Sunday, March 26, 2017

Weekend Round-Up

Book Club Recommends

This compelling mystery novel starts off with a few sentences that hook the reader.

"If I'd blinked, I would have missed it. But I didn't, and saw something fall from the rear deck of the opposite ferry. It could have been a bundle of trash; it could have been a child size doll. Either was more likely than what I thought I saw: A small wide-eyed human face, in one tiny frozen moment as it plummeted towards the water. “

The premise of the story what would you do if you saw someone dropping a child off of a passing ferry boat? Jump off into the freezing waters of Lake Champlain from your passing ferry boat, of course! This is exactly what our heroine, Troy Chance did in this first mystery debut novel by Sara Henry. Then what would you do if no one reported the child missing? Take him home because you just know his safety is in your hands---maybe not---but Troy did because of a "feeling".

The theme of this story was very different from what one would expect, but Sara Henry actually made it seem realistic. This small, French speaking boy, Paul, clung to Troy but wouldn't or couldn't tell Troy exactly what happened to him. But he did know that he saw someone shoot his mom, and those same people kept him in a room by himself for a number of months. It is an exciting adventure with life threatening situations Troy goes through solving mysteries along the way.    

With this award-winning first novel in a series , Louise Penny introduces an engaging hero in Inspector Gamache to the reader. 
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, a methodical, experienced, brilliant detective, comes to the town of Sûreté du Québec with his team of investigators. They are called to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal. 
Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it's a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.
The title refers not just to a painting, but to the way some people live their lives. Rather than actively pursuing their hopes and dreams, they wait for good things to come to them.

Some Creative Peeps Ideas  

Drink Stirs
Peeps Nests 
Peeps in a Jar
Check out 11 DIY Peeps ideas for Easter

Spring for this recipe
Strawberry Crumb Bars
Cook's notes: These bars are perfect with a cup of coffee in the afternoon, or a scoop of ice cream for an easy spring dessert. The base is made with just butter, flour, a little sugar with some cornstarch. It’s shortbread-esque, and perfectly firm to support the thick layer of berries. The streusel has large crumbles with a nice crunch, and the delicate butter flavor pairs so well with the strawberries. And for the piece de resistance add a drizzle of almond icing. A spring birthday treat for Robert Frost' s birthday.

Recipe adapted from
For the Base

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter , softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp. Saigon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
For the Strawberry Layer
  • Dice 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of strawberries to equal 2-1/2 cups
  • 1 TB. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp.  cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. orange zest 
For the Streusel Topping
  • 1/4 cup butter , melted
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar, light or dark (I used dark)
  • 2 TB. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. Saigon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup regular oats
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper leaving an overhang on each side. Grease with butter or non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  • In a large bowl beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. Turn the mixer down to low and beat in the flour, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt until combined. The mixture will be crumbly. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. 
Cooking tip: Flour your hands for this step. 
  • Bake for 13 minutes.
  • While the bottom layer is baking, make the strawberry layer and topping. To make the strawberry layer toss together all the ingredients (strawberries, cornstarch, sugar & orange zest) in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
  • To make the streusel topping, in a medium bowl stir together all the ingredients using a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula. It will be crumbly. Place in freezer for 10 minutes. 
  • After the bottom layer is done baking, remove it from the oven. Let crust cool 5 minutes.
  • Carefully spoon the strawberry mixture over the shortbread base until it's evenly covered. Then add the crumbled streusel mixture over the strawberry layer. If you make a fist around the streusel and release your hand - it should form crumbles.
  • Bake for 30 minutes until the streusel topping begins to turn golden brown and you can see the strawberry layer bubbling underneath.
  • Cool completely before icing the bars. Place bars in refrigerator 15 minutes to set icing. 
Almond Icing Ingredients and Directions:
Whisk together until smooth 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 1-2 TB.fresh orange juice and1/4 tsp. almond extract.  

Biggest Find of the Day in Downtown Tucson-a little taste of home 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Can You Spring for Another Chicken Dish?

One chicken dish served two ways
Moroccan Grilled Chicken Kebabs
Cook's notes: A tasty grilled skewered chicken marinated in a Moroccan style spice blend. Serve the chicken over saffron rice with fresh pineapple pieces.  Recipe serves 2-4  and was adapted from
Note the recipe did call for pita bread to be more authentic but I had to substitute flour tortillas which was all I had available. The substitution worked fine.  
Cooking tip: I grilled skewered meat on lightly greased foil piece rather than directly on grill.
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breast, cut into large chunks
  • 2 TB. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 TB. olive oil or Lemon Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp. each paprika, cumin and oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. each cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • red onion chunks
  • tomato chunks
  • large slices of sliced zucchini
  • Mix all ingredients except chicken in a bowl. Add chicken and coat evenly. Cover lightly and refrigerate to marinate at least 20 minutes or several hours.   
  • Skewer the chicken with zucchini pieces, tomato, red onion and zucchini
  • Grill over medium heat about 10 minutes a side. Turn once.
Grilled Chicken Souvlaki Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce
Cook's notes: Follow the same steps above to grill the marinated chicken with onion, tomato and zucchini. Place cooked skewered meat in pita bread and serve with Tzatziki Sauce. 
Cooking tips: Make sauce early in the day before serving for flavors to meld. Cucumbers are watery, After dicing them place on a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt to draw out the moisture.  
Tzatziki Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup diced cucumber
  • 1 container (5.3 oz.) Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp, olive oil or Lemon Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp. each dill weed and parsley flakes
  • a few grinds of sea salt
  • dash freshly ground pepper
Tzatziki Sauce Directions:
  • Whisk to blend smooth.
Pair both meals with Mango or Lemon Sorbet

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring for a Chicken Dish

Sheet Pan Balsamic Herb Chicken and Vegetables 
Cook's notes:
This healthy easy, 30 minute sheet-pan dinner is loaded with vegetables,  seasoned with balsamic and herbs. There are lots of possibilities being creative with your vegetable choices. Recipe serves three to four.   
Did You Know:When using olive oil and balsamic for a marinade the ratio is equal parts. 
The secret to tender pieces of chicken is marinating them in buttermilk for a few hours in the refrigerator.  
Short cut: Buy veggies already precut in the produce department.

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1-1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
Balsamic Veggies and Chicken:
  • olive oil spray
  • 3/4 cup diced sweet red pepper 
  • 4 cups of veggies e.g. asparagus pieces, cauliflower florets, small baby carrots, broccoli florets
  • 1 small red onion, cut in chunks 
  • 2 TB. balsamic vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 TB. extra-virgin olive oil or lemon olive oil 
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. each dried basil and parsley flakes or 3 TB. each fresh basil and parsley  
Advance prep: Marinate chicken chunks in a plastic zip loc bag in 1 cup buttermilk  for several hours. Drain and pat dry. 
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a large rimmed baking sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • In a bowl add olive oil, balsamic and herbs. Mix well. Toss the vegetables and marinated chicken pieces with mixture, adding onions and sweet peppers. Coat well. 
  • Spread veggies and chicken evenly on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast about 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and carrots are al dente. Stir occasionally.
  • Serve warm with long grain and wild rice mixture. Time saver: use a box mix. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Happy Birthday Billy Collins

Billy Collins March 22, 1941

  • Dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, Billy Collins is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself. 
  • Collins’s level of fame is almost unprecedented in the world of contemporary poetry: his readings regularly sell out, and he received a six-figure advance when he moved into the publishing world in the late 1990's. 
  • He served two terms as the US Poet Laureate, from 2001-2003, was New York State Poet Laureate from 2004-2006, and is a regular guest on National Public Radio programs. 
  • In 2002, as U.S. Poet Laureate, Collins was asked to write a poem commemorating the first anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11. The reading was in front of a joint session of Congress held outside of Washington D.C.
  • He likes to compare his poems with his architect wife Diane Olbright's buildings. Diane has been designing buildings for several years now and her landmarks have survived everything and they are still standing tall. And in the same way, Billy's poems are so strong and extraordinary that no matter how many years pass, they shall always be read and recited by future generations. 
A link to Collins's books

Carrot Cake 
Cook's notes: A simple but flavorful moist cake packed with lots of flavor to celebrate his special day. So easy to put together and even better when shared with a friend over a cup of tea or coffee while enjoying his poems.
Cake Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs beaten 
  • 2 tsp. baking soda 
  • 1 cup white sugar 
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 TB. Saigon cinnamon 
  • 1-1/3 cups vegetable oil 
  • 1-3/4 cups grated carrots 
  • 1-1/2 cups crushed nuts e.g. walnuts or pecans
  • 1 cup white flour 
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour 
  • optional 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained 
  • optional 3/4 cup toasted coconut 

Cake Directions: 

  • Grease a 13 x 9 glass pan.
  • Reserve 1/2 cup crushed nuts for topping. 
  • Beat eggs, add in rest of ingredients.
  • Mix well beating for about 2 minutes. 
  • Bake @350 degrees for 25- 30 minutes. 
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients and Directions:
  • 3 cups powdered sugar 
  • 1 TB. vanilla 
  • 3-oz. package softened cream cheese 
  • 1/2 cup milk-add more in as needed to get right consistency
  • Beat all ingredients until smooth and sprinkle crushed nuts on top of frosting. 
  • Refrigerate until serving and remove about ½ hour before serving. 
by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins, “Forgetfulness” from Questions About Angels. Copyright © 1999 by Billy Collins. Reprinted with the permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Envoy is a clever poem written on the back flap of the book "Aimless Love".
by Billy Collins

Go, little book,
out of this house and into the world,

carriage made of paper rolling toward town
bearing a single passenger
beyond the reach of this jittery pen
and far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.

It is time to decamp,
put on a jacket and venture outside,
time to be regarded by other eyes,
bound to be held in foreign hands.

So off you go, infants of the brain,
with a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:

stay out as late as you like,
don’t bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cheese Tortellini with Lemon Roasted Asparagus

Cheese Tortellini with Lemon Roasted Asparagus 
Cook's notes: A springtime dish that's easy to prepare and bursts with lemon flavors and roasted asparagus. It's great served as a side dish.  Broccoli can be substituted for asparagus.
Recipe adapted from and serves 3-4
For the roasted asparagus or broccoli  

  • 1 lb. broccoli, cut into bite size pieces or 1 bunch of asparagus cut into 3 inch pieces 
  • 1 TB. olive oil or lemon olive oil 
  • 1 tsp. balsamic white vinegar
  • 1 TB. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 lemon slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
For the Tortellini
  • 1- 9 oz. package cheese tortellini (refrigerated I used Buitoni but frozen works also)
  • 1 TB.butter
  • 1 TB.minced shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dash of crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups packed fresh spinach
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the broccoli or asparagus pieces on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic. Add the garlic and lemon slices, toss broccoli or asparagus until well coated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. 
  • Roast for 20 minutes, stirring once. Remove broccoli or asparagus when it's crisp and slightly charred. Remove lemon slices and tent a piece of foil to keep asparagus or broccoli warm. 
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook tortellini according to package instructions. When cooked, drain, reserving  1/4 cup of the pasta water. Set the water and tortellini aside.
  • Put the pot back on the stove and melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic and crushed red pepper. Saute 1 minute. 
  • Turn the heat to low and add in the reserved pasta water, cooked tortellini, lemon juice and spinach. Cook on low until spinach is wilted about 1 minute. Add in Parmesan cheese and asparagus or broccoli. Stir and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm and add lemon zest over the dish. 
Spring Washes Over the Desert Landscape

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rejoice-First Day of Spring

Add some 

to your life with a fresh lemon dessert.
 Lemon Pie Bars with Whipped Cream
Cook's notes: Fresh lemons brighten this dessert and the crunch of a cookie almond crust makes it irresistible. Coconut and almonds can be toasted ahead at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.  A food processor works well for making cookie crumbs.   
Pie crust 
  • 1/4 cup each  toasted flaked coconut and almonds
  • 2 cups finely ground vanilla wafers
  • 2 TB. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3-4 TB. melted butter
Pie filling:       
  • 1- 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk 
  • 1/4 cup + 2 TB. heavy cream 
  • 5 large egg yolks 
  • 1 pinch salt 
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest 
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 TB. powdered sugar 
Whipped Topping
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped 
  • 2 TB. powdered sugar, to taste 
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 by 8-inch baking dish. 
  • In a food processor add cookie crumbs, melted butter, granulated sugar, cinnamon, toasted coconut and almonds. Pulse a few times  until mixture is evenly moistened. Press mixture into an even layer in prepared baking dish. Bake 8 minutes in preheated oven. Remove from oven and cool completely (about 30 minutes). 
  • To a large mixing bowl add, sweetened condensed milk, 1/4 cup + 2 TB. heavy cream, egg yolks, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and beat mixture until well blended. Pour into cooled crust.
  • Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 28 minutes, or until edges appear set and middle still slightly jiggles. Cool at room temperature 1 hour, then cover and chill 3 - 4 hours, until set. 
  • Cut into bars and top each serving with whipped cream and grated lemon zest.  
  • Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekend Round-Up

Easy Easter Egg Ideas
Book Recommend
I recently wrote a book review for "Called:The Making and Unmaking of a Nun" by Marge Barrett, a former classmate of mine. Check it out.

Cactus Blooms at the Tubac, AZ Art Crawl
Artists sharing their talents on a warm 95 degree day.

It's Official-The First Day of Spring is March 20th so... 
Celebrate with Grilled Salmon Tacos and Avocado Salsa
Recipe serves four and inspiration comes from 
Chicken can be substituted for salmon. Avocado salsa can be made a few hours ahead for flavors to meld. 
  • 1- 1/2 lbs boneless salmon, skinned and sliced into 4 equal portions
  • 1 TB. olive oil or lemon olive oil, plus more for grill
  • 2 TB. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp. each ancho chili powder, ground cumin,  onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. each paprika and ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, then more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Avocado Salsa
  •  2 medium avocados (ripe but semi-firm), peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/3 cup small diced red onion, run under cool water to remove harsh bite and drain
  •  3 TB.chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced or 1 TB. green chiles 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2  TB. fresh lime juice
  • 1 heaping TB. chunky salsa 
  • 1 TB. olive oil
  •  Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For serving
  • 8- 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed or 8 corn taco shells, warmed
  • 2 cups thinly sliced red, green cabbage or broccoli slaw 
For the salmon:

  • Preheat a gas grill over medium-high heat. In a mixing bowl whisk together olive oil, lime juice, ancho chili powder, cumin, onion powder, paprika, coriander, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rinse salmon under cold water and pat dry. 
  • Evenly rub mixture over both sides of salmon. 
  • Brush grill lightly with oil, place salmon on grill and cook, rotating once halfway through cooking, until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, prepare avocado salsa.
For the avocado salsa:
  • In a mixing bowl gently toss together diced avocado, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno or green chiles, garlic, lime juice, salsa and olive oil while seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble tacos:
  • Break salmon into small portions and layer over center of tacos, add cabbage, avocado salsa and Cotija cheese or Monterrey Jack Cheese. Serve warm.

Grilling Minnesota Style in March 
Photo courtesy of Audrey Kletscher Helbling 
Check out her blog to learn more about grilling Minnesota style in March. at