Thursday, April 28, 2011

To Do: Laugh

Any other Parks & Rec fans out there?


Happy Thursday!

Recipe: 7-Layer Greek Dip

When I started working at my current job, almost nine years ago, I worked with quite a few super moms.  Two in particular co-coordinated a parent volunteer program part-time and coordinated homes and families full-time.  I don't think either of them slept.  Ever.  If I happened to need professional advice or a good recipe idea I would walk into their office and leave minutes later with whatever I needed -- and sometimes a cleaning tip or two. 

This dip was their suggestion for my "easy and delicious appetizer to bring to a summer BBQ" inquiry.  It is still one of my (and my friends) favorites.

7-Layer Greek Dip

Serves: a crowd

  • 8-ounce container cream cheese, softened
  • 8-ounce container hummus, any kind
  • 1 large cucumber -- peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large tomato -- seeded and chopped
  • 4-ounce can sliced olives
  • 8-ounce container crumbled feta cheese 
  • 2 green onions -- white and green parts thinly sliced
  • Pita chips or crackers for serving

  1. Spread cream cheese out evenly in the bottom of a shallow dish.  A glass pie plate works perfectly.
  2. Top cream cheese with an even layer of hummus.
  3. Top hummus with layers of cucumber, tomato, olives, feta and green onions. 
  4. Cover and chill until ready to serve.  
  5. Serve with pita chips or crackers.  

  • Whipped cream cheese is a good option because it allows for easy spreading and dipping. 
  • The spicy hummus from Trader Joe's adds a nice kick to this dip.  
  • Bring a copy of the recipe with you wherever you bring this dish.  People will want it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Recipe: Zucchini & Goat Cheese Rolls

During our anniversary weekend, my honey and I had dinner at a lovely little tapas restaurant.  One of my favorite dishes was zucchini and goat cheese rolls and I decided that I would definitely be trying to recreate them at home.  I made the bites to bring to our Easter dinner with framily (friends who are family). 

They went fast.  

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Rolls

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Roll

Makes: ~30 bites

  • 4 medium zucchini
  • 8-ounce log of plain goat cheese
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
  • A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped
  • Toothpicks 


Make the herb goat cheese: In a small bowl, combine the goat cheese, green onions, rosemary and thyme.  Cover and return to refrigerator until ready to use. 

    Herb goat cheese

Slice the ends off each zucchini.  Thinly slice the zucchini into long flat strips using a mandolin slicer. Discard slices that are mostly peel. 

Zucchini slices.

Grill or broil the zucchini slices for a few minutes on each side, until slightly browned.  This will make the zucchini pliable enough to work with.

Grilled zucchini.

Remove cooked zucchini slices to paper towels.  Let cool for a few minutes.

Spread a spoonful of the herb goat cheese onto each zucchini slice, leaving a bit of zucchini on one end without cheese. 

Zucchini with goat cheese.

Roll up each zucchini slice towards the cheese-less end and secure with a toothpick.  


You can buy herb goat cheese at many stores but I prefer the flavor when using fresh green onions and herbs.   

The next time I make these, I am going to add some bits of roasted red pepper to the goat cheese mixture. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

How: Baby Washcloths, Socks & Onesies Bouquet

Baby washcloths and socks bouquet.

A few months ago, in a fleeting Martha Stewart moment, I decided to make a baby washcloth and onesie bouquet for a friend's baby shower.  I wanted to share the instructions for others who want to channel their inner Crafty McCrafterson. 

Finished Bouquet.

What you'll need: 
  • Baby washcloths, socks and/or onesies -- a total of 12 items
  • Glass vase
  • 12 green floral wire stems
  • Green floral tape
  • 6 - 8 "bunches" of plastic leaves (amount depends on how leafy you want the arrangement to be)
  • Filler for vase -- i.e. glass beads
  • Decorative ribbon

  1. Fill vase 3/4 full of filler (i.e. glass beads).
  2. Remove leaves from bunches and set aside.
  3. Make roses.  Washcloth roses videoOnesie and sock roses video.  (The second video includes how to make roses from bibs as well.)
  4. Fold over 1/2-inch of each wire stem and insert into the bottom of the rose.  
  5. Secure a few leaves to the stem by wrapping with floral tape. 
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with remaining roses.   
  7. Insert all stems into vase.  
  8. Tie decorative ribbon around middle of vase.
Close up of the "roses".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recipe: Pineapple Cupcakes

Make these cupcakes and eat them too!  Why?  Two ingredients that you can easily keep on hand, nonfat/low calorie and inexpensive.

Oh, and they are delicious too! 

I put this query out on my Facebook page yesterday:
I could use recommendations for a yummy cookie or cupcake recipe for my agency's staff meeting on Thursday. Bonus points for being a "lighter" recipe because I wrote our healthy food and beverage policy...  

The responses were overwhelming.  My friends are awesome. 

However, one recipe stood out.  My friend Megan (@2020Aftermath
) shared a recipe that she found on a message board at

Are you ready for this??

Pineapple Cupcakes

Makes: 32 cupcakes

  • 1 box angel food cake mix
  • 20-ounce can crushed pineapple 

Preheat oven to 350º.  Line cupcake pans with baking cups. 

Mix together angel food cake mix and the can of crushed pineapple, including juice.  Fill each baking cup 2/3 full.  

Batter filled cups.

Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top.  

Pineapple Cupcakes

These little cups of goodness, based on my calculations, are only 62 calories a piece. 

Both angel food cake mix and crushed pineapple were on-sale at our local grocery store.  The total for the cupcakes came out to just under $3.50, or approximately 10¢ per cupcake.  I know, right?

Refrigerate the batter in between batches.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Update: 20 Bags in 40 Days...Day 38

Since my short streak of productiveness on my 20 Bags in 40 Days project, I have done almost nothing.  Whoops.

At first I felt bad about failing a project I was excited to complete.  However, when I shift my perspective to the positive, I have to acknowledge that this project inspired me to declutter and organize eight spaces that I wouldn't have otherwise.

My project is scheduled to end on Sunday.  I know that even if I get through a space or two this weekend that I definitely will not complete the project.  And you know what?  I'm okay with that.

I am not planning on letting go of this project completely because I would like to finish organizing the spaces that are left on my list.  It just might be 80 days instead of 40.  I'm okay with that too.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Recipes: Bacon Wrapped Jalapeños & Jalapeño Popper Spread

The jalapeños are on the left.

Both of these recipes are spicy and delicious and might be just a bit healthier than deep fried jalapeño poppers.  Maybe.  Either way they are perfect party appetizers. 

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeños

Makes 24 bites. 

  • 12 jalapeños
  • 1 pound bacon (12 slices)
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese

Preheat the oven to 350º.  Spray the top of a broiler pan with nonstick spray.  Line the bottom pan with foil.

Trim the stems off of the jalapeños and slice each one in half.  With a spoon, carefully scoop out seeds.  Fill each jalapeño half with cream cheese.  Slice bacon in half so you have 24 short slices.  Wrap each jalapeño half with one slice of bacon.  Secure with toothpicks and line up on the broiler pan.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until bacon is cooked.  Let cool slightly before serving.

Do NOT touch your eyeballs or any other part of you until you wash your hands thoroughly.  If you are worried about burning your skin, throw on some rubber gloves before working with the jalapeños.

If regular bacon isn't your thing, these are also good with turkey bacon.  It also works just fine with light cream cheese.

Jalapeño Popper Spread

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup mayonnaise 
  • 1 4-ounce can chopped jalapaño, drained
  • 1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies, drained
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • French bread, for serving

Preheat oven to 350º.  Spray a pie plate with nonstick spray.

Stir together cream cheese and mayo until well combined.  Stir in jalapeños and green chilies.  Spoon mixture into pie plate and spread out evenly.  Top with parmesan cheese.

Bake until bubbly and top is slightly browned.  Serve with bread cubes. 

I use light mayo and cream cheese.  Every little bit helps, right?

This is a good make ahead dish and can be refrigerated until ready to bake and serve.  It can also be served at room temperature.

Monday, April 11, 2011

To Do: Breathe

As if I needed another reason to not buy skinny jeans.

Thanks to lifehacker, I was introduced to an article in Psychology Today that addresses ten everyday things that decrease our energy.  The first thing that they address is tight clothing.  Step away from the spanx!  Why?  Tighter clothing restricts normal breathing and this ultimately decreases the oxygen travelling throughout our bodies -- the oxygen our bodies need to maintain energy.

This thing about breathing reminded me of doing research for a staff meeting on stress management. The number one reason that staff gave for not incorporating stress management strategies into their daily lives is that they don't have enough time and/or money.  I provided this article at the staff meeting:  Breathing for Busy Folks -- 5 Step Stress Relief Practice  Even if you have no extra time or money, you can begin a stress management practice that will benefit your physical, mental and emotional well being.

Soapbox moment: I am tired of stress being equated with success.  These things are not interchangeable.  Being busy and stressed out certainly doesn't make me a more successful or better person.  I am working on addressing the roots of my stress as opposed to sitting with the stress after it has arrived.

On a related note, I will be returning to the gym today after a much too long hiatus.  I figure that losing a few pounds is a lot cheaper than buying a whole new wardrobe and that the deep breathing is bound to do me some good.

Here is the full Psychology Today article on energy zappers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Recipe: Super Easy, Three-Ingredient, Two-Step Appetizer

I am attending a get together with some fabulous ladyfriends this evening and I wanted to make something that will pair well with the $4 bottles of Syrah I am also bringing to share.  Yep, I like to keep it classy.  So you probably aren't going to wow anyone with the looks of this appetizer but it works as something you can throw together for a tasty appetizer in just a few minutes. 

Cream Cheese & Salsa Spread

  • 2 blocks cream cheese
  • 16-ounce container of salsa
  • Crackers for serving
A shameless Trader Joe's advertisement.
  1. Spread cream cheese out in a shallow dish.  You might want to leave the cream cheese out on the counter to soften beforehand. 
  2. Pour the salsa over the cream cheese.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.  
For this batch, I layered the ingredients in a rectangle glass dish with a lid for ease of transport.  A pie plate also works well. 

I first learned this recipe from my mother and she uses jalapeno jelly in place of the salsa.  Jalapeno jelly is available in both mild and hot and generally found in the jam/jelly section of the grocery store.

Another adaptation, that also cuts the recipe in half, is to put one block of cream cheese on a serving plate, pour over half a jar of salsa or jalapeno jelly and surround with crackers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Want: Bossypants by Tina Fey

I want to be Tina Fey when I grow up and I think reading her new book, Bossypants, will help me to reach my goal.  Perhaps some of her fearlessness, humor and writing skills will rub off on me. 

Janeane Garofalo writes, "Bossypants is not so much a memoir as it is a sort of here's-what-happened-and-why-I think-this kind of book."  Full review at

There is also a very short, very amusing video on Bossypants Trailer

Recipe: Okra and Tomatoes

I love okra.  Love it.  Fried okra was something I grew up viewing as a treat for when we were visiting family in the south.  I would choose it over dessert any day. 

For dinner last night, I cooked red beans and rice and sauteed up okra as our veggie side dish.  I adapted my recipe from an Okra, Corn and Tomatoes recipe in Danella Carter's Down Home Wholesome, a low-fat soul food cookbook.  I chose to omit the corn.  I hate corn.  Hate it.  It is the texture, not the flavor.  I included notes about adding in corn in case you really, really want to. 

Okra and Tomatoes

Okra and Tomatoes

Serves: 6

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound okra, trimmed or tops and tails and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch rings
  • 4 ears sweet corn, kernels removed (optional)
  • 3 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


In a large skillet, saute garlic in butter over medium heat until lightly browned.  Add okra and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If adding corn, stir in kernels with 10 minutes remaining on the okra cook time.  Stir in tomatoes and salt and cook for an additional 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the pepper.

I couldn't find fresh okra at our grocery store yesterday but there are always 1-pound bags in the freezer section.  Frozen okra is just fine and a good deal.  I think the bag I bought yesterday was only $1.15 and that makes six (ample) servings.  I would estimate that this dish ends up being less than $5 total. 
Okra is slimy.  That is one of the reasons that some people, including Chef Tom Colicchio, don't care for it.  If you cook okra properly, the end result is low on slime.  I consulted with google and found that adding something acidic (i.e. tomatoes) helps to break down the slime.  I'm not sure if all this talk about slime is helping my "okra is delicious" case but I promise that this recipe is worth a try.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Recipe: Pepper-Mint Limeade

Recipe adapted from  I would like to serve it in this.

Serves: 8

  • 4 limes, juiced (~1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1/2 gallon water (8 cups)
  • 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, sliced
  • Extra mint sprigs and jalapeno slices for garnishing, if desired

In a large pitcher, stir together the lime juice and sugar.  Stir in mint sprigs, and mash with a wooden spoon to release some of the oils.  Pour in the water and mix well.  Mix in jalapeno slices.  Put a lid on the pitcher and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Serve over ice.  Garnish with a mint sprig and/or jalapeno slice, if desired.

I used less sugar when I made it because I prefer more tart, less sweet.  You can always add a little sugar to the glasses of those who prefer their beverage sweeter.  You can do the same thing with the jalapeno if you are worried about the spice level.

The last time I made it, I had vodka on the side for those who wanted to booze it up.  Rum would also probably work well.

Want: Bell Shaped Drink Dispenser

How perfect would this be for serving delicious, ice cold beverages during the sunny summertime?!  If you happen to have an extra $85ish and want to gift me this fabulous drink dispenser, I will invite you over for homemade spicy limeade.  Oh, and I should post the recipe for that...

Link to Bell Shaped Drink Dispenser post on

Recipe: Liquid Laundry Detergent

This is definitely not as delicious* as the other recipes I have posted but it is a recipe that I am eager to utilize. 

My mom gave me a sample from a batch that she made and I used it for a few loads of laundry.  It worked perfectly!  My honey has sensitive skin and he didn't get itchy or anything.  We are currently finishing up a jug of the store bought stuff and then I plan to whip up my first full batch of this and move on over to the world of homemade laundry detergent.

*Do not eat this.  That would be silly and would almost certainly make you ill.

Liquid Laundry Detergent

Makes one gallon -- enough for approximately 16 loads of laundry.

  • 1/3 bar Ivory soap, grated
  • 2 cups water, plus 14 additional cups
  • 2 Tablespoons borax
  • 1 Tablespoon baking soda or washing soda

Melt the soap flakes in the two cups of water over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve.  Pour into a 1-gallon container and add enough water to bring it to a half gallon (~6 cups water).  Add the borax and washing soda, stirring to dissolve.  Top off with water to make one gallon.  (~8 more cups)  Stir.

Use 1 cup per load. 

Both washing soda and borax can be found in the laundry aisle of most grocery stores.  Washing soda is a hard water treatment.  You can increase the amount of washing soda to 1/4 cup if your home has hard water. 

Instead of using a commercial fabric softener, add 1/2 cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle.