Friday, February 10, 2012

Easy, Frugal Dinner for Twelve

Last night I hosted my bunco group for dinner, drinks and dice rolling. I had pondered what to make for dinner for while. In the 12 years we’ve been playing I have tended to gravitate toward pasta or Mexican dishes for ease and economy, both good options, but I was craving something a little different this year. I decided to spice things up by trying an Indian-ish menu from starter to dessert. It was a hit. One of my friends who arrived late said, “I don’t know what you’re making, but it smells fantastic. I can’t wait to try it.” I broke the cardinal rule of not trying something new when entertaining, and in this case it worked out. It was delicious, inexpensive, and except for the asparagus, everything was prepped or prepared the day before. I tripled recipes to serve 12. Here’s what I served:

Indian Relish photo credit
Appetizer -Red Pepper and Onion Indian Relish with pita chips and carrots. I mixed in cream cheese to cut the heat so mine was more orange than red. Delish

Dinner – Tandoori Style Chicken over Basmati Rice, Cucumber Raita, Asparagus with Curry Butter, choice of Sauvignon Blanc or Zinfandel
cucumber raita photo credit
Eating Well Asparagus with Curry Butter

Tandoori Style Chicken (recipe via St. Supery Wine Club)

2 pounds chicken parts – (used skinless, boneless thighs)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup yellow onion - chopped
3 tablespoons garlic – chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger – peeled and chopped
1 Serrano chili – seeds removed and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup plain yogurt

Prick holes all over the chicken pieces with a fork.
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken and rub until the chicken is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap or place in a large zip lock bag. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Rub off excess marinade and grill over hot coals until the juices run clearor you may bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes (this is what I did). Serves 4 

photo credit

Dessert – store bought Mango Sorbet with a spring of mint
photo credit
Note on cost: I had all of these spices on hand which helped keep costs down. If you had to buy them all to start, it could get expensive. Also, I splurged and used Greek yogurt for both this and the cucumber raita,  but that did not add significant expense. Chicken thighs are always inexpensive and red peppers, cukes, asparagus were all on sale this week. 

I would love to know if you have a go-to menu to serve to a crowd? And, do you try new recipes out when you have company?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Replenishing & Upgrading Makeup

I recently restocked my makeup; it seems to all run out, dry up, or disintegrate at the same time. I needed new foundation, a blush, neutral eye shadow and mascara. I decided to upgrade to some higher end products. From Sephora I ordered Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer and Nars Powder Blush, and from the drug store I picked up a Revlon eye shadow quad and CoverGirl Lash Blast Volume.

My favorite of the bunch is the Laura Mercier foundation. In the three days I’ve worn it, I’ve gotten comments like “you look great,” from a friend. “Did you do something different with your hair?” from my husband (I did not, but he couldn't quite put his finger on the subtle change he sensed), and “you have great skin,” from a new acquaintance (this last was at happy hour in a dimly lit pub, but still). I’m sold. Even though this foundation is sheer and doesn’t hide imperfections like brown spots, it adds a luminosity that I have not found in other products, and because it’s sheer I don’t have to worry about ring-around-the-jawline either.

The Nars blush was my other splurge. It’s a pretty pink, in that most famous of shades, orgasm. Even though this product gets rave reviews, I don’t think I’ll buy it again. It has some sparkles or shimmer to it that I’m not crazy about. I think it would be fine for evening. I have dry skin, so a cream formula would probably have been a better choice. Recommendations?

My drug store purchases were a bargain and are completely serviceable. The shadows are in a colorway called khakis and the mascara is well, mascara. The next time I’m at a mall however,  I want to stop by the Bobbi Brown counter and check out Deja’s recommendation for eye shadow and I’ll also stop by the Mac store for a new lipstick. My current faves are Hug Me (neutral) and Syrup (pink), both very quiet shades.

Like my wardrobe, finding what works in makeup is a work in progress. What makeup items do you rely on?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

11 Random Things

Random shot of aspen trees
My first meme -- 11 Random Things -- tagged by the multi-talented materfamilias. This was a fun way to get to learn a little more about a few bloggers I'm familiar with and meet some interesting new ones. Here goes...

The rules are:
1. Post these rules

2. You must post 11 random things about yourself
3. Answer the questions set for you in their post
4. Create 11 new questions for the people you tag to answer
5. Go to their blog and tell them you’ve tagged them
6. No stuff in the tagging section about you are tagged if you are reading this. You legitimately have to tag people!

11 Really Random Things about me
1. I spent a whole summer in Germany with my grandparents when I was nine and upon my return I could not remember how to speak English! Wish learning a language was that easy now.
2. I once had an out-of-body experience during the meditative part of a yoga class. I really was looking down at my body on the floor and watching the class gather their things to leave, but there I lay. The instructor held my ankles and gently rocked them back and forth to "bring me back." A truly wierd and unexplainable experience.
3. Our family makes wine as a hobby, lots and lots of wine. We make about 1600 bottles of Zinfandel and Barbera per year or about 132 cases. The grapes come from San Joaquin County near Sacramento. We transport the two tons of grapes back to Colorado in custom made vats. When the wine is ready to bottle we have a huge bottling party with lots of friends and Italian food.

Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most) in Prague
4. Prague is my favorite city because it cherishes artists of all varieties. They have an entire cemetery reserved exclusively for artists. I'm not an artist, but I appreciate and admire the Czech's deep love for beauty and truth. I also love that they elected a poet as their president!
5. At 46 I can still do the splits (yup, a point of pride for me)
6. I once sold Goldie Hawn a swimsuit, although I didn't know who she was until she signed her credit card reciept. I'm still not very celebrity aware.
7. I'm a triathlete. Sprint triathlons only, my favorite portion is the swim and I will take open water over a pool any day.
8. The movie Brokeback Mountain took me completely by surprise. I was devestated for days after seeing it. Something about beautiful, tragic love stories I guess.
9. On the first date with my now husband, we went cross-country skiing, 3 miles round-trip. He built a fire (yes, he's an Eagle Scout) and we drank hot cocoa. Somewhere along the way, I lost a mitten. He escorted me to the car so I would be warm and went off to find the errant mitten, which he did. Needless to say, I was smitten, still am.
The girl who started it all
10. I am an archer. I never would have picked up a bow and arrow were it not for my daughter who at the time was doing eye therapy and archery was a recommended activity. Now I love the sport and spend an entire week each summer in the high country shooting foam targets while pretending to be a more "mature" version of Katniss Everdeen.
11. Once in second grade at Catholic school, I had a crush on a red-haired boy named Brian and I desperately wanted to kiss him so I divised a plan. Our school yard was divided into two sections: big kids and pip squeaks. I lured the unsuspecting Brian to the big kids side of the school yard where I reasoned no one would recognize me and a planted a big kiss on the stunned boy. He turned bright red and I got turned over to the nuns for disciplinary action. They told my mom she'd have to keep a close eye on me so I didn't turn out "promiscuous." My mom laughed her ass off, Brian stayed far away from me, and I married my high school sweetheart.

To answer materfamilias questions --

1. What was your favourite film last year and why? Midnight In Paris because of the scenery and the charm. Owen Wilson is pretty adorable too.
2. If money were no object, where would you spend your next vacation? and why?

At the moment I would choose Buenos Aires. I've never been to South America and would love to explore that part of the world. My husband and I have taken tango lessons and I have real tango shoes from Buenos Aires; would love to take him and them for a spin at an authenic milonga.
3. Describe the earliest meal you can remember enjoying. Spaetzle topped with gravy. The homemade noodles were always a staple at family gatherings growing up. For the adults, the meat was the highlight, for me a plate of gravy-soaked spaetzle was heaven.

4. If you were dividing domestic chores with a new roommate, which ones would you try to claim? Believe it or not I'd want to wash the dishes. I kind of find it relaxing, but would gladly hand off the vacuuming.
5. Do you play a musical instrument? If so, which one? I don't. I tried learning piano as an adult but perfectionist tendencies meddled with my progress. The instrument I wish I could play is the harmonica.
6. When you're bothered by prolonged muscle or joint soreness that's interfering with your workout plans, do you visit a General Physician, a Chiropractor, a Physiotherapist, or a Massage Therapist? First I would go to yoga class, all that stretching does wonders for a multitude of ailments. If that didn't help I head to the GP.
7. What activities do you hope will sustain you throughout your 80s and 90s? I've been in a bunco group for going on 11 years. It's a great group of women, we laugh, drink wine, eat delicious food, and eventually  we settle down to roll the dice and play bunco. I hope we'll be playing well into our 8th and 9th decades. I also hope to continue snowshoeing, hiking, knitting, reading and continually trying new things.
8. What was the first important car in your life? Toyota Siena for ease of toting kids and stuff around.
9. What was the most significant course you ever took? Hmm, so hard to decide. What made my favorite classes memorable had less to do with the subject matter and more to do with the passion my profs had for their subject. I had some very colorful, enthusiastic lit professors.

10. If you had the resources, which elementary or high school classmate would you try to track down, and why? It was junior high and Linda Nonneman. She had an older sister, so I learned a lot about boys, boobs, hair and makeup when I stayed at her house. We had lots of laughs, but when my family moved from New York to Colorado, we lost touch.
11. Which chef would you like to have come to your house to prepare a meal for your guests -- or, alternatively, give you a cooking lesson in that chef's professional kitchen? Really, any meal lovingly prepared is a gift and a joy to share. I love Viana La Place's cookbooks, so she would be my choice. Her recipes are Italian with a twist and feature simply prepared meats and lots of veggies.

And  now a few questions for you
1. What is your favorite travel destination and why?
2. What is your hidden talent? Have you always had this talent or has it developed over time?
3. What's your favorite wine and what in particular do you like about it?
4. If you never had to work again, what would you do with your time?
5. Do you speak any other languages besides English?
6. Is there some recipe you insist on making from scratch, even though it would be more convenient to just go out and buy it?
7. Do you have a collection (stamps, regilious symbols, cookie cutters)?
8. What "words of wisdom" resonate with you?
9. Do you have a favorite musican or group?
10. If money and time were no object, what hobby or area of interest would you pursue?
11. What do you love most about your home?

I'm a new blogger and have interacted with only a few blogs out there. I don't know if they are game, but  I will be tagging the following because I would love to get to know them all a little better.

From Magpie to Minimalist
The Rich Life (on a budget)
Frugal Scholar

From Magpie to Minimalist's 11 Random Things Post

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mama Bear Awakened

There’s a reason it is ill advised to get between a mama bear and her cubs. One of my daughters is dyslexic and as such she receives extra time on tests. It takes her longer to decode in both reading and math. As a junior in high school she is scheduled to take the ACT test, the college entrance exam accepted at most schools in our state, but a call from the school counselor indicated that she might not get extra time on the ACT. The extra time is an accommodation that is allotted to her because of her learning disability (LD).  She has already been approved to take the AP exams and the SAT test with accommodations.

 In those early years in elementary school she had an IEP, an individualized education plan, which was in place until she reached grade level achievement in all academic areas, thanks in large part to her own motivation and some innovative and excellent teachers. These days, she has a 504 Plan, which means she is performing at or above grade level, but still requires extra time. As parents, we have been vigilant in safeguarding this protection for her. Extra time is just that, if you don't know the material, extra time does you no good, the 504 Plan makes sure she is not punished because it takes her longer to decipher language.

After several phone calls to and from the school counselor, and much fretting on my part, it was decided that the school counselor would submit the request for ACT accommodations with the 504 as supporting documentation. We will have to wait about a month to hear from the ACT people. If she is denied, the school will reevaluate her at their expense in time for her to take the ACT with accommodations in June.

While ultimately Mama Bear did not need to resort to her instincts to rip, shred and maim to protect her young, she sure was on high alert and ready to pounce if necessary. This whole incident brings to the surface the fact that as parents we need to be advocates for our kids always. Learning disabilities are sometimes not obvious and can be difficult to diagnose. My sister is a school principal so she was a big help when we were first learning about dyslexia and LDs back when my daughter was in the third and fourth grades, but there are many more resources now. Here’s one if anyone needs a place to get started and it offers information for elementary through college ages. I still refer to it often
It's been my experience that school staff cares deeply about the wellbeing of kids, but they are busy, stressed, over-burdened, if your child has a disability; especially one that is not visually obvious, you need to be their primary advocate and make sure your kiddo is getting what they need to participate fully and successfully in an academic setting. It's also important that as parents we hear what teachers are saying about our kids, and not be in denial about the possibility of an LD. I'm no expert, but everything I have read and every professional I've talked to has said early intervention is a major key to a successful outcome.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Power of Fragrance

One sniff of this cologne and I’m transported back in time to about the age of ten watching my mom get ready for a night out with her grown up friends. She didn’t wear scent often, only for special occasions or while travelling by plane which of course, back then was a dressy affair. This fragrance is 4711, the famous cologne from Cologne, Germany. On nearly every trip to Germany my mom returned home with a bottle (as well as Nivea lotion and sturdy new shoes for all). I picked up this bottle at a thrift store for next to nothing, and while I don’t wear it, I like having it. I like looking at the bottle with its ornate blue and gold design. It comforts me and reminds me of those wonderful days in my youth when we jaunted overseas for long weekends to visit family and friends (we flew for free because my father worked for Lufthansa). All of these memories come back with a single sniff and for that reason I’ll keep this second-hand bottle forever.

My scent of choice has been Allure Sensuelle by Channel. It’s not a wimpy scent, a little goes a long way and it lasts all day. I’ve not come across too many other people who wear it which is a plus. If my children come across this scent or one with similar notes down the road in their lives, I hope it conjures happy memories of me and their childhood. But who knows what scents might trigger a fond memory (or a bad one for that matter), it could be anything -- baking cookies, a campfire, sagebrush after the rain. I am intrigued by the power of fragrance to instantly transport the mind to another time and place.

Do you have any powerful associations with a particular perfume or scent? Also I’ve been considering reading the novel Perfume by Peter Susskind about a boy who is born with the musical equivalent of a perfect pitch sense of smell. It takes place in 18th century Paris and takes a murderous turn. Apparently this was made into a film as well, any reviews on that?   

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Clothing Rant and the First FO of 2012

First the rant, for my birthday back in October, I received an Aventura cardigan. It is a whole two and one half months later and the cardi is literally falling apart at the seams!! I wear it about once a week, so maybe I've worn it six or seven times since I received it. Honestly, I've heard about such things happening, but I have never had an item of clothing actually self destruct this quickly. This cardi retails for around $80, which is not an insignificant amount of money. I might expect this from a Target sweater, but not from a company whose motto is "Aventura -- helping the earth one garmet at a time." How is making crap helping the earth? This is not even good enough to recycle at the consignment store. I will most likely try to mend it, but I think the gazillion other cardis like this one are making a beeline for the landfill. What a waste.

I know wise shoppers check clothing for quality before buying, but honestly to look at this sweater when it was brand new, it really was lovely. It's in a price range that I would think would offer at least moderate standards of workmanship, although I do know crap comes in every price range. The friend who gave me this sweater is the boutque owner.  Do I tell her so she can inform her vendor of the shoddy workmanship? Do I return it? Neither of these options appeal to me. I think I will most likely keep it, thankful for the generous friend who knew I would love both the cut and color of this sweater. One thing I know for sure is that I will never buy anything from this company.

For better quality knitwear, I finished my first knitted sweater of the year, Zephyr, and learned a couple of new techniques along the way including Judy's magic cast on and how to knit a contiguous sleeve. The best part is that I'm very happy with my new cardi. The yarn in incredibly soft and luxurious(44merino, 44alpaca, 12nylon), made in France (reasonably sure mill is not a sweat shop, unlike the Made in China cardi above, of which I am not reasonably sure) and I can personally vouch for the workmanship. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Simple Pleasure: Gloves

It’s been an odd winter, very warm until our recent snowstorm, but even on those days when the temps hit the high 50s, I was wearing my favorite new winter accessory – gloves – just because.
As a knitter, I’ve been a hardcore mitten girl because there are so many cute and quick-to-knit mitten patterns out there. But for my birthday (back in the fall) my husband gave me an olive green pair of cashmere-lined, leather gloves (on sale now). My hands are my least favorite body part, but when I slip them into these gloves, they are magically transformed into an expression of feminine grace. Okay that may be overstating things, but I love them immensely. They make me feel so … classy and refined. Not the usual words to describe my style. Even if I wear them with something as pedestrian as my Patagonia puffer jacket, I feel ever so slightly more sophisticated.

And I’m hooked, since then I’ve acquired two more pairs – one was a gift from a friend, the other, a consignment store find – I’m enjoying having a small wardrobe of gloves and it comes as a complete surprise to me how hard I’ve fallen for them.

I’ll keep knitting mittens, like these, which are lined with lace-weight mohair, but I think they will become gifts in the future. Perhaps I’ll try some knitted gloves on tiny needles. The pair below have been on my list for at least a few years.

What are the accessories that have surprised you, either in how they make you feel when you wear them or how they add versatility where you didn’t expect it?