Welcome to the Sushi House

In a world where I could fluidly move from one loving profession to the next whenever I fancied, I would delight to find my niche as a cultural anthropologist. (…Only to quickly return to my beloved classroom shortly thereafter I am sure.)

I am intrigued by cultures. I am fascinated by the world’s customs, traditions, history and of course food!

Last summer we had the greatest pleasure having one of our friend’s mom surprisingly join us in our first ever attempt to creating our own Japanese meal. I guess after multiple calls asking how to properly make (shari) sushi rice, it became apparent to her that her physical presence was much needed. I am truly thankful she joined us. It is a great memory I have and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to receive even a pinch of knowledge on her expertise in authentic Japanese cuisine, namely sushi.

Sushi making is no joke! It is not a meal you could free-spiritedly accomplish. It requires a refined technique and unique tools. (In our case, even a desktop motorized fan was needed.)

 

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Thirty or fifty years from now I wonder if these these authentic food preparation customs will still exist. Or will our increasingly growing “quick meal” rituals be the new norm? I wish I could say my Mexican meals come close to my mother’s, or hers to my grandmother’s, but with each generation something is lost. As a culture enthusiast, my hope is that foundational heritage is never lost…

I would love to know some of your own authentic culture-based recipes and challenge you  to get together with your family and/or friends and help preserve genuine meals!  :)

On the Menu:

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Transporting Terrariums

Many moons ago serendipity drove us to a notorious desert terrain that has left us enamored with desert-living ever since. Something about the calmness of the desert truly speaks to me. The juxtaposition between the classic dry heat and the cooler breezy nights is something I welcome gladly any time of year. The blazing 98+ degrees forces you to slow down in your movements and creates opportunities for you to simply marvel at the details found in nature– the sounds, the smells, the entertaining beauty found in all living organisms (tiny and large).

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And  then there are these:

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Beautiful, eye-popping, only to be seen and never held, cacti. It only took one foot planted into our first visit to a cactus garden for me to fall in love with this lovely succulent family.

Ever since then I have been longing to capture the beauty and peacefulness we found in the desert into our own home. It started with one planting; but just as the infamous cat lady finds it difficult to not welcome another in, I cannot turn away from a cactus.

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Sweet husband knows this gal prefers cacti over roses any day!

To better control them however, I began to house them in random glassware I already had lying around the house.

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And then came the BIG one! The one that transports me back to my loving desert life every time I see it.

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The steps to creating a cactus terrarium are simple.

You will need these supplies:

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1. glassware 2. cactus soil 3. gravel 4. horticultural charcoal 5. cacti 6. optional sand and decorative rocks

Step 1:  Place a good tall layer of gravel inside your glassware.  (1-2 inches)

Step 2:  Place a layer of horticultural charcoal on top of the gravel.  (1/4 inch)

Step 3:  Place a layer of cactus soil on top of the horticultural charcoal.  (3-4 inches)

Step 4:  Plant your cacti in whichever fashion that is most appealing to you.

Step 5:  Place near an area of sunlight and get ready to be transported to desert-living.  :)

A true desert oasis in deed!

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Jingle-Jangle Let’s Ginger Spangle

Oh, the magic of gingerbread house making… endless possibilities, treats galore, and above all… sweet memories to last a life time!

Fair Warning: Be prepared to devote several hours, perhaps even a couple of days to complete this festive activity.  (IMPORTANT: All the hours spent creating these houses are what make this such a joyful activity to do with family or friends.)

Part I:  The Bread Making

As part of a very sweet wedding gift, my husband’s aunt created a family recipe book for us.  Included in this very thoughtful gift is a recipe for molasses cookies which my husband’s family uses to make tasty gingerbread houses.  This recipe is what we used to make our gingerbread house.

Part II:  The Planning

This year we used the pattern cut-outs my husband’s aunt included in the family recipe book mentioned above.  Again, one of the great things about making gingerbread houses however is that it welcomes creativity.  Here and here are some great websites that offer free printable patterns that are sure to get you going.

Part III:  The Assembeling

This year we assembled our house with the help of melted sugar.  Melted sugar will give a very strong hold but it can be tricky to use because you have to use it quickly before it cools.  Also, the melted sugar can give a pretty bad burn if your skin comes to contact with it.

(This part required such über quick and synchronized teamwork that sadly no pictures could be taken to document the high intensity event that took place.)

Part IV:  The Gathering of the Loot

This is the time to gather all sweet toothers dear to you and go all out.  Go ahead!  Revert back to your childhood memories and BE that wide-eyed kid in the candy store. =)

Part V:  The Decorating

This recipe allowed us to create four gingerbread houses so we invited a few friends to join us in decorating.

And here is our 2011 gingerbread home!

The sweet creations made by friends:

I loved the gummy bears that encircled this entire house. Oh so cute!

 

This house was the perfect embodiment of a winter wonderland!

We enjoyed doing these so much that we are thinking of having an encore next month… Valentine’s GingerLove House anyone??? If there are any takers out there, I’d love for you to share pictures of your GingerLove House here with me next month.  =)

Posted in Food, Holidays | 3 Comments

Advent: The Coming of Something Important

One of the many joyful things about Christmas is the length in which the season lasts.  Unlike other holidays, with Christmas, we get to bask in the enchantment of the holiday to come for a whooping four weeks!  Full disclosure notice: The holiday spirit runs full force from the day after Thanksgiving all the way to the 25th in our house.  And why not?  With so much cheer throughout this month it is simply too difficult to resist breaking into dance and song à la Jack Skellington as he first enters Christmas Town.

A very sweet way to ensure a little bit of Christmas each of the 24 days leading up to the big day is through an advent calendar.  Not only does the interactive calendar allow for a small treat to be enjoyed, but it also provides a peaceful time to reflect on the reason for such jubilation– the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Advent calendars can be very easy to create.  All that is needed is some form of storage that will house a small treat and a bible verse “address” for each countdown day.  Here is a quick and easy way to create your very own calendar:

Step 1:  Cut any piece of desired fabric into a 3″ x 6″ rectangle.

Step 2:  Place a thin ribbon of your choice about 1/2″ below the top edge of the 6″ side.  Carefully fold fabric down just enough to cover the ribbon and sew along the bottom edge made by the fold.

Step 3:  Fold the rectangular fabric in half and sew along the necessary edges.

Steps 1 through 4, with step 2 illustrated by the black arrows and step 3 illustrated by the orange lines.

Step 4:  Turn small sacks inside out and stencil in numbers 1-24.

Step 5:  Hang small pouches on a string across your mantle or banister.

Let the official 12 days of Christmas begin! =)

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The History of Us

Christmas is an extra cheerful time of year.  When glowing lights are hung lovingly throughout the town, and cold blistery nights offer the perfect excuse to cuddle in just a little bit tighter.  Where family traditions are made, and when special time for friends and family is held.  Yes, it truly is the “most wonderful time of the year”.  A time to take in all the goodness there is in the world, and reflect back on the many ways we have been blessed all year.

Years back, before I could have ever imagined I would be so lucky to marry my husband, I gifted my then boyfriend of six months a Christmas ornament that reflected a special moment we shared that year.  The year was 1999 and the event was his high school senior ball.

Just two young kids. Going to a dance as friends.

A year went by and the two of us became like two peas in a pod– happy to simply be next to each other.  I figured I would keep up the ornament gift-giving tradition and captured this memory in the ornament below.

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And so as years went by, without ever knowing where time would take the two of us, like a historian, I began to collect pieces of our past each year that passed by and recorded a memorable event of that year through an ornament.

And then, in 2007, after eight easy years of courtship, we took a big leap together and decided to marry!  And although the timing was more arranged by the fact that the upcoming Winter break would be the only time I would have any time off, in retrospect, marrying just days before Christmas in the very same hall we attended senior ball together back in 1999, coincides perfectly with us.  Christmas Eve eve was  truly a very lovely time to marry, and continues to be a darling sweet time to celebrate another year of marriage to my bestest friend and love.

Being that our wedding day was so close to Christmas, and ornaments had helped document history leading up to our big day, we had handmade ornaments for our guests to take as a wedding favor that day.

2007- Wedding Favors

Now that we are wed, each Christmas we get to enjoy in a little bit of extra magic all season long as we get to light up our tree filled with memories of our time together.  And the great thing about this dear tradition we started is that now we get to add a new ornament to the collection each passing year to come.  If a big event happened that year, such as when I received my first teaching job, or we bought our first car, or turned the big 30, we record that through an ornament.  More special than that however, and true to our new history in the making we are creating, every wedding anniversary we celebrate, I create an ornament made from whatever anniversary gift material that corresponds with each year.

2008- Paper Anniversary: Bird made out of construction paper.

2009- Cotton Anniversary: Cotton fabric sewn into a heart, stuffed with cotton balls.

2010- Leather Anniversary: Tree made out of leather material.

With December 23 still days away, I am in the process of working on our 2011 four-year anniversary ornament.  I would love to share a picture of this silky craft, but it will have to wait until my sweetheart actually receives it.

Happy Christmas everyone! And happy history/tradition making to all! =)

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“Slick Deals”

It is possible I might have a small problem…

I find it very difficult to pass a good deal when I see it. I am not talking about the BOGO type of deals– although those too can produce a skip in my step from time to time. No, I am talking about those jaw dropping deals that bring the total price to 90% off or more its original price.

The problem? I go to great lengths to score these fabulous deals IF I really want it.

Such was the case about a month ago when my husband walked in the bedroom at around 11:00pm to let me know that mixbook.com was offering a photo book shipped for a dollar and change. Just take a look at the whopping savings below:

11×8.5″ Classic Landscape Hardcover Photo Book, 21 pages $30.99
$1.00
Quantity Name Description Price
1 11×8.5″ Classic Landscape Hardcover Photo Book, 21 pages $30.99
$1.00
——
Subtotal: $1.00
——
Shipping and Handling: $10.99
Shipping Discount Applied: ($10.99)
Sales Tax: $0.09
——
Order Total: $1.09
You saved $40.98.

Needless to say, the fact that I was already half asleep in bed did not keep me from getting in on this deal. My darling husband brought me my lap top and off I was creating my book…

About two hours of sleep that night, and a couple weeks later, I was delighted to receive this lovely $1 purchase!

A recipe book filled with meals my family loves.

Aside from sharing this fabulous offer from MixBook, I also wanted to offer a bit of advice as to where this and other fabulous deals can be found from time to time. This particular offer was posted on Slick Deals. The site is great for all sorts of items, but has a strong emphasis on technology items. Another site I love to visit is Hip 2 Save. This site focuses mainly on grocery, home supplies, and restaurant deals. I love it!  Woot and Fat Wallet are two other sites you might want to visit if you would like to score on some great deals.

Happy saving everyone! =)

Posted in Family, Food | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

I’m Just Mad About Saffron

Ready. Set. Name that tune!

I’m just mad about Saffron.
Saffron’s mad about me.
I’m just mad about Saffron.
She’s just mad about me.

saffron threads

Saffron Threads

 

Ah saffron, your contribution to Valencian paella is undeniably striking. Not only do you exude a vividly bright representation of my favorite color, but you also supply a unique taste of earthly tones to the dish. Yes, I am just mad about you.

Undeniably, without the use of saffron you simply cannot make paella. Although a bit of an intimidating dish when based solely on the number of ingredients it requires, paella is actually not too difficult to create– just be ready to devote a good 2+ hours to complete this classic Spanish meal.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

3 cups of Spanish rice
1 lb of fresh shrimp
1 lb white clams
1 lb black mussels
1 lb tilapia fish (seasoned with black coarse pepper and a pinch of salt)
2 lobster tails
2 lbs of chicken meat
1 Spanish sausage (sliced)
1 yellow onion (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
1 cup peas
1/2 cup of green olives
1/4 cup capers
2 tablespoons of tomatoes paste
1 cup of olive oil
6 cups water
Sea salt (to taste)
1 bunch flat parsley leaves (chopped)
1 chicken spice mix pouch
25-35 threads of  saffron

 

Everything but the kitchen sink right!? This is indeed a bit of a splurge, but it should feed at least 8 healthy portions and the blend of these ingredients will provide a unique experience to your taste buds.

Here are the steps to making the meal:

  1. Rub a mild spice mix all over the chicken and marinate for one hour.
  2. Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a large paella-like pan on medium to high heat and brown sausage. Remove and set aside.
  3. Slice chicken into bite size chunks and brown all sides. Remove and set with cooked sausage.
  4. In the same pan, add remaining oil and saute onions, garlic, and half the parsley for about 3 minutes.
  5. Add tomato paste and allow ingredients to meld.
  6. Fold in the rice and allow the grains to fry a bit.
  7. Pour in water and simmer for 10 minutes remembering to gently move the pan so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid.
  8. Gently fold in chicken, sausage, capers, peas, and saffron to pan.
  9. Carefully tuck seafood items and green olives into the rice.
  10. Give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, for about 15 minutes. (If it seems like you might need to add more water, add just a small amount now.)
  11. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the rice is filling the pan, add the lobster tails. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up for 40 seconds until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom.
  12. Garnish dish with remaining parsley and lemon wedges.

*Recipe adapted from the Food Network’s Tyler Florence.

This is such a gorgeous meal to make for special occasion dinners. I hope you will try!

By the way, the tune to be named at the top of this post is Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow”. Made famous in 1966. Close to 50 years later, it is still a very catchy tune in deed!

Tune was used in this recent 2011 Mello Yello ad.

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Antsy With Anticipation

I cannot possibly be the only one whom this has happened to. Can I?

It begins, as with many things, with an idea. You get a thought in your head that you will accomplish something. Before actually attacking this self-given task, you play the task in your head as a way of measuring how things will go. After what you believe to have been careful consideration, you gleefully decide to go for it! Suddenly, typically when you are knee-deep in and there is no turning back, reality hits. “Ooooh my goooodneeess! What was I thinking?!?”

Such seems to be the case with the current bedroom upgrade. Specifically the allover wall stenciling that is taking longer than anticipated. The overall look is fabulous! It appears to be making the room look  a lot more spacious, and I absolutely love the design. That is just it however, the more incredible the pattern looks, the faster I wish it would all be done so we could see the whole effect. The road ahead is longer than expected, but there is only one way to go– onward!

Here is a little bit of what the room currently looks like:

 

 

 

 

 

And here is a close-up of the pattern:

damask wall stencilYes, this wall upgrade project requires several days of commitment. The effect is superb however. Should you opt to go for it, you can check out Royal Design Studio for a wide selection of patterns, and browse the video below. My hope is the video can be used as a tutorial for anyone looking to create an allover stencil design. (In the beginning of this video, I point to the scoring marks to show how to link one stenciled pattern to the next.)

The keys to starting this project are:

  1. Find the exact center of the wall you will stencil.
  2. Secure the stencil to the center of the wall using painter’s tape.
  3. Use a level to make sure the stencil is straight.
  4. Using a medium-sized sponge roller, apply a light layer of paint through a vertical up and down motion. Working from the middle of the stencil pattern out seems to give the best effect.
  5. These steps should be followed for each new stenciled pattern applied. Using the level is absolutely crucial for the first 15-20 stenciled patterns. About two full diagonal rows in, you could skip out on using the level.

 

 

 

Posted in Home Sprucing | 2 Comments

The Roaring 20′s

Today marks twenty years of having a little sister. That’s right– the sweet little baby girl that came into my life back in 1991 enters the excitement of her twenties today. To mark this new decade in her life, at her hinting request, I will be helping her design and create a new bedroom.

Thanks to MyDeco I was able to create this mood board that hopefully encompasses the vision she has shared with me.

Stephanie's Yellow Damask Room

Aside from the glass bowl, although a very tall order, the goal is to DIY every item pictured above. Some items will be exact, and some will be inspired by these images. I expect the whole process will take a couple weeks to complete, but I look forward to the end result.

Posted in Crafts, Family, Home Sprucing | 1 Comment

From Candle to Cake

Sometimes, part of the appeal in eating begins with the presentation. Take a cake stand for example. The way the stand elevates treats closer to eye level almost as if to tempt your craving to the max. And how the stand creates a pleasing atmosphere for each item that is placed on it therefore making it even more irresistible than if it were just sitting on a napkin. Yes, there are many things I love about a cake stand. In fact, it seems to me a cake stand’s only fault is its price. For as gorgeous as they can be, when you take its average retail price into account, you suddenly become more aware of how unnecessary and sporadically used they are.

Insert DIY cake stands.

An incredibly easy and extremely inexpensive way to make a unique stand is with the use of a candle stick and a small to medium sized plate.

Simply place a generous amount of glass adhesive all around the top rim of a candle stick and secure a plate on top until glue sets.

 

Here are a few of the stands that I have made:

These are always fun to pull out when guests stop by, or you are celebrating an out of the ordinary occasion at home. Or maybe even to hold your keys and change???… Perhaps your everyday wear jewelery?

Posted in Crafts, Food | 5 Comments