Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sedona Red Rocks

Wow, what a gorgeous place. I can easily imagine how someone who lives in Sedona would never want to live elsewhere. I mean, why would you ever move if you woke up to views like this from your window every morning?

My personal favorite, Snoopy Rock:

Anyhow, we had a promotional offer to spend two nights at Amara Resort and Spa for $169 + tax in exchange for sitting through a 90-minute timeshare presentation at the Hyatt nearby. They also offered us a $200 gift certificate to be used at any of a number of restaurants or spas in the area, so how could we pass it up? I decided it would be a perfect way to spend the weekend of Che's birthday, and it was.

The weather was cold (for Arizona!) but sunny and beautiful. Overnight temps were in the teens but the days warmed up to the 50s, which was perfect for strolling through the shops and galleries in uptown Sedona. The hotel was very nice, although there were some significant snafus that put a bit of a damper on the weekend, the biggest being that the hotel restaurant closed on Friday and did not reopen for our Saturday night dinner reservation, something we didn't learn until late in the day Saturday, or for our planned lazy Sunday morning room service breakfast. After speaking to the manager, though, the hotel did generously offer for us to return for another stay with dinner for two in their restaurant, their compliments. Nice! Looks like we will be headed back for my birthday weekend in February.

The timeshare presentation was fine. Our sales guy was a retired pilot now living in Sedona and working for Hyatt to "keep busy." Totally no pressure, and he was actually a lot of fun to talk to. His wife is a travel writer specializing in the Caribbean, so we shared lots of stories of travels in the Caribbean, and he gave us some great suggestions for future trips. And no, we did not buy (another) timeshare. Anyhow, I digress.

Saturday night, we went to Red Rock Fantasy at Los Abrigados, which is a festival of dozens of displays of holiday lights set up throughout the resort by local families. Visitors vote on their favorites - mine, of course, was the Snoopy/Woodstock display. Afterwards, we ate dinner at Joey Bistro at Los Abrigados, a pretty mediocre meal which left me even more bitter that the restaurant at Amara was closed.

Sunday was a lazy day at the spa at Sedona Rouge, which culminated in an hour-long couples massage for Che & I, compliments of our "free" gift certificate. He had a deep tissue massage while I enjoyed an oh-so-relaxing reflexology/foot massage. Afterwards, he admitted he has never understood why I love going to the spa with my girlfriends and spending an arm and a leg for a day of relaxation. Now he knows better. We're looking forward to doing the same when we go back in February.

Merry Christmas!

A day late, I know. We were busy hanging out with friends yesterday and having a grand time putting together a puzzle, something we haven't done in years. What fun!

Santa was much too good to me this year. Some of my favorites (there is way too much to name it all!) included this gorgeous travel/computer case from Brighton:

This adorable cat pen (to match the dog pen I already have):

And this great kitchen timer, which was MADE for me:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My Neighborhood Market

If you knew my neighborhood, you'd think I was pulling your leg. The fact of the matter is, we live in a pretty sketchy part of town. Okay, really sketchy. (i.e. our next-door neighbor, who we were on a first-name basis with since we moved in three years ago, was convicted of raping a woman in the empty house next door to him after luring her there via a Craiglist ad - yeah, we learned about that when we saw the TV crews setting up shop in our front yard). Basically, during the residential real estate boom here a few years ago, they started plopping down nice, brand-new developments in the middle of what has always been a heavily industrial/agricultural part of town. And then they started commercial development around them, but for some reason, the area around ours has remained undeveloped for a long time.

And then finally a little shopping center down the street from us started opening its doors. First a Lowe's. Yippee for Che! No more 20 minute one-way trips to the nearest Home Depot. Not long after that, the Staples next door opened. Also nice. But the most exciting addition opened yesterday, and I am thrilled. It's our local Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market. Keep in mind that until now, the nearest grocery store was at least 15 minutes away. This market is right down the street. Close enough to walk if I want to (and it's on the loop that I frequently run, so I know it's almost exactly a half mile from my house). I have been anticipating this market for months and can't believe it's finally open. I've been reading the Fresh & Easy blog almost daily for updates on their stores and to learn about their concept, which impresses me.

We stopped in tonight to check it out, and I am in love. The size is comparable to a Trader Joe's, so you can be in and out quickly. ALL of the checkout lanes are self-check, which makes me soooo happy, although their clerks are there to bag your groceries for you. And the store is so bright and clean. Things are arranged very neatly, so it's easy to shop there. They have a GREAT selection of healthy prepared meals, so I can stop in and grab dinner (tonight was crab rolls - yum) instead of swinging through a fast food drive thru on the way home.

They're also very eco-friendly. They're committed to constructing green buildings, with LED lighting and lots of skylights and windows for natural lighting. There's in-store recycling for plastic, plastic bags, aluminum, glass, and paper. Their parking lot has bike racks and a number of reserved spots for hybrid vehicles. They also provide, free of charge to customers, reusable and recyclable shopping bags. Oh, and as part of their grand opening celebration, they were giving away free bouquets of fresh-cut flowers. I took home these nice tulips and irises:

Oh, and best of all? Their prices are great. Pretty comparable to TJ's. And they also carry a good selection of conventional products, so I can get my fresh produce and hormone-free meats and dairy at great prices, and still satisfy my Coke fix and Che's addiction to Post Honey Bunches of Oats in one fell swoop. Hopefully, more often than not, this is the only stop I will have to make for my weekly grocery shopping. Yippeeeeeee!

Seriously, I have not been this excited about a grocery store since Central Market in Austin. Don't get me wrong, this is no Central Market. NOTHING compares to Central Market. But considering what's around me, I am damn happy to have the Fresh & Easy and actually can't wait to do a full blown shopping trip there this weekend.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Poll

Che & I spent a wonderful weekend in Sedona celebrating his birthday, but since my trip report is not quite ready to post (which reminds me I still haven't posted my Grand Cayman report - yikes!), I'll leave you today with this Christmas poll, which I stole from my friend Emily's blog, (and which she lifted from elsewhere).

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Both. I love wrapping paper but I'll resort to cute gift bags if I have an odd-shaped gift. I suck at wrapping things that aren't shaped like boxes.

2. Real tree or artificial? None. I love Christmas, but I don't decorate for it.

3. When do you put up the tree? See Response to No. 2.

4. When do you take the tree down? Again, No. 2.

5. Do you like eggnog? No, naaaaasty.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? A red bicycle.

7. Do you have a nativity scene? Nope. No. 2.

8. Hardest person to buy for? My parents. They have everything or they can get it for themselves. They are SO hard to shop for.

9. Easiest person to buy for? My husband. He's basically a 12-year-old when it comes to receiving gifts. For his birthday, he got a kite and loved it. He was trying to guess his Christmas gift (unsuccessfully) on our drive to Sedona, and among the things he got excited about (for no reason since he's not getting them) are a pogo stick and a metal detector. Sigh.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? ?? A set of Christmas kitchen towels. Since I don't decorate (see Response to No. 2), I have no use for them.

11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail. Sometimes a little late, but I do send them.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? A Charlie Brown Christmas.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas ? Usually after Thanksgiving.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Does donating a gift to Goodwill count? If not, no.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Nettie's Bennie wafers. YUM.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? No tree (let's see, how many times can I reference Response to No. 2?), but if I were to have a tree, I would opt for clear lights. So elegant.

17. Favorite Christmas song? Do They Know It's Christmas?

18. Travel for Christmas or stay at home? Depends. This year, staying home.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers? Of course.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? No tree (you know the drill), but I definitely would not have an angel and would probably opt for something other than a star as well.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Che's family tradition is to open one on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning, so that's how we try to do it, but I usually want to open them all on Christmas Eve.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Santa Baby, the worst song ever recorded.

23. What I love most about Christmas? Buying presents.

24. Favorite Christmas Cookie? The classic, beautifully-decorated sugar cookie.

Thanks, Em!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Baby Bear!

Thirteen years ago today, our sweet baby boy was born. We got him about 8 weeks later and called him Nacho. A fitting name, once you get to know his silly personality.

Happy birthday, baby.

Nacho and Abbey (circa 2000):

Beagle Buddies:

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pre-Holiday Blues

It's been a rough couple of weeks, but now that I am almost recovered from a sinus infection, I am trying to get back into a routine. The house feels so different with Abbey gone; we hadn't even realized how much the "life of the house" she was until she was no longer here. It's very quiet around here now. One evening as I pulled into the garage after work, for a split second, I wondered why I didn't hear her barking, like she always did when she heard the garage door. For that split second, it's like I had forgotten that she was gone. My eyes trick me sometimes into thinking that I see her around the house. When it hits me that she's gone, it feels like my heart is breaking all over again. I know these instances will come from time to time, and that they'll get less frequent as time passes. But right now, the pain is still very raw. I miss her so much my heart hurts some days.

So in an effort to get into the holiday spirit a little more, I decided I wanted to bake Christmas cookies this year, something I haven't done in several years. After scouring recipes and cookbooks and holiday magazines, and making a list of a dozen different cookies, I scrapped the whole list and decided just to do my sugar cookies (which Che loves). I thought it would be more fun to really get into decorating them NICE this year, instead of slapping on some red and green food-colored icing and calling them good. But then I found this recipe on the Cooking Light board for Meyer lemon ricotta cookies and couldn't pass it up. My Meyer lemon tree is brimming with fruit, some of it starting to come ripe, plus it was a good excuse to buy dragees, which are so pretty and festive. I'm still planning to make sugar cookies, just not tonight.

First, let me say that you'd think silver dragees are last year's Nintendo Wii or something, they're so hard to find. And when you do find them, they'll cost you an arm and a leg. And you might have to fend off someone else for the last one on the shelf. I managed to find the silver ones at the third place I stopped in today, and grabbed the last jar off the shelf while another shopper was browsing the display. You snooze, you lose. And then I proceeded to pay $15 for the measly 3.3 ounce jar. Ouch. Didn't know how far they would go, so I picked up a jar of pastel-colored ones too, which are the ones I ended up using for the cookies because I am selfish and decided to hoard my silver ones in the event that I can never find them again.

Okay, onto the cookie. This is a wonderful, soft, cakey, lemony cookie. The icing is more like a thick, rich frosting than a glaze. Eating one of these cookies is like eating the top off a frosted lemony cupcake. YUM. And the recipe is huge - I got 55 cookies from one batch.

Makes 4 dozen


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or 1 teaspoon lemon and/or tangerine baking oil
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest, freshly grated*
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
Decorating sugar, silver dragees (small silver balls), optional
*Meyer lemons are available mid-November through early spring in specialty food stores. You will need 2 to 3 medium-sized lemons. Regular lemons can be substituted.

Cooking Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine butter and sugar in bowl; cream together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, ricotta, lemon extract (or baking oil), zest and juice; blend well. Add 1 cup flour, baking powder and salt; blend to combine. Add remaining flour in two parts, blending to combine between each, until a dough forms. Drop by rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake until cookie edges are very light golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cookies rest on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire cooling rack.

While cookies cool, prepare glaze by creaming together butter and sugar. Continue to mix, gradually adding juice until desired consistency. Decorate cooled cookies adding dragees or decorating sugar, if desired, before icing sets.

Recipe © 2007 Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Inc.