August 30, 2010

Playing House

When we moved into this house, the Granddaughter was 1-1/2 years old. Cute as a bug, blond hair, blue eyes, pink cheeks and always ready to laugh. For her second birthday, we decided to get her one of those colorful plastic playhouses that's big enough to walk around in. It had a door, windows with working shutters and a cute little kitchenette. Here's a picture of her dressed as Tinkerbell, swinging at a jack-o-lantern piñata during her third birthday party (since her birthday is near the end of October, she has often requested a costume party). The playhouse is in the background.

Because there wasn't anyplace to hide it, I waited until the day before her birthday to buy it. I did not realize how big or heavy these things are until I went to pick it up at Toys"R"Us. Of course, it still needed to be assembled so it was packaged in a large flat box. I was driving a Jeep and a couple of guys from the store strapped it onto the roof for me.

I pulled into our driveway at home and thought I'd just slide it off the roof and leave it for Hubby to put together after he got home. Not even registering that this thing was close to 100 pounds and it took two men to get it up there, I stood next to the Jeep and started pulling it toward me. As it picked up steam, I remember thinking, This thing is heavier than I thought ... uh oh, it's coming off a little too fast ... what if it lands on top of me ... I wonder how long it will be until the nurse next door gets home from work! I've always wanted to be taller and thinner, but this would have been an extremely painful way to go about it. Fortunately, I wrestled it to the ground without bodily injury and Hubby put it together after she went to bed.

We weren't planning to show it to her until we were all home from work and preschool the next day. However, eagle eye spotted it out the back window during breakfast and there was no waiting. She was so excited!

We had filled it with a table and two chairs, tiny dishes, pots and pans and all kinds of yummy fake food. She ripped open the door, squealing, "My house, my house, my house," ran inside, closed the door and popped the shutters open to beam at us through one of the windows. Happy doesn't even begin to describe that face.

Then she opened the door of the playhouse again, smiled up at Hubby and said, "Bampy, come in, come in." She looked like Martha Stewart posing for a magazine cover as she invited her grandpa -- her first official guest -- into her shiny new abode.

Of course, he couldn't have been more honored and wouldn't disappoint. He bent over and gingerly scooted through the doorway until he disappeared, pulling the door closed behind him. It must have been a tight fit, because not a second later, she started shrieking, "Bampa, get out, get out!" The door banged open and he came out much faster than he went in, laughing hard.

And he said, "Isn't that just like a woman? You buy her a house and she throws you out."

That playhouse was truly loved and well-used. Over the years, many friends were entertained there and lots of tea parties were held. She managed to coax the dogs in a few times and held them captive, reading to them and serving them plastic hot dogs. I had my fair share of plastic toast with a funky pat of butter on top and rubbery chocolate chip cookies. She actually did eat lunch out there often -- always a peanut butter sandwich washed down with a juice box.

Ten years later, when she was 12, she finally conceded to the fact that she was done with her playhouse and sold it at one of our garage sales. I think she was truly sad to see it roll down the street in the back of a pick-up truck, on its way to entertain a new little girl. The $50 clutched in her hand helped.

August 28, 2010

What's Cookin' - Chocolate Raspberry Poke Cake and Easy Rotini

In celebration of Hubby's birthday this week, he requested pasta and a Jello poke cake for our family dinner. This pasta dish has been a staple around here since the Youngest Daughter was on the swim team and we'd hold carb parties at our house. That's a lot of kids chowing down, getting ready to compete.

Easy Rotini

14.5 oz box of multi-grain or whole wheat rotini
1/2 pound of sweet or mild Italian sausage
1 pound of ground beef
14 oz. canned, sliced mushrooms (drained)
26 oz. jar of your preferred spaghetti sauce
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

In a large pot or dutch kettle, boil the pasta in salted water.

In a large skillet, brown the sausage and ground beef, drain the grease, then add mushrooms and spaghetti sauce.

After draining the water from the pasta, mix the meat mixture into it, then add cheese and stir.

At this point, you're ready to serve, although if you like baked pasta, you can put it all into a 9x13" cake pan, put more mozzarella on top and bake it at 350 until the cheese is melted. This is also good for a make-ahead meal and you just reheat the pan of pasta in the oven.

We've hit the point of Summer in Phoenix, when the heat is starting to feel like it will never end. This is a great time for a refreshing, cold Jello poke cake. Our favorite flavors are white cake with strawberry Jello or lemon cake with orange Jello, both topped with Cool Whip. However, our Oldest Daughter told me about this chocolate-raspberry combination recently and it is sooooo good!

Chocolate Raspberry Poke Cake

Devil's Food Cake Mix (I use Duncan Hines)
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1-1/3 cups water
3 oz. package raspberry Jello
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold water
1.4 oz. package chocolate pudding mix
2 cups milk (we used skim milk and sugar free fat free pudding mix)

Prepare cake mix per box directions and bake in a 9x13" greased-floured cake pan.

After it cools, poke holes all the way to the bottom of the pan across entire top of cake. I have a hair pick that I bought in the 70s to use exclusively for this purpose. It's faster than doing one hole at a time with a skewer, although that would work.

Prepare Jello according to package directions with boiling and cold water. Then pour slowly over the top of the cake to soak it.

Put the cake in the refrigerator for at least an hour to chill and let the Jello set up. Prepare the chocolate pudding mix and put it in the refrigerator to set up as well.

Once everything is chilled, ice the top of the cake with the pudding. Keep refrigerated.

It is moist, refreshing and so delicious!

August 26, 2010

New York Stories - Nobody Likes a Blabbermouth

During the same New York City trip that I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of shopping done. Hubby was working so I had to spend enough for both of us. This was before the recession so I was elbow-to-elbow with many other credit card wielding bargain hunters.

I love to walk. Especially those enormous NYC blocks. There is so much to see and why spend time (and money) zipping around in a cab when you can pound the pavement and see everything up close and personal? We were staying at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown and I had decided I wanted to visit an antique shop. I took my map and the store address to the concierge for a little help. I tend to be directionally challenged and easily turned around so I need all the help I can get. He took his yellow highlighter and drew a box around the safe area for tourists, marking the streets I shouldn't venture past. The antique shop I was heading to was in the yellow line. Whatever!

I was in New York with a whole day to explore and I wasn't going to let a few potential muggers keep me from antiquing. I walked ... and walked. It was around 25 blocks to the shop. That is 25 freakin' huge NYC blocks. What a blast. There are so many people. So many people, it's mind boggling! When I finally made it to the street in question, between 5th and 7th Avenues, I stopped and stared down the street. Compared to the busy avenues I'd been walking, this was quiet and a little seedy looking.

But I'd made it all that way by myself and nothing was going to stop me now. A shady looking guy passed me and I have to say the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I gripped my purse tighter under my arm and thought, "Just try it, sucker." Okay, I was really thinking, "Please God, just let me make it inside the antique store in one piece."

It was so worth the trip. This was a tall, skinny building and the store was actually 7 floors of antiques. It was awesome. I spent a few hours poking around there, then walked 25 blocks back to the hotel, stopping for a slice of pizza. I Love New York!

Another day, I met Hubby for lunch near his office building, then walked myself over to the Diamond District also known as jewelry shopping central. I was searching for a specific necklace of pearls on a choker chain. I'd seen it on one of my customers and knew exactly what I wanted. Didn't take me long to find it and the shopkeeper cut it to just the right length for me while I waited.

I called Hubby and said, "Thank you!"

He, of course, thought I was talking about lunch.

"No," I told him, "for the beautiful necklace you just bought me." He is such a keeper!

This was the trip where we flew our Oldest Daughter and the Granddaughter in. And this was close to the end of my 10-day visit so a lot ... a lot of shopping had been done. I'm sure the fraud department was on red alert at the credit card company.

I had a special treat planned for the Granddaughter. A trip to American Girl Place New York on 5th Avenue. Have you seen this place? What a racket! It is enormous -- about four stories of dolls, clothes, theater, restaurant, photo studio, salon and doll hospital. The salon is for the dolls ... to have their hair done. The day we went, the waiting time was around 5 hours ... that's right, to have your doll's hair styled! We passed on that, but she picked out a mini-me doll with blond hair and blue eyes.

I bought the Granddaughter and the doll matching outfits, a few more changes of clothing and her very own little dog, Coconut. We spent hours in this place, wandering from floor to floor. It was a sensory overload of cuteness. There were little shoppers running around squealing, clutching their dolls and comparing their outfits.

By the time we hit the checkout line, we'd racked up about $200 -- which I have to say, probably wasn't too bad looking at all the bags other people were carrying. However, I was feeling guilty about all my spending throughout the trip and wondering if Hubby was going to think I'd gone over the edge. So I told the Granddaughter, "Let Nana tell Bampa how much she spent here, okay?"

She says, "Okay."

But it's like this nervous tic overtook her little American Girl soaked brain. All the way down the street, she's skipping along, hugging her doll, saying, "Wow, Nana, you spent $200!"

I keep saying, "Nana will tell Bampa, okay???"

We're riding up the elevator at the hotel and she's showing the other passengers her doll, trilling, "Look, my Nana spent $200 at the American Girl doll store!"And of course they're chuckling at how adorable she is, all excited with her rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes.

By now I'm starting to sweat. She had taken the room key out of my coat pocket and bolted down the hallway as soon as the elevator doors opened. She's a quick little stinker. She had the room door open and I could hear her sweet little piercing voice shrieking, "Guess what, Bampa? Nana spent $200 at the American Girl doll store!"

I shouldn't have worried because, let's face it, this was for baby girl who the world revolves around and she has her Bampa wrapped tightly around her little finger. I learned a valuable lesson, though. Don't trust the little blabbermouth with any sensitive information!

She actually came by this honestly. Many years before, when her mother, our Oldest Daughter was a child, she went shopping with me and my Mom for a gift for my Dad. Mom bought Dad a new watch and told her, "This is a surprise so don't tell Grandpa I got him a watch." No sooner had she opened the door to the house than the little snitch told him, "Grandma got you a watch for Christmas."

I think we need one of those signs they have at the amusement park that says ...

You can't be trusted with secrets unless you're this tall!

August 25, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Downward Facing Dogs

This is what Louie and Miles do on our yoga mat ...

After much wrestling, growling and ear biting, Miles finally pinned Louie!

For more Wordless Wednesday fun, click here.

August 24, 2010

New York Stories - When Change Matters

We've made a number of corporate moves, although we've never lived East of Texas. A few years back, New York City became a possibility that we flirted with. For over half a year, Hubby commuted from Phoenix to New York every week. Every week! If we were lucky, we saw him two full days a week. And sometimes when he had weekend events, he didn't make it home for weeks at a time. His company was suggesting that we relocate to Manhattan so I flew in for 10 days to look at places. This was while I was running my own business so the whole thing was kind of crazy.

We looked at apartments to buy all over the city. Compared to how we live with our own house and yard, this was so bizarre. Plus, let me tell you, money goes a lot further in Phoenix. We looked at one that was 1,200 square feet, less than half the size of our house. It had just one bedroom, the kitchen was a skinny galley style that didn't even have a dishwasher, the washer and dryer was in the basement of the building shared with other tenants, and there was no place to park a car. You had to rent a space somewhere nearby if you even had a car. And it was on sale -- a smokin' deal -- for just $600,000. We laughed all the way down the street.

Another memorable apartment was two stories. They had purchased apartments directly above/below each other and connected them with a spiral metal staircase. That's it -- that was how you went from floor to floor, unless you went out into the hallway and rode the elevator with everyone else. It was a strange layout and the big selling feature was that if you stood on the staircase and leaned way over the side, out a window you could kind of see a little bit of the Empire State Building. And this one was a steal for just over a million dollars!

We continued to look at places throughout this visit and actually found a couple that could have worked, although I don't know what we would have done with all of our belongings and the dogs would have gone into shock having to be walked on leashes every time they needed to go out. We are all pretty spoiled with the doggie door.

While I've always thought it would be great to live in New York for one full year, throughout all the seasons, the idea fizzled in this instance and we stayed put in Arizona. But we've had some fun visits to NYC through Hubby's work.

During this particular stint, we flew our Oldest Daughter and the Granddaughter, who was about 8 at the time, in for their first visit to New York. Hubby was working, so the three of us girls spent quite a bit of time exploring on our own. I had already been to the Statue of Liberty on a previous visit, but it is a must see attraction so off we went. We rode the subway to the proper stop and made our way to Battery Park where you catch the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

And here is where the fun began, a.k.a. Our Daughter the Terrorist. Battery Park security is serious business before you ever get on the ferry. There are walk-through metal detectors and they inspect your belongings with x-ray machines just like at the airport. Our purses were riding the conveyor belt through the x-ray machines when there was a bit of commotion and all of a sudden we're being escorted away from the crowds. We watched in confusion as they took OD's purse apart.

They finally told us that excessive metal triggers all the alarms and the bottom of her purse was like a solid sheet of metal. Apparently, she throws loose change into her purse where it just keeps piling up. That thing weighed a ton and I honestly don't know how she made it through all the airport security flying to NY in the first place. The next day, we went to a bank on 5th Avenue and got coin paper rolls. We sat there for the longest time, sorted and rolled nearly $23.00 in change. That bought a few more souvenirs!

Not too long after this happened, the Granddaughter and I flew together to Colorado for a family celebration. Going through airport security, they pulled us aside and started taking my purse apart. I had no idea what they thought they were looking for and the guard wouldn't tell me! He kept saying something like, "Why don't you just tell me where it is and you can catch your flight." I honest-to-God was clueless. The Granddaughter is starting to look a little scared now, hanging on my arm.

Now he has my wallet in a thousand pieces, credit cards laid out on the table, business cards, sticky notes, paper clips, safe deposit box key, paper money and coins. That old wallet was about 3" thick and loaded with stuff. And I'm starting to worry that we're going to miss our flight. I'm begging the guy, "Please just tell me what you're looking for so I can help you." Help me help you, right???

He says, "Where is the razor blade?"

Razor blade!?!?

I'm relieved. I laugh. I don't have a razor blade. I tell him, "I don't have a razor blade. That's ridiculous!"

Just about this time, he pulls a razor blade out of the deepest part of the coin pocket of my wallet.



We owned a retail store at the time and several months before I had taken a straight edge blade, wrapped in cardboard, to the store to scrape some glue off the windows. I'd stuck it deep in my wallet to take it back home again and forgotten all about it.

The funniest thing was, when the security guard whipped that razor blade out of my wallet and held it up with an Ah Ha! flourish in front of my face, the Granddaughter looked up at me in horror and in this absolutely disgusted voice says, "Oh, Nana!" That's right, baby girl, your Nana is a terrorist.

No harm done, they kept the razor blade and we made our flight. It's weird being looked at like you're a criminal, though. So my travel tips for the day are 1) Keep your change in a coin purse and 2) Don't carry razor blades!

August 21, 2010


It's crazy when you're too busy to sit down and write a post. I have pictures and things to talk about. Just not enough time. This week, I've been to "Eat Pray Love" with the Youngest Daughter, volunteered time at a charitable organization to help assemble and stamp 1,000 invitations for their annual fundraiser, been out to lunch and dinner, knitted a pair of Funky Footsies for a birthday gift, embroidered and sewed another birthday gift, shopped for a small birthday gift for Hubby, been to Jo-Ann's several times for fabric, yarn and embroidery thread, grocery shopped and went to a Phoenix Mercury WNBA game (unfortunately, they lost).

But one new thing that I just love and wanted to share with you is the floral centerpiece for our dinner table last Saturday night. One of Hubby's pet peeves is looking/talking through or around large centerpieces so I searched the Internet for something floral and low. Here's what I found in Google images that grabbed me ...

I went on the hunt for a rectangular vessel and found two of them on a clearance rack at my grocery store! They were $3.99 each -- one is burgundy (perfect for the holidays) and the other is olive green -- and they measure about 4-1/2" x 9". I really wanted ivory colored roses, but the day of our dinner party, there was a special on red roses for $8.88 a dozen that I couldn't pass up. I had picked up a package of oasis that I could soak for fresh flowers and I decided to pass on tying a ribbon around the pot, even though I do like the way it looks.

I think these rectangular flower pots would look good with all different types of blooms in them. Wouldn't sunflowers be amazing? Can't wait to use the burgundy one for holiday get togethers!

Just wanted to mention a movie we rented that is a heartwarming tear jerker based on a true story. If you like animal stories, try "Hachi: A Dog's Tale," starring Richard Gere, Joan Allen and Jason Alexander. I remember reading in the newspaper about this dog that would meet his master at the train station every day after work. When the man dies, the dog still goes there every day and waits for him. I cried like a baby through this wonderful movie.

August 18, 2010

What's Cookin' - Peach Kuchen

This last week has been crazy. The granddaughter, who started 8th grade Monday, came to stay for a few days. We went to see "Charlie St. Cloud" at the movies. So sad, but good. She loved it and, of course, Zac Efron is adorable.

I was cleaning and shopping and cooking for our little dinner party Saturday. It was fun and everything tasted good, thank God. This group is always laughing about something and we all talk at once. For dinner, we had bacon wrapped Boursin stuffed chicken breasts, smashed rosemary potatoes and roasted asparagus. I made a loaf of the soda pop bread and added about 2/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese to the batter which made it even better. It was delicious and we've been toasting it to make sandwiches. Really tasty!

For dessert, I made Peach Kuchen. I found this recipe in an old cookbook about 15 years ago -- it is so easy to make, looks beautiful and tastes fantastic. Kuchen is the German word for cake and this particular version is a very pie-like pastry. The one special piece of equipment you need is a 9" springform pan, which is a 2-piece pan where the side snaps shut and the bottom is removable. The silver you can see underneath the kuchen is the bottom of the pan.

Peach Kuchen
serves 8

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
8 peach halves, canned (29 oz. can, drained) or fresh
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 egg yolks
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 9" round springform pan.

Put flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together into mixing bowl. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter to consistency of cornmeal. Sprinkle mixture into prepared pan and press into place against sides and bottom with knuckles.

Place peaches, cut side down, over dough. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over peach halves. Bake for 15 minutes.

Combine egg yolks and cream in small bowl; pour over peaches and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, or until browned. Cool in pan. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

We usually serve it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and it is just plain wonderful! Once when we had Hubby's sales team over for dinner, I served this dessert. One of his sales people was going on about how this is a true Kuchen and it's so delicious and her mother-in-law is German and she absolutely has to have the recipe because - and I quote - "I can't wait to serve this to that old bitch!" She brought down the house with that one!

If you bake at all, you probably have brown sugar in the pantry. One little kitchen tool that I love is my brown sugar saver. It's a little ceramic disk that you soak in water for 15 minutes, then drop in with your brown sugar to keep it moist. I always buy bags of dark brown sugar and this keeps it so soft. Until I found it, I had thrown away lots of rock hard brown sugar. This one was $3.00 from Sur la Table and it's worth every penny! Happy baking!!!

August 12, 2010

Happy Holidays

I know you probably saw the title of this post and thought, "What the hell is wrong with her?" But it's actually the title of a cookbook I'm currently enamored with, "Happy Holidays from the Diva of Do-Ahead" by Diane Phillips. This is one of my Half-Price Books bookstore scores. Published in 2006 with a cover price of $14.95, I found it on the clearance shelf for just $1.00 which is so wrong-wrong-wrong, but a smokin' deal for me. (I am honestly surprised that the cover price for this book is only $14.95 because I think it's worth a lot more!)

I have about eleventy-million sticky notes marking the recipes I plan to try if that tells you anything about the potential of this cookbook. The tag line is "A Year of Feasts to Celebrate with Family and Friends" and the true beauty of these recipes is that they're all meant to be made ahead of time so you're not running around on the day of like a chicken with its head cut off. For each holiday, there are recipes included to make a complete meal with a Do-Ahead Countdown calendar that tells you what steps to take when, even months ahead.

I tried the Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes recipe for our family Christmas Eve dinner last year and they were absolutely delicious, loaded with parmesan cheese, sour cream and cream cheese. I made them the day before and reheated them for dinner. And they were perfect!

So in preparation for this little dinner party we're having, I pulled this book out and have tried a few more recipes. Love them all!

Along with Hubby's barbecued steaks, I made ...

Roasted Red Smashed Potatoes with Olive Oil and Rosemary
Serves 8

3 pounds small red potatoes, halved (I actually just cubed normal sized red potatoes)
2/3 cup olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, aluminum foil or a silicone baking liner. Arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet, pour 1/2 cup of the olive oil over them and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes so they are coated with the oil and seasonings. (I did this in a mixing bowl first and them plopped them onto the baking sheet.) Diva Do-Ahead: At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

2. Roast the potatoes for 45 to 50 minutes, until crisp and tender, turning them once during the cooking process.

3. Remove from the oven and heat the remaining oil in a large skillet. Add the rosemary and saute for 1 minute. Add the potatoes and smash them in the pan using a wooden spoon or heavy spatula. (I just used my potato masher). Turn them to expose their flesh to the flavored oil. Continue to cook the potatoes, turning to prevent them from sticking, for about ten minutes. Serve immediately. Diva Do-Ahead: At this point, you can cool and refrigerate for up to 24 hours, then reheat, covered in a 300 degree oven for 20 minutes before serving.

Diva Variation: Roast 6 cloves of garlic with the potatoes, and then smash them in the skillet too.


Roasted Asparagus
Serves 10

2 pounds of asparagus, trimmed of tough stem ends
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silicone baking liner.

2. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on the sheet. Sprinkle with the oil, salt and pepper, then roll the asparagus in the mixture until coated. Bake until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes (pencil-thin asparagus will take about 3 minutes, thicker asparagus a bit longer.) Diva Do-Ahead: At this point, you can set the asparagus aside at room temperature for up to 2 hours or let cool, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Since both of these recipes are at 400 degrees, I put the potatoes in, then when there was just 5 minutes left to go, I pulled out the sheet and added the asparagus to it, then finished the cooking time. Both of these dishes were easy and tasted wonderful. I really love the make-ahead aspect so you can visit with and enjoy your guests while looking all calm, collected and organized.

Many years ago, my family got me this gorgeous white marble mortar and pestle for Christmas. I use it to grind up herbs and spices. Our youngest daughter -- who has always made up words of her own anyway -- calls it the mortal and pester!

August 11, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Dogs Unmaking Beds

bed before dogs helped
bed after dogs helped
Louie is exhausted from unmaking the bed