Category Archives: Seasonal

An Open Letter to 2012


Dear 2012:

How are you? Are you enjoying your time here so far? I’m going to be frank, 2012, you haven’t been the greatest in this short time that we’ve known one another, and I’ve considered trading you in. But 2011 was no better, and I don’t even want to think about 2013 yet.

So, let’s start over. I’m not going to make you a bunch of false promises, or tell you I’m going to do a load of things that I have no intention of doing. Rather than the declaration of ‘you’re my year, you better be the best one yet,’ I propose we do this thing together. Are you game?

I would like it if you could throw the brakes on so we aren’t speeding through life so much. Why are you Years always in such a hurry? I promise I’ll do my best to take it down a notch as well, but you need to understand that looking up and realizing its June is difficult to come to grips with. Let’s slow it down. Just a hair.

By slowing down, you’re going to help me a lot. I have some things that I plan to do but I need the time to do them. I want to improve my sewing skills, I want to learn to swim better, I want to do more yoga, I want to finally, oh finally, lose the 30 pounds I need to lose to be out of the unhealthy place I’m in. I know I can do these things, and a handful of others, but these first few have to be accomplished in order to do any of the other things that are on my wish list. These few things are very important to me, and I hope we can work together to make them happen this year. Working full time makes my extracurricular activities hard, I know, but by not watching as much TV or spending time with a computer in my lap outside of work, I free up a lot of daylight. I’ve already emailed the swim instructor at the gym. See? Progress.

We’re going to get a great garden going this year, too, 2012. My dream is to have one in my own little yard, which means that we’ll have to move, and we’re actively working on doing that. I hope this can happen while we know each other, 2012, so you can be a part of it. Being able to have a garden of my own and having a home that can truly be a sanctuary is important to me, and will help me with my stress and rumination issues. Going outside to play makes me so happy; the fresh air makes me feel so good. And the satisfaction of growing even a little bit of our own food makes my heart full.

You know that I’m a stress case and I’m working on that. The swimming and gardening and moving will help immensely. I know I enslave myself. I know that ‘it’s never enough’ isn’t anyone’s problem but mine. Choosing Two has been remarkably helpful for me, and I want to introduce Nick to it as well. If we each Choose Two then we Accomplish Four every day. Knowing that we’re accomplishing more together will help me to calm the thoughts that there’s a Laundry Monster in the hall and that the bedroom looks like a bomb went off. Accomplishing Four sounds like an action plan to me, but we’ll see. Part of a successful partnership is feeling like you’re in it together, so I’m sure we’ll come up with a game plan together.

There’s more, but I don’t want to overwhelm you, 2012. If we can start by working on these few things then we’ll talk about some of the others. You’re a good year, 2012. I know many of us have lamented already that you’re going to be just as crummy as 2011, and it’s easy for a year to fall into that pattern when people don’t believe in you. But I believe in you. It’s a bright, beautiful sunny day out there; let’s take a walk this afternoon and make this The First Day of the Rest of a Good Year.

All My Best,


Most festive of holiday beverages


I broke down last week and bought a container of eggnog at the grocery store. Moreover, I bought a container of light eggnog because I felt like I should be mindful of my calories in the week leading up to Thanksgiving (which as we all know and don’t admit is a 4 day eating extravaganza).

In doing so, I broke two huge rules on my personal “Are You Nuts?” list, those being 1. It’s socially unacceptable to buy eggnog before Thanksgiving, and 2. High Fructose Corn Syrup is evil. The SECOND INGREDIENT on the back of the carton (which I didn’t read until I got home) is HFCS. I refuse to touch the stuff now, and have learned my lesson for trying to sneak one in on my own Don’t You Dare list.

Besides, grocery store eggnog is supremely sub-par if you’ve ever had the delight and pleasure of having homemade eggnog. Laced with nutmeg and spices and plenty of booze, there’s no way to celebrate the holiday weekend. Roaring fire and blustery weather make it even better. The addition of a snowstorm would make it just about perfect.

No snow here in the wine country, though we have some friends that are crazy enough to go camping this weekend. Camping. In November. In a tent. While this isn’t my ideal way to spend a 4 day weekend, visiting for an afternoon around their campfire and having snacks and laughs is a pretty close second. I’ll bring up a prewarmed Ultimate Turkey Sandwich (more on that later) and a double batch of Ultimate Eggnog.

My Aunt Nancy makes the Best with a Capital B eggnog ever, and while I used to have the recipe, it’s since been lost in one too many reorganizing missions of my recipe folder. This one though has all the makings of hers: raw eggs, plenty of hooch, and enough saturated fat to stop your heart. All of this is OK though, because this is a libation of which you’re only meant to have one (or one and a splash). If you’ve never had the distinct displeasure of drinking too many White Russians then I’ll warn you that one should be very careful when mixing dairy and hard alcohol. Enough said.

Now, if you’re worried about egg safety or just not so sure about raw eggs, I recommend using this recipe instead. It’s not worth taking risks and tempering eggs only takes another minute or two. For those of you lucky enough to have chickens or access to fresh eggs, this is the recipe to showcase them. The bright yellow of a fresh egg yolk adds a distinctly lovely color to this most festive of holiday beverages.

So, whip up a batch of nog this weekend to share with your friends and family. Please note that you should allow it to sit for at least 3 hours, I prefer to let it rest overnight before serving (or at least make it in the morning for that evening’s consumption). It allows the alcohol to temper a bit and all of the flavors to blend and mellow. If you’re used to a more substantial nog, whip your egg whites and your yolks separately, and fold the yolks back in just prior to serving.

The Ultimate Eggnog
From Epicurious

6 large eggs
3/4 cup vanilla sugar (no vanilla sugar? Sub in a teaspoon of good vanilla extract with the 3/4 cup of sugar)
1 quarts half and half (or light cream)
1 cup brandy
2 cups bourbon or dark rum
freshly grated nutmeg

In large bowl, beat eggs until pale yellow and slightly frothy. Add sugar and half and half, and stir until well blended. Add brandy and bourbon (or dark rum) and stir. Transfer to large pitcher and chill until cold, at least 3 hours. Divide between 6 punch cups, garnish each with sprinkle of nutmeg, and serve.

Wardrobe Extensions


Here’s a quick tip to extend your wardrobe, ladies. This is one of my favorite little tricks that is helpful to multiply the number of ways you can wear things and extend them through more than one season. It also helps to lighten up packing, or make for quicker packing, when escaping town.

Most of us have one of these smocked-top sundresses hanging around, either with or without the straps:















I’m trying to think more annually than seasonally in my buying practices, and this one has lots of good colors that can be worn year-round. It also has both brown and black in the print so I can wear it with multiple pairs of shoes.

While we all know that a cardi or jacket can be worn over one of these little guys, a lot of people don’t think about doing this with it:














This trick doesn’t work with all of these dresses, because some will be too long of course. The general rule of thumb is that if the dress is knee-length on you, it will be a good length as a skirt (this one comes to my ankles when worn a skirt and I’m 5′ 5″). This dress-as-skirt looks just as cute with boots and booties as it does with strappy sandals and flippy-floppies. Add a jacket and you have a whole outfit. Add the jacket and wear as dress and you have two whole outfits. Seriously, with two shoe changes, a couple of t-shirts, a scarf and a jacket you’re set for a weekend. All you need is reservations and you’re jet-set!

I’m ready


It’s starting already. My craving for all things fall has kicked in and I’m already dreaming of it. I think I finally figured out this year what the trigger is: when it starts to noticeably get darker earlier in the evening, right around now, I start to want autumn. We’ve hardly had summer and I’m already on to fall. You always want what you can’t have.

When this feeling strikes, I start making a ‘look book’ of what I want to wear, what I want to eat, how I want to decorate my house. I’ll make another one of these right around November, because I love the holidays and it’s my own little way to celebrate their upcoming arrival. What do you think of when you think of fall? I think of:

  • Knee high boots with skirts and scarves
  • Boots with tights, slim jeans, leggings, anything. Love my boots.
  • Scarves in general
  • Cozy sweaters
  • Soft socks
  • A crackling fire in the fireplace
  • The grape vines slowly turning red, yellow, orange
  • The trees doing the same
  • Crocheting a rainy afternoon away
  • Apple picking
  • Pie baking
  • A pumpkin patch afternoon spent with a child you love
  • Spiced cider
  • An autumn picnic, replete with warm sandwiches, a thermos of soup, red wine and an extra blanket to spread in your lap
  • Beef stew and a loaf of freshly made crusty bread for wiping the bowl clean
  • Decorating for Halloween
  • The smell of that first fall rain
  • The smell of harvest in the air in the wine country
  • That beautiful golden hour, when the light starts to fall and the world has that magical quality (for me this is every sunset in October)
  • Our wedding
  • My very first wedding anniversary

The list goes on. What’s your favorite part about fall?

The Fine Art of Camping


Howdy campers! The season is nearly upon us for some good old fashioned tent camping! I grew up camping in lieu of a lot of vacations (and think I came out ahead in comparison to some of my friends). It’s good, dirty and inexpensive family fun to tent camp, once you have the equipment investment done and paid for. Do you and yours partake in this fun-for-all excursion? The breeze has warmed up in the last week and I can smell the campfire and bug spray in the air, taste the sausages cooked over the fire and the s’mores toasting over the coals. Heaven!

N and I bought a new tent this year, and are headed out this weekend to go get us some cots (no sleeping on the ground for us), and I’ll drag out our camping bins to take inventory and stock up for the season. We also have a new camp stove, some great new spatter ware plates and mugs and bowls, and a lantern given to us by a dear neighbor. With the addition of some camp grub and beer we’re about set for our first trip, scheduled for the end of May.

There are several different levels and types of camping out there to be enjoyed.  First up is backpack camping, whereby you literally drag in all of your worldly goods on your back and therefore must be a healthy, stealthy, serious type with a mean set of packing skills. And did I mention strong? I don’t subscribe to the backpack sort of camping, my knees and back can’t take it and I need more stuff than that in order to properly rough it. Wherever would I put my french press?

Another popular type of camping is drive-in camping, state park style. This is more my speed. You pack the car with everything that will fit, and back yourself into your chosen spot at your favorite campground. Unpack car, set up tent, set up kitchen, and you’re about done. Well, almost. For me this also includes putting my tablecloth out on our picnic table, unrolling the outdoor rug outside the tent door and a wildflower hike after my first beer to forage for something to make a centerpiece out of. A girl has to have standards.

Then there’s Type 1 Glamping. My aunt does this type of camping and for the first time we’re going with them this year. It’s a solid notch above tent camping. They have a 10×20 tent that has a living room (to include a bistro set and couch) and two bedrooms, and she has martini glasses for cocktail hour, to list just a few of the things she brings. You can only imagine the set-up and tear-down that must go in to this but it sounds like a hoot (and it sounds like we’re camping with the Royal Army, what with the tents and rugs and china). I personally can’t wait, her camping trips are legendary. I’m just glad she brings her own sherpas (my uncle, namely) so all I have to do is set-up and tear-down my own spot.

Type 2 Glamping is one that I want to try when our pocketbooks are a little more flush. This is where you pack your hiking boots and overnight bag and head to a campground with tent cabins. These babies are canvas tents on a steel or wooden frame with a real floor and a real bed with sheets, an electric blanket and heated mattress pad, electricity and a heater. Some also have real windows and doors, and one ‘campground’ I read about has nice folks with a jitney that not only bring you firewood every day but will set your fire for you if you ask real nice. Meals are taken at the Lodge. Sound like your cup of chai? Check out this article in the June issue of Sunset magazine. They captured it best and I couldn’t have said it better: camping for people who love nature and indoor plumbing. Another campground I read about on the ol’ internet had comfort stations complete with saunas and heated floors. We’ve stayed here, but in the lodge, not the campground, and we seriously want to go back and camp!

I’ll have a couple more posts over the next month about provisioning our camping boxes and packing up food for our trip, and will keep you posted on our adventures over the summer. I’m hoping it’ll inspire a couple of you to get out there and try it!

Purse Strings and Belt Notches


Every now and again a rainy day becomes a when-it-rains-it-pours day, and we’ve had a couple in a row. It’s been a rough week around the Young’s household, to spare you the details, and it means that we have to reevaluate exactly how lucky we are to have each other (and that rotten cat) and all of the wonderful things we are blessed with: a cozy home, a warm fireplace, a loving relationship, our friends and family, and the good sense to do our very best with what we have and not constantly feel that American need for more. Which is a good thing, because we’re in one of those patches where less is going to have to be enough and that’s all there is to it.

Another blessing I can count is that I am a very resourceful girl, and I can share my ‘less is plenty’ lifestyle with all of you, and I’m going to have more time to do it. The promise of spring is on the wind today, and the bluebells are about to bloom…

….it’s a time of year that makes me rub my hands together and start thinking of the promise of longer, brighter days and the bounty of our area. That sniff of spring makes me excited to get things cleaned up, get some projects going, and get outside.

The first notch on the belt that gets tightened is the grocery notch. No more artisan cheeses bought on a whim, no more exotic breads, no more fancy Greek yogurt, no more flowers for the dining room table. It means that I get to exercise my creative abilities and make exotic breads, make my own yogurt (to be done this weekend, I can’t wait), and grow my own flowers. Farmer’s Market is a very pricey venture that I will have to X off for the most part, and my community garden plot’s rent is a luxury that I will have to forgo, but Mom and I are going to start our own garden patch in their back forty, which means I’ll have home grown organic vegetables AND flowers a short drive away. The Magical Fruit Alley will soon have figs, blackberries and French prune plums available for the picking for jams, pies, and putting-up.

A need for a new skirt means getting out the sewing machine, and new patio cushion covers mean the same thing. I’ve been saving scraps and such to make a rag rug for the living room, which I’ve never done before but it can’t be too hard. Those with birthdays or giftish events coming up look out – you’re going to be getting some homemade lovin’ from me.

And so I sit, daydreaming about all that can be and all I can do, and try to shift my focus from the negative to all that’s positive. Enough of my rambling thoughts… it’s time to get crackin’.

The Start of Something Big


Crab season is open in this part of the world, and according to the crab fishermen it’s going to be a banner year. The pots are coming in full with nice big crabs for the eating. The opening of crab season really says Holidays to me, more so than just about anything.

The best way to eat crab is with your hands on a newspaper lined table, up to your elbows in the juices, dipping the sweet meat in clarified butter and relishing the catch. Make up a nice green salad with a light, lemony vinaigrette and slice up some good sourdough bread for sopping, and you have a meal fit for a king. Or a king and queen, as N and I usually devour this simple, succulent meal together.

Yesterday my dad dropped of two lovely crabs, and I picked up a nice head of organic red lettuce and some seeded sourdough bread. We’re ready for tonight’s feast.

In the last year I’ve branched out into making my own bread with my bread machine, using this website as my guide. I know, you’re thinking ‘who still has a bread machine? I donated mine ages ago when the craze was over’ or ‘I got really tired of having a half a loaf of unusable bread because there’s a hole in the bottom where the paddle is after it bakes.’

Well, I have a bread machine still, which we’ve used to make pizza dough for ages. And last fall, in a fit of health in my back-to-basics movement, I began baking much of our own bread,  getting tired of seeing the amount of scary, unpronounceable things on the back of the bag at the grocery, as well as paying better than $5.00 a loaf for great bakery bread. After a few tries, my loaves of bread came out of the oven bakery-perfect, and I’ve even used some of the basics on this website to make some of my own creations.

But what of sourdough bread? It evades me, with my fear of having to keep something alive in order to make a successful, sour loaf of bread. Keep it alive? Yes, sourdough comes from a ‘mother’ which needs to be fed and aged and cared for to get the very best bread. A successful, strong mother can live for many long years, like the ones at the famous bakeries in San Francisco. Now, the only reason the cat is still around is because he tells me he’s hungry. If he didn’t he’d have gone the way of the houseplant ages ago. This gives me pause.

I’ve decided to at least try to make sourdough, starting today with making the mother. It has to age and grow and get sour, and I hope I have the patience and memory to help it on it’s way. (I’m going to set reminders on my Google calendar to help me to remember  to feed the thing. Ah, technology!).

Hopefully by next weekend, I’ll have made my first loaf of sourdough bread, in time to make stuffing out of it for our very first post-Thanksgiving feast (yes, I’m baking my first turkey. Should be interesting).

Wish me luck…


Halloween Fun


Every year, N and I have a Halloween get -together at our house. Not really a party, more of an open house, come-if-you-can, dress-up-if-you-wanna sort of affair. Now that some of our friends have kidlets, they are welcome too, of course, as we are firm believers that this is a kid’s holiday, adults just get to get in on the fun.

My menu every year is the same: monster pot of chili with all the fixin’s (shredded cheese, hot sauce, sour cream, diced green onions, the works), cornbread muffins, maybe a salad if I really feel like we need a vegetable (or can rope someone into bringing one), and plenty of snacks. A large pot of spiced apple cider simmering away on the stove for ambiance, aroma, and drinking, with brandy and rum on the side to spike if you like. It’s an easy menu that comes together pretty quickly, and chili is always better when made ahead, which makes this even better.

I do like to have a special surprise, though, for our pals and their little ones. These guys aren’t homemade, though, they’re a store-bought marshmallow pie, disguised as something festive and spooky. A Halloween costume for a fun treat. And, of course, it’s on a stick. As we all know, food on a stick has a certain charm that very few can pass up. These cuties come together pretty quickly and the whole family can participate, which makes it even more fun and special.

These treats would be a great treat to take in to a kid’s classroom for their Halloween bash, too. You’ll be the envy of every jealous mom in the place. Check them out:

Spooky Moon Pies

Makes as many as you buy. Required items:

– Marshmallow Pies (I usually buy the Little Debbie brand as they’re the easiest to find, but go whole hog and get real Moon Pies if you want)

– Assorted cute candies: mallow creme pumpkins, candy corn, cake decorations (I found frowny eyes and bats last year, so cute!), Reese’s Pieces, whatever you fancy

– Candy Melts: these are available at most large craft stores and at baking supply shops. Available in many colors and are sooo easy to use. You can get them pre-colored if you prefer, or can buy plain white to make your own colors. I buy the pre-colored ones as the colors are more saturated and it makes the whole business just that much easier.

– Icing bags or plastic zip-top bags for piping the candy melts onto the face of your pie. I use the disposable ones for easy clean up.

– Long bamboo skewers

– Cellophane Bags: I prefer plain so people can really see your handywork. These are available at craft stores and even at Wal-mart now.

– Cute Ribbon, for tying the bags closed

– Your unending imagination.

Follow the instructions for the candy melts to get them to a workable texture. Unwrap your moon pies, lay out all of your candy decoration options in shallow bowls so you can get at them easily. I suggest decorating the pies FIRST, letting the candy melts harden, and THEN putting them on their sticks and into the cello bags. I even let them dry overnight, loosely covered with a lint-free kitchen towel after they’d dried for about an hour, just to make sure my melts were dried and my decorations didn’t smear. No use in messing up your hard work!

In the picture above, I stuck a piece of florist’s foam into a pumpkin basket and then arranged the pops so they stood up for dramatic effect. Hope you and yours have as much fun with these as I do!

Zucchini, Part 1


So like many gardeners this time of year, my zucchini runneth over. Unlike many gardeners, I had the prudence and foresight to plant only one zucchini and one patty pan squash, rather than the multitude of varieties that I really wanted to have. There are only two of us in our house, and the cat does not eat his vegetables like a good boy. And yet, I still find myself wondering what to do with the sizeable hill of squash overtaking my vegetable bin. How does this happen with just two plants and a not-so-hot summer?

Thus, here is the first of a couple of posts that include recipes for zucchini. I don’t know about you but I get sick of the same old sauté and long for something more interesting. This recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, but like all recipes I can’t leave well enough alone and had to riff on it to add more Cadi-ness to it. My changes are starred at the end of each paragraph. This is hearty enough to be dinner alone, and it halves easily so you aren’t stuck eating it for many moons.

Squash Rice Casserole

Adapted from Cooking Light, Makes 8 Generous Servings


8  cups  sliced zucchini(about 2 1/2 pounds)

1  cup  chopped onion

1/2  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

2  cups  cooked rice

1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

1  cup  fat-free sour cream

1/4  cup  (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided

1/4  cup  Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

1  teaspoon  salt

1/4  teaspoon  black pepper

2  large eggs, lightly beaten

Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine first 3 ingredients in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain; partially mash with a potato masher.  *I’m not a big fan of boiled squash. I sliced mine thinly and sautéed it with the onion in a nonstick pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. I then added ¼ cup of water, put on a lid, and steamed the squash for a minute or two until it was soft but not mushy. I didn’t bother to mash any of it either.*

Combine zucchini mixture, rice, cheddar cheese, sour cream, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and eggs in a bowl; stir gently. Spoon mixture into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Preheat broiler. Broil 1 minute or until lightly browned.