Monthly Archives: October 2009

Artichoke Dip: A Mission for Yummy Goodness

Years ago when I lived in Minneapolis, my husband and I would go to this eclectic little restaurant and bar called the Loring Cafe (it unfortunately closed a while back). It was one of those bars where they had live music and comfy sofas and chairs to sit on – of course thinking back you probably wouldn’t want to see those comfy sofas and chairs during the day when their Goodwill-ishness would rear its ugly head. Things like that seem to take on a hip quality in the darkened, mood lighting and after a few drinks. But I digress…

The restaurant though was delicious. And the best thing on the menu in my opinion was the artichoke dip. Good artichoke dip is hard to find. Often it’s too creamy (too much mayo) or too oily. Or people throw in spinach. I like spinach but not in my artichoke dip.

So one time, we asked what was in the dip. The waitress was very cordial and started telling us the ingredients, but with the caveat that they make it in huge vats so the portions she knew wouldn’t make much sense if you wanted to make it at home. She obviously didn’t know how much I loved artichoke dip.

After that, my husband and I made it our mission to recreate the Loring Cafe artichoke dip. It took years, literally, of trial and error, but we finally perfected it. Now I feel that I owe it to the world to share what I feel is the best recipe for artichoke dip.

1/2 cup real mayo

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (Use the best quality you can. Sometimes the really inexpensive brands can get a bit oily.)

1 8-oz package of frozen artichokes, thawed and roughly chopped

Pinch of red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons diced green chiles

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt and pepper

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Don’t bake for much longer than that or the mayo starts to break down and get oily. Twenty five minutes has been deemed the optimal time. :^)

Do enjoy!


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Bunny Love

I’m a sucker for cute bunnies. When I was just a wee lass, I started a rabbit collection. My sister collected mice (not real ones, of course) so as a little sister, I had to have a collection too. I don’t really know why I chose rabbits, but I’m still a sucker for cute bunnies. Though I have scaled back my collection considerably as to not be considered a wacky adult woman with rooms full of collectibles – and I try to find more artsy renditions.

But alas, I just can’t help myself sometimes. I was browsing Etsy not long ago and came across an artist named Jamie Fales who draws the cutest bunnies EVER. She has such great talent and imagination and puts clever twists on animals and sweet-looking little children. How can you resist a Zombie Bunny or a Boston Terrier Mummy? Or one that I bought – a bunny sitting in a bucket – “i prefer to travel by bucket”. How cute is that?!

So cute, I had to get two!

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Animal vs. Food Scouts

My son just joined Cub Scouts. It seems like such a wholesome, Americana thing to do. My husband calls it paramilitary with the salutes and handshakes and pledges and all, but my son just thinks it’s cool because he’ll get to shoot bows and arrows and bb guns – such a boy thing.

Yesterday, we were in the car and he asked about Girl Scouts.
“I’m a Tiger Cub and the Boy Scouts have Bear Cubs too. What do Girl Scouts have?” he asked.
“When I was your age I was a Brownie Scout,” I told him.
“Oh, so Boy Scouts have animal names, and Girl Scouts have food names,” he concluded.
How cute! “Well, not exactly,” I explained. “Brownies are a type of fairy.”
“Like the tooth fairy?”
“Kind of.”
“So if a brownie fairy comes after you lose a tooth, she’ll leave a brownie under your pillow instead of money?”
Seems logical in a 6-year-old sort of way!

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Juror #248

WARNING: I get a bit long winded. Please forgive me.

Jury duty. Hmm. I’d been called twice before. The first time was for jury in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I had already moved to Phoenix. It would have been a big commute so they let me skip it. The second time was when I lived in Phoenix, but I was eight months pregnant, and they told me they didn’t want me going into labor at the courthouse, so I was excused.

No real good excuse this time. I had mixed feeling about the whole idea of jury duty. I might be cool to see how the whole process works, but not very cool to sit around all day knowing that I probably wouldn’t be picked for anything. Alas, I got my butt out of bed early Thursday morning and headed over to county courthouse. I had to be there by 8 a.m., which is about two hours earlier than I’ve been forced to go anywhere in the last two and a half years. I know, boo hoo.
After passing through security, I headed to the basement of the courthouse to the jury waiting room. Never had I seen such a diverse group of people. There was a woman who looked like she had just come from the gym in her spandex capris, a huge man in a huge sloppy red t-shirt and sweats, a guy who, if he had been wearing a hoodie, would have looked exactly like the Unibomber, business people with their laptops, a college girl who looked scared – you name it and he/she was probably there. I also took note of how quiet the room was. I know that we were all strangers, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room full of adults that was so quiet.
After the juror orientation, I settled in with my book (Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol – really good, by the way). I figured I’d have lots of time to read and might even finish it up; however, two pages into reading, the first bailiff came into the room and began calling names of people to head up for the first jury selection. What was that? Juror 248, Vordermark. That’s me!
As I stood at the side of the room, I could see the look in other jurors eyes – part “you lucky duck,” part “argh, I have to sit here even longer now.” But I was thinking, “Awesome, I’ll get to go home early!” If I only knew.
The walk from the bowels of the courthouse to the third floor was ominous. The ceiling was so low in places that I had to duck my 5′ 11″ frame down so I would take a blow to the head and have to sue the county! There were pipes and beams along the stairwell walls. It was obvious that the basement was not originally meant for daily occupancy or for people over 5 feet tall.
Fater climbing three flights of stairs, we arrived at the jury room of Courtroom 303C. Eighteen adults in a 20′ X 20′ room with 13 chairs. If I thought the jury waiting room was quiet, that was nothing compared to this tiny room. Strangers all waiting for the unknown – it was a bit like a social experiment. Those who weren’t looking at the old magazines on the table were just looking around at each other, trying not to make eye contact. If this weren’t a non-competitive task, I’d say we were all sizing one another up. People probably were suspicious of me as I was looking around at all of them and then scribbling furiously in my little notebook (so I could write this!). Oh well, that’s just what I do. I’m juror #248. Boy, did I need my chai.
So after a few minutes we were all led into the courtroom. I was asked to sit in the front row, center. Good view, I guess. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney seemed really young and nervous. They asked the potential jurors questions. Some people answered more than others. I spoke a little but not too much. Then decision time came. It was sort of like the draft. The judge asked the attorneys to make their first picks or rejections. One by one my front row bench mates were sent home. “Woo hoo, I’m going to get to go home early!” Wait, wait. “Mr. X, please take the first seat in the jury box. Miss Vordermark please take the seat next to him.”
Me? Did the judge really say my name? Yeah! I mean, Boo. Yeah – the girl with glasses finally got picked for the basketball team. Boo – I don’t get to go home early like the other lucky bas*@#ds. So the final jury count was five men and me. So I’m the only one with boobs and am by far the youngest by at least a decade. So it goes.
For the sake of not being long-winded (is it too late?), I’ll cut to the opening statements…you know how we’re all human and tend to make snap judgments, well it’s hard to not do that as a juror. But I got over it pretty quick. As I sat there listening to the prosecutor, I was thinking, “Easy. Case closed.” Then the defense attorney spoke. “Oh, you mean there is another side to the story? Hmm. What now?”
The case involved two criminal misdemeanors having to do with domestic violence. Great (said with sarcasm).
The hardest part of the whole day was listening to a 911 call from the defendant’s wife. She was sitting calmly and unharmed in the witness chair while it was being played, but her voice was terrified in the call. My eyes began to well up with tears. But I’m a juror…poker face, poker face. I kept telling myself that the woman was safe – she’s OK. Don’t cry. How bad would that look? The sole female juror starts crying. I suppose the prosecutor would have eaten it up.
It was interesting sitting there listening to the witnesses (police officers, the wife, the defendant) and hearing how stories drastically changed from the night of the incident to the day of the trial. We, as jurors, had to figure out which of the evidence to take as fact. It was quite an overwhelming feeling. You are making decisions that are going to affect people’s lives. In the end, we found the defendant guilt on all counts. It was a hard decision, but the right one to make legally.
I took away a new found respect for the legal system and the jury system in particular. You have to keep emotion out of it. There are strict legal guidelines that must be followed. But thank goodness for that.
My civil duty has been fulfilled – at least for two years!

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Minimalist Family Tree

I confess. I’m a home decorating magazine and TV show junkie. Most of the time I see wonderful projects that would look great in my home, but often my actions stop there. I wish I had the time to pull off even a quarter of the projects I see on TV or rip out of magazines. (You should see the “idea files” I have. Think heaping file folders overflowing with inspiration. Sad, really, that they hardly ever get to fulfill their creative destiny!)

Though, if I think about it, I am a bit crafty, at least with simple projects. I think it was in a magazine like Domino or Blueprint (two of my favs that went under) that I came across the idea of creating a “family tree” with small blank canvases, printouts of old

family photos and decoupage.

It’s very minimalist, but I think it’s a great way of highlighting the photos rather than their frames. It’s also minimalist in execution – print photo, glue onto canvas, let dry, and glue over the top.

It really is that simple.

Here’s what you need:

* Blank artist canvases (I use 8” X 10” ones.)

* Decoupage glue (I use Mod Podge but plain white glue works too.)

* Paint brush (I use a small foam brush.)

* Photos (Don’t use originals.)

First, use your computer’s photo editing program to crop and enhance your photos to your liking. I used the “sepia” coloring effect on all my photos for consistency. Some of my originals were black and white and some were color, so using the sepia color made them all look like they came from the same era.

Print out the photos in various shapes and sizes. I made some of the photos square, some horizontal rectangle, some vertical rectangle. Making them each a bit different in size and shape adds interest. Be sure to let the photos dry before cutting them out or handling them, as printer ink has a tendency to smudge onto the canvas if it’s not dry when you glue them on (I learned this the hard way).

Next, paint the decoupage glue onto the entire back of the photo and press photo onto the canvas. I place a paper towel on top of the photo while pressing down so that my fingers do not get glue and printer ink on them and smudge the canvas. If you do get a little ink smudge on the canvas, just use a damp paper towel and wipe it away gently.

Let the photo dry on the canvas before preceding. After the photo is dry, use the foam brush and carefully paint the glue over the top of the photo and onto the entire canvas front and sides. The photo will have a milky look, but once dry, the entire canvas will have a glossy sheen. You’ll see the brush strokes a bit when dry, but I think that adds to the character of the pieces.

Tip: Paint the glue sparingly, but entirely, over the photo. The more brush strokes on the photo, the more likely the ink is to smear.

If you like, once the entire canvas is dry, you can put on another coat of decoupage glue. This will add to the glossiness.

After everything is dry, hang the canvases up. Voila! You have a one-of-a-kind family tree.

Easy peasy. Now go be crafty!


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Yummy Autumn Soup

I love autumn…the leaves start to change into brilliant shades of yellow, red and orange, skies are bright blue but there is a chill in the air, and you can start to eat yummy soups and chili for dinner again.

Luckily, my kids (6 and 2) are pretty agreeable to eating chunky soups – at least most of the time. We’ve conditioned them to like all kinds of beans, so when we throw in beans and sometimes small pastas, they never seem to notice the sneaky vegetables hiding in the soup. Hee hee. I’ve done a lot of experimenting to see what I can get the kids to eat without fussing.

Here is one of the recipes for kid-friendly pasta fagioli that I’ve come up with. The original recipe is from a Rachael Ray, but I’ve tweaked it a bit.

Pasta Fagioli

4-5 slices of bacon, chopped

1 small (or 1/2 large) yellow onion

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped (chop same size as carrot and onion)

1 bay leaf

1 clove of garlic (optional)

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoon tomato paste

4 cups of chicken stock

2 cups of water

1 can (15 oz) of cannellini beans (or white beans or black-eye peas, whatever you have on hand)

1 cup small pasta (like orzo or small salad pasta, again whatever you have on hand)

Heat a large saucepot (I use a dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add bacon to the pan and cook until crispy. Add the bay leaf, garlic, onion, celery and carrot to the pan and cook until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, stir into mixture and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, water and beans to the pot and bring liquids up to bubble. Cook for about 10 minutes and then bring up to a boil. Add pasta to the liquid and cook until tender (cook time according to package directions).

Once pasta is done, serve.

I sometimes make crunchy croutons to put on top. If I don’t have the time or inclination to make croutons then I serve it with bread for dipping in soup. Hope you like it as much as we do!

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Dream Job or Just Dreaming?

So if I could have any job in the world what would it be? Hmmm. It would have to be something creative. Something involving travel. OK, who am I kidding? I know I would love to be a travel writer. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been into writing. And my parents were kind enough to instill a travel bug in me – from my dad taking me on business trips with him to places like Boston and Maine, to my mom taking me to London for spring break when I was a freshman in high school, to my parents letting me study abroad in Melbourne, Australia, during my senior year in college.

When I was in high school and the editor of my school paper, my aspiration was to be editor-in-chief of French Vogue. Oh la la! Still would love to do that – even more so now that I’ve been to Paris. Though I have to admit, the high fashion aspect of Vogue scares me a little. Do they have a French Vogue home edition? That’s a little more up my alley these days.

The reason I bring this all up is that there are two shows that I’ve caught recently that make me dream. The first premiered tonight on The Sundance Channel. It’s Man Shops World. Keith Johnson is a buyer for Anthropologie (who doesn’t love those stores?). He travels the globe seeking out wonderful furniture, accessories and other items for the stores. How fabulous is that?! Please give me thousands of dollars, a plane ticket to France (or anywhere for that matter), and free reign to shop. What a lucky guy!
The other show was called Confessions of a Travel Writer, which was on the Travel Channel in August. Though the show has only aired the premiere episode and had mixed reviews, it made me decide that I needed another writing outlet; hence, this blog. And it made me realize that I need
to get out and travel more, again. Though my life is fully consumed with the busy-ness of a first-grader, a silly 2-year-old, and a great, but often traveling husband, even little trips give the gift of newness. Hence, a train trip from Portland to Seattle in August with the kids. It was a little adventure and just what I needed. No car meant the kids and I went by train, bus, foot and taxi. A little break from our usual minivan-ed lives.
So for me a little writing, a little travel and a little dreaming keep the soul happy.

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