Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ina Garten's Coconut cupcakes

Submitted by Linda
Well, March came in like a lion and out like a (very hot) lamb, at least in Southern California. Today our temperatures were around 90 degrees! Throughout March we enjoyed some rain and clouds, and I particularly enjoyed my birthday month. Michelle mentioned all the crafting we did on my LaQuinta getaway, but I can't let March end without mentioning my favorite birthday treat: Ina Garten's Coconut Cupcakes! The teeny tiny layer cake pictured above was made by Michelle, adapting the cupcake recipe.

You can buy a mix for these cupcakes at gourmet food stores, but don't do it! Even I can make them from scratch. Michelle's upgrade is to toast some of the coconut in the oven for sprinkling on top.

Having a front row friend who's love language is cooking is such a gift, especially on my birthday! Michelle planned all of our meals that weekend to include my favorites, and tried a few new things that were a big hit. Look below at this baked brie with homemade savory crackers, berries, apples and pecans. Michelle served it with a salad made from goodies from her farm box - yummy and healthy!
To find Ina's recipe for Coconut Cupcakes, click here, and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Submitted by Michelle
What came first, the palmier or the churro? Either way, I love them both! Palmiers are delicate puff pastry rolled up with cinnamon sugar inside and out and then baked to golden perfection. Who could ask for anything more? Also known as "elephant ears" these cookies are gorgeous to look at and SO easy to make.

You start with plain old store bought puff pastry. (You find it in the freezer section.) Let it defrost in the refrigerator and then place it atop sugar with just a pinch of salt in it.
Generously pour (not sprinkle) cinnamon-sugar over the pastry and roll it out to ensure that the spicy sweetness sticks to the dough.
Fold the ends in...
and again...
and again.
Slice the dough with a serrated knife...
...and place on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat mat or parchment paper.
Now here's the important step: Put the cookie sheet into the freezer for about 10 minutes so the pastry dough can firm up a bit. This will help the cookies keep their shape when they are baking and not turn into puffy messes.

As the cookies bake, the sugar will caramelize and your house will be filled with a wonderful aroma. Be prepared to fight off husbands and children that will be drawn to the delicious smell. Palmiers are the perfect treat to enjoy with a front row friend over a cup of tea and lots of good conversation.

Cinnamon Elephant Ears a la Ina Garten. Click here for the recipe.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Decor

Submitted by Michelle
When Linda was in town for her pre-birthday weekend at the beginning of March I wrangled her into helping me freshen up my home decor for spring. It all started because my friend Monica, who often helps me with interior design, dropped by with these lovely eggs for the top my china cabinet!
Monica knew I had my eye on them in the Pottery Barn catalog and made all my wishes come true! Monica also was inspired by some glass jars at Pottery Barn and made a quick trip to Home Goods and created this little beauty for a much cheaper price.
It goes really well on the table in the foyer of our house, right by my twinkle light tree that I decorated with felt eggs from Williams-Sonoma. The bird at the base of the tree is actually a candle that Monica picked up this week at Pottery Barn for half price!

Once the foyer was finished, we moved on to the dining room table. Linda was determined to have a fresh flower arrangement that would follow our Front Row Friends motto of spreading joy and sunshine. She came up with this egg basket design. Isn't it great?!
There is a tall, thin vase in the middle of the basket that is hidden by the pastel colored eggs. The eggs came from Michael's and Linda picked the basket up for me last Spring when I admired a similar arrangement on her kitchen table.
I needed a banner for the space between the dining room and the living room and I decided"He Is Risen" would be the perfect sentiment. I used Stampin' Up's Springtime Vintage designer paper, vintage adornments in the shape of rosettes, and glittered chipboard letters from Michael's.

The last space that needed a decor pick-me-up was the living room. The mantel came together easily as I had a glittered bunny and some nests from last year. (The twinkle lights are there year round because nothing says "Welcome to my home" like twinkle lights.
I also found these fabulous pussy willow stems at the College of the Desert Street Fair. They all but scream "Spring is here!" from the ledge next to the fireplace.
Last weekend at the Claremont Farmer's Market I found the pièce de résistance for my home: fresh peach blossoms! (At first I thought they were cherry blossoms, but the farmer informed me of my mistake.) I wasn't sure if I'd have a place for them, but I HAD to have them.
Fortunately I found a bare wall that needed a little Springtime spruce up.
I took a photo of them outside too, so you could see them in all their Springtime glory.

For many years I only decorated my home for Christmas but now, thanks to 2 very creative front row friends, I have seasonal decor year round.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

Submitted by Michelle
Gourmet food and musical theater are two of my favorite indulgences. I love both the partaking and sharing of them with others, especially Celeste. As many of you know, Celeste was not much of a gourmand when she was younger, subsisting mainly on a steady diet of chicken McNuggets and french fries, but I have since helped her develop a palate for the finer foods in life including pasta with pesto, parmesan cheese and pine nuts, among other things. Along with her good taste in food, I have also helped her develop a love for musical theater. We've seen mostly amateur productions of shows but every now and then we've been able to see Broadway productions at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Most recently we went to see Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Linda always comes with us, as she is a lover of musical theater and good food too. This time around we also brought Celeste's mom Lisa, and Rachel, another front row friend.
Rachel, Lisa, Me, Linda, Celeste

And, we even convinced Mr. Wark to come along!
Everyone loved the show and afterward we walked a few blocks down Hollywood Blvd. to a restaurant called Lucky Devils where the food is made from organic ingredients and locally grown produce.
The artisan burgers are served on brioche buns and the pizza is grilled over a wood fire. We had no problem gobbling down our meals and thus I only took 1 photo to share!
Celeste and I got a kick out of the sign directing us towards the bathroom.
I'm excited for the return of Wicked in November and can't wait to introduce Celeste to the story behind the Wizard of Oz.
Like all celebrities, we can never resist a photo on the red carpet!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Wheels For Celeste

Submitted by Michelle

Variety, The Childrens Charity of the Desert, recently gave Celeste a bike that was specially made for her by Jason Getz of Freedom Concepts USA. Celeste was nominated for the bicycle give-away by her Adaptive P.E. teacher at school and was so fortunate to be chosen to receive such a wonderful (and expensive) gift. (The bicycle costs about $4,000!)
Jason Getz (on the left) and Celeste

I joined Celeste and her family at the bicycle presentation which was held at the K-Swiss Desert Smash, a fundraiser for Variety.
counterclockwise starting with Celeste
Asa (brother), Ryan and Michael (cousins), Lisa (mom), Grandma Yoli, J.C. and Greg (brothers)

The Desert Smash is held during the same time period of the BNP Paribas Open, a professional tennis tournament, which is held in Indian Wells every year. Because all the major tennis players are in town, many of them play at the Desert Smash to help raise money for Variety. I was lucky enough to get to go on center court with Celeste when she was given her bicycle by the Bryan Brothers, the top ranked men's doubles players in the world for the past 6 years.
Me and Celeste with Bob Bryan in the background

Also on court for the ceremony were singles players Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish.
Me, Sam, Bob, Mardy, Mike, and Lisa admiring Celeste and her new bike.

Mike and Bob took turns guiding Celeste around the court.
Along with celebrity tennis players comes celebrity TV and movie stars. James Van Der Beek, aka Dawson from Dawson's Creek, was on hand and celebrating his birthday along with Boris Kudjoe, a TV star and former fashion model.
It was a great day for Celeste (and for star spotting) and I was so glad to be a part of it all.

**All photos (except the last 2) were taken and generously given to me by Robert Quintana.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Post It Note Gift

Submitted by Linda
When I was in LaQuinta celebrating my birthday, one of the items on my "to-do" list was to prepare a thoughtful yet inexpensive gift for the parents who volunteer in my classroom throughout the school year. Yes, I realize that we still have several months of school to go, but this time of year is a flurry of activity, projects, open houses, and other end-of-year events. I've often said that for a teacher, May feels like December, in the way that we add a jillion extra events to our full calendars.

I was given one of these sweet Post-It note gifts, and I have enjoyed using it, so I thought this could be the perfect giveaway, wrapped in a cello bag, of course, with shred and pretty ribbon and a nice thank-you note.
The chipboard backing is really a drink coaster. I found mine at Michael's (8 for $1), but you could easily use the restaurant type as well. I covered both the front and the back of the coaster with pretty contrasting papers, and then covered the clip with a third paper. Add a few ribbons, and stamp your sentiment on a few of the first few notes, and you are done!

I genuinely could not run my classroom without the many parent helpers who faithfully come, so hopefully my handmade 'thank you' will help them feel the love!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shop Local

Submitted by Michelle
Spring has sprung in La Quinta and this morning I headed to my local farmer's market bright and early. The fruit and produce were bountiful and I found so many great things that I just had to share them with you!
Starting with the eggs and working counter clockwise: amazing eggs, yellow cherry tomatoes, yellow and red onions, blackberries and raspberries, ginormous celery, several heads of lettuce, radishes, blood orange juice, fuji apples, cucumber, avocados and a bright red pepper.

I was almost giddy when I left the market. I'm not sure what I will create with my purchases but I know I'll be eating well this week and it will not only taste good, it will be good for me.

Part of the joy I get from shopping locally is having a relationship of sorts with the people who grow my food. For instance, there's the man who, armed with a head lamp, picks my lettuce at 2:00 AM on the morning of the market so that it is ultra fresh. He's what my friend Jennifer (a.k.a. Cubby) would call a tree hugger. Kind of a hippy of sorts. Or the citrus fruit guy who always has a quart of blood orange juice waiting for me. He knows what I like and is happy to cater to my wants. It's nice knowing where my food comes from and who is growing it. And it is nice knowing I am supporting a person or persons, rather than just a big name company.

Today I had a great conversation with the man who sells eggs from his chickens and soap made from the milk of his goats. I gushed about the flavor of his chickens eggs and the size and color of the yolks. And he talked to me about turkey eggs and even gave me one to try.
Can you guess which one is the turkey egg?

And, when I was purchasing my yellow cherry tomatoes the women selling them gave me great advice about when I should be planting tomatoes in my garden. I always considered them a summer crop but here in the desert, the tomato flowers cannot survive in temperatures over 100 degrees. This was so helpful since my next stop was the plant stand where I planned to buy herbs and a few tomato plants. Equipped with her knowledge, I bought summer squash seedlings instead of tomato seedlings.
Back row: crookneck squash, Italian oregano and basil.
Front row: patty pan squash, chives and more basil.

I can't wait to get them in the garden. Right now I have some wonderful radicchio and lettuce growing.
So often I have conversations with people about organically grown food and they complain about the higher prices. I've always wondered why people are willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to watch a sporting event or drive a luxury car but aren't willing to pay reasonable prices for food that is going to fuel their bodies? My grandma Jilda always said "you get what you pay for" and when it comes to food, I will gladly pay a little more to know it where it came from and how it was grown.

March 20 marks the first day of spring. Do your body a favor and find a Farmer's Market in your neighborhood. I bet there is one closer than you think.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sew Stinkin' Cute! Part Two

Submitted by Linda
So you may have read from Michelle's post that I was in her neck of the woods for my "pre-birthday getaway". Trust me, no resort or hotel provides the kind of service Michelle does! She made me all of my favorite dishes, and treated me like a queen. My birthday is always a good excuse to get away for stamping, laughing, and general "stay in your p.j.s" girl time.

You saw the card holders we made out of the Sew Suite papers and stamps, and I was determined to use these paper scraps that had the cute stitching and the needle printed right on the paper. Add a couple of buttons for dimension, and some pom pom trim and viola! "Sew" cute!
I can't gush enough about the 3x3 card pictured below. Even though I made it myself, I'm going to take Samuel Butler's advice and blather on and on about it's cuteness:
The advantage of doing one's praising for oneself
is that one can lay it on so thick
and exactly in the right places.

I used a needle and thread to gather up the ribbon a bit, then covered my stitches with the yellow ribbon. It's all attached with tiny glue dots. It's so cute, I can hardly stand it! I can't wait to give it to someone!!!!

I think we're going to get a lot of mileage out of this dress form stamp. I'm thinking wedding gowns and party dresses. To be honest, the idea came from this amazing card on Heather Klump's blog. This stamper has some great ideas and clever cards and is definitely worth checking out.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our projects from my weekend away......

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sew Stinkin' Cute!

Submitted by Michelle

Linda is here this weekend celebrating her birthday, even though it doesn't actually take place until next week. We've been eating and chatting and laughing and crafting our fool heads off. One of the projects on our year long "to make " list that we created in January are note card holders. They are the perfect gift for birthdays, thank-yous or any time you need a little something special for a special someone.

Lately Linda and I have become obsessed with the Sew Suite designer series paper from Stampin' Up. I don't even sew and I love it. Along with the paper one can also purchase fabric covered brads, big buttons, a stamp set and other accessories related to sewing. Between the two of us we have it all, of course, and we thought it would be perfect to use the papers and accessories to create our note card holders.

The holders themselves look like this.
(Notice the use of the big button on the front.)
We used velcro dots to keep the boxes closed.
Inside each box are 4 note cards made with coordinating papers from the Sew Suite collection. The little buttons at the top of each note card were made with a Sizzlit for the Big Shot. (For all the non-stampers, a sizzlit is a mini-die cut that also embosses.) I think they are pretty fantastic and I can't wait to start giving them away!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Baby Shower Part II

Submitted by Linda
So, a few weekends ago, when we were in LA having our American Girl adventure, I came across the Pottery Barn Kids store. I have enjoyed their catalog over the years, and went in, determined to buy a baby gift for my niece Courtney. I found a beautiful soft, yummy blanket that I knew she would love for her baby boy who is soon to be born.

A few days after I got home, I remembered that my dear friend Carla has a fancy sewing maching that is programmable with letters and I asked her if she would be willing to stitch the baby's name. Now Carla is a goddess of sewing, and I often ask her for advice when attempting any sewing or mending projects. I have known her for many years, as she provides daycare for many of my students, and I've had the wonderful privilege of teaching 2 of her grandchildren! You should see the quilts she makes.

Anyway, she said, "Yes!" to my request, and here is a picture of her and me with her workmanship. (She ended up spending most of a day on it, because she took the blanket apart before embroidering, so that the backside of the stitching wouldn't appear on the blanket).
Here is a close-up so you can see the detail in the stitching! Don't you just love that "S"????
I wish I had captured Courtney's expression when she saw what was in the box!!! She was so excited.
Craig and I have a long history with Courtney. In fact here she is, with our nephew David, on our wedding day in 1987. Please no comments about my 80s hair or headpiece!
And here we are 23 years later, celebrating a happy new beginning in her life!