Tip of the Week

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday's Tip of the Week: Bleached vs. Unbleached Flour

Have you ever really read and thought about what the label says on the flour you buy?  Bleached flour or Unbleached flour.  Think about it.  If your flour is bleached then aren't you eating or absorbing some bleach?  And really why do we need bleached flour?

I now only buy Unbleached flour and depending on your preference you can find organic and non-organic.  Either way I would suggest you take a look at your flour and think about making the change to Unbleached flour. 

With Unbleached flour you are not absorbing any bleach, you are not buying products that add chemicals to our environment and the flour is less processed.  All benefits and something that is easy to change.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gift Ideas for you Dog

Maybe it's just me, but I do like to shop for my dogs too.  Some people would probably say I spoil my dogs, and that's okay.  I mean I do bake treats for them so . . .

But if you are like me or are just looking for some new toys or treats for you dog (or other pet) there are many online retailers and some local pet stores that are offering deals this holiday season.  I have already received several emails with early Black Friday deals, other Black Friday deals and so forth.

Here are just a few of my favorite online retailers:
Fetch Dog
In The Company of Dogs
Entirely Pets
Only Natural Pet Store
The Honest Kitchen

And many more as well as some local retailers and feed stores.  I hope you can find something for your dog.  What I also love about these retailers is that you can find organic treats, food and toys as well as "Made in the USA" products.  Both of which is hard to find at most chain retailers, at least around my town.

This year I found some great deals on dental treats for my dogs, which they absolutely love, especially the Terrabones.  And as an occasional treat, buffalo bully stix, since I do not feed my dogs rawhide treats.   But my favorite new item that I know I will have to order for the summer time is the "Freezy Pups Frozen Dog Treats".  My oldest dog loves to eat ice cubes, especially during the summer time and I am always looking for recipes or treats that I can freeze.  These are organic treats and the ice cube tray is made in the USA with recycled materials.  Now that is eco-friendly and just what I am looking for.

So make sure you add your pets to your gift list this season.  Remember that if you have something to feed your dog or entertains your dog when you have guests over, you should be able to avoid holiday disasters with your pets.

Please share your ideas for your pet.  I'd love to hear them and it doesn't have to be just for dogs.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday's Tip of the Week: Pet Safety around Thanksgiving

As a pet owner myself I am always reading articles about pet safety and travel.  Today I wanted to share a link to one about pet safety around Thanksgiving.  Please click here to read the article.

I think these tips are very good and should be applied during other holidays or any get-together/dinners at your house.  Not everyone understands pet nutrition or how to react around pets.  This is where some training is useful, especially for dog owners and having a crate is handy.  I crate-trained my dogs, but now I only use the crates for some occasions where I think it is necessary. 

With a little planning and organization everyone can have a fun and safe holiday season, even the pets!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yarn Contest from Tangled Happy

I had to share this contest and blog from Tangled Happy.  If you crochet or knit (or know someone) this  contest is for you.

Please check out her blog post for details.  The wool is from Wandering Wool and there are plenty of gorgeous colors to choose from.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Le't's Make Marshmallows

Recently I had a good friend over and we tried making marshmallows.  A few times a year I usually get together with a few friends and we try different recipes.  It is fun to cook with a small group and try new things.  Most of the time we are able to taste our food creations after cooking, but with the marshmallows they had to set-up overnight.

If you haven't tried making your own marshmallows then you really should try this recipe.  Even if you do not love marshmallows (like me) this could make you a lover of marshmallows.  And the ingredients are not very expensive!  I followed the recipe in the book Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey.  This is a great book with many great recipes and tips for getting the kids involved.  Ina Garten also has a great marshmallow recipe you could try as well.  Dip them in chocolate or coconut for some added fun or cut with a cookie cutter for some different shapes.

Just make some homemade marshmallows and you will never go back to jet-puffed store bought ones.  These taste like marshmallows I remember as a kid.  Somehow over time they added lots of other chemicals and weird ingredients and I found store-bought marshmallows to be disgusting.  I really think these marshmallows would be great for making rice krispie treats, adding to hot chocolate, or giving as gifts for the holidays.  Give them a try. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday's Tip of the Week: A "Greener" Thanksgiving

Part of this blog is about being "green" or eco-friendly.  With the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner I wanted to share some tips for planning your big day.  Whether you are the cook, the host, the guest or going on a trip, there is something for each of you.

1.  Buy a local turkey, preferably organic.  It's true an organic turkey with cost more at the grocery, but think of the money you will save in future on the health needs of your family and yourself.  And an added bonus of buying a local turkey (organic or not) is that you are supporting the local economy and avoiding many chemicals used during transit.

2.  Buy seasonal produce.  Click here to find out what is local in your area (it has all the US states). 

3.  Plan, Plan and Plan.  I can't say it enough.  If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner you need to plan your dishes and make sure you have your ingredients ready.  Thanksgiving is not a time to try a new recipe for the first time.  Test it out before you make something new for Thanksgiving, but don't be afraid to make it your own.

4.  Decorate with natural materials.  I really LOVE the smell of fresh rosemary plants.  You can also shop thrift or consignment stores for second-hand decorations instead of buying stuff at the store that won't last long.

5. Compost your scraps.  I know this is not always possibly, but if you can please do.  This will be beneficial to your garden once it composts completely.

6.  Serve organic drinks and wine.  If you haven't heard of organic wine or bio-dynamic wine please read this article.

7.  Avoid traveling on peak days of the holiday weekend (Wednesday and Sunday).  Consider carpooling or public transportation.

8.  Do not use disposable products to set your table.  If you do not have a set of dishes (it doesn't have to be china) you can find great sets or pair several sets together from consignment stores.  You will be surprised how rustic, yet elegant a table you can create.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Re-Purposing Glass Jars

I am always looking for ways to recycle or re-purpose.  Here's one item that can be used in many ways; Glass Jars.

What can you do with glass jars?  Any glass jar - used spice jars, candle jars, canning jars, etc. will work.  I usually soak the labels to loosen those that are stubborn to remove.  With candle jars I use a candle warmer to melt any remaining wax (which I then pour into a smaller glass votive with a new wick).  And I usually hand wash or put in the dishwasher to clean the glass jar.

Now you have your glass jar ready for projects.  Have a messy desk? Can't find those rubber bands or paper clips?  Organize them into glass jars.  You can even paint and label the jars if you are creatively inclined to.

What do you do with used spice jars (not the plastic ones)?  Clean them up and then you can use them to store your own dried herbs, other spices, spice mixes or rubs and any other small craft item (like beads).

I also use jars for storing my rice, grains, beans, nuts and other baking supplies.  Being able to see the item and having it labeled makes it so much easier to find  in my pantry.  I love the rustic look too.  These jars look great and do not cost very much.  You will also save money by buying the dry beans instead of canned beans and avoid BPA in canned foods.  These make great gift ideas as well.  Measure ingredients for cookies, brownies, hot cocoa into the jars, seal, add a nice cut fabric or a ribbon and a label.  Now you have a great gift item straight from your kitchen to theirs.
Now let's organize the bathroom with your glass jars.  Store your band aids, Q-tips, cotton balls and any thing else you would like.  If you have a beach/ocean theme decor you can hot-glue a seashell to the top.  I even display some seashells that I found and collected as a child.  Very simple decor that also is unique and memorable.

Need some other ideas for your glass jars? 
- glass pebbles
- needles
- beads
- toothpicks
- buttons
- bath salts
- birthday candles
- bookmarks
- paint brushes
- nails, nut, bolts, etc.

I would love for you to share your idea.  Photos are even better.  So what do you do with your glass jars?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Need some color in the yard?

With winter fast approaching, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, many of us are planning our spring garden.  Well, maybe not all of us.  For me, I love having vegetables and fruits.  I mean you can't beat reaping the rewards with fresh fruit and vegetables to eat.

Now I admit I do like other plants and flowers, but I do not like to tend ones that I have to replant every year (unless they are fruits or vegetables).  If I am going to plant something I want to benefit from the plant in some way. 

I love lavender, it's a natural pest control around the house and the flowers can be harvested.   If you plant the English or French lavender you will have a lovely smell in the garden and around your house.  Another great bonus is that lavender plants are drought tolerant.  Besides lavender, I like to plant bulbs, such as irises, day lilies, freesias and tulips to name a few.  I find that I do not have to tend the bulbs much, other tend trimming dead leaves and flowers and separating the bulbs every few years. 

My Aunt introduced me to a few local iris and day lily farms in Northern California.  This year we made it to the Pleasant Valley Iris Farm while the irises were still in bloom.  It was a sight to see, so many combinations to choose from.  You can view the catalog and even order online during the season.  If you live in the area it is worth the trip.  The grounds are nice to stroll through and there are picnic tables to enjoy your lunch (be sure to bring one with you).  In addition, there are several local farms and farm stands to pick up local produce.

 Here are a few of the many colors and variations of irises.  You would be surprised with all them.  The names are always interesting and amusing. 

There are many other iris farms, especially in Northern California.  See if you have an iris farms near you!  I'd love to hear about it. 

The next flower I really love is the day lily.  Some of you might be wondering why, right?  You probably see the typical yellow day lily that many landscapers like to use.  Again there all the colors of the rainbow and type of flower bulb as well.  My favorite is the Amador Flower Farm in the foothills, that my Aunt introduced me to.  But you will find more that just hundreds of day lilies here.  Many other plants and trees are for sale in their nursery and they have a pumpkin patch in October.  It's a great place to visit with the family and you can picnic there as well.  But if that's not your thing, there are plenty of wineries in the area and you can have lunch at one of them with some wine tasting.

These day lilies are available on their website, so you can order them if you do not live close by for a visit.  Each of these bulbs add such great color to your yard and do not require a lot of gardening.  So you can see why I love to add color to my yard with some flowers, but even you can grow these, you don't need a "green thumb". 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Roasting and Freezing Pumpkins

When Autumn comes around, I love cooking with Pumpkin.  Of course my favorite is pumpkin pie, but I have added  many other sweet and savory pumpkin recipes to my repertoire.  Again I found that canned pumpkin has BPA lining in the cans so what is a girl to do?  Well can my own!  Now don't worry if you think you will not be able to can foods, because you do not need a canning pot for this recipe.  You will freeze the pumpkin puree.

 Here are the instructions:

1. Cut the pumpkin (Organic Sugar Pumpkin preferably) in half. Be careful when cutting.
2.  Take all the seeds out (Click here for the post on using pumpkin seeds)
3.  Drizzle olive oil on edges of pumpkin flesh and rub over the pumpkin flesh.
4.  Place on baking sheet (line with foil if you want to make clean up easy), pumpkin flesh side down.
5.  Roast in 400 degree F oven for about 40-55 minutes.  Basically until fork tender.
6.  Allow to cool, then remove pumpkin flesh.
7.  Puree pumpkin flesh in a food processor.
8.  Place puree in freezable containers.  Ball has plastic (BPA free) containers as well as freezable glass.

That's it, you have pumpkin puree to use anytime.

My dogs even love the pumpkin puree on their dog food.  I also use the puree in baking dog treats from the Three Dog Bakery cookbook.  Sometimes I buy carving pumpkins to roast and puree for my dogs, instead of the Sugar pumpkins.

Essentially the Sugar pumpkins are smaller and sweeter, best for baking pies.  I love the Sugar pumpkins for soups, other desserts and savory dishes too.

Left: Ball BPA-free plastic freezer jar
Right: Canning jar with plastic lid

Monday's Tip of the Week: Pumpkin Seeds

This week's tip goes along with today's post on roasting and freezing pumpkins. 

Do not waste those pumpkin seeds when you are roasting pumpkins for cooking or carving them for Halloween. 

Simply soak the seeds and any pumpkin "guts" in water, then using warm water separate the seeds from the "guts".  I forewarn you that it takes some time to do this.  Once you separated the seeds place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt (and any other spices) and roast in an oven.

Ta-Da you have homemade pumpkin seeds for snacking or cooking in recipes like granola and mole sauce.

I love to store my pumpkin seeds in canning jars.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

You can make tamales too

For Halloween this year I decided to make tamales.  My Aunt helped me cook them and I found it was quite easy to make tamales.  Now I have been told more than once that making tamales is a Christmas tradition in Mexico and for many Mexican families.  However, if you love Mexican food, tamales can be made any time of the year. 

Any tamale recipe will work, I used Guy Fieri's recipe as a guideline for putting everything together.  There are many tamale recipes, both savory and sweet.  My tamales were filled with chicken and cheese and topped with an enchilada sauce.  I no longer buy foods that are canned, so I made my own enchilada sauce.  Guy Fieri also has a great recipe for making your own enchilada sauce and it makes a large batch.  I froze over half to use later. 

Freshly cooked tamales
One problem (minor at that) I encountered was that even soaking the corn husks for over an hour there were some husks that were difficult to work with.  Maybe soaking in lukewarm water will make the husks more pliable, but that will have to be tested next time. 

The chicken is easy to cook.  I used a CrockPot and let the chicken cook with some water and spices.  Typically I don't measure the spices, it really depends on how much chicken I am cooking and how spicy I want it.  Chili Powder, Cayenne Pepper, Cumin, Paprika, Salt and Pepper were all that I used for the chicken.  The chicken will end up being easily shredded with a fork.

Topped with enchilada sauce

Now let's start cooking.

My Aunt tried cooking the tamales in a bamboo steamer and that worked beautifully, so don't worry if you don't have a pot with a steamer insert. 

You can make tamales too.  The filling can be made ahead and the kids might even enjoy making their own tamale to eat.  Have fun and start cooking!
Ready for serving with a dollop of sour cream, avocado, arugula, chips and salsa

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Irish Blessing

Had to share this Irish blessing.

This is the time of year to be thankful of life's blessing, both large and small.  What are you thankful for?

Have you heard of DROPS?

Even though I have only been crocheting for a short period of time I have a ton of patterns that I want to complete.  Some are for knitting and now I have to learn to knit!  Those of you who crochet and/or knit probably know what I mean.  If you haven't found this website I highly recommend it.  Many of my favorite patterns I obtained from their website, maybe it's the wee Scandinavian in me.  And here it is, the DROPS patterns from Garnstudio (click here).  Just check it out and maybe you will see why I am so in love!

For Christmas I have found several more patterns I would like to make on their website and here is one of them; the felted slippers.  Not a surprise since I love to felt things as I introduced with my witching hour post.  It's not the same as the felt material you find in the craft and fabric stores.  Every thing about a knitted or crocheted item that is then felted is completely different than felt material.  Even pictures do not capture all the features.

Oh and I have already planned another road trip.  I just have to find the time.  Garnstudio also has yarn that is sold online, but I can buy it at the Nordic Mart in San Luis Obispo.  (See what I mean about the travel bug?!?)

Be sure to come back, I will have several crochet hats to share just in time for the colder temperatures we are experiencing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dog-Friendly Sonoma

I am always in search of places that I can take my dogs and go on a trip.  If you haven't been bitten by the "travel bug" you may consider yourself lucky.  I have been, years ago.

Sonoma is a great town with lots of history and plenty of wine!  There are many places that are dog friendly in Sonoma.  You can even find some gourmet dog treats at the Three Dog Bakery in town.  Check out these websites (just a few of my favorites) Dog Friendly.com, Sonoma UnCorked and Best in Sonoma.  There are so many places if you just look.

On my recent trip I took my dogs to Bartholomew Park which is amazing.  You can hike the many trails, wine taste, picnic or enjoy the great scenery.

Here's the map:

My next stop was the town square and shops.  You cannot walk your dog in the park square, but there are many people with dogs walking around the shops.  Not many shops allow dogs inside.  There are some restaurants with outdoor dining and of course the Three Dog Bakery.  Just check polices before you go.  I highly recommend stopping at one of the local cheese shops (though Fido might have to wait outside)!

Finally, I had dinner at the Schellville Grill.  And yes dogs are allowed on the patio which is spacious.  The whole environment at the Grill is great.  Many choices for dining and excellent desserts.  Even Guy Fieri visited the Grill on his show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

There is so much more to check out in Sonoma and Sonoma Valley.  I haven't even checked out the dog parks yet!  I see another trip in the future. 

Maybe I have inspired you to travel . . . Sonoma is a great destination and your dogs can have fun too!