May 30, 2012

OPA! To a Better You

I'm a snacker, and one with a salt tooth at that.  The crunchier, the saltier, the better.  It's been years since I've bought melba toast, mostly because I recall them as bland and good just for babies.  Well, things have changed, and I've been enjoying Old London's Melba Toast and Melba Snacks in soups, with dips, and just for plain snacking.

This weekend, Chris roasted some peppers and eggplants on the grill and I turned them into a fabulous baba ganoush dip which was quite tasty on Old London's Sea Salt Melba Snacks.
I simply took the cooled, grilled vegetables and blended them in a food processor with 2 tbsp tahini (sesame paste), 2 garlic cloves, a tsp of cumin, the juice of one lemon, and olive oil (enough to achieve the desired consistency.  Oh, and salt and pepper to taste.
Really delicious with some cilantro as the garnish.  The roasted eggplant adds smokiness to the dish which complements the crunch and saltiness of the Melba Snacks.

Did you know you can make desserts using Old London Melba Snacks?  This recipe for Chocolate-Pistachio crunch looks amazing.
You can find more recipes on the website too.

Would you love to win a trip to the Greek Isles to celebrate?  Who wouldn't (well, maybe members of the Greek government)?

Old London will send one lucky winner and a guest on an all-expense 8 day/7 night paid trip to the Greek Islands for a first-hand experience of the local culture, food and activities. Say Opa! to a better you by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and participating in physical activities you love while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Greek Islands!

You can get more information and try your luck by entering the Old London OPA to a Better You Facebook contest. Good luck, and OPA!
Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Old London. I received product samples to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

May 28, 2012

Three Days

It's been three days of heat, dirt, and water, as well as some gardening, lawn work and laundry.
Hope you're enjoying these three days, and remembering those who've served our country. I'm thinking of families who have lost loved ones. My heart goes out to them today, especially that their sacrifices are often dwarfed by "the official start of summer."  Thank you to my grandfathers, uncles, cousins and friends who have made our country a safer place.

May 25, 2012

Soft and Fluffy, Warm and Cuddly

One of the best "toys" in the house are pillows.  They're great for tossing, jumping into and hiding under.
Though I often grumble about having bought a couch with removable back pillows, they've really been great for building forts and piling up for belly flopping.  Oh, and cuddling too.
It's also created some sweet moments between brothers, though on occasion the older of the two is too eager for the baby to be able to wrestle.  Gentle there!
 On another soft and fluffy note, who would have guessed that Jude dislikes feathers?
I thought he might enjoy a little tickle under the chin, but he was having none of that.  I was unable to get a shot of his indignant expression when dusted with the feather, but trust me, he did not like that sensation.  I guess there ARE things this laid-back baby doesn't tolerate.  Note to self: get rid of fancy feather boa collection.

May 24, 2012

Decorate Your Blog with Depositphotos

You may have noticed that I tweaked the design of my blog in the past few days--particularly the background and the header.  Being an artsy-craftsy kind of gal, I obsess over beautiful things, so naturally I want my blog to reflect who I am and be visually appealing.

I'm also one to illustrate my blog posts, frankly because I find posts with photos or illustrations much more interesting, especially that it naturally breaks up large chunks of text and enhances your writing topic.  Why not just put a bird on it?
Where does one go to find free stock imagesDepositphotos has all your needs covered.  Whether you're looking for decoration images, like for a blog background like I used or  photos of food to illustrate a post on cooking, or really any kind of clip-art illustration, Depositphotos provides everything you need, royalty-free.

You can even find many versions of the uber-popular (or is it already waning?) chevron pattern.  That could be a fun background for your blog.
You can get free stock images when you sign up for a free 7 day trial membership and download 5 images per day.  It's simple to use, and the files are easy to open and save.  They're yours forever too, unless disaster strikes your hard drive.

When I browse the site, I'm awestruck at the amount of images available.  I like a lot of the embellishment images, like this old-timey one:
So many possibilities with that vector set, like a party invitation or stationary.  And I love the variety of labels you can download too.  Perfect for creating a pretty and organized home or using in scrapbooking.
These scroll banners are also useful and popular too.
There are all kinds of photos to illustrate whatever topic you might be writing about.  Even poop, I looked.  I'll spare you the imagery though. 

Now go forth and make your blog and life more visually appealing!
Disclosure: I received a complementary membership in exchange for writing about Depositphotos.  All opinions are my own.  If you have a blog, you might want to get in touch with Depositphotos too. 

May 23, 2012

Cue the Baby Proofing

After an explosion of movement from Jude over the past week--fast crawling, climbing, and even turning completely around in the shopping cart, in spite of a seat belt--I realized that I have to get a little more serious about baby proofing.
Living a few years without every outlet cover tightly closed and enjoying the freedom that comes with gateless living has spoiled us.  I forget what it's like to have to keep doors closed and hot drinks and staircases out of reach.
Well, truthfully, with a wild child like Soren, Chris and I still have some of that mindset leftover, even though he's four.   In fact, just the other day he was standing on the toilet, yelling out the window.

This one however is super curious coupled with the compulsion to be right next to me at all times. 
He'll crawl over pillows, under chairs and through puddles of spit-up to get to me.
Now that's love.  
And baby, I'd do the same for you.

May 22, 2012

Giving Back

I'm overwhelmingly grateful at the blessings bestowed upon me as a mother, not just for my two healthy boys, but for the many generous people have helped along my path of parenthood.  From family who pitches in to help me care for the kids to a baby shower that left me with very little to have to purchase to hand-me-downs from friends, I have more than I need as a parent.  Unfortunately, there are many parents who do not have even the essentials to raise a baby.

I have grand plans to repay all of that good fortune, not just by passing it on to other parents, but by hosting a yard sale this summer where the proceeds go directly to Doctors Without Borders, a charity that Chris and I are very fond of.  More on that to come in the next few weeks.

I am passionate about any efforts that benefit children in need.  After having my own, my compassion toward others, particularly children, has deepened.  That's why I'm sharing Johnson's Baby's newest initiative, Johnson's Baby Cares, where they have partnered with Save the Children to help babies in disaster-stricken situations have the essentials they need for a start on life.
Johnson's is donating baby care kits that contain essentials like diaper creams, lotions, shampoos for these families.  In addition, Johnson's is donating an additional $50,000 to Save the Children since they achieved 500,000 views of their sweet and sentimental "Happy Mother's Day, Mom--You're Doing OK" video on YouTube.  Grab a tissue.

You can learn more about the initiative via Johnson's Facebook page.  How do you give back?
Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Johnson & Johnson and received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

First and Last

This morning, snuggled together in bed, I asked Soren if he could stay little forever.  No, he wants to get bigger, and have bigger feet and grow up, he said.  I told him I didn't want him to grow up and move away, but he reassured me by saying that he will live in this house with us always but just get bigger clothes.

Today is his last day of his first year of school.  If that sentence boggles your mind, imagine how boggled mine is knowing my baby went from this
to this in a matter of months.  He doesn't look so different, but I see it in other ways.
Inches grown, pounds gained, letters learned and written, numbers counted, and three haircuts later, he leaves behind that first difficult month of tears, as well as those other eight months of smiles.
I know he's going to miss school and his wonderful teachers, but I honestly think I'm going to miss it more!  These Tuesday and Thursday mornings have been blissful.

His teachers really have worked hard to create a positive learning environment and experience for the kids.  From the Mother's Day brunch and tea, complete with adorable singing and handmade gifts from the kids
to the deluge of craft projects stuffed in their backpacks to the fact that my baby can write his name and I had nothing to do with it!  They're simply amazing.

What do you give a teacher to show your appreciation, short of a massage gift certificate and a comfy reclining chair?  I made up a simple teacher gift for them that I found via Pinterest.
One is for a teacher, the other for the aide.  Mine didn't look as pretty as the ones above, mostly because I had trouble finding nice cups at the last minute.  I got mine from Target, along with the other supplies.
Also my photos suck.  I hate taking shots at night under the kitchen lights, but that's usually when I work.

For the gifts, I bought
insulated drink cup | gift card for a bookstore |instant lemonade packs | lemon-themed pens and lemon sticky note pad (from Target dollar section) | chocolate!! | yellow gift bags | ribbon

Assembly was easy. Just stick everything inside the cup while sneaking a piece of chocolate for yourself.
Once the lid was in place, I cut out little pennants from cardstock and wrote a note on them, as copied from Lisa Storm's blog.
For the aide: "thank you for being a great "ade" to the class!" and for the teacher "thank you for quenching my thirst for knowledge".  Cheesy, but fitting for this gift.  I debated writing something like "this is the last straw!! love, Soren" or "you certainly made lemonade out of my lemons, love Soren" but I didn't think that left the teachers with a positive image of my son. :)

I slid the paper onto the straw and taped it closed.
A cute and practical gift, rather than more kitschy junk to decorate the classroom.  Hopefully they can use this throughout the summer at the pool or on the beach.

Slip the cups into a gift bag, add a card and ribbon and you're done.  I drew some cardstock lemon slices as name tags for the gifts which Soren colored.  He also made a card for inside, the sentiments of which he dictated to me.
Here's hoping this last day of pre-school turns into a pretty spectacular first day of summer for us. 

May 18, 2012

La Tartine Gourmande {Book Giveaway}

As a home cook, I love paging through cookbooks and blogs looking for inspiration to change-up the usual menu in my kitchen.  Most recently I came across La Tartine Gourmande, both the blog and the subsequent cookbook of the same name, and both by Beatrice Peltre.
What a fabulous book, both in its photography and content.  La Tartine Gourmande, Recipes for an Inspired Life, is a beautiful read, filled with foods for all times of day, snacks and desserts included.  Oh yes, desserts!  Like the Spiced Panna Cotta below, the recipe of which can be found here.

The book has inclinations toward French food, due to the author's French heritage, however the recipes are simple and accessible (really, isn't most French cuisine like that anyway?  Fresh ingredients, simple and traditional techniques, etc.).
Beatrice Peltre writes in a friendly, upbeat manner and her charming stories and vignettes pepper each chapter, reflecting on her upbringing in France and her experiences in the US and abroad.

I like that her recipes use fresh ingredients and are also encouraging of gluten-free diets.  Peltre herself has a gluten intolerance, so many of her recipes use flours other than wheat-based ones.  Yet the recipes don't seem fussy or weird; I doubt I'd miss wheat much if cooking my way through this book.

While I've yet to really knead my way through the recipes, I did have a chance to make her Nutty Maple and Vanilla Granola.
Super-delicious, really easy, and great for her yogurt and fruit parfaits.
I'm certain it's will be my go-to granola recipe from now on.  The pumpkin seeds are a wonderful addition.
La Tartine Gourmande is a great companion to my kitchen, and I look forward to trying more of Bea's recipes throughout the year.

One lucky reader will win a copy of La Tartine Gourmande from Roost Books!  Enter via Rafflecopter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received a copy of La Tartine Gourmande for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

May 17, 2012

A Garden Lunch

Though my desire to eat outdoors in the garden has not yet been realized due to the lack of an outdoor table, we still are enjoying the garden's bounty during lunch and dinner at the kitchen table.
Soren bringing in kale from the garden
We've been munching on greens including lettuce, kale, swiss chard and arugula, as well as radishes and herbs, which have become plentiful over the summers, having wintered quite well.

For lunch today, I made an easy vegetarian Portuguese Kale and White Bean Soup using fresh kale, herbs and even frozen tomatoes from last year's harvest.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced,
  • 2 potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 8 leaves (give or take) of kale, tough stems removed and finely chopped
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (canned, frozen, or fresh)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 2 cans of white beans (or 4 cups cooked beans)
  • 6 cups of vegetable stock (or water)
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • handful of fresh sage, chopped finely
  • salt and pepper to taste
Heat a dutch oven or soup pot, then add the oil.  Saute the onion and garlic and 1/2 of the sage leaves.  When the onions are translucent, add the stock, potatoes, tomatoes, paste, kale and vinegar.  Cook until potatoes are soft and the kale is tender.   Add the rest of the sage, and salt and pepper the soup to taste.
Serve with crusty bread or rice and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (not really Portuguese, but tasty!).
I think this would be great with a Spanish Rioja wine, which I haven't had for years.  I see a trip to the liquor store in my future.

UPDATE: My adoring, blog reading husband brought home a bottle for dinner (we had leftovers).  And it was as good as I remembered from our Spanish honeymoon. :)
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