Sunday, August 31, 2008

Grape Stompin'

Today we went with some friends and visited our favorite local vineyard's Annual Grape Stomp. It's a fun time - we've gone every year for the past 3 years and always enjoy it. The Vineyard is beautiful and the wines are pretty good; if the weather had been a bit cooler I'd say it was a perfect day.
Our boys stompin' grapes and wandering through lavender fields

Thursday, August 28, 2008

He's growing up...

"Franklin could slide down a riverbank all by himself. He could count by twos and tie his shoes. He could even sleep alone, as long as he had a good-night story, a good-night hug, a glass of water, a night-light, and his blue blanket."
an excerpt from Franklin's Blanket, by Paulette Bourgeois

My son, my only child, will be turning 5 next week. Five seems so big to me. He has grown so much in the last year, both physically and mentally, that I really feel like my little boy's days of being little are slipping away so fast.

He has a very special "blankie," one that ever since he was about 9 months of age has never gone anywhere without. Blankie helps calm him when he's upset and helps settle him down before bed at night. Last night, after I had tucked him in to bed, he said to me, "Mommy, when I start Kindergarten I'm going to say goodbye to blankie."

He looked so sad about this decision, but he also knew this was something he needed to do. I hugged him for a minute, hiding the tears in my eyes, and told him that when he's ready we'll wrap blankie up in a special box and put him away in a special place.

Deciding to let something like this go may be a natural part of growing up, but it's still a big deal in his little life. I'm sure neither of us will look forward to the day we say goodbye to blankie. For my son, a special part of his childhood will have come to an end. For me, it will mean my little boy isn't so little anymore. I will probably shed a quiet tear as we put blankie away, but then scoop my son up and talk about all the things we have to look forward to as he grows up.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Manic Monday - Saved by the rainbow

Just in case anyone is wondering, I still loath Mondays. I dread getting out of bed on this particular day of the week, because Mondays make me feel completely OWL (that's Overwhelmed With Life, and you'd know that if you read How To Eat Like A Hot Chick).

Today is the last Monday before child o'mine (stop laughing, Christopher) starts preschool, and it ranked right up there with the most hectic of days. Then, late this afternoon, just when my shoulders began to tense up thinking about all the things I still needed to accomplish, I looked outside and saw this:

It was a full spectrum double rainbow, and so glorious (look closely at the top photo-do you see the second rainbow?) I'm not a photographer, that's not my gift, but I hope you can catch a glimpse of how spectacular this sight was. My decompressor for the day came so beautifully pacakged, don't you think?

Monday, August 18, 2008

How to have a happy weekend

  • Get in car, drive to Austin.
  • Visit my favorite yarn shop and purchase fabulous yarn to make another baby blanket.
  • Stop here for the best cupcake I've ever had (a Vanilla Dream Whipper Snapper, to be exact).
  • Devour above mentioned treat, get frosting on my shirt, cupcake in my hair and a smile on my face.
  • Make homemade pizza with dad and step mom, sit on their deck and watch the wonderful rain while drinking some dang good zin.
  • The next morning, take child for chocolate chip pancakes and see the smile on his face.
  • Drive home, stopping here along the way.
  • Treasure their "honor system" set up - be thankful things like this still exist.
  • Buy some gorgeous flowers, fall squashes and tiny eggplants. Get another smile on my face.

  • Be welcomed home by the sight and sound of more rain (and a husband and dog who missed us).
  • Put child to bed, hear him say he loves me "more than the whole wide world."
  • Climb into bed with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. Be thankful for a happy weekend!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cute Reusuable Shopping Bags

These days, there really is no excuse for not using reusable shopping bags. Even Costco, Wal-Mart and Target have their own bags for purchase, and generally they're pretty inexpensive. My local grocery store sells nice sized, sturdy reusable bags for 99 cents. It took me a while to remember my bags when shopping, but now it's become habit.

I have found that you can pack more items into the reusable bags, so less trips from the car to the house. Plus, there are some pretty cute bags out there, which makes being green even better! Here are two favorites from my collection:

You can find a great assortment of reusable bags at this site, and though they're a bit pricey, I think the investment is well worth it!

If you still need a reason to stop using plastic or paper grocery bags, here's 10:

  1. Paper bag production causes 70% more pollution than plastic.
  2. Plastic grocery bags take 450 years to biodegrade.
  3. Plastic “photo degrades” and ends up in our oceans. It is then consumed by fish, and eventually it winds up on your dinner table (lovely).
  4. If you think everyone is recycling those plastic bags, think again. Only 2% of plastic bags are recycled in the U.S. each year
  5. The recycling of plastic emits heavy metals into the air causing extreme air pollution.
  6. An average person will use over 350 bags in a single year, and with only 2% being recycled? Yikes!
  7. In New York City alone, one less grocery bag per person would reduce waste by 5 million pounds and save $250,000 in disposal costs.
  8. In 1999 more than 14 million trees were cut down to produce 10 billion paper bags that were used by Americans that year.
  9. Many grocery stores are considering not offering paper/plastic bags unless you purchase them (some stores in France already do this).
  10. Shopping with stylish reusable bags is hot!
So, go out and get yourself a couple of cute shopping bags and hit the stores. You'll be encouraging others to do the same, thereby doing your part for the environment. Hey, every little bit counts, right?


Sunday, August 10, 2008

How to make your own dog biscuits

I'd like to think I get my cooking talents from my father. He is one incredible cook - the man can cook anything and hardly ever uses recipes (yes, he's one of those types). Anytime I need cooking advice, he's the one I call (sorry, Mom). So when I wanted to try my hand at making homemade dog biscuits, I called my Dad. Of course he makes his own dog biscuits, why wouldn't he? He also makes his own dog food. I'm not there yet, but I figured I could handle the homemade dog treats.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup molasses
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Process all liquids and sunflower seeds in a food processor until seeds are finely chopped. Add dry ingredients and process until dough ball forms. Add more milk as needed to make dough workable. Roll dough out on floured surface to 1/2" thickness. Use any shape cookie cutter and cut treats out.

Since these do not rise or expand during baking, you can place them close together on your pan.
Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 30 minutes. For crunchy treats, leave them in the oven for one hour after baking. Once completely cooled, store treats in an air tight container.

The verdict from Lily the Lab? Yummy Yummy!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Black Eyed Susans

Planted these in early spring - from seed - and they're one of the few things that's truly thriving in my yard right now. We have had a very HOT summer and NO RAIN, making gardening a true challenge. I'm thankful, though, for these pretty little flowers that put a smile on my face every time I walk out into my back yard.

My Dog Ate It

This is Lily, our 15-month old Chocolate Lab. She is our first Labrador Retriever, got her at 12 weeks of age, and it has taken us some time to get used to her energy level and chewing capacity. (BTW, if you're wondering what dog breed is right for your family, click here) She looks so calm in this picture - but looks can be deceiving. Her full name is Lily B. Good, and she is truly a thief. She gets LOTS of playtime each day; walks, fetching tennis balls and swimming in our pool (we live on 3 1/2 acres of pure dog heaven). Even with all this exercise and play time, you still cannot take your eyes off her for one minute. If you do, she scours the house looking for things to chew. Here is a peek into Lily's culinary adventures JUST THIS WEEK:
  • 2 sponges
  • a red and purple crayon
  • 1 ink pen (great...)
  • a stuffed poodle
  • Jaden's favorite fish drinking cup
  • 1 hose sprayer attachment
  • 1 sprinkler head
  • 1 block of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Jeeze Lily, that stuff's expensive!)
  • 1 plastic hanger
  • 1 small jar of brown kids paint (non-toxic, thank goodness)
  • Hubby's slices of pizza for dinner Wed. night (I told you not to leave your food out)
Oops! What am I thinking, trying to blog when I don't know where the dog is! Gotta go...I think Lily is up to something...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eat Your Spinach

I recently read a hugely funny and informative book called "How To Eat Like A Hot Chick," and came away with a new appreciation for spinach. I've always liked the stuff, never squawked if it was in my food, but never made a steady diet of it either. According to the authors of this book, spinach is a "kick-*** food that will help you feel and look your hottest." Seriously, who doesn't want that? They bring up another good point about Popeye's secret: spinach is totally loaded with antioxidants and may also "help protect our hot little a**** from osteoporosis, heart disease, colon cancer and arthritis." Again seriously, who wouldn't want that?

The book gives many creative ways to sneak spinach into your daily life, and one of my favs is their spinach soup recipe. I've doctored it up just a bit - and hope you try this 'cause it's pretty hot (I even got my four-year old to eat some --- wooo-hooo!)

My version of the Hot Chicks Spinach Soup

In a soup pot set on medium heat, sauté some minced onion in a tablespoon of EV olive oil (if you've read this book you know the authors HATE olive oil. I don't and prefer to cook with it instead of using the butter they call for). After the onions cook a bit, add two cloves of minced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add four cups of skim milk, a pinch of fresh grated nutmeg and a pound of cooked spinach. (NOTE: you can either puree the cooked spinach before adding to the soup, or use an immersion blender once you've added the spinach, which I prefer, because it purees everything together nicely.) Season the soup generously with salt and pepper and serve topped with LOTS of Parmesan cheese. So good, it's hot!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Homemade Body Scrub

I am a coffee lover - the smell of fresh brewed coffee gets me out of bed in the morning and I'm not a happy camper until I've had my first few sips. When I learned that caffeine is actually good for your skin (caffeine increases blood flow, which is very beneficial as a topical cellulite treatment and it's proven to revive the look of dull skin) I started making my own body scrub using ground coffee as the main ingredient. I must admit the stuff works. I use it about twice a week and my skin truly does look better. Several people have asked me for the recipe, so, pass the java - it's time to make some body scrub!

Coffee Body Scrub

(this makes enough for about 3-4 uses. You can double the recipe if you'd like)
1/2 cup ground coffee (I use fresh, but you can also recycle your used grounds)
1/4 cup brown sugar (for an extra beneficial exfoliant)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (for aromatherapy)
1/3 cup LIGHT olive oil or sweet almond oil
(I also add a few squirts of Vitamin E oil. If you have the capsules, just pierce a few and squeeze them into your scrub mixture)

Put all ingredients in a bow and combine thoroughly. Transfer to a jar or plastic container and store at room temperature. Use scrub in a hot shower and leave on your skin for a few minutes for maximum benefits.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

BBQ Pizza

Pizza on the grill - it's so good, the topping combos are endless, and you get to make pizza on your barbecue, which is fun and easy. This weekend we made two versions and I can't decide which one I liked better (pizza on right is a sausage mushroom, left is White Pizza, recipe follows).
You can top these pizzas with whatever turns you on; I've shared a few of my favorites below that are worth trying.
First, you need to make the dough. Hello? Is anyone still reading this? It's very simple and easy to make homemade pizza dough, so please don't let this part scare you and by all means, don't skip it and buy a ready-made crust.
Food Processor Pizza Dough:
One 1/4-ounce package yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp)
1 tsp. sugar
2 - 2 1/2 cups Bread Flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. EV olive oil
Combine 3/4 cup lukewarm water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade. Let this mixture stand five minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups of the flour, the salt and the oil and process until a soft dough forms. Add as much of the remaining flour as necessary, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough is manageable. Shape the dough in a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Roll the dough around the bowl to coat with oil, then cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 30 - 35 minutes.

Topping Suggestions:
  • BBQ Chicken Pizza: top with shredded barbecued chicken (I use the premade stuff that comes in a carton at my grocery store), minced red onion, cilantro and Mexican cheese (I use queso fresco)
  • Greek Pizza: puree roasted red peppers to use as sauce, then top with Greek olives, artichoke hearts, sliced mushrooms, spinach, sliced yellow or orange bell peppers and feta cheese.
  • White Pizza: mix fresh thyme leaves with ricotta cheese, a bit of salt and pepper, and spread on crust. Top with thinly sliced zucchini and yellow squash and scatter some basil leaves on top.
To make the Pizza:
Preheat your grill so that one side is high heat and the other is medium (if using a charcoal grill, put the coals to one side). Roll out the dough on an oiled surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Put the dough on a pizza plate or cutting board and brush the top of the dough with olive oil. Spray grill with non-stick spray and flip the dough OILED SIDE DOWN on to the hottest side of the grill. Cook until grill marks form, about two minutes. Flip dough and move to medium heat side of grill, then top with desired toppings. Close grill lid and cook until topping appear done and the underside of dough is nicely browned. Check frequently to prevent burning.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Summer Squash Gratin

If your garden is like ours right now, chances are you have zucchini and yellow squash coming out your ears. This recipe is a great use of squash in the summer because it has such a light flavor and goes with anything. You can substitute thinly sliced potatoes or onions for the leeks, and you can also add tomatoes if you choose.

Summer Squash Gratin
2 large leeks (ends discarded) washed and thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced
3 tbs. EV olive oil, plus more for coating dish
S and P to taste
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Heat oven to 425. Brush a gratin dish (or 9" glass pie plate) with olive oil. Place sliced leeks, zucchini and yellow sqaush in a bowl and gently toss with 2 tbs. olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange vegetables in dish in a circular pattern, slightly overlapping them. In another bowl, mix remaining ingredients and sprinkle topping over vegetables. Bake until veggies are tender and topping is golden, about 20-25 minutes.