Saturday, February 25, 2012

Crazy Hair Day

   Yesterday was 'Crazy Hair Day' at the monkey's school. I used egg whites & hairspray to get his hair to stick up. I ran out of time, or I would have slicked the sides back. Too funny!
   I got to sub yesterday with the class I had the 100 day assignment with, so I was extremely happy! They are such great kids! Miss them terribly...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Bon Mardi Gras!

   I hosted a Zatarain's Mardi Gras House Party on Friday, February 17. It was a fun food-fest, with my friends bringing some wonderful cheeses, pie, salad & adult beverages, inc. a fantastic 'thunderstorm' (a faux hurricane, get it?). I made red beans/rice, yellow rice, salmon cakes, gumbo, & mardi gras cupcakes. I used Zatarain's mixes for all the entrees/sides. For the gumbo, I sauteed celery, pepper & onion, and also added chicken, hot sausage and shrimp. YUM!
Dang! I ran out of time to put on makeup!

   Even Moose dressed up for Mardi Gras!
My friends...I had some cute decorations, but of course I didn't snap enough photos!
The food table; you can see the brie & cupcakes, but not the gumbo & buffet!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Lovely Valentine's Day...but Woops!

   We spent the late afternoon sipping sparkling wine and watching "The Help." Probably a mistake, since I put way too much lemon in the drawn butter for the lobster tails (we did a 'surf & turf' dinner), AND I OVER-flamed the chocolate creme brulees. The sugar is supposed to be caramelized, not scorched. It was a delicious dinner, anyway. Typical 'Lucy' moments on my part...
   The hub gave me some lovely tulips (one of my favorite cut flowers) from Dragonfly's Garden (our awesome florist & gift shop). They have moved to a new location on Mt. Pinos Way, (the old health food store location),  across from Ace Hardware. Hopefully that will bring them more business. I loooove that shop! The wreath over my bed is from there, plus some other pretty items in my house.

    The night before, I made a lovely dinner of ahi tuna (incredibly, I found a bag of frozen steaks at our local market). I defrosted them, soaked them in a marinade of ginger, soy, a little citrus olive oil & garlic. Rolled in black sesame seeds, pan seared, then finished off in the oven.
   For dessert, I made banana bread with a recipe that calls for smashed Wheat Chex cereal, but I used Special K berries, so it was kind of strawberry banana bread. I served it warm, with strawberry ice cream. Mmmm...For high altitude, I omitted the baking soda, & used only a tsp. or so of baking powder.
Banana Nut Bread
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup of Special K berries cereal, crushed
  • 1/2 cup of smashed walnuts
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use olive)
  • 2 tbs water
  • 4 large bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I always use more)\
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a loaf pan. Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ceral & nuts. Combine egg, oil, water, mashed banana & vanilla. Add all at once to dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened. Spread evenly into pan. Bake 50-55 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool 15 minutes before removing from pan.
   I think it would be fun to add some fresh strawberries into the mix...Well, gotta go, monkey is home sick!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finally, Some Snow??

   This is the view from our dining room around 4:15 this afternoon. It's really coming down now! Let's hope it doesn't peter out like every other hint of snow we've had since November. I washed my car the other day, went for two rides on my bike, and went out to pick up poop when it started snowing. Hopefully, that is a trifecta the fates can't bear to answer with some more
  The snow isn't sticking to the street yet...
   Last night, I made the chile relleno casserole recipe I posted the other day...yum! The only mistake I made, was I mixed the salsa into the eggs, instead of pouring it on top. It came out a little too mushy. The hub liked it so much, he actually ate a completely meatless dinner; we had the casserole & asparagus...
   Not the best photo of the incredibly adorable monkey last night. What a life: his dog buddy on the couch next to him, a warm fire, and sour candy from the Sweet Galley! Monkey is so cute, two people thought he was a girl today, & he was complimented on his good looks at the market...
   Tonight, I'm going to bake banana bread (big hit at the last chamber of commerce meeting), and we'll have ahi tuna steaks, roasted yam/multi-colored fingerling potatoes & broccoli for dinner. I'll post the banana bread recipe & photos tomorrow...Hmmm...snow is slowing down, maybe I should go for a bike ride, or clean some exterior windows on the house...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cooking Up a Storm!

   One of the advantages of completing my teaching assignment in Gorman, and being back at home (except when I am doing desk time in the real estate office), is I have more time to cook. Back in ancient times, aka my college days, my boyfriend's mom taught me how to make salmon loaf. Friday, I made salmon cakes, that were pretty darn tasty. We had artichokes (on sale at a lot of markets right now) & steamed rice for sides. I, of course, did not use an actual recipe, but here is a basic breakdown:
Salmon Loaf or Salmon Cakes
  • 1 can of fresh caught salmon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 -1 cup of smashed Ritz or similar crackers
  • Seasonings to taste: e.g. pepper, dried basil, etc. Avoid anything with salt, as the salmon easily gets too salty
  • Finely chopped onion (can also add bell pepper & celery, but if you add too many extras, it is more difficult for them to hold their shape).
Mix ingredients. You can remove bones or smash for the nutritional benefit. I prefer keeping them in. Because canned salmon is cooked at a high temp, the bones are soft. You can form into cakes and pan fry, as I did (used cooking spray for a healthier version than frying in oil), or, double the recipe, and make a salmon loaf. You spray a loaf pan w/non-stick spray, & bake at 350 degrees for about 20 - 30 minutes. For a loaf, I would recommend covering it with aluminum foil, until the last 5-10 minutes, so it doesn't dry out.
   I am going to make Cajun salmon cakes for my Zatarain's Mardi Gras party Friday. They have a mix just for salmon, but if I can't find it, I'll use their crab cake mix. Speaking of which, I got some GREAT plates, napkins, and decorations at Dollar Tree (remember this mountain Martha Stewart is grounded in reality, and is part of the 99% of us). I put a feather mask on our cow skull, since it kind of goes with Valentine's Day. Once that is past, I will put up the rest of the party decorations. I think I'm going to decorate the skull for every holiday (how about a green bowler for St. Patty's?).
   Doesn't the cow look cool? LOL

Yesterday was a very busy day. In the morning, I made 15 creme brulees for a dinner party we were invited to. I made chocolate, Kahlua, and one with both. This photo shows the brulees cooling. Creme brulee is easier to make than cheesecake. Basically, to make 6-8 brulees (depending on the size of your ramekins), you need this recipe:
Creme Brulee
  •  8 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I always use more than the recommended teaspoon.
Preheat oven to 300º. Whisk the egg yolks until light yellow, whisk in the sugar until light & creamy, then add the cream and vanilla. You then add whatever extra flavors you want, like cocoa powder, amaretto, etc. Bake in a water bath at 300º for about 40 minutes (remove while middles are still soft). Cool in water bath, chill in fridge for at least two hours. Before serving, sprinkle with sugar, & caramelize tops with hand torch. The brulees were a big hit last night, even the kiddos ate up theirs.

   After I made the brulees, it was time to host my free storytime/craft at The Sweet Galley, in Frazier Park. We read George Washington's Teeth and Chocolatina. The craft was edible. We made apple 'mouths.' The children spread sunflower seed butter (to accommodate peanut allergies), placed yogurt covered raisins at the edge, & put the two pieces together. Voila! The recipe I found online called for peanut butter and marshmallows, so I tweaked it. Sunflower seed butter is surprisingly yummy! The monkey ate his all up!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Great Day to Ride a Bike!

   I snapped a photo of the 'hounds' as I embarked on my first REAL attempt to start an exercise program (the ride with the monkey doesn't really count, as we stopped A LOT to rest, since he is apparently 8 going on 80). They look like they are in prison, but they are very happy, spoiled dogs. They get nearly two fenced acres to: chase rabbits, loll in the dirtiest spots they can find, turn into a moonscape (i.e. dig huge craters), and go in/out of the house as they please...
   This is a view of the Cuddy Valley from one of the vacant lots on my street. In the summer, my neighbor's grass-fed beef graze on the pastureland below. They are currently wintering in Cuyama.
   I left Piñon Pines, crossed the highway, and began to pedal west. This view shows the hillside where I live. In person, you can easily see my house, but in the photo, the most discernable feature is my white ranch fencing. That big 'hill' in the backround is actually Mt. Pinos, which is about 8800' in elevation. We are at about 5600' at this spot. Perspective gets very distorted when you deal with wide, open spaces...
   I had to walk the bike through some very soft spots, as I stayed on the dirt path next to the road. I am embarrassed to admit, I'm pretty sure I heard MY dogs barking (yikes).
   Rats: in person, you can see the deteriorating house I am obsessed with photographing. I actually have permission from the neighboring property owner's daughter to access it, I just need to remember to let them know when I'm coming so I don't end up with a shotgun pointed at me (don't trespass in Kern County!).
   I love sharing recipes, so I'm thinking I will try to throw one up with most of my posts. I will be making either creme brulees or a banana cheesecake tomorrow, so I'll photograph & post the recipe.
   My beloved school I taught at for 13 years (Arlington, in Torrance), had the most wonderful parents, who could cook up a storm. They always made us a wonderful breakfast during Teacher Appreciation Week. One of my favorite items was the Chile Rellenos Casserole. I happen to own two of their fundraising cookbooks, and treasure them. Since I have a package of grated cheese, I may have to make this for dinner tonight! I can already see I'll be tweaking a few ingredients.
Chile Rellenos Casserole
  • 1 lb. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cans evaporated milk
  • Two 7oz. cans of Ortega whole green chiles
  • Two 8oz. cans of Ortega whole green chili salsa
  • 1 lb. grated jack cheese
  • 5 eggs
  • Garlic salt & chile powder, to taste
   Butter a 9X13 inch casserole dish. Open chiles & remove seeds. Spread one can of opened chiles on the the bottom of the dish. Top with 1/2 of the cheddar cheese, then place another layer of chiles & remaining cheddar.
   Mix milk, eggs, flour & seasonings together. Pour over the cheese/chiles. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Pour salsa over the casserole and top with the grated jack cheese. Bake an additional 15 minutes. Yum.
   I rode about 3 miles today, which is a tiny start, but better than nothing. I'm embarrassed to admit I had to walk the bike up part of the hill. I need to fix the shifters AND I am OUT OF SHAPE!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pine Cone Wreath

   I saw a photo of a pine cone wreath in an Ojai magazine featuring a home that was converted from an old Masonic temple. I made a beautiful one for my sis, & this (not as beautiful) one for me. Then, when the monkey & I went to visit my buddy in Petaluma, she gave me a Martha Stewart magazine with directions on how to make pretty much the same wreath. An improvement on this one, is to use moss behind the cones, which would help hide the base.
   I'm going to be running the PMLC Lilac Festival booth, and I'm thinking that we could easily make and sell these wreaths. The students could assist by gathering the pine cones, and the older ones could even wire the big cones on. Tourists and other folks can purchase a wreath made from locally gathered cones. I think this is a winner!!
Pine Cone Wreath Directions:
  • Wreath Frame (metal is best, imho)
  • At least three kinds of pine cones: large, medium & small (I used Jeffrey, piñon, and I believe, fir)
  • Hot or cool glue gun
  • Floral wire
   Wire the largest cones to the wreath; they will be your base. I like having the top one pointed up. Martha Stewart says to put the dried moss on first, but I think that would interfere with the wiring. The moss should then be applied to the backside to hide the frame. Next, arrange medium cones & begin glueing. I would be very careful with the moss (not sure how flammable it is). Also, keep a bowl with water & some ice cubes to instantly soothe any burns you may get from the glue (I learned the hard way...) Glue on the small, 'fluffy' cones as accents. Voila! A beautiful wreath!
   Be prepared, pine cones, especially the piñon (which produce the tastiest pine nuts) are sticky with sap. The best way to remove sap, is with oil (vegetable, olive, etc., or even an oily lotion). I rub it in & rub off the sap with paper towels.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Super Bowl

  We had a fun, relaxing Super Bowl. So much so, I didn't take photos! Our neighbor friends came over, & we feasted on yummy hot dogs, kick a** chili, etc. The Thai slaw was soooo good! We all got a kick out of the Hyundai commercial with the boss having a health emergency, as it was filmed here in Cuddy Valley (I remember getting slightly delayed taking the kiddos to school). In the last shot, you can see the woodsy hillside where we all live to the back/right. Here is the link:
Cuddy Valley in Super Bowl Commercial!
   We are hoping for snow, but it's not likely. If anything, we'll get just enough rain for massive mud chunks in the house from the dogs again. I forgot to take a photo of how Kosmo destroyed my rose bush for the party. It looked like someone had set off a hand grenade (bad little dog!). Except for that, the dogs were great at the party. In fact, Moose had no snapping incidents at the other dogs, & hung in the den for some of the party. What a change from last year, when he was Hannibal Lector and Mike Tyson combined. He is our miracle dog!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Finally, a Bike for Mommy!

  Wow, hopefully I correct all of the misspelled words (bad spellers of the world, untie!). I'm usually pretty good at spelling. This is a post from yesterday, but has a great, easy slaw recipe...
   My great friend, K. & I went on a thrift store jaunt yesterday, and boy, was it successful! I scored a GT mountain bike w/Shimano components for $69.99. I bought the monkey 6 pairs of jeans for about $24 (he's wearing one pair in the photo), plus two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shoes, & two coats for me! Woo hoo!

   The hub & I took the monkey to get a much-needed new bike from Walmart (he was beginning to look like a shriner on his old one. We went on our first bike ride down to the mailboxes today; this is us posing in the street in front of our property, ready to depart.

   Apparently, mommy isn't the only one who needs exercise; it was a little tough on the monkey, and we had to stop and walk a few sections. Monkey was very proud when we got home. It really isn't very far; maybe a mile at the most round-trip...I'll have to measure.

   This is mommy post-bike ride, showing off my $7.99 Guess jeans, and gorgeous $10 Wilson leather coat. It is much prettier in person. The coat is like brand-new, with really soft leather, and pretty white stitching.

   I'm hoping to lose 20 pounds this year, or at least reduce some inches. I will report on my progress, or lack thereof. Had I known my hysterectomy would hasten my weight gain, I think I would have not had it, & just put up with my medical problems. I like to eat too much, so any major dieting is out of the question. I'll let you know what impact the biking has.

   Tomorrow, we are having a small, impromptu Super Bowl get-together. We are going very casual, as I'm showing property tomorrow, & won't have a lot of time for prep. Hot dogs & burgers, but I have made a nice pasta salad, some yummy homemade chili, and a fantastic Thai-flavored slaw for the hot dogs.
   I'll post a photo of the slaw & chili tomorrow. I looked at some recipes online, then threw together my own version. I rarely measure, & did not today, so amounts are estimates. Here's the recipe:
Thai-Style Slaw
(can eat as a salad, or use as topping on hot dogs)
  • Fresh squeezed juice of 4 limes
  • Large heaping spoonful of peanut butter
  • Several generous squirts of Sriracha garlic chile sauce
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of celery seed
  • 1/2 head cabbage, shredded slaw-size
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped finely
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, then destemmed, & chopped finely
Whisk first six ingredients in a bowl. Add the herbs, cabbage and carrot, and toss. Let chill & soak in flavor. Yummy! Can adjust amounts of dressing ingredients as you see fit. If you try it, let me know how you like it!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

William S. Hart Museum & a Great Home Cleaning Solution

   I know, this is a strange combo, but I'm trying to get caught up & condense...During the winter break, we visited the William S. Hart museum in Santa Clarita (home of the Santa Claridiots, as my hub so fondly refers to them, sadly, an oft-earned title). ANYWAY, this place is a gem! The gift shop has some great items, and we found some awesome Christmas gifts (eg. an amazing array of handmade jewelry, some by Native Americans).
   William S. Hart was a movie star cowboy from the silent era, who began his career at the age of 47 or 48, which made me love him right off the bat. The fact that he adored all his animals, had huge great danes, & even let his horse saunter into the home, just seals it.
   The home, La Loma de los Vientos (Hill of the Winds) is an architectural gem, with a trove of western art (amazing collection of Remingtons & Russells). The quality of the construction is amazing. For example, the wood floor in the dining room is 2X4 ENDS (look like squares).  The architect had the floors flooded repeatedly, until the pieces were so tightly fitted, they did not require nails. It's kind of like a mini, western, Hearst castle in a sense.
   The docents are wonderful, & I'm sorry I forgot the name of the sweet young lady who was our tour guide. Tours are FREE, & given on the half hour. There is a petting zoo at the bottom of the hill, and some bison that can be viewed on the walk up to the home.
William S. Hart Museum
   Now, those who read my blog, know that last Friday, the monkey had a vomiting incident, and the stainproof mattress pad failed, resulting in a smelly, wet spot on the mattress. The only good thing, is it was just liquid, no pieces (sorry to be gross, but can you say, "Ewwww??").
   I am happy to report I was able to clean it! How? With a 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water solution. I tried to use a spray bottle, but of course that didn't work (why is it every spray bottle I purchase, fails?). So I sprinkled the solution liberally on the stain. Then, I used towels to blot with pressure (you are supposed to avoid wiping). Repeated the process, then sprinkled baking soda all over the area. Put a big towel on it, then a heavy plastic container to put pressure on the area & make the liquid absorb into the towel. After several hours, I removed the container & towel & let the mattress dry. I was leery of taking it out on the deck to dry, as I have watched too many episodes of "Infested" (plus hello, bird poop, anyone?). Monkey slept in the guest room the next night. Next afternoon, I vacuumed up the baking soda, and voila! Stain AND, most importantly, SMELL was gone! Those who know me well, know I have the nose of a bloodhound, so for me to say the smell was gone, means it was GONE!
  I am becoming a huge baking soda fan. The monkey's bathtub had a brown stain around and above the drain that even bleach couldn't erase. I applied a paste of peroxide & baking soda, and let it sit for several hours.The tub was restored to a bright white! Speaking of cleaning, I suppose I should tackle my neglected home, as well as the boxes of my teaching supplies I brought back home from my Gorman assignment (six boxes of books, alone!). Adieu for now, from Michi (aka 'Heloise').

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Awesome Ending to My 100 Days

   So, here are my (former) students preparing for their 100 step walk on the 100th day (conveniently incognito in ther 100 day glasses!). We had a great, but busy day. Sadly, the assistant in the class was whisked away to photocopy hw packets for two other teachers, & the perm. teacher was busy prepping her materials, so I was pretty much on my own for the day. I guess in a sense, that was nice, as I was able to share the day with them. However, it made activities take longer, and we didn't even get to share their 100 collections together.  Hopefully they had fun doing that yesterday. We made fruit loop necklaces (100 fruit loops in sets of 10, organized by color), posters, made a book, had a pizza, fun, fun! In fact, we got the pizza from the Flying J (that truck stop everyone thinks is 'Frazier Park.'). The pizza was surprisingly, very good!! All the children can use the 100 grid to write to 100, except for one K, who still needs some help.
   I am very proud of my work with the children. Thanks to the guided reading program I implemented, this is the progress from September - January (no names, just progress): No level means they couldn't even pass an aa level.
First Grade (should have begun the year at a level C or higher):
Child      1: Level D   -    H
              2:          E    -    H
              3:          E    -    J
              4:          B    -    F
              5: no level    -    C
              6:          aa   -    C
              7: no level    -    C+
              8: no level    -    B+
              9:          A    -    E
            10:          D    -    I
            11:          C    -    H
            12:         aa    -    E
            13:         aa    -    D
            14:          D    -    H

Kindergartners should be at a C or higher by June. Four are on the cusp of passing their first level (aa), and I now have an A, B & C. Of the "A,B,C" kindergartners, one couldn't pass aa in November, and the other two were aa's in November.
  Of the 8 first graders who began the year below grade level, I am certain four will be at grade level or higher by June, if they continue to progress. The four who are still below grade level in reading: one left the school & had an IEP, the other three are ELL's (English language learners). They have a strong chance of getting at least close to grade level (a J by June). All three have seen a dramatic improvement in math as well, because now they can read & understand most of their word problems. I am so proud of them!! I also can't help but toot my own horn just a bit, so toot-toot! I hope SOMEONE will give me a teaching job SOON!! I (and my potential students) deserve it!!!