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roasted mushroom soup

picnic basket

The only course I plated for the Fall Picnic was the soup, the rest of the meal was served buffet style. As a result, I didn’t get a decent photo of the soup. I’m going to try and make up for it with quite a few in-process cooking pictures and a bunch decor photos.

gather props

The first thing I do when I set about to create a theme for a party is to hunt and gather from around my house for decorating items. For this dinner party I was thinking – picnic baskets, blankets, thermoses, wicker, plaid, pumpkins and squash.


I had two main areas to decorate, the buffet table and the dinner table. We’ll get to the buffet table in a later post, today we’ll focus on the dinner table. I started with a plaid throw as the tablecloth and plaid salad plates.


The centerpiece was a rustic stand with fresh pumpkins and squash above and below, a garland of fall leaves, a couple of candles and my Bundt Pan Pumpkin from last year’s craft class.


Add in the setting sun…


… and it’s easy to have a pretty table!

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November 18, 2014   1 Comment

“Autumn Picnic” Dinner Party

deer lake sign

Do you remember my posts about Deer Lake in Canada? They were from July, 2013. Deer Lake is the gorgeous property owned by our friends, Paul and Kim Howard. Barb and Terry Fenzl, Dave and I, and the Howards had a wonderful week at the lake that summer. Afterwards, we talked about having a reunion dinner in our backyard. We were supposed to do that in the fall of 2013, but it didn’t happen.


When Barb, Kim and I were at Rancho la Puerta in September, we were talking and realized we still needed to have our reunion dinner. On Saturday night, we finally did!


I decided on a Fall Picnic theme and then I asked Kim to bring the appetizer and Barb to bring the dessert.

picnic chalkboard

All of the recipes will be posted in the coming week, with decorating ideas to boot.  Today, we’ll start with the salad.

apple and celery root salad with horseradish dressing

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November 17, 2014   2 Comments

Peggy’s Día de Muertos Posole

Peggy's posole

Peggy had a Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) party on Halloween night. The day before, I was at her house helping her make posole, just so I could give you her recipe.

The sacrifices I make for you lovely people!

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November 6, 2014   1 Comment

Moscow Mule

mix up a batch

Let’s be honest, the best part about a Moscow Mule is the copper mug.

Without the mug, the Mule is just vodka, fresh lime juice, a bit of mint and ginger beer.

fresh limes

With the mug, the Mule is the most refreshing drink on a hot day. It almost makes it worth it to be sweaty in the summer … almost.  It has become the “it” drink in recent years.

moscow mule fixings

I became interested in Moscow Mules when I purchased this serving set at Sweet Salvage last year at about this time. Someday the set will be given to Marissa, but in the meantime, I’m making the most of it.

The Mule was introduced in 1941 as a way to promote Smirnoff vodka. For the full history of the drink and a recipe that is slightly sweeter than mine, check THIS out.

at Trams

Since I’m lucky enough to have the copper pitcher and serving tray, I love to make a batch of the lime juice and vodka mixed together and then leave instructions for guests to add a 1/3 cup of the vodka mixture to an ice-filled mug, then top off with 1/2 bottle of ginger beer. Finish with stir, a garnish and drink with a straw.


The recipe below is for one drink. To make a batch, just multiply the ingredients by the number of mugs you have, set out a tub of chilled bottles of ginger beer, write out the directions and let your guests have fun making their own.

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November 5, 2014   6 Comments

VOTE and then enjoy an artichoke

Do you remember your first artichoke?

I do!


I was about 10 years old. There was an Italian family who lived across the street, three doors down from us. The family consisted of a very handsome dad, a seriously gorgeous mom and an only child daughter who was a year or two older than me. I idealized the girl. She was pretty and nice and very well-mannered. Their home was calm and quite and they were polite.

At my house, we were loud and there was always at least one of the four of us kids crying, screaming, yelling or getting in trouble at any given moment of any given day.

Their family and home was like a perfect rose among a bunch of thorns. They only lived in our neighborhood for a year or two. No wonder with all that crying, yelling and screaming going on!

Anyhow, one summer afternoon, the girl invited me to have dinner at her house. I was so excited. I remember being on my very best behavior and minding my manners. When the mom brought dinner to the table, there was the strangest looking, yet somehow intriguing, green thorny looking things on one of the platters.

All three of them could see by the perplexed look on my face, that I had never seen an artichoke before. Of course, they were very kind and helpful in teaching me how to pull off one leaf at a time, dip it in the melted butter and scrape it with my teeth. I remember that when I had finished all the leaves, the mom expertly cut out the artichoke heart for me. I was hooked, I was enamored, I was in love with artichokes!


We lived a block away from the intersection of Chaparral and Pima, just down from Scottsdale Community College. A year or two after my introduction to the artichoke, Artie the Artichoke was adopted as SCC’s mascot to express a difference of opinion between the students and the administration concerning budget priorities. I remember that even as an 11 or 12-year-old, I felt a special kinship to those students and was thrilled by their mascot choice.

Strange what you cling to as a kid!

bouquet garni

I use bouquet garni for my steamed artichokes. You may recall that we made bouquet garni at last winter’s craft party. If you don’t have any one hand, just throw in a few sprigs of fresh parsley instead.

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November 4, 2014   4 Comments

Peggy’s great Trader Joe’s find

My BFF, Peggy, and I try to walk in the early morning hours at least 4 or 5 days a week. Either she drives to my house or I drive to her’s and we walk our neighborhoods.


When I entered her house a couple of weeks ago, I smelled something delicious. She said she had made Green Chile Stew for a family dinner.

From the smell alone, I knew I HAD to have the recipe. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned before, but Peggy’s a great cook. She didn’t have a written recipe but she did share that she’d found a new product at Trader Joe’s that made her stew super easy.

Do Tell!

hatch salsa

Hatch Valley Salsa! I’m not sure how long they’ll have the salsa in stores since Hatch chiles are seasonal, so get over there and grab a bunch while you can.

After our walk, I drove directly to Trader Joe’s and bought seven jars of the stuff!

Then … on the morning of the Craft Party, I browned up a bunch of pork and when Peggy came early to help me set up, I made her help me put the stew together. Below is the delicious result!

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October 22, 2014   15 Comments

Greyson’s pancake dippers

greyson pumpkin patch

Our grandnephew, Greyson, spent the long weekend with us. He is 4 1/2 … so his parents, Tony and Amy, were along for the ride too. They are from Wisconsin. Tony is the son of Dave’s oldest brother, Roger. Amy is a dental hygienist and she had some continuing education classes to attend, so they made it into a mini-vacation.

BZZ Pumpkin patch

On Friday, we met up with Tram, Steve, Zak and Zoey along with Raechel and Brooklyn at The Simple Farm for their Pumpkin Patch and Tour.

Steve and Zoey

Greyson especially liked the goats, I have no photos to share of Grey enjoying the goats because I was holding Zak at the time. Holding babies always trumps photo taking!

breakfast at the swimup bar

On Saturday morning, I made pancake dippers for breakfast. Grey and Tony enjoyed them poolside. Well, not exactly pool “side” more like swim-up bar “side.”

I have posted about pancake dippers before, but the last time, I did not include a recipe. This time, I shall!

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October 20, 2014   5 Comments

gingerbread time!

At the Craft Party last weekend, it may have been warm outside and most of the guests were wearing shorts and sundresses …. that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to dream about and enjoy the fun and flavors of fall and winter!


What the heck!??! We were making fall and winter crafts so we may as well eat food associated with the season! With that in mind, I made these tasty gingerbread muffins.

gingerbread muffins

Gingerbread Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 8-ounces sour cream
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

Grease 12 muffin cups; set aside.

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October 17, 2014   3 Comments

Cocktail Infusions

The original craft that Tram planned to bring for the Craft Party was a very cool black and white-painted harlequin pumpkin. She and I looked at several options on Pinterest and we were both quite excited about it.  Then… time passed and well, if you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, you know that Tram has adorable 7-month old twins, Zak & Zoey. 


Yeah, I know! They are just about the cutest thing on this Earth! And to think that when they start talking up a storm, they will be calling me “Aunt Linda” – I’m super excited about that!

Anyhow, Tram has her hands more than full. As the party approached, I decided to take the pressure off and offer an easier craft option. One that I could help her with and one that was close to her strength. One with coffee! You also probably know that Tram and her husband, Steve, own Press Coffee Roasters.

So… I found some awesome bottles. Here are the bottles we used. Next, I gathered up all the ingredients needed – except some cinnamon sticks, and the coffee, of course, which I left to the expert! Somehow, between the two of us, we came up with the most popular craft at the party.

infussionsPhoto courtesy of Tram Mai

Cocktail Infusions!

And not just one flavor, but three delicious options!

Shopping Notes: All of the dried fruits were purchased at Trader Joe’s.  The whole spices can be found at any grocery store. The brown sugar cubes at Cost Plus and the rock sugar at an Asian market.

They come together in no time and make THE perfect hostess gift for the holidays. Or just a super cool thing for your own bar. Enjoy!


To make the Cranberry Infusion:

Gently remove the cork topper.

Place about 5 of each of the three varieties of cranberries in the bottle. Add 2 brown sugar cubes and 8 white rock sugar pieces. Tear 2 of the large pieces of the dried Mandarin fruit into the bottle.

Return the cork topper and add the Cranberry Infusion label.

 (Trader Joe’s carries at least three varieties of cranberries. All have slightly different coloring and texture, so I bought 3 packages for added interest. You can use just one variety and drop in 15 cranberries of the same type.)


To make the Ginger-Cardamom Infusion:

Gently remove the cork topper.

Place 4 pieces of the Crystallized Ginger and 6 pieces of the Uncrystallized Ginger in the bottle. Add 2 brown sugar cubes and 8 white rock sugar pieces. Add 1 tablespoon Cardamom seeds to the bottle. Tear 2 of the large pieces of the dried Mandarin fruit into the bottle.

Return the cork topper and add the Ginger-Cardamom Infusion label.

(Same thing with the ginger. It would be perfectly fine to just use either ginger, but the two add a better look to the bottle with more variety and interest.)


To make the Espresso Infusion:

Gently remove the cork topper.

Place 2 tablespoons coffee beans (preferably Press Coffee!) in the bottle. Add 2 brown sugar cubes and 6 white rock sugar pieces. Next add 1 piece of vanilla bean (cut a vanilla bean in thirds and just add 1/3 of the bean) plus 1 piece of cinnamon stick, and 3 whole loves.

Return the cork topper and add the Espresso Infusion label.

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October 15, 2014   5 Comments

dinner on the fly


I wander through farmer’s markets and produce departments with the best intentions. Squash for a gratin, cucumbers for a dip, apples for a pie, spinach and mushrooms for a salad.  Unfortunately, once I get home and pack it all away in the produce drawers – gratins, dips, pies and salads don’t always get made.


Such was the case with my most recent packages of mushrooms and spinach. The meal that the salad was planned for didn’t happen when we were invited out to dinner with friends, and for some inexplicable reason, I didn’t feel like a spinach salad the next night. OK, honestly, I was too tired to make an entrée and a salad.


Instead, I combined the ingredients and just made one dish. The result wasn’t especially inspiring, but it did get dinner on the table … with minimal thought, time and effort. Sometimes, one can’t ask for more than that!

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October 8, 2014   2 Comments