Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Best Chicken Soup...Ever!

I'm always playing around with recipes and inventing my own. Chicken soup is one of the things I like to experiment with. Last year, I discovered that a squeeze of fresh lemon juice in a bowl of chicken soup really kicks it up to a new level of yumm! Last night, I found a way to make chicken soup that was the best ever!

A couple of nights ago, I made a recipe for Chicken Cacciatore that I found on line. I followed the recipe pretty closely. The only changes I made were that, instead of boneless/skinless chicken, I used thighs with the bone in and I removed the skin. I also used fresh rosemary instead of dried. It was really good. I stored the remaining sauce in the fridge overnight. Then...last night, I put that remaining sauce in a large pan with a large can (49 ounces, I think) of chicken broth. I heated it to boiling and added half a package of spaghetti that I broke into thirds. I continued cooking it until the pasta was done. Super easy! I served it up with a fresh lemon wedge squeezed into each bowl and dropped in for even more flavor. It was out of this world delicious!

My daughter commented that I need to make a huge pot of the chicken Cacciatore just so I can freeze containers of the sauce to make soup whenever we want. I just might do that!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tiny Nest

My excitement over the rose rings I made last week inspired a new idea. A ring with a tiny nest and teeny, tiny eggs.

So cute and so small...

I needle felted the nest and leaves.

The nest is made with a natural brown wool that has a few shades of brown and some white fibers. It gives it a more natural, nest-like look.

I tried to give the leaves some extra shaping and dimension so they wouldn't look flat.

The tiny eggs were made with polymer clay. They were really tricky to bake because of their tiny size. The first set burned and turned brown almost instantly. On the second try, I had to play around with oven settings and turning the oven off soon after I put them in and then just let them sit in the heat. I had to do that a couple of times to get them to harden but not burn. I love how they turned out. The blue is perfect and I like the subtle marbling.

I attached it all to a ring blank for a cute and whimsical accessory.

I love birds and nests but there's something about teeny, tiny things that make them extra cute.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rose Pins

Last week, on Valentine's Day, I made some sweet rose rings and posted them on my blog. Benita, of the blog, "Basically Benita", commented that she liked the red one and that it would be cute as a brooch. I thought that sounded like a great idea! I also thought it would be fun to make one and send it to her. She seems like such a sweet person and I appreciate all of her visits to my blog and the comments she leaves.

I bought a package of pins and got started on trying to recreate the red rose in a bigger size that would work with the pin and look good on a blouse or lapel. It was a wonderful exercise in creativity and problem solving because the way I made the small one didn't look right in a larger size. Hmmmm? I tried some different things and ended up with this one. It's ruffly and cute but doesn't look anything like the ring or much like a rose. This one is about three inches wide, including the leaves.

I kept working on the idea and came up with this one. It's much more similar to the ring. I'm not sure if it looks more like a rose or a Camellia. But, it is pretty. It's about two and 3/4 inches wide, including the leaves. I hope you like it, Benita!

I needed to cover the bottom where all the petals are attached. So, I cut a piece of green felt with little points coming up the sides to resemble the sepal(?) part of a rose. I think it worked pretty well.

I had so much fun making the rings last week and Benita's comment inspired me to spend some more time being creative with felt. Thanks, Benita!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy Hour with Salsa

What a wonderful, warm, sunny day we had! And, hubby had some good news at work. So, we thought it was a great time to go out to celebrate and have some fun.

Hubby came home early and we went to Temecula...with our Airedale, Salsa...to enjoy happy hour at the "Lazy Dog Cafe" where doggies can dine with their owners on the patio. Salsa thought this was pretty cool! And, what a great girl she was! She just hung out and relaxed with us.

She got a few bare foot massages under the table and lots of petting.

It was so nice to have great weather to dine outside again. And, we've been meaning to take Salsa to this restaurant for a while.

They call 3:00-6:00 p.m. their "Happiest Hours". They have a special menu with all kinds of goodies. We ordered lots of different things for our dinner. We started off with one of their beer samplers. This one was six, two ounce glasses of their own brews. They were really good!

We also had some garlic flat bread, Hawaiian Poke, chicken lettuce wraps...

and zucchini sticks.

The waitress brought Salsa her very own bowl of water.

I brought some doggy cookies so she wouldn't feel left out. We don't normally feed her at the table or while we're eating, but this was a special occasion. Plus, she's so cute and sweet that it's hard not to.

Then, came the dessert! A skillet with a hot brownie, a big scoop of ice cream, whipped cream and a strawberry. Mmmmmm...it was delicious! After those cookies, Salsa thought dessert looked pretty good too!


Okay...how about a little whipped cream?

These pictures crack me up....look at how her eyes crossed as she looked at that yummy finger full of whipped cream! lol

She was so cute and being such a good girl that my daughter topped the last cookie with a small dollop of whipped cream.



It got chilly shortly after we got there. The waitress turned on the heaters and that helped a bit. We had a lot of fun and plan to go back again this summer when it's warmer. I'm sure Salsa would be thrilled to go and there are lots more things on the "happiest" menu that we want to try.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Proud Mom

My mom taught me all kinds of things as I grew up that I feel so lucky to know...sewing, crochet, knitting and many other things. I appreciate all that she gave to me. I can't imagine my life without those things.

I have a tiny rocking chair that I remember sitting in as a child and crocheting. When my daughter was little, I taught her to crochet and she sat in that same chair. I have a picture of it somewhere.

As she grew up, I taught her how to knit, spin, weave, sew, cook...basically, everything I could. I've always enjoyed teaching her these things and doing them with her. Those basic skills have been blossoming this past year. She's gone from knowing how to do those things to loving to do those things. She's sewn some amazing clothing. She's a great cook. And, now, she knitting LACE! I'm so proud and excited! Check out her latest blog post HERE. Be sure to say, "hi" and leave a comment while you're there. :-)

Irish Hiking Scarf

My current knitting project is the "Irish Hiking Scarf". It's a free pattern I found on Ravelry and I love it! I just can't get enough of cables. They're fun to make and I love the gentle twists and curves and cushy texture. I'm adding ribbing to the ends of mine. I like how that looks.

After I started my scarf, I noticed that the back didn't look quite as attractive as the front. I saw that a couple of Ravelers made this scarf with a reversable cable. I poked around on the internet to figure out how to do that. I kind of got the idea but wasn't sure how to change the pattern to make it work. So, I just went with the pattern, as is. As it has gotten longer, the back doesn't look so bad.

The pattern was easy to memorize and I quickly figured out a way that I could ditch the pattern. Whenever I finish row one of the repeat, I place a marker around one of the knit stitches on the front of the scarf. With the marker, I can easily identify where I am. I can count the rows and know that it's time to cable whenever I get to row eight. Not having to fiddle with a pattern or keep track with notes makes this a relaxing knit.

I'm not using a fabulous yarn. It's just Bernat acrylic....dino fiber. I'm using size 9 needles which make it feel a bit softer than the 8's recommended on the label. But, it's still a bit stiff and plasticy...as expected. But, it was only about $4 for 445 yards! I should resist acrylic but the color was nice and I was longing for a worsted weight project that I could start on right away. I don't have any local yarn shops now. Shops have been closing over the past few years. The closest ones are 30 minutes to an hour drive away and I don't really like those. So, craft store yarn is my only choice for quick yarn. That means lots of acrylic choices. But, I'm having fun and it will be virutally indestrucable, right?...unless it melts. lol

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dictionary Delight

Decades ago, one of my neighbors had a HUGE dictionary sitting in her living room that I thought was so cool! I've wanted one ever since. However, I've never seen one in any of the many antique shops I've visited. That is...until last week.

My daughter and I needed to get out and about one day last week. So, we drove to Temecula for a little shopping. What a great afternoon we had! We hit the jackpot at Home Goods (that will be another post) and finally found...not just one...but two...huge dictionaries at an antique shop. Wow!

I spotted the green one sitting on a trunk in one of the booths. I quickly darted over and grabbed it up! My daughter, being the antique book lover and collector that she is, gasped at my find. It's something she has been wanting too. I figured that if the vendor of that booth liked one enough to buy it, they might have two. It was worth a look. Our eyes started scanning every inch of the booth and...there it was...the tan and red one!

They're big and heavy! Each one is 5" thick!

They're both from 1966. Not super old but old enough for us and we love how they look.

We're still not sure which one we each want. I like the green one but it's a great color to go with my daughter's shabby chic look. She likes the red and tan one but the red goes great with my decor. Hmmmm? Maybe we'll just trade off.

They're a lot of fun to look through. They have tons of info in the front and back about language and various things...even algebra. And, they have lots of maps!

We think we got a pretty good deal on them. One had a price of $16 and the other was $24. However, we asked if they would call the vendor and ask if we could get the $24 one marked down to $16 since they were both from the same year. They called and the vendor gave us an even better deal. We ended up getting both of them for $30. It's always worth asking.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Adventure of New Foods and a Medley of Mushrooms

Last Saturday morning was an adventure of new foods. I'm almost always open to trying new things and I usually like just about everything I try. However, this day was a little different.

The day started at the farmers' market. We arrived early to avoid the crowds. It worked! By the time it was crowded, we were finished and ready to go. One of the stands had "Jujube" fruits. They sounded great! They're high in antioxidants and very nutritious. They can even be used to make tea. How exciting! I like fruit and tea. This was going to be great! But...it wasn't! I was able to eat it and even swallow but the flavor was not nice and neither was the after taste.

Next, I tried goat cheese. My parents raised goats for a few years when I was a kid and we loved drinking the milk and making yogurt. However, I had some goat cheese on a Salad at Cheesecake Factory years ago and it was so horrible that I said I'd never eat it again. The flavor was strong and it over powered everything else. I kept eating other things to cover up that horrible taste and nothing worked. Yuck! But, it had been years and I had an open mind. This one was a creamy cheese flavored with apricots and something else...I don't remember. At first, it was creamy, sweet and good. BUT...it quickly changed...YUCK! The after taste was like goat fur! No, I've never tasted goat fur but I know how boy goats smell and that's how it tasted. NEVER AGAIN!

Our next stop was Trader Joe's where they were giving out samples of a seaweed snack. I didn't hesitate. I figured it would be good and I'd heard it was nutritious. BLECK! I couldn't even finish chewing it! A lady laughed and almost choked on her coffee from my reaction. What a great idea she had...the sample coffee! I quickly poured a cup to get rid of the seaweed taste and found out that I was about to try another new thing...chicory coffee. Even though everything I'd tried that day was bad, I was desperate and willing. Luckily, it wasn't too bad and it quickly got rid of the seaweed flavor.

I had the rest of the day to ready myself for more new foods...a medley of mushrooms we bought at the farmers' market...

They were organic and interesting. We love mushrooms and recently heard that they are super nutritious. Especially, the Asian varieties. So, we've been trying new kinds besides our usual Button, Crimini, and Portabella varieties. We tried "Wood Ear" mushrooms last week. Never again! They were rubbery and did not taste good. The ones we bought at the farmers' market looked a little more promising.

These were tiny but looked similar to Button and Portabellas...

So cute!...

This one looked a little less promising but it's swirly shapes were pretty...

It had an interesting texture on the bottom...

We broke the tiny ones apart and sliced the others into smaller pieces. Next, we sauteed them in olive oil and added some minced garlic. After they had cooked down a bit, we added the marinated artichoke hearts that my daughter had prepared the night before. They're super delicious! She posted them on her blog and you can read about it HERE. We continued cooking until everything was heated through. It was looking pretty tasty!...

In the meantime, we cooked up some spaghetti to serve with it and sliced up some prosciutto to garnish the top. We served it up with some roasted baby asparagus. What a delicious dinner!

My adventure in new foods didn't start out very well but it sure sure ended on a good note!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Can we have this again tomorrow night?"

That's what I kept hearing last night as my family inhaled their dinner. I didn't imagine that my latest dinner creation would receive such great reviews. It was easy to make and I was surprised at how good it was too. I'll definitely be making it again!

I had bought some boneless, skinless chicken that I wanted to use right away. I poked around on the Internet for recipes but didn't find anything that really caught my eye. I did, however, find some inspiration. It was for foil meals. You know...like the meals we used to make while camping and cook over the coals of the campfire? But, these had a twist that took them from good to great. Dressing! Why hadn't I ever thought of that?!

As usual, I didn't follow a recipe, I did my own thing. It didn't resemble the inspiration recipe at all. That's ok. It turned out great. Here's what I did...

Boneless/skinless chicken (I used a tray of it from Trader Joe's....healthy, happy, hormone free chicken)
1 bag of tiny fingerling potatoes (from Trader Joe's)
1 package of fresh green beans (yup...also from there)
Green Onions/Scallions
Olive oil
1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon from the tree in my backyard)
Dijon mustard
Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Measure out and cut two sheets of foil for each meal (I made three meals). I like to double up the foil to avoid holes and leaks. I think mine were probably about 15" long. Lay them out in double layers and bend the sides up from the middle a bit so the liquids won't run out as you prepare the food. Drizzle a little olive oil in the center of each one. Cut the chicken into medium sized pieces (I cut each piece into about 5 slices) and lay them in the center of each foil. I used kitchen scissors and did it as I went so I didn't have any extra dishes to clean up. Divide the little potatoes up and place them over the chicken. Trim and slice the green beans into smaller pieces (I sliced the beans into threes) and layer them over the potatoes. Chop green onions/shallots and sprinkle them over the tops of each meal.

In a bowl or measuring cup make a dressing with the zest and juice of one whole lemon, olive oil (I didn't measure...but don't worry...you can do it), about 1/2 teaspoon (more or less to your taste) Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of garlic powder. Whisk to incorporate and drizzle some over the ingredients in each of the packets.

Pull the foil up lengthwise over the food and fold over twice to seal and fold up the ends. You can mark initials in the foil for each person, if you'd like. Place the packets on a cookie sheet, with space between them, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet and open one packet to check for doneness. Carefully unfold the top enough to poke potatoes with a fork for softness and check the chicken. I found that two teaspoons, one in each hand, work well for opening a packet. They don't tear the foil and it keeps hands far enough away to prevent burns. Watch out for hot steam as you open the packet! If necessary, return them to the oven for additional baking. Ours were done perfectly in 25 minutes. I refolded the test packet and let them all sit for a few minutes to allow the juices to set into the meat and veggies. I served them up casual style by placing each packet on a plate and opening the top. The ingredients could be removed and arranged on plates for a more elegant presentation.

The addition of the dressing made these foil meals so delicious! The lemon and Dijon made it tangy and flavorful! The juices at the bottom are great for dipping the potatoes and chicken. This is a healthy meal with lots of possibilities. There are so many things that could be added or changed....mushrooms, corn, tomatoes, garlic cloves, beets, chilies, or greens. The protein could be changed up with meatballs, fish or tofu. The dressing flavor could be changed up too. It could be made with an Italian twist of olive oil, garlic, Italian herbs and some wine. Or, it could be Mexican with the addition of green chilies or chili powder, cumin and cilantro or use salsa as the dressing. It's a great dinner option when you don't know what to cook but have some great ingredients in the fridge. It's also easy clean up! The prep time was super quick and the baking time was perfect for knitting time!

I think we'll definitely be having these again and again! Let me know if you try it and what you do to change it up and make it unique. Enjoy! :-D

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Pattern

The knitters and crocheters in the local "Stitch n Bitch" group are always creating beautiful and inspiring projects. Sometimes they even create them from scratch. One of the ladies created a crochet scarf a couple of months ago that I loved so much that I encouraged her to write the pattern. And...she did!

She wrote down some notes...that night, I think...and sent them to me asking if I'd test the pattern and help her with writing it. I was thrilled to be involved and help out.

The pattern requires 400-500 yards of fingering weight yarn. I bought two skeins of JoAnn's "Bamboo and Ewe" yarn in a lovely purple/lavender color. The pattern calls for two crochet hook sizes, "I" and "J". The larger hook is used for the base chain to be sure it's nice and loose. Great idea! The smaller hook is used for the rest of the scarf.

The pattern is simple and the results are wonderful!

The pattern provides a couple of size options and instructions on how to customize the width. Mine is 6" x 76". The long length provides for lots of different ways to wear it. I love that!

It's lacey and soft.

This yarn was splitty but the end result is drapey and the weight is just perfect.

I love the color. I've been wanting to make something in purple to keep me warm. This is such a nice purple...not too dark, not too light and a nice hue. The color in all the pictures is pretty accurate except the bottom two.

There are are several options listed in the pattern for finishing the scarf. It can be blocked out to make it more open and lacey. And, there's an edging that can be added. I opted for just fastening off and tucking in the ends. The edges of the scarf are so frilly, delicate and pretty that I didn't want to cover them up with an edging. I didn't block mine because I like the feel and look of it as is.

The texture of the fabric is really cool. It's lacey and feminine. At certain angles there's a faint grid and lines. And, when it's held up to the light, it has a ziggy zaggy pattern. Who knew you could create all this in a simple pattern with only a couple of different stitches?!

I tried to be as thorough as possible with testing the pattern. I tested out crochet hook sizes to see how they compared, wrote, rewrote, and kept tweeking the pattern until I felt it was ready to send off to her. She was very happy with it and just needed to add a picture and a few details. She added a second edging option which I'm a little confused on it's directions. But, if I make this again, I'll probably do it without an edge because I like it so much on it's own. The pattern is by "Inneryarnzen" (I love that name!). She called it, "The Gift" and it's available for free on Ravelry. Just click "HERE"

I'm so excited to wear my new scarf! Thank you, "Inneryarnzen" for letting me help out with your first pattern and be one of the first to have one of these beautiful scarves. I love it! :-)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sweet Roses

I love roses! Pink ones, red ones, yellow ones, orange ones....any color...they're all beautiful! I liked a silver rose ring that I recently saw too. But, being the frugal person I am, I didn't buy it. It inspired me though. I imagined a rose ring that I could make. And, I could do it with materials I already had!

I described it to my daughter and it inspired her. She got up this morning and made a flower ring with felt fabric and blogged it HERE before she went to class. It's so cute! I love the glitzy button detail in the center! She matched it to her outfit and wore it. It looked great on her!

Later today, I went to the studio and created the rose ring I had imagined. I think it turned out pretty much like I had envisioned. I created it with some coral wool and a felting needle. I love the soft look of it. So pretty and sweet.

I attached it to a ring blank...

And, I wore it out when I ran errands today. It's a perfect accessory for Valentine's Day!

It was so much fun to make my wool rose ring and I was so inspired by my daughter's felt flower ring that I just couldn't stop at one! I made another rose ring with felt...

I love the deep red color!

My daughter tried a couple of the rings on one hand and we could imagine a whole hand full of flower rings...one on each finger...like a little bouquet! I probably wouldn't wear so many at once...but what a cute idea! These cute little things could be addicting!