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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where in the World is...the SPI FFF???

I know I keep disappearing.  All I can say is it has been quite a couple of months!  Graduation, Spa Day, parties, and now, Run to Hear.

Regular readers will know my youngest son, "the teen", is deaf and hears with cochlear implants and also has Asperger's Syndrome and a few other issues to contend with.  He has a group of friends...friends since they were toddlers... he maintains contact with, despite our moving 350+ miles away from the closest one.  They call themselves The Deaf Club, and all now have cochlear implants to help them hear. 

In 2010, a few of the girls were hanging out together and decided they wanted to pay it forward.  They wanted to give to others who were, perhaps, less fortunate than themselves.  They wanted to help a child receive a cochlear implant who had no other way to get one.

Thus was born the original Run to Hear 5K in June 2011.

Well... we just did it again!  June 23rd, 2012 was the second annual Run to Hear 5K.

I'm not going to go into a ton of detail - but we do have a website and I hope you check it out.
We've even become an incorporated non-profit entity, Run to Hear, Inc. (it's great having an attorney as one of the parents) which allows all of the donations to the organization to be tax deductible.
Just after the race at lovely Lake Pflugerville Park - the teen was
happy another 5K was under his belt!

I wrote a "Morning After" post on our website and hope you might take a moment to read it, and, to read the first page, at least, of our website.  It gives lots of information about our cause and how we use our funds to help "pay it forward".  We are already planning for the 2013 event.  I would love it if any of my running readers...or people interested in deaf individuals having access to sound... would follow our Run to Hear blog posts, either by adding to your RSS feed (upper right side of the Run to Hear main page for that option) or via email (bottom left side of the Run to Hear main page for that option).

My teen coming across the finish line at the
2012 Run to Hear 5K.

Now, while I was in the Austin/Pflugerville/Lago Vista area - I did eat out a lot.  I went to all my favorites while I was around and about for the event and all the preparatory work involved.

We stopped at Schlotzsky's for a sandwich the minute we hit town.  It is one of the things I miss most in the lower Rio Grande Valley.  No Schlotzsky's :-(   We love the location on Brodie Lane in Sunset Valley - our old stomping grounds when we lived in Austin.  I was able to stop at Michael's for a few additions to my Baking and Decorating arsenal while the teen scooted next door to Barnes and Noble for some reading material.  We love that little shopping center!  It's home.

The next day we ran errands and ate at Serrano's at the Lake Line location since we were coming into town from Lago Vista.  Excellent Tex-Mex restaurant.  Another favorite!  I usually try to hit the Texican Cafe at Lake Line...but the teen wanted a burger and the burgers at Serrano's are as good as the Tex-Mex.  It was a win-win.

After packet pick-up we were hot and hungry and we stopped at Pok-e-jo's Arboretum location for some delicious barbeque and big glasses of cold drinks.  I had pork ribs and brisket, green bean casserole, and banana pudding with a huge iced tea.  The teen had a sausage plate with mac and cheese and fries...can you say carb lover?  It was usual!

After the Saturday morning race, I was so parched all I could think about was getting a Sonic Drive-in Diet Limeade... I love their ice.  After nearly getting lost in Pflugerville (oh my has that town grown!), my friend led me to the closest one.  It was awesome...I REALLY love their ice :-)

We had an after-the-race-party at our friends' home and Sharon made the BEST chicken salad.  I am going to ask her if I can make up a batch and post the recipe on my blog.  It was so fresh and summery tasting.  Keep an eye out for that.  Everyone brought something to share and there was a ton of food - all of it outstanding!

We were so tired that evening, we barely wanted to eat.  My sister and her wife had gone to a party so we opted to eat "locally" at Tug's in Lago Vista.  The teen had an excellent burger and Mr. Flip Flop and I both had barbeque (I think I have mentioned how much I love good barbeque).  He had beef ribs and pork loin with a side of cole slaw and fried okra.  I had a very tasty brisket sandwich with a side of excellent creamy potato salad.  It was a very satisfying meal.  It's attached to a gas station, so one tends to wonder...but, like so many good "local joints".... the locals were, indeed, spot on!  My sister thinks they are some of the best burgers in the lake area...maybe all of Austin. I don't know about that, but the teen said his was very good and we liked the BBQ just fine! 

Our last meal out was in South Austin on our way out of town...we stopped at The Beijing Wok for our regular dose of Crack Chicken.  We've called their Sesame Chicken "crack chicken" since my middle son was a student at Bowie High School.  He and his friends would go off campus for lunch and said Beijing Wok's sesame chicken was as addictive as crack.  It will forever more be called crack chicken in our household.  My middle son joined us there for lunch when he found out we were going to stop on the way out of town.  Everyone except the teen ordered what we expected, and the teen ordered Shrimp LoMein.  He doesn't care for rice, so LoMein is almost always his choice at a Chinese restaurant.

We hit the road for home after 4 days in Austin and it felt so good to sleep in my own bed that night! 

So, THAT is where in the world the SPI Flip Flop Foodie has been.  I can always bring my stories around to food, because no matter where you are, or what you are doing .... you gotta eat!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Cafe on the Beach at The Palms Resort

Father's Day 2012... Sunday morning late, we head towards the island on a gloriously sunny beautiful day.  We motored past a few of our favorite restaurants (it was almost 11:00) looking for someplace where breakfast was still being served.  Brunch, breakfast, whatever!  Every place we rolled by was packed to the point of bulging.  I finally turned to Mr. Flip Flop and said "do you have a suggestion?"  He said, "yeah, I'd like to go to the place at the Palms, the one on the beach".  YAY!  We'd never had breakfast there and I hoped they were still serving breakfast.  Considering it was Sunday and Father's Day, I reckoned we had a decent chance.  We knew we'd have a good view even if we were nudged towards the lunch menu.

We went at JUST the right time.  There were a few tables for two left (the teen had snubbed us again) and we were right at the edge where we knew we'd have an exquisite view as soon as the sun screen was raised.  Soon thereafter, the place was packed with nary a chair to spare.  Really good timing!

The waiter everyone is staring at - he balanced 4 plates up his arm
and several drinks (like 4) in one hand...
balanced on the edge of his thumb.
He was quite entertaining and could probably get a job
in the circus if the gig at Palm doesn't work out!!!

It was already getting hot, and the breeze only hit my legs because the sun screen also blocked the breeze from the top of the railing upwards.  It wasn't unbearable, but it was pretty warm - especially after the hubs started drinking coffee.  He eventually asked for ice and poured his coffee on the rocks - iced coffee a much better idea.  I'd already been brilliant and ordered their tropical iced tea.

We were lucky that the menu said breakfast was served until noon on Saturday and Sunday!  Woo hoo!

My breakfast choice was Eggs Benedict.  My better half requested the Breakfast Taco with sausage.  I could have sworn the menu said two, but he didn't remember (and when I double checked, it didn't).  It was fine, because I couldn't eat all of my meal, it was so rich.  He ended up eating half of my meal!

Now - I didn't get to try his Breakfast Taco, but he said it was delicious.  It looked delicious!  Generously filled with scrambled eggs, pork sausage, and cheese.  A side of salsa and a small cocktail pick of fresh fruit made for a pretty plate.

My Eggs Benedict were nicely presented with a side of has browns, crisped just the way I like them, and the same spear of fresh fruit.  I felt the Hollandaise could have had just a squeeze more of lemon, but maybe that was just me.  The Canadian bacon was a generous thick slice and the eggs were perfectly poached.  The English Muffins were more dense than I would expect, but again, might have just been me.  It was a nice celebratory breakfast option that was out of the ordinary for me and I did enjoy every bite.  (I can't say the last time I've ordered Eggs Benedict anywhere!)

The sun was just peaking over the roof when we finished our meal so we never did get to linger to look at the view while dining.  I did snap a photo as we were leaving, which I'll share here.

Hello, ocean!  I love you!

It seemed as if every family was in good spirits and even if the food took a little longer than usual to get served, I don't think a single soul cared.  The staff were very attentive and jovial and it was a lovely South Padre Island Sunday and Father's Day.  The Palms is a quirky little place, with a surprisingly nice beach side cafe.  I'm glad we decided to spend Dad's special day dining at The Cafe on the Beach at the Palms Resort!
From the parking area

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

Cafe on the Beach at the Palms Resort on UrbanspoonStumbleUpon

Monday, June 18, 2012

Longhorn Cattle Company and BBQ - San Benito, TX

Trying to head to the island on Saturday was impossible - we made it less than 4 miles that direction and it took an eternity.  We stopped at Wal-mart and turned around and headed home.  The hubs recommended we take a trip into Harlingen to see a movie since all the traffic was headed in the opposite direction!  Sounded like a plan to me :-)  The teen opted out of joining us (he's anti-parent whenever possible these days) so we had a date night!

We went to see Men in Black III and really enjoyed it.  I even shed a tear or two towards the end.  Since it was a date night, we'd elected to eat dinner in town and Mr. Flip Flop said "why don't we go to that barbeque place you are always wanting to go to?"  I responded "Longhorn?"  He said "yeah, the one off 77".  My face lit up, I'd been wanting to go there for a couple of years now and every time I wanted to stop it was either packed or I missed the exit.  Today, we were in luck!  I didn't have my regular camera, so once again, we just have cell phone photos.  I have GOT to start carrying my camera!

Upon arrival, the parking lot was full but we snagged a spot when someone was leaving.  I snapped a photo of the building and texted it to my Facebook friend, Lisa Turner, and said "guess where we finally got to?"  I knew she would laugh, because she and her husband Bill run this business.  I thought she was out of town so imagine my surprise when she responded "I'm coming over"!

Lisa's a friend I feel like I know well.  She is a friend of a friend from Central Texas and we connected because she lives in the area where I now live and her Dad lives in the same tiny town I live in.  We have a common love for horses and food ...and talking.  When she walked in the door, we were just being served and I recognized her immediately, and she me (thanks to FB photos!) and we greeted and hugged as old friends would. 

My first job in high school was working in a meat market with a pit included off to one side and one of my Saturday duties was being the barbecue I do know my cue!  Many a week-end, I went dancing after work with my hair smelling of oak wood smoke!  Didn't matter how many times it got washed, I always smelled like a fire pit on Saturday night.

I had lamented online a couple of years ago that there were no good BBQ joints down here in my new home.  She encouraged me to stop by their place.  I surely meant to get there sooner...but better late than never!  WOW...when I walked in, I knew I'd hit the jackpot.  The ambiance, the longhorn head and cattle skulls and horns on the wall, the old photos, the wood, the awesome SMELL of a real pit.  Felt like home!

Lisa and her husband are good people.  They care about their staff and the quality of food as well as service.  It was evident by the many staff stopping by our table to say hello that she is well-liked - and that all flows over to the good atmosphere.

As I said, our food was just arriving when she arrived - and the first thing she did was ask me what kind of brisket I liked.  I said a mixture of moist and lean.  We had a discussion about the cap of the brisket and the excellent marbling which created a mouthful of goodness.  She had our waiter get us a sample of their cap, since my plate had lean beef on it.  It was incredible I will say - you could cut it all with a fork, but that brisket cap was like buttah!

I got ahead of myself here.  The menu is extensive with the standard meats expected at a BBQ joint, but there is also an array of fine steaks available.  I think quite a bit of that night's crowd were there for a pre-Father's Day dinner.  Lots of family groups enjoying steaks as well as traditional brisket and sausage. 

We started off with iced tea for both of us...I LOVED the iced tea glasses!  They were a small pitcher!  It was a good glass of tea, with a lime on it and a straw.  Just the way I like it.  Big enough not to require a refill, which messes with my "mix" of lime and sweetner.  When I have it just the way I like it, I don't want someone topping it off!  This pitcher glass worked great.

They start with their famous "bean soup".  I'd heard people rave about it online, and they weren't making things up!  They were tasty beans, served in a ceramic coffee mug. Tastes just like my Momma makes.  LOVE it. (I loved just about everything you'll find out).

I got the two meat combo, with brisket and baby back pork ribs.  Potato salad, cole slaw, and pickles/onions on the side with a big piece of thick white bread (the kind you make Texas Toast out of).  Since I was yammering with Lisa the entire time, my husband polished off his sausage and brisket plate, and I loaded most of my ribs onto his plate, he finished my beans, and held up his hands to ward me off when I could only eat half of my sides.  I told him when we walked out I was glad I had chatted - if Lisa hadn't been there I would have cleaned my plate and been miserably full for the rest of the evening!

The smoke ring on the brisket was perfect, and even the lean meat was moist.  The pork rib I ate was flavorful but I will say I'm not the biggest fan of the baby back part of the rib...they are lean and meaty, but the bigger, juicier spare rib part has the fat that makes them moist.  The flavor was excellent, but Lisa immediately asked if the ribs were a little dry. She has a good eye. They were, slightly, but not so that I wouldn't absolutely order them again.  I love me some pork ribs, whichever part of the pig they come from!   I enjoyed the potato salad - homemade obviously with skin on potatoes.  The coleslaw was exactly the way I like to make it and they had good BBQ sauce!  Happy, happy girl. 

I felt happy as I fell into bed Saturday night.  I'd seen an entertaining movie, met someone in person I had only known "virtually" and felt like I'd liked and known her forever, and I'd had an awesome real Texas BBQ dinner in a real cattleman's environment.  What more could a Texas girl ask for?  Not much, I tell you, not much.

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

Longhorn Cattle Co. BBQ & Steakhouse on UrbanspoonStumbleUpon

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Travaasa Spa - Austin

I joined my friend, Diana, and two other ladies for a day and night at Travaasa Spa on Lake Travis last week-end.  It was a special birthday for my friend and her oh-so-thoughtful husband treated her and 3 of her friends to a very nice evening and day of pampering.
The girls are ready to hit the road - Diana had no idea
what we were doing or where we were going.  It was
a successful surprise!

I was not focused on photos so I have a mix-up of pictures from her camera, my camera, and my cell phone!  The resolution is low, but it is what it is!

We were transported to the spa by a driver in a very nice black Suburban (or some other brand - but you get the gist).  We enjoyed a bottle of champagne as we were enroute to the spa...woo hoo! 
Our driver opening the champagne

We checked in and were driven to our accommodations in a golf cart and after checking out our fabulous rooms, decided to head to the bar for a drink!
One of our extremely comfy rooms!

After being side-tracked by the view from the patio, overlooking the Cypress Creek arm of Lake Travis, we were escorted to the bar by a staff member who was recommending a special cucumber drink. 
On the restaurant porch prior to dinner.

We ended up with a concoction (not the cucumber drink) that knocked my socks off...not in an alcoholic way, but just the best drink I have ever had in my life (and let me tell you, in my younger days, I have had a LOT of drinks!).
The birthday girl and our bartender

I can't even remember what the bartender called it, but I carefully watched everything he did.  Since I don't know the name, I'll call it the Travaasa Lemon Drink...that's how we all referred to it at the table as we ooohhed and aaahhhed over the fabulous flavor.
Very entertaining bartender!  We would have enjoyed
having him join us for dinner I think!  Or maybe it was the
cocktail talking :-)

Here's what was in it:

St. Germaine Elderberry Liqueur
Fresh Lemon Juice
Sweet and Sour
Topped with Champagne and
A Lemon Twist, squeezed until the lemon essence floated on the liquid.

Served in a Martini glass... it was AWESOME!!!

We would have continued with those I imagine, but he used the last of the St. Germaine's Liqueur.  So, we moved on to the Cucumber Cocktail.  It was refreshing...and had I drank it first, I would have likely enjoyed it immensely.  Unfortunately, it was a slow second to the fabulous first drink.  Being the rare drinker that I am, I was already slightly tipsy from the champagne and the cocktails.  I was ready to focus on dinner!
I was feeling pretty darn happy by this point!

Being a spa, the menu incorporated full nutritional value of each item.  We were on an all-inclusive package so we could choose pretty much what we we all had appetizers, main meals, and dessert.  Of course!  We started with bread and olive oil with a peach vinegar...delish!  I loved that they used so many local sourced and organic products.  Made it all the more special!

Sharon perusing the menu

We all selected the same appetizer - it sounded so delicious.  Good choice - it was just the perfect size and the flavor was pure delight.  Due to my somewhat tipsy state, I don't remember everything that was listed on the ingredients...but the gist was Butter Lettuce Cups (3 on the plate) with a morsel of filling including grilled portabella mushroom chunks, ginger, and I don't know what else.  It was just delicious and we all ate every bite.  I don't think anyone had anything to say that wasn't pure positivity!
Butter Lettuce Cups - you pick them up and eat like a taco.
Absolutely delicious!

My friend, Sharon, and I selected the grass-fed Texas Wagyu New York Strip (described by the waiter as the same style of beef as the Japanese Kobe - the cows were treated and fed the same, just here in Texas).  The sides were itty bitty Brussel Sprouts from  Oak Hill Farms, a small serving of poblano scalloped potatoes, and a sauce of ancho aioli.  I ordered my steak medium and Sharon wanted hers "pink on the inside".  Mine, in the center, veered closer to medium rare, but that was okay.

The potatoes were decadent - I would kill for that recipe!  I am not a brussel sprout fan, but these were so tiny and deliciously and lightly prepared that I ate every bite of them.  They smelled NOTHING like brussel sprouts (I hate the smell normally).  Awesome sides.  The flavor of the beef when I put it in my mouth was simply outstanding...perfectly seasoned, eye-rolling delicious.  Then I chewed and I chewed and I chewed...and my (and Sharon's) steak was so tough we could barely swallow.  She had to spit out several pieces into the bar napkins (bless her heart she was trying to hide it, but it became apparent that something was wrong).  Now, mine, on the end where I started was not THAT bad - and I was taken in by the flavor of the meat.  But, I couldn't eat the middle of the steak at all.  I stopped trying when I shook the entire table trying to slice through it - that tough.  Very sad.  Thank goodness that this $36 piece of meat was in the inclusive plan - if I'd had to pay for that out of my pocket I would have been pissed.

Normally, I would have complained - but it was my friend's birthday and I didn't want to do anything to rock the happy boat we were riding on thanks to those great cocktails, the awesome environment, and the bonhomie of good conversation with good friends.

Diana and Melinda had a preparation of Pan Seared Gulf-caught Black Drum served over kale and topped with roast oyster mushrooms with an herb beurre blanc.  Both agreed the kale was not tasty at all (not bad tasting, just not flavorful) and was tough to chew.  I tried a bite of Diana's and I had to agree. The black drum and the oyster mushrooms were outstanding and perfectly prepared.  One would hope that everything would be awesome in a destination resort restaurant of this calibre.  Pity.

We all selected the same dessert - which was declared 100% fabulous by all four of us!  It was listed as pound cake with almond paste, fresh strawberries, and a ganache topping.  The portion size was perfect and it was not highly caloric.  Very, very tasty.  A perfect ending to the meal.  We sat there for two hours eating and talking.  Absolutely wonderful dining experience (sans the meat and kale issues)!
This was delicious - just the right size.
White plates in a dark restaurant...
just don't photograph well and
no matter what I did, I couldn't make
it look better.  BUT, it was good!!!

We sat on our patio and drank another bottle of champagne until nearly midnight, listening to the cicadas in the trees and enjoying a peaceful and star-lit Texas Hill Country night.  We retired to our two rooms and climbed into supremely comfortable beds with exquisite sheets and a glorious down comforter.  We slept peacefully under a whirring ceiling fan with a chilly air conditioner.  Heaven!
The front porch - one room on the right and the other on the left
made it feel like it was all ours.

The next morning, after showers in the gorgeous bathroom, and coffee on the patio (they provided Texas Coffee Traders Breakfast Blend in the rooms) we walked up the hill to the restaurant for brunch.  We sat on the patio overlooking a gorgeous valley and the lake.  It was cool and spa-like!
The balconies were lovely in the morning - overlooking
hiking trails and nestled in the tree tops

We all selected omelets for breakfast.  Diana and I had more coffee and Melinda and Sharon had freshly squeezed orange juice (they said it tasted freshly squeezed, so I assume it was). 
Sun in our eyes as the sun rose...but still a lovely cool morning
for breakfast on their patio

Diana had a spinach and cheese omelet and the rest of us had ham and cheese. With a side of chunky breakfast potatoes (perfectly prepared) and a side of delicious whole grain toast for me and apricot and pecan scones for the rest of the girls - we had an enjoyable hour preparing for our day and ridding ourselves of any lingering hangover effect!
My usual - I dug in before realizing I hadn't taken a photo...
oh well...

The girls said this scone (Apricot and Pecan) was outstanding.
There was apricot jam on the side as well.
View from the breakfast table

We walked over to the spa and got the tour of the pool area, locker rooms, and boutique before Sharon and I were in line first for our awesome facials.  O*M*G - that was an incredible experience.  I have had many a spa massage, manicures, pedicures...but never EVER have I had quite that luxurious of an experience.  I felt like a limp piece of linguine after that!  My aesthetician, Cat Cat, had the hands of an angel...with just the right pressure for the arm and hand massage I enjoyed while my white clay mask was doing its thing...whatever kind of pack she put on my eyes completely obliterated the puffiness...I was so renewed!  Sometimes people come out of facials looking like someone has beat them up.  I felt like I glowed!
View from the pool area

At infinity edge of the pool

We met up with the girls and enjoyed a sample of all the appetizers pool-side (no photos - my brain was mush and I didn't even consider it) since we'd had a late breakfast.  The beautiful infinity pool overlooked that same fabulous view of Lake Travis and the canyon leading down - you felt like you were in the middle of no-where...when you were, in fact, not far from the intersection of Volente Road/Anderson Mill Road and RR 620!  Wonderful location.

Sharon and I nibbled, drank sodas, cucumber water, and were lazy as we waited for Diana and Melinda to complete their treatments.  We nixed the pool as we didn't want chemicals to touch our beautifully treated faces!

Then, we slowly made our way to the Welcome Center where Diana's husband was waiting to pick us up.  What a fabulous experience!  Thank you Gerald for including me in your wife's birthday celebration.  It was a memorable experience!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Poached Chicken Summer Salad

Poached Chicken Summer Salad
Much to the dismay of the teen, Pizza Friday has morphed to Salad Friday!  He is not a fan.  I am fine with his making pizza for himself if he desires - but he has to clean up - and pizza from scratch is a messy endeavor for him.  He generally takes a different path :-)

This Friday night I had some cubed boneless skinless chicken breast leftover from a mid-week batch of home-made chicken nuggets. The plan was to saute them and use them as my salad toppers.  However, I'd been reading a bit about poaching and it prompted me, at the last minute, to try poaching these chunks.  I read that the trick was allowing the chicken to cool in the cooking liquid, allowing it to maintain its juices until service.  I often have a complaint that poached meats end up dry...which seems odd, but it is what I experience.

This is how I prepared the chicken ...and I didn't measure so these are all approximate...sorry.  I also am very aware this is not traditional poaching - purists please don't ding me.  We are rarely pure in my kitchen.

Poached Chicken Chunks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili and garlic paste
3/8 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
About 1 cup of chicken broth
1 large boneless, skinless breast,
        cut into medium to large chunks

Heat oil, chili and garlic paste, and sesame oil in pan, stirring to evenly distribute the paste.  Add chicken chunks, turn to coat.  At this point, I was going to saute and then the light bulb went off to add liquid and I added the chicken broth.

I brought the pot to a low boil and immediately reduced heat to simmer.  I put a lid on because my pan was shallow and I didn't want to lose all my liquid before the chicken was cooked through.  When it appeared "done", I removed from heat, removed the lid, and allowed to cool.

I tasted a piece and was pleasantly surprised at the tender moistness of the chicken chunks and the mild flavor with just a hit of heat at the end.  Perfect for a salad topper where I don't want to have the taste of the chicken overpower the fresh taste of the salad ingredients.

My husband's salad is the one with halved cherry tomatoes.  I laid down a bed of lightly chopped baby spinach mixed with chopped iceberg lettuce.  I circled his with the cherry tomatoes.  Tomatoes are always so colorful and pretty - but I can't stand fresh tomatoes (childhood trauma).  I know, by smell and appearance though, when they are good.  These looked delicious.

I peeled, quartered, and diced 1/2 English Cucumber and divided it between the two salads, I cleaned and sliced 3 green onions, tops and whites, and sprinkled half on each salad.  I had already boiled 3 eggs and had them peeled and cooled.  I quartered them...and since hubs got more of the chicken and tomatoes, I got the extra egg (only seemed fair).  My avocado was partially brown, so I diced what was good and split between the two salads.  I topped each salad with chicken chunks (I ended up cutting each piece in half because they were a bit large for bite size) and topped with reduced fat Feta Cheese crumbles (one of the few cheeses where I cannot tell the difference between the traditional product and the reduced fat product).
My salad - extra eggs and no tomatoes - yum to me!

We both ate every bite of our salads - if I can say so myself, it was really dynamite!  The slight heat of the chili and garlic paste was delicate and flavorful and allowed all the Summer Salad flavors to shine through.
In this photo you can see flecks of the garlic and chili paste...yum!

Another excellent Summer Salad!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!StumbleUpon

Friday, June 8, 2012

Baby Shower Cookies

Cookies for Baby Ivy's Baby Shower...for my sweet niece Jennifer!
My niece, Jennifer, is having a baby!!!  She's having a late-life baby and it always seems extra special to get one of these little gifts from Heaven when you aren't expecting any more.  My sister and her wife are giving her a baby shower this week-end...and while I will be in town, I had already made other plans before I knew about the shower...and no way can I fit two things in one time frame.  Since I'm going to miss Baby Ivy's Shower, I decided to make some cookies and leave them for the party.  That way I'll be there in "cookie spirit".

I tried my hand at stenciling for the first time with royal icing.  I learned a lot during the 3 day endeavor!  I had watched some YouTube videos on the subject but I would have been a wiser baker/decorator if I had reviewed them prior to getting started!  All I could focus on was trying to get a flat layer of base for the stencil.  Then I ran out of pink icing and decided to try stenciling on a bare cookie.  Might have gone okay if I'd not used flood icing.  Duh.  Way too thin.  Still, it was a good learning opportunity and they weren't intended to be "the good cookies" anyway.  I also learned USE THE 1.5 TIP for writing ding dong (and thicker icing)!!!  Anything larger and looser just spread in a most unattractive manner!

I baked late Tuesday night, laid down the base coats and the ones I wanted to do wet-on-wet Wednesday, and then MADE myself wait for Thursday morning to ensure a good dry base to use the last of my 20 second icing to use for the stencils.  I saved back 6 cookies, thinking I'd just freeze them when I came to realize I wasn't going to have enough pink to base coat them...then I had the bright idea to do the bare cookies.  As I said above - learning experience!

All-in-all, it was a good lesson.  I stopped and looked at  Sweetopia's video (which I'm linking here) which helped me realize what I'd done wrong and which gave me a good hint for adding some 3-D effect by piping on top of the stenciled design.

Of course, I wanted to use an ivy stencil because the little sweetie will be named cookie stencils of that type to be found but I discovered a really long stencil meant for borders at Hobby Lobby for a reasonable price.  I grabbed it and cut out a small piece that worked nicely for the large cookies.  I used an Ateco Double-sided Square Cutter Set.  I decided on the second largest size...and then made a few of the smallest size as well for some bite size cookies.

I'm happy with the cookies - and know I learned a lot from the process.  I'm eager to utilize some of the other stencils I have on hand and maybe acquire some more.  This was quite fun once I got the hang of it!

As usual, I used the World's Best Sugar Cookie recipe and Royal Icing recipe I obtained from a class at Central Market in Austin many years ago.  I flavored the icing with both Pure Vanilla Extract and a bit of Almond Extract.  I didn't really intend to decorate with white, so I used real vanilla...maybe not the purest white, but it was okay.  I'm really liking that combination of flavors these days.

Below are photos of the various stages of the process...including the good and the less-than-stellar!

base coats and some wet on wet

The small bite-sized cookies before highlighting with disco dust
These are the ones I tried first - not so great...

I tried some highlighting and decorative accents...helped a bit.
These were done with properly thickened 20-second icing.
Much more crisp outline and only needed
a bit of embellishment to get the look I was going for!

I think I had been scared of my new PME 1.5 and 1.0 tips I got from Karen's Cookies... but after this experience, I'm loving them!  Getting even dots and controlled writing were soooo much easier with these awesome tips.  Thanks for reading!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

Photos from Lana Stokes snatched from Facebook.  Wish I had been there - the food and decorations were awesome.

The cookie and cake table - I love the decor!

The cookie plate
The food table - isn't this cute!
I love the baby buggy watermelon display for a centerpiece

I don't know who made this adorable display of
fruit skewers interspersed with profiteroles and
homemade chocolate sauce for dipping.
I'm truly sorry I missed trying those!!!