Friday, May 29, 2015

A Glorious Brunch and review of Twenty Dinners

"I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. All opinions and experiences are my own. This post contains affiliate links"

Sometimes the best food is just simple and fresh.

Take this lovely little brunch idea from Twenty Dinners. It combined a favorite of mine, toad in a hole... or maybe you call it bird in a nest? Along with a fresh Ceasar salad. This may actually be a new favorite pairing of mine. Along with a cup of strong coffee, it was a great way to enjoy my Memorial Day morning.

I was recently sent this cookbook, Twenty Dinners by Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor. Beautifully photographed this collection of arranged meals perfect for entertaining arranged by season and availability.

About Twenty Dinners: 
A photographer (who happens to be an ex-restaurant cook) and an indie rock star (who happens to be an avid home cook) show you how to slow down your life by cooking beautiful, straightforward, but sophisticated, food for–and with–friends.  
     When he’s on tour with his band, Grizzly Bear, what Chris Taylor misses most about home is the kitchen and the company. With his friend Ithai Schori, he cooks dinner parties for four to forty, using skills Chris learned from his mom and Ithai picked up working at high-end restaurants. Their food is full of smart techniques that make everything taste just a little better than you thought possible–like toasting nuts in browned butter or charring apples for a complex applesauce–but their style is laid-back and unhurried. This is about cooking not just for, but with, your friends, and so the authors enlisted their favorite pastry chef, mixologist, sommelier, and baristas to write detailed material on wine, desserts, stocking a home bar, mixing drinks, and buying and brewing fantastic coffee. Through more than 100 seasonally arranged recipes and gorgeous, evocative photographs of their gatherings you fall into their world, where you and your friends have all day to put food on the table, and where there’s always time for another cocktail in a mason jar before dinner.

I did enjoy the photos and also the wide range of ingredients used. Some might be harder to find unless you have a good farmer's market available, but most could easily be modified or enjoyed with items from your own garden, etc.

I found several items I want to make from this cookbook, but due to the early Spring I went with something available to me now. My hens have started laying more with the longer days so "Toad in a Hole" was a great choice.

The most pleasant surprise was finding how well homemade Ceasar salad went with this dish. ...and how easy it is to whip up a large batch of Ceasar dressing to enjoy for a whole week of meals.

If you love food, or love to entertain, I highly recommend checking out Twenty Dinners.

Do you cook seasonally? Do you entertain often? Have you ever thought of hosting with a seasonal and unique dish?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bacon Lettuce Tomato Avocado Pizza

This tasty shop with new Hidden Valley Ranch Avocado flavor has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #WhatsYourRanch #CollectiveBias

There is something about warmer weather that makes me dream of the perfect BLTA. You know, crisp and salty bacon, crunchy green lettuce, juicy tomatoes and creamy, rich avocados. It is just one of those light and satisfying meals that reminds me of a Summer afternoon. Simply and delicious is how I like my Summer.

We ate our fair share of those Bacon Lettuce Tomato Avocado sandwiches while I was growing up. I can still remember how good it smelled as the bacon crisped up.

Now with my own family, pizza seems to be the dinner of choice all year round. So, when I heard that Hidden Valley Ranch had a new Avocado flavor out in stores, I wanted to bring my beloved BLTA back with a little pizza twist.

Just in time for your own simple and delicious Summer meals, Hidden Valley Ranch has several new flavors out to enjoy. I grabbed both the Avocado and Sweet Chili flavors recently thinking they would make for some fun dinner twists.

The beauty of this meal is how simple it is. Grab yourself some pre-made pizza dough from the deli and with just 6 more ingredients, you can find yourself in BLTA Pizza bliss before you know it.

Start with your dough.

I decided to make smaller personal pizzas for this impromptu lunch date, but you could also go for the whole thing. Shape the dough into a thin crust then pop them into the oven to start to bake. I like to pre-bake my crusts a little before adding the sauce so they don't get soggy in the middle.

Then add a little Hidden Valley Ranch Avocado flavor dressing to the pre-baked dough. Brush a little on with a pastry brush.

Then pile on a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese. Pop the pizzas back into the oven to finish baking and melt the cheese.

Then you are ready for assembly. Grab some chopped romaine lettuce...

Then add on halved grape tomatoes, avocado slices, chopped bacon...

And then to really bring this BLTA together, a nice drizzle of Hidden Valley Ranch Avocado flavor dressing over the top.

Easy, simple and perfect for a weeknight treat. And if this dinner twist has you excited, there is a whole line of new twists on Hidden Valley Ranch's classic flavor. Be sure to check out all the fun going on and find out "What's Your Ranch".

 I grabbed a bottle the last time I was at Fred Meyer along with the other ingredients for this amazing pizza.

Bacon Lettuce Tomato Avocado Pizza

You will need:

  • pre-made pizza dough
  • Hidden Valley Ranch Avocado flavor
  • Mozzarella cheese, grated
  • romaine lettuce, chopped
  • grape tomatoes, halved
  • avocado, sliced
  • bacon, cooked and chopped
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

Shape the pizza dough into personal pizza size. Bake for 5 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and brush the top of the crusts with Hidden Valley Ranch. Add shredded Mozzarella cheese and return to the oven for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is cooked through.

Top with cold romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, avocado slices and cooked bacon. Drizzle the top of the pizza with more Hidden Valley Ranch Avocado flavored dressing.


Now that you have seen how I used my Hidden Valley Ranch Avocado flavored dressing for a simple Summer meal, check out more great recipe ideas using Hidden Valley and let me know which ones you would like to try.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wishful Thinking by Kamy Wiscoff - #SRC2015

I received a complimentary book to help me write an honest review. I am participating in this year's BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge for the fun of it, reviews contain my own affiliate links for the books being read and discussed. #SRC2015

So excited for the 2nd week of the  BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge. This past week I read Wishful Thinking by Kamy Wiscoff. It was the perfect book to devour over the long holiday weekend.

This year's books have been arriving all wrapped and ready to be enjoyed. Isn't this cute? You can follow along with the fun on Instagram and Twitter by following #SRC2015. I just had to share because this makes it so fun. Don't forget you can follow along and join in on the fun on BookSparks Facebook page or follow along with their FB Event Page.

Jennifer Sharpe is a divorced mother of two with a problem just about any working parent can relate to: her boss expects her to work as though she doesn't have children, and her children want her to care for them as though she doesn't have a boss. But when, through a fateful coincidence, a brilliant physicist comes into possession of Jennifer’s phone and decides to play fairy godmother, installing a miraculous time-travel app called Wishful Thinking, Jennifer suddenly finds herself in possession of what seems like the answer to the impossible dream of having it all: an app that lets her be in more than one place at the same time. With the app, Jennifer goes quickly from zero to hero in every part of her life: she is super-worker, the last to leave her office every night; she is super-mom, the first to arrive at pickup every afternoon; and she even becomes super-girlfriend, dating a musician who thinks she has unlimited childcare and a flexible job. But Jennifer soon finds herself facing questions that adding more hours to her day can’t answer. Why does she feel busier and more harried than ever? Is she aging faster than everyone around her? How can she be a good worker, mother, and partner when she can’t be honest with anybody in her life? And most important, when choosing to be with your children, at work, or with your partner doesn't involve sacrifice, do those choices lose their meaning? Wishful Thinking is a modern-day fairy tale in which one woman learns to overcome the challenges—and appreciate the joys—of living life in real time.

My Review

I think every busy Mom, working Mom, stressed Mom has had moments when they fantasize about being able to do it all or having endless hours in the day. Kamy Wicoff''s novel, Wishful Thinking, is a humorous but thought provoking look at the great "what if". In our daily lives we joke about having an app for everything, but what if there really was?

I loved the chance to see how "having it all" in our current society might play out. The author did a great job of exploring the topic while also showing how we make choices that shape our lives. The stress of parenthood, the time required to be on committees as well as the pressure we place on ourselves to be superhuman....are all things Jennifer faces and things that I could identify with.

Great writing, great characters and a fascinating exploration of a dream I think we have all had at some point.

So what do you think? I hope you will add Wishful Thinking to your Summer reading list. Now, stay tuned, next week I will be giving your my review of The Balance Project by Susie Orman Schnall.
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Monday, May 25, 2015

Inspiring Young Minds with Hands-On-Prints + Giveaway

I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Hands-on-Prints books. I received books to facilitate my review. #HandsOnPrints #IC

My young readers just can't get their hands on enough books these days. As their Mom, I try to carefully select what they read, the stories and content is important to me. It is a real bonus when I find reading material that they both enjoy and can learn from.

Both my Kindergarten and 1st grade student love books and since I discovered the Hands-on-Prints we have a few more great titles in our personal library.

One of my favorites is "Do I have to? What if I don't want to..."

This talks all about emotions and not wanting to do things that are expected of us.

This was very age appropriate for my 5-year-old. She is still learning healthy ways to express her emotions. She wants to be independent and isn't always happy about house rules. This book gave us a lot to talk about while we read the story together.

So, ..."what if we could do whatever we wanted all day long!!!"... this was a great ice breaker in the story. All the colorful photos gave us examples on ways we would much rather spend our day.

Then the story talks about the things we need to do, what could happen if we don't and ways to deal with the emotions that come from making those hard choices.

I enjoyed this book as a parent because it is all about cooperative listening and behaviors. There is a a small leaflet about collabrative communication in the front cover, a section for Grown-ups to read before they begin and a summary in the back that discusses emotional awareness and how to build those important listening skills.

my daughter really enjoyed the scenarios in the little mini stories inside the book. There were four possible scenarios and what might happen if, "I wouldn't get up" or "I wouldn't eat vegetables" etc.
and then later in the book 4 more scenarios that talk about validating feelings when, " I really don't want to go to bed", etc.

I think she enjoyed hearing that her feelings are normal and that her frustration in situations she has no control over is normal, too. The book also gave her several healthy ways to deal with her anger or frustration like taking a deep breath or hitting pillows

And beyond just what was in the book, it was a great way to start a conversation about appropriate ways to act and our daily responsibilities..

All three of us sat down to enjoy A Persistent Vine by Han Tran and Christina Cheung. This book is part of a 4-book set of a Montessori inspired botanical series. Set in 9th century Japan, the story is about a persistent morning glory plant and the complex ecosystem of the garden.

My son read the story and my daughter was mesmerized by the colorful illustrations of the garden and it's plants.

Because all of the stories in the Hands-On-Prints books take learning to a deeper level, this one included illustrations of plants with cordate leaves. It was a great chance to explore other plants and talk about invasive species as well as characteristics that plants share within a certain family.

My budding botanists had a lot of questions and I look forward to seeing the other stories in this series.

Hands-on-Prints are different. Author Christinia Cheung has a Masters in Early Childhood Education and wrote her Hands-on-Prints books after establishing a Montessori school that celebrates differences in personality, learning  and various cultural backgrounds.

The 5 books that I was sent included, A Persistent Vine and Do I have to? I don't want to..., and are vibrant, hands-on learning experiences for young readers. From the themes of nature to complex emotions and then out into the wider world, these books are both stimulating for the mind and conversations as a family.

I enjoyed all the books we were sent and I encourage you to try them out with your young readers as well.

Giveaway Time!!!

I have  (1) Hands-on-Prints book to be given to one (1) giveaway winner here on the blog. Would you like to see how engaging and educational these books are for yourself? Giveaway open to the US and winner must be 18 or over. Giveaway ends 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Creating My Own Reading Corner Oasis with Renuzit Pearl Scents!

Disclaimer - I received sample Renuzit Pearl Scents and coupons to try as part of the Purex Insiders Program. All experiences and opinions are my own and were not influenced by the product I received.  #DesignYourAir

My house is full of toys, dolls, children's books and random things that my three kids have collected. A quick look in our living room shows off some photos on the walls but the rest, stuffed animals and strewn slippers is all distinctly kid.

This Spring I was ready to carve out a little corner for myself. The new Renuzit Pearl Scent Blue Sky Breeze was my inspiration. I am both a big fan of the scent and the light blue color.

Blue Sky Breeze is the perfect scent for relaxing with a good book and a cup of my favorite herbal tea. The Renuzit Pearl Scents both neutralize odor (did I mention that the kids leave their slippers and socks strewn about the living room?) and gives off a pleasant scent for up to 30 days.

I like that it doesn't require a plug-in (I need those for recharging my phone and Kindle, or to plug my speakers into) and also doesn't have an open flame or messy wax.

This is what my little corner looked like before. Nothing special here. I have a comfy chair, an end table and a stack of books to enjoy, but it was definitely missing something...

I headed to my local Marshall's to find some items that would reflect my personality and create a relaxing corner to enjoy when I have a spare moment.

I was really excited by what I found. I love fresh flowers from the garden, Don't flowers brighten a room? this big blue vase has a nice wide base so I won't worry about it tipping, but it goes well with my blue theme. Then I also found this cute framed page, "I Love You To The Moon & Back". I also snagged a comfy cushion to add a splash of color to my solid brown chair and a pretty tea cup and saucer just because.

In truth, making over an area of the home doesn't need to cost a lot of money. All these items were under $50 at Marshall's.

Once arranged on my end table, my items were simple, elegant and made me feel immediately relaxed.

After sprucing up my reading corner, all inspired by the cool blue, Blue Sky Breeze, Renuzit Pearl Scents, my corner is much more reading friendly. Now instead of just being a place I can do my reading, it is a place to enjoy my reading and even relax for a few minutes.

Just a simple change, but a fresh scent and a mini-makeover and this place feels more like "mine".

Renuzit Pearl Scents also come in:
  • Blue Sky Breeze
  • Serenity
  • Sparkling Rain
  • Tranquil
  • Seductive Pineapple

Coupon Giveaway - Leave a comment to be entered to win your own coupons for Renuzit Pearl Scents. Just answer the question below and tell me which scent you would use to makeover your room. Giveaway will end 5/30 at midnight PST. Winner will be contacted via email.

If you took the Renuzit Home Challenge, what part of your home would you change and which Renuzit Pearl Scents would you use for inspiration?

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Rum Rocky Road Bunt Cake - #BundtBakers

You know, I don't think I have ever experienced Rocky Road outside of a pint of ice cream. It is a great flavor, packed with little surprises and a great way to reminisce about childhood with just a taste. I distinctly remember savoring the chocolate ice cream, packed with little marshmallows and crunchy peanuts. But it seems there are many variations on the idea of "Rocky Road" and variations as well as original are often the topic of debate.

Go ahead and google it. Everyone seems to have an opinion. 

But this week I am sharing a fun variation on rocky road with a Rum Rocky Road Bundt Cake. All the things I love about my childhood favorite, without the fear of it melting.

Yes, it is time for this month's Bundt Challange and Laura from Baking In Pajamas threw down the guantlet for a little Rocky Road Challenge for May in #BundtBakers. Big thank you to Laura for hosting this month! 

Well, I couldn't do a plain rocky road cake.. I wanted something slightly different. Something to take my childhood ice cream dreams into my grown up life. So there was rum. Or, I should rather say rum flavoring. 

It is just sad to pull every bottle out of the cupboard to only realize that there is no Bourbon and no Rum. ....I just wasn't feeling the Pineapple Rum for this recipe. I hope you understand. The Rum flavor actually goes nicely with the sweetness of the chocolate. It just gives it a little added dimension. 

The truth is Rocky Road can definitely contain fruit, usually dried, and cookies are common too. What I really wanted was that classic ice cream flavor of peanuts and marshmallows in a creamy chocolate ganache over a moist chocolate cake.

This ended up being the perfect "cake cake" to serve with a large glass of milk and enjoy with my youngest. He was the happiest little toddler ever to get the first slice of chocolate "cake cake" with Mama while his siblings were off at school.

Childhood definitely is better with a little Rocky Road...

Rum Rocky Road Bundt Cake

For the Chocolate Cake You Will Need:
  • 1 c. unsalted butter + more for greasing the pan
  • 1/3 c. cocoa powder (we use Dutch processed)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp, baking soda
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. rum extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter your bundt pan and then coat lightly with dark cocoa powder. Knock out any excess and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, cocoa, salt and water. Let the butter melt and whisk the ingredients to combine. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Whisk together the flour, sugar and baking soda in a large bowl. Slowly stir in the wet mixture till combined (don't worry, it will be thick). Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then add in the Greek yogurt and rum extract. Whisk until smooth.

Pour the batter in the prepared bundt pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. To test if it is done, check by inserting a toothpick. It should come out clean. Let the cake cool for about 20 minutes, then invert onto a cake plate.

While the cake is cooling you can make the frosting.

For the Chocolate Frosting You Will Need:
  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter, unsalted
  • 4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 6 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. + powdered sugar to reach a thick, but pour-able consistency
  • 1/2 c. peanuts, roughly chopped
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and then whisk in the cocoa and milk till smooth. Add in the vanilla extract and then powdered sugar till the frosting is thick, but still pour-able. Stir in the peanuts and spoon over the inverted bundt cake.

Dot the top of your cake with marshmallows before the frosting sets up.



#BundtBakers is a group of Bundt loving bakers who get together once a month to bake Bundts with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on the BundtBakers home page.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Grown Ups by Robin Antalek - #SRC2015

I received a complimentary book to help me write an honest review. I am participating in this year's BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge for the fun of it, reviews contain my own affiliate links for the books being read and discussed. #SRC2015

I am so excited to join in the BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge again this year (#SRC2015 if you want to follow along). I have to say the line up of books (all 17) sound very exciting! Don't worry, there is still plenty of time to get involved and start reading along. Check out the Facebook Events page for more information on what books will be on the travel itinerary this season.

This year is being hosted by Jane Green and there are some great prizes you can win along the way... but, let's face it, good books and good company are their own rewards, right?

I am kicking off this reading challenge with a great book, The Grown Ups by Robin Antalek.

For a few secret months, 15-year-old Sam enjoys the unexpected attention of Suzie. However, at the end of the summer, Sam’s world unexpectedly shatters when Suzie moves away. Watching her parents’ marital troubles escalate, Suzie takes on the responsibility of raising her two younger brothers and plans an early escape to college. Suzie misses Sam and her closest friend, Bella. It is not until years later that a chance meeting with Sam’s older brother reunites the trio, causing Suzie to confront her past, as well as her friends.

My Review

The Grown Ups is a great Summer read that follows along with 3 childhood friends. The author, Robin Antalek, has such a great mastery of storytelling and it starts right off with a great ice breaker,
It was the summer all the children in the neighborhood caught a virus.
That first chapter was filled with so much vivid detail and humor that I was quickly hooked into the story and into the neighborhood that bound the 3 characters, long after they moved away.

This story drew me in with these dynamic characters, teenagers who struggled to grow up in the midst of parental problems, their own life choices along the way and the constant struggles that life throws at them. This was such a beautiful portrayal (though sometimes in the ugliest way) of the fears and struggles faced while growing up and finding one's place in the world.

Stay tuned for another book destination next week! I will be diving right into Wishful Thinking by Kamy Wicoff.

Have you read The Grown Ups? What did you think of the story?

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Monday, May 18, 2015

How To Refresh Your Overworked Washing Machine

I participated in this sampling on behalf of All experiences and opinions are my own. You can join Smiley360 at

Okay, I don't just use my washer... running it 3-4 times a day and asking it to tackle dirty farm-soiled clothing just might be a tad on the abusive side. But, as a Mother of 3, our family goes through a LOT of laundry.

My beloved washer is one of my essential tools. I couldn't make my day work without it. My day generally starts off by throwing in my first load of laundry before my coffee is done being made. Then my day is not complete without a quick trip back to the laundry room to ensure nothing was left in the washer. If you have every found a washer full of damp mildew-ridden clothes (shudder) you may understand my paranoia.

Sadly, even with running the 'Clean Washer' setting regularly, I had started to notice that our clothing wasn't coming out smelling as fresh.

I learned this the hard way, breathing into a towel straight out of the shower the other morning. Ewwww..... And it was a fresh, 'clean' towel!

The last time this happened, I bought new towels. Don't laugh. Little did I know it wasn't the poor towel's fault... my washing machine held a dirty little secret.

My washer, with the sole purpose to get clothing clean, wasn't so clean itself. Did you know the washer can build up odor causing residue?

My MIL swears by leaving the door open between loads so the machine can dry out completely, but with our daily laundry load even doing that wasn't enough. Now I have a new solution to try for my less than fresh washing machine dilemma, I found something that will tackle that odor causing residue with minimal work from me. Did you know OxiClean makes a Washing Machine Cleaner?

I already use OxiClean as a laundry booster to help get out the tough stains and grime from my husband's work clothes, I also use it to help me battle against the grass stains and stain-rific mystery messes that my children grind into their shirts, pants and socks daily.

But now my washer can benefit from OxiClean as well.

My box of OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner contained 4 easy pouches. It works with HE washers, never fear! To start with a deep cleaning, the instructions say to use one pouch on my machine's clean washer cycle 3 weeks in a row and then to maintain a clean washer I could use the product once a month.

Using the product was easy, I just opened and add to the drum, then select the clean washer cycle on the washing machine.  I let the cycle run and then after a quick wipe down inside the drum I was ready to get back to my weekend of laundry.

I have currently been using it for 2 weeks and yes, I do notice a difference. We usually use fragrance-free detergents, so there is no scent to cover up any lingering odors or musty smells. My towels are much fresher straight from the laundry room.

And that moment when I step out of the shower, grab a towel and wipe off my face? Much more pleasant now. No cringing, no colorful language...

Who knew that my poor overworked washing machine needed a little extra TLC?

Do you regularly clean your washing machine? Have you tried OxiClean Washing Machine Cleaner before?

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