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Posts from — September 2013

chowder time!


I can not begin to tell you how difficult I find it to even think about decorating this house for fall. It is still in the high 90′s during the day. Even attempting to place a real pumpkin outside would be asking for disaster.

At least the mornings and late evenings are finally cooling off to the low 70′s. That helps a little.

Plus, one of my favorite areas to decorate for the season is the front entry.

Last year it looked like this…


Today, it looks like this.

fall 2013 entry

Hmm, at least the “caution” cones are a bright pumpkin orange. That might be all the entry decorating we get this year.

No matter ~ I vow to dig out the fall and Halloween decorations today and then do something with them.

The morning and evening cooler temps did instill in me the urge to make a double batch of yummy fresh corn chowder. A double batch because I wanted to share with my very generous neighbor, Cheryl.

You see…..

A few days ago, Cheryl anonymously dropped off culinary treasures at my front door (yes, she tromped through the dirt to get there). I don’t know for sure if she meant for the gift to be anonymous, but I wasn’t home and she left it with Connor.

Not surprisingly, Connor had no idea who Cheryl was, all he said when I ask who dropped it off was, “I don’t know, she was thin and pretty.”

Oh, thanks Connor, that describes all my neighbors!

After a little detective work on my part, Cheryl fessed up.

Cheryl's crafts

This is Cheryl at the Christmas Crafts Class back in December 2012. On that note – watch for info tomorrow about my upcoming Fall Crafts & Decor Class …

So what was the culinary treasure that Cheryl gifted me with?

Homemade Croissants!

There were three of them!
Connor was home … so coincidentally there were three of us.
I ate one, and immediately hid the other two – eventually eating all three.
Connor did not know what was wrapped in the towel he had accepted.
Dave never knew they even existed.
They were mine. All mine. And they were delicious!
Thank you, Cheryl!

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September 30, 2013   6 Comments

I need a cocktail…

Seriously! This is not a want, this is a need.

Construction, permits, late sub-contractors, inspections, failed inspections, rescheduling, early morning noise, dirt constantly at the front door, men, some men who act like little boys, “the city” and re-inspections.


I’ve been up since 5:45 AM, it is now 7:00 … and I need a cocktail! I did not have any alcohol (meaning a glass of wine with dinner) last night or the night before or the night before that. I am overdue and entitled!

I am going to throw caution and good sense to the wind and imbibe in a morning drink – I deserve it and I believe it will make construction more bearable.

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September 27, 2013   5 Comments

the secret is out … plus my Sweet Salvage finds…

I can now share with you some exciting news about another big party scheduled for my new back patio.

In January, I’ll be throwing a baby shower for my dear friend, Tram Mai. She and her husband, Stephen, are expecting twins in March!

Beautiful Mommy to bePhoto credit

Yep, petite Tram is carrying twins! Crazy Wonderful! She and Stephen shared the glorious news with Dave and me over the weekend. Then Tram announced it on her show, EVB Live, yesterday. You can watch her sweet surprise live-on-air announcement HERE. I could not be happier for her!

Since it is now quite obvious that I’m not posting a recipe today, how about I also share with you my fun finds from last week’s Sweet Salvage sale?

fairbank precision scale

This is the porcelain enamel scale that I so badly wanted to get.

0 on the mark

Maybe I can incorporate it into the baby shower decor.

porcelin scale

Until then, it has found a new home in our breakfast room.

new home for vintage scale

I promise you that I will not be incorporating these creepy freaky doll parts in the baby shower decorations…

freaky stuff

They, along with the skull and flashcard, are for my Halloween mantel.

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September 26, 2013   3 Comments

new patio details

1 of 3

Aside from the abundance of new shade, one of my favorite features of the new patio is the light fixtures. They are reminiscent of wine barrel staves and I found them HERE.

shadow spokes

Along with their rustic looks, I love the overlapping spoke-like shadows they cast on the ceiling at night!

light shadows

new patio

Here are some of the closeup details ….

loveseat detail

pillow detail

I bought the two Hampton Bay Walnut Creek loveseats and small matching ottomans online from Home Depot.

rug detail

I found the outdoor rug at Costco.

basket detail

The large wicker basket with the cool hardware, that I’m using as a coffee table, was picked at last week’s Sweet Salvage sale.

side table

The industrial side table came from Overstock.com.


ottoman detail

The super fabulous vintage crate, on casters, with a grain-sack cushion top, was a real find! It came from Rust and Roses, which is just down the street from Sweet Salvage.

olive basket detail

Oh, the two European olive baskets, on either side of the fireplace, are from Rust and Roses, as well.

cantera stone detail

Speaking of the fireplace, some lovely detail of the Cantera stone – from Stone Source.

mantle detail

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September 24, 2013   4 Comments

2 1/2 months later…

At the end of July we began the final stage of our backyard remodel. It is a project that we initiated back in 2008. At that time, our plans included a large covered patio area that was to extend off the covered patio attached to the house.

backyard before final patio

It would extend off of those two farthest right columns you see in the far right center of the photo above. We deemed it too expensive at that time and put it on the back burner.

Recently, Dave began talking about remodeling the front yard. A project that is long overdue, considering that we’ve been in the house for 14 years and never liked our front yard. That is all well and good, but I stood my ground and said that I wasn’t willing to begin the front until we finished that back. A girl needs what a girl needs, and this girl needs more shade for entertaining!

Here is the progression of the back patio over these last 2 1/2 months:


June 29, 2013 – Footings for columns are poured.


July 1, 2013 – Columns and fireplace base are done.


July 9, 2013 – Beams are set.

fireplace construct

July 15, 2013 – Trusses are attached as the mason works on the fireplace.

fireplace built

July 18, 2013 – Fireplace.


July 20, 2013 – Roof is being placed.

roof is on

July 23, 2013 – Roof is on.

foaming the roof

July 26, 2013 – Roof is foamed.


August 8, 2013 – Electrical is installed.

drywall ceiling

August 9, 2013 – Drywall is installed.

tape and mud

August 10, 2013 – Drywall tape and mud.

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September 23, 2013   5 Comments

south of the border muffins

chocolate banana bread muffins on scale

I’m calling these “Mexican-Chocolate” because of the cinnamon and chocolate combination. If you’ve ever eaten or cooked with the Ibarra brand of Mexican chocolate, you understand.

On a totally unrelated subject – I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I keep waking up before the sun – but that turned out to be a blessing yesterday.

I got out of bed at about 4:30 and decided to make these muffins since I needed to take something to our neighborhood Bunco later that evening.

muffin on pedestal

The day was a whirlwind, I wasn’t home for more than 15 minutes all day. If I hadn’t made the muffins early in the morning … I would have never had time to make a thing and would have had to resort to bringing a bottle of wine.

As you might imagine, that doesn’t fly when you have a cooking blog and teach people to cook!

mexican chocolate banana bread muffin

Sometimes sleep deprivation actually pays off.

Now, I know that for some, 4:30 or 5:00 is a normal and routine time to begin their day. I’ve had that schedule before, so I get it. But back then, I fell asleep before midnight or 1 AM too.

Let’s face it – sleep deprivation totally sucks! Conversely, these muffins do not.

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September 20, 2013   4 Comments

Best day of the month – Sweet Salvage opening day

Today is my favorite day of the month! It is the third Thursday and that means one thing – it is opening day for the 4-day Sweet Salvage Sale!

The theme this month is “Hallowed Haven” and I’ve already had a sneak peek at all the wonderfulness!

Sweet Salvage preview party

Yep, last night, Peggy and I attended the Preview Party. We and 98 other guests scoped out all the fabulous finds and made long lists and strategic plans on what we wanted and just how we were going to get it!

preview party

Our personal strategy? Peggy goes one direction and has 6 treasures on her list (2 for her and 4 for me) while I go the opposite direction and snag 7 finds (4 for her and 3 for me). I hope our plan works, I shall keep you posted!


Remember how I was one of the lucky VIP 15-minute early entry recipients last month?  This month they had a really fun theme game going – it all centered around the board-game CLUE. You must to go to their Facebook page and see how amazingly creative these women are. They blow my mind!

top hat skull

Here is your own personal sneak peek – the doors open at 10 AM, I hope to see you there. Look for me, I plan to be at the front of the line!


scaredy cat [


September 19, 2013   3 Comments

falling apart

scottsdale Shea

These past nine months I have been falling apart. It all started on December 9, 2012. That is the day that I fell from a ladder while hanging Christmas lights and fractured my pelvis.

pelvic fracture

I was reduced to using a walker for several weeks and having people ask if I’d broken my hip!

I’m not a 90-year-old, for God’s sake!

I fully recovered from that injury and felt pretty good about myself and my body’s ability to heal itself.

Kupapau ocean entry point

Then in May, during a glorious vacation in Hawaii, I cracked my tailbone while riding on a huge metal boat.

cracked tailbone

I was reduced to using a doughnut cushion, when I sat down, for months after that.


Once again, my body healed itself. Fantastic!

Then, in early August, I began to have pain in my right elbow and arm. Over the next few weeks the pain grew to the point that I could no longer ignore it. Yesterday I went to the doctor.

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September 18, 2013   7 Comments

homemade Speculoos

Trader Joes bag

I consider myself a Trader Joe’s expert, a TJ Connoisseur, if you will.  So imagine my embarrassment and dismay when I learned that there was a product at Trader Joe’s, an exceedingly popular and rare product, that I had not a clue about!

fearless flyer

Honestly, I’m going to have to be more diligent and thorough in the reading of all future Fearless Flyers!

This hot newish product is called Speculoos.

Speculoos Cookie Butter

Speculoos Cookie Butter, to be exact, and it has proven to be a major phenomenon for Trader Joe’s. It took the top spot in Trader Joe’s annual “most popular products” list in 2012.

Then, in 2013, Trader Joe’s expanded the line and released a crunchy version. And like many Trader Joe’s items, the cookie butter is a knock-off of a brand-name product: Biscoff Spread, manufactured in Belgium by a company called Lotus. Made from thin, crispy cookies called speculoos (or spekulaas) that are eaten during the holidays. Biscoff’s cookie butter premiered in Europe in 2007. I just discovered that it is sold at Cost Plus World Market.

You’re reading this right – cookie butter is made of not ground-up peanuts and oil but rather ground-up cookies and oil. Cookie butter is like the rich, sweeter, and more handsome cousin of peanut butter!  You can smear it on toast or crackers or use it as a dip for pretzels, apples or celery.

cookie butter toast

So yeah, it’s literally – spreadable cookies!

The Trader Joe’s flavor is gingersnap. Well actually, the label says – “A deliciously unusual spread reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits” – so  basically gingersnaps.

And it is To Die For!

I did learn that one of the reasons I may be able to forgive myself for not knowing about Speculoos sooner, is because it has been in short supply since it made its TJ début in late 2011. So popular, in fact, that the spread has its own Facebook Page.

Now …  just in case TJ’s has a problem keeping this treasure in-stock in the future, I’ve decided to try making my own.

so many cookies

The question was, “What flavor cookie should I use?” Peanut butter seemed too obvious and gingersnaps are already being done … to perfection. The cookies need to be crispy crunchy  – not soft and chewy. No fillings, so that leaves out Oreos and such. Certainly no Fig Newtons (ugg)!

I scanned the cookie aisle and came up with five candidates. I made the five flavors of cookie butter and then sent a text out to six of my friends and neighbors on Saturday morning and asked them if they might be able to come by between 2:00 and 5:00 and do a taste test for me. Shockingly, all replied within seconds and said they could help!

taste tester plate

Here is what greeted them when they arrived.

Each was asked to taste the five concoctions in front of them, to not ask questions about what they were eating, and then to rank them in order; #1 being their favorite … through #5 – being their least favorite. I then crunched all the numbers and found the average ranking of each of the cookie butters.

5 cookie types

This is the average of how the ladies ranked them:

  1. Snickerdoodle
  2. Pepperidge Farm Chessmen
  3. Chocolate Chip
  4. Pepperidge Farm Coconut
  5. Pecan Sandies

Only one person ranked the Pecan Sandies Cookie Butter higher than 4th or 5th place. In fact, four of my taste testers put it in last place, and two of those wrote “yuck” in their comments.

Of course, one of the reasons I chose to use Pecan Sandies is because I love those cookies, but they were right, they do not make a good cookie butter. Snickerdoodles won by a landslide. Chessmen, Chocolate Chip and Coconut were pretty tight in the scoring.

I pawned all the remaining Cookie Butter off on my neighbors on Sunday morning, leaving it on their doorsteps. I can’t have that stuff in the house. Well, I do still have the jar from Trader Joe’s but that doesn’t have to be eaten within 10 days, so I’ll keep it “out of sight and out of mind”… hopefully!

Many thanks to my fan-tab-ulous taste-test panel – Peggy, Lisa, Ronnie, Anne, Amy and Melissa! xoxo

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September 17, 2013   7 Comments

easy meaty or meatless Monday meal

It has only taken me a week, but I’m finally getting back to you with the second recipe using those polenta scraps from the Polenta Pesto Bruschetta recipe I gave you a week ago today.

trader joe's polenta

This is almost the perfect “layer and bake” recipe, all you have to do is brown some Italian sausage. Although, you could easily make this dish even more convenient by omitting the sausage, thereby creating the perfect Mindless Meatless Monday Meal.

Dave was out-of-town when I made it, but Connor was home for the night, so meat was called for. We enjoyed the spiciness that the sausage added.

Italian Polenta Bake

Italian Polenta Bake

Polenta trimmings from this recipe, or a tube of prepared polenta, cut into rounds
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
8 ounces hot Italian sausage, cooked
1  1/2 cups purchased marinara sauce
2/3 cup grated mozzarella cheese

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September 16, 2013   1 Comment