Friday, August 31, 2012


I love carbs. I mean love. From pasta to potatoes, and rice to rolls, I could live on them. But I have a special spot in my heart, and stomach, for bread. I especially like it warm, soft, and straight out of the oven. My favorites are from restaurants and over the past few years I've perfected a few recipes that rival those made in professional kitchens. Bread has always been an obsession of mine, going back to when my hubby and I were dating and he would call to make sure the restaurant we were trying served bread! From Macaroni Grill to Lucille's to the Islamorada restaurant at Bass Pro Shops, I have found many yummy sources for my bread obsession. Some flour, water, rising's a basic recipe but one that could be a meal in itself. I recently found a Copycat recipe for Mrs. Knott's buttermilk biscuits from Mrs. Knott's Kitchen and HAD to make them. If you've never had them, you need to go stand in the hour-long line just to try them. Live too far from Knott's Berry Farm?? (or don't want to wait??) You're in luck! I've got a recipe for these biscuits that is so close to the real thing, you won't know what you're missing. Eat on carb-lovers, eat on!

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk (I used plain milk...) 
  • 1 tsp shortening (I used butter...)
  • oil


Combine ingredients (except oil) and turn out on counter. Knead until just incorporated and roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Transfer to baking sheet and using pizza cutter, slice into squares, without separating. Brush surface of biscuits with oil. Bake about 10-12 minutes until browned.

Read more:

                                             The dough should be soft and slightly sticky...

                                                                    12 minutes later...


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chuck to the Rescue

Just when I thought Mr. Sun was backing off and it was cooling down, the weather gods laughed. Once again spiked with a miserable wave of heat, I began to wonder...what else can I do with the kids to stay cool, indoors and keep them busy? I've exhausted the pool days, Chick-Fil-A play dates and indoor crafting activities. And then it hit me...Chuck E. Cheese's! Of course it's a popular party spot but you can go anytime and pay practically nothing for an afternoon of fun. It's super safe (kids and parents are stamped with matching numbers and you can't exit without being checked..) air-conditioned and (almost) free! For just a few dollars, maybe some spare change under the cushions, you can have a quick outing with the kids. The rides and games are just a quarter each and frankly, half the time my kids don't even notice if they are really playing or not. Then, if they have collected any tickets, they can even leave with a prize! What's not to love? Although Chuck E. Cheese's isn't quite how I remember it being when I was a kid (remember the live shows? The music?) it still serves the same purpose: Give the little ones something fun to do. Oh, and give mommy a little break from playing cruise director and entertaining 24/7. So the plan for today?? A visit to Chuck E. Cheese's for lunch and a little playtime for the kiddos...catching up for mommy and grandma! What will you do??

Ridin' on the horse track together!

                                                    Check out!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A La Mode

So after paying a visit to Snow-Line Orchard in Oak Glen, I decided an apple pie was in order...duh. I can't think of a better way to use a bunch of fresh, tart apples than in a warm and delicious, sweet apple pie. I've always enjoyed desserts with a few different elements going on. Hot and cold, salty and savory and yes, a la mode. A slice of warm apple pie is great, sure, but when dolloped with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel it There's something about a warm dessert with something cold and melty atop it that I just can't say no to. And so here is my version of Caramel Apple Pie. Enjoy!
3 cups flour
1 cup oil
4 Tbspns. milk
2 tspns. salt
4 tspns. sugar
5-6 large apples, any variety, cored, peeled and sliced
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbspn. cinnamon

Prepare the crust by mixing all ingredients until combined and ball is formed (I know what you're thinking...oil and not butter...whaaa??? But try it.) Refrigerate until ready to use. For filling, place all ingredients in large skillet on medium-low until simmering. Reduce to lowest setting and put lid on and cook for about 20 minutes until apples have softened. In pie dish, take half the dough and press, pushing up to edges (dough will be crumbly..) Place apples in dish then crumble remaining dough over top. (You can use any double-crust recipe for this or buy prepared dough.) Bake pie for 30 minutes at 400°. It should be just golden around the edges. Serve with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. I dare you not to go back for seconds...

                                       Beautiful Laura Red apples from Snow-Line Orchard

Every pie baker needs a helper...

                                                       Golden-baked deliciousness...

                                                         Mommy's afternoon pick-me-up!

Pay this orchard a visit! They were friendly, hospitable and this orchard made the perfect place for our family outing!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Farm Fresh

Yesterday we took the kids to Oak Glen to do some apple picking. We were amped up and ready to go even though it would be an hour-long drive (each way) and was set to be a warm day. But we were up for an adventure and the farm was calling. Turns out, due to a wacky series of events and driving around...let's just say website info failed us, we ended up at Snow Line Orchards. It was a bit off the beaten path but it was one of few farms open yesterday and though their apple crop had been all but picked over, we were able to pick raspberries. And we happily obliged. We didn't really care what we got to pick, half the fun was being in a new environment doing something fun and different as a family. The fresh mountain air, cool breezes and sweet, tangy raspberries left us wishing we could make the trek more often. I urge you to visit a local farm, if possible. It allows kids to see where food really comes from and get a taste of fresh fruit. It does taste better! After about an hour of picking, and three basketfuls of the delicious fruit, we were ready to call it a day. But first, we had to visit the gift shop, purchase some apples and take some pictures!
The only thing that could make the day better? An In N Out lunch, of course. No family outing is complete without a visit to our favorite burger haven. As good as lunch was, the whole way home, we couldn't keep our hands off the berries. Sun kissed and fresh, without a trace of pesticides or preservatives, they were the perfect treat for the ride home. I decided I had just enough for a batch of raspberry jam and got working right away. I researched different ways to make it and while most called for simply the berries and sugar, I wanted a thicker jam, more of a spreadable jelly. My kids and I love us some PB&J, so it had to be perfect! So here's what I came up with: For three baskets of berries, (minus what we devoured during the drive!) I put them in a pot on low and added four tablespoons sugar (just enough to cut against the tart..) and sieved about half the amount so there weren't sooo many seeds. Once the berries broke down, I let them cool then added a packet of powdered gelatin and refrigerated overnight and it was ready to enjoy this morning! If you are vegetarian or simply don't want to use the gelatin, increase the sugar to about half a cup and allow to simmer longer, so the jam is thickened that way. It will result in a thinner jam, but will be yummy nonetheless!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tomato Soup for the Soul

A few days ago, my neighbor brought over a HUGE bowl of fresh, homegrown tomatoes to share. I used some in our dinner salad but realized a bounty this big was screaming to be turned into something scrumptious. My first thought was a mean marinara sauce but I thought I'd take it one step further and make a comforting tomato soup. I've been channeling fall, after all and what's more fall than a big bowl of tomato soup with a gooey grilled cheese or some crusty bread? I totally made this up as I went so here are the instructions for a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants soup! Start by trimming the tops, boiling the  tomatoes for about 30 seconds and removing the skin. Then place tomatoes, seasonings (I used basil, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, celery and onion, and garlic...) in pot and simmer until onion is soft. Then cook on low (30 minutes to an hour...) and blend the soup in blender or with immersion blender and serve with Parmesan. You could add chicken stock or cream for different consistencies but I like it just this way! Enjoy! What's your favorite way to bring fall into your home??


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Date Night Duldrums

My mom called last night and offered to babysit so my hubby and I could go out and I declined. Who would pass up that offer?? I know you're probably thinking I must be nuts but I had a few good reasons. First, I need a little more than an afternoon's notice to make plans for that evening. What would we do? Where would we go? And what to wear?? Oh, and I already had a nice meal on the stove that I was kind of excited about. So I passed up the offer and decided to take my parents up the next weekend when I could put on my wife hat and get into date mode. I don't know about you, but if I've had a long, frustrating day with my little munchkins, I just can't flip a switch and get glam on a whim. Now a week in advance, you betcha! So this week my plan is to do a little research and prepare for a night on the town. Ok, so I'm a little picky about going out. First, I don't like leaving my kids. I know, I'm a weirdo. As much as I need and want to go out, be with my hubby and get a break, I just miss them! I don't like not being the one putting them to bed every night. So my max is like, two hours, which drives my hubby nuts! That's barely time for a movie, let alone adding dinner or a drive to the beach! Some of our favorite date nights, back in the day, were lots of movies and dinners out, wine-tastings, and bonfires complete with s'mores but at this juncture in our life, we express date. It's either dinner OR the movie, a dessert date or maybe a quick motorcycle ride. And you know what? That's just fine by me...I like to be in bed by ten anyway! Take a little time or a lot, whatever you are comfortable with, and re-connect. It doesn't have to cost a lot or take up the whole night but get your date-night on! What are your favorites??

A shooting date...romantic, eh?
                                       Nothing says "I love you" like jumping on the back!

                                    Hitting the slots and dinner at San bright idea!

                                                          And back where I like it best!!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Granola Mom...

I like to think of myself as a Modern Day Granola Mom...yes to eating as healthy and organically as possible, yes to breastfeeding and making my own baby food from time to time and a big yes to making granola, treats and other snacks from scratch that would ordinarily be full of sugar and empty calories when store-bought. But I also say yes to shaving my legs, disposable diapers and allowing the kids some TV time and fast-food. I think these days we have the best of both worlds. We boast lightening speed technology at our fingertips, supermarkets available 24-hours and online if needed, and more baby and kid products than we can count. But we can also keep it as simple as we want. We don't have to expose our kids to every toy, movie, amusement park and convenience food that is available.
We can pick and choose. We still have a say in our child's childhood and I'm doing my best to show restraint in the consumer department because for every item we desire, there are hundreds to choose from...which brings me to granola. There are SOOO many varieties available out there and thanks to A Sweet Bite's in-house pastry expert, Ellen, I got my hands on one of the best I've tried! Sure, you could buy one of a million different varieties but how fresh will it be? How much added sugar is in there? Are your kids allergic to the ingredients? Let's make it easier by making it ourselves. In just about an hour, I created a healthy and delicious staple and take it from me, folks, you should absolutely double or triple the recipe!
It's sweet and savory, crunchy and tangy! I've tried a few but this one takes the cake. It was also really, really cheap to make thanks to Sprout's bulk bins. You should take advantage of those because while one ingredient (for example, the pistachios were $14.99/lb.) can be pricey, when able to buy just the small amount needed for the recipe, it cuts the cost. I know my kids will love it sprinkled over yogurt, in a trail mix, or in place of their morning cereal with milk. And mommy will enjoy it on the couch. While sitting and watching TV! Thanks, Ellen, one-day Granola Mom!



2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raw pistachios, hulled & coarsely chopped
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds, hulled
1/4 cup pepitas
1/2 cup coconut flakes (sweetened or unsweetened, your preference)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries
1/3 cup dried apricots coarsely chopped


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine oats, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pepitas, coconut flakes, maple syrup, honey, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and well toasted.

 *****As usual, I omitted a few ingredients based on what was available and what I knew my kids would like but this is a great recipe to play with and make your own. Also, make sure you do stir every 10 minutes as it can burn quickly. If at the end of 45 minutes, it still seems "soft", don't worry, it will get crunchy once cooled.

Got my ingredients!

                                                 I eyeballed the honey and syrup amounts...

                                                       Ready to pop in the oven!                                                                 

                                                                     And ready to eat!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Meltdown City: Karate Style

Tonight, as I mentioned casually that it was almost time to get ready for karate, Jovie went postal on me. For the past month or so, it's gotten progressively harder to get Jovie going for karate. Now, once she gets there, she is a happy participant, smiling and waving with nothing but positive feedback for us. But the drama that unfolds about twenty minutes before is nothing short of torture! My dilemma is: to quit or not to quit. Actually, there is not really a dilemma because we have no plans of letting her quit ever (or at least until she is eighteen...), but do I allow her any wiggle room?? Miss once in a while? (to the tune of $12/class!) Bribe?? Threaten?? Ahhhh!! What's a mother to do? My hubby just gets frustrated when she breaks into hysterics and I just get...confused. Should I console her or will that make it worse? Act like it's no big deal? Bribe? Threaten? Punish? I can't stand the thought of catering to the meltdowns as it will just perpetuate more...right?? I'm at a loss.
I guess for now, we will stick to what we've been doing. Act casual, stay calm and get her ready and into the car. Fortunately, once we drag her there, her instructors are very good about taking over and encouraging her to join her classmates. We just have to get her through the doors of the dojo, no small feat.
For now, I will suck it up, muster all the patience left in my tired, worn-out self and move on. It will pay off, I'm sure. How many things did I quit as a kid?? Umm...every single activity ever attempted, pretty much! I wish now that I had a skill. What young woman would scoff at being a black belt or roll their eyes once they became a sensai? I don't think many. So I'm on a mission. To teach Jovie the value of sticking with something and earning not only that coveted black belt one day, but the value of pushing through when the going gets tough. She has expressed interest in other activities: dance, cooking and animation classes and yes, I will allow her those as well, as long as she sticks with karate. Perhaps she will ditch the discipline the day she is able but for now, I'm doing what I think is best. And I guess that includes draggin' the little redhead to class twice a week.

Do Mommies Get Sick Days??

Ahhh...the summer cold. My kids got it recently, one after another. Who am I kidding? It happens all the time, actually! It only takes one visit to the church nursery, a play date with a kid who has the sniffles, or a harmless encounter on the playground and...BAM!!! My kids are sick...again. I've perfected the routine for when they are sick, though: Vick's Vapor Rub on the feet, (strangely more effective than the chest and for those tots under four, who can't have cough medicine yet, it's salvation in a pot!) crackers and juice, and a trash can stashed near the sofa for emergencies.
Normally, it's not so bad, a tummy bug or fever lasting a couple days, but the danger comes when I get it too. What's a mommy to do when the going gets tough? Lay in bed, nurse the illness while reading magazines, catching up on TV and sipping Diet 7-Up?? Hardly. Here's what we do...pop some Dayquil and move on, sisters! I don't know about you, but my hubby works hard for his vacation time and I am NOT about to have him stay home just to watch him hang around the house (and probably just annoy me. Let's be real). And there's karate, cooking class and library story times to get to! So no. There's no stopping the busy train of life.
But there are ways to make it a little easier. If you can, rest on the couch when possible and sleep while your little ones nap. They don't nap? They do today. They can play quietly in their rooms, read, or watch a TV show if that's what it takes to get a little shut-eye. Take that Dayquil every. four. hours. And then NyQuil too. Or, get to know my new BFF, TheraFlu. It's magical. Take that stuff early when the kids have gone to bed and sleep, sleep, sleep. It really is the best medicine! Have your hubby get up with the kids in the middle of the night, early in the morning...whenever. I'm sure you've been doing it for years. It's his turn. Do what you gotta do and then let the rest go. Your kid HAS to go to soccer practice or piano lessons? Fine. Take little Jr. but let the laundry go and order dinner in. If it takes getting sick to get a much-needed and well-deserved break, so be it! Stay strong, ladies. We have to take care of ourselves because we are ALWAYS last on the list of priorities, even when we are under the weather.
I remember days of sipping soup, having my hubby run out for medicine and crackers, and skipping out on work pre-kids, but those days are long gone. There's just no more skipping out. Sure, you could call your mom, a friend or a babysitter and have them look after your children until you are better but I imagine, for the majority of us, we wouldn't ask for help, probably couldn't justify paying for the help and wouldn't impose on a friend for our own sake. So take care of yourselves now and hopefully it will pay off later. Take your vitamins, eat your apple a day and stay hydrated. Make time to exercise and get plenty of rest. It will reap the greater return of a better immune system, less catching of colds, and a shorter sickness time altogether. Good luck out there! Keep this soup in the freezer for a rainy day!

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup:
  • 2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped (omitted these...who buys parsnips?)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 cups good quality chicken stock
  • 1 pound (the average weight of 1 package) chicken breast tenders, diced
  • 1/2 pound wide egg noodles
  • A handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • A handful fresh dill, chopped

  • Directions

    Place a large pot over moderate heat and add extra-virgin olive oil. Work close to the stove and add vegetables to the pot as you chop, in the order they are listed.
    Add bay leaves and season vegetables with salt and pepper, to taste. Add stock to the pot and raise flame to bring liquid to a boil. Add diced chicken tenderloins (I cooked mine. Placing them in raw grosses me out), return soup to a boil, and reduce heat back to moderate. Cook chicken 2 minutes and add noodles. Cook soup an additional 6 minutes or until noodles are tender and remove soup from the heat.
    Stir in parsley and dill, remove bay leaves and serve. This is a thick soup. Add up to 2 cups of water if you like chicken soup with lots of broth.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012

    I'm Channeling Fall...Who's With Me??

    We've all heard of Christmas in July but anyone hear of Fall in August?? Me neither but I'm a fan of both and I'm going to take a stand against this California weather once and for all. Who's with me?? If you are lucky enough to be reading this in some paradise (AKA, a place with temps below 100°), then maybe you don't have to blast the AC to partake in this experiment, but read on, friends. Read on. I've already shared with you that I'm a Fall Fanatic, but the hot, sweltering weather of late makes me long for the cool, brisk weather and turning leaves of fall even more. From apple pies and mugs of hot chocolate to the feel of a cashmere sweater against my skin, there is nothing like it. Oh, and don't forget about "falling back"!!! Not only do you get an "extra" hour of sleep (this never really works around here...), but it gets darker and cooler earlier, and nights take on a cozier, magical feel. People start lighting up their fireplaces, make heartier and comforting meals, and we can finally say good-bye to the horror that is bathing suit season!
    Now, it's not just me who is ready for the change of season. Michael's has transformed. Walking through the double doors and being slammed with the wafting scents of apple, cinnamon-spice and pumpkin pie and the beautiful displays of pumpkins, leaves and gourds sends me over the edge. So with that in mind, I'm ready to transform (slowly, so my hubby doesn't notice, of course), our home into an all-out fall fest!
    Last night, as I had a homemade lasagna cooking, and a cinnamon candle burning, it just smelled like colder weather. It didn't matter that I had been sweating bullets outdoors hours earlier. I'm pulling the decor out of storage and moving the seasons along, whether they are ready or not! Maybe if we band together and show the heat who's boss, it will back down. Maybe not, but if you're so over summer, join me!

                                          A homemade paper leaf wreath...the perfect kid's craft!
    My kids at Riley's Farm last year

                                                My daughter in Portland at a real pumpkin patch

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    Crock Pot Saves the Day!

    There's no dinner I love to make more than an easy one that tastes like I spent all day cooking it! That's why I love using my Crock-Pot so much. It allows me to get dinner on the table in a hurry without resorting to a frozen meal or drive-through dinner. Crock-Pots are also wonderful because you can set 'em and forget 'em and leave them unattended all day. Just make sure you choose the proper setting for your food or you can end up with something dry and burned. For example, if you have a smaller portion of meat (2-3 pounds), keep it on a low setting for a shorter time. You can always add water to prevent burning if you have to leave it longer. I've made the mistake of putting it on high and ending up with a charred mess!
    I've been using the Crock-Pot for years and am always looking for new recipes to use it with. The most obvious dishes to make are tough cuts of meat as you can buy them on the cheap and slow cook them to a meat lover's paradise. But you can do so much more with the Crock-Pot. From desserts to pastas, the possibilities are endless! Here are some of my favorite recipes:

    Meatloaf and Veggies:
    20 oz. Italian style lean ground turkey, such as Jenny-O (I swear by this in ALL Italian recipes as the flavoring is already done for you!!)
    1/4 cup parmesan cheese
    1/2 cup ketchup
    salt and pepper
    3-4 red potatoes, cubed
    2 cups peeled and chopped carrots
    Mix first three ingredients until well combined. Form in ball and place in slow cooker that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Arrange carrots and potatoes around the meat and salt and pepper everything. Cook on high 3-4 hours or low up to 8 hours.

    Pulled Pork Sandwiches:
    1 2-3 pound pork tenderloin, such as Hormel
    1 cup BBQ sauce
    1 pkg. King's Hawaiian Dinner Rolls
    Frozen sweet potato fries (optional)
    Place pork tenderloin in Crock-Pot sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and pour BBQ sauce over, adding about 1/2 cup water. Cook on high 3-4 hours or on low up to 8. Serve on Hawaiian rolls with additional BBQ sauce and sweet potato fries.

    Chicken Cacciatore:
    3-4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    2 cans Italian style stewed tomatoes
    2 cups cooked whole grain rice
    Cook chicken with tomatoes on low 6-8 hours and serve over whole grain rice. You can use a raw rice, which takes about 30-45 minutes to cook. Or, like I do, buy a frozen or microwavable rice ready in about 5 minutes.

    So get that thing out of cobwebs and get using it! Make dinner easy on yourself and delicious for everyone!

    Here are a few more recipes for your Crock-Pot:|20467|crock%20pot%20recipes||S|e|7376966218

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    Birthday Parties 101

    I'm a girl who likes to throw a party! They are a fun reason to get those you love together and celebrate...but don't get me wrong here, I don't throw many. I choose wisely because I don't want to be that person who has a party every year for every kid. With busy lives and full schedules, it's hard enough to squeeze in family time, worship time, quality time, (not to mention down time!!) that I really don't want to add to the frenzy. Parties get bigger and crazier as kids get older and I just don't want to create that monster in my children. I never want them to feel entitled to a party. Some years, dinner with the family and a homemade cake will be the agenda for the birthday boy or girl, and that will (hopefully) be just fine. I still like to make my kids feel special by decorating the night before, letting them choose their favorite meal for dinner and spending the day doing an activity they love, I just don't think it has to be an over-the-top-extravaganza every year. You with me??
    So with that said, party planning is something I love, I mean love! Whether it's a small family thing or a full-blown affair for fifty, why not make it fabulous?? From the little touches to the big finish, it's all about the details. This year, for my little guy's 2nd birthday, my hubby and I decided forgo a full-on party and take our tyke to Chuck E. Cheese's with our families and keep it simple. But let's face it, things aren't ever really simple with me. I still baked a few treats, made fun favors and decorated those booths in Camo, per our army theme! It doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming to make it memorable.
    Here are a few tips to make even the smallest party feel festive:
    - Choose a theme and go crazy with it! From a favorite character, movie, color, candy, anything! Pick a theme and run with it.
    - When planning the menu, keep your budget low by serving desserts or appetizers instead of a full meal.
    - Think outside the box. A breakfast party where kids arrive in jammies and snack on donuts or a pizza night where kids get to be the chef put a fun twist on traditional themes.
    - Always have a party favor. It looks cute on the table and gives the guests a little something to take away. It doesn't have to break the bank to be memorable. I always try to choose something small and edible, like chocolate candies or trail mix. I hate to hand out a bag full of toys, stickers...etc. just to have it thrown away!
     -Have your guests make something to take home. Decorating a cookie or a caramel apple, or even an easy craft gives the kids something to do.
    - Keep the party two hours max! The best parties are short and sweet! I hate to say it, but nobody wants to spend their entire afternoon at a kid's party. Keep things moving and don't "wait" on people. Give the guests about thirty minutes to arrive, mingle and snack, then get that show on the road!
    - Check out Target, Wal-Mart and Michael's before resorting to Party City. They tend to be more expensive, though their selection is second to none.
    Have fun, keep it simple and remember, it doesn't have to be perfect. Kids aren't going to notice and that's who we're doing this for, right?? Cough, cough.

                                                    The army guys make the PERFECT topper
                                                          a trio of treats...who needs a meal?

                                                             The party favor...easy peasy

                                                        Me and the guys who melts my heart...

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    She's Crafty!

    Time to get out your crafting supplies because I have an idea that is fun for all! Like I've mentioned before, I'm all about doing projects that everyone can participate in and enjoy. What's the fun in trying to craft when you have kids whining at you and trying to climb on you the entire time? Exactly. So get those little hands busy and work on a project for yourself at the same time!! Recently, I allowed my kids to make bracelets (I must not have been thinking clearly...beads ended up everywhere!) But, it did provide them not only a little fun and entertainment, but they wear their bracelets proudly. Also, and most importantly, it allowed mommy to work on a project of her own. I've been wanting to make a few pieces of jewelry for a while now. The reasons I haven't are as follows: too expensive, too time consuming, too tedious, too, too, get the idea! But I finally decided it was time. Let me show you how it can be done on the cheap with materials you have right under your nose!
    First, take inventory and think outside the box. I created a "pendant" with scraps of fabric and a jewel from a broken earring. You'd be surprised what's sitting in your jewelry box right now being unworn. Is it broken, outdated, or missing it's mate?? Perfect! So gather your items and play around a bit. A silk ribbon, chain, some cord or suede string can be used to create a necklace or bracelet. I bought a 5-foot piece of chain from Michael's for $4 and used just a bit of it, leaving lots more for projects to come! I used a scrap of fleece for the "base" cutting it into a square shape. I then made rosettes out of more scrap fabric using hot glue to secure. Finally, I hot glued a jewel right in the middle and used pliers to anchor each side of the chain into the fleece. Voila! A one-of-a-kind necklace that I guarantee NOBODY else has!
     Keep your eyes peeled for items on clearance or things around your house to keep on hand when the jewelry bug bites. These pieces make for super original accessories and fabulous gifts!

                                                                      What do you think??

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    For the Birds

    Birdseed. It's an interesting, innovative and cheap medium to use for crafts with your kids. I found a huge bag at a dollar store and have done many activities with it and still have a tub full of the stuff. You can use it to decorate items you already have around the house and with a little glue, presto! You've created a one-of-a-kind project. Or take it a step further...I adore Michael's and appreciate their huge assortment of budget-friendly kid's crafts. With a few inexpensive items, you can turn something plain and simple into something fun. Here are a few ideas for birdseed:

    1. Collect pine cones and coat with peanut butter then roll with birdseed. Hang outside for the birds to enjoy!
    2. Let your kids draw a simple picture (not too much detail...) and "trace" with white glue then pour birdseed and shake off excess.
    3. Buy an unfinished wood birdhouse and let your kids paint then fill with birdseed and hang outside.
    4. Make birdseed "instruments"...fill toilet paper and paper towel tubes with birdseed and secure with paper and tape. Let your kids shake away!
    5. Make birdseed ornaments. Buy unfinished wooden objects and paint then cover with birdseed using white or hot glue (parents only!)
    Have fun!!
    **Disclaimer-  double-check the ingredients on your birdseed and make sure there is nothing your child could be allergic to.

    Friday, August 17, 2012

    No, it's Not Just You..

    I'm losing my mind, too! For example, today, my four year old admitted to her brother she was being miserable. While trying to set up her Lalaloopsy dolls, accessories, furniture...etc. she had become increasingly frustrated that nothing would stay put and that her brother was trying to play too. "I had it first", "Mommy, he hit me", "No!!!"...these are all phrases I hear on a daily basis. So obviously, if the little lady is miserable, we all are. Why is she miserable, you ask?? Who knows. On any given day, the meltdowns can occur for various reasons but most commonly, from being overtired. I know I'm a grouch when I haven't slept well and the same goes for kids, just tenfold.
    I'm really lucky and grateful to have girlfriends who are in the same boat. We are all navigating the choppy, shark-infested waters that is raising kids. It's not always fun, not always appreciated and most days, I want to throw in the towel.  Most moms I know are juggling kids, a home, cooking, cleaning and whatever else crosses our paths throughout the day. And not surprisingly, most of us are doing the bulk of it ourselves. Yes, we have loving hubbies who take out the occasional bin of trash, run the lawnmower once in a while or give a bath here or there. But let's face it, the majority of the work falls on us moms. Although we have evolved immensely over the last fifty years, I bet most stay-home-moms can relate to June Cleaver on some level. The desire to look pulled together, have a clean home and a hot dinner on the table nightly, all while breaking up the latest living room brawl can be overwhelming to say the least. But we strive for that unattainable perfection anyway. There is something about "just" being a mom that I think makes us feel like we have to work harder than the average bear to avoid people wondering what it is we do all day.
    But let's break it down here. The average employee works a nine hour day, with a quiet lunch and breaks built in, not to mention the ride to work and back to enjoy peace and quiet. Their nights and weekends are free and they typically earn some paid vacation time. So...what position would the stay-home-mom resemble?? Unpaid nanny? Slave? It's a grueling, thankless job and one that is as exhausting mentally as it is physically. You mean you don't want to read that book again or enjoy sitting on the floor cross-legged playing cars?? Yea, me neither but it's those moments your kids will remember.
    So if you've ever raised your voice loudly enough at your kids that you hoped the neighbors didn't hear or pinched your child a little too hard while walking them to time out OR cursed at them under your breath (guilty on all counts!), then apologize and move on. Your kids are not going to remember these you remember your parent's flawed moments?? I doubt it. They will more likely remember the hours you spent reading, playing, singing, helping, cuddling, baking and loving on them. And THAT is what makes it all worthwhile! Go easy on yourself, friends. No mom is perfect and we all have "those days". Join the club!

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    Let's Get Twisted

    ...pretzels, that is! Who would turn down a warm and fresh, buttery soft pretzel?? A crazy person, that's who. With pretzel stores and kiosks at almost every mall and several frozen varieties to choose from, pretzels are a popular snack. And ahem, you can take it from me, the pretzel master, that homemade is best. Yes, that's very first job was twisting, baking (and taste-testing!) at Auntie Anne's. Nothing compares to the fresh-out-of-the-oven taste that making them from scratch provides.
    It takes a little time and effort to make these perfect plates of delight but is worth every bite! Here's a recipe I adapted from one I found online. The OG was a little intense for me. I'm sure the extra steps would translate into even better flavor but I'm a mom on a mission, remember?? Fast and easy is my mantra so I cut a few corners and was transported back to the old days of slinging these babies at the mall. So jump on the bandwagon and join me on a journey of pure delight! I made salted and cinnamon/sugar and I'm not proud of this but found myself sopping up the butter/cinnamon/sugar mix with the pretzels the instant they came out of the oven. "Kids, you sure you don't want one...??" I was a happy mommy! I don't suggest baking these ahead of time as they do not taste nearly as good day-old, but I don't think you'll be able to keep them from getting eaten anyway!! Oh, and if you don't have time to make the dough, you can always substitute a frozen bread dough or pizza dough.

    1 pkg. dry yeast
    1 1/2 tsp. sugar
    1 cup warm water
    3 cups flour
    1 tsp. salt
    **Coarse salt, butter and cinnamon/sugar for topping optional**

    Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water and let sit for 5 minutes. Add flour and salt and mix until combined. Turn out and knead until ball forms. Place in clean, greased bowl and cover until doubled, about an hour. Once doubled, divide dough into 8 equal pieces and twist into pretzel shape. Bake 12-15 minutes, until cooked through and golden brown. Immediately coat with melted butter and top with either coarse salt or cinnamon-sugar. Serve warm.

    Adapted from

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Steak Night

    I'm not a big fan of beef. I don't care for steaks too much and ground beef doesn't really appeal to me. I'm too squeamish. Give me a chicken breast any day and I'm good to go. Unless you tempt me with an In-N-Out burger, I could live without beef. But recently, I had a hankering for a good rice with teryaki steak. Maybe it was a visit to Panda Express that left me thinking..."I could do that better." So online I went on a search for an easy fried rice recipe and I was on a roll. I kind of made it up as I went, mish-mashing one recipe into another until I had what resembled a restaurant quality fried rice. The steak was a little trickier. I needed my hubby to assist me in navigating the meat aisle, but once we decided on a thin cut top sirloin, I felt confident I could turn it into a dish that rivaled our recent fast-food meal.
    First, take a pound of top sirloin and slice into thin strips. Marinate in 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 chopped garlic clove, and 2 tablespoons. grated, fresh ginger. Let sit overnight, if possible. For the rice, cook 2 cups rice according to package directions. Set aside. In large saucepan, cook 1 shallot over low heat in 2 tablespoons oil until translucent. Add 1 chopped garlic clove and saute another minute. Add cooked rice, a few drizzles of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Make well in center of rice and crack two eggs, then let eggs cook through. On outdoor grill (or skillet, if you can't grill..) Cook top sirloin about 2 minutes on each side, flipping once. Serve with rice. Enjoy!

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    No Rest For The Weary

    I'm on no sleep!! (hollered in a crazy, Kramer- from- Seinfeld way!) I wish I were kidding. The truth is, I haven't slept through the night in ummm....over four years. Am I alone?? First, I was pregnant and uncomfortable, awakening to pee every five minutes. Then, I had the little bugger and was up nursing, changing diapers and consoling a fussy, teething baby for the next couple years then decided to do it all over again. Now, as I struggle with my son awakening every single night, I wonder...will I ever get a good nights sleep??
    Sure, I coddled my kids a bit and co-slept much longer than I "should" have. But regardless of the quality of your nighttime slumber, do us moms ever actually feel rested? Between work, keeping up with household chores, cooking, staying on top of your kid's activities, and maintaining a relationship with your hubby, I dare say, there are very few opportunities to just rest. I'm going to admit, I take complete advantage of life's little loopholes to recharge my ever fading, always low batteries. A kid getting sick and lying on the couch all day or your hubby working late mean mommy gets a break. I take those quiet times and just...sit. Or read a magazine. Or take a freakin' shower! 
    You should too. If not, you will experience a nasty little condition I like to call "mommy burnout", you know, the one where you feel like you can't get out of bed, can't make it through the day without large amounts of caffeine and in general feel like you can't go on, like you are wearing cement blocks? Oh, wait. That's me. Every day. Ok, I guess something has got to give. You may not be able to actually sleep, but resting does a lot for the weary. My life usually feels like the movie "Groundhog Day", where I awaken to the same day over and over and over...Make a meal, read a book, take someone pee, give a bath, put to bed...repeat. That's it. And you can never push pause. Sigh.
    But when given the chance to take a little break, don't fill it with catching up on laundry or cleaning the bathroom. Catch up on that TV show, read a chapter of that book you've been meaning to finish or Lay on your bed with your eyes closed, in case you've been wondering what that foreign word meant! Here's to taking it easy and taking a breather- you deserve it!

    Monday, August 13, 2012

    Mac 'N Cheese, Please!!

    I'm all about doing things the easy way so of course, that includes one of our family favorites, macaroni and cheese. It's a delicious, quick meal that can be made simply or gourmet, depending on how much time and energy you have. Oh, and did I mention the best part? It's really cheap. A large, I'm talking LARGE batch of this cheesy champion costs around six dollars to make. It yields so much, in fact, that I usually split it and stick half in the freezer for a rainy day. Sure, you could just whip up a box of Kraft, but this is truly just as easy. Now, I'm not hating on Kraft. My kids are Kraft snobs. Half the time, they even prefer it over mine. "It tastes homemade-y" has actually been uttered at the dinner table with disgust. However, if you want to cut down on salt, preservatives, and the amount of red dye 40 your child ingests, then read on.
    With just a handful of ingredients, you can bring a hot, healthy meal to the table in no time. With a few swaps like whole-grain pasta instead of macaroni and the addition of veggies or chicken, this meal can actually become a healthy one. If you just don't want to mess with the tried-and-true traditional style, more power to you! Throw some fruit on the side and you'll be good to go. Here's my oh-so-simple recipe for a palate pleaser!

    1 12 oz. box macaroni
    1 8 oz. carton half and half or heavy whipping cream
    1 8 oz. bag shredded sharp cheddar

    Cook macaroni and set aside. In saucepan, bring half and half or heavy whipping cream to low boil. Stir in cheese, reserving about 1/4 cup for top, until incorporated and add salt to taste. Place in baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Place under broil until cheese is melted. Enjoy!

    Sunday, August 12, 2012

    Chili Diaries

    When I think of a meal fit for a crowd, for a cold day or for a Crock-Pot, I think chili. It's versatile, easy and delicious, not to mention inexpensive to make. Although we've had a wicked heat wave here in so-cal, I recently made a big batch this week on a karate night. For some reason, it feels like we are always running late and the last place I want to be is in the kitchen cooking a big meal when we are rushing. So I turn to my friend, the Crock-Pot. I usually go for a homemade chili with a combination of chili beans, kidney beans and black beans with lean ground turkey. This is an easy go-to and when served with corn bread, hot dogs, or chips and cheese, makes a hearty meal. There are so many different recipes to play with and although I rarely take the time to make it, my favorite is white chicken chili with navy or cannelini beans. It's a little more time consuming as you have to roast or boil and shred chicken. But in my opinion, it's the best. So when I saw a canned version by Hormel, I had to try it.
    Normally, I'm not a big fan of canned chili with meat as you never know how fresh or how high the quality of meat will be. This was made with chicken breast so I gave it a whirl and it did not disappoint. Flavorful, meaty, and with just enough kick, it was a great meal with the addition of tortilla chips and shredded cheddar.
    So go on, give chili a chance. Whether homemade or canned, just double-check your ingredients and if you can, buy an organic or all-natural canned version to cut down on fat, preservatives and additives. And if it's homemade, even better. Play with your proteins and flavors and have fun with it. What's your favorite chili recipe?

    Saturday, August 11, 2012

    Idle Hands

    We've all heard the expression "idle hands are the devil's workshop" and it rings especially true for kids. Ignoring them when you're on the phone, for example, can lead to some pretty nasty consequences. Half the time, I feel like kids act out for attention and half the time I think they are just...bored. I'm lucky my daughter is OCD when it comes to drawing. It is an outlet for her that allows her to expend some of her creative energy and keep her mind sharp. She will sit at the kitchen table for hours drawing and making books. I often joke that you take the girl's pen and paper and you take the air from her lungs. But nothing can keep a child from misbehaving for long. If they need attention they will get it somehow. Here's where the sensory tub comes in. I had been wanting to make these for a long time and found a few great ideas online.
    There are so many different ways to construct a sensory tub. It's a basic concept: fill a box, let them play. You can use materials you already have around the house and supplement with inexpensive toys and favors from dollar stores. The priciest part of the box is the "filler", the rice, pasta, sand...etc. that fills most of your container.The beautiful thing about this project is, you can't go wrong. Little hands love and actually need to dig, measure, sort and sift. Their senses are still developing and the process of play stimulates different areas of their brains.
    So let's get started! I began using large plastic containers I already had. I made identical boxes for each of my children, hoping they wouldn't fight over them....a girl can dream, right? I chose to use macaroni for my filler. I dyed mine but you can totally use it uncolored. It's just fun to have a variety of colors in the box...more on that in a minute. I perused Target and let my kids grab a few trinkets from the party favor section: beaded necklaces, plastic rings, and an assortment of plastic creepy crawlers. You can go to town with themes too although I just kinda let the kids grab whatever. Some fun themes would be: A beach box with sand, shells, rocks...etc. or an outdoor theme with plastic Easter grass as filler and plastic bugs. Like I said, the possibilities are endless!
    So I started by dying the macaroni as it would take about an hour to dry. I bought four boxes of macaroni (12 oz. each) and dyed half to give the tub contrast. For two boxes of macaroni, you'll need a large zip-top bag, parchment paper or waxed paper, a cookie sheet, food coloring, and hand sanitizer (hand sanitizer?? yes, the alcohol is the magic ingredient here.) Pour your macaroni (you can also do this with pasta or rice) into the bag, squirt a few drops of food coloring and a few drops of hand sanitizer in the bag and "massage" the bag, mixing everything together. Pour out onto cookie sheet lined with the parchment or waxed paper and allow to dry about an hour. You can also do smaller batches of assorted colors. Once dry, fill container with macaroni and trinkets. Give your kids tweezers, shovels, spoons...whatever you have lying around that they can dig with. Using the smaller tools allows them to hone their tactical skills and work those fingers! Hopefully your children like this activity as much as mine did and I hope you get a little quiet time out of it too!!

    Macaroni with food coloring


                                                                 Ahhh...peace and quiet!!

    Here are a few more resources for sensory tubs:

    Friday, August 10, 2012

    Beans, the Luscious Legume

    Looking for a sweet treat?? Look no further than...a can of beans? Yea, that's right. The humble cupboard staple is back in a big way. From chilis to dips and everything in-between, beans are an awesome source of protein, are inexpensive and super versatile. Need proof? Check out this yummy recipe from my in-house pastry chef, Ellen (oh, and she also happens to be my sister!) When she e-mailed me this recipe for a white bean cake, I'll admit, I was less than thrilled to try it. She's a vegetarian. I had my doubts. But let me tell you, it's amazing with a capital A!! I know, I roll my eyes too when I see recipes suggesting apple sauce or yogurt to cut calories in a dessert. Just give me the good stuff! But she's my sister, so I had to try it and boy, am I happy I did.
    This cake is light, fluffy and oh-so-sweet. I promise, if I didn't tell you the beans were there, you'd never know. By blending them into a paste, they incorporate beautifully into the batter and allow for a soft, spongy texture. The beans do cut the calories by replacing extra butter or oil you would need to achieve the melt-in-your-mouth quality of this cake. I added poppyseeds cause that's how I roll, but you can play with this as it's a basic batter. Cinnamon, nuts, or chocolate chips would make great additions. It makes a generous bundt so don't make it unless you:
     a) are planning to have company over or
     b) are like me and have no shame finishing a cake on your own
    Try it and let me know what you think!

    (Adapted from Everyday Food Jan/Feb 2012)

     3 cups all-purpose flour
     1 tablespoon baking powder
     1 teaspoon baking soda
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     1 can (15.5 ounces) cannellini (white) beans, rinsed and drained (you can also use garbanzo beans)
     1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
     2 cups granulated sugar
     2 large eggs
    2 large egg whites
     1 cup buttermilk (I used milk, didn't have buttermilk...was too lazy to go back out!)
     1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
     1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract (optional)
     1 lemon zested
    ***Additional add-ins of your choice...poppyseeds, for example!
     Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.
     In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
     Add beans to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Whip until beans are almost to a smooth puree. It’s ok if there are some beans that are not completely pureed. They’ll be well incorporated once they are beaten with the butter and sugar. (I mashed with a fork!)
     In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add butter, sugar, lemon zest, and bean puree. Beat on medium until butter and beans are well incorporated, about 3-5 minutes. It might get watery at this point, but keep going. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla and lemon (if using).
     Add the dry ingredients in two stages. First half, then all of the buttermilk, then the last half of the dry. Make sure it's all mixed in, using a rubber spatula if neccesary.
    Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake come out clean. This cake gets really dry if overbaked, so if in doubt, take it out.
     Remove the cake from the oven. Allow to rest in the pan for 20 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.
     Top with an easy lemon powdered sugar glaze and you're set! (or just powdered sugar like I did!)

                                                                     Perfect with coffee!!

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    $2 to Heaven

    It's hot again...surprise, surprise. Towards the end of last year, I was so happy that we Californians had experienced what felt like the first proper winter season in a while. It rained amply and stayed colder longer than it had the last few years. So now it's time to pay the piper. Summer came with a vengeance and I am OVER it. For a girl who longs for fall all year long, eager to carve pumpkins, pick apples and pull the sweaters out of mothballs, California mocks me long past Thanksgiving. It takes a while for it to cool down after the long, hot summer and then doesn't last long...which brings me to my point. Mommy needs a Diet Coke. And possibly a cookie.
    So today, as we sit in our 82-degree house, I need a little break. The thought of dragging the kids to the car and sitting in what feels like unbearable heat almost makes me perish the thought but I press on. The $1 Diet Coke at Mickey-D's is too eniticing. Cold, refreshing carbonation and caffiene calls to me! And cookies are 3 for a $1, so how can I pass 'em up? There are THREE of us, after all. It only makes sense. I'm a mom on a mission (and a budget) so this fits the bill on all counts. What are your go-to's when a little break is calling?? Stay cool ;)

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Cinnamon Rolls for the Soul

    To start the school day right, I made cinnamon rolls with my kids yesterday. It was not only a sweet and satisfying breakfast, but it started the day fun and let's face it, was as much for me as them. I can't think of a better way to start the day than with sugar and caffiene. Donuts, pancakes, croissants, name it, I want it. I have very few vices people, and those top the list! The kids, still in their jammies, got to sit up on the counter and help me mix, shake and roll. As they tasted along the way and got cinnamon and sugar all over, I realized that we were baking not only a delicious treat, but memories as well. These are the things I want my kids to remember when they are grown. Sure, I could make it a lot easier on myself and let them sit in front of the TV so I could cook in peace but what's the fun in that? I'm all about doing what's better for them, not easier for me...most of the time. So as the dough was resting, we got ready for the day and before I knew it, the time had come to pop those suckers in the oven. Yes, you could buy the dough already made or just use a canned cinnamon roll, but there is just something about the flavor of homemade dough that tastes...homemade!
    I checked out different recipes but ultimately decided to adapt a recipe I use often for bread and adjust accordingly. It's tried and true so why mess with it?? This breakfast is definitely not healthy, but when made yourself, I guarantee has A LOT less sugar and fat than store bought versions. If you give your kids a small serving with some fruit, yogurt or a side of bacon or sausage, you've served up a yummy, guilt-free breakfast for all. I know I sure didn't feel bad scarfing three of these bad boys!
    Our first day of pre-school at home was a little shaky. Logan whined for attention while Jovie struggled to focus on my spelling and math lessons. I'll admit, I attempted using Boggle as a means for learning spelling and it was a bit of a flop. Letters were thrown by Logan and the kids each hoarded a pile, thinking it was a challenge to see who could hide the most from Mommy. It wasn't perfect but I know it will continue to get easier and easier. If nothing else, at least our day started with a sweet breakfast and a little quality time as well. Keep making those memories and let your kids help as much as you can handle...I know, the messes drive me nuts too!
    Cinnamon Rolls
    1 cup warm water
    1 envelope active dry yeast
    3 tbsp. oil
    1 tbsp. sugar
    2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
    1 tspn. salt
    1 tbspn. cinnamon
    4 tbspns. sugar
    2 tbspn. butter
    1/4 cups pecans (optional)
    1 cup powdered sugar
    1-2 tbspns. milk
    Mix water and yeast in a bowl and let stand a minute. Add remaining dough ingredients until combined then knead on counter until ball forms. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let sit about an hour, or until doubled in size. Roll out into a 1/4 in. square, covering surface with butter, cinnamon/sugar and nuts. Roll and slice into ten pieces then place in baking dish. Bake at 350 ° for about 25 minutes, until cooked through. Mix powdered sugar and milk to make thick icing and pour over hot rolls. Enjoy!