I've finally got things settled down. In a couple more weeks, when that tree moves onto it's next phase, I'll be good to go for another year.

As I was resting and sleeping a ton (Michelle has to remind me that it is good to slow down once in a while), I was thinking, "I've got to get something on the blog!!!" So today after my teaching day, I finally felt like working on something fun. These treat bags are for my kindergarten students. You probably know that I am pretty loyal to my Stampin Up products, but now and again I stray to the 'contraband' supplies (Target Dollar Spot brads/embellishments, and the dollar ribbon at Michael's). Shown below on the left (and in the basket) are treat bags made with Stampin Up paper, cut out with Michelle's Big Shot, a scallop cut out of white, and a cute sticker from Me and My Big Ideas (thanks to my student Josiah's Christmas gift to me). The sample on the right uses some contraband paper, a stamp from Stampin Up's Valentine Bundle, and a cute brad from Target's Dollar Spot. I may add a tiny tag (or label on the back) saying who it's from. I think these are so cute and quick, I'm planning to make a few more for my teacher friends.
I still believe that any gift is better when it comes in a cute cello bag. The question is, will any of my five year old friends appreciate it? Or will they just bust out the chocolate?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Buttermilk Fantails

Submitted by Michelle
Lately I've been feeling rather invincible in the kitchen so yesterday I decided to give bread baking a try but in a simpiler form: buttermilk rolls. This month's Gourmet magazine has a big spread on all different sorts of rolls and Buttermilk Fantails looked the easiest so I pulled out my yeast, flour and buttermilk and got cracking.

The actual work time was not long, but the rising time was a whole different story. Once the dough was made it had a 2 hour resting period. Then, after I rolled out the dough and assembled the rolls, they had to rest/rise for another 1.5 hours.
The final result was, in my opinion, pretty ho-hum. The rolls were tasty enough, but not as light as I had hoped. Next time, I think I would use my Kitchen-Aid for the kneading process rather than kneading the dough by hand as the recipe instructs. Perhaps the dough would come out lighter if a machine had done the work.

So I guess I'm not Super Woman of the kitchen........yet.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The View From Here

Submitted by Michelle
This is one of the many splendid views from our home in La Quinta. We live in a neighborhood that is almost completely surrounded by the Santa Rosa Mountains. Residents refer to it as The Cove and though it isn't a gated community and our home isn't on a golf course, I really love where we live. I love that I can walk to work or to my favorite coffee spot in Old Town (I call it the New-Old Town, since it is brand new.) I love that many of my students live in the neighborhood. And I love that there is an excellent walking trail for me and the dogs to take advantage of most times of the year.
This is Lucy. David calls her Osama Bin Lucy when she pees in the house. Tommy and Nick, Linda's boys, call her Lucifer because she barks incessantly at them. I call her Lucy or Lucille or Lucy Bell or Lou-bell and she is my walking companion and the best 4 legged friend I've ever had. Though she has short legs and weighs about 10 pounds, she can walk for hours on end. She never tires and is always happy to go out on the trail with me.
This is the view going south on our street. Lucy and I usually walk almost all the way to where the street ends at the mountains. Zoe, our other dog, doesn't always come along. She doesn't like long walks and if David is home there is no way I can get her out of the house.
Because Lucy likes to walk off leash, and because I like to look at the mountain views, we usually walk on this street as we head to the top of the cove.
This is one of the houses that we pass along the way. (Actually, you can't see the house but this is the front gate.) Rumor has it that Richard Dreyfus owns it. I don't believe it.
This house is supposedly owned by Lisa Kudrow. I do believe that rumor because my friend Sonia knows the people who rent the house and they told her they rent from Lisa Kudrow. Either way, I think the ocotillo to the left of the gate is spectacular.
When we get almost to the top of the cove we hop onto the nature trail. Though I'm usually a rule follower to a fault, I do break the "dogs on leash" rule and let Lucy run off leash when we are on the trail and no one else is around.
When we first get on the trail, this is the view looking up...
and down.
Sometimes Lucy runs ahead, but she always comes racing back. She also lags behind at times and I get a kick out of hearing the click-click-click of her toenails as she runs to catch up with me.
Oddly enough, this is one of 3 identical trees that I see on my way down the trail. It reminds me of a Christmas tree and I have no idea how it survives in the summer. But it does. And it is green year round.
This is the killer view that we have about half way down the walking trail. The mountains in the distance are the Chocolate Mountains, not the Santa Rosas. They run parallel to interstate 10. (They really are called the Chocolate Mountains. David thinks I made that up.)
This is our view as we get close to the bottom of the trail. You can see people in the distance - the only ones we ran into on our entire walk! That's another thing I love: the peace and solitude I find when I'm out walking with Lucy.
This is one of the many interestingly painted homes I see as I am walking home through the neighborhood. Not quite my style but the owners do get props for having the confidence to go with bold color choices.

So, if you're ever in my hood, come on out for a walk. I'd love the company.