Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I love weekends, even though they are NEVER quite long enough! Friday nights tend to be so crowded in restaurants, so we usually get take out, to avoid waiting with the masses. But I'd stopped by Trader Joes in the morning and bought some of their carne asada (which is delicious!), so I made fajitas (which we both thought were better than a restaurant anyway!) and we enjoyed a relaxing evening together at home. On Saturday, we did get quite a few 'fix-it' jobs done around the house (I staked my tomatoes and green beans!), but we started the day with breakfast and a spur of the moment first time visit to the South Coast Botanical Garden which was pretty amazing. We've driven by it a zillion times, so it was nice to finally visit, and it is HUGE! We didn't see everything (because we had so many 'fix-it' jobs to get started on), but we had a great time exploring the different gardens, and there were so many beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom. If you live locally and have never been, it's a great place to take a picnic and spend a day wandering around, and it would be so fun for little kids too. The Children's Garden is adorable, and the Garden for the Senses was my favorite - filled with some of my favorite herbs, and other plants to see, touch and smell. I'm glad my hubby is so spontaneous coz I probably wouldn't have visited on my own and we had a great time! Surrounding yourself with nature (even in the middle of LA County), whether at the beach or a botanical garden, is so refreshing and relaxing! I have to remember to do that more often!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

DIY art for Mr. & Mrs ~ AKA The Dylan Installment

The Dylan Installment :P And an abstract piece we both liked in the background
One of the things we both loved when we first saw our new house was the fact that it felt like an art gallery. Big white walls, high ceilings in several rooms, lots of natural light coming in through the giant glass block window next to the stairs, and just a general airy feeling that made us both excited to think about the possibilities. The thing is art is completely subjective, and one man's idea of something he'd like to hang the wall is likely to differ greatly from one woman's vision for the house in general. For example, when my hubby said he wanted to get a huge picture of Bob Dylan to put on the wall, I took a few deep breaths and started to think of a way to use his idea to make something that I would enjoy looking at every day. And then I had an epiphany. I love black and white photography, and I have an obsession with trios of things - not sure why, but this something we've noticed about me - trios and diagonals. But anyway... Then there's the matter of our budget. Since we're still working on paying off our appliances (which I am SO THANKFUL for, it actually doesn't bother me to pay the bill, I just make myself think of laundromats and how many Sunday afternoons of my life were spent there, and then I click 'Pay Now' with GLEE!!), and there are other things around the house we want or need to spend money on, we are trying to stick to a budget when it comes to art. And since our old apartment was only 500 square feet, we didn't bring a lot with us :) So I came up with a DIY budget art project that my wonderful hubby hung up last night. Here's what we did:
The poster I ordered online
First, I ordered a black and white Bob Dylan poster from here - it was about $3.00 plus shipping on Amazon. When the poster arrived (like a day later - the return mailing label showed they shipped it from less than a mile away - kinda funny), we rolled it out and decided on three small areas of the poster that we both liked and thought had interesting contrast and detail. Then we bought some simple, big frames and matting. We got these from Aaron Brothers (and kicked ourselves for missing their penny sale by two days - ugh!!), but Ikea is great for inexpensive frames too. Then I cut out and framed the three areas we'd selected and voila - beautiful, simple art for our empty wall, Bob Dylan like the hubby wanted, but a little more subtle. I took a few quick snaps of how our little weekend project turned out this morning:

The pics don't quite do it justice, and I need to upload a front on pic of all three together (there are still pencil lines on the wall from the very complicated process of hanging them - our house is crooked, we're ok with that, but it makes simple things like this tricky!), but it was such an easy, inexpensive way to create art for our walls that we both love :)

The rooftop veggie garden...

Up close and personal with my growing tomato
I am the child of hippies - I grew up eating alfalfa home grown on the kitchen counter in a jar - and have recently been entertaining the idea of trying to sprout quinoa in my kitchen, although I haven't tried it yet. I also have the world's MOST amazing MUM ever! She raised us with a curiosity about the world around us and the confidence that inspires us to believe we can do anything, which probably explains why my first thought, upon moving into our house with a balcony last September, was ooh, I can plant a rooftop veggie garden. A little research made me realize that it wasn't the ideal season for planting much of anything (which I kind of assumed - butternut squash doesn't seem like it would stay contained in a little planter, but who knows, I might try it next fall!), but I figured what the heck, I'll buy a few veggies, stay on a budget in case they all die because it is winter, and see what happens. Here's what happened:

Crowded little windowbox with tomatoes, sage, garlic, green beans and strawberries

Now granted, it's been one of the warmest winters I can remember since moving to California, so that probably helped. But the truth is, I am a forgetful (and busy!) farmer who doesn't always remember to water my little 'crop', and with little more than an occasional watering, my veggie window box has thrived! I like to joke with my hubby that we will be able to make a little green bean caprese salad when our tomatoes are ready :) My little experiment turned out so well, I've decided to invest a little time in expanding my veggie garden this weekend. I bought two more pots, one to transplant the giant (non-fruit bearing!) tomato plant that's threatening to take over the window box, and the other for my new zucchini plants, which I hope will do well. I have wanted to try making stuffed squash blossoms like these for so long, and I can never find them so I figured this year, I'll grow my own :) I also got another strawberry plant, to fill in the windowbox and keep the other one company.

The first of two lovely green beans so far
 Our little rooftop veggie garden is a long way from becoming our sole source for fruit and veggies, and possibly will never become that, but it's fun to watch it grow and I can't wait to try a caprese salad with my homegrown cherry tomatoes! It all started with an inexpensive windowbox from Home Depot, a bag of organic potting mix, a few seedlings brave enough to weather the winter, and a little green watering can.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Love a good deal!

Well, there are few things in life I love more than a good deal, and this Living Social deal is amazing!!! A 16x20 gallery wrapped canvas print for $29, plus shipping, is a such great price, and the only problem I think I"ll have is trying to pick which picture to use! Getting some unique art up on our many walls is one of our big new house 'to dos', and this is an inexpensive way to take a photo I really love and make it wall-worthy :) The deal is offered through Fabness, which is a pretty great website for ordering these kinds of products, so check it out too! I immediately started browsing through my shutterfly and found these two pics from trips we took ages ago ~ they are just snapshots, taken with my trusty little point and shoot, but maybe if I mess with the contrast in photoshop, I will end up with a great image for a piece of art that reminds us of adventures we've taken together.  

Golden Gate Bridge ~ there are a million pics like this in the world, but this one would be a constant reminder of the day we walked the entire city on foot, taking this and so many other pictures and wondering why we didn't wear sneakers :)

Love this pic from Yosemite
  ***UPDATE: Sadly, this deal is sold out. However, for those who missed it, check out this website - their prices seem really great!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The best laid plans...

Pinned Image

Well, as nice as my plans for baking up a storm and enjoying the chilly weather sounded, this weekend did not quite unfold that way. I am still dying to try making the coconut white chocolate cupcakes, and as luck would have it, a friend is celebrating her birthday next Friday, so that might be the perfect occasion to try this recipe out, if I can wait that long! I wasn't feeling great for most of the weekend, so wasn't really in the mood to be on my feet and baking... And yesterday, regardless of how I was feeling, we had to go pick up some free furniture from my friend's place, so rather than sleeping in on our day off, we rented a U-haul truck and my daring husband (who is quite the driver by the way!) maneuvered his way through the (horribly potholed) streets of Los Angeles and heroically loaded up the truck with our acquisitions. As much as it would have been nice to lay in bed and be lazy, I am NOT complaining. My friend, who is moving out of state, gave us a bed for our unfurnished guest room, and a lovely chaise which will go in the office, at least for now! It was so exciting to see these rooms furnished that I was inspired to unpack the last remaining box from our move last September, and to organize and sort all of the piles of things that have been waiting to be put away. The office has been our 'holding area' for things we haven't had time to organize and put away yet, but not anymore! So while the weekend didn't go exactly the way I'd thought, I am grateful for the extra day off, the organization we achieved because of it, and for free furniture! On a side note, the bed was missing two screws (my fault - I took it apart in a hurry as we were double parked :P)... We took a little side trip to Ikea, went to customer service and showed them one of the screws, and they willingly gave as two more, no questions asked! You've gotta love great customer service! Anyway, we did get to hang out with friends (and meet their new puppy!), and I had a lovely afternoon with my Mum on Saturday as well, so it wasn't an 'all work and no play' kind of weekend. And I completed a DIY art project for our house, which I will post about soon. Waiting until the hubby hangs them up so I can take a good pic! So it was a good weekend, even if it wasn't quite what I'd planned in my mind :)

EKTORP Chaise IKEA Easy to keep clean with a removable,machine washable cover.
A chaise like the lovely one we brought home yesterday ~ I have always wanted one!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Apple crisp and other cozy treats...

Well the long weekend is minutes from starting for me (hooray!), and there's a crisp chill in the air (welcome back winter - and by winter I mean less than 75 degrees, but I'll take what I can get!), so I can't stop thinking about relaxing at home, spending time with friends and my wonderful hubby who is off for President's Day too (his old job made him work, so we feel like it's a bonus holiday!), and baking!! Something about chilly weather makes me want to cook! So I'm definitely planning to try my hand at making these delicious coconut white chocolate cupcakes! And maybe I'll finally use my poor neglected butternut squashes to make a yummy bowl of this soup. But I have to say, whenever the weather gets a bit wintery, I feel like eating apple crisp. And with a recipe this easy, I think I'll definitely have to make this! I love long weekends ~ having the time to do all the things I'm usually too busy to do!

Cinnamon Apple Crisp

1 cup of golden brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
3 1/2 lbs granny smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in large bowl. Add apples and toss to coat. Transfer apple mixture to prepared dish. Combine flour, 1 cup sugar and butter in medium bowl. Blend ingredients until coarse meal forms (I use my fingers, you could use a pastry cutter/fork/food processor). Spread flour mixture evenly over apples. Bake crisp 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake crisp until apples are tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: Traditions

Heart shaped mini tostadas for our Valentine's dinner
Most people seem to either love Valentine's Day or hate Valentine's Day... I am one of the former! I love the sentiment of Valentine's Day, taking the time to let the people we sometimes take for granted know just how much we love them... While the commercialism is pretty over the top, and the shameless raising of prices for flowers and prix fixe dinner menus make the whole day so 'cookie cutter' and predictable, the things I love about this particular holiday are the many traditions my Valentine and I share... For example, we both decided a long time ago that we'd much rather have a quite relaxing night together at home than spend it surrounded, elbow to elbow, by other couples (some of whom inevitably brought their noisy little kids because they didn't have a babysitter!), waiting for our overpriced meals to be rushed out of the kitchen and plopped down by a waiter so busy we won't see again for the rest of the evening. There was one notorious Valentine's Day that pushed us to this conclusion, and ever since, we've started our own tradition. I create a dinner menu (and try and prep as much as possible the night before, since I get off pretty late!), he decorates with rose petals, and we get the relaxing, meaningful date night without the hustle bustle and crowd that Valentine's Day brings. Another of our traditions? We hide little presents or notes for each other to find throughout the day - it's like a scavenger hunt. But my favorite tradition is the war cookies. What are war cookies? The recipe is no secret, chocolate chip cookies, made from the recipe on the back of the chocolate morsels package, but the love and the sentiment is the secret ingredient. Back in 2003, my husband (boyfriend at the time) was stationed in Kuwait, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The invasion was imminent and I was worried about him... With Valentine's Day a few weeks away, I decided to bake a batch of cookies, wrapped them in paper towels and ziplocks (to protect during shipping) and mailed cookies to Kuwait. They miraculously arrived on Valentine's Day (mail service was so irregular, it really did seem like a miracle!), and he shared them with the guys over there. And every year since, I make a batch of 'war cookies' and think about how blessed we are, to have each other, to be together when there are so many people who want to be but can't, and that he is healthy, safe and home. So last night, I was up late, waaaaaaaaay too late, getting everything ready for our dinner tonight, baking my 'war cookies' and completely grateful to have so much love in my life.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tea Party recap

Well, the tea party was absolutely lovely and everyone had a great time. The only thing I'm sorry about is that in the hustle bustle of getting ready for the party, I didn't take any pictures! Silly me! And there wasn't even a crumb left to take a picture of at the end. The scones were especially delicious, and so easy to make, you have to try them! And it's always nice to relax and enjoy girl time!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mad Hatter's Valentines Tea Party... The Plan

Well, last night I ran a bunch of errands and this morning I worked on my lollipop bouquets. They are pretty adorable - I will post a picture, just didn't have a chance to take one as I rushed out the door for work! I am SO excited to use my new three tiered cake stand ~ it was a Christmas gift and I have wanted one for so long! Here's the menu for tomorrow:

Tea Sandwiches - Chicken salad, ham and cheddar with dijon mustard, roasted turkey with cranberry thyme spread, and open face cucumber sandwiches
Mini quiches
Cream scones with strawberry jam, lemon curd and whipped cream
Brownie bites, lemon squares and some other tiny dessert
Bowl of fresh strawberries (or maybe chocolate dipped strawberries if I have time)

Not sure what the other tiny dessert will be. Maybe I'll make my mini cheesecakes, or else some little fruit tarts, like these:

Easy Fruit Tarts

Or if I run out of time, then maybe some mini cupcakes. I am serving icea tea and lemonade, in addition to hot tea, since I know not everyone is a fan :) Can't wait to post pics of the party tomorrow - I know it will be a lot of fun! Here's the recipe I'm using for the cream scones:

Cream Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones.

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and position a rack in the top third of the oven. Thoroughly combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of this mixture, add 1 1/4 cups of cream and stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a fork. Work quickly, stirring as little as possible, until a soft, shaggy dough forms. Add more cream, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems too dry.
2. Use a large serving spoon or cup measure to drop the batter onto an ungreased baking sheet, allowing at least 2 inches between each scone. Brush the top of each with heavy cream and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Makes 8 large scones.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Weekend whirlwind...

Well, as it tends to do, this weekend flew by! I didn't get a chance to try the cake in a cup (yet - but I will!!), nor did I make a nice big vat of this yummy butternut squash soup, but I cleaned my poor neglected house, spent a lazy Sunday afternoon on my deck with my sister and my Mum - and the young pup! And I spent a relaxing Saturday evening with my hubby, puttering around the house, shopping for art and sharing a late night dinner at Eatalian Cafe's newly expanded Crenshaw location - it's only been open a few days! And now I'm planning a Mad Hatter's Valentines Tea Party for a bunch of ladies this weekend. I love parties, and there are so many cute ideas out there for Valentine's themed desserts, decorations and crafts. I'm limited on time, but I'm going to try and incorporate some of these ideas:

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

These yummy mini cheesecakes - I am not a fan of cherry, so I top them with strawberries instead and they are delicious and embarrassingly easy to make...

table centerpiece ideas
These adorable centerpieces (I have a bunch of pretty lollipops I ordered for a New Year's party that didn't arrive in time to be used, so I've been saving them for something just like this!)...

And a few of these easy to make decorations to add some color and to cover the hole in my living room ceiling that we are still waiting for the insurance company to send someone to fix.

Over the next few days, I'll probably be posting a few more details about my upcoming soiree this weekend ~ I can't help it, I love parties!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Five minute chocolate cake

Some things seem too good to be true - like this!! I found this recipe a few weeks ago, and then came across it again today - which seems like a sign that I need to try this recipe pretty soon. Like tomorrow! 

microwave cake

4 Tablespoons cake flour
4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons cocoa
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons oil
1 Mug

1. In a microwavable mug, mix flour, sugar and cocoa, then spoon in egg.
2. Add the milk and oil and mix it with a fork.
3. Microwave for 3 minutes on high.
4. Wait a minute or two, to let the cake set, then remove from the microwave.

Yum! Can't wait to see if it works!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pure genius...

Living in a world where reality TV counts as entertainment, this video proves that pure, unbridled musical genius thrives! Love the song, love the collaboration, love their sound - most of all, love the talent that is respresented here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and other things I haven't gotten around to...

So it's February. FEBRUARY!!! How on EARTH did this happen? Where did the first month of this new year go?! I am accepting the fact that the older I get, the faster each year flies by, but I have to say, February really snuck up on me without warning! I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but usually I have one or two things in mind. Not this year. It's right around the time I'm usually giving up on my resolutions and I haven't even made one yet! I think we'll be skipping that this year! One thing I WON'T be skipping? This lovely deal from Groupon!! Yeah, diamonds are a girl's best friend, but Swarovski studs that sparkle at such a steal of a price ($20!!) are pretty amazing too! Apparently more than 4000 people agree with me ~ what a lovely little luxury :) The deal ends in 4 days, so don't wait too long to check out these stunning Swarovski studs!!!