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December 31, 2009

Fourth Quarter Round-Up

Once again, in the fall, I kept a running list of the good and bad for the quarter, but failed to post it at the end of the year. So, without further editing, I'm hitting "publish." I like having a tangible list of my goals, as a sort of a journal accounting. Here was October/November/December 2009:

-Had my Dyson vaccum cleaner professionally serviced & cleaned to maximize efficiency and supported a local business in the process.
-Had Claire's cysts biopsied at the end of October--came back as benign "follicular cysts"
-Improved my culinary skills by learning to make baked/scalloped apples, squash casserole, and a "sausage" breakfast casserole
-Donated dog cookies that I'd baked and packaged to my 4-H club to sell at Judging Day to benefit the club. Continued to donate my time as a 4-H leader.
-Finally found a 2nd bowl for my ice cream maker at a thrift store for $5! Sounds silly, but I waited a long time to find this secondhand (been looking for a year) rather than wasting a lot of money ordering from the manufacturer and contributing to mass consumerism. Now I can make two kinds of ice cream at once! I'm trying to make more purchasing choices consciously, as I did this time.
-Got my pasta maker attachment for my stand mixer at a thrift store for $54, which retails from the manufacturer for $169. I then sold via etsy for $25 my old manual pasta maker that I'd never used. Total investment: $34. And I held to the item in-item out rule that will keep my clutter in check.
-Registered on; started trading books there in addition to PaperBackSwap.
-Hosted Thanksgiving for eight people, including myself--parents and friends that are family. Bought way too much groceries; cooked for a week; cooked holiday meal; decluttered and cleaned house to fit all the people in. Forgot to take pictures.
-Introduced my mom to z-coil shoes, orthopedically fit to an individual. Hoping she'll see benefits to her knees and back.
-Found an "adopt a family" program for the 4-H club to participate in during the holidays. Picked up the club's collected gifts and delivered to the shelter for them
-Got a two-week vacation/break at my folks' for the holidays. Drove, with dogs, in storm, stranded overnight in hotel. Spent time mostly crafting with my mom.
-Fulfilled jury duty
-Did not do the day-after-Christmas sales, where I normally do ALL my holiday shopping in advance for the next year. This sets me up for a very low-key, homemade holiday next year. I'll have to have conversations with family and friends to prepare us both for this. And am not used to doing gifts at the last minute--so will have to make a conscious effort to prepare throughout the year. Will not be doing stockings for my immediate family next Christmas.

Goals for winter:
-Focus on looking for work
-Continue blogging, 4-H work
-As usual, get more physical
-Continue daily dog walking, grooming them regularly myself
-Craft for next xmas in January
-Bring back my garden

December 25, 2009

Recipe Corner: Egg, Corn, "Sausage" Breakfast Casserole

It's been a goal of mine lately to learn more one-dish, casserole type meals. With minimal preparation, I can eat for weeks on end, and have more food groups in one meal than my typical cheese-sandwich-and-a-yogurt single person dining. It's also important to minimize dishes since my kitchen sink is a shallow bar sink. And a friend has encouraged me to do more experimenting with "fake meats" to get more protein in my diet. She got me to buy some Morning Star meat "crumbles" that had been in my freezer for a couple months. All these influences led me to experiment while home for the holidays. I finally decided to get another bag of the fake meat and try my mom's egg and sausage casserole recipe, substituting the vegan crumbles for the sausage. It turned out to be easy and delicious. A little assembly the day before gave us a great Christmas morning breakfast.

Click on the image above to enlarge the recipe to a readable or printable size. Below are the Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Griller Recipe Crumbles that I substituted for the meat in my mom's recipe.

I sauteed the crumbles in a bit of olive oil till brown, as you would with ground hamburger or taco meat and set them aside. Since I've never really eaten meat, this was a learning experience for me! Sometimes it's nice to step out of a comfort zone and learn a new skill, and this was so easy I'm sure I'll do it again. Next time I think I'd brown the "meat" a little more. I used the whole bag since I had it on hand--I didn't want to leave leftovers in my folks' fridge; they're meat eaters who wouldn't use this up.

I figured the first few steps didn't need to be photographed: the eggs were hard boiled, cooled, peeled, then sliced. I'm not a yolk lover, so I left those out, though my mom usually puts them in her casserole. The corn was canned, but not the "soupy" kind. I drained it and dumped it into the mix. Below is all the casserole stuff, ready to be sauced. As you can see I used a large, 9 x 13 inch pan, which I first greased a bit.

Below is all the sauce ingredients minus the milk. The butter is melted into the dry ingredients (flour, salt, garlic salt) to create a roux. Once it reaches this stage, the milk is whisked in and the sauce is heated to boiling to thicken it. I omitted the pepper, and replaced half the salt with garlic salt for a little extra flavor.

Here's the casserole assembly with the sauce poured over and mixed in. Panko bread crumbs topped it off. At this stage I covered with foil and stored in our cooler, to cook the next morning. Ready for Christmas!

The finished casserole looked and smelled delicious! I cooked it covered with foil, then removed the foil for about the last ten minutes to brown the panko bread crumb topping. The bread crumbs look a bit like sugar crystals in the photo but they added just the right crunch to the casserole.

I served this along with my friend Cathy's Chocolate Chip Scones, to which I'd thrown in some maraschino cherries. The scone was extra festive from the red cherries poking through.

What do you eat on Christmas morning (besides candy from stockings)? We typically have hors d'ouvres when we open presents, some sort of light or easy breakfast Christmas morning, and a big formal dinner Christmas day. Do you have a food tradition for the holidays? Tell me about it by leaving a comment on the blog.

December 17, 2009

Double Holiday Feature at the Aero

Movies with Holiday Spirit,
Screwball Comedies & Big Screen Classics

This Friday, the American Cinematheque is hosting a holiday double feature at the Aero. There's a similar program playing at the Egyptian as well. Follow the link to see their schedule.

Friday, December 18 - 7:30 PM
Double Feature: A CHRISTMAS STORY, 1983, Warner Bros., 94 min. Dir. Bob Clark. This nostalgic cult Christmas comedy, told from the perspective of Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), focuses on his overwhelming desire to get "an official Red Ryder, carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle," despite the fact that all the adults around him tell him that he’ll "shoot his eye out"!

REMEMBER THE NIGHT, 1940, Universal, 94 min. Dir. Mitchell Leisen. In this romantic holiday classic, Barbara Stanwyck is arrested for shoplifting during the Christmas season. District Attorney Fred MacMurray is assigned to prosecute her, but instead falls in love. Preston Sturges (SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS) wrote the witty and surprisingly nostalgic script just before he turned to directing.

If You Go:

The Aero Theatre
1328 Montana Avenue at 14th Street in Santa Monica

I'd never heard of Remember the Night, had you? I'd love to see it, but I'm not sure I'll make it due to my work schedule. Definitely something to add to my netflix queue. Leave a comment on the blog if you attend the event, so I'll know for next time!

December 16, 2009

A Day Without A Bag

Heal the Bay is holding an educational and grassroots event on the third Thursday in December, Dec. 17th, 2009, asking businesses and individuals throughout Los Angeles County to forgo single-use, plastic shopping bags in favor of reusable bags. The Third Annual A Day Without a Bag culminates in a community & media event being held in Downtown Los Angeles featuring education activities and a press conference. A highlight of the event will be bag sewing and decorating stations coordinated by Anna Cummins from In Addition, nearly 20,000 reusable bags will be given out at more than 50 locations throughout Los Angeles County. has a great "learning" page that explains the reasons behind an embargo on plastic bags: the "plastic soup" floating in our oceans, causing toxicity in our food and filling up our landfills. Check it out when you get a minute, and remember to keep some reusable bags in the trunk of your car for unexpected errands.

Save A Stray This Holiday Season

Huge discounts to adopt a pet in Los Angeles December 16th-20th. Fifty percent off adoption fees and free microchipping ($15 value). Have some free time? Please distribute and have your neighborhood stores hang this flyer, asap. It's a matter of life and death for shelter animals. Please share this message with others.

December 15, 2009

A Celebration of Gourmet Magazine

There's a great event coming up at the Skirball, hosted by Zocalo Public Square: A Celebration of Gourmet Magazine will be held Tuesday, January 19, 2010, 7:30 P.

The event description from the site:
After 70 years of setting the standard for epicurean living, Gourmet magazine ceased publication in October at the order of its parent, Conde Nast. The magazine cultivated its exalted reputation by a devotion to lush photography, lengthy writing by famed authors, and finely crafted and often complex recipes. The commitment to such quality, and the name of the magazine itself, made it an aspirational and indulgent read for generations of gourmands who understood that food—eating it, cooking it, reading about it—was an art. Despite the subsequent rise of many other food magazines and blogs—often more focused on quick, simple, low-cost recipes than on literary food writing—Gourmet built a strong and diverse brand with books, websites, and television shows, and boasted nearly one million subscribers. Zócalo invites former Gourmet editors Ruth Reichl and Laurie Ochoa and former Gourmet writer Jonathan Gold to look back at the history of Gourmet, the culture it sparked, and the future of the Gourmet brand and American food writing.
Registration is required to attend the event. Follow the link at the top of this post for full details and the registration button.

Let me know if you plan to go, by leaving a comment on the blog. I'm thinking of having a potluck beforehand--talking about food (magazines) is sure to make me hungry!

December 11, 2009

Tire Info for the Auto Inept

As a single person, I have to do all home maintenance myself--which extends to my car. However, I admit that I am a Girl, with a capital G. There's so much to know about maintenance I can't possibly master it all. I get overwhelmed and feel I need to set a boundary somewhere. So I tend to leave car maintenance to my dad, or worse, to a mechanic, who could dupe me straight out of all my money for my lack of knowledge.

Today I stumbled upon a page that describes how to determine the age of a tire. Turns out, it's simple, and knowing the age of your tires can help you to figure out the length of your warranty.

From the page:
When it comes to determining the age of a tire, it is easy to identify when a tire was manufactured by reading its Tire Identification Number (often referred to as the tire’s serial number). Unlike vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and the serial numbers used on many other consumer goods (which identify one specific item), Tire Identification Numbers are really batch codes that identify the week and year the tire was produced.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires that Tire Identification Numbers be a combination of the letters DOT, followed by ten, eleven or twelve letters and/or numbers that identify the manufacturing location, tire size and manufacturer's code, along with the week and year the tire was manufactured.

The page at goes into detail, so please check it out. I haven't taken much time to browse other areas of the site, but this subject was explained in such easily understood terms that the site could be a great resource for other car info.

Where did you pick up your car knowledge? Do you do simple maintenance, like oil changes, yourself, or pay for all services? How do you find the time to fit car maintenance in with home and pet responsibilities? If you have any tips for me, please leave a comment on the blog

December 10, 2009

Follow Up: DWP Griffith Park Holiday Light Festival

Last month I posted the map and schedule info for the DWP's Griffith Park Light Festival. This evening I finally got to check it out for myself!

I lived not ten minutes from Griffith Park for three or four years, and still have never attended this event, so it's actually a big deal that I went. The festival's "gone green," with more than half the dates closed to auto traffic for eco-friendly reasons. Folks are encouraged to park at the LA Zoo, and walk or bike along the closed roadway path. Luckily for us, dogs are allowed, so I took Chance and Claire for a walk while giving myself a visual and auditory treat!

The soundtrack was great--fitting and festive without being annoying. The path was really wide so the crowd seemed fun rather than closed in and imposing. It took us only about an hour and a half to walk through the whole thing, stopping on the way back for pictures. While chilly, it was not overly freezing since I dressed in extra layers. Since I'd seen the equipment standing when driving through the park in November, I was expecting the exhibit to be anti-climactic, but it was really striking to see it all lit. Definitely a fun family activity, and free!

Can anyone identify the building above? I think it might be the downtown I right?

The volcano was part of an exhibit including several dinosaurs and a Pterodactyl.

I may have to make my Christmas cards from these "muscle beach" images. Soo Cali.

The Port of Los Angeles exhibit was one of my two favorites. It included a replica of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which stretched across the roadway in 3-D.

My other favorite was the Griffith Observatory scene. The little elf's telescope extended to the moon as various stars twinkled around him.

The departing plane took off from LAX's old tower, and even included the sculptures marking the entrance to the airport. It was beautiful!

There were plenty of whimsical holiday scenes. I thought my folks' adopted "grandsons" would like to see this power truck's bucket extending.

There was even a replica of the Hollywood Bowl in lights.

Another classic card image is all the little "film elves" in the Hollywood section shooting a movie off a Titan Crane.

A rare Santa dropping presents out of a plane.

The area around the observatory being defended by fireman elves pumping from an LA DWP water tank....

It's funny how random the exhibits could be, and the juxtaposition from one to another. The indian below was a part of a huge western-themed area.

What are your favorite Holiday displays? Do you have lights or sculptures in your own front yard?

Do you find there are a ton of events (people, places, activities) right at your fingertips, in your own backyard that you've not made the effort to explore? Please leave a comment on the blog if you have a similar issue.

December 9, 2009

Fabric-Covered Matchbooks

One quick and easy craft idea that's great for gifts is to cover some matchbooks with fabric. I give these along with a jar candle or stuffed in gift baskets. They make something functional pretty enough to leave out on a counter where they're handy. It's a great way to use up fabric scraps or remnants. I keep my eye out for small prints after each holiday, when the sales are at rock-bottom, or in the clearance bins.

December 8, 2009

Photographing Pets

Since it's family photo time of year, I thought I'd share some tips on how to photograph pets. I recently came across this great tutorial worth reading.

Please share your photography tips and best pet images in the comment section of the blog.

December 7, 2009

Holiday Cookie Exchange

Here's the haul I took home from a My People Connection/Meetup Cookie Exchange over the weekend.

The best part? The cookies came with the recipes! My favorites are in the front: on the left, topped with an almond are Caela's Curry Cookies; on the right, with crunchy pralines on top, are Dutch Caramel Cashew Cookies. Scroll down for these two recipes. The Curry Cookies had just enough punch to make them flavorful, without being overly spicy (I don't like hot foods). And the Cashew Cookies: who doesn't love cashews, especially pralines, especially atop a cookie?

I brought the marbled banana-chocolate bars that I posted on the blog yesterday, and they stood out as unique.

Caela's Curry Cookies

2 tsp mild curry powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus about 50 whole almonds, toasted
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp grated orange zest
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped sweetened flaked coconut

Heat the curry powder in a small heavy skillet over low heat until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Place flour, 1 c. almonds, curry powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor bowl fitted with a metal blade. Pulse 10-12 times, then process for a minute or so until mixture is finely chopped.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, mix butter and orange zest until creamy. Add granulated sugar in a steady stream, then add brown sugar, and mix for about one minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, then add the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients in thirds, mixing just until blended after each addition. Using a large wooden spoon, fold in the coconut. Chill the dough 20-30 minutes, until firm enough to handle.

Heat the oven to 375. Grease baking pans with butter or use parchment. Roll the dough in the palms of your hands to form one inch balls and place on the cookie sheets about two inches apart. Gently press a whole almond into the center of each cookie. Using the heel of your hand, flatten the cookie.

Bake 10-12 minutes until the edges are golden brown, rotating baking sheets half-way through. Let stand 2 minutes before tranferring to cooling racks. Store in an airtight container between strips of wax paper for up to three weeks. These cookies may be frozen.

Yield: about 50 2-inch cookies.

Dutch Caramel Cashew Cookies

1/2 Cup Butter
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 tsp. Vanilla
1 Cup Flour

1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Tbsp. Water
Pinch Cream of Tartar
1/2 Cup Roasted & Salted Cashews, Chopped
Prepared Buttered Foil & Spatula

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For Praline: In a heavy skillet, cook 1/2 c. sugar with 2 Tbsp. water and pinch cream of tartar over moderate heat. Scrape sides of pan to make sure all sugar is melting. Stir until the mixture is a light caramel color, but be careful not to burn. Stir in the cashews.

Pour the praline mixture onto a buttered piece of foil, using a buttered spatula to spread it thin. Allow praline to cool and harden. Then break it into chunks for topping cookies & mixing into dough.

For Dough: Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the egg yolk, vanilla, and flour. Stir in 2/3 of the chopped praline mixture (reserve 1/3 pralines for topping).

Roll about 1 1/2 tsp. of dough into a ball. Place on buttered cookie sheet. Flatten each ball slightly and then top with a bit of the reserved praline mixture. Place balls about two inches apart on baking sheet.

Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden. Cool for about five minutes on baking sheet, for a chewy texture. Then transfer to wire cooling rack. Store airtight.

Yield: about 18 cookies.

December 6, 2009

State Fair Marbled Banana Bars

Here's my attempt at State Fair Marbled Banana Bars from the wonderful food blog Happy Go Marni. So good I had to take a bite (but should've taken the photos first). I have a couple traditional family favorite holiday cookies which must be provided but like to also experiment with one or two new and different kinds each year, so this was one of the "new for 2009." Click on the link above to see Marni's original post if you'd like the recipe. The post includes a step-by-step in pictures, so it's great for novice bakers too.

What are you baking in the next couple of weeks? Please leave a comment on the blog.
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