The Weekend Dish-Savory Bite

Since tomorrow is the first day of December, I thought it might be nice to share an appetizer recipe for your holiday gatherings. I belong to a Bunco group. Bunco is a game played with dice. We get together monthly to play and eat. We are a Bunco group that likes to eat, and everyone brings either a dessert or an appetizer. One month before Bunco I was trying to decide what to bring while looking in the refrigerator  and pulling out ingredients that just might go together . . .

What to make with these ingredients

What to make with these ingredients

I came up with this appetizer. The Bunco ladies liked it and hopefully you will too.

Mushroom and Goat Cheese Crostini

1 loaf of french bread baguette sliced
1 lb. crimini mushrooms (you can use any kind, I prefer these)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp red wine
balsamic vinegar
goat cheese
black pepper

Toast the bread slices under the broiler until lightly browned. Finely chop the mushrooms, onion and garlic; a food processor works great for this. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan on medium-high heat. Cook the onion and garlic until translucent about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid released from the mushrooms evaporates. Add the soy sauce and red wine and cook until most of the juices have evaporated. Spread the mushroom mixture on the bread slices and sprinkle a little balsamic vinegar on each (just a sprinkle, don’t want it running all over the bread). Place about a quarter inch slice from a goat cheese log on top of the mushroom mixture on each. Sprinkle with coarse ground black pepper. Put under the broiler until the goat cheese is warmed, about 2-3 minutes. Keep an eye on it.
Serves 12 as an appetizer.

mushroom goat cheese appetizer

Let the festivities begin-


waiting and watching and wishing and hoping

While doing the morning dishes and looking out the back window lately, I am entertained by the sight of finches using our bird bath. One recent morning, I grab my camera, stealthily creep out to the backyard and stage myself close enough to hopefully allow for an action shot of the activities. Sitting as still as possible with camera poised I wait. . . and wait; for a half an hour, at least, I wait and not one bird comes close to taking a dip. A few days later, still determined to capture the activities, I venture out again. This time trying a new location a little farther away and armed with a 100mm-300mm zoom lens. About fifteen minutes in, my mind begins wandering. Thinking back, many years ago, to when we purchased the bird bath and one of the backyard daughters, Michele, was about four years old. We lugged it out to the carefully chosen spot in the garden, placed it in the dirt wiggling and maneuvering it back and forth to level it and filled the bowl with water. Michele was excited about the new addition to the backyard and couldn’t wait for the first visitors to arrive for a bath. “How will they know it’s here?” she queried. I assured her the birds would be able to find it but she decided to help out and rode around the backyard on her pink bicycle with training wheels and streamers hanging from the handlebars shouting, every few seconds, “Birdbath! . . . Birdbath!” Unfortunately, it had the opposite of the desired effect and eventually we decided to wait and watch from inside the house. Sitting there in the yard, warmed by the sun and the fond memory, I waited once again. This time there were a few birds but they seemed to distrust me and kept their distance and a watchful eye on me and the bird bath.

finch in tree

No birds were brave enough to dive in that day either. Not one to give up easily, I decide maybe third time’s a charm.  Same zoom lens and location, I stake out once again. A few minutes in, there goes my mind again. Thinking of the upcoming holidays and trying to decide when to begin decking the halls, I realize many of the plants in our backyard are festively red and green at this time of year. The pepper tree’s berries are just ripening.

pepper tree berriesAs are the toyon berries.

toyon berries

toyon berries

The only rose bush flowering in my garden right now is the one with the red blossoms.

red rose

Spirits lifted by this unexpected holiday gift, I notice the loud caw of many crows nearby. Looking up, I see a beautiful hawk with a crow in hot pursuit.

crow chasing hawk

Those crows are relentless.

crows chasing hawk

Getting back to bird bath watch, I notice there are more birds in the yard getting closer to me and the bath this time. One is slowly working its’ way over. Finally, it alights on the bath; although it is partly obscured by the foreground plant.

bird bath

It is barely there a second, as I achieve focus and start snapping away, it is spooked and takes off.

bird bath and bird

Photography can benefit from patience, also the occasional  wandering mind to help pass the time and alert the eye to other photo worthy subjects in the area doesn’t hurt. I am not through yet. My spot is waiting and I dare say the birds are becoming accustomed to the occasional visitor. I will be on bird bath stakeout again soon. I want the shot of the water flying as the birds wiggle and splash in the bath and I will get it!

With perseverance, persistence and a bit of meandering,


Thanks for the Opportunities

Thanksgiving is a couple of days away and while a great deal of my time lately has been devoted to perusing recipes, in my recipe box and magazines; reading the accompanying articles about planning the meal and following countdowns to the feast, creates nostalgia for Thanksgivings past. The urge to take a break from the food planning, sent me to my photos. Thanksgiving offers a wealth of opportunities for photography. The table alone can hold many items which make excellent still life subjects.

fall harvest centerpieceTry some macro photography as well…

salt and pepper shaker macroThe action in the kitchen presents another chance to capture memories from the mashing of the potatoes to the slicing of the turkey, every activity is worthy of a memory – even putting the turkey down for its’ rest before slicing.

Thanksgiving preparationHere’s a tip: if you are in the vicinity of the turkey as it is being sliced, you may be called in to service as a taste tester!

After the main meal, before dessert, there is nothing quite like a rousing game of photo tag for allowing your food to digest.

photo tag

photo tag

photo tag

These reminiscences are fond ones. Recalling the fun of preparing and sharing the meal with loved ones warms my heart. One thing I did notice while flipping through my photos, I don’t have many pictures of the food. This year, along with my usual people pictures, I am going to make an effort to capture the food in all its’ succulent glory. Better get back to those recipes and deciding what to make for my veggie side dish.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!



The Weekend Dish

seagulls on waterEver wonder what type of bird you saw or what is the difference, if any, between seagulls with varied coloring? For the curious and those wanting to get outside and maybe learn a thing or two, and take some pictures too, this weekend is the last bird walk of the year at the Ballona Wetlands. The third Sunday of every month, except December, LA Audubon hosts a bird walk in the Ballona Wetlands.

great egret at Ballona wetlands

On the walk, the guide will help with bird identification while the group observes the  interactions of the various species and discuss the wetland’s ecosystem.

shorebirds Ballona wetlands

The wetlands are teeming with life and thus offer many opportunities for catching some wildlife activity and learning from the knowledgeable guides.


For all the details click here and grab your camera, a thirst for knowledge and a zoom lens, if you have one, take an inspiration break and head to the wetlands for some great birding.

Happy Weekend!


Catch a Setting Sun

It occurs every day and can be taken for granted because of this, but some days I am compelled to find a spot to settle in and capture it with my camera. It is the setting sun. There are times when the sky is clear and you can watch it slowly sinking into the horizon until all that is left is a glowing spot where the sun used to be.

sunset at beach
It was this sort of day recently that sparked my photographic enthusiasm.

sunset landscape at beach

Capturing the colors and beauty of a sunset with a camera can be difficult but there are a few adjustments one can make to help. The sun is very bright and bright things have a tendency to be overexposed. When this happens, the colors are washed out and not as vibrant as they appear to the eye. I start with setting my light meter to spot meter and aim slightly to the left or right of the sun. A smaller aperture opening – which is achieved by using the larger values – keeps the sun’s light from overexposing the scene. I used an f-stop of 22 in these photos. Using a small aperture creates the need to gather light somewhere else; this can be accomplished by either slowing down the shutter speed, raising the ISO or using a combination of both. The higher the ISO number the more sensitive to light the camera becomes.  A slower shutter speed increases the risk of blurry pictures due to camera shake, which increases the need for a tripod or a very steady hand. I used an ISO of 800 for these and the shutter speed varied to adjust to the changing light  as the sun set.

sunset at beach Digital cameras have a white balance setting to help the camera portray white in changing light conditions. Auto white balance works for most situations but some light sources have different hues which changes the color cast of a scene. There are options to set the white balance for different lighting conditions such as  incandescent or fluorescent  lighting. If you want to boost the orange and warm tones of the sunset you can set your camera to the shade setting of white balance. The light in the shade has a bluish tint so the camera adds warm tones to balance out the blues and create an even tone in that circumstance, but you can use that property differently also. It can be fun to play around and see what you get.

sunset at beach

The cloudy setting also adds warm tones.

sunset at beachFor a different effect try the fluorescent setting.

sunset at beach

sunset at beach

So, though the sun sets every day, each day’s sunset is unique and offers an opportunity to seize a moment to reflect and appreciate the rhythms of the earth . Better yet, grab your camera, turn to the west and capture a moment; maybe you will be lucky enough to catch the elusive green flash.

Westward Ho!

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish-Creamy Tomato Soup

Through the wonders of an Instagram discovery moment, and the beautiful truth behind the line, “like mother, like daughter,” today’s Weekend Dish comes to you courtesy of Sue’s daughter, Michele Greene, one of the original Backyard Cousins.

During the chilly fall months in Chicago there are times when nothing sounds better than a warm bowl of soup. This time it was creamy tomato soup compliments of a little Bon Appétit browsing. In thinking of what to pair with tomato soup the natural choice was grilled cheese, however, I didn’t want to stick with your ordinary grilled cheese, so I chose a Gruyere and caramelized onion on baguette twist.

Hopefully this soup and grilled cheese keeps you warm on a blustery day. For me, the process of making homemade soup gives a whole new meaning to “soup for the soul.” It’s a process that cannot be rushed and must be savored. So often, our lives are go, go, go and it is nice to slow down and pay mind to the many detailed flavors and the slow simmering of a delicious pot of soup.

Creamy Tomato Soup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
10 sprigs thyme, tied together
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
1–2 teaspoons sugar, divided
1/4 cup (or more) heavy cream
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Melt butter in a large pot, and then add the thyme, onion, and garlic (I use crushed garlic paste – great flavor and less work). Cook until the onion is translucent and tender.

Increase heat to medium-high.   Add tomato paste. Continue cooking, stirring often, until paste begins to caramelize in spots.

Add tomatoes with juices, 1 tsp. sugar, and 8 cups water to pot. Increase your heat to high and bring to an almost boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer until flavors meld (about an hour).

Remove soup from heat and let cool slightly. You will want to discard the thyme sprigs.

Now, you have two options: either work in small batches puréeing the soup in a blender until the entire batch is smooth, or use an immersion blender and work in the original pot. I bought a Cuisinart Smart Stick immersion blender a while back on a whim. I believe it was suggested in one of the recipes I wanted to experiment with and it had always been a kitchen tool that captured my curiosity, so I decided to give it a go. I can now say it is an incredibly handy kitchen tool.

Anyway, once your soup is properly pureed, stir in 1/4 a cup of cream. Simmer the soup a bit longer until all flavors come together, 10–15 minutes or longer. The last step is to season to taste with salt, pepper, and remaining 1 tsp. sugar.

You can add more cream, if desired, but I couldn’t bring myself to do. I always think of my Mom’s hearty and delicious meals that often use half the called-for butter, or creatively substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream. The thought of actually using heavy cream in a dish made me wince a bit, but 1/4 cup was the perfect amount.

While waiting for the soup to come together in the last 10 minutes of simmering, I began the grilled cheese.

Michele’s Chicago Grilled Cheese Round One
Olive oil – enough to coat a sauté pan and one long baguette
One onion, sliced thinly
One long baguette
Gruyere cheese, 1-2 cups shredded

Simply, pour a nice amount of olive oil in a sauté pan and place your sliced onion in it. Cook until the onion becomes caramelized.

While waiting on the onion, cut the baguette in half lengthwise. Put a very thin layer of olive oil on the baguette, and place under your broiler for a moment, just until it gets a nice crisp. Once the baguette is crispy place your caramelized onions on top.

Lastly, top your onions with a liberal amount of Gruyere cheese. Place under the broiler once again; just long enough for the cheese to melt. Enjoy!

Michele’s Chicago Grilled Cheese and Creamy Tomato Soup, Day Two

A few days after my initial soup-making venture, I reheated the soup and added apple and Roclette cheese to the previous grilled cheese recipe. Actually, I can’t take credit for that part at all. I have a co-chef that joins me in my cooking adventures. I love being able to bounce ideas off a fellow cooking enthusiast!


p.s. If you want the perfect dessert for this meal, check out last week’s Chocolate Caramel Dandy recipe and vote for the Backyard Sisters entry in the L.A. Times Holiday Cookie Bake-Off.  Hurry! Voting ends November 12.

View from the lower rungs

This write a novel in a month promise…
like climbing a twenty foot ladder to the sky.

an excerpt:

May 2003

Let me not propagate words. It’s not what I do best.

I am, rather, a breeder of children, the keeper of remembrances.

My success is measured in a flip book of time, hinting at a future.  I have raised up five children. Mine don’t die.  The last child, a pudgy boy, starts first grade and rounds the years until now, as a new teenager, we find a hint of hair upon his upper lip.  School pictures, arranged all on one page, are glued, acid free, in a circle like the numbers on a clock. They tick off the moments, the years. This boy still has four blank circles.

The lady in charge of scrapbooking parties insists we do not be afraid to trim.  Snip out the refuse with zigzag scissors! Crop! Discard the unimportant!

That is a blessing. I think it’s why I took to scrapbooking.

I take horrible pictures.

A woman with her eyes half-closed.
A child with her new eyes fixed.
I always catch the mouths agape.

Grimaces. Laughter bubbling over into rapture.

A teenage girl, head tilted back, mouth thrown open so wide it looks as if she’s biting the universe. Only I remember the joke that caught her so overcome.  I snap a moment too early. Maybe too late.

Babies caught in the intake of breath become a tempest. Scowling infants. Toddlers with tears streaking their cheeks. Not cute sadness. Wretched sadness. Sadness with a conical birthday hat to top it all off.

A boy with his eyes half-closed.

So I crop. I save shoes. Food. Hands. Necks. Elbows. Eyes. Mouths. Noses usually turn out fine. Knees are pretty good.

I know who wore brown and black cowboy boots on Christmas Eve 1979. I don’t need to see his face.

It matters a lot, what I can remember. My lawyer tells me this.

So help me God, I’ll try to tell you what really happened.


Writing is the first step. Editing is more like what happens at the top of the ladder where the steps are narrow and far from the ground. The only thing worse than ascending air is having no one to keep your foundation from wobbling.  For now I’m getting strong support from 300,000 others at NaNoWriMo.

With steady gaze,
~ Catherine

when sentiment meets photography

Photography has a practical side. Sometimes, I need help remembering details and pictures have been my prompter; helping fill in the blank spots of my memory. Taking a walk down memory lane via one’s photos reveals all kinds of long forgotten moments. From one’s fashion sense through the years to the small details of a trip, photos can capture, freeze and help one trigger memories of events.

At the Musée Rodin in Paris. . .

look-a-likeThe photo, although overexposed, brings a smile to my face as I recall spotting the “look-a-likes” that day.

man waving Spanish flag

Without this picture to jog my memory, I undoubtedly would have forgotten our dinner at this restaurant in Alcala de Henares, Spain. It was taken the night Spain won the Euro cup in June 2008 and the people took to the streets to celebrate. Seeing the flag waving owner of the restaurant sparks memories of the throngs of people coming out into the streets to celebrate the victory with cheers, chants and national pride. I am swept up in the excitement of the victory once again.

Using photography to document something as trivial as the time I bought store brand cotton swabs instead of Q-tips has helped me remember why. . .

store brand cotton swabsI will only buy Q-tips brand from now on. Come to think of it, I should frame this and hang it in my bathroom so I can be reminded every day.

Another way to put photography to use in the memory making process is to document an item you want to remember but don’t have enough room to store. My parents recently found and returned a keepsake of mine; a bread dough sculpture one of my elementary school friends made for me as a going away present, on the occasion of our moving out of the area.

I had forgotten this cute little guy. Even though, I must admit, I don’t remember who gave it to me anymore; it still holds a special place in my heart. Now it will be memorialized in pixels forever and I will stash it in my albums to be rediscovered some day in the future; when I will be transported once again back to, not only the original gifting, but now also the time this gift re-entered my life and the photo shoot and fond memories it ignited.

Join me on memory lane,

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish-Chocolate Caramel Dandies

The Backyard Sisters are getting competitive. The LA Times is holding the third annual cookie recipe competition and we have entered our favorite recipe from our annual Four Sisters Cookie Bake. Entries are being accepted until 5PM PDT today so if you’re feeling the calling to share we welcome the competition. Voting will take place on the LA Times facebook page from November 2-12. We encourage you to visit and vote, especially for ours if you like what you see.  You can peruse all the entries, or search for Chocolate Caramel Dandies. Here’s our entry:

Chocolate Caramel Dandies

If you close your eyes shortly after you slide a pan of crumbly Chocolate Caramel Dandies into the oven, you’ll notice a slight scent of roasted almonds, faint, as if a street vendor one block down has just begun warming his parchment packets of crispy delicacies.

This scent heralds the arrival of the annual Four Sisters Great Cookie Bake, a raucous all-day affair when we, with as many of our ten children as are in town, gather in Pasadena or Torrance or Trabuco Canyon to continue a tradition reaching back to our maternal grandmother and her three sisters.  We bake as if Christmas Eve couldn’t happen if we didn’t fill the white oval platter, big as a hug, to tipping with cookies made from recipes smudged with cocoa and butter and child size fingerprints and as inextricable from our Christmas memory as Santa and a tree and twinkly lights.

We make fudge and peppermint fudge. We bake molasses crinkles, delicate thin sugar crispies and frosted sugar cut-outs. We bake chocolate mud puddles and powdered sugar-covered snowballs and everyday chocolate chip cookies to keep the husbands away from the specialties and we often try something new, but we always, always, always bake Chocolate Caramel Dandies.

In fact, we usually bake two batches because they’re everyone’s favorite, including our neighbors who anticipate their own red plate gifts from the Four Sisters Great Cookie Bake.  It’s the timpani of a milk and semi-sweet chocolate duet, served upon a toasty almond-oatmeal crust and mellowed with a swirl of smooth caramel that thrills.  Even though Chocolate Caramel Dandies are as easy to make as a good decision, we reserve these treats for that one magical week in December when we share our good fortune and good cooking with each other and now here, we share with you.

Chocolate Caramel Dandies

Chocolate Caramel Dandies

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease a 9 x 13″ pan.

1   3/4 C all-purpose flour

1/4 C almond meal

2 C old-fashioned oats

1C packed brown sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 t salt

1 C (2 sticks) butter, melted

2 C (12oz. pkg) chocolate chips.

(I usually mix 1/2 milk chocolate and 1/2 semi-sweet.)

1 C caramel ice cream topping

1/3 C all-purpose flour

Combine 1 3/4 cups flour, almond meal, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Stir in butter.  Mix well.

Measure out one heaping cup of crumble and set aside.

Press remaining crumble mixture into greased 9 X 13″ pan.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Remove from oven.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Let chips melt (about one minute) and spread evenly over crumble mixture.

In a small bowl, combine caramel topping with remaining 1/3 C flour.

Drizzle evenly over melted chocolate chips.

Sprinkle with reserved crumble mixture.

Bake at 350 degree for 20-23 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cool in pan on wire rack then cut into small squares. Makes about 24 two-inch bars.

Tossing our oven mitt into the ring.

~ Catherine and Sue

Desire, expectation, and surprise

Autumn Afternoon

A startled flock of coots.
At once a chorus!  Wing beats rise upon the reservoir, soft like a stadium full of children wearing mittens.

I close my eyes. Can you pretend it’s angels clapping? 

(October 29, 2011)

I find this in my journal and decide to return to the reservoir this morning to snap a quick photo to illustrate my words so I can get back to today’s real task of beginning that novel I will write in a month.

An overcast sky creates a muted light, fitting for this day-after-Halloween hush hanging palpable as the clouds. We pass a few smashed pumpkins and I pick up empty Three Musketeers, Peanut M&M and Snickers wrappers that I find littered along the way.  They crinkle now when I reach into my pocket to grab the camera before we crest the ridge to the reservoir overlook.

Chester pulls on his leash. He’s not used to being confined out here but I don’t want him to  dash into the water and scare the coots like last time before I can focus on:

Four unruffled ducks, utterly unconcerned about our arrival.  Aren’t I a lame one. I should have known better than to expect a repeat performance from something as serendipitous as an entire resting flock of coots which flapped away to my poetic enjoyment.

I give myself permission to skip writing a post today and decide to return quickly home when streak of white flashes on the far shore.

A heron! I’ll admit, I thought it was crane until I got home and learned that cranes fly with necks extended, while herons fly with necks held in a crook. Somehow I find great comfort in knowing that nature allows, in her wisdom for diversity, for both those who stretch as far as they are able in every single flight and those who keep their reach a little closer to their hearts each time they glide.

There in the distance are more herons, an egret, and yes, a few coots.

Chester sits on my foot. Is he telling me not to rush away? We pause and watch the herons swoop and drift and soar. There are no angels clapping but if I squint, it’s easy to imagine, on a day so fresh from memorializing death, that here at dawn we can witness angels flying.  Is this enough for one ordinary day?

We pull ourselves away.
There are words to write and “…miles to go before I sleep.” Chester is used to me quoting him lines of poetry when we walk.  For one brief moment he stops tugging on his leash. He looks over his shoulder and I swear he smiles.

With enchantment,