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January 23, 2011

Craft Idea: Grapevine Vintage Button Wreath

I spent the afternoon lunching with a friend in Santa Monica, and after we wandered through a huge, expensive (Santa Monica beach-side) antique mall. A creative find there that I love was this vintage button grapevine wreath. It would be easy to duplicate in a favorite color and would lend whimsy and femininity to your doorway.

What I thought was great about this wreath was that it wasn't hastily hot glued, but was carefully wire-wrapped, so it will withstand lots of usage without buttons falling off. This would be really easy to do with a grapevine wreath as opposed to a foam core. The gold wire used with the white buttons elevated its sense of formality. I also loved the big finishing bow at the top.

Where do you find inspiration for crafts you make at home? Do you often have a camera with you to photograph great ideas? Please leave a comment on the blog.

January 19, 2011

The Los Angeles Breakfast Club

My friend Damian, who has a new law practice, has come up with some creative ways to network in the community. This morning he took me to meet a great group of people at The Los Angeles Breakfast Club.

The Breakfast Club was founded in 1925 as a men's riding group of movie stars and political leaders. Over the past eighty or so years it's evolved into a social fellowship group from all walks of life that sponsors a weekly breakfast with featured speakers on a variety of subjects. Participation in the club's Foundation is encouraged but not mandatory, and networking is encouraged. The Breakfast Club meets each Wednesday morning at 7A just outside Griffith Park on Riverside Dr. in Los Feliz. Breakfast is free to first time visitors, just $6 per person after. For full membership, annual dues are $100 per year.

I found the atmosphere to be comparable to my grandpa's small town IL Lions Club--everyone was truly welcoming. Today's program featured a presentation and sing-along of "Tin Pan Alley Classics" from the great American songbook. The narrator did a great job of setting the time in history and including entretaining anecdotes. Next week will be a presentation on a volunteer organization. The majority of people did seem to be retirees but there was an interesting mix of entrepreneurs as well. I brought along my Longaberger catalogs and was proud of myself for taking a step towards self-promotion. Oh, and the funniest part of today's event? The buffet breakfast caterers were none other than the chefs from Capri Italian Restaurant, who were on Kitchen Nightmares last week....

Do you have a small business or service you offer professionally? How do you network within your community? Please leave a comment on the blog.

January 18, 2011

Recipe Corner: Couscous with Pineapple & Chestnuts

I'm on a pantry challenge to use up what I've got. So tonight's dinner was couscous left over from ingredients for a baby shower, made with half apple juice for sweetness, tossed with a can of pineapple, and finished with roasted chestnuts.

The chestnuts were meant as a holiday treat from Trader Joe's, but we never got around to them. Instead, I flew them home to family at Thanksgiving and ended up driving them back to my kitchen after the new year. The directions on the box had two variations, so for convenience I chose the microwave version. They were soft and had a grainy texture. I was expecting the crunch that comes to mind when you hear the phrase "roasted chestunts," but of course that requires an oven. I think I will try them again next year, but follow the more involved side-dish recipe on the box, rather than the simple roasting.

This experiment made a lot more than I had expected--I'll be eating the leftovers all week. I'm out of eggs now, and most cheese, so it's getting harder to come up with nutritious meals from my cupboard, but I'm not willing to give up yet!

What are your go-to recipes from staples when you don't want to go shopping? Please leave me a comment on the blog.

January 13, 2011

Kitchen Nightmares Taping with Gordon Ramsey

Wednesday I attended a taping of Chef Gordon Ramsey's show "Kitchen Nightmares," where he remakes a restaurant from top to bottom. I attended the re-launch of Capri Italian Restaurant in Eagle Rock. It's a local, family-run joint adjacent to Occidental College, so it's not haute cuisine. The atmosphere strives to be warm and inviting in a pizza-and-spaghetti kind of way.

I have a lot of respect for restaurants that allow the show into their space, as they can expect to be torn apart by Chef Ramsey. We ended up with an ideal spot, a table of four right next to the kitchen, so had a great view of both Chef Ramsey and the taping in the dining area. I managed to sneak a couple of photos, but wasn't allowed to document much of the evening.

I attended as part of the Meetup "Foodie Connection" group, so we were given an early seating. A friend of mine registered with the group just to RSVP for the event, so I knew one person at the table, but got to meet a few new people with common interests too. It made for a great mix of lively conversation during the long wait for service. I was not in a talkative mood, as I'd just lost my cousin Sue Martin to cancer the night before, but celebrating with a new adventure seemed a fitting way to honor her memory. Sue would have loved to hear all about it, so I'm writing to her here on the blog.

Since they don't want to have the same audience on every episode of the show, you can only attend a Kitchen Nightmares taping once. I was glad that the evening I chose was not one of the first days of taping but was the relaunch night, when the restaurant has been improved by Gordon Ramsey and the bugs have supposedly been worked out. Still, it was the first night with the "new" menu, so service was far from smooth. It took over an hour and a half to get our entrees. The table next to us was served within five minutes.

I loved the new decor of the space, including the way the cash register was painted, and the line-drawing logo of the identical twins who run the restaurant. The tables were crowded in and waitstaff had trouble making it through the restaurant, especially with the camera crew in the way. The serving pieces seemed to overwhelm the table--especially the large oval platters of salad for the group. They didn't have a wine list. When we asked our server directly, she finally named a price-per-glass but neglected to tell us that wine was available by the carafe, which we would have done if we'd known. The appetizer of garlic knots came with five rolls for our table of four, and were doughy on the inside and oily out without much garlic flavor. The chef had a heavy hand with the pepper on our Caesar salad, though I found I was able to pick out edible portions. I ordered a mushroom-"stinky cheese" white pizza that was really yummy. But the best thing on the menu that our table sampled was definitely the apple calzone dessert, filled with warm walnuts and dried fruit.

Chef Ramsey was clearly busy troubleshooting all evening. He called the Chef-Owner out to the street and spoke to him in front of a camera in the middle of the service. While it was easy to see his frustration, there was no shouting match to be heard over the din of the patrons. We'd definitely gone more for the experience of the show than for the food, and it was entertaining to see it all unfold. I'll be looking for the episode to air to see the "before" portions of the restaurant when Chef Ramsey first arrived. There will definitely be publicity as there was a local news station crew taping there before we'd left as well.

If you get the opportunity, Kitchen Nightmares is definitely a fun event to attend. Email me for info on how to contact the show.

January 5, 2011

Bottle Cap Ornament

I just got a really nifty craft tool that I'll be using a lot this year! It punches holes in bottlecaps. You might know my grandfather had a local soda company in Southern Illinois from the 1930s-50s. In fact, I've made our logo into an ornament one year. We have a ton of our family label bottlecaps, and I've been wanting to figure out how to make them into jewelry. I can also put the caps onto pull chains for zippers or to mark flash drives, keychains, and....

....ornaments. My late uncle had a tradition of making an ornament for the family each year, and I have had fun taking after him.

I superglued my Grandpa's picture on the inside, covered with a protective silicone-like disc, then left it as a thank-you for my dad when I left town after the holidays. Can't wait to see it on the tree next year. I think I'll be using these as my extended family gift for next year.

What projects do you have in mind to work on for next year? When do you start your handmade gifts--at the last moment, or throughout the year?

January 3, 2011

For My Dad

I already posted the framing of card illustrations from my dad's hometown that I gave to my aunt and uncle for the holidays. I liked that one because as a quad framing, it was a single thing to ship and mail, and perfect for a setting such as my uncle's optometry office. For my dad, I wanted to do something a little more formal, with a bit more bling befitting a holiday decoration. I ended up making him this swag decor.

Unfortunately, I didn't have this finished by Christmas day. How many of your well-intentioned homemade gifts do you end up giving late or not at all? I hope I'm not alone in this predicament! I think my dad loved it anyway. My mom had to help out a bit with the bow. If you have any bow-making techniques, please leave me a comment on the blog!

January 1, 2011

My Present to Myself....

Now that I finished making everyone else's presents, I had a few moments to finish my own Chance & Claire Adornments! It took a lot of help from my mom to get the painting true to life. I wish I could have taken tole painting classes from my mom in the 1970s when she used to teach. These will be even more special to me because she helped me make them.

What did you give yourself for the holidays this year?
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