Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Farm Fresh Eating

For our getaway last week we headed south to the Monterey Bay area. The amazing thing about that region is that there are so many different things to see and do. Just north of the Bay is some major farm country, including the Artichoke Capitol of the World ~ Castroville, CA.

I loved showing my toddler the process of how we get our food. We saw enormous fields of artichokes.

There were a number of roadside farmstands featuring the "just-picked" local bounty.

Did you know that the edible part of the artichoke is actually the plant's flower? Honestly, the plants are quite beautiful, particularly with the wild yellow mustard growing around it (which is actually a weed!).

And of course, the local restaurants feature the artichoke in all kinds of inventive ways, like deep-fried artichokes at The Whole Enchilada. We didn't have one on this trip, but we did several years ago. Yum!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So Much to Say, So Little Time!

I can't wait to tell you about the trip I went on with my hubby and toddler last week. As soon as I get a break, I promise I'll be back! Stay tuned. . .

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Veggie Sophistication

A few weeks ago I realized how much my cooking style has changed, particularly since I've been cooking for three rather than two. Not only do I cook less often than I used to, but my cooking has lost a lot of sophistication. I used to make the occasional fancy meal for my hubby and I, sometimes even with multiple courses. Now. . .not so much.

There are several reasons for this change. My toddler's tastes influence my menu selection a great deal. I'm also super practical, so I'm always considering what things will taste like the next day for lunch. But the biggest reason for the current state of things is that I just have so little time.

I've been trying to elevate my style just the teensiest bit. I have tried to make a few meals that are a bit more "upscale," if you will. And the great thing is that I've found that it really doesn't take much to fancy things up a bit.

Perhaps you're wondering what makes a vegetarian meal more "upscale." Afterall, we don't get the benefit of filet mignon or other fancy cuts of meat. In my mind, there are three things that add sophistication to any meal.
  • Nice, flavorful cheeses
  • Exotic mushrooms
  • Any form of cooking with wine
With this tripartite in mind, I recently turned to an old favorite recipe that incorporates all three. It's a recipe from Rachael Ray for a spaghetti risotto. My toddler gets her spaghetti. I get my risotto. And we all get the cheese, mushroom, and wine combo.

I have barely adapted the original recipe, so I'm linking directly to it. I usually use fresh mushrooms if they're available (about 12 oz. of any combination), I use walnuts since I always have them on hand, and I skip the arugula and lemon juice part of the recipe. The result is always fantastic, so I'm so glad to have re-discovered this old {slightly} upscale favorite!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Little Tea Etiquette

In a few weeks I will be co-hosting a bridal tea for a dear friend. I've finalized most of the details at this point, and boy has it been interesting. We probably all know that afternoon teas can be very "proper" affairs, but I was still fascinated by how many tea-related things are floating around out there.

{available here}

Did you know that there's a proper way to hold a tea cup? There is. "One's fingers are placed to the front and back of the handle with the pinkie finger tilted slightly up for balance. It is rude to loop fingers through the handle or to hold the body of the cup with the palm of the hand."

Another important tip on stirring (of all things!): "It is considered rude to stir one's tea in wide circular motions. Proper etiquette requires the teaspoon to be held at the six o'clock position to begin. Then, any added liquid is folded lightly towards the twelve o'clock position two or three times." Whew, I better be careful of that one! More tea-sipping etiquette found here.

I found so many little things designated specifically for teas. There's the teaspoon, of course:

{available here}

And, according to Crane, tea affairs have their own style of invitation. The "tea length invitation" is tall and narrow like this one in the middle:

{available here}

There are also tea length programs for weddings:

{available here}

You may already be familiar with the tea length dress:

{available here}

The official word is that modernly "if a dress falls above the ankle and below the knee, it may be properly considered a tea length dress. Anything longer may be considered 'ballerina length' or 'maxi length.'" Historically, a tea length dress was quite different:

{image from here}

Quirky etiquette tidbits ~ maybe not all that relevant, but still fun!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pure Indulgence

This past week I ate at so many great places, including several local spots that I've been intending to visit for a while. Perhaps my favorite discovery was my trip to Paris via Le Petit Boutique and Cafe in Sacramento. I had such a fun time pretending I was actually in Paris enjoying three of France's greatest offerings ~ shopping, coffee, and pastry. Not to mention the Parisian-style people-watching I did with my friend Une Femme Curieuse. Ooh-la-la, what fun!

This little place is so cute, with its oh-so-French ornate wallpaper, antique furniture, and even handwritten signs for the menu. I had cafe au lait in an oversized coffee cup, which was artfully served much like this:

{image from here}

And I had a splendid little hazelnut mousse confection. It was molded much like the mousse in this picture, plus it had alternating layers of chocolate and nuggat:

{image from here}

This advice may come as a surprise, but for your next trip to Paris you might just consider heading to Sacramento!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Irish Faceoff

Hope you had a great St. Patrick's Day! Did you do anything fun?

It was a pretty regular day for me, but I did use the holiday as an excuse to visit one of our local cupcake shops. I had heard that they offer a cupcake made with Guinness, so I set out to investigate. Yesterday they had TWO Irish flavors, so I staged a tasting.

The contenders:

Luck O' the Irish
Irish coffee cake with Bailey's Irish cream cheese frosting.


The Dubliner
Guinness Stout chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. It's why Irish eyes are smiling!

Any guess which would be your favorite? Between my hubby and I it was uncontested. Luck O' the Irish all the way!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Green Pizza

There has been a lot of green in my life recently ~ I've been eating lots of spinach, our grass is greener than ever, and now I've raided our closets looking for green outfits for tomorrow. But my favorite green endeavor in the last few days was most definitely these green pizzas.

This picture just barely shows how I made two larger individual pizzas and one smaller one for my toddler. Things are often very Goldilocks-esque at our house!

But back to the point...these pizzas were great, and I'm proud to say that they are quite healthy. I think the secret to a healthier pizza is threefold: load it up with veggies, try a whole wheat crust (the fiber will fill you up faster), and use less, but more flavorful, cheese. If you need something heartier, then simply increase the cheese and consider adding some pine nuts. You can't go wrong either way.


Green Pizzas
Makes 2 small, lunch-sized portions
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. Dried oregano
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3 oz. sliced mushrooms, cremini are best (approximately 1/3 of a pre-sliced package)
  • 4 oz. baby spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 2 whole wheat pita rounds
  • 1/4-1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 3 Tbsp. crumbled feta
Preheat the broiler.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes, oregano, and garlic, then saute 1 minute. Add the mushroom and saute for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Add the spinach, cover, and continue to cook until the spinach has wilted down.

Meanwhile, prepare your pizzas by spreading a spoonful (or two) of tomato sauce on each pita round. Then sprinkle with mozzarella, dividing it between the 2 pizzas. Once the veggies are done, spread them on top of the pizza. Top with the feta.

Place the pizzas on a baking sheet and broil for approximately 5 minutes, or until the feta is just starting to brown.


Wishing you a green-filled St. Patrick's Day tomorrow!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Eating Green

Only two more days until St. Patrick's Day! I'm not sure why, but I'm really having fun with it this year. Here are a few of my favorite tried-and-true green recipes, just in case you'd like to join me in celebrating.

{Penne with Spinach sauce, recipe here}

{Edamame hummus, recipe here}

{Green Rice, recipe here}

{Pea and Mint Bruschetta, recipe here}

So tell me, what do you like to eat when you're eating green?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Countdown to St. Patrick's Day

I love foodplay, so I hope to get into the spirit of St. Patrick's Day in the next few days. Round 1 is done!

I made these with an apple cinnamon pancake mix from my favorite pancake house. Coincidentally, it is also my favorite place to get southwestern treats like queso dip.

During college, Kerbey Lane Cafe was a go-to spot for my hubby and I whether it was night or day. I was thrilled to discover that they now sell some of their specialties as products. Back then we frequently had breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast, but our favorite thing to do was mix the two. Strawberry pancakes with a side of chips and queso dip? It was not un-heard of at our table.

Ah, to be in college again. And to be in Austin again, for that matter!

If you ever have a reason to visit Austin, you should definitely check this place out. Day or night, breakfast or dinner, they've got something for everyone.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Drop, Stir, Done!

If you need a quick lunch or side dish, you might try this little bean salad. Serve by itself, over salad grains, or eat it in a wrap. It tastes even better the next day!

Quick Mediterranean Bean Salad
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • Pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 can red or white kidney beans
  • A handful of grape tomatoes, halved
Put the first four ingredients in a bowl or storage container and blend. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well coated. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Filler Up!

{image from here}

Sometimes I really enjoy the fact that the professional events I attend don't go out of their way to accommodate vegetarians. Salad, mashed potatoes, and a dinner roll with real butter? Oh, and dessert too? Fine by me!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Get Your Sauces Ready

It's dipping time!

Recently my toddler has stopped liking cheese very much. This is unfortunate, since cheese sandwiches and cheese quesadillas have been a staple around here for a while. So I have reinvigorated my efforts to find alternative protein sources for her. I've turned once again to the tofu puzzle. This time I may have really solved it, too.

Each time I've made these nuggets they have disappeared from the plate in half the time I expected. They are perfect for dipping. We've tried Bittman's barbecue sauce and ranch dressing, but I can't wait to try a good marinara or blue cheese dressing. Definitely report back if you discover some good combos.

The best part is that the recipe couldn't be simpler.

Tofu Nuggets
Adapted from Nava Atlas
  • 1 lb. block extra firm tofu (I like the locally made Sacramento Company)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp. grated parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp. Paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a nonstick baking sheet. Cut the tofu crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slabs and blot with a paper towel to remove moisture. Cut each slab into 1/2-inch by 1-inch nuggets.

In a shallow baking dish gently toss the tofu in the oil. Mix the other ingredients in a small bowl, then sprinkle over the tofu. Toss gently some more, until the nuggets are well coated.

Arrange in a single layer on the prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes, then turn carefully and bake another 10 minutes, or until golden and firm. Serve with the sauce of your choice.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gone Drivin'

In recent weeks my hubby and I have made big efforts to get out and about more. In our past lives we spent a lot more time going on day trips, hiking, biking, and generally exploring Northern California. It's time to reclaim that lifestyle!

Yesterday we ventured north. Our destination was Yuba City, and we stopped at one of our favorite places along the way, Stephen's Farmhouse. I've been acquainted with Stephen's Farmhouse for as many as 15 years, but I never noticed how quaint it is until I walked up with a camera yesterday. They always have handwritten signs posted with some of their best daily offerings.

People drive out of their way for their old-fashioned pies and enormous cookies. And they have variety, too. Yesterday I picked up a sugar-free Olallieberry pie to take to my aunt (which tastes a lot like a blackberry), plus a cookie for each of us. I chose a pumpkin cookie for me, peanut butter for my hubby, and chocolate chip for my toddler. My favorite pies there are the seasonal fresh strawberry pie and apple pie. You really can't go wrong, though.

Another great reason to stop at Stephen's is their homemade jams, jellies, and butters. They offer pepper jelly, an essential item for my fajita marinade, plus a large selection of regular and sugar free choices.

They have a nice selection of country gifts.

They offer local produce.

And they even have an area outside where you can picnic or hang out for a while. Cute, right?

So tell me, do you have hidden treasures like this near you? Re-discovery is so fun!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Eating Rainbows

Recently I led the morning circle at my daughter's preschool, hoping to teach them their fruits and avoid the situation in Jamie Oliver's video. Here are the basics of what I said:

Me: Do you like food?
Preschoolers: Yeah!
Me: Do you like rainbows?
Preschoolers: Yeah!
Me: Do you like to eat rainbows?
Preschoolers: Wah?
Me: Did you know that it's healthy to "eat rainbows"? And why do children want to be healthy?
Preschoolers: So that they don't get sick and they grow big and strong.
Me: Well, one way to make yourself more healthy is to eat every color of the rainbow.

We talked about all the different-looking fruits that are out there. Then we made our very own rainbow smoothies. I put several colors of fruits in a blender and blended it up to see what color the smoothie became. And finally, we all tasted.

It was a great experience, and I think everybody was pretty excited about it. I literally made smoothies until I ran out of fruit. Before I knew it I had passed out smoothie samples and recipes to all of the teachers in the school. And this is still posted on the classroom bulletin board:


Make Rainbow Smoothies at Home

You’ll need:
  • 2 cups of orange juice
  • ½ cup yogurt (optional, any flavor)
  • 1 banana, broken in half
  • 16 whole frozen strawberries
  • 2 handfuls frozen blueberries
  • 1 handful frozen peach slices

Place all ingredients in your blender bowl. Pulse until the large pieces of fruit have broken up, then blend until smooth. Stir once or twice, and add more liquid if the blender has trouble breaking up the frozen fruit.


So tell me, do you eat rainbows? If not, you just might try!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Did you hear? Davis has a secret.

It's common knowledge that Davis cares about its carbon footprint. In fact we're so green, that the Davis city council voted not to sell or offer bottled water at any community events. If you're parched and you forgot to pack your own, you're out of luck.

It's also common knowledge that Davis believes in slow growth and buying local. We've resisted major expansion for years. And we've done well.

Nevertheless, Davis has a secret.

Last fall Target moved in. Soon after my hubby was sitting on bleachers watching our toddler's gymnastics class. Our daughter boisterously cried out, "We're going to Target today!" Several moms from her preschool were sitting just in front of my hubby. They nodded knowingly. Then they leaned in very close to each other. One asked, "Have you been to the new Target yet?" Everybody nodded slowly. Then, ever so quietly, the first mom whispered, "Yeah, I love the new Target."

We try not to talk about it openly, but it's true. And it's not just my toddler or a single mom at gymnastics class. Davis residents love the box store that has descended on our little hippy town.

You'll keep our secret, won't you? Please do.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Plastic Fruit

"I now have a cooler full of plastic fruit, OJ, and yogurt. Curious what I'm up to?"

This is what I recently posted on Twitter. I think it's time to explain the mysteries of my ways.

{Available here}

While I've got nothing on Jamie Oliver, I DO care about healthy eating. When I watched his video last week, I was alarmed at the fact that schoolchildren didn't recognize ordinary fruits and vegetables. (If you haven't watched it, jump to minute 11.) As a mom and a former teacher, I was pretty horrified.

The problem as I see it is that much of the food we see in grocery stores and on our plate doesn't even resemble real food anymore. So when the child on the video saw a tomato in front of him he saw a strangely shaped item. I'm sure he had eaten ketchup in the last 48 hours, but he had no idea where the ketchup came from. Another child had no idea that a potato was a potato, probably because he didn't know that French fries are actually made from something else.

How can we expect Americans to make better eating choices when they have no idea what real food is? How can they understand nutrition when they don't understand the basics of how food is cooked or meals are assembled?

Clearly this problem is bigger than me, but I wanted to do something. So I did. I went to my toddler's school with a cooler full of plastic fruit, yogurt, orange juice, fresh bananas, frozen fruit, and a blender. My goal was to make sure that my daughter's class knew their fruits. And they do now. I'll tell you what I said soon.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tea Time

I love tea. But I really love tea parties.

A few weeks ago I discovered that Davis has its very own Tea Room. Tea List opened last fall. Much like a café for coffee, this tea room offers an enormous range of teas of from around the world. They also offer various accoutrement, including pastries and even lunch-sized sandwiches.

A friend and I are planning a tea party to celebrate our dear friend's wedding. We looked into several options, but we settled on Tea List as the perfect setting. The owner is a lovely hostess, and we were immediately taken with the serenity and tasteful decor of her tea room. She will serve us tea sandwiches, scones, berries with Devonshire cream, and pastries. Our edibles will be accompanied by colorful flower centerpieces and pots of tea, of course. Incidentally, they also offer a children's tea party, including peanut butter and jelly tea sandwiches and lemonade.

I'm thrilled to have all of these details taken care of by an obviously skilled hostess, but I'm also unsure how I will put my own mark on the occasion. I was thinking of selecting a tea pot that we could use at the party and then the bride could take home as a gift.

What do you think of this strawberry one?
{image from here}

Or this preening teapot?

{image from here}

OK, so maybe I better not be too hasty. I'll keep looking, I promise! But there certainly are a lot of quirky tea things out there.

In the meantime, I can't wait to get back to Tea List for lunch.
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