Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Days of December

There are many things I love about the Christmas season. I love the spirit, the sights and sounds (my favorite Christmas songs are not so traditional, a few of which are playing for you now). I love the food, the celebrations, the cards that come only once a year, buying our tree (a real tree and nothing but), and especially Christmas Eve. That is my favorite day in December. There is a feeling on that day like no other. My son loves every day in December, thanks mostly to a gift we received from a very special family.  About 6 years ago, we had a Norwegian exchange student join our family for a year. Marte is now like a daughter to me, and our time with her was one of the best experiences I've ever had. She and her family left us with many special memories and gifts.  One of those gifts has become a much anticipated Christmas tradition in our house. We call it the Star Calendar.  It hangs on my son's bedroom door, and is the reason he's up at sunrise every day, checking what treat was left for him. This year, I think I'll mix it up a bit, taking some inspiration from this blog. I love the activities she's come up with; what a great way to celebrate the spirit of the season. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Sweetest Thing

What a difference a year makes.  This photo was taken at last year's Bake Sale:
Dorothy was in the throws of her battle with kidney cancer.  She was so brave, and always happy despite everything her little body was going through.  In her three years of life, she has fought a battle tougher than many of us will ever know. Dorothy has been in remission for a year now, and this is nothing short of a miracle.  

Here is Dorothy today-happy and healthy and full of life. She truly is the sweetest thing.

Healthy children are a blessing we should never take for granted.  As we gear up for our Cookies For Kids' Cancer bake sale this weekend, please keep all the brave children battling cancer in your prayers. If you're local, come out to Boerne Market Days and support our cause, or visit the Cookies website and donate. And always, always be thankful for the healthy children in your life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A blanket of love

Blanket, you are soft and comfortable
in the coldest winter, you keep me warm.
You surround me like soft cotton.
You give me long, sweet dreams,
and keep me wrapped in your warmth.
You are sweet, my blanket.

I'm knitting this right now - a blanket for someone very special. 
I haven't met him yet, but I already love him.
I will be his aunt, and spoil him for sure.
He will change a lot of things for a lot of people.
And I hope he loves his blanket.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

There is so much more

There is so much more to life than the daily grind.
It's easy to get caught up in our lives and forget about those who are in need, especially when we seem to be so blessed.  But the fact remains; there are many in need.

A few years ago, my heart began to open it's eyes to see the needs of others, not just myself and my family.   They say that the greatest impact you can have may come out of pain. We might not understand why sometimes we have to travel a difficult road to discover wonderful opportunities, but I guess we're not meant to understand everything.

How can any of us understand why children get cancer? It seems so unfair that this horrible disease can inflict itself on our most innocent, but is does. And it continues to be the number one disease killer of children in the U.S.  Another fact that many people don't know is the extreme lack of funding for pediatric cancer research.  Did you know that 8 out of 10 clinical trials are funded by the private sector?

My passion for raising money and awareness for pediatric cancer research came out of a very difficult time for my family. Last year, we baked our hearts out for a cause (you can read about that here and here).   We are gearing up for another bake sale this year, because even though my family is no longer in the throws of pediatric cancer, many others are.  And they need our help. Give thanks for the blessings in your life.  Be especially grateful for healthy kids, and get involved to make a difference for those who are not.

If you are reading this, please visit Cookies for Kids' Cancer and learn how you can help.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Come. Sit. Heal.

I recently wrote an article for children about Therapy Dogs. I am already a dog lover, but through my research, I gained an even deeper respect for Man's Best Friend. A dog's ability to heal people goes beyond our comprehension. Mostly because they achieve this through the simplest means. Dogs heal us by just being. I have a dog, a goofy chocolate lab named Lily. Not everyone sees the best in her, but I do. She's like my second child, my shadow, and I can't imagine life without her. She's even chewed up my favorite pair of shoes and an heirloom sewing item that was my grandmothers, but I love her no less. I came across this little tidbit during my research, and I wanted to share it. The author is unknown, but clearly knows dogs. Enjoy.

If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can get going without pep pills,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can overlook it when those you love take it out on
you when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no
prejudice against creed, color, religion or politics,

Then, my friend, you are almost as good as your dog!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The color of my eyes

My eyes had many colors yesterday:  the first day of first grade for my little boy, who will soon be seven and isn't so little any more. My eyes woke up gray, fogged with drowsiness, then quickly changed to green, because it was time to get up and go. A little bit of silver and gold flew in to express my excitement about the big day. While walking to class (we only get to do this on the first day, so I treasure it!), my eyes turned blue when my son announced he didn't need to hold my hand. I reached for it, but was told "that's OK mommy, I'll just hold my backpack."  Ouch. Even though some good friends did a great job of keeping me busy most of the day, my eyes were brown, non-expressive and stagnant. After school, bright yellow as I waited to pick him up, anxious to see his eyes, which would tell me a lot about his day.

My eyes are hazel again, the color they've always been, as we made it through a big day and all in all, it was pretty good.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Your wife is hot, so it's cold soup for you!

There is only a small window of time in which I don't really dig living in Texas. That time is right now, and the reason is the weather. Once the end of July rolls us into August, the heat turns up to high. It becomes smokin' HOT. No rain, no cool breeze.  The pool is hot, the Gulf of Mexico is hot, everywhere and everything is HOT. Even the water that comes out of the hose is hot.

About this time, I start to think about becoming a nudist I begin to give my kitchen the evil eye for even considering that I might try to cook something for dinner. Right now, it's all about not cooking. Great White Hunter has had to live with lots of salads and sandwiches lately, and I can't believe he didn't gripe about the cold soup last night.  Most people think gazpacho when they think of cold soup, or maybe vichyssoise, but I was thinking cucumbers. Probably because our garden spits out about 3 a day, and I'm running out of ways to serve them. So, in addition to some pretty tasty submarine sandwiches (watchout all you Subway sandwich artists...) I served this:
Cold cucumber mint soup
A favorite old recipe from Martha, I used to make this all time but have forgotten how good it is. And so easy! The key is getting the right amount of salt and pepper to truly bring out the cucumber and mint flavors. Here's the recipe if you'd like to give it a whirl (in your blender, of course :-) And you can click here for a listing of about 40 other cold soup recipes. Who knew there were so many!

4 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1 small or 1/2 large clove garlic
1 cup plain yogurt, low-fat if desired (I used Fage Greek Yogurt, ridiculously thick and so good)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
1/4 cup water
4 scallions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.  Cut 1 cucumber into small dice, and set aside for garnish. Cut others into large chunks. Combine cucumber chunks, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice, and water in a blender, and puree until smooth.

2.  Add scallions and mint leaves, reserving some of the mint for garnish, and puree briefly. Season with salt and pepper, and add more lemon juice if a tarter flavor is desired.

3.  Chill until ready to serve. Stir well before serving, and ladle into bowls or mugs, garnishing each serving with a big spoonful of diced cucumber and a sprig of mint.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where two or three are gathered

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt. 18:20)
Our family has been at a crossroads with "religion" for quite some time now. We have been church shopping for way too long, and more Sunday's than not, end up staying home. The problem I have with this is that it becomes so easy to neglect the health of our souls and we begin to replace church with preferring to engage in the temptations of the world. Why has it been so difficult for us to find a place to strengthen and renew our faith? I don't really know, but I will venture to say that "religion" keeps getting in the way; dogma mostly, and beliefs that one faith is superior to another. 

While we have recently returned to our old church (a non-denominational bible-based community church), we do not show up every Sunday. Last Sunday, when we actually made it to church, the pastor said something that really hit home. He said that sometimes, we get caught up in the routine of church and simply go through the motions. As a result, we miss what worship is truly about. 
This morning, due to one reason or another, we did not make it to church. Instead, we did something that was kind of cool, and something we plan on doing on those Sundays when we just can't get it together. We held our own church, outside on our porch, the three of us and our Bibles. We discussed a few Bible verses, read a Psalm, and said a prayer. It was nice, it was contemplative, but mostly it was a time for our family to be still and know God.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

If I seem confused, it's because my mind is on vacation

I can't take credit for the title of this post. My seven year old son uttered this phrase last night while we were walking our dog. It was like the child was reading my mind (which has been on vacation for several days now)!  I'm feeling a little wacky lately, something I will blame on hormones, because these days I blame everything on hormones.  In all seriousness, I have felt a little like I'm losing my mind.

Thank goodness I have plenty to do to keep myself busy. Yesterday I went out to pick some figs from our ginormous tree, 

and I was greeted by a party of vermin, trying to beat me to the picking. After I put my heart back in my chest (those dastardly squirrels scared me when they leaped out of the tree, cheeks full of figs) I discovered there were a few figs left for us humans to consume. And consume them we did. Wrapped up these sweet little gems in thin slices of prosciutto di parma, sprinkled them with aged balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme and shavings of parmigiano reggiano cheese, and scarfed them down. Delish.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


It happens the same time every year. Everything in our garden ripens all at once, and I'm scrambling to find ways to use our harvest before Great White Hunter cans it all. While canned garden goods are nice, I think fresh is best.

A little over 10 years ago, way before Disney's movie that managed to make rats seem cute and talented, I started making ratatouille. The way this dish was prepared in the movie, more like a confit, layered in a high sculptural form, was the idea of celebrity chef Thomas Keller (the owner of the famed French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley). Julia Child insisted on making ratatouille in a similar fashion: by cooking the eggplant and zucchini separate, making a sauce with the tomatoes, peppers and herbs, then layering in a casserole dish and baking in the oven.

My version is much simpler, and much more rustic looking, as everything is cooked together. Inspired by a Provence recipe, I cook my eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes and herbs all in one pot. This is very easy to make, and absolutely delicious. My child devours it - "without the basil please mommy" - but still.

3 tbsp. EVOO
2 cups chopped onion
2 1-lb eggplants, unpeeled, and cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 zucchini, unpeeled and cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 yellow or green bell pepper, cut into chunks
2 3/4 lbs rip tomatoes, seeded and coarsly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add eggplant and garlic, saute 5 minutes. Add zucchini and peppers, saute 5 more minutes. Mix in tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf (you can  also add a dash of herbs de Provence if you'd like). Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until veggies are tender, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf, stir in basil and season generously with salt and pepper. This dish can be served hot, warm, or cold, and can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead. It makes a wonderful side dish, or a base for grilled fish, but is also perfect as a light summer main course. Serve it with crusty bread and good wine. Yum!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Create yourself

Inspiration can come from many things. But a dish towel? 

Yes, a dish towel. This adorable dish really spoke to me. 

I once had a bustling career with hopes and dreams of what I could achieve.  Then motherhood hit me, and I gave it all up to spend every waking minute with this miracle that is my child. As time went by, I began  to wonder, what the heck happened to me? I used to have dreams and goals for myself; a career that gave me purpose. Now I'm just living for everyone else.

I recently heard someone say, "Let your children see you have a passion for something. Be a mom first, but don't lose who you are." OK, wow.

For a while now, I've been thinking I may have lost myself and my passion. Then I see this cute dish towel, and it reminded me I haven't lost myself, I just haven't created a new me.

So, who do I want to be?
First, I want to be a mom.  The best mom I know how to be.  As I see it, a wonderful opportunity is given to each of us who are raising children.  Yes, it's hard.  Mentally draining at times, but what job isn't? I'm sure there are other noble professions out there that sometimes make you feel as if you're slowly being pecked to death by a chicken. But how many jobs let you play an integral part in raising good and kind human beings? 

Second, I want to make a difference in the world. The founder of Cookies for Kids' Cancer quoted Gandhi when she said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." Her son was diagnosed with cancer. She created an organization to help change the future of pediatric cancer research. But it doesn't take ginormous efforts, even the smallest things can bring about change. So with this in mind I will continue to give where there are needs. Raising money for pediatric cancer research. Check. Helping out at the local food bank or nursing home? Check. Trying to inspire others to give back as well? Check. 

Last, I want to turn my creative passion into something worthwhile. Have my own restaurant? Maybe. Open a yarn shop? Hmmm... Become a writer?  All these things are passions of mine, so I'll be searching until I find what I'm looking for. But in the meantime, I'm showing my son I have a passion for something. It took time for me to figure this out, but while I was busy being a Mom, I have created exactly who I want to be.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


FLASHBACK: It's the last week of school. Your schedule is packed. So much to do, so little time. It's kind of out of control, but you keep your eyes focused on what's ahead. Summertime...

Summer always arrives in the nick of time. Just as you are about to run out of gas, life refuels you with summer. Schedule-wise, things aren't much different: obligations don't disappear in the summer air, and in an effort to keeps our kids from driving us crazy getting too bored, we fill their days with camps, sports, swim lessons and play dates. But there's something about summer that breathes a sigh of relief and brings respite from the monotony and fast pace of the school year. 

At our house, summer means hot days and lots of dips in the pool. In the evening, it's warm enough to eat dinner outside and linger until it gets dark and the air fills with the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle. We spend more than just a weekend at the beach. All the hard work we've been pouring into our garden begins to pay off. And my kitchen gets a little break as the grill takes over.

Summer food. Oh so good, and one of my favorite signs that summer is here. Last night's dinner was amazing. Fresh swordfish, grilled on alder wood planks and topped with a mustard sauce that left us at a loss for words. A bowl of vine ripened tomatoes, tossed with a bit of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and lots of fresh basil.  And since we had just picked about 5 pounds of peaches, peach lavender cobbler for dessert.  

What do you love about summer?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chef in the making

If you've spent any time at all reading my blog, you know I love to cook. For me, good food can take you out of yourself and transport you to a different place. Cooking is in my bones, and probably in my DNA.  My dad is an incredible cook--a natural; I never saw him use a recipe, but grew up watching him concoct delicious meals that looked as good as they tasted. My comfort food memories are gifts from my Mom. Warm pudding, mashed potatoes, and the best lasagna, turkey soup and apple pie I've ever had. 

I guess it goes without saying that I want my son to experience all the joys of cooking I have come to love. I want him to be shaped, in part, by a passion for good food; to have taste memories that take him back to a certain time and place.

Earlier this spring, I discovered a friend was opening a cooking school for kids. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from our house. I was giddy, to say the least. It wasn't even a question I would sign my son up. To my delight, he was very excited about his summer "cooking camps." Today was his first class, and in his small eyes it was a huge success. He loved everything about it. So did I. The Boerne Cooking Cottage is set in a quaint old house, immaculately restored and designed with the young cook in mind.

"Chef Lauren," as the kids call her, is a treasure. She has amazing teaching skills and patience, plus a dash of fun, which provides for an awesome kid-friendly cooking experience.  My little chef hasn't stopped talking about his "beautiful and delicious banana pudding" all night. We are LOVING this cooking school and can't wait for the next class. If you're local, please stop by and visit The Cooking Cottage. Sign your children up. You won't regret it. The gifts they'll gain will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mer - Sea

J'aime la mer.
I saw a pillow, similar to this one, at my favorite beach shop in Port Aransas (in fact, there's even a picture of her here [3rd row, middle pic]). I fell in love with her immediately. The price tag, though, not so much (a mere $400). No can buy, I said. But I could probably make, I thought. So I did.  And I love her. She is fashioned in a similar way to all the rag dolls I make, but I had to freehand the pattern which was surprisingly easy. I used tea-dyed muslin, cotton netting for her hair, and hot glued a boat-load of small sea shells to her body.  I'm taking her down to the beach this weekend, where she'll sit peacefully on my bed. Reminding me how much I love the sea.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Squirrel Situation

The Texas Hill Country is a beautiful place to live, however challenging for us gardeners.  We share our home with volatile weather, deer and other creatures big and small who make gardening a little arduous. Most people would think deer to be the major problem; not so for us.  Our problem is a bit smaller and much more destructive. Our problem is squirrels. I used to think they were cute, until they began to eat everything, and I mean everything. They attack every bird feeder I put out and leave nothing for our fine feathered friends. Every plant I stick in the ground they nibble on or dig up trying to bury their stash of food. I've even seen them relaxing on my front porch like it's Club Med (my chocolate lab is absolutely no help in deterring them-she prefers chewing shoes over chasing squirrels). Their cuteness has slowly turned to annoyance.  I'm taking the gloves off; let the games begin.

I've tried everything to humanely handle our squirrel problem (I would be happy to peacefully coexist with these critters, but they just don't understand boundaries). They could care less if my lovely petunias taste like Tabasco or if the soil reeks of blood meal or big cat pee (don't ask). I have constantly complained to Great White Hunter about their little shenanigans, expecting him to relish the fact he was being asked to join the fight. Shockingly, he didn't seem to care. Until those little buggers had quite the fiesta in el jardin.

To say Great White Hunter was a bit upset is an understatement. He now feels my pain. 
After a trip to the local do-it-yourself store, he came home with an arsenal of have-a-heart products designed to help our situation. So far, nothing has worked. Last night, when we noticed little so-and-so sitting in our backyard, munching on a piece of fruit pilfered from one of our trees, the hunter in my husband reared its ugly head. "Did you want your squirrel BBQ'd or fried?" he mumbled as he trotted off to get something a little less humane. The problem is: he is not joking. The next time my husband gets the urge to cook, you can bet I'll be having a salad. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The joy is in the journey

There is no travel guide for motherhood.  It's an adventure you can't prepare yourself for no matter how hard you try. Motherhood is a magnificent journey, sometimes hard and sometimes overwhelming, but worth the trip. The moment we begin this journey, we are no longer the person we were before. The territory is almost always unfamiliar, as each day brings new challenges. Sometimes we get lost and want to give up. But then we come across a beautiful discovery, a gift that only motherhood can give, and we have once again found our way. 

Along the way, we stop to smell the roses, but we respect the thorns.  By doing so we become better mothers.

Be thankful for the the journey of motherhood. It is a true blessing.

Friday, April 30, 2010

So you wanna be startin' something (this is me on a soap box)

Jaime Oliver is right. We need a food revolution. I've only watched his show once but he's definitely a man on a mission, and with good cause. The other morning, Great White Hunter took my little kindercutie to school early, giving him the treat of having breakfast at school. This will never happen again. When I asked my son what he had for breakfast that day, he said he didn't eat. I was kind of upset, thinking he chose to goof around with buddies instead of eating, but then he told me why. "They served corn dogs with syrup for breakfast, mommy." While I was proud of my kid for opting out of a clearly unhealthy breakfast, I was not too thrilled with the food program at his school for offering this as an acceptable breakfast.

To add insult to injury, last night I saw a commercial that was, quite frankly, shocking. It made me realize this country really is headed in the wrong direction when it comes to health and nutrition. This particular restaurant, I will refrain from naming it, was promoting their new breakfast item which consists of two pancakes with a ginormous slab of cheesecake smeared in between and topped with something that loosely resembles fruit. Oh. My. Goodness. Now I realize why everyone else views American's eating habits so poorly. This is what they see. And the problem is, if you make it, they will eat it.

So here's the thing, I don't normally get on a soap box and I apologize for my rantings. But something's gotta give. This country has got to wake up and smell the problem. If you would like to get involved, I encourage you to sign Jaime Oliver's petition here, and volunteer to start a revolution in your town. Our children's health is at stake.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


What do you think of when you hear the word herbal? Hippies? Homeopathic remedies? Many things come to my mind when I hear the word herbal: a sense of serenity, fragrant bliss, even romance (some herbs have legends and lore deeply rooted in love).

I LOVE herbs. Maybe because they are so easy to grow, and flourish with the least amount of care. Maybe for their endless culinary uses, or because their scent makes me happy (I'm easily entertained). Whatever the reason, I love herbs. 

When I first moved to the Hill Country of Texas, I discovered a small nursery that was home to a myriad of herbs. I found countless varieties of oregano, sage, thyme, mint, basil, lavender, rosemary, the list goes on. Move over Disneyland, this nursery was now my happiest place on earth. And it still is. I've started incorporating herbs in pots with flowers on my patio. I love the mix of flowers and herbs, and they seem to have a harmonious relationship, growing well together. 

I have several cookbooks centered around herbs, buy my favorite is The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld.  For me, cooking with herbs is like icing a cake; it completes the dish. I relish in being able to walk out into your yard, clip a handful of fragrant herbs, and transform an ordinary recipe into an extraordinary one. This recipe, from The Herbfarm Cookbook, makes a wonderful herb infused bread that will show off your herbalness!

Slice a loaf of artisan bread, being careful not to cut all the way through. Brush the inside of the slices with melted garlic butter (In a small pot, melt unsalted butter and add crushed garlic. Heat until  the garlic loses its raw fragrance but does not brown). Tuck handfuls of fresh herbs between the slices (I use a mixture of oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and marjoram). Wrap the loaf loosely in foil, leaving the top open. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until  heated through. Discard the herbs when serving.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lessons of love

I have one of those grandmothers. You know the type. Every time you showed up on her doorstep, she greeted you with the biggest smile and the warmest hug. After smothering you with kisses, she whisked you away to the kitchen and fed you the best homemade delights. Food that let you know you were at Grandma's. And nothing from a box or a can. Ever. She was an expert cook, gardener, hostess, seamstress, and all around domestic queen. She always made you feel like you were worth the effort, and she loved you more than you thought possible (and always "up to the moon").

Just about every memory I have of my grandmother involves cooking. She taught me so many things, from how to scramble the perfect egg to making some of the most complicated dishes. Everything she made looked and tasted incredible. And she did it with such ease. 

My grandmother celebrated her 91st birthday this week. These last few years have aged her and changed her quite a bit. Even though I can still see her and talk to her, I miss her. I miss all the wonderful times we spent together. I miss our conversations and her wisdom. Most of all, I miss cooking with her. I'm so thankful for everything she taught me. I will continue to keep her legacy alive and pass her traditions on.
I love you grandma. Up to the moon.

Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

Tsoureki, pronounced TSOO-REH-KEE, is a sweet bread traditionally served by Greeks to celebrate Easter. My grandmother made it every year. It should be baked on Good Friday and is considered good luck to do so. Intense red-dyed eggs are added to the bread to represent the blood of Christ (again sticking with tradition, the eggs should only be dyed on Holy Thursday). There are many different recipes for Tsoureki, but I always use a scaled down version of my grandmother's.  This is her hand-written copy (I love the hearts) and because she could bake this from memory, only ingredients are listed, no how-to.  Good thing she taught me well.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves):
2 cups milk
2/3 cup butter
1 tsp. sugar
4 packages active dry yeast (do not use rapid rise)
6 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tbsp. fresh grated orange zest
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
8-9 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Place the milk in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add the butter, stirring it into the milk as it melts, then allow to cool slightly to about 110 degrees. Sprinkle 1 tsp. sugar into the milk mixture, then add the yeast. Allow to ferment for about 5 minutes. Place milk/yeast mixture in a large bowl; add eggs, remaining sugar, salt, 4 cups of flour, orange juice and zest. Using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix until all flour is combined. Add remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until dough is easy to handle.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Punch dough down, knead again and then divide the dough in half. Shape each piece into 3 ropes, each 12 inches long. Pinch the 3 ropes together at one end, then braid the 3 ropes into a plaited loaf. Repeat the process with the other 3 ropes.

Once the bread is braided, insert the red eggs and brush with beaten egg. Allow to rise again, about 30 minutes.  For a decorative touch, add blanched slivered almonds after brushing with egg.
Bake the bread in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temp to 350 and bake for 20 minutes longer. The finished loaves are glorious.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Flower fix

Good friends always have good advice. They can help you sort out your thoughts and see the light at the end of tunnel. And if the light is pretty far off, you can count on your friends to find ways to cheer you up. I was having lunch with some girlfriends the other day, sharing some issues and thankful for their attentive listening earsAfterwords, my good friend gave me a hug and said, "Go get yourself some flowers to put around the house, they will brighten your day."

She was right. And I did. As simple as it may sound, surrounding yourself with the beauty of nature truly does wonders for your outlook on life. No matter how bad you feel, the vivid colors of flowers and the beauty they add to your environment can make you feel a little less agitated and more hopeful about the outcome of the day.

So why not try and keep yourself a little box of happiness and hope at your house? Pick up a couple bouquets of flowers, or maybe even a few flowering gems for your yard. You'll be amazed at the quick fix flowers can bring.

Got me a Streptocarpus - no, not a sickness, a beautiful plant closely related to the African violet.  It's one of my favorite flowering houseplants. Learn how to care for it here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Picture Perfect Vacation

We had barely arrived and my little man just had to make his very first snowman, whom we appropriately named "Slumpy"
(and yes, I knit both of those hats, thank you very much!)
The view from our deck was awesome, and so were the slopes!

To say Jaden loved the snow is an understatement.
Jaden was a natural on skis, and pretty independent. I only had to dig him out of the trees once...
We had an amazing time, and have already mades plans to go back next year.  
Can't wait.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring, sweet spring

Today I'm packing for our ski trip: jackets, sweaters, scarves, hats and mittens galore.
I'm headed to a winter wonderland, but Spring is outside my door.

Our fruit trees are in bloom, scenting the air with their sweet fragrance.
No need to play music outside, the birds are handling that.
My garden spade winks at me,
anxious for the chance to do some serious work.
It's been a long, cold winter here,
and I can't wait to dig in.

Spring is on its way.
Take some time to really see it.  Like so many things in life,
blink and you'll miss it.
Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo
The palm and may make country houses gay
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo
The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit
In every street these tunes our ears do greet
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!

From Summer's Last Will and Testament by Thomas Nashe

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Red-Letter Day

By definition, a red-letter day is any day of special significance. Some people might not consider chaperoning a kindergarten field trip to the zoo a red-letter day, but for me it was. Simply stated, it was a great mom day. There were no raised voices; no arguments or conflicts, and although I was still tired at the end of the day, it was a good tired.

I'm always grateful for the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom during these early, quickly passing years. But today I felt especially grateful for the blessing of being a mom. Wandering around the zoo with my child and his kindergarten class made me truly thankful for the chance to experience mommyhood.

In the days leading up to this trip, I think I was just as excited as my son. I couldn't wait to see him in his school environment, and he got to ride ‘the big yellow school bus” for the first time, which is kind of a big deal. This morning at breakfast, he excitedly reminded me of just that. While I was driving down to the zoo, I couldn’t help but picture him on the bus and wonder what he was thinking, and if it was as cool as he expected it to be.

Sunny, crystal blue skies with temperatures in the mid 60’s made for an absolutely perfect day to stroll around the zoo. I was thrilled when my son’s teacher informed me I would have a small group of three, two girls and my son, to spend the day with. My little six-year old was the perfect gentleman, holding doors open for “the goils” and agreeing to see what they wanted first, saving his coveted reptile hut for last. I reveled in watching him interact with his classmates and seeing their eyes widen at all the sites, simply amazed and astonished by all the zoo had to offer. 

Amidst all the mom duties and the trying times, it's so refreshing to have a simply fun day. A chance to cherish each moment with your child while making memories that will carry you through the more difficult days. Before ending our time together at the zoo, our little group took a small time out to talk about what we liked best. I think my son summed it up well: "This day was just nothing but fun." Yes it was, and how cool is that.   

Monday, February 22, 2010

Avocado Poetry

(this one's for you, girls. and you know who you are...)

Here's what I know about the avocado.

Good ones come from California and sometimes Mexico.

Hass are the best by far and bar none.

You can forget all the rest, I've tried them, I'm done.

Not a veggie, but actually a fruit.

They taste devine and are nutritious to boot.

The fat isn't bad, they call it a MUFA.

Won't add cellulite to your bod, so you can put away the loofa.

The fruit hangs heavy in pairs on a tree.

I heard it's named after something from the male anatomy!

Some ancient cultures regarded them as holy.

You can make a lot with them, but my fave is guacamole.

Actually, the way I like to eat avocados the most

is mashed, smashed and spread on toast (rye, that is. the darker the better).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Leftovers in disguise

Great White Hunter is pretty easy to please when it comes to food. I can cook up just about anything and he'll eat it. With one exception: leftovers. He does not like leftovers. Period. I normally don't cross that line with him, but there are exceptions to every rule.

Since we've had house guests FOR THE LAST TWO MONTHS STRAIGHT (I'm fine with it, really), I've been preparing larger meals. The other night I made enough meatloaf to feed 5,000 (wait...that was Jesus with the bread and fish...) 10 people, so needless to say we had leftovers. I am the kind of person who hates to waste, plus I'm always up for an excuse to get out of cooking, so I crossed the leftovers line. Sort of.

"What are we having for dinner?" he asks. "Grilled burger subs with caramelized onions, potato wedges and a salad," I replied (not a lie, just a tiny twist of the truth). He gobbled it up, complimented my effort and was none the wiser about my trick. Or maybe he was and didn't feel the need to call my hand. Whatever. He ate it, and it was good.

Make this: thinly slice one sweet onion and caramelize. Slice leftover meatloaf and grill in fry pan. Spread spicy mustard on whole wheat sub rolls, add grilled meatloaf, top with onions and sliced cheese (I used smoked provolone). Place, open face, under broiler until cheese melts. Add ketchup if desired. Serve under alias of your choice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The more things change

My sweet boy is growing up, changing right before my eyes and it's an incredible process to watch. Sometimes, emphasis on some, I have these truly lucid moments with him where I'm able to absorb everything that's happening. Like this morning, when out of the blue he asked me to sing him one of the "mommy songs" I used to sing him to sleep with. So, as we waited for the morning carpool, there we sat, him on my lap, his head on my shoulder while I sang to him (one our favorites, Lullaby by The Dixie Chicks). I was completely in the moment, one of those I feel are becoming few and far between. Well, moment over as soon as my neighbor arrived to take him to school. He hopped off my lap, grabbed his backpack and lunch box, and said, "see ya later, mom." Mom...what happened to Mommy?

As I was cleaning his room later this morning, it hit me. The more things change, they don't stay the same. His bookshelf, which once held brightly colored stacking blocks, ABC books, and one of those wooden pull ducks, now houses dinosaurs, die cast airplanes, and books on bugs. He doesn't even need his "blankie" anymore, a recent decision he came to all on his own (I couldn't believe it was that easy). While it's wonderous to watch them grow, it's bittersweet too. Oh well, I guess as long as he needs me in his life I'll be OK. And I'll strive for more lucid moments with him so I can capture all the memories safely in my mind. I'll need them one day.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A slump to get you out of one

It's unbelieveably cold here right now. Today it's a whopping 21 degrees and I can't seem to get warm. It's been cold for quite some time now, I guess you could say we're in a cold slump.

In my effort to create a more balanced life, yesterday I made a slump. It was a busy day for me: interviews and writing, helping out at our local food bank, and the first day of my new Bible Study class. So last night I decided we needed some comfort food to warm us up and, since I love to cook, balance out my hectic day.

While thumbing through the new issue of Bon Appetite, I came across this recipe for a dried fig, apricot and cherry slump. I'd never heard of a slump before, but anything with fruit poached in wine and topped with dumpling-like biscuits has to be good. And it was. Oh so good. Can't wait for leftovers tonight, or maybe I'll just have some for lunch...

It was very easy to make, and looked and tasted fabulous. I added a bit of sugar and vanilla to the cream, making it even more yummy. If you're up for a dessert sure to warm a cold night, try it. If you don't like dried fruit, you can make slumps with apples and pears, or berries. Hmm, berries. Maybe I'll try that one next.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Balancing out the New Year

I love the feeling of a new year. It's one of hope and ambition, a sense of renewal, and the chance to start fresh. It's a gift we are given each year, a cleansing for our souls if you will. How we choose to use this gift is up to us.

Most of us make resolutions and start holding ourselves to a higher standard right off the bat. Sure, we need goals to move forward, but sometimes we become so focused on those goals that we miss out on the little things. This year, instead of making a resolution, I'm choosing a word to define my goals for the year. I want to live each day to the fullest. I'm going to find the peace in the chaos. I'm going to savor every minute, for time is also a gift. If I accomplish some goals along the way, then all the better.

Now that my Christmas decorations are safely tucked away and the house is back to normal, I am full of exhilaration and anticipation. I don't know what the new year has in store, but I do know I'm ready. Life will always throw us curves. It's how we deal with those curves that matters. For me, this year will be about going with the ebb and flow, taking the good with the not-so-good, and finding balance. Through balance we can achieve inner peace, and through peace we can truly enjoy the gifts of life.

Happy New Year, I hope you enjoy every minute. Oh, and thank you to my very dear friend for sharing about the word of the year. Have you guessed mine yet?

What word will you choose?