Monday, January 30, 2012

Manhattan Clam Chowder ~ My Way!

I have been down with some kind of weird laryngitis, a malady I have not suffered for over 20 years! Of course I am craving warm, easy and soothing food, mostly soups. So, last night, my dear husband ran out for some canned Progresso soup, chicken and wild rice to be exact, and I sat back while he fixed me a nice tray, of hot soup and crackers. Sounds lovely, right? I mean, considering I am feeling puny and I have my man fussing over me? Well, Progresso, even though they stopped putting MSG and so much salt in their OFF my list for good! Yuck! Eating this soup was like eating paste. I had to dump a bunch of Maggi in it just to make it palatable. So, today...I can't talk, but I can cook!

I have been making this clam chowder since I was a new bride. It is probably not traditional, and it will not win a chowder "cook-off" because, hey, I live in the desert, but it is darn good comfort food. Great for laryngitis and illnesses real and imagined!

Manhattan Clam Chowder
Recipe by, Victoria Copeland
Makes 5, 1-cup servings

4 slices bacon, fried crispy and crumbled
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup fresh celery, diced
1 cup fresh carrots, diced
3-4 large Idaho potatoes, diced
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 dried bay leaf
2 (or 3 if you are clam happy) cans (7 to 8 oz each) minced clams (I like Snow's)
1 8 oz. bottle clam juice ( I use Yankee Clippper brand)
2 14.5 oz. cans "no-salt" diced tomatoes  ( I prefer Trader Joe's organic)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a 6 qt. saucepan, cook bacon until crispy, remove and set aside to drain and cool
In the bacon drippings of the same pan (no apologies!), sauté onions until they are soft, about 3 minutes, add diced celery and carrots, sauté another 5 - 8 minutes until slightly browned and soft, add diced potatoes thyme and bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté another 5 minutes.
Open the canned clams, pour off the juice only and the bottled clam juice together into a large measuring cup, add enough warm water to top off the juice, you will want a total of 4 cups liquid.
Add the liquid to the sautéd vegetable mixture. Start to bring up the heat.
Add the diced tomatoes with their juice.
Bring to a boil, simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender. 
Add clams, cover, and cook only until clams are heated through.
Serve sprinkled with the crumbled bacon and your favorite crackers or crusty bread. I like to serve this soup with crackers, cheese and apple slices on the side.

                                                              Sauté onions, celery and carrots in drippings

Add potatoes and seasonings, continue to sauté

                                 Add clam juice, water to make 4 cups of liquid, add diced tomatoes w/juices

Now this is soup to get well by! Enjoy!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Weekend Meditation

                                                          New Mexico sunset ~ my patio ~ January 27th 2012

"We know that life is always in process, and always on its way to greater good. We just can't see that. During those times, we rely on our spiritual radar to navigate for us. We trust that there's a happy ending. By our faith, through our trust, we invoke its proof" 
                                                Marianne Williamson

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: The Contemporary's California Grill

For me, a good vacation is full of interesting sites, good conversation, and good food, but a great vacation is a special anomaly, a phenomena where all of the above is true AND every action is met with ease and every moment is full of grace.

We were looking for a restaurant for the evening, Disney was busy and we were without reservations, but we had set our sights high, we hoped to get into the Contemporary Hotel's lovely penthouse- perched California Grill in time to have a five-star meal and Disney's best view of the fireworks! Of course, there were no reservations available, but undeterred we went to the California Grill, commandeered six seats in the very comfy lounge, ordered drinks and proceeded to enjoy a delightful evening with the BEST view in the house and an outstanding meal from their regular menu!  

Cocktails began with a Simply Nutty; Charbay Black Walnut Liqueur, Disaronno, and Frangelico with a splash of Half & Half. The black walnut liqueur is going on my wish list!!

Then we "noshed" our way through the evening, starting with the most amazing, fresh and delicious sushi and brick oven-fired flatbreads.

 "Dragon Roll" with Spicy and Tataki Tuna, Shrimp Tempura, Bell Pepper, Avocado, Chili-Soy Glaze

"Tuna Three Ways" Poke, Tartare, Tataki

We are landlocked here in New Mexico, so I eat fresh seafood whenever and wherever I can. This evening, mussels to die for!
Fresh mussels in a sumptuous broth of chorizo, garlic and butter. To the left gnocchi light as a cloud...
Accompanied by La Crema, Los Carneros '07

Dessert? Of course!!

Vanilla bean mousse, with fresh strawberry balsamic glaze and mascapone cream

Valrhona Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream and white chocolate w/cacao nibs

Michael and John thoroughly enjoying their sushi and our great dinning room coup d'etat! 
The fireworks were divine from the top of the world! A toast to ease and grace!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Almost Coq au Vin

I love Coq au Vin, but wow is it an involved dish to prepare. I stumbled upon this great recipe in Fine Cooking magazine and, this is close to my favorite French dish, with less fuss, although it requires some fuss I gave it a try. It did not disappoint! If you love Coq au Vin, you will love this dish...if you don't know what that is, you will still love this dish! The humble ingredients create a rich and aromatic meal. It is worth the time and fuss ;) great in the winter as it warms the soul. Enjoy!

Braised Chicken Legs with White Wine
Bacon, Cipolline Onions & Mushrooms
adapted from Finecooking Magazine

8 small cipolline onions or 4 large halved ( I used pearl onions this time and doubled the amount, they were great)
4 bone-in, skin-on medium chicken thighs
4 chicken drumsticks
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
8 medium cremini mushrooms (aka baby portobellos) trimmed and halved
3 oz bacon (3 strips), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/4-inch rounds (I used two, as I like extra veggies)
1 cup dry white wine
3 large thyme springs
1 cup homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

A large, straight-sided-ovenproof sauté pan with a lid is ideal for making this chicken braise.

Position  a rack in the center of your oven, set temp. to 350°

Bring a 2-quart saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the onions and blanch them for 1 min.
Drain and shower with cold water to stop the cooking. Peel the onions, leaving enough of the root intact so that they will remain whole while cooking (I do this early in the day so I have one less step later). You can use frozen pearl onions, but I would add them just before the braising.

Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper.

In a straight-sided 10-inch or 11-inch ovenproof sauté pan with a lid, heat the oil until very hot
Arrange the chicken pieces skin side down in the pan, cover with a splatter screen if you have one. Get your apron on! This can get messy.
Cook chicken until deeply browned, about 5 minutes.Turn the pieces over and cook until the other sides are deeply browned, 3 to 5 minutes more. Transfer to a plate, Pour out and discard all the fat from the pan.

Place the pan over medium heat, add the peeled onions mushrooms, bacon, and carrot to the and cook until the bacon is crisp and the vegetables are browned, 8-10 minutes.

Add the wine and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Boil until the wine has reduced to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, along with any accumulated juices, and cover. Transfer to the oven and braise until the chicken is fork-tender and the drumstick meat starts to come away from the bone, 45-50 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, onions, bacon, carrots, and mushrooms to a serving dish and keep warm by covering loosely with foil. Discard the thyme sprigs. Tilt the pan and skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, skimming off any skin that forms on top, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with pepper (the sauce should be sufficiently salted at this point) Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with the thyme leaves and serve.

Serve it up with mashed potatoes and a nice white wine (I like the Italian Pinot Grigio I used in the dish) and say "Oh la la"!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Down and Dirty Chicken Potpie

We arrived home late from the airport last week and faced the usual dilemma; too tired to cook, too late to eat out but definitely hungry! Our solution? We made a quick stop at the grocery on our way home, grabbed a rotisserie chicken and a Pillsbury pie crust. I had the rest of the ingredients at home. It took me 15 minutes to pull these individual chicken potpies together. Calories? Yes, but fast, homey, filling and yummy!

Shortcut Potpies
Makes 4 servings
adapted from Real Simple
1-8 oz. bag frozen mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, peas, green beans)
2 refrigerated pie crusts (I used Pillsbury there are 2 in one pkg)
1-10-3/4oz can cream of chicken soup (Campbells)
1/2 cup milk
2 cups chopped cooked chicken or turkey
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

~Preheat oven to 375° Defrost the vegetables in a microwave for about 3 minutes.
~Cut the 2 pie crusts into quarters, you will have 8 equal pieces.
~Spray the inside of 4 small aluminum-foil pans (4-1/2" in diameter, 1-1/4" deep) or four ramekins with vegetable or olive oil
~Line the bottom of each pan with a quarter of crust molding it with your fingers to fit.
~In a large bowl, stir together the soup and milk; add the chicken, garlic salt and pepper and veggies.
~Spoon about 2/3 cup of the mixture into each pan or ramekin
~Top each with another pie crust quarter. Pinch the edges together and cut vents in the top
~Place on a baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown.

I served it with a side of fresh Romaine lettuce topped with sweet peppers and olive oil. Best of all, we had two more pies for the next day! Welcome home!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Still Magical...

When I was a teen my family drove out West on vacation. We did a million things that trip, but I only had eyes for Disney Land. I remember calling my boyfriend from a pay phone at the Magic Kingdom just to proclaim that, "one day I would work for Disney." I was serious. The summer Disney World opened in Orlando I was nearly first in line for a job...and what a great job it was!  My job at Disney World "mentored" me for a long career in the world of retail and business ownership.
In front of Cinderella's Castle in 1972.  I worked in "merchandising" and as magician's assistant to the great Luciano, Fantasy Land's magician. 

Last week during a lovely vacation stay at Disney, I was reminded again just how much my short Disney career helped shape my future; the staff is ever cheerful, the grounds spotless, the focus totally customer centered, and the experience uplifting.  My time spent working as a "cast member" in the Magic Kingdom resulted in treasured life lessons, for which I will be forever grateful.

Just a few pics from "The Happiest Place on Earth":
My son Sean at EPCOT, a most enjoyable time was had by all!!
My new family twirling in the Tea Cups!

Yes, that's my Mike twirling in the teacups or rather, twirling ME in the teacups, yikes!

Michael wearing MY Tinkerbell "mouse ears" You know it's a happy place when....

That is a dragon (in the water!) built entirely out of LEGOS behind Michael and Sean at Downtown Disney
As you may know by now, we travel to Europe regularly and of course I prefer visiting the real thing...but as a good friend said to me, "Where else can you go and enjoy such diverse entertainment, great food, great service and walk around feeling totally safe and secure?"
Have you visited Disney?
BTW, if you read my packing tutorial, you'll be happy to know I had plenty of room to pack my Tinkerbell ears!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

 Does this happen to you, you begin packing for a trip and your brain goes numb? I can dole out packing advice to my Italian retreat travelers like a seasoned travel guide but when it comes down to packing for myself I stand staring blankly into "suitcase abyss". I find it takes a leap of faith to trust that you are packing the right things for a trip. Then there is the problem of making it fit. My rule of thumb is to pack and then remove 1/3 of the contents. Of course I go immediately into self-doubt and want to put everything back.
Self-doubt aside and garments chosen, here are my tips for getting it done. After all, I have a reputation to uphold. My record; ONE carry-on suitcase for THREE weeks in Europe!  Here are my  top ten "tried and true" tips for packing:

 #1 Roll Everything that will roll! Yes, I know, it's hard right after you ironed everything, but it will be fine, rolling means less wrinkles and much more space.
                         Be brave and roll!                                                                   All of this in one carry-on!

 #2 For a two-week trip you really only need three pair of pants, less if one pair is black and stretchy!

 #3 Never pack more than two pair of shoes and never buy new shoes right before a trip!

 #4 Take only three pair of undergarments and wash one pair/day

 #5 Don't stress over toiletries (i.e. too big for security, etc.) they sell toothpaste in Europe, n'est-ce pas...?

 #6 Take a favorite scarf, It can actually take the place of warmer clothes; wear it on the plane, you will feel warmer. Cover your face with it when you want to sleep, cover your head with it if it is raining or cold, it will spruce up whatever you are wearing and make you look, oh so "Continental".

#7 Tuck socks and any other little stuff inside your shoes.

#8 Pack undergarments in a gallon zip lock bag, then squish out all the air...makes it flat as a pancake and keeps security agent's hands off!

#9 I leave my vitamins behind....not saying you should, each to their own, but I find my schedule is usually off-kilter and I forget to take them anyway, it saves space and bother.

#10 Never take more than you can comfortably pick up and carry around the block, really.  
I roll everything and lay it out first.....then fit it together in my carry-on like a jigsaw puzzle

Almost finished! Zip bags sit on top of rolled pair of shoes, a few small items go in outer pockets and my carry-on still has room for souvenirs! I'd better get with it, Disney beckons!!

Do you have an "insider" tip for packing efficiently?? Please share!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

21 ears (not a typo!)

My life is blessed by the love of a remarkable man who never ceases to amaze me. For our most recent anniversary (more on that here) Michael and I decided we would forgo the usual celebration because we are heading for a Disney World vacation soon. So on our anniversary day he presented me with this card:

What is it? Well I had begged my dear  husband not to buy me anniversary flowers, which I knew was very difficult for him. So he created  this "bouquet" for me for our 21st wedding anniversary...a vase with 21 mickey mouse ears! On the back of the card he made up a company name called "no flowers productions". That's my cheeky man! Of course this "Disney" girl (see picture below) loves it and is looking forward to celebrating our anniversary and my birthday at the Magic Kingdom!

Haha...yes, that's me, many years ago. I worked as a magician's assistant in Fantasy Land. Now that is double magic!! Best job ever!

I am going to attempt to post on my blog from my phone while visiting the Magic Kingdom. Perhaps I can recreate this photo...sans Fantasy Land garb!!!
Have you made memories at Disney?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Polenta in 5 Minutes, Really?

I love polenta but had never tried it for breakfast at home thinking it was too much trouble...all that stirring! Then I ran across this great idea from Faith in the Kitchn and gave it a try this morning. If you have a bowl and a microwave and a bag of Red Mill coarse ground cornmeal, you are set!

Quick Bowl of Polenta
Adapted from Faith in The Kitchn


1 cup water
1/4 cup coarse ground cornmeal (I prefer Red Mill, but any brand will do)
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon olive oil, optional (I liked it with the olive oil)
Milk, optional




1. Mix the water, cornmeal, salt, and olive oil, if using. Put the bowl, uncovered, in the microwave, and set the microwave for 5 minutes on HIGH.

2. Halfway through cooking, take the polenta out of the microwave and stir thoroughly. Add a drizzle of milk, if desired. Put the bowl back in the microwave and finish the cooking time. Check at 5 minutes; it should be getting rather thick. (It will thicken even more as it cools.)

3. Eat with a little more milk, plus brown sugar and walnuts — or topped with a poached egg!

Additional Notes:
• Microwaves range in power, of course so check it halfway through cooking. If it is already thickening rapidly you may want to only cook it for a minute more. Mine was ready in 4-1/2 minutes.

 Stir after 2-1/2 minutes and add a little milk (optional). Pop in the microwave another 2 minutes or so...
 This is such a nice change from oatmeal!! Do you ever eat polenta for breakfast? I tried it with the walnuts and brown sugar and it was yummy. Next time...a poached egg! What would you add to it?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Okay, everyone who would like something easy, with big flavor (and no sugar!) to cook, raise your hand! This is a rustic version of one of my favorite cream soups. It could not be more simple to whip together but it will taste like you spent hours prepping and simmering, clever you!

Rustic Leek and Thyme Soup
Adapted from Classic Soups by Debra Mayhew

2 lb leeks
1 lb potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1 Large spring of fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
1-1/4 cups milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbs heavy cream, to serve

Trim and wash leeks well. Strip away all the coarse outer leave and cut the leeks into thick slices, about 1-1/2" wide...just eyeball it. Cut only the white and light green part of the leek.

Cut the potatoes into rough dice about 1" and dry with a paper towel.

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the leeks and 1 large sprig of thyme. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes until softened.

Add the potato pieces and just enough cold water to cover the vegetables. Re-cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.

Pour in the milk and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until all veggies are soft.  Remove the sprig of thyme (the leaves will have fallen into the soup!) and serve, adding 1 Tbs cream and a garnish of thyme if you want to be fancy.

After simmering the leeks and thyme in butter, add potatoes, cover with water and cook 30 minutes

Add milk, salt and pepper to taste and simmer until veggies are soft.

Top with a tablespoon of heavy cream, a sprig of thyme and serve with rustic bread. Prepare to swoon.

You could puree the soup to make it creamy, or smash some of the potatoes to thicken, but we loved this exactly as is...large tasty chunks of leek and potato swimming in a fragrant butter thyme broth, so  satisfying! Enjoy!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011~ Top Ten

I know it is true for most when I say New Year's Day is...Ahhhhhhhhhhhh...! Holiday's over! Check!
2011 over! Check! Clean slate, fresh start, new palette, that all sounds good to me! Ahhhhhhh......
New Year's Day Michael and I like to review our "completions" for the previous year and then make what we call a "Heart Chart" for the coming year.

Last year was amazing for many reasons, here are our Top Ten (apologies to David Letterman and my friend and fellow blogger Maria Wimmer).

 #10  The dinning room reno we had been planned (FOREVER) became a reality!


#9  The bathroom mosaic I had been working on (FOREVER)...finis!

 Made entirely from recycled/reclaimed mostly vintage ceramics. Cost, $0 (!!!)

 Tea cup handle towel ring :)

#8  Artist and wonder husband Michael's many creative and successful opportunities this year, with four art shows, representation at two galleries and many private sales!

In the studio... A LOT!!

 "Persons of Interest" One man show, Metallo, Gallery, NM

 Juried show, Seattle, WA

#7  Teaming up this with our dear friend and Albuquerque Yoga instructor Gloria Drayer and creating Yoga + Art in Umbria, Italy 2012!

#7  Spending time with family this summer. Connecticut coast, Mason's Island, a vacation home for 10, 2 kayaks and a week together, awesome!

 Brother Scott and Michael (the one mugging for the camera of course)

Mother from Michigan, friend from NY, ex-hubby James (yes, we are friends) and brother Norman from San Francisco, enjoying a beautiful July day.

 Michael and brother Scott at Stonington, RI (also from San Francisco)

 We couldn't have found a better place for our reunion!

Stepping out the front pretty. You have to forgive me, I live in the desert so I gush around large bodies of water!

4. Visiting Chicago for the first time! Spending time with my dear "cosmic daughter" Kendra and her wonderful Jason.
 Us! In the "Bean" at Millennium Park

Doing what we love best! Chicago restaurants!!

3.  Time spent on a road trip with my mom...
 Antiquing in Shipshawanna, Indiana
 Traveling through Amish country

 Visiting the Upper Peninsula in Michigan via my favorite Mackinaw bridge.

Enjoying a summer street fair in Petoskey, Michigan

#2 Working up the personal courage to: start blogging, learn Photoshop and show my mosaic work at the Recycle Santa Fe show in November.

 #1 ...and at the TOP of 2011...The marriage of our son Sean and his beautiful and very smart wife Meghan at the incredibly gorgeous Ocean House Hotel in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. A beautiful event, flawlessly orchestrated by our new friends and family, Meghan's talented and delightful parents, John and Susan Clancy. It was one for the books; a perfect day filled with the love of family and friends.

 Sean and Meghan ~ Wedding Day!

 Drs. Sean and Meghan Danby

 Ocean House, Rhode Island

Michael and I are working on our "Heart Chart" today for 2012; looking forward to creating, loving, and living each day of this year with ease and grace. At the top of our list is our wish for you to have a Brilliant 2012!

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