Monthly Archives: June 2010

Red, White, and Blue Ice Cream Bowls

So today’s craft is a food craft…and I wanted to get it out there before this Fourth of July weekend.  It’s a breeze to make and a great way to get your kids involved in the kitchen.  It can also be adapted for any holiday or occasion.  The only problem is that it obviously doesn’t travel well, being ice cream and all, but no worries…I have a way around that, too!

PS—Your best bet is to make these one day in advance

What You Need:

Vanilla ice cream

Dried cranberries, chopped

Blue candy sugar or sprinkles

Coconut

Waffle bowls

Baker’s white chocolate squares

Clear candy sugar

3 plastic bags

1 microwavable bowl

1 cookie sheet

Wax paper

PREPPING THE TOPPING:

Place the coconut, cranberries, and blue sugar in the three separate bags (one topping in each bag).  Leave open and set aside.

MAKING THE ICE CREAM BALLS:

The easiest way to make these little ice cream balls is to make sure your ice cream has been sitting in your freezer for at least 24 hours…so it’s not soft.  Cover your cookie sheet with wax paper and place it in the freezer.  Using a spoon or small ice cream scoop (or even a melon baller would work), scoop as many ice cream balls as you need.  You could even roll them in your hands if they’re not round enough for you.  Once you have one ice cream ball, drop it in one of the bags containing coconut, cranberries, or blue sugar.  Shake it around until it’s coated and place it on the cookie sheet in the freezer.  Repeat and let those little guys sit for at least 2 hours.

Let them chill in the freezer!

DECORATING THE WAFFLE BOWLS:

Do this step 15-30 minutes before serving…because the waffle bowls will be hard to store once they’re decorated.  If you have to do it ahead of time, stack them carefully and place them in an airtight container or a ziplock bag.

When your little guys are refreezing in the freezer, place 2-3 Bakers White chocolate squares in your microwaveable bowl and follow the directions to melt the chocolate in the microwave.  Be careful to watch it because every microwave is different.  Also, make sure your bowl is wide enough that you can dip the waffle bowl tops into it.

Place your candy sugar in a wide bowl and set aside.  Again, make sure your waffle bowl can fit inside.

Once your chocolate is melted, give it a stir and dip your waffle bowl, top down, into the chocolate…and then into the candy sprinkles.  Set aside.  Repeat as necessary.

Decorated waffle bowls. You can use any topping you’d like.

ASSEMBLY:

Once your bowls are ready and your ice cream is ready, simply arrange three to four ice cream balls in your waffle bowls and serve.  Like I said, you can change the toppings to whatever you’d like and make it workable for any holiday.

IF YOU CANNOT USE ICE CREAM BECAUSE YOU’RE TRAVELING:

Not to worry!  The same effect can be had by using marshmallows.  Simply pick your toppings and follow the directions for prepping…but use bowls or cups instead of bags.

Up your white chocolate count to 6-8 squares and make chocolate covered marshmallows, dipping them in the chocolate and then the topping of your choice.  MAKE SURE TO LET YOUR CHOCOLATE COME TO ROOM TEMPERATURE OR YOU’LL MELT YOUR MARSHMALLOWS!

Use shish kabob sticks to dip your marshmallows into the chocolate and then the topping.  Once they’ve been topped, place it on a wax covered cookie sheet and refrigerate until ready to use.

You could also use fruit for this, too.  Dip and decorate orange slices, grapes, strawberries, or starfruit for a healthy and satisfying dessert!

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

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Soft Asian Summer Rolls with Dipping Sauce

Good Monday morning, everybody!

I hope all of you had a wonderful weekend.  I went to the Taste of Chicago with my mom on Saturday and it was a blast!  I love the Taste.  We go every year and it’s just so much fun to spend the day downtown and eat.

Anyway, one of the booths inspired me to do a little Asian cooking on Sunday…so here we have some delicious summer rolls that are just as easy to make as they are to eat…

Soft Asian Summer Rolls

For Dipping Sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons warm water

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon chili sauce (I used chili powder instead and it was fine)

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon finely shredded carrot

1 scallion, thinly sliced

For the Rolls

6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I am notorious for overcooking shrimp…so I used precooked cocktail shrimp and it was just fine.  If you don’t like shrimp, you can leave them out and make vegetarian rolls.)

2 oz rice noodles (these may be hard to find depending on where you live.  If you can’t find them, you can replace them with the oriental Ramen noodles)

6 rice paper rounds or egg roll wraps

12 basil leaves

12 large fresh mint leaves

½ cup shredded carrot

1.  To make dipping sauce, in a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water, then add the remaining sauce ingredients and stir until well combined.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  You can prepare the dipping sauce a day in advance.

2.  To make the rolls, cook the shrimp in boiling water for 2 minutes, and cut in half lengthwise; set aside.  If you’re using cocktail shrimp, simply remove the tail of 6-8 shrimps and set aside.  Cook the rice noodles/Ramen noodles according to the package directions.

3.  Line up the remaining ingredients on paper plates before beginning to make rolls.  Fill a large bowl or saucepan with very warm water that is not too hot to touch.  Place a rice paper round in the hot water and soak for 30 to 60 seconds, until it is pliable and the pattern on the round is barely visible.  Remove from the water and place on a clean work surface.  Place 2 basil leaves on the inner edge of the moistened round, about 1 inch from the edge and leaving about 1 inch on each side.  Top with about ¼ cup of the cooked rice noodles.  Place 2 shrimps on top.  Top with a heaping tablespoon of the carrots, then 2 leaves of mint*.

4.  Bring the edge of the round over the filling, fold in the sides, and roll.  Place the finished roll under a damp cloth or paper towel.  Repeat with the remaining rice paper rounds and filling ingredients.  The rolls may be prepared several hours before serving and stored covered by a  damp paper towel in a airtight container in the refrigerator.

5.  When ready to serve, slice the rolls in half on the diagonal and serve, cut ends up, with the dipping sauce.

*If you can’t find rice wraps, you can use egg roll wraps.  They have them at major grocery stores in the produce section (strange, I know).  Follow the directions on the package to prepare the wraps and fill as you would the rice round.  The egg roll wraps will need to be cooked, however, so heat up some oil in a pan and place 2-3 rolls in the hot oil, about 1-2 minutes on each side (watch carefully because as the oil heats, the cooking time will decrease).  Remove and let rest on some paper towels.

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

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The Artist in the Office Book Review

First, a disclaimer:

The book I was planning to review today is currently sitting on my coffee table with a bookmark in between pages 46 and 47.  Needless to say, life got in the way this week and I wasn’t able to finish it…so I’m reviewing the book I was going to review next week and I’ll save the unfinished book for next Friday.  Phew.


Five or six months ago, a very good friend of mine called me up and asked if I would be interested in joining an “Artist Collective.”

“It’s a group of people that get together once a month to talk about artistic goals and how we can help each other achieve them,” she said.  I loved the idea and told her to sign me up.

Our first meeting was so much fun.  Not only was our group made up of very close friends, but we just so happened to have a “representative” from various creative outlets:  actors, singers, a writer, a photographer, a cook, a painter, an environmentalist, many musicians, a world traveler, and even an engineer.  We spent the evening talking about dreams and goals…and how to find time in our hectic lives to embrace what we love.

After we took some time to write about the goals we wanted to achieve before the next month’s meeting, we went around the room and shared our thoughts.  One member, who is a choral director for a living, wanted to find some time to do some performing of her own; as a result, she found herself cast in a community theatre production of Oklahoma.  Another member who spends her days as a drama teacher missed being on stage and, before the next meeting, found time to do a little acting herself.  The engineer set a goal to get his first patent approved and the renegade cook made a goal to take a cooking class.  The photographer decided to finish his Web site and start promoting himself and the painter made the decision to make some drastic changes to his bedroom walls.  As for the writer, she made a goal to finish her first novel…and I did.

By sharing our artistic goals, no matter how small, we felt an urge to complete them…because we didn’t want to let down the rest of the group.  We all supported each other and went to various performances and readings of members of the other group.  We were each other’s backbones and I cherish every moment I spend with these people.

Of course, we had to have some structure.  Most of the people in the group are OCD as it is…and a meeting without a plan is a disaster.  So we relied on the wisdom of a little book one member found at the bookstore.  A “Bible”, as it were, giving us the strength and motivation to pursue what we love.

Dream big. I dare you.

When I first read The Artist in the Office, I immediately felt ready to write my next book.  This book is like bubblegum for artists, filled with positive quotes and writing suggestions, humorous drawings and motivational stories.

In the introduction, the writer says, “This little book isn’t about not working, it’s about acknowledging the work we do.  It’s about waking up in the life we inhabit now instead of putting off life for later.”  Many people, including myself, find it hard to separate work from play…especially when work and play are the same thing.  For example, I love to read and write.  I always have and always will.  However, I’m an editor for a living…so I’m reading and writing all the time.  So how do I find time to do what I love when doing what I love is really the last thing I want to do because it reminds me of work?  Make sense?

That’s what this book is about.  How to make time for you.  How to make time to embrace your passions without sacrificing your job or your sanity.  It is possible.

The Artist in the Office doesn’t read like a book, it reads more like a journal.  Included along the way are various activities to help you determine how to set goals, what to look for when you’re job searching, and how to make your current job work for you.  What is your ideal life?  What’s preventing you from being happy?  If you could have the perfect job, what would it be?  Figuring out how you feel about these questions and other ones can help you lead the life you’ve always wanted.  There’s always time to start fresh.

This book also gives some good advice on how to turn your current job from blah to hurrah!  One suggestion was to change your commute.  Walk part of the way to work and learn to embrace and listen to the world around you.  Be a secret messenger once a month by leaving uplifting messages in random places around the office (inside the bathroom, in cabinets, in the middle of a notebook, etc.).  Finally, we all know what it’s like to live in Cube-ville.  Florescent lights, staplers, keyboards clacking away…brighten up your cube by hanging up a fake window with the scene of your choice.  Take 5 minutes a day to just meditate and stare out of your window.  Chances are you’ll be more productive, more relaxed, and in a much better mood.

Perhaps the best part of this book is the section about finding time to do what you love to do.  Included in the book is a quote by Andy Warhol:  “Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they’re deciding, make even more art.”  This is our motto at our Artist Collective.  We must always be creating.  If you need help making time for yourself, or discovering what your passion is, or separating work from play, or even if you need help enjoying your current job, this book is for you.

I would like to close with one of my favorite quotes from the book.  When I read it, I wrote it down and hung it up in my cube:  “A special note to all administrative, executive, and personal assistants:  Your job is to help someone else live their dream.  How about lending some of that energy and skill to your dream.  YOU ARE QUALIFIED.”

SUGGESTION:  Read it.  Seriously.  Even if you have no interest in starting an Artist Collective, it will motivate you to continue with whatever your passion may be.  You can read it in under an hour and there are pictures, for those who are so inclined.

NEXT WEEK (for real this time): Coming up next week is a story about mothers and daughters, the strength of family, and the intricate rhythms and beats that keep us all moving forward.  Stock up on the tissues…

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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7 Clever Uses for Toothpaste

So you’re out of toothpaste and you run to the store to pick some up before work.  You go through your purse and find that you only have about $2.00 in change.  Since you’re in a hurry as it is, you grab the cheapest tube you can find, only to discover that it tastes like baking soda.  Yuck.  Well, you don’t want to put that purchase to waste…so here’s some other things you can do with toothpaste!

Minty fresh!

1.  Remove scuff from your shoes.  Simply dab some on your leather shoes and wipe with a cloth.  Wipe clean and you’re stepping out in style.

2.  Toothpaste is great for adding shine to your pearly whites, but it can also add a sparkle to that rock on your left finger.  Use a toothbrush to scrub your diamond ring with toothpaste and wipe it clean.  Your hand will be as sparkly as your smile.

3.  Use toothpaste to hang posters and fill “cavities” (ha!) in the wall.  Add a little drop to each of the four corners of your poster and hang it up.  It could also help hold a poster in place when you secure it with something stronger.  As for holes in the wall, use white toothpaste to fill in ugly nail holes and paint over it.  Good as new.  Toothpaste will also help remove those crayon stains from the wall, too.

4.  Be sure to add extra toothpaste to your overnight bag because it can also work as pimple ointment, bee sting ointment, and bug bite relief.  Use it as an overnight cream for pimples and rub it on a bug infected area to help sooth the pain and the itch.

5.  Put some toothpaste on a paper towel and fold it up.  Place it under the seat of your car and open the door to a minty breath of air every time you drive.

6.  Our teeth are made of enamel, and toothpaste is good for them, so it stands to reason that toothpaste would also be good for our fingernails. For cleaner, shinier, and stronger nails, simply scrub the underneath and tops of fingernails with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

7.  Remove scratches from DVD’s and CD’s.  This remedy has been used with mixed success rates, but it seems to work fairly well on shallow scratches and smudges. Apply a thin coating of toothpaste to the disc and rub gently, then rinse clean.

Knowledge is power!  Learn fun facts, hints and tips, and creative ways to use every day items with “The Buzz” posts on Thursday.

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How to Arrange Several Small Frames on a Wall

Decorating a blank wall doesn’t have to mean purchasing a huge piece of square art and calling it a day.  You can often create a much cooler look with smaller frames for a lot less money.  Here’s what I did on the blank wall above my bed:

Nighty night!

I bought the frames at IKEA (large frames were $1.99 each and the smaller ones were $3.99 for a package of 2).  I wasn’t a big fan of the bright colors, so I just covered the frames with scraps of felt I had in my scrapbook stuff.  Inside I put all of my favorite quotes about nighttime, sleeping, and dreaming.  It’s simple, cost effective, and adds dimension.

In my living room I have 4 bookcases, 2 tall ones and 2 short ones…so there’s a lot of wall space above the two shorter cases (they go tall, short, short, tall).  So instead of hanging a square frame in a square space, I hung 9 square frames!  I used up a bunch of my scrapbook stuff and did one page for each of my favorite books, including quotes and images.  The only things I had to buy were the frames…which equaled about $45.00 for all 9 of them.  Not too shabby when you compare it with a $400.00 art print.

My favorite books!

Included in the collage are (from left to right, starting at the top):  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Mary Poppins, Anne of Green Gables, Peter Pan, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, the poetry of Maya Angelou, UNDECIDED (still need to fill this one!), and Harry Potter.

There are also some really cool ideas of how to arrange frames online.  Just Google “frame collage” and get ready to be inspired.

Celebrate creativity every Wednesday with a “Creativi-bee” post, where I share easy craft tutorials, project ideas, and craft collections.

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Red Velvet Cupcakes

Hello everyone, and a very happy Monday to all!  I hope you all had a great weekend (I spent my Friday night sobbing in the theater watching Toy Story 3)!

If you didn’t get a chance to see Toy Story 3 this weekend, please make time to see it.  People have been saying that it’s even better than the first one…which I don’t necessarily agree with…but it’s definitely right up there.  If you’ve grown up with Woody, Buzz, and the gang, you cannot miss seeing this.  Trust me…it’s just the closure you’re looking for.  And bring Kleenex.  Lots of it.

OKAY, anyway…I felt like embracing my inner baker this weekend and whipped up a batch of red velvet cupcakes.  These are a no-miss.  They’re super easy to make and are substantial enough to hold that intense frosting.

RED VELVET CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

What You’ll Need:

FOR THE CUPCAKES:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened (2 8 0z packages)
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • Chopped pecans and fresh raspberries or strawberries, for garnish (OPTIONAL)

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a handheld electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

3.  Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

5.  Garnish with chopped pecans and a fresh raspberry or strawberry.

Frost the cupcakes with a butter knife or pipe it on with a big star tip.  You could also put the frosting in a Ziplock bag and snip off a corner to make a disposable easy-to-use pipe bag.

REFRIGERATE AFTER DECORATING.

If you’re not a big fan of cream cheese frosting (like myself), you can make the cupcakes and dust them with powdered sugar.  To create shapes, use a small cookie cutter and cover one side with plastic wrap or aluminum foil  and place the other side face down on the cupcake.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on top.  Remove the cookie cutter to reveal your shape outlined in powdered sugar and tah-dah!  You have an elegant cupcake.  I made these for a baby shower once and used the powered sugar instead of the frosting…partly because they travel better and I don’t have to refrigerate them.  I tied a ribbon around the cupcake and called it a day.

Every Monday is a “Reci-bee” post, where I share my favorite recipes, recipe collections, and cooking and baking hints and tips. 

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A Thousand Days in Venice Book Review

The sun is beginning her descent.  The last few rays of sunshine illuminate my living room as I curl up tighter under my blanket.  In the last remains of the day, my red wine shines purple hues onto my plate of grilled salmon and rosemary seasoned potatoes.  I feel my room soak up the evening as I turn to the final chapter of A Thousand Days in Venice.

A Thousand Days in Venice

This is a book for romantics, for those who believe in love.  In the words of the Chicago Tribune, it is “a true, disarming, and unexpectedly endearing romance…not the idealistic hero and heroine, not their lusts, but the comedy and tenderness of two lives joined together rather belatedly.”

It’s 1989.  Marlena De Blasi, a food journalist and chef, steps foot in Venice for the first time.  She’s awestruck by the power of the city, by her smells, her sights, her essence.  At this very moment, a man spots Marlena from across the Piazza San Marco and falls in love.  When Marlena returns to Italy a year later, this “stranger”—as she affectionately calls him—tries to pursue her.  The heartbreak of her recent divorce leaves Marlena feeling weak, incapable of love, and she kindly rejects the stranger’s offers.  However, within months of their first actual meeting, Marlena packs up her life in St. Louis and moves to Venice to marry this man who looks like Peter Sellers.

Over the course of three years, we see these two seasoned people forge a relationship built on passion, trust, and fine food and dining.  Although they are both mature in years, their relationship is somewhat childlike:  fresh, new, exciting, passionate, and romantic.  Through the shear poetry of Marlena’s true account of her life with The Stranger, we get a plate full of the food and flavors of Italy and a hearty taste of life in this city of love.  Her Venice is the Venice of my dreams, the Venice of romantics.

A Thousand Days in Venice could act as a travel book for couples vacationing there.  Included are locations of different cafes around the city, “A Lover’s Guide to Venice” where Marlena literally lays out the perfect romantic spots, and a spread of some of Marlena’s mouthwatering recipes:  “A Gratin of Leeks,” “Fresh Pasta with Roasted Walnut Sauce,” “Sleeping Plums,” “Potato Bread,” “Fried Squash Blossoms,” “Traditional Tuscan Tomato Porridge,” “Skewers of Sausage and Fig-Stuffed Quail Sitting on Pillows,” “Whole Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed with Porcini and Truffles,” “Loin of Veal Braised with Wine Grapes,” “Wild Mushrooms Braised in Late-Harvest Wine,” and “Lemon Gelato with Vodka and Sparkling Wine.”

A Thousand Days in Venice is a full course romance seasoned with recipes, stories, and culinary observations…but the main course here, the piatto principale, is the story of a woman, a man, and the city that inspired them to fall in love.  It’s a rich and delicious Italian meal for anyone who believes in love.

“Take my hand and grow young with me;

don’t rush, don’t sleep;

be a beginner;

light the candles;

keep the fire;

dare to love someone;

tell yourself the truth;

stay inside the rapture.”

–A Thousand Days in Venice

SUGGESTION:  Read it!  It’s the perfect summer book.  It’s an indulgence and I wouldn’t be surprised if I gained weight just by reading it 😉

NEXT WEEK:  Coming up next week is a story about mothers and daughters, the strength of family, and the intricate rhythms and beats that keep us all moving forward.  Stock up on the tissues…

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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