Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Party Season

We are now entering party season around here, and I couldn't be happier.  In addition to planning my munchkin's summer birthday party, I got myself mixed up in another little foodplay project.  My daughter's school has a spring auction to raise money for the school.  What did I donate?  Food, of course!  I offered to bake two dozen custom cupcakes, to be delivered to a lucky child's classroom, home, or birthday party.  It sounds like a fun little project, don't you think?

The only problem is that I'm not that experienced at baking cupcakes.  I have just about never baked fancy cupcakes.  (The fanciest I've ever gotten were little cakes baked in bug cupcake molds and piped with the simplest of frostings ~ whipped cream!)  So there was definitely some risk in promising so much.  Afterall, the word "custom" pretty much implies free license on flavor, color, and even theme.



I was relieved to hear that the purchaser of my little cupcake project isn't overly demanding.  Her daughter is having a unicorn party.  She selected a very specific cake flavor that will be easy to do, and I have free rein on color and how to interpret the theme.  But wait . . . I don't think I can draw a unicorn to save my life.  Amazon doesn't sell unicorn cupcake rings or other types of cupcake toppers.  (Although they sell lots of great ones in other themes.)  What to do, what to DO?!?

I turned to Etsy for inspiration, and now I need feedback.  Any thoughts on these cupcake toppers?  Any idea how I might come up with an equally fantastic diy version?  Any other tips or ideas on how to create a masterful unicorn cupcake?  I'm all ears.

'Unicorn Birthday' by appetiteforconvo

Inspiration for making unicorn cupcakes!


Bottle Cap Image Sheet ...
$1.75

Unicorn Happy Birthday...
$21.00

Rainbow Unicorn Birthda...
$4.75

Unicorn Cupcake Toppers
$0.75

Rainbow Unicorn - Cupca...
$5.95

18 Unicorn Theme - Cupc...
$18.00

Rainbow Unicorn Birthda...
$4.75

Cupcake Toppers "W...
$9.99

PRINT SALE Unicorn Cake...
$17.50


{Thank you to handmadeology for this etsy treasury posting tutorial.  I love that I can feature some of my Etsy faves without jeopardizing the legal rights of the individual artists.}

Monday, May 28, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Summer Fun

And we're back to Monday...  How did that happen?  I hope all my readers have been enjoying the holiday weekend.  For me, it's just one more reminder that summer is nearly here.  (Yippee!)  I plan to savor this summer.  Partly to distract me from the heat that could be the bane of my existence.  And partly because this summer will likely be a very special summer.  

I'm between jobs right now, so I will be planning lots of activities and quality time with my big munchkin.  Baby munchkin is due to arrive in early August, so that will be huge.  In between I'm hoping to fit in a trip or two, lots of dinners on our back patio, many afternoons spent poolside, and maybe even a day or two at the beach.



To get it all started, I recently discovered what may become this year's favorite summer pasta.  It's another tortellini dish that can be served warm, room temperature, or cold as a pasta salad.  I took it to a cookout as a side dish yesterday, and I heard a few "yums" amid all the noshing.  Always a good sign!   



Notice that the ingredient list is decidedly low-fat, making this sauce yet another example of a sneakily-lowcal cream sauce.  Just remember to watch how long this dish sits out on the back patio, as it can spoil as quickly as any salad dressed with a cream-, buttermilk-, or mayo-based sauce.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tortellini with Yogurt Chive Sauce
Serves 4-6
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
  • 8 oz. frozen peas
  • 2/3 plain lowfat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan (either grated or shredded), divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional for the pasta water and to taste
  • 1/4 freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tomato, diced
Cook the tortellini in a pot of well-salted boiling water according to the package directions.  Add the peas to the boiling water during the last 3-4 minutes of cooking time.  (Note that fresh tortellini may only need 3-4 minutes to boil, in which case you can add the tortellini and peas together from the start.)  Reserve 1/2 of the pasta cooking water before draining.

In the meantime, mix the yogurt, 1/4 cup Parmesan, Garlic, chives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a small bowl.  Place the cooked pasta and peas in a large bowl.  Add the diced tomato and sauce.  Mix well.  Use some of the reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce, if needed.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Serve warm, room-temperature, or chilled as a pasta salad.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Planning Ahead!

I'm trying to get back to my regular Meatless Mondays posts, but I keep noticing it's Monday evening and I've forgotten to post.  Again.  So this week I'm planning ahead and offering you my Meatless Monday idea far enough ahead of time that you could actually make it.  On Monday, no less!

I know we're heading towards summer, but this last week in NorCal offered a little break in the warmer temperatures we were having.  We had a breeze on several evenings, and soup actually seemed like appropriate dinner fare.  Truthfully, I find that soup isn't such a terrible warm-weather supper because it's so light and easy on the tummy.  (And waistline!)  



I love this recipe because it's so adaptable.  The essential elements are the onion, mushrooms, broth, and tortellini.  When the cupboards are bare, you could throw together only the essential items for a simpler version.  You could fancy it up with additional colorful veggies and extra herbs.  Or, you could streamline it for a busy weeknight by using store-bought diced onions and some frozen veggies rather than chopping your own.  As you can see, the version I made last week was fairly chunky and loaded with veggies.  We ate it with cheese bread and salad, and I made a double batch so that I can freeze some for later!




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mushroom Tortellini Soup
Serves 4-6
Cook time: about 45 minutes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 small onion, chopped small
  • 1/2  red bell pepper, chopped small
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped small  (or you can substitute other veggies, even frozen veggies, for the carrots and bell pepper - use about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 medium portabello mushrooms,chopped into cubes
  • 1/4 cup red wine (optional)
  • 1-14 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1-14 oz can white kidney beans (or cannelini beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1-9 oz package fresh or frozen tortellini (filled with cheese, muchroom, or other complimentary filling)
  • Garnishes of your choosing, such as parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, sour cream, or garlic croutons.

Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the thyme, red pepper flakes, and garlic, then saute for 1 minute.  Add the onion, red bell peppers, and carrots, then saute until they are beginning to soften.  (5-8 minutes)  Add the portabello mushrooms, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Let the veggies saute another 5-8 minutes until the mushrooms have released some of their juices and are starting to brown.

Use the win to de-glaze the bottom of the dutch oven.  Add the canned tomatoes, beans, water, and stock.  Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer for about 8 minutes.  Add the tortellini, and cook according to the package directions.  (Fresh takes approximately 4-7 minutes, frozen takes approximately 6-9 minutes.)  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish and serve.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When You Wish Upon a Star

My daughter's 6th birthday is coming up.  I like this time of year because anytime my daughter sees something that she wants I can tell her to put it on her birthday wishlist.  When I say this, my daughter seems to know that I mean it.  We don't negotiate back and forth about the fact that she really wants it now.  My daughter generally accepts that it's on her to remember to write it down if she really wants it.

Yesterday my daughter sat down and actually started her wishlist.  I got a phone call, so I didn't really pay attention to what she wrote.  This morning I found the list she had made, and my hubby and I had a really good laugh.  This list is like a little window into her 5-year old outlook on the world.  I'll leave it to you to interpret what on earth my big munchkin was thinking!



Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Swallow-ing


Did you have a nice weekend?  I hope so.  My weekend included several unusual adventures.  Most notably, a pair of barn swallows moved into one of the eaves on our front porch.  A pair visited us a couple of years ago and built a nest in the exact same spot ~ perched in the corner above our front door.  It was fascinating to watch them assemble their mud nest, keep watch over their eggs, and then feed their babies. 

This weekend the current pair of swallows laid a mud foundation for the nest they were planning to construct over our front door.  While I was pleased to see the swallows back again, discovering their blueprints for our front porch was bitter-sweet.  I'm all for experiencing nature close to home, but these things are messy!   I'm pretty sure that regularly cleaning bird droppings from our front door is NOT a hobby I want to re-visit in my current condition.  So I made an executive decision.  The birds can stay, but not directly over our front door.  The only problem is how to explain that to our new avian friends.

I read online that swallows will sometimes take up residence in a location you select.  All you have to do is build a little next box and place the prime real estate in a prime location at the same time you knock down the old nest.  My resourceful hubby got to work.



He sawed.  He measured.  And finally, he glued the nest together with wood glue.


The nest box is now sitting in another, much more desirable, corner of our porch.  We left it a bit dusty so the birds would find the barn-i-ness they are looking for. Then I spread some bird seed on the nearby ledges.  I wanted to be neighborly, afterall.


I hope the darling swallows aren't too terribly offended that we disassembled the start of their first nest.  The spot we've made for them really does have a lot to offer.  Now that everything is in position  and our For Rent sign has officially been hung, all we can do is wait.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Start it out right!



I am a huge believer in breakfast, probably because my body seems to be programmed to eat a full meal within a few hours of waking up.  (I wake up hungry, people, hungry!)  In my experience, it's important to eat healthy (and hearty!) in the morning to start a day out right. 

As a vegetarian, I also find it's important to be sure there's a decent dose of protein in every meal, including breakfast.  Don't be fooled - "vegetarian protein in the morning" does not necessarily have to mean eggs.  In fact, I find that I can get a nice dose of protein simply by eating whole grains. 

This weekend I whipped up my first batch of baked oatmeal, which I've been reading about all over the internet.  I used a very basic recipe, and I look forward to jazzin' it up in future versions with some dried or fresh fruit and other flavor combinations. 

Oatmeal has a nice dose of protein built right in, plus it makes a great base to combine with other protein sources.  By my count a serving of this baked oatmeal recipe has about 5 grams of protein (based on a 12-serving recipe), which isn't bad for something that smells as good as a freshly baked oatmeal cookie! 

This morning I had it with yogurt and berries, which was great.  Tomorrow I might try it with warm milk, which I imagine will be closer to a true bowl of oatmeal.  The oatmeal-dairy combo puts my protein tally closer to 12 grams, which I consider to be quite respectable for breakfast.

In case I'm selling this stuff short, this recipe is truly enticing!  It absolutely smelled like a cookies as it baked.  I was thrilled when it won over my hubby, who typically turns his nose at traditional oatmeal.  Plus, it satisfied my morning sweet tooth without being quite as sweet as an actual cookie.  I'm the queen of leftovers, so I was doubly pleased to discover how well it warmed up in the toaster oven the next day.  Yay for a week of baked oatmeal!




Baked Oatmeal - the Basic Recipe
Serves 8-12

  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 3/4 brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the over to 375 degrees.  Mix all of the ingredients together.  Pour into a buttered 13 x 9 inch pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Munchkin Talk


It happened.  I don't know how it happened, but it happened.  My baby is no longer a baby.  She's no longer a toddler, or even a preschooler.  She's now a full-grown little lady.



I really miss her baby years, when I spent hours cuddling and rocking her in my arms.  And I confess, I kept that going absolutely as long as I possibly could.  We would have brief, but regular, mini cuddle sessions every morning before I scooted her off to preschool and me off to school or work.

So this morning I did my best to re-create that.  Lucky for me, my munchkin is always up for a hug or a cuddle.   Here's how it went down:

Me:  Morning, sweet-girl.  What are you doing awake already?
Munchkin:  Hi Mommy.  I was just playing.
Me:  Hey, I missed putting you to bed last night.  Wanna cuddle for a minute?
Munchkin:  Sure.
Me:  Here, climb in my lap.
[She tries, she really does.  I grunt and groan, then re-position.  Still, she can't quite make it onto my lap.  My daughter was probably thinking "awk-ward," which is her new favorite word.

Munchkin:  Mommy, there's no room.  How about if I just sit next to you and lean my head on your shoulder?
Me:  OK, I guess that'll work.
[We cuddle for a minute.]

Munchkin:  The baby's really big now, Mommy, isn't she?
[What she really means is, "Your belly looks gi-normous!"]
Me:  Yep, she keeps growing.

My munchkin is so excited to meet her baby sister, who is set to arrive in August.  I am too, of course.



In the meantime, I'm trying to soak up as much time with her as I can.  Soon I'll have a big munchkin and a little munchkin to share stories about.

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