Tip of the Week

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday's Tip of the Week: Halloween Safety & Sustainability

Happy Halloween!!  The witch is now in . . .

No matter how you decide to celebrate this holiday, I think it is important to remember some basic safety tips, especially for pet owners.  Please click here and read the safety tips for the ASPCA if you are a pet owner.  Chocolate and other candies are dangerous and potentially deadly for dogs and other pets.

Now for those interested in sustainability during the holidays.  I found a great website that is all about Eco-friendly products and living.  Click here for the Halloween guide.  I really love the Halloween reusable totes and bags.

P.S.  stay tuned for a post on making homemade tamales!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Paris, oh Paris

I found some great Normandy Brie cheese today at Whole Foods Market.  Specially imported from Normandy, France.  I found that it was hard to resist, since it was on sale, so I treated myself to a slice.  Not sure yet how I want to serve it . . . maybe baked in a pastry or with some of my preserves and crackers.  Choices, choices . .  hmm. 

Either way, I will enjoy my brie with thoughts of Paris in my mind.  I've actually travelled to France two times and I love buying a simple crepe while wandering the city or picking up local baked bread, cheese and other fresh toppings (even a bottle of wine).  The simple delight of great food and cultural experiences are some of the joys in travelling.  I highly recommend travelling to France, be sure to learn a few French words and don't worry if you are single traveller.  The experience is definitely worth the time and money.  Hopefully I can go back to Paris in the near future and enjoy the culture again in a different season.

Here's a few of my photos from Paris in the summer.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's witching hour

Halloween is just around the corner and I have been asked so many times this month what my costume will be.  Here it is, at least in part.  My witch's hat in black, I also have one in purple for my Mother.

I am mastering my basic crochet technique and this is a great beginner or easy pattern for crocheting (Click here for the pattern).  And I have found that I LOVE felting yarn.  Try it once and you will see why I am in love with felting. 

Use can easily substitute other brands of wool yarn as I did.  Patrons classic wool and Lion Brand Fun Fur were my yarns of choice, mostly because they were easy to find.  Just remember to use 100% wool, Do Not use any Super Wash wools or other wool mixtures to felt.

So when it's witching hour, beware . . .

What's for Breakfast? A Frittata

Do you love eggs for breakfast?  I know I do, but I find that trying to make an omelet takes too much time.  My simple solution is the Italian classic, the frittata.  You can add all kinds of vegetables, cheese and meats to your frittata.  Any basic frittata recipe works and you can experiment with different ingredients depending on what you have in your refrigerate.  Here's one recipe I like (click here).  You can use a frittata pan, or what I find the easiest is a pan that can be used on the stove and in the oven.

Some of my favorites include asparagus and goat cheese, mushroom and fontina cheese, tomato, basil and Parmesan, bell pepper and herb, and spinach and white cheddar.  Today was a mushroom and cheese frittata morning, mostly because I had some mushrooms leftover that needed to be used.

Mushroom and cheese

Asparagus and goat cheese

My next frittata is going to be a winter squash and sage.  See what's in season and use what is fresh.  Be sure you are buying local or USA produce, preferably organic for your frittata.  And most important, have fun!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Begging for Cornbread

That's right, I made cornbread for dinner to go with a great Fagioli.  I love cornbread and have had several different kinds.  My ultimate favorite and the only cornbread I usually make now is Honey Cornbread.  Skip the boxed cornbread mix and buy cornmeal instead. You can find the recipe here.  The honey makes this cornbread delicious!!!  I have even substituted the sugar for more honey and it gives the cornbread a sweeter honey taste (and a bit of a stickier texture).  So why did I say begging for cornbread.  Well my dogs have noses, and I mean noses like Detection dogs trained to find drugs or other contraband.  And tonight they smelled my cornbread. 

Now I am not of the school of thought that "people food" or scrapes are bad for dogs.  There are many things dogs should not have for example grapes and alcohol, but there are plenty of things dogs can have.  I typically vary my dogs' food and treats.  This includes baked treats (I have a few dog cookbooks) and other "snacks".  So I see nothing wrong with a bite of cornbread being shared with my dogs.  I will say that there are dogs with corn allergies, so if you have a dog that is, then this is not to be shared with those dogs.  Both my dogs LOVED the cornbread, and the small piece they each got wasn't enough in their opinion because they sat at my feet drooling for more.  I won't give them very much mainly because too much corn upsets my youngest dog's stomach and there is little nutritional value in corn (or cornbread) for dogs.

Once my dogs realized that they were only going to have a bite of the cornbread they ate their dog food and now are contently sleeping at my feet, their bellies full.  This is such a great way to end a day.  A slight breeze outside on a crisp Autumn night and my dogs sleeping by my side.  They do teach us unconditional love.  May your evening be as peaceful as mine.

Re-Purpose: Framed Prints into Cork Boards

Here's a great re-purposing project and it's simple too.  Use a great wood frame of your own choosing, preferably without glass.  I found some old frames and prints in my storage.  The frames were already set up to hang which made this project even easier.  You can easily find cork at your local craft store.  Michael's and Joann's both carry it.  If you cannot find it at your craft store, you can always shop online, just make sure you get the correct size and enough material for your project.


1.  Remove print and cardboard backing (if it's not cardboard, removing the backing). 
2.  Either measure the backing and then measure and cut your cork.  OR  lay the cork out, put the backing on top and mark with a sharpie pen.  Then cut the cork.
3.  Glue the cork to the backing.  If it's cardboard simple Elmer's wood glue works well.  You can use superglue as well.  Do Not use hot glue.
4.  Put heavy books or objects on the cork and let dry for several hours.
5.  Once it's dry you can place the cork (cork side facing out) into the frame.  Fasten it in (this depends on the frame design).
6.  Now you can hang your new cork board!

Optional extras: Paint your frame, add stencils or other designs

Here's my frame before:

Here's my frame after:

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's A Warm October Day . . .

Well it is, here in Northern California.  70 and 80 Degree temperatures are not our norm for this time of year.  My tomatoes are still ripening, as are my cucumbers and peppers.  I see no reason to dig them up, instead I am enjoying the vegetables.  However, several weeks ago who would have thought we are well into fall and winter here.  Winter storms with cold temperatures, even snow in Sierra Nevada Mountains.

My winter vegetable crops are partly planted.  Kale and Boston Lettuce, so far.  And those seeds are already sprouting.  I hope to get Swiss Chard and Collard Greens in soon.

If you think you can't grow any vegetables or herbs, think again.  Here is a quick project (I think I read something similar somewhere).  All you need is one (or two or more) of the plastic salad rectangle containers you buy salad/lettuce mixes in.  You can put a small whole or two in the bottom of the container.  Add soil, seeds, water and watch them grow.  Be sure you know how much sun the seeds need, otherwise your seeds may not sprout or grow as fast.

I planted some summer lettuce seed mixes in one and here is what I have already.

Give it a try.  You may be delightful surprised!
Happy Gardening

Monday's Tip of the Week: Cellphones

Clean your cell phone regularly!  I have been watching the news and have read new studies that are reporting that most cell phones are contaminated with E. Coli.

Time to clean your cell phone for your health and the health of your family.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So Simple Beaded Earrings

I love beaded jewelry.  Some of my beaded pieces I bought on my travels and hold special memories, other pieces complete outfits, while others I made myself.  Today I am giving you a simple pattern to create an elegant beaded earring for yourself or as a gift.

Beading string
Earring hooks
2 color of beads of your choice
small needle (optional)


1. Decide the length of the loop for the earring you want.  This gives you the option of making them longer or shorter.  DO NOT cut the string yet.

2.  Start with the earring hook, tie one end of the string to the hook loop, then measure string to the length and add a few inches extra to tie off in the end.

3. Start stringing the beads.  You can use a small needle to sting the small beads as shown in the photo, or if you are using larger beads you can just string them straight onto the string.
Note:  if you are using 2 or more colors, decide your pattern as well.  I did the same number of red and clear beads in each section of the loop.

4.  Once you finish stringing the beads, tie the other end to the hook loop.  Use clear nail polish to seal the knots if desired.  Cut any ends of string at the knots.

5.  If giving as a give, you may tie at ribbon around the hooks and put in a gift bag or box.  Otherwise you can now wear your earrings!

Monday, October 17, 2011

New: Monday Tip of the Week

On Monday's I will be sharing a Tip of the Week with you.  Everything from cooking, crafts, house-cleaning, pets, travelling and more!  Stay tuned each week.

Today's Tip of the Week:

Use a clean, damp cloth (preferably a kitchen towel or washcloth) to wipe mushrooms clean.  DO NOT rinse mushrooms in the sink, you will have rubbery mushrooms if you do.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It's Bath Time . . . For the dogs

I have two dogs, which I have not really mentioned thus far.  The eldest is an AKC registered German shepherd and my youngest is a rescue.  I love them both dearly, dogs do teach us unconditional love.  They each have their own personality and crack me up daily.  Have you ever seen a dog play with her food, and I am not talking about just bones?  Well my AKC does, she will throw her dental treats in the air, dance around it, growl or otherwise talk to it, before deciding to eat it.  It truly is a site to see, but I can never catch her with the camera, I think she's too smart sometimes!

Since I travel with them and they do like to be outside at times, I like to make sure they are clean.  Now there are plenty of great groomers, dog-washers and businesses offering these services.  In Nor. Cal.  I like the set-up at PetFoodExpress for washing dogs, but I have seen other private businesses and kennels too.  For me though, I am more hands-on and I don't always want to go for a drive to the pet store.  What does that mean you ask?  Well dog washing at home, my friend.

In the past I remember having to use a hose and tie the leash to the fence, so I could wash my dogs as a kid.  That worked, not always the easier task, but today things are different.  The best investment I would highly recommend is the Booster Bath.  Maybe you are tall like me and do not want to bend over to wash your dog, large or small.  The price pays for itself, especially if you wash your dog or dogs as many times as I do in a year.  There are accessories to go with it and you can find it on Costco.com.  If you have a little dog, there is the mini Booster Bath too, also on Costco.  This tub will save your back and from having to bend over, the perfect item to wash your dog.  I have even seen these same tubs used at Pet Expo events and by professionals. 

My second item you need to invest in to wash your dog is the shampoo.  Being "green" or eco-friendly, I have switched my own soap as well as my dog's shampoo to one's without chemicals.  My absolute favorite is Earthbath and I have found this at many different pet stores and online.  There are a few other brands that do not have harsh chemicals that are bad for your dog, but also bad for the environment.  So I stress that you read the ingredient labels and avoid all chemicals, synthetics and preservatives or other additives.  Buyer beware, I say.

Other items you should probably invest in are microfiber bath towels, there are special ones for your dogs if you prefer.  I found two sets in different colors, one for each of my dogs, on sale at different stores. 
Eventually, I would love to have the dog hair dryers, like they use at dog shows, that way I can wash my dogs more frequently during the winter and their fur would dry faster.

Once you have everything you need, it's bath time!  My dogs smell good and their fur is SUPER soft after I give them a bath.  And I stress super soft fur if you use Earthbath.  It doesn't take long to give both of my dogs their bath, I even hook the hose to the garage sink so that I can have warm water on cooler days.  I wouldn't want to hurt my dogs in any way. 

I do warn you that you should introduce your dog to the tub a few times, even let them get into it, before actually attempting to bathe them.  My youngest can be skittish around new things and I have learned that is the best way so you can avoid a fearful dog.

Well, before I leave you for the day, just remember the more you wash your dog, the less likely you will have flea problems or other issues that go undetected.  Love your dog and they will love you in return.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's Fall and that means Pumpkins!

Fall, here in California, means apples and pumpkins to me.  I love the delicious smells when baking and cooking with both ingredients.  Today though I want to talk about pumpkins, I'll save the apples for another day.

Most people think of pumpkin pie at their holiday table or carving Jack-O-Lanterns.  But there are so many more recipes you can cook with pumpkins.  I could spend hours going through all my recipes that involve pumpkins.  There are also so many decorative ideas that pumpkins can be used for, besides a carved pumpkin.

What does that mean, you ask?  Hand-blown glass pumpkins.  These are not your typical decorative pumpkins.  Don't get me wrong, I have the lighted grapevine pumpkins, as well as others both ceramic, fabric and other material types on display in my home.  But these hand-blown glass pumpkins are the most unique ones I have seen yet.

I made a day of it with my Mother and went to the art center event in the Bay area to see these hand-blown glass pumpkins.  I love most things made of hand-blown glass.  From my own travels, I have a Norwegian hand-blown dog, Venetian glass pendants and earrings and now Bay Area pumpkins!  If you don't have anything made of hand-blown glass, I would highly recommend finding a piece.  The price is worth it when you have a piece of art that is unique and will hold many memories of the trip or day.

Here's is a tiny preview of the pumpkins I saw.

Large or small in every color of the rainbow.  There were too many to choose from, but I finally found one that called to me.  I can say it is happily on display for the season.

Now I do have one more project that involves pumpkins.  And that involves carving pumpkins, not real pumpkins, but the craft pumpkins you can buy at a local craft store.  I found that carving pumpkins each year as a kid is great fun, but now it's kind of a waste of a good pumpkin.  There are two patterns in particular that inspired me, a German Shepherd dog and stars.  Last season I found a magazine that featured patterns of various dog breeds that you can use to carve pumpkins.  The German Shepherd is quite intricate and I expect it will take me a while to carve just one pumpkin.  The second was a picture of stars in different sizes carved around an entire pumpkin.  Eureka!  I knew that I wanted to carve a few craft pumpkins with these designs to light up on display in my house for the holiday.  This season I think I will be able to get to the project, since I bought the craft pumpkins on clearance last year.  (just another way to save money).  So stay tuned for that project!

Monday, October 10, 2011

West's Baked Ziti

What do you fix on a rainy, misty fall evening?  Not stew or soup, but a baked pasta dish.  I was inspired by Foodnetwork's Neely's Baked Ziti and created my own West's Baked Ziti

Here it is:

Salt to taste
Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 pound ziti (or penne)
1 pound chicken sausage (any of your choice), sliced OR turkey sausage, casing removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large or 4 small yellow bell peppers, chopped
8-12 baby bella mushrooms, chopped
3 cloved of garlic, chopped
1 25.5 oz jar of pasta sauce (I suggest Muir Glen's Organic Fire Roasted or Roasted Garlic) or Homemade
6 ounces Arugula-Basil pesto (make your own here)
1 9 oz bag of washed spinach
2+ cups shredded mozzarella
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (or boil water in electric kettle and then add to pot) over high heat.  Add pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain.

In a large skillet over medium heat add olive oil, saute mushrooms.  Add onion, garlic and bell peppers.  Saute until the onions are translucent.  Add pasta sauce, red pepper flakes and salt to taste.  Let cook for a few minutes, then add pesto.  Add spinach.  Let simmer about 10 minutes.  Optional you can add some wine if desired.

Make sure you have sprayed or buttered baking dish.  Add pasta and sauce to baking dish.  Then saute sliced chicken sausage in pan, until slightly brown and cooked through.  If using turkey sausage saute until cooked through.  Add to pasta mixture.

Stir in cheese mixture and make sure all ingredients are mixed well.  Top with some of the cheese mixture.

Bake until completely heated through and golden on top or about 20 minutes.

Note: You can add ricotta cheese if you more cheese.  OR you can reduce the amounts of cheese (which I did in the picture).

Time to start cooking!  This dish will fill your stomach and warm your soul.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Making your own . . . Harissa

I don't know about you, but I am a lover of FoodNetwork shows.  A friend used to watch them with me several years ago and I enjoyed them.  It wasn't until I really got into cooking my own food that I truly understood the obsession.  Now I have a binder of recipes from their website that I have tried and other recipes that I want to try in the future.

My only complaint is that some ingredients are hard to find.  Maybe you have experienced this too.  One item I have NEVER seen, even in markets in the Bay Area is Pomegranate Molasses.  I know Bobby Flay loves this, but I can't find it.  My latest ingredient is harissa sauce (again another Bobby Flay recipe).  However I found a solution to this problem. . .  Make my own!

So here goes:

10-12 dried chilies (I used Guajillo and California chilies, but you can use New Mexico, Ancho or any combination that you have on hand or find)
3 garlic cloves
salt to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground coriander (or whole and grind yourself)
1 tsp ground caraway seeds (again you can use whole and grind)
1/2 tsp cumin

Soak the chilies in boiling water for about 30 minutes.  Remove seeds and stems and then process in a Food Processor (a Blender would also work).  I find that you can save yourself some time if you remove the seeds and stems before you soak the chilies, but try it both ways and decide for yourself.
Add garlic, salt, olive oil and process, then add spices (grind spices first if you are using whole spices).  Blend until you have a paste.

I did not need all of the harissa for the recipe, so I am freezing it for later use.  Otherwise store in a sealed container and use for other recipes (I don't know the actual time that this will be fresh in the refrigerator).

Once you really start cooking, even if you are a baker at heart, like I am, you will see it is not difficult to make your own substitution for recipes.  It is worth the time and a little extra effort as well.  This is also a great solution for those avoiding BPA, canned products or are trying to find organic substitutes.

Until next time . . .