Category Archives: cooking

My Blog’s 3rd Birthday!

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Yep, it’s true.  My blog is now three years old! I launched my blog in August of 2010, and have been blogging away ever since.  I’ve really enjoyed creating art and craft projects to share with you.  I’ve also enjoyed baking up recipes to entice you with, and am happy to have shared some of my other interests and adventures with you as well.

From trips to hole-in-the-wall restaurants to far-flung locales like Peru and Ireland, I’ve posted some of my images and experiences getting out and about in the world.  What fun!

I’ve also posted about my furry baby bunnies, Cypress and Pinto, and have shared my goofy pet mom pictures of them taken at holidays like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.

I’ve tried to make giveaways bountiful, because winning free things is so much fun!  Many of you have won goodies over the past three years, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

Now What?
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As I embark on my 4th year of blogging, I’d love to know: what would you like to see more of?

Fine art?  (Photography, collage, drawing, assemblage, etc.)
Crafts? (Card making, jewelry, gifts, tags, etc.)
Recipes? Do you prefer savory recipes, desserts, or both?
Giveaways? What are your favorite types? (Gift cards, books, art supplies, etc.)
Photo haikus?
Travel?
Ethnic markets?

I value your input, dear readers, and would appreciate you leaving a comment sharing some of the things you’d like to continue to see , and/or things you’d like me to consider adding or beefing up.

Onward!
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I’m looking forward to more shared creativity and fun. Thanks for following my blog!  I look forward to your comments and feedback.

Warm regards,
Melody

p.s. If you’d like to “give my blog a birthday gift”, please consider making a donation to my Art Supply Drive to benefit at-risk children.  Details here.  Thanks!  :]

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Rebuilding – From the Inside Out

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This is a noteworthy year for me in many ways.  Not only will I be entering my fourth decade soon, I’ve recently published a book.  And, after having been laid off earlier this year, I’m looking for my next employment opportunity.  Suffice to say that much of my life has been turned on its head in one way or another.  And since I’m already upside down, so to speak, why not use this time to make some real, positive, and lasting change?

I’d been wanting to focus intently on improving my overall health for some time, and decided there was no time like the present.  So, to that end, I’m working on overhauling my health, nutrition, and exercise, and have made some headway.  I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been up to, in case you find it helpful.

A Lifelong Battle
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I’ve been fighting my weight for most of my life.  But before I go on, please know this is more about overall health than it is about weight and weight loss.  Yes, I’m heavier than the medical community says is healthy.  Yes, I’d like to trim down and be a bit less “squishy”.  However, what I’m most concerned with is fueling my body well.  With being strong, fit, and healthy.  I want to live an active life without limitations, and that includes good food and some treats.  If I can do all that at a size 14/16, so be it.  I know from years past that I’ll never be smaller than a size 10 anyway – that’s where I start looking too thin.  :]

Getting back to fighting my weight, it’s been peaks and valleys.  Gain weight, lose weight, gain weight, lose weight.  And though there might be years in between each gain and loss, it’s been ongoing since high school.  I’ve probably gained and lost a significant amount of weight at least six or seven times over the years, which is not only annoying – it’s not healthy.  Repeated weight gains and losses take a toll on one’s body.

Trying Something New
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Mark Twain said, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”  Amen, Mr. Twain!  I’ve been using that quote as a bit of a guide, and have been trying to do things a bit different lately.  Rather than participating in a diet program, or guiding myself through a diet that focuses on low-fat and fewer calories, I’m starting at the very beginning: with nutrition.

I’ve been doing some reading, and it’s both confusing and eye-opening.  Confusing because there are hundreds of books on diet and nutrition, and many of them contradict each other.  Eye-opening because so much of what we’ve been told about nutrition is wrong.  For example, for decades folks were told that margarine was healthier than butter.  That liquid vegetable oils like corn oil are healthier than the animal fats people used to cook with.  It’s now coming to light that the opposite is true.  Certain oils are good (olive, avocado, coconut), but a lot of the oils used today are truly bad for us.  Much of the “food” in the grocery stores is manufactured by the food industry with the goal of making something that will last longer on the shelf and bring the manufacturer more money, rather than promote good health.  How do we know what to eat?  Who do we trust?

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Doing Research & Taking Action
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Thus far I’ve read five different books on nutrition, whole food, and our agricultural system, and am going with areas of consensus amongst the authors, with my personal observations, and with my gut instinct.  First and foremost, I’m focusing on eating whole foods and eliminating processed foods as much as possible.

I’m also:

  • Eating more fruits and veggies
  • Eating a wider variety of vegetables – like spaghetti squash, a new squash for me
  • Shopping at the Farmers Market when I can
  • Avoiding the bad oils (vegetable, corn, safflower, etc)

(I’m only using butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil for meals at home)

  • Adding more meat, shellfish, and eggs to my diet
  • Cooking more meals at home
  • Reducing my refined sugar intake
  • Vastly reducing processed grains like wheat, corn, oats, etc. for toxicity reasons
  • Greatly reducing the amount of soda I drink (both regular & diet are bad for us)
  • Brewing batches of iced green tea sweetened with stevia to drink instead of soda
  • Reading the ingredients on any packaged food I buy
  • Taking supplements like Green Tea Extract and Vitamin D
  • Working with my doctor to get my thyroid regulated and my TSH number down
  • Exercising 4-5 times a week
  • Exercising before breakfast whenever I can, since this encourages fat burning

Here are some of the books I’ve been reading, in case you’d like to do some research of your own:

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
The Perfect Health Diet by Shou-Ching Shih Jaminet & Paul Jaminet
The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen
Why Women Need Fat by Lassek & Gaulin

No Calorie Counting

Something I read in one (or two) of the books really resonated with me: it’s very possible to be both overfed and undernourished.  I was a good example of that.  I was eating too much of the wrong things and wasn’t providing my body the vitamins, minerals, and fuel it needed.  The healthy foundation wasn’t there, so my body kept asking for more food in search of what it really needed.

So, at this point I’m not counting calories. I’m simply focusing on eating healthy foods (with the occasional deviation) in reasonable portions.  I figure it’s most important to be eating the right kinds of foods since a typical Western diet – and dieting – haven’t worked for me.

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Investing in Good Health
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Eating healthfully can be more expensive and more time consuming, but what costs you time and money now will likely save you time and money in the long run.  Nowadays we spend a smaller portion of our incomes on food than in decades and centuries past, but our healthcare costs are also higher because we’re sicker – so there’s not much of a savings.  Many of the illnesses that run rampant today are directly related to our broken food system, and that’s a shame.  I’ve embarked on this adventure to see if I can’t turn that tide in my life.

We’ll See What Happens…
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I don’t have all the answers, and still have plenty of questions.  I’m not exactly sure where this road will lead, but I know in my heart and in my head that eating mostly whole foods makes the most sense, so here I go.  I know I’m making better choices and am fueling my body better – whether or not that will be reflected on a scale remains to be seen. And though I’m dedicated to this new way of doing things, I’ll still indulge in some things that aren’t good for me from time to time.  Just not all of the time. :]

Please let me know if you have any questions, dear readers.  I’d be glad to hear from you and to respond…

Warm regards,
Melody

*Please note: I am not affiliated with or advertising any products listed in this post, am just sharing what I’ve been reading/using/eating.

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Black-Eyed Pea Salad (aka Wilcox Caviar)

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I’m posting this recipe now, in late December, for those of you who ring in the New Year by eating Black-Eyed Peas.  A Southern thing, I know this practice extends to other regions, too.  Though I think of this as kind of a summery salad because there’s no cooking involved, and the ingredients are light and fresh, this side dish – which can also be eaten as a dip, on baked potatoes, or on salad greens – is a yummy addition to the menu no matter the season.  Big thanks to my friend, Barb L., for sharing this recipe with me!

FYI: I cut this recipe in half, since it’s just me and hubby, so the photos below include the half-size portions of ingredients and a single serving of salad.  :]  However, the ingredients list includes the amounts for a full-size batch.

Black-Eyed Pea Salad (aka Wilcox Salad)

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Ingredients
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4 cans white shoe peg corn, drained (or use a mixture of white and yellow corn, like I did)
2 cans black-eyed peas, drained
3 avocados, diced
1-2 bunches small green onions, diced
leaves from one bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 cup light olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (I used white)

before_stirring

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mix well.  Chill overnight.  If you prefer, you can omit the avocado when making the salad, and can add it to the bowl when you give the salad a final stir before serving. That’s what I opted to do when making the batch I photographed…

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Do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day?  Or do you eat other goodies to celebrate?  Please post a comment and share.

I’m wishing you all the best in 2013, dear readers!

Warm regards,
Melody

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Washi Tape & Cork Place Card Holders

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I was recently given a big bag of corks (Thanks, Megan!), and have started the fun process of coming up with things to create with them.  My first DIY with these corks is this set of place card holders.  These little beauties are fast and easy to make, and require few materials.  What’s not to love?

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Getting back to my bag ‘o corks, some of the corks are “natural” and some of them are made from foam and plastic.  Today’s project is made with the latter – the synthetic corks.  I found them to be more symmetrical, and therefore easier to wrap with the washi tape.  Washi tape is easy to work with, since it’s easy to peel up and straighten, and the color, pattern, and mix-n-match possibilities are endless!

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 Materials
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supplies

Synthetic corks
Washi tape
Xacto Blade
Cardstock
Pen

Directions
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  1. Wrap Washi tape around the cork.  The corks I used allowed for three “rows” of tape to be laid out next to each other, with a wee bit of overlap. You can use all one color, as I did on most of my corks, or mix and match, like I did on my black, white, and silver cork.
  2. Cut across the top middle of your cork with  your Xacto blade.  The cut should go all the way across the top, as shown, and should extend downward into the cork so the placecard can be slid down into the cork about 1/4 of an inch.
  3. Prepare the cards you’ll be displaying and carefully inset them into the cut foam slit. Make sure they’re centered so they don’t tip over.
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Not only are these super fast and easy holders perfect for place cards, they’re also great for labeling food and dessert platters.  You might also consider using them to hold cherished photos.
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Questions?  Comments?  I’d love to hear from you, dear readers.  Happy washi taping!
Warm regards,
Melody
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Another Look: Recipes

Welcome to my first installment of Another Look.  This is a type of post I’ll be sharing while I’m recovering from my surgeries.  Each Another Look post will share past blog posts based on a category, like art, recipes, crafts, etc, and I’ll share a handful of goodies from the archive in category.  Please scroll down for the first of these installments.  Today’s category is recipes!

Just click on the name of the recipe to link over to the original recipe post.

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Triple Chocolate Cake Recipe

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Blueberry-Lemon Muffin Recipe
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Orange Oatmeal Cookie Recipe
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Spicy Meatball Recipe
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Lemon Bars Recipe
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 z-bread-2
Zucchini Bread Recipe
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I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the archives.  Will you be trying any of these recipes?

Warm regards,
Melody

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Haiku: A Simple Pleasure

toast

Olallieberry –
so good on buttered wheat toast!
This jam is a treat…

Until a few years ago I’d never tasted olallieberry jam, and boy was I missing out!  I was introduced to the wonders of olallieberry by my friend, Ariella Fiore, and I’m so glad I was.  I bought some jars of homemade jam from Ariella, and was instantly smitten with both the taste and the deep, jewel-like color.

Given that I was an “olallieberry virgin” I had to Google olallieberries, and learned from Wikipedia that they’re a cross between the loganberry and the youngberry.  The olallieberry “grandparents” are the more familiar blackberry, raspberry, and dewberry.  I guess it’s fair to say this is a hybrid berry love child, blessed with both good looks and great taste!

As you probably guessed from the haiku above I love to put this jam on hot, buttered wheat toast.  And while I’d also love to use it for sandwiches, and maybe ice cream topping, I’m resisting the urge.  Because I only get a certain number of jars of jam from Ariella each year I kind of ration it.  Yep, I’m a jam hoarder!

I use regular Smucker’s Strawberry Jam for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and save this jam for my breakfast toast.  This year I purchased six 8 oz. jars of ollalieberry jam, and hope we make it through the year without running out.  Sure, I can make do with something else, but life is sweeter and brighter with olallieberry jam from Ariella’s kitchen…

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Do you have special ingredient, condiment, or treat that you savor?  Something that makes a meal special for you?  I’d love to hear about it.

Warm regards,
Melody

p.s. Ariella (aka The Quilting Mama) was the first to be featured in my Remarkable Women Series.  She sings, acts, sews, cooks and bakes like nobody’s business.  She lives in The Valley (Like, Omigod!), but keeps chickens, gardens, and harvest fruit from the family’s trees.  I love her jam, and am also a fan of her Plenty Big Blankets and bibs for adults.  (I had a bib custom-made for my large, spill-prone father.) Hurray, Ariella – go on with your talented, eclectic self!

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Popcorn Ball Recipe

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Nothing says “nostalgic childhood dessert” like popcorn balls!  I used to love eating them as a kid, and still love them as a “big kid” of thirty something.  They remind me of autumn, as they seemed to surface most often around Halloween, but they’re delicious any day of the year.

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I found this recipe for popcorn balls online a few years ago, and was happy to discover that it’s a great one.  They’re easy to make, and the recipe produces soft and delicious popcorn balls – not rock-hard, tooth-chipping ones!

Though the recipe doesn’t “require” coloration, you can add color to your popcorn balls by using food coloring.  Orange for Halloween, red or green for Christmas, pastels for Easter?  I chose to leave my batch colorless and added a pop of color in the packaging.  (Cellophane, ribbon, tag, etc.)

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Popcorn Ball Recipe

Yield: 20 popcorn balls

Ingredients:

¾ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 teaspoons cold water
2 5/8 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup marshmallows
5 quarts popped popcorn

Directions:

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the corn syrup, butter, cold water, confectioner’s sugar and marshmallows.  (Add food coloring now, if you opt to add color to your popcorn balls)  Heat and stir until the mixture comes to a boil.  Carefully combine the hot mixture with the popcorn, coating each kernel.  Grease hands with margarine or cooking spray and quickly shape the coated popcorn into balls before it cools.  Once cool, wrap with cellophane or plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

Helpful Hints:

3 bags of microwave popcorn = roughly 5 quarts.

Pop the popcorn and remove all un-popped kernels of popcorn before coating with the sugary mixture.

Use a greased measuring cup (1 cup) to scoop up the coated popcorn and to ensure uniform portions – finish by rounding the portion into a ball by hand.

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I hope you enjoy this fun, festive, and yummy recipe!

Warm regards,
Melody

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Spicy Meatball Recipe

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I’m doing something new for this month’s recipe.  Instead of Something Sweet, we’re doing Something Savory!  I’ll try to pop in with Something Savory every now and then, for those of you who like to cook more than you like to bake. This first installment is in honor of summer and the grilling months.  And though this recipe is best cooked on a barbeque, you can also cook them indoors in a pan if you must.

Hubby and I are both pretty handy when it comes to cooking and baking, but we each gravitate to one area more than the other.  I like baking more, and my husband, José, is a great cook.  I’m very lucky to have such a well-rounded husband: he cooks, cleans, irons his own clothes, and is equally comfortable building a bookshelf as he is helping me pick out clothes.  Nice!

José comes from a family that loves to barbeque.  He grew up watching and helping his dad barbeque, and eventually he and his brothers took over the responsibility.  And yes, it IS a responsibility.  The Nuñez family is a large one, so barbequing the meat isn’t a matter of barbequing ten hamburger patties within 30 minutes.  It means grilling large metal pans full of beef and chicken, and usually takes a few hours from start to finish.

In the interest of changing it up, José made these spicy meatballs at a family barbeque some years back, and they were a big hit!  (the recipe came from a book of grilling recipes)  In addition to using ground beef, they’re also made with something that gives the dish an international flare: chorizo.  Chorizo – a type of sausage – can be tricky to pronounce correctly if you’re not a Spanish speaker, so here’s a brief tutorial.

Correct: Chore-EEE-zo
Incorrect: Chore-is-o, or Chore-iz-o

Now that you’ve got the correct pronunciation to use at the meat counter, here’s the recipe.

 

Spicy Meatballs

Ingredients:

4 ounces fresh spicy sausage (José uses chorizo)
4 ounces ground beef
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ cups fresh white bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus extra to garnish
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
hot chili sauce, to serve on the side

Please note: José puts Tapatio sauce directly into the meatball mixture instead of serving hot sauce on the side, which gives the meatballs a distinct reddish color.  If you don’t add red hot sauce into the meatball mixture, your meatballs will be more of a brown than a red.

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Directions:

Use your hands to remove the casings from the sausages, placing the sausage meat in a mixing bowl and breaking it up with a fork.

Add the ground beef, shallots, garlic, bread crumbs, beaten egg, and parsley, with plenty of salt and pepper.  Mix well, then use your hands to shape the mixture into 18 small balls.

Brush the meatballs with olive oil and cook on a medium grill, or fry them in a large pan, for about 10-15 minutes, turning regularly until evenly browned and cooked through.

Transfer the meatballs to a warm dish and sprinkle with fresh parsley.  Serve with chili sauce.

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I hope you enjoy making (and eating) these spicy meatballs as much as we do!

Warm regards,
Melody

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