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Archive for June, 2013

Bathing Birds The lyrics “Splish, Splash, I was taking a bath . . . ” played in my head as I watched a Mourning Dove and a Lesser Goldfinch shake and shimmy while bathing in the cool waters of my backyard fountain. With triple-digit temperatures predicted for the next couple of days, I have no doubt that the fountain will be a HOT spot for my backyard friends!

#1 – Hot Weather Tips
Hot days create dangerous conditions for pets. If you have a pet, refresh your hot weather knowledge by reading these articles:
ASPCA’s Hot Weather Tips
Keep Your Pet Cool During Dog Days of Summer
How to Cool Your Cat Down in the Summer

#2 – Travel Smart

Travel Tips

Use straws to bring small amounts of liquid with you

Whether traveling near or far, you are sure to find at least one travel tip you’ll want to try from the article 14 Clever Travel Hacks To Make Your Trip Awesome.

#3 – Can You Unlock the Lock?
If you’ve ever imagined yourself being as clever as Sherlock Holmes, you’ll want to try playing CombinationLock. With a timer ticking away, you’re given clues to determine the lock’s 3-digit combination. Additional clues can be requested to make the game easier and an additional reel of digits can be added to make it more challenging.

#4 – Unwoven Light
Soo Sunny Park Art Installation Artists push boundaries to find ways to express themselves and to interpret the world around them. American artist Soo Sunny Park used chain link fencing and iridescent Plexiglas tiles to create an ethereal fantasy of light. She says of her artwork Unwoven Light, installed at Rice University in Houston, Texas, “Like a net, the sculpture is a filter that is meant to capture the light that is already there and force it to reveal itself.”

#5 – Your Journey
“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”
― Asha Tyson

Have a great weekend!

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Thumbprint Cookies The combination of having a summer cold, a craving for something sweet to eat, and not wanting to go out in the drizzling rain prompted me to get out the butter and fire up the oven. Ever since I bought some thumbprint cookies coated with nuts at a bakery, I’ve been craving them. Somehow, while under the influence of cold medications, I groggily managed to find a thumbprint cookie recipe and make the cookies. There’s nothing better than a spot of hot tea to ease a cold and chase away a rainy day, unless of course, you bake a buttery cookie coated with crunchy nuts and filled with tart jam to accompany that cup of tea!

Thumbprint Cookies
Joy of Baking.com

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup ( 130 grams) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (100 grams) hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, or walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1/2 cup jam

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand-mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3) minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the batter and beat just until combined. (If the batter is too soft to roll into balls, refrigerate for about 30 minutes.)

4. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy. Place the chopped nuts on a plate. Roll the dough into 1-inch (2.54 cm) balls. Taking one ball of dough at a time, dip first into the egg white and then lightly roll into the nuts. Place on the prepared baking sheet spacing about 1-inch apart. Using your thumb or end of a wooden spoon, make an indentation into the center of each cookie and fill with about 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

5. Bake for about 13 to 15 minutes or until cookies are set and the nuts have nicely browned. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool.

Notes:
To toast the nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 8 – 10 minutes. The nuts are done when when they are light-golden brown in color and fragrant.

If you are planning to store these cookies, I like to bake them without the jam. Just reduce the baking time by a few minutes. These cookies can be stored for about a week. Fill the cookies with jam the same day as serving.

Makes about 20 cookies

Linnell’s Notes:
1. This recipe is very adaptable. You can add nuts or withhold the nuts. You can choose any flavor of jam that you want. I used red current jam, since that is what I had in the refrigerator.
2. The next time I make these, I will make them larger in size and increase the baking time accordingly. I want them to be a chunkier type of cookie, rather than small dainty cookies.
3. To make the indentations in the dough, I pressed the rounded bottoms of either my 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon or my 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon. They created very nice wells for the jam.

Enjoy!

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Liquid Amber Leaves High in the sky, the sun created a leafy shadow play for me as I sat under the verdant canopy of a Liquid Amber Tree. As the overlapping leaves moved with the breeze, dark and light patches of green danced across them. Studying the contrast between the angular shadows and the backlit leaves, reminded me once again of the supreme artistry of Mother Nature.

#1 – Art in Trees
Wang Yue Tree Art Wang Yue, a Chinese art student paints on unusual surfaces. Instead of painting on canvas, she paints on tree hollows. Passersby must do a double take when they walk by one her pieces of art. Read more about the artist and view more examples of her art by clicking here.

#2 – Re-purposing Books
As I typed in the title, “Re-Purposing Books,” I felt like a traitor. Books have always been sacred objects with one purpose to me, so the mere idea of dismantling them, didn’t sit well. But I suppose, if books are headed to landfills, they should be rescued and re-purposed. If you have old books which libraries and charities no longer want, check out these ideas before you throw them in the trash!

#3 – Eggs-amining Eggs
While making an omelet the other day, I noticed that some of the raw eggs had cloudy whites and some had clear whites. Wondering if the cloudy whites indicated something bad, I did a little research. It turns out that I had it backwards: fresher eggs have cloudy-looking egg whites and older eggs have clear egg whites. Read Egg Health Info: What You Don’t Know for more egg-related information.

#4 – Buckle Your Seat Belt

Stelvio Pass

Stelvio Pass by Damian Morys Photography

In the photo series 21 Roads You Have to Drive in Your Lifetime, you’ll see some of the most spectacular roads around the world. The photos will wake-up the travel-bug inside of you, unless you are prone to car-sickness!

#5 – A More Joyful Life
“So here’s the trick, the ultimate key to living an ecstatic life. The key to having a great life is noticing how great the life you’re having is. If you want a joyful life, notice more joy in your life.”
Jennifer Leigh Selig

Have a great weekend!

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Zucchini Soup While waiting for a clerk at a used book store to sort through my bags of audio books, I casually walked up and down the aisles. A magnetic force, of some kind, pulled me to a bookcase in the far corner. That’s where my husband found me — sitting on the floor with a pile of cookbooks. He looked at me and said nothing. I could tell he was thinking, “Great, that’s all she needs is another cookbook.” I looked back at him and quickly said, “Don’t worry, I’m not buying all of these! I’m going to narrow it down to just one.” And I did. Susan Branch’s cookbook, with its tried and true recipes, lovely watercolor illustrations, handwritten pages, and a terrific price tag of $2.99, proved to be “the one” for me. It was serendipitous, as freshly harvested zucchini sat on my kitchen counter, waiting to be the stars in a delicately-flavored zucchini soup recipe from my new cookbook.

Zucchini Soup
From Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

Ingredients:
4 cups sliced zucchini
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup water
1 10 ounce can of cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
1 cup half & half
1 teaspoon dried basil
Salt and pepper

Directions:
1. Sauté onion in butter several minutes.
2. Add zucchini and water. Simmer 30 minutes.
3. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
4. Blend in blender at high speed until puréed.
5. Return to saucepan. Add the rest of the ingredients and heat to simmering. Serve.

Serves 4

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Because the zucchini from my garden were large and because I didn’t want to waste half a zucchini, I ended up using 5 cups. The next time I make this soup, I will use five cups of zucchini again.
2. I used fat-free half & half with perfect results.
3. Because condensed soup contains a fair amount of sodium, I added very little additional salt.
4. Since zucchini and basil are both summer produce, I will try adding fresh basil to the soup the next time I make it. The equivalent of dried herbs to fresh herbs is usually 1 teaspoon dried = 1 tablespoon fresh.

Enjoy!

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Gardenia The scent of gardenias wafts through an open window and lingers in the room. I inhale slowly and let the intoxicating fragrance permeate my soul. I feel drugged and I can no longer focus on the task at hand. As a Marcel Proust-moment transports me from the present back to my past, I begin to hear the clanging of trolley cars and the hissing of bus doors opening and closing. In my mind, I see my mother bending over a very young version of me and asking, “Would you like to pick out a flower?” People push past us on the crowded street as I examine the buckets of flowers at a corner flower stand. My small hands reach for a large creamy-white swirl of petals. The sweet fragrance is nothing like I’d ever smelled before and I repeatedly sniff the blossom. “That’s a gardenia,” my mother says. I nod and guard my treasure as we board a bus for the ride home. My reverie ends with the ringing of my cell phone and I return to the present. Gardenias will forever remind me of my mother and of that time in my life, but even more than that, they are reminders to me of how little seeds can be planted deep.

#1 – Remember Fathers
With Father’s Day coming up, here’s a video tribute that triggers memories of all that fathers do:

#2 – Eat Your Words
Harry Potter Cake Books and birthday cakes can each be a source of fond memories. What if the two entities joined forces and became “book-cakes” or “cake-books”? If you love books and you love eating cakes, you’ll enjoy scrolling through the photos of 24 Incredible Cakes Inspired By Books.

#3 – Best-Value Destinations
One of my favorite travel memories happened while I was in Italy with my husband, my kids, and three of their friends. We had just finished touring the Galleria Borghese and were slowly walking back to our hotel. Somehow our conversation turned to skipping and how some people in the family couldn’t skip. Before I knew it my adult children and their friends were having a skipping relay race on the dirt paths outside the villa. I still laugh when I watch the video of the race! Create your own travel memories, but before you decide where to go, check out Lonely Planet’s Best-Value Destinations in Europe for 2013.

#4 – Make Gift Bows From Magazine Pages
Make gift bows using magazine pages to decorate Father’s Day and graduation gifts. How cute, colorful, and clever! Click here for the complete instructions. Make Bows From Magazines

#5 – Words of Wisdom
I hope that my achievements in life shall be these:
that I will have fought for what was right and fair,
that I will have risked for that which mattered,
that I will have given help to those who were in need,
and that I will have left the earth a better place
for what I’ve done and who I’ve been.
C. Hoppe

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all fathers and CONGRATULATIONS to all graduates!

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Cavatappi withSpinach, Beans, and Asiago Cheese

Part green salad and part pasta salad, but all parts delicious and fresh! Pair this Italian-influenced salad with rustic artisan bread for a quick and healthy meatless supper or throw it together for easy entertaining. With only nine simple ingredients, this salad is big on taste and big on convenience.

Cavatappi With Spinach, Beans, and Asiago Cheese
The Best of Cooking Light

Ingredients:
8 cups coarsely chopped spinach
4 cups hot cooked cavatappi (about 6 ounces uncooked spiral-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 can cannellini beans or other white beans, drained
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Asiago cheese
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Directions:
Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl, and toss well. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Cavatappi is also known as cellentani, spirali or tortiglione.
2. Maybe I packed too much chopped spinach into each cup while measuring it out, but this made much more than 4 servings.
3. I thinly shaved the Asiago instead of shredding it.
4. In a side note, the recipe states, “The warm cavatappi slightly wilts the spinach and softens the cheese during tossing.”

Enjoy!

Update (6/24/13): I made this salad again, but with some substitutions and additions.  I used cavatelli instead of cavatappi and replaced the regular olive oil with Meyer lemon infused olive oil. Cherry tomatoes, fresh off the vine, were sliced in half and added to the salad along with some toasted pine nuts. Very nice!

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What's Stuck On Your Stucco?What’s stuck to your stucco? Possibly, a lot more than you think. My stucco patio overhang has been a pit stop for praying mantises, dragon flies, pipevine swallowtail caterpillars and their chrysalises, and even an injured squirrel. Whenever I walk out my back door, I always look around to see what interesting critters might be stuck to my stucco!

#1 – Swirling Paint
When my brain gets stuck on overload, I give it permission to rest and play for a little while. I like to give it a break by doing mindless, yet creative things. One way I do that is to create instantly-gratifying art or what I call art-for-the-moment on my computer. The best part about art like this is that it’s not around long enough for anyone to judge it — not even myself! There are many sites where you can paint or draw computer-generated designs. Here’s one I found today. It’s super easy to do: you just move your computer mouse around to create swirls of colored patterns. You can experiment with three different “trails” or versions.

#2 – Cinder Block Projects
Cinder Block Centerpiece When I was a college student, all my friends made bookshelves out of cinder blocks and planks of wood. Well, cinder blocks and concrete, in general, have come a long way in versatility. Take a look at the projects shown in Rethinking Concrete – 5 Cinder Block DIY Projects and 12 Awesome Concrete and Cinder Block Outdoor DIY Projects!.

#3 – Common Cooking Mistakes
Sometimes cooks are stuck with a culinary problem and need a quick fix to avoid a disaster. According to Cooking Light’s article The Most Common Cooking Mistakes, “A creative cook can often cook her way out of a kitchen error, but the smart cook aims to prevent such creativity from being necessary.” Yes, a little knowledge can prevent big mistakes. I liked looking at the photos of “good” versus “bad” examples and reading the helpful tips. Want to know the best way to keep guacamole green? Check out tip #43.

#4 – Playing With Food

Food Art by Hong Yi

Red Cabbage Marchesa Salad by Hong Yi

Artists like to think outside of the box. For a month, Malaysian artist Hong Yi did that by playing with her food. For her project 31 Days of Creativity With Food, Hong sliced, boiled, chopped, stirred, etc. to create her artwork. Picasso’s quote, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up,” inspired her to “see joy and fun in ordinary everyday items that I come across, and to paint and create objects as I feel and imagine them, not just as I see them.”

#5 – Don’t Get Stuck In The Box
“They say to think within the box, but it’s funny how those in the box never go anywhere, where those outside it, get to see the world.”
Anthony Liccione

Enjoy your weekend!

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