Little Luca Ellis

Well you won't be hearing from me much during the next 10 days, because I am completely wrapped up in spending time with my baby nephew, Luca!! He is an angel baby - just cooing and sleeping away (unless he is hungry or getting his diaper changed!) ;) I am so thankful to be out here in Seattle for this time. I am going to try to take lots of pictures, but it is hard to multi-task when I am just so focused on rocking him and kissing his soft, fuzzy hair. ;) Those chubby little cheeks are calling my name...breakfast time for Luca!


PW's Asian Noodle Salad

This is a delicious, light, flavorful salad. Having said that, it is substantially filling, b/c there is pasta in it...but it is served cool & dressed, like a salad. Eric loves the dressing that I make for it - he could practically drink it straight up (not really though...thankfully it's too rich for that!).

The salad is a delightful combination of texture and flavor; I LOVE making extra (and trust me, this recipe makes plenty) so I can eat it all week long for lunch!! It's very light, and though the prep (washing, chopping veggies) takes a little bit of time, it is the perfect spring/summer meal.
I found this awesome recipe on Pioneer Woman's cooking blog. Make sure you set aside some time to go browsing through her site, it is recipes upon recipes of delicious any and everything you could ask for. Sweets, salty, dinners, lunches, breakfasts, appetizers - she does it all. This happens to be her favorite salad and it is certainly high on my list too! I can't wait to start throwing in fresh veggies right from my garden! :)

Without further ado, here is the recipe:
1/2 - 1 package linguine noodles, cooked (but only to al dente), rinsed, and cooled
1/2 head sliced Napa cabbage
1/2 head sliced purple cabbage (I usually choose either/or for the cabbage...too expensive to buy both to only use 1/2...depends on my mood as to which I prefer, but its usually the purple one!)
1/2 bag baby spinach
2 red, yellow, or orange (or green!) bell peppers, sliced thin
1 small bag bean sprouts (also called “mung bean sprouts”)
1-2 sliced scallions
3-4 shredded carrots
1 small bag snap peas
1 basket cherry tomatoes
1 peeled, sliced cucumber
A few handfuls of cashews, lightly toasted in skillet

Juice of 1 lime
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
8 tablespoons Bragg's Aminos (or soy sauce)
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely or "pressed"
1 jalapeƱos, chopped finely (leave out if you don't like your food to have a little kick!)

Mix together salad ingredients. Whisk together dressing ingredients in a separate bowl. If serving a large crowd, pour dressing over salad & mix with tongs to serve. If only serving a few people, only dress what you will consume immediately, as the salad should be stored separate from the dressing in the fridge.

Also, I want to point out that the ingredient list may look HUGE, overwhelming even. But make this salad your own! If you don't like peppers, leave 'em out! If you only have celery, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and snap peas on hand - use those instead of the listed ingredients above! You can add/subtract ingredients very easily...there is no formula for success on this - just guidelines. Don't have a lime? Use a lemon instead. Don't have sesame oil? Just add a little extra olive oil. If you love baby spinach, double it. No fresh ginger? Use the powdered ginger you have in your cupboard. I think you get the point I am trying to make: adjust as your own palate and pantry leads you!! And most importantly, ENJOY! :)

*Note to self: Take the 30 seconds required for an actually decent picture, rather than being so distracted by the gnawing hunger in your tummy that you settle for a blurry picture to get food in your mouth faster! Sheesh.... but, seriously, this recipe is so good, that you would have settled for a blurry picture too.


Power Green Smoothies

So, before you see the pictures of this "recipe", close your eyes, imagine yourself sitting in a hammock on a beautiful white beach, warm breeze on your neck, soft waves rolling in, birds in the distance. Tropical paradise...this is what this smoothie tastes like. The taste of mango beckons you to take a vacation, even if it's only for the 15 min. you are enjoying this smoothie.

Making smoothies from scratch is the only way to go. I have probably tasted a couple thousand smoothies in my day (thanks to my math man's obsession of this summer drink...even in the winter, when it is only 30 degrees out). Let me be the first to tell you that those juice shops use syrup, SYRUP people, in their smoothies, not to mention fruit juice mixes, not even real fresh fruit! Plus, though this may surprise some, those juice shops often use *gasp* ice-cream for creaminess. I know, the horror! Well, in my humble opinion, that's not a smoothie...nutritionally, its a fruit-flavored milkshake. No thank you!

Why settle for that, when a perfectly sweet, delicious smoothie can be created in your own kitchen. Lucky for you, my husband would not rest until we found the perfect method to smoothie making: 1 part frozen banana (for creaminess and sweetness), 1 part alternate fruit (strawberries, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, mango, kiwi, pear, etc), and 1 part unsweetened apple/orange juice. The important part to the frozen banana is that it creates no need for added ice, therefore the smoothie does not get watered down!! Its brilliant.

This week, I have been experimenting with some other versions that we had not tried before and I'm telling you, it is awesome. I have even passed up on my usual decaf coffee the last two days to have this instead. When I told Eric that yesterday, he took my temperature to make sure I was feeling alright - hah! :)

Anyway, the recipe below is what I did both days and loved. I will let you know what I think after trying other greens/fruit in the days to come. Right now, I am pretty content with the combo I found!

Power Green Smoothie:

-1 frozen banana
-1/2 -1 mango
- 2 cups raw spinach
- 1 tsp. agave nectar (optional)
-cold water (start with 1/2 c. and add to desired consistency)

Throw in a blender and blend until smooth! If you aren't used to this type of smoothie, the agave nectar adds a little extra sweetness. It can easily be substituted with honey.

Sounds good, right? Wait, are you getting hung up on the spinach part? Trust me, its delicious, you won't even taste it, and this smoothie is a nutritional powerhouse! Also, it is important to combine a fruit that has Vitamin C in it with the spinach, so that the spinach's iron can be absorbed in your body. Mango does the trick for me here. This smoothie is a great way to infuse yourself with a lot of vitamins, living enzymes, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber--and being already liquid, it can be absorbed right into your bloodstream!

Oh - one last thing about them - they can be made in advance and keep well in the fridge. I am usually short on time in the mornings, so I made my smoothie the night before and just grabbed it as I headed out the door. Perfect!


My Garden! :)

So...I have the sweetest friend who kindly offered to help me plant a garden...Erin Ritter, I owe all of the success of any produce I harvest this year all to you!! THANK YOU again for helping me get going on such a fun new project!

A couple weekends ago, I dragged Eric to Lowe's to buy the wood for my raised garden bed (wait, who am I kidding...dragged him to Lowe's? that kid would go there every chance he could get). Anyway, it was such a fun Sunday afternoon activity together; the weather was gorgeous and in no time, we had a lovely garden box nailed together! We dumped the various kinds of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite (fun word to say - had never heard of the stuff until 2 weeks ago) into the box as I marvelled at my beautiful, rich soil just waiting, begging me to fill it with all types of veggies, promising to take good care of their roots. Then off to the Farmer's Market to buy my little plants; sure, I could have started them all from seed, but why? I need all the help I can get and those trusty farmers do all the hard work getting them going for me. The only vegetable I am growing from seed is my carrots, but apparently there is no way around that one.

Here is my earthy soil, getting all settled in and happy.
The next picture is so you can see in perspective where the garden is in relation to the house. The herb garden is going to be in line with the chimney - just right of the vegetable bed. That project is to be completed as soon as it stops storming and raining!

So, after the garden was all ready to go, I met Erin, Susan, and Allison at the Farmer's Market - each with our own "plant lists" in hand. Ya'll, it was hilarious - while Allison and I were wandering around relying solely on the information Erin and Susan could lend us, those two looked like little kids in a candy store. No joke. They are garden gurus and know their plants like the back of their hands! I am looking around thinking it all looks the same: GREEN. Meanwhile, Erin is saying to Susan, "Oh, wow, did you see the dowzeguds?" (I'm filling in the blank for the words I didn't recognize) And Susan would say, "Yeah, amazing, huh? Check out those weiijimas. I just can't resist getting a few of those." Back and forth, their admiration was so inspiring and contagious that I found myself following them around, oohing and ahhing when deemed appropriate, even though I had no clue what I was looking at. The flowers seemed lovely and that was good enough for me and my uneducated plant eye. :) I was pretty proud of myself when I did spot a few familiar flowers; I would see a gerber daisy or geraniums and think to myself, "ah! I know this one!" What a fun Saturday morning together with friends!!
Armed with everything I needed, we loaded up and Erin drove all the way over to help me plant them. I am SO thankful she did; I would not have gotten those tomatoes plants off to the right start without her! My poor little cherry tomato plant was pretty sad by the time we got home, but after 3 days in the soil with water, it perked right back up! Amazing.

Here, Erin is planting my "early girl" tomato plant. She showed me how to do the first one and let me attempt the others. She was a very good teacher, which is evidenced by the fact that a week later, all the plants I put in are still in the soil and are already growing! ;)

Here are a few shots of my finished garden - hooray!

In the picture below: From top left -> right

row 1: tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, watermelon
row 2: jalapeno peppers, banana peppers, 2 sweet potato plants (those will go in after May 15th...the 'slips' weren't ready yet
row 3: basil, 2 yellow pepper plants, sweet potatoes
row 4: carrots (from seed as you can see), 2 red pepper plants, and one more sweet potato plant.
I did lots of sweet potatoes because a) Eric and I both love 'em b) they will do well while we are out of town since they are not harvested until August. A perfect low-maintenance veggie.

The happy gardeners! What a sense of accomplishment!

Just the next morning, I already had a chance to use some basil from my garden in a breakfast frittata! It was so fun to just go outside and bring in what I needed for what I was cooking. I am looking forward to many more opportunities to enjoy fresh, organic produce grown by in my own backyard! What a rewarding and worthwhile adventure I have embarked on! ;)