Saturday, March 29, 2014

Disney Treats!

Anytime you visit Disneyland or Disney World you can't help but notice how smoothly the Disney creative staff incorporates the Mickey Mouse ears image in everything. They obviously know their subliminal marketing stuff! As a foodie type person I'm especially enthralled with their creative use of the mouse image in sweet treats. Most are just simple things like cookies or Rice Krispies treats, just cut out or molded into the Mickey Mouse head shape or chocolate-covered in the trademark red and yellow colors. I am especially enamored with the candy apples and spent a lot of time at the candy shop window watching the workers create them.  A piece of marshmallow is all it takes to make the ears.  How easy is that?!!

Here are some of the creative (and yummy!) treats we ran across while in Disneyland a few months back.  This summer I will be attempting to make some of my own.  I know three little girls who will love them!

Yes, Granddaughter #3 wanted, and got, this treat!

My favorite Disney treat, beignets at Cafe Orleans!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Chinese Chicken Salad

Only three weeks left and the grind of tax season 2014 will be over. We are tired and cranky. Our living room is getting no use, we get home and head straight to bed. I've not cooked dinner in a week now. My refrigerator has a half-gallon of milk and some eggs. Have I said there are only three more weeks left?!!

Though we're not doing much for dinner, we are eating well for lunch. Most of us in the office are taking turns bringing lunch in. We've had lasagna, grilled sandwiches, sloppy joes, quiche, tuna sandwiches, soup, to name a few. It's a good arrangement as we're not running out for junk food and we usually are only responsible for bringing something in every 4-5 days. 

Last week I brought in this Chinese Chicken salad.  I was introduced to this salad when my son was in the first grade.  The school had a luncheon for past parents and I was a volunteer worker.  This salad was on the menu.  I've made it numerous times over the years. It's got salty (soy sauce), sweet (pineapple and mandarin oranges) as well as crunch (water chestnuts and chow mein noodles). I always get requests for this recipe when I serve it. Most of it is done the night before so it makes very easy to put together for lunch.

Once again, not the prettiest picture but just keeping it real.  We don't have fine china and linen at work!


1 whole chicken (or use equivalent in chicken breasts)

1 can pineapple chunks (16 oz.)

1 can mandarin oranges (11 oz.)

1 can sliced water chestnuts (8 oz.)

4 ribs of celery

4 green onions

1 can chow mein noodles (5 oz.)

Salad greens



¾ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder


1.       Remove fat from chicken; cook in boiling water; drain; cool and bone; chop into bite-sized pieces. (This was the directions in the original recipe. I usually bake bone-in chicken breasts).

2.       Drain pineapple, mandarin oranges and water chestnuts well.

3.       Chop celery and green onions.

4.       Mix together the chicken, pineapple, mandarin oranges, water chestnuts, celery and green onions; cover and refrigerate overnight.

5.       For dressing, mix together the ingredients; may be done in morning.

6.       Just before serving, mix salad greens and  chicken mixture with dressing (make sure there is no extra juice from fruit in chicken mixture before tossing).  Top with chow mein noodles.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Springing Forward

Though my Northeast and Midwest friends have had a brutal winter, we've had a very mild winter in California.  I may have worn a coat a dozen times this year. The bad part of this mild weather is we are way behind on rainfall, for two or three seasons now.  The reservoirs are low and farmers are wondering if there will be enough water for their crops. The good part is spring is already hitting our area, we had temps in the 80's the last few days. Now that we are on daylight savings time again it's still light when I get home from work.  I find it relaxing to come home and play in the dirt a little, water plants, feed the birds.  It's very therapeutic to enjoy Mother Nature's beauty. Only another month of tax season and I'll be outside on a regular basis! Tonight I did find time to enjoy some of spring's awakening in my garden.

The fuchsia is almost ready to bloom!

The azalea from my Grandma's funeral.  Each year when it blooms I think of her.

The real hummingbirds fly so fast I can hardly photograph them!  This little guy was a gift from my Aunt June.

Crimson honeysuckle.  The hummers love this!

An apple blossom in formation.

Snapdragons make me smile.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Margarita Cheesecake

Disclaimer: Don't let the "blah" pictures turn you away from this post.  It's tax season and this treat was shared at my office where there are no fancy serve ware, dishes, or linens and every surface seems to be covered with a tax return in-progress!
Our office manager has worked with my Hubby & I for over 32 years.  Note that I say "with", not "for".  She is an integral part of our business and a big part of our success is due to her efforts. She's loved by our clients and we consider her family.  My Hubby and kids call her Mama.  We celebrate holidays with her and everyday gatherings, too. She goes on every one of my Hubby's biking adventures, driving the truck to the next campground, setting up camp, cooking dinner, as well as sight-seeing. It has been the custom for many years now that my Mom makes Annie this margarita cheesecake for her birthday. If Annie thinks it might get forgotten, she requests it! Last week we enjoyed our annual serving of this cheesecake. I don't know why I don't make it more often, it's such a yummy treat!
The recipe comes from a 1980's cookbook, The Joy of Cheesecake.  I don't know who bought the book first but Mom & I both have a copy.  It's got some amazingly good cheesecake recipes in it.  This margarita cheesecake is very light and fluffy, due to the addition of the whipped cream and beaten egg whites. You can use a graham cracker crust but I think the pretzel crust is the only crust to make with this recipe.  The saltiness of the crust, with the tart sweetness of the lime/tequila filling is wonderful!

                         MARGARITA CHEESECAKE

Pretzel crust (see below)

 1 envelope unflavored gelatin

½ cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup tequila **

½ cup lime juice

1 teaspoon grated lime rind

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

4 large eggs, separated

1 pound cream cheese, softened

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 cup heavy cream

In a medium saucepan, or the top of a double boiler, combine the gelatin, sugar, tequila and lime juice.  Stir in the grated rinds, then add the egg yolks, thoroughly mixing all ingredients.  Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens, then remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until it is light and smooth.

Add the gelatin mixture to the cream cheese and mix to blend all ingredients thoroughly.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until they form stiff peaks.  Fold the whites into the cream cheese mixture.

Whip the cream until it is stiff, then fold it into the cheese mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and chill for 4 hours, or until set.

 ** Rum can be substituted for the tequila, making it a Daiquiri cheesecake.
Pretzel Crust
1 1/2 cups crushed pretzels
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Place the crumbs in a mixing bowl and add the butter and sugar; blend well.
Press the crumb mixture onto the bottom and partly up the sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan.  Smooth the crumb mixture along the bottom to an even thickness.
Bake for 10 minutes. Cool before filling.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

32 years.

32 years ago I married my best friend.  I'm not sure I knew he was my best friend then.  We had both been divorced, were finding our way again.  We were buying a house together and needed to be married to qualify for a VA loan (lest you think we only married because of a house, we were engaged and the house purchase just hastened things up!)  Off to Reno we went, just the two of us, in the middle of tax season!  Yikes! We got married on a Friday and we were back to work on Sunday! Some honeymoon! Four days later we got the biggest surprise of our life when we found out I was pregnant. Not planned and not expected as my doctor had told me I would probably never have children.  Married life wasn't starting out the way we envisioned. We hung in there.  Like all marriages we've had our share of rough times, but our commitment to each other and our marriage, our love and respect for each other keeps us going. He is my best friend, the one I want to continue to grow old with. He supports me, encourages me,  helps fulfill my dreams. I can't imagine life without him.

Happy anniversary, Hubbers! I love you.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Food Fun in Wine Country!

My Hubby & I recently got to take a day off from tax returns and clients to attend a 35th wedding anniversary/vow renewal for dear friends of ours. The ceremony and dinner were held at the Hall Winery in St. Helena in the picturesque Napa Valley. We arrived to the area the night before and had dinner reservations at Michael Chiarello's Bottega, in the little town of Yountville. This restaurant has to be one of my favorite restaurants of all time. We've eaten there six or seven times now and I've never been disappointed. We've not had much rain this winter. As fate would have it, the one weekend we got to be out of the office it rained!  It stopped for a brief time during our dinner at Bottega. Our table overlooked the Bottega gardens and it was such a pretty sight with everything wet and the sun beginning to set. (And the wine? We drank the whole bottle, I will confess!)
Every time we eat at Bottega I say I'm going to try a different appetizer. Each time I lose that resolve and order the house specialty, Polenta under Glass. It's a stone-ground polenta cooked with cream and Fontina cheese. It's topped with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, then served with a reduced balsamic vinegar sauce and a parmesan crisp. It’s amazingly creamy and dreamy.  If someone dropped me in a vat of the balsamic sauce and I drowned I would die a happy woman, it’s so yummy. Once again I chose this as my appetizer.  I’ll have to try something new next time!
For my entrée I ordered a whole fish, roasted in their wood oven.  It was very simply seasoned with salt and pepper, very flavorful and light. My Hubby had the short ribs.  Oh, my goodness, they were divine!
Meyer lemon crostadas were the dessert choice for both of us. The filling was quite similar to lemon curd, very flavorful.
I fell in love with this chandelier in the back dining area of the restaurant.  It is made with spoons!
The next morning we did some antique shopping and  food shop browsing.  One of my favorite shops to visit is the Olivier Olive Oil Co.  They sell amazing olive oil, vinegars, mustards and tapenades. Their balsamic vinegar is the one I use most often. On this day I also bought a bottle of their Green Apple White Balsamic vinegar.
Balsamic jelly!

Various flavors of balsamic vinegar.

Various flavored olive oils for tasting and self-bottling.
The vow renewal ceremony was held in a barn-like structure at the winery.  The view overlooking the vineyards towards the foothills was beautiful.
Our dinner was in a stone-lined room.  Wine barrels, in various stages of fermentation, surrounded our table. The table was made from a whole tree and fitted with glass. It was decorated simply with votive candles and rose petals.  Truly breathtaking.
We were gone 36 hours, were back at our desks Sunday morning at 9:30, very relaxed and probably a few pounds heavier!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's Blossom Time!

One of the advantages of living in the central California valley is the quantity, quality and variety of fresh produce we are surrounded by.  From April to November we are able to buy farm-fresh produce at roadside farm stands and in-town farmers markets. Friends and relatives give us the overflow from their gardens.  Strawberries, boysenberries, apricots, peaches, melons, tomatoes, corn, walnuts, almonds and on and on.  It seems everything grows here!  A secondary advantage of all this fresh produce is the blossoms in the spring. In February the almonds begin to bloom. It's a wondrous site to drive around and see rows of white blossomed trees.  If you dare get close enough you will hear the buzzing of bees; the bees love the blossoms and they are needed to pollinate the trees. Our winters are pretty mild but we still look forward to spring. The blossoming of the almond trees signals the beginning of that season.  Soon the stone fruit trees will be blooming and another season of nature's bounty will begin!

My sister is an amazing amateur photographer.  She can see the simplest things and turn it into a photo of beauty.  I love these pictures she took in various valley orchards.  Enjoy!