Thursday, March 28, 2013

Best Ever Carrot Cake Frosting

Easter is on Sunday. (which seems crazy early to me). 

I needed to make a treat yesterday, so I made these mini-carrot cupcakes. I just used a boxed mix-nothing special. We all know that no one eats carrot cake for the cake part-we just eat the frosting, because we would feel like totally pigs, if we just served ourselves a big heaping pile of frosting.  

Sometimes the frosting is a little too sweet and heavy for me, but I found this recipe at Kraft and it is carrot cake frosting perfection.

All you need to do is beat the following:
8oz. cream cheese-softened
8 oz. Cool Whip- thawed
1/2 tsp vanilla

tip:  if the cream cheese or Cool Whip are too cold, the cream cheese won't blend properly and it will be lumpy.

You can sprinkle a little cinnamon on top for flair.

I think they taste the best refrigerated.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

This is the true story of mother and son and the books they discuss and she undergoes treatment for terminal cancer. The mom is a superwomen who raised three kids, worked for Ivy League schools and devoted her life to the plight of refugees around the world. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

The following quote pretty much sums up the book:

"They (books) help us talk.  But they also give us something we all can talk about when we don't want to talk about ourselves." (58)

"Throughout her life, whenever Mom was sad or confused or disoriented, she could never concentrate on television, she said, but always sought refuge in a book. Books focused her mind, calmed her, took her outside of herself; television jangled her nerves" (25)
-me too:)

"It was as if you were critiquing a restaurant based on the decor, while she was talking about the food." (41)

"I often forget that other people's stories aren't simply introductions to my own more engaging , more dramatic, more relevant, and better told tales, but rather ends in themselves, tales I can learn from or repeat or dissect or savor" (50)
-I am so guilty of interrupting people-it drives my husband CRAZY!    So I took this to heart.

..."he wore his learning so lightly and had such curiosity about other people that he had the ability to make everyone around him feel smart and well-read." (56)

"Secrets..rarely explained or excused anything in real life, or were even all that interesting." (58)

"If you want to work outside the home, you should.  if you can afford not to and you don't want to, then you shouldn't." (72)

"The world is complicated.  You don't have to have one emotion at a time." (88)

"Do you want me to ask how you're feeling" (99)
-I think this is great advice for dealing w/ someone with a serious illness.  

"But I don't entirely approve of people who get advance degrees and then decide to stay home.  I think if society gives you the gift of one of those educations and you take a spot in a competitive institution, then you should do something with that education to help others."  (246)
-What do you think of this? I think it's stupid to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for a degree that you don't plan to use, but   I don't think any education can ever be "wasted".  

I read this book over several weeks.  It's just not the type of book that you devour in one or two sittings, but there is a lot of wisdom and insight and it is worth your time.  4 stars

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Club Grub-Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Part of my book club hostess duties included bringing good snacks. We read Clara and Mr. Tiffany, and I vaguely remember making Stain-Glassed Sugar Cookies as a kid and thought they would be perfect. 

I was pleasantly surprised that they worked out. Maybe not as pretty as Tiffany lamps, but much tastier.

To make them, just used your favorite sugar cookie recipe and cut out shapes w/ in your cookie dough. Place shape on a cookie sheet lined w/ parchment paper (I used my Silpat).  Fill the inside shape with crushed candy (I used Jolly Ranchers) and bake as usual. Let the cookies cool before you remove them or all the candy part will stay on the pan.

In case you need a good sugar cookie recipe, I will share my MIL's. They are the world's best (Just don't tell my mother who thinks she actually makes the world's best sugar cookies.)

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream

2 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking pwd
1/2 tsp salt

Beat wet and dry until well combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours.  

TIP: The key to making the best sugar cookies :
1.keeping the dough as cold as possible 
2. using the least amount of flour as possible. The more flower you use, the tougher they will be. Work with a small amount of dough (leave the rest in the fridge) on a very lightly floured surface.  
3. roll dough to an even thickness (It will help them bake evenly).  

Cut out shapes and place on a cookie sheet lined w/ parchment paper (or a Silpat).  Bake at 350 for 9 minutes.

I also made:

Mine are not as pretty as "Real Mom Kitchen's. These were amazing and it is taking every ounce of restraint I have not to run downstairs and finish off the rest of the pan.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bookclub-Clara and Mr. Tiffany

 Hanging out with my book club friends is always the highlight of my month. It was my turn to host  and I choose Clara and Mr Tiffany by Susan Vreeland. 

 Who do you think designed all those gorgeous Tiffany lamps?  For over a hundred years, we thought it was Mr. Tiffany, but it is more likely that is was a women named Clara Driscoll.  This is a fascinating work of historical fiction that explores the rights of women as well as the inspiration and creative processes involved in creating those beautiful lamps. There's even a little romance and intrigued thrown in for good measure.  I give the book a solid 4 out of 5 stars. 

I have a family member who has the most beautiful retirement fund EVER!  Instead of tying up all their money in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, they have dedicated a portion of their savings to antique Tiffany lamps.  For now, their home is full of beautiful pieces of art, and someday they can sell them off and retire. I enjoyed this story more b/c of them.

Here's some discussion questions:

*1. How do Clara’s yearnings and goals change during the course of the novel. What personal growth is revealed, and what experiences prompt that growth?

* 2. Of all of the adjectives Clara and Alice heap on Tiffany in chapter twenty-seven (page 226), which ones do you believe are justified and which are exaggerations?

*3. How was Clara’s love different for each of the five men in her life?
A .Francis
b. Edwin
c. George
d. Mr. Tiffany
e. Bernard

*4. Is George Waldo a tragic character? Is Edwin? Is Wilhelmina? How do you define tragic character?

*5. Throughout the novel there are social contrasts–rich and poor, suffering and insouciance. Speculate on how these serve to make Clara a more well-rounded or deeper person, as well as how they serve to make the novel transcend the period depicted.

*6. Mr. Tiffany makes a surprising final concession in chapter forty-seven. What was it based on? In light of it, should Clara have stayed working at Tiffany Studios? How was her decision right or wrong for her?

*7.“Mrs. Tiffany is a marvel of the double standard. She can give attention to a tenement mother’s hygienic needs in the morning, and spend enough at Delmonico’s that evening to feet that mother’s family for a year.” (p74) thoughts?

8. Why is there little mention of her mother and sisters

9. Why do you think that the women were only permitted to see the windows if they snuck into the men’s department?

10. ‘It just hurts to be anonymous”  Would it bother you more not to get credit for something or that someone else claimed all the credit?

11. What do you think about the following statement: “Such care God took to design so dramatic a creature, and yet so restrained.  He was, not to let humans see it often.  Maybe he was offering a lesson about the value of the uncommon.  (p 146)

12. What roll did Women’s rights play in the story?

* I stole these question from the author's website:

It is a great site with more info and lots of pictures.

What books have you read in your book club lately?

UPDATE- Grilled Mango Chicken

UPDATE: We took the kids on a cruise for spring break.  We had a great time (especially since we were on the rare Carnival ship that didn't break down in the middle of the ocean), and all over indulged.  
I wanted to make some healthy, but still yummy for dinner and so made this. I also tried out my new photography skills to try and make it a little more appetizing than the original post.  

We are trying to eat healthy, but I also want to eat stuff that tastes good.  I was searching through my recipes and I found one I had clipped from Family Circle Magazine years ago, but never tried.

 In a large plastic bag combine:
1/2 cup Mango nectar
1/4 cup EVOO
6 Tb Lime juice
2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tb Sugar (or Splenda)
1 tsp. salt
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  Marinate several hours (or over night).
*Most of the time I  just use lime juice and fajita seasoning instead of the marinade.

In a large bowl combine:
1 jalapeno seeded and diced
2 Tb lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
2Tb finely diced red onion
1-2 avocado-diced
1 mango (peeled and diced)
1 Cucumber (peeled and diced)

optional-if you want to ruin it, you can add some chopped cilantro.
 (you can make this ahead of time-the lime juice will prevent the avocado from getting brown)

Grill chicken breasts and top with salsa.  Yummy!
Tip: I chopped up a leftover breast and mixed in with the salsa and made a really tasty chicken salad.
 The marinade is only slightly above average, but the salsa was amazing. I could eat the entire bowl all by myself.

343 Calories, 40 g of protein and 12 g of carbohydrates

Linking up here.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Retro-Mint and Polka-dot Blouse

  Mint is all the rage this spring.  I was originally going to make the entire blouse out of mint, but then I thought it needed some contrast.
The color looks a little retro to me and so I dug around in the fabric stash to find this polka-dot (left-over from my laundry room curtains).  

She loves it! She thinks it's adorable and loves that no one else at school will show up w/ the same shirt.

 I like that only cost me about $3 for the fabric and a few hours of my time.
FYI- It's Simplicity 1693-view D.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Peach Keeper

All the Boy Scouts in the house went camping, which means I can enjoy some of my favorite things guilt free:

1. These pj's. My husband hates them and not just b/c they are the opposite of sexy and make me look about 30 pounds heavier, but because touching fleece creeps him out. I however thing if we all wore more fleece jammies and less skinny jeans, the world would be a happier place.

2. Eating Chocolate covered pretzels.
  a. microwave chocolate chips for 30 seconds. stir. repeat
  b. add pretzels and stir
  c. place on wax paper and stick in the freezer for 5-10 minutes until chocolate hardens.
Crunchy, chocolate, salty perfection.

3. Staying up late reading in bed.  Since my husband goes in to work obscenely early, I can't do this very often, and I am glad that I picked the perfect mix of romance, friendship, and mystery: The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen.

The story centers around the unlikely friendship of Paxton(have) and Willa (have-not) as they try to escape who they were in high school and try to solve the mystery of the 75 year-old skeleton found buried under a large peach tree.  

Here's some quotes I loved: 

"But she now realized that he hadn't reinvented himself at all. He'd become himself."

“Happiness is a risk. If you're not a little scared, then you're not doing it right.”

"razor-sharp sun" (seriously great desciption-going outside w/out my sunglasses around here hurts)

“Right now everyone is drinking bad wine made of sour grapes and hysteria. Let them drink it, and let them regret it in the morning.”

"She was sure everyone wanted to talk to one another about it first, to come to some consensus about how they all felt about it.  One way or the other, Paxton knew that those who decided to stick with her would be her true friends,  The others would just be scenery"

On being "sorry" that you've drifted apart from a friendship: "But I think that's like saying I'm sorry I left the water on and flooded the house.  At some point, you could have turned it off. It's not like it had to happen."

I've never lived anywhere longer than a few years and I am not as good about holding on to friendships as tight as I should.  Relationships with people that once were fused into almost every facet of my life, now have degenerated to me "liking" their posts on facebook.  I guess I don't call them all up more because I'm lazy and don't want to intrude on their new lives.  This is stupid, b/c it would make my day if anyone called me up out of the blue. Reading this book makes me want to call them all up.

I give the book  4 out of 5 stars.
 (If you read it in bed while wearing cloud pj's and eating chocolate covered pretzels, it's a solid 5 stars)