Tuesday, July 1, 2014

palm springs vacation, baby!

On vacation! Palm Springs. upload Rainer photobomb. Getting date shakes. Palm Springs Vacation. upload upload Playing in a public fountain. They're having a great time. Palm Springs vacation. upload Best children's museum (our favorite anyway). Palm Springs Vacation. upload

As soon as school was out we headed to Palm Springs for our big summer trip.  This was our second time taking the kids on to Palm Springs (we also went in November).  Both times we stayed at Omni Rancho Las Palmas.  We have such a great time there--it is so much fun and such a less crowded resort than something like a Disneyland Hotel or, heaven forbid, Las Vegas.  I guess I'm more of a Palm Springs type of girl.  The hotel is really fun, with a great pool area for kids and they even show summer movies out by the pool at night (we saw Frozen and Despicable Me 2).  There is tons of stuff to do in the area and we always feel like we barely scratch the surface.

Some of the stuff we did--
:: spent a lot of time at the pools/waterslides/lazy river at the hotel
:: went up the Aerial Tramway and went for a hike and had lunch up there
:: spent an afternoon at the Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert (it is awesome!!)
:: went to Shield's Date Garden and got date shakes
:: went to a movie at the Mary Pickford theater and played in the fountain (we saw How to Train Your Dragon 2)
:: went to The Living Desert (this was awesome but we needed to go earlier to avoid the heat--we only got to see half but what we saw was great)
:: stopped at Cabazon Dinosaurs (super cheesy but my kids like it--it's pretty cute and fun)

It was a great way to kick off the summer and both boys kept commenting, "this is the best vacation ever!" I'm very much hopeful we can make it back again in November.   I have a little saving account that I devote solely to a vacation fund and automatically deposit money there each month.  That way I can enjoy these trips and not freak out about how expensive absolutely everything is.  I love these little family getaways and think they are so bonding.

Where do you like to vacation?  Do you stay close by or travel far afield?  We always stay close by, but there is so much to do in California that it hardly feels like a hardship. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

wonderpot!

Wonderpot Wonderpot

You guys, I came across a bunch of "wonderpot" recipes on Pinterest and I was so intrigued.  They are "pots" of food cooked together all at once on the stovetop.  Some of the photos made them look so yummy and I'm all about easy family meals that are made more or less from scratch.  I kept my expectations low and decided to make the Spinach Artichoke wonderpot because I was so curious. 

Well, as expected I was correct to keep my expectations in check.  This was pretty plain and bland.  Not horrible, though.  I sprinkled some shredded mozzarella on mine and that helped a lot.  I think the main problem here is that the dish is virtually fat free, vegan, and low in salt.  That combination is bound to be pretty not-so-great in my opinion.  But I will say it was very fun tossing everything in the pot and only having to worry about stirring every now and then.  It was very low stress but just domestic enough to hold my interest.

I actually still have some curiosity about these recipes and want to explore other, higher fat wonderpots.  Something with meat and/or cream would be ideal.

What about you?  Have you seen these pins going around?  Are you going to try one?

Link to recipe is here

Friday, June 27, 2014

maleficent

Peonies.
totally unrelated picture of peonies


Ken and I took the kids to see Maleficent last night at our little local movie theater and you guys, it was so fun.  I was really surprised by how much we all four enjoyed it.  Our expectations were low--the previews made it look so dark and scary--but it was actually sweet on many levels and there were fairies and magical folk, and we always like that sort of thing.  I'm not a big Angelina Jolie fan, but she was not bugging me at all in this.  I was able to forget that she is "Angelina Jolie" and just get lost in the movie--so I guess she did her job.  And Elle Fanning was adorable. 

To tell you the truth, we live in a very small town and we rarely patronize our local movie theater--mostly because we don't really have a babysitter locally.  We end up going to the big multi-plex in Oxnard.  But lately I've been thinking about "voting with our dollars" and it's important to me that our local theater continues to stay in business, so we decided to see Maleficent in town last night.  And when we got there I was so pleased with the "feel" of the experience.  The theater is just so small and cute and we always see people we know (small town thing).  I was charmed by the snack bar--again, small and "local" feeling.  I think we are going to make more of an effort to see movies locally when we can.

Other ways I am "voting with my dollars"--I also shop quite a bit at our local market, which just changed ownership--and I basically refuse to go to a large supermarket like Vons and Ralph's (ugh--hate those places so much!).  (To be fair, we do do a large shop-up at Trader Joe's once a week as well, but are constantly running out to the local store for everythiing else and last minute stuff).

Do you like to shop locally?  Also, what did you think about Maleficent??

Thursday, June 26, 2014

beach day

Working on a castle. Carpinteria. Carpinteria.

I'm not quite ready to give up my blog.  I've been struggling with posting.  I want to give this one last try by really simplifying things here.  I'm going to limit myself to posting only 1-3 photos per post.  That in itself is a big relief.  And I'm going to just post random stuff.  What appeals to me about continuing the blog is the journal aspect of it.  I love the memories and family photos.  My blog is the closest I have to a family album.  I hate to give up the documenting of all of that. 

We are on summer break now.  The first week we spent in Palm Springs--we had the funnest vacation--Ken and I and the two little boys.  I love a true "resort" type vacation.  Maybe I'll blog about it tomorrow (posting only 1-3 photos!  LOL).  Now were are back and settling into summer.  It's actually a harder transition than one might expect.  I thrive so well with structure and a schedule.  I love my ordinary day of commuting, working, coming home and making dinner, having pizza on Tuesdays.  I'm sort of at loose ends without that.  But yesterday was a better day and maybe I'm starting to hit my stride.  I took the boys to the beach in Carpinteria.  I kept the outing so simple and it turned out to be a great afternoon.  The boys were so good and barely fought and they even carried all our stuff down to the beach for me.  Dieter loves to jump in the waves and sit and think.  Rainer likes the waves too and he spent a long time working on a big sand castle complex.  I gathered rocks for him and placed them around the castle, which was awesome.  I love the sound of the waves so much and I love getting out of my head a little bit while being there. 

Also of note, I'm getting so so much better at driving the "mountain route" to Carpinteria, which is making me very happy.  I used to stick to the main highways, but I'm finding I love taking the mountain pass.  I like to take the curvy roads pretty conservatively, and yesterday I had plenty of practice with pulling over to let cars pass me. 

I'm thinking I want to take the boys to the beach twice a week in summer.  It's good for my soul.  We got a tiny bit sunburned yesterday (mostly me) so I'm vowing to be more careful re. sunscreen in the future.

I'm off to yoga right now--also a healthy summer thing. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

dreamy/practical

I basically never tire of pictures of the boys on the beach.

What are your plans this long weekend?  We really don't have many plans.  Mostly it's just exciting to be on the last 3 day weekend of the school year.  Summer is looming!  Here are my thoughts:

Dreamy

:: drink coffee with half and half and have a second cup.
:: watch an eye shadow tutorial and learn how to do the technique (I like Hot & Flashy's videos)
:: have a date night with Ken.  Any movie recommendations?
:: read a book.  I'm reading The Goldfinch but honestly haven't devoted much time to it.
:: have a little back yard barbeque with just the family.
:: head to the beach.  That photo above is making me long for the ocean!

Practical

:: do my Sunday routines with the boys--wash the car, get gas, stop by the local market.
:: laundry (that is always on my list).  My goal is to attack this early in the weekend.
:: cook (but that is sort of dreamy too, because I enjoy it).  I'm trying a new recipe for veggie enchiladas.
:: do a bit of cleaning.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend everyone!


Thursday, May 22, 2014

awesome granola that clumps!

Chunky granola. Chunky granola.

 I am so happy I finally figured out how to make granola that sticks together in clumps!

When I visited my friend Carrie in Kansas over spring break, we bought the most delicious granola at her local health food store.  It's the kind of granola that holds together in big, texture-y chunks.  I'm crazy about that texture in a granola.  I became a little obsessed with duplicating it at home.

I honestly wonder why all granola recipes say to stir the granola every 10-20 minutes while you are baking it.  Because it turns out that if you don't stir, you will get a big sheet of granola that can be broken into chunks of whatever size you like.  So easy!  I help it clump up a bit by patting the granola mixture firmly into the pan before baking it.  Use a low temp and bake until it's a little bit golden.  When you remove it from the oven don't stir it then, either.  Just let it cool completely in the pan.  When it is completely cool, break into chunks.  You can make very big chunks and they are practically granola bars.  This type of granola is great for snacking and packing into lunches.

I've been slightly experimenting with my old reliable recipe.  Obviously "anything goes" with granola, but here is my latest version:

Sweet Granola*

4 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. sesame seeds
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1/4 c. toasted wheat germ
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 c. of chopped almonds (I've been chopping them pretty small for this)
very scant half-teaspoon salt (or actually a slightly rounded 1/4 t.)

Mix your dry ingredients together in a bowl and then add:

1/3 c. neutral oil
1/2 c. maple syrup
1 t. vanilla

Mix it all together until the dry mixture is thoroughly moistened.  Pat it all evenly into a large baking sheet (you can spray the sheet with cooking spray if desired.  It helps keep the edges from sticking).  I pat it down pretty firmly.  Bake in a low oven (about 300 F) for 40-ish minutes.  Start checking at 30 mins.

Remove from oven when golden.  Allow to cool completely without stirring.  Then break into large or small chunks and store in an airtight container.

*so named because this is sweeter than the honey version.  For the honey version omit the brown sugar and the maple syrup.  Use 1/2 c. honey.  Definitely start checking at 30 mins and adjust your oven temp if necessary.  The honey version browns much more quickly than the maple version.  (It also holds together even more firmly).  I've been alternating types until we figure out which is our favorite.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

scenes from the weekend

upload upload Me feeding the ostriches. Dieter and Rainer feeding the emus. Just bought a tub of butter cookies. #solvang upload upload      

We had a fun weekend, out and about.  On Saturday, my mom and I took the kids to Solvang.  It's a little Danish village here in Southern California--it's so cute and so fun to visit.  We stopped first at Ostrich Land and fed the ostriches and emus.  Those birds are so strong and intimidating--especially the ostriches.  I yelped a little bit when I was feeding them!  They all came at the bowl and started pecking so powerfully!  It was really something else.  We loved this little side trip and definitely want to go back.

After Ostrich Land we went into the town of Solvang and had lunch at The Red Viking and then walked around a little bit and stopped at Birkholm's for cookies.  There are so many bakeries in Solvang.  We love the little tub of butter cookies we brought home, but naturally I want to try and compare them all.  We wrapped up the day at Sunny Fields Park.  The boys say it is their favorite park ever.

On Sunday Ken had a meet and I took the boys to Santa Barbara.  We often go to the Natural History Museum.  We are regular members.  On this day, the Butterflies Alive exhibit had just opened.  So many butterflies this year, and they were so lively!  We loved it.  We also brought our own picnic and ate in the museum back yard.  And then we walked all around the museum permanent exhibits like we always do.  The boys and I have a little game we play where we each say what animal we would be in each exhibit.  We play that every time--it's classic for us.

Thoughts on our picnic:  I loved doing it this way.  Usually we buy lunch out on these outings but on this day I wanted to simplify things and save money.  In the past I've complicated the picnics by packing too many heavy containers and ice blocks.  But this time I packed everything very lightly and compactly in sandwich bags and slung it all over my shoulder in a canvas bag.  Done and done.! We ate early, so no ice blocks necessary.  We bought drinks in the vending machines at the museum.  So easy!  Now I'm curious about packing more picnics and how I can keep them simple (and lightweight) but maybe add a teeny bit more variety than our regular sandwiches. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

lunch salads

Obsessed with these Trader Joe's salads. Am I the last to discover these?!?

I have to share with you my new discovery: prepared salads from Trader Joe's!!!  Possibly, I'm the last to discover these.  Admittedly, I've probably seen them all along, out of the corner of my eye, but I never thought of them in relation to my own situation.  I don't know why.  But a couple weeks ago, I was browsing through a new-to-me blog, and I saw this fun post wherein she mentions eating these salads throughout her pregnancy.  Well, something clicked in me--why not try these salads in my own lunch situation?

I work full time, and I always eat lunch in my car.  I have a little routine which is very comforting to me.  I drive through the McDonald's close to my school and get my daily Diet Coke and then swing into the parking lot of the adjacent Starbucks and find a little patch of shade and have my lunch and relax and check blogs on my phone.  I love my little routine and it gives me a chance to re-charge.  I even take my shoes off. 

Salads I've tried so far (I've been making a little list because I love to gather info and write stuff down like this--domestic life sort of info):

:: broccoli slaw and kale salad with white meat chicken.  My favorite so far!  It's the one pictured above.  13 Weight Watchers points.
:: lemon chicken salad--10 points.  My second favorite.  Love this.
:: salad with BBQ chicken with dressing--14 points
:: harvest salad with grilled chicken--12 points
:: honey glazed miso salmon on salad greens--8 points
:: shrimp and surimi w/ louie dressing--6 points

I love all of these.  As you can see, the points values vary, but I'm ok with that right now.  I feel like I'm eating so many more greens and veggies than I ever would normally (I am)!  Also, I've never considered myself much of a salad eater.  At home, they're a lot of trouble to make and I'm still at a loss for finding a dressing I like.  And in restaurants I'm much more likely to order a burger (I'm basically a child at heart).  But these prepared salads are so easy for me to grab and they are super yummy and they run about $4 which I think is great. 

What do you guys eat for lunch?  Before I found the salads a couple weeks ago I was packing my lunch daily in my Planet Box and having a half sandwich, cut up fruits, some raw veg, and pickles. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

scandinavian festival!

scandinavian festival scandinavian festival

scandinavian festival scandinavian festival scandinavian festival scandinavian festival scandinavian festival

On Saturday we attended the best Scandinavian festival! This was our third year in a row and  was perhaps the best year yet. 

I've written about the Scandinavian festival before.  This year my boys were older with much longer attention spans and were much more happy, willing, and able to participate in all the crafts and activities that were offered.  In that last photo they are sanding down wooden butter knifes.  They worked so hard on them this year!

Other highlights were the Viking dress-up station and getting to pat and hang out with the most gorgeous Norwegian Elkhounds.  The boys and I are all obsessed with the breed now and are dying to get one. 

The weather was fantastic this year too--the most beautiful, temperate day you could ask for.  Once again, my mom went with us.  It has gotten to be quite a tradition now, as this was year three.  Can't wait to mark my calendar for next year. 

Thank you Scandinavian Festival!  We love you!

Monday, March 24, 2014

english muffin toasting bread



I love toast. When I came across this recipe for English muffin bread (via Pinterest), I knew I had to make it.  This weekend I finally remembered to buy the bread flour it calls for and I whipped this up on Sunday.  It's a truly easy recipe--I love the soft bread dough recipes, the ones you stir up with a wooden spoon and that require no kneading. 

So my honest review is that this tastes delish, but it really bothers me that it will not brown up when toasted.  No matter how long I toast it, it will burn at the edges before really becoming brown and toasty.  That almost makes this a non-repeater for me.  I want my toast to be toasty!  That said, this does have a deep, toasty flavor that truly is reminiscent of an English muffin.  Also, the texture is super crisp and crunchy, which I love. 

I want to do a side-by-side comparison between this vs. this bread as toast.  My mind is already turning towards summer when I can bake a lot of bread recipes and compare them as toast. 

Thanks so much to everyone who has been stopping by and commenting.  It's so nice to still have readers, despite my infrequent posting.  Thank you!

PS--this article is a fascinating read about the toast craze that is sweeping San Francisco.  Do read it--it's more about mental illness and the lack of support there is for mentally ill adults, but it is also very inspiring because this particular woman has found a way to survive and thrive.  I loved it.  The same story as a podcast is on the current episode of This American Life (episode #520--"No Place Like Home"  (listen through to the end--it's the last story).

Friday, February 28, 2014

dreamy/practical



It's raining!  A cozy weekend with rain* is rare around here, especially these last few years.  There is rain right now and we are so grateful.   Thinking about for this weekend--

Dreamy
:: be cozy by the fire
:: drink coffee with half and half
:: go to a Saturday night movie with Ken
:: watch the Oscars!  My mom is having us over for a little "Oscar Party"!  I haven't watched the Oscars in years, and this year I've seen quite a few of the nominated movies, so it will be extra fun.  Can't wait!

Practical
:: do some key cleaning tasks I've been putting off.  It will feel good!
:: de-clutter.  I always feel like a million dollars after getting rid of stuff.
:: laundry--always!
:: the meal planning and grocery shopping are done for the week.  We have ingredients for cucumber-yogurt chicken, Summer's mustard-maple chicken (we're making this for the second time), and a simple beans and rice dish.

*with all the rain, I'm tempted to bake, but I'm also dieting!  Not sure if I should.  I'll try to resist.  Baking but not eating is not a reasonable option in my opinion!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

dinner makes me happy



There is something so grounding and so comforting about making dinner.  I've come to feel this way--supported and nourished by the process, rather than inconvenienced or annoyed--over the last year or so.  Perhaps just because I'm getting older.  And eating a home cooked meal is so bolstering to the spirits.

Here are three meals I've made lately.  The top photo is the beef-barley-mushroom-kale soup from an old issue of  3191 quarterly.  This is my favorite quick weeknight soup lately and I'm crazy about it with cornbread.  By the way, I'm loving making a less-sweet cornbread lately (maybe only a tablespoon or two of sugar in the batch).  I love the way the pure corn flavor shines through when you cut the sugar.  And it tastes fantastic with salted butter.  Yum!

The second recipe is Sweet Soy Chicken & Rice from a new cookbook, The Family Flavor.  Do you get excited about new cookbooks as I do?  I love this one for its beautiful photography and the ease of its recipes.  All the ingredients are ordinary, which I love.  And the dishes are  family friendly.  I loved this soy chicken--next time I'm going to double it.

The last recipe is from Weight Watchers--a very light lemony chicken.  I've made this twice already and have stocked the freezer with chicken breasts so I can have this any time (I love how easy it is to find organic chicken at Trader Joe's, but I have to plan ahead a little).

Up tonight:  I'm making this maple-mustard chicken from Summer Harms.  Can't wait!  It looks so yummy.  By the way, do you read Summer's blog?  She is so inspiring and positive.  I love her (and she just had a new baby, which has been fun to follow).  (Another fave recipe from Summer:  this chili).

What have you been making for dinner lately?

PS--Someone posted the recipe for "sweet soy chicken" here.
The lemon chicken recipe can be found here.
The beef-barley soup recipe isn't posted online, but here's a fun post from Stephanie about how she uses grains.

PPS--I've been doing Weight Watcher's since January and I lost 8 lbs.  So glad about that!  Now to maintain it!!