Here and There

I’m here!! Well, to be totally honest, I am only here for now.

In case you haven’t noticed the sound of crickets chirping on my blog, I haven’t posted in a while. In fact, it’s been a little over one month since my last post. I wish I could say that I was traveling the world, and was in an exotic location where there was no internet access. Or perhaps, that I was caught up in the middle of some terrific criminal trial that left me little time or energy to blog.  But, it was nothing that exciting, I was studying.  I was studying so much that Diego often asked me if I could stop reading long enough to give him a “hugga.” My stress and absence was enough that my teen kids even noticed, and prompted them to ask me when my exam would be over; and it was enough to make my high school daughter grin in delight when I asked her if she had any blank index cards I could use to make my own set of study flash cards.  Sigh.  Crazy as it is, between work, home and family, I really missed my busy but predictable life. I have a newfound respect for any parent who manages to juggle school, work and family at the same time. I only had to do it for a few months and it was awful. Now that the exam is over, and the period when I wait for exam results has begun, I am trying to get back to the business of living…and blogging.

While I was on blogging hiatus, I was not able to make much progress on my list of 50 Things to do Before my 50th Birthday, with the exception of one thing, Number 23, Get a New Blog Design. When I started blogging I knew next to nothing about it. I knew even less about creating my own blog site.  I used a blog theme that allowed me to design my own banner, but I have never liked my banner. In August, I attended a BlogHer session about designing your own site.  One of the session panelists  was Cynthia at Nap Warden Designs.  She provided a lot of great information and made the whole thing seem easy. I was inspired. Even though I lacked the technical know-how to create a new site, I thought that with a little time and effort, I could do it. Well, one month later, I was still fiddling around with this idea, and I wasn’t’ any closer to having a finished look. In fact, I spent more time trying to get the hang of codes, and design, than I did writing any content.  So, I decided to scrap the do-it-yourself idea and hire someone who actually knows what they are doing. I started exploring design sites and found some really great ideas. Lo and behold, the sites I liked the most were those created by Cynthia. I figured it was meant to be.  I hired Cynthia to re-design my blog. Part of her job was to figure out what I blogged about, and come up with something that captured my “brand.” She came up with what I think I’m about, family and  heritage. I hope you like it. I really do.

Since I was going to all this trouble of getting a new blog design I decided I should also get my own domain name. So, I am packing up this WordPress address, and moving here:

I hope you will follow me there by clicking on the link.  If you are a subscriber, then you will need to re-subscribe by clicking on one of the one of the icons on the new site. While you are at it, you can like my new Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter. And just to make it interesting, and because I have nothing better to do, I have decided to participate in NaBloPoMo again this year. This means I will be posting everyday for the month of November.  Now,  maybe instead of watching me study every night, my kids will see me blogging.

50/50 Friday Weeks 10-15

It’s been several weeks since I have updated my list of 50 Things to Do Before I am 50.  My progress has slowed to a near grinding halt, since I have been preoccupied with getting everyone back to school, including me. Well, I am not actually in “school,” but I am studying for a big exam, and it leaves me little time to do anything else, including working my 50/50 list.  When I am not working my glamourus full-tim job as a high-powered government attorney, driving carpool, or helping with homework, I am reviewing criminal law and procedure. Bleh.  But, the family still needs to eat, and I still need to have my ocassional glass of wine, so here’s some minor progress on my list:

Iced Coffee.

It was really hot recently. My Colombian husband practically grew up on cafe con leche.  Iced coffee sounded like the best way to satisfy my  husband on a hot end-of summer day, without having to take my clothes off.  Plus, I was tired and needed a jolt of caffeine. I found this recipe on this website. It looked so good and very simple. The problem was that I didn’t have a  container big enough, so I had to cut the recipe in half. That involved some simple fractions. Yuck. Hey, if I was good at math, I would have gone to medical school, not law school. The end result was that I made some really strong iced coffee. Even my coffee addict husband thought it was too strong. After we diluted it a bit, poured in some half and half, it was as good as any baristas’ iced coffee and a fraction of the price.

Cedar Plank Salmon

Over the Labor Day weekend we hosted both sides of the family for a family dinner. When both sides of our local immediate families get together we number 22! Naturally, our celebrations involve pot luck and I assigned myself one of the main dishes, Cedar Plank Salmon.  I have tried cooking salmon wrapped in cedar paper, but it didn’t seem to have enough flavor. This time, I bought some cedar planks at the grocery store and soaked them in water.  I bought the fish at Costco, seasoned it and sprinkled it with brown sugar. I was inspired by this recipe, but, I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I kind of improvised. The fish was a hit, as evidenced by this photo. We couldn’t take the photo fast enough. The crowd was hungry!

Cedar Plank Salmon

Smothered Pork Chops

The next thing I made was Smothered Pork Chops. Last Sunday I was feeling like I wanted some comfort food. I had some pork chops in the refrigerator so I looked on my favorite online cooking resource and found this recipe.  Just what I wanted, and even better because I only had to wash one pot.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

As a side dish I roasted brussel sprouts. I didn’t really need a recipe for this since I have made brussel sprouts before, but I still consulted with a few sources to find a different way to prepare them. I have boiled them and sauteed them before, but never roasted them. First  I cut them in half, then I drizzled some olive oil on them and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I placed them flat side down on a cookie sheet and roasted them in the oven for about 40 minutes at a temperature of 425 degrees. When they were done I sprinkled a little parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes on them.  I thought they came out great, and I will probably always make them this way.  Here’s what the dinner looked like:

Smothered Pork Chops and Roasted Brussel Sprouts

September Wine

During our family gathering we served this wonderful pinto gris. Juan scored this wine for a great price at our local grocery store. It was crisp, light and if I really knew anything about wine I would say it had tones of citrus and vanilla. What I do know is that it was really refreshing, and our guests enjoyed it too. It seems like we weren’t the only ones who liked it, and I am not the only one to blog about it. Check this mom’s post about her review of the same wine.

50/50 Friday – Weeks 7 thru 9

I can’t believe I am still checking off my list of 50 Things I Want to Do Before 50. Lately,  Summer is keeping me busier than school days, so it is no surprise to me that the only thing I can seem to get done these days is cook. Actually, not really cooking, more like heating things up. It’s been so warm lately I haven’t felt much like cooking. But, I still want to stay on track with my “bucket list” and complete Number 37, “Make one new recipe a week.” So, that’s what I am doing, even if I am three four weeks behind. Hot weather or not,  I am using a new recipe a week, although the recipes don’t always involve food. For instance, one of my new recipes came from my trusted web site, The Food Network, and it involved this.

When life gives your neighbor’s lemon tree a lot of lemons, make lemonade. And when life gives you a garden full of fresh mint, and a hot day with cranky kids bored on a summer day, what do you do? Make Minted Lemonade, of course.  Actually, it was sticky, sweet and delicious fun!  Nevermind that the recipe called for a lot of sugar, and all I had was raw Turbinado Sugar.  The raw sugar turned my Mint Lemonade, a gross  brownish color, but it was still tasty.  I tried not to mind too much when the kid next door,  who had designated himself the lemonade stand hawker, was shouting, “ICE COLD MINT LEMONADE! DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE COLOR! IT TASTES GREAT!”

My second recipe was from a favorite blogger’s website. And sticking to the beverages and kids formula, I thought a recipe that involved Nico and Erica’s favorite soda, Dr. Pepper, would be sure to please.  I guess it would have been a kid pleaser too,  if I had not overcooked it. What did I say about it being a busy summer?  I asked my babysitter to put it in the oven to cook for me while I was at work. She did, but unfortunately, I did not come straight home after work and by the time I made it home, the dish was in the oven for over 6 hours. The meat was still tender, but there was no juicy Dr. Pepper sauciness. (Is that even a word?) Ah well. When life gives you a pork roast without sauce, make carnitas. That’s what it tasted like to me. So I made a little taco bar and we had “carnitas” for dinner.

The last catch up recipe on my list, involved no recipe. That’s right, I had planned on making my old stand-by meal, the-late-from-work-no-time-to-cook-dinner-ground -turkey-with-pasta-and-sauce-from-a-jar, when I learned about a recent ground turkey recall.  Instead of making dinner as planned,  I enlisted my girls to help in the kitchen, and we improvised.  They are both surprisingly good cooks. We inventoried what we had in the pantry: 1/2 a box of penne rigate, and 1/2 a box of angel hair pasta, and garlic.  We inventoried what we had in the refrigerator: a bag of frozen shrimp,  leftover roasted red bell peppers from last night’s barbecue, fresh parmesan cheese, and artichokes. We also took stock of the wonderful bounty of fresh pear tomatoes that a friend had grown in her yard.  Since there is no recipe, I’ll tell you what we did.

We chopped about 6 garlic cloves. I steamed the artichokes and then took out the hearts. Olivia made a dip with mayo, butter, lemon and dill and we noshed on the leaves while we finished the rest of dinner. Erica sautéed the shrimp in most of the garlic, with olive and a bit of butter. We squeezed lemon over the shrimp in final minute of cooking. We then removed the shrimp from the pan and Olivia began to work her sauce magic. She deglazed the pan using white wine, while I supervised, drinking white wine and nibbling on artichoke leaves, of course. She threw in some butter, more garlic, added some lemon juice and seasoned it with salt and red pepper chili flakes. Then,  we kept it warm while we sautéed the already cooked peppers, chopped artichoke hearts, and the fresh pear tomatoes. We tossed everything in a big pasta bowl,  added the sauce, and tossed in some fresh basil and parmesan cheese. It tasted as good as it looked.

The last thing I was able to accomplish these past few weeks was Number 20 on my list, Try a New Wine. On a trip to Napa Valley one year, Juan and I were persuaded to join a cellar club at Jessup Winery. We loved the wines there and so it really wasn’t a hard sell for us. We no longer are members of the cellar club, but that has more to do with economics than it does with the wine. Unfortunately, we have made quite a dent in our wine inventory and we only have a few bottles left. We have had this one lying around for a while, so we decided to open it.

Juan had never really had a lot of port before, and me, being the wine connoisseur that I am, told him it is usually poured with a dessert. Since I am also an epicurean, I told him that this port would go wonderfully with Smores. Yes, Smores. Because we are such wine snobs. Can’t you tell?

We lit a fire outside, roasted marshmallows and brought out the graham crackers. And because the port we were drinking had wonderful cherry flavors, and  smokey undertones, I brought out the dark chocolate. Can you say, “food and wine pairings?” I think I have created a new classic pairing.

So, nine weeks in and I still have two recipes to catch up on,  among other things. The kids go back to school in a couple of weeks, and my real job is becoming busier, so I’ll  have to see how much cooking and checking things off my list I can accomplish.

50/50 Friday – Week 6

Is it Friday already? Well, then I guess it’s time for another update on my list of 50 Things to do Before by 50th Birthday. I have some catching up to do with Number 37 on my list, trying out new recipes, since I did not cook much in Weeks 4 and 5. So, here’s what I did this week: Rosemary with Prosciutto Corn Cakes and Chicken Sausages with Hot and Sweet Peppers.

I made this recipe for several reasons:

1) It was easy.

2) I had nearly all the ingredients. (And those that I didn’t have, I improvised or omitted.)

3) Who doesn’t like a meal that tastes like breakfast?

4) It was easy.

My boys asked me what was for dinner, and I told them we were having “Rosemary with Prosciutto Corn Cakes and Chicken Sausages with Hot and Sweet Peppers. They said “Huh?” And then they saw the corn cakes on the griddle and they said, Yeah! We’re having pancakes for dinner! Well, not exactly. So, I explained they were not pancakes but they were corn cakes. And they said “Yeah!” We’re having corn bread for dinner. Hmm. I started to think they would be disappointed when they ate them and realized that they were neither pancakes, nor corn bread. And to make it worse, the sausages were being served with (gasp) green peppers. So, when I put it all together with the sausages and peppers, I was fully prepared to have to use a back up plan for dinner, i.e. cereal. But, I was surprised. They liked it. Hey, Mikey! In fact, we all liked it. A new meal to add to my repertoire.

The second thing I made is not really a recipe, but it is something new to put into my bag of tricks. That is, the tricks I use to make my kids eat something green that is not artificially flavored or the color of phosphorescence. Kale Chips. Actually, I have my babysitter, Marian Poppins, to thank for this. She’s a whole blog post in herself, but for now let me tell you a bit about her. She is fantastic and has been a lifesaver to me and my family.  She also happens to be a vegetarian who volunteers once a week at an organic produce co-op so she sometimes brings us, ahem, interesting produce to eat. She introduced my kids to Kale Chips one day when she had a surplus of kale and wanted to keep the kids busy with a cooking project. Here’s what she does, and what she told me to do:

Take the Kale.

Wash it and pat it dry and tear it into smaller pieces.

Toss into a bowl. Drizzle olive oil on it, but not too much or it will get soggy. Sprinkle some salt and parmesan cheese on it. Toss it together.

Lay it out on a baking sheet.

Bake at 250 degrees until it crisps and browns but doesn’t burn. About 20 minutes. It shrinks up quite a bit, and it ends up looking like it’s a lot less than when you started, especially when you eat it as it comes out of the oven and before you can take a picture of it.

I am still one recipe short for my project but I will work that out over the weekend and post it next time.

The next thing I did for the month of July, was visit another local attraction/landmark, number 21 on my list.  I went to the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Actually, I have been here before, with my cousins and sister, when I about 7 years old.

At the LA County Arboretum, 1970.

It’s really silly because I drive past it all the time and it’s only 10 minutes from my house, but I have not been back in over 40 years. I needed some time to put my thoughts together to write my grandmother’s eulogy and I thought a walk would do me good. The trouble was, it was hot outside and I also wanted to sit down somewhere. I remembered my grandmother bringing me here. She loved botanical gardens, so I thought it would be the perfect place for a walk, and be inspired by the memory of my grandmother. I was right. The grounds were beautiful.

It was hot, but I found a nice shady porch to rest and write.

Recognize it? It was used in the 1980's TV series, Fantasy Island.

And then I saw this.

It’s a wickiup, or a kiy. It’s set up in an area of the arboretum where there are other early California structures. Even though it had been over 40 years since I was last here, the wickiup was familiar to me because I had recently seen a picture of it among my grandmother’s photos.

Me and my sister in a Wickiup, circa 1970.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wickiup via Instagram

50/50 Friday Weeks 4 and 5

It’s been a very busy and emotional two weeks, so I haven’t done much blogging or made much progress on my list of 50 Things to Do Before my 5oth Birthday. I did manage to knock off a couple of little things, and one big thing, though. Here are some of the little things:

Number 21 on my list–Visit to a local landmark/attraction once a month. This month I went to Dodger Stadium, for a game between the crosstown rivals, the LA Dodgers and Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim. I still don’t understand how a team could be have LA and Anaheim in one title, since they are entirely separate counties, but from what I understand, that’s what the Angels are calling themselves these days. Anyway, the cross-town rivalry doesn’t just exist in Southern California, it also exists is our house. Juan grew up in the OC and I grew up in LA and environs. So we went to the game looking like this.

And of course, like father like son.


Even though I have been to Dodger Stadium several times, this was a special trip for me because I have never been on the actual ball field. After the game, the Dodgers had a fireworks display that would rival all the fireworks going on between the McCourts in thier divorce litigation. Fans got to watch the fireworks from the field, something I was very happy to do.

#21 for the month of June? Check.

The next thing I am making progress on my list, is number 24, review my financial retirement plan. Juan and I have had three meetings with a financial planner in the last two months. Now, before you jump to any false conclusions that I actually have any finances to plan, I should tell you that our lack of financial planning, has caused me a great deal of anxiety. Juan and I have 4 kids between us. Kids are expensive. We have (I hope) four college educations to plan for, not to mention our own retirement. Getting re-married later in life, also caused us to get a late start on the planning. Prior to meeting with this financial planner, Juan and I have been saving whatever we could, hoping and praying that it would be enough to fund some kind of higher education for our kids, with enough leftover for us to be able to eat something besides cat food in our retirement years. And while our meetings did not dispel all of our financial anxiety, they did give us some direction to how to achieve some our goals. I am breathing a little easier now, and I am sure our kids will be happy  relieved okay knowing that they will be able to go to a college. Even though it may not that fancy, schmanzy, private East coast university, we should not have to go knocking at their doors, ready to move in with them when we retire. Now, whether or not the kids will come knocking on our door when they finish college, that’s another issue.

Number 24? Check.

The third thing I did these past two weeks was number 35, Camp on the Beach.  Well,  I call it “beach camping,” even if it was more car camping and the beach was across the Pacific Coast Highway from our tent site, but I think it qualifies. Actually, I really do like camping, but I have never camped near or on the beach, so it is something I have always wanted to do.  When my sister-in-law invited us to tag along with her and her family over 4th of July weekend I was thrilled. It was a last minute decision, but when you go camping with other people who already have the site, and most of the camp gear, a last minute camping decision is easy. We just had to pack a tent and some sleeping bags. It also helped that we were “camping” only an hour away in Orange County at a very beautiful beach, which happened to be down the street from a shopping center, and a take-out pizza place.  Oh, and the fact that the camp site was brand new with showers and flush toilets didn’t hurt either.  Now that is what I call “roughing it.”

Camping with experienced campers makes "roughing it" that much easier.

View of beach from our tent site.

Beautiful Crystal Cove.

Number 35? Check.

The last big thing on my list….

Molly. We got a new dog. I wrote about it here. I thought she was great until I discovered that she completely scratched the back of my leather loveseat. I threatened to send her back , but the kids love her. When we first brought her home, she was a bit timid, but now, she has warmed up to us and has made herself at home.

We had a little bit of trouble trying to reach a consensus on her name. Some contenders were: Jackie, Churro (Diego’s idea), Baby Monkey, Cow (Both Olivia’s ideas). We finally agreed on Molly. Or as I sometimes call her, Miss Molly. But,  Diego likes to call her “Cute-Cute,” because she is.

That’s it for now. 5 down, 45 to go.

50/50 Friday – Week 3

Week Three of my 50 Things to Do Before 50 list and I made little progress, although I did manage to stay on track by trying out a new recipe.  This week was Father’s Day,  so in keeping with our hollandaise tradition I decided to make Eggs Benedict for Juan.  I mentioned before that this dish requires precision timing and coordination, and with me cooking solo, I needed to find a simple hollandaise sauce recipe. I looked online and found this one. I was not disappointed. The sauce was easy to make and it came out great. I added more lemon because I like my hollandaise tangy like that. I also halved the recipe so I would not have too much and it was a perfect amount for four eggs. Juan loved it. He especially liked the fact that I served it to him on a tray, in bed.

Diego was up early and crawled in bed with Juan so I brought Diego his own tray too.

Even though it's not his day, Diego gets breakfast in bed.

The thing about Eggs Benedict is that no matter how hard I try to clean my kitchen as I go, when I am done cooking, my kitchen ends up looking like this.

Number 36 on my list, “Get another dog,” has also gotten some attention this week. As I write this Juan is looking online at photos of adoptable dogs at the local animal shelters. I am not sure I am ready for another dog yet, but I may have little say in the matter. Juan seems to think a trip to an animal shelter in on our list of things to do this weekend. Check in next Friday for an update on my 50/50 list, and to see if we have a new addition to the family.

50/50 Friday – Week Two

This week was really busy, filled with several celebrations. Luckily, I am fairly good at multi-tasking, so in addition to celebrating, I accomplished a few more things on my 50/50 list.

My family got together to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary this week, by going to an Italian restaurant.  The restaurant had a decent wine list but everything was priced pretty high. The restaurant also had a fairly cheap corkage fee, so my brother went to the wine store next to the restaurant and picked up a couple of bottles of nice wine. Even with the corkage fee, buying the wine and bringing it in was cheaper, than if we ordered from the restaurant’s wine list, and we enjoyed some pretty good wine.  We enjoyed the wine so much that after dinner Juan went back to the wine store and picked up a couple more bottles to enjoy at home.  The next day we opened up this bad boy and enjoyed a glass with dinner. Light, crisp, with hints of pear and grapefruit, it is a perfect summer wine. I give you Number 20 off my list:

On our wedding anniversary, Juan and I went out to see my all-time favorite musical.  Pre-kids and, consequently, when I had more disposable income, I used to be a theatre geek. I first saw a production of Les Miserables in the late 80’s. It has stayed with me all these years.  So when I heard the production was touring again, I knew I had to see it. Juan bought us tickets and we saw it this week. My husband, who has been known to bring a book to read at the theater, even enjoyed the show. I love the music, the story and the message of redemption in this play. It was a great way to celebrate my anniversary, and still check off Number 47 from my list.

The last thing I accomplished this week was trying out a new recipe from this cookbook.

It was not easy to find a new recipe to prepare this week. Between all the celebrations and my busy work week, I was all about convenience.  Tonight, I promised Diego I would make breakfast for dinner, so it looked like, unless I could find a new way to make pancakes, I wasn’t going to be able to work in a new recipe this week. But, pancakes for breakfast just didn’t sound good to me, I wanted something more, but something easy, and something like breakfast. So of course, I chose to make what any self-respecting Mexican mama would make, Chilaquiles.  I made Chilaquiles Veracruzanos. These are a little like enchiladas, but the tortillas are crispier and the sauce is usually lighter. They can be served with an egg on top and are usually great for an early breakfast after dancing all night. In fact, one of the most memorable plates of chilaquiles I ever enjoyed was at 3:00 am , following a wedding reception. The wedding ceremony took place on an Acapulco beach, followed by dinner and dancing all night. The happy couple then treated their guests to a Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles in the pre-dawn hours.  Somehow, every time I make chilaquiles I feel like I should be eating them as the sun comes up.  But,  tonight I had to be content with eating them for dinner. They were not as easy as I hoped, and I had to improvise some of the ingredients, but they were still really good. I will definitely make them again.

I used leftover chicken and cut some tomatoes. I didn't have a fresh ancho chili, so I used chipotle chilis. A bit spicier, but it had a nice smoky flavor.

Frying the tortillas took the most time, but makes all the difference in the texture and taste.

Chilaquiles topped with avocado. Buen Provecho!