Women are wonderful. The world is full of them and I've often said that I am incredibly grateful for all the great women that move in and out of my days, around my community and through my thoughts and conversations. My women are strong, loving, mature and giving. I don't get to see any one of them enough, it can be months or even years, but I always feel connected, bound by a history and/or just their radient energy.
I turned 40 last week and the best way I could think to celebrate it is with old friends who I might not otherwise get the opportunity to pull together into one place for longer than a sit-down meal, interrupted seventeen times by three handfuls of kids. I looked at it as an opportunity to give back a little to some of the women who fill my life with love, laughter and friendship. We ate and drank, talked and laughed, took an awesome bike ride together through the wine country and into town, slept in, took walks, talked and ate some more, and narrowly escaped the attack of a wild boar while cherry picking at dusk. It was all I could have hoped for.
These are my women, and these are just a few of the reasons I happen to think they rock it so hard:
I have known her since the seventh grade and for 28 years she has had a constant presence in my life. She is loyal, tough, filled with passions and always the mother hen. If ever I'm lost in the woods, this is the girl I want to be with while seeking my way out.
She is strong, unstoppable, whip smart and absolutely hilarious. This former neighbor of mine is your go-to person for any bit of information you might seek. I am so grateful she could be here and have every finger crossed she moves back sometime soon.
We met in college under dubious circumstances and became instant friends. Our friendship evolved through handwritten letters when we were too poor to use the phone. Her colorful, confetti-filled cards were the absolute best! She is creative, HILARIOUS and filled with boundless energy and a never-ending willingness to help.
She is FUN, clever, interesting, energetic and generous with compliments. Always smiling, she has a beautiful way of asking you about you and making you feel like the center of attention. She warned me there is such a thing as *too much birthday* and she was right.
Former next door neighbor and World's Most Fun Mom. This woman makes very good choices across the board, and she wants to help people succeed. Creative,
gracious, generous, and unbelievably funny! You could not exist in a
dull moment with this woman if you tried.
We met our freshman year in high school. I once watched her from afar tell a guy off who had wronged me and I knew then that she was a keeper. She is a sweetheart and has an effortless way of asking you lots about you until you come to realize you just spent the last hour talking about nothing but yourself.
Former neighbor and smartest human I know. Incredible memory for anything and everything, too many talents and interests to list, but I should mention she is also a mind reader. She was, for a time, my rock, and I am forever grateful.
College roommates. She is loyal in a way that most West Coasters can't even begin to understand. She is East Coast, Mid-West and California all rolled up into one. She will hop on a plane and fly anywhere for anyone that means something to her. She is a magnet for interesting people and adventures and has a lifetime of fascinating stories to prove it.
We met in the early days of high school and I have such great memories of crazy adventures. She is real and alive, fueled with nothing but positive energy. She will power through tough times and always show-up, no matter what. She is gracious and sweet and blessed with one of the best laughs.
At the risk of sounding like a hipster-poser, I've been doing the gluten-free thing for almost a month now. I wasn't 100% right out the gate - that proved hard at the cabin when friends were arriving with things like homemade pies and the like, but I was pretty good. I'm operating at 100% gluten-free these days and it's no longer a struggle...although I plan to jump off the wagon this weekend with the excuse of *girly celebration*. It started when I read Wheat Belly. Packaged up as the key to excess weight loss, this book served me better as a real eye-opener to the negative side effects of wheat. I don't suffer from celiac, but for a whole host of reasons I'll just say, it seemed a great idea to me to eliminate wheat whenever possible.
That said, I've been playing around with gluten-free baking and trying to get my bearings down with the new vocabulary. I found this recipe from Dr. Oz and modified it to serve my fruit and portion needs (our neighbors blackberry bushes are dripping into our yard!). These were so easy to throw together quickly and I thought they turned out great, but even better - so did my kids!
Gluten-Free Blackberry Scones
Makes 12 muffins
4 large eggs, beaten until frothy
2 cups almond flour
2/3 cup bulk sugar substitute (I used unrefined coconut sugar)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blackberries
Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease a muffin tin.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for the blackberries, and mix well to create a batter.
Gently fold the blackberries into the batter and scoop batter evenly into muffin pan (about 2 heaping tablespoons each).
Bake for about 15 minutes until muffins begin to lightly brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
I haven't done one of these in a while and because it's late, I won't go into too much detail. Here are all my dinners for the past week:
monday - filet mignon with a rosemary + sage butter, salad with beets, pistachios, avocado and feta
tuesday - I can't remember what I fed the kids but Daddy and I ate tuna tartar on rice crackers with salad
wednesday - date night at farm shop
thursday - an old friend for dinner, grilled flank steak and vegetables
friday - my mom is our guest, pork and asparagus with mustard sauce
saturday - guests for dinner (no photo), grilled shrimp with mango chutney, grilled vegetables, fiesta salad with avocado, tomatoes and black beans
sunday - Marinitas where I ordered the vegetable platter
Last week, the eight-year-old struck it lucky when he got to attend a day camp at Windrush Farm with three of his friends. It's opportunities like this that make me wish I had my kids summer schedules. I found out about Windrush accidentally really, I was on Facebook and just followed a trail of seeds - "David Z. likes Windrush Farm -> "I like farms. Let me check it out." -> Gorgeous pictures, summer camp offered -> Call friend, coordinate -> Drop one week into cart and check-out.
The trek out to West Marin was a lot for us - an hour each way, two times a day. But I split it with my friend and the scenes at drop-off and pick-up just made it all bearable. This place was so picture-perfect...bucolic. The Windrush family were all smiles and welcoming. My friend and I went to the first drop-off together and found ourselves lingering about (doop de doop) while the kids did their morning chores - shucking wheat for pizza dough, brushing the dogs and watering plants.
What those kids did the rest of the day, I may never know. It's like pulling teeth for me to get details out of my kids, but I'm going to assume it was all magic and farm love until they tell me anything different. I know what it was like for me and that was *a little slice of heaven*. My girl and I did not want to leave that first morning. We too wanted the opportunity to be farmers for a week...or maybe even a little longer. ;)
Nana is in the house cabin this weekend and Nana LOOOVES fruit desserts. Upon her arrival she was already talking about, and excited to make, a new recipe she'd just spotted in the latest addition of Sunset Magazine - Campfire-Glazed Peaches + Figs with Olive Oil Cake. Unable to find figs, a cast-iron skillet or a logical reason to build a campfire in 100 degree heat, she opted to macerate peaches and strawberries on stove-top instead.
This creation was incredible and so perfect for a hot summer night. The cake was similar to angel's food cake, but with a thicker and sweeter outer crust that offered just the right about of crunch to each bite.
This one is absolutely getting filed under *Favorites* - right after I eat a piece for breakfast.
Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Summer Fruit
Adapted from this recipe, Nana macerated 3-1/2 pounds of peach and strawberry with butter and sugar on the stovetop. It could NOT have worked better! Serve warm fruit on top of a slice of cake and with a giant dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Now what are you waiting for?!?
We jumped on the patriotic food bandwagon a little early this summer. With a full house this past weekend (seven kids and seven adults) I couldn't help but go to all the trouble of making Ina Garten's Flag (Ginormous) Flag Cake. When you have that many guests at the table, it's always fun to bring out the big guns. This cake is nothing short of insanity, and I love making it every summer. It helps to make a Costco run before as it uses lots of cream cheese, butter and fresh (organic!) berries.
And on a slightly less organic note, I threw these red, white and blue nachos together one night with veggie taco leftovers. I picked up the chips at Cost Plus for a holiday treat and have to admit, they were pretty fun in this instance...despite the neon food coloring. ;)
We've also been cooking up lots of the usual summer fare - bbq ribs, cheese burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches with pesto, and tacos. One vegetarian visitor cooked up the most incredible polenta-based veggie lasagna that had us all running for seconds. I hope you too are enjoying good food, great friends and hot summer heat this week!
When visitors come up to the cabin, they often bring with them something special to contribute to our time together: a horseshoe game, a couple loafs of banana bread, some jars of canned treats from their garden back home. All of them mean something special to us, but I wanted to share my absolute favorites to date - some photos of the landscape, as well as a sweet poem.
The images here were taken over the weekend by our good friend (and former neighbor), Peter G. He loves photography as much as I do but has a much better grasp of the technical side. These images of the river and super moon were taken using a technique called HDR - High Dynamic Range. It's basically when you take one exact shot at varying exposures, then merge them all together so that the best lighting attributes from all images come together into one very intense image. You can see more of Peter's work here.
And then there is this sweet poem from *Vince*, a very special sort of Thank You after a long, Thanksgiving weekend last year:
Heavy traffic and a few winding twisting roads,
Deliver us to a place far away, yet so very close
Warm knotty pine ceilings and cool granite tops,
Sounds of the river flowing and an occasional champagne bottle "pop"
Warm turkey wrapped with bacon and mashed potatoes galore,
Corn bread with mushrooms... who could ask for anything more?
Mornings with strong coffee and cool cloudless skies,
Finding interesting curly bugs and studying a chopper that doesn't fly
Lively discussions and games without personal attacks,
Debates about politics, presidents, and voting democrats
A holiday weekend with family but without the ringing phone,
Far away from work and cities, but certainly not alone
We watched the bouncing kids and few happy wagging tails...
Had some driveway walks and explored where there are no people trails
For me, a rare holiday, that ended too fast and was gone way too soon...
We can't express enough thanks for the family, the food, and the warm wonderful room!
Well, it's not exactly like we set out to celebrate the Super Moon... we were actually already having a rather grand time with friends at the cabin when we remembered that it was on its way to rising all crazy big and bright. By the time we thought to pull out the telescope and set-up cameras on tripods, we'd already exhausted ourselves with river time, hiking, chalk art, imaginary play, board games, dinner and dance. Our tummies were stuffed with bunless burgers and salad, and we'd savoured the flavor of cake on the occasion of one child's half-birthday. The summer moon's glow seemed nothing unusual really, especially in comparison to the light of nine happy kids blissed-out on summertime fun.
Something very cool happened recently when Daddy and I miscommunicated about summer plans, set-in-stone appointments and vacation departure dates. For both of us to meet our obligations, we had to separate for a bit and in acknowledging this misfortune, my guy offered to take all three kids with him as he headed out of town.
Careful, Daddy. We might have to make this an annual tradition.
What ended up happening was me having two solid days alone at home to take care of business. I spent it, with our sitter, powering through the house, organizing, purging and cleaning. It was absolutely amazing!
A lot was accomplished through-out the entire house, but I'll take this post to share what is probably my favorite room - Miss Frijoles'. It's not *done*, and in truth, I fear it may never be, but regardless, I'll share what we got, and how it got there.
Before we moved in, we installed skylights and pocket lights in all three of the kids rooms. They needed it sooo bad as they were terribly dark and depressing at the time. I found the above plastic chandelier on one of those flash sale sites and it worked perfectly. At night it casts the greatest *sparkles* onto the ceiling.
Here is a sample of wallpaper that has been tacked to the wall for almost a year. It symbolizes what I hope to accomplish in order to *finish* the room. Frijoles selected it herself. The painting is of Swan Lake, and was something I found at Goodwill for just $10.
Frijoles has a phenomenal imagination. A walk around the house and garden will reveal little worlds of stuffed animals and figurines pumped up with leaves and flowers, strings and found objects, tucked into corners, cupboards and drawers. When I was looking for a bookshelf for her room I wanted something that helped facilitate this *life's work* of hers. I found this one at Target on clearance - it's by BluDot. :)
I love this little girl's bed. It says *story book bed* to me, as in this is the kind of bed I imagine Baby Bear slept in or the princess when she lay awake tormented by the hardness of pea twenty mattresses below.
I love the last day of school... and I hate it, all at the same time.
I love it, hate it.
Love, hate, love, hate.
I love it because it marks the beginning of what will be a magical time in every child's mind - summertime! I love it because it gives way to camps offering new and unique adventures, heightened by warm weather, late nights and lazy mornings. I hate it because the last day of school has become a logistical nightmare with off-campus class parties in different zip codes and too many heart-felt *goodbyes*. As we powered up yesterday morning for a an intense day of tag-team parenting, I wondered if it wouldn't be a better idea to just skip the last day of school all together and go to the beach. ;)
We started a tradition on the last day of school many years ago, when the big kid was still the only one in school. Even though it was just pre-school, we celebrated the end of his year with a special dinner out - just the three of us, along with a gift of some quasi-educational books to keep him busy during summer. Eventually his sister got in on the action after her first year of pre-school, and this year, Mr. Noodle joined the fun for his first time.
The real reason we keep coming back to Umami - the dessert roll made of vanilla ice cream wrapped in chocolate chip cookie dough, drizzled in chocolate and served alongside wasabi whipped cream and ginger candies!
See - you can't do it! Fridays are THE BEST. And with summer upon us, and one. more. week. down., I had to pee my pants when I read this post about the marathon that is the end-of-the-school-year-shuffle.
I'm feeling a little bit more pressure these days than normal, but to be truthful, Jen Hatmaker's description of the end of the year is kind of how I feel all year long. I'm always feeling like the worst mom. My paperwork is always late, I'm always forgetting volunteer shifts (despite checking my calendar upon waking), I've yet to muster up the strength to volunteer for a *board position*, and our pediatrician just called to say she hasn't seen either of our boys in over two years. We haven't all five enjoyed a *similar looking dinner* in over two weeks and I really need to make an OBGYN appointment - cos it's been 3.5 years (as in, since I last gave birth).
But I'm pretty sure I did something right today when Mr. Noodle asked me if we could make a dinosaur garden outside his window and I said "YES!" My enthusiasm to oblige was completely selfish though. See, that sweet kid pretty much has the worst view in the house - all cinder blocks and ivy out his window. Every time I take in that view I silently fear I am crippling his creativity with my lack of motivation to make it more interesting.
But that was Thursday, and today is Friday...
After the big kids left for school, and after Mr. Noodle and I scrambled to get to the kindergarten concert, we went to our favorite nursery and stocked up on all sorts of wonderful succulents fit for a dinosaur habitat.
"Hey look at this one, Mama!" he'd say. "This one looks super dinosaur-y to me!"
And so we selected, purchase, planned and planted our garden. The final touches came in the forms of little plastic dinosaurs that now call these high-gloss orange pots their home. Overall, the finished pots didn't add quite the punch I'd hoped they would there on the wall, but they are pretty cute up close, and Mr. Noodle is in no way critical of our work .
All that said, we didn't have much time to do our usual Friday morning dessert making. But I figure it doesn't have to be homemade every single week. (Right? That's OK to do that, right?) So this afternoon we picked up one of everybody's favorite at Miette Bakery. Each one of these desserts (I'll admit I sampled three) tasted *perfect*. They honestly tasted just as pure and perfect as they looked. Nothing unusual or unexpected, just pure goodness. I'm glad we cheated this week, in the name of the dinosaur garden.
We returned from Scottsdale on Wednesday night. It was all sooo good - seeing a great new town, checking out an exciting new renovation project (think Melrose Place meets Southwest adobe architecture), having lots of free time to explore, and getting to do it all with my mom. I love coming home after just a few days away and 1.) wondering if my kids haven't each grown an inch and 2.) seeing how much my veggie garden HAS grown!
Our last morning in Scottsdale was a real cooker. At the recommendation of a friend we took a guided tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West (a school of architecture) at 10:00AM and regardless of the timing, it was so incredibly hot! I had thought that I might be able to skip this visit - did I really want to tour another FLW building? Did I really want to learn more about this genius who up and left his wife and six kids?
Turns out, I did!
These sorts of tours rarely disappoint, and I need to commit that to memory. There is just no substitute for all the great stories and details that come with visiting an historical landmark such as this. I could spend hours putting it all down (and I wish I had the time because I will probably forget most of it by next week), but I need to get breakfast on the table now.
I now want to go tour our own FLW masterpiece - The Marin County Civic Center. Even though I've walked through it a hundred times, and driven past it thousands, I know there are some incredible stories about its design and construction that will be well worth the trip. Who wants in?!
I have always had a weakness for packaging. Wrap-up any product or service with just the right colors/fonts/pictures and I'm bound to lean in an take a closer look.
The Chop Shop is one such example. We drove by it several times our first night in Scottsdale, and I couldn't help but be romanced by its playful, retro signage all aglow. I needed to know more! Surprisingly, it is not a pork chop shop, it is a salad chop shop, perfect for our Tuesday lunch stop.
This place was great. We each had the kale Caesar, I had warm chicken added to mine. All items were served up in compostable cups and bowls. It was busy so clearly we were not the only people enjoying their signage decor fresh food.
A coupon for free guacamole brought us back to our hotel for their happy hour. Out on the patio it was still 100 degrees but with the misters going, we did all right. I love all the color in this place.
For dinner we got really lucky when we discovered the highly reviewed Bandara just two blocks from our hotel. I almost fell over when we walked in and I found it to be a carbon copy of another favorite restaurant of mine in Denver - The Cherry Creek Grill. Turns out, same owner!
We shared a giant plate of vegetables, a salad and a slice of banana creme pie.
Before walking back to our hotel, we unbuttoned our pants and swore not to let each other eat for at least another 24 hours. (I think we broke down after 13.)
Earlier this morning, while grabbing coffees in our hotel's lobby, we got to talking with a pleasant fellow behind the counter. He had lots to share with us about this and that, the hotel, and the town. When he asked us if we liked to go antiquing we got all excited and started chirping in unison: "We do! We do! We do!" So he told us about the Antique Trove, properly warned us of all the time we would need to make our way through it, and then even drew us a map of how to get there. (I didn't even know people still knew how to draw maps!)
Let me say that I think I could really benefit from some instruction on how to effectively photograph an antique store. These photos do not even begin to do this place justice. From the moment we walked through the front door and saw deep aisle after deep aisle laid out before us, we knew we were in for something spectacular. So we gave each other one last look, confirmed we each had a phone on us for the inevitable, and went our separate ways.
Here are some of the highlights of our visit:
Today was pleasure, tomorrow is all bizniz.
I've never been to Scottsdale before - it's adorable! Hard not to be when you're the spa capital of the world, I suppose. We are staying at the newly opened Saguaro Hotel. We ate at the sister hotel in Palm Springs last year and loved it. Super happy to have learned about this place in time for our visit. I was needing more rainbows and cacti in my life.
We had a great lunch at the hotel's restaurant, El Distrito. I had the fish tacos, she, the chili relleno.
My mom made a great discovery in the lobby and then again in our room - these vintage Arizona Highways magazines from the 50's and 60's! She remembers the publication and was so excited to share with me the incredible quality of photography throughout. Indeed! Here is a closer look:
I realized this week that I wasn't clear in defining my dessert criteria in last Friday's post. (Not that anyone is losing sleep over this one, but...) It's not that I will only eat a fruit dessert if it's in the form of a crisp/cobbler/crumble, it's that I'll only eat a fruit dessert that doesn't contain chocolate if it is in the form of a crisp/cobbler/crumble.
Because I love fruit with chocolate! (Unless that fruit is an orange, of course.)
This all dawned on me when I remembered this other incredible dessert that was also served at the Shrine of the Rhubarb Coffee Cake (aka A Clean Well-Lighted Cafe, c. 1990) -- the equally intoxicating Raspberry Tart. I know it doesn't sound too fancy, I mean we see fruit tarts everywhere, right? But this tart was special because underneath its layer of French buttercream was a thin layer of dark chocolate. Simple yet brilliant.
So I gave it a shot today and I will say it tasted great to us considering all things. Like...considering I chose to use gluten-free flour in the crust (super crumbly)...considering I used too much chocolate (thick layer hard to break)...considering my vanilla cream layer jelled up before I could pour it into tart (think school pick-up), considering all these near disasters, it still tasked great. It didn't cut great, it didn't hold together great, but all the flavors came together well, and we loved it. This is definitely one worth me working on. In the meantime, all you need to take away from this is that every fruit tart could benefit greatly from a 5oz. layer of dark chocolate in it. Oh, and that a molded Eames chair can also serve as an excellent backdrop for a colorful dessert.
Hola! It's been a while, I know. I am finally emerging from a curious funk that plauged me for over a week. This will likely sound like a lame excuse but I've been exhausted, and for no more reasons that the ones we all face everyday. I was unreasonably groggy, like jacked-up on elephant tranquilizers groggy, first trimester groggy. It was awful and I'm not sure why. I finally crawled to the store and purchased some iron and B12. I don't know if that was what did the trick, but I'm all better now.
And no, I'm not pregnant.
I have so much I want to share! Friday's dessert, final thoughts on our trip to Mexico, our trip to a local goat farm, my spring garden - it's all on my radar. But right now we are getting ready to head to our friend's house where we will be having a Mexican Spring Break Reunion Party. I am in charge of re-creating the coconut smoothies we all became addicted to while in PV last month.
The withdrawls have been brutal. This gentleman told me on our last day just how the hotel made these incredible drinks (they basically double as milkshakes/desserts): piña colada mix, ice, shredded coconut and coconut cream to finish. I'm going to give it my best shot today. Fingers crossed.
While preparing for today's task, I thought it the perfect opportunity to go explore our local supermercado - Mi Pueblo. It was super cool and such a fun experience for the kids too. They loved seeing the unusual foods like cactus and pig parts, hot pink cookies and the worlds largest display of hot sauces!
This guy was over the moon when he discovered a horchata mix that would allow him to enjoy one of his all time favorite drinks by just adding water. Imagine that! (Although I did warn him it probably wouldn't taste nearly as good as the real deal.)
I will hopefully get some good pictures this afternoon of the prepared spread our friends are picking up from Mi Pueblo. Until then, here are some pictures of last years Mexican Spring Break Reunion Party which our travel companions also hosted on Cinco de Mayo.
We dined on fresh fish tacos and horchata made from scratch.