Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pecan Pie Bark

One of my goals for 2015, besides posting more on my blog here, is to test out more new recipes. In a busy life, it's easy to just go with what you know, right? I like to cook, because I really like to eat!! So with that in mind, I have a category on my Wunderlist for cooking ideas, and a file folder with recipes I have printed close by. I hope to try something new or something I haven't made in a while about once every 7 to 10 days. We'll see. :)

Today, because it's Christmas time and because I have an incredible sweet tooth, it's the Pecan Pie Bark. I have no idea where I got this recipe- maybe Facebook, maybe from a magazine, maybe from Pinterest, who knows? It's super easy and of course, how could you go wrong for taste when it's pecans, sugar, and butter?  Here's the recipe:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup white (granulated) sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup pecan halves (I chopped mine into big chunks instead of just halves)
  • About 2 packages (approximately 12 sheets) honey graham crackers

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Lay your graham crackers tightly across the area of a lightly greased, rimmed baking or cookie sheet. Trim any crackers to fit the sides of the pan if needed (mine needed trimming about 1/4 of an inch). Set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring the butter, sugar, and pecans to a boil over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Carefully and evenly pour the boiled mixture over the entire plane of graham crackers, spreading pecans around evenly.
  3. Immediately pop baking sheet into the oven and bake for 8 minutes.
  4. Allow bark to cool completely before breaking into pieces and storing in an airtight container.

pecan pie bark in the pan, cooling

THAT'S IT! Seriously, how much easier can this get?? I did not break mine into small pieces, however. I took a sheet of wax paper, put that over the cookie sheet, and flipped it over onto my counter (like taking a cake out of the pan). That left the perfect squares of the graham crackers exposed. I have to say I used a generic brand of graham crackers, not that most popular brand, so my graham crackers were these very nice, small squares. I just separated each graham cracker and put them in my container. Anyone who wants one can have a whole cracker, or break it into pieces if they prefer. 

These are yummy!! They remind me of pralines, but not as chewy or creamy. A Texan through and through even tho I live in California, I LOVE pecans, so I didn't think this recipe could go wrong, unless the sugar didn't set. The timing seems just fine though. My sugar syrup worked out fine using the times above.

This would make a quick and yummy gift, or a nice, sweet addition to any holiday get-together. I can't wait to have some with my coffee in the morning! Let me know if you make it and how you like it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

This all started because I had leftover baked chicken. We’d had it just-baked, in salads, etc. Usually, I will just make chicken and rice to use it up, but I wanted something different this time. These little pies were so good and oh so easy!! So I will try to recreate what I did here, for you and for me, lol. Typical of my cooking experiments, I sorta winged it, so you will need to use your own experience to help build this dish (but it will be so worth it).

Baked chicken, cut up in cubes (white and dark meat, mixed)
½ bag of 10 oz. frozen mixed vegies

1-3 generous tablespoons of white flour
2 tablespoons Butter (we use real butter at my house, no margarine)
Chicken broth (actually, I used something called ‘Flavor Boost’ by Swanson… see comments in recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste

8” pie crust - 1

2 ramekins, each about 4 ¼” diameter and 2” deep
1 foil-covered cookie sheet

What I did:

I made my pie crust dough first, because I like to let it rest in the refrigerator for a few minutes before I roll it out. If you don’t make your own crusts, a store-bought one should be just fine and do whatever you do with one (I've never used one, so I'm blank on how they work, lol).

While the pie dough was resting, I made my sauce. It’s really what I call a roux but I’m not sure a true chef would call what I do a roux. If you've ever made white gravy (remember having bread ‘n gravy or biscuits ‘n gravy?), then it’s a thicker version of that. I get my butter hot and throw in about 2-3 generous tablespoons of white flour (I use a wooden spoon, so about 3 of those). I intended to add chicken broth, but I remembered I’d purchased this stuff called ‘Flavor Boost’, so I opened one of those. It’s a strange packet of chicken goop. I’m not sure I would use it regularly in anything, but it worked ok in this. It looks awful, lol. I suppose it’s a reduced version of chicken broth. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn't it (see pic below). However, it worked fine, and one package was enough to give my pie the flavor I was looking for, so I can recommend it for soups, pot pies, etc.  I mixed all these ingredients together to make a very thick sauce, then added milk (we use 1%) to loosen it up a bit and add some volume for my pie. You will have to guess on this (sorry, I didn't measure), but you know for a pot pie, you want your sauce creamy, not runny, and not a lot of it. I added the half bag of mixed veggies and some cubed chicken. I used probably 2 cups of chicken and half the bag of veggies but again, I was eyeballing this based on the size of my ramekin dishes.  I let this filling simmer on the stove while I made the tops to my pie.

Flavor boost (duh)

I rolled out my pie crust. I like to make my own crusts, so make your pie crust as you normally do or if you prefer, just get one of the store-bought ones. One pie crust made both tops, and I didn't put any crust on the bottom of these pies. I used my ramekin and made an indentation in the crust so I could get an idea of the size I needed (see pic). I decided to free-form the top a bit, so I generously cut the crust bigger than my dish. I also buttered the outside of the dish where I thought the crust would hang over, so it would come off easier (because that’s the best part, and I always eat my crusts!).

this just gave me a rough idea of the size, although i made my tops bigger so they would hang down the side of the bowls

I spooned the filling into the ramekins and decided to let them sit just a few minutes, so I wasn't putting my crust on a piping hot pie. I didn't want my crust to ‘melt’ into the pie. While the filling was cooling, I put all my dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Side note: I hate a dirty kitchen with dishes piled up, especially when I’m being creative and make a huge mess. I just don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning up, so one of the first things I do when I’m cooking like this is run a sink full of hot, soapy water. Then, as I use various dishes and spoons and such, I just toss them in the water. When I reach a point in my cooking where I can stop to clean up a bit, these dishes are ready to go in the dishwasher with all that excess shortening or sticky dough or whatever soaked off.

ramekins filled with no top crust yet

ever see a sink full of dirty dishes?? haha

After cleaning things up, I was ready to put my tops on. I just sorta flopped them on top of the ramekins and then molded them to the shape of the bowl, letting the crust hang down a bit over the sides. I cut 4 slits in the top for steam. Then, I decided to really get fancy and make a couple of leaves for each top out of the extra dough. This was easy: I just took a knife, cut an almond shape leaf, then used the knife to press in the veins on the leaf. After the tops were decorated, I brushed some egg mixed with a little of water on top so they would brown nicely.

ready for baking!
Bake them at 4250F for about 30 minutes on the foil-covered cookie sheet (saves your oven in case there’s a pie leak), till you know they are warmed through. Let them rest about 5 minutes or so before serving. I actually put mine in the refrigerator for about an hour and half before I cooked them, because my husband wasn’t home from work yet. I took them directly from the refrigerator to the oven for about 30-40 minutes. I served mine with a piece of cheese and some wonderful wine we had (also a leftover! ha). A nice wedge salad would be good, too.


These were so yummy! Just think- it’s not just for chicken! Beef, turkey, just vegies if you want… it’s a great way to use up leftovers or just something different with your baked chicken, etc. Let me know if you try it! If I left any information out, please send me a note, and I’ll try to explain. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trash to Treasure: Garden Bench!

You know how it is… you’re sitting around one day, having coffee with a friend (me), and you say to her: “I really like the garden bench Jon built for you. Wish I had one.” And that friend (me) says, “Yes! You could certainly use one!” Be careful what you wish for, my dear friend RoseAnn. J

That was on a Thursday morning about a month ago. The very next Saturday, hubby and I leave to run a few errands. As we’re driving down our street, 2 houses down I see my neighbor has put an old garden bench out at the end of her driveway, a signal to all of us who live in my little city that it’s a freebie. It’s adorable- dirty and a bit worn, but adorable!! It looks like a little picket fence with birdhouses on either side- a bit whimsical Victorian.  I immediately text her and say “I want it! Put it back from the street, please. I’ll pick it up when we get back.” She tells me it’s wobbly and in bad shape, and I say please let me check it out first.

yeah, it needs some work!
A couple of hours later, hubby and I walk down and look at it. Yes, it needs some minor repair and a lot of TLC. Hubby looks at me and says “What are you going to do with this?” He knows me well enough to not try talking me out of it; he just can’t figure out where it will fit since he built one for me a few years ago. I just smile, and we carry the bench between us and get it to our house. I take several pictures of it and send them to RoseAnn. “Look!” I say. “I found a project for us to paint. What do you think?” She replies, “I love it!” I smiled. She had no clue it was hers. So I text her again: “Will it work as a garden bench for you?” And I get a response: “Yes!” and “Yea!”  And I smiled again. J

On Sunday, hubby helps me tighten some areas on the bench by putting screws in to replace nails. It takes him about 15 minutes. Then I grab some sandpaper and a rag and start sanding and wiping. When that’s done, I apply the first coat of primer. The bench is starting to look very cute! Another good coat of primer, and the bench is ready for RoseAnn to lend her artist’s touch. 

primed, waiting for RoseAnn's touch
RoseAnn comes over on Monday morning, paints in hand. I love to watch RoseAnn paint. She is an artist, my friends, a real live, honest-to-goodness artist. She can paint anything and it looks like it’s supposed to!! That doesn’t always happen for me, plus I must have a pattern- very little freehanding from me! She’s studying the bench, and we’re discussing various ideas about how to paint the birdhouses. She takes a pencil and starts doing some light sketches on the birdhouses. I grab a chair and watch her work.

She spends the day painting her bench. Once she sketches the idea on the birdhouses, she grabs her paints and starts freehanding. The sketching was just to get the idea cemented in her mind; the painting will be its own process as she works. Honestly, sometimes I think it’s more fun to watch an excellent painter paint than actually paint myself! When RoseAnn gets in her zone, there is no stopping her. She will paint for hours until she is done. I watch for a while, and then get up and go do a few things inside. I check on her now and then, but mostly I leave her to it, letting her creativity flow with no noise or interruptions from nosy little old me. I offer her food and drink, but she’s content to just paint and paint. By midafternoon, she’s done, and it looks absolutely beautiful. 

I still need to paint a white coat or two of regular paint (remember, it just has primer on it) and then it’s done. I do that during the next week and by the next weekend, it’s finished. Everything is dry, and it’s ready to go to RoseAnn’s where she can put on a good coat of varnish to protect it.  On Sunday, hubby and I load it in our van and drive it over. In one week's time, trash to treasure!

Oh, and in case you're wondering, here's a picture of the bench hubby built for me several years ago. It's well-used and loaded to the hilt, lol. Inside that cabinet door on the bottom is a pullout drawer filled with potting soil. And yes, that's a black rat on the work space under the shelf... fortunately, he's not real, just a Halloween decoration that I liked so much I've kept it out all year!

hubby builds me the best stuff!
This was such fun! I love the idea that the Universe was listening to RoseAnn’s conversation with me that day, and that I was on the ball and able to answer her request so suddenly. RoseAnn is one of those people who works so hard and does so much for everyone else; it was the greatest pleasure to do something for her. The bench now has a home on her front porch, and it just looks perfect!

Monday, June 30, 2014


A friend of mine asked me to make this walker carryall to use as a demo in a class she was giving. It was so much fun and generated a lot of positive comments on my Facebook page, so I was asked to post the instructions. I did my best to explain it but I have to say, it's a lot easier to make than explain!! I hope these instructions are easy to understand but if not, please use the YouTube link at the end to watch the excellent video to learn how to make one. This is a great idea for groups looking to make charity projects, or if you know of someone who uses a walker, it might be a nice gift for them. Just remember (and I cannot emphasize this enough), please keep it small. You only want them putting lightweight and small objects in this (like a cell phone); you do not want someone overloading a carryall and then falling because it's too cumbersome!


* 2 pieces of fabric, approximately 15" x 25"-This can be 2 pieces of the same fabric or coordinating fabric; be creative! One yard of 45” fabric will do the whole project

* 2 sets of 3” sewing Velcro (no adhesive on back) and by this I mean 2 hook and 2 loop pieces

* Thread

* Ruler for measuring fabric and Velcro

* Pins for holding fabric together while sewing

* Basting spray (I used Spray’n Bond)

* Washable fabric pen for marking center

* Scissors for cutting fabric


Measure your fabric. For the carryall pictured here, I used the same fabric for both sides, but you can certainly be creative here. If you are a quilter, use your scraps and make a scrappy carryall. You could paint a design on fabric, embroider; the possibilities are only as limited as your creativity. Have fun with it! The carryall pictured was made using fabric measuring 15” x 23”; I think that I would increase the size to about 25” so that the pockets would be just a bit deeper. You do not want the carryall to be too big; it is meant to hold small items, like eyeglasses and cell phones; otherwise, the individual using the walker may be tempted to place too many items in the carryall, causing it to become heavy and cumbersome.

Once measured, pin right sides together. Sew around all 4 sides, leaving just enough space on one side so that you can turn the fabric to right sides, approximately 5” or so. I used a ½” seam. After sewing, press, clip the corners to ease fabric bulk, and turn to the right side. Press again. Do not worry about closing the ‘turning gap’; you will close this later when you are finishing up the pockets.

this is what it looks like after sewing the 4 sides together and turning it

To place the Velcro strips, fold the short side of fabric in half to find the center point. Measure about 3” or so from the center and down 1.5” and place a piece of Velcro. This is where I used the basting spray; just a little spray, and the Velcro stays in place while you sew (much easier than pinning).  Place another Velcro strip, the same dimensions (3” over, 1.5” down) on the bottom; the same side of the fabric. You will do the same measurements on the other side of the center line, using the other sides of the Velcro. Make sure you will be able to fold the fabric over and have the Velcro stick to itself. This is how the bag will fasten over the walker. You can also get creative here: I've seen carryalls with ties, with buttons, with snaps; it does not have to be Velcro. Again, this is a personal choice. I used the Velcro thinking it might be easiest for an elderly person to fasten rather than tying or buttoning. Here’s a tip with placing the Velcro so that your two sides match for fastening: once I had my first Velcro pieces in place, I stuck the other pieces to the Velcro, sprayed a little basting spray on the back, then folded the fabric and pressed so that the Velcro stuck to the opposite side. It was then exactly in the place it needed to be to work correctly, and I just carefully peeled the fabric back and sewed the Velcro in place. Works perfectly!

By now, you should have a rectangle that folds in half and sticks together, and it will look like this:

Lay the fabric flat, unfolded, Velcro side down. The Velcro will be on the left and right side, and you will turn the end of the fabric nearest you up towards the Velcro (remember, the Velcro side is down), about 5”. Do this on both ends and pin. This will become the pockets, which are on the outside. Find the center point of each pocket, and stitch down that center line, so instead of one big pocket, you have two pockets. I reinforced the top of the pockets just so they would hold up better. Once you have done this, sew a ¼” seam along both sides of the entire piece (the outside edges). This will finish the pocket as well as close the ‘turning gap’ that was still open.

The Velcro is underneath, on the left and right sides, so when you fold this in half, it will fasten securely.

Your finished carryall will be around 8” long on each side, with 2 pockets on each outer side, and Velcro inside to attach it after you hang it over the walker bar.

now does it make sense?
This is not my original pattern. If you look online, you can find all sorts of patterns and ideas, as well as videos, on making one of these. It is simple; even a beginner sewing student could make one. It cost me under $10 and took less than 2 hours to make and would be a great charity project. Here is the link to the video I watched to make the one you see pictured. It's a great video and will make my explanation easier, too. Send me pictures if you make one!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Oh Boy! Jury Duty!!

I didn’t want to do it. I really, really didn’t want to go. I knew I had to; it was my duty, my obligation. A simple thing, really, in a country where we have the right to trial and should appreciate it. But I still didn’t want to go.

I went. Of course. I didn’t have a choice but even so, it was the right thing to do. Honestly, I haven’t had to do much jury duty at all, ever. It seemed so ‘inconvenient’ but really, wouldn’t I want someone to show up if I was in a position to need a jury?

I can remember, in the small town where I grew up in Texas, at the time I was asked to serve, I simply showed up at the courthouse, was ushered into the courtroom, and asked questions. I didn’t have to serve then and have only been called less than a handful of times, and I’ve never had to serve on a jury. Out here in Orange County, California, you are dealing with a numbers game in a situation like this. It isn’t just 30 of us being called into service- it’s about 150-200 or so, maybe more. A huge room, full of us, none of us wanting to be there. You can feel it.

I left the house at 6:30 a.m. so I could be officially checked in by 7:45 a.m. Yup. Crack of dawn-thirty. I had to drive only 20 miles to get to the county courthouse in Santa Ana, California, but I had to drive one of the major artery freeways to get there. Plus, there’s the length of the check-in line after you get there. The freeway was already busy, but at least it was moving. I got to the parking garage and walked about ¼ mile to the courthouse (parking is not onsite). I was in the check-in line by 7:15 a.m., and there were already about 15 or so people that had made it before me.

This is California. Land of casual, ‘we’re always late because of traffic’ excuses. I’m sitting there, thinking to myself, some more people better show up or I’m going to be serving on every case on the docket! And sure enough, starting about 7:35, here comes the crowd. The room swelled from around 20 of us to over 100 in 10 minutes. I was glad I’d avoided the line just by being 20 minutes earlier. More continued to show up for the next hour. The room went from almost empty to packed.

The clerks in this area do a very good job. There are good signs directing you where to go (although finding a way into the courthouse isn’t as visible; I had to ask where to go). They are friendly, and they are certainly aware that none of us were joyfully skipping up to their window to check in. They even had a sense of humor, rare in government employees (really! how many people smile at you at the DMV?) Still, in spite of signs and recorded announcements, people tend to follow the person in front of them. I could have bought hubby and me a nice dinner if I’d bet a quarter for every time the clerks had to remind people which line to get in (there were 2, one for check-in, one for questions/excusings.).

I love to watch people. This was the most interesting and diverse grouping of people I’ve seen in a long time (since I was last in Vegas!). That’s just what you want though, right? Lots of interesting viewpoints, I’m sure. It’s interesting to see how they dress for this occasion. Since it is Orange County, which is heavily influenced by Los Angeles, dress anywhere you go can be from extremely formal to extremely casual. Seriously, in some places, we’re just happy people put on shirts AND pants! Most of us were pretty casually dressed, but there were a few, um, fashion statements, wandering around. I just kept thinking to myself: a jury pool is no pool where I want to go swimming! Just kidding! People were well-behaved (of course, the jail is right across the street), polite, quiet, and bored.

It was also interesting to see how people prepared for the day. Some people had their briefcases, their laptops/notebooks/etcetera. I had a huge purse with my paperwork for the jury call, a book, and a lunch. One lady had all of her stuff organized in a manila file. Some people had their paperwork wadded up like trash. Some people, of course, didn’t have their paperwork. J

Speaking of bored, what is it with some people??? When I received my notice with the date for appearance, the first thing I did was scan my bookshelves for a book that was small enough to fit in my purse. Most of us had books, Kindles, cell phones, etcetera for some form of entertainment during the waiting process, but there were more than I expected that simply slumped down in their chairs and looked angry and bored. What’s up with that? You know you’re going to be there for at least a couple of hours till maybe later in the afternoon; how can you not bring something to look at? I even packed a PB&J and some snacks (and I’m glad I did!).

After about a 2-hour wait, the first wave of us was called in. For some reason, the song ‘Send in the Clowns’ came to my mind but then, my mind tends to work in mysterious ways (even to me!). We were given instructions on which courtroom to go to, told to grab a potty break, and then we headed to the elevators to make our way upstairs. More waiting. We were assigned numbers so no one would know our names, but they called out our names in order to assign the numbers. Go figure. I didn’t see anyone taking notes though, so I guess that’s a good system. J

We were warned, warned again, and, as the officer himself said, begged, to turn our cell phones off. Apparently, the judge we were getting to meet was very strict and had been known to confiscate cell phones, which were then taken over to the sheriff’s office (we don’t have police, we have sheriffs out here in Orange County), and put in as evidence. I cut my phone off and hid it inside my purse. I wasn’t taking any chances! I wasn’t unhappy; I was glad to see that a strict precedent was being set. No foolishness allowed in here!

We were told it would be a 10-day trial. More joy went through the crowd. What were we in for? It was a criminal case, and one I’m glad I was excused from- molestation, sexual violation. Of minors. Chilling, just chilling. I was sitting there thinking, ‘I can’t do this’ when the judge spoke, and asked if any of us had ever been victims or had a close relative be a victim of a sex crime, reported or not. Sadly, I answered yes.

When the judge asked that question, I realized I was going through a series of small shocks. The shock of a 10-day trial (I was back to not wanting to be there). The shock of the crime. The PTSD shock of flashbacks for me. The shock of looking at our group of prospective jurors, and seeing how many raised their hands as a ‘yes’ in answer to the judge’s question (how sad). The somewhat embarrassed shock of having to say publicly, in front of strangers, ‘yes sir’ and when asked my relation to the victim, having to say ‘myself’. It’s not something I talk about, much less admit to strangers.

And just like that, my day there was done. It seems ironic that something so horrific proved to be the way out. The lawyers did the right thing, excusing me. I was sitting there, thinking/wondering if I could sit on this jury before the judge asked that question. And no, I couldn’t do it. Try as I might to be fair and impartial, I was biased. I could not hear the facts of this case and give the defendant the fairness deserved. I realized that what had happened to me still affected me, and it would be hard for me not to be the victim again. In this way, the system worked. I hope the defendant gets jurors who can be fair and impartial; that’s the way it should be.

While I write this with a bit of tongue in cheek humor, I am impressed with our judicial system. I am not that familiar with other countries and their court systems, but what little I have seen on the news or read about tells me that while our system certainly is not perfect, it is good. It is an interesting machine that gets the job done in as fair a manner as I suppose it can be done. The burden of holding an innocent or guilty verdict in your hands is not something to be taken lightly, and that may be why so many of us don’t want to serve. It does take up our time and that’s not much fun but maybe that’s just the excuse. Maybe most of us don’t want the responsibility of making the wrong decision. There are too many what ifs. What if the facts are not presented properly? What is being left out? What if the prosecuting attorney has a better speaking/flair/presentation than the defending attorney or vice versa? So many nuances and possibilities to affect the final outcome. We all know about the mistakes where a person is sent to prison for a crime he or she did not commit; I would not feel too good about myself if I ended up doing that, even though it may be due to the facts I was presented at the time. The responsibility is a big one.

I’d sent my husband a text while I was waiting early this morning, telling him not one person in that room looked like they had any confidence in being there and that I wasn’t sure I wanted them on my trial. I was being silly, of course. I know for a fact I didn’t look any more confident than anyone else. We were probably all feeling that burden of responsibility, and I was just being flippant. Believe me; I sobered up quickly in the courtroom. Jury duty is our civic duty, and it needs to be taken seriously. I believe everyone that was in that room with me was willing and able to do the best they could with whatever information they would be given. Lest my patriotism be questioned, I would and will do it again when called. And I have a year to reflect on it!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

aka Adventures in Fabric!

I love fabric. I love going into fabric stores; I love thinking of the possibilities of things to make, the colors, the textures!! Only brave souls can go with me in a fabric store (that means you, Roseann! ha) because I have to touch the fabric; yes, I cannot walk past certain fabrics without reaching out and feeling it between my fingers.

I’ve always wanted to sew. I’ve piddled around off and on my whole life with sewing. I’ve made things that are wearable; I’ve had the mistakes that (guiltily) got tossed. I’ve made Halloween costumes, baby clothes, crafts, curtains, but  I’ve never really sewn as much as I wanted.

Sewing does not come easy to me (although I’m getting better). I am self-taught. Actually, I think everything I do (with the exception of stained glass) I have taken on without a class. My ex-mother-in-law in Texas is an excellent seamstress; over the time I was around her, she gave me some good advice about sewing. She’s one of those people who could sew with her eyes closed and still have whatever she’s working on come out perfect. Me? I wouldn’t dare sew with my eyes closed, but I get by.

I have also always done needlework: embroidery, crewel, counted cross stitch, but I have always, always wanted to quilt. Oh, I dabbled in it a bit- a little kit here or there, but nothing more than that. It was just a scary proposition, and I would talk myself out of it. It’s too expensive, you don’t sew that well, how would you ever figure it out, you don’t have the time, etc. Well, guess what! I have the time now, I have enough money, and now I have the fortitude and confidence to get started, so I did. I started out with machine quilting, meaning I'm doing the quilting with my sewing machine. Eventually, I will get into some hand quilting, which is something I'm very interested in. 

My first project was a little mug rug. I love it! If you look closely, you will see all the mistakes I made. I am as proud of those mistakes as I am of the little rug itself. I learned something from every mistake I made and for me, that’s the best way to learn.

Sorry it's sideways! Isn't it cute? I use it every day!

I found this great website! Missouri Star Quilt Company… they are terrific! I've posted about them on Facebook before. Jenny, their ‘star’, makes these fantastic tutorials (see the links below). Jenny has inspired me so! She makes quilting not scary! And it’s not!! It is so much fun! Honestly, since I started playing with fabric, I've slept better and I’m not scavenging in the kitchen looking for snacks all the time (it’s a diet plan!!!). Once I started reading, watching, and learning about quilting, I discovered so many fabulous quilt sites online as well as blogs; it’s a whole, new, wonderful world for me! 

I get emails from MSQC every day. They have wonderful fabric specials all the time and sure enough, I just had to order some. I've wanted to make small quilts – I call them pet quilts- to give to friends and donate to local vet clinics and rescue groups. They actually could also be used as baby quilts, and I do have friends who are becoming grandparents these days, so they would make good gifts. The other day, Jenny from MSQC posted a tutorial on a pillow/rag quilt (you can find it on the youtube link I posted). It was perfect! The seams are exposed; it’s supposed to look imperfect! What better quilt for a beginner!! So I washed and ironed all my little precut squares (called a ‘charm pack’) and started laying them out on the dining room table. My cat, Graycee, thought it was great fun to prance through the squares and offer her suggestions as to the layout and eventually, (while she was napping one afternoon), I got the layout the way I wanted it and headed to the sewing machine.

This quilt is, as they say, easy-peasy. There were a few things I needed to focus on so that some squares were turned the right direction, etc. but as I had hoped, this quilt was great for a beginner. Just sew the squares together, stuff each little square with some polyester fiberfill, then close one row of squares by stitching the next row onto the quilt (watch Jenny’s tutorial for her great instructions).  When you are done sewing the quilt together, you cut the exposed seams so they will fray a bit after you wash them, which is the look you’re going for.

I think my little quilt turned out quite well. Graycee did her job as quilt inspector and approved it, as well. These quilts are so fun, and I’m ready to begin on another one but first, I promised my hubby a mug rug. Happy quilting!!

Here's the quilt as I was trying to decide on a layout.

This is the finished front.

This is the finished back.

Here's Graycee inspecting and approving.

This is a closeup of the frayed edges.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whale Watching

California Gray Whale

Those of you who know me know that this is the time of the year my husband and I spend as much time as we can ‘whale watching’. This is primarily done on the weekends since the hubby is at work Monday thru Friday. If I get a chance to go during the week, I will take it, but I’m usually busy at home getting things done so we can play on the weekends. 

So what is this thing called whale watching? Aren’t whales way out in the ocean? Yes and no. Here in Southern California, we are fortunate to watch the gray whales every year from late November through mid-March. They are migrating from Alaska down to Baja, where pregnant females will give birth in the protected lagoons, and males will look for interested females for mating. The path of this migration allows us to see them from the shore, so you will find hubby and me having our morning coffee/tea (and sometimes lunch and/or dinner!) down at Laguna Beach, binoculars in hand, watching for the spout that tells us ‘thar she blows!’.  This spout looks like a puff of steam coming off the water. It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s one of those things that once you see it, you will always know what it is. Of course, this spouting is not just limited to the gray whale; it’s what you look for any time you’re out whale watching (we spotted humpbacks this same way when we were in Kauai). You can see images of the puff of 'steam' I'm talking about as well as other pictures/videos here:

You can also take whale watching cruises during the season. Several different sailing companies up and down the coast here in SoCal offer whale watching cruises. It’s a great way to see whales a little closer; it’s just not guaranteed that you will see a whale. After all, the whales are on their own time, not ours! Usually, you will see pods of dolphins and maybe even other marine life (we saw a sunfish on our last outing), so even if you don’t see a whale, you will most likely have a good time. 

There is a great book written by Lynne Cox, a well-known long distance swimmer, and her encounter with a baby gray whale while she was training one morning off the coast of California. She stayed in the water for hours with this baby whale (named Grayson by her because the calf was a gray's son) until he was reunited with his mother. You can see the book here:

I find them fascinating. To see that puff of steam is so exciting to me; to see the tale flip up in the air before they go below surface for a few minutes even more so.  I just love that these almost 40-foot creatures continue the migratory path that their ancestors followed. The gray whale was considered critically endangered, but I have read that scientists believe their population is on the increase. There are volunteer groups that do whale counts during the season; the group I know of is based out of Point Vicente in Palos Verdes, just up the coast north of where I live. Hubby and I took a recent Sunday and drove up there (about an hour), had a gorgeous day, a picnic, and saw several whales, even a whale who came halfway out of the water not once, but three times! A perfect day in my book!

I've read that once the whales get to Baja, in the lagoons, you can take flat-bottom boats out and almost pet the whales. These docile groups of whales are called 'friendlies'. I'm not sure I would go; I suppose if I had the opportunity I would have to take it, but there's a part of me that says leave these creatures alone - do not interfere with them. 

Recently, the L.A. Times had an article/video on a humpback whale and her calf, filmed by a drone camera off the coast of Maui. Fascinating! It gives you the overhead view of what we’re watching from shore (although, of course, we are watching the gray whale here). We don’t always see the whales’ bodies because we’re on the shore, but the link will give you an idea of what we’re looking for .

If you’ve never been whale watching and the opportunity arises, I hope you will go. These are wonderful, graceful, powerful, and majestic creatures. They are awe-inspiring and beautiful. And you can find me at the beach as often as possible looking for them, November through March! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Ritz Carlton Pound Cake

Have you seen the recipe floating around Facebook for the Ritz Carlton pound cake from the 1920s? I couldn’t resist baking it! It sounded so luscious and guess what – it is! The recipe will be printed at the end of this post.

This is not a recipe for the strict calorie counter; not at all! One cup of butter, 3 cups of sugar, 5 eggs… and it is as rich as it sounds. One small slice is all you need. It is a large cake, dense but moist, so I shared it with friends. It would probably also freeze well – I would pre-slice it and freeze the slices, which would make it easier to thaw and serve a few slices at a time.

I followed the recipe to the letter, only using 2% milk instead of whole milk, and the cake turned out just fine. I used a Bundt pan instead of loaf pans. FYI, this recipe makes a lot of batter. It fit in the Bundt pan just fine, although it did rise above the top of the pan while baking (but no spilling over). Once it was out of the oven and cooling, it shrunk down and fit perfectly in the pan. I used Pam’s Baking Spray on my Bundt pan, and the cake slid out without a problem when I was ready to cool it on the rack. I also used a skewer as my tester when testing to see if the cake was done; I normally use toothpicks, but they are not long enough to reach through this cake, so the metal skewer worked very well.

The cake is absolutely delicious. It is moist; it is very rich; and the addition of the lemon juice and zest gives it just a hint of lemon that is very appealing. It would be great served with a tiny scoop of ice cream or sherbet but when I say it is rich- trust me! A small slice is all you need.

In the interest of honesty, I wondered if it was really a Ritz Carlton recipe. I cannot verify that, but I did find the history of the Ritz Carlton hotel chain. The cake recipe is supposedly from the1920s; and according to their corporate website, the Boston hotel did open in May 1927, so I’ll give them credit! Apparently, there were hotels established in Europe before that time, as well. 

Below is a picture of my cake, with the recipe following. Give it a try! I think you will find it to be a great cake for special events, family get-togethers, or for that social/church buffet!


 Ritz Carlton Lemon Pound Cake (1920s)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup shortening, room temperature
5 large eggs
1 cup whole milk (I used 2% and it turned out fine)
6 Tbsp lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spray or butter and flour 2 loaf pans or one large Bundt pan.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well blended after each one.

Add dry ingredients in three additions to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Mix in lemon juice and zest.

Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake cake(s) until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool cake(s) in pan(s) for 15 minutes. Turn cake(s) out onto rack(s) and cool completely.