Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kinder"garden"!

Submitted by Linda
I make every effort to "hit a home run" with these blog entries (which is why it is so helpful when you make comments about what you like). But when we don't feel like we have anything "blog-worthy" to post, or if we're super busy with our regular lives, I wonder if it's fun for you to see what we're up to.

This time of year at my school I am beginning the season of applying our learning with big projects and wonderful crafts, all for our Open House which is at the end of May. I also am the mother of a graduating senior, so I'm beginning work on a video for his party (very time consuming, but definitely a labor of love). I've been joking with folks about feeling a bit like a "rat on a wheel", going in circles but never getting anywhere. My friend Debbie suggested I find a different metaphor, so maybe I'll visualize myself on a marathon, slowly making progress on a long run!

Anyway, here is a quick glimpse of kindergarten:
My colleague Anna is pulling Katelyn out of class to transplant radishes and lettuce that the students planted in seed form. We're hoping our garden will peak in late May.
Here you can see our flourishing sweet peas. We planted these seeds in November, and when Spring comes, I'm always so glad we did!The first bloom of sweet peas! These flowers make me almost as happy as my new lilac bush!

On a side note: pictured below are my sweet peas in my home garden. I did plant them a little later than the ones at school, but they certainly look pretty pathetic. I'm guessing I need to upgrade my soil next fall before I plant.Both at home and at school, Craig hung netting for the sweet peas to climb up. It works like a charm - they climb right up.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Favorite Tuna Sandwich

Submitted by Michelle

One of my favorite lunchtime standbys is the tried but true Tuna Salad Sandwich. It can be served in a variety of ways: in an actual salad, on a crusty roll, grilled into a tuna melt, or my particular favorite, on toasted sourdough bread. And tuna salad is flavorful enough to stand alone on bread or be complimented by sliced avocado, lettuce, tomato, sliced cucumber or any other variety of vegetables.

Because I enjoy tuna so much I have long searched for the perfect recipe that will enhance the flavor of the tuna without overdoing it. Quite a few years back I ran across an article in Cooks Illustrated about tuna salad and my search was over. (If you've never read Cooks Illustrated I highly recommend it. The magazine is published 6 times a year and is extremely informative and instructional, without being overly academic or confusing.)

I usually have all the ingredients for the recipe in my pantry and refrigerator so I can make it anytime I need lunch, dinner or a snack.

You will need canned tuna packed in water, lemon juice, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard (I'm not a fan of mustard BUT the small amount in the recipe kicks up the flavor without over powering everything else), red onion, celery, dill pickle, garlic, salt, pepper, dried or fresh dill. (You could also use fresh flat leaf parsley in place of the dill.)

Here is what makes this recipe so superior to all the rest. Cooks Illustrated advises draining the tuna in a colander (that thing you usually use for draining pasta), flaking the tuna and then squeezing the juice of 1/2 of a lemon over the tuna to help enhance the flavor. The great thing with the colander technique is that all the liquids are completely removed leaving behind only the tuna with a hint of lemon. A soggy tuna sandwich can be so unappetizing and this method totally avoids that situation. I use a fine mesh sieve, but any colander will do the trick.
I mix everything really, really well and then let it sit for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator so the flavors can meld.
Classic Tuna Salad
makes about 2 cups, enough for 4 sandwiches
2 (6 ounce) cans of solid white tuna in water
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon (I just squeeze 1/2 of a cut lemon over the tuna and that does the trick.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 small rib celery, minced (about 1/4 cup)**
2 tablespoons minced red onion**
2 tablespoons minced dill or sweet pickles**
1/2 small clove garlic minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or dill leaves (I use dried when I don't have fresh.)
1/2 cup mayonaise
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Drain tuna in colander and shred with fingers until no clumps remain and texture is fine and even. Transfer tuna to medium bowl and mix in lemon juice*, salt, pepper, celery, onion, pickles, garlic and parsley or dill until evenly blended. Fold in mayonnaise and mustard until tuna is evenly moistened. Can be covered and refrigerated up to 3 days.

*I prefer to add the lemon juice while the tuna is in the colander.
** I usually mince 2 ribs of celery, lots of red onion and 1/2 of a dill pickle. I like lots of stuff in my tuna.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roasted Beets

Submitted by Michelle

If all you beet haters out there think this entry isn't for you let me encourage you to keep reading. I'm not talking about the slimy, canned red beets from childhood. I'm talking fresh, golden beets roasted slowly in the oven and then finished off with a little olive oil, fresh parsley, salt and pepper. They are earthy, savory and so delightful. Nothing like the red beets that our moms tried to get us to eat. Even my non-veggie eating friend Stacey thinks these are good. Here's what you need:

Golden Beets - I buy mine at Henry's Market. Bristol Farms has them. Regular grocery stores don't usually carry them but I have found if you ask a produce manager they can often get them in, especially if they know customers want them. You can use red beets with this recipe, they are just a bit messy.
Salt - I like Kosher salt because it is a bigger grain
Pepper - I prefer fresh cracked and if you don't have a pepper grinder it's about time to invest in one! A great addition to any kitchen.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - I have 2 types on hand, one that I cook with that isn't too expensive and then a nicer (more expensive) oil that I use strictly for drizzling and making vinaigrette.
Flat Leaf (Italian Parsley) - This is such a great herb that will add freshness to the earthy flavor of the beets. The green also compliments the yellow/orange of the beets really well and makes for such an appetizing presentation.
I start by cutting the tops and bottoms off of the beets so they will stand up in an oven proof pan. (There are a few small red beets in the pan too. They came in my big box of produce and I wanted to use them up. They'll be great cut up in a salad.)

I put a little olive oil in the bottom of the pan so they don't stick and I also drizzle a little olive oil over the tops. I like to add a sprinkle of salt. I think it is important to layer flavor into your food throughout the cooking process, not just at the end.

I roast the beets in a 425 degree oven until they are fork tender. (Think about baking a potato and how it feels when it is done. It is the same thing for a beet.) Depending on the size of your beets, the roasting process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. (Sometimes even more.)

When the beets are roasted they will look like this.
I let them cool off a bit and then peel them with a knife.
I then cut the beets into bite sized pieces and add all the other ingredients.
Mix well and you've got yourself a healthy side dish or snack. They are best served warm or at room temperature. They can be refrigerated for several days, though mine never last that long.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lilac Memories!

Submitted by LindaI was privileged to grow up in Oregon in a home with a "stay-at-home" mom whose thumb was truly green. She embodied the term "domestic goddess." Mom cooked, cleaned, sewed, played organ at church, and spent hours nurturing plants and coaxing seeds to grow. In Oregon we experienced seasons, and I fondly remember the first crocuses and daffodils of the Spring- they were so welcome after a long gray winter. In early Spring, when it was too cold to plant outside, Mom would plant hundreds of seeds in peat pots and dixie cups in a little greenhouse my dad built for her. I'm guessing that this picture of Mom in her greenhouse was taken in the early 80s.

In the background you can see the hanging fuchsias, who were kept comfy in and
warm in the greenhouse during the cold winter months.

I remember hurrying home from elementary school to help with planting. One year she gave me my own little plot, where I planted cosmos and zinnias. Mom was inspired by beautiful gardens, and became very knowledgeable about all varieties of flora. She spent time during most seasons changing out the old plants, and planning so that new flowers kept coming. She despised pests who ate her flowers, and was known to go out in the dark with a flashlight to catch the cutworms or slugs who had the nerve to nibble at her flowers.

I'm not sure if I inherited her green thumb, because I rarely spend enough time working at it. But I did develop a love of flowers, thanks to Mom's influence. I don't have the time to spend in my yard (or maybe I don't make the time), but Craig is usually willing to plant whatever bedding plants I buy (often after asking Mom's advice on what to plant!)

Outside the bedroom window of my childhood home was a large lilac tree. In the Spring when it bloomed, Mom would cut big boughs of blooms and bring their scent and beauty inside. For several years, I've been wanting to plant my own lilac bush. Then I read in a magazine that there are now varieties of lilacs that don't need a cold winter to flourish. Off I went to my local Armstrong's Nursery and Craig planted my "Lavender Lady" lilac.

When I bought it, it was just a bunch of twigs (it's the plant on the left).
Within a week or two it looked like this:


Now, a couple of weeks later, it looks like this!
The photo at the top was also taken on this day.

I've cut a few stems to bring in, and the smell takes me right back to my childhood. The great news is that my "Lavender Lady" should grow to become a big bush!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Black Bean Burritos

Submitted by Michelle
About 5 years ago my cousin Kathy turned me on to vegetarian cooking. She and I could never give up eating meat but we do try to be virtuous as much as possible which means we make an attempt to eat vegetarian 2 - 3 times a week.

Kathy lives in NYC and though she would never leave the east coast for good, one thing that draws her west is Mexican food. When she visits we have a list of Mexican restaurants we like to frequent because she says, "You can't get this kind of Mexican food in New York!" One of our favorite Mexican meals is "wet burritos." Basically, a burrito filled with whatever you like, beans, beef, pork, chicken, etc., and covered in enchilada sauce (we prefer red over green) and cheese.

In an attempt to recreate the wet burrito at home, Kathy came up with this yummy black bean burrito recipe. A friend of mine unexpectedly lost a loved one this week and I am taking dinner to her tonight so I decided to make black bean burritos since they are so delicious and travel well.

In a large skillet I sauteed 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 a jalapeno and 1 red pepper in olive oil and added a good sprinkle of salt.
Once the veggies had softened a bit I added lots of cumin, about 1 tablespoon, and mixed it together.
I then added 2 cans of black beans. I drained and rinsed 1 of the cans of beans and used the juice from the other so I would have the right amount of liquid. I brought it all to a simmer and let it cook for about 5-10 minutes so the beans would soften.
Once the beans were soft, I used my potato masher and mashed up most of the beans. I also added a small can of diced green chilies. (I forgot to put them in the first photo with all the other ingredients.) I then let the beans simmer a bit to cook off some of the liquid.
Once the beans were done, I put poured a small amount of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a pan.
Using large, burrito sized flour tortillas, I spread some of the black beans in the center and sprinkled with cheese...
folded in the sides...
and rolled them up.
I made 5 grande burritos. You could certainly get more from this recipe if you used smaller sized tortillas.
I covered the burritos with enchilada sauce. At this point you could sprinkle cheese over the top. I did not since the burritos have some much cheese inside.
My friend can bake these babies up in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes and have a tasty meal. (I would keep them covered while baking so the burritos don't dry out.)

Along with the burritos I am taking a tossed green salad and brownies with peanut butter chips in them. Hopefully a home cooked meal with bring her a little comfort during such a sad time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Barbara Cheatley's

Submitted by Michelle
There are many things I love about the city of Claremont but one of my most favorite things is a charming store in the village called Barbara Cheatley's. It is a jam packed with all kinds of seasonal decorations for the home, as well as antiques, gifts, cards, housewares, ribbons, jewelry and a plethora of other items that thrill the senses and inspire whimsy and delight in this shopper.

Last weekend during my sojourn in Claremont, I made it a point of stopping by on Sunday morning. The last time I had been in was in February. I took my Aunt Rosemarie who was visiting from New York and we spent at least an hour wandering the store together. At that time, the shop was in transition from winter decor to Spring decor and I was excited to see the full transformation when I arrived on Sunday.

Barbara did not disappoint. The photo below is of the front window and yes, that's a vegetable garden complete with lettuce, carrots, rabbits and geese. It is amazing.
The store has all kinds of wonderful decorations for Spring and Easter and even if you aren't in the market for Easter eggs or furry bunnies, Barbara Cheatley's is worth checking out. So, if you live in or near Claremont stop by and enjoy!

Barbara Cheatley's
215 Yale Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711
909/621-4161

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Seasonal Plate Idea

Submitted by Linda
Several years ago I was at a friend's home, and she had a cute plate that she purchased from a home party that was designed for messages. I found out that it was really expensive, so I went to plan B: find an inexpensive substitute!

I found this scalloped-cut out plate on ebay for about $10, plus shipping. In the past, I've also seen similar plates at TJMaxx. For each holiday (or family occasion), I change out the ribbon and write something with a basic dry erase marker. I've even used it to write my kids reminder notes.

As usual, I've added some of the container store shred in my bow!

Monday, March 23, 2009

What I've Been Up To In My Craft Room

Submitted by Michelle

These photos do not do the cards justice at all, but amateur photogs like myself cannot be choosy, especially when one took a jillion shots and these were the best. Anyway...

I was in Claremont for Stamp Club this weekend and these are the cards we made.

This Easter card has much more detail than the photo shows. I used an impression plate on the Sizzix to make a textured floral background on the green part of the card and a crimper on the patterned paper for even more texture. If you are one of my lucky family members or friends who receives this card in April, you'll know what I am talking about.

This card also has a textured background on the blue section, but this time I used polka dots.
And this card was cut out on the Sizzix using the Top Note Die. This one is my favorite. I got the idea from Lis Ljung, a rockstar in the Stampin' Up world, and have used it for many cards I've made recently.
My club members loved them all and we added a new element to our club this month. We're getting take-out (this month was Mexican food) and eating dinner together first. My Claremont group is filled with terrific ladies who have become good friends over the past 2 years. We all agreed that this new part of club is great and I'm looking forward to pizza and salad from Spaghetti Eddies next month!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Submitted by Michelle
"Don't hurry, don't worry. You're only here for a short visit. So be sure to stop and smell the flowers." Walter C. Hagen

I was in Claremont this weekend and on my way out of town I drove up Harvard Street. It had been raining earlier in the morning but the drops of water had subsided and I was awed when I saw this tree. So awed that I pulled my car over to get a few photos, which is totally unlike me when I am on a mission to get somewhere.

In a blog post a week ago I wrote about needing to unplug and enjoy the stillness of life. This tree reminded me again that it is so important to live in the moment. To be present in what one is doing rather than fretting over what is to come. Day to day life can be so busy and given the current economic times I know many of us (particularly me!) are worried about finances. This tree didn't pay my bills or make my financial worries go away, but it did make me smile and I was reminded of all the blessings I have heaped on me day in and day out: my wonderful friends, a family who loves me, a job that allows me to positively influence the next generation, a home to share with my husband and a garden in which to grow things. The list could go on and on, but for today I'll think of this tree and try not to hurry or worry. It's much more fun to enjoy the flowers.

If you want to see this tree for yourself, check it out on the corner of Harvard and Bonita in the village of Claremont.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Come On In

Submitted by Michelle

Last weekend, when I met Linda in Redlands for a Front Row Friends luncheon, she brought me a wreath she made for my front door. Over a year ago, I enlisted her help making a wreath, which we were very successful at, but the summer sun of the desert fried it and I needed something new for this spring.

The grapevine base of the wreath actually came from last year's wreath - I cut everything off and recycled it. When I gave Linda the grapevine I said, "I need you to help me make a new wreath for this year" which really meant, "I need you to make me a wreath for this year." You see, Linda is much more talented in this department and I know it hence, I much prefer her doing all the work, including picking out the stuff to stick on the wreath, and leaving the hanging and enjoying of the wreath to me. I guess I did help in a small way - with Linda's help I picked out the eggs at Michael's and I hot glue gunned them into the nest, all on my own!

So the lesson here is, find out your Front Row Friend's strengths and then get her to use them
on projects for you! But seriously, I am thankful I have such a talented friend who will happily and gladly make things for me when I need them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Mischief!

Submitted by Linda
I'm not a fan of lying to kindergartners, but now and again I find myself spinning tales about the tooth fairy, Santa or during March, the famous leprechauns! So nearly every March, I make these cute leprechaun hats and take them to school with a big story prepared: "I heard tap, tap noises...I ran outside...my front lawn was COVERED with these hats.....who do you think left them?" and so on. My students spend their entire day looking and listening for clues. Here's my big pile of hats. I like this picture because you can see our cute barnyard in the background.
So, how to make them? Bake cheap styrofoam cups at 300 degrees for about 2 minutes. You'll want to watch through your oven window to make sure they don't shrink down too much. (In past years, they baked for only 1 minute...I'm guessing that the stryofoam is now stronger or more heat resistant. If yours are older they make shrink down faster). I love how every single hat turns out differently!Here's the big box of hats I made for all my kindergarten colleagues to hand out to their little friends. There's 100 hats in here!


Next I added a ribbon hat band and a shamrock sticker!
I think they're really cute and would also work well for St. Patty's Day party favors. By the way, if you know any of my kindergarten friends, please don't tell my secret!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Birthday Bag

Submitted by Michelle
As many of you know, Linda celebrated her birthday this week. Her official birthday landed on a Monday and because Linda and I live 2 hours away from each other and I couldn't be there on the actual day, we decided to meet up on Saturday for lunch and a Front Row Friend birthday luncheon.

We split the driving distance and met in Redlands. We lunched at one of our most favorite places - Caprice - and had fantastic food, as always. Linda ordered the butternut squash soup and a salad of warm chevre (goat cheese), lettuces, pine nuts and roasted beets. I ate the onion soup gratinee and a grilled brie and gruyere cheese sandwich. We finished with coconut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting - Linda's favorite - that I baked and brought with me.

A birthday luncheon wouldn't be complete without presents and I wouldn't be the Stampin' Up maven of the desert if opted for store bought wrappings so I whipped up a gift bag using the Parisian Breeze Specialty paper from Stampin' Up. It is textured designer paper that is almost the same weight as cardstock and is perfect for bag making. Amazingly enough, I happened to have tissue paper and ribbon that matched the Parisian Breeze paper. (Linda and I bought the ribbon and tissue at The Container Store over a year ago.)
I also used the tissue to wrap one of the gifts that wouldn't fit in the bag.
And I needed a cute card to go with, and I had the perfect thing on hand!
After eating and gifting, we did some shopping at a local scrapbooking store as well as Michael's. We finished with a stop at Starbuck's before we went our separate ways. It was a great to get away for the day and to hang with my front row center friend.

Bag Details:

You will need 2 identical 12X1 2 pieces of Designer Series Paper (DSP). Score both pieces of DSP the same way.
1. Along one side, score at 1”.
2. Along all other sides, score at 3”.
3. Fold the 1” side outwards so that opposite side of DSP is showing. (This will be the top of the bag.)
6. On the side opposite to the top of the bag, cut the scored line 3".
7. Fold all other sides inward and adhere both pieces of DSP together.

Cupcake recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. You can view the recipe here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Vintage Easter Garland

Submitted by Linda
You may remember my post in December which included this photo of a Christmas Vintage postcard garland:
Well, here is my Easter version! I have a twiggy garland with birds nests on it, white lights (of course!) and the postcards, attached with tiny clothespins.
It's fun to have a place in my home where I can always add seasonal decorations. For those of you who are interested, the garland came from Home Goods and the postcards came from Barbara Cheatley's (in Claremont). Love it!