Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A few of my favorite things ... Day One

I was driving along the other day and thinking, "I love my car ... MAN I love this car!".

Then I realized I have quite a few special treasures that I just adore. Since that SCREAMS blogpost, I made a list and decided to write about them. Over the next few weeks as time a health allow, I'm going to talk about the things that make me smile. You're going to notice that many of these are my favorites because of how they impact my energy level or my different abilities but some are just fun :)

2007 Toyota Matrix in speedway blue

So this summer (after more than a year of not being able to drive) I traded in my behemouth minivan for this sweet little car. Yes, it really IS that color - so freaking easy to find it in a parking lot! The doors are lightweight, not draining to open or shut. It has a glorious sunroof that lets me have the sun shine on me year round. The tailgate has my favorite feature ... I can pop open the glass on it and load my groceries in without hefting up the whole tailgate! I love that the windows are NOT tinted because they obscure my vision less. It's easy to park, easy on my arms/back/neck to turn and drive. I love that it gives me freedom and I love that it was a bargain and I LOVE that when people look at it they smile and say, "Now THAT is a Melissa car."

Knit Picks Options Interchangeable Harmony Wood Circular Knitting Needle Set

I've had this lovely set since Christmas 2009. It was a fantastic present from my parents that has really helped me become more comfortable as a knitter. The warm wood is comfortable for my hands, the tips are the perfect length. I love that I can store the cables coiled and they don't stay loopy. The tips are sharp and pointy, yet strong.

The only cons to these needles don't really bother me. The first is that the join requires you to use a small tool to tighten it. Possesed with knitter's hubris? Think you can hand-tighten it? BAD plan. You'll find out (as I did, on at least three separate occasions) halfway through a row that your tip has come unscrewed and you've dropped thirty stitches. Note that I kept trying this. I tend to be chock full of hubris ... but now I tighten the tips.

The other con is that unlike a number of other sets, the shortest cable is only 24 inches. Denise, Skacel Addi Lace, Colonial and Webs all offer shorter lengths.

Scentsy Warmers
When I was in college I was a huge Yankee (Colonial, Partylite, *insert smelly candle brand*) Candle fan. I used to love their wax tart burners but was less than enchanted by the soot build-up inside so i mostly stuck with my candles. And then the small people entered my life.

I can still light candles if I place them carefully away from small hands, but then they are generally out of my sight/smell ... so what is the point? I've tried essential oil diffusers (even serious professional grade ones) but the fragrances seem to irritate my husband and kiddos more.

This year I bought a Scentsy warmer to try to get some of that old yummy scent going through the apartment (I went with Christmas Tree, Autumn Sunset and Reggae Sunset) and it's pretty cool. It's just like the candle-based wax tart warmer except uses a small lightbulb to warm the wax. It also uses a smaller pieces of wax that are much more affordable. Gotta love that! So far I love the smells (and want to try a few I smelled at a friend's house - Mr. Watson and Honey Pear Cider), the ease of use and the way it looks. Score!

So those are three of my favorite things ... I hope I didn't bore you completely. More to come as soon as the small people allow!

Fine print: I don't benefit  in any way from product mentions in this blog.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Addi Lace Clicks Review (for you, Jillian)

A few weeks ago my long-awaited trip to Stitches East went horribly awry. I consoled myself by spending the last of my birthday money on a set of Addi Lace Clicks interchangable needles. I'd wanted these for quite awhile, having fallen in love with the Addi's Lace Circulars during my shawl-a-thon last spring.

Sorry this is lacking in pictures but I wanted to get my impressions down while I was thinking about them. Below my thoughts I'll list my impressions in bullet points including details like tip length, needle material, join mechanism and join smoothness.

My initial reaction was Ooooooooooooooooooh. How lovely! How pretty! The case is streamlined and relatively well-designed, with magnetic closures and a zipper pocket for any small bits you may need. I quickly sat down to cast on the Montego Bay scarf in some gorgeous Blue Heron Rayon Metallic (in Day Lily) and my heart fell. I had heard that Addi had encountered difficulty achieving a smooth join when producing the tips using same bronze finish as found in the Addi Lace Circular needles but I hadn't thought about how that would impact the feel of the needles or the slide of the yarn on them.

The Lace Clicks are made using the same material as the Addi Turbos while retaining the finer, more elongated tip of the Lace Circulars. One of the things I loved about the Addi Lace Circs was that it had a gentle grip - fantastic for slippery lace yarn. The Lace Clicks are super slick. After the disappointment of missing Stitches, I just burst into tears. I've always avoided metal needles because I have trouble managing slick yarn when my hands are fumbly.

Time went on and I used them here and there for smaller swatching projects ... I began to enjoy the slickness of the yarn on the needles. Holy moses they are fast. I picked up my Lace Circs to knit a pair of gingerless mitts and ... hmmmm ... suddenly they were too grippy!  Interesting.

Mitts finished, I decided to cast on a matching scarf. I cast on using sz 10 Addi Lace Clicks and within two rows my hands began to ACHE. I realized the problem ... the needle tips are too short for comfort. They need to be shorter to accomodate the 16inch cables in the Clicks kit but OW ... my hands cramped all up. I quickly switched it over to my Knit Picks Harmony interchangables and the ache eased.

So here is the nitty gritty of it all...

Addi Lace Clicks -
~  fantastic fine point, as sharp as Harmony needles but more elongated. Better for lace knitting

~ slick speedy material. They are lacking the grip of the Addi Lace Circs, so if you are in love with that these might not be the needles for you.

~ INCREDIBLE join mechanism. If you have a KitchenAid Mixer you'll recognize the connection. It's very similar to the connection that KitchenAid uses to lock the mixing blade onto the mixer. Absolutely fantastic design, super secure. No more needle tips unscrewing mid-row and dropping a billion stitches (I've had this occur with the Harmony tips and have run into alot of frustration when I misplace the tightening tool required to tighten the Harmony tips).

~ pretty smooth join. The folks who sold the set to me gushed ridiculously about the join but it was not as impressive as I thought it would be. It's most likely the best join possible using the secure locking mechanism and that particular needle material, but I think it's about comprable to the KP Harmony join. In fact, the Harmony join seems a bit better at times.

~ bendy cords in a wide variety of lengths, printed with the length. It's very handy to have the short lengths of cords but quite honestly I would rather have longer tips for comfort. They fit nicely into the zipper pocket on the back of the case but they seem to hold their loopiness a bit too much if they stay rolled up in there. Harmony cables are equally flexible and seem to resist getting too loopy if stored rolled up (a big plus when using long cables for Magic Loop knitting) but I do love that the Addi's have the length printed on them.

~ size printed on the needle tip. Holy cow I love this. Loooooooooooove. Harmony tips don't have this.

So that said, I like the Addi Lace Clicks, but don't *love* them. I'm absolutely not interested in rehoming my Harmony needles any time soon but the Addis have enough positives going for them that I am going to hang onto them as well.

Hope this gives some feedback to those who are interested!

Just noting: I have no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned above.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Easy Turkey Dinner with some of the Trimmings ;) Kind of...

** Disclaimer - Yes, I am aware that stuffing that is not cooked INSIDE the bird is supposed to be called dressing. But this is my blog ... here it is and will always be stuffing ;)

I have a small problem with stuffing. I eat it like candy. I mean look at this. LOOK at this.

I had a lonely bag of Pepperidge Farm Cornbread stuffing languishing in a cabinet and turkey breast cutlets in the freezer. Mmmmm... or so I thought.

As I myself languished in bed after a horrible week, I began lusting after stuffing. Mmmm. With gravy. Ooooooh sweet mother, I had all the ingredients on hand to make this EASY. What LUCK! Ha.

So here is what I had in the fridge/freezer/pantry...
a bucket of prechopped celery & onions (it was on sale)
1lb frozen turkey cutlets (uh oh)
packets of Simply Organic turkey gravy
boxes of organic stock in a multitude of varieties (and some in the freezer)
that big lonely bag of cornbread stuffing
Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning*

*This is my precious. They recommend it for pork, lamb or veal but the ingredients really lend themselves to poultry, IMHO. This is easy enough to mix up at home: crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bayleaf & sage. But at $2.85 for a small jar (I was in the store so no shipping!) I figured I could try it and save myself the effort of grinding up all that stuff ... which I would never remember to do. It SMELLS LIKE THANKSGIVING.

Anywho, I mixed up some stock with a packet of turkey gravy and dumped that, a cup of chopped celery and onions and the turkey into my smaller crockpot. I sprinkled it all liberally with My Precious and set it on high.

I wasn't too worried about the quantity of meat b/c the girls never touch turkey and dh & I could fill up the extra space with stuffing.

So around dinner time I took out said stuffing and melted the butter, sauteed more chopped onions and celery, added stock to the pan and, yes, sprinkled in more of My Precious.

Time to add the stuffing to it all and bake as directed ... (insert screeching halt noise here)...

... it expired in July.

Well really, how bad could it be? It's just bread and seasonings. Let's check the ingredients ... uh-oh. Soybean oil. My pantry (aka the small cabinet that backs up to my neighbor's tropically hot apartment) is NOTORIOUS for making things with oil in them go off.

I took a sniff. The pantry had done it again.

Well crap.

Then dilemna #2 ... the kids running into the kitchen crowing, Oooooh mom, that smells delicious!! Now to share barely one pound of turkey four ways. NO way to do that without side dishes.

I did some quick googling and referencing of my America's Test Kitchen cookbook and I decided to wing homemade stuffing. You can see where we start to slide away from easy here.

I slid half a loaf of wheat bread, slice by slice onto one rack of the already preheated 350 degree oven, followed by about 8 hamburger rolls on the other rack. The book said 30-60m at 300F to dry out the bread and to then allow it to cool. After about 10 minutes I jacked it to 350 and pulled out half a hamburger roll for each kiddo. I slathered it with butter and garlic powder, plated some of the turkey and added some raw brocolli. Dinner for the kiddos. Ta da.

They would never eat the stuffing anyway and needed to eat NOW.

When the bread was dry I debated the next few steps. The cookbook said butter the casserole but I was adding a ton of butter anyway. I skipped it - turned out pretty well that way but I think it would have added a tasty crispy layer around the edges. Now to cool or not cool? I was thisclose to turkey and stuffing. Not cool. I crumbled all the bread into one inch chunks and poured the butter/broth/veggie mix I had originally made for the prepacked stuffing all over it. Huh. Doesn't seem very wet. Ok, lid on, in it goes ... maybe the steam will help?

Thirty minutes later, not so much.

I cut more butter into the skillet, dump in the last of the onion/celery mix and more of My Precious. Sautee, add broth, bring to a simmer, mix in with all the cooked stuffing, re-lid and back in the oven for another 10min.

Now I bet if I had let it cook longer it would have been uniformly moist but I like my stuffing to have crunchy bits.

I portioned out the rest of the turkey, large helpings of stuffing and topped them all with the gravy that they turkey had cooked in (which probly should have been strained to look pretty but those wee bits of turkey and veg were soooooo good).

It was all so good.

Life lessons:
Buy more turkey.
Stuffing isn't hard to make from scratch.
One packet of gravy for this recipe is NOT enough. I almost licked the crockpot.
I cannot be without Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning. Ever.
The beautiful stunning gorgeous covered Le Creuset 4qt stoneware casserole I bought (on double super sale ... with free shipping) with my birthday money this year was worth every penny.

So after all that, here is my recipe for posterity (aka, me wanting to make it again and not remembering how).

1lb thin sliced turkey breast cutlets (next time thick cut is fine - or a whole breast, 2-3lbs)
1 packet turkey gravy (next time, at least 2)
3 cups chopped onions and celery (total - more next time)
Seasonings as you like
3 cups stock (mooooore)
1/2 loaf wheat bread and 8 hamburger rolls or the equivalent
1 stick butter

Mix turkey packet with appropriate amount of liquid noted on packet - I used stock. Add gravy, 1 cup cut veg, turkey to crockpot. Season liberally & set to cook.

Dry out your bread bits as mentioned above. Set aside.

45 minutes before ready to eat...
Preheat oven to 350F
Butter casserole. If you don't have a lidded one, plan to cover with aluminum foil.
Crumble dry bread into casserole. If you like a more crumby stuffing (less large hunks) roll the dried bread btwn your hands for a finer texture. I personally like a combo. In this recipe, larger chunks tend to stay more crispy.

Saute remaining veg and seasonings in melted butter until fragrant and onions begin to soften. Add stock to veg and heat through til. lightly simmering. Pour over bread in casserole and mix gently til well covered.
Bake 30m covered. If it's too dry, fix as I did above. If its too moist, uncover, rasie oven temp to 400F and cook 10 more minutes.
If I was really going for authentic I would crack open some of my homemade cranapple sauce from the pantry. Swoon....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pizza Chicken (veggie option at the end) ~ Welcome Back Cold Weather!

Disclaimer numero uno - this does not involve a crust in anyway.

Disclaimer part deux - my official apologies to the DiFazios and Patalanos in my heritage (and Gentiles by marriage) who I embarrass by using jarred sauce in this recipe. I'm exhausted. Apologies also for the use of mild cheddar. Just. Trust. Me.


Something about this cold brisk weather has me reaching for my big, heavy pieces of cookware. Crockpots, dutch ovens, thick high-walled iron skillets, my stoneware *** blissful sigh***

Today was a hogswart of a day (don't ask me ... I'm trying to hold off on the profanity here) and I have a brandy-new piece of stoneware to bake in (thank you Tina!!) so I found myself reaching way way back to pre-children memories for a comfort dish of epic proportions. But with minimal prep. Boo-yeah.

I'm not sure if the small monsters will eat this concoction. Frankly, my darling, I don't give a damn (does it count as profane if I'm quoting a cultural classic?). If they are hungry, they will take in calories. If not, they will eat eggs for breakfast.

So without further ado, my beloved Pizza Chicken... as with all my recipes, this is more a guideline. If you like hard and fast, sorry baby. Wrong blog. The amounts are what I used personally for two adults with hearty appetites and two chicken who exist on air and with the intent to have a ton of left overs. We ended up with a wee bit of leftovers. So. Dang. Good.

Pizza Chicken
2.5-3lbs of boneless breasts, pounded very thin or purchased "thinly sliced" (woot ... was on sale)
1 lg jar tomato sauce (I like Classico Four Cheese)
sliced pepperoni (optional)
a block of mozzarella
a bag of shredded mozzarella
shredded parmesan
shredded mild cheddar (huh? I know. Just trust me)
your favorite italian seasonings
sea or kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder (I like granulated garlic)

Needed: large skillet or fry pan, large casserole or baking dish with lid or tinfoil

Cut chicken into large medallions - like 2-3inches each. Dust both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder and begin browning the medallions in batches in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown on each side. Chicken should be cooked all the way through or almost all the way through - it will NOT be in the oven long enough to cook through based on that alone.

While chicken is browning, cut some of the block of mozzarella into 1inch chunks and set aside. Cut pepperoni slices into quarters (scissors ROCK for this) and set aside.

Preheat oven for 425 F. (I started at 350 and it took forevaaaaaaaaaah so I upped the ante halfway through)

As chicken batches finish, lay a layer of chicken in the baking dish as you would lasagna noodles. Add a light layer of sauce, a light layer of pepperoni bits and scatter with mozzarella chunks (how much is totally up to you). Sprinkle lightly with parmesan.

Repeat until the last layer of chicken.

Now on TOP of all that, cover with a layer of shredded mozzarella, more shredded parmesan, some mild shredded cheddar (see? its only here folks) and your favorite italian seasonings. I like parsley, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper.

Cover with your lid or tinfoil and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes. After first 15m, remove lid. When it is FULL on bubbling and all cheese on top has melted, and return to oven under broiler for as long as it takes to lightly brown the top. NOTE! Your cheese is already really hot so this will only take a minute or two. In my pathetic broiler that barely works it was almost too well-done after five minutes. I personally brown the life outta that bad boy.

This is really yummy over noodles but is even better by itself with some lightly steamed green beans as a side.

To meat or not to meat? -- dude, use whatever you want. You can substitute meatless sausage, portobello mushrooms, beef, pork. Knock your bobbie socks off.

Sauce -- this is actually REALLY fantastic with meat sauce, sausage sauce and pretty much any sauce you like.

Add-ins -- consider adding in anything you love on your pizza - veggies, olives, anchovies, you make the call baby

All that cheese -- so what do you do with the leftover cheese? Freeze it if you won't eat it. Chop the remainder of the block of mozzarella into one inch chunks and place in one layer in a gallon freezer bag. Freeze them laying flat and you can remove them as you need them.

Did you read this far? Can ya find the Lush jar in the picture? I even have them in my kitchen...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Part of the fun of being a grown up is getting to choose from life's buffet. What do you choose?

I pick a bit of mainstream, some modern, a bit of crunchy hippy and some old fashioned. I guess my life would make a really snazzy Venn Diagram.

Last year I made a huge ton of applesauce in my crockpot and each time there was a race to finish it before it went bad. I considered freezing it but when I put things into my freezer it's a bit like jettisoning them out of an airlock in space. Near a black hole. A big one.

So this year I decided to learn to preserve applesauce. People refer to this process using alot of terms... putting up preserves, preserving, home canning (which doesn't actually involve cans, just in case you were curious) are just a few of my favorites. According to the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation there are many ways to preserve food. Depending on the food, your needs and your equipment you can freeze, dry, cure & smoke or can your food. Canning refers to using glass jars (remember mason jars) with a two piece lid and either a boiling water canner or a pressure canner. Another informative site is the Ball Canning Supplies homepage.

I don't pretend to be an expert and mistakes in canning can be very dangerous so I'm not going to tell you how to can here. If you are interested in canning, do your research first. BEFORE you pick your fruit and get ready to can....

  • Buy or borrow one of the Ball books on canning (the Ball Blue Book and the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving) and read it cover to cover.
  • Assess what equipment you need and look it over. Understand what each piece does and how to use it.
  • Buy a dozen quality jars with lids and rings to begin with. Many people buy used jars from flea markets and thrift shops ... and that is FANTASTIC. But until you understand what a flawed jar looks like, starting with a fresh dozen is a good plan.
  • Understand that you can't wing it. Canning recipes are a balance of physics and chemistry - it's vital to follow directions precisely.
  • Start small. Many people begin by saying, I'm going to can all 40lbs of my apples this afternoon. Honey, that is alot of apples, alot of steps and alot of room for human error. Begin with one batch per day, work out the kinks.
  • Never, ever can when exhausted or when small children or infant are at your feet. Bad things can happen.
  • Create a Burn First Aid kit and keep it in a cabinet next to your stove, right at the front. It should contain burn pads (I like 2nd skin), rolled gauze and first aid tape. No creams, no goop. When you spill that apple sauce or boiling water down your arm, get it under cold water. Rinse it off, apply a burn pad as directed, wrap in gauze and tape up. Do not remove for at least a few hours (for a large burn, overnight). For severe burns, burns on face or abdomen or very large burns, get immediate emergency medical care.
Canning is comforting and fun :)

I was really intimidated by canning, honestly. I chose one single fruit (anyone remember my post about Simpling?) and one single recipe and I gave it a go. And it was so COOL! It felt alot like when I learned to make rustic bread. I could NOT believe I did this all by myself.

Projects like this comfort me. They give me something to immerse myself in, to have a small success. I'm so happy that even tho we can't have a garden, we can handpick local produce and put it by for the winter. I feel like I am preserving something for my children. Knowledge of traditional ways, sure, but also preserving their faith in the truth that differently-abled people can still do small, quietly amazing things.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea. It's safer than skydiving.

Oh my. It started out a rough day and it just kept going that way. On the plus side I have a hot new (to me) ride with a sick CD-changer. Yeah, I have a clue what I'm talking about. All I know is that people large and small have been barking/whining/yelling/apologizing at me all day, had a 1 hr drive to a far away dealership where we had to wait around for close to 3 hours yet I managed to trade in my van for a rockin deal on a car I can drive a wee bit and NOW I NEED SOME FREAKING TEA.

I poured myself a nice big honkin mug of tea before we left on The Mission and left it at home. Then I got home, refilled it from the lovely pot, went to help a crying small person and a large person inadvertently dumped it in the sink.


(** intermission music while I go put water on to boil ... **)

Ok water is set to boil and, much as I crave to brew another pot of Thin Mint Green, I think I've had enough caffeine today to power my snazzy new-to-me wheels. Soooo ... I'm making up a pot of Meditative Mind. I'm slightly dubious of any tea that contains alot of small whole rose buds but hey, we'll give it a go.

Since I have some time here while the water boils, then cools for three minutes (yes friends, it says that in the instructions), steep for 3 minutes and then cool so I don't add burned taste buds to my list of fun today, I'm going to see what else I can review before the small people begin screaming again.

Have you noticed that I tend to use exhaustive run on sentences when I'm exhausted?


Something I forgot to mention about Thin Mint Green (and some of the other teas available out there) ... you can brew it more than once. I heart this - I do I do.

Jasmine Green Pu'erh - Wikipedia has a ton of info on Pu'erh tea as does Teaspot. I've always been curious about trying some and I love jasmine green tea so I ordered a sample of this one. First impressions - the mini tea bricks are freaking adorable ... honestly, I opened one and just wanted to love it and hug it and call it George. The scent is fantastic ... not too light, not too cloying. The brewing instructions confused me a bit however. The package recommends 2-6 minutes while the website recommends steeping one minute the first infusion, adding 30 seconds each infusion (it can be infused three to four times). I steeped the initial brew for one minute, I think, and it was absolutely lovely. Luuuuuurvely. A nicely flavored green tea with a pronounced but not overwhelming jasmine scent.

On the second brew I couldn't remember what I had done the first time so I did it by the package and brewed it 2m 30sec. Eeeeeeeeeewwwwk. It was so strong and bitter that I could hardly drink it. Interestingly enough, when my husband tasted it he said, "Eeeeeeeeewkk" as well but not because it was bitter. He just couldn't stand what he considered "too sweet" ... the jasmine notes. Right then.

As I said, I really love this tea but I don't really love the tea brick concept. I think I'd really enjoy trying the Jasmine Pearls Green tea to have a jasmine green in my cabinet and the Organic Loose Black Pu'erh to see how I like loose pu'erh tea.

Bolder Breakfast Tea - This would be the tea I drank a bit of this morning, forgot at home and then had dumped out before I could enjoy it all of it. My first impressions were not super favorable. I didn't really dig the darkness of the flavors or the chocolate notes. This  is a true black tea and has the highest caffeine content available on the site. It is a blend of black teas mixed with black pu'reh and what they call "dark chocolate essence". Huh? Ok. Anyway I was writing the Thin Mint review while I drank my first mug of it, thinking, "Hrmph ... wish this was Thin Mint."

I honestly don't think I gave it a fair shake and I'm so happy that Teaspot samples make a few mugs of tea. I'll get back to you with more on this later when my body can handle a serious jolt of caffeine. For those who like cream or milk in your tea, this may be a nice choice. More to come on this.

And now the tea of the moment...

Meditative Mind - **drumroll** Ok, objectively, this is a gorgeous tea. It contains white tea needles, jasmine green tea pearls and a plethora of real honest to goodness pink rosebuds. It's fragrant and pretty to look at and, yes, very relaxing to drink. That said, I'm on the fence. I'm not big on "floral" and the rose taste isn't my favorite. It's an exquisitely done relaxing tea - the rose is well balanced with the jasmine and white tea without being cloying, bitter or overwhelming. I think I will reserve the rest of this sample pack for nights when I really need to relax. As it sits and cools the rose notes mellow and the jasmine scent lingers for a much more balanced taste.

Ok folks, that's four teas down and one mommy less likely to blow her top. I've been pondering the fifth tea, Climber's High, and I don't think it' a good idea for me to try it. I have high blood pressure so I need to avoid ginseng and licorice root :( I'm not out anything since it was sent along with my order as a free sample but fear not, it will find a good home ;)

Tea. It's more acceptable in your travel mug than tequila.

It's loose tea time in Casa di Gentile, folks. I'm not sure if its the early morning hustle for the school bus or the colder weather but either way, tea keeps me sane.

I was really disappointed last year to find my favorite tea company, Teavana, adding more and more nuts and/or sulfured fruits to their teas. Since I'm really not big on needing a Benedryl chaser with my tea, I had to start looking for a new source.

I found Teaspot through ... its a funky website offering group deals for unique companies. (Disclaimer: I do not represent Teaspot or in anyway, they don't know who I am and I don't get any sort of referral bonus or credits via that link). ANYWHO, awhile ago they offered a deal at Teaspot. Foolishly I didn't take advantage of it but when I found myself needing a new tea strainer for my pot, I wandered onto their site.

So. Cool.

I ordered a strainer and was thrilled to see them offer sample packs of their teas ... and $5 flat shipping. WOOT!

So since I have the attention span of a puppy (OOOH ... something SHINY! What where you saying?) I decided to write down my impressions of the various teas here so that I can remember what I liked when the samples are gone and I am ready to reorder. Because really, what is the point of getting samples if you then can't remember what you thought of them? Oh its fun being me.

So here is what I bought...
Thin Mint Green
Jasmine Green Pu'erh
Bolder Breakfast
Meditative Mind

and they awesomely sent me a sample of Climbers High, which was freaking awesome since I wanted to try that anyway AND it had no nuts or fruit in it (I'm still unsure of the sulfite status of the fruit in this tea but I love that there isn't fruit in everything). SCORE!

So here we go ... my thoughts on the first of these (the latter will come later). Keep in mind that I'm only posting my own opinions on these. I'm not a huge fan of green, grassy flavored teas or Earl Grey so I won't be trying any of those :P

Thin Mint Green - OMG yum. Ok I have to say that I am REALLY picking about my mint teas. I don't usually even bother trying them since they usually disappoint. In thinking about it, I realized that I like very complex, not overly sweet mint teas with alot of depth. For example Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime leaves me cold but their Sleepytime Vanilla is positively yummy (Celestial Seasonings has no idea who I am). In that case the vanilla still has a bit of sweet to it but it has enough depth that it's a perfect snuggly tea. BACK ON TRACK, MELISSA!! (See, just like a puppy ... SQUIRREL! ... what was I saying?) Ok, so Thin Mint Green. It. Freaking. Rocks. I'm going to order more ASAP because I don't want to face a morning without me. In fact its kinda killing me that I'm forcing myself to try all the others before I make another pot of this. It has a sharp, clear but rich peppermint taste with deep dark notes to it - the name really is perfect for it. While there is no chocolate in this tea, the website says the dark chocolaty notes come from the fact that the green tea leaves are roasted. I dunno. I just know that I tend not to like teas that have chocolate added but I heart this one. MWAH. Big kiss, Thin Mint Green.

Ok. More later. The cranky three year old needs to go to dance class :| Please feel free to message me with my errors in spelling or grammar. I'm exhausted but I do care about that stuff.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What can you accomplish...

... when someone believes in you?

Two years ago I began to have difficulty driving. My comfort-level and driving radius began to shrink as my energy, concentration and focus declined. I said goodbye to friends in Framingham, then Arlington... let go of grocery shopping, knitting classes and mom's nights out. Finally I let go of acupuncture and driving the children to school.

I drove as long as I felt safe, pushed myself to every safe limit and even tho I was never afraid I had to admit my abilities had changed.

One year ago, I stopped driving.

I still climbed into the van about once a month and piloted it down the street to the pharmacy or the natural food store to keep my nerve but I returned home each time exhausted and worn.

My family and friends rallied around me, offering rides and company. Some people are homebodies. Some people have to be on the move ... I am the latter. Not being able to hop in my car and drive the kids to the playground or the library was killing me. There is no helpful public transport nearby and nothing we can walk to.

About a month ago something changed. I began to wonder if I could look at this in shades of gray as opposed to black and white. Maybe I could get back to driving just a little bit. Maybe there was something I could change that would make it just a little bit easier.

It. Was. The. Van.

Why the heck do we have a van? My husband's SUV is a decent size for us with plenty of cargo space. I bought the van thinking we'd give rides to the girls' friends in the extra seats. Except... if I can't drive, then I can't drive my own kids, let alone extra kids. It was GREAT to get my heavy-heavy infant and little kiddo into their rear facing seat and I could easily get their double stroller into it. Except... they are bigger kids now, sit forward facing, can climb into their own seat and don't ride in a stroller any more. It was fantastic for carrying my huge babycarrier stash to conferences and babywearing meetings. Except... I don't teach any more because it's too fatiguing.

Why the heck do we have a van?


I was torn. Why trade in my van for something smaller, easier to manage when I haven't driven in a year? Should we really be car hunting right after having to replace my husbands car due to an accident? Can I handle the strain of another vehicle search and negotiation?

My husband said Try it. My mom and dad said Try it. I know all three of them said it with reservations ... I know they weren't convinced that a different car would make a difference. But what if it did? Tina and Lise said GO for it!

It had to be small enough that I could maneuver it without too much strain, a seat that was not to high nor too low, large enough to be safe and comfortably hold my family. Oy.

Research, comparisons, eyeballing cars in parking lots led to visiting car lots and then mini test drives (some cars I never even got out of the lot). Until today. Full serious test drive. For an accurate comparison, I drove Maddie to school first in the van. Still completely exhausting.

I know alot of people who get nervous driving a new vehicle ... try doing it out of practice. It was...


I'm not kidding myself. My body, my abilities are still the same. But if I can make driving just a LITTLE easier and be able to drive just a LITTLE bit, I know my family and I will be so much happier.

I know it seems bizarre that I didn't try this earlier but those who know me truly understand how hard I have tried to hang onto every possible shred of freedom these last fews years. And I did try other people's cars but never before realized all the components that impacted my abilities (tinted windows, low/high seats, large size etc).

So thanks, Paul, Lise, Tina, Mom and Dad ... its amazing how a person's life can open up because someone has faith in them and encourages them to try.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Girls Night Cheddar Dip

I just put this dip together in about 10 minutes while waiting for my brother in law to pick me up. My sister is having her first Girls Night at her house and I was at a loss as to what to bring ... I didn't NEED to bring anything but I wanted to. You know.

Sadly I forgot until the last minute that I couldn't drive to the store so if the fridge didn't give something up, nothing was happening.

I remembered I have a teeny 2.5c crockpot - more like an electric dip warmer really - that I received as a gift ages ago. And of course I have have cheese. Alot. Of. Cheese.

Well then ... cheese dip it is. Apparently the results of this experiment were good as the kids are currently fighting over the spoons :|

Once again, this is all to taste... measurements are for sissies and bread bakers. Because lets face it ... if you don't measure when you bake bread you end up with lovely fragrant doorstop.

Girls Night Cheddar Dip

Cream cheese - do it right, use the real stuff here
Shredded sharp cheddar
half & half (or heavy cream ... or milk I suppose...or beer - see beer variation below)
dried chopped onions
hot pepper flakes (I used Aleppo Flakes by Penzy's ... simply b/c they were in the front of the fridge)
hot sauce (Cholula all the way, baby)

In a small sauce pan over med-low heat, stir the two cheeses together until they melt. Keep stirring until mostly melted. Add in seasonings, stir well. Add cream to desired consistancy. Keep stirring, tasting and adjusting spices til its juuuuuuuuuust right ;)


I suppose you could eliminate the hot stuff but what fun is that?

*Beer Variation-
If you are going to use beer as your liquid, bring about 1/2c to a simmer and allow to heat for a few minutes THEN begin adding cheese and other ingredients. This takes the harsh alchoholy edge off the beer. Be sure to use beer you enjoy drinking as the flavor will come through.

ETA: This sucker needs to stay warm so either serve in a heated crock or a fondue pot.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Southwestern Inspired Pasta Salad

I have picky eaters. Big ol honkin picky eaters. I keep trying tho and they liked this one. As usual, the quantities are subject to your preferences and my lack of belief in measuring thingamabobs.
Southwestern Inspired Pasta Salad
(made enough for lunch & dinner for a hearty eating mama and two light eating girlies)

1/2 box Barilla Pipette pasta (or any other hollow pasta)
1-2 can of black beans
1/2c -1c salsa of your choice (I use Trader Joe's Salsa Autentica b/c my girls hate chunks. Sigh. I love chunks...)
Chili Powder (I use Penzys Chili Con Carne Seasoning - great flavor, no heat, since the salsa has heat)
Garlic Powder
Pinch of salt (I like flaked kosher or sea salt)\
1/2 to 2tbl honey
3 scallions chopped/diced (inc the green parts)
1-2c shredded cheese of your choice
*see below for add-ins

Put water on to boil for pasta and cook as directed. Prepare the rest while waiting for water to boil (yawn).

Strain black beans and rinse until water runs clear. Allow to drain.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except cheese. Start with small amounts of each (especially honey) and add more until taste is as desired. Stir in beans to coat.

When pasta is cooked (we like it al dente), strain well and return to pasta pot. Pour beans and sauce over pasta and blend well. Taste - add more of whatever is needed (too dry ... add more salsa, etc).

Serve hot or chilled, topped with shredded cheese.

*Do you have less picky eaters? Add in some of the following...
- diced bell peppers, any color
- diced red onions
- diced tomatoes
- corn

Monday, August 16, 2010

Making Changes

At some point every parent makes changes in their life for the sake of their kids. Some are dramatic - choosing to live far away from family so they can have a house, quitting smoking to set a good example - and others are less so. Regardless how small, parents often make changes for their children that they would never do for anyone else.

For the last five years I've worn a headscarf daily (and nightly) ...

except for special occasions (see folks ... I do have hair)...

I've worn it in the hospital giving birth, in the hospital for medical testing, on the plane to and from Oregon with my two insane little children, down the Cape on the beach, swimming in the pool. I even repeatedly crossed a thirteen foot long bed of hot coals as part of a meditation evening wearing one.

I really can't stand having my hair in my face but more importantly, I need a reason to smile whenever possible. The bright batik head scarves I wear were produced by a woman in Vermont and women in Bali under fair-trade conditions. I have about twenty colors ranging from soft tree bark brown to vibrant oranges and greens. When I pass by a mirror and see my reflection, my spirits are uplifted and I can't help but smile at the way this one makes my eyes pop or that one matches my favorite skirt. They help me keep going in a body that wants to quit.

People ask me why I wear them. Women, why do you wear a bra? Because you put it on once for function and it stuck? Because you like how it changes your appearance? For comfort? Because you are used to looking a certain way? There ya go. I also really like that I save something I consider one of my most beautiful features for special occasions, that its my choice, that its special.

Sigh. I love these stinking things. And now I am conciously taking a break from them.

My littlest girl (on my back above) has gorgeous honey colored curls. Annnnnnnnnnnd she hates them. She sobbed at her last haircut, disappointed that the stylist hadn't made her hair straight like her big sister's hair: "Mommy I yook TEWIBBOO. I yook AWFOO!!". Big fat tears aaaaaall over the place. We've made a concious effort to cut her hair in a feminine style and avoid the poodle cut (I grew up with that disaster, thank you). You name it, we did it. Nada.

The other night while I was out with my girlfriends (after the sangria but before the margaritas) I realized with a shock that *I* may be giving her the impression that I dislike my curls. I actually love them and tell her that but do I SHOW her that? No. I cover them up every day and night, except for special occasions. Crap.

So. For my curly girl I am making a concerted effort to NOT wear my headscarfs as much as possible. I hate it. I'm cranky. I'm self concious on the inside but confident and loving my curls on the outside. I miss my colorful spots of happiness but as all parents know, it's worth it. For her.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Melissa's Quick Mixed Berry Whatchamacallit

I am no where near accomplished enough as a cook to tell a crumble from a cobbler or a pandowdy. This website helped... but still. Meh.

I was at Trader Joe's today with two children and a cranky husband. It was better than being outdoors in unheard-of-for-New-England 100+ temperatures ... but only just. While the small monsters melted down in the frozen foods isle, I spied Trader Joe's Very Cherry Blend Frozen Berries. Swoon. I had visions of pies or lord knows what and grabbed two one-pound bags before the kids could see.

As the end of the day neared and the kids spun around me like rabid tornados (What? You can't visualize a tornado with rabies? Rookie.) I quietly dumped one bag into a strainer in the sink to thaw. Awwww. Look how sad it looks. DUMP ... here's your friend, Bag Number Two.

So. What to top it with? Hmmm.

Dare I? Dare I violate the heartfelt wish of my precious six year old? "Mummy ... please buy us cinnamon rolls for breakfast ... please!!!" Dare I pop open that luscious package of already prepared dough, pre-smeared with enough butter, cinnamon and sugar to make Julia Child raise her glass in saute to me from the other side?

You bet your sweet bippy.

So its 10pm (fireworks yesterday and a late amusment park trip on friday have essentially killed our sleep schedule). My three year old is trying to coerce the six year old to read to her. The six year old is trying to go to sleep in the bedroom, occasionally hollering out math questions ("MOOOOOM ... is 12+12 40?). And in the oven we have some nummy smelling concoction that *I* will eat before bed. And THEY will wait for until morning. Neener neener.

If you feel like replicating...

Melissa's Quick Mixed Berry Whatchamacallit (yeah baby)
2 lbs of mixed berrys - if frozen, thaw & strain
1 tube pop & bake cinnamon rolls
1/4-1/3 c dark brown sugar
1-2 tbl raw sugar
butter for greasing pan

Preheat oven to temp called for on roll pkg
Butter heavy pan - this would totally work in a casserole, thick walled pie pan or even a deep cast iron skillet (ooooh I should have used that!)

Pour berries into pan. Sprinkle brown sugar on top and mix gently. Remove cinnamon rolls from tube (POP!) and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks using kitchen shears, dropping chunks onto the berry mixture as you snip. Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Insert into center of over, placing a baking sheet or jellyroll pan underneath to catch drips. If you use a favorite pan for this, scrub that bad boy off as soon as you can or those juicy lumps will become permanent. I keep a few "disposable" (not for me) aluminum pans around just for this.

Bake as recommended on roll package - may need to cook longer. Add on time in 3 or 5 minute increments. Juices should be really bubbly and rolls nicely brown but not tough.

Ok, this was yummy. BUT.
1) Berries need to thaw for waaaaaaaaay more than I let them thaw. They should be ALL thawed and cool to room temperature. Why?
2) Becaaaaaaaause if berries are still frozen, dough against the berries won't cook even if top is totally crispy. Would make sense to check on this bad boy - flip over a few nuggets and make sure they are not still gooey.
3) Aaaaaaaaaaand b/c frozen berries still contain alot of juice. Dude I strained off more than a CUP of juice.

However, the flavors meld perfectly ... I would totally try this again :)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Happiness is ... Brocolli?

I have never been a broccoli fan. I don't HATE it, but give me a fridge full of other things and the broccoli will go bad if the husband and minimonsters don't eat it.

Hoooooooooooooooowever. Many weeks research on the ever-reliable Google and Wikipedia lead me to some interesting RELIABLE websites ... and a remotely-possible new diagnosis.

There are only two ways of confirming I have or don't have this genetic thingamabob: convincing my doc to give me a new med on a trial basis (AHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH ... hope you didn't pee yourself on that one) or eliminating the possible triggers that affect people with this. The triggers are odd but fit my pattern to a T.
  • high carb meals
  • high sodium diet
  • alcohol
  • resting after exercise
So now here I am, mocker of the Atkins diet and all other extreme eating fads, having to learn how to eat low-carb, low sodium. And not kill anyone. A caveat ... I still think these and all other extreme diets are not ideal but this is medically necessary for this condition.

I found this helpful carbohydrate food pyramid. I really don't want to follow someone's diet. I want to learn for myself what helps my symptoms so this visual is just what I needed. This low-carb veggie list is also a great self-check.

So here is my fast, easy way to make broccoli yummy.

Spicy Seared Broccoli

Rinsed Chopped Fresh Brocolli :D Duh.
Garlic Chili Sauce
olive oil or spray
granulated garlic
tamari or soy sauce
Kosher or sea salt
Sesame seeds (optional)
Skillet with lid

Heat a skillet (I prefer my cast iron) on high until it is super hot. Spray with oil or wipe with an oiled paper towel. Toss 1/2tsp chili sauce into the hot oil and stir quickly. Toss in brocolli and stir well. Spray again with oil or drizzle, then sprinkle as desired with salt, garlic and sesame seeds. Toss quickly until edges or broccoli are seared. Pour about a tbl of soy sauce into LID OF PAN, along with about 2-3tbl of water. Flip lid over on skillet. Pick up skillet, holding lid in place and shake skillet to mix soy sauce around. Put back on heat for 3-5m. Check to see if broccoli is steamed as you like it. If not, add more water to pan and recover. Repeat as needed. We like ours only very lightly steamed. When steamed as you like it, remove lid and allow to cook 1-2m more over high heat.

Yum :)

Can be modified many different ways with different flavorings but avoid any marinades that make burn off to a nasty flavor over high heat (ie if you want orange, eliminate the chili sauce and replace the soy sauce with OJ and orange zest). If you really want a hint of sweetness or to use a sugar based marinade, add it during the very last 1-2m of cooking.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Gooooooooood Mornin Chocolate Bread!

So yesterday after four hours of sleep I awoke to, "Honey, Audrey's sick and I'm calling her in to school."

Wha? I blearily asked for clarification and was told she "has a sore throat and a fever of 100".

Ahhh crap. For the first time in weeks I was ACTUALLY going to have 2.5 hrs to myself while the big monster was at kindergarden (dropped off by Dad, returned by bus) and the little monster was at preschool (dropped off by Gramma, picked up by Grammy). I note all the driving b/c I can no longer drive anymore due to health issues. Add that to our teeny tiny condo and I was really really craving 2 hours ALONE.

So. The Big Guy zips out of the house to head to his day-long class before I was even fully coherant and what do I find when I stumble into the livingroom? My eldest monster in footie fleece jammies, wrapped in a thick blanket, in an over heated 70 degree condo. I check her temp and it's 99.2. Ya think it has anything to do with being completely insulated? Really?

Normally I would just send the poached non-sick kiddo off to school anyway but, oops, I CAN'T DRIVE.


Goodbye nap. Goodbye catching up on sleep. Hello getting through the day without spontaneous combustion.

Somewhere around noon, I decided I needed to bake bread. I asked Audrey what her favorite kind of bread and true to Mendelian genetics the child immediately responded, "Chocolate". Mind you, I have never made, nor has she ever HAD, chocolate bread.

Sounds good to me. We winged it., basing it on a halved version of the Master Boule recipe in Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day.

These measurements are rough estimates and make one mondo loaf or two smallish loaves - adjust baking time as needed.

Holy Moley Chocolate Bread

1.5 cups lukewarm water

2tsp granulated yeast
1tsp kosher or other coarse salt
1/8c dark brown sugar
1 slosh real vanilla extract - interpret as you see fit
3 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
3 tbl cocoa powder
2 tbl instant espresso powder (don't have it? see adaptation below)
1/8c raw or granulated sugar
1/8c honey
1/2c chocolate chips or chunks (I like chunks better)
butter for loaf pan

Stir water, yeast, salt, brown sugar & vanilla together in a 5 qt bowl. Stir in flour till mixed - don't knead. If its not wet and gloppy, add more water in 1/8c measurements until you have a wet, sticky dough. remove half the dough and put in a 2nd large bowl. Lightly cover one bowl and set in a warm place to rest.

To other bowl, add cocoa powder, espresso powder, sugar & honey. Blend in gently - it won't be perfect. Add more water if not wet. Cover & set in warm place to rest.

Allow both doughs to rest 2.5-3 hrs. For ease of use I recommend chilling doughs at this point, otherwise dough is EXTREMELY hard to manage... but I didn't.

Butter a large (or two medium) loaf pan very well. I use the Pampered Chef stoneware loaf pan and I love it.  Dump white dough out onto a well floured surface and pat into a flat rough rectangle. Dump chocolate dough on top and spread it out a bit. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of chocolate dough (yeaaaaah baby). Roughly roll up dough forming a big lumpy sloppy log. Tucking ends under a bit, plop into pan. Cover with cloth and allow to rest 90 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F for 5 minutes, 30 minutes if you keep a baking stone in your oven for heat distribution (I don't).

If baking the whole recipe, bake 40-50 minutes. Allow to cool COMPLETELY before slicing - it keeps the bread moist but not gloopy.

The I-Don't-Have-Instant-Espresso-Powder Varition A
(requires coffee)
~ Mix up initial white dough as recommended above, but only add 1/2c of water (dough will be dry and crumbly). Split into two bowls. Add another 1/4c-1/2c water to white dough in 1/c increments until dough is wet and sticky. Add similar amounts of brewed coffee or espresso to chocolate dough. Continue as in main recipe.

The I-Don't-Have-Instant-Espresso-Powder Varition B
~ Um. Just leave it out. :D

Thursday, April 1, 2010

By popular demand ... Namaste Zuma Review

After I posted the review of the Namaste Laguna yesterday I had a few friends asking me to post one of the Namaste Zuma as well. I love both these bags, so I'm happy to!

I tend to like to carry as little weight as possible when I go out. As some of you know, I'm disabled and walk with a cane. Since I get tired easily, my life is an exercise in streamlining. When I go out to dinner with friends, all I carry is my JuJuBe BeMine, seen below, but in general I reach for my Zuma.

So here it is, in all its olive glory. And honestly, it is a GORGEOUS olive - buttery, rich and deep. Once again I am photographing it nestled cozily on my precious microplush Snuggy, next to an 8"x11" pad of paper for scale. True to form, I crammed it as full as I comfortably could ...

...with: a hardcover library book, a pack of wipes, my knitting, two boxes of raisins, an energy bar, two juice boxes, a bottle of spray handcleaner, a stack of tissues, my knitting patterns, my blackberry, my JuJuBe BeMine wallet, my eggplant Namaste Mini Cozy (holding scissors, pencil, pen & crochet hook), two pull-ups and a bottle of water.

That said, I could fit more. The front zipper pocket (where I slip my blackberry) has this interesting small accordion section. Would be good for dollar bills, business cards ... small light things. I could also fit more in the back zipper pocket - a PDA, wallet or small paperback might fit in there.

Here are the nuts and bolts on this bag. Namaste uses animal-friendly faux leather which feels more supple and spendy than most real leather bags. The color in real life is closest to the final photo. This bag is a handbag - no shoulder strap. I think it would be too much on this bag, so good call, Namaste. The handles are strong and sturdy, with a great hand-fell - not too hard.

The top is extremely well designed, opening up the full body of the bag - about a foot squared. It allows you to really use every inch of the large interior. Like other Namaste bags, it is designed with knitters in mind, keeping zippers to a minimum. It closes with THREE (that's right THREE) sets of magnetic closures. They securely, attractively close the top - nothing is falling out of this baby. As I mentioned above, there is a front upside-down-U shaped zipper pocket that has a PDA-sized front section and a unique small accordion pocket with a few sections. There is also a rear small to medium sized zipper pocket, almost hand's length deep and a hand's length wide. Interestingly enough, this pocket is the same size on both the Zuma and the Laguna. The base of the bag has the same super cute metal feet to keep your bag off the floor.

Moving inside, the bag is in some ways very similar to the Laguna. There are three internal pockets and they are all exactly like the Laguna in placement and size. On one side you'll find two side-by-side slide in pockets. One is large enough for a small to medium sized cell phone, the other for a PDA or wallet. The third pocket is a small to medium sized zipper pocket.

So. A friend asked me which bag would be better for her 9x6-ish inch Kindle. Well, the hardcover books in both bags are larger than the Kindle and fit in comfortable. If you want your Kindle to be in a separate zippered pocket, it would have to be in the Laguna, as none of the Zuma pockets are large enough. Another alternative (which I would LOVE a chance to fondle in real life) is the new this season Namaste Monroe. The Monroe is a true shoulder bag with THREE (swoon... thunk) truly separate compartments. A final option would be to snag a set of Namaste Oh Snaps!, slip your Kindle into one of those and slide the Kindle-filled Oh Snap! into your Zuma or bag of choice.

I hope that helps a little, ladies ... and I hope you are happy. Now I'm lusting for a Monroe to top off my collection ; )

Just wanted to add ... I've received no compensation for this review and all the comments/opinions posted here are exclusively my own! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So cool I had to review it ... Namaste Laguna tote

I haven't reviewed anything yet in this quiet little blog, but today a product just screamed, "REVIEW ME!". I took some of pictures of it nestled cozily on my Christmas gift from my kids, a stunning microplush Snuggy. I included pics of it, fully packed, next to an 8.5"x11" pad of paper to provide scale. Because why on earth would I be able to find a ruler?

Quick note: this is a review of the Namaste Laguna, purchased at Butterfly Yarns in Wakefield, MA via preorder.

As the northeast was pummeled by Storm of the Decade #2, I packed up the girls and headed to our favorite indoor play spot, The Klubhouse in Woburn, MA. Since my husband was dropping us off and leaving with the car, I needed to pack enough for the day. I grabbed my "bigger bag" - my Namaste Laguna tote that was already packed with my regular going-out-for-afternoon supplies...

which are:  my knitting, my JuJuBe BeMine wallet, my purple Namaste Mini Cozy (holding scissors, pencil, pen & crochet hook), an energy bar, a hardcover library book, my blackberry, spray hand cleaner, wipes, 2 pullups, a stack of tissues, 2 juice boxes and my knitting patterns.

BUT! My husband was leaving with the car and I was going to be there quite a while ... so I loaded it up some more ...

by adding to the contents I already listed:
my laptop & charger cord, a can of pepsi, a box of raisins, a purple paper hat, a bag of Sour Patch Kids jelly beans (MINE!), a small teddy bear, a bottle of water and a beribboned headband.

Maddie helped me pack :| And now it was reeeeeeally heavy. But IT ALL FIT!

The laptop was about an inch too tall to slide into the laptop comfortably, and about an inch too wide to lay it lengthwise. It was ok for cramming for the day but I wouldn't attempt it on a plane or for similar travel. That said, a smaller laptop like the MacBook Pro would fit in there perfectly.

So here are the down and dirty stats on this bag. Namaste uses animal-friendly faux leather which feels more supple and spendy than most real leather bags. The color in real life is closest to the fourth photo - it's a rich tomato paste red. This bag has nice sturdy handles and a lovely adjustable shoulder strap that clips on with sturdy yet attractive metal clips. On the outside of the bag you'll find two decorative buckles and front and rear exterior pockets. The front pocket has a flap closure with two strong magnet sets. Digressing a minute here...

My very very favorite features of the Namaste bags are their magnet sets. They are strong, large closures, well hidden in the design of the bag. Honestly ... if I could invent the perfect bag closure system of my own personal nirvana, it would be the Namaste magnets. Swoon ... thunk.

And we're back.

Anywho, the rear pocket is small to medium sized (about a hand length deep, and a hand-and-a-half wide) with a zipper closer. The top of the bag is engineered to open as wide as the bag - it's unbelievable. Two strong magnet sets at the top (swoon ... thunk) hold it closed. On the base of the bag, five cute little metal feet keep your bag off the ground.

Inside the bag, zippers are kept to the minimum for the folks who use Namaste bags as knitting totes. The zipper-topped center divider pocket is perfect for small things I don't want falling to the bottom of the bag. This pocket runs about halfway up the bag, which concerned me at first - I had been expecting a full-on divided bag. I've found that the partial divider actually gives me more flexibility as I can pack stuff I want kept separate for quick grabs at the bottom divided sections and then pile more stuff on top. Incredible. The bag also has three more pockets inside. On one side you'll find two side-by-side slide in pockets. One is large enough for a small to medium sized cell phone, the other for a PDA or wallet.  The third pocket is a small to medium sized zipper pocket.

The nice thing about this bag is that if you don't fill it up as full, the top flops right over and the bag looks smaller - which I love.

So that's the scoop on the Namaste Laguna. I also own the Namaste Zuma bag which is fun for when I can pack less :)

Just wanted to add ... I've received no compensation for this review and all the comments/opinions posted here are exclusively my own! Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cheesy Bread Sticks - my way

This recipe is a combination of a few recipes in Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day. It makes more dough than you need for one batch of breadsticks but you can refridgerate it for up to five days. If you are using from fridge, keep an eye out for discoloration (mold growth). Considering how fast this dough goes off, this recipe produces 2lbs of dough rather than the usual 4lbs found in this book.

You'll see substitution suggestions after the recipe for many ingredients.

1 1/2c warm (NOT HOT) water
2 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3 1/4c all purpose flour
1/2c shredded cheese + additional cheese for sprinkling
sea or kosher salt for sprinkling
olive oil for brushing

Stir first 4 ingredients together in a 5 qt bowl. Add in flour & cheese (easiest if you blend those two together first). Don't knead, just mix until all flour is mixed in. Your dough should be moist and gloopy ... if its dry, add more fluids in 1/4c amts.

Allow to rest, lightly covered, for 2.5 hrs. Can use after this rest or refridgerate for later use.

Preheat oven to 425F
Sprinkle dough with flour, cut off a chunk around the size of an orange. Gently form in into a smooth ball by pulling the sides underneath (takes under a minute).
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to desired thinness (btwn 1/4 & 1/8th inch is what I did), sprinkling sparingly w/flour as needed to prevent sticking. Brush with oil and sprinkle liberally with cheese and lightly with salt.

Using a pizza cutter, slide into thin strips (again, 1/8th-1/4 of an inch wide).

Line a cookie sheet with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper. Lay breadsticks out on cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15m until lightly golden brown. After 10m, keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't scorch.

Some substitutions/additions...
For gluten free- use your favorite GF yeast dough recipe or try this one from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day

Cheese- use ANY kind of medium firmness to hard flavorful cheese -- parmagian, sharp cheddar, swiss, blue all taste great

Seasonings/toppings- consider adding garlic powder, onion powder, parsley based on your cheese choice. Add to dough when adding in flour. Also can sprinkle with sesame seeds or similar.

Flours- feel free to mix in varying types of flour; I like using a few tablespoons of whole wheat flour, wheat germ, flax seed and vital wheat gluten

Fluids- I love adding beer in this recipe, subsitute about half of the water with beer. I find lagers and light beers provide a mellower flavor.

For more texture- twist dough as you put them on the cookie sheet

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Couch Mix ~ Trail mix a la Melissa

I'm allergic to tree nuts but looooooove trail mix. This is a variation on my Aunt Jane's GORP mix (Good Ol Raisins & Peanuts) and I keep it for times that life just sucks. Or any other time that I just need a mommy-treat.

I mix...
Salted Peanuts
Peanut butter filled pretzels

Mix em up in an air tight container and then hide it from the children :D

Other yummy mix ins are dried cherries, reese's pieces, white chocolate chips, chex cereal ... have fun with it! But the key is to have chocolate-sweet, fruity-sweet and salty all in one place :)

I'm going to go gently gorge on this while I recover from today's attempted root-canal.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Five Minutes of Insanity

Five Minutes of Insanity

The cast of characters-
Audrey, age 5 1/2 going on 16
Maddie, age 3
Me, the zookeeper here

Audrey: Mom where are my baby-shower-shoes?
Me: Hon, those don't fit you anymore.
Audrey: WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?? Moooooooooo-oooooooooom...
Me: Audrey we bought those for you to wear to Auntie's baby shower TWO YEARS AGO.


Audrey: Mom, for my birthday I want another pair of baby-shower-shoes, pink ones. But if they don't have pink, you can get me red or purple. And if they don't have red or purple you can get me pink.
Me: Hon, we'll talk about your birthday in June.


Audrey: Hey mom where is the pink dress I wore peach picking, the one with the flowers? I wore it with my baby-shower shoes...
Me: 1) it is packed away because its a summer dress, 2) it DOESN'T FIT YOU BECAUSE YOU WORE IT TWO YEARS AGO.
Audrey: MOM!! MOM!! You need to PROMISE you'll get me another one of those dresses!!!
Me: No, hon, I won't promise you that. I do make sure you have lots of lovely clothes, but I can't promise you I will get you another of those dresses.
Audrey: Mooooooooooo-oooooooooooooooom ... OVERALLS AREN'T LOVELY!!

**pause while I breathe**

Me: Audrey, do you remember EVER seeing overalls in your drawer? You haven't had a pair of overalls in over three years.

**and from the peanut gallery...**

Maddie: Mummy? I want overalls for my birthday. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE? I DON"T HAVE ANY!!!
Me: Maddie, we can talk about your birthday in November.


Maddie: ... um Mummy? What ARE overalls?

**and becuase it was too quiet..**

Audrey: MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooom ... there are no pretty dresses to wear today!! I want a short sleeved summer dress - all these dresses have long sleeves...
Me: (deep breath) Audrey it is below freezing outside.
Audrey: I *knooooooow* mom, I'll wear a long sleeve shirt over it.


And it is only 9:38.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In the eyes of a stranger

Who do you think you are?


For alot of reasons, I used to believe I wasn't *really* sick or disabled. Part of it was denial (a step in the coping process), another part was being told it was all in my head (maybe they are right?). Maybe I really WAS lazy. Maybe I wanted attention.

For many years I really believed all that. So what happens when things get worse? Things DID get worse. I got cancer. I lost pregnancies, needed many surgeries, lost my ability to work and drive. When that happens, one begins to think, well, now I must deserve all this. Maybe I asked for it.

So underneath it all I must not have much worth.

People who know me will be quick to deny that statement but look inside yourself. Isn't there *something* you believe about yourself that those who love you would argue?

I've worked hard over the last year to let go of much of these self-lies. It ain't easy, babe. But yesterday something happened that pushed me forward one more step, helped me walk away from one more lie.

I had the chance to comfort an injured stranger who had fallen off the sidewalk, onto our extremely busy street at dusk. She'd had a seizure and was terrified by the strange faces around her. I was able to connect with her and keep her calm until she was lifted into the ambulance.

Emergency services seemed to know her from prior falls, though she didn't recognize them. I had to wonder who she was. Was she diabetic, epileptic? A drug user, an alzheimers patient? I'll never know. Could I end up like her someday?

Kneeling with her as cars slowly splashed by and flakes of snow fell on us, I saw something in her eyes that I will never forget: she felt safe with me.

If a scared, hurt, confused stranger can find comfort in me, there must be some good in me. I don't mean that in a, "See what I did! I'm a good person!" kind of way. I mean that she helped me let go of the cold, dark, very real nugget of "I must be so flawed that I deserve this pain" in my soul. The small-child part of me just let it go and picked up an image to tuck away in its place: the relief in a stranger's eyes.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mom is Great...

If you haven't seen Bill Cosby's chocolate-cake-for-breakfast bit, you HAVE to take a moment and check it out now. Go ahead, I'll wait.

See? Anywho, THIS is my theme song. I'm not the hip mom, the soccer mom, the super-earth-crunchy mom or the every-kids-best-friend mom. I'm a loving, as understanding as I can be, mostly patient, extremely tired and in severe pain disabled mom. And I can be a tough mom, because when mom has limits, kids responsibilites take on a new meaning. I try to remind myself constantly that a responsible child (good) is a different thing than a parentified child (not good). I also need to find ways to find joy in a hard day. Sometimes the only solution is baking. It generally happens when I don't even have enough energy to read a book or knit - then my poor husband turns around and sees me whipping up frosting.

So. To remind my kids that life is fun, to remind myself that *I* am fun,  I bake chocolate cake. Baking cakes from scratch seems intimidating but it only requires two things: a great recipe and a stocked pantry. I'm not a person who always has food in the house. Milk? Oops. But as long as I keep some form of sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and flour in the house, I am content. Don't have a perishable ingredient (eggs, butter, milk)? Try to find a substitution on the web. It actually takes me the same amount of time to bake this cake as a box mix - and if you know me, you know I get exausted fast.

Here is my favorite recipe. I halve the recipe belowand bake it in a cast iron skillet (I don't know why - it just feels so cozy!) and it makes enoug to cut about 8 pieces from. Or, one for each of them and the rest for me.

2c sugar
1 3/4 c flour
3/4 cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 c milk
1/2 c oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water (measure after boiling)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. For more size/quantity variations, check out the link above.

I like to frost it differently each time - remember to halve the amount if you've haved the cake. So far I've done these two ...

Hershey's "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING (same link as the cake)
1 stick butter
2/3 cup Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Caramel Frosting by Paula Dean, Foodnetwork
1 stick butter
1 c heavy cream (can substitute half & half or milk if its what you have on hand)
1 tbl vanilla
1 box confectioners sugar

Melt butter in small saucepan. Add brown sugar and 1/3 cup cream. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.

Using a handheld electric mixer, beat in confectioners' sugar a little at a time until smooth. If frosting is too thick, add 1 tablespoon heavy cream at a time until consistency is right.