Monday, January 31, 2011

What We're Doing: Reflecting on a very Happy 16th Birthday Party

Friends' Sneakers in the Foyer -
Can you believe there's a bunch in the closet!
Our eldest turned 16. He invited 25 friends over; our 13-year-old had 10 or so buddies over as well. Of course, family was here.  Initially, I was putting the sneakers in the foyer closets, then I gave up ... to the pile shown here! Proudly sporting his Air Jordan 12 sneakers, our 3-year-old sneaker aficionado jumped in for the photo!

These boys were terrific, as each and every one of them took off his sneakers (without being asked) and several used the paper towels to wipe down the foyer floor...  again, without being asked. Polite and respectful, what amazing young men they are!  Our sons have a knack for choosing terrific friends. For this, my husband and I are very grateful.
Dessert Buffet - Something for Everyone
Feeding 35 teenage boys means big quantity. 18 feet of hero sandwiches, four pizzas, Buffalo wings, side salads, and chips n dip are tasty but nothing beats the dessert table: berry salad, walnut-carrot cake (unbelievable), lots of cookies, Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownies (our family favorite), homemade pear tart, and my girlfriend's scrumptious medley of chocolate (a decadent mix of dark and milk) and candy-covered pretzels and marshmallows beautifully served on a large winter-white Ikea serving tray.

Happy Birthday! We love you!

~ Mommy (Linda)

What We're Watching - The Kardashians

Okay, maybe we're not keeping up with the Kardashians, but we're watching them.  Find this fun reality show on the E channel.  Watch Bruce Jenner, Olympic decathalon athlete, and his wife Kris interact with their blended family.  Kris' children from her marriage with Robert Kardashian are Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Rob.  Kris and Bruce have two daughters, Kendall and Kylie Jenner.  Bruce has two older sons from his first marriage.  The Kardashian girls are stylists.  So check out what they are wearing for the latest styles.  Their homes are beautifully decorated, and the family interaction is entertaining. 

Catch up with DVDs of the First Season, the Second Season, and the Third Season, and be sure to watch Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami.  These pop culture icons will certainly keep your attention or, at the very least, provide some mindless entertainment.

~ Laura

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cooking with Laura - Chicken Cutlets

Chicken cutlets is a quick, easy, healthy, and delicious meal, and everyone loves them.  Buy boneless breast of chicken.  Rinse the chicken and trim any fat.  Dry the chicken with paper towels.  If the breasts are very thick, I sometimes carefully slice them into two thinner cutlets.  Lightly dip the breasts in a beaten egg. Then coat the cutlets with a thin layer of breadcrumbs - I like non-seasoned breadcrumbs because they don't burn as easily.  Also, I buy natural breadcrumbs with no additives or preservatives.  Pan saute the cutlets in olive oil, which gives them a great taste.  They cook beautifully in a cast iron pan.  Place the cutlets on paper towels to absorb excess oil before serving. Serve with a large tossed salad.  It doesn't get much easier than that. 

Another Tip from Mom: Economizing Key:
If you are low on eggs, no need to run out and pick some up. Instead, dip the breasts in fat free milk. The milk works just as well (even better because the breading won't go on as thick) as egg in holding onto the breadcrumbs, plus now you have an extra egg or two for scrambled eggs for tomorrow's breakfast. 

Economizing Key: Turn leftovers from this dinner into tomorrow's lunch. Nothing my son loves more than for me to pack him this brown bag lunch for school: a chicken cutlet, Romaine lettuce, and light mayo sandwich on a long hero roll for lunch the next day!

Romaine salad with black olives, grape tomatoes, romano cheese, and red onion

Friday, January 28, 2011

No Fuss Visits with Friends and Family: A Well-Appointed Coffee & Tea Tray

More than what we say or the gifts we give, the time we make for each other speaks volumes about how we feel and care. Sometimes, though, friends and family don't have the time to spend the day or go to lunch. Most often, though, they have time for a quick visit. Sharing a cup of tea or coffee in the privacy and comfort of one's home is a warm and enjoyable way to catch-up with good friends. A good friend of mine, Kim, simmers deliciously-scented potpourri on her stove when we gather at her home. This is a welcoming touch.

So that I'm ready when expecting a visit or impromptu guest, I keep a service tray set on a shelf in my dining room closet, a spacious storage area that my husband built several years ago.  
Convenient to have a tea & coffee service tray
ready-to-go so you can enjoy your guests without fussing.
    Checklist of what you might want to keep on your serving tray.
Having this tray ready eliminates last-minute fussing:

~ assorted decaf & regular teas: organic green tea is a favorite
~ organic, all-natural honey
~ teabag tongs
~ wooden honey server
~ sugar with spoon
~ sugar substitutes
~ small pitcher for milk or half-and-half
~ a small votive holder & vanilla-scented tea light
   (tray above holds a favorite teardrop-shaped crystal votive)
~ or, a small scented candle in your favorite seasonal scent

A wooden honey server and mini "tongs" of sorts (mine is heart-shaped) are two of my favorite tea-serving accessories. I keep them both handy on the tray. Honey is served neatly with the spiral server, which my kids find fun to use.  The tongs work perfectly for removing teabags after seeping.

In the closet, next to the tray, I keep a large, wooden dome-topped box (photo below) filled with assorted teas that friends might enjoy. I keep classic regular and decaf teas on hand (Lipton, Irish Breakfast tea) as well as my favorite Yogi teas, which come in exotic and delicious flavors such as Lemon-Ginger and Vanilla-Hazelnut.

Vintage teacups make elegant holders for teabags. Above, I use my great Aunt Helen's pretty pastel-floral teacups to hold the organic green teabags. To hold the used teabags, I use another antique cup from her set. Fun part is, these teacups don't have to match. Although I have several Portmeirion pieces that I treasure, eclectic service is my favorite. A particularly elegant serving piece is the Portmeirion Botanic Garden teapot;
it is classic and vibrant.
The only thing left to do before your friend arrives is to slice some lemon and put out something sweet. You may want to try one of the baking recipes in our older posts - walnut shortbread cookies, pizzelle waffle cookies, chocolate-cranberry biscotti, low-fat blueberry muffins... With this coffee break, we're having my mother's moist and tasty pound cake, made with mini bittersweet-dark chocolate chips.

Served with Mom's Dark Chocolate-Chip Pound Cake
Tip from MomLeave a plastic spoon - tablespoon size if you have one - in your can of coffee. Convenient and time-saving. Or leave a spare 1/4 measuring cup in your coffee can. (my sister-in-law gave me this tip) A matter of taste but, for me, the 1/4 cup makes about 3 cups of coffee.

~ Linda

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Baking with Laura - Low Fat Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Low-fat Blueberry Muffins cooling on granite countertop
  On a cold winter day, there's nothing better than warm homemade muffins just out of the stove.  I found this recipe, now a favorite, in Cooking Light Magazine.

Low-fat plain, organic yogurt replaces oil, reducing fat and adding protein.  They are moist and delicious.  Since my son doesn't like blueberries, I split the batter and add blueberries (loaded with antioxidants) to half of the batter and dark chocolate chips to the other half.  We all enjoyed a nutritious muffin for breakfast, and for a mid-afternoon snack with a cup of coffee.  I made them in my favorite nonstick muffin tin.  These are wonderful to bake on a snow day, or to bring to a friend. I brought a bunch to my nephews who enjoyed them with tall glasses of milk. 

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup Stonyfield organic plain yogurt
2 organic eggs
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon zest grated (optional)
                                 1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray muffin tin with cooking spray (or use cupcake liners, as I did).  In small mixing bowl, sift together flour and baking soda.  In another bowl, combine sugar, yogurt, eggs, butter, cinnamon and lemon zest.  Beat until thoroughly combined.  Add dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Be careful not to overmix.  Gently fold in blueberries and spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes before serving.  Makes 12 muffins.

I sprinkled muffins with Wilton yellow sparkling sugar to give them a golden sparkle and a little extra sweetness.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What We're Doing: Regrouping after a Ski Trip with Family & Friends

Safe and harmonious: it was a wonderful trip.

Armada Trunk: Pre Ski Weekend
Trip to Costco
I am particularly happy to write this post as a means of savoring and preserving the good times of our ski trip. Reflecting on the long weekend in the Berkshires with my family, sisters, their families, and good friends, three themes come to mind:  keeping warm, gathering, and sharing stories.

Keeping warm under blankets during the ride up to the mountain, ice crystallizes in intricate designs outside and inside the car windows. Thermostat reads 2 degrees!

In the morning, there are significant winds on the express 6-seater lift!  Cozying up to my husband to keep warm on the blustery lift.

The lodge becomes our warming center: hot chocolate, warming hands at the fire pit at the lodge patio...
Big bowls of spicy Texas beef hot chili , warm burritos, and New England clam chowder (a new favorite of our 13 year old son, a budding food connoisseur) in big bread bowls with bread lids on keep it warm.

Next to safety, keeping warm is a top priority when skiing. Over the years, we've tried many brands of clothing meant to keep you warm. Click on our links (we wouldn't steer you wrong) to check out the tried-and-true warmth-keeping layers that we consider essential for a day on the slopes:  Underarmour turtlenecks paradox pants...Smartwool ski socks and skull caps under helmets, turtle neck warmers, face warmers, hand warmers, and Smartwool, moisture-wicking ski gloves layered on top of thin, gold-metallic gloves. Favorite underlayers of all:  Hot Chillys!

We like Denali and Minus Zero wind-breaking jackets as extra layers, more layers with Polar Max,and Paradox pullovers, handwarmers, Boeri helmets, snow-white Bolle goggles (another favorite!)

Probably to get warm, our 16 year old tried beef barley soup at Dakota steakhouse and seafood restaurant where we sat (about 20 of us) in front of a wide and roaring toasty warm fireplace, beneath several big moose heads and an upside down canoe.

....taking long soaks in Jacuzzis at the hotel...wrapping fingers around mugfuls of hot chocolate...

Out to eat later that evening, and we're all wearing "warm":  fur hats, rugged work boots, grey flannel earmuffs, lots of fleece.

Gathering in the garage, a few days before the trip, to load the Yakima rooftop cargo capsule, assembly-line style, with boots, skis, and poles... This ruggedly durable, capacious, and sleekly-designed storage container is an unequivocal MUST!!  Check out my link; they are worth every penny.  Equipment is clean, contained, and ready-to-go. Perfect for snowboards as well. the car, the five of us, for a three and a half hour ride on scenic, rural route 22 where we see cows, horses, and 6' long icicles hanging down from the rooves of homes with wrap-around porches. We saw a frozen lake on which men were fishing and cars were driving!

Gathering in each other's suites to share a mug of Ghiardelli hot chocolate or a glass of red each other's suites for a few rounds of rough-and-tumble:

Our Teen Boys taking Turns Bench-pressing their
38-lb Little Brother...Fun in the Suite our long table in the lodge to eat  and tell stories about our experiences on Left Bank or Grand Slam or - in case of our sons and ski-loving nephew - black diamond Ace of Spades

Gathering at the table in our suite to play very competitive Scrabble, side-splitting game of Cranium and Duck Duck Goose, which our 3 year old vociferously orchestrated.  If your family does not own Family Edition Cranium, I enthusiastically recommend it:  sculpting with play dough, humming songs, sketching with eyes closed, acting things out ...  So much fun and so much roaring laughter that my 16 year old nephew couldn't catch his breath and my throat was sore from screaming!

...gathering for very large deliveries (my husband ordered) of four varieties of pizza, 3 versions of salad and Buffalo watch the Jets game; miraculously, I napped through the first hour of the gathering. the scrumptious salad bar at Dakota Steakhouse ( I love salad bars...wish I had one built-in to my kitchen ):  wasabi peas, whole radishes, long sprouts, soy nuts...the most delicious lemon-flavored carrots I've ever tasted.  Our 3-year-old couldn't get enough of those carrots! the Chipmunk bunny slope to watch our preschooler at Skiwee School and playing with play dough at the Cub's Den Playhouse.

Gathering in each other's rooms to see what snacks each party brought, which ran the full gamut: oatmeal squares, croissants, Nutella, pretzel rods, chocolate chip cookies, muffins, pistachios, Zone bars, turkey and pear sandwiches, almond & apple butter sandwiches, organic pop tarts (can you believe they make them), raw almonds.... the breezy top of the mountain, where the windmills turn, to wait for friends coming up on the lift. front of the lobster tank at Dakota steakhouse to watch our son's face as he watched the lobsters... Dakota lobby for our annual photo in front of the 8-foot tall stuffed grizzly bear!

Sharing stories Which route did you take up? Hutch? Taconic? Thruway or the scenic, rural route 22?  How was the traffic? Detours? See any deer?

Which lift did you take up?  Which trail did you take down? Did you take the 2 mile run? Who did you ski with? Try the workout room at the main lodge? How were the treadmills? The pool?  Take any trails thru the woods? Moguls? Icy patches? Which lift has the cushioned seat? Did you take the two seater chairlift that cruises over the alpine slide?  Did you hear the top 40 music blasting at the terrain park?

Did your lift stop? for how long?
P-touch Labeler is Indispensable in Keeping
Equipment Organized
Getting Organized To avoid confusion at the bustling ski lodge: Who's helmet is this?? Anyone see my goggles??? Where's my neckwarmer? my sister and I went on a labeling frenzy the week before we left. 

With our Sharpie markers and with white adhesive labels made with our P-touch labelers (One of our Top-Top Favorite Products; I couldn't live without mine! Order your labeler today if, like me, getting organized is one of your New Year's resolutions.) we labeled everything:  rolling duffel bags, helmets, helmet bags, goggles, gloves, boots, even my son's ski pants were labelled with round, plastic discs dangling from his pockets (cell phone # as well). I labeled our rolling cooler!
Our 3-year-old on the Magic Carpet, Chipmunk Slope

Meeting his Instructor at SkiWee School
Happy and harmonious, the twenty of us: it was a trip to remember with smiles.

Cooking with Laura - Grilled Chicken with Balsamic Glaze, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts

Grilled Chicken with Balsamic Glaze
Easy, delicious, healthy, inexpensive, easy cleanup - this dinner has it all!  As usual, trying to cook boneless chicken breast with a new twist.  I buy the thick boneless chicken breast and slice them into two thinner cutlets.  When you buy the chicken cutlets thin-sliced, they are usually a little too thin.  Run the chicken cutlets under cool water, cut off any visible fat and membranes, pat dry with paper towels, then coat with extra virgin olive oil (of course), salt and pepper.  Grill the cutlets on a grill pan that has been sprayed with olive oil, on medium heat about 5 minutes per side, until lightly browned and cooked through but not overdone.  In a small saucepan, add 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and two cloves of finely chopped garlic.  Boil down until the balsamic reduces in half.  Lower heat, add one tablespoon of butter and stir in.  Drizzle the glaze over the chicken.  Balsamic vinegar has a delicious sweet taste when boiled down.

For the sweet potatoes, wash and peel two sweet potatoes  Cut in half crosswise and then cut lengthwise into eighths.  Toss with extra virgin olive oil (of course), salt and pepper, and bake on cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until nicely browned and fork goes in easily.  The softer, the better.

For the first time ever, I made frozen rather than fresh brussel sprouts.  They were easy and delicious.  Steam according to package directions.  Drain and add 1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of salt.  If you don't own a grill pan, order this one now.  You will love it and use it over and over again. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cooking with Linda: Sicilian-style Pizza with Bell Peppers

Everyone here is happy when it's homemade pizza night! I grew up with homemade pizza on Fridays as well as homemade sauce (with one bay leaf and parsley from my father's backyard garden), meatballs and sometimes gnocchi on Sundays. 

Pizza made at home is a big step above the pies that are delivered.  Follow this easy recipe, and I bet your family will enjoy it very much, too.

Always helpful, our 3-year-old sprinkles
the part-skim shredded mozzerella.
Brush a light coating of extra-virgin olive oil along surface of a baking sheet. For us, this is Sicilian style because the pizza is rectangular, served in squares, and the dough is fluffy. Spread the two balls of pizza dough evenly, leaving generous amounts of dough in the corners and around the edges of the baking sheet.  This allows the tomatoes and toppings to stay in and allows for a substantial crust to hold.

Bake the pizza dough, only, for about 5-7 minutes until it rises and becomes fluffy. Remove baking sheet from oven. I have made homemade pizza dough in the past (seasoned with fresh rosemary) but I find that the dough I purchase at local pizzerias and Italian bakeries is just as tasty. I leave it out, room temperature, for about 45 minutes until I'm ready to use it.

On top the partially-baked and lightly golden pizza dough, evenly spread 3/4 can of crushed tomatos; sprinkle a generous portion of part-skim, shredded mozzarella cheese, touch of garlic salt and black pepper. Add crushed red pepper (optional).

Like his big brothers, our sweet Little Guy enjoys
occasional food prep in our kitchen!
Wash a yellow and green bell pepper; slice thinly and steam on top of the stove for about five minutes until they are tender. Without this step, the peppers may not cook enough in the oven.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes or until mozzarella is bubbly and light golden brown. Let the pizza cool a bit before cutting.  Although I own a large and easy-to-use Pampered Chef rolling pizza cutter, I prefer to also use kitchen scissors to cut Sicilian-style slices.

Sicilian-style Pizza topped with Yellow & Green Bell Peppers
Serve with baby arugala salad, Pellegrino with fresh lemon, and dinner is ready. Pronto!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What We're Doing - Snowblowing

Ariens snowblower
 A big snow means my husband gets to use his big Ariens snowblower - something he looks forward to.  Long Island got hit with 12 plus inches of snow overnight.  My husband was out there this morning clearing the driveway - and a few neighbors'. 

The Ariens is a powerful machine, and its shiny orange metal really stands out in the snow.  It glides up and down the driveway, throwing snow 30 feet away, leaving a beautiful clear driveway.  And the best part is that no one has to shovel the driveway.  All the snowblower needs is a gallon or so of gas and it is good to go for a whole season. 

Decluttering 101: Selling on Ebay

Mickey Mouse and friends - Pinocchio, Daisy Duck, Pluto, Bugs Bunny

Parting with Mickey Mouse - or Not

I've been on a major decluttering mission.  The prize would be to have closets that look like those in Real Simple (1-year auto-renewal)Real Simple magazine.  Realistically, I just don't want to have a shoe fall out and hit me on the head when I open my closet door.  I've been tackling one closet at  time, making piles of items to give to charity, to give to friends or family, to throw out, to save, and to sell. 

It's really hard to get rid of things I've been saving for years, but I keep reminding myself that I haven't regretted getting rid of one thing.  Because my house has very small closets and very little storage, I still have a long way to go.  For followers of my blog, you know that I was inspired after hearing Gail Blanke speak and reading her fabulous book, Throw Out Fifty Things
I recently discovered selling on ebay as another way to declutter.  A great way to get rid of that old camera that I never used but was very valuable to a collector in Illinois.  I also parted with a handmade patchwork quilt that was taking up a whole shelf in a closet - several bidders went crazy for it!  Then I started selling my old toys (yes, I still have some) and my son's old toys.  So, that's why I took this photo of Mickey and friends and put it up on ebay to sell.  Turns out, my mother saw my ebay listing and wanted to bid on the Disney figurines!  I told her that I could simply withdraw them from sale and give them to her.  Which I did.  When I gave them to my mother, she said she didn't want them because she thought they were much bigger.  So, there they are back in my storage room - together with Winnie the Pooh, Owl, Piglet and Eyeore - you'll see them on ebay next week!

Winnie the Pooh and friends - Piglet, Eeyore and Owl

Monday, January 10, 2011

What We're Watching: Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

A little embarassing but I'll put it out there ....
I'm an avid follower of this reality series.  It's one of only two shows that I enjoy in the evenings. When  watching Real Housewives on Thursday nights, I tell my sons not to bother me unless it's an emergency. Not kidding.

Can't get over how catty and competitive these grown women are. Watching the show, I count my blessings: the women in my life - mother, mother in law, sisters, sisters-in-law, nieces and girlfriends - are supportive and kind, each and every one offers qualities and strengths to admire. As I see it (rose-colored, maybe....but still my perception is my reality), their intentions are to edify rather than tear down.

Back to Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I like Kyle. She's real, acts in a natural manner, and seems to have her priorities in line. Kyle's the type of woman with whom I'd be happy to be friends. Confident and stylish as well, but then all the women have high style. I enjoy checking out their accessories: earrings, cuff bracelets, necklaces, purses ...  maybe I should get a pair of huge hoop earrings.

A tight marriage, happy children, and good friends, Kyle is a woman to admire.
Lisa (the paradigm of classy combined with hip) and Adrienne are my two next favorites. I admire Adrienne's strength, conviction, and dedication to martial arts. Her marriage seems playfully fun-loving, devoted, and healthy.

I'm addicted to this series and ("obvi," as my boys would say) I've divulged to the blogosphere... my husband sometimes indulges me by watching it with me so I can talk to him about it; he's the best.

If you haven't tried this series yet, give it a shot. NY City Housewives is a good place to start: The Real Housewives of New York: Season One and The Real Housewives of New York: Season Two.

Pardon the cliche, but this series - with all its shenanigans - confirms that money and status do not necessarily yield peace and contentment. The show does, however, yield a deluge of drama - I have boys, no drama. Refined girlfriends, no drama.  Very good family, no drama. Again, I count my blessings.

~ Linda