Accessories on the fly

If I’m getting dressed up for a night out on the town, or even a daytime outing, I sometimes find myself in the situation where I don’t have the perfect piece of jewelry to complement my outfit. At this point, I’ll head to my beading kit and see what I can whip up for a quick accessory.

banana republic sweater dress

One day, while waiting for a home furnishings store to open, I popped into a nearby Michael’s to peruse the aisles. I was wearing a fun, new sweater dress I had picked up on the clearance rack at Banana Republic for the bargain basement price of $30. I didn’t have any great accessories to pair with it, so went to check out the bead aisle to see what Michael’s had. I found a string of Jasper beads in the same color family as my dress that would make a super cute and easy-to-make bracelet. The beads were 50% off, so they definitely met my “on sale” standard. I made this fashionable bracelet in about 3 minutes. These are great for yourself or as a homemade gift for someone else.

Here’s what you do:

  • String the beads onto stretchy clear cord
  • Measure out how many will fit on your wrist to your desired slouchiness
  • Tie off in a knot and snip extra cord
  • VOILA! Instant accessory!


Cost: $2.50 (I had the clear cord in my beading stash already, but it is generally inexpensive)

Tip: Paint the knot you made in the stretchy cord with clear nail polish to help it stay put.

You could also make a long necklace with three of the strands for under $10. I just happen to be a bracelet girl, myself.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, two ways

Kitchen Aid stand mixer

When I registered for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, I never thought I would get so much joy out of a single kitchen appliance. Not only is my lemongrass Kitchen Aid a pretty addition to the countertop, it is an amazing piece of machinery. I’ll bake simply to use my mixer, much to my husband’s delight.

It’s been raining lately and what better excuse for warming the house with baking smells than a drizzly day?

I found and slightly modified a recipe from Tyler Florence for Chocolate Chip Cookies. One version is a seductively sinful dark chocolate and tart cherry version, another is a delicious milk chocolate, coconut and walnut version. Try dividing the batter in half like I did to make two different kinds! I dare you to eat just one at a time!


  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • version 1: 1/2 bag bittersweet chocolate chips, 5 oz. dried tart cherries, 1/3 c walnut pieces
  • version 2: 1/2 bag semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips, 1/4 c shredded coconut, 1/3 c walnut pieces

milk chocolate, coconut and walnut CCCs
milk chocolate, coconut and walnut CCCs
dark chocolate & tart cherry CCCs
dark chocolate & tart cherry CCCs


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Place the butter, sugar, and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer; cream together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the vanilla and eggs. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and continue to mix until a smooth batter forms. Turn off the mixer and fold in your choice of goodies.

To form the cookies, scoop cookie dough into your hands and roll it around into an 1 1/2 inch diameter ball; place them about 3-inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets; you should get about 9 cookies on each pan. Press down the tops of the dough slightly and bake until the cookies are light brown, 12 minutes for chewy cookies, or about 15 minutes for crispy cookies.

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough/cookie sheets.

Halibut with Chickpea Salad

Giada De Laurentiis is one of my favorite Food Network chefs. She makes a fabulously light and fresh tasting halibut dish that my husband and I enjoy frequently. It is so simple to prepare and the cumin-lemon-honey vinagrette for the salad is out-of-this-world yummy. Try it tonight for a quick and delicious dinner.

halibut and chickpea salad



  • 1 (6-ounce) halibut steak
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  • 1 head frisee, chopped
  • 1 cup arugula, chopped
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalk removed, halved, and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


For the halibut: Place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the halibut with olive oil and season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill until cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

For the salad: In a large bowl, combine the frisee, arugula, tomatoes, chickpeas, and fennel. In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, cumin, salt, and pepper. Drizzle the olive oil mixture over the salad and toss to combine. Serve with fish.

Cooking Tip: Again, feel free to modify the recipe as needed for your household. I am not strict about amounts of veggies in the salad – I usually throw in a couple handfuls of arugula, chop up some frisee, throw in some tomatoes, add sugar snap peas for crunch, use only about 1/4 of a fennel bulb (the flavor is great but can be overpowering), and use only half a can of chickpeas. So, so good.

Shopping Tip: Veggies are cheapest and most fresh at local farmers markets. Halibut tends to be a quite-expensive-when-fresh fish, so I either buy it when on sale or purchase it frozen from Trader Joes.

Spice up your Kitchen

glass spice jars

If you love being in the kitchen, you probably have a drawer or shelf full of herbs and spices that you have to sift through every time you want to cook or bake something. I’d been looking for a spice rack, but 1.) didn’t want anything that would sit on a counter, and 2.) wanted something simple and clean looking – no big black plastic lids or cheesy labels.

My husband found the perfect rack for us in the clearance section of Home Depot that would hang from our wire kitchen rack.

Williams-Sonoma has really nice cylindrical, glass spice jars for $18 for 12. The price was not terrible for what I wanted (and I’m a sucker for anything from WS), but I hate paying shipping and this set was not available in stores.

Then I went to Cost Plus – another one of my favorite home everything stores – and found similar glass jars with silver lids for 99 cents each. Deal!

DYMO LetraTag LT-100H

I do like the look of labeled spices and, honestly, I’m not sure I’m good enough of a cook to remember every spice simply by looking at it or smelling it . So I went to Target and purchased a label maker (on sale, of course!) and clear label tape and made my own labels! As an aside, label makers are amazing for identifying boxes in the garage – invest in one to make your life more organized!

Shopping Tip: I have found the best prices on everyday, household spices at 99 cent Stores, Big Lots, Target, and Walmart. For harder to find spices, try Cost Plus, Trader Joes or local ethnic grocery stores.


Cashew Chicken

cooking light magazine

I’ve always been a big fan of Cooking Light Magazine. For the most part, the recipes are quite tasty and are a great way to cut calories and fat without losing flavor.

One of my all-time favorite Cooking Light recipes is Cashew Chicken. I’ve often found stir fry recipes bland but this is a perfect balance between salty and sweet, and has a delicious crunch. This is a meal we make at least once a month, not only for the taste, but midweek simplicity.

chopsticks cashew chicken crate and barrel bowl


  • 1/2 c chicken stock
  • 3 TB oyster sauce
  • 1.5 TB cornstarch
  • 1.5 TB honey
  • 1 TB soy sauce
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • oil for pan
  • 1 c chopped green onion
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 c red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 c carrot, sliced
  • 1 c mushrooms
  • 1 c sugar snap peas
  • 1 lb chicken breast, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c pineapple chunks
  • 1/3 c cashews
  • crushed red pepper for heat
  • brown rice


  • Combine the first seven ingredients (through salt) in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Heat oil in wok. Add 1/2 c green onions and onion wedges and cook until browned. Add chicken to onion mixture and stir fry until no longer translucent, about 5 – 10 minutes, depending on the temperature of your wok.
  • Add carrots, stir fry 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms, snap peas and bell pepper, stir fry for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add sauce to wok with pineapple, cashews and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer until thick.
  • Stir in remaining green onions and serve over brown rice. Enjoy!

As with all recipes, tweaking is allowed. I am not strict in terms of the proportions of “stuff” – just don’t mess with the sauce! I usually cook for two, so I’ll often use a bit less of everything with the same amount of sauce.

Stir fry veggies should have a nice crunch, so make sure not to cook them too long. They are perfect when they are beautifully bright and colorful.

Shopping tips: Shop your local farmer’s market for fresh and inexpensive produce. Also, buy chicken breast in bulk when on sale – I usually wait and stock up when it hits $1.99/lb here in Southern California. You can freeze the breasts individually for quick weekday meals.