Thursday, October 21, 2010

Someone got good news...

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Emma and her acceptance letter to the Master's College!
I'm so proud of you, Emms!

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

WDW - Easy Weeknight Soup

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WDW just in the nick of time! Another great recipe from Marie over at Proud Italian Cook! I feel like all I'm doing lately is re-posting from her blog. But, I thought with this wonderful rainy weather, I'd share this soup I made tonight.

Lately, I have been struggling to use all the greens in my farm box. Not that I don't like them, but there were so many the last few weeks! This week I got Swiss chard, broccoli rabe, kale, and spinach! When I saw this recipe, I thought it would be a good way to use my chard.

It's simply called Beans, Greens and Broken Spaghetti soup. It couldn't be easier to put together, and it was so tasty and comforting. If you're looking for easy, and meatless yet hearty- this is the soup for you. Oh, and this soup is very economical as well.

The soup is even more convenient if you have some leftover pasta laying around, like I did. The recipe calls for spaghetti, but I had linguine so I chopped it up and it worked fine. I also substituted leeks for the onions it called for. I was really pleased with the results, as it tasted long simmered. As Marie always says, Buon Appetito!

P.S. She has a lovely butternut squash tart currently on her blog, I hope I get a squash in my farm box soon! http://prouditaliancook.blogspot.com/2010/10/butternut-squash-tart-with-caramelized.html


Beans, Greens, and Broken Spaghetti Soup

Olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic
2 onions, chopped (I used 4 leeks)
2 carrots, chopped
2 cans of rinsed and drained cannellini beans
1 large bunch of Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves chopped
6-8 cups chicken broth (I used low salt/organic)
Parmigiano Reggiano rind

Precooked broken spaghetti (I used linguine -about 1/4 lb.)
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

In a heavy soup pot, over medium-low heat, drizzle some olive oil and saute onion, carrot, and garlic. Add everything else (except broken spaghetti and grated cheese ) and simmer for about an hour. Season with salt and pepper.

Note from Marie:
If you're like me and you save your cheese rinds in the freezer, please add one to your soup, it makes a world of difference to the flavor of your broth, otherwise just add your grated parmesan to your individual bowls.

In a bowl, add the cooked spaghetti, and then ladle your soup over the top along with plenty of grated cheese, and if you want, a tiny drizzle of olive oil.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Menchies won't cut it

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Rich just celebrated 25 years at his job, the Department of Water and Power. He is a civil engineer, and has worked at the DWP since the day he graduated college. That means he has had the same job since we met! How amazing is that? We are so blessed that he has had such a good job all these years. We thank God, and we thank Rich for his love and devotion to our family for faithfully going to work day after day (he's had only 2 sick days in 25 years).

So, Rich came home one day from work early last summer and said, "Hey, I just realized that last week, I hit 25 years at the Department," and then he casually added, "so I was thinking maybe we could go to Menchies to celebrate."

Menchies? Really? I mean Menchies is okay, but frozen yogurt to celebrate 25 years at your job?

Sorry, but I think not.

What I was thinking was more like dinner at Off Vine and Phantom of the Opera tickets.

That's what I'm talkin' about.

So, the kids and I went to the Pantages early in the summer and bought 6 tickets (we invited Stephanie and Nick to join us) and then anxiously counted down the days...

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Finally, on last Friday night, the special night had arrived! We started the evening at our favorite special occasion spot, Off Vine. What's great about dinner at Off Vine (well, besides everything) is you can just leave your car there and walk to the Pantages. I actually love walking through Hollywood at night (when I have my man to protect me, of course). It's so New York-ish. Off Vine is so cozy and comforting, and I had the most amazing Seafood risotto with asparagus..... yum. Dinner was such fun and we were all so excited about the show! Rich and I had actually seen it before, but the kids had not. Phantom was actually the first Broadway show we'd ever seen, at the Majestic theater in NY many years ago, and it blew us away. Such an enchanting show. It's a tough plot to understand - watching the movie either before or after helps a lot. Anyways, we loved the show -- great cast, great music, super creative. This is the final U.S. tour of the show, ending here in L.A. The Pantages is absolutely gorgeous and a great venue for it. We came home and had the special cake above! A wonderful evening indeed. I'd wish my hubby another 25 years at the department, but alas he retires in around 5 years! Maybe then, I'll take him to Menchies.

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My fave restaurant with my fave guy.

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Six very excited people!!

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Homemade Laundry Soap

OK, you know you love being a homemaker when you get excited about laundry soap.

Yes, I'm very excited about my new laundry soap. My all natural, homemade laundry soap, that is! I know, I'm weird, but it's so stinkin' cool.

So, as you might have read recently here on the blog, I'm going all-natural in the cleaners department. I have been happily using my homemade spray cleaner, not-so happily using baking soda (more on that later) and switched to an all natural goat's milk laundry soap which I bought from www.goatmilkstuff.com. I really liked the soap, and I even noticed that my dish towels (which I used to bleach) looked a little cleaner and brighter than usual.

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Then, I had a revelation: I turned over the package of the laundry soap and read the ingredients: borax, washing soda, soap. Why couldn't I make my own? It seemed easy enough. I researched a bit online and sure enough I found the same formula over and over: 1 cup grated soap flakes, 1/2 cup each of Borax and washing soda.

So, I started with a bar of goat's milk soap that I bought from the above website (one formulated just for laundry), used the Borax I already had, and bought some Arm & Hammer washing soda online (not to be confused with baking soda, it's hard to find. I got mine at www.drugstore.com. A friend of mine who makes her own laundry soap told me that there is an Albertson's market in Santa Clarita that carries it.) You can use any bar of soap you like (of course, use all natural soap if you want your laundry soap to be all natural). Online, I found a lot of people use Fels Naptha, an old fashioned soap bar. But, I wanted my soap to be all natural, so I went with the goat's milk bar. I think I might try Dr. Bronner's castille soap bar next time I make it, I saw it at Trader Joe's, and it is even certified organic! Oh, and another tip with the laundry would be to put vinegar in the fabric softener compartment of your washer. Vinegar removes soap scum and mineral deposits in your washer and your clothes.

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It couldn't have been easier. The bar of soap yielded 4 cups grated soap (I just used the fine side of my cheese grater), so I added 2 cups each of Borax and washing soda. I gave it a good stir, then decided to give it a whirl in the food processor to bring it to a consistent powder form (the picture below was before processing - you can see the soap curly-cues). I put the mixture in a Tupperware container. You use only one tablespoon per load, so I dropped in a metal tablespoon for easy measuring. The batch I made in 5 minutes will last 128 loads! The cost is hard to figure exactly because I only used a fraction of the boxes of Borax and washing soda. The soap bar was $7 (you could definitely use a cheaper bar, but keep in mind that mine was double the size of a regular bar, so it was really about $3.50 a bar). I am guessing I used maybe 1/10th of each of the boxes of Borax and washing soda? Hard to know. If that is the case though, I probably got 128 loads for approximately $9 total. I think that's about 1/2 the price of the Costco brand I've been using. And, of course, mine is all natural! And, if you're wondering, this soap is safe to use in he (high effeciency) machines, because it's low sudsing.

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So.... you know what? Now, I want to make my own soap... I've been chomping at the bit for years to make it, but have been terrified. We LOVE bar soap (I have soap dishes in each bathroom and the kitchen) and I drool over homemade soap. My good friend in Washington has sent me these amazing goat's milk soap bars that her friend makes with her own goat's milk, and I am completely addicted to them. The goat's milk is super emmolient and great for people who wash their hands about a zillion times a day, like I do. I ran out of my stash recently so I ordered some bars from Goat Milk Stuff, but I can't go on paying $6 a bar for soap! (Incidentally, that's how I got into candlemaking- to support my own candle habit. Now here I go with soap.) Of course, I don't have any goats of my own (nor know any) to get fresh milk from, but I have found recipes online that use canned and dry goat's milk to make soap, and the results are supposed to be comparable, so I'm going to give it a try soon. I am in the process of gathering all the ingredients and tools. My goal is to have soap to give as Christmas gifts, and the bars take 4-6 weeks to cure, so I need to get on it soon. Of course, I'll keep you posted on my adventures.

Stay clean!



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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WDW - Eggplant Stacks

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One of my favorite food bloggers is
http://prouditaliancook.blogspot.com. I had the good fortune to find this blog awhile back, and Marie's food is some of the most beautiful food on earth. This woman is not only brilliant, but her recipes are simple and always include all my favorite ingredients. Plus, her photos are gorgeous and make you want to eat the computer screen. I have tried many of her recipes and they do not disappoint.

I saw this recipe there recently, and literally ran out the next day to get an eggplant so I could make it. I absolutely love eggplant, by the way. You may be thinking that you don't like eggplant, but you know what, you really do. You just haven't had it prepared right if you think you don't like it. I have convinced my family that they love eggplant, and I'm here to convince you, too.

So, this recipe was so easy - and so beautiful - and so tasty! And, not to mention, fun to make! Following Marie's recipe, I peeled the eggplant in pretty stripes (leaving most of the peel on), cut it into 3/4" slices, and brushed it all over with some olive oil. I roasted the slices on a foil-lined baking sheet at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes.

While the eggplant cooked, I made some pesto. Trader Joe's had a lovely box of organic basil today, so I tossed a generous cup of leaves into my mini food processor with a handful of grated Pecorino cheese and toasted walnuts, a couple cloves of garlic, and a good amount of olive oil to pull it all together. I opened up a can of my favorite store bought marinara, Trader Joe's (in the fat green can) and added a few more cloves of grated garlic to that. I sliced up thick slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and then got a pretty white baking dish out. Then the fun began - building the stacks! You start by spreading a little sauce into the baking dish, then place half the eggplant slices down. On top of the slices, in this order, layer: sauce, mozzarella cheese, a good dollop of pesto, another eggplant slice, a little more sauce, and another mozzarella slice. Top with shredded Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese, and some panko bread crumbs on top. Bake at 375 degrees 20-25 minutes until hot and the cheese is melted. Garnish with extra basil and serve immediately.

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Aren't these beautiful? Ready to go into the oven!

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Man's Great End

LORD of all being,
There is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires,
That is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made~
to glorify thee who has given me being,
and to do all the good I can for my fellow men;
Verily, life is not worth having if it not be improved for this noble purpose.

Yet, LORD, how little is this the thought of mankind!
Most men seem to live for themselves,
without much or any regard for thy glory, or for the good of others.

They earnestly desire and eagerly pursue the riches, honours, pleasures of this life, as if they supposed that wealth, greatness, merriment, could make their immortal souls happy;
But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these!
And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them,
for all our happiness consists in loving thee, and being holy as thou art holy.

O may I never fall into the tempers and vanities,
the sensuality and the folly of the present world!
It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness;
Time is a moment, a vapour,
and all its enjoyments are empty bubbles, fleeting blasts of wind,
from which nothing satisfactory can be derived;
Give me grace always to keep convenant with thee,
and to reject as delusion a great name here or hereafter,
together with all sinful pleasures or profits.

Help me to know continually
that there can be no true happiness,
no fulfilling of thy purpose for me,
apart from a life lived in and for
the Son of thy love.

"Man's Great End"
~The Valley of Vision~

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

WDW - Pasta Primavera

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A couple Saturdays ago, Rich and I went and visited our dear friends Kai & Cynthia at their new home in Ojai. They have a beautiful new place in such a great town, and we are so happy for them - but we really miss having them three doors away in Shadow Hills.

When we visited them in Ojai, they gave us a great driving tour around town and took us to a favorite local restaurant called Boccali's for dinner. It was a lovely summer-like evening, and we dined alfresco on some really fine Italian food. Each couple ordered their own small pizza (which was amazing) and then we shared some salads and Pasta Primavera. The pasta was beautiful - a very large bowl of linguine was piled with tons of fresh roasted vegetables (Boccali's grows their own produce at their local farm). It was the ultimate pasta! I thought to myself, with my love of produce and pasta, why have I never made this dish? I was dumbfounded but knew I had to make it soon.

So, this week, I decided to give it a go. Really, it's so simple it can hardly even be called a recipe. It was so fast to make, I think I had it on the table in a half an hour flat. It's one of those dishes that is super flexible and one you can make with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Since it was the day before my produce delivery, I was a bit low, but here's what I had: 2 large carrots, 1 package sliced cremini mushrooms, 1 zucchini, 1 yellow squash, a baggie of leftover sliced onion, and my last home-grown tomatoes. I rough chopped everything except the mushrooms and onion and threw them on a baking sheet with some olive oil, salt and pepper. I roasted them in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes.

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Meanwhile, while they roasted, I sauteed the onions, mushrooms, and about 6 good-sized cloves of chopped garlic in some olive oil in a large pan while the linguine cooked in a big pot of water.

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When the linguine was done, I lifted it out into the pan with the sauteed veggies, and then dumped all the roasted veggies on top. I gave it a gentle toss and added another drizzle of olive oil. You can add a little of the pasta coooking water if it seems dry (save a cup or so before you drain the pasta off). A grating of some good parmigiano or pecorino and you have the perfect meal in a bowl.

My family LOVED this dish! I actually scolded Rich when he went for his third helping, and Emma said "I could eat this every day!" I guess this one will find a place in the rotation for sure! Try it soon, you'll love the simplicity and the taste!

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Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm finally biting the bullet

OK, I keep reading about making the switch to all-natural cleaning agents, and I have decided I'm finally going to bite the bullet, and just do it. I love the idea, but I'm such an addict to the cleaners I love, that I've been putting it off. Ajax, bleach, etc.... it's not like there's a 12-step program to free yourself from household chemical addiction. They do such a good job, it's hard to break away.

But, I've been compelled, of course for health reasons (nasty chemicals), and another for economical reasons. Using common household items is SO much cheaper, and it's simpler, too. From my research, I have concluded you really only need a handful of everyday products. I have decided to use the following items only:

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Meet my new allies: rubbing alcohol, Borax, white vinegar, baking soda, and tea tree oil.

I got the following recipe online and decided to try it. I got all the ingredients at Target, except the essential oil, which I ordered online (I got grapefruit- yum). Tea Tree oil is antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, and a little goes a long way. I like the idea of adding essential oil, because I like the house to smell clean when I clean it.

All - Natural Cleaner

2 cups water
1 tsp. Borax
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
a few drops of Tea Tree Oil
1/4 tsp. essential oil (optional)

Boil the water, then dissolve the Borax into it. Cool to room temperature.

Add the vinegar, Tea Tree Oil, and the essential oil, and pour into a clean spray bottle.

This is an all-purpose cleaner, but is not for use on granite or marble. You should never use vinegar on any natural stone as it dulls the finish. You can make an easy granite spray cleaner by mixing one part alcohol with three parts water, and adding a few drops of a ph neutral dish soap such as Seventh Generation and a little tea tree oil if you like. I already use Seventh Generation for washing dishes (also found at Target), so it's convenient. Buffing with a chamois is also great way to make granite shine.

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My Windex will be switched out for a 1:1 ratio alcohol/water mixture for window cleaning. That should be easy, and I happen to LOVE the smell of alcohol (reminds me of the fun of getting my ears pierced when I was a girl). I actually used the all natural cleaner I that made on my mirrors, and it didn't streak. The hard change that I foresee though, is going to be giving up my beloved Ajax for sinks, toilets, and showers, and using baking soda instead. I have a LOT of tile in my bathrooms and I like super clean toilets (I suppose most of us do.) Yes, I'm kind of scared about the baking soda. But I will give it an honest try, and a lot of elbow grease. If not, I reserve the right to return to Ajax!

I also just ordered some all-natural goat's milk laundry soap that contains Borax. I'll let you know how it goes! I have heard that a little essential oil in the wash makes for heavenly-smelling laundry, so I think I'll try that as well. I am going to discontinue the use of bleach - so we'll see how white my whites are! Again, I reserve the right to go back as I know I will be quite unhappy if my whites aren't white.

I would love to hear from everyone as to what their favorite all-natural cleaning solutions are! Will update soon on my success....

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