for huell …

Exactly one year ago today, I boarded an American Airlines flight from Paris to Chicago, having spent glorious two weeks visiting my friend Nina. While waiting to clear customs at O’Hare, I turned on my cell phone only to immediately wish I hadn’t.

You see, in high school, I developed a curious addiction to California’s Gold, a public television show hosted by local television personality Huell Howser. I don’t remember how or when I started watching … I just remember loving it. The premise of the show was simple, Huell traveled the state of California visiting lesser-known towns, landmarks, etc. He had a knack for making even the most boring of places seem interesting and his enthusiasm was truly genuine, as illustrated by his signature catchphrase, “That’s ah-may-zing!”

I never missed an episode and soon, my family became fans of the show too. Shortly after I graduated from USC, my dad and sister had the opportunity to meet Huell while waiting for a flight at the Sacramento airport. He couldn’t have been nicer and even autographed a business card for me (which resides in a frame in my office to this day).

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A few years later, I was asked to organize a local conference in Palm Springs, where Huell lived, and decided to see if he would serve as our opening keynote speaker. Like a true southern gentleman, he was more than happy to do so and stayed well after to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

I will admit, I was nervous to meet him. Would he be as genuine in person as he was on the show? The answer was yes, and more. Huell was someone who truly and deeply loved what he did for a living. He knew people made fun of him – imitating his goofy Tennessee drawl, but he didn’t care. He loved California, the people he met on his travels, and every second of his job.

I digress. On Monday, January 7, 2013, when I turned on my cell phone, I discovered Huell had passed away that morning at the age of 67. I was crushed. But thankfully, I wasn’t alone. For the next few days, local, state, and even some national news outlets were flooded with tributes for our “friend.”

While I was home for the holidays, my family and I spent a lazy, unseasonably warm Sunday visiting some of Huell’s favorite spots. As we drove up windy Highway 49 along the Yuba River, I couldn’t help but smile and be thankful for Huell. He taught me to appreciate the beauty that exists in your own backyard.  I am fortunate enough to have traveled throughout the United States, to Asia and Europe, the Carribean and Central America, but last week, I was struck by the the landscape only a short drive away from my childhood home.

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So here’s to you Huell … my most favorite piece of California’s gold.

diy christmas ornament wreath

Christmas if officially over. I had a great time in Northern California with my family – it was especially fun because my niece Eleanor is 10 months old and this was her first! I did manage to sneak in one holiday craft though, an ornament wreath. You know what I’m talking about … they are in almost every store and even a small one can run you $40. The larger ones are more than $100.

Well, for less than $20 and only a few hours of work, I crafted the a pretty damn-good imitation. Seriously, this was one of the easiest projects I have done that has received the most compliments.

I used a 9 inch foam floral wreath, LOTS of shatterproof ornaments, and hot glue sticks. But seriously, I can’t stree enough you will need LOTS of ornaments in varying sizes. I found the bulk of mine at Ikea and Michaels (during Christmas, they are always at least 60% off). My mom suggested that even the dollar store has some. Whatever you do, do not use the glass ones!

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First, hot glue your largest ornaments to the inside, spacing them every inch or two.  I angled the balls so that the hanger portion was positioned towards the back of the wreath and not visible.  Repeat this step on the outside of the wreath.

ImageNow start filling in your gaps. Start by using your medium ornaments, filling in as needed.  It’s kind of like trying to put a puzzle together. Fill in the rest of the holes with the small and extra small ornaments – I even threw in a few jingle bells for good measure. Be sure to hold the wreath up periodically to spot any missed spaces.

ImageI decided against a bow and instead hung my wreath on a vertical mirror in my entry-way. I have seen some with bows though so feel free to experiment.

I hope you also enjoyed the holidays and have recovered accordingly!

love that dirty water …

A few days after I left Hilton Head, I returned to the East Coast … Boston to be exact. Now, I am a fairly accomplished traveler and in college, I majored in US History, yet I have never visited Boston (gasp!). I knew I needed to remedy this fact and being that I was only in the city for 48 hours, did my best to see as much as I could.

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I began my weekend with an early morning trip to Fenway Park. I arrived at 8am and was surprised to see fans already camped out for Game 6 of the AL Championship – yes, I was in Boston on the night the Sox captured the title. As a Giants fan, I am partial to AT&T Park, but I loved the history surrounding Fenway.

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My next stop was a Duck Tour … typically, I am not a fan of organized tours, but when you have a limited amount of time and want a good city overview, I highly recommend Duck Tours. They use WWII amphibious vehicles that can travel on both land and in water.  Cruising down the Charles River was fun and afforded me views of both Boston and Cambridge.

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I spent my afternoon wandering through both the Boston Public Garden and the Boston Commons. Living in Southern California, I miss the changing of seasons so seeing all the leaves turning color made the entire trip worth it.

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I was meeting two of my cousins for dinner that night in Brookline and after a quick nap at the hotel, managed to sneak in a visit to Harvard – alma mater of my hero, Conan O’Brien.

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I got up early Sunday morning to head to the JFK Library. For those of you that don’t know me well, I am a huge fan of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis so the library was high on my list and luck for me, it didn’t dissapoint. I have been to a handful of presidential libraries and this one takes the cake.  Fabulous views of Boston, amazing recreations of life in the White House, and well, Jackie’s wedding dress!

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The rest of my time in Boston was spent walking part of the Freedom Trail – Granary Burial Grounds, Faneuil Hall, State House, Boston Massacre site. The weather was perfect and everyone I encountered was SO friendly … and I loved the “T” (subway). I never had to take a cab anywhere!

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There is still so much I want to see and I am planning a return trip back in the spring to visit my cousin deMarigny, who I didn’t get to visit this time around

chapel of ease

I am currently in Hilton Head for work. Like any good parent, my mom decided to mooch off of me. Yesterday, we were going to rent beach cruisers, but the weather had other plans. We quickly shifted gears and made plans to check out the neighboring town of Beaufort, South Carolina (about an hour drive).

During our drive, we stopped by St. Helena Island, known for its impressive historical district. As we drove through the center of the island, I was struck by the beauty of it all.

ImageImageJust a few minutes past the historical center lies the Church of Ease ruins. The chapel was built in 1740 to serve the plantation owners on the island. The main parish was located in Beaufort proper and many found it difficult to make the journey each Sunday – therefore, this church “eased” the burden of attending services.

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During the Civil War, the church was used by northerners occupying the island and educating former slaves. Sadly, it was destroyed by a forest fire in 1886 and has never been re-built. I think that adds to its charm.

I could have stayed here  all day  …

pickled shrimp

Although it’s October, this past weekend in southern California was brutally hot! It was 88 degrees at the beach – with no breeze – and we beach folk do not have air conditioning! On Sunday, I needed to make something for a Girls Happy Hour the following day, but the thought of turning on my oven was not pleasant. I remembered a recipe for pickled shrimp I had seen in Southern Living and decided that because it didn’t require any form of heat, it was the right recipe.

After letting the shrimp marinade over night, I was convinced I had made the right decision. The olive oil gave them a buttery taste and the herbs added complexity. Delicious, healthy, and easy!

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Pickled Shrimp

1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 garlic clove (I used 2)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 pound cooked and peeled medium shrimp
Salt and pepper

ImageAdd olive oil, vinegar, dill, parsley, Creole seasoning, and garlic in a small bowl. Add lemon and onion to a large Ziploc bag. Add oil mixture. Add shrimp to the bag. Toss to combine.

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Chill for 2 to 6 hours. Remove from marinade. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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I served mine on simple crackers and by the end of the night, it was gone!

the best sugar cookies known to man, woman, cat, dog, gremlin, etc.

The last few weeks at work have been hectic … I was working 12+ hours a day and my attitude wasn’t so hot. I survived by the skin of my teeth and then spent a week in Tahoe detoxing. When I got back home, I wanted to do something nice for my coworkers who put up with me, although I’m sure they complained once or twice behind my back. I’m know for baking and decided that would be the best way to show my gratitude.

I dug through my collection of recipes and stumbled upon this recipe for sugar cookies with sour cream frosting and decided my coworkers would be the perfect test subjects.

I made more than four dozen cookies and folks, they were gone within 24 hours. I didn’t try one myself until late in the day, but OMG, yeah, they are amazing.

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Sugar Cookies with Sour Cream Frosting

1 C Butter (room temperature)

3/4 C Vegetable Oil

1 1/4 C Sugar

3/4 C Powdered Sugar

2 T Water

2 Eggs

1/2 t Baking Soda

1/2 t Cream of Tarter

1 t Salt

5 1/2 C Flour

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Cream together butter, vegetable oil, sugars, water, and eggs. Combine dry ingredients and slowly add to butter mixture. Mix until everything is combined.  Your dough should be a little crumbly and not sticky at all. Roll a golf ball sized ball of dough and place it on your cookie sheet

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To give the cookies their edge, put 1/4 c of sugar and a pinch of salt in a dish (this is in addition to the sugar and salt listed above.)  Stick the bottom of a glass in it.  This is going to be your cookie press. Firmly press it into the center of your dough ball.  You want your dough to spill out over the sides of the glass.  If there is a lip its even better.

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Bake at 350 for 8 minutes.  They should just barely be browning on the bottom.    Move cookies to a cooling rack.  Once they are cool put them in the fridge.

Sour Cream Frosting

1/2 cup room temperature butter

3/4 C Sour Cream

Approx 1 2lb Package of Powdered Sugar

1 t salt

1/4 C Milk

Food Coloring

Start by creaming together butter and sour cream and salt.  Slowly add powdered sugar.  When it gets so thick it’s not frosting like add a splash of milk.  Alternate this process until your frosting is the desired consistency.  Add 1 drop of food coloring and whip on high for 1 minute.

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Then, try and not eat a bakers’ dozen on your own. It’s harder than you think. Or so I’ve heard.