Sunday, December 30, 2007

Troubling Threesomes

May your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions. — Joey Adams

Sometimes trouble comes in 3's. That, I can handle. That's just a poetic way to say life is pretty normal. Times when my world feels more like a sweater unraveling? Well, those are the proverbial times that try my soul.

Take this week, for instance... When the snow plow drove over my mailbox, L only needed 3 days to break the Christmas gift I bought her. And, my love of horses culminated in what is probably a slight concussion...

And, then!

I had the bright idea to add a rotating photo album to my blog. It's the latest and greatest new Google widget! That's when my troubles went from 3... to 300.

IMHO, you've gotta be pretty over-confident to believe all of your photos are worth looking at. So, I deleted close to 300 of my really crappy pictures.

That's when I discovered the awful truth. Picassa, like everything Google, is so completely automated that any blithering idiot can use it without reading the instructions. Especially the fine print warning me that deleting a photo from Picassa ALSO DELETES THAT PHOTO FROM MY BLOG ENTRY.

As we stumble through life, we get too many warnings about all the wrong things. So, why oh why couldn't Picassa have a 64-point type warning about how disastrous this could be?

But here's the deal. There is always a silver lining to life. You just have to open your mind wide enough to see it.

L's gift had a warranty. This mess inspired me to delete all sorts of boring blog entries.

Bonus! I can't be burdened with holiday bills because I don't have a mailbox...!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Memory Box

At night, we've got a gorgeous tree.

During the day, it looks a little outrageous. Like a yard sale.

Cluttered with a ridiculous number of ornaments that have no rhyme or reason to the outsider looking in.

BK breezed into town for 24 hours. (That frequent flier owns more miles than Delta.) While she was here she introduced me to a new way of looking at old things.

The Memory Box, she says, requires you to file things away under good or bad and that's how we'll remember them from here on out.

Like when we braved heat, humidity and scary power tools.

Or, our bike trip earlier this year. No one thought we'd make it through that one alive. (Me, included.) But, we did. And, several months later when my muscles stopped hurting, I forgot all about the downside to peddling uphill for 200 miles.

I've never seen her happier, and since happiness is infectious, a little bit of her charm rubbed off onto me.

It got me thinking about how we all have a memory box, or two. The sweetest is no doubt the one filled with treasures we haul out every Christmas to hang on the tree.

Ornaments hold all sorts of special memories ~ places we've been, people we knew and the people we used to be, way back when we decided to buy them.

An ornament for every year. Commemorating life's adventures, big & small...

When we learned how to fish and skate and ski.

When we saved up our pennies. And, visited places far, far away.

When I moonlighted.

As a bartender!

To afford the cottage...

Where I could garden...

And, ride horses....

Forever and a day....

Friday, December 14, 2007

Kissing Under the Mistletoe

"Kissing is a means of getting two people so close together that they can't see anything wrong with each other." — Rene Yasenek
Put on your drinkin' hat, your party shirt and your dancing shoes.

This is the weekend when everyone, simply everyone, is expecting you to attend their party instead of the other 6 parties you've been invited to. (Honestly, I don't know why they can't just have a big, group meeting, decide to throw one enormous party and get it over with.)

It's quite all right if you forget the appetizer. Just make sure that Mistletoe is on the top of your list. Even if you're married, it's a good idea to have a little fresh Mistletoe around. Gets the party hopping. Keeps your dearly beloved on his or her toes. And, maybe, just maybe, ups the ante on the gifts that magically appear in your stocking.

Mistletoe is an odd plant and I won't get into the gory details. (Suffice to say there's a host involved and it's not the gal answering the doorbell.) Like most plants, it got it's powerful reputation for warding off evil spirits. And, it must work because I've never ever met an evil spirit - have you?

So, it started out that way and then, wonder of wonders, they found it also accurately predicts who's getting married next year and who's announcing a little bundle of joy. Bring a little sprig and get the party started.

FYI, that plastic stuff doesn't seem to be nearly so magical...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pasha's Christmas Cookies

Moscow Basilica
Strange but true: I've worked full-time, for eight years, with a man I've never met or even spoken to. That's because he lives in Moscow and neither one of us feel like affording that long distance bill.

We freelance together. He's my designer/programmer. I email him junk, he emails me stuff, somehow we put it all together and make it look pretty. (Long live the internet.)

I've never met him, but I did meet one of his co-workers a few years back. Costya introduced us to the miracles of fine vodka. After a few hundred shots of that stuff, he taught us how to swear in Russian. Прокляните все это к черту!

Every year, I send Pasha a Christmas card. He never gets them but I keep sending them anyway. I figure, if Putin stays in office long enough he might figure out how to make his postal service work. Until then, I suppose the KGB is compiling a big secret file on my activities...

Russian Snowball Cookie Recipe - Makes 3 dozen
(Российский Рецепт Печенья Снежка)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
How To:
  1. Cream butter and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Combine powdered sugar and flour; stir into the butter mixture.
  3. Mix in the chopped walnuts.
  4. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 12 minutes @ 350 degrees F.
  6. When cool, roll in a second dusting of powdered sugar.
* Dough will appear very dry. The warmth of your hands, as you form the snowballs, softens the butter and moistens the cookie dough.

This is my 3rd most favorite cookie in the whole wide world. Whenever I make them, I think of my buddy, P. They melt in your mouth, light as air. If I could stop eating them long enough to put them in a box, I'd probably send him some.

С Рождеством Христовым, Пол. Я даже не знаю, любите ли Вы это печенье!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cookie Cutter Creativity

Back when I had a real job... whenever I wasn't doing a good enough job... my boss would crab at my lack of creativity and accuse me of taking a cookie cutter approach. That was a confusing way to insult me because I've tried to make perfectly consistent cut out cookies since L was a baby and it's a whole lot harder than it looks.

This is my theory as to why most of us leave the creative cookie cutting to Pillsbury:

After we turn 40, we figure out that women's magazines are filled with re-touched photos of flawed people. Once we realize that Angelina Jolie could very well be fat and ugly in real life, we feel a whole lot better about ourselves.

For some odd reason, we haven't quite accepted the fact that food photography gets the same specialty treatment.

I can assure you it does. I once spent 16 hours at a photo shoot because an incredibly annoying art director needed the peas in the pasta salad to be placed in exactly the right spots.

Today, I'd like to encourage everyone to haul out the cookie cutters, roll up their sleeves and think... Picasso, Dali, and Pollock ~ definitely Jackson Pollock!

Because there are a whole lot of creative masters out there who happily failed Art Class 101.

Simple Sugar Cookies
No matter how they look, they all taste delightful. This recipe makes 3 dozen average size cookies or 1 gigantic cookie sculpture (in case you'd like to pay tribute to Gaudi!)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1.25 teaspoons baking powder
How to:
  1. Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in egg and vanilla.
  2. Add flour and baking powder in intervals. (Dough will seem too dry but it will improve when chilled.)
  3. Divide dough into four equal parts and refrigerate about an hour.
  4. Roll out dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper, 1/4 inch thick for crisp cookies or 1/3 inch thick for soft cookies.
  5. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and and bake for 7-8 minutes @ 375 F.
PS: Don't forget to eat lots of cookie dough. This dramatically reduces the amount of time you spend baking the cookies.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Over-Achieving Poinsettia

This holiday season I have under-achievers:
And, over-achievers! Check out last year's Poinsettia. She's turning red without all the pomp & circumstance.

Some gardeners like to show off their skills.

So, they put their Poinsettias on a super strict regimen: 8 weeks with exactly 10 hours of sunlight and 14 hours of solid darkness.

That's the only way to get these pretty perennials to turn red.

Or, so they say. Mine turns a variegated red & green without any effort at all.

The truth about Poinsettias is that their bright red leaves are naturally celebrating what the rest of us are lamenting - the long, dark days of winter.

December 12th is National Poinsettia Day. Pick one up for me, too.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Enlightened Scrooge

It is not possible to call off Christmas. On such years, when I would like to, I simply go through the motions and leave it at that.

This is NOT one of those years.

This is more of an enlightened Scrooge year ~ one where I simply cannot give enough and get enough out of this pretty season. That's partly because it snowed. Really snowed. There's nothing I love more than gettin' snowed in.

L & her boyfriend spent the entire day decorating The Big Ass Tree. I wanted a big one, to make amends for last year's tree fiasco, but this is what happens when you have no concept of height. That tree barely fit in the door!

Friends, family, clients, co-workers, even a certain spoiled rotten horse will be happy I got snowed in.

People say I hate to shop. They don't have a shred of evidence to support this theory, but that never seems to stop them from making all sorts of strange claims.

I love to shop! I hate... standing in line, begging some snotty clerk for help, wasting the day in stop and go traffic, driving all over hell to buy the perfect gift only to discover it's sold out...

Hand me a speedy internet connection and I'll have that to-do list done so fast it'll make your head spin! All that's left to do, now, is reassure Bad Dog.

He's nervous Santa might take issue with all of his crimes and misdemeanors. I have a feeling he's getting a toy or two... In fact, I think everybody might be getting a toy or two.

Even Benny.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Maniacal Ovens & Spritz Cookies

If you make 1 cookie this season,
make it a Spritz

I can't imagine Christmas without a tray of these tempting little treats. Though, I'll readily admit they're a lot more fun when someone else is baking them.

Spritz are made with a cookie press ~ if you're a perfectionist, that will give ya fits. It's not so bad for me because we generally eat all the dough before the oven is preheated.

For years I suspected my oven hated me. It would bake too hot, or broil too cold. Everyone accused me of being childish and immature for blaming the appliance.

Last year, that #!%*! oven decided to quit baking on December 23rd ~ so, we had to broil our Spritz Christmas Cookies! They weren't very pretty but they still tasted great.

Who's cryin now?
Sure, I could have recycled it. But, deep down, I knew it was possessed. So, I happily hauled that mean-spirited oven away to a place where it will never (ever!) be able to foil another baker's plans.

Classic Spritz Cookies
If you can refrain from eating the cookie dough, this recipe makes 4 dozen.
1 cup butter
3 egg yolks
2.5 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

How to:
  1. Mix the butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Add the flour and mix by hand.
  2. Spoon into cookie press and press onto cookie sheets.
  3. Sprinkle with colored sugars. (Or, use red and green food coloring on smaller batches of the dough.)
  4. Bake @ 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes.
* Cookies require no recipe adjustments, when baking at high altitude.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time...

Higher aspirations have interrupted the baking of holiday cookies...Meet the Salad Shooter! It's also a mixer! This was the #1 Bad Holiday Gift 10 years ago. We've been limping along with this sorry excuse for a mixer ever since.

L is in a bidding war on Ebay with some equally stubborn woman from Iowa. They've both discovered an amazing kitchen appliance they cannot live without. Pride has long since overtaken reason and while this has been hugely entertaining ~ it could get ugly pretty fast.

This is why I love the holidays! We're all hell-bent on doing everything perfectly. And, L needs a few great gadgets in order to accomplish her goals.

After all, growing up in a household where Mom believes a Salad Shooter can rival the abilities of Cuisinart? Well, no wonder she's all screwed up!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Peppermint Cookies & Camelias

Peppermint Camelia

A friend of mine keeps pestering me: What do you want for Christmas? I want a pony but that's never gonna happen. Been askin' for a pony since I was 5.

I would also like to live 3 states closer to the equator, and preferably in a rain forest, so I could grow my most beloved flower, the Camelia. I might almost give up my dream of owning a pony if I could grow Peppermint Camelias. Almost.

My timeshare pony loves peppermint candy & so do I. That was the moment when I knew, in spite or her tendency to bite and kick and buck me off, we were destined to become soul sisters.

If you happen to be a peppermint fan, you're probably healthier for it. From coughs to colds and even cramps, the healing properties of peppermint are amazing.

What's even more amazing is how yummy it tastes when mixed with lots of butter and sugar....

Fire up the oven. Peppermint Cookies require no tricky recipe adjustments when baking in high altitudes!

Crunchy Peppermint Christmas Cookies

* If you can refrain from eating the cookie dough, this recipe makes five dozen.
  • 1.5 cups butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 tablespoons baking powder
  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup crushed peppermint candy
How to:
  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  3. Add dry ingredients to the batter in two batches, alternating with milk.
  4. Stir in crushed candy.
  5. Spoon onto cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes @ 375 degrees.

This recipe is even better than that one!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bonsai Care & Feeding

I met my first Bonsai last summer, when S entrusted me with her beloved little Azalea tree while she was on vacation.

Yikes. She was barely out of my driveway when the first panic attack set in.

What if I kill it?

I immediately embarked on the most high maintenance program of tender loving care a plant could ever imagine.

* Each morning I misted her.

* Every afternoon she enjoyed dappled sunlight out on my deck.

* I fashioned a humidity tray out of rocks and saucers so she could breathe easy in my dry, desert air.

* I was like a mother chimpanzee, daily inspecting that plant for bugs. And, I was exhausted...

Then S came home and casually commented: Wow, it looks great. All I do is water it.


That's when I discovered that Bonsai trees aren't nearly as high maintenance as they look.

The beautiful Plum Bonsai shown in these photos was a birthday present from a very sweet friend. It's a bright spot in my day, now that winter is upon us.

True confessions: I panicked a bit when I received this plant ~ wondering how quickly I could kill it. But, then I remembered that J never comes to visit me so if it kicks the bucket, she will never be the wiser!

Moisture: The Key to a Happy Bonsai
  • Keep your bonsai slightly damp.
  • Mist her in addition to watering. They enjoy the feel of a spring rain.
  • Misting cleans her leaves and helps moisture absorption.
  • Once every couple of weeks immerse the entire plant, pot and all, in a bowl of water. They love it!
  • Fertilize monthly with a 5-10-5. (Deciduous Bonsais appreciate a dormant period of no fertilizer.)
Thanks, J! It's not dead yet! :))

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Freesia ~ November
My Flowering Plant of the Month

I've been so busy complaining about being busy that I almost forgot to mention the latest and greatest addition to the sunny window.

Each month, I purchase a flowering plant at the local supermarket when I'm buying groceries. As much as I love cut flowers, I never buy them for myself. Mostly because I'm cheap and cut flowers don't last very long. Potted flowering plants will generally bloom for a whole month. If you're nice to them, they just might bloom again.

Freesia is a delicate flowering plant with a lightly, sweet citrus fragrance. Perfect for a kitchen window. Keep the soil moist and add a dash of 5-10-10 fertilizer for longest blooms. If you're lucky enough to live in USDA zones 9 or 10, you can transplant her into the garden when she's done blooming.

* A member of the Iris family. Lots of beautiful colors to choose from.

October Plant of the Month: Kalanchoe

Monday, November 26, 2007

Takes Two To Tango

Of all the get rich quick schemes Ann and I dreamed up, the idea that would have made us rich beyond our wildest imaginations was: The Man Manual.

We wanted to publish a simple, how-to pocket guide designed to help the men in our lives navigate the complexities of a brave, new world.

One where women have jobs (hey!)
Opinions (really?)
And, very little tolerance for stubborn, controlling behavior (whaa??)

It’s rainin’ men around here and not in a good way.

For years, now, one bitter divorcee has clouded our get-togethers with anger and negativity. Then there were two. This year, four. And, that’s what has me most concerned. Because if this mess is growing by exponential numbers, I’m outta here.

Perhaps we should dust off our big idea and publish the Man Manual. It’s the ideal stocking stuffer! WebMD could endorse it as a new way to lower high blood pressure! Oprah could promote it as the saving grace for thousands of guys unwilling to admit they're (at least partially) to blame.

Problem is… it’s a one-page guide, so the leather bound edition might look a little odd:

Say you’re sorry. And, say it with flowers.

Admit when you’re wrong. And, make up for it with flowers.

Here is a break-through concept in the battle of the sexes: If you still love this woman, then knock off the silly games and send her some damn flowers!

Oh, and by the way, if you're thinking of buying an engagement ring this Christmas, don't. A gift of you for the rest of her life might not be nearly as exciting as a thoughtful bouquet of flowers.

Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then. ~Katharine Hepburn

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ultimate Green Bean Casserole

Update on Thanksgiving: My beans were a big hit. I can't bring myself to open a can of Campbell's soup on a holiday so this is a much fresher, from scratch version of that best-loved...

Ultimate Green Bean Casserole Recipe
(Feeds an army)
  • Snap 2 pounds of fresh green beans into bite-size pieces.
  • Drop them into a pot of boiling salt water (use a generous amount of sea salt.)
  • Cook for 5 or 6 minutes.
  • Drain beans in a colander, then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. (They'll be bright green, crisp-crunchy and oh so delicious.)
Make Your Own Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • Remove the stems and slice up 1 lb. of white button mushrooms (tip: if you'd like to be extra hip and cool, use mini portobellos.)
  • Simmer shrooms in 3-4 tablespoons butter + 2 tablespoon fresh garlic.
  • Stir in 3 tablespoons flour.
  • Add 1.5 cups chicken broth + 1.5 cups cream
  • Salt & pepper to taste. (I use extra spicy Mrs. Dash.)
  • Once the sauce is thick and bubbly, stir in those precious beans.
Building the Ultimate Green Bean Casserole
  1. Place a can of those yummy French fried onions in the bottom of a casserole.
  2. Pour in the beans and 'shrooms.
  3. Sprinkle another can of yummy French fried onions on top.
  4. Up the fat content a bit more with dollops of butter.
  5. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.
* Talk about a crowd pleaser! Even the nutbag who might vote for Giuliani had to admit these beans were to die for.