Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Calling all California Friends!!

This past weekend, we checked-out one more home.  Another no.  The exterior/style of the home was beautiful, but the house was a dump!  The owner is a realtor ... they should know better than to show a home in that condition!!!  But it's obvious they haven't cared for their home and as a result it needs new flooring, new paint everywhere, etc, etc, etc.  This afternoon we are going to see another home.  It already has an offer, but there's something in the contract that allows the owner and bank to consider and accept better offers.  Weird, but that's the market here.  And ... we'll see if we even like the home. *sigh*

This coming weekend, I should be having a little more fun!  (And some extreme pain from holding my violin up for long stretches of time, but mostly totally enjoying myself!)  I was invited to travel to Orange County, California to perform with the OCMCO Symphony.  I'm way excited!!  I will be attending their dress rehearsal Friday night and then performing two concerts with them on Saturday.  SO ... if you live in or close to Orange County, come see me play!!  We will be performing Brett Stewart's oratorio, Messiah in America, with four top-notch soloists from around the country.  The children will be singing their songs and parts of the program and pianist Brandon Stewart & the symphony will perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (3rd movement).  I'm SUPER excited to play a classical piece!!  I worked on it for 3 hours yesterday & I still have a ways to go ... you better come see me!  I recently performed Messiah in America in Mesa, Arizona and it has received amazing reviews.  I will also be performing this same oratorio in Salt Lake City, UT in about a month.  If you live in CA, please get your tickets HERE or HERE for THIS WEEKEND's performance!!  It would be tons of fun to have some friends & followers in the audience!!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Young Women Mother-Daughter Activity + Cupcakes

Our annual mother-daughter activity was held in my backyard.  The girls & moms played get-to-know-you games, cooperation games, and enjoyed each other's company.  Everyone seemed to have a great time!  We just put large tables & chairs in my grass with yellow roses as our centerpieces.  Hubby hung lights & lanterns for us ... when the lights go up, it makes me want to have a backyard party every single night just so I can sit out under the lights!  One of the YW leaders is a professional photographer, so we had a fun photo booth ... if she posts photos online, I'll give you a link to check-out.

I was in charge of food, so I decided to do mini-cupcakes.  I ended up doing four flavors and actually one was not really a cupcake, but I wanted to make sure I had something that appealed to everyone.

I have a favorite (& pretty easy) chocolate cupcake recipe that I top with a bittersweet chocolate-sour cream frosting.  This is always a hit, but I think it got overlooked with all the other fun & different flavors.

The other three flavors I made were all new recipes so the girls & moms were my guinea pigs for the night.  Everyone absolutely loved all the cupcakes, asked for recipes, told me I should be on Cupcake Wars (which I had never heard of before that night), etc.  Sometimes we take a chance on a new recipe and it's a flop, but I think these three were winners ....

First up ... I wanted something fruity ... Blueberry Muffins topped with fresh lemon curd and a little homemade whipped cream.  This was a favorite cupcake of LOTS of people, which kinda surprised me.  Some feedback I got was that without the lemon curd, this cupcake would've been too much like a muffin & that the fresh-homemade lemon curd (courtesy of my mama!) totally made the cupcake.

Second up was Peanut Butter & Jelly!!  I don't think I would have normally tried this recipe.  PB is just OK for me, but the recipe looked fairly simple and I thought this would be something that was different from the chocolate and blueberry that I had already made.  I also thought it might appeal to the young girls.  Again, everyone loved them.  It totally tasted like PB & J sandwiches, only better!

My final cupcake flavor, that wasn't really a cupcake, was Oreo cheesecake.  This was another flavor that people kept saying was their favorite.

So...there ya go.  The polka-dot cupcake liners were purchased at Michaels.  If I remember correctly, they sold mini & regular size liners with that design ... they also had hot pink which I didn't photograph.  For the whipped cream, I used cake decorating tip 1M, but a 2D will turn-out similar.

Recipes for blueberry, PB & J, and Oreo cheesecake are from our good friend, Martha Stewart!  I can only find one of the three recipes online, so if you'd like to give the PB & J cupcakes a whirl, go HERE!  They'd be very popular at a child's birthday party!!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Alice Medrich's Chocolate Chip Cookies & Other Happenings

Life is just insane sometimes.   We had our dinner party a couple weeks ago & the weather cooperated beautifully.  No rain until after midnight that night.  It was great getting to know people from church that I might not usually work with or consider my "buds", but after spending some time with these people and having them in my home, we saw how interesting and fun it is to break out of your regular circle.  Some people came that I wasn't even sure if I knew what they looked like or who they were and now I'd definitely consider having them over for dinner again.

Two days after our dinner party, the Young Women presidency in our ward was released and a new presidency was called.  I was one of the few lucky ones that got to stay in YW with all the changes, so I am still a Laurel advisor.  But we realized at church that Sunday that we were supposed to be having a special mother-daughter activity 2 days later and there was no location reserved, no food planned, no decorations bought, etc.  Because I had just had a dinner party in my backyard and they were looking for an outdoor location for the get-together, I volunteered my yard & house.  More details for come....

As for my personal life, I'm consumed by rental-house problems ... again.  I tell ya ... renting has not been a good/fun experience for us.  But this most recent experience has kinda forced us to start considering buying a house.  We spent about 12 hours this weekend house-hunting.  We almost put an offer on a house.  We got pre-approved, had the offer all written up, but at the last minute decided to not go through with it.  The house was amazing.  The current owners are probably $1mill in debt on it & they are trying to short-sale the home.  They bought a home (probably when the market was high) and then gutted it.  The owner is a professional interior designer, so it was absolutely beautiful ... there wasn't one paint color or anything that I'd change and we even considered buying some of the furniture that she had in the home.  The yard was very family friendly, too ... a sports court (great spot to ride bikes in the backyard), sand & large swingset, firepit & gas fireplace, outdoor kitchen/built in BBQ, and all this was on about 3/4 of an acre.  It seemed to be everything we were looking for, but I just didn't love the floor plan or feel like it was as functional as I'd like for our family's needs.   There is another house we are considering, but it needs to be gutted ... not sure if it's had any updates or changes in nearly 30 years ... and we're still shopping around.

Last night we took our whole Young Women group (all the girls 12-18 years old who attend church with me) to see the Easter Pageant.  I snuck my hubby & kids in with the group cause if they didn't go last night, we wouldn't have been able to attend this year.  After saying no to putting an offer on the house, I needed to do something a little more fun, so I decided to bake some cookies to take & share with our young women group.  I have my favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe, but I was in the mood to try Alice Medrich's "My Chocolate Chip Cookies" from her new cookie cookbook.  The recipe said I'd get about 60 cookies from one batch ... I must've made big cookies cause I got about 1/2 that many.  Realizing that we'd run out of treats very quickly with only 30 cookies, we whipped up a baking sheet of brownies.  Alice's recipe was pretty quick and easy & it's always nice to have a recipe that you don't have to shop or plan ahead for.  I thought her cookies were a little on the chewy side (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), but the leftovers (I kept a few cookies at home for us to munch on today) have stayed much more fresh than my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli - French Fridays with Dorie

Wow! Can't believe it's already April 7th ... where is the year 2011 going?  Today it will have to be a short, but sweet post for me because I'm hosting a dinner party at my home tonight for a church activity.  Hubby & I were up until 1am last night cleaning the backyard, hanging lights, and setting up tables and chairs.  And then I woke up this morning and rain is in the forecast! ARGH!!!  A dinner party in the yard will be so much better, but I can quickly rearrange furniture, if needed, to bring tables & chairs inside ... but I'm still praying for no rain and a lovely dinner outside tonight.

The garlicky crumb-coated broccoli was another simple yet very tasty recipe from Dorie.  I loved trying a new way to cook broccoli and for me this is a practical recipe that I'd definitely use again.  I think my bread crumbs and garlic got toasted a bit too much, but it was still good ... just something to keep in mind for next time.  And I loved the lemon zest with the broccoli.  I've made green beans and asparagus with lemon juice in the past, but I've never done the zest thing and never done either with broccoli.  Next time I think I'll search out a larger lemon or two lemons for even more zest!!

To see the results of my fellow Dorie cooks, go HERE.

And you don't want to miss next week ... my kids are already drooling ... vanilla eclairs!!  And there are variations to the recipe that include CHOCOLATE!  You better believe we'll be going the chocolate route here at our house!

P.S.  I'm completely frustrated with the ISO capabilities ... or lack of ... on the camera.  I like to turn-up my ISO when needed without getting a bunch of noise.  Anyone tried or have opinions on the Nikon D7000??  I know it's not as rugged as the D300, but I'm just shooting kids & food & the 7000 has the features that I want.  I tried a D7000 at Costco for a few minutes and was impressed, but I've heard mixed reviews on them.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Quinoa, Fruit, & Nut Salad - French Fridays with Dorie

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe can be found on page #138 of Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Around my French Table.  The quinoa, fruit, and nut salad is something that I would have never picked-out to try without a group like FFwD

When we were in the process of adopting our oldest daughter, "Penguin" from a Russian orphanage, we lived in the orphanage with her for a week or so while we waited for the court hearing and paperwork to come through so we can travel with her to Moscow and then back to the USA.  I do not have good memories of Russian food, esp the food we ate in the orphanage.  We paid for our meals there, but I think they still fed us what the kids in that home ate.  On numerous occasions, they placed a bowl of some kind of boiled grain in front of us ... no syrup, sugar, or anything to put on it except weird butter, salt & pepper ... certainly no nuts or fruits!!  No amount of salt could make that boiled grain taste good.  I think they were feeding us millet, but when I look at quinoa, those flavors, smells, and memories come rushing back to me.  FYI: If you want to lose a quick 5+ pounds, take a trip to Russia.

Back to the recipe ... I sent my husband to Wal-Mart late one night to get the ingredients that I needed to make this recipe.  He couldn't find quinoa anywhere and when he asked for assistance, the Wal-Mart workers were no help.  So I ended up getting my quinoa from a bin at a health-food-type-store a few nights later.  This recipe was very easy & quick to make.  I made mine with dried cranberries, almonds, & walnuts. I really liked the nuts with the quinoa. This recipe was good, but I can't say I loved it.  It's no Double-Chocolate Mousse Cake!!  And now after making it and trying all the flavors together, I think I'd prefer making some quinoa with some fruits and nuts and serving it as a breakfast food rather than in a salad.

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