Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Suzanne!

Happy birthday to my sweet little sister! Isn't she hot? This pic is from a photoshoot that Emma did with the DeShongs this fall.

I am SO blessed to have Suzanne as my sister. Not only is she my biological sister, but my sister in Christ! Watching her come to Christ (and hubby Dave as well) was one of the greatest joys of my life. When God put us both in His family, He blessed us beyond measure. Once we had the most vital thing in common, our relationship blossomed. She is now my best girlfriend, and one I look to as an example of a godly woman.

I cannot begin to express all the ways Suzanne blesses my life. She is always there to listen, she understands me probably better than I understand myself, she is always there to sympathize and encourage. She is a lot of fun, too! We have a lot of fun together, no matter what we're doing. She is such a servant, and is tireless when it comes to serving those she loves. To sum it all up, she is someone I admire greatly. She is one of the greatest ways God has blessed my life.

I am on my way to bring her a breakfast treat this morning, some bagels and perhaps one of her favorite chocolate chip danishes if Western Bagel has any today....

Happy Birthday Suzanne! I hope you have a great day! I love you dearly.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Whatever: Costco - Again!

Wow, who would believe that I could get two good whatevers on back to back Costco visits.

Today, I needed to go to pick up some "Happy Birthday Jesus" cakes for the Juniors' Christmas party tomorrow. I spyed three big cakes in Red & Green motif that already said "Happy Birthday" and all I had to do was ask the girl to add "Jesus" on them (beats pre-ordering!). It was kind of funny when I picked them up- the guy next to me saw them and exclaimed, "Wow, there must be a big party!" Hee hee. I forgot "Jesus" is a popular hispanic name as well.

So, I decided to get some fresh produce while I was there, as we were down to just three cuties tangerines at home. I wanted to get a bag of pears, but the two boxes on top had a lot of smooshed and spoiled ones. I knew I would need some help getting some from the boxes below. There was a produce guy nearby, and here's how the encounter went:

Me: Excuse me, but these pears are not good - could you remove the top boxes so I can get some from below?

Him: (looks at pears and then at boxes). In a very monotone voice, "No, the boxes are too heavy."

He then walks away.

I kid you not.

Me: Excuse me - I would really like to buy some of your pears (guess I didn't make that clear enough before). Is there a way I can get some?

Him: Comes back, sighs very loudly, then grabs the top box and throws it violently to the floor. (Other customers are stopping and looking). He then grabs the second box, and throws it to the floor as well. He then walks away again, but this time he was sure to give me a look to let me know he was very unpleased with me.

Which leaves me to wonder: Why I am so doggone irritating to people at Costco?


I know! Maybe people are irritated because all those wonderful samples are everywhere and they can't have any. You think?

And while on the subject of samples, I must admit that today I ate a bite of pork tamale and chicken ravioli. But, I assure you I did NOT block the aisle taking my sample.

Whatever.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Peppermint Marshmallows

Since I missed WDW this week, I thought I'd post something a little fun today.

Today Emma is having her annual Christmas party with her girlfriends. The girls (9 of them) are going outdoor Ice Skating at The Lakes in Thousand Oaks, then returning here to have chocolate fondue and an evening full of festivities. This morning I was getting the fondue dippers ready - angel food cake, brownie-cheesecake bites, mini macaroon cookies, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, and these peppermint candy dipped marshmallows, which I saw in a magazine this season.

They were so easy and fun to make, and look so cute! They would make a darling hostess gift (tied in a cello bag), or would be just great to have around to stir into your hot chocolate.

All you do is mix powdered sugar with a little water to form a thick glaze. Prepare a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. I used coffee stirrer wooden sticks, and threaded the marshmallow on. Dip the marshmallow (top half) into the glaze, letting as much as possible drip back into the bowl. Then roll the marshmallow in pulverized candy canes (mini chopper did a great job). Put on the waxed paper - they only take a few minutes to dry.






For the fondue, I mix 1 lb. chocolate chips (I will use semisweet chocolate for one batch, and cookies and cream Hershey bars for the other) with 1 1/2 cups whipping cream and 1 tsp. vanilla. I melt that over the stove on very low heat, then pour into my cute Hershey's kiss shaped fondue pots.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whatever - Costco at the holidays



I can think of no greater joy than visiting Costco at this time of year. If you want to get into the holiday spirit, this is the place for you.

First, there's the crowded and full parking lot where you encounter rude, obstinate drivers that have absolutely no idea who has the right of way. I actually saw two people yell at others over parking. At one point while looking for a spot, I had the right of way and 4 people blew through a stop sign to get ahead of me. It's a miracle if you can get in, get a spot, and avoid getting hit. Or yelled at.



Then, there are the sample tables. In full swing for the holidays. Don't you love how people stop in the middle of the aisle, cart fully blocking everyone's way, for a sample of food? Maybe I'm just
bah humbug, but I guess I'm just one of the rare Costco shoppers actually on a mission to get my shopping done in a timely fashion. It drives me nuts when I see the sample tables because I know it's going to slow me way down. And it is really bizarre what people will do for a free 1/8th of a taquito. My personal favorite though was the table offering a sample of the jarred 3-bean salad. Mmm, let me pick up a jar of that to serve with my prime rib for Christmas. Everyone will go crazy over it.

Finally, here's a doozy I encountered last week. I was in line waiting to check out, when the middle aged woman in front of me told me to go ahead of her because she was waiting for her friend to come. So, I proceeded to unload my groceries when suddenly I felt a tug on my sleeve. The woman said to me quite curtly (and I kid you
not) "My friend is back. I will go first now. Remove your groceries."

Seriously, that really happened.

Whatever.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Porch Update - Finally!



Country Living...Shadow Hills (hence the blog name)

More detail...

Here are some shots of the porch taken today. It is finished! We are thrilled with the way it turned out and are extremely thankful to our brother in law Dave who did all the painting! It was a lot of work! He painted the doors yesterday afternoon and I was very concerned about the color (OK, freaked out)....the color looked like "burnt orange" from the crayola box- Rich said it looked like a persimmon!

My sister just kept saying "wait for it to dry" and sure enough today we loved it! It's kind of barn-red but kind of cranberry - it totally works. I'm happy.




For those of you who didn't see the whole project before it got started, here's the before shot. You can hardly see the old rickety porch it is so small. This was taken about 4 years ago, I think. I hope to dig up some OLD OLD photos of when we first bought the house 10 years ago- it was a JUNGLE!

It's just so exciting that this is finally DONE (it's been 3 years). As we stood back and admired it, Rich simply stated, "Well, it's all going to burn someday!" How true - but did he have to ruin the moment?!

Note to Rich: Thank you so much for designing this beautiful addition to our home. Nothing brings me more pleasure than living in it with you, and none of it would have any meaning without you here. You worked so very hard on this project - thank you. I look forward to rocking in our chairs together for many years to come...much love honey!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Way Delicious Wednesdays - Blueberry French Toast and bonus recipe!

With the holidays right around the corner, here's a breakfast recipe that would be perfect for Christmas or New Year's morning. It's one of those types of recipes that you can assemble the day before, and bake in the morning. You pull off a great breakfast and have a relaxed morning at the same time! This is great served with sausage links (I think Trader Joe's chicken-maple sausages go great with this).

I tried this recipe for the first time at a brunch at my friend Nancy's house. It was so good that I decided to make it for Thanksgiving morning. I went online and read reviews of the recipe and made some modifications recommended by other cooks. The eggs and cream cheese were reduced, blueberries doubled, and instead of putting chunks of cream cheese in the middle layer (as the original recipe called for) I softened it and blended it with some powdered sugar and vanilla. I also gave it a good sprinkle of cinnamon and topped it after cooked with powdered sugar. I was very happy with the results- absolutely delicious!

Sorry no pic, but trust me, you need to make this sight unseen!


Blueberry French Toast

12 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed
12 ozs. block-style cream cheese, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups frozen blueberries
cinnamon
10 eggs
2 cups milk
1/3 cup pure maple syrup

SAUCE:

1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup water
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 Tbsp. butter

Cut bread into 1-in. cubes; place half in a greased 9 x 13 pan. Cream cream cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla, spoon over bread cubes. Top evenly with blueberries. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon. Top with remaining bread cubes.

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk and maple syrup, mix well. Pour over bread mixture. Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.

Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30-45 minutes, until golden brown and center is set.

To make sauce, in a saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; add water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil 3 minutes. Add blueberries and reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes or until berries burst. Stir in butter. (Sauce may be made ahead and refrigerated) Serve sauce on the side with French toast.

Note: This recipe can be prepared early in the day if you wish, but do not pour the egg mixture over it. Later in the evening, prepare the egg mixture, pour over, and refrigerate overnight.

One more great holiday idea! Yesterday morning, when I ducked into Trader Joe's to grab some hot cocoa mix for Rich, they were giving out samples of a breakfast casserole they called Hashed Brown Quiche, made with all TJ items of course. I sampled it and loved it, and jotted down the recipe. I know I'll be making it over the holiday time.


Hashed Brown Quiche

1 package frozen hashed brown patties
1 package chicken sausage, crumbled
1 bag fresh baby spinach

1 dozen eggs
¾ cup half and half or milk
Grated cheese

Grease 9 x 13 pan. Spread hashed browns patties on bottom of pan and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté sausage until cooked. Add spinach and cook till wilted.
Layer sausage mixture over hashed browns.

Beat eggs with half and half and pour over sausage mixture. Top with grated cheese and bake at 400 degrees 30-40 minutes or until set.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blog Lobster

Those of you leftover from the 80's will no doubt remember the song Rock Lobster. Well, this is blog lobster! My dad called yesterday and said a client of his who works in the seafood business wanted to give him some lobsters. He said he was bringing them over to my house for dinner tonite! We boiled them up and had fun eating these delicious creatures! I'm so glad my kids enjoy seafood as much as I do!

Dad and Drew with the lobsters

Drew drops one in...Help! Help!

Jack checks out the live lobsters in the kitchen!

Dad masterfully cutting the lobsters up

Yummy ....

The empty shells after we picked all the meat out!

Thanks Dad for treating us to an amazing meal! It was a lot of fun and a special treat.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving in California City

We loaded up the trailer and headed out Thanksgiving day to beautiful California City to play in the dirt! The dads and kids rode bikes while the moms relaxed, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and kept everyone fed. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner on Friday afternoon, complete with two deep-fried turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberries, rolls and lots of pies! Uncle Dave rigged up a big movie screen on the wall of his trailer and we made a mini movie theater under the dark sky - it was such a hit! It was a fun filled 4 day weekend - enjoy the photos below!



Olive, our black lab came along (and so did Missy, our chocolate lab)


Beautiful sunrise

Panoramic view of our camp and desert


Emma & Steph


My dare-devil Drew and his bike


Another camp shot

Drew and Miss Molly - always a photo of them together


More desert beauty at sunrise

Steph, Emma, Drew, & Lindsay ready to ride!

The big kids pose...and so does Molly!


Molly ready for a ride ...or just pretending to ride!

Spectacular sunset!


Fun silouette photos taken at sunset

Rich carving up the bird

The deep-fried turkey
Robert, Rich and Uncle Dave


Stephanie & Molly

Way Delicious Wednesdays - Chili & Cornbread



We kicked off the Christmas season last night with our traditional tree-trimming dinner of chili and cornbread. For those of you who have never found a good from-scratch chili recipe, I have one for you that is fast and easy and will wean you off those little chili packets at the grocery store. And your kids will like it because there are no visible onions (I use onion powder instead)! And, my cornbread recipe (got it from a friend years ago) is the best I've ever tasted - a sweet cornbread like Marie Callender's. It's moist and fluffy, and mixes up quickly in one bowl. I don't use packaged foods very much, but the Bisquick here is a must (the "light" variety works well too). Here are the recipes:

Fast and Easy Red Chili

2 lbs. ground beef or turkey
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
3 cans (15 oz each) tomato sauce
1/2 box beef or chicken broth
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. (or more) cayenne pepper
2 cans (15 oz each) chili beans in tomato sauce, undrained

In a large pot, saute ground beef over medium heat until no pink remains. Drain meat in colander and set aside. To same pot, lower heat and add olive oil and garlic and saute 2 minutes. Do not let garlic burn.

Add back the meat, then add tomato sauce, broth, and all seasonings. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When it boils, taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Lower heat to simmer, add beans and serve.

This recipe is easy to double and freezes well.

*****

Corn Bread

3 cups Bisquick baking mix
½ cup sugar
6 Tbsp. corn meal
½ cup melted butter
1 ½ cups milk
2 eggs

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir till combined. Pour into greased 8 x 8 square baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.

NOTE: May double recipe and bake in a 11 x 15 pan.