Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hosting a Luau on a Budget

I recently read an article in the SPIRIT magazine (Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine) about a lady in LA who threw a party for $2 per person and it made me think of all the thrifty ways you can throw a party or a gathering without breaking the bank. Here is an idea based on a office lunch we had at SFP back in June, we threw it together in a few days and I don’t know the exact cost per person but I made some stuff up and you have to read to the bottom of this post to see the result. It all started with a pre-marinated vacuum packed pork loin that I bought at Sam’s. I had purchased a couple over the weekend – froze one immediately and planned to make the other during the week but just ran out of nights before I was back on the road again and instead of freezing it up I thought I would be a great base for a Friday summer lunch at the office. I asked everyone to bring a side dish which ultimately cuts down your costs…your friends (if they are like mine) would be all for bringing a dish to a party because we like to cook and experiment recipes on each other…but you may not want to do that with your friends if they aren’t into cooking or would feel put-out if you asked them to a party but their admission ticket was a covered dish…so asking them to bring their favorite bottle of wine or 6 pack of beer would be a great way to shift some of the cost off you and not make your guests be upset about your invitation. The next thing that I usually get carried away with is decorations and before I know it I could blow $100 on fun plates and napkins…I blame you Crate and Barrel and Christa Anderson an former roommate of mine from Chicago who started my fetish for fun napkins…there just so darn fun though! Short of it is, I just think it is fun to decorate for anything and everything, but again with the short notice and not a lot of time (or desire to spend my own money on decorations for an office party) I went searching through the house when I got home. I grabbed my beach towels out of the closet and pulled out some of the leis and plastic coconuts that I had left over from my sister-in-law’s bachelorette party last summer (if you have the room you should throw all your post party decorations in a rubber maid tub, you never know when they will come in handy again). Beach towels make a great table cloth because they are bright and colorful and you can throw them in the wash when you are done and they are ready to go back to the pool or beach.
So now that I have jumped on and off the budget party reservation a number of times, I’ll get back to the main event…the food. So preparing the pork loin was a no-brainer so I won’t provide you the boring details about how I opened the package, put it in foil, then into a baking dish and then into the oven. It cost $8.95 for a 3# pre-marinated pork loin so less than a dollar a person.
One other recipe that I put together for this event was a new cup cake recipe for the occasion that combined the clean taste of white cake with the freshness of store-purchased (oh how I wish I could say home-grown, but maybe someday) strawberries. This recipe would work great with any berries, just use what is fresh and appropriate for the occasion. It was also an easy incorporation of low-cost products to make something that tasted very special, all together the ingredients were about $7 for 18 cupcakes…less than 50 cents a serving that would cost you well over a dollar a serving or more at a bakery or dessert shop.
So with a couple of side dishes (coleslaw salad, Caesar salad, broccoli-cheese casserole, fresh pineapple, etc.) thrown in we were probably looking at around $3 per person…so I didn’t beat the woman in LA in the SPIRIT magazine, but we were able to have a lot of fun without a lot of pressure to spend money on high priced foods.
Here is the recipe for the cupcakes…and a fun picture of them too...they were truly sassy.
Sweet and Sassy Strawberry Cupcakes 1 white cake mix bake per directed with 1/3 cup less water
Add 10 or so strawberries add 2 or so TBS sugar mash up and let stand so juices develop
Add 2 TBS triple sec or orange juice
Bake the cake as decorated on the box. Let the cupcakes cool completely and top with butter cream canned frosting and strawberry slices or a whole strawberry. If you don’t like butter cream flavoring then you can use a white whipped frosting, but I recommend adding a little bit of vanilla or orange flavoring to the frosting to give it dimension. (have a very easy hand with artificial flavorings because a little goes a long way)
Traveling Cowgirl Tip:
Party decorations don’t have to be complicated and expensive, use things found around your home to create a festive tablescape or theme without breaking the bank.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gold Street Caffe - Albuquerque, NM

On a recent trip I had a scrumptious breakfast at this great little sidewalk cafe and bakery in Albuquerque, NM. Thanks to my traveling partner Christy Sallee who had once been stranded in ABQ (sorry it is too hard for me to spell out ever time and I usually operate in airport codes better anyway) for the better part of a day waiting on the Rail Runner (their train system) she had time to scope out the great places that were open and lucky for me she suggested we hit the Gold Street Caffe appropriately on Gold Street in downtown ABQ. We were able to sit on the sidewalk on this quiet street and peruse the breakfast menu where everything sounded like a tasty slice of the southwest.
After a lot of thought and watching a woman in white shorts, white jacket and white loafer shoes biff it coming out of the cafe door we both settled on the Cowboy Breakfast, appropriate for the two of us...the description from the restaurant for the Cowboy Breakfast is 'the hearty cowboy breakfast: a huge green-chile cheese biscuit stuffed with scrambled eggs, smoked ham and house-made mascarpone' description for the breakfast was pure cowboy heaven on a plate. The biscuit was amazingly flaky with ribbons of cheese and green chili running through it with fluffy, light scrambled eggs and smokey juicy ham with a little mascarpone to cool down any hot spots all topped with some of the freshest salsa I have ever tasted. The breakfast was served with a side of fresh fruit and some greens (which we realized were on all plates in New Mexico, odd). I wouldn't have changed one thing about this breakfast, it was unbelievable and if you are ever in ABQ I encourage you to stop by and try it.
We had a couple of other interesting meals in New Mexico...
Ore House on the Plaza - Santa Fe, NM - Cool cantina feel with an entertaining bartender. Sit at the bar and order the guacamole and spicy beef burrito top it off with a nice margartia or Corona to cool you off.
Route 66 Diner - ABQ, NM - Very nostalgic with neat memorabilia and oldie but goodie tunes. Good burgers and excellent Cherry Cokes and Cherry Sprites, but go there for the environment...not the food.
Traveling Cowgirl Code:
When going to a new place take someone with you who has been there before or ask friends who have been to the area for suggestions, sometimes the best places are off the beaten path or won't be the recommendation you get from the hotel desk attendant.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cruise Control

Here is the deal, if you have cruise control on your vehicle...and unless there are other circumstances that prevent you from using your pulling a trailer, your cruise control is broken, your testing your skills like numchuck skills...then use it.
By not using your cruise control you are choosing to be that obnoxious maroon Grand Am with Montana plates that passes, slows down, we pass you, you speed up again, then slow down again, we pass you again, over and over again through the foothills of the New Mexican mountains until you give US a dirty look because YOU act like WE are the ones driving like idiots forcing us to roll our eyes at you and say nasty things about you before we intimidate you to slowing down enough to create distance between us and you.
Road trips are a lot of fun and I highly encourage everyone to take some time out of their usual hectic schedules to take a road trip with your besties (I believe that is what the kids are calling their close friends these days). It can be a short drive to no particular destination at all or it can be a long-distance trek across the barren lands of New Mexico, regardless you can't beat driving on the open road (with your cruise control on of course) listening to the tunes of your past (or present whatever works for you).

It helps if you have a great co-driver to share the driving duties is my co-driver from the weekend and from many, many previous road trips over the course of the last 11 years.

And the all-important self-portrait to
prove you were in the car too!
Traveling Cowgirl Roadtrip Tip: Go barefoot and crazy for a while, you're only young once....but watch the sun coming through the windows it can burn the tops of your ghostly white feet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Airport Etiquette, Part 3 - Food on Planes

Procrastination is the root of all evil and instead of packing like I should be I wanted to post this very important comment about food on planes because when I get on a plane at 7:20 this evening I am pretty sure that I will run into this problem and after the day I have had...insert lack of sleep, laundry, packing, work, truck making awful noises that required Ford to come get it to look at it...and I am sure that the post I would make after the experience might not be appropriate for the G rated audience. So here it is... If they don’t serve food on the flight, which fewer and fewer flights are serving meals then you MAY be expected to pay for your snacks (you think that is bad Delta stopped carrying Ginger Ale for like 8 weeks this spring, talk about traumatic…they must have had enough complaints and must have been notified of the nausea soothing benefits of the wondrous drink of Ginger Ale) or you can always bring your own snacks. I just ask for the sake of me and all the other people on the plane that may have motion sickness issues 


Smelly foods constitute for anything that could have a pungent odor that could be offensive to people not in a confined area like…Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian…ok so maybe anything that could be warm and smell. 

Traveling Cowgirl Code: Be healthy, pack your own snacks at home that won't disrupt your fellow passengers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Airport Etiquette, Part 2 - Be Patient While Standing in Lines

One of the most frustrating parts of any airport experience is the lines…lines at ticketing, lines at TSA, line at Starbucks on Monday morning at 7:10 a.m. Here are a few helpful (and polite reminders) on how to best handle the lines that you may be facing. 

 Ticketing – People who work ticketing have a fairly thankless job (similar to IT professionals, no one wants to talk to them they only want to bark at them because something is wrong). Make friends with the ticketing people because if there are ever opportunities to upgrade or if the flight is oversold and you have flexibility to be able to take a later flight they will be more willing to help you out. If you know that you are going to take a lot of time with the agent and there is only one person behind you offer to let them go first; also if you can tell someone is frantic and in a hurry and you have some extra time let them go in front of you building up Karmic credits doesn’t hurt anyway. 

TSA – First rule, DON’T MESS WITH TSA, true story I once saw TSA bring in the cops, bomb sniffing dogs and sequester a guy’s (8) bags because he was in the ticketing line and left his luggage in a pile away from him…when asked whose luggage it was he smarted off to them and they hauled it away. DON’T MESS WITH TSA. A few things to keep in mind, what they say goes and not every airport (regardless of what they say on TV or the TSA people tell you) has the same rules so be prepared to be flexible. Again, this is a great place to build up your Karmic credits…be patient with those who don’t travel often if you are a frequent traveler and praise God when there are the separate lines for Expert Travelers, Casual Travelers and Families/Medical Disabilities lines. When there are these lines…select your appropriate line, don’t step out of your class. 

Boarding and getting off the plane Here is the deal…we will all get to our destination at the same time so your impatient nature to get on or off the plane is one of the most annoying parts of traveling. I commend Southwest for their new boarding process which prevents people from camping out up to 45 minutes before a flight leaves so they can get the first seat, now you can pay to get on first if you are that uptight about where you sit on the plane. There is a method to how most airlines board their planes, for example those that assign seats typically board 1st class first and then they start from the back of the plane and move their way forward…really a very smart move and makes a lot of sense and prevents people from getting bruised foreheads from bags or elbows catching them on their way by. When you are traveling and I understand that some people refuse to pay the additional money to check their bags but please be courteous of the size of the bag that you are putting in the overhead bins. If your bag is pretty big for the space then turn your bag upside down and place it in with the wheels up, that will allow for the maximum space to be utilized. Also if you have purses (like giant ugly white hobo style purses that you place in the overhead and prevent someone from their bag going up and then they have to check their luggage, not that I’ve been in that situation before or anything) or jackets hold them until everyone is on board and they will easily slide around the other luggage that is up there. If there is someone trying to put an item in the overhead bin that looks like they may struggle offer to help them instead of looking disgusted at them as they struggle to hurry and get their bag in place. When the flight has landed…wait your damn turn. I don’t know who is so special that they need to jump out of their seat and rush to the front of the plane taking out any unsuspecting blue hair that might be trying to stretch their legs. If you are that important then you should have a private plane. If you have a close connection flight then say something to the stewardess before the plane lands so she can alert the gate when you arrive or she can ask for everyone to stay seated so you can get off and get to your connection. Traveling Cowgirl Code: When handling lines at the airport remember rules you were taught in Kindergarten; be patient and wait your turn; be nice to your neighbor.

Monday, July 6, 2009

She's My Cherry Pie Cupcakes

Even the best of ideas can be lost in development, but on the flip side they actually can turn out pretty smashingly good with a few tweaks. So with the 4th of July being yesterday I was feeling extra patriotic so I thought what is more patriotic than Cherry Pie (ok so maybe apple, but I didn’t feel like cutting up apples today) and Cupcakes (of course cupcakes, it is a religion at this point). So I set out to make She’s My Cherry Pie Cupcakes with the thought that I would make a simple cupcake, (trying a new recipie…no I didn’t make the cupcakes from a box this time, but probably won’t try it this way again unless I’m really trying to impress someone) with cherry pie filling on top and a small lattice of pie crust to mold over the top of the cherry topped cupcake. Sounds simple enough right? Well yes and no. The cupcake recipie was easy to make but the final outcome wasn’t the nice fluffy cupcakes that I am used to producing. After I got the cupcakes out I realized that the cherry pie filling wasn’t going to stick without a glue, so I added canned cream cheese frosting pretty thickly…then I was able to add some of the cherries and the glaze from the cherry pie filling can and they stuck to the frosting. So that all sounds pretty simple huh? And it was…where I had a problem was my lattice pie crust. I made the pie crust (yes from scratch using lard, egg, vinegar, flour and water…just like my mom does) and then cut it into strips and laid out my lattice work on the counter, problem was it was really hard to cut the circles (a biscuit cutter would have been great but of course I didn’t have one of those), so I scrapped the circles of lattice and just baked my little strips and then added them in an abstract way on top of the cherries. Now did the cupcakes look cute? Yes they looked very cute and very American. Where the cupcakes yummy? Yes they were but tasted more like a cherry cheese cake because of the cream cheese frosting and the cherries. Moral of the story…you can make them, they are cute…but I wouldn’t take the time to make pie crust, let it chill in the humidity, roll it out, cut it into strips, bake the strips, let them cool and then add them to the cupcakes. Traveling Cowgirl Code: When your loop doesn't go on smooth over the head, remember that all you need to be concerned with is beef in the loop...and you never know when you might have created a DIFFERENT recipe…Cheery, Cherry Cheesecake Cupcakes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Airport Etiquette, Part 1 - Attire

What would the traveling cowgirl blog be without a few posts about traveling? My first installment is for everyone those of you who may go through airports once a week or once a year because I think we all need a few reminders on how to keep our (and those around us) travel spirits up. It seems like we have made a full 180 turn from 40 years ago when people truly dressed up to get on a plane or had a traveling suit when traveling…now we are lucky if the person sitting next to you isn’t wearing their pajamas. Now I understand that no one LOVES to travel in a suit and heels, but at times it is necessary. And I also understand that when you are traveling for leisure you want to be comfortable, but puhlease refrain from wearing your flannel pajama bottoms and Victoria’s Secret PINK cami with your Uggs, anything that looks like you work out in it or smells like you've worked out in it (ok, so those that can get away with this is traveling sports teams who wear their warm-up uniforms, completely acceptable) or anything with a hole in it that wasn’t in the garment the day you purchased it. First of all you just don't look good dressed that way, secondly you should be slightly concerned if you have broken any of the above rules in the last 24 months that you might be on the nomination list for the next edition of What Not to Wear, Stacy and Clinton would have a hay day with you and I can't say I would blame them. A couple of other reminders: 

1. Planes typically are cooler than what most people feel is comfortable and some airlines are no longer providing blankets or pillows so pack a sweater or light jacket so you will be comfortable. 

2. When going through the TSA line remember that you will have to take off any item of clothing that isn’t required to cover you up so be prepared to remove your jacket, cardigan or open shirt and you will also have to remove your shoes (no matter what kind of shoes they are) so try and wear something that is comfortable to walk throughout the airport but also easy to remove and get back on while you are in line. 

Traveling Cowgirl Airport Tip: Roll a pashmina or thin sweater and leave it in your carry-on bag so you always have a cover up when the plane is like Alaska on New Years Day.