Thursday, July 2, 2015

Four Ways to Celebrate the Fourth of July

Being an almost-Fourth of July baby I have a real fondness for this holiday.  Of course, it's a great time to think about our great nation and be patriotic, but for me it's the beginning of a two-day celebratory extravaganza!

Here are my top four ways to celebrate the Fourth:

1) Sparklers!

The Fourth of July is just not complete without sparklers.  Yes, they are the baby toy of the fireworks stand, but they're minor enough that you can light them just about anywhere and not get into too much trouble.  (Not that I've ever been visited by the fire marshal or anything...)

2) Deck out the porch.

If you've followed this blog for the last year you've seen pictures of our Victorian-style house.  It has a wraparound porch that just begs to be decorated for the Fourth of July and Christmas.  I guessed how many swags to buy last year but it wasn't quite the right amount so I went back to the craft store after the holiday and bought a few more at a really good price.  Not pictured are big patriotic pinwheels lining the sidewalk, which I think add a nice, whimsical touch.

3) Go nuts with the red, white, and blue foods.

It's time to make kabobs of strawberries, bananas, and blueberries!  You could also make a flag cake using fruits or candies.  However, as pretty as a blue velvet cake looks and sounds, no human should ingest that much blue food dye.  Trust me on this one--my friends will never let me live that year down.

4) Scope out a good spot for the fireworks show.

Nowadays we party at a friend's house that overlooks a neighborhood pond and there's a great, unobstructed view of some nearby fireworks.  (My neighborhood is hilly with tons of trees--not so good for viewing fireworks.)  I'm the type who wants to get as close to the action as I can.  My earliest fireworks memories are of sitting and eating a snowcone on top of the family car in the parking lot where they were setting off the city fireworks and watching the remnants fall all around us.  As it should be.

How will you celebrate this year?


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dehydrating those summer fruits and veggies

We've reached that point in the summer where the produce is abundant and cheap.  You just can't help but buy more than you could possibly eat before it goes bad.  I'm guilty of this, too.  We've got this neighborhood food warehouse that has an agreement with local restaurant suppliers to buy the overstock items.  Every Saturday they open up a special section of the warehouse that is full of produce.  I picked up a flat (8 one pound cartons) of strawberries for $3!  I love strawberries but I can't eat that many!  What's a savvy buyer to do?  Well, after giving away a couple of cartons I came home and prepped the rest for dehydrating.


Dehydrating fruits and vegetables is actually pretty easy.  You could use your oven but that's hot and I'm not comfortable leaving it on if I'm going to be away from the house.  

The other way to do it is to buy a food dehydrator.  I picked this one up a couple of years ago at Aldi for $20, but sporting good stores that specialize in camping and hunting items are also good places to shop.


It's not very fancy.  In fact, there's only one setting:  on/off.  That's all I need!

Start by washing and prepping your fruit or vegetable.  (I'll be referring to strawberries from this point forward, but think of the possibilities:  zucchini, potatoes, oranges...)


Wash and dry them.




After I remove the stems I use an egg slicer on the finest setting.  This cuts them into uniform pieces that aren't too thick to thoroughly dry.


Here's a peek at my process:  de-stem, cut, and spread out on the dehydrator tray.  You want to make sure that they aren't touching but you don't need to leave too much room between them.


Keep going until you've filled up all of the trays.



Put the lid on and plug it in.  I like to leave the vent on what I call "halfway" so it is somewhere between the two vent options.


I started the dehydrator at about 9:30 last night.  When I got up this morning I rotated the trays so the lower ones, which had been closer to the heating element all night, were shifted to the top.  This allows all of the slices to have a chance at getting fully dehydrated.


Here's what it should look like when they're "ready."  I unplugged the machine sometime this evening when I started to make dinner.


The only thing left to do once you've unplugged the machine is carefully peel them off the racks.  You'll probably come across some thicker ones that still feel a little mushy to the touch.  That's okay--eat those first!  Don't put them in your storage container and you won't have to worry about mold.

In the next day or two I plan to make homemade granola and mix in some dried strawberries.  It's delicious in a bowl of milk because the tartness of the strawberries is the perfect compliment to the sweet granola I like to make.

What will you dehydrate?


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Father's Day gift ideas

Need a good idea for this year's Father's Day gift?  How about five?

1) Take him to do his favorite thing.

Of course, this will differ from dad to dad.  What is your dad into?  One thing we've done for our dads in past years was go to the shooting range.  It was something we were all into but don't get to do nearly enough.  It was a blast!  (haha)

2) Bake him a treat and serve it on or in something useful.

One year I baked an assortment of desserts and arranged them in a grill basket.  It was a gift that could be enjoyed now and later!

3) Ask your mom what he really wants.

Okay, this one's kind of cheating, but only halfway.  You'll still be able to surprise him and you'll look really thoughtful.  (Admitting you had help is optional.)

4) Take him to dinner.

Has he been wanting to try a new place?  Is he the type who would never splurge on a really nice steak?  Treat him to a special meal!

5) Make him a nice dinner.

One year my husband and I went on a trip to Canada and stopped in Seattle.  Between the two places we had some amazing local seafood.  When we got back, we tracked down some of the amazing salmon that we had up there and made a feast for our dads.  Get out the nice dishes you never use, toss a table cloth over the table, and feast!

What are you doing for your dad this Father's Day?


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Food Travels, Spring 2015 Edition (Austin and Palm Springs)

I traveled a little bit back in the spring and snapped some photos of my favorite foods along the way.  Consider this your quick guide to eating your way through Austin and Palm Springs!

Austin, TX
I've posted about food in Austin before, but I tried a new place this time that I can' wait to try again the next time I'm down there!  I was in the south part of town and found a place called Jack Allen's Kitchen, which I hear was founded by the guy of Z Tejas fame.  All I know is that it was DELICIOUS!

Each entree comes with housemade crisps and pimento cheese:


I ordered the crispy salmon.  It's not deep fried like the name would suggest; rather, it is seared so well that the inside remains flaky and perfect while the outside takes on a nice, crispy texture.


As good as the fish was (as well as the accompanying tomatillo sauce!) the real star of the show was the crab/microgreen/tomato salad.  They say they're a locally sourced restaurant and you could tell.  The tomatoes were so fresh, the crab was plentiful, and whatever sauce they used to bind it all together was heavenly.  (I've been told it was a Russian dressing but I'm only familiar with the red kind so I haven't figured this one out yet.)

Palm Springs
There's really only one name you need to know:  Sherman's.  This little deli is located along one of the main streets of town and is ALWAYS packed.

You can't go wrong with pastrami or corned beef, but I definitely recommend you split it with a friend.  Look at the size of my half!

Palm Springs

Their dessert case is unreal.  I got a slice of the chocolate bombe and I finished about half of my slice before giving in.  I sincerely regret forgetting the rest of it was in the hotel fridge because I would have had it for breakfast the next day!  It was incredible!

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Thanks for joining me as I remembered my favorite on-the-road foods and treats.  If you'll excuse me, I need to go find some chocolate cake!


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

10 ways to kick off your summer

Today was the last day of school, so in my mind this afternoon officially marked the beginning of summer.  Longer evenings!  No school zones!  More playing outside!

A few reasons why I'm excited it's summer:
  • more sunlight makes it feel like I can fit more into my day
  • working four long days so I can have Fridays off!
  • the slower pace
  • lightning bugs!
  • my birthday
  • our anniversary
  • traveling to new places
  • more time with the puppies!
  • the opportunity to slow down and not be so rushed
Let's ring in the new year season.  Here are 10 quick ways to get into the summer groove:

1) Make a pitcher of lemonade.

2) Invest in a rocking chair for your porch or patio.

3) Go on an evening walk and look for lightning bugs (or fireflies for the non-southern).

4) Host a cookout.

5) Visit a farmer's market (or a friend's veggie garden).

6) Light up some sparklers...bonus points if you write your name before it burns out!

7) Road trip!

8) Set up a kiddie pool for the kids (or puppies).

9) Attend an outdoor concert or music festival.

10) Go old school--gather up the neighbors and have an old-fashioned ice cream social or progressive dinner.

Here's to a long, relaxing summer!  How will you kick it off?


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pin Fails!

I don't know about you, but I like to keep a Pinterest board called "Pin Fails."  It's a good reminder to myself to not try stuff again, and a good warning for my friends so they can avoid impending DOOM!

Here's a peek at what I've tried and now consider to be "fails:"

"Healthy" Pancakes

Tastes like banana eggs, not pancakes:  1 ripe banana + 2 eggs = pancakes! Whole batch = about 250 cals. Add a dash of cinnamon and a tsp. of vanilla! Top with fresh berries! #cleaneating

"1 banana + 2 eggs = pancakes!" the description promises.  When you consider that there are only those two ingredients, they will not magically taste like pancakes.  These are banana-flavored eggs, people.  Adding "healthy" or "clean" to an old favorite like "pancakes" does not make it okay.

Hot Buttered Cheerios

hot buttered cardboard

Okay, so strike 1 is my fault:  I don't actually like Cheerios.  Since I can't seem to handle popcorn I'm always on the lookout for a good substitute, and this seemed promising.  Cheerios are pretty neutral, and all you're adding is butter.  How bad could it be?  It was hot buttered cardboard bad.  Like, there's a reason you haven't seen this recipe again since 1982 bad.  Just don't even go there.

Crock-pot Steak and Potatoes

Lack of liquid=charcoal steak:  Crockpot steak, potatoes, & corn on the cob -- Steak was almost like pot roast and potatoes weren't 100% done. I might do an hour or two on high next time then 4-6 hours on low.

Ah, the working person's dream:  a perfectly cooked dinner waiting for you when you get home.  If only!  This was a complete disaster.  The steaks were tough and dry, and the potatoes burned.  I don't even remember how the corn turned out because the rest of it was such a disaster.  AVOID!

...and...for dessert...

Chocolate Mousse Shots

Coconut milk + Cocoa Powder Wow. Gross.

Awww, this one had such potential!  I like chocolate and coconut--this should have been great!  Should have been...but wasn't.  It was so bitter and just tasted like it was trying to be something it wasn't.  I think I'll rename them "chocolate impostor shots."

This post was all in fun, because, let's face it--we all have disaster-in-the-kitchen stories.  The difference is that most of us don't share them online for the world to see.  I say if they're out there, they're fair game.

What are some Pins that you've tried that have gone horribly, hilariously wrong?


Saturday, May 23, 2015

My Top 10 Pinterest Crafty Finds

Today I'm sharing some of the craft and decor projects I've found on Pinterest.  These are projects I've made and projects I've tried with some success.  If you'll click on the name of the project it will take you to the original project instructions.

In no particular order, here they are:

Erasable To-Do List

Sparkly Flower Headband


Bubble Decals

48 Bubbles Bathroom vinyl decal wall art decor

Riff Ram Canvas

TCU Riff Ram Canvas

Light Up Drive In Sign

Faux Built-In Bookcase

Simple Tie Top


Easter Egg Garland

Record Cake Stand

What are your favorite crafts and home projects?  Share your links in the comment section!


My Top 10 Pinterest Food Faves

I wanted to share some of my favorite Pinterest food finds.  These are ones I've tested and love!  You can click on the name of each recipe and it will take you to the link.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Peppermint Whipped Cream

Homemade Peppermint Whipped Cream

Easy Pad Thai

pad thai

Homemade Cheez-Its

Lemon Chicken Romano

lemon chicken romano4

Spicy Sriracha Ramern Soup

Tomato Basil Soup

Sour Patch Grapes

glitter grapes

Summer Vegetable Tian

Summer Vegetable Tian

Berry Clafouti


Cherry'O Cream Pie (Maw-Maw's recipe!)

Maw-Maw's recipe!

Go make something yummy this weekend (and share your favorite Pinterest recipe links in the comments)!