Cooking Cookies with the Kiddo

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Earrings: vintage | Sweater: J. Crew, old color, similar | Necklace: came in a Stitch Fix box | Jeans: Mother, old, love this and this | Nail polish: Essie Forever Yummy (#488)

Cooking cookies with a toddler is a special kind of adventure full of fun, excitement, and a few messes. My little man’s favorite part of cooking cookies? Whirling the ingredients. In case you aren’t sure what this means, whirling = stirring in his dialect. Somehow we managed to whirl and bake the cookies, clean the kitchen, and eat a couple of the yummy treats without spilling on our clothes – though the risk was totally worth it! This particular recipe is a family favorite – banana, oatmeal, chocolate chip – and have never let me down. I added extra banana this time so the cooking time was a bit longer than usual. All in all, they were the perfect treat for a long weekend.

Classic Cars in the Gundo

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Dress: Madewell | Boots: Joie | Sunnies: Michael Kors, old, similar | Watch: Michael Kors

A few weekends ago, the family and I decided to pop downtown for a quick lunch and were rewarded with a fantastic line up of fantastic classic cars. Somehow we missed the advertising for this fun event that shut down most of  Main St. in the Gundo. Parking was a bit of a drag, but it was well worth it to get to see all the awesome classic cars and enjoy the music and fun with my kiddos and hubby. If you find yourself in the South Bay, take a quick detour off PCH and swing through the Gundo. Even if there isn’t a fun carnival or street festivity, there are plenty of restaurants, shops, parks, and even a brewery to delight you for a couple of hours.

Tasting Fall in Wine Country

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We got our first taste of fall recently. I thought I wasn’t ready to let go of long summer days, but now I find myself craving all things fall. I want to go apple picking, carve pumpkins, wrap myself in plaid throws, and sip apple cider in front of a fire. The white blazer is a staple in my wardrobe. No matter how sloppy I feel, I know I can throw it on with jeans and a pair of heels and my day will instantly become brighter. I don’t buy into the whole no white after Labor Day rule, so you can be sure to see this many more times as summer fades and fall really gets underway.

Jacket: J. Crew, white color n/a| Jeans: Madewell | Sunglasses: Michael Kors, old, similar | Watch: Michael Kors | Ring: Lucky Brand, old | Boots: Joie | Bag: Kate Spade, color n/a

Summer Blues

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Summer Blues_4Summer blues: blue eyes, boat shoes, denim, and gingham are a sure win look for any summer activity. It is especially excellent for running through grape vines with a toddler, cuddling with a sleeping infant in the children’s museum, and sipping on a glass of fantastic GSM while the rest of the clan is asleep. If find yourself in Paso Robles with little ones, the Children’s Museum is must-do activity – as is the newly installed kids’ play area at the park downtown. After the kiddos are sufficiently exhausted, head to one of the excellent local wineries or breweries, taste, purchase a bottle (or 3), and enjoy an hour plus of quiet bliss sipping on your beverage of choice while the little ones recharge their batteries.

Shirt: J. Crew, old, similar | Shorts: J. Crew | Shoes: Sperry, old, similar | Bag: Kate Spade, color n/a | Necklace: Lucky Brand, old | Belt: Madewell, old

Spring Garden

The idea of having a beautiful garden lush with edible and non-edible treats is both exciting and frightening. I have always had pots of herbs so figured, how hard could it be? Tell that to the fig tree my husband rescued from near death at our old place in Virginia. It turns out that even low maintenance plants need at least a little TLC.

Fast forward a few years and we are back in California. This is supposedly the land of “you can grow anything” so I figure if I can’t raise a decent garden here, I might have to toss in the towel.

A few hours of research and a couple spreadsheets later, I have an extensive 4-bed multi-pot plan for a full-fledged feed-the-family-for-months garden plan. Reigning in the urban garden dream, I settle for starting with one raised bed.

The hubby built this gorgeous bed for me and filled it full of beautiful dirt that my research revealed to be the perfect combination of soil and nutrients for sustaining plant life in a raised bed. The little man and I plant lettuce, onions, parsley, basil, mint, jalapenos, poblanos, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and strawberries.

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Standing back to admire the fruits of my labor, I realize how anticlimactic the act of gardening is. If you require instant gratification, this is not the hobby for you. Every morning the little man and I head out to the back yard and give our precious plants a drink. I think I’m doing great until I notice that my basil (normally a no-brainer plant for me) is looking a little sad and my parsley has seen much, much better days. As if that wasn’t enough, the strawberry plants aren’t sprawling like the website said and 1/4 of their leaves are brown.

Depressed but undeterred, I continue watering my little garden. Like a completely sane and normal person, I also begin talking to them. I figure if nothing else works, maybe I can talk them into growing – I try positive reinforcement: “That’s a good plant. Keep on growing.” which is quickly replaced with desperation and begging, “just give me 1 freaking tomato!” Needless to say, I was beginning to think that tossing in the towel and turning the darn thing into a sandbox might be a better use of the wooden box.

On day one billion and three (that might be a small exaggeration, but it is an accurate description of how I felt), I decide to beg one last time.

“Aaaaaahhhhh! A tomato!”

Finally, after all that waiting, mother nature provided a small spark of hope that all may not be lost.

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I bring my little man over and we marvel at the tiny little green bulb sprouting from the end of a branch. I honestly don’t know who was more excited – me or my toddler.

To add fuel to my excited fire, I notice … more tomatoes! There’s probably 6 or 7 already sprouting and I can tell that another 20+ are going to start popping any day now.

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Walking around, it dawns on me that the lettuce plants have tripled in size. Aren’t they gorgeous?!

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And check out my strawberries! At the rate I’m going, we’re going to have an awesome salad headed our way.

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Sadly, my cucumber and eggplant plants aren’t giving me quite as promising vibes. So, I’ll continue to talk and beg and water in the hopes that they will eventually send their nutritious goodness my way. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that the pepper plants share some of their fruit with our home.

Given this awesome progress, I have decided to have the hubby build another raised garden bed for me this weekend. At 8 months preggers, if I don’t get this thing going now, I’m not sure when it’ll happen.

Stay tuned for progress updates – you know, when I actually have something edible.

In the meantime, if you want a bucket, or 6, of lemons, let me know. We have two lemon trees that even my off-green thumb can’t slow down!

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Green Berry Smoothie

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No. There is no such thing as a green berry (at least not that I know of). The grammar freak inside of me is having a minor meltdown right now over the misplaced modifier – “green.” I considered revising the name to “Berry Green Smoothie” but foresaw the “berry” being mistaken as a descriptor of the amount of “green” in the beverage and decided against it.

This is neither a smoothie made from green berries nor is it a very green smoothie. Rather, it is a smoothie made with greens and berries – spinach and strawberries, to be exact.

If I wasn’t determined to give the poor drink a short and, hopefully, memorable name, I might have used the ever descriptive “Spinach and Strawberry Smoothie” title, but golly that sounds boring. So, Green Berry Smoothie it is and ever shall be.

In my opinion, and to further the confusion, this delicious concoction of fruits, veggies, oats, and juice tastes like none of the above. For the spinach haters in the crowd, this is probably a good thing.

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Now, I love my smoothies super thick (otherwise I’d order a juice – duh) and boy does this one check that box. Thick and almost creamy, a gift from the frozen banana to our taste buds, you can sip on this bad boy through your entire mid-morning meeting – or dig into it with a spoon. It gets bonus points for filling power, preventing the otherwise unavoidable nod-off halfway through the boss’s presentation on ______.

This particular ingredient combo is well on its way to becoming a staple in my smoothie rotation. Look at all those beautiful ingredients!

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Thank you California for providing fresh berries year-round – though the ones in spring do have a little special something that even the best year-round berry farmers can’t pack in to their off-season greenhouse growths.

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I obviously piled my glass to overflowing – that’s just how I roll. But, should you be in a sharing mood, the recipe below makes a full 24 ounces so you could always split it down the middle to share with your BFF, significant other, or one lucky other meeting attendee.

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A fantastic mid-morning pick-me-up.

  • 1 banana, sliced and frozen
  • 5 – 8 strawberries (depending upon size), hulled
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach (about 1 ½ cups)
  • ½ cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup ice
  • ½ cup apple juice

Place ingredients into blender in order listed.

Press smoothie button. If you don't have a smoothie button, blend to preferred thickness.

Pour into a cup.

Top with strawberries, chia seeds, and coconut, if desired.

Papaya Breakfast Boats

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When I was in grade school, once a month or so my mom would take me to get my nails done. We would go to this nail salon in a strip mall by our house and stop in at Jamba Juice for a smoothie on our way. This always made me feel so “adult” and is probably a large contributor to my adult addiction to these frozen beverages (er, meals?).

Sidenote: My favorite smoothie place as an adult happens to be in Austin, TX (JuiceLand: www.juiceland.com) with Daily Juice (www.dailyjuice.com) coming in a close second.

Despite my love affair with green smoothies and acai bowls, sometimes I need to jazz up my morning routine (or just don’t want to wake up the whole house – my son is scared of our BlendTec). Parfaits are a delicious option, especially when topped with homemade granola.

The natural progression from parfaits in a bowl is, logically, parfaits in a papaya. Or, as I like to call them, Papaya Breakfast Boats! Seriously easy to put together and yummy to eat, I fill mine with coconut greek yogurt, slivered almonds, halved blackberries, a sprinkling of shredded coconut, and a dash of chia seed. I wanted to top it with a drizzle of fresh, local honey but couldn’t get the lid off – where’s the hubby when you really need him?!

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Then I sit at my kitchen table and pretend I am on a tropical island. Sipping on my homemade vanilla soy latte, lazily eating my way through the papaya’s soft and sweet fruit, it is almost possible to believe the daydream is real.

If it’s a weekend morning (and I’m not 8 months pregnant), you just might catch me sipping on a glass of bubbly because seriously, papaya, coconut, and bubbly are a deliciously rockin’ combination.

Bonus, one papaya is enough for two meals. I bundle the second half in saran wrap, stick it in the fridge, and repeat the next morning.

Other favorite toppings: banana chips, honey, walnuts, pecans, blueberries, strawberries, fresh banana slices, cacao nibs, granola, and crushed graham crackers.

I’m thinking our next brunch (or maybe our Summer Solstice Party) will include a Papaya Breakfast Boat buffet. All I have to do is cut the fruit in half, remove the seeds, and set out a bunch of fun toppings. Plates are optional. Ok, now I want to have a party! I’m excited just thinking about it!

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Papaya Breakfast Boats

Papaya Banana Boat

A simple, fast, and delicious way to start the morning.

  • 1/2 of a small papaya
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt, coconut flavor
  • 1 tablespoon raw slivered almonds
  • 8 blackberries, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon shredded coconut
  • 1/4 teaspoon chia seeds

If the papaya is whole, cut it in half lengthwise and remove the seeds from one half. Wrap the other half in saran wrap and store in the fridge for tomorrow's breakfast.

Fill the papaya with the yogurt and top with the almonds, blackberries, shredded coconut, and chia seeds. For an extra hint of sweetness, drizzle fresh, local honey over the top.

Sit down in a cumfy spot with a cup of coffee (or glass of bubbles!) and let your imagination take you to a sunny, tropical island.

Scrape the flesh of the papaya into the yogurt for a well-rounded bite every time.

When done, toss the skin in the trash, the spoon in the dishwasher, and your purse on your shoulder - then head out to conquer the world.

Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup

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“Seriously the best split pea soup I’ve ever had.” -Hubby

When that phrase the first thing out of someone’s mouth after savoring the first bite of something you prepared, you are stoked. When the sentiment is maintained throughout the meal, you know you stumbled onto something great and you should scribble down what you did so you can recreate it next time….

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Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

We all know that the sense of smell is a powerful tool in the making and remembering of events. A whiff of a familiar scent has the power to transport us through time reminding us of childhood soccer games (fresh cut grass) or a lost love (perfume or cologne). It can bring up not so pleasant times as well (I won’t add those here)….

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Mini Pumpkin Pies

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Growing up, there were several dishes that only made the menu on certain holidays. Honey baked ham at Easter, monkey bread on Christmas morning, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. That was it. If you were absent, sick, or just forgot to grab a bite, you had 365 days until you got another shot.

You can probably imagine the chaos that filled the home with 18 – 50 people all vying for the same piece of bread or slice of pie at the same time. Let’s not forget about the “her slice is bigger” or “he got more monkey bread than me” argument. Cue the “it’s not fair” whining and you have a fantastic start to the day. The way we’d cry and argue, you would think we were starved the rest of the year or that there wasn’t plenty to go around. We weren’t and there was. We simply understood just how special these dishes were and wanted to get our fill. If that meant a sister or cousin didn’t get his or hers, then so be it. Survival of the fittest.

We do better now.

To avoid such chaos and mayhem at my son’s daycare (they have a Thanksgiving lunch and every family brings something), I opted for individual pumpkin pies (we were signed up for pumpkin pie). This way, each serving was identical and, big bonus for the caregivers, no knife cutting or messy serving. In fact, these are most definitely finger food so no forks needed!

As you can see, I opted against the traditional dallop of whipped cream per my husband’s suggestion. I guess he felt that a bunch of kids under the age of 5 probably didn’t need the extra sugar right before nap time.

With or without the whipped cream, these mini pumpkin pies are delicious. Just be careful, they go down way too easily!

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We have taken these to several parties and get-togethers this season and they have always been a hit with kids and adults alike. It’s a bonus that they are so easy, if a bit time consuming. Though, if you use store bought, ready to go mini shells, your workload will be cut by 3/4. I don’t think the ready-made shells taste quite as good – they tend to be tougher and crispier – but that is just my humble opinion.

I am thinking of capitalizing upon the success of these mini pumpkin pies and giving a boxed assortment to friends, family, colleagues this holiday season. What do you think?

Mini Pumpkin Pies

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  • 1 1/2 batches pastry dough (store bought or homemade)
  • Pumpkin pie filling (I use the Libby's recipe on the back of the can)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place a rack in the middle.

Prepare the pumpkin pie filling according to the recipe on the back on the can or using your favorite. Set aside.

Roll the pastry dough to about 1/8" thick. Using a small circle cookie cutter (or a glass prep bowl, like I did. Not super efficient or easy, but it gets the job done), cut as many circles as you can fit. Pull up the excess dough. Place each circle into one of the mini muffin tins.

Note: To prevent the dough from getting too warm, a good practice is to cut it in half. Work with one half while leaving the other wrapped in saran wrap in the fridge.

Repeat the roll, cut, pick up, & place process until you have filled the entire tray.

Using a tablespoon, fill each mini pie crust.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until done.

Allow them to cool in the tin for 5 - 10 minutes then transfer to a wire cooling rack until they reach room temperature.

I have found that 1 batch of dough makes about 30 mini pies, but there is always leftover filling. You can either dump the filling or get the second batch of dough and do another round (hence the extra 1/2 dough in the ingredient list).

If you do this, you will have about 1/2 of the second dough leftover. You can use mini cookie cutters to cut leaves or other seasonal shapes to place on top of the mini pies while baking for an extra festive kick.

Serve with whipped cream.