Saturday, April 1, 2017

Art for the Soul

*This is not a paid endorsement of Valinda Martin's Art for the Soul, but a post about my own experiences while visiting this store.  I was not compensated in any way and the opinions are purely my own.*

Last weekend while visiting Southern California, I strolled the streets of Balboa Island near Laguna Beach.  If you have never been to Balboa Island, you must take a couple of hours to visit this adorable little place of summer beach homes and eclectic shops.  There are little clothing stores, local food and best of all, gift shops.  I consider myself a creative person, but walking through these shops puts my creative thoughts into overdrive.  I don't normally write posts about stores, but I can't describe all the cool stuff I saw in this one little shop without mentioning it - Valinda Martin's Art for the Soul Gallery & Gifts.  According to the employees, Valinda finds independent artists from around the country and gathers their unique gifts in her little shop.

I wanted to make everything in the store.  The creativity was oozing out of the walls in this store, and instead of trying to describe some of the amazing art, I took the liberty of taking some pictures.

This was the display just inside the door.  Valinda found an artist from Arizona who recycled license plates and makes plaques from the individually cut letters and numbers.

There were several of these little "woodies" and some 60's style VW buses around the store.  They open to reveal a small chest that can be used as a beer/soda cooler.

There is an entire wall devoted to shiny ceramic pendulum clocks.  Look at the quirky designs!  I wanted to take everything home!

Here is a wall of sheet metal sayings.  I loved the way everything was displayed on bright yellow walls.  The bright cheery vibe kept my interest (until my 15-year old son dragged me out).

Finally, I found a wall of wooden plaques made by a North Carolina artist.  While I'm not sure how these were made, it looks like a paper background was made from little pieces of different kinds of paper "modge-podged" into a single sheet that was then copied.  The artist then drew directly onto the paper and the entire thing was again copied (probably for more mass production).  It was really cool.

I'm just scratching the surface of all the treasures in this quirky little store.  (I didn't think it was too polite to stand around taking pictures of everything.)  I will definitely go back again and maybe try out a few ideas I saw in this shop and several others.  If you do get to Balboa Island or their other store in Laguna Beach, stop by and enjoy the creativity on display.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Lemon Blueberry Cake

I promise - last lemon use.  But this is a really good one - Lemon Blueberry Cake.

I first saw this as one of those Delish videos on Facebook and I just had to try it.  This was absolutely the best cake I have ever made from scratch (although I can't say I've made too many).  The recipe comes from Natasha's Kitchen, although I did modify it a bit based on the baking pan.  Her original recipe called for a springform pan, but I don't own one.  I do own a tube bundt cake pan, and based on the modification of her recipe, I was able to create this yummy cake. 

If you are a more serious baker and have a springform pan, use the link above to find her recipe.  If you are using a bundt pan, here's how to make this awesome cake:

3 large eggs
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. (12 oz.) sour cream
3/4 c. light olive oil or vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
3 c. all purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbl. lemon juice
Zest of 1-2 lemons (1 Tbl.)
3/4 Tbl. corn starch
18 oz. (3 pint containers) blueberries*
Powdered sugar to dust top

*Natasha warns against using too many blueberries because it gets too heavy at the bottom.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease the pan with cooking spray.  Beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until thoroughly blended.  Add the sour cream, oil, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth.

Mix the flour and baking powder together and slowly add to egg mixture, about 1/3 at a time until completely blended.  Add a tablespoon of lemon juice and lemon zest and blend.

Rinse the blueberries and in a separate bowl, gently toss them with the cornstarch and the other 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. 

Spoon about 1/2 of the batter into the bottom of the greased pan and then layer the blueberries on top.  Repeat with the remaining batter and berries so you end up like this:

Bake for 55 minutes and after the pan has cooled a little, gently flip it over onto a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This cake makes a great coffee/pound type cake.  If you do use a springform pan or frozen blueberries, check Natasha's Kitchen for the correct measurements.  By using the bundt tube pan, I had to increase the quantities of the ingredients.

We will definitely be making this cake again, certainly in the early Spring when our lemons are abundant and blueberries from Chile are plentiful!  Enjoy!


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lemon Sugar Scrub

I keep saying I'm done with these lemons, but I keep finding uses for this amazing fruit!  Mackenzie found a great non-edible use for lemons.

This is so simple, but creates a scrub that exfoliates and softens your skin without chemicals.  Ready?  Here's how simple this is:

Lemon Sugar Scrub

3/4 cup Granulated sugar
1/4 cup Olive oil
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

Mix well.  I doubt you can store this for a long time because the ingredients are perishable (when the oil goes rancid).  This is great next to your kitchen sink or try it on your feet (just watch that oil near anything that can be stained).



Saturday, March 11, 2017

If Life Gives You Lemons

You know it - make lemonade!

A while back I posted a picture of our lemon tree here.  That was back in February and since that time I have made pounds of lemon bars, cleaned multiple times with lemons, freshened the garbage disposal, and yes, made lemonade.  I still haven't made a dent on that tree.  I am making a very gallant effort though.

I can't claim credit for this lemonade recipe - it comes from Paula Deen.  However, it is very simple to remember.  Two cups of sugar/two cups of lemon juice and a gallon of water.  What makes this recipe perfect every time is a trick I call - start HOT and end COLD.  Anyway, here's the recipe:

2 c. sugar (or Stevia/Truvia or other measure for measure sugar substitute)
2 c. fresh lemon juice
1 c. hot water
enough water to fill remainder of 1 gallon container

Put the 2 cups of sugar in the bottom of a dry gallon pitcher.  You can use all sugar substitute instead of sugar as long as it is the kind suitable for baking (i.e. Stevia).  I personally think using all sugar substitute adds a little bitter aftertaste, but it isn't overwhelming.  Recently, I've been combining 1 cup sugar with 1 cup sugar substitute because I'm trying to cut back on sugar.  I didn't notice any difference in taste.  If you don't have a problem with sugar, by all means use all sugar.

Here's the HOT part that is genius.  Heat 1 cup of water and add it to the pitcher with the sugar (or sugar substitute) and stir until completely dissolved.  As a kid, one thing I always hated about lemonade or sweet tea is that I always seemed to have sugar grains at the bottom of my glass.  If you use Paula Deen's HOT trick, it won't happen again.

After dissolving the sugar in the hot water, fill the remainder of the pitcher with water.  Stir well.  Here's the COLD part that may sound obvious, but maybe not.  Serve the lemonade over ice.  A lot of ice.  The more ice cold, the better.  Lemonade actually tastes better over ice, even when it is cold.  Garnish with a slice of lemon or a sprig of mint.

Best lemonade ever and a great Southern recipe from Paula Deen.  If my family drinks a couple of gallons a day, we might clear that tree before the fall!


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Spring in the Desert

It's been a really wet winter here in the Southwest and that results a color we don't often see - green.

If you are in the Midwest (or anyplace else but the desert), this probably looks a bit stark, but for us this is absolutely lush.

Our green is different than the green of grass or oak trees or hydrangea bushes.  It is verde.  The exceptional rain we have had this year has made this cactus fat and happy.

Looks can be deceiving, though.  These are Teddy Bear Cholla (choy ya).  Don't you just want to reach out and stoke that fluffiness?  That would be a serious mistake as it has needles so small they can't be seen, but will bury under your skin.  Ouch!  Beauty here is meant to be observed, not touched or cultivated in another environment.

Sometimes I miss tulips, daffodils and lilies in the summer, but Mexican poppies are also perennial and have the brightest oranges and yellows.

We also have beautiful wildflowers in the brittle bush.  You may know recognize some of them in the heat of the summer or fall as tumbleweed.

It's not for everyone, but after 20 years, I can't imagine Spring any other way.