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December 28, 2010

Duggan "Adornment"

I used a printable template from PetSmart to make the most adorable personalized ornament for my brother featuring his dog, Duggan.

The template allows you to upload your dog or cat's face, choose a fur color and texture, then create a downloadable pdf. Once printed, it's like origami and finished by simple folding and pasting. We did embellish the template with a little more painting to make Duggie's spots true-to-life.

What do you think of our final result? Have any online printables that you've used with success? please leave a comment on the blog with your tips.

December 27, 2010

Recipe Corner: Ann's Artichoke Spread

We've made it a family tradition to have appetizers for dinner when we open Christmas gifts. One standard is an artichoke dip that came from my aunt Ann. We usually have this with chips, but I like the leftovers as a sandwich spread too. It's so easy to whip together and bakes in only twenty minutes. It's got just the right zing (though I always add extra cheese, but that goes without saying). It's easy to customize too: if you don't like mushrooms, leave that out and throw in some olives, or whatever your preference.

What are your favorite appetizers? I'd love to see some recipes in the comments thread!

December 26, 2010

Carlinville Panorama

This is a much, Much delayed post, because I had to make sure certain family members did not see it before the holidays! To share a bit of my homemade holiday with you, here's a gift I made for my dad's brother and sister.

When I went home last December, there were beautiful art prints of some town landmarks hanging in a coffee shop. They were out of my budget, but there were greeting card sized versions of the same prints, so I was able to get each landmark, and frame them together in a single grouping.

The old movie theater, the gazebo from the center of the square, and the old jailhouse, are all centerpieces of Carlinville, IL. When we would drive to my grandparents' from our home in Chicago, the contest was to see which person could first spot the spire of the county courthouse as we approached town. I love this artists' versions of each.

December 24, 2010

Easy Photo Ornaments

I used my mom's die-cutter last holiday season to cut out a bunch of frames, and made some laminated photo ornaments for presents this year. I did about forty of them for less than twenty bucks, and was able to send a token something to extended family to let them know I'd been thinking of them.

December 21, 2010

Homemade Pizza, Down to the Crust

My dad was told by his doctor recently that he has to lose weight in order to become a candidate for necessary back surgery, so we're trying to find a balance this season between celebratory foods and healthy eating. I sent him a cookbook last month, and we used it this week to make some avant garde pizzas. It was one I came across at the Culinary Historians of Southern California's annual cookbook sale in the summer, published in 1993.

This was the first time I'd ever made pizza dough from scratch. I doubled the dough recipe so I could leave some in my folks' freezer for next month, when all the visitors have left. I made the dough one evening and the pizzas the next, since I knew there would be a lot of vegetable prep.

We chose one savory pie and one sweet for our first experiment. The savory was an eggplant and olive with tarragon and Jarlsburg pie on whole wheat crust. While I used the cookbook as inspiration and a guide, I was a little too impatient to measure out as I should, so I'm sure my pies weren't as "skinny" as promised.

Still, I'm introducing my dad to more and more whole wheat products, and getting my family to eat more vegetables and less meat. This recipe called for low-fat Alpine Lace cheese, and the closest swiss I could find in the shredded section was a Jarlsburg. I only put olives on half, because I can't stand them. And I dusted the pizza stone liberally with cornmeal for an extra crunchy-textured crust. I used a jarred pasta sauce--Classico's Sundried Tomato Alfredo--on both pies to save a little time and add moisture, though if I wanted to make a "skinny" pie I guess I didn't need any sauce at all since it wasn't called for in the recipe.

I have an eggplant dip that is part of my party/entertaining repertoire, but it's basically a roasted eggplant that is then pureed--there's very little prep to it. So I have minimal experience in working with eggplant generally. That was how I stretched my skills most with this recipe.

(before baking)


The sweet pie was half inspired by the cookbook and half from one I have often at California Pizza Kitchen, a pear and blue cheese pie with walnuts and Parmesean on whole wheat crust.

Besides adding the tomato/alfredo sauce to this, I added a cup and a half of Parmesean cheese. I wanted something different than the swiss on the savory pie, and I thought a dry aged cheese would pair well with the fruit. I didn't read the recipe once I'd gone shopping, and I forgot about the cinnamon or sauteing the pears. I did drench them in lemon juice after slicing so they wouldn't brown up while waiting as we ate the savory pie first. This made a perfect dessert pie.

(before baking)


What's your favorite pizza combo? Please leave a comment on the blog.

Whole-Wheat Pizza Crust

From "Skinny Pizzas" by Barbara Grunes
24 servings
makes 2 12-inch round crusts
or 2 9-inch x 12-inch rectangular crusts
or 12 6-inch to 7-inch round crusts

1/2 teaspoon honey
1 cup (scant) warm water (110 degrees F or warm to the touch)
1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil

Proof yeast by stirring honey into warm water in measuring cup or small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water and stir until yeast dissolves. Let mixture stand in draft-free area about five minutes or until yeast begins to bubble.

Meanwhile, mix flour with salt and oil in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or in an electric mixer with a dough hook. (To mix dough by hand, use a bowl and a wooden spoon.)

Pour in yeast mixture and process until a soft, almost sticky dough is formed, about 5 to 10 seconds. If using an electric mixer, mix three minutes or until smooth dough is formed. If mixing dough by hand, mix ingredients until a smooth, slightly sticky dough is formed, about three to five minutes.

Knead dough by hand on a lightly floured surface or pastry cloth until smooth. If dough is too sticky, add flour by the tablespoon until it reaches the desired consistency. Put dough in a bowl and cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap and aluminum foil or a kitchen towel.

Let dough rise until it doubles in bulk, about 45 minutes to an hour. Punch dough down and let stand five minutes. Knead for a few minutes more on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Dough is now ready to use.

Note: You can add various flavors to the crust to give it an extra special flavor. For example, you can add two tablespoons of honey mustard, lemon rind, curry powder, pesto sauce, and/or dried rosemary.

Eggplant, Black Olive, & Cheese Pizza

12 servings

1 large, well-formed eggplant (about 1 1/2 lbs.), trimmed, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds, unpeeled
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Basic Pizza Crust (12-inch)
2 tablespoons celery seeds
canola oil or non-stick cooking spray
1/4 cup black olives, sliced, drained
1 cup low-cholesterol Alpine Lace cheese, shredded
3/4 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 teaspoons each: salt, ground black pepper

Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt to remove moisture. Let stand 20 minutes on paper towels. Rinse eggplant slices and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat olive oil and garlic in large fring pan over medium heat. Saute eggplant, covered, gently about 2 minutes on each side. Eggplant will be cooked when golden brown and soft.

Prepare dough according to recipe; when kneading, mix in celery seeds. Use a rolling pin or knead dough by hand on lightly floured board. Shape dough into 12-inch pizza pan that has been lightly oiled or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Arrange eggplant pieces with garlic decoratively on pizza crust. Sprinkle on black olives, cheese, and seasonings.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Pear & Blue Cheese Pizza

12 Servings
(6 individual pizzas)

1 Whole-wheat Pizza Crust
Canola oil or non-stick cooking spray
1 tablespoon margarine
4 large, ripe but firm pears, cored, sliced thin
3 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Shape and stretch dough by hand or with rolling pin on lightly floured pastry board. Divide into 6 individual pizzas, 6 or 7 inches each.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spray frying pan and melt margarine. Toss pear slices with lime juice and cinnamon. Saute pear slices only one minute.

Arrange pear slices on pizza. Sprinkle with blue cheese.

Bake about 10 to 15 minutes or until pizza crusts turn light golden brown. Remove pizzas from oven and cut each in half. Serve hot.

December 20, 2010

Displays I Love

Even when I'm not spending, window shopping can be fun--my sense of design and display are stimulated by the holiday season.

I love this department-store display. What have you seen that has struck your fancy this season? Post links in the blog comments to pictures of what's attracted your attention.

December 15, 2010

Poor Quality Snafish Photo Mugs

About a week ago I made a photo mug on the website Snapfish for free through an offer from Hershey's, after reading about the offer from The Frugal Girls. I was so excited to make a souvenir from a great pet photo as a present to myself! I chose an image from this past Halloween.

The deal actually only cost me $2.99 total for shipping, and my mug came in today's mail--pretty quickly for a promo, I thought. But I'm so glad I didn't actually order this as a holiday gift for someone else, because the quality of the mug is poor. The image was crooked, and after one washing some of the paint is already chipping off near the top of the photo!

Since it was a "free" offer I won't be complaining or returning the item. But because I know these probably are popular gifts, I wanted to review the product. If you're thinking of getting a mug with the kids' picture on it for grandma or grandpa, you might do better going down the block to your local Walgreens.

What custom photo gifts have you given as gifts, and how/where did you create them? Please leave a comment on the blog if you have an experience to relate.

December 14, 2010

Food Bloggers LA

Trolling Facebook does have its benefits. I just discovered a FB group titled Food Bloggers Los Angeles. Uniting the food blogging community of greater Los Angeles, they meet monthly for education, inspiration and good eats. Of course I jumped in with both feet, attending this month's Christmas gathering. Can you imagine the sorts of dishes food bloggers would bring to a potluck?

I was migrating from party to party that night (Did the Christmas season seem extra short to you too this year? I think we were shortened at least one weekend by having the holiday fall on a Saturday this year), so my stop at the FBLA event was an early one. And in Los Angeles, being on time to a party is a *Party Foul*. So, I helped the hosts set up for the event, and about thirty other party guests showed up five minutes before I had to leave.

Despite the circumstances, I met several great people--including having plenty of privacy to get to know the host, Greg of Sippity Sup. Coming from the film industry, far too many of my friends are work contacts bordering on friends. As an escape, I write a blog, and read other online blogs. Introverted? Maybe a little. So I was proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone to meet some strangers in real life.

And now I'm back in my comfort zone, my living room, reading all the blogs of the wonderful members of FBLA, salivating, bookmarking recipes, and counting down the days till my next culinary adventure.

Have you used your hobbies to meet people and make friends? Do you find most of your friends stem from your work life? Leave me a comment with your experiences on the blog.

December 13, 2010

Shortbread Reindeer

These cookies were exhibited at the LA County Fair. They're such darling reindeer I had to share the idea.

Shortbread wedges are decorated using mini pretzels, brown m & m candies for eyes, and of course a red m & m for Rudolph's nose! Too cute.

Let me know if you use this idea this holiday season, and send me your shortbread recipe.

December 11, 2010

Marina Del Rey Holiday Boat Parade

I had a great time at this year's Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade. The night opened with a spectacular fireworks display. I have only a small Cannon PowerShot digital camera, and rarely use the video function as it's not really meant for that application--you get what you pay for in that department, I've always thought. But the fireworks reflected in the water over the beautiful boats at the dock took my breath away, and I wanted to share the experience, mostly with my folks. So here's the last half of the (fireworks) show....

And in case the video doesn't import, a still showing my view....

I got a couple decent shots of the boats before the parade. The theme this year was "A Rock 'N Roll Christmas." Most of the boats took off from the theme in some way, but a few were just seasonal or pretty.

The huge green elf on this boat caught my eye, and I thought the wording read "elves rocks." If you watched long enough, you'd see the second "e" in the word "elves" change to an "i." It wasn't till much later that I saw the huge Elvis form lit up, and by then my camera's battery had died. This is the float that won the grand prize in the boat parade contest.

It was fun to watch the crews prepare the boat and take off from the dock. Especially the crews dressed like elves and Elvises.

The atmosphere was enjoyably festive, but the beginning of the parade seemed to have wide gaps between boats. There were a couple of hosts emceeing the night, but they weren't provided with musical accompaniment. To fill the gaps, they kept asking children to come up to the mic and sing Christmas carols, softly and off-key. That got old with nothing to watch on the water.

Chance and Claire enjoyed the atmosphere and crowds. Eventually the crowds grew to the point that I was a bit fearful of the pups getting stepped upon, and with my camera dead anyway, half the fun was gone for me.

So we ditched the parade in favor of dinner at Mendocino Farms. I tried their seasonal Vegan Mushroom Confit Sandwich, with vegan mushroom braised seitan “wheat meat” with pickled Portobellos, almond romesco, and baby spinach on toasted ciabatta. It had a bit of a kick that I didn't expect, not being familiar with a "romesco". I'd eat it again but like it better with half the amount of confit spread and a couple slices of swiss cheese. It was fun to try both a new restaurant and foods that I was unfamiliar with, and the dogs got some practice on their down-stays while I ate. I wouldn't have known about this place but for a daily deal on Living Social. Group buying sites not only save me money but expose me to new experiences.

Did anyone else go to the parade this year? If you have photos to share leave me a comment on the blog so I can check them out!


I just uploaded pictures off my iPhone, which I used after my camera battery died (darn video function!). Here's a poor shot of the Elvis, all lit up:

You can see how huge he was, even in comparison to the Elf on that boat (see earlier pictures), and how much fun it was to watch him dance!

This year definitely renewed my enthusiasm for this event. I'll be back for more next December!

December 8, 2010

Dog & Cat First Aid Course

My dog just had his fifth birthday. While I've done lots of reading, gained a ton of experience through vets and over time, I have yet to take a pet first aid course. I can't believe how long I've been a dog owner without getting this done. So for Chance's fifth adoption anniversary I'm planning to take the Dog & Cat First Aid Course offered by the Red Cross in my area.

I just found out how to access their schedule and registration page--here. If you don't know the chapter in your area, there's a search function here. The course I found will be offered on Jan. 27th for just $40, and is a four hour class session, double the class time in other courses I saw listed. I'm not signing up as of yet since I'm not sure what my freelance work schedule will be that far in advance, so once again I'm using the blog to remind myself of something I plan to do in the future.

Have you taken a pet first aid course? Who taught it and how did you find out about it? What was the most useful piece of information you took away from it? Please give me some feedback in the comments section of the blog.

December 6, 2010

Holiday Fun--Free Workshop from UC Cooperative Extension

There's a great free holiday event from the UC Cooperative Exchange this Friday morning. Click on the image above to enlarge it to a readable size. The text is reprinted below:

Please join us in discovering more ways for you and your family to have a safer, happier, and healthier holiday season!

The University of California Cooperative Extension, Los Angeles is excited to host:

The Simple Joys of the Holidays

Friday, December 10th
9:30am – 12:00pm
in our demonstration kitchen
4800 E. Cesar E. Chavez Avenue,
Los Angeles CA 90022

FREE Workshops

• Making Every Dollar Count for entertaining and gift giving
• Thoughtful and inexpensive homemade gifts
• Tree and home decorating safety tips
• Top 10 ways to reduce stress during the holidays
• Ways to stay active and have Fun


For more information contact: Cynthia G. Ávila, 323-260-3345,

Let me know if you decide to join in this event!

Free Christmas Music Downloads on Amazon

Amazon is offering 25 free Christmas songs (one per day) downloadable as mp3s via their site here. There are some impressive contemporary versions of classic songs from people like Chris Isaac and Indigo Girls. I can't wait to start blasting holiday tunes! Here in balmy CA music sets the holiday spirit for me, and with a fourteen hour drive to celebrate with my family, I have a lot of road time to kill.

What is your favorite holiday music? Where do you find free (legal) downloads? Post a link via the comments section of the blog.

December 3, 2010

Holiday Cookie Exchange 2010

I did a cookie exchange with My People Connection last year and blogged about it here. It was the first exchange I'd ever participated in. This year My PC also has a meetup group that held the same event. My friend Jen T. is the creator of My PC and host of this event:

And once again today I came away with quite a haul of home-baked goodies:

The ten people who showed up

were a smaller group than last year, but they made such a variety of treats, from biscotti, to potato chip cookies to white chocolate-macadamia goodies. The biggest benefit of participating in an exchange is the amount of different things you'll have to serve afterward, while puting out the same effort as making one kind of cookie. It was also really nice to have the opportunity to make new friends.

I used some of my Longaberger baskets and pottery for the first time to bring my spiced nuts and the chocolate-banana bar cookie I made last year--I was in too much of a rush to experiment this time around.

Jen started off the event by having everyone lay out their goodies next to one another on a long buffet table. We went around the room letting everyone know what we'd brought. After some conversation we took a turn around the table, taking a few of each in our own containers to bring home. When everyone had had a turn there were still goodies left over so we went around about three times before all had been distributed.

Here's a tutorial and recipe on making potato chip cookies like the balls I got today (though these are flattened while the ones today were in a ball-shape). An article from WikiHow describes chocolate covered matzah also similar to something that was at the exchange.

What are the standards that you MUST make every year? Do you participate in any holiday exchanges? With what groups? Or do you take goodies to a specific place, like work, each year? Share your traditions, new and old, with me in a comment on the blog.

December 2, 2010

Recipe Corner: Easy Appetizer--Cheddar Cheese Balls with Almond

One easy appetizer to make yourself at home is a simple cheese ball. They're great to take as hostess gifts, can be frozen if made ahead of time, and are so much more economical than bought cheese spreads.

I love to make them myself because I can split the recipe into several smaller balls, better for my small household. Rather than being left with a half-eaten appetizer that gets dried out and unappetizing, I get a smaller serving which leaves me with a fresh appetizer to serve at a separate time. Also they're easily customizable to include your favorite ingredients and leave out whatever doesn't appeal; think: minced dried fruits like apricot, fresh or dried herbs like sage or rosemary, or nuts like pinenut, walnut, or almond.

My friend Heather taught me to make these, and I've passed this along to at least one other friend.

The basic recipe consists of one 8 oz. package cream cheese (I use lower-fat neufchatel), two cups shredded cheddar or other cheese, 1/4 or 1/2 cup chopped nuts or nut meal, and 1/4 tsp. garlic salt. Bring cream cheese to room temperature. In large bowl, mix all ingredients with your hands until completely saturated. Split into two or three (or make one large bowl) and round with the palms of your hands. Roll in shredded nuts or herbs if desired. Wrap in saran wrap and tin foil and refrigerate or freeze till hardened.

I keep one of these in the fridge or freezer at all times for an easy spread for unexpected drop-by guests.

Do you have any recipes you keep on hand for the holidays that are more economical to make at home than to buy already prepared? Please leave a comment on the blog!

December 1, 2010

Ice Cream Cone Ornament

Here's one of the ornaments my mom helped us kids to make in the eighties when I was very small....we lived in the house I was first born in, so I was under eight. I remember making them with her in our basement. The base is a Bugle corn chip, and I'm sure we ate more than we made. It's supposed to be an ice cream cone with a cherry on top, so I'm not sure our proportions are in line. But it lives on our tree to this day. One of my favorite holiday memories.

Do you have any ideas for easy homemade ornaments or other handmade gifts? Please leave a comment on the blog.
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