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Holiday Fun Archives

November 20, 2007

Turkeys

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Yesterday I brought Cookie Turkeys to the staff of the agency where I supervise. Since I am not cooking for Thanksgiving, I had an urge to make SOMETHING.
That's an oreo (taken apart), spread with chocolate frosting, a peanut butter cup, malt ball, and the "feathers" are candy corn. They make cute place card holders, or treats for kids who don't appreciate pumpkin pie or other adult desserts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

We are off to Oakland this morning for Thanksgiving out with friends. Tonight we will check in to our San Francisco hotel for three days of shopping, eating, lights, holiday decorations, and a Slow Travel GTG on Saturday.

I "salvaged" this ancient Thanksgiving centerpiece last week from my GARAGE SALE boxes we have been sorting. I thought it was pretty good, that after emptying a whole 10x10' storage unit into our garage, two years ago, that I only brought three items back into the house.
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Have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

November 30, 2007

Holiday Craft Project: Paint Cans

Each year, I usually find some now way to entertain myself, and that also works into holiday gift giving for friends. Last year I bought 30 Christmas ceramic loaf pans, and baked an assortment of breakfast breads to fill them.

This year, I went to Home Depot I bought 20 clean, empty gallon paint cans. I washed them again. I went to my scrapbook paper "file" and pulled out sheets of Christmas paper, made a simple pattern (two sheets of 12x12 paper, trimmed, with cutouts for the handle), and my circle cutter (or trace a lid) for the paint can lids. (Wrapping paper could also be used.) One can of spray adhesive, some old newspaper on the patio table, and I was in business.

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Now for the fun part. DECORATING the cans. Since I scrapbook, I also had a supply of holiday decorations, trims and accents. I have tons of Christmas ribbons and trims, so I raided those as well. Last year's holiday cards, flat ornaments, or digital photos could also be used!

Here are a few of the finished cans:

PRETTY ones:
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HOLLY ones:
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SNOWY ones:
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More tomorrow!

December 1, 2007

More Paint Cans

I guess I didn't say what I do with these! I use them as "wrapping" for small gifts like jewelry or gift cards. The rest are filled with cookies and treats to give to friends.

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Which is YOUR favorite?

December 6, 2007

"Cheater Cookies"

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I call these "cheater cookies" because they are not made from scratch. Oh well. Quick and delicious! Robin Miller demonstrated these on the Food Network's "All Star Cookies" special.

One "tube" of refrigerated sugar cookie dough.
1/2 cup pistachios (chopped)
1/2 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
11 oz. white chocolate (melted)

Flatten the tube of dough into a rectangle. Spread nuts and fruit on top. Fold dough twice, and smash in addition. Re-roll into a log, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refridgerate for 30 minutes. Slice and bake 10 min. at 350. When cooled, dip half the cookie in melted white chocolate or baking pieces, and let dry on parchement paper.

December 7, 2007

Oreo Cream Cheese Balls

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These are easy, no-bake treats. Dipping in the chocolate may take a while, though!

2 8oz. packages of cream cheese (softened)
1/3 -1/2 c. powdered sugar (I use less because I WANT to taste the cream cheese)
10-12 oreo cookies

Put oreos in food processor to crumble (leave some chucks).
Add cream cheese and powdered sugar. Blend well. Refridgerate until firm. Scoop small teaspoons of dough and roll into balls by hand. Refridgerate again. Using a toothpick, or wooden skewer, dip into melted white chocolate or any chocolate (I used white candy melts), and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Chill to harden coating, and decorate (optional).

"Recycled" Italy Wreath

As I was gathering garage sale items, I found two large fake wreaths from our last house (with tons of wall space and high ceilings). This one used to hang over a bar, and had only lights, martini glass ornaments, and a big bow. I got this idea over Thanksgiving in San Francisco, when I saw the Pottery Barn Window.

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I took some of our 2007 Italy photos and framed them. Each year, I can switch out the photos, and change the year on the wall!

I LOVE coming up with a new centerpiece, decoration, or idea each year, along with all of the old traditions. I think this was a good use of the wreath. The OTHER wreath sold for $5 at the garage sale!

December 12, 2007

Holiday Bustle

Yesterday I was down with a 24 hour tummy virus. I have two events this week, and little time to blog. Here is an amusing greeting from Rail Europe to entertain you until I have time for a break:

Greetings from Rail Europe (choose your favorite destination!)

I've Been Baking

First we have the "old standards". It wouldn't be Christmas without shortbread and toffee!

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Then we HAVE to have "World's Best Cookies" (Brad's favorite, even though he's a chocolate lover, and there is NO chocolate in these)

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More cookies and treats coming soon!

December 13, 2007

More Baking

This year I made some new recipes. I decided to try rugaleh. Well, that dough smelled so yummy, I made four batches...with four different fillings: fig, raspberry, pomegranite, and cinnamon-raisin!

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Then I did a peanut-butter version of the cream cheese balls.
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Finally, how about these peppermint brownies?
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December 14, 2007

Tree Elves

Jerry needed help with his tree, so a few elf friends and I decided to give him a hand:


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December 15, 2007

Weekend in OC

I've been so busy, it has already been a week since our getaway to Orange County. I am taking a cooking break, so here are some highlights of last weekend.

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Jan, Les and I arrived at South Coast Plaza (the fabulous mall) on Friday at 11:30. After our favorite lunch of prime rib sandwiches at Lawry's Carvery, Les proceeded to the hotel, and Jan and I SHOPPED until 5. I completed my shopping for Brad and picked up another dozen gifts or so.

The mall has lots of upscale stores and is huge! It is 2.8 million square feet (approx. a square mile) of shopping heaven! The Holiday decorations were spectacular, and every inch of ceiling trim was done in huge garlands with millions of giant green and magenta balls with amaryllis tucked in. There was a Santa's village, and train sets going through mountains of "snow".

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Brad arrived at 7PM to find me happily lounging in front of the hotel tree in the bar with a glass of wine (and a diet Pepsi) and my book until dinner.

December 16, 2007

The Gem Faire

The second reason for going to OC on this particular date, was the bead show! These can be quite overwhelming, especially the first time, or if you have no idea what you are looking for. I had a few items I KNEW I wanted, and vendors I have purchased from in the past. Brad took a few photos of me shopping:

LOTS of crystals:
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Every color:
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Chain, chain, chain! I bought some fake "Diamonds by the foot".
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I found a few treasures for Christmas gifts, and managed to get through a whole arena worth of booths in two hours!
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Dinner Party Table

We're ready for guests!

Here's the table:
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I LOVE setting different tables, especially at the holidays. I bought these new shiny metallic trees during our post-Thanksgiving shopping at Gumps. They were shipped here in wonderful foam-lined storage boxes. Good thing I have all that new space in the garage, right?

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Each placesetting had it's silver in a stocking, and the photos in frames were from LAST year's holiday dinner.
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Dinner Party Menu

Each year, we have our wonderful friends, Jan and Les, and Fiona, Steve, and Fiona's mom (visiting from Wales) over for an evening of decadence. We enjoy a wonderful meal, plenty of wine, and tons of gifts!

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In case you can't read the photo, here was last night's menu:
Appetizers:Baked Brie with Fig-pear Jam, Panzarotti
Served with Prosecco (or choice of cocktail)
(I forgot to take a photo.)

First Course:
Pear-gorgonzola ravioli with Sage-butter Sauce
Served with “J” Pinot Gris
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Salad Course:
Jan’s salad with Blood Oranges, Avacado, Red Onion, Gorgonzola, Pomegranites
Orange-poppy seed Dressing
Served with Solena Pinot Gris
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Entrée:
Filet of Beef: Browned in Sage-Butter,
Wrapped in Pancetta & Hazlenuts;
with a Puff Pastry Collar, and Porcini -Madeira Reduction Sauce
Served with Palazzo della Torre Alegrini
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Dessert:
5-Layer Brownie Cheesecake
Assorted Dolci
Coffee, Liquores, or Brachetto
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Wonderful Evening with Friends

We had happy diners:

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A Happy Ego in his Christmas sweater:
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Jan, May and Fiona loved their party favor purse and shoe ornaments:
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Wonderful gifts were exchanged. Brad was a happy guy with his favorite "B's": Barbera, Barolo, and Brunello! The guys all learned about wine decanters for one glass from Montalcino.

The ladies loved their real handbags and shawls from Florence.

Fiona and Steve brought us gifts from their recent trip to South Africa!

I love my new pasta recipes, Furla travel jewelry case, my gorgeous art glass candle, bracelet, and holiday spreaders.

We laughed a LOT!

December 18, 2007

Toasting the Trees

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On Friday, our gated community, "Venezia", had a "Toasting the Trees" Party. Four homeowners offered to open their homes so neighbors could see their trees and holiday decorations. 28 people signed up for the walk around the neighborhood, and all the walkers were assigned a house (by the helpful Elf committee) to drop off an appetizer before the party.

We began at Pat and Joe's festive home.
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Robert had "Santa's drink wagon" to help transport ice chests and bottles.
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We spent 30 minutes at each house, enjoying wonderful new treats, and toasting each couple who welcomed us by their tree. The second house was newlyweds, Rick and Leah's new home. Welcome to the neighborhood!
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The third house was Priscilla and Damon's. I loved seeing all the "kid art" around this lovely home. Remember those kindergarten wreaths made out of paint handprints?
Nice to have some young new families in the neighborhood!
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We were the last house. There were lots of goodies to sample!
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We toasted one of our five trees!
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After the Tree Toasting, we were invited to Robert's for an afterparty. He had a gorgeous crystal-covered tree.
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December 19, 2007

Palma and Brad's Tree Tour

Come on in! Welcome to our home!
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Italy Tree: (Brad's Office)
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Sunflower Tree: (My Therapy Office in the Casita)
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The "Big Tree": (Dining Room)
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Shopping Tree: (Mstr. Bedroom)
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Great Room Tree:
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Book Club Holiday Lunch

This month , because everyone was busy, we wanted a short read. We decided to re-read (or read for the first time) Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". We were all glad we did and enjoyed reading it!

Here was a fun appetizer if you are looking for something easy and festive:
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Take a round brie (I used a big one from Trader Joe's.) Cut five leaf shapes out of the top rind. Bake (or microwave) for a few minutes until bubbly. Fill leaf shapes with red jam or jelly (I used pomegranite). Garnish center with a little chopped yellow pepper. Serve with crackers or "Holly chips".

Holly Chips: 1 package of spinach-vegetable or other flavor green flour tortillas. Cut out a paper holly leaf shape to use as a pattern. Cutting through two tortillas at a time, cut out as many leaves as will fit. (I got 5 per tortilla, giving me 40 leaves from a package of 8). Place on baking sheet, and bake at 350 for 5-7 min. until crisp, but not brown. Store in a ziplock bag. (I made leaves the night before.)

We celebrated the season with a wonderful lunch at Linda's home, then came to my house for dessert and our ornament exchange.
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Enjoy the rest of the holiday season! Click here!

December 20, 2007

A Blogger's Story

At last week's Tree Toasting, several neighbors dropped off an appetizer before the party. I met Laurie, and her houseguest, MaryBeth from San Diego. We chatted again at the first house, and later at our house. Then, as I was talking to a new neighbor, MaryBeth ran out to the patio where I was. She asked, "Are you the only Palma in Palm Desert?"

I said, I had never met another, but didn't know for sure. I have met a couple other Palmas in my life. Then Mary Beth excitedly said, "And you go to Italy, right?"

I said , "YES!"

MaryBeth laughed, and yelled, "Oh my God, you're Palmabella! I've been reading your blog for over a year!!!"

She explained that she was trying to plan a trip to Italy for her anniversary, and ran across one of my trip reports on Slow Travel. She has been reading my blog ever since.

It is always AMAZING to me that anyone other than friends that I know personally would read my blog. I know some find it by searching for a recipe, or by googling something about Italy. But I LOVE these small world stories when I meet someone who recognizes me from my blog. It is very flattering, as well as fun! Keep reading, MaryBeth!

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to all my readers!

December 21, 2007

Nutty for Christmas!

I always make almond toffee for the holidays. This year, I decided to try two other candy recipes using my favorite nut...cashews!
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Five-Spice Cashew Brittle

*If you can't find Chinese 5-spice powder, substitute 1/4 t. of each: ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground ginger, and ground anise seeds, then add a pinch of salt and pepper. This combination, used in Chinese cooking incorporates tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, savory and salty. It is an interesting mix of flavors for candy!

12 oz. raw cashews
3 c. sugar
2 T. light corn syrup
1 1/2 t. Chinese 5-spice powder
1/2t. salt

Preheat oven to 350. Spread cashews on a cookie sheet and roast until golden (about 8 minutes)

Generously butter a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Combine sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir just until sugar is dissolved (4-5 min.) Increase heat to high, and boil without stirring until syrup is amber colored (330 on a candy thermometer) (about 15-20 min.). Remove from heat, and working quickly, stir in spice, salt and warm cashews. Spread in buttered pan using offset spatula to make single flat layer. Chill for at least an hour, then break into pieces.

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My favorite: Buttery Cashew Brittle

2 c. butter
2 c. sugar
2 T. light corn syrup
2 T salt
1/2 c. water

Combine all ingredients, except cashews, in a saucepan over medium heat. Spread cashews in a single layer on a well-buttered parchment-lined cookie sheet. Let sugar mixture boil (stirring occasionally) for about 18-20 minutes, until foamy and caramel colored. Pour over cashews, chill and break into brittle.

I'm still sleepy at 7 a.m., but THAT's when I usually start baking. After coffee, of course!
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December 23, 2007

A Special Holiday Brunch

Today we enjoyed a wonderful holiday brunch at a the beautiful Palm Springs restaurant, Le Vallauris. It was cool and sunny, so we ate on the beautiful patio.
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The patio heaters kept us warm, the 35 year-old trees were lit with lovely balls of lights, and the sun peeked through the leaves. Beautiful!
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We enjoyed the company of Nancy and Bill. Conversation and champagne flowed!
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A favorite holiday meal!
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After brunch, Nancy and Bill came over for prosecco, coffee, and holiday treats!


Food at Le Vallauris

Well, I described the lovely setting, but lets get to the food photos of brunch!
I started with a shrimp appetizer, wrapped with a crunchy noodle-like coating.
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Brad had a smoked salmon salad. Nancy had Caesar Salad in a Parmesan Bowl, and Bill had hamachi.
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The entrees were all very good! Bill and I had lamb.
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Brad really liked his duck with orange sauce and crispy potatoes.
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Nancy was pleased with her veal scallopini with mushrooms.
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Dessert? Of COURSE we had dessert. But that's another blog!

Desserts

The desserts at Le Vallauris are all heavenly. We shared four selections.
Cranberry-orange tart with whipped cream and pistachios.
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Pate brisee with hazelnut creme:
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Buche Noel:
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And MY favorite: Almond cake with ice cream
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December 25, 2007

Christmas Morning

I was up at 5:40, too excited to sleep, just like a little kid (always) on Christmas morning. Ego joined me at 6:00, and we quietly had coffee. Then, while Brad slept, I made an apple-cranberry crostada for breakfast.
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The luscious smells of baking apples and cinnamon brought out my Santa, and we began the task of passing out an obscene number of presents for each other.
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Santa was very very good to me! (And I've been NAUGHTY!)
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We took breaks in the gift opening for eggnog, and for crostada.
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Ego was quite happy with his stocking full of treats, toys and chews.
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Buon Natale a tutti!

Christmas Brunch

A tradition for 10 years now, is to have a Christmas brunch mid-day, and NO dinner.
It usually takes us most of the day to open gifts (and play with them). After opening gifts from 8-2:30, we finally made BREAKFAST!
Brad is a master of poaching eggs for the Benedict.
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I did my foolproof blender hollandaise.
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We couldn't even eat our hash browns, so Ego had quite a treat!
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After all the holiday celebrations, we don't need another big dinner, so we only have a snack at night: cookies, or more crostada.

We watched holiday movies, took a nap, and read our new books during the lazy afternoon. Then we opened MORE gifts from Ida and Bill, my cousin Gary, Cindy and Charlotte, and neighbor, Diana! What a wonderful day!

December 26, 2007

Wonderful New Ornaments

I've always loved Christmas ornaments, and seem to get a few new ones each year to add to our collection. (hence the five trees...)

This year, Brad found this one for my shopping tree:
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The Starbucks area of the big tree grew after stockings were opened.
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I also got wonderful new ornaments from friends.
But my two favorite ornaments from 2007 are these beautiful Italy Santas:
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December 27, 2007

Lots of Gifts

Wow, Santa was very, very good to me!
He brought me lots of baking things...
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and cooking things...
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and coffee things (yes those are cookies from Jerry!)
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More Gifts

There are lots more fabulous gifts that Santa (and good friends) gave me.
A beautiful Italian ceramic plate and server from Ida!
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Girly Things...
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Italian Things...
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Look at this fabulous pillow Jan found!
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And a wonderful Movie of Montisi from Gail and John!
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There are more delightful gifts from friends that are not pictured. It was a really wonderful Christmas.

Brad also had quite a haul: slacks, 4 sweaters, lots of books on Italy and wine, a game, Acqua di Parma after shave and deodorant, great Italian wine, new bar toys and accessories, and 6 months of on-line Italian language study with Rosetta Stone to name a few!

December 28, 2007

The Last Cake of 2007

I had to try out my new Santa cake pan.

Here he is. It was kind of fun!

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December 30, 2007

Overfed and Sleep Deprived

We are resting up after 4 days of houseguests. Our adopted family (my friend Connie, her boyfriend, John, her dad, Frosty, and my Godson, Casey) arrived Thursday night and left Sunday.

Here I am in the most appropriate shirt with my PERFECT Godson, Casey.
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We stayed up very late Thursday night, then had a big breakfast Friday morning.
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We had the "Make ahead breakfast pastries" stuffed with eggs, bacon and cheese, berries and cream cheese cherry-vanilla pound cake.

For dinner, we had comfort food: Mac and cheese, orange chicken, and salad. Santa cake with eggnog ice cream completed the food fest.
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December 31, 2007

Saturday, December 29

After a light breakfast, we were busy in the kitchen. Brad made a wonderful pizza dough, and we had a huge white pizza with hot Italian sausage, mozarella, and fried sage leaves for lunch. It looked so good, we forgot to take a photo!

Then I taught Connie how to make the 5 Minute Internet Bread. With this crowd, that warm bread and butter was a big hit!

For dinner, we had artichoke-lemon lasagna (frozen leftovers from the ST GTG), pork roast, cippolini onions, spinach-artichoke bread pudding, and the BEST dessert of 2007!
(recipe tomorrow)

Then it was time for opening another tree full of presents! We opened a gazillion gifts, and took our annual "Bow Photo" (where everyone must wear the ribbons from all their gifts).
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Brad had quite a pile...AGAIN!
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Frosty liked his gift can!
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Ego thought his snowman was the best!
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Connie wasn't really surprised when her "Banjo" turned out to be a pizza peel!
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John opened his gift can full of Starbucks stuff.
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We played games again until 2:30 in the morning. I was undisputed champ, and really AM smarter than a Fifth Grader. We played "Apples to Apples" and a musical Version of "Catchphrase". We laughed so hard, we were unable to sing or talk!

January 1, 2008

Happy New Year 2008!

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Thought you'd like to see our wild New Year's Eve!

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Now you've seen two things that you will NEVER see again: Palma with skinny arms and Brad in sneakers!

March 15, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Easter!

I LOVE Easter. It is quite visible in the house!
Dining room table:
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My baby chair:
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Bunnies and chicks and lambs too!
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And the eggs my fourth grade students made in 1981 (oh my!)
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March 17, 2008

Happy St Paddy's Day!

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Hope you are wearing your green! I have been!

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Have an oatmeal cookie with me!

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March 23, 2008

Buona Pasqua

Buona Pasqua!

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Spring, new life, bunnies and eggs, flowers and warm weather, the spiritual significance, I love EVERYTHING about Easter!

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I'm off to make Procsiutto-Buttermilk Biscuit Benedict for breakfast!

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Have a lovely day!

July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

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We are almost ready! I am still making Lemon Tiramisu. Brad is prepping the ribs and making BBQ sauce. Our guests should be leaving Oakland soon for the long hot drive down. "We are cooling down" to 112 for the weekend!

Menus:

Tonight:

Triple berry cosmos
Baked brie with fig jam
Babbo breadsticks
Honey BBQ ribs
Warm gorgonzola potatos
raspberry velvet flag salad
fennel-orange-spinach salad
Berry-Marscapone -puff pastry star "flags"
Patriotic cupcakes

Saturday: (breakfast)
Homemade caramel monkey bread
fresh berries

Lunch:
Parmesan-garlic 5 minute bread
cold cuts and cheeses
fresh fruit

Out to dinner

Sunday:
Brunch:
fritatta
lemon-ricotta fritters
mixed berries

Dinner:
grilled scallops
corn salad
watermelon salad
cheesy polenta
lemon tirimisu

Monday: (before they drive away...)
Homemade blackberry-almond paste tart

Have a safe and happy 4th!

October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

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Here's the Halloween dessert I made for Brad:

1 pkg of instant Chocolate pudding. Use 1/2 cup of Bailey's Caramel Liquore (or Dooley's) for part of the milk.

Top with a spoon of caramel sauce.

Top that with a scoop of Ben&Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream.

November 7, 2008

Sweet Holiday Gifts

1. Save some empty jam/jelly/condiment jars.

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2. Using scraps of scrapbook paper or gift wrap, and paper or stickers, cover lids and make labels. I used spray adhesive.

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3. Fill jars with something yummy! I used this simple recipe for "Cranberry Orange Honey" from:

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Cranberry Orange Honey:
3 cans whole berry cranberry sauce
12 oz. jar of orange marmalade
1 1/2 c. honey

Melt together cranberry sauce and marmalade. Recipe said to do it in the microwave, but I did it in a large saucepan. Add honey and stir well. Keep refrigerated.
Makes 8 cups (6-7 jars).

3. Decorate jars and/or lids with holiday stickers and ribbon. These will make great holiday hostess gifts!

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Save some for yourself! I cooked a pork loin in some...delicious. I have a few more jars. I think I'll make another batch.

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November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

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November 28, 2008

Andre's

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We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at the original Andre's in Las Vegas.

Amuse
Foie Gras Mousse in a Brussels Sprouts Cup with Grapefruit Coulis

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Carrot, Caramelized Onion and Apple Cider Soup
Cardamom Crème Fraîche, Walnuts and Grated Nutmeg

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Pan Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops
Honey Baked Ham, Kabocha Squash and Orange-Mustard Seed Gastrique

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Pomegranate Sorbet

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Choice of:
Andre’s Traditional
Oven Roasted Free Range Turkey Herbed-Nut and Dried Fruit Stuffing
Giblet Gravy, Sweet Potato Puree, Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Chestnuts and Cranberry Relish
or
Grilled Atlantic Salmon
Smoked Salmon Sausage, Cornbread-Butternut Squash Panzanella
Sweet Corn Coulis
or
Apricot Stuffed Rack of Berkshire Pork
Sautéed Spinach, Potato Croquette and Cognac Cream Sauce
or
Pan Seared Cervena Venison Loin
Roasted Red Delicious Apples, Shiitake Mushrooms
Celery Root Fondant and Poivrade Sauce

I had the fabulous pork, and Brad LOVED his venison! Look at that cute potato croquette in the shape of a pear with a fried basil leaf!

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Endive and Goat Cheese Salad
Pickled Pumpkin, Sun-Dried Cranberries and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

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Desserts:
Apple Tarte Tatin with Crème Anglaise and Calvados Ice Cream
or
Pecan Pie with Rum Raisin Ice Cream and Crème Fraîche
or
Pumpkin Pie with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Vanilla Anglaise
or
Warm Cherry Chocolate and Pear Cobbler with Brown Sugar Ice Cream

I had the apple tart, and oh, that Calvados ice cream was good! Brad ate the pecan pie with rum raisin.

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Here we are...FULL and thankful!

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December 3, 2008

Reindeer Cookies

Bake with kids, grandkids, or kids of friends? Or just a big kid yourself? Try this fun recipe for Reindeer Cookies. Take your favorite cookie dough or use this peanut butter one from www.kaboose.com.

Shape chilled dough into balls, then flatten into triangles. Add a broken pretzel to each top corner of the triangle. Add M&Ms for eyes and nose. Watch the "personalities" emerge!

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Peanut butter Reindeer

1 c. butter (softened)
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. smooth peanut butter
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
2 t. baking soda
3 c. flour
pretzels and M&Ms

1. Cream together first 5 ingredients
2. Stir together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture.
3. Chill dough for 30 minutes
4. Roll dough into balls, flatten, and make into triangles.
5. Add pretzel pieces and M&Ms
6. Bake at 375 for 10-14 min.

December 4, 2008

Buon Natale Cookies

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I would be such a happy girl if I could get up every morning and bake. Even more fun than baking, is decorating, and presenting recipes. This morning I am arranging a large platter of cookies for my book club holiday party tonight. I have a very special dessert planned (you'll see it another day), but it is December, and the cookie elves have been busy in my kitchen. I started before Thanksgiving, and so far have made 13 kinds of Christmas cookies. All but two kinds are safely staying fresh in the freezer. Since I am assembling cookie tins SOON for gifts, I needed them done. Three of our 5 trees also went up before we left for Las Vegas, and the other two were done and the house decorated inside and out by December 1! Now, if I could just finish the Christmas shopping and gift making! (WAY behind on that!)

Marbled Greeting Cookies (from Darlene Brenden/Salem Oregon)

1/2 c. softened butter
1/3 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1/3 c. sour cream
1 t. vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/8 t. salt
red and green paste or powdered food coloring

Cream butter, shortening and sugar. Beat in egg, sour cream and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and gradually add to creamed mixture, thoroughly mixing. Divide dough into thirds. Tint one third green, and one third red. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. Cut off a small section of each color, and roll into "ropes" (about 1/3 of an inch wide), laying them next to each other on a floured surface with uncolored dough in the center. Smash and flatten dough, and cut into rectangles (about 1x2") with a knife. Transfer rectangles to ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 375 for about 10 min. When cool, write message with a white frosting tube, or a pastry bag with white icing.

*(In the original recipe, the baker wrote "Peace, Joy, Hope, Noel", etc. on the cookies. She randomly placed slices of dough colors into a large rectangle to get a "marbled" effect, but I wanted mine to look more like flags.)

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December 7, 2008

Holiday Dinner Party '08

Friday night we hosted our annual dinner with friends, Jan and Les and Fiona and Steve.
They are all leaving for the holidays, so we needed to have it early in the month. The trees were all lit, plenty of cookies were baked, and it felt like Christmas! The table was festive.

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Photo frames of each person were used as napkin rings.

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We began in the family room, with Pom martinis and parmigiano with honey from Bologna. We moved to the dining room table for our first course: a trip of tastes. Cream of green chili soup, a sausage-mushroom-goat cheese puff, and a seared scallop with spicy sauce atop a slice of zucchini and yellow squash.

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The salad was curly lettuce, spinach, figs soaked in fig syrup, pecans, gorgonzola and cranberries with a fruity vinagarette.

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While the roasts rested, we enjoyed my experiment with pomegranate sorbet.

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The entree was herb-crusted rack of lamb, basil-lamb sausage risotto, and broccolini sauteed in butter, with raisins and almonds.

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Dessert was worth waiting for, so we took a break, and moved back to the family room to enjoy more wine. We had a strawberry and cream cheesecake bite, a triple chocolate cheesecake bite with caramel, and a cookie!

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THEN, on full tummies, we opened gifts. There was a travel theme this year, and everyone was quite creative with wonderful travel items for each other...but that is another whole blog topic!

We all had quite a wonderful evening. It is one of our favorite holiday traditions!

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December 9, 2008

Out of Control? or Organized?

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Too many cookies, I think. However, as the cookie tins are given away, the supply is dwindling. I have condensed the the 13 freezer containers to a mere 10. On Saturday, I was in a Container Store, and bought something to help me arrange and straighten my huge supply of cookie/cake decorating materials. They are now easy to see and find in my pantry.

Christmas:

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It will be Valentine's Day before we know it.

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Then we have all of the sanding sugars, paste food colorings, 4th of July...

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I must go. The gingerbread dough is chilled and ready to roll out!

December 10, 2008

Roger's Gardens

A visit to Roger's Gardens is one of my favorite holiday traditions. It is lovely all year long, but even more magical at Christmas time. After being up late after cleaning up from our dinner party, we set off at 7:30 AM on Saturday for our annual visit to Rogers and South Coast Plaza for some shopping. Rogers has acres of outdoor plants, and rooms of holiday decorations, wreaths, planters, gifts and ornaments. i could spend all day there. There are three rooms of Radko ornaments alone!

it is also a great place to get gift ideas, or ideas for "do-it-yourself" decorating with nature.

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Continue reading "Roger's Gardens" »

December 11, 2008

Inside at Roger"s

Yesterday, you saw some of the outdoor garden treasures at Roger's Gardens. Let's see what is INSIDE:

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Need an Eiffel Tower for your France tree? Good thing they didn't have a glitter tower of Pisa!

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There was a red and white tree with little cakes and cookie cutter ornaments,

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and a red and green tree covered with painted holly ornaments.

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Anyone need a silk rose covered CHAIR? Too bad it was already sold!

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I did buy a couple gifts and one ornament for our Italy tree!

December 15, 2008

Poinsettias

I am usually not fond of red flowers. I dislike red roses, and always prefer coral or yellow ones. I seem to avoid red flowers in my yard (although I have hot pink and coral geraniums). I love to WEAR red, and have lots of red clothes. I have had a red car. One exception to the "no red flowers" happens at Christmas. I love ALL poinsettias, and never realized there were so many kinds! Red, pink, white, all kinds of variegated, small curly ones...The last photo is my favorite!

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Poinsettias are native to Mexico, the Pacific coast of the U.S., and Guatemala. They are also called Mexican flame leaf, Christmas Star, Winter Rose, Noche Buena, and Stella di Natale in Italy.

According to Wikipedia, "The plants' association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan monks in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations."

December 12 was "Poinsettia Day" in the United States. Who knew?

December 16, 2008

Brad's Company Party

Last weekend we attended Brad's company party at the Renaissance Esmerelda Hotel.
The tree in the lobby was gorgeous.

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After a glass of wine, a free professional photo, and meeting Brad's boss and co-workers, we were seated for dinner.

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There were 480 people in attendance. Usually, banquet food for a crowd that large is fair, at best. They did a better than average job. We began with a butternut squash soup en croute.

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Next was a salad, wrapped in cucumber, with goat cheese, pear, and a balsamic vinegarette.

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The entree was actually very good. We had perfectly cooked filets topped with gorgonzola and pecans on a pile of potatoes with al dente baby carrots, asparagus and mushrooms.

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Dessert was interesting: Two chocolate disks (standing up) filled with a green almond flavored cake, raspberries and whipped cream in the center. Two chocolate truffles were "glued" to the plate with chocolate. Brad ate mine.

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After dinner there was a drawing with about 25 wrapped prizes, and then a band. After 30 minutes of VERY loud hip hop, we left and were home by 10:00.

I believe it was the first time I wore pantyhose in 6 or 7 years in the desert! (Well, it was cold!) I must be getting really old! A Christmas movie, a fireplace, or a board game is more my speed than a dinner dance. When did that happen?

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December 17, 2008

Christmas is Hard!

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This is supposed to be the time of year when families and friends get together for special celebrations (I hope for extra treats and snacks.) This year it seems like all the people are stressed out. It started out ok. My mom has been busy all month baking cookies, and putting up trees and lights and stuff everywhere. I got in trouble for playing with the tree skirt. How was I supposed to know it wasn't a new blanket for me. Neither was the one in the other room! Some of those packages smell good too. I have a stocking hanging, but I can't reach it. Did you know it is REALLY fun to play with tissue paper? But it tears real easily. Then you get in trouble when they are wrapping presents. I need a nap. And some cookies.

Mom and Dad have been extra busy. There's lots of shopping bags coming in the house, and big boxes leaving the house. People are cranky. I hear them grumbling about money, and Christmas cards, and being tired. When do we get to eat? They even forgot to feed me one night. Then, I had an accident in the living room, and I got in BIG TROUBLE! They keep having soup for dinner, and there are no scraps.

It rained all day Monday, and it was fun to run through the puddles. But when we came in, I couldn't sit on the couch, and I got yelled at for footprints on the floor. Her footprints were there too! I am just going to sleep by the fire. I am going to try to stay out of everyone's way until this holiday stuff is over. Today she was grumbling about having to go to "Jury Duty". I don't know what that is, but she didn't look happy. I didn't get to go. I am home alone. I think it would be fun to open some of those presents under the tree. I am a smart dog. I could do it, but something tells me I better not, right?

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My birthday is December 26. I will be 16. I guess that's pretty good for a dog. Why do they keep saying, "Next year we are going to Rome for Christmas!" Will they take me too?

December 19, 2008

Holiday Humor

I spent the last two days at jury selection for a murder trial. I was questioned for hours, along with other prospective jurors, most of yesterday, and eventually REJECTED by the prosecuting attorney. He probably thought I was a liberal fruitcake therapist, just because I answered honestly about having worked with gang members. After two days,I REALLY wanted to be on the jury. Oh well! I baked each morning before court, and until late in the evenings, to "make up" all the time I lost. I also lost income, canceling work. What a waste!

Now, why would I get this ornament?

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My shopping is FINALLY done. I finished this morning (on-line). I am usually wrapped and finished by Thanksgiving! This year was crazy!

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There are 15 kinds of cookies ready for my guests who will arrive tonight.

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The inside says: "What will I do for the icing?"

Easy: The anti-anxiety meds of course!

December 22, 2008

Holiday Guests: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Our weekend guests are appreciative eaters! They love food, but do not spend much time in the kitchen, so they love to visit at the holidays, when I have been known to "keep the goodies coming"!

Saturday's breakfast was easy and fun. After coffee, we sat down to individual breakfast quiches, Berry Streusel Bread with homemade berry jam, and orange slices with maple syrup and coconut.

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Individual Breakfast Quiches:

7 large eggs
2 c. milk
8 oz. cooked bacon, crumbled (or ham, or sausage)
2 cups shredded cheddar (or choice of cheese)
3 green onions, chopped (or veggie of your choice)
3 English muffins, torn into small bites size chunks

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly spray 18 muffin cups.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, onions, cheese, and bacon crumbles. Add torn English muffins, salt and pepper. Scoop mixture into muffin cups. Bake 25-30 minutes. Let cool in muffin tins for 5 minutes before serving.

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Lunch was bowls of hearty Italian wedding soup, or Pumpkin-cheddar soup and bread. 15 types of cookies were munched on all day!

Dinner was rack of lamb, broccollini, and cheesy-sage polenta.

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Dessert was Ina Garten's Coconut Cake.

Ingredients:
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Ready for Top Chef!

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Twas the night before Christmas, the house was all clean.
All the parties were over, or was that just a dream?
The company’s gone, and we laughed up a riot,
But right now I am happy that things are quite quiet.
We put up the trees and the lights, and we shopped.
I cooked lots of meals for our friends, ‘til I dropped.
I came down with the annual “holiday cold;”
Now I just want to lay by the fire and fold.
Over 700 cookies were baked, and enjoyed,
Most of the gifts exchanged, wrappings destroyed.
Tonight we’ll have lobster and crabcakes to eat.
And maybe some cream cheese pie for a sweet.
It’s just Brad and I now, and we’re thinking, indeed,
The next couple days’ nap times are just what we need.
A nice drink by the hearth in a candlelight glow,
Cuddled up close, even though there’s no snow.
It’s been quite a season of Christmas crazed stuff.
I think I need to learn when enough is enough!
We love private time in our tree-decked-out home,
But we’re planning next year to spend Christmas in Rome!

Buon Natale to all!

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

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Wishing you and your families a safe, merry, day of fun and good food!

Cheers with a Christmastini and Buon Natale to all!

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December 26, 2008

Christmas Day 2008

We had our usual leisurely Christmas morning. We take forever to drink coffee, open cards, bake muffins, open gifts, drink prosecco, open more, play with our presents, make breakfast (around noon), watch a movie, take a nap, open more gifts/cards, and watch another movie. We are couch potatoes.

Sandi's gingerbread-cranberry muffins were great!

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Brad had a small, but nice haul this year. We reduced our usual Shopping budget by more than half!

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My pile had a surprise or two, and everything I asked Santa for.

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Ego is sniffing out his stocking.

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Christmas breakfast is our only meal of the day, so we take it quite seriously. It is our 11th year of Benedict, and the meat varies from year to year. We decided on crab cakes.

I made a few extra to freeze for our next dinner party. My secret: roll the crab mixture first in egg, then in POTATO CHIPS! That's right, and no baked in the oven, low fat, veggie chip will do. Get the greasiest, saltiest, most delicious chips you can find (Hawaiian chips work best for me), smash a bag, and use them!

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Brad is the master of the perfect poached egg! (I have 11 years of this very shot!)

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I do the muffins and the hollandaise. We were stuffed! This is our breakfast, lunch and dinner! (Ok, maybe a cookie or piece of candy tonight...)

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December 29, 2008

The Mission Inn in Lights

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Saturday night we visited the historic Mission Inn in Riverside for it's annual holiday light spectacular. We went with Nancy and Bill on a very cold evening. I'm not kidding, it was 39 degrees! I guess if I can do this, I can handle Rome next year!

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Enjoy the lights!

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Inside the beautiful inn, EVERYTHING was decorated for Christmas!

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We stopped for a drink in one of the festive bars while waiting for our dinner reservation across the street at Mario's. It was such a lovely setting! Wouldn't it be romantic to take a carriage ride in one of these?

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December 31, 2008

A Few Things from Santa

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Brad and I had a lovely Christmas, and still stayed at less than half of our usual holiday budget for each other. Here are some of my wonderful gifts:

Art supplies!

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My favorite reading material: New COOKBOOKS! The first two are from Brad, and the next two are from Casey and Ida!

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Baking supplies! A four tier rack for cookies (where was THIS when I had gingerbread men all over the house?), pop-up individual tart pan, pre-cut parchment, and a cookie painting kit!

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We got some wonderful new ornaments! The Roman Santa and Ballooning Over Europe will be great on the Italy tree.

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More ornaments:

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I also received many other wonderful gifts! A springy red jacket, pantry organizers and "Mama Mia" from Brad, the annual exchange gift cards trip to Chicos with Joy for a new jeans jacket, perfume from Connie, a jigsaw puzzle or two to keep me from eating and spending in 2009, a beautiful top and girasole purse from Ida, a gorgeous beaded wrap and pin from my cousin Palma, a book on Italy from my cousin Gary, and many more treats, goodies, and fun gifts from friends! I must have been very good in 2008!

February 13, 2009

Food From the Heart

Last year I went a little overboard on heart-shaped food during the week before Valentine's Day.

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We had everything I could think of in the shape of a heart, plus a few more that didn't fit in this photo package!

This year, as I was debating what to make Brad for his "Valentine's Dinner" tomorrow, I realized how many heart-shaped bakeware items are in my kitchen!

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Since Brad has been away all week on business, he will have to survive with only ONE heart-shaped item. This year I am keeping it simple! He has requested an ice cream pie.

Hope you all have a very happy Valentine's Day weekend!

April 8, 2009

Easter Baking

In past years, it would be almost time for me to be baking Easter treats. Easter is one of my favorite holidays. I love spring time, and the colors, flowers, eggs, decorations, and flavors of Easter. This year, we will be away for Easter weekend. There will be lots of fun and frivolity with my friend, Connie, her dad, and my Godchildren, Corey and Chaudra. There will also be Easter baskets, goodies, dying eggs, and an egg hunts with their two little girls, Cadi and Cheira. It will be a busy and fun weekend, and I will be doing some cooking for the whole gang. Here are some goodies from past Easter Sundays.

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A "Lemon Blast" cake with lemon cream cheese frosting:

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A smaller version with "bees":

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Fig muffins for Easter Brunch

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Lemon bread with lemon curd

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Easterberries (strawberries dipped in white chocolate with sprinkles)

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Easter egg cakes:

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Those "bees" landed on this lemon-olive oil cake!

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Wow, I forgot about these egg petit fours from 2001!

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AND these striped, filled cookies!

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A pizza rustica is traditional family Easter food.

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My favorite: the BUNNY CAKE

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April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

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Buona Pasqua a tutti!

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We have been having a great weekend with our "family" in Fresno. Hope all of you have had a beautiful spring weekend too!

April 13, 2009

Easter Weekend Fun

We spent Easter weekend having some wonderful fun time with the Woods, our "adopted family". Connie and I have been friends since we became room mates and sorority sisters in 1970.

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Almost thirty-five years ago, she began sharing her family with me, beginning with my two Godsons, Corey and Casey.

Corey and his wife, Chaudra, now have two daughters, Cadence, 4, and Cheira, 2.

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There was lots of excitement during the weekend. The girls enjoyed dying eggs!

Cadi is a patient big sister.

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Cheira thought the egg dying was very cool!

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Cadi met the Easter Bunny.

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Palma and Brad helped with the egg hunt.

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We did lots of cooking over the weekend. Friday night Mac and Cheese, Saturday night short ribs and polenta, and Sunday, potatoes, corn-leek pudding and asparagus to go with Connie's yummy ham.

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Here are Connie, Grandpa Frosty, Uncle Bill, Corey, Chaudra, Cheira, and Palma enjoying food and good company.

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Brad zested and juiced lemons for our lemon curd until his arm almost fell off. Chaudra helped me make our lemon tiramisu which was dressed up with green coconut, jelly bellies and PEEPS!

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You couldn't hear a PEEP during dessert!

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It was a wonderful weekend with the Woods family. More photos of Cadi's and Cheira's birthdays soon!


October 30, 2009

Ready for Halloween

When we were at Roger's Gardens a couple of weeks ago, the place was ready for Halloween.

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There was even a Frankenstein Lab and some very creepy ghoulish dolls!

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My favorite was the golden pumpkin!

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Have a HAPPY and SAFE HALLOWEEN!

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November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

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December 1, 2009

Let the Holiday Baking Begin!

As I wrote in an earlier post, I have cut WAY back on all of the excess of Christmas this year. I'm loving the one tree, and no shopping to do. This leaves me with free time for the part of the holiday I love...BAKING!

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I got all of my baking supplies (and more that are not in the photo), and Monday morning, the fun began. I have a list of 17 holiday cookies and treats, lots of tins to fill for gifts, so I need to start early. I'm off to a good start: 19 dozen cookies on baking day 1! Three more recipes prepped and ready to go tomorrow.

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December 4, 2009

Having a Ball!

I started the holiday baking on Monday, and I am having SUCH a good time with it this year! Since I am not shopping, wrapping, mailing, and writing cards, I have no stress, and more time for baking. Even though I worked my usual hours this week, I began baking each morning, made double or even quadruple batches of cookie doughs, and found tasks I could prep or finish during the gaps in my schedule. I'm somewhere around 62 dozen completed cookies and treats, with 4 more recipes to make, and I have 10 logs of refrigerator cookie dough in the freezer ready to slice and bake.

Here is a favorite No Bake recipe.

Oreo Cream Cheese Balls(makes 8 dozen)

Three 8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened
about 15-18 Oreo cookies (I use Double Stuff), crushed
3/4 c. powdered sugar

Crush Oreos in food processor, but leave small chunks. Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar. Stir in crushed Oreos. Mix well. Chill mixture until firm. Scoop teaspoons of "dough" and roll balls by hand, placing them on a lined cookie sheet.
I rolled about 2 dozen at a time. Place mixture back in fridge when it becomes too soft to roll. Refrigerate balls until ready to dip. I used white candy melts for dipping. You could also use melted chocolate chips. Chill dipped candies to harden coating. Decorating is optional, but my FAVORITE PART! I melted both red and green candy melts, poured melted chocolate into a ziplock sandwich bag with a corner snipped, and in 10 minutes (per color), I had these:

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On another note, one of my readers asked for a close-up of the tile scene behind my stove. Here you go, Jo. No more need to squint! It is a scene of Positano, we shipped from Italy, before our house was built. I spend lots of time at the stove, and enjoy my "view".

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December 8, 2009

Deck the Halls with Cookies of Holly...

Monday was a cold, rainy day. Perfect for baking and decorating cookies! I got a little carried away. Then two clients cancelled due to a BLIZZARD in Yucca Valley, so I decorated MORE cookies!

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I couldn't resist these tiny cookie cutters. They are REALLY small bites!

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December 10, 2009

Gingerbread

Gingerbread Day! I use the old Fannie Farmer recipe every year:

1 cup butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 c. molasses
2 T. vinegar
5 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves

Cream together butter and sugar. Stir in egg and liquids and beat well. Add flour and spices. Wrap and chill for at least 3 hours. Roll to 1/4" thickness. Cut with cookie cutters and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 6 min. Let cool for 2-3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack. Makes 4-5 dozen.

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December 13, 2009

Italy Ornaments

Since I went from FIVE Christmas trees this year, to just ONE, we decided to do the "Italy Tree". I thought my collection of Italy ornaments might be sparse, since the last few years they filled a 6' tree, but this year, our 9' tree will be used. I found a few new ones to add to my collection:

Here are a bottle of prosecco, one of olive oil, and one of Pinot Grigio.

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These ceramic ornaments are from Claudia's Collectibles. Can you find Bologna, Venice's Grand Canal, Positano, San Gimignano, Tuscany, Saint Peter's Square, Torino, Capri, Portovenere, Spoleto, Florence, Lake Como, and Portofino?

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I'll show you the whole tree next week.

December 14, 2009

Cookie Tins '09

Time to assemble my cookie tin gifts:

First, start shopping for cookie tins in October. I dragged Brad to three Michael's stores over Thanksgiving. I love the ones where you can see through the lids!

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I've been collecting holiday cupcake papers all year. I think I have enough to last me a couple of years!

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Then bring in all the cookies I made (somewhere around 94 dozen, not counting the candy, caramels and toffee...) from the garage fridge and freezer.

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Assemble layer 1: Assembly line work is fun!

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Assemble layer 2:

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Ready to deliver to friends!

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Spicy nuts and toffee are packaged in holiday bags:

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Finally, a quick way to wrap a gift. I save my Trader Joe's coffee cans ( I go though MANY), wash them, and wrap them with holiday scrapbook paper. A simple decoration, and it is a perfect, quick wrap for small items.

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December 15, 2009

Blogging Friends Come to Life

The internet is a wonderful thing, but of course, if you are reading this, you already know that! On Sunday, we met Janie and J. at their home near San Diego. I have been reading Panini Girl's blog for a couple of years, and vise versa. I already knew we shared a passion for cooking and a love of Italy. I have used many of her recipes, and read of her travel experiences. We knew, that eventually we would meet in person, and an opportunity came up last weekend when we were nearby for my Godchildren's baby shower.

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We arrived for lunch, and spent a magical afternoon. It was as easy as old friends who hadn't seen each other for a long time. We had so many questions and topics (Italy, Italy and more Italy) to discuss. Brad also had much in common with J., so even the guys bonded easily. Brad thought he was "in a parallel universe". Another example of people you get to know on the internet, really are old friends you haven't met yet!

Janie prepared a wonderful lunch: crostini with chicken liver pate, a fabulous fennel salami and cheese to nibble with our prosecco. We then sat down for a delicious chicken lasagna with bechamel and a tasty arugula salad.

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Her blog today gives the recipe for this yummy chocolate-hazelnut panna cotta.

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Before we knew it, we needed to get back to the desert, and the afternoon had flown by. We are so looking forward to our next visit, at our house next time! Mille Grazie, J. and J., for a perfect Sunday!

December 16, 2009

The Gingerbread Project

I have never made a "structure" of gingerbread. I've made gingerbread cookies, muffins, and cheesecake, and when teaching, of course my class made the graham cracker houses, but I wanted to try something small, and not too involved. I decided before tackling a house or building, to build a cookie box.

First I made some snowflake cookies, frosted them with royal icing, and did some easy piping.

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Then I made a paper pattern of the four "walls" of my box, and taped it together for a 3-D model (so I could measure the base/bottom of the box).

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I prepared a batch of "construction gingerbread" (sturdier than regular cookie dough), and used my paper patterns to cut out 4 walls and a base. I used a scalloped cookie cutter to cut a "window" in each side. Then I "glued" a piece of rolled fondant on the back of each wall to cover the window.

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I iced a little trim on the four sides, and let them dry completely (while we were away last weekend).

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Finally I put my box together. I read a gingerbread tip, that if you are not planning to eat the building, you can use a hot glue gun to build a structure. I was anxious to finish, and decided that was a good idea. It worked! Then I iced "dots" on the edges so no glue is visible.

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Now my snowflakes are in a cookie box!. Next year...maybe a BIG HOUSE, (but I will start in August!). You know me: "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing!"

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December 17, 2009

Crafts and Cookies

Tuesday, I hosted a craft day/cookie exchange, and we had so much fun! Three of my neighbors, Diana, Cindy and Maryann arrived at 11:30. We began with an appetizer and holiday pomegranate martini.

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Then we got to work on making decorated paint cans, decorated jars of cranberry-orange honey, and painting ornaments.

Everyone brought cookies to share.

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We took a break for a simple lunch of Italian Wedding Soup and salad.

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The girls show off their handmade treasures:

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Dessert was...COOKIES!

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December 21, 2009

Book Club Holiday Party

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I have a wonderful group of book club friends! For our December meeting, we decided to have a dinner, and invite our husbands to join us. It was a great evening. We began with appetizers.

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The cooks were busy with yummy things for dinner!

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We even managed to discuss The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown. The guys enjoyed their time while we discussed our book, and chose The White Queen for next month.

After dinner, Linda played the piano, and we all sang carols. We exchanged small gifts, and lingered a while longer. What a lovely evening! We had an old fashioned good time!

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December 22, 2009

Cartedatte: What a Difference a Dough Makes

As a child, I knew it was Christmas time, when my mom and my aunts got together to spend all day making this regional specialty from Puglia, a fried "cookie" coated in honey, called Cartedatte. They are sometimes called the "dahlias of Saint Nicholas" because of their color and shape and also their association with the nuns of the hospice for pilgrims of Saint Nicholas of Bari. At one time honey was expensive and not always available, so cooks used a syrup made from figs to drizzle over the cartedatte. (They are also called Cartellate in dialect.) I remember, Aunt Annie had a HUGE wooden board that covered her kitchen table, usually used for making and cutting pasta dough. They would dump about 10 pounds of flour on the table, make a well, and start working in wine and olive oil. Then when the dough was made, they would split into the various jobs of cutting, forming, and frying the cartedatte. This has been on my "bucket list " of things to try for years. I have a cousin named Palma in the Bronx, who says, "Cartedatte mean Christmas to me." This year I made some to send her.

I'm usually pretty good with dough. I know what different kinds of dough are supposed to feel like. For my first batch, I had five different recipes, 4 of them in Italian. I converted the grams to ounces (there's an app for that), and used one of the Italian recipes. The dough was VERY dry and hard to work with. I added a little more wine and olive oil. It finally came together, but still was hard to crimp. I continued through the whole recipe, but the final result was not what I was hoping for. They were almost a cracker consistency after frying. We began again, and the second batch turned out pretty close to mom's. Here are all the steps:

4 c. flour
1 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. olive oil
pinch of salt
1 T. sugar with cinnamon

1. Roll out the dough (we used 1, 2, and 3 on our pasta machine), and cut with a curly edge roller.

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2. Take each strip, fold it in half, and crimp the edges every inch or so.

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3. Roll into a rosette, leaving some of those pockets open for the honey to sit in later.

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4. Take a break, as you will need to sit down at this point, and stop calling them "little f**kers".

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5. Bring a large pan of oil (I used Canola) to 375 degrees, or use a deep fryer if you have one, and fry the cartedatte 2 or 3 at a time, just until golden (15-20 seconds).
Drain on a brown grocery bag. Open windows and turn on the fan in your kitchen!

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6. At this point, the cartedatte will be dipped in one of three mixtures. As a child, I liked the honey best. My cousin, Palma remembers her mom making "cotto di fichi", so I made some of each. My family did both honey, and "vino cotto". I was thrilled when I found a bottle of vino cotto in a specialty food shop in Italy last summer, as I doubted I'd ever be boiling down gallons of wine and grape must as my mother did.

Honey: Melt 2 c. of honey with some lemon zest and cinnamon. Heat in a saucepan for several seconds to thin the honey and combine the flavors. While honey is still warm (not hot), dip the cartedatte in the pan to completely coat. Lift with a wire mesh spider or slotted spoon, onto a sheet of parchment paper. Top with sprinkles.

Vino Cotto Syrup: This is a thick, honey-like wine syrup of red wine boiled with sugar and reduced. It can be found in Italy, or there are recipes on the internet.

Fig Syrup: (Cotto di Fichi) I took my bottle of vino cotto, added some honey, sugar, and fig syrup until it looked and tasted right.

Here are the finished cartedatte with honey and fig syrup. It was an adventure, but I won't be making these again any time soon! I MAY try some struffoil for New Years!
I hope Palma enjoys her goodies! They are on their way!

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December 24, 2009

Cookie Scrapbook

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Every year after Thanksgiving, I go though past issues of Christmas cookie magazines, hand-written recipes, and a few cookbooks to gather up a list of what I will bake for my cookie tins. There are a combination of tried and true "must haves", and I always make a couple new recipes each year, but NEVER are they all in one spot. Before I started blogging, I was an avid scrapbooker. I even had a whole room devoted to it in our last house. I have more scrapbook supplies than many scrapbook stores I have visited. I went from scrapbooking our daily lives, to just doing trips to Italy, and I haven't even done an Italy scrapbook in a couple of years. I have made movies or dvds instead, and there is a pretty detailed version of our travels on this blog. But I do miss the physical cutting and pasting and decorating that goes with real tangible scrapbook pages. So, I deided to make a small "Cookie Recipe Book" for myself.
It's short and sweet, with all my recipes. I'll turn the pages for you...

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Now all those holiday cookie recipes are in one place, and I can add to them when I find new ones next year!

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009!

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Prosecco with pomegranate seeds and sugar rims:

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Or a Christmas martini?

1 shot vanilla vodka
2 shots white creme de cacao
cream
raspberry sauce for garnishing glass
candy cane stir stick

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Vanilla buttermilk cake with Amaretto, raspberry jam, and white chocolate ganache frosting:

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I made this cake for yesterday's staff lunch. At 10:30 Tuesday night, I realized I needed some black icing for the plug!

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Merry Christmas from Palma and Brad!

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December 29, 2009

Holiday Brunch with Nancy and Bill

On Sunday, we had our annual holiday get together with Nancy and Bill. We decided to try Spencer's Sunday Brunch, and weren't disappointed.

We began with wine for the guys and champagne for the ladies. It was a celebration, right?

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The patio trees were decorated with lots of hanging balls of lights with plenty of sunshine peeking through.

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We were primarily a benedict crowd: Salmon for Brad, lobster for me, and Nancy had crabcakes benedict! Bill enjoyed his liver and onions with asparagus.

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Here is Nancy taking a photo of my cookie tin.

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We returned last year's tin full of her own wonderful goodies!

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Nancy shared her key lime tart with all of us. Isn't it pretty?

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Another fun afternoon!

February 4, 2010

Candy Hearts

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February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day: February 14, 2010

Since we are in San Diego, I gave Brad his Valentine electronically. Check out the link.

Since there are SO many photos on this, it takes a while to load. Listen to the song once, then, use the back arrow to see scrapbook again from the beginning once all the photos load. You can also zoom in on any photo by clicking it! (I went through 9 years worth of photos to make this. You can see us age!)

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March 10, 2010

Pot of Gold

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March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

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March 30, 2010

Easter House

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I needed a project! So I made some Royal Icing, and took out the Gingerbread house kit I bought at 50% off after Christmas.

First I made the sides of the house with tootsie roll window boxes full of flowers.

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Then I made the front and back.

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Half a box of Triskets made a nice thatched roof.

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Mini jelly beans trimmed the roofline.

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Next, I needed to "landscape" the front yard: This was my FAVORITE part! Brad found me some Necco wafers, and ate the rest of the path.

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I added some ribbon around the base.

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Home SWEET Home!

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April 1, 2010

Easter Cookies

OK, so I obsess on fussy details. These cookies were perfect for me.

I made some Easter-shaped sugar cookies, then with the other half of the dough, cut out round cookies with scalloped edges and smaller rounds. I iced them in fun colors.

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Next, I rolled out white fondant, and cut small thin strips with a pizza cutter.

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I poked tiny holes (like eyelet) with a wooden skewer, then trimmed the white strips.

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Next, stack the small round cookies on the large scalloped cookies, using icing to "glue" a white "lace" sash around each "hatband".

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Of course, I loved decorating my hats the most! This slideshow will show you them as well as other Easter cookies:

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April 4, 2010

Buona Pasqua 2010!

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I LOVE Easter! I love everything about it! Spring is a time of renewal, of warmth, of new life. I love the spiritual meaning, as well as the bunnies, chicks, ducks and eggs.

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I love decorating the house, eating Easter food (except the chocolate bunnies), the flowers and sunny weather!

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Hope you and your family have a wonderful and blessed Easter Day. Buona Pasqua!

Now, speaking of eggs....here is what I did this year:

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July 5, 2010

Belated Happy 4th of July

We had a fun, relaxing weekend with Shannon, and LOTS of food and wine! After dinner,
(coffee-chili rubbed BBQ steaks, grilled corn, grilled asparagus, and rosemary potatoes), we sat out on Venezia's front lawn and watched the fireworks. We had a marathon of Season1 of Project Runway, and several bottles of wine were consumed! Here's this year's dessert: Berry Trifle

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October 27, 2010

Candy Corn

It's that time of the year. It's almost Halloween. Do you like candy corn? I remember biting off each color as a child. Well, remember that butterscotch budino? A couple of servings got jazzed up for Halloween!

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I wanted to bring a treat to work on Wednesday, so I made some "Refrigerator Dough" candy corn cookies. Just divide the dough in thirds and color one third yellow and the other third orange. Stack the dough into a triangle, freeze for a few hours, then slice and bake!

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Here are some "not so good" views on Candy Corn

October 28, 2010

Halloween Treats

I am always taking goodies and desserts to my interns at work. I love to bake, but Brad and I need to cool it on the sweets. When I am getting a pie, cake or platter of goodies wrapped on some Wednesday mornings before supervision, sometimes Brad looks at me longingly and says something like, "Your friends get all the good stuff!". So this week, he can take a larger platter of Halloween treats to work.

I made some peanut butter truffles and dipped them in white and orange candy melts for ghosts and pumpkins. Then I tried a few licorice-legged spiders (attach the licorice legs quickly before the melted chocolate hardens).

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Don't worry, Brad! There are plenty for everyone...including YOU! Trick or Treat!

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October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Halloween "Italian Style"

No disrespect intended, but I grew up hearing these southern Italian dialect words, and it made me laugh!

Now for some SCARY PUMPKINS:

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And scariest of all...DAVID LETTERMAN!

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November 4, 2010

Strawberry-Balsamic-Peperocino Jam

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Last month, I made two large batches of strawberry-balsamic jam with peperocino, ending up with 22 jars for gifts. This stuff is SO good with cheese.

Today I added some cute sticker labels and holiday ribbon, and they are ready to go.

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November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

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December 1, 2010

A Cookie a Day: World's BEST Cookies

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I know, you've seen them before, because I post them again EVERY holiday season. They are still Brad and my FAVORITE cookie! I've made two DOUBLE batches, and soon I'll need more for my cookie trays!

World's Best Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 cup oil
1 t. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 c. crushed Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes
1 cup oats
1 c. coconut
1 package Heath toffee chips

Cream butter and both sugars. Add egg, oil and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients. Spoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork. Bake at 325 for 11-12 min.
Makes six dozen.

December 5, 2010

I'm TIRED!

This week was BUSY! I wonder why I'm tired?

The oven went on every morning at 6. Since I am keeping track...I have baked 144 DOZEN cookies. That is over 1,728 cookies. When our dog, Ego, was alive, we never said the word COOKIE, unless we meant one of his dog biscuit treats. It was deleted from our vocabulary to mean "biscotti" in English. Therefore, every night, when Brad gets home from work, he asks, "How many "little fockers" did you crank out today?"

We got our Italy Tree up (more on that later and photos I promise).

I average 15-20 dozen cookies a day. Here's what 18 dozen cookies looks like.

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In addition to the cookies, in the last few days, I made 11 tubs of soup (fennel and Italian Wedding), 150 tiny meatballs, a couple pounds of pasta, a huge pot of lamb ragu, 5 pans of lasagna (lamb and roasted butternut squash), 2 of Marcella's recipes for the Pomodori and Vino blog, delivered cookies, cooked dinner every night, and did 15 hours of therapy. Thank God for the therapy hours...I get to sit down!

Lamb ragu:

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Wednesday, I delivered a cookie tray to a beautiful home in a gated country club community. The woman carefully chose only 6 types of cookies for a total of 9 dozen.
She was very gracious, and her home was beautifully decorated with hundreds of Radko glass ornaments (on her tree, on a wreath, in a huge bowl on her dining room table). She had a life size Santa greeting guests.

When I asked how many people, she said, "The WHOLE CLUB comes, well over 100!"
As she was looking for her checkbook, I asked if she was doing the food. (She had 5 bowls of nuts and 5 bowls of Chex Mix out.) She said, "I make a really good crab dip!"
I smiled and said, "Uhuh..." (thinking the list would continue). She said the chef from the club was making some mini-pizzas on tortillas, and of course there were my cookies. She said she would have a bartender.

All the way home I chuckled and thought, CRAB DIP??? That's what you're feeding over 100? I shutter to think what I would be cooking if 100 people were coming tomorrow for a holiday party. I'm thinking she is not Italian. Bless her heart. 109 people will get a cookie!

One of my Slow Travel friends, thinks I accomplish a lot in a day. She recently said, "I actually believe that Palma is triplets." Well, if that is the case, those two bitch sisters have not shown up AT ALL to help me in the kitchen! Maybe they are out Christmas shopping, because I certainly am not! LOL

Sunday, my oven will be off! I am only icing and decorating cookies.

December 6, 2010

Dinner with the Neighbors

Saturday night, we were invited to a lovely dinner party at our neighbors, Maryann and Jay's home. Two other couples were also invited for a delightful evening of great company and fabulous food!

The holiday table was set beautifully in red and gold.

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After wine and appetizers, we began with a salad of greens, pears, blue cheese, candied pecans and a choice of pear dressing or wine vinaigrette.

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There were the cutest holiday place card holders, so we lined them up for a photo.

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The main course was wonderful! Short ribs, perfect risotto and roasted cauliflower. YUM!

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Dessert was also a hit: a very moist and pretty chocolate flan cake.

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I had SUCH a good time! It was also a perfect treat to have a night off of cooking! I can't believe I only took food photos, and didn't get a picture of our fun friends and generous hosts! Next time! Thank you Maryann and Jay!

December 12, 2010

Christmas Flowers

I started this amaryllis bulb a few weeks ago, and now it is the star of my dining room table!

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This beautiful gardenia plant was a gift. When my kitchen doesn't smell like cookies, it smells like gardenias!

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December 19, 2010

Holiday Time in San Francisco

Last weekend we visited out friend, Roxanne in the Bay Area. It was a quick weekend in the middle of cookie madness, but it really put me in the Christmas Spirit. San Francisco is fun and exciting any time of year, but there is something magical about it at Christmas.

Friday morning, we rode BART into the City while Roxanne was at work, and she picked us up in time for dinner. We started at City Center for coffee, then Nordstrom, Bloomies, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Crate and Barrel, Gumps, Sur La Table, lunch at 'Wichcraft, Union Square, a cappucino in North Beach, and a glass of prosecco at City Center! Here's some of what we saw:

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December 23, 2010

A Cookie a Day: Raspberry Ribbon Cookies

We normally have intern supervision at the office on Wednesday mornings, but I decided to make it a little more festive by having them over for coffee cake and cookies this week, at my house.

Their silly gifts are an "Therapist Survival Kit"

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Inside they will find this message:

Therapist Survival Kit

Here is all you will need
To make good decisions
With your clinical skills
And that great supervision!

Rubber band: so you will stay flexible
Paper clip: so you will be organized
Starburst: to remind you not to bite off more than you can chew
Kiss: for when you need to feel loved, or just need a chocolate fix
Tylenol: for “one of those days”
Eraser: so you will never make a big mistake
Penny: for good luck
Tack: to always stay sharp as a tack
Tootsie roll: so you will always be “on a roll”
Snickers: for when you need a chuckle
Gum: to remind you to “stick to it”
Tissues: for empathy

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There was hot chocolate, coffee, and all kinds of goodies:

Crumb Coffee Cake

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Raspberry Ribbon Cookies
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

About half a jar of seedless raspberry jam

1/2 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon water

In large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy; beat in egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon peel. In another bowl, stir together flour and salt.
Gradually add to butter mixture, blending thoroughly.
Shape dough into long, flat logs about 2 " in diameter and as long as your baking sheets; place them about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
With the side of your little finger, (I used the handle of a long wooden spoon) press a long groove down the center of each rope (don't press all the way down to baking sheet).

Bake cookies in a 375° oven for 10-12 minutes.
Remove cookies from oven and spoon jam into the grooves.
Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until cookies are firm to touch and light golden brown.
While cookies are warm, drizzle them with powdered sugar mixture
Then cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces.
Let cool briefly on baking sheets; transfer to racks and let cool completely.

December 24, 2010

Are YOU on Our Italy Tree?

I promised a photo of our Italy Christmas tree, so here we go.

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It is a 9' tree, so it requires a LOT of ornaments. We have been collecting "Italian looking" ornaments for 4 years. Some were purchased IN Italy, others on the internet, catalogs or at Gumps in San Francisco, Sur La Table, and even Nordstrom. We are always on the lookout for anything that says, "Rome, Venice, Tuscany" or REMINDS us of Italy.

This year's NEW ornaments include this "postcard from Rome", a gondolier, a "Balsamico Bottle", and a painted scene of Bassano del Grappa.

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there are sections on the tree for different regions we have visited. There is olive oil, Deruta ceramics, and a sunflower in the Umbria section; a Tuscan Santa, painted poppies and a cinghale in Tuscany; and a prosciutto and tortellini in Emilia-Romagna.
There is a whole wine section, including Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Prosecco.

To fill in SO much space on a large tree, and have it full of ornaments, we have added many small frame ornaments. We have photos of all of our friends who LIVE in Italy, or friends we have BEEN to Italy with, or friends we MET in Italy. Are YOU on our Italy tree? These friends are!

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Fiona & Steve
Jan & Les
Judith
Barb & Art
Diana and Micha
Max
Alessandra
Sheri & Joe
Nancy & Bill
Gloria & Marcel
Andrea & Danielle
Marcello & Rafaella
Massimo & Biancamarie
Giulia
Pauline & Steve
Jane, Ken & Casey
Jerry and Paul
Sandi and Gail
Holly & Rick
Judy (Diva)
Letezia
Rebecca
Marcia and David
Valerie & Brian
Karen & Vicenzo
Mary & Michael
Ida & Bill
Jan & Ken
Tony & Flaminia
Sherry
Shelagh
Rosalia & Roberto
Mauro Silvania
Maura
Denee & Ubaldo
Kevin & Kim

December 25, 2010

Buon Natale: A Children's Christmas Story

I LOVE this youtube! Buon Natale a tutti!

December 30, 2010

No More Cookies

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The containers are empty, the tubs are all clean
This December, I was just a cookie baking queen.
Somewhere around 2,400, I lost count
Just be sure that it was an ungodly amount.
I am TIRED of cookies, and dishes and trays
There are some in the freezer for a party on Thursday.
As a gift, I received a big beautiful tin
of Moravian Ginger Cookies, tasty and thin.
So the LAST batch, I made just for ME for a treat
Filled with cream cheese and ginger, just for ME to eat!
I will bake no more cookies til Slow Bowl, it's true
Then some Nutella Sandwiches, I'll make just for YOU!
You may wonder with all of those cookie trays sold,
If I made any profit, from those cookies I rolled?
Let's just say after a gazillion hours of baking
A whole $278 is what I ended up making.

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December 31, 2010

Happy New Year Cake

Tonight, Thursday, was my Book Club Holiday Party. We decided to have dinner and include our husbands. Brad and I hosted. I am too tired to blog, as it has been a LONG day of cooking, but here is one of my desserts: a Happy New Year Cake! It is a three-layer butter cake with Dulce de Leche filling, and a cream cheese-caramel buttercream.

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January 2, 2011

Book Club Holiday Party: Best Book of 2010

Thursday night, we hosted our book club holiday dinner party, including spouses.

Appetizers
Cheese board
Hot Fennel Dip with endive or crackers

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Dinner

Baked sausage past with Bechamel
Maria's Caesar Salad
Rolls

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Dessert:

Chocolate Cups with Nutella Gelato
Happy New Year Cake

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We had a great evening of lots of food, wine and laughs.

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We even threw the men out for a while to discuss our book. For December, we read Elizabeth Street, by Laurie Fabiano. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book!

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The story was based on the author's own family history. We meet the main character, Giovanna Costa, as a young girl in Calabria. We get to know her family, and the love of her life, Nunzio, in their small fishing village of Scilla. Eventually, Giovanna immigrates to New York City, around the turn of the century. She meets a woman doctor from Northern Italy, and becomes a midwife with her new best friend in the Italian neighborhood.

As the drama unfolds, Giovanna faces many tragedies. She and her new family are terrorized by "The Black Hand", precursors of the Italian-American mafia. They offer the family business "protection", at quite a cost. Payoffs are made, and a disaster strikes Italy. Finally, the good cop, an Italian police lieutenant, is murdered, and Giovanna's daughter, Anna, is kidnapped.

I was rivited to this story! The character Giovanna lived in New York as an immigrant during the same years my mother and her sisters were growing up there, in the early 1900s. The book took the author 10 years to write, and it was very well-researched.
I learned that Ellis Island inspectors were instructed to mark northern and southern Italians as two separate races; and how the wages for common laborers in parts of the country were divided into three categories, the highest salary paid to "whites," the middle scale for "coloreds," and the lowest amount to "Italians."

If you love Italy, go get this NOW! It was my favorite book of 2010!

February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

I spent all Day Sunday catering OTHER people's Valentine's Day dinner parties (two dinners and 36 individual desserts)! Our festivities will be a nice quiet dinner at home tonight.

Spread some love today!

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March 17, 2011

Wear GREEN!

I have on a green and white scarf over my gauze-wrapped turban head. (a new open hole on my head...). I'll spare you the visual. Here are my guys in their green polo shirts:

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Enjoy some St. Patrick's Day humor from Maxine:

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April 24, 2011

Buona Pasqua 2011

Happy Easter from our house...

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AND from Las Vegas!

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April 25, 2011

Home From Vegas

We are back at home after a great weekend in Las Vegas. It was a short Easter morning, with a little gambling, and a nice breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi. We saw Micky and Donald from our table looking toward the Bellagio water show.

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I love their HUGE bowls of caffe au lait.

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Brad had lemon pancake with strawberries and I had bacon Benedict.

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When we arrived home, we opened our Easter Baskets. Brad had lots of chocolate and a new Hawaiian shirt, while my goodies were all from Williams-Sonoma!

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Luigi got a new leash, collar, and a duck toy!

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Hope you all had a nice Easter or Passover!

October 30, 2011

The Pumpkin Patch

This is definite proof of my insanity!

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Pumpkin Spice Cookies

2 1/4 c. flour
2 T. cornstarch
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
2 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 t. ginger
3/4 salt
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. plus 2T unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 1/4 c. pure pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
1 1/2 t. vanilla

cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 batch Royal Icing:
Fondant
Orange and green gel food coloring

Preheat oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Combine dry ingredients and spices in a large bowl. In mixer, beat butter and both sugars until smooth. Add egg and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in pumpkin puree and vanilla, scraping sides of bowl. Add flour mixture half at a time. Use a cookie scoop to make very rounded mounds of dough, six per cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 20 minutes. Cool before icing.

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Royal Icing:

2 pounds powdered sugar
1/2 t. cream of tartar
5 egg whites
orange or cinnamon extract
water
orange food coloring

Mix powdered sugar and cream of tartar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add egg whites by hand to moisten the sugar. On low speed, using whip attachment, evenly mix in egg whites. Turn mixer to medium high and beat about 2 minutes until silky and white. Beat in extract. Reserve about 1 c. of icing in a small bowl.

Add orange food coloring to remaining icing until you get a bright orange color, beating with mixer to blend thoroughly. Add water, a tablespoon at a time to icing, until it is runny enough to dip cookies, but not too thin. If icing become too thin, add a little more powdered sugar, or if it is too thick, add another tablespoon of water.

By hand, with a spoon, add a little orange food coloring to reserved cup of icing for a lighter shade of orange to pipe lines on pumpkins later.

Set a wire rack over a sheet of parchment. Dip cooled cookies into orange icing, by holding cookie by the bottom, completely immerse top of cookie in icing, turn right side up and shake off extra glaze. Place on rack and insert a piece of cinnamon stick in the top.

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Let cookies dry enough to move them to a clean rack before they are completely dry, using a metal spatula. When glaze is dry, pipe "lines" down cookies with lighter shade of icing in a pastry bag, or zip lock with an icing tip inserted in one snipped corner. Add green coloring to fondant, and work through evenly to make leaves and tendrils. Attach to pumpkins with a dap of leftover icing.

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I spread some crushed chocolate cookie crumbs in a large wooden try for "dirt" for my pumpkin patch.

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Inside the cinnamon glaze is a moist, yummy pumpkin cookie! Happy Halloween!

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October 31, 2011

Halloween at Our House

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November 20, 2011

Busy, Busy!

Friday: We took a day trip to Temecula to have our second annual fall lunch at Ponte Winery with our friends Janie & J. Brad tasted wine, we ate lunch, shopped for gourmet foodie items, and came home. I got another fix of fall folliage!

The cookie baking began! Friday: 10 dozen lemon blossoms and raspberry bars!

Saturday: We hit Costco and the grocery store, then back to the baking. Another 22 dozen World's Best Cookies, Apricot Cheesecake Bars and Gooey Carmel Butter Cookies!
I also did half (5 hours) of on-line training during the cookie baking.

Today: Breakfast with friends, then the other 5 hours of training, and sugar cookies this afternoon!

November 21, 2011

A Holiday Mood...Halleluiah

This video is from a small Yupiq Eskimo Village in Quinhagak, Alaska. Enjoy!

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011!

We are wishing everyone a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving. Enjoy the weekend with family, friends, good food, and maybe some shopping on Friday!

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November 27, 2011

Back from Vegas

I am still having problems with my blogging program. Hopefully it will be fixed this week, but we had a great weekend in Las Vegas with our friend, Joy. Lots of food and fun and gambling and shopping! Details soon!

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November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend Highlights

We drove to Las Vegas last Wednesday after work, and arrived around 9:15, grabbed a quick bite and gambled. When we woke up Thursday morning, it was a beautiful mild, sunny day, and we had a great view from our room.

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We picked up Joy at the airport at 11:30, came back and had brunch at Sugar. After a nap and then happy hour at our favorite bar, we headed to the Vintner Grill for our Thanksgiving dinner. It was chilly out, but the patio was beautiful with fall trees full of lanterns.

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Our first course was a Caesar Salad wrapped in prosciutto.

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Joy had a traditional turkey dinner, and Brad and I had a delicious veal dish with marsala, mushrooms with pasta with oil and garlic.

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Dessert was a lovely lemon cheesecake with blueberry sauce.

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Friday involved some shopping, but the Fashion Show mall wasn't too bad. We hit the Apple store for Brad's new i-Phone4s, and Joy bought an i-Pad2. I had some fun in Sur la Table, Chicos and got a couple of gifts.

Friday night, Brad's gambling luck improved, when he was dealt this hand:

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He was feeling lucky, so he took a photo just in case! It was his turn to get a Royal Flush!

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December 1, 2011

December Already?

I'm not sure how it got be be December, but there is always too much to do.
Here is my list:

One Christmas tree is up and decorated: done
Another Christmas tree up, ornaments go on Friday
Rest of house decorated: done
Outside lights: Brad's job on Friday (my part is the prodding and maybe some nagging)
47 dozen cookies: done
Another 50 or so dozen to come
Holiday newsletter written, but not yet printed
Cards: not done
One holiday party next week: finish cleaning house (Party on 12/9 motivated getting this far!)
In charge of professional organization party (at a hotel):8 centerpieces to make Sunday
Holiday luncheon for my interns: plan and cook
Holiday shopping: done except a few stocking stuffers
Wrap presents: after Dec 14h I'll have time
Catering a party January 8th:planning menu now
Assemble cookie tins for gifts: when I'm done baking!

I'm also extra busy at work, and have to have a root canal. Still, I feel like I'm in pretty good shape. How about YOU? I'm already looking forward to the week off between Christmas and New Year's!

December 11, 2011

Toasting the Trees

We have a fun tradition in our neighborhood, called "Toast the Trees". Each year, a few neighbors offer to open their homes and share their holiday decorations at a progressive neighborhood party. This year there were three homes and we were the third. We all began at House 1. Those attending, make an appetizer to share, and are assigned which house to bring it to. Everyone carries a tote with their own wine or other beverage and glasses. Host houses just provide plates, napkins and ice. All of the beverages are left in the front courtyard of the house we are at. We spend 45 minutes at each house, then walk on together as a group.

We began at Priscilla and Damon's. At each house, with lots of visiting, food and drink, we toast the tree and the hosts.

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Next we went to Maryann and Jay's. We left 10 minutes early to go home, light candles, fireplaces, and put out ice, so we missed the actual toast, but here is their tree. It is so much fun to see everyone's trees, decoration, tables as well as the lights around the neighborhood!

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My table was filled with goodies! The were some lovely appetizers from Cathy and Beverly, and 9 platters of cookies and treats. I got pictures of SOME of them.

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The house was all ready, and then 38 people arrived to toast our trees. We gathered in our great room and kitchen to toast our Italy tree.

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Brad explained our passion for Italy, and made everyone say, "Buon Natale".

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It was a really fun party, and our friends were here for a nice long time!

December 12, 2011

Oreo Cream Cheese Truffles

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This is an old favorite I make every year. This year I made 136 of them! It is another simple recipe for a pretty and delicious treat.

2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese (room temp)
3/4 c. powdered sugar
20 Oreo cookies (Double Stuff, of course)
White, red and green candy melts

Put cookies in food processor and crumble. Some small chunks are OK. Add cream cheese and powdered sugar. Blend well. Refrigerate until firm. Scoop small teaspoons of dough and roll into balls with your hands. Place them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet, and chill again. Dip into melted white candy melts, and place on another waxed paper lined cookie sheet. Chill to harden coating. Melt a few red candy melts, and pour into a small ziplock bag. Cut off tip to drizzle over white truffles. Repeat with green.

December 13, 2011

Holiday Table 2011

I'm almost ready for tomorrow's Intern Brunch. The table is set for the holidays!

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Our traditional tree is in the corner of the dining room.

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Back to the cookies...

December 14, 2011

Cookie Tins 2011

Well, we know I've been baking cookies! Each year, I give friends a gift of a holiday tin of cookies. The cookies are done, and it is time to assemble the gifts. I needed 5 for tomorrow, and will do another 13 next week. I can't wait until I have refrigerator space again, as I have 22 large Rubbermade storage containers full of cookies (in 2 fridges), and some in the garage where it is cool enough.

I began the assembly line:

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I use cupcake papers to keep the cookies neat, and square tins from Michael's. Some friends return the tins to me in hopes of getting cookies again the following year!

Layer 1:(bottom)

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Layer 2:(top)

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Aren't they cute? I love the see-through lids!

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December 15, 2011

Paint Can Centerpieces

Some of you may remember how I love to decorate empty clean paint cans (they sell them at Home Depot), with scrapbooking paper, and stickers to wrap a small gift or ornament. This year, I "repurposed" the idea to use the decorated paint cans as a cheap and easy centerpiece for my professional organization's party at a hotel. Imagine...ME as Social Committee Chairman! The hotel provides mirror squares and votives, The paint cans are filled with 4 sacks of holiday cookies (SEE why I've been baking like a crazy woman?), and will also double as raffle prizes!

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You can take an elementary teacher out of the classroom...

December 16, 2011

Intern Brunch

I hosted a Holiday Brunch Wednesday for my interns, Dany, Nora, Senorina, Laura and Karla.

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After our supervision, we enjoyed "Harry's Eggs" (an egg, sausage, mushroom, onion, salsa, three cheese dish), oranges and bananas with ginger syrup and crushed amaretti, and New York style coffee cake.

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There were plenty of cookies for dessert.

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December 18, 2011

Gifts from the Kitchen

I love to give home-made gifts! Besides those who get my cookie tins, I have some wonderful neighbors on my list of special people I want to give a little something to. I baked these simple Parmigiano "Cookies" (FABULOUS with a glass of wine).

This recipe makes 3 dozen 2" cookies. (I doubled this for 6 dozen):

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 c. grated parmigiano (or Grana Padano, or Romano)
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. smoked paprika

Mix all ingredients on low speed in mixer, until dough comes together. (Don't over-mix). Roll out dough on a floured surface and cut out round cookies. Bake on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 14-15 minutes at 375. Cool.

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NOW for the fun part! I saved some Trader Joe's coffee cans, and rinsed them well with hot soapy water. This was easy, as we go through at least a can a week! Cut wrapping paper to fit, and use spray adhesive. Make sure you get the REPOSITIONABLE kind, in case you screw up!

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A simple label, or ribbon would do, but for me the fun is in the decorating! I have BOXES of scrapbooking supplies, so I just went to the box marked "Christmas", and had hundreds of adornments to choose from.

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Each can easily hold a dozen cookies! Now I get to deliver the goodies!

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December 19, 2011

More Gifts from the Kitchen

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I found these cute little green holly-shaped ramekins, and made some delicious fig-goat cheese spread:

8 oz. goat cheese, room temp
4 oz cream cheese, room temp
14 dried figs, stemmed and finely chopped
1/3 c. toasted pecans
2 T. honey

Combine all ingredients in food processor, and lend until smooth. Chill.

Wrap in plastic wrap and tie on a holiday spreader for a cute gift.

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December 20, 2011

Relaxing at the Wine Bar

The cookies are baked, the presents are wrapped, and the house is all aglow. It was time for a relaxing weekend with friends. Friday night we went to The Third corner with our friends, Cathy and Dennis, and enjoyed some nice wine, good food, and great conversation. We shared a cheese and salami plate, orange duck wings with blue cheese slaw, and a bowl of penne pasta with sausage and an herb cream sauce.

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We can't wait to go back and do it again soon!

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December 22, 2011

Our Italy Tree 2011

Every year since we started collecting Italy ornaments for our Italy tree, we add a few new ornaments. Some have been purchased in Italy, and some I have found through diligent shopping! Here are this year's additions:

An Italian Santa:

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Sur la Table came through with the next three: bread, balsamico, and salami!

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How about some pannettone? (from Bellagio)

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Gumps provided a shiny red Vespa:

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and Santa on a Vespa:

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This was painted by a local artist in Ascoli Piceno:

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Many of our Italian friends are also on the tree!

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Ceramic bells from Faenza

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Finally, Rome and "A Tour of Italy":

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Santa may have a couple more additions for us!

December 23, 2011

Living Nativity

There is a local church that sponsors a living nativity each year for three nights in December, and we decided to go see it this year. I really had no idea if it was something you drove by, so, our expectations were for a group of people depicting the Bethlehem scene outside of a church. We were told to "Go early!", as it would be crowded.

We arrived at a huge outdoor nursery with large grounds and a huge parking lot. There were many there waiting for it to open, and booths selling hot chocolate, a stage, musicians and pony rides out front. We got in line.

At 6:00, we were taken by a "shepherd", through a beautiful white lights-lined path in groups of about 20. Each "station" had a set of some kind, and people in costume, acting out a scene of the story. We began with the prophet Isaiah:

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Next we arrived at the home of Mary in Nazareth: We found her sweeping, when an angel appeared and told her she would have the Son of God. Joseph was also visited by the angel and he agreed to take Mary for his wife.

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As we made our way toward Bethlehem, (along the beautifully lit grounds of the nursery), we were stopped by several Roman soldiers, who demanded we pay our taxes. They had some cute interactions with children in the crowd.

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Finally, we arrived in Bethlehem, along with Mary and Joseph, and their donkey, but there was no room at any inn:

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We circled a huge grassy area with a flock of real sheep, and some shepherds, when in the sky, appeared another angel, and suddenly, from the darkness, a group of angels singing. (It was really cool, how they did this!)

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We kept walking along the path with our shepherd as a guide until we arrived at a stable with Mary, Joseph, a REAL baby Jesus, a couple more shepherds and a goat or two.

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I thought that was the end, but as we rounded the next curve in the path, there was a huge amphitheater, and a scene where the King decided to round up all male babies in the land.

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Next we saw three kings on their way to visit the baby Jesus. The camel was VERY cool!

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Again, I thought this was the end, but the last scene jumped ahead a few decades and depicted an empty tomb and the resurrection. Since this is a Christmas story, my photos will stop here. When we came off the path, there were booths with tamales, crafts, etc. or children could watch a musical puppet show or ride the ponies. It was a very cool holiday event that is free to the public.

December 24, 2011

Photo Hunt: SURPRISE

It is a season full of surprises: Pretty presents under the tree, cookies from a neighbor by the front door, deliveries from UPS, packages in the mailbox, cards from an old friend, etc.

The other day, I got quite a lovely surprise. In my mailbox, was a package from a town in New Jersey, and the return address a name I didn't know. I opened the shipping box, and there was a small white box with a red ribbon, and Italian writing. There was also a note:

"Dear Palma,

I have been a loyal follower of your blog for years now, and this is finally the year to thank you.

You have made me smile on dark days, made my friends and family think I can cook, inspired me to keep the crazy traveling, and helped me to be forever grateful for my husband!

God bless you this season and always, Palma! Please accept my small gift.

Fondly,

Cynthia"

Inside the box was a beautiful Italian ceramic ornament for our Italy tree (made by Rampini, like my dishes...)

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OMG! I had tears in my eyes. I have no idea who reads my blog. I get a weekly report with numbers of views, but I will admit there are days I wonder, "Why do I do this? No one cares." Sometimes I have nothing to say, or haven't cooked anything new or done anything memorable, but I don't usually go to bed without a blog post scheduled to post at 5 something the next morning (for my east coast and Italian readers). Sometimes, it takes me over an hour to download photos, and post them one at a time. Sometimes, I will type a LONG recipe with photos of each step of the process. If I go two or three days without a comment, I wonder if anybody is reading my posts. Sometimes I get too busy to leave a comment or even look at my friends' blogs for several days, and realize, they don't know I saw their blogs either.

Cynthia, you MADE MY DAY! Mille Grazie for a very special gift, and beautiful and inspiring note. I guess I will keep blogging!

To all my readers, Happy Holidays, and Buon Natale!

December 25, 2011

Buon Natale 2011

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Brad, Luigi and I wish you all a wonderful Christmas!

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December 28, 2011

Christmas Day 2011

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We began our Christmas Day with Coffee from my new Keurig Pot! We went to prosecco and juice to open presents. That took a while, as there were many gifts under the tree.

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After breakfast, we opened MORE gifts, and relaxed for a while. Soon it was time to pack up two cheesecakes and go to our friends', Fiona and Steve's for cocktails and dinner. They had 15 people over for the festivities.

I encouraged Fiona to buy this antipasti set when we were all in Orvieto.

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The tables were festive!

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We had a "white elephant" gift stealing exchange, and karaoke after dinner. It was an evening of fun, interesting people, and a good time was had by all!

January 2, 2012

A Week of Food and Fun!

We were both off the week between Christmas and New Year's. It was a busy and social week!

Monday: exhausted. Took a 5 hour nap!

Tuesday: We took a day trip to Surfas (a large restaurant supply/gourmet food store in Culver City). I bought lots of baking supplies.

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We ate lunch at the Surfas Cafe, where I had the "Ultimate Grilled Cheese" sandwich: white cheddar, fontina, blue cheese mayo on Pecan Raisin bread!

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Wednesday: Friends over for wine and appetizers

Thursday: Lunch at Cuistot with Nancy and Bill
Happy Hour with neighbors

Friday: Book Club Holiday Party at our house (more on that tomorrow).

Saturday: New Year's Eve with friends (more on that soon).

Sunday: New Year's Breakfast: Brie-Prosciutto Benedict OMG!

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AND dinner out wit Barbara, Terry, Kelly and Gregg!

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Brad goes back to work on Monday, and I have a 9 a.m. client. I need a vacation from my vacation.

January 4, 2012

New Year's Eve

We gathered at a neighbor's house for drinks and appetizers at 6:30, then went out for a nice dinner with Beverly, Richard, Cathryn, Gary, Mary, Dave, Nancy, Candi and Steve!

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We returned to Beverly and Richard's home for wine, champagne, dessert, games, and a few more hours of fun. This is the latest we've been out on New Year's Eve in YEARS!

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February 14, 2012

Sweet Heart Petit Fours

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This is the LAST of the leftover pound cake! I cut 1" slices, and got 2 hearts from each.

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Icing:

4 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. water
1 t. clear vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract

Over a double boiler, heat all ingredients and whisk until warm and smooth. Divide into small cups and tint with gel food coloring. Add a t. of warm water to thin to pouring consistency.

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Pour over cakes on a wire rack with waxed paper under it. Icing may by scraped off waxed paper to reuse on next cake of the same color. Let dry. Use an icing bag and tip to write Sweet Heart messages.

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Happy Valentine's Day!

February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day 2012 at Our House

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March 4, 2012

Go Green!

I LOVE March and decorating for St. Patrick's Day!

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March 16, 2012

Leprechaun Cupcakes

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These turned out just as I hoped! They make me laugh! We're getting ready for tomorrow with lots of fun St. Patrick's Day food!

Frost the regular size cupcakes green. Frost the same number of mini-muffin tin cupcakes a light peach, and cutting an angle off the bottom, sit them on top of the larger cupcakes to make the heads. The eyes are mini-chocolate chips, and the noses and ears are pink jelly-bellies. Frost orange hair and beards. The arms are a green Twizzler (wrapped around the head) with jelly-belly hands, and green frosting covering the "shoulders".

For the hats, cut the bottoms off ice cream cones, and separate Oreos into two cookies, scraping off the filling. Dip the Oreo half and the cone into melted green candy melts. Place cone (cut side down) on top of cookie. Cut three mini hearts from a gumdrop for the shamrock. When hats are dry (chill in fridge), attach to head with more orange frosting!

I only made three leprechauns because they are just to decorate a plate of GREEN Velvet cupcakes! Have a lucky St. Paddy's Day! Stay turned for the whole dinner menu and photos on Sunday!

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April 6, 2012

Almost Ready for Easter

The table is set, the groceries are bought, the cake is baked (but not decorated), and there's plenty of Easter treats.

We are spending Easter with our neighbors, Diana and Walt. Walt makes the BEST BBQ leg of lamb EVER! We are also having strawberry salad, grilled asparagus, corn-leek pudding, and mashed potatoes with white cheddar and sage.

Having 5 days in a row off for Spring Break gave me plenty of time to play in the kitchen. I made some white chocolate eggs (different colored candy melts), and some fondant daffodils to decorate the cake. You can see the final results soon.

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April 8, 2012

Buona Pasqua 2012

Buona Pasqua!

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July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

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Enjoy a relaxing day and easy celebrating!

4th of July Food 2012

Slow -cooked baby back ribs with dry spice rub
Red potato salad
watermelon
red, white and blue jello parfaits

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October 14, 2012

It's Cookie Time

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October 15, 2012

Haunted House

It was beautiful!

It was standing up tall and proud on the kitchen table, after several days of work.

I was working on the frosted "dirt" front yard with a grave yard, black cat and pumpkin patch.

Then disaster struck...

It was like a massive earthquake struck the cookie house, and it's top-heavy second story and roof came crashing down.

It is in a trash bag in pieces. So sad.

No one was injured... (except for a couple of small scars from the glue gun).

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October 25, 2012

Bologna's New Ice Cream Museum

Love gelato? Check this out!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/sep/26/new-ice-cream-museum-bologna-italy

October 28, 2012

All My Favorite Pumpkins

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My Italian Castle:

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Noah and Gabe are the sweet little pumkins!

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November 19, 2012

To Do List

Thanksgiving will be in Fresno this year. I usually avoid Thanksgiving dinners like the plague. The last time I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner was 1987, and Brad and I usually take off to Las Vegas or San Francisco. Of course THIS year, we want Federico to experience a REAL AMERICAN THANKSGIVING with a big family, too much food, and lots of people, so we are heading to Fresno with Connie's whole gang. There will be 15 people for dinner, and we are all helping.

My list includes 2 huge pans of stuffing, two kinds of cranberry sauce, two desserts, cookies, and Mac & Cheese for Friday night's dinner.

I made a Nutella Cheesecake, and a gingerbread cheesecake, and they are in my freezer.
13 dozen cookies are baked.
Today I am making cranberry sauce and six pound of ciabatta cubes for the stuffing.

I also work a few hours and have my Domestic Violence group tonight. There will be a quick pasta for dinner.

I am excited about Thanksgiving this year!

November 21, 2012

We're Off...

We are leaving this morning for a Fresno Thanksgiving! We'll be driving "over the desert and through the Grapevine" to my home town. Today we will drop off LOTS of food and goodies at Connie's, then check in to our hotel and give Federico the nickel tour of where I grew up.

Later this evening we'll meet up with a group of my sorority sisters (Connie, Joy, Kim and Suzy) at a favorite Italian restaurant so Federico can meet his "American Aunts" or the "Auntie Ya Yas" as we have been named by everyone's children. There is never a dull second when we all get together!

Thursday morning, at the crack of dawn, Federico and Sarah are running in the 5K "Turkey Trot" Run. Then back to our hotel for breakfast and then the whole Thanksgiving Day with the clan at Connie's.

Friday morning, we are all going to Yosemite for the day! We will picnic with turkey and ham sandwiches, and lots of goodies. The weather promises to be beautiful, sunny and crisp! Friday night, back to Connie's for another huge meal.

We'll be back home Saturday afternoon to start decorating for Christmas!

We wish everyone a happy, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2012

The Auntie Ya-Yas

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We drove to Fresno on Wednesday for a fun Thanksgiving weekend. Fall in Fresno, where I grew up, was a riot of autumn color! The Auntie Ya-Yas (Joy, Kim, Connie and Suzy) were all there Wednesday evening to welcome Federico to the family.

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After 36 years of being Godmother, "Aunt", or "Mom's friend, Palma", it was MY turn to be the proud mom and show off my kid.

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Federico also enjoyed getting to meet Corey, Chaudra, Cadence and Cheira, and play with his favorite baby, Gabriel!

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November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot

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We were up at 6:00 a.m. in the cold and fog, and at Woodward Park by 6:30 for the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5K to cheer on Federico and Sarah!

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The Dedicated Parent Cheerleaders:

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Some people really got into the costume option:

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This group was shivering!

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This inflated turkey was my favorite, and he ran 5K in 20 minutes!

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And they're off... all 1900 runners!

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Federico and Sarah had great times despite the hills!

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We were back at the hotel by 8:30 for breakfast!

November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

After our early morning Turkey Trot, we gave Federico the "Palma's hometown tour of Fresno". We went to my old neighborhood, where I grew up, and saw my schools, house, and "Christmas Tree Lane". We visited Fresno State and my Sorority house, then headed to the Wood's home to start grazing on Sarah's beautiful appetizers.

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Everyone contributed to the huge dinner: Connie smoked a turkey and made sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and broccoli salad; Joy brought a ham and sodas, Chaudra made mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, I made the stuffing, two kinds of cranberry sauce and two cheesecakes. Everyone brought lots of wine.

Sarah did an amazing job on the table. A week before Thanksgiving, she emailed everyone and asked us to write one thing we were thankful for about each person who would be there for Thanksgiving, and return them to her by email. She compiled the lists and printed up a beautiful card for each person's place setting. She also wrapped boxes of home made toffee for each person with fall leaves, berries and ribbon. We each read our lists to the table after dinner. It was a happy and tearful day of blessings.

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Here's the whole gang:

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Other highlights of the afternoon and evening included Cadi dressing up her cousins, Noah and Gabe in "dress-up princess" clothes.

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Noah decided he needed a glass of wine like the adults (sparkling cider did the trick).

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I enjoyed seeing Federico with my Godsons, Corey and Casey.

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Federico enjoyed the late-night Texas Holdem game.

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What a great day with much to be thankful for!

December 5, 2012

Stockings 2012

There are usually three stockings "hung by the chimney with care": Palma, Brad and Luigi. This year, Brad and I are taking our stockings to Rome for Babbo Natale (and Jerry and Paul) to fill!

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However, Santa will be leaving gifts for those who will be here on Christmas Eve:
Massimo, Lea, Luca, Lelio, Federico, and Luigi.

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Federico added his new cannoli ornament to our Italy tree.

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December 7, 2012

Let There Be Lights

There are plenty of lit trees around our house! Brad and Federico each did a tree in the front yard. They were actually competitive about it. Brad's style is thorough, and Federico whipped his out in no time with a different technique. They both look great!

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I did the ones on the front porch:

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Federico has his own Christmas tree in his room. It is filled with golf ornaments I had from many years ago, and several new ornaments that were early stocking stuffers for Federico: a soccer ball with his name on it, and a graduate for his May 2013 ceremony.

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This year's Italy tree is in the family room:

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Our traditional tree is packed with ornaments (including Federico's from San Francisco and New York City) in the dining room.

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I LOVE Christmas!

December 8, 2012

Toasting the Tree

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Last night was our neighborhood's annual "Toasting the Tree" Party. We gathered at Maryann and Jay's home for appetizers, wine, and dessert. The house was beautifully decorated, and it was fun to gather with old friends and new neighbors in our community of "Venezia" for some holiday cheer!

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December 9, 2012

Got Cookies?

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A Cookie Baker has been working hard in my kitchen. This often happened around 5:30 a.m. when the house was quiet, and both ovens were going strong before work. Even with this year's crazy schedule, Palmabella managed to crank out 113 dozen. Brad has accused me of giving Federico more cookies than he has gotten. Federico knows exactly how to melt me. He definitely appreciates my cookie baking skills.

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December 10, 2012

The Living Desert's "Wild Lights"

Saturday night we visited the Living Desert (our local zoo) for "Wild Lights".

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There were trees from every country:

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There was an amazing train that went through the old west, Native American turf, mountains, towns, factories, and more. It was over a 30 minute trip for the train to complete its loop (and Brad to get photos).

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There was a Butterfly Tree:

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There were Camel rides(we passed as they were smelly...)

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And LOTS of lights!

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Of course there was a Golfing Santa!

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And an animal carousel:

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Afterward, we went out for an Italian dinner at Mamma Gina's, and then watched The Christmas Story and ate cookies. It was a great evening!

December 11, 2012

More Christmas Lights

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We visited this home in Cathedral City featuring the largest and #1 rated computer-controlled and animated Christmas lights show in Southern California and the Coachella Valley. The show boasts more than 110,000 eco-friendly LED lights, five miles of cabling, over 350 independent lighting channels, 24-foot tall Mega Christmas Tree, Leaping Light Arches, Shooting Stars, and much more! The music is synchronized to holiday music via special computer hardware and software, which makes the lights "dance" to the music. The music is broadcast on local radio station 107.5 FM. Amazing!

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December 13, 2012

Candy Cane Lane

And you thought I was done with the Christmas Lights! These were taken from a moving car on Candy Cane Lane in Cathedral City:

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December 16, 2012

We're Off to Italy

We are on our way to LAX, to fly to Italy for Christmas, while Federico is living it up in Palm Desert!

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We had a lovely "early Christmas with Federico, seeing the Living Nativity, a nice dinner out, then opening presents at home. He was thrilled with his new Dr. Dre's BEATS headphones. I got a lovely necklace and Brad got music for his i-Phone.

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Here I am with my two young guys:

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Our first stop is visiting Federico's family in Pescara, where there is no wifi. I'll post from Rome in a few days! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

December 20, 2012

Roma at Christmas

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We had a good laugh today wandering around Rome in the crisp, cold sunshine. What does a half unemployeed couple with no extra money do for Christmas? Go shopping on Via Condotti, have a nice lunch outside, and come back to our hood with three shopping bags for some afternoon wine. We started shopping at 10:00 and returned at 4:00. This is the life.

We took a nap, then had friends over for some wine (Rosella and Amir), and Jerry and Paul arrived. We enjoyed a great dinner while the boys relaxed and unpacked. I had spaghetti cacio e pepe and roasted maiolino, while Brad enjoyed his stuffed zucchini blossoms with anchovies and veal saltimbocca. It was a great day! I even have a large Furla shopping bag in my room!

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December 24, 2012

Natale a Roma

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December 25, 2012

Buon Natale 2012

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December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

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The apartment was festive, and the shopping was done.

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Sandra and Jaylynn came over for wine and cheese before our dinner at Antica Taverna, around the corner. Brad and I were dressed in red!

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We both still have miserable colds and coughs, so I bundled up well!

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We ate all kinds of seafood for our "Feast of 7 Fishes".

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There was lots of laughing and merrymaking!

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Christmas Morning in Roma

We began our day with prosecco and two kinds of panettone.

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Babbo Natale found our stockings and filled them to the brim!

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It was quite a haul! My three Santas (Jerry, Paul and Brad) know me well!

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Brad and I fixed prosciutto and tallegio omlettes with a fruit salad and more panettone, coffee and orange juice. The we took naps, while Jerry and Paul prepped for dinner.

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December 27, 2012

The AMAZING Christmas Dinner

Jerry and Paul cooked a fabulous Christmas dinner for our friend Sandra, and Brad and I. The table was set with goodies at each place.

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We began with tortellini in brodo:
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Our pasta course was a beautiful star-shaped pasta, stuffed with ricotta and spinach with tiny yummy meatballs. They made me a special one baked in bechamel sauce instead of tomato sauce.

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The main course went on and on. There was a beautiful pork roast wrapped in bacon and rosemary, then topped with a mushroom-red wine sauce:

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This was a gorgeous radicchio star, stuffed with sausage:

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and stuffed zucchini!

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Green beans with olive oil, roasted potatoes, and salad completed the meal.

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Eventually, we were able to find a spot for Sandra's delicious pandoro, coffee, and many dolci we brought from Abruzzo!

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Grazie Jerry and Paul! It was a wonderful Christmas dinner! No one wanted food on the 26th!

December 29, 2012

A Rome Walk

We spent a LOT of time (almost every day) at one of our favorite caffes near my favorite church in Rome: Santa Maria della Pace. After Brad dropped off some laundry, we set out for a long walk. (We have spent a lot of sick time in the apartment trying to get rid of our nasty colds and coughs.)

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First, we headed to the Vatican to see the presepe. It is an amazing scene all hand-made in Basilicata.

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We took a taxi to Piazza del Popolo and walked along the beautifully decorated Via del Babuino and Via Margutta:

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We stopped for lunch after completing our shopping. I had an asparagus-ricotta flan with pesto, and Brad had a delicious hot chicken salad with emmenthal cheese and oranges.

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We ended our walk at the Spanish Steps and took a taxi home!

February 8, 2013

Valentine's Tables

Federico LOVES when he comes home from school to new table settings and holiday touches around the house. He notices all the details, and it is fun to have a new appreciative audience! Here are our happy tables for February:

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February 13, 2013

Valentine Treats

Have a heart:

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February 14, 2013

Valentine Food

My boys enjoyed lots of Valentine treats: Nutella Rice Krispie Treats were a favorite.

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There were also Valentine Cupcakes for my interns (and some for home):

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We had a early Valentine's Breakfast on Monday with "eggs in the heart":

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Happy Valentine's Day!

March 17, 2013

Happy St. Pat's!

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

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March 18, 2013

Happy Monday

We had a nice St. Patrick's Day: Breakfast on the patio, dying 18 blown out Easter Eggs, packing for Maui, and dinner out with friends. We still have some green beer bread left!

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October 7, 2013

Pumpkin Carving Time

Martina did a great job on her pumpkin!

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Brad broke out the drill for his!

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I took that drill and WORKED it! No surprises here! Mine is for my BIG Halloween guy in Pescara! I will see him in person SATURDAY in Bologna!

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They look pretty cool at night. Hope Martina and Karla will enjoy them while we are away!

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October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween 2013

Martina left for school as the Queen of Hearts!

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ALL "my kids" got Italian pumpkins with KINDER CHOCOLATE today!

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

December 6, 2013

Italian Family Tree

We love our Italian "Family Tree"! (They made a perfect addition to our Italy Tree this year!

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December 12, 2013

Cookies and Brunch

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Yes, another year, another 126 dozen cookies!
My fabulous interns were the first recipients of a tin of holiday cookies and Wednesday's annual intern brunch.

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We gathered during our usual group supervision time to eat, toast our director, Gary, play the "present stealing game", and enjoy some laughs together. My brunch egg-sausage-mushroom-salsa-cheese dish, fruit, and panetone bread pudding with rum sauce were a hit!

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December 25, 2013

Buon Natale

Buon Natale a tutti!

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January 6, 2014

La Befana

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La Befana stopped by last night. Luckily, Brad and I were good this year. She left us a stocking full of treats, and a delicious coconut cake.

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February 13, 2014

Have a Heart

Heart ravioli (from Costco):

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February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

For my interns: a heart full of mini-chocolate cupcakes!

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Plenty more where those came from for my sweet hubby.

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A client surprised me with these luscious treats!

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Have a lovely Valentine's Day and long weekend!

April 14, 2014

Oreo Easter Cookies

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Last month, I bought this chocolate covered Oreo cookie mold from Fancy flours. You use colored candy melts to add the details, (dots, stripes, hearts and flowers) and let them set in the fridge.

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Next, for each color cookie, you fill the mold about 1/3 full of melted chocolate, press in a Double Stuff Oreo (I used golden vanilla) and fill the mold with more melted chocolae. Chill for another 10 minutes.

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Aren't they cute?

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April 17, 2014

How to Make an Easter Wreath

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Last month I made a fun baby wreath for Karla's shower. I had so much fun, I made another for Easter. Here's how:

You will need 7 or 8 rolls of ribbon to decorate the wreath, 2 rolls to wrap the stryofoam, a box of straight pins, and a styrofoam wreath.

1. Cover the wreath in ribbon (2 rolls of any ribbon, as it won't show). Just secure with 2 pins, wrap tightly, and secure with 2 more pins when you are done.

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2. Cut all the remaining ribbon in 4' strips. These were from the baby wreath.

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3. Pin each loop of ribbon into wreath with 2 pins. Do one pattern at a time, and keep pinning. (10-15 minutes per roll of ribbon). Take a break after each color.

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In a couple of hours, you will be done! It is cute just the way it is, but I hot glued on a few Easter eggs and some daffodils.

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April 18, 2014

Easter Treats

I decided to try Giulia's recipe for "Crescia di Pasqua", a savory Italian Easter bread from Le Marche. You will find the recipe and the traditions behind it on Giulia's Valle Nuova blog here.

I was faced with three challenges with this recipe. The first was converting the amounts for all of the ingredients from grams to ounces or cups. That was simple enough with all of the conversion tables on the internet...until I got to the yeast. It told me 14 teaspoons!
That is just one teaspoon short of 5 TABLESPOONS! I am not an expert bread baker, but that sounded like a LOT of yeast to me.

The second challenge was to render fat. My grocery stores had rendered chicken or duck fat, but since this recipe came from Italy, I was 99% sure I needed pork fat. I called my butcher. He said, "Come on in, I am butchering fresh pork this morning! I'll give you some." 30 minutes later, I had a pound of free pork fat. I followed Alton Brown's easy method for rendering fat, and three and a half hours later, I had a jar of pure lard cooling on my counter.

The next day, I made the dough (yes, I used ALL that yeast...), and while it was rising, my third challenge was finding the right pan to bake it in. Then I remembered that I had some panettone baking papers on the top shelf of my pantry. Perfect! Here is the finished product:

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April 21, 2014

Easter: Part 1

We had a wonderful Easter celebration. So many photos and SO much food, this may take a couple of posts!

We began at 2:00 with sparkling wines and "Kinky" Vodka punch with our appetizers. Pizza Rustica, Cheese "carrots", and Cathy's antipasti:

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Then at 4:00, we moved outside to the pergola, where we had a nice breeze.

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Here are those eggs Brad blew out!

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Everyone enjoyed their artichoke-gruyere lasagna with home made pasta and bechamel! Sam, Cathy and Dennis:

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Kristin, Diana and Walt:

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Entree and desserts coming soon...

Easter Dinner Part 2

It really was a magical day, with good friends, LOTS of food, wine and good company!

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The Altorfers:

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The Buteros:

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By 5:30, after lots to drink, we thought we could proceed with the next course. Walt and Brad barbecued the butterflied lamb in Walt's amazing marinade, and dinner was served:

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Cauliflower-Fennel Gratin

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Bunny Rolls:

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Crescia di Pasqua

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Easter Butter: (It's all in the details! LOL)

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Bunny Jello!

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Desserts later...I have to go to the dentist and have 5 teeth pulled now! YUCK

October 29, 2014

Halloween Snacks

My Caregiver's group enjoyed their healthy snacks:

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And my men's Domestic Violence group got the leftovers from our Open House treats!

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November 1, 2014

Halloween Dinner 2014

We had a comforting, casual dinner while waiting for trick-or-treaters (of which there were only 4 this year). The menu was mostly orange food: cheddar-potato soup, Mom's orange-pineapple jello and cornbread with honey butter. Dessert was a Heath Bar cookie.

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November 11, 2014

Thanksgiving Appetizer

We had a Venezia (our gated community) block party last weekend where everyone brought an appetizer to share. Here is my "turkey" platter:

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As Brad said, "So easy, even a husband can help!"

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November 12, 2014

Acorns

My group snacks this week were "acorns" made from donut holes dipped in Nutella, sprinkles, and a pretzel stick "stem". They were quick, easy and delicious! Check out Pinterest for many more fun food ideas.

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December 12, 2014

Annual Intern Holiday Brunch

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Wednesday was my annual Holiday Brunch for my interns during our group supervision time. We enjoyed fruit, berry scones with lemon butter and jam, and "Harry's Eggs".

We all brought an ornament to exchange, but did not play the "stealing game", just each grabbed a wrapped ornament. I LOVED my contribution, and also got one for myself.

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This time of the year, we are challenged with more than the usual client traumas, child abuse, losses, holiday stress, and we need to be extra kind to ourselves. After brunch, I passed out my gifts of bookbags from Venice (purchased in July). It was a fun morning.

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That evening 10 of us got together for dinner out to celebrate Nora passing her final licensing exam. She is our newest LMFT (Licensed Marriage Family Therapist)!

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Congratulations Nora!

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December 20, 2014

O Christmas Treats

Last week was my final "Call to Care" group, where I had 15 wonderful participants for 12 weeks of a class/psychoeducational group for Caregivers. These were the NICEST people ever! I wanted to bring a festive treat for their "graduation". On Monday morning, I made these "pinecones" I saw on Pinterest. I made 14, as two group members would not be there.

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You simply make a "dough" of 3 T. soft butter, 1/2 c. peanut butter, 1/4 c. Nutella, and a cup of powdered sugar.

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Stick a pretzel stick in the center to have a "handle" to form the pine cones, then stick in chocolate cereal, starting at the bottom to form the pine cone.

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Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and you're done! Then I made another batch!

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They were ready to transport on Tuesday, and I was ready to leave for work from 1-8 p.m..

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I left the kitchen for two minutes to grab my book bag for work. When I returned, DEVIL DOG, Luigi was standing on the kitchen counter EATING MY PINECONES. He had polished off three, was starting his fourth, and had licked the powdered sugar off the rest! He had to have jumped from a chair, onto my kitchen table, with a leap to my desk, then up onto the counter behind his cage. A NEW trick!

I took out butter to soften, locked Luigi in his cage, and left for work. I made new pine cones that night and finished them at 10:30. Luigi and I had a "Come to Jesus talk", and he has been good since, but I am not holding my breath.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Palmabella's Passions in the Holiday Fun category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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