Re-Focus

A long weekend worked it’s wonders on me. After spending an evening under the stars watching the ballet, catching up with friends and an evening campfire roasting marshmallows, I was ready to focus on what really needed attention, me, and particularly my health.

Yesterday afternoon found me home alone with a mindset ready to narrow in on what needed to be done. First up, was organizing my Pinterest account. What does Pinterest have to do with all of this, you may ask? I’m loving Pinterest right now [my husband claims he is a Pinterest widow], more than any other social media platform out there, mainly for how useful it is.

In the past few weeks, I’ve found great resources for eating better and consuming less sugar, packing better lunches, and how to go about a gentle detox. Once I reorganized my pins and printed out the information I needed, I was ready to pack a healthy breakfast and lunch for work.

Feeling really good about all of this, I went for a walk and discovered the blackberries in the neighborhood were ready for picking. They were a perfect addition to my vanilla quinoa this morning. Those three hours I spent focusing in on healthier habits has energized me emotionally, which I was in desperate need of. 

If you’re looking for a healthier breakfast idea, try mixing together:
– 1 cup of cooked quinoa
– 1/2 cup of vanilla almond milk
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 teaspoon agave nectar
– Sprinkle of cinnamon
– A handful of berries

Heat it up in the microwave in the morning for 60 seconds and you’re good to go. It’s a tasty, comforting and filling breakfast packed with protein, fiber and antioxidants to keep you going all morning.

Bug Off

We’re talking bug spray — couldn’t help the cheeky title. I’m having a hard time believing it is already the end of May. With a full weekend centered around being in the yard, bug spray went on the shopping list. Then I paused and thought, hey, I bet I could make my own. It was easy peasy.

Supply List:
– 3 oz. spray bottle
– 3 oz. witch hazel
– 1/2 teaspoon lemongrass essential oil
– 1/2 teaspoon eucalyptus essential oil
– 1/2 teaspoon citronella essential oil

If you’re looking for essential oils, they can be found at natural health food stores, natural wellness/pharmacies or even online for a fair price. 

Combine all the ingredients in the spray bottle and shake well. I’ll warn you, these essential oils are strong, which means when you’re mixing the ingredients it’s not the best smelling concoction. Once it’s diluted in the witch hazel though, the smell greatly improves. One other thing to note: you’ll want to shake the bottle well before each use.

Experimenting

Making my own counter top spray was reminiscent of days gone by when I used to play in the kitchen as a kid mixing all sorts of ingredients to find out which combinations would explode and make a mess. These days I’m more interested in cleaning up as few messes as possible and keeping the ingredients non-toxic. My cleaning days of practically knocking myself out with toxic fumes are over. 
Mixing together the ingredients for this spray was as simple as 1,2, 3. If you like immediate gratification and clean counters, then this recipe is for you. 
– 2 Tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile Soap 
– 2 Tablespoons of White Vinegar 
– 2 Teaspoons of Borax Powder
– 2 Teaspoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon (or a couple drops of lemon essential oil)
Combine ingredients into a 32oz. spray bottle and mix with warm water and shake well. 
If you have any favorite homemade cleaning recipes, I’d love to hear about them. 
Happy Cleaning! 

Homemade Baileys Irish Cream

For my mom’s birthday, I’ve made her one of her favorite drinks – Baileys Irish Cream. She has a little in her coffee most nights after dinner, so I know this will get used right up. After doing a little research on the ingredients, I wrote the the following recipe:

– 1 Cup Light Cream
– 14 oz. Sweetened Condensed Milk
– 1 Cup Irish Whiskey
– 1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso Coffee
– 2 Tablespoons Chocolate Syrup
– 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bourbon

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and mix on high speed for 30 seconds. Pour into a sealed container and refrigerate. Shake before using. From what I’ve read, your homemade Baileys should last up to two months — if it doesn’t get consumed long before the expiration date.

From the beginning, I had a hard time believing that this was actually going to taste anything like Baileys, but to my surprise, it does [I think it’s even better].

Fresh Ingredients

Some of the best dinners are the ones that are simple and require very little prep time. If you’re in need of a quick dinner this week, try this Chardonnay and chicken berry salad. It’s fresh, filling and healthy.

Ingredients: 
– 1/2 C Chardonnay Wine
– 1/4 C Lemon Juice
– 1/4 C Poppy Seed Dressing
– 4 Uncooked Chicken Tenders
– Assorted Berries (Strawberries, Raspberries and Blueberries)
– Blue Cheese or Goat Cheese
– Glazed Walnuts
– Spinach
– Balsamic Glaze

Directions: 
– Marinate the chicken in the Chardonnay wine, lemon juice and poppy seed dressing overnight. Either saute in pan or bake on 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
– Once the chicken has cooked and cooled a bit, place on a bed of spinach with berries, cheese and glazed walnuts.
– Drizzle with a balsamic glaze and serve with your choice of bread [I chose a French Peasant bread].

Valentine’s Day Treats

Looking for a  little something special for your Valentine instead of the standard box of chocolates? These peanut butter blossom cookies with a little red food coloring and zebra striped Hershey Kisses are going over pretty well in our house and at work. The only change to the recipe on the back of the peanut butter jar I made was to add a half a dozen drops of food coloring and mixing it with the mixer [it was nearly impossible to do this by hand]. 

If you’re looking for something a little fancier with a slightly healthy twist, try this sugar cookie tart inspired by the Pioneer Woman. I altered the recipe by using a sugar cookie mix from the store. Once the dough is mixed, split it in half  and baked in two heart shaped pans [you may want to have someone in mind to give the second tart to]. For the creme topping I used one jar of Fluff and a half a container of cream cheese substitute, blended together. Top each heart shaped cookie with just enough cream topping to hold the fruit in place. Top with your favorite fruit and you’re good to go. 

Lazy Days of Summer

Not sure about you, but the lazy days of summer are here! I’ve been indulging in lots of walks with the dog, summer reading galore, many no-cook dinners and the best indulgence of all…pretty in pink sangrias. These, my friends, have been a hit! If you’re in need of a quick and easy recipe to bring to a gathering or just in need of a good old cold drink for the front porch, this IS the one.

Pretty in Pink Sangrias:
– 10 oz. of frozen sliced strawberries
– 1 can frozen pink lemonade
– 2 bottle of white wine (I prefer Pinot Grigio)
– 2 cups pineapple juice
– 1 liter of ginger ale

Mix, stir, refrigerate and serve to good friends looking for the taste of summer.

A Summer Swap

Having never been to a food swap, I didn’t really know what to expect, besides the obvious. Through The Women’s Building, I came across the ‘From Scratch Club‘ blog and an upcoming food swap at All Good Bakers and immediately signed up. Only 24 spots were available and they went fast! Suffice to say, I went and it was the perfect foray into food swapping. I’m hooked! 
The premise is simple: make a homemade dish, baked good, seasoning, drink or even soap, as long as it’s homemade and package it into smaller quantities in order to swap with other homemade items on the day of the event.
Walking in, and not knowing a soul, I instantly knew this was going to be nothing but a good time. The room was filled to the brim with happy chatter, smiles, laughter and of course a small sea of canning jars and other containers filled with eye catching food. Food that joyfully reflected their makers as well the colors of the season.  
After a little mingling and sampling, the swap was on. My lemon lavender shortbread cookies helped me score rosemary soap, sweet and sour pickles, dill biscuits and a delightful cold green summer soup…all of which I raced home with to try immediately. Like I said, I’m hooked. It was two hours of time well spent being warmly welcomed into a community of like-minded people that known their way around the kitchen. My only regret, forgetting to take more pictures. 
For those of you looking for a uniquely rich in taste cookie, here’s the recipe for Lemon Lavender Shortbread cookies.  Enjoy the rich and decadent flavors of lavender, lemon and mint with a cold glass of iced tea. Packaged, they make sweet (no pun intended) gifts. 

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lavender
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions
1.       In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, white sugar and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the lavender, mint and lemon zest. Combine the flour, cornstarch and salt; mix into the batter until well blended. Divide dough into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and flatten to about 1inch thick. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
2.       Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Cookie stamps will work well on these too. Place on cookie sheets.
3.       Bake for 18 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, just until cookies begin to brown at the edges. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Happy Mother’s Day

Hope all you mom’s out there are enjoying your day! My parents came over this morning for baked stuffed French toast with scrambled eggs, coffee and Bellini’s. The best part, for me, was I did all the fussing and setting up last night so all I had to do was get up this morning and put the French toast in the oven (recipe below – courtesy of a friend).

I was quite pleased with the fresh, French country look of the table. Pulling out the China was a last minute decision, but it was well worth it. My mom loved it and it paired well with the recently made Pottery Barn inspired burlap table runners. Theirs are $48 each; mine cost $5 for two!

After a recent trip to Pottery Barn last week for a rug, I was left with the wants as I always am after being in their store. But the runners were just way too much for this girl and I know burlap is super cheap at the craft store, which is exactly where I headed. Two yards of burlap, one package of no sew tape and four buttons from one of my button jars = happiness in the form of two brand new table runners. I think the table loves it too. It’s looking a bit worn since its been in the family since I was five and if you look closely enough you can see where I learned to write, but it spruces up well and still proves to be a nice gathering place for family meals and celebrations. 

As promised, Baked Stuffed French Toast Recipe:
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
12 slices of white bread
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 pint of blueberries

Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. Spread 1/3 of mixture in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Cover with 6 slices of bread. Sprinkle another 1/3 of sugar mixture over bread and scatter blueberries on top. Place remaining 6 slices of bread on top of the fruit. Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture on top.
Beat remaining 4 ingredients together. Pour mixture evenly over bread layers. Press bread down lightly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Bon Appétit!

Comfort Food, Meet Spring

I’m trying hard to find creative, cheery ways to make the transition from winter to spring even though the weather is not cooperating. It’s been way too cold here for my liking. Between this cold weather, being a bit run down from my quick trip to Virginia (I’ll post a few pictures later in the week) and coming back to a pre-scheduled surgery for my 10-year old puppy I was seriously in need of some good old comfort food last night.

After reaching for a little bit of chocolate one too many times and crashing from all the sugar, I managed to pull myself together, head to the grocery store and bring home some ingredients for one comforting and very satisfying meal last night. 

On Sunday, a friend on Facebook commented about the dinner she made consisting of pasta shells with prosciutto, peas and Parmesan. The picture of it left a couple of us drooling and asking for the recipe, which she kindly shared. This easy to make meal provided me with a heavenly break from the day’s stresses.

I mixed things up a bit with some homemade lemonade in mason jars. Doesn’t everything taste better in a mason jar?! This spring touch along with a grapefruit for dessert (well I never actually got that far), provided a much needed sense of calm and renewal. 
Here’s a quick how to recipe for this meal: 

Sauté one medium onion or leek with a package of chopped prosciutto in some olive oil. Boil one full box of medium sized shells. Once the onions and prosciutto are cooked, add three cups of peas and stir until almost done. Once the pasta is done, add it, along with one cup of pasta water to the other pan with the rest of the sautéed ingredients. Also add one cup of cream and a bit of butter to the pan. Continue to cook on low. Add Parmesan to thicken the sauce. Serve warm with salt, pepper and more Parmesan to taste.