Tip of the Week

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Naturally Dye Easter Eggs

Last year my Aunt turned me onto an article about naturally dying Easter eggs.  Though I haven't tried this yet, I think it would be fun and it's a great idea for those with kids.  When I was a kid I remember dying eggs for Easter, and my Mom knew that we shouldn't eat those eggs we dyed.  Have you really looked at the ingredients in food coloring recently?  If you did you might be as grossed out as I am.  I am glad my Mom knew then that it wasn't good to eat foods with these chemical food coloring. 

This is why I don't understand the obsession with Red Velvet Cake (or cupcakes), I mean there's red food coloring and just a touch of cocoa powder.  Why is it liked by so many over a chocolate cake (where you can put a cream cheese frosting on)??

Thoughts to consider as you start preparing for your Easter holiday.  And if you want to try naturally dying eggs for your holiday try this recipe from Whole Foods.  In reading it, I realized that naturally dying eggs is the same as the traditional version, all that is being replaced is the food coloring.  Give this a try and have some fun this Easter!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's Spring . . . well not quite

For awhile we had very unusually (early) warm spring temperatures.  However the last few weeks we have had some spring showers and storms.  The rain is a good thing, since we had a dry winter.  My difficulty is getting my garden started and without a greenhouse, figuring out the best time to start my seeds.  So I decided that since April is approaching, it's now or never to get my seeds started.  Check out my Twitter page for my recent tweet on the article for making your own soil to start seeds.

Some of my flowers are in bloom, though not my irises; my chives are returning and my swiss chard is finally taking off!  For my seeds, I am growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, pumpkin, green beans, watermelon and squash.  I love reusing old plastic pots for starting seeds.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Searching for Ancestors

One interest I have and really haven't blogged about is genealogy, also referred to as family history.  In today's society we sometimes lose our family history and I think it is important for each of us to know where we came from.  What's even more important is our family's medical history.  Do you know what conditions run in your family?  Heart Disease, Cancer, etc.  There are so many conditions that have a genetic link or increased risk.  Remember those medical history forms you complete at the doctor's office, well it helps to know more than just your parents or even grandparents' history.

On a recent trip, I went searching at the Napa County Historical Society.  The staff was very friendly and helpful at the Historical Society.  Check out their online catalogue from their website if you are searching for your ancestors.
When you get started with your own family history, you will usually end up having to go past records you can find on Ancestry.com or Familysearch.org  Which means you need to go to genealogical societies, historical societies, county records, archives and so much more.  And the Napa Historical Society is a great resource for those with roots in Napa.  Don't forget the Napa Library, Napa Genealogical Society and the County Recorder for records in Napa. 

And if you don't mind visiting cemeteries looking for your ancestors, check out Tulocay Cemetery.  General Vallejo's brother, Salvador is buried there.

Good luck on your search and if you need help I am here to help you. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A hearty soup on a rainy day

It's finally raining here in Northern California; rain that is much needed.  And I find that a hearty soup or stew is the perfect thing to satisfy you while it's raining.  One of my favorites is barley soup and I had an amazing bowl on a misty day in Carmel at the Forge in the Forest.  So I decided to recreate it with ingredients I already had at home.

To recreate it at home I started from scratch, even making my own beef stock.

Here's what you need for the Stock:
Organic beef marrow or femur bones
Whole Peppercorns
Fresh thyme
Bay leaf

Note:  I blanched the bones starting in cold water and bringing to a boil, then boiling the bones for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and run cold water over the bones until they have cooled.  Remove the bone marrow with a soup and set aside for your dogs.

For the soup:
Beef stock (that you just made)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme or a few springs fresh thyme
1 cup barley (I cook mine in 2 cups boiling water at a simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender)
2 leeks (optional)
1 1/2 cup diced cremini mushrooms (optional)
4 tbsp tomato paste (optional), you can also add chopped tomatoes
Salt and Pepper to taste

1.  Add all the ingredients to a Crockpot (or cook in a pot on the stove) with enough water to cover, usually 8-11 cups.
2.  Let the ingredients cook, once boiling for a few hours.  Keep an eye on it so you don't over cook and end up with a lot of the fat in the stock.
3.  Remove all ingredients and leave the stock in the pot.  (I cut up the carrots for my dogs and took about 2 cups of the stock as well).  Note: Do NOT feed onions to your dog.
4.  Add onions, carrots and celery to a pan with a little olive oil and saute.  Then add the chopped garlic.
5.  Add to the stock.
6.  Add mushrooms, if using, to the pan with a little olive oil.  Saute to remove some of the moisture and crisp the mushrooms.
7.  Add to the stock.
8.  Add thyme, salt and pepper, and tomato paste.
9.  Let cook for a few hours, before adding cooked barley.

This can be easily modified to include other vegetables or shredded beef if you prefer.  I really find the homemade stock add more flavor than boxed or canned.  And it's really easy to make!

Saute onions, carrots, celery

Saute mushrooms

Everything in the pot

Getting ready for St. Patrick's Day

After a small technical problem I am back online.  In the time off, I have been getting ready for St. Patrick's Day and no it's not a big party that I am talking about.  Just a few quick projects and recipes to celebrate the holiday in style.

Now most people I know, think that corned beef and cabbage is a "traditional" Irish dish.  Reality is that this is not a traditional Irish dish and if you have travelled to Ireland you will be hard-pressed to find it.  I'm sure the dish is served at some restaurants or cafes in Ireland, but I never came across it in my travels. 

Instead I like to try different recipes for St. Patrick's Day, though not all are "Irish".  Here are a few of my favorites:

Guinness Gingerbread - This won't last long at any party (Click here for Nigella's recipe)

Guinness Chocolate Cupcake/Cake - Or try the Bailey's Irish cupcake from Kara's Cupcakes in Napa.
For this I baked it like you would a brownie, but you can also use a Shamrock cake pan or just cupcake cups.

Reuben Sandwich (instead of plain corned beef and cabbage) - I have a post devoted to this, so stay tuned.

Irish Soda Bread (Click here for Ina's recipe)

Scones (though these are also very English/British)

On to the projects.  Both of these are quick and easy projects to complete.

Clover (Shamrock) wood ornaments:
I had bought these clovers for another project a while back, but decided that a Shamrock tree would be a cute center piece for the table.  I used a few shades of green to paint them which would coordinate with my table runner, though you can easily choose other colors or shades.
After adding a decorative ornament hook and hanging them on a spring ornament tree, my center piece was complete.

The second project I completed were felted crochet shamrock earrings and hair-clips.  For these I used some extra green wool yarn and whipped up the shamrocks in a matter of minutes.  I think the felting process took longer than actually crocheting them.  Though I found that smaller items do not felt as nicely as hats or other clothing items.

Before felting

After felting

Monday, March 12, 2012

March's Tip of the Month: Vinegar

In my effort to remove harsh chemicals and pesticides from my life I have read many different articles on alternatives products.  My favorite alternative, which is also inexpensive is Vinegar.  You can replace Bleach, other cleaning products and your weed spray with Vinegar.

Here are just a few uses of Vinegar:

- Spray weeds with Vinegar
- Add baking soda to vinegar in your toilet.  Let set for 20 minutes and then scrub.
- Add vinegar to toilet water and let stand overnight
- Replace bleach with vinegar and run a clean cycle on your washing machine
- Wash your dog blankets, beds or plush toys with vinegar

These are just a few of the uses I have found work well by using Vinegar.  Try them out and see what your results are.  I was very impressed with the baking soda and vinegar for cleaning toilets.  So many uses and works better than all those harsh chemicals, plus I'm not polluting our water system or my environment. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Making Veggie Sushi

Ever wonder how difficult making sushi is?  Well, it's really not that difficult or expensive, unless you want raw fish.  I have nothing against raw fish, I've even had some awesome ahi tuna, but I decided I would make veggie avocado sushi instead.

The main ingredients and supplies you will need are:
1 bamboo sushi rolling mat
Rice vinegar
Sushi rice (I love Lundberg because it is organic and non-GMO)
Tamari Soy Sauce (it's gluten free)
Nori Seaweed sheets

For the filling I used avocados with a little fresh lime or lemon juice to prevent the avocados from oxidizing.  You could easily substitute cucumbers or asparagus for other veggie sushi rolls.

Follow the recipe for making sushi rice on the package from Lundberg which makes enough rice for 4-5 sushi rolls.  I halved it to make 2 sushi rolls.

Step 1:  Toast seaweed, if it's not toasted then place on bamboo sheet
Step 2:  Place large spoonful of rice and spread on seaweed to create an even layer.
Step 3: Place filling off-center, be sure to not add too much otherwise you will have trouble rolling the sushi.
Step 4: Roll sushi, let chill briefly in the fridge and then slice with a serrated knife.

Time to enjoy!  Serve a little Tamari soy sauce or wasabi on the side. Add a shot of Saki and you have a great dinner.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Not your average Chocolate Chip Cookie

Now I wish I could take credit for creating this recipe, but I only came across it in a magazine.  Here is the link for the recipe.  Once you read the ingredients you might be surprised that there is no sugar, what?!?  That's right, you really won't miss the sugar in this and the dates add a little bit of a nice chewy texture.  And what's really great is you can make this for your all your friends and family that eat gluten-free diets!

When I first tried this recipe I followed the alternative tips, replacing butter with extra-virgin organic coconut oil and replacing the brown rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, and guar gum with 1 1/2 cups whole wheat organic pastry flour.  I couldn't taste the coconut oil and never missed the butter!  And since I love dark chocolate I replaced the semi-sweet chocolate chips with dark chocolate chips.  It's really a personal preference with chocolate.

So now you can have your guilty pleasure and know you are eating something that's healthy for you too.  These didn't last long in my house and I loved that there was quinoa in the cookies.  I also packaged some and gave them as a gift, as they a great gift.