Monday, December 08, 2014

Chalkboard Sign Christmas Tree

Chalkboard Sign Christmas Tree
If you are looking for a Christmas tree that makes a bold statement, add some flare with a red and white chalkboard signs. Some signs will nestle nicely in your tree's branches, but for those that need more support, add a few eye hooks from your favorite craft or hardware store. Dress it up with ornaments, ribbon, and a tree topper and you have yourself a unique, fun, and festive centerpiece for your holiday home.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Land of 10,000 Calories

Minnesota Made Pretzel M&M Skillet Cookie

What do you get the person who has everything? This year, I got my husband a cast iron pan in the shape of his home-state for his birthday. The American Skillet Company, based in Wisconsin, currently produces skillets in the shapes of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. The cast iron pans are well made, beautiful, and a unique addition to any kitchen. These are the more affordable versions of the original limited edition, made to scale, skillets of the 48 contiguous states. If you have a several hundred (or thousands if you are from a large state), the originals are a true work of art. But if you're lucky enough to be from the upper mid-west, you can purchase these smaller, mass-made pans that look good on the wall, and on the stove.

What can you cook on your state?

Monday, February 17, 2014

To-Done List

Clinton Inauguration, January 1997
(First Published: 9/2007, Last Updated: 8/2014)One issue with our hectic lives is how much we focus on our everyday to-do lists, feverishly working day in and day out to get things accomplished and forgetting what it actually is we got done. The only time we spend remembering and recording our accomplishments is when it is time to apply to college or write a resume. It is important to have goals to strive for like a 100 things to do before you die list, but it is equally important to reminisce and celebrate everything completed; check off those things on your to-do list and record the unplanned, spontaneous accomplishments. A life to-do list is inspirational; motivating action. A life to-done list is rewarding; a chronicle providing reminders of everything achieved long after the memories become fuzzy and gray. It took months years of talking to friends and family to remember and compile the following list of accomplishments from my first 32 38 years; sad how easily we can forget vacations, concerts, celebrations and life experiences. Hopefully the following “to-done” list (by verb, not date accomplished) will spark inspiration for your to-do list or memories of what you need to record for memoirs:

  • Yankees 1998 World Series victory parade in Manhattan
  • Christmas in Sydney and Walt Disney World
  • Independence Day on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in Disney's Magic Kingdom, in New York City and Philadelphia
  • the King's Birthday in Bangkok, Thailand
  • New Year's Eve in Paris, Disney World, Sydney, DC, Minneapolis and New York City
  • the Statue of Liberty’s Centennial
  • Breaking the Snuggie Guinness World Record in Anaheim, California

  • Dad’s Tomato Sauce and Beef Stew
  • Mom’s Stuffing
  • Magnolia Bakery Cheesecake
  • James Beard's "Chicken with 40 Cloves"
  • in Iron Chef competitions as "Iron Chef Finnish"

  • the luau at the Old Lahaina Luau
  • at the Waldorf Astoria
  • the Flamenco in Madrid
  • on top of the bar at Red Rocks West
  • at the weddings of too many friends and family members to count

  • at Boudro's on San Antonio's Riverwalk
    A memorable meal with a perfect view in Capri, Italy
  • at Emeril's in New Orleans
  • Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in Vegas
  • at Ghiradelli's in San Francisco
  • at Le Bec-Fin in Philly
  • on Pizza at Geno's East in Chicago
  • on Beignets at CafĂ© DuMonde in New Orleans
  • on Cheesesteaks at Geno's, Jim's and Pat's in Philly
  • on Eli's Chocolate Dipped Cheesecake on a stick at the Taste of Chicago
  • in Lidia’s kitchen at Becco NYC
  • on ice cream while sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (ala In the Line of Fire)
  • Cabana Las Lilas in Buenos Aires, Argentina (although La Brigada was much better)
  • at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival
  • Mario Batali's OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria and Carnevino
  • on a meal made by me at a cooking class
  • on Pizza and Gelato in Italy
  • Mai Tai, Honolulu, Hawaii

  • beer at the Hofbrau House in Munich
  • Frosty drinks at Sloppy Joe's in Key West
  • Mai Tai's at the Princeville Resort Bar in Kauai and the Pink Palace in Honolulu (photo on right)
  • Vodka at The Astoria and Katherine's Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Hurricanes at Pat O'Briens in New Orleans
  • my way around the World Showcase in Epcot Center
  • wine in Sonoma, California; Willamette Valley, Oregon; Missouri River Valley, Missouri; Hunter Valley, Australia; Marlborough, New Zealand; Mendoza, Argentina
  • High Tea at Lady Mendls Tea Salon at New York's Inn at Irving Place
  • a Celebrity Cruise ship out of Champagne with friends
  • Wine in the homes of two Tuscan Vinters in Italy
  • The Beer Trail in Germany

  • true friendships
  • driving on the wrong side of the road in Ireland, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand
  • delivering the farewell address at the Carle Place High School Class of 1993 Graduation
  • delivering the farewell address to over 5000 attendees at the Mary Washington College Class of 1997
  • a Cuban Cigar (or two)
  • brownies in Amsterdam
  • serving as a Capitol Hill and Gubernatorial intern (before intern became a bad word)
  • serving as Class President in High School and College
  • serving drinks as a bartender
  • living on my own
  • asking a stranger out on a date
  • toilet papering school grounds
  • bonfire and sleeping on the beach
  • eating a meal, seeing a movie and taking an overseas vacation… solo
  • dating a much older man
  • making beautiful music with a violin
  • marching half-naked in a gay pride parade
  • the very chilly David Letterman studio for a show taping
  • flying through the Costa Rican rain forest on a zip line
  • riding a mechanical bull
  • Zion National Park
  • Curling

  • Thanksgiving dinner for 18 26

  • a townhome before my 25th birthday
  • a brand-spanking new single family home
  • a pair of earrings (or necklaces, my new passion) on every foreign trip
  • an authentic Coach purse (and so started the obsession)
  • a hot pretzel on Fifth Avenue
  • Christmas decorations at the Christkindlmarkt in Munich
  • lederhosen 

  • The Iliad
  • Great Expectations
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
  • A Christmas Carol
  • The Little Prince
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Glass Menagerie
  • more books on the politics of the US, England, Germany, Italy, France, The Former Soviet Union and many other countries then anyone ever should

  • my High School Diploma with honors
  • my Bachelors Degree in Political Science
  • a few promotions
  • a big raise (that should remain a to-do as well)
  • an ancient Thai Massage at the Wat Po
  • a lap dance
  • a princess cut engagement ring from a good looking blond (along with the matching wedding band)
  • Mary Washington Commencement, May 1997

  • 2 people from drowning
  • 2 dogs from choking
  • many lost dogs find their humans
  • a stranger from a bad blind date
  • people through donating blood
Disney World, 1978
    Saw a ball game at:
    Yankee Stadium, September 2001
  • Yankee Stadium in New York (old and new)
  • Legend's Field in Tampa
  • Cooper Stadium in Columbus
  • Metrodome in Minneapolis
  • Wrigley Field in Chicago
  • Fenway Park in Boston
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore
  • Coors Field in Denver
  • Miller Park in Milwaukee
  • Safeco Field in Seattle
  • AT&T Park in San Francisco
  • Rogers Centre (aka Sky Dome) in Toronto
  • Veterans Stadium in Philly (RIP)
  • Shea Stadium in New York (RIP)
  • Angel Stadium in Anaheim
  • Target Field in Minneapolis
  • PNC Park in Pittsburgh
  • Chase Field in Phoenix
  • CitiField in New York
  • Nationals Ballpark in Washington, D.C.
  • MLB All Star Home Run Derby at Target Field in Minneapolis

Took in a show:
  • Billy Joel, Elton John, Prince, Paul McCartney, U2, Madonna, Tina Turner, Edwin McCain, Dave Matthews, Poison, Warrant, B-52s, Sugar Ray, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bare Naked Ladies, Live, Semisonic, Lenny Kravitz, Melissa Ethridge, Bryan Adams, Lady Gaga, and Motley Crue… in concert
  • Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker from the front row in Broadway's "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (and Matthew's fly was down half the performance)
  • Matthew Broderick on Broadway in "Night Must Fall" (Front row: "I was christened in the spattle of Matthew Broderick)
  • Nathan Lane in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
  • Donny Osmond in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"
  • "Beauty and the Beast" at the Kennedy Center
  • "Shear Madness" at the Kennedy Center
  • Carol Channing in Hello Dolly at the Kennedy Center
  • Original Cast Rent on Broadway from the front row
  • Oliver on London's West End
  • Avenue Q in Minneapolis and London
  • Sebastian Bach as Riff Raff in "The Rocky Horror Show" on Broadway
  • Cirque Du Solei's O and Zumanity
  • a ballet and a show at The Sydney Opera House
  • Alton Brown Live
  • being rear ended at a high speed
  • my car rolling into a ditch
  • being hit by a 40MPH car as a pedestrian
  • falling out of a moving car when I was 4 1/2
  • being dropped on my head as an infant (darn cousins!)
  • learning to drive on a stick shift
  • a broken heart
  • getting 2 puppies through potty training
  • picking up and moving half way across the country
  • Mary Washington's Politics of the Soviet Successor States
  • a rave in Pamplona, Spain
  • my 10 year High School and College reunions
  • my 15 year College reunion
  • my 20 year High School reunion
  • NYC Flying Trapeze School
  • sinking a jeep on a Mexican beach
  • hitchhiking in Mexico
  • Costa Rica Zip Line Tour
  • blind dates
  • Alcatraz
  • being laid off
  • The Tough Mudder

  • Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans
  • the University of Mary Washington fountain
  • in the Caribbean on horseback
  • under a waterfall
  • on a deserted beach on Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

  • in a European Sleeper Car
  • on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls
  • Kauai’s Waimea Canyon by Helicopter
  • to the floor of the Grand Canyon by helicopter
  • Australia’s Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles
  • the Baltic on a cruise ship
  • first class
  • down Abbey Road barefoot
  • by private car through Mendoza wine country in the Andes foothills
  • through the Panama Canal
  • 125 MPH on the Autobahn in the driver's seat
  • Route 66 through the desert in a convertible
  • St. Petersburg, Russia, August 2005

    Visited 34 Foreign Countries:
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Spain
  • France
  • Luxembourg
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • Netherlands
  • Thailand
  • St. Lucia
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Russia (photo to left)
  • Estonia
  • Norway
  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • New Zealand
  • St. Martin
  • Puerto Rico
  • Belgium
  • Argentina
  • Honduras
  • Costa Rica
  • Panama
  • Columbia
  • Cayman Islands
  • Italy
  • Vatican City
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic

    Visited 34 US States (and DC):
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

    Visited the top of the:
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Empire State Building
  • Arc d'Triumph
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge
  • CN Tower in Toronto
  • Sky Tower in Auckland
  • Space Needle in Seattle (photo below)
  • Washington Monument
  • John Hancock Building in Chicago
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Jefferson National Expansion Monument (aka, the Gateway Arch)
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral in London
  • St. Peter's Church in Munich
  • Chitzen Itza Pyramid
  • Seattle, Washington, July 2006

  • the Northern Lights from an airplane
  • three Space Shuttle launches (including the first)
  • the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, Buckingham Palace and Stockholm's Royal Palace
  • a Volcano Eruption
  • Cal Ripken not play a ballgame on September 20, 1998, ending his consecutive games streak
  • the sun rise and set over both the Atlantic and the Pacific
  • friends become one of the first Gay couples in Minnesota to marry
  • a total solar eclipse

  • the second grade spelling bee
  • a few creative writing awards
  • high school shot put and triple jump medals
  • a jalapeno eating contest
  • an arm wrestling competition
  • wadE’s heart, said yes, and "I do"

Friday, January 03, 2014

2014 New Year's Resolutions

1. I will write more the old fashioned way; with a pen and paper. I will send 104 friends and family members notes and cards and letters because they are special and should get more than bills and Victoria's Secret catalogs in the mail.

2. I will stop bitching about things I don't like about my body and do something about it. Ugly spider veins on the legs; zap them. Bikini line nicks; laser them. Aches and pains; massage them. Lines and wrinkles; photo-facial. Heck, I may even get laserlipo on my stomach pooch that never, ever goes away.

3. I will cook 52 new recipes, a goal I've met the past two years that gives me tremendous amount of happiness in achieving.

4. I will ride my bike at least 100 miles. Not at once, don't be crazy. In total. 

5. I will do at least 250 group fitness classes at The Firm.

6. I will send at least 20 friends my best pictures of them, their dogs, and their kids. Like printed on old-fashion photo paper.

7. I will fix the paint patches in the tasting room. Paint the patch next to the fireplace. And paint the dining room a color that is not hideous. 

8. I will sell some of my Creative Memories inventory. It's taking up space and worth gold these days.

9. I will plan at least one date a month with my husband. Planned date does not include impromptu stops for burgers and fries because we don't feel like cooking.

10. I will do whatever it takes to get one g-damn, non-assisted pull-up by the end of the year.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2014 52 Recipe Challenge

The 52 recipe challenge is a way of bringing together our friends far and wide who love to cook and share their successes and failures in the kitchen. The challenge; to make 52 new recipes in a single year. This is our third year of sharing food, recipes, kitchen catastrophes, and culinary creativity with friends far and wide.

Top 5 of 2014
2. Pumpkin Pie Bars- I brought these into work and had over a dozen people request the recipe
1. Sausage Gravy- I made this for a bunch of Texans and they were impressed
42. Pan-Roasted Swordfish with Tarragon Mustard Sauce- Better than anything in a restaurant
10. Mustard Braised Lamb Shanks- melt in your mouth, great marriage of flavors
53. Whiskey Praline Pecans- addictive, easy to make, great for gifts

Honorable Mentions
8. Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas- simple to prepare, leftovers great for breakfast with eggs
11. NYC Black and White Cookies- Spot on for the real thing
15. Chinese BBQ Spareribs- bright red ribs just like at a restaurant, tasty
35. Smoked Barbecue Baby Back Ribs- Fell off the bone, great flavor
46. Herbed Fauxtisserie Chicken- Excellent go-to chicken recipe

* denotes a dish we'll make again
- denotes a dish we didn't like or wouldn't make again
  1. Sausage Gravy ***
  2. Pumpkin Pie Bars ***
  3. Mussels in White Wine -
  4. Samoa Bars *
  5. Acorn Squash Fritters *
  6. Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
  7. Cold Sesame Noodles *
  8. Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas **
  9. No-Knead Bread *
  10. Mustard Braised Lamb Shanks ***
  11. NYC Black and White Cookies **
  12. Crispy Udon Noodles -
  13. Asian Chicken Slaw *
  14. Shrimp Toast 
  15. Chinese BBQ Spareribs **
  16. "Chinese Take-out" Crispy Beef -
  17. Shanghai Chicken Wings 
  18. Firecracker Shrimp *
  19. Pork and Chive Dumplings *
  20. Stout-Braised Short Ribs -
  21. Parmesan Grits *
  22. Corn * and Flour ** Tortillas
  23. Raspberry Chocolate Chip Muffins *
  24. Tuscan Vegetable Soup
  25. Truffled Mac and Cheese *
  26. Yellow Cake with Fudge Frosting -
  27. Bourbon Brined Turkey *
  28. Creamy Baked Asparagus with Aged Cheddar
  29. Scalloped Potatoes with Ham *
  30. Waffles
  31. Ham and Asparagus Frittata *
  32. Softshell Crab Sandwiches
  33. Broccoli Rabe with Sausage
  34. Orecchitte with Sausage and Kale
  35. Smoked Barbecue Baby Back Ribs **
  36. Tequila Glazed Chicken with Jalapeno **
  37. Jalapeno Honey Garlic Chicken *
  38. Fennel Garlic Chicken Legs *
  39. Arugula, Beet, and Blue Cheese Salad
  40. Roasted Shrimp with Chile Gremolata *
  41. Blue Cheese and Bacon Tomato Salad
  42. Pan-Roasted Swordfish with Tarragon Mustard Sauce **
  43. Pioneer Woman Marinated Flank Steak *
  44. Bacon and Onion Swiss Chard
  45. Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
  46. Herbed Fauxtisserie Chicken **
  47. French Onion Soup *
  48. Hollandaise Sauce -
  49. Broccoli Strascinati (Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper)
  50. Beer-Roasted Pork Shoulder *
  51. Braised Pork Steaks *
  52. Slow Cooker Cinnamon Sugar Almonds -
  53. Whiskey Praline Pecans ***