February 26, 2009

Frank Sinatra - he's my man

Okay, Todd is actually my man.

But Frank comes a close a second. I was introduced to Frank many years ago as a young girl by my Grama Boo. She is the hippest woman. Not only did she love Frank, she also loved Elvis and was right along with the girls and me in 2000 when Ricky Martin hit the scene.

GramaBoo loves her some pretty boys that can sing.

Anyway, about 15 years ago, I went to a wedding and the song of the night was "Fly me to the Moon" by Sinatra and Count Basie. I instantly fell in love with the song and had to have it. The next day I called Grama to see if she had that record album. She checked, didn't have it and proceeded to call Columbia Records. There was a CD delivered to my door within weeks.

How awesome is that?

The CD has finally worn out from overplay. Because we played this CD every time we ate Italian food for dinner which must have been at least 2000 times since 1995. What I think is amazing, is that I raised two girls to love and appreciate music from all genres. And today the girls know to just load up this classic CD for dinner. If you like to check out some good Swing music, find this record/CD/Itunes download. You won't be sorryEnjoy!

Eye-popping Reds

Had a nice Italian-themed dinner last night by cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer, I didn't even have to stop at the store.
I just loved all the eye-popping reds coming for the peppers and tomatoes in the salad. I topped them off with toasted almonds, parsley, parmesan and red onions.
The main course was shrimp sauteed with garlic, red onion, basil and mushrooms, dashed with white wine and served over portobella and ricotta stuffed rigatoni shells. I actually found these in the freezer from one of my infrequent Trader Joe runs.

Nice little mid-week dinner and a good send-off for Todd and Raine who are heading to Taos, NM tonight for a long ski weekend.

February 24, 2009

Hurricane Raine Day

It's my baby's 17th birthday today. What an awesome human she is, has been and will be. My little "Hurricane Raine" who raced through her childhood full of energy is now a young woman focused on finishing high school early and entering a culinary program to become a Chef.

Wow! A focused kid!

Happy b-day my dear! Momma loves.

February 22, 2009

Duck, duck, not goose.....

We made duck breast with a port reduction sauce for dinner tonight. It's been one of our favorite meals ever since we first ate something similar at the Tornado Steak House in Madison over 10 years ago. We always buy a whole duck and make the cuttings ourselves. If you read this blog regularly you know the drill, "buy the whole bird, feed the wings to the dogs, cut up the meat, and make a good stock with the the bones....to be used later" The sauce is made with fresh garlic sauteed in olive oil. Add to the mix is port wine, then reduced, chicken stock, then reduced, a couple of tablespoons of dark berry jam, whatever berries you have on stock (tonight we used dried cherries and blueberries) and rubbed sage. The sage is from the garden and I hang it in the pantry to dry and use throughout the winter. Our ever faithful and valiant guards watch carefully for any runaway duck. This is how most cooking sessions now go in our house, the damn dogs right at your feet. If you are not a dog person, this might scare you a bit, but trust us, the dogs don't actually get near the food, they just wait there drooling and hoping for something to drop. Duck is very different to cook than chicken. Because of the heavy fat layer, the meat must cook in a cast iron skillet to render the fat out of the skin. The meat is best when done medium rare. I tried to get some pictures of the set plates, but they just didn't turn out. Maybe next time, I'll have better lighting.

February 21, 2009

Elephant and dogs - too sweet!

This is one of the sweetest stories I've seen. The friendship between Tara, the elephant, and her friend, Bella, the dog. Wow!

February 20, 2009

Looking for a great friend?

I’m Paris and I’m the dog you are looking for if you love friendship, happiness, energy, excitement, focus, and seeing the world through a dog’s eye.
Now, I’ll admit, I’m not perfect. My nose can lead me into some excitement. I love to track down the smell of squirrels and other wild animals that live around me and I could use some refinement of my manners (or obedience training as humans like to say). Why you ask? Because I get so happy in the moment, sometimes, I forget what I’m supposed to do. But come on, I am just a dog…..right? However, I will come when you call and I will sit and even lay down when you ask me.
Okay, here are some other things you need to know about me: I was one sick girl a couple of months ago. Diagnosed heartworm positive, at Thanksgiving, when my previous owners surrender me to a local shelter, I have, under good care from my foster family, sailed through the treatment. Today I am in great health and am ready to embrace my forever people. Because I had heartworms, the doctors say I will need to be on heartworm medication year around and will need a couple of more checkups to make sure they got all the heartworms. Other than that, I’m up to date on all my shots, microchipped, and I’m in great physical condition.

I get along well with big dogs and small dogs. I like them and want to play all day! I can sleep in a crate, but would be much happier being closer to you. I walk very nicely on a leash, though I will see all squirrels and rabbits on our walks- way before you do. So letting me off leash is probably not a good idea until further notice. I will love to curl up by you and sleep for hours. And food is one of my FAVORITE things in the world! I’ll do just about anything for a treat! Oh yeah, I’m housebroken as well.

Really, I just love to be.
A note from me, the foster mom: This is a hard thing to do...Paris has been such a great foster dog and we love her dearly. She is high energy at times, but is also a total couch potato. Her desire to please knows no bounds. She is the type of dog that makes many foster parents failures, meaning they decide to keep her. But in our hearts, we know she’ll be even happier with another family who can give her more undivided attention than we can. She should do well in a one-dog only house but has always had a large male companion.

If you are interested at all in adopting Paris - you can fill out an online application at the German Shepherd Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin - www.gsraw.com

February 16, 2009

Pwnd by Uncle Bear

I was totally pwnd by my Uncle Bear this morning when I opened my work email and found his response to my Valentines stuffed chicken breast dinner story from the weekend.

And I quote,

"Hi Ry, Nice pics of your Valentine dinner. Its nice to spend a quiet dinner at home, huh? We had sweetheart steaks, they take a thick boneless rib steak and butterfly it, then it looks like a heart when opened up , plenty for two. Also we had potato cheese soup,twice baked potato, and asparagus with hollandaise sauce. For desert we had homemade Brandy Alexanders with a chocolate truffle that Marlene had made. She 's a cheap date. It was the 39th anniversary of our first date and I married her seven months later. Who said that short courtships don't last. Have a great week, Love Uncle Bear"
I responded to Uncle Bear's email by saying I was totally in awe of their cooking expertise and years of marriage, and threw in...that Todd and I celebrated our 23rd Valentines... this year.

Uncle Bear came back with ..."And Marlene has the valentine's card I gave her in the 6th grade, signed, Jackie...."

Wow, Can't beat that. I've been bested by the master.

It's one of a thousand reasons why I love my Uncle Bear

February 15, 2009

French-styled Stuffed Chicken Breasts - yum!

For Valentine's Day, Todd wanted to make a recipe he read in Cook's Illustrated. This magazine is a thinking person's guide to food nirvana, in that it doesn't just give the recipe but describes in great detail how the writer created, modified and or improved the original recipe. While it can be intimidating, at times. the detailed technique of a recipe gives you a great understanding of food preparation.

For tonight's meal, there were several steps. Cut up the chicken, prepare the stuffing, wrap the rolled chicken in its skin, make chicken stock, and for good luck, feed raw chicken wings to the dogs.

First we chopped all the ingredients needed for the stuffing which included; chopped mushrooms and leeks, fresh garlic, parsley and thyme and some lemon juice. This was sauteed for a few minutes, removed and then the pan was deglazed with champagne (our suggestion - hey it was Valentines day!) to be used later in the sauce.
After cutting the chicken meat from the bones, Todd set aside the breast and thigh meat. The thigh meat was chopped and added to the stuffing mix. The rest of the chicken went into a pot to make chicken stock. (Except the wings-a spur of the moment treat for the pups. I tried to get a photo, but they ate them too fast.) By using a whole chicken Todd has the freedom to make his own cuts and the price is much more reasonable. A good cleaver is a great kitchen tool.
After butterflying the breasts and flattening them, Todd placed the mushroom, leek and chopped thigh meat mixture on top of the breasts. He then rolled them tightly. Next he took the extra step to wrapped the breasts back into the skin that was pulled whole from the original chicken.

This step really keeps the chicken moist during the heating process. After tying them off, the chicken was pan-fried for 2 minutes per side and finished in the oven.
While the chicken was finishing off in the oven, Todd made a really nice sauce from the deglazed pan of the fried mushrooms and leek mixture. To it, he added course-ground mustard, wine and chicken stock. Reducing the liquids created a very nice and flavorful sauce. Served with couscous and freshly steamed broccoli, the french-styled stuff chicken breasts were divine. While a more labor-intensive dinner than most, it was a joy spending Valentine's cooking with Todd.
Like we always say, "The family that cooks together, stays together"

February 13, 2009

Saying Good Morning

Whenever I see one of my favorite wildflowers, Rudbeckia, I always think of my daughter, Raine.When she was a little girl, we would walk every morning in the flower garden before going to school. In our garden we'd have a few moments to ourselves before the hectic day began.

We had a little ritual where we'd stop in front of each plant, I would say the name of the plant and Raine would say "Good Morning!" Raine always spent the most time with the Rudbeckias, sometimes saying greetings to each individual flower.
That was a life-learning experience where I learned to slow down, because mornings could be really hectic if you let them. I learned to enjoy the moment.

Today, Raine might not walk with me every morning to say good morning to the flowers, but I still do. For me, I will always have Rudbeckia growing in my garden. Because this flower above all others makes me think of those precious morning moments with Raine, saying "Good Morning"

February 11, 2009

Wascally Wabbits

Ohmigod. Got home tonight and let the pups out, after being in the house for 8 hours, they made a great vocal and physical display of their eagerness to get outside. I didn't think much of it, at first. But soon, I heard a high pitch scream. Paris and Teiko had raced to the back corner of our yard as they usually do. This time though, Paris actually caught the rabbit she had been smelling for a few days.

I yell at her to "drop" it. Umm...that doesn't work.

I then, stupidly called her to me. And guess what, she comes. So now I have this very proud German Shepherd chasing me all around the back yard with the damn rabbit in her mouth with me screaming "Don't touch me!, Aus!, Out! Drop it!"

I get Teiko and Cita in the house, and finally calm down and say to Paris, "All right, I'm going in the house, wanna come? She is so proud of herself. Still prancing with the rabbit in her mouth, she finally drops it about one foot from me, spits out some extra rabbit fur and saunters into the house.

I quickly shut the door and turned back to see a very stunned rabbit, who finally came out of its daze, took a quick look and ran for the trees.

I'm not thinking I'll have many problems with rabbits eating my spring flowers this year.
So this is my foster dog, Paris. The dog who was so sick two months ago that she had scary things coming out of every hole in her body about 23 hours a day. She was diagnosed Heartworm positive and would receive some harsh treatment to kill the worms. I knew that she would need some time to heal but I didn't really know for how long.

Well, today I got my answer. She is finally healthy enough to hunt and catch the damn rabbits. This dog is is going to be just fine. She is a fighter and a hunter. This is one of the good ones.

It's awesome to be a foster mom. Umm...I'm keeping her.

February 10, 2009

A break from the cold

Madison's high temperature today is expected to be 55 degrees - yay! With last night's rain, the snow has melted to just a few inches on the ground. The pups are excited at the prospect of going for a nice walk this morning. They are sitting at my feet whining to go. I had better sign off and find my mud boots.

February 9, 2009

The third year is a charm

The orchids have started coming out of their winter slumber. The orchid above, a Phalaenopsis variety has lived with us for three years and never fails to disappoint us with its beauty each winter.
This orchid is another variety of Phalaenopsis and is a new addition. This and the one below were my birthday presents in January.
This orchid above is an Asian Paphiopedilum and is related to the North American orchids that grow in Wisconsin which are also known as Lady Slippers. I found one growing on our beatons property two summers ago.

I absolutely adore orchids. They bring such beauty and are pretty easy to care for, at least the Phalaenopsis type of which there are hundreds of varieties.

February 8, 2009

A Madison Landmark

Last week, while enjoying a quite warm winter day, I captured this iconic image of Madison known as the Orpheum Theater. I've been seeing movies and shows here since I was a little girl. Madisonians also know that this is a great place to meet for a lunch and dinner.

The sky was just a beautiful blue and I wanted to see how it would contrast with the faded reds of the rusted metals of the theater's marquis. It didn't turn out too bad - still working on the photography and editing side of things.

The beauty of Taxco, Mexico

I've always wanted to visit Taxco, Mexico. I was in 7th grade when I first learned about this silver making city. In November, I finally made it there. What a fabulous town! The city center or zocolo has a very colonial look and feel. While visiting Taxco for a few days, we enjoyed a wonderful stay at the Hotel Agua Enscondida, located right across the street from Santa Prisca, the main cathedral of the city. The reason for this post is to share with you the photo taken by Todd. He calls it "Jesus Behind Chairs". While walking around and into the cathedral, every door was open and we could peek in everywhere. This room was off the back of the cathredral and under the dome. It's used for storage, obviously. Todd thought the photo captured the essence of Jesus waiting to be discovered.

Continuing Home Improvements

This winter and spring home improvements include the finishing of the sauna room downstairs which now has a new cedar floor Todd put down before Christmas. Finishing work is a wood ceiling, lighting and final trim work to make the room complete. We started the work in this room last year when we put in the new shower, added the wall tiles and stained the concrete walls.
Another DIY project we'll attempt, is adding a second kitchen to the house. Using recycled kitchen cabinets and relatively new appliances we think this feature will be a nice addition to the downstairs and relatively inexpensive. This room leads right to the pool area outside and will make summer grilling and entertaining more easy.

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