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July 20, 2013

Shuttle Endeavor at the CA Science Center

Here's a little photo essay of my day at the California Science Center, checking out the shuttle Endeavor.  If you haven't seen it yet, make an effort to go--it's well worth it.  I can't describe the experience of seeing it in person, but it made an indelible impression on me, to say the least.  Parking at the museum is ten bucks for the day, but entrance to the exhibit is only two dollars!  There are lots of new restaurants surrounding USC as well, so you can make a fun day of it--or bring a picnic and eat in the rose garden next door.

One of my favorite spots in the museum is right outside the front doors. 

the bunny on the fountain out in front of the museum--for my friend Cathy.
The shop just inside the front door had cool plush astronaut and ship sculptures.
Walking in....The crowds heading upstairs to the Endeavor exhibit were immense, especially with the school groups.
Viking Lander

The operations/control center here in CA

On our way into the building that housed the actual Endeavor

The emergency escape portal
Difficult to get the entire ship into the frame!

July 19, 2013

Restaurant Express Taping

I had a great time last night as an audience member for a new Food Network show, Restaurant Express.  It features a contest between chefs for the chance to open a real-life restaurant.  

The contestants had been whittled down to four by the episode in which I participated.  Each contestant had a small "restaurant" in which theoretically one would be spending a hundred dollars for a meal.  This consisted of recipe and menu creation, table settings, and of course food prep and service.  My friends and I were able to choose one of the four restaurants at which to enjoy a meal and then provide a critique.  

We showed up to the lovely Hummingbird Nest Ranch at sunset, and were able to take in the full landscape of vacant horse stables and green paddocks.  We quickly lost the light though, and filming commenced at night.  The huge helium balloon lights that were used for the shoot made for impressive party decor on its own.  Tech trucks were about a mile away, but there was one working truck decorated with the show's logo that was used as set dressing for the show, providing a trendy backdrop for the crane shots as the diners entered the knoll.

Host and Chef Robert Irvine greets the audience/diners.
Chef Robert Irvine greeted us warmly as the host of the show, then once the cameras rolled explained the premise and the procedures for the evening.  On his cue we were allowed to wander into the set, choosing one restaurant from the four based on menu and atmosphere. 

The restaurant I chose, Jade, looked like it had the most vegetarian-friendly menu:  the main dish was pasta with chicken, so I simply asked if the chicken could be omitted for my plate.  That was the biggest influence on my choice--overall there seemed to be a heavy seafood influence in the other menus, with lobster and salmon dishes in addition to the expected meats.  As it turns out, I made a good choice.  My friends went to the restaurant next door to my choice, and said none of their dishes had any flavor, including a lobster risotto and overdone steak. 

Jade's Table Centerpiece
Peach Mandarin Chilled Soup
Since my friends had chosen another restauranteur, I was on my own.  I stepped out of my comfort zone and sat with a party of two, who turned out to be an outrageously funny mother and daughter pair.

The first course was a lovely chilled soup of peach, mandarin, vanilla, and mint.   Though I would have never thought it, the flavors sang together.  The sweetness was just right, and the soup was cooling as the heat of the day had just begun to ebb.  The diner across from me mentioned that she had never had a chilled soup.  I thought back to a cucumber soup I made frequently in college and resolved to add it to the blog in the next few weeks.  

Our next course was a salad with roasted beets and green apples.  The dressing contained fish sauce, which was omitted from my dish.  I'm not sure if that affected the flavor, or if it is simply that I don't care for beets, but the salad, while fine, was not impressive, and I forgot to even take a picture.

Rice Noodles & Summer Vegetables
The rice noodles hit the spot for me, even without the chicken.  However, my dining companion pointed out that the menu didn't state that the main dish was to be served cold, and she hadn't been expecting it to be served as such.  When later we were interviewed and asked if we would pay a hundred dollars for the meal that we'd been served, the cold entree came into play for all of us.   The smart choice was the noodles themselves, being gluten free.

Green Tea Napoleon Topped with Seven Nuts
The dessert was the crown of the evening!  The Napoleon made of green tea mascarpone was a treat.  The crispy wontons were a little hard to handle, leaving me yearning for the same filling in a crepe.  But the elegant presentation made up for any misgivings about how I looked as I chewed.

I'll be watching to see if our lovely chef moves on in the competition!  And I may try to make a green tea mascarpone filling the next time I make french toast....

July 17, 2013

Baby Ainsworth's Shower and a Spinach-Mushroom Casserole

I was lucky to attend a baby shower for a dear friend of mine, and have a few fun ideas to share!  I gifted a vintage knit afghan that I'd had dry cleaned to be ready for baby Elijah.  I'm hoping it will bring peace and comfort to mom and baby during many a long night.  Even though I didn't make it myself, I could see all the love that went into it and felt it should be passed on and loved again.  A little cleaning and basic spot treatment was all it needed!

This darling fruit bowl was trimmed for the event.  The "baby" orange had a pacifier in its mouth, with grapes for the eyes, nose, and ears.  The fruit was delicious!

We had a lovely brunch of scones dotted with golden raisins and topped with marmelade, fresh fruit, and a couple different casseroles.  Of course I begged for the recipe for the vegetarian casserole, which featured spinach and mushrooms.  I couldn't get enough of the casserole or the mimosas!  And this was the perfect main dish for the event, as it can be made ahead, leaving the hostess free to enjoy the guests.

Make Ahead Spinach-Mushroom Breakfast Casserole

3 cups seasoned croutons.  [our hostess used two 5 oz bags of Cheese & Garlic croutons]
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1 (10.75oz) can of condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach - thawed, drained and squeezed dry (or can sauté fresh spinach)
1 can (4.5oz) of mushrooms drained and chopped
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
[You can also add a pound of meat - e.g., turkey sausage or bacon - our hostess didn't]

1.  Spread croutons on bottom of greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  
[If you want to add meat, then cook it first and spread over croutons]
2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until well blended.  Stir in soup, spinach, mushrooms and cheeses.  Pour egg mixture over croutons.  Refrigerate overnight.
3.  The next morning, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
4. Bake in preheated oven for an hour to hour and 10 minutes or until set and lightly browned on top.

July 13, 2013

Summer Fruit with FBLA

We had everything from salads, to cheesecake, to savory crepes at the FBLA's July meeting, with the theme of "summer fruits."  The Sangria was a wonderful compliment to the lightness of our meal.  I had the opportunity to share a treasured family recipe at this meeting:  my grandma's Banana Salad.

The sauce for our Banana Salad is a simple one of sugar and mayo.  It has a sweet tanginess close to caramel.  Added to bananas and nuts, and you have my favorite dish!  We serve this at every family reunion (goes without saying) and on every holiday table.  Amongst my most common requests (along with cheese souffle) whenever my mom cooks for me, in my immediate family this will forever be known as "Bana Salad," the title my sister wrote when she transcribed the recipe from my grandma at about nine years old.  While the sauce can easily be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator, this salad is best made fresh before eating.  The bananas do not keep well, especially once sauced.  Of course, I've never known there to be leftovers anyway.  

What's your favorite fruit salad?  Please share in the comments to this post.

Jessie Walker's Banana Salad

4 lg. Bananas
Crushed Peanuts

1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1 pinch Salt
1 tbsp. Butter

1)  Slice bananas.
2)  Combine dressing ingredients in small saucepan.  Stir over low heat until smooth.
3)  In serving bowl, layer bananas, nuts and dressing.  Serve.

July 10, 2013

Pallet Succulent Garden

Check out this awesome pallet-and-chicken wire succulent garden I came across in Paso Robles!  I'm taking inspiration from their use of moss and natural building materials.  I also love how all the different shades of green give texture and depth to this garden.

What are the most interesting garden settings you've built or seen?  Please leave a comment below.
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