Time To Decorate The Trees!

It’s that time of year again. My husband’s aunt from Missouri thinks it’s strange that out here in California we don’t just decorate trees at Christmas, we decorate them in the Spring and Summer. It’s either that, or the birds reign down terror from above.

We’re surrounded by oranges, almonds, green tree fruit, and our little lone cherry tree is the only buffet in town. I might as well ring a dinner bell. I wouldn’t mind sharing if birds would politely select one cherry and eat it, but no. They’re like those rude people who take a bite out of every chocolate in the box looking for the one they like best.

Hence we decorate our trees with mylar strips that hopefully will take the place of us standing out there waving our arms and shouting “Shoo!”. Does it work? Well, better than nothing.

cherry tree

Interesting thing though, you’ll notice there’s a 4 X 4 post laying inside of the tree that has something that looks like a bucket on top. That’s the rather expensive weather station I bought Mr. Man so he would be a successful citrus grower. I’m guessing he mowed it down with his truck and trailer, but didn’t seem to feel the need to mention that to me. There should be some interesting dinner conversation at our house tonight!

Speaking of dinner, I am cooking something good tonight, since a condemned man deserves a good last meal and all. I’ll post that tomorrow.

Last night though, we just had quicky doctored up Chinese chicken salad with the help of Costco.

You know how it is when you’re strolling through Costco and somebody hands you a sample of something and you think, “Oh, that’s pretty good!”, and so you buy it, and you take it home, and then you find out one bite was good but a whole serving is just disgusting? Or maybe it’s just me.

But I give their Chinese chicken salad kit a pass, sort of. My worst complaint is seems like every party I go to they’re serving Costco Chinese chicken salad, because it’s not bad and it’s easy. But if everybody serves it, then it’s boring. So if I’m serving Chinese chicken salad I make my own. But that doesn’t mean I turn my nose up at Costco’s M(almost)RE. I use it as a starting place to whip up a sort of Chinese chicken chef’s salad when I need to fix something quick, or I really don’t feel like cooking, or it’s hot, or the sun is in my eyes.

Anyway, I buy the kit, which has two sets of fixin’s, then I divide them up into two zip lock bags and stick them in the freezer. The chicken and dressing thaw out fast in the microwave when you need them.

You have to buy lettuce anyway, so I pick up some cherry tomatoes and whatever else I want in my salad, or whatever I have on hand like hard boiled eggs, leftover roasted asparagus, beets, cucumbers, carrots, craisins, feta cheese, avocado……

By the time I’m done, the boring old chicken salad is transformed into a main dish even my husband will eat. Yes, he actually said, “Now why can’t you get a salad like this in a restaurant”. High praise indeed. It’s a lot of salad to plow through, but you can manage if you really apply yourself. Anyway, that’s what Mom “cooked” last night. No recipe required.

costco salad

We All Scream For Ice Cream

butter pecan ice cream

At least I do! I’m dead serious when I tell you my Dad ate two bowls of ice cream every single night of his life. Which is probably why ice cream is my favorite thing in the world. It’s not dessert for me, it’s a basic food group, like coffee & chocolate. And when you put them all together? Oh yeah, mocha almond fudge is my absolute favorite.

But it was my mother-in-law’s butter pecan ice cream I made this week, and that’s pretty awesome too. So I’ll post the recipe for that, as well as for some quick strawberry sorbet I often make. That’s for those of you who are lactose intolerant, don’t want to fuss with an ice cream freezer, or want a healthier alternative to heaven in a bowl.

 

Happy Birthday Jace!

Today’s our son Jace’s birthday. (Cue balloons and confetti!) He’s been working long hours lately, so I figure the best thing I can do for him today is set him up with a good meal and a little peace and quiet.

Speaking of peace and quiet, that reminds me of a favorite Jace story, since this is his day and all…

Few who know him today would guess that when he was a little boy, his mouth was in gear every second, of every day. If I had just a nickle for every time I heard, “Look Mom!”, I could have retired ten years ago. One day the endless verbal stream was getting to me, and it must of shown on my face because he asked me what was wrong. I told him, “I’d just like a little peace and quiet”. He went over to his craft table, snipped the corner off of a piece of colored paper, and presented it to me very solemnly saying, “Here Mommy. Here’s a little piece of quiet for you”. Everybody say awwwww…..

So Jace, here’s to you buddy. Hopefully we can give you some good food, tolerable company, and a little “piece of quiet” today.

We’ll start off with some deviled eggs and glazed chicken drummies, in case you’re feeling a mite peckish before we get dinner on the table. We’ll send Dad out to the grill to cook a some prime rib on the rotisserie. I’ll make some scalloped potatoes, roasted asparagus, heck, might as well have some green beans too. Then we’ll finish up with your favorite butter pecan ice cream, which I even made lactose free just for you:)

Might take a while to get any recipes posted. We have a party going on today! (But I did post a recipe for the Broccoli Beef In Oyster Sauce we had for dinner last night.

Broccoli beef in oyster sauce

Oh yeah, I made some Crack In A Bag too!)

crack in a bag

Roast Your Veggies!

Mr. Man is not a member of the “Clean Plate Club” when it comes to veggies, unless I roast them. Then its true love. The veggies, not me. Although I’m sure he has visions of me slowly roasting over an open fire from time to time.

Pretty much every veggie just seems to get better if you roast it to sweet carmelized goodness. Last night I made a Roasted Veggie Medley of what I had in the fridge: carrots, zucchini, onions & added some potatoes. There are no rules. You can leave out the potatoes, or use sweet potatoes, or add some bell pepper, or cauliflower, whatever floats your boat.

With some Baked Breaded Chicken, it was mighty tasty. Some prep time, but then nothing to do but wait while it cooks. Yummmmm.

baked chicken and veggies

Cast Iron Chef

Again, lots of work today, tired, and not really motivated to make a mess in the kitchen. So I drug out the cast iron skillet.

Throw it all in a skillet. Cook it up. Slap in on a plate. That’s how I roll sometimes. Who needs Hamburger Helper?

Did I mention, I love my cast iron skillet? It’s pretty non-stick, weighs a ton so you can get in a good upper body workout, and it doubles as a defensive weapon. Lodge makes a nice, pre-seasoned 10″ skillet with lid that of course you can get from Amazon. Everybody got one for Christmas last year. Did they appreciate it? Probably not. But nobody could say it didn’t fit!

So tonight it was good old Pork Chop Skillet Dinner. Tomorrow I might actually cook something.

pork chop skillet dinner

 

Cherry Berry Pie

I almost cooked dinner. Well, actually I made tacos and we were about five minutes from chowing down and some friends invited us out to dinner. Their treat. Well, that’s a no-brainer. So everything went in the fridge and tonight’s dinner is all ready to go. Even better.

But I was feeling a little guilty because tacos is what I fix when I don’t feel like cooking. So I made a consolation pie.

See, I figured I could earn some brownie points with Mr. Man; “She only made tacos for dinner, but she made a pie! What a good little wife”. OK, after 37 years of marriage that’s probably not really happening. But I live in hope that I’m appreciated, he lives in hope that I would actually do something nice for him, and in the end, isn’t hope what keeps us going?

So I threw together this Cherry Berry Pie, which is totally fake cooking, but I’m OK with that. It looks like a homemade pie. Tastes like a homemade pie. I invited our friends in for pie and ice cream after we got back from dinner. Score!

Honey/Soy Glazed Chicken

I have a lot of work this week and don’t have time to cook. All I care about is filling an empty place with something that will pretty much cook itself. I make the typical teriyaki chicken, marinated in sauce that takes a bunch of ingredients. But truthfully, it doesn’t taste much better than this quick, three ingredient glaze: equal parts soy sauce, honey, and barbeque sauce. That’s all there is to it. No fuss, no muss, no magic. Except what it tastes like when it’s finished.

I’m using boneless, skinless chicken thighs because that’s what I have on hand. I’ve used chicken pieces, just chicken legs, and it makes an awesome appetizer using chicken wings or just the drummies. The little drummies will keep warm for hours in a crock pot while your party rages on.

So tonight Mom’s cooking Honey/Soy Glazed Chicken. It’s sweet and pretty potent, so just some plain white rice & a side of broccoli goes well. No sweat for me and Mr. Man will be doing his happy dance.

honey soy glazed chicken

Ah…..COFFEE!!!

Oh yeah, I have a serious love affair with coffee. One which my husband does not share. At least he loves the smell, probably because it brings back childhood memories of what home smelled like in the morning.

But coffee has come a long way, baby. I no longer have to drink the stank swill my Mom brewed or settle mystery instant crystals of unknown origin. For me “the best part of waking up isn’t Folger’s in my cup”. I’ve kicked it up a notch with home roasted, yummy goodness!

Keep your muscle cars, your speed boats, your dirt bikes, this is what gets my engine revving every morning, my Fresh Roast SR500.

SR500

I stare transfixed and salivating as it turns hard little green beans that smell like grass into plump, toasted, airy little morsels of goodness in about six minutes. I’m endlessly fascinated, which may say something sad about me, but there you have it.

Lucky for me, our son Jace shares my love of coffee. We’ve had fun trying different coffees from around the world and find we’re partial to coffee from Guatemala, Costa Rica, & Honduras isn’t bad either. You can order organically grown coffee if that’s your deal. I look for coffee that’s washed and dried in raised, covered beds, so hopefully cleaner than the majority that’s dried on the ground.

It’s a fun toy, would make a great gift for that coffee lover who has everything. I bought mine from coffeeproject.com, if you’re interested. Green coffee I usually get from sweetmarias.com.

Coffee, ahhhhhh, that’s what Mom’s cooking this morning!

For The Love Of Spaghetti

My mom’s parents came from Italy, so half of the blood running through my veins is probably spaghetti sauce. My Nonno (grandpa) came to the U.S. when he was 5, but Nonni (grandma) didn’t come until she was 21. So she was always REALLY Italian, old school, F.O.B. Actually, “Nonna” is grandma in Italian, but since ours was less than 5 feet tall, we thought she looked more like a “Nonni”.

Here she is at my wedding. She’s wearing heels, & I’m not!Noni

Noni never learned to drive, so she was always home gardening, cooking, and keeping the cookie jar full. This was handy for me, because she lived just a quick walk across the vineyard from our house. If I timed it right, I could catch the early farmer’s dinner at Noni’s, then head home for the later dinner service at Mom’s.

Both were terrific cooks, which is why Nonni was always telling me with her usual tact and thick Italian accent, “Oh, your butta comma so big!”. Those old Italian women had no filters. My generation has filters, we just choose not to use them because we think we’re funny. Our children are not amused.

Anyway…Nonni sadly died and left us with no written recipes except for persimmon cookies & Italian cake. I decided it was my sacred duty to write down an actual recipe so our family’s version of spaghetti sauce will live on.

All Italians make sauce differently, and all swear their is the best. But of course they’re all wrong, ours is! I give you my detailed instruction for Spaghetti Sauce ala Rosetta Magnone.

 

Whole Life Challenge

Starting May 7th, I’ll be participating in my third Whole Life Challenge sponsored by Livestrong.com. It’s basically a commitment to live a really healthy lifestyle for 8 weeks, with the hope that you’ll be inspired and on track to maintain a healthier lifestyle. It’s pretty tough, but if I can do it, anyone can.

Although the dietary restrictions are pretty severe, it’s not a “diet”. The goal isn’t to lose weight, it’s to be healthier. Part of that is eating better, but also involves a commitment to exercise, stretch, drink more water, get enough sleep, etc.

Because it’s supposed to promote a healthier way of life, it’s also realistic. Nobody’s perfect. If you stick with it you do get bonus points, to take a day off from exercise, have dessert or go out for pizza, or whatever you’re craving.

You keep track of your daily progress, and have the support of your teammates. Personally, I don’t have a prayer of eating healthy all the time. There are just too many good things to eat and life’s too short. But I’ve found I can stick with it for 8 weeks, I do feel better and have more energy, and it does inspire me to keep eating better and exercising more afterward.

Last time around, it was just me and my friend Alicia on team “Country Club”. The most awesome result was Alicia’s little granddaughter also followed along, started making better food choices and exercising more, and lost 14 pounds in just 30 days!

So we’re going around again. If you want to join us you can sign up at http://www.wholelifechallenge.com. and join us on team “Country Club”. Misery loves company. (There is a fee, but it’s worth it.)

Guess we’d better make some pretzels before the 7th!